The Joy of Non-Attachment

Neal Crosbie tries not to take himself too seriously. I am an irritation, then, in that I see things revealed in his work that reflect the struggle to bring love into the world.

Which I take very seriously.

The challenge is to moderate our natural instincts, with the cerebral cortex being the tool that brings discipline. It’s a struggle because our bodies are designed to enjoy animalistic behavior. It’s a war because the spirits that preceded us don’t want to cede the stage of evolution to us.

And why should they? Evolution is about competition, and they serve a purpose is resisting our rise to dominance.

In the Native American tradition, the coyote is the most pitiful of the animal gods, getting his way only by tricking his betters. Trickery is a way of transforming situations, and so through his weakness, eventually coyote becomes the most influential of the gods.

As climate change withers the ecosystem that supported them, how is this supposed to happen? Animal gods have fewer bodies to manipulate, and so less means for reorganizing spirit.

A possible answer was proposed in some of Neal’s recent work. Compelled by a dream, I bought this one two weeks ago (sorry for this drab image; the color is vivid in the original):


What struck me is the shadowing of Coyoteman’s color fields in the abstract construct on the right. I read this as a soul shadow. In this image, the color sprays emanate most obviously from the soul shadow. It’s not clear whether they are being assimilated, projected or expelled. That a transformation is being undertaken is suggested more strongly by the two elements on the right: the Buddhist circle of completion and the “greater vehicle” of Mahayana practice.

In conversation on Sunday, Neal explained that he is completely worn out upon returning home from the Art Walk. He has many deep conversations, his booth and eclectic art serving as a magnet. His joy is infectious. When I tried to suggest that he was engaged in spiritual service, he became hostile – and more so when I illustrated my point with Christian scripture.

But trickery is amusing. It provides us a release from tragedy. Contrast this with Siddhartha, who sought to conquer pain through asceticism. What’s the attraction in self renunciation? Joy has qualities that make it the more potent tool to achieve non-attachment

.I see this, then, as coyote’s essential contribution: through absurdity to guide us away from suffering into the harbor of joy. While the construction of that harbor is a weighty matter, I wouldn’t denigrate the guide. In fact, I wouldn’t want more to serve for any purpose than to shelter the spirits he inspires – not least because they inspire by their creativity.

Is Neal’s art then a method for implementing coyote’s transformation? I believe so.

Christianity and Paganism

In response to this post in Gods and Radicals.

It is misguided to found any argument about the future of a spiritual tradition upon the success of political figures in corrupting Christianity.

All gods wish for their followers to worship only them, because it is through the acts of their followers that they are invested in the world. That investment long predates humanity – there were Neanderthal gods, and before them gods of mice and gods of dinosaurs. The problem facing humanity was to create a human god in the context of billions of years of predecessors. That is the project of monotheism – to create a god that manifests and supports the expression of humanity’s unique talents.

Now perhaps the essence of humanity’s talent is political organization, but I see it differently. Looking at our evolutionary success, I would argue that humanity is a manifestation of intelligence. For the original adherents (not those indoctrinated in service to the priests, which is a problem in any tradition), the attractive proposition of Christianity was that the divinity served humanity. Christianity is the original humanism – it is to assert that the human god should be a god of love, and serve all equally, without regard to station or industrial skill.

Obviously this is a reasonable proposition, and the power of the Church in the Roman world came not because of the allegiances that joined the interests of emperors and priests. Rather, it was because in the Roman context of utilitarian worship, the Church followed Christ’s edict of charity. The Church, though oppressed, took care of the orphans and widows, the sick and poor, and organized their gratitude to the service of others. When the Empire collapsed, the Church assumed control because they were the administrative and organizational backbone of Roman society.

I see paganism as a political act on the spiritual plane. Humanity, having succeeded in propagating the tyranny of utilitarianism through the application of intelligence, is confronting the fact that it is destroying the fundament of its own existence. It needs to think about all of those forgotten gods. It needs to infect them with rational understanding, and engage them in expression of mutual support. In other words, Humanity needs to join in loving the world, rather than just itself.

This is a difficult pivot. Our religions are still infected by expressions of our physical vulnerability: as an illustration, the vulnerability of a child whose cave is invaded by the saber-tooth cat while father and mother are away. Many people still live in circumstances of vulnerability, although the predators are no longer other species, but rather politically powerful people.

Jesus preached that the meek will inherit the earth. As a reaction against abusive political structures, I see paganism as furthering that goal.