Friday, August 29, 2008



In 1832, founder of the Whig Party, Henry Clay coined a new term never heard before, ‘the self made man.’ Eleven years later, this term was applied to a tall, poor, self educated farm boy who had struggled to become a lawyer, an Illinois state legislator, a member of the United States House of Representatives, and an unsuccessful candidate for election to the Senate. He eventually became the sixteenth president of the United States. That man was Abraham Lincoln.

This blog is not about Lincoln, but about the phrase, ‘self made man.’ Like all original terms, it has become buried in decades of overuse and misuse. In Lincoln’s day, it was a fresh, unique and meaningful label.

Keep in mind that Lincoln was born in 1809 into what we today would call poverty. His birth was twenty eight short years after the end of the America Revolution in 1781. The American Constitution was ratified in 1788, twenty one years before Lincoln’s birth. The first ten amendments of the Bill of Rights was ratified by three-fourths of the States in 1791, just eighteen years before Lincoln was born.

In other words, America was literally in her infancy. This new democratic republic was what historians unanimously call, ‘the great experiment.’ People would actually govern themselves without a King, Queen, Pope or Sultan. By virtue of circumstances, young Abe Lincoln just happened to be on the ground floor of this ‘great experiment.’ Up until this time, universally men and women were primarily, if not exclusively, ‘made’ by the circumstances of their birth. The wealthy and powerful gave birth to offspring who became wealthy and powerful, the poor and powerless were forced to remain in their place. This was true not only of women and other so called ‘minorities,’ but of all people, including men. Wealthy elitist women may not have been as involved in roles of political or religious power, but they were far better off than 99.9% of the males born into lower classes, which was the vast majority of males in Europe.

The new American republic ‘began’ to change all of that. ‘Began’ is a key word, because this radical new idea did not arise perfectly formulated and executed. With a constitution granting the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ a new climate had been initiated. Any man, primarily because they were the soldiers who gave their lives to the revolutionary cause, initiated this new process. Political and religious freedoms and new economic opportunities opened the doors for almost any man to arise from the bottom and ascend to the top, politically or economically.

Few today have little idea what a radical idea, let alone reality, this was at the time. Humans had lived by roles for literally thousands of years, and suddenly they were in a new land where they could potentially transcend all limitations. Of course those with wealth and power had the advantage, but they were not guaranteed these prime roles automatically. Men like Lincoln now had the opportunity if they had the vision and persistence.

It is easy in the 21st century to complain that ‘white males’ have had power for most of America’s history, but our history is not that old. This great experiment, largely gained by the blood shed and minds exercised of these farsighted white males, opened the door for what we see today.

As Joshua Shenk says in Lincoln’s Melancholy, “The dream still eluded women, Native Americans, and African-Americans; many minority ethnic groups had to struggle for their own. Such shortcomings, though, must not obscure the boldness of the country’s basic proposition. To say that ‘all men are created equal’ – even when the phrase, in practice, applied only to white men – and that they could do what they wished, unfettered by church or crown, was to go further than any nation had gone before.”

When Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African-American presidential candidate, the news reporters at the democratic convention acted as if this were the first time in human history an underdog had climbed to such heights. While not detracting from this noteworthy event, I found their rhetoric hollow and ignorant of America's history. Less than two hundred years ago, a poor, undereducated, non-elitist white farm boy became the leader of the United States of America. Historically, this was arguably far more shocking to the world than Obama’s current rise to his position. He was raised by middle class grandparents and has a degree from Harvard. Certainly congratulations are in order for Senator Obama, but let’s not forget that the evolution into such incredible success stories did not begin in Denver at the Democratic Convention. Hopefully, the evolution of these principles will continue their meteoric rise into other cultures and civilizations.

When Henry Clay coined the phrase, ‘self made man,’ it was a first. These amazing, brave, bold and heroic men of his era opened the door for all those who have followed – going against millennia of political and religious precedent.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

For Jason Bogar: Who Loved the Flag

For Jason Bogar

A woman has her baby, and her heart-urge,
another word for courage
to sacrifice,
to love something
more than friends, country or companion.

A man has his flag, his heart-urge
to sacrifice,
to love something more…

He has no bloody cord to cut,
no baby suckling at his breast,
but only a square quilted cloth,
symmetry, color, texture
snapping in the wind of some geography,
a land to be conquered,
or defended
with other men -
his comrades,
loved more than friends, wife or children,

He has
that same biological urge to union,
conception, gestation
and the interminable wait…

To wait for the pains,
the contractions,
for the enemy to appear on the horizon,
to threaten the lives of his beloved companions,
to test his ability to sacrifice his all
under the colors
snapping in the wind.

And when the moment arrives,
he does not give birth,
but death, or a limb, or a story
to those he leaves behind
as he cuts the bloody cord -
his own
in the puzzling cycle
where Love and Death meet,

And those who do not understand
the woman, or the man -
must invent terms: Hormones, Biology,
Maternal, Patriotism,
Destiny –

And perhaps the later,
comes closest. It is not logical,
unless measured by the standard of heart-urge,
that incessant compulsion toward
learning to love another
than the expendable, anxious, weeping mess
we call,


Monday, August 18, 2008

The Necessity of Losing Your Head

Have you ever said, "Sorry, I lost my head for a moment?"

I understand the need to apologize since we may have been inconsiderate or unkind to someone, but losing your head is archetypal, a universal experience, a normal and necessary part of growing a human soul. Most of us do not go through life with just one head.

You may remember Ganesh, the Hindu God with a human body and an elephant head. He was the son of Shiva and Parvati. In a fit of anger, Lord Shiva decapitated his son. He immediately replaced the human head with the head of a wise elephant who had large ears and a broken left tusk. This symbolizes the necessity of having one's old head or way of thinking and seeing removed by the gods so that a new, wiser head with larger, listening ears can replace it. The broken left tusk is a symbol of a humbled ego.

Next time you
'lose your head,' pay attention. The head that is being lopped off, most often manifested by a discharge of emotions, is the result of the swift blade of a paternal god. Pay attention to the discharge, the words, the behaviors when you are 'losing it.' Carl Jung said that the 'gods speak to us in our symptoms.' James Hillman says, 'if you want to know your current value system, pay attention to your most explosive emotions.'

John the Baptist was decapitated to symbolize what he predicted before he baptized the Christ, “I must decrease that he may increase.” The first thing a conquering ruler does is to decapitate the prior ruler, or deface any images of the king or his god, symbolizing a new way of thinking.

A 'science of mind' principle is that the head I have today will not be the head I have next year at this time, the mind or consciousness I am operating through today will either be different, or is in the process of changing. I am always having a head removed and a new head attached. I will cooperate by losing my head with awareness, or I will be resisting through a stubborn ego, often fortified by religious justifications. The most emotional and most difficult heads to lop off are religious heads. Second are political heads. Put the two together, and you have a very hard head to remove.

When we resist decapitation, we ask for a sharper sword and more vicious blow. Sometimes we avoid losing the old head and the arrival of a new head through acts of psycho-spiritual denial; we employ meditation or various therapies. The head doesn't need to be replaced, we reason, just fixed or healed, or prayed for.

Pay attention to words, they are living things. Soul inhabits our idioms and terminology, often giving us more truly therapeutic insight than the various academic manuals of herd psychology or pat religious answers and self help books. So go
a-head, move a-head, lose your head. Surrender.

Look to Ganesh. Ask him how it felt to have the old head whacked off, and then ask him if he would take it back after receiving the new head.

Where are you currently
'losing your head?'

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Death, Loss, Humility and Soul-making

"I have lain in prison for nearly two years. Out of my nature has come wild despair; an abandonment to grief that was piteous even to look at; terrible and impotent rage; bitterness and scorn; anguish that wept aloud; misery that could find no voice; sorrow that was dumb. I have passed through every possible mood of suffering. Better than Wordsworth himself I know what Wordsworth meant when he said - 'Suffering is permanent, obscure, and dark And has the nature of infinity.'"

"But while there were times when I rejoiced in the idea that my sufferings were to be endless, I could not bear them to be without meaning. Now I find hidden somewhere away in my nature something that tells me that nothing in the whole world is meaningless, and suffering least of all. That something hidden away in my nature, like a treasure in a field, is Humility."

"It is the last thing left in me, and the best: the ultimate discovery at which I have arrived, the starting-point for a fresh development. It has come to me right out of myself, so I know that it has come at the proper time. It could not have come before, nor later. Had any one told me of it, I would have rejected it. Had it been brought to me, I would have refused it. As I found it, I want to keep it. I must do so. It is the one thing that has in it the elements of life, of a new life, VITA NUOVA for me. Of all things it is the strangest. One cannot acquire it, except by surrendering everything that one has. It is only when one has lost all things, that one knows that one possesses it."

"Now I have realised that it is in me, I see quite clearly what I ought to do; in fact, must do. And when I use such a phrase as that, I need not say that I am not alluding to any external sanction or command. I admit none. I am far more of an individualist than I ever was. Nothing seems to me of the smallest value except what one gets out of oneself. My nature is seeking a fresh mode of self-realisation. That is all I am concerned with. And the first thing that I have got to do is to free myself from any possible bitterness of feeling against the world."

Oscar Wilde

Thursday, August 7, 2008

For Jason


Days go by,
routines expected
nothing neglected,
and I am the same as yesterday,

Perhaps a little glitch here or there,
traffic jammed
some god is damned,
and I am the same as yesterday.

The same air, same scenery
and around the wheel spins
and again
and again…

Then a car crunches the gravel
as I sit upstairs, wondering
who might be coming at this hour.

Down the stairs to the knock,
familiar faces
and everything goes still at the sight
of eyes,
and souls
frozen in pain,
and I cry “no!”

Reality recedes and a little ghost
flickers like light caught in a tear,
too small to make much difference,
trying to reassure
his father…
to no avail.

There is no deeper place to fall
than the ground,
collapsing is it’s own kind of song,
and I come to
screaming at the empty night sky,

The same sky
holding the same sliver of moon
that witnessed the slaughter
of my beautiful boy,

end/michael - 8/7/2008