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Archive for April, 2010

If — as Buddha, Krishna, Christ, Jung and the others suggest — we are all just expressions of a single, universal Self, and the egos we identify with are merely fragmentary illusions projected from the all-embracing source, then we could have a hard time reconciling this with the idea that we are all individuals with a unique life purpose. Indeed, in the East, where spiritual solidarity is taken much more seriously than in the West, the collective interests of the family and community tend to sit much higher than the demands of the individual.

While in the West, in the land of iPods, iPhones, I-me-mine, ego-aggrandizement and social Darwinism, the individual seems to take precedence over all else. Is it any wonder then that the “Me generation” of Americans should flock to eastern philosophy with a kind of “last one to enlightenment is a rotten egg” mentality? And how disappointed we are when we discover that there’s no gold medal awarded to the first person to achieve ego detachment.

But all joking aside, there must be some way to connect with the universal whole without completely renouncing the voice of the individual. After all, even if this ego is an illusion, it is a mighty powerful one, and the illusions of heartache, hunger and suffering can be painful indeed. The cosmic Self has fostered the illusions for a reason, out of necessity. The waking mind may be illusory, yet it’s anything but meaningless. Just as our material lives are pointless without the spiritual bedrock, so the spiritual essence without its chorus of conscious voices sends only silent echos across an empty void.

Like waves that rise and fall from a single sea, but each wave consists of its own unique blend of brine, plankton, kelp, and jellyfish, as well as the occasional tuna, shark, dolphin and so forth. Reconnecting with the whole does not mean a surrendering of the individual. But striking a fair balance between what floats atop and what swims below is anything but easy — it is the lifelong challenge. For the preponderance of the human psyche still resides in the darkness and is bound to the infinite, yet nine tenths of our awareness remains isolated in the iceberg’s tip, while we cling to the delusion that our flotation on the surface is entirely self-propelled.

Before we can return the one, the whole, the source (and Joseph Campbell and other scholars suggest that this is probably the original meaning of the word “religion”: from ligare “bind, connect”, plus the prefix re, i.e. re (again) + ligare = “to reconnect), we must conduct our egos through a complete differentiation. Such is the mission of every great hero of myth, folklore and fairy tale.

From Moses to Cinderella to Luke Skywalker, the orphaned step-child begins by running away from home, fleeing the nest of false parentage. Our biological parents provide that sense of false security in this material world, but eventually we must break free from the conforming tutelage in search of our Selves, to find our “spiritual parentage,” to find our unique purpose rather than pursue the socially determined goal. Then and only then can the awakened soul return home again, back to the Garden, back to the source. This individual development is essential to the divine reunion.

Just as the great whale emerges from the sea to fill its lungs with fresh air before returning to the depths, so we break away from the Great Spirit and fill our souls with light before returning home to share our boon and replenish the waters of the universal source.

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Yesterday I took a look at the first four verses of Genesis and made some strident speculations about what hides in the shadows of pre-dawn, back where “darkness was on the face of the deep.” Ah, but the speculating has only just begun.

The point at which anything crosses the horizon from darkness into light marks a spiritual event of paramount importance. In the words of Carl Jung, “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” But still this begs the question: what is “darkness”?

A Vedic or Theosophic reading suggests that this darkness is home to the universal soul, the single spirit, the sea of seldons, from which we are all separated as we embark on this illusory adventure of individual awareness. From this bottomless reservoir of One, we bubble up to the surface, and for the blink of an eye we imagine ourselves as something distinct from the whole. This brief illusion is what our conscious ego, bound to the realm of physical empiricism, experiences as “reality”.

A creative concrete materialistic, on the other hand, might prefer the idea that this darkness represents the archaic, animalistic foundation of the human brain. Before the neo-cortex reached its critical mass and made way for the complexity of Homo sapiens, our bipedal ancestors still hopped around with the clumsy minds of hairy mammals, and prior that, our forerunner survived on even less. Our big, modern brains still include those mammalian features, as well as the less cognitive reptilian ones, remnant of our humble beginnings.

Somewhere in the dark recesses, we still carry that primitive brain, wired for basic survival. Luckily however, our massive frontal lobe allows us to keep the reptile more or less contained, while we put on airs of sophistication and noblesse oblige. For the concrete materialist, this display of urbanity may be the real illusion of ego consciousness. Certainly some humans do not appear to have evolved far at all from those basic instincts of self-preservation, self-gratification and procreation.

The line from Jung, quoted earlier, actually applies equally well to either of these perspectives. Jung defines that darkness as the collective unconscious, which he describes as a product of both primitive, instinctual characteristics, and common, spiritual elements. And it would behoove the conscious mind to tap into both of these substrata, even if for entirely different reasons.

Continuing from the quotation above, Jung goes on to say, “It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.” Much as we may prefer to avoid confrontation, certain face-offs are necessary, and when conducted appropriately, both sides can profit by them. Such is the relation between the conscious and unconscious.

Identifying your inner iguana in order to expose and distance yourself from those reptilian instincts should (even if alpha-males do retain a degree of popularity at certain social functions) have some obvious benefits, like increasing tolerance, generosity and compassion. The collective reservoir can also house many other more ambiguous agents, and they too must be brought to light, for our own (the conscious) good, as well as for theirs (the unconscious). Finally, by bringing these multiple interests into alignment, one can learn to live by his own internal compass rather than fall prey to the pressures of subservience and conformity that surround us.

And “the divine service which man can render to God,” says Jung, “[is] that light may emerge from the darkness, that the Creator may become conscious of His creation, and man conscious of himself.”  ∆

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“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) And before the light there was darkness. And in that darkness something of profound interest must have lurked. Or as the less hackneyed, preceding verse suggests, “…the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) Now, I wouldn’t take the Old Testament with anything less than a grain of salt, and nothing more than a pillar, but there is a pearl of metaphorical wisdom in this imagery (a good reason why Creation SHOULD be taught in school — just not in a history, geology or biology class.)

Certain members of the Buddhist persuasion have described birth into this empirical, physical world as something of a tragedy. Specifically, it marks one soul’s separation from the unified whole, and the beginning of a lonely journey through disconnectedness. This life of ours may not be so horrible as all that, but there is a certain despair that comes of living here with our backs to the spirit, gorging ourselves in the light without giving the darkness a second thought.

“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:4)

Anyone who’s even seen a cartoon should know that light is probably the most common symbol we have for consciousness, as in the lightbulb that springs up with the coming of a new idea. Or consider such phrases as ‘sparkling intellect’, ‘dim witted’, and ‘you’re a bright kid, someday you’ll be the head of a big corporation’.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see the first four lines of the Bible as an allusion to the birth of consciousness, a vital stage of human development (whether historical, personal, or both), in which humanity emerges from the realm of mysteries and unknown and enters the world of rational thinking, at which point man and God are separated (not to be re-united for another several hundred pages.)

In darkness, “the earth was without form, and void…” (Genesis 1:2) Form is an illusion or a projection of the rational hemisphere, the domain of Cartesian logic, where all things have shapes, all things have a beginning and an end. In the void, however, such boundaries are meaningless, and all things move in and out of one another. It is from this darkness that we arose, and some might even say that we escaped. The light is a blessing indeed, but without also acknowledging the darkness, we will never come close to genuine enlightenment.  ∆

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For the last several days, I’ve been peeling back the layers of cognition to expose and confront the spirits and demons that dwell in the deep recesses of my cobweb spangled mind. The fact is, what we think of as the self (what we call “I”) cannot possibly be the true Self. We can speak of this self through colorful images and playful analogies, but as our waking consciousness is an extension of this Self, we have no real vantage point from which to observe it.

Trying to comprehend your own consciousness is like trying to wrap your mind around itself, or as Alan Watts has said, it’s like trying to look at your own eyeball or point at your own finger tip. It produces a recursive dilemma, which explains why every great Truth inheres an insurmountable paradox.

An even better (though far from perfect) analogy might be like using your finger to point at your own hand. For the finger is a but a small extension of that larger hand which it cannot reach. The finger, so agile and mobile, seems to be in command, while in fact the hand, silent but strong, is making the decisions to be executed by the protruding digit. The finger receives its instructions and obeys; the finger tip collects sensory information and sends it back. Communications are made, but with strict limitations.

Another way of looking at this dualistic arrangement of human consciousness is to see the ego as the rational aspect, capable of and limited to logical, three-dimensional, linear thinking, and the other as the irrational aspect, a perfect stranger to the notions of here and there, before and after, us and them. Neuroscience has well demonstrated the presence of a left and right hemisphere in the brain, capable in extreme circumstances (grand mal seizure victims) of operating independently. In addition to the lateral (left-right) division, we can easily imagine a pair of vertical (top-bottom) hemispheres as well.

Unfortunately, these two have no way of understanding each other.  As desperate as they are to communicate, the lines of contact remain convoluted. The upper ego may call to the other through prayer or song, or may listen intently through deep meditation, while the submerged other sends its own cryptic signals by way of dreams and fantasies.

Since our language is a product (perhaps the greatest products) of our rational mind, it is nearly useless for describing the goings on of the irrational soul. Language, in fact, may have done more to isolate these two hemispheres than anything else in the history of human development. It would certainly have contributed to rational mode’s apparent supremacy over the irrational.

And it’s easy to see how the irrational side’s lack of accountability to time, space and logic would contribute to its identification with an eternal, all-encompassing divinity. I think, therefore I am; but the other thinks too, and therefore it also is. If it thinks independently, so it must exist independently as well. And if the “I” arose from this irrational, timeless other, somewhat like a finger from a hand, then what else can we call it but god?

So here we have one more definition to consider the next time someone boldly declares that they do or don’t believe in god. The more we see that there are dozens of such definitions, the more we realize how meaningless such blanket declarations really are.

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The relationship between the waking consciousness, which we call “I”, and the other, which we may call the unconscious, the subconscious or the supernatural, is a most tenuous one. Devout Christians may spend a lifetime in praying to cultivate a healthy relationship with god. Anxious busy-bodies may spend a life savings in therapy trying to tame the obsessions and neuroses of their subconscious. And chronic alcoholics can pickle their livers and minds attempting to numb the senses and silence the voices that torment them day and night.

On the one hand, the conscious “I” or ego appears to be a singular and unified force, even if only temporary and temporal. In respect to the material world that we see and touch, the ego is in charge. The ego steps outside to greet the day, extends a hand to greet the herds of ego-minded bodies the scurry around us. The ego has been trained in business, law or medicine and conducts itself as necessary to provide for the material needs and desires of the physical body.

But how much of our true self is really represented by this waking consciousness that proceeds through life in a survival-oriented series of stimuli and response? How much more dwells below the surface, beneath the tip of this I-speaking iceberg? What cast of characters stands behind the curtain whispering lines as our ego hogs the limelight? How many more heroes, villains and sidekicks are playing their parts in the theater we call our self?

The lonely ego would seem to be far outnumbered by this supporting cast. And what is the proper etiquette by which the protagonist interacts with his fellow players? To be sure, every tradition has its own rule of conduct. And most agree that the ego is not outnumbered, but simply overpowered.

Hindus and Buddhists speak of a universal Self that runs through each and every one of us. “In the beginning this universe was nothing but the Self in the form of a man. It looked around and saw that there was nothing but itself, whereupon its first shout was, ‘It is I!’; whence the concept of “I” arose.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishads)

Because we are all expressions of a single Being or Consciousness, this Self goes to great lengths to disguise itself, playing hide-and-seek from itself as it were. These egos we put forward, to which we feel so attached, are mere masks — dreams and fantasies — invented by the true Self to create an illusion of diversity and keep itself amused, for better or worse.

In fact, the Christian view is not so much different. “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Galatians, 2:20) These conscious selves that we affectionately call “I” are nothing but persona (from the Latin for “mask”), vehicles for a spirit ever so much greater than our own waking understanding.

The “I” is nothing but a temporal, genetic, intellectual construction that conceals the true Self. Yet 90 percent or more of our human experience is grounded in the ego, what every holy tradition (not only the major ones cited above) defines as illusory and disingenuous. But a genuine spiritual awakening could not be possible without first moving through this stage of illusion; it is a necessary hurdle and an ineluctable stage of personal development.

And once we have allowed ourselves to develop a strong and healthy ego, the most important task, in terms of further personal growth, is for that ego to step aside. The ego can set the stage, train the lights and test the sound, but then, like a good director, he steps out of the spotlight and makes room for his cast of stars to come out and deliver a spellbinding performance.

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“Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The “newness” in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components.” (C.G.Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” p.235)

I came across this line in Carl Jung’s autobiography today, just two days after articulating my own theory on the “Sea of Seldons.” If that’s not sure proof of Jungian synchronicity, then I don’t know what is.

Seldons, you may recall, are what I call the elementary components which comprise the soul. The importance of seldons lies in the implication that because the soul can dissolve and be reduced to smaller components, the individual soul cannot be considered an eternal and permanent entity in itself.

This notion renders the concepts of reincarnation and karma rather obsolete. As the seldons can break apart, regroup and reorganize, one cannot claim to be reincarnated from a single individual. Essentially, we are all reincarnated from the collective pool of all our ancestors, the universal treasury of all souls and seldons. Furthermore, the Indian idea of karma, that we are born into this existence as a reward or punishment according to the good and evil deeds of our past lives becomes greatly complicated.

The challenge is no longer to learn the lessons and overcome the hurdles of one ancient soul, yours and yours alone, but to enjoy the legacy and learn from the mistakes of all previous lifetimes — not simply for the salvation of your own soul, but for the benefit of all future generations. The savior of all humanity is no longer a distant, angelic figure; but each and every one of us, as caretakers of a handful of numinous seldons, has the responsibility and potential to imbue those seldons with tolerance, compassion, grace and forgiveness.

Greater still is the challenge to communicate with this burgeoning family of souls, to bridge the gap between ego consciousness and the chorus of subterranean seldons. No longer do we seek a relationship with a single, immutable inner essence, but now we have a whole panoply of influences to acknowledge, to tame, to abide, to resist.

What an enormous understatement, when Goethe’s Faust offers his famous lament, “Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust.” (Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast.) Only two? Au contraire! The souls in one’s breast are as numerous as the stars of the night sky.

We might prefer to think that he was speaking of one as the conscious mind, at odds with the other, the subconscious soul. Yet he doesn’t speak of two alternating consciousnesses, but specifically two souls; not one in the head and one in the heart, but two in the breast. He sees only his “good” well-bred Christian soul, now in opposition to the “evil” temptations of Mephistopheles. Faust falls right into the trap of dualism, unable to find the Middle Way out. Surely, Goethe knew better, even if his tragic hero did not.

How many seldons are vying for possession of your soul? Are they pushing and pulling you to one side of the street or the other? Or can you hold firm and find the third way on the center divider of life, the median strip of the mind, the traffic island of Avalon?

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When my dad died and our baby was just forming, the temptation to speculate on the comings and goings of souls was difficult to resist.  Seems like everyone wanted to know where my dad’s soul was headed and when our daughter’s soul would arrive.

As for dad, I figured that he’d gone everywhere. I put my faith in the Force and recalled the words of Obi Wan Kenobi: “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” (Substitute Parkinson’s for Darth in my dad’s case.) Free from his disease,  my dad’s positive energy now encompasses the cosmos. And as for the embryonic baby, I surmised that her soul would coalesce in a slow process of spiritual accumulation.

The childlike Sunday school simplicity of the soul that remains intact through the generations, and can be traced from person to person (even insect to tree to animal) over the centuries, holds a certain romantic charm and appeal. But for me it just doesn’t work. It falls short of describing the cosmic soup as I envision it.

Imagine pouring one glass of water, one glass of apple juice, one glass of Beaujolais and one glass of vinegar into a 64-ounce pitcher. Then turn around, pick up a clean 16-oz. glass, and fill it to the top from this pitcher. What’s in the glass? Is it the juice, is it the water? Certainly, the fresh glass is going to include a tangy mix of all four drinks, in some uneven and unpredictable ratio. And so it goes with the souls as they move in and out of bodies.

Conventional wisdom surrounding the course of one’s soul usually suggests that each of us is inhabited by a singular, indivisible soul, residing at the core of our being. With our physical death — so the pundits (and the Upanishads) say — the soul moves on, from one material body to the next, without beginning or end.

Now, it is within my power to imagine an ethereal soul — somewhere beneath the surface of the conscious mind and the beating heart — that commingles with the physical body and the waking mind to result in a unique and conscious individual. Call it the spirit, the soul, the universal mind; call it Krishna, Yahweh or Leroy, if it pleases you. The person is only half-finished without it, and the soul remains incomplete without the body. (Even if the soul is an expression of something like God, which IS absolutely complete (by definition), it cannot offer an individual expression without assuming a separate and distinct physicality.)

But I cannot imagine why this soul — even if it were regarded as something divine — would have to be considered an irreducible entity unto itself. Even if we think of it as something like a single shaft from the one great Source of all consciousness, then we must accept that the source can be divided. And if the great source has been divided into units, surely those units can be divided further.

Experience, observation and intuition all point to the fact that nothing in this universe is anything unto itself, but everything is a product comprised of smaller parts, as well as a smaller part of something larger. A tissue is an amalgamation of cells on the one hand, and a building block of organs on the other. A human being is an assembly of organs and systems, and at the same time a single member of a family or community.

This chain of parts and wholes, which Ken Wilber has labeled “holons” (“Sex, Ecology and Spirituality,” 1995), goes up and down forever and ever. If you embrace the old school view of god as the Alpha and the Omega, then you presumably subscribe to the notion that god is the punctuation mark where the string of holons stops — somewhere below the quark and somewhere above our universe. Yet scientific discovery continues to extend the chain longer and longer, into smaller parts and larger wholes, already well beyond the scope of what our minds can imagine.

In any case, we have no right or reason to exempt the soul from this law of reducibility. Like every other component of the individual, it should dissolve at or around the time of death, and return, particle by elementary particle, to the source material from whence it came. And because I’ve never heard anyone else refer to these elementary particles of the soul, I propose to call them seldons.

At this point in my research, the intrinsic properties of the seldons remain unclear and unimportant. The important point is to recognize that souls can biodegrade like everything else and that their seldons can be redistributed.

Have a good night, and remember to enjoy your seldons responsibly.

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