Excuse the expression, but I want to fall in life. I want to stay in the park the singer’s voice sweetening the afternoon.So I write afternoon. Not the word, the thing. —from “The Alphabet in the Park,” Adelia Prado
and I are sitting in Steven’s living
room. The sun is hitting a piece of
stained glass that’s moving gently in the circulating air. The dialogue that
ensues delves deeper into the process of seeing more intensely, and with
greater and greater awareness what lies all about us. It leads as well to a deepening understanding
of what can be called cosmic morality.]
Herrmann: I’m noticing this
beautiful movement of the prism of light reflecting from the sun, these
spherical colors moving about the room.
McKowen: Look at that!
H: You don’t get that very often
where the sun hits it just right.
M: It’s like magic almost. Look at it going over the ceiling.
Light and Darkness in the Human Psyche
H: They do represent something of that refracted light that is at the core, the center, of the human psyche that wants to emit its own radiance. The forces of darkness do want to interfere with that illumination in the world and are actually envious. Envy, I think, is a big part of the human shadow, and whenever a great light does appear in the world, you are going to find a Judas Iscariot. You’re going to find a regime that wants to squash a Hafiz or a Rumi, poets who are all about light and about love and bringing that source of universal energy to the world. H: I think our discussions are hitting the nail on the head with regard to our nervous systems, which is to evolve toward greater and greater awareness, and part of that is becoming aware of the human shadow. It’s a moral task. Nietzsche said that Zarathustra had committed the greatest error in human history with the invention of morality, the postulation of the duality between good and evil, the powers of light and the powers of darkness. As you know, the history of the Middle-East and the West emerges out of that foundation–which is the history of the world. Whether or not morality belongs, nature is what we’ve got to live with. And it’s certainly here for a reason. I don’t think it’s an error, as Nietzsche said. I think it’s also part of human beauty that gives light to the cosmos.
Well, maybe he was thinking of it in the way that I object to, a kind of code
of behavior, an abstract set of rules.
Knee jerk morality, as I see it, is about as poisonous as you can
get. Natural morality is another thing
altogether. As I experience myself, I
have to take into account how I feel about my behavior. As I said in our last dialogue, that behavior
has to fit with the rest of me. The
whole package has to be unified. A
unified personality, I think, is a moral one.
That’s how I would define morality.
That allows for Gauguin going off to the South Seas and leaving his
dependents to fend for themselves. I thought
he was being moral, as I define the word.
He had to do that. You’re setting the agenda today. Do you have something in mind?
I want to read you a poem by Hafiz and then read you a dream I had. The poem addresses the theme of spiritual democracy that we’ve been talking about. It’s at the center, too, of my new book and at the center of my research on Whitman, Melville, Dickinson, and Jung. It’s called, “I have learned so much.”
I have learned so much from God That I can no longer call Myself A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew. The Truth has shared so much of Itself with me That I can no longer call myself A man, a woman, an angel, or even pure Soul. Love has befriended Hafiz so completely It has turned to ash and freed me Of every concept and image My mind has ever known. Ladinsky’s translation
The Beating Heart of the Universe
M: Perfect. That’s just perfect.
It speaks directly the the theme of my book Spiritual Democracy. Here’s another one that’s very beatiful, a shamanic poem for you” Now the sky-drum plays All by itself in my head Singing all day long “Allah, Allah, Allah.” –“The Gift, ”Ladinsky’s translation
So there’s the cosmic drum of the
Universe playing by itself in the head of the poet-shaman, beating its eternal
rhythm in three beats: “Allah, Allah, Allah.” The sky-drum is a metaphor for
spiritual democracy: the unity of the human soul with the universal God that
beats like heart everywhere. Whether one sings all day Krishna, Christ, Buddha,
Shiva, or Allah, it is the same universal drum that intones in the sky.
A Non-Verbal Illumination
M: People like Hafiz and Rumi and
others get past conceptual experience and a non-verbal illumination takes its
place. The person is wholly there
without any kind of description of how it works. Did you just discover Hafiz? You hadn’t mentioned him before.
H: I read the book The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master, translated by
Daniel Ladinsky, all the poems, and I liked them. I had known about Hafiz, but I’d never picked
up a book of his poems before. As I believe
I mentioned earlier, in 1844 Emerson was reading Goethe’s translations of Hafiz
into German and translated them into English. In his journals he translated
over two hundred poems by Hafiz! He was the most highly regarded poet by
M: My god, to think that was
going on in America in the 1840s, and America was privy to that information.
H: Well, as you know, Melville
was reading Emerson and so was Whitman.
M: Think what an influence that
Eastern poet had in our culture–that probably not one in a million knows
H: Actually, I’ve heard that
Hafiz is the most popular poet today in what was once Persia. In Iran he is the most famous Sufi poet. More copies of his collected poems sell in
Iran than the Koran.
H: That’s how popular Hafiz is there.
I later emailed my Iranian friend,
Sasan Eyhaie, about this 14th century poet:
Sasan: He is considered the king of poets in Iran. He literally
perfected Persian poetry to its utmost beauty and love. He is the only poet I
know of who repeatedly speaks of the elder of Mogh, a Magi elder, perhaps one
of his teachers?! He is nicknamed Hafiz since it means the rememberer. They say
that’s because he knew Quran by heart! They say the last 10+ years of his life
he did not go anywhere and was in prayer the whole time.
M: What’s the matter with their
people and our people that there’s this powerful force of love right next to
the murderous tendency?
H: That’s what you were saying
before we started to record.
M: Yes, this yin yang is working almost too dramatically on our country and Iran. [A reminder: This transcription was recorded in September 2011. A lot has happened since then. Use Google for updates!]
H: Can you imagine if Walt Whitman sold better in the United States than the King James Bible?
Reading Poets in Their Deepest Sense
M: Well, when I was growing up, Whitman was in all the sixth-grade readers. But I don’t think the people who put him in there knew what he meant. It sounded good to them, but they didn’t get the deep meanings. And that’s possibly the problem. The problem is we need to read these people in the deepest sense instead of superficially. I suppose that’s the common thread that runs through these dialogues you and have been having, tuning ourselves up so that we’re more awake during the whole day and pay more attentions to ordinary conversation, instead of being half asleep, so to speak.
H: That is the problem. I am
hopeful, though, given that fact that Sufism is more popular for Iranians than
fundamentalist Islamic interpretations of the Koran; the Middle-East appears to
be on the verge of a miraculous transformation.
Poets like Hafiz appear to be leading the way out of the morass of
morally-laden and worn out Koranic laws.
M: That’s what we’ve been saying,
talking about this urge of the spirit to come forth in every creature, the urge
to realize itself, to real-ize itself.
There’s this demand, whether people know it or not, including
fundamentalists who don’t understand that what they really want to do is
actualize their own spirits. It’s
confusing to them, so they think they have to punch things and break them. Maybe there’s some way to get past that.
H: I think that’s absolutely
correct. Every human being wants to
actualize his or her own inner light.
And these poems are all about that, realizing one’s inner light, one’s
own truth. That includes coming into
relationship with the Beloved, with a capital B. For Shams and Rumi, that was something
between them. Just like Hafiz and
Attar. Attar was Hafiz’s teacher for
forty years. Between them, there was
this breakthrough of a universal force that he describes in his poems, which
like Rumi’s, was a profound opening of the heart and of love emerging,
accompanied by light, tremendous light. That’s something that Whitman speaks
about in Section Five of “A Song of Myself,” when he’s lying on the grass and
realizes that light. The lover comes and
opens his shirt, exposing his heart at the bosom bone. He said he had an experience then that transcended
all the art and argument of the Earth.
In other words, it was an experience of cosmic unity, the beating heart
of the universe or what Hafiz calls the sky-drum. That is a pure shamanistic
experience, an ecstasy. Hafiz says: “I know the ecstasy of the falcon’s wings /
When they make love against the sky” (Ladinsky, 57). That is a surpassing kind
M: “All the art and argument of
the Earth.” Perfect.
The problem for most people is that they stop at the image
M: I think the problem for most
people is that they stop at the image.
They think they’ve found it when they have the image in their hands.
H: The image is the direct
channel to the light.
M: Yes, but if you stop there,
then you may become a fundamentalist.
H: Well, exactly.
The Image as a Gate not an End Point
M: They use the image as the end
point, but it’s only the gate.
H: Take that poem of Hafiz, “Now
the sky-drum plays / All by itself in my head.”
The great Sufi master puts himself in accord with the Universal force of
the drum, the beat. He does not play the drum; the sky-drum plays in his head!
It does not matter so much what the poet shaman sings. It could be OM. For
Hafiz it is Allah. Sufism is the mystical sect of Islam. The point is the
sky-drum can beat in any person’s head if one attunes to the unitary force in
the cosmos. The problem is that if the fundamentalist’s thumping of the Koran becomes
the drum, then what’s lost is the sky.
Then what’s lost is the transcendence.
M: That’s well put.
H: The drum, the drum of the
universe, which is the drum of Shiva.
Shiva beats the drum of time.
It’s the same drum of the shaman.
M: So our problem is our settling
for the little world rather than the great world.
H: It’s exactly what the problem
is. If the Book becomes everything, then one never writes one’s own book.
M: That’s good.
H: It’s basically what poets
teach, and it’s what Whitman taught.
It’s what Emerson taught.
M: I mentioned this drive within the human being for the
spirit to actualize itself. It’s that
Dylan Thomas poem:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower Drives my green age.
It’s the same force.
I’m thinking how grass will come up through concrete, thick concrete.
Amazing. Well, it’s that force in the
universe that just demands to find its way to the light.
The Amoral Field Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. —Rumi
[For years I’ve been thinkingthere’s got to be some sort of bedrock natural morality, a cosmic morality wedded to the intelligent cosmos. There is lots to consider, not the least being a couple of hundred cultures on this planet, each with its own arbitrary set of rules. How can such diverse ideas of morality and ethics fit into something so all-encompassing as the cosmos? Can there be a moral universe, an ethical cosmos? Can such words even apply on such a vast canvas? I invited Steven to explore the question in this dialogue.]
M: I’d like to talk about whether there’s some kind of objective morality. I don’t know if I would call what I’m thinking about ‘morality’, but it might be what Camus called the benign indifference of the universe–benign indifference! The idea that the universe isn’t mad at anybody. Some grains of corn don’t get nourished and don’t grow. People in Rwanda are getting their hands chopped off by their neighbors. Kids are starving to death all over the planet. Huge masses of people are destroyed in tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. But you have to see all that in the context of the whole thing. The universe isn’t really mad at us, I think is a reasonable view. This is simply the way it works. To participate in all this, you have to recognize yourself as part of the warp and woof, not separate but integral. If you can’t do that, you’re not seeing clearly. You wouldn’t be any good at helping the universe along.
H: I’ve been very interested in the question of moral and ethical development. I’ve been writing about it. So I find it interesting that you sent me that paper to read right before our meeting. It’s the one part of my book Spiritual Democracy that hasn’t been emphasized as much as I now see it needs to be. It will need a chapter at least. Maybe a couple, because there can’t be any real discussion of spiritual democracy without a discussion of ethics.
A Moral Cosmos?
M: That ties in beautifully. I think we’d have to re-define ‘moral’ and re-define ‘ethics’. We’d have to define them in terms of this cosmos, much broader than the narrow view of those two words. As Parfit says, by the time you sorted it all out, if you had to make a moral decision based on logic and reason, somebody might have died.
[I had read Larissa MacFarquhar’s article in The New Yorker, “How to Be Good,” September 5, 2011, about the British philosopher Derek Parfit’s work on morality and on the nature of the Self and had recommended it to Steven because of its relevance to their dialogues.]
You need to have something that’s a little more spontaneous that kicks in immediately. You don’t even have to think about it. It would probably be the result of having gone through the process of re-examining these things until they’ve become part of your nature–or return you to your nature would be more like it.
So I would say there is a morality to the universe though I’ve hated that word for years. It just feels good not to go around hurting people and destroying things. It feels much better. And from your point of view, from a psychotherapist’s point of view, when someone is intent on doing awful stuff, his or her stomach gets upset; one gets ulcers and so forth. When your hand is open, usually you’re in better health. Almost universally, you don’t get so many ailments. That’s the kind of morality that possibly would work. You don’t need to have any rationale for it. It’s just like a tree growing. The morality of trees is that if they get sun and food, they will do their thing. If not, then that’s the way it is. No big deal. I don’t suppose they would mourn. They might die, but I don’t imagine they would be all upset about it. So another part of this morality would be that you don’t cling to your life with your fist so clenched that you can’t enjoy yourself. The tree doesn’t have to curl up in a ball. It goes ahead and dies–and gets itself reprocessed. Being part of the warp and woof of the universe, it’s its nature to go through that process.
H: That’s an interesting point, what you said earlier about clinging. The only problem I have with Parfit is the idea of the insignificance of the ego, that idea that clinging is something bad. That’s a moral judgment there. I like to hold to both and not get stuck on one point of view.
Here’s my thought about a lot of the problems I find in religion today that Jung found first, but I find myself going in my own direction as I learn more about the history of religions. It begins to fascinate me more. Take for example the idea of compassion. The Dalai Lama says his religion is the religion of compassion. Christ said his religion is the religion of love. If you have a religion based on compassion, it’s very hard to allow for a vision of evil and of the shadow in human history.
When you speak of objective morality I am reminded of a poem by Robinson Jeffers, where he says that the one thing the universe lacks and that humans have is moral beauty. The stars do not share in this moral beauty, nor do tsunamis and earthquakes. Human consciousness brings something unique into evolution and that is morality, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark, and so forth.
M: So it would seem, but I think there are other ways to explain our apparent capacity to apprehend moral beauty. I guess we’re going to have to re-define ‘beauty’ while we’re at it. I guess, then, that Jeffers thought humans invented beauty. It brings up the question of whether any other creatures can do this– or apprehend beauty of any sort, for that matter. I’d prefer not to give ourselves too big a pat on the back. Twain mused on the idea of his era that “Man is the noblest work of God.” “Well, now,” he asked and after a pause, “Who thought that up?” It may indeed be that we are God’s eyes in the physical world. It may be through our agency that the cosmos gets to see an appreciate its magnificence. That might be our job, but even so, we are the universe peering at itself. We are not isolated from it, we are it. So there’s no hierarchy. You might say God is God’s noblest work. Oh my, oh my! Sorry to have interrupted. Why don’t you complete your idea?
H: Well, whether there is an objective morality has been on my mind for many years and I wrote a long essay on this question that I have not published yet, called “Unitary Conscience.” Jeffers, of course, said some of the most radical things one can imagine during World War Two, in his political poetry. As Everson said of Jeffers, who was his master, during WWII his poetry reached a pitch of complete hysteria. Seventy million lives were lost. Civilization is sick, he said. True. Wars are a collective illness. Well, from an objective viewpoint in history that statement is right. From another standpoint, however, it is wrong. It all depends where one stands in one’s moral view regarding what actions during the war we are speaking about. Did the Native Americans have a right to defend their lands in the Black Hills during the Battle of the Little Big Horn? I would argue yes. Some might disagree with me, but that is how I feel. Do I believe in War, as a solution to international conflicts? I say no. The problem is that we can sit here and discuss morality from our comfortable armchairs, outside of the tragedy and agony and violence of human bloodshed, for we do not know what we would do if bullets or missiles were being shot our way.
M: If I may interrupt again for a minute, let me insert some thoughts popping up in mind as we talk. I’ll probably forget them if I don’t. It does occur to me that to get a good feel of what cosmic morality is, I’d have to choose something like a star, as Frost put it, as my place for viewing, a place far away from the sturm und drang. I’d guess most of us here in the West would think it’s obvious that it was immoral to destroy those huge ancient sculptures in Afghanistan. But on the Cosmic scale, and in the Zen way of seeing, it would be similar to those wonderful sand paintings the Buddhists do, or ice or butter sculptures, a recognition of the impermanence of things. So even there, there’s more than one way to view it. Does this tie in with where your thoughts were going?
Doctrine into Deeds
H: A friend of mine taught with the Dalai Lama and spent some time with him. When you look closely, these things are not so clear cut. The Lamas were not always so compassionate. There’s a new book about the Mongolian shamans that tells how the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan Buddhists of the Himalayas, some hundreds of years back in history, gave an order to slaughter the Mongolian shamans. When I heard that, it was almost a relief for me because I, we, have this misconception about Buddhism based on more recent history with regards to the Chinese in Tibet and the terrible tragedy that happened to the monks there. It saddens me to think about their suffering. When you hear that in the context of history, some of the Buddhists think it’s their karma for what the former Dalai Lama actually did. Well, we know the history of the Crusades, we know the history of Mogul rulers, the Puritans in America and the history of the Conquistadores in South and Central America. If you look at how Christians or Buddhists or Muslims have behaved, you see something very different than the moral philosophy of peoples’ religious beliefs.
The Unity of Opposites
What it does, by reflecting on it more objectively, is you create a more critical view of God in history, not just on theological discourse and beliefs–which is where I think our world gets into trouble–but based on reality, what’s the actual translation of the doctrine into action, into deeds. There hasn’t been, as far as I can tell, any kind of teaching that bases its philosophy or theology on a principle of a unity of opposites. This is really Jung’s great contribution to modern thought. Jung was very much a moral philosopher. He studied history and philosophy. In fact, for a period of time he wanted to become a philosopher and for a while he felt called to it, but then turned to natural science and finally psychiatry. He did study Nietzsche, Kant, Schopenhauer, and spent five years analyzing Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Zarathrusta and Absolute Good and Evil
Since 9/11/01 I’ve been going through Jung’s seminars and reading about what he says about Zoroastrianism. Nietzsche was the first to say that Zarathustra committed the worst error in human history–which was morality–because he posited the cosmic dualism between good and evil, that there is an absolute good and an absolute evil, and Ahura Mazda, the god of the Zoroastrians, descended to incarnate those opposites in the first prophet of Iran.
[Zarathustra, believed to have lived around 600 B. C., was a religious teacher and prophet of ancient Persia.]
But since the basic dualism begins in ancient Iran in the Middle-East, the significance of Zoroaster and of Nietzsche and of Jung really rises to a level of awareness for me as a Jungian writer, and as a psychotherapist because we see moral problems every day in our psychotherapeutic practices. For example, patients who are having affairs. How do you handle an affair? How do you handle others issues–where a crime has been committed? Moral problems are part of what we deal with in our practices every day. Oftentimes, a neurosis arises as a result of the inability to solve moral problems, or what Jung called conflicts of conscience.
M: So clarifying what morality is in a cosmic sense might free people from the rule books to look at each situation in its context. (Oh, when you said Jung brought together good and evil into one sphere, so to speak, I thought of William Blake , who saw that clearly, and the yin yang concept. But certainly the split is profound in the thinking of Western cultures, as you said.)
H: Here in the West the split between good and evil is a foundation of our religious evolution from Zorastrianism–and let’s not forget Gilgamesh–because Babylon, Iraq, is at the center of our attention right now. So we have those two basic myths that are pre-Biblical, before Judaism. Judaism is an attempt to create a more evolved moral foundation. So you’ve got the Decalogue, the Mosaic Law–Thou shalt not. From there, we’ve got Christianity where you’ve got a further evolution of the moral opposites. Christ represents, of course, the good attitude, the light and love, and extrusion from the evil element and the dark element from the God concept. And then you find in the Moslem religion and Islamic revelation of the Prophet, you find this very different evolution with Allah, who is really a god of terror and compassion, but this whole idea of Jihad arises out of the Koran. There are passages there that are quite shocking, when taken literally, and that of course is the problem with Holy Wars.
M: OK. I’m not clear on where you’re going with this.
H: The basic idea is that we can no longer have a religious vision that’s based exclusively on the good or on light or on compassion or on love. What you said earlier about destruction, that needs to be part of our religious vision.
M: Yes, if we’re ever going to get a cosmic understanding, which is the only way we can fit together all these divergent views.
H: We need to be able to see the cosmos for what it is and humanity for what it is. What human consciousness can provide to the idea of the unity of the universe is an ethical view based on conscience where the moral opposites are held together, side by side. This is, of course, one of the most difficult things, but that is where beauty is, that is where love and compassion are, that is where light is.
M: To boil it down, you could say that this being here (pointing to himself) is a microcosm of the universe, and within this being are the Yin and the Yang simultaneously. And for me to function in this universe, I have to recognize that I’m part of the destroyer. In the growing I’m also destroying as I go along. There’s no way to escape this reality. You can’t talk your way out of it. If I were a Christian, I’d have to recognize that. And I think that’s provided for in Christ’s teachings but not in the interpretations so much. In the original Christianity, in everything I read about what they say He said, there are included whores, and wicked people, and so on. They are all God’s children, He would say. So when you look at some bum in the park, sitting there all strung out and you spontaneously say to yourself, “That’s me,” then you’re ready to be a Christian. That’s the level of awareness I do think is needed. And that would be a kind of non-verbal, non-linguistic morality that goes beyond some sort of rational interpretation of the universe, a falling into the world and being a part of it, of being It. So as I walk around, I’m a microcosm of everything we’ve been talking about. To see something over there as “other” is a major mistake. It’s a confusion of how things work. It’s also very dangerous because it puts me at odds with the rest of the universe. That’s stupid, because that isn’t the way it works. Oh, and I want to get back to the ego a little bit later, too. Do you think what I just said is accurate?
H: For the most part I would agree with you. I have a little hesitancy in going that last step and say it’s a mistake to not see identity everywhere. This is where I think even Whitman goes too far in his idealism. That’s why he ends up being so criticized and perhaps justly so, because to see one’s self as everything means that one sacrifices moral development, in other words, the ability to judge. Of course, Whitman was one of the greatest War poets. He was an abolitionist through and through and from an historical standpoint, he was on the right side of moral history. So from a moral standpoint his “Drum Taps” is objectively moral, in the love for what is beautiful about American democracy: racial, cultural, and religious equality.
Instinct and Judgment
M: I didn’t mean it that way. The part I just described is the field out of which you work. In this shared vision we call reality, we absolutely must judge every second. I judge every time I take a breath. So, yes, I go around making these decisions, but the more I ground them in the whole universe, the more those decisions are likely to produce serendipitous results. So, yes, the individual is extremely important but only with the awareness that the other individual is extremely important, too. Co-equal in importance. I am absolutely important, and you are absolutely important. And you need to be Steven Herrmann to the nth degree, or why are you here at all? I do make these judgments, though it should not include smugness! When I see you over there making judgments that are not the same as mine, I might think, well, he doesn’t understand. That’s a kind of smugness that needs to be examined. Remember the last time we talked, you said that however bizarre someone’s idea may seem, you could say, “You’re right!” I thought, yes, you have to be able to say, “You’re right,” and mean it.
H: You know, when I say that, I want to include a bit of the origins of that attitude. There’s a bit of the trickster in that.
H: Because I mean it and I don’t. I don’t really believe that Osama Bin Laden is right. He’s a fundamentalist who has no sense of objective morality.
M: I understand. I’d stop him for sure. Without doubt. But have I really bothered to know him inside and out, as well as I know me? In my classes I’d probably treat Bin Laden as a Zen koan, maybe, “Find me half a dozen points of view from which Bin Laden was right.” You could do it the other way, too, of course. I’d be trying to divorce us from our biases long enough to get a good look at the issue in its fullness.
H: I think that, as Americans, we want to have tolerance towards everybody’s religion. It’s very American to want to see equality rather than to entertain a superiority in one’s religious beliefs. But when it comes down to it, certain madmen in history had to be stopped. Hitler’s one of them, as was Bin Laden. Whether or not it was right for us to blow up the white mountains of Afghanistan, I do have problems with that; that was in great excess. There we were wrong.
M: Well, yes, I think all madmen have to be stopped. They should be stopped in their tracks. And I think they would be stopped if one had a grounding in the universe. In some compassionate institutions, they wrap crazy violent patients in a warm blanket and hold them in their arms. So there are ways to deal with nut cases that are not also violent and crazy. The common solution, which doesn’t advance us at all, is to return such behavior in kind. Humph!
H: This is the problem, Clark. So you agree that there needs to be an objective moral principle guiding spiritual growth . . .
The Morality of Spirit
M: It is tricky, though. It’s not something arrived at intellectually. When you get it all figured out that way, you can move very quickly into being a smug, self-assured prig. But when you see someone beating up somebody else, I think the universe would spontaneously stop that–through me somehow. It would be an involuntary response. A Taoist might see these madmen and the wave of horror they unleashed as similar to Dutch elm disease or the blight that destroyed the chestnut forests that once blanketed the southwestern Pennsylvania where I grew up. The Amish take that point of view.
The Heart of Matter
And it has just this minute occurred to me that ugliness is part of nature. How we respond to it is the key. I’ve never seen this so clearly before. Events are not the problem. How we respond to them is the antidote, and that is compassion and love. That’s what human morality is, an outpouring of shared feeling with our fellow beings. And that is not a code of ethics, and it is not a rule book of moral dos and don’ts. It’s the soul’s spontaneous response to the world of physical reality.
H: What if your life was in jeopardy?
M: Usually you don’t think about that. Did you see that news clip of a guy on a motorcycle that crashed into a car and got pinned under it? The car was in flames, and these people came. I don’t know what prompted that many to come, but they were able to lift that car up by hand, and somebody dragged him out from under it. A minute or two later the whole car went up in an explosion of fire. Well, in a situation like that, you can’t ponder your action. There isn’t time to wonder if you should help the guy. That kind of action has to bubble up from you ground of being. I’d say the universe went over there and lifted up the car. The universe also lets people die. We have to realize that, too.
Universal morality has to be spontaneous.
So universal morality has to be spontaneous. It can’t be an intellectual thing. It would have to be coming out of your right hemisphere, out of your soul, your spirit, from deep down in the ground of being. I can’t imagine anybody who’s growing healthily would manifest the kind of meanness that goes around whacking things. There’s no desire to do it… I suppose we could say sadistic pleasure is the black side of the Yin and Yang.
Religion and Morality
H: We were talking a little bit about religion in light of this whole big moral issue. It seems that the two are interconnected: moral philosophy comes out of religion.
M: I think it’s OK for churches to talk about these things and to examine them, but anyone who’s been in those groups has to realize that that is not where it is. That it’s just a path to where it is. What’s pointed to cannot be an intellectual construct. Intellectually you can figure it out, but you still have to take the trip.
H: You have to live it.
M: To live it. Yeah. This is the confusion people have about liturgy or meditation. They are a means toward something beyond.
I’ve been working on a Melville chapter for my book Spiritual Democracy and I went back to some writing I did eleven years ago. I have to say I do like the voice I used then. It has a Melvillean, Biblical, feel to it, going back to the Old Testament. You know, Melville starts with the Old Testament characters in Moby-Dick, starting right out with, “Call me Ishmael.” Ishmael: the son of Hagar and Abraham; Ishmael, the father of Islam. You know, many Westerners may not be aware of the fact that the first great mosque of the Muslim world was constructed on the sacred rock in Jerusalem where Abraham is said to have been called to sacrifice his second son, Isaac. In Jewish tradition the sacrificial son of Abraham is Isaac, whereas in the Koran, it is his first son, Ishmael. Well, the Dome of the Rock is situated on exactly that spot and you can say that there is a source of Israeli-Palestinian tension, Muslim and Christian tension, conflict in international politics. Melville, with his keen intuition zeroed in on a problem therefore that he foresaw a century and a half ago and that is now at the forefront of world-wide attention. How can the three great monotheisms— Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—co-exist in a sense of unity that reflects the unity of the cosmos, moral beauty, and objective morality we have been speaking about?
M: You have a good point there.
H: Melville starts with the Old Testament and in so doing he takes us back to our origins.
M: And as you well know, it’s not accidental. It’s all calculated. One thing that might be touched on is how much can a writer of that level expect someone who’s not well schooled in the Bible and associated works, someone who may be a good reader but not a well-rounded reader, get to that? I have a view about that, but what do you think?
H: Well, I think that’s why a commentary is needed—to really get the metaphors that he’s using to create an allegory through symbolism, and provide a specific meaning not only for America, but for the world. It takes a certain kind of background of understanding of the myths that underlie American culture. It is not widely known, for instance, that Emerson was reading Hafiz, the great Sufi poet, when he penned his great essay “The Poet,” which Whitman read.
The Islamic scholars were great mathematicians, architects, scientists, astronomers, and Western culture and especially the Renaissance was largely built up on the libraries of Islamic scholars in Spain, Baghdad, and many parts of the Middle East, that were plundered by Crusaders.
M: Can we shift back to our exploration of morality for a while and then come back to Melville?
Getting Past Our Emotions
H: Sure. It will come together I’m sure, as we get into this at a little deeper level. Clark, you were talking with me earlier about someone who seems unable to get past her emotions.
M: Yes, her emotions seem to prevent her from thinking her way calmly through a situation. She almost seems imprisoned by her feelings.
H: That’s exactly how a complex works! When someone is in a complex, you can’t reason with them. You wanted to explore ethics and morality. Well, when someone is in a complex, they can’t reason, they simply can’t reflect on their own morality, or on the relativity of values. Values are relative. Nietzsche and Jung . . .
M: What do you mean by that?
H: I mean what’s right for you is wrong for me. And what’s right for me is wrong for you. It goes around, you know. You disagree with someone, say, on the illegal immigrant issue and that’s it. It’s polarized. It’s that simple. When a person is in a complex, they represent the good, and the other person represents the bad, and that’s that. The split in conscience happens. The moral judgment kicks in, and there can be no dialogue about it. Discussion closed. [Both laugh.] How can two people possibly have a dialogue when emotions heat up around religion?
M: They can’t.
H: This is why we have freedom of religion. It goes back to the Constitution, the First Amendment. If we had a Christian nation, what about the rest of the world, the rest of the world’s religions? And who’s right?
M: Yes, many Christians are sure they are right, and that’s it.
H: No dialogue. That’s the point. And that’s why we’ve got a world like we do. Fortunately, we have the United Nations.
M: Yes, and a lot of Americans would like to destroy it. John Bolton was sent there to try to destroy it. [Reader: These are the original dialogues. I’ve left the time they were recorded intact. But the world keeps updating itself, so you will have to take that into account.] He made no bones about it. Bush made this war mongerer our secretary to the UN. He unabashedly said the UN shouldn’t exist, and the US should not subject itself to international law. But to get back to your point, if you have a very clear, solid picture of how the world works and you have your value system, you really think you’ve got it figured out; as far as I’m concerned, you are a tremendously dangerous person. Because you are going to trample over anybody else who doesn’t look at it that way. As you just pointed out, it is a matter of values, and values are relative. Any thinking person needs to come to at least that point or else there can never be a dialogue.
Morality and Immigration Laws
H: You could go that far in talking about illegal immigration. You could agree that they are illegal, no doubt about that, they do not belong here. That’s ridiculous of course, as we are all immigrants here, human beings with an instinct for travel, migrants.
M: Yes, I have done that. I agree that their being here illegally is a violation of our system of laws. But I have to point out that there is a lot of culpability on our part. We ourselves have set up a system that fosters people coming here illegally. If there were a level playing field with Latin American countries—wages, employment—if that were level, there would be no immigration problem. Secondly, we encourage people to come here because we turn a blind eye to their illegal status so that we can have wage slaves working for us. We even have a euphemistic phrase for it, ‘guest worker’, I think it is. Bring them in, let them do all this work, make them live in hovels, don’t give them any benefits.
The thing is, all the Guatemalans I have direct contact with have a deep nostalgia for Guatemala. They would much prefer to be back home. But they can’t live there.
H: What’s going on in Guatemala that prevents their return?
M: Poverty’s the main thing. And Guatemala, like most third world countries, has two governments. One’s the one you vote for, and the other is the criminal element that actually runs things. There’s a shadow government. It’s all about bribery. There’s a great connection between the official government and those behind the scenes. Drugs are a major problem.
Guatemala is a very poor country. This family I was telling you about earlier live in what’s called a studio, but it’s little more than a closed-in garage. They don’t even have a stove, just a hot plate. It’s pretty awful, but it’s much, much better than back home. OK, relativeness of values?
H: It’s a very important concept in religion, in philosophy, in psychology and therefore, in politics too.
Morality and Ethics in College Curricula
M: Do you think you could take a class of college freshmen and get them to play around with this concept? That would be one of the most valuable things you could do.
H: Sure. We’ll co-teach it together! [Laughter]
M: That would be lovely.
H: We’d have a good time. We’d read a little bit of Nietzsche, a bit of Jung.
M: One of the strategies I used to use, speaking of taking a little bit of Nietzsche or Jung, I can remember some books that were full of wonderful little passages, maybe a paragraph or just a line, and then maybe a whole chapter explaining the paragraph. Well, I found those explanations that were the bulk of the book to be tedious, boring. But the quotes were great. So what I’d do would be to take the quote and forget the rest. We’d take the quote and fiddle around with that. That would gradually bring out all the nuances, but that would be supplied by the people in the class. That was tremendously engaging.
H: Well, I can tell you that when I was a student in your freshman English class and we were using your book Image: Reflections on Language, that that sort of environment can make a major difference in a life.
M: That’s gratifying.
H: Here’s an example. This is something I learned from Image. I memorized one passage, among many others, that I can still rattle off, a passage from Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. It is about morality and was something at that time I had never read before: “I was taking the long road to school from Klein- Hüningen, where we lived, to Basel, when suddenly for a single moment, I had the overwhelming impression of having just emerged from a dense cloud. I knew all at once: Now I am myself!” Jung talks about coming out of a fog and realizing: “Now I exist.” So just take that as an idea to center this discussion on morality. The relativity of values has to do with the discovery of the “I,” the “real me,” or “myself.” Whitman says in the opening line of “Song of Myself”: “I celebrate Myself and sing Myself.”
M: Yes. I think you last sentence need repeating. “That is where objective morality comes from: the unity of the self with the oneness of the whole cosmos” That’s it!
H: So it’s the idea that morals come out of a moral foundation in the collective unconscious, and these are your original morals. These are your morals, your values, the values in this instance of identity complex: the “I.” The ego that has become aligned with the self. Take the illegal immigrant issue. You have a specific moral judgment about that. It’s yours. Nobody can take that away from you. That’s original to you, and it’s grouped around a set of ideas and values and judgments. And it is relative because sooner or later you’re going to have a split in the nation about it, and you are going to have to take a moral stand. There are going to be people who disagree and say you are wrong, and it’s because of people like you that we’ve got this problem. On the other hand, history will prove what position was right, what position was wrong, and that is where it becomes objective.
M: That’s right.
H: And you’re going to be questioned by someone. So I think the idea of coming out of a fog–Jung was an adolescent–is an experience of discovering one has a voice, and that matters. When one knows ‘now I am myself’ one can take moral action, one has a vocation.
M: Right. He was on his way to school.
H: Around that time, that awareness of being one’s Self, being conscious, like in your book, Thinking about Thinking. This idea that there is something else observing our thoughts and if we can align ourselves with whatever that is that’s observing our thoughts, what Jung calls the Self or objective cognition, we’ve got it. And maybe then we are following a path that was laid down from the beginning.
The Deep Self and Its Conscious Outer Reality
M: I think you couldn’t have said it much better than that. It seems to me it’s the job of any being, any human being anyhow, to bring those two aspects into alignment, ego and self. You know you’re there when that happens. Your conscious reasoning will always be flawed unless it’s aligned with that path. For example, great artists like Picasso, I would say, have it in perfect alignment. He can draw a simple line and it will be perfect. There’s no effort whatsoever to think clearly. It comes because that deep self and its conscious outer shell are in harmony.
It comes because that deep self and its conscious outer shell are in harmony.
H: That’s really well put. It is about being in alignment, and once in alignment and knowing what one needs to do is some kind of vocation–and then speaking up for that. I can’t imagine that someone who’s blind with the value judgment that illegal immigrants need to get out of our country now doesn’t feel compassion, guilt, or shame, or any kind of responsibility, particularly if they meet with one of them, translating as you are doing, could not have a feeling for them as human beings.
All Education Is Personal
M: Absolutely. And I would have to say also that anyone who wants to teach English to people from other worlds is really confused if he or she thinks you can do that impersonally. They will not let you be impersonal. It becomes personal almost from the first word. In my judgment, you have to be willing to go there or you’re not going to be a very good teacher. I find that insistence quite charming. What an enrichment that is for these people to bring their world to you and offer it to you, like a gift. Just think how your world would open up. It’s just really fun. Then, if you get thirty people in a classroom and every single one of them is doing that, just look at how rich the teacher’s life becomes. I knew teachers who had different views of how you teach, and one said “I like a wall between us.” Well, that can’t be much fun. The teacher who told me that quit teaching not long after that.
Academic Elitism Versus Dialogue
H: You always had a personal approach to teaching, and that’s what mattered to me the most, and the contrast between taking your course and your colleague’s Shakespeare course, which I dropped, is that there was absolutely nothing personal about that class. He was behind the podium. There was a kind of elitism about his Shakespeare.
M: Oh, yes, that’s a common attitude. If you went through the process, you might be allowed to join the group.
H: Right, and I did not want to join the group. I had a budding intellectual side that needed to be invited out.
H: And so, the impersonal setting didn’t work.
M: I don’t think it works for anybody.
The Decalogue and No-fault Divorce
H: I don’t know. It didn’t work for me. That’s where we get back to objective morality. Take for example Moses. He had a revelation from God. He brought the Ten Commandments to a group of people. The problem with morals is that once they become written in stone . . .
M: Literally, in this case!
H: Then they become absolute, and then God becomes absolute, and then you can’t disagree with that kind of absolutism.
M: Or have a dialogue.
H: Or have a dialogue. Take for example, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
M: Oh, my god!
H: You know, the courts threw out fault divorces in California years and years ago. I, as a Marriage and Family Therapist, come out of that decision, the no-fault divorce decree. It used to be that someone had to be at fault. You could get more alimony. The judges threw all that out.
They said, “You know what? We’ve got no-fault divorce in California. We don’t want to know anything about who is in bed with whom. We want know what are the finances? What’s the property look like, and who’s going to visit the children and when? That’s it.” Why? Because they had to throw out the injunction of the Decalogue, “Thou shalt not.” Even George VIII had to work his way around that.
M: Oh, yes. Think of it, something like 1900 years of that injunction. Well, that makes me think about just how long blind obedience can shackle a culture.
H: Oh, but that’s where morality comes it. It’s about like and dislike, making judgments based on one’s own value system. That’s what you’re talking about.
M: George Bernard Shaw wasn’t fond of the idea of morality. Here’s one of his famous comments: “Confusing monogamy with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error.”
H: Nietzsche wasn’t fond of morality either.
M: Yes, it’s because morality is usually unthinking, as you said. It’s an emotional reaction. Which I think would be all right if it’s coming out of your deep self. I don’t think I’d worry about you, because, frankly, I don’t think you could be cruel to me if your morality were coming out of your deep self.
H: Did you see the pictures on the news that showed the killing of Gaddafi? The brutality? [Reader: These are the original dialogues. I’ve left the time they were recorded intact. But the world keeps updating itself, so you will have to take that into account.]
M: Oh, yes. It was horrible.
H: Horrible. It made me feel a little sick.
M: Yes, I don’t think morality calls for us to be such brutal executioners.
H: He asked for mercy.
M: And they gave him none.
H: A trial would have found him guilty and they would have hanged him anyway, but nevertheless. . .
M: Yes, I guess there’s no place in pure morality for cruelty, even to the worst enemy.
H: They really tortured him.
M: I think that’s the kind of fundamental morality out of which we must act, that you cannot be cruel to anybody. I’d say in natural morality it would be impossible. It would be repulsive to one’s self to exercise cruelty. On the other hand, the few times I’ve come close to it, I see how much fun it is. You can see it’s a delicious thing to be cruel. And the more you get into it the worse it gets.
H: Do you realize that the German youth movement in World War I put into the hands of every German youth Thus Spake Zarathustra?
M: You’re kidding.
. . ..
M: You have this issue being played out on a grand scale in our country, it’s different issues, but it’s the same sort of difference. You can take the same text and adapt it to your own purposes or values and come to unbelievable conclusions. If you put us on national radio talking about morality like this, I imagine half the audience would have turned the radio off by the time we got this far. They’d no doubt think those two people are crazy. We’ve got to do something about this.
H: Who’s crazy, us or the religious right?. , . I have some thoughts about all of this. This is from a paper Jung sent to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Jung was asked “What are some techniques for changing the mental attitudes among nations and their leaders? How does a famous psychiatrist educate the UN?” He addressed the mental and moral conflicts in normal people. It consists chiefly in the integration of unconscious contents into consciousness.
M: So what are some techniques?
Using Dream Content to Restore Balance with Nature
H: Jung says one method is individual analysis reading dreams properly, dream interpretation, trying to get back into balance with nature. He says the attitude of our method is concerned with not only a mental but a moral phenomenon. An attitude is governed and sustained by a dominant conscious idea accompanied by a feeling tone, which might be hate or anger . . .
M: OK. So the concept is accompanied by a feeling.
H: A feeling, an emotional value, which accounts for the efficacy of the idea. And then he says the mere idea will have no practical or moral effect whatsoever if it is not supported by an emotional quality having as a rule an ethical value. In other words, the value is, It’s wrong. There’s no discussion. It’s a value judgment. So how do you change a mental attitude when you’ve got Palestinians and Israelis in conflict about territory? How do you have a dialogue? Jung says there has to be a dialectal procedure and human relationship. You have a feeling for them. You can then be a mediator.
M: Jimmy Carter did that in the Middle-East… He tried to do just what Jung is saying. And it worked to a certain extent.
Change Begins from Within
H: Let me lay out Jung’s thought a bit further and then let’s see what you have to say about it. He says change cannot happen through a method with a group. A change of attitude never starts with a group but only with an individual. What’s the solution? Change of attitude from a group when there is a leading minority, not a majority, a minority which might become the nucleus of a larger body of people. Martin Luther King Jr. and his group became a leading minority with ideas. It’s changed the nation and the world, in South Africa, for instance. It has to come from a few good thought leaders, people with a heart. These people have to be in a position of authority and leadership. And the first thing needed would have to be–what do you think–teachers, educators, leaders who have made their own evil conscious?
It needs more than mere idealism. The teacher has to be absolutely convinced that his personal attitude is in need of revision, even an actual change. We’re always looking to change something or somebody out there, but it starts in here. That’s Jung’s brilliance. It’s about the shadow. Then he asks, “What is the sine qua non of a true leader?” Jung says “The world is wrong, and therefore I’m wrong, too.”
Whose Heart Is Not Changed Will Not Change Others.
H: That’s the sine qua non of a true leader, because the collective psyche is in here [points to his heart]. He says a man whose heart is not changed will not change any others. So if the person who is against illegal immigrants cannot change in her heart, then no change is possible.
M: But here I am sitting in judgment on her. Then, if the world, if she is wrong, then as Jung says, I am wrong.
An Increase of Consciousness
H: Yes. This is what we need, to get out of our own polarized positions and say, I love you, you’re right. We’re both wrong. The change starts with our selves and the acknowledgment of the human shadow is key.
[“Shadow”, in Jungian terms, is a moral problem, either good or bad, of which the conscious mind is unaware, either because it is suppressed or never thought of.]
Jung says the main danger in all this is direct and indirect egotism, that is, unconsciousness of the ultimate equality of our fellow human beings. But there is a problem in implementing change because real intelligence is very rare and forms statistically an infinitesimally small part of the average mind. Viewed from the level of a more highly qualified mind, the average intelligence is very low. A nation consists of the sum of its individuals and its character corresponds to the moral average. Nobody is immune to a nationwide evil unless he or she is unshakably convinced of the danger of his own character being tainted by the same evil.
So the key is immunity. Jung concludes a change of attitude involves a change that is felt as such. Change is never neutral. It is essentially an increase of consciousness. And it depends entirely upon the individual’s character what form change will take. It is a challenge to the whole person and it must be considered a risk, the risk involved in the further development of human consciousness in its attempts to promote inner and outer peace.
M: That’s so relevant to what we’ve been discussing. You ought to put that on your blog, that whole quote. It is tremendously relevant. I think you’re absolutely right, and this was a concern of mine, too.
H: A leading minority of teachers, Jung says. But they have to be convinced that if the world is wrong, then I’m wrong. So, to change the world, like Martin Luther King Jr. did, to realize that violence is within me, if I can change that and practice non-violence as King learned from Gandhi, then I’m a potential leader. Then I can convince others; then I can convince the garbage workers to strike peacefully so that the privileged people see that when the refuse piles up on their doorstep, it’s their mess, and they’ve got to clean it up themselves. They’ve got to stop treating us like slaves and give us due respect. Just like the illegal immigrants, we’re tired of being treated like slaves, we want to organize, we want a union, we want
someone to represent us. We have a leading minority. There is a leadership; someone’s got a leading idea.
Let’s give these people status. Let’s give them green cards and find a solution for them. They have every right to be here, just like you and I.
M: Yes, how could we argue that we have more of a right to be here? How could anyone argue for that? How could you possibly argue for that? … Nobody has the right to be here. But we’re lucky to be here. Now let’s see how we can all live here. Nobody has the right be here.
H: Say that to a Native American! … Now what about Jung’s point that one has to be absolutely convinced… Put it this way: If one is a center, one knows within one’s self that there is an inner voice of morality. And it goes back to cosmic intelligence. It knows things like instinct. How does the goose know how to migrate? How do we know how to think, if not through instinct?
Obi wan Kenobi says to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, “Now let go thy rational self, Luke, and act on instinct.” That’s cosmic intelligence. And that’s moral beauty. It doesn’t come out of someplace up here [points to his head]. We’re talking about body-wisdom, some kind of intelligence in our bones that goes beyond the rational mind, that is actually intuitive knowledge.
M: Yes, and there’s no argument whatsoever.
H: How did Mahatma Gandhi know that the salt march would be effective? M: Maybe he thought that people would follow, maybe they wouldn’t. How did he know that fasting would lead to rioting and protests?
M: I don’t know that he knew that that would happen. Obviously it was tremendously effective.
H: Do we have the leading ideas and ethical values? The ethical values are here . . .
M: Do you think Gandhi knew or was pretty sure these things would happen? I haven’t thought about it that much, but maybe he just thought that he needed to do this.
H: I think that in some cases people with prophetical intelligence, the prophetical mind, do know certain things that the rest of us don’t know. Remember that idea that the average statistical intelligence is very low?
M: Yes. That the average statistical intelligence is very low troubles me. It depends on how we define intelligence, I think. And perhaps prophetical intelligence is simply being deeply grounded. You might call it clarity of vision, clairvoyance. It could give you a pretty good view of “out far and in deep”! It would be lovely to think humankind could awake collectively.
[Reader: These are the original dialogues. I’ve left the time they were recorded intact. But the world keeps updating itself, so you will have to take that into account.]
H: Jung’s view of the state of affairs in post-World War II was very pessimistic about the possibility of change coming from the collectivity. He did not think change was going to happen through the collective. What we’re seeing in the world right now is the possibility on the other hand that there is something amazing happening in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, which gives me hope. It does reflect a certain common intelligence that makes us rethink what Jung said. If the average intelligence is what we’re seeing, then that’s pretty good.
M: There you go!
H: On the other hand, what is happening in Egypt is cause for some worry. We see the Muslim Brotherhood assuming power in a way that can make the Middle East conform to Islamic law, rather than constitutional law, based on a real spiritual democracy.
M: I would say that in every being, every human being, if not all beings, there is this drive for what you call individuation. [“Individuation’” in Jungian terms, is “the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general collective psychology”] No matter what your conscious constructs are or how stupid they are, that urge to be you is what’s driving the Arab Spring and all the other democratic tendencies. It gets translated almost immediately into religious doctrine, but the urge to be free, that urge to be free of dogma, is what’s driving all of us, I think.
H: To get back to what you were just saying about Jung’s notion of individuation, I think it is exactly right. Foundational intelligence is really cosmic intelligence.
M: I do think that’s what we see now. I don’t think the problem is so much a low level of intelligence as it is ignorance, not so much stupidity as ignorance that allows that drive to be translated in the conscious mind into stupid stuff. Because you have lost track of what was
driving you. “There’s something driving me; I have got to do something.” That’s where it gets stupid, and that’s probably where Jung’s idea of a liberated or open leading minority comes in.
Leadership, Shadow Work, and Teachers
H: Leadership, shadow work, and teachers
M: But again we can’t take the position that a bunch of us will get together and do this. I’ve made this point again and again over the past thirty years or so. One can’t operate like that. It’s I who must act on my ground of being. If other’s join me, that’s one thing and very invigorating. But it is true, too, that when I’ve had a perspective and expressed it clearly and openly, I have seen people come to it, too, as if they were waiting to see some light somewhere. Oh, yeah, that’s right.
H: In writing your book Teaching Human Beings you were trying to get across what you were teaching in your classes. How, in this later stage of your life, are you proceeding now? In your new book, are you going to teach educators how to teach?
M: Sure, they could pick up a lot of insights, but it isn’t just for educators. I guess it has to be for anybody who’s come far enough that they’re willing to entertain the possibility of integration of all the variations around us, this seeming chaotic mess, like paranormal phenomena, telepathy, and all the other seemingly disparate phenomena. The book is saying that all that can be very easily pulled together. And you can become individuated. I don’t use that expression in the book–if you just play around with these ideas, you will see that there’s a way to get rooted again. I think my behavior is pretty much hesitant, because I’m not willing to go the next step, one that King or Gandhi would take. I pull back when I could go forward.
One’s Own Inexorable Self
H: Let me ask you this, because we started our dialogue about this specific situation where morals and values come into play with regard to immigration. What do you do, if you take Jung’s line that if the world is wrong, then I’m wrong, to help make it right, with regards to immigration? How can you create a change of attitude? How might you help illegal immigrants? … Let me give you another example to round this discussion on objective morality out. I’m working on a chapter in my book right now, which I think is the most powerful chapter in Moby-Dick, Chapter 9, “The Sermon,” which is all about teaching individuals their right to follow their own conscience. I think it’s a disguised prelude to the chapter that comes right after it, where Queequeg and Ishmael become married, as husband and wife. There’s a certain irony in the story that has to do with a moral teaching. Basically the instruction is to follow your own “inexorable self.” Woe to him who does not do that, Father Mapple says. What happens is we end up in the situation of Jonah if we do not take right action. After a call from the Lord to speak to the people of Nineveh, Jonah refused the call, and sailing on a boat to Tarshish was thrown overboard and was swallowed by the big fish. It was only down in the fish’s belly that he remembered his mission, and he was vomited back onto dry land. Then he spoke his true words from the ground of his being. But we all get into these conflicts where we are in situations where we have a specific duty based on some kind of deep instinctive knowledge, where we end up in turmoil and where we get swallowed up, usually by emotions. This is the problem we all face every day, this problem of whether we’re going to be true to ourselves. Gandhi said somewhere that whatever we do in this vast universe is insignificant but it is very important that we do it. Imagine that coming from a man of objective morality like that! Well, I think this pretty much sums up what I have to say today.
M: And nicely so. Sometime or other I’d like to revisit this dialogue. I think we can distill these thoughts into some compelling, more poetic, metaphors. Let’s tease out some right- brain insights.
[In this dialogue Steven Herrmann and I talk about animal intelligence, which Steven describes as unfiltered, pure, intelligence, a welling up of cosmic intelligence in the world of perceived reality. We talk back and forth about the drive within all things toward spiritual fulfillment, recognized by Walt Whitman as one spirit in infinite guises. Is there indeed universal intelligence, and can it be called “spiritual”? That is, is all this simply one thing manifesting? And of course, we must try not to get ourselves all gummed up in language snares, keeping on our right shoulder Einstein’s “Reality is an illusion, albeit it very compelling one.” Usually when I come away from a dialogue like this, looking at the Great Mystery for an hour or so, for some odd reason I feel refreshed. Follow along and toss in your own thoughts. Did we miss anything? There are some striking “coincidences” that come up during our dialogue, too, and we both think that’s a phenomenon that needs illuminated. We will be discussing that in other dialogues.]
Dreams and Active Visions
McKowen: Steven, you were telling me earlier about a dream you had recently involving a condor and seven eagles. I know it was a significant dream for you and that it involved the collective unconscious and the individual welling up of those influences. Can you refresh me on the dream?
Herrmann: Well, actually, I had three dreams within a few days of each other involving these birds. And just a few days later books I had ordered from Amazon arrived, Alexander von Humboldt’s Cosmos: A Sketch of the Physical Description, and Passage to Cosmos. The coming together of these dreams and Humboldt’s books was quite an amazing synchrony.
[Steven added this later: When I read Humboldt’s amazing story about his climb with an Indian guide just below the top of Ecuador’s extinct volcano, Chimborazo, to a height by his barometer of 19,286 feet, I learned that the only living thing he encountered up there were condors. Thus, I find it interesting synchronisticly that the condor dropped down to visit me while I was waiting for my books to arrive. The condor of South America, like its California cousin, is perhaps one of the best symbols we have for spiritual democracy: the flight of the condor is a living image for spiritual equality, liberty, and freedom to the people of the Andes. And on Mount Shasta, several weeks after this interview, I saw a group of bald eagles circling in the sky. This too was a miracle. Awe!
M: What’s the connection with Humboldt? You’ve mentioned him in some of our dialogues.
H: Well, many of the figures in our dialogues together were influenced by his work, and it continues to have a direct bearing on them,
[The German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), was a major figure in what became known as Humboltian science. His work involved the recognition of the interrelation of all sciences–biology, meteorology and geology, physical geography and biogeography. With his book Kosmos he brought stars and galaxies into the mix.]
M: So back to the dreams.
H: In the first, I dreamt of a giant condor that swooped down from the sky and dropped some big feathers to the ground from its breast, so I could gather them up and carry them in my hands. The following night I dreamt of seven bald eagles that were looking down at me from overhead; the eagles were circling me. I knew through the eyes of these birds that their consciousness was looking straight down at me, and my consciousness was looking back up at them. Within a few days, I had another big dream, just before my books by Humboldt arrived. A voice was speaking to me. It was saying that all truly great ideas come from a place of animal consciousness within the human psyche; from the animal regions; the reptilian brain; the mammalian brain. The voice was re-affirming that the wisdom of the species comes from animal intelligence: the great discoveries and so forth.
The following weekend, Lori [Lori Goldrich, Steven’s wife.] and I did some shamanic journeying with two friends of ours, and I had an extended conversation with the condor through active visioning.
[Shamanic journeying is a technique–which may include shamanic drumming–for gaining access to the spiritual world through the inner senses in ecstatic trance. It is considered to be an adventure open to whoever wishes to transcend their normal, ordinary definition of reality, and through this process, to be able to contact and utilize an ordinarily hidden reality.]
M: OK. Let’s go on.
H: I knew exactly what the voice was saying to me, a message directly related to my vocation—well, first of all, the condor’s the California state bird. Secondly, it is the national bird of the South American countries near the Andes. I didn’t remember at first about it being our bird; a friend told me that, just like the Grizzly Bear, which humans drove to extinction in this state. The condor was just about driven to extinction, too. We have a few left in the Pinnacles nesting near Big Sur now.
McKowen: Yes, they’ve been re-introduced, and I think the population is growing.
H: Clearly, to me, the condor was asking, “Why have you done this to our people?” In other words, “We are one. We are equals. We are brothers and sisters together, here on this planet. Why would you do this? What’s the matter with you?”
M: [Laughs.] Yeah.
H: You know, civilization–it was directly saying something about spiritual democracy. We don’t really believe in spiritual democracy if we can do that to the bear and the condor. It says something about the way we disrespect animals, Nature, and the human psyche.
M: Let me interject here, if I may, an idea about all this that’s come together for me after decades of looking at pieces of the puzzle. In recent years, especially in the past few months, it became so obvious that the distinctions I make between me and everything else, no matter what–rock, bear, wolf, other people–are purely linguistic. This “me” idea is just that, something I made up–or bought into. Nature is a continuum. Taxonomy is a human invention; I, you, it–all pure invention laid upon that-which-is.
Separating what’s inside my skin from everything else enables me not only to be brutally cruel to the other animals, indeed to the planet, but also to other human beings, because after all the animals are not me, not extensions of my physical and spiritual self. Since you are not me, then I’m a little freer to screw around with you. And I can hate you because, after all, you are not me. It’s very convenient, but it’s literally not so. I can’t understand philosophers spending a lot of time on that, because it’s so obvious to me now; there is no separation.
Back to the dreams–you were talking earlier about the two-spirited self.
H: And the search for the sacred feathers.
M: You were saying you saw the condor, and you knew with certainty he was talking directly to you.
H: And he dropped two feathers from the sky for me to hold. I picked them up. It’s like what we were talking about last week: My question was answered by the knowledge of the unconscious. The search for the sacred feathers that I spoke with you about last week was answered by my dream….
Getting back to the symbolic message of the feathers, the condor, you know, is not a bird of prey; it’s a scavenger, a carrion bird, but it’s one of the closest-looking living birds to a prehistoric feathered person of the sky I’ve seen. There’s something archaic about it. Think of it, the drive for spiritual democracy and the vision of it, finding its voice in a California condor—at the farthest reaches of the continent, high above civilization. There’s nowhere farther to push. Jeffers was writing on the promontory in Carmel, from the farthest migration westward, from that tremendous Vista.
[Robinson Jeffers (1887–1962) has been recognized for his powerful evocation in his poetry of the divine in nature and reviving modern religious sensibilities.]
Everson too wrote from such far shores in his various locales, in Oakland, Stinson Beach, and Santa Cruz. We are living near the same spot here, overlooking the Dominican priory in Oakland, where he wrote “The Mate-Flight of Eagles.” Looking westward, from this place in the Montclair hills, with a vista on the Golden Gate, I feel close to the elements.
M: OK. History is trying to tell you something, but it’s something here now, too. The condor says I have something to tell you.
Pure Animal Intelligence
H: That was pure animal intelligence. It felt great getting that message from that source. The condor and the seven eagles wanted something from me, and we communicated back and forth, through our eyes. I think that’s the way it is with the psyche, the two hemispheres; one where the sea of intelligence is, that’s the cosmic intelligence; Whitman was talking about that in his theory of language.
M: It’s remarkable, this intelligence welling up, but at the same time it’s this blood force.
H: Yes, the overlap. You said this morning you stopped at Woodminster for coffee before coming here.
You know, Woodminster is in Joaquin Miller Park. And Woodmister was dedicated to the writers of California, and …
M: [Laughs.] Oh, my! Well, that’s certainly a fine coincidence! Our dialogues have made such little tangents, coincidences, not coincidental at all, but completely enmeshed in what we talk about, that extra condiment that makes routine vivid.
H: You were talking earlier about people not going the extra step. The Unexplored Territory Within
M: Yes. In fact, most of the people I know deliberately stop short of that extra step. I think that’s pretty much the story of all human beings. The rest, far fewer, realize that their spirits need recognition and are willing to do what it takes for that emergence into the physical world. But we can indeed take it much further, and we can do that any time we want.
We can put all that in the context of what you have said, about the New World taking Europe and Asia into a new frontier, into a fresh environment, unimagined on the old continents.
H: That idea of course was present in everybody’s consciousness, the unexplored territory; the vast expanse of the West. Emily Dickinson has a poem about that; she says:
Soto! Explore thyself! Therein thyself shalt find The “Undiscovered Continent” — No Settler had the Mind.
Again, the settlers coming with their logical minds, exploring the physical continent, couldn’t find their proper relation to their soul-animals, the two-spirits. They did not have this inner Undiscovered Continent in mind, nor was it in their awareness in a conventional religious sense. It was all projected outward in the quest for gold, the California rush for the yellow metal in 1849, and it is still continuing today. It was a physical quest, you know, not the alchemical quest for the symbolic gold, the treasure of the body and psyche.
The question I have is, How does one discover it? How does one find the Realms of Gold, the Spiritual Democracy of the cosmos that the poet-shamans discovered? How did Melville discover it in Moby-Dick, or Whitman in Leaves of Grass? You know, the logical mind does not have this other kind of experience of the symbolic gold that the alchemists had found, and that Jung wrote about as the aim of individuation: the philosopher’s stone, as a life’s goal, the Spirit in the stone.
The mind of a greedy man thinks of metaphors as material facts rather than as visionary symbols charged with energy and meaning. The soul-animals, the birds of the soul—raven, condor, and eagle—bring this energy to us. D. H. Lawrence, who was reading Melville and Whitman and Emerson and Thoreau while writing his Studies in Classic American Literature, writes, “I am here risen / and setting my foot on another world / risen, accomplishing a resurrection / risen.… I am the first comer! / Cortes, Pisaro, Columbus, Cabot, they are nothing, nothing! / I am the first comer! / I am the discoverer! / I have found the other world!” It is a discovery of the New World that is pre-European. For the poet, in this sense it is Native American, indigenous, and archaic. That’s what’s spiritual democracy essentially is: a linking up of the old and the new. If such an experience hasn’t happened to a person, one might not know what it is, what it feels like, and what its meaning is. It’s not like anything that the famous explorers were looking at; it’s a continent not visible to the exploring mind; it’s an Undiscovered Continent no settler had in mind as Dickinson says so aptly.
An Undiscovered Continent traversed by judgmental expeditions
M: I think what you’re saying here is really falling together beautifully. We’ve been talking about poetry and that you have to pay attention to what those words mean in the deepest sense, or you won’t see this New World they point to. Words aren’t place-holders. They mean their fullness. They are very carefully put down. That’s one key. Susan Browne and I used to immerse the kids in poetry, without analyzing it; just reading poems, lots of poems. They began to absorb the stance in which you must place yourself to get the juice out of a poem.
That reminds me of people looking at an abstract painting and saying, “Oh, this is ugly.” And I think, “No, no, no. This is not how you approach something like that—well, anything, really. You don’t just say, “Oh, that’s ugly.” This is an Undiscovered Continent being traversed by judgmental expeditions.
And that’s what happened with the poems Susan read. You weren’t asked to judge whether it’s a good poem or not. It changed the perspective from which they looked at art and by extension, how to get to it.
Suspension of the Critical Faculty
H: So they had a technique, how to get to it through a non-judgmental suspending of the critical faculty.
M: I probably will never do drumming, but I do know it’s one way to get to that non- judgmental state of mind.
H: A direct way. Scientifically, they’ve shown that you can go right into the alpha state.
M: Yes. But people do have other ways of getting there, perhaps not consciously. People go to a dance, some place where music is playing, and they typically end up entering into this spirit and having a hell of a good time. But here’s the problem: When they’re all done, they think, “Well, that’s that.” And then they go right back to a rather drab world. Carrying the music over into the day-to-day world, that’s the trick. I do think anybody can get to that state, that alpha state, that non-judgmental state, anytime. It would be wonderful if they were conscious of the implications that you and I discuss so that they could do that on purpose, deliberately.
H: The question is: Can an ordinary person get into it? That’s where we get to the question about whether the idea of spiritual democracy can be fully realized.
M: Yes, that’s indeed the question.
H: Whitman’s hope was that it could. He thought it was for those who had been able to do that, to live their life out of their own primitive ground, to lead others into it, too; to lead anyone to beat the serpent-skin drum in Leaves of Grass The question is whether we can pull it off as a species—before it’s too late. Can we learn to harmonize ourselves as a human tribe to the sound of the drum? I suppose that’s the question Robinson Jeffers was asking in “New Mexican Mountain,” when he listened to the sound of the Taos drum and then exclaimed “Civilization is a transient sickness.”
Jeffers said that civilization needs healers. And we’re back to what the condor was directly saying to me, something about spiritual democracy—we don’t really believe in spiritual democracy when we do that to the grizzly bear and the condor.
There’s nothing to worry about.
M: I do think, with just what we know scientifically, that all the problems we’re concerned about, like energy, can be solved. There are sources available that don’t depend on dead organisms. There’s thermal energy, solar energy of a kind that doesn’t require panels on your roof, quantum energy, and infinite resources, and so on; even using fusion instead of fission. Beyond that there’s a realization among many that what you and I are talking about is indeed a fact. You can call it subatomic quantum particles, but you could also call it the Ground of Being, or simply intelligence. These are all metaphors for the same thing. It could be that we’re going to destroy the world as we know it. That doesn’t mean that the universe won’t go right on. When you look at the night sky, this planet is not even a speck. But I think that awareness should relieve us of any worry. Frost has a poem about it:
Well, really, there’s nothing to worry about. Yes, up close it seems pretty horrible.
H: We are all watchers by the water. We watch and we wait. You know the Frost lines in “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep”: “They cannot see out far / They cannot see in deep.” We are all distracted by the noise of civilization. Yet at times, visions of spiritual democracy do come to us and we remember. Poets are the ones who do look out far into the sea and in deep. This is what Emily Dickinson was referring to, and Whitman, and Melville. In Moby-Dick Melville saw the great White Whale and he listened; he spoke from the primitive idea.
M: I think what you do in your therapy and what I was consciously doing in my classes is to open this other world for everybody. Not me opening it up, but allowing them to discover that it is available to them. In one way or another they were closer to it by the time the semester was finished, glimpsing Frost’s “something more of the depths.”
Seeing the Interconnectedness of It All
H: Those who really get it are gifted, really. Not everybody is gifted in that way. To see the interconnectedness of it all is a rare thing. What we’re really talking about is something that’s very old, not necessarily New Age. It’s part of the basic experience of the primal peoples of Siberia, Europe, South America, Central and North America: the quest of the cosmic seer.
That reminds me of something I saw up in Modoc country, very dry and desolate land in the lava pits up North on the Oregon border by Tulle Lake. Native peoples from 10,000 years ago would go out in their boats and they would inscribe on a rock an image, often to do with the hunt. I’ll never forget Lori and me going up there and looking at those old petroglyphs; lots of animals, lots of birds, and snakes.
In the center of all of these animal images is featured a figure of a human, a stick figure, with bird legs, a human body but with head of a water-bird, a heron. At the center of the paintings at Lascaux is a picture of a bird man, the same image.
Those rock art carvings are about ten thousand years old; Lascaux is about seventeen thousand or so. There’s some kind of correspondence here: the bird-shaman, spiritual democracy, Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle” singing his musical shuttle out of the mockingbird’s throat. In the dreams that I had before we began to speak about these things today the birds were looking at me and I was looking up at them; there was a mirror-symmetry of vision-seeing going on there; my consciousness and their consciousness were one.
M: I do think it’s rare, but don’t you think we could pick any human at random and find that spirit there simmering and with the right opportunity it could flare up? They may not know how to do it on their own, but I think that the spirit is there–well, of course it’s there.
H: I think we saw that during the seventies and sixties, the mind-altering drugs.
M: Those decades could have a major influence on how people behave now, because after all, the people running the world came out of that era. They’re not ignorant of this other level. In fact, it crops up in the jargon on TV. They all know the lingo. Except, they really aren’t doing it. It’s window dressing. They can talk about it glibly. So the framework is there. And I’m thinking, if I wanted to start teaching a class now, the kids would all know that. “Yeah, yeah, I know all that stuff.”
H: What we’re talking about is something very old, not New Age. As I’ve said, it’s part of the basic experience of the primal peoples of Siberia, Europe, South America. The dream I had is about the quest for the cosmic seer.
M: Yes, When I came in today, you started to tell me about your Shasta experience. So there was a huge amount of snow there?
H: Yes, it was quite an experience. It was exhilarating. This time, we just did a lot of hiking around.
M: Just you and Lori?
H: Yes. We didn’t bring food or camping stuff. We ate out all the time. It was a great trip. We haven’t done that before.
M: Sounds like a good idea.
H: It was. There’s something about being up there on the mountain, a new elevation, a new vista for me: seeing things in a different way. I came back refreshed.
M: If you remember, you wrote a couple of years ago about when you and your son Manny were up there, “Up on top of Shasta everything is clear.”
H: Everything is clear.
A Cloak of Awareness
M: It seems to me that we need to have that kind of awareness wrapped around us as we go about our daily interactions–which are quite complex sometimes.
M: But to come to those complexities with the assuredness of that clarity, it seems to me, would be nice for people to be able to do. I think most people could do that.
H: Yes, we were talking earlier about how important that is. And you were up at Crater Lake a couple of weeks ago. I read just the other day that that lake is the result of a volcanic mountain blowing its top 7700 years ago. You know there were people living around there when that happened. People saw that happen and passed information on down to our present time through oral history. So that’s historic.
M: Yes, there is anecdotal information, and no doubt some archeological information, that allows a fairly accurate description. It was a fantastic explosion.
H: Speaking of thousands and thousands of years, you and Ruth should see Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the caves in Chauvet, France, the oldest art ever discovered. Werner Herzog directed it.
M: Oh, yes, I did read a review about it.
H: This is amazing. 32,000 years old!
M: That’s partly what attracts me to this art. You stimulated my thinking on cave paintings when you talked with me about Lascaux a while back. Some people, and not just a few, think they went to all that trouble just to draw some graffiti! But, you know, what they did, the abstractness of it, the certainty of their strokes . . .
H: Like Picasso. Wait till you see those horses!
M: I’ve seen pictures.
H: You must see the Chauvet! These are almost twice as old as Lascaux. Thirty-two thousand years old.
Our Place in the Scheme of Things
M: Thirty-two thousand! I’ve been thinking that one thing all of our talks have been about, really, is the collective memory of human beings. I think going up on the mountain ties into all that. There you are standing in the presence of this vast stretch of history, the ancient Earth.
The mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation – I don’t think they would have to if they understood that, the clarity that places us in the scheme of things. If people saw how rooted we are in all that surrounds us and all that preceded us – we’re center stage – I don’t think they would be quite so concerned about these little upheavals in their daily interactions with the planet. It wouldn’t be so upsetting.
The question is, how do people get access to that awareness? I think you were suggesting last time, and my friend Sasan certainly does, that one needs a mentor. I resist that idea. It may be true, but I don’t want to believe it. For one thing, there aren’t that many mentors around. It would be hard for an ordinary person to encounter someone like that. In my entire youth, there was not one such person.
I know in your work, and I guess in my teaching, it underlies what we’re doing:
providing that contact with this other side of our selves. But I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to become enlightened. I do not call myself enlightened, but I can see how I could go there if I felt like it. I don’t know how I came to see that. Certainly my childhood didn’t have any such glimmers of what you and I talk about. I was a dreamy kid, I guess.
Experience as Mentor
H: You didn’t need a mentor. Your experience was your mentor.
M: Well, OK. Now, whether I proceed is a conscious decision. I know what could be done if I felt like it.
H: What do you mean by that?
M: Well, you know, today I could walk out your door and follow that path. The only thing holding me back are the hostages of fortune, as Shakespeare put it, family. I hold back, for one reason, because I don’t care to cause discomfort to people who depend on me.
H: What would you do if you did follow that path?
M: I would do whatever I felt like today and then tomorrow I would again do whatever I felt like, and so on. That sounds rather reckless, but I mean that I would take charge of the day, create it, day by day. But nothing out of a sense of duty. I don’t actually do things out of a sense of duty now. I see ways to live as I do and still create the day. Remember Gauguin? He just walked out on his family and went to the South Seas. I can’t really fault him, but something keeps me from knowingly doing harm to others. For one thing, I do know that the person I harm is myself in another guise.
H: Where are you with your book right now? You were looking for a publisher.
M: Yes. Well, I did talk with an editor, and she asked me to send her a prospectus and so forth, and that forced me to think about just who might be an audience for my book and where the market might be.
I’m pretty sure now that my book presupposes a reader who might in the past have read
The Crack in the Cosmic Egg or maybe The Dancing Wu Li Masters, maybe some Joseph Campbell or Alan Watts or Krishnamurti or Jung, someone perhaps interested in his or her place in this universe.
I ran across an old acquaintance recently and I told her about my book. She’s a mature woman who has just broken off from a long relationship with someone I used to work with. Well, I think she’s re-assessing what her life is all about and what she wants to do going forward. I think my book could not help but be something that would absorb her.
All world views are metaphors.
The book isn’t just one view of how this all works. It’s a net to catch myriad views and show how they are all looking at the same thing. They’re all metaphors for what these people have seen. Would you agree that whatever one sees has to end up translated into one’s own language – which is not the thing itself but a description of it?
H: It’s a little vague.
Words as Venues to That-Which-Is
M: I would say that anybody who has taken a look at the universe is going to come back and describe it in the language he or she has available. Then you go to somebody else who happens to have been working in alchemy and he’s going to describe it in terms of turning base metal into gold. There’s “gold” again. Go to Homer and now you get the universe in his great epic. Or John Keats, the Romantic poets, and you come to language designed to convey that world.
What I’m saying is that human beings have no other way than language – symbol systems, music, painting, the arts – no other way to convey the world they have discovered. So if you accept what they say or sing or put in mathematical symbols – if you accept what they convey to you as metaphor and let it steep in your brain – then that will inform you about what they have seen. The words themselves are only venues to that-which-is.
So I think people who would like to get a sense of that, people who would like to lead a fulfilling spiritual life – these people would be possible readers of my book. I hadn’t been sure who my readers might be, but now I know they would have to have some background of reading or thinking along these lines. It’s not for someone who has never thought about his life in a broader sense.
H: So what is it about your view that’s unique to Clark McKowen?
The Tyranny of One’s Metaphor
M: What I’m saying is that you can get at this question in innumerable ways and that it’s not good to get caught up in one metaphor. Don’t put all your eggs in that basket. You have to realize that it’s a metaphor. I have a friend who’s a fundamentalist Christian who did finally catch on to the fact that her religion was a metaphor. She didn’t stop being religious, but she was freed from its tyranny. I read the phrase “the prison of belief” in movie review the other day, and that pretty much captures what’s wrong with any capitulation to a belief system. If you let a metaphor tyrannize you, you become a cult figure.
H: It sounds like you have a problem with religion. How would you define it?
M: I think it’s buying into some canned philosophy, something codified for you and presented as the way things are.
H: Do you have some other definition that would be more acceptable?
Spiritual Democracy and Religious Belief
M: Oh, sure. I know some religious people, very few, who use it as a vehicle to enter that other world. The liturgy, for example. For some, the structure of the service can shift their focus into that other world. But it seems to me most people think, “Oh, that sounds pretty good, all canned and ready to go. I’ll just eat it.” That keeps them under the thumb of whatever that viewpoint is. There’s no role for their own spirits to play.
One thing I despise about religious institutions is the rules. These institutions always come with a whole set of rules. Twelve steps, nine steps, ten commandments, fox trot, curriculum – whatever it is, some kind of hoops to jump through.
So I don’t like religion. Spiritual Democracy I like a lot. You’ve been developing that idea, and I think it’s dead on. The Spirit in every human being is lobbying for a chance to walk around in the physical world. I think that could be argued on any level you choose. There is a dynamism throughout the universe. That’s what keeps it going. It’s in all living matter, and it’s in the so-called inanimate world most definitely. There’s no break. It’s a continuum. So, yes, spiritual democracy is another way of phrasing that-which-is.
Any religion is a metaphor and has to be treated as such. Don’t take the metaphor for what it points to. The fundamentalist Christian woman I told you about was in several of my classes. And interestingly she is also a visionary. She has visions. She is very familiar with metaphor, the powerful imagery she has access to when she has an epileptic seizure. I’d say that’s the same realm that liturgy gives access to for some people. Well, she caught on to how language works and had no trouble with the things we explored. She was having a fine time, but
she sensed there was one area we were skirting: her faith. One day she finally blurted out that I wasn’t commenting on her religious beliefs. Why not?
I said, Well, you are totally open to exploring all the things we do in class, but there is one area of your thoughts that you seem to have built a box around. That’s the Christ figure. That’s sacrosanct. You don’t treat that as a metaphor. I don’t see why you can’t go in there with the same openness. If your Christ figure is accurate, how can your thinking openly about it be dangerous? Well, she went home and thought about it and realized she could do it. Then she became free to participate in her religion deeply in her own way but not subserviently. Anyway, that’s how I feel about religion.
H: Well, it sounds like you’re moving your book toward how to describe it. M: Yes. It’s clearer to me now just who could read it productively.
H: You mentioned poets earlier. Do you see them as having cracked the cosmic egg?
Meaning What You Say
M: Oh, yes. Emily Dickinson, for example. If you take her literally and not as someone who writes pretty words, yes, she has visited those realms most definitely. She means what she says. Ha, I wonder how she would have been at small talk! You can see it in Keats, Hopkins, any of the great poets. And the artists, those cave painters, they visited the realms of gold for sure. It’s available to anyone who looks. But you do have to look. A lot of my book is about that, about looking. Essentially it’s about having a look. Of course you would have had to have some intimation that it would be worth having a look. How I came to realize that, I don’t really know. I don’t think I did when I was in college.
The Art of Seeing
H: Seeing is very important for your vision.
M: Well, that’s a metaphor, too. I mean by that, realizing what’s here in front of our eyes. What’s in front of our eyes is all that there is but that’s the universe. Look around this room. It’s right here, the whole thing. As you know, we could use the right hemisphere to do the looking. That’s another metaphor. But look.
H: So there’s the idea that most people don’t look.
M: If they care to, there’s all that right before their eyes, including the third eye – another metaphor. If they don’t care to look, they shouldn’t pick up my book. I do think, though, the
most crass human being, like us all, has this spiritual drive. But sometimes, when I look at the least common denominator it seems hopeless!
One reason I like to meet with you and one or two others is that it keeps me in touch, sort of like liturgy or meditation or your visits to Mt. Shasta. Spend a little time this way and it informs the rest of the day.
Now, how about your work, how does what I’ve been saying fit in, if it does, with what you do?
The Mentoring of One’s Forebears
H: Oh, there are definite parallels. I’ve been working on Whitman’s influence. What you were saying about mentors. He had mentors, too. Emerson. In a letter he called Emerson Master with a capital
M. I think his real mentors were poets.
M: Did he read the Romantic poets, like Keats?
H: He may have read some. He didn’t talk much about them. He did read Shakespeare. He talked a lot about Chinese and Hindu bards. He read the old Indian texts.
M: Yes. The New England thinkers of his time were reading a lot of those texts.
H: The whole Transcendentalist movement was a major force.
M: When you think about it, that whole body of knowledge was here in the United States during that time. So we do have a background of such thinking over 150 years ago and I’m sure it’s been influencing us ever since. Then it popped up again after World War II when soldiers started returning from the Far East. So you get a connection going from that period to the present day.
H: And the King James Bible. That was Whitman’s first influence. His first real inspiration was the Bible.
M: I read an article recently by Christopher Hitchens about that very book. Hitchens loved the artistry of that book, the beauty of its poetry. He’s right. You can’t read the Bible as prose. It’s dreadful.
H: There’s a passage in the Book of Isaiah. Interestingly enough, that’s the section where you find the phrase “All flesh is grass.”
M: Oh, yes. That’s right!
H: There are sections in Isaiah that talk about spiritual democracy.
M: Think of the concept. There’s the Hebrew writer saying all flesh is grass and the subatomic field we’ve been talking about and about how all things are the same. That’s a pretty good insight, to realize that sitting here you comprise the Earth in this form.
H: I think Whitman knew that, and the grass symbolizes it.
M: So we’re talking again about how all things are connected. How all things are the same thing.
H: I wouldn’t say they are the same thing, but they are all connected.
M: Why not the same thing?
H: I’ve been thinking about the uniqueness of each thing. There is variety, diversity.
M: Yes, infinitely so. That’s the uniqueness of each particle, but each particle once again is the center, and that particle cannot exist without everything that goes with it. So it is everything while being one thing. That’s why I say everything is the same thing. The expression “all things” takes into account what you’re saying. The concept Steven Herrmann can only have its place when its connectedness is fully realized. That cell in your fingernail is not detritus. Its intelligence thinking about what it wants to do in relation to other cells within the construct Steven Herrmann. That’s a Hindu idea, too. There’s no way out of it.
I think you have to know about this connectedness. Anyway, to put these thoughts in context, your own metaphor seems to be Spiritual Democracy.
One Spiritual World
H: I never really thought about my own metaphor until a couple of years ago when I was working on the Whitman book. But, yes, I think that’s what we all are about, this one spiritual world and these interconnections.
M: OK. I think you’re right. I think there’s a way out for human beings, a single culture, a single world of interconnected beings all over the globe now. I think that’s literally happening right now. You mentioned a couple of years ago about a triad of religious views, the Islamic, the Judaic, the Christian, seemingly at odds with each other, but in your work, going back a bit, you see them coming from a single source. Now they need to converge again. So you are beginning to see your work as focusing on that spiritual democracy metaphor. I think that’s right. That seems to be coming to the fore very clearly now. It makes sense to me.
Whitman and Spiritual Democracy
H: Whitman was the one who articulated it. Emerson talked about it, too. The idea was already there. Whitman created the language that made us able to understand it better.
M: Yes, Whitman translated it all into his own language. He had to do that. We all have to do that. If I simply repeat what others have said, what I say is not true. If it doesn’t come from my own vision, it’s a lie. A woman I mentioned earlier who is interested in ideas like those in my book, sent me a link to a person who does workshops on spirituality. I took one look and knew he is a snake-oil salesman. He patched together some made-up words to describe what’s going on, made it seem based on the parts of the brain, diagrams and all, and guaranteeing peace and serenity. A lot of money gets spent on people like him. But it does point up the fact that people are looking for some way to bridge their day-to-day lives with something they sense to be more profound, maybe to make working in a bank a profound experience. So maybe that’s good.
H: Oh, by the way, did you see that link I sent from The Red Room? M: Oh, yes, quite a nice surprise.
Jungian Therapy and Sexuality
H: They were giving a prize for the best blog about gay and lesbian issues that got the most positive response. My blog won. It’s a bit ironic, since there are a lot of gay and lesbian writers on The Red Room.
M: Well, you do have perspective that’s unusual. You’ve written extensively about sexuality of all kinds, but you have a distance from your subject. You’re not there to advocate for a particular position. You can throw some objective light on the subject.
H: I was surprised and pleased. We can step out beyond and look at the question of marriage as an issue of open or close-minded views of the cosmos. We’re all equal. That’s where Whitman comes in. There are these old laws he was abolishing back in the middle of the 19th century. And there’s Melville sailing to Polynesia and seeing cultures that treat sexuality quite differently from our conventions. Whitman comes along and puts out the first ideas about equality of marriage. Then he goes further and develops it more clearly in the idea of spiritual democracy. That, he said, was a religion. For him it was not something to do with liturgy, that sort of thing. He wanted people to read his book, yes, but what he really wanted was for people to experience spiritual democracy. It is the experience that matters, you know. He was so intuitive, so visionary; he was really speaking for the soul of America.
If it’s true that everything is the same, in the atoms and so on, then this idea is what America needs to hear, what the world needs to hear, around faith, because a big part of the problem in religious debates is in literal interpretations of religious texts. Some read them as literal truths rather than as metaphors. Proposition 8 in California was based mostly on that. But those Biblical writings were culturally specific and addressed to a certain time. We need new metaphors. To get back to what you were saying earlier, Whitman created new metaphors. He gave new ideas about religion and spirituality. Weddings, marriages – they always have their spiritual dimension.
Spiritual Democracy and Equal Rights
M: That’s the whole idea of the word marriage and the issue that’s being debated. A lot of people are not against civil unions of almost any sort, but what’s angering them is the inclusion of the spiritual dimension. I think the whole controversy centers on the idea of marriage as a spiritual union being different from a civil union. Why that would be upsetting I can’t follow, but they do take these words literally instead of metaphorically.
H: Where I was going with that: I do think it’s an idea that can really help with the political debate, because it creates an alternative. I was talking with a friend of Lori’s recently, a Methodist minister, about counter-narratives. I have in my book some thoughts on the myths about courtship and marriage. It’s always been a heterosexual thing in our culture. We need some counter-narratives, and Whitman provides them. He was our great American bard, and you can look at it that way.
M: I think it has to resonate with people who are against these unions, marriages. The metaphor, the myth, must appeal to them. If they set their minds against what we’re talking about, then they don’t want to hear it. Do you see some way for this dialogue to go forth in an agreeable way for people who have dug in their heels?
H: Well, I think an idea everyone can buy into is spiritual democracy: We are all the same, really. Trace it out. We had a Civil War. We had women speaking out and getting the vote.
H: Equal rights for women, equal rights for blacks, all cultures. The same thing around religion. That’s where the world is right now. We’ve talked about the three monotheisms in the Near-East and Middle-East. Religious wars have been fueling fratricide between cultures for millennia. I think what everybody can buy into now is the idea that no religion is superior to any other. They’re all good, and we can celebrate them all.
M: Probably by the time your patients get to you, they aren’t stuck in their beliefs. They know they need to do some re-assessment of the way they see things. They’d like to liberate themselves. That’s probably how they start with you: I need to do something about my life.
H: Fundamentalism can emerge in many ways. It doesn’t have to be a radical cult. It’s a risk any believing person encounters. They are going to get opinionated, and they are going to get upset and think that their truth is the right truth. The nice thing about spiritual democracy is that it says, “You’re right!”
M: OK. That’s great!
H: I think that’s the thing. [Laughter] M: That’s good.
H: There’s nothing to argue about. [Laughter]
Debate and Dialogue
M: I think that’s the trap we get into is to get into debates. Debates are not good. Dialogue is. Dialogue starts with a respect for the other person. Of course, I must confess, when I hear some of the things people say, I don’t feel like its dialogue. I think it’s terrible, ignorant, irrational stuff. But I know better. I do know how people get that way. And I know if I were more compassionate with them, we’d do much better, if I were to explore their thinking in a genuinely interested and responsive way, the barriers would evaporate. The better I am at it, the more that’s likely to happen.
H: You know, the founding fathers–Washington, Franklin, Jefferson–they were all deists. When they were figuring out how to create a democracy, the first principle they came up with was the freedom of religion. First, constitutional and political democracy, and then: spiritual democracy.
You can’t have a complete democracy without spiritual democracy. They realized there had to be spiritual democracy right at the earliest structuring of the way this would all work.
Religious tolerance is the key.
M: I think we have to go a little bit further . . .
H: That’s where it begins. Then you come to Whitman, who answered the call. He provided the metaphors.
It seems a bit smug to tolerate someone.
M: But I think it has to go beyond tolerance. What you said is correct: “You’re right.” That’s not tolerance. That goes beyond tolerance. I’ve thought about that word a lot. It seems a bit smug to tolerate someone.
H: That’s where Whitman comes in.
The Universality of Spiritual Democracy
M: Because he saw, as you correctly said, that spirituality knows no bounds. It knows no particular sect. It goes beyond all of those constructs. We are all in it together. It’s one force bubbling up in each of us, the same force. That’s why “You’re right.” You’re expressing the Godhead. So when I get beyond tolerance–that’s my next level–I truly don’t see you as different from me.
H: In a dialogue . . .
M: You have to get beyond wanting to punch the other guy.
H: Where emotions are involved, where people are defensive . . .
M: As soon as you say, “What did you mean by that?” you make them defensive.
H: The defensiveness evokes that emotional turbulence . . . As psychotherapists, that’s where we start, where the patient is getting excitable. You know, I had a minor epiphany just now.
M: What do you mean?
H: Well, if we start with the beginning of democracy, those Deists sitting around talking about it …
M: Isn’t that amazing?
H: Talking about a constitution . . .
The ability to tolerate emotional turbulence
H: What kind of a God are we going to put in this Constitution? Madison insisted that there could be no reference to the Bible. Jefferson thought the future religion of the United States would have to be Unitarianism. Madison would have no part in that. It can’t be a democracy, then. He was right. This cannot be a Christian country. They were Deists. They all believed in God, but their idea of God transcended any religion. Even though some were Puritans, even though some were Christians, they still had that kind of spiritual objectivity. So the first principle is that the Constitution must allow for any religious belief. If they could practice this relativity toward anybody’s religion, then they could begin to think clearly and carve out a Constitution.
So if we use the analogy of a bunch of people in a room and the question of how we’re going to get any breakthrough about the universe to where all the people in the room are all one, you have to have an ability to tolerate emotional turbulence. That’s a term we use in psychology today. People discussing religion are going to get gripped by strong emotions, and they’re going to argue. So you’re going to be challenged to practice tolerance, and then transcend that. And that’s through spiritual democracy. Spiritual democracy is when you can say, “You’re right.” Once the person is calmed down, then they’re open to new ideas. They can relax! [Laugher]
H: Someone who is arguing is not going to be open. M: Clinched fist.
H: They are closed.
M: What this boils down to is finding a way to talk with each other that is not argumentative. So what’s needed is responsiveness, openness, a willingness to hear the other person; to hear that person out, without judgment. Well, that’s a way: You could start seminars in how to have religious dialogues.
H: Be a consultant. Yes. That’s a great idea.
M: That’s what we need if we’re going to clear this up. We can’t keep coming at each other with hatchets. I get furious at all these horrible Republicans.
H: I have a good friend who’s a Republican. You met him at our wedding. He’s really liberal.
Love as the Basis for Dialogue
M: Oh, yes. I liked him. It’s hard to believe. Well, I’ve thought about carrying on conversations, how different the atmosphere is when it’s argumentative. In my classes, it wasn’t like that. I tried to avoid argument as much as I could. If someone said something, anything really, the next question would be, Tell me more about it. What do other people in the class think about it?
Then, tell me more about that! We went for the fullness of the thought.
We might as well throw this in: It all comes back to the word love. If you feel you’re in a loving atmosphere, then all things are possible. There has to be that sense of total acceptance. No barriers set up. It’s what people call love, but I think of it as a very general sense of being grounded in the universe, like a rock. Solid, strong, sure.
We seem to have rounded this topic out pretty well. There’s just one thing to tie up.
It’s the question of mentors.
H: I would argue that you had your mentors, Clark. I think Yeats was your mentor. Everson talks about this. Some have a personal mentor, some have an impersonal one, some have both.
Students as Mentors for Their Teachers
M: Oh, I agree. I was thinking about this when we were talking earlier. I said I didn’t know when I started thinking about how all this works. It might have been the first year I was teaching in a high school. The students liked me, but they did not like to do things the way I wanted to do them. My whole view of how to teach was tossed in the trash can. I had to re- build from the start. It may have forced my brain to start putting things together on its own.
But you’re quite right that some of the influences that maybe were stewing back there were really resources for me, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Keats, the American writers, maybe even back to sixth grade, William Cullen Bryant. Those were all stored in my mind. So you could call those mentors, certainly. I agree totally with that. I don’t agree, I guess, with this idea of having a master. “Oh, Master, show me the way.”
H: I think it can be important. Jung called Freud his Master. Whitman called Emerson Master. It’s a brief thing. It’s part of the transference of greatness onto another person.
M: I have no quarrel with that.
H: And then you withdraw and realize . . .
M: And then you re-do it yourself.
H: Whitman said in 1855: “I am the teacher of athletes, / He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own, / He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher. / , , . I teach straying from me, yet who can stray from me?
If you would understand me go to the heights or water-shore.
M: That’s fine.
H: You know, if you see the Buddha on the path . . .. It’s that idea in Buddhism, too.
M: Let’s see. Is it in Christianity? Sure. They say, too, that you have to re-build it yourself. In my case, thinking back to fourteen years of perfect attendance in my church, I think I accepted without doubt the ideas that were presented. It didn’t even cross my mind to doubt or question. That was how things were.
H: When you think about it, Christ was mentored, too. He was a rabbi, a good Jewish son.
M: Right. I’m not arguing against all that precedes us, all of it. You start there. You have to allow them to furnish your mind. They do, actually, whether you want them to or not. And certainly you might go to someone and ask them to tell you all that they know. (I do this with my computer pals.) But you can’t just say, “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”
H: I’ve been discussing this with a friend who says there aren’t any new ideas. I said, “Oh, yes, in a sense that may be so, but new ideas do crop up.” Everson said that when one does jump out of the Master’s shadow, one steps into a field of absolute originality.
H: The relativity theory. Einstein did develop that idea. It was an advance. Jung was the same way. Spiritual teachers do this.
M: Let me think about that. The idea Einstein had can be traced to Buddha.
H: Aren’t you stretching it a little?
M: I don’t think so. How about Hinduism, the multiplicities, the worlds within worlds, infinitude of every speck. It’s another metaphor.
H: That’s true.
M: Einstein did something that nobody else had ever done before, quite so. He put it into a new vessel, a new metaphor that turns out to have many applications. The earlier metaphors revealed the same world, but they didn’t build space ships and split atoms with those metaphors. Einstein took up the ideas the Buddhists were discussing thousands of years ago.
I don’t think there’s really any controversy between us on this. Once you step out of the shadow of the Master, you can move in any direction as an original being. Every step will be original, every stroke of your pen, your brush, every Lascaux painting. You are creating that.
H: That’s pretty good, Clark.
M: [Laughs.] Yeah, I sort of like that, too.
This does freshen up my thoughts about mentoring. It seems to me when someone starts out with, say, Gurdjeiff, they have a package that they’re supposed to master. I never could understand that, subjecting oneself to a program of some sort. As soon as I hear the rules, I find myself resisting. I was re-reading a little book called The Tao of Pooh the other day. Benjamin Hoff, the author, says Pooh is really a Taoist, someone who can be happy and tranquil in any situation. I started thinking, hmm, I guess I’m a Taoist.
H: Jung was Taoist. One of his greatest breakthroughs came through his readings of the Tao Te Ching, Hui Ming Ching and the I Ching, synchronicity. His first use of that word synchronicity was in his memorial to Richard Wilhelm, the German translator of the I Ching.
[An ancient Chinese book of divination also called The Book of Changes, dated by some estimates as early as a thousand years B.C., the I Ching is consulted for insight by using seemingly randomly selected digits to identify one of a series of hexagrams composed of six stacked horizontal whole and broken lines of various configurations, that are allowed to inform one’s thoughts.]
but we can indeed take it much further, and we can do that any time we want.
M: Well, well. You have an avenue here. If you shaped it up, you could build a program that I think would have a lot to offer toward opening ordinary people to an awareness of their own spirituality and of course that would mean spiritual democracy, too. You can’t be spiritually fulfilled without bringing along everyone else. Otherness doesn’t compute. What you’re talking about, focused and described in compelling language, and with some way to alert people to what you are saying, that’s the trick.
H: I think this next book will plant some seeds towards that.
M: Quite possibly. But there is still the marketing issue – which has to be solved. There’s a clue, I think, in your getting your perspective into the dialogues in states considering same- sex marriage. That’s one way this could be done. I have to figure out marketing for my own book, too. I haven’t gotten there yet. But like a Taoist, I’m not pushing or pulling it. I’m just moving it along.
H: This thing on the Red Room just happened. Sort of a minor miracle
M: Yes, it’s lovely when that happens. I think you could say that.
H: What did Whitman say about miracles?
M: “Why, who thinks much of a miracle? As for me, I know of nothing but miracles.”
[I decided to include this dialogue in the blogs I’m adding to this website, over twenty in all, even though many, perhaps most, visitors have not heard of the 4700-year-old epic poem Steven Herrmann and I talk about here. But the dialogue is really about how to live in the world (and for some whether there’s a way to outwit Death and attain some sort of immortality). These are questions all of us have to deal with one way or another. I think this dialogue is a good investigation of the pitfalls and insights involved in finding one’s place. Follow along; you will find yourself adding your own thoughts.
We are all familiar with heroes’ journeys, in comic books, the movies, fiction, poetry, Native American myths, and so on — all brought together in Joseph Campbell’smarvelous, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This dialogue centers on “the oldest story in the world,” the hero’s journey of Gilgamesh, a mythic-historic Mesopotamian king of Uruk. Gilgamesh is the basis of Stephen Mitchell’s 2004 critically acclaimed version. As Mitchell describes it, “In this epic [Gilgamesh] has an intimate friend, Enkidu, a naked wild man who has been civilized through the erotic arts of a temple priestess. With him, Gilgamesh battles monsters, and when Enkidu dies, he is inconsolable. He sets out on a desperate journey to find the one man who can tell him how to escape death.” The poem, through the story of Gilgamesh’s trials, explores fundamental themes of human existence, “grief and the fear of death, . . . love and vulnerability and the quest for wisdom.” Steven and I discuss the timeliness/timelessness of this ancient epic and its myriad connections with their ongoing discussion of cosmic unity and our place among the stars.]
Herrmann: I had the copy of Gilgamesh on my shelf but hadn’t had a chance to read it. Now I am writing a paper where I look at the figure of Gilgamesh in C. G. Jung’s Red Book.
McKowen: I didn’t know Jung did that.
H: Oh, yes. I am looking at Jung’s dialogue with a figure he calls Izdubar. It is a fascinating story, beautiful really. The prototype is found in the epic of Gilgamesh. To understand Jung’s dialogue with this visionary figure, I needed to read the Babylonian myth. So I thought it would be a good thing for us to talk a bit about the book.
M: I’m glad you suggested that. I remember just reading through it quickly initially and must have scanned what Mitchell had to say about it in his introduction. But this time I read it carefully, and it was much more meaningful to me. And I began to pick up key elements of the view of life that the poet who wrote this story was presenting. Mitchell talks about that, and as you know, there are differences from the hero myths that came along later. They have a little bit different picture of what a hero does. Maybe we’ll get into that later. Anyhow, go back to what you were saying about Jung. I didn’t know he had examined it.
H: That’s what moved me to suggest we read it together. I see Jung’s dialogue with Izdubar as being central to his entire work. It is pivotal! It will change the way we understand Jung, now that we have the whole text. I’ll have more to say about my paper later. I’m interested in what kind of parallels you see in Gilgamesh and the book you’re writing?
M: There’s one that really stands out, and that’s that you cannot get the drop on life. You can’t figure out in your head how to pull a fast one on life, get all the goods and get away with it. You just plain can’t do that. It doesn’t matter who you are or how powerful you are, your strength or anything else. Until you get that, you’re going to be lame. In order to find the path, the path with a heart– or your bliss as Joseph Campbell says– it requires total surrender, a giving up. Those aren’t even good words because it’s more like a falling into life. That’s what this book really says. Gilgamesh goes through all these journeys, and he finally finds a guy who knows how to be immortal, and where to find the herb of immortality. He goes and gets it, then carelessly lays it down while he bathes, and a snake carries it off. It’s almost like he’s supposed to be careless, because there isn’t any way to pull that off. He had to be careless for this to happen. Now that I think about it, if it had been some kind of powerful force that took it away from him, that wouldn’t have been any good. So finally, there’s nothing left, no more chances, his last chance comes to nothing. Finally, it’s like the song that goes, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” You know that one?
M: Well, that’s the basic idea of it. Nothing was more powerful than that conclusion, that you don’t want to happen, really. You want Gilgamesh to prevail. Well, in a sense he does prevail. The other thing Mitchell talks about; you know the poet repeats himself all over the place, but he describes the city of Uruk several times, how beautiful it is, in luscious language, two or three times. But in the end Gilgamesh has lost his final quest. He comes to his own home again, to his beautiful city, and the poet describes it once again. But I think the poet does that deliberately, for his readers and for himself. Gilgamesh comes back to the same place, but it’s a place illuminated by his journey, his enlightenment in a sense. OK, now how about your take on it?
The Role of Animal Intelligence
H: I look at it from a psychological angle. My ideas are shaped somewhat by Jung, his thoughts on it. He didn’t write a whole lot about it, but there are some references to Gilgamesh in his writings. One of his students, Joseph Henderson, has written quite a bit about the Gilgamesh epic. I won’t dwell too much on those ideas, but I’ll name one that I think is pertinent to your book, and that’s the idea of animal intelligence that we’ve been talking about. Gilgamesh, according to Jung, is a representative of the hero and the Spiritual ideal. Mitchell says, accurately, I think, that Enkidu is two-thirds animal and one-third god. Gilgamesh is one-third animal and two-thirds god.
M: Yes, those are good images . . .
H: So you have a mirror symmetry going on, in the friendship motif.
M: But that’s not the animus/anima idea.
H: No, it’s not. According to Henderson, the myth represents what he calls an initiation-failure. He loses the herb of immortality through carelessness on his return journey when the snake carries it away. It sheds its skin and disappears. It’s a very interesting part of the story. Let’s put it in context. I think Stephen Mitchell was very timely in his publication of this book. In the Introduction, he speaks about the myth in light of the conflict in Iraq. It’s in 2004 when he’s writing the introductory essay. He’s reflecting on what happened there and he’s looking back 4,700 years and looking at what went wrong across all those years of history and where we are today. I think that kind of reflection is pertinent to our initial talks about The Field and McTaggart’s book. It’s timely in regard to our work, your book, my Whitman book, and my essay “Melville’s Vision of Evil.”
The Hero’s Quest
M: They do blend together amazingly. This is really relevant to what we’ve been saying in our dialogues. A little side issue: What significance do you see in the shed skin? Do you have any thoughts on that?
H: Well, the snake represents transformation. The shedding of the skin is considered a synonym for the waxing and waning of the moon, the metamorphosis that did not happen in Gilgamesh’s life I agree with you that he was changed, but I think Henderson has a point about the failure of his initiation in his hero’s quest. He didn’t attain immortality.
M: No, he didn’t.
H: He lost the most precious thing that he was searching for. Let’s get back for a minute to this train of thought I was following in regards to the sea of intelligence, because according to Jung, whom Henderson was influenced by; of course, Enkidu would represent animal intelligence. That’s what Gilgamesh loses, and that’s where the failure occurs: the loss of his connection to instinct.
The joy of actually coming home
M: I think what happens in the end, whether it’s called a failure or not, depends on how you view that event, because from my perspective, while it seems like a failure, I would say he finally gave up a pursuit that was incorrect, that was wrong. I think he was still trying to battle life when he went on his journey. There is the element you’re talking about. He feels bad about it: “I will not be immortal. I have to live here. I have to live in this beautiful city that I have never seen so clearly before.” As I think about it, if there’s anything missing, it would be the joy of actually coming home, to your true home. Our true home here, in this room, in this instant–with our eyes open. And you don’t get that if you’re after something. I would say most people in this universe are really trying to be immortal in a direction that’s hopeless. And the immortality is right in front of us, in front of our very eyes. There’s all kind of imagery throughout our literature. You must become as a little child. I was blind, but now I see. That kind of stuff. I think he came home to be a good king, and to live in his city, and to live in it every day. He probably doesn’t need to go on any more hero journeys.
H: You know, that’s the whole point. The point Henderson makes is that the need for hero journeys clearly was over for him, his calling as a hero, by that point. His mourning and his grief over the loss of his friend is the really profound thing. He lost his friend.
H: And the loss of the most precious thing he could have.
H: Immortality. The loss of both of those; the grief and mourning, I think you would agree, is profound, really leads him back to his modesty and humility that you didn’t see in the earlier parts of the story.
M: I don’t know how Buddha put it, but they talk of the still, sad voice of humanity. Some see it as a poignant thing. There is a great deal of com-passion, a sharing of the feelings of all of us, that we’re not going to be immortal. Maybe Buddha wasn’t happy enough [Laughs]. It seems to me there should be a tremendous amount of joy to recognize what we really are. That it’s not out there, not an aromatic plant under the sea. It’s somewhere else. Our immortality exists right now, right here.
H: That’s absolutely right. I think Whitman would agree with that. He says that in one of his notebooks. You know, that’s something that we should talk about a little bit more with regards to loss, because what he did lose– and I think it’s significant – is the loss of a friend, a loss that was poignant, not only for Gilgamesh, but for Enkidu. Enkidu is initiated by the temple priestess Shamhat and he loses his connection with the animals.
M: That’s very clear in the poem.
H: He no longer can run as fast as a gazelle. He no longer has that connection with the natural world.
M: And they won’t hang out with him! [Laughs.]
H: They take off. There’s something lost through the civilizing process.
Gains and Losses of Civilizing
M: Yes. And I was thinking that, that there’s something lost when you civilize something. In the book The Man Who Listens to Horses Monty Roberts watches a mare mustang, who is the boss of the herd, disciplining a nasty little colt, a young stallion. He’s old enough to be a pain in the neck. He goes around biting other colts, takes a nip out of one of the mares. So the head mare forces him out of the group, makes him go 300 yards away. She forces him out of the group. That’s the equivalent of a death sentence. You have to stay with the herd or you’re easy prey to predators. She makes him stay out there. She lets him come back. He misbehaves. She sends him back. That goes on for about four different occasions over several days. Finally, he says, “Ah, I’m not going to do this anymore.” He becomes civilized. Now he’s part of the herd. He had to give up that nastiness. Well, this is what Gilgamesh was doing. He was so powerful that he did whatever he felt like doing, carelessly trampling the rights of his people, sleeping with each new bride before the groom, and so on. His people admired him but his power was out of control. You can’t go around biting mares, you can’t go around kicking people. You can’t go around kicking the universe. You’ve got to participate in it as part of it. To become civilized is not to fight against your environment but to live in it. Thoreau said, “I came into the world not chiefly to make it better but to live in it.” So your first task is to live in it as part of it. And you do lose those connections with the natural world, but I think there’s a way to get back our integration with the whole. The way to do that is to pay attention, which is what Jane Goodall did with the chimpanzees. She did as Exupery’s Little Prince did; she sat a little closer each day. Here she is with these wild chimpanzees, who allow her to come and sit with them, the way wild animals allowed Enkidu to come and sit with them. She’s able to do that because she erases all the pushiness; she’s just another animal in the forest. The chimps get along fine with the other animals who share their habitat, and they all live side by side. Here’s this human being, and she has to be quiet and participate without pressure. So when I see Enkidu and Gilgamesh having to give up certain things, apparently those are things that are excesses that have to be brought into line. OK. Take it from there. What do you think about that?
H: I think giving up excesses is exactly why Enkidu was sent to Gilgamesh as a double, as a companion, a figure who was not mostly divine like Gilgamesh, but as large, his equal almost.
H: I like what Stephen Mitchell said about the Humbaba episode. It was a preemptive strike.
M: Yes. Yes.
H: I must say, that’s one of the parts of Mitchell’s essay that I liked the best because he relates it to what we did to the forests. . ..
M: Right. We’re doing that right now, denuding the forests. We’re supposed to protect the forests. Humbaba was put there to protect the Cedar Forest.
H: And these two guys go and chop it down. And Gilgamesh chops down the tallest cedar in the whole Cedar Forest. It reminds me a little bit of Whitman’s “Song of the Redwood Tree.” The oldest living thing in the world is the redwood. And Whitman’s really writing about a different kind of tree – this is the real giant: Coastal redwood.
M: Whitman never heard of the Gilgamesh poem probably, but it’s the same myth.
H: We were talking earlier about The Field, and the meaningful coincidences in our lives, and look at how these stories overlap. One thing that’s very interesting to me is that these clay tablets, written in Acadian, which they figured out, is a Semitic language. There’s a similar root with Hebrew – there are influences among them. Clearly, the discovery of those tablets in 1857 is very significant in light of what Whitman was doing.
M: Oh, yes. That’s very good.
H: It’s right at the time when Whitman’s writing his “New Bible.”
M: Hmm. I don’t know if that information got spread around very well back then.
H: I don’t know, but they were in the British museum, and they were being translated.
M: Well, you could take it back to The Field idea.
H: That’s what I’m doing. It’s an interesting coincidence because right at that time Whitman starts writing the New Bible, and in the center of it is the balancing of the love poems to women and to men, the Children of Adam and Calamus. So what I’m saying is that the timing of that discovery is really interesting in light of what Whitman’s project was, which was to bring a new myth to America, which would speak both to men and to women and to heterosexuals and to gay people and lesbians. So the discovery of this myth which, as Mitchell points out, has homoerotic and even homosexual content to it., , .
M: Very significant.
H: Here is a friendship story that doesn’t leave anybody out in terms of sexual orientation. It’s right there in the story, the homoerotic love relationship, which is very intimate. Gilgamesh has an intimate friend, a relationship that’s very important in his journey and his transformation. So, go ahead – there are parallels that are very interesting here.
The Role of Sexuality
M: Well, the more we talk about the so-called coincidences they turn out to be not so much coincidences as the Force Field manifesting itself. Just to take the general idea of sexuality, which is dominant in the beginning of the poem, here are these people almost five thousand years ago in that particular society; they consider sexuality to be acceptable however it’s expressed. They don’t sit around judging sexual behavior…. So that part of his transformation is done. Then the wrestling match. When it’s over, Gilgamesh is victorious, and he kisses Enkidu. I think, as you say, that’s truly homoerotic in the very sense that Whitman was expressing it. So this range of sexuality is perfectly integrated in that culture. I don’t know how it got separated out over the years.
But to get back to the poem. There aren’t any evil people in it or evil gods. They are all a mix. Who was it that guarded the cedar forest?
The Role of Violence
M: Well, in this myth, Humbaba is not evil. He’s appointed by the gods. Mitchell points out that every time you think you’ve figured out who’s the bad guy, you find it’s not that simple. It’s much more integrated and complex. I think we do need to see here, again, that we’re all part of this integrated Force Field – or that society is not disparate parts but a unified whole. We try to avoid violence, but it is a big part of history.
H: There is a lot of violence in Gilgamesh, too. Enkidu does some things that are over the edge. He takes the thigh bone of the Bull of Heaven and throws it into Ishtar’s face.
H: You’re playing with fire when you do that.
M: Oh, yes.
H: Ishtar was also the most powerful deity in the Sumerian culture. So there’s a certain kind of arrogance, hubris, as the Greeks called it, in these masculine figures that are going against nature. When they go into the Cedar Forest, there’s this premeditated attack against this very important deity who guards the forest from the civilizing effects of humanity. Those trees are there for a very important reason, as we know, because of what we’re doing to the environment now. That’s going against nature, that’s going against animal intelligence. I think this is where there’s some overlap with what we’ve been talking about regarding what the poets are trying to do, which is to put us back in harmony with nature so that we don’t continue on this mad hero’s quest that is destroying other civilizations, other cultures, and nature.
M: Hubris is an excess of what I would say is a natural thing – which is your own entity having a place on the planet. Hubris is saying they’re trying to take that away from me, and I need to prove that I have this power. Having to prove it is where we get into trouble and make a big mess of things.
H: As Mitchell points out, the motivation for going into these quests is that he’s doing it for fame. In other words, he wants physical immortality; he’s trying to get it through excessive use of social or political or economic power, instead of spiritual power, which is a very different thing. I would say this story is about the quest for physical immortality. That’s an example of how fame, leaving a name for oneself in the world, can be seen as an excess of one’s power drive. That’s what gets away from the wisdom of the serpent, of the snake. What Enkidu brings to Gilgamesh originally is a connection to nature. What Gilgamesh loses – and what Enkidu loses– is that connection to the animal psyche, what Jung calls the intelligence of the two- million-year-old man, the collective unconscious. Both these figures have dreams that come to them, and the dreams are very prophetic.
They both rely on these dreams.
M: Right. Dreams can be powerfully revealing. But we have to listen and not force our own wishes onto to them; If the myth shows anything, it’s that!
H: That’s another aspect of the story I find very interesting. The tragedy of the story and how it becomes a kind of teaching story for us is that it brings us back to the realization that if we don’t, as a civilization, recover the instinctive intelligence within the human psyche, we may destroy ourselves. I think this is what’s happening in the world today.
M: Let me think about that a minute. OK. Yes. The connection with the natural world and with our instincts – which I think are really our bed-rock selves – is kind of broken apart. So there’s a separation, and there are world figures who don’t realize that. That’s what’s driving this preemptive strike kind of stuff.
Let’s look at fame, seeking fame, some more. So you get your immortality so your name will live forever? I would say that’s a confused idea about how immortality works. I think the way you get immortality would be by what you are doing right now. That’s how you make your imprint.
H: Yes, I agree with that. Emily Dickinson said Fame is fickle food. Men eat of it and die!
M: Yes. Look what happened. [Laughs.]
H: And what did she do? She stayed true to her vocation, her calling. Death kindly stopped for her and she got her immortality. The horses’ heads were headed towards Eternity as she watched the children playing in the ring, the fields of grain, and setting sun.
The Poet’s Strength
M: The poet’s strength. That’s how she gained her immortality. And if you never even heard her name, she would have put this force field out there to interconnect with the rest of the universal Force Field. She was having her influence big time and will continue to.
H: The way she did it was by staying true to her art. She could have gotten distracted with her career, changed her poems to please a publisher.
M: Fix a little word here. . ..
H: And her poetry might have been forgotten, but the fact that she preserved the integrity of her lines….
M: That kind of purity is pretty hard to stamp out.
H: It’s very important. Now, getting back to what Gilgamesh was seeking and did not attain. I think it’s one thing to look at the beauty of the great city upon returning, and it’s another thing to achieve the kind transformation that that implies. We don’t know how much he was transformed by his journey to the West.
M: I think, to read the story, he will never return to his hero days. I think he is permanently finished with hero journeys.
H: The story doesn’t go on. We don’t know what happened after his return to Uruk. Maybe there are other myths about him that talk about his return. We don’t know what happens.
The Ambiguous Meaning of Defeat
M: You know what I think? I think that, like every other aspect of the story, is ambiguous. You could see it as a defeat or as a culmination, a completion. I tend to see it as a completion, although I don’t feel good about his sadness. It can almost be considered a tragedy. I would say what he achieved is the opposite of a tragedy. But then – this is what bothers me – he doesn’t seem to appreciate what he’s seen. Even though he feels wonderful about the city, he’s cleaned himself up, he’s beautiful, he appreciates it in one sense, but in another it seems like he feels defeated. And in my judgment he isn’t. It’s the opposite of defeated. So anyhow, that’s the ambiguity. Maybe you have to take them both together.
H: I think the sadness is what you’re reflecting on, and I agree with that. So it’s a tragic story, and in that sense, it’s instructive. It’s not the kind of return you see in other myths.
M: Maybe like in the Odyssey. Odysseus comes back and triumphs. He cleans everything up. It’s a positive ending.
H: There’s a certain sorrow in the Gilgamesh myth. And in that it’s a teaching story.
Sadness and Joy
M: Let’s see what it teaches. I think anyone set on going out and conquering the world, if he read that story thoughtfully, would say, “That ain’t the way to do it.” So that would be the instructive part of it. The other part is that when life gives you something to do you’d better do it. You can’t sit there cowering. And if you do do what life requires of you, you may be sent some more errands to attend to – until you “get” what it wants you to understand. That’s your job, your journey. Ah. I think it has to be your Bliss as well. Some people just can’t be happy, just can’t bear to enjoy life. Why is that?
Why can’t our loved ones say, “Oh, I’m going to quit cowering and start enjoying myself”?
H: What’s disturbing is that he doesn’t learn the art of self-sacrifice. He never really sacrifices his hero quest; right up to the very end he’s still on the hero journey. He’s lost all these precious things in the process. I think he didn’t stay true to the self enough, which would be staying true to his animal instincts. I think this is why he loses the herb of immortality to the serpent. The serpent represents the wisdom of the animal psyche.
M: Oh. I think what you just said is right.
H: He loses that connection. Sure, he can admire the beauty of the city when he comes back. But the way he cut down the forest with his hubris, and the way he also treated the old man when he arrived on the boat. That was not right. The boatman took him there, and he was ready for a fight. He still had his axe. He thought he had to fight for immortality, yet he had it in the palm of his hand.
M: So he was still kind of confused about how to go about it.
H: When he got there, he was still carrying some of that massive inflated view of himself. The loss of his friend could have helped him.
M: That anguish, I think, was useful in his journey.
H: It did have a humanizing effect on him.
M: It does have that effect. There was nothing he could do to stop that from happening.
H: Yes. I think that’s what’s really transformative, the grief, more than anything. The mourning scenes are what really performs some therapy on him.
Our Sister Grief
M: In my book I have a passage about grief. The people of Mount Elgon in Africa say, We have to invite our sister Grief to sit at the table. Every grief is a bead that you add to a necklace that you wear around your neck so as to keep in mind how it all fits together. So grief is useful. That has to be part of the whole package.
H: Whitman, in this period I’m talking about, right after the tablets were translated for the first time, right around 1859, two years after the tablets were re-discovered, writes in his Calamus cluster, “I loved a man ardently but my love was not returned, and out of that love I have written these songs.” All of the poetry from this period reflects a profound loss of a friend, and a deep grief, a tremendous grief. “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” is filled with grief, tears for the loss of the primary object of his childhood, which was a little mocking bird that he saw flying back and forth, to and fro, from its nest. This sense of great loss of a connection with nature and its recovery – this is what’s at the center of his new myth. Yet what he achieves after the loss of his friend is an experience of a transformative vision that he calls the New City of Friends, a love that is eternal. He attains in other words the very thing Gilgamesh loses.H
H: Why it’s so instructive for us today is that it shows us how to achieve the kind of immortality Yeats also achieves in “Sailing to Byzantium,” which is a poem about immortality. Immortality is in the work, in friendship and vocation, love and work.
M: You can tie that right into the story.
H: Yeats is really singing about the realms of gold in the Keats poem and in the realms of gold you’re talking about in your book. He’s there, singing to lords and ladies of Byzantium of what is past and passing and yet to come. He’s there – in the place of hammered gold and gold enameling. He’s there to keep a drowsy emperor awake, singing from a place of immortality. It’s a poem of joy.
H: He’s not in the place where we’re left in the Gilgamesh tale. Whitman, in his old age, sings, “Joy, shipmate, Joy!”
M: There it is. That’s what I miss in the myth.
H: Dickinson says, “Take all away from me / But leave me Ecstasy.”
M: Right, and you don’t get that feeling in this myth.
H: It’s more of a sorrow of something having been lost.
M: You’re right.
Profound Appreciation and Joy of Life
H: Which is the movement from the animal psyche into the profound appreciation and joy of a life well lived. Celebrating that! Happiness is what he is after and he not only attains it, he bequeaths it to his sisters and brothers. That’s, I think, at the core of the title of your book, Realms of Gold.
M: That’s definitely correct.
H: That’s what we’re talking about with regard to the poets. It’s like alchemy, hammering sheaves of gold, hammered gold, gold enameling.
M: Yes, and it’s there in the city of Uruk. I think what you’ve said and the connections you see are really insightful. And it’s really true. It’s not a joyous poem. So I would say, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not complete. [Laughs.] But I think everything in the poem is accurate and true. So I think there’s just another step there.
H: Also I want to circle back to what you originally said, that there’s another way to look at the ending of the story, and that’s to appreciate the beauty of the city, and that’s what the poet does.
H: He achieves a kind of immortality through the telling of the story.
H: I think that’s the key. The poet says, “Go to the cornerstone in the great city. There you will find the tablets of lapis lazuli.”
M: Very good! [Applauds.]
H: Lapis Lazuli, the realms of gold. He’s appreciating the realm of gold he has found.
M: Very nicely done, Steven! Very good.
H: That’s the enlightenment.
M: Absolutely! That was brilliant, brilliant!
H: The poet was able to do that. Don’t you think so?
M: I do, without doubt.
H: That’s what you’re trying to do in your book.
The Meaning of Dreams
M: Right, and that’s what was missing for me in the story. Your making that leap is just right, perfect. That’s the step that poor Gilgamesh hasn’t taken, and probably never will. But the poet does.
Now let’s go back to dreams, because dreams are important in your work especially. I want to get your views on the dreams in Gilgamesh. It seems to me that the figures in the poem are interpreting dreams to suit themselves. Well, this is what this means. They’re doing that throughout the story. If you’re doing that intellectually you can always say, “This is a good dream,” or “This is a bad dream.” But that’s just manipulating the imagery instead of letting it speak to you. Trying to lay your preference onto a dream is like trying to pull a fast one on nature. Mitchell talks about this, I think. Anyway, we have examples of thinking you’ve fooled nature. You know: “Give me three wishes.”
They get you on the third one. [Laughs.]
H: Right. [Laughter]
M: So I think the point there is that, yes, dreams can be really helpful, but don’t try to make them do what you want. Let them speak.
H: That’s the logical mind moving against nature. The dream says what the psyche perceives and knows. It is nature.
M: If you took any of those dreams and looked at it from, say, a Jungian point of view, you could make good use of them in your journey.
H: That’s the way to stay in touch with the animal in us.
M: In the story, someone will say, “What does this mean?” “Well, it means this.” “OK. We’ll go with that.”
H: Yes, they keep pumping themselves up. Gilgamesh is down and frightened and doubtful. Enkidu comes and reminds him of his courage. This is a hero story, and they pump each other up in this way and bolster each other’s egos. What’s missing is the connection with the Self. These dreams are really warnings. Enkidu’s interpretations of Gilgamesh’s dreams prove to be correct for the most part. Enkidu’s interpretation of his own dream is also correct. He foresees his doom. He knows he’s doomed. This is because he went against the Goddess.
The First Hero Story
The other thing about this epic poem, dating to about 2100 B, C, is that it’s the first written hero story in Western civilization. It shows what happened when there was a movement away from the Goddess religion, the Goddess Ishtar, or Enanna. And then the rise of the patriarchal religions. This is a thousand years older than the Hebrew Bible and a thousand years older than the Homeric hymns. We talking about a myth that emerged out of the Mother religions. And the one Mitchell picks is interesting because it shows, for example, the scene where Gilgamesh confronts Ishtar – after she tries to seduce him – with the six earlier affairs that ended in the deaths of the men she seduced, all black widow episodes.
M: Yes, yes.
H: Here he is turning against nature. This is a time four thousand seven hundred years ago when civilization became sick. The Carmel poet Robinson Jeffers was writing prior to and during World War Two that civilization is sick, sick with hubris and pride. Jeffers planted a thousand trees on his property to keep people away. He wanted to be true to his calling as a poet and shield himself from the encroaching sickness of civilization, as he said. He wasn’t moving against nature; he was moving against civilization. He represents someone at the far end of this civilizing tendency that leads to the loss of the connection to the animal psyche; he looks back at human history and rebukes it from the point of view of the intelligence of nature, trees, hawks, and the sea, the violent Pacific. In the myth the central motif is the loss of the animal man, the wild man, and the loss of the herb of immortality, which is a part of nature. “Nature’s God,” you could say, is a medicine of immortality. Then, the snake ends up taking it back again. So the animal psyche ends up absorbing what the hero actually won, which was the boon. He had it in his hand.
M: You had it in your hand. . ..
H: And then you lost it. We all live within that risk, as Everson said in the conversations I had with him. We all could lose that precious thing.
M: I was thinking about the hero. When people say, “God wants you to do this,” that seems to me to damage my own Self. I would throw the thigh bone in their face. The truth is I will not have a God above me. Period. I won’t put up with that. But I would say with equal force that the entire universe is the godhead of which I am a part. But I am not a lesser part, and nothing else is a lesser part. What do you think about that?
H: Well, I think that’s an enlightened perspective. In 1847 Whitman wrote shortly after the ancient city of Nineveh was re-discovered by a British explorer, “If I walk with Jah in Heaven and he assume to be intrinsically greater than I, it offends me; and I shall certainly withdraw from Heaven, —for the soul prefers freedom in the prairie and the untrodden woods.” His pantheism is translucent there. He sees that the trees are a part of the Godhead, just like Jeffers did. This Christmastime I planted thirty redwood trees up the hill in Joaquin Miller Park.
After the gods proved to be incomplete, new myths are needed – that’s the beautiful thing about the story being published in this time. The gods of the Middle East emerged out of the confrontation between a clashing of civilizations. The Hebrew bible was written in relationship to the Babylonian culture in Nineveh. The ruined palaces of the ancient capital of Assyria were found by Layard in 1844 and the first excavations began then. Herman Melville was on his way home at that time from his whaling voyage and adventures in the South Seas. Emerson had just published his essay “The Poet.” Seven years later Jonah was called to preach to the people of Nineveh. Melville picks this new myth up in Moby Dick. It’s in Father Mapple’s Sermon in chapter nine of the novel.
M: It all ties together!
The Herb of Immortality Within
H: Let me just finish that thought, because where I was going with that is that you’re absolutely right. The most precious thing is the herb of immortality within you, that you have it. That is what Gilgamesh was seeking, to make him not greater than the gods but equal to, not lesser than. This is what we’re all working toward: equality as a one world people.
M: Yes, that’s right. That’s what that means, the word immortality. That’s what immortality is.
Immortality is finding a way to be harmony with nature and the gods and the entire globe and the entire universe of which we are all an infinitesimal part
H: Immortality is finding a way to be harmony with nature and the gods and the entire globe and the entire universe of which we are all an infinitesimal part.
M: Once you do enter into that Field, that is the only definition there is of immortality. That’s the only one that works. The rest of them are kind of flawed. The other thing that’s interesting is the continuity of these myths through time. You have the flood myth throughout history. But the other thing is the myth gets altered a bit over time, and what a hero is gets altered a bit and maybe a bit too streamlined in the West, in Germany and their myths.
H: The Siegfried story.
Stephen Mitchell, Alan Watts, and Zen
M: OK. I think we explored all the questions I have about the poem. I Googled Stephen Mitchell. He has written numerous books, poetry books, analyses. I think his prologue to this book is tremendously clear and insightful. Then I saw that he’s done a lot of reading in Zen. He even studied to be a roshi. So he’s tuned in to what we’ve been talking about. Alan Watts is one of the people who influenced him. Alan Watts is one of the first people who articulated for me this view of how things work. So that goes way, way back, several decades. In fact, he came and talked at the college [Diablo Valley College] one time.
H: He made a big impact on me, too. I’ve read many of his books.
M: I put his talk into Image. I got the cassette and transcribed it. It was a beautiful thing he did. For half an hour he talked without looking at a note. He just stood on the stage without a podium and started in. It was beautifully put together, nicely structured. When he had completed the thought, he stopped.
By the way, do you know of a movie called Good Will Hunting?
H: Oh, sure. I love it.
M: Well, I thought the script got a little heavy-handed, but there was one idea in the movie I think is tremendously important, and I did this in my teaching. The first time we see Sean Maguire, the psychologist, he’s asking his students what the role of trust is between a therapist and patient. I would say, and this was a key point in the movie, how you can’t really communicate unless the barrier is broken. There has to be a love relationship. In your work, is that so?
The Centrality of Love in Gilgamesh
H: I think you’re on to the central theme in Gilgamesh, which is love. And I think that’s what he feels for Enkidu and a certain degree of love for the temple goddess, for Ishtar as well. But then he doesn’t respect her and will not make love to her when she makes her advances. Later he goes to the old man in the West, Utnapishtim, and his wife makes seven loaves of bread for Gilgamesh.
M: [Laughs.] I forgot that one.
H: This is what Henderson calls the incubation sleep. Every time they’re about to do a major hero event – like when they going to confront Humbaba – Enkidu draws a magic circle and puts Gilgamesh in the center and does a kind of incubation sleep for him and prepares the ground for dreaming. That’s very important in the myth. Also when Gilgamesh gets to the West, he finds the old couple, and they have a kind of eternal love. Gilgamesh is at first kind of disrespectful of the old couple, and he doesn’t follow through with the assignment they give him, which is to stay awake. The idea of enlightenment is there, too, the awakened one. Buddha sat under the bodhi tree, and that’s when the serpent power rose in him with its seven cobras, Bliss. The serpent Ananda covered his head, and he achieved his enlightenment. Something’s missing there in Gilgamesh. He falls asleep when he’s supposed to stay awake. This also contributes to the loss of the herb of immortality.
This gets us back to Alan Watts, what he brought to the West, which was Zen and Buddhism, and the philosophies of the East. That comes through in your classes. How do you bring that to students? How do you bring students from a state of being half asleep to waking them up in the classroom? I think you have to make love in a certain way. You bring love into the dialogue, by loving the Self in the student.
M: In Good Will Hunting there were two aspects of it. One, Will Hunting had to know that the therapist was not his enemy and know that he was not out to take advantage of him.
H: What happens is Will Hunting disrespects the memory of the therapist, Sean Maguire, of his deceased wife. The therapist had lost his wife, and Will said something disrespectful, and Sean threw him up against the wall.
M: He was going to choke him. (Hmm, that’s like the encounter of Gilgamesh and Enkidu.)
H: That’s the moment of the breakthrough. That’s what allowed for the breakthrough when he remembers his traumatic past with his father.
Love and Vulnerability
M: The point is, though, that Sean was willing to show his own vulnerability, and that later opened the way for Will to show his. He got to the point that he was not pretending to be something else.
H: That’s one thing I want to say about the two figures in the myth. These two men show a lot of vulnerability to each other.
M: They’re not holding back. This is what’s called love.
H: I think that’s a very transformative moment in the movie, when Will remembers his traumatic past. Then he cries, and Sean cradles him in his arms. This is an important metaphor.
M: He would never have been able to do that if Sean had not allowed himself to be vulnerable. That would never have happened.
H: He modeled that for Will.
H: There’s something life-affirming about knowing you’re on the right path and that we’re all speaking a common language. That gets back to this love idea, that this common language is the language of human love. You and I don’t write books for fame, clearly.
H: We’re not doing it like Gilgamesh, to leave a name.
M: People would die for their child. But one’s own journey is the place where Creation works on itself, as Tomas Tranströmer wrote in his poem that I mentioned earlier, each of us is that place.
[In this dialogue Steven Herrmann and I explore the difficulty of striking a balance between ordinary reality and the powerful spiritual force it manifests. We began talking about my manuscript Realms of Gold, but that led of course to the broader question for everyone, which is how to tap into those rich realms coursing through our veins and minds. We explore how central the cloth of gold should be in the dialogue among students and a teacher and how to make reflective dialogue the basis of any classroom –or any fulfilled life.]
H: Clark, in your manuscript Realms of Gold: Excursions in the Sea of Intelligence, there’s a teaching component to it. Did you realize you’re teaching all the way through? I have to say it’s the core of the MS, really the essential Clark.
M: [Reflecting] Oh, my, I hadn’t thought about it that way. I suppose that’s right, though. In my classes, I was always reflecting on how things work, not teaching as it is commonly thought of, a sort of dialogue with a whole bunch of people. We’d take up something or other and then play with it and see if we could get it into focus, illuminate it. As I think about it how, it was always a reflective process.
H: You’re teaching in this book about how things work and how the universe works.
M: I wasn’t thinking of it as teaching. I was just reflecting on it in print. True, I do say how it seems to me, but what I’m really doing is having a look at what’s there and trying not to let settled “knowledge” shut down the exploration. And I get pleasure from simply thinking about this great mystery we live out our lives in
H: That’s what you do when you’re teaching.
M: I guess.
H: After all, that’s the title of the book of yours I read when I was in your class, Reflections on Language.
M: Come to think of it, Realms of Gold in a way is reflections on language, too. The preface is in the form of a poem about combining of the logical with, your phrase, the mythopoetic – all that right-brain material poets and philosophers incorporate in their work.
Force Fields and Fields of Flowers
Oh, here’s what it says:
The spine of this book is the integration of logic and metaphor, the integration of the language of science with the mythopoetic way of talking about that-which-is, pulsating frequencies in the quantum field with fields of daffodils.
It’s always that combination, the force field and fields of flowers, back and forth — in these dialogues you and I have every month or so, too. How about your own work? Any developments with your Whitman studies?
H: I was just talking with a friend of mine, Neil Richardson, in Washington D.C., who’s putting together a Walt Whitman website. He found an entry in Whitman’s Notebooks about meditation. He’s thinking that Whitman meditated and did it on a regular basis, and Neil and I have been talking back and forth about that.
M: You mentioned in some recent dialogue with me a poem you sent me. You’re talking about a way for the Soul to express itself, emerging through the vocal chords.
H: That’s right. It’s called “Force.” I wrote it as a way to express some of the intuitive right brain and lower brain-stem ideas, such as the image of the shaman in the cave, we were exploring in our last dialogue. I did this as an experiment to see if I could get any closer to the source of what we were trying to amplify through our overview of some Romantic and American poems that attempt to illuminate the Field.
M: Let me look at it again.
The Force is everywhere. It must be acknowledged In the moment. When I give voice to Force I vocalize, I incarnate the Image; The soul does not know itself Except through Images. Every moment presents An opportunity to manifest Force. When I speak aloud I vocalize the Divine Through language; I speak with Divine Voice. Force is neither Good nor Evil. It simply is. When I infuse a thing with Images, I vocalize Divine Power, I electrify words with my tongue. When words have no Force, They are dead Images.
The Divine Power to Speak Words
M: Ah, yes. The distinction is critical, isn’t it, between the soul emerging through your vocal chords and the use of the voice just to shape empty words. We see that in the poems of Emily Dickinson and Whitman. Well, Hopkins, Jeffers, Keats, searching over days and weeks for just the right word –you know, Twain’s distinction, “The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
H: The basic idea is that the divine power to speak words is present in everybody. This is Whitman’s basic belief.
How We Stay Tuned Up
M: Yes, that power is in all humans, though “down we forget as up we grow”! [See e. e. cummings’ “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town“]
Before I forget, let’s go back to what you were saying about Whitman meditating. What I’d surmise is that once he had that transformation, an epiphany or whatever it might be called, he walked around from then on in the state of being that meditation brings you to. That’s why everything he looked at was so vivid and powerful. So I would say that’s what we all have the potential for, as your poem says. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to carry on our work, though. Do you think you could be “tuned up” constantly and still carry on whatever you had to do?
H: I know we can. I don’t think we can do it all the time, though. I don’t think it’s possible to be tuned up all the time. M: I think you could burn out.
H: Sometimes we have to put in a stair lift, as you did this summer. We have to deal with what life brings us.
Earthquakes, funerals – and coffee stains.
M: It’s interesting you said that, because I just read a one-page humorous piece in the New Yorker about peeling and eating a banana. If you open it without a knife, then you smash the end of it and spoil it. Or there’s that little nub at the end you don’t want to eat. The writer’s talking about this ridiculous stuff, and then, coming over here, I spilled some coffee on my pants, and I thought, “That’s what life is. We think it’s earthquakes and funerals, but in fact it’s truly about little spots on your pants.”
That’s what’s really going on moment by moment, day by day, a glove without a mate on the garage floor. I think that has to be acknowledged so that we don’t miss out on that part. So the poem is: Drops of coffee on my pants – isn’t that great!
There was a woman I remember who taught geography back in Indiana, Pennsylvania, when I was in college there. Everybody remembered her because her dresses always had food spots on them. Hell of good teacher, though. So I knew, when I would stand in front of students the first day of class, they would notice every detail, what kind of belt I wore, whether I was fat or skinny, the whole works. They would study me more intently than anything in the syllabus. I knew I might as well not have said anything that first day. So I didn’t. It was futile to try to explain the course. They couldn’t hear a word I was saying. So I’d do something else, usually take them on a slow walk. I would have done that even if I had been teaching physics–take a slow walk– which brings us back to Whitman.
The Secret Force in All of Us
H: That idea about the Force–which I wrote that poem about–and the Field, is very much along the lines of the dialogues we’ve been having about language and poetry–that there is a force field that poets can tap into, via imagination, via emotion, via friendship Something happens in relationships where the poetry that’s there in a person, as a gift, can suddenly be evoked. I think it’s there in all of us. And I think Whitman’s saying is that vocalism is the divine power to speak words and is present in everyone is the secret force we are after. And so the question is, How do we tap into it? And what better theme for freshman English: Rather than focusing on grammar and that sort of thing, why not focus on rhythm and this idea of the field and how to tap into it? It seems to me that that’s what everybody wants to know: How do you do it? How can one enter into that field of light where poetry and language spring from in whatever language one speaks, for ultimately it is language that unites the whole human race?
M: I think that’s right. And I think most of us have forgotten that joyous voice that we all had and still do have. All these dialogues, as far as I’m concerned, aim at bringing that joy to the surface again.
H: How did Whitman stay in this meditative state?
M: I think he was so willing – I don’t know why he was willing – to allow that language experiment to happen spontaneously to him. So many people come to that threshold state and back off. They get a glimpse and think, “Oh, Christ! I’m going to have to change my whole life.” And of course I can’t blame them. It’s very scary.
H: Whitman wrote in a poem, that if you were to become his follower you would have to change your whole life. This was in 1860, the same year he published “Vocalism.”
Cocksure Certainty and Spiritual Certainty
M: That’s what Christ said, too. “You must become as a little child.” In other words, you have to erase all that you’ve picked up from your culture – not that you’re not going to use your culture, but your spirit has to be able to come forth fresh. Which reminds me of spiritual certainty… I think cocksure certainty is no certainty at all. Say you’re cocksure about the number seven, you bet it and you lose. Then you’re devastated that you lost. Now, if you’re soul says bet on seven and you bet it and seven doesn’t come up, you have not lost. You were acting out of your soul. So there’s cocksure certainty and spiritual certainty. And they are very different things. If we’re talking about certainty, people might confuse them, so we need to make that distinction. It’s the same when we talk about the force of the Spirit coming through your voice. A lot of people just ramble on, and that’s anything but the Force. It’s the opposite in fact. All these things we’re talking about, they’re all bundled up together. Any way you turn, it ties in with the force, the Spirit of the universe. This is one reason I like to include the “scientific” force field McTaggart talks about in her book.
H: I think it’s an idea people want to know about. Everyone wants to find their way to experience an area where they have some originality, where they have something to say. And that’s what your book Realms of Gold is about.
A Spiritual Community
M: I was also thinking what the way we get off the path might be when we’re little kids. Even before we get to grade school, our spirits might not have been recognized by the forces around us. Your tendencies were rejected as being wrong or whatever. Then, maybe you get to second grade and some teacher might recognize you, and you think, “Oh, I am OK!” and off you go. Or it might happen in high school. I’ve met students in college and they first woke up accidentally in my class. I’m not sure of what triggered it but probably because of the circumstances. Now that I think of it, I’d say it was a “spiritual” community we had set up in those classes. Anyway, they suddenly realized the opinions of themselves that they had absorbed were not true. It transformed their behavior from then on.
Coincidence and Causality
H: Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in regard to chance and accidents and causality from the point of view of what he calls the “better consciousness” – which has to do with the transcendence of time, the awareness of even the so-called accidents that happen, chance occurrences – that they are patterned by some larger coincidence, what Carl Jung calls “synchronicity,” events taking place out of this energy field that’s operating and vibrating all around us. You know, what Whitman wrote, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, / Out of the mockingbird’s throat, the musical shuttle, / Out of the Ninth-month midnight,” that beautiful metaphor of being beneath the yellow and sagging moon in September. That is the fall month when school starts each year, after the long summer vacation when one relaxes often in nature. The idea that developmental blockages happen and maybe something happens that reminds you of your true self – it’s a continuous process of unfolding and it can be interrupted by education.
M: Right. I’d call it schooling. Schooling is what causes the disruption. I think of “education” as nourishing of the Spirit. The “Cradle Endlessly Rocking . . .,” let’s come back to that in a minute, but I’m thinking of the seven billion humans – or however many billions it is now; the number’s changing while we’re sitting here – in that cradle right now, and every one of them comes from that field of nature you just described; yet what portion of them breaks through to find its true voice? Only a handful of those seven billion actually do what you and I are talking about. What do you think about that? If you look at it from the distance of a star, you know, nature is indifferent I strongly suspect. Yet it’s kind of funny that so many of us don’t break through to the secret force. So what do you think?
H: Well, I think it’s true what you’re saying, that the mass of humanity doesn’t break through to connect with the source of their vocation. It’s more the exceptional individuals who actually hear the voice of the Self and speak out of it. Why is that? You could say it’s apparent design, destiny, fate, so-called accidents, some person who believed in them that helped evoke some vocational potential in them.
A Mirror for the Spirit
M: So yes, I’m thinking that there’s the Spirit, and it does need some kind of mirror. Someplace in the environment there has to be a response.
H: It could happen the other way. We see it in the lives of these great poets. To me they are exemplars of the Spirit. Take for example Whitman’s poem “Out of the Cradle.” “A man,” he says “yet by these tears a little boy again, / … And every day, I, a curious boy, … / I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,” etc., he becomes a child again. Then he translates the notes of the bird that sang to him, the song of the “real me.” It is grief that takes him back to his childhood. Tears take him into the state of the child that is still alive in him. When he is there, in the childlike state of consciousness where he is in his right relation to nature, in relation to his totem animal, the mockingbird that evoked the “unknown want, the destiny of me,” then everything lights up and his mind is on fire with the inner light of the universe. He has re-connected to his secret force of the “boy ecstatic.” Shamanic ecstasy is at the center of his regression to early childhood. “For I, that was a child, my tongue’s use sleeping, now I have heard you” he says to the bird, “Now in a moment I know what I am for, I awake.” The “real me,” the voice of the mature Whitman is a projection he says from the song of the solitary singer, the bird that had lost its mate. What he realizes is that his own songs as a poet were awakened from that hour when he heard the musical shuttle issue forth from the “mocking-bird’s throat.”
M: I suppose the reason I find teaching so rewarding is that I get to participate in more people seeing and experiencing this. Twenty thousand people went through my classes. I can’t guess how many, but I think a reasonably large number of them caught on. Once you catch on to it, I think no matter how you live your life, you cannot forget it. Once you see it, I don’t think you can put it back in the box.
H: William Everson said more or less the same thing, in different language. He said that maybe during the course he taught at UC Santa Cruz “Birth of a Poet” maybe a third of the students got it, but then later in life maybe half of them got it because they remembered. And I think it’s that way–that there is a precise lock and key relationship between a teacher and a student, that it is like instinct. And that’s why animal intelligence is important in this dialogue. When you think about it, animals have patterns of behavior based on instinct. They don’t have to reflect. They simply do what they are called to do by instinct. The same with a great poet. Whitman’s songs were awakened in him by listening long and long to the song of a bird that was flitting around its nest. He absorbed this music and it was this event in his childhood that awakened his calling. Later, in the throes of midlife, when he was going through the loss of someone he dearly loved, the tears evoked the memory of the boy who had known ecstasy and lived by that emotional resonance with the sea, sand, wind, and moon-lit air. Being with Everson and serving as his teaching assistant at UCSC had that effect upon me when I heard him read his poetry: it lit up my mind to an ecstatic realm that I had known as a boy when I had run through the sand in the beach at Carmel barefoot, with the sun beaming off the white sand.
M: That’s right.
H: The image of instinct itself is released in the organism. So it’s not a process that requires a lot of effort, of searching. Like you said, it is that spiritual knowledge, a knowing that’s not pompous. Poets like Whitman are made modest by their access to tears, to grief.
M: They just do it.
H: They just do it. They know what to do once the tears come, what’s been called instinct. The red fox, for example, knows to stay away from humans. In the 1800s they were hunted and almost wiped out. So they stayed away. Why is that? There’s something in the animal that knows danger. Now scientists are searching for them up in the Sierras. So I think about this in terms of a student in the classroom. Perhaps that student never had the genius mirrored– by a parent figure, an aunt or uncle. Maybe there was some quality that the grandparent saw, but the child didn’t know what it was. Maybe in second grade, a teacher sees something, some kind of native intelligence and comments on it. But the student may struggle and not know who he or she is. And later on in college, a light switch suddenly gets flipped on. A corner of the psyche that was dark is illuminated. One has a sense that the “tongue’s use” that had been “sleeping” is now heard and one awakes. Warbling echoes start to live within, never to die. “Never more shall I escape” Whitman says “never more the reverberations, / Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from me, / Never again, leave me to be the peaceful child I was.” Ecstasy has a way of bringing peace to one’s sense of who one actually is as a child. Recovering those emotional memories of the child we once were can awaken a calling that may stay with one permanently for the rest of one’s life. This is a profound psychological spiritualization. It is identical with the words Whitman describes: “I awake.” To awake to the real self is equivalent to enlightenment.
The Evocative Moment
M: It reminds me of something that happened to me when I was teaching in a high school over in Stockton, my first job, and I was getting to be quite good at it. I taught there six years. In about the fourth year the principal, a fairly intelligent guy, had evaluated my work and said to me, “You should be teaching in a college.” That never crossed my mind till then.
H: There it was.
M: I thought, “Oh, I should be teaching in a college!” [Both laugh.] I’ll tell you something else. The education I got at Indiana State Teachers College in Indiana, Pennsylvania, was perfunctory and thin. My education in high school was extremely thin. I was the valedictorian of my class, but there were only 120 of us, and I was probably the only one who did his homework. Anyway, I knew I was smart enough. I had enough evidence of that. I got an English and math degree from Indiana, but I knew it was very thin. And then I wanted to get a master’s degree, and I went to Bucknell University, which is a second-tier Ivy League college, a beautiful college. Philip Roth went there and some other fairly famous people. I came into that place as a graduate student quite ignorant. It was such as small graduate group that we took some courses with undergraduates, but we did extra stuff. So here’s what I’m getting to: One of the undergraduates, probably from a solid secondary school, a privileged kid, was talking to me one day. I don’t know how he knew anything about me but he said, “What are you planning to do?” I said, “Teach.” And he said, “But you don’t know anything.” I said something about teaching in a high school, and he said, “Well, OK, then,” or something like that. He guessed that would be a passable job for me. He thought that I was so ignorant that I wouldn’t be fit to do anything. Of course, I’ve always had a bit of Scotch-Irish backbone, so I wasn’t about to accept anybody’s judgment of my prospects. He was right, though. I didn’t know much. But I knew, or figured out a bit later, that I could fill in the blanks. But that doesn’t make you smarter or better able to do anything. And once out of grad school, I began filling in anything I felt I needed, getting my own education, early on, almost at once. Once I started teaching I absorbed huge amounts of stuff associated with what I was doing and what I wanted to understand. Curiosity and interest.
Even more than that, though, was the pleasure of finding things out. I stole that phrase from Richard Feynman’s Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. It’s a neat book. I used it in my classes. He was a remarkable human being. [1911-1988 Theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner (1965) known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics.]
Only joy would compel someone to become so absorbed. It was a deep pleasure. And that joy has to be hovering around any class session – and students and teachers have to know that that’s the game, to become so caught up that we don’t care whether school keeps or not, that something much more important is going on.
I learned about linguistics after I finished graduate school. Nothing, really, about educational theory, the very basis for any teaching. They did not teach one word of linguistics or educational theory in Indiana or Bucknell. A brief history of Clark McKowen’s schooling! [Both laugh.]
H: What I’m thinking is something that goes right along the lines of what you’re thinking, too. There are areas in the unconscious that can be illuminated by relationships in our vocational fields. We’ve been speaking of the Field. Now I want to extend that notion further to include multiple fields. One may not know which vocation one is called to in high school. Then somebody says something or recognizes something in you and suddenly a light switches on. “Light switch” isn’t even the right term for it, though the metaphor points to electricity– bringing us right back to the Field. Reading a poem like “Out of the Cradle” can remind one of the reverberations, the light waves, and sea waves, and the sand under foot. That is what happened to me at UCSC. I remembered my calling.
Illuminating the Self
M: It’s a light clicking on in a dim-lit room.
H: Light from a source that can’t precisely be defined. Something gets touched in the psyche, and a light does go on. Like the auras some people see. I’m not gifted in seeing them, but in my dreams I can see auras around people sometimes, like the saints with their halos. I’ve had dreams. M: Your cave dream had some of that– a lot of that!
H: Yes. And that was a dream you could say was sparked by a relationship with my former analyst, Donald Sandner, who was the foremost authority on analytical psychology and shamanism in America, in the world, really. So being in analysis with Don and having that dream a couple of months after his death, to me was the real initiation in analysis. It was after the death of the analyst, going down into my own deep cave of the unconscious and finding there a chamber that had never been previously explored by anthropologists, and suddenly there was the light figure. A being of exploding Light that was like the illumination of millions of suns. The shaman figure was exploding with star-light. Eliade [Mircea Eliade (1907—1986) was a philosopher and an historian of religion] writes about this kind of cosmic connection between the shaman and light in his book Shamanism. You know, the first shaman was a light figure. I think about how there are primitive places in the psyche that correspond to instinct. These images of activity, as Jung says– which he calls archetypes– are self-portraits of instinct. They need to be illuminated by something or someone on the outside or inside. When someone shines a light on a section of a personality that’s never been seen before . . .
M: Holds up a mirror.
Mandalas and the Beam of Attention
H: It does do something. It transforms the sense of self-consciousness, of who one is, and what you said about knowledge, that you know something… You know it in your bones.
M: Yes, yes. When students in my English classes would do their mandalas and then we would put them on a wall, we would look at one of them – we weren’t supposed to know who drew it; we tried to do them privately as much as possible.
[Note: I didn’t call them mandalas. I asked them to draw anything they felt like that had a center and everything else was to radiate out from that center. They also were free to pick out the color of construction paper they wanted to use and whatever oil pastel colors they wanted .]
Anyway, the artist wouldn’t come forward till we were finished looking. The creator would be quiet and listen. He or she listened to every word! Because it was revealing just what you were saying, suddenly seeing themselves as they never had before. They lived in their skins, but they never could get outside and have a look. And here were thirty people giving them all this attention. It’s absolutely powerful.
H: Hmm. Not many teachers do that.
M: Unfortunately, they don’t usually know how. I’ve seen the process botched terribly.
H: You’ve seen Jung’s Red Book, haven’t you?
H: Oh. I have it in the other room. His portraits of mandalas are beautiful! The point is that you were using active imagination in your classes to activate the lower reptilian brain, the instinctive mind, as well as the right hemisphere. So when you did that in your class, it wasn’t just rational left brain thinking that was going on there.
M:. Those drawings have so many associations for the person drawing them to think about. As we both know, getting a look at one’s Self is just about the hardest job a human has.
H: Not many English teachers use the drawing of mandalas to center and still the mind, but doing that exercise in your classes when I took them in 1975 and 1976 had a powerful effect on me. Of course, this is an ancient technique that was probably used by shamans cross-culturally, as can be seen from rock paintings that have survived from tens of thousands of years. The main thing is the relationship between the self and the universe as the source of psychic and physical energy. Drawing mandalas and then writing in one’s Journal was a great way to free up the vocal chords, the grain of the voice, and liberate language, in speech, as a vocalism from the real me. Teaching students in that kind of way is essential, I think.
I want to talk further about something that’s been on my mind that has to do with new developments in my own writing. It’s a new connection I am making. I’m preparing to be in a question-and-answer interview for the Advocate magazine, which is the number one LBGT publication in the United States. I sent the editor of the Advocate a copy of my book on Whitman, and I’m going to be talking to him about ideas in it for an audience who are not Jungians, not necessarily scholars or intellectuals or psychotherapists. Some may be, but that’s not the focus of the magazine. M: The audience would be mostly gay, or for people interested in gay issues?
H: Probably. They could be readers from any profession, of course. You know, last week there was an attempt to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or DADT. The Senate did not approve that. So there’s a lot of anger and controversy about it.
M: Well, as of yesterday afternoon, a group of legislators managed to pull that out of the Defense Appropriations Bill as a stand-alone bill, and now there’s a good chance that it will get through.
H: I’m glad you pointed that out. That’s definitely a sign of hope. M: Yes, these roadblocks have been so outrageous. I don’t know what’s in the minds of people who are opposed to repealing it.
Reader: These are the original dialogues. I’ve left the time they were recorded intact. But the world keeps updating itself, so you will have to take that into account.
H: Well, people don’t want to talk much about it because it’s not politically correct, but let’s call it what it is: It’s got a lot to do with the religious right. M: I think it’s a fear of one’s own sexuality. But why are people homophobic? It’s because, I think, they fear it’s in themselves, and they don’t want to face that. If they felt secure in their sexuality, we wouldn’t have this problem.
An Antique Volume Written by Faded Men
H: Yes, that’s partly what my book on Whitman is about. Exactly. You just summarized it well. In regard to the Field, what people want to know is, What’s the historical background of this conflict in our culture? Where are its roots? Where does it begin, in the news, in literature? As you know– you read my book– Whitman foresaw this political debate a century and a half ago. A hundred and fifty years ago, Whitman wrote what he once called his “New Bible,” and it contained forty-three homo-erotic poems to men in the section called “Calamus.” Why would Whitman call it a New Bible, and what does it have to do with this religious problem we’re struggling with in our society now? This whole literal tradition of interpretation of Leviticus, which extends through the whole of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the whole condemnation in the Old Testament and the New Testament and Koran of homosexuality. . . It’s appalling. There are lines in the monotheistic texts that endorse killing of homosexuals, if the words are taken literally. Yet the truth is symbolic and literal readings are proving to be a politically poised poison from the mouths of the religious right. So you can see how potent poetry is. You find these stories in the newspaper about a transgender person who was sent some hate mail. It is a terrible thing! Yet it’s interesting how Whitman had this idea of a New Bible 150 years ago and how it answers a need for liberation today. Of course, he didn’t call it that when he published it, but he did in an 1857 Notebook. He had this idea that bibles are new, and we all have a bible that we need to write.
M: Ah! That’s it! That’s your voice that has to come out. I said earlier that each being has to write his or her own dictionary. Well, we each have to write our own unique Bible. That may sound heretical, but I learned that in Sunday school. The Christian Bible has in it somewhere the idea that just accepting the gospel without thoroughly questioning it won’t wash! And so on!
H: Yes. Emily Dickinson nailed it. She wrote that the Bible is an antique volume written by faded men.
M: [Laughing] Oh, wow! Pretty good line and what hutzpah!
Whitman on Sexuality
H: And that’s coming from a woman who said that her parents worshiped an Eclipse–which meant that she had found her own New Bible.
M: That’s it exactly.
H: And she said the Church was within her! She didn’t need to go to Sunday school. She had a place of worship within her own room where she wrote her poems in secret. So with this idea of the Field, the idea that there are people–they’re relatively rare–on this planet of seven billion people, like you said before, people who can drop down into the Field and have perceptions in the unconscious of absolute knowledge; there’s a vision in those perceptions that the culture needs. The world needs it desperately today. You know, Whitman’s time has come. The fact that he was the first man who was openly gay to serve the US military as a nurse tells us something. So here we go. Whitman opened the door. This whole dialogue we’re having in the culture. Should a gay man serve in the military, and should he be able to come out? Should a lesbian or bisexual woman or transgendered person be permitted to serve and openly state who they are? Whitman provides an answer.
M: Getting back to the question-and-answer interview you’re going to be doing, how will that be done?
H: The editor is going to email me his questions, and I’m going to send back some answers.
M: Well, you’ll want it to feel spontaneous, like an email chat.
H: Yes, but I’ve anticipated some of the questions, and I’ll want to be sure the answers get included.
M: That makes sense. Your audience will be people, who for whatever reason, will pick up a magazine that has a focus involving the gay culture. What would you like those readers to know?
H: I’d like them to know that the father of American poetry was a man who did more to open the doors to sexuality in all its forms than perhaps anyone in history, more so, I’d dare say, than Sigmund Freud, because he saw homosexuality as some kind of a perversion, which became a different kind of poison in the mental health field.
M: And then I think, to go further, it needs to be said that sexuality is something not to be censured in any form.
H: Not only is it not to be censured, it’s to be placed as the cornerstone of the American myth. American poetry is a keystone for a psychology of the Self that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. Sexuality as a Metaphor for the Spiritual Life
M: Anyone who sits quietly and listens will know that. To go further, I would say that sexuality is a metaphor for the Spiritual life. That’s what it’s all about. When you have an orgasm, that’s nature saying, “See how this works?” The ecstasy is right there. We’ll give you a little sample of that. Everybody gets to try that out. So if you’re not having a good life, start paying attention. Something to that effect. I think having someone like you talking about this subject is really helpful. You’re comfortable in your own sexuality, and it’s important to have someone with your background, someone to put it in a larger and deeper context, without all the stress of the battle. Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just sat down and explained why it was time to stop DADT. This practice is insane, and having him quietly explain that to the Congress was a powerful influence. Gates, the Secretary of Defense, sat beside him and said the same thing. That sort of clarity is what’s needed. And your Jungian and mythopoetic approach is along those lines, too. It’s so nutty, all the uproar about sexuality. You know, when you have thirty people in a room and you have thirty kinds of sexuality, it’s crazy to say, well, this part of the continuum you can’t have anything to do with. If you’re a little bit different, that’s OK, but you can’t be over here. We’re going to cut off these ends of the bell shaped curve.
Ahead of All This
H: I’ll tell you, the American poets were ahead of all this.
M: Well, anybody who goes down into the soul is going to be ahead of it. H: Think of Herman Melville. The first portrait of same-sex marriage in America was in Moby Dick, the great American novel, published in 1851. He even calls it a marriage in chapter ten of the novel, “A Bosom Friend”! Ishmael and Queequeg are married like husband and wife. It’s no accident, to use those hallowed words. Whitman, Melville, and Dickinson were all ahead of the game. And they were also carving out a new American myth, independently of one another. Something was “in the air.” The Field was infused with new energies, new images, and new lights. The Zero Point Field was being illuminated. And we, too. have something to contribute to this idea you were getting at about absolute knowledge, knowing something. These poets knew something.
M: That’s what it’s all about.
H: They knew something about the nature of the body and the soul.
M: People who do evil things are trying to get an idea of how this works, whether they know it or not. Maybe not consciously, but something is driving them to try to work things out. Well, it’s time for me to go. I do hope your interview gets into print. Our society needs a wholesome way of looking at sexuality, and I think what you have to say will advance that view.
[Steven and I talked in the preceding dialogue about investigative journalist Lynn McTaggart’s The Field. I’m interested her contention that there is a way to reconcile mind with matter, a way to connect classic Newtonian science with quantum physics and somehow to connect science with religion. Her book centers on the “dead space” of microscopic vibrations in outer space as well as within and between physical objects on Earth. She describes these fields as “a cobweb of energy exchange” that links everything in the universe, from cellular communication to the workings of the mind. So, in this dialogue, we explore implications of that unifiying field that underpins perceived reality. That’s all tied up with realms of gold and we talk a lot about how seers of all ages use gold imagery. ]
Two Distinct Realities
Steven Herrmann: From what I’ve read so far in Lynne McTaggart’s book it seems to me that the search connects physics, for example, with psychic phenomena. As you know, she cites the view Indians living in the Amazon River basin, that a dream doesn’t belong to a dreamer alone but to the tribe as a whole, and that such dreams can be a foreshadowing of what’s going to happen that day in connection to the ancestors of the tribe and the cosmos. One way into a discussion might be, not to enter into it intellectually though linear left-brain thinking, but experientially, by actually shutting down left brain activity and then paying close attention to right brain and lower brainstem activity, and making liberal use of the imagery and feelings that spring from there.
Clark McKowen: Yes, I would say if someone wants to “get it”—I’d put it that way—to catch on to what we’re talking about, you cannot do it in the left brain. You absolutely cannot do it in the left brain.
The Therapy of Discussing Dreams Over Breakfast
H: We could begin by my telling you a dream I had and see where our reflections lead. McTaggart describes how Amazon Indians assimilate their dreams into the collective consciousness of the tribe. Dreams are part of the fabric of their lives. Every morning everyone awakens before dawn to gather together, and as the world explodes into light, they share their dreams. The dream is owned, they say, by the tribe, and the individual dreamer is seen as a vessel the dream decided to borrow so that it could have a dialogue with the whole tribe.
M: OK. Let’s have a look at your dream. I’m pretty sure our American culture would be a lot healthier if we made a practice of discussing our dreams over breakfast every day. Years ago I included an article in my book Image about how the Senoi people of the highlands of the Malay Peninsula assured their kids that everything that appears in their dreams is filled up with their own Spirit or force and that they can learn to take charge of that force and use it toward their own well-being and the well-being of the Senoi people as well. They often brought back from their dreams practical ideas and inventions for the tribe! In their society every dream is a good dream. I’m sure, once we begin talking about your dream it will be a good dream, too. As you know, the way we explore dreams is the key to their value.
H: I’ve already noticed connections with The Field and our discussion of American poetry – and poetry in general and language and teaching, too.
M: I love what can be found in dreams. Let’s do yours now.
H: This dream came to me back in May of 1997. It’s a dream where I was with a woman colleague of mine. We were at the cave in Lascaux in France. We entered the cave’s dark opening with modern battery-illuminated flashlights and descended down to where the famous cave paintings were. We looked up and could see them there with their beautiful colors and their spectacular imagery. Then I saw a chamber path that looked like it was going down and down. We followed that trail downwards and entered through a little hole in the ground and went down farther into an underground cavity where there were many more paintings that anthropologists of the twentieth century had not discovered. I shined my flashlight on the wall, and there was a magnificent shaman-figure who was painted as a star that had exploded with light, and he was a light being. I wondered, in the dream, how in the world the ancient shamans in those caves could have possibly painted those beautiful images down there, in such a black hole, when all they had was fire. I thought at that dream moment there must have been a light beam, a shaman figure with light radiating from his body—like the pulsating, electromagnetic field—illuminating the cave so that the artist-shamans could paint this portrait, and this painted shaman figure was illuminating a background where the panoply of images could be seen of the animals and other shaman figures. He was the central figure depicted as a pulsating star—like this idea of pulsating energy that forms the healing field.
So then, when I was shining my light in the dream on the master shaman’s light, I had this electromagnetic, ecstatic feeling, and when my woman companion and I exited the cave together and got to the opening, I had this sudden transformed feeling. It was right at the point where I was beginning the chapter that became my first manuscript on Walt Whitman that I had this dream.
As I said, that was in May of 1997, close to fourteen years ago. I see that dream as a transcultural dream, or a collective archetypal dream, as a way to illuminate the idea that we’ve been discussing in our dialogue. So what are your thoughts about it?
M: What you’ve described is a really profound dream. It may be a fundamental dream that could apply to anyone. If you were to write it down and look at the language you used to describe it— “I shined my light,” “I went down through a hole.., a black hole,” “when all they had was fire.” It seems that people are always going through the looking glass or down the rabbit hole and coming out in a place like you just described. But I think in a number of ways, it’s very accurate physically. It’s metaphoric, but it’s also the way energy works. You were saying earlier how some people can just walk into a room and you can sense that they have this powerful magnetism or radiation that affects everybody in the room immediately. We’re always hearing about such people. Whenever they come along that force is noticed by everybody else in the room.
Pulsating Frequencies in Quantum Physics and Rock Concerts
So I think that if you take what you just told me and print it out, it has all the metaphors of how this sort of thing works. You know, you were talking about Whitman earlier, about his use of the word “whirling” in some of his verses. Well, you know about the whirling dervishes—the same imagery. Rumi, the 13th century poet of the middle-east, was a whirling dervish. Maybe that’s what the kids these days are doing, too, at their concerts. We do know there’s a kind of energy that flows between the performers and the audience that when it works right is very much like what’s described as pulsating frequencies in quantum physics. The whole idea of that kind of concert, and in symphonic concerts, too, is to tap into a vibration that electrifies each person and the entire gathering as well.
The other day I was matting some pictures in my garage with the door open and the people next door were in their adjoining garage with their young peoples’ music going—not too loudly, really—and I was thinking, “I don’t really like that music.” What was annoying me was the repetitiveness, its monotony. But I suspect that’s exactly part of its appeal for them. It tunes them into a frequency, a vibration mode they begin to experience in their own bodies. I choose to avoid that, but I think that’s exactly a major part of the appeal. I choose not to like it, but I know what they’re up to, and I understand it.
Because a Fire Was in My Head
H: We’ve talked before about different metaphors that have spoken to both of us, for example, that poem of Yeats about wandering Aengus…
M: “The Song of Wandering Aengus.”
H: “I went out to the hazel wood / Because a fire was in my head…” What do you think about that poem with regard to “the field”? What’s going on with Yeats when he describes it that way?
M: Here’s the whole poem:
He’s describing what we just talked about. It’s metaphoric, but it’s damned close to a literal description of the field. How does he say it?
And pluck till time and times are done The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
Till time and times are done…he’s so imagistic. A colleague of mine at Diablo Valley College, Karl Staubach, used to do a couple of poems in his classes at Christmas time—I used to bring my classes for that—and one was by Yeats, “The Magi,” and one by T. S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi.” Yeats is all image, no left-brain glossing of what he “meant.” Eliot, though, does provide some left-brain information. I think Yeats is more a pure poet, because we don’t “get it” unless we allow ourselves to experience it directly—in the mammalian brain, the spiritual brain. We have to get into that level. That is not a left-brain process. It’s more like what the kids are doing with their music….
A Resonating Force Field Behind the Grain of the Voice
I was looking at the title of a book yesterday, just the title, The Grain of the Voice by Roland Barthes–the grain of the voice. For example, maybe I say, “I’m going to speak today,” and I think, well, those words are the message. Behind that, though, is the resonating force field—quite literally, that’s physics—that affects the vocal chords and goes back further. And if you really listen to the grain of the voice, you’re listening to Clark McKowen and not just words. So if you want to know what I’m talking about, you have to go that far, you have to listen to it all.
H: I want to ask you—in fact, you read my mind—speaking of the field, it’s interesting how the question that was forming in my mind you were already responding to. It had to do with the title of your book, Realms of Gold. I wanted to ask you about how that metaphor as the title for your book came together with regard to this “field” notion we are exploring.
From Animal Intelligence to The Realms of Gold
M: I had told you the book was going to be about animal intelligence. Actually, it started out being a book about a pet resort and about dogs, but as I got into it, well, of course I needed to put it all in context, hence, animal intelligence. The reason the project went from animal intelligence to realms of gold is what you said earlier about it evolving, because animal intelligence was not deep enough; it’s too superficial— although, even so, when you think about animal intelligence, all the senses in which you and I talk about imagery and language, and so forth, those things are always in the back of my mind. So I would have had to expand the subject anyway. I would have had to set it in that broader context of energy and light. In order to do that, I would have had to expand it and end up with realms of gold, because realms of gold are what you and I are talking about both imagisticly and physically. The realms of gold—the Zero Point Field—is what’s ignored in everyday life in America. Well, I suppose just about everywhere!
H: Can you say more about the metaphor of “realms of gold”—how you got to that?
The Intelligence Ocean
M: Well, when I was thinking about animal intelligence, I was thinking, “Oh, yeah. intelligence, that’s a pretty big pot. What does that mean? How does that fit into sub-atomic physics?” Because we are all part of that; that’s what we are; a dog and I, for example, we’re both the same stuff, atomic energy. So how does that work? I began to wonder about that.
There’s got to be an encompassing ocean that we’re in, I thought. Am I on that ocean, or am I in it—or am I “it”? Then at some point I came to the idea “Oh, I am the ocean.” That’s not an egotistic thing; that’s just how it works. Every particle of the ocean is the center of the ocean, and all the particles are so infinitesimally small from one perspective and so infinitely large from another perspective, going back and forth from various viewpoints. It had to be something like a big ocean, a big sea. Everything that’s going on in this intelligence package is part of the sea of intelligence. That’s what it all is; all the variations we look at are merely images of the intelligence package, infinitely varied. So if you look at any particle of it, your head should explode, like the painting of your dream shaman in the depths of that Cave. The great poets have tapped into it in such a way that they can not only survive but illuminate us with light…
H: So tell me some more about “the realms of gold.” What poem does that come from?
M: That’s from John Keats’s poem, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” and it goes:
The Weight of Words
When he says, “Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,” he means that literally. When he’s talking about realms of gold, he’s talking about the poetic experience. When I thought back over innumerable great thinkers and seers, they’re always using the word “gold,” which is light, which is what you were talking about in your dream earlier, this brilliance. And people like Keats would glimpse that and then they would write down that experience. And I think, as much as everyone appreciates his craftsmanship, his artistry, and so forth, and think, well, isn’t that a beautiful poem, I would say, no, it’s not a beautiful poem; he’s transcribed that-which-is. He’s giving you the most accurate picture of what’s going on that you can possibly get.
People take it as a “poem,” which I take as an insult. [Laughs.] It’s an insult because if it’s a “poem,” they dismiss it. A good poet is as hard headed and any scientist. They’re not trying to be pretty or “poetic.” It’s got to have a basis in fact. Actually, what it’s giving you is the basis of everything. He’s saying, “Here it is. Look.” When they say, “Oh, it’s a lovely poem,” you want to just say: “Wake up!”
H: So that’s an example of a poem by Keats where he’s saying he’s actually visited the realms of gold. That’s a beautiful description of a process in mythopoetic imagination. Let me take another poem of Yeats where he’s sailing to Byzantium, going into that golden realm via poetry, to be such a thing as “Grecian goldsmiths make … Or set upon a golden bough to sing / To lords and ladies of Byzantium / Of what is past, or passing, or to come.”
M: That imagery is so good that readers sometimes miss it. It has to be taken seriously, literally.
H: Yes, metaphors awaken this field, right now as we’re talking. A metaphor can take a person into the realms of gold that exist inside of us and outside of us in the ZPF, as a sort of radiating energy that may find its way into verse.
M: Yes, that’s why we have to do it by way of images. I used to listen to academics sitting on panels, talking in nice, abstract left-brain language. But that’s not very effective. You have to come at things from this imagistic level if you want it to work. Remember what Whitman did when he listened to the learned astronomer? He hurried out and looked at the stars! [Laughs.]
H: Yes, of course I remember that, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” Whitman is sitting in a lecture room listening to the astronomer’s lecture where the unified cosmos is broken down into “columns” in a left-brain kind of a way that divides, adds, and theorizes about the universe in a scientific manner that makes the poet feel tired and sick. Whitman then leaves the lecture-room and glides out alone into the “Mystical moist night-air” and looks up peacefully at the “silence of the stars.” This has a healing effect upon him. Star-gazing was a mystical experience for Whitman, a way to heal himself from the illness of the Civil War.
Whatever Scalps Us
You could say that that poem is exactly what McTaggart is trying to convey in her book: The quest for the secret force of the universe turns out to be a search, through poetry in this instance, for the origins of our sense of cosmic unity. As a poet-shaman Whitman uses the metaphor of the silence of the stars as a way to put readers in accord with the quiet sense of peace that precedes speech. So when you talk about these metaphors of Keats or the one of Yeats that I referred to, there’s a certain numinous feeling that we get when we read them. Emily Dickinson perhaps describes it better than anybody when she says, “If I physically feel as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” I suppose that’s what the gold is. It’s whatever it is that scalps us! Whatever verse can take the top of our heads off so that we are out of our left brain linear mode of thinking and are open to the unity of the cosmos and the secret force of the universe; that is what real poetry is. One can only know what it is by feeling it experientially.
The Poem as Ice Ax
M: Scalps us–that’s a good expression. It’s like Kafka’s axe that has to chop through the conceptual ice of the known. Frost said you have to take an immortal wound from which you’ll never recover. That’s what it’s supposed to do. Talking technically and theoretically may have
its place, but no one should think that that’s all there is to it. That doesn’t get it at all. It may point to the place we need to go, but it’s only a map. I don’t know of any great physicist who doesn’t go down into the poetic level.
H: Let me ask another question. You talked earlier before we started to record about the Zero Point Field. You said we need mathematics to really understand it. Ten to the fortieth power in terms of how much energy is in this Field—I can’t even begin to comprehend forty zeros after 10, much less as an exponent.
M: I’d better take that back. I shouldn’t say it quite like that, because even though the mathematics could lead you to that place, you would still have to go there poetically. The great seers and the great philosophers did get to it without the math. And that’s what it’s all about. But I think if we want the human race to be able to talk about what’s going on, then we need to be able to talk about it in quantum terms, too. We need to be able to find language that will convey that.
Zero at the Bone
H: So let me give you another metaphor from Emily Dickinson to contemplate. This is a magnificent poem in terms of animal intelligence speaking to her directly through a metaphor. It’s called “Snake,” where she says,
H:“at Noon.” So there’s this idea of the Zenith…
M: Oh, yes, that’s right.
H: There’s the sun, the gold. The realms of gold are right above, and she says at the end in the very last line of the poem, “But never met this Fellow, / Attended or alone / Without a tighter breathing /And Zero at the Bone—“Zero with a capital Z! When she talks about this zero at the bone, what do you think she might be saying about the Zero Point Field?
M: I think she’s got it. I hadn’t caught that before, not in connection with quantum physics. But we know she doesn’t use words casually. So, like Keats, she means exactly what she’s saying. We’ve talked about going down into the quantum field, going down into a vacuum by reducing temperature as near absolute zero as you can possibly get it. It’s at that level that information is in flux and can be manipulated. She took it down that far. At one level she’s exploding, and at the other level she’s down to zero! She has both fundamental images right there. Well, well!
What we have here is an encapsulation of what we’ve been discussing. If a reader captures that—as I did not—he or she’s got it! I wasn’t taking her as literally as she clearly wanted to be taken. Well, maybe not necessarily as she wanted a reader to take it but as she wrote it.
H: Now let’s back up… She starts with “Snake” and ends up with the Zero Point Field. I see the type of thinking Dickinson does so superbly in “Snake” as animal intelligence; thinking out of the reptilian brain. Dickinson enters the field of her vocation—poetry—and finds herself in a stand-off with editors and publishers who try to change the structure of her line, her syntax, her punctuation and the integrity of her poetic style, with its marvelous use of dashes, over this sixth of her seven published poems. I find it ironic that the quarrel she engaged in in one of her letters was over “Snake.” The poem was written in 1865, the same year Whitman published “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” By the time “Snake” was published in TheSpringfield Republican, on Valentine’s Day in 1866, she had already decided publication was “the auction of the mind of man.”
M: What a way with words! Beautiful.
H: Dickinson, being a wild force—a “force of Nature”—would have none of the judgments of patriarchal thinking about language, where women’s natural voices, their natural intelligence, was oppressed. Seven poems in her lifetime out of 1775! Such a supreme gift for elocution, for language-creation, for symbolic thinking; to silence such a natural gift for poetry in her lifetime, is atrocious. Her rebellion was very American; her revolution through language against the forces of oppression in a male-dominated society goes back to the American revolution of 1776. She was, like Whitman and Herman Melville, a fierce rebel for liberty.
She would not submit to external patriarchal authority. Dickinson’s penetration to the Zero Point Field in her breakthrough moments is stunning. By touching “tap-root” in the Zero Point Field, Dickinson transcends the space-time barrier, to perceive the operation of the shamanic archetype in its eternal nature. Such transcendent moments shaped her life and prepared her soul for its transit to the Beyond. [Clark chuckles.] So what’s the connection between animal intelligence and the realms of gold?
M: Well, it’s obvious that how it works for me is that paying attention to any animal drives me right back to these connections, keeps pushing me toward the Zero Point Field. So, any time you pay attention to a rock, really pay attention to anything, it takes you right back to the field of everything, and you find yourself saying, “Oh, my God! Here we are participating in this remarkable sharing of information, sharing of this-ness. Quite amazing.
H: You mentioned earlier that you feel that all of the great seers and religious teachers, the spiritual teachers, have somehow had access to this sea of intelligence in the Zero Point Field. I’m thinking about my dream. I’m having a dialogue right now with the post-denominational priest Matthew Fox. We’re talking right now about the coincidence of his having been in Paris for his Dominican studies, and studying under a man named Père Chenu. Chenu was a theologian. From Father Chenu Fox got the term “creation spirituality.” What he’s doing is connecting Christian theology to all the religions, showing how there is a post-denominational side to Catholicism. He’s an Anglican priest now. The connections he’s making to all the religions are pointing in one direction, namely what Whitman called Spiritual Democracy. Where he sees Christ in everything, my dream is suggesting in a parallel way that the shaman who first receives the secret light of the Universe may be tapping into the “origin of all poems” that Whitman talks about in “Song of Myself”: “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, you shall possess the good of the Earth and the sun, (there are millions of suns left).” You see how he gets the millions of suns into those two lines? That is the secret force we are searching for through language: the origins of those golden orbs that make up the myriad galaxies of universal light. “The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.” Whitman says it beautifully. Of course, Buddha attained it. So did Rumi, Confucius, Lao Tzu—all these great Hindu, Sufi, and Chinese sages and mystics of the whole world. But in terms of the evolution of consciousness, we’re looking at the sea of intelligence in evolutionary terms. The first significant personages to incarnate this energy, the pulsating star force that filled the shaman-figure with exploding light in my dream; it’s interesting in talking to you about your book, that the great poets, they also had their animal allies. The same was true down there in the center of the unexplored cave. At the center was the shaman and the animals were all around him, illuminated by the light emanating from his body.
M: Oh, yes!
Envoys of the Great Spirit
H: And the Animal Powers that Joseph Campbell talked about in his Historical Atlas of World Mythology were really envoys, as Campbell terms them, of the Great Spirit. So what do you think about this idea that the shamans were the forerunners of the first poets, the great poets we’ve been looking at, Yeats, Keats, and the American poets as well, Whitman, Melville, and Dickinson, and of course Robinson Jeffers and William Everson in the twentieth century?
Millions of Suns, Billions of Galaxies
M: When you think of human beings in their evolution, it seems pretty obvious that they had this sense of the cosmic whole that we’ve been talking about. And certain of them, like Christ, like Buddha, went further and said, “Yes, there’s something going on here, and I’m willing to go look at it.” And they would allow themselves, like Emily Dickinson, to go into it that deeply. People in general had a sense of this too: that something unbelievable was going on.
They cherished and honored the shamans because they were providing them with their spiritual information, giving them ways to access what they sensed was going on. So, yes, I would say those earliest shamans were the poets of their day. What we have, then, as we go forward in time are people who represent that same thing. Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, were all shamans. They went off somewhere and sat long enough to get the feel of it and came back and told people about it, and people thought, “Yeah, that sounds pretty good.” Of course, we can screw it up royally, too. I was thinking of my granddaughter and her dad going to the Vatican not long ago, and I said to Dave, “What do you think the guy who started all that would think of the Vatican?” He said, “He would have torn it all down.” They’ve got untold wealth stored up there, vaults full of priceless art and gold. And there’s Benedict in his Gucci shoes and gorgeous robes. Can you imagine this?! Christ probably wouldn’t be allowed in with his sandals and simple garments.
[Actually, they weren’t Gucci shoes. But, then, they weren’t sandals either.]
H: [Laughs.] Certainly the poetry of Christ would be lost, if he had wandered in there in His sandals with the priceless art and gold and He had laid his eyes on the Pope in his Gucci shoesHis connection to the light of the first shaman in the Cave would have been cut off from the origin of all poetry, which is the Light not merely of millions of suns but what we now know to be billions of galaxies.
Let’s get back to that, the Field, because that’s what we’re really talking about.
M: I can’t talk about the ZPF beyond the surface features. I think McTaggart has done a good journalistic job of finding some information that bears on what you and I are talking about. There are plenty of people who would find fault with what she’s saying, but I think only because they haven’t listened carefully. I think she does know what she’s talking about, and her implications are pretty likely. I don’t think there’s anything in The Field that runs counter to what you and I talk about in the poetic or philosophic level or what physicists have said when they describe quantum mechanics with a general audience. So I think it does give us an underpinning to work back and forth from where we began to where we are now. As for me, I keep zipping back and forth between Zero at the Bone and the top of your head coming off.
H: Yes, you just tapped into it again, because I was going to ask you a question about this. On page 51, McTaggart says, “All these phenomena led Popp [a physicist] to think of emissions as a sort of correction by a living system of Zero Point Field fluctuations. Every system likes to achieve a minimum of free energy… As Popp thought of it, the Zero Point Field forces the human being to be a candle. The healthiest body would have the lowest light and be closest to zero state, the most desirable state—the closest any living thing could get to nothingness.” I know you’re quite interested in Zen and have written haiku poetry. So think about the connection between being in alignment with the Zero Point Field and the Zero state that Dickinson talks about, which McTaggart thinks is the closest we can get to nothingness, nothing-ness.
M: A lot of the philosophers thought that the ideal thing would be to get to that state, to nothing-ness, to leave the cycle and not come back anymore.
H: It sounds like the Buddha’s nirvana. The Ground of Being as Guide
M: Yeah. Exactly. And I don’t want nirvana. That’s where I am! I’m not trying to get to Zero. What I do think is that maybe that’s so—that Zero is where we have to go—but I don’t like that idea. So I’m not participating in that quest. But I do think we have to function out of the Zero Point Field. That is our foundation. We have to allow ourselves to be firmly planted in this ZPF in order to participate in our daily lives—successfully, or appropriately, whatever the word might be. We’re going to be off balance all the time if we’re pursuing things shifty-eyed rather than allowing the field or the Ground of Being to guide us. It’s our GPS. It says, “This is your way.” “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to.” “Too bad. It’s your way. Can’t you feel it? You have no other way.” The Zen poet Ryókan wrote, “If you point your cart north / When you want to go south / How will you arrive?”
Intelligence Within the Zero Point Field
H: So, you’re saying intelligence within the Zero Point Field knows.
The Self’s Voice
M: Of course. It knows. It knows what needs to be done. And as long as I don’t recognize that, I’m off balance. I would say people who are seeking some sort of enlightenment or some way to participate accurately in the world sense that that’s what they have to do. So, some of them take steps, drastic steps. Gurdjieff’s followers, for example. They seem to torture themselves trying to get it right. They’re almost masochists. I hate that. I wouldn’t do that even if it was a good idea. I would refuse to discipline myself in that way. To me, it has to flow. They will say, “But Clark, you’re going to screw up.” I don’t care. If it doesn’t flow, I’m not going to do it. Mark Twain said, “If you can’t get to seventy by a comfortable road, don’t go.” “Now, you must do this”? “No. No, no, no.” My Self says, “Do it this way.” I could never understand people who torture themselves to do things their Selves don’t like. That’s the way it is with me.
H: Earlier you were talking about the voice and the grain of the voice. Why don’t you talk a little more about that, because you were suggesting something that has to do with poetry and articulation.
M: Rumi says when you get up in the morning take down a musical instrument. He means tune yourself up. In order to walk through the day, the way I’m designed to walk through it, I have to tune myself to the level that when you say hello to me, I’m not just hearing the word “hello,” I’m hearing the grain of the voice that said those words. What I really need to be able to do is to hear Steven Herrmann’s Self that’s coming through those words. I can’t do that if I’m not tuned up. That’s what I’m talking about. The grain of the voice is where everything is. The grain of the voice is that pulsating frequency; it’s the Field communicating.
H: Where is this metaphor from, the grain of the voice?
“I Almost Always Learn Through Metaphor.”
M: It’s a book about poetry, by Roland Barthes. The book is heavy sledding, but what struck me was the title itself. I thought it was a great image. I googled it the other day and saw a heading in which someone said he immediately thought of Elvis Presley. The grain of the voice explained Elvis!
When I was learning how to be a teacher, there was a textbook I remember that went on and on boringly about some “profound” topic or other. But at the beginning of each chapter was a little quote from Eddington or Scudder or some other thinker. The quotes were great. So I would ignore the chapter and we would kick the quote around. We had a hell of a good time. That was the grain of the voice. The rest of it was silly talk. I almost always learn through metaphor. I hear a phrase that intrigues me, I play with it, it clicks in, and then I get it.
The Divine Power to Speak Words
H: Yes. Whitman is speaking to the reader in section five of “Song of Myself”: “Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat, / Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best, / Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.” Notice how he gets the lecture in there? Like the lecture of the learned astronomer, he says he does not want that. He wants only the lull or hum of your valvèd voice. That is the grain of the voice, the sound of pure poetry. He had this idea of “vocalism,” the “divine power to speak words.” He said it exists as a possibility in everyone. He gave us a technique to access it, namely free verse. “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems.” His aim as a poet-shaman is to stop us in our tracks. All we have to do is to find a way to tap into it, to descend into the deep chamber of the mind that no one else has discovered yet, the place where the cosmic shaman dwells, in the deepest recesses of the mind. That is the place of the Zero Point Field, where we can each become Zero at the Bone through the quick lightning flashes of language, the realms of gold, metaphorical speech made possible through vocalism. When one can do that then he assures us that there will swiftly arise and spread around us the “peace and knowledge that pass all the art and argument of the Earth.” This is the secret force of the cosmos: the light of the exploding universe.
M: Yes, exactly.
H: Vocalism is the act of speaking out of the Divinity…
M: There you go.
H: From the heart chakra, [Chakras are energy points or knots in the subtle (non-physical) body] the Self as the source of our inner light…
Speaking Out of the Ground of Being
M: Ah. Once you can speak out of the heart, out of the divinity, that’s what you’re trying to do—trying to get your voice tuned in so that when you speak, you’re speaking from the Ground of Being, so that when you say, “Good morning,” you really mean it. “Good morning”—imagine how that would sound if the expression was voiced from the very Ground of Being.
H: Yes, then you could say, “The song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.” That would be living in the light of the first shamans who also worshipped the sun as the source of everything that is. So when Keats said he had visited realms of gold, he was actually speaking realms of gold. He was in that realm.
M: Yeah. He’s not just thinking up lovely phrases. H: It’s the same thing with Yeats.
Explosions of Energy Within Vocational Fields
M: Yeah, the great Romantic poets, well, you know any great poet is living in that kind of way. Some modern ones are just as good.
H: Yes, it is all relative. The American poets all benefited greatly from the Romantic poets. McTaggart talks about another phenomenon that’s very interesting to me, and that’s what happens within a culture when there’s this explosion of energy within a vocational field, such as in Vienna during the late seventeen hundreds when there was an explosion of classical music.
M: Oh, yeah, that’s right!
H: And then it catches fire, then it happens in other people, not necessarily through direct transmission. Consciousness itself is not located in the brain, so whatever I’m saying and whatever you’re saying here is affecting consciousness in other places.
Thinking and the Collective Whole
M: That’s absolutely right. There are lots of ways to demonstrate that thought can’t, cannot, be locked inside the skull. It’s part of the collective whole. The entire whole changes when you think. [Laughs.] So we’d better do a good job of it!
The Light Source of All Mystical Experience
H: So what do you think about that? You mentioned the Romantic poets. As you know, the same thing happened. There was a stage in the Romantic period where there was an explosion of energy—out of the field, the Zero Point Field. The same thing happened in the American Renaissance. Whitman saw that religions had become too far removed from the people. He wanted to make the experience of the Divine accessible, articulate, and available in the present for anyone, so he invented free-verse. Free-verse enabled him to speak words with a “full lung’d, limber-lipp’d, loosen’d-throat”; to chant Divinity from the “hum” of his “valvèd voice.” Religion was not something “out there” in the churches, synagogues, or mosques, in the teachings of prophets, messiah, or messenger only, rabbi this or imam that; for Whitman religion exists in the living temple of the human body—your body, my body. The body is Divine, Whitman was saying, and the basis for his new religion of Spiritual Democracy, where all religions are brought to the ground, made equal in the great psalm of the republic, is here right now. “If religion is not for your Divinization, then what is it for? If not for your Happiness then for whose Happiness?” “Do you see O my brothers and sisters?” Whitman asks in “Song of Myself.” And then he answers: “It is not chaos or death–it is form, union, plan–it is eternal life–it is Happiness.” He writes it with a capital H. What he is speaking about is the bliss that comes from the opening of the heart chakra, the ecstasy of the shamanistic state of consciousness, which cuts across all religions. That is the factor that makes all religions equal: The Light that is the source of all mystical experiences, the secret force of the Universal .
M: It’s a little hard to grasp intellectually, but back in the seventies when filmmakers were using black and white, Fellini in Italy was using it to great effect. He loved it. Then Ingmar Bergman did a color movie, and someone asked Fellini if he’d seen it. He said, “No, I don’t have to, because”—something to this effect—“that information is in the atmosphere now and is affecting everything.” So color is in the air now. We no longer live in a black and white filming world. Fellini then made Juliet of the Spirits, which is a lavish color movie. It was his first color movie, and it’s a masterpiece, and it’s just rich with color. Well, color has affected the whole world, really. When I think back to the world I grew up in, our movies were black and white, a black and white world. The clothes we wore, for example, were more subdued, less colorful, too, in those days. Then all of a sudden, color burst into the scene, and the world is transformed, for better or for worse. Better, I suppose. It can always be for better.