-- “Modern Day Job” by John Larsen
Act I: Separation. The cultural task of turning a boy into a man begins by the disruption of the primal bond between mother and son. In infancy he and she have been one flesh. But at some point, usually near the onset of puberty, the boy child will be rudely stolen from the encompassing maternal arms, ready or not, and thrust into the virile society of men. In many tribes, the men kidnap the boys and take them to live in the men's clubhouse where they are subject to hazing, discipline, and teachings of the elders. “Modern Day Job” by John Larsen
Some form of painful ordeal inevitably accompanies and dramatizes the separation from the world of WOMAN. The list of minor and major tortures imposed upon initiates reads like a page from the fantasy life of de Sade and includes: lip piercing, scarification, filing or knocking out of teeth, scourgings, finger sacrifices, removal of a testicle, bitings, burnings, eating of disgusting foods, being tied on an ant hill, subincision of the penis, solitary confinement, exile in the wilderness for long periods, sleeping naked on winter nights, etc. Often a boy was sent out into the forest to kill a dangerous animal or an enemy to prove his courage. Among the Plains Indians,«fasting, vigils, and sometimes psychedelic drugs were used to induce an altered state of consciousness and a personal vision.
As a general rule, the more a tribe or nation practices warfare the harsher its rites of initiation for boys. In such cultures, the main purpose of the initiation rites for males is to turn civilian boys into military men. The life of a man is the life of a warrior. To be a man one must be able to bear suffering without complaint, to kill, to die. Some tribes, in their effort to create manly virtues, amputate the nipples, since only women should have breasts. The neophyte warrior learns to disdain woman's ways, to reject the sensuous knowledge of the body he learned kinesthetically from his mother, and to deny all that is "feminine" and soft in himself.
Why this connection between masculinity and pain? We can see the logic that underlies such ordeals if we look closely at the typical "primitive" ritual of circumcision. For reasons that are deeply unconscious—or mythic—the male elders of the tribe ordain that boys must bear a scar throughout life to remind them that they are required to sacrifice their bodies to the will of the tribe. To be a man is to leave behind the world of women-nature-flesh-sensuality-pleasure and submit one's will and body to the world of men-culture-power-duty. The implicit message given to a boy when he is circumcised, whether the ritual is performed when he is seven days old or at puberty, is that your body henceforth belongs to the tribe and not merely to yourself.
If we are to understand the male psyche, decipher the baffling male obsession with violence, break the unconscious sadomasochistic game that binds men and women together in erotic combat, and end the habit of war, we must understand the original wound, the scar, around which masculine character has traditionally been constructed.
The rite of circumcision is widely though not universally practiced, but it is the best symbol of the process by which boys are turned into men. That so primitive and brutal a rite continues to be practiced nearly automatically in modern times when most medical evidence indicates that it is unnecessary, painful, and dangerous suggests that circumcision remains a mythic act whose real significance is stubbornly buried in the unconscious. That men and women who supposedly love their sons refuse to examine and stop this barbaric practice strongly suggests that something powerfully strange is going on here that is obscured by a conspiracy of silence. We do not want to look at the cruelty that is systematically inflicted on men or the wound that is deemed a necessary price of manhood.
Imagine, if you dare, that you are small enough to rest complete within your mother's arms, so sensitive that every nerve ending of your flesh reaches out to the unknown world, eager as lips to receive the bounties of the breast. Then, suddenly, you are seized by male giants, taken from your mother's arms (but with her consent), and held down by force. The tender skin covering your penis is cut off (whether by a stone knife or surgical blade is a matter of small difference). Feel the violation of your flesh, your being. (Do not allow yourself the comforting lie that circumcision isn't that painful, the wound heals quickly, and the pain is soon forgotten.) What indelible message about the meaning of manhood would be carved on your body, encoded within the scar tissue of your symbolic wound?
It is possible to interpret the cruelty involved in rites of passage as expressing the unconscious resentment of the fathers against the sons. But more likely the pain inflicted served as a sacrament—an outward and visible sign of an inward change that transforms boys into men. To create a social body requires a sacrifice of our individual desires. The pain of the ordeal, the hazings, and the insults were designed to break down individuality and replace personal identity with the imprint of the tribe. From the beginnings of recorded human history to the present day the most important tacit instruction boys receive about manhood is: Masculinity requires a wounding of the body, a sacrifice of the natural endowment of sensuality and sexuality. A man is fashioned by a process of subtraction, decision, abstraction, being severed from the "natural" world of WOMAN. We gain manhood by the willingness to bear the mutilation imposed on us by the ruling elders.
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-- “Venus Verticordia” by Dantte Gabriel Rossetti
The third aspect of WOMAN is as an irresistible erotic-spiritual force. She is the magnet, and men the iron filings that lie within her field.
It is difficult to give this aspect of WOMAN a familiar name because Western mythology, philosophy, and psychology have never acknowledged its reality. Once, men and women assumed that the goddess controlled all things that flow and ebb—the waxing and waning moon, the rise and fall of tide and phallus. But ever since God became Father, and men have considered themselves the lords over nature (and women), we have defined man as active and WOMAN as reactive. Consequently, we have never developed a language that does justice to WOMAN'S erotic-spiritual power.
In Eastern mythology, notions of gender are reversed. The female principle is seen as active and the male as responsive. Among human beings, lions, and other members of the animal kingdom, the female of the species sends out her invitations on the wind and commands the male's response. He may think he initiates, but her sexual perfumes (pheromones) and inspiring image influence him to action. She is the primer mover, the divine eros, whose power draws him to her. As Joseph Campbell points out,3 the term Shakti in Hindu mythology names the energy or active power of a male divinity that is embodied in his spouse. "Every wife is her husband's Shakti and every beloved woman her lover's. Beatrice was Dante's. Carried further still: The word connotes female spiritual power in general, as manifest, for instance, in the radiance of beauty, or on the elemental level in the sheer power of the female sex to work effects on the male."
To detect this important aspect of men's experience of WOMAN that our language or philosophy of gender does not name or honor, we have to look at the angelic and demonic extremes of men's sexuality—the ways in which WOMAN figures in the imaginations of artists and rapists.
For many creative men WOMAN is the muse and inspiration for their work. She possesses a semi-divine power to call forth their creativity. Without her inspiration they cannot paint, write, or manage. She is the anima, the spirit and soul of a man. Without her a man is only will and intellect and blind force.
At the opposite end of the spectrum the rapist confesses the same experience of the irresistible erotic power of WOMAN. His defense is inevitably: "She tempted me. She wanted it. She seduced me." For a moment, put aside the correct response to such deluded excuses, which is that it is not the victim's fault, and consider the raw unconscious experience of WOMAN that underlies rape no less than the inspiration of the artist. In both cases, she is experienced as the active, initiatory power.
When we consider how most "civilized" men have repressed their experience of the power of WOMAN as goddess, mother, and erotic-spiritual motivator, it is easy to understand the reasons that lie in back of the history of men's cruelty to women. We fear, therefore deny, therefore demean, therefore (try to) control the power of WOMAN. There is no need here to rehearse the routine insults and gynocidal hatreds of men toward women. Mary Daly, Susan Griffin, and other feminist thinkers have traced this painful history in brilliant and convincing fashion.
As men we need to recollect our experience, reown our repressed knowledge of the power of WOMAN, and cease establishing our manhood in reactionary ways. If we do not, we will continue to be workers desperately trying to produce trinkets that will equal WOMAN'S creativity, macho men who confuse swagger with independence, studs who anxiously perform for Mother's eyes hoping to win enough applause to satisfy a fragile ego, warriors and rapists who do violence to a feminine power they cannot control and therefore fear.
So long as we define ourselves by our reactions to unconscious images of WOMAN we remain in exile from the true mystery and power of manhood.
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As bio-mythic, storytelling animals, we inevitably construct a linguistic frame around objects, events, and emotions. Language is our glory and our downfall, our greatest freedom and our maximum-security prison. Before we know it, the gossamer words we have spun to capture our fleeting experience harden into rigid beliefs that block the flow of passing moments and new meanings.
Our most hallowed languages and symbols—the religious and political terms that encode the dominant myths of our culture—establish a tyrannical hold on our minds, emotions, and imaginations. Before we know it, our unthinking allegiance to the God who blesses "democracy," "capitalism," and "freedom" becomes a rationale for forcing our way of life on others, whom we define as "enemies" when they resist. Unknowingly, our spirits become colonized by the voices and values of officials, authorities, and pundits.
Once the spin doctors, advertisers, propagandists, and religious authorities lay claim to language, the sacred connection between word and truth is severed. The common trust upon which all civil society depends—the understanding that we will tell the truth and abide by our word—is destroyed. When systematic lying, dissimulation, and secrecy become a way of life, the public ceases to expect the truth from government officials and cynicism blossoms.
Every institution and profession—religious or secular— has its lingo. It is the nature of professions and organizations to invent special languages that are understood by insiders but are otherwise opaque; to be a professional is to speak in code. For the uninitiated, reading a political policy brief, a theological text, a legal document, a medical diagnosis, or a journal article on structuralism is like deciphering code. It is not uncommon for professionals of all kinds—lawyers, politicians, businesspeople, pastors, and priests—to use obfuscation, complexity, and mystification to claim knowledge—and thereby power—unavailable to the layperson.
In the beginning of the Christian era it was said that spirit became flesh. But then Spirit became Word (logos), and words became sacrament, which in turn became the basis for the church. The farther Christianity moved from its original event, the more powerfully theology established its dominion over the living spirit. The creed makers performed a reverse miracle: They turned wine into water.
How can we break the spell of religious language, wake up from the hypnosis of god jargon, and escape from the gravitational pull of the political ideologies implicit in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?
The first antidote for the prostitution of language is voluntary chastity. Just say no. Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian, said that the great words—faith, hope, love, grace, sin, and salvation—sometimes become so trivialized and degraded that we need to cease using them for a generation. We need to declare a moratorium on old, hallowed, and overused words: a linguistic fast.
Mystics within the great religious traditions have always cautioned against becoming too comfortable with language describing G-d. Judaism prohibited naming G-d altogether. What theologians called the via negativa suggests that we remain most faithful to the ultimate mystery when we remember what G-d is not. The One we try to capture in our names and definitions remains, as Martin Luther said, a hidden G-d.
One way to recover the original meaning and power of religion is to adopt the radical discipline of linguistic asceticism. Put yourself on an austere verbal fast: slim down; clean house. During the month of Ramadan, good Muslims do not eat between dawn and dusk. Abstaining from our habitual patterns of eating and speaking sharpens the appetite and the tongue.
Stop using the tattered language, outworn creeds, and tired metaphors that were once vital but now belong in museums of ancient beliefs. Abandon archaic notions that no longer speak to our condition. The primitive idea that we can be purified by the blood sacrifice of an animal, or a savior who vicariously atones for our sins, makes no more sense to the modern mind than a three-level universe with heaven above and hell below.
What would happen if churches, synagogues, and mosques underwent a time of verbal fasting, when they put their old stories and traditional religious languages on hiatus? At first things would probably get worse. People wouldn't know how to talk about religious matters. But gradually congregations would begin to experiment with new metaphors and create a new poetry of faith by sharing stories and by helping one another discover fresh expressions of their perennial fears and hopes.
Years ago, when I first took my own advice, I made a list of religious, political, and psychological words I habitually used and forced myself to give them up: neurosis, paranoia, salvation, justification by faith, grace, sin, estrangement, mysticism, spirituality, faith, hope, vocation, et cetera. (I told my children I would put one dollar in a box every time I slipped—a costly agreement.) I stopped praying, stopped reading religious literature, and stopped going to church. Insofar as I was able, I allowed the old words to be replaced by silence.
At first, I became anxious. The silence was painfully awkward. Stripped of familiar language, the God I had known disappeared from the horizon of my life, leaving me feeling naked and vulnerable. Without this God, my basic values and core sense of identity were thrown into question.
Gradually, the silence took on a different valence. God was replaced by G-d. The threatening emptiness turned into sweet anticipation, like that of a lover waiting quietly for the object of her desire to appear. The fear I had experienced suddenly appeared baseless, even comical. How, I wondered, had I fallen prey to the absurd belief that the One with Ten Thousand Names could only exist within my limited religious vocabulary? It seemed unlikely that the Unknowable One would starve to death if I neglected to make the old burnt offerings.
(It would be interesting to see what would happen within corporations if, for one hundred days, it was forbidden to talk about profits, losses, stockholders, competition, or market share. Some workers might wonder out loud if what they were doing with fifty or sixty hours a week truly reflected how they wished to spend their fleeting years. Others might wonder whether the product being promoted was ecologically viable, or if their contribution to a global economy was likely to benefit those on the planet who needed it most, or whether we might choose to measure the success of our society by gross national happiness [as they do in Bhutan], rather than by gross national product.)
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---"Sacred Mountains" Marina Petro
At first the path leading to an oasis is nearly imperceptible. A slight veering away from the arid landscape and the painful disciplines of self-examination, doubt, and asceticism. A turning toward the promise of transformation— the redolence of green fields and flowering trees coming from a yet-unseen wellspring of life.
The transformation that begins in the desert occurs in the inner spiritual landscape and does not immediately alter the facts of our quotidian existence. A wide variety of metaphors have been used to describe the experience.
It is as if:
the darkness becomes luminous;
we are surprised by joy;
anxiety gives way to courage;
we are healed of our dis-ease;
we are fully alive although we are still destined to die;
our defense mechanisms are disarmed, and we dare
to be vulnerable in a dangerous world; we regain an innocent eye; we are born again; a chrysalis is emerging from the cocoon.
These metaphors of awakening, enlightenment, and metamorphosis point to momentary peak experiences of transcendence. But William James warned us that, while it is notoriously easy to have religious experiences, it is difficult to create a religious life. So, before considering how we craft a religious life by re-owning our elemental emotions, learning to speak in poetic ways about G-d, and practicing justice, we turn our attention to those largely fleeting experiences in which we have premonitions that we are encompassed within a sacred web th; includes all sentient beings. These minor oases are memories of Edenic moments of childhood; a sudden fee of being quickened or enthusiastic (possessed by a god); momentary epiphanies and visions.
I remember a time when my world was magical and every moment was charged with a sense of the numinous. Twice upon a time, long ago and far away, I inhabited a garden of innocent delight and sacred pleasure. Before my fall into Presbyterian religion and modern profanity I lived in a seamless world, with no clear boundaries between time and eternity, self and other, sacred and profane. I was six years old and there was only Now and Forever.
I remember staring into the mirror, seeing the stranger's eyes of my reflected self and asking, "Who are you? Where have you come from? Why are you here?" I knew even then that I, the knower, could never be known to myself.
I remember sitting on my father's lap, secure forever, beyond the realm of death, feeling the vibrations of his rich baritone voice singing "Danny Boy," keeping time with the beat of my heart.
I remember lying on my back outdoors on moonlit summer evenings, watching the endless drift of cloud castles, formed solely for my amusement.
I remember waking on dark nights when the chorus of cicadas was suddenly interrupted by ominous rustling sounds in the backyard. Bears? Burglars? (As it turned out, it was only the insomniac next door, Mr. Traylor, wandering in quest of elusive sleep.)
I remember rearranging rocks in small creeks to produce an elaborate symphony of water music—babble, ripple, gurgle, whoosh.
I remember perfectly ordinary mornings when everything seemed charged with anticipation, a kind of pervasive Christmas spirit, as if some extraordinary surprise awaited me around every shrub and tree.
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"Life's Moral Paradox" (excerpt) In the Absence of God—Dwelling in the Place of the Sacred by Sam Keen
To experience our lifescape as sacred also creates a moral paradox. How can we both revere and use the world? Whatever is seen as sacred is, at least in principle, inviolate. It ought to be hallowed, venerated as an end rather than a means. But clearly this is not always possible. If I am to survive the winter, my glorious, molten aspen may need to be harvested for firewood, and I may need to kill one of the graceful deer who so delight me during warmer months. Among traditional hunters and gatherers, the game animal upon which they depended for food was believed to have sacrificed itself during a successful hunt. The Bushmen of South Africa performed a ritual dance reenacting the kill and thanking the eland for its life. They believed that through this sacrament their prey returned to earth to sustain the herd.
In premodern times, shedding blood through hunting and warfare was considered a tragic necessity, requiring repentance and purification. The modern worldview tries-to resolve the moral paradox by turning everything in the nonhuman world into an object, to be utilized as we wish. But once we disenchant the rivers, forests, soil, and air, we end up destroying the network of life upon which we depend.
The proper task of religion is to remind us that, in spite of the tragic aspect of life that must feed on other life in order to survive, we should tread reverently on the earth and be compassionate to all sentient beings. We may not be able to speak convincingly about the transcendent God of traditional religion or of a kingdom of heaven beyond history, but we are not left without witnesses to the sacred. The Logos, the Word, the Divine Hologram that informs the cosmos—all things great and small—is still spoken in sparrow song, wind sigh, and leaf fall. An electron is a single letter, an atom a complex word, a molecule a sentence, and a mockingbird an entire epistle in the great ongoing saga. The ocean still whispers the song that originated with the big bang. Listen to the longing in your heart for love and justice, and you may hear the sacred word. To live in a reverential manner is not to surrender to authority, scripture, or institution but to create an autobiography in which we tell the stories of the unique epiphanies that have informed our lives.
No-thing in the world is sacred.
Every-thing is: wonderful, not miraculous,
awe-full, not lawless,
graceful, not capricious,
sacramental, not supernatural,
abounding in epiphanies,
lacking any final revelation of a divine purpose or plan.
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"The Never Ending Journey (excerpt) In the Absence of God—Dwelling in the Place of the Sacred by Sam Keen
“Never Ending Journey” by Marianna G. Mills
In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred
by Sam Keen
In the desert nothing is exactly what it seems. A distant lake shimmers for a moment, promising relief and refreshment, but as you draw closer it vanishes. Sandstorms obscure the sun and cause the unwary traveler to walk in circles. Springs and oases that were once verdant dry up and disappear beneath the shifting sands. To live in the desert is to become part of an unending quest for water and wild game. To join any new quest we must challenge the values and concerns that have governed our lives to this time. Freud got it slightly wrong. True, many of us suffer from the thorn in the flesh of childhood wounds, but we suffer more frequently from a void, from what hasn't happened to us, from what we haven't found as a result of the questions we haven't asked.
Questioning is not something we do but something we are—an elemental force. Were you to dissect my brain, you would find that the neurochemical circuitry, the complex strands of cells that make up my brain and my mind, are as individual as my fingerprints. But beyond the wetware, what makes me Sam Keen rather than Rupert Murdoch are the questions that shape my life. Instead of spending each day asking myself how I could acquire more news media, I wonder about the vagaries of the experience of the sacred and the shape of future religion.
Nothing shapes our lives so much as the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never dream of asking. Our minds, bodies, feelings, and relationships are literally informed by our questions. The defining essence of an individual is his or her quest print. The men and women who made an enduring mark in history, for better and for worse, ignored the accepted worldviews, values, and myths of their time and chose to pursue their own answers to their deepest questions.
Here's a random sample:
How can we put an end to suffering?—Buddha
What is eternal and unchanging?—Plato
What is the will of God?—Jesus Of what may I be certain?—Descartes
How is a falling apple like a rising moon?—Sir Isaac Newton -
Why were men born free but are everywhere in chains?—Karl Marx
What is the meaning of dreams?—Sigmund Freud
How can we create a master race?—Adolf Hitler
Does God play dice with the universe?—Albert Einstein
How is a woman unlike a man?—Betty Friedan
The questions we habitually ask determine whether we will be superficial or profound, acceptors of the status quo or searchers, creators of the peace between nations or the cause of its destruction. They reflect our values, needs, circumstances, and situation. It is the courage to ponder the great mythic questions that gives depth to human life. These queries form antibodies that protect us from the diseases of orthodoxy and ideology, although sometimes they lead us to create new pseudo religions, such as fascism or communism. But so long as we return again and again to the great unanswerable questions, we will never wander far from the endless sky and quickening winds of the spirit.
And if we don't?
If I don't ask, "What are my gifts?" and "What is my vocation?" I may spend my life working at a job that has little or no meaning for me. If I don't ask myself, "Am I willing to kill the designated enemies of my government?" I may join the military, and possibly be placed in a combat situation where my only choice is to kill or be killed. If I don't ask, "Should I compromise my values to serve the interests of my employer?" I am more likely to tailor my personality to what is demanded for advancement. If I do not ask, "Who am I? What is my story?" I am more likely to be informed by the myths, scripts, and stereotypes of my culture. If I don't ask, "What do I believe about G-d and the ultimate purpose of life?" I am more likely to live unconsciously, within either a profane ideology or an uncritical religious orthodoxy.
To be authentically religious is not to affirm any one creed or to have unwavering faith in a transcendent God. It is to be passionately concerned with the meaning of existence, and to linger with questions of origin, destination, and purpose, not because they are answerable but because we are swept up by our cultural myths when we cease to ask these questions.
These perennial, unanswerable questions send us forth on a philosophical quest that lasts a lifetime:
Origins: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the origin of life? Of my life?
Destination: What is the end toward which history and my life are moving? Who or what is the moving force?
Death: For what may I hope when I die? Is there life after death? Immortality of the soul? Resurrection of the body? Reincarnation? Complete annihilation?
Identity: Who am I? How do I become that unique self that fulfills my destiny? How do I win my freedom from biological necessity and from the myth my culture has imposed over my body, mind, and spirit?
Vocation: Does my life have meaning? If so, what is it? How do I contribute to life beyond my own?
Community: Who are my people? With whom do I belong? Do I have enemies? If so, who are
Authority: Who is in charge? Who is the author of my story? What are the rules? What am I obligated to do? Why?
Path of life: What is the map of life—the stages along the way? How should I conduct myself as a child, an adolescent, an adult, and an elder?
Evil: Why is there evil? Why do the good suffer and the evil prosper sometimes? Or vice versa? Is there ultimate justice? What can I do to reduce the power of evil?
Dis-ease: What is wrong with me? With human beings? Why does dis-ease exist? Pain? Why are we self-destructive sometimes?
Healing: What is wholeness, health? What nostrums, medicines, means of healing are available? Who can help, who can heal?
G-d: Are we alone in the universe? Is there a supra-human caring intelligence?
In the beginning, the prodigal son was comfortable in the household of his father. He accepted and practiced the ancient faith. But one day his spirit was disturbed by questions neither he nor his elders could answer. Leaving home on a quest for answers, he wandered in the desert and in the distant land of the skeptics and flesh-pots. Often on cold nights among strangers, he longed to return to the warmth and security of home and put aside his doubts. But his questions would not be silenced. They resounded in his mind like the beat of a great drum in a vast emptiness.
In time, haunted and exhausted by finding no path that led back to the innocent land in which he had once lived, he fell into despair and decided to abandon his quest. But some impulse encouraged him to keep going, and gradually he resigned himself to being an anxious pilgrim on a road whose destination he did not
know. Then, one night in a foreign land, he realized with the clarity of a star falling in a moonless sky that his agonizing questions had become his treasure, his joy, and his guide to a never-ending adventure in a desert, an oasis, and a wondrous world that had become his home.
--“El Federal Cafe IV” by Fabian Perez
There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing.
--Digging beneath my immediate mind, which distracts itself with pizza, paper clips, and the rising and falling of the Dow, I uncover ruins of old dwellings, a house, a temple, and a town square once occupied, believed in, faithfully tended.
--I stumble, unstable on shifting ground. My mind wanders through layers of rubble, discarded beliefs, outworn creeds, broken hopes, shattered illusions, bones of failed heroes and false saviors.
--Socrates, that old trickster, taught me a way of thinking, dialectic and dialogue, an endless approach. But I never arrived at the promised vision of the good, the beautiful, and the true.
--I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, with as much heart, mind, and soul as I could manage, but he failed to saved me from death's dominion and the fear of nothingness.
--I trusted Freud to lead me down into an underworld (neither he nor I conquered) from which I returned wounded, with little redemptive wisdom other than a sermon on coping and the virtues of love and work.
--Marx, in whom I never believed, taught me better than he knew the danger of all Utopias and left me with the bitter truth that I and all the bourgeoisie are moved more by desire for power and profit than by love of justice.
--Tiring of pure reason, I dreamed of the dark kingdom of Dionysus, an orgy of the senses to wash away the pale abstractions of the mind. In time I learned what Apollo knows: Order may be sweet, and discipline a path to delight.
--A skilled archeologist might map more layers, passions, persons, and places that I thought might save me— from what I am not certain—and give me peace at last.
--Should I mourn and build again? Clear away the debris, smooth out the ground, prepare a solid foundation for a new edifice to house my spirit?
--Wherever I stand, tectonic plates rumble. I am earthquake-prone. Not a good insurance risk.
--I think it is better to dwell in the desert under open skies, look for hidden oases, make a hearth, light a fire, cherish sunrise, noonday, moonset, a flight of Canada geese, an ant empire being built an arm's length away, the comfort of touch, the language of glances, smiles, laughter, tears—sacred moments.
--Be thankful for the myriad hints of a G-d present in absence, in the longing without end. Amen.
--We who have been unsatisfied by any traditional religion have spent our lives in quest of a rose, but the closest we ever get is entering a room still redolent with the scent of a rose that was removed before we arrived. We cannot easily locate God in the house of our longing, yet we remain haunted; God's missing presence echoes throughout the empty rooms. In the void we hear faint hymns of an ancient faith for which we no longer have room among the endless quarks, waves, and subatomic particles identified by science. We exist in a God-shaped vacuum. That which is no longer present (but is not completely absent) gives shape to our aspirations and longings.
--Although longing seems to be perennial, the historical tide of faith ebbs and flows. Currently in the industrialized nations it seems to have receded, depositing its driftwood of nihilism and violence on the shore, leaving us devoid of a vision of the sacred that we need in order to create a hopeful society. We suffer from a spiritual autoimmune disease. Lacking antibodies of faith to keep us from despair, we attack ourselves.
--We are trapped in a life in which little attention is paid to the encompassing mystery of Being traditionally known by the Ten Thousand Names of God. Many of us feel the loss of this absent God, and we feel outrage. You can hear it in the voices of the new atheologians who condemn the violence of religious fundamentalism but are angry that a God in whom they do not believe does not prevent holocausts or provide verifiable evidence of His existence. It is painful to be aware of what is missing, but the experience of longing should not be denied, covered up, or tranquilized. It is precisely from this point that we may start on a path toward renewal.
--Our experience of absence rests firmly upon an ancient memory of presence. The premise and promise of this book is that if we have the courage to wait patiently on the border between agnosticism and faith, forsaking the false certainties promised by the God of traditional religion (a God whose nature and name true believers presume to know), we may find ourselves encompassed by the G-d of the mystics, the ultimate reality that energizes all beings but can only be named in the gossamer language of myth and metaphor and poetry. (Note: Throughout, I will continue to use "God" and "G-d" to differentiate traditional from mystical religion.) As we will find, only by rediscovering the elementary emotions that accompany the experience of the sacred—wonder, awe, gratitude, anxiety, joy, grief, reverence, empowerment, vocation, compassion, outrage, hope, humility, trust—may we once again find ourselves in the presence of an unknowable but all-present G-d.
--Hold a chambered shell to your ear and you will hear the undulating surge and sigh of the primal sea.
----“Jimmy Carter” by Sidney Maurer
Rumor has it that on leaving the Garden of Eden, Adam said to Eve: “My dear, we are living in an age of transition.” Ordinarily, life proceeds ordinarily. We dwell securely within the garden of the protective myths, values, and paradigms of our society; our questions are about making a living, purchasing the things we have been taught to desire, raising our children, and keeping up with the neighbors. But times of crisis challenge our comfortable assumptions about who we are and force us to ask more radical questions. Carl Jung reached such a point at midlife when he realized that he didn’t know what myth he had been living.
Since permanent change is here to stay and crises and transitions are an inevitable part of the human condition, a wise person will hone some of the skills necessary for thriving in troubled times. Think of the crises every Adam and Eve must negotiate as composed of three interlocking circles: identity crises, love crises, social crises. It follows that the radical questions we most need to ask in times of transition (when our world is burning) are those addressed to the solitary self, those concerning the intimate relationship between I and thou, and those that have to do with the commonwealth within which we live and move and have our being.
CROSS EXAMINING THE SELF
—What is happening to me?
—What comes next for me?
—What is the source and meaning of my restlessness, dissatisfaction, longing, anxiety?
—What do I really desire?
—What have I not brought forth that is within me?
—What have I contributed to life?
—What are my gifts? My vocation?
—What ought I to do? Who says?
—What does my dream-self know that “I” don’t?
—What story, myth, values, authorities, institutions inform my life?
—What is my ultimate concern?
—How faithful am I to my best vision of myself?
—At whose expense has my wealth, security, and happiness been purchased?
QUESTIONS FOR I AND THOU
—Whom do I love?
—By whom am I loved?
—Am I more loved or loving?
—How intimate are we?
—How close is close enough?
—What are we doing together?
—Do we help each other broaden and deepen the reach of our caring, to become more compassionate?
—What clandestine emotions fear, anger, resentment, guilt, shame, sorrow, desire for revenge – keep us
from being authentic with each other?
—When do our vows and promises become a prison from which I and thou must escape to preserve the
integrity of our separate beings?
—Can we renew our passion and commitment?
—When is it time to say goodbye?
PROBING THE COMMONWEALTH
—Who is included within the “we,” the community, the polis that encompasses and defines my being?
—Who is my neighbor?
—For whom, beyond the circle of my family, do I care?
—Who are my enemies?
—To what extremes would I go to defend my country?
—Can I be just, loving, merciful, and be loyal to my profession, my corporation, my country?
—If we were to measure our success by Gross National
—Happiness (the national standard of Bhutan) how would our economic, political, educational, and religious institutions change?
—What would have to happen to convince sovereign nations to wage peace rather than expending their wealth and creativity in producing more deadly and genocidal weapons?
If you doubt that asking a new question is a royal road to revolution, transformation, and renewal, consider what happened when Descartes asked, “Of what may I be certain?” or when Newton asked, “How is a falling apple like a rising moon?” or when Marx asked, “Why were men born free but are everywhere in chains?” or when Freud asked, “What is the meaning of dreams?”
Your question is the quest you’re on. No questions – no journey. Timid questions — timid trips. Radical questions — an expedition to the root of your being. Bon voyage.
[Part 2] ------> "The High Price of Success" (excerpt) FIRE IN THE BELLY: ON BEING A MAN by Sam Keen
---Painting by Derek Turcotte
When we live within the horizons of the economic myth, we begin to consider it honorable for a man to do whatever he must to make a living. Gradually we adopt what Erich Fromm called "a marketing orientation" toward our selves. We put aside our dreams, forget the green promise of our young selves, and begin to tailor our personalities to what the market requires. When we mold ourselves into commodities, practice smiling and charm so we will have "winning personalities," learn to sell ourselves, and practice the silly art of power dressing, we are certain to be haunted by a sense of emptiness.
Men, in our culture, have carried a special burden of unconsciousness, of ignorance of the self. The unexamined life has been worth quite a lot in economic terms. It has enabled us to increase the gross national product yearly. It may not be necessary to be a compulsive extrovert to be financially successful, but it helps. Especially for men, ours is an outer-directed culture that rewards us for remaining strangers to ourselves, unacquainted with feeling, intuition, or the subtleties of sensation and dreams.
Many of the personality characteristics that have traditionally been considered "masculine"—aggression, rationality— are not innate or biological components of maleness but are products of a historical era in which men have been socially assigned the chief roles in warfare and the economic order. As women increasingly enter the quasimilitary world of the economic system they are likely to find themselves governed by the logic of the system. Some feminists, who harbor a secret belief in the innate moral superiority of women, believe that women will change the rules of business and bring the balm of communication and human kindness into the boardroom. To date this has been a vain hope. Women executives have proven themselves the equal of men in every way—including callousness. The difference between the sexes is being eroded as both sexes become defined by work. It is often said that the public world of work is a man's place and that as women enter it they will become increasingly "masculine" and lose their "femininity." To think this way is to miss the most important factor of the economic world. Economic man, the creature who defines itself within the horizons of work and consumption, is not man in any full sense of the word, but a being who has been neutralized, degendered, rendered subservient to the laws of the market. The danger of economics is not that it turns women into men but that it destroys the fullness of both manhood and womanhood.
History is a game of leapfrog in which yesterday's gods regularly become today's demons, and the rectitude of the fathers becomes the fault of the sons. The Greeks invented the idea of nemesis to show how any single virtue stubbornly maintained gradually changes into a destructive vice. Our success, our indus-•try, our habit of work have produced our economic nemesis. In our current economic crisis we are driving to the poorhouse in new automobiles, spending our inflated dollars for calorie-free food, lamenting our falling productivity in an environment polluted by our industry. Work made modern men great, but now threatens to usurp our souls, to innundate the earth in things and trash, to destroy our capacity to love and wonder. According to an ancient myth, Hephaestus (Vulcan) the blacksmith, the only flawed immortal who worked, was born lame.
Somehow men got so lost in the doing that we forgot to pause and ask, "What is worth doing? What of value are we creating—and destroying—within the economic order?" Work has always been our womb—the fertile void out of which we give birth to our visions. Today we need to stop the world for a while and look carefully at where our industry is taking us. We have a hopeful future only if we stop asking what we can produce and begin to ask what we want to create. Our dignity as men lies not in exhausting ourselves in work but in discovering our vocation. Remembering Dr. Faust, it might be a good idea to pause and ask ourselves how much of our psyches we will trade for how much profit, power, and prestige. Maybe we should require graduate schools, professional organizations, places of labor, and corporations to put a warning over their doors. Caution: Excessive work may be hazardous to the health of your body and spirit.
I fear that something beautiful, terrible, and complex about work has escaped me. Some part of the mixed blessing I cannot capture in words.
A friend who is a successful entrepreneur asked me, "Are you antibusiness? Business is where I create. It is where the excitement and juice is for me. I can hardly wait to get to my office." My literary agent, Ned Leavitt, tells me: "My work is my art. When I dress in my suit each morning I feel like a knight going forth to battle, and I love to fight hard and win in a hard bargaining session with a publisher and get the best deal for my clients."
I know. I know. I am also one of the work-driven men. And I am lucky to have work that fits skintight over my spirit. I hardly know how to separate work from self. Even when I subtract the long hours, the fatigue, the uncertainties about money, the irritation of having to deal with a million nit-shit details, the long hours in the limbo of jet planes and airports, the compromises I have to make, the sum is overwhelmingly positive. I don't know who I would be without the satisfaction of providing for my family, the occasional intoxication of creativity, the warm companionship of colleagues, the pride in a job well done, and the knowledge that my work has been useful to others.
But there is still something unsaid, something that forces me to ask questions about my life that are, perhaps, tragic: In working so much have I done violence to my being? How often, doing work that is good, have I betrayed what is better in myself and abandoned what is best for those I love? How many hours would have been better spent walking in silence in the woods or wrestling with my children? Two decades ago, near the end of what was a good but troubled marriage, my wife asked me: "Would you be willing to be less efficient?" The question haunts me.
[Part 1] ------> "The High Price of Success" (excerpt) FIRE IN THE BELLY: ON BEING A MAN by Sam Keen
---Painting by Derek Turcotte
At the moment the world seems to be divided between those countries that are suffering from failed economies and those that are suffering from successful economies. After a half century of communism the USSR, Eastern Europe, and China are all looking to be saved from the results of stagnation by a change to market economies. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Germany, and Japan we are beginning to realize that our success has created an underclass of homeless and unemployed, and massive pollution of the environment. As the Dow rises to new heights everyone seems to have forgotten the one prophetic insight of Karl Marx: where the economy creates a class of winners it will also create a class of losers, where wealth gravitates easily into the hands of the haves, the fortunes of the have-nots become more desperate.
On the psychological level, the shadow of our success, the flip side of our affluence, is the increasing problem of stress and burnout. Lately, dealing with stress and burnout has become a growth industry. Corporations are losing many of their best men to the "disease" of stress. Every profession seems to have its crisis: physician burnout, teacher burnout, lawyer burnout. Experts in relaxation, nutrition, exercise, and meditation are doing a brisk business.
But finally, stress cannot be dealt with by psychological tricks, because for the most part it is a philosophical rather than a physiological problem, a matter of the wrong worldview. Perhaps the most common variety of stress can best be described as "rustout" rather than burnout. It is a product, not of an excess of fire but of a deficiency of passion. We, human beings, can survive so long as we "make a living," but we do not thrive without a sense of significance that we gain only by creating something we feel is of lasting value—a child, a better mousetrap, a computer, a space shuttle, a book, a farm. When we spend the majority of our time doing work that gives us a paycheck but no sense of meaning we inevitably get bored and depressed. When the requirements of our work do not match our creative potential we rust out. The second kind of burnout is really a type of combat fatigue that is the inevitable result of living for an extended period within an environment that is experienced as a battle zone. If the competition is always pressing you to produce more and faster, if life is a battle, if winning is the only thing, sooner or later you are going to come down with battle fatigue. Like combat veterans returning from Vietnam, businessmen who live for years within an atmosphere of low-intensity warfare begin to exhibit the personality traits of the warrior. They become disillusioned and numb to ethical issues; they think only of survival and grow insensitive to pain. You may relax, breathe deeply, take time for R and R, and remain a warrior. But ultimately the only cure for stress is to leave the battlefield.
The feminist revolution made us aware of how the economic order has discriminated against women, but not of how it cripples the male psyche. In ancient China the feet of upper-class women were broken, bent backwards, and bound to make them more "beautiful." Have the best and brightest men of our time had their souls broken and bent to make them "successful?"
Let's think about the relation between the wounds men suffer, our over-identification with work, and our captivity within the horizons of the economic myth.
Recently, a lament has gone out through the land that men are becoming too tame, if not limp. The poet Robert Bly, who is as near as we have these days to a traveling bard and shaman for men, says we have raised a whole generation of soft men—oh-so-sensitive, but lacking in thunder and lightning. He tells men they must sever the ties with mother, stop looking at themselves through the eyes of women, and recover the "wild man" within themselves.
I suspect that if men lack the lusty pride of self-affirmation, if we say "yes" too often but without passion, if we are burned out without ever having been on fire, it is mostly because we have allowed ourselves to be engulfed by a metabody, a masculine womb—The Corporation. Our fragile, tender, wild, and succulent bodies are being deformed to suit the needs of the body corporate. Climbing the economic or corporate ladder has replaced the hero's journey up Mt. Analogue. Upward mobility has usurped the ascent of the Seven-Story Mountain, the quest to discover the heights and depths of the human psyche.
At what cost to the life of our body and spirit do we purchase corporate and professional success? What sacrifices are we required to make to these upstart economic gods?
Here are some of the secrets they didn't tell you at the Harvard Business School, some of the hidden, largely unconscious, tyrannical, unwritten rules that govern success in professional and corporate life:
Cleanliness is next to prosperity. Sweat is lower class, lower status. Those who shower before work and use deodorant make more than those who shower after work and smell human throughout the day. As a nation we are proud that only three percent of the population has to work on the land—get soiled, be earthy—to feed the other ninety-seven percent.
Look but don't touch. The less contact you have with real stuff—raw material, fertilizer, wood, steel, chemicals, making things that have moving parts—the more money you will make. Lately, as we have lost our edge in manufacturing and production, we have comforted ourselves with the promise that we can prosper by specializing in service and information industries. Oh, so clean.
Prefer abstractions. The further you move up toward the catbird seat, the penthouse, the office with the view of all Manhattan, the more you live among abstractions. In the brave new world of the market you may speculate in hog futures without ever having seen a pig, buy out an airline without knowing how to fly a plane, grow wealthy without having produced anything.
Specialize. The modern economy rewards experts, men and women who are willing to become focused, concentrated, tightly bound, efficient. Or to put the matter more poignantly, we succeed in our professions to the degree that we sacrifice wide-ranging curiosity and fascination with the world at large, and become departmental in our thinking. The professions, like medieval castles, are small kingdoms sealed off from the outer world by walls of jargon. Once initiated by the ritual of graduate school, MBAs, economists, lawyers, and physicians speak only to themselves and theologians speak only to God.
Sit still and stay indoors. The world is run largely by urban, sedentary males. The symbol of power is the chair. The chairman of the board sits and manages. As a general rule those who stay indoors and move the least make the most money. Muscle doesn't pay. Worse yet, anybody who has to work in the sun and rain is likely to make the minimum wage. With the exception of quarterbacks, boxers, and race car drivers, whose bodies are broken for our entertainment, men don't get ahead by moving their bodies.
Live by the clock. Ignore your intimate body time, body rhythms, and conform to the demands of corporate time, work time, professional time. When "time is money," we bend our bodies and minds to the demands of EST (economic standard time). We interrupt our dreams when the alarm rings, report to work at nine, eat when the clock strikes twelve, return to our private lives at five, and retire at sixty-five—ready or not. As a reward we are allowed weekends and holidays for recreation. Conformity to the sacred routine, showing up on time, is more important than creativity. Instead of "taking our time" we respond to deadlines. Most successful men, and lately women, become Type A personalities, speed freaks, addicted to the rush of adrenaline, filled with a sense of urgency, hard driven, goal oriented, and stressed out. The most brutal example of this rule is the hundred-hour week required of physicians in their year of residency. This hazing ritual, like circumcision, drives home the deep mythic message that your body is no longer your own.
Wear the uniform. It wouldn't be so bad if those who earned success and power were proud enough in their manhood to peacock their colors. But no. Success makes drab. The higher you rise in the establishment the more colorless you become, the more you dress like an undertaker or a priest. Bankers, politicians, CEOs wear black, gray, or dark blue, with maybe a bold pinstripe or a daring "power tie." And the necktie? That ultimate symbol of the respectable man has obviously been demonically designed to exile the head from the body and restrain all deep and passionate breath. The more a corporation, institution, or profession requires the sacrifice of the individuality of its members, the more it requires uniform wear. The corp isn't really looking for a few good men. It's looking for a few dedicated Marines, and it knows exactly how to transform boys into uniform men. As monks and military men have known for centuries, once you get into the habit you follow the orders of the superior.
Keep your distance, stay in your place. The hierarchy of power and prestige that governs every profession and corporation establishes the proper distance between people. There are people above you, people below you, and people on your level, and you don't get too close to any of them. Nobody hugs the boss. What is lacking is friendship. I know of no more radical critique of economic life than the observation by Earl Shorris that nowhere in the vast literature of management is there a single chapter on friendship.
Desensitize yourself. Touch, taste, smell—the realm of the senses—receive little homage. What pays off is reason, willpower, planning, discipline, control. There has, of course, recently been a move afoot to bring in potted plants and tasteful art to make corporate environments more humane. But the point of these exercises in aesthetics, like the development of communication skills by practitioners of organizational development, is to increase production. The bottom line is still profit, not pleasure or persons.
Don't trouble yourself with large moral issues. The more the world is governed by experts, specialists, and professionals, the less anybody takes responsibility for the most troubling consequences of our success-failure. Television producers crank out endless cop and killing tales, but refuse to consider their contribution to the climate of violence. Lawyers concern themselves with what is legal, not what is just. Physicians devote themselves to kidneys or hearts of individual patients while the health delivery system leaves masses without medicine. Physicists invent new generations of genocidal weapons which they place in the eager arms of the military. The military hands the responsibility for their use over to politicians. Politicians plead that they have no choice—the enemy makes them do it. Professors publish esoterica while students perish from poor teaching. Foresters, in cahoots with timber companies, clear-cut or manage the forest for sustained yield, but nobody is in charge of oxygen regeneration. Psychologists heal psyches while communities fall apart. Codes of professional ethics are for the most part, like corporate advertisements, high sounding but self-serving.
—NEXT WEEK PART 2