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Archive for January, 2017

James Joyce’s most celebrated novel, Ulysses, has been described—by Joyce himself, or perhaps it was Robert Anton Wilson—as either a religion disguised as a joke or a joke disguised as a religion. In either case, the author’s efforts to probe the depths for secret subtle wisdom were profound indeed, but equally important, his revelations were consistently made with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. From Moses to Shakespeare to Aquinas, none was immune to the sarcastic lampooning of Joyce’s rapier wit.

A useful religion, like a good joke, requires a great deal of cognitive blending, examining words, concepts and narratives from a number of simultaneous perspectives. Fairy tales, holy scripture and great novels all employ the language of myth, which is the dialect of metaphor. Potent language brims with signs and symbols, draws us in with a simple enough story, then engages clever devices to direct our imaginations upwards, to higher levels of meaning. A good joke sets up certain expectations, then swings the helm and points us in a different, unexpected direction with joyful results. Either way, when we surrender ourselves to the charms of a good narrator, we also appoint him to the role of navigator, allowing our imaginations and our unconscious to be guided far afield into uncharted waters.

Rarely if ever has anyone grasped the full power of language and known how to harness it the way Joyce did. Each word is selected with the utmost care, and pregnant with meaning and potential. Every sentence is constructed with as much deliberation and precision as a seven layer wedding cake being delivered to the surface of Mars. It may not make for light reading, but it can provide a lifetime’s worth of study for the assiduous reader.

Like Biblical scripture, his books can be read time and time again, with additional layers of meaning gleaned from each and every subsequent reading, while accumulating a greater and greater general knowledge as necessary to draw increasingly meaningful interpretations. Ulysses, in fact, is the kind of book that one could study with the same sort of devotion and exclusivity that fundamentalists apply to the Bible or the Koran. Once you have thoroughly understood this masterpiece, then you will have grasped a complete understanding of human history and the world. Like holding William Blake’s infinity in the palm of your hand, Joyce’s microcosm of Dublin contains—however obliquely disguised or ironically revealed—an all inclusive metaphysical system and a comprehensive roadmap of the human soul.

Committing oneself to the literary output of James Joyce may confer great intellectual and spiritual benefits, but the material disadvantages are hard to overlook. I’m reminded of Lynch’s words to Stephen in the aesthetic theory section of A Portrait of the Artist. “Damn you and damn everything. I want a job at five hundred a year. You can’t get me one.”

No, the remunerative opportunities for the full-time Joyce enthusiast are limited indeed. For the aficionado of fine literature, this may come as a somewhat disheartening realization, for what it says about our society and what is valued and what is not. But I as gave this fact a more thought, I came to see that Joyce is not the profitless diversion, but it’s money that is the vulgar distraction. True enough, we live in a society where money is the measure of all things and what cannot be monetized is discarded and disdained.

Joyce, however, was a staunch advocate of art for art’s sake. By virtue of the the fact that these profound works remain untarnished by greed, profiteering or other commercial influence, they retain a special place in our society, or more accurately, outside of our society. Somehow this joke disguised as a religion, untainted by man’s foulest devices, is elevated to an even higher, sacred plane. Its study is relegated to the mystical and esoteric circles, where the ideas and intentions remain most pure, detached from earthly pursuits. Go forth then into that otherworldly realm of wisdom and mystery, and rejoice, for the remedy you seek cannot be bought or sold.

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Another year has come and gone. A new one has just begun. It’s a time of transition, an opportunity for deep reflections, for goal setting and dream weaving. This year, why not do something really different?  Try to make some real changes in your life. What better way than to elevate your consciousness and initiate yourself in the mysteries of higher worlds and esoteric knowledge?

I’m not here to say it’s easy, but here are seven relatively straightforward steps to start you on a profound journey into the horizon of the eternal. On the spiritual plane, linear time melts into a nebulous singularity, but here on the concrete pages of the internet, time moves forward like an arrow. So I’m listing the steps of spiritual advancement from one through seven, not an entirely arbitrary order, but most of the steps can happen simultaneously.

1) Study the mystics.
Read the written wisdom of the greatest mystics of east and west: Meister Eckhardt, Teresa of Avila, Dalai Lama; there are dozens to look for. Before embarking on your spiritual journey, become familiar with the fruits of the deep and pious labors of history’s most successful seers.

2) Open your heart to respect and reverence.
Spiritual practice has a history as old as humanity. In primitive times it was a more common pursuit, back before the age of reason and enlightenment, when the mind of man was more open to the immense powers of the irrational. That side of the brain is now overdue for a rekindling.

Spirituality has always been bound to the worship of a higher deity, an idea which has grown increasingly untenable in the modern age. But this ideal of divinity remains crucial to the elevation of the soul. It’s not so much the presence of god that is required, but the belief in something greater than ourselves.

Evolving to a higher level requires a belief in—and a devotion to—something on that higher level. By cultivating a childlike reverence, to something greater, the spirit becomes more receptive to those energies emanating from the upper echelon. This reverence does not mean subservience, but openness, gratitude and humility. It’s an attitude worth adopting in all areas of life.

3) Tend your soil.
Esoteric knowledge is available only to those prepared to receive it. Develop your own spirit in order to accept the gifts from the highest spiritual circles. Invoke reverence, devotion and awe, to release yourself, even briefly, from the mundane material conditions.

4) Let your higher self prevail.
This is not the “I”, but the voice that sometimes speaks to the “I”, the “I am” that witnesses and observes the “ego-I”. This is the self that is rooted deep in the common soil, in the fertile ground of all awareness. This is not the “I” that must separate from everything in order to define and distinguish itself as individual. This is the self that has already been individuated, but accentuates its participation in the larger whole. This is the self that can see into the face of another person and recognize the light that shines equally in both of them.

5) Let go of the dark side.
Free yourself from criticism, judgment and cynicism, and let your spirit rise. Feelings like this, if we let them run unchecked, only hold us back and keep our spirits down. Instead, make room for the higher self. Let the light in. Strive to be positive. When goodness is silent, evil enters. With every action, we can tilt the scales toward the darkness or towards the light. And every action begins with words and thoughts.

6) Create moments of inner peace.
Make moments of inner peace to distinguish the essential from the inessential. Take a few minutes each day for contemplative reflection. Learn to see the conditions of the material life of the individual as something remote, but without neglecting the daily duties and responsibilities. Free yourself from the outer impressions and develop a rich inner life. This does not mean denying yourself the pleasures of life. It means escaping the vicious cycle of leaping from one sensory gratification to another, to another, always wanting more.

7) Follow the path quietly.
There is no need for outward displays of spirituality. Seek insights quietly, and not simply to enrich your own stores of knowledge, but for the broader benefit of humanity. And as you do so, stop comparing your inside to other people’s outsides.

Special thanks to Rudolf Steiner, from whose works I’ve been reading and deriving great inspiration. If you have additional tips for enhancing your spiritual practice on the path to higher knowledge, please share them in the comments.

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