Thursday, October 22, 2009

Peace Through Conflict

But Israel has rejected what is good; an enemy will pursue him.” ~ Hosea 8:3

The human being thrives and is driven forward by conflict. Conflict comes from desire. As one Hindu creation story says, ‘desire [is] the primal seed and germ of Spirit.’ (Rig Veda, Book 10, 129) Desire moves us to want something or someone different. This creates conflicts – things fall apart to make room for something new. That does not always or even often mean getting a new object of desire, but often a new psychological perspective on wanting. But we must move into and through these experiences.

One of Carl Jung's patients had the following dream: She dreamt that she had been told to descend into a pit filled with hot material and submerge herself in it. She obeyed and immersed herself uncomfortably in the pit with only one shoulder left sticking out of the pit. Then Jung came by in the dream and pushed her all the way into the hot material saying, 'Not out, but through.' She woke up with a clear realization that moving ‘into the pit,’ ‘through the hot material’ was the way to consciousness. We must disintegrate prior to integration.

This is the way of the Universe -- from the dividing cell at conception, to the Big Bang that birthed the Cosmos and to the decomposing corpse that becomes one with the earth -- dissolution has always preceded assimilation. The more we try to suppress these necessary clashes, or try to ‘cure’ our natural impulse toward conflict, the more likely we are to hurt ourselves or others. Most addicts are trying to avoid their normal and necessary impulses toward experiences of psychological and relational fragmentation – the result is horrific personal and social catastrophe by turning to drink, drugs, food, work or ‘love’. If we do not embrace creative conflict and our periodic inevitable disintegrations in imaginative and inventive ways, relentless conflicts and disintegrations will batter us to bits.

Ironically, peace comes through embracing conflict rather than resisting it.

The recognition of psychic and social fragmentation has been part of the genius of the American form of government. Many moderns have lost this truth in our obsession with ‘healing’ all disagreements. Madison and others knew that factionalisms and fragmentations in the psyche and society were inevitable. It is how we are made. Madison especially saw this and refused to call it the result of Original Sin. He saw it as the Original State of humans and the Cosmos in general. These political geniuses saw that past Greek and Roman Republics failed because they tried to manage factions and differences of opinion.

The American approach was different; it was to craft economic, political and religious systems that encouraged as many factions as possible in order that no one or two would become supreme. Regulations and restrictions of religions, the press, economics, philosophical ideas, etc. would force people into a few sects and groups, as we currently see in Iran, Korea, Cuba, etc. The result of such enforced restrictions against open and celebrated disagreements fosters secrecy, resentments and revolution. As I see it, the genius of our 'system' is in liberty -- especially the liberty to disagree openly. I remember when I was in Eastern Europe, and how odd it was that so many people whispered, even in their homes. Communalism requires agreement, “We are a community, so shut up and consent!”

The same is true on a personal, psychological level. It is healthy to carry on an internal debate -- to simultaneously love God and argue with the Divine; to challenge our selves, to chastise as well as extol our choices and actions.

We ought to laud and enjoy the differences of opinion we see on the news. It is good to 'argue' politics and religion, to disagree over ideas and beliefs. This is how souls are made.

As a social bonus bloody conflicts are minimized. As we became more conscious and open about the necessity of these internal and external oppositional processes, we can find beneficial ways to engage these necessary struggles. Aristotle talked about theatre as a form of ‘catharsis.’ We know from the few extant plays of the Greek playwrights like Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes that very touchy and problematic issues were dealt with on stage.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Myth of 'Free Will': Prove me Wrong!

Someone recently asked me if I believed we had 'free will' or free choice. Here is my provisional response.


I don't think we have as much free will as we usually think we do. An embryo developing in the womb has no free will. The new born for the first year or so has very little if any free will. I know some in the New Age movement say we choose to come to this earth. That may be, but I and many other people see no solid evidence for that assumption.

With time the growing infant seems to have the ability to make some minor choices, and good parents allow them these choices in order to launch them into the soul-making endeavor. As our individual soul wakes up and grows, we gradually get more choices.

But studies and research demonstrate that most of our responses during the day are reactions rather than choices (see Malcolm Gladwell’s, BLINK). We say the same words and phrases, have the same beliefs, choose the same relationships, eat the same food, watch the same TV shows, read the same kinds of books, like the same politicians, seek out the same friends, wear the same clothes, make love or war the same ways, go to the same church, don’t go to church at all, have the same morning and evening rituals, etc., etc. Over time, usually due to some stressful or painful event, some of these things change. But very, very few people actually ‘choose’ do something out of the ordinary.

True free will is doing things that you do not naturally 'want' to do or normally desire to do. This is what the European mystic Gurdjieff called 'voluntary suffering.' One uses his/her will to voluntarily become uncomfortable. He realized that the soul only stretches when it breaks out of the rut. Doing and thinking the same things everyday is not free will. VERY few of us actually choose – we react. ‘Re-act’ literally means ‘to act again.’ Repeat after me, “I am not a robot. I am not a robot. I am not a robot.” Now try saying the opposite, “I am a robot.” Find ten ways your life is robotic. Ironically, if you do this, you may have just stopped being a robot for a few moments!

That is why I like to pick a book from another point of view and read it. I just read Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, the socialist Community Organizer who has so influenced Obama. I am reading Glenn Beck's book, Common Sense. I read books on pro-gay marriage and anti-gay marriage. Recently I have begun going to plays, shows or concerts that I think I would hate, though I must say, ‘chick flicks’ are still very painful.

Try eating a meal today consisting of food you have never eaten before. If you are a Democrat, watch Bill O'Reilly for the whole hour, or listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio without judgment. Read one of Ann Coulter’s books. In fact, ‘choose’ to find ten points where you agree with them. THAT is free will and that is what makes soul. If you are a Republican, listen to Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow or Stephen Colbert. Find ten points of agreement. Read one of Obama’s books – Audacity of Hope or Dreams from My Father. If you are a theist, read a book by an avowed atheist like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. If you are an atheist, read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain.

Then try the opposite. If you are a Democrat, find five areas where you disagree with your party. If you are a Republican, find five areas of divergence from your party. If you are an atheist, critique atheism. If you are a theist, critique theism. If you are a New Ager, find five valuable insights from the Christian tradition. If you are a Christian, find five valuable insights from the New Age religion.

Most people will find these tasks virtually impossible to initiate, much less complete, proving that free will is largely non-existent. Some may try one of these exercises, but will grouse, groan, moan and cringe their way through it, usually ceasing before the full hour is up or book read. Or they may watch or read, but will not be capable of choosing to find areas of agreement. Our will is most often frozen in a particular ideological mode and can find only what supports our current prison of supposed ‘free choices’. Will is not free unless it chooses beyond our current areas of security and certainty.

Give it a try, then post a response on this blog about your experience.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Yes, I Am Separated from God

I have become a lover of paradox and believer that seeming contradictions are due to the limitations of our minds. So for me, we are actually separated and not separated from 'God' - both are just as true and necessary for making soul.

Otherwise, when I am feeling fear, separation, anxiety, depression and such emotions - there is a little guilt voice that niggles at me saying, "Hey, you aren't really separated. You just 'think' you are." I can't play that crazy-making game any longer. My times of separation are as much 'God' as my times of connection. It is like my breathing - in and out, in and out, in and out. The breath is connected and separated at the same time. Both are necessary - just as my times of grief, depression and fear are exhalations of spirit through me, and feelings of joy, peace and love are spirits inhalations through me. Both make soul.

That is the core image of Christianity. Jesus was simultaneously wholly God in the flesh, and completely separated from God on the cross. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" This is not to be understood anymore than we can understanding what holds the spinning electrons from flying out of an atom.

The Ying/Yang symbol illustrates this by placing a little black dot in the center of the white space, and a white dot in the center of the black space. There is unity in separation as well as disintegration within integration. Our logical minds can hold only one or the other; but our poetic minds can experience both taking place simultaneously as our souls meander through life.

"If you want to become whole, let yourself be partial." Tao Te Ching 22

Saturday, October 3, 2009



An idea is neutral. There are good ideas and bad ideas, peaceful ideas and warring ideas, republican ideas and democratic ideas. The human mind is filled with many ideas. It is what the mind does. The human mind does not come up with most of these ideas, they just arrive. Sometimes they come from other people, sometimes they seem to [1]float in from the ethers. Nietzsche wrote, “A thought comes when ‘it’ wants to and not when ‘I’ want; thus it is a falsification to say: the subject ‘I’ is the condition for the predicate ‘think.’ 'It' thinks: but there is…no immediate certainty that this ‘it’ is just the famous old ‘I’.” (Beyond Good and Evil)

Freud recognized this and made it a central piece of his psychology, “Besides the ‘I’ (ego) we recognize also another region of the soul, more extensive, grander, and more obscure than the ‘I’ (ego), and this we call the ‘it’.” (The Question of Lay Analysis) In English translations, this ‘it’ is called the 'Id'. The Id (it) is the vast Unconscious Realm which contains ideas that are 'more extensive, grander and more obscure' than the little repository of ideas in my ego-mind. This experience of myriad ideas intruding is most obvious in dreams, but actually occurs all day long.


An ideal is a sought after standard, a high and perfect goal. There is the ideal man, ideal woman, ideal football player, ideal flower arrangement, etc. These are typical definitions from any English dictionary:


a conception of something in its perfection.


a person or thing conceived as embodying such a conception or conforming to such a standard, and taken as a model for imitation: Thomas Jefferson was his ideal.


An ideology is the systematic organization of an ideal. It has an authoritative source, a set of beliefs, a community of supporters, standard expressions or ways of operating and a clear aim or goal. Here are some standard definitions:


the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.


such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation.

It is sometimes religious, sometimes political, frequently though not always a combination of religion and politics. It is usually consciously or unconsciously seen to be somewhat Utopian, or held as the perfect solution. There are many ideologies ranging from one extreme to the other.

What’s the point?

The point is that there are many ideas in the universe, and some are better than others. Every ideologue thinks his/her ideas are right, or at minimum, the best. His/her ideas have become ideals which morph into an ideology. There is the Christian ideology, the Marxist ideology, the Socialist ideology, Muslim ideology, Progressive and Conservative ideologies, etc. And those I quoted in the singular actually have varied ideological permutations, though it is fair to say that each has basic common ideas and ideals.

If Nietzsche and Freud are correct that thoughts and ideas are independent of the self (‘I’), then it behooves us to seriously explore alternative ideas thoroughly before permanently taking up our ‘ideal’ and subscribing to a fixed ideology. I don’t mean exploring with a view to proving another set of ideas, or an opposing ideology false, but with a view to really letting the ideas from the ‘it’ take up residence and become familiar before we dismiss them.

A great negative example is in the biblical story of Nicodemus, the elite Jewish religious scholar and teacher. He covertly met with Jesus in the dark of night because he was fascinated with some of Jesus’ ideas. Nicodemus didn’t want to be seen with the Nazarene peasant who was challenging certain Judaic ideas and ideals. Jesus said, “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil,” thereby calling Nicodemus' secret summit an evil deed. This must have come as a shock because Nicodemus was most certainly a very moral man. When Jesus referred to evil, he was speaking of Nicodemus' cowardice. The religious elitist didn't want to be seen in public questioning the correct ideology. The evil was not in the traditional moral sense, but in making a living off of an ideology that was suddenly suspect. The evil occurred when this prominent man placed his social prestige, financial gain and political power ahead of vetting the truth.The evil was in allowing an ideology to trump better ideas.

This applies to our current culture very pointedly. Christians and non-Christians, Republicans and Democrats, and all of us who take sides are famous for bashing the ‘bad guys’ before really understanding the actual ideas and ideals of these so called opponents. How many of us have confidently and ignorantly attacked others with hearsay or fabricated ‘historical facts,’ 'scientific studies,' 'statistics' and other convenient ‘evidences’? Shame on us! Face it. We are [2] bigots.

Jesus calls this uninformed, exclusivistic ideological chauvinism the 'unpardonable sin’. Jesus' judgment comes out of a story in the Gospel of Matthew where the unorthodox Jesus was casting out demons with the wrong ideology. The orthodox Hebrew idealists then accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan and of committing wicked deeds. Jesus shocked them by saying that the attribution of evil to someone doing good cannot be forgiven. In other words, that sort of ideological infection systematically rots the soul from the inside out, destroying the very essence of the man or women in their self-righteous idealism.

So beware, whomever we are – traditional conservative or progressive liberal, Christian or New Age, male or female, black or white, American or Muslim. This does not mean we ought not evaluate and critique ideas, ideologies and idealisms. It does mean that we ought to do our best to seriously understand another ideology before we criticize it. As I said, some ideas are better than others. Some ideologies are more beneficial than others -- politically, religiously and economically. But before we take a firm position and critique another, which I encourage by the way, let's find out what our ‘opponents’ really think, believe and practice. Then our critiques have power and authority, and the possibility of changing things for the good of all.

[1] It is interesting that the Sankhya Hindu philosophy posits three ways of knowing:

  1. Empirically – through the sense organs.
  2. Rationally – through the reasoning process.
  3. Auditorially – through hearing.

They recognize the usual western categories of empirics and reason, but add hearing.

[2] The word 'bigot' is etymologically related to the 'by - God' and was used of those who said they had the absolute truth or ideology because it came from their God.