Flirting with Trust

Since Friday I’ve been working on my relationship, sharing visualizations of inconceivably precious forms of intimacy. The organizing principles are healing and celebration, involving us in a powerful whirlpool of emotions, running the gamut from grief to dizzying passion. Underneath that runs a steady flow that guides us into deeper and broader connections. So we found ourselves kneeling on the floor, I catching her long hair from behind and stretching her will out into the world where it caught whales and trees and birds, and then her pushing me down on the bed and slowly dragging those long strands over my face so that understanding and love can bring order to life.

And then she stops and wonders what she is doing in the midst of this process, not conscious of the powers she possesses and so uncertain of her ability to manage the dangers she perceives. As I struggle to formulate an assurance, we spin apart. My last clear communication from her ended with her disappearance into a vortex of female faces, creating a cocoon in which she could incubate, but also from which others offered themselves as alternatives. I simply re-iterated my commitment to the self-discovery of my lady, and let her depart with the assurance that I would meet her on the other side to be certain that nothing had been lost.

In the pauses in this work, I’ve been re-reading Santayana’s Three Philosophical Poets. Santayana, philosopher and Christian apologist, combines a deep knowledge of culture and beautiful literary style in the service of revealing the choices we face as we struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. Santayana offers the works of Goethe, Lucretius and Dante as a progression that illuminates the submission of our animal nature to moral discernment, unfortunately with the growing risk of detachment from the joys and perils of human experience. Due to this tension, Santayana finds no superior voice among the three, instead celebrating each as a trustworthy illuminator of the power found in choosing either to do (Goethe), to create (Lucretius) or to serve a higher purpose (Dante).

To do is exemplary because it protects us from nihilism, the conclusion that any single life is insignificant and useless. In exploring this path, Goethe’s anti-hero Faust learns to discard self-judgment for personal wrongs committed against others, and so becomes capable of ruling an entire nation, granting purpose to his people by immersing them in struggle. Upon his death at one hundred years, Faust vanquishes Mephistopheles, demonic grantor of mystical power, who predicted that Faust would eventually learn to surrender purpose and be content with any experience at all, even to lick the dust. Instead, having demonstrated that each individual can find purpose in creating struggle against the world, Faust’s soul is received by angels and carried up to heaven.

Against this idea that we are glorified by struggle, Lucretius celebrates the orderly structure of the world, filled with creative forces that reclaim resources liberated by death. The philosophy of materialism stretches even further, propelling scientific study that allows the rational mind creative opportunities that would never be revealed in nature, and so to engage in an orderly process of improving the human condition. Among the virtues of Lucretius’s program, Santayana heralds self-control, and the defeat of superstition – the latter often abused by religious illusionists to steal the power of an adherent’s natural urge to improve his lot. Chief among the defects is timidity that arises from an awareness of life’s fragility, timidity heightened by the view that we had best live as though this is the only life we have – timidity that would be scorned by Goethe.

Of course, most of history is the story of how those characterized by Goethe twist the power liberating by understanding to subdue ever larger populations. Dante, following Aristotle, celebrates adherence to moral codes that sustain social order. Even more, in an era of deep Christian faith, Dante heralded the possibility of human perfection, of a rising into another realm in which all struggle would cease, each individual recognizing the benefits of submission to the will of a God that loved them without reservation. Dante’s ambition is for every person to be freed from constraints, excepting only the constraint to submit to the dictates of being guided by God’s love for others. Notwithstanding Dante’s outraged prosecution of the authorities of his era, Santayana follows Lucretius in decrying the passivity consequent to subscription to any externally imposed morality.

After his comparative analysis of the three works, Santayana proposes that a fourth poet must be sought to resolve the contradictions between the three philosophies, a poet whose celebration of vitality yet proves that self-control and other-service lead us into our most powerful and satisfying experiences. Incongruously in the context of his analysis, my reaction was “That would have to be a woman.”

But as I sat and pondered my experiences since Friday, I couldn’t escape the feeling that there was a thread that tied all of this together. Santayana brings us the writing of three iconoclasts, men who felt a strong need to assert themselves against the society they inhabited, each with a dour view of the fairness of life. And in my relationship, we have this expansion into ever greater realms of experience that recoils against fear of personal insufficiency. In both cases, the problem is other-trust. Faust trusts only in himself; Lucretius trusts only in personal discernment; Dante trusts only in God; and my lady does not trust that others will support our relationship.

What does it take, to lay mistrust to rest? We have the evidence of Good Friday services, in which multitudes gather to celebrate the worthiness of a man that was willing to die to redeem others of their faults, followed by Easter in which the resurrection proves the overwhelming power committed by God to the realization of that redemption. How can we not be discouraged by this standard of loving, a standard that cannot possibly be sustained in relationships between lesser beings?

Enough: it was done. The powers that stood behind Jesus did so because he arose in confrontation with sin, and in surrendering to its power became capable of diagnosing it. The era to come will be the era of healing in which those that suffer obtain the power to send sin on its way.

Lucretius, in elaborating the dynamic between creativity and destruction, chose the mythical figure of Venus to represent the surging of life, and the figure of Mars as the force of destruction. In the introduction to his unfinished work, Lucretius pleads with Mars to surrender to the pleasures of Venus’s bower, protecting the poet from interruption during his great task. This pairing is not unique to Greek mythology: in the Hindu pantheon, Parvati is responsible for cooling Shiva’s passions after he enters his dance of destruction. In celebrating struggle Goethe obviously sides with Mars, while Dante casts theology in the person of his beloved Beatrice.

The idea that women are responsible for tempering the wildness of men is buried deep in our cultural heritage. In women, that belief manifests as a cautious predisposition to believe that men will turn their passions against their lovers. My prayer is that women cast aside their ancient burden and organize their fertile energies around men of healing and constructive intelligence. Rather than catering to Mars, they should amplify the character of Apollo. Cast aside the terrorist to invest your energies in the healer, and discover reciprocity for your trust.

Reflection

In Golem, the goddess Zenica turns to her protégé Beilda and asks,

Does a man have free will if he cannot count his options?

I am coming up on a year of consistent activity at Word Press, and see that I have published 200,000 words here this year, on topics ranging over human nature, religion, politics, physics and programming. Reflecting on that experience, what comes to mind is the assessment of a friend who went spelunking in my mind one night,

There’s no bottom to you.

The problem, of course, is that there’s also no place to stand. No one will ever come to EverDeepening and think “I see where Brian’s coming from.”

And while that means that I probably don’t have much appeal, that’s all very well, because it’s for the counting of options by others that I write.

I alluded a few days back to the tyranny of convention that I have struggled against. It has a valid basis, which is observed in the psychological maturation of children. They go through phases of trust and distrust with the world, driven largely by their experience of significant trauma. Convention is a strategy that we use to protect ourselves from traumatic experiences.

Unfortunately, the sense of some anthropologists (see my summary of Jared Diamond’s perspective) is that the conventions of modern cultures foment mistrust. My own observation is that there are few adults that sustain a perspective of trust. But as a Christian, I am committed to the arrival of an era in which all of our relationships are anchored in trust.

That may appear paradoxical, in that much of my writing is to decry the untrustworthiness of those that sustain the conventions of mistrust. So what’s that all about? Am I not just adding my voice to the echo chamber?

First, I hope that it is clear that I don’t just deconstruct the logic of mistrust. I do try to describe the alternative as I experience. Yes, the world is in pain, and many of my posts are great cries from the heart, but what I find is that in expressing that pain, a lightening occurs. That lightening has two parts: the suffering spirits are relieved of their fear of being forgotten and so lost; and then God enters into the darkness through me, remaining even after I turn my attention elsewhere.

When I revealed my burdens to Diane Hamilton at a Buddhist Geeks conference, her first reaction was to declare “No one person can carry that burden.” A day later, she testified that the “Cosmic Mind” enters to assist us when we open our hearts to problems that are beyond our strength. Her reflection was in response to my testimony that its essential nature was to be “infinitely enamored of the potentiality of living things.”

So that’s one half of the coin, and I hope that I have presented that choice to my readers. I may sound crazy at times, but this is really the way that I experience life, and my experience does contain great and inexplicable gifts of beauty.

But there is a flip side to the Cosmic Mind: “inexorably destructive of selfish personalities.” That seems contradictory: if the Cosmic Mind is committed to the creation of living things (“selves”), why is it set against them? The reason is that selfishness impedes the elaboration of the potential of life. The predator would consume all its prey, and so must die if any life at all is to survive.

So for those of you that still read this, I must beg your pardon. Much of what I write here is a form of exorcism – it is a violent characterization and excommunication of ideas that contradict the formation of trust.

I had great hopes, in beginning this project last year, that it would stimulate reading of the parables that express my dreams for humanity, and so to inspire others with hope. I realize now that is unlikely. But I do feel that I have come to a much brighter place through this work. There are far fewer dark corners in my mind.

The Trust Mind

Hundreds of years before the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the mystics of Greek Hellenismos understood Humanity’s spiritual development as a growth into engagement with certain fundamental natural forces. Aphrodite, for example, was represented as a beautiful woman, but as a god mediated between humanity and the force of attraction, which manifests as much in gravitation as it does in sensual desire. Following the era of the Titans and Olympians, the aim of the mystics was to usher in the age of Dionysius, allowing men to interact directly with the principles. In other words, for us to become gods.

When this truth was first revealed to me, the speaker admitted that in the modern era, we view Dionysius, the “party god”, as an unlikely avatar. We view alcohol as a vice, but the Greeks saw it as a tool. When we are drunk, we “lose our inhibitions.” That may manifest itself in a tendency to orgy, but at a deep spiritual level reflects the loosening of the protective barriers around our souls. We surrender ourselves to trust, and so relate more freely and deeply than we would otherwise. (See this post by Irwin Osbourne for more on this experience.)

The power of this relation can be abused. Megalomania is one pathology. In “Ray”, the film biography of Ray Charles, one scene reconstructs a set in which a horn player stands up to take an impromptu solo in the middle of a number. The man was dismissed, not because he violated the integrity of the rendition, but because Ray recognized intuitively that the man was on heroin. Accused of hypocrisy, Charles’s retort was that he had to be the only one. A second pathology is dependency. In graduate school, a friend shared his experience of a teacher who drank incessantly, and actually could do chemistry well only in that state. It took me a while to figure out how to suggest that maybe the teacher wasn’t doing the thinking at all – that the alcohol enabled him to inject himself into a community of minds that tolerated his needs.

There are other methods to achieve this integration. A young woman can be almost suicidal in her disposition to trust the men that she desires, and when that is manifested in sexual license, she may serve as the pool in which men join. Junger’s book “War” documents the characteristics of men that survive constant threat only by surrendering themselves to trust in each other.

There is enormous power in such melding, but the methods listed above cannot be sustained by our physiology. The licentious woman becomes corrupted by masculine demons, and loses her beauty. Substance abuse drives our metabolism into pathways that destroy our health. And war is a process that no one escapes without harm, even if it is hidden deep in the soul behind a stoic mask.

It is for this reason that everdeepening.org opens with this statement:

Love dissolves the barriers of time and space, allowing wisdom, energy and understanding to flow between us, and embracing us with the courage, clarity and calm that overcomes obstacles and creates opportunities. When we open our hearts to one another, there is no truth that is not revealed, and to those that love themselves, no impulse to harm that cannot be turned to the purposes of healing and creation.

As a Christian, I see the ultimate human manifestation of this truth in the march of Jesus of Nazareth to the cross. And behind that sacrifice, I must see the yearnings of a perfect and unconditional love that invests itself in the realization of that truth in our lives.

But when picking up the Bible, it doesn’t take long to reach contradictory evidence. Taking Eden as a metaphor for a relationship of trust between the source of love and humanity, that trust is corrupted by the serpent, which appeals fundamentally to human selfishness. In God, we were gods, but Eve is encouraged [NIV Gen. 3:5] to “be like God, knowing good an evil.” For this breach of trust, Adam and Eve are dismissed from the garden, and punishments are heaped upon them.

What was so heinous about their crime? Was it worse than the slaying of Abel, for which Cain was allowed a lifetime of repentance? And what is so important about us that God would give Jesus as a sacrifice to the goal of our redemption?

To understand this, we have to understand the nature of thought. We have succumbed in the modern age to scientific materialism, and so hold that thought occurs in the brain. I know this not to be true: I relate frequently to thinking beings that have no bodies and no brains, and so must recognize that my brain is merely an interface to my soul. To facilitate the expression of will through my body, the operation of the brain must correlate completely with the thinking done by my spirit.

Thus I interpret “In the image of God he created them” [NIV Gen. 1:27] in this way: our bodies are a tool through which we manifest the will of our souls and – given the quote above – they operate most effectively when used to express love.

The problem is that every interface is a two-way street. While through our commitment to creative expression, we can bring truth and beauty into the world, the opposite can occur. In the experience of pain and suffering, we project thoughts back into God. In the expression of greed and lust, we corrupt the purity of love. This is articulated many times in the Bible: consider Noah, Exodus and Ezekiel. Rather than being remote and impervious, God suffers from our wrong-doing. The flood is thus a desperate move to rid himself of the irritation, as is the destruction of the Holy City through the witness of Ezekiel. While horrifying to us as humans, we might imagine that so must the bacterium feel when confronting the operation of the immune system.

The error of the Law is to interpret these actions as a judgment, as an evidence of sin. They are not. The effect is to destroy the material manifestations of the success of selfishness, revealing its sterility. They are actions taken to frustrate selfish personalities that attempt to prevent love from liberating and healing their abused captives.

This is “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” that brings death into the world. Lacking appreciation of the virtues of love, we chose not to trust in love. We demanded understanding. But understanding is gained only through experience, and experience requires expression of both good and evil. We are educating ourselves.

In the end, Christ gathers those that chose good into the fold of the perfect love that originates from the divine source. We join our shared memory and wisdom into a single holy mind, and heal the world of the disease of selfishness. Thus I do not interpret the Crucifixion as atonement for our sins. Rather, I believe it should be seen as a surrender to trust in love, a struggle waged most fiercely in the Garden of Gethsemane, and redeemed by the proof of the power of love in the Resurrection. Rather than an indictment of our frailty, it is meant to be an exhortation to manifest our own forms of greatness.

Trust in yourselves. Trust in love. Welcome yourselves into the Holy Spirit, the mind formed when that trust is perfected in us.

Truth in Creation

Reconciling science and spirituality is a fool’s quest. The peace-maker is confronted with antagonistic camps both convinced that they are in possession of truth. Telling the two camps that they are half-right means that both of them try to shout you down.

Scientists base their claim to inerrancy on their method of discovery. They argue that to understand the world, we must first describe it. Analysis of our records may reveal patterns of experience: for example, certain types of “clouds” may bring “rain”; other types of clouds do not. The scientist codifies those conjectures as falsifiable statements. For example, “strato-cumulus clouds do not bring rain.”

Now these conjectures are important to societies because predicting rainfall is essential to agriculture. Bad predictions are not just a philosophical matter: if grain is planted at the wrong time, the community may suffer, or even perish. Thus the sophisticated scientist receives social approval and perhaps power. This enables them to attract followers to aid them in extending the reach and accuracy of their predictions.

Scientists tend to forget that creative connection. Society does not reward scientists for discovering the truth. It rewards them because possession of understanding enables truth to be created. The community is grateful not because it understands clouds, but due to the increase in the overall yield of their crops.

When scientists argue, society can determine the truth of their claims only by running experiments. In a wise culture, sudden change is not often pursued. Rather, most grain will be planted according to established methods, and each scientist will be granted a portion to manage according to his theory.

Now comes the real difficulty: let’s suppose that one scientist plants his grain in rich soil, and the other plants in sand. Obviously, the yield will be affected by those differences. To prevent these other factors from confounding comparison of their results, scientists attempt to control carefully the initial conditions. Ideally, they would be granted alternate rows in the field.

But there’s another condition that is necessary to the success of science. Let’s suppose that the genetic code of plants was unstable. While the example is ludicrous, imagine that seeds taken from corn might sprout as apples in the next generation, and then as thistle. Or worse – what if the corn turned into thistles mid-way through growth?

The scientist might say “Well, that’s not what happens,” and go happily on his way. But the problem is that this is exactly how people develop. Parents do not produce duplicates, we learn from experience, and we change our view of the world as we age.

In part for this reason, scientists have come to distrust the evidence of their senses. The variability of human sensation means that two observers may see different colors, hear different pitches, and judge weight differently. These discrepancies become critical when scientific theories move beyond simple correlations to precise mathematical prediction of timing and effect (such as became possible with Newton’s theory of gravitation).

Furthermore, our bodies are composed of smaller elements, and obviously our senses cannot penetrate the mechanisms of their own operation. Understanding of those mechanisms enables us to design sensors with finer and more reliable operation than the human senses. Scientific instruments are far more accurate than the human senses.

The advocate of religion considers all of this activity, and while often grateful for the bounty that science makes possible, observes that it has absolutely no impact on human behavior. Worse, science amplifies the destructive capacity of predators. Because it is far easier to break and wound than it is to create and heal, science makes antisocial behavior far more deadly. The great wars of the twentieth century are proof of this thesis. In our time, we can see the effect of tyrannies that wage war on their populations in the developing world.

This is amplified by personal experiences that beset people that the scientist would consider to be “undisciplined” in their thinking, or perhaps just weak of mind. The scientist has tools for organizing his thoughts: logic, dispassion, and rigorous terminology. This makes him often immune to the experience of the scullery maid on the estate of the nobility. This was characterized for me by an Englishman who offered that servants were told “for their own protection” to turn to the wall when a great lord passed.

I had a related experience during my post-doctoral research, being invited to a meeting with a new employee. I found myself wondering “Why am I here? This has nothing to do with me.” The fellow suddenly turned to me, a look of wonder on his face, and my supervisor broke up the meeting. As he left, my peer said “Gee, thanks.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, having never met someone that was capable of turning my mind. Having “grown up” somewhat now, I refuse to dance with women under the influence of alcohol because they fall into me and can’t get out.

It is in their need for protection of their personality that the “weak-minded” turn to religion. They lean on the strength of the great spiritual avatars that emanate a protective love. Being told by a scientist that they are delusional is a complete contradiction of their experience of life, and in many cases attacks the basis for trust in the relationships that they depend upon for survival. Is it at all unusual that some among the faithful see science as a tool of the devil?

So let’s return to the original problem: how do we reconcile science and spirituality? The scientist finds power in controlling the parts of reality that lack personality. The religious leader finds power in preventing conflict among the population that does the actual work. In both cases, the society benefits not because the truth is known, but because new and creative possibilities are revealed.

Am I the only one that perceives mutually supportive endeavors? Without love, science destroys more then it creates. Without knowledge, religion cannot protect us from the harsh realities of nature.

The scientist allows us to make objects that would never be found in nature. The religious leader builds communities that work in harmony. In combination, they enable us to create a world that we can all live with. Why don’t we stop arguing and get on with it?