April 3, 2012
The body of Christ, the vine and its branches— organic imagery as distinct from monarchical and political imagery. The center of gravity of the whole thing has changed. With that center of gravity will go a change in our own inner feeling, namely (whether we get it from our study of science, or whether we get it from Oriental religions, or all of them together) Western man will begin to feel at home in the world.
He will begin to feel that he belongs, that he is not a stranger, and that his heart is not simply something inside his chest, but it is the entire universe living and changing forever.
—Alan Watts, from “The Crisis in Religion”
[In this dialogue Steven and I explore the idea that Love, or what I would call the manifestation of the spirit, is indeed a physical force, and we re-visit Chardin’s definition of that force as an essential aspect of the cosmos. We are talking about Love in a deep, poetical sense of that much abused word. As you follow this dialogue along, I think you will be reminded that there is indeed some sort of glue holding everything, everything, together. not some dictionary word, but an involuntary uniting force.]
The Heart of Matter / The Heart of the Matter
M: Let’s see where we are now. We could continue to talk about that metaphor by Graham Greene quoted by Teilhard de Chardin. Greene, as you’ll recall, called his novel The Heart of the Matter. I reread it last week, and it isn’t quite as I recall Greene’s way of looking at human nature. His central character breaks the rules he lives by, rules of his Catholic faith, and the entire structure of his life falls apart. In many of Greene’s novels his characters break rules and live more organic lives, I’d say. Anyway, this novel does explore the role of the heart in human matters. You can’t do the math without that factor, for sure!
[Philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) had trained as a paleontologist and geologist and taken part in the discovery of Peking Man. His way of describing the future of the Earth and the human community and of a Cosmic Christ were not fully in line with the thinking of Church authorities of his time, and his major works were not published till after his death. Steven and I had read his The Heart of Matter (1976) and The Future of Man (1959).]
That said, here’s Chardin taking up the heart of matter head on. You wanted to discuss: “At the heart of Matter, /A World -heart, / The Heart of God” in his book The Heart of Matter. Everything you’ve been saying about spiritual democracy, the field–all that–leads to the same thing. If what we might call God is in the atom–another word Chardin uses is Love–there is this glow of oneness that people call enlightenment that is the heart of matter. Matter at its heart is precisely that. That’s what he’s getting at, I think, and that fits in with Whitman and everything you’ve been saying. By the way, I’ve always admired Chardin as a clear philosophical thinker. I think anyone who’s really interested in figuring out how things work would do well to read him.
H: Well, you’re right the glow of oneness does fit nicely with Whitman. I think the idea of the shamanic archetype helps us understand how this “Golden Glow” at the heart of matter emerged in human awareness, its evolution. When you look at those portraits of divinity on the walls of Lascaux, what you see are animal forms. That’s a kind of love for those animals, and a kind of equality with the animals.
M: Think of what it entailed to go deep into those caves and draw images on the walls. It’s a lot of work! When you think about the physical effort involved, that’s quite a challenge.
H: Yes. They had to bring torches down there. And what you find there are portraits of gods in animal forms, animal shapes, and at the center of these characters is a shaman figure, and he is lying prostrate on his back, apparently entranced, with a bird mask. So he’s identified with an animal form in some way. Consciousness itself assumes equality with animal life. What emerges from that is the explosion of art from the central figure: the creator of all this magnificence. It is cosmic.
M: Your focus in all this art is in this place of light, and then you explode. Well, not everybody, but that’s the difference between an intense witnessing of those drawings and a superficial scanning. Where I start in thinking about them is the sheer effort involved and the accomplishment. This is not doodling, not graffiti. It rewards our attention.
Love at the Center
H: Yes, there is love at the center, because Love is for the animal and light–and for the darkness within the cave.
M: Yes, I don’t think you could undertake this work without Love. But that word love is one we always have to fiddle with when we’re in a dialogue so that people don’t misunderstand what we mean by it. Some people don’t see the universality of it but limit it to something among their families or maybe just between two people, but the way we’re talking about love, it’s a profound experience for the whole universe.
H: I think the love is for the thought that evolves from this cosmic experience.
M: It’s something that won’t stay inside yourself, and yes, that is the way it is when two people connect in that profound way. It transcends the immediate experience. There’s no, “Let me think about this.” And yet it’s the result of thinking.
Bringing Consciousness to Animals
H: Sexuality is right there too. The shaman figure has an erection in the cave portrait. The animals in a sense are the mistress of the cave. There’s a kind of copulation symbolism, where the shaman is fertilizing those animal forms and bringing consciousness to the animals, the generation of thought itself, and the magnificence of thought. You know, we’ve talked a bit about your book Realms of Gold and how it was first conceived. It came from thinking about the implications of your earlier emphasis on animal intelligence. Well, there it is. Shamanic intelligence is a certain kind of cosmic intelligence. This is what Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers bring in; this strong realization that the hawk, for example in Jeffers poetry, represents fierce consciousness joined with final disinterestedness. That’s very Buddhist, very Zen. To be disinterested in the future.
The Spirit’s Spaceship
M: I wrote a note to a friend up in Oregon the other day, and I’ve been thinking about this. All the things we talk about are things we’ve always known. But one thing that’s interesting to me lately is this realization that I’m sort of wearing my body. It’s my outfit. [Laughs.] Or you could call it my spaceship. I’m wearing it, but it’s not really me. You could cut it all up and I’d still be me–till you finally turn off the light. It’s a real sense that I’m borrowing that body of mine so I can travel around the universe.
On the Soul’s Voyage
H: I like that metaphor. I think Whitman anticipated you by a hundred and fifty years! [Both Laugh.] He does talk about himself as a spaceship. He does go out into the cosmos, sailing in a ship. That’s his metaphor. He’s out exploring the universe of thought. In “An Old Man’s Thought of School,” Whitman praised the “fair auroral skies” and “morning dew upon the grass!” and then turned to the “sparkling eyes” of the boys and girls in the public school, as if speaking to children, parents and teachers across all America. In Leaves of Grass he spoke of children of the future possessing “stores of mystic meaning” and equips their young lives “like a fleet of ships, immortal ships, / Soon to sail out over the measureless seas, / On the soul’s voyage” out into the cosmos.
M: Think of all these little kids in their celestial spaceships, on their souls’ journeys, with their “stores of mystic meaning” sailing toward mysterious shores. Well, that is the salvation for cosmic awareness, for the awareness of our cosmic participation. Wouldn’t it be lovely if that were the central theme of all education, the very heart of it all? Really, I think those shamans felt that back in Lascaux.
H: I think so, and that’s what my intuition tells me. I don’t think it’s original to Whitman, though it took a certain evolution of science to launch him, as he says, into the Unknown . . .
To Bring the Metaphor Alive Again
M: In order to turn it into the language of our day, this day, I think that’s what our jobs always are. We keep having to translate what we already know into the language of the moment in order to bring the metaphor alive again. You have to tell it just right, or it’s just going to be confusing.
H: The poet doesn’t select his or her metaphors randomly. You find this in Yeats. In “Sailing to Byzantium” he says that he shall never take his bodily form from any natural thing but such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make of hammered gold and gold enameling. Think about that metaphor for a moment and think about what we’ve been talking about with regards to equality with all matter.
M: That’s good.
The Transformation of Nature Through Art
H: If there is a distinction being made by the poet between the natural world and something supernatural–I don’t like the word supernatural, because it creates a separation. Nevertheless, there’s a subtle distinction being drawn by Yeats about the transformation of nature through art; that there’s some kind of transformation, as the philosopher and art historian Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) wrote.
M: You could call it supernatural, but that’s just a word for what he’s talking about.
H: It’s what Teilhard de Chardin called the “Noosphere” in The Phenomenon of Man, a membrane of thought that gradually evolved and, closing in on itself, eventually encircled the Earth, or what Jung called the collective unconscious.
M: In a literal sense . . .
H: Byzantium is the city of gold.
M: It’s super-natural–the way they use that word.
H: A place of enlightenment.
M: Again, if you were to throw “supernatural” into an essay without conveying the sense of it we’re describing, people would probably misunderstand entirely.
H: Well, it is the realm of gold Keats named for us, the place where the Yeats arrives by creating monuments of his own magnificence–in the moment. The poet has that capacity to do that, as do other vocations.
The Intensification of Daily Life
M: I think what my work in teaching was and still is today to take something like “Sailing to Byzantium” and mess around with it till it comes alive–which is what we’re doing right now. That was constantly what we were doing, bringing these things alive in various ways, trying to work toward the intensification of daily life.
H: That’s a good way to put it.
M: The intensification of daily life. When I’m looking at things around this room, I’ve got my nervous system, my organism, so tuned that those things are now part of the golden glow that we’re talking about.
H: And that relates to energy. Energy intensifies. There’s an intensification of energy at the heart of matter made possible through thought.
H: Thought itself can create a higher vibration . . .
M: I think it’s exactly what Christ did when he went out in the desert. Those who are truly artists somehow or other grope their way up to that, and then for the rest of their lives, as Yeats put it, “One has a vision. One would like another. That is all.”
H: Well, I think that’s right here in the quote I sent you from Chardin from The Phenomenon of Man, “But let us emphasize the point: union increases [There’s the intensification] only through an increase in consciousness, that is to say in vision.” So seeing is only unified through vision. Vision is therefore the apex of creation.
Through a Subjective Lens
M: Vision is the key word here. I would say that, too, but again we have make sure people understand how we’re using that word. It isn’t the image that’s perceived but what lies behind that image. And these words are simply tools for getting at what’s going on.
H: The only way an objective view of the world can emerge is through a subjective lens of what lies in the Noosphere.
[Chardin coined the word “noosphere” to describe what he saw as a sphere of thought encircling the Earth every bit as “physical” as our quantum makeup or our Earth’s atmosphere. He postulated a “noosphere” of interconnected thinking of the great minds, past and current, that envelope the human community.]
M: That’s a good phrase. Is that a new way of putting it for you?
H: Well, yes. It’s very much a part of what we’re talking about with regards to reflection. If you remember how you start off Image, that Shakespearean dialogue between Casius and Brutus: “Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?” “No, Casius, for the eye sees not itself but by reflection, by some other thing.” Reflection can only happen through as subjective lens. And the cosmos is unique to each person and needs to be seen anew. Chardin wants to call it Christ, and there’s Christ in everything in the cosmos. And that’s his subjective universe, and that’s beautiful, and it’s true.
H: The idea is to gather more and more information about all these views. For example, you could take an historical view of world religions and decide to look at them in the moment through an act of unitary seeing that embraces each as equal. They are ways to envision what reality is at a spiritual level. The economic level of democracy is not working. We’re about to see a seventeen trillion-dollar deficit, April 3, 2012) mostly owing to China. What about the political strata of democracy? Well, not much going on there, no seeding of the Earth with new potentials, for our becoming a one-world species. It’s got to happen on a spiritual level. Whitman was right about this third level, I think, spiritual democracy. What did you call it earlier? We were talking about Chardin’s “Omega Point, in The Phenomenon of Man” where the universe is personalized and converges in each of us. And you were relating it to the idea of critical mass, I think you said.
H: There’s something about that critical mass, the tipping point. What’s the tipping point, some big spark happening?
Critical Mass and the Interconnectedness of the Strands of Thought
M: Someone back, oh, thirty years ago, talked about a critical mass of thinkers, and the plus side was that of, say, a billion people, five percent are part of that critical mass. But now we have over seven billion people, (April 3, 2012) so even if only five percent of that is of the critical mass, it looms much, much larger and has a logarithmic potential. A much more powerful force. So I think that’s quite a compelling argument. The other thing that I’m seeing here, and talking with you about–which I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to–is the interconnectedness of all these strands of thought. You know, you picked out Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism as a link. I bet he read a lot of the people you’re talking about. They are all so intertwined.
The Unification of the Spirit of Humanitiy
H: Well, I think we’re linking up East and West now. That’s basically what Whitman was trying to do as well in “Passage to India”: to create this new society that never existed before, where there is equality between thinkers of the East and West with regards to the unification of the whole spirit of humanity, a new religious or spiritual phenomenon. At some point it would be great to talk to you further about this emergence of thought that Chardin talks about in The Phenomenon of Man. I think you’d be interested in this. His ideas are really brilliant –the birth of thought, in particular because of your interest in thinking about thinking.
M: Oh, where was it? Oh, yes, we began this talk by speaking of Chardin’s review involving Graham Greene. Greene wrote The Heart of the Matter” forty some years ago.
Synchronicities and the Noosphere
H: We’re back to the zero-sum field. That’s the place where synchronicities emerge. Jung called it the psychoid realm. Eckhart called it the Godhead. It could be that place Chardin calls the Noosphere, an atmosphere or membrane. Whitman also talks about that atmospheric zone as a place where miracles are happening all the time.
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
-- Walt Whitman
M: Let’s take a moment to talk a little about how you disabuse people of a narrow understanding of their own religions and faiths?
H: Well, I think through new metaphors. They can help people get outside of their box.
M: How would you do that, though? How would you deal with some fundamentalists’ refusal to step outside the box? How do you get them to do that?
H: I think that’s what’s happening in Egypt. Hillary Clinton nailed it. It’s about protecting the rights of minorities. We can’t have what we did to the Native Americans ever again. Or what the Spanish and the Portuguese did to the Central and South American peoples.
M: Sarajevo in our time, Rwanda. (April 3, 2012)
A Global Species
H: The time of imperialism is over. We have to move forward as a global species or we might destroy ourselves.
M: Well, what we have is ethnic cleansing all over the globe right now. It seems like we’re regressing, don’t you think?
H: But at the same time we’re emerging, progressing . . .
M: Well, you’re right. There is that Hillary Clinton demand that we do advance toward spiritual democracy.
H: And democracy is playing a part in this–American democracy and the movement toward equality and religious freedom.
M: Yes, that fits what we know already: the equality of all things.
H: The movement toward universal equality. And that means equality for women; their rights, all rights.
M: I don’t see how a human being can achieve equality if her freedom is curtailed in any way from the freedoms others enjoy.
H: There are a lot of Middle-Eastern women who are throwing off the veil today. Some are fed up with patriarchy and Muslim fundamentalism and want real democracy.
M: Catholic women are getting like that, too. The nuns are getting ticked off with this masculine view of things.
H: It would be helpful to get that quote from Alan Watts’ talk “The Crisis in Religion” that you transcribed for your book Image as a kind of introduction to our talk here. I’m very interested in getting in a key metaphor from that talk. Did you bring him to Diablo Valley College yourself?
M: No, I didn’t bring him. In those days, we had a series of guest lecturers and he was one of them. I had read him and seen him on TV, and I was delighted. Here was this whole college being offered his view of how things are. Anyway it’s in Image, and maybe you can find the quote and we can talk about it.
H: Did you transcribe it yourself?
M: Yes. The college taped it, and I got a copy and painstakingly typed it up.
H: It’s good you preserved that.
M: Yeah, I think so too.
H: When was that? I’m wondering if my father was there teaching foreign languages at DVC at that time.
M: I’m sure he was there for that speech. It must have been around 1967 or so. Image came out in 1973. We were in temporary trailers back then, and your dad’s office was in my building, so we knew each other. He was a linguist, and that was the connection for me with him.
H: You know, Alexander von Humboldt got some of his insights from the linguistic research of his older brother, William von Humboldt. Alexander gave him two hundred samples of different native tongues from Ecuador to analyze and he said that language more than any other function of the human mind can bind together the whole human race, transcendent of class, religion, and ethnicity. We’re talking about the time when Schiller and Goethe were alive. The four men were friends in Germany. This was a long time ago. You mentioned Goethe earlier. Well, the Humboldt’s brothers influenced Goethe directly.
M: Oh, my!
Deliberately Liberated Thought, Still Warm on the Walls of Caves
H: And so this whole idea of cosmos was very much connected with Humboldt’s explorations in South America and the opening of his mind to the constellations of stars in the Southern hemisphere. Language was at the root for Whitman’s experiments with poetry, you know, “Salut Au Monde!” But before language, there was art. And that’s where those symbolic forms created thoughts that eventually found their way into language in Lascaux. Those early shamans must have had their own language, which we’ve lost, of course. As Chardin says in The Phenomenon of Man, “With homo sapiens, it is a deliberately liberated thought which explodes, still warm, on the walls of the caves. With them these new-comers brought art.”. This connects up nicely with the dream of the shaman as a light being I reported during the beginning of our chats.
Toward a Zen Synthesis
M: There’s a little book by Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth.
H: Oh, yes and he wrote The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. I love it.
M: This book is quite short. It’s more like an extended essay. It cleared up for me a lot about how language works.
H: He was a linguistic philosopher. That’s always how I thought of you, with a Zen component, of course. If there’s a metaphor for a particular religious attitude throughout Image, it would probably be Zen. Eno keeps popping up throughout the book with little thought bubbles coming out of his head, and he’s tracing that path toward a Zen synthesis, an experience.
M: That’s right!
H: Explosions. Chardin writes in Hymn of the Universe : “All these activities of the inner life [exact computation of space and time, the dreams and anxieties of love] are simply the bubbling up of the newly-formed life-center as it explodes upon itself.”
Writing the Novel of Our Lives
M: Ha, well, thanks for pointing that out. Oh, so that’s what I was doing! William Saroyan has a play–My Heart’s in the Highlands, I think it is–and there’s a character in it who is writing something all the time, and someone says, “You’re writing a novel.” Oh, is that what I’m doing?! I suppose we human beings could be writing a novel of our lives as we go from day to day, but someone else would have to notice that for us. We’re just tooling along mowing the lawn, eating a peach.
Transforming Intuition into Thought
H: You know a thought just came back to me. Back in my journal I was reflecting on a lot of this in advance. Intuition has that way of being in advance of thinking.
M: That’s an important idea, Steven. When we go into a classroom, we need to be well aware that students may not have transferred intuition into thought, but that can come later, maybe years later. Yet classrooms need to be places where intuition can play its important role. In that sense, I felt successful in that seeds were planted with virtually everyone. Just about everyone participated in that intuitive experience. I think they did indeed have experiences of the type we’re talking about. Eliot’s line puts it this way: “Oh, do not ask What is it. Let us go and make our visit.”
The other day I discovered that a woman who had been a student at Salem State when they had adopted a book of mine, Montage, in all their freshman English classes. Well, I looked her up and found she’d gone on and gotten her Ph.D. Now she’s teaching. Well, there’s a lot of fertilizing going on there, a lot of seeds planted. I rather like that. What possibly could not be good in experiencing and then later, through language, realizing?
Thought Images and the Inner Voice, Calling
H: I was looking recently through my dissertation, which is on vocational development in childhood, particularly the research I did and put down in a survey of literature on vocational education in the elementary and middle schools. Based on what I had read, it struck me that American education lagged behind Germany, which had at its center vocational education at a very young age. And I think what we need in education in the United States and across the world is a focus on this very thing that we’re calling the emergence of thought. And by that I mean through images. It comes at a very early age.
You could say even children have a vision and need to find a way to manifest it through action.
M: Oh, yes.
H: It’s important to work with these kids and help them shape their vision at a very young age so that they don’t get off track at the university system, misled by current trends.
M: This is the first time I’ve heard the German educational system described this way. I hadn’t considered that what the Germans may have indeed been trying to do was to tap into a person’s penchant toward a vocation–defined as you define it.
H: The inner voice, the calling . . .
The University, a Universe of Thought
M: If Germans were doing that, then my hat’s off to them. I just read something the other day where someone asks “What’s the purpose of a university?” And he says, “It’s to make university professors.” It’s all academic, the academy, not about vocation. It’s about making university professors. That’s pretty much what happens if you go through the system–you become a professor.
H: I was reading just the other day, in Chardin, about the meaning of the word university. Of course, it comes from the word universe, which was originally meant to create a cosmology and search for our personal vision of spiritual evolution in the cosmos. More recently I’ve learned that the word comes from Islamic scholars, who imported the notion to Spain.
M: And that would be to discover or nourish one’s vocation. If the Germans were up to that, that’s exactly what’s needed.
H: Van Gogh in his Starry Night got his idea for the portrait from Whitman. Whitman had a cosmology. So he taught Van Gogh. And Van Gogh put it on canvas beautifully, I think. So there’s the cosmology right there for you: a universe of thought.
M: Um. Let’s see where that’s leading us.
H: Why don’t you round it off for us?
M: OK. I was surprised. Why did you bring up Chardin? You were working on something. How does Chardin figure into it?
The Coming of the Cosmic Christ
H: My friend Matthew Fox wrote a book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, which I just reviewed, and I wanted to trace the origins of the phrase Cosmic Christ to its foremost thinker. So Chardin really should get a lot of credit for the birth of the idea. Matthew Fox has a late chapter where he talks about that and he of course takes Chardin much further.
M: So writing that review refreshed you on Chardin.
H: I’m bringing it up here with you because I think it’s very important in our talks on the unity of the cosmos and to get back to the idea of the Field, and the role of thinking in helping to move towards the future of humankind. I know you don’t like to look into the future, futurity.
In the Pregnant Moment
M: I guess that’s right. I tend to think the future will take care of itself. What we do now is in the now and must be given full attention. If we do it well, then whatever future there may be is best served.
H: In the moment, yes, but I do think there is futurity in the pregnant moment, that there’s a pregnancy of ideas. Chardin is so very optimistic about the future, you know. He is a breath of fresh air! In Hymn of the Universe he says: “Let us forget for a moment the details of the economic crisis, the political tensions, the class-struggles which block out our horizon, and let us climb high enough to gain an inclusive and impartial view of the whole process of hominization”. That’s beautiful!
M: Yes, that’s well put. Like a fertilized egg. There’s a futurity in that! In fact, I brought along a couple of pithy quotes from Chardin. They’re sort of like koans that one can ponder. He says, if you want to influence the future, help the kids who are coming along right now.
H: That’s the whole vocation of your work in Critical Thinking and in first-and second-semester English. You were influencing these kids . . .
The Golden Glow at the Heart
H: So he’s looking to the Pacific. He’s looking west. And in another poem I sent to you,,“Dialogues with a Master,” when I was writing to you back in the 90s when we got started with these dialogues, right around the time you were retiring, that metaphor was already there for me as the Golden Gate. I think there is something about the parallels we see that amaze me. If you look at the Buddha, the magnificent art with Buddha with the golden halo, it’s the same as the halo of Christ–the golden glow. It’s really from the heart, connecting the fourth chakra to the seventh, this connectivity between thought and feeling is really what the golden glow at the heart of matter is all about.
M: Yes, marvelously integrated, isn’t it?