Tag Archives: Glenn Morris

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!

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** “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…


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.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers IV

Rogers believed in making a calm, safe space in which people felt free to be themselves and remove fake social personae. There’s a strong parallel here with Glenn Morris, which demonstrates the application of this idea to preparation for Kundalini and the transpersonal:

Glenn: Let us first suppose that what we consider our self seems to be more a collection of masks… We might discover that our impulses towards achievement and compassion spring from a fear of failure and feelings of helplessness. As we delve deeper we may be forced to discover… anger, resentment and envy… and allow ourselves to open even further to find shame, yearning, terror, sadness, and other dark emotions… finally… we find another layer of calm connectedness…

Path Notes

Rogers: When a person comes to me… it is my purpose to understand the way he feels in his own inner world, to accept him as he is, to create an atmosphere of freedom… How does he use this freedom? It is my experience that he uses it to become more and more himself. He begins to drop the false fronts, or the masks, or the roles, with which he has faced life. He appears to be trying to discover something more basic, something more truly himself…

What it Means to Become a Person, from On Becoming a Person (2004, orig. 1961).

Although Rogers knew nothing of strong transpersonal experience, Glenn offers Rogers-style ideas when he wants to convey some of the psychology of transformation. (Note that a therapist is not required if the person goes for the self-development route. More on the adaptation of this to personal work later.)


Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – XI

From the beginning of my involvement with Glenn Morris, I loved his lack of a manifest destiny, the absence of any orthodoxy on what “god and the universe” have to be. At the climactic moment of his initial awakening, with characteristic generosity he leaves the reader to choose how to speak of the experience:

… the whole has a spirit or direction that might be defined as God, or energy, or self/creativity if you’re inclined in that direction…

Path Notes of an American Ninja Master (1993)

This attitude is what builds the flexible SBNR social form. Not that people are always conscious of it and the synergies it allows, but the knitting-together it’s doing is always visible when you look for it. Not having one “correct” word or concept for the experiences under investigation, but allowing them to play across different vocabularies, means any experience can come under many headings. The creative interweaving of patterns and cultural destinies is characteristic of our current civilisation and the ecology in which it sits. Many flexible stories are required to understand spiritual experiences in such an environment, and SBNR’s own complex history makes this very obvious.

One isn’t likely to read any Abrahamic text saying that “God, or energy, or self/creativity if you prefer, made the heavens and the earth”. There is a definite disjuncture between the religious and SBNR ways of speaking.

Tao Te Ching admits right away that “Tao” is a word for something upon which words must always hang loosely — modern SBNR acknowledges that and slides different verbal lenses across that something according to context. It branches freely out of the tunnel-like Western-religious destiny myths that turn into ideocracies. In a human and nature-scaled environment with the emphasis on creativity, it seems to prosper.


Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – VII

The major contributors to SBNR are very numerous. No-one has yet identified them all. Summarising their contribution would be practically impossible.

And there is no definite “product” of their endeavours, no nice Nicene “result”. One could spend days trying to give the gist of Gebser, Yogananda, Jung, or Huxley. Their modern heirs Stanislav Grof, Lawrence LeShan, William Irwin Thompson, or Glenn Morris would require just as long.

Anyone can wander the SBNR canon and pull out a personal conversation, a particular mind. With no official version, no orthodoxy. With no orthodoxy, no borders. SBNR is what you make it, not what it makes you.

Still, SBNR is no longer as directly indebted to Romanticism. It is leaner, and it has learned the difference between posturing and effectiveness. It has passed through existential crises and been tempered by them. What we have now is a settled growth of many intertwining plants — and a definite opportunity.


Best of Self = Way Beyond Self

It’s not actually that easy to illustrate the concept of “Peak Experience” without cliché

You at your best are good for you, because you do glimpse some truth in that moment. Concentrating on your peaks, moments when you have felt at your best (not necessarily when others would assume you to be at your best, although usually there are all sorts of resonances going on) feeds through your life and makes peak Breakouts more frequent. This is good prep for serious energy work not dissimilar to the Smile. Here again is the list from last week of the S-terms or B-values; one can meditate on how various of them are reflected in peak experiences and learn from these contexts how the best “you” feels and what it does, keeping it very personal to one own actualisation.

A collection of these can be dipped into for purposes of shifting mood, which can happen quite easily, especially when emotional arousal has dropped off. When bad emotions have been somewhat processed, they tend to linger for lack of a way to shift. Going to peaks and may produce a near-magical transformation.

Brief qigong exercises will make it doubly effective. An appropriate technique like qigong breathing can spread feelings through the system, or they can be gathered in the saliva and swallowed to the Tan Tien, Glenn-style. The more advanced with open meridians can run the feelings through them to see what they do. This practice is key to many of Glenn’s statements about energy, such as his comments on checking out the healer, Lisa:

I took some of her healing energy and ran it through me using the internal witness to observe. It was nice and pink and lit up all the meridians and organs. She knew her stuff.

Path Notes (1993, pp. 145-6)

Becoming a connoisseur of energy is a key to sensing people and situations. Glenn taught the martial way but it can be used in so many not-overtly-martial situations. These practices can help develop that awareness as can a few things in Chia’s Healing Light of the Tao (2008). Rob Williams gives excellent instruction in chapters 6 and 7 of his Hoshinjutsu (2009).

Over time of meditating on peaks people may get memories of ones that are very close to the kinds of thing Glenn recommends for the Smile — achievement, love, etc. — but may also get very different stuff. Many of my peaks didn’t look very interesting from the outside. It’s all good if it seems to be what really matters to and about you. This is not such a long step from meditating on the questions, “Who am I really?” (Maharshi), “What is my original face?” (Zen) and so forth, practices which if approached consistently can bring results in themselves, although the smoothing-out of Kundalini egoless states is very useful.

Having some way to understand things from this perspective really seems to cut out the bs, and I’ll advocate this more later, showing how it matches up with other systems but in a secular way. A whole theory is coalescing now around Maslow that also revises the Pyramid of Needs into a useful tool, plus systems of Shadow acceptance come from his self-actualisation approach… this is a great way to relate one’s experiences to ordinary life, because Peaks are seeded by ordinary life.

This gets to why Glenn so often said, follow your heart. He meant, follow the flavour of the feeling and learn to distinguish the subtlety thereof, to trust what you sense and get information from it:

… conscious love is created from the exploration and opening of one’s own heart through diligent meditation and introspection. It is only through knowing yourself that true love and compassion evolve… ninjo… is the concept of human feelings [B-cognition] being vastly more important than what is logical and profitable [D-cognition]… Start paying attention to what other people feel like in various situations… Don’t rationalize the feelings, just build your catalog… run hot angry emotions through your meridians and see if you like the migraine feeling… if you’re going to kick in the more intuitive side of your brain, which also processes feelings, you must remember that we feel before we think. Since most of us, particularly men, have had a lot of training in ignoring our emotions, finding them in charge can have interesting consequences…

– all from Path Notes

Continually strengthening and radiating your peaks through yourself starts the process of recreating and recoalescing towards what matters and what aligns all body and soul functions. As qi builds this spreads naturally to others around you via resonance, changing life in interesting ways. The work looks private, but no work giving instant access to the energy systems of others, as well as one’s own, could ever be private. Its results spread through everything you have ever entrained to, changing the world one person at a time.

Use of one’s own experience is I think a vital ingredient, one I’m going to design in more strongly. Peak is the psychology of the natural high. Given how I feel these days I still think it could and should change world, and it reminds me that Glenn used to say, “this is what people should be doing” — meaning, some form of it, not one form in particular, but a form that works.

However, there’s no denying that the Peak concept, in democratising, also was used in an irresponsible and ungrounded way. This is the 60s and 70s we’re talking about, that outburst which made so much possible, including stuff that led in unproductive directions. Maslow himself wrote excellently on that. The dangers of irresponsibility and selfishness, of needing to escalate the high, of impatience, the shadow of Peak, were well seen by him in his new 1970 Preface to Religions, Values and Peak Experiences (1964). In this and so many other things his patient voice was not always heeded. Not everyone used LSD the careful way Grof did. Meditation takes dedication, even if the methods are extremely efficient. Peak-hunger could get too frenzied.

A lot of things got winnowed out, which may be for the best considering the immense power added to these theories by qigong and Kundalini. But the unfortunate side of that in turn, as mentioned last week, is that much science has actually given up trying to understand human beings in this way. We turned to wishing ourselves numbered patterns. The attempt to master humanity by dehumanising reached to healing and life itself, and tried to snuff out the spirit that does indeed still keep us all alive.

Glenn seems to have nonetheless based himself in the older Humanistic and Maslovian approach quite strongly, using it to understand what had happened after his unexpected awakening. This was a big part of what he called ‘strategy’, which in turn focused on enjoyment and the investigation of feeling, yet could also be scientifically investigated with work on the chakras. That takes a certain amount of sophistication. Chakra openings are peaks of a different kind, but they are peaks. One finds instinctively one’s style, the archetypal push and flavour of the chakras, of the organs and meridians. Subjective hooking into the eternal makes meaningfulness of a uniquely self-actualising kind even as it breaks down the social masks, and with each new pattern of understanding you make a step into “becoming part of it” as the Navajo say.

The universe is a huge spontaneous poem written in feelings and images that course through the soul. Anyone who wants to make the run for the grail just has to get the meditations and peaks into gear. When the meridians and the chakras open properly there is no need to depend so much on memories of peaks, because the flow of energy clears conscious access to the living source of them, a step at a time. The job becomes to continually plateau-Breakout into the living truth of constant peak.

The qigong systems I use (see Reading Lists) are about flow. Those who haven’t yet experienced it, especially Westerners with their lack of much tradition concerning it, may not get that qi is as obvious and easy to feel — and later to see — as anything physical. Qi in motion on the level of the meridians can literally be felt clearing and refreshing all areas of the system, everything that was clung to can be let go in favour of flow with reality. These are not only physical-type blockages. Blockages of the soul, of trauma, of crisis, of meaning, are also dissolved. The beauty of this is hard to relate but easy to enjoy.

It becomes clear that everything one experienced was experienced through this, through this mind-body system which the energy is causing to zing and flash. Each area opened opens a level of the cosmos to one’s mind, and one’s mind to that level. Peaks at this stage have coalesced into the neutral guiding star of spontaneous persistence and beauty that continually lights the personal way to the universal. The seed planted by those peak moments grows to flower in the cosmos. The Taoists call this “becoming a real human”.

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I’m off to play with what I’ve got here for a while, and will probably be posting in a slightly differently pattern and style when I return, including more details on a secular psychological basis for these qigong realisations, and other stuff. Meanwhile I’ll be adding to the Reading Lists and dealing with the Webster rebuttal… enjoy. :)


Re-Hanging My Hat

In all of these peak experiences it becomes impossible to differentiate sharply between the self and the non-self… Observe first of all that this is an empirical statement and not a philosophical or theological one. Anyone can repeat these findings.

– Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971)

Quite unexpectedly, this post marks the beginning of the end of this phase of this blog. I will probably do one more next week, and then take a break, I don’t know exactly how long. During that break there will still be more on the Reading Lists and the Webster Rebuttal though.

I guess what I’m experiencing here is kind of a Breakout. :) I’ve written and rewritten the following post but don’t know that I’ve managed to convey what’s exciting me… Still, I think it will bear a lot of fruit down the road and I just want to experiment with it for a while without writing stuff down.

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Glenn: taught humanity not just spirituality

Since religion in any organised and orthodox Western sense is not necessary for spiritual experience and enlightenment, and in my case I’m sure would prevent it, I’ve always been looking for secular theories that will do the philosophical heavy lifting. Until now I didn’t appreciate how Glenn’s training in Humanistic psych helped him deal with Kundalini, in a sense prepared him for it attitudinally (along with martial arts of course). Humanistic psych is not exactly “spiritual”, just open to experience. For Glenn it actually did a lot of what a “having a faith” would do for someone, but wasn’t a faith, was empirical.

Glenn was able to be both highly connected to spiritual traditions and in a considerable degree of irony towards them, using powers of psychological reinterpretation to smoke out the crowd-herding dogmas, rhetorics, superstitions, and plain old mistakes.

I always thought in general that with enough transpersonal psych I’d get the answers I wanted. But after I went through all the Wilbers and the Ferrers, even though I learned something from Grof alright, my reaction was… ok, what else have you got?

I didn’t see that Glenn had actually got his stuff from the Humanistic and evidential, a lot more than from the Transpersonal, which is mostly non-evidential. What he did after he’d experienced Kundalini was a) replicate it on others; and b) develop psychological instruments based on chakra models. That is exactly what Maslow would have done. Wilber never did this. Translating the ancient transpersonal into our lives in a new form is about careful, cautious, wise prescription based on doing the legwork.

Because Maslow did that legwork he often had to backtrack. When he was more decisive he often was wrong and had to eat humble pie later, because the evidence went another way. That’s life! Humanistic psych, which in 1962 he liked to call “holistic-dynamic” psych, was always about understanding the human experiential world. After that, you could quantify.

I begin to understand how Glenn was able to integrate all his experiences without losing his scientific focus, and also how he could integrate so much hard science without losing his soul and going left-brained. He kept the Humanistic focus and never let the results run him. In turn I begin to get why so much conversation on the science of the transpersonal bores me rigid, why conversation with “skeptics” is such a farce — indeed, why I leapt at the opportunity to reply to Webster! He at least has a focus on the experience of human existence. Without that appreciation for the human, the world is ‘cut in half’ by scientific investigation, for no good reason. And we know that same cutting-in-half happens in religions too.

By sensitive observation, testing both qualitative and quantitative, on lots of people, you make something democratic. Religious top-down declarations of truth are undermined. It’s a different world at that point.

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Readers of John Michael Greer got a nice idea from him a few weeks back:

What you contemplate, you imitate

I remember Greer was talking about fellow peak oil writer James Howard Kunstler, for example, who has written so long and scathingly about certain aspects of American life, that he occasionally sounds and thinks just like what he’s lampooning. Compare that with the process by which a medieval monk’s long contemplation of Christ causes changes of a more positive kind.

I introduced the idea of entrainment, of which these are examples. I was groping there, still am, for the actual nub, trying to describe how “it” crosses over from human mind to “the universe”. What I didn’t manage to get across was that entrainment means something is happening, something more than what ”you” are consciously doing.

I said then: “Psychologically, let’s call entrainment the process whereby interaction with ‘something’ brings a personality into being.” That is what happened to Kunstler. There is a blurring of object with subject in a process of transformation. It just happens. Kunstler did the contemplating, but the imitating happened “by itself”. At the end of the day, whose behaviour do we have there? :) What caused the contemplation and what caused the imitation?

The fact that it occurs “by itself” is the key. I’ve always noticed “something acting through me”, I’m not trying to say this is something amazing, but something, even before I started out to work with all this. That to me is another great key which I need to take time off writing, and maybe most reading, in order to play with. St Romain describes “ground itself looking through my eyes”, and that is exactly it.

This connects to a lot of what Anandamayi Ma would say — she is worth the study — but at the same time via Humanistic psych it relates to ordinary human life, being constantly let go of, as we do when we peak. It may have seemed hyperbolic to say Benson-style Breakout was “the central human psychological mechanism” but I think there is something very important there. (I might refer to the Kunstler thing as a ‘plateau Breakout’.) What acts when we ‘let go’ is the real thing.

I believe one could look at the entire universe as the product of spontaneous entrainments. Think of the descriptions of the creation processes. Yin entrained to Yang and spontaneous results thereof. The universe as a big Breakout, one big continuous transformation.

The universe is a form of mentation. Spiritual training has you constantly learning to direct attention and increase its power, so that you can entrain and crucially de-entrain as opposed to being run by the entrainments you just find yourself with.

Qi is the medium through which entrainments happen, is itself the medium of transformation, even of the physical. That all fits with the science — the Lu/Yan experiments I talked about before showed qi as precisely that.

And I suspect that each human life itself in a sense is one really big Breakout waiting to happen. I think I’ll just leave that statement hanging there. :)

—————————————————————-

Maslow — taught Glenn humanity

Maslow is just old enough to be yesterday’s man, not old enough to be “classic”, and totally “left behind” by fMRI in the last decade. I love that, because he was right. His empirical focus on positive aspects of human functioning is now derided as unscientific because it focused on values, but a) it was actually perfectly scientific, b) it came up with stuff you can actually use, and c) given that what you contemplate, you imitate, it was a bloody good idea.

When you say the world is mechanical, you don’t merely lose ‘meaning’, you lose all values, and hence, all chance of being scientific. Meditators know that neutrality doesn’t mean valuelessness. For human beings values are non-optional, and we can make rigorous scientific statements about them. Much normal science avoids this and is robbing us of our humanity. Maslow proved that human values can really be studied — the fact that so few picked up that gage is a choice, and it’s fear-driven, it’s deficiency-driven. People don’t want the responsibility. Many scientists want to be machines, and to know how to push human buttons.

What Maslow starts offering me is what he gave Glenn all along — a humanised way to tackle big questions and experiences, and relate them to ordinary humanity.

Think of the huge numbers of STEs and peak experiences which “just happen” — from ⅓ to ½ of the population in America has had an STE and numbers for general peak experiences must be even higher. We know that many of these events add meaning to life. We also know they don’t correlate to religious belief. When Maslow studied them he found fourteen consistent attributes which he called ‘B-values’ (“Being values”). Since these attributes appear spontaneously one could also call them “S-terms”, the attributes of spontaneity itself, as we experience it.

Here is one Maslow list of them:

WHOLENESS (unity; integration; tendency to one-ness; interconnectedness; simplicity; organization; structure; dichotomy-transcendence; order);

PERFECTION (necessity; just-right-ness; just-so-ness; inevitability; suitability; justice; completeness; “oughtness”);

COMPLETION (ending; finality; justice; “it’s finished”; fulfillment; finis and telos; destiny; fate);

JUSTICE (fairness; orderliness; lawfulness; “oughtness”);

ALIVENESS (process; non-deadness; spontaneity; self-regulation; full-functioning);

RICHNESS (differentiation, complexity; intricacy);

SIMPLICITY (honesty; nakedness; essentiality; abstract, essential, skeletal structure);

BEAUTY (rightness; form; aliveness; simplicity; richness; wholeness; perfection; completion; uniqueness; honesty);

GOODNESS (rightness; desirability; oughtness; justice; benevolence; honesty);

UNIQUENESS (idiosyncrasy; individuality; non-comparability; novelty);

EFFORTLESSNESS (ease; lack of strain, striving or difficulty; grace; perfect, beautiful functioning);

PLAYFULNESS (fun; joy; amusement; gaiety; humor; exuberance; effortlessness);

TRUTH (honesty; reality; nakedness; simplicity; richness; oughtness; beauty; pure, clean and unadulterated; completeness; essentiality).

SELF-SUFFICIENCY (autonomy; independence; not-needing-other-than-itself-in-order-to-be-itself; self-determining; environment-transcendence; separateness; living by its own laws).

This is from ordinary people’s self-reporting of peaks. It’s a basic, instant-grasp view of “how the Tao in action feels” for human beings. We know that neutrality and letting-go allows “it” to act. Therefore we know human “neutrality” is not morally neutral but full of values. Peak experiences can easily be remembered and focused on to hold true to one’s personal Way. This is an entrainment which will then break out in new peaks. Contemplate: imitate. Anyone who has looked over books in the Reading List will get the idea. I will give a couple of interesting things next week, but actually it’s all there.

Maslow provided a time-saving, tested, sure foundation for personal experiment on oneself that anyone non-religious, anyone determined to use their own symbols and translate the traditions their way, can use. Glenn went ahead and fulfilled this vision and democratised an even bigger chunk of higher reality.

I will try never again to underestimate Maslow. He was far righter on than I’d understood. Just look at this:

The person now becomes more a pure psyche and less a thing-of-the-world living under the laws if the world… B-cognition of the other is most possible when there is simultaneously a letting-be of the self and of the other…

Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

I know there were times when he was wrong — but it doesn’t usually matter because one only needs to take the good stuff. Even then, I often find him eminently correctable. After all, he didn’t build a big “perfect” structure and then cry like a baby every time the truth took a bite out of it — he was always prepared to be wrong. One of the things he was wrong about, I mentioned before, was “needs”. He didn’t realise needs lose their blocking nature, not from being “fulfilled” necessarily (which may only entrain them further, as the Greeks knew) — but by conscious limitation and transmutation.

Yet Glenn was ahead of me:

Abraham Maslow, a great American theoretical psychologist, felt that one’s metaneeds (spiritual needs) could only be met when one’s basic needs for survival and security were met… He ignored the scriptures, tales of the aesthetes and ascetics who sometimes achieved enlightenment (self-actualization) through eliminating and shaping desire to higher needs.

Shadow Strategies (1996, p. 260)

And I believe Maslow did understand that, on some level:

There are certain theoretical advantages in stressing now the aspect of non-striving or non-needing and taking it as the centering-point (or center of organization) of the something we are studying.

Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

Once awake to the possibility, you can move your energy in the down-the-pyramid direction (BTW the pyramid isn’t Maslow, it’s a later interpretation by Goble), and you don’t really need to alter the theory. He was thereabouts if not there; his finger missed some contours, but he was touching the truth that more reality = less need.

You can explain so much just with those 14 simple S-terms. Epicurus, who introduced me to need-reduction strategies that really work, fits very well from his angle. One could be literal and state that S-terms like “simplicity” and “effortlessness” are the particular focus of the Epicurean, whilst reducing both need and striving are the important methods. (Stress reduction was as big a deal for Epicurus as for Herbert Benson.) The nature of ataraxia, untroubledness, is fundamentally related to the neutral observation that enables transformation.

But one can go further and say that Epicurus’s ‘pleasure’ (hêdonê) is also related to peak experience in general. The Epicureans would have been having spontaneous peaks like anyone else, and their reduction of needs would have helped. The ‘pleasure’ of Epicurus moves toward the true self, of being as much ‘like a god’ as a human can be. It is more than mere ordinary pleasure, as he said so many times.

Maslow’s focus on actualisation of the individual was 100% correct. Ego death can’t be “done for you” and it goes one person at a time. Modern transpersonal “theory” like that of Ferrer (one is not allowed to call it psychology) has unceremoniously junked everything we once knew we knew about the psychology of egolessness, and all the places it touched Eastern tradition. Glenn ignored Ferrer completely.

I accused Maslow before of not recognising the relationship between peak experiences and death, but I wasn’t being totally fair there either. He writes:

Perhaps I should add here the paradoxical result — for some — that death may lose its dread aspect. Ecstasy is somehow close to death-experience, at least in the simple, empirical sense that death is often mentioned during reports of peaks… I have occasionally been told, “I felt that I could willingly die” or, “No one can ever again tell me death is bad”, etc.

Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences (1964, p.76)

So he knew about this. Just as with the pyramid, the data suggested a conclusion he acknowledged but didn’t place into the theory proper — an association of peak with death of the social self.

What happened with Glenn was that he back-engineered the qigong and chakra stuff in just this way, and tested it. This goes far beyond Maslow in terms of experience and effect, this is real goddess stuff — but Maslow is so open-ended it can be understood just the same exact way.

Believe it or not there is next to no widely-tested psychology on chakras apart from Glenn’s. People are writing books on ‘chakra psychology’ who haven’t even read his work, getting everything anecdotally. (I don’t denigrate a lifetime’s experienced wisdom in healing, for instance, but I do deny that it constitutes scientific knowledge in itself.) Psychology means testing, and you need a framework for testing. And it better be a Humanistic framework or else you’ll cut off the soul again.

From Glenn we know that different people habitually favour different chakras, and what that’s likely to do to stress levels, career, personality, and other measurable stuff, on a variety of accepted scales. That is actually unique so far as I’m aware. Bardon gives a lengthy process for determining one’s elemental balance — in my case Glenn’s test gave the same result as that process, but in 2 minutes flat. But of course Glenn also provides the crucial inner stuff, the connection to experience, so you can transform awareness, in a way you can customise to you.

All the physical experiments, all the quantifying, has to be secondary compared to that. That’s just information. What Glenn did has humanistic, customisable universality because thousands of people contributed to it, just as there were many subjects of Maslow’s B-values research. It captures something about living, something anyone’s unique life experience can add to.

(I’m not just dogmatically saying that “we need to test”. I’m saying I’ve just noticed that those who tested came up with results I could use, and those who didn’t, didn’t. I even believe that the limits on what is testable and in that sense knowable may be precisely the limits needed to maintain the personal freedom that religion can expunge.)

In this paragraph I should sum up what I’m saying… the world to me now looks as if it makes sense from a certain angle, a loose and usable kind of sense that redeems scientific endeavours since there is a way to integrate those with real feeling and value, and which shows that even the heights of “spirituality” are based on human conditions and proclivities that anyone can relate to. I don’t know why that has surprised me so much, but I do know that one reason I went for Glenn’s stuff is that he didn’t talk like a normal spirichal teacha, and now I begin to understand why, and what that has to do with the “it that acts”.

Incidentally, I also begin to understand why some people who ripped off Glenn’s methods ended up writing such crappy books.

I ‘ll take a little time off the blog to see what happens as a result, but will just do a quick post next week especially targeted at methods… cya then.


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


In praise of Cross-Cultural Pleasure, Health and Immortality

Lü Dongbin painted by Sesson Shukei, one of my favourite images of immortality. The dragon upon which Lü stands (what a great depiction!) symbolises his immortality. He has an elixir in his left hand, which he has just uncorked — the cork is in his right hand. This has called or formed another dragon in the air above him.
CLICK TO ENLARGE

This is set off by the usefulness of Epicureanism again…“Pleasure, health, and immortality” sounds too good to be true, but read on.

Glenn reversed serious lifelong arthritis mostly by qigong. It’s not hard to imagine the pleasure that goes with the health there. (Certainly not for me, I have had and am having the same, and more.) At 38 he dropped his baby daughter because of arthritis pain, but at 48 had no pain at all. Pleasure was a big part of the healing, in the form of the Smile technique COMPLETE TEXT FREE . Mantak Chia’s Smile is just as useful COMPLETE TEXT FREE (PAGE 43). You can combine them. I have old CDs of Glenn chuckling at how odd it must seem to some, reaching into their own organs with happiness, but have those beginners read Plato? (Of course not!) : –

When the mind wants to cause fear, it makes use of the liver’s native bitterness and plays a stern and threatening role… By contrast, gentle thoughts from the mind produce images of the opposite kind… and so bring relief from bitterness… making the part of the soul that lives in the region of the liver cheerful and gentle…

– Plato, Timaeus 71, tr. Desmond Lee COMPLETE TEXT FREE (DIFFERENT TRANSLATION)

“The part of the soul that lives in the liver” — this really is pretty Taoist considering it’s Plato. But the spirit of the Western organ is still separate from its physicality to a greater extent than in China. (Taoist priests actually conjure deities out of their bodies to officiate at the rites, which would cause most Platonists to do a double-take or three.)

That brings us to immortality, which does not mean literal physical bodies that last forever. Even the most mundane kind of immortality is interesting. Epicurus stated that the removal of fear and anxiety allowed one to live ‘like a god among men’. He felt self-sufficiency and serenity were godlike and he found them in the gods when he looked at them:

…there are perceptions in our mind — so, at least, Epicurus affirms — of beings brighter and better than man. These images visit us when the mind is no longer besieged by the objects of sense. In the night season, and in quiet reflection, we have visions of the gods, as beings beyond the reach of trouble or of death — beings endowed with immortality and supreme felicity…

– Wallace, Epicureanism COMPLETE TEXT FREE

It’s no secret that immortality has been offered as everything from a kitsch fairytale to a serious result of spiritual practice. Either way, it certainly seems very enjoyable if you manage to attain it. We met before the Chinese god Wenchang, with his autobiography — when he first (re-) attains his own immortality he goes on a holiday which, says Kleeman, is ‘totally Daoist… delighting in nature without a care in the world’:

I happened to find myself atop Mount Monarch in Grotto-courtyard Lake. I loved the magnificent scenery, and so stayed there a while… Transcending the profane inferior world, I came and went alone. The lights on the water and the colors on the mountains were delightful all year round. Humming with the wind and whistling at the moon, what limit was there to this joy?

He has to tone it down eventually, since euphoria is not peace. But here we have a pretty clear confluence of immortality with sheer pleasure.

Empedocles of Acragas

Wenchang actually began as a god before becoming entangled in earthly life, just like our Western Empedocles, for example, whom Peter Kingsley made a little famous. He is another god writing an autobiography — and offering deifying methods too, that is, methods of recovering your own innate divinity. Not that he was recognised as a god in his time, but then neither was Wenchang whilst incarnated. Empedocles is walking around as a “god amongst men”, he does say, and he means it literally. What awaits him after his mortality is renounced but joy at the immortal table, free of human woe? Just so, those achieving immortality or deliverance from the corpse in China lived in celestial paradises with Laojun, Huangdi the Yellow Emperor, or Xiwang mu, Queen Mother of the West.

All the stuff about “going to heaven if you’re good” is a dumbing down of this in many ways, and I include Plato in that. The systems I’ve studied tend to say you won’t actually last in the otherworld without juice and eutonia — the Taoists say, without having become a true ‘yang spirit’, which apparently can take physical form at any time but is not limited to any form.

In the tantric Mahasiddha tradition as expounded by Dowman FREE TEXT, “the result of sadhana is pure pleasure”, with enlightenment its ultimate, and ultimately pleasurable goal. Although such paths require endurance, as Epicurus says, “we believe many pains to be better than pleasures when a greater pleasure follows for a long while if we endure the pains.” The right methods bring health to the body meanwhile — Empedocles promises “remedies for ills and help against old age” and Chinese longevity is legendary.

Epicurus’ attitude to death is interesting for Kundalini purposes. When he says that a major pleasure strategy is to: “Get used to believing that death is nothing to us,” (on the principle of decreasing trouble of mind) he is really talking common sense, but is far from meaning, let’s pretend it isn’t going to happen. Seneca, a member of that supposedly rival sect, the Stoics, records his attitude:

In the meantime Epicurus will oblige me, with the following saying: ‘Rehearse death’, or — the idea may come across to us rather more satisfactorily if put in this form — ‘It is a very good thing to familiarise oneself with death.’

– Letter 26 Robin Campbell tr., COMPLETE LETTERS HERE (DIFFERENT TRANSLATION)

That wouldn’t be out of place in Tibet. Epicurus is a very good ‘naturaliser’ of qigong in the West in the absence of anything I can use from a new age standpoint. In Epicurus, a life of peace is usually to be recommended over one involved in political power-seeking — “Quiet life and withdrawal from the many” is the formula. In this connection I remember the story of Zhuangzi:


Chuang Tzu with his bamboo pole
was fishing in the Pu river

The prince of Chu sent two vice-chancellors
with a formal document:
We hereby appoint you prime minister

Chuang Tzu held his bamboo pole still.
Watching the Pu river, he said:
“I am told there is a sacred tortoise offered
and canonized three thousand years ago,
venerated by the prince, wrapped in silk,
in a precious shrine on an altar
in the temple.
What do you think?
Is it better to give up one’s life
and leave a sacred shell
as an object of cult
in a cloud of incense
for three thousand years,
or to live as a plain turtle
dragging its tail in the mud?”

“For the turtle”, said the vice-chancellor,
“better to live and drag its tail in the mud!”

“Go home!”, said Chuang Tzu.
“Leave me here
to drag my tail in the mud.”

COMPLETE TEXT FREE

The attitude verges on what the West would once have called Cynicism, yet another rival Hellenistic philosophy — but more of that later. It’s a mindset that produced many great sages. As Harold Roth puts it in a brilliant essay on the Stanford Philosophy site FREE TEXT, this side of Zhuangzi did become useful for those who “saw within it support for a withdrawal from a life of social and political service into a private life of reclusion and self-cultivation”, no small decision in Chinese literati circles.

For Epicureans that meant retiring, specifically to a garden, usually. The original Garden of Epicurus was outside Athens, a place of quiet pleasure, teaching and contemplation. Many others sprang up later, sometimes turning into Pythagorean-style communities, and gardens remain important to Epicureans now, increasingly so as self-sufficiency becomes crucial to all of us.

This may be a bit of garden in the same place where William Temple was, I can’t quite gather. But it wouldn’t have looked like this anyway, he was big on fruit trees. And there would have been lots more of it.

Sir William Temple wrote an essay on Epicurean gardening in the 17th century COMPLETE TEXT FREE. His garden was rather bigger than most of us will ever access but he was suitably Epicurean in completely ignoring William of Orange’s invasion; he accepted the new regime, refused office, and went back to pruning his fruit trees. (Not all Epicureans are so retiring — Thomas Jefferson was hardly one to lie quietly out of office.) Some Mahasiddhas lived in even greater luxury than Sir William, for example Lilapa who apparently was a King and a hedonistic one at that. There are no rules. ^_^ A lady named Stephanie Mills wrote a book about modern stripped-down living called Epicurean Simplicity — maybe I’ll pick it up sometime.

Just as Epicureans love their gardens, so do qigong players — or parks. Qi flows in exchange with the human energy, and there is always the chance of meeting an interesting tree. A place to be, with a perfume in the air, to notice the deeper changes of the seasons, to protest against the ambitions of the cultural imperialising of the day. Pleasure, health and perhaps just a sniff of immortality…

There’s meat to all this, so more upcoming.


Of Epicureans West and East

Epicurus

The stomach is not insatiable, as the many say, but rather the opinion that the stomach requires an unlimited amount of filling is false.

– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 59

One can be an Epicurean warrior; one had better have the element in one I think. Glenn Morris was a natural Epicurean in terms of ethic — that is, a natural pursuer of untroubled pleasure by means of disciplining desire and reducing need.

One of the best times to meditate, in my opinion, is after sampling an anodyne you’ve learned to trust. The colorful sunset is fading after a two-day blizzard in January, and the wind chill is about twenty below as you face West and prepare to face the forces of night and death… There’s a certain “I’m still here!” about it… It’s called “The Pleasure Principle.”

Path Notes of an American Ninja Master (1993), p. 63

In Glenn’s approach the Smile is everything, and the simple recall of beauty, love, or laughter can be enough to seed the system’s relaxed preparation for areas beyond the façade. This is human life as a ritual leading to the transhuman.

The Epicureans are immortalised in a ‘do they mean us?’ context by the Pharisaic oral traditions written down in about 220 CE as the Mishnah, which denounce the apiqoros as ‘he who takes the piss out of the biblical scholar’, and since the Epicureans were also seen as atheists because they didn’t believe scripture was directly god-communicated, this need not surprise. The apiqoros has now passed into Jewish tradition as the “heterodox”, and the Christians were not polite either, yet the Epicureans lasted 800 years, discoursing sportively with the Stoics, and if not for Constantine, longer.

One should not spoil what is present by desiring what is absent, but rather reason out that these things, too, [that is, what we have] were among those we might have prayed for.

– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 35

Desire is the opposite of peace and contentment — of course a Buddhist would say the same. Desire ‘maddens’. “Personal desires multiply endlessly,” says Glenn, “forever creating new desires which create new dissatisfactions.” (p. 49). That pleasure and desire are opposites, that self-discipline is pleasure’s friend, occurs to few, and of those who are entrained to consumerism, none. (These ideas completely contravene Freud who partly created consumerism via Bernays.)

Gerald Durrell and friend

It’s not surprising such thoughts come to me as the weather turns hot here in London. I’m reminded very much of Gerald Durrell’s initial encounters with his Oxfordian teacher Peter, in childhood Corfu:

At first the lessons were painful to an extreme: interminable wrestling with fractions and percentages … But, as the sunshine worked its magic on Peter… he discovered that the intricacies of geological strata and the effects of warm currents could be explained much more easily while swimming along the coast…

My Family and Other Animals (1956)

There are those who would approve of this way of teaching today as more active in the body, and more conducive to absorption and interest/retention in the mind, of a child particularly. Learning is childlike — the ‘learning set’ of Milton Erickson recalls the rejuvenation of the Taoists. Legendary children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom hastily declined a repugnant offer to move up to working on books for “dead dull finished adults”. Ellen Langer speaks of this teaching style in a video here; Glenn, himself a college professor of course, recommended her book, The Power of Mindful Learning (1998).

It is the ‘pleasant life’ which calls the Epicurean, and that means the reduction of life to its simplest essentials and the sharing of it with friends, whilst remaining self-sufficient and free of fear, and confident in the face of any pain. It is about the end of anxiety and is thus an earth-element way.

Don’t fear god
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure

– the Tetrapharmakos or ‘four-part cure’.

Oenoanda Wall

One of the movement’s more interesting achievements was the 80-metre wall erected by Diogenes of Oenoanda in the late second century CE. His inscription detailing Epicurean philosophy is the biggest of the ancient world. A third of it still stands.

Pleasure should not be dubious, nor expensive, nor cost more pain than it yields pleasure. Discipline and the correction of character are the traits of the philosopher. Soberly, one must search out the reasons for turmoil and extirpate them. The goal is ataraxia, untroubledness. In attaining it, modern techniques would emphasise self-sympathy to counteract the centuries of yahwocracy.

Nothing is enough for someone to whom enough is little.

– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 68

I may live in the wrong country and time for this, since ‘pleasure’ to most in the UK at present consists in eating one wafer thin mint too many, then projectile vomiting the results at targets chosen for their class, race, or sporting allegiance. But there are times when Epicurus’ actual attitude to the divine, which although far from simplistically ‘atheist’ certainly was not visionary, does chime very well with the earthy-sublime Chinese approaches.

I know what you will say — the Epicureans were not big on sex and love. Indeed not, from Diogenes Laertius’ reports of them: “‘Sexual intercourse,’ they say, ‘never helped anyone, and one must be satisfied if it has not harmed.’” But this is really one of those mistakes history occasionally makes, which we are now able to correct.

Since the Epicurean meditative exercises were so good that the Stoics liked to steal them (and then they were purloined by the Christians with the decals sanded off BTW), their tendency sexual indifference or pessimism is much to be regretted. For the Chinese approaches to sex, which apply just such exercises to that activity, are absolutely Epicurean in philosophy, as Douglas Wile points out in his stunning and very highly recommended study and collection of translations, Art of the Bedchamber (1992, pp. 44 and 72):

Su Nü initiates the Yellow Emperor in the arts amatory. Wile has the translation. The Chinese approaches move from the Epicurean approach of being happy when sex does no harm to knowing how — and even how to use it to heal.

The Ma Wang Tui and Ishinpõ texts, representing the Han to T’ang periods, strongly emphasize prolonged foreplay, female orgasm, and male reservatus as promoting not only superior health but also greater pleasure than ejaculatory sex. Pleasure is presented in these texts as a basic necessity of life, like food or air. The Tung Hsüan tzu attempts to raise sex as a primal pleasure to the level of art, but clearly an art that serves to enhance pleasure as the core of esthetic experience.

[…]

Because of the onus of sin laid on sexuality by religion, Western sexuality has taken on an esthetic of “forbidden fruit”, heightening the thrill of abstinence for the prude and of conquest for the libertine. However, the Chinese sexual practitioner is neither prude nor libertine. In China, the medical emphasis on ching conservation led to an epicurean esthetic that maximizes pleasure by moderating the price — truly a strategy for “having one’s cake and eating it too”… The ability to relax and mobilize ch’i sets the stage for inspiration, while technique channels the energy and ensures that it is not dissipated. This is an esthetic of happy endings rather than climax and catharsis, of long volleys rather than smash and point, of riding the swells and avoiding the breaking waves….

(This book also contains an excellent discussion of the methods of Mantak Chia and Stephen Chang, by the way.)

Note the complete lack of antinomianism.

The ignorant regard this as indecent, but it is not a teaching that encourages lust and leads people to desire. In reality it is the marvellous art of cultivating life.

Su Nü miao lun, Ming period

In terms of self-actualisation theory, as with all Greek philosophies there is plenty there to engineer non-identification with conventionality. Epicurus may be particularly helpful for the development of acceptance, serenity, sympathy, and the very Maslovian “comfortable relationship with life as it really is.”

There are now several sites at which to find him and his successor texts, since his philosophy (like that of the Stoics, incidentally) has a new crop of admirers. Of these Epicurus.info may be the best, relatively free of neopagan Orthodoxisms or preaching about who is a ‘real Epicurean’ etc. The civilised may prefer to sit quietly with the original — it can be had for a couple of quid in the form of a second-hand copy Inwood/Gerson’s The Epicurus Reader (1994), for instance.

No-one appears to know how a certain 14th century manuscript filled with post-Hellenistic philosophical texts arrived in the Vatican archives, but when discovered in 1888 it was found to contain a collection of sayings attributed to the school of Epicurus, mostly chiming well with the material we already have, the so-called “Vatican sayings”.

He who is free from disturbance within himself also causes no trouble for another.

– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 79


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