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?
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?
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.”
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.*
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.]
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.
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.
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
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.
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”?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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 …
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.
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?