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.

Alchemy Class Notes – Session Twelve

“Enter alchemy – thing-words, image-words, craft-words. The five supposed sources of alchemy are each a technology. Each is a handwork physically grappling with sensate materials: (1) Metallurgy and Jewelry: mining, heating, smelting, forging, annealing; (2) Cloth and Fiber Dyeing: dipping, coloring, drying; (3) Embalming the Dead: dismembering, evacuating, infusing, preserving; (4) Perfumery and Cosmetics: grinding, mixing, distilling, diluting, evaporating; (5) Pharmacy: distinguishing, tincturing, measuring, dissolving, desiccating, pulverizing.”

Although admittedly going off on a tangent here, this post was inspired by Session Twelve of the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology. What I’ve recently come to appreciate is that the study of alchemy is as inexhaustible as is its application to my life.

Alchemy is styled and practiced in a number of traditions dating back at least to the 3rd and 4th century BCE. With that in mind, my focus here is to review the general structure of Western alchemy, while staying with Hillman’s emphasis to work one’s perspective by giving substance to soul and soul to substance.

Alchemy is a practice; a work in which a transformation of some kind is initiated through the desire and aim of a goal. In everyday life, it can be applied to cooking, writing, relationships to any person, place or thing, or the learning of a craft, trade or art. You may think of other applications.

Elihu Vedder (1836–1923) Title: Soul in Bondage

Prior to the 18th century, before science divorced herself from the arts, it may have been more readily understood that the work on the materials would simultaneously “work” the practitioner. Alchemy then was a quest for knowledge about the nature of particular substances and processes in the world.

The modern sense of our individuality reflects science’s need to distinguish between subject and object, self and other. These changes bring much freedom to the individual, while also coinciding with a loss of soul, or soul’s substantiality. Not only a sense of one’s personal soul, but the felt sense that the world herself is ensouled, enlivened by all creatures and substances and their varying degrees of autonomy and obeisance.

One might say that the more one feels the divide and separation between themselves and others, the more we might miss, or dismiss the autonomy of other beings and things, leaving no room for acknowledging the invisible, autonomous forces, except where science quantifies them (gravity, electromagnetism, etc.).

Modern ideas of alchemy deeply reflect these changes of self-perception and our place in the cosmos. To speak of a literal alchemy in which base materials are turned into precious metals has lost credibility with all but a few practitioners. As well, the work, if undertaken at all, seems narrowed by an emphasis on personal transformation. But, if alchemy itself is a reflection of an evolving consciousness of universal import, we might see this modern emphasis on self as a necessary stage before the gap between material and non-material existence can dissolve.

Limbourg brothers, Title:Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry English: Anatomical Man.

If alchemy lives on anywhere, as a practice of noting influence and correspondences between the microcosm of one’s human experience and the macrocosm of the hidden nature of the greater cosmos, we have astrologers to thank. For astrologers have never abandoned the idea that human nature and experience is a reflection of the nature, motion and resemblance shared throughout the cosmos, enhanced all the more by our apprehension of it.

With that in mind, we can break alchemy down into three dimensions of the practice: the materials, the operations and the stages of the work.

Materials

In alchemy, as in astrology, the elements are the givens, each of which have mythological, planetary or astrological correspondence. The idea of turning base medals into gold, literally or psychologically, requires coming to know the nature of each material substance. Alchemical psychology and Western astrology, borrowing much from their mythological heritage, see in each planet a corresponding metallic nature.

When alchemists link the planet Saturn to lead, it sees leaden characteristics, knowable by working directly with the substance lead. Alchemy, like astrology, does not stop here, but sees lead’s slow, heavy nature as an influential psychic force corresponding to our nature as well. For example, Saturn’s influence is said to be felt as weighty, depressive, slowing us down in some way in both mind, body and circumstance. As Saturn is associated with the Greek god Kronos, where we get our word for time (chronology), there may also be a need for time or attention to some aspect of our lives.

Hillman says of the alchemists work with metals:

“The metals were imagined to be made of coagulated moist vapors, like a condensed gas whose spirit could be released by the proper operations. Because the metals were inherently moist, that is, embodying phlegm, they had a phlegmatic tendency to be passive or inert, requiring fire. Resistance to change is given with the seeds of our nature and only intense heat can move human nature from its innate inertia.”

When we moderns deprive ourselves of seeing any correspondence between ourselves and the nature and motion of the cosmos, we risk increasing the feeling we may already have of alienation, with both ourselves, others and the world we are literally pieces and parts of.

Saturn = Lead

Jupiter = Tin

Mars = Iron

Sun = Gold

Mercury = Quicksilver (Mercury)

Venus = Copper

Moon = Silver

Operations

The operations used in alchemy for initiating action and reaction upon the materials are primarily salt, sulfur and mercury. Salt as agent for thickening, loosening and resistance to heat, sulphur for heating and combustion, and mercury or quicksilver for fluidity. Hillman warns that there is no purity in substance, operation or stages of alchemical work but a blending and merging of one into the other.

Making Waffles – Alexander Hugo Bakker Korff (1824–1882)

“Whatever is said about salt is always contaminated, and must be so contaminated by the materials, vessels, and operations with which it is in interaction. Psychic materials are always in diffuse interpenetration, with other materials and do not remain singly self-consistent, and so require multiple interpretation. In fact, this very contamination is part of their definition: let us say that alchemy is soft-edged. Lines between its elements cannot be drawn hard and fast because these elements are also elementary living natures.”

Stages

The work both progresses and regresses in stages associated with coloration, usually three or more of the following: Black, Blue, White, Yellow, Red. The colors themselves have astrological and mythological associations. Alchemy in contrast to modern science, is the practice of knowing the nature of anything by the qualities it presents to us. Where modern science reduces things down to size and mathematical relationships, alchemy seeks essence through the quality and nature of relationships within and between things.

Hillman emphasizes the alchemist’s ability to see psychologically through any practice that involves working with the worlds substantive qualities. From this work a truer understanding of ourselves and the nature of the world emerges into the unique expression each of us then presents daily to the world. In coming to know the substances, images, environments and actions/reactions which influence us, we are continually ensouled through our sensual, everyday experience that sees our nature reflected back to us through the nature of the cosmos.

All quotes: Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The Next Chapter

To practice the living of one’s life as “storied,” it may first be necessary to experience the idea as a meaningful one. The beauty of stories, their telling and living is an art coming from more than the deciphering of meanings, moral lessons, endings, or truth – as influential as those things may be. As I hope to show, they’re not the whole story. All stories, and especially the story we tell ourselves, need a willing participation, an immersion into deeply lived characters, especially to see our life in story form.

Stories speak to the heart and soul through the primary language of symbol and image, and what Hillman, Jung and others referred to as personifications, meaning the voicing of archetypal qualities speaking through and around us.

Whether we see or believe in it or not, personifying goes on in and all around us. It is human nature to experience the world through the animating vehicles of voice and sound and through the physical senses of hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and seeing. But we moderns are not all comfortable with the notion that something other than “me” speaks through me. Sounds too much like possession which we associate with evil powers. We counter that fear by believing that we are the god; the sole voice and agent of our being. We’re carrying a lot of weight around with that belief. Perhaps that is why we seem desperate at times for ideas about, and ways to move beyond, this world. We are perhaps uninitiated, yet to be born.

Guatamalan masks

Persona to the Greeks referred to the voicings that came through the masks used in drama. These voices were known as the powers that be, the gods that transcend us, or speak through animals and natural powers like the wind and the sea. They enter us through sacred feasting of sacrifice and communion, where they then speak through us, giving us a bit of their power. For us moderns, especially those who believe we come into this world as a blank sheet of paper, an open book waiting to be written on, this idea may seem archaic, animistic, distasteful, unscientific, ridiculous, or just unnecessary. We tend towards notions of purity and innocence, blank slates, especially in our young and the vulnerable we care for.

Although we fear going backwards in time to a world we moderns view as less “enlightened,” favoring the idea that we need to progress, I believe the fear is unwarranted. Our hostility towards the idea of animistic and superstitious thinking has thoroughly landed us in yet another fantasy we refer to as “reality,” which does us a disservice by dividing all our experience of the world into either the real or unreal (imaginary) – categories that more often than not shrink our view of the world while burdening us with the hubris of believing we know more than we do. If ever we were to regain a sense of the world as being alive, it would not come about by a fall backwards in time, which is impossible, but through regaining an acute sensitivity and embodiment of human experience in this world through a deeper, more expansive imagination.

The Little Lame Prince and His Traveling Cloak

If some affinity with the natural world is not regained, our modern conviction that we now live in “reality,” freed from superstitions of an animistic past, renders the soul meaningless, if not incomprehensible, cutting us off from experiencing the aliveness of the world, oneself and others. The consciousness that imagines itself to live in “reality” is slowly imprisoning itself, alienated to a dead hostile world that we have either lost, killed, or must fix, or transcend altogether. Nature, as other – cute, innocent and cuddly, is outside of us, especially our human nature. The jungle once outside, has shifted to inside of us and we live forever taming something we can’t quite rein in without a continuum of sensory overload, medication, busyness, hope, purpose, work, shopping, meditation or worship of one kind or another. The bear in the woods is now our friend, the one in our dream, if we dream at all, wants to kill us.

It is common, especially in the west, to think of babies and children as innocent and untouched by the harshness of life. It is this idea that Hillman says leads us to placing undue blame and focus on family and society for who we are. Perhaps as an inverse reaction to the Christian notion of Original Sin, we go full circle in rebellion against its claim of an indebtedness we no longer feel or acknowledge. The burden of history as solid and real facts is just too great. Guilt is a sin.

But not all cultures imagine our entrance into this world in the same way. For other cultures, in other times and place, we come into this world from another world beyond us – a world that includes the ancestors, angels and other powers who already know us. Our birth then, is a “sleep and forgetting,” as Norman O. Brown puts it. Our initiation marks the beginning of a remembrence of who we are.

Persons, or personifying are very primary ways to experience the world and make sense of it all. We do this naturally, through the telling of stories within the family circle, watching movies and television, fantasy, imaginary friends, or enjoying a good book. We look to the characters to re-member ourselves, finding our unique character through attraction and repulsion to them. But in making hard and fast distinctions between the story we tell ourselves as the one and only real story, to stories we deem as fiction, we obligate ourselves to think of truth as something fully comprehensible by us. Here is where we may lose the beauty of story by failing to understand its ability to move us through many levels and layers through which we receive the gift of a multi-dimensional experience.

File:Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 01.djvuAt another level, what is personified in us, is an expression of ideas and feelings, bits and parts that speak and live through us, that in varying degrees we are aware of as not entirely ours. Some, if not most of these parts, as Jung pointed out, are very collective in nature; ideas and feelings shared in the culture, or our cultural past, but whose source goes far beyond that. I take Jung’s idea of Individuation to mean coming to over time, an acceptance and appreciation of the fathomless dimensions of the possibilities of what he called the Self. I believe we are each a unique expression of that totality without being the totality ourselves.

If we accept and expect that our thinking and feeling comes through imagination then the way we tell and hear stories also matters. Do we fear the loss of what we keep calling reality? Don’t the many revisions of your life show the shedding of your snake’s skin, and yet, not bring you any closer to total comprehension of truth of the nature of world? Perhaps through awareness of the many revisions we have already made in our reimagining of the world, we allow ourselves to live each vision more fully immersed and alive in acceptance of our very human nature, which begins with a fantasy, a dream, an idea, a story.

Then we may ask, what is it that makes our sense of reality ring true? If we listen to ourselves and others with an ear for story, rich and layered, we may bend ourselves, inclined to listen to the voices of the powers that be.

Addendum:
If you’ve made it this far, I apologize for the lengthiness. The last several years I have been giving much thought to how it is we perceive and define the nature of the world, ourselves and others through image, story and language. If many of the ideas here seem repetitive, perhaps there is something at root trying to take shape. Repetition is not only compulsive habit, but may allow us to see the same things in a new way. I want to state clearly that all I am ever capable of saying or knowing, comes through my own limitations and expansions. I say this perhaps to ward off the notion that I am somehow above the ideas I am writing about. Much credit goes to many who touch me, that I am most grateful to and hope to honor here. The ideas then, although I take responsibility for, are both from and for them, including the ancestors, angels and all the invisibles who have graced me with their presence, some of whom I hope have enjoyed these glimpses at the shared and vibrant mystery of our existence. DK

Class Notes – Session Three

In the opening of session three of the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, Pat Berry and Robert Bosnak offered some thoughts on the class as they envision it. Robert spoke for the need of slowness in entering into the material. Pat said that not seeing the audience was difficult for her and as a participant in my first online class, I too, feel this absence. How much will the lack of visual and tactile otherness affect the creation of an alchemical vessel out of the group remains to be seen.

Reading from chapter two, Rudiments, Robert reminds us that alchemy is a work of the hands – that which touches, including the work of handling words as poesis, or actions. Alchemy is a doing but also, as Pat added, a making – which inspired me to consider the ways that alchemical work involves both touching and being touched, doing and making.

In working with the substances of soul, we give weight to what is carried within, as well as to what and who touches us in our daily lives. Perhaps this is what makes up the “prima materia.” Attending to touch, both the material stuff of our daily grind and to the matters of heart and soul, creates a place in our lives where thoughts, ideas, dreams and feelings matter and have weight. Putting into words what touches us, through practice, we come to see how word choices, especially how we put our experience and feelings into words, creates our reality, becoming a poesis.

The talk moved on to Hillman’s idea that desire by itself is not enough, but that tending to desire by staying in the longing becomes a way to keep the fire, the passion going and in so doing, teaches us the art of tending the fire so necessary for the work of making something out of our desires. To Hillman desire was something to work with, to make Holy, through attention and discipline, rather than to be rid of. Desire though needs refinement away from innocence and ignorance of its potential to harm in order to serve the work. Hillman speaks of tending the fire as an art itself:

“For desire to be consummated, for the opus to come to fruition – in art, in love, in practice of any sort – learn all you can about its fire: its radiance, its flickering instability, its warmth, and its rage.

The art of the fire and the key to alchemy means learning how to warm, excite, enthuse, ignite, inspire the material at hand, which is also the state of one’s nature so as to activate it further into a different state.”

The “material at hand” again, is us and what we bring into the work, what we are currently carrying. This can mean both physical and psychic burdens, anything that matters to us. My take on alchemical psychology is that in setting out to do this work, we either embark on it because of some need – a wound that will not heal, an anxiety or perhaps sleeplessness, an inability to relate to others, or even unknowingly falling into the work intrigued by interest, without the awareness that our better angel knows we need to do this work. We are duped and before we know it, have fallen into an unexpected place of darkness and confusion, and the work no longer just a curiosity, begins in earnest.

In a gathering such as this online class, each of us must find his own way, tending our own fire and immersing ourselves in the work, if we wish to understand what alchemical psychology offers us. Can the gathering of the group guide an alchemical process? I would like to think that it can, but am not sure yet what we, as a group, are doing. But, that does not mean nothing is happening. Hillman speaks of the first stage of the work as that of a slow, brooding, in which the heat, the passions are yet to be felt or perceived. As the work proceeds, the heat increases from this slowness.

File:The Brooding Woman, 1891, by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) - IMG 7191.JPG” ‘The first grade is very slow, and it is like an inactive lukewarmness; it is called the heat of a tepid bath, of excrement, of digestion, of circulation … likened to the warmth generated by a fowl when hatching its young.’ Evidently this fire is generated by brooding, digesting and holding within the lower body, its fermenting bowels and silent womb. Attitudes are lukewarm, diffident. Slowness and the restraint of activity all by themselves are able to develop heat.”

Brooding  relates to that which supplies heat for creation:

brood (n.) Look up brood at Dictionary.comOld English brod “brood, fetus, hatchling,” from Proto-Germanic *brod (cf. Middle Dutch broet, Old High German bruot, German Brut “brood”), literally “that which is hatched by heat,” from *bro- “to warm, heat,” from PIE *bhre- “burn, heat, incubate,” from root *bhreue- “to boil, bubble, effervesce, burn” (see brew (v.)).

But also can relate to weather that is stirring or a mood in which we are fixed in:

brooding (n.) Look up brooding at Dictionary.com“action of incubating,” c.1400, verbal noun from brood (v.). Figuratively (of weather, etc.) from 1805; of mental fixations by 1873. Related: Broodingly.

Quotes taken from Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

People Get Ready

What is Peace? What does it look like? What are its images? Have we ever known peace? What is the difference between one’s individual practice of peace and world peace?

Would anyone not want peace? Some say we’ll never have sustained peace, but who would reject making peace if understood personally as a practice, accessible and as common as is the practice of writing, or T’ai Chi? And what does the dove tell us? Wiki says:

“Doves mate for life, are incredibly loyal to each other and work together to build their nest and raise their young. Because they tend to nest in areas that humans can watch, people picked up quickly on the idea that doves were dedicated, honorable and peaceful. While hawks and other birds of prey would violently attack their neighbors, the dove was a bird of peace, eating seeds, easily trained to eat out of the hand or to become domesticated.

Beginning with the Egyptians, the dove was as symbol of quiet innocence. The Chinese felt the dove was a symbol of peace and long life. To early Greeks and Romans, doves represented love and devotion, and care for a family. The dove was the sacred animal of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love. The dove also symbolized the peaceful soul for many cultures.”

Peace Doves

Peace is an important idea, but judging by the lack of its sustained presence it remains one of humankind’s most challenging notions. Even defining peace is challenging…

Questions I ask:

Is peace the absence of something; the lack of war, hate, poverty?

Is peace an addition of something; love, cooperation, compassion, a willingness to resolve conflict through compromise?

Will a political solution bring us peace or is it cumulative through an individual’s practice spreading to others?

I make no claim to having answers – but it’s worth considering and sharing all the many ways we do experience peace, both personally, collectively, technologically and politically. Ideas do have a way of becoming viral and perhaps if we could share with each other our notion and practice of peace, describing the small ways in which each of us already does experience peace, we can deepen, encourage and multiply the practice of peace for ourselves and others.

Why wait for someone else to create peace when we can be creators ourselves? I know, crazy, isn’t it? As the saying goes, “nothing worth having ever comes easy.” As well, many of us already do practice creating peace for ourselves and others, and we aren’t always aware of the impact that sharing our experience can have.

Recently, watching a documentary, titled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007), I was struck by the life of this man; one of music, authenticity, energy, controversy, along with contributions to the community that I was unaware of. I have always been a fan of his live performances with Arlo Guthrie, and am thankful to have seen them perform together a few times in 70’s, and the 80’s in small venues on Long Island where I lived at the time. Through interviews, the movie showed Pete’s efforts towards making a more peaceful world both in the way he lived his life and in local causes he embraced.

Admittedly, I struggle with the perception of him as political figure and specifically his support of communism. I don’t recall Pete and Arlo ever politicizing their performances though, but rather promoting through song and storytelling ideas of peace and freedom for all people and eliminating suffering caused by wars and poverty. I am aware that Pete was involved with the Communist party of the USA, but as the documentary and other sources show, later in life he denounced the violence and harm done by communist regimes that he may have seen as political solutions for humankind. And, even if Pete believed communism to be a solution to humanity’s problems, people’s beliefs do not represent the entirety of their life or nullify their good works (saying this as much to acknowledge the need to dispel this notion in myself as in others).

““I certainly should apologize for saying that Stalin was a hard driver rather than a very cruel leader,” he said. “I don’t speak out about a lot of things. I don’t talk about slavery. A lot of white people in America could apologize for stealing land from the Indians and enslaving Africans. Europe could apologize for worldwide conquest. Mongolia could apologize for Genghis Khan. But I think the thing to do is look ahead.” Pete Seeger in an interview with Ron Radosh. Read more here in the NY Times article.

Bear Mtn Bridge.jpgOne of Pete’s legacies was his initiation of a successful community based effort to clean up the Hudson river in NY by raising awareness of the issue and funding for a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning up the river and advocating for corporate responsibility for damages done and better stewardship in the future.

There are many others, alive and dead, famous or not, that have dedicated their lives to working for peace. I applaud Pete for working at the local level to make a difference to the local and not so local community.

peace-art

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what peace is and how you practice its presence in your life, in the local community; how is peace made manifest in your life? And is peace in the world composed of our individual practice of peace or is something else needed?

A petition for a Nobel Prize for Pete Seeger:

http://www.nobelprize4pete.org/

For more ideas on the etymology and usage of the word “peace” see here:

http://www.hejleh.com/edna_yaghi/peace1.html

Thank you to Curtis Mayfield:

“People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”

Religion, re-organized

I hear it said by many today, that spirituality is the important thing, religion not so much. I take this to mean that some people have come to prefer not belonging to a particular church, even though spirituality remains an important part of their life. Sometimes people tell me religion is an obstacle to God. If you ask me, being human is the biggest obstacle to encountering God, as well as to encountering each other and sometimes even oneself.

I don’t know how the cultural history of the of the word “religion” led to its popular meaning today of “blind and boring ritual that has nothing to do with God”, but you often hear the profession “I am spiritual, not religious.” The root, “religere,” meaning to bind, is a fitting way to describe what happens to the heart smitten by God or anything that comes to hold power over us. If my religion binds me to God or anything else, is it the binding itself that is too hard to bear? Even with greater than ever freedom, we moderns often suffer from a decreased capacity to bind, commit to, and especially to stay the course. We move, change jobs and partners more often than any generation in the past.

Perhaps it is so that many people who have had a gripping encounter with transcendence are disappointed when the church experience fails to deliver to them any sort of connection to God, to others, or even to oneself. Having had several transcendent encounters with the invisibles, ancestral and angelic, it never occurred to me to view church and spirituality as mutually exclusive or inclusive locations to meet up with unseen entities.

I have attended church in the hopes of encountering God. More often than not, the only encounter I have is with myself, my thoughts, feelings, hopes and worries wherever they happen to be that day. But there is an encounter in church that seems to require the confines of sensual structure; the building, the people, and our increased reception to what enters into us both physically and mentally because of the particularity of place, time and otherness.

People outside church may also be similarly engaged, but the people in church; those at Mass who are there for the ritual, believe they will encounter the risen Christ. They are there to absorb the essence of God – body, blood and spirit – into themselves in the hopes of transforming their imperfections, weaknesses, and human frailty.

The church then is a container of sorts, in the same way that marriage, family or friendship is. There is something happening in us when we are contained. A relationship is constellated between the members that shapes meaning and purpose for each of us, and a shared identity between us. Parts of others that enter inside us inhabit us like furniture inspiring us with ideas and emotion. Over the course of our lives these relationships are a part of what transforms us.

There’s really no guarantee that those who still choose to go to a particular church with a ritual practice are necessarily doing so for a deeper transcendent relationship with a higher power. They may very well be in a blind stupor, endlessly repeating meaningless ritual because they are comfortable sheep in need of a shepherd.

Scan from Mystery of the Golden Flower by C. G. Jung

For those outside of traditional religious practice it may seem unnecessary, restrictive, blind and unoriginal to organize one’s practice institutionally among a flock or herd. Although I have left as many churches as I have joined, it is bittersweet to me that none of these practices have stuck. The religious urge remains, as Jung noted,

“You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.”