Nailing Miracles, part one

My pain is legitimate, as legitimate as yours or any other sentient being who has ever lived. This is the message of the crucifixion. It is the message bullies do not want to hear, yet victims need to say and in saying, be heard. This, our existential equality, is what the fear of our own vulnerability drives us to deny. Our vulnerability terrifies us and we lash out against it when we see it in the eyes of the suffering poor, the abused child, the victims of war brutalities, and the homeless refugees and migrants wandering the earth without a protector. In the eyes of sentient beings there is a judgment as well as a reflection of the events they witness. Our profoundly complex biochemistry kindles this dual light in our eyes as the light of self awareness. The inescapable teaching about human authenticity and integrity is wrapped up in this mystery related to pain and suffering and reflected in the eyes, the windows of the soul. In the dead eyes of the severely traumatized we, and the universe reflecting on itself through those eyes, stand condemned. It needs to be torn down in fire and made anew as a new heaven and a new earth.

That which we call ‘god’ is the ‘eye’ at the center of it all – an awareness that sees and records everything that really happens. Call it the morphic field of physical memory, if you will. Reality is the true molecular configurations of elements and biochemistries shaped by the accumulation of all past events. The fantasies, the rationalizations, the spin, the deceptions, and the lies we tell, they alter the balance of these scales not one whit. It is not fooled; it records only what reality has hosted. There is another way to put this: no one gets away with anything.

The cross is the conscience of the one body catholic. There hangs the human being betrayed by human machinations, suffering the results of human evil, not of god. As creatures our love will die; we will watch it die when loved ones pass away and one day we will die ourselves. This is the suffering inherent in our nature, suffering we could say is directly from the hand of our creator. Death is not evil in itself anymore than reproduction is. That inherent suffering comes from the same hand that created the clouds, the mountains, the bubbling mountain stream, and the lamb. . . Seen aright we understand a precious goodness has come to us from that hand. It has given us our very existence and the beauty and truth that surrounds it. This hand we can trust, and learn to trust all the more as our faith in the goodness of creation increases. However, human evil adds another level of suffering that reaches above and beyond that which nature has created for us.

Our form of consciousness can be turned away from its natural propensity for thanks and praise when it is spiritually injured. The more serious the injury, the more serious this reorientation of the understanding can become. When this happens human consciousness turns all its skills against itself, hating its mortal vulnerability. If we do not voluntarily take up our limitations, we will be haunted by reminders of them everywhere. Then the eyes of the poor in spirit, all those who are victimized, show reminders of the vulnerability inherent in the flesh. Such people have come to hate reminders of that vulnerability. That hatred drives them to target the least among us; they want to destroy the innocent and the vulnerable. This is what the old way of talking about the human condition called the demonic. It is a hate that can posses people, pushing out the personality that was once there. That is, it can replace who they were as children and the normal path of character development they would have followed which could hold a basic trust in the goodness of the world and the people in it, with a secondary personality centered around hatred and revenge. Here is the tricky part: more often than not this secondary personality will claim it is on a mission to save others, crushing the light in the eyes of their victims “for their own good.”

The symbol of the Church Catholic is of one body. All the members of the human race share in this body, this mystical body, for it is a reflection in symbol of the flesh and blood (DNA and biochemical makeup) we all share – regardless of race, politics, socioeconomic class, religion, or gender. For this Church we pray. Only those who have committed crimes against the Holy Spirit, the mortal sins, the vicious violent cruelty of the 10% of evil done for evil’s sake to slake this hatred of our creature-hood, remain outside the communion as long as they remain unrepentant. This is the definition of the communion. If the abuses we have been discussing are in fact attacks on the Holy Temple among us, the body of flesh and blood by which we bare the image of god aka human consciousness, then as long as they remain unrepentant those who have committed such atrocities are, by definition, at war with the body. These are, as we say today, crimes against humanity.

Such people are in a sorry state. They are a house divided against itself.

What is real and true about being a creature is rooted in the evolutionary development (evo-devo) of the embryo as it is manifest through the child and on throughout the life stages. There is a continuity of identity gifted from the mystery from which all things are brought forth. Identity, and its map of the world by which it navigates, both arise from the biochemical matrix of our awareness interacting with our experiences, each experience etching themselves on our skin (the emotional body of our musculature and nervous systems) and the brain’s memory processing capacity. In this way the moment by moment miracle of human experience forms our characters as we are shaped and molded by the incarnation of our stories.

This is THE miracle. There is no other. This is THE magic. There is no other.

Humans can fool themselves into believing otherwise, tripping up their own minds. They risk coming to the end of their lives only to find out that they have been living out caricatures of the life they could have potentially had. It is a high price to pay for the self-deception that you have somehow magically escaped death and the attendant vulnerability of the shared human condition. Tragedy is the fate of those who insist the world must conform to their fantasy and proceed to act on such delusions. Such folly does not change the reality of the situations their incantations are addressing. On those shores, the stubborn firm foundations of what is and what is not in our molecular world, many a shipwreck of strange religious, political, and economic cults have crashed.

Why then, in the written material the Western cultural tradition insists is a valid guide through wisdom and folly, namely the Gospels, are we confronted with a miracle worker? If these materials are to be our gateway into the truth, why set up these guardians at the threshold? If a person came up to you today and claimed that their guru walks on water, was born of a virgin, multiplies loaves of bread, and raises the dead to life, well that person would be a liar. That is the way the world is right now, today. We have every reason to believe that is how the world was 2,000 years ago, or 5,000 years ago, or as long back as we might care to speculate. What is this all about? Why include the lies and liars?

The Gospel stories did not introduce miracle stories to the world, the world was already full of them. What the Gospels did was link those types of stories with Jesus as a teacher of compassion. This is new. Most miracle stories are power stories, magicians battling it out as we discussed when we looked at Moses in Pharaoh’s court. The question was not about whether or not to include miracles alongside the teachings, the question was whether or not miracle tales would have teachings attached to them!

Miracle stories are only lies if read literally. That is the epistemological truth, I believe, these tales are meant to teach. They are a lure, or a trap, for those with mistaken ideas of god. The great fisherman uses them to bring us to healing. He is the “truth, the light, and the way” for the wounded who are willing to endure their own death of god on their own cross. We need to be willing to give up our mistaken ideas. We need to courageously and honestly face the meaninglessness of the universe for a mind dominated by human cruelty. Nothing less recognizes humankind’s true freedom of will and the power it manifests. In the dark night, the desert, the abyss – here one finds He who is greater than human weaknesses within the human experience. The Lord of the Dance prevails just when things seem darkest. Miracle stories are only lies if read literally. The emotional truth they convey is on the order of metaphor, poetry. They serve the real miracle of the Christ, the recreation of the universe in a new heaven and a new earth by which we are healed. Nothing less dramatic than the miraculous can capture the awe and power involved in our most defining subjective experiences as embodied rational souls.

In the hunt for a meaningful life we are bound to come across people and institutions making claims to supernatural power and wisdom. Human beings are born gullible and it is no small feat to properly enthrone rationality. What to do? It is interesting that the Church Fathers who put together this material insisted that there were multiple ways of reading scripture. The idea that the Gospels are providing documentary evidence of modern historical fact is foreign to the spirit of what was very clearly being explained by those who were initially involved in the formation of the written materials and the accompanying traditions.

What miracles do convey is a picture of a universe ruled by personalized forces. In such a universe our own subjectivity is at home. It paints a picture of a world that responds to the needs of humans and animals, that cares about each individual alive within it, and that watches over them to protect and guide them. This is a world in which angelic messengers can accomplish missions unaware, perhaps as strangers visiting for an evening meal or asking for a handout by the side of the road. It is a world where certain images, and certain places and times, can be made sacred and special by their dedication to the intellectual and emotional, yet invisible, “powers” we encounter in our psyches. It is to convey some sense of the most powerful of these “inner powers” that the Gospels were written.

Written materials without the traditions in which they were designed to be used can be very dangerous. The tradition involved with the Gospels taught then, and continues to teach, a very mystical Christianity centered on Eucharistic devotion. This is quite different than Bible thumping in any number of ways. Catholic sensibilities elevate the sacraments and the sacramental in a calendar punctuated by sacred memorial. Worship is an act of the body as well as the mind, with smells and bells and ritual movements. Religion is presented as a celebration of sacred creation and the possibility of redemption in its midst. Religion is not an intellectual battle ground, it is a place of peace. The light of the candle of faith is easily blown out by the cold winds of the evil that men do, but this is why there is a Church where the light of faith can be passed from one candle to another, rekindled when needed by another person’s strength when we are weak. The altar, the heart of religion, is a place where those moved by the needs of the heart seek the heart of god, the Christ light. It is a light characterized by the soft warm glow of the tabernacle candle, a warm light the body is comfortable with.

The alternative altar is that of magic and miracles where ultimately there will be a sacrifice not of the divine lamb, but of the poor and vulnerable among us human beings.

Who Tortures Man?

Who killed Christ? When you see the image of the man nailed painfully to the cross, the worldwide image of Christianity, it provokes that question in the viewer. In this icon human violence and cruelty are not hidden but placed where they cannot be ignored. Christian teaching is a teaching about evil. It is about the power of evil and how that power is broken.

Love and rationality are vulnerable. Those we love can be tortured and the truth of what is real can be hid behind lies. Though often we are able to exercise our will to love and to truth in their defense, there are limits to what we can achieve. These are  hard sayings. We want to be able to say god is love and god is superman, that love conquers all. We want to be able to say that in the end the truth always wins out, that truth will always have its day in court. We want these things but this is not the way it is in the experience of life as it is actually found.

Teachings are our ancestors gifts to us, giving us what they could about what they learned about the life a human being is fated to experience. Christianity is one of those teachings. It was an opening of the mysteries to the masses at a time when the global crossroads of the ancient Roman Empire had brought the formerly isolated pagan communities together. Priests and scribes from literally hundreds and hundreds of traditions were finding themselves talking past one another. Eventually thoughtful people began recognizing similarities in the midst of their better teachings. The marketplace of ideas was offering a welter of confusion for the very real needs of the Jewish people going through the collapse of their way of life with the fall of the temple. Eventually the whole Roman Empire would collapse and sweep away the gentiles as well. It is in this context of social collapse and upheaval that the Gospels at the heart of Christianity were written. That “writing” process took place over a century or more.

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the Gospels with an authorship date of maybe 70 CE. Mark provides much of the source material for Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Mark is actually a very carefully crafted literary document. It uses numerous stylistic techniques to channel readers attention towards what is most important, even as clues to how the reader should be interpreting what they are reading. It uses numerous terms and images that would have been immediately understood by its initial audiences but leave us with little more than a fairy tale for children if we do not understand them today. For example, in Mark when Jesus casts demons into swine, the word used for the demonic horde is ‘legion,’ an extremely odd use of a Roman word. That word has no precedent in the Judaic texts nor is it an idea in use among temple or synagogue. Still, the readers of Mark would not have been at a loss to understand what he was talking about. No literate person would have missed the allusion to the soldiers of the Empire, the Roman Legions. Another very pertinent example is the use of the white robe at key places within the narrative. Readers in the ancient world would have recognized the allusion to the initiate of the mystery religions who was said to wear a white robe in their initiation. Both of these images, the robe and the Empire and its martial powers would be taken up in the book of Revelations. That apocalyptic book gives a view into the drama of Mark’s story as if it were seen from the inside, as it were. We will be looking at Mark and Revelation a bit later as this investigation into the mythology of the West proceeds.

This might be a good time to remind my readers what we are doing and why. It is my position that there is a rampant abuse of Christianity in the modern world. It runs a spectrum from sexual abuse in churches to magical thinking in the halls of governmental power. The time is late and the guilt of our generation is weighing heavily on us, more so than we consciously seem capable of admitting. Look at our actions – we are not resisting that which is seeking to kill us. There is a disconnect, something has gone wrong in the evolutionary imperative to survive and protect our children. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this but one stands out. In our pride we invented the corporation as a way to privatize profits and dilute financial risk by spreading it among the public. Thinking we were so clever inventing these personal wealth maximizing machinations, we find today that these corporate entities are powers no individuals are able to control. They do things that no human being can stop. Or so it seems. So far. We are in a fight against the “principalities and powers,” not a few evil men here and there. This is the lesson of the scapegoat, the mystery the Christ revealed openly to the world.

Christianity’s teachings include how to effectively go about fighting exactly these kinds of Empire powers. It finds they are fed through the desire human beings have for god-like magical skills. Christianity is said to have separated religion from magic. It is about how seeking a magic god, one all-powerful to grant you your wishes, leads to an anti-god. That superman god cannot be found because that god does not exist. Love and truth are vulnerable, at least for a time, at least for the “three hours of darkness” in which the crucifixion is said to take place, or the “hour of our death” for which Catholics ask Mary to pray “for us.” Us, all of us together. What we, the human species, the whole human family, have to work with is what we see in our day consciousness. The rise and fall of civilizations and our species ongoing cultural evolution has all taken place in this part of our psychology. We do not control dreams. We are not responsible to try and evolve or improve the unconscious, the night consciousness that is also a part of the psyche. In the great mythic theme of night and day we are meant to be creatures of the day. In Christian terms we live in the resurrected life after “coming to Jesus.”

What does this mean? I am going to suggest that it means accepting that the world is already “saved” or, to say the same thing from another point of view, that you personally are not responsible for all the evil in the world – and dealing with it. What is it this Christ is said to accomplish with his dying on the cross? He tears the veil of the sanctuary, revealing to all, and in public everyday in the ritual of the Eucharist, the contents of the Holy of Holies, the innermost altar in the innermost room of the temple. Not the temples made by human hands in our various religions but the temple of the human body. What is accomplished on the cross, what is this revelation? It was said to be the defeat of the devil and the harrowing of hell. The Christ kills the devil and frees those under his power to become children of god. To believe in this is to be able to pray the Our Father. This is the central teaching of the Christ, this prayer (along with the Beatitudes). One of the most telling characteristics of this prayer gives the whole show away. Have we heard it too many times to really hear what it is saying? It is addressed to god, not the devil, and asks god “not to lead us into temptation.” Wait, isn’t that the role of the devil? What is going on here?

There is an understanding BC, before Christ, that is not the same as the understanding AD, after death. The Western world enshrined this comprehension of its own mythology in the calendar with its use of BC and AD dividing all of human time into the before and after of this encounter. It was a collective symbol of what individuals also have a chance to encounter in the Christ. Jesus was a Jewish teacher, the Christ is an anointing, not a last name. The Christ is a light of truth larger than what could be captured exclusively by any story, including the Jesus story. It’s the star that guides the wise men from the East, the grace of truth in all the poetic myth and prosaic prose of all people of goodwill throughout all times. It still guides us today. It is the living logos: the ability of our words to carry truth and meaning. It is exactly this power of the Word that is now suffering at the hands of PR, spin, sales, fake news, and magical preaching. It is also the cause of the suffering of most dysfunctional families who use language to tell lies about that-which-shall-not-be-spoken. Just as healing comes to the abused once they are able to speak, so healing comes to the broken soul when it is able to accept that it really is vulnerable and depends on the kindness and goodwill of others. Coming to the cross involves struggling with how love and truth have died in your own life.

As the Roman Empire gave up its hundreds of cults, and the whole menagerie of con-men that accompanied them, for Christianity it seemed, for a time, that the age of living under the destructive power of superstitious thinking had ended and mankind had entered a new era, a new eon, in which day consciousness would have its proper place. We were to live no longer driven and haunted by nightmares of our own imaginations and all the visions of gods, devils, angels, demons, heavens and hells that formerly lead us to dismiss the value of earth life just as it is. It was a blow to the whole Gnostic idea that this earth is hell and spirituality is all about escape. The revelation of god as love, not as a satanic destroyer, was to put an end to all that. That is what the teaching of the calendar was meant to convey.

One objection to the whole Christian mythology is, of course, that the world does not at all look like one in which the powers of nightmare are defeated. If Jesus was actually the Christ, how could that be? That, however, might very much depend on one’s own point of view, be it BC or AD. There are two truths here, just as we find in Buddhism. The Christ was said to have removed the fear of death, the devil and hell for those who found in him the truth. Buddha was said to have removed the burden of the caste system and reincarnation for those who found in him the truth. The Buddha was said to have taught us how to be a genuine human being. The Christ is said to have taught us how to be genuine creatures, children of god. Both had a message that the other paths being offered, the ones that claim to lead to men becoming gods, are lies. The divine pharaoh and his attendant priests does not like that message. They did not like it then and they do not like it now.

Jesus is a personality. That is what the Gospels are sharing, the story of a person in enough detail that an image of an individual comes through. That individual is one that countless people over the centuries have come to love and in that love established a “personal relationship with Jesus.” American religion is so overwhelmingly evangelical that phrase tends to invoke the idea of a true believer talking with Jesus in their head all the time. Quite a special person to be getting constant advice from the creator of existence for their every doubt and decision. . . That is not the type of relationship I think the Gospel stories offer. The stories were here before you were born and will be here long after you have gone. You as an individual confronting these collective stories have a choice about what they are going to mean to you. That is the relationship. If you were born in a country that has a Christian past, of necessity you will establish some sort of a relationship with the myth of your people. This becomes your “personal relationship with Jesus.”

This is not to say you must become a believer in any sense a preacher might use. It is pointing out that there is no real choice in the matter. Once you see the crucifix and hear the story, you are confronted with the question: who killed this man? Why has he hung there over the centuries, as Bowie sang in Next Day, “not quite dying”?

One answer to this question of who killed the Christ is that the devil did it. This is the scapegoat role for the torture victim. Frazier’s Golden Bough is a study in the slaying of kings or priests, or very often their substitutes, for the good of the crops and the community. Rene Girard’s anthropological study Violence and the Sacred adds important insights into what these actions meant to the communities that took part in them. He explains how the external enemy unites a fractioned society. Leaders have long known how an external threat quiets domestic squabbles (something I expect we will be seeing here again soon in this fractured America). The concept of the devil is the ultimate outsider and the ultimate threat.

Beside the scapegoat answer there is another possibility. The scapegoat is innocent but bears the weight of the community’s trespasses. The cross was used for killing criminals of the worst sort. Perhaps that man is hanging there because he deserves it. This is closer, I think, to the truth of it. Here is the one that “takes on the sins of the world.” To believe that, doesn’t that mean to see there fallen human flesh and blood? The evil that has caused people so much suffering is finally getting its due. That corpus on the cross is representing the serial rapist killer, the sadistic death camp officer, and all the other human beings whose lives have inflicted the most viciously cruel violence on other people. God’s justice is being served. We would all gladly pay our thirty pieces of silver to get our revenge. Yet each of us, we too are sinners. This interpretive door opens the way into the war that lives in the human heart. For the believer, faith brings peace to that war through an act of grace. Something happens when the divine love comes and sweeps a human heart away into the embrace of the mystical marriage personally. The archetypal rearrangement of the individual’s psyche, if you will, lasts for the rest of the believer’s life. It involves an act of the will accomplished through intention and accomplished once and for all; just as the death on the cross is said to have satisfied divine justice once and for all for each individual who accepts it. These believers know they will have the ordeal of their own “hour of death” still to deal with, but an hour is a light burden to shoulder compared to a lifetime spent ruled by anger and revenge fed by superstitious shadows and fears.

The day and night mythology has guided humans since before the time of Stonehenge. The solstice return of the increasing sun at the very nadir of the dark season has been celebrated universally since time out of mind. Merry Christmas indeed. What the mono-myth of Christianity, as the culmination of the mysteries, is offering is this same ancient teaching distilled into the most inspired form our ancestors were able to create. The path to psychological maturity and the accumulated wisdom of the elderly are here. The maturity, however, is complex and is only found by embracing our painful vulnerability on the one hand, and forgiving those who blew out our flickering light of faith on the other. Those who brought us to the dark night, those in our own hearts who hurt us when we loved them the most, how are we to truly forgive them and end the war inside? To forgive is not the same as to forget. In order to forgive, first the truth must be spoken. Part of that truth is understanding that there is no magical ‘I’m sorry’ spell that makes everything all better. Forgiveness is not simple, it never has been.

Respecting Minds

It is so easy to overlook the astonishing capabilities of the human mind. Like fish who do not notice the water they swim in, our immediate experience of mind is so familiar we simply take it for granted. To successfully navigate the practical concerns of day to day life is a major accomplishment, one for which we as a species have yet to learn to give ourselves enough credit for. What the mind is able to accomplish is downright humbling when examined fully and should lead us to respect its abilities and, perhaps even more importantly, its vulnerabilities.

Consciousness seems to consist of a collection of factors which must be kept in dynamic balance. Mind seems to do this by a series of cybernetic-like adjustments which allows it to stay on track. Psychological development is never a straight line from point A to point B but more like the way a sailboat proceeds, tacking first to the right and then to the left. A moment of excess marks the trespass into extremes and the need to change course if sanity is to maintain its even keel.

Take a moment to consider the contents of your mind. We balance an awareness of our mundane and earthly position with a simultaneous awareness of our cosmic position in our galactic neighborhood and the unspeakable immensities of space. Alongside a thought about the ancient vastness of the night’s starry sky and pondering the meaning of human existence in the grand scheme of things, will come another thought trying to decide if the sandwich you are currently making would benefit more from Djon or yellow mustard. We maintain an awareness of grand themes playing themselves out in the theaters of international relations and the history of ideas spanning centuries and millennia, side by side with an intimate knowledge that our own allotted span on the stage of human affairs will run but a small handful of decades, if we are fortunate. Whatever might be the purpose of the stars and the grand scheme of things, each morning when we awake we are able to dedicate our energies (some people and some days with more enthusiasm than others) towards the indispensable needs of the individual life we are living – consuming our sandwich we are off to work or school or to find a mate, change a diaper, hoe a garden, pay our taxes or blow our noses.

There are also the balancing acts of the heart no less necessary if conscious awareness, just good old everyday conscious awareness, is going to function properly. Heart’s emotions intermingle with rational cognitions just exactly as language based thinking intermingles with images born from memory or imagination. We recognize our own bodies have needs of nourishment which must be balanced each day with the equally legitimate claims of others. We are aware of the suffering and needs of those sentient beings all around us and our hearts go out to them in their distress. One part of us remains aware, always, that right now an innocent is suffering reprehensible cruelties, be it from war, miscarriages of justice, or abuse. One part of us remains aware, always, that at this time there are lover’s vows being exchanged, babies being born and made, artists completing great works of beauty, and moments of sacred grace descending into the mystic’s breast. In the heart we balance our fierce love for our mates, if we are coupled, with a determined hatred to oppose anyone or anything that refuses to grant them the respect they deserve. This is another difficult balancing act our minds are accomplishing ceaselessly on behalf of maintaining our sense and sanity. These opposites are representative. The tension they create constitute the basis by which consciousness is conscious.

This stressful weight of knowledge is ever present to our minds, pressuring them in every moment to avoid what we fear and obtain what we desire. And what opposes all that? We find ways to balance this survival imperative with a more carefree attitude. If our lives are not to be wall to wall nightmares, we need to have times and places in which we allow ourselves to bask in the warm, peace-filled glow of contentment. The emotions and intuitions around gratitude, safety and well-being cannot be strangers to our everyday awareness as well. Yet the will ever beckons, there is the next valley to be crossed and the next mountain to climb on our endless hunt for our rainbows by which we might reconcile our individual existence with the whole of existence. In the interplay of opposites, which is the play of consciousness, even the proper gratitude can be taken too far and leave us kneeling and groveling (or simply drunk) when we should remain standing upright, shoulders back, capable and self-reliant.

Moment by moment our mind must balance the energetic alertness our nervous systems maintain as they are primed to be on the lookout for unexpected dangers, at all times ready to zero in on threats, with the relaxed, kaleidoscopic perception of the general reality of our environment which we understand does not contain these active threats most of the time. Every moment we combine a dismal fear of the future, quite rational for mortals subject to pain, with hope that this same future will bring us satisfaction. We all know some dreams come true and some tragedies strike wholly unexpectedly. We balance knowing these things are simultaneously true as we carry on performing the tasks of the present moment.

In what is perhaps the most profound balance of all, consciousness arises ceaselessly from the exact point at which the past disappears into emptiness and the future springs forth from the same. We balance the fact that the past is gone – that it was once real and now can be found nowhere while implied everywhere – with the fact that the future, as such, does not exist. There is a continuity in this kiss between the contained and the container that forms the essence of our time-riding consciousness. It is so mundane and yet so profound. One way we experience this psychologically is as our hope and fears for the future balanced against our pride and regrets from the past. It is from this crucible that wisdom is said to be born.

We altogether too easily take for granted this complex balancing of mind that allows us to navigate consciously in the cosmos. Taking all this and more for granted, we are often discontent, searching for more; we need a fix, an answer, a final understanding. I think we would be better served if we understood consciousness to be a very hard thing to create well in this universe as it really is, and that the mind as we experience it and the universe as we experience it participate equally in an ongoing act of creation’s manifestation in each unique, fleeting moment. We needn’t fear that each moment includes an irreducible element of novelty and the unknowable; it is ok that every detail doesn’t exist pre-planned in some cosmic mind. It seems instead that mind works in time, hard, calling on all the powers and forces of animate and inanimate existence to aid in its ongoing emergence. It seems that the uncertainty principal we find down among the sub-atomic particles extends right through the exercise of the free will we experience most intimately. Free or determined, particle or wave, mass or momentum, timelessness or time: these are the grand opposites mind plays with as if the paradox of their extremes were of no concern.

Our minds are born curious. To guide them through the difficult process of learning they have developed the ability to contrast that which is experienced as real with that which is experienced as a dream. From this most basic contrast among phenomenon the ego is able to establish what psychology has termed the reality principal. Hemmingway colorfully referred to this as the mind’s “bull shit detector.” It is a direct manifestation of the archetypal Self in so far as incorporates not just the ego but the personal and collective unconscious aspects of consciousness as well. The ego alone is not allowed to decide what is real and what is not, though it often wishes it could. The ego must learn to bow before that which makes the real seem real to it. It must embrace the Kantian categories of time, space and causality trustingly. Which leads us back to the subject of magic and miracles we looked at in last week’s post.

Is there evidence for a miracle-causing supernatural realm wholly outside the perception of humanity, as the priests claim? Is there evidence that magic works and that holy men have powers far beyond that of us normal mortals? Can the ego find in these tales of magic and miracles some real foundation for its hope to become immortal and forever blessed? This is how the BS detector takes on the subject of religion. Eastern or Western makes no difference since both abound in tales of magic and miracles.

I am going to suggest that this search for evidence for magical power has two results. In the realm of physical manifestations the evidence supports the null hypothesis. No miracles in the walking-on-water and severed-heads-being-restored variety are ever found to exist. It is always trickery, altered states of consciousness, or hearsay one is left with at the end of careful investigations of claims that these types of magical things have come to pass. On the other hand, there are the types of magical power involved with human psychology. There are love potions and death spells, holy incantations and powerful rites and ceremonies galore. The evidence for this kind of magic having a real world affect is rather abundant. Psychology is just beginning to grapple with some of what is involved when one human mind exerts “undue influence” over another. The proliferation of destructive cults in our midst has made this subject of “brainwashing” a very practical one for psychologists to deal with. Though today we call the visible, physical results of curses psychosomatic illnesses, that new label doesn’t cure people suffering from them nor is it able to keep people from occasionally being terrified to death by these same means. The evil eye and pointy sticks of the black magicians of today present themselves in more modern garb but they play on the same mind-body linkages around fear and panic, desire and pain, that they always have.

The arts of persuading the human mind have become common place in the emotional manipulations we see displayed in advertising. Ads are messages designed to change the behavior of those watching, namely to get them to purchase the product being hawked. To do this effectively across a wide percentage of the population the advertisers found that using emotional appeals instead of intellectual arguments delivered the goods. The familiar voiceover extolling the facts about some car, drug or whatnot is often included as no more than a veneer atop the visual short story the ad conveys. Not everyone will respond to these efforts on the part of advertisers to directly influence behavior. The cheerful mind, confident in its position, is less susceptible to the allure of their appeals. This is because those appeals almost always begin from an injection of a negative self-image into the mind of the viewer who is then given relief through the purchase of the product. The target of these mini soap operas are unhappy, lonely, confused, stressed, unpopular, stinky, failures but luckily for them, the old snake-oil pitch runs, we have just the thing to turn your life around!

We say that the successful tunes and jingles the mass media saturates our minds with are “catchy.” Our minds catch them, like a cold or a virus. For example, in 1982 the song Jack & Diane by John Mellencamp was receiving repeated radio play. I still, 35 years later, occasionally get the catchy chorus popping up in my head, “Oh ya, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” Those of my readers close to my age may have just heard the same notes accompanying the jingle I do when this virus takes hold. There is big money to be made in programming the human mind with pessimistic mantras like this.

I think we need to discuss this like a viral epidemic. These act as mind parasites as they so easily loop endlessly in our minds in some vague, semi-conscious fashion. These internal tunes provide a bounce to our step throughout the day but they also are programming the mind with a point of view. The music, the Dionysian element Nietzsche recovered for European philosophy in The Birth of Tragedy, helps us move our bodies with more rhythm, more like dancers. This is why devices allowing us to have earphones on throughout the day have become so popular; they answered a deeply felt need in this time of ours which has so consistently insisted our bodies are little more than DNA built machines. Machines don’t dance. It is the music of these jingles that gets to the heart. The words on the other hand, the words are carrying what are more or less intelligible messages from the daylight realm of Apollo. The mind feeds on thought, finding some nourish and some do not. Those which do not nourish are like the empty calories of a fast food meal; they crowd out the place nourishing thoughts might have been. The jingle mentioned earlier is a good example of a type that I find all too pervasive. It’s Apollonian message is basically adolescent romantic angst, playing on the fear that after 30 years old life is nothing but one unremitting downhill slide. This is a useful message if you want to sell things to younger people. It paints a picture that their youth is the only time of their lives that really counts – so rack up that credit card!

“Oh ya, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” Think a moment what it is you are telling your mind about life and what types of experiences one can expect as one gets older every time that little ditty loops around inside one’s skull. So many lives of quite desperation haunt the cities and towns of our modern world. One is left to wonder how much of it is the result of mind programming tricks like this. What is the jingle but a claim of corporate property rights in your inner landscape? This is what the thinkers of the past used to call the battle over the human soul. There is a reality to the psyche, as Jung was at such pains to point out, call it what you will.

It is only when we think that what our minds are capable of is trivial, so easy as to become unworthy of our continuous respect, that we can fail to properly protect them. It is then that we can become haunted by wanting more out of self-conscious mammalian life than it is prepared to deliver. In doing so we become susceptible to the wiles of the uncouth manipulators of mind. When we want more like this, we open ourselves up to the tragedy pattern which always starts when a person or a group pursues a fantasy that is not aligned with reality. Such projects do not end well, how could they? Better to work hard ourselves to acquaint consciousness with the art of paying attention to that which actually concerns us as self-conscious, caring individuals alive on a threatened earth.

Anjali

And how does that make you feel?

This is a question you will not often hear in public discourse. It is easier to proceed with the type of social relations we have chosen to reward when we pretend that the people involved are little more than automatons. We do recognize it hurts to be hungry, or scared, or shamed. There is no attempt to deny we are emotionally driven creatures, quite the opposite, in fact, when we take account of how we actually spend our money to influence one another. A person needs to hunt far and wide to find a rational argument laid out with evidence and a well reasoned conclusion among all the noise in the mass media. It is so much easier to use snarl words and poke the inner beast with a stick than it is to talk with the inner angel.

There is talk in the United States of rebuilding the long neglected infrastructure. It means more roads, bridges…. What future is this preparing for? Certainly not the one the ecologists are telling us to prepare for. In that future the role of carbon dioxide producing long distance travel is likely to be greatly constrained. Ask yourself if the solution to the problems of our built-out infrastructure are going to be best addressed by creating more of the same and repairing what exists? The number of cars on the road is expected to double by 2030, think its crowded out there on the highways today? Do you really think 20, 50, or 100 years from now, that the dollars spent on automobile infrastructure will still seem to have been the best use of our limited public funds?

Take a moment to check in with what you feel about these facts. First sit still and take a few deep breaths to calm the mind down from running in circles, and then slowly allow your own answer to come to you. Slowly bring to mind a picture or your own felt intuition of just what the world of the day after tomorrow is going to be like if, in fact, a huge national investment is made again into the ecologically destructive technology of fossil fuel transportation. Remember the tonnage of earth killing cement and pavement it will require, the pipelines, fracking. Remember the output of our tailpipes, how it lags for a decade or more. How does it make you feel?

Tell me, does it matter to you how other people feel?

Fear leaves the mind unable to reason well. It is very difficult to cultivate the angels of our better nature when our imaginations are fed on hellish images of anger, pain, suffering, injustice, abuse, killing, rape, torture, and war; in other words, all the types of images that seem to be ever increasing among our mass media communications and “entertainments.” Do we consider the impact all of this is having on the minds of the youngest among us? Do we care?

Normally these kinds of concerns are dismissed as naive, unrealistic for the world of a gray dawning Monday morning. I disagree. The integrity in a moment of consciousness is related to how integrated the whole person is at that moment. The most abstract thoughts continue to have emotion at their core, and the most extreme emotions constitute thoughts of sorts. What is reasoning to the mind, compassion is to our emotional make up.

Choosing a lifestyle of non-violence and low consumption comes directly from this insight. When you see the beating of the sacred hearts all around you, well you just need to see it for yourself: this is a sacred world. I greet you with anjali. I recognize the divine dwells within you: I recognize you have real subjectivity. In doing anjali we affirm that the universal spiritual teaching applies between us, that the Golden Rule between I and Thou applies. It is found in every major religion and philosophy, it is the gold standard of proper human relations. Why? Because it is our reality.

At the heart of my own consciousness is a profound mystery. I am grateful for the awareness I call my own, it is immeasurably precious to me. The logic of the Golden Rule is then impeccable. I will grant that you too have this same mystery at the core of your experience. This makes us kin. Mindful Ecology invites us to extended our anjali greeting to all the animals on earth as well, for they too bear the mark of subjectivity.

Consciousness is relationship. More specifically, consciousness is our relationship with the “things” it contains. These things, we should recall, are reflections in our awareness of real objects, however weird those objects might be in themselves. “Things” are the molecular world’s emergent states which happen to be happening at our human scale. Consciousness is consciousness of these things.

These things are always and everywhere in relationships among themselves. This is the reality of interdependence. This matters a great deal when we turn our attention to the different ways in which we treat those things we consider fully alive and those we do not. It is a slippery slope, this dividing dead and alive. The Cartesian split soon justifies splitting the more worthy, the more alive, from the lesser. Our Faustian investigation of machinery has lead us to suspect we ourselves might be little more than robots. We fear our body is more real than the mind, that we might be nothing but bodies, that mind is an accident, meaningless. It supports prejudice since some among us might look like they are alive and worthy of anjali, but really be little more than automatons. Throughout the western history of ideas animals, children, women and slaves have all had their integrity of consciousness questioned.

It is not hard to see that the Cartesian inheritance carries with it a pride in rational thought defined as being free of all emotion. What characterizes all those that had been placed in the category of not-quite-as-really-alive-as-ourselves? Animals, children, women, the uneducated and the slave were all understood as living lives lead by emotion instead of thought. Their crime was to allow feeling to rule their actions instead of cool reasoning. We have already looked at Descartes Error in this regard, how neuroscience contradicts any clear separation of thought and emotion. The Age of Reason was followed by the Age of the Romantics precisely because it seemed no reconciliation between thought and feeling would ever be found. That such a reconciliation has been found, and backed up by all the proof of modern neuroscience, is a really big deal. The Cartesian gulf begins to look like little more than a crude rationalization meant to justify cruelty. How is it, exactly, that one being with subjectivity could lay judgment on another being with subjectivity, such that the later is not extended an equivalent basic right to their existence which one unquestionably grants oneself?

For in the depth of feeling, are we not then most real?

It is not in the heights of thought that we come to sense the greatest depths of being. The experience is much more directly accessible than that. What we are is not the contents of our thoughts, it is our reaction to that which we contemplate.

The Destroyer

And so it has come to this. The basement of the mind, the basement of our times. The journey within the psyche we have been examining includes a final feature that is the subject of today’s post. There, in the depths of what ego is able to encounter and endure, hides a very dangerous feature, one which we do not know all that much about, only that it is really there.

This feature of the mind is why, at least in part, there is a common wisdom in the west about not going too far with introspective practices. We have sayings like this one from the Native Americans, “a man loses himself in the blacks of his eyes,” or the half-comic characterization of meditation as “navel gazing” which implies it is nothing more than an adult attempting to get back into the womb ala Freud. St Anthony, the first Christian contemplative, goes out into the desert and is immediately set upon by Satan. The Tibetan meditative tradition has a very rich array of fierce Buddhas reflecting what they found when they went inside. We have been using shamanism as a model for these things.

A destroyer hides in our subjectivity.

One model of therapy I find cognizant names the parts of the psyche, recognizing that there is an Internal Family System within (IFS). The part of the psyche we are concerned with here is at the end of a spectrum of inner critics. The spectrum begins with the perfectionist within, that part that has very high standards for performance, behavior and production. When we do not measure up to its dictates it attacks us by insisting our work or behavior is not good enough. Under its influence what we do fails to nourish our sense of self worth because it seems as if it is never quite measures up. Each of us has this critic part of ourselves which we need to learn to deal with. Some people have had incidents in their lives, particularly childhood incidents, which makes this perfectionist within a major burden, but none escape completely unscathed. People in highly competitive cultures, such as our own, find the energy of our ‘Can Do’ drive is often and easily diverted towards this less than helpful delusion that we could one day be perfect. You know the drill: the right partner, church, job, house, car, clothes, friends, and all the rest the squawk box goes on and on about endlessly, will make out lives happy and everyone will like us, if only we would listen to the helpful advertisers treating us to their arcane knowledge about how best to spend what money we do have.

The perfectionist can become a bit more adamant. They then take on the characteristics of what IFS has called the molder. The molder works to get you to fit into a particular social mold, typically one based on your particular cultural and family mores. It makes you feel good when you fit in but attacks you when you dare to deviate. Notice how the worth of the individual is shifting towards the worth of a more institutionalized interpretation of what an individual should be. The molder wants to remake the world in their image and can brook no deviance. Fundamentalists of every stripe are captivated by the needs and values involved with the molder part of the human psyche. The molder is sure the only safety in this dark and dangerous world is to be found in the special habits of one’s own tribe. All others are heretics. Heretics threatening the very law and order of the cosmos.

Take this desire to remake individuals in the image of a perfect being one more step and the molder turns into the destroyer. The heretic and apostate must be killed. The destroyer is defined as an inner critic that makes attacks on your fundamental self-worth. It uses the weapon of shame. It seeks to persuade you that you should not exist. The perfectionist wants to make you do better in the world, it is simply not all that skillful so all it can do is harp on you about not being good enough until it wises up a bit. The molder wants to help you fit in within the many social aspects of your life. It fears the social isolation complete individual eccentricity creates, it just lacks the skill to communicate helpfully about the dangers it perceives. The destroyer, on the other hand, wants one thing only – to watch you die.

The torture chamber hells are what our imaginations conjure to clothe what we feel in the extremities of suffering. Here we turn on ourselves. The mind lashes out at the body, angry at its vulnerability and mortality. In its imaginative images it chops and burns, cuts and tears away at it until there is nothing left but a bloody, quivering chunk of flesh. Somewhere a frozen witness observes this – and is not fooled by who is who and what is what all along the long chain of karmic causes and effects that has lead up to it. The problem is, that if we do not find the courage to take on the battle within, we are destined to project the destroyer so that it walks among us as cruel injustices: abuse, poverty and war.

It is a sad fact that there are others who would gain a sort of satisfaction with your destruction. No matter who you are, your very existence is an affront to some group or another. When a person’s identity is with a particular group instead of their own self, anyone who lives outside that group is threatening. To see these outsiders destroyed confirms the true believers in their faith. Nations and religions thrive on this projection of the shadow and the creation of scapegoats it entails. Since all of us are individuals, we are bound to cross others and be for them the target of their ‘evil eye.’ That old phrase captures a psychological process whereby the burden of self-destruction is injected into a person as a result of their socialization. Inside our psyches we encounter not only protectors, which look and act fiercely but do so out of compassion and have our best interests at heart. We also encounter destroyers, that 10% of the shadow that is not gold, that is evil pure and simple. The teaching I like around this point is that the universe is only fully interesting and engaging with a devil in it, but we are meant to honor life by keeping a firm foot on its neck. The only karmically correct response when confronted by a destroyer is to thwart their plans, to short circuit their energy, to destroy them in turn by honesty, light, truth and reason. Remember, if you commit suicide, or murder-suicide, the bad guys win.

The tools of the Wrathful Buddhas are surgical, they destroy destroyers. They also accomplish the dismemberment of the shaman. How could it be otherwise in a universe that is wholly interdependent? Those who would venture in the lands of the inner worlds should know not all is sweetness and light there. Our evolutionary roots, while graced with wisdom, are also home to many relatives of the alligator variety.

Earth is a place in which we are all playing the parts of both predator and prey. Both parts in themselves are as pure as mountain streams. In man, however, there exists the ability to get lost in a dream, a world of his own imagining. This is what those bits of common wisdom about the dangers of introspection are warning us about but they, in my opinion, fail to place sufficient weight on the dangers of not working with one’s own mind.

It is true that at some point in every therapeutic treatment there comes a time to let the past be past and move on. In every shaman journey taken to the end the heart is properly placed in the Halls of Judgment. “First,” one of my earliest teachers once told me, “we have to get you right in your heart.” The human heart is to be weighed by the gods with the angels looking on. In other words, it needs to be liberated from the judgments of other people who cannot know you as only you yourself can. Only you know why you did what you did, that you felt what you felt. The heart cannot be given its final judgment by any human being – not by mother or father, not by teacher, priest or prophet. It was said by St. Augustine, “Love god, and do what thou wilt.” This describes the same view – doing what you will takes up your conscious focus and you let others worry about the right and wrong of it. A creature is to deal first with their creator, and it is a profound confusion to think the moms and dads of the world are the final arbiters of that power. It is right to be liberated to do what thou wilt because you lead with your heart, following the truth of love and compassion. To put it yet another way: being in a place of healing involves a real acceptance that you are never going to get all your vices in order before you give your all to life. We have to learn to love the outcasts, the downtrodden and the sorrowful we find within and without. So many of us are caught up in provisional living, snared by some complex or another from really committing 100% to this life just as it is. We act as if this is the dress rehearsal and the real thing is going to start anytime now, just as soon as we get a few things in order…

We do the same thing socially and it is starting to have some serious real world implications: we will stop driving the animals to extinction just as soon as we get good, solid economic growth going again; will leave some clean water for our children to drink just as soon as we get this little problem of a diminishing power supply figured out; will cease overfishing and clear-cutting just as soon as we have paid off our loans. It is the modern modus operandi for all things related to the real ecological burdens our way of life creates.

We as a society have become entranced by scenes of torture and mayhem. We see it everywhere from the short scene in BBC’s Sherlock on Masterpiece Theater, to longer scenes in James Bond films, and on into the depravity of torture porn proper such as we see in the Saw series. The news carries the same things. The real world Texas Chainsaw Massacre like abuse of human beings (women and children, minorities and the poor more often than not it is worth pointing out) haunts us. It is as if we understand that before someone does these kinds of things on the outside, they long ago did the same thing and worse to parts of themselves on the inside. This scares us all. It can literally scare us to death.

Reason sheds its loving light on the search for the destroyer within. The ego’s waking mind can teach this wild imagination of ours the difference between a metaphor and a reality. The truth is that very few people, thankfully, will ever experience first hand the psychological state of extreme duress brought on by being tortured. However, as our “entertainments” are quick to capitalize on, we all share places within where our deepest fears around our fleshy vulnerabilities are imaged through torture in hot and cold hells.

The child wakes up screaming from a nightmare, their head filled with monsters, wild animals, weapons or torture devices attacking them, or any of the other shamanistic idioms. The parent soothes their fright with words of reason; there is no monster in the closet or under the bed. Eventually the child’s mind coalesces around real world fears, such as burglars coming through the windows, covert night visits by sexual predators in the family and other dangers of the real world the child is working so feverishly to understand. Reason is the boon of compassion. It does not go away but greets us again fresh each morning, regardless of what terrors may have visited us in the night. Our reasoning ability needs to teach the rest of the mind its knack for separating what is real from what is poetic, metaphor, exaggeration, or simply thoughts way too extreme to be applicable to the real daytime world as we experience it.

Against the destroyers we bring our protectors. These are every voice we have ever heard and glance we have recorded from the people who have seen who we really are as individuals, not remaining content to encounter just the personas built for the roles we fulfill as needed by some institution or another. Our protectors have seen who we are beneath the character armor and liked it. They hold a revelation it is almost impossible for the hurt parts within to really accept: loving kindness. The protectors act like a cloud of witnesses made up of everyone who has ever encouraged us with a kind word to do our best and be happy with that, as it expresses our own unique brand of Being Human via DNA ™. The protectors assert the rational truth that you have as much right to exist as any other creature that has ever won the DNA lottery. Protectors call destroyers what they are – liars. The devil, the Bible states, has been a liar and a murderer since the beginning. Protectors, on the other hand, defend life and stand firmly on the truth of things. They are warriors which keep the warrior’s honor.

This is in stark contrast to the destroyers. A warrior will not cause his or her opponent’s face to become washed in blood. They will not shame their enemy. That is dishonorable, a despicable act; to fight fair the shame shot is not taken. The willingness to do so is what makes the bully-torturer pathetic in the eyes of a warrior.

And so it has come to this. It is not exactly that we have elected a Bully in Chief, but indisputably President Trump brings a public meanness to the office not seen before. Does President Trump shame those he attacks, or does he stay above the belt and fight fair? Only the victims of his attacks can answer that. We all, however, have a stake in the answer to that question. For a great many things it will come to matter a great deal whether this nation is being led by a warrior in disguise, or a destroyer.

Remaining mindful of ecology we are not given to despair over the shifting fortunes of empires. We have been training in bringing aid to the suffering, under triage conditions, among the two-legged and four-legged for quite some time now. Don’t be fooled by shifting circumstances, big oil doubling down and taking over the apparatus of government, for example. Give it another ten years before drawing any conclusions.

Change would be coming about now, we were told a long time ago. Change was certainly needed; it has become patently obvious that business as usual has no long term future. Well, change is what we’ve got. Let us all pray. Pray with compassion filled hearts for each of the suffering sentient beings on our most precious, rare and beautiful earth. Pray the inevitable death throes of big oil will not be too destructive to that which remains.


I have added a a new page under poetics. It is hoped it might comfort with it’s simple reminder to Go forth and love life.