Mar 31, 2007

Everything Tries To Be Round

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round... Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle. The nation's hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.

-- Black Elk, Oglala Sioux Holy Man

Which is the long way 'round my saying that I love this art. I won't be posting the images here, because I think they're proprietary, but Edward Winkleman has reproduced a number of images by Julie Evans. If the spheres within sheres print I included in my last post looks like something that was snatched out of my head, this is like a kind of jazz riff on what goes on inside my head. From the press release:

Evans works slowly and painstakingly, rendering delicate garlands and intricate mandalas, and filling large expanses of color with tiny, countless, vertical strokes. She creates ambiguous spaces within spaces that are at once both micro and macro in realm, keeping the viewer up close to these intimate works, but with the sense of their broader reach into place and time.

She has worked in India and Nepal, including travel and research supported by a Fulbright Scholarship studying with a master of Indian miniature painting. Critic Mario Naves wrote of Evans' work that she "creates vistas infinitely more expansive than the physical parameters of the paintings support. Clearly the conventions of Indian miniature paintings have become second nature to her."

These pieces definitely evoke mandalas and what I find really interesting is the use of sacred geometry. I'd have to break out my tiny, little, screen-sized calipers -- in other words, something I do not have -- to determine if the proportions are exact, but there looks to be a lot of use of phi ratios and golden mean spirals. There are also beautiful lotus images throughout.

I've been thinking a lot about lotus's lately and recently added a handful of the nicer images I could find to the art gallery. The lotus image is one that has been so overused in spiritual circles that it's been largely reduced to a cliche. The symbolism is so profound that I think this is unfortunate.

When we moved into our new house last year, one of the items left behind by the previous owners was a bowl of black, decorative rocks, with a cheap, fabric lotus plunked on top. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I really don't think they were Buddhists, so the imagery is probably completely accidental. This, in part, is what makes it so profound. Amazing the way we all just pluck these things out of the Akashic record, without the vaguest notion that we have done so. The image, of course, evokes the Buddha's "Lotus Sutra." Loosely translated: From the darkest mud comes the most beautiful lotus. So I have kept it. Tacky, Michael's, fabric lotus and all.

But my fascination with the lotus is more rooted in Egyptian mythology and owes to something I plucked out of the Akashic record many years ago in meditation. I scribbled the images down because I did not understand them at all. It was a disjointed collection of death/rebirth images. In the middle of the page was this strange looking flower with a face emerging from the center. It was only years later that I stumbled on the Egyptian lotus mythology that explained the image. Here's the short version from A Dictionary of Ancient Egypt:

The lotus signified Re' 's power and birth and was celebrated in the Loutus Offering, a hymn sung in the temple on festival days, especially at the cultic center in Edfu. The hymn referred to the god Re' as the "Great Lotus," which emerged from the primeval pool at the moment of creation.

Perhaps someday I'll write the long version, which is complex and beautiful with tendrils moving through numerous myths. But for now I just endorse you to look at Julie Evans's art.

Also of interest on Edward Winkleman's blog, a discussion of the abortive attempt to exhibit the chocolate Jesus. I just don't understand the outrage. Is it the Easter season conflation of Jesus with a giant chocolate bunny? Or is it the presence of the penis? Because I'm pretty sure Jesus had a penis. I know the Biblical accounts don't go into too much detail on that, but even so. With all his rantings on sacrilege and bigotry, I wonder what Bill Donohue's views are on, say, the tomahawk chop. So far I think he's been mum.

Mar 27, 2007

Battlestar Galactica's Special Destiny

Battlestar Galactica

I recently added the "Battlestar Galactica" series on DVD to the bookstore. I think this merits a little explanation. Why would I place a science fiction series about a multi-generational battle with mechanoids in my little new age book shop? Well, for starters, it's one of the best written, directed, and acted, series in television history -- easily on par with that other transcendent bit of programming "The Sopranos." More to the point, some of the themes lend themselves to a range of philosophical and metaphysical discussions.

Much has been written about the political themes in the series. Less so about the religious, spiritual, and mythical themes.

Some of the spiritual themes owe to the source material; the original series which has been fairly described as "Star Wars meets Wagon Train." There are not many similarities to the painfully campy show... well, except for the basic storyline, characters, and a curious homage to mythology; largely, but not entirely, Greek.

The name of the 12 colonies, collectively, is Kobol, "an anagram of Kolob, which, according to the Mormon Book of Abraham, is the star nearest to where God dwells." This owes to the Mormon background of the creator of the original series Glen Larson. The names of the colonies themselves are renderings of the 12 zodiac signs: Caprica, Aquaria, Scorpia, etc. The character names are like a listing from a world mythology class syllabus: Adama (Adam), Apollo, Athena, etc.

From the departure point that was the original show, the new series has moved in some surprising directions and impressed viewers and critics alike with its depth. This is as much the case with the mythological themes as other elements. The central conflict of the show is between the human survivors and their Cylon attackers. But there is also a religious conflict between these two civilizations; the polytheistic beliefs of the humans and the monotheism of the Cylons. But humans and Cylons alike are possessed of spiritual visions and intuitions regarding their shared destinies. These visions, rich in familiar archetypal resonances and shamanic devices, lend a particular gravity to the series.

In the first season, the accidental President of the Colonies Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), who is taking an herbal compound called kamala extract as a cancer therapy, begins to have strange dreams and "hallucinations." At one point during a press conference she sees snakes writhing on the podium. She later learns that her "hallucination" of the snakes is a vision prophesied by the "Pythia." The name Pythia is, of course, that taken by the Oracles of Delphi in ancient Greece. There are many versions of the mythological underpinnings of the Oracle of Delphi. At least in latter iterations, it was the temple of the Apollo who, legend has it, slew Python (Pytho, Delphyne), the great dragon.

The Pythia was the priestess presiding over the Oracle of Delphi while it was the temple of Apollo, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Pythia was widely credited with giving prophecies inspired by Apollo, giving her a prominence unusual for a woman in male-dominated ancient Greece, but given the probability that she was first an oracle for the goddess, Gaia, who was the Great Goddess, Earth, the presence of priestesses at the oracle of the goddess would have been typical in archaic times. The name of Themis is often used to identify the Pythia. In earlier myths, Themis built the Oracle at Delphi and was herself oracular. According to another legend, Themis received the Oracle at Delphi from Gaia and later gave it to Phoebe.

Gaia was also a great dragon, akin to the Sumerian Tiamat. (For more information on the correlation between creation myths, goddesses, and reptiles, scroll down to here.)

Priestess of Delphi

But the allusion to the Pythia myth is not an idle one. According to legend the Oracle of Delphi exposed herself to an hallucinogen. Seated on a tripod she breathed a vapor that was said to emanate, through a crevice in the earth, from the rotting corpse of Python. It was more likely ethylene gas. In Laura Roslin's case it is kamala extract. But the use of hallucinogens in spiritual practice is an ancient one. According to Graham Hancock's Supernatural, it may date back to the stone age, as evidenced by shamanic themes in paleolithic cave art. So called "hallucinations" are a method of "piercing the veil" and revealing the hidden, but very real, world.

But in "Battlestar Galactica," the Cylons are also capable of shamanic experiences. We discover this most poignantly when one of the Number Threes (Lucy Lawless) undertakes repeated death/rebirth experiences to learn what lies between the worlds.

In the season that just ended, we learn more about the visions of Kara Thrace, call-sign Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff). Thrace, by the way, is an ancient country, now absorbed in part by Greece, that was between the Black Sea to the Aegian. We learned a while ago that Starbuck had a "special destiny," of some kind, known to the Cylons. In more recent episodes we discover that she has been painting a symbol over and over for years that very much resembles what they refer to as the "Eye of Jupiter."

See here for some background on the geometry and symbolism of eyes and why they speak to something seminal in our consciousness. This particular image of spheres within spheres is one that has entranced me for years. I thought seriously at one time about doing a giant canvas of that image. I never got around to it, and frankly, I'm not much of a painter. But the following image looks very similar to what I saw in my head for a period of years. Stare at it for a while. It's hypnotic.
Gong of Initiation-Circle-Wholeness/Unity

There is much to say on this fantastic show, but not much more that I can relate that won't divulge its intricate plotting. I do not mean this to be a spoiler review. To my sorrow, the newest season just wrapped and there will be no new episodes until 2008. Can't wait.

Mar 21, 2007

Sick As Our Secrets

One does not become enlightened
by imagining figures of light,

but by making the darkness conscious.
The latter procedure, however is disagreeable,
and therefore not popular.

-- Carl Jung

It took me a while to get around to seeing "The Secret." Once I learned what the secret actually was, I felt no great urgency. But when I saw how it had been savaged on, I resolved to see how bad it was for myself. Pretty bad, really.

This is not to say that it has no value. A number of the tools recommended by its co-creators are effective, at least up to a point. Far be it from me to discourage the use of creative visualization, visualization boards, affirmative thought, or any other of what I would consider rituals. When appropriate I recommend these tools to my clients. But they are not a panacea, and that caveat is decidedly missing from the slickly produced movie; and presumably the book, which I did not, in all fairness, read.

I don't think I'm revealing any state secrets when I tell you, gentle reader, that the secret revealed in "The Secret" is the "law of attraction." The problem is that this is not so much a law as it is a bromide. What many of us learned during the "new age" revolution of the 80s and 90s was that all of our affirmations and creative visualization did not, in fact, work. At least not fully or "every time," which is what "The Secret" promises... well as long we don't think "bad" thoughts and undo all the promise of our "good" thoughts. According to the brain trust that brings you "The Secret" our "negative" thoughts bring unpleasant experiences, and our "positive" thoughts bring pleasant ones. I almost wish life were that simple.

The "law of attraction" is really a very dumbed down -- one might say truncated -- version of a much deeper truth. This is probably why it has resonance and "feels" true enough to inspire a cottage industry. It has what Stephen Colbert calls "truthiness."

Underlying this attractive idea is what mystics have been teaching for millennia. It is that all things reflect all other things. That it cannot be otherwise because we are, in fact, one with everything around us. This means that the people you meet are not "like" you ("like attracts like"). They are you.

Where the "law of attraction," as presented in "The Secret," teaches us that if we are attracting unpleasant experiences, we need to shift our thoughts away from the negative and make ourselves happy, mystical thought teaches what Virginia Sandlin terms "sourceful awareness." Mystical thinkers honor that anything that comes into our reflective experience is mirroring something that exists inside of us, all be it, to a different degree. So our recognition of what we find unpleasant in our reflective environment is an opportunity to complete and heal that aspect in ourselves, thereby facilitating healing for the world that is our reflection.

So this mystical awareness comes with a greater sense of responsibility than thinking happy thoughts in order to get a new car.

I entitled this review "Sick As Our Secrets" not simply as a play on words, but because that axiom speaks to one of the deeper problems inherent in the philosophy advanced in the "The Secret." That phrase, popular in Twelve Step programs, is used to describe the dis-ease that arises because of the fraud, shame, and denial that are so much a part of the life of addicts and their families. As anyone who has undertaken a healing process on that level learns, the secrets that do the most damage are the ones we keep from ourselves. Try as a I might, I can't see the difference between the practices advocated in "The Secret" and plain, old-fashioned denial. To advocate that people simply stop feeling their "bad feelings" is not just glib. It's irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

I nearly fell out my chair when I heard "The Secret's" Bob Proctor advise that when you're feeling bad you should simply put on some music, because it would change your mood, and to "block out everything but that [happy] thought." Try that if you're clinically depressed. Just try it. Or if you are recovering from childhood sexual abuse. Or if you are one of our returning veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even the joyous sounds of Steve Martin's banjo won't make you happy, and to suggest that it's that simple is insulting. And if you could block out all that pain, it would be anything but healthy.

In her appearance on "Oprah," Lisa Nichols explained how she addresses people who want to talk about their personal history or "story." Her response is "I don't want to know it, because you've used it to keep yourself where you are." So word to the wise, if you want someone to help you heal and come complete with your painful history, Lisa Nichols is probably not the appropriate facilitator for you.

The implicit hostility of this particular assumption is one I'm all too familiar within my own field. That is to say, the idea that people are holding on to past trauma because they are "unwilling" to release it. I have even heard colleagues say of their clients, "Well they don't really want to get better." If they're showing up for help, they want help. It just may not be the kind of help that healer is willing or able to provide. And when a healer runs into the limits of his or her own paradigm, it is easier to blame the client than to question the belief system. When a client pushes your buttons, it's easier to dismiss the client than to determine why you have sourced them into your practice.

The glib, binary approach re-popularized in "The Secret" has real world consequences. I was recently emailed an article by Ross Bishop that addresses the impact on people suffering from mental or physical illness. He writes:

I received an email recently from a woman who had suffered through bi-lateral breast removal. She wrote:

Do you have any insight on why I developed this disease? It's been very difficult for me to handle what they teach in "The Secret" and all the Unity Church beliefs and that we create illness through negative thinking because I worked so hard to heal my life and have lived a life of joy for the past two years.

For several months I have been receiving calls and emails from people who are distraught over the guilt-producing messages contained in the video "The Secret." These people have been told that:

. . . you create in reality, in one way or another whatever you focus your attention on. Your life is going to be an outcome of where you predominantly place your attention.

This is a resurrection of the discredited "Law of Attraction" foisted by new age teachers, MLM organizers and get-rich-quick real estate infomercials. The idea is a simple one: what you place your attention on will manifest in reality.

Like Mr. Bishop I have been hearing from frustrated clients who aren't finding the tools to improve their lives in these ideas that are achieving a whole new level of popularity in the new age arena. And like Mr. Bishop, I see them beating themselves up for not being able to accomplish what they've been promised is so simple.

Experiences like these with the fall-out from "The Secret" make me tend to agree with Peter Birkenhead of Salon, who characterizes the slickly repackaged philosophy and Oprah's endorsement of it as venal.

Why "venality"? Because, with survivors of Auschwitz still alive, Oprah writes this about "The Secret" on her Web site, "the energy you put into the world -- both good and bad -- is exactly what comes back to you. This means you create the circumstances of your life with the choices you make every day." "Venality," because Oprah, in the age of AIDS, is advertising a book that says, "You cannot 'catch' anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought." "Venality," because Oprah, from a studio within walking distance of Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green Projects, pitches a book that says, "The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts."

Worse than "The Secret's" blame-the-victim idiocy is its baldfaced bullshitting. The titular "secret" of the book is something the authors call the Law of Attraction. They maintain that the universe is governed by the principle that "like attracts like" and that our thoughts are like magnets: Positive thoughts attract positive events and negative thoughts attract negative events. Of course, magnets do exactly the opposite -- positively charged magnets attract negatively charged particles -- and the rest of "The Secret" has a similar relationship to the truth. Here it is on biblical history: "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were not only prosperity teachers, but also millionaires themselves, with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of." And worse than the idiocy and the bullshitting is its anti-intellectualism, because that's at the root of the other two. Here's "The Secret" on reading and, um, electricity: "When I discovered 'The Secret' I made a decision that I would not watch the news or read newspapers anymore, because it did not make me feel good," and, "How does it work? Nobody knows. Just like nobody knows how electricity works. I don't, do you?" And worst of all is the craven consumerist worldview at the heart of "The Secret," because it's why the book exists: "[The Secret] is like having the Universe as your catalogue. You flip through it and say, 'I'd like to have this experience and I'd like to have that product and I'd like to have a person like that.' It is you placing your order with the Universe. It's really that easy." That's from Dr. Joe Vitale, former Amway executive and contributor to "The Secret," on

So scientific it is not -- nobody knows how electricity works, indeed -- but the notion I find most disturbing is that we should disconnect from the realities of the world because they don't feel good. I've even heard people go so far as to assert that by tuning out horrific events we can actually help to heal the world; accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative in our minds will reflect itself in a similar healing for the planet, the theory goes. What to say? You know, if reading newspapers is too upsetting for a person and causes discomfort, there's nothing wrong with putting them aside, to create an emotionally safe space for oneself. One would hope that within that context they would undertake the healing necessary to address the world around them again. But to confuse that elective denial for actual healing or some type of spiritual evolution is vanity. I'd love to wish the war in Iraq right into the cornfield by just not thinking about it, but it doesn't work like that. Now when we reach the point that we can look at the news and not get triggered, or thrown into anger or fear... that's an accomplishment. (Full disclosure: I haven't reached that point.)

There's a site I turn to periodically called Awaken in the Dream. The site author Paul Levy writes a great deal about spiritually conscious activism. In a recent piece, "Triggered by Evil" he takes a tack that stands in stark contrast to the idea of ignoring the news because it makes us uncomfortable. Writes Levy:

Due to the horrific events playing out on the world stage, I find myself unable to avoid the subject of “evil.” Some of my readers have objected to my use of the term “evil,” because it “triggers” something in them which makes them feel uncomfortable, and sometimes even makes them stop reading. Their reaction has made me wonder whether I should use a different word so as not to trigger them, or is activating people the whole point of my writing? When I contemplate this question, however, I am left with the feeling that there is no other word that more accurately describes what I am pointing at than “evil.” I find myself wondering, is there something being revealed to us when, for example, people are triggered by the mere mention of the word “evil?”

He goes on to explain how ignoring evil increases, rather than decreases, its power over us.

Evil animates itself, psychologically speaking, through humanity’s unconsciousness. Evil’s power is only operative in the absence of consciousness. Evil, through our psychological blind spots, plays with our perceptions so as to hide itself. In order to not be destroyed by evil we have to understand the nature of the beast we are dealing with. Like that great maxim of medicine says, “Do not attempt to cure what you do not understand.” We have to bring evil to the level of conscious awareness. To quote Jung, “…how can evil be integrated? There is only one possibility: to assimilate it, that is to say, raise it to the level of consciousness.”

Evil cannot stand to be seen, for when it is truly seen, it is not unconscious anymore, and its seeming power over us gets taken away. Just like a vampire can’t stand the light of consciousness, once we see evil, we take away its autonomy - it can no longer act itself out through us unconsciously. The energy locked up in evil then becomes available to serve what is best for the whole, which is to say it becomes transformed so as to feed and nourish life, instead of creating death.

I offer up these alternative perspectives, because I think they form a necessary counterpoint to the "tyranny of a positive attitude" advanced in "The Secret."

One of the subtler story arcs of the "The Secret" is that its co-creators appear to have gone through a period of struggle, trial, or some other journey through the shadow world. Rhonda Byrne describes her trauma from the death of her father and career crisis. Joe Vitale was homeless. Michael Beckwith was a drug dealer who had a classically shamanic "death/transformation" dream. What he described on "Oprah" could be defined as a "peak" or "mystical" experience. But it came after a long period of wallowing in muck.

The authors gloss over these experiences, using them more as cautionary tales -- things they went through before they knew the secret -- than exploring how crucial these periods surely were to their later accomplishments. But I guess if "The Secret" promised health, wealth, and relationships beyond your wildest dreams, by instructing, "First, go through a period of personal hell," it wouldn't sell very well. The assumption is, I guess, that people are picking up the book or movie because they are as ready as the authors were to come complete with their shadow journeys. But just because you are suffering and want relief from that suffering does not mean that you are done with suffering. It does not mean that you are remotely ready to just release everything that causes you pain. "The Secret" promises that you can come complete with that pain by thinking really hard. If only that were true.

Your "thoughts" are not the sum of your consciousness. You are so much bigger than your thoughts. The universe does not serve your thoughts. It cannot, because the universe does not exist outside of you. You are the universe. All of it. The good, the bad, the ugly. Our challenge as people of consciousness, beings of power, lightworkers (pick your term) is not to wish the "negative" away. It is to own and reintegrate our shadow, because to do so is to heal -- bring into wholeness -- ourselves and all the world.

"The Secret," both book and movie are available in the bookstore.

Also recommended: Nora Ephron's "The Secret: A Testimonial" on The Huffington Post. Hilarious!!!

Mar 15, 2007

Site Navigation Update

I recently updated to the new version of Blogger, which allows for topic labels. This means you can click a label from the list at the end of any entry and bring up a page of all thematically related entries. I've also placed a direct link to the "Eye of God" piece in the sidebar. A quick look through my stats indicates that a lot of people are looking for this article and having trouble finding it since it moved into the archives. Enjoy.

Mar 14, 2007

Debunking the Debunkers

An Inconvenient Truth

The first major tip-off that the New York Times hit piece on Al Gore masquerading as journalism is really raw meat for the right wing base comes right in the lede:

Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore and his three-alarm film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,”...

Yes, Hollywood. That den of iniquity that is poisoning American culture. If Hollywood loves Al Gore, he must be bad for our children.

What follows from there is strawman arguments, unsubstantiated quotes, a rogue's gallery of scienticians, and other usual suspects. It's an old formula. Quote a handful of contrarians without revealing the controversy that surrounds them. Then proclaim opinion among experts divided, when, in fact, there is a near consensus.

But don't take my word for it. Good analyses of the New York Times piece can be found here and here. Check it out.

Mar 9, 2007

Mayan Priests to Cleanse Site of Bush

Mayan Rituals and Mystical Dances, Xcaret, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

My first thought when I learned that President Bush would be visiting Latin America was concern for his safety. That he is despised all over the world and must travel in a reinforced bubble is no secret, but Latin America sets off alarm bells for some reason. He is unwelcome in that part of the world.

It would seem the Mayan spirit guides are particularly displeased, and have called upon the priests to purify the sacred site of Iximche after Bush's visit there.

Mayan priests will purify a sacred archaeological site to eliminate "bad spirits" after President Bush visits next week, an official with close ties to the group said Thursday.

"That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture," Juan Tiney, the director of a Mayan nongovernmental organization with close ties to Mayan religious and political leaders, said Thursday.

Bush's seven-day tour of Latin America includes a stopover beginning late Sunday in Guatemala. On Monday morning he is scheduled to visit the archaeological site Iximche on the high western plateau in a region of the Central American country populated mostly by Mayans.

Tiney said the "spirit guides of the Mayan community" decided it would be necessary to cleanse the sacred site of "bad spirits" after Bush's visit so that their ancestors could rest in peace. He also said the rites _ which entail chanting and burning incense, herbs and candles _ would prepare the site for the third summit of Latin American Indians March 26-30.

I have little doubt that the cleanse will be necessary, having heard the whispering of the guardians at Teotihuacan in Mexico. Most tourists are oblivious to the fabric of spirit that inhabits these sacred sites. You have to listen and you have to know how. These sites are trampled and disrespected everyday, wholly unconsciously. And as Paul Levy has beautifully explained, Bush is the very embodiment of unconsciousness.

At some point I will relate in full my experience with the hidden world at Teotihuacan. It is a place of audible whispers. Every stone and every structure talks. To walk through its ruins is to perform a ritual. It is best to have some awareness that you are doing so.

Iximche is one of many Mayan sites exhibiting the complex architecture of the "resurrection technology" of their human sacrifice rituals. The relevance of the "ball courts" and other ritual elements are beautifully explained in The Shaman's Secret, which can be found in the bookstore.

The Wall of the Ball Court, Probably Completed in the Early Post Classic Period, circa 900-1200 AD