Sunday, September 6, 2009

What things mean "Symbol"?

I have started reading the book "The Forgotten Language" by Erich Fromm, where he discusses dreams, symbols, and interpretation. Several projects I have taken on also seem informed by symbolic interpretation. So it seems fitting today to talk a little about symbols. I love symbols and discussions of symbols. They come up in my conversations a great deal, so even in choosing to talk about symbols, I find myself struggling with choices. But what seems to pull to me most today, is a discussion using symbols to interpret the bible.

In a past post I mentioned some of the popular symbols of the bible, mountains, roads, valleys, etc. I want to examine another story in the bible according to symbolic language (like I did the one verse related to John the Baptist earlier). The bible begins with the story of the creation that results in a garden. Throughout most of the bible, gardens often show up as a metaphor for the soul.

For example, in Job 8:16 - "He is like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, spreading its shoots over the garden" where here we have a person how receives much (well lwatered), but has no depth and his roots go around rocks, and he withers because he has no depth to his soul.

or in Isaiah 1:30 - "
You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water." again, suggesting that without nurishment and water (revelation? spirit?) the soul dries up and is only useful as firewood... (a dire hint... lol).
So if we use that metaphor in the book of Genesis, a new understanding emerges. If we see the creation, not as the creation of the universe, but as the creation of an individual soul; then the Garden represents that individuals psyche.

It is possible to carry the metaphor of creation much further, perhaps too far, by noting that all of the elements of the creation can be related to the creation of a new child. My quick associations:

1. Let there be light - the moment of conception
2. Separate waters - the formation of the fetus
3. Dry land - the formation of bones
4. Vegetation - the creation of systems in the body (nervous, circulatory, lymph)
5. Lights - establishment of rhythms of the body -
a. Sun - daily cycles - eating, sleeping
b. Moon - monthly cycles - moods, ovulation
c. Stars - age cycles - child, teen, adult, parent, grandparent, age
6. Animals - suggestion of movement, muscles, beginnings of life
7. Adam - the moment of quickening, life, awareness

Taken all together, the suggestion then is that the Garden of Eden represents a child in an innocent state. and all the players in the garden are simply different aspects of an individual soul. Adam represents awareness; Eve represents desires (she is desirable); and the snake represents our ego. Notice that it is the snake that pushes Adam and Eve to be like the gods (parents), to know good and evil. To me, God in the story represents our own intuition, higher consciousness, our soul, our connection to that higher power. The gods are the false gods promised by the snake and equated to God - and, ironically, they are our parents, society, and those that assume a god-like dominance over our own ability to choose what is best for us. Granted as a child, we may not always know, but the ability to learn and know is slowly eroded by those that would protect us and keep us safe.

So in the Garden there are two trees, the "Tree of Life" and the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil." Eventually, our ego (the snake) persuades us through our desire (eve) to be like our parents (gods) to accept the fruit (results) of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree requires a little explanation.

In the beginning, while Adam was still in the garden, God asks Adam to name the animals (Genesis 2, the other version of creation where Adam comes first). In this version, Adam simply observes and names the animals accordingly, there is no judgment apparent in the names. Just things like "Long Tooth" or "Eats Berries" (ok, you may have to go back to the original language to see this). But by taking of the fruit of good and evil, Adam (you) learn to judge things as "good" or "evil" - and here is the key. This is all about fear. You learn that if a thing is evil, you fear it; but if a thing is good, you fear it will be taken away. This is the meaning of the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil." That it is the tree of fear.

So the whole (metaphysical) meaning of this story is that when a child is born, when you were born, you were taught, as all of us were taught, to fear. to be afraid of a burning stove, losing a loved one, not having enough. And this fear is in opposition to life. Most people believe that the opposite of life is death, but it is not. The opposite of life is Fear.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Update: Agnostics vs Athiest

I saw a statement from Penn Says (of Penn and Teller) yesterday who brought out a very powerful argument in the debate of Agnostic vs Athiest; and leads me to update my own thoughts (see my first blog). He suggests the only useful question is not, "Is there a God?" or "Can I know if there is a God?", but rather, "Do you believe in God?" He suggests that the differences I posted about an Athiest or an Agnostic melt away under that question. And as I listened to him, I had to agree that belief introduces yet another level; and it is one that removes much of the mystical thinking from the previous two questions. In a nut shell, he suggests that most Agnostics become Athiest when they answer that question... that in not knowing, or in not being sure, they would tend to side with an Athiest in most moral decisions. He differentiates by asking the question, "If God (however you define God) communicated to you (again, however you would define such divine communication) to kill your own child, would you do it?" His suggestion is that if you answer "no" you are an Athiest; and if you answer "yes" then stay away from him. lol.

I like it as a great update to the difficult, mystical questions. It pulls it back from definition (and a dependence on the copula "is") into action. I do believe, strongly, that it is still possible to be Agnostic and spiritual; and that being Agnostic does not mean you abandon a belief in diety - but I do think that belief becomes tempered. I know I would strongly question divine communication asking me to kill my child. I would suspect my own personal psychosis long before I would believe that to be a true or divinely inspired command. (I think my son is probably relieved to hear that... lol). Still, I do believe that the universe is basically nurturing. That there is some purpose to life, our abilities to communicate, philosophize, connect, love, etc. I certainly don't believe in a God that commands one tribe to kill another (for example Numbers 31) including all male children, and all women that have already been "polluted" by sexual intercourse. That just sounds like a bunch of horny, but powerful old men to me (which has pretty much been the case through most of our human history).

So, is there any thing I would alter about my previous post? Not too much, except I would lessen it's overall importance. I'm not so sure that the distinction between Agnostic and Athiest is all that important. I find that for myself, the distinction that becomes more important is what action does your particular form of spirituality create, and does it create action that serves for something greater (humanly, publicly recognizable as good). I fear that even this comes too close to trying to define good and evil, which I believe is the root of most theological disagreements. no easy answers... more later.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Advice to a Friend

Meditation is about centering, turning your focus inward, relaxing, calming, quieting the voices, just being… it is about allowing the silence to surround you, comfort you, and finally, in the most still, calm, quiet moment you can imagine, sometimes you can hear the voice of the infinite residing inside of you. It’s an amazing, powerful, transforming thing – this turning inward.

So, you mention many times that you were “all over the place” – and it
occurs to me that you might find some training in a simple form of meditation useful. Don’t go into it looking for this silence that speaks – it’s another one of those gifts that happens when it happens, not when you prepare for it. But just the act of turning your focus inward would help you from being or feeling "all over the place."

One thing at a time.

One practice.

One breath.

One-ness.


We tend to become what we focus on. Thoughts of fear, anxiety, sanity won’t help you. It doesn’t serve you at all. It’s like when you’re getting a shot from the doctor and your staring at the needle. Or you get a cut and you’re watching the blood ooze out… that focus hurts you. So again, all this to suggest a different focus. One that is calming, inward, looking at your journey.

Learn to observe yourself

Learn to see your heart

Learn to see your soul

Learn to marvel at your complexity

Learn to enjoy your simplicity

Learn to see

Learn to feel

Learn to breathe

Learn to be

Just be

Be silent

Find your center

Find your core

Let that inner wisdom speak to you

It is there

I promise

It is your rhythm

Find your beat

Find your drum

Let the music move you

Let it soothe your savage beast (the one that is all over the place)

Dance

Sing

Rejoice

Let go

Breathe

Love

Live

Laugh

Shine

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lemons and Mystics


Expanding on my previous dialog, almost all mystical liturature begins by telling us that the mystical experience is "unknowable" Here are a couple of examples:

The primal center is the innermost light, of a translucence, subtlety, and purity beyond comprehension. That inner point extends to become a "palace" which acts as an enclosure for the center, and is also of a radiance translucent beyond the power to know it. The "palace" vestment for the incognizable inner point, while it is an unknowable radiance in itself, is nevertheless of a lesser subtlety and translucency than the primal point. The palace extends into a vestment for itself, the primal light. From then outward, there is extension upon extension, each constituting a vesture to the one before, as a membrane to the brain. Though membrane first, each extension becomes brain to the next extension. (From the Zohar, one of the older Jewish texts on Kabballah)
See... the analogy is, none of us could possibly comprehend the center, or even the next step away from the center. The best we can hope for is to start to understand out there in some subdivision well separated from the palace.

And this one from the Tao Te Ching

The Tao which can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao; the name which can be uttered is not the eternal name. Without a name it is the Beginning of Heaven and Earth; with a name it is the Mother of all things. (Tao Te Ching; Chapter 1)

Again, there are many, translations of every verse in the Tao Te Ching, but again, the essence of this one suggests that no words could possibly describe the Tao. Again, we're just too limited to understand. There is more, much more from many different traditions that all suggest those who claim to "know" the Tao, don't understand it.

So, again, following my previous threads, I would contend that mystical vision, mystical understanding, the mystical world view is not so inaccessible.

A common saying (perhaps too common), is that "A picture is worth a thousand words"; and yet, no matter how many times you read the word lemon, it does not convey the same thing as a picture of a lemon; and could a thousand word essay actually produce the same thing as a picture? Probably not (though some may come close). Even more so, can a picture of a lemon produce the experience of tasting a lemon? Could you express through words, pictures, movies, sound, the experience of tasting a lemon?

And this is my point. While it may be true that the experience of the Tao and the Zohar, and other traditions are indescribable, so are all of our human experiences. That's why we use words. You cannot directly relate any experience to another human being (Vulcan Mind Melds not withstanding). So lacking the ability to telepathically communicate ANY HUMAN EXPERIENCE we resort to words (and pictures) to describe them. And after telling us we can't comprehend the Tao, the Ain Sof, or the mystical experience, all mystical liturature then goes on to describe it, like we do any human experience - in words.

So, while it may not be an overly common human experience, it is still just that, a human experience. It is no more mysterious than a lemon, and how lemon heads, lemon merrangue, lemon juice, etc, all relate. We know it, inately, without anyone having to tell us. I think the mystical experience is like this as well. A human experience that we find sometimes in many ways, many paths, many views. but knowable all the less.

My blog is to continue to explore that line between the Agnostic and the Mystic where we make the unknowable more accessible; try to shed some of the mysteries of the mystics, and make the Agnostics more knowledgable.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

In the last post I spoke of a way of seeing the world, one that seems common among most mystical traditions, but is new and often different from how most of us see the world. Another common thing I read in most mystical literature speaks to the Journey.

Simply put, the mystics suggest that the mystical journey is part of what brings one to the new way of seeing the world, to the place of peace.

So I want to present two ideas in this post.
  1. I want to explore the idea of the journey
  2. I want to make it more accessible to other apprentice mystics
We have a deep subconscious recognition of the journey. Most of us hear stories of a journey and often recognize it as a metaphor for our soul, or consciousness, or for at least something worth reaching for. Thousands of stories exist about journey's; all the way from the yellow dog (Disney), to Alice in Wonderland, to the Argonauts and their search for the golden fleece. Jesus made many journey's beginning with one in the desert. Noah made a journey, but then, so did Buddah, Mohammed, and many others. Many religions celebrate the passage of people from one place (state of mind?) to another. The journey often represents the journey of awareness or of awakening.

In the Bible the tribes of Israel were freed from Egypt (which often represents a state of captivity or of being asleep, unaware), and travelling for 40 years to get to the promised land. This is the metaphor of the mystical journey. We are all asleep, unaware early in our life. for some of us, something happens to bring us to awareness. we wake up. We discover there is a journey to be had. We don't know what it is, we just know that it is different than anything we have ever attempted before. and it is our journey. People may say to go this way or go that way... but something deeper, inside of us takes us the direction we need to go for ourselves.

And those who have realized there is a journey often identify with the idea, even to the point of taking on a name, or at least a title. Pioneer, Pathfinder, Trekker, Seeker, Searcher, Explorer, Journeyman, hunter, wanderer, pilgram, tracker, and many, many more names.

So again, while the mystics often talk about "the journey" (Tao is often translated into English as meaning "The Way"); just like learning to "see" the world in a new way, we are often left with the idea that the journey is long and arduous (40 years in the desert??? no thanks!). Symbollically our own personal trip to Mecca... But I'd like to suggest my own experiences with the journey that differ from this idea.

The journey can be fast. In a flash, in a moment you can suddenly have an insight and your way of seeing the world changes. More importantly, even if the journey takes a long time, just having the feeling that your on such a journey changes your perspective. The journey itself can bring a great deal of peace in and of itself. Finally, like some of my previous posts,

Finally, I'd like to suggest that the mystical literature often speaks of the journey as this magical, mysterious sort of thing - big, hard to get to; but my own experiences suggest that once you begin to wake up, you find your feet planted on a path, and off you go. It's more like the journey finds you, and if you don't resist too much, you'll find it simply becomes part of you, and not so mysterious or big or hard to understand. it is your OWN path. and that's what makes it powerful, unique, mysterious, beautiful, and full of wonder. Or is that Wander?

Monday, April 6, 2009

What color is your Rainbow?

Many mystical texts speak about "seeing" the world in a new way. Today I saw an article that made me think about this, but it isn't what the mystics have in mind.

This months Scientific American has an article about how color vision evolved. Too much to go over in a short blog, but the article talks a lot about how we see color and how other animals see color. We have cones in our eye that activate from three colors (trichromatic). There are many animals that only have cones for two colors (dichromats), and even a few that only have one. A few birds have sensitivity for four colors (tetrachromatic).

So there's lots of fun territory here, all about "seeing" the world in different ways.

What would it "look" like to see only two? What would it look like to see four? What did the first people who had three colors (and hence could now see many more colors than their two-color friends) experience? Think about all aspects of that experience? We could playfully recreate it, but let's say they could now see orange, and more reds. Would they be suppressed (burned at the stake), resisted, or just tossed off as a bit looney? We join Tribecca (who can see three pigments) and Dick (who only sees two).

Tribecca asks, "Could you hand me that orange?"
Dick replys, "orange? what's that. do you mean this grey?"
T - "well, I suppose. but it's orange."
D - "what does that even mean?"
T - "I'm talking about the color"
D - "Yeah, it's grey"
T - "no, it looks like the sunset"
D - "well, at least you got that right."
T - "so you like all the colors?"
D - "what colors?"
T - "just hand me the grey..."

This article is mostly just to get you thinking about different ways to "see" the world. Nothing too deep or mystical, except that it feels odd to try to think about new - unnamed colors. And what it means to try to see them in your mind. Can you name all the 24 million colors you can display on a Mac? I know I can't. but I can see them. If asked, I can point to 10 or 15 different shades of yellow in a painting and probably name most of them (yellow, yellow green, light yellow, kind of a orange yellow, but not as orange as that one, etc.). But the colors are relative. I might point to a different shade first next time and call that yellow and shift my answers just a little...

So, i keep talking about seeing new colors. Does it seem possible that we all see the world a little differently? Or is the difference probably pretty minimal. One of the points of the article states that some women have four types of visual pigments instead of three. What if you're one of them? Can you picture how the world might look different for other people with more or less than you? That's where all the fun begins.

ok, that's it for now. "See" you later.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Art of Letting Go

Life has a rhythm, it cycles, it turns, it wheels, it spins, and it never stays still. Yet, too often we want to change that rhythm, we want to rush it, or slow it, or stop it altogether.

We only seek to change the rhythm out of fear

The wise learns to dance with life's rhythm, to enjoy what life brings, and to let go when the time has come to move on. Most of what we learn in society is the opposite of this. We cling to what we are afraid we will lose. We run from that which scares us. But life ebbs and flows. Joseph Campbell spoke of this dance:

The warrior's approach is to say 'yes' to life. - yes to it all
To participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world
(A Joseph Campbell Companion, pg. 17)

As I sit here working on the next phrase, I find myself thinking about rhythm and fear and the circle of life, and I wonder what to share. What do I fear? I find that the challenge of writing a blog, to me, is having these airy, heady ideas, and then bumping into real life. Discovering that I feel out of rhythm with life myself, and wondering how to get back in step. That I have all these ideas in my head, ideas I have seen change my life, bring me peace, helped me weather some tough times - but they don't always help. And if I share the darkness, can those who read still see the light?

And it is exactly in writing that last line that what I really want to express comes ringing through, for me. The importance of fully embracing life, the good with the bad; the bliss with the terrifying; the beauty with the mundane with the disfigured (yes, even reaching only for the extremes still misses the point of embracing everything).