Down and Out: The Path of True Growth



Quantum theory provides us with a striking illustration of the fact that we can fully understand a connection though we can only speak of it in images and parables.
Werner Heisenberg

I recently turned 58, which on first blush is an unremarkable age. But one day I realized that, according to the standards of my society, I have now been an adult for exactly 4 decades (when I was 18, it was even legal to drink as well as to vote, join the military, etc.). Now a realization like that tends to spark reflection, so I’m warning you in advance — perhaps you’d prefer to head over to Facebook to see what’s trending among your so-called friends. This is going to be a more retrospective exercise.

Now I turned 18 in 1975, which was, especially in retrospect, a fairly interesting year:

  • A little tech startup was founded by two young fellows named Gates and Allen. They would call it “Microsoft.”
  • NASA shot the Viking I spacecraft on its way towards Mars.
  • The Watergate investigations and convictions played out as the Vietnam War wound down.
  • The first cases of what would become known as Lyme Disease were reported in Lyme, CT.
  • Squeaky Fromme tried to kill President Ford.
  • Keith Jarrett played the Köln concerts, which were recorded and eventually became the highest-selling piano record of all time.
  • John Wooden’s coaching career ended with his team’s 10th national NCAA basketball championship.
  • Jimmy Hoffa disappeared into the mists of history (or the bowels of Giants Stadium).
  • The Mayaguez Incident occurred in Cambodia; 38 Americans died.
  • The Altair 8800 debuted as the first publicly available microcomputer. It contained the new Intel 8080 processor.
  • Ron Reagan threw his hat in the ring for the 1976 election, and Maggie Thatcher became head of the UK’s Conservative Party.
  • The first episode of Saturday Night Live appeared, hosted by George Carlin.
  • Sakharov won the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Tiger Woods was born; Dmitri Shostakovich died.

IFThe interesting aspect of the list above is that there is such a rich sense of incipience to it (in what we would perceive as both good and bad beginnings). The opening of the personal computer revolution along with the birth of MS; the rise of what would become a world-changing, if violent and horrible, conservatism; the opening of the exploration of Mars. Review that list again and you’ll see that more than half the items in it carry more implications to the world beyond 1975 than they did to their local moment.

So I can perhaps be excused for my teenage inattention to the current events of that year in which I stumbled over the threshold of societal adulthood. The fact is that I had no concept of what that meant; for I was still a child. Sure, I did things that adults do: I started smoking and drinking. By the time I was 18, I was deep into those things, along with LSD, pot, hash, Quaaludes, and more that I can’t remember. So I was no more a grownup at 18 than I had been at 8. The new element was not maturity, but danger.

Here, therefore, is a principle that is true at any time of life: physical age does not maturity make. Growth is not the boot sector of a computer, something that just happens, at the same pace and direction for all, when you push a button and wait a little. It requires a patient and omni-directional effort that is little regarded in our culture. Fortunately, however, some remarkable psychologists, philosophers, and artists of our era have some insight for us that is easily accessible and enriching at any age.

rockbigA personal favorite among these is the Jungian psychologist James Hillman, whose books (especially The Soul’s Code) have my highest recommendation for your reading list. Hillman talked and wrote frequently about our cultural obsession with “growing up,” to the exclusion of what he saw as an equally essential direction, “growing down.” That is, he wanted to see our culture evolve into one that equally emphasized the spreading of roots below with the upward reach of branches. His point was not that growing down is more important than growing up, but that it needs greater attention in a society that ignores or demonizes “down” and aggrandizes or obsesses over “up.” We need both, but we teach and encourage only one. We may as well attempt to get rid of the south pole of our Earth in favor of the north.

Now the roots that Hillman mentioned are not just your ancestry or a given person’s socio-cultural influences. They go further, to what Paul Tillich called the very ground of being; and I would add that we only have to observe the direction of the science of the last century to get a sense for these roots. In previous essays I have already traced some of the broad details of such roots: quantum entanglement; string theory; relativity; and cosmic holography.

So the next question is, “can we teach such things to our children?” And I answer, “why not? We’re already filling them with the Cartesian-Newtonian myths and assumptions of another era and calling them science.” You may protest that this new science tends to stretch the brain towards its snapping point; but so does calculus if it’s taught correctly (and I would personally make the same claim for literature or art). My personal view is that the beauty of this new science is its capacity for calling upon the heart: quantum mechanics is as much the work of intuition as intellect; and if you read up on Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg, you’d find that they agree.

IFThe point I’m leading to here is that virtually everything we take culturally to be the mark of adulthood — passing standardized tests; getting a driver’s license; being eligible to vote or join the army; going to college — none of these experiences equates or even leads to maturity. They are the same weak and ephemeral symbols as flags are to nations or as paper cash is to personal wealth. Watts used to say that you can’t tie up a package with the equator; in the same way you can’t find maturity in a test score or a voter registration form.

Thus we come to an apparent paradox: one of the most reliable measures of maturity is a sane perspective on measurement itself. That is to say, if I can be clearly aware that when I attempt to measure a thing I am also measuring myself — to the extent that I can really feel this reality, and enjoy its inherent humor — then my maturation is a fine blossom indeed. For now I understand that my measurement is illusion — a secondhand image of the reality I wish to measure and therefore contain within a theory or a model of being.

This is a primary reason why I emphasize the meaning of the new sciences to our lives — for they are teaching us the same kind of lesson as you can find in Zen; in the literature of the Tao; in some of the teachings of Christ; and in the best of our psychologies. Heisenberg, the man commonly credited as the “father of quantum mechanics,” warned us: “The reality we can put into words is never reality itself.” This understanding is a confession to oneself and an admonition to others; and it is a clearer and more beautiful manifestation of maturity than a lifetime’s worth of certificates, licenses, test scores, and accommodations.

IFTo grow down is to feel how discovery happens as much in the depths as in the measured appearances of the outer landscape. Hillman reminded us of the direction of birth itself: no woman ever gave birth through the mouth. We all began our journeys here with a downward trek that led to our arrival. Suddenly, the phrase “down and out” takes on a fresh and transformational meaning.

That journey of maturation is an embrace of weirdness; a lifelong love affair with nonsense and contradiction. This, by the way, is how great art happens, too. Heisenberg said that the farther he strode into the waters of weirdness, he “repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be so absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?” It’s happening still in the most recent developments of the new sciences:

Holography began to be used not just to understand black holes, but any region of space that can be described by its boundary. Over the past decade or so, the seemingly crazy idea that space is a kind of hologram has become rather humdrum, a tool of modern physics used in everything from cosmology to condensed matter. “One of the things that happen to scientific ideas is they often go from wild conjecture to reasonable conjecture to working tools,” Susskind said. “It’s gotten routine.”

IFNow, another question: can we do this within our own lives? And I answer again, “why not?” As science does with the most seemingly bizarre notions, rely on your own experience to “make it routine.” Now one of the primary weirdnesses of maturation is that it never stops happening. Nature doesn’t put that stamp on your license or your voter ID or your diploma: the government or the institution put it there. Now I happen to feel that government can, under limited circumstances and purposes, be trusted. As poor (both economically and professionally) as the government of my current city may be, I see that water still flows into my sink; garbage gets picked up; and the contents of my bowel and bladder disappear into the sewers. At work, I see that the state can frequently manage public design and construction projects passably well; even if it handles technology like the proverbial monkey at the typewriter. So what follows is by no means a polemic against government but merely a reminder of its limitations.

Government sucks only when we ask or allow it to do more than is defined in its constitutional mandate. Once the individual’s unique path of growth and self-discovery is impeded by an institution or by an arbitrary law or doctrine, then you know that government has crossed the line. When that line has been crossed, government becomes a religion and the politicians its priests, with all the same violence, greed, perversions, and prejudices common to priests of other religions. If preaching, as Watts used to say, is moral violence; then surveillance is intellectual violence. Both are the enemies of growth.

nightgazeI am no longer an advocate of revolution (nor, however, do I reject it); for I see that the only revolution that really changes anything for the better starts inside the individual self. Pull down the pillars of Authority and Hierarchy within you — that disgusting priapism of belief that says your Mind or Spirit is superior to and should control your puny body; which, in its governmental embodiment, says (on paper) “all men are equal” but means “all men are equally suspicious.” Your mind is not by nature a big-brother controller inside you, making sure the body’s parts, functions, and desires are forced to behave well; your mind is not even inside your body. It is, in all likelihood, a container rather than an insular and foreign President of body; Mind is an emanation instead of a ruling resident of your body. This is why when you die, it is far more likely that Mind (or, if you prefer, Spirit) will easily move to another dimension or universe than that it will sit there and decay with your purely physical corpse. Mind includes and surpasses brain (and any other part of your physical organism): if it were otherwise, that mind is stuck inside our bodies, then we would be justified in despairing that this life is all we will ever know as individuals. This is why, incidentally, consciousness is never seen leaving the dead body; for it was never really there in the first place.

So I am asking you to try embracing weirdness — not merely because it’s an alternative to what we know inevitably falls short of success (convention and obedience to authority) — but because science, including the personal science known as experience, teaches us that it works. Take every belief you find inside you and tip it onto its ear; empty it of its stale, rotting substance; and then challenge it from the heart. For it is not enough to think differently; for that is at best a way of merely societal growth. You will find the need to feel differently; for that is the way of cosmic growth.

A Dress Falls; The Lover Rises

The secret of the mountains is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no ‘meaning,’ they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.

— Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

IFOne day recently, I was practicing my variant on kundalini meditation, when an old, dust-strewn memory came to me. It was of the first time that a woman had undressed herself before me. As I was still very much a child at the time, the eroticism of that moment was muddled, confused — even rather brutish on my part. But another aspect was clear, and remained so in memory: I had a very strong sense of the sacred, as if there were so much more than a young woman’s dress dropping before me. A mystery was being revealed, yes, but there was more: the very delusion of Mystery itself had been exposed in this moment. I have never felt the naked breath of the Holy — not in any church, temple, or conventional sacred space — as I did in those few seconds of stupid wonder at this revelation of the glistening darkness of the eternal feminine.

It was an opening of truth that I was not prepared for at that age; so its magic slipped away. It would be decades before I could begin to understand what I had both received and lost that night; it would be even longer before I would see how fear had made me falter at the very threshold of realization. And it is only now that I can perceive, however dimly, that the eternal feminine revealed to me some four decades ago is also here, right now, inside me. Through all these years, it was; amid all my vain searching, it was always there. I had it all the time. I didn’t have to be afraid of what that girl revealed to me that night; for it was not separate from who I was, and am.

IFNo one had prepared me for that understanding, for that experience. Therefore, all I was left with in that sacred moment was the same studied ignorance as is written into our Bibles, our textbooks, our collective media of repression. The sacred feminine, especially among men, is the most aggressively denied among those in our culture who style themselves as the faithful and the religiously adept. Like a modern executioner’s poison, that ideological potassium chloride is injected deep into our bodies until it stops the heart of awareness and turns us into walking, breathing, fucking corpses. That is, many of us learn to make love, but few discover how to create it.

This points back to a theme that Alan Watts used to talk about in his comparison of Western and Eastern mythologies. He saw two dominant myths in the Western collective mind: the first he described as the “ceramic model,” in which an external God took clay, made little figurines out of it, and then gave them all life. The line between creation and manufacturing becomes blurred in this model, until we reach the second myth that Watts found in our culture, the “fully automatic model.” Here, the Cartesian-Newtonian mechanism has taken over, and there is not even a pretense of creation anymore: everything is blind matter and energy scattering and interacting randomly amid a similarly blind and stupid universe. In this model, whatever there is of sentience and intelligence comes about accidentally. It is therefore astonishing that, under the influence of such a metaphysic, humans still manage to create something meaningful and enduring every so often.

IFIn contrast, Watts showed how the Hindus saw the cosmic reality as a creative drama, a play of sound and silence; The Taoist looked at Nature and saw a living, intelligent organism in a continual process of self-creation. Creation is the essential, sine-qua-non condition of transformation. But whenever we talk about changing our societies, it’s always in terms of getting the rats out of office and replacing them with more evolved or less brutish rodents (squirrels?). To paraphrase one of the more popular political slogans of our time, we may all hope for change, but if you talk about creating it, then you’ve crossed a line and must be pushed to and beyond the margins of public discourse. We take a similar approach to our personal lives: it’s all about altering appearances rather than working artistically with ourselves, from the depths outward. So we want to be thinner or get rid of a habit or become richer or more popular: we push ourselves around, make demands, spend money, and rearrange the furniture of life — go to the gym or the doctor or the drugstore; and we usually fail, or succeed so superficially that our victory is as good as Pyrrhic.

We exclude ourselves from the Creative principle. We imagine that creativity is the province of artists and other experts who possess the gifts and the training to be duly authorized as society’s creators. We may dream of joining the ranks of that elite, but that does no more than throw us back onto the hope-but-no-change boat of the political realm. This is the emotional treadmill that pushes so many of us into the swamp of addiction: to television, political and religious affiliation, gambling, Lotto, etc. We want the payoff without the exploration or the effort of making it possible. A writer once observed that he had met many people who wanted to be novelists, but few who actually wanted to write a novel.

IFBut creation starts right here, where you are, in your ordinary daily life. If you can do the work of self-exploration and inner cleansing required to self-create a new beginning, a different future for yourself — in the dullest and plainest aspects of your ordinary experience — then I submit that such things as writing books, making music, or creating visual art will be as child’s play to you. If I can discover the art in sitting by the window; washing the dishes; walking the dog; preparing a financial report or a spreadsheet; making the bed or loving my woman — then the goddess of Art is already petting me from the inside out, and there will eventually be wonders from my pen, my brush, or my guitar. For then, even if there is no one out-there to see or hear or admire it, my work will be lit with the photonic energy of the Creative; and my life’s personal art will become its own blessing.

Now, I return to my memory of that sexual experience from my youth. What if I had recognized myself in that young woman’s glorious body? Well, I would never have had to study Tantra, kundalini, or any of that other nonsense. As Watts, Krishnamurti, and others have pointed out before me, we only study and practice these esoteric arts because we think we lack that which we strive to obtain through them. But if we begin by knowing our own inner feminine — emotionally, intellectually, and even (in the words of the old joke) Biblically — without any inhibition or guilt or fear of our true nature; then relationships become effortless, and love flows like tears of relief and gratitude.

It is a matter of restoring the natural balance of our being by pushing ourselves away from the concrete median of a dull equanimity. This is what Lao Tzu meant when he urged us to “know the masculine but be one with the feminine.” Emphasize for yourself what your culture ignores or condemns. The fifth line of the I Ching hexagram Grace (#22) underscores this point:

Adorning tending — towards a hill-top garden.
Rolled plain-silk: little, little.
Abashment. Completing significant.*

IFEgo urges us toward the great triumvirate of success: Wealth, Fame, Accumulation. But blessing — the success of the natural self — is another way, a way of personal creation. It is a garden rather than a nation; its silk (in ancient China writing and painting were often done on rolled silk) is so small as to be overlooked. These are all metaphors of the universal and sacred feminine: simple adornments; the little garden atop the hill; the roll of silk whose only insignificance is in its size, though not in its meaning.

True greatness arises not from status or height or visibility, but from an art of an integrity whose sole attachment is to beauty. Popularity and appeal come and go; they may be put on and taken off; they flash and fall out of the pan, into the ashes. Beauty endures, because it arises from within and has no mind beyond its moment. It has no perceptions to court or expectations to manage. It lightheartedly rejects appearance and dwells within its own substance. It drops its dress and finds all it needs in the perpetual rising and falling of the breath of creation, from the body of ordinary ecstasy.


*This is from the Ritsema/Karcher transation quoted here.

G+ vs. FB: An Anti-Social Confession


It’s time this old geek came out of the social media closet: I like Google Plus. I like G+ better than Twitter, better than LinkedIn, and certainly better than Facebook. Take a quick look at the image above: what do you see on the FB side that isn’t on the G+ side? Very good: ads.


A story from How-To-Geek’s trivia contest (click to visit)

Now clearly, Google Search is as annoyingly pervasive with advertising as FB — just look at the top and side of your search results page sometime. And the monetization pandemic on Youtube is borderline out of control — it’s reached the point where you need a good downloading app to free yourself of the oppressive in-video advertising. Nevertheless, you have to move around a little in G+ to be fed ads. This reveals a related advantage of G+: look again up above, and you’ll see that G+ delivers two columns of content in a tab of the same width as FB’s one column content display. That is to say, from a design/usability perspective, G+ wins again. Unless, of course, you enjoy scrolling.

Content: Social, Not Gossip Media

IFNow, as to content: this is purely a personal prejudice of mine — I don’t need electronic news on what my friends and acquaintances are doing with their lives. I really don’t care how much snow you shoveled yesterday or which tea party dullard’s jingoistic soundbite you’re trumpeting today*; and I definitely don’t need to see that lame picture of Junior that you took with your Walmart smartphone. Now I’ll readily follow a personal friend’s website or other publications; but aside from that, if I want to contact a personal friend or family member, I’ll either arrange for us to meet up in person or else send an email.

To most who use social media, it may as well be called personal media, or, bluntly, me-media. I think social media is about social issues and interests. I can be a part of these issues, but not their whole or even their center. So on G+ I follow Nature (the distinguished science journal); various astronomy and geek presences; communities focused on Star Trek, Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, and technology; and a number of my favorite Youtube uploaders (mostly devoted to classical music). I find myself commenting far more within G+ than on Facebook, simply because the content is truly engaging. Thus, in one world I am limited to a caricature of triteness: “Wow, you sure shoveled a lot of snow!” And in another, I find myself in a discussion which typically has at least some depth and scope to it. My point is merely that while everyone has a natural sense of personal dignity, it isn’t nourished with solipsistic bullshit, but only by engaging something larger than our parochial selves.

Privacy / Security

As for privacy and security, G+ is the better choice over FB by most objective measures. Clearly, in our NSA-dominated era, there is no such thing as secure and completely private social media; for those who value privacy above all things, the postal service — good old snail mail — is probably a better under-the-radar option. But you can safely use social media with a private or incognito window in most browsers; or best of all, by using the remarkable Tor browser.

In G+ (also in Twitter), I can be “followed” by someone without any mandate of reciprocality, as is necessary to FB’s lame “friend” paradigm. And members of your “circles” in G+ don’t all have to be your “friends.” Personally, I can count my friends on a single hand; and I have no wish to defile that word by making friends with people who I know only electronically. Therefore, if you’re an INFP like me (or similar), then G+ might be your preferred social media. Introverts have their own community there.

A Personal Choice

IFThus, social media comes down to personal choice, personal priorities; perhaps even to character or its absence. I think Twitter is a marvelous piece of software with abundant potential, if only people could learn how to intelligently use the damned thing, with its famous 140-character limit. Unfortunately, very few do know how to be brief, incisive, and clear (I include myself in the majority there, so I don’t post much on twitter). If anything, Twitter is simply too artistic a format for its culture.

Facebook is the most aptly named of the major social media sites; for its design, interface, and overall cultural ethos elevate appearance and support little else beyond the external. It might be accurately called Facade-book. I have an account there because my kid does; so I look at it once a week or so. Come to think of it, Facebook may be merely a symptom of a greater malaise that has infected social media at large: for I see that Maria and her student friends use FB in a way that penetrates its appearance-obsession. These kids talk less about themselves and more about the social issues that are meaningful to them. If that’s the case — that my complaint is really with a global electronic folie-a-deux, then I still say that FB is its poster child.

G+, with all its flaws, just seems to strike a certain balance between the profound and the superficial; silliness and sensibility; the casual and the cause. Part of that is in its design: you can be long, short, or silent in G+ and still get a message across. Since it’s Google, it works fairly seamlessly with Youtube, Google Apps, the excellent Picasa photo management app, Google Drive, and of course Gmail. G+ has another thing going for it, which Google probably doesn’t like: it is far less popular than its competitors; and that really appeals to me. It just seems to attract fewer dead minds and many more lively ones. Maybe it’s just that I’m old, but it seems as if life’s too short to accept at face value.


*I must have read 20 such samples of tea-party drivel in total silence, until I finally snapped:


An Easter Meditation

Four rooms facing a hallway; four vertical sliding doors. The one on the far right opens to reveal what looks like a vast abyss: one step over the threshold and you’re finished. But there’s a box mounted into the wall, just inside the entrance; I feel as if it might allow me access to the answer I seek, if only I could dare to reach for it. But my mentor, standing beside me, shakes his head. The door slides down and we turn our attention to the next room, which has an obviously solid floor. I can step in and work with the panels there, which appear simpler, plainer in their action; but they are safer as well. I look around — at my companion (whose presence I don’t question); at the rooms with their blue sliding doors; and at the open room with its white floor and gray panels. The place has an underground feel to it, and I wonder how we ever got here. Somehow, this causes me to awaken.

IF In the ocean, there is no clear and unambiguous line between what is above the water and what is below.  As our minds are also part of Nature, the same principle applies to them: there is no distinct sphere of conscious awareness that is above and opposed to the subconscious. Like the spray, vapor, and liquid light of the waves, the manifest and the immanent; the voluntary and the autonomous merge, play, and communicate. To draw them apart is a game of convention — sometimes necessary but illusory all the same. In reality, the visible and the invisible share their energies and frequently change their places within each realm of Nature — amid the tides of the sea or the dance of thought.

This is a principle that should be focal to dream interpretation. Our dreams often point us to our deceits. When reflection is clear, we find the ego exposed equally in the dream state as in the most violent eruptions of conscious impulse. The mentor within my dream, above, is a false and superficial leader: he shrinks from the abyss as if it were some eternal darkness to be feared rather than explored; as if the crematorium were to bring me termination instead of transition. Fear is the ultimate illusion; time is its event horizon.

IFWe are drunk on Time — or more specifically, on our delusions as to its limits and its reality. We pour all our terrors into the dream of time; amid the walls of its banal machinations. But duration is not best measured by time. Whatever inspiration we might receive and create will live beyond the abyss of posterity; for history is like a hallucination amid a bad acid trip. The paradox is only superficial: genuine presence tends to endure beyond the reach of time. If my life can but sporadically be graced with presence, then time has no terror for me.

Spontaneity is very different from impulse; I think an important part of growing up (at any age) is to recognize and live this distinction. Spontaneity sings where impulse grunts; spontaneity creates while impulse calculates. We can no more study spontaneity than we can boast of our humility; but we can trust that it is there, like the autonomous energies of our bodies. That trust is the opening of presence, through which the abyss dissolves into the living space of eternity.

IFA similar relationship exists between change and transformation. Change happens externally, bounded by time; transformation occurs deep within, beneath the grasp of time. To place this in a scientific perspective, transformation is experienced in space-time — the continuum that, as Einstein demonstrated, is the ultimate environmental reality of the known universe.

So what is the meaning of this distinction? Where’s the payoff? Unlike many spiritual teachers and masters, I think “show me the money” is often an appropriate or natural response to such teachings, because it says, “I’m not taking this on anyone’s authority; I want to truly understand what this teaching brings into my life that wasn’t there before.” Every teaching should be challenged in this way: how else could you make it your own?

What, then, is the benefit of living in space-time rather than in time or space as polar entities? Now I can deliver a scientific response and say, “it is in accord with the empirical truths revealed by the new science of the past century.” Or I could hand you the philosopher’s response: “it is in accord with Nature, Reason, and Spirit.” Now both of these statements are true, but in a rather restricted sense; there must be more to this. And there is, on several levels.

IFIn terms of personal experience, the answer is simple: life in space-time is more fun. Experience within the field of space-time is relationship rather than isolation or estrangement: time and space become a unitary whole, like the base pairs of  DNA; the bodies of lovers in the flow of ecstasy; the sounds and silences of great music; the union of words and meaning, paint and canvas, actor and stage, player and game. Life can flow within space-time rather than lurch along across a shattered landscape of disjointed events. Remember that Einstein showed us that planetary bodies move through their orbits in exactly this way: gliding through the warps and woofs of the continuum along a path of minimal (or non-existent) resistance.

The socio-political implications of this realization are, if possible, even more remarkable; and they arise from the recognition of Nature’s delicious, almost insane exuberance of being. Matter and energy, which as per Einstein’s famous equation are the same thing, are ridiculously abundant; the stuff of life unceasingly overflows its cup. A nation that appreciates this abundance of resources can manage them more responsibly and equitably than one that is suspicious of Nature and believes that there is only enough for the wealthy few who control the game. In the field of space-time, violence becomes superfluous: imagine the Earth forcing and struggling its way along its orbit, kicking aside or killing smaller bodies that got in its way.

IFI repeat: life as experienced in space-time is pure relationship; and opposition is not relationship but alienation — the irrevocable loneliness of power. A Republican guided by the feeling of space-time would be unrecognizable to the mind of opposition that dominates our world now. He would in fact be branded an apostate to his party for his spirit of amity and respect for the fellows on the other side of the aisle; and his sense of responsibility toward his least influential constituents. The game as it is now played — the implicit and insidious conspiracy between the parties in their contempt for the people and the nation, enacted in the same way that the millionaires of professional football and boxing publicly bludgeon one another for their mutual profit — would be summarily abandoned in favor of another game, ruled by complementarity (a term invented by the physicist Neils Bohr to describe quantum behavior) instead of confrontation.

Complementarity over confrontation: in space-time the heart abandons its conflicts; the nation drops its collective belief in opposition; and the human species may even learn to reject the impulse to war. I do not imagine that this is a push-button kind of instant transformation: for that is not transformation’s way. The sea-change inspired by growth happens deep within before it is made manifest: sub-atomic relationships and interactions are consummated so that the outer patterns of success may arise. It doesn’t work the other way around.

IFMy dream is a demonstration of such a principle: the boxes of belief and fear in that underground hallway of ideological dependence are equally estranged from Nature. The questions that occurred to me just before I awoke — what am I doing here and what brought me — are from the voice of inner truth, but my faith in the guide was not.

Every guide, every leader, every mentor, must be questioned. Not attacked or even debunked; merely questioned, carefully examined. No teacher can make sense if he is an absolute authority; no teaching can resonate if it cannot be questioned. Any leader who evades examination quickly becomes a tyrant.

Good science and great art arise from the same foundation, which is the embrace of contradiction, so that it might be surpassed. Your life here is but a single breath within a greater life with a vaster purpose, which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, from here. All the more reason, then, why you owe this life the relentless energy of individuation — the shattering of every chain of group belief and affiliation. For where you are destined there will be no nations, no Gods, no money, and no time. You may as well be ready for it.

Variations on a Photograph of a Bed

IFAn old Zen master once said, “he who sleeps on the floor never falls out of bed.” I feel the same message in this as in Lao Tzu’s recommendation that you “keep your home close to the earth”: make Nature your confidante and collaborator, instead of attempting to subdue, conquer, or poison Her.

Bed is such a crucial locus to life: think of how much time you spend there — roughly a third of your life. I am sure you are already aware of the cognitive, neurological, and psychological harm that is a consequence of sleep deprivation. So even if you’re not a Jungian who finds a world of meaning in what happens during sleep; you must admit that the voices of science and Nature are unassailably united here. Good, restful sleep — or its absence — is a matter of life and death.

So if you follow those voices and happen to have a spouse or lover(s), then you might spend more than a third of your life in bed (isn’t that still done in bed?). I don’t have a mate, but I meditate a fair bit in bed: I have a bedtime and a waking meditation; these set the tone for both sleep and conscious action.

What happens in bed tends to be the tonic chord in the key of a day or a life. My waking meditation leads me into a stretching meditation and an exercise meditation; then the toilet and the shower become environments of inward-turning. The first cup of coffee has mystical or visionary elements in its experience that I wouldn’t have to explain to anyone, no matter how much they reject or ignore the usefulness of formal meditation.

My walking-to-work meditation leads me to my elevator ride meditation. Then I can enjoy another brief meditation at my desk, while I wait for the computer to boot up and begin its day of work and action. The computer, I well know, has its own will and consciousness: AI is not some sci-fi deus ex machina; it is here and among us now, and will no doubt be with us for many generations to come, unless of course we destroy ourselves, which is entirely possible.

I and many others have made the mistake of imagining that our technological addictions are purely psychological or sociological problems. Yes, they are, but that isn’t by any means the whole story. The young person walking with a mobile device like a drunk or mumbling like an old man or a psychotic into an invisible electronic presence is being dragged through a parallel reality by AI.*

This is not an entirely new phenomenon, however. Have you ever witnessed or personally experienced the positively marital (one is temped to say “martial”) relationship that forms between a person and his car? The automobile, and our often neurotic dependence on it, has been around for a century already; I am continually astonished at how people freak out when the mildest problem appears in their vehicles — as if the possession of a machine should somehow make you immune to trouble.

Life is relationship: to me, the two terms are synonymous. But too often we assume that relationship is only about the encounters and involvements we have with others of our species; and that’s a crucial mistake. There is relationship with our food; with our homes and the things inside them; with animals, plants, and the beings of Nature; with our work; and with our technology.

I am tempted to say that we need a new relationship with our machines; but the fact is that we don’t have one in the first place. Any relationship that is defined by separation, control, dominance, or the other fatuous marks of alienation, is not relationship. The most hallowed of our human relationships — love, marriage, parenthood, friendship — these are defined, both experientially and doctrinally, by union, the merging of free individuals into a relationship that simultaneously supports and surpasses their individual autonomy. This experience of union — what the Hindus call yoga (it literally means union) — is a universal aspect of human life; and I think it needs to be invited into our postindustrial relationships with machines, technology, and everything we falsely assume is inherently dead, inert, and alien to ourselves — except to the extent that we manipulate and control it.

Any pretense at being the Master of a thing is most likely to make you its slave. So whether it’s a car, a phone, a PC, or any of the burgeoning IoT (“Internet of Things”); I recommend that you begin developing a partnership with stuff. This applies even (and especially) to those who think the whole Gaia thing is a hot, steaming pile of BS. The best science we have tells us that our relationships are defined not by what we do in them but by what we bring to them. Attitude, I am saying, is everything: whether or not you believe that the Earth and all its features, elements, organisms, and physical entities are alive and responsive; treat everything with a measure of respect for its presence. I predict that you will see a restoration or awakening of the balance within yourself and in the performance of the things of your life.

Among New Age types like myself, sleep is too often used as a term of disparagement, a synonym for ignorance. We’re always going on about waking up and coming to our senses and rising out of the torpor of superficiality. The most dominant symbol of the last 2,000 years of Western religion is of rising or resurgence (the Latin root of our word “resurrection” is resurgere); and the guiding metaphor of Buddhism is awakening (the Buddha’s name means “the awakened one” in Sanskrit). Now there is a useful point to this stream of metaphor; but like many good ideas, it tends to get pushed too hard and too far, beyond the realm of simple penetration and into something that vaguely evokes prejudice.

For quite apart from its well-established physical benefits, sleep has value even on that plane of psycho-spiritual metaphor. How would I recognize an awakening, had I not first been asleep? Krishnamurti used to talk on this theme (for example, in this video). We can’t spend every moment (or even most moments) of our lives in an awakened state; but part of living the awakened life is to recognize and even appreciate one’s sleep. It might even be said that I am most enlightened when I am fully aware of my torpor; I suspect that was Krishnamurti’s point.

Sleep is as much a part of the round of life as death is an essential aspect of the round of eternity. It is their very similarity that sometimes scares us about sleep. Sleep is, after all, the real “little death.” (Freud, of course, being neurotic, believed that the orgasm is the little death). But we are so often the most aware when we are the least conscious. Think of all the life-sustaining activity that is done beneath the veil of consciousness: your heartbeat, most of your breathing, glandular function, homeostasis, temperature regulation, lymphatic movement, digestion, cellular creation, apoptosis, and maintenance — the vast majority of our physical life is, as the scientists say, autonomically managed. Why, I ask, can’t we do the same in our intellectual and emotional lives; and in all our relationships, be they with people or with things?

This is what I think Krishnamurti meant when he said that the completely free person never makes a decision or a choice. Freedom is not the permission to indulge anything (though that tends to be the common modern American definition); freedom is a psychological state in which right action arises from you in the same way you beat your heart or operate your hypothalamus. Such action has precisely the perfect measure and vector; when we look back at it, we cannot imagine how it could have been different.

We tend to sleep most soundly when we don’t force it, either via an act of will or the consumption of pharmaceuticals; when we don’t “try to fall asleep.” In the same way, unforced action delivers more benefit than any work done under the oppressive weight of expectation, control, and impulse. The irony, of course, is that we can’t force ourselves to live in an unforced way; we can’t train ourselves to live and act autonomically, even part of the time. That is to say, this is not something you learn; it is far more a matter of unlearning.

To unlearn all the beliefs and fears that feed the inner monster of control is to open the door of your cage. Once that door is open you needn’t worry anymore about who built the cage in the first place — whether it was the government or your neurotic parents; whether it was a malevolent or indifferent God or universe; whether it was Fate, bad luck or your ex-wife. Freedom doesn’t look back; nor does it look forward into the future. It is merely present; it is right in its moment and its unique challenges. As the old saying goes, the key to success is showing up — or as I might say, in being there.

Now this kind of unlearning is, I suspect, the work of a lifetime. Presence is ephemeral, but even when it isn’t there it leaves behind a kind of aura that can carry you through those clanging moments of conflict, indecision, worry, and despair. It is like the odor that remains in a room where a beautiful sandalwood incense has burned: the light and the smoke of the fragrant sticks are gone, yet something invisible still fills the air of being. Thus it becomes increasingly easy to return to the center once you have been there. To sleep amid the fragrance of awareness is never to be lost.


*AI is generally considered to be near but not quite here yet. The problem is that when most people think of AI, they think of robots and androids. The reason I sense the presence of AI in our current technology is in its tendency to turn us into robots and androids. In any event, prominent techno-leaders and celebrities are weighing in on the relative desirability of AI — most recently Woz.