Dialogue # 2 The Cloth of Gold Beneath the Sackcloth of Ordinary Reality

[In this dialogue Steven Herrmann and I explore the difficulty of striking a balance between ordinary reality and the powerful spiritual force it manifests. We began talking about my manuscript Realms of Gold, but that led of course to the broader question for everyone, which is how to tap into those rich realms coursing through our veins and minds. We explore how central the cloth of gold should be in the dialogue among students and a teacher and how to make reflective dialogue the basis of any classroom –or any fulfilled life.]

Reflective Teaching

H: Clark,  in your manuscript Realms of Gold: Excursions in the Sea of Intelligence, there’s a teaching component to it. Did you realize you’re teaching all the way through?  I have to say it’s the core of the MS, really the essential Clark.

M: [Reflecting] Oh, my, I hadn’t thought about it that way.  I suppose that’s right, though. In my classes, I was always reflecting on how things work, not teaching as it is commonly thought of, a sort of dialogue with a whole bunch of people. We’d take up something or other and then play with it and see if we could get it into focus, illuminate it.  As I think about it how, it was always a reflective process. 

H: You’re teaching in this book about how things work and how the universe works.


M: I wasn’t thinking of it as teaching. I was just reflecting on it in print. True, I do say how it seems to me, but what I’m really doing is having a look at what’s there and trying not to let settled “knowledge” shut down the exploration. And I get pleasure from simply thinking about this great mystery we live out our lives in


H: That’s what you do when you’re teaching.


M: I guess.


H: After all, that’s the title of the book of yours I read when I was in your class, Reflections on Language.


M: Come to think of it, Realms of Gold in a way is reflections on language, too. The preface is in the form of a poem about combining of the logical with, your phrase, the mythopoetic – all that right-brain material poets and philosophers incorporate in their work.


Force Fields and Fields of Flowers

 


Oh, here’s what it says:

 

The spine of this book
is the integration of
logic and metaphor,
the integration of
the language of science
with the mythopoetic way of talking
about that-which-is,
pulsating frequencies
in the quantum field
with fields of daffodils.

. . . and sea urchins

It’s always that combination, the force field and fields of flowers, back and forth — in these dialogues you and I have every month or so, too.
How about your own work? Any developments with your Whitman studies?

H: I was just talking with a friend of mine, Neil Richardson, in Washington D.C., who’s putting together a Walt Whitman website. He found an entry in Whitman’s Notebooks about meditation. He’s thinking that Whitman meditated and did it on a regular basis, and Neil and I have been talking back and forth about that.


M: You mentioned in some recent dialogue with me a poem you sent me. You’re talking about a way for the Soul to express itself, emerging through the vocal chords.


The Force


H: That’s right. It’s called “Force.” I wrote it as a way to express some of the intuitive right brain and lower brain-stem ideas, such as the image of the shaman in the cave, we were exploring in our last dialogue. I did this as an experiment to see if I could get any closer to the source of what we were trying to amplify through our overview of some Romantic and American poems that attempt to illuminate the Field.


M: Let me look at it again.


The Force is everywhere.
It must be acknowledged
In the moment.
When I give voice to Force
I vocalize,
I incarnate the Image;
The soul does not know itself
Except through Images.
Every moment presents
An opportunity to manifest Force.
When I speak aloud
I vocalize the Divine
Through language;
I speak with Divine Voice.
Force is neither Good nor Evil.
It simply is.
When I infuse a thing with Images,
I vocalize Divine Power,
I electrify words with my tongue.
When words have no Force,
They are dead Images.

The Divine Power to Speak Words

M: Ah, yes. The distinction is critical, isn’t it, between the soul emerging through your vocal chords and the use of the voice just to shape empty words. We see that in the poems of Emily Dickinson and Whitman. Well, Hopkins, Jeffers, Keats, searching over days and weeks for just the right word –you know, Twain’s distinction, “The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

H: The basic idea is that the divine power to speak words is present in everybody. This is Whitman’s basic belief.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1


How We Stay Tuned Up


M: Yes, that power is in all humans, though “down we forget as up we grow”! [See e. e. cummings’ “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town“]

Before I forget, let’s go back to what you were saying about Whitman meditating. What I’d surmise is that once he had that transformation, an epiphany or whatever it might be called, he walked around from then on in the state of being that meditation brings you to. That’s why everything he looked at was so vivid and powerful. So I would say that’s what we all have the potential for, as your poem says. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to carry on our work, though. Do you think you could be “tuned up” constantly and still carry on whatever you had to do?


H: I know we can. I don’t think we can do it all the time, though. I don’t think it’s possible to be tuned up all the time.
M: I think you could burn out.

H: Sometimes we have to put in a stair lift, as you did this summer. We have to deal with what life brings us.


Earthquakes, funerals – and coffee stains.


M: It’s interesting you said that, because I just read a one-page humorous piece in the New Yorker about peeling and eating a banana. If you open it without a knife, then you smash the end of it and spoil it. Or there’s that little nub at the end you don’t want to eat. The writer’s talking about this ridiculous stuff, and then, coming over here, I spilled some coffee on my pants, and I thought, “That’s what life is. We think it’s earthquakes and funerals, but in fact it’s truly about little spots on your pants.”


[Both laugh.]


That’s what’s really going on moment by moment, day by day, a glove without a mate on the garage floor. I think that has to be acknowledged so that we don’t miss out on that part. So the poem is:
Drops of coffee on my pants – isn’t that great!


[Both laugh.]


There was a woman I remember who taught geography back in Indiana, Pennsylvania, when I was in college there. Everybody remembered her because her dresses always had food spots on them. Hell of good teacher, though. So I knew, when I would stand in front of students the first day of class, they would notice every detail, what kind of belt I wore, whether I was fat or skinny, the whole works. They would study me more intently than anything in the syllabus. I knew I might as well not have said anything that first day. So I didn’t. It was futile to try to explain the course. They couldn’t hear a word I was saying. So I’d do something else, usually take them on a slow walk. I would have done that even if I had been teaching physics–take a slow walk– which brings us back to Whitman.


The Secret Force in All of Us


H: That idea about the Force–which I wrote that poem about–and the Field, is very much along the lines of the dialogues we’ve been having about language and poetry–that there is a force field that poets can tap into, via imagination, via emotion, via friendship Something happens in relationships where the poetry that’s there in a person, as a gift, can suddenly be evoked. I think it’s there in all of us. And I think Whitman’s saying is that vocalism is the divine power to speak words and is present in everyone is the secret force we are after. And so the question is, How do we tap into it? And what better theme for freshman English: Rather than focusing on grammar and that sort of thing, why not focus on rhythm and this idea of the field and how to tap into it? It seems to me that that’s what everybody wants to know: How do you do it? How can one enter into that field of light where poetry and language spring from in whatever language one speaks, for ultimately it is language that unites the whole human race?


M: I think that’s right. And I think most of us have forgotten that joyous voice that we all had and still do have. All these dialogues, as far as I’m concerned, aim at bringing that joy to the surface again.

H: How did Whitman stay in this meditative state?

M: I think he was so willing – I don’t know why he was willing – to allow that language experiment to happen spontaneously to him. So many people come to that threshold state and back off. They get a glimpse and think, “Oh, Christ! I’m going to have to change my whole life.” And of course I can’t blame them. It’s very scary.


H: Whitman wrote in a poem, that if you were to become his follower you would have to change your whole life. This was in 1860, the same year he published “Vocalism.”


Cocksure Certainty and Spiritual Certainty


M: That’s what Christ said, too. “You must become as a little child.” In other words, you have to erase all that you’ve picked up from your culture – not that you’re not going to use your culture, but your spirit has to be able to come forth fresh. Which reminds me of spiritual certainty… I think cocksure certainty is no certainty at all. Say you’re cocksure about the number seven, you bet it and you lose. Then you’re devastated that you lost. Now, if you’re soul says bet on seven and you bet it and seven doesn’t come up, you have not lost. You were acting out of your soul. So there’s cocksure certainty and spiritual certainty. And they are very different things. If we’re talking about certainty, people might confuse them, so we need to make that distinction.
It’s the same when we talk about the force of the Spirit coming through your voice. A lot of people just ramble on, and that’s anything but the Force. It’s the opposite in fact. All these things we’re talking about, they’re all bundled up together. Any way you turn, it ties in with the force, the Spirit of the universe. This is one reason I like to include the “scientific” force field McTaggart talks about in her book.


H: I think it’s an idea people want to know about. Everyone wants to find their way to experience an area where they have some originality, where they have something to say. And that’s what your book Realms of Gold is about.


A Spiritual Community


M: I was also thinking what the way we get off the path might be when we’re little kids. Even before we get to grade school, our spirits might not have been recognized by the forces around us. Your tendencies were rejected as being wrong or whatever. Then, maybe you get to second grade and some teacher might recognize you, and you think, “Oh, I am OK!” and off you go. Or it might happen in high school. I’ve met students in college and they first woke up accidentally in my class. I’m not sure of what triggered it but probably because of the circumstances. Now that I think of it, I’d say it was a “spiritual” community we had set up in those classes. Anyway, they suddenly realized the opinions of themselves that they had absorbed were not true. It transformed their behavior from then on.

Coincidence and Causality


H: Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in regard to chance and accidents and causality from the point of view of what he calls the “better consciousness” – which has to do with the transcendence of time, the awareness of even the so-called accidents that happen, chance occurrences – that they are patterned by some larger coincidence, what Carl Jung calls “synchronicity,” events taking place out of this energy field that’s operating and vibrating all around us. You know, what Whitman wrote, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, / Out of the mockingbird’s throat, the musical shuttle, / Out of the Ninth-month midnight,” that beautiful metaphor of being beneath the yellow and sagging moon in September. That is the fall month when school starts each year, after the long summer vacation when one relaxes often in nature. The idea that developmental blockages happen and maybe something happens that reminds you of your true self – it’s a continuous process of unfolding and it can be interrupted by education.


M: Right. I’d call it schooling. Schooling is what causes the disruption. I think of “education” as nourishing of the Spirit. The “Cradle Endlessly Rocking . . .,” let’s come back to that in a minute, but I’m thinking of the seven billion humans – or however many billions it is now; the number’s changing while we’re sitting here – in that cradle right now, and every one of them comes from that field of nature you just described; yet what portion of them breaks through to find its true voice? Only a handful of those seven billion actually do what you and I are talking about. What do you think about that? If you look at it from the distance of a star, you know, nature is indifferent I strongly suspect. Yet it’s kind of funny that so many of us don’t break through to the secret force. So what do you think?


The first criterion of success in any human activity, the necessary preliminary, whether scientific discovery or artistic vision, is intensity of attention or, less pompously, love. – W. H. Auden

H: Well, I think it’s true what you’re saying, that the mass of humanity doesn’t break through to connect with the source of their vocation. It’s more the exceptional individuals who actually hear the voice of the Self and speak out of it. Why is that? You could say it’s apparent design, destiny, fate, so-called accidents, some person who believed in them that helped evoke some vocational potential in them.

A Mirror for the Spirit


M: So yes, I’m thinking that there’s the Spirit, and it does need some kind of mirror. Someplace in the environment there has to be a response.


H: It could happen the other way. We see it in the lives of these great poets. To me they are exemplars of the Spirit. Take for example Whitman’s poem “Out of the Cradle.” “A man,” he says “yet by these tears a little boy again, / … And every day, I, a curious boy, … / I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,” etc., he becomes a child again. Then he translates the notes of the bird that sang to him, the song of the “real me.” It is grief that takes him back to his childhood. Tears take him into the state of the child that is still alive in him. When he is there, in the childlike state of consciousness where he is in his right relation to nature, in relation to his totem animal, the mockingbird that evoked the “unknown want, the destiny of me,” then everything lights up and his mind is on fire with the inner light of the universe. He has re-connected to his secret force of the “boy ecstatic.” Shamanic ecstasy is at the center of his regression to early childhood. “For I, that was a child, my tongue’s use sleeping, now I have heard you” he says to the bird, “Now in a moment I know what I am for, I awake.” The “real me,” the voice of the mature Whitman is a projection he says from the song of the solitary singer, the bird that had lost its mate. What he realizes is that his own songs as a poet were awakened from that hour when he heard the musical shuttle issue forth from the “mocking-bird’s throat.”


M: I suppose the reason I find teaching so rewarding is that I get to participate in more people seeing and experiencing this. Twenty thousand people went through my classes. I can’t guess how many, but I think a reasonably large number of them caught on. Once you catch on to it, I think no matter how you live your life, you cannot forget it. Once you see it, I don’t think you can put it back in the box.


H: William Everson said more or less the same thing, in different language. He said that maybe during the course he taught at UC Santa Cruz “Birth of a Poet” maybe a third of the students got it, but then later in life maybe half of them got it because they remembered. And I think it’s that way–that there is a precise lock and key relationship between a teacher and a student, that it is like instinct. And that’s why animal intelligence is important in this dialogue. When you think about it, animals have patterns of behavior based on instinct. They don’t have to reflect. They simply do what they are called to do by instinct. The same with a great poet. Whitman’s songs were awakened in him by listening long and long to the song of a bird that was flitting around its nest. He absorbed this music and it was this event in his childhood that awakened his calling. Later, in the throes of midlife, when he was going through the loss of someone he dearly loved, the tears evoked the memory of the boy who had known ecstasy and lived by that emotional resonance with the sea, sand, wind, and moon-lit air. Being with Everson and serving as his teaching assistant at UCSC had that effect upon me when I heard him read his poetry: it lit up my mind to an ecstatic realm that I had known as a boy when I had run through the sand in the beach at Carmel barefoot, with the sun beaming off the white sand.


M: That’s right.

H: The image of instinct itself is released in the organism. So it’s not a process that requires a lot of effort, of searching. Like you said, it is that spiritual knowledge, a knowing that’s not pompous. Poets like Whitman are made modest by their access to tears, to grief.

M: They just do it.

H: They just do it. They know what to do once the tears come, what’s been called instinct. The red fox, for example, knows to stay away from humans. In the 1800s they were hunted and almost wiped out. So they stayed away. Why is that? There’s something in the animal that knows danger. Now scientists are searching for them up in the Sierras.
So I think about this in terms of a student in the classroom. Perhaps that student never had the genius mirrored– by a parent figure, an aunt or uncle. Maybe there was some quality that the grandparent saw, but the child didn’t know what it was. Maybe in second grade, a teacher sees something, some kind of native intelligence and comments on it. But the student may struggle and not know who he or she is. And later on in college, a light switch suddenly gets flipped on. A corner of the psyche that was dark is illuminated. One has a sense that the “tongue’s use” that had been “sleeping” is now heard and one awakes. Warbling echoes start to live within, never to die. “Never more shall I escape” Whitman says “never more the reverberations, / Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from me, / Never again, leave me to be the peaceful child I was.” Ecstasy has a way of bringing peace to one’s sense of who one actually is as a child. Recovering those emotional memories of the child we once were can awaken a calling that may stay with one permanently for the rest of one’s life. This is a profound psychological spiritualization. It is identical with the words Whitman describes: “I awake.” To awake to the real self is equivalent to enlightenment.


The Evocative Moment


M: It reminds me of something that happened to me when I was teaching in a high school over in Stockton, my first job, and I was getting to be quite good at it. I taught there six years. In about the fourth year the principal, a fairly intelligent guy, had evaluated my work and said to me, “You should be teaching in a college.” That never crossed my mind till then.


Not find a barkeep unto Jove in me?
I have remained resentful to this day
When any but myself presumed to say
That there was anything I couldn’t be.–Robert Frost, from “Auspex”


H: There it was.

M: I thought, “Oh, I should be teaching in a college!” [Both laugh.] I’ll tell you something else. The education I got at Indiana State Teachers College in Indiana, Pennsylvania, was perfunctory and thin. My education in high school was extremely thin. I was the valedictorian of my class, but there were only 120 of us, and I was probably the only one who did his homework. Anyway, I knew I was smart enough. I had enough evidence of that. I got an English and math degree from Indiana, but I knew it was very thin. And then I wanted to get a master’s degree, and I went to Bucknell University, which is a second-tier Ivy League college, a beautiful college. Philip Roth went there and some other fairly famous people. I came into that place as a graduate student quite ignorant. It was such as small graduate group that we took some courses with undergraduates, but we did extra stuff.
So here’s what I’m getting to: One of the undergraduates, probably from a solid secondary school, a privileged kid, was talking to me one day. I don’t know how he knew anything about me but he said, “What are you planning to do?” I said, “Teach.” And he said, “But you don’t know anything.” I said something about teaching in a high school, and he said, “Well, OK, then,” or something like that. He guessed that would be a passable job for me. He thought that I was so ignorant that I wouldn’t be fit to do anything.
Of course, I’ve always had a bit of Scotch-Irish backbone, so I wasn’t about to accept anybody’s judgment of my prospects. He was right, though. I didn’t know much. But I knew, or figured out a bit later, that I could fill in the blanks. But that doesn’t make you smarter or better able to do anything. And once out of grad school, I began filling in anything I felt I needed, getting my own education, early on, almost at once. Once I started teaching I absorbed huge amounts of stuff associated with what I was doing and what I wanted to understand. Curiosity and interest.


Even more than that, though, was the pleasure of finding things out. I stole that phrase from Richard Feynman’s Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. It’s a neat book. I used it in my classes. He was a remarkable human being. [1911-1988 Theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner (1965) known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics.]

Only joy would compel someone to become so absorbed. It was a deep pleasure. And that joy has to be hovering around any class session – and students and teachers have to know that that’s the game, to become so caught up that we don’t care whether school keeps or not, that something much more important is going on.


I learned about linguistics after I finished graduate school. Nothing, really, about educational theory, the very basis for any teaching. They did not teach one word of linguistics or educational theory in Indiana or Bucknell. A brief history of Clark McKowen’s schooling! [Both laugh.]


H: What I’m thinking is something that goes right along the lines of what you’re thinking, too. There are areas in the unconscious that can be illuminated by relationships in our vocational fields. We’ve been speaking of the Field. Now I want to extend that notion further to include multiple fields. One may not know which vocation one is called to in high school. Then somebody says something or recognizes something in you and suddenly a light switches on. “Light switch” isn’t even the right term for it, though the metaphor points to electricity– bringing us right back to the Field. Reading a poem like “Out of the Cradle” can remind one of the reverberations, the light waves, and sea waves, and the sand under foot. That is what happened to me at UCSC. I remembered my calling.


Illuminating the Self


M: It’s a light clicking on in a dim-lit room.

H: Light from a source that can’t precisely be defined. Something gets touched in the psyche, and a light does go on. Like the auras some people see. I’m not gifted in seeing them, but in my dreams I can see auras around people sometimes, like the saints with their halos. I’ve had dreams.
M: Your cave dream had some of that– a lot of that!

H: Yes. And that was a dream you could say was sparked by a relationship with my former analyst, Donald Sandner, who was the foremost authority on analytical psychology and shamanism in America, in the world, really. So being in analysis with Don and having that dream a couple of months after his death, to me was the real initiation in analysis. It was after the death of the analyst, going down into my own deep cave of the unconscious and finding there a chamber that had never been previously explored by anthropologists, and suddenly there was the light figure. A being of exploding Light that was like the illumination of millions of suns. The shaman figure was exploding with star-light. Eliade [Mircea Eliade (1907—1986) was a philosopher and an historian of religion] writes about this kind of cosmic connection between the shaman and light in his book Shamanism. You know, the first shaman was a light figure. I think about how there are primitive places in the psyche that correspond to instinct. These images of activity, as Jung says– which he calls archetypes– are self-portraits of instinct. They need to be illuminated by something or someone on the outside or inside. When someone shines a light on a section of a personality that’s never been seen before . . .


M: Holds up a mirror.


Mandalas and the Beam of Attention


H: It does do something. It transforms the sense of self-consciousness, of who one is, and what you said about knowledge, that you know something… You know it in your bones.


M: Yes, yes. When students in my English classes would do their mandalas and then we would put them on a wall, we would look at one of them – we weren’t supposed to know who drew it; we tried to do them privately as much as possible.

[Note: I didn’t call them mandalas. I asked them to draw anything they felt like that had a center and everything else was to radiate out from that center. They also were free to pick out the color of construction paper they wanted to use and whatever oil pastel colors they wanted .]

Anyway, the artist wouldn’t come forward till we were finished looking. The creator would be quiet and listen. He or she listened to every word! Because it was revealing just what you were saying, suddenly seeing themselves as they never had before. They lived in their skins, but they never could get outside and have a look. And here were thirty people giving them all this attention. It’s absolutely powerful.


H: Hmm. Not many teachers do that.

M: Unfortunately, they don’t usually know how. I’ve seen the process botched terribly.

H: You’ve seen Jung’s Red Book, haven’t you?

M: No.

H: Oh. I have it in the other room. His portraits of mandalas are beautiful! The point is that you were using active imagination in your classes to activate the lower reptilian brain, the instinctive mind, as well as the right hemisphere. So when you did that in your class, it wasn’t just rational left brain thinking that was going on there.


M:. Those drawings have so many associations for the person drawing them to think about. As we both know, getting a look at one’s Self is just about the hardest job a human has.


H: Not many English teachers use the drawing of mandalas to center and still the mind, but doing that exercise in your classes when I took them in 1975 and 1976 had a powerful effect on me. Of course, this is an ancient technique that was probably used by shamans cross-culturally, as can be seen from rock paintings that have survived from tens of thousands of years. The main thing is the relationship between the self and the universe as the source of psychic and physical energy. Drawing mandalas and then writing in one’s Journal was a great way to free up the vocal chords, the grain of the voice, and liberate language, in speech, as a vocalism from the real me. Teaching students in that kind of way is essential, I think.


Sexuality


I want to talk further about something that’s been on my mind that has to do with new developments in my own writing. It’s a new connection I am making. I’m preparing to be in a question-and-answer interview for the Advocate magazine, which is the number one LBGT publication in the United States. I sent the editor of the Advocate a copy of my book on Whitman, and I’m going to be talking to him about ideas in it for an audience who are not Jungians, not necessarily scholars or intellectuals or psychotherapists. Some may be, but that’s not the focus of the magazine.
M: The audience would be mostly gay, or for people interested in gay issues?

H: Probably. They could be readers from any profession, of course. You know, last week there was an attempt to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or DADT. The Senate did not approve that. So there’s a lot of anger and controversy about it.


M: Well, as of yesterday afternoon, a group of legislators managed to pull that out of the Defense Appropriations Bill as a stand-alone bill, and now there’s a good chance that it will get through.


H: I’m glad you pointed that out. That’s definitely a sign of hope.
M: Yes, these roadblocks have been so outrageous. I don’t know what’s in the minds of people who are opposed to repealing it.

Reader: These are the original dialogues.  I’ve left the time they were recorded intact.  But the world keeps updating itself, so you will have to take that into account.  


H: Well, people don’t want to talk much about it because it’s not politically correct, but let’s call it what it is: It’s got a lot to do with the religious right.
M: I think it’s a fear of one’s own sexuality. But why are people homophobic? It’s because, I think, they fear it’s in themselves, and they don’t want to face that. If they felt secure in their sexuality, we wouldn’t have this problem.


An Antique Volume Written by Faded Men


H: Yes, that’s partly what my book on Whitman is about. Exactly. You just summarized it well. In regard to the Field, what people want to know is, What’s the historical background of this conflict in our culture? Where are its roots? Where does it begin, in the news, in literature? As you know– you read my book– Whitman foresaw this political debate a century and a half ago. A hundred and fifty years ago, Whitman wrote what he once called his “New Bible,” and it contained forty-three homo-erotic poems to men in the section called “Calamus.” Why would Whitman call it a New Bible, and what does it have to do with this religious problem we’re struggling with in our society now? This whole literal tradition of interpretation of Leviticus, which extends through the whole of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the whole condemnation in the Old Testament and the New Testament and Koran of homosexuality. . . It’s appalling. There are lines in the monotheistic texts that endorse killing of homosexuals, if the words are taken literally. Yet the truth is symbolic and literal readings are proving to be a politically poised poison from the mouths of the religious right. So you can see how potent poetry is. You find these stories in the newspaper about a transgender person who was sent some hate mail. It is a terrible thing! Yet it’s interesting how Whitman had this idea of a New Bible 150 years ago and how it answers a need for liberation today. Of course, he didn’t call it that when he published it, but he did in an 1857 Notebook. He had this idea that bibles are new, and we all have a bible that we need to write.


M:
Ah! That’s it! That’s your voice that has to come out. I said earlier that each being has to write his or her own dictionary. Well, we each have to write our own unique Bible. That may sound heretical, but I learned that in Sunday school. The Christian Bible has in it somewhere the idea that just accepting the gospel without thoroughly questioning it won’t wash! And so on!

H: Yes. Emily Dickinson nailed it. She wrote that the Bible is an antique volume written by faded men.


M: [Laughing] Oh, wow! Pretty good line and what hutzpah!

Whitman on Sexuality


H: And that’s coming from a woman who said that her parents worshiped an Eclipse–which meant that she had found her own New Bible.


M: That’s it exactly.


H: And she said the Church was within her! She didn’t need to go to Sunday school. She had a place of worship within her own room where she wrote her poems in secret. So with this idea of the Field, the idea that there are people–they’re relatively rare–on this planet of seven billion people, like you said before, people who can drop down into the Field and have perceptions in the unconscious of absolute knowledge; there’s a vision in those perceptions that the culture needs. The world needs it desperately today. You know, Whitman’s time has come. The fact that he was the first man who was openly gay to serve the US military as a nurse tells us something. So here we go. Whitman opened the door. This whole dialogue we’re having in the culture. Should a gay man serve in the military, and should he be able to come out? Should a lesbian or bisexual woman or transgendered person be permitted to serve and openly state who they are? Whitman provides an answer.


M: Getting back to the question-and-answer interview you’re going to be doing, how will that be done?


H: The editor is going to email me his questions, and I’m going to send back some answers.


M: Well, you’ll want it to feel spontaneous, like an email chat.

H: Yes, but I’ve anticipated some of the questions, and I’ll want to be sure the answers get included.

M: That makes sense. Your audience will be people, who for whatever reason, will pick up a magazine that has a focus involving the gay culture. What would you like those readers to know?

H: I’d like them to know that the father of American poetry was a man who did more to open the doors to sexuality in all its forms than perhaps anyone in history, more so, I’d dare say, than Sigmund Freud, because he saw homosexuality as some kind of a perversion, which became a different kind of poison in the mental health field.


M: And then I think, to go further, it needs to be said that sexuality is something not to be censured in any form.


H: Not only is it not to be censured, it’s to be placed as the cornerstone of the American myth. American poetry is a keystone for a psychology of the Self that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.
Sexuality as a Metaphor for the Spiritual Life


M: Anyone who sits quietly and listens will know that. To go further, I would say that sexuality is a metaphor for the Spiritual life. That’s what it’s all about. When you have an orgasm, that’s nature saying, “See how this works?” The ecstasy is right there. We’ll give you a little sample of that. Everybody gets to try that out. So if you’re not having a good life, start paying attention. Something to that effect. I think having someone like you talking about this subject is really helpful. You’re comfortable in your own sexuality, and it’s important to have someone with your background, someone to put it in a larger and deeper context, without all the stress of the battle. Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just sat down and explained why it was time to stop DADT. This practice is insane, and having him quietly explain that to the Congress was a powerful influence. Gates, the Secretary of Defense, sat beside him and said the same thing. That sort of clarity is what’s needed. And your Jungian and mythopoetic approach is along those lines, too.
It’s so nutty, all the uproar about sexuality. You know, when you have thirty people in a room and you have thirty kinds of sexuality, it’s crazy to say, well, this part of the continuum you can’t have anything to do with. If you’re a little bit different, that’s OK, but you can’t be over here. We’re going to cut off these ends of the bell shaped curve.


Ahead of All This


H: I’ll tell you, the American poets were ahead of all this.

M: Well, anybody who goes down into the soul is going to be ahead of it.
H: Think of Herman Melville. The first portrait of same-sex marriage in America was in Moby Dick, the great American novel, published in 1851. He even calls it a marriage in chapter ten of the novel, “A Bosom Friend”! Ishmael and Queequeg are married like husband and wife. It’s no accident, to use those hallowed words.
Whitman, Melville, and Dickinson were all ahead of the game. And they were also carving out a new American myth, independently of one another. Something was “in the air.” The Field was infused with new energies, new images, and new lights. The Zero Point Field was being illuminated. And we, too. have something to contribute to this idea you were getting at about absolute knowledge, knowing something. These poets knew something.


M: That’s what it’s all about.

H: They knew something about the nature of the body and the soul.

M: People who do evil things are trying to get an idea of how this works, whether they know it or not. Maybe not consciously, but something is driving them to try to work things out. Well, it’s time for me to go. I do hope your interview gets into print. Our society needs a wholesome way of looking at sexuality, and I think what you have to say will advance that view.

Author: Clark McKowen

I taught English at Diablo Valley College in the Bay Area for over thirty years and probably taught over 20,000 students during that time. II'm still interested in how beings of any species learn and why, and I write books and articles about these things. My 2000 book of haiku, Ligonier Sightings, is an appreciation of the Chestnut Ridge area of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up. All of my books can be purchased on the internet. Most teachers say they love teaching, but I don't know what they mean by that. I loved being in a group -- under my guidance, to be sure -- and getting so absorbed in exploring an idea that we didn't care whether school kept or not. That's the kind of teaching I love. I love seeing a bunch of people's eyes light up. I love the feeling of discovery of any sort. I love enlightenment. That's what more or less gets me up in the morning, -- and I suppose is involved, one way or another, in everyhing you will find on this website and in just about everything I do, including building redwood decks or going to the dog park with our Boston terrier Gracie.

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