Dialogue # 9: The Physicality of Thought: Intuition, The Benign Indifference of the Cosmos, Thought Towers, and the Spirit in the Stone

June 5, 2012

[In this wide-ranging dialogue, I ask Steven to think through with me the idea that thought – whatever comes into one’s head – is physical, not ephemeral but as physical as anything else we can touch.  We had talked when we last met about Teilhard de Chardin’s view that spirit and matter are one thing.  Chardin was a Jesuit and his metaphor of  The Cosmic Christ – if valid — would somehow have to work for thinkers who may not be Christians. We talk about the role of intuition in all this and how we move from intuition to concrete metaphors. We spent some time as well with the West Coast poets of spiritual democracy: Joaquin Miller, William Everson, and others.]

M: I’d like to pick up from where we left off last time concerning Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas about the physicality of thought and its role in this whole process of bringing into the physical realm the intuitions we get of spiritual reality.           As you know, he thought of it a  a cosmic spirit, or specifically a ‘Cosmic Christ,’ Let’s see if we can wrap some words around the idea and  see if we can integrate the spiritual and the physical. Of course, you know that I see no separation; they are simply verbal perspectives, the attempt to get a grasp of how it all works.  But all separations are made up by us; they can’t possibly exist outside of our linguistic distinctions. Oh, and I guess I’d better add that language  is indeed physical, too, so it also is an aspect of the totality.  I hadn’t  really  articulated thought in that way, as a truly useful device for getting at what’s going on in the world. We only touched on that in our last two dialogues.

But all separations are made up by us; they can’t possibly exist outside of our linguistic distinctions.

H: That’s an important point you’re making. That’s what I was trying to get across when I quoted the Jeffers poem “Rock and Hawk.”

M: As you said. You made a good point right there.

Thought incarnated in Ssone

Jeffers’ tide-worn stones

H: The symbol of the Hawk Tower, which Jeffers built at Point Carmel from tide-worn stones of grey and white granite, works as metaphor for what we were speaking about.  Later in the poem Jeffers says, “I think.”

M. Right. There’s something about thought , , .

H. Incarnated in the stone. It enabled him to ground his intuition in physical reality.

M: So you could say the artist is tinkering with the universe and as I call it, the physicality of thought, how to deliberately set yourself up so that thought can be grounded.

H: It gets back to Chardin’s The Heart of Matter, the Spirit in the stone.

M: Yes, yes.

H: Back to the ideas that are embedded in material reality and within the atoms of the body that built Hawk Tower.

M: Yes. I think we could spend a few more minutes next time bringing that to the fore.

Philosophers’ towers in stone

H: That’s Whitman again: “I am the poet of the soul,” of course, but “I am the poet of the body” also, the idea that one is speaking thoughts of the body. Jung, of course, explains this brilliantly in his theory of psychological types just before he began constructing his own Tower at Bollingen. If you’re an intuitive type, then the opposite function is sensation, which connects you to the body, the Earth, the sense of one’s own physical ground.  That’s as we were talking before about the interesting coincidence that Jeffers  built a tower, and so did Jung. There’s something about building.

M: Jung built a tower?

H: His tower is on the Lake of Zurich. I’ll show you a picture. It’s a gorgeous thing. Jung was like Jeffers; he built a stone structure to express his spirit in matter.

Jung’s tower

M: With his own hands.

H: Yes. He was a stone mason.

M: [Laughs] That’s wonderful! During England’s darkest hours, Churchill took up building brick walls at Checkers. Well, well.  We do need to ground ourselves, don’t we!?

Yeats’s tower– “One has a vision”

H: They built towers. There’s something about the need to ground the intuitive vision in material reality that relates to what we have been saying about the golden glow. Yeats of course built an impressive tower too.

Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers

M: Hmm. I’m thinking about the man who built the Watts Towers, Simon Rodia. He built three towers out of rebar and cement and bits of glass from Coke bottles and whatever he found around his little house back up against the railroad tracks. These towers were so big–right there in the Watts area where the riots were.  Later, the city decided they were a hazard, so they sent their crane to pull them down. Art lovers were up in arms, of course, but the city went ahead anyway. But the cranes couldn’t pull them down. They themselves started to tip over. So they decided to leave them. They are still there.

H: Oh, that reminds me. I want to give you something and see what your reaction is. It’s for your back yard or your house or whatever you want to do with it. That’s green serpentine from Mt. Shasta, right out of the volcanic geological structures up  there.  I thought, well, Clark might like that.

M: Well, well.  What a neat piece of nature!

A kind of energy in a rock

[Clark later made it into a piece of sculpture that he has on a table in his breakfast room.]

The therapeutic energy of rock

H: There’s a kind of energy in rock, a kind of healing energy in it…

Getting back to what we were just talking about, I finished a review this week for the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion on Chardin’s  view of the  Cosmic Christ.  I didn’t get The Future of Man in my review. But it sounds as if you feel after reading it that he’s moved away from the traditional language of Christianity and become spiritually democratic.

M: I think he’s opened it up. That’s my impression.

H: I’m going to give it a good read and then let’s explore that insight further.

M: The last chapter, the one he wrote just before his death is the one I focused on.  I have to tell you, though, my non-scholarly way of understanding the world.  You not only have explored a hundred times, maybe a thousand times, more material than I ever have or will and have done  it to such a degree and depth–and remember it all!  I can’t and don’t want to do that! I’m always  impressed!  You say, “Well, now, that piece by Whitman came  out in 1855, in July, it had been sunny, etc.”

H:      [Laughs.]

Intuition and the “facts”

M: I could never bring myself to do that, much less retain the details. That’s just not the way I live. What I do is gather some stuff to work on in my  mind, and then I fiddle around, apparently, and get the feel of it, and I do that till all the pieces fall into place and it feels right. That brings us back to intuition–what you were saying about when you were a young college student in Everson’s course “Birth of a Poet.” You were probably doing what I do all my life–intuiting. Then, as Thoreau might put it, having built the castle in the air, I go about putting the foundation under it. That’s what you’ve been doing in your academic work, putting the foundation under a vision you had way back then. It’s necessary, too, if you want to get the stodgy establishment to pay attention. They say, “Give me the facts.”

H: [Laughs.] I think that’s what Jung tried to do as a scientist, to get the facts out there and make sure he was speaking in the contemporary language that Chardin was so versed in, as a scientist and a theologian, only Jung did it through psychiatry.

M: Chardin had no problem with Darwinism.

 H: He could go back and forth without effort.

M: Steven, let me take a tangent here before I forget it. It’s about the Spirit needing a physical structure. It’s from a Colin Wilson idea I excerpted for Image. The general idea is that this structure the Spirit is walking around in has a tremendous influence on how you look  out  on the world and what you do.

This physical body is a spaceship, as I described it in our last dialogue, and it powerfully influences the Spirit that inhabits it.  If  something goes  wrong with the  mechanism, which might be the case for most of the  human race— most of us have some kind of interference  going on—it’s interfering with your capacity to think clearly. It could be joint and muscle pain or a visit of an alien force, as Wilson characterized it in The Mind Parasites. But for the Spirit to have a place to live, it has to have a physical structure. It can’t just be virtual; it has to unite with the physical; it can’t just be out there in the ether. There’s a real symbiotic relationship between them. Even though it seems like they are separate, there can’t be separateness, as we both know.  It’s all merged—and has to be.  We  may imagine  them separate and create language in order to try to see how it works, but beyond language, they are one thing. Our words are simply metaphors to allow us to explore what’s going on.

Well, I did want to get that idea in. Can you retrieve what you were saying about intuition earlier?

H: I was thinking about the address that I’ll be giving in Santa Cruz, at the Centennial Conference on Bill Everson. And I remembered that in 1860 that . . .

M: April 16 at 3:15 in the afternoon, , . [Both laugh.]

H: Well, speaking of synchronicity, it’s actually Section 14 of “Chants Democratic.” [Clark laughs.] that Whitman wrote in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, what he called the cornerstone for his “The New Bible.” There are four lines in Whitman’s epic I will cite in my opening speech as MC at the one hundredth anniversary of Everson’s birth. They are from “Poets to Come!”: “Poets to come! / Not to-day to justify me, and Democracy, and what we are for, / But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known, / You must justify me”. Whitman goes on, but I’m going to stop with that, because it is basically an announcement, speaking of intuition, that there would be poets who would come, like Miller, Jeffers, Everson, California poets, West Coast poets, people on the West Coast who would be writing after Walt. He has another song, “A Song for California,” and he starts looking at the West Coast at that point as an answer to his call for poets of the great idea of Spiritual democracy.

M: Had he ever been out here?

Joaquin Miller

M: OK, what are his dates!? [Laughs.]

H: Well, Miller wrote probably his most famous work, Life Amongst the Modocs published in England in the early 1870s. [Clark laughs.]

M: So he was writing here in Mt. Shasta, San Francisco, and Oakland, California.

H: He was in the Mt. Shasta region at the time.

M: It was published in England.

H: Yes.

M: So he had some international interest in his work.

H: He had gone  to England and had an editor there.

M: What sort of a person was he?

H: Cincinnatus Hiner Miller? He took the name Joaquin from Joaquin Murrieta, the famous Mexican bandito.

M: Excuse me a minute, but the other thing is he was living here right after the Civil War. This might have just become an American territory? When did it become a US possession?

H: Well, after the war with Mexico in 1848, when Texas was annexed and also New Mexico and later California.

M: Yeah. I asked because I was trying to get the feel of his circumstances.

H: He came west in a covered wagon and settled with his family in Oregon. He became a lawyer there and later a judge. Then he came to the Mt. Shasta region to become a gold miner and married the daughter of a Wintu  chief and  had a daughter by her who  he  named CaliShasta. He fought in the Modoc wars on the side the Modocs and another time on the side  of the cavalry.]

M: I don’t know anything about the Modoc Wars.

California, The West Coast, Pacific Basin Poetry

H: It’s one of the most unsung wars in US history.  The Modocs actually held off the US rangers for over six months  in the  lava beds of Northern California.  I’ve  been there  with Lori. It’s a beautiful place. Miller crossed the line.  He  went back and forth, first for the cavalry and then for the Modocs. So he really represented a revolutionary figure in American poetry.  As Everson says, in his book Archetype West: The Coast as a Literary Region,  Joaquin Miller represents the inception point for the Western archetype in California, West Coast, Pacific Basin poetry. He’s the first poet in whom this Western literary region became internationally known, and his book  was  quite well  known in 1873.  He  was more  famous than Walt Whitman at the time.

M: As you describe him, I would say he’s the embodiment of the California spirit–the independence of thought, this willingness  to innovate, to stretch out beyond our limits.  That’s  a California way of thinking.

H: Yes.

M: When we moved to the Bay Area from Pennsylvania, it drove my family back East nuts! They thought I had gone native! [Laughs.]

H: So Whitman, in a sense, in this poem was calling the California poets, poets of the West, poets to come, sounding a call to California as a region.

M: So, let’s see how Whitman came to this view.

The Pacific vision

H: Because of his eagle intuition. He had an intuition that great things would happen in the West. That really comes forward in his poem “Song of the Redwood Tree,” where  he  speaks of the men and women of the Western shore who  are the  future development of these States. So democracy itself, he felt, would evolve to a spiritual level in the West Coast. This is not New Age. This is not Theosophy. It’s not Emersonian transcendentalism. This is Whitman’s intuition of a future society that would take the principles of democracy to a new level of religious experience, Varieties of Religious Experience, as William James put it, on the West Coast, that would not just be up in the air, as Thoreau said, but grounded in the Earth.

M: This puts it all together. The connections are clear.

H: Well, Everson says Jeffers was really our greatest spokesman for this Pacific vision, in Carmel. He’s really our greatest environmental poet. I received an email last night from John Cusatis, who’s putting together a program for next year’s Asilomar conference  for the Robinson Jeffers Association to mark the one hundredth anniversary of Jeffers first book of poems, Flagons and Apples. I plan to submit a proposal because, after John Muir, he was our greatest ecological poet. He’s our poet of the Earth. And Everson comes out of that tradition.

M: Yes. I think your paper would show how it all fits together.

H: Also it welcomes poets in the audience at UC Santa Cruz, because a lot of those poets will resonate with this notion of calling to the poets to come.  I was  thinking about what  you said in a previous chat about Robinson Jeffers  writing prose, his  poetry being prose.  It’s interesting how subjective the evaluation is of poetry, how a certain taste for poetry develops according to the temperament, perhaps the psychological type and feeling, of the reader.

M: Absolutely. But to be accurate, I think his poetry is crafted, deliberately, to sound unlike “poetry.” It seems to me, if I’m right, that the poetic line had to jolt the habit of thinking that people would bring to a poem, to wake us up!

A bolt of universal energy

H: So there are many things going on in these different poets. It gets back to what we were talking about regarding teaching–and literature and writing and  college English classes.  How a teacher who doesn’t like a particular style can really injure  that student  through carelessness is something I have been pondering, the impact of it on the vocational sense, the futurity of the archetype groping for the right teacher to switch it on and electrify the student with a bolt of universal energy, awaken the mind, which is not going to happen if the teacher is careless.

M: Yes.

H: For example, that Shakespeare teacher I had at the college, and I certainly got the hell out of there. [Both laugh.]

M: I think that was a very good thing that happened to you. It made you break away from the habit students have of accepting without questioning the authority of a teacher.  It  provides you an independence; you take charge of your own life.

Structured to love freedom

H: I think you’re on to it.   In “Shine, Republic” Jeffers  wrote: “And you, America, that passion made you. You  were not  born to prosperity; you were born to love freedom. / You did not say ‘en masse,’ you said ‘independence.’ By en masse he  meant Whitman, I think, for Walt was writing for the masses. Jeffers was writing for the individual, the individual who goes  his own way, and like Thoreau, embodies that spirit of freedom, which is so deeply American.

M: That’s true. We do embody what those writers back East like Thoreau were articulating, perhaps never taking it to the extremes.

H: Well, Whitman did. He said, “I am the poet of the body. I am the poet of the soul that extends to the whole Cosmos.”

M: He was a real anomaly. Well, come to think of it, there was Melville too.

H: Dickinson also. She was showing us how to become free and liberated in poetry and life too.

M: Right, and what a nerve she had, to write the way she did.

H: She did!

M: She wasn’t ruled at all by the conventions of the craft.  She  dared to put it down the  way she wanted. These dashes all through the poetry! You have to read it out loud to know how it works.

H: I was thinking again about what you said in an earlier talk about Jeffers’ style being more prose-like than like poetry. You know, there’s the marvelous poem–I think you’ve read it– called “Rock and Hawk.” I thought we might speak a little bit about it, unless you’d like to discuss something else.

Intuition of the Cosmic Christ

M: Well, I’d like to pursue intuition a bit more and then let’s look at “Rock and Hawk.” Let’s see how it fits in with Chardin’s metaphor of the Cosmic Christ. I’m sure that we understand things  intuitively before we do intellectually.  Always.  We have bits and pieces  floating around in our heads. Then there’s the coalescence and, Pow! Now you have it intuitively.

Then you convert that into thought–which is what Chardin’s talking about–which is as you know an actual physical electrical flash of energy, impulses being created, codifying this insight. Little electronic impressions, like digital recording. That then has created an area in the universe where this stuff has a place to sit.

So you gather all this stuff together, you get this intuition and you say, “Let’s go down in the cave and get this onto the wall. And what do we see there? We get the starry universe again. We get this explosion of red hot light: “a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! Falls, galls itself and gashes gold vermilion.” This is Gerard Manly Hopkins talking about Christ in “The Windhover.” But he’s transformed Christ into the Cosmic Christ. It’s a gorgeous metaphor, but he’s also going right back to sub-atomic physics.

The mad world of abstract thinking

So we have all this tied  together.  And all connected, in my  way of thinking, to intuition, which is a major element of this process. Intellectually, you can do all sorts of Frankensteinian manipulations, but it’s all artificial. There has to be this explosion of insight somehow. If you think you can think  your way through an understanding of anything simply by abstract thinking, in a superficial way, with no emotion involved, you’re a monster. This is what we have in American politics right now with maybe fifty  to fifty-one  percent  living in that mad world and extremely dangerous. So we have this yin and yang thing going on in the United States right now. It’s pretty scary.

The other possible outcome is what you’ve been saying. You have this spiritual democracy that could come out of this conflict and maybe stronger than it was before. Meanwhile we have people defining rape in an impersonal Frankensteinian way, totally devoid of the empathetic element.

So that’s the intuition aspect. There’s more to say, but that gives you an overview of how I’m thinking about what we’ve been discussing. These explosions of insight like Mavis Gallant and Jane Goodall and all those others.

The Divinization of Consciousness

H: Well, I think that the metaphor of cosmic explosion is a good one.  Chardin’s  metaphor of the Cosmic Christ is beautiful.  For Chardin the  Divine  is  the  “combined  essence of all evil and all goodness,” filled with compassion as well as with endless universal “violence” Teilhard’s image of Divinity can be traced in the human psyche to what I have called after Bill Everson and Don Sandner the primal  shamanic archetype, which is at the center of all religions.  This  gives a psychological grounding to the  history of the archetype’s emergence  at a critical period of the approximately 30,000 BC, a crucial time in human evolution when we witness a sudden explosion of consciousness, which we see, for instance with the proliferation of shamanistic art in the cave paintings in Southern France.

Getting back to your point about intuition, Chardin was writing at the same time Jeffers was. He died on Easter Sunday in 1955. Jeffers died in 1962, so they were contemporaries. Jeffers wrote his poem ‘The Great Explosion” shortly after Chardin’s death. When you think of Christ, you think of Jesus, and Jesus was the Lord of Love.

What do you think of Christianity, Mr. Shaw?

I think it’s a good idea. Someone ought to try it sometime.

M: And there are people who see the Christian God as just the opposite.  As some kind of stern, cruel tyrant who’s restricting you from doing anything.  And you are  reviled if you don’t follow every edict. That’s any fundamentalist–no matter what church, for that matter– view that’s not based on the bedrock of the Earth, be it in science, the arts–any view not grounded in the sub-atomic field. So fundamentalists forget all about the Lord of Love. For me, when I was growing up, that was the basic metaphor. I sensed that long before I began exploring it. It’s a good idea. Someone ought to try it sometime, as Shaw said.

H: You know, Jeffers wrote about the symbolism of God and thinking in his wonderful poem “Rock and Hawk” and I want to get it into our discussion, because he mentions the cross, and creates his own new emblem, based on the bedrock of the Earth as you say, represented by Hawk Tower:

Rock and Hawk

Fierce consciousness joined with final disinterestedness

Of course, this poem is about Hawk Tower. In the fourth verse he says something very interesting, “I think.” There’s the thought based on a sudden intuition of some cosmic explosion still visible in traces of white sea-granite and black crystal embedded in stone. Here  is the bedrock symbol, the intuitive image and then something spiritual comes into thought. “I think, here is your emblem / To hang in the future sky.” Hawk Tower has become his new symbol for God incarnated in an architectural form, but it has wings. The wings and consciousness of his totem animal, the hawk: “Fierce consciousness joined with final / Disinterestedness.”

M: I think it’s Chardin perhaps who also talks about this disinterestedness.

H: Yes, disinterestedness.

M: People thought when I used to talk about the benign indifference of the universe that Camus described that it’s like you don’t care, that you’re saying, “Well, let everything go.

But that’s not really itIt’s a benign indifference.  It’s a willingness to witness this universe in a kind of envelope of assurance. But go on with the poem.

It’s a benign indifference.  It’s a willingness to witness this universe in a kind of envelope of assurance.

H: Yes. He says, “Life with calm death; the falcon’s / Realist eyes and act / Married to the massive / Mysticism of stone.”

The Massive Mysticism of Stone

M: Massive mysticism of stone

H: Mysticism of bedrock.

M: Yes, because right within that stone, think about the fiery atom, think about what’s in that stone, that barely imaginably small atom compressing such a huge force of energy.

H: Cosmic energy, black crystal, dark matter.

M: That’s a well put poem. That force is captured in the poem.

H: And then he says, “Which failure cannot cast down / Nor success make proud.” Those are the final lines, and  that’s  a powerful punch line  at the end, because in a sense that was Jeffers’s fate. He was fated to suffer crucifixion on the cross of his destiny. He  is really speaking about the need to hold the opposites between one’s fate and destiny. Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “Be not moved in success or failure.” That is disinterestedness. That is what Meister Eckhart and the Buddha call detachment, which both agree is the highest virtue.

The freedom not to be scared

M: Yes, it’s there. You would think that every kid coming out of high school ought to at least know that last line you just quoted. They ought to at least know that, really know it, and have come face to face with their circumstance. That’s what the rites of passage are designed to provide. So in the physical world, when things  don’t work, that’s  OK, because you can see  it in the context of the cosmos, in the fire of the atom. You have to know your own death is OK. You don’t say, “I give up.” No. It’s a liberation. It’s a freedom not to be scared anymore.

So when I used to talk about this benign indifference, some of the kids would think  I was talking about some sort of nonchalance toward events, of being withdrawn from full participation in the physical world, just letting things go–I don’t need to do anything about what’s going on. No, you fully release yourself into the  process.  You push that rock up the hill, but you don’t kid yourself that you’re getting anywhere. You know full well it’s going to roll back down. But the work itself is what you’re doing; it’s not about some  future outcome. It’s not for something else, not for the future. And it’s as you were saying last time about the pregnancy of the moment–which made it good  for me  to articulate my sense about what  I think about the future and why I don’t spend a lot of time on it, because it seems to me here is where I work. My work impregnates this moment, bearing fruit if it wishes. Lots of times it doesn’t. The seed could fall on barren ground. Etc, etc., etc. That’s irrelevant. You do your work here, and you don’t say, “Oh, boy, am I doing good work.” You just can’t help yourself. The work is too compelling, too much fun, really–or maybe joyous is a better word for it.

Finding a way to let love in

So I think you have to be having a hell of a wonderful time. If you’re not absorbed in what you’re doing, you’d better go  back and figure  out how to let joy in. You see people huffing and puffing at their jobs, and you think, “You know, you could go in the back room and think, ‘This  is where  I am now,’” and then come back out and do your work with pleasure.

Because that’s all there is to it. There isn’t such a thing as a bad job if you look at it that way.

You may get tired and your bones will beg for mercy, but that’s irrelevant. [Both laugh.] However, I don’t know of any way to deal with debilitating pain and do what we’re talking about. Maybe we should talk about that.

H: You know, I have some personal experience with this from my conversations with William Everson at the end of his life. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. And poor Whitman suffered from a terrible stroke in 1873 that pretty much paralyzed a good half of his body. He recovered partially from it. But he continued to write poetry right to the end and good prose,  too, brilliant essays. Everson did as well. He was able to pursue his vision in those conversations to the end. I admire that.

M: You could add to that this the wonderful astronomer, Stephen Hawking, too, who contracted ALS— amyotrophic lateral sclerosis— Lou Gehrig’s disease, when he was quite young. He ended up with only his mind and a device invented for him that could speak his words. And he continued to produce profound work in astronomy. If you’d like to talk about people who continued their work long after their bodies had abandoned them, there’s a third one.  Or, Helen Keller, and Christopher Hitchins,  who  died of cancer this year and  wrote about the process of dying. Here’s my issue: If Whitman’s  stroke was  hurting him, if Everson’s Parkinson’s was painful . . .

H: You’re talking about real physical pain here.

M: Yes. Or even something like Flu.

H: That’s different.

M: But a difference that has to be thought through. Does it represent an aspect of our being that we are like “playthings to the Gods”? Bum deal. I don’t see a way out of it! Something that’s really demanding your attention so that your brain can’t think about anything but the thing that’s taken over your body. I do admire people like Everson and Hawking. I think I might get enraged if I had to put up with that. I’m not too sure I’d  soldier  on. That would be my shortcoming. But when you are actually suffering pain, say, they’re torturing you, you don’t have time for mentation. Well, maybe you do, maybe some true spirit might be able to do that. I don’t think I could. At any rate, in the course of our dialogue, we could take up that kind of issue, some powerful overriding force invading the sanctity of the body. Perhaps we need a tremendous amount of compassion in that situation. And this could include mental intrusions, maybe pressures from other people that enter the mind and  distract it.

H: I have a good friend who’s very ill right now, and there’s no way he could think much. He’s suffering too much.

M: People will come in and say, “Come on, cheer up.” Humph. That muscle and joint pain I went through just recently and then the complete absence of it, that is providing me a lot of food for thought. Sure, I’d had aches and pains over a lifetime, and more as I advanced in age, but this was an onslaught and then sudden absence.

The other thing is that with my renewed feeling of well-being I feel like doing things, projects around the house, making a built-in cabinet in the kitchen, painting all the kitchen cabinets white because they were so drab—all the things a healthy body favors, including things of the mind.

So my point is that having good physical health can set the stage for active participation in shaping one’s interconnection with everything. I think we are all designed for such a life. That’s what I want to explore.

H: When you have that kind of health, the energy of the psyche wants to , , .

M: Wants to get going.

H: Wants to be creative in all aspects.

 M: Exactly. That’s it.

H: I’ve been doing some work on the house myself this weekend, and it felt really good. So I think you’re really right.

The puzzle we’ve been working on

M: I think building a cabinet is  just as  good as making a poem. In fact, it is a poem. Like Jeffers working on his house, his tower—he knew the connection. It’s  what you said, the drive to make, to create. That’s and important piece of the puzzle we’ve been working on.

Imagination, the divine faculty that penetrates basic image

H: Getting back to this idea of intuition that we’ve been pursuing and Whitman’s idea of the poets to come, and putting this centennial conference on for Everson in Santa Cruz and Berkeley, I’m thinking it’s time for me to start getting my  poetry together and working it up for a book. Till now, my contribution has been mainly in the analytical psychological field. I think we’re in an age now in which everybody can write poetry. I wrote a poem about this called “Psychological Age.” It’s a matter of making use of that right hemisphere and allowing the imagination and the intuition to have their say and not giving them a secondary role.

Wallace Stevens  said: Imagination is the  only clue to  Reality, the  artifice of life; imagination is the divine faculty that penetrates  basic images, and emotions; in fact, imagination composes  a poetry so fundamental and basic, that it may penetrate to what is most ancient, more

Ancient even than the ancient world; imagination is the faculty by which we import the unreal into the Real, he continues; imagination is the chief image, the only genius, the divine  power, that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal.

The nurturing of intuition

M: Hmm. Yes.  That’s exactly what education should be fostering.  I thought it was  a nice point you made about intuitively understanding things while you were in college, the intuitive understanding. I started thinking that if you could put kids in situations where they got really used to doing that and trusting it, you’d pretty much have done your job. Then to liberate the right hemisphere and allow it to cooperate with the left so that the two work in concert, now you have a powerful human being. And actually, I think that’s pretty easy to do, if you know that that’s what the game is. What if you had a whole society that did that, kids coming out of school, saying, “Oh, I know how to do this,” and knowing how to make it happen? Wouldn’t that be great?

H: Well I think that was Carl Jung’s life project: teaching us how to think intuitively and in a sensate way that unites the opposites. He began in 1912, after his break with Freud.  Symbols of Transformation’s opening chapter is on two kinds of thinking. Jung talks about fantasy thinking and directed thinking. He’s talking about right-and-left-brain thinking. Now, with Robert Ornstein and the research into the bicameral brain, the two lobes and how they work together, we understand this interplay much better. Jung’s great genius is how he used psychological methods to gain access to the fantasy thinking. I think that was his great contribution to the twentieth century.

M: Yes, I think you could say that. I got some sense of the implications of the bicameral brain from Julian Jaynes’s, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976). I put it in Thinking about Thinking.

H: I think we’re all swimming in those seas now that Jung charted. Everson came out of that ocean. So did Robinson Jeffers. Jeffers read some Freud and Jung.  We  don’t know how much. Maybe with his collected letters being published in three volumes  by Stanford it’s going to become clearer.

M: Actually, you don’t have to read a lot to get his basic idea.

A universe of absolute beauty

H: Jeffers may have read Symbols of Transformation. In “Rock and  Hawk,”  for example, there’s the opening line, “Here is a symbol in which / Many high tragic thoughts / Watch their own eyes.” He says “Not the cross, not the hive,” etc. He’s making a statement there about replacement. He is replacing the cross with his own personal symbol of a tower, Hawk Tower–which was really an astronomical observatory on the Pacific coast where he could see the vastness of the ocean and look up at the stars at night. You don’t see the cross up there, or Christ, unless you use your imagination like Chardin did. What Jeffers saw was a universe of absolute beauty, of constellations, endless star-swirls or galaxies. His brother was an astronomer at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. Hubble came  to visit  him at Hawk Tower and lived in Carmel not far from Tor House.

  • [Ewin Hubble (1889—1953) was instrumental in establishing the field of extragalactic astronomy and developing the theory of an expanding universe; he was the creator of the cosmic distance scale. Hubble made use of the 100-inch Hooker Telescope, the largest telescope in the world from 1917 to 1948, on Mount Wilson near Pasadena, California.] 
–100 inch Hooker Telescope

Jeffers’s intuition was very forward looking, because he was one of the poets-to-come Whitman had called for and was writing in the same cosmic tradition. He  was looking for a new symbol or an emblem for himself to replace the symbol of Christ, who as he says had been his father’s lord and captain all his life. He said, “I found my bedrock, my spirit in the stone, now let the people find theirs.” So this  idea of the cornerstone–he  had found the  rock, the stone of his own house that he could build on and he says so. He was building on the Christian myth. His father was a linguist and theologian near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he studied the Old and  New Testaments and  was quite a learned man.  But Jeffers  really wanted to go his own way and build on the cornerstone of American democracy. He believed in religious freedom and thought it was  his  task to  replace  the cross with his  own emblem, symbol, or what I would call his personal theology of the universe.

M: I do think we are destroying ourselves and I get a bit depressed sometimes, but then I cheer up. It’s all going to fall apart anyway. This planet will disintegrate. Even the atom decays.

Chardin was talking about it in that piece I mentioned. It’s almost another way of looking at this “benign indifference,” really. Maybe we only have a few trillion years left.

H: I like to think  of that kind of detachment as a way in which we  can stay true  to our vision  of integrity. You have one vision; you want  another.  In order to have another, you have  to stay true to the  first one.  Detachment or indifference is a way the  intuitive introvert stays true to his or her vision. Nevertheless, I think responsibility to the Earth is something we have to embrace, the way to try to heal the Earth from the vast devastation that’s happening all around us is through sacrifice.

M: I’ll say.

H: In whatever way we can. Through these chats, these dialogues, we are trying to do our modest parts in trying to be shepherds of the Earth. I think Chardin’s helped focus us.

M: It’s a good time for Chardin to come into our discussion; it’s not anything new really but it’s so well-articulated that it illuminates what we’re exploring. I want to also throw in here, when we’re thinking about the two hemispheres of the in brain, or the conscious and not- conscious, that one of the very lucid descriptions of how this works is Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight. Her description of cosmic unity as a stroke victim is extremely persuasive in describing how these things work. It puts it in a nice physical package so that anybody could grasp it. If you want to talk about Jungian psychology, you have to at least bring in the physical structure of the brain and how the two hemispheres deal with the world. Her talk at TED gives a vivid image to examine and then work from there. When I started reading about the two hemispheres years ago, that was all rather vague among people who  were talking about it. But it’s becoming much, much clearer as thinkers and scientists are unraveling the mechanism. It’s not a theory someone dreamed up. It’s an actual physical reality. It’s how we function.  The one side  places you in the  cosmos, and the other side adapts that to doing your taxes.

The other thing I’d like to explore for a moment is Sidney Field’s little book about Krishnamurti. As you probably know, some Europeans brought Krishnamurti over to England from India when he was just nine. They felt he was a seer and a guru with great potential, perhaps a Buddha. Annie Besant, a British Theosophist, became his legal guardian and was his close friend and supporter. Years later, she died and people were taken aback that he wasn’t sitting around  mourning her.  From his  perspective this was in the pattern of things.

H: I think his spirituality was transformative. He  was onto some  remarkable  truths.  I think what you’re saying is absolutely right… I just had an interesting experience with the Poet Laureate of Indiana, who is a friend of mine  now, Norbert Krapf.  I reviewed one of his  books, a really good book of poetry. He edited a poem of mine for me that I’m going to read at the centennial, “Standing at the Coffin,” which is about being at the funeral for Everson. I had put “Friends, when you’re with him in that state, tears well into your eyes.” Now, as an editor and as a quite well-known poetry teacher on Long Island, now retired–he substituted the word moisture where I had written tears: “moisture wells  into  your eyes.”  I thought that was brilliant; because he wanted make sure I was true to the metaphor of my experience. Not everybody’s in tears at a funeral.  Some people have  moisture in their eyes, because  it brings up a certain sadness that this person has passed, but not everybody’s in grief.

M: That fits perfectly what  I’m trying to get at: that’s an authentic  and accurate description. We need that clarity in all of what we experience. There is the experience and then there is an attempt to put it into accurate thought.

We need that clarity in all of what we experience. There is the experience and then there is an attempt to put it into accurate thought

H: I think that what we’re talking about is a very important point. It’s one thing to have moisture in your eyes and to miss somebody, out of love, because that moisture is love, isn’t it?

M:  I think  that’s  a precise understanding of what’s  going on, a tenderness, in this case toward a  particular person, but it’s very like a recognition of a maple  leaf, as Archibald Macleish put  it in “Ars Poetica”: “For all the history of grief / An empty doorway and a maple leaf.” Life  in its cycle. All kinds of feelings–they’re  valuable, if they  are  understood, if you experience them from a solid base. Then you use them, and  you become  better at your life; it improves you.

H: Yes.

M: Somebody’s death can improve us.

H: I’d like to get to the importance of moving on with one’s vocation in life and how it really is a vehicle, or ship, which carries us from one place to another. Whitman thought of it as a sailing vessel, in “Passage to India.” Now, we might think of it as a space ship. The question is whether a  poet of the cosmos can hold  the  universe together with all its various parts as a single  unity. That  is  the  question Whitman leaves us with.

You tides with ceaseless swell! you power  that does  this  work! You unseen force, centripetal, centrifugal, through space’s spread,

Holding the universe with all its parts as one—as sailing in a ship?

M: Maybe Whitman did sail the heavens!

H: His universe was so expansive that he did space travel. You know the shaman engages in what Mircea Eliade calls magic flight. This idea of conscious flight . . .

All Cosmic travelers

M: To nail it down, I’d say we are all cosmic travelers. That may sound poetic, but I mean it in a very physical sense.

“I have cut the meshes and fly like a freed falcon.”

H: Oh, yes. Jeffers has a beautiful passage about this in “The Tower Beyond Tragedy,” when his hero figure, Orestes, says he has cut the meshes and flies like a freed falcon.

M: And we are  these tiny atoms, that you and I represent, and we  are indeed floating around the cosmos, maybe attached to the Earth as one big thing, but not in the sense of the universe. And it in turn is one infinite thing floating around. We are definitely cosmic travelers.

That’s just a physical reality.

H: It’s true. Right before that talk I gave on Whitman at the International House at UC Berkeley, the day of the Egyptian Revolution (2/12/2011), when people were on the streets celebrating, I had that dream I told you about. This woman who was sitting right across from me in a chair had the body of a woman, but she had the head of a spiral galaxy.

M: Wow. You have great dreams. I never have dreams like that.

H: If anybody was cosmic in my dreams after that shaman dream I had, where there was an explosion of light out of a star, it was that galaxy woman, and I think in a way she did in fact came down from a spiral galaxy, which one out of the two-hundred billion of them, I am uncertain, of course, but she came down from out there!

M: Oh, I have to add something here. We watched Philadelphia last night and I have never seen such an encapsulation of everything we’ve been discussing, when Tom Hanks, in the character of Andy who is dying of AIDS has the aria “La Mamma Morta” from Unberto Giordona’s Andrea Chenier playing and walks us through the searing force of grief and its culmination as Love coming down from the heavens and enveloping us. If we want know what holds it all together, it’s there in that aria.

Seed Ideas for the world myth

H: To round this off regarding Jeffers as a  poet-to-come and  the  California  spiritual democracy building here, he didn’t want to just tip his hat to Whitman. For him independence was the real meaning of democracy. So Whitman and Jeffers make a very nice complement around this idea that is part and parcel of the American character, part of the American mythos I’ve studied and that I’ve been writing about, and I think a new psychology of the  West, based in depth psychology, really, a study of the mythopoetic unconscious, needs to rely on its poets  to help forge some seed-ideas about how the American contribution to the world myth, the movement toward a one-world spirit, is part of an ongoing process of evolution that Chardin was writing about, too, this Noosphere he so brilliantly described. There’s something that has been evolving in a spiritual domain that has to do with energy–Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric.” This electrical energy we’ve been talking about in a field of spiritual thought that’s grounded in the body, grounded in instinct, not split off as a New Age kind of sublimation, but something that’s very much part of the Earth.

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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