Saturday, December 31, 2016

Robotosis: The Machine-ifying Disease

There is a big sickness in the world today. It isn’t Zika; it isn’t E. Coli; it isn’t  AIDS. It’s something much worse and something far more pervasive. It’s so extant that we’ve forgotten you can not have it. I have it. You have it. Everyone you know has it. What is this illness?  I’ll call it Robotosis.

Robotosis is what happens when we act like a machine. This means that we no longer do anything. We no longer think, feel, or will — by ourselves. Instead, we react. When someone says something that offends us, we get triggered. When someone says something that we agree with, we get a warm tickling inside. If x happens, we always do y. Do we have any choice over this? None. We bum off of our impressions. We are slaves to them.

Robotosis is another word for the effects of the Fall. We have fallen into reactivity, thinking that we choose our destinies, when, in fact, we are composed of the feelings, sensations, and events that we react to. We don’t actually chose anything; our predetermined opinions and preferences choose for us. We don’t exist; we have forfeited our right to exist by giving that right to the impressions that please or offend us. What’s left is only a shell of being: the “natural man.” Likewise, sin comes from Robotosis. Another name for Robotosis is “the pathological rejection of love,” and that’s exactly what sin is. Love is the absence of Robotosis, and when we contract it (i.e. fall into sin), we reject the evidence of God’s love given in this very moment. To sin is to reject that moment. Everything shows God’s love for us, which means that all things are a testament to the fact that we are of infinite worth. A person may say “you’re awful,” but those words can lead to a deeper recognition of your worth if you follow them to the end that God leads them to. Even wars and genocides can lead to good things that could not come otherwise. But we all reject this.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a childsubmissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. - Mosiah 3:19

You may think “this can’t be right; I have to fix it,” or “I’m wrong, so I have to fix me.” Nothing is wrong but our perception that things are wrong. If you didn’t flee from God’s love in the moment, you wouldn’t fall into the more obvious sins like anger or unchastity, and if you stopped fleeing, those sins would end. They all involve the rejection of what God has given you in the grace of the moment. And when any of us sin in this primordial way, we hide from love. And this hiding, this sin, shows up as Robotosis’s automatic patterns. We can’t bear the light of being exactly what I am, of being authentic to the truth of the moment. So instead, we act on the caricature of the moment predetermined by our preferences.

 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received. For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. - D&C 88:32-33

But how do you cure it? The way out of Robotosis is hard and simple at the same time. It involves working against your natural tendencies. Your natural tendencies are a caricature of something deeper and more eternal, but to become what it really is on a higher level, you need to frustrate it. If you like to laze around, push yourself to be active. If you’re always active, try to push yourself to sit still. Do something that blocks the natural flow of being that characterizes Robotosis. Get in your own way.

 Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well! - 2 Nephi 28:24-25
This is also why organized religions are helpful. Organized religions can be (but often aren’t) a cure for Robotosis. The more that is asked of you in a religion, the less you can bum off your own unrefined tendencies. Religions are like a model of authentic being that frustrates the natural man whenever he wants to slide into inauthentic being. They are a “great check.” They keep us awake to the light of God.

 For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish; For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment. - 2 Nephi 28:19-23

For this reason, guilt is absolutely necessary in overcoming Robotosis. But it has to be the right kind of guilt. It has to be smart. When you sin, you can either think “woe is me, I’ve sinned” or “I hate the fact that I’m not allowed to do this.” But these are both wrong; they both come from Robotosis. In truth, guilt is a feeling that comes from sin as its own cure. If you trusted guilt as a manifestation of love, it would lead you out of sin. You have to realize that “I have sinned; I have rejected the love God wanted to give me. And despite this, there was nothing I could have done differently!” You don’t rebel, and you don’t beat yourself up for not being better. You realize your utter and complete insufficiency; you sit in that tension. But between that rock and that hard place, a light begins to dawn. You realize that something more than you is present within you. And that thing, born from guilt, begins to grow brighter and brighter.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy. That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. - D&C 121:44-44

You are where you are. You aren’t where you aren’t. When you want to be where you’re not at the expense of where you are, you begin to suffer. When this becomes habitual and automatic, that suffering becomes Robotosis. To realize the sufficiency of where you are — which is the only place you’ll ever be — is to overcome it.

Let this realization burn within you. Everything is OK.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Autism and Spirit

If you don’t know already, I have high-functioning autism, aka Asperger Syndrome. You know the type: the aloof, uncoordinated, slightly arrogant person who doesn’t look people in the eye. It can be really hard. It isn’t easy to notice social cues. It’s even harder for me to be present in my body, even in the most basic sense. Because of my diagnosis, I’m uniquely able to write about what it’s like being in an autistic head: I’m trained philosophically and can write well, so I can help neurotypical parents understand what’s going on with the children they have on the Spectrum. So that’s what I’m going to start here.

Autistic people are spirits tethered to a body. For instance, I don’t feel like I’m what I see in the mirror. I am an observer; I am other. Autistic people never got used to having a body. We might even want to leave our bodies, but for obvious reasons, we all have to have one. Moreover, in autism, there’s a desire to be “bigger” than the body will actually let the spirit be. It’s like the entire universe were pushed inside a tiny bag of skin and told to “stay put!” We can’t bear to be so small; we want to be a universe ourselves. So we get “hot” just by virtue of that energetic density. That inner fire shows up as overstimulation and restlessness. The world is aflame; the fire of stars and galaxies is pushed into light bulbs and television sets.

So we  figure out ways to deal with this stellar fire: what the world calls “stims.” For instance, I pace. The pacing lets me feel as expansive as a universe in a limited time and space. It lets me weave together diverse moments and places into a something like a unity. Obsession is like this too. When I obsess about x mystical topic, I become that topic. I forget about my body and my finite life. There is just the seeking, the searching. But it isn’t always that easy. In truth, I’m a slave to that inner fire. Since I don’t distinguish myself from it, I feel compelled to follow it wherever it leads, and it leads far further than my body and my earthly personality can bear. I am a vessel that can’t handle the heat. It was never meant to be in an earthly personality such as mine. And so we tend to reject anything earthly at all. We’d rather be the fire than an incompetent vessel for it.

To put it in a few words, autism is what happens when the fire of higher worlds loses itself in this world but never adapts to it. Everyone comes from that fire and has it at their core, but most people forget it and focus on this world. This is normal and healthy. But we’re bad at adapting; we’re true to celestial worlds at the expense of this one. Our literalism and our mind-blindness come from how we assume everything shows its face and nothing hides its inner meaning. In fact, things are how they appear in higher worlds. We rant about our obsessions because we assume that, like there, thoughts are shared with those who are close to us. We never learned, or else refused to learn, that this world is founded on difference. I am different from you, this pot is different from this pan, etc. In the world of spiritual fire, everyone shares everything. There is no hiding and no separation. Of course, there is difference in the spiritual world, but only because the differences here act as a containing vessel for things in the spiritual world that would otherwise be identical. Without the physical, the spiritual would spill out all over the counter; the fire you cook dinner with would burn the house down.

The autistic person has a fire in her belly that resents vesseling. We refuse to descend, and as a result, we reject principles that mediate between the highest and the lowest worlds. It’s like we’ve removed the rungs from Jacob’s Ladder; we want to control the physical directly from the spiritual. And it doesn’t work. We try to operate our arm like crane lifts. We move our legs as if by dual joysticks on a video game controller. We walk around as if we were learning to drive a car with a manual transmission. And it’s really cumbersome.

But we aren’t “wrong.” Even if it were possible, autistic people shouldn’t be cured. For there is a gift for the world hidden in our weakness; with autism, the fire is breaking out. I’ve written before about how the fire of heaven, of the “no-thing-ness” that comes before all things, is getting hotter and brighter. Autistic people are a manifestation of this fire. Since the earth resists change, this causes dissonance, and we are that dissonance in the flesh. We’re a test case; the war of the worlds is being fought in our skins (among other places). Not a battle, but a dance or a “snuggle with a struggle.” Heaven and earth are learning to love each other.

And, finally, I tend to think that the more low-functioning the autistic person, the fiercer the battle that’s being played out. They are extreme in every sense of the world. A hotter fire; a more rigid earth. And they are utterly irreplaceable. Treasure them. They are warriors in invisible worlds.

Please don’t think of me as vain. I am not very autistic. I pass for neurotypical more and more. And I often feel bad that it’s not more severe. I have to walk between worlds, but I want to flee this world. But I can communicate. I can let each side know what it’s like on the other. I hope I’m doing an OK job.

Treasure the autistic people in your midst. They are needed just as everyone is needed. And they announce a reality far greater than themselves, far greater than you. They are the call of this world’s insufficiency; they announce a better one.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Big Cat

If you read my blog carefully, you’ll know that I’ve been doing “active imagination” for almost four years now. Active imagination is a technique invented by Carl Jung where a person “consciously daydreams” and somehow records it. It’s been so helpful to me, but until recently, I’ve kept it private.

I believe the characters I encounter in active imagination are very real. They’re not made up: they’re real propensities toward existence; I just supply the details that clothe those propensities. I guess you could call them forces; I give them things like memories and concrete associations that they act on. As such, I try to respect their wishes and treat them like any other intelligent being.

Today, I did an active imagination with a big cat from one of my dreams. It was actually a nightmare, where Big Cat (what I’ll call him) chased me and apparently wanted to keep me for his own. It was terrifying. I approached him in this active imagination and things went differently than expected. You’ll see. Anyway, I asked him if I could show this to others, and he agreed, on one condition: that the world knows he is not a monster and isn’t evil. That is what you must realize while reading this.

So here it is:

There is a big cat on the borders of the imagination. It stalks and prowls, only to pounce at the moment when weakness is there. It is not fearful; it is dense, powerful, overwhelmingly powerful. It wants to kill everything that lies in its path, not to destroy it but to wisen it up. It wants to burn away the fluff, kill the extra fat. It wants to trim me with its teeth. 

It chases me. Yes, it chases me! It’s just behind me! I run, run, RUN until it’s there… it’s THERE and I can’t stop, I can’t breathe, I can’t think and it’s there and it’s monstrous and powerful and scary. There it stands, breathing, pulsing, densely powerful, forcefully pushing me to the ground. It stares me in the eyes. And then it bites me on the head

But not hard. It’s a play bite. Suddenly, it curls me into the crook of its front leg and licks up my face and into my hair. Then it sets me down with its mighty paws and tells me to stand up straight. Yes, STRAIGHT! Be still, be powerful, be relaxed. Let the energy of the cat run through you. Yes! Be the one you were meant to be! Let the force of the panther and the jaguar and the ocelot fly through your veins and come out through your fingertips as if they were reservoirs of fire. I feel the fire in me and I lose my balance. I sway and can’t keep myself. Big Cat pushes me back up with a gentle, forceful nudge. Can I do it? 

Yes, you can! Be straight. It’s your own power you’re reclaiming. Don’t be fudgy. Let it out. Let it SWIM! 

I do it. I am still. Firm. Powerful. I am the rudder of the wind. I turn the tree roots and let them sink in the flesh of the earth. I bring it up and up and up to the sky and let it OUT! Let it all out to the place where it circles and clouds and rains again to the earth. This is my calling, I say. I say. This is not a forgetful thing, but a strong, powerful, fiery thing! Let it all out! It is beyond power! It is the power of the dance, of the forceful pounce and tumble. I have become the grace of fire, the density of the elastic.

The cat applauds and says: not yet… not yet. You aren’t ready for this power. You want to make it simple and clean, but it’s not. Tear the meat out, he says. Be fiery and strong and MEAN it. You can’t ride on me. Cultivate me. I will teach you. Then I say, what would you have me do? BURN it. Burn the whole pilgrimage and let it die to itself. That is the only way.

What do I burn?, I ask.

The sky, the mountains and the waters, he says. Burn it all. Let it out! Become the fire!!!!

That is good for now. You are ready to re-enter the world. Do it faithfully and step-by-step. You can do it.

Thank you, Big Cat. You're very kind, and you're very needed.

So, some reflections on what I'm sure was odd to you. First, notice that active imagination like this happens in the midst of writing. It was only revised for grammar and spelling; not much was altered from the stream-of-consciousness state. The writing is the imagining; the imagining is the writing. Second, observe that speech and description in it are fluid. That's because in the imagination, description and speech bleed into each other. And finally, notice that Big Cat didn't always respect my wishes. When I tried to "stand up straight," he thought I went too far.This happens often -- these figures of the imagination resist my conscious wishes and will tell me so point blank.

Moreover, this particular figure (Big Cat) is likely a figure associated with the energies of the body (specifically masculine embodiment), which I've resisted. That's why it was chasing me. It isn't just in my mind, though. It would appear in other people's minds, although it would likely take another form and clothe itself in the details in that person's memory. This is just another way of saying that the figure is a kind of "current" that only surfaces in different ways. It has an identity because it has a similar "feeling tone" in each one. It's big, bulging, forceful, powerful, and dense, whether he's a cat or a wrestler or the Hulk.

Anyway, overcome your hesitation and try something like this. They're very accommodating hosts, the figures in your imagination. You've got nothing to lose.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Hide and Seek

Imagine a game of hide-and-seek. You’re the one seeking; little children are hiding. As you count from one to a hundred, they dart around your house looking for curtains to wrap themselves in and furniture to crawl under. With swallowed giggles, they wait. But what if, after counting…forty-three...forty-four...forty-five…you pause and ask yourself "What was I waiting for?" You can’t remember. You press your head for an answer and the memory almost pops up — a glimmer in your mind of laughter and a set of curtains. But then you get frustrated and give up. And you give yourself a convincing reason why: "I must have drifted off." So you leave.

The children wait. And wait. And wait. Years later, they’re still waiting. But they don’t lose heart. They even think it’s fun. They hold their breaths whenever you walk by, giggling to each other across the hall whenever you pass into another room. Their innocence persists. Their laughter still shines.

And, bored, the children get really good at hiding. They play tag in that place between the sunlight and lamplight in your living room. They do somersaults underneath the kitchen stools. And they realized what we’ve forgotten: that every part of the house is bigger on the inside. One day they found a tiny door behind the living room couch leading to dusty, sunlit bedrooms. They found the hallways inside your walls, the ballrooms inside cabinets. The house is an endless system of circulating corridors, closets, and staircases. For them, there is no outside.

You can still hear them. Sometimes, as you're just about to fall asleep, you may hear the faint sound of children giggling. You can't tell where from. As your muscles relax in sleep, the walls relax too, and the children peek their heads out. They may even run out to meet you as if to say "aren't you coming?" At that moment, you might remember the game you forgot. But you won't in a few hours. For by then, you will have drawn your heart back inside your chest and the children will have gone back into dusty shadows amid the sunlight

There is childhood in everything. Every armchair has bright youth inside it, and each potted plant rings with wondrous laughter. But we can't see or hear the children we promised to find, to remember. We’ve made each thing solid; we can’t bear the open playfulness of light. And it’s your job to let it out. You do that by trust, innocence, and a gleeful hope. If you just loosened your shoulders, exhaled, followed the bread crumbs, smiled, leaped ahead, dancing the whole way, those children would come out. “You found me!” And giggling ourselves, we’d realize that they had found us too. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What Everyone Forgets

Do you ever get the feeling that you’ve forgotten something? Not your keys, not your coat; this is stranger. You sense something like a thread coming loose in your belly, and with it, you spontaneously know that the whole world isn’t what you thought it was. It’s not even close. The colors seem drab, the scene like a cardboard cutout. But it’s not a bad feeling. Thinking it through, you will see the world’s new flatness as a sign: that what you knew isn’t the whole package of what is. You’ll think: there’s more here. And there is.
Everything you know is just a facade. All things hide something else within and behind them. What’s hidden there? An openness. An expanse. And it’s not dark but overpoweringly bright. It rushes between atoms and shines between the eyes of two people deep in conversation. Everything around you is just a nozzle for this bright open space. And you used to know this; you just forgot. A long time ago, you pushed that bright openness deep down inside and pretended it wasn’t there. The sun at noonday is just a shadow by comparison to the brightness in your chest.
For the whole world of things has fallen away from itself. So have you. All of it—stone to shrub, elephant to eggplant — used to rest in that inner light, but they don’t anymore. Each one fell down and out until it landed with a sharp “pft” in the rigid shape we know each one to be. We did this to them. By turning away from the light within everything, the light crashed into that pile of rubble we call the world.
Deep in your abdomen, you remember. As you move further into your own within, the nostalgia for that other place gets hotter and hotter until you burn with it. That fire flares up in those moments when you can’t tell longing and contentment apart anymore. The song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” does this for me. Someone once said that when Judy Garland sang it in concert, everyone forgot who she was, where they were, who they were. There was just a shared longing for something they could almost remember but not quite. “Birds fly over the rainbow. Why…oh why can’t I?”
The bright spaces between things and themselves, between you and yourself, are calling. The call is very soft, but at the same time, it’s a roar so constant that you’ve forgotten it’s there. But you can tune yourself to it. You can cock your head and close your eyes until you can just discern its sound. Align your sail with the wind. Follow the golden threads and pull on them until it all unravels into liquid light. This is life from death, light from darkness. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. A part of you does even now.
But you have to try to remember. I’ve tried, and yet it’s still like a dim dream. Any words I say about that call is like sprinkling confetti on an invisible man - you see the outline for a few seconds and then it’s gone. But I don’t think it’s a futile quest, trying to remember. It can come back; it will.
I’ll see you at sunrise.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Moana's Call: Remembering the World

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the new Disney movie Moana. If you haven't seen it, you really should, and you really shouldn't read this post until you do.

Last night, I watched the recently released Disney movie Moana - the story of a girl who gets called across the ocean to save the world. It's really important in lots of ways, I realized: not only does it have a strong female protagonist (Moana) with no love interest, but both she and the other main character (Maui) never overcome their trials using brute force. They always use cunning, acting more like an Odysseus than a Hercules.

But I immediately realized that Moana is one of the most important movies that has been released in the last few years. Not because of the movie's cinematic qualities or even because of how good of a movie it is. The movie is so crucial to us because it helps us all remember what we've forgotten. What is that? If I could say it in a few words, the movie wouldn't have been so necessary. So let me do it in more than a few.

The Soul of the World

The world has a soul. This Soul is the luster of all living things: the shimmer of fractured sunlight on a creek, the damp scent that hints of a thunderstorm, the virgin snow of the morning after a blizzard. Without the Soul of the World, the world gets shoved beneath our concepts. For the world is particular: never are there "trees" or "flowers" but always "that tree, the one with the bark like elephant's skin," or "that flower, the one with silky petals." Our concepts generalize, but the world is never general. As Alan Watts once pointed out, even though we try to make it fit a grid, the world "wiggles."

But we've forgotten it. The Soul of the World longs to be seen; its sheen and color are hidden in darkness unless they become appreciated, become noticed. To notice the world is to remember it. And by remembering the world in this way, the world remembers itself, through us. But we have shirked that responsibility. Because we push the world's wildness into our conceptual framework, we've forgotten that the world has a soul. And so has the world.

Remember Her

This is the first thing Moana helps us remember: that the world is in peril. In the movie, a blackness spreads across the ocean, poisoning the coconuts, driving away the fish, making dead what was once alive. It seems like the end of the world, just as the real-life world seems to be ending. But in truth, the world isn't dead or dying but only amnesiac. Like in Moana, the world has forgotten who she is. We've stolen the heart out of her chest, carrying it like booty to the only place we think something like a soul still exists: the prison of our own skulls. The aliveness of bark, dragonfly wings, and the scent of rain - what we should ensoul - has retreated into this bony globe. And deprived of soul - her very heart - the world becomes the soulless, indifferent thing we imagine her to be.

The world is scared and alone. She doesn't even think she exists. I have tears coming to my eyes as I write this because I feel her pain, as I have before. We have beaten her, abused her, raped her. We must stop. We must return to her the heart we have stolen. Not for our sake, but for hers - the bruised woman trapped in the closet of our egoism.

Moana is a glimmer of remembrance. With this film, many people, if only dimly, see the plight of the World Soul for the first time. We must feed this spark. And so I urge you: remember. See the sky's blueness. See the sadness in a dog's eyes. Hear the stillnesss of a December night. We must let the World know that we see her. Look her - the very Soul of the world - in the eyes and say:
I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name.They have stolen the heart from inside you.But this does not define you.This is not who you are.You know who you are.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How to Get Out of Saturn's Belly

The visionary activist astrologer Caroline Casey often says on her radio show “The Visionary Activist Show” that it’s our job to help “inauguarate a guiding story” for the world. Without a vision of not just what events are happening in the world, but of what they mean, we’re caught by hidden patterns that control us.
The end result is something like this:

Without a guiding story, we’re just robots controlled by the news. But with a guiding story, we’re able to be “first responders” instead of the “first reactors” everyone is these days. This is my attempt to inaugurate, or at least nominate, a guiding story. Take it as you will, just try not to robotically react.

The Wall, the Goat, and the Planets

Right now, the planet Pluto is passing through Capricorn, where it has been since 2008 and where it will be until 2024. Interpreted, that means that Pluto – the planet of intense change, evisceration, and upheaval – is doing its magic in Capricorn’s domain, which basically means that we’re in the middle of huge, cleansing transformations in what Capricorn governs. And what does Capricorn govern? Control, opposition, boundaries, and force. In other words, everything having to do with a defensive stance against opposing sides, the boundaries between groups of people, and our attitudes toward control are lit up on Pluto’s radar. They’re due for a violent makeover, and it won’t be pretty.
This is exactly what we see in the world. If there is one thing Capricorn doesn’t do, it’s compromising, which is also something no one today does. We’ve all been snookered into opposition: if group 1 does something group 2 doesn’t like, the group 2 inevitably starts a protest. Trump supporters hated Hilary; Hilary supporters hated Trump. The solution is never to build bridges; it’s always to build a wall.

Snookered by Saturn

But this is all a style of consciousness that we’ve seen before. It’s always here, but normally too invisible to see. And that style of consciousness belongs to what the ancients called a god (what I’d call a divine aspect): Kronos/Saturn, whose planet rules Capricorn. Remember: Saturn is the god of time, fixed limits, boundaries, edges. He keeps the rhythm of the cosmos, defining its limits by standing just outside it. He swallowed his children, keeping all the gods’ energies safe and contained in his belly. With him, we’re locked inside a fixed vessel, but without him, we suffer the even harder fate of being lost in a vast expanse without definition.
So as the archetype that’s constellated in the world today, we can view Saturn in two ways: 1) as an enemy to freedom and love who hates outsiders and who moves back the clock of progress, or 2) as someone who reins in the world from getting lost and dispersed our world of polyamory and thirty-something unique gender choices. Moreover, we can make this observation: the political right is explicitly Saturn (since it promotes order, limits and walls), but the political left is implicitly Saturn. In Jungian language, Saturn is the left’s Shadow: while they may not explicitly want to build walls, they are just as if not more oppositional and rigid than the right. So essentially, Saturn is at work in both sides. He’s ruling the world again, like it or not.

Cutting It (Everything) Out

So whats’s the cure? Not to fight the other side – that oppositionalism is what defines Saturn as Saturn. I’d suggest that, instead of rigidly opposing (what we see as) light and (what we see as) darkness, we accept “a twilight state.” Only then can we give back to the gods what Saturn has swallowed. Let each thing, mood, person, and viewpoint be what it wants to be. Allow coexistence, not just on the terms of your ideals, but let ideals themselves coexist. And that would mean allowing viewpoints different from yours, or even wildly opposed to it, to exist without your interference.
But above all, the cure is to trust in the light that isn’t the harsh fluorescent light of ego consciousness. The ego is the heavy-handed, rigid, literal miser that we all have in our heads. Let him die, not by killing him, but by letting him be no longer the only acceptable way to be. The light we should trust in is, again, a twilight: where the light of each god respects and does not fight against or try to swallow the light of every other god. You let consciousness be, neither claiming it as mine nor repressing it as unacceptable. And this twilight is not a dusk but a dawn. It would be where each style of consciousness is always on the way toward union, none ever dominating the others as the harsh noon of a “complete” union (which is just Saturn swallowing his kids again). And as Swedenborg said, this means a lot more than just relief from strife:
Moreover, by “morning” is signified in the supreme sense the Lord Himself, for the reason that the Lord is the Sun from which comes all the light in heaven, and He is always in the rising, thus in the morning. (Arcana Coelestia 5097)

Thursday, November 10, 2016


You're suffering today. And you and I both know why: the world just changed. To everyone's surprise, Donald Trump just got elected president, and now you don't know how to think about anything. Nothing makes sense. Hope seems to have disappeared. But even though this is a time of grief, there's a hope for the future that wasn't there a few days ago. The world looks dark right now, but darkness only looks like darkness in contrast to light. That light - even though it's hidden - is there. And now it's set to illuminate our souls more than ever. The task now is to see it.
Let me tell you how.


Emanuel Swedenborg was an eighteenth-century scientist, philosopher, and theologian who claimed that his mind was open to the spiritual world, which he could travel to at will. This sounds crazy, but apart from saying that he has helped me more than any other author, it isn't important to talk about his sanity. His writings are valuable right now because of what he taught about temptations. And temptations are important because those of us in despair are going through one right now.
Swedenborg said that temptations are a state of mind that threatens what matters to you. When you've made up your mind to follow the commandments and you get an impulse to drink alcohol or watch pornography, this is a temptation. Temptations happen when you're filled with impulses or thoughts that could lead you away from what you love, wedging you between the rock of your good desires and the hard place of the evil desires that lead you away from it. And it's terrifying. You've made up your mind to do what's good and believe what's true, but in the middle of a temptation, you find that you might not want to do or believe those things anymore. Good seems to retreat. Evil seems about to conquer. But this is just how it seems.
According to a beloved quote from Swedenborg,
So long as temptation continues, man supposes the Lord to be absent...Yet the Lord is then more intimately present than he can ever believe. When however temptation ceases, then he receives consolation, and then first believes the Lord to be present. (Arcana Coelestia 840)
Temptations are actually a balanced fight between good and evil, not a slaughter of good by evil. If evil took over, you wouldn't even see it as a problem. Evil and good are both ways of acting and seeing the world with their own "delights," and if good vanished, you'd rush headlong into evil's dirty pleasures without a second thought. You wouldn't even remember things like peace of conscience or the love of God. In other words, when someone feels rotten, anxious, and miserable in times like these, that anxiety is a sign that they have a lot of good inside them. In fact, anxiety is a sign that God has big plans for that person. Someone who's never felt any anxiety will maybe never reach the spiritual heights possible for one who struggles with and through it.
For this anxiety, this temptation, is how God frees us from evil impulses and false thoughts. When you're in the middle of a temptation, the tension you feel means that you have the opportunity to make a uniquely powerful choice. You can go with the temptation and keep that evil with you, but you can also fight and freely choose the good. And when this happens - when you use your God-sanctioned freedom to "choose the right" - a huge change happens. Having chosen goodness, it becomes much more present in you than it was before. Since you chose the good in you even when it was hard, the organ of your "choosing" - your heart, your will, your inmost parts - get flooded with God's love.
But there's another important aspect here. For the root of all evil is the belief that you have power from yourself. It is the sin of the Fall, since by believing that we're separate and self-sufficient beings, we "separate" ourselves from God and His love. Obviously, just as the Fall was necessary, this "love of the self" is also necessary. We would be divine robots without it. But any "love of the self" in us should be in service to a higher love, "love for the Lord," just like the body obeys the head. Since all temptation has the end of getting us to choose virtue over sin, and since all sin comes from love of the self, the ultimate purpose of temptation is to attack that evil self-love. In other words, temptation is all about death: we die to our selfishness, pride, and worship of ourselves, and we're reborn to togetherness, freedom, and love. We stop clinging to ourselves to not fall into the abyss, and find, to our amazement, that God has always been holding us safely. You thought that you were powerful enough to save yourself, but only when you realize your powerlessness do you see how safe you are
In fact, realizing your powerlessness gives you power. Swedenborg wrote that the angels in heaven are lose their power to the extent they think it belongs to them, just as acknowledging their weakness makes them powerful. In fact, perfect strength is what the world considers weakness. Think of how water can burst dams even though it passively takes the shape of the reservoir. Think of how tense muscles get hurt more easily than flexible ones. Or think of how Christ, the most powerful being of us all, submitted himself to be humiliated and executed in a moment of what seemed like utter meaninglessness. This was a temptation - nothing made sense, and the promise of the Kingdom seemed lost. To everyone there, death had won. But it was just then, as Christ trusted and loved his Father in spite of all his despair, anxiety, and confusion, that the miracle happened. The strength of weakness won, and death died.


We're in the middle of a temptation right now. It looks like the end of the world: Donald Trump, the bully, sleazy rapist, and xenophobe, won. But Trump's victory is a wake-up call. Nothing we do will ever make a difference - no matter how many angry protests happen or how many celebrity videos Joss Whedon makes, evil will win. But hope isn't gone. Hope might actually be here more than before, because now many of us realize that, when you only look at what we ourselves can do, the future IS literally hopeless. But the real hope for our future doesn't come from us. It comes from God, and only when we realize that we've sinned by attributing his power to ourselves will that change happen.
God wants to give us blessings beyond number. But we desperately cling to our own sense of power,  and since God will never violate our agency, He can't give us the greatest blessing of all: the peace of trusting Him. Only now, as we're being shown our utter poverty, we have the opportunity to choose something more than ourselves. We can turn away from the darkness of ourselves and toward the overpowering light of God, who is love itself, the very essence of trust, faith, and the strength of weakness
So what do we do now? That's the question, isn't it? You could resign yourself to give up to God, but then you are trying to give up, which is a disguised kind of pride.  We have to stop trying, and what's more, we have to stop trying not to try! Luckily, the temptations we're talking about are the best (and only) way we can get there. Like someone in full-lotus meditation who relaxes his muscles to stop her legs hurting, it will get easier and easier for us to give up and give in to God as we go along. That is our hope: that what becomes darker and darker to our egos is actually the dawning of light for love.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Throwing Away Your Shot

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. This goes without saying: he was the the author, composer, and leading man of the Broadway musicals In the Heights and Hamilton, and he can come up with jaw-droppingly clever rhymes in the spur of the moment. Just give him a beat. But what does it mean to say that someone is a "genius?" The word comes from Latin, where it meant "an attendant spirit present at one's birth," what the Greeks called a "daimon." The genius is like the angel on your shoulder: a little ghost that whispers inspiration to you. When we say that Lin-Manuel is a genius, we mean that he has a genius. And he's no stranger to it.

On the Genius

But isn't this just a bunch of old Roman hooey? It isn't. Here's my evidence: Lin-Manuel is very talented at doing things "on the fly." Not only can you see this in the talk show episodes where he cleverly does freestyle raps with only a few seconds to prepare, but it shows up in the musicals he writes too. Most of the songs in Hamilton have rhymes, rhythms, and meanings so well woven together that they bear the character of something whole. No part of My Shot's lyrics can be separated from the other parts without the whole thing losing its meaning. This organized whole - what psychologists would call a gestalt - can't be assembled piece by piece. Its living kernel needs to come all at once, and as such it needs to have been given. The one who gives this whole is the genius. The genius is where inspiration begins.

The concept of the genius is another way of saying that works of art aren't just a collection of notes or drops of paint. Hamilton isn't a collision of billiard balls on a musical pool table. As a gestalt, it's more than the sum of its parts. If you took the parts away and considered them apart from each other, it would lose meaning and its life. And this life is the genius: what organizes these parts into something whole, something significant. Without the genius, the work is contrived, uninspired, or even dead.

The genius of Lin-Manuel is what caused a sensation in the nation, what kept "the ten-dollar founding father" on our bills. Without it, all of that would fall apart into brittle, dissociated pieces. It's time we learned more about it.

Hamilton's Shot

"You have married an Icarus. He has flown too close to the sun."

Hamilton isn't just a product of genius. It's about more ways than one. Not only is its main character a prodigy, a Mozart of letters, but its ultimate message is about what happens to genius when it pops into the world. In Hamilton, the genius announces who he is and tells us about himself. It's a tell-all, a full disclosure.

The genius comes from somewhere else. It strikes us unawares - while sitting on a park bench, walking, or reading a biography - but the genius isn't confined to the book we're reading. It only appears by means of it, as if Ron Chernow's book were a mirror the genius used to see itself. In itself, it exists beyond the bounds of things and definite ideas. It breaks through; it "bursts" into awareness.

Hamilton (the character) is a lot like that genius. Like a flash of inspiration, he comes from somewhere else (the Caribbean), and he comes here (the colonies) to shake everything up. Both Hamilton and the genius affect everything they touch. They're both a bundle of fiery energy just waiting to explode. And fire can't easily be held: he commits adultery, he gets into fights, and he spills his private secrets out into the world without any scruples, just as inspiration doesn't lend itself easily to the real-life projects that can contain it.

But I'll argue that Hamilton isn't just similar to the genius. Hamilton is genius announcing itself. He is the promise of a new idea, the openness of a gestalt and all the ways you can understand it. He is the possibility of curiosity, intuition, and ambition. In every flash of insight, Hamilton's ship is in the harbor. See if you can spot him.

But the genius often isn't received well. New ideas and fresh perspectives are all well and good, but many people are scared by the thought of any change. The inevitable resistance that rises up against social progress is a case in point. Hamilton threatens the establishment. That establishment says: "if you talk, you're gonna get shot." And he often does. Look at John Lennon or Martin Luther King Jr.: both shot at the height of their path toward change.

It goes without saying at this point that the establishment gets personified in Hamilton through Aaron Burr. He "keeps out of trouble," and "keeps his cards close to his chest": both motions of closure as opposed to Hamilton's radical openness. Hamilton is soaring freedom; Burr is enclosed restriction. Hamilton is the liberal; Burr is the conservative. Hamilton is yes; Burr is no. These are opposites, but they need each other. You can't have open without closed, after all. But neither of them see this until the very end. With Hamilton's and Burr's dueling pistols loaded and pointed at each other, the opposition that defines our culture - ambition and pessimism, idealism and realism, liberal and conservative - goes into its final showdown. Who will win? Who will lose? What actually happened, at least in the musical, surprised everyone: Hamilton threw away his shot.

Hamilton, who fought against tyranny and restriction his whole life, decides to let it have the last word. He points his pistol at the sky, like his son, knowing that he would probably die. Why? I think it's because, at that last moment when he saw the "other side," he saw the secret behind the world's deceptive appearance: that when Burr and Hamilton fight, both lose. So instead of pointing his pistol at his enemy, he points it at the sky. He sees that "whoever takes the sword perishes by the sword" and that "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." And he perishes by a twitch of Burr's finger.

But this act, where the genius points himself back at the sky instead of fighting the limitations of the earth, doesn't count for nothing. It leaves everyone dumbfounded. As the genius returns to the beyond where he came from, we - like the centurion at Christ's crucifixion - can tell that something more-than-human has just happened. The air is pregnant with unsayable meaning even as there's "wailing in the streets." And it leaves people changed.

Likewise, every time we realize that our high-flying ideals, ambitions, and insights don't belong on earth, we point its pistol at the sky and it returns home. We don't lose the insight, but we remember that it comes from something fundamentally other than me: the genius. For the genius will return home sooner or later. With the geniuses in history like John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, or Mozart, it could only ascend by killing the person. But a person - realizing that he's "only human" - puts down the burden of "being the genius" and can work with that inspiring spirit productively.

This is crucial for our culture today. As liberals fighting conservatives and conservatives fighting liberals, we don't realize that these political ideals which Hamilton and Burr show so well don't belong on earth. They come to us from somewhere else, somewhere divine and not human. By acknowledging that and realizing that they aren't our own, we point our pistol at the sky and let the conflict so bitterly played out on the national stage lose its life-or-death quality. But this is true of every ideal, every cause, or even every emotion that carries us beyond ourselves. It's not us: it's something greater than us, and only by acknowledging that can we end the cycle of pain that getting possessed by these forces inevitably causes. Let the gods be the gods; let humans be humans. Only apart can they work together.

Will you throw away your shot? Will you plant seeds in a garden you never get to see? More depends on these questions than you could ever think.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Dumbing-Down of Truth

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with 25 pieces. It would be pretty simple to solve, right? It might be fun for a 5-year-old, but probably not for you. Now imagine dividing each of those 25 pieces into 10 pieces, making a grand total of 250 pieces. A little more complicated, but basically still for kids. But imagine you divided each of those 250 pieces into another 10, making 2500. That’s more like it. But imagine that when you’ve finished your 2500 piece puzzle, your five-year-old cousin comes up to you and says “I could have done that, easy!” You’re confused for a bit, but then you realize that your cousin can’t see the 2500 pieces but, instead, only the outlines of the initial 25. He can’t tell that each one of those larger pieces is actually a collection of 100 smaller ones!
This is like the nature of truth. Like the meta-puzzle in my parable, each true idea implies the millions/billions/+ of other true ideas that make it up. There are nuances and new revelations to eternity; truth in itself is more complicated than a human being can ever grasp. Swedenborg said this a lot: like how a human body gets more complicated with the higher level of microscope you use, he says truth gets more and more nuanced the deeper you look. There is no bottom here.
We need truth – that isn’t up for negotiation. It’s the only thing that saves us from our ignorance and our dangerous misconceptions – “the truth will set you free.” But if we can’t grasp truth in itself, what does that mean for our salvation? Absolutely nothing; God makes up the difference, and he does this by dumbing down the truth for us.
This is a lot like teaching Sunday School lessons to young children. If you were to teach them out of the Gospel Doctrine manual, you’d get nothing but blank stares and cheerios all over the floor. It’s only by using really simplified truths – the “Sunday School” answers – that you can make an impression on their young minds. And this is, crucially, true even though those Sunday School answers are relatively untrue compared with the more advanced “meat” of the Gospel. We’re all like those little kids. Every doctrine we receive from a church (or even scripture) is a simplification that adapts truth to our ability to understand. If doctrine didn’t get simplified like this, we would be just as confused as those little Sunbeams.
What does this look like practically? Well, it means that scripture is always “clothed” in details appropriate to the time and place it was written. That’s why Genesis talks about a firmament (basically an upside-down bowl that’s also the sky) dividing the ocean from heaven: that was a commonsense belief to Semites of the time, and God would have done nothing but confuse them if he’d mentioned dinosaurs, quantum fields, and primordial ooze.
We’re just as naive as those ancient Hebrews were, and we are just as convinced that we’re not. We know just a little more than we did then, like a fourth-grader coming home and bragging to his parents how smart he is after winning his science fair. This is as true with our doctrine as it is with our science. Does it upset me that there was a doctrine prohibiting black people from receiving the Priesthood in the LDS Church for a long time? A little bit, but not much; racism was a political institution in the United States for centuries, and if God didn’t adapt himself to that racism, He wouldn’t have been received. And yes, that does mean God can consecrate immoral acts to be done to worship Him. He doesn’t like it, but He does it often to help people trapped in widespread cultural immorality to come to Him. Swedenborg said that animal sacrifice was like this: the earliest people hated killing animals, but when they developed a taste for blood, he co-opted that grossness toward a good purpose. The violence in the Old Testament done for God was like this too. If people can’t help doing bad things, God might as well “bend” it toward a good purpose. Otherwise they’d reject the good outright and dive headlong into their evil.
Something else follows from this idea: the differing doctrines of the world’s religions don’t mean that one is true and the rest are false. It just means that the same truth “put on” the different assumptions and biases of the peoples who received it. It’s not surprising that India – with its repressive caste system – developed religions preaching the eternal insignificance of an individual personality (like with reincarnation). And it also makes sense that the Judeo-Christian God was portrayed like a Persian or Babylonian Super-King: that’s what mattered at the time. This works with the Book of Mormon too: so what if it was written in King James English with New Testament idioms all over the place? That’s what people in 1800s white America thought of as sacred; they wouldn’t have accepted anything else. The Book of Mormon is weird enough as it is without the immense weirdness that a direct translation of 4th century Native American culture would have brought.
And you can think of the “planet” weirdness of Mormon teachings like Abraham 3 in this way. The worldwide spiritual mindset from the eighteenth century till the early twentieth century was “planet-crazy”: Swedenborg spoke of “the inhabitants of the planet Jupiter” (who, oddly enough, resemble humans pre-Homo-Erectus in his descriptions), Rudolf Steiner said that human souls originally lived on the Moon, and Gurdjieff taught that the Sun and the planets in our solar system are spiritual organisms we “grow out of.” So if you’re a Mormon and you’re self-conscious about your weirdness, don’t be. “Planets” were exciting at the time; God facilitated our obsession and bent it toward a good purpose.
But what does all this mean about the people who stubbornly stick to the literal meaning of Genesis or who insist, despite everything, that every General Authority is infallible? According to Swedenborg, it’s the intent that counts, and I believe him one hundred percent. If it works for them and they’re in a good place, you have no right to claim that they’re doing anything wrong. God speaks unto people “according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3), and that includes the language of concrete, literal-minded people. In the words of people who make fun of Christians for sticking with Bronze-Age nonsense, I hear nothing but pretentious intellectualism and more than a little contempt for the general mass of people. That’s why you’ll never hear me furiously raise my hand in a Sunday School lesson about Noah’s Ark: let people believe in whatever relatively untrue truths work for them, since that’s a luxury God gives to all of us.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Play of Love

Read this post on A Sea of Glass and Fire.

Now because every single thing remains in being from the Divine, that is, is constantly coming into being from Him, and every single thing from that source is inevitably a representative of the real thing by means of which it has come into being, the whole visible universe is therefore nothing else than a theatre that is representative of the Lord's kingdom. And this in turn is a theatre representative of the Lord Himself. - Emanuel Swedenborg, "Arcana Coelestia," 3483
Have you ever noticed that things in your life happen just the way they're supposed to happen? You meet that person, you read that book, or you run into an idea at just the right time? Or maybe things don't happen so easily; your boyfriend might break up with you or maybe you fail a class. But have you still discerned the way those painful events are good for you? I have. The world is on my side; if I'm on the wrong track, it will remind me in blunt or sometimes painful ways. But if I'm going in the way I'm supposed to go, things will happen in surprisingly easy ways. I'll meet the right people, I'll find the right books, and I'll say the right things
But though the world is on my side, the world isn't what's really on my side. The world is a theater. Every person, book, website, idea, or tree is a part played by something more real than it, something spiritual. The relationship between the spiritual world and our lives is the same relationship as between an actress and the character she plays.
‘Each grain of sand,
Every stone on the land,
Each rock and each hill,
Each fountain and rill,
Each herb and each tree,
Mountain, hill, earth, and sea,
Cloud, meteor, and star,
Are men seen afar.' - William Blake, "To Thomas Butts"
In each "tender mercy" that pops up in your life, whether a smile from a stranger or a book that tells you just what you need to hear, there are "spiritual actors" doing their work in it. When that person smiled at you, they may not have known what they were doing, but you can bet that angels were subtly pushing her to help you in that way. Even chance meetings on the sidewalk are managed by those angels working together to help you. This means that you play a part in the "spiritual drama" as well. Though your conscious mind doesn't know even a tenth of what's going on, it "portrays" the purposes of angels in the actions you deliberately choose to do. Your good deeds are the deeds of higher, wiser beings than you.
And even these angels are "characters." Like a play within a play, the angelic actors that play in our skins are also "acted out" by a higher being: the divine fire of love, what some call God.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. - Gerard Manley Hopkins, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"
Your life is a dance. This dance shows up in each "role" you play; it is the dance between you and the fire within every being, the fire you are, but which you have forgotten you are. This fire of God is like the man who, flinging you out as the woman, separates itself from you only to see you better. This fire loves you - it delights in you, finds every part of you infinitely wonerful. And the to-and-fro movement of that dance helps each rejoice in both the ecstasy of union and the delight of the gaze that can only come when you stand apart. Both positions are needed. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a dance.
This dance plays out in every moment of your life. Every time you are shown a tender mercy - in each smile, each synchronicity, each inspiring word - the divine fire is revealing itself to you. The parts are becoming transparent to the love that plays them; you are remembering who you are, or, to put it in another way, who you belong to. The dance is to and from that fire: toward the ecstatic oblivion of love and from it to the consciousness of being yourself. For we can't be under any illusions: the life you are living - with all its faults, flaws, and weaknesses - is desired. The divine fire within you wanted it. But since that fire also wants what you want, and since you long for its flame wherever it shows itself, the divine shows itself to you.
Like two lovers meeting, the love within our heart merges with the love within the world. And in this meeting we realize that it is the same love: we are a part of the same oneness flowing into different forms and yet remaining one. Love shows us the illusion of separation and reveals the meaning of the interconnectedness that is all around us. Love can show us the patterns within life and what they mean. As love flows from form to form it leaves a trace of its source, a trace which we can see with the eye of the heart. This trace is the meaning of his love, the underlying purpose of life. When we recognize it, we become awake and directly participate in life's knowing of itself. -Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, "Spiritual Power: How it Works"
There is a love deeper than words, deeper than thought, deeper than perception. We long for it in all our desires, though we almost never realize what we want. That love is our Being, and that Being desires us as the flawed people we are. But that love isn't just in your heart. It is within everyone, in everything, but it hides itself from you both inside and outside because it doesn't want to hurt you. But if you purify yourself, making yourself a clean and bright vessel, the fire of love can show itself to you in a way you never thought possible. Your Being will become transparent to you. You will see the love in all things that loves you more than life itself. And you will realize the innocent, blissful joy that plays in everything that happens to you.