I think this is an extremely important piece. The issue of “untidiness” is central to the present process. This is not a linear, rational exercise in which feelings are always under control. In fact, it is the out-of-controlness of feelings that is central to the process. So, the skills most important to master are not the thinking skills, but the emotional skills. I think thinking pairs very well with aggressiveness. But the key emotional skill for this transition is just the opposite of aggressiveness. It is that relaxation group: letting be, taking in, observing, quiet, merely wakeful presence.
THE UNTIDY TRANSITION
We are involved in a developmental process;
there are stages of personality organization.
The recovery of the unconscious is the central project.
The developmental literature on spirituality says that the completion of rationality precedes the next level of integration. And Ken Wilber says, “Yogic insight comes through and then out of the realm of reason, not around it or away from it or against it. They will come from within, these Yogis.”
But Wilber does not mention how untidy the transition will be. In the space between the dominance of rationality and the accomplishment of integration there is a great swamp of confusion and self-deception. We seem to have to try all possible side-trips on our way to enlightenment.
For me the history of heresy is helpful here. “Heresy” is simply the term for alternative methods of managing the unconscious devised by people who were in dissent from the dominant system. It’s not that the dominant system was “right” and they were wrong. In retrospect it is clear that they were all partials. But in the contest among them we have a rather complete inventory of our options in managing the unconscious. Although they have the power to cause great confusion, their actual number is quite limited. So history is a handy guide to the present.
Now we also have freedom. It’s not perfect freedom, but there is no Inquisition, no thought police. As alternatives form themselves in this context of freedom, the only thing that will sort them out is their inherent validity. Developmental side-tracks must come to natural historical deaths. I think of people like Werner Erhard and Sri Bhagawan Rajneesh. These were both extremely talented contributors. But they had pieces missing. And so they have a decades-long run, involve thousands of individuals, and their contributions gradually become absorbed into a larger synthesis.
But meanwhile it is messy.
And so the question naturally arises as to whether there are any short-cuts through this mess. There are in fact a number of good manuals around, such as Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa. He is drawing on a tradition that is more than a thousand years old, so it is not exactly a new mess we are slogging through. But the demographic scope is new. It’s not just monks that are facing it, it is a much larger segment of the population.
Now all of these manuals, the good ones at least, have pretty much the same set of principles and practices to recommend. I won’t review them here. There are a couple of other points I am interested in. One is that they are all fairly complicated and take a lot of sustained focus to implement. So they don’t exactly provide a short-cut. The other point is that none of them is Christian. Actually, none of them is even Judaeo-Christian.
Now you may think that that is no big surprise. But, besides being the petty authoritarian bureaucracy many of you have experienced, the Judaeo-Christian tradition is also a basic building block of the culture that is almost surely going to be the core of the coming global consciousness. I am not about to argue that Western culture is not full of horrendous holes. I am just arguing that deep within that unseemly rust-bucket somewhere there is source of profoundly authentic spiritual energy.
So it was intriguing to me that Christianity should be completely devoid of competent manuals for the swamp between rationality and integration. As I poked around in the matter, I came up with what I consider to be some pretty mind-boggling conclusions.
However, before we get into that, I want to mention one thing I found in Kay’s workshops that I did not find in any of the manuals. It is “the George Johnson effect”, or “the facsimile problem” and it seems to be a big contributor to our swamp.
George Johnson did four drawings at one of Kay’s Monday Night workshops probably in March ’92. Of the first and fourth of them he said, “Now, this is a picture of anger.” The first was a display of spidery intricate lines. The fourth was splotches of intense primary colors. After his comments sank in, I said, “Ah, George, I think I’ve got it. The first picture is a picture of the idea of anger. The fourth one is a picture of…..anger.” George agreed with that, and after the workshop he wanted to destroy the first picture and he took the second one home with him. (We often feel that way about our past incompletenesses.) I managed to save the one in our files there but it has probably disappeared by now. George might still have the other one with him.
But we were talking about short-cuts and why Christianity has such lousy spiritual manuals. It goes back to the opening line of this essay (which was not chosen randomly): “We are involved in a developmental process…”
First off, this is very biblical. There is a succession of covenants that governs the dramaturgy of the bible. There is an assumption there that the human race itself is in a spiritual learning process.
Secondly, the research of people like Elaine Pagels (See Adam, Eve and the Serpent) into early Christianity shows a clearly developmental process. That is the only way to make sense of St. Augustine.
Let me say as an aside that I absolutely love Augustine of Hippo. I mean how many people have their 1,500th birthday celebrated? How many people have written a book that stays at the top of the bestseller list for 900 years? The guy is in a class with Shakespeare, Mozart, Lao Tzu and Gautama. His humanity is just amazing.
But he had a personality structure that we do not today consider to be emotionally mature. He was totally suffused with guilt. However, it was not the case that he led his times astray. It was rather the case that he was the most perfect expression his time had of its modal stage of personality development.
Pagels considers the immense intelligence of Augustine on the one hand and the transparent speciousness of his arguments about sin and death and scripture and all that on the other, and then asks the question, genuinely puzzled, “Why would anyone choose guilt?”
Fascinating! What a quintessentially twentieth-century question! In the fifth century, it was never asked. It could not have been asked because the state of knowledge and the state of personality development then were not capable of that question. Guilt was a taken-for-granted feature of the emotional landscape. (Pelagius and his followers were in a beleaguered minority. They were the weirdos, the hippies, the outsiders.) Augustine and his compatriots simply did not have a robust enough ego to distinguish between their own adult acts and the repressed self-recrimination taken on in infancy.
And it never occurred to Pagels that the personality structure of some one as bright as Augustine might be totally different than her own, different from the one she takes for granted as the modal level of maturity in her social circles. (And it didn’t occur to me either, until a few years after I first read her book.)
So, when I say at the top of this exercise, “We are involved in a developmental process…” I consider that to be a fairly challenging major premise.
But once you do get it, then what happened to Christianity at the time of Augustine becomes very logical, quite expected. And what is the Judaeo-Christian contribution to this untidy transition we are in right now also becomes jaw-droppingly clear.
Here is the short form: Something happened in Palestine in the time of Caesar that re-shaped history, and Christianity kind of lost its grip on it around the year 400. But the event is still available. It is in the public domain. It is just lying in the street waiting to be picked up again.
The event was the death of Jesus.
What happened, as recounted in John 20, 19 and parallel texts in the synoptics, fundamentally altered the mind-body relationship of those who witnessed it and also the relationship between ego and the unconscious. In brief, it was an extremely liberating experience. In its earliest stages, Christianity was insistent on self-worth, the worth of every individual human being, and on freedom. One might say that the ego got a little ahead of itself in taking on the unconscious, and it lost its stability. By the time Augustine came along, there was widespread agreement that there was too much freedom in Christianity. So, with the condemnation of Pelagius they canonized the split between consciousness and the unconscious in the distinction between “grace” and “nature”. They constructed the trance of the Eucharist to hold the split together, and it has to be one of the most brilliant pieces of social engineering in history. It was pedagogy. What the temple of Solomon had been to the Hebrews, the Eucharist became to Christians.
But what got lost in the But what got lost in the move was direct engagement with death.
We need to be candid about this. In spirituality, death is the test. A spirituality that does not give equanimity with death is not mature. (I am not talking about drugs. There are many tranquilizers available. I am talking about fully awake 5ngagement.) A spirituality that is mature experiences death not as bad news, not as good news, in fact, not as news at all. It experiences it as simply the next step. None of us is going anywhere.
This makes the relevance of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in this untidy transition very tricky indeed. The people of this culture, by and large, and the churches in particular, think they have the Judaeo-Christian tradition. But I think they are suffering from the George Johnson effect. They only have the idea of it.
But the real thing is still available. All you have to do is a meditation on John 20, 19 called, “What happened?”
The fact that this event is now fully in the public domain is extremely important. It means that if you get it, you do not have to join anything. (I know Jesus recommended baptism. But that was then; this is now. Its pedagogy is complete. I recommend against it.) All you have to do is live. I think this needs to be dwelt on quietly for a moment quietly for a moment quietly for a moment.
This event that re-shaped history and got lost because it created too much freedom is really not the property of the organizations that think they have some special title to it. It is in fact just out there lying in the street. Anyone who wants access to it can have that. And it still dissolves the boundaries of reality as much as it ever did. We are more grown-up now and so we should be able to handle it better than Augustine did.
These various propositions are very easily tested. Just sit with John 20, 19 for a while and be there. If you get that event as the participants did, it should re-arrange your relationship with your body. If that happens, then I think you will start getting very resourceful about completing your relationship with your own body and completing the recovery of your unconscious. (The two go hand in hand.) Head-trips and trances will become distinctly unsatisfying. The pleasure of reality will start to become decidedly more attractive than the pleasures of escape.
And you will find that the genius of Lao Tzu and Shakyamuni, the songs of the Sufis, the sittings of the Zens, the silence of the Yogis and et cetera all come into a subtly more grounded harmony in the paradox of the body demonstrated in that event. And this untidy transition will neaten up a bit.
the movement workshop is good as follow-through. Bodywork, music, art, journaling and meditation are all basic tools. But even with them it is easy to get lost. It is easy to get into long, even unending trips. Believe me, I have seen trips. There are many fine practices available, but I think the linchpin that holds them all together and makes possible the ultimate inward look without a loss of balance is what Jesus did with death.
The proposition is testable. I invite you to check it out.