Sciatica, a Hair Shirt and Attention

April 13, 2011

So, this is sciatica. I get pains from my lower back and down my leg. I walk stilted and my leg is sometimes numb. I’m getting treatment for it and it doesn’t seem to be a chronic condition even though I’ve had it off and on for about 3 months. Each time the sciatic nerve becomes better I inflame it, twice now. Each inflammation was due to my helping Kevin the Handyman. It’s not his fault and neither mine. The jobs needed doing and I had to help him otherwise they wouldn’t get done and he could have got hurt if I didn’t help. Each job seemed small and if I didn’t have sciatica they were. I did not listen to my body.

Sciatica - diagram from Wikipeadia

This is the key – my not listening to my body.

In fact, if I view this situation from a Work perspective, the sciatica, instead of being a useless pain, could be useful as a powerful sensation reminding factor. I remember when I first came across the idea that sensation was the anchor, the platform, the foundation of awareness of oneself, I thought I found the key to my tan tien, my centre. Up to the discovery of sensation as an anchor for attention I visualised where my centre was. Informed by my Tai Chi teacher the centre, the tan tien was about  3 inches below my belly button and about an inch or two in towards my spine. I tried to direct my attention by visualising the surface of my body. With the discovery of sensation as an anchor things changed. I theorised that if I can place my attention on my body, or a part of it and at the same time carry on doing what I normally do, I have the beginnings of separation between “I” and “me”. The attention is divided between sensation and what I am doing. (Check out a development of this idea in my post Kites and Consciousness.)

I went about trying to find means of remembering my tan tien, my centre while watching and counting my breath using the sensation of cold incoming breath and warm outgoing breath through my nose. This was the simple Buddhist meditation of counting the breath. I scratched the spot where the tan tien should be on the surface of my body gently, I even put tiger balm on the area because the heat generated would draw my attention there. I thought I’d figured out why some monks wore hair shirts. It reminds them that they have a body and not to just squat in their minds.

Tan Tien

Did it work?

I gained a sense of my centre but this was also due to the growing sensation of my whole body. It was easier to remember the tiger balmed spot and it was the heat of the balm that drew my attention.

My sciatica has freed me from the need of a hair shirt or tiger balmed strategic spots. Sciatica has given me the “gift” of pain sensation in my lower back and leg and attending to it with awareness of my breath – I type or eat or drive as needed. The pain is there when inflammation fires up but my awareness of it is not. Reacting and feeling the pain is not being aware of it – the pain leads and my mind follows.

If I can build a floor, a stable point of attention in my body I will have the beginnings of separation.

Why the need for separation between the body and awareness?

Why the need to say I see through my eyes not with them; I hear through my ears not with them; I sense through my pain but not with it?

Without that separation “I” am not here, there’s just a happening, an event but no observer.

I wish to be present to what is happening and if what is happening is witnessed within the mind-body then I witness through this mind-body.

So, who am I? Who is the Observer? The Witness?


A born again virgin soul

April 6, 2011

I’m attempting to reach a state where I am a born again virgin soul, a state where I can dream once again of clouds passing through my ear into my head and out again through the other ear carrying life giving water.

I’m looking at the process of writing this down and it has opened up a little river of opportunity. Action … it seems acting (doing something) sets up its own dynamic in a super structure sense. The action into the unknown allows another higher order world that shows signs on the crossroads. The GPS here is set to the inner satellite orbiting one’s heart. Obviously the muscle pumping blood around the body hasn’t got a Latter Day Sputnik bipping around it. The heart I speak of is that part of ourselves which tastes truth and sees through the onion layered worlds we live in. Sees through? Yes, like a prehistoric insect sees through amber before it solidifies.

One of my greatest “heroes” is a guy called Gurdjieff. Someone wrote that the Fourth Way which Gurdjieff brought to the West was a method of making the real – super real. In fact, it is practical surrealism. So now I want to practically surrealise some of my dreams. Using the template of power-in-action through visualisation, various projects were able to be given a material existence (like the Cultural Stomp and the Flotillas of Hope). It is not “me” who did it, or who does it. In fact, my job as a person with heart is to move out of the way so that the forces attempting to make whatever needs to happen, happen.

I remember one time when the Flotillas of Hope project was white hot in its birthing. Two websites had already manifested, as well as a satellite phone and 2 boats. An art auction was about to happen in Sydney, where we raised over $8,000, and I get this call from a guy heavily involved in the Socialist Alliance.

 He says, “Stavros, this is big. How the fuck are you managing this – where’s your committee?”

I laughed and told him that if he knew the truth he wouldn’t want to work with me because he’d think I was absolutely crazy. Really crazy! He pleaded with me to tell him the truth.

So I told him,”My job is to just keep the fire burning while aligning myself to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life using the astrological chart of the project as the foundation.”

Tree of Life from Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi’sAdam and the Kabbalistic Tree, Rider, London 1974

 

 

Tree of Life - another aspect from Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi's "Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree", Rider, London 1974

 He went quiet. I added, “I am just focussing on the vision – the image of us sailing to Nauru and the focus is the fire.” 

 He replied slowly as if it pained him to hear something like that, “B-u-l-l-s-h-i-t !!”

I laughed and told him that it was true and if it was all bullshit, how did he explain the manifestation of boats, websites, satellite phones, art auctions, crews, inverters etc etc that are here in the real world? He didn’t ask me again how I was managing .

I’m trying to get out of the way so that what is most necessary at this time comes to fruition. Who knows, it may be a book, a million dollars, a shop with hidden treasures or a beautiful garden. It may be the birth of another grand child, or my recently planted grapevine bearing fruit this coming year.

Having a shed allows me to play and tinker to my heart’s delight. At the very least, I want to have made my scaled down Great Pyramid to experiment with to see if Pyramid Power is real, my very own Orgone Accumulator and a simple Dream Machine within a year or so.

I suppose to gain a born again virgin soul is really to regain the innocence of a child. We were all once children, so innocent and then experience came in and made us fall from that state of grace. This is so beautifully expressed in William Blake’s  “Songs of Innocence and Experience”.

William Blake's Frontispiece for "Songs of Innocence and Experience"

The Divine Image   by William Blake                                      

The Divine Image

       

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity, a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.


Apple Star

March 6, 2011
A Granny Smith Apple.

Image via Wikipedia

Jack’s eyes reflected the light of the lamp. It seemed like a tiny bowl of light emanating to the edge of darkness that was his head.

“Here have some apple, ” he said reaching out for a piece of the fruit.

“Thanks. I still reckon that you should leave dreams – what you call ideals, for sleeping with and face the real world,” Jack said.

Angelo crossed his legs as he bit into the apple. He was young with an old forehead. His mouth curled at the ends into a smile, even when he wasn’t smiling.

“Look, you can’t tell me that this star shape within the apple doesn’t make you wonder?” said Angelo.

“What star shape – I can’t see stars in apples, or any fruit. Here you go again, projecting dreams onto the surface of things. What star?”

“When I cut the apple in half,” Angelo picks up another apple from the glass bowl, a green granny smith. He pointed to the apple’s equator with the knife tip, then slowly scruntched a cut leaving two halves. Angelo pointed to the centre of one half and said, “Look, see the five pointed star at its core, see the seeds within each of the star’s hands.”

“What of it?” Jack shrugged.

“Well, doesn’t it seem strange to you that there’s a star within the fruit that fell on Newton’s head showing him and all of us that everything – the stars, the planets and all the moons are all falling?”

Jack doesn’t say a word. He stares at the apple.

“Doesn’t it seem strange to you that it is the same fruit that was the cause of the fall of humanity? Our ancestors fell from Heaven to Earth by taking one bite of the fruit that has a star within it – the apple.”

Angelo took another bite of the apple.

Jack’s eyes reflected the light of the lamp. It was a tiny bowl  of light emanating to the edge of his apple and to the darkness that was his head.  His five senses were now five points of a star as his tongue freshened with apple taste.


Why dodona777?

December 30, 2010

Someone asked me the other day about my use of dodona777 in my blog’s address and email address dodona777@yahoo.com.au, “What does dodona mean and why 777?”

That’s a fair question.

Dodona is one of the oldest oracles in Greece, located near Yannina, Greece. I was born in a small village, Anatoli (which means East) about 5 kms from Dodona.

twitter-dodona-1

A picture I took when I visited Dodona – the oldest oracle in Greece.

It is here that Zeus speaks through the rustling of oak leaves and doves (pigeons) fly across the sky leaving message trails that punctuate Zeus’ rustling words. The word dodona in my web address is thus connected with my place of birth and its oracular history, since my interests are mantic in nature and this blog expresses some of them.

 

twitter-dodona-3

The triple 7 is interesting from a number of different angles. Whilst I’m aware of the popular meme “666” as the number of the Beast and its associations with the Dark Side I don’t believe this. In many ways 666 can be seen as Cosmic Life with 6 the Hebrew letter vav being life force on Earth in Humanity and the Heavens  6, 6, 6. However my name stavros has 7 letters and when I searched the net for the significance of 777 this is what appeared:

By the way – I did not consider all the many meanings and symbolism of 777 when I used the number in my email and blog address….but it does make interesting reading – one wonders whether 111, 222, 333, 444, 555, 888, 999 would also come up with as many meanings :).

Symbolic Properties of the number 777

“This number joins together the principles of the man, 700, the cosmic plans, 70, andtheir image in the Archetype, 7, according to R. Allendy. It is the universal organization, 7 + 7 + 7 = 21, the general evolution. Represent the celestial perfection, 7, on the 3 plans of the manifestation: matter, astral (mental or soul) and spirit. It is the number of the sacred work of the sons of God for the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the Earth, mainly for the period of the seventh millennium after Adam where it is written that Satan will be chained for thousand years.

In esotericism, 777 means that virgin spirits (those to which God gave the life with the mission to rise towards the Creator, until to absorb themselves again in Him) will know 777 incarnations during seven revolutions that the wave of life accomplishes around the seven globes of the seven world periods. The symbolism of this number is therefore the ascension of the soul through the physical body. According to the tradition of Himalayan masters, 777 is the number of the celestial man and symbolizes the transmutation which takes place at the time where the man becomes conscious of the necessity to cover the path of initiation, and that he perceives, even of an elementary manner, that the goal is in God. The purity – does not father and is not fathered.

Bible Age of Lamech, father of Noah, when he died. In the posterity of Seth, Lamech is the last patriarch before the flood. (Gn 5,31) The book of the Genesis contains 777+777-21 or 1553 verses.

General question, in the Secret Doctrine of H.-P. Blavatsky, to solve “the problem of the 777 incarnations”.

If seven is the number of cycles and of the divine numbers, in it resides also the secret of the 777 incarnations of the man that should be taken care to not interpret as being the totality of incarnations of the man on earth, but that it should rather be reported to what the humanity must one day realize.

In a study on this number, H.S. Green sees there the triple evolution of Manas, Buddhi and Atma – “The number 777”, in “The Theosophist”, London, n. 9, 1909, p. 326. Raoul Auclair points out that when the Virgin Mary appears in Cova da Iria in Portugal, on August 13, 1385, this country was then 777 years old. And 532 years later, that is to say on May 13, 1917, took place the first appearance of Fatima. In an Ethiopian apocryphal book, named “The Wisdom of Sibyl”, it is written in conclusion of the book: “End the prophecy of the Sibyl. Praise to the Lord, Master of the world. Amen! That the Lord, eternally, makes you mercy. The Sibyl saw nine suns; each space of time is 778 years; the ninth is 777. The cycles of the Sibyl are 800 or 700; each is 800 years. There are 49 cycles of Ezra; each one counts 143 years. The cycles of Enoch are 10 and each cycle is 700 years. The Days of the Lord are 7; for us there are 2548000 days.” By making the calculation, this cycle of the nine suns lasts 7001 years: 8 cycles of 778 years = 6224 years 1 cycle of 777 years = 777 years Total = 7001 years And the 2548000 days of the Sibyl have a duration of 7000 years minus 7000 days.

The document “the celestial sanctum” in the order the Rosicrucian A.M.O.R.C., titles also the “liber 777”.

In Korea, in one of the speeches of the reverend Moon, this one declared to have already proceeded to the blessing of 777 couples.

Gematria The Christ said: “I am the resurrection”. In Greek, resurrection is written “h anastasiV”, numbering 777 = 8+1+50+1+200+300+1+200+10+6.

In the first verse of the Bible, it is written: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gn 1,1) This verse consists of 7 Hebrew words and 28 letters, and it also counts three names: God, heavens and earth. The sum of the numerical values of each one gives 777: God = 86, paradise = 395 and earth = 296, where 86+395+296 = 777. Written in Hebrew, “Orthodox Messiah”, gives 777: he, mem, shin, yod, heth, daleth, taw and yod, giving 5+40+300+10+8+4+400+10 = 777. Written in Hebrew, “YHWH in the YESHUA Messiah”, gives 777: yod, he, waw, he, beth, yod, shin, waw, ayin, he, mem, shin, yod and heth, giving 10+5+6+5+2+10+300+6+70+5+40+300+10+8 = 777. Written in Hebrew, “YESHUA saves”, gives 777: yod, shin, waw, ayin, he, waw, shin, yod and ayin, giving 10+300+6+70+5+6+300+10+70 = 777. By using the ASCII table, we find that the French word “EXORCISTES” (exorcists) gives 777. The numerical value of the Hebrew word NMLA IVMM, meaning “filled with light”, gives 777.

Occurrence The number 777 is used 1 time in the Bible. The word priest is used 777 times in the Bible.”


Lost in Damascus, Syria….

June 17, 2010

A month after leaving Mount Athos in Greece (May, 2000) I arrived in Damascus, Syria. I left my bag in the hotel and found my way to the Jordan Embassy. I needed a visa to get across the border to Jordan and I arrived five minutes late. The embassy officer was adamant I had to return the next day before 11.00AM. I was frustrated and irritated but I decided rather than give vent to my negativity I’d just walk in any direction to see what happened.

I walked streets with only Arabic signs and scripts.

My travel guide book gave the street names in English only. I walked by houses with concrete veneers and gardens on terraces, vines entwining telephone polls and wires across a lane making an arch of leaves, palm trees swaying in the dry breeze rooted in concrete pavements, lurid red and blue posters of the latest film shows on billboards and walls. I kept walking sensing the Syrian sun on my face and discovering I had no marker, no point of direction back to my hotel.

I was lost in the streets of Damascus.

There were flashes of deja vu, definite sensations and feelings I had been there before – a familiarity on the tip of the tongue. Maybe I was here in a previous life. I was lost in a place that felt like a long forgotten home. My stomach rumbled and I saw a restaurant with vats and tables outside on the street. I went in and found a seat at a table with four other men, one much older sat beside me. He began speaking to me in Arabic. When I replied, “Yunan, English” meaning Greek or English he spoke even louder so that others from tables nearby turned their heads towards us. I repeated, “La (no) Arabic – Yunan (Greek), English” pointing to my mouth. The old man had a short white beard that seemed to brighten when he shook his head. The others around our table stared at me.

I said, “I’m Australian – Australos – English or Greek – Yunan.”

A few tables away a man with a black moustache called out, “You from Australia?”

I said, “Yes”.

“Then why this?” He pointed to his face and drew a circle around it in the air and then pointed at me. Shrugging his shoulders he extended his arms in front of him.

He was saying in hand talk, “How come you look Syrian but claim to be Australian?”

I said, cradling an imaginary baby in my arms, “Baba, Yunanistan,” then I made my fingers walk in the air saying, “Australia.” I went to Australia as a baby from Greece. The others in the restaurant, even the owner were watching this exchange. They smiled and the man who asked the questions said, “Hey, I come and be with you.”

He was in his late thirties, slim with a certain earnestness about him as he walked towards my table. He squeezed between the two men sitting opposite me. By now his presence had made my table invisible again.

He said, “You from Australia? I know a little English.” I told him about my trip from Greece via Turkey, to Egypt and that I’d be leaving very soon for Jordan.

He asked,

“Where are you going now?”

“The old souq (market). I have lost my way and stopped to eat here.”

“Ah, good. I’m going to a library and the souq is on the way. I will show you where to go.”

There was a certain radiance about him, as if there was a tiny grain of the sun burning in his chest. He nodded, “I understand much better in English than I speak.” Something in the way he said “understand” touched me.

For no apparent reason I said, “One of my wishes while travelling through your land is to meet someone who is wise in the way of the Sufi,” I paused and in the silence I added, “I visited Rumi’s tomb in Konya, Turkey, how I dearly wish to visit Ibn Arabi’s tomb in Syria.”

“You know Ibn Arabi?” he asked surprised, “you know of our saints?”

“Yes, only a very little. I have read about Ibn Arabi in English. What little I know of him has touched my heart. I wish to pay him my respects.”

He said, “Come, let’s go. I want to take you to a special place, a surprise place for you.”

There was this instant trust between us. As we walked under a concrete bridge near a busy intersection he said, “You’re not a tourist just going click, click, click with a camera. You know something of my culture. Islam?”

The way he said “Islam” prompted me to reply, “I’m a Christian and I believe that all religions speak of one truth but in different tongues and styles. I’m searching for truth and anywhere I can find it I value it.”

“I will take you to Ibn Arabi’s tomb.”

“What here in Damascus?”

“Yes, just around the corner. You must not speak. Just copy everything I do. You look Syrian, only your tongue gives you away.”

I wondered why I had to pretend to be Syrian and not speak when we arrived at the saint’s tomb. I figured that it was a very small price to pay – to be silent. We passed some men sitting on wooden boxes playing backgammon on a small table. One of the players smiled at me revealing a toothless mouth. The streets of Damascus are mostly narrow and crooked. Saint Paul lived on Straight Street near where we were. We turned a corner going down a narrow lane and finally arrived at a small door in a stone wall of a mosque. As we entered we  climbed down some narrow stairs that lead to a silver cage enclosing a small tomb. It looked like a big beautiful bird cage on the floor.

Others already there were prostrating on their knees and lifting their torsos up while silently moving their lips to prayer. My friend indicated that I stay beside him and as he went down on his knees I copied his movements. I bowed and touched the floor near Ibn Arabi’s body. I was amazed that I was there in front of his tomb, a tomb that has been there for hundreds of years.

Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (1165 – 1240) was at the centre of an extraordinary flourishing and cross fertilization of Jewish, Christian and Islamic thought in the Moorish culture of Andalusian Spain. He was a Spanish mystic who had a huge and subtle influence on both East and West. In his early childhood he was recognized and taught by two women saints, Yasmin of Marchena and Fatima of Cordoba. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” was influenced by Ibn Arabi’s work.

As I looked through the cage, the more I saw, the less I knew. Who am I? Why am I here? I smelt a delicate fragrance in the swirls of prayer around me. After about a quarter of an hour we arose and left. While climbing the stairs I took one final look at the small tomb of a great man. I felt my own smallness and my own limitations as a “man”. Somehow, even though his body had lay there for so long I felt something emanating from the space that contained Ibn Arabi’s remains. I wondered whether it was his own emanations that remained there or if the people who came to offer their respects and prayers left “soul stuff” that gradually accreted over the years so that one could feel a palpable presence in this small space. Maybe it was both and was it the same in other sacred places?

Mahmoud told me that it was Ibn Arabi’s special mission to scatter Sufi seeds onto diverse contemporary fields of learning accepted by the people so that they would come to recognise the One Love behind everything.

“Now, let us go to the special place I promised I will show you,” Mahmoud said with a grin.

“I thought Ibn Arabi’s tomb was the special place.”

“Yes, it is special and this other place is special in a different way. I won’t go to the library today, it can wait. I will spend time with you.”

I was curious as to what special place he had in mind. As we walked we mentioned various authors and books to each other and we were amazed that we recognised each other’s references. The theme was the search for truth and the miraculous. I was excited by the prospect of meeting a Damascus local who may have contact with people who understood the inner essence of Islam and who could sense or know the same essence in Christianity.

After a while he said, “You know that Christians, Moslems and Jews are cousins? Abraham was our common ancestor, our common source.”

We were at the large courtyard of the Omayyad Mosque. Mahmoud said,”It is interesting that this mosque was built on land that was sacred before Mohammed. It was used as a place of worship 3,000 years ago by the ancient Syrians. Then it was a pagan temple for Jupiter during the Roman era. Then it was… no, wait for the surprise.”

Omayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

We walked on beautiful geometric patterned tiles. These patterns were repeated on some of the façade and walls. The doors also had hand carved patterns that looked like they were lifted from crystal reflections. I felt as if I walked into a world of lattices, a net of lines, a web of relationships numerical in kind and geometric in shape. I took my shoes off and entered the main door. Inside was a cavernous space, Mahmoud pointed out a section of the wall with mosaic panels made of coloured and gilded glass. He told me that all the walls were decorated like this centuries ago. The prayer hall had a small domed shrine near where we stood.

Lost in Damascus Umayyad Mosque geometric

Omayyed Mosque

Approaching the shrine, Mahmoud said, “This is the surprise. The shrine contains St John the Baptist’s head and maybe his body!” Surrounding the shrine were Moslem people bowing and praying. I asked, ”Why the prayers for St John the Baptist? Why is his tomb here in a mosque?” Mahmoud delighted, said, ”Yes, I knew it would surprise you. This place of worship many centuries ago had divine services for both Christians and Moslems. The Christians worshipped in one half of the space and Moslems worshipped in the other half. Together Christians and Moslems worshipped under this same roof.”

I paid my respects to St John the Baptist, this time crossing myself the Greek Orthodox way. No one took exception to me for doing so and as we left I felt a real connection between our two faiths. Mahmoud explained to me that Jesus was a prophet and Mary his mother was revered in Islam. He told me that St John the Baptist was revered by Moslems as a saint. Mahmoud was right, this place was a special place and that it would surprise me. He invited me to his home which meant that we had to catch one of the many small service taxis (mini buses) that were everywhere on Damascus roads. Road rules didn’t seem to count here as our bus swerved in and out of lanes with no indication and turned corners without slowing down. While our bodies moved this way and that in concert with the bus I was curious as to how Mahmoud would take my experience at Rumi’s tomb in Konya, Turkey.

I said, “While I was visiting Rumi’s tomb I felt that I could only pay my respects as an Orthodox Christian but could only do this in a hidden way. I couldn’t externally pray like the Moslems around because I’m not Moslem and at the same time I couldn’t pray as a Christian outwardly because I did not want to offend those around me. So I held my hands together in front of me and inwardly I imagined my right hand making the shape of a cross. In my faith, the thumb stands for the Father, the index for the Son and the next finger, the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity. My ring finger curled into my palm signifies the divine nature of Christ and the little finger is the human nature.” I showed him the tripod of fingertips and my curling fingers. I continued, “So, in a manner of speaking my hand reflects the whole of my faith. I move my right hand with the thumb and my first two fingers joined together. Firstly to my forehead, then to my belly, then to the right of my heart and then to the left of my heart – three times. I did this inwardly while silently chanting a prayer. Outwardly I was standing with my head bowed and hands together but inwardly I was actively praying in the Christian way. Tell me Mahmoud, did I do the right thing for Rumi?”

We jolted forward as the bus swerved around another corner. Mahmoud said, “My friend it is obvious to me that your intentions were pure. You were in pure heart and so whatever you do in such a state is pure. You can do what you will and it would not be wrong because of your state of mind and heart. So, you did the right thing.” He stopped and looked at me eye ball to eye ball.

“By the way,” he said,”did you know that Sufis, the People of the Path are also called esoteric Christians?”

“No,” I said, “What of our cousins the Jews?”

“Rabbi Jesus is also revered by Jews in touch with the hidden stream.” He smiled and gently touched my hand, “You and I are seekers of truth and as such we are not caught in the literal meanings of scripture and sacred texts. It is these literal, fundamental meanings, dogmas that create misunderstanding between our religions and ways of being in the world.”

I couldn’t agree more but this didn’t mean that individual and unique differences that make up a particular set of beliefs were obliterated. No, it seems to me that seeking the essential truth behind the formal, literal truths was a way of freeing one self from narrow mindedness and the razor wire of fundamentalism. And I don’t just mean religious. To name a few – scientific, economic, political, psychological, philosophical, artistic ….in fact, name an activity and it can be done and thought of in a fundamentalist way.

Mahmoud lived in one of the many concrete and cement apartments in down town Damascus, right under the arc traced by missiles from Israel. He was very lucky he told me because he had a ground floor apartment with some earth for plants. A wooden door from the street set in a large wall was the entrance to his home.

He introduced me to his wife and two daughters, his father and mother and his brother as “Stavros from Australia”. His wife Jamil brought some tea in glass tumblers and sat next to me. She said, “Pleased to meet you and welcome. I want to show you a book. I am learning English.” I was touched by the effort she put in saying this to me in English.

We were sitting around a wooden table in the enclosed area behind the wall facing the street. Mahmoud pointed to a fountain and pool, the size of a bathtub on our right . He said,”I and my brother made this fountain.” It was made of cement with inlaid patterns of shells, coral and pebbles. The shape was more like a cumulus cloud than rigid lines of concrete blocks. The water spouted from a bowl in the centre while the spirals, circles, squares and triangles of the fountain’s container looked on with mosaic eyes. I walked over to it and admired the detail of their work.

Meanwhile Mahmoud’s father, mother and brother brought cucumbers, tomatoes, shallots, radishes, cheese, bread and boiled eggs to the table. Soon after, falafals, humous, fried eggplant, cinnamon beans and dips were added to the table. Everybody sat around the table with the young girls at one corner each. We each had a plate on which we placed what we wanted from the dishes before us. Everybody was interested in this stranger from the other side of the planet – Australia. In my shoulder bag I carried postcards of Australia to give to new friends. I pulled some out and passed them around – pictures of kangaroos, koalas, Sydney Opera House, Uluru and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Everybody recognised the kangaroos.

Jamil brought over a book on the English language. She was studying English on her own using this book and some tapes. Her husband Mahmoud helped when he could but he was not fluent in English either. She said,” Please, may I read and you tell me if sounds true? Please?” She read some dialogue between two people. One was asking for directions and the other answered. The only thing missing in her delivery was confidence.

As I sat there with this Syrian family I thought about philoxenia, “Friend of the Stranger” the Greek word for “hospitality” which in the original denotes something sacred and more open than “hospitality”. It is mentioned in Homer’s “The Odyssey” where Odysseus experienced philoxenia often in his travels. My new friends expressed philoxenia in such a way that it brought tears to my eyes. I was a stranger in their midst and they offered me friendship, food and comfort. A bond grew between us that had its strength in our common humanity and the fact that everyone is a stranger away from home. Mahmoud and his brother asked me what hotel I was staying at and then phoned for a taxi to take me there.

While waiting for the taxi Mahmoud said, “I want you to have this.” In his hand were some worry beads. I showed him the worry beads my uncle gave me in Greece. The Greek ones I had were more solid and heavier with round beads. Mahmoud’s were smaller and the beads were like long brown rice grains. We compared them.

He smiled, “Well you now have Syrian worries to keep your Greek ones company!”

Mahmoud and his brother rode with me to my hotel in the taxi. They would not allow me to pay for the fare. They just wanted to make sure that I was taken to the right place.

In Damascus, Syria, I found true philoxenia not xenophobia. Now I had a paper boat from the Holy Mountain and a set of worry beads from the Middle East to take with me back to Australia. I put these in a special bag where I kept other special things like hand made amulets, pellets of rose incense, a smooth stone from Dodona, crystals, a small wooden cross from Jerusalem, a tiny rock from Mt Sinai, a stone from an Aboriginal Elder in Australia and some holy oil from a small monastery of nuns near the birthplace of my father in Greece. The bag, made of an old Turkish rug remnant was wrapped in a scarf from Bethlehem, along with the Chinese “Book of Changes” – the I Ching and tarot cards. These four items were my psychic technology backup, just knowing they were there helped me. The last item to be put into my special bag was the frayed remainder of the Southern Cross flag that flew on Eureka. It was placed on top of the other things soon after we left South Bellona Reef on our way to Nauru.

My Spiritual Kit Bag with psychic technological backups, to be used in case of emergency sailing to Nauru!

A  few days later I visited Palmyra, about 100 miles east of Damascus, near the border of Iraq. Palmyra has the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. The stone buildings all have a rose tint and you feel like you are entering a Roman city with rose tinted sunglasses on.

Here’s a picture or two of what I saw. Another time, another story.

Palmyra, Syria. That little taxi takes you everywhere.


21st Century – Baptism in Electromagnetic Mist?

May 22, 2010

 

If anything the twentieth century will be remembered as the century that matter disappeared according to our high priests of Science. Twentieth Century physics has dematerialised matter before our eyes and under our touch. Further it has given a pattern of nothing as the source of the dematerialised matter. When I write “nothing” I’m referring to “no thing”. While we prang our dematerialised cars and battle over dematerialised resources nature continues to create and make life with her templates. These templates aren’t material, unless you consider subatomic vibrations matter. These templates are more like magnetic resonances – wavicles, perhaps, that influence and direct the exteriorization of the tree, the flower and the emu. These morphic resonances, as Rupert Sheldrake calls them, operate in the region of no matter, inside nothing.

As we witness the shift from a material world to the immaterial world we are also experiencing a fracturing of the idea of specific location in space – telecommunications in all its diversity is bringing the globe to one’s home. Video conferencing in virtual rooms with participants from all over the world are a reality now. The next step is to produce a lifesize holographic moving image – holographic TV – with global video conferencing capabilities. Chat Rooms on the internet screen will change to Chat Rooms in your living room with cyber holographic avators for company. The idea that you can’t be in two places at once will be even more untrue.

So, we have one trend that is dematerialising and another that compresses distance.

We also have the trend that the above two is potentially true only for a small proportion of humanity and practically true only for a smaller proportion of this group. This double small proportion of humanity who has access to this knowledge and technology also uses up most of the planet’s resources while the greater majority of humanity is undernourished and living in poverty. In this case we have the trend of concentration of power in the hands of the few and the dematerialisation – the dying of the many.

This is true from a global view.

The global nervous system (that is in one of its foetal stages) of telecommunications has connected all continents and every square inch of the earth’s surface has been traced by geostationary satellites. Google is photographing every street and house being used as locations on their Global Map. GPS enabled mobile phones and in car mapping shows that we are now immersed in an electromagnetic mist of data.

If earth is denser than water, and water is denser than air, and air is more dense than heat, then it is easy to see that heat and air are more dense than the electrographic data that is now sparking through the global nervous electrographic system.

We walk on earth, we drink water, breathe air, need the heat of the Sun – what is the experience of electrographic data ( telephone, TV, internet, GPS, satellite communications etc) ? We don’t eat it, drink it or breathe it and yet it is an element of our experience and it is permeating our being more everyday. What are the implications of our immersion in this “matter”.

Hokusai

There is baptism by water and by fire. What is this baptism in electronic – data mist?

stavros


Turning Inwards

April 27, 2010

 

This is a transcript of a talk I gave in Darlinghurst, Sydney quite a few years ago. It is my understanding of the need for Self Observation and Self Remembering which can only truly begin when we turn inwards.  Everything written below is based on my understanding of the Gurdjieff Work. I gave the talk as part of the Sydney Group.

Stavros

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 We always imagine ourselves to be much higher than we actually are. We take it for granted that we are individuals, that we have consciousness and that we can ‘DO’. But there are moments in our life when events and situations might shock us into recognition that we do not know where we are going and that our own efforts to control and direct our lives have been in vain. In these moments we feel an emptiness, a void which cannot be filled by social position, friends or wealth.

It is in moments like these that we are given an opportunity to re-evaluate our so called individuality, consciousness and will, in other words, to re-evaluate the image we have of ourselves. If we are sincere in these moments we recognise that the image we have of ourselves is not us at all but rather a mask which we very rarely see through. Life through our sincerity has brought us to the question of ourselves. If we are not individuals with the power to be conscious of our actions and thus direct our lives, then who and what are we? Who am I? What is my place in the scheme of existence? In the face of such questions, we realise that we have a need to know ourselves for ourselves and through ourselves.

 If I wish to know myself and through this knowledge to know the real world, how do I begin? How do I make the right effort to turn inwards to myself and what is the right effort? It is at this point of our own search that we recognise the necessity to study the methods of self-study, which lead to understanding and eventually knowledge of ourselves. Whether alone or with others we have found ourselves in unfamiliar territory. In this region of the unknown we may hope that the forces active on this level will send us the help we need.

To have any chance of reaching our goal of self-knowledge without losing ourselves we need a guide. Here, as elsewhere, we must learn from those who know and accept to be guided by those who have already trodden the same path.

The guide cannot walk our journey for us, the guide cannot turn my attention inwards to myself. All that the guide may do is to point out the pitfalls and obstacles which lie along our path and whether we understand the methods of self-study. On this path understanding is our only currency and our only means by which we may pay for the help we need. The understanding spoken of here is completely different to the intellectual knowledge which our modern science has accustomed us to. It is for this reason that real self-knowledge requires a school. It cannot be found in books, which can give only theoretical data, mere information, leaving the whole of the real work still to be done – to turn inwards towards our own inner experience and transform information into understanding through consciously living what we are.

 If the turning we are speaking of is not only of the mind, but the whole of us, and if we realise that we are not the image we have of ourselves then what can the words ‘the whole of us’ mean? Here we come across our own doubts, confusion and resistance. The words come easy but the turning required is not as easy as hearing and saying the words. We listen, we speak, but over and over again we are taken by the disorder of outer activity and find ourselves falling prey to doubts, fantasies and sterile words. This is the beginning. It is this awareness which will provide the experience of a real wish to resolve this inner confusion.

When we try to observe ourselves we see that we have to remain attentive both to ourselves and to a particular aspect of ourselves. We realise that this turning is not given to us spontaneously and that the attempt to turn with the whole of ourselves is dependent up the participation of three factors or forces. These are ‘I’ who observe face to face with what ‘I’ observe within myself and the third factor which connects the two – our attention.

Taking these three factors into consideration we will speak firstly about attention. Our usual state of attention is one in which we lose our identity in some activity – be it reading a book, talking to a friend, listening to music, hammering a nail, or just simply daydreaming. This is known as identification. Identification has different ways of manifesting within ourselves depending upon the activity. One of these ways is when we drift from object to object, from sight to sound to thought to a sensation with no apparent aim, no apparent direction: it is automatic. Or, our attention is attracted by something which exercises a strong hold – an argument, a beautiful face, a memory of some place or person. In this way we are drawn by our interest and the situation takes over ourselves. Another way in which our attention is spent is when we direct it by a simple effort for a certain time intentionally – making something, studying, playing a musical instrument, cooking, sewing. The common element we find in each of these ways of paying attention is that we are aware only of one thing at a time. This is our ordinary state. We can be aware either of the person we are talking to, or of our own words, of a pain in my body, of a scene, or of my thoughts about the scene. But, except on very rare occasions, we are not aware simultaneously of our own words and the person we are addressing, of my own pain and someone else’s, of a scene and my thoughts about it, of my situation and my feelings of it. The attention which is needed to turn inwards so that a self study may begin is such a divided attention.

 Divided attention is from another level within ourselves. It is the attention which at the same time of observation takes into account everything we are. This two way attention requires an attitude very different from our usual one. When we first make the effort to turn inwards our attention goes one way, then another, sometimes towards what I observe in myself, alternating at a faster or slower speed. This happens as easily in one direction as another. Though this attention is not given to us naturally, the attempt to observe oneself generates the energy for divided attention artificially. This very attempt is an exercise which develops the needed attention and makes it possible so that it can grow to the point where self-study may begin. In the beginning there is no stable support on which our attention can be based. Real self-observation appears to us to depend as much on this support as on the attention itself. From this we understand that the three forces that must be present are closely interdependent.

The second factor is “who” observes. We said earlier that self-observation requires “the whole of ourselves” and not just our analytical mind and we realise that with our usual attention and attitude we become identified with the situation at hand. When we are identified we are not present to the situation. We become totally attached and there is no space for the sense of myself. With our normal attention there is no ‘I’ which is the stable support to observe particular aspects of my life. For real self-observation to be possible ‘I’ must be present while the observation is going on. The sense of ‘all of me’ is the ‘I’ which is able to take into account in the field of attention directed toward myself a greater number of elements. The ‘I’ who observes has a field of vision analogous to that seen through a fish eye lens which has a more global perspective when compared to the normal natural view.

When ‘I’ is not present (which is our normal state) we forget ourselves almost uninterruptedly. In us things do themselves – speaking, laughing, feeling, acting – but they do it automatically and we ourselves are not there to witness. One part of ourselves laughs, another speaks, another acts.

There is no feeling that: I speak, I laugh, I act, I observe. Nothing that is done in this way can be integrated into a whole. Life lives itself through us and we are not there to partake of it. From this we understand that what we truly seek is more abundant life.

If our usual state is one of forgetting ourselves then the need to have a stable presence of ‘I’ may be fulfilled by trying to remember ourselves.

 This stable presence is not given to us by merely knowing about it. It can be acquired after long work on ourselves but even now we can have a relative degree of presence, a certain coherence of all that we can collect in ourselves.

Self-remembering is the attempt to have global awareness of oneself. It is the state where I am conscious that I am here in these surroundings and feel a connection with the surroundings around me in the overall presence of something higher. This sense of something higher is connected with the valuation of our own essential question. It may be our own aim in the light of our search, it may be the Sun from which all life on this planet has its on-gen, it may be our own meaning of God, or our own teacher. What is important in this effort to remember oneself is that it must be attempted by the sense of “the whole of ourselves and not just thought about. It is only when we try to make this effort that real self-observation can begin. When we try it we discover that without it we are constantly changing, constantly taken by events both within and without. We discover that all that we have gathered within ourselves is dispersed at the slightest distraction. We also find that in practice nothing is more difficult for us than to be there with enough stability for an observation.

The third factor which is needed to turn inwards is the object of our ob¬servation – the elements of ourselves, what we are. These elements constantly change and escape us altogether.Though the elements are in constant change the field in which these elements move is always there. When we notice other people we see their external behaviour which we all perform as a response to the demands of life. This external behaviour is directed by the functional structures comprising the field towards which our attention is directed. These functional structures are the same in all circumstances and are the result of what we are and what life has made of them. We see through our eyes and hear through our ears, we don’t see through our ears or hear through our eyes. The seeing and hearing are the functional structures of our eyes and ears respectively. Likewise, within ourselves certain behaviours, such as thinking, emotionalising and moving, are possible due to the functional structures which allow them to happen. However, the way things take place in us, the interaction of our functions and the manner in which they associate to produce our personalities and responses, all this goes on in the dark with out our knowing it. So, to observe the elements of ourselves we must do something special to make them visible.

When we strike a match against the chemically treated part of a matchbox the friction between the two creates a spark which becomes a flame, and we have light. For us to see the elements of ourselves we must likewise have friction between the ‘I’ who observes and the field which contains the elements.This inner friction is the struggle against the automatic aspects of ourselves: those moment by moment personages which are always there. The struggle is against the habits which give us the false image of ourselves.

 This struggle arouses the light of double attention which we need and forces us to confront those habits which keep us asleep, automated and engulfed in constant self-forgetfulness.

Self-forgetfulness, sleep, is our lot without struggle with our automatic selves. Mechanicalness and dreams replace our true birthright of freedom and reality. What am I saying?

I will illustrate with an example. I find myself waiting for a bus to take me to the bank. After buying the bus ticket my hands begin fidgeting. Soon my fingers begin to fold the ticket over, and over again, until it is a tiny cube like they have done hundreds of times before in the same manner. My head and left arm, in perfect synchronisation, move to the exact spot where my eyes can see the time on my watch. There is no real need to know the time since a moment earlier this same action was performed. My head is full of associations which whirl by in a random manner – a half-eaten memory of words exchanged over the breakfast table, an image of a television commercial, a song picked up from, I don’t know where, provides the background muzak. The bus arrives. Find my self at the middle of the bus bumping a man who grunts at me. Anger rises – there is no rebuke in words but my posture and face express it all the same. Sitting down, the realisation dawns that the bus ticket is no longer in my hand. My hands search my pockets, my eyes search the floor directly beneath my feet, my body is in all sorts of positions looking for the bus ticket. Simultaneously, the thoughts and emotions race through to the tune of “What will I say if the ticket inspector boards this bus?” No ticket. Soon memories float by and that time on the beach in North Queensland returns. While daydreaming I miss my stop because I find myself two blocks further than the bank which was my original destination. The button is pressed and the bus stops.

The above is what is meant by mechanicalness and sleep. This is how we are living most of our lives, and this state of consciousness which we call ‘normal’, is what we have sold our birthright for. Where is the man here? Where is the ‘I’ which if present and active would make my life real? Below is a description of what struggle with oneself may be.

I find myself on the street. I begin walking back towards the bank, I remember what happened on the bus. From somewhere within me the feeling ari¬ses that there is something wrong with myself. I, who can create grandiose plans for my future life, even to the place beyond the grave, can’t even re¬member to get off the bus in time. The words of Gurdjieff cut through my as¬sociations, ‘Life is Real Only Then When I Am.’ It is remembered with my mind that it is possible to turn inwards so that I may live and be present to my life. I see that I am not present but I know that I can be present. What I am can be remembered by who I am. The matchbox can be struck by the match. Oh! But it is so pleasant, so easy, to remain within my automatic nature, fully asleep to myself and the world. The effort required to struggle with myself is something more than the effort to earn my physical livelihood. Besides, it is an effort not required for my physical survival so why should I bother. Let me sleep on. And yet, if there is no effort, no struggle, to be . I am dead and only an automaton of flesh, bones and memory exists. I wish to live. I – the all of me – wish to be. The emptiness of what I am is passive – it is easily comforted with illusions and imagination that already I am and that I can do.

I long for life but where this longing stems from I don’t know and what this ‘life’ is which is longed for, I don’t know. This longing, this yearning for something which is unknown draws a part of my attention away from the surface associations and for a moment the heat of the sun is sensed on my face and hands. I have a body which is real, concrete and here and now. My body is the anchor of my longing. It is possible to turn inwards. The walking continues back to the bank. The longing for life is now expressed by a wish to see through my own eyes, to sense with my own skin, to hear through my own ears, to feel the ground beneath my own feet. I wish to move with my own whole body.

 It is remembered that the easiest functional structure to attempt to study is the moving part of myself. I wish to be, I wish to struggle with myself, I wish to slow down my walking pace so that the walking part of myself can be seen. My hand reaches for my coat pocket searching for a cigarette. That part of myself which longs for life gives the strength to say no to my hand but I promise a cigarette later if it allows presence to fill it. My mind is once again occupied with associations which pass through it automatically. I struggle to place in my mind a conscious image of myself being fully present at the entrance of the bank. My walking becomes faster. To be present at the entrance of the bank my walking pace must slow down again. Intimations of the shoe around my foot, sensation of heel touching ground, then the front part of shoe, slight pressure of my trousers around my knee as it bends, the sensation of my collar around my neck comes and goes, a breeze returns my face to myself via sensation. My pace is slower. Emotion arises – it is connected with what happened on the bus – anger with myself. My mind reminds me a little later that the only way to struggle with emotions at first is not to express negative ones. Associations arise with this thought, my mind continues in its deviation from the conscious image of myself being present at the bank’s entrance but the awareness of my walking and the growing sensation of my body keeps some attention on the elements of what I am.

 My body reminds me of the Sun for its heat is once again sensed on my hands and face. The longing, the wish to be, now evokes a decision to try with the whole of myself, with the awareness of my walking, with the denial of the cigarette, with the struggle against self-pity and anger, with the effort to control my thoughts, I now try with the whole of myself to place and feel myself and the immediate surroundings of the street under the Sun. For a split second time slows down and something which connects me and the external world opens and within the traffic noise, within the milk bar sandwich sign, within the garbage bin beside me, within the shop windows displaying goods and the people around me, within my footsteps and the body that senses the clothes on it, within the associations running through the mind, within it all the sense of another realm, a realm which seems to give Life to life enters and the question “Who am I?” echoes back to myself. This sense leaves me with the memory of an otherness and I find myself at the entrance of the bank understanding that I know nothing when it comes to the Real World.

With this effort of struggling with our habitual nature we must remember that the original aim for making the effort is so that the elements of what we are become visible. This is of fundamental importance because at this point lies one of the biggest obstacles on the path of return to ourselves. For something to become visible means that it becomes seen and nothing more. So with turning inwards all that is required at the beginning is that we see ourselves and simply record what we see and nothing more. Within the more lies the obstacle and this more is manifested within us when we try to analyse what we see. This analysis is the deviation of our attention from the whole of ourselves towards the relatively small part of ourselves we call the mind. Once we begin to analyse what we see we cease to observe and begin to imagine that we are observing.

We must also be careful that in hearing about the process of turning inwards and the methods of self-study that we do not fall into the trap of the rational, logical mind and reduce the real meaning of the words self-study, self-observation and self-remembering to mere psychologising. These words are signs on the path back to ourselves and since we do not know who we are, have meaning which goes beyond what contemporary psychology may imbue them with. It is for this reason that Vaysse in his Towards Awakening calls self-observation the secret ally. In a similar vein Don Juan tells Carlos Castaneda that the warrior who follows the path of the heart has an ally which is a power a man could bring into his life to help him and give him the strength necessary to perform certain actions. This ally, Don Juan says will make a man see and understand things about which no human being could possibly enlighten him.

At the beginning of this talk we saw that life through certain circumstances brought about a shock which forced us into recognising the futility of living from a false image of ourselves. We have seen that by making certain efforts we may turn inwards consciously. This turning inwards is dependent upon our own essential need and longing for our true home. Sincerity is the key which unlocks the door to ourselves and this door becomes visible through turning inwards. By turning inwards we see what we are and through this seeing we are given the help with which the search for who we are may begin anew with renewed strength and real hope.

 I finish this talk with the words of Rene Daumal which, I believe trace the journey from the false image of ourselves towards the values of our real self:

 I am dead because I lack desire

I lack desire because I think I possess

 I think I possess because I do not try to give

In trying to give, you see that you have nothing

Seeing you have nothing, you try to give of yourself

 Trying to give of yourself, you see you are nothing

Seeing you are nothing, you desire to become

In desiring to become, you begin to live.

stavros

PS Check out the 3 pointed attention idea in my post on Kites and Attention

https://dodona777.wordpress.com/?s=kites+attention


The Triumph of Triviality – John Schumaker (from New Internationalist)

March 31, 2010

The triumph of triviality

John F Schumaker asks if consumer society is too shallow to deal with the deepening crises facing the planet.

The results of the cultural indoctrination stakes are not yet in but there is a definite trend – triviality leads, followed closely by superficiality and mindless distraction. Vanity looks great while profundity is bringing up the rear. Pettiness is powering ahead, along with passivity and indifference. Curiosity lost interest, wisdom was scratched and critical thought had to be put down. Ego is running wild. Attention span continues to shorten and no-one is betting on survival.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Half a century ago, humanistic thinkers were heralding a great awakening that would usher in a golden age of enlightened living. People like Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May and Viktor Frankl were laying the groundwork for a new social order distinguished by raised consciousness, depth of purpose and ethical refinement. This tantalizing vision was the antithesis of our society of blinkered narcissists and hypnogogic materialists. Dumbness was not our destiny. Planetary annihilation was not the plan. By the 21st century, we were supposed to be the rarefied ‘people of tomorrow’, inhabiting a sagacious and wholesome world.

Today, the demand for triviality has never been higher and our tolerance for seriousness has never been lower

Erich Fromm’s 1955 tome, The Sane Society, signalled the début of the one-dimensional ‘marketing character’ – a robotic, all-consuming creature, ‘well-fed, well-entertained… passive, unalive and lacking in feeling’. But Fromm was also confident that we would avoid further descent into the fatuous. He forecast a utopian society based on ‘humanistic communitarianism’ that would nurture our higher ‘existential needs’.

In his 1961 book, On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers wrote: ‘When I look at the world I am pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic.’ While acknowledging consumer culture’s seductive dreamland of trinkets and desire, he believed that we – those ‘people of tomorrow’ – would minister over a growth-oriented society, with ‘growth’ defined as the full and positive unfolding of human potential.

We would be upwardly driven toward authenticity, social equality and the welfare of coming generations. We would revere nature, realize the unimportance of material things and hold a healthy scepticism about technology and science. An anti-institutional vision would enable us to fend off dehumanizing bureaucratic and corporate authority as we united to meet our ‘higher needs’.

One of the most famous concepts in the history of psychology is Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, often illustrated by a pyramid. Once widely accepted, it was also inspired by a faith in innate positive human potential. Maslow claimed that human beings naturally switch attention to higher-level needs (intellectual, spiritual, social, existential) once they have met lower-level material ones. In moving up the pyramid and ‘becoming’, we channel ourselves toward wisdom, beauty, truth, love, gratitude and respect for life. Instead of a society that catered to and maintained the lowest common denominator, Maslow imagined one that prospered in the course of promoting mature ‘self-actualized’ individuals.

But something happened along the way. The pyramid collapsed. Human potential took a back seat to economic potential while self-actualization gave way to self-absorption on a spectacular scale. A pulp culture flourished as the masses were successfully duped into making a home amidst an ever-changing smorgasbord of false material needs.

Operating on the principle that triviality is more profitable than substance and dedicating itself to unceasing material overkill, consumer culture has become a fine-tuned instrument for keeping people incomplete, shallow and dehumanized. Materialism continues to gain ground, even in the face of an impending eco-apocalypse.

Pulp culture is a feast of tinsel and veneer. The ideal citizen is an empty tract through which gadgets can pass quickly, largely undigested, so there is always space for more. Reality races by as a blur of consumer choices that never feel quite real. We know it as the fast lane and whip ourselves to keep apace.

Rollo May described it accurately in his 1953 book, Man’s Search for Himself:

‘It’s an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when they have lost their way.’ So it’s largely business-as-usual even as the sky is falling.

Some critics did predict the triumph of the trivial. In his 1957 essay, ‘A Theory of Mass Culture’, Dwight MacDonald foresaw our ‘debased trivial culture that voids both the deep realities and also the simple spontaneous pleasures’, adding that ‘the masses, debauched by several generations of this sort of thing, in turn come to demand trivial cultural products’.

Today, the demand for triviality has never been higher and our tolerance for seriousness has never been lower.

In this dense fog the meaningful and meaningless can easily get reversed. Losers look like winners and the lofty and ludicrous get confused. The caption under a recent ad for men’s underwear read: ‘I’ve got something that’s good for your body, mind and soul.’ Fashion statements become a form of literacy; brand names father pride and celebrity drivel becomes compelling.

Not even God has been spared. Once a potent commander of attention and allegiance, God has been gelded into a sort of celestial lapdog who fetches our wishes for this-world success. Nothing is so great that it can’t be reconceived or rephrased in order to render it insubstantial, non-threatening or – best of all – entertaining.

The age of trivialization has left its mark on marriage, family and love. In a recent AC Nielsen survey, when asked to choose between spending time with their fathers and watching television, 54 per cent of American 4-6 year-olds chose television. The same study reported that American parents spend an average of 3.5 minutes per week in ‘meaningful conversation’ with their children, while the children themselves watch 28 hours of television a week. To which we can add cellphones, computer games and other techno-toys that are inducing a state of digital autism in our young people.

Out of this cock-up comes the most pressing question of our age. Can a highly trivialized culture, marooned between fact and fiction, dizzy with distraction and denial, elevate its values and priorities to respond effectively to the multiple planetary emergencies looming? Empty talk and token gestures aside, it doesn’t appear to be happening.

Some of the great humanists felt that there are limits to a culture’s ability to suppress our higher needs. They assumed that we are ethical creatures by nature and that we’ll do the right thing when necessary – we will transcend materialism given the freedom to do so. That seems far-fetched given the ethical coma in which we now find ourselves. Yet the ultimate test is whether or not we can do the right thing by the planet and for future generations.

Ethics and politics have never sat well together. When ‘citizens’ changed into ‘consumers’, political life became an exercise in keeping the customer happy. The imperfect democracies we have today have never been tested with planetary issues like global warming and climate change, which demand radical and unsettling solutions. In the race against the clock, politicians appear almost comical as they try not to disturb the trivial pursuits propping up our dangerously obsolete socio-economic system.

Global calamity is forcing us into a post-political era in which ethically driven individuals and groups race ahead of the political class. Soon centre-stage will belong to culture-change strategists who are able to inspire leaps of consciousness independently of hapless follow-the-leader politics. One such person is Jan Lundberg (www.culturechange.org). Lundberg is an environmental activist and a long-standing voice for pre-emptive culture change. He understands that hyper-consumerism trivializes reality and numbs people, even to prospects of their own destruction. In his essay ‘Interconnections of All in the Universe’, he writes: ‘Unless we broaden and deepen our perception of both the universe and our fellow members of society, we all may perish in persisting to manipulate each other and our ecosystem with materialism and exploitation.’

Culture-change strategists all agree about the urgent need to promote ‘global consciousness’ or ‘cosmic consciousness’ – a broad worldview with a high awareness of the inter-relatedness and sacredness of all living things. It is thought that such a universality of mind leads not only to intellectual illumination, but also to heightened moral sensibilities, compassion and greater community responsibility.

Behind the scenes some noteworthy organizations are working toward the goal of global consciousness, including the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality (www.globalspirit.org), whose members include Nobel laureates, culture theorists, futurists and spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama. The group points out the huge backlog of positive human potential that is ready to unleash itself once we assume control and carve healthier cultural pathways for people’s energies. According to their mission statement, the fate of humankind and the ecosystem lies in our ability over the next couple of decades actively to revise our cultural blueprints in order to foster global consciousness and create new, more ‘mindful’ political and economic models.

Global calamity is forcing us into a post-political era in which ethically driven individuals and groups race ahead of the political class

Even in the formal education system, a small but growing number of teachers are incorporating a ‘global awareness’ perspective into the curriculum, aimed at dissolving cultural barriers and building a sense of global community (www.globalawareness.com). Some are even encouraging a ‘global grammar’ that links students both to other human beings and to the entire planet.

In the war against trivialization some groups speak of ‘planetization’ – an expansive worldview that can slow our cultural death march. It was the French philosopher, palaeontologist and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who coined this term in calling for a global mind that fused our ecological, spiritual and political energies, and thereby paved the way for harmonious living and lasting peace. The organization Planetization Rising (www.planetization.com) sees this next phase as the only means by which we can ascend to a higher knowledge and thereby find a life-sustaining path for ourselves and the Earth: ‘It’s the next watershed mark in our evolutionary journey which alone can provide us with the empowerment and insight needed to overcome the gathering forces of ecological devastation, greed and war which now threaten our survival.’

The cultural indoctrination race is not over. The losers are still winning and the odds for a revolution in consciousness are no more than even. But is there an alternative – other than to drown in our own shallowness?

John F Schumaker is a US-born clinical psychologist living in Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. His latest book is In search of happiness: understanding an endangered state of mind (Penguin, 2006).

also by…
THIS AUTHOR

The happiness conspiracy
What does it mean to be happy in a modern consumer society? John F Schumaker argues that the elusive state has more to do with culture than genetics.

In greed we trust
John F Schumaker takes on the philosophers of greed.

Dead zone
John F Schumaker now lives and works in Aotearoa/New Zealand. But on a recent trip back home he came face-to-face with the monster of American consumer culture. The sobering encounter left him questioning both human greed and the pursuit of materialism.


Awakening To The Tao, by Liu I-Ming…an excerpt

February 25, 2010

 

If a lamp has no cover a draft will put it out, but if the lamp is enclosed in a cover, it will not go out even if there is a gust of breeze. If a brazier has no screen it will get dusty, but if the brazier is screened it will not be fouled even by flying dust.

What I realize as I observe this is the Tao of safeguarding the foundation of consciousness. Our conscious awareness is like a lamp or a brazier; awareness of reality is like a lamp glass or a brazier screen. If conscious awareness is not covered and protected by awareness of reality, the discriminating spirit will use consciousness to produce illusions, so it will be influenced by objects. Then the artificial will be in charge, the real will withdraw; aberrant energy will cover up sane energy. Like a lamp being extinguished, like a brazier being fouled, we lose our original selves. If conscious awareness is mated with awareness of reality, and awareness of reality is used to control conscious awareness while conscious awareness is used to follow awareness of reality, then the discriminating spirit has no way to emerge, the energy of consciousness has no way to fly. When the root basis is firm and stable, it may enter water without drowning, enter fire without burning. No pernicious external influences can harm it. This is like when a lamp has a cover and so does not go out, like a brazier that has a screen and so is not fouled by flying dust.

 — excerpted from Awakening To The Tao, by Liu I-Ming


The Devil’s Secret

October 16, 2009

 

The following quote comes from ” The Conference of the Birds”   a beautiful Sufi Persian Book of Poems written in 1177 by  Farid ud – Din Attar.

During the 1970’s it was adapted into a play by Peter Brook and  Jean-Claude Carriere which Brook took on a tour through parts of wild Africa and performed in the streets and later to Western audiences in New York, Paris and in Sydney. I was lucky at the time because I was living in Sydney and saw it. The play communicated at a very subliminal level in that it didn’t really matter if you understood rationally what the actors were saying because the “meaning” was transmitted almost viscerally through the movements and the sounds that emanated from the stage.

The devil’s secret:

       God said to Moses once:  “Go out and find                        

       The secret truth that haunts the devil’s mind,”

       When Moses met the devil that same day

       He asked for his advice and heard him say:

       “Remember this, repeat it constantly,

       Don’t speak of ‘me’, or you will be like me.”

       If life still holds you by a single hair,

       The end of  all your toil will be despair;

       No matter how you prosper, there will rise

       Before your face a hundred smirking “I”s.

                              The Conference of the Birds 

Conference_of_the_birds

“Manteq at-Ṭayr” (“Conference of the Birds”)


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