Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Trust in Yourself

Imagine a typical weekday. We wake up in the morning. We get ready for work. We drive to the "office," arrive there and do our thing, and return home. We cook dinner, handle our business, and hopefully get some quality time in before the night is over.

From place to place we go, our attention shifting from task to task, concern to concern. No matter where we go, there we are... right? Isn't it the same-old "you" at each part of the journey?

Well, ordinarily I'd think so. But while I was out the other night I had some mild insight in regard to the different phases of our daily living and (suprise!) the interconnectedness of them all.

I was at a concert, you see, and was feeling quite good. Of my many years of concert going, I would not hesitate to say that my fun-to-intoxication level was higher than it had ever been before (in that, I was having the greatest of times with a relatively meager amount of chemical enhancements). I was simply feeling the "now"-ness of the night, from moment to moment. And accordingly I found myself overwhelmed with "good ideas" galore. The kind of stuff I'd ordinarily be writing down like nobody's business.

But this wasn't the time for taking notes on life. This was the time for listening hard, feeling the rhythm and enjoying each and every present moment. The music washing over me, the energy of the crowd all around me, and "me" right in the middle -- it was one big dance and there was nowhere else to be. And suprisingly, given my horrid fear of not writing good ideas down, I was at total peace with the way things were.

Trust yourself, an inner-voice seemed to be telling me. You'd write these ideas down if you could and you know it. But you can't. And there is a perfectly good reason... you're at an amazing concert. Live the moment.

And so, what little anxiety I had seemed to melt off of me. The inner-voice was right. I certainly wasn't rationalizing to myself and making up an excuse not to get these great ideas down on paper. There was nothing I could do, short of abandoning the concert (which would have been drastic). I thought hard about my "at home and writing" self, the part of me that makes time throughout the week to get the ideas written down, and I had to trust him... trust that he'd get the job done. Finding trust in another part of myself -- as if it was another person, almost -- was a way I'd never looked at things before.

For indeed, there is a time for everything. When we're getting ready for work, we shouldn't have to worry about whether our clothes are clean or if our car has gas or not. At least the way I structure my responsibilities, those are duties my "get ready for tomorrow"-self does the night before. My "morning"-self has to trust that "night before"-self that he'll do his share. And likewise, my "evening relaxing"-self is going to trust that my "work"-self gets his job stuff done during the day, not screwing himself over during the prescious evneing hours.

My "working hard"-self has got to trust that "go out and party"-self is going to do his job well, otherwise its all work and no play. But that "party"-self has equally got to trust the "work"-self to get the important stuff done, or going out will be financially impossible.

So what is the point of looking at things in this light?

Well, I find -- in less than a few days -- that no matter what it is I'm doing, I bring to the living moment a realization that future living-moments invariably depend on this living moment. Sitting with my back straight today (and tomorrow and beyond) makes a definate difference for my 70-year-old self (god willing!). Or, said another ways, my "old person"-self is trusting my youthful-self to take rather good care of the hardware, or things will be quite unpleasant down the road.

So this would be a transition away from seeing yourself as a "single entity," in a certain sense. We aren't just one person -- we are many different people doing many different jobs. Keeping an eye on this can be very important if we're to be the person we're fully capable of becoming. When working out (or generally working hard), for example, we cannot let our "lazy"-self get his foot in the door and start calling the shots. There is a time to be lazy, that is for sure... but we must recognize that time for what it is. And consequently, we must recognize the time when we must work hard, push on, and get the job done well.

Ultimately, I find this way of looking at things to be empowering, in a strange way. Looking at this interconnected web of "trust" may suggest a certain sense of added responsibility to our lives... but is that bad? After all, we are talking about nothing less than the fulfillment of our individual destinies. We're talking about digging down into our deepest stores of energy and motivation to shine light through our each and every action. When I realize that in typing this sentence there are numerous other "me's" out there who are trusting me to do my best in each moment, I offer the challenge. I affirmatively step up to the plate. I'll take it all on. There could be nothing more important. For, just as I place my trust in others, those others are right now placing their trust in me. In this very moment, right now, right now, is what its all building off of.

Imaginary U-Turns?

I'm going to take a break from the so-called "series" of post that I've been spending time with. I plan to come back to them, but I need to keep things fresh at the moment.

Over the last week or so I've been quite mesmerized by a certain idea/concept that I read about in an essay titled "The Charlatan and the Magus" (which I discovered while browsing over this post from Tim Boucher's Pop Occulture blog). The essay itself deals mostly with our perception of things and the possibility that those who seem to be imposters (psychic frauds or fortune tellers, for example) may, through the roll they step into to "sell" their supposed charlantism, stumble upon unexpected brushes with genuine "supernatural" experience. If this sounds interesting to you, definately check out the essay.

But what I want to focus on is the concept of what I'm going to call a "percieved U-turn" when there is in fact no such thing. As that surely makes little sense, I'll begin with a short passage from the essay:

The analogy that I wish to suggest is this: that just as the pendulum's field of movement can be locally distorted by a powerfully charged magnet, so also can a human's field of reason be distorted by a powerfully charged concept. And in the vicinity of that concept reason can run along a path that appears warped to an outside observer, yet appears perfectly straight to the thinker.

Consider a theologian of a past age listening to a brilliant discourse upon the nature of angels. He is no idiot, he uses his full knowledge and powers of logic to analyse what is said, and he is very impressed. That is, until a chance remark exposes the speaker to be a Protestant heretic. Suddenly his whole discourse is so suspect as to be worthless. As outsiders to a world so heavily charged with concepts of godliness and heresy, we see that the listener has been deflected through a complete U-turn as soon as he approached the realisation that the speaker was a heretic.

As outsiders we see a U-turn. But what if we were part of that theologian's world? Would we be able to provide a logical explanation as to why the speaker's being a heretic means that he incapable of saying anything worthwhile about angels? In other words would we be able to describe the forces that deflected the theologian's reason? Or would we take his reaction so much for granted, that we would refuse to recognise that his reason HAD done a U-turn?

Do you see the problem?

What instantly pulled me to a mild fascination with this concept is its relation to the nature of perception. One person percieves an event one way, another person sees the same event another way. As with perception in all cases, I don't think there is one "right" way to percieve things... but I do think the idea of getting caught up in illusions is a concern worth exploring.

Example. You're at a concert. All you're concerned about is "hearing an awesome song." Really, any song can be awesome -- it all depends on the circumstances. So you're out there, you're ready for it, and you're keeping your ears peeled. To hear this song is your goal... it is the thing you seek. All good and fine so far. And then comes the mistake -- you find yourself expecting that "awesome song" that awaits you to take the guise of one or another particular songs you know the artist plays.

And so you tell yourself: "Track 2 from album3... that will be the awesome song... that has always been my favorite, he always plays it during the encore... that is what I'm waiting for." What has happened here? You've concretized the previously unnamable "awesome song." Your mind has given form to the formless. In a realm where any song at any time can indeed be touched with the magic of awesomeness, you declare that the awesomeness can only be found in "song x." If this is the way you percieve things, this is the way things will be for you. And quite likely, you'll be unable to hear that "awesome song" in any other form than the one you expect.

And so it is the encore of the concert. He has one song left. "Here it comes," you tell yourself. "This one has got to be it. He always plays this one last." You're excited, you're anxious, you're on your way to awesomeness. It is just a moment away. And then the song starts... and it isn't the song you hoped for. #@($! Disappointment washes over you. You were an instant away from awesomeness, and then the world turned things around for you. You were doing your part, the world didn't hold up its end of the bargain. You were promised awesomeness, and it was denied to you. Or, at least that is how you see it.

(And of course, everyone else is enjoying the hell out of this last song -- they see the awesomness for what it is).

From an outsider's point of view, I'm hoping the U-turn idea is suggesting itself. This individual at the concert, so understandably excited to hear the legendary "awesome song," was walking in that direction. But the moment he knew what shape that awesome song would take, he was setting himself up for disappointment. And when that final encore song began, the awesomeness that would have been a few steps ahead of him is not a destination he will reach. For he stops, turns around, and walks the other way. Had he the proper state of mind -- been open to the awesomeness no matter where it came from -- he would have stayed on the straight path and found the treasure. Instead, because he was so sure he knew how it was going to go down, he shuts off the possibility of the awesomeness coming in any other way.

So that is what I'm getting at. There is a part in all of us that wants to expect exactly how we're going to find what it is we're looking for. I recall hearing a friend of old describe how and exactly when she'd meet her next boyfriend, who she'd have in time for an upcoming wedding, and who she'd be engaged to in exactly 17 months. Okay, maybe that would happen for her. But most likely, things won't go that way. And disappointment galore is what awaits.

The last thing I'm trying to do is put down any type or shape of planning or preparation in life. Far from it. The idea is -- make your plans, prepare for the future -- but ultimately yield to the fact that you're not in absolute control, things almost certainly never go exactly as you plan, and that what it is you seek -- an enriched, meaningful, nurturing experience of being alive -- can be found in infinite different ways. To give finite form to the infinite is not inherently bad, as long as one recognizes that it is the infinite that ultimately informs all things, not the petty forms we come up with to quantify it.

Is it bad to have a song you want to hear at a concert? Certainly not. I never said that. Just remember its what you're looking for that is important to you, not how it is given to you. Hope, plan, and prepare away -- indeed, do your work and do it damn well. Play hard. But, ultimately, yield -- or at least be prepared to do so.

And so, in our daily lives, the unexpected roadblocks will occur. Undoubtedly, things will not go as planned. Maybe someone will be in that lone bathroom stall when you really need it. Maybe that movie will be sold out. Maybe you'll get a flat tire on the way to work. But don't let any of these turn you around... don't settle for the U-turn. For what you're looking for lays straight ahead. It would certainly be foolish to turn around, thinking you must have been going the wrong way, when in fact you were (and are) closer than you've ever been.

So I suppose my point is this. When looking at life spatially, a straight line is where we're going, where we want to go, and where we'll find what we're looking for. When an obstruction appears, don't think of yourself as turning your life around to get past it. For your life path must remain straight, even as your illusory material body might indeed backtrack a bit. Everything, then, that may seem to hinder our progress is in fact beckoning us further onward and inviting us to the awesomeness. It is up to us to see it.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Bringing the World to Life, Part III: On Becoming Fully Human

(Bringing the World to Life -- Part I :: Part II :: Part III)

When you look at a few of the biggest questions in all of life, at some point or another you're almost certainly going to brush up against the mysteries of where we came from and where we're going. On the cosmic level and beyond, these ultimately are unanswerable questions. When viewed a bit closer to home, however, we can start to come up with some actual answers that provide meaning for us.

When we look at ourselves as human, for instance, these questions can become a bit more flushed out. I'm not talking about "human" in mere biological terms, but more in regard to the fullfillment of our potential as individuals (and beyond). On this path to becoming fully human -- which I'm declaring to be the promised land we are all seeking -- where did we come from and where are we going? Are we still on our way? How do we know we're even headed anywhere? Might we have reached the destination already? Woud we ever know when we did get there? Or are all of these questions the inevitable result of brains that might be too powerful for their own good?

Maybe these, too, are unanswerable questions. But regardless, I shall proceed. For enprisoned though we may be in this cosmic realm of time, we are all "locked toward the future." And fundamental to the growth of each and every one of us is the quest to become who we're meant to become. To be as fully human as possible, which I'm positing here as the prime concern of this individual post and beyond, the prize we seek is not one that we're destined to behold. Just the opposite -- it is something we have to work for. After all, we're talking about the ultimate of all treasures. There is a job that must be done. There are tasks that much be accomplished. Trials and tribulations await us. Initiative and action are required. Indeed, if we're to delve into the darkness and return with the light, our full capacties and best qualities are demanded of us. The proces of fully becoming is anything but easy.

Each and every day, whether we choose to recognize them or not, these challenges are before us. And for the most part, these challenges are deviously subtle and easy to overlook. While sitting at the computer, for instance, are we to be ruled by the comfort-seeking animal within us and succumb to the slouched back? Or will be able to tap into the human stores of power and muster the strength and discipline to sit up straight?

Or, say you're slumming by yourself at the local bar during the first rocky patches of an otherwise great marriage. When a cute townie girl starts laying down the flirt, are you going to be ruled by the sex-seeking animal urges within? Or can you summon the deeper human-based restraint and stick to the course?

Or, when eating that awesome meal, are you going to give in to your inner pig and stuff it all down without stopping to breathe? Or can you enjoy that meal like a human, maybe put your fork down between bites, taking an occasional moment to enjoy what it is you're doing?

And for the grand-daddy of them all -- its late at night and you're on the couch, about to go to bed. "One more minute," you tell yourself, flipping through the channels. Deep down, of course, you know you're full of it. Is this what we're destined for?

These are the kind of battles that I'm talking about. All day, every day the challenges are right in front of us. Are we going to give in to what is easy, what is quick, and what is convenient? Are we going to be a slave to our primal and biological animal urges? Or can we walk the human path, take a step back, and take a moment to fully assess what is going on? Are we going to become something, as we deep-down know we're capable of? Or are are we to go on being a slave to the animal bondage we're unable to cast off?

In the second volume of the great film Kill Bill, we are blessed enough to bear witness to Quentin Tarantino's first cinematic "training scene." Under the cruel tutelage of Pai Mei, The Bride's (Uma Thurman's) limits are thoroughly tested. We see her continuously punching thick boards of brittle wood, carrying heavy buckets water of hundreds of steps, and being rigorously trained in kung fu under the hot Asian sun. Yet all of these tasks -- physically demanding though they may be -- are overlooked when it comes to the climax of the sequence.

For the true test comes in a bowl of white rice. Being clearly bruised, battered, and beat up to hell, The Bride finds herself unable to pick up any rice with her chopsticks. Being deeply exhausted and certainly hungry, she gives the chopsticks up and resorts to eating with her hands.
Pai Mei scolds her, knocking her prescious bowl of rice across the room. "If you want to eat like a dog, you can live and sleep outside like a dog. If you want to live and sleep like a human, pick up those sticks!" Here we have the above illustrated point exactly.

In this quest to become fully human, the road is often difficult and full of pain. And as dedicated and serious as we all may be, there is not a single one of us who is beyond giving up when faced with a seemingly impossible task. But we must dig down deep and listen to that Pai Mei inside of us, for we all know he speaks the truth.

When wieghed down at times like these, we can give up on the chop-sticks. We can settle for the animal life that got us here. We can expect nothing more of ourselves. Or, we can look within, refuse to quit, push onward and become the person we're capable of becoming. Of course, ain't none of us perfect. Laziness can certain be worth succumbing to on occasion. The couch will slay us all, from time to time. But such defeats are not the end of us. "It is okay to lose to opponent," Mr. Miagi's infinite wisdom tells us, "but it is not okay to lose to fear!" Indeed, the real foe lies within us. The road is certainly not an easy one, but the treasure is out there and waiting for us.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Bringing the World to Life, Part II: The Cyclical Nature of All Things

"If a tree falls and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"

As far as the approach of this blog is concerned, the answer is a resounding no. We could quibble around with terms and concepts and say that sound may exist in an objective, emperical sense whether or not people are around to "hear" it -- but I want nothing to do with this approach. It is our experience, I declare, that is the fundamental base-ingredient of all things. Really, what could be placed before experience? We can imagine answers to this question all day long (God, matter, the universe, etc), but when it comes down to it our imagination is founded upon our experience of imagining. And without this sheer and utter experience, we're left with nothing -- or less than nothing, since the term "nothing" is indeed "something" that we made up.

In regard to "Bringing the World to Life" and this current post, what I'm concerned with is the reality we create for ourselves through our active experience and conscious realization of things. What is the color "red" without our recognition of it? Or how about the number "5" -- does it exist outside of the numerical concept we've created? The general thesis for this entry -- and really this series and the entire blog itself -- is that things only exist when we give birth to the possibility of such existence in our minds. And it is the experience of this realization that brings our world to life.

There is perhaps nothing more fundamental to our perception of reality than our experience of cycles. We have the beginning -- or coming into being; we have the middle -- or the duration of the being itself; and we have the end -- the going out of being. All of these are founded upon the "silence" -- out of which things come, and back into which things go. In the broadest sense, we have our human life. In that life are years, days, hours, seconds. In those seconds, our lives are filled with constant arrivals and departures, all interwoven and interrelated, all on top of and inside one another.

Before such a recognition, there is no form and no shape. There is a void; there is an abyss. A bug might wander through life, always going to new places and following no apparent path. Yet, to an outside observer, this bug might clearly be moving in circles. If the bug doesn't percieve these circles, do they exist? As far as the bug's experience goes -- no. If the recurring signpots aren't recognized along the way, the path walked is random and always different. It is through recognizing these signposts that we become aware of the cyclical nature of all things. It is the realization of these cycles, in my experience, which has been fundamental in "bringing the world to life."

For myself, it was the work of Joseph Campbell which woke me up to this realization. In particular, his idea of the "Hero's Journey" -- a fundamental sequence of events, universal in their application -- which acted as an injection of life into my world. At the most basic level, Campbell described this journey as "a departure, a fulfillment, and a return." The basic idea is, no matter what stage of the journey you're at, you become conscious of whatever phase of the journey you're curently working through. To go through life with awareness of where you are is one thing; but to have an awareness of where you are relative to where you've been and where you're going -- this invites into your life a heightened sense of experience which hits closer to the inner-mark.

As I was introduced to this idea and wove it into the fabric of my daily life, it was my frequent visits to the gym that brought it to life. I would usually go to the gym just after sunset. Being about a half-mile run through campus, I saw myself departing for an important destination -- as if on a hunting expedition or quest for treasure. In the few minutes it took me to get there, I would visualize the night's workout in my head. Upon arriving, I cross the threshold and enter the labyrinth. From exercise to exercise I would move. In each exercise, from set to set I would progress. In each set, from repitition to repitition I would advance. In between sets I would have a short break -- this is the silence, "out of which all things come, back into which all things go."

At the end of the workout, it was time for the return -- the tired run home. While usually exhausted, being aware of the cyclical nature of all things allowed me to "tap into" the greater reserves of strength I had discovered. Indeed, during any one moment we may find ourselves tired or overwhelmed or lacking energy. Yet, when we view ourselves in the greater sequence of events, our menial and tedious activities are brought to life. Instead of simply "running," for instance, we're training for that big race. Instead of merely "working," for example, we're getting the job done so that we can pay the bills and feed the baby. Through broadening our perspective, we become aware of the interrelatedness of our daily activities and our experience is enlivened.

Once one wakes up to this "broadening of persepctive," a self-reinforcing chain of events begins. We see how each and every thing we do is related to everything else we do. The work I do today makes a difference come tomorrow. The work I do tomorrow has an impact on where I will be next year. Where I am next year is of paramount importance to where I ultimately end up. There is really no limit to this all-encompassing approach.

Recognizing "the all" in "the singular" frees us from a worldview of isolated, momentary and fleeting occurances. Any task -- no matter how seemingly meaningless -- is not only related to, but somehow identical to each other task in life. This notion is described somewhat in Michael Crichton's book Jurassic Park. The following passage is spoken by Ian Malcolm:
A big mountain, seen from far away, has a certain rugged mountain shape. If you get closer, and examine a small peak of the big mountain, it will have the same mountain shape. In fact, you can go all the way down the scale to a tiny speck of rock, seen under a microscope -- it will have the same basic fractal shape as the big mountain. (p. 170)
And as such, life is not full of the tedious chores that are mere "means to an end," but are in fact the end in themselves. We are not working and saving up for an experience of life -- that experience is instead to be found right now, in this very moment. Let me explain.

Look at the task of taking a morning shower and getting ready for work. In a certain sense, this task is a microcosm for life i tself. The shower itself? Bliss. The warm water is heavenly. We can easily lose ourselves in the steamy goodness... our ego almost falls away, subject and object become obsolete. But, just as with our time in the womb, such a thing is not meant to last. Just as a mama's water breaks, there comes a time when we must turn the water off and undergo our birth (to the day that awaits us).

The water is off -- and we're plunged into birth trauma. Shock. Almost instantly, we become cold. At once, we're shoved back into the world of a subject and object... self and other... wet me and the cold air around me. While part of us surely wants to go back into warm shower-land (just as a crying baby yearns to go back into the womb), that is not an option. We must move onward. Next, we dry ourselves. And while we're still a bit cold and uncomfortable from the shock of our "birth," with each drying moment our condition improves. This corresponds to childhood -- a gradual "getting used to" of our surrounding world.

After drying ourselves, we comb our hair and shave. This is reminiscent of learning about and putting on the "mask" society has us wear. Like it or not, we learn how we're expected to look -- and to what extent we embrace or run from the social norm. Even those who rebel against society's norm wear masks so that they may recognize each other (the dressing styles and insignias of Goths, Anarchists, Punk, etc).

We move on from the bathroom into the bedroom and get dressed. This might be symbolic of the refined mask that we present to the outward world -- maturity. We're old enough to go our own way and play by the rules we wish to play by. Just as the transition into adulthood and beyond, we become and embrace our independence. And finally, at the end of our day, we get undressed -- passing our torch as our time ticks away. This is in preparation for our return to the womb of the tomb -- which in this case would be the warm bed. We go to sleep, entering the "silence" -- from which we came, to which we return.

So in that above case, we take the simple task of taking a shower and getting dressed -- and through it, a direct correspondance to our greater life-cycle is found. As stated earlier, the mere shower is not some waypoint along the path to "the person we're to become" -- rather, who we are during our experience of the shower (and getting dressed) is who we are for our entire lives. We might reject this statement, citing that our greater destiny is not to be bound in our experience of a menial task such as shower. To an extent, this is a fair approach...

...Yet, at the same time, it is also a disservice to our inner-most selves. For life is a continuous string of "moments" -- a bunch of "right nows" woven together seamlessly. In this light, our experience of life "right now" is a testament to our entire experience of life itself. Really, what else is there but "right now"? Similarly, it is "in this moment" when all things are started. When else? We can put things off for "later" or "tomorrow," but in far too many cases these are rationalizations that amount to nothing. As Janis Joplin said, “Tomorrow never happens. It’s all the same fucking day, man.” The same truth can be applied to each moment.

In conclusion, then: even in the busiest times of our lives, these moments (when fully entered/embraced) provide rest, resolve, peace, and stillness. The transient world of fleeting forms can be screaching by all around us at a staggering rate -- but if we find that still spot in our center, we are blessed with perfect balance and immunized against the crazniess of the changing world.

Such a mental image suggests a tremendous wave approaching an individual. This wave represents the turmoil, trauma, and stress associated with a world of constant change. Being perfectly centered, though, this individual calmly raises his hand (or finger) in defiance. The wave, upon reaching him, splits off and is directed around him. In the middle of the universal chaos, when grounded to our center, we are untouched by this wave. It cannot reach us. For we are rooted with the part of ourselves that transcends all thigns material, fleeting and transient. We are rooted with the deepest source, and nothing can throw us off. And what always does throw us off is our own selves -- the thing we must work on mastering.

Each moment, then, is a test. A trial. Are we to be swayed by the whims of the material world's incessant demands? Or, through recognizing and embracing the cyclical nature of life, are we to embrace the stores of infinite power found in each moment? Life is suffering, we are told. It is not the suffering that is the problem, it is how we deal with the suffering. There is an old Arab proverb I'm fond of: "it is not the long road ahead that is to wear you out, it is the pebble in your boot." Through full realization of the interconnectedness and interrelatedness of all the cycles of life, transcendance of the material world's flaws is made possible.

This is not a road we walk alone. "I am a student of this heart just like my father," sings Mason Jennings. All who walked the road before us had the same challenges, ordeals, trials and tribulations. Just as broadening our perspective presents the "all" in the "singular" in regard to daily tasks, the same principle can be applied to the quest we're all thrown into. "We have not even to risk the adventure alone," writes Joseph Campbell, "for the heroes of all time have gone before us." He continues:
The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bringing the World to Life: Introduction

Since I started this blog, I've wanted to write a post about "bringing the world to life." This refers to mainly my own personal explorations over the last year or so... and consequently I feel I have a lot of interesting things to put out there. The problem, though, was sheer organization -- I had a handful of vaguely related topics that all fit under the guise of "bringing the world to life." Was I to compose one massive and all-inclusive post? That was the idea, at first.

Yesterday though, the answer presented itself to me. Instead of one gargantuan post trying to include all the topics I wanted to cover (which probably would have done justice to none of them), I would instead compose a mutliple-part series of posts (inspired by an identical approach from the blog Alchemical Braindamage). In a sense, each post would be different than the rest -- yet all would be loosely related and fall under the general umbrella of "brining the world to life." And so with that, I continue with an introduction to my henceforth-proclaimed series.

I want to begin with the idea of one's life following a sort of order, progression or path. As our life unfolds, this path may seem non-existant, or at most veiled and unclear. Quite often, in fact, we may wonder where the hell we are going with a sense of futility and helplessness. However, when looking back at one's progress during fleeting moments of peace and calmness, there may seem to be some sort of structure or guiding principle that was there all along. Various events -- many or all of which seemed unrelated and random at the time -- were seemingly working together to deliver you to the place you are now. There may be one hundred moments in my past that I wished had turned out differently at the time... yet, when I look at where I am right now, I couldn't imagine being in a better situation.

In the "Power of Myth" interviews, Joseph Campbell talked about this exact topic. Examining Schopenhauer's essay "On the Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," Campbell remarks:
[Your life] can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot?
While examining the many different possible answers to that question isn't my intention, I'll simply skid ahead one summation of Schopenhauer's thoughts on the matter:
And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.
It would go without saying, then, that this "universal will within nature" is active within all of us, below the radar of consciousness though it may be. As we make our way from day to day, wondering about where it is indeed we are headed, I've grown suspicious that there is a part of us -- shut off from our conscious selves -- that has an inkling of an idea of what is going on. And no matter what path we "choose" for ourselves, we are in fact unable to head in any direction "away from" our ultimate destination.

If anything could be said about the last few months of my life -- which are themselves a product of the last few years of my life -- which again are products of the 20-some years before -- I would say that I've observed (with utmost modesty and humility) an "awakening" to myself and to the world. I don't intent to measure or scale this so-called "awakening" against anything, for that isn't what is important. What matters is that I've slowly become aware of myself observing and becoming aware of myself at the deepest, inner-most levels.

I will admit that, upon entering college, and even a few years after, I thought I had it all figured out. In fact, I was sure of it. I mistook wisdom for that which was empirical, perhaps, and mistook youthful arrogance of deep-rooted knowledge. Slowly, I began to suspect that I might be mistaken... that there might indeed be more out there for me to learn. And slowly, over the last 5-6 years, I've become aware that I still have a very long way to go. Yet, I'm at peace with that. I recently came across a quote from the former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who said "it's what you learn after you know it all that counts."

And so maybe that is what I'm getting at. When I say "bringing the world to life," I think I'm hinting at the part of myself that is "seeing things as they really are." I am freeing myself from the ego-imposed prison-world I had created for myself by thinking I had it all figured out and that what I saw was what I got. Recently (and this is what I want to write about in this series), I'm discovering that "the world" (or "reality" or "life" or my "experience") is slowly unveiling itself and the radiance is shining through. The more I yield to this -- which is devastating for the ego, and therefore a quite difficult thing to do -- the more things seem to "come to life."

And it is beyond incredible. It surpasses remarkable. It is really and utterly unspeakable. But I'm going to cross the threshold and bring back a description of it that is my very own. Of course, my words (as with everyone elses) can only take you so far. They cannot take you all the way. It is you (or me or any of us) who has to take that final step. We can be shown the way, but we ourselves must take the journey. So please stay tuned. I am quite excited for what lies ahead and hope to shine some light where there is darkness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Inspiration, Flow, and Moving On

Alright. Here we go... another post. I was on a roll last week and the weekend put an end to it -- but its okay, because its the weekend, and that is good.

In the meantime, I've certainly been thinking a lot about what I'd like to write about next. And the thing is, there are tons of ideas stewing... the trick (or so I thought) is to wait for one of the ideas to shout-out to me. This is how it went all of last week, and it was quite awesome.

This week, however, with more work having fallen into my lap, it hasn't been as easy. But I cannot let it stop me. There is a great quote from Stephen Pressfield's book The War of Art that I'll share in this respect. In the book, the author asks a certain writer if he waits for inspiration to strike before he starts writing. His answer is something like: "Yeah, I do wait for inspiration. And fortunately, it strikes every day at 9am sharp."

That's what I'm talking about. Sitting down, taking an active roll and taking charge. Inspiration may come your way unexpectedly at times, and you may even make the most of it. But that doesn't mean you can get complacent. That doesn't mean you are helpless if it doesn't find you. Sometimes, you're the one who has to get geared up and go after it. Get yourself ready first, and then the inspiration will come your way. Could we realistically expect it to be any different? I don't think so.

After writing my forever-long Garden State post, I was feeling really good. Regardless of its flow or continuity or the schizophrenic nature of its presentation, my experience of writing it was among the very most enjoyable writing sessions I'd ever embarked upon. I had the idea the night before, awoke with it still in my mind, and decided to see where it would take me. Four-and-a-half pages later, I felt really good. Why? It flowed out of me.

We're talking about heatlhy, organic, and natural flow. It flowed the way all things should flow out of people. Looking back at every paper I'd ever written for school, I don't know if there was ever a related experience of "flow." For the last 4-5-6 years, ever since I started writing casually in journals, I've been trying to break free of the systematic writing-style beat-down school imposed upon me. Whatever I wrote, it seemed, was in that wordy academic-ish language that you're implicitly taught teachers love. And its driven me crazy for years. That would be the opposite of flow.

So when you find atreasure, you must be careful that you don't fool yourself into thinking the adventure is over. Because it is never over. I recall going on a four- or five-game win-streak in foosball once. Clearly, I was on a roll (I was flowing, you might say). But then, after a few days of not playing, I began to let it go to my head. It wasn't that I was sure that I was better than everyone -- it was the total opposite. I was away from the game so long that I knew, on some level, that I could never repeat those previous performances. And instead of actively seeking challengers, which is the only way one can keep one's game refined, I was passive and let this self-doubt eat me up. No matter who I played next or whether or not I scored 10 points before them, I had already lost in a certain sense.

I must say, I never thought this random post would ever get this far (let alone avoid the trash pile). But I think I'm on to something. (And if I'm not onto something, at least I'm writing and putting myself out there). That being said, there is a little theory I have when it comes to any act of artistic creation. Applied to blog writing, the idea is this: there are 100 (or 500 or 1000) "bad" posts inside you. And the only way for you to get past these "bad" posts is to get them out of you -- by writing them out. There is no other way. This reminds me of basketball players being in a shooting funk. It is certainly easy to yell at them and hope they don't take anymore shots (which is sometimes hard to deny) -- but if they're to be the best player they're able to be, they're going to need to shoot the ball. And they gotta get those bad shots out of their system. How? Of course, by shooting them out.

So here it is. One more post. Again -- I make no claims to clarity, succinctness, brevity, or a well-thought-out structure of ideas. That is one thing I've never promised with this blog. But this is one more post. One further post on my way. One more handful of cobwebs ripped out of the system. I'm that much closer.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Serpent, Gnosis, and Garden State

Yesterday, while browsing through the "Gnostic Movie Guide" over at the Gnostic Friends Network, I was surprised to see the film Hedwig and the Angry Itch listed. While I have never seen more than a few minutes of the film (and admittedly wrote it off as some quirky gender-bender comedy), my fiance is indeed a huge fan. Intrigued, I proceeded to read more about the movie, thinking that I might bridge a gap between my interest in Gnosticism and her interest in Hedwig. An excerpt from a certain review was posted, stating (among other things) that director John Cameron Mitchell was a big fan of Elaine Pagel's book "The Gnostic Gospels" and even named a character in the movie "Tommy Gnosis" ("Tommy" most certainly being an homage to the disciple Thomas, of infamous Gnostic Gospel fame).

Reading on, I found something else the author said that triggered a spark in my mind. Talking about Pagel's aforementioned book, Mitchell said:
"[It was] quite enlightening, for someone brought up very Catholic, to see a nonhierarchical view of religion. It didn't make sense that just because Adam and Eve wanted to know something they were penalized. In the Gnostic view, Eve was really connected to an overarching God; like Jesus, she was a knowledge giver. I paraphrased this for the movie."
Immediately, I was taken by this particular approach of contrasting Gnosticism with traditional Catholocism (as a means to explain Gnosticism to someone not too familiar with it). From a Catholic perspective, we're taught that the Serpent is an agent of Satan and thus evil. Okay, fine... I guess. But Mitchell's succinct point made so much sense -- Adam and Even are penalized for wanting to know something... is that so bad? Isn't it (their God-given) nature to want to know things?

The link of thoughts continued. I instantly recalled an interview I'd read with Quentin Tarantino regarding Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. In the interview, when asked what part of the Bible he'd chose to make a movie about, he answered "the Snake and Eve." Tarantino continues:
"It's not a bad thing for Eve and Adam to taste the forbidden fruit. On the contrary, it's a good thing. The tree filled with forbidden fruits is the Tree of Knowledge. If they didn't taste the forbidden fruit, our life today would not be so colorful, so enjoyable. Maybe live like animals, see the rabbits in the yard? The tree bore the fruits of freedom and the snake gave the fruit to them. [The snake] was a messenger of freedom and Eve was a hero."
Again, the same point driven home. Further support for this argument wasn't difficult for me to find, as I recalled a Joseph Campbell lecture in which he compares the Genesis Garden of Eden story to a Sumerian equivalent from 2000 B.C. (which also features the Tree and the Serpent). Campbell brings it home even more. Talking about the view of the Serpent in the Sumerian tradition, he describes it as "the divinity of the garden" and "lord of the universe that tells you where [eternal life] is." The Serpent sometimes appears as a man-like figure, he says, and "holds in one hand a jar of the Elixir of Immortality and in the other hand a branch of that tree -- exactly what was offered to Eve."

This was the approach (in describing Gnosticism) that I was looking for, one that I felt made total sense. The Serpent is in fact helping Eve (and Adam), guiding them to knowledge which is attempting to be withheld from them. And who is withholding it? "God" -- or he who believes he is God -- what the Gnostics would call the demiurge (half-creator). "Imagine that the God in the Garden of Eden is actually an imposter God," I imagine myself saying. "He thinks he is God, but he is really mistaken. And the Serpent, then," I continue, "is a messenger of the True God -- as was Jesus -- who leads our Hero (Eve) to the knowledge she seeks. This fruit awakens Eve to the knowledge within (gnosis), which she shares with Adam."

I felt like this idea would communicate the point well and I was quite glad to have discovered this analogy. Hoping to further ram the point home (in this imaginary conversation), I scoured my mind for other recent and well-known movies where these general Gnostic principles were also evident. And then I thought of Garden State and knew I was on to something.

The basic Gnostic framework, as I'd quickly describes, comes down to this. The material world in which we live is "removed from," "seperate from," or even "flawed" in comparison to the blissful "fullness" which we intrinsically seek. The demiurge is a concept that is understood as the "false God," the God who thinks he is true God but is in fact mistaken (i.e., just as we mistake any image we ascribe to God as being God himself). This material world is the creation of the demiurge, and in a certain sense is a prison (Gnostic author Phillip Dick called it the "black iron prison" ... just think the Matrix!). Freedom and liberation from this world of suffering is possible though, as there is a divine spark found in all things (ourselves included). Through the experience and knowledge of this "divine spark" (which infact connects us to the greater Source -- the true God) we experience gnosis, "knowledge," the full experience of being alive. (There are some other basic Gnostic terms that I've omitted to keep things simple. For a good and quick roundup/list, check out the "Gnostictionary" at the blog Homoplasmate.)

Back to Garden State. As for the demiurge -- this imposter God who thinks he knows all -- my thoughts instantly turn to Largeman's (Zach Braff's) father. He has kept his son deprived by giving him mind-numbing medication for practically his entire life, "protecting him" (as the Father sees it) from that which is either dangerous or undesirable. This may be done with best intentions, surely. But the result is undeniable -- Largeman has been deprived of feeling "alive" the entire time. The different medicines he takes daily keep him shut off from this inner-knowledge.

Of course, the entire film (which is about him "returning home"...i.e., back to the source) deals with his adventure being off these pills for the first time. And what happens? He begins to feel again. At first he gets these strange headaches -- "like little lightning storms in my head... and then they're gone." This line fits well with the Gnostic description of the "divine spark" that is within each of us, which leads us toward an identification with the greater Light through the fully engaged experience of life (gnosis).

Upon returning home to Jersey, Largeman is reunited with many of his old friends. The state of life they find themselves in is quite relevant here. For example, we're introduced to Tim, who wears his Medieval Times armour outside of work. This clearly suggests that his "work" personae (mask) is covering up what is probably non-existant -- his inner-self, as he has nothing to show: he is "only a fast-food knight." Is merit to be earned in the material world (created by the demiurge), or is true knight-hood (gnosis) to be found within?

It is also worth mentioning the character Jesse, who finds himself rolling in money due to his invention of "silent velcro." Now that making money isn't a problem for him, he admits to doing nothing with himself. He lives in a big house (material/outward success) but has no furniture (spiritual/inner success). "I've never been so bored in all my life," he says. For most all of us, it is by questing through the swamps, wastelands and everyday detritis that we are to find the treasure -- by working through the muck of our economic demands we are invited to discover the inner-light and inner-worth that stems from within us, as opposed to some outside source.

This character, though, has fallen into an economic situation where his life is deprived of that quest. He may not have to wake up to an alarm, but odds are (and it sure looks as if) he isn't at all in a situation where his finer qualities are being called forth. I don't mean to say anyone in similar millionaire shows couldn't find the treasure through their own self-guided exploration... but in our day and age, as we grow up and expect that responsibility will be handed to us (as opposed to coming from within), he is not at all primed or ready to find the treasure at his current state. But there is certainly hope for him (as there is for everyone), and we see him last floating on a raft in his pool, hands behind his head, looking toward the sky deep in thought.

The final theme of Garden State that must be discussed is this important "infinite abyss." An abyss is formless, it is a void that is sizeless, it is full of nothing at all. And where there is nothing, there is everything. All of these italicized words are quite suggestive of the Gnostic concept of the Godhead -- the trueGod -- about which no words and no descriptions could be uttered (not that we're not allowed to say the words, but because we don't even have the words -- they cannot possibly exist). This "flawed" material world -- though seemingly a creation of the demiurge (which itself is to be thought of as a concept, not as an actual person/spirit/being) -- is itself a manifestation of this gaping void. While we cannot physically return to this "void" or "abyss" (or "heaven") -- which is what our inner-most beings seem to strive for -- the answer can be found through gnosis... that is, the inner- and self-realization of the divine in our everyday experience (and the knowledge thereof).

In that which is formless (the "infinite abyss"), anything is impossible and everything is unique. In that sense, each moment in life is "our one chance," says Sam (Natalie Portman's character), "to do something totally original, totally unique, that no one has ever done before." To live with full realization of this is what it is all about. And of course, this is something that takes time -- our whole lives, really -- but it is nonetheless a treasure worth pursuing.

At the film's end, Largeman, Sam and Mark -- all of whom have undergone rather meaningful transformations in the film -- stand above the gaping infinite abyss, screaming with joy as loud as their insignificant bodies are able to yell. The rain falls upon them and they are reborn and annointed (suggestive of baptism) -- their old "selves" washed away as they stand in full realization of the infinite abyss of possibilities that awaits them -- the rest of their lives. They have indeed found that moment we all seek.

So there we go. I'm sure someone could easily quibble that all of this is a stretch and that nothing about this film is really Gnostic in nature -- and that is fine with me. When it comes to getting this across, however, I think what's important is the individual's understanding of the general concepts as they're relevant in their own lives. Gnosticism isn't about being elite or an uber-scholar or memorizing fancy definitions or scripture word-for-word. It is about the same reality and life we all experience -- each and every one of us -- on a daily basis. Gnosticism merely provides a basic vocabulary framework in which to describe these concepts. That is, at least, how I understand it.

Perhaps, then, "Garden State" isn't just referring to the state of New Jersey, but more to a state of mind. As Joseph Campbell concludes in the lecture mentioned above, "All that is keeping you out of the Garden is your own psychology. Just learn to transcend the ego system and you will find that your ego evaporates and that you are one with that eternal life that lives in you all the time." And then we can again enter Eden... the Garden of Eden... that "Garden (of Eden) State (of mind)." Thanks to my big brother for noticing that one.

And with these words I leave you. I wish you well, and indeed... (it is too easy, I must say it)... "good luck exploring the infinite abyss!"

Friday, February 17, 2006

Another View on Creation

Recently I was visiting a friend's new apartment and saw that his (new) roommate had several Christianity-themed sculptures adorning the place. One of these was the uber-familiar "Creation" from Michelangelo. I'm sure most of us have seen so, so many pictures of this painting that it has become stale and sterile, devoid of any meaning or significance it might otherwise evoke from us. This, at least, is the case for me.

And I didn't consciously realize this very fact until I looked upon the Creation as a sculpture. It was white marble, and (quite notably) Adam and God each belonged to their own seperate "units" of the sculpture (i.e., they didn't share a common "base" or "foundation"). For some reason, this physical separation triggered something within that let loose a flowing torrent of insight and realization.

Before getting to my ultimate point, I'm going to take a quick detour before returning to Adam and God...

Recently, it must first be noted, I have given much thought to the idea that we consciously create the reality we experience. If we believe whole-heartedly in something, we will likely find evidence to support our beliefs wherever we look. And similarly, if we hold something to be straight-up impossible -- than we probably wouldn't even notice it even if it was right in front of our face. Anyone who has read "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunglight" (by Thom Hartmann) or seen the movie "What the @#*$ Do We Know?" might remember the concept that the Native Americans chillin' on the beach in 1492 didn't "see" the Spanish ships on the horizon. The idea is that such a thing would have indeed been "impossible" (that "ships" like that could be "out there") so they instead chose (on some level) not to notice them.

Let me approach this entire concept with an example. The socks you're wearing right now? What if I told you they were magic, and that they gave you the ability to fly?. Seriously. Two days ago, a little gnome switched them while you were sleeping. They're enchanted as socks can be, and if you wanted to, you could fly across town right this moment. If this were the case, and I hadn't told you -- would you ever know you could fly? Unless you "try" to fly on a daily basis, the answer is most certainly no. My point -- you might be walking around able to fly and not even know it. Why? Because you never legitimately try to fly. Why? Because it's impossible!! This "impossibility" in your mind immediately shuts off any manifestation of such an experience. (Not the exact same thing as above, I know, but hopefully not worthless).

Now I must bring this back to our boy Adam and the big G in the sky. My entire point to this thread is as follows: what if it wasn't God who created Adam... but Adam who created God?

Try looking at the Creation like this: first, don't think of the God (on the right) as being "the creator of heaven and earth" and all that. Think of him as something that is "seen" only by eyes who are prepared to "see" him. Now, from the moment frozen in time by this painting/sculpture, go back in time about 60 sixty seconds. Imagine God isn't there. Adam remains, and he is pretty much the same -- except that his out-reached hand is instead hanging limp. He still stares off into space, perhaps blankly or maybe deep in thought, and he is suddenly struck with the idea: "What if? What if there is someone or something else? Something out there? Something beyond?"

With these initial thoughts, he probably finds himself overcome with doubt and chuckles at himself for contemplating something so foolish. After all, up until this point his only concerns have probably been food, shelter, relaxation and women. But these aren't doing it for him anymore. Deep down, he feels a calling to something greater, and he can ignore it no longer. So once again, he battles through his instinctual doubt and cynicism and creeps back to the idea of "what if?". The sense of wonder and awe and mystery within him refuse to be repressed. "Really, what if?" And at that crucial moment, when his doubting and cynical nature loses its overpowering influence, Adam slowly begins to reach out his hand. Practically swimming in this awe and wonder and mystery, his fingers slowly become outstretched, following through with his conviction... and then he feels the touch.

I believe that what is important here is not "God" out there but the birth that has taken place within Adam -- deep down, he has awoken to the splendor of the Universe. The gentle hum that had been there all his life he hears now for the first time -- and it is a cosmic symphony. His consciousness has awakened, we might say. The sound aum we all know (or "om") as similarly been described by Joseph Campbell as "the sound of the Universe... the sound that transforms an animal into a human being." It has to do with waking up to what has been there all along. It has to do with coming to full realization that the treasure we instinctively yearn for (on the deepest level) seems to be (and always has been) right here in front of us. And we notice it for the first time.

There is a Hopi Indian saying that goes, "You have to believe in gods to see them," and I think that sums up the point I'm getting at exactly. The second we allow for the possibility of something to exist in our heads, we open up vast doors of potential within. And to think this is all about "finding God in your life" is missing the point entirely. It has to do with eating apples, playing basketball, folding laundry and running around the lake. It is through what we bring to these activities -- what we believe, what we consider possible -- that determines the reality we find ourselves living in. If we see no life, no spirit, no wonder in the everyday world through which we walk -- it will remain a lifeless world and give nothing back to us. Yet, if we instead open ourselves up to all of these things -- doors will open. And through these doors will pass magical and enchanted forces that will indeed bring life to our world.

This is something that will surely be infecting many of my future posts (as they all sem inter-related, I'm noticing).... so if I have indeed lost any of you, then, well... I can only hope you'll return again. Until then, have a nice day... and remember those magic socks.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Finding Your Own Path

Here is yet another post in the spirit of starting this blog.

I had mentioned in my very first post that there existed within me a strange desire to duplicate and copy the blogs/journals/websites that were the chief inspirations for this one. After all, how could I not? When I look at many of these sites, I cannot help but marvel at how cool and awesome they are. Reading their many posts, I find part of myself wishing desperately that I too was capable of producing such insightful posts on such interesting topics.

And from this admiration there comes an internal urge to do just that – straight-up copy what is already out there… get a similar title, a similar page layout, post about similar topics, and mimic those authors’ tone and style and wit. For many, many years I have recognized this urge whenever I contemplate a website that I might create.

Now that I am at the initial steps of starting a website of my own, I want to pay some attention to this while my legs are still fresh. What I have come to realize in the last year or so is the absolute and crucial importance to go your own way and follow your own path. As I am quite fond of doing, I will now produce some quite magical quotes that have helped me arrive at this realization.

In Daniel Quinn’s book Providence, he lays down a piece of advice that (as far as I’m concerned) is applicable to all of us, in whatever our life endeavors may be:
“What another would have done as well as you, do not do it. What another would have said as well as you, do not say it, written as well as you, do not write it. Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself--and thus make yourself indispensable.”
Quite simply, we are all unique individuals. We all come from different backgrounds and possess different life experiences. While it may be alluring (and certainly easier) to feel like we must follow the examples set by others, our true worth will be found by going our own way… by bringing to life that within us which no one else can draw from. By turning to and nurturing that which sets us apart, we “make ourselves indispensable,” and can then offer something the world has never seen before.

Another example… back a few years ago in Rolling Stone magazine, they had an issue about the “Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time.” Being a big fan of the Doors, I was quite happy to see them on the list. Each artist had a small essay written about them by a current popular musician. In the Doors case, it was Marilyn Manson who did the honors. His final paragraph further illustrates the above point:
“I've always thought of the Doors as the first punk band, even more than the Stooges or the Ramones. They didn't sound anything like punk rock, but Morrison out-shined everyone else when it came to rebellion and not playing by anyone's rules. There are a lot of bands that seem to want to sound like the Doors filtered through grunge or neogrunge -- whatever it is. But it's all just ideas pasted on ideas, faded copies of copies. If you want to be like Jim Morrison, you can't be anything like Jim Morrison. It's about finding your own place in the world.”
So here we have it yet again – finding your own niche, your own spot, and your own path through life. I think this is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Morrison himself – his originality both as an individual and an artist. I’ve heard people put down Morrison after seeing the Doors movie as being a “drunken buffoon” and “womanizer” – to make such blanket statements is a genuine disservice to the man he was and the life he lived.

And finally, to thoroughly beat the dead horse a few more times, I’m going to offer one last passage. This time it is from Joseph Campbell. In one of his favorite tales from the Authurian tradition, Campbell describes a brief story which has the Knights of the Round Table sitting back and relaxing, when suddenly the Grail presents itself (veiled) in the middle of the Round Table. Everyone was transfixed. And then, just as suddenly, the Grail disappeared. Gawain, King Author’s nephew, stood up and spoke:

“I propose,” he said, “that we all now set forth in quest to behold that Grail unveiled.” And so it was that they agreed. There comes a line that, when I read it, burned itself into my mind. “They thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group. Each entered the forest at that point that he himself had chosen, where it was darkest, and there was no way or path.

“No way or path! Because where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. The romantic quality of the West derives from an unprecedented yearning, a yearning for something that has never been seen in this world. What can it be that has never yet been seen? What has never yet been seen is your own unprecedented life fulfilled. Your life is what has yet to be brought into being.”
And again, there we have it. We are all unique. We are all genuine, authentic individuals whose life potential has never existed (or been realized) in this world. It is up to us to do it… and it may certainly not be easy. While there will always be a place for inspiration and admiration, we must ultimately find our own way through the forest on our own path. To do anything less would be to neglect the unique discoveries and adventures that await us all.

Upon entering this dark and yet-unexplored part of the forest, our travel may be wrought with uncertainty, peril, indecision, and doubt. This is certainly okay and natural. Wisdom cannot be downloaded or unlocked with a cheat code. We must slowly make our way toward the light that awaits us. We shall find that, with time, our confidence swells and assuredness grows with each step. And then comes that one fateful day when, upon realizing we’re headlong into the quest, the doubt and uncertainty and fear and hesitation are cast off like the moon’s shadow, and we realize it all couldn’t have happened any other way.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"Where you stumble and fall, there you discover the gold"

The title of this post comes from a Joseph Campbell quote. I would like to elaborate on it. I’ve had some life experiences in the last year that make this quote come to life for me, and I want to share.

I’ll make my point with a common life example that I’m sure we can all relate to. Say you’re in your room and you’re getting ready to go to work. You get dressed, you comb your hair, and you begin to fill your pockets with your keys, wallet, loose change, and your chapstick. Upon reaching for your chapstick, however, you knock it over and it rolls off your nightstand, falling between the nightstand and the wall…

Now, of course chapstick itself isn’t that important here. Maybe you spill wine on the carpet. Maybe you get halfway to your car and remember you forgot something important. Maybe you’re carrying one too many dishes to the sink and one falls and breaks. Maybe you pop a string when playing your guitar at a crucial moment.

What is important is the response given in response to any such occurrence. Now in my experience of life, most people will react to any of those above situations with something like “!!!!!” “ARGGH!!” “NOOO!” or more likely, any one (or many) curse words strung together. But its not just what we say verbally – it is the heated emotion of something like HATE or ANGER or DISGUST that flows through us when something doesn’t go our way. In my experience, most people seem to hang on to such negative emotions, and these emotions blind them to all else. So while one is retrieving the chapstick (or cleaning up the wine or sweeping up the dishes or whatever), they’re usually so upset and so angry and so concentrated on being mad that, even if for just one minute, nothing else matters.

Blind to anything the world might be offering them for that one moment.

But what if some treasure is waiting for us… calling our name even, in this moment in which our attention is consumed with frustration?

What if in bending down to pick up your chapstick, you catch a glimpse of something under your bed that sparks into a memory a treasured idea you had forgotten? What if in cleaning up spilled wine, the pattern of the wine spill illuminates your thinking on an issue that has confused you for months? What if in going back inside to grab what you have forgotten you have a flashback to a memory that will change your life forever?

Would any of these sudden insights or ideas or recollections happen when your mind is full of anger at the world not being “the way it should be?” In most cases, I think no.

For me, this quote very closely parallel’s Campbell’s assertion that we are to affirm life just the way it is, not the way we think it ought to be for us. Things happen, and we might often call these things “bad.” We might drop things behind our nightstands. We might spill our drinks. We might get cut off while merging. We might hit red lights on the way to work. These thingswill never go away. But what can go away is the negative attitude we bring with us into such events. Are we going to curse the sudden twists of fate that come our way, or welcome them with open arms?

I have long questioned what it is I have faith in, if anything, and I would answer with this: that whatever life throws my way, I have faith that there exists a nourishing, fulfilling, and wholly affirming experience of being alive that is mine to behold if only I am able to see it.
I'd like to close with an excerpt from a Campbell interview where this very theme is explored:
TOMS: So often we see those dark places as huge problems rather than as opportunities. What does mythology have to say about that?

CAMPBELL: Well, mythology tells us that where you stumble, there your treasure is. There are so many examples. One that comes to mind is in The Arabian Nights. Someone is plowing a field, and his plow gets caught. He digs down to see what it is and discovers a ring of some kind. When he hoists the ring, he finds a cave with all of the jewels in it. And so it is in our own psyche; our psyche is the cave with all the jewels in it, and it's the fact that we're not letting their energies move us that brings us up short. The world is a match for us and we're a match for the world. And where it seems most challenging lies the greatest invitation to find deeper and greater powers in ourselves.
So when we do stumble while walking through the forest adventurous, let us not be filled with rage at the root that caught our boot. Let us hit the ground with excitement at the unexpected opportunity that was just tossed our way. May we be filled with wide-eyed wonder, knowing that the gold that awaits us may just be a moment away from flowing into our world.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Phi and the Convergance of Experience

So to the left I've posted a small graph that plots the "Golden Ratio," aka phi, aka the Fibonacci Sequence of numbers. These numbers are usually written in the sequence that follows:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, and so on. The idea is, to get the next number in the sequence you add the previous two numbers. Repeat until the cows come home.

If you divided each set of numbers as they appeared and plotted the results on a graph, it would look like this picture here to the left. As you can see, the plot is forever closing in on (but never reaching) the value of ~1.6180339888... . For instance: 2/1=2.0; 3/2=1.5; 5/3=1.67; 8/5=1.6; 13/8=1.625; 21/13=1.615; etc.

[The point -- this ratio (~1.61:1) is found "throughout all of nature" -- in seashells, in spiral nebulaes, on the atomic level, in the human heartbeat, in musical tones, etc. If all or any of this is new to you, check out this webpage for a much better description of all of this stuff.]

To continue, the ratio always converges toward 1.6180339888, but never actually reaches it. Now, it isn't difficult to look online and find different examples of phi manifesting itself throughout the cosmos (in an measured, empircal sense). What I want to illustrate in this post is how this "converange principle" -- constantly getting closer to a goal, even if it is never reached -- often manifests itself in our quests of self-exploration as well.

Take this blog, for instance. This is my third post. Compared to many blogs already out there (with hundreds or even thousands of posts to their name), this page is in its utter infancy. It is insignificant. It is next to nothing. It is like a child, wandering into a movie. In terms of the Fibonacci Sequence, it is much like a very early ratio in the sequence -- say 3/2, for instance. "1.5" is absolutely nowhere close to 1.6180339888, when you get down to a very small level. Indeed, you almost couldn't be further away (or more naive or more innocent or more inexperienced).

Yet, at the same time, this blog is further along than it is ever been. While I may never actually reach that idealized goal of the "perfect blog" (whatever that is), I am certainly one post closer. And while "3/2" may be utterly insignificant in relation to the infinite number of following ratios, it is nonetheless closer to 1.6180339888 than is 2/1, or 1/1 (the first two ratios of the above sequence). And in that respect, it possesses an inherent worth of "being on its way."

If I may finally utilize the above graph I posted -- the idea is that each point (A, B, C, D, E, etc) is that much closer to 1.6180339888. The implication, perhaps, is this -- the direction in which we're headed (or our "goal") may indeed be something we never actually reach -- but it is something we always get closer to. And with each post, I imagine that I will gain an increasingly better idea of what it is I'm writing this blog for, forever narrowing in on that non-existant goal.

And then it happens. As we may never reach the "destination" in our many journeys, if we are lucky we will be overcome with flashes of the revelation that our goal is to be found right now, at this very moment. To say "we may never get there" is (to me) the same as saying "we are there all the time." All that is left is our realization of such.

And to me, this is one way I would describe gnosis (knowledge), in the Gnostic sense. The deepest, inner-most, absolute form of knowledge that resonates from our experience itself. Whether we're putting the toilet seat down, picking up the keys we just dropped, hanging up a poster, or running like hell from a rabid lion -- it is each and everyone of these experiences equally where we are to find that which we seek.

In the Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic-flavored text discovered only in 1945, we have only a bunch of "Jesus sayings," one of which is:

"Split a piece of wood; I am there.
Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

Tim over at Pop Occulture, in his post "Everyday Gnosis" provides as succinctly awesome an interpretation as you will find of that saying:

This saying teaches us not that Christ is hiding under a rock or inside a log (although maybe he is). And it doesn’t simply say that the divine is omnipresent. It says that the divine is to be found in actual experience - in the processes of living. You have to split the wood. You have to lift the stone.

[Note: When he says "Christ" being under a rock or inside some wood, do not think of the actual historical guy named Jesus hiding in the woods. Look at this saying (and all of his sayings) as spoken from the Christ-hood within him (or similarly Buddha-consciousness)... that which is too within you, and within the printer, the paper, the coffee bean, Jupiter, tick's armpits, and all things. The undying, full-light of consciousness that shines within all. In Christian mythology, Jesus was the man who fully identified with this Light/consciousness, as we all would like to. If you don't want to use Jesus, fine -- pick another Hero figure. But don't mistake, limit, or simplify the "Christ" for merely the historical man "Jesus." The very same Light is waiting within YOU as well.]

So finally, the main point is that the thing which we all seek is here, right here and right now, all around us. It is up to us to realize it. (Another Gospel of Thomas saying: "The Kingdom of Heaven is all around you, but men do not see it.") Open your inner-eye, and you will find what you seek.

A long post? Yeah. A bit rambly and disjointed? Sure. But its one post closer. And indeed, through this post, as "awkward" as it may be, the state of constant arrival is that much more within full realization.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

a curious dream

I had the most interesting dream the other night. It began with me walking down a flight of stairs (from the upstairs down to the main level of the house). Upon reaching the bottom, I find (next to the front door) an old flute. Curiously, I pick it up and see if I can make it work. To my surprise, I'm quite able to "operate it" correctly, and over the next minute find myself playing an ascending scale over and over again. The only catch is, however, I can never quite make it all the way to the final note (completing and bringing resolve to the scale). I can get to the 6th or 7th tone time and again, but can never quite reach the full octave. I found this more curious and intriguing than frustrating. In retrospect, it also seems that I had some grocery bags hanging from my right hand (the "finger" hand), which surely hindered my ability to complete the scale.

While the dream was happening, I seem to recall thinking this was very trivial and no big deal (on a symbolic and personal level). However, upon waking up and recalling the dream later in the day, I was shocked with the deep level of symbolic richness for such a short dream.

From a comparitive mytholigcal point of view, the first thing "walking down the stairs" reminded me of was the descent from "heaven" into physical form. I recall a Joseph Campbell book (Myths to Live by) when he talks about the cosmology a few hundred years back that saw the world as the center of the universe, surrounded by 7 (?) "crystaline" spheres, or something like that. Before entering the world, you traveled from the outer-most sphere (heaven) down through each one, picking up certain qualities along your way before you reached Earth. In this view, from what I recall, at the end of life you again travel up through the spheres until you reach Heaven again. I cannot remember what the qualifications were in regard to getting "back in," if there were any at all.

So that was surely interesting -- the steps seeming the perfect equivalent of these "spheres", and the playing of the flute itself (representing artistic realization, maybe?) symbolizing a "return to the source." A further interesting note has to do with music theory: in a scale, the first note and the last note are indeed the same (though an octave apart). Alpha, omega.

But then, I found myself looking at this dream from a "gnostic" point of view and things spoke to me much more. In recent days I"ve been contemplating the idea of the demiurge and that the material world is "fallen," so they say. I feel that deep down I had some issues with these words and descriptions. And in contemplating this dream, I found that I've come to great peace and understanding with the concepts. To go over the dream one more time:

Being "upstairs" (the start of the dream) represents "me" being joined with and in total union with "the Light," or maybe the Pleroma. No differentiation between subject and object. Utter fullness. No duality. And as the trip down the stairs begins, it is as the "pure white light" begins to fade into "reality" -- the material world -- and "I" (as I can consciously understand myself) exists for the first time. (I picture a movie with a scene beginning with a fade-from-white as someone walks down stairs).

Being "downstairs" -- the main level of the house -- represents the material, physical, everyday world/reality we all are born into and know well. Now, having come from "the Light," I would say there is a part of us -- whether we are aware of it or not -- that yearns to return to (or perhaps "identify with") this Light. However, our physical/material manifestation seems to block our direct access to this Light. We are shut away from it. This material world isn't blatantly "evil" (I have come to understand), it is just by nature a reality apart from the Light, the thing that our inner-most being seeks to again be one with. And how do we satisfy this craving? Through a full living of life... "engagement" and "awareness" are words I enjoy at this point, and I also cannot help but think of the word "art."

Now for the flute itself. The flute, on one hand, is just another mere physical/material object. Nothing special. But the cool part is, through this "flute" (or any object, really) we are able to find this inner Light, bring life to this inner-Light, and turn this inner-Light/divine spark (however small it may be) into a raging inferno. So, while the Light is directly inaccessable to us, we can find re-union with it *through* the objects in the material world itself, and thus have this yearning satisfied. I've been loving the Gospel of Thomas saying about splitting the stone and lifting the rock, for not only does it imply that the Light can be found in all things (even the lowliest of creepy crawlers), but it also speaks of the "work that must be done" -- the lifting of the stone, the splitting of the wood, the playing of the flute, the typing of the keyboard, etc. (Thanks to Fantastic Planet and Pop Occulture for shining light on that passage).

So... yeah... I must say I didn't think the post would end up this long, but thanks for reading. It is quite exciting to have those inner-questions answered a little bit through what seemed to be a meaningless dream. So ultimately, I've come to a more thorough understanding that calling the Demiurge or Archons or whatever "evil" is not meant in an absolutist sense, but it moreso refers to how we're pre-disposed to unconsiously think about such things. The material world may be "evil" in that it shuts us off/away from the Light, but it is also equally "good" in that only THROUGH the material world (our inner-selves included) are we able to "get back in touch" with this Light. Satisfaction.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

that perfect first post

And here we have it… my first post.

This whole past week, I've been thinking hard about starting this blog. I thought about what I wanted to say. I thought about what blogs I wanted to imitate. I thought about the audience I was trying to reach. I thought about putting together a dozen posts before launch so that I might hit the ground running. The more I prepared, it seemed, the more things I was adding to the list before I left the Shire.

And then I realized – what the hell was I doing? Was it my ultimate goal to prepare to start a blog, or actually start one? That was it – enough horsing around. Two minutes later and here I am. The water may be cold and I might not be sure what I’m doing, but I’m in there.

When it comes down to it, there comes a time in life when you have to ask yourself what kind of person you are. Are you a person who prepares for things? or a person who does them? We might tell ourselves we have high hopes and grand plans, but we all know that far too often these plans don't amount to a thing. Far too many of us (myself included) build up the future, pretending it will be great, preparing for its arrival... and it never comes. Why? Because we forgot to go and make it happen. The wind has died, the ship has sailed.

If one way to start a blog is to prepare for that perfect first post, the second way to start a blog is to actually do the thing. And so, here it is. The first post I dreamt of for so long. And with 100% sincerity, I can tell you that its everything I hoped for and more.

Come back soon. I expected I'd be able to tell you exactly what you'll be able to find in future posts, but I honestly have no idea. That’s an adventure we're on together.