Dialogue # 12: Immortal Wounds, Transformative Experience, and the Quest for Spiritual Gold

Follow your bliss.

October 30, 2012

[I have long considered coincidence to be much more significant than commonly treated in the United States and perhaps most Western countries– for whom random “clutter” is irrelevant  in daily life.  So, of course, I’ve been asking Steven to take up the question from time to time in these dialogues. I suggested that coincidence may be accounted for scientifically and that we can cultivate, to our advantage, as the Chinese do,  connections among seemingly random events.  The dialogue evolves to the way of life of Native Americans and how it is possible to live in the moment,  particularly  as described by Joaquin Miller and “poets of the now,” such as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.]

The Cloud of Information

McKowen: I’d like to talk a bit more about what are commonly called coincidences. As you know, I told you of several I had had recently. I had been searching for the Marianne Moore quotation that Ferlinghetti used as the preface of his When I Look at Pictures where she says that when she buys a picture it must be “lit with piercing glances into the life of things.” And that led me to browse through Ferlinghetti’s book, and there I ran across the Sorolla painting. Keep in mind that I’ve had this book for twelve years. Well, as I said, this time things started to go click, click, and I went into our bedroom and there was our painting above our bed. It’s a framed print without attribution about 3 by 2, that Ruth had bought on sale from Penney’s years ago.

Space Ship sent to us in 1906 from Joaquin Sorrola

So, if you think about it, the painting over our bed and the  painting in this  book were separate entities.

It’s that instead of floating around as separate spheres of awareness, things separate in my mind bumped into each other. They were separate only because I had boxed them up that way in my mind. 

So here’s what I’m getting at: It’s that instead of floating around as separate spheres of awareness, things separate in my mind bumped into each other. They were separate only because I had boxed them up that way in my mind.  There’s nothing in the network of neurons  in my brain that requires that separation. So this painting over here, that other painting over there, the piercing glances  quote over here, all floating around  but coming closer and closer, and suddenly, Bang! their separate bubbles collided.

Why, who makes much of a miracle? Biarritz 1906

So, I’m thinking that this cloud of information, all my data, contains bubbles of isolates that seem remote until certain things are done which bring them into proximity. That could describe how it is that you could be sitting here and mentally communicating with somebody across the continent.  Again, those things seem distant because we imagine a map–San Francisco to Pittsburgh–but actually it’s a cloud of data right here, right now, encompassing all the data of the cloud. They are only “distant” because we didn’t bring them into proximity. We do something or other, bubbles of data float into proximity, then the merging can occur, and we have “telecommunication.”  Most of us aren’t too damned good at it, but this schematic does fit what we know about the totality of the instant. It’s a matter of our setting things up so that they can come together, unite. The other thing that’s important is that  we have  to know that  that’s  how it works. We can relax, we know what we have to do–sort of like a little magic trick–to make them come into proximity. The mind will take care of the rest. This Sorolla discovery made it clear that the past, as we know, is here in the present. There isn’t anywhere else for it to be! Everything is here in the present. That to me is a fundamental idea. Whew! That’s enough from me. Tell me where you’d like this dialogue to go.


H: That’s a good start. What’s interesting to me is the  associative  process  that  happens  in these chats. I was listening to what you were saying and it was sounding really good, the cloud of information, and I got an image in my mind, when you said that phrase of the front cover of this  book I’ve  been re-reading, Life Amongst the Modocs (1873) by Joaquin Miller. On the front cover is a picture of Mount Shasta with a cloud above it shot from the  southeast corner  of the mountain.

We attract our own weather.

And you’re  right, because I have  that  information from Miller’s  description of his experience with the people of the Shasta region. It’s  still very present, and it’s present in the region. He lived here in Oakland, too, as you know.  That’s the Joaquin Miller Park trail right out from our back patio.

M: Oh, let me interrupt! Because these associations keep popping up. I can barely hold myself back.

H: Go ahead.

M: I saw a documentary recently about the Ponca Indians, and somebody made this extremely important point that ties in with what we’re saying. He said that the Western man carries his history with him. He can pick up and travel and come to America and settle here, and  he brings his history and his culture with him. He said that for the  Indian the  culture is  in the Earth where they are. That’s why they call it sacred. This is where it all takes place. A settler might think, That’s kind of silly. Why don’t you just carry it in your head?

The point is  that it is indeed in the  physical world. You could say that our physical environment creates us. We grow out of it, the way a tree grows out of the land. And it’s reciprocal. You do embed the place where you live and eat and  breathe  with your imprint. You know that Frost poem where he says the land was ours before we were the  land’s? The land was ours before we were the land’s. We came and the land fed us, filled our eyes with its sunsets, its waters, and after a while all our cells are quite literally made up of that nurturing environment. Well, that’s what the Indians commonly understood.

We Attract Our Own Weather.

The other point that you made was about the cloud over Mount Shasta. I’ve observed that phenomenon myself. A huge mountain does make its own weather–just as you and  I attract our own weather. We bring in this stuff, we make these little clouds of information, which attract information that has an affinity for that cloud. The last week or so I’ve been doing this all over the place, and it’s just really fun. It’s especially fun to watch the process while it’s happening and to know how it works.

H: I was thinking about that myself this week, and what’s become clear is that what we’re talking about is the transmission of shamanic knowledge from a region. These people we’re talking about, the Native Americans, the center of their culture was shamanism; their religions were and still are based on the practices of animism and shamanism. The fact that the mind wants to go in its own direction and think its own thoughts, and the comment about Frost there… Frost did get in touch with the shamanistic foundation of the West. We talked about that poem of his that I introduced in one of our chats, “Once by the Pacific.” Joaquin Miller came West from Liberty, Indiana, in a covered wagon with his parents. They settled in Oregon. He came across a number of different Indian tribes along the way. Then, also the Indians of Oregon and of course the tribes of Mount Shasta. You really see the transformation that takes place in his character when he comes into contact with the Indians of the Shasta region, and then lives with them for two years.

Transformative Experience—Base Metal into Gold.

M: Let me interrupt again for a moment. That’s a good point about Miller. After you and I talked about him I read a bit of his biography, and I think he did transform, as Robert Kennedy did, when Kennedy began to know the people of America. He became truly a man for the people. So go ahead with your story.

H: Well, I can talk more about Miller, but I think there’s a big difference between a man like that and someone like Shelley, for example, a poet who lived thirty years, never made it through a mid-life crisis. In his poem “Ode to the West Wind,” he’s onto the theme of the West, and it’s a nice poem, but it’s not going to infuse you with many new ideas, not like Whitman, or Dickinson or Melville.

M: I’ll review that poem latter. How does that fit in with our discussion?

H: In the fifth stanza, Shelly says, “Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is.” That’s a great thing to wish for; it’s another thing to become that lyre and to sing from it, and that’s this actual experience of the aliveness of the West Wind that Dickinson wrote about, and so did Whitman.

I’m thinking about what makes American poetry different and unique? I think it’s the shamanic transmission of knowledge from the region of the West. It creates a different kind of rhythm, a different kind of poetry that’s fused with new ideas that can really take us somewhere. Shelley’s in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, it’s beautifully written, but I don’t read it very often. Yet I can pick up Dickinson and wander through her poetry for hours and hours. The same thing with Whitman. Dickinson really is probably the only poet who can stand shoulder to shoulder with Whitman. So there you go. We’ll talk more about Miller because he’s a very important figure too and he’s been mostly lost to time in the march of history. But he’s right here, in our very own back yard!

M: I’ll say! I doubt not one person in a thousand has heard of him. I wouldn’t know more than his name if I hadn’t been talking with you about him.

H: He’s a very significant figure. The same thing with me, if Everson had never mentioned him to me. Everson thought he represented the inception for the Western archetype.

Transformative Encounters

M: Yes, I would guess your whole world would be different if you hadn’t met Everson. Well, who knows, but he does seem to have been a transformative figure in your life.  He enabled you to focus on and become clearer and clearer about what’s going on in your own development.

You got that powerful experience. It’s amazing to me that a man like him would be hired by the University of California at Santa Cruz. There he is, he’s a former monk, and maybe he’s wonderful, but how did they realize that, those academics?

H: Well, it was a time of experimentation. They were  trying to set up a new style of teaching.  It was a new campus, up in the redwoods overlooking the Pacific. So they wanted someone like that. They wanted a poet in residence. They considered a couple of poets. I think Gary Snyder was one.

M: Oh, well. They were wise, then. Snyder isn’t all that  terrific.  He’s  not  a seminal poet, in my judgment. Your mentioning the mid-life crisis makes  me think  that, while  some  people may  never have to discover their vocation, their bliss as Campbell would call it, and  follow that path from childhood on, the most common experience is to have to pass through some transformative experience. Rites of passage, mid-life crises, and so on.  Snyder fools a lot of people.  He re-packages the fundamental Eastern philosophies, creates pretty imagery and so on, but I don’t feel the  force of a Whitman or a Dickinson.

The Cloud of Affinities

Your center of thought and feeling, your bliss, has attracted to you like a magnet people like Joaquin Miller, Emily Dickinson, and those others we’ve discussed. There’s this gravity that seems to pull them to you right and left. And, lucky me, I’m assimilating your whole package into my own realm. There’s that merger process again. There’s this realm, this cloud of affinities over here, this one over here. There’s this  young man who  was  in my classes when he was eighteen. He goes out assimilating his affinities over the years and then, now, that realm merges with mine. Gee, what a return on my investment! [Laughs]

If we had  to wait  for mathematicians and scientists to figure out the universe, we’d be in a hell of a fix. So there  must be other ways to figure out the universe. And as we know, there are.

There have been a few things I’ve wanted  to  clear up and  understand. Remember,  for example, I said to you recently, isn’t it phenomenal that someone  like Yeats, who  never studied sub-atomic physics, could understand it perfectly and write poems capturing exactly what the scientists are only now nailing down in mathematical formulas? And you said, “Not really.” I think your point, the obvious point, was  that  if we had  to wait  for mathematicians and scientists to figure out the universe, we’d be in a hell of a fix. So there  must be other ways to figure out the universe. And as we know, there are. You can go out into the desert, quite literally in Christ’s case, or sit under a tree as Buddha did, and sit there till it all comes into focus. What’s coming clearer in our case is how we enter the realms of gold. We start a dialogue, skirt around things a bit, and then if things go right you dip into this rich vein of interconnectedness, like floating in a wonderful golden sea.

An Hour-and-a-Half of Dialogue:The Pause That Refreshes

One of the purposes of doing that is that you spend an hour and a half like that and it refreshes you and then you go about your day, but now the day’s enriched and your moments are more intense. Maybe there’s a decay factor, but it stays enhanced for a while. That’s one reason to have a dialogue or to convert cocktail-party chitchat to something deeper than surface features. Then all of a sudden it’s really fun.

H: Yes. You’re circling back to the realms of gold and some of the dialogues we’ve been having about the significance of the West, the sunsets, golden sunsets, the naming of the Golden Gate, Joaquin Miller Park right here, John C. Fremont. The West was invaded by settlers because of gold.

The Metaphor Isn’t the Territory. Or is it?

M: I was going to ask you to take a tangent and talk about the negative aspect of the quest for gold.

H: Well, Miller was part of that. That’s what I wanted to get to. That history is with us, too. What we did to the Indians of the Mt. Shasta region we’re still doing to the environment. Miller came down to the Shasta region to mine gold with a group of twenty-nine men. He was the cook for them, but we know he did do some mining with Mountain Joe, a man he  lived with for a period of time, near the  Klamath River.  But the  main thing I want to get to is what he learned from the Native Americans during the uprising in the very significant year, as you know, 1855, when Whitman published his  Leaves of  Grass, a month before, July 4 in fact, when Whitman published his first volume. Miller fought in the battle of Castle Crags.

An Immortal Wound

He was wounded by an arrow that pierced his cheek, knocked out two teeth and came out through the back of his neck and almost pierced his spinal cord. He survived but they had to pull the arrow on through the back, feathers and all! So that was his shaman’s wound. That was, I think, the transformative moment–when he  suffered a decisive blow to his  Western ego. He was taken care of by Native American women. He later lived for two years with the Indians of the McCloud district.

What he learned was that the Indians had gone on the warpath against the settlers because their main foodstuff, Salmon, their totem and God I might add, were turning up on their bellies because of the strip mining and the filth that was flowing down the rivers and killing the fish, trout, steelhead salmon. The Sacramento, as you know, is one of the largest rivers that flows into the Pacific. We had some of the biggest salmon populations on the Pacific coast, and they spawned all the way up to the source of the river, which is around Shasta. Miller wrote that a horse wouldn’t even cross the river in the  Klamath area it was so thick with salmon, black with crowded salmon spawning there. The killing of that source of food, the Indians’ livelihood, was what sent them on the warpath. So gold had a devastating effect on not only the Indians but on animal life, the mosses, the plant life along the rivers. It destroyed a way of life, for the people, the animals, the elk, the grizzly bear, the wolf. But Miller gives us a history of the gold mining era through poetry that is priceless because it recounts the history through tragedy. He was more famous in London than Walt Whitman at the time. He’s very interesting in that he records the shadow side of the realms of gold.

There’s the material aspect of the realms for you. The Indians called it the yellow metal. To them it didn’t hold the significance it does for the greedy White Man. Miller brought all that history down with him when he settled in Oakland eventually. I think that history is still with us. What we did to the redwoods  is an example  of that kind of 49er craze. They needed to build San Francisco. So they butchered all the redwoods. It’s  interesting how gold  played a part in that environmental destruction that has led, fortunately, to the Sierra Club and other movements springing up to fight against this tendency at the economic level of democracy, so that we might remember the  spiritual democracy of the  land, the  connection among all things. I think it’s the shamanic foundation that Miller was writing out of, after his transformation, after his shaman’s wound. He changed; his whole character changed after his injury.

M: Yes. That’s very clear.

H: I think that was an important moment in Western poetry. He represents something of a shift of consciousness. He’s known for being a great champion of trees. He is responsible for Arbor Day in California. The trees  in the  Presidio were a  result of Miller’s efforts  in talking with City planners about how to make it more beautiful. So those are a few ideas about why I think Miller is significant. He brings the history of what we did to the Indians in this one book, Life Amongst the Modocs, to light in such a way that we cannot forget the tragedy.

The Immortal Wound: Bobby had been a ruthless politician, but he became a true advocate for spiritual democracy.

M: Yes. He embodies both sides of the coin. As  I was saying earlier, that sort of transformation happened to Robert Kennedy. I was going to say it happened as he toured the country and got embedded with ordinary Americans in a way he hadn’t before.

But now I’m thinking his shamanic wound may have been his brother’s assassination. Bobby had been a ruthless politician, but he became a true advocate for spiritual democracy. Lyndon Johnson is another person who suddenly transformed from a canny political maneuverer to a true Presidential figure, perhaps precipitated by his suddenly being thrust into that role. A  shamanic transformation? He had been an unscrupulous player, but when he got  a  chance  he did more for Civil Rights than perhaps any other President in the 20th century. So there is this yin yang nature among these men.

Blood and Gore and the Glow of the Spirit

What’s focusing in for me is this idea that you’ve brought into our discussions of this dark side of the realms of gold. There’s the blood and gore alongside this brilliant glow. To live clearly in the universe is to embrace the whole package, not just half of it.

H: It is. I think that’s a great point. The symbolic meaning of the physical search for gold is that there’s a spiritual quest.

The Metaphor Isn’t the Territory.

M: Like the alchemists, or the Stock Market. That’s a metaphor for what they are trying for, isn’t it? After all, the checkbook stands for an idea that its owner has. What are you really seeking? What in you sends you off to Wall Street every morning? You want to live a rich, beautiful life, of course. Everybody wants that.

The Quest for a Rich, Full Life

H: And a life of happiness.

M: True happiness.

H: True happiness. At the cocktail party people are having drinks, and they want to get into that mood.

M: That’s why they’re there. They want to feel good.

H: I think there’s something wonderful about that. It’s a kind of substitute for the kind of liquor that Dickinson was in touch with.

M: Yes, great connection.

H: That ecstasy that she describes. She says “Take all away from me but leave me  ecstasy and I am richer than all my fellow men.”

M: And that’s not pretty imagery. That’s as actual as words can come to be. And anyone who experiences it remembers it. So getting a good selection of stocks is not necessarily what I’m really after. I am really after one hundred proof Dickinson liquor.

The Immensity of the Landscape

H: To add to what I said about Miller, it wasn’t just this wound that he sustained that changed him but what happened afterwards while he was recovering. He met a man, Mountain Joe, as I said, who used to run a wagon train up and down from Mexico to Oregon. This man took him up Shasta to the summit, and on the way up he had a transformative experience of light and of looking down at the forests of California all the way to the Pacific. It blew Miller away. The immensity of the landscape was like John Muir seeing Yosemite for the first time. So he’s really looking from vast vistas in the sketches he paints for us.

M: Oh, that’s like Keats’ poem “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” that we looked at earlier, looking at the Pacific “with a wild surmise.”

H: What Miller is seeing is the grandeur of nature–that John Muir saw also and the spiritual democracy spread across the landscape–and the native peoples down below and the water . . .

A Childlike Innocence

M: You were talking earlier about what distinguishes American poetry. I think it’s part of that child-like  discovery that’s possible when you come into  a new land. In Europe, if you traveled, you came into a place whose buildings had been there for centuries, old, old streets. There would have been the feel of age. But cross the Atlantic and  you come  to this place where there is not a trace of the old civilization. It’s all new.  So you’re like a baby that wakes up and finds everything new and exciting. That’s that freshness that you’re talking about.

H: There’s definitely that freshness. That’s a good point.

M: Hmm. I kind of like that! [Laughs.]

H: In fact, there is something childlike in the way Miller writes this book, a childlike innocence.

The Awareness that One Can Learn

M: Even more, we need to know that each of us comes with the capacity to play the cards he’s dealt.  But then, what about a mentally impaired person or a person with some horribly  crippling disability? I think, even there, there is that biological process of dealing with one’s condition. I don’t for one second intend to dismiss pain and suffering. But I would say we can handle that till we can’t anymore, and then nature takes over and runs the show. I die, I go insane, the grain of wheat doesn’t grow into a plant.

There’s also the environmental impact of, say, a child with Down Syndrome. I had a colleague who had such a child. I swear the love that clearly flowed between them humanized my friend–who had a lot of rough edges. He told me of the love that came to him because of this complete outpouring of love from her to him. She brought to him what ordinary people didn’t. And the child experienced that  unrestrained  love from him.  Of course, that’s always the bottom line, isn’t it?P Everything we’ve been discussing is about connecting with that energy level we can call Love, that spirit of unguarded participation in the flow, to become vulnerable to some other part of the universe.

 Everything we’ve been discussing is about connecting with that energy level we can call Love, that spirit of unguarded participation in the flow, to become vulnerable to some other part of the universe. That needs to happen to everybody. We’re back to the transformative experience. That’s what I mean by the capacity to play the hand we hold. To be educated is to have caught on to that. If you protect yourself, you’re missing the gold.  You miss the point of what the universe is and your connection with it.

Unguarded Participation in the Now

So we need Joaquin Miller’s shaman’s wound. Many people I consider compassionate, compassionate, thinkers have had to sit on the sidelines for a while. For Miller to have to lie there and be nursed, that gave him time to calm down and stop looking for gold. This hiatus seems to be necessary for many people to catch on to this. But another way to view what happened to Miller is that the circumstance shaped him into  what he  would become. The Native peoples, the volcanic mountains, the trees, the rivers, the Pacific. It’s idle to speculate how I might have been different if I had gone into another line of work, but what did happen was that I had kids talk to me all day long about this and that and the other thing and I evolved into this persona I walk around in. Things were coming at me from all over the place and I absorbed them.

H: That’s an interesting point about work and how the work shapes us. Getting back to  children who have these deformities and disabilities, you know I started my work first as a cook but then as a therapist/social worker, working with emotionally disturbed children. I learned a lot from these children about suffering and discrimination. And  about joy and  how to help a child move like Judy Garland does in The Wizard of Oz from fear and terror to true joy, when she’s singing “Over the Rainbow” and dancing with these figures.  So I think  that that work shaped me, too. Whitman was talking about the same thing. “Do you see O my brothers and sisters? / It is not chaos or death–it is form, union, plan–it is eternal life–it is Happiness.” He’s asking what’s the aim of life. He capitalizes the H. Life, liberty, truth, the pursuit of happiness–but what kind of Happiness is it, really? The happiness that comes from material wealth? We know a lot of rich people who are very unhappy. Or, is it something else that comes through the discovery of some kind of meaning in life? I think of it as a calling, a vocation. I think of the gold as a metaphor for the self.  We could choose a number of different metaphors. Gold is one of the  most common across cultures. We  learn a lot from suffering, from our own suffering and from children’s suffering.

When I first read the book Life Amongst the Modocs, it did something to me. It affected me. It moved me to feel grief. The stories about what happened to the Native American tribes wounded me. The stories wounded me, and I began to feel like I was going through something profound, an internal shift. I even called in sick at work for four days, and what came out of me was pure poetry.

M: Oh, that’s great!

Reconnecting with the Child

H: I wrote in my journal, and  I couldn’t stop writing.  Ten years had elapsed since  I had written like that. I was in Everson’s class at twenty-five. At thirty-five I started writing poetry. This didn’t come out consciously.  I didn’t intend  to write  a great poem.  It  was something that I had to do. I started journaling, and as  I journaled the language  became  more and  more poetic. Before I knew it, I had struck a vein of pure gold. There are even metaphors of gold in these poems. A lot of it was centered around  memories  I had  as a child  of being at Lake Shasta with my family. Then later on, after you and I reconnected and were having our dialogues in Orinda, I went up to Shasta–I think it was in 1997– with my son Manny. We camped on Mount Shasta for four days. That was a powerful experience, to get a taste of what  it must have been like to live up there with Native Americans. Miller married a Native American woman and had a child by her. I think  something about reconnecting with the  child is very important. Whitman writes, “There was a child went forth every day.”

M: Yes.

H: And everything the child saw he or she became. It’s the same idea about the miracle. Everything is a miracle when you’re in that state. In Leaves of Grass Whitman wrote: “WHY, who makes much of a miracle? / As to me I know of nothing else but miracles.”

M: Yes.

H: This is why these students were down at Santa Cruz taking “Birth of a Poet.” They were seeking an experience. I think that’s what people want. They  really want  an experience  of what we’re talking about. We can ramble on about realms of gold and spiritual democracy and the aims of Western poetry and literature, and yet it’s a different thing to dip one’s hat into the river and to drink that pure water from the river mouth. I think this is the water Christ was talking about when he said, “Whosoever shall drink the water from my mouth shall drink the water of life.” It’s that idea.

M: Keats also wrote “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. ” When I reflect on it, that seems to work for me. Beauty in my experience is non-verbal. It’s something I experience. I think the test of a poem is Is it true? If the answer is no, it isn’t, then we’ll have to use some other word to describe it. Pretty? Pleasant? Decorative?

H: Well, that is what we see as the central metaphor for truth in the poetry of Robinson Jeffers It takes a great artist to paint a magnificent portrait of such beauty as the central theory of truth in the universe.

Spirit Imbedded in the Art

Everything we’ve been discussing is about connecting with that energy level we can call Love, that spirit of unguarded participation in the flow, to become vulnerable to some other part of the universe.

M: Yes. For example, I told you in one of our dialogues about Ansel Adams’  photos. There’s a visceral difference  for a viewer (for me, at least) between the  ones he selected for display and for his books and the cast-offs he didn’t want in the book I bought on sale, apparently put together after his death. These coffee-table photos where shot  by Adams, but they  were not “lit with piercing glances into the life of things.” Adams knew. And I knew, too, when I compared my disappointment in the photos in the book I bought and Adams photos that knock your socks off. An artist puts his spirit into the thing he creates, and it’s there for you to pull out. He has created that picture. That’s not just a physical copy of Half Dome on your wall   over there. It’s the photographer’s spirit that he put in that photo that comes back to you as a combination of the two, the physical work of the camera and the spirit of the artist.

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” 

H: Ansel Adams was a great teacher, and Howard Weamer was a great student of his. To move from the black-and-white to a color piece like that one–Weamer’s a park ranger in Yosemite. He’s up at the ski hut there right now. He’s a good friend of the family. He took that shot, and you can see there’s a certain kind of intelligence in there. He put that into a poster. He selected it, just like Ansel Adams had an eye for the best of his own photos.

Weamer selected that one. You can see why: “Storm Light Over Half Dome,” You can see what I was trying to get at when you asked me about Joaquin Miller and how the history is living in the present. We saw what happened on the East Coast with Hurricane Sandy (2012). And now there’s renewed talk about global warming. There was a great article in the paper about what could happen here on the Pacific. That “Storm Light Over Half Dome” is kind of like Frost’s poem. There’s something looming in the future we can’t quite foresee. There’s a pond in the picture, reflecting the storm.

M: Oh, yes.

H: And there’s a certain light in the darkness.

Making Art Come Alive

M: Do you see how as you’re discussing it that that photo is coming alive? This is the surface features game that I used to play with the  students, where  you keep noticing details, and  as you do that it’s like someone put a spot light on that particular part. And the whole thing starts to brighten up. The first thing you know it’s  gleaming with light.  You can do  that actually with anything. Anything. The whole point is that everything encapsulates the realms of gold. These are surface features  through which you see down into and around, and all of a sudden the thing is bursting with light. That’s what everybody wants, we all want to live that life. But we forget how to consult our spirits and go screwing around and try out everything but that.

The Future is a boogeyman

UC Sant Cruz: And then the environment shapes us.

We should discuss your own path through life for a bit. You actually had the backbone to follow your bliss. I don’t know if you thought of it as your bliss at the  time, but you did some very dramatic things to move yourself in the direction you took, to become a Jungian psychotherapist. I know you told me that in college you began to catch on to your own self th rough your journals. You think “Oh, so this is what I’m up to.” Then when you got to Santa Cruz, you knew you wanted to go toward what Everson was doing. You made use of these events that occurred along the way. I think most people don’t do that. Most are “living lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau said. It’s a sadness. I visited a brilliant former student recently who has a horrible fear of the future and it ties him up in knots. It’s  impossible to talk him out  of it. It’s almost like a crutch—I think a lot of people do this.  They’re so used to falling back on what must seem a sustaining support—you know, I will  ward  off disaster by worrying about it, getting myself all set for the worst. What would it be like if I weren’t hanging on so tightly? So you say, quit taking the poison, it’s killing you. And they say What shall I take instead?

It’s this whole business of living with the  future  in mind.  What  a  boogeyman! It’s such an insane idea to me. I was trying to convey this idea to a man I know who had been a priest for a year or two and then entered the secular world. Now he’s in his seventies and he’s still lost; he doesn’t know in which direction he should be going.

H: Well, as for my own trajectory, I don’t know what it was that brought it to conscious awareness. “I don’t know who or what put the question, but at some point I did answer Yes to Someone or something. And  from that point I knew that my  life in self-surrender had a goal.” I love that passage in your book from Dag Hammarksjold’s Markings, and I memorized it as you can see. But I think I learned to experience the unity of the cosmos in track and field. I learned it up on Mount Shasta when I was a boy. I learned it in nature, running, usually running. Track and field was for me a way of getting into the zone, the Zero  point field. And my first memory of it comes from the age of three in Jeffers country, running down the white sand beach at the end of Ocean Avenue in Carmel, and seeing the golden light of the sun beaming everywhere across the vast vista of water. When I ran track in high school I got that same feeling now and then.

M: Yes, and I’ve read that about marathon runners. After about fifteen or twenty minutes, your body takes over and you’re not pushing yourself.

From the Economic to the Spiritual Dimension

H: You’re in a Zen place. You’re in the moment, in the present. And this happened to me in Santa Cruz. But I also was doing Yoga right around the time I took your course, Kundalini Yoga, and reading Joseph Campbell. And I took that yogic consciousness to Santa Cruz, too. Yoga was a wonderful technique to get out of the  monkey  mind, to get  out of directed thinking, and I allowed myself to really  let  go. So then I took Everson’s course. You  know that little poem I wrote, “Alchemy of the West” — in 1999 right before the millennium? The opening line is, “Was it gold that brought the Pilgrims to this point or was it something more spiritual yet?” Those lines anticipated my writing Spiritual Democracy. They anticipated what we’re talking about right now, the idea that California, because of its place in history, because of what the 49ers represented; the arrival at, first, the material representation of democracy but then to the symbolic, of a radical shift in human consciousness from the economic to the spiritual dimension. But the fact that these poets were all anticipating it, and even these British

M: I think that’s one likely scenario.

H: I think we’re very adaptive as a species, and I’m optimistic that the human race will rise to the occasion and start cutting down on fossil fuels, like China and the US are now doing.

To Surrender to One’s Life

M: That would be a splendid idea, and I think it’s likely. You may even see it in your lifetime. But I don’t think that’s got a thing to do with what you and I are doing at this moment. In fact, what you and I must do in these moments  is to live them to the  hilt without any thought of  what they might signify for the future. If you do that, my past experience is that that is the strongest and best thing you could do for the future–by not thinking about the future, not siphoning off your energies and focusing off there in the future somewhere, but instead letting those energies plant the tree now and water it now and enjoy it now.  You don’t know if someone might come by tomorrow and pull it up, but that’s not the point. That has nothing to do with it. The point is to surrender to your life, as you just said. So to me, we don’t need optimism or pessimism. Those are irrelevant. We need to cast them all out.

One of the worst things

Camus said that Hope was one of the worst things Pandora let out of the box. It gets people anxious and worried and looking out there with a scaredy cat attitude. Well, screw that. We’re here in the mud, right here, right now. One has to be able to do that. It’s hard to do, but you have to know that it’s possible so that you can pull it off. It’s like knowing that you can learn. Well, knowing that it’s possible to live in the moment and that this is the best place you could possibly be is really nice. When you start to get all upset and nervous, you can say, “Oh, wait, I know how this works,” and let yourself surrender into the now.

H: That was a good development of your point. I think what we’re  talking about is  a difference in psychological types. The intuitive type not only has anticipatory intuitions of what could be possibilities in the future but actually foresees them. I mean that in the Whitmanesque sense, which is different from the fearful way of looking outward that you describe. I’m optimistic about the future of humanity because I foresee possibilities. In some way we may be driven to spiritual democracy because of the looming shadows chasing us on the material level and political level. Look at what’s happening in the Near East right now. When are we going to stop playing these war games? It’s absolutely absurd, and religion is right at the center of it, right at the heart of it.

M: Oh, yes!

H: So, as we’ve talked before of monotheism, we need to broaden our concept of what spirituality really is. I think what you’re bringing in is good. It’s a very Zen approach. Buddhism in the West is important because it brings us into the now.

Yelling at each other about metaphors

M: What you’re saying about religions–we know there are dozens, maybe hundreds. I see them all as metaphors for what we’ve been talking about. To understand any religion at its base is to see the realms of gold again. This is what it’s all about. So wars among the major religions are absurd because they’re yelling at each other about metaphors. They’re yelling about something held in common that’s  being described. Salvation, all that stuff, is metaphoric for what you and I are talking about, a common participation in what’s going on. So I guess one can get pretty mean-minded following politics closely and taking sides. [Laughs] I’m perfectly happy, though, to take sides with the progressive view of our society!

But we also need to be able to do what Frost called being above the  fray.  He’d like to be up there where you could see both sides. You have to be able to do that. I must admit it’s pretty hard for me not to hate people like Romney. But to be really clear about how the world works you can’t hate anybody or anything. I still love  it, the joy of hating! But  I do know that if I really truly got to know the man beyond his superficial bullshit, I could not help but have compassion with him. I’ve seen it in my own life, people who chose to hate me and then changing over the years. As I think of it right now hate is like that clash between Islam and the West. But the softening of the heart is what really removes the missile and opens the way for shared spiritual democracy.

The Transformative Vocation

Let’s go back to what you were saying in your last dialogue with me about vocation being a means of transformation. I think you see that as a cornerstone of the work that you do. Is that right?

H: Yes. It’s a very old idea. You find it in the Bhagavad Gita, “Set thy heart upon thy work but never on its reward.” It’s kind of like what you’re saying about being in the moment. If you set your heart on your work and not on the reward, that gold on the material level, the spiritual dimension will break through where everything becomes golden.

M: I think so, but what I was getting at, in your therapy it seems like you’re helping people find their vocation.

H: That’s exactly what you were asking me about and how it is that I had the courage, if you want to call it that…

M: The nerve! [Both laugh] That’s a pretty dramatic thing.

H: The nerve to follow my  bliss. The video with Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell was released right about the time I became licensed as an MFCC, and lived out the experiment of individuation prescribed by Carl Jung. I really did take a descent into the unconscious. But I think if anybody paved the way for my getting on the path of individuation, it was when I first read Jung at the age of about nineteen. He doesn’t just write beautiful essays about what we’re discussing, which is how to get to the Self, how to get to the realms of gold. He actually gives you a method through dream interpretation and active imagination. I learned from Jung how to value science, how to value art. Erich Neumann was one of his greatest interpreters, and he wrote  a lot about art. And Jung of course wrote a lot about poetry. Jung learned from poets,  the German poets, Schiller, Goethe, Heine, Nietzsche. Yet he also wrote a long study on the poetry of Longfellow, “Hiawatha.”

M: So he didn’t stick to some narrow scientific approach to his work. He was willing to step into all the arts and all the sciences, apparently.

H: That’s what I’m getting at with regards to vocation and our discussion about the Field. Really it’s the fields. They all unite on a pivotal idea, which is vocation. If anything can bring us to the realization that you were mentioning earlier, the question of how it is that a poet, for example, can say, “The  whirling and whirling is elemental within me.” How can Walt Whitman say that?

Because he is there. He is spinning with the atoms, the electrons within the atoms, and also the stars.

M: Yes.

H: He’s in that Field because he’s in his  right  field, which is poetry. He  is singing the songs and chants of the poet-shamans  which he  is. That’s the  key. Whatever the  path is, whatever the vocation is that’s the entrance way to the realms of gold. If one can find a way in, then one unites with others who  are also in that realm. And vocations are fields that all unite at a common center, which is the  Self. Jung called it the Self. That is the  unitary  place, that’s where everything unites. The physicist knows that, too; it’s like McTaggart’s book The Field. Parapsychologists, people who study light, photons–they all unite at a common point, and that’s captured by Howard Weamer beautifully in “The Storm Light Over Half Dome.” The illuminists who went to  Yosemite, for example, they  captured  that beautiful light  of the Pacific West. There’s something about light here in the West. It’s a special light.

M: The painters always talk about the light. I’m not quite as sensitive as they are, but just look out your window right now! It’s glowing.

H: It’s a funny irony, but they cut down hundreds of eucalyptuses here that Miller planted, thinking they could build houses from the wood. Well, you can’t, and they cut them all down, and we have this gorgeous view back. Look. You can even see the Golden Gate.

M: That’s something. You can see both bridges from here. And something else. The light keeps changing. While we’ve been sitting here, there was a building down there in Oakland that was illuminated. Now, the light has passed on.

H: Once in a while, I see that kind of reflection from up here and I capture it as if in a mirror, and I see that this light in the West, the Golden West, is really special. I can see why Fremont named it the Golden Gate, and that’s before the  bridge, much earlier, (1846) before  the logging phase of the 1850s that decimated the great redwoods.

The Many Academic Fields

M: That reminds me. When I was  reading through the  transcript yesterday, and you are bringing it in again now, I was thinking about academic fields. They talk of having a field. My field is English, mine  is chemistry, and  so on. They’re rarely thinking of it in a poetic sense, but “my field”? The Field?  We had all those  fields in Diablo Valley College. Well, if each of us was doing his work, as his or her calling, it descends or penetrates  the  main Field. That’s what a liberal education is ultimately.

The college put into its mission statement the mingling of the disciplines. I don’t think they honored it much, but our English Department actually had it in the  course outlines.  I loved that liberty to roam anywhere I pleased, the humanities, the sciences, mathematics, football. That’s what you, Steven, do with all the fields you include in your explorations— paleontology, astrology, archeology, religions, philosophy, poetry. You really go into it.  I don’t go into it to the degree you do. I monkey around in a field long enough to get the feel of it. What I’m trying to remind myself of–that’s sufficient.

The Poetic Basis of Science

H: Yes, that’s a really good point, because Robinson Jeffers, you know, got into geology and medicine and physics and astronomy. He was a scientist firstly by education, and  he  brought the sciences into his poetry. That’s really a marvelous thing, when integration happens among various fields, around a center. I always thought of you as a poet.

M: Oh? Gee, it’s always good to know these things! That’s another thing I wanted to bring into this dialogue, the immense power people have of influencing others by even a slight comment.

H: I think there’s so much poetry in Image that it connected with a poet in me that wanted to come out. I needed you to be a poet to bring that out. And you and your book did do that. You had Shakespeare on the opening page. Image even begins with “Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?”

M: Hmm. I remember the first semester of my first year of teaching, in Stagg High School in Stockton, the principal sat in on one of my senior classes, and I was trying to teach some little bit of Geoffrey Chaucer. Later, he said that maybe I ought to be teaching in a college. I hadn’t thought about maybe I ought to be teaching in a college. Just that one little thing. And I began thinking of myself that way and came over to Diablo Valley College a few years later.

H: The other poems you have in Image that meant a lot to me, among others, are Dylan Thomas’s “The Force That Through the Green Fuse,” and Robert Frost’s “Neither Out Far Nor in Deep,”

There’s the poet who’s looking deep. I thought, well, Clark knows how to look deep. I knew I was a deep seer. I just had to awaken that in myself and reflect on it in language. “Reflections on Language,” just that in itself is a metaphor. Only the poet knows  how to answer. How do you reflect on language? That’s the poet’s job. That’s the capacity within the archetype of the poet to see by reflecting. The  vocation of the  poet is  to reflect on language and provide a new perspective on it.

Mission: To Be a Spiritual Creature in a Physical Environment

M: Whether we know it or not, each of our jobs as a spiritual creature is to be that spiritual creature in the physical environment. As a result, that particular spirit gets embedded in, say, this pot here on your side table. When the poet-sculptor surrenders himself to that spiritual self, that has this powerful effect on everything else. And that’s his job. That’s what a painter does; that’s what a photographer does, all artists. But all people when they become their true spiritual selves have this fantastic influence on the environment.

H: The psychologist–the phrase “depth psychology” –the depth psychologist is one who’s looking deep. He can look both out far and in deep, deep into the unconscious, into dreams. And I think that’s what I got through Jung, the capacity to look through the surface level of the water into what’s lurking down there.

Water as Metaphor

M: Yes. We could spend a half hour talking about water as a metaphor. “I’m going to turn this water into wine.” You were talking about that earlier. In The Field, as we discussed it earlier, McTaggart talks about dissolving antigens in water and gradually reducing the solution till there is not trace at all. But the water retains the full force of the antigen, apparently the memory of it. That’s factual science. But think of the implications! We’re back to Yeats’s memory poem, and that was conceived long before this new scientific discovery about memory in water. But as you were saying about Whitman and Dickinson and others, this realization was part of their awareness. This is important to me because I’ve just been plowing through this  book, The  Life  and Science of Richard Feynman. Feynman was a Nobel-Prize winner. What I’ve read so far takes him up through his years with Oppenheimer and the Los Alamos project. That was the most powerful gathering of geniuses in the science field ever put together in one place and working collegially on one effort.

H: That’s what happens. Think about the East Coast poets, the shamans, Dickinson, Whitman and Melville. They’re all contemporaries of Emerson. These were not like Tennyson and Longfellow, Whittier. These were different kinds of poets.

A Fantastic Brain Trust

M: In Los Alamos, they wanted to see if they couldn’t create some kind of a bomb.  In fact, they used water to dilute uranium to get it into the right mix. There were probably in Los Alamos alone the greatest minds  in mathematics  and physics of that era from all over the world, all working together, collegially. I think it’s the most fantastic brain trust we have ever had in the history of mankind, before or since. If  you had that same  kind of set-up on a cure for cancer, what a powerful thing that would be. It  took them three  or four years, working night and day. If you could simulate that endeavor, you could polish off cancer. It never happened again. But the relevance for you is, who are the greatest thinkers that you know of working in Jungian psychology right now? Do you know who they are?

H: I think I know a few of them. I know a couple of them personally, and I know others professionally. That’s a good point. I reviewed Murray Stein’s books. He’s probably one of the most seminal Jungians.

M: Are there seminal Jungians in Switzerland?

H: Yes, he’s in Switzerland. He thinks  my work on Melville is great. Brilliant, he said. He put  it on the web site of the International Association for Analytical Psychology.

M: Do these five or six people ever get together?

H: Oh, yes. At Jungian conferences. When they get together, you have quite a conference. Tom Kirsch, who’s one of my friends and quite a force in analytical psychology, is an historian of Jungian psychology. He puts together these marvelous  history symposiums. He’s done  it in San Francisco. But, yes, you’re right. It’s important to be part of a movement in any field. Yet what we’re doing here, too, is looking at the power of what’s been shaping on the  West Coast in terms of literature and poetry for over one hundred and fifty years.

M: I think you could make a damned good college course from these hour-and-a-half dialogues we’ve had over the years.

H: Actually, last night after looking at the transcript from last time, I think  I need to get to work filling in some of the questions you asked and polishing these dialogues up a little. We could work on it. You know, you re-invented education at the college. You’ll be remembered on the West Coast for your innovative teaching approach.

To Use the Poet’s Voice to Teach

M: Well, I don’t think that’s how it works. I won’t be remembered, but because of the Field influence, I think it’s already worked its way throughout education. Things being innovated right and left during the time you were there I see being used in school systems all over the country.

H: You were asking about Santa Cruz. You were asking how someone like Everson could get hired. Well, you and Everson were on the same wave in different colleges.

M: I’ve seen people use what we innovated–they never heard of me–but I’ve seen them using these ideas in the grade schools. But the teacher who’s using them doesn’t really understand what it means or how it needs to be applied.

H: To use a poet’s voice to teach an English class, to quote from poetry a lot as you did, and in your book, there’s something about that that does get directly to these other big questions.

Waves of Influence

M: I don’t have any doubt that that kind of behavior, any kind of behavior, has waves of influence that go out and out and out to places you never dream of.

H: The key is to help as many people as we can find their link to the Self.

M: Because they do have to take it over themselves.

H: Exactly, and I think that was the aim of your course and Everson’s, and the aim of our dialogues. To provide something that will be of value.

M: OK. We have to wrap this up now. Make a punch line for today’s dialogue.

H: Well, just a quick thought I had when you were talking about water, reflections on water. The whole metaphor of Native Americans looking into their stream and seeing salmon turned up on their sides because of the strip mining, can you imagine the outrage? Can you feel into the sadness, the grief?

M: It’s enough to make you want to go to war!

H: Well, there you go. Now we’re talking about Oppenheimer and those bombs.

M: We could take that whole atomic bomb development I’ve been reading about in the Feynman book and play with the imagery and with realms of gold. These guys were investigating the fundamental elements of the world.

H: Think about the difference of the wars. The war the Indians fought was an environmental war, fighting for their land, fighting for animal intelligence.

M: Right.

The Force of Spiritual Democracy Versus Head Knowledge

H: Not these kinds of split-off intellectual knowledge, head knowledge, about whose religion or political idea or economic desire for dominance is right…

M: That’s good, because the force of spiritual democracy is running up against scientific warfare, which has to do with sub-atomic particles, getting at the very elements of this physical world. It’s really a yin yang situation now. That kind of rounds out our dialogue, doesn’t it? Nice going, Steven.

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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