Love and Sacrifice

 

“Home,” I thought, almost wanting to shout the word out loud. I was back home in Brooklyn last weekend, walking through Prospect Park as I have done thousands of times over the decades that I lived near there. Home: though I will likely never live there again, I will never stop knowing it as home. I owe that park a lot: it has given me so much and asked nothing in return. We can only give back to our home the same gifts it brought us: awareness, presence, and love. This is true also of the home inside us.

Love doesn’t make sacrifices, only investments. Anything given from the heart is returned to the giver, multiplied. This is such a common experience that it is a wonder why it isn’t adumbrated as a natural law.

Yet we remain, all too readily, suspicious and cynical. Why? Is it because many of us have never had that experience of seeing love’s ROI [Return On Investment]? That could be part of it. Is it because we are so deeply trained in the cult of sacrifice — through our religions, our moralistic acculturation, and our potty-training in the fathomless debt-culture known as Duty? That would seem to comprise much of the substance of those hard shells of fear and defense, with which we burden ourselves and our lives.

But I’d like to take this all the way back to certain fixed ideas about love itself. Many of us are deeply poisoned with the belief that love is, as Lao Tzu ironically observed, “a game of inner commerce.” This is where the economic metaphor I began with breaks down; for love is not a capitalist emotion. Specifically, love does not calculate. Calculation is fueled by expectation; true love has no expectations. Therefore, love’s return is not a payback in the capitalist sense — it is far more real and enduring than that.

plutoheartYet we are trained to feel a sense of ownership of and by our beloved. It just occurred to me again recently as I was looking at the heart-shape on the planet Pluto that recently raged across the World Wide Web: I imagined the words “Be Mine” across that shape.

Now this is obviously about more than messages on Valentine’s candy; it is about an emotional cult of ownership. For though possession, as the bromide goes, may be nine-tenths of the law; it is in fact the antithesis of Love. Wherever there is a claim, love is gone. Whenever a stake is planted in its ground, the heart sickens. And possession is the very essence of our cultural ideas of love, even of its experience for many of us. The marriage vow opens not with the words, “I love thee,” but “I take thee…”

Possession is a kind of madness, perhaps one of the defining signs of interpersonal neurosis. It is no coincidence, I suspect, that the word possession also means a mental or spiritual state in which one is taken over by a demon, witch, or malevolent spirit. For many people, to possess is to be possessed.

So psychologically, possession is less about the pursuit of material than it is about the defense of a delusion. That delusion is security — the safe certainty of owning and being owned, with all the walls of tradition and law that are typically built up around that airy complacency, which Krishnamurti consistently exposed for us:

The confidence of a man who can do things, who is capable of achieving results, is always coloured by this arrogance of the self, the feeling, “It is I who do it”. So, in the very act of achieving a result, of bringing about a social reform within the prison [of society], there is the arrogance of the self, the feeling that I have done it, that my ideal is important, that my group has succeeded. (from Think on These Things)

This arrogance is not the action of love — it is, in fact, the active expression of fear. This is what happens to security when it becomes the object of a cult of possession. Whatever is owned must also be guarded: this is the political religion of our current era, in which the founding principles of a nation are sacrificed to a god named Security and Its only begotten son, Possession.

Krishnamurti contrasted that paper complacency that is the confidence of arrogance with another kind of confidence, which he called the “confidence of innocence.”

Now, if you can see through this whole social structure, the cultural pattern of the collective will which we call civilization…then you will find that there comes a confidence which is not tainted with the sense of arrogance. It is the confidence of innocence. It is like the confidence of a child who is so completely innocent he will try anything.

Christ told us that you have to be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven, didn’t he? What if he meant exactly the same thing as Krishnamurti — “It is this innocent confidence that will bring about a new civilization; but this innocent confidence cannot come into being as long as you remain within the social pattern.”

The money-changers and their corruption, their arrogance, are always in the temple; for the temple is within our selves. Therefore, just as Christ saw the necessity to violently usurp their position (knocking over the trading tables in the temple), Krishnamurti urges us that “it is only those who are in constant revolt that discover what is true, not the man who conforms, who follows some tradition.” True love never conforms to any rule, any law, any tradition; it never looks beyond itself for authorization. The priest and the politician deal only in fear and acquisition; but the utterly free individual expresses the natural courage of innocence and its abundance. As Lao Tzu said, love gives endlessly yet is never depleted. Where there is love, there is never lack.

Perhaps this is what I meant by love being defined by investment rather than sacrifice. It is a well that never goes dry. The one who loves truly never runs out of resources, for love is self-nourishing, self-replenishing. So its investment is not toward a return or reward; love’s investment is in itself, for that is all it needs.

The beauty and importance of the home out-here cannot be slighted. If the chance arose that would call me back to Brooklyn — to home — I would be there in less than a heartbeat. But, especially amid dislocation, the home in-here must be given as much pride of place as our sincerity, humility, and self-awareness can provide it.

 

“The Line Must Be Drawn Here”

After weeks of sporadic frost that came and went persistently, like Death through a nursing home, the growing season has at last settled in to this bedraggled little city. The woman of whom I wrote in my essay on genius, however, had already decided to allow her vegetable patch to go fallow this year. A moment’s instinct is often wiser than a sleepless night of calculation. But Nature never told us that the outer brain and the inner were meant to work in separate rooms, or to oppose one another like those wrestlers with painted faces who invent wars about images.

Therefore, I have quit on attempting to be better than I was, or better than that fellow over there. Let me be sufficient to myself and improvement can be abandoned. Why strive to improve when you can just be what you are? Why shovel the coal of self-blame into the fire of ambition whose smoke is illusion? I will try instead the path that returns to my original sufficiency and see where it leads. To win victory over Competition is the same futility as desiring to defeat Desire. Drop the stone of longing and those wings of which the poet Robert Bly speaks will rise and soar through and around you:

The sun goes down through ghettos of clouds.

There is one Burning Mind and so many Platos.

The Morning Star rises over a flutter of wings.

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It can be difficult to give people an idea of the importance of repulsing the invasion of ego within our lives. Often it’s all we can manage to just keep the rock of manifest life rolling: work, shopping, family, and a few crumbs of pleasure (which for most people are found around a television and/or a smartphone). But if you will spend just a little time with the problem, you will find it hard to deny that you have been, since childhood, the target of an invasion — one which is all the more insidious for its seeming benignity. The very banality of the collective ego’s claims to truth makes it as seemingly mild as it is secretly malevolent.

Therefore, it is probably inevitable that we are — at least initially — fairly strong and assertive about killing and dissolving the influence of this ego of derived belief in competition, self-blame, and failure. For we are in the position similar to that of Captain Picard in the movie First Contact:

Even now, some 14 years after starting on the path of self-cleansing, I still have moments like that, guided by the same white-hot anger. The arrant lies that I have been hoodwinked into trusting and never questioning — oh yes, I can still feel that Picardian rage at the bullshit I’ve been fed for so long, and which I have so willingly consumed.

But as you go along, you’re likely to make a discovery that will make you progressively stronger — viz., the realization that all this trickle-down darkness (I call the phenomenon by which ego is continued “generational drip”) is really (just like trickle-down economics) nothing more than a hallucination. A powerful hallucination, to be sure, for its energy source is the universal consciousness — the “Burning Mind” of Bly’s poem; everything that simultaneously affirms our individual uniqueness and our common unity. Ego is merely a parasite feeding off that great well; but it has no essence, no autonomous existence. Ego is a mere distortion that is frequently mistaken for reality, in the same way many natural formations have an illusory image of reality (and I have to admit, that one in the link is a beauty). You could also think of ego as a psycho-emotional form of pareidolia. In fact, we very commonly see faces and images of darkness, delight, or delectation amid people and institutions that are themselves ineffectual and meaningless; our mass media are experts in spraying vast clouds of pareidolia — if it were only a matter of seeing Jesus’ beard dangling from my morning toast, then there would be scarcely any problem about it.

So this is why we are called to bring daily effort to the demolition, or even the execution, of ego’s hallucinations — our culture’s own demons summon us to the task. The more killing we can do inside, the less of it we’ll see out there. How you approach it will be incredibly unique, beyond anything that I or anyone else can teach you. That point made, I can offer you a few common areas of experience in self-cleansing, a few of which you might find resonant to your own practice:

 

  • Specificity: It won’t be enough to have the resolve to kill ego; because at that level of excessive generality you’re merely attacking a word, not its foundation. To paraphrase Thoreau’s famous expression, slash the roots of delusion and you won’t have to hack at the branches of evil. This is perhaps the most intimate and personal aspect of the practice, where you will find beliefs and corrupt emotions that have shapes and shades peculiar to your life’s experience. Be as exact and targeted in your search as possible in each moment, and progress will take wing within you.
  • Patience: You are undoing a lifetime’s worth of learned fears, guilt, self-abasement, and assumption. Be patient with the process and with the tricks played upon you by the same self-images and projections that you are destroying. The effort of this work is meant to be regular but not obsessive: give it a little every day and then leave time and room for invisible presences to finish what you’ve started.
  • Remembering your companions: This may be the most difficult aspect of it all for many Westerners. We live in a culture of extremes, in which violent religious zealots battle at one end and the zealots of cynicism rage at the other. I personally think that science, despite its conversion into ideological Kool-Aid by the Richard Dawkins Marching Chowder Society, offers a wonderful inspiration here, with ideas such as quantum entanglement. To recover that original self-sufficiency that we and every other animal in Nature have been designed with, we need more than our own efforts. But when we submit to ideological representations of the invisible energies that can complement and complete our own work at self-cleansing, we tend to fall into yet another trap of belief. There is no need to believe in the hidden world and its helping presences; feeling them every so often is enough. Otherwise, it is too easy to slip into the absurd practice of deprogramming ego under the leadership of ego.
  • Sincerity: Here I really like Alan Watts’ frequent reminder about the value of not taking life seriously. Sincerity is more than enough; for it leaves room for those quantum influences, while also bringing a spirit of play into the work. This is one reason why I recommend such seemingly silly things as practicing nude and imagining yourself stripped naked of fear and belief. And remember, the essence of this work is communication — with yourself and with your own quantum core and origin. You would never write a letter and finish it by saying, “Seriously Yours.” Good communication is about sincerity rather than severity.
  • Perseverance: This is a corollary of sorts to patience, but with an active sense that has the effect of eventually making your entire life hum with the vibration of purification and discovery. That action is defined by trust: not faith, but trust. Faith is belief that has no basis in experience; trust is a feeling of confidence nourished by experience. Trust builds focus, which is the very core of creativity; faith sticks in the mud of affiliation. So as you go on, let your meditations provide the experiential feedback that leads you on. You don’t need a Bible or even a script to do this work; just the will to go on and the experience that you’re not alone.
  • Bodily awareness: I have written about this a lot, so just one brief reminder: this is a physical practice, for there is no such thing as a separation between the physical and the psychological, or between the physical and the spiritual. My personal experience is that certain beliefs or other forms of darkness take their parasitic residence up in certain areas of my physical body. Most recently, for instance, I’ve sensed certain collective imperatives related to impulsive action or longing (“You must act! You must be recognized! You must be noticed!”) — I feel these parasites of compulsion in my feet and lower legs. I have also felt certain more personal ego-influences within my belly. Therefore, I can use physical activity to complement and complete the work of meditation. I assure you, when physical exercise becomes a fresh form of meditation, it’s very easy to make it a part of your daily routine. Suddenly, your “workout” is not a matter of feeding another self-image, but of actually expelling self-imagery of every kind from within your body.
  • Surpassing opposition: Praise and blame; success and failure; self and other; life and death. As you go on, you’ll find it progressively easier to step off the wheel of opposition, where you’re either up or down, in pleasure or in pain, healthy or ill, confident or fearful. You might even recall all those times in your life when some Bad Thing led you directly into a field of blessing that you would never have experienced unless there were that misfortune ahead of it. Opposition is arguably the seed of all falsehood; and it often makes you sick, either physically or psychologically. One of the principle benefits of a practice of self-cleansing is soaring beyond the field of opposites. Personally, I can hardly overstate the beauty of such an experience.
  • Blamelessness: Listen for a few minutes to Watts (below) talking about the freedom from gossip that defines the character of spiritual maturity. Getting out of the pit of blame means not merely freeing yourself from conflict with others; it means (and actually arises from) a liberation from what you might call “self-gossip” — that is, blaming, praising, or otherwise judging yourself. Ego finds fault and sticks there; the true self just finds what is and goes on.
  • A Lifestyle of Detoxification*: “Detox” is thankfully entering the popular vocabulary in a big way. Ridding ourselves and our world of physical and environmental poisons is something that is of interest to most educated people. I’m all for that, but would add that a lifestyle of detox is not complete — for either an individual or a society — until it is nourished by the whole being of a person or a nation. I would even go so far as to say that if we could begin from a perspective that guides us to cleanse psychological poison, we will find ourselves more fully and effortlessly freed from physical poisons. Amid a culture that is in so many respects defined by addiction, a lifestyle of detoxification seems all the more appealing and regenerative.

Most of us work by day toward the enrichment of others — a business, corporation, government, or other institution. By making this compromise, with all the little sacrifices it entails, we support ourselves and our families. I do my job for New York State; you do yours for whoever you’re working for now. So I wouldn’t dare recommend that you quit your day job; only that you not make it the total scope and end of your life’s effort. We need our selves — our true and natural selves — even more than we need our jobs. But again, there is no opposition between these. For just as I could easily do my day-job’s tasks in half the time for which I’m paid each week, I find the work of liberation to be so challenging as to be beyond complexity — that is to say, my personal work leads me out of the iron bipolar channel of hard-and-easy, and into the clear and open air of natural accomplishment. When ego is killed (or as in my case, kind of morbidly ill), you don’t have to worry about the rules, commandments, and inhibitions that it tried to make you believe were real. In the words of the 17th century Zen poet Bunan:

Die while you’re alive
and be absolutely dead.
Then do whatever you want:
it’s all good.
(from Stephen Mitchell, ed.: The Enlightened Heart)

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*I generally refrain from recommendations on physical remedies; for one thing, it’s not really my specialty; for another such promotions tend to work from an inherently false premise, viz., “it worked for me so you try it.” That said, here’s what I use for physical detox (aside from meditation and exercise); the benefit I’ve had from it is supported by research and the experience of others. I’m currently taking colloidal silver (less than a teaspoon a day); black cumin seed with garlic; activated carbon; and black walnut extract. I also see an acupuncturist regularly, who does a detox treatment with his (mostly painless) needles.

Open, Release, Receive, Thank, Return: The Way of Unburdening

I look far above, into the mask-faces of these old lies — the mandate of pain, the sentence of death, the shoreless ocean of blame and guilt that salts their wounds — and I ask the dark woman beside me to collapse their plastic towers and burn their bodies as they fall. The dust of their charred remains will make a fine bed for awakening. I must also look into that stranger’s face in the glass and tell him to cease begging for beginnings: destroy first, then renew. Just kill all these ghosts, and resurrection will take care of itself.

Pursuing knowledge: daily accumulation.
Following Tao: daily unburdening.
Decrease, diminish, deprogram:
Continue in this till power is dead.

For when action lacks force,
Nothing is left unaccomplished.
Rely upon your true eternal nature,
And you will never have to strive again.

But let your life become
A game of inner commerce,
And you will never cease with making deals;
You will never feel fulfilled —
In this or any other world. (Lao Tzu)

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Revealing the Beautiful Dark

 

IFDarkness is alienation from the dark of Nature. It is hard to say this in any other languages than those of poetry or music; because when we try to make it into a psychological principle (which it is, in fact), all manner of shadow-selves and evil twins and dirty doppelgangers tend to appear. The dark, in the poetry of Lao Tzu, appears differently — as yin, a solid whose essence is emptiness; action that doesn’t do anything; strength that is clear of both power and ambition. Every true yin has yang at her core; every genuine yang bears yin in his heart. For while darkness forces division, the great dark holds the whole within the arms of Her fearless love.

But the philosophy of this principle — even expressed poetically — is far less important or interesting than the experience of it. The more you know about it, the less you will live it. So I am not here to teach you how to liberate your great dark by unloading the derived darkness of a corrupt culture. Indeed, I don’t know how it’s done, because I don’t do it. But I can speak to the benefits of such a practice: living free of conflict, competition, hatred, guilt, self-blame, and despair is, even to a limited extent such as I can discover, exhilarating and regenerative beyond any societal or external fulfillment I’ve experienced. It’s better than sex, even as it draws from its creative and generative well.

IFWell, let me walk some of that back a little: I do know how it’s done, somewhat. I know how it’s done for me. But that won’t be how it’s done for you. Nevertheless, a few general principles may be said to apply to each of us — maybe to all who undertake such a path, I don’t know. I try to avoid generalizations, for that has been a significant part of my darkness.

But one such principle would follow from the above: when you clear away the darkness of derived belief and imprisoning emotions, the natural dark of your true self is revealed. When that dark is opened, you don’t even need to call on the light; it will be drawn to you. Thus, true prayer is an opening rather than a plea. Nature doesn’t really abhor a vacuum; she simply fills it. Let your communication with the invisible follow this guideline and you’ll never have to ask God for anything again. As Lao Tzu (above) teaches, the “game of inner commerce” (propitiatory prayer) actually stiff-arms the invisible helpers you need to move your life forward and outward.

Open yourself, let go, receive, give thanks, and give back. It really isn’t very complicated.

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No: A Way of “Daily Unburdening”

 

IF

Light doesn’t need an invitation, let alone a command. “Let there be light” was about as complacent and pointless a command as a god could have given the Big Bang — what else could there have been? Any dark, open presence will attract light. Even a black hole draws light, and may even port it to other universes (according to Hawking’s most recent theory).

The only thing that won’t attract light is darkness; that we need to get rid of; and one easy way to accomplish that is a process known as deprogramming. Now the dictionary defines deprogramming as “release from apparent brainwashing, typically that of a religious cult…” For our purposes, that definition will actually do, because collective belief is very much like a religious cult and its various brain laundering compulsions.

To this end, I have learned the efficacy of a single two-letter word of our language: No. The seeming simplicity of such an approach is misleading. We are, after all, trained from an early age to repress No: to obey, to get along, to comply, to fit in. But as the old saw has it, No is yes but to a different question. To negate the compulsion to believe, to obey, and to “know your place” is to affirm your true self, your individual nature whose like has never been nor will ever be again. In that respect, No kicks ass.

And in the context of the overall theme of this discussion, No is the dark that both throws off the shroud of darkness and attracts the energy of light. Now, in my experience at least, the work of No is a threefold path, viz.:

  1. Self-examination and identification. Discover what it is inside you that is limiting, inhibiting, controlling, dominating, or imprisoning you and your natural development as an individual. Further down, I’ll offer a few examples from my own practice.
  2. Pouring the energy of No into that darkness, and thereby banishing it. Give this practice your body’s complete attention and energy. It goes beyond mere language: I have found that virtually any life activity can be cleansing if it is done with that as its primary or leading consciousness. Thus, I practice the “inner No” while walking, weightlifting, stretching, cleaning, and of course meditating.
  3. Opening yourself to the help of the invisible world in completing the work of this cleansing. You don’t have to believe in any gods, angels, spirits, guides, or other daemons to encounter and communicate with the quantum reality — it’s better, in fact, if you believe in no specific ideological creatures or figures. Just make your life an invitation to the hidden realm and its unique presences, knowing that you are not separate from or alien to them — as the Hindus say, tat tvam asi — you are that.

IF

Now there’s plenty of room in all that for you to formulate and refine your personal practice. One significant element that I’ve brought into my practice is sexual energy. I’ve written a little about this before, so I won’t go deeply into it here. But let me emphasize, for anyone who might feel some resonance in the notion, that sex is one of the most cleansing and restorative energies in the known universe; and certainly a mighty force of purification available to the human species. Of course, part of your work in this respect may involve deprogramming demonic ideas about sex and sexuality — that it is evil, mechanical, selfish, impure, or any of that other Catholic/Victorian nonsense that still sticks to sex. Cleaning up the language of sexuality means also fixing the colloquial associations of darkness as well as expelling the puritanical bullshit. As George Carlin used to say, “a cocksucker is not a bad man; it’s a good woman.”

I am tempted to tell you it’s all quite easy; and from a certain perspective, it is: small daily efforts that take little time and energy, especially when measured against the magnificent richness of their benefits. But I’d prefer to tell you — and I think it’s actually more accurate to say — that a genuine path of what Lao Tzu called unburdening takes you beyond hard and easy; it leads your life off that iron bar of opposition between difficult and facile; body and spirit (or Mind); conflict and peace; self and other; death and life.

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Deprogramming in Action: Personal Examples

 

Type* Belief to be destroyed Source**
PA Pain is your karma Buddhism
Demon Life is unjust c.e.
Demon Pain is my companion till death i.e.
PA There is no art in you c.e.
PA Your Left is weaker than your right (sinistra – dextera) c.e.

Ø

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*In my practice, “type” refers to the relative form and action of the belief. In this case, a PA is a “poison arrow,” which is actually a Feng Shui term that my teachers borrowed to denote a particularly malevolent and toxic belief that becomes trapped in body cells and does some serious damage to one’s health if it is not deprogrammed. A “Demon” is an especially active and acute form of darkness that throws a hot iron shroud of cynicism over a vast area of awareness, thereby blinding us to similarly broad areas of potential within us.

**As for the “Source” column, that simply points to a personal awareness of where this belief came from. You will note, for example, that even acknowledging everything I’ve learned from Buddhism, it still contains beliefs that I am being led to release. Alan Watts used to say he considered himself “a graduate of Buddhism” in the same way he thought of himself as a graduate of his college: he was thankful for the experience, but also felt the need to surpass its ideological constraints. Finally, the abbreviations “c.e.” and “i.e.” denote the collective and individual egos respectively. A belief that has its source in the collective ego may be drawn from social institutions, academic and/or religious training, parental or other family influences, or various kinds of cultural media. The individual ego is the collective ego’s shadow within the individual person. Very often, collective beliefs become personalized to the level of one’s own life and ego’s distorted interpretation of circumstance and particularly suffering.

Machine in the Ghost

IF

Am I ghost or machine, spirit or matter? Let me rid myself of both and there might be an answer in the blank space created.

As one looked at that dead leaf with all its beauty and colour, maybe one would very deeply comprehend, be aware of, what one’s own death must be, not at the very end but at the very beginning. Death isn’t some horrific thing, something to be avoided, something to be postponed, but rather something to be with day in and day out. And out of that comes an extraordinary sense of immensity. — J. Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti attempted to show how we tend to avoid or, worse still, deny our potential for what he called “immensity” — the natural capacity to touch, explore, and actually live the vastness from which we all arise, and which, consciously or not, we all embody.

But instead, we choose (or are driven by our cultural training) to become ghosts, long before our physical bodies are dead. The Tibetan Buddhists, in one of their more resonant and enduring insights, speak of what they call pretas — hungry ghosts with massive bellies and narrow throats — beings possessed by an insatiable desire for consumption, who are never fulfilled but always striving, grabbing, taking, killing, consuming. Pretas rule our governments and corporations; they feed us our news and our entertainment; they teach and test our children; they drag us into one war after another all in the name of the freedom to consume.

Therefore, the personal way of true freedom — of touching one’s natural body of peace and non-violence — occurs amid the separation from the collective and its obsession with consumption. Such freedom can be found in the contemplation of an autumn leaf and in the realization of the unity of life and death. This is really where the consumptive ghost longs to go; for the endless desires of the preta are — beyond all his lies and all his delusions — for the very thing that he already has. So the preta, while he is all too painfully real — he exists in corner offices on Wall St., in the marbled halls of power, and in electronic boxes of 65 inches or 6 — is a body of hallucinations; a painting of Hieronymous Bosch come to life.

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IF

So a ghost can be, like the preta, a phenomenon of walking death. It can also be an apparition of death walking. This latter is the type of ghost familiar to western cultures: the spirit that remains stuck within this world. But this kind of ghost, strictly speaking, is not really a spirit; for a spirit is a personal consciousness with a cosmic awareness or grounding. A ghost, by contrast, is a degraded, lonely, and corrupted consciousness that persists under a single delusion, viz., that it is still of human form. A spirit is self-aware of its disembodiment, and in that awareness, is not isolated from its new, formless world. Thus, in my private metaphysics, a ghost is not a spirit.

Now, why open such a discussion? Everyone knows that ghosts do not exist. Well, in fact, everyone doesn’t know: nearly half of Americans believe in the existence of ghosts. The problem with such surveys is often in the presumptive sense of meaning in the questions. For instance,  in those survey questions, the meaning of “ghost” is defined as “the spirits of dead people.” So it is assumed that we all understand what is meant by “spirits;” when that is in fact one of the most violently disputed points of global conflict. The following discussion, then, is a private matter, which is not to be taken seriously. But I will attempt a sincere treatment of this topic, because I think it deserves more respect than it typically receives in our media.

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IFWe live in a culture where confusion tends to reign between symbol and substance; the sign and the road; appearance and reality. Our measurements are so precise; the shades of meaning and direction so fine; the gradations so stark in the identification of wealth, importance, appeal, and affiliation, that it is easily imagined that we have this reality thing tied up in a bundle and nailed down with our keywords, soundbites, surveys, and algorithms.

But under the intense gaze of the best science of our era, this conflation of symbol and reality comes undone. Here’s an example of what I mean: since the 1970’s and the refinement of atomic clocks that are capable of accuracy and consistency to billionths of a second; a single basic experiment has been done to prove out Einstein’s theories of relativity. Two clocks are placed — one on the ground, at rest; another in an airplane. The clocks are switched on simultaneously as the airborne clock takes flight. Around the world it goes: as the circuit is completed, the clocks are simultaneously stopped and read. The clocks show marginally differing times, because (as Einstein predicted) the faster you go toward the speed of light, the more time slows.

Now if we should reach a point where we can approach the speed of light, the atomic clocks from that experiment will spread farther apart than they can now. But they will still be clocks — simple devices that measure not the world, but our relationship to it, which is inevitably, after all, a relationship with ourselves. Under the gaze of our new sciences, the separation, the alienation, the great divorce between man and nature — inevitably dissolves; as inner and outer, before and after, time and space, merge into a great unity. The preta dies.

This is not only different from the way that we have looked at the world for three hundred years, it is opposite. The distinction between the ‘in here’ and the ‘out there’ upon which science was founded, is becoming blurred. This is a puzzling state of affairs. Scientists, using the ‘in here–out there’ distinction, have discovered that [it] may not exist! What is ‘out there’ apparently depends, in a rigorous mathematical sense as well as a philosophical one, upon what we decide ‘in here.’*

What science has discovered, and continues to reveal across so many areas of study, is that we are not faced merely with a problem of a “ghost in the machine” — Ryle’s phrase for the Cartesian splitting that Zukav (above) calls the “in here — out there” model of life and the universe. For we must get the machine out of the ghost as well — that is, take our thinking and feeling about ourselves and our world to another level of awareness, where there is neither ghost nor machine. To do so, we must, in both our sciences and in our ordinary lives, expel equally the mechanical and the spiritual from within; then see what remains for us to work with. Once again, Krishnamurti, from one of his last journal entries:

We never seem  to learn about this movement, that it is one movement. The outer and the inner are not two separate movements. The waters of the sea withdraw from the shore, then the same water comes in, lashing the shores, the cliffs. Because we have separated the external and the inner, contradiction begins, the contradiction that breeds conflict and pain. This division between the outer and the inner is so unreal, so illusory, but we keep the external totally separate from the inner…The outer and the inner are one, a unitary movement, not separate, but whole…Learning about [this] is not a matter of time…not a gradual process, for then time again becomes divisive. Time acts in the fragmentation of the whole. But to see the truth of it in an  instant, then it is there, this action and reaction, endlessly — this light and dark, the beauty and ugliness.

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IF

Therefore, when you see a ghost, walk straight into (and through) it. This will show the ghost that (a) you are not afraid of it; and (b) that it, the ghost, is not real as either a physical phenomenon or a personal presence. From this beginning, you will have earned enough of the ghost’s attention to begin to teach it some of the finer points about its state of being. But you need to begin with those crucial steps into the ghost’s faux-body; or nothing that follows will make sense to it.

I don’t deny that ghosts exist; but I do deny that they are real. Every ghost is a shadow of being trapped within a cage of illusion, which becomes its identity. The ghost rejects the unity of outer and inner because it only wants to be outer. It clings to the bars of its cage and denies the space that would be its true dwelling. The delusion that death is the negation of life still sticks to its nebulous body. Thus, the ghost’s essence is isolation — an irrevocable loneliness that the existentialist philosophers of a century ago mistakenly assumed was the inevitable condition of being human.

So you can find ghosts anywhere; but sooner or later you’ll have to meet the ones you see in stagnant water; in the bathroom fixtures; in the glass of a picture frame with its back to the sun; in the roof’s black tar after a rain; in the cell phone’s cheap chrome backing; the bumper of a car. Any mirror will do.

nightintowerBut sight is a poor sense to this purpose; feeling is truer if grimmer; it admits of no distortions. I sense the ghosts in the small bones of my feet; in the bloated darkness of my bowels (the small and the large types alike); in the gray stains that coat my lungs, with their muffled sound like the tired flapping of coffin hinges in the winds that blow beneath the pinestraw.

If you can sit very still and walk right through them, you will find how cold and weak they are, like the handshake of a corporate middle manager or the fleeting blips of a computer’s boot sequence or a bureaucrat’s gaze into a triplicate paper form. There they are: everything you’ve been trained to believe, fear, demand, claim, regret, divide, or follow. They all tell you the same thing, that every breath and every step is into the grave — the Big Nothing that you already are, and which is the sleep with no dreams; the account with no money; the gas leaking from your butt whose scent offends the Nose of God; the universe’s next Dark Age that will descend after the last of the photons die.

To pass through them, clean and unharmed, needs so little effort and creates such a sublime confidence. Once their cold and bloated hands have released you, you will ride through this life and all the life that follows it like Mirabai, the great poetess of India:

I have felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders; and now you want
me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious.**

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*Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, 1979. In the quoted text, Zukav is referring primarily to the “uncertainty principle” of quantum mechanics; but also to the wave/particle duality of light, and to what is known today as “quantum entanglement.”

**Mirabai, “Why Mira Can’t Come Back To Her Old House”; from The Winged Energy of Delight, ed. Robert Bly, 2004.

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Ending Genocide: Tender Faces of Spring Grass

IF

A long time ago my father told me what his father told him, that there was once a Lakota holy man, called Drinks Water, who dreamed what was to be; and this was long before the coming of the Wasichus [white men]. He dreamed that the four-leggeds were going back into the earth and that a strange race had woven a spider’s web all around the Lakotas. And he said: “When this happens, you shall live in square gray houses, in a barren land, and beside those square gray houses you shall starve.” They say he went back to Mother Earth soon after he saw this vision, and it was sorrow that killed him. You can look about you now and see that he meant these dirt-roofed houses we are living in, and that all the rest was true. Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.
— Nicholas Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks

IFFrom before the time of  Wounded Knee, this genocide has gone on. It continues today among the children of Pine Ridge: more than a hundred suicide attempts in a 3-month period, among a population of less than 40,000. An entire people driven to and beyond the point of despair, by the very same things as haunted the dreams of Drinks Water and broke the spirit of the great Black Elk — the invasions of the white man with his drugs, oppression, sicknesses, booze, tyranny, guns, and false promises. These children of Pine Ridge today are not even being given the chance to grow old in darkness as Black Elk did — or is it better for them that way?

And so it was all over.
I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.
And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth — you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead. — Black Elk on “The End of the Dream”

IF“Our kids today just want to die because they’re sick of all this oppression.” Is it good that another Lakota man of our present moment has lived long enough to see his granddaughter assaulted with racism and driven “back to Mother Earth” amid the ravages of an oppression of negligence that told her, “[your] culture is not successful”? Her culture might have been her last best hope, for it might have turned her vision back toward that “beautiful dream” of Black Elk’s vision.

But the real problem is that 12 year old Santana Janis was never allowed the experience of her culture — for that great Lakota culture is not favored by corporations; nor does it trend on Facebook or Twitter. For in our world, investment banks may be bailed out; new wars may be started; city police forces may be transformed into large armies with some of the most sophisticated and deadly weaponry on Earth; politicians may be bought; and a sound bite message filled with lies may be broadcast as truth over cable and satellite in prime time. But a once great and noble people cannot be allowed the chance to repair the broken hoop of their nation, so that their children might find some connection back to life, to possibility.

IFIt never should have been this way — not in 1890 amid the slaughter at Wounded Knee; not in 1930 when an aging Black Elk told his story of a great hope that ended in oppression, murder, and despair;* and certainly not this year, when a pandemic of suicide ravaged the already broken hoop of the Oglala Nation. It doesn’t have to be this way next year, or a decade from now.

The point here is that we are given a choice: let this quiet end of the genocide continue apace; or rage against it amid a group guilt drawn from the depredations of our white ancestors; or at last, to find within ourselves the thread of humanity that unites the Lakota and all the other peoples and races that live in this land; and then to work freely — without the burden of either guilt or despair — toward the regeneration of a great people.

IFRegeneration is defined, first and foremost, by self-determination. If all we can give them is more ABC Stores, more McDonalds, more drugs, more gambling casinos, and more poverty; then they will continue to rot and die outwardly, while we also continue to rot and die inwardly. We must offer them both the resources and the motivation to determine their recovery, their correction, their future. We can become as nourished as they by such a restoration: imagine a world where a new generation of spiritual teachers streams out from a vibrant Lakota world, just as Zen teachers came to our shores from Japan over the last century.

Every fate can be ended; every genocide halted and reversed; every guilt absolved — and dissolved. No government or corporate institution can make it happen; it must start here, within and among us. As Black Elk would remind us, it is only through the people and their love for the earth and for one another, that the wishes of the Six Grandfathers may be fulfilled:

The Six Grandfathers have placed in this world many things, all of which should be happy. Every little thing is sent for something, and in that thing there should be happiness and the power to make happy. Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus we should do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.


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*Black Elk Speaks remains, to my mind, one of the great classics of American literature. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to call it the American Iliad. Much of the credit for the beauty and compellingly literary construction of this book goes to John Neihardt, who conducted the interviews with Black Elk and prepared the text. It is the kind of book that can make you feel like a very different person after you’ve turned its last page.