Of the Psychological Underground

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn our culture, mental health has little pride of place. The soldier returns from war, puts a gun barrel between his teeth and pulls the trigger. A man loses his job, his wife, or his home, and senses death in it; though he hasn’t learned to ask what has died, or must.

The pavement, the shell, the hard veneer, is our reality; what lies beneath must be ignored if it cannot be made quiet with a prescription. We affirm the topmost layer and call it real, while denying everything underneath, merely because it cannot be seen, struck, or measured. We build towers to the sky as if the gold were to be found there. If we think for a moment of going under, within, below the surface; we shudder in isolation. None of our leaders is there — they are all on the surface or in the towers. The underground is a realm of fear, failure, and the fires of Hell. If you go there, you go alone.

I write about where I have been. It is not a depressing place: I haven’t had to take a pill to inhibit reuptake of my serotonin in more than a decade. As with the living earth, there is tremendous energy — heat and light and movement — below. It supports and nourishes everything else that can be seen and touched and controlled. There are no presidents, pundits, or priests to lead you on that journey downward .

My experience of the underground has been of a place where there are no Masters, but many guides. The further down I go, the brighter the glow of connectedness becomes — contact with people of the past and the present; with the beings and life of Nature; with the formless light  of the quantum world; with the untrodden path of myself that stretches past the myopic reach of ambition’s vision and intersects with the journeys of all the others around and within me. Of course it is a solitary voyage, for no one before me has taken it. But it is not lonely.

This was the experience of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Here is his experience (from a 2006 interview):

Pirsig was treated at a mental institution, the first of many visits. Looking back, he suggests he was just a man outside his time. ‘It was a contest, I believe, between these ideas I had and what I see as the cultural immune system. When somebody goes outside the cultural norms, the culture has to protect itself.’

The cloudy heights are not my domain; I must go underground. If gold is to be forged into the gleam of beauty, there must somewhere be workers in the mines. To seek greatness is a trifling vanity; it may find us if we just keep working. Whether that will be or not, dignity best flourishes free of the fluorescent sheen of renown.

Stripped to its essentials, writing is a record of experience, just as science is a record of observation. In either case, the work is the water of a personal well: so why poison it with ambition? I cannot make the world see me as I am; if my own perception be clear, there is already abundance. Going underground is often solitary, though it need not be lonely or desolate. I have heard that stars can be seen in a midday sky from the bottom of a well.

Thus, again: the diversion is not from myself or my circumstances, but from the distortions of ego. If I can stay off the neatly paved streets of conformity, I may find a deeper and even firmer ground of truth. Pavement must be broken for the earth to be rediscovered. I am not here to walk where others have or do. If I can mine what is true of myself, the universal — that which unites me with people and the other creatures of Nature — will appear; just as gold is found amid mud or dust.

The work and the worker become one: there is grit in each. This is what the ancient Chinese authors of the I Ching referred to as “perseverance.” Throughout its poems, we are assured that “perseverance brings good fortune.”  That’s because it already is. The process is self-rewarding: breaking pavement, going down, stripping falsehood in the trust that a treasure lies there beneath it all — this grit of both effort and substance is itself renewal, though no voices ring in recognition.

Killing ‘Big Meat’: A Message for Carnivores

First published around Xmas 2015

Many of the locals, I hear, were enjoying outdoor barbecues on Christmas Day. I walked about 9 miles through a nature preserve just outside of town. We are 42° 39′ N of the equator. As I write this, 4 days after Christmas, ice and sleet are falling onto the street below; and yes, the world is changing. So, about those barbecues…

For some 20 years now I’ve been on a slow retreat from the way of the carnivore. Back in the 90’s I gave up beef and pork after we had some repeated E.coli scares in NYC related to meat of this kind; and economic circumstances during the past decade or so have guided me to cut way back on my poultry consumption. And now there are other, bigger reasons, which I’ll list below.

But I mention this aspect of my status as the “recovering carnivore,” because too often I encounter the implicit guilt-trip in both personal and online interactions with vegans and vegetarians. As horrible a humanitarian nightmare as the Big Meat industry’s factory farms are (there are graphic videos* of the torture of these animals on youtube that you can find, but I’m not going to link to any of them here) — guilt isn’t the solution to these problems.**

Anyway, on the basis of our common phylogeny, it is clear that humans are indeed carnivorous by nature. So there is no flaw or fault in eating meat or in desiring it. The problem is not that we do it, but in how we’re doing it now, as a culture. So, as with everything else in modern life — from cell phones to Wall St. to diet fads to television to politics — we have to get our claws out in order to scratch past appearances and see the truth of this matter. That is how the best alternatives arise for us in any situation — by penetrating appearances. Now, to the issue at hand, here are some data to consider.

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During the recent (and moderately successful) climate summit in Paris, Amy Goodman talked with the wonderful primatologist and scientist Jane Goodall about the considerable dangers posed by the forest-clearing, methane-producing machine of factory livestock farming. Goodall 

Shortly before that, a report was published on the dangers of the antibiotics used on the animals in these “farms.” Any hope of it gaining attention from mass media in the West was crushed by the timing of it — a day or two after the Paris attacks.  Antibiotics in animal feed harms kids

And Big Meat didn’t miss the advantage of that timing: less than a month later, it was revealed that the antibiotic buying frenzy was not abating.  Big Agra ignores the warning

And meanwhile, E. coli, as all living organisms do, has adapted again and made itself further resistant to all known antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant strain of e-coli

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For those who have enough to spend, the solution to this problem is not a stupid choice between two evils. There are farms that raise their livestock without antibiotic-laced feed; without the vast methane bubble that makes up a fifth of the total CO2 that is poisoning the world’s climate; and without the cruelty of a long living death in a cage barely big enough to contain the body and its misery. But for the poor and lower income workers, that option is not realistic.

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*Here’s a non-graphic link to an NPR story about the journalist who, using kickstarter funding, sent a drone over one of these massive factory farms to record the unspeakable humanitarian and environmental conditions within. Note, by the way, how one of the talking heads for the meat industry quoted in the article instantly responds by labeling the journalist as a “terrorist.” It kind of tells you all you need to know about what Big Meat and its puny mind is all about.

**As this site is primarily focused on the psycho-spiritual, I should add that vegetarianism is not necessarily predominant in such circles. I still recall my shock from my early days in Zen, when I had lunch with my Buddhist teacher and he ordered a turkey sandwich. Alan Watts used to tell his audiences that plants have feelings as much as animals, and that eating plants is no escape from the kill-to-live paradox. Terence McKenna explained that he was carnivorous mainly because he believed that plants were the most intelligent life forms on the planet. My point in mentioning these people is that vegetarianism as a component of an ideology is doomed to failure; for then it is just that — another “-ism”, and god knows we still have more than enough of those in this world.

Quantum Resonance and the Death of Orthodoxy

One of the beautiful things about these revolutionary new sciences that have arisen over the past century is that they do not seem to permit the formation of an orthodoxy. The science that speaks of quantum entanglement, relativity theory, and holographic universes would resist in its very nature any rigid codification of belief and experience based on its findings.

The only thing resembling a catechism so far drawn from our new science is really more of a dark mingling of Newtonian manipulation with tribal prejudice: the atomic bomb and the entire warped culture of dominance, murder, and oppression that it has spawned. Einstein, Oppenheimer, and many other scientists who were directly or peripherally involved in the birth of the nuclear horror, almost instantly regretted and rejected what the world s leaders had done with their work.

Today, most of us can clearly see that the industries that grew from Newton’s seed have brought the human race to the brink of environmental extinction — climate change, global warming: call it what you will, it is as thick a pall of darkness as the nuclear threat itself.

So what I am suggesting to you now is that our world and its moment require far more than a paradigm shift within an insular body of knowledge, or even a revolution of ideas in a particular culture. What we seem to need now is what has often been given the name “renaissance. ” This is a sea change in which a fresh world-view energizes every aspect of a society — art, music, literature, architecture, science, business, politics, and spirituality. It s a transformation that reaches across socio-economic classes, professions, ages, and groups of all kinds, to the point where every individual within the culture feels deeply the influence of this new birth ( “re-naissance “) of perspective, meaning, and purpose.

If I were a scientist (and I should emphasize that I am nothing of the sort), the worst thing I would want to hear is the same false and dismissive modesty that you commonly hear from people about science. “Oh, I don’t understand any of that highbrow techno-speak, especially all that complicated mathematics… ” actually is saying: “it all means nothing to me, take it away and don’t bother me with it. ” Such an attitude tells the scientist that he is no more than a priest of an arcane religious cult, whose body of knowledge and ritual is so strange and insular that the common mind cannot hold it; that its tenets are a foreign distraction from life.

How can you overcome such a perception? Well, the one piece of advice I would have for scientists involves their use of language. Too often, you read about a phenomenon such as quantum entanglement and find that the scientists themselves are using words like “spooky,” “weird,” “strange,” and “magical.” Come on now, fellows: you can do better than this. All right, maybe such terms could be delivered as an opening, a way of drawing people into these realms of ideas. But I would pair that with a clear statement of principle, viz.: “What’s really spooky, weird, and strange in science is the Newtonian world view, with its myth of the world-as-machine, whose physical pieces can be broken down, split up, reordered, and manipulated with no ethical or ecological consequences. ”

That Newtonian world view only seems to accord with common sense because we have been trained to make a dislocated and isolated intellect the King of Mind and Body. The truth of Nature is that we are designed to think, act, and feel as whole organisms rather than as reductionistic pieces of a collective. When our minds work according to that original design, then there is nothing strange or absurd about quantum entanglement. Indeed, we might wonder why it would seem odd to anyone that two individuals — particles or animals — could “share characteristics even when far apart [so that] altering one alters the other.” That, in fact, would, to the unified organism in harmony with the natural environment, seem to be the description of reality that is most in accord with common sense.

Our only problem with it could be the language: what exactly is “entangling” about such an ordinary phenomenon? I would suggest that we change the term to “quantum resonance.” But the scientist might respond to this: “oh no, you can t assume that what applies to quantum states also applies macroscopically, to me and you or to the other creatures of Nature. ” Here, the scientist speaks for himself and the requirements of his profession; but not for the lived experience of working stiffs like me and you. My advice to such a scientist would be: lighten up, partner — no law of Nature is going to be broken if people engage this science of yours in their own way. If you let them do that and then listen to their interpretation, something very odd — you might be tempted to say quantum — might happen. You just might learn something, about both your science and the human reaction to it.

In fact, everything about the world described by quantum physics, relativity, and string theory resonates with me at a level of plain common sense far more than the picture of a world filled with billiard balls knocking each other about in a dead, shapeless space. The bottom line is: everything is alive; there is consciousness in all. If (as shown in that experiment from the NatGeo article) photons of light can interdependently resonate — at a certain level communicate — at vast relative distances, how much more so you and I?

So I would reinforce the point that the surreal character of quantum states and many of the findings of the new sciences is only superficial at most. Once we offer the time and energy necessary to scratch that surface and perceive the reality opened before and within us by these sciences, the rewards are amazing. That is to say, a certain level of merger between the artistic and the empirical; the scientific and the spiritual; would seem not merely desirable but necessary to the enrichment of both sides and the social assimilation of this remarkable knowledge that has arisen over the last 100 years or so.

Save A Skype Video Message

First published December 12, 2013

I recently wanted to save a Skype video message from my daughter and quickly realized it’s not that straightforward a process. But since I’m a geek, I managed it after doing a little research on message boards, and thought it would be useful to post here as an illustrated instructional piece. If you’re using Skype and its video messaging feature (the current version is 6.11), you may find the tips below useful in saving messages useful.

One simple reminder to start with: if the instructions below seem too involved for you, you can always find and view a video message in Skype — even an old one — by clicking the appropriate time frame at the top of the message window (see below), all the way to the beginning of Skype’s records for your contact with the creator of the video message.

Note: all images can be clicked for an enlarged view (or right-click an image to open it in a new tab)

IF IF

Begin by downloading the SQLite Database Browser application. This downloads in Windows as a zip file, which you can then extract locally (I highly recommend that you have 7-Zip installed as your preferred file compression utility).

Once the zip file has been extracted, you have a folder called SQLiteBrowser_200_b1_win. Open that folder and then open the title track, SQLite Database Browser 2.0 b1. The app shown in the illustration will appear.

IF Now for the somewhat tricky part: you need to access the Skype database for your user profile. In Windows, you navigate as follows: first, click the Open File icon in the db browser (or do File / Open in the menu). In the popup window, select your local drive [OS (C:)] in the left pane; then Users; then your user name (or the user of the Skype account where the desired messages reside); then AppData; then Roaming; then Skype; then Skype user name (for the desired account); then look into the right-hand column that shows the contents of the Skype user name’s folder to find a file called simply “main.” Highlight it and click Open.

IF This returns you to the main SQLite db browser window. Now click the Browse Data tab and select, from the “Table” drop-down menu, “Video Messages”.

IF Once you’ve done that (below left), the list of messages should appear as per below right. IF

There is a timestamp column at the far right of the table (scroll right), with the most recent video message records at the bottom. Once you believe you’ve identified the video message you’d like to save, go back left to the vod path column and double-click within the cell on the row containing your message.

IF A new popup window appears with the entire address of the message. Click once in this window and use your keyboard to select the entire address (CTRL-A) and then copy it (CTRL-C). Now open a new tab in your web browser of choice and paste the copied address into the address bar and hit Enter. The video message will open and play, then you can either bookmark it in your browser or use a video download tool to download and save it as a local file. Note: if you get a “401/Unauthorized” message when you paste the address code into your browser’s address bar, that means it’s been automatically changed as a security measure in Skype’s database. Simply find and view the video message again within Skype and repeat the steps above. Each time the message is viewed, its address code changes, again to protect the security of the account. Granted, it seems like a lot to go through to save video messages locally, but once you’ve been through it once or twice it will become easy. Mac users will find they have it much easier: on a Mac you can download an applet that auto-saves your video messages from Skype to your hard drive.

Resurrection Now, Without Chains

I seek only truth, not perfection. As desperately as the world appears to require resurrection, I also realize that the imitation of Christ is the primordial fool’s endeavor. If I can strip away that which is not myself, I will reveal what is. If I am to see my true raiment, I must discover my psychological body in all its naked beauty.

Perhaps this is the message of Keats’ famous poem, in which he equates truth and beauty: he speaks to the clear-eyed sight of psychological nakedness, which sees every living being as its essence, the double helix of that molecule of pure thought and vibrant sense, DNA. To see that is to embrace impossibility with the grasp of inevitability: all is truth, all is beauty. That is all you know and all you need to know.

It is a matter of becoming naked. The robe must be left behind in the cave of transformation. Every resurrection entails undressing — not in an imitation of Christ or anyone else, but in an affirmation of oneself. Any other form of resurrection is merely a cheap parlor trick. Nakedness is a fit metaphor on this experience because it reminds us of the centrality of body. Even God recognized this: the body is not in the tomb; it has been transferred to a new realm of being, presumably as pure energy rather than the matter-energy admixture that we know.

But there is no God who owns either matter or energy; body or mind. These are already yours to be revealed. A proper resurrection demands that we grow intimate with body. It is not, as the priests claim, a mere shell for soul or spirit. Or, if it be a shell, then let it be one as the electron orbits are the atom’s shell; as stratospheric ozone is the shell of our Earth; as the liquid membrane is the shell of the living cell.

The essence of all life is found not within a stone tomb, a wooden cross, or a heaven-reaching tower; it is the soft, dancing curves of the double helix. Again, I return to the song of Keats: the “foster child of silence and slow time” is not the urn but its art. What is outwardly seen is not the art, not the rapture of union with the universal, not the enduring resurrection that holds and then surpasses the muted march of time. For though the object be two or three thousand years old, its art remains a child — a glowing orbit of growth and continual transformation. Beauty and truth are not objects to be possessed, tagged, and enslaved; they are children of the Creative — products of the resurrection-mind within us all that effortlessly transcends the illusions of ugliness, falsehood, and death.

Let this reality be revealed just once in a moment of psychological nakedness, and the old gods of pain, fear, and guilt will flee the temple and cede the sacred to the children of Nature — truth, beauty, and body. So I seek not perfection but truth: let me not look for the beauty of Christ or listen for his truth. They will find me well enough, if I can only reveal what is the truth and beauty of myself. But if I cannot strip myself to the natural body of my resurrection, then the God’s robe will only burden my life like an iron shroud, and I will never know the real truth of deathlessness.

In this, my vision and the Nazarene’s converge: become the naked child of silence and time, whose truth and beauty have never been, nor will be again.

Soaring Back to Nature

First published, October 30, 2013

I’ve recently been doing some manual labor in upstate New York; it is the only work I’ve been able to find and perhaps all that I’m qualified for. However that may be, working outdoors provides gifts that are unavailable to the interior cubicle dweller. The sights and sounds of migrating geese: no church service can offer a more poignant sense of the sacred, and human science has yet to surpass the grace of this high-speed communication done amid a dizzyingly complex array of variables. Those two impressions are in fact closely related: when the complex is made simple and natural is precisely where the secular passes over into the holy. This has been known for thousands of years: Lao Tzu told us that the way of Nature is straight and easy, though people seem to be drunk on distraction and complexity.

When Lao Tzu wrote of the way of Nature or the cosmic way, he was pointing to what we rather lazily refer to as “the spiritual” — our connection with the source of our being, with the formless energy that both surpasses and supports the mundane, the material, and especially, the mental — the capacity for thought, which we so foolishly and self-destructively separate, elevate, and isolate from everything else that we are and have. Lao Tzu saw that thought in isolation — pushed out onto the stage of life naked and alone, wearing nothing but a paper crown — tends to limit itself, to defeat its own potential. That is, a monarchy of thought will inevitably become as inhibiting and indeed pathological as a tyranny of emotion. When I allow a single ruler to command my life, I am already oppressed; this is also true of social groups.

Nature teaches us a collaborative vision of leadership. Let’s return to those geese in the pictures above: why do they fly as they do? I found the following answer:

Scientists have determined that the V-shaped formation that geese use when migrating serves two important purposes: First, it conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest…The second benefit to the V formation is that it is easy to keep track of every bird in the group. Flying in formation may assist with the communication and coordination within the group.

So teamwork is healthy and it furthers effective communication. Why, then, do we have this obsession with kings? The President, the CEO, General, all the coaches, managers, and miscellaneous alpha dogs of our world (that alpha theory, by the way, has not fared well under the scrutiny of scientists). We make a pretense of adoring teamwork, as long as it is practiced under the iron fist of a mighty and wealthy Prince. Any other arrangement, any natural order of shared leadership and accomplishment, is considered chaos. Thus, it is no surprise that this aberrant structure becomes internalized and made the rule of our psychological lives. When thought’s crown slips or is blown away amid the winds of ill fortune, emotion takes the throne and whips us toward a region of more manifest, though only equally barren, pathology of the psyche. In spite of all the scientific and experiential evidence to the contrary, we cling to the belief that mind and body are not one, not equal — after all, these two (for many of us) fall under the supreme control of a third entity, Spirit, who rules our lives in the name of a harsh, demanding, punishing and distant God.

And so the entire world becomes an asylum, and we are driven to the final point of self-abasing resignation: this is who we are, this is how we’re made. We are born to fail, to scatter our energies in disparate and unconnected pieces until we are so devoid of progress and purpose that the carving on a small stone above our remains can adequately summarize our presence and our meaning. We never touch the sublime that was always within us because we were taught to keep its throat under the boot of a king. Thus, the org-chart, in some social or spiritual manifestation, becomes our epitaph. Our very cosmology becomes governed by monarchical or military moments of deific fiat. God made the game, the field, and the rules. Or a massive Bomb went off, made a Bang, and sent the universe spiraling outward in a chaotic sprawl of entropy and dissolution. But we are beginning to think differently as another dawning realization takes hold — there is, in spite of our “love of distraction and complexity,” an order and uniformity to our universe. From this, another understanding may arise: that order exists within each of us, it does not have to be forced from without. We must bring figure and ground, individual and society, energy and matter, back into their natural focus. The force and direction that we have been trained to seek in dependence from outside ourselves — from a distant God, head of state, teacher-taskmaster, boss, or other authority — already exist fully formed and functional within us. It is only fear that keeps them repressed. Not fear of those external entities — not fear of God, Obama, or the old white man in the corner office — but fear of ourselves, of the existence and reality of our own presence and purpose. This fear is what we must defeat and route from the sphere of our lives; this is where force is properly applied — where combat, if you will, has meaning and purpose. This is where, in the words of the ancient I Ching poems, “modesty comes to expression”:

Modesty that comes to expression.
It is favorable to set armies marching
To chastise one’s own city and one’s country.

Elsewhere in the same book we are urged to “kill the ringleaders and spare the followers.” The ringleader of disorder and suffering is fear, that same fear of ourselves and our inborn potential for progress and independence — the fear that drives us to look outside ourselves for safety and meaning. This is what can and must be killed, for once the dead body of its delusion is swept out of your life’s space, the light of autonomy spreads, the collaborative order of Nature is fulfilled in action, and your life’s purpose becomes manifest in every moment

The World’s Most Difficult Story

What follows is a description of my path; not a prescription for yours.
Use what has meaning to you. Discard the rest and go on.

The warning above — in a legal document it might be called a disclaimer — is there to serve as a reminder to us both.

Every writer’s work — fiction, non-fiction, poetry, cookbooks, whatever — tells his or her story. It just seeps out — not necessarily the prosaic, biographical story, but the inner story, the tale of the secret self that seeks expression. I can never walk your path, but we can share our stories and see where our paths may intersect.

Every life, every story, happens in time. Time is the mother of all dimensions. She is a tesseract, but not of cuboid form. She is a spheroid tesseract, a formless shape composed of infinite worlds. Time is the origin of the formed and the formless, of matter and energy, of the helpers and the helped. Therefore, mature spirituality does not go beyond time; it goes into it, into that spheroid tesseract in which every origin and every destiny is discovered. To enter time is to create it.

The scientists (bless them) are rather clumsy with non-computational language (fortunately they’re not half as bad as the politicians, priests, and media pundits). Therefore, they give us terminology that represents reality as a flag represents loyalty; or as law represents the social conscience. The symbols are diffracted; the words slightly misdirected. My favorites among these include the “entanglement” described in quantum physics, which in reality is a state of startling resonance or harmony between particles separated in space, often by relatively vast distances.

Thus, much of what I write about is a study of language. Frequently I will offer corrections (for the example above, I’d consider either “quantum resonance” or Bohr’s old term, “complementarity”). The overarching point here is that any language made stiff with fixed meaning is already dead; any truth that proclaims itself as Law is already a lie.

The essays and stories here attempt a lighter grip on truth, belief, and language. When we hold our words like weapons, they cannot breathe, and will die. When we stop clutching ideas and start loving them instead, they tend to better nourish our minds; and among both individuals and nations, there is far less cause for hatred and strife.