Dialogue # 17: Compassion, Bliss, and the Quest for the Ground of Being

June 10, 2013

In this dialogue, Steven and I continue examining the role of compassion in the Spirit’s quest of a ground of being in the physical world.  Then we look at how a liberal education might aid this process or how a university might interfere with it.  We go on to talk about how  he shaman, the roshi, the teacher and the therapist go about their work.]

Spiritual Democracy in the Realms of Gold

H: Clark, let’s take a minute  to talk about turning these  dialogues we’ve been having into a book. I feel we’ve been developing a great theme as we interweave our two emphases, mine Spiritual Democracy and your thoughts that you put into your Realms of Gold manuscript. And they overlap beautifully.

M: I do agree. For me, going back and forth as we do, fills in the picture of how things are that’s been my focus throughout my life, even before I was consciously aware of it. But I think the way these dialogues work, they are indeed like a stage play. They may seem like friendly casual chats, but every one of them rises to a peak and comes to a point, just the way a play is structured. So I think this structure, a dialogue between two people about how the cosmos works –you, Steven, a Jungian therapist, and me, talking with you as I used to do with human souls who  would appear  in my college classes every semester. I do know thousands of them loved this process.

Melville’s Great Whale of a Novel and All the Barnacles

H: One thing we were touching on–and we circle back to this theme a few times–is what people really want to know about is the therapeutic nature of language, in terms of keeping a journal or taking an English course… I think what’s behind all this is compassion.

M: Well, I’d put it that people, their selves, their spirits, most assuredly do want the kind of  therapy that’s perhaps only available through language. But, my, yes, I’m glad you bring in compassion.  That’s a word I’ve  thought  a lot about, com-passion.   People confuse  that with pity–which is almost the polar opposite. You and I are well aware of the drive of the Spirit for a voice.

H: Because, you know, the language-shaper is really, in his or her deepest foundation, hoping the reader will really catch on. You’ve used that phrase a number of times in  our dialogues. And when a reader does catch on, then she realizes suddenly that this could actually change her life. So there’s a certain compassion the author has in writing a book, I think, toward the intended reader, because ultimately com-passion is suffering with. So, as you said earlier, about not wanting to be a slave, in some way there’s a labor of love. I think  that’s  part of this  ship that we’re all on, as Melville says in Moby Dick, “We all need to scratch each other’s backs.” We’re all slaves on the ship. And we’re wedded to our vocation, and in a sense that means work, and work always means some kind of suffering. And it means some kind of sacrifice. You and I could be out playing golf right now, but instead you’ve chosen to be here at 8 A. M. It takes  energy and effort and will to be here. But it also takes intelligence and it takes compassion.

M: I’d like to put in a few touches to the idea of com-passion, though. I’m resisting the word “suffer.” Maybe if we use it in the 16th century meaning, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” that would be fine. It does require effort, it does require sweat or at least full attention. Let’s take up the word “passion”, though. If we say “compassion,”  generally people do associate  it with the idea of suffering, but I think in com-passion, there’s a passion that’s being shared, not necessarily in the conventional sense of suffering. There’s a kind of joy involved. To me compassion is almost equal to love in the deepest, richest sense. Love doesn’t make it seem like hard work; you just do it. I have that scattered all over Realms of Gold. I guess I’d say that I don’t feel pain digging a ditch in my back yard. I don’t really mind that. I’m actually glad to have my shoulder to Sisyphus’s boulder.

It doesn’t matter whether  I get there or not. I’m going to just keep walking.

There’s a case of a rugby player whose plane went down in the Andes. Most of the people were killed, but a dozen or so weren’t and this one person, Nando Parrado and his friend Roberto Canessa chose to walk out for help. They weren’t even dressed for the extreme cold of 12,000 feet, only their sneakers and a light jacket. They did get out, and  did get  help, but Parrado said that what kept him going was his love for his father. He said to himself , It doesn’t matter whether  I get there or not. I’m going to just keep walking. And that’s what he did. But that’s com-passion, that deep love beyond mere affection. This is the ground of being really, functioning in a human being. I think of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, even Bobby Kennedy in his later years. They don’t feel like they’re cleaning up human excrement, wading through those foul smells, because they’re overcome by com-passion. It’s not at all like I feel sorry for you. It’s participating in this life up to your neck. How does that sound?

H: That sounds good.  I was thinking of the role of the psychotherapist being similar to that  of an English teacher, in the sense that a psychotherapist works out of compassion.

M: Yes. Well, whether it’s a teacher, a clerk at McDonalds, a social worker, a spouse, it has to begin with compassion. It can’t be faked and it can’t be done mechanically from a rule book. Com-passion, passion with.

H: People come to us because they need our help. They are suffering. Every student comes to the English teacher because she’s looking for help with language. She’s looking for help in being a better writer so she can get a degree, so she can get a job and work in the world, and maybe be a writer, maybe become a poet. So that work you’re doing is  really directed at the  foundation of her being. Evoking that is the main thing.

A Therapy of Health

M: Well, evoking is exactly the right word, yes. But let me add a little to the idea, at least regarding students who would arrive in my college English classes. I came to see the atmosphere in my classes and a kind of therapy of health. I didn’t think of those fellow human beings as ailing but rather as fellow adventurers, bright-eyed and alive. Yes, their spirits were yearning to be free, yes indeed. And college can be and should be what that’s all about.  So, if these young people were feeling confined, it was because they were under the yolk of practical people’s expectation of them. But I think, too, that at some level they all had a joyous anticipation of this Western-style rite of passage.

H: With joy, joyous participation. Compassion is about bliss, actually.

M: I think that’s exactly right.  You’d think the horrors some of the great martyrs suffered would  be without mitigation, insufferable agony. But as  someone  pointed out, when you see paintings of a saint in ecstasy, that’s that step beyond agony, the transformation into ecstasy.

You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping.
When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see.”
— From Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt, 1932

You’d think, this is terrible, but as someone pointed out, when you see a picture of a saint in ecstasy, that agony and ecstasy are almost identical. I said in one  of our  dialogues that  I think the ecstasy kicks in at a critical instant and transforms into pure, pure, timeless joy, a different dimension altogether. I do think that’s the case. But don’t ask me to test it out! [Laughs]

H: In those paintings, yes.

The Quest for the Ground of Being

M: In those paintings you see exquisite participation in the act of being, I think you could say. I wanted to add that we go to college so that we can take charge of our own language, or voice, as you would say. You want to take charge of your own vocation, which emerges through language.

H: That’s right. Through language, through the  act of speaking,  and  through  vocalization the Self emerges. Vocalism, as Whitman called it is the way to make this emergence happen.

M: I think, as I said, as I always say, everybody wants that. What art has to do is trick them into realizing that. That is, it comes over us when we’re doing something else.  All of a sudden you say Oh!

As I said, I don’t think kids come to Diablo Valley College wanting English. They come because they have to take it as a required subject. The institution itself thinks we have these kids in freshman English so they can write, so that they can become cogs in the wheel, to be able to write reports and stuff like that. Many teachers have forgotten the reason for a university in the first place, which is to look out at the world in a larger sense, to do what we’re talking about. The whole purpose of a higher education is to “know thyself.” That’s what  it’s about.  Everybody  now talks about it as if it’s to get a job.

H: To get started, everyone does need a vision. And that’s why Yeats said after you have a vision, you want another. And that’s it. I think the helpful thing about looking at these American poets and the English poets for models is that they all have a vision that’s their own. Every student who comes into an English class who reads that line will want to have a vision, will wonder about it, will wonder what he’s talking about.

The Shaman’s Art

M: You have to present it in such a way that he or she can’t help wondering about it. That’s where the shaman’s art—or the roshi’s or Jungian therapist’s or the English teacher’s at Diablo Valley College– comes in.

H: The psychotherapist is in the same boat. The patient hears about dream interpretation, about active imagination, about vocalism. They want to know how to do it. They want something practical. These dialogues you and I are having demonstrate one effective and uncomplicated way a way to engage the imagination through speech, even just a casual dialogue like the one we’re having right now.

A Dialogue with the Self

M: I want to throw this into our dialogue while we’re talking about it. In the classes I realized at some point that I never talked to students’ surface features. I always talked to their souls. We talked to each other via our souls. I noticed this really strongly when the kids would be having a party; they reverted to their superficial selves. In our classes we only talked to each other in that deeper sense, that authentic voice back and forth. That’s what’s so powerful.  I didn’t  know at the time that that’s what I was doing. It was just what I did.

H: It was a true dialogue.

M: Yeah. Exactly.

H: Most students have and I/thou relationship to their teachers. They are students and the  person up in front is the teacher. There’s never a kind of meeting halfway. What you were doing was evoking an I/Thou relationship with the soul and not just treating them as students. Actually you were talking to the teacher in them, too.

I/Thou = One.

M: It’s interesting that you bring that up, because I was looking at Buber’s I and Thou book, not reading it but thinking about the title. When that book came out years ago [1923], people got very interested in having dialogues about it. Now when I think about it, I think, That’s so obvious! You know, there isn’t any I/Thou. There’s just One.  This separation Buber was  talking about, this separation is so artificial to me now, there isn’t any separation whatsoever. It’s  absurd to even talk that way, because it’s a oneness that’s going back and forth.

H: Well, I think that’s what he was getting at.

M: Yes. He was. But the audience of his day was thinking, Wow! What do you mean!? I am separate. That guy over there is a different being altogether. That’s what he was fighting against, but that to me is absurd. I think the I/Thou is still a strong concept with most people.

H: Buber said you can have an I/Thou relationship to a dog. Or a tree.

M: Well, that’s where I go with this idea. But we have to wrap our senses around the tree to the point where our two entities merge. That’s it.

H: You know, I’m going to go out and fence those redwood trees, because I don’t want the goats eating them.

M: Let’s print it this way, Steven:

I’m going out and fence
those redwood trees
I don't want the goats
eating them.

If you want to be an environmentalist, you can start there.

H: Karl Staubach had something to say about trees.

M: Oh, yeah! He really does see them as fellow beings and not as lesser beings. That’s critically important. I see them that way, too, but not to the depth that he does. I still have  work  to do!  Well, sometimes I do feel that empathy. That Chief Seattle letter to Franklin Pierce that I put in my book Thinking about Thinking does bring me up close to what must be natural for Karl.

H: Whitman said those redwood trees had a soul in “Song of the Redwood Tree.” When the teamsters cut down that big tree in Mendocino and Whitman read about it…

M: There should have been a national mourning.

H: Yes, “A song to spiritual democracy,” and that’s the beauty of language. True compassion. Now, there’s compassion for you. Whitman’s compassion extended from Camden, New Jersey, all the way over to Mendocino, California. That’s how big his compassion was.

M: It can only reach out to that extent by getting to know, first, the birds, trees, shrubs and bugs  in your back yard. They are the envelope you walk around in.  That’s your exoskeleton, after all. You are made up of those elements.

H: Whitman never set foot in California. He never saw a redwood tree. He only got as far as the Rockies.

M: That’s pretty good for an Easterner. I knew guys in New England who never got beyond Massachusetts.

Miracles Everywhere, Everywhere

H: He certainly wrote a beauty when he penned that poem. And that was a vision. Like  Yeats  said, you want another, and there was another for Whitman. Whitman’s was so large that he saw miracles  everywhere.   I  mean,  everywhere!   Everything  was a miracle.    And I think you can develop that part of the brain.

M: There you go! I think you’re right.

H; I want to take my thought a little bit further about Whitman’s  compassion for the  redwood tree. I was working on my manuscript and tending the redwood trees out in the Park here  right next to our home.  I had a dream there was an enormous  redwood tree right outside my  window.  It was towering and the tree was speaking to me and it was thanking me for doing this work.

M: When was this?

H: It happened about two months ago. The tree had compassion toward me. I considered, Was this the soul of the redwood tree speaking to me?

M: Yep. That redwood tree in your dream was telling you that it shares life with you, that you and it are—scientifically and poetically—one life. We have to arrive at that shared passion. And I’d say com-passion is not too farfetched a word for that relationship. When we cross over to that level, we get our ecologist’s license.

“God Shed His Grace on Thee.”

H: I began to think that my ego, my perception of myself was being altered. You know, we think that our little acts, the things we do in life, as little acts of compassion. But that was a big act of compassion, for that big tree to have compassion toward me, and  thankful  praise for the  couple of little trees I planted. I think  that  these trees  have a consciousness of their own.  What  we did to these trees, butchering these trees in these hills, is heart breaking. That’s still here, just like the tragedy of what we did to the Indians, the grief of nature.

A tree doesn’t need to have a brain because a tree itself is a brain.

M: Let me just pause and think about that a little bit. I love the idea of the redwood conferring its grace on you. In Intelligence in Nature, Jeremy Narby says you can think of it this way: A tree doesn’t need to have a brain because a tree itself is a brain. Because if you are a brain . . .

H: Let me tell you, there’s a consciousness in that tree.

M: Yes. And if the tree itself is a brain, it doesn’t need a brain. A tree is an intelligent organism, just as your being is an intelligent being functioning on its own quite comfortably in the Earth, thank you very much. Your cells have intelligence all by themselves. They know exactly what to do. They don’t have to consult with a command center up in the skull.

H: Those trees know how to create water. They go up into the fog belt and they water their own roots.

M: And if a tree doesn’t like where it is, it can move over to where’s it’s nicer.

H: That’s what Karl Staubach said!

M: That’s true, that’s literally true. The walking palm tree really does: [Here’s a quote: “The tree slowly “walks” from shade to sunlight by growing new roots toward the light and allowing the old roots interfering with its wanderlust to die.”] You’ve seen trees lean in a certain direction. It’s the same thing.

H: And they create oxygen. This atmosphere we breathe, this beautiful air. What are we doing? Deforestation. Getting back to spiritual democracy, Humboldt was a great inspiration to Emerson and Whitman and Darwin and Muir. One thing Humboldt was very concerned about was deforestation in Ecuador and other parts of South America. This was in 1804. We’re  talking about the father of the ecology movement.

M: That was quite a vision, wasn’t it, to see the implications of deforestation. If you have a narrow view of your world, you might think, So what if we kill of a lot of trees in South America?

Gigantic Sky Rivers

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, 12/5/14, “The cutting of trees, the scientists say, is hindering the immense jungle’s ability to absorb carbon from the air—and to pull enough water through the tree roots to supply gigantic ‘sky rivers’ that move more moisture than the Amazon river itself.”]

H: We’re killing ourselves.

M: I think we probably are killing off the planet. But I think the universe would probably experience it like a kernel of corn not materializing. This planet is a speck, after all, in the scheme of things.

One thing about your work is that your patients actually seek you out and they actually pay you. So you have a highly motivated audience. Everybody who comes to you. You see them on-on-one, like Socrates.

H: Well, you could say college students are paying the school to educate them. And believe me, it’s expensive. I know of patients who are a hundred thousand dollars in debt!

M: Just think. When you came to Diablo Valley College, it was free.

H: It was free.

M: It could still be that way, but it’s those strange, practical brains we were talking about. They cannot envision the value of having that stranger be educated. They can’t see the  connection.  They don’t see their own self-interest being destroyed by creating these horrible hoops you have to go through. But as I said, I don’t think kids know they’re going to college because of what you and I think it’s all about. Now, I know that, yes, their souls demand to be liberated, but I don’t think kids do go to college, as a rule, with that kind of awareness. Where would they ever get it? They don’t get it in their schools.

H: I’m talking about my own experience, of course… I had the good fortune of ending up in your class.

M: You also had the good fortune of having two highly educated parents.

H: Yes, both taught foreign languages at DVC and then I met Katherine Taylor and William Everson.

M: Most kids come out of homes that don’t even read novels, or look at art, or anything that points towards the liberation of the human spirit.  They think  that what they’re feeling is an urge to have a good time, and that you do that by having a lot of loud music, all sorts of superficial stuff that doesn’t penetrate to the spirit but actually diverts them from that. Their instincts are right, of course. The Spirit does indeed want a place to have a good time, a wonder-full time, but that wonderful time is that place of gold vermilion at the heart of matter, the fire of the atom’s core.

H: Well, you’re right about my parents. My mother was reading Camus, she was reading Jung. You took her French class at DVC. She read Camus in French and English.

M: I wasn’t at that level!

H: Back to what you were saying. You know, you’re challenging my basic hypothesis that every student who took your class, every student who was there, was looking for a vision.

M: Well, challenging in that they were consciously looking for it.

H: Well, maybe not consciously.

M: There were a few people that maybe with a bit of background…

Looking for a Vision

H: I think everybody, at least in their unconscious, is looking for a vision.

A taste for beauty

M: Oh, my, yes! I’m sure we agree on that. Here’s the other thing that I think is true. Yes, every one of those people is looking for a vision, despite having lived through a superficial world that their parents were living and so forth, everything on the surface, nothing of the soul, nothing touching the heart of being. In my home I never heard my parents talk about anything, anything  at all, being beautiful. I should add, though, that that Scotch-Irish environment may have modeled for me a taste for beauty, my mother in her flower garden, my father in taking  us five kids  on hikes up in Chestnut Ridge just out our backyard on a Sunday afternoon. My sense of nature must surely have been nurtured in that household.

H: And that brings us back to compassion. I wanted to ask you a question. I was looking on Wikipedia trying to find more on the background of the word…

M: When were you doing that?

H: Yesterday.

M: Because I’ve just been thinking about that word.

H: That’s interesting, because as we’ve been saying, there is a Field, and I think at times in these dialogues we seem to be receptive to the activation of this Field.

M: Yes.

H: Well, I was thinking about blue whales just this week, and you think blue whales are interesting.

M: That’s very interesting!

Leaps of Shadow into Light

H: I was thinking that there must be a reason why the Buddha, when he was asked by his disciple, what is the teaching of the Dhamapada, what is the basic teaching? He said it can all be summed up in one word, compassion. So that’s interesting. When you think about a person like that, a person who’s been enlightened, and who sees the world in a particular way, like Walt Whitman did–because I think he’s the American Buddha.

What we’re talking about, that part of the brain, the neuro anatomy being that developed, that it “leaps out of shadow into light,” some kind of light that transcends that negative part of the brain that you were talking about, that suddenly compassion encompasses everything. Buddha had compassion for everything.

M: That’s well put. Yes, some go so far that they wouldn’t step on an ant, and so forth, because they have that com-passion. We go ahead and eat meat, but some Indians did thank the deer who provided them with that meat. That’s the key, isn’t it? To have this enveloping com-passion so that you know what you’re doing when you eat anything, anything at all, when you’re making love, when you’re typing a transcript! So I think to say I would never step on an ant is stupid, but when you step on him, you have to realize what you’re doing. You realize the chain of life that’s involved. This walking around with awareness is a key.

H: Some kids these days live in places where they have gates around their houses. They live in downtown, here in Oakland, and it’s a war zone down there.

M: It sure is. I drive through there.

H: A few have no contact with nature. Yet here’s Joaquin Miller Park right here. It’s  only  a couple of miles from their homes. They could come up and be in nature and sit under a redwood tree. When I grew up we were always barefoot. We were always running through the fields. We had as much nature as you could possibly want.

M: I know.

H: The way to school was…

M: A walk through the park!

H: I saw monarch butterflies every year–transformed out of these wonderful chrysalises, caterpillars that had been an egg. I remember watching the whole process. Beautiful!

M: Back to the practicality of what we’re talking about, we have to do some stage magic to trick people into this way of perceiving or of experiencing whatever’s going on right now. It’s not necessarily a trick so much as catching their eye.

H: Well, a little bit of the Trickster is O.K.  The Native Americans  really valued the Trickster as a divinity. I think it’s a part of it, but “catching the eye,” follow that up. That may be the larger part. How do you catch the eye of a student?

Running to Nature’s God

M: Here’s an example. You learn how to participate in the established order—how to invite your soul into the midst of a marketplace environment. You don’t mess with that.  But within that, you go ahead and work on your vocation. Anyway  I have a friend  is  a very good Catholic.  He  runs to church a lot.

H: He runs to church?

M: I’m just joking about that.

H: Well, that’s an interesting way to put it because I have a quote here from Meister Eckhart. I think we all want to run into Nature’s God.

M: I see your point.

H: I was just reading a sermon of Eckhart’s. He said we all want to run into peace.

M: What did he mean by that? Do you have the piece handy?

Eckhart, the Master Craftsman

H: It’s quite amazing actually. Meister Eckhart certainly isn’t the Catholic Church, but people do find peace in the Church—many are magnificent, really—and whatever you find peace in, that’s where God is. Because that’s one of the experiences one has when one is in God. And God’s  inside of us. That’s where Eckhart comes in. He was a master craftsman of German vernacular language and a master poet.

The Ebullient Spirit

M: It sounds to me, from how you describe his sermons, like he didn’t craft them so much as generate them on the spot? As though it came bubbling out of him.

H: That’s a good metaphor for it. He does speak of it as bubbling. That’s one of the synonyms for ebullient, ebullience.

M: Oh, yes. Well, there are a lot of words like that, directly inspired, for example.  When you trace them back to their roots, you get the poetic power of such words. I think last time we talked about what Jung said in his introduction to Suzuki’s book, that it would be difficult to practice Buddhism in our Western world  because we  weren’t  prepared for it, but I argued that the information has always been in the Christian world. If you read scriptures the way I think you could, Zen Buddhism was in my Sunday School class. The teachers didn’t know it, but that’s what I was getting out of it. It’s the oneness, it’s all that Zen and Buddha embody.

Beyond Knowledge — Love, Compassion

H: You were absolutely right on. Jung, of course, says that. Who did he quote in that essay but Eckhart? Let me read you this. “To know what the soul is? One needs supernatural knowledge. …We know a little about this but not very much. What the soul is in its ground no one knows. What one can know about it must be supernatural. It must be from grace. That is where God  works compassion. I say that beyond these two, knowledge and love, beyond these, there is compassion. In the highest and purest acts that God works, God works compassion.” Now, that’s pure Buddhism right there.

M: Yes. Do you think Eckhart was using the word God metaphorically?

H: I’d have to think about that.

M: The Christians annoy me with the idea of a personal type of God.

H: Well, that’s why Eckhart distinguished between God and the Godhead.

M: Ah. OK.

Leaving God for God

H: The Godhead is nothing. It’s the transcendent dimension beyond God. He says, “My highest prayer will be leaving God for God.” By that he means God for the Godhead.

M: Yes. That’s their vital distinction.

H: Atman for Anatman.

M: Earlier, you used a synonym for satori. What was it?

H: Oh, Ananda.

Illuminating Our Facts

M: OK. And Ananda is bliss. In passing, I should tell you, when people hear about the things I’m interested in, say, “Oh, let me bring you this  . . .” And I think, No, don’t bring me  anything else. I don’t need  it.  This is not  helping.  All I need to do is sit down and  explore this.  I have plenty of material. Plenty of material. What happens a lot with our dialogue is that this is an enriching of what we’re doing.

H: You said something last time that I wanted to ask you about. You were talking about looking  at my face, or looking at me and seeing sunlight. Then you talked about seeing sunlight in all  your students’ faces. What do you mean by sunlight?

M: I mean the concept first. Sort of like the concept of God, I guess. You start with the concept that I know you are sunlight. I know that you are. That’s what you’re made up of physically.

H: That’s the part I wanted to know more about. How am I made up physically of sunlight? I know it’s true that these plants couldn’t exist without sunlight.

From Concept to Pure Energy

M: Well, there are several levels of that idea. The Earth is literally a piece of the Sun, literally, every bit of it is sun-stuff. The so-called elements.  What you really are is energy.  That, I think, is a concept that we can all grasp, although we may  not sense it consciously.  So I can start there. I can see you as a concept. But then when I relax a little, I see you as pure energy. That’s not a mystical thing. But it feels mystical sometimes when I see people sitting in McDonalds. Don’t  take it too deeply, but sometimes I sense it pretty strongly.

H: What do you sense?

 Bundles of Sunlight Sitting Around Sipping Coffee

A little bundle of the universe , sitting around

I sense that this old guy eating his muffin and enjoying it, some old lady with all her rings, sitting looking out at the Bay, I realize, I realize, what they are. These manifestations, these little bundles of the universe sitting around, I realize that.

M: Well, I sense that this old guy eating his muffin and enjoying it, some old lady with all her rings, sitting looking out at the Bay, I realize, I realize, what they are. These manifestations, these little bundles of the universe sitting around, I realize that.

H: If that’s true, and I do think you’re right, because we started focusing our dialogues after you asked me to read McTaggart’s The Field. And of course there we’re talking about energy  and light. The whole book starts with light. Why then is more than half of the brain operating in this negative field that you were talking about earlier? What’s going on? Why are human beings so preoccupied with negative thinking patterns?

M: Uhhh. That’s good! [Laughs]

H: These plants I don’t think have any negative thinking patterns.

M: Oh, I think they do.

H: Do they? Tell me about that.

M: It’s what you said. The negative is where the stuff isn’t.

H: They know where not to go.

M: They know what’s not there.

H: Why are human beings so out of touch with knowing what’s good for them?

M: Ummm.

H: That’s a big question.

M: Well, I’ll have to ponder that a little. Why are we so screwed up? [Laughs] We seem to be the most screwed up of any aspect of our universe.

H: Robinson Jeffers said that civilization had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

M: A goodly portion of it, yes. It’s like people who want to go to war all the time. People in Bush’s administration had those kinds of brains. They couldn’t envision anything else. I have to fall into the universe in order to escape from this delusion.

Yes, I think compassion would be the capacity for inclusion of that as part of myself.

H: Absolutely.

M: And of course this can’t be faked. It truly has to be a change in me.

H: And that’s the running into peace. Go in peace. It’s about going into a quiet, silent, meditative place where you can find your center again. And letting go is key. Let go of any external fights that are keeping us from being at one.

[A short break]

Active Imagination

H: Lori and a colleague are doing some teaching on active imagination in analysis. By that she means the practical application of it in the psychotherapy process. For example, a patient comes in, has had a dream, and wants to do some kind  of exploration about the meaning of the  dream. So she starts with an image–because that’s all we can ever start with. The students meditate on  the image. You allow the image to unfold, either through the use of expressive arts, such as drawing with pastels or with colored pencils, or maybe sand play. Or movement, where she brings the image into movement so that one becomes the image. One embodies the image to move, and one is the image. Or one vocalizes it. One writes. One allows it to have a voice.

M: That’s exactly what I was trying to do, not necessarily conscious of it, but always trying  to get people into catching on to what they’re actually doing.

What you’re describing reminds me of what we were saying earlier about wrapping the senses around the facts, but here it’s wrapping them around the image. So how long did they talk?

H: Each about three hours.

M: Wow!

H: We had breaks, and  we  had exercises.

M: So it was a well-worked up presentation.

H: Oh, yes, and it was participatory. We went out in the garden and we did different movements. And it was really wonderful. In a sense you were using forms of active imagination in your class.


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.]

Dialogue 15: Sequential Time, Timeless Time. Synchronicity, and the Power of the Word

 [In this dialogue we talk about some tools that anyone, not just people consciously interested in enlightenment, can use deliberately to  elevate the  moments of their days to a higher intensity and make that a permanent approach to daily life. Two such tools are the reflective writing approach that I still use and that I used with my students and Steven’s use of journaling with his patients. For the soul to flourish, it is necessary to wrap one’s senses around the “facts”, to get the feel of the facts . Refelctive writing and journal writing are two ways to do that.]

H: This is from a book by Marie-Louise von Franz, On Divination and Synchronicity, The Psychology of Meaningful Chance. I copied three pages for you.

[Carl Jung’s definition of synchronicity: the coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same or a similar meaning.”]

M: [Delighted] “The psychology of meaningful chance”! I love that phrase. That’s almost a complete essay in itself.

H: So what she’s done is brought two Chinese number systems back to life for us, in light of Jung’s theory of individuation. I think I’ll read this to you, and then maybe we can talk about it. “In all areas of events one would always finally arrive at this mirror image, the basic rhythm–a matrix–of the cosmos.

Lo Shou

For the Chinese one of the basic matrices, or arrangements of the universe, was a quadrangle matrix–a magic square called the Lo Shou, which sets the basic rhythm. It is a so-called magic square because whichever way you add up the figures the result is always 15.”

M: [Checks it out] True enough.

H: “The Chinese had two ideas or aspects of time: namely timeless time or eternity, unchanging eternity, superimposed on cyclic time. We live normally, with our consciousness, in cyclic time, according to Chinese ideas, but there is an eternal time–une durée créatrice, to use an expression of Bergson’s… In every detail, this  number pattern always played a  role, because it was  thought to be the basic rhythm of reality… The underlying numerical order of eternity is called the Ho-

Tu, a mandala and also a cross. There is again 5 in the middle… The Lo Shou is the world in which we live, and underneath is always the eternity rhythm, the Ho-Tou. [Notice, that 5 is always in the center of each of the matrices] … Jung has already pointed out that among different archetypes there is one which encompasses all the others, and that is the archetype of the Self.”

[In the combinations of the Ho Tu, note that the 5 is pivotal. The four sets of Ho Tu combinations require 5 to form the combination. Thus, looking at the square above, 1 plus 5 is 6, so 1 and 6 are one combination. 2 plus 5 is 7, so 2 and 7 are another combination. 2 + 5 is seven, so 2 and 7 are another combination. 3 plus 5 is 8, so 3 and 8 is a third combinaiton. And 4 pluis 5 is 9, so 4 and 9 is a combination/

5 is 9, so 4 and 9 is a combination.

Ho Tu

[The Book of Changes: “The clockwise movement is cumulative and expanding and manifests the events that are passing. The opposite backward movement reflects the time of the future and, as it moves, the seeds of the future take form. To know this movement is to know the future. In symbolic terms,” if we understand how a tree is contracted into a seed, we will surely understand the future unfolding of the seed into a tree.]

I could read further, but I’m going to give this to you and you can look at it later and study it. But I wanted to lay out this basic Chinese view of the relationship between these two mathematical diagrams and temporal reality–or time–and eternal time, the five being in the center of both.

M: Oh yes, the 5 we’ve been talking about.

H: Yes, because of the 5 and because 5 is in the center of both.

Reality, The Shared Memory of the Race

M: Well, it’s very timely for me because the latest thing I put on my website is about Yeats’s “Memory.” It’s about the impression in the grass where the hare has lain, as we’ve discussed several times. The impression in the grass is what you keep. I wrote that up rather quickly and cleverly I thought, and then Ruth didn’t get it at all. I’m thinking, why isn’t this perfectly obvious? So I’ve been thinking about how to make that clearer, and I thinking that if I gave her this to read she wouldn’t get it. But I’m getting it, click, click, click, like that, because it fits in with everything.

The issue for most people, anybody who hasn’t thought about it very much, is that what they see is what they get. And they don’t realize that that very thing that they’ve just done is an impression they took of the universe. Not what’s out there but what  they’ve carried away from it, a residual impression from the nerve endings. And they don’t often realize that. After all, reality is a very compelling illusion, as Einstein noted/ The job for me is to find a way for them to “get it.” In my classes, we would do something like this. We’d look as these two configurations and play with them.  And they would start to come around.  What happens is, as you know, that your mind goes back and  forth.  Over here is the  physical world, and then here’s what it really is. If you’re alert, you go back and forth. What Frost toyed with is, Can I get both of those simultaneously? Can I be in eternal time as well as in sequential time?

The problem is the carryover.

H: So what’s on my mind is the whole question of how a reader can apply any of the ideas we’ve been discussing.

M: That’s on my mind  a lot. It’s rather ironic that to enter into timeless time, you have to spend enough time one something to make it come alive in its full complexity. What did the fox tell the Little Prince? “It’s the time you spend on your rose that makes it unique in all the world.” Men only understand things they have tamed.

Something to Wrap the Senses Around

H: And practically. We’re talking practical applications. So I think it would be useful to talk a little bit about method and technique for bringing about changes in awareness whereby a reader or someone who might be listening to our dialogue could get that concept–through an experience.

M: Yes. Maybe one could say, “OK,  let’s look at this vase.”    Then go around the group asking each person to add some detail or aspect that hadn’t already been mentioned.  And keep going like that for a while.  I think you could start with something like that. What we’re doing is wrapping our senses around that vase, but what we’re also doing is bringing that vase into our own sensoriums.   We have to take this step.  No amount of explication  by a well-meaning teacher will do the trick.  Only the participation by the witnessing participant will bring it alive.  What I’m realizing as you and I talk is that these dialogues are raw material and will remain, as far as any reader is concerned, spiritless until the reader becomes a participant in the dialogue.  Steven, you and I have to recognize this fundamental fact in these dialogues, that they cannot help but be static till some reader imbues them with his or her own spirit.

you and I have to recognize this fundamental fact in these dialogues, that they cannot help but be static till some reader imbues them with his or her own spirit.,

H: I think that’s true. And then there needs to be a way for the integration process to happen. That’s where I think doing some kind of journaling method helps bring about a change in awareness.

Reflective Writing as a Flashlight

M: I think it’s critical. But how do you get people to do it who are so casual about everything? That’s what pulls it off, what I call reflective writing. That’s the key because you have to take time. Before I came over here I was doing that. For me it illuminates things so rapidly you can’t believe it.  But it’s a wonderful tool. If people would do it, it would work for them.  In my classes  I could make that my requirement. Actually in my mind it was a recommendation, a suggestion- -not a requirement, because it really is their choice to do this. If they had to do it, it would be just another composition exercise. But sometimes some would start out acting like they had to and then would find themselves doing it productively and liking the process.

H: What I was getting at is that everybody who works on himself or herself and has the aim of transforming his or her consciousness has to find their own method.

M:  That’s  right.

The Necessity of One’s Own Path

H: And that somebody else’s method might work for him, although one has to find one’s own rhythm.

You know, von Franz is talking about rhythm being basically a mathematical principle in the cosmos. So how does one find one’s own rhythm? All these poets we’ve been talking about– Whitman, for example, talks about vocalism as “the divine power to speak words.” That’s what vocalism is: vocalizing power, the power of divinity. Finding a technique whereby one  can activate the archetype of the Self in its temporal and eternal aspects, so that one is living in touch with both realities, is the key. And I think that it varies in every individual.

Getting the Feel of One’s Facts

M: OK. I’m sure that in your work  you take each person as an individual, a separate self. OK, so I’m thinking about how this might work. I can’t imagine convincing a bunch of anonymous readers that they’d better start keeping a reflective journal, even though that would be a great idea.

H: I’m not so sure convincing them is what I’m getting at. What I’m looking for is some  practical steps for applying the concepts to  their own lives. And  beginning to  apply them in such a way that they can do it in their own personal space and time, because if you’re using the web as a way to reach people, you’re not going to have interactive experience with them, except through back and forth commentary.

M: That’s right.

Catalytic Rhythm and Music

H: What I’m thinking is every soul, to quote Whitman again, has its own individual language. One has to find that language. Now, that language is patterned by rhythm, and for the poet it’s always rhythm, music, that helps induce the state of mind whereby a poem can be born.

M: Or you could say, where your voice is released. It’s unique, your voice; that’s the essential point. No one else’s ventriloquism will do. I don’t think we can over emphasize how fundamental this is to the individuation of a being. In linquistics there’s a word for it, idolect.

[An idiolect is an individual’s distinctive and unique use of language, including speech. This unique usage encompasses vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.]

I don’t see how an elementary teacher can be effective without knowing that that’s the game, to open the way for that little kid to speak in his or her own tongue. Or any of the rest of us “educators” for that matter. Everything else is Trivial Pursuits!

H: Where the voice is released. And coupled with that is also the vision. One has to have a vision. This is very Jungian. And it’s very Native American. One needs to stay true to one’s own inner vision in order to work on material that wants to manifest itself from the collective unconscious.

M: OK. So in order to get your voice going, you have to get in tune with your inner rhythm. That has to be allowed to function. Then your voice can come out. Now, how to get people  to recognize that their own vision is central to this process? There are the rites of passage of various forms, of course.  As a culture America isn’t very good at it, this turning point where a person simply wakes up. 

Active Imagination

H: That’s where, as a Jungian psychotherapist, I recommend to all my patients that they keep a dream journal. When you think about the technique that Jung used with his patient’s, active imagination, it was something that grew organically out of his work with Freud on dreams.

M: Talk about “active imagination.”

H: Well, “active imagination” was Jung’s method  of working with the  unconscious. Jung saw that the philosophies of India–Buddhism, Hinduism–had asked the  perennial  question, How does one come to terms with the unconscious? With the cosmos, most basically. You could say that the unconscious and the universe are interconnected with mathematical figures that the Chinese developed. But  the big question in all of these philosophies and  religions  had been How does one come to terms with the orderly and chaotic forces in the universe? And then, How might a person be led to have a vision out  of that that can lead to enlightenment  or recognition of one’s own dharma and teaching.

Jung, of course, broke away from Freud in 1912 because of his  book Symbols of Transformation, which upset Freud. After that he developed his method  of active  imagination that he learned a little bit about first from an American student who was a visionary, Miss Frank Miller: How to engage poetic fantasy, mythopoetic fantasy. He developed it in his own psychological direction into this discovered method that he used to engage the unconscious rhythms, fantasy-thinking as a way to promote directed thinking.

Rhythm, Vision, and Discoveries

We’re talking about the two diagrams that we’ve been looking at and the two types of time. Fantasy thinking takes one into eternal time, and directed thinking brings one back into temporal reality. So how do you unite those two? Well, it’s through the integration of the  right and left hemispheres, this integrative process of rhythm, vision, and the discovery of one’s own language. Jung said that in order to interpret a dream properly, one has to learn the language  of the dream that is unique in every individual, every patient. I think the same is true for someone like yourself teaching a group of unruly English students; you have to get into that rhythm with the students and thereby help them discover their vision. You used your own reflective writing technique, and that worked for the students. I use a different method, my own journal technique.

M: Let me interrupt for a minute. You referred to a Miss Miller?

We Want at Least a Glimpse

H: Yes, that was her pseudonym. Jung had found her visionary experiences in a book by his colleague Theodore Flournoy, who wrote up her visions in 1906. Jung read those and wrote his major work as an analysis of those visions. Some of the visions that she had were based on her reading of “Hiawatha” by Longfellow. So there’s a Native American element to visions. My point is that Jung had to develop his own method of coming to terms with unconscious, just as the Buddha or any religious teacher had to find his  own method  of meditation or however they’re going to deal with their own impulses and these cosmic forces. Everybody wants to be able to have a glimpse at least of this reality you’re talking about in the Yeats poem that I gave you about the hare and the impression in the mountain grass, because, you’re right, all we have are these impressions in life.

M: That’s it!

H: Yet there are impressions that are internal that live forever, and those are the ones that he’s talking about. He’s talking about that special one that could never be replaced by any other woman.

Nourishment for the Soul

M: Yes, I think that’s absolutely correct. So you allow your senses to absorb the loved one, that person in front of you. You keep that, and I think you do; that image is inside you. But what happens is that your entire Self has been transformed. Or, that experience has put you in touch with the eternal because you have allowed it to be so vivid. So what happens is that openness to experience allows your Self to grow or develop. So every loving thing that you do out there in the world is nothing more than nourishment for the whole thing. It’s not that specific thing; you’ve been made different because of that openness.

H: You’ve been changed.

To Live in Eternity’s Sunrise

M: And that’s all gain. What happens is that if you do enough of that, you begin to live in eternity’s sunrise. You may not think that’s your goal, but that clearly is your goal. I think  most of us choose not to go quite that far. If we did, we wouldn’t be sitting here.

H: Yes. I don’t think it’s possible to live there all the time. We have to take out the  trash, we’ll be in traffic . . .

M: Right. I picture that glimpse like that white bird on your shoulder that Carlos Castaneda wrote about. He called it your death, but I’d say it’s that glimpse of what’s available that you carry around on your shoulder so that when you’re going through traffic, you’re in that envelope of the greater world. We can go ahead and do our shopping . . .

H: Oh,  I think it’s perfectly possible to be  in traffic and be living with an awareness of that.  But I don’t think that’s typically the  case. This is where  we  get back to what  I was saying, though. If one does what you said you did this morning, using you reflective writing method to get yourself into a state whereby you have broken through.

M: What I did essentially was to allow my voice to come forward.

H: I do it all the time. But this is what your readers will want to know. How do you do that? Let’s get back to what you did this morning.

M: That’s how this one does it. I think a lot of my students did it that way. Perhaps they were doing it in other ways that I wasn’t aware of. In the journals I got a real sense of what was happening in regard to this other realm. And I’d get a general sense as well of the  feel of the whole group. They were making up an envelope within the greater envelope. How to get, say, your spouse to do it, or one of your kids, someone who’s not usually thinking about this sort of thing? I don’t know.  After all, what you, Steven, and I love to think about isn’t even on the list  of most people I know.

Poetic Science

H: I would follow her rhythm, to the place inside herself where she can have an experience. I would ask her about her dreams. That’s what I do when people walk into my  office. Getting   back to my point about method, this is really the key  readers  to  your website are going to want to know, or readers of my book on spiritual democracy. They are  going to want to find out what  a practical method is for applying this idea, this big notion. How does one practice spiritual democracy? How does one practice being a poet when one doesn’t write poetry every day? And live as a poet? What can poetry teach me about being a physicist in the field of science or in the field of chemistry? Poetry, as Whitman thought of it, vocalism and free verse are methods whereby anybody may activate the center of the personality, which Jung called the  Self  — which is exactly the place where the two diagrams come together.

M: OK. Sure. Of course that works when someone comes to you. They are there for that express purpose, even if they haven’t articulated it. They know something isn’t quite clicking.

H: Yes, of the kind where one has an experience that Yeats is trying to teach, and that you’re talking about. How one activates the experiential reality of cosmic unity through a method–and here again we’re getting back to journaling.  I think journaling is a key to this–writing.  And that’s where literature and psychology meet. I think the greatest psychologists  of the  19th century were poets. Whitman, Dickinson, Melville. There were others  of course, but for me  as an American, they speak to my soul in a way that no other poet does. Everyone has to find their own teachers. For me, they are the greatest teachers of the 19th century. They were psychologists. They’re not like New Age teachers.

Lasting Moments

M: So let’s say you take someone like Ruth and you give her Whitman’s poem “There Was a Child Went Forth.” I have a feeling that if you gave that poem to ordinary people and they read  it slowly and absorbed it, they’d “get it”–for that particular moment.  I think the thing is for them to have enough experience of that poem that they begin to see that that’s something that could be going on all the time in their perception of the world.

H: Right. You and I can hear that line, “There was a child went forth every day and the first object he look’d upon. that object he became.”

I think, as a child psychotherapist, that’s no problem at all. Children engage in that kind of experience all the time.

M: Right.

H: That’s what they’re doing. They come into my office, and they play. And everything on my play shelf they become. They become the alligator. They melt the witch.

M: [Chuckles.]

Seeming Isolates

M: Here’s where you and I can pick up McTaggart’s The Field, or Whitman or Emily Dickinson and “get it” right away. I could pick up a book on Richard Feynman and  particle physics and  I see how that connects to me and  to all these  other seeming isolates. You couldn’t get  most people to touch that stuff.

H: Your comment about Whitman’s poem, “There Was a Child Went Forth” — I think that poem in itself can help anybody, I don’t care who it is, return to those states in childhood where one had a glimpse.

M: Let me pursue this a little bit more, though. I’m thinking about how stimulating and poetic it is, to me, to trace physical reality through the fingernail, down through the atom, down through the nucleus, down through the particle, to the very deepest, deepest evaporation of physical reality.

H: That’s what Whitman does in “Song of Myself.”

M: But you can’t get anyone to talk about that journey I just described in terms of modern physics. You can’t use those words; they will run away from you! If you try to do it that way.

H: Well, it depends on who you’re talking to.

M: Do you think an ordinary person would listen to me if I used such terms?

H: Sure. Especially if they’re trying to get their A out of college!

M: [Both laugh]

H: Then they’re really going to listen! But von Franz does it really smoothly, as she does in that little piece I read you.  Bringing Chinese philosophy and Jungian psychology together in seamless language.

She has found her rhythm.

M: Yes, that’s a nice bridge.

H: These were a series of talks she gave. I don’t think it’s a problem. I think most people are interested in the new physics. The question of the ultimate reality is on everyone’s mind. Everyone wants to know something about it.

Wrapping the Senses Around the Facts

M: OK. So everybody was quite comfortable  with the  idea that  the  Earth was flat.  Someone told them the Earth was flat, and they said, “OK. That works for me. Now I’ll go about cultivating my garden.” Then they’re told, “No, no, no. It’s a big sphere.” And again, everyone says, “That sounds pretty good.” What they’ve  done,  in my  view, is accept these things, all sorts of fundamental things, superficially. They never get the feel of the flat Earth or the round Earth. My point is that either one would do. If you used those as metaphors by which you paid attention to what’s going on, you’d come back to bed-rock reality anyhow. You’d come back to the deep ground of being. It doesn’t matter what image you use. But if you just let it stand there and don’t wrap your senses around it, then you’re living a mechanical life. So, I tell you, “You know what? The physical world is made of little teeny  particles that you can’t even see, and when you get down deep enough it’s all pure energy.” Then they say, “Oh, that’s  very interesting. I am glad to know that.  I’ll keep that in mind.” Then they go ahead and ignore it. So  it never penetrates no matter what image you use. It doesn’t mean anything; it doesn’t change anything. That’s my problem, to get people  to wrap  their senses around, say, this  little plant here on your side table. You can get at it in your work through the approaches we’ve discussed. Also, they keep their experiences of reality in separate boxes. I get a big kick out of thinking about Jungians who see all these disciplines  interrelated–anthropology, paleontology, shamanism, geology, mythology–all interconnected. That’s as it should be. I think most people see a piece of granite as one thing and the cave drawings as something else.

Separate Realms of Gold /One Realm

H: I think this gets back to what I call the Alchemy of the West, what Keats calls the realms of gold, and it’s not the realm of gold, it’s the realms of gold. There are realms to get to this place. And what  von Franz said here, which is very interesting, “For in modern physics it is thought that one might possibly find one basic rhythm of the universe which would explain all the different phenomena.” So that is the problem, because everyone has their own realm of gold.

How can all these different realms explain that one phenomenon? This is where I want to ask a question about whether it’s fair to talk of one realm we each can dip into, or whether there are always going to be these infinite realms and everyone has to find their way to gain access to those realms which may be very different. That’s why spiritual democracy  is  important  to me. It answers the perennial question of philosophy and religion that is: Which is the right way to the Self? Well, there are many ways.

Hooking Up with the Eternal Center

M: I’d put the question another way. How can I use my way to connect up with the eternal center?

H: That is it. You just nailed it right there, because the problem of the teacher is the subjective lens through which the teacher sees.

M: Yes.

H: The key is learning the language of the subject.

M: Yes, yes.

H: Or student or reader. So how does one do that when one is in the  role of teaching something, such as you and I have been trying to do in these dialogues. That’s where there have to be some practical steps that are offered to readers whereby they can discover their own way to the realm or realms of gold. Of course, either leads to the same place, which Jung calls the Self.

You Become a Melody.

M: What happens is that by fiddling around in all these various realms, at some point the music takes over and you are simply a melody. And once you become  a melody, you’re there. And you are quite at home in the totality of it all. These issues we’re talking about dissolve because they really are ephemeral. They’re just ways to get there. That picture, that picture, this feeling, that feeling–those really are just aspects of that one deep melody that’s playing, that rhythm that she’s talking about.

You become a melody.

H: So, then, let me ask you a question that I think might spark some interest in readers of your web page. It was only after I saw this Chinese work of genius, these two basic rhythms of the universe, that I asked myself the question, “Why has Clark been so preoccupied with this matchstick puzzle? He was teaching that thirty, forty, years ago. Why is he so interested in this?

What does it have to do with the number 5? Well, sure enough there are four sticks and an olive.

M: [Laughs]

H: Did you ever think of that? I thought, Well, there it is right there.

M: Oh, my! Well, when you showed me these two diagrams, and when you’ve talked about pentagons and several other circumstances involving the number 5, I have indeed noticed the figure 5 popping up all over the place. An artist I read about created a vase that’s rim is a pentagonal but as you look down into its bottom it’s evolved into a triangle.

H: Getting back to your point about how one helps the average reader connect with what we’re talking about. Well I know exactly how I would deal with illuminating a patient’s realm of gold. When I was a child, I used to walk to school, Strandwood Elementary, from our house in Pleasant Hill, and it was a long way to school, as Jung said when he was going to Basel. There was a milkweed plant and every spring around February or maybe March, I would watch the caterpillars eat away at the milkweed, these wonderful caterpillars with golden specks, incredible golden specks on their backs. And I watched this transformation into a chrysalis and then later in the year you’d see these monarch butterflies that would return and had been returning for who knows how long.

On the way to school

So that’s an example of a child going forth as in Whitman’s poem. I’m sure Ruth has memories like this. Anybody who observes nature will have a sense of what we’re talking about.

M: Oh, sure. In fact, Ruth has a much richer memory of her childhood than I do. Mine was more ethereal. She was absorbing it all like a sponge.

Stardust Memory—Trailing Clouds of Glory

H: I think that’s the key, those childhood memories contain transforming emotions.  Part  of the beauty of the  journaling method is that one can write memories  from childhood and try and remember those spots of time, as Wordsworth said, when you have such a vision. Then come memories of trailing clouds of glory from our home, which is the cosmos–where those butterflies are flying from. They’re  flying out of those  atoms  you’re talking about. Atoms that were formed by a star. Stardust.

Entering the Realm at Will

M: That’s important to me, to be able to jiggle that sense of trailing clouds of glory, whenever you feel like it. That reminds me of a guy I got to know over in San Mateo. Recently he was asked to do a sermon at a Methodist church and his title was, “Coming Home,” which meant coming home to God. His three or four references were all out of the Bible. I immediately thought of this Wordsworth poem and trailing clouds of glory. And I immediately thought of eternity’s sunrise and a  number  of other associations. My point  is–sorry it’s taken so long to get here–that all these secular connections would enrich his sermons so much. These poor guys who know only the  Bible are stuck with this  limited view that they get from their Bible. So I sent him those references and maybe a couple of others and maybe he used them. But he didn’t even know about them. Religion cannot separate itself from the culture surrounding it.

“An Antique Volume Written by Faded Men”

H: Well, I think that’s why Emily Dickinson wrote that the Bible is an antique volume written by faded men.

M: [Laughs.] Ooh.

The Bible and the Hubble Telescope

H: Of course there is wonderful richness that we can find in the Bible, certainly in Revelations 21 I told you about last time, Psalms, Job, Isaiah. But I think what people want to know is how to have or perhaps remember a glimpse outside of a conventional method. Some approach to their discovery via their own technique. Your friend was  using his  Biblical  metaphors  to enclose himself in his own subjective reality. Therefore, when one does that, he  or she  can’t often open up and see the cosmos. I think physics helps us do that, astronomy helps us do that. When I first took a look at the Hubble pictures that were made  in 1998, which  I discovered about four years ago on the Internet, I was blown away. Those billions of spiral galaxies  out there! And this here is just a speck. We are just a speck. Infinity is mind-blowing. The poets had this awareness. Wordsworth certainly did in that poem.

Bunched Up Sunlight

M: Well, here’s the thing. The Bible does have it there, too. I can think of a couple right off: “In the beginning was the Word.” The other is, “And the light was coming into the world.” Those two things are sub-atomic physics and the mythopoetic representation of it. The Word is vocatus, the voicing of the cosmos. So you have both those two fundamental components of the universe coming right out of the Bible. If the priest got the feel of those things, he would explode. Instead, what do most do? They deal with the surface, the dead metaphors, metaphors that have to be brought alive again. Reading the  Bible  that way is so primitive  when this  richness is right  there to be broken into. Whoever wrote those passages really understood. They got it right down to the fundamentals. People read those words as if they’re reading Readers Digest. I can’t stand it!

I think sitting around and having superficial conversations does have its warming aspects, but it’s not very nourishing in the long run. At least once in a while we need to notice that that person across from us is bunched up sunlight.

H: Yes. One wants to feel vital. Alive. I think this is the key, the journaling method, a mere mental exercise is not going to do it. It’s got to electrify the whole body. It’s got to wake us up.

That Electrical Feeling, the Mind on Fire

M: That’s what we’re talking about. Getting that electrical feeling to be part of the way you run around on the planet, tuning yourself up in the morning. When you get up in the morning, take down a musical instrument, Rumi said.

H: There’s the rhythm. That’s the melody.

M: You become musical. Then you can go out among your fellow creatures.

H: One has to find it in one’s own vocational channel. Von Franz isn’t a poet. She’s  a Jungian analyst but also a mathematician and a physicist. Nevertheless, she hears the music.

A Matter of Making Connections

M: I think the patient of yours has to catch on that his game is to make connections. You can’t keep these things isolated. You can’t think that the  world is a bunch of separate specks. Yes, there are these specks. But if you look at a speck, it’s the cosmos. If you look at the cosmos, it’s me. I think what you said about the Self as the place where the two come together is a great way to put it–and correct. I still haven’t figured out how to make this happen on my website. It’s getting there, but there has to be an elegant solution.

H: I looked through your website, and I think it looks good. You know I didn’t say it lightly about getting your A out of college. I think it’s great that you have a whole section devoted to that. Get Your A Out of College did help me get good grades.

M: You know, it occurred to me a few days ago  that that book is about what  we’ve been talking about. It’s about taking charge of your own schooling–which is an aspect of most people’s lives–and about what you’re up to in the first place. It’s all about nourishing your Self.

A Way to Take Charge

H: It’s one of the things we’re talking about, and it certainly helped me get organized. Again, getting back to what I was saying earlier, it’s practical. It’s got methods and techniques. BFAR

[Browse     Focus     Absorb     Reinforce —or simpler yet, Browse      Browse  Browse Browse]

is a technique for learning how to be in a classroom in an engaged way, through active listening. People are looking for techniques. We’ve talked a lot about a big notion, and we have to find ways to make it practical. I think journaling does that.

I have yet to take my journals and extract the method underlying them that I use.

 M: Making it practical. This is really a key to everything.

H: When I think about what this method of journaling that I’ve been using has done for me, I think about this way in which a poem can imprint the mind and soul, and into the heart even.

To Understand, Make a Poem

M: Exactly. That’s the difference between a description of particle physics and the way  a Yeats or a Dickinson would go about it. You can use technical terms, but if you want someone to understand particle physics, you are going to have to make it poetic. That’s what  the  Chinese did. That’s what von Franz did. She brought the concept to the fore and made these connections we’ve been discussing in, for me, a rather poetic way. It’s critically important to find ways to make something esoteric penetrate the heart. Frost said a good poem inflicts an immoral wound that you never recover from. That’s the whole idea of it. I think Kafka said it’s like an ice axe that cuts through the ice that separates the two realms. The poem can be like an axe or an arrow that pierces the defenses. If you want to study physics, physics should feel like that to you. Right?

H: Sure. I don’t know of anybody who has a fifteen-minute viewing of the photos from the Hubble, the Deep Field it presents–which is where those galaxies are located, and that’s just one wee part of it–well, I don’t know how anybody whose mind is open wouldn’t be blown away by it.

M: I have a feeling that most people, even then, don’t feel what you’re describing. Maybe every once in a while they do. But I do agree with you about the  power of those images,  and you can go the other direction, too, into the sub-atomic realm. Microscopes are getting pretty good at taking us farther and farther inward.

The Widening Gyre

H: I told you what happened when I took a look into the Deep Field. I was teaching my  course on Whitman at the International House on Spiritual Democracy. I had a dream of a woman who had a spiral galaxy for her head. She was all in blue and she was sitting right across from me.

And I saw the light emanating from each of the little stars in that spiral, luminaries. I think the way in which the mythopoetic mind works is through this idea you’re talking about in the Yeats poem “Memory,” about the impression on the grass. That’s the idea of imprinting. The way the journaling method can be used practically is through the taking in of a poem like that one we’re talking about–or any poem–and working with it, the Keats poem and also, of course Whitman. The taking in of “There Was a Child Went Forth,” then the transformation of it into something else. Think about how Whitman came to write  “Song of  Myself.” He  tells  us,  “I was simmering, simmering, simmering. Emerson brought me to a boil.” He read Emerson’s  essay “The Poet” where he mentions Humboldt. Whitman uses the German spelling, kosmos. “Walt Whitman, from Manhattan the son, a kosmos.” He talks about himself as a cosmos. He assumes the form of an eidolon [A spirit image in human form] of a galaxy, a universe, really. “Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” So there’s the relationship between physics in outer, external, space, and the internal reality. “The whirling and whirling is elemental within me,” he says, the elemental forces are whirling and whirling within him. Whirling and whirling  in a widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer, says Yeats. The whirling is within us, within all the atoms of our blood.

M: Oh, yes, that last quote is from . . .

H: Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” The dervish whirls. The poet enters that state through affect [emotional reactions marked by physical symptoms and disturbances in thinking] attunement, rhythmic activity that puts one in accord with one’s Self. Take a look at those two diagrams von Franz discusses. Every direction you go in in that top diagram you get the number 15, with 5 in the middle. It’s something I’ve never seen. Most mathematicians probably have.

M: If they’re really mathematicians. The way they get to be mathematicians, they get a big kick out of such configurations.

H: But the way the Chinese worked out those two diagrams to demonstrate the two types  of time   is remarkable.

M: Think how mathematics would be transformed in America if it were brought to kids as something that’s fun to play with, not as something you have to learn.

H: These mathematicians who have it as a vocation at the gene level, these people love numbers.

M: Yes. That’s the way language works for me. It’s no problem to play with almost any aspect of it.

The Journal—a Place for the Imagination to Play

H: And that’s what the  journal is, a place  to play. A place for the  imagination to work.  And in rhythmic ways. I think one has to play with language for it to have a transformative effect.

M: For me, reflective writing is almost like hypnosis.

H: Well, they used to use automatic writing, a form of auto-hypnosis to treat trauma patients in the early dynamic psychiatry. Jean Charcot and Pierre Janet were big proponents of the use of automatic writing at the Salpêtrière in Paris.

M: In my reflective writing, I won’t be writing long till I go from the superficial to what seems like taking dictation. That almost always happens within fifteen minutes or less.

Toward a Feeling of Unity with the Cosmos

H: That’s what people who want to have, an experience.  Some  readers  might  be  asking, “Taking dictation? What is he talking about?” They want to feel it. They want to experience  it. It’s interesting when you talk to people who  are keeping a dream journal, whether they’re patients or students, or readers of one of my books, sometimes when they really begin to play with language an experience happens through experimentation. It’s what Whitman said, that Leaves of Grass was a language experiment. Bringing in scientific information in 1855 enabled him to create for the reader a feeling for the unity of the cosmos. We have to bring in an experimental attitude to keeping a dream journal. Because the experiment isn’t going to work without investigation, inquisitiveness, curiosity about the dream’s  essential meanings, and  that is where the poetry journal comes in. Science is the same way. How are we going to arrive at something new? When a person begins  to play with language  in her poetry journal, sometimes she may want to keep what she’s written private for a while. But then she begins to feel, “Hey, what I just wrote is pretty good.” Then she wants to be mirrored. She wants  to find out, is  it really any good? If she were an English student she might think “I’ll show it to Clark McKowen and see what he thinks.” If she were  to get on the  margin of her journal, “Hey! This is  great stuff!” with an exclamation point, it’s going to make her want to continue with this.

Teaching as Dialogue

M: Right. You begin to have a dialogue about what’s important to you. The other person’s  going to be responding to that. Not telling you what you ought to be doing. The other person is saying, “Oh, yeah, that reminds me . . .” and so on. I’m still working on the mechanics  of getting this going on the website. You can do this in your work. You can say, “I’d like you to keep a dream journal.” Is that what you do?

H: That’s one of the methods I recommend. I also suggest they keep a regular journal of their thoughts and any images that may come to them.

M: I’ve got to figure out how to do that on the website, how to talk them into it.

H: I told you about Ira Progoff, didn’t I?

M: Yes, I had his book. I read it years and years ago. Don’t forget, I looked at all the books and articles on writing journals I could get my hands on.

H: Was that before you developed your own writing process?

M: No, I was developing it all along. It evolved rather rapidly as I discovered how effective the technique I’m using now is. But, sure, when I’m working on an idea I bring in anybody else who can shed any light at all on it. Sometimes a whole book has maybe only one idea I can use, but if  it does, it’s worth the time. So really, the reflective-writing process I encourage has a world of journal methods behind it.

H: So in a nutshell, what would you tell your students you want in terms of keeping a journal?

Clark’s Only Writing Rule: Reflect on It in Writing.

M: That’s very simple. After an experience in class I’d ask everyone to sit down and reflect on it. Write for about half an hour and think about it. Explore it a little bit.

After an experience in class I’d ask everyone to sit down and reflect on it. Write for about half an hour and think about it. Explore it a little bit.

H: Did you have anything about dreams.

M: They came into the writing organically. The reflections were supposed to be associated with our class somehow or other, not only in response to class activities. They could start with something that happened on their way home or a movie they saw and thought fitted in with our class dialogue. But, yes, there were lots of dreams that came into the writing.  I even told them little secrets about how to remember their dreams. You’re probably familiar with this: I’d say,  OK, you say you don’t remember your dreams. Do this and I guarantee you will remember what you dream: Get yourself all ready for bed and the last thing you do before lying down, fill a drinking glass to the brim with water and set it on your night stand right next to your bed. That’s all you have to do. You will remember your dream. And they did! Well, of course.

H: I don’t see how that would be a problem on the website. If you take on an experimental attitude.

M: I should probably have a little box at the beginning of every post that I put on the web. I think I’ll work this up and see if anything happens.

Keep a Dream Journal.

H: Let me tell you why I’m having this thought, because take for example  that comment  of Yeats that you like, “One has a vision. One would like another.” The reader may  wonder, How do I get a vision? You know, Yeats recorded his dreams. He worked with the unconscious material. Most poets I’ve read and studied, Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, Miller, Lawrence, Jeffers, and especially Everson, kept a record of their dreams or at least paid attention. Some of the best poems have been written out of the dream state.

M: I’m well aware of that. I’ve gotten several useful ideas out of today’s dialogue. We were talking practically but also poetically, weren’t we? Very good, Steven.

Meaningful Chance

[In one of our dialogues, Steven reminded me of a talk by Alan Watts, “The Crisis in Religion,” the I had transcribed and later included in my book Image, Reflections On Language (1973). The college had had Watts as a guest lecturer when I was a new teacher there. In our dialogues Steven had described Whitman’s vision of an emerging spiritual democracy and about what religions in the future would be like.  Here was Watts speaking to the faculty of community college over a hundred years later describing the shifting center of gravity in late 20th century religion.   But the fun part is the number of coincidences that popped up when I began digging into the Watts talk. 

I’ve circled back numerous times to the astonishing usefulness of things that just happen to fall off the shelf.   The following interchange of emails is as delightful example that.  I think you might want to be on the lookout for meaningful chance in your own going and coming.

Here are some the emails.]

Saturday at 8 January 23, 2014 I wrote:

“OK: Watts said in the new religions God would be that circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. The poem about the center and the circumference is on page 127 in Image. It’s by Alfred Noyes:

"Where?" said the king,
O, where? I have not found it!"
"Here," said the dwarf, and music echoed "Here."
"This infinite circle hath no line to bound it;
Behold its strange, deep center everywhere.

(Steven, I know nothing about Noyes, but I think I’ll Google him!)

Later that day I emailed this to Steven:

“Get this! This is the result of my Google search on Noyes:

The lines of Alfred Noyes the Watts cited are in the last stanza of “The Song of Jeppe” in a long poem called “Watchers of the Sky.” Wow! Talk about coincidence! Noyes, English, lived from 1880—1958, and spent years in the US. Watchersoftheskies.com is the name of my website, and it’s from the Keats poem! I found the following description of Noyes’s visit to the Mount Wilson Observatory.”

“Noyes adds that the theme of the trilogy had long been in his mind, but the first volume, dealing with “Watchers of the Sky”, began to take definite shape only on the night of November 12, 1917, when the 100-inch reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory was first tested by starlight. George Ellery Hale, the man who conceived and founded the observatory, had invited Noyes, who was then in California, to be his guest on this momentous occasion, and the prologue, subtitled “The Observatory”, gives Noyes’ detailed description of that “unforgettable,. night”. In his review of “Watchers of the Sky,” the scholar and historian of science Frederick E. Brasch writes that Noyes’ ‘journey up to the mountain’s top, the observatory, the monastery, telescopes and mirrors, clockwork, switchboard, the lighted city below, planets and stars, atoms and electrons all are woven into, beautiful narrative poetry. It seems almost incredible that technical terms and concepts could lend themselves for that purpose.”

Then Steven emailed back to me:

“The coincidence regarding Noyes and Mount Wilson is an astonishing one in light of our chats on the American poet-shamans and my book on spiritual democracy, as well as yours on Realms of Gold. This is fascinating! I don’t see how others could possibly comprehend its significance for us. Robinson Jeffers had graduated from Occidental College, then a small Presbyterian school in Los Angeles, in 1905, at the age of 18. He had studied biblical literature, Greek, rhetoric, and astronomy, which included visits to Mount Wilson and Echo Mountain Observatories.

Behold its strange, deep center

In 1906, at the age of 19, his family relocated to Switzerland, where he studied philosophy at the University of Zurich. The big 100-inch Hooker telescope on Mount Wilson Observatory, built in 1917, the following year, so enlarged his understanding of the scale of the universe that it simply ignited Jeffers’ mind ablaze and forced him to press further into the psychic and cosmic depths of spirit and matter for a living symbol that could describe what he felt and intuited and sensed to be the vast limitlessness of space. By gazing into the black crystal, Jeffers gave birth to a new religious symbol, pregnant with meaning: a God of endless Violence, Shiva as the cosmic Destroyer of the Universe, over Christ. Jeffers carefully turned Whitman’s visions of spiritual democracy in on themselves and in many ways his visions of center and circumference are very much like Dickinson’s, which are centered, as I said, on Volcano symbolism, cosmic force, and boundless Night.

My point is that with the American poet-shamans the notion of center and circumference that Shelly glimpsed on the Mont Blanc were eclipsed by the new discoveries in science. California played a major role in this. The coincidence of all of this is mind boggling!

Pregnant with meaning

The location of the “Doorways” photo that I sent to you many moons ago was taken at none other than Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, an ancient Anasazi astronomical observatory. On June 29, 1977, a year after I took your course, English 123, and a week after the summer solstice, a young female artist made her way up Fajida Bute, at the southern edge of Chaco Canyon, and discovered a unique solar-lunar calendar there hidden amongst the rocks! After passing a narrow chimney populated only by rattlesnakes, up the west side of the butte, she spotted two engravings of spirals with a center and circumference carved into the rock face, where light refracts through vertical slabs to strike the center and the circumference on each of the two Solstices, summer (center) and winter (circumference)! This butte is about a mile from the famous “doorways,” or what I suggested were doors to the realms of Gold. You have to see it to believe it! Google it and let me know what you think. Synchronicity abounds in these chats. These acausal coincidences are pregnant with meaning. The two spirals illuminate exactly what we are talking about.

[It should be noted that these emails had been forgotten and fell into my  hands “by chance” when I was looking for something else, a grid of a “magic” square, the Lo Shou—which Steven introduces in our 15th dialogue—in which the digits 1 one through 9 are so arranged that they always add up to 15, with digit 5 in the middle. Magic or not, there are certainly more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy. It’s wonder-full even if it isn’t magic.]

Dialogue # 14: Vocation, Synchronicity and Timelessness

January 22, 2013

[In this dialogue Steven and I talk the powerful energy that’s at our disposal when we have the luck to find and accept our calling, our innate vocation.  We all know the difference between a  prose-like life that is not our calling and the poetic life of  spirit and flesh melded into one unstoppable force.]

The Synchronous Vision of the Awakened Mind

M: What’s interesting to me is the way discoveries keep coming into focus. Remember I told you Mary (Rutherford) Canizzaro–who lives two doors up from us in our new place–and I discovered she had been a high school student of mine back in 1963? We were chatting casually, and then these things started to fall into place. I could feel them falling into place, I could almost anticipate it happening. You could feel something was on its way here. The questions back and forth, in retrospect, were very pointed, but neither of us knew we were pointing them that way.  Again, it’s this same process, almost like a magnet drawing two minds to a point of connection. They keep going. And there were about three more of these coincidences recently. This is the sort of thing I think we should talk about in terms of your area of expertise. Here’s the thing of it. One might say, “Well, those things happen.” They come together, and the information that’s desired is acquired. I don’t think that’s unusual at  all. We just don’t realize it. Many, many times I’m in the right place at the right time. I think that’s part of this synchronous world we live in. By synchronous I don’t mean in the conventional sense of time. I mean a universal time, or rather timelessness.

H: Those things are so baffling that they jog the mind.  It creates a certain kind of Aha! I was at the gym last night, and there’s something about this number, 44. I don’t think I’ve told you this. When Manny was a little boy, we used to see this recurrence of the number 44. It  was  all a build-up to the year 2000. I was born in 1956, and I knew I would be 44 in the year 2000.  So  I began noticing the number 44 in random places. I’d be driving on the freeway with Manny, and I’d say, “Forty-four on that license plate.” Then going to pump gas and looking at the numbers on the meter, and it’s registering $44.44–something like that. Both of us paying attention to it and laughing, him shooting me an email, saying, “Look, Dad!”  We  had  this thing, and then when I met Lori, we brought her into it. We all started to talk about this, and it became a kind of family joke. But not really a joke. It was one of those things that just kept happening.

Sometimes it was mind-boggling. I didn’t keep a list of every time  it happened.  But I did write a number of these coincidences in my poetry journal. Then we brought Marina, Manny’s fiancée, into it, too. So we all had this thing going. So after the year 2000 it continued right up through my early fifties. I’ve let it fade out, though, since Manny’s on the East Coast, and  we are absorbed in other things now. But interestingly,  I told Lori  yesterday that I’d  be going to the gym before coming home. I didn’t look at my emails, but I got two referrals between the time I went to the gym and came back, and one was at 6:44. I thought I’d tell you that. But it happens to me a lot, so much so that I can’t say there’s any possibility of a doubt that this isn’t meaningful.

“If your  belief system is such that intuition and synchronicity are real and significant, you will notice them. If your belief system is that they are hogwash, you won’t.” If you go  through life thinking that stuff is hogwash, if you aren’t alert to these things going on around you, it won’t happen.

Street-Corner Research

M: That’s the main point I want to make here. Remind me that I want to mention W. C. Williams’ and Charles Demuth’s “The Figure Five in Gold” and numerology. But right now I want to say that I’m certain that this is not just stuff that happens. Here’s a quote: “If your  belief system is such that intuition and synchronicity are real and significant, you will notice them. If your belief system is that they are hogwash, you won’t.” If you go  through life thinking that stuff is hogwash, if you aren’t alert to these things going on around you, it won’t happen. It’s about research, too. I’m not a researcher. You are  much better at this  than I am, and Karl Staubach is way up there. You and he can gather your data and remember it. I find it remarkable that you can. I don’t do it that way. That’s not my process. My vocation is to get  the feel of something or other. That’s how I understand things.  You can do research by going to the library. Or you can do as Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher, did. He said you could look up things in the library, or you could stand on a street corner in San Francisco, and it will come to you. And that is true. That’s how I do my research.

Once you begin to realize the environment is full of data available to your interest, you can begin to make use of it. But you do have to know that this can and will happen. But your senses have to be tuned up.

Beyond Vivacity

I just posted on my website something about Jane Goodall from her book Reason for Hope about chimpanzees. She cites two incidences in which she went beyond the  ordinary, the realms of gold as I would call then, or the ecstasy that Emily Dickinson talks about. People, who get into that  realm, use similar  metaphors, quite often golden.  Goodall talks about such an experience in Gombe after she’s been in the forest about six or eight months. She senses it coming on. Now, she has these vivid experiences in nature, and it’s wonderful for her. She thinks that’s heaven, but then she  can feel this  mystical sort of thing coming on, coming on, and then she’s in it. It’s  that timeless now where  everything is really, really vivid. Then she’s in Notre Dame in Paris years later, when she’s  in Europe for her doctorate, and there’s the organ playing, and it’s reverberating in the soaring arches of the cathedral, and the  music is like it’s alive. Those are two experiences in which she steps over the threshold, through the crack between the worlds. Or you could call it the right hemisphere being brought to the fore. My point is that it’s possible  for all of us  to elevate our senses. Jane Goodall couldn’t  have had that experience in Gombe, she couldn’t have had that experience in Notre Dame, if she hadn’t built up a sensorium that was able to receive that information. She got it by nature, by vocation. Even as a little girl she was  fascinated with the  minutia  of nature.  Her family  told her that when she was four or so she spent four hours in the hen house. She wanted to see how an egg was made. She stayed there long enough to see it being laid. When she was one-year- old, she was given a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee. It was  named  after the  first chimpanzee in the London zoo. She still has it.

Jane Goodall and Juibilee

Using What Comes Our Way

So you see how this intensity can build. She’s the one who broke open the notion that humans are the tool-making animal. There were cover articles in National Geographic at the time [First Jane Goodall cover article: 1963]. This was a woman who had no academic background for this work–except her own eyes . . . and no prejudices. She was actually able to communicate with wild animals. So the point I’m making is that if you will allow coincidence into your life, then it can function in your life. You can use it. I’m rather pragmatic about my thoughts. I don’t want to be ruminating about something if it’s not useful to me somehow or other. It has to have value in my day-to-day activities. This could be part of our educational system. You have to know this about yourself, that you can make use of what’s brought to you–if your sensorium is set up for it.

H: Well, I think that’s good, Clark. For that to happen, the students would have to be educated. And the problem is that we don’t have an educational system that focuses on that.

M: I know.

The Nuclear Symbol and Vocation Dreams

H: Getting back to research, my aptitude for research, I’m not sure if I told you my master’s thesis research was on vocational dreams in early adulthood. Ten individuals who had a vocational dream in early adulthood. They were interviews I transcribed and then analyzed the data, the stories. How is it that this interest developed? Well, sure enough, every story, all ten, had the exact same theme that you  just talked about, with Jane Goodall. And  that is  the variable that I call the nuclear symbol. You could say of Jane Goodall, that looking into the henhouse and watching the egg being laid was  the  first  impression of the  nuclear symbol on her little psyche. Something in her got  switched  on through evocation, like  an instinct, or Innate Releasing Mechanism (IRM) paired with an outer sign stimulus, something was evoked from the outside which was the archetype of her vocation. The nuclear symbol, I would say, is the chimpanzee.

M:    Yes,    yes.

The Self’s Pole Star

H: The chimpanzee would represent everything she is motivated to champion as an adult. You could say her whole life and vocation revolve around that nuclear symbol, like planets around the sun. That is the magnet, the North Star toward which her destiny points.

M: It goes even further. As a young girl in England she was supposed to go learn something useful for making a living. So she was sent off to become a secretary. But, almost like an  arrow, she wanted to go to Africa. She hadn’t gone  there  to study chimpanzees; she  just wanted to go to Africa.  Maybe it seemed to her kind of like a nature preserve. So, what happens? She applies for a secretarial job  with Lewis  Leaky–who  is studying fossil remains of human-like creatures. He makes her his secretary on the spot, this twenty-two-year-old girl, who had not any background for that work. A year later he says to her, “Hey, you want to go study some chimpanzees in Gombe? I think that would be  interesting.  Why  don’t  you  go down there and look at these hairy chimpanzees?” She says, “OK.” And zoom, zoom, zoom, like an arrow.

The path with a heart

H: From the outside it would look like a zigzag course, but you can step back and see the trajectory.

M: Right. I wrote a poem once about the zigzag course–which really was a straight trajectory. You think, Oh, I’m taking a detour.

H: The symbols left on rock paintings of the Native Americans often have a snake in the shape of a lightning bolt, a zigzag shape.

M: Oh, that’s right. They do a lot of that.

H: But to get back to what we were talking about, the nuclear symbol is charged with a certain kind of energy–you could say, a field energy–and it radiates outward from within. It can activate centers in other individuals that are vocationally attuned and thereby create a resonance, a fertile bed for synchronicity.

The Merging of Spirit and Flesh

M: Let me interrupt you there, because if I don’t I’m going to forget some things. I think the other person doesn’t have to be tuned up. You can tune him up. Take him up in the mountains, sit by a campfire, and you can soften his reserves, and  that  aspect  comes forward. You can take someone who’s  pretty hard-nosed about life and says that nothing matters about anything.  I think this is what happened in our classes.  Everybody comes  in, as  you  well know, living their own individual lives, and then the atmosphere becomes resonate and people  tune  in and all this data begins pouring out. That happens because you get people fiddling around and something opens, and this world we’re talking about becomes accessible.

H: Well, that does bring up this whole point about nature. Nature is the perfect medium in which the unconscious can emerge into consciousness. I think that’s where these memories come from. Jane Goodall probably didn’t have a linear course she was following when she went to Africa, as you were saying, but she carried in her unconscious all her interaction with the stuffed chimpanzee. I wrote a chapter about this in my dissertation. There is not much good vocational education in the elementary school or even in middle school. High schools sometimes get career counselors. But usually it’s about their ideals, not really their vocation, probably something instilled in them that they should be, a doctor or maybe a lawyer. And they should not be an artist or a poet. God forbid that you would be a poet.

M: Yeah. [Laughter]

Vocare in the Curriculum

H: You’ll never make money at that. The key is to tune the teachers in at a very early level so that they can begin to see the  motivational interests of these students. I know for my  son Manny, it was computers, and now he’s working with computers at Move On. He’s an online organizer. They complained at school that he had an organizational  problem.  I said, “Well, what are you doing to help him around his computer interests?” Sure enough, when they focused in on that, his grades shot up, and he started to excel. Now, he’s a computer organizer. He’s doing great work. I think if more educators were trained and taught how to recognize vocational interests at a young age, it would definitely create a transformation in society.

M: Here’s what I think is wrong in schools. They get this  good idea about recognizing vocation, as you just said. They have courses for teachers so that they recognize that. But first we have to take a step back and train them to recognize it in themselves.

H: Of course. That’s the first step.

The Necessary Feel

M: I think institutions start at the second step and  unleash these mechanical  monsters who think, “Well, I read the book. I know how we’re supposed to do this. Hey, kid, come in here. I’ll fix you up.” Instead of listening. Instead of looking. Instead of feeling. I suggest that one way is to get a person up in the mountains sitting around a campfire. Another way is to take advantage of cocktail talk and shift it into the direction you and I are talking about. Sunday night we  were  at a party with about twelve people, and a younger middle-school teacher said in passing, “You know, we’re supposed to get the kids to memorize the names of all the states and their capitols. What good is  that?” Someone  else said, “Well, they have to know about their country.” So I threw in a bit of a tilt: “I think maybe what you want is a combination.  You want people to have the facts, but you want them to have the feel of the facts.” You want them to have the feel of the facts. And that’s what we’re talking about.

H: I want to talk a bit about the feel of the facts and thinking about thinking. You started in mathematics, a field that involves thinking, but intuitive thinking. Either you’re becoming more feeling oriented as you mature, like a tree . . .

M: That’s true!

H: Or you always were that way. I never really considered that. But that does make sense about you.

The Soul’s GPS: The Feel of the Facts

M: I think that is true, but I never had a lucid awareness of that about myself till recently. I began to stand back and look at how I had been going about it. Using the feel of the facts as my GPS so to speak. Now, I consider it a pretty powerful tool of mine–to know this about myself. If I’m looking at a pile of data that make my eyes glaze over, I say, “Oh, wait a minute. Let me back up here and come at this from the feeling approach.”

H: I was never the kind of student in high school who could memorize the fifty states, for example, and just rattle them off. That wasn’t the way my mind works. I had a much more feeling-of-the-facts way of thinking. Is that what you’re saying?

M: Yes. You have to get the feel. You have to feel one  plus  one.  You can’t  just memorize. You have to sense how that works. This is why I didn’t stay with math. I didn’t realize how central to understanding the feel of a concept is. Now I know. But that’s how they grade math students. They don’t care about the way a student is going about catching on to the idea of one plus one, the feel of relativity. That’s all they care about. This kind of mathematical thinking was all over Gleick’s book on Richard Feynman. For the really great mathematicians and physicists, it’s like sex. It just simply feels so good to them. They love to mess around in their equalities–their metaphors, really. What you’ve been doing with 44, one of them might stop everything and really start exploring coincidence and synchronicity and simultaneity. In high school, Feynman could “get” the answer without doing the calculations. He was great in the
math contests New York used to sponsor. That’s what the feel really comes down to. He could see how this would work. That’s the concept. Very important.

H: If you look at it from a vocational angle, the reason Feynman was able to feel that is because of the fact that he had located the source of his motivation. That’s what you’ve been doing, too.

You know what your nuclear symbol is.

 M: What is it!?

H: It’s the teacher.

M: OK!

H: Look at your life, its trajectory. In your profession and even in the writing of your books, you’ve been teaching.

M: Hmm. Even in high school and on into college, I was always helping other students with their math or writing their essays.

H: It’s interesting how it’s taken shape. You specialized in the area of language. You didn’t become a math teacher.

M: No. I gravitated toward something that was fun, a lot of fun.  Math would have  been fun, but I didn’t have one clue from my math teachers about the fun aspects. Algebra was  presented as a little puzzle you could solve if you did certain things. I got one glimpse in analytic geometry. All of a sudden I thought, “Oh, this is fun.” But just that one little glimpse. This idea of how you could find your way into the heart of something and have such a joy I experienced one time in grad school. Again, it happened only one time. A teacher named Jack Wheatcroft spent a whole  session with us exploring a very short poem, “On My First Daughter,” by Ben Johnson, a writer in Shakespeare’s era. I still remember most of the words of that poem.

Jack Wheatcroft in 1978

Wheatcroft came in and illuminated that poem. Well, those two incidents must have planted a powerful idea back in my mind somewhere. Eventually, my teaching, when it exploded, was really that sort of thing.

The Explosive Force of an Atomic Speck

The basis of that way of being with students wasn’t that I was going to teach something. It was that I’m going to have a great time along with the students having a good look at this poem–or painting or metaphor.

H: You listened to your feelings.

M: Yes.

H: That’s a very strong indicator of a function of the psyche, the feeling function that helps in identifying vocational choice. If you tune in to how you feel, that’s a contributing factor in the vocational choice process. Do you feel like switching subjects?

M: Sure.

H: What you said about your interest in the figure five in gold.

M: Yes. It’s in Image all over the place. There’s a full color page (p. 193) of the painting by Charles Demuth (It’s in the Museum of Modern Art in New York), and I put in William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Great Figure” that inspired Demuth’s painting.

I was trying to make the point in the book that the more you fiddle around with something the richer it becomes. I seeded 5 throughout the book. The  idea is that you can take any  speck and if you play with it, you can explode it. It’s like a pot with an amaryllis bulb poking up that Ruth’s nephew sent us. It’s on our kitchen, and it’s  exploded in three  or four huge  gorgeous red blooms. You can watch an idea come alive like that, too, like the figure 5 or 44. That’s because it you let things like this occur, then it’s like  a magnet  drawing metal pickup sticks into the center. Discovering that someone sitting next to you at a dinner party was your high school sweetheart forty years ago is, again, like a magnet. You begin bringing those fields of information into proximity. You can actually feel it. You know before you get there that it’s going to connect. It’s like in these matchstick puzzles I use with groups of people. You know before you get there that you’ve already solved it. I want people I work with to realize why we do things isn’t the result but the pleasure that develops along the way. It builds to a climax.

H: Yes.

M: You can see it coming.

H: That’s intuition.

M: Isn’t that very similar to the sexual climax? You can feel it coming on. You know it, and you know there is nothing to stop it.

H: That’s a good point. Yes. There’s a certain point at which it breaks through. You know, you’re talking about coincidences, so I have to throw this in. I was thinking about you this weekend. This was before the water heater went out on Sunday and we were cleaning up. If this had happened on a weekday it would have been a disaster. We would have had to cancel all our patients. I’ll get to my point. And then we can segue  back to the number 5, which as you know in alchemy stands for quintessence.

M: That’s right.

H: In alchemy they were searching for alchemical gold. The aim of alchemy is the quintessence and its gold.

M: Nicely put. I’ll add that to my figure 5 bundle!

A Volcano in the Oakland Hills

H: OK. Back to Saturday. I got this idea that I shared with Lori. I had heard that up here at Sibley Park there’s an actual volcano, and I didn’t know this. I lived in the Orinda hills, as you know, for I think twelve years. And then we moved here. Between the Orinda hills and where we’re sitting right here, between those hills and these  hills, there’s an extinct  volcano.  It erupted nine million seven hundred thousand years ago. It blew its lid and created these wonderful rock formations. We were able to descend into the volcano.

Labyrinth in Sibleiy Park crater

M: That’s amazing.

H: They’ve cleared out the crater, and there’s a labyrinth you can walk. You and I can go up there when it’s warmer. The point I’m getting to is that I was having a casual chat with friend who asked if I knew there was a park up here. I did know about it but I’d never explored it.

Then I Googled it, and sure enough there’s this volcanic park. So we went up there. It’s quite extraordinary.

M: Can you back up? You were just chatting casually with a friend. So how did it come about that you got to that subject?

H: Oh, yes. Someone challenged me  to go  up there to Round Top. That’s the  volcano  that blew its lid. So this person challenged me to go up, because he had. It was a chat about losing weight and exercising. You know, when you get  into  your fifties–it was a challenge  to do some vigorous exercise. These hills are a great place to  hike. Anyway, the  point  is  that  this was very important for me in that moment because I had been immersed, since our last talk, in volcano symbolism. Remember the Emily Dickinson poem?

M: Oh, my god!

Dickinson’s Volcano

H: How the volcano became for her the symbol for her vocation. Vesuvius. Yes. She has a wonderful poem in which the last line is “Vesuvius at Home.”

So she really sees herself as Vesuvius at Home, in Amherst. She doesn’t have to go to Naples. She’s actually sitting on it. She is there, and she is writing out of that energy field.

M: That energy. Exactly.

How to Recognize a Poem

H: She’s talking about the little force within her that explodes. So when I went up there with Lori, suddenly these poems  that I had  been sitting with for years, over seventeen years, emerge again. In 1995 I wrote my first essay on Dickinson. Two of them in particular came to me up there. I knew exactly what she was talking about. In the first one she says, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the  only way I know it. Is there any other way?”

M: That’s beautifully put.

H: The top of her head is taken off. I had thought it was being scalped by lightning–which she has is another poem. So the lightning symbol comes through there. But that wasn’t quite it.

Then I remembered another line. “God forbid it lift its lid unto its ecstasy.”

She’s talking about the lid being lifted. She is talking about what Goodall is talking about but with more explosive force, because perhaps the poet is closer to the origins of language itself–which is the word. She was able to craft words and syllables like nobody else.

So she’s talking about this explosive force.

M: Very good.

Volcanic Gems

H: Just to circle back to what we were talking about earlier, 5 and the alchemical gold, in 1847 when Emily was studying at Holyoke Female Seminary, she heard a famous geologist, actually the first president of the American Geological Society, who later became president of Amherst College. This was the one year she actually went somewhere and before she returned to live at her father’s house. She didn’t finish her education. It just so happened she was there in the fall quarter, 1847, the same year Whitman  was  writing  his  Notebook and discovering the  origins of his calling, his vocation. She heard this sermon by this geologist, Reverend Hitchcock, and talked about the 21st chapter of Revelations, which Emily calls the “gem chapter,” because as you know gems come from volcanoes–explosive force. Sure enough, the city that would come in the future was the city of gold.  So here she  is hearing, at the  source of her vocational call, the chapter which would play such a pivotal part for the rest of her life in her work as a poet. And it’s all based on this gem chapter in Revelations, the gold. And gold symbolism is found throughout her poetry.

M: Here’s what I want to get back to, the vocation aspect of her experience. In that same classroom there were probably fifteen or twenty other girls, and she’s the one who’s not hearing prose. This is poetry she’s hearing. Why is she able to hear poetry? Because her entire childhood, I would presume, had opened her senses to experience those words as not just placeholders but meaningful language, the feel of the facts. Actually, I think those words were considered metaphors by thinkers  of that era in New England, probably by the  minister himself. But to her they were messages from the volcano itself.

The Feel of the Unity of the Whole Cosmos

H: She got a feel for the unity of the whole cosmos from listening to this.

M: Yes. She was able to do it that way.

“They Shut Me Up in Prose.”

H: I know she did, because she wrote in her letters that she had this feel. She said, “They shut me up in prose, as when a little girl they put me in a closet because they liked me still.”

“Because they liked me “still” –You know what she called herself? The still volcano.

M: [Laughs]

H: And when the little force exploded, that was poetry. She knew that was poetry because the top of her head was taken off. And that’s ecstasy. As we know, that’s the crown chakra, the chakra of illumination.

M: I’ll take your word for it. I know of it, the sequence, but I’ve never spent much time with it.

Illumination: The Seventh Chakra

The crown of illumination

H: The crown of illumination, Ananda, bliss, the cobra is over the Buddha’s head. The two kundalini serpents wind from muladhara up the spine to the thousand petaled lotus on the top of the yogi’s head. That’s the seventh chakra of illumination.  She  basically talks about how her consciousness explodes when she sees the void. It’s very Buddhist.

M: Well, it’s phenomenal that you could have this little girl in very straight-laced New England letting loose like a wild woman.

H: She said, “Wild nights, wild nights, wild nights–were I with thee–wild nights would be our luxury.” She was a wild force.

M: I’m imagining her sitting down at the breakfast table, this nice prim girl. Whew!

H: Pretty fierce. If you look at some of the letters she wrote to her brother and Austin, she’s feisty. She doesn’t mess around with language. Every word is selected.

M: This is the thing of it. I think of the goings and comings, to the grocery store, over the back fence–everybody wants to talk in prose.

H: Yes.

Too Intent on Going Somewhere

M: We don’t even want to touch that other stuff. It’s too electrical; you could get a shock. So if someone says, “Have a nice day,” and may even mean it in a superficial way, you could respond, “You have a nice life.” [Both laugh.] I like to see what kind of response I get when

I’m out on my bike. Everyone goes by as if you aren’t there. They just go straight ahead. So, just for fun, I say, “Good morning.” Nine tenths of the time, they just keep right on going.

Often they’ve got something plugged into their ears, so probably lots of them can’t even hear! But I’m guessing a lot of them are too intent on going somewhere, and acknowledging another person is not on the agenda. So we’re talking prose and poetry here and what the difference is. Poetry is nothing more than the feel of the  facts.  Walking or riding your bike could be prosaic or poetic. Facts are wonderful, but you have to let them explode. You have to let your steps along the trail explode. Words are little packets of energy, aren’t they? Like Dickinson’s “A word is dead / When it is said / Some say. / I say / It just begins to live that day.” You know, from our dialogues about Dickinson and your reading some of her poems, I’ve gotten much better at understanding how she uses dashes. Remember “because they liked me ‘still”? That’s the prose approach.

H: This is what teachers do in schools. They want the children still. All that excitable energy, all that powerful energy gets…

In the Prose Closet

M: It gets twisted. Put little boys in that prose closet and you get remedial reading classes that are mostly all filled with boys. They put a lid on all that energy when it ought to be outside exploding.

H: Well, an interesting thing about Dickinson’s history is that her grandfather, her paternal grandfather, was a visionary. Amherst College  was very  much indebted to his vision. Her father was the treasurer of Amherst College. He was a lawyer. So this was an educated family. She grew up in that environment.

[A short break]

M: So where are we now?

H: We covered a lot of ground. The idea of feeling the facts speaks to me. That’s a good way to put it. The feel of the facts.

An American Soldier in a Zendo in Japan

M: There are lots of ways to put it. William Carlos Williams called an intense vision of the facts. I like that. It’s what Yeats meant, too, I think when he wrote, “One has a vision. One would like another.” My friend Jim Doerter that I’ve mentioned in our talks has such an experience in Japan when he was and eighteen-year-old soldier during the occupation. He gravitated toward a Zen-like park and was sitting on a bench and noticed two men in an enclosure talking, and they’re talking in English. One of them was Japanese. He was D. T. Suzuki, the person who introduced Zen Buddhism to the United States.

H: Jung wrote an introduction to his book.

M: Oh, more connections! Anyway, they invited this kid to come up and talk with them. He was  shy and nervous, so he didn’t follow through. But there he was, touched by this powerful teacher, and it changed the trajectory of his life, that one event.

In Eternity’s Sunrise

H: We brushed by it a bit when our class went up to Tassajara. There was a Zen monastery near there. There was that Zen feel to the area, I think. There’s something in Blake . . . What do you think of him?

M: Oh, I love him.

H: Well, if anyone had an intense vision of the facts, it’s Blake, don’t you think?

M: Oh, my, yes!

H: His were internal facts as well as those outside his body.

M: You know what annoys me is when people talk about someone like Blake in a prose-like way. Blake is not prose.

H: Blake has that marvelous little poem:

That’s living in the moment. What do you  think  about that  last  line,  “eternity’s sunrise”? What would it be like for someone to live in eternity’s sunrise? Wouldn’t that be the realms of gold?

M: It absolutely is. If you moved in there, you’d be considered a nut case, the way people around Blake thought of him. By that I mean that you no longer care if school keeps or not. Everyone’s thinking, “What are we going to do with Blake?!” Blake’s wife was fine with it. She’d say, “We don’t see him much, he’s so much in paradise.” Some of these loved ones would just put up with it.

The Divinest Sense

H: Emily Dickinson’s family would put up with her eccentric nature. But you know what she said about this, “Madness is divinest sense.”

M: … madness!

H: But to someone who knows poetic madness, that is actually sanity. Divinest sense. When one can live in that kind of awareness and not care about the majority…

M: That’s something I understand completely. I know that’s a choice I could make–and absolutely refuse to make, to take that step. Because I know what it would mean. Actually, it’s very nice over there, but I don’t go.

The Trouble with Teaching Poetically

H: Oh, I think there were times when you were teaching when some of the administration wanted to get you out because they thought your teaching was a little too eccentric!

M: True. When I was  interviewed, the  English Department thought I would fit in because I used the same words they  did about how our subject should be approached. The  difference was that they had the words but not the poetry of the words. When  I started doing it poetically, it was too strong for their blood. They literally thought, “We gotta get rid of McKowen. He’s eccentric.” I was doing what they said they were doing. By that time, though, I was so self- confident that I could defend myself.

H: Did you have the union behind you.

M: No. It didn’t have anything to do with the union. In the first three years they could have fired me. They didn’t have to have a cause. But, I must say, the college at the time had a fine president, Karl Drexel. He let us know that once you were hired, as far as he was concerned, you already had tenure. Still, some really did try to make a case that McKowen ought to go. But they really didn’t have a chance. I was far too clear in what I was doing and why, and it was backed up by the best research. Later on, though, I did become a union president, sometimes defending people who should have been fired. I just didn’t like the way they were firing people. They would just get together in a little room and decide  what to do with this guy. We broke a hole in that wall. No, you have to discuss in the open what  the  charges are. So I’d be going in and be defending people I didn’t even like.

H: You know, I’d like to have a platform to teach what we’ve been talking about.

The Artist as Showman

M: You can create your own platform. You don’t have to make it merely commercial, but you must find a way to make sure that your audience opens its senses to, say, some little poem you’re reciting. You have to get them prepared for that. And that’s showmanship. So what I’m suggesting is that you work on showmanship. In a good  way, in a nice  way, in a  generous way. If you know your audience is already tuned in, or certainly receptive and can use your information, then you can simply present a paper. If you want to talk to a general audience, which I think you need to do, you need to become the kind of performer that people come  to and ask to talk. You’d start having to keep a book of your engagements!

H: My talks around the Bay Area have been surprisingly well received, particularly the one on

Melville at the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Kensington, “Melville’s Myth for Our Time.” That was very well received. What I’m thinking is that  I want  to get  a book out there  with good distribution behind it before I take the next step. Meanwhile, to continue to set up talks. But to reach a more general audience, I need someone who can really get the book out.

M: Right. You need the power of some major publisher’s advertising department.

H: Yes.

M: That’s the key to it. I do think you’re doing very well in your lectures. But if you wanted to reach a more general audience, you can begin toying with the view of a lecture as a performance, like a stage show–which it is.

H: Everson was a master at that.

M: Yes, as you’ve described him, I think he was a showman.

H: His father was a band master. So he grew up with a father who was out on stage all the time.

Lecturing as a Performance Art

M: Arthur Fiedler, the director of The Boston Pops for decades, was  the consummate showman. When he came on stage, he was essentially acting a role. He even had his uniforms tailored so that no pockets bulged out to spoil the lines of the outfit. When he was an old man, he’d do this marvelous concert and then go backstage and fall apart. But that role kept him going into his eighties. A showman. It doesn’t cost anything to dress up one’s performance. I published an article once called “Lecturing Is  Not Teaching.”  A lecture has to be understood to be a performance. It’s not an educational situation. So what you’re doing in a lecture is giving people the feel of something, so that they can run home and  continue  experiencing it. It’s not an intellectual thing. For what it’s worth, that’s what I’m getting at. One keeps saying, “How can I engage this audience so that they’re just hanging on every word?” So that they’re experiencing it poetically. I would say people in your circle that I’ve heard talking are far too academic in their talks. I guess maybe they think their audience is smart enough to translate it into poetry. But the way they present it is prose.

H: That’s a good point, Clark.

The Smell of Death in Academic Prose

M: It’s like the faculty in the English department at the college. They had the right words, but they didn’t have the music. Oh, there’s one more thing I want to add. You know, when I wrote Realms of Gold I thought, “This is really good.” Then I started thinking of cutting it up into postings on the web. I just re-wrote a chapter on Goodall, and I changed the style and sentence structure as I went along. I made it much more accessible and much, much less academic. I could see clearly how artificial that way of writing is. There’s the smell of death about it, dry and empty of feeling–even when the writer is talking about feeling.  Ugh.  I was  a  little ashamed of myself. This is really a great education, even at my age. I want this to be  just like our dialogues. I want my own voice in there, couched not with fancy language, which I call academic language. They’ll put an adjective after a noun, or have some stilted way of putting something, not the natural flow of English. Sorry, I know you had some topics you wanted to talk about.

When the Top of Your Head Is Taken Off

H: Just to finish up. You know, when Dickinson says, “If I feel the top of my head is  taken off, I know that is poetry,” she’s using feeling language there–for a fact. That is an  experience. And when the top of her head is taken off, something has so altered her consciousness that she knows she is at the center of the cosmos. Not only is she at the center, she is at the circumference. Now, this is a mathematical problem, but she takes it on in her poetry, the relationship between the center and the circumference.

M: Right.

H: And her flood subject is immortality, a synonym for circumference. She says to her mentor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “My business is about circumference.” She got that from a poem by Shelley called “Epipsychidon”. He uses the metaphor of circumference. It’s the idea that there’s an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.

Joseph Campbell was fond of quoting this.

M: Yes.

A Stuffed Chimpanzee from Childhood

H: She had the alchemical metaphor at the tip of her fingers when she was writing about this. What’s so interesting to me right now, Clark, is this idea that there is a nuclear symbol–like Jane Goodall’s stuffed chimpanzee from her early childhood.

M: Oh, right.

H: The nuclear symbol–that’s  the center. But the  circumference  is everything that she is able to do out on the periphery. You know, that’s there from the start. So Dickinson not only has Hitchcock who’s introducing her into the realms of gold in Revelations. Hitchcock was a geologist who was studying Alexander von Humboldt, whom Whitman was studying and Emerson was studying. Hunboldt’s book Kosmos had opened up the minds of these American poets to something that was so transcendent, what Keats was writing about and what Shelley was able to write about from Montblanc, which was his mountain. Humboldt had been to the Andes. He had been to Chimborazo, and he had become famous for having scaled what was thought at that time to be the highest mountain in the world, 20,000 feet in the Andes, right outside of Quito, Ecuador. Dickinson has a poem about Chimborazo, one about Popocatépetl, outside of Mexico City–volcanos. They become symbolic about a place of vista from which the poet sees and has visions. That’s where she’s writing from, that place of visionary consciousness that Whitman called spiritual democracy, or democratic vistas. She’s actually seeing from that point. That is the place where  the  realms of gold are seen, as eternity’s sunrise. There’s a place where the poet can dwell through this kind of movement from prose down into the poetic, the mythopoetic. Something had so opened the mind of the  poet that the top of her head was taken off. Something was lifted. The lid was lifted.

M: Yes, yes.

H: And she could see up at the celestial sphere what no romantic poets could before then.

Humboldt had made this possible. The “Age of Humboldt” –that’s what Emerson called it. Humboldt had opened up the mind of poetry to the vastness of the cosmos that had never been appreciated in quite the same way. So this was speaking to me, this metaphor that she can feel the top of her head being taken off. That’s what you’re talking about, a feeling for facts, the facts of experience.

M: That’s a great connection.

Dialogue # 13: Vocation and the Experience of Being Alive

December 11, 2012

[In this dialogue we delve more deeply into the deliberate use of coincidence but then segue into the drive of the spiritual universe toward ecstasy,  Emily Dickinson, the poet of ecstasy, being an exponent of that drive, and the natural world of bluebirds, snakes and butterflies  in her father’s garden in Amherst.   We explore the seeding of vocational symbols into the psyche in early childhood and later being paired with some outer stimulus (coincidence), triggering the revelation of one’s vocation or calling.  Interwoven are reflections  on living at a pitch that is “near madness,” death and immortality, compassion, fate and destiny,  and  the shaman’s role in releasing the poetic self.]

From Many, One

Herrmann: I want to pick up a thread from our last dialogue which began with you talking about coincidences, and I want to tell you about this  very interesting thing that  happened  to me on Sunday. It’s an important point in relation to our discussions about the Field. These occurrences are regular rather than very rare. So first let me show you the coin Lori gave me. We were painting the bathroom and it was also the  first day of Hanukkah, so we  were conscious of the holiday. Lori lit the first candle that evening. Anyway, after we finished painting, she took out a little purse that she had from Israel, and there were some coins in it, foreign currency, and she showed them to me. I said, “What’s that?” and as I looked I saw it was a silver dollar. As you can see, it’s from 1885. I looked it up on Google. It’s probably worth about $35 to $40.

There were about seven million minted, so it’s not a rare coin. But let me tell you what was going on for me  when she  handed me  that coin. First, you’ll notice it says e pluribus unum, from many one, from the Great Seal of the United States. Well, that’s at the core of spiritual democracy, the oneness of all religions. That’s very American. And it’s in the First Amendment, too, the freedom of religion.

The Symbolic Dimension

McKowen: Maybe they were wiser than they knew, when you get down into looking at the symbolic aspect.

H: That’s the key, the symbolic dimension. And a lot of the imagery of the Seal comes from Rosicrucian imagery [The secret society of the “rosy cross” that emerged in early seventeenth century Europe] and Masonry. Ben Franklin played a part in the ideas that went into the Great Seal. Well, to move beyond that, I’d always been impressed with the silver dollar, and I didn’t have one. At the time this happened I was returning to my manuscript on Emily Dickinson, I was working on this letter she wrote to Helen Hunt Jackson. Jackson was an American poet who was a contemporary of Emily Dickinson. She’s remembered mainly through her letters to Emily, not because of her stature as a poet and novelist of any supreme stature. As Jackson was nearing death, she came to Santa Monica.

She was on the Pacific coast and she and Dickinson had been corresponding. Dickinson had written about the great sea in the West in a poem where she called it “Immortality,” which is a great mythological theme. The Western se a is symbolic of immortality; you see it in a lot of myths and poems. She was looking out, as Dickinson said in her letter, to Japan from the West coast. Then she penned this poem in the letter that she wrote to Jackson in 1885! Dickinson was approaching her own death, which was a year later. She writes, and I mentioned this in our last dialogue, “Take all away from me…” M: Yes, you did!

H: “Take all away from me–but leave me ecstasy.”

M: It’s true, isn’t it?

H: “And I am richer–than all my fellow men.”

So here she is proclaiming her wealth, her riches, in the ecstasy she felt near the end of her life, as she was now 55 years old and suffering from kidney disease. She  died at 56; she was born in 1830. So I found the coin on Sunday, which was the ninth of December, on the eve of her birthday, yesterday, December tenth. So, I was working on the poem in my manuscript, and the poem was written in 1885, and Lori hands me the coin. I don’t have any coins with that date on them or that old. In fact, that is my only coin from the nineteenth century.

M: That is something!

H: She hands me this coin dated 1885, and I thought. “What an interesting coincidence!” “Shamanism = Technique of Ecstasy”

M: It certainly is.

H: As a poet-shaman, she really spoke for ecstasy. Mircea Eliade the great historian of religions (1907—1986, also a philosopher, a writer of fiction, and professor at the University of Chicago), said in this simple equation: “Shamanism = technique of ecstasy.”

[The history of religions will inevitably attain to a deeper knowledge of man. It is on the basis of such knowledge that a new humanism on a world-wide scale, could develop. – Mircea Eliade]

Nobody illustrates this technique better than Emily Dickinson.  Here she was, writing to a woman who’s looking out on the Pacific, looking out toward on Japan, who’s close to her own death. Jackson died just before Dickinson did. Jackson had encouraged Emily to publish her poems so that they wouldn’t be published merely posthumously, but in her lifetime. Dickinson writes back, “Take all away from me, but leave me  ecstasy.” She’s  thinking, OK, I’ve published seven poems in my lifetime, but that doesn’t matter much; I’m so rich in gold, in ecstasy, in the ecstatic, in Happiness, in Joy in living, as Whitman would say. And that’s enough, that’s sufficient.

M: Jackson must have appreciated the quality of her work.

H: Oh, she did immensely, and that’s why she encouraged her to publish it.

M: So how many people of her era who knew her poetry realized the quality of it?

H: Very few. The only people who really did were her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert; Samuel Bowles the editor of the  Springfield Republican; and her mentor Thomas  Wentworth Higginson whom she wrote many letters to. Also, a few of her friends whom she wrote  letters to and who she blessed with poems. But Jackson clearly recognized her magnificence and felt that her poetry should be in print.

M: I think for someone to recognize that quality they would have had to be of that level of awareness as well. Otherwise, it would not penetrate their way of experiencing life. So I would guess, then, that Jackson had to be somebody pretty special, too, as well as Gilbert and anybody else who saw it.

H: Yes.

Coincidence—a Matter of Having One’s Senses Awake

The prepared mind snaps up whatever crops up along the street. The street overflows with endless possibilities

M: You have to have wealth in the  realms of gold  in order to pick that up.  Otherwise  you’d see it superficially. Well! That’s a very good coincidence. You started to say it’s more integral to human experience than something that happens only once in a while. I’m beginning to see that more and more, and I’m telling you it crops up everywhere. As I said when we talked about this in some of our dialogues, we see more and more coincidences  the  more awake we are and the more our sensorium’s open. Some of the little silly things, like seeing the word superficiality, just after you said it or thought it, there in the first paragraph of the newspaper you’ve just picked up. That’s sort of fun but maybe not really of the same sort of thing we’ve been discussing. As I think about this, it’s coming into focus that for the awakened mind everything is a coincidence–or nothing is–like miracles. As you know, Whitman wrote, “As for me I know of nothing but miracles.” That is, any speck of experience, anything as insignificant as a particle of dust falling through a beam of sunlight in a room, cannot help but be related to my experience, and if I’m awake I notice that. So the prepared mind snaps up whatever crops up along the street. The street overflows with endless possibilities. And  then, the amazing coincidences, as this line of thought unfolds, are indeed just exactly like the fun ones. It’s all there for the tuned-in mind to register. It’s a matter of having our senses awake.

H: Well, it is relatively uncommon to see a word in print just after you had it in your conscious mind.

M: True. It’s similar to what you and I shared about the experience of my English classes. We accumulated a semester of shared experience, a cloud of data and  then went  our separate ways, gathering huge piles of experience over the years. Then a decade or two later we meet again and through these dialogues download what the years have generated around that shared experience. I’ve been busy expanding and deepening the thinking of those months, and  you have gone your unique way doing the same thing.  Now you come back with all those nuggets  of Jung, Chardin, Campbell, greatly fleshed out.  You bring your huge  cloud  of information and I bring my modest cloud, and now they  merge.  Now I can assimilate all the  insights you’ve gathered over all these years. So thank  you very much! What a feast! That’s really great. I do think that’s how it works.

So to get back to your thoughts, if you would, about coincidence.

The Great Water of the West

H: I think these coincidences are based on destiny factors that are relatively opaque during such moments, and the actual occurrences lead one to formulate  ideas about human destiny and about the fact that there are figures in the field–you can say the world is a field—and the Self-world is a Field, and there are vocations people have, specific callings, such as Emily Dickinson and Susan Gilbert and her brother Austin and Helen Hunt Jackson. This woman who was so well known at the time was in the field of her ecstasy, in this case of course the literary field. So these overlapping clouds that you’re talking about—these number diagrams—bear on vocation–and I noticed you liked what I said the last time about the intersection of various vocational fields and their convergence upon a center. That center is, I think, what Jung called the Self. And for Dickinson her favorite subject was what she  called the flood subject, or what I referred to earlier as the great water of the West, or immortality. You find the same theme in Yoga, the theme of immortality. In Hinduism, the yogis through their various techniques of meditation and physical disciplines achieve a state of consciousness where they break through to this place of mutual resonance, a kind of light you could say that is golden, a light of consciousness, of spiritual consciousness.

A Place of Mutual Resonance

M: A place of mutual resonance–that’s a good way to describe what happens. Can you expand on that?

H: Spiritual democracy is known by these poets by virtue of the fact that there’s a common resonance. You were hinting at the idea that Jackson must have had…

M: A resonance of her own.

H: An experience of her own, knowledge of her own of what this field is like. M: Yes.

H: So she must have known about it to appreciate it, the resonance she felt in the reading of these poems by Dickinson.

M: And if you think about resonance like the waves of a lake or light waves, if they are synchronous, they amplify the wave. It’s nice to have somebody like Jackson resonating with Emily because that amplifies the waves.

H: And from Santa Monica, on the West Coast. And those waves went all the way across  the US to Amherst; this feeling of a mutual connection between the two writers.

 H: Dickinson said,

And, “To comprehend a nectar/ requires the sorest need.”  To comprehend her, someone needed to know about this nectar in the flower. I think she had that sense that she was exuding this kind of resonance. She had it. She had her fingers on it because it was a destiny factor within her, given to her by the gods when she was a little girl, as she said.

There’s this sense in some of these poet-shamans that they’re teaching something that is beyond belief, beyond faith.

M: Exactly.

H: That’s what I love about them.

The Symbol and What It Points To

M: Well, that’s the essential point, I think, of all our dialogues, the difference between the superficial–the difference between the symbol, the image, the metaphor–and what it points to.     I sense that the mass of humankind lives in the symbol and not in the thing it points to. They think they’ve got it, but they’re just floating around on the surface. That’s why the subtitle of Realms of Gold is Excursions IN the Sea of Intelligence and not ON the Sea of Intelligence.

They never penetrate into what Emily’s talking about, that ecstasy that I think all spirits, all souls yearn for. She should be called the poet of ecstasy. That’s what this is all about, I think.

How about your colleagues at the Jung Institute in San Francisco? Do they “get it,” this drive for ecstasy?

H: I had the good fortune of having been mentored  by the  foremost authority  on shamanism and the field of analytical psychology, Donald Sandner. He’s the one I told you about who had and Aha! moment when he saw The Cocktail Party.  He moved to an entirely different career,  to psychiatry, from having seen that play and the role of the psychiatrist there. He was the one who encouraged me to go down to Kingfisher Flat and interview Everson on the subject of shamanism in American poetry. This was in 1991. Everson was writing his own book at the time. I’d been his teaching assistant and I had done my masters on vocational dreams. So Don Sandner suggested I interview Everson, based on a series of dreams  he and I discussed together. After I finished the series of interviews, I needed to write  my  own book on the subject. Clearly, I had learned enough about the material. I had read Whitman and Jeffers and Everson, and I could speak on my own on that subject. Here’s the interesting thing about Sandner. This relates to resonances. I did proceed to write my book on shamanism and American poetry, and the first chapter I wrote was on Emily Dickinson, a seventy-page essay. Don loved it. He sent me to see John Beebe, who is an exceptional analyst and editor, and he loved too. One of the things that had moved Sandner profoundly is this poem by Emily Dickinson, this 1885 poem, “Take all away from me, but leave me ecstasy.” So for the  two years I knew him, after I wrote that little essay, from December 1995 until his death on Easter Sunday in 1997, we had ongoing dialogues about Everson, Dickinson, D. H. Lawrence, Whitman, Jeffers, and Herman Melville. He said, “You’d better read Moby-Dick. You have to have a chapter on him!”

M: How old was Sandner when he died?

“But leave me ecstasy.

H: He was 69. He had a  massive  heart attack on Easter morning.  So here’s the  interesting thing about finding that coin and why it’s so significant to me. The night before Don died, a Saturday, he went to the symphony with his wife, and on the way, the sun was just setting, and he was telling his wife about how beautiful it was over the Golden Gate, and he started talking about a person he knew who had written a piece on Emily Dickinson. She told me this later, after his death. He said to her how wonderful the piece  was and  how this  one  poem had spoken to him, “Take all away from me, but leave me ecstasy.” He had that on his  lips  the night before he died.

M: Wow.

H: She told me this, and I was very moved by it. He was having serious symptoms  of angina. He had actually fainted at the airport and was very near death. Because he was near death, he was having these ecstatic experiences more and more, and he started talking about them with me. So then he dies on Easter morning, the day of the Resurrection. I thought it was all very moving. He had that kind of certainty about the soul’s survival after death. He was not the kind of person who questioned anymore when I knew him in his final days. Walt Whitman, too, had spoken to him. He had been a literature major. He got his bachelors in English at the University of Illinois and then transferred over to medicine and  psychiatry. That’s another thing about these fields we’ve been discussing. For whatever reason, he was Jungian, yes, but he had studied English. His son went on to become an English professor. He had this transference on to me and I onto him. Our vocations united in the same Field.

My Cloud of “Clarkness”

M: Maybe we should talk about the afterlife, the continuation of the Self as an entity, an integral thing, which to me is irrelevant. That goes along with my feeling that “The future” out there is irrelevant. Perhaps, if you don’t mind, we could do a tangent into distance and time. As I said before, I carry my cloud of “Clarkness,” all the stuff I’ve  gathered up in various ways, through the collective unconscious, and all that, plus everything I’ve gathered with my sensorium, and whatever my brain is able to piece together. I carry that cloud with me. Here’s the important thing: The idea of the past is a concept. We picture the past as something way back there, but in fact the past is here now, and  there  isn’t any  place else for it to be. It’s  in this cloud. So it’s in the now. The reason it seems so distant is  because I think of it that way.  It’s not that it is back there. Similarly, the future is the same sort of thing. It’s    here and now, too. This means that this cloud contains all that I need right here and now. That’s the time element of it. My experience as a four-year-old is right here in this present moment. Now, distance: I picture Pennsylvania three  thousand  miles away. You’d have to walk or drive a long way to get there. That’s a concept as well. The idea that it’s three thousand miles is an idea. It isn’t really three thousand miles. It’s here  in this  body of information that’s  available to me now. The significance  of that is  that if you want  to talk about telecommunication and that sort of thing, that makes it much less mysterious. People we knew twenty years ago are actually in this cloud right now.

Synced with Our Own Inner Voice

H: Well, we both know people who have, sadly, not lived their vocation, and because of that, I think they suffer. Perhaps many of the people in the world are in that predicament. I go there myself sometimes where I feel like I’m not living my destiny. The struggle and strain of everyday living require sometimes that we do things that takes us out of sync or out of resonance with our inner vocational voice. And  that voice at ground  level is based on music, the music of the spheres, or of language, the harmony of syllables. But let’s go  back a moment to that 1885 coin I found, and there’s Emily Dickinson writing that poem the same year, “A Route of Evanescence.”

M: Yes, I know that poem.

This is a poem she also sent to Helen Hunt Jackson. Jackson had asked for a bird poem, about a bluebird, I think it was. Dickinson sends her a poem describing the actions  of this bluebird to the T. And then she writes, “And let me add a hummingbird.” So here’s my connection: Sunday evening after finding the coin, I’m watching Nature with Lori, and there’s this  special on hummingbirds.  You’re talking about information being transmitted  in this cloud in lightning speed, well, for Dickinson, who  was  an astute student  of animal intelligence, she wrote in that poem that the trip from Tunis with the morning’s mail was only    a day away. Now, one of the things I learned about hummingbirds, the ruby-throated hummingbirds of the East Coast migrate up from Central America. What I’ve learned about many of the hummingbirds that we have here in our gardens in the spring and summer is that they fly up from South America on their way to Alaska.

M: Oh, my!

The Butterfly Bush, the Bottle Brush, the Sage

H: And these hummingbirds return to the precise garden. I bought some hummingbird sage to plant out in front for them. Think about that kind of intelligence, being able to return to the same garden year after year. How do they find the home with the butterfly bush and the bottle brush and the sage? I like the  metaphor of the  hummingbird, because when we’re  talking about the past and the present and  those birds  that were here and  are going to be here again in a few months, sipping nectar from the same bush, we’re talking about the past and the present in the moment. They were here and they’re here again; that is eternal time. Joseph Campbell said to Bill Moyers, “When you’re in that state, there is no time.”

M:          That’s right.

An Experience of Being Alive

H: He’s talking, if you recall, about this whole concept of living in a myth. Moyers is questioning him about that. Campbell says, if you put yourself in harmony, in tune–in resonance, you could say–with that myth that you are meant to be living, doors begin to open for you and the myth that you ought to be living, the life that you ought to be living, is the life that you are living. That’s the key. When you think about the life of those hummingbirds, they are living their life, the one they are meant to live. And it’s not a myth. It’s reality. That’s the other thing Campbell was right on about.

The experience of being alive

When Moyers questioned him, he said, “I don’t think people are looking for the meaning of life. I think  people are looking for an experience of being alive.” That’s what that hummingbird is teaching us. That’s what Emily Dickinson is teaching us. She said the ecstasy of living is enough. That’s joy enough for her. And when we’re in that kind of an experience, we don’t need to think about the survival of the soul after death. So I would agree with you.

M: OK. That’s my position exactly.

H: And there are mysteries that we’ll never be able to fully answer. Cosmic Resonance

M: And the thing I want to emphasize about what you’re saying is  this  resonance  you’re talking about, resonance, rhythm, music, are the vehicle by which we travel through this experience. We resonate with the universe as the hummingbird resonates. When we allow ourselves to get into that resonance, then we’re there. What you said earlier about the pull of everyday needs bothers me a bit because it seems to disrupt that resonance.  Francis  Bacon (1561 -1626) spoke of wife and family as hostages to fortune. They interfere with our work (and “give us our greatest joy,” of course. [Laugh.] But I think we actually do give up our resonance in order to do things for other people or in choosing not to go a way that feels better for us because others seem to need for us to be doing something else. We put up with; we put up with. Well, what’s your response to that? I think we both do it, but where does that put us, considering were we ought to be? Maybe that’s where we ought to be, living in both worlds.

H: I think that’s what we have to do if we’re going to live out our lives to their completion, to be able to be masters of both worlds. And that’s what the shaman does with excellence, and the poet.

M: Do you think a shaman could have a harridan wife? [Laughs.] A shrew?

H: Let me tell you about a dream I had this morning. I resolved it in the dream.

M: That’s what you should do.

H: It had to do with the writing of this chapter on Dickinson. And that’s this whole problem of fate and destiny. Dickinson has some marvelous poems about this. That’s why my manuscript on Dickinson has the title “Fate, Destiny and the Spiritual Marriage.” She suffered a particular,  fate as we all do in one way or another. Yet if one stays true to one’s destiny, then things work out in the end. And the two work together. I think in rare moments we see that the fate  that we’ve been given is precisely the fate that we needed to have.

M: OK. That’s great.

H: To split those as opposites, that fate is bad and destiny is good, is a mistake.

M: How about a child born with Down Syndrome?

H: Well, I think you’re asking some difficult questions.

M: I know!

H: You’re throwing a curve ball at me right now.

M: And at myself, too, but I want to resolve it. I don’t want to come off as some kind of callous person either! I think, though, that the question can be resolved.

H: You know, Dickinson had an interesting view about illness and death. She writes letters to relatives and people who were very close to her, friends who had just lost a child to an illness. They’re not the kind of letters of consolation you would expect. They’re letters affirming the fate of that particular child and the suffering of that particular parent. Why is it she can write with that kind of assurance? That that death was just the way it ought to be?

M: Ah, you are answering my question.

H: I’m answering it in a roundabout way. I’m telling you what Emily Dickinson’s attitude was about it. There are limitations to that. If it happens in a natural way, sure, when you throw into the equation the problem of war . . .. Did you see Lincoln, the Civil War movie, for example? Those innocent soldiers, some dying of gangrene because they had  had a leg amputated. And we can add the factor of evil and what happened in Nazi Germany.  Some answers I think are  not forthcoming. We can’t answer affirmatively that  in certain circumstances  it’s the  way it was meant to be.

The Universe Is as It Is.

M: To try to explain it intellectually is a waste of time, because you can’t. But here’s what I  do know. The universe is as it is. When you go down into the realms of gold, you realize that the universe is as it is. You cannot withhold yourself from that. You have to surrender to the universe as it is. You can’t interject some idea you have of the way it ought to be… If you can’t accept it, you haven’t really surrendered to it. It’s beyond acceptance.

H: I’ll tell you someone who surrendered to the  universe as it is, Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote a manuscript that has sold ten million copies about his experiences in Auschwitz. The Nazis destroyed the first draft and he wrote from memory verbatim the whole manuscript a second time. What kept him alive he says in that miraculous book was the thought of seeing his wife again–who died tragically in Buchenwald–and the sense of meaning that came from the realization that he had a vocation to fulfill. That was conveyed clearly in his manuscript. He later became a great logo-therapist. He actually invented that style of psychotherapy. He believed in the possibility of changing one’s mental frame, one’s attitude. He called them attitudinal values.

M: What you do in your work, I think, is to help people rearrange their patterns of thought.

H: I think that’s part of what we have to do if we’re going to help patients.

M: That’s what it’s all about. That’s what we’re talking about, too.

H: “We are what we think. What we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” There you have it. That’s logo-therapy right there.  Five hundred years B.C., Buddha got it right.

M: And there were people before him that go way, way back.

H: Oh, yes, the yogis. “Yoga is the intentional stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff.” That’s the first line from Patanjali’s Yoga Sturas.

M: The same concept. We talked earlier about how it could be that they could know this long before any of the research that has accumulated over time. You remember I was speculating about how Yeats could know about memory, which is really the subatomic field that he’s talking about. You said,   Well, it’s not such a big surprise because…

[The train of thought was interrupted when I noticed a hummingbird out Steven’s window. We take up the symbiotic relationship of hummingbirds and hawks and bluebirds and then a tangent to pick up on Dickinson’s interest in the bluebird.]

Above Vicissitude

H: Dickinson identified with the bluebird. She has beautiful poems about bluebirds and she speaks about her teacher having been a bluebird. So she learned a lot from them.

I think you were about to say something when we stopped to talk about hummingbirds and bluebirds.

M: Oh, let’s see… If a person’s actually complaining about war and pestilence and suffering,  he or she hasn’t delved deeply enough into the realms of gold. The bottom line is you have to give up your reservations.

H: That’s because you have to develop the attitude that Dickinson calls superiority to fate.

M: Exactly, exactly.

H: Superiority to fate means one has accepted one’s destiny. One’s destiny is to live in the realms of gold and be able to bequeath those realms to others. This is something that is very rare actually. These poet-shamans are not common.

M: I’d like to see what she said to these people whose children died.

H: I have a number of those letters.

M: Maybe you could email some source information on that for me to look at. I’m interested in how she talked about it to these people.

H: In these letters she’s talking about death by natural cause.

Being Grounded in That-Which-Is

M: Sure, but I think that one’s  response can be extended to a death of whatever its cause. That’s the key to it all. We have to be able to surrender to what  circumstance  dishes out.  I don’t think that diminishes anguish one whit. It just provides a grounding in that-which-is. It’s not even a matter of acceptance. It’s more like how a radish lives out its  life, being a living thing without the overlay of judgment. Something like that.

H: What you’re talking about is the struggle of the ego that wants to struggle  against its fate and realized through defeat we must bow our heads. Amor Fati, love of one’s fate, is the capacity to accept life just the way it is. It’s very difficult when you think about certain blows  of fate.

M: Yes. There’s the more common reaction of outrage and all that.

 H: It looks like we’re wrapping up our time for this chat.

M: Well, one last thing. I wanted talk, too, a little about vision.

How Ecstatic!

H: Dickinson had a lot to say about vision. Right near the end of her life she had a profound vision. She wrote about it two weeks  before  her death in a letter of consolation to a woman who had just lost her husband. In it, she’s affirming that death. She affirms it because she’s convinced that he’s going to immortality. She  writes, “How ecstatic!”  with an exclamation point that she  should be in ecstasy over this. Then she says, “I will not let thee  go  unless I bless thee!” Now, what she’s done  is  turn around  the Biblical statement  of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel. Jacob said, “I will not let thee go until thou bless  me.” And here’s Emily reversing it. “I will not let you go until I bless you.” Now someone two weeks before   she is going to die who can bless, who has the power to bless a person in grief over the loss of her husband . . .!  She knows she’s dying because she is declining from kidney failure, Bright’s disease. She is letting her friend know she has that power because she is experiencing it.  She has tasted immortality. She knows her soul will be immortal, and she knows her poetry will be immortal, even though it’s not published. She’s got it all ready to go in forty little fascicles, as they were called, little packets that her sister Lavina found in her desk drawer after her death, all ready to go, and clearly intended for publication.

“I Would Have Preached It to the Poor Box.”

M: What if they weren’t published? I think in a sense they still were.

H: Meister Eckhart said, “I would have preached it to the poor box.”

M: [Laughs]

H: If the Beguines [Women who chose to live religious lives in the world] had not taken down Eckhart’s sermons, those women who were loyal to him, then they would have been lost to time… Shakespeare was an immortal poet, and he was speaking from the realms of gold too.

Dickinson was reading him since she was fourteen. She quoted him right up to her death. Shakespeare was on her list, and she was a rhyming poet. She was not like Whitman. She was not a writer of free verse. She wrote in little hymnals, based on Watts, a hymnal that all the Puritans were familiar with. She  used that hymnal and its rhyming metrics. Nobody knew this at first, but later scholars found her source. So she did have a method to her style. It was all very organized, even though she said she could not organize, and when she  tried, her little force exploded.

An Emerging Pattern

M: Ah, good for her. Well, next time I want to discuss the physicality of thought.  You know, in general, I think the path of these dialogues–how many of them are there now, maybe fourteen, about eighteen pages of discussion each–has a distinct pattern to it and is going somewhere.

H: Yes, but we’d have to melt down the gold from the dross.

M: I do think, though, the dross is significant in dialogues like this and is important. I’d like to keep it in, because it shows the process of dialogue, how it arrives, when it goes well, at a heightened perception. But of course we do not want to bore people!

No More Heaven or Hell Than There Is Now

H: I want to get back before we stop for today to something Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself.” He says, “There never was any more inception than there is now, nor any more heaven or hell then there is now, nor any more youth or age than there is now, nor any more perfection than there is now.”

M: Perfect.

H: I mean that’s the idea. M: Yes, yes.

H: That’s the idea, to be in the now. The past, present, and future are all there.

M: Not some place way back there twenty years ago. I think if you’re able to catch on to that, you’re on the verge of being able to use telecommunication deliberately.

H: Well, now you’re talking about parapsychology. We’ll have to talk about that at another time.

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.