Spirits, Undampened

I spent two hours on Saturday standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the rain with the crowd gathered in downtown Portland for the Women’s March protesting the policies of the new Administration. For a long time, we believed that we were stranded with no place to go. When my sweater began soaking under the Gore-Tex jacket, I made my way back to the Morrison Street bridge, arriving there just as the crowd began to break free. I’m not Oregon-tough: many of the marchers were bare-headed in the drizzle.

I could try to explain the work I facilitated in that setting, and again this morning during services at Portland’s First Unitarian Universalist Church. But I keep on coming back to two moments: the little girl poking the puddles with her protest sign, prompting me to say:

No matter who is president, there’s still going to be rain puddles! And aren’t they just the best!

The other is that last reading at Sister Gloria’s contemplative prayer gathering. It was the wedding at Cana, which ends with the observation:

…and his disciples began to believe in him.

[John 2:11]

In elaborating my choice of this phrase, I explained the paradox that Jesus’s entire ministry was devoted to one purpose: that people would come to believe in themselves.

Today’s sermon assumed that we were in for a long, dark struggle – a struggle that will force us to think in immediate terms and conserve our strength. The Reverend minister revealed that he found himself praying much more in this season. I was also surprised that the musical selections explicitly evoked God, something that I thought was disappearing from Unitarian Universalist worship. And so I had the compulsion to offer him this wisdom in the hall outside the sanctuary:

The divine purpose for humanity is that we bind love to the world. This era is the last hurrah of selfishness. They are divorcing themselves from reality, and in this time, truth spoken in love will have enormous power. They are the most potent tools for dispelling fear.

Thank-you for being here for your community.

This is not a time for thinking small or harboring resources. This is the moment to stretch to our limits and grasp victory. It is time to believe that you were designed through loving to channel great power to each other.

Namaste.

Power Seeks Truth Through Love

A friend from yoga started following my blog recently, and yesterday we were chatting about it before yoga class. I was surprised by his statement that he always understood the Christian message to be that humanity was the focus of healing in the world, rather than a virus to spread corruption. I was about to ask him about the source of his understanding when a stranger interjected and began to tell me that I was wrong. He kept at it, point by point, until I got frustrated and told him, “Look, I am doing the work.”

This was the framing for Rachel Maddow’s profile of Steve Bannon’s career as a video producer. His recent work includes a metaphor on global warming – a crazed scientist locks a bunch of steamy bodies in a sauna and slowly raises the temperature, causing an unnecessary panic.

In the context of this blog, the more outrageous offering is a reality series that recasts the male protagonist of Duck Dynasty as the prophet of the Second Coming. Some would be outraged by this travesty, others would be frightened, but I see it as an opportunity.

Bannon, like many in the media industry, understands the power of dreams. Shared ideas are spiritual points of contact that link a target community. Seeding people with phrases and images allows other kinds of thoughts to be projected into their souls. This is something that I trained my sons to resist. When they complained that an unsettling thought wouldn’t leave them alone, I offered “Close your eyes, calm your thoughts, and form this question in your mind: ‘Where is this coming from?’ Now tell me whose face you see.”

Bannon has co-opted the conservative message with his alt-right media machine. People that celebrate freedom and independence now subscribe – sometimes violently – to his program that seeks to deny those rights to minorities. It appears that he now wishes to do the same to Christianity, whose political messaging is currently diffused across competing denominations.

But as one among a growing number that believes that Revelation teaches that the returned Christ is already at work among us, I must consider how much Bannon’s power play will affect that process of manifestation. I am happy to share that I have powerful reasons for believing that it will further it.

You see, people may subscribe to an illusion such as the one that Bannon is constructing, but ultimately their concern is for the actual conditions of their life. This is the huge difference between Christ and illusionists such as Bannon: Christ actually loves his community, and is invested in their strength. This means that the community builds strength through relation with Christ, rather than losing it.

But how does Christ break through the barrier of illusion spun by Bannon and others? Because his investment in truth gives him focus and strength that the illusionists cannot rival. Illusionists are lazy people, seeking to take power without giving anything in return. Christ focuses only on service to his community, and so disciplines himself to act in a way consistent with their benefit. There is no pause in his determination, no rest until he has manifested his will for service to them.

What killed him made him stronger.

So all that Bannon will succeed in doing is to create a nexus in spirit that will allow Christ to send fulfillment all the more rapidly to those that are held captive by illusion. Once that message is received, Bannon will lose his power over his captives, and be cast aside as irrelevant.

This is just a specific example of a greater principle: spiritual power is conscious and intelligent. It seeks conditions under which it can anchor and spread. That means that it must work in concert with truth, for without truth its anchor will not be firm. Truth is perceived fully only by those that love unconditionally – that is to say, without thought of personal reward. For, if we think of personal reward when seeking the truth, people will seek to protect themselves from our appropriations by hiding from us.

This then, is what makes Christ inevitably the most powerful person on earth: power seeks truth through love. As the avatar of unconditional love, eventually all power will accrue to him.

On Intellect

In Reductio ad Consterno (reduction to the point of alarm), I threw out the idea that philosophy, considered properly, is the exploration of the operation of intellect. The thought wasn’t deeply considered – it was rather a convenient bridge in the essay, a way of linking what preceded with what followed.

But as I continue my reading of The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained (TPB below, by Buckingham, et al. with DK Books) I am realizing that it’s actually central to the project of my life. In Ma, my celebration of the feminine virtues, I illustrate various expressions of intellect (as defined below) through the main characters. This has the unfortunate effect that the narrative is rendered disjoint by the shifts in perspective. As I thought about this post yesterday morning, I considered the subtitle “The Philosophy of Ma and Golem” with the hope that readers might gain some insight into those works. But, given that after my father’s passing I am the only extant reader of that collection, I must now conclude (with some chagrin) that the earlier works were a type of “narrative study” for the thoughts that are crystallized below.

To set the table again: TPB contrasts the viewpoints of Plato and Aristotle as the central issue in philosophy, which the authors characterize as the search for a firm foundation for knowledge. Plato held that all events are ephemeral and rendered indistinct by our senses, and so that all knowledge is in the realm of ideas. Aristotle countered that ideas that do not arise from experience are not knowledge, but fantasy. As the history of philosophy is traced, the Aristotelian perspective is bolstered by scientific study, and in fact the proponents of Plato’s view appear less and less coherent.

Of course, the Aristotelian empiricists materialists have a huge advantage in this quest. Science, in the large, is the study of things without personality. That means that the subjects of scientific research don’t evolve new behaviors when we study them. An insulator will not start to conduct electricity, and an electron won’t shed its mass. Conversely, Plato and all of his followers insist that knowledge emanates from some form of “The Good,” which was understood to be “God” in Islamic and Christian cultures. The Good does not reveal itself, but must be courted with disciplined moral intent. So while empiricists materialists can describe things that anyone can experience, the mystic must grope for terms to describe perceptions that often are completely foreign to the reader. The empiricist materialist is popular; the mystic is obscure.

This insight sets us on a path to reconcile the two primary views of philosophy. Indeed, while much of modern philosophy tends toward  a social focus, often that is driven by reaction to cultural dysfunction that arises from trying to force people to behave as if only one view was valid. But I do not believe that our reconciliation is sufficient. There are unexamined deficiencies in Philosophy as a whole, manifested most obviously in the fact that almost all of its luminaries are men.

So I am going to conclude this post with a definition of intellect that may serve only to make it clear just how complex the problem is.

Intellect manifests in the capacity to synthesize mental states.

Our mental states are not only thoughts. They are a complex amalgamation of sensory perceptions, physiological response (or emotions), thoughts and spiritual interactions. Synthesis is accomplished through either stimulation or combination of those states.

The job of philosophy, as I asserted before, is to understand the virtues and pathologies of intellect, and to establish means to strengthen the first and heal the second. The complexity of the problem is seen in that most of the history of philosophy was spent in a fruitless search for some solid ground to stand on – some truth beyond Descartes’ “I exist.” Fortunately for humanity, most of us continued to carry on with our exploration of what is possible.

In that search, we must recognize that the intellect also has variable expressions. Just as species adopt different forms in the struggle to secure an ecological niche, so does the intellect vary. There are those dominated by sensory perception, those immersed in emotion, those lost in the whirlpool of their thoughts, and those with their eyes locked on the heavens. Each of them brings a piece of the puzzle to our attention. No perspective can be denigrated or ignored without threatening the integrity of the whole.

Let’s Talk Science and Theology

My friend Jamie Wozny told me, during a career coaching session, that I should “try to keep it simple.” As I drove down Wilshire away from LACMA considering the forty years spent studying physics and religion, I whined to myself, “But it all seems simple to me.”

To bridge that gap is why I dance. At the last nightclub that I frequented, the manager came up to me one night and said “You know, I’m noticing that wherever you are, that’s where the people tend to gather.” A Persian woman came up to me one night to say “You don’t know how good you make us all feel.” Just this weekend my friend Mary Margaret, as we lay all akimbo after rolling around on the floor together for ten minutes, admonished me about viewing myself as an old man, “You really should love yourself more. Others would benefit from the experience of your joy.”

The problem is that most people take the energy that comes out of the heart and direct it downwards to the sacral chakra, the focus of passion and pleasure. I try my best to be disciplined, because otherwise I would just be a slut, but the people that come to LA Ecstatic Dance and the Full-Contact Improv Jam do love to touch and be touched. For many, it’s an opportunity to mix masculine and feminine energy without the complications of a relationship. I’ve benefited from that willingness as I try to figure out how to unlock the feminine graces, but I still find it difficult to withstand the impulse to rest my hand over a woman’s womb as she arches backwards with her hips resting on my thigh. Nobody has slapped me yet, so I surmise that I’m giving in to what they want.

I attempt to patch things up afterwards, just consistently raising energy from the fourth chakra – the heart – up to the sixth chakra. While the latter is associated with the pineal gland and known as the “seat of intuition,” physically it rests right over our cerebral cortex which is the part of the brain devoted to higher reasoning.

Realizing that somebody was peeking into my childhood, I woke up at 3 A.M. with a sinus headache. It’s drying out here in Southern California, and the grass is disintegrating. I eventually dragged myself out of bed to rinse my sinuses with Alkylol.

After crawling back under the covers, it occurred to me that the sinuses sit between the sixth and fifth chakras, the latter being the throat chakra that focuses communication and creativity. I always struggle to engage others in conversation regarding the matters that demand so much of my attention – sometimes to the degree of a painful burning in my throat as emotion wells up from my chest.

In considering Dante, Santayana elaborates Dante’s metaphor of theology as his lost love Beatrice, their happiness frustrated in part by his flirtation with philosophy. This matches my own experience: theology does seem to rise from the heart, while science – the most mature expression of philosophy – rests in the mind.  In the modern era the two camps of heart and mind have chosen to dispute with each other.

Between them we have the voice that wisdom teaches us to reserve for the truth. I have spent my life on this problem – the reconciliation of those two warring camps, each holding half of the truth. If anybody knows of an opportunity to engage with others in dialog on those problems, let me know. I’m willing to travel.

The Struggle for Truth

When I was last asked to speak at my employer’s all-hands meeting, it was in a context of crisis in our relationship with our biggest customer. The tone of internal discussions was denigrating, focusing on their manipulative contract negotiations and technical indecision.

I had been privy to two experiences, however, that gave me a different perspective on the matter. The first occurred during a site visit to the Netherlands. The other three representatives got smashed each night, which is a way of maintaining a coherent gestalt. My approach was rather to walk gently among our hosts. When we went to look at the machine that they were upgrading, I crouched down to look at the cable route, wondering how in the heck they would be moved to replace a critical component. The mechanical designer, who had projected some hostility regarding the project, stepped behind me, and I suddenly understood that a wing nut on a retaining bar, if loosened, would allow me to bend the cables out of the way. I turned around to find him looking approvingly at me.

The second experience occurred during a reciprocal visit to our facility. We produce electronics that can fail catastrophically, and the customer works in the health care industry. The lead engineer asked specifically whether we had tested the logic that prevented this failure mode, emphasizing that “in no circumstances can we have a fire in the operating theater.” He was assured that we had manually tested the fault logic, forcing the failure mode and verifying that power was shut down.

Four months after deploying the solution, our electronics caught fire in the operating room. The assurances offered to our customer were simply a lie.

It was in part to counter-act the mounting hostility that I offered this perspective:

As engineers, we come in every day to wrestle against the laws of nature to help our customers do things that most people think are impossible. In that struggle, fighting against our competition is far less rewarding that fighting against nature for our customers. When we fight for our customers, we enter into their dreams. They offer us their insights and understanding, and help us to make our products better.

Our customer understood that fundamental difference in me. Even though my role was limited to creation of software that integrated with their user interface, I was the first person they contacted whenever a problem came up. They knew that I wouldn’t pull out the contract or demand irrefutable proof that the problem was in our equipment. I would sit down and try to emulate their scenario so that we could evaluate the problem on our end. In turn, they would get a rapid assessment of likelihood that would help them to focus efforts on their end.

This attitude was emphasized by a comment made by the lead engineer in a discussion of welfare policy. He said,

If somebody wants to go fishing every day, I would rather that he just didn’t come in to work. I’d be happy to see him paid to fish, if that meant that I wouldn’t have to fix the problems in his work.

This is the experience of all creative people: in the end, everything that we do is a new form of truth. Creating that truth means living in truth, and the more people that are embraced in that circle, the greater are the challenges we can overcome. That trust can only be sustained when the team members take pride and find satisfaction in the work that they do. Conversely, when falsehood enters that circle, the creative process is corrupted by indecision and mistrust. Everyone runs around checking and double-checking the facts, and defending themselves against blame.

In over thirty years as a professional, the factor that most commonly creates mistrust is when a party representing the market seizes control of creative decision making. Because they do not contribute to the creative process, ultimately they can only justify tyrannical authority by attacking the work of the creative team. Because they don’t understand the creative process, the tyrant’s attacks are arbitrary and often false. As the team fragments, more and more control is asserted, with individuals promoted and demoted largely based upon personal loyalty rather than actual creative capability. Worse, those in the creative team that decry the loss of team cohesion are pushed aside, because to recognize the validity of their perspective is to undermine the power of the tyrant.

The shift that is necessary to resolve this philosophical conundrum was proposed ten years ago out at everdeepening.org. I offered these definitions:

Power is the ability to make reality conform to our intention.

Will is a measure of our ability to sustain an engagement with reality.

Strength is power over the self.

Authority is awarded by constituents when power is validated by expressions of love.

In any situation, a resort to lies degrades power, because lies are against reality. To lie is also to flee from reality, which is a failure of will. To the sophisticated observer, then, it is a sign of personal weakness. As a violation of both self-love and as an attack on the creative team, lies undermine authority. When that trust is lost, the creative team loses its faith that accomplishment will receive satisfactory rewards. Their motivation undermined, the only way that the tyrant can maintain control, then, is to run around telling people what to do.

From these, it follows that in engineering organizations the role of senior management is in securing the cohesion of the creative team. That means giving credit where credit is due. If the team fails, nature will let them know. To the degree that success is achieved, it is the role of marketing and sales to target opportunities that will produce sustaining revenues.

The difficulty of sustaining this organizational cohesion is so daunting that anyone achieving such success will find that people flock to their defense when they are threatened. To people who care only about creating new truth, such a loss would be a tragedy without parallel.

A Matter of Character

In his final State of the Union address, Barack Obama eschewed partisan politics and stretched for the heights of statesmanship. Frustrated in his most heart-felt passions by the institutions that foment mistrust of government, his program of political renewal is built around appeals to cherished notions of our national character. While composed of practical steps – among them redistricting and campaign finance reform, voting rights, and extension of public education by two years – its illustrations were drawn not from  isolated instances of specific lives transformed by those benefits, but from abstract descriptions of relationships transformed when we act from hope and trust.

Obama supported the authority of his prescription by outlining the results of seven years of quietly doing what was possible while his opponents trumpeted doom. This includes enhanced international cooperation to isolate and weaken the agents of violence, improved terms of trade to protect workers and the environment, enhancement of personal security with health care reform, and revitalization of America’s manufacturing and energy sectors.

His restrained rhetoric is set against a collection of voices that trumpet conflict. This is not limited to the field of Republican presidential nominees – the growing strength of the Sanders campaign is fueled by harsh rhetoric targeting the financial elite. I believe that the popularity of those voices reflects the sense that for the average American, security is precarious. This is supported by polling that reveals that as regards their condition, 49% of Americans have become more angry over the last year.

As wages stagnate and costs rise, inevitably every choice faced by a working family is fraught with consequence. Any single error can set us on the hard road to poverty. In that state, our natural desire is to make our choosing less difficult – in much popular political rhetoric, to remove the impediments imposed by the state. Unfortunately, this logic appeals to the interests of those that siphon financial energy from the system. One of the Koch brothers, after the federal investigation of climate science racketeering by Mobil-Exxon, appeared in public to state that in many ways he is a liberal – he believes that businesses are most successful when the individual worker is free to make his own choices. As “success” to Mr. Koch translates to “higher profits,” what history has shown is that a family man will accept lower wages when facing competition from a younger, unburdened candidate. “Freedom” as understood by Koch translates to a lack of security that eventually pits every man against his neighbor for the benefit of owners.

In his book The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment, Geoffrey Kabaservice argued that the American century was birthed on the battlefields of WWII. For the first time, the American elite went to war, and came back appreciating the strength of the brotherhood that leads men to sacrifice their lives in service. It was this brotherhood that motivated the Veterans’ Acts that opened college and home ownership to the lower classes. And it was the clawing back of those gifts by that generation’s children that steadily weakened the lower classes as we entered the 21st century.

The fragility of the post-war Golden Age must lead us to ask: is Obama right? Is our national character one of quiet service, or a narcissistic struggle for privilege that slowly grinds down the weak?

Against the cynicism of the realist, Obama marshaled the words of the man that prophesied his presidency. In his last public address, Martin Luther King, Jr. promised his audience that they as a people would see the Promised Land. Obama borrowed not from that speech but from King’s Nobel Peace Prize address, in which the prophet heralded the ultimate victory of “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

That may sound like another flimsy basis for policy prescriptions, but it actually leads to an analysis that shows the inevitability of our exit from this era of untrammeled selfishness. Throughout history, when economic activity expands into a new scale (from the city to the state, from state to nation, from nation to globe), those managing the expansion are able to erode the rights of those that created the technologies and products that allow the expansion. They do that by transferring knowledge to impoverished labor markets (or by importing cheaper labor). By selling goods back into the originating society, owners are able to reap enormous profits.

What ultimately happens, however, is that as wages equalize, poor workers motivated by the hope that they, too, would achieve the rights of their richer cousins gain the courage to organize to secure those rights. Having played out the cheap trick of producing in cheaper labor markets, the elite is brought under ever increasing pressure to actually increase the value of labor through organizational strategy. They then confront the truth that a competent and creative worker is the best source of operational improvements, and that personal security is essential to avoid fear that distracts her attention.

This has been played out again and again through history, in each of the transitions listed above. We now face the last transition to the global stage, and growing economic instability in  China suggests that the cheap trick has just about played itself out.

So if the morality of Obama’s appeal doesn’t resonate in the pragmatic mind, I believe that it yet reflects the wisdom of historical experience. His prescriptions are the investments that we need to make now to ensure that when the burden of poverty is leveled, we as a nation are prepared to lead the charge into a future of common accomplishment safeguarded by international compacts of economic and environmental justice.

While the elite may create panic with rumors of “one world government” and “black helicopters,” the past proves that the lower classes will eventually recognize their common experience, and organize to ensure that the government that creates the rules by which power is allocated will do so in a way that ensures that power servers that greater good, rather than the whims of the elite. All the lower classes need do is to marshal the courage to believe in the commonality of their experience (which is the root of all truth) and recognize that when they invest in each others’ power (loving unconditionally), they strengthen themselves.

Revelation Abuse

I spend a lot of time managing fear and anger – not my own, but the fear and anger that people project into me. One of the principal reasons for writing The Soul Comes First was to deal with the Book of Revelation, which contains murky and frightening imagery that allows psychopaths to manipulate victims by linking fear to the promise of redemption that emanates from the Cross.

An example of the consequences of such manipulation is organized criminality in the  guise of religion, where “leaders” of inspirational movements demand that their “flock” emulate the early church, surrendering their worldly assets for management by the “community.” You can be assured that those at the top live in luxury, while the “flock” scrapes by in poverty.

So, while I would love for people to read the book, let me summarize the main points regarding Revelation. The most important is that John’s experience of the angelic realm should be interpreted as the experience of someone following links on Wikipedia. The flow of events is not strictly linear, and John tends to emphasize events on Earth that are sometimes tangential.

  • The seals were opened billions of years ago. The six symbols seen by John are not manifestations of God’s glory, but manifestations of selfishness: domination, infestation, opportunism, death, vengeance and fury. They are released onto the Earth so that their captives can work themselves free through the process of living.
  • The 144,000 were spirits gathered (billions of years ago) not from the tribes of Israel themselves but from the angels that became the patrons of the tribes of Israel. The are sent down to Earth to facilitate the liberation of the captives.
  • The trumpets correspond powerfully with the facts that paleontology has revealed regarding the great extinction episodes over the last billion years.
  • The Age of Man does not begin until the angel stands with one foot on the shore and one in the sea.
  • The beast with the number ‘666’ represents the spiritual collective that arose on the sixth day of creation, which is not Man, but the mammals.
  • The bowls represent the consequences of our exploitation of the resources that we were told to harvest. Those consequences are coming to full force right now in the modern age.

One of the great and marvelous consequences of the love that emanates from God is that it empowers us to grasp the truth, and moreover to move with confidence and determination to respond to the demands it makes upon our compassion.

Please share this with anyone that you know to have been trapped in fear through manipulation of the teachings of the Book of Revelation.