Friday, February 20, 2015

Love and Mystery Flanking War in the Night Sky

Moon, Mars and Venus in Conjunction
Tonight, the Moon and the planets, Mars and Venus, are hunkering down together in the dark sky. The ancient Neo-Platonists personified the heavenly bodies, ascribing human characteristics to the moon and the planets. Although I know little of astrology,  I can resonate with this celestial event and, like viewing a Rorschach figure, I can see the poetic imagery of the goddesses, Selene and Aphrodite, and the god, Ares, seated together, emotionally conjoined, in triadic reconciliation. How would war and violence and disruption respond to the embraces of love, as imagined through Venus, the harmonizing bond of the universe, and the Moon, the source of nocturnal cycles and mystery?

Current event are rife with violence and disruption. Not only the news cycle of Middle Eastern terrorism and police profiling in America, but also the disjunctive effects of inculcating competitive and self-promoting values within many societies, globally. Where is love and what happened to mystery as antidotes to and containers of martial narcissism?

Let us pause in the sable night, under the gleam of a crescent moon, to consider  the cyclic, the rhythmic returning of life experience, the ebb and flow of relationships, beyond individual achievement and aggression.

Let us celebrate lunar mystery in receptive openness, harnessing Ares toward the aims of peace, love and reconciliation across our communities, across the earth.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Simplicity and Humility of the One: Religion without Walls

Trinidad Bay CA
While hiking along the bluffs of College Cove near Trinidad CA, a bold idea struck me. What if the notion of God's simplicity, oneness and all-powerfulness were non-starters, just human ways to recreate living metaphors of kingship, fatherhood or hierarchy. What if oneness were more akin to the sea or the wind--the humblest and least structured of the elements. Maybe, the aim of worship is just to relax and dissolve, to loosen the grip of everyday fears and anxieties on us, kind of like being in the shavasana or corpse posture that seals and concludes many Western yoga classes. Why extol the powerful and transcendent when a unifying breath or a dissolving immersion into the sea sends us into a healthier and more harmonious state?

Perhaps the Shabbat of Judaism is a mirror of and a pathway to this state of simple unity and restoration. Complexity and structure may surf on the wind and water, emerging from the primordial and fluid oneness. We, created in the image of the Divine, might alter our lifetime goals, if being like God were similar to merging with the breath or the ocean or taking Shabbat or lying in shavasana.

After experiencing this inverted intuition about the Divine, I returned to the hiking trail. I met a couple seated in rickety portable chairs right next to a verdant grove of Sitka Spruce. We talked about how these bluffs were like a church or synagogue or mosque without walls. One of the two said that he had written a poem entitled, "Holy Communion" about this very spot where they were sitting.

A religion without walls is a turning inward toward simple peace and a humble turning outward toward community--a community of rocks, spruce and other fellow wayfarers.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Are you an Animist or a Pantheist or Both?

Hidden Villa Park CA

Nature abounds in individuality and Nature stirs up a feeling of oneness in the soul. This paradox leads to two alternative spiritual perspectives: animism, in which every creature, rock, fungus or stream is imbued with personhood, an individual soul embedded in a community of souls or spirits, and pantheism, a reverence for and an experience of the underlying unity of Nature. I often shift between the two views. Sometimes, while hiking in the woods, I am filled with respect and awareness of each natural being I encounter. I am aflush with love for the individual unique spirit. At other moments, my focused vision fades a bit and I become conscious of the wind, the deep greenness, and my soul blending into one whole experience.
Is there a way we can reconcile both points of view? Here, metaphors--those unconfined assemblages of words, images and feelings--may aid us in integrating a sense of oneness with particularity. Our bodies are whole and we experience them such, yet when we do yoga or when we feel localized pain, we concentrate on a particular muscle or internal organ. In some ways, our hamstrings seem independent of us when they are sore or when we stretch them in a yoga posture. We are simultaneously unified in consciousness and aware of a particular part of our bodies. We are both one and multiple. Likewise perhaps, Nature is akin to a body, structurally similar to our bodies, an organic unity in variety. Yet each cell contains a potential blueprint, its DNA, that maps onto every other cells DNA. We are homogeneous and differentiated at the same time.
Maybe, just maybe, unified Nature shines through each being, refracted into an individual pattern, condensed into a unique soul. Let's get personal with each natural being and let us be reverent in Nature.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Storm Approaching California

Storm Approaching Coastal California
I have waxed often about the sea: its peacefulness (hence named Pacific), its nurturing qualities, and that incredibly arousing aroma of wind and water. But yesterday, I witnessed a growling storm as she rippled onto the coast. I am reminded of Eastern Mediterranean storm gods: Ba'al/Hadad who rolls in rain into Ugarit and Teshup, the Hurrian storm-bringer. Even the Hebrew Bible ascribes storminess to the "Holy One" as in that sublime eco-spiritual Psalm 104:

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
    O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
    wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
    you set the beams of your[a] chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your[b] chariot,
    you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your[c] messengers,
    fire and flame your[d] ministers.
You set the earth on its foundations,
    so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
    the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
    at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
    to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
    so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
    they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
    the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams[e] the birds of the air have their habitation;
    they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
    the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. (NRSV)

In my haste to depict Nature as healing and nurturing, I have overlooked the necessity for change, fluctuation and even occasional destructiveness. Nature is as complex as our human psyches and even more pervasive. I am eager for rain--all of California thirsts for water after three years of devastating drought.
All glory to Pacific storms; all glory to renewing abundant life!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Love and Strife

Sunrise: Mountain View CA
Division has stricken the world. Wars, ethnic fighting, uncivil discourse and social fragmentation are rampant. Yet many spiritual practices and religious disciplines encourage the cultivation of the virtue of love among their adherents. How can we reconcile love with evident strife? Reflecting on my life as a therapist, I have realized that the psychological process of "triangulation" or "splitting" is a root cause of much individual misery; indeed, much ethnocentrism and religious exclusiveness demands that individuals be put into dualist categories: us vs them, the good child vs the bad child, believers vs unbelievers, the list goes on and on.

Aside from reading dualistic religious texts, can we discover some sort of understanding of this splitting and triangulating so pervasive across the earth? Well, an ancient pre-Socratic philosopher, Empedocles of Agrigento in Sicily, who is notable for his original cosmology of the four elements: air, fire, earth and water, formulated the notion that love and strife are two principles that undergird all of the cosmos:

"66. And these (elements) never cease changing place continually, now being all united by Love into one, now each borne apart by the hatred engendered of Strife, until they are brought together in the unity of the all, and become subject to it. Thus inasmuch as one has been wont to arise out of many and again with the separation of the one the many arise, so things are continually coming into being and there is no fixed age for them; and farther inasmuch as they [the elements] never cease changing place continually, so they always exist within an immovable circle."--Arthur Fairbanks, Fragments Empedokles (tr and ed, 1898)

So, if Empedocles is right, then both uniting love and  dividing strife are essential forces to lead creation from the one to the many and back to the one, in a kind of circular movement. Maybe, then, our calling as spiritual people is to cultivate love (after all we do need a countervailing weight to division and separation), but to recognize strife in its manifold forms: splitting, triangulation, ethnocentrism, religious exclusiveness. If we are seeking unity, internal or external, let us hold onto love, all the while, letting go of strife.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Indigenous Peoples' Celebration of the Great Mystery

Indigenous Peoples' Week at Humboldt State University

Mad River Mouth McKinleyville CA

Today in the United States is Columbus Day. It is an embarrassing holiday that completely ignores those who dwelt here, millennia before Columbus breathed his first breath. We are uninvited guests who have outlived our welcome. Fortunately, even in my lifetime, the celebration has shifted from an extolling of colonial conquest to a recognition of the cultural gifts already present in the "New World". Humboldt State University does indeed celebrate a week of "indigenous" culture. I witnessed an amazing, yet sorrowful, prayer and dance to the four directions, Father Sun, and Mother Earth, at the campus center. A prayerful remembrance of the local cultures; a grievous statement about the continued oppression of the very people upon whose land the university was constructed.

Not far away, the forerunner waves of a Kamchatka storm break wildly near the mouth of the Mad River. A avian duet dance in the bristly wind and a lone, weathered Sitka spruce gazes at their graceful flight. I ponder: How many before me sat on the bluff viewing this ballet in the sky and sea?

We had better learn from those who dwelt here before--we had better learn silence and grace and peaceful encounters. We had better dance the great mysteries before we extinguish all mystery.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Flickering Illusions or a Multitude of Souls?

College Cove Beach Trinidad CA

There is a tension between viewing the world as an illusory projection of an underlying oneness and seeing a vast embodied individuality in each fragment of existence. Both some forms of Mahayana Buddhism and classical Hindu Vedanta philosophy embrace an illusory perspective on concrete experience, while much of Tantric Hinduism, Hindu goddess (Shaktism) worship, animistic religion and Neoplatonism  all see manifold life as ensouled and grounded in an experience of unity. Is life, as we know it, an illusion or a community?

What if both viewpoints are true, in part? In Northern California we have witnessed a rare October heat wave dispelling the fog from the coast for a week. The sun, hovering over the sea, sprinkles luminous glitter on College Cove. The flickering of light on the surface of the ocean both partakes of individuality, like fireflies pulsating light ever so briefly, and then submerges into the boundless, unknowable ocean. Surface and depth; the glimmering and darkening sea.

A magic show or a profound suggestion of unity in variety?