Fire From on High

Were the bullets like the angry fists that pummeled your growing body?

Was the scurrying below meaningless, like the gambling that you used to hide your pain?

…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.

[NIV Gen. 2:17]

Is that the only escape from the sorrows of this world? An escape into death?

Was that the truth you wished to communicate before you took your own life?

Oh, dear brother, why were you immune to the Lord’s promises? Did no one tell you?

I will give you a new heart and a new spirit. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

[NIV Ezek. 36:26]

For now you have fallen prey to the illusion of death. The savior reached out to you with a healing embrace, but instead of receiving that gift, you chose to bear arms.

Self Reclamation

The centerpiece of my vacation was attending the Soul Play Fall Fest. Soul Play is a conscious living, dance and spiritual awakening experience held in the Sierras between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.

I have been re-reading Louis Cozolino’s The Neuroscience of Human Relationships. Early in the book, he explains brain laterality. The right side of the brain integrates our individual experience to identify threats and opportunities. It is emotional, intuitive, non-verbal and non-linear in its reactions. The left side of the brain abstracts experience to seek patterns and commonality.

With this re-iteration, I was shocked by the realization that I have spent most of my life in the left side of my brain – to the extent, in fact, that I have difficulty thinking of myself as an individual.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been seeking to reclaim the right side of my mind. The most immediate side-effect has been a hardening of my boundaries against women (many of them sympathetic to my plight) that have been seeking to manage that part of my mind.

My first hope was that Soul Play would stretch and shake up my personality, facilitating the reclamation of the individuality rooted in the right side of my brain. As that progressed, I hoped also to find a safe container in which to begin restructuring my experience of women.

I was conscious of the risks. Among the gypsies of the conscious living movement, sexual experience often tends to what Christian moralists would consider “licentious.” Within the movement itself, sex is viewed as a joyous celebration of the sublime gifts of our materiality. Spiritually it is seen both as a reward for virtue and a method for its propagation. That sounds pleasant, but I have yet to find a community for whom it is that simple. People – no matter how enlightened – will compete for love.

So I wasn’t certain what to expect. That expectation was fulfilled, for the outcome was, well, unexpected.

Naturally, my engagement with women began on the dance floor, and progressed rapidly into healing. On the first night, I found myself sitting on the floor, a woman laid out over the inside of my right thigh as I probed for the source of pain in her hip. This continued into the first full day of sessions, dominated by contact improv and movement lessons.

But I want to focus on the breakthrough experiences, and the first of those occurred on Saturday morning. Parmatma Cris is a Brazilian yogini and tantrika (female practitioner of Tibetan tantra). Her offering, Movement Alchemy, was physically the most challenging of the courses I took. The exercises emphasized circular movement of the feet, hips, shoulders and arms that had to be carefully coordinated to conserve balance. This was described by Parmatma as generaion of “spirals” with our bodies.

After the frustrating warm-up exercises, she had us sit on the floor and led us through breathing exercises. The first was simple: inhaling while arcing the chest up and back, and exhaling into a deep forward curve. This advanced with circular motion of the sacrum, shoulders and arms.

The breakthrough came at the end. Abandoning the complex spirals, we were asked to swing our heads around in a circle, allowing our abdomen to follow its motion, inhaling on the upward stroke and exhaling as we fell forward.

This may sound uncomfortable, and indeed I paused after a couple of minutes, feeling dizzy and nauseated. Parmatma interrupted her instructions to order “If you feel dizzy or like throwing up, keep on going. It’s only your habit patterns trying to preserve their control. Most people don’t throw up, but if you do, that’s fine.”

So I went back to it, picking up the pace at her suggestion, and finally felt a shift in the right side of my brain, as though fluid was moving into it.

In that part of my personality, I saw a cluster of woman that had taken possession of my core personality two thousand years ago, in an act of violence that I have been hiding from others for most of my life. Confronting the methods and effects of that spiritual rape, I began sobbing and weeping uncontrollably, until one of the other students bent toward me to offer support.

“No. I’ll be fine.”

Parmatma paused for us to cool down, then pulled over mattresses so that we could all lie together with our heads pointed toward the warmth of the fireplace. I tried to relax, but the memories leaked back in, and I began sobbing. Her right index finger touched the middle of my forehead, cool and soothing, and then the rest of her hand draped itself over the right side of my head.

Namaste, sweet tantrika, sweet dakini. Blessings be upon you in your journey of peace and compassion.

Sensual Connection

A comment inspired by Sherry’s post out at Community Soulwork.


Sensual – that’s a much wider space to play in than “sexual.”

My first clue regarding the mechanisms of sensual connection came in a full-contact-improv class. The instructor passed around pictures of fascia – that fibers that tie our body tissues together. It is most readily identified by moving the skin over your muscles until the fascia reaches (rather suddenly) its limits.

When I dance, I feel that I am dragging spirit around. My fascia grows warm – it tingles. My partners told me that I was a great dancer, but being untrained I thought that they were just flirting. It was only much later that I realized that the spirit I was dragging around was wound in them as well. That was the cause of their wonder.

As I have explored this connection to the energies of life, I have discovered that when interrupted by another’s sexual advance, it flees. Sex is often brutal – a forcing of energies into certain tissues, rather than a collaboration that releases far-flung, pent-up desires for communion.

Separation of Church and State III

My response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation turned their position on its head. Rather than keeping religious leaders out of politics, we need to keep political leaders out of religion. The tendency for leaders to cross lines is one of the greatest dangers to religious practice.

Steve Matichuk offers a summary of the absolutist Christian position. Essentially, as Christ seeks a universal brotherhood, any celebration of national identity dilutes his message. Steve holds out for some accommodation. My response below:


This is very close to my mind at this point, as I am just working through a video teaching on Revelation 13. In Revelation 12 the dragon (or Satan) is expelled from heaven, and in 13 he plots his dominance of earth by raising up tyrannical governments that are supported by hypocritical religious practices.

On the other hand, in Christian terms some governments are better than others. We should celebrate actions that manifest Christian ideals, while avoiding at all cost the use of government to enforce Christian morality.

As I emphasize in the video, the real battle is in the human mind, which continues to evolve after birth. Beginning with the collaborative experience of nursing, the brain actually develops centers that support socialization, culminating in adulthood with the center responsible for altruism – or what Christians would call “Unconditional Love.”

The holidays that you list are manifestations of many of the virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:5-8. But it is those virtues that should be celebrated – not some abstract ideal like our “freedom.” We are all yoked to God’s purpose, and so none of us should consider ourselves to be privileged with absolute freedom.

On Politics and Altruism

The Huffington Post has picked up on the clarion call sounded by Judith Herman and others regarding their psychological profile of Donald Trump. Cynics respond that all politicians are power-seeking, and therefore possess significant personality defects. While that may be so, brains do evolve as we mature.

The brain is plastic, and evolves structures as we age that are responsible for socialization. The most evolved structure, which doesn’t appear until most are in their twenties, is responsible for the expression of altruism. Sociopathy (which I see manifested clearly in Trump’s behavior) is the tendency to treat other people as objects. It is indicative of a lack of even the most basic structures of socialization that are entrained with nursing, which delivers the most basic of rewards for collaboration. Forget psychoanalysis: scans of brain activity reveal whether people have even the basic machinery necessary for responsible leadership of others. My guess is that Trump is seriously deficient in that regard.

Louis Cozolino, who teaches at Pepperdine University, also has a practice in psychotherapy that guides adults through experiences that help them to evolve the neurological mechanisms of socialization (see The Neuroscience of Human Relationships). In other words, there are methods for treatment of these disorders, and we should try to educate the electorate to prefer politicians that engage in such counseling. Altruism is the ability to act for the good of others, and is something that everyone should prefer in political leaders.

Of course, the fullest flowering of altruism appears in our great spiritual leaders – those whose service is pursued without any external evidence of seeking for power. It is granted to them by the world they serve. One of my favorite quotes is from Tagore, the educator and poet who was Gandhi’s cultural collaborator:

Power said to the World, “You are mine.”
The World kept it prisoner on her throne.

Love said to the World “I am yours.”
The World gave it the freedom of her house.

In my post Man and Woman, I flirted with the assertion that the capacity to express altruism (characterized as “unconditional love” in that context) is what made Adam and Eve fully human. Conversely, from a psychological perspective, sociopaths are little more than lizards.

Recidivism

When contemplating the selection from among the disciples of the Apostles, Luke records [6:12]:

Now during those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.

Now this is an interesting proposition for prayer: the junior partner in the triune turning to himself for wisdom. Illogical, even bizarre? I can understand it only by assuming that Jesus was a pseudopod emitted from the Holy presence, not in possession of all his spiritual faculties.

Of course, as a demonstration it is instructive to read  of the devotion and trust that Jesus invested in the Father. If he was moved to pray, how should not we as well? And conceiving of him as a man, I would not rue Jesus that comfort.

A common elaboration of the Crucifixion is that it was not just physically agonizing, but also spiritually devastating. We have the great heart-rending cry:

Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani?

[Mark 15:34]

There was no answer, because there could be none. God took on flesh because it was only through flesh that evil could be healed. Once Jesus assumed that burden, it was his and his alone.

The angels cannot change their nature – it is the grace and curse of humanity to possess that capacity. Thus God testified to Cain:

Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

[Gen. 4:7]

Jesus was the culmination of this seeking after strength. He arose out of a culture devoted to the seeking after purity, and chose to allow sin into his heart so that its consequences could be healed.

The bulk of the BIble demonstrates the difficulty of this accomplishment. The men raised to greatness always struggle with their frailty. Jacob’s lust makes him little more than a seed dispenser to two competing sisters and their handmaids, and his favorite Joseph leads monotheism into subjection to a polytheistic culture. David succumbs to desire, clearing the way for marriage by sending his friend into battle to die, and Solomon again opens the door to polytheistic practices.

This recidivism illuminates the challenge of loving unconditionally: to be merciful is to grant power to those lacking the ability to discipline their behavior. Every parent confronts this in the two-year-old and adolescent, but somehow we believe that grace given by God is proof against this corruption. To the wise, though, the recidivism of the Bible is the greatest possible proof of God’s compassion for us. He pursues the loving embrace even against the evidence of our unfaithfulness.

Of course, in demonstrating the infinite depths of divine compassion, the heroes of the Old Testament are problematical role models. This came to a head in Islam, which largely sanitizes the evidence of personal frailty. A Muslim scholar disputed with me over David’s betrayal of friendship, explaining that the sanitized history was enforced by Muhammed’s (pbuh) son-in-law, Ali, and justified in that opportunists used David’s behavior to justify their own lecherous license.

The consequence of this idealization of Biblical heroes is that the program of monotheistic escalation (the only God worth worshipping is perfect and infinite) extends to the heroes of the Bible. They are no longer human but gods themselves, immune to temptation and error.

So what of Jesus, absorbing the burden of human sin on the cross? We know that he showed reluctance and despair in the event. This supports my sense that divine love comes at the first possible moment. In the New Testament as in the Old, the manifestation of grace is subjected to pressures almost certain to destroy it. Among those are the unfaithfulness of those to whom salvation is offered. Returning to Nazareth early in his ministry, Jesus is astonished by their cynicism, which makes him unable to offer power in any great measure.

So I conclude: as monotheism is the pursuit of a truly human god, in that pursuit Jesus is truly our god, struggling against our sinfulness while healing us so that we may sin again. Paradoxically, as we approach more nearly to his grace, that struggle intensifies. The assault on his virtues are more focused, the wounds more intimate. As God cried out again and again in the Old Testament, would we not expect Christ to be tried by anger and fear?

Even perhaps, at times, to be overcome by human impatience and frustration?