Polyphony

“Songbirds sing. That is fact, not metaphor. They sing, and in the forest every morning, when a dozen or a hundred or a thousand individuals of six or ten or twenty different species sing at once, that is polyphonic music.”

Everywhere Being is DancingWhen I first read these words in Robert Bringhurst’s book, Everywhere Being is Dancing, it reminded me to pay more attention to sound. Not just the intentional listening one does in conversation or to a piece of music, but to the sounds of everyday life. I am finding that the best way to experience the polyphony of everyday life requires switching the senses away from intentionality and expanding awareness to what is present.

During this exercise, thoughts continue to distinguish, characterize and define the sounds. I suppose this is a response based on cumulative memory and habit. For as mortal beings with a sensitivity to all that threatens our peace and wellbeing, by necessity, we live in a stream of continued response to our senses.

“Music, dancing, storytelling, poetry are means by which we can and do embrace and participate in being, not tricks by which we prove our independence from or our superiority to it.”

So, if we can listen to polyphonic music, whether the source is human or not, can we also listen to image and symbol in our speech for their inherent multiple meanings?  Is there then a polyphony of mind, heart or soul? Perhaps we can see too that a culture’s musical expression might also be a reflection of the heart and soul of a people. Bringhurst notes some of the differences in expression according to the voicing and texture of the music:

“In homophonic music, lovely though some of it is, and written by geniuses, as some of it certainly is, only the leader has any substantial freedom of action. Melodies may follow one another, but they cannot coexist. Where the leader’s voice leads, the accompanist’s must follow. The laws of harmony demand that every tone or note or thought or body have its own space or its own time or both. If two notes want the same space at the same time, the two must fuse and lose their independence, or one must move harmonically aside.”

Does not this form of music parallel the modern tendency towards authoritarianism, and the single-mindedness that goes along with it? Maybe with some practice, one can hear more than one thing at a time. Admittedly, an openness to listening may suffer in a world that does not cultivate a sense of beauty in everyday things. Although technology increasingly contributes to a loss of community, it’s understandable that some of us prefer to filter our public experience with the aid of i-pods and cell phones.

“We have, in fact, a lot of practice hearing polyphonic speech. It surrounds us in the woods, and it surrounds us in the street and the cafe. It’s what we hear wherever we can listen to the world. It’s also what we hear where people speak with neither fealty nor fear, and where their speech is not drowned out by their machines.”

“With neither fealty nor fear,” and I would add, with all that comes from both inside and outside. Finding one’s voice, of course, is not only finding what one can say, but also what one can think, write, draw, sing or express in whatever fashion one is inclined to. These practices that find us, while at first may take us beyond the mainstream of both the culture and the drudgery of day-to-day, after some time become incorporated as habits of body, mind and soul. It is then that the edges between “work” and “play” blur, or soften, as does one’s identity with its demand of pondering and working on one’s self or others. Not that You or I disappear, but the youthful question of “who am I” loses its claim on us.

We are capable of polyphonic thought and polyphonic speech, as polyphonic music proves. We are capable, that is, of multiplicity of mind in a healthy form. Why is it that the only multiplicity of mind in fashion now is a crippling disease? ease? Polyphony made audible is music. Schizophrenia made audible is noise.

Schizophrenia, as noise, because we haven’t listened hard, or deep enough. Or, perhaps because we believe too much in language and forget that, while beautiful and necessary, it sometimes charms us into mistaking it for a world which, in spite of all that is said, sung or done, will always remain bigger, truer and beyond the reach of language.

I’ll close with Bringhurst’s lovely quoting of the poet Don McKay:

“Poetry is language used with an awareness of the poverty of language…. gauge…. Poetry remembers that language is shaped air; it remembers ashes to ashes, dust to dust, wind to wind; it knows we don’t own what we know. It knows the world is, after all, unnameable, so it listens hard before it speaks, and wraps that listening into the linguistic act.’ “

Robert Bringhurst. Everywhere Being Is Dancing: Twenty Pieces of Thinking (Kindle Locations 322-324). Kindle Edition.

Finally, an explanation, along with some examples, of polyphonic singing:

All quotes from Robert Bringhurst except otherwise noted. Everywhere Being Is Dancing: Twenty Pieces of Thinking (Kindle Locations 275-276). Kindle Edition.

Dreaming With Lemurs

Dreams mean different things to people according to culture, time and place. For tribal cultures, dreams were often revered by being incorporated into the life of its members through rites of passage, or taken as prophetic messages. These practices have mostly faded away in cultures where individuality is highly esteemed. As technology enables individuals to sustain themselves seemingly independent of a tribe, there is less need to rely on the messages that dreams bring.

When thought of at all, we moderns tend to think of dreams as personal messages referring to one’s individual psychology. Even psychological practices discourage us from sharing dreams for fear of contamination or the loss of a temenos. I share this concern.

But, I am challenging myself here by sharing with you two dreams to see if there may very well be a shared constellation between dreamers, even in an online environment.

Why not expand our understanding of dreams as meaningful to both the dreamer and the tribe? A tribe can be any group of individuals where connection somehow constellates. Familiarity with tribe members is not necessary for dream meanings to constellate. We have much more in common than our differences may keep us from realizing, yes?

Recently, I was given two dreams which prominently featured a similar animal. The first dream, dated October 18, 2014, included an astounding sense of lucidity and went something like this:

As I wake up, I am actually beginning a lucid dream. I’m standing in the street and realize that if I move I can float upwards above the street. As I move upward, I see a small animal. I move cautiously towards him. It might be a bat, but I don’t see wings. I look into his face and eyes and hold out my hand to him. He then sits in my hand and we look deeply into each others eyes. I let him go and then wake up.

But, I am not awake, but am lifting off the ground into a vivid night sky. There are multiple moons and planets visible everywhere. I am aware of the ability to float around at will. The beauty is so stunning I wake up.

The second dream, dated December 18, 2014, was recorded like this:

On a boat moving towards Liberty Island with Paul (my husband), we move past the island when we see another beautiful island beyond. On the island there are vertical rock formations which have small delicate, ornate tops.

We reach the shore and look around to see a herd of elk-like creatures scampering off the rocks onto the beach where we are. I touch the ornate rock formation and to my surprise, it breaks off. I feel bad about that. I turn around and can feel an animal biting my upper back. Paul says suddenly, “It’s a lemur.” The distinction of his words made me turn around and look. The lemur was now on the rocks and I see him with some cats who are his friends. I am no longer afraid and wake up.

Ring Tailed Lemur

Upon waking I felt very moved by the presence of the lemur, but wasn’t even sure what a lemur was. I thought they were part of the cat family! So, after reading up on lemurs I realize that the animal in the dream from October was also a lemur. It had bothered me that although it resembled a bat, it wasn’t. Upon seeing a photo of a lemur, I recognized that the bat was actually a lemur.

Lemur’s are from Madagascar, and sad to hear, critically endangered, but were very much revered by the native culture. A myth about the Indri, a kind of lemur, portray Indri brothers in story as enacting the original split between animals and humans:

“Most legends establish a closer relationship between the indri and humans. In some regions it is believed that there were two brothers who lived together in the forest until one of them decided to leave and cultivate the land. That brother became the first human, and the brother who stayed in the forest became the first indri. The indri cries in mourning for his brother who went astray.” Wiki

From Wiki: Serge Gomes da Silva – oeuvre personelle (own-work)

Also called babakoto, the Lemurs have a very distinct call and response style of singing. I found some YouTube’s of Lemur sounds and as I hit play, all five cats in my home went on immediate high alert. Honestly, I have never seen all of them react the way they did. I had to stop playing the beautiful haunting lament of the Lemur sounds. Time to get head phones!

“One explanation for the name babakoto, is that the calls made by the indri resemble a father calling for his lost son.[10]

Another legend tells of a man who went hunting in the forest and did not return. His absence worried his son, who went out looking for him. When the son also disappeared, the rest of the villagers ventured into the forest seeking the two but discovered only two large lemurs sitting in the trees: the first indri. The boy and his father had transformed. In some versions it is only the son who transforms, and the wailing of the babakoto is analogous to the father’s wailing for his lost son.”

But Roman and Christian cultures do not see the lemur as a friend of humankind, but as vengeful ghosts of the deceased haunting someone who has dissed the ancestor with an improper funeral or burial.

Lemurs were so-named by the 18th century zoologist, Linnaeus, because of the nocturnal activity and slow movements of the slender loris.” And In Goethe‘s Faust, a chorus of Lemurs who serve Mephistopheles dig Faustus’ grave.”

It’s striking to me how opposite in nature the views are between the Madagascar natives and modern Europeans in their association to Lemurs. Perhaps the dream speaks to a need to reconcile the opposition between these two views? On a personal level, that opposition is very much of a concern to me and upon hearing these associations, I was impressed by how strongly resonant the two cosmologies play in my current thinking.

In mythology, and perhaps because of their size, behavior and likeness to us, Indri are thought to have a common ancestry to humans. A lover of animals all of my life, I am honored that the lemur has come to me in my dreams. Going out on a limb, so to speak, I would love to hear of your associations to the dreams or the lovely lemurs.

When Science Dreams

“I’VE ALWAYS WONDERED WHY my brain doesn’t simply rest at night, as my body does, but instead sets to work creating an artificial world that seems as real as waking life.”

The use of the phrase, “my brain,” in Andrea Rock’s book, The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream, beautifully displays the problem of language, where body parts become separate entities, and dream states are artificial in comparison to waking states.

File:Michael Lukas Leopold Willmann 001.jpg

“Landscape with the Dream of Jacob”

Rock’s book collects an amazing amount of research on brain function and dream states, including a look at the cause of dream content, sleep disorders, lucid dreaming and dream states of non-human animals.

For science though, causality, function and purpose are valued, while quality, meaning and subjective states are deemed unreliable. Scientists tend to over-value measurement, as acceptable verification of objective fact. What we dream takes a back seat to how and why we dream:

“The current revolution in thought about how and why we dream debunks some elements of the theories proposed by both Freud and Jung. But as you’ll see, there are significant pieces of each of their theories that are now supported by scientific evidence.”

The book dabbles in the fascinating but contentious debate over the source of consciousness.

“Ultimately, dream research may also help answer what many consider to be the most intriguing question of all: what is the source of the peculiar brand of self-reflective consciousness that appears to separate humans from other creatures—that nebulous quality that allows us to make intricate plans, fantasize, string memories together to create a personal history, or use abstractions such as language and art to represent our own mental processes?

At the end of the book, consciousness is said to be, “a con job beautifully carried out by neural circuitry of astonishing complexity.”

“Thanks to those who are in the forefront of the quest to comprehend those larger questions about how brain becomes mind, we are now seeing that even when we are interacting with the “real” world in waking hours, our experience actually occurs not “out there” but within the brain itself, just as it does in dreams.”

1345672If only the measurable is real, the source of consciousness will be sought only within the material brain itself. At its worse, there are more than a few scientists who are quite certain that free will itself is an illusion, because so much behavior corresponds to measurable brain physiology. One has to wonder though, has all of nature evolved only to realize that we are machines programmed to realize we are programmed?

Measuring electrical circuitry and chemical reactions does not address what drives fluctuations. Passivity and lack of agent is assumed. Can the human quality of our awareness, as it changes over a life time, affect measurable brain function? If so, I await the day that science seeks to measure our willful attempts at change over a larger span of life.

The author discusses J. Allen Hobson’s theories that all dream imagery is dependent on externals absorbed from waking states. The stranger in your dream is an amalgamation of people you have seen, that’s it. But, can you measure an unknown or prove the image is a blend of people you’ve seen? This assumes that all of our states of awareness come from internal sources.

Anytime I hear the word random being used, I am troubled. For example:

File:Museo del Prado - Goya - Caprichos - No. 43 - El sueño de la razon produce monstruos.jpg

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

“In this altered state, Hobson says, the brain does its best to spin a dream plot to match brainstem signals that may randomly stimulate an intense feeling of fear one minute or a sensation of freefalling the next. Hobson and McCarley’s landmark study maintained that since the signals that initiated the creation of dream imagery came from the primitive brainstem and the more highly evolved cognitive areas of the forebrain were just passively responding to them, the dream process had “no primary ideational, volitional, or emotional content.” The resulting dream was the product of the forebrain “making the best of a bad job in producing even partially coherent dream imagery” in response to chaotic signals from the brainstem.”

Does measuring neurochemical activity in the brainstem prove involuntary stimulation, or that dream states have no correspondence to anything outside the physiology of the brain? Perhaps the seeming randomness of brain activity in sleep states is driven by something not yet understood. Can it be proven that the signals from the brainstem are “chaotic?” Here is where I think dream content itself could be studied for patterns corresponding to an individual’s dayworld experience. Correspondence between waking and dreaming states might be found to have conscious, volitional correspondence. It would be interesting to monitor the dreams of people who are in therapy or doing dream work to discern meaningful physiological brain patterns.

Below, Rock refers again to Hobson’s work on the physiology of dreaming:

“In his view, the settings and characters our brain dredges up from our personal memories or imagination as it scrambles to form a plot to respond to this chaotic electrochemical state may reflect our emotional preoccupations, and reflecting on those preoccupations can provide insight.”

The choice of the words “dredges,” and “scramble,” reveal the difficulty in accounting for the images in the dream. If not dredging and scrambling, what else might we discover to be going on in the formation of specific dream content? Perhaps there is a bridge between physiological process and symbol formation, even if locating it in matter is not possible.

Hobson concludes that many dreams in which we are trying to move, but can’t, have a physiological basis:

“Those circuits in turn are issuing orders for your body to run, but since the brainstem is preventing those signals from reaching your leg muscles, the perception carried through into the dream is that you’re trying to run but you’re stuck, so you weave that into the dream’s plot.”

What is not accounted for are the dreams in which we are moving. Having had many such dreams of walking, running, drumming, singing and even riding a bicycle, Hobson’s idea is not convincing.

Some cultural prejudices are apparent below  that I would question:

“As Jonathan Winson argued, dreams were never intended to be remembered in the first place, so when we do recall them, we’re just getting an unintended glimpse of our brain at work in its off-line mode. “It is a matter of chance, not related to their function, that we are aware of dreams at all,” says Winson.”

“Intended” by who, you might ask? “Function” for Winson, must be physiological only, which makes it “a matter of chance.” How one determines that dreams were never intended to be remembered is beyond me. Many cultures outside of western europe see dream states and images as meaningful initiatory experiences vital to their relationships with each other and the world.

Rock, however, is reporting the research without necessarily taking a stand on what she presents. I do though, sense her desire to show that dream states primarily have a physiological function. Although she acknowledges that psychological meaning is useful, she does not address its possible effect on brain function. Can we conclude that physiological brain function never corresponds to willful, active insights of meaning and symbolism that are a part of every person’s life? While correspondence may be difficult to measure, a less reductive approach to neuroscience may be useful to the field of mental health.

For many modern scientists, it seems taboo to speak of qualitative meaning as having a physiological basis or correspondence. Perhaps from a fear of losing objectivity, science believes that measuring and repeatability are the only means of validation. For those who have done dream work leading to meaningful, life-changing experience, it may be awhile before the results are recorded in the annals of science.

For a look at a more technical description of dreaming, I do highly recommend Andrea Rock’s book.

All quotes: Rock, Andrea (2009-03-25). The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream – Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

My Native Language is Image

Recently, I have begun to keep a dream journal, again. As in the keeping of past dream journals, the very act of writing seems to stimulate the remembrance of more dreams, and I wonder if by attending to them, the door to the nightworld perspective widens, bringing with it richness and complexity, scrambling the sensibilities of the dayworld experience.

Flying foxes, or bats, sleep 18-20 hours a day.

In the nightworld’s stories and images I am no longer the master of my soul, but live as one among many. The rational order and structure that shape the dayworld no longer strictly apply; time and place shift suddenly, people, animals and situations seem unpredictable and often bizarre compared to the waking state. In dreams, animals and babies talk, we fly like birds, meet strange lovers who seem to know us, run in slow motion, breathe underwater, change sex, and talk to the dead. Here we live amongst archetypal or primary forces that find their way into psyche – for in sleep we cannot but give ourselves over to their world.

The dream world is perhaps a place where soul is shaped by psychic weather much as a tree is shaped by earth, wind, fire and rain. Perhaps dream states place us closer to the primary source or state of awareness. Animals evidently dream, if REM states are any indication and even fruit flies sleep. Maybe we should reverse our idea that we fall into sleep and reconsider whether we are not, rather, falling awake. If dreams are primary and their language is image, then as James Hillman suggested in his book The Dream and the Underworld, image is primary.

Living with this idea increasingly suggests to me, that we develop and use language to translate that primary state of the nightworld and its dream images. But the dayworld perspective filters our experience, by narrowing down the sense of ourselves and each other into separate, private beings; each masters of our own house. The more we live life through a dayworld translation, unaware of the depth of the source of our being and knowing, the smaller and more limited our dayworld perspective becomes. To ignore the depths of psyche, where Pluto’s riches are found, is to shrink our awareness by filtering all we know through the logic and reasoning of dayworld awareness alone, in time becoming increasingly dependent on how well we use language to translate to ourselves and to others the imagistic sense of the world’s impression upon us.

“It is this dayworld style of thinking—literal realities, natural comparisons, contrary opposites, processional steps—that must be set aside in order to pursue the dream into its home territory. There thinking moves in images, resemblances, correspondences. To go in this direction, we must sever the link with the dayworld, foregoing all ideas that originate there—translation, reclamation, compensation. We must go over the bridge and let it fall behind us, and if it will not fall, then let it burn.” James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld

Albrecht Dürer, Abduction of Proserpine on a Unicorn (1516)

This is not to say that keeping a dream journal is necessary or would even change this situation. One’s relationship to the dreamworld is always in danger of contamination by dayworld perspectives with its need to be master and commander. Dreams then are at the risk of becoming our playthings rather than angels or messengers carrying across from that primal source something new, unexpected or forgotten. Attending to the nature of the relationship between dayworld and nightworld is then, perhaps our life’s work, whether we remember our dreams or not. To acknowledge the existence of an underworld perspective, allowing a place for mystery, and experiencing as Persephone did, the force of the god Pluto dragging us out of our dayworld hubris, stripping us of our innocence, relieving us from our duty of being master and commander, might free us to live mythically, storied lives and place ourselves more fully into the context of the time and place we live in.

If dreams and images are primary, the relationship between language, sense and image then is both vital and flexible. If we see the world through the lens of language without awareness of the lens that filters our vision, our perception will be limited to our ability to define in words the world around us. For some, and they will argue, that is all there is; cold, objective reality, everything black and white, either true or false, dead or alive, good or evil. Quantity then takes precedence over quality, measure over meaning. The talk of soul or dreams, angels, messengers, gods or archetypes is then a throw back to human superstition and ignorance.

The trouble with that perspective lies in its claims of superiority; as if to no longer be susceptible or influenced by any force other than one’s strength of will, education, and societal norms will rid us all of the ills of human existence. So, if we live in the hard facts of “reality,” we have somehow reached the pinnacle of human achievement where ignorance, disease and war will be driven out and reason will usher in peace and perhaps someday, ever-lasting life, even if only through the creation of robotic machinery that we deem to be just like us, or the perfected us, reflecting back an unobtainable quality of perfection and innocence forever out of our reach.

“Mythical metaphors are perspectives toward events which shift the experience of events. They are likenesses to happenings, making them intelligible, but they do not themselves happen… We are those stories, and we illustrate them with our lives (Re-visioning Psychology, pp. 101-2).” James Hillman

An excellent essay on Hillman’s ideas here: http://aras.org/sites/default/files/docs/00051Wojtkowski.pdf

I Fall to Pieces

I have recently discovered the ideas of David Bohm, a theoretical physicist who also had an interest in the social implications of how thought and language can lead us to perceive falsely, a fragmented world that is in reality whole. 

From Wiki:

David Bohm.jpg“Bohm was alarmed by what he considered an increasing imbalance of not only man and nature, but among peoples, as well as within people, themselves. Bohm mused: “So one begins to wonder what is going to happen to the human race. Technology keeps on advancing with greater and greater power, either for good or for destruction.” He goes on to ask:”

What is the source of all this trouble? I’m saying that the source is basically in thought. Many people would think that such a statement is crazy, because thought is the one thing we have with which to solve our problems. That’s part of our tradition. Yet it looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems with is the source of our problems. It’s like going to the doctor and having him make you ill. In fact, in 20% of medical cases we do apparently have that going on. But in the case of thought, it’s far over 20%.

After watching a couple of interviews on Youtube, I purchased and am still reading his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, in which he discusses a concern for humanity, because of our habit of thought which fragments the nature of reality including the splitting of our sense of self. Reality he says, and many of us may already agree, is an unbroken, undivided whole. He says:

“In essence, the process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical and functional activities (e.g., to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e. to his self-world view), then man ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments.”

So if thought and language by their very nature fragment and divide our experience of the world and our sense of self, what can we do about it? It’s doubtful that we can ever overcome our human nature and remove thought from our experience, but perhaps through attentiveness we can learn to recognize the subjective and arbitrary ways that we come to conclusions, decisions, and how we categorize things and events sometimes drawing erroneous conclusions and then proceed to live by them.

Bohm suggests that thought itself cannot change the world, but rather what is needed is a change in our perception and meaning. If perception and meaning at a more ontological level can include awareness of the whole, perhaps the nature and stream of thought changes.

I have often struggled with the notion of wholeness, as a state to arrive at, because I disagree that we should be seeking a fixed and permanent state of being. To my knowledge there are no fixed and permanent states in nature. Bohm reminds us of the etymology of the word broadening the definition to imply an action or event of healing. Perhaps where it occurs, our desire for wholeness may be related to an intuition of the wholeness perceived in the undivided nature that is background to our imagined foreground. Then wholeness is understood not as something to possess but rather an ongoing reconciliation with the unfragmented motion of living within nature’s wholeness.

“It is instructive to consider that the word ‘health’ in English is based on an Anglo-Saxon word ‘hale’ meaning ‘whole’: that is, to be healthy is to be whole, which is, I think, roughly the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘shalem’. Likewise, the English ‘holy’ is based on the same root as ‘whole’. All of this indicates that man has sensed always that wholeness or integrity is an absolute necessity to make life worth living.”

Along with many significant contributions to science, Bohm tried to give us a way to understand our human nature that would help us to reconsider our social relations that would further the efforts toward a more peaceful world in which humans felt they belonged.

“Whenever men divide themselves from the whole of society and attempt to unite by identification within a group, it is clear that the group must eventually develop internal strife, which leads to a breakdown of its unity. Likewise when men try to separate some aspect of nature in their practical , technical work , a similar state of contradiction and disunity will develop. The same sort of thing will happen to the individual when he tries to separate himself from society. True unity in the individual and between man and nature , as well as between man and man, can arise only in a form of action that does not attempt to fragment the whole of reality.

What is the use of attempts at social, political, economic or other action if the mind is caught up in a confused movement in which it is generally differentiating what is not different and identifying what is not identical?”

Bohm also reminds us that any theory is subject to the limitations that our tendency to fragment cause:

“We have thus to be alert to give careful attention and serious consideration to the fact that our theories are not ‘descriptions of reality as it is’ but, rather, ever-changing forms of insight, which can point to or indicate a reality that is implicit and not describable or specifiable in its totality.”

There are a number of interviews and lectures available online in which the gentle, peaceful nature of this man shines through along with the presentation of his ideas for bringing about a more peaceful, undivided world.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI66ZglzcO0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWSOtz7mhPA

Bohm was a friend of Krishnamurti and here you may explore their relationship and dialogues.

There is a good essay by Matthew Capowski on thought, meaning and perception here:

http://bohmkrishnamurti.com/essays-etc/there-is-no-activism-there-is-only-proprioception-of-thought/

Quotes taken from Bohm, David (2005-07-12). Wholeness and the Implicate Order (Routledge Classics) (Kindle Locations 515-517). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

She Blinded Me With Science

I am always looking for better, clearer ways to articulate the modern, and somewhat magical implications surrounding the idea of randomness, especially its specific use in the field of evolutionary biology and how that particular use has persuaded many moderns to embrace a mechanistic view of not only biology but all things human. Randomness is what’s left when we can’t see a pattern or find meaning or purpose, or perhaps are hungry for a good mystery, or simply drawn to courting meaninglessness itself. It remains a very human notion evoked when we have nothing else to say, and no way to connect human action to events.

In the modern language of genetics and evolution, too often what is left out of the discussion are the mechanisms of what keeps sameness in play and how important continuity is for reproduction. We are bombarded with talk of change; mutations, adaptations, while the mechanisms for genetic stability, or what keeps organisms continuing to reproduce with amazing sameness, go largely under valued. Life depends much more upon consistency, while change is frequently an aberration. Evolutionary change is hard won, over very long periods of time, which is why it is so hard to see let alone completely understand. This is not an argument against evolution, but more an argument for seeing purposefulness in evolution and noting our under-appreciation for meaning and purpose which are so important to matters of the heart. The concern here is for the power of ideas that underlie our assumptions and filter our world view.

Evolution does not have to be meaningless and without a purpose to be true.

Science can be soulful too. And perhaps science would be a lot more useful if a certain amount of soulfulness were retained and valued instead of avoided as a threat to the hard facts of numbers and equations.

I would argue too, that the problem of studying “the nature of nature” lies in our inability to get outside of the very nature in which we view, study and understand the world. We can’t see beyond the limits imposed by the physical senses of our own human nature; the mechanisms of our consciousness and sensory organs. As Alan Watts and the Zen masters taught, who can see the eye with which we are seeing?

Our being in the world is the best part of life, the part that can never be valued enough. Tossing around the idea of randomness to depersonalize an act or event is at the very least a misunderstanding of the part we can’t help but play. The bumper sticker sentiment calling us to perform random acts of kindness, while well-meaning, depreciates the choices we make, even when they are made with little forethought.

Example: you’re in a queue and seemingly out of nowhere decide to pay for your friends coffee/dinner/beer, random you think? Well, no, as long as you are a free agent exercising your will,  the length of time that has passed between your decision to act and the act itself does not take away from the purposefulness of your choice. No matter the distance between your act and your decision, you still made a choice, nothing  random about your act of kindness. Your personhood causes love to happen, every time you choose love. Being aware of your actions and choices helps you choose consciously, next time. Love remains one of the few powers that we truly possess, never failing us or those we love.

Here is a great article in the New Atlantis that nails the shortcomings of the idea of randomness within the context of evolution.

“In any case, it is startling to realize that the entire brief for demoting human beings, and organisms in general, to meaningless scraps of molecular machinery — a demotion that fuels the long-running science-religion wars and that, as “shocking” revelation, supposedly stands on a par with Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal — rests on the vague conjunction of two scarcely creditable concepts: the randomness of mutations and the fitness of organisms. And, strangely, this shocking revelation has been sold to us in the context of a descriptive biological literature that, from the molecular level on up, remains almost nothing but a documentation of the meaningfully organized, goal-directed stories of living creatures.”

Born at the Right Time

“By means of personifications my sense of person becomes more vivid for I carry with me at all times the protection of my daimones: the images of dead people who mattered to me, of ancestral figures of my stock, cultural and historical persons of renown and people of fable who provide exemplary images–a wealth of guardians. They guard my fate, guide it, probably are it. “Perhaps–who knows,” writes Jung, “these eternal images are what men mean by fate.” We need this help, for who can carry his fate alone?” – James Hillman

With gratitude I remember James Hillman and the many ways he influenced my life. It could take a lifetime for me to articulate with precision in what ways his ideas unstuck my thinking and understanding of life, language and human experience.
Twice, I was able to participate in his “work shops,” one up in Seattle in 1996, and again in San Francisco in 1997. These were intense, sometimes bordering on frightening engagements of conversation, poetry and music between Hillman, Robert Bly, and Michael Meade and all of us who attended as we came together to reflect on the shared experience of our place in time and the disintegration of our culture.
In the late 1980’s, shortly before moving out west, I came across one of Hillman’s books, while in the course of reading the works of C.G Jung. His writing immediately gripped me. He had a way of penetrating, seeing through, in his reflections on any and everything that he wrote  about. Here was someone who was not afraid of traveling in the dark, going deeper and deeper to be with the more unwelcome aspects of our human experience and particularly our sufferings.
In the mire of my own psychic confusion, I was attracted to Hillman’s insistence that we need to be in the dark, and stay with what presents itself to us in our suffering and ask what it wants from us, rather than the more common insistence that we make the pain go away, that we fix it, whether with drugs, or by refusing our emotions and the seeming helplessness of our situation.
The insistence that we shouldn’t be broken in our very broken world should in and of itself be an idea for us to challenge.
Hillman was both masterful and poetic with language and understood that we live by the metaphors that have us in their grip and that it is our language, habits, lack of reflection and a false dichotomy between reality and imagination that keep us stuck and cursed by the literalizing and concretizing of our ideas and notions of both ourselves and the world we inhabit.
His 1997 book, The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling, would become his biggest seller, and even landed him an interview on Oprah’s show. By far his easiest read, written for a wider audience while still capturing the essence of his ideas and reflections on where we go wrong with how we understand ourselves and our culture.
My life’s journey has moved me some distance from a crazier time in my life when it seemed I had to unravel a bit before a gradual reassembling. I still greatly admire Hillman even when I find myself in disagreement with some of what he says. I’ll leave those disagreements for another post, another day.
Here is a link to a more recent and rare interview between Hillman and Scott London:
http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/hillman.html