Dialogue # 16: The Emerging Self, Journal Writing, and Reflective Writing; Meister Eckhart, Dag Hammarskjold, Herman Melville, and Tamerlane

April 22, 2013


[In this far-ranging dialogue, Steven and I  continued talking about practical ways of inviting the Spirit into daily life. All sort of connections began popping up among major Eastern and Western thinkers– as well as the cumulative thought of thinkers of past decades and millennia.]

Therapeutic Writing

M: Let’s talk about writing as a way of extending or deepening the sorts of subjects you and I talk about. You use what I loosely called therapeutic writing. Do you use journaling with all your patients?

H: I do use it with everybody. Not everybody is able to use it in a consistent way the way I do. Sometimes they’ll use it for a month or two. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have a homework assignment. It’s just a suggestion. They don’t have to use it.  I frame it as a method that can be used to help the therapeutic process. Depth is the key.

Bringing to the Surface What Makes Things Sparkle

My therapy seemed to start with everybody being just fine, and what we did was to release or bring to the surface what’s fine about them.

My therapy, as I looked at it from  a distance, seemed to start with everybody being just fine, and what we did was to release or bring to the surface what’s fine about them

M: I’ve been thinking about therapy in general. I remember years ago thinking it all through, and I thought that some therapy involves someone coming to you with an illness, perhaps an emotional discomfort of greater or lesser intrusion on that person’s daily life. So the therapy would be to help them get better. My therapy, as I looked at it from  a distance, seemed to start with everybody being just fine, and what we did was to release or bring to the surface what’s fine about them. So we would be working on the stuff that makes things sparkle–which we all do have within us, as we’ve noted in our dialogues, and in the language I use in my manuscript, it’s the realms of gold that we’re mining. There’s nothing wrong. Let’s  say you feel shame.  There’s nothing wrong with that. Let’s see how we can use that. I wouldn’t actually say that, but the experience we’d be going through would allow people to take possession of whatever’s going on in them and own it. I didn’t say any of this. I’m articulating it as we’re sitting here, but that’s essentially what would happen. Essentially, that’s what you and I talk about. We talk of people going out the door every day, and there’s someplace they have to be and those things we do, and maybe your wife gets mad at you, and all the stuff we stub our toes on. And rather than thinking This is just plain terrible; life is a big pain, you think, This is what it is; let’s work with it. Everything’s great. And not fake it. Just take hold of life and live it.

Just take hold of life and live it.

There’s nothing wrong.

Well, back to journal writing. Here’s what I think. A person has to come to me with something he or she wants, and then I can respond to it. I can’t tell that person what they need. They have to initiate it somehow. Then I can say, “Well, you know what, ..”  Or, “Why  don’t  you try this . . .?” Imagine how it would go if I started by saying, “I know what’s  wrong with  you. Now let me fix this up.” That’s essentially what teachers do all the time. The kid comes in, and the teacher says, “You don’t know how to write.” That kid doesn’t know how to write. I’m going to show him how to write. The kids say, “No, you’re not!” whether he knows it consciously or not. The reason is what you would say: The Self wants to have its own voice.  It  doesn’t want to use someone else’s voice. It will refuse it. Whether anyone  is conscious of this insistence or not, no matter what good intentions may be at play, there’s a fundamental mistake in thinking that there’s something wrong with that person. And there’s an essential mistake in thinking you can help that person. That person in the midst of your environment can do a lot for himself or herself. What your job is is to set up an environment where this Self can come forth.

I think you do that in your work. The kid comes in and plays in the  sand box.  You  let that playing blossom, as I understand it. Do other Jungians use journaling?  Do any  use writing the way you do?

The Intensive  Journal in Jungian Therapy

H: I don’t know that anyone does in the way that I do. But there are many who do use some form  of writing as part of their therapy. The journal method in Jungian psychology  really starts  with Ira Progoff, The Intensive Journal. He’s the one who popularized it.  He was describing it about the time you were doing your courses. Progoff was a social psychologist. He wrote a book called Jung, Synchronicity & Human Destiny. He went to  Zurich to  interview Jung,  and  later became an Intensive Journal guru and gave these workshops.

M: I had read a book of his, along with two or three dozen other books on writing. All kinds of little ideas would pop in here and there. Now I see why it’s significant in your work, because it’s very much tied in to Jungian psychology.

H: I didn’t discover Progoff till right before I went to U.C. Santa Cruz. It was that time liminal between DVC and U.C. Santa Cruz when I was reading all the Jungian texts I could get my hands on. Progoff of course was very popular at the time.

M: But just think, you’ve been using this technique, possibly back to when you were a student at DVC.…

H: That’s what I wanted to speak with you about. I think my influences are pre-Jungian.

M: Yes.

H: The first time I read anything by Jung, I think, was in Image, a quote from Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. I was spontaneously developing my journaling technique in English 122.  You had written in the margin of my journal, “This style reminds me of Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings.” So I picked up a copy. Interestingly, I went back and re-read the whole book last week and realized that it’s too limiting to say my journal method is Jungian.

M:                          That’s right.

Dag Hammarskjold’s Spontaneous Diary Writing

Dag Hammarskjold

H: Markings was a journal method Hammarskjold  was  using on his  own spontaneously.  It  was in a diary format, but it was where he wrote down his thoughts. He didn’t publish it in his  lifetime. He left it in his desk drawer for his friend and colleague to publish after his death. Markings is unique in that, first of all, he  was the second Secretary General of the UN and was very much  in the forefront of shaping history, peacekeeping between nations. The interesting thing is that it was at the same time that I discovered Meister Eckhart. Hammarskjold, as you know, has numerous quotations from Eckhart. I looked that up and found more information about it. I think it’s significant in terms of tracing the background of the method  that I use and  I think  similar to the method that you picked up–through perhaps your reading of Hammarskjold as well and maybe Progoff,’s The Intensive Journal. And  Progoff  studied Meister Eckhart, and Jung was  a student of Meister Eckhart…

M: My, my, my!

Cross Fertilization: Jung, Zen, Eckhart, Hammarskjold, Progoff, Steven, and Clark

H: And wrote a very important essay on Eckhart in 1921 in his book Psychological Types. And that’s why I had you read that introduction by Jung on Zen and Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism, because when Jung was asked to write that introduction of the book by Suzuki, he wanted to find a figure in the West who could illustrate what Jung felt at the time  was a direct parallel of the experience of Satori in the Zen experience. Hammarskjold as you know writes  haiku in Markings.

M: Well, I may have known, but it’s been thirty  years.  I hope I still have it on my shelf, because it is a valuable book to me.

H: Well, the haiku is all in the back.

 M: I don’t even remember that.

H: Yes, it’s all here. He was very influenced by Zen as well as Taoism as well as Christian mysticism. In fact, Martin Buber writes that he was told by Hammarskjold–they  were friends– that Hammarskjold had two books by his bedside. One was Eckhart; the other was the Psalms.  That was very moving to Buber because it showed that for Hammarskjold this integration of the Old and New Testaments, the wisdom literature, created a kind of synthesis for Hammarskjold that culminated in his ideas about dialogue in the UN and peacekeeping, because of the tracing of all this back to Isaiah he found a friend in Buber who could bridge the two.

M: Two things while we’re on the subject: First, I presume you’re aware that Hammarskjold died in a plane crash.

H: In the Congo.

M: Ruth heard the announcement on the radio. And it came over her that he was killed, that it wasn’t an accident. She had this strong sense of that even though she was not particularly interested in the UN. I regard that as significant, because she just uttered that to herself, “He was killed.”

H: Oh! That happened in 1961. I was five years old. So you were married?

M: Yes, we were married in 1953, so that was seven years into our marriage, but my point is that at her young age she had not been involved in the intellectual life at all. She was an RN.

H: That’s interesting because his book hadn’t been published yet. It came out in 1964.

The Intensity of Opposites

M: That makes her sense of his being murdered even more interesting. So she must have been somewhat aware of international politics. You could say that a peacekeeper like Hammarskjold–possibly Kennedy in a way, certainly Bobby–they bring forth opposites, don’t  they?  People want to destroy that, and do. It seems to come to a head the more powerful a force is–like Gandhi, the more someone will rise up in opposition, people will want to gun him down, for some reason Jungians understand. Getting back to Jung and his introduction to the Suzuki book, you said Jung wanted to find a parallel in Western thinking to the way of Zen. I noticed at the time of Jung’s introduction, he felt it would have been extremely difficult to breach the mind-set of the West, to introduce the Eastern way of seeing into our culture. But I think it’s decades now and that is no longer true. People like you and like me incorporate it in our daily lives, and we don’t have any problem with it. But I do think our culture functions on a very mechanical, simplistic way of looking at the Universe. It seems regressive to me because it has neglected or forgotten all the gorgeous thought of the transcendentalists of the mid-19th century, all those artists you’ve been writing about, beginning with Emerson, and we go back to some kind of superficial living that is so empty.

H: Empty.

M: So anyway, I think we can find among the Catholic priests who didn’t want to contradict Church dogma, and then in Luther, and I could go back to Shakespeare–there was always this Zen-like vision of how we are put together as creatures of the universe. It came bubbling up because it will bubble up no matter what the prevailing circumstances are.  These visionaries had to find some kind of a way to put it in language the Church could allow.

H: I think Eckhart just spoke his truth and didn’t concern himself with the repercussions from Rome.

M: But look what he had to put up with. These inquisitors would say, OK, you can put this much in but not that. They kept on doing it with Copernicus, Galileo. “You can have this, but not too much. Too much makes us nervous.” Even Whitman wrote too much truth for  Emerson’s comfort! We’re still at it today. But now, we have the  culture itself as our constraint.  We pull our punches. We rarely speak what our Selves want to express. It was exactly the same at the college.

H: Well, as you know, a teacher at DVC took exception to my  interpretations  of Shakespeare, so I got out of that class in a flash.

M: That was a good move. I gave my opinion in my first essay in graduate school, on Tennyson, and I got a D. I never got a D again, but also I didn’t give my naked truths again, not  in any school course. I couched everything in their conventional language.

H: You played the game. It’s like getting your A out of college in your book.

M: Yes, the experience was very educational, but it was simply because I didn’t like Tennyson, and I still don’t.

H: Alan Watts quoted him in that speech you transcribed. Tennyson used to say his own name, Alfred, Alfred, Alfred–Alfred who?

M: Sure.

H: And somehow by saying his name over and over, he began to see beyond language.

M: Sure, just because I don’t like his style doesn’t mean he didn’t say some good stuff. I didn’t like his sing-songy kind of verse.

The Eternal Ground of Being Disguised as a Human Being

H: And he got the funny feeling, Really Alfred? Who are you? And then suddenly it came over him that he was the eternal ground of the world in disguise as Alfred Tennyson

M: It’s a great discovery on his part.  But I’d take great insight from anybody, even my  enemies. I don’t hate Tennyson; I just don’t like the style of most of his poems.

H: I don’t either. I don’t normally read Tennyson.

M: His style is so polished and mellifluous.

H: That’s why Whitman had to come along and break open the line with free verse.

M: But a precursor to Tennyson was Keats, and he was writing sonnets with very precise meter  and rhymed verse and it’s very compelling. Tennyson puts me to sleep. I do have a short verse of his in Image, “Flower on a crannied wall / I pluck you out of the crannies. If I but knew what you are / root and all / and all in all / I should know what God and man is.” That’s fine.  I like that one, nice and short. But then in other poems, he goes on and on.

H: Getting back to Suzuki and Eckhart and Zen, I have a question for you. Your book Image I would say is very Zen.

The Zen of Image, Reflections on Language

I should have called it The Zen of English.

M: So would I in retrospect. Now, looking at it, I think, Why didn’t I call it The  Zen of English?

H: [Laughs.] Well, it is, in a sense. But I wanted to question you on that because your title is Image.

M: Reflections on Language.

H: You know, the state of Satori is an image-less state.

M: Well, sure.

H: But that’s what they’re trying to convey. And that’s why Jung quoted Meister Eckhart.  But then I read Jung’s letters to James Kirsch about satori and about Zen, and he’s very critical in his letters about masters who say they can have an experience  of nothingness  or emptiness  without an image. Jung says that’s impossible; you can’t have an experience without an image. You can’t experience emptiness with an image. Here we go. The whole focus of your book is on the image, reflections on language. And what’s missing is the emptiness at the center. I’m sure it’s there throughout the book. I think Alan Watts talks about it, the whole idea of the Ground of Being is very cosmic, and he talks a lot about it, Tillich, Paul Tillich, the Ground of Being, the Godhead. That’s all from Eckhart.

M: This is wonderful. When I was teaching I’d bring in ideas from wherever I found them; they could have been lying on sidewalks somewhere. But I sit here and marvel at your knowledge of everything that went  into  those  ideas, years, bios of the sources, their interconnections.  It’s  fun to see them all pieced together. But there’s another aspect; it’s the very fact of those connections–which is implicit but never explicit in all the pages of Image, for example ¯and in any one instance. Your work makes the idea physical.

Journal Writing as a Method of Emptying the Mind

H: And it comes together in the journal method. This is what I wanted to get to, that’s what I was articulating in my piece that I sent to you–and in another piece I wrote—that the journal method for me is the method or technique for emptying the mind. Because when  you do that, you get beyond image. You get beyond any kind of representation or form, and you
go back to that eternal Ground of Being,  which is an imageless state of being.  And  that is what the Eastern masters called satori, enlightenment. And I think that’s what Alan Watts is trying to convey in his talk that you and I discussed–which you captured in your transcription. Did you yourself transcribe this?

M: Yes.

H: This is valuable.

M: I think so too.

H: It’s a culmination of Watts’s thinking.

Alan Watts

M: Well, as I said, he just stood there. No podium. No notes. It was  gorgeous. He did have a mike because it was a big audience. Just imagine, though, the college had that man come and talk to all those un-awakened ones. Some of them were a bit more aware. But everybody would come back to their offices, and then they would parse it and analyze it. Instead of saying, My God! the feel of this, the feel of it! What else do you want? Anyway, Alan Watts did a beautiful job. So then I did get the permission. I don’t remember how.

H: Getting back to Image and to emptiness, there are images all over it. Yes, there is some emptiness, too. I like that. There’s empty space.

M: Oh, yes. In fact, there are a couple of pages  with nothing at all. As for all the images, there  was a senior editor at Macmillan. He was an older guy, and I suppose whatever we  were doing was OK with him as long as it was selling, but anyhow when he got to that page where there was nothing, he went Whew! Look at the very back. There you have an all-white page and then an all-black one.

H: Well, yes, that’s the Zen experience right at the very end of the book. So back to my  question. Do you think Jung is right that you can’t have an experience of nothingness without an image?

Satori is imageless but the telling of it cannot be.

M: He’s right and wrong. Simultaneously. He’s right because they still have a foot in this world and you can only report what you experienced, and that becomes image immediately. You translate it back into image. But when you’re sitting there in that state, imagery is simply not involved. You become a musical instrument, and you’re vibrating. You are the universe singing. You’re not thinking about anything at all. Thinking is all about imagery. So sure, no imagery in nothingness. But I don’t think that calls for argument. I do think Jung himself had been in that state probably lots of times.

H: Sure.

M: And think of when he was doing his work on this, think of the traditions surrounding him, the work of Western thinkers and philosophers. That would force him back into that disciplined kind of mindset. And he was trying to articulate something so foreign to their kind of discourse. So, he’s right. We can sit here and talk about it and describe it, and  that’s  all imagery.  Even when it’s abstract, it’s still imagery. Language is imagery. When you translate your voice into words, you’ve moved into the perceived imagistic world.

H: That’s the Word coming out of the Ground of Being. Yet the Ground of Being itself is nothing, if Eckhart is correct, and I think he is, beyond image. It is interesting to note in this regard that astrophysicists have now theorized that the whole universe came into being from Nothing.

M: It’s such a beautiful thing for those ancient Hebrews to dream up. How did they put it? “In the beginning . . .?

H: “Darkness was on the face of the Deep . . .” M: Right. The passage I’m thinking of goes,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

H: “Then God said, Let there be light” –going from darkness to light.

M: In the beginning was the Word. So in the beginning of our kind of stuff, our kind  of reality, was the Word. Yes, before that was the light. In the beginning, words, language, imagery. That’s the crux of this issue of essence and nothingness. So even in the Bible, we have this Zen kind of thinking. So it was there all the time for these people running to church every Sunday. There’s  all they need to know in that one little passage–if they would just pay attention. Instead someone is droning on and on numbing their minds, putting them into a stupor. No wonder they don’t get it. The church apparently tried to do something with it in the liturgy. That’s the whole thrust of your piece on therapeutic journaling. The whole idea of liturgy, as you know, is to try to bring  you into that state. If you’re good at it… I know of very few people who are.

H: Meister Eckhart was… He could deliver a sermon that would put you right into a state of peace and stillness.

M: Yes. You could do that with imagery. Some  people can walk into a room, and  there’s a kind of aura around them. Krishnamurti was like that. If you were at all attuned, you’d get it right  away. He blew this young friend of his, Sidney Field, off the planet–just by being there.  Now  that I think back on it, I think my classes were set up that way, a kind of liturgy of music and imagery. I’d even sometimes say, “Everybody, shut your eyes and pay attention to your breathing.”

Meister Eckhart

H: My journal writing method that I wrote about was something I developed much later than your class. Even after having read Hammarskjold. I had to discover my own way and my own technique. This was when I was a Jungian. I had read Jung by this time, and Progoff. And I had studied under Everson for many years. I think it was in the late 80s or early 90s that I began journaling again. In the 90s I began a poetry journal that evolved into a more prose-like method. And I think the influences of Eckhart where always there. I think you know I wrote my senior thesis on Meister Eckhart. I read the sermons, and the sermon itself is a kind of journal entry. I think many of us learned from him. Hammarskjold certainly did. He had him by his bedside. Every morning he read him. And Jung loved Meister Eckhart, though what Jung wrote is somewhat limited. Another analyst who writes about Eckhart is John Dourley. He’s the best writer on Eckhart in the Jungian field. I wrote my thesis in 1981-82. I read most of Meister Eckhart’s sermons. I read all I could find by the great Eckhart scholars. Now we  have  newer works about Eckhart, one that I just ordered is by a Buddhist scholar, Walsche, and he translated all of the German sermons. These are magnificent translations. There’s a new  interpreter, McGuin, and he’s the foremost Eckhart scholar in the world right now.

Journal Writing as a Way of Having a Breakthrough Experience

So I’m getting back to Eckhart and catching up with the latest works, and I see how my intuition in 1981 was way in advance of where scholarship was at that time. And it’s all based on the Word. Eckhart would start, for example, with a line from the New Testament or the Old Testament, and he would meditate on that, and it would become a  way for him to  then develop his theme and arrive at a new breakthrough. This idea of a breakthrough is very important. The journal technique I use–and the one you were using–is a way of having a breakthrough  experience. I think you were trying to convey that to your students. It’s becoming clearer to me that the focus you brought in through Image makes the bridge for me to Eckhart and Jung in certain way, because it was a form of active imagination in a sense that you were trying to move your students to experience through experimentation.

M: OK. You start with a line, as Eckhart did, and use it as a means of meditating and playing into something. You’ll recall I brought up Wittgenstein in one of our dialogues.

H: I have a very good friend who’s a scholar of Wittgenstein, but I haven’t read him.

Thinking Out Loud


M: Well, this is what I’m getting to: I didn’t have to know much about Wittgenstein, just what I told you about his little gatherings of students in his rooms at Cambridge. As I said in one of our dialogues, he would come in and he would “do philosophy.” It  was similar to what Eckhart did. He would do his thinking as he went along. He would be generating his thesis right there. “OK, I’m thinking about X . . .” and then he’d starting rolling into that. I don’t remember if there was any dialogue with the students at that point. Basically he was just thinking out loud. But what he was doing, in our metaphor, was writing his reflective journal, or his mythopoetic journal. I don’t remember if he was using technical language or not, but the upshot was the same. He did exactly what Eckhart was doing. As you said, you got back into your journal writing at a certain point. I use it when I need it. I use it to resolve problems or if I want to work out some idea. I can really discipline the thinking, and reflective writing leads me right into that channel. In ten or fifteen minutes I’m rolling.

H: Wittgenstein himself probably was influenced by Eckhart because, of course, as a German philosopher he had read Schopenhauer, and Schopenhauer was the first to draw parallels between Eckhart and Hinduism and Buddhism.

M: Oh, my!

H: And so a lot of the scholars who later saw this parallel had seen references by Schopenhauer. I’m sure Jung had  seen references, too.

M: OK and there were writers like Hesse.

H: Herman Hesse.

M: When was Hesse writing Siddhartha?

H: Hesse was analyzed by Carl Jung in Zurich. So he wrote Siddhartha after his analysis. So it was probably in the forties or early fifties. [First published in English in 1951]

Collective Thinking from All Directions

M: Talk about interconnectedness! We sit here talking about these figures in our culture–Oh, yeah, he knew so-and-so. And so and so knew A and B and M! But I think I benefit from all  those connections without knowing any of the major players or knowing very little about them. Because–because they created an impression in the grass, and all I had to do was just be here to receive it. The cloud in which I am enveloped is made up of all these guys, and the sense of their collective thinking comes in from all directions.

An Atmosphere of Thought

H: And that gets back to the writings of Chardin and the noosphere. He talked about it as an atmosphere of thought. That’s a very important idea, too, because it does seem that things are coming together, and the West Coast is a focal point you could say for this kind of thinking about the connections between East and West. Watts, of course, was one of the great representatives of this.

M: He’s a good example of how the mind can be really pure while one’s life can be messy. He had girlfriends. His marriage failed. All kinds of problems.

Another thinker I admire tremendously is Albert Camus, and they say in his personal life he wasn’t nearly as pure–let me change that to clear. I can add people like Christopher Hitchens and Philip Roth. I don’t know if you read him or not? Portnoy’s Complaint?

H: No.

M: You might enjoy that book because the narrator is telling all this stuff to his therapist. The chapters are all therapy sessions. It’s all about masturbating, to start with.

H: Oh, my.

M: The reason that this is significant is that readers might be put off by the subject, Let’s not hear about that. But it’s really an act of independence by this little boy. It’s the Self demanding  freedom, and crushing rules and  restrictions of this Jewish household.  For this young boy, it was a breakthrough, with all the risks involved.

H: Well, it’s all there in Walt Whitman, and it’s all there in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Speaking on Moby Dick, I want to draw a parallel to the moment in American history we’re currently experiencing subsequent to the Boston Marathon bombing [April 2013]. You know these two young men who…

M: Yes.


H: Well, the older brother, who’s now dead–his name was Tamerlan.

M: Oh, yes. Go ahead.


H: Well the interesting thing is immediately when I learned that, I went back to my Moby Dick because I had read a book on Melville’s use of a Middle-Eastern text and was well aware of the fact that one of the key historical figures upon whom the character of Ahab was formed, you could say, was the figure Tamerlane. Tamerlane was a mogul, an Emir, who lived in the 14th century and was one of the most feared conquerors of central Asia. And Poe has a famous poem “Tamerlane.” The name comes from Timur Lung, or Timur the Lame. He lived from 1336, which is right after Eckhart’s death, to 1405. He envisioned the restoration of the mogul empire of Genghis Kahn. He lived in what is now Uzbekistan. He received his name when he was a young man when he was shot in the right leg and right hand by two arrows because he was  caught  stealing a sheep. So he was crippled and lost two fingers. But he was terribly feared in Africa as well as in Europe and China and many parts of the Middle-East and Asia because he left a wake  of destruction everywhere he went and was responsible for millions of deaths.

Melville, the Nuclear Symbol, and American Poetry

So getting back to Melville and American poetry, which is what a lot of our talks have been based on, and the whole idea of spiritual democracy that I’ve brought in through Whitman’s big idea. The figure of Ahab was formed on this character of Tamerlane. In Chapter 50 of Moby Dick, Melville says in the opening section, “So Tamerlane’s soldiers often argued with tears in their eyes whether that invaluable life of his ought to be carried into the thickest of the fight.” So Ahab, who’s in chase of the White Whale, is referred to throughout here as a mogul. His  first mate Starbuck is referred to as an Emir. Here’s an interesting passage in Chapter 109 to finish up what I’m saying here. When Starbuck is pulling his pistol out to try and kill Ahab, which is what should have happened to Hitler, Ahab then picks up his musket, points it at Starbuck and says, “There is one God that is lord over the Earth and one captain that is lord over the Pequod. On deck!” He barks orders at the first mate. This is the kind of dictatorship aboard the ship. The Pequod’s wood could only be American; the oaken hull is all American wood. Ahab is an American captain. That he is characterized after this historical figure is significant. The fact that this young man had been given the name Tamerlane is significant because of the historic meaning of that name. Tamerlane was a Muslim, you could say, who wanted to conquer the world. So  here’s this young man acting out this “inheritance.” What did he do? He and his brother blew up many athletes–who lost their limbs, their legs.

M: Oh, boy!

H: Ahab walks on a whale-bone stump. He’s lame, he’s crippled, like Tamerlane. Also, “The Sermon” at the beginning of the book, chapter nine, takes place in Boston, of course, the famous seaman’s vessel where Father Mapple gives his Sermon to the sailors before they go out on their whaling ship. It all takes place in Massachusetts, the whaling capital of America. That this bombing took place right there is a tragic and awesome synchronicity that sends chills up  my spine, because we’ve got an epidemic here, and we have seen it’s terrible reality since 9/11, and the FBI knew about this young man and didn’t do something about it. They didn’t have enough evidence, but the Russians did send us a heads-up. So Melville was on to something significant, even in 1850 and 1851, and American poetry is at the center of a miraculous transformation. That quote that I read you by Ahab is the complete antithesis of spiritual democracy. There is one God that is lord over the Earth–well, there you go. That’s the complete antithesis of spiritual democracy that Whitman celebrated.

M: Yes. It’s an arresting thought. The name Tamerlan was given I would guess by his parents. That word would be very significant to them, and they were handing it to this kid.  Whether  he paid a lot of attention to his name or not, I would say that name would influence him to the point, indirectly or directly, where he began to see himself as an avenger or someone who had to straighten things out, and so forth.

H: For the shadow side of Islam.

M: And again, it represents that arrogance that there’s one God, and I’m it.  And I’ll  kill you if  you don’t accept this God. So Ok, there’s that.  Oh, I wanted to ask you, was  it a natural interest in Moby Dick? How did you come to be very involved in that work?

H: I was in analysis with a Jungian analyst, Donald Sandner, and he had encouraged me to write my book on shamanism in American poetry which began with my Everson book, which you read.

M: Right.

H: And Jeffers. He said, If you’re going to write a book on American poetry and look at the shamanic idea in American poetry, as I had set out to do in 1995, then I was going to have to include an analysis not only of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, not only Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poetry and letters, but I was going to have to read Moby Dick, because that novel, he said, was the core text of American literature. And he’s right. And I think it’s Melville, when we talk about mythopoetic, who was using the visioning method to write that novel.

M: Yes, he was. But, Sandner, he’s an analyst, how did he…? Oh, yes, you told me he had had a literature major before becoming a Jungian.

H: At the University of Illinois. He read The Cocktail Party; he decided then and there to become a psychiatrist.

M: Right, right.

H: But he never let go of his interest in English literature and American poetry. He was fascinated with what I was bringing him to analysis–all this new insight I was gaining through Whitman and Dickinson and Lawrence. And of course Everson and Jeffers. But he insisted that I had to read Moby Dick. I did and I became a Melville scholar, you could say.

M: I think you probably had a little epiphany around the time you were in my class–sometime around then, maybe after–you had a vision, and ever since then, you’ve been running your own show.

...and was a cook on the Island of Nordesrney

H: It was after your 123 course that I went to Germany and was a cook on the island of  Norderney. Right before then I had started to enter into my first Jungian psychotherapy with Katherine Whiteside Taylor. It was right before that when I was doing Hatha and Kundalini Yoga and experimenting with different types of meditation that I had, not an epiphany, but a mystical experience.

M: When you started doing Yoga, how old were you?

H: I was twenty.

M: As I recall, when I was reading your journals, you were already thinking independently, taking charge of yourself.

H: I wouldn’t say I was in charge at twenty. I was very receptive to an experience.

I didn’t quite have a vision yet, as Yeats put it, “One has a vision.” I had my vision as U. C. Santa Cruz. The mystical experience came first. That transformed my consciousness for good, but my vision took time to develop. I needed to find my master and becoming Everson’s TA at UCSC  was an unforgettable experience.

M: Yes, that makes sense. I think what happened was you were already doing it, and then you realized what it was.

H: I was beginning to do it, exploring all these new ideas that you had put forth in Image. Of course, I discovered Jung through Image, but then I read three-quarters of the Collected Works during that liminal time between DVC and UCSC. It was the influence of Jung that gave me the epiphany of what my vision was. You’re right. It  was a Jungian vision.  It  was at work in me,  but I didn’t know what it was until I met Bill.

M: Back to spiritual democracy. Your spirit was demanding to have its voice. “I want out. I don’t want to be voiceless!”

H: We do sit at a master’s feet for a while, and then we have to break out. That’s what Eckhart refers to as breakthrough, durchbrechen in German. It’s something that breaks through the psyche and soma from the Ground of Being. This is an Eckhardian concept, a notion that’s uniquely his.  It is what Jung in his essay called the Satori experience. What he means by this is that something new is born into the world. It’s basically a new idea. Image was a breakthrough, a synthesis for yourself. As I said, it’s got a very Zen focus.

M: Well, there’s some truth in what you say. I leaf through it and I think Where did I get all that stuff? The book is brimful of ideas from all over. I marvel that I had collected such a trove.

H: I think it’s the kind of integrative mind  that was working in Alan Watts, that was working in  the transcendentalists. Everson was working on it. Whitman picked it up and he really did synthesize it. Of course, Moby Dick is a masterwork of synthesis. Not only does Melville have Tamerlane as a prototype of the character of Ahab, but he had Hafiz, who wrote at the same time. Hafiz is a Sufi master who wrote  about spiritual democracy  in the  Middle East.  There you go. So he juxtaposes Hafiz with Tamerlane and Ahab.  And  he’s  saying dictatorships are going to  fall. What’s going to emerge  is this other strain of Islam, which is  Sufism.  And  it’s happening,  by God. My Iranian hairdresser tells me Hafiz sells more copies than the Koran! I think Image is an attempt to synthesize the best occurrences of spirituality in the East and West. Hammarskjold quotes Rumi in Markings. Did you know that?

M: No!

The Eternal Moment

H: Listen to this quote from Hammarskjold, “It is now in this very moment that I must pay for all that I have received.” The accent on now–you could say it’s very Zen, but it’s also Eckhartian. Eckhart uses the Now throughout much of his sermons, the eternal moment. I mention his book again because he includes Sufism. That’s why Martin Buber was so impressed with Hammarskjold’s mind when he was taking on Ben-Gurion regarding this Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle-East. Buber took on Ben-Gurion and called him Ahab in a letter! But of course he was referring to the Biblical Ahab who worshiped false prophets. And to add to the confluence of ideas, Buber’s biographer wrote one of the best essays on Moby Dick. So the influences of American poetry include Martin Buber. And Hammarskjold was encouraging Buber to read Steinbeck! So American prose and poetry were involved in the thinking of someone like Hammarskjold. One of the many things I admire about Buber is that he was an advocate for nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. took Buber’s works with him into the prison in Montgomery, during the Civil Rights marches. Hammarskjold was translating Buber’s I and Thou into Swedish when his plane went down. Oh, and one more connection. Buber wrote his dissertation on Meister Eckhart and three other medieval Christian mystics! You can see how Eckhart was  at the center  of a lot of these major figures’ thinking, thinking that transcends national boundaries. You see it in this interesting and very valuable extract in Alan Watts’s talk. It’s very Eckhartian.  This talk is some of Watts’s best thinking.

M: And compressed into thirty minutes!

H: Like an Eckhart sermon, you could say, but in his own way. I read his autobiography, In My Own Way by the way, when I had my epiphany. When I was coming back from the island I was reading his great autobiography on the train. I was very moved by it. When I say epiphany,  I  mean an experience, a mystical experience that we all have. It came through a big dream.

M: I’ll give you another example of a concept with me, beyond a concept. You’re sitting here  as the essence of Steven Herrmann, an essence that’s all about sunlight. You are compressed sunlight. I tease people by saying, “Did you know that Steven’s all about sunlight?”  Every once in a while I see these bundles of energy floating around–or I choose to let that happen. So the other day I was in McDonalds in the morning and I’m leaving and I look over and see this old  guy eating his toast, and I see a young Chinese couple kind of close together, some old Anglo- type woman and whatever she’s doing. And I was thinking, Oh, my God! There they all are, all these little bunches of starlight, and it was really kind of neat. I remember doing that at the college one time. I had been irritated about all these teachers and their boring attitudes about education and  curriculum,  and so forth.  So we’re in the auditorium.  All  the faculty are sitting there.  I’m in the back, looking at them. Here are all these gray-haired people sitting around, and I think, Oh, God! They’re just human beings. Why am I so irritated at them? And I suddenly had this compassion swell up for their limited, ignorant behavior. I just felt a kind of warmth for them then. Generally, I was at great odds with them.

H: This was a little epiphany you had. People Are Doing the Best They Can.

M: Every once in a while I realize people are doing the best they can.

H: Well, that’s right. That is right. Once you have an experience like this you do feel compassion. You can’t help but feel it. Part of it comes out of one’s own suffering.

The larger one’s sphere of compassion, the closer one is to oneness.

M: The larger one’s sphere of compassion, the closer one is to oneness.

H: Here’s another thought with regards to the sunlight metaphor. This new discovery that the universe is made up of dark energy, dark matter. This idea of dark energy  is pretty fascinating. We talk about sunlight energy. What about the dark energy? This is what Meister Eckhart gets  into and this is what Nothingness might be to the  Buddhists, this movement beyond the  sunlight, to the darkness that precedes it. We’re talking about something else that we can’t comprehend because we don’t know it, but there’s something out there, as well as in here, that  is  the Ground  of Being. And that is a dark energy.

M: Yes, light comes out of the dark energy, doesn’t it? Light comes out of darkness. Yet, it doesn’t actually come “out of.” It is it in another form. Yes, that’s the whole idea.

H: You have that visually on pages 380 and 381 in Image. Thingness and No-thingness

M: Yes. I wanted to bring the book back round to that central concept. “And the light was coming into the world,” and so on. We have to remind ourselves just about every day of this fundamental situation of thingness and no-thingness.

H: The poet-shaman, who best represents this dark energy that’s illustrated here  on Page 381 is Jeffers. Nobody speaks of the dark energy like Jeffers.

M: That’s right, at least none that I know of.

H: He represents something that we haven’t quite caught up with yet in West Coast literature.

M: Well, unfortunately, people like Jeffers just don’t quite connect with the general public, with the main body of literature, with literature majors, and all the emphasis that tends to veer away from the dark energy work.

H: Well, he’s beginning to emerge again. What’s that you have there?

M: Oh, it’s a little gift for you. It’s Karl Staubach’s way of introducing numerology to his students. I had talked about it with him some in the past, but after you and I delved into it last time, I asked him exactly how much credence he gave to it and how he described it. So, of course, I got a one-page outline of it all from him in the mail a few days later.

H: I remember Karl very well. I took his course on mythology. He was very good.

M: He’s one of the best you can get.

H: I still have my journal from his class.

M: Well, here’s what I wanted to pass on to you, this last quote here. He told me he started learning about numerology when his wife Rosan was into it. He was just looking over her shoulder, seeing what she was up to, how she used it to get into people’s psyches. She would connect with people that way. But here he says, “My version of numerology was designed to get students to write with interest about their own beautiful selves and come up with ideas they otherwise would not think of.”

H: That’s great.

M: Now, here’s what I wanted to tell you. We didn’t get a chance to discuss this this time, but I cannot yet come to the certainty that you have about the role of various patterns of numbers in revealing how the universe works.

H: I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions about that either.

M: When you talk about 7s and 5s and so forth, there seems to be more of a certainty than I yet have. However, what Karl said in that paragraph I just read to you is exactly how I could use numerology to great advantage.

Numerology and Destiny Numbers

H: I don’t intend to talk with certainty about some of this. I’m very uncertain about much of numerology. “Destiny numbers” –now that’s a concept I’m very interested in. I want to see what he has to say about destiny, because you know that’s what I’m interested in as well.

[Karl Staubach is an authority on mythology and taught the subject sometimes at Diablo Valley College. Here’s his take on what to make of numerology: As
in mythology (the study of myth), it doesn’t matter whether you “believe” it or not; the results are just as good either way.]

In the study of myth, it doesn’t matter whether you “believe” it or not; the results are just as good either way. –Karl Staubach]

in the study of myth, it doesn’t matter whether you “believe” it or not; the results are just as good either way.]

M: OK, if you have about five more minutes, here’s a little game to play: Think about how to get people interested in doing reflective writing. We both know that would be a good thing for them to do.  Let’s  say the question is How can we get them to do that?  Now, I’m going to say there is  a page in Image that will respond to that question. It will tell you exactly what to do.  Now we  have to find that page, and we will find it randomly, but it will be just what we’re looking for.

H: What you’re doing is using Image like the I Ching. M: That’s exactly right.

H: Um, hum. That’s a great way to wind up our talk for today

For me, the message is, Come off it!

[I tried the idea later at home. The random page number in Image came up 109. That turned out to be a collage of photographs: Eight or nine of chimpanzees scratching their heads, wearing funny hats, smoking a cigarette, part of an impressionistic lithograph of a fetus, also an impressionistic sun and an eclipse, an artist’s variation on Demuth’s “Figure 5″ with several figure 5s superimposed on a pentagonal star in a white circle, four more paintings of pentagonal stars, a photo of a whimsical ceramic sculpture that had been done by a Diablo Valley student. So how was that an answer to my question of how to get people interested in doing reflective writing? Well, there is no way the page is suggesting a typical college English writing assignment. But, considering what Steven and I had been discussing in this dialogue and throughout our talks, the page could have been made for us. For me, the message is, Come off it, be playful, let the topics mingle as they wish, don’t be too cerebral. What the page does is open up the options and avenues of thought that might not otherwise be considered.]

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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