Category Archives: Culture

2 Connections to Bigger Patterns

Firstly, those following the wider process of death and rebirth that on a narrow level is currently playing out in Ukraine will probably be highly interested in this typically bravura lecture by Immanuel Wallerstein:

… since Ukraine currently exemplifies his “chaos” rather perfectly (its companion “bifurcation” is harder for me to swallow theoretically). Comparing the behaviour of this world system since 1945 with the one in Bali from the J. Stephen Lansing lecture I linked recently, I find it fascinating to see where they intersect. Competing myths. Wallerstein’s cycles of hegemony are bang on. He was turned onto systems by Prigogine. He and William Irwin Thompson might get on somewhat since they somewhat similarly see expansion and contraction.

(BTW the organisation Wallerstein mentions at around 31 mins is the Project for the New American Century — which I had somehow missed until now. Interesting!)

Secondly, and especially for those who haven’t yet looked at it, I’d like to speak again on behalf of acupressure. My fave books, as in the qigong reading list, are beginner-friendly, and there’s nothing like a little resilience and hardiness amidst all the world-system weirdness:

Acupressure’s Potent Points

Acupressure for Emotional Healing

I bring it up because of a scientific discovery which I’ve been meaning to post for ages. Over the last few years Joie Jones and Young Bae have actually been detecting the changes in stimulated acupoints using fMRI, and now they’re able to animate them on a screen so you can see them happening all along the meridian. EDIT: Sorry, forgot that the major breakthroughs actually involve ultrasound not fMRI. Jones demonstrates this here:

After you see, literally, the steadiness of the wave of chi moving through a meridian, you’ll never again wonder about the length of time you have to hold acupoints.

The connection again is self-organising systems. The meridians as a whole constitute one such system; acupressure, one way to adjust it. In order to link this with mythology and Kundalini you need a few more patterns. For now I’ll note that Carl Rogers-style psychology is about allowing self-organisation to occur. You yourself are a world, as the world-system is a world. Worlds interpenetrate.


Korean Shaman Ladies

Still waiting for things to clear before I come back and start properly again… I’ll just post odds and ends when I have a moment in the meanwhile. I love this video about Korean shamanesses, a culture that goes back a long way, and one I probably feel more at home with as “religion” than with anything most Westerners associate with that word tbh.

Korean shaman culture is quite vibrant and modern and has an interesting relationship with respectable society. Some Koreans take pride in this traditional folk culture whilst others predictably denigrate it as superstitious. As you can tell from this article by a Korean student in London:

Shamanic small ads

… the place occupied by these ladies isn’t so far from that of psychics, mediums and healers in the West. However the shamanic side is quite legit, with long-term inherited lineages and shamanic illnesses of initiation as well as these possession rites. There are some quite serious superstar shamans who do interesting work politically.

Long may the mudang ladies climb barefoot the chaktu blades say I.


Upcoming Attractions

Time to check in again. The new batch of stuff is getting closer and I can give you more of a preview.

As noted, I’m finished with personal psychology etc. for now. I’m going to try and offer a view of Kundalini experience that’s in key with what Glenn put out, more so than the post-theosophical stuff you mostly get now (although they dovetail fine).

From Glenn’s position you can look out over a wide landscape where all sorts of other things fit perfectly. Before he ever started the meditation that awoke Kundalini he was always interested in traditional religion and shamanism from a psychological angle. I’ve noticed that those who are instinctually into the fantastic really dig Glenn. The interface of all that with mythology will show some great ways to re-understand reality. I’ll be talking about the imagination a lot, giving ways to think about it that separate it from the idea of “false or unreal”, as well as the mythic from the “fictional”.

With reference to my own experiences, Glenn’s written examples, and some other stuff from the (mostly modern, not all) literature on spiritual experience, I’m going to try and show the shape of transpersonal as an exploration, bound up with how the world fits together, in a loose model you can use, trying to give flavour and feeling. I’ll link everything in to all the literature that explains it best. And all of this will happen in a new format which will shake things up a little.

By the end of the initial tranche, if you awaken Kundalini, you should be in a more advantageous position for harmonising your experiences, taking advantage of the work of preceding generations, and staying out of the rubber room.

Here’s a taster that may surprise you. I’d like to introduce you to this wonderful lecture by J. Stephen Lansing:

A Thousand Years in Bali

Sorry I couldn’t get it to embed. (If you want to get rid of the subtitles just pick the top option, “Choose language…”)

I reference the feeling behind these ideas a lot right now. Expansion of the holotropic spontaneity stuff, out from the personal and psychological, into the ecological and the cultural. This vid so beautifully introduces you to how patterns at a basic level “on earth” form through self-organizing complex systems. The background is ecology. I have a feeling you’ll be as glued as I was, but what you’ll note too is where he covers human beings partaking in this process via mythic imagination, ritual and democracy. It’s all very practical and actually observed in operation on mundane levels, unlike what most people think “myth” is — there’s nothing “escapist” about the mythic imagination, it is absolutely life and death**.

The vid is a perfect demonstration of a) How these relationships form in nature and ritual; b) How some of our modern science is actually able to understand this very well if we actually use it; and c) How if we use the wrong myths we ignore the science and slaughter the relationships. Always important to know who the good guys are.

What comes up on this blog will I hope get “under the skin” of such a view of reality and apply it to a life more like yours, especially if that life undergoes the amplification of energy and imagination in Kundalini. The deep meaning comes vivified under your eyes, as recorded in experiences going back millennia. The actualised shaman is the steward of his entrainments.

Stay tuned folks!

____________________________________________
** “In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.” — Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, and yes, modern fantasy culture figures in too…


Internet “censorship” of spirituality — the facts

So you may have heard the rumours that there are problems with alternative spirituality on the UK internet. People have found they can’t access spiritual websites from public browsers:

“Together with my wife, we run a holistic business which also mentions “spiritual healing” amongst other key services such as Reiki, Reflexology and Indian Head Massage. I was stunned to find that I could not access my own website as it was blocked for “religious” content. The message on the screen told me it was classified under “Alternative Spirituality/Belief”, and access was categorically blocked.”

Worried? Sign these three petitions, and I’ll explain.

This is not a government crackdown on us spiritual types! It is much more like a cockup, but one that may get worse if people like you and I don’t get the word out.

Here is what has happened:

1. For whatever reason, we don’t know why (some say it’s a law in France, some that it’s simply conservatives, some that it’s leftover scareys from the satanic panic of the 80s, etc.) internet filtering has for years been able to pick up alternative spirituality and filter it out.

2. So far the actual filtering has been done by ISPs and phone networks. This has affected public surfing eg. libraries and internet cafés, but very importantly, the orange phone network already has it too.

3. The key is that it works by opt out, that is, by default sites are being filtered, and you have to specify that you don’t want them filtered. Sometimes this is easy to specify (eg. when setting up internet at home) but with Orange you actually have to write to them to get that opt-out, otherwise you have no esoteric websites.

5. Cameron has come in and said that this opt-out filtering should be a requirement for all ISPs — to catch porn and terrorists etc. — and spirituality might accidentally get hooked up in that without anyone having seen it happening. This is not law, nor has a law been proposed. It looks like the ISPs are being asked to comply voluntarily. Cameron might go for a law if it doesn’t happen, but at the moment my opinion is that the government has no idea alternative spirituality is a standard opt-out filter.

So: Contact your ISP and ask them what their policies are on opt-out filters. State you don’t want spirituality to be filtered by default and will move to a different ISP if it is.

Nothing spiritual should be filtered from browsers and phones by default. (Some people want to voluntarily block sites with alt spirituality, but it should not be a default setting!)

If you are British, contact your MP! I don’t think parliament is aware this is happening.

At present I’m trying to find out what providers filter what stuff, but I think the only phone filterer of the esoteric is Orange.

The following is the letter sent to my MP via Write to Them but don’t copy and paste, or yours won’t be sent!

RE: INTERNET FILTERING OF SPIRITUAL WEBSITES

I’m writing about recent government proposals on web filtering for
Internet Service Providers. This “opt-out” filtering is intended to
catch pornographic and terrorist websites but I think parliament is
unaware that some ISPs are already filtering spirituality websites as
well. I haven’t been able to discover a reason — one theory is that it
is in response to a French law which doesn’t apply here. In any case,
sites in the category “alternative spirituality”, “alternative
religion”, “esoteric information” and so on have been routinely
filtered on an opt-out basis by some net providers for years now. There
is no reason for doing this as a standard opt-out service, and the new
government filtering initiative is a perfect opportunity to stop it
happening.

Probably the most important mobile network doing this is Orange. The
problem has also been seen happening in libraries, internet cafés,
McDonalds and Caffé Nero. Because the default filtering is opt-out in
nature, these establishments probably don’t even know they are doing
it. To opt out of the filtering on Orange apparently requires
contacting them — users who don’t know this may be experiencing large
swathes of the internet as unobtainable from Orange phones.

At least a million people use spirituality services every week in the
UK (meditation groups for example) and the research indicates they are
positive for emotional and physical health. Yet at some point, someone
has begun filtering for them as if they were in the same category as
websites encouraging terrorism or adolescent suicide! Whatever the
reason for this when it began, it has become truly ridiculous — there
are places in the UK where you cannot simply google for a yoga teacher.
Web traffic to legitimate and healthy businesses is suffering.

The concern now is that the government may recommend *all* ISPs provide
these kinds of default settings. If so, there is a good chance that
this kind of thing will become standard practice without ever having
been intended to affect spirituality. If indeed the government wants to
recommend opt-out filtering, spirituality should not be recommended as
a default setting. Protecting people from unwanted hardcore pornography
by default is one thing, but filtering healthy spirituality by default
is quite another.

Many thanks for reading.

Yours sincerely,


Couple of notes

First an important one: the posts of yesterday were not laying out “my way”, nor “Glenn’s way” come to that! They were just clearing space as against those who say all ways and goals are the same — which is what Jorge Ferrer is really doing too I think. (Please note in particular that I have no real personal interest in so-called “integral” approaches, no matter whose.)

I know I haven’t really got across this aspect of it, but Glenn’s way absolutely is shamanic, visionary, initiatory, mystery-school-like, mythological, frankly polytheistic and openly supernatural. There are ways to talk about that and maybe I’ll find them, but it requires a different way of communicating from the one I’ve used until now on this blog I think, and probably some experiment. In my defence, Glenn himself didn’t always talk a great deal about it, and for good reason.

Meanwhile, and kind of on that, the big thing to come out of yesterday seems to have been Andrew Rawlinson’s categories. I do think these are pretty cool, and make the exoteric jaunt worth it. They were laid out in Leon Schlamm’s paper:

Ken Wilber’s Spectrum Model: Identifying Alternative
Soteriological Perspectives

… which applies them to Wilber but isn’t just about Wilber by any means. And Schlamm got them from Andrew Rawlinson’s book:

The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions

Once accepting the idea of multiple ways — irreconcilably multiple that is — this is a nice way of mapping the differences. It’s really the first good effort I’ve seen at giving some kind of thumbnail schematic guide to the varieties of paths — ironically, it is another bloody “4 quadrants diagram”:) but what can I do? It’s cool! — so I thought I’d reproduce the basic idea here for your reference.

I think Schlamm is right when he says:

This taxonomy is not only broader than any to date in the literature on mysticism but also far more detailed.

Two axes are used: “cool”{——–}”warm” (latter renamed by me from “hot”), and “structured”{——–}”unstructured”. “Cool” emphasises an ultimate which is fundamentally an aspect of “you”, whilst “warm” emphasises getting in touch with “something else”. “Structured” means there is a definite shape to the path and some kind of set of stages; whilst “unstructured” has the endpoint right in the neighbourhood of the beginning, so you can get there immediately if you can only get over your current perspective.

That gives four basic types of spiritual paths: ”warm structured”, “warm unstructured”, “cool structured”, and “cool unstructured”, each with its particular character. Paths can definitely bridge two or even three quadrants. None of this is “doctrinal” of course — giraffes don’t call themselves ungulates, and I don’t call myself “warm structured”! These are still the thoughts of a taxonomist, a Linnaeus.

But that can be useful! Indeed, poetry and prose can form a binomial nomenclature. And in practice, used loosely and with personal acquaintance with practicalities, my path does look broadly “warm structured”. As was Glenn’s, with some cool undertones. And that is very much the way I like it! Considering how much ground it has to cover, Rawlinson’s description of “warm structured” spirituality works reasonably well. (He seems to overdo stuff about “disturbing ordeals”, “willpower”, “gambling”, “cryptic passwords” etc., but then again, I haven’t read his book yet — apparently it’s a huge directory of Western teachers, so quite a few “ordeals” would indeed be involved I daresay. Some “crazy wisdom” stuff or Crowley etc.)

It is obviously oversimplified, as are all ways of categorising, and Schlamm’s discussion of it brings up some weird falsehoods for me. OTOH there are quite a few definite “hits”. The somatic nature of my kind of tradition is a good one — it always seems to confound other kinds of paths!

You have to read your own knowledge into the chart since I’ve just reproduced it literally. For example, that Rawlinson has put “Taoism”, in its entirety, into the “cool unstructured” quadrant, must be just unfamiliarity with Taoism. This is actually a “warm structured” tradition as it has influenced me, and has been since pretty early in its history. (See the Baopuzi for example.)

But it still all kind of works as a handy compass, or thought-provoker, so here is the summary:

Upper Left: Warm Structured Traditions

1. Summary: The cosmos is vast and inhabited by innumerable powerful beings; liberation consists in finding one’s way through the labyrinth with the appropriate passwords. The teaching is never given all at once, but only when necessary and then only in cryptic form. This is typical of all forms of esotericism.

2. Characteristics: (a) initiatory knowledge (granted by another and may be disturbing); (b) hierarchical; (c) the exercise of will, which allows the practitioner to break through spiritual barriers in an ever-increasing series of leaps; (d) expansion away from a point; (e) Warm magic (necessary and powerful)—the manipulation of the laws of the cosmos in the service of self-transformation.

3. Further details: (a) Ontology: many powers/beings; (b) Cosmology: a vast
labyrinth; (c) Anthropology: man contains all powers (the microcosm/macrocosm homology); (d) Soteriology: the great journey or initiatic adventure; (e) Consciousness: divine and hierarchical; (f ) Spiritual Practice: a series of leaps/initiations—recreating the
cosmic within oneself; (g) Teacher: magician/knows the secret; (h) Spiritual
Transmission: by ordeal; (i) Nature of teaching: cryptic/esoteric; (j) Inner States: access to all levels, all powers; (k) Individual Spiritual Qualities: ecstatic, unpredictable; (l) Social Spiritual Qualities: a whirlwind of projects; (m) Traditional Way of Life: crucible/
means of transformation; (n) Entering the Tradition: by unexpected encounter; (o) Realisation/Liberation: serving the cosmic purpose.

4. Advantages/Disadvantages: there is plenty of help; the entire universe, from the colour of a rose to the celestial music of the archangels, is designed to aid the practitioner on the way (though some thicken the plot by saying that there are counterfeit designs as well); the task, however, is correspondingly awesome; the journey is demanding, even
dangerous–this is not an adventure for the fainthearted.

5. Images: magician/gambler: jump.

6. Examples: Hindu Tantra, Vajrayana, the Siddha tradition, Vedic ritual tradition, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Alchemy, Shamanism.

Upper Right: Warm Unstructured Traditions

1. Summary: There is a divine power, quite other than oneself, which encloses us and is the source of liberation. There is no teaching—only love and submission.

2. Characteristics: bliss, love, obedience, discipline, wisdom.

3. Further details: (a) Ontology: only God is real (exists) and He is unknowable; <b) Cosmology: the universe is God’s creation/projection and is entirely dependent on him; (c) Anthropology: man is nothing before God; (d) acceptance of God’s will; (e) Consciousness: divine and universal; (f ) Spiritual Practice: submission; (g) Teacher: servant of God/embodiment of God; (h) Spiritual Transmission: a gift; (i) Nature of Teaching: only God; (j) Inner States: remembrance of God; (k) Individual Spiritual Qualities: giving love and responding to the love of others; (l) Social Spiritual Qualities:
serving the divine; (m) Traditional Way of Life: celebration of the divine; (n) Entering the Tradition: just ask for God (or His lovers); (o) Realisation/Liberation: to love and serve God.

4. Advantages/Disadvantages: we are always failing; but the solution to this
failure is simply to ask the divine for assistance; the reason that asking is the solution is that the central truth of Warm Unstructured ‘teachings’ is that love is freely given to all who request it (or, in the warmest version of all, it is given to every being whether it is requested or not).

5. Images: lover, martyr: submit.

6. Examples: bhakti, e.g., Chaitanya, Pure Land Buddhism, Sufism, Christian
mysticism, e.g., St Teresa, St John of the Cross.

Lower Left: Cool Structured Traditions

1. Summary: Liberation is within oneself, but it must be uncovered by disciplined practice.

2. Characteristics: (a) awareness is dispassionate and part of oneself; (b) the path is very restrained, the method is ordered and gentle, the practitioner starts on p. 1 of the manual and works his way through to the end, and everything happens as it should in the fullness of time; (c) all that is required is constant effort; (d) concentration on a point; (e) at a certain point of spiritual development Cool magical powers (optional and peripheral) appear, but they are incidental to the aim of spiritual practice, which is balance and timing.

3. Further details: (a) Ontology: everything has its place, everything comes and goes; (b) Cosmology: a harmonious whole; (c) Anthropology: man is the centre of the universe; (d) Soteriology: clear awareness, non-entanglement; (e) Consciousness: natural and particularised; (f ) Spiritual Practice: graduated and gentle; (g) Teacher: clear discriminator/guide; (h) Spiritual Transmission: learning how to use a map; (i) Nature of Teaching: open, complete, ordered; (j) Inner States: uncluttered insight; (k) Individual
Spiritual Qualities: unpretentious, simple; (l) Social Spiritual Qualities: responding to the needs of beings; (m) Traditional Way of Life: organic, intricate; (n) Entering the tradition: formal, public; (o) Realisation/Liberation: detachment brings freedom.

4. Advantages/Disadvantages: it is very easy to start and there is no disgrace in
being a beginner; progress is slow and gentle, like a flower opening in the sun; the drawback is that it may take a very long time indeed–perhaps eons–to complete the journey and you have to take every step of it yourself.

5. Images: yogi, craftsman: work.

6. Examples: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, Theravada Buddhism, Zen, early Vedanta [Upanishads], Samkhya, Aurobindo, Plotinus.

Lower Right: Cool Unstructured Traditions

1. Summary: One’s own nature is liberation; everything else is illusion. The teaching is constantly given—the same truth over and over again—but no one understands.

2. Characteristics: being.

3. Further details: (a) Ontology: only the self is real, or reality is empty (sunya); (b) Cosmology: illusion; (c) Anthropology: man is identical with reality; (d) Soteriology: know yourself; (e) Consciousness: natural and universal; (f) Spiritual Practice: just realise; (g) Teacher: embodies truth; (h) Spiritual Transmission: none—truth already exists; (i) Nature of Teaching: there is no teaching; (j) Inner States: oneness; (k) Individual Spiritual Qualities: unrufflable calm; (l) Social Spiritual Qualities: let things be; (m) traditional Way of Life: none; (n) Entering the Tradition: there is no tradition, the Self already exists; (o) Realisation/Liberation: the Self is already complete.

4. Advantages/Disadvantages: the truth is simple, but the drawback is that it is very elusive; hence the practitioner (if that is the right word, since there really cannot be practice on an Unstructured ‘path’) is constantly failing; but that does not matter because truth is ours as of right, so we can always try again in the very next moment; nothing has to be set up—just by being alive, we are on the ‘path’.

5. Images: sage, hermit: let go.

6. Examples: Advaita Vedanta, Ramana Maharshi, Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Zen, Taoism, Madhyamika.


Tao as Universal Unconscious Mind

Leafing through this great Havens book on Milton Erickson I was struck by this:

[W]hile on the Research Service of the Worcester State Hospital he interviewed a catatonic schizophrenic who manifested a variety of bizarre behaviours and beliefs which struck Erickson as familiar. Eventually he was able to relate them to those of several primitive tribes, a discovery which puzzled him greatly because the patient obviously was unfamiliar with the beliefs and rituals of any of these tribes. These and other observations of the spontaneous development of identical patterns of thought and behaviour among separate individuals throughout the world and throughout history led him to conclude that basic human thinking and emotion are very much the same from person to person in spite of individual and regional idiosyncrasies. In other words, he observed that the human mind has an incredibly wide but finite range of potential patterns available to it and that everyone has the capacity to function within any one of those patterns.

The particular patterns that any given individual adopts or manifests, he realized, are a result of limitations imposed upon this original pool of potentials by culture and by the individual’s unique experiential history.

This is just so it. Humanity is bounded but infinite — but cultural humanity is far more bounded. The schizophrenic was tapping into the underlying pool — who knows exactly how. But (as with Jung) the behaviour tipped Erickson off to the unlimited nature of human cognition free of the social. The need to have the social be “everything” is quite strong, but partly thanks to a weird childhood in which recovery from polio played a major role, and partly to his great natural oddness, Erickson never had that need and brought a very objective eye to human beings.

That eye is the eye of the unconscious itself. Havens:

Erickson’s fundamental orientation towards life, perhaps the central theme of his work, was that people must learn to recognize, to accept, and to utilize, what actually is in order to meet their needs, accomplish their goals, and satisfy their purposes. Rather than lamenting, distorting, or denying the unpleasant facts of life or fantasizing about an easier, more ideal reality, Erickson proposed that people must experience and acknowledge the realities of their situation and apply whatever capacities they have in order to cope as effectively or purposefully as possible with those realities.

That may seem obvious — it’s the classic wisdom and never outdated — but the point is that “we” are not merely what “we” think ourselves to be. Your consciousness begins your physical life far less local to your body. Much of the most interesting stuff in your mind is stuff you never really look at after you become localised. Hooking into the body you start to leave the non-bodily behind — and then you hook into a cultured body, and get caught in language. But just reach behind and unhook those, and you have things you had no “conscious” idea about, mental aspects that already understand life in a less biased way than you do, so you can lean on them. As Havens says:

His most general observation was that people have both a conscious mode of functioning and an unconscious mode of functioning. The conscious mind represents a prejudiced and limited perspective on reality which can result in various distortions and behavioral anomalies. The unconscious mind, on the other hand, is a flexible system of thought and awareness which perceives and responds to the literal or objective qualities of reality. It is relatively unprejudiced, is very intelligent, and contains a vast reservoir of previously acquired, experientially based knowledge and memories.

The relation of this to “spirituality” is for example: just think of everything as having an unconscious mind. You can learn to tap into it by these and all sorts of methods. In an STE you become conscious of it, including as a whole — hence “cosmic consciousness”.


Hypnosis for all — I wish :)

So yes I do definitely still use hypnosis. And I’m working on ways to make it relevant all the way through enlightenment processes (something Glenn wanted to do) which is extremely interesting work, to put it mildly. My plans to practice hypnotherapy professionally got temporarily interrupted but will still fruit. Energetic and transpersonal effects seem to happen when I do it, by themselves, and thankfully there are a couple of resources to draw on.

Not everyone who would benefit from it gets to experience it. I plan to do what I can on that by giving low-cost treatments. Blog readers may get some free treatments from me this year too! I’ve got studio facilities and am working on audio hypnosis which I might make available in time; I will also do some free personal hypnosis sessions here in London eventually, perhaps putting together some sort of meetup as well as my practice, a talking shop.

If you want to get started in using hypnosis on yourself it still is good to get hypnotised at least once professionally first. All hypnotherapists will introduce you to the joys of self-hypnosis too, if requested.

I hate the selling in commercial hypnosis right now, the blather, waffle, mask-wearing and easy answers, nearly as much as the power-hungry “you too can make everyone else your slave” thing that you still see quite regularly. Believe me, the great pioneers of hypnosis were anything but soft-soapers.

But there are also people who know. The Havens/Walters book in the General Reading List is still a great start. I also recently found another book by the same authors that’s really interesting — ways to seed positive traits via hypnosis, eg. imagination, altruism, aesthetic and sensuous appreciation, meditative detachment and so forth. Very interesting, ways to stretch your humanity. That’s what we want!

I can’t help feeling that the usefulness of hypnosis is still not being fully exploited. It builds a relationship with the hidden that is so intimate and so effective, for those of us who easily respond to it. There is nothing like it.


Greer’s “Progress Religion”

FURTHER EDIT: I somehow find this a little funny, but Greer’s post today is mostly addressed to the comments of doubters, and several remarks are directed toward ideas I put forward, one very specifically to me:

One interesting wrinkle on this last point comes from a commenter who insists, quoting a scholar of religious studies from India, that the concept “religion” is purely a modern Western notion and can’t be used outside that context.

… which forces me to set the record straight even though I wanted to move on!

The guy I quoted, Balagangadhara, whom I wrote a little about here, of course does not say that at all; I probably didn’t get across his thesis very well. Balagangadhara thinks Western Abrahamic religion is in a fundamentally different category from other sorts of religion, as I said, because of its strongly ideocratic and orthodoxy-creating character, which separates it even from other types of orthodoxy in several respects — so much so that calling them something other than religion might be more accurate in his opinion. What Greer says today:

The phenomena assigned to the category “religion” in English still exist in those languages and cultures—you’ll find, for example, that good clear translations of words such as “deity,” “worship,” “temple,” “prayer,” “offering,” “scripture,” and the like can be found in a great many languages that have no word for “religion” as such.

… doesn’t invalidate Balangangadhara in the least, because his point is that so many pre-reformation travellers (whom he quotes in detail) took careful note of all those foreign elements of “deity”, “worship” and so forth, but still said the cultures “did not have religion” — not that they didn’t have “our” religion, not that they had “false” religion, but that they had no religion. That is, they didn’t believe the morphology was universal. This is what makes Balagangadhara’s point so much more interesting than a mere quibble about available vocabularies, a point I made last week… but if interested to see where Balagangadhara takes that evidence just check out his actual book. It is very interesting stuff — is “scripture” the same idea the world over? is all religion creedal? etc. — but I wasn’t planning to talk a lot more about it!

I also wasn’t intending to derail Greer’s, well, “progress” — I genuinely thought he might be interested in some of those ideas! They don’t invalidate what he’s saying, they just nuance it differently — basically the post-Abrahamic nature of Greer’s “progress religion” sets it off against other forms of religion as fundamentally different, and that would include his own Druidry as far as I can see. Yes I did and do foresee problems with the series, based not uncomedically on a morphological approach vis-a-vis previous Greer series, but I’m not going to endlessly blather about them either, at least until everything upcoming is done. So as far as I personally am concerned this current post of his wasn’t necessary.

Goethe’s morphology, like several other things Greer mentioned and will mention, plays a role in my series too, albeit the two series have rather different approaches, which means they may clash or dovetail. But neither of those eventualities would be such a frightful thing, would it? :)

Oh — and as I said, I’m not going to spend any more time on this. Positively, this is my last word on it. Comments here are closed.

EDIT: It looks like no-one else is really bothered about this. :) Some people are happy to just go along with Greer, others have already given up on the whole “progress religion” thing as a straw man… but the idea between those two positions, of doing a lot more discussion of the points below, doesn’t seem to have any traction by contrast with my usual posts. So I will let it lie.

In fairness to Greer, he has said I’ve misunderstood him. In fairness to me — he hasn’t said how, and I quoted him verbatim at least on some things.

But anyway, we’ll move swiftly on…

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So before I go any further, a little situation has been building that I want to explore. John Michael Greer (one of the two excellent writers who unequivocally showed me the necessity of a historical approach to SBNR, William Irwin Thompson being the other), has just begun his own biiiiiig series on religion and peak oil. The latest post is a fair sample if you haven’t been following so far.

Like some other readers I’m having a little trouble with this series, and wondered if anyone else would like to discuss it. I will post to Greer’s comments page — link here as soon as it’s been put up — but there isn’t room there for everything I want to say.

The basic idea of the series is that everyone who has made any use of the “progress” concept since the Enlightenment can be seen as part of a “religion of progress”, which is “the most widely accepted civil religion of the modern industrial world”, and turns out to be intolerantly post-Abrahamic. Its major belief, Greer says, is that “humanity is moving inevitably onward and upward toward some glorious destiny”. To him this religion encompasses for instance “researchers who have risked their lives, and not infrequently lost them, to further the progress of science and technology” and “moral crusaders who have done the same thing in the name of political or economic progress”, amongst a big crop of other examples.

I don’t — yet — really see the application of this analogy. I’d love a bit more discussion and demonstration about its huge mass of grey areas, but Greer himself seems disinclined. (The shrift given in his comments page to those who question the idea’s explanatory power is short to say the least.) I don’t think progress really “is a religion”, of course, but more importantly I will take a lot of convincing that it can usefully be seen as one — nor do I think it’s necessarily the only or best hinge idea to pick, in persuading people to prepare for difficulties ahead.

But a lot of my problem at the moment is that Greer, who so often inveighs against dualistic, black-white thinking, seems to be indulging in it liberally himself. I wondered if anyone else had found this. He is scripting the content, not just the style or direction of people’s beliefs — and, not for the first time in his blog’s life I think, over-simplifying too liberally.

I’m actually thinking about the little Carl Sagan quote that was posted in his comments this week as an example, of all things — not because I care much for Carl Sagan, but because I don’t, and am pretty neutral. The quote, about awe before the universe, was smeared instantly by Greer as a disingenuous attempt to manipulate Sagan’s readers into the evils of scientism, pretending to reverence its author didn’t feel. The idea that it could have had any sincerity (however mistaken) didn’t seem to cross his mind at all. Sagan was Pope of progressism, which apparently condemns him to hypocrisy.

My problem is that Greer is laying out his theses mostly in order to help people transition away from any addiction to hampering progress myths, in the difficult upcoming age. Thus he’s claiming to pinpoint what is motivating them — and yet, as accurate as Greer is on fact and historical position, I’ve often felt him to be wrong about psychology, even though he puts forward his ideas in the same tone as facts about peak oil! The Sagan thing is just a miniature example of this.

In last week’s comments, Greer promulgated some ideas about scientism as a whole, which explain his evaluation of Sagan: “Nature is what science is supposed to conquer; nature is the Devil of scientism, the old enemy who will eventually be bound in chains and made to drag the glorious chariot of humanity wherever ‘we’ (however defined) want it to go.” Of course, since this has been declared the case, the scientistic Sagan’s awe before nature must be “appeal to a mass market” and nothing more. Sagan’s psychology has to conform to Greer’s categories. Does it?

In my reply to Greer’s comment last week I put forward some remarks of William Irwin Thompson’s which illustrate that scientism as a whole is just not that simple, because there is more than one type of human personality and culture present in it, and showed there are two sides to the story. Greer ignored this. I should mention that Thompson is expecting a dark age every bit as much as Greer is, and has also guffawed a great deal about what he sees as the “ideology of progress that places our industrial culture at the pinnacle of human civilization”, quite rightly so (although even there — notice that isn’t quite Greer’s definition of “progress”). But he seems to tolerate psychological ambiguity better than Greer does. And that may be very, very important when we are claiming to be able to help people change their minds for the better.

Sagan was a true believer in the techno-progress he promulgated, but his sense of wonder at Nature, from what little I know, seems perfectly genuine too. Contradictory? From Greer’s angle it seems so — but humans are. Certainly other people whom Sagan saw (or used) as “prophets” of scientism may well have been in awe of Nature itself, as the Thompson quote makes clear. I found on another site today a reply to Greer which showed a different side to Sagan, but Greer’s response on his own page was to see it as a defence of “Saint Carl” — implying anyone who wants to rebalance distortion about Sagan must be idolising Sagan! That’s what I mean by not being able to tolerate ambiguity. It’s very, very us-them.

Sagan’s ignorant campaign against mysticism and spirituality is hardly likely to endear him to me! He comes off like a purblind fool in my eyes, on that subject, when I chance to stumble across him. But the picture of scientism as “nothing but” this (anti-Druidry!) caricature is in fact precisely the kind of ideological rolling-over that Sagan himself, that scientism itself, resorts to in its worse pseudoskeptical moments — Druidry “nothing but” insane old-fashioned nonsense, etc.. We’ve all seen enough of that (“cold pricklies”). And it is precisely the kind of thing we need to avoid in getting people out of their fixed ideas about the future, in my opinion. (Which leads me to wonder whether Greer hasn’t perhaps been contemplating the enemy too long and begun to imitate it, another process he’s warned others about!)

I admit, another reason I have a problem with all this is my recent research for the series I talked about last post, which revealed in the previous three hundred years an incredibly multiform resource to draw on spiritually for the next three hundred. I began research primed by my interest in Greer’s writing to notice progress ideology wherever I found it, knowing it would need careful questioning in light of the reality ahead. But things weren’t quite that simple when I actually looked in detail. Perhaps this was because I was researching spiritual people — but then, Greer avoids discussion of spirituality on his blog.

“Progress” sometimes was very important to the people I researched, and I made a point of featuring it — I’ll start out my series with a guy who was one of the most progressy of all. But to examine his ideas, and many others, I had to look in practical detail at particular subtleties of thought about the future. When I did that, a single overall ideology of progress was not present. Yes, I’ve seen a couple of people who are close to caricature “progress religionists” in spiritual form (hello, Ken Wilber!), but they are definitely a minority.

Deciding that “progress” is the problem, above all other problems, is perhaps a natural piece of rhetoric for someone with Greer’s inherent conservative slant, but it is a concept he has barely defined, and certainly he hasn’t given anyone’s definition apart from his own (except maybe he’ll give Nietzsche’s!) How do we know it holds with the kind of breadth he’s claiming? Is he possibly thinking the problem into a box which it doesn’t altogether fit? At the moment I think he might be. Above all, I think the post-Abrahamic period has been characterised by enormous multiplicity and ambiguity, and deciding what to take forward that best prepares us is a process requires careful understanding of multiplicity, at least as much or more than simplifying into a single intolerant “religion”.

Any thoughts?


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XVIII

Taoist Byways — 2 of 2

Harmony in Taoism is found within, but when it is found within, it is found in external events too. Hence for example Huainanzi 7.1:

those who seek for it externally lose it internally;
those who preserve it internally attain it externally as well.

Since it is lost if grasped externally, it thus does not appear in the world in the manner of “goodness” as normally conceived and held-to. The good is beyond rational judgment. Awakening reveals a deeper substrate one had missed or lost, by removing the judgmental categorisations of Self, at the same time as it reveals the secret unity between all things that goes right through one’s own heart. The regathering of the scattered, which in Hinduism is associated with the transcendence of Maya, is also a strong motif throughout Taoist alchemy, as mistaken notions of separateness fall away before the revelation of cosmic consciousness, which appears as a perfect harmony proceeding from and returning to Ultimate Mystery.

In Taoism harmony is thus seen as a treasure to be achieved, looked after, carefully protected and refined; it resonates with the world and can actually transform it, especially the human world, by the effects of its accumulated Te or virtue in human beings.

The Taoists plainly did have meditation procedures attached to their approach from the earliest times and always worked with chi. Moderation and simplicity in living, refusing excess, constantly turning again to the simple, and awareness of truth from multiple perspectives, are initial accents in Taoism. The Taoist classics will point the way to a deeper understanding of these concepts, and many others. I recently enjoyed getting to know Steve Coutinho’s entry for Zhuangzi in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Zhuangzi

… and wrote these posts partly thinking of that one. It’s a nice place to begin if you don’t mind more exoteric academic approaches, and will teach even experts a thing or two. As well as more obvious sources I particularly recommend studying the lesser-known Neiye, available in an excellent book by Harold Roth that discusses its mystical significance. The Neiye’s emphasis on quiet harmonious cultivation of the deeply potent Tao has inspired me a lot and is basic to Taoism. Reading the Huainanzi has also been fascinating recently.

As mentioned, it’s very nice that we have our own Western Taoist in Heraclitus. The resemblance of Zhuangzi and his sages to people like Milton Erickson or Walt Whitman, or indeed Glenn Morris, is very noteworthy as well. Particularly interesting to me is their ability to “be good people” in a surprising and unconventional way, that evades categorisation by being permanently harmonised with creativity, to be entirely themselves and in that capacity to extend “self” into deeper universality, which becomes Absolute whilst still flowing. An interesting approach to life, and one rather different from the norm whether in China or in the West.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XVII

Taoist Byways — 1 of 2

There’s an interplay of all this psychology with ancient Taoist thinking which some will have noticed already. The Humanistic psychologies deliberately played off Laozi, whom Rogers mentions in A Way of Being (1980). Taoism forms a direct bridge of these ideas with mysticism, but you can get in early and think Taoistically from the start if interested.

Acceptance of what arises spontaneously within is the key in both traditions. This allows one to become who one really is and removes aggravating artifice designed to ameliorate something “unacceptable”. The accent is on naturalness. At the time Taoism came into being, the very formal Ruist way of correct behaviour (that eventually became mostly mainstream in China) was also first being proposed, as a response to a general cultural crisis which deeply ruptured the realm. Taoism by contrast represented a rejection of formalised societal relations, considering them to be a way of surface harmony only, without sincerity, and suggesting a totally different solution favouring authenticity over acting a role.

In Taoism the sage, the shengren or achieved person, is thus very emphatically (and often eccentrically) him- or herself. I haven’t seen in other wisdom traditions this strong emphasis on the spontaneous individuality of sages or “saint”-figures as key to their attainment of the Ultimate. Of course this “self” is not like what conventional psychology thinks of as “self-image”. Last post we saw how even an initial accomplishment removes any straightforward self image in favour of an identification with self-process. In Taoist mysticism this is then taken much further, and joined to the great Ultimate process that moves through all things, called the Tao.

This can have a paradoxical cast, as one realises that static judging can create conflict even if it is “correct”, and learns instead to flow with the entire pattern, accept winter with summer, accept the difficulty of distinguishing good and bad, and so forth. This is about a complete change in the manner of human perception of the world, one that definitely distinguishes a person from the normal human way.

In the West, Heraclitus taught very much the same doctrine — I really should write about him one of these days — but his Way didn’t come down to us as a cultural wave like Taoism, didn’t become associated with a school. Breath practices were never known in the West either. Early practices in Taoist systems can be intensive, because human beings seem to begin so far from their natural state. In practice, being natural involves a lot of work rather than the laissez-faire many Westerners chose to mistake it for initially…


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