Saturday, May 12, 2018

Jordan Peterson's Ideas Are Alive

Here's something I wrote in my personal journal about the lecturer, author, and psychologist Jordan Peterson:

I was thinking about how Jordan Peterson knows some topics very well, from the inside out, as it were, even when he's superficial about others. He knows Jung not just intellectually but deeply and passionately. He had all of Heidegger's insights without ever reading Heidegger. But he doesn't understand Derrida. This didn't make sense.

And then I remembered something I wrote in high school on Facebook: you understand the wheel a lot better if you reinvent it. And it's true: no one understands an idea like the person who had to struggle toward it. Others don't see the process; they only see the product. They see it from the outside, as something you can stand apart from, as something you can compartmentalize, catalog. They see it, but they don't inhabit it. They only see abstractions, where the reality is something lived.

Peterson *inhabits* his ideas like this. He doesn't look at them from the outside: he goes into them, tries them on like a glove, knows them from a first person perspective. He doesn't teach abstractions but lived, experiential, existential truths. Swedenborg said something along those lines: that if we are merely *taught* an idea, without having to struggle toward it, without having to doubt it or weigh it on all sides, the thought appears wooden in the spiritual world, not alive. It doesn't move; it's inanimate; it's tacked on. Only when one struggles toward the idea against doubt does it come to life, which Swedenborg suggests is the reason we have doubt at all.

Peterson's ideas are full of life, full of growth, emanating what Swedenborg would call goodness, the spontaneous order that organizes ideas from within. They have an organic quality, following one another like branches or twisting capillaries. They are like a breath of fresh air, a bright, crisp glimmer from the morning of all existence. They are like childhood. And Peterson is childlike. Norman Doidge writes that Peterson assumed "as a child would--before learning how dulled adults can become--that if he thought something was interesting, so might others." Peterson has the aura of a child, not one you don't like, but one that brings healing, brings the star.

And it is this youthfulness that is, I think, Peterson's point, what the gods sent him here for. He has been protected from understanding or even encountering certain ideas from without, because then they would be wooden, mechanical, abstract. He was left alone to recreate Heidegger, even to recreate Swedenborg's exegesis of the Bible. This is spontaneous, growing, shape-forming, animate, totally unlike the abstract ways so many misunderstand Heidegger and Swedenborg. The gods use him to grow them, to reembody them freshly and spontaneously, youthfully, so that their forces can come alive in others. Heidegger cannot come alive today, cannot lend his impulse to anyone. He's just too dense, too old. But Heidegger's ideas resurrected, reincarnated in Peterson can. And this can only happen because Peterson never read him.

Swedenborg was told by God not to read any works on theology, and I suspect this is why. And even I, who am embarrassingly underread in everything academic, have recreated the ideas of many philosophers. I knew about deconstruction's living impulse, as it were, years before I read Derrida. I have independently come up with many insights about the Book of Mormon. This is discouraging, but it's also curious. I suspect I'm being held back from reading these books so I can understand them the right way: by reinventing them. This cuts through abstraction to the living center. It revivifies. It resurrects.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

General Conference's Inner Meaning: Solemn Assembly

Hey, y'all. General Conference was awesome. It felt to me like something happened, not just physically, but spiritually, viscerally, in the depths of my and collective being. Life had somehow re-oriented itself. It was an act of becoming-new, of a clearing away of obstructions.

And it was an act. General Conference is not just something heard, something said, but something done. It furthers the Gospel. It acts it out en masse. This acting-out occurred in the words of the conference. What was said did something. They blessed us. They changed the rules of the game

I felt prompted to use my blog to tell you, insofar as I am able, the acts that occurred by means of the speech. I will probably not do a very good job. But I want to let you know that the Church is real and does further itself, does become itself, in a bigger way than you can possibly imagine. It seethes beneath the surface. More is done by events like this than we realize. This "seething" is Swedenborg's inner meaning, what communicates to the divine in us, what helps the angels and spirits with us know what to do. They are listening to General Conference too, as we do. They hear what I am going to stammeringly translate. They hear in deeds.

As such, know that this act I am doing is an attempt to further the act done by General Conference itself: the acting-out of love and the spreading of those deeds here and far.

I will try to do this for each talk, or at least every talk by a member of the twelve, as audacious and ambitious as that sounds. I probably won't finish. But I hope this will be valuable for someone.

I've finished the "interpretation a la action" for the first talk, the solemn assembly. The talk is in normal text, and the interpretation is in bold. Here it is:

Brothers and sisters, President Nelson has asked that I handle the business of the solemn assembly for which we are gathered today.

An initiation into communality, into love. By saying “brothers and sisters,” President Eyring. reconfigures and re-orients our minds to a consciousness of brotherhood, of sisterhood. We become brothers and sisters. This is an initiation into the spiritual sense of family, the becoming-spiritual of the family. Here, spiritual ties forge themselves. We become our spiritual counterparts. This is an initiation into, not finite, earthly family, but eternal family, not conditional family, but unconditional family. We realize in our very flesh, our everyday consciousness, the light that forges ties in the first place, the force that works itself into consciousness and makes links, the essence of relationship itself. We become embodiments of relationship. We relate to relationship. In this sense, we represent representation, and as with all movements of this type, a spiritual glow emerges that results from a kind of feedback loop. This feedback loop depicts on a lower level the reality that produces that lower level. It manifests what it depicts.

President Nelson is, in this case, a manifestation of the principle that realizes in the flesh the power of realizing in the flesh. President Nelson is, here, pure performativity: the act of creating what you speak as you speak it, a kind of efficacious speech, a speech as will, the words no longer merely descriptive, merely passive recipients of the world, but active creators of it. The power of godliness here realizes itself. God descends and acts in the acting of what is spoken. The “solemn assembly,” as the communality emphasized above, is the realization in us of a great deed, a great performative speech-act, that reconfigures and orients the consciousness of everyone involved. This act can only occur with both in a context, in a situation, with both people to speak and to hear, to present and sustain, to proclaim and to witness. This is both active and passive, both here and there. This is the reality of life: a great inhalation and a great exhalation. This is the movement of divinity, acted out and writ large for everyone not only to see but also to take part in. This is a ritual. This is a correspondential embodiment.

This is an occasion of great significance for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world.

Here, he’s situating the event just mentioned. It is not only what it is, here and now. It has effects that reach out to everyone, the whole world, and, by extension, the whole spiritual world. It resonates through everyone that witnesses it, which means that they too become manifestations and embodiments of it. The “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is here not just a finite organization but also a specific spiritual tone, a kind of high-pitched resonance, that emanates from certain centers. This “tone” is also a specific mode of being, something that re-creates itself, resurrects itself, perpetually through space and time. For a “center” to emanate this tone means that the tone exists self-generatively, as a movement of self-creation, there. President Nelson is such a mode of self-creation, such a center, but so is the Church at large. As such, every person who hears the tone and subsequently sounds it acts out that mode of being and introduces themselves into the grand body that it signifies. This is bracketed by the physical boundaries of the Church, though it extends beyond it like an aura. It has its foundation in the rituals and ordinances. They are its “body.”

Dating from October 10, 1880, when John Taylor was sustained to succeed Brigham Young as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, each of these occasions has been designated as a formal solemn assembly of the body of the Church to express the voice of the Church.

Here, he states that this spiritual performative act has occurred before and will occur again. It is a deed that exists, in the most specific sense, whenever one manifestation of God dies and another must take his place, but in the most universal sense, whenever anything changes in the way the Holy Ghost reveals himself. Say you’re reading the Book of Mormon and you transition from the Book of Alma to the Book of Helaman. The change in spiritual qualities involved here, bright as they may be, involves a kind of rebirth, a re-incarnation of certain spiritual qualities in a new medium, a new vessel, a kind of shattering and re-forming, a kind of death and rebirth. This is what is occurring here and must always occur: a time of transition where authority gathers itself up and finds itself anew in a new vessel. Life must die to be reborn, and spirit must scatter itself to find itself. This is the way of things.
We will vote by quorums and groups. Wherever you are, you are invited to stand only when requested and express by your uplifted hand that you choose to sustain those whose names will be presented. You should vote only when asked to stand.

Here, the “quorums” and “groups” are specific embodiments of spiritual qualities. They realize themselves in these quorums and groups, and when we sustain the new leadership, the spiritual quality manifest by the President and the leadership realizes the way it is grounded in these more specific qualities. In a broader sense, this is a realization of the more universal resonance that exists in all these “tones” in the specific way that they do. The quality of “Mormon-ness” exists in both the quality of Priesthood and the quality of Womanhood. It is the universal one in each. To sustain them is to act out and carry forward this resonance. This resonance here re-creates itself.
The General Authorities assigned to the Tabernacle and the Assembly Hall on Temple Square will observe the voting in those facilities. In stake centers, a member of the stake presidency will observe the voting. If anyone casts a contrary vote, those individuals should contact their respective stake presidents.

Here, the ways in which this resonance, this act of witnessing, of re-creation in particulars, is acted out is detailed. Someone “opposing” or even saying “opposed” does not impede this realization, this performative act, but only alerts it to particular nuances in its situation. It is like an act of perception: what it does not act out, it can see. Just as one forgets what one can do well in an embodied sense (think riding a bike: you don’t know “how” you do it; you just do it), here, what one does not embody one can see clearly. This is a chink in the flow of movement, but one that can later be mended.

We will now proceed. Again, please stand and vote only when asked to do so.

Here, the acting-out of the performative re-creation of the church begins to occur. What happened before was less a realization of the act than a necessary description of the act, a kind of reserved, preparatory action, like how Saturday is the day we get ready for Sunday.

We ask members of the First Presidency to please arise.

To arise, in this sense, is to manifest the quality you embody. Here, the quality of the First Presidency manifests itself.

It is proposed that the First Presidency sustain Russell Marion Nelson as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To “propose” like this is to prepare the spiritual qualities for reception, for embodiment. Just as the quality of the first presidency embodied itself just earlier, the more universal quality it manifests here also “arises.”
Those of the First Presidency in favor, please manifest it.

This is the union, the marriage, the consummated act whereby the more universal quality manifests itself in the less universal quality of the First Presidency. If the “proposal” was a proposal, this is the wedding. This marriage repeats itself accordingly in the next few lines.

It is proposed that the First Presidency sustain Dallin Harris Oaks as First Counselor and Henry Bennion Eyring as Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church.

Those members of the First Presidency in favor may manifest it.

It is proposed that the First Presidency sustain Dallin Harris Oaks as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Melvin Russell Ballard as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Members of the First Presidency in favor may manifest it.

It is proposed that the First Presidency sustain as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: M. Russell Ballard, Jeffrey R. Holland, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, David A. Bednar, Quentin L. Cook, D. Todd Christofferson, Neil L. Andersen, Ronald A. Rasband, Gary E. Stevenson, Dale G. Renlund, Gerrit Walter Gong, and Ulisses Soares.

Members of the First Presidency, please manifest it.

It is proposed that the First Presidency sustain the counselors in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators.

Members of the First Presidency will please manifest it.

The First Presidency will now be seated.

Here, the act ceases. The quality of the Church has been reborn on this level.

We invite Elder Gong and Elder Soares to take their places with the Quorum of the Twelve.

Here, certain qualities have now been re-embodied and now assume their full stature as they were before.
The members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles only, including Elder Gong and Elder Soares, will please arise.

Here, the more universal quality begins to embody itself on a slightly lower level by the act of these lower levels stepping forward, as it were.
It is proposed that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sustain Russell Marion Nelson as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, together with his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as they have been presented and voted upon by the First Presidency.

Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in favor, please manifest it.

Here, the act is consummated again.

You may be seated.

And it ceases.

We ask the General Authority Seventies and members of the Presiding Bishopric to please arise.

Again, now it begins to be reborn on an even lower level.

It is proposed that all General Authority Seventies and members of the Presiding Bishopric sustain Russell Marion Nelson as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, together with his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as they have been presented and voted upon by the First Presidency.

All General Authority Seventies and members of the Presiding Bishopric who are in favor, please manifest it.

And it is consummated.

You may be seated.

And the act ceases.

We ask the following to please arise wherever you may be throughout the world: all Area Seventies, ordained patriarchs, high priests, and elders.

And, again, reborn on an even lower level.

It is proposed that Russell Marion Nelson be sustained as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, together with his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as they have been presented and voted upon.

All in favor, please manifest it.

And it happens.

Any opposed may so manifest it.

Please be seated.

And it stops.

Will all members of the Relief Society—that is, all women 18 years of age and older—please arise.

Here, womanhood itself, insofar as it participates in that universal tone, lends itself to the manifestation of that universal tone.
It is proposed that Russell Marion Nelson be sustained as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, together with his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as previously presented and voted upon.

All in favor, please indicate by the uplifted hand.

And it happens.

Any opposed may so indicate.

You may be seated.

And it ceases.

Will all those holding only the Aaronic Priesthood—that is, all ordained priests, teachers, and deacons—please arise.

The Aaronic quality manifests itself.

It is proposed that Russell Marion Nelson be sustained as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, together with his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as previously presented and voted upon.

All in favor, please indicate by the uplifted hand.

It lends itself in act.

Any opposed may so indicate.

You may be seated.

And it ceases.

Will the young women who are ages 12 to 18 please arise.

It is proposed that Russell Marion Nelson be sustained as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, together with his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as previously presented and voted upon.

The quality manifest by youth in womanhood insofar as it participates in that universal quality now helps manifest that quality.

All in favor, please indicate by the uplifted hand.

It does so.

Any opposed may so indicate.

You may be seated.

And it stops.

We now ask that the entire membership, wherever you are located, including all of those who have previously stood, please arise.

Here, the whole reach of that spiritual quality, the whole body it reaches and pervades, embodies that quality manifestly and in act. It has fully become itself, and it is here reborn, resurrected.

It is proposed that Russell Marion Nelson be sustained as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, together with his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as they have been presented and voted upon.

All in favor, please indicate by the uplifted hand.

And it comes to pass.

Any opposed may so indicate.

You may all be seated.

And it stops.

Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your love and support.

For which this spiritual quality feels loved.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Touch, Prayer, and the Middle Voice: A Sacrament Meeting Talk

Hello, everyone. I’m Christian, and my name is Christian. I’m a grad student at BYU, where I’m doing a master’s degree in Comparative Studies. I gave a testimony earlier this month about the connection between the Gospel and something called the “middle voice,” and I was asked to give a talk today about that topic and its connection with prayer.

If you don’t remember high school English, the active voice and the passive voice are two ways we relate verbs (or actions) to their subjects. If I say “the cat ate the mouse,” the word “ate” is in the active voice. But if I say “the mouse was eaten by the cat,” “was eaten” is in the passive voice. The active voice is active: with it, you act, and you are not acted upon. But the passive voice is passive, connected with things that are acted upon.: “you are mocked,” “you are helped,” etc.

However, the middle voice describes a verb that makes its subject both active and passive at the same time. English doesn’t have a middle voice, but Biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek do, as do Albanian, Sanskrit, Icelandic, Swedish, and a few other languages. An example of the middle voice would be something like “The boy washes,” when it’s understood that the boy is washing himself. In English, you’d ask “Who is the boy washing? His dog? His feet? His car?” But the object of the sentence is the subject. “The boy washes.” Period. Full Stop. Who washes? The boy! Who is washed? The same boy!

This bizarre situation is, nevertheless, commonplace. We encounter it every day. I will give two examples of places where we encounter the middle voice: touch and prayer. In a sense, they are both the same thing, but we will only come to that point slowly.

When we touch another person, whether in a handshake, a pat on the back, or an embrace, we simultaneously are touched. Active and passive together. The Middle Voice. This seems pretty straightforward, right? But it has profound consequences. Take trauma, for example. The thesis I have been writing in my grad program is about trauma and how people deal with it, specifically in art and literature. And in my survey of the topic, I noticed some fascinating things. People suffering from PTSD withdraw from the world with their bodies. Their muscles tighten. They exhibit more-or-less constant fight-or-flight responses. They have declared the world an enemy. They cannot relax. This is a regrettable situation, one not unlike the autism spectrum disorder I suffer from. But touch therapy is amazingly helpful.

I have a friend who suffers from PTSD. She has a friend who is a massage therapist. When she finally volunteered for touch therapy, she initially resisted the presence of the other person’s touch. In a sense, she touched the other person with her skin, but she would not let herself be touched. She was not vulnerable. But when she relaxed, when she let in the pressure and felt safe doing so, when she let herself be touched, she began to weep. And she didn’t stop crying for three hours. A burden was lifted in a way nothing else could do.

When we are traumatized we cannot have both self and other at the same time. I cannot let you in. To the traumatized mind, it’s not safe enough. PTSD, in this sense, is a radical distrust of being. One touches, perhaps, and others can touch you, but never together. One is always on alert: like a startled cat, your shoulders are arched and your eyes are wide open, albeit constantly. All of life is life-or-death, or at least it seems that way. The traumatized person, therefore, needs to feel safe. That’s what PTSD therapy seeks to do. Mindfulness helps with this. So does art. And as I mentioned, so does touch. Each of these, to my mind, are ways of acting in the middle voice. When we are mindful of our fear, we both watch and are watched. When we represent our pain through art, we are both the painter and the subject of the painting. And in touch we are vulnerable, both the toucher and the one touched.

Prayer is like this. In it, I become naked before God. I tell him all my fears and insecurities. I speak out my anxiety, my depression, and my self-hatred to an empty room, and suddenly an inexplicable “something” comes into my heart not unlike the effect of a hug or a tender hand on a shoulder. I begin to empty myself of myself, to loosen my muscles. I lose my fear. For, like touch, prayer can make me feel safe. When I pray, just as in touch, I feel myself on both sides of a barrier. I loosen my shoulders. I relax, perhaps weep. I feel I could walk into a battlefield and be completely safe. That I am “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love,” to quote Lehi.

Prayer is this eternal embrace. It is the act where God and the soul touch, where something invisible yet very present is exchanged. Sometimes it’s illumination. Sometimes it’s comfort. Sometimes it’s a voice of warning. But is this illumination your thoughts? Your feelings? That’s the wrong way of looking at it. It is not active self-suggestion, and it’s not passive ecstasy, any more than touch is exclusively active or passive. You speak, and then you listen. You act, and then you receive. But in the best prayer, you enter the middle voice, and these acts become one. Acting is receiving. This can work on a small scale, when you ask for a small blessing and it comes, albeit without heavenly trumpets, or on a large scale, as when Enos had a “mighty wrestle before God” for his own soul and the welfare of his Lamanite brothers and sisters.

But sometimes this doesn’t happen. Sometimes prayer is awkward. Sometimes nothing happens. May I suggest for those in this state that action is and can be a kind of prayer. So if the heavens are quiet, if nothing moves, realize that your works themselves can be the answer to your prayer. Go and act in the way you think God would have you act. Make your acts of service a psalm. Offer up your voice in your deeds. And then, perhaps, inexplicably, you’ll discover that God was guiding you invisibly the whole time. This is familiar to writers who, when writing a rough draft, discover gems in the text that they did not expect or intend. Anyone who’s borne a testimony and found themselves compelled to speak words greater than their own knows this lesson. You are more than you. Your activity is also a passivity. You works are a grace.

My girlfriend wrote a poem expressing this point. I consider it inspired. An excerpt from it reads

“Oh Child,
If you want to hear the chorus of angels,
You just need to sing.”

How do you bring God into the world when he is absent? Pray, yes. But don’t forget to act. Have confidence that your actions, guided by your conscience, mean more than you think they do. They are full of significance that you can’t anticipate. You act, and so you are acted upon. The best prayer, and the best thought, is both action and passivity at once. You don’t look back. You only look ever forward.

I bear you my testimony that God lives, that you can reach him through prayer. You are safe. You are listened to. You are loved.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Review: The Electronic Doppelgänger: The Mystery of the Double in the Age of the Internet

The Electronic Doppelgänger: The Mystery of the Double in the Age of the Internet The Electronic Doppelgänger: The Mystery of the Double in the Age of the Internet by Rudolf Steiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunningly, here a Rudolf Steiner speaking in 1917 says this about the twentieth century and beyond:

“And the connection will be made between the death forces in the human being, which are related to electromagnetic forces, and outer machine forces. In a sense, the human being will be able to let his thoughts flow into machines.”

Sounds like our reality, right? As I type this review, I’m doing exactly what Steiner described a hundred years ago.

He explains that within the electricity of our nervous systems, there is another spiritual entity, a kind of doppelganger, who lives in our autonomous reflexes and unconscioius compulsions, who belongs to the sphere of the evil being Ahriman. They are beings who, cast out of heaven before the twentieth century even started, plague the earthly level of our consciousness. They long to destroy the human capacity for connecting to the etheric level of consciousness - that part of us that thinks simultaneously and not successively, in felt mental images, not coldly or mechanically. And they’ve been doing a pretty good job, I’d say.

The editors of this book make the point that the computer and the Internet, as machines that mutliply data beyond our ability to consciously remember (*consciously* being the key word), are versions of this Ahrimanic double. The Internet — in its memes, its tl;dr’s and its Buzzfee article—is pure reflex, pure automatism, making us more and more into machines. We can’t focus: it’s too long; I didn’t read. That’s why it’s so gosh darn important to use the exercises that Rudolf Steiner described in his lectures, or something similar. For example, we can think a series of events backwards, or try to take a mental snapshot of where we left our keys so that we can call that image up to find it again. These tasks are being taken over by the Ahrimanic double, aka the smartphone/PC.

But they aren’t pure evil. Steiner even says so: that they will inevitably come, and that it’s how we relate to them that matters. For me, I’m going to try relating to my electronics with a will and a memory rivaling theirs. I will not let my computer become my brain.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

The Blind Womb of Being: The Existential and Transpersonal Themes in George Frederic Watts' "The All Pervading"

Another paper I wrote in my Victorian class!:

George Frederic Watts was British painter from the Victorian era who anticipated the Symbolist movement. In his paintings, he strove to represent intimations of realities beyond the realm of conscious thought and yet which pervade the human experience of life. “Hope” is one such painting; “Love and Life” is another. These paintings, abstract and yet viscerally concrete, are the embodiment of what is too diffuse to otherwise have a visible form. What does hope look like? Perhaps a blindfolded woman playing a lyre. These painted embodiments, however, do not come from deliberate, conscious ratiocination. They are dreamed up; they realize themselves as they are painted. In this essay, I will discuss Watts’ painting “The All Pervading” and the deep existential and transpersonal themes at work in it.

In a biography she wrote about her late husband, Mary Watts described the experience that the painter had which led to his work on “The All Pervading”:

In the centre of his studio, which was the drawing-room of the house, there hung a huge glittering chandelier. To the unimaginative its glass drops and beads appeared to be the last thing in the world to suggest a picture. It was French according to the taste of thirty or forty years before, and nothing more. But he had found there some suggestion of the beautiful, and from it grew the solemn and mystic figure holding the universe in hands that encircle the sphere; the picture he named “The All-pervading.” (Watts 104-105)

The painter experienced something in the seemingly bare glitterings of a chandelier that was more than texture, more than light. And this “something” could only realize itself obliquely in those obscure ephemera. Captured, recorded, remembered, they realize themselves fully not through a casual glance but instead through an eye that gazes, that, as though hypnotically, gives that experience enough space within the artist’s mind to not merely stay the same, much less fade, but grow.

The All-Pervading pervades all. She stands outside the whole, in the periphery of the circle, the globe, circling it, caressing it, enrapturing it and enraptured by it. Her eyes do not gaze; they are closed or…perhaps…they have never seen at all. Perhaps, pervading all, this “solemn and mystic figure” has no need to take things into her being through the senses, since, after all, she is one with all of them. She holds being in her bosom. For her, all is touch. Hers is the primal copulation that precedes sight: the latent intelligence of being, the ecstasy of womb, the anonymous infinity that precedes birth, follows death, and lies beyond the edge of our visual field.

This is what Carl Jung experienced as a dream after a heart attack. In his Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he writes of how “on the floor in front of [an] altar, facing me, sat a yogi—in lotus posture, in deep meditation. When I looked at him more closely, I realized that he had my face. I started in profound fright, and awoke with the thought: ‘Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has the dream, and I am it.’ I knew that when he awakened, I would no longer be.” (Jung 323) This is Jung’s “Self” archetype, the reality that lives itself as an individual ego, forgetting itself but thereby perhaps realizing itself. It contracts itself into a focused whole, a concentration, centers itself from the periphery, realizing the circle it is. The circular nature of the All Pervading would not be lost on him. The painting, the gestating woman it depicts, and the universe she gestates: it is all a mandala.

And in the experience of the chandelier that was nevertheless more than a chandelier, we have a glimpse of how the All-Pervading works herself into the limited awareness of sight. For “she” can only come in a glimpse, a dimming of consciousness, a sight that is no longer sight but something deeper, more primeval, less mortal. Sight here erases itself, cancels itself out, makes itself null, renders itself transparent. Something shines through, so to speak, a light that is not light, a light that makes all light darkness, a light that is darkness, nothing more than a glimmer. The “light of common day” continues as it always does—sunlight, candlelight, the moon and stars—but from the experience of that uncommon light there grows something alien and yet hauntingly familiar. Could it be? Could that glimpse, that momentary ecstasy, be the real world? Could my life be nothing more than the peripheral echo of that glimmer, that kaleidoscopic, ephemeral surfacing of light? It cannot be. It is too terrible, the loss it suggests too unbearable. And yet…

The All-Pervading is the primeval, erotic darkness of light. The globe she holds is, of course, the chandelier itself, the room, the painter, the canvas, the world: what extends itself spatially from the reference point called “here and now.” But outside that sphere, outside what can be mapped, where no light shines and yet sleeping within light as its inner vitality, there stands a being: asleep, vaguely maternal, angelic. We are gestated in the lap of this great being. We are a dream in her archetypal slumber. And because her being is itself sleep, is the primeval osmosis of touch itself, she is never seen with eyes or heard with ears. Except, of course, when a painter drifts into a trance himself and, with an eye asleep within his eyes, traces the contours of a great draped mother and, waking up, astonishes himself at the haunting and terrible mystery he has thus remembered.

The All-Pervading carries the peace of something we all leave behind in order to reflect, think, or even exist. For she is the peace beyond and within all existence, surrounding it, sleeping with it, idly fondling its contours. She is the life of what we forget, the life of forgetfulness. But it does not trouble her. For she never changes: all is touch; all is communion; all is love.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Scrooge the Healer

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Like all of us, the artist suffers from the spirit of the age. The creative artist, like a shaman and magician, however, is able to be in-formed by and constructively channel, transmute, and out-picture the seemingly obscuring daemonic energies of wetiko in a symbolic form that takes away wetiko’s spell-binding power over themselves, while at the same time helping to nonlocally dispel the collective enchantment pervading the entire field of consciousness. Discovering novel, creative, and ever-evolving articulations of language to express experience is a “spell-casting” activity, in that it serves to dispel the veil of illusion which limited forms of language can cast which seemingly obstructs us from the true richness of our own experience. Creatively expressing what is moving us is the very act which liberates us from the compulsion of having to unconsciously re-create these energies (self)-destructively in a way that continually retraumatizes both ourselves and the world around us. In the figure of the artist, the creative spirit realizes itself through us, while at the same time we, as artists, reciprocally realize ourselves through it  - Paul Levy, Dispelling Wetiko

My first meeting with him entirely changed my opinion of him and of what I might expect from him. I remember this meeting very well. We arrived at a small café in a noisy though not central street. I saw a man of an oriental type, no longer young, with a black mustache and piercing eyes, who astonished me first of all because he seemed to be disguised and completely out of keeping with the place and its atmosphere. I was still full of impressions of the East. And this man with the face of an Indian raja or an Arab sheik whom I at once seemed to see in a white burnoose or a gilded turban, seated here in this little cafe, where small dealers and commission agents met together, in a black overcoat with a velvet collar and a black bowler hat, produced the strange, unexpected, and almost alarming impression of a man poorly disguised, the sight of whom embarrasses you because you see he is not what he pretends to be and yet you have to speak and behave as though you did not see it. He spoke Russian incorrectly with a strong Caucasian accent; and this accent, with which we are accustomed to associate anything apart from philosophical ideas, strengthened still further the strangeness and the unexpectedness of this impression. .... G.'s [Gurdjieff's] words, in addition to their ordinary meaning, undoubtedly contained another, altogether different, meaning. I had already begun to realize that, in order to arrive at this hidden meaning in G.'s words, one had to begin with their usual and simple meaning. G.'s words were always significant in their ordinary sense, although this was not the whole of their significance. The wider or deeper significance remained hidden for a long time. - P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous

The new film The Man Who Invented Christmas is a psychological masterpiece. An origin story for A Christmas Carol, it depicts Charles Dickens writing that book as a way to understand and come to terms with his painful past. Dickens, whose father went to debtor's prison and who had to black shoes in a workhouse as a very young child, was traumatized by poverty. He gave compulsively to the poor, wrote socially conscious novels about the plight of the lower classes, and yet couldn't help getting himself in debt. He was bound to scarcity, as it were: it repeats itself in him. He is fettered by the chains he (unknowingly) forged in life. By writing A Christmas Carol, he meets his pain, talks to it, and integrates it.

In the film, Scrooge is the face of that pain. He is Dickens' shadow side, the aspect of him he does not acknowledge and which acts out in unexpected cruelty. He is scarcity; he is fear; he is the terror of not having enough. Of course, this "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" is ridiculously larger than life, a bit absurd. But for good reason! Like all cliches, he covers up the writer's baggage. And baggage works itself out there despite the cliche, for The Man Who Invented Christmas discerns the hidden truth that Scrooge, as Dickens' shadow side, carries Dickens' wholeness. Scrooge is secretly a healer. In the film, Scrooge (played by Christopher Plummer) has a twinkle in his eye. He reminds me of a Zen master, of Rumi, of the profound spiritual rascal G. I. Gurdjieff, but most of all my therapist when he impersonated my negative voices. This Scrooge is Dickens' wholeness impersonating his pain with a thinly veiled theatricality, fanning the flames at just the right intensity so Dickens can realize that pain without getting too hurt. And though it can seem cruel at times, it is one of the best therapeutic techniques I know.

However, this cathartic integration of Dickens' shadow side happens through writing, and The Man Who Invented Christmas says what I said in my last post: that writing, as the shadow side of our collective conscious attitude, carries that attitude's wholeness. If we want to heal, there is no better way than to start writing! By writing, what lives itself out in me unconsciously can shunt itself out and present itself anew to me through the medium of pen and paper. The page is an external hard drive, another brain, a way by which pain can live itself out away from my habitual restrictions. Works which heal in this way carry and perpetuate that healing in and through whoever reads them. And so it is no accident that A Christmas Carol is so popular, that it's basically the reason we still celebrate Christmas, that my folks' theater puts it on every year to sold-out audiences. Dickens was a wounded healer; the book is the medicine he distilled from that wound's poison. And we can tell.

More specifically, A Christmas Carol is a way we can heal our past baggage, and that's because (among other things) it has a lot to do with the past. For the book's ghosts are spirits of time, time-spirits, "Zeitgeist" in German: Past, Present, and Future. There is a mystery contained here that no one has seen. For I suspect that the book is so healing because it struggles to this conclusion: we will only heal--as people, as a species, as a world--when past and future stop fighting each other. For all pain is an enmity of past and future.

When we experience great pain and refuse to look at it, a part of our personality is trapped at the moment when that pain happened. Through trauma, the past has been hermetically preserved, and we look forward to our goals and projects in life with that part of ourselves uninvolved. The life in the past and the numb corpse of the future have been severed from each other. There is no memory; time unravels.

This book, then, is a great act of memory. Scrooge remembers being a boy, remembers Bob Cratchit, remembers his guilt. And as the film's postscript says, the skyrocketing acts of charity that followed its publication are also deeds of memory.  Through memory, pain knows itself in the present and the present is no longer cut off from the life trapped in pain. Memory is the mark of the world on the body, the mark of the other on the self. Without it, we are as solitary as an oyster. With it, our shut-up hearts open freely.

Whenever we read or A Christmas Carol, that reintegration, this re-embodiment gets played out like a great collective sacrament. In it, something new is born in us from a long conflict. The child, who would otherwise die, does not die. We no longer squeeze or wrench; we open our palms, tenderly, vulnerably. And the life in our hearts comes out onto the world stage. It is Christmas.