Wednesday, March 22, 2023

December 2019: A Dream

I dreamed last night that I lived inside a wave - a literal wave of water. It was frozen somehow - not because it was cold but because I was moving at the same pace it was. The effect was stillness. In the wave I was publicly demonstrating an holistic way of living. How to eat, how to grow what you eat, how to regenenerate the soil. It was kin to the 1970s biome we used to drive past in Amherst.  

Dan Gallagher was in there with me, and someone else who I knew but could not name. The three of us were making to leave - to step out of the wave back into the world - and nobody believed it could be done, but I knew it could be done, and I was ready to do it. I was the one who was demonstrating, this is the way that you do it.

This is how you leave Eden. This is how you begin the journey home. This is how you bring Eden with you.

As I rose out of the dream, I found myself asking Eric (who used to post at my ACIM blog a lot) "do you understand the distinction between phenomenology, ontology and epistemology?" And then saw with utter clarity that one can have a phenomenological experience but that they have to go slowly when building an ontology with or on it. And I remembered then the gentle insistence of von Glasersfeld, that ontology is not possible and cannot be justified under any circumstances. One can neither argue for the world nor against it. 

I lay awake for half an hour beside Chrisoula thinking, is that it? For it seemed so sensible - as if so much confusion arises from trying to force phenomenology into ontological frames, and trying to derive epistemologies from ontologies. 

There is an experience of oneness; how shall we talk about it? I mentioned this in passing to Chrisoula hours later and she said, well, didn't the dream answer that?

Notes from Another 2017 Letter

From a response to the letter that was a response to the letter from which these paragraphs were culled.

If ritual is a social technology by which God/ground/source/etc appear to and in and for the individual, then folks who are already in that relationship or subject to that appearance aren't going to need the technology. I don't call and leave Chrisoula a message if she's in the room with me.

Emily Dickinson talks about this in her poem "Some Keep the Sabbath." Her dome was an orchard, her chorister a bobolink; she would have understood instantly and gratefully what you mean by "cathedrals of nature"." Again, on that view, who needs a ritual? God is right here. You couldn't be apart from God if you wanted.

Indeed, you are so close you don't have to go looking.

So I think ritual - and its integration with sacrament - can be helpful to the individual in terms of restoring to memory both the Divine and the means to be in sustained contact with the Divine, especially where that memory is lost or dim or otherwise compromised. They point to the Divine, they do not inaugurate it.

In terms of ritual's utility for the collective, that feels trickier. One of my concerns with monotheism is the quick route it takes to "us and them," believers and non-believers. A whole class of heathens, apostates and heretics arises and you have to deal with them - convert them, torture them, execute them, marginalize them. It's nontrivial and we've fucked it up a lot over the centuries. Mea culpa.

This feels like a monotheism problem, rather than a strictly Christian problem or more broadly a religious problem, and it's a messy one. I think it underlies a lot of Hillman's (and Lacan's before him) concern that Christianity was going to "eat" psychology. Its viral qualities are substantive. 

I don't personally experience this as starkly as Hillman (or, say, Dennett & co) do, but I understand their position. I understand how that frame arises.

So it's good to notice: where are the rituals and sacraments in my living that dissolve structures of thought that make an other against whom "I" am pitted, often subconsciously? The seedlings of what comes next?

It does seem like the earth offers a lot of ways to alter the structure of thought - whether it's a walk in the boreal forest, black bear sightings, ingestion of certain plants etc. The Great Mother heals us outside churches in which the father can't figure out why nobody comes to his house anymore . . . 

He should have listened to Emily Dickinson. 

I think often of those shepherds long ago who, in a polytheistic culture, dreamed a father god to end all gods. How vulnerable they must have felt in the darkness! How seriously they took their responsibility to protect those even more vulnerable sheep! We live in their dream, which somehow includes the dream of waking from the dream . . .

Seedlings of what comes next somehow - for me - involve responding to those shepherds in the context of the dream they made. The effective response seems to be actively manifesting nurture, consolation, assurance, equality etc, all outside monotheism's zero-sum paradigm. Going slowly, practicing epistemic humility, giving (rather than paying or demanding) attention, etc . . .

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Notes from a 2017 Letter

. . . Your comment about reforming the Catholic church reminds me a bit of James Hillman who feared Christianity. Hillman sometimes characterized his work as part of a vanguard to save psychology - what was therapeutic, mythological, pathogical, complicated etc - from the ethics of Christianity. 

You are acknowledging the power and influence of modern psychotherapy & psychology and arguing the Catholic church should adopt it, integrate it, learn from it. 

But Hillman did not believe Christianity "integrates" anything. Rather it eats it alive to live, more Moloch than Christ. 

But Hillman could be dramatic, as puers are wont to be . . . 

I'm certainly deeply Catholic & will carry that legacy - longing for ritual, sense of ethical and moral binaries, the transcendent Lord who is close but not too close  - for the rest of my days, though it's been a couple of decades since I attended mass other than for funerals, weddings, & I don't raise my kids Catholic etc. 

I do find A Course in Miracles a helpful bridge, blurring as it does the boundaries between Christian imagery & Freudian psychotherapy (and dosing it all with "self-study," a preferential modern salt).

But in general I think the move into monotheism wasn't the end game in terms of raising the sanity waterline, and I'm nosing around the far borders for what's seeding, growing, gathering, coming next. What in us longs for ritual and consolation and meaning-making doesn't need the Catholic church - it needs ritual, consolation and meaning. If the Catholic church no longer serves - and I agree that global attendance trends suggest in signficant ways it doesn't - then new ceremonies & structures will appear. Inevitably.

I'm not saying burn it down! I'm saying it's okay to let what is compostable compost. As Hillman said, to work with psychic realities you can't put new wine in old bottles.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Dead Dogs Grew Less So: February Poems

January poems here. December here. November here. October here. February. . . 

Man, February . . . I don't know what to say about February. Some long-standing engagements finally ground to a close, taking with them a lot of clock and rib. Sometimes walking felt like being followed by the ghost of a tractor or tripping unexpectedly into a photograph from the nineteenth century. A lithograph? A love note? My struggles with language grew less so, as if some hitherto-unacknowledged block to Love were finally being dismantled. It's possible I'm still confused.

I saw God at an orchid show, brotherhood in melting icicles, love in a feral cat and healing in a handwritten sermon my father wrote in the early nineties. I was angry a lot and sad that I was angry and dialogic because I was sad. The dead dogs grew less so, as if some hitherto-unackowledged block to Love were . . . but I said that already.

I don't remember when - October maybe, maybe November - I asked for another winter and got one, this one, and the current upshot is, don't ask for anything else. Which, fair enough and thank you Jesus. A lot of the pain is chronic now, the writing and teaching less romantic and more urgent. If it's over it's over but if it's not, maybe one more poem?

You want something from me, what? This came up a lot in my thinking, walking around the place, up and down dark roads at odd hours. Always trying to miss people save the few given to save me. You make the monastery and then you find your fellow monks and then it's ora et labora as if life itself were contingent. Robert said gently several times we need to talk about food, and I would say "hunger," "witches" and "1950s television themes" and he would say quietly, food.

It was like that. It wasn't precisely that but like that. The heart keeps thudding but the journey does end. It's okay but worth asking: when do you know? 

Any Uttered Word

A prayer that includes the word "crustacean." A spell that keeps bad men away. Explains why some men are bad at all? Well a night to ourselves anyway. A fire from which no body is excluded, and a woman who makes it so. Do you see the problem, do you understand my dilemma, do you. Bread not bombs, books not bombs. Roses in every moment as if beginning itself were familial, a beauty. What letter has finally arrived, what light is possible in which it can be read. I broke the promise, shuttered the church, I forgot everything except what pointed at family. Answered the call? Found my love in the hills, made love to her by a river. Locusts and wild honey until the real grail appeared, map made flesh, the territory greater than any uttered word. The crows say nobody cares about your sentences, the fox says write them anyway. Out back past the horses, professing, pleading, weeping. The cosmos neither for nor against us. And yet.

Leaning to See

Moonlight on slick ice, so cold it hurts. Always this hurt, always this anger. Injustice everywhere. Not why but how. Gary Gilmore leaning to see the shooters, John Denver rushing at the sea. The dogs die and my loneliness grows vast and dense, like a garden nobody tends. Orchids are not a metaphor but sex must be?  What is allowed, what is desired. What is called forth. Your body a horizon my breath just catches. North north and west west. Even off the map with you I run into a limit. As if movement ends but never in stillness. On purpose? "Soul" is just a word of course but why. On my knees again before you, uttering with my foolish tongue a prayer the world forgot.

Escape Plans

After the storm, after the marriage. After poetry and after women. After all this time. Letters arrive from a forgotten town in the interior indicating we are not yet finished learning what is true and what is not. Refuse then even mercy? Scratching escape plans on the walls of a prison in which you are the only jailer. Reading Freud (Anna not Sigmund) over coffee, taking notes for later. The psalms in Latin, John's Gospel in Latin. How you look at me when I am trying to decide what trail to follow next. Crows on dead trees out past the river, their cries cold and sharp, like being guillotined in Paris in the eighteenth century. Forgetting as spiritual practice, i.e., remembering as an error forgetting is given to amend. After writing but not yet after speech. Dissolution begins with bodily death, not meditation or insight, remember this. After the map and after the territory. After sextants and travel. After a music one cannot find anywhere save alone in darkness on their knees. Bring what is sacred with you, I always do, so you say, you who never found a relationship you couldn't desecrate with charming rhymes and semen. A cry in the heart growing louder and more insistent. From what can you not be separate? A space in which we translate everything from body to spirit, spirit to essence, and from there into beginning. A silence after unto which no syllable is worthy, unto which even the idea of worthiness is an error. I mean wordiness? Well, us anyway. Always us.