Monday, September 22, 2008

So, How's it Going?

The other day, a very good friend asked me via email to honestly tell her 'how it was going.' She was referring to the recent death and loss of my son in Afghanistan. I asked her if she really wanted an honest reply - she said she did. I replied - she suggested that I post it. Here it is:

-----------------------------
"Smile!" a stranger recently exhorted me on the street. "It can't be that bad." To which my only response was: "How do you know?" by Louis Bayard, The Washington Post

I just packed up the makeshift memorial that had formed at the bottom of the stairs for Jason. It was like his voice and some inner voice said it was time to stop walking by this altar - 'let it go dad,' it kept saying. It was hard to do, but was clearly right. I packed away letters, pictures, medals, articles of clothing, etc. and wept anew with each item and memory. Sometimes now it feels like I am sleepwalking through the aftermath of a disaster, a little numb, worn to near apathy with grief, unsure how to proceed, punctuated with moments of appreciation and clarity. Something inside feels worn thin, victimized, raped by God and left without a reason. This poem came the other morning:

SOMETHING NEW

I prayed, and nothing happened –
Jesus did not appear,
no ‘peace that passeth understanding,’
not even a numinous chill…

I watched a teacher on TV, from the East
telling me all the religions were the same,
that the truth would set me free,
and on and ona ndon ananda ndon and on
until his droll chant ceased -
- he wanted money for his book -
I felt no truth, no peace, and then
he faulted my consciousness.

Then I felt…yes, felt:

My chest was a cavity
filled with a thousand swirling wraiths,
nondescript, terrifying in their discordant flurry,
not asking me to pray, but to enter…

I breached the mood, through my throat,
down a windpipe raw with grief –
into a claustrophobic corridor, met by
a monstrous yelping dog
nearly chasing me back to my prayers
and the chanting master. I moved past,
and there,

Across the dark cavern I saw the source,
a single shimmering wraith
held an urn aloft with a
five fingered song, and two soft eyes
brownish-black, somehow familiar…

There were no words,
but by his glance, the cavern, or my mind
lengthened, and a million fathers stood around me,
and a million mothers, wives, children and
others too…

And that brown-eyed specter nodded at the horde,
saying nothing, making it clear that my hollowness
was not from his absence,
but from the presence of the empty multitude
as lost, as sad, as confused as me.

I turned back to the wraith, a wry smile,
also very familiar, had replaced the dark eyes,
and then slowly faded from my sight,
I think I saw a last wave, or maybe a salute.

I returned
through the dim voiceless passageway.
I felt no sweet resolution, no truth,
none of the peace I had hoped for.

But there was a slight comfort,
a solace in the necessity of my ignorance,
the brilliance of hopelessness
in order that love
might crack the angry chrysalis,
giving birth to something…new.

end/Michael/9/20/2008


I have been reading biographies the past weeks - just finished Lincoln's Melancholy which is a psycho-biography from a point of view that is very much in the Depth Psychological tradition (specifically Archetypal Psychology). This book views melancholy as it was seen before we adopted the medical creedo of 'mental health' - that is, before the statistical psychologists, labeling psychiatrists and light-obsessed self help experts got hold of it in the 1860s and into the modern era. People actually used to see the 'miracle of melancholia' as a necessary, albeit potentially destructive and fatal force of character, which fashioned one for his/her destiny. Remember, this is back when people routinely lost children, wives, husbands, etc from something as 'minor' as a toothache, influenza, child birth or a simple infected wound. This is when Keats died of TB.

Lincoln's story sent me to the Civil War hero Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson's biography by Byron Farwell. I found this nugget last night from that story; after Jackson's first wife Ellie died in childbirth, losing the baby too, in a state of numb devastation he wrote in his journal,

"Objects to be effected by Ellie's death: to eradicate ambition, to eradicate resentment and to produce humility."

Wow, that really hit home. I have had the same thoughts and feelings. I was refreshed to see a godly man who saw the negative feelings which came from seemingly senseless and horrific tragedies as a means to shaping character. These forces are always chiseling away, often against my own thoughts, desires and will. Divine Violation is what it sometimes feels like...the unsolicited ransacking of a secure fortress by the Holy Spirit, my best defenses demolished and occupied by a foreign invader. I have surrendered for the most part...the fortress of my soul is being rebuilt with serious modifications. It reminds me of what Jesus said, "...the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." Matthew 11:12

I also just read about George Frideric Handel, the 18th century composer. He found himself a fallen man in his mid 50s. By 1741 he had suffered several failed operas as well as poor health. He was in a state of financial poverty, physical illness and what we would likely call today, 'clinical depression.' Living in a run-down house in a poverty stricken part of London, he waited to be thrown into debtor's prison or to die.

On Aug. 22, 1741, through the fog of depression, as if seized by some divine agency, Handel received a libretto based on the life of Jesus as well a synchronous invitation to compose a work for a charity benefit performance. He felt a surge of creative energy. During a 24-day period, he worked non-stop and completed "Messiah," his greatest work. It was his own personal crucifixion and descent into Hades, his residence in melancholia, that produced his greatest and best known work.

This does not mean to me that such depression, despair and melancholy will necessarily make you rich, famous and 'Oprah-worthy' - but that invisible operations are always going on at the soul level during such times. Many, perhaps most people will not see the tangible fruit of their dark descents, but we may be helped to know that it is not just mental illness with no purpose.

So, how is it going? It depends on the day, or night, or moment in question. But I trust that a cosmos which can turn such chaos into order over and over at the physical level, does the same at the psycho-spiritual level.

OPENING RODINS HAND OF GOD

Rivulets line the vale of skin,
life claws like a felt moth
through tendon and flesh chrysalis.

From shards of marble, proportion -
out of divine metacarpal, symmetry -
chaos unveils curves, wrist to elbow,
shoulder to waist beauty tumbles
from the deep cup of feminine.

The palm of God's infinite vase
hands me a pretty flower,
gem petaled warmth pulled to my face,
pulsing with the fragrance of repose.
Breath makes a slight ripple in stone
and my eye, sharp as a diamond chisel
burrows beneath the long slow kiss.

I hear the flame buried in her belly,
gather the side long glance, lick the
shivers echoing from finger tips
and meld with what I know to be
the face of my eternal love.

end/Michael

DREAMS

The arrogant charge of Icarus,
or the footfall of wordless Spring,
these are the images of nighttime
through the advent of myriad dreams.

And some fade like cinders,
turning to ashes as I wake,
while others leave little flowers
which I relish through the day.

End/Michael - 4/25/07

GROWING A SOUL

"Symptoms are deaths solemn ambassadors, deserving honor for their place, and life mirrored in its symptoms sees there its death and remembers soul.” ~ James Hillman


Soul does not come in this body
like a stick of gum wrapped in foil,
neither immortal nor full.

Soul becomes,
like clouds gathering
or metal shavings around a magnet,
little bits around an irksome center.

This decaying vessel
is the core for soul-making;
hungry
helpless, wailing toward a eulogy.

Each symptom shifts the gaze,
interrupts my well crafted haunt,
to the end
where it belongs.

A palpitation, the lingering cough,
a darkening mole on my arm –
could this be my last malady?

I stroll the lawn, granite stories,
a life lived between a few years:
1891 - 1985
eternity is the hyphen,

Furrowed brows etched by fear,
heavy lives grown down, always
shrinking, wilting, breathless…

What is left? The Invisibles, undying
guardians that chiseled soul on those
sleepless nights, in bothersome thoughts.

What proceeds? The smoothed edge
more supple than the adolescent breast,
softer than the full wet kiss; Psyche soars.

Pay attention. The gods wield the mallet
at the crucifixions, absent at the risings,
curious only about the nascent wings...

the end/Michael/9-17-06

ALTAR OF SLEEP

The Dream enters unbidden,
like a priest with his sacrificial knife,
or the Oracle with her sacred sign.

And here I lie,
a mute lamb on the altar of sleep,
or a humble supplicant
at the mercy of the Dream.

end/Michael

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Poem: Something New

I prayed, and nothing happened –
Jesus did not appear,
no ‘peace that passeth understanding,’
not even a numinous chill…

I watched a teacher on TV, from the East
telling me all the religions were the same,
that the truth would set me free,
and on and ona ndon ananda ndon and on
until his droll chant ceased -
- he asked for money -
there was no truth, no peace
and he blamed me.

Then I felt…

My chest was a cavity
filled with a thousand swirling wraiths,
nondescript, terrifying in their discordant flurry,
not asking me to pray, but to enter…

I breached the mood, through my throat,
down a windpipe raw with grief –
into a claustrophobic corridor, met by
a monstrous yelping dog
nearly chasing me back to my prayers
and the chanting master. I moved past,
and there,

Across the dark cavern I saw the source,
a single shimmering wraith
held an urn aloft with a
five fingered song, and two soft eyes
brownish-black, somehow familiar…

There were no words,
but by his glance the cavern, or my mind
lengthened, and a million fathers stood around me,
and a million mothers, wives, children and
others too…

And that brown-eyed specter nodded at the horde,
saying nothing, making it clear that my hollowness
was not from his absence,
but from the presence of the empty multitude
as lost, as sad, as confused as me.

I turned back to the wraith, a wry smile,
also very familiar had replaced the dark eyes,
and slowly faded from my sight.

I returned back through the dim passageway
of groans. I felt no sweet resolution, no truth,
none of the peace I had hoped for.

But there was a slight comfort,
a solace in the necessity of my ignorance,
the brilliance of hopelessness
in order that love
might crack the angry chrysalis,
giving birth to something…new.

end/Michael Bogar/9/20/2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Eckhardt Tolle's A New Earth Evaluated: Is My Ego Dysfunctionl and False?


"It is important to remember that my worst defects are also my greatest assets..."


A NEW VERSION OF ORIGINAL SIN

In his recent book, A New Earth, Eckhardt Tolle speaks of the human ego as being defective, dysfunctional, mad and sick. He refers to the ‘false ego’ as a hindrance to knowing your ‘true Being.’ The human ego is opposed to real spirituality, with the two fighting against each other. Tolle is not alone in his Ego Versus Spirit warfare analogy. This idea goes way back to the Bhagavad Gita as the soul’s journey is likened to a great, internal civil war. The Apostle Paul said it like this in the Bible:

“…I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin (my ego). I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do… I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the wrong I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin (my ego) living in me that does it.” Romans 7:14-20

If you change Paul’s word ‘sin’ to ‘ego,’ we find that Tolle and other modern New Age teachers agree with Paul by making our indwelling ego the arch villain in the spiritual life. In fact, Tolle calls the sick ego our ‘inherited dysfunction,’ which is just a more up to date way of saying ‘original sin.’ Tolle even goes so far as to sympathize and even agree with the doctrine of original sin when he says, “…the term (original sin), when stripped of its cultural baggage and misinterpretations, points to the dysfunction inherent in the human condition.” (A New Earth, p.9)

Is this assessment of the ego as our inherited enemy accurate and helpful? Are my egoistic defects and dysfunctions opposed to Spirit? Is the ego my ‘false being’ generated by human brain cells and and the insane human self will, fighting against my ‘True Being’?

THE EGO AS A DIVINE GIFT

While I recognize that all forays into these difficult psycho-spiritual matters can use only limited metaphors and analogies, I am afraid that we are getting too lopsided in our vilification of the ego. The ego is not primarily our arch enemy, but is a gift of God for making souls.

It is important to remember that my worst defects are also my greatest assets. Just as the seed pod is both a hindrance and a container for the roots and stem of a flower, so my ego is BOTH a container and a hindrance to my spiritual life. This is not just some cute literary analogy, but an observation gained from years of wrestling back and forth between depressing guilt and careless lethargy in my own growth process. If I get too obsessed with my egoistic defects and dysfunctional behaviors, I can become so overwhelmed with my shortcomings that I become miserable and fixated on how flawed I am. That may have been one reason so many saints and mystics experienced such deep depression and their ‘dark nights of the soul.’ They were trying, sometimes needlessly, to fight their very nature - to resist the gift of God's creative 'defects'. The other extreme is to completely ignore my selfishness and debilitating ego; then I become careless, selfish, inconsiderate, useless and unhappy.

THE FUNCTION OF DYSFUNCTION

We need to see the ego as God's container for making a large soul, defects and all. Afterall, we are the ones labeling certain traits as defects and dysfunctions. And our conclusions are based on what we, with limited knowledge, determine to be bad results. Mold on cantaloupes was thought to be defective and dysfunctional until it was discovered that they contained life healing bacteria called penicillin. Comet impacts on earth were thought to be dysfunctional until we discovered that our dry planet was probably filled with life giving water by such catastrophic 'disasters'.

Inside that pod called Michael's ego are potential roots, the stem and nascent flower of what God wants me to become. Jung called this ego-pod the dark unconscious, the container of my potential and actual wholeness. Wholeness is not just something to be realized, but is simultaneously complete and incomplete. The ego-pod is whole and incomplete, just like a flowering seed pod. In my ego I am simultaneously whole and not whole.

SIMULTANEOUSLY A BENEFIT AND A HINDRANCE

The seed pod, like the ego, is neither dysfunctional nor false at this level of the metaphor, even though it seems to be hindering and fighting against the expansion of the flower. The restrictive and suffocating husk must be cracked open and shed, and it is also the perfect container. As Jesus said, "The kernel of wheat must die that the fruit may emerge." But Jesus never disparaged the wheat seed by calling it dysfunctional or false. ‘True Being’ is going on as perfectly in the darkness as it is in the light, and if not on this planet, then on another plane or dimension beyond this life. That is a great apologetic for immortality or continuation of soul-making beyond this life.

The seed pod cracking apart in the dark soil, struggling to put down tiny roots is as much a part of the spiritual process of ‘Being’ as the seed poking its head through the soil into the light and opening its silky petals to the warm sun. James Hillman puts it like this, “We must grow down in order to grow up.” Both are normal and necessary.

The ego is God’s divine gift, simultaneously containing and hindering individual and global soul-making. Socially collective egos can be embraced as multi-cultural expressions of diversity and variety, and at the same time be opposed as multi-cultural bigotries and socio-religious obstacles to planetary expansion. Individual and communal egos must crack apart. We must put down painful invisible roots before we can grow into the light and blossom. The whole process is spiritual.

TOLLE RECOGNIZES THE NECESSITY OF EGO

In all fairness, Tolle does recognize this paradox of ego as containing AND hindering soulful expansion when he writes, without the suffering caused by ego we “would not evolve as human beings…Suffering drives you deeper. The paradox is that suffering is caused by identification with form AND (my emphasis) erodes identification with form…eventually suffering destroys the ego – but not until you suffer consciously.” (A New Earth, p.102)

This is a brilliant and critical observation, deserving of a whole chapter. However, I am afraid that he spends so much time discussing the dysfunctional and false aspect of ego that he may leave his readers with an unnecessary load of guilt, shame and a generally negative view of God’s amazing human ego as the seed pod of soul-making.

Tolle's book is a great work, even if imbalanced and in danger of leaving the reader in a state of New Age guilt and inadequacy. Christian theology has been doing that for centuries and has still brought great spiritual benefits to humanity.

CONCLUSION: WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY?

Lastly, I think it is unfortunate that the word 'spiritual' is often not used these days for all of life’s experiences. We tend to think only of the ‘enlightened’ moments as truly spiritual. We need to see that being ‘endarkened’ and times of being ‘unconscious’ are equally as spiritual, containing their own kind of necessary revelations and kinds of consciousness. Depression, grief, fear, anxiety and other such emotions always contain and/or move us into soul-making awareness. Our powerlessness to addiction is spiritual, our failures and admission of such failures are spiritual moments, the process of atheistic denial and agnostic skepticism are spiritual experiences. The classical Damascus Road moment of ‘spiritual awakening' may or may not come later, but the whole process of light and dark, function and dysfunction, ‘false ego’ and ‘True Being’, is Spirit or God or Soul unfolding.

The Hebrew Psalmist beautifully put it like this:

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your Presence? If I go up to the Heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the Depths of Hell, you are there. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you. The night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” Psalm 139

Friday, September 12, 2008

Soul-making and the Death of My Child

A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, who always brings brilliant observations and insightful questions, sent me an email in the aftermath of my son's death. His question is indirectly related to that event, and other moments of suffering.

He writes: As parents we are joyous at the birth of our children, while they may be experiencing physical and probably psychic trauma. I wonder if some children experience PTSD sometime during their life after they are born? We cannot know what birth is like for them. It is as remote from us as and as unknowable as are the final moments before death and any certainty of life after. Would knowledge of those moments, entering and exiting life, give us potentially valuable insights?

Response:

I think your last question about valuable insights is most insightful.

As you may know, I see this world primarily as a school of soul-making rather than a place to be happy, and chronically satisfied - 'soul' being the best inadequate term available to get close to a personal and collective creative individuation process accomplished mostly beyond the physical senses, yet intimately using these senses as the medium to the experience of turning soul embryos into mature entities. I do not see us entering this world with completed souls, or as fully developed Humans. We are not Augustine's fallen, original sinners, or Tolle's dysfunctional egos or the DSM's defective sick people. These are useful metaphors in so far as they go, but generally leave us thinking there is something wrong with us and this world as it is - and it's usually our fault, and we are left with the daunting task of fixing everything from pre-natal trauma to global warming. My my, aren't we important?

I think we arrive with soul seeds or soul potential in a Cosmos just as it is meant to be, and these physical experiences we encounter provide the soil and fertilizer for the growth of an actual 'soul.' I take the modern psychological profession as a new metaphor that has by and large lost the point of soul making. When we literalize the medical model and speak of PTSD, ADD, PMS, and a thousand other afflictions to be cured, we miss the deeper realization that these 'maladies' and horrific symptoms are the gods in disguise. As both Freud and Jung said before the medical model went out of control, "The gods speak to us in our symptoms." In other words, the point of these so called maladies, tragedies and pathologies is to bring the dark creative energies from the chaotic unconscious into consciousness; to move us from the image (human) to the likeness (HUMAN) of God as the Hebrews put it, with Jesus being a model of one whose joys and woes produced the archetypal 'completed soul.'

I see the blue states and red states, liberals and conservatives, war and peace, and all dualities as necessary and normal curricula for this school of soul-making. As Blake said, "Without contraries is no progression." And Heraclitus, "Polemos (Strife) is the Father of All. (fragment 53 - actually used on this Marvel comic book cover.)"

Jason's way of death was not what I wanted. I didn't want him in the military. I wanted him in art school. But as James Hillman argues so brilliantly in The Soul's Code, we each enter this world as an acorn seed guided by our own personal Daimone or Destiny. This reduces the arrogance of the individual parent and society which in modern times wants to take full responsibility to fix everything from our character defects, to raising 'adjusted' children or to saving the globe itself. Yes, we ought to play the game fully and with gusto, no matter what side you are on - seek to change your self and the world according to your call and conscience, but then realize, as Krishna showed Arjuna in the Gita that the gods (we call them archetypes today) are in it all, delivering at birth and devouring in battle, assigning sight and blindness (Exodus 4:11) and assigning the course each of us gets to travel for his or her own process of soul-making (Plato's The Republic, The Myth of Er).

This point of view is not literal dogma, but a way of seeing through the literal and visible world into the metaphorical and invisible. Politics, religions, economics, nations, families, bodies, et al are wonderful and precious experiences into which we must throw ourselves with gusto, but they are a means to an end. Jason's course is done, in that body. He played the game with passion, as did the person or persons who killed him. He got to feel fear, camaraderie, loving community, valor, hatred, insanity, support, and a million other soul-making experiences. I think the Koran and Islam contain inferior values, and will voice that opinion strongly in my politics - and I also think they are as necessary on this soul-making planet as the opposing team on a football field. My own post-Jason inconsolable weeping and days of depression are part of my own soul-making course. These various emotional events are more than 'clinical' maladies which must be cured or endured until we get back to where 'we ought to be.' They are hard experiences, and they are normal and necessary in a soul-making universe. The best modern illustration of this for me is the movie Pan's Labyrinth; in that movie one gets to see the individual, socio-political and invisible soul-making levels all played out together like a Star Trek three dimensional chess game. I feel too many of us see the game at only one or two levels.

Poem: There is No Cellar, There is No Door

There is No Cellar, There is No Door

I am a strand, a speck
or a thread knotted
or a micro-filament
on the backside of
an invisible needlepoint…

And a little boy with a hole in his skull whispers,
“You make is too complicated,
dad,
and,
it is complicated,
more so than you will ever know.”

“Stop calling it time,
it is so much more,
stop calling it space,
there is no cellar, there is no door;
and music, well,
only a simple clue
to an impossible riddle
that will always get away from you.”.

“And those angelic voices
haunting you in your sleep,
those are real; the stars are deep bells
and the slight strings humming
across the moon,
you ought to listen to them.

“I will unravel this only one more time,
and you will not know when, so
don’t wait. Live. Live daddy,
and maybe one day you will
see a little more,
but don’t forget, there is no cellar,
there is no door.”

end/Michael/9/10/2008

Something Only A Man Can Understand

Clearly there are some things only the Feminine can understand, the ultimate love of her child over any and all other. And there are some things only the Masculine can understand, the ultimate love of devotion to a cause bigger than himself over any and all other. The 17th century English poet, Richard Lovelace knew this well.

Dedicated to my honorable son, Jason Michael Charles Bogar, who died on July 13, 2008 while protecting his fellow soldiers and defending his country and the world from inhumane tyranny.

Off to the English Civil War


Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To warlike arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I serve
The first foe in the field
And with a sterner faith embrace
The sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore.
I could not love thee, dear, so much
Loved I not honor more.

Richard Lovelace

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Aphorisms

What was called catechism and confirmation in the Middle Ages is now called college and and a bachelors degree.