Saturday, September 23, 2017

War and Peace: A Third Path Between Conservatives and Progressives

"As a connecting link, or traditionally third position, between all opposites, the soul differs from the terms which it connects...It is not life that matters, but soul and how life is used to care for soul." James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, pp. 174-175

     I see war or conflict as a necessary and normal part of the Cosmos – whether these conflicts show up as comets smashing into planets, stars in perpetual nuclear fusion, rain eroding rocks, or time withering once smooth skin. The cosmos is a place of war and peace.

     I disagree with the sometime myopic ideologies of both Progressives and Conservatives. Conservatives sometimes see war as a solution while Progressives sometimes  see war as something that must be eliminated. I see both ignoring the evidence found in Nature and Psyche. When I see bumper stickers advocating War or advocating Peace, as though one could exist on this planet without the other, I find myself in disagreement with both extremes.

     Many in the New Age Movement suggest that we are evolving as a species into a planet of peace, while the more traditional religions often suggest that the world will get worse, eventuating in an apocalypse. I see no evidence that either trend will overtake the other. Both extreme views are missing the point of earthly existence: we are here to make souls, and all of the opposites have been built into the psycho-cosmic curriculum for that process.
This third way is not a synthesis or blending of the two extremes, but a middle path that sees both sides as normal and necessary for the game of Soul-making. The football game metaphor works well. The aim of a football game is goal-making, requiring rules that allow moments of brutal violence and moments of huddled tranquility. Now imagine a football game where the compassionate Progressives argue that the players ought to completely stop blocking and tackling each other, while a group of hawkish Conservatives argue that the players ought to be able to block and tackle each other the entire game. The game works because it has fixed rules of conflict and concord to be followed for the purpose of goal-making. Similarly, this is how the human soul making game operates—by the laws of opposites. We did not create this game, we merely play it, consciously or unconsciously. (Incidentally, this is how all relationships function in a soul-making universe).

     There is an African Swahili Warrior Song: “Life has meaning only in the struggle. Triumph or defeat is in the hands of the gods….so let us celebrate the struggle.” The same notion is found in Hinduism where the Divine Lord Krishna claims that He generates little babies while He devours the corpses of dying men on the battle field. The mystical poet William Blake wrote: "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.”   

     Each person is here to experience duality in order to make a deep and fascinating soul. In this view everyone is “spiritual” because souls are being sculpted in each moment, whether one is an atheist or agnostic, Jew or Taoist, church-goer or heroin addict. Like a butterfly struggling to get out of the chrysalis, each of us is struggling to emerge from the undivided into the individuated.

In this view, “spirituality” is not a little slice of life where you chant, pray and get happy on Jesus or Energy Crystals. Full spirituality is found in the clash of Contraries, in war and peace, cancer and health, loss and gain, eating gourmet food or eliminating waste. The world of Nature is our teacher: Sharks kill seals while ants organize colonies, lions kill gazelles while birds sing songs in the Spring, frost kills leaves while the sun rises over a blue lagoon, people divorce while lovers share a first kiss, and on and on…

     Don’t get me wrong, I WAY prefer peace, health and prosperity – but I also preferred to skip algebra, and to watch TV rather than memorize my spelling words when I was in school; that which is easier and preferred is not always the most beneficial.

     So with Hillman I choose the third position between the necessary contraries. And when I am ravenously tackling and blocking those I oppose, I remember that it is not personal. And when it gets personal, I eventually take a breath, reset my heart to a soul-making stance, and only then do I understand what Jesus meant when he said: “Love your enemies, and bless those who oppose you.” Our enemies are the artists of our unique souls.


     Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:
"We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organ of its activity...we do nothing by ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams...Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm." (Self-Reliance Essay)

Emerson's words caused me to reflect back on my 19th year of life as an oblivious college student. One night I was lying in bed reading the Gospel of Matthew for the first time because someone close to me had been "born again". Having been raised in an irreligious home, I had no clue what that meant, or what had happened to alter my friend's personality for the better. As I completed reading Matthew's gospel which described Jesus' arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection—some strange and palpable compulsion came over me, whispering simply: "Believe." I did. The result? My entire psyche was rearranged in a flash. The weight of my failures and anxieties lifted off of me. My grade point average went from 1.5 to 3.8 in a single quarter. I had no desire to party every night. I experienced an extraordinary sense of connection to life and to the entire universe. I had never been much of a student, but began to read voraciously. I prayed to an actual God whose presence was tangible. Prayers were answered. My heart, mind and life changed notably.

     I have struggled to make sense of that night for the last forty years. That night I was impressed—stamped by something or some One beyond anything I had ever known before. Emerson's words ring true: "We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth...we do nothing by ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams...Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm."

     In James Hillman opus, Revisioning Psychology, the  last chapter is titled "Dehumanizing" because he argues that:

"Gods...exist 'outside' human beings...All psychic reality is...given sanction by a God....Man can never be large enough to possess his psychic organs; he can only reflect their activities." 
Like Emerson, Hillman reminds us that we don't have nearly as much to do with psycho-spiritual encounters as we think we do. Divine experiences, like mathematical equations and musical notes, exist apart from the human brain. They come to us and through us, but not from us. Einstein was gifted with mathematical insight but he did not invent math; Mozart was impressed with musical scores but he did not create musical notes; the mystic is a gracious recipient of divine encounters, but he does not originate psychic phenomena. Of course we can employ spiritual practices to prepare ourselves for such experiences, but we neither invent nor originate them. They come in their time and manner, not mine. Much of our spiritual angst and frustration arise from thinking we must somehow conjure the divine from within or manipulate God to appear at my behest. Making God arrive is not my job. What is my job? Live life "in the lap of immense intelligence...[and] allow a passage to its beams." 

Keep the lamp filled with oil, God will light the blaze when it is time.

Sleep Poems


Indra spread his mantle
over my star-stippled eyes -
the palm of black on blue
tucked me under the curve of sky.

Fire fell from Agni’s lunar mane,
silence swirled,
then rested quietly
purging all worry, erasing all pain.

I counted Gurus
leaping like sheep over the Taj Mahal,
then I tallied Lamas
scaling the great China Wall.

I flip the pillow to the cooler side
to chill my fevered cheek,
the is of sleep opens below me,
and finally,
I fall.




Indeed, then
do you have big brown sleepy eyes
that make the stars come out at night?
Or do you dream
in front of your eye lids
and call it make believe?




A thousand poems have slipped away
not because the Muses are silent,
but because I am water skiing across
the face of the digital clock trapped inside
monitors in every room.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Do I Really Always Need Healing?

Do I Really Always Need Healing?

"Healing" seems to be the primary or even solitary spiritual metaphor these days. Sermons, book titles, seminars, YouTube talks, etc. are fixated on spiritual and psychological healing:

  • How to Heal Your Soul
  • Ten Steps to a Healthy Relationship
  • How to Cure Depression
  • Spiritual Healing
  • How to Heal P.T.S.D.

The implication is that I am sick, broken and fundamentally defective.
First off, let me acknowledge that healing is a legitimate metaphor when referring to psycho-spiritual traumas, but it is not the only symbol for approaching emotional distress--nor perhaps even the best. When the healing metaphor fails, I am stuck without alternative ways of seeing my trauma. There is another metaphor found in Carl Jung's autobiography:

"It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which  Fate had posed to my forefathers and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to  complete, or perhaps  continue, things which previous ages had left  unfinished." (Jung,  Memories, Dreams and Reflections)
Here Jung sees his psycho-spiritual problems, not as inherited family illnesses, but as congenital "questions posed by Fate" to his ancestors. In this view, my ancestral connection has passed along the assignment to for me to take up. Here Jung uses a developmental metaphor in order to emphasize the soul's ongoing process of continuation and completion rather than that of inflexible sickness and brokenness. In a developmental metaphor, trauma is more like an algebra assignment. I am not broken and don't need to heal anything, but am allowed to continue working on and completing the Fateful family assignments.
Jesus and the Apostle Paul frequently use developmental agricultural images to symbolize the spiritual life:

  • Jesus: "The kingdom of God is like a seed that grows over time." (Mark 4:26-29)
  • Paul: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." (I Cor. 3:6)

Many early Christian theologians viewed Adam and Eve--planted like human seeds in the Garden of Eden--as a parable for human development. The so-called "fall" denotes the moment the embryonic human is cast into the soil of life in order that each of us might move from the raw image of God into the completed likeness of God. In this view, I don't need healing, but rather maturation through ongoing life experiences--negative and positive.
But when healing is my sole symol for spiritual and psychological traumas, I assume
the only alternatives are to get well or remain sick. If I don't "get well," then I have failed and remain sick and broken. But the educational and agricultural developmental metaphors allow for progress through the ancestral journey. I am merely one student in a family endeavor. I am not defective, but merely incomplete until the assignment is finished--likely many generations from now.
When it comes to psycho-spiritual traumas, let's utilize our metaphorical imaginations. Life is more than a disease to be healed, much more than the mere cessation of all suffering. It is a vital journey through many stages and modes of being and living. Perhaps instead of R.I.P. ( Rest in Peace ) on our gravestones, we ought to etch the letters T.B.C. ( To Be Continued ).


Why We Need the Fundamentalists

Why We Need Fundamentalists

"It is a psychological rule that the brighter the light, the darker the shadow..." 
C. G. Jung

These days we hear a lot about Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalisms. What these groups most often have in common is a radical and forceful return to the religious "fundaments" or foundational beliefs and practices of their various cultural traditions. One derisive comedian said a fundamentalist might be defined as "a person who hates fundamns everyone else, and has lost his mentalreasoning abilities!" Many of us sympathize with this critique and have nothing but disdain for anything related to fundamentalism

However, from a soul-making perspective, every "fundamentalism" is an archetypal rejoinder to a potentially dangerous personal and/or cultural pattern of consciousness. You see, fundamentalisms have not only dangerous aspects, but healthy aspects as well. They are always compensatory, archetypal responses to personal and cultural imbalances. Not understanding this psychological axiom keeps us from seeing the important insights embedded within a particular
fundamentalism. Fundamentalists act as modern sibyls proclaiming the loss of mystery while rigorously championing cosmic and psychological enchantment. In his bestselling book, The Soul's Code, James Hillman has praise for fundamentalism:

"Fundamentalism attempts, literally and dogmatically, to recover the invisible foundations of culture. Its strength lies in what is seeks; its menace is in how it proceeds..." 

With his usual mercurial dexterity Hillman captures the light and shadow of fundamentalism in a single sentence. In 1948 theologian Nels Ferre--while recognizing the dangers of radical religionists--said every religious fundamentalism is also a:

"...defender of supernaturalism, has...a genuine heritage and profound truth to preserve.... We shall some day thank our fundamentalist friends for having held the main fortress while countless leaders went over to the foe of limited scientism and a shallow naturalism."

Hillman and Ferre both recognize a fundamentalist as a person who is not afraid to stick their finger in the eye of the messianic political sophists, the pretentious secular media and the reductionist academies. These annoying radicals rightly criticize modern culture for leaving no room for mystery. And of course the methods of the often pretentious and even murderous fundamentalists may be menacing, but their deeper archetypal mission is to restore the invisibles to their rightful places in a frenetic world reduced to statistical facts and socio-political ambiguities. One may disagree with their theologies, revelations and menacing methodologies while remaining prescient enough to let them remind us to take the imaginal realm seriously in a world reduced to anthropic scientism and materialist absurdities. They may literalize and dogmatize their myths, but at least they fight for the essential reality of mythic truth while many of us remain silent, or try to impress others by bloviating about esoteric metaphysics, or waxing scholarly about arcane mythic trivialities. Archetypal reality is fundamental to every thought, feeling, dream and action. If we lose these fundaments, our personal, relational and cultural lives will perish. In the words of Hillman: "The great task of a life-sustaining to keep the invisibles attached..."