Category Archives: Philosophy

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.


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.


The Garden Lives

I’m very pleased to learn from Hiram Crespo that Epicureanism, which I still also like, is experiencing some surge of interest. The International Society of Friends of Epicurus has been formed, in his words, “to ignite a much-needed full revival of the ancient philosophical school.” We learn too that there are Gardens in Athens and Thessaloniki which attract hundreds at annual events, and one in Sydney that is rather smaller.

I suppose I will have to remain a fellow traveller. If I were to establish a Garden of my own here, it would likely have a similar vibe, but I would want to hypnotise people occasionally too. :)

Since Epicureanism has so often been used in modernity to dismiss the nonphysical (Locke, Jefferson), and always had strong materialist leanings, why use it as a spiritual person?

I was always looking for something that didn’t have a spiritual element, so it would be more neutral and allow me to discover spirituality without reference to a particular dogma.

The main difference between a spiritual and a non-spiritual philosophy overtly is the basing of one’s actions and identity in the non-physical. One finds the soul, and it must be the basis and guide.

When I look at what I actually took from Epicurus, it emphatically does help with this.

– the contentment with the simple, the ability to distinguish natural and unnatural desires, an excellent idea not least since we know simplicity and maturity helps to ignite spirit (more on that in the upcoming series);

– the ability to come to terms with death and pain, not to fear them — the example of Epicurus being someone who was cheerful under any pain; you need some way to interfere with its power to affect the thought and disposition;

– the enjoyment of the state that results.

Epicurus himself maintains that with these you are no longer a “mere mortal animal”. These particular emphases are useful in a society that constantly projects violence and pain and hypes appetite. Yes these profoundly interfere with the workings of the soul. When I am in contact with my soul, I don’t necessarily need words. But I think the value of a simple philosophy like this is that it can give the conscious mind somewhere useful and positive to focus. The thought of Epicurus (and Democritus too actually) is fresh and friendly. It has no hierarchicalism. So it suits me.

But of course I focus on plenty of other things that many Epicureans wouldn’t like, especially not now…


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 XIX

Final Thoughts

The way that I like begins, not with some creed, but with a possibility, to gradually discover and transform into something much more like one’s best self. (In a way this seems to involve healing all the damage done by creeds.) Rogers really has a great approach the human levels of this and gives a lovely modern guide into the process.

The atmosphere is one of complete supportive non-judgmentalism which creates a safety of thought and expression. So one moves from being trapped within feelings and attitudes to being able to notice and understand them, and frees oneself from habitual interpretations. One builds a new self-system and lives in it in a renewed context.

Quiet enables recovery from a hundred minor traumas and perhaps some major ones. The sweet rest of the parasympathetic comes to predominate in the nervous system. (Peace also turns out to be strongly linked with invigorating aliveness, whilst unpeacefulness inculcates deadness at rates which should be sobering but sadly rarely are.) No body is ungrateful for having its tendons transformed.

As Glenn says, the result of discovering meaning and meaningfulness is to exist in “calm connectedness”. This means normal life would otherwise be disconnected (estrangement). The recovery process thus leads somewhere one couldn’t consciously aim, therefore one gradually learns to trust it. Whoever one “is”, whatever the life one is entrained to, the process takes in all of its elements and begins to reveal the underlying connection between them, the person who is doing that living, who would be lost if focused on objects. One expresses this in one’s own way, learning to know where the ups and downs naturally come and when to push or relax. This is part of what Rogers called “being process”.

I don’t mean to imply in this series that seeing a therapist (or indeed a healer) isn’t a good idea. One might uncover difficulties emotionally, and whilst there are some people who find it possible to get over that by themselves, there are others who don’t. Follow your heart. But whether one sees a therapist or not, the process is the process, and it is your process. You be the judge of what is needed as you make your moves and allow spontaneous action/reaction. Success often lies in taking the highest promptings seriously.

Meditation actually improves the Rogerian formula even at the beginning. Silence, that ultimate answer to all earthly questions, is not usually used in a non-transpersonal therapy. When combined with Rogerian technique, it brings a deep balm, ease and peace to the person who has probably been without it for a long while.

The stillness of meditation starts to manifest the deeper meaning of the person’s life which begins to be directly felt. This creates an atmosphere that forms the basis for realisation, for awareness of depth. It is totally natural and comes unsought. It simply needs to be allowed to come, needs the space in which to come. Although it may not have the mighty luminosity of transpersonal experience at first, the solidity, selfness, reality of the result still comes to be valued more than anything else which could disturb it, and thus life changes suggest themselves to preserve and deepen what one is becoming. There may be considerably less sayable in the new identity than in the old.

To my mind this all concatenates with chi kung. I should mention shen, a hard-to-translate word rendered variously as “spirit”, “mind”, “daimon”, “all-embracing love” or “awareness”. Shen as it first manifests in chi kung tends to give the feeling of a deep heart-peace and acceptance, intimately quiet and relieving, that gradually reveals an inner illumination which is the beginning of (re-)encountering the real. It also, in the Chinese conception, is the result of natural processes, which harmonise and unblock chi whilst jing, life essence, is allowed to build. Shen later is spirit or consciousness itself, and therefore the signal of realisation.

There are obviously many transformations after this, on the path I like, many things that reveal themselves beyond this initial stage. Spiritual truth is not “psychological” in the modern sense and the quest reveals itself on levels that (I believe) we all know, but in practical terms, have mostly forgotten if not for the promptings we all feel towards those levels. Gopi Krishna attributed those holotropic promptings to the Kundalini process making itself known on a quiet level to everyone, I think correctly. Our lives wish to deepen.

But as long as this initial understanding has been attained, it can be developed in daily life as well, and forms a sign of what is to come as well as a doorway to it. Everything that happens becomes part of its flow. One always has an awareness, a place to which to return. One is just oneself, after all.

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That’s the end of the series — many thanks for reading and welcome to all the new subscribers!

The reading lists all need a huge amount of redoing… I hope to get that done later on… I know I keep saying that…

The problem is that the next series has made for a huge amount of research, and I’d like to make as much of it available as I can. In fact that research is still ongoing, so there’s going to be a gap before the series begins, but fear not as I’ll be doing short posts on various other subjects as they take my fancy.

Answer to the question: do I still use hypnosis? Yes. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise at all. More on that in a sec. Does hypnosis tie in with this series? Absolutely can. The Ericksonian unconscious works by the same kind of spontaneity. (EDIT: Just saw this book combining Erickson and Rogers.)

More recent work in the vein of Maslow and Rogers has been done by Czikszentmihalyi and Seligman, and there are various other things out there of interest in the same direction. More on them as I fill in before the next series, but I won’t be writing about psychology in any depth for a while now as we need to venture into the wild.


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…


Intro

Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers

So, with apologies for the delay, to the excellent Carl Rogers. I will cover him from the SBNR angle, opening up his ideas for anyone’s personal use. (This is a propos of the ‘summaries’ I promised of useful psych for transpersonal purposes.)

In practical terms Rogers is one of the most important important modern sources for self development. To sketch in his ideas really doesn’t take long. He was not a transpersonal psychologist but at every stage I’ll show the direct relevance of his stuff to transpersonal goals and ways, and he will be a major support for a lot of transcendent concepts to come. His work becomes a useful touchstone on issues like natural spontaneity and developing meaningfulness, especially in an initial practice where peace and stability are the watchwords. Anyone meditating and/or doing chi kung, wanting to increase harmony and meaning to prepare for Kundalini, should find this series gives supportive ideas and ways. It will also surreptitiously set up ideas that later prove lot bigger and more important.

Writing on Maslow and other psychologists before, I tended to blend them with other things exercising me. This Rogers series will definitely situate him within subjects I always cover, but will focus directly on his own thinking, with many verbatim quotes. Series after this may not focus directly on psychology for a while as I move to being more of a wissenskünstler, but it will all tie in.

The format is short posts again, at an interval of four days. Hope you enjoy it, thanks for reading!


Ataraxia — movement reveals stillness, stillness harmonises movement

In multiple traditions, the soul that is peaceful is said to be “balanced” by means of a system of elements. The Western training of Franz Bardon uses a 4-element system for this which corresponds to the five-element Chinese system. But bizarrely these two modern approaches are opposites, and even more so, the Chinese one is much closer in spirit to Ancient Greece than the Western one. I’m still not quite sure why that should be.

Katchmer’s great book, The Tao of Bioenergetics (1993), offers what I see as the basic view. Glenn applauded it as having “a good explanation of the workings of the Eastern methodologies and perspectives, with enough concrete Western examples to keep one scratching one’s head for quite awhile”. It’s built on the contrast between the Western and Chinese approaches to knowing in general. The Western approach is substantial and reified and seeks ‘the right answer’; the Chinese is an energy paradigm valuing flow.

It’s almost not wrong to say that for something to be ‘an answer’ in China, it must be flowing, whereas for something to be ‘an answer’ in the West, it must have stopped flowing (at least until Heidegger and Deleuze). However, when it comes to elements-systems, it would appear that the ancient West — Greece — bucks this trend.

Generative Cycle of 5 Chinese Elements

The Chinese five-element system works in cycles. The “Generative Cycle” arranges the elements in a circle with each element producing the next in turn — Water is said to produce or generate Wood, and so forth. In the job of balancing the elements, indirect action thus becomes possible — to strengthen the Metal element one may strengthen Earth, since excess Earth will become Metal. Metal corresponds, for example, to the lungs, and Earth to the Spleen/Pancreas/Stomach complex, so weak lungs can be strengthened by strengthening the stomach.

Destructive Cycle

In the “Destructive Cycle”, on the other hand, Metal has the effect of reducing or inhibiting the Wood element, of which the organ is the liver. Thus an overactive liver can be reined in by strengthening the lung. Each organ is associated with a complex of emotions, thus these interventions alter one’s psychology.

It’s all about effecting dynamic changes in an ongoing stream. As qi flows through the whole it clings or is overactive or else is weak, in this or that area, and the flow is warped out of true. Systems for getting it back in line using the elemental approach range from the purely meditative — like Chia’s Fusion of the Five Elements, work with the meridians, or stuff by Bi Yongsheng I’ll refer to later in the post — to the book I got those illustrations from, Chang’s The Tao of Balanced Diet (1987) which makes use of flavour, energy level and pH balances in different foods. Healing by eating, a nice thought which has worked for me. (Chia promised a similar system once but I don’t believe he has ever published it.)

When flow is clear, when all elements support each other and none is predominant, when the system is free of blockage, it has then become transparent and favours no direction, so can recover events and expressions. It has a dynamic homeostasis allowing a life of undisturbedness or ataraxia amidst any sort of motion.

What’s very interesting is that (from what we have left to us), the Western four element system seems to have begun with a similar attitude to flow. The elements, says Empedocles, “prevail in turn as the time comes around”. Heraclitus, so often the most Chinese of the Greeks, mentions that “the death of fire is birth for air and the death of air is birth for water” and so on. Anaximenes and Anaxagoras have certain relevant passages and Plato’s Timaeus includes much on the process of cyclical transformation of the elements (49-50), and how they make up the character of souls.

But the European approach has not kept up this interest in flow and Bardon’s 20th c. Western Hermetic technique shows the result. It’s so different that I actually have discovered I’m not able to combine the two comfortably, but it perfectly illustrates the ‘reified/static’ mien of Western European thought as sketched by Katchmer.

Bardon’s system is in the line of Agrippa and Fludd, Western occultism. The technique involves breathwork with four different elements as two pairs of opposite qualities — Fire and Water are hot and cold; Air and Earth, light and heavy, respectively. The practitioner first learns to handle each element separately by breathing it into the body. When seasoned s/he can then inbreathe all four elements simultaneously, focusing them in different areas: Earth in the legs and genitals, Water in the belly, Air in the chest, and Fire in the head. By concentrating the energies strongly, each simultaneously in its area, the practitioner brings the system into balance and harmony. Fludd shows exactly this elemental order. The Indians tend to put Air on top I think… more research coming.

This harmony is entirely static. There is no sense of interaction with the environment, only with a world of ideal qualities, and the four “flowing”, “becoming” elements of old Western lore are not to be found. Where the Chinese system involves carefully balancing motion in order to reveal harmony, the Western system makes a block of harmonised motionlessness to which the ordinary life energies must conform. I find it a telling difference and one that confirms Katchmer, although the latter doesn’t know Bardon.

Glenn Morris fans will note that the ability to run energy hot or cold at will is very much a part of his system. However, working with Bardon’s Fire and Water elements does not help for this as Bardon never runs energy at all — the West is quite destitute of a meridian system through which energy can be dynamic. The only qigong book I have ever seen with good instructions for running hot or cold at will is the one I quoted at the end of last post, which is rapidly becoming my favourite book on medical qigong of all time: Bi Yongsheng’s Chinese Qigong Outgoing-Qi Therapy (1997). (Glenn himself teases but doesn’t give a method for this.)

You can also find in that book a system for generating a form of qi corresponding to each of the five elements, which can be used for elemental balance exercises on the generating-destroying cycle I gave earlier earlier. (Mind you, I haven’t yet tackled the huge work of Jerry Alan Johnson who I believe studied with Bi. But Bi’s book is seriously good anyway.)

It’s interesting to think that the Chinese system reflects much more closely the fluid/becoming nature of the Greek elements, as given by many philosophers, than the later European occult systems seem to. As I say, I’m not sure what happened there, nor when the switchover to the static occurred in the West.

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Sorry for tardiness and linklessness, plus fair warning that as I write the Webster rebuttal which is taking on large proportions, Saturday posts may become shorter/sketchier or occasionally absent. I do have a lot of posts in cold storage I can bombard you with but they may run out. Thx for bearing with me, think it’ll be worth it…


Naturalizing the Breath

The beginning of transcendent wisdom at soul/energy level, in quite a few traditions, is a kind of balance, contained and managed, which allows the motion of life without getting swept up in it. (The East-West difference in conceptualisation of that balance is fascinating, and I’ll get to that next week.) It’s in this context that Epicureanism, or indeed any of the other philosophies in which desire is managed down, are so useful. Not desiring more than one has means being satisfied, content, and peaceful. This is pleasure. That calculus of desire, where what arises is easily satisfied, allows life not to disturb — ataraxia.

It is easy and profitable, like I said before, to retrofit or graft the Chinese sexual techniques, the fangzhong shu, to the Epicurean ethic. Compatibility is the key, as much as or more than similarity. You’ll never find sexual techniques in Epicureanism since Epicurus, along with every one of his successors, was too pessimistic about sex to concoct any. So they never discovered what the Chinese did, which is that sex (with discipline and care) can be all about balance, pleasure, health and ataraxia — exactly the Epicurean aims.

It’s the same with a whole bunch of stuff — the Smile techniques of last week for example. There is nothing similar in Epicureanism but it’s bang on with their goals. Similarly, a big part of what you learn in qigong or kundalini practices is about breathing exercises. These are absolutely essential to what I do, and they are entirely absent from Western ancient records, even though their philosophy is totally compatible with so much Western stuff. The pneuma doctrines the Stoics settled into, especially, are really identical to the doctrines of qi/prana. Aer was important from the beginning with Anaximenes. The doctors of India, China and Greece worked with the energy to heal. But Greece did not develop breathing.

So historically, very few people in the West know what breathing makes possible. You need to experience it. We don’t have any cultural way of describing the change of mind involved in changing breath — nor resulting changes in the matter and energy of the body. Pierre Hadot was very big on ancient philosophy as spiritual exercises which aimed at a way — his contribution is very valuable — but what he meant by “spiritual exercises” was the questioning of assumptions and intentions, along with some asceticism. Good stuff, but the training of breath and mind together is not understood.

(Via the cross-fertilisation of Stoicism with Vipassana now in progress, that may change — although Vipassana is not qigong nor yogic breathing and should not be mistaken for it.)

One person who does get some of this is Thomas McEvilley, whose massive, fascinating The Shape of Ancient Thought (2002) is a beautiful comparative study of Ancient Indian and Greek philosophy. Epicurus and the Pāli Buddha never had a more fruitful and civilised conversation — nor did Pyrrho and Nagarjuna, nor Democritus and Jain atomism, for that matter. Fun at last to see these guys hobnobbing! Academic specialisation tends to maintain a big Berlin Wall between them.

The trap, though, is signalled in the title. It’s a book about thought. It doesn’t touch practice, except at odd moments. And it’s enthusiastic, and the impressionable may see things that aren’t there, like one Amazon reviewer, who said that “Plato’s Academy was a Yoga ashram, in effect”. Perhaps one could get that entirely mistaken impression from statements in the book like: “Every mystical element in Indian thought can be found in Greek thought too.” It’s that word again — “thought”. Thought is not practice. There’s a footnote: “This overlap, however, does not include the practice of yoga, which seems a distinctively Indian accomplishment…” That reviewer didn’t look in the footnotes. Gah! I’ve been there.

Plato was no yogi. Whatever his ‘unwritten doctrines’, which featured plenty of mathematics as I understand, the basics of the academy seem to have been dialectic and geometry, with the new academy meandering to scepticism very soon after his death. There were no real exercises of breath and qi in Platonism, none in Epicureanism, and none in Stoicism, although McEvilley claims not to be sure:

Whether Stoics, like Hindus, attempted to establish the right inner vibration through direct control of the breath is not known; more probably they worked directly on the hẽgemonikon [intent] rather than on the bodily breath … most importantly, the Stoics seem no more than other Greek schools to have taught meditation and bodily discipline in anything like the Indian yogic manner.

And yet — the similarity he mentions between the thought processes of these conversations allows us to retrofit. We don’t need to be naively universalist because there is actual similarity of thought and theory, just as much with China as with India. Along with the theory of breath and qi/pneuma, there are all sorts of compatibilities of thought which allow graftings of practice. (I’m far from the first to notice that Heraclitus is often a Taoist.)

I don’t know why the West never developed breath regimen. It just didn’t. I see more or less nothing major on breath until the 20th century, when Bardon’s system appeared, which does heavily feature breath, but I have no idea where it came from. The system is very different from Eastern methods (more next week), alienatingly so for me, enough that there may be some sort of occult oral transmission I know nothing about. Agrippa hardly mentions breath, although when he does it’s Bardonish I suppose.

Stephen Chang includes information on various forms of Crane Breathing, Reverse Breathing, and Bone Breathing

On the less heathen angle, there’s a page of breathing in Loyola’s Exercises (which would be 16th c.), more or less equivalent to an impassioned Christian version of Herbert Benson (20th) which in a more Humanist mould is where Glenn began too. But of the breathings available on my reading lists — the belly breaths, the reverse breaths and so forth — there is no hint in any Western document of any period, that I have seen yet. I’d love to be shown some.

I’m told the following inscription may well date from 500 BCE, right in the floreat of Heraclitus (or Pythagoras or Xenophanes). Just then, the path we know as Taoism was coming to exist. The Neiye, that masterpiece of early China which advocates the joy and health of quiet practice in a way that would gladden any Epicurean, was still a century off. Laozi and Zhuangzi weren’t born nor thought of. But already there was breath in this inscription whose history remains obscure:

When transforming the breath, the inhalation must be full to gather the magic. To gather the magic, fullness must be extended. When it is extended it can penetrate downward. When it can penetrate downward, it is magic. When it descends it becomes calm, solidifies, and is both strong and firm. When it is strong and firm, it will germinate. If it germinates it will grow and retreat upward. If it is attracted back, then a man can reach both heaven and earth in the same breath. When it retreats upward, it reaches the top of the head. When it falls forward, it can caress the feet and still press down. The secret powers of Providence move above. The secret powers of the Earth move below. He who follows this will live; he who acts against this will die.

CLICK TO ENLARGE
Chinese Breath Inscription, ?500 BCE

That’s Glenn’s preferred translation of it (Martial Arts Madness, 1999). I reproduce the original at right. I have four other translations, found in the 2 Glenn-approved vols. of Jane Huang’s Primordial Breath (2 vols., 1987 and 1990), which translate some intriguing texts on this stuff from the Taoist Canon. The theory there was, we don’t know what a lot of these symbols mean for sure these days so safety lies in numbers. The calm, the solidity and firmness, all relate to the balance and ataraxia with which I began this post. Anyone who thinks ‘magic’ is a poor word doesn’t know breathwork (and didn’t know Glenn!)

It’s by such cultural productions that you know China is going to develop breathwork, but Greece produced nothing of the kind. Maybe Peter Kingsley would tell me there’s the odd word in Empedocles. But it’s thin. What there is, though, is compatibility. Personally, I feel like this stuff fulfills a promise that simply never fruited in the Western past.

Anyone interested in breath will find useful stuff in Glenn’s books — see Reading List. From the Qigong Reading List, I indicate particularly Bi Yongsheng, with Stephen Chang and Takahashi/Brown also relevant.

Since not everyone has caught up with the excellence of the Bi Yongsheng book yet, I’ll end by transcribing a passage I’ve found very helpful. Of course, as recent events on this blog show, I certainly am not always quite as peaceful as I’d like to be! :) But then, I have major experiences going on at the moment which maybe one day I’ll write about. Meanwhile, the following on what you might call the ataraxia of breathing has helped me a great deal:

The ancients laid much stress on the manner of breathing in their practice of regulation of respiration, stating four phases (xiang) of respiration: wind phase (feng xiang), gasp phase (chuan xiang), air phase (qi xiang) and rest phase (xi xiang). With the wind phase, one can hear the rough sound of his own breath; with the gasp phase, though he may hear no sound of his breath, he may feel stagnated and obstructed ventilation of air; with air phase, he may neither hear the rough sound of breath nor feel the stagnated and obstructed ventilation of air yet his breath is not even; and with the rest phase, which is a state of extreme quietness, he may achieve deep, long and even respiration. It was believed in ancient times that “concentrating on the wind phase may derange the mentality, on the gasp phase may cause knotted mentality, on the air phase may strain the mentality, and only on the rest phase can the mentality be set peaceful”.

– Bi Yongsheng, Chinese Qigong Outgoing-Qi Therapy (1997), p. 167


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