Thursday, November 30, 2006

Joe Lieberman: Jackal of All Trades

Yesterday's post about StumbleUpon drew a few comments, and I'm always grateful for those, because that's what really makes a good blog. Daily Kos is a great site mainly because so many smart and caring people post comments that are often more substantive and informative than the main articles. This is what the 'Net and the blogosphere are supposed to be about. So thanks to you all for posting your comments, and by all means, keep it up.

As for Klassy, I thoroughly agree with the commenters: she's got more taste in her belly button lint than Britney will ever have in her entire life, most likely (and no, I'm not linking to any of the stories about the latter that are all over the place). And as for StumbleUpon, I'm using it already: today's graphic and link are from a site that I "stumbled upon" using the Firefox extension. It's a good companion piece to Terry McKenna's article below, and it's about the threat to democracy posed by the inequality of wealth.

Now, on to Terry and his study of the corporate stranglehold on our government. This is the kind of information we'll need as we monitor next year's 110th Congress to see whether the blues are honoring their mandate.

Now we move from words to money and influence.

We’ve suggested in the past that corporate America owns our government. To buy a government takes lot of money. Fortunately, information about most campaign contributions is in the public record. It's also useful that there are high-minded groups that review and digest the data.

Today’s article focuses on the oil and gas industry, but all of corporate America owns at least a small piece of the government pie. Most corporations help fund industry associations (lobbyists) that expend billions to tell our legislators exactly what laws industry wants, and what it wants quashed. And then there is campaign cash. I gave maybe $100 this past year to Democratic candidates. Industry and industry leaders give lots more. Since 1998, the Big Five oil producers gave $146MM to political parties, PACS and candidates. (From the Center for Public Integrity). Of course, influence peddling occurs across all commercial interests, not just oil. The nation’s biggest lobby may be the pharmaceutical lobby. (Remember the Medicare reform bill – this was crafted by a combination of drug company lobbyists, hospital associations, insurance lobbyists and right wing think tanks).

Campaign cash steers voting. For example, Joe Lieberman is presented as independent and ethical, yet many of his votes appear to mesh with the wishes of his campaign contributors. This list, from the Open Secrets website suggests support from a number of well-heeled constituencies:


Top Industries The top industries supporting Joe Lieberman are:

1 Lawyers/Law Firms $3,142,444
2 Securities & Investment $2,402,813
3 Real Estate $2,055,519
4 Retired $1,352,496
5 Pro-Israel $876,388
6 Insurance $830,577
7 Misc Finance $825,370
8 Health Professionals $816,402
9 Business Services $699,404
10 Misc Manufacturing & Distributing $511,586
11 Misc Business $495,099

In 1993, Joe Lieberman led the quashing of accounting rules that would have forced the reporting of stock options as having real cash value. This single accounting reform might have single handedly prevented the abuses that led to large collapses like Enron and World Com. Joe took an especially aggressive interest in this issue. Were his beliefs solely his own, or tainted by campaign cash?

My point is that all are involved here, not just Republicans.

--T. McKenna

Tomorrow, Terry will be continuing on this theme, shifting his focus on to big oil.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Geek Wednesday: Stumbling Upon Something "Klassy"

I will occasionally go over the website stats, particularly near the end of a month, just to see the volume of traffic that the site's been drawing lately. I also like to look at the "top referrals"--the places where most of our readers are coming from. Usually, search engines and Alterman's blog (when I have a note posted there) rank the highest. But this month was different: several hundred Daily Rev readers had arrived via a site maintained by a young lady from the East who goes by the cyber-name Klassy.

Well, aside from the fact that her avatar is attractive (which just as easily means she could be a 90 year old man, for all I know), and that she had elided the name of Tolstoy's revolutionary heroine (Anna Karenina), nothing exceptional came out of a look at the first page. So I had a look around her site, going through at least 20 pages of links, graphics, poems, movies, and music files. I was very impressed by the intelligence, variety, organization, and overall content of these pages, so I was very glad that this site had somewhere (I couldn't find that) posted a link here. I further discovered that Klassy's site is based on a Mozilla Firefox extension, one of those add-ons from the open-source browser's Tools section, that is a Web 2.0 entity unto itself: a piece of software that allows you to create a profile based on interests and preferences that you pre-set, and surf the web in a "Stumble-Upon" fashion (that's the name of the extension) to randomly reveal highly-rated sites consistent with your interest categories. In the process, you are joining a MySpace-type social network, complete with friends and various levels of interactive potential.

I was curious enough to create an account for myself; I found that the most impressive thing about StumbleUpon is the quality of the sites that it selects and delivers for you, based on your profile. I would therefore encourage you to try it as well (this can be done in Windows, Linux or on the Mac, but only from the Firefox browser).

I also discovered one slightly disturbing feature. Klassy's site was protected by an "R / X" rating, and I had to click my acknowledgment of that, along with the fact that I am an adult. But I didn't find any pornographic or objectionable content in my tour of Klassy's site. A couple of bare-breasted women, but no violence, gore, or other content that I might find offensive. In fact, I'd feel perfectly comfortable, based on what I saw, in letting my 12 year old daughter explore Klassy.

But that's a mark of the degree of repressiveness in this culture of ours. A person creates a website that reveals the female body in no more graphic a fashion than would a painting of Titian or Caravaggio, and adds that her favorite author is Anais Nin, and she has suddenly crossed a line into the forbidden. Someday, perhaps, we will build a culture where a President paints nudes and CEO's write poetry. Until then, it is clear that the people who control our lives (or at least try to) are themselves trapped in such a hell of restriction and self-abasement that they are scarcely recognizable as human at all.

In any event, thank you, Klassy. And now, with that discussion as the segue, on to part two of Terry McKenna's discussion of the Orwellian tenor of our corporate government.

If you want to see corporate speech at its most Orwellian, just go to the websites of our largest corporations (especially ones that aren’t needed to sell merchandise - so don’t go to Walmart’s or General Motor’s sites). I picked Exxon. To begin with, they are an energy company, so are part of the problem when it comes to matters like global warming and Middle East policy. They also yield tremendous behind-the-scenes power – they and their peers constitute a significant part of Bush’s shadow government. And they feature a goodly dose of corporate Newspeak.

Truth be told, Exxon is the chief culprit in the effort to debunk global warming. They also have a hard time accepting their responsibility for the pollution they cause. For example, after 17 years, they continue with a courtroom war to fight punitive damages from the Exxon Valdez disaster. But to look at their website is to behold a world of corporate warm fuzzies.

I bet a middle school student looking at their site would believe that Exxon is a good steward of the environment and a friend of science. But they are nothing of the sort (to get an idea of the truth of the matter, check out this video from the Keith Olbermann Countdown program). Again, they have spent abundant dollars on debunking the hard science of global warming. It’s been fairly easy to do. Just find a scientist who knows nothing about the issue, or one who has no ethics, and fund a bunch of papers that highlight the most ambiguous data. Voila, junk science.*

Of course, Exxon is just looking for influence, for real power, let’s go to the politicians.

The means of modern communication are just as useful for politicians as they are in commerce. The Republicans have been on the forefront in bringing modern wordsmithery to political communications. They have stronger ties to corporations and thus more experience with the way corporations misuse speech to sell their wares. With the Republicans still in control of the White House, let’s go to that website to see how much it looks like a corporate site.

In this case, I selected a snapshot of the home page, then clicked policy links on the left and copied five headers. White papers have been replaced by hallmark cards. And is any of it true?

No Child Left Behind is a sham and a failure. As the Times reported yesterday, the poor and minority students that the act was designed to help are pretty much as bad off as ever. Peace in the Middle East? Not while George Bush lets Israel do whatever it wants (they may want peace but who knows). Health care – strengthening? How? For whom? Energy Security? Fiscal Discipline? Nothing of the sort.

Ok – so the means are exposed. In future blogs, we’ll discuss the policies that have been twisted in favor of corporate and moneyed interests and against the people. Stay tuned.

--T. McKenna

*A footnote on global warming. For all of you who don’t read science magazines, here is the central point. The earth’s temperature has risen and fallen over the long period of the earth’s existence. It was once believed that these rises and falls were more or less random – if so, then the current cycle of warming, though potentially harmful to some, would be a benign process. But we now know different. The bulk of the rises and falls appear to be the result of the earth’s response to changes in atmospheric chemistry (and the feedback loops that exist to exchange gases between the earth's crust, the seas, and the air). For example, free oxygen did not exist in the atmosphere until the earth was 2 billion years old. And nearly 2 billion years later, the earth became unstable, and cold. If conditions had not changed, our planet would have become a stable and dead frozen zone, much like mars or the moon.

Similar changes have continued over the long march of geologic time – but each is different. The current increase in atmospheric CO2 is not random or benign. And it is man made.

To get the details, try Reading The Rocks by Marcia Bjornerud for the full story. She is a geologist and university professor.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Site Note: Daily Rev is in the process of migrating to the Movable Type platform, because Blogger beta is just too cranky for our taste. We'll have more to say about that come Geek Wednesday, but fortunately, we have alternatives, thanks mainly to our resident geek, Nearly Redmond Nick, who is taking over the technical tasks because I had fouled them up so badly.

We are also fortunate to have Mr. McKenna available for providing perspective amid moments like these. Today, he joins us with the first of a two-part piece on a writer who has suddenly become quite topical these past six years or so...

As Brian said yesterday, we want to examine corruption – money, influence and power. Our focus will be corporate America. But first, I want to explore the means. From my perspective, it was the corruption of language that led us down our current path. Not that we haven’t seen corruption before, we have – but the means have changed. Where corruption was formerly an entirely backroom matter, now it comes out in the open. Who could have guessed?

It turns out, the great writer George Orwell was pretty clear about how language might change to enhance the taking of power. He wrote two works that focused on political language. They were once part of the standard high school curriculum 40 years ago. Are they now?

It was in the middle of the cold war when our freshman English class encountered Animal Farm. His other great work, 1984 was taught later, perhaps in my Junior year. At the time, we thought that the primary lesson of both books was the fairly obvious one about the danger of totalitarianism. Now that the cold war is long over, I’m curious what current day readers derive from either work. Of course, books don’t teach lessons, at least not entirely, and even when they do, the lessons are complex. Still, both focus on political language. If you listen to our 24/7 media, you will see that the era of (1984’s ) Newspeak has arrived.

As I’ve said before, I’m a corporate soldier and have ample opportunity to enjoy modern corporate prose. For those of you who don’t get to read much of this stuff, it has changed a lot in the past 30 years. Corporate speech was once the direct, detailed speech of engineers and financiers. It has since morphed into power point driven bullet points and (it is my thesis) this speech is the father of the sound bites that have replaced genuine political thought.

In both of Orwell’s novels, political leaders use slogans to manipulate. In Animal Farm, the slogans come as part of the novels exposition. In 1984, language is a subtext. The Oceania government is engaged in creating a new language – NEWSPEAK – a simplified English where our extensive vocabulary is replaced by neologism (doublespeak, thoughtcrime, doublethink) or otherwise eliminated altogether. As subtle communication becomes impossible, lies become undetectable – for who can tell if a sound bite is true or false. True in 1984 and true today.

Here are a few slogans from 1984:




Sound compelling, don’t they? A perverted form of Haiku. Juxtaposition creates the appearance of genuine meaning.

To continue with my thought from above, over the past 30 years, business speech has changed substantially. The popularity of the personal computer had something to do with the change. So too did the new software. Thus the Microsoft Office suite temps us with useful hints, spell check and grammar check. Then there is power point. I’ve heard that one mid level commander in Iraq has banished Powerpoint from his operation. It makes it way too easy to appear to say something meaningful.

--T. McKenna

Monday, November 27, 2006

Calling Townhall to Account

I posted a piece about neurosis and the corporate mindset to my Daily Kos diary. It is meant to open a thread on a theme that we intend to take up here over the coming weeks, about the infestation of a corporate consciousness into both our public and private lives.

Anyway, if you'd like to have a little fun to start the week, head over to the neocon punditry center,, and take a look around. There are a number of mindless, pointless articles with the lamest possible headlines ("Cheney, Saudi King discuss trouble spots"; "Why Gays Cannot Be Pro-Choice"; "Bad Credit is a Way of Life--It Shouldn't Be!"); along with the obligatory picture of a Democrat looking shrill or silly. But, wouldn't you know, there is nothing of substance about what's going on in the world.

Such as any discussion of civil war in Iraq. Apparently, even the neocon press is beyond the point of questioning or denying that there is now a civil war in progress, although they probably still imagine that a civil war features a gray army and a blue army clashing on a broad meadow.

Nor is there any discussion of General Karpinski's comments about Rumsfeld's written endorsement of torture. I'm sure that once they awaken from the sting of the initial reports, they'll get all shrill and remind us that the General is merely recounting a memory of having seen such a document, and after all, Rummy's been sacked, so what's the point of hacking on about it?

I also couldn't find, even with their search engine, anything at about the duration of this Iraq War--that it's lasted longer now than WWII. As Tony Snow would remind us, it's only a number.

The day of reckoning will come for all the war criminals in Washington. But we will also have to recall who in the media used their influence to endorse or disguise the crimes, for they are complicit in every useless, agonizing death. This is no longer a left wing-right wing / red state-blue state issue. The results from the polls three weeks ago showed us that. This is now an issue of a free people holding those people accountable, in both government and the media, who defaulted on a public trust. The next generation, and the one after that, are going to want to know what we were doing when the foul corporate windbags were playing the mouthpiece to tyrants and liars, and why we weren't able to stop them.

No one would dare expect government to be flawless; being responsible will do. And certainly no one would expect journalists to be perfect; to question and to seek truth would be plenty enough for us to accept. But a program of pathological lying, unquestioningly repeated and broadcast by a bought-and-paid media, comprises an attack on every citizen of a democracy.

This is why I disagree with Ms. Pelosi, and many Democrats, about impeachment. We need it--not so much to punish the criminals, but to expose them and their allies in the media; so that we will the more readily recognize them in time when they come back, telling us oily lies and conspiring in the deaths of half a million innocents, through fear-mongering cloaked in the sibilant whispers of a sacred arrogance.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Joining Dumbledore's Army

Before we return to another week of deconstructing fundamentalism as it appears in government, religion, politics, corporate affairs, the media, and the culture at large, how about a few moments of fun on a Sunday?

Harry Potter: The Turning Point. For me, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the turning-point story of the Potteriad. It may also be the best written tale of the lot, but that's very much a matter of personal preference, so I won't insist on it. But clearly, the themes of OOTP make it a transformative tale, which is why it is featured so prominently in my own Tao of Hogwarts. If you have a glance at the pdf download of the entire text (in the banner above), you will find that OOTP is featured in Chapters 2, 7, 8, 9, and 10. OOTP is loaded with political, psychological, and transformative metaphor: the death veil, the Department of Mysteries, the Ministry of Magic, the character of Dolores Umbridge, Grimmauld Place, the Room of goes on and on.

That's why the next film, to be released in July, 2007, is of such interest to a fellow like me. There's an extended trailer/preview over at Google Video which is worth a look. And the kids at Mugglenet have a load of material about the film, including ever-increasing sets of still photos.

Dark Energy: Of equal importance to my mind are the recently-published findings regarding dark energy. I don't exactly agree with the term, which probably raises the wrong sorts of associations. I'd prefer to see it called something like "expulsive energy," meaning that it's responsible for the cleansing, expansive, outward movement of the universe--the negative pole in Einstein's original vision:

The findings are consistent with the idea of dark energy behaving like Albert Einstein's cosmological constant. The cosmological constant describes the idea that there is a density and pressure associated with "empty" space.

In this scenario, dark energy never changes; it has the same properties across the age of the Universe.

That this phenomenon comprises roughly three-quarters of the universe's activity (I feel that the universe, like god, is best conceived as a verb rather than as a physical entity), while so-called light matter, or the stuff that you and I are made of, makes up a mere 4% of the total, shows us something about how important we really are in the context of the totality of the cosmos. Once it's more thoroughly understood, this expulsive energy will, I suspect, have a lot to tell us about our own energies, which are not, after all, separate from our cosmic environment. It may also help to solve one of the more intractable disputes in philosophy, about what place death has in the flow of matter and energy.

In other words, it may help us to understand where exactly Sirius Black "went" when he was shot into that veil on the ancient pedestal in the Department of Mysteries...

Finally, there will be another film to watch for in 2007: Michael Moore's examination of the American pharmaceutical industry should be appearing next year. I was reminded of Moore's film when I found this Pfizer ad in the Washington Post: well, does it fill you with confidence in the future? It made me wonder, "hey, isn't it time that some energetic filmmaker had another go at Aldous Huxley's Brave New World?"

Saturday, November 25, 2006

After the Feast

Before leaving behind the strange apposition of a "thanksgiving" day and a once-great nation's retail obsession, here are a few links on the topic, followed by a reminiscence from my co-blogger Terry McKenna, who attempts to remind us what these occasions once meant, and still can mean.

Robert Jensen calls for the replacement of Turkey Day with a "national day of atonement" for our ancestors' genocidal campaign against the former natives of this continent.

Bob Herbert of the Times tells of one family's holiday agony. As it frequently happens, when ordinary people are allowed a voice in this society, they have more eloquence to offer in a phrase than we could find in an entire book from any grandiloquent pundit. Listen to the Mom of Sgt. Sherwood Baker, who was killed in Iraq while providing security for the team that sought Saddam's non-existent WMDs:

Ms. Zappala remains opposed to the war and is an active member of the antiwar group Military Families Speak Out. There’s a sign on her porch that says, “War is Not the Answer.” But she’s found that there’s no comfort to be drawn from her protests, however strongly she believes in them.

“Where’s the comfort in being right?” she asked. “Everything we said was right. Sherwood died looking for the weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. All the nonsense about the Al Qaeda connections and Sept. 11th. They were all lies. It was all wrong. But none of that brings Sherwood back to the table.”

And Jeralyn Merritt wonders why we would be thankful for a culture that destroys and processes humans in a similar fashion to the way it industrially treats the day's main course.

By the way, that headline in the graphic above is from an actual AP story. And yes, you are indeed trapped in a weird parallel reality. We all are. Fortunately, there will soon be enough of us who recognize that fact to open the way toward a transformation of our currently benighted land. And that's something to be thankful for—every day.

And now, Mr. McKenna:

I’m a member in good a standing of corporate America, so for me, the Thanksgiving holiday is a four day vacation. It was not always like this, I didn’t enter the corporate world until my 30’s. Until then, I worked in a variety of menial jobs that came with small hourly wages and few “fringe” benefits. In those days, I worked weekends and even major holidays. On top of my day job, I often had a part time job – even so I just barely made ends meet. My part time jobs ran the gamut from apartment superintendent, to waiter, night desk clerk and even adjunct instructor (in a university art department).

It has been more than a decade since I’ve needed to work part time. I am now a successful middle age corporate soldier. I wear a suit to work, and my salary supports life’s necessities. I don’t have excess cash, but at least if I break a tooth, I can go ahead and replace it. I don’t mention the tooth lightly. Some 27 years ago, while working as an assistant manager at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, I broke one of my two front teeth and needed to borrow from my aunt in order to pay the dentist.

Looking back at the hard times, I guess have a lot to be thankful for.

But what I remember most at this holiday is my mother. She died in 2003 (in her 88th year). Her death was not a tragedy. In the days before her death (she was in the hospital for what seemed a routine visit) she managed to see all of her children and most of her grandchildren. She was not in pain, but I suspect she would not have been sorry had she known these were her last days. I’ll never forget how she looked. She was frail, but also alert. My wife and I were her last visitors. I asked her if she wanted us to bring her something to read on our next visit (she was never without a book); she said no. So alone in her hospital room, in one of those completely inadequate hospital gowns, she said her last goodbye. She waived to my wife. She died that night, less than five hours later.

My wife and I married 30 years ago this past week, just a few months after we completed graduate school. At the time we lived in Jersey City, and were both trying to start careers as painters. My wife worked for the Census Bureau and I worked in a picture frame shop. At the time, the romance of being a poor artist seemed both doable and even attractive. Sounds ridiculous now. Both of us came from middle class homes. Artists really need a trust fund or a patron if they are to survive - and we had neither.

We were married before a judge and celebrated afterward with a small family dinner in a nice restaurant. Both our mothers were there, so was my brother and one aunt – was anyone else? I just can’t remember. As far as both fathers were concerned, they were both deceased, each one having died earlier in the decade. After our wedding dinner, we embarked on our one night honeymoon and returned home the next day – it was the Thanksgiving holiday. As we did most years, we gathered at my mothers house for the holiday dinner. I don’t remember anyone talking about how odd it was for two people to marry with so little prospects. Were we an embarrassment? I don’t know. In any case, my mother had to know how hard it would be for two kids starting out, with nothing. But she didn’t judge, she just offered her best wishes.

Two years later, we were living in Ohio. At the time, I was working as a stock boy and janitor in a department store. I also had a part time gig as an adjunct instructor at a university. Our son was born. We were poor and having a child only made things more difficult. We needed and received lots of help from my mother in law – we were lucky that we lived near her at that time - she probably purchased half our food and all our baby’s diapers. My mother was back in NJ. I don’t know what she thought, she had every reason to be appalled. Still, she never nagged me or criticized my decisions.

It is 30 years since we married. After a brief stint in Ohio, we returned to my home state. My son is grown, he has a good job and seems to be doing well. As I said, my mother is dead now. I guess is wish I had known when we were closer to her end. Of course, we always know that the old will die. But as aging parents get ever older, it begins to seem as if they will forever. And suddenly it turns out that they won’t.

And no, I was not a distant son. I saw my mother often, and if she needed help, I came over as soon as I could. One time, I got a call from her, telling me that the large shelves in our basement had fallen down. They were installed in 1958, so they had been up over 40 years. It took my a lot of hard work with jacks and a sledge hammer to get them back in place – but I did it. My point is that I was not distant from my mother, so my remorse is not a reflection of guilt over being a distant son. But I guess I wish I could have had maybe one more conversation with her. Would I tell her I loved her? Or maybe ask her what she really thought? Not that she lied to us, but I’m sure she hid her fears and just let us hear the encouragement.

Of course, this is a remembrance. Over time, the harsh words and bad days have faded all away. If you asked each of my mother’s five children to recall, you would no doubt find five entirely different stories. This is mine.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Make it a Blue Friday

Why is it called Black Friday, and what's the harm, after all, in getting something on the cheap and saving a little hard-earned cash? I offered some explanation on these points in last year's post on this topic. So instead of repeating myself, here are a few alternatives for action or observance on Black Friday.

◊ Adbusters is suggesting a "Buy Nothing Day" for this weekend. I'm personally not in favor of this sort of token restraint, because it tends to make the responding activity of catch-up acquisition so much the more feverish—like dieters who starve themselves for a day or two and then gorge the next, accomplishing nothing in all. But if this kind of a demonstration feels natural to you, the way walking in a protest march instead of going to a baseball game would, then go for it, and never mind what anyone else has to say about it. Generally, I'd be more in favor of recommending a life-review of sorts that encompasses a policy of reflection ahead of gathering. Life, after all, is not meant to be lived hermetically or ascetically; just practically. True prosperity is to life as health is to the body: a well-being that extends outward, and benefits the whole through the enrichment of the individual. Your material life is not separate from its cosmic source. Before you buy, remember the planet, the next generation, and most of all, your true self. You will consistently make good decisions when you do that.

Watch this film (yes, you can buy it on "Buy Nothing Day" if you don't already have the dvd). It's called "The Corporation", and is worth viewing. It's entertaining, informative, a little scary, but nonetheless inspiring. It will also put a lot of things in perspective for you about Black Friday and the great grab in general.

Buy the way you vote. If you read this blog regularly, it's a fair assumption that you generally voted along with the majority of the American people a few weeks back. Consider every purchase you make a vote on the future of democracy, our nation, and the planet we live on. This message is very thoroughly delivered at Buy Blue, a website that can show you which companies and products deserve (or not) your business, based on their level of social commitment as measured by such things as PAC contributions, affiliations, and community programs. They have a very good directory of companies and product categories, which can help you make purchasing decisions that accord with your social values while also accomplishing the other objective of shopping.

Change the form of government within yourself. You know the government in Washington needs changing; what about the governance of your self? Corporations and their media and advertising arms too easily sway us, too smoothly govern us. As the film I recommended above points out, this is the result of billions of dollars of research, technology, and marketing. Make it your job to resist that attempt at an insidious psychological tyranny. This is one of the messages of our banner quote of the week, which was written somewhere between three and five thousand years ago. It's from the I Ching, the ancient Chinese oracle and insight guide that I rely on in my private counseling practice and my personal life as well. The translation in our quote is from the traditional Wilhelm rendering, which is beginning to show its age (it was done in German in 1923; in English in 1950). I'd suggest something like the following, which I think may deliver a more contemporary meaning of the text:

Revolution. At the right time, your true self leads, and is trusted. Persevere in this, and success arrives and grows. Guilt is thus dispersed...Changing the form of the government within brings good and lasting fortune.

The people who wrote the I Ching lived through times of turmoil, oppression, and gross violence and inequality not unlike our own. They knew that the social order could never be transformed without a corresponding change within enough free individuals to truly make a difference. So they recommended a trust in oneself rather than a belief in some new system of politics, religion, or societal conditioning. Throughout its text, the book urges perseverance, and with good reason. They knew that a successful life—one in accord with Nature and with truly human values—requires consistent effort and regular self-examination. This is the point of a personal oracle: you ask questions of it, and in doing so you make a connection with a broader, more encompassing perspective than you would get from focusing solely on parochial interests or the dictates of advertisers and media pundits. That connection is not separate from you, nor does it comprise an appeal to an external authority or a distant deity. It is rather a connection made between the person you truly are and the universe whose breath is your own being. To understand this and to create this connection within your daily life is to turn away from the corporate delusion and toward reality—to open the pathway to a "daily revolution", if you will.

And now you know how the name of this little blog came to be.


If you'd like to learn more about the I Ching, you can have a look at the various resources at my Learning the Basics page, or check out some of the sites noted at the top of my Links page.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

43 Years Ago: The Day When No One Would Ever Laugh Again

This may seem like an odd offering for our readers on Thanksgiving Day. But give it a chance. It's something that arose from a meditation experience I had early Wednesday morning, the 22nd of November. I wrote it down later that day, and then looked around the major news sites online and was astounded to find—on a day when the assassination of a political leader in Lebanon was front page news—no mention of this moment in the lives of those of us who were around then, right here in America.

Personally, I think this experience also highlights the value of meditative practice: it's full of surprises, just try it. Here, then, is what I saw, felt, and remembered about a day 43 years ago.

I was pulling a booger out of my nose when the door burst open and it all started.

Maybe you don't remember it. In spite of what you may hear, not every moment is memorable to everyone. Or maybe you just weren't alive yet then to remember it now.

I was six. My family had moved that summer from a filthy, crime-ridden city of New Jersey to a tiny farming town in upstate New York—as I found out later, because my old man's drinking had gotten so bad that he couldn't hold down a job and needed to try again someplace where he wasn't known for what he was, a drunk.

So I was a scared, skittish little runt. This new town was too strange and silent for me—no noise, light, or dreams to it. I was pulling the booger out of my nose in Mrs. Dunham's first grade classroom, intending to add it to my collection underneath the desk, when Mrs. Leslie, the second grade teacher from next door, pounded into the room, one hand over her chest.

"Bea, something terrible's happened—get the TV." She made a gasping sound and then, as if just realizing that the room was full of small children, dropped to a whisper as she bustled toward a massive black box with a round screen on a gray metal cart with wheels.

I didn't hear anything they talked about as they set up the TV, switched it on, and waited for its gray light to fill the box.

Mrs. Dunham listened to a few whispered words from Mrs. Leslie and then looked as if she'd been hit with something. They stood in front of the box on the tall steel wagon and whispered some more. One of them sobbed. I wiped my booger onto the bottom of the desk, forgetting to roll it up as I usually did.

The rest I don't clearly recall, because everything happened in a blur after that. More grownups came by, some entering the room and whispering, some just standing in the hallway outside and speaking in a serious, repressed monotone. This was big and exciting—something totally outside the normal flow of non-action and the prim, quiet march of normal life at the Mary E. Dardess Elementary School.

Announcements came over the loudspeakers: the principal said something about buses and order. But it was too early to leave. Mrs. Dunham told us, in a shaking voice, to be good and quiet and that we all had to go home to be with our families. Everybody in the class was excited at the grownups' strange behavior; we all wanted to know what was happening on the TV that had caused all this.

But we were quickly lined up and marched out in the usual way into the yard where the buses also lined up to collect us. The talk started in the yard; everybody was happy and excited. But nobody knew what was going on, why we were leaving so suddenly.

Someone on the bus, an older kid from third grade, told us that the President had been shot and was maybe dead. I didn't understand, and didn't want to admit it, but the kid must have seen that we didn't get it. "He's the Principal—'cept for the whole country...the whole world! And he got shot...with a gun."

The following days are another blur of people—men, women, and children—crying; muttered undertone conversations in semi-darkness; and the television a constant stream of gray light showing the same images of black cars and running people and serious men talking. It seemed as if no one would ever laugh again anymore.

I was allowed to watch. I remember the dark beauty of it all: the neat, flattened flag in the center of the big domed cave with thousands of silent dark people walking by; the horses pulling that wagon with the flattened flag on it—they were the most beautiful animals I'd ever seen; and how much I wanted to be that little boy in the short pants who saluted his dead father and was held by the pretty woman with the darkened face. That woman was beautiful—prettier than my Mom, I had to admit.

I asked my sister questions about it all, because it was so exciting and I didn't understand what was really happening, except that someone died. But I didn't even understand what that meant. She was much older, in 9th grade. She told me, "when you die, you go to sleep and don't wake up, ever."

This was the first explanation of death that I'd ever received. I still didn't get it, but I knew that death, and this particular death, were very, very important. Superman never died, but my sister said he wasn't real, just a fake person made up by somebody as a story. She showed me a picture of a man who she said was my grandpa, and said he was dead. Then she told me that everybody dies and that you go to heaven after you die, but nobody sees you there. That's why everyone's sad when a person dies, because even though they know you're in heaven, they can't be sure because they can't see you or talk to you when you're there.

It didn't make any sense, but it was all very serious for a long time. You even had to play seriously, and grownups would look at you very severely if you played too much or too happily.

That gray mood lifted slowly, perhaps never really completely. You learned that if you walked in a straight, quiet line, like the people following the wagon with the flattened flag pulled by the beautiful horses dressed in gleaming shrouds, you weren't punished, and sometimes were even rewarded. It is a lesson that, four and a half decades later, I still work regularly to unlearn.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Geek Wednesday: Pig-Station 3

Before I let the cat out of the bag with Geek Wednesday, I'd like to recount an incident from my workday. I was checking the news headlines online and saw an item that made me want to reminisce with someone who could appreciate my feelings at the moment. I looked up and saw all the kids at their desks (the average age of our geeks is about 25), and knew it would be pointless with them. Then I saw one old-timer like me, and I called over to him: "Bill, did you hear about Altman? I remember as a teenager thinking that M*A*S*H was the greatest film ever made! Damn, I bet it's still good...Donald Sutherland was the Johnny Depp of his era...made you laugh just by walking into the frame...and Altman was the perfect director for him and Gould..."

This guy deserves the praise that is following him into the realm of the formless: he and his work were truly unique.

Geek Wednesday

Psychotic. You people have been sucked, brain-first, into an evolutionary vortex. Fighting, shooting, pushing, shoving, cursing one get your hands on a machine that plays games.

Oh, hi everybody: it's Night the Cat here, with another edition of Geek Wednesday. Now mind you, I live in a psychotherapist's house, and I have not seen anything approaching the madness that you people will descend to in getting your gear. You're really, really scary when you get like this, do you know?

And guess where it all starts—with corporations and their advertising. Let's review the story that came out of Boston: the gamers themselves actually started out in good order—one of them organized a numbered list of people as they arrived to await the opening. Names would be called in groups, and order would be maintained. But then the store management (the store is owned by SONY) said that the list was useless and basically said, resign yourself to chaos, 'cause that's what you'll get.

So guess what they got? Yep, chaos, just as the corporate talking head predicted—and probably wanted. Sure, get it on the evening news, let the psychotic lust for the machine that does sim-warfare with brain-melting, addictive verisimilitude leap through the airwaves, infecting everyone it touches. This is the goal, the most devout wish for consummation that any corporate marketing dweeb can imagine: call it demonic viral marketing. Order is as repugnant to these people as the English language is to your President. Chaos fills the cash register.

Therefore, by the time the mayhem had started and the police arrived, the SONY marketers' ardent dream had come true: the crowd had turned into a mob. The cops made the store honor the original list that the gamers had devised. The whole story, and others even worse, may be found here.

Let's see if we can find any sanity in geekdom this week., never mind, not here: the Zune is incompatible with Vista. But in the name of Bast, you gotta love Microsoft: they're just so incredibly, doggedly incompetent that they make you laugh. Maybe that's why we keep giving MS our money, because they're so funny. Maybe that's also why Pelosi says impeachment is off the table: when Bush is gone, what will Stewart, Colbert, and Letterman have left to lampoon?

Another sign of lunacy: my human, the psychotherapist, calls it "emotional lability." Are MS and Novell friends (last week they were) or enemies, sniping at one another like a couple of Middle Eastern despots? If you care, then maybe you're just as certifiable as Gates and the whole lot of those corporate dogs...

All right, there's got to be some note of sanity in geekdom this week...let's see what Apple's up to, they're good for a little common sense most of the time, not to mention great products. OH NOOOOO, they're having a Black Friday event!!!!!

I give up—humans, you're on your own. As Roger Waters would say*:

And when you lose control, you'll reap the harvest you have sown.
And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone.
And it's too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around.
So have a good drown, as you go down, all alone,
Dragged down by the stone.


*Pink Floyd fans and lovers of great music: don't forget to bookmark Daily Rev (or use the links in the sidebar to add us to your RSS reader), because in January, 2007, we'll be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of Animals, with reviews, insights, reminiscences from the band, and sound files of this epochal event in modern musical history.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Going To The POTY

I was playing some music here on the iMac over the weekend, and my daughter asked me a question: "what's your favorite song of all time?"

Instead of telling her I didn't have an all-time favorite, I asked her another question: "what's your favorite ear?" She stared at me a moment, and then, knowing me as she does, she answered, "my left."

But I think she got the point, which I'll now expand upon a little for this audience. Which ventricle of your heart makes the beat happen? Which of your lungs is better at breathing? What's your favorite testicle, men? And ladies, which of your ovaries do you favor? Do you have a favorite finger, or a toe that seems to outshine the other nine?

Whence comes this obsession with the best song, the greatest performer, the all-time undisputed world's champion; the beauty queen or the political king--the Lord of Hosts? Why do we live like moss on the rock of celebrity? Why do we lust for the smallest identification with fame, to the point where there is an entire industry of publications, television shows, radio programs, and websites devoted to the cult of celebrity, the quest to isolate a few wonders of humanity, and freeze them onto a narrow pedestal of adoration?

This occurs on every point of the political and cultural spectrum. Arianna Huffington has been obsessing over her role (with none other than Tom DeLay) on Time Magazine's Person of the Year deliberations, as if it is significant to humanity as a whole who the POTY happens to be, when all the pundits have cast their votes.

Well, do you care? Will singling out the POTY clean up the shit on this earth? Will knowing at last who Time/Warner/AOL/God so designates for cover stardom settle anything having to do with global warming, the genocide in Darfur, the continuing tragedy in Iraq, the round of murder and misery on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon?

If we are going to obsess over a POTY, then we will, most likely, fall recurrently into the trap of worship; and we will repeatedly fight the same wars, killing new generations of innocents, over whose God is the universe's favorite, over which belief system most accurately and meaningfully tells God's history and paints the right color on his beard.

The old Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, who has made occasional appearances here at Daily Rev, has some advice for us in this respect: if you want reality, look past the images cast by others, and disperse the ones within you. Here is Chapter 50 of the Tao Te Ching, in my own translation:

Into life they arise,
Through death they return.

A third of them seem bound up with their lives;
A third of them seem attached to death;
Another third appear ambivalent--
Passively shifting their allegiance
From each to each.

Why is this so?
Perhaps from an obsessive attachment
To life’s mere appearance?

But I have heard of people
Who could live long and travel far--
Ever free of harm or mortal wound
From wild beasts or deadly weapons.

A rhinoceros would find no place to pierce them;
There would be no meat for a tiger’s claws,
And no place where a sword could enter.

And why is this so?
Because they have shed the illusion
That marks off life
From the realm of death.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Monday with McKenna: The Perv is in the Pulpit

If you'd like to start your week in a nice, foamy emotional lather, click the graphic on the left and read the Papal instructions on keeping sexual abuses and abusers secret, from the BBC's October Panorama program on the Vatican's cover-up of known sex abusers within its clergy; or watch the video (right, Real Player or WMP required).

Perhaps the question may occur to you: "how did we get to the point where the foulest creeps are governing our civil and spiritual lives?" It's a question we attempt to address, if not answer, here in our regular dissections of the various governmental and religious cults of fundamentalism. Today, Terry McKenna touches on this topic in a discussion of Catholicism and its attitude toward sex; and a brief spout from me in the same vein follows. First, Mr. McKenna:

I want to start off this week’s missive with another post election comment. Ardent Democrats may not remember it this way, but the rest of us were hopeful when George Bush began his presidency in 2001. Even if we voted against him, he seemed a genuinely amiable fellow; his promise of uniting the country sounded genuine. Boy, were we ever wrong. George Bush has shown himself to be a small minded fellow who gets snappish when confronted by a difficult question. He’s intolerant of differing opinions, and a terrible leader. Think of the debacle in New Orleans after Katrina. It took a national outcry to move either Brownie or George Bush to do something as obvious as getting a bunch of busses to move people out of town.

And what about the continuing controversy over whether to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq? We are told over and over that it will be a mess if we leave. Of course, it’s a mess now. Is there anyone who thinks our being there makes the least positive impact? We’re sacrificing the lives of our young men and women for the sake of appearances.

But my topic this week is the Catholic Church and sex. Raised a Catholic, I continue to follow what the Church does and says. The prior Pope, although conservative, appeared genuinely saintly – by all accounts his personal presence was compelling. The current fellow appears to be just an average old man. My interest was piqued when the National Council of Catholic Bishops announced new guidelines for ministering to gay Catholics. The guidelines are pretty simple; love the sinner and hate the sin.

Beyond condemning sin, the Church offers gays nothing. Gay sex is considered to be disordered. And gay marriage is out of the question. The bishops also just came out with an update on Marriage, Sex and Birth Control. It turns out that in the Church’s eyes, all that it takes to turn straight sex from being a sanctioned act into a disordered one, even in the context of marriage, is to use artificial birth control.

In Brian’s Friday rant, he focused on fundamentalism. My focus is a bit different, for in many ways, the Catholic Church is fairly modern. Where it gets in trouble is when it tries to determine the morality of modern behavior – it relies upon what is called “natural law.”

The weird part about a reliance on so-called natural law is that it is not at all about the laws of nature. Thus it makes no effort to determine what behaviors are common and whether they have any consequences. Such thinking was useful before we had a genuine scientific method - but now such talk is utter nonsense.

The following sentences come from the Bishops’ decree. They sound well thought out at first glance, but the closer you look at them, the more troubling they are.

By its very nature, human sexuality finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the indissoluble and lifelong bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality… and is thus morally wrong…Because of both Original Sin and personal sin, moral disorder is all too common in our world today, among both heterosexual and homosexual persons.

Wow. What can you do with that? “Original sin” in a red herring. Is the teenage boy masturbating in his room engaging in disordered behavior? Will he go to hell for his sin? (As concepts, Hell and damnation are nonsense). What about a nice college aged couple – will they be damned for living together? And what about any two adults who wish to get to know each other a little better?

Most parish priests stay away from the Church’s antiquated moral teachings when they interact with their flock. Years ago, a sympathetic priest in my high school stated the following: “95% of boys masturbate and the rest are liars.” He didn’t deny any of us communion. Parish priests also don’t go out of their way to denounce birth control, and even with divorce, most let the issue lie quiet. If they pushed too hard they might lose the very folks who support their quaint lifestyle. Still, however practical a parish priest may be, the whole lot of them have dedicated their lives and work to a fraud – that these men are closer to the ineffable than the rest of us.

As a follow up on the article Brian linked to on Friday, not only is the priesthood a dying profession, but parishioners no longer follow the Church’s moral teaching on any of a number of issues. Reportedly, as few as 4% of married Catholics follow the Church’s birth control edict.

Let’s simplify sexual ethics, much of which boils down to old-fashioned respect. Try these three rules:

• Two people who come together for love should not betray each other – whether they are married or unmarried. And whether same sex or traditional.

• Sex acts should be consensual and mutual. Each party should try to please the other. Again, it works whether married or not.

• If children come – and they do! Both parties are responsible and both need to dedicate themselves to the children they bear.

Isn’t this enough? I think so. We don’t need a more complex set of rules, especially ones written by a group of men who have very decidedly set themselves on a path NOT to marry.

--T. McKenna


You can read the Church’s current position on marriage, sex and birth control.


Evolution: The Next Natural Step

It's getting colder now here in the Northeast, and I welcome it more than ever. We live in an alarmingly solar culture; we are defined by heat and glare—the heat of competition in business; of passion in lovemaking; the glisten of brilliance in academics; the heat of contention in politics; the blinding glare of authority in our government or our punditry; the blistering, destructive heat of our wars and conflicts. We have buried the cool and reflective arts of the lunar, or flushed them down a toilet into a fetid and swampy underground bog.

And so I welcome the short days and long, cold nights of late autumn and winter. They remind us that life is not all about heat, action, and the garishness of power. They suggest that the problem with power is not that the wrong people have it; it is that anyone has it.

This time of contemplation and thanksgiving also tells us that the moment may have arrived for us to commit ourselves to a new evolutionary step, which may involve a change of leadership—within the human, individual self and the social order—from the solar cults of power and contention to the gentler and more inclusive arts of the lunar and the terrestrial.

This does not, of course, mean that we abandon passion or quit on action; it simply means that we offer them a fresh leadership, a new guide that draws upon a broader perspective, a lighter and diffusely balanced luminosity.

As Terry McKenna (above) and the poet of the Dakotas remind us, Hell is not below, but within us. There is more of heaven beneath our feet than in the most distant star. Thus, the wisest Americans—Chief Seattle, Black Elk, and James Hillman, for example—have taught us to draw insight from the Earth; that "growing down" is probably the next natural step in our evolution. Here is how Hillman wrote about the idea of "growing down," in his book The Soul's Code:

By now, the upward idea of growth has become a biographical cliché. To be an adult is to be a grown-up. Yet this is merely one way of speaking of maturity, and a heroic one at that. For even tomato plants and the tallest trees send down roots as they rise toward the light. Yet the metaphors of our lives see mainly the upward part of organic motion.
Hasn't something critical been omitted in the ascensionist model? Birthing. Normally, we come into the world headfirst, like divers into a pool of humanity...Descent takes a while. We grow down, and we need a long life to get on our feet.

The solar, ascensionist model has failed, over and over again, for the past two or three millennia. Our upwardly mobile heat has brought us little else but recurring conflict, division, inequity, imbalance, and now, a heating of the planet itself that has brought our species to the brink of suicide. It is time for a new model; a redirection of our evolutionary path, if we and our planetary home are to survive, let alone grow.

So we are being called upon to reject, firmly and clearly, the heaven-gazing, ladder-climbing paradigms that have been the obsession of our institutional religious, governmental, corporate, and cultural leaders. We have to knock the authoritarian ladder of the solar obsession out from under them, and bring them all crashing down to this Earth. We do it by removing our adoration of these fakes and con artists—whether they call themselves Pope, President, Ayatollah, Prime Minister, Pundit, Saint, or Martyr.

From now on, whenever someone tells you—on your television, from a pulpit or a podium, or in a brilliantly-written screed in a newspaper editorial—that we must go to war; that we must kill the innocents of another nation; that we must hand over the wealth of our own country to a tiny and small-minded coterie of billionaires; I would encourage you to kick the ladder. We promise to keep doing it here, as well as we can.

Site Note: I have decided to offer the entire manuscript of my Tao of Hogwarts book as a pdf download (see link in the banner above). Anyone with an interest in psychology, self-development, or Harry Potter is welcome to download the file and check it out. I would only add that I still consider the book copyrighted material, because I haven't entirely given up on the possibility that an editor or publisher might stumble upon it and see something there that others have overlooked in the way of commercial potential. In any event, it's still a work in progress, but you might find something useful in Tao of Hogwarts. If you do, then it has served its purpose.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Reflection: Demolishing the Medieval

One reason why I occasionally post long book excerpts such as yesterday's is to encourage the notion that the transformation of society starts from within the self. It's not enough to say, "fundamentalism is bad, and there should be separation of church and state." That's a damned good start, but it doesn't go far enough to change much.

One problem with such an approach is that it externalizes the demons, which are in reality very much within us all. But something that we assume is outside ourselves becomes distant, strange, and even threatening. We have seen this attitude demonstrated by our leaders of the free world these past five years. I can recall the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, in the wake of 9/11, asking Americans to look inside themselves, and to clear away there the hatred and arrogance that had attacked us, before striking out externally.

I knew, of course, that the advice was doomed to be ignored at best or, at worst, bludgeoned with resentment. In fact, it took heavy doses of both treatments. People couldn't understand at the time that Hanh wasn't telling them to blame themselves for what had happened; he was simply asking them to get to know the enemy a little better before loading up the bomb bays and the aircraft carriers. And indeed, from Sun Tzu onward, every capable military strategist has said essentially the same thing: know your adversary by first finding him within yourself.

We made no such effort, and paid the price for our ignorance. Our government turned the entire experience into something out of a Superman comic book, and our mass media zealously endorsed this infantilism. Fundamentalism was simply given a fresh and redirected energy: instead of planes soaring into commercial buildings, we saw white phosphorous melting the skins of women and children—all in the name of truth, justice, and the American way.

Most of us, unfortunately, have been bred in fundamentalism of one stripe or another: the myth of human supremacy; the belief that God is either violent, distant, randomly unpredictable, non-existent, prejudiced, or some combination of these; the notion of guilt and the insufficiency of the individual to live successfully and decently without the support or authorization of some group or sectarian command post; the belief in a hierarchy of worth, which is ordered by an elite class whose primacy is unquestionable.

We also have a self-destructiveness bred into us through conditioning; even a suicidal impulse that Freud, among others, assumed was put there by Nature. I remember sitting in a Zen class one evening, when the teacher asked if anyone there had ever seriously contemplated suicide. Of about 20 people in the room, something like 18 hands went up. It was not surprising.

Given all that, wouldn't it be quite natural to examine the effect of these beliefs and tendencies within ourselves, and discover their true sources, before we sought to exterminate others affected with a similar sort of conditioning? That's what my piece on 12 Grimmauld Place was meant to be about: finding the medieval roots of terror within ourselves, amidst our past, so that we could clear it away and thereby drive it out of our society.

Let's say you're a Catholic, and you are open to such a process of self-examination (in spite of what your group tells you about it). You open your news reader, and find this story:

the average age of priests is well over 60 and in many countries new recruits to the priesthood, inhibited by the celibacy rule, are not coming forward in sufficient numbers to replace the older generation of Catholic clergy.

You also know that the foulest and most destructive forms of perversion exist, and have long existed, within the Catholic priesthood for a very long time; and that women and gays are either ignored, oppressed, or demonized (or some combination thereof) within the Church. Well, then, go inside yourself first and find the delusions that linger there, like pre-cancerous cells; and then disperse them. Then, perhaps you could go to your local priest and tell him that he must either do something about this or lose you as a parishioner.

The main point here is this: You cannot be forced to live a medieval life just because the leaders of your religion, your government, your media, and your culture at large are themselves trapped in the 13th century. The Pope, Bush, Cheney, Osama, and all their ilk, are in the same inner place as Kreacher the house elf and the house at 12 Grimmauld Place: they are caught in a regressive evolution, a time warp of such destructive proportions as now threatens the life of future generations on this planet.

It cannot be allowed to go on. So, no matter what doctrine, group-belief, or corporate serfdom happens to infect you and lie within the body-cells of your past, identify it, examine it, and dispel it. You needn't use the meditations offered in yesterday's piece, and you certainly shouldn't follow the dictates of a self-professed guru or doctor or priest. All you have to do is spend a few minutes a day, looking inward, asking questions, and calling, sincerely and urgently, for help—from yourself and your cosmic origin. If you discover truth, show it; if you receive answers, share them; if you are helped, be grateful. There is no institutional or sectarian solution to the threats and miseries that plague the world; there is only the response of each individual, connecting from the loving receptivity of sincerity to the source of all being. Try it for yourself, in your own way.


The banner quote for this week comes from Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, which we have quoted once before. Here is some more of Hoffer, on the topic of fundamentalism and self-sacrifice:

He who is free to draw conclusions from his individual experience and observation is not usually hospitable to the idea of martyrdom. For self-sacrifice is an unreasonable act...All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ...To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs.

Thus the effectiveness of a doctrine should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity, or the validity of the truths it embodies, but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from his self and the world as it is. (pp. 79-80)

For every individual who questions that "effectiveness" of doctrine, and seeks to recover his or her uniqueness, the medieval house of Grimmauld Place is a little further weakened, a little further diminished; and the world steps a little closer toward a transformative healing.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No. 12, Grimmauld Place, and the Voices of Neurosis

Every so often (and it's been nearly a year since I've last done this), I offer up a chapter from one of my books here, just in case there's anyone with the patience to read a long piece of prose about self-development and the like. And if you're an editor or a lit agent who's passing by, have a look and give me a ring, if any of this strikes your fancy. Today's offering is from my Tao of Hogwarts, and it's about the medieval roots of ego and the modern delusion of human supremacy. Off we go, then, to No. 12, Grimmauld Place in London, with Mr. Harry Potter.

Pressing a finger to her lips, she led him on tiptoes past a pair of long, moth-eaten curtains, behind which Harry supposed there must be another door, and after skirting a large umbrella stand that looked as though it had been made from a severed troll's leg, they started up the dark staircase, passing a row of shrunken heads mounted on plaques on the wall. A closer look showed Harry that the heads belonged to house-elves. All of them had the same rather snoutlike nose.
Harry's bewilderment deepened with every step he took. What on earth were they doing in a house that looked as though it belonged to the darkest of wizards?
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 4

In the opening chapters of the fifth book in the Harry Potter series, the fifteen year-old boy wizard is attacked by a pair of "dementors"—malevolent ghouls with the power to suck one's very soul out with a single "kiss." Harry successfully defends himself from this assault and is then rescued from his Muggle home by a group of his adult friends, who take him to an obscure house in a darkened, low-income neighborhood within London. This house is the headquarters of the "Order of the Phoenix," the social defense association that has been hurriedly re-formed in response to the threat posed by the return of Lord Voldemort, the complex embodiment of evil whose shadow floats throughout the Potter series.

Nothing about his new environment is particularly encouraging to Harry: garbage is piled up in the street; dirt and filth seem to define the homes at Grimmauld Place, sticking to their exteriors like a gloomy mood. The door to the place is "black…shabby…scratched"; the darkness inside is dominated by a "sweetish, rotting smell" which gives it "the feeling of a derelict building." Gas lamps are lit, which cast "a flickering insubstantial light over the peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpet"; there are other haunted-house features, such as a "cobwebby chandelier" and "age-blackened portraits" on the walls. The question that occurs to Harry, as he walks through the house at Grimmauld Place, seems entirely natural (the name says it all: "grim and old," or "grime and mould"—throughout these stories, Rowling reveals an uncanny talent with names): what on earth is he doing here?

The question is not answered for him immediately: he only knows that he is in the headquarters of the Order, that it seems an uncharacteristic place for his friends and allies to be calling home, even if only as a temporary measure, and that its pervasive gloom feels poisonous to him. And from a metaphorical perspective, it is, as Rowling swiftly demonstrates in this tour through the realm of the neurotic tenement.

For it is here, at 12 Grimmauld Place, that Harry's smoldering emotions of fear and anger are appropriated by the ego and thus find expression in a completely misdirected outer attack on those closest to him. Why does this happen? Why, after less than a quarter hour within this house and its threatening metaphorical presence, does the ego within Harry explode in a cacophony of bile against his two deepest and most enduring friends?

One answer to this is obvious: 12 Grimmauld Place is decidedly not "a safe place." I am borrowing that phrase from a 1989 book by a Harvard psychologist named Leston Havens. A Safe Place is a compact volume of poetic clarity that calls those who would follow the way of helping people in torment or crisis to remember that "every theory acts to suppress…the real person who consists of much else," and that furthering another's inner growth is really about offering a safe and open place in which true healing may happen. Havens writes compellingly about the inner requirements for "safe place making:"

We have to learn how to be still when the other needs to be left alone but asks for intervention, to give confidence when the patient induces despair, to find strength when everything suggests madness and deviance, to bring sobriety to those who would set us afire, and…sometimes to be what the patient needs….(p. 131)

In this respect, young Harry has not been given "a safe place" for a moment during this his fifteenth year of life, and we can all observe from our own lives how common this unfortunate truth is within our culture, especially for adolescents. For Harry, it is only at his school—particularly within Dumbledore's office and Hagrid's hut—that he's allowed the freedom and safety to expose his inner demons to the light of clarity, and gradually uncover his true self. As this story proceeds, Harry will discover that learning and healing are possible beyond Hogwarts, and even within the lugubrious confines of Grimmauld Place—but that understanding will reach him only after a metaphorical process of "inner cleansing" is allowed to unfold. At this point in the story, there is no safe place for Harry to grow or heal: he has been delivered from the plastic world of Privet Drive, into the frosty but insubstantial air of escape (the broom-flight to London), and finally to this moribund home at Grimmauld Place.

So, Harry is hustled upstairs, into another glowering space ("a gloomy, high-ceilinged room"), left alone by the adults who have important, grownup business to attend to downstairs, and he is then almost immediately excoriating his friends Ron and Hermione with demands, claims of right and privilege, bitter, paranoid accusations, and viperish, self-referential pettiness.

Even as he spouts this venom, Harry is obliquely aware ("self-ashamed") of the fact that he is being overtaken by the power of ego. Yet he carries on in the shrill voice of the neurotic realm—the power-hungry impulse to be in the know, the self-consciousness of the hierarchy implicit in one's relative proximity to the seeming center of things, the obsessive demand that he owns priority above others for his past actions. His bitterness is a function of the fact that a more natural expression of his fear and anger has been closed off to him; it is also a reflection of and response to his environment. As Havens points out in his book, our spaces, in both their outer and inner formations, will show us whether we will be allowed a healthy and disburdening expression of our distress, or be left with a narrow, restricted, and distorted projection.

Rowling's use of environment illustrates this principle. Compare the way Harry accounts for identical actions from his past in two separate spaces, first during his tirade at Grimmauld Place (above) and later at Hogwarts (below):

…before he knew it, Harry was shouting…
(pp. 65-66)

"Just listen to me, all right? It sounds great, but all that stuff was luck—I didn't know what I was doing half the time, I didn't plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help—I got through it all because—because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right—but I just blundered through it all, I didn't have a clue what I was doing—STOP LAUGHING!" (p. 327)

Returning to Grimmauld Place, the full impact of this reflection of environment and inner state is revealed as the textural details of this house are drawn. To the ghoulish and dystonic images already provided, the author adds more over the next two chapters. Harry soon understands the necessity of silence and darkness in the entryway to the building, when an accidental noise sets off one of the more intriguing images of the book:

The moth-eaten velvet curtain Harry had passed earlier had flown apart, but there was no door behind them. For a split second, Harry thought he was looking through a window, a window behind which an old woman in a black cap was screaming and screaming as though she was being tortured—then he realized it was simply a life-size portrait, but the most realistic, and the most unpleasant, he had ever seen in his life.

The old woman was drooling, her eyes were rolling, the yellowing skin of her face stretched taut as she screamed, and all along the hall behind them, the other portraits awoke and began to yell too, so that Harry actually screwed up his eyes at the noise and clapped his hands over his ears…the old woman screeched louder than ever, brandishing clawed hands as though trying to tear at their faces.

"Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers—" (pp. 77-78)

This portrait represents the figure of Sirius Black's dead mother, and now it becomes clear where Harry has landed—in the ancestral home of his godfather's ancient family. Now as tempting as it may be for us to see certain Freudian (specifically, Oedipal) analogies in this concatenation of images and relationships, it would seem more consonant with Mrs. Rowling's development of the story to focus on this metaphor from the perspective of a more human and less ideological psychology.

For we have now entered the metaphorical realm of what Karen Horney called "neurotic pride" and what Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog refer to as "the demonic sphere of consciousness." Kierkegaard called it "the sickness unto death," and specifically "the despair of weakness," which he describes pointedly in terms of false self-perception:

…there are essentially two forms of illusion: that of hope and that of recollection. The adolescent's illusion is that of hope, that of the adult recollection. But precisely because the adult suffers from this illusion, his conception of illusion itself is also the quite one-sided one that the only illusion is the illusion of hope…What afflicts the adult is not so much the illusion of hope as, no doubt among other things, the grotesque illusion of looking down from some supposedly higher vantage-point, free from illusion, upon the illusions of the young. (The Sickness Unto Death, p. 89)

Anthony and Moog describe this "demonic sphere" of illusion in terms of a false use of language, the product of fantasy and myth:

The false use of words in describing the Cosmic Reality leads to mistaken ideas and beliefs: about the nature of the Cosmos and its ways, about life, about Nature, about human nature, and about the place of humans in the Cosmos…The false thoughts and emotions coming from this false consciousness project themselves into reality…the parallel reality created by the collective ego, which can be described as the domain of suffering. (I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way, p. 713)

Horney speaks of this illusory, projected consciousness as the product of a neurotic error, in which "a wish or need, in itself quite understandable, turns into a claim." We may see that Harry himself falls into this neurotic trap: his self-important tirade (quoted above) comes from the same inner milieu as that of the portrait of Sirius' mother. Under the influence of ego, his need for personal autonomy becomes a claim to superiority above others, based on his past accomplishments. This claim is a brand of "personal racism," which parallels the more global and stereotypical racism of the portrait's rant against "half-breeds, mutants, and freaks." Certainly, their tone and volume are very well matched: Harry and the painting are both loud, biting, offensive, and imperious. This involves an acceptance or embodiment of what Horney refers to as "the expansive solution of mastery," in which "the individual prevailingly identifies himself with his glorified self." To do so, however, is to separate from one's own true self, one's human needs, and from the Cosmic Reality. This inner act of dehumanization springs from the same seed, which condemns others as "the enemy," "the traitors," "the mob," or "the ignorant," and subjects them to oppression and demonization, usually in furtherance of some proclaimed "noble end."

It is, however, the professed "noble end" that usually contains the seed of the delusion, the fuel which drives the engine of tyranny. Mrs. Rowling reveals some of the corrupt ideas that perpetuate delusion in her account of the cleansing of the house at Grimmauld Place, which, as Harry discovers, is more a process of "waging war on the house" than mere dusting and cleaning. In one scene, the children join the grownups in clearing out a collection of glass cabinets that contain some of the relics of "the noble and most ancient house of Black." The scene evokes Harry's earlier experience of the second book (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), in which he was misdirected within the magical fireplace network into "Knockturn Alley," a kind of parallel, subterranean commercial world to that of Diagon Alley. These cabinets hold "an odd assortment of objects: a selection of rusty daggers, claws, a coiled snakeskin, a number of tarnished silver boxes inscribed with languages Harry could not understand, and, least pleasant of all, an ornate crystal bottle with a large opal set into the stopper, full of what Harry was quite sure was blood." (p. 106). During the actual clearing of these cabinets, Sirius sustains a bite from one of the silver boxes, Harry is attacked by another object, and everyone present is almost clinically sedated by "a musical box that emitted a faintly sinister, tinkling tune when wound," until one of the girls has the good sense to force the lid shut.

The common theme to all of these threatening objects is their decadent, medieval character: metaphorically, they are the demons of an ancient, culturally-conditioned consciousness that seem to exude decay and a kind of inner contagion. They must be dealt with summarily: as each object is removed and its corrupt energy subdued, it is thrown into a trash bag. There is the bottle of black, rotten blood of a racist nobility; the silver trinkets of excess; various seals, lockets, and medals won for empty deeds or else bought with money and influence; and finally the mythic embodiment of this rank, feudal anthropocentrism: a massive book entitled "Nature's Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy".

Now we must be very clear about the reference of these metaphors: though their character is collectively medieval, they represent acutely modern problems—demons of the psyche that inhabit the neurotic realms of both group and individual consciousness today. They are embedded in our culture, our law, our moral codes, our religions, our educational systems, and even in our arts and sciences. To free oneself of these demonic elements derived from cultural conditioning is the object of insight teachings such as those of Lao Tzu, who advised us:

Drop the struggle, silence the demons,
And your natural self will be free.
(Chapter 8, Tao Te Ching)

The I Ching also encourages us to "silence the demons" in several passages of its text, most notably in Hexagram 18, whose title has been variously translated as "Working on What Has Been Spoiled (Decay)"; "Corruption"; "Ills to be Cured"; and, simply, "Illness":

Working to cure an illness is supremely blessed.
It is favorable to undertake the crossing of a great river.
Begin three days before the first day—
And you will end three days after it.
(from Rediscovering the I Ching, tr. Greg Whincup)

The "illness" is a metaphor that relates directly to Mrs. Rowling's feudal metaphors from the cabinets described above: it is nothing less fundamental than the delusion of human supremacy over Nature and the Cosmic Whole—the ultimate racist prejudice. The I Ching's text repeatedly underscores the centrality of humility and modesty in human conduct as an active means of overthrowing such "uber-racism," and much of Rowling's work in the Potter stories is devoted to exposing the myths and false perceptions that underlie and perpetuate this ancient and monumental form of prejudice. In their commentary to Hexagram 18, Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog add the following insights:

Once the images of human superiority were established by the heroic myths, rationales were created by the rational mind to support their validity. These rationales were then combined with the threat that people who were perceived as being disloyal to their heritage, were guilty of betrayal. (One of the greatest taboos is to be disloyal to one's heritage.) These threats were directed as well toward anyone who questioned the presumptions on which the rationales were founded. By such devices the presumptions have been maintained and passed on from generation to generation. In sum, they represent the feudal mindset that has dominated people's thinking worldwide for the last 3,000 years. In time, the societies that created these myths wrote them down and declared them as ancient wisdom, further intensifying the power of the fantasies, and the rationales that supported them. (I Ching: Oracle of the Cosmic Way, p. 239)

This describes precisely the thrust of Rowling's feudal metaphors found in the contents of that ancient cabinet in the house at Grimmauld Place! The I Ching and Rowling also intersect in their respective views of the specific character and consequences of this feudal delusion that has been carried into our own time and lives, and it all centers on the notions of patriarchy and hierarchy—as intricately knotted together as braids in the head of Medusa.

The corruptions of patriarchy are exposed in the lines of the text to Hexagram 18, where the phrase "setting right what has been spoiled by the father" is repeated three times. The patriarchal consciousness is inextricably bound up with the more generalized notion of hierarchy as an inherent attribute of human nature, the universe, and spiritual life. As Anthony and Moog observe, this elevation of the Father (as a symbol of humankind's presumed supremacy over Nature, God's supremacy over Man, or the King's supremacy over the people) amounts to "the deification of humans," which has led people to see themselves "as the ones who were designated by heaven to bring order to the multitudinous things of Nature." (p. 239) This false consciousness is present today in our political, judicial, educational, and corporate structures, and of course persists in the fundamental concepts of most religious and psychological ideologies, which divide spirit and body, or mind and matter, between qualitatively higher and lower realms of being. The I Ching encourages us to "work on what has been spoiled" (by the father, mother, tradition, ancient wisdom, etc.) through disburdening ourselves from within of the erroneous myths, images, and hierarchical concepts that support and perpetuate the feudal delusion. We will return, a little later, to consider some practical means by which we may approach this task of "setting right what has been spoiled."

Mrs. Rowling's contribution in this vein comes in the same chapter as the "cabinet-cleaning" scene summarized earlier. During a break in their work, Sirius and Harry pause to contemplate an enormous tapestry hanging on the wall:

The tapestry looked immensely old; it was faded and looked as though doxies had gnawed it in places; nevertheless, the golden thread with which it was embroidered still glinted brightly enough to show them a sprawling family tree dating back (as far as Harry could tell) to the Middle Ages. Large words at the very top of the tapestry read:

Sirius spends some time explaining to Harry the identities of certain individuals represented on that tapestry, and it is a history of folly, murder, corruption, and deceit that he depicts from its discolored golden braid. Anyone in the family who dared to question or separate from the feudal prejudice that characterized the ancient house of Black has had their names "burned out" of the tapestry (including Sirius himself).

Now we must consider that Rowling is obliquely attacking the royal decadence of the British nation itself, and perhaps someone better versed than I in the history of England and its nobility would be able to directly identify some of Mrs. Rowling's satire in this vein. But it cannot be presumed to stop there, for it is the very structure of human hierarchy that is being held up to the light of insight. This image of the tapestry simply completes and reinforces the other metaphors that Rowling has chosen to expose the feudal mindset and its legacy of outer destruction and inner delusion.

The Noise of Neurosis: Kreacher the House-Elf

The essentially neurotic character of this corrupt realm of depraved nobility is revealed in the physical rot that infests all of the objects in this scene. It is also betrayed in the voices which are heard behind the story's main action: the occasional screams of the portrait of Sirius' mother, which pierce the air whenever someone rings the doorbell downstairs, and the muttering, malevolent rant of Kreacher the house-elf. Kreacher, who is the house servant, steals into the room where the children are cleaning. He is a tiny monster, ancient and ill-appearing, with drooping skin, bloodshot eyes, and a hunchbacked gait. But his most alarming trait is his voice—a muttering, psychotic drone "in a hoarse, deep voice like a bullfrog's." His word-salad diatribes croak out of him unconsciously, in schizoid bursts that counter his conscious servant's officious wheedle. The disorganized commentary runs like a subterranean echo to the rant of his former mistress in the painting, in both its content and muted volume:

"Smells like a drain and a criminal to boot, but she's no better, nasty old blood traitor with her brats messing up my Mistress's house, oh my poor Mistress, if she knew, if she knew that scum they've let in her house, what would she say to old Kreacher, oh the shame of it, Mudbloods and werewolves and traitors and thieves, poor old Kreacher, what can he do…" (pp. 107-108)

Hermione alone senses that the old house elf is ill, and intuits the cause; this insight is later confirmed by Dumbledore in the final interview between he and Harry. The others, including Sirius himself, see only insolence, hatred, and utter depravity in Kreacher; Hermione sees, or rather feels, the demons that have enslaved his inner truth, and she wishes that they could be exposed and driven out of him. But Hermione is ignored, and even playfully ridiculed for her insight, and the book ends with the revelation that Kreacher has betrayed Sirius and Harry to Lord Voldemort, causing death to the one and yet another bitter loss to the other. Dumbledore provides the perspective in the epilogue to the story: "Kreacher is what he has been made by wizards, Harry…we wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward." (p. 834).

In contemplating the character and fate of one such as Kreacher, we are again reminded of Kierkegaard's insight: the "sickness unto death" has many faces. It has a face of power-blinded evil, such as we find in Voldemort; it has a face of smug superiority, such as the Ministry of Magic has in its way, and as even Harry and his friends in the Order of the Phoenix succumb to sporadically; it also has the face of enslavement to the false and feudal ideologies of tyranny, such as we find in both the "noble and ancient house of Black" and in its servants. The voices and the visages of the illness may vary, but the demons whose distorted energy fuels them are found squealing in the swamp of the same foul and vapid abstractions: the ideas of human supremacy, the mastery of Nature, and the division of being (and of beings) into higher and lower, chosen and damned, good and evil, pure and unclean. The "sickness" that Kierkegaard describes is not one unto physical death, but rather unto the only death that need be truly feared—the death of one's true and natural self:

Finitude's despair is just so. A man in this kind of despair can very well live on in temporality; indeed he can do so all the more easily, be to all appearances a human being, praised by others, honoured and esteemed, occupied with all the goals of temporal life. Yes, what we call worldliness simply consists of such people who, if one may so express it, pawn themselves to the world. They use their abilities, amass wealth, carry out worldly enterprises, make prudent calculations, etc., and perhaps are mentioned in history, but they are not themselves. In a spiritual sense, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self for God—however selfish they are otherwise. (Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, p. 65)

Silencing the Demons: An Approach to Healing

Let us suppose that a certain individual shows no inclination whatever to recognize his projections. The projection-making factor then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power. As we know, it is not the conscious subject but the unconscious which does the projecting. Hence one meets with projections, one does not make them. The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of a real relation to it there is now only an illusory one. Projections change the world into the replica of one's own unknown face. In the last analysis, therefore, they lead to a…condition in which one dreams a world whose reality remains forever unattainable. —Carl Jung, from Aion, CW 9, ii, par. 17

Jung was able to show, and then to poetically describe, how every person seems to create a parallel world of his life, through the projective activity of an aspect of personality that Jung called shadow. Now my own feeling is that there is no such integral portion of personality as shadow (especially as a universal and timeless entity, or archetype), and that what Jung was really referring to is what I have consistently called ego throughout this volume.

Ego has arisen out of error, out of something that we have done, rather than something that we are. It is a wandering maelstrom, whose energy—stolen from our true nature—adopts the kinetic shape of a hurricane, around whose stillness a storm of destructive and distorted energy swirls. The solution to the problem of ego is in the act of returning to that silent "eye of the hurricane," for that is where the pure energy of natural being may be discovered and experienced, in its deep and original clarity; that is the "safe place" of which Leston Havens writes. To get there, we must "silence the demons," and like Harry and his friends, clear our inner cabinets of false thoughts and negative emotion, by breaking the inner bonds of feudal belief. Later in Rowling's novel, after Harry has had another outburst of paranoia, bitter anger, and the howling, self-absorbed energy of heroism, his ego is stopped dead in its tracks by a remark from a girl who had been possessed by Lord Voldemort in an earlier story (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). At this point in the story, even though some threatening and disturbing events are swirling through his life, there is a measure of clarity for Harry at 12 Grimmauld Place—due in part to the space-clearing done earlier—and his inner truth responds in sincerity. These moments do occur in every life, it seems, and we must squeeze them for all they're worth: this means turning within and examining the ego in its suspended, frozen state, to clearly identify and root out what is repressing our natural self.

Unfortunately, too often we allow the ego to recover from the concussion, and it leads us further in the wrong direction. In Rowling's novel, this is demonstrated in Sirius' treatment of the house elf, Kreacher: he is drawn into opposition against Kreacher; and the elf, as ego, feeds off the negative, combative energy coming from Sirius. At one point, Sirius physically attacks the elf, throwing him bodily out of a room. The result is inevitable: the elf becomes a cauldron of passive-aggressive energy, leaving the house to rot in its decadence as he stubbornly persists in preserving the relics of its corruption. Finally, as mentioned earlier, Kreacher eventually betrays Sirius to Voldemort, completing the arc of fate initiated by Sirius' choice to follow the delusory way of power and oppression. The projection, as Jung predicted, becomes the trap in which "reality remains forever unattainable."

Of course, Sirius is not to be condemned for this: he has been "burned out" of his family, his identity extinguished by a feudal ideology, and his inner truth denied by the very people through whose bodies he received his life—not to mention the fact that he was falsely imprisoned for twelve years. When we are conditioned as children to deny our natural selves, then we become, as the psychologist John Welwood expresses it, "an open hand that gradually starts to contract and close:"

Although clenching the hand into a fist may be a fitting response to immediate threat, it would obviously be inappropriate to walk around that way for the rest of our life. Yet this is exactly what happens in our psyche! Our first response to emotional pain is to flinch, which is not a problem in and of itself. But then we start to take refuge in this contraction, and identify with it. It feels safer to be a closed fist than a vulnerable open hand. This protective tightening becomes installed in our body/mind as a set of chronic, rigid defenses that cut us off from our feelings and thus shut down our capacity to respond to life freely and openly. In our attempt to say no to the pain, we wind up saying no to ourselves instead. In this way, we inflict on ourselves the core wound that will haunt us the rest of our lives. We start to separate from our own being. —John Welwood, Love and Awakening, pp. 12-13

Our choice, of course, cannot be to say No to the pain—for pain (as Jung recognized) is a messenger designed to provide helpful information—our choice must be to say No to the ideas, beliefs, and images that perpetuate the pain, that are its actual source. When understood correctly, we find that pain—whether it is physical pain or the psychological pain of emotional distress or mental illness—is pointing, very specifically, to someplace within, where lies the ectoplasmic residue of false ideologies and beliefs. If we can identify the ones that were drilled into us during childhood, we have an excellent chance of pulling down the inner pillars that hold up the collective ego and its influence within our bodies. As Welwood points out, it is the body in which these false defenses, with their supporting belief systems, are trapped; to rid the body of their cellular detritus is to free the psyche from their illusory power.

Uncovering the Seeds: A Regressive Meditation

What we will now learn is a new meditation, in which we will return into childhood and the earliest phases of the conditioning process, through the familiar metaphor of the home. The starting point for this work has been suggested in the above discussion of psyche and body. The fact is that there is no true separation between them; to speak of them as if divided is a necessary nod to the cultural assumptions that seem to guide our dialogues about body and mind, or body and spirit.

Consciousness is, by nature, "embodied"; every living cell is formed of energy and expresses consciousness. To divide psyche and body, and then to declare that one is "higher," "holier," "better," or "dominant," is one of the fundamental illusions of the institutional ego, which we must deprogram from our total body-consciousness. The falseness of the belief in division is betrayed to the simplest reflection of common sense: you may as well say that one ventricle of your heart is "higher" than the other; that one lung is "the master breather"; that zero is "holier" than one. Our heart needs both its ventricles; our breath works best when both lungs are present and equally healthy; the computer needs both elements of its binary language, with no discrimination toward, or against, either.

Begin by sitting comfortably, with your spine straight but not rigid, your shoulders relaxed, and your feet grounded beneath you. If you have a background in, or preference for, cross-legged meditation such as is practiced in Buddhism, you may of course use that: just remember that it is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive, to intentionally assume a painful or uncomfortable position in meditation.

Now take a few gentle, regulating breaths as you close your eyes and ask for help from the invisible world of the helping Cosmic energies. Ask simply that you be shown the cause of your emotional or physical pain, or the source of your anger, sorrow, or loneliness—let the request come from your deepest body and finds its own unique expression.

Now, see yourself approaching a house—it could be your current home; a home of your childhood; another house that you've been to and which evokes detailed memories for you; or it could even be a fictional house like 12 Grimmauld Place. It need have no specific physical character, shape, or inner association (big or small, dark or light, friendly or malignant, empty or cluttered): it just has to be a place that you're familiar with in either experience or imagination, and which you feel as if you can walk through safely and in some detail. See yourself going up (or down) the steps to the entrance—count them as you go—and then step through the door and see what impressions meet your inner senses. There is no time limit on this exercise, so pause to observe the details, textures, and sensory experiences that each phase of your journey within this house brings.

As you move through each room, each part of the space, note the people, presences, sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and memories that are evoked. If you find yourself feeling constricted, panicky, or in darkness in any particular place within the house, simply move on, or if possible, open windows, letting in light and air: see yourself being helped in this work of opening to fresh and light-giving energy. Aside from this, do not try to change, move, or "fix" anything within your house; for now, just make note of your feeling-responses to the various rooms, spaces, things, and people you encounter during your tour of the place. Stay as long, or as briefly, as you feel is right for you—again, there is no maximum, or minimum, time limit to this practice. You need not even tour the entire space in one sitting: if you feel as though you need to stop, then leave and return to your breath and your body. For some people, this exercise is best done alone; however, if you feel safer or more comfortable doing it in the company of another—a counselor, therapist, or just a close friend—then follow your intuition as to what is best for you. When you are ready to finish the meditation, it is best that you actually "leave the house"—see yourself going back out of the place and into the light of the outdoors. Then take a few more regulating breaths, open your eyes, and gently begin to reflect on what the Cosmic teaching energy is showing you through this experience.

Now, if you're by yourself, and you feel safe and ready to work with the experience, write down as much as you can about the most vivid aspects of the meditation: the emotions, memories, sense-impressions, people, and feelings you encountered. See what images, patterns, objects, and significant inner responses were presented to you. If you are in a group or with another person, talk about them if you're ready to do so. If you're by yourself, you may prefer to simply write down all you can remember and felt deeply from the exercise, as if you were writing down a dream; then you can set the work aside and allow a period of inner assimilation to develop on the unconscious plane, perhaps overnight, as you sleep. Later, you can come back to your notes and see what insights now appear to you. If you wish, you can use an oracle such as the I Ching to draw further upon the Cosmic teaching energy to nurture the clarity of your inner learning. Your experience from this will be utterly unique to your personality, your life circumstances, and your moment in time; however, you may wish to consult the list below in organizing your own learning.

o Approaching the house: Did you sense any feeling of weakness, age, wear, structural imbalance, or disproportion in the images of the house, as you approached its entrance? Was there anything about the look or feel of the place that made you fearful or otherwise apprehensive? Follow those images, and see where they might lead you; if you like, you can draw pictures of what you saw, and be nourished by their teaching energy.
o Entering the house: Note in particular here the change in lighting and mood; any smells that appeared to you in the meditation; the look and feel of the door and its condition; and any other feeling-impressions that came to you on entering the house.
o Experiencing the movement of time within the flow of space: As you move through the house in your meditation, you may find yourself moving in time as well—specifically, backward. This is why it's called a "regressive meditation," because many people seem to be drawn back, often to childhood, in the context of the "house meditation." If this happens for you, then obviously it will be important for you to note memories, impressions, feelings, and objects that were prominent in your experience as you moved through the house.
o Experiencing the ordering (or lack thereof) within and throughout the space: Note any feelings of disorientation, loss of perspective or proportion, fears, clutter within certain parts of the house, changes in the balance of light and darkness, changes in the size or look of the rooms, and any claustrophobic inner sensations you may have experienced.
o Leaving the house: Recall what your feeling was about leaving the place: was it a relief to get out of there? Did you get lost or stuck on the way out? Did something or someone try to obstruct or prevent your leaving? If you found yourself looking back at the house, compare your inner feeling then with the sense you had on first approaching the place.

A Few General Guidelines on Interpretation:

Once more, and it cannot be overstated: your experience from this work will be entirely unique to you, and so should its interpretation (which will itself change or develop over time, as you repeat the meditation). Given that proviso, here are some orienting points that you can "take off" from in discovering your own interpretation:

Images of breakage, age, wear, decrepitude, or waste: These often indicate a belief or system of beliefs that is incorrect, no longer applicable or furthering to your own life, obstructive in the sense of "holding you back" to a dead past, or a tradition that must be either updated or simply discarded. See what associations arise to you, based on the images themselves and your feeling-response to them. To borrow the ready example of Harry's experience, he was aware of a foreboding, limiting presence as soon as he approached the house at Grimmauld Place and had walked through its front door. Should you encounter such images and feelings upon entering your own house in meditation, that's the time to ask for help from the Cosmic helping energies in clearing out the encrustations of a false and lifeless past; this especially applies to any group-centered ideologies, doctrines, commandments, or moral strictures that may have occurred to you in connection with the images, either during or after the meditation.

Images of clutter or feelings of "microsmia": We all know what clutter is, and how narrow, limited, and uncomfortable it makes us feel: clearing out any clutter you find within your house is crucial to growth. If an accumulation of objects had appeared during your meditation, go back in the next time and see yourself throwing them out; it's best if you have a feeling of a helping presence beside you, assisting with this work. Microsmia, on the other hand, is a less familiar term to most people; but the experience to which it refers is more common than many may imagine. Microsmia is the sense of space imploding, foreshortening, or closing in one; it is often experienced as a feeling of being small, insignificant, and impossibly, dangerously vulnerable within a shapeless, distorted space that seems to shut itself around one's being—a space that seems both dauntingly immense and hideously compressive and restrictive at once. This is a demon of the psyche that has installed itself, probably from earliest childhood, and shrieks in malevolent terror within us, like that painting at Grimmauld Place. It is telling us that we are insufficient, weak, and helpless as individuals—it may have been a message installed by a parent or other caregiver, a teacher or minister, or some other authority figure. As Welwood says, this kind of demon becomes implanted in our very bodily cells, where it will fester and obstruct the free flow of the life force, causing illness and the perpetuation of negative emotion. It must be exorcised, firmly destroyed, and forever silenced. This can only be done with help from the invisible world of consciousness: no human expert, psychological method or school, and certainly no drug, can completely and enduringly disperse such a demon. Ask for help from within your deepest heart to have this demon killed and silenced, for otherwise it will become what Rilke refers to as the "stone coffins of the ancient world," in which our hearts are forever caged in fate and fury.

Images of specific rooms, and any people, objects, or aura they may contain: Let's begin with the bathroom. It is a private place, in which the processes of elimination and the cleansing of the body occur; it is meant to be a place of solitude, comfort, and intimacy, but it is often the metaphorical vessel of our most terrible and insidious inhibitions and fears. Mrs. Rowling herself has demonstrated a wonderful understanding of this inner dynamic: the bathroom takes a central place in several of the stories and substories of her Harry Potter novels; this is a theme that will be considered in detail in Chapter 12. The fact that trolls, screaming dragon eggs, mournful ghosts, and the entrance to a pit of darkness should be found within a bathroom in these stories should come as no surprise to most people in our culture. We should add, in fairness to Freud (whose ideas have come under some criticism in these essays), that one of his more significant contributions toward a better understanding of mental health and socio-cultural threats to healthy inner development can be found in his clear and open discussions of toilet training issues in childhood. However, since much of this discussion occurred within his rather skewed and rigid developmental ideology, I would prefer to cite the American psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan in this respect:

Some of the really unfortunate people of the world have been exposed to strict bowel training well before early childhood, and as a result of their parents' preternatural interest in their toilet habits…have come to suffer rather grave disturbances of life thenceforth. —from The Psychiatric Interview, p. 139

Thus, any clutter, filth, constriction of space, or other abnormality that you may encounter in the bathroom of your meditation-house may be calling your attention toward a need to examine your feelings about your body and its natural functions. Should you discover any false ideas, negative emotions, or obsessive or ritualistic aspects of your thinking associated with the bathroom and its imagery, try to make note of them and then face them down with a firm inner No, along with a call for help from the Cosmos in dispelling these limiting ideas about the body as unclean, about its natural eliminative functions as sinful or dirty, or about one's nakedness as a source of guilt and moral vulnerability. Such ideas must be firmly and forcefully dispersed from consciousness, again with help from the Cosmic realm.

Another area to attend to inwardly, in the context of this meditation, is the kitchen or eating area: this is where nourishment is brought into the body, and where many of the daily family gatherings and interactions of life happen. Unfortunately, many difficult, troubling, and even violent scenes are played out in this setting amid the family, and quite a lot of people have very unpleasant associations with this area of their inner house. During your meditation, any clutter, filth, bad smells, scarcity, or disproportion in the kitchen or dining area will probably stand out for you and be easily remembered. Follow the path of these sensations and images to see what insights may develop from them. As Anthony and Moog mention in the Commentary to Hexagram 27 of the I Ching ("Nourishing"), "the Sage distinguishes between what nourishes the true self and what feeds the ego." They add that this applies to both the food we eat and the ideas we accept into our psyche, and that "many ideas are taken into the psyche simply because we have thought they might be true and thus have accepted them by default." This especially applies to many ideological notions that are bred into children from before the time they can speak or walk, often having to do with a demonization of the body and its natural desires and functions as "sinful" or grounds for guilt.

You may also find some of the baggage and dust of patriarchy lying on the floor of your kitchen in particular, in the form of gender-defined roles and responsibilities which usually mark off the kitchen as an area of the woman's domain. The problem with domains, however, is that they are restrictive: when your identity is confined to a specific functional space within a home, then your true self is held captive to that place and that function. You can free yourself by saying an inner No to the beliefs that embody the restrictive image, and by seeing yourself step free of the boundaries so defined, in your next house-meditation exercise.

Overall, you will find that, as you progress, the house that you return to in this meditation will become increasingly more stable, welcoming, and clear of obstruction and inner debris. This effect is the action of the helping energies of the Cosmic Consciousness at work; no human method, ideology, treatment, or medication can deliver the same transformative energy as the healing that comes from within, through one's personal and harmonic connection with the Cosmic realm of inner growth.