Friday, January 30, 2009

WAR IN THREE PARTS: A Moment in Soul

WARNING: Please do not read this unless you are ready for stark imagery. James Hillman suggests that Spirit is arrow-like, soaring into the heavens of light and life, but that Soul meanders through the labyrinthine corridors of the dark Underworld. This is an exposition, a mediation in Soul, a meditation from the Underworld, especially section III.

I. "War (Polemos) is the father of all that is."

from Heraclitus, Fragments of Philosophy

lyrics by Leonard Cohen

There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
and the ones who say there isn't.

Why don't you come on back to the war, that's right, get in it,
why don't you come on back to the war, it's just beginning.

Well I live here with a woman and a child,
the situation makes me kind of nervous.
Yes, I rise up from her arms, she says "I guess you call this love";
I call it service.

Why don't you come on back to the war, don't be a tourist,
why don't you come on back to the war, before it hurts us,
why don't you come on back to the war, let's all get nervous.

You cannot stand what I've become,
you much prefer the gentleman I was before.
I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control,
I didn't even know there was a war.

Why don't you come on back to the war, don't be embarrassed,
why don't you come on back to the war, you can still get married.

There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the left and right,
a war between the black and white,
a war between the odd and the even.

Why don't you come on back to the war, pick up your tiny burden,
why don't you come on back to the war, let's all get even,
why don't you come on back to the war, can't you hear me speaking?

III. I look around. I really look. I have been looking for 55 years. I see war. Not war in the way you are likely thinking - not the War in Iraq, or the American Civil War, or the other wars in the history books. I see war, strife, conflict, nature eating herself. It is everywhere. My body contains antibodies fighting off 'bad' cells. Politicians and religionists have always fought over ideas. Those who are opposed to war, war against war itself. My mind wars when I am awake and when I dream. The earth clashes with itself as continents crash together, the heavenly bodies collide, waves smash into the shore, birds oppose gravity, fish swim upstream; and here I am, struggling with all of my might to find a way to discover something other than war. This is not pessimism, but submission. My fist finds fingers resisting palm when it clenches, lower teeth clash with upper teeth to chew, gastro intestinal juices destroy bits of food and my heart beats to push blood through veins that fight to keep from bursting open, as my lungs fight against expansion and my thoughts seek opposing ideas as naturally as the sun dissolves the snow. The Lion throttles the Gazelle, every myth juxtaposes Heaven and Hell, and when you are impressed by the performer, you smash palm against palm to let them know you care. Even applause arises from strife.

What do I do with war? Do I try to make peace with war, or embrace it as Nature's Way? There is no escape. If I surrender to war like Nietzsche, I go insane; if I oppose war like Ghandi, I am slaughtered. They say that even atoms are a whirling cacophony of passion. Violence. Interesting word. The lips of lovers crash together, as if to devour the object of love; limbs grope and crush bodies. People ‘fall in love,’ implying an eventual splat when they meet the ground. The penis stiffens, surges, presses and violates the labial fortress which opens willingly, or not, and the sperm are launched in D-Day fashion to assail the walled ovum - a siege of force against force, willful penetration that life may continue.

"War is the father of all." Tonight, I surrender to the father, War. I sit, and wonder - how did my boy die? Did he fall on his face, side, or back after he was shot? Did his throat rattle as the last breath exited his lungs? Did he cry out, or was he silent? Did his organs fall out onto the ground? Did they have to push his heart, spleen and lungs back inside of his body, or scoop them into a plastic bag? Was their dirt in his open mouth, or gravel pressed into his still supple cheek? Did he twitch as he died, or fall limp like the cow I saw shot between the eyes in Montana? Did he have time to think at all as his life left that body? Did he hurt? Did he regret? Did he have a last word for me, or his mother, or his sisters, or his God, or for War? There must be particles of his blood, and bits of his flesh, begotten of my blood, mixed in the dry dirt there in the Korengal Valley - walked over, co-mingled, a part of the sun-baked land forever. Will children play on that spot? Will a home or road be built over his blood one day? Macabre? Do you think? Are these horrible questions, forbidden thoughts? No, they are not. Don't try to comfort me. I am not discomfited now, I am addressing the father of all, the War behind all creation. After all, the flesh decays, decomposes, rots and becomes star dust once again. I do not know how the stars became my Jason, my dazzling little boy - how he emerged from that original Big Bang, or where he goes after the Bang has been sucked into a dark and final cosmic vortex. I can Imagine, however. I can Imagine the eternal strand of existence streaming from...well, streaming forth. And I do want to see the fountainhead, to see if there can be any Thing without war. But not tonight – I shall have to settle for a conclusion I curiously do not want to settle for, that “War is the father of all.” And the only hope I derive, is that something in me does not want it to be that way. My mind and heart battle to find a way out of war.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Self Portrait by David Whyte

This poem speaks so eloquently about the Soul-making process. Keep in mind that some of the Christian priests during the Renaissance said they were religious monotheists and psychological polytheists, hence the seamless synthesis of Classical and Christian art.

Self Portrait by David Whyte

It doesn't interest me if there is one God or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need to change you.
If you can look back with firm eyes
saying, this is where I stand.

I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward the center of your longing.
I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day,
with the consequence of love and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace,
even the gods speak of God.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What is Insanity? Am I Sane?


The word sane comes from a root that means whole or complete. So then, sanity is wholeness or completeness. But there is the puzzle, what do we mean by wholeness? One man would say that wholeness arrives when all of my conflicts disappear, when I am no longer fragmented in my thinking and feeling. If that is true, then you cannot be whole until you have resolved all fragmentation. And some people today unconsciously or consciously pursue religion, therapy, money, success, love and other forms of assistance to arrive at that 'place' so they can be sane, complete and done with their myriad troubles and problems. On the surface this appears to have some logical plausibility; after all, fragmentation is the opposite of wholeness. Or is it?

The poet William Blake talked about having ‘double vision,’ which meant that he was able to see the mundane and the sacred in the same object or situation, that is, he had the ability to perceive a thing in at least two ways simultaneously. He wrote:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Blake wrote of looking at the sun and seeing a ‘round thing somewhat like guinea’ (gold coin named after the gold mined in Guinea, West Africa), and simultaneously seeing “an Immeasurable Company of the Heavenly Host crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.’”

Now some might argue that a man seeing angels singing praises to the biblical God in the sun ought to be committed to an insane asylum, or tolerated as long as he didn’t harm anyone. There is a kind of fragmentation in his vision. But keep in mind, Blake was not saying that was all he saw in the sun; he was quite capable of getting by in his daily activities in ‘normal’ life because he could also see the coin and use it appropriately. He might recognize the 'universe in a grain of sand,' but he also could see the sand as sand, pouring it out of his shoes if necessary or using it in concrete to pour a foundation for his home.

This seemingly fragmented ability to see the profane and sacred simultaneously alters our definition of sanity. If Blake is sane, it means that he is able to hold a single object (person or situation) as revealing more than one significance. Sanity then would be defined as having the ability to simultaneously see a single object, person or event in more than one way. That would mean that the insane person is the one who sees only one side. He sees either the profane sun as just a sun and nothing more, or he sees the sun as nothing more than a choir of divine angels. Most in our sensory dominated culture would agree that seeing the sun as only a choir of angels might qualify a man for the label of insanity, but seeing it as just the sun would be quite normal, in fact that is scientific. Really?

I read today that three internationally recognized business men have recently committed suicide because they lost millions of dollars in the current economic downturn. Psychologists say this is ‘normal’ during such times. One might argue that if these men had simultaneously been able to see their money as something other than mundane cash and bonds, they might still be alive. If they could have simultaneously seen their wealth as chains of bondage, impediments to character development, walls to keep them aloof from family and friends, etc., they would still be alive. Their inability to simultaneously see two significances in all things left them less than whole, and their insanity inspired their suicides. So who is insane?

Perhaps sanity is being able to see all events as both sacred and profane, or as some Eastern mystics put it, “neti, neti,” which means ‘not this, not this’. In other words, all things are united - so that the whole universe is "in a grain of sand" and we "hold infinity in our hand." To lose a fortune or gain a fortune, really the same thing ultimately.

In order to function in the world of time and space (maya), we must see the objects as serving a mundane function so we can use them to live on this planet in our flesh, but on another level, the sacred level (Brahman), one object or lack thereof is no different than the other. Both are true and each is necessary for this soul-making game we are playing.

If one were to compare the sanities of the East and West, one might suggest that the East has tended to err on the side of seeing things as primarily sacred (Brahman), and the West as seeing things as primarily mundane (maya). The Eastern propensity to sacralize the Universe has 'embraced and honored Nature' as we like to say in our New Age circles, but the Western tendency to 'mundanize' reality has brought us automobiles, computers and practically all of what we call modern technology. Each is a little insane in their own one sidedness, having something to learn from the other.

Most Westerners, abysmally ignorant of our own sacred historical brilliance, do not know that the reason the early Christian church argued so strenuously that Jesus’ nature was 100% Divine (sacred - Brahman) and 100% human (mundane - maya), as reflected in the Nicene Creed, was to retain the balance of what I am calling sanity. This ancient creed and revolutionary idea gave rise to what we moderns call *science and technology. If you are of the more agnostic or 'scientific' type, then substitute the analogy of light being 100% particles and 100% waves - 'sane light' is made of up of both.

Sanity is seeing beyond duality in the midst of duality. It is not synthesizing opposites or ‘transcending’ opposites as many mistakenly suppose. Sanity on this soul-making planet requires that we see the sensuous/material side and spiritual/immaterial side as not only co-existing, but as simultaneously co-equal. The mediating realm is Psyche, Soul or what Blake and other poets called Imagination, is a third eye or organ that can hold the tension of opposites and remain in process without getting off track. Ironically it is also getting off track and seeing that you are still on track, or being on track and seeing that you are also off track.

The true artist can see her painting or his song as more than one thing, always something mundane and something divine. This perspective is called Nirvana in the East – the experience of being able to live in a world of matter and spirit simultaneously, in a world of pain and pleasure simultaneously, and have no velcro (sticky) judgment about the normal and necessary fragmentations in life. This is not learned academically, but experienced; and this soul-making universe indicates that the experience does not come easily, unless it does.

* This theme is developed beautifully by former University of Washington Sociologist, Rodney Stark in his book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

Happy New Year! I Think I'll Kill My 'Self'

“Except a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die,
it cannot sprout and grow.”

~ Jesus


A recent A.P. News story reported that between September 2008 and January 2009, three prominent businessmen killed themselves in the wake of economic losses:

1. The body of German billionaire Adolf Merckle, ranked by Forbes as the world's 94th richest person, was found January 5, Monday, night after an apparent suicide. Authorities said he left a suicide note, but gave no details. Merckle's death appears to be at least the third comparable suicide in less than four months.

2. In September, Kirk Stephenson -- the chief operating officer of private equity house Olivant -- jumped in front of a train at a rail station west of London. The 47-year-old husband and father of a young son stepped onto the tracks, was struck and killed.

3. Two days before Christmas, in New York, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, was found dead at his desk, both wrists slashed and bottle of pills nearby after his fortune and the money of his loved ones vanished along with his clients when he lost $1.4 billion invested with Bernard Madoff.


The word suicide literally is, sui = of the self, cide = to cut off - to cut off or destroy some part of the self. Merriam Websters says, “the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind.”

The general view toward suicide in this culture, whether religious or medical, is that of prevention. While there is talk and even some new laws that have been passed for physician assisted suicide, I am talking about people who are generally healthy mentally and physically. Suicide prevention is what we generally focus on in this culture. We work to stop them, typically discounting the suicidal urge completely. Is this the best attitude? Is this where ought to focus?

The answer depends on whether or not one views the basic human Psyche as having any wisdom or positive function at all. Our culture in general seems to think not, with most of the popular talk focusing on our rampant psychological dysfunctions, disorders, syndromes and that selfish old ego that is out to get us. It would seem that the ego is little more than a misinformed villain. Many of us assume that we had little chance growing up in a dysfunctional family and wicked culture of disordered people. My parents are screwed up, the government is corrupt, the church is abusive, politicians are crooked and the chant of the day is ‘CHANGE!’ With this view of the human psyche, no wonder we focus on prevention. We view the ego, or inner self, as an errant or sick system that is out to kill us even when things are going well. So the best we can do is argue with that little internal voice that whispers in times of despair and depression, “End it all, take your life!”


But what if the ego-self has some wisdom in this little voice, a wisdom that could in fact keep us from taking our lives?! That’s right, what if the suicidal tendency is actually very healthy and normal? Most human beings, at times of great loss or change, have heard that little voice. Many of us will not admit we have had such thoughts, and few take it seriously, and fewer still act on it. But that voice arises in most humans, and sometimes even children. It is not uncommon for a little child, when he doesn’t get his way, to blurt out a homicidal or suicidal threat: “I wish I could kill you!” or “I wish I was dead!” (Note: For further reading, see James Hillman, Suicide and the Soul)

Let’s give that unsolicited internal self destructive counselor some serious attention; suppose the voice is saying exactly what needs to be said. If we spent a few moments with it, ascribed some wisdom to the ego, and actually paid attention, we might learn something that could save our lives. The voice is saying, “Some one, some thing, needs to die.” The ‘cide’ in suicide is also found in homicide, decide, and fratricide literally means ‘to cut off’. That root word is also found in incision, which means to cut. Suicide literally means that some part of one’s self needs to be cut off, excised, deleted, erased or removed.

By arguing with and dismissing the suicidal urge, with a view to prevention, we may miss the truth in the message. The Psyche is saying, “Hey! In order for your soul to expand, some part of your life is being cut off.” If we are on this planet to make souls, to form character and create something beyond the obvious stuff of daily existence, then the Psyche is the most sane voice in us.


The three businessmen who killed themselves were undergoing some radical financial ex-cisions in their own personal soul-making journeys; their self identities as ‘successful’ and wealthy businessmen were being cut away, and they no doubt were being assailed by that little universal internal voice that was accurately whispering, “You need to die!” It may be instructive that two of the men threw themselves in front of trains. Did they feel derailed, a need to get back on the old track?

Truth be known, part of their lives needed to be let go, cut away, let loose. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” bread being a common euphemism for money, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” said Jesus. And this is not a polemic for the Christian religion, or any religion in general, but Jesus’ recognition that human soul-making depends on more than the physical stuff. Humans do not live by money, food, marriage, jobs, education, children, lovers, healthy bodies, et al alone, but by invisible soul principles that proceed from the gods. And the gods will whisper, “You are dying, let it go.”

But if our sole or primary focus is on suicide prevention, then we are telling the suicidal person that the 'self' destructive voice is mistaken; just ignore it - the dysfunctional ego is trying to kill you, you are sick and need some pills. But the voice always continues, relentlessly reminding you that you might as well be dead now without the money, child, partner, job, health, youth, lover, home, etc.. And do you know what? That voice is 100% correct! The old ‘self’ that you were while attached to that object is literally no thing now; that thing or self is gone or going. And, a new ‘self’ is forming. And do not try to give instructions or predict what that new self will be like, or how and when it will emerge. Like the caterpillar that leaves its worm-world, enters into the suffocating chrysalis, you are transforming into something heretofore unknown. You must die. Psyche knows how, when and where...let go.


In the world of drug and alcohol recovery, thoughts of suicide are common. There is a proverb in many recovery groups, “Don’t kill your self within the first five years of recovery or you will be killing a stranger.” The point? It takes time for the new ‘self’ to come into being after the old ‘self’ is ‘cided’ or cut off. You may feel like dying because you are in fact dying, but NEVER mistake what is going on at the soul level to be solved at the physical level. Our culture of journalistic and prosaic literalism has a hard time reading the symbolic and mythical alphabet of soul. It is NOT your physical that needs to be released by you, but your attachment to old people, objects and situations are leaving or being removed.

Incidentally, the Psyche also brings us other instructive metaphors, “I feel like I am losing my head.” “I am going out of my mind.” “Stop it, you’re killing me.” “This experience is killing me.” “I feel like the walking dead.” “I’m dead on my feet.” "I feel like I'm jumping out of my skin." Listen to these symbolic voices - they are very instructive in caring for your soul.

In conclusion, respect that internal voice which tells you that you must die, but don’t mistake it for physical death! You do not need to destroy your body, but cooperate as areas of your old life are being cut away to make room for the new self that is emerging. Talk to people you can trust, share your story of loss without becoming identified with it, confess your suicidal thoughts with someone who understands, and develop patience as the soul-making process progresses.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Soul of Video Images: Why We Love Films

O memory! thou mid-way world

'Twixt Earth and Paradise,

Where things decayed, and loved ones lost

In dreamy shadows rise.

by Abraham Lincoln


I do not love film because it captures and freezes images, but because it evokes in me that part of knowing that realizes Reality as Eternal Process; the film is a moving image, an ongoingness that mimics the Reality under reality. At one level a film or video is obviously 'less real' because they cannot be tasted, touched and experienced as this current moment in my body, but on another level a moving video image is more than a mere fleeting moment. The video reminds me that the traits and actions of John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe are an eternal process of Psyche, Infinite Ideas or Images which underlie this world; the celebrated (celebrities) individuals or heroes we have named and known on this planet are eternal manifestations of Infinite Archetypes. In fact, the very word 'video' is etymologically related to the word 'idea'. A video is an image or idea - and invisible Ideas are the foundation upon which material existence is built. Humans live by these archetypal Idea/Videos. That is the essence of Jesus' saying, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word (Idea/Video/Image) that proceeds out of the mouth of God."

When I am truly caught up in a film, especially what we call a 'classic,’ I am not cognizant that the actors may be long dead and buried. I am engaged at the Imaginal level which knows Process – which knows, craves and lives by Love and Beauty, Truth and Action, and a thousand Eternals as always Existing. These Images feed me. The Hebrew prophet Amos, in 800 B.C., said, "There is a famine in the Land, not for bread, but for the Word (Images) of God."

The ancients fed this human need through ritual. Their dances, re-enactments, sacred ceremonies and stories accomplished what our films do today. The so called modern "decline of religion" is really just a disinterest in old methods of evoking the archetypal Invisibles in the soul. To see a film is a religious or numinous act, whether we know it or not. Most people in ancient cultures did not fully understand the numinous significance of what was happening in their ritual dances; they just knew that ‘something’ necessary for existence was happening. This religious impulse for Images is autonomic, like breathing, occurring beyond our conscious awareness. The times we are most aware is when they are interfered with, like breathing, drinking or eating. If you place your hand over a man’s nose and mouth, he will become acutely aware of his need for oxygen, breath, spiritus, air, pneuma; similarly, if you remove ritual or theatre from a culture, people will feel something has gone terribly awry. We must find some way to participate in the Eternal Process, to know at some level there is more to existence than one moment passing into the next and disappearing forever.

Many of America's great early film directors and actors came to this country in the 1930s from Germany as the Third Reich restricted the Images of artists in an effort to control the souls of the German people. Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich, Peter Lorre and many others fled Germany and came to America where they could freely follow the impulse of Psyche to display the complete archetypal pantheon of Video Ideas for the starving human soul. The soul craves these Eternal Ideas. lives by these words from the gods.

Humans are ritualistic creatures, precisely because we must participate in the eternality of the Process or wither up in some version of a meaningless temporal existence, usually taking the form of some sort of addiction to transient people, substances or activities in our western world. Films and Video Ideas are like dreams which are autonomically generated as little Night Rites or nocturnal theatre which reflects the Eternal Process or Reality underneath our transient daily undertakings. The kiss I shared with my lover yesterday is an Eternal Kiss, never ending, just as when any number of romantic films light up the screen with some magical kissing scene. That kiss on the screen is symbolic of The Kiss, the Connection between man and woman, Divine and Human, Soul and Spirit. War movies and rituals allow us to experience Eternal Justice, Compassion, Honor, Courage; the political conflict between Liberals and Traditionalists are Eternal themes. These archetypal themes are many and must be expressed, impressed and in-pressed on soul.

The reason humans are so drawn to television, film, video and computer images is not because we are lazy and ignorant, but because we are unconsciously drawn into the need for the evocation of the Eternal Process we know to be under, through and behind the mundane moments which pass into history. History, on the film and video game, might be call ‘is-story,’ or The Story that always is. Each story is my story, our story, the never ending story. The existence of Epics in each culture, from the Bible to the Iliad, from the Mahabharata to the Simpsons, continue the story that began before there ever an earth or a human being. We do not invent these stories, we embody them, and they will continue long after this planet is dead and every human body on it mingled with star dust in some cosmic implosion.

This craving for Images is also the basis of a universal and ubiquitous recognition of some sense of and defense for immortality in some form. We intuitively know that Living does not end, that Love does not disappear, that Courage and Justice will not go away just because a human body, spherical planet or precious culture does go away.

And Time is more like a projector light than a measuring device. Reality and in particular our daily lives are more like video clips than a photo album. The frames are strung together continuously like a strip of film, and Time is a sort of projector light that shines through a given frame from one second to the next, revealing one after the other in progression. We measure these frames by a clock and call it past, present and future – as if the Process stops for our puny analyses. Just because Time has moved her projecting light to the next frame does not mean that the frames that have passed are any less real or any less present. The video is immortal; only the revelation of each frame is mortal. Death is merely the passing of the light from one frame to the next.

That is why we love films. They are inadequate containers of the way Reality works.