|Answering the Call|
After my mother died, we found poems she had written about my brother and I. We do not know for sure, but imagine she wrote these words when I was in elementary school:
How prophetic! At an early age, she saw the question in my eyes that destined me to a life long search for spirit. Years later what was obvious to her became clear to me. The quality she saw may have been what the youth ministers tuned into who worked their "conversion" magic on me. Little did they know they were nourishing a quest far beyond the narrow confines of Christian doctrine.
While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I choose electives outside the department. I discovered a course in information theory and general systems theory offered in the school of communication. The professor was a student of Ross Ashby's work. Of many exciting notions, none was more fascinating than Ashby's law of requisite variety. I recently reviewed his original formulation but still do not appreciate the information theoretic nuances of the idea.
In lay terms, the law states I need an appropriate response to each possibility to successfully deal with (be in control of) challenges. In Ashby's words "variety destroys variety" or in mine "tit for tat." Since The Intuitive Self knows everything that I need to know about anything that I will ever do, it provides sufficient variety to achieve homeostasis - flowing with the Tao. I found that Ashby's idea of requisite variety paralleled the Taoist notion of wei wu wei.
My Ph.D. education was characterized by a narrow view that focused on isolated interests with little attention to their context. I got an alternate perspective from a series of articles by James Miller in which he articulated the principles of general systems theory for living systems. (Note 65) Synthesizing theories from the physical and biological sciences, he introduced me to the ideas of systems and subsystems, structure and process, and matter-energy and information.
For the first time, I was asked to look at the big picture. General systems theory encouraged me to consider the whole as well as the parts. What marvelous possibilities for holistically viewing the world as a system of systems. Although I did not grasp the material technically, the germ of the ideas bore fruit when I realized The Blindmen and the Elephant characterized the general systems approach. What I did not understand scientifically, I appreciated metaphorically through a children's story.
Let it be a Dance
The rational encounters at Penn held a strange sway over my being. But something beneath the logical surface cried out for attention. A small voice called to fathom the mystery hidden between the lines of Ashby and Miller's scholarly writings. I would return time and again to read and reflect on requisite variety and general systems theory. The Holy Grail reflected off their ideas beckoning me toward deeper truth. Some magical rhythm plucked the strings of my rational musings.
My brother introduced me to Beethoven's last string quartets when he passed along a write up explaining the spiritual power of the celestial strings. My favorite was the quartet in C sharp minor. (Note 67) With the background reading, I honed my appreciation for an orchestral piece with subtle layers of meaning. The rhythms had the same ephemeral appeal as Charles Ives Unanswered Question. Listening to the quartet was like hearing God speak through the composition.
Watching Leonard Bernstein conduct, I was riveted by his movements. Something about his energy and rhythm captured my imagination. I recognized the passion he expressed in his work. West Side Story was once a favorite, and later I was blown away by Mass. The power was not as much in the music as in certain lyrical phrases. When the Celebrant sang "For God is the simplest of all" from "A Simple Song", I was held in aesthetic arrest. I repeatedly listened to the recording to experience the gripping feeling that came over me when I heard those words.
I found the same magical rhythm when I encountered the song poetry of Ric Masten a roving Unitarian Universalist troubadour. He came to the churches I attended to perform his music of self discovery. One song grabbed my attention like no other before or since. The title, words and phrasing of "Let It Be A Dance" all called out to me. Listening again years later, my presence wells up with the epiphany of recognition.
Perhaps the journey would lead me to experience the dance of life. For a time the image was so vivid, I included Masten's song in memorial service instructions to my children. During my romance with this music, I encouraged my son (he would say forced) to take "dance lessons." Later when we I worked through our father son issues, I realized how I had projected the magical call to join the dance of life.
Through a series of synchronicities, I reconnected with my son's dance teacher in movement sessions she led at the Unitarian Universalist church. Taking part in free form dance introduced my body to a different kind of self expression. The teacher combined Roberto's Assagioli's psychosynthesis work with gestalt methods and several forms of creative expression in a self development program. Eventually she became my personal therapist - but that is getting ahead of my story.
Becoming a Person
Beginning with Notes to Myself, Hugh Prather wrote a series of books chronicling his explorations into the mystery of self. (Note 70) The open vulnerable sharing of his inner most thoughts and feelings was an inspiration for my initiatives into self knowledge. The subtitle of the book was an inspiration in itself: My Struggles to Become a Person. Prather's direct encounter with experience offered a role model as I turned ever inward in a search for meaning.
Since most of his early writings appeared to be journal fragments, they were easy to read. Each paragraph could be approached as a self contained unit. In periods of difficulty, I savored the spirit of inquiry permeating the fabric of every passage. For example:
Prather's first book was dedicated "to Carl Rogers (whose On Becoming A Person showed me where to look)." In a therapist's view of the good life, Rogers outlined the characteristics of movement in that direction: an increasing openness to experience, increasingly existential living, an increasing trust in one's organism and the process of functioning more fully. Reading and reflecting on Roger's notes when my relationships were falling apart provided additional impetus toward self discovery as a road for spiritual recovery.
In my Ph.D. organizational theory courses and later humanistic studies, Abraham Maslow's "self-actualizing person" was a focus of attention. But I was drawn to his ideas of being cognition and deficiency cognition. These complimentary modes of perception which emphasized B-values and D-values respectively were the difference between seeing the world as a whole and focusing on the parts. Later I came to see this as the difference between the rational and intuitive (in the small) ways of relating to the world.
Most striking was Maslow's notion of an innocent cognition that transcended the primary modes of perception. His notes on innocent cognition spoke of a childlike innocence toward the world informed by the acquired knowledge of a mature adult. Maslow criticized Eastern interpretations that emphasized return to childlike innocence by abandoning abstract thought. He focused instead on the "second naiveté" that transcended the B-realm and C-realm by integration rather than abandonment.
The other day I stopped to get a pizza. While waiting for the takeout, I was fascinated by a five year old girl watching a group of junior high kids. What keen, immediate, focused attention she maintained until their pizza was ready and her Dad called her to leave. I did not want to return to her state of ignorance about the "world," but I did envy her childlike attentiveness. Through practice, I can achieve the second naiveté as intuition in the large by reconnecting with The Intuitive Self.
Responding to the call crystallized when I read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. (Note 73) This story cast a spell - the journey of a young man from wealth to awareness was earth shattering. Why would someone give up luxury to become a monk? This question was tantalizing since I grew up on the other side of the tracks. We lived from one pay check to another on my Mother's school teacher's salary. The "poor" part of me wanted what he had and could not understand giving it up. But another part was mesmerized by his passionate search for meaning.
My effort to obtain a copy of the movie suggests the power of Siddhartha's story. Having seen the movie a couple of times at art theaters, I wanted a copy. I stumbled across an ad for a firm that specialized in hard to get titles. I enlisted their services and began an expensive effort to obtain a copy. I watched the film when my journey needed an infusion of energy. Following the inward arc in Western society was difficult at best and near impossible at the worst. Through the book and video, Siddhartha revived my commitment.
One striking image from the film was Siddhartha and Govinda's meeting with Buddha who was not portrayed in full image. Only his hands were shown - they exuded a stillness and equanimity that sent chills up and down my spine. Another compelling facet of Siddhartha's journey was eventually giving up all gurus to sit by the river and discover meaning in the water's flow from the mountains to the sea. I too have forsaken all gurus except The Intuitive Self. I sit by the river of my keyboard exploring the threads of meaning in the fabric of life.
The popular television series The Power of Myth in which Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell reinforced my spiritual journey. Listening to "The Hero's Adventure" validated my quest for meaning at a deeper level than Siddhartha. Campbell's famous dictum "follow your bliss" was voiced on this video. To follow my bliss, I had to find out what it was. There were so many expectations around what I should do that tuning into my true calling was difficult.
I had the good fortune to explore my bliss through courses I created and taught at the university. Conventional wisdom says "we teach what we most need to learn." That was and continues to be true for me. After 30 years, I left the comfortable university environment to clarify my bliss by striking out in new directions. Creating this web site represents a major part of that process. Writing this section helps me articulate what I want to do by bringing it to consciousness.
Being voted "most likely to succeed" in my high school class forged a life-long question: "What is success?" One of several false starts underscored my difficulty answering that question. Graduating from high school in the early 50s, my Daddy believed engineering was the ticket for a young man. I spent one year at Georgia Tech finding out industrial engineering was not my cup of tea. That was my Dad's vision, not mine. Finding my bliss meant giving up others' expectations. I return to my career initiatives in a later thread.
The Tantric Tradition
Exploring the yoga tradition in several directions, I discovered Tantra. This misunderstood practice was fascinating. Even though initially attracted by the appearance of sexual liberation, a deeper kernel of truth called out. Most Western writings emphasized the sexual side of Tantra, but I discovered this practice treated every encounter as grist for the spiritual mill. All experiences should be treated as an opportunity for personal development. This included sexual as well as other activities.
Most yoga traditions emphasized withdrawing from the mainstream to follow a monastic life. But Tantra said I should use everyday life to engage in spiritual practice. That meant discovering something about my soul wherever I was no matter what I was doing. Margo Anand popularized Tantra in the West. Even though she focused on sexuality, she described the fundamentals of the Tantra vision in Western terms. These fundamentals encouraged me to follow my bliss in the everyday world and not retire to a remote monastery.
A devotee consumed wine, meat, fish, grain and sexual intercourse. Taken literally this sounded like a Bacchanalian orgy. But that missed the point of Tantra. Through ritual engagement of the forbidden, the duality of good and bad was overcome. This meant engaging the world on its terms. By affirming the intrinsic worth of the forbidden, its power to trip me up was diminished. Accepting the world was transcending the world. This contrasted with the monastic recluse who gave up worldly pleasure for the spiritual life.
In his novel Island, Aldous Huxley's character Ranga Karakuran had this to say about the Tantric tradition:
Like the Tantric, The Meditator in the World engages life as spiritual practice. Not only does the Tai Chi Dancer firmly plant one foot each in the rational and intuitive worlds, but he also stands solidly with one foot in the lower and the other in the upper chakras. His swaying dance connects the second sexual chakra with the fourth heart chakra. This dancer's stage has horizontal and vertical dimensions. The rational and intuitive are his left and right sides while the lower and upper correspond to halves of his body. These dimensions form a cross encompassing the spectrum of life. The Meditator in the World stretches out in four directions to embrace the Divine.
Even though the sexual emphasis did an injustice to the Tantric ideal, the notion of honoring feminine energy was appealing. With the Meditator in the World attitude, I explored Tantric sexuality following the Anand interpretation. These experiences did not succeed since my partner was not atuned to the practice. Though largely unsuccessful, they introduced a heart centered approach focusing on the godliness of my partner. Tantra asserts "That art thou" for the couple. The core practice blended masculine and feminine principles within each partner. I return to this integration theme in a later thread.
Tantra brought me face-to-face with the most powerful energy in the universe - Kali. David Kinsley explored visions of the divine feminine in Hindu Goddesses. (Note 77) Of all the female gods in the Hindu pantheon, Kali had the most frightening and horrific demeanor. Her icons were usually naked, black, four armed images with long disheveled hair. She often had a waistband of severed arms and a necklace of freshly cut heads. With long claw-like nails and protruding fangs, she presented an awesome visage. She often appeared standing victorious on the naked body of Shiva whom she had subdued. One of her many representations captures these characteristics: (Note 78)
Kali was the empitome of destructive forces in the universe. Though vicious beyond words, she attracted me like a magnet at the center of the universe. There was a sublime beauty in her hideousness. This double edged sword was too powerful to ignore. Kali erupted in a tumultuous relationship that swung between the twin peaks of engulfment and abandonment. My poem "Befriending the Bitch" transformed images of the Kali metaphor into profound insights around the ebb and flow of life's rhythm.
In Tantra the devotee challenged Kali to reveal her most terrifying secrets. Dabbling in this area forced me to deal with negative energies locked in childhood patterns of failed communication. She unearthed the slimy ooze of experience. She summoned the dark energy that pointed to the dragon slayer hidden in my shadow. I abandoned the pilot training program because I could not accept the slayer in me. Paradoxically by discovering the slayer, the lover was easier to express. The fullness of love sprung from the depth of hate. Otherwise love had a flaccid quality that failed to soothe, failed to commune.
The redeeming quality of these paradoxes were obtained by confronting Kali. Coming nose-to-nose with the great black bitch, my passion was released. Without her destructive forces, I could not find resurrection. Without destroying the old, there was no room for the new. Through unification of opposites, transcendence was possible. My soul's progress faltered by denial of the dragon slayer. Kali showed the way up to light down through the dark abyss. Before I knew her name, my poem for Kali was "Merry Lane Trail:"