Thursday, November 3, 2011

Physical Conversations and the Mythic Mind.

This is not a fanciful suggestion by a bunch of New Age bookstore employees. Smart people in a laboratory figured this out.



This, to me, is pretty fascinating. I encourage you to click on the link to read the brief encapsulation of the discoveries. It appears that schizophrenic individuals have the ability/propensity to transfer or expand their sense of physical self beyond the bounds of their own body. My extrapolation: The literal displacement of chi (life energy) suggested in the minute drop in temperature of the subject's hand (the hands being exit points for energy) is consistent with a mytho-energetic understanding of schizophrenia-related disorders--which I had first read about in Joseph Campbell's Myths To Live By (cf. Hands of Light - Barbara Ann Brennan).

When I teach juggling, I approach it from a standpoint of having a 'physical conversation' with the objects--conversation being both 'talking' (exerting one's will/yang energy) and 'listening' (receiving information/yin energy). The best jugglers work their props in such a way that they appear to be extensions of their own limbs, deftly manipulating the objects in the air and around their own bodies. My students make their own juggling balls, which they keep with them for practice outside of class. This is not only a practical solution to the "how do you assign homework in juggling class", but also sets up the ability for these objects to be 'imprinted' into the practitioner's energy field.  This in turn, makes the object more a part of their sense of 'self'.  'Practice makes perfect' takes on a whole 'nother level of meaning here.

It's a reasonable, logical extension of the assertion in physics that all matter is simply energy, condensed.  Frontier physics (quantum and string theory) is where Western empiricism meets Eastern mysticism.  The fact of a subject in the above research having a repeatable out-of-body experience in the laboratory suggests that the bridge between the two is there for the crossing. So, don't call it 'chi'...call it our electromagnetic field.  There's no conflict in premise, only in approach.  East=chi. West=EMF. To me, it's a kind of unifying theory of consciousness, physical existence, and consciousness and its related disorders--you know: Life, the Universe, and Everything.

So, the question is: what if the treatment of schizophrenia included modalities that are not only based on brain chemistry, but also on consciousness alteration centered on energetic awareness? If this research can be integrated into a mythic/energetic mode of treatment for consciousness disorders?

Further:  based on the above picture, how far of a leap is it, really, to suggest that the Universe is the mind of God, and that we living creatures are literal microcosms of that God-ness?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Where was I again?

You know how sometimes you forget what day of the week it is? Today, I forgot what my emotional state was. As in, I had to remind myself, actively, that I wasn't pissed off.

In more than one idle moment today, my mind and body went back to the funk that had been in for much of the week. I felt the tightening in my lower back, my adrenals were ready to pounce, my thoughts started ramping up...then I remembered, 'wait a minute--that's not in play anymore'...the fog had lifted a full twenty-four hours prior--no need to be angry. After a moment of mental/visceral recalibration,  I was back to being a little more present.

It was an odd sensation, actually--a kind of unmoored anger, which was so patently made-up, and kind of easily released.  An interesting exercise in choice, awareness, and maybe even possibility.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

For those who fast today


What strikes me most about this image is that so much more than a cute little angel playing the lute--it is a cherub, a young angel-in-training, learning to play--practicing awkwardly on an outsized instrument.

 

Fasting

There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you're full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon's ring. Don't give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you've lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,
Jesus' table.
Expect to see it, when you fast, this table
spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.


~Jelaludin Rumi
trans. Coleman Barks

Friday, July 29, 2011

Phantom Pain


Look ye, carpenter, I dare say thou callest thyself a right good workmanlike workman, eh? Well, then, will it speak thoroughly well for thy work, if, when I come to mount this leg thou makest, I shall nevertheless feel another leg in the same identical place with it; that is, carpenter, my old lost leg; the flesh and blood one, I mean. Canst thou not drive that old Adam away?

I begin to understand somewhat now. Yes, I have heard something curious on that score, sir; how that a dismasted man never entirely loses the feeling of his old spar, but it will be still pricking him at times. May I humbly ask if it be really so, sir?

It is, man. Look, put thy live leg here in the place where mine once was; so, now, here is only one distinct leg to the eye, yet two to the soul. Where thou feelest tingling life; there, exactly there, there to a hair, do I. Is't a riddle?
~Herman Melville, Moby Dick. 1851

This seems to me at this moment an apropos description of the human heart, the grief of any loss, and the feeble desire to share the experience, or to have another take away the persistent suffering that such loss causes. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Allowance

Being concerned about another's comfort and happiness is a very different thing than being responsible for another's comfort and happiness.

I just butted up against this distinction in the last 24 hours.  Realizing it's time to make a change in the habitual way I handle my relationship with my son has been a lightning-fast, hard lesson. This is a very difficult identification to face.  If I'm not constantly concerned with and responsible for ensuring the smooth sailing of his life, then what kind of parent am I, really? Don't I care about him at all?  This is what goes through my head as I face this change. In looking at how to move past this old pattern of being, then, I'm faced with this fear that I'm sending the message that I don't care about him at all.  It's a dynamic that is based in the history of my experiences with and regarding him and his care.  It's tried, and true...and now it's truly trying.  

The way I show my care and love for him is by taking responsibility for his moment-to-moment emotional state. Yeah, that doesn't sound at all pathological when I type it out like that. Feels strange to be downgrading my attention on him...that really, my only concerns need be his health and well-being and safety...but that the minutiae are up to him.

So. Okay. time to move into a more mature phase of our relationship. Time to allow him to be responsible for himself more, his own sense of happiness and comfort. So what if a particular thing isn't his first choice, or if he's resistant to it. Is his basic safety assured? Then get over it. Or don't.  But it's not my problem.  As he is about to turn 13, moving into something closer to manhood, it is time. I've been holding him back, without realizing it. He's coming of age, and I'm realizing that it's time for our relationship to do the same.  So, this is the allowance I can give him. To allow him to be responsible for himself.  My desire is for his happiness and fulfillment. My job is to let him seek it himself.

UPDATE:  If I'm releasing all this misplaced energy and attention...what am I freed up to do now?  Where could that attention go? To what projects/thoughts/creations?  The possibilities feel expansive.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"My mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like."

This Easter morning, I'm reflecting on the Gospel of Thomas.  (another translation here. . . and if you like your Jesus with old-timey pronouns, there's this one.)

Among the early Christian writings known as the gnostic gospels (or in mainstream Christianity, the "apocrypha"), the Gospel of Thomas is a remarkable collection of sayings and teachings by Jesus by way of dialogue and parable. There's almost no narrative, and there is most certainly no dogma (which explains in part why these texts had to be eliminated at the Council of Nicea, when the orthodoxy of the religion was being settled). There are many stories and parables that have parallels in the canonical Gospels, but there is a lot of evidence that these gnostic gospels, a library of which was found at a place called Nag Hammadi, were written before even Mark or "Q" --the earliest known writings in the canon, circa 74CE. (A quick shout-out to my Catholic High School experience in Mr. Bruce Hoff's Biblical Archaeology class)

Here are some of my favorites.

6    His disciples asked him and said to him, "Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?"
Jesus said, "Don't lie, and don't do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed."

"I won't tell you what to do or not do. Just live with integrity." Heresy! I mean, come now: you can't build a religion on such calls for individualistic instruction. Sounds almost humanist.

14  Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.
When you go into any region and walk about in the countryside, when people take you in, eat what they serve you and heal the sick among them.
 Again: disregard dietary and other dogmatic restrictions and proscriptions. Just adapt and do your work in the world.

Then there are a few sayings which talk of the call to 'house-jack', subdue, or even kill a 'strong' or 'powerful' man.

35    Jesus said, "One can't enter a strong person's house and take it by force without tying his hands. Then one can loot his house."
 and

98    Jesus said, The Father's kingdom is like a person who wanted to kill someone powerful. While still at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in. Then he killed the powerful one.
 Taken literally (as there are would be few with 'ears to hear') this could be seen as a prescription for class warfare, and blood in the streets, even as a way to bring about the "Kingdom".  Problematic for the Church leaders, to say the least.  But, when the powerful man is the ego, which must be annihilated in order for identification with deity (which is the real message, even throughout the Big Four of the canon), the messages become more like Buddhist teachings than anything else. 

For what it's worth, the wonderful contemporary Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote a book entitled Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers (a small excerpt here).  I think a primary link between the two traditions is to be found in these early Christian writings, which didn't make the cut back in the 13th century.

Further, I want to add that--yes, the Thomas of the title is the "Doubting Thomas" of legend. Maybe because Thomas was granted special, secret knowledge from Jesus, he recognized that the physical resurrection was, in a way, superfluous. Hence, the "doubt."  Maybe in this perspective, the resurrection happened in order that those who need a literal experience can have something to hold onto, and perhaps can't handle the mythic implications of the teachings.  Like Mel Gibson, for instance.
 
At any rate, I like this Jesus better. Happy Easter and God Bless us, every one.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday, Great Hero

An ash tree, upon which Odin (king of the Norse gods) sacrificed himself. .
 
Today, I found myself reflecting on an Old English poem, The Dream of the Rood(UPDATE: I just flashed on the 'why' of this reflection.  Good Friday+Earth Day!)  The "rood" of the title is the cross on which Jesus was executed.  The Bard announces his story, then the voice shifts to the Rood as the speaker. True to Old English bardic tradition, it depicts Christ as a Warrior-Hero, rather than as a sacrificial Lamb. Here there is no doubt, no questioning in Gethsemene, no Pontius Pilate, no thronging crowds calling for the release of Barabas; you can almost picture a lean, defiant hero, stripped bare and stoically ascending to his Fate, absent of 'historical' narrative or consequence. There is no cause, but that this sacrifice is what is fated.  It's beautiful, and is a great example of the adaptability of myth.

The link is above, but I'm including the text from that link as well. There are sites and analysis all over the Internets, so I won't attempt to dissect it here. For the scholarly-inclined, I believe the footnote hyperlinks are live, and will take you to the explanations.  But, I'll be honest--the poem is hard to give a cold-read.  The repetitive and (to our ears) redundant descriptive phrases could fill the reader with impatience; but that was the hallmark of the form, as it was spoken/sung/incanted in the Great Hall, as the court caroused and drank mead. So, by all means: fill your tankard, and have at it.

Listen! The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
which came as a dream in middle-night,
after voice-bearers lay at rest.
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
born aloft, wound round by light,                   5
brightest of beams. All was that beacon
sprinkled with gold. Gems stood
fair at earth's corners; there likewise five
shone on the shoulder-span [ 1 ]. All there beheld the Angel of God [ 2 ],
fair through predestiny [ 3 ]. Indeed, that was no wicked one's gallows,    10
but holy souls beheld it there,
men over earth, and all this great creation.
Wondrous that victory-beam--and I stained with sins,
with wounds of disgrace. I saw glory's tree
honored with trappings, shining with joys,              15
decked with gold; gems had
wrapped that forest tree worthily round.
Yet through that gold I clearly perceived
old strife of wretches [ 4 ], when first it began
to bleed on its right side. With sorrows most troubled,                   20
I feared that fair sight. I saw that doom-beacon [ 5 ]
turn trappings and hews: sometimes with water wet,
drenched with blood's going; sometimes with jewels decked.
But lying there long while, I,
troubled, beheld the Healer's tree,                            25
until I heard its fair voice.
Then best wood spoke these words:
"It was long since--I yet remember it--
that I was hewn at holt's end,
moved from my stem. Strong fiends seized me there,             30
worked me for spectacle; curs├Ęd ones lifted me [ 6 ].
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me. Then saw I mankind's Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord's word                  35
bend or break, when I saw earth's
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself--he, God Almighty--
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,                40
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth's fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.                45
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together [ 7 ]. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man's side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill                        50
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,                55
King's fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
But there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one. I beheld all that.
Sore was I with sorrows distressed, yet I bent to men's hands,
with great zeal willing. They took there Almighty God,                60
lifted him from that grim torment. Those warriors abandoned me
standing all blood-drenched, all wounded with arrows.
They laid there the limb-weary one, stood at his body's head;
beheld they there heaven's Lord, and he himself rested there,
worn from that great strife. Then they worked him an earth-house,               65
men in the slayer's sight carved it from bright stone,
set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song,
sad in the eventide, when they would go again
with grief from that great Lord. He rested there, with small company.
But we there lamenting a good while                          70
stood in our places after the warrior's cry
went up. Corpse grew cold,
fair life-dwelling. Then someone felled us
all to the earth. That was a dreadful fate!
Deep in a pit one delved us. Yet there Lord's thanes,           75
friends, learned of me,. . . . . . . . . . .
adorned me with silver and gold.
Now you may know, loved man of mine,
what I, work of baleful ones, have endured
of sore sorrows. Now has the time come                80
when they will honor me far and wide,
men over earth, and all this great creation,
will pray for themselves to this beacon. On me God's son
suffered awhile. Therefore I, glorious now,
rise under heaven, and I may heal                            85
any of those who will reverence me.
Once I became hardest of torments,
most loathly to men, before I for them,
voice-bearers, life's right way opened.
Indeed, Glory's Prince, Heaven's Protector,                      90
honored me, then, over holm-wood [ 8 ].
Thus he his mother, Mary herself,
Almighty God, for all men,
also has honored over all woman-kind.
Now I command you, loved man of mine,                        95
that you this seeing [ 9 ] tell unto men;
discover with words that it is glory's beam
which Almighty God suffered upon
for all mankind's manifold sins
and for the ancient ill-deeds of Adam.                      100
Death he tasted there, yet God rose again
by his great might, a help unto men.
He then rose to heaven. Again sets out hither
into this Middle-Earth, seeking mankind
on Doomsday, the Lord himself,                          105
Almighty God, and with him his angels,
when he will deem--he holds power of doom--
everyone here as he will have earned
for himself earlier in this brief life.
Nor may there be any unafraid                  110
for the words that the Wielder speaks.
He asks before multitudes where that one is
who for God's name would gladly taste
bitter death, as before he on beam did.
And they then are afraid, and few think                    115
what they can to Christ's question answer [ 10 ].
Nor need there then any be most afraid [ 11 ]
who ere in his breast bears finest of beacons;
but through that rood shall each soul
from the earth-way enter the kingdom,                  120
who with the Wielder thinks yet to dwell."
I prayed then to that beam with blithe mind,
great zeal, where I alone was
with small company [ 12 ]. My heart was
impelled on the forth-way, waited for in each                125
longing-while. For me now life's hope:
that I may seek that victory-beam
alone more often than all men,
honor it well. My desire for that
is much in mind, and my hope of protection                     130
reverts to the rood. I have not now many
strong friends on this earth; they forth hence
have departed from world's joys, have sought themselves glory's King;
they live now in heaven with the High-Father,
dwell still in glory, and I for myself expect                      135
each of my days the time when the Lord's rood,
which I here on earth formerly saw,
from this loaned life will fetch me away
and bring me then where is much bliss,
joy in the heavens, where the Lord's folk                       140
is seated at feast, where is bliss everlasting;
and set me then where I after may
dwell in glory, well with those saints
delights to enjoy. May he be friend to me
who here on earth earlier died                             145
on that gallows-tree for mankind's sins.
He loosed us and life gave,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with glory and gladness to those who there burning endured.
That Son was victory-fast [ 13 ] in that great venture,                    150
with might and good-speed [ 14 ], when he with many,
vast host of souls, came to God's kingdom,
One-Wielder Almighty: bliss to the angels
and all the saints--those who in heaven
dwelt long in glory--when their Wielder came,                155
Almighty God, where his homeland was.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stopping to Listen, Moving to Follow.

I seem to be always profoundly affected when I walk into a bookstore (or when watching a particularly evocative movie trailer). Usually it's an unnameable emotion/energy rush that brings me close to tears. (Inspiration? Yearning?) I tend to refrain from trying to put a name on it, recognizing that tears and crying are often simply energetic releases, and don't need to be labeled or associated with a specific causation.

What's strange, though, is that today, I was walking among the stacks with a clenched fist, amid visions of tumbling paperbacks and crashing shelves.  Interesting development, and a little unsettling, honestly. I really do feel like something wants to get outta my brain (it's pretty crowded in there at this point), but I'm having a hard time stopping enough to listen, and moving enough to follow it. In many cases, I've been holding my ideas for so long, I have lost sight of the doing of them, and they only live in fragments in my mind. 

Mercury's going retrograde soon, meaning it'll be a time to tie up loose ends, revisit old, open cycles to conclude them.  I think I had better get to work on some/anything. 

Lots of excuses not to:  can't do it alone, but should know what I'm doing at this point; I'd imagine it's well nigh impossible to bring allies/collaborators together for a sustained effort with no resources...so many ideas I can't focus on one long enough to see it through to completion... and the list goes on.

But, if this visceral reaction continues when I'm surrounded by creativity and ideas, something is going to need to happen in my life as a creator of art.  Looking around...where to start?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Holding up, as t'were, a funhouse mirror up to Nature.

In short, this is why I do what I do in the manner that I do it.

"What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart of the poet as man to the spirit and heart of mankind. the personal aspect is a limitation--and even a sin--in the realm of art. When a form of "art" is primarily personal it deserves to be treated as if it were a neurosis." - Carl G. Jung


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Black Swan, and the fallacy of literalism

I read a story that's going around the intertubes, about Crazy Chicks in the movies, as evidenced by the popularity of Black Swan, and how it represents a misogynistic artistic view, and re-inforces images of women as blahblahblah.  The article contains a pretty good list of movies that have women with broken psyches.  So what? The movie is an allegory of the ballet.  It's an extended metaphor, which takes some actual brainthought energy on your part if you're going to act like you give a damn enough to write about movies and popular culture.

Plays and stories have to be about something compelling, so that we look at life differently.  Nobody wants to see a play about the second-most important day in a person's life. If  Sophocles wrote about the day before Tiresias shows up at Oedipus's house, the only terror and pity engendered in the Ancient Greek audience would be that they wasted two hours of their precious Dyonisian revelry sitting in a hot amphitheater, looking at some guy sittin' around wondering what's up.

Art not only has to present the most important moments in a life, but sometimes it also has to shift the story's viewpoint so that audience's viewpoints can shift.  The old journalistic saw also holds true: Man Bites Dog is a news story.  Dog Bites Man is not a news story (although if it happened to Michael Vick, it would be a satisfying slice of karma for the day).  That's why the Demi Moore/Barry Levinson/Michael Crighton steamy crapfest Disclosure, for instance, had to be about a female as the aggressor in a sexual harassment case--the role-reversal forces us to look at the situation differently.

The mythic feminine is yin energy--an actively receptive vessel, life-giving, an invitation to action. The mythic masculine is yang energy--outwardly active, productive, a response to the call to action. There's really no getting around that hard-wired fact. When that energy goes awry, it is News. It is a story worth telling. It speaks to some primal part of who we are, as both men and women integrating both yin and yang in our fullest expression.  The "misogynist" viewpoint of the article completely misses the other side of the coin.  Yes, there are plenty of "women gone crazy" plots, most having to do with that aspect of their feminine side gone amock, which wreaks havoc in their world and the world around them.  The analog to those plots, however, are the "broken man" stories...men who are unable to express their yang nature (all those A-list star turns as developmentally-delayed or cognitively deficient wounded males).  Both sides of that coin make for compelling stories because they resonate on a mythic level of our pre-civilized consciousness.  And when actors are good at it, they win awards--on both sides of the Y-chromosome equation.  They win, and they sell tickets because they show us the broken aspects of ourselves, so it resonates with us (subconscious terror at viewing our inner weaknesses on display) and allows us to externalize the broken part of ourselves as part of a story (pity).  Thus, we leave exhausted, satisfied, and a little drained (catharsis).  Except for when Sean Penn does it.

Of course, there are exceptions.  Jodie Foster in Nell.  Fight Club (though that does address the issue of the mythic male in breakdown as no other film has or can.)...Jodie Foster in Nell.  (But I had to reach for that one, and I don't think that film made much of a dent in the popular awareness.  "Tay in da Ween?" Really?

The Bottom Line:  The Black Swan is an allegory stuck in a world that has scant little room for metaphor--especially when it comes to the mythic aspects of gender roles in popular entertainments.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Necessary vs. Comfortable

Thumbnail background: The English language, being an amalgamated language such as it is,  has a remarkable quality of sounding out the meanings of its words.  If the sound fits, it works as a word. (I know this isn't news to my actor/writer friends, so I hope you'll forgive me in my gross over-simplification.) Cold sounds, well, cold. The sound contracts as the mouth closes around it, just like a blanket wraps around you to keep out the chill. Hot, likewise, sounds hot. It's expansive, breathy, and sizzles a little at the end.  The fewer syllables a word has, the closer it is to the primal need to communicate, thus the more cleanly do the sounds in the word express its meaning.  The more syllables it has, the more of a mental/social construct it expresses. Refrigerator is made up of various component parts to indicate meaning. 

I'm thinking about that aspect of language this morning because I'm in the position of having to take action that is necessary, but about which I am not at all comfortable. And I noticed that those two words are just about as far apart phonically as they can be.  They share only two letters--c and e--but even then, not a single sound between 'em.  Comfort has softness and nurturing sounds all through it.  Say it slowly, languidly, and you may notice it. Necessary, on the other hand, is full of harsh, gallopping s's and flat, open vowels.  The word practically demands to be spit out of the mouth as a rebuke. It's as if it's built in to the very sounds of the words themselves:  What's necessary is often not what's comfortable.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Grand Theft Culture

I read with a smile in my heart that the FBI had arrested some 127 individuals as part of the largest crackdown on the Mafia in the history of law enforcement.  Some of the arrests were for killings and crimes committed decades ago, by now-old men. Will it have a lasting impact on organized crime?  Maybe not. But still--to that, I say:  "Bravo, FBI". 

And, while I'm at it:  "Vaffanculo, Mafia."

(Full disclosure: I know of one person who was involved in some way in organized crime in the past of my distant family. Logic and probability suggest there may have been more, but it was never a topic of conversation, nor immediately apparent.)

The glorification of La Cosa Nostra is something that has always sat uneasily with me.  The Godfather movies--the first two, at least (thanks in part to Sofia Coppola's multi-award-winning turn in Godfather 3) were a beautiful, lush exploration of self-determination, cultural identity, honor, familial obligation, and the promise of America.  The Corleone family, in a way, represents the closest we could come in America to actual royalty.  They lived a life of dynastic power, courtly rituals, a distinct code of honor, and unimaginable wealth; and all the while, operating above--or beyond the reach of--the law. As a story tied intricately into the shadow side of the American psyche, it is a powerful narrative of cultural identity, tribal honor, and the American immigrant mythos. 
 
Then, as with any mythic vision, what follows from that initial spark becomes, over time, a crass counterfeit, with all the trappings, but none of the Truth, of the original. Scarface. Goodfellas. The Sopranos. Goombahs all over the airwaves and internets.  I remember reading how mafiosi used to watch The Sopranos as a comedy...they laughed at how on-target it was, and took it as a great flattery.  I say again: vaffanculo. You give my ancestors and my people a bad name.  

You know, art can be used to shine Light onto the Shadow, so we can better understand ourselves as a people, and as individual humans.  There is a place for the anti-hero in art, culture, and society. The anti-hero is a tragic figure--a cautionary tale, and a safety valve for the darker impulses of humanity. But, in the end of the anti-hero's story, the world is set "right" again.  (Faustus pays his debt, for example). The problem is, the anti-hero has become the hero in our world now. We glorify criminals in pop-culture--actual criminals, who commit actual, harmful crimes. The Mafia is just one particularly glaring example.  But, you know...fuhggedabahdit. Wuhddayahgunndu, right?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Inspiration, not Obligation

Sometimes as I'm working on or through some aspect of my existence, a phrase comes to mind that sums it up. Sometimes the phrase rhymes, like a refrigerator magnet, or one of those little books in the drugstore that have gag-inducing niceties in 'em.  At times like that, I'm a little embarrassed at the facile verbiage, but I have to stand in the clarity of its truth.

Today, I'm working on a proposal for my work that might seem to some to be a burden to already-overworked middle managers. But once the idea was put out that it's not about added responsibility but rather about enhancing the fun--"the shimmer" as we call it--confusion dissipated, and resistance soon faded in the conversation.  The idea was that this new idea is to be implemented by Inspiration, not Obligation.  As long as it's enjoyable, and whenever the mood strikes.It's an important distinction, and I wonder if there are other areas of my life--actual responsibilities--where I might apply the thought, towards enhancing my enjoyment of various and sundry mundanities.

Inspiration, not Obligation.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sinclair Lewis, American Prophet

When I read Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel about the rise of fascism in America, I was riding a train from Atlanta to New York...inadvertently maintaining continuity with the period in the story. I was by turns aghast, despairing, awe-struck, and incredulous at Lewis's writing--there's no other word for it but, "prophetic."

I immediately saw that It Can't Happen Here would work very well as a theater piece, and the way I see it, by using a strict adherence to the story and period it would allow the audience to make the disquieting connections to current events and climate.  In my work with my solo show,Il  Teatro Machiavelli, (wherein I present a period- and dramaturgically airtight Punch-and-Judy-show adaptation of Machiavelli's The Prince) I generally find that the othertimeliness of the setting heightens the timelessness and contemporaneity (yes, that's a word) of the show's themes in the audience's experience.

All that to say, I'm becoming more convinced that the time is ripe for this show.  I saw the attached video starting to make the rounds from the YouTubes, and I dove straight back into the book for the prequel.  Read this, from It Can't Happen Here, then (try to) watch the video.  Is there any other word, but "Prophetic"?

BackgroundBuzz Windrip is the candidate for President, who is campaigning on a platform of smoke-and-mirrors populism.  The groundswell of support in the nation is being led by a WCTU type (Yes, the organization still exists in operation) named Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch. (I insert here a picture of the founder of the WCTU, just because Miss Annie Turner Wittenmyer looks like just the type of gal to start a Women's Christian Temperance Union):  


In the first song, the League of Forgotten Men is a loose ad hoc confederation of disgruntled Depression-unemployed men. In the second, more ominous, song, M.M. is abbreviation for the paramilitary arm of the Windrip movement, the Minute Men (a festishistic patriotic throwback to the Nation's Founding mythos...Tea Party, anyone?). Doremus Jessup is the New England Newspaperman who serves as the primary protagonist of the story. (Lewis could really craft a name, that's for sure.)

Before the cheering, as the Windrip parade neared the platform, they were greeted by Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch, the celebrated author, lecturer, and composer, who--suddenly conjured onto the platform as if whisked out of the air--sang to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" words which she herself had written:

Berzelius Windrip went to Wash.,
Riding on a hobby--
To throw Big Business out, by Gosh,
And be the People's Lobby!

Chorus:
Buzz and buzz and keep it up,
Our cares and needs he's toting,
You are a most ungrateful pup,
Unless for Buzz you're voting!

The League of the Forgotten Men
Don't like to be forgotten,
They went to Washington and then
They sang, "There's something rotten!"

And later, just after Windrip is elected:

Past [Doremus Jessup's] house after midnight, through muddy snow tramped a triumphant and reasonably drunken parade, carrying torches and bellowing to the air of "Yankee Doodle" new words revealed just that week by Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch:

The snakes disloyal to our Buzz
We're riding on a rail,
They'll wish to God they never was,
When we get them in jail!

Chorus:
Buzz and buzz and keep it up
To victory he's floated.
You were a most ungrateful pup,
Unless for Buzz you voted.

Every M.M. gets their whip
To use upon some traitor,
And every Antibuzz we skip
Today, we'll tend to later.

Then, when I saw this, I was gobsmacked:





So.  Any one of my Lefty artist friends wanna get a copy of the book and start a conversation?

E Pluribus Unum

"From Many, One."  Can there be a more concise definition of God?  As above, so below. As within, so without.

I've had occasion lately to be thinking about Family, and increasingly, this is the image that comes up for me (Norman Rockwell, it ain't):


Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, painting by Leloir.  In the story--Genesis 32--Jacob's thigh was torn out of joint. (A metaphorical understanding of the body, the thigh is what moves us through the world; and, the joint is that connective piece which holds us together.)

Wherever two or more are gathered in karmic agreement and in the name of Love, to create a singular entity, there walks God. And, like Jacob wrestling with the Angel at the Riverbank, we wrestle and struggle mightily in our lives, until we are torn out of joint, bloodied and exhausted.  And as morning breaks, we demand to know what is the True Name of Family, and what is our own.


"I will not let you go, until you bless me."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

But Enough About Me...

Finally from the Archives, (November 2002), published once, condensed in a newsletter.

As you'll read, I had undertaken a home-grown exploratory soul-surgery on myself at a time in my life when pieces of my self, my identity, were falling away like ice off a cliff in the Arctic. I had no sense of when that reductive process would end, what else would be taken from me as part of that process. I was surprised to learn about a year later that I had begun the re-building process quite subtly.

 I took inspiration for the exercise I conducted from an article I had read about executive assessments called, "360's"  where a highly-paid consultant conducts anonymous in-depth interviews with everyone in a client's life, then gives them an unflinching assessment of where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and what they might do to adjust their manner or behavior for the better.  I had neither a consultant nor a budget; but I had email (and had I to do it again, I would have used an anonymizer like SurveyMonkey or something like that.) So, folllowing is the description of my experience:

But Enough About Me...What do YOU Think of Me?

Paul Simon wrote in one of his songs, “If I have weaknesses, don’t let them blind me”. It was in that spirit that I recently sent out an email to my friends, loved ones, and colleagues, asking them to tell me in no uncertain terms, what they thought of me. “What,” I asked, “do you see as my strengths, and what do you see as my weaknesses?” This was no ego-stroking exercise in fishing for warm-fuzzies. As an actor, I have learned that one way to learn about the character one is playing is to look through the play, and find out what the other characters say about him. So, why couldn’t that work for real life as well? If I am, in fact, out to increase my self-awareness, then, I realized, it was time to step back from my own self, and see myself as an actor in the play of my life. So I did the research. What I found in this exercise was not only personally enlightening, but also surprising on a number of fronts. I went through my entire email address book, choosing one name at a time—how well do I know this guy, and how well does he know me? Will she be able to address my request for total honesty tempered by generally-accepted standards of kindness? Gee, I haven’t spoken with that person in years...I wonder what he’ll say. I ended up with about a dozen and a half individuals. Perhaps I asked too many people, but I wanted a broad cross-section of the people in my life; I wanted to get as full an accounting as possible. I reasoned that I was at a point in my life where I could get my ego out of the way, and observe the feedback with a certain degree of objectivity, and without defensiveness. I braced myself for the onslaught of brutal honesty by making a list of my own perceived strengths and weaknesses. This, I found, was an important step. I also built into the message an easy, but important ‘opt-out’ clause, to allow for those who may just be weirded out by my openness. And after all, my ego was not so fragile as all that. With a decisive flourish, I clicked the SEND button. In the next instant, I heard the tone indicating the message had been sent. And, perhaps not surprisingly, I was promptly gripped by a flood of second thoughts. Yes, the barn door was closed, but the horses done gone...so I waited.
I didn’t have to wait long. Within the next couple of days, the responses came trickling in. I have yet to hear from some of the recipients, and some would prefer having a face-to-face with me. (The which I’m not comfortable with, since to have the feedback in writing allows, in my opinion, the surveyed to be more open, honest, and thoughtful in the response. And, it gives me a tool to which I can refer later—which is the whole point for me). Some responded with incredulity that I would contact them at all, after I had not actively maintained a relationship with them for years. This last one was a chastening experience I had to particularly steel myself for--but hey, if I’m looking at myself, warts and all, then look I must. Still others would be so averse to responding that they would even disregard my request for a reply of non-response. Though, with no statute of limitations in my request, it’s entirely possible some might find their way to commenting still.
But most did respond—thoughtfully, respectfully, and unflinchingly. I learned here that there is truly no such thing as an objective response to a survey such as this. And, by extension, no true objectivity in much of life. I saw so clearly here, the ways in which we bring our context, our own perceptions to bear on all our experiences. For the most part, the feedback I received was consistent with my own perceptions of my strengths and weaknesses. One of the biggest surprises to me was that I found that those closest to me (and who incidentally held me in high esteem), were the most humble in their responses, even to doubting their own (entirely valid) perceptions. A recurring motif in those responses was something along the lines of, “I don’t know if any of this means anything to you, since I see so much of this in myself as well...” And therein lies the true lesson I learned in this process. In a very real and immediate way, I saw first-hand, the theory proven how we project aspects of ourselves onto the people and circumstances in our lives. I saw how we are all reflections of each other, for each other, and in sacred service to each other. In one moment, it became more than an intellectual construct for me, and became instead an experiential truth. We are as the mirrors in a spinning carousel, multi-faceted, a kaleidoscope of images passing in a fairground, shifting for each gazer.

Ultimately, I learned that because of this very phenomenon, my research yielded much more truth than I could have hoped or sought.

Changing the Matrix

Another from the Archives of Trying to Figure This All Out (November 2002). 

Changing the Matrix

This past year has been a time of transition, and, for many, upheaval. Personal growth, and societal evolution seem to be picking up the pace, as if we collectively have realized that there is no time to waste on this path. After the amorphous feeling of disquietude gives way to a desire for real change, what then? Turning away from long-held fears and embracing the choice of Love would seem to be easy things to decide. Logically, who wouldn’t want to live with more peace, more joy, more in the moment?
We state an intention. A true intention, from the heart. We speak that intention to the Universe. It is clear, positive, and without reservation. It is vibrant with Truth. And one of the first things that happens is every fearful choice we made in opposition to that new intention is brought up for our examination. As if the Universe is saying, “Look around, are you really sure you want to choose this path?” This is a great temptation. Often, it is far too easy to fall back into one’s old patterns of reactivity, simply because they are familiar. Yet with each statement of intention, that path feels less and less satisfying.

The density of energy as it manifests here in this life makes the process of establishing an intention as our lived experience a sometimes maddeningly slow one. If, one might ask, this is the Truth of my soul, and our job here is to remember our Divinity, and live it, why then is choosing the highest choice so hard, on a moment to moment basis? What makes us attract the things in our life that we do--the patterns that both assist and hinder our growth?

Beyond our physical body, is our subtle energetic body, reaching out at ever-higher vibrations of light. With that as a given, I invite you to look at those levels of energy closest to the physical as a kind of energy Matrix, a magnetic template for our choices. The film of the same name is an exciting techno-allegory for spiritual enlightenment; but for our purposes, the Matrix is not only the enemy—Maya, the world of illusion--but is also the very tool by which we can transcend fear and limitation. It is a means by which we make our intentions manifest every day. Like a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, this Personal Matrix is an energetic system of tabs and slots...tongues and grooves...doves and tails...of the which we are hard-wired to seek out complementing elements. This energetic template is established early in life, and is the basis for our propensity to (in its most overt form) seek out mates that recreate our relationship with our opposite-sex parent. But this also applies to all our circumstances, in terms of what we attract to our lives. It's operating on so many levels simultaneously, we literally can't comprehend the complexity of it. 

This Matrix Theory of Transformation and Growth recognizes that Quantum physics represents the point where the snake of spirituality starts to eat its tail. West meets East, literally. Empiricism meets Mysticism, in the frontiers of submolecular physics. Matter is simply energy condensed, in both idioms. We observe the effects of this truth, much as we can observe the effects of the wind, though we can not observe the wind itself.

Let’s look at relationships, since they are such fertile opportunities for awareness and growth. Looking at it graphically: let’s say Johnny’s ‘Love Matrix’ (sounds like an unsavory movie, I know, but bear with me here) is, to use a grossly oversimplified binary analogy, 0-0-1-1. This happens to match up with his mate, Mary, who’s Love Matrix has the form 1-1-0-0. A perfect complement, like DNA matching up along the strands of the double helix. (In reality, the Matrix is made up mostly of unconscious choices, self-identities, desires and beliefs.)

This correlation serves them well for years in the relationship, mainly because it’s familiar, and it allows them to maintain their entrenched sense of identity, consistent with their earliest programming. Let’s say further that as John and Mary grow in this relationship, their more-inclusive Life Matrices change with experience and intention—they are ready to move beyond the restrictive identities they were programmed with at an early age. Their matrices now don’t serve them as they once did, and they decide to go their separate ways. Now, each of them has a new view of what they would like in a relationship, and are thus altering the constitution of their “Love Matrix”. Now John’s is 1-0-1-0, and Mary’s is 1-1-0-1. Both see how they prefer this new personal matrix configuration. They both feel more grounded and strong in their new relationships, Yet, every time they meet again, they fall back into their ‘default modes’ of 0-0-1-1 and 1-1-0-0. But the problem is that the old matrix is so unsatisfying that it keeps old pain alive. The trick then is to bring the new Matrix, the preferred one, into the relationship with each other, without judging the former configuration. That’s the tough part. For when we move to another stage in our lives, it is part of the process to look back, and there may be a kind of incredulity and frustration at having not seen the pattern so clearly before. And that is easy to externalize in a tightly-knit Matrix like a love relationship.

So, John and Mary decide who they would like to be in a new relationship. They establish this intention, with clarity, and speaking the deepest, highest truth of which they are capable. Their energetic matrix begins to shift (that is, the wheels of creation are set in motion, towards manifestation in the physical). They may find that eventually, they feel compelled out of a sense of self-respect, to choose in accordance with this new idea of themselves. This new Matrix is then being brought more clearly into physical manifestation. These positive choices, just like the negative ones before them, feed on themselves, and build momentum on their own. The trick for John and Mary, then, is to build the awareness of the old Matrix, and know what sets it into motion, and learn to choose the New Matrix consistently. The tools to help that process: therapy, body work, meditation, the list goes on and on.

Look around you. What has your energy Matrix brought to you? What would you like to change? Set it in motion. Change the Matrix, and you transform your world.

St. Judas Iscariot

This was the first "column" that I wrote, years ago, for a "newspaper" that was "printed" on "paper".  Amazing to think that now.

Written when I really really thought I knew something about these matters, the content and message are sincere, but the tone is off the mark. (Though in my defense, I had just come off of reading a pretty intense Tom Robbins novel about an invalid, an Amazonian shaman, a parrot, and a nun.)  Much has changed since this writing: much has been recovered and much has been lost, and found, and otherwise transformed in my life since then; nonetheless, I'm posting this as it was written and printed nearly two decades(!) ago, if for no other reason than it's a kind of MRI slice of my life at that time.

St. Judas Iscariot

It has become my fervent belief in the past few years that Judas Iscariot has been wrongly denied canonization by the Catholic Church. I implore your patience for a moment as I explain. Yes, that same Judas who, according to sanctioned accounts, betrayed Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene, turning him over to the Romans for a few shiny pieces of metal under the watchful eye of the Pharisees. Yes, that same traitor--vilified through time, immortalized in fresco as the Apostle with Bad Table Manners for having toppled the salt shaker at the Last Supper—who was so shame-ridden by his sin that he committed suicide. But let’s look closer, shall we? Here was a man who did the Hard Thing. By ratting out Jesus, he in fact made the redemption of all humanity possible. If it weren’t for his setting in motion the wheels of God’s will, where would Western Culture be today? The good and the bad of it? Why must he be so demonized, rather than venerated? I bring this up because I see a bit of myself in J.I. And I’d venture to guess that many of you, dear readers, could as well.

I grew up in what I would call a “Resentfully New-Catholic” family. (That is to say, my parents were fairly observant, though entirely displeased with the vernacularization of the Church and its rituals after Vatican II.) I was, if not fully steeped in the Roman Catholic mythos, at least swirled around in that dogmatic demitasse long enough for it to rub off on me. (You can take the boy out of the pew…) Even now, as I consider myself an inconsistent mystic, I am drawn to the beautiful and powerful vocabulary of Catholic imagery. In it, I find the imagery of the spirit unbound from the political trappings of hierarchical religion. I have expanded beyond that as well, but it remains an important part of my particular path. I am also well aware that that imagery does not resonate with others as it does with me—nor does it have to, of course.

However, I have found a connecting thread among those seeking to live more consciously: it is that very willingness to do the Hard Thing. I have seen an almost universal acceptance of the blessed inevitability of making the difficult choice. The choice of Love that we are compelled to make even as it causes us, and perhaps those we love, pain. It is not news, I know, to say that the path of Light requires that we simultaneously dive into our own Darkness. We are yin and yang forever chasing each other. Our wounds are the paths to our healing. A teacher of mine likened it so: Some people spend the better part of their lives circling the fire, growing ever-so-slightly closer to it with each revolution, till at long last they are engulfed; some never get close enough to the fire to get singed; and still others hurtle themselves headlong into the fire like some rogue kamikaze moth. Neither route is better than the other is. Both will burn and purify, destroy and create you anew. I happen to be the lucky bearer of a Red-Ember-Express ticket. Although, to be true, it has been a fairly gradual realization beginning when I was a child, with the amorphous feeling that I just didn’t—well--belong with the family into which I was born. Mind you, nothing overtly tangible in my present-life experience induced that feeling. But, I have come to see that in order for me to have grown as I have--to make the choice to live more consciously, to seek out what the true meaning of family is--I have had to remove myself from the political system of my family of origin.

Now, I am not enlightened, by any means. I advocate no one particular modality towards awakening one’s kundalini. I am simply another seeker after Truth—a drop in the Paradigm-Shift Ocean, if you will—and I am learning to “connect the dots” of my life in whatever limited way I can. The reason I share this information at all is that in my experience, I have found it edifying to hear of others’ calls to Light, and the choices that they make thereby. I find strength and wonder in witnessing the myriad paths that are leading to the Great Unity. In fact, I would like to invite a dialogue to begin from this writing in which people can share their remembrances, as well as their forgetting, of the path, for themselves and others.

Sometimes the Hard Thing is simply standing in the fire, palms open at your sides, feeling a part of your old self die, not knowing where to turn--and not turning. Where is the strength? Who are the strong? The eleven who went into hiding for the weekend? Or the one who picked up God’s own gauntlet?

Saint Judas Iscariot, pray for us.

2011 - Year of Completions (?)

On 1/11/11, at 11:11 and such like, there was all manner of numerology being slung around to show how meaningful the date and time was.  While I got pretty good at adding in my head in two-bit increments when I was working the concession stand at the Lefont Tara movie theater back in college, I never really put a lot of stock in numbers as powerful, or as numinous tools.

But I've noticed something in my own impulses, this drive to start handling the incomplete projects and unfinished work of my life and career--that I'm seeing echoed elsewhere.  For instance, my friend Audrey in NY, a great and brilliant Clown, is teaching a workshop here. This is a great opportunity, as I've got probably about a dozen ideas, concepts, shows and production designs in my head and in various states of incompletion. Sadly, I can't attend. It's in NY, and I'll be in Paris that day.  So, everything's a trade-off, I guess.  Anyway, it got me thinking even more about what is incomplete in my own life, in the lives of those I love and know, and in the world at large. 

So, in my own stab at dubious numerological punditry, I'll add this:  2011 = 2+0+1+1 = 4.  Four is the number of completion.  The square.  The Holy Quaternity (as Jung has observed, Who would the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be, without Satan?)...this may very well be the year to 'get complete' in our lives. Even if it's a bunch of math-ey bunk, it feels like what there is to do now.

Work, Relationships--what if we had nothing to lose? Would we let the moment pass without following that still, small voice inside that calls us to our best impulses and intentions?  What if we had everything to lose if we did let the moment pass?  

Letting no business go unfinished. Letting go of grief withheld.  Opening the most guarded corners of the heart. Opening the channel of creativity. The bottom line is always the same: it's about choosing love over fear (but jeez, even that sounds to my ear new-agey and hackneyed)...

Where are you incomplete, and what could you do now, in this very moment, towards being complete in some aspect of your Life?

Why a blog? (Why a duck?)

I've been toying with the idea of actually maintaining a blog for a while now, and since we've been snowed in here in Atlanta for four days now, and I've cleaned my home to within an inch of its life, I guess there's nothing else to do while waiting for the ice to melt outside my door, but to start making good on all these idle "shoulds" I've had cluttering up my life.

I used to think I knew a lot of the answers to my questions. But now, thankfully, I know I don't. My goal here will be to collect and share various Experiential Life Learnings, Inspirations, Questions, Passionately Held Opinions--touching on all the major hot-button topics:  politics, religion, spirituality, morality, artistry. It's all part of the mix.  My hope is to engage in a living conversation, a passionately curious dialogue--I'd like to invite you to join in, if you're so inclined. Or, I could just keep typing into the empty echoing ether, and that would be okay too.

So, thanks for joining me, so far.