Doalogue #3: Gilgamesh, The Quest for and the Meaning of “immortality”

January 11, 2011


[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’s marvelous, 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?

You cannot get the drop on life.


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?

H: Yes.

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.

M: Yes.

H: And the loss of the most precious thing he could have.

M: Yes

Immortal Longings

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.

Sacred Forests

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

It is nice to be with people who are never shocked or psychologically insecure.

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.

[On the Italian island of Ischia in the summer of 1948, W. H. Auden,  staying in Forio for the summer, wrote to a friend, “The sex situation is from my point of view exactly what it ought to be.   . . . It is nice to be with people who are never shocked or psychologically insecure, though half of them don’t get enough to eat.]

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?

H: Humbaba.

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.

M: Right.

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!

Instinctive Intelligence

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

Transformative Vision

M: Yes.

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.

M: Yes.

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.

M: Yes.

H: He achieves a kind of immortality through the telling of the story.

You can see the poet’s eyes glowing.

You can see the poet’s eyes glowing!

M: Oh, my, he’s doing a Yeats there! You can see the poet’s eyes glowing.

H: Yes.

M: He’s really appreciating it.

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.]

lapis lazuli

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.

M: No.

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.

Dialogue # 2 The Cloth of Gold Beneath the Sackcloth of Ordinary Reality

[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.]

Reflective Teaching

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.

. . . and sea urchins

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.

The Force

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.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

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.”

[Both laugh.]

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!

[Both laugh.]

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?

The first criterion of success in any human activity, the necessary preliminary, whether scientific discovery or artistic vision, is intensity of attention or, less pompously, love. – W. H. Auden

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.

Not find a barkeep unto Jove in me?
I have remained resentful to this day
When any but myself presumed to say
That there was anything I couldn’t be.–Robert Frost, from “Auspex”

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?

M: No.

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.

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.

Dialogue 1: A Unified Field of Mind and Matter

November 15, 2010

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[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

Two realities
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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.

Our American culture would be a lot healthier if we made a pracice of discussing our dreams over breakfast every day.

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:

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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:

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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.

A radiant energy that finds its way into verse

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,

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Snake.jpg

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.

Publication Is the Auction of the Mind of Man

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.

Creation Spirituality

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.

What to Expect in This Website

We are talking about how the universe works and our place in it. Am I an isolate, a Higgs boson, or am I a part of a whole, and if I am a part of a whole, what part do I play in it?

Our Place Among the Stars

This infinite circle hath no line to bound it. Behold its strange deep center
everywhere.  –From Watchers of the Skies, Alfred Noyes,

 Herrmann: Clark, you’ve just gone through the transcripts of our last twenty dialogues, and I’ve been thinking about them, too. You like to compress prose into poetry. How about a metaphor that captures it all?

The Metaphors of Our Lives

McKowen: I think “our place among the stars” captures it. “Cosmic unity” works too. They’re good metaphors for what we’re exploring. What I see in the dialogues is that we’re talking about a certain kind of thing, and that is, how the universe works, and actually, our place in the universe, my place in the universe. Am I an isolate, a Higgs boson, or am I a part of a whole, and  if I am part of a whole, what  role do  I play in it?  We approach these questions through the perspective of Jungian philosophy and psychology and science–and through everything else that we know of, like paleontology, geology, metaphor, linguistics–the whole schmeer.

So I think Our Place Among the Stars signals exactly what we’re doing, and it’s in ordinary imagery. What I think we’re doing is taking old wine and putting it into new vessels, as they say, because you and I both know that human beings, from the very beginning, have always been aware of what we’re asking about. We’ve always known in our bones exactly what our place in the universe is. And the wisest of us–the shamans, the Zen masters, and so forth–have tried to tell us that in their own metaphors. So, yes, we all want to know our place among the stars.

And thinkers throughout history have given us images that are remarkably similar in religion an everywhere else–in poetry and literature, the same thing–of light and golden light. So you and I aren’t really creating anything new. We’re just putting it into the metaphors of our lives, the best metaphors we can come up with to describe something that you can’t really describe. You have to actually experience it. Each generation has to re- define the received world, actually each being has to write its own dictionary. This first dialogue that we started transcribing, in which we’re talking about the Zero Point Field, sounds kind of crazy and esoteric and really beyond anybody’s ken who isn’t working in subatomic physics. But to my mind the implications that arise from it are pretty obvious. They’re dead-on to what all the great thinkers, all the great religious philosophers and seers, have known forever. But it all has to be made new again and constantly renewed.

What we’ve found when we read Lynn McTaggart’s The Field is another way of describing with our current language, our current science, what human beings have always known. How’s that so far?

H:    I think that’s a good beginning. I hardly want to interrupt. Why don’t you say a little more about it?

M: For one thing, we’re going to have to provide working definitions of some of these twentieth and twenty-first century metaphors right at the beginning.

H: So what do you think we need to say about the Zero Point Field, for example, that would be sufficient to let a general reader follow along with our dialogue? For this particular phrase, what would your definition of it be?

A Packet of Quantum Energy

M:     I think the description Lynne McTaggart gives in The Field that we discuss in our first dialogue would be OK.  Readers would have to know, of course, that it’s not exactly “scientific.”  It’s a journalist’s rephrasing.   McTaggart describes the Zero Point Field as an “ocean of microscopic vibrations in the space between things.”

An ocean of microscopic vibrations in the space between things.

She also says a human being, based on that idea, is “a packet of quantum energy.” I like that definition; it’s a good jumping off point for a dialogue. I don’t suppose a physicist would object too much to that view. In our dialogues we do work over that definition and look at the spider web of connections that can spin out from it, but let’s amplify it a bit more up front so that, when we jump into a dialogue about the Zero Point Field, a reader would know what the background of that phrase is.

H:    What we are about to enter into . .. .

M:     Let’s  talk about that right now.   In our first dialogue, we speak in a general way about what human beings are made of. We do know that we are pulsating energy. This, we do know– as much any human being can–about how the physical world is put together. That’s not poetic. (It’s thoroughly poetic, of course, but let’s not get into a definition of poetry here.  That comes up a lot in our dialogues later on.) Anyway, humans as pulsating energy is modern science.

And this energy, this energy that we are, is universal. It isn’t isolated. It’s something that’s throughout. There’s no break anywhere in it. So we know that. And that’s based on particle physics. That’s the Zero Point Field connection. As we explore the implications in our dialogues, they almost knock your socks off. As McTaggart says at the end of her book, we have capacities we never dreamed of. For example, we know the thoughts in our heads are physical, they are  not nonphysical. They are actually electrical pulses which digitize neurons in the brain, and that digital information–that’s a metaphor, too; it’s not actually “digital”–does alter the brain, the whole brain, the whole structure.  That’s  not a ho-hum idea.  Look  into  your brain; that’s what’s going on in there.

Another thing that’s pretty obvious as we look at the science is that thought isn’t isolated in one part of the brain. Memory, for example, is distributed throughout the brain, actually throughout the body. The body remembers everything. And that, of course, takes you back to Jungian pre-conscious, or archetypal information. That’s because this stuff doesn’t go away.

It’s stored up, like the internet “cloud” where the world can, if it wants, store up everything. Think paleontology, archaeology, collective unconscious, anthropology–all implicit in that storage system. Oh, add cosmology while you’re at it.

Shall we go into that a bit more here? Toward the end of The Field McTaggart lists other implications she sees of our being aware of this stuff. Would you like to look into some of them now?

H:     Sure. Let’s zero in on some key passages that bear on in this introduction.

M:        Well, I’m fascinated with the idea of digital biology–which means you could talk directly to the digital information in your nerve endings to deal with diseases.  You don’t have to take clumsy pills. I tell that to my doctors and they just roll their eyes, but this is actually stuff other doctors at a different level are working on right now.  There will come a time  and  not too far distant, possibly in your lifetime, Steven, when you’ll be able to deal with a  disease, a dis-ease, directly and not have to go through a bunch of pills–without all kinds of side effects.

H:      Are you talking about speaking to the disease?

M:     You would send the digital information probably electronically. It’s possible at another level that indeed it could be done vocally. Computers, for example, quite quickly moved from code language to human languages.  The digital information is in the  background, and  we never see it unless we’re involved at that level. With treatment of a disease, a doctor in her office could pinpoint the kinds of cells that are causing your trouble, and she could digitize some information to send to those cells. I don’t know what the actual physical process would be, but probably you wouldn’t have to be injected with anything. Maybe you’d sit there and information-laden electrical impulses would go through your system and chat with the cells directly. That, I don’t think is far fetched. I think it’s right there at the top of advanced  scientific work. So that’s one implication.*

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.  

Look up CRISPER and what’s going on in gene editing and the ethical questions it engenders and the unknown genetic complications later in life it could lead to


Another idea, for example, that I think is pretty accurate scientifically is that information seems to be coming from my voice in the form of words, but it’s really electrical impulses that are flowing between you and me right now. And it’s not actually words that are being transferred, it’s something beyond words. I’m trying to transmit to you right now, via clumsy words, a sense of how things are. If we both play our cards right, that information will get transferred much more accurately than mere words can accomplish. Words are merely vehicles to give electronic frequencies a chance to move between us.

I saw in the paper yesterday something I think is to the point. The article was about a dog walker who walks with five or six dogs at a time. He says it’s not really that hard to work with five or six dogs. He says that they develop a pack consciousness and that they communicate  as if they were one dog. There’s a picture of these  dogs  all sitting and  looking at this  guy  with rapt attention.  They’re functioning as  one thing, like a flock of birds, as one  consciousness, like one being. I think we have the same  thing among us  humans, only  we  have  forgotten about it. Ancient people, and primitive people, had no question about this. It was obvious to them.  I think now we  have a way of seeing this, not as some  rare phenomenon, but as something that is common to us all.  If you can tap in to that, you can begin to use this  awareness to do whatever you want to do, in a much more powerful way than stumbling along and accidentally creating a great work of art. You can deliberately create a great work of art– for you, for your vocation.

With this kind of awareness, you can let that happen. So an implication of the cosmos as pulsating energy–which we explore in our dialogues–is that the mass of human energy capsules is one collective consciousness–and one collective unconscious.

So I think our dialogues are pointing toward that connectedness. As we go through each of these ideas, when we talk about Teilhard de Chardin or when we talk about Gilgamesh, John Keats, Walt Whitman, Beowulf, Robinson Jeffers, Robert Frost, we’re bringing that awareness to a surface level and reminding ourselves of how this works. Talking about these things is a way of massaging our nervous systems into a state of heightened awareness. So this is our liturgy. This is our church service. [Both laugh.]

Talking about ideas is a way of massaging our nervous systems into a state of heightened awareness.

H:      Yes, and seers like Meister Eckhart in the  thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and Teilhard de Chardin in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth played important roles in providing some of the ‘hymns’.

Let’s talk about how our two fields, education in your case and Jungian psychotherapy in mine, could be positively influenced by awareness of the ideas we work up in these dialogues. Looking back now as a Jungian psychotherapist, I’m imagining myself as a young man coming into your class — was it forty years ago?

M:     Yes, just about.

H:      Coming into your class like lots of young college students, not really knowing what the future holds for them, but having a lot of excitement, and hoping that they would be seen by the teacher, would be seen for their potential. There’s something in every student, in every individual, some creative spark. Meister Eckhart called it the spark of the soul.

the spark of the soul

M:     “The spark of the soul”  . . .  yes.

H:     You talk about knowledge in the cells, the cellular level. Then there is the collective unconscious. We work with dreams and active imagination in analytic work. I can see, looking back at my journal from your class–we all kept a journal, as you know–here were definitely ideas that were being sparked from the collective unconscious. So this idea of the Zero Point Field can spark the association that there’s light in the unconscious that wants to be evoked. That kindling of the Spirit was going on in those classes, through words or through experiences.

M:     The journals did often reflect that. During our dialogues over these past several years, Steven, I felt that fire was being stoked; it’s there in the transcripts.  So I think, yes, readers sitting in on these dialogues may well get caught up in it too and will begin to kibitz in their minds, making their own discoveries. That would be splendid.

H: The language itself wasn’t the important thing in those classes, was it, or the things we did together? It was the emerging Self that surfaced; that was the important thing. I should note, too, that there was no ulterior motive; the importance was in creating an experience of heightened awareness.

M:     William Carlos Williams called it “an intense vision of the facts.” That’s what you and I were working up, an intense vision of the facts. I think that comes through in the dialogues.

That’s what my students and I were doing, too, though I never sat down and said that. You can’t force that. You can’t make up a lesson plan for such an experience.

H:      No. That would have killed it. You never made it an assignment.

M:     So reading through our dialogues is to have an experience, like making love, not to pile up facts for Trivial Pursuits. I would like readers to have an experience the way they have at a rock concert or sitting in on a jazz performance, an experience of that spark of the Self surfacing. I have a dear friend whose destiny, I would say, is one that her circumstances, the cards she’s been dealt, don’t allow her to fulfill. But she said to me the other day, “I love to sing, and I love to sing loud.” And she does it every day. We know when you get out there and shout your soul out into the atmosphere, it makes you feel good.

The experience of a great rock concert or a symphony — more like a symphony, really,  because it’s a sym-phony of voices making a oneness. We’ll have to see if our dialogues evoke that kind of experience.

H:     Do you think that feeling carries over into the way people approach their lives?

M: It has to. We both know very well that Whitman was speaking the simple truth when he wrote, “I know of nothing but miracles.” The “test” of a good class experience–and of a good therapy session, and of our dialogues–would be if miracles started popping up at the supermarket.

H:       Right, the carry-over.

Something to your life that’s alive and golden and beautiful

M:     And then maybe the intensity starts to fade as you get caught up in doing your laundry and you forget about it. But not completely. This is the pay-off. If you come out of a good experience of the sort we’re talking about, a college class, a therapy experience, a church liturgy, Swan Lake–or our dialogues, maybe–you can never forget back here [Points to back of his head]  that there’s something to your life that’s alive and golden and beautiful, whatever you’re doing, that it’s there in the background. And there’s that bird of awareness perched on your shoulder reminding you.

H:     Do you know Jim Morrison’s “Break on Through to the Other Side”?

M:  No.

H: Here’s the connection I see with our dialogues. I suppose our readers might look at a great thinker like Einstein as someone who’s broken through to the other side, someone who’s had a revelation about the theory of relativity and has come back from that experience, someone who’s been to the Zero Point Field and knows it experientially and can transmit that kind of a feeling. So people who’ve been to a rock concert and heard Jim Morrison sing that song want to break on through with him to the other side. They’ve had that experience.

M:     Right, but I think what often happens is that people think, “Oh, this is an isolate.  The rest of my life is not anything like this.” The “other side” seems to be almost an aberration, a separate thing. But it’s not. And I think in classes like the ones I taught or any class, for that matter–in your work, too, Steven—we want it to be clear. “No, no, no, the rock concert is only a metaphor for your life, and in fact your whole  life is a concert.  You can tap into that; there are ways you can remind  yourself and allow yourself to ‘break on through.’”  I would never say those words to a student. I would let them make that discovery.  One must not teach.  This is fundamental to what we’re talking about. In the dialogues, we’re not trying to teach.  If  we had set out to write a book for an audience, like all those self-help books out there, we’d have killed it. If we try to teach, we kill any breakthrough like that. [Snaps his fingers] This is the problem that almost all teachers have. They don’t see that simple idea that your job isn’t to teach. It’s to set the stage so that people can learn, and a teacher has to be participating and having an experience, too. An orchestra conductor isn’t a passive observer. It’s a cooperative process. So, I like it that we’ve kept the dialogue format. That way, readers can engage their own intelligence and participate as the thoughts spin out and enlarge across the pages.

H:      To find their own way through to the other side.

M:     No one wants to be “instructed.” Authorities, teachers, ministers, parents, will tell you, “Now, you must do this and this. And this is what it means.” And you say, “I don’t want this. I don’t even care if you’re right.  I’m not going to do this.  You’re not letting me be me.” So letting people find their own way is very important. And we both know the spirit responds. We start tapping our feet to the music.

So I think a by-product is that readers will start hearing unheard melodies. Their spirits start to sing. Then it becomes their music, their song.

H:      Unblocking their creative minds.

M:     Sure. That’s actually what happened. I used to get outpouring of powerful unsolicited writing. Drawings, paintings, poems, too, all sorts of expression of their unblocked selves.

I used to get outpouring of powerful unsolicited writing. Drawings, paintings, poems, too, all sorts of expression of their unblocked selves.

H:     The “other side” and the physical Newtonian world are always in the foreground or background of our dialogues. When we talked about the world of particle/wave physics, that seemed practical and physical, but then the implications would emerge and the vast night sky would come bursting through. The two worlds worked hand and hand with each other. M:     Yes. We could talk of subatomic physics as the “facts” of matter – what we know about particles, what we know about waves. Then out of the corner of the eye a golden light comes beaming through, and that’s also “factual.” You can’t have either without the other. You can’t make that happen. It has to come of its own accord. But the liturgy of certain kinds of behavior, like the dialogues in our book, increases the odds. It’s a lot like that box illusion you and I talk about in our dialogues.

Energy/particle, Spirit/flesh.


Glance at it one way, and it’s on this base; glance again, on another. Which way is correct? Well, they both are. Gee, what made me think of the 2300-year-old yin yang symbol in the  Safeway logo?

H: Safeway is not necessarily in Tao as regards the environment and, therefore, may be out of touch with the cosmic unity we discuss, so we need to be clear here that we are not naïve about the shadow of big industry.

Communication of the world doesn’t occur in the visible realm of Newton but in the subatomic world of Warner Heisenberg.

M: Sure, but since Safeway is made up of the same stuff as all matter is and if the Spirit of the universe flows through everything, then Safeway is not perhaps realizing the symbolic significance of its logo and may need to bring it into Tao with their business practices. What’s wonderful is that scientific understanding is beginning to take into account this non-duality. Scientists talk more and more like poets, recognizing that physical descriptions without their spiritual underpinnings are incomplete. “Breaking on through to the other side” is becoming part of the equation. As McTaggart writes in The Field, scientists have come to understand that “communication of the world doesn’t occur in the visible realm of Newton but in the subatomic world of Warner Heisenberg.” Communication occurs in the subatomic world. That’s pure poetry. “The  brain perceives and makes a record of the world in pulsating waves.” That’s another way to describe what poets have called the realms of gold. “A substructure,” McTaggart says, “underpins the Universe. And this substructure is essentially a recording medium for everything, providing a means for everything to communicate with everything else.” That’s the Cosmic Christ that you and I talk about, for example, Cosmic Unity. “People are indivisible from their environment.” We don’t live separate from it. The environment is us. We are flowing as part of it. “Living consciousness is not an isolated entity.” There is more and more evidence surfacing that the consciousness of a human being has incredible power to heal, to heal the world perhaps, in a sense, to make it as we wish it to be. That’s the human being as a creative artist.

As you know, ideas like those crop up constantly in our talks together. They’re exciting to think about. I’ve worked with thousands of college students and they loved to think about the very things you and I discuss. I’m sure it was because of these breakthroughs into the  realms of gold.

We all love being so alive–teachers, too, when they get caught up in it. Let’s talk about why the these posts are in the form of an extended dialogue, dialogues between a practicing Jungian psychotherapist in the midst of his career and a retired college English teacher. As I was getting an overview of the transcripts, I thought, “This is like the logical hemisphere of the  brain having a dialogue with the poetic half.” We moved fluidly back and forth; sometimes we were quite factual and sometimes we talked in the poetic mode.

And the good part is that each of us would be doing it within our own minds. Your two hemispheres, Steven, work beautifully together. I’m pretty comfortable with the two hemispheres, too.

H:      That’s right. And we worked up a lot of what might be thought of dull, dull factual material.

M:     Yes, and that can be dry as dust, the sort of stuff found in textbooks that comes  from the logical hemisphere of the brain. Of course, we do have to let the logical conscious hemisphere do its job.

H:      And the poetic is the trans-conscious hemisphere.

M:     They have to work in harmony. They have to love each other.

H:       I think that’s true. This is the mutual atmosphere in which these dialogues take place.

M:     We would both insist on an intense vision of the facts, and one of the things I enjoy about chatting with you, Steven, is that you see all these connections, historically but also in the simultaneous now. I think reading through these dialogues would be like reading a play, and a reader would begin to track the line of thought developing between the psychotherapist and the English teacher so that they would experience what you and I experience. That would be splendid. Essentially, we were creating a play.  

H:     In these dialogues there is a lot of discussion of miracles, the idea Whitman heralded or what Jung called synchronicity. I have a good one for you, and I think it illuminates the way “coincidence” transforms into “miracle.” The transcripts come back again and again to throwing a bright golden light on the ordinary. Did I tell you what happened at this party for Lori’s [Steven’s wife, Lori Goldrich] nephew Brandon?

If you’re not seeing miracles, you’re not looking.

M:     Let me just add before you get to that story that I think if you’re not seeing miracles everywhere, you’re not looking. Part of the idea of this book is that if you go through this dialogue, you begin to see places where miracles are occurring; you’re not talking way-out- there talk, you’re talking fundamental talk, like it’s a miracle that anything can exist. All that kind of stuff. So tell me about the party.  

H:      It’s a little vignette about why some of the things  we talked about do seem miraculous. For example, the Gilgamesh dialogue we have in this book. [A 1700 BCE epic poem, Gilgamesh is the story of the hero-king founder of Uruk (now Iraq) and his journey of self-discovery.] Now I wouldn’t have known who Humbaba was if we hadn’t had the discussion about Stephen Mitchell’s Gilgamesh. I read the story, and I liked it. I’d read about Gilgamesh, of course, as a Jungian, but I hadn’t taken time to read the story. But did I tell you the story about the wine, this Humbaba wine?

M:     No.

H:      So here I am over in San Francisco, and the young man who threw the party for Brandon starts taking us on a tour around his house. He’s talking about all the wood, and how it was built. I asked him what happened to the house during the 1906 earthquake. He said, well, the house survived the earthquake. I said, “Then this redwood is from the original cut?”  It is. This is the original redwood from the first growth from up here in the Oakland hills that we’ve been talking about. [The redwoods figure into several of  our dialogues.] So I said, “Well, that’s  very interesting.”  Then I sit down for the  dinner, a five-course meal, and  Brandon, who had just gotten engaged to his sweetheart at the spot where the two navigation trees that you and I had talked about were located is being toasted.  They bring out this  wine, and it’s called Humbaba.

M:     Oh, no! You’re kidding!

H:      I said, “This is Humbaba wine!?” He says, “Yes, what’s so special about that?” Well, you know who Humbaba was? He was the guardian of the forest that Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed. He was the guardian of the forest.” I hadn’t been planning to drink anything, but I said, “Pour me a glass of that!” It was like taking in the Spirit. It was marvelous. And I thought of  you, and I thought of our talks, and, well, this is a miracle. Brandon gets engaged in the forest where the navigation trees were cut that we’ve talked about. The host is showing first-cut redwood in his house most likely from near right  here, and then we  sit down and have Humbaba wine. Now, that’s a miracle. That’s an example of what we’re talking about.


M:     We should emphasize that if it hadn’t been for your awareness, it would have been commonplace. The experience was transformed through your agency. That’s a perfect example of wresting realms of gold from the ordinary. There are things that happen that can’t be explained through causal thinking. There’s no cause and effect here.

M:     The only way to talk about it is through universal cosmic unity.

H:    Yes, there you go. That’s the link right there.

M: I hope readers  have similar experiences as they follow along with these dialogues and begin watching for coincidences, because  they’re all over the place.”

H:     And enjoy the wine! You know Rumi is always talking about the wine. M:    Oh, he is!

H:     And Hafiz too!

M:     To experience cosmic unity and spiritual democracy the way you do, Steven, you have to get drunk on this wine.

H: Well, Clark, of course we each know Rumi and Hafiz are referring to ecstatic “drunkenness.” Of course, you know, in Sufism wine is a symbol for ecstasy, not a sign for alcohol. I am sure you know this.

M: Yes, that’s important. We’re talking about how powerful the intensity  of the  moment  can be. In that state, one could be “drunk” on air, as I think someone wrote. Wouldn’t it be great if students of a humanities course were alert to synchronicities? I’d love for biology or physics students to have the kind of heightened awareness that would come  from thinking about the ideas we’re exploring. Any biology student who somehow or other read these dialogues  before looking at this plant on your side table, say, would be beautifully prepared to see the golden glow coming off it. That’s what I understand a liberal education to be.

H:     I think one of the hardest concepts for a reader to grasp is exactly what you started off with, which is the idea of subatomic rhythm and the Zero Point Field. So I’m wondering if there is a way to make it simple or to convey it in a metaphor so that a reader gets it right off the bat?

M:     That’s what I’d like, too.

H:     Some kind of clarity so that we’re not talking about fuzzy ideas. Or trying to be  …

M: Lofty.

H:      Yes. There is plenty of factual material in these dialogues, but that’s background.  It’s not the important part at all. If I understand what we’re doing here, it’s that we’re sharing an experience, a glimpse perhaps into a kind of shift that takes place in the mind, something they will value. They have to feel it.  

The Place Where Creation Works on Itself

M:    I do agree. At any rate, read properly, these won’t be experienced  as an intellectual argument  but as an experiential journey. And it will be a spiritual thing. It’s good to throw the  most common things off balance a little. You know how we go around saying things like, My voice is high pitched, This  is my arm, My head aches, and so forth?   I think, Hmm, who’s  saying that? “My voice”?  What do you mean by that? I think it can mean that we see this physical stuff as only a manifestation of a nonphysical self. That’s the Spirit talking. The Spirit has the  body.  It’s  not the  other way around. When I say it’s my body, it’s my  soul speaking.  I own this  body.  I get to wear this space ship around for a while, for 85 years or so, and so on.

I am the place where creation works on itself.

Let’s see if this ties in with what you’re saying.  What we want readers to understand is  that if they follow along through the  dialogues, they will probably get a glimpse  of how basic to our own lives these ideas are. They’re not out there in space but fundamental to our everyday lives, miracles that we will be reminded of, Wordsworth’s “Trailing clouds of glory do we come, from God which is our home,” or the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer writing, “I am the place where creation works on itself.”

H:     That’s nicely put. As a psychotherapist, I think about what we’re doing from the point of view of transcendence and altered states of consciousness, the expansion of consciousness, Cosmic unity and the expansion of consciousness to a cosmic level.  We talk about the soul and the body opening up to the realm of the  Spirit.  So how can a metaphor become a transport? How can one metaphor do that? Wordsworth in that poem, how does he do that? Everybody loves that poem. They want to go back to that home. Well, Gilgamesh comes home. Remember that? That’s such a poignant thing. I like that passage.

M:     I referred to Gilgamesh in one of our talks as a tragedy, but for the poet it was a beautiful thing that Gilgamesh comes home to this beautiful city, like Joaquin Miller’s The City Beautiful that you introduced me to. Same idea, coming home. You see this image everywhere.

H:    “Sailing to Byzantium,” this golden city in Yeats’s poem.

M:     And John Keats’s “Much have I traveled in the realms of gold”

H:      There it is.

M:    No one setting out on a journey knows for sure how they’re going to get to their beautiful city, but they will get glimmerings along the way, this fiery furnace that is the essence of ourselves will become something they’re consciously aware of, and that will be useful in their seeing miracles.

H:     The dialogues seem to me to be setting the stage for transformation of consciousness.

M:   An opportunity, I would put it.

H:     That talk you told me about that Alan Watts gave at DVC – without notes  – “The Crisis in Religion,” he  wasn’t just talking about religion.  He was living it, the West Coast spirituality. He was speaking out of the place where the walls between East and  West dissolve, and you are just pure spirit. He was on fire. His mind was on fire. Right?

M:    “Mind on Fire.” Yes.

H:   What’s that Yeats poem, “I went out to the hazel wood, , .”?

M:    “Because a fire was in my head / And cut and peeled a hazel wand / And hooked a berry to a thread.”

H:       Well, isn’t that what we’re trying to get at?

M: Yes, sure.

H:  The kernel we’re trying to break open? Cracking the nut?

M:  Yes.