GOD IN THE WHIRLWIND
The ancients do not fade easily over the horizon. I refer here to music, art, our inquiries into the intriguing mystery of nature, spell-binding stories that repeat themselves in native dress, the structures our ancestors built, the cities created by past civilizations, the routes we wander... and more.
This is because at the deepest level of our lives, each of us wants the same three things and has never changed: 1) to belong, 2) to have some influence over what we do or say, and 3) to love and be loved — in some fashion. These three things do not magically drop down our chimneys or appear on our doorsteps. Quite the opposite. Most often our yearnings to belong, to influence and be influenced, to love and be loved appear only after some effort, some courage, some trial and error. And once achieved, the cycle must be traced again and again as we spiral through the stages of life — its many stages if we are fortunate enough to avoid the more catastrophic calamities of traumas and accidents, illnesses, and pre-mature death.
How do we bear this? How do we "keep our chins up?" Well, of course, most often there are many joys along the circuitous spiral-way. We delight in our loves, our creations, our discoveries, our accomplishments, our friends, our growing consciousness of life's depth and wondrous meaning.
And if we tune in, really tune in, we become aware of the archetypal powers that convey a sense of wonder, beauty, courage, and purposiveness. Also, if we take time to pay attention, we become aware of "signals" that give us guidance in our needs to belong, to matter, and to love.
What "signals" am I referring to, you may ask, to which I respond — our dreams. Yes, I believe it to be true, having analyzed thousands of dreams in my fifty years of paying close attention to dreams of others, having recalled my personal dreams each night — I tell you with reliable confidence that our dreams come to us each night and offer signals about where we are off course, or conversely, where we are on course.
I have known those signals while observing my personal dreams, and I have witnessed signals in the lives of others who seek to belong, to matter, to love and be loved. In their symbolic language, dreams tell stories of the good and the bad, the pretty and not-so-pretty, the places of safety and the nightmares of deep fear, the obvious and the not-so-obvious.
For example, consider the dream I am about to share with you. Watch closely the "signals," the images. This is the way we become aware of the archetypal powers that come in the service of our physical and mental health. We observe our changing identity as we pass through stages of life in which we lose old friends and hopefully acquire new ones, leave our old homes and find new ones, grow in self understanding including quirks of personality that make our worlds a kaleidoscope of changing patterns.
So these archetypal powers, like instincts of our animal friends, nudge us along the way, out of sight of our waking mind. But in the dramas our dreams present lie the clues to where we belong, how and why we matter, and the wonder of love. What a fascinating part of our life.
It may well be that our parents and teachers did know to teach us this mostly unknown fact that dreams compensate our conscious life, that they endow our existence with the quality of experience which may be described as spiritual or sacred — or, in any case, worth remembering and paying attention to.
So it is with this dream I am about to share with you. The dreamer is in his mid-thirties, at the mid-point of a successful career, contentedly married with a child, but restless with the uncertainty of the world around him in which there is an ongoing threat of upheaval in his rapidly changing society which he expected to have been stabilized with educators, clergy, reputable and responsible politicians, and a government committed to the Jeffersonian ideals of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I describe his state of mind as "restless." He would say something is "wrong," but he found it difficult to verbalize what might be wrong, clinging to his expectations of what society would be like in a rational world. He wondered if he might be clinically depressed as he found himself with the feeling that something was wrong. Then he had the following dream.
I am sitting at night in my Volkswagen Beetle convertible. I look out my window
to the left and see a building, a residence or office. But there are no lights on
in the building which I thought was strange at this time of night. Suddenly a light
appears from somewhere above. On the ground is something like a platform
between me and the dark building. Two figures appear on the platform-like structure.
The two people seem to be moving around. Is it a dance, a ritual, a movement
without any suggestion of feeling or meaning? The puzzling movement seems
regressive in some way. I feel contempt for the actors in this soulless drama of
some sort. Then, I hear in the distance the sound of something like a rushing wind.
It is a tornado approaching my car, and I have no time to escape.
The tornado, a powerful whirlwind, hovers over me. I feel it sucking the air out
of my lungs. I know I am going to die, and I know this is God.
What are we to make of this dream, the dreamer and his life situation, but also what it might mean for each of us today? The drama of the dream moves toward a frightening climax in which the dreamer believes he will die. What are we to make of the dark building with no lights, a mysterious light shining "from above," the ritualistic movement of the two figures, the whirlwind the dreamer refers to as a tornado, and the dreamer's conclusion that this is "God?"
These are archetypal images. They have teaching relevance, and they offer glimpses into our pursuit of the universal needs to belong, to matter, and to love and be loved. In what way do the dream's drama and striking images throw light on our three universal needs?
I will return to this question in my next blog.
THE EAGLE'S MESSAGE (Part 2): Dreams, Archetypes, Symbols, Transformation and Consciousness
The goal of human existence is transformation, and symbols guide the transformation. Consider the symbols as maps that guide our traveling through strange places we never have been before. Consider also the "names" we choose for our sports teams, represented by symbols that influence our character formation, our loyalties, our "fight" songs, and the massive reverence these images generate through the marketing world. It is the symbol that generates the energy that drives the markets, providing identity, income, and meaning spread around the world of our planet earth.
And nothing portrays our symbolic life more dramatically, more interestingly, or even more mysteriously than the stories our dreams narrate. What a treasure these stories our dreams tell, the characters—some familiar, others never encountered before—the scary ones, the comical ones, the brief ones, the "never-ending" ones, the references to our religious and political life, the re-appearance of loved ones long since departed, and the suggestion of a future never anticipated.
But, of course, like everything else you and I encounter in our multi-layered world, dreams mean different things to different people. This is as it should be. And that is why I have tried to be honest about my background and education, my experience as teacher, military officer in the US Army Field Artillery, my travels in the US, the Far East, and Europe, and my present work as a Pastoral Counselor and Jungian Analyst.
So it is true that my life and experiences have served as a matrix from which my dreams arise. But it is also true that my life has arisen from my dream world, as I suggested in my last writing when I shared the evocative dream of an eagle that flew into my life with its puzzling message: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you, it's alright," and then turning to fly back over the horizon from whence it had come.
If it appears that the dream of the eagle and the message itself has an apocalyptic ring, I would agree. Apocalypticism arose in the Hellinistic period. One example is the book of Daniel in which symbolic visions portray the rising and ending of political worlds, imagery that appears later in the Christian book of Revelation that often is used today to project the sobering imagery of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with an anticipation of the end of history.
Such is the stuff of dreams and visions in which the world is thought to be governed by transcendent powers with whom humanity contends in the transformation of our personal, social, political, and religious destinies. Within the panorama of life and death, dreams flow through our minds each night. In doing so, they offer not a prophetic portrayal of what is to be, but rather the possible meaning of our individual and social life at a given time. These "meanings" are not realized until we ponder the images, the stories, the characters, and the environments described in the dreams.
In just this way, I dreamed of a magnificent eagle that comes "from the other side," commands my attention, delivers a message, and then returns to the "other side." But, you may think, this makes no sense; the dream surely must have arisen from some incident in my life—something I ate, some event in my life, some scene I witnessed on TV or a movie, or something I read in a book.
But that was not the case. In my effort to locate the imagery of the dream in my waking life, I came away empty-handed. Only when I turned to consider seriously the imagery of the dream and its apocalyptic message did I uncover a meaning for myself.
The apocalyptic idea of the transcendent powers that govern our world made sense to me only from the perspective of Jungian depth psychology. And here, I discovered, was the key to understand not only my dream imagery but the unknown and unseen influences that have given shape to the stages of my life. This is important to note. Dreams come to us each night generally in the service of compensating our waking life by bringing us back to a "true north" location of our deep center. At no time is this as important and as difficult to understand as those times when a new direction is called for either because we have gotten off our path or because we have depleted the task of our present stage of life, and the time has come to move on. Our old "worlds" collapse or lose relevance; something new is called for—something we may not even understand, perhaps a path or situation or challenge we fear. After all, when you think about it, this most often is always the case. We do not know what we do not know, or as Carl Jung would put it, "the problem with the unconscious is it is unconscious."
Precisely. So how do we know when the time has come to say good-by to the old and take on the challenge of the unknown? In the old myth of the Knights of the Round Table, when they came to the challenge of a new task, the imagery was that of entering the "dark wood" with all its uncertainty. And each knight entered this dark wood at a different point. What guidance, then, you may ask can we look for?
And, of course, there are traditions. There are paths our family members have taken before us, there are educational and training programs that prepare us. But none of these offer specific directions as we approach the "dark wood" of a new world. After all, there never has been another "you," and like the knights of old, each of us has to enter at the point to which we have been guided or stumbled upon.
So say our dreams, in symbolic fashion. The anticipation of our transformation is encoded within the archetypal imagery of our basic humanity within which lies the age-old courage to undertake the mission of becoming who we truly are.
Maybe then, I thought, maybe the message of the eagle makes sense. Maybe this is the central mission of our human existence and transformation, to become conscious. Hear the message again: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you, it's alright."
The goal of human existence is transformation The transformation occurs in all spheres of our life and may be sudden, or very gradual, seen or not seen, expected as with the stages of our life or surprising as with the breakthrough of a discovery. The transformation may follow the contours of rational thought or the dramatic stories of dreams.
For example, consider this dream and the experience of the dreamer:
I am sitting in a circle of 10-12 people, holding some papers in my lap,
perhaps leading a discussion. We are in a contemporary cabin in the
mountains, and the fall day is sunny and beautiful with a hint of change
in the foliage. Slowly I become aware of a sound in the distance—some-
thing approaching! It sounds like the whirling blades of a helicopter—no,
more like the loud flapping of wings! This seems impossible: the bird
would have to be a very large one. Suddenly, a very large eagle appears
outside our closed sliding glass door. The drapes are open, and we can
clearly see the eagle whose wing tips tap on the glass as if it wants to
get inside. Startled, we jump up from our seats and stare at the eagle,
afraid to move any closer. The eagle slowly backs away from the door
and retreats about 100 feet from the cabin where it hovers 20 ft. or so
above the ground. We slowly open the door, move outside and stand
with our backs to the cabin. The eagle's head changes to that of a human.
I hear a voice speak: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell
you it's alright. There is more." Then the head changes back to an eagle's
head as it turns and flies away over the horizon to my left.
Where and when does this dream occur? Who is the dreamer? What is the pressing question on the dreamer's mind? What is the setting of the dream?
To begin, the season of the year must be fall as there is awareness of a change in the foliage of the mountains. Awareness of the world outside the cottage suggests it is daytime. A group of people has gathered for some unknown purpose, a study group, a business meeting, or an educational seminar. We know the state of the world generally: The Vietnam war is winding down, the Watergate crisis in government is being resolved with several high-level officials receiving jail sentences, and the social/political uneasiness in the country tilts toward peace.
Here, at this time of what seems like a transition, the dreamer bolts upright in bed, startled awake by the dream, feeling as if somehow he has been visited by a strange, mysterious guest he had not invited nor anticipated.
In the dark of the night, he sits upright in bed, waking his wife, and tells her he just had the strangest dream. "A nightmare?," she asks. "No, not a nightmare," he says. "Then what," she wants to know, still in a groggy state. "I don't know," he slowly gets the words out of his mouth and continues, "but my life will never be the same."
And it was not. Why? The disturbing dream could not be associated with the external events of the dreamer's world. Nor could he locate the dream in his personal life as a minister in a progressive Protestant church that had provided him a meaningful and fulfilling life in the pastoral duties of caring for people throughout the life and death events that make up the duties of all care-givers whose occupation is cura animarum, the ancient Church's care of souls.
Against the backdrop of the dreamer's personal life and pastoral responsibilities, the dreamer searched for some clue to understand the eagle's appearance and its mysterious message, "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you it's alright." The dreamer could think of no helpful clue. Except for one.
There, in the middle of the night, his heart still racing and his mind scrambling through the events of his life, he remembered a group he attended a few times. The group focused on the psychology of Carl Jung and recommended a resource for the study of symbols. The dreamer passed the night finally falling back to sleep but not before writing the dream with as much detail as he could remember and then searching through his journal for the name of the book on symbols. A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot, published by the Philosophical Library of New York.
At the time of the dream, there was no internet service, nor did the library possess the book. Several days went by before Cirlot's book finally arrived, a relatively brief time that felt like an age for the dreamer who could not turn loose the eagle and its message. Then finally came the book and its reference to the symbolism of the eagle with these words: "A symbol of height, of the spirit as the sun, and of the spiritual principle in general. ... Similarly, in Christianity, the eagle plays the role of a messenger from heaven."
There it was! In the dreamer's mind and throughout ecclesiastical history the eagle has appeared as a messenger. How could it be that a dream image, the eagle, appeared as it had appeared in the ancient history of the Church as well as in other legends, myths, and religions? He had never encountered an eagle in his waking life and knew of the eagle's symbolism only in a limited way, most generally as a symbol of freedom, strength, and courage, and most importantly as the national bird of the United States, spreading its wings on the Great Seal of our country since 1782, against the protest of Benjamin Franklin who lobbied for a turkey!
As for the eagle's symbolism in Christianity to which Cirlot refers, the dreamer knew of the eagle lecturn in churches on which the Bible rests, symbolizing the Word of God to be carried to the far reaches of the world. Also, the dreamer recalled occasional references in scripture to the eagle, such as Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11. In addition, the Gospel of John has historically been associated with the Eagle because its language connotes spiritual heights rather than biographical or historical details.
However, in the dream, the eagle and its message do not conform to any specific religious or nationalistic imagery. Rather, the eagle alerts an indistinguishable group from an indefinite point over the horizon with a most specific message that is not located in scripture, history, mythology, legend, or the humanities. In the dream, the eagle's head changes to that of an unrecognized human, speaks plainly and simply, and returns over the horizon from which it came.
What did this dreaming experience come to mean to the dreamer? How did it transform his life? What might this dream and other such dreams mean to us today? What role do they play in human consciousness and transformation? This will be the topic of my next writing. There is also another fundamental question: Is the dreamer sharing the truth of this dreaming experience? Can we trust him? To which I can only say, I do. I am the dreamer.
Robots do not feel anxiety; humans do.
Robots do not dream; humans do.
Robots do not meditate; humans do.
Consider these statements, beginning with our anxiety. Think about what has happened to us just within the past decade. We suffered a political upheaval that threatened the existence of our democracy itself; we fear for the safety and well-being of our citizens as violence has come increasingly to be accepted as a model for settling differences; we now know our planet heads toward a climatic catastrophe; racial tensions bubble ongoingly in personal life and within the institutions of our society; we have been brought to our knees by a minute virus that seems not to have finished with us yet, while other pathogens loom just over the horizon; war rages in Ukraine and threatens world peace.
I could go on, but you know this litany very well yourself. No wonder then that our anxiety escalates while we wait for the next blow to fall, or for a forthcoming rescue at the hands of our scientific promises in medicine and technology, of which AI, or artificial intelligence, commands more than its share of attention, with the breakthrough of Chatbot that writes articles, comprises poems, mimics Shakespeare, etc., etc., while other robots paint would-be masterpieces. (And, no, my writing stumbles along without the advice of our robotic friends, who probably are shaking their heads at my musings.)
Speaking of which, however, here is another anxiety not included in the list above — the drama anticipated decades ago in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," when "Hal," the heuristically programmed algorithmic computer, assumes not only control of the spaceship's systems but command over the human astronauts.
Of course, as one of my friends suggested, many of our so-called humans have long operated with either no intelligence or "artificial intelligence," meaning the quirky personality trait of fake or phony role playing that belies any quality of authenticity.
Here we come upon the theme that evokes our interest in what is truly "human," that which signals the way of human existence and the way of robotic transience. Human existence is endowed with Meaning; robotic transience is directed toward function. Human existence moves toward erotic union; robotic transience operates toward singular purpose. Human existence dwells within the countless centuries of an unfathomable creation; robotic transience will always be traced back to the human engineering of mechanics and the homo sapien as technocrat.
Importantly, human beings dream; robots do not. Human beings meditate; robots do not. And here are the quintessential qualities not only of human existence, but of human authenticity. The closer we move toward robotic transience, the greater is our loss of authenticity.
What makes us most profoundly human are the awakening of consciousness, our moral sense, the moral instinct, and the desire to love and to be loved. Within this consciousness comes the realization of human freedom, not to operate with a calculated program, but to have a capacity to choose between alternative courses of action while considering the consequences of each.
Is this then as some people may suppose yet another packaged program of morality as proposed by religious organizations of different stripes? And, yes, while that no doubt is at work within our paths of becoming human, the so-called religious programming is not the root of human consciousness. That root within all human beings is the capacity to dream and to meditate.
Why is the dream important? Carl Jung expresses it this way in his Collected Works Vol. 16, para. 304:
The dream comes in as the expression of an involuntary unconscious
psychic process beyond our control of the conscious mind. It shows
the inner truth and reality ... as it really is; not as I conjectore it to
be, and not as [we] would like it to be, but as it is.
In other words, I cannot hide me from myself. I cannot conjure up a way of acting or speaking contrary to the truth without my psyche observing this deceit and the resulting compromise of my authentic self. In this way our dreams serve a most important function, that is the compensation of my conscious life. There is no hiding place.
Of course, I can ignore, suppress, or repress, conveniently "forget" my dreams. But they will continue to come. Dreams are relentless in the service of compensating my words, deeds, false impressions of myself, but also my deepest fears and anxieties.
In addition, when I sit quietly in meditation, images arise, memories flood my mind, paths taken and not taken, wounds I inflicted upon others, wounds suffered myself, lies and misrepresentations of myself and the truth—all of these appear again and again in my dreams and meditations. But also may appear portals I might pass through, possibilities I have never considered, potential to be explored, fearful actions to be taken awaiting my courage.
This is not to say that I can remedy the floating anxieties of the world beyond my reach. Nor can I solve all the inner stressors that flood my mind with anxiety. But I must do what I can, and I may find guidance to resolve my greatest concerns.
And with that attitude comes an unexpected peace of mind. Even on the way to their death, criminals and/or terminal patients refer to the resolution of their fear, making amends where that is possible, seeking appropriate closure that presents itself, taking actions that may be taken—much of which appears in our dreams and meditation.
There is much to be anxious about at this present moment. And there indeed are many things to be feared, but fear itself need not be one of them. How to stand in this chaotic moment we may not know, but our dreams do. And robots do not dream or meditate, but humans do.
Historically and traditionally, this time of the year, midwinter, has brought festivities for people around the world. We kiss under the mistletoe, exchange presents, light bon-fires, string lights around our abodes, burn candles, travel to sacred places, return "home" to visit families and friends, tell stories, consider themes of death and life, celebrate new beginnings and eat more than we need.
This year the winter solstice came on December 21st. Already we had trimmed our Christmas tree, hung the garlands and stockings, wrapped presents, mailed cards, and felt the warm glow of receiving letters, cards, texts, and calls from old friends and family members. We valued the meaning of Kwanzaa for our African-American friends as they plan to exchange gifts and join in the revelry of deep friendships and the heroic heritage of long-passed family members.
My heritage being that of Christmas celebrations, I return again and again to the meaningful rituals of listening to Montavani's great Christmas music while we trim our tree, pour the eggnog, and exchange ideas of what we might do this Christmas. Will we attend the annual performance of Handel's Messiah, participate in the neighborhood lighting of its Christmas tree, remember to go outside and watch our neighbors valiantly gather together with their riding lawn mowers for another neighborhood Christmas parade, and puzzle together around the question of what we might give our daughter and granddaughter who will be heading off to college this next September.
So, if you have read this far, you may feel saturated with my personal "spirit of Christmas." I understand if this is so. The many years that have passed since my childhood have brought no less joy in the Christmas, Yuletide, midwinter season. I love all of it even as I recognize that many do not, and also that others celebrate this season within their own traditions or not at all. Even so, we may still celebrate our common life, we may grieve over the too pervasive suffering while we try to do all we can to bring support and healing, and we may pause in this too-hectic rush of our distracted lives to give thanks for those who have cared for us and made possible the meanings we have shared and our experience of a unity of spirit that heals. In that spirit, we work and pray for a new year that may arise from this deep, dark winter with hope, peace, joy, and love for all people.
And, as we would say in our family,
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
It's that time of year again. I turn my worn and ragged calendar of 2022 to the last month — December. This has always been a wonderful month for me with memorable images of warm times with my family, gatherings to sing the old Christmas carols, giving-receiving-opening presents, the visit of Santa Claus himself who seemed to make his way mysteriously down the chimney to deliver presents which I deeply yearned for and trusted I had been good enough to receive, snow occasionally, church services late at night, forcing myself to sleep on Christmas Eve, playing with my cousins and hoping I might get a peep of Santa himself.
Some of those joys, fantasies, and exhilarating moments tempered with time, but not completely. I continue to cherish a deeper memory of Christmas as a time for giving presents and awakening an expectant hope that sometimes struggles mightily to survive in the hurly-burly of competitive life driven by power, money, and the competition for advancement.
Still I turn to the somewhat mysterious poem of Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," written in 1923, evoking the charm of Vermont's snowy Christmas times, but also the encounter with something quite "Other" and unexplained in an opening between the woods and a lake. Frost tells the story of that encounter in this poem.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Ah, yes, the horse knows something is going on out of sight, but felt, contained within the feelings welling up in Frost, perhaps a memory, maybe even an encounter of years past or even in a recent dream, a story he has read, or the chorus of dead poets. The horse knows something is beckoning.
Many of our encounters are just that, beckoning! A person, a place, a situation, a long-forgotten dream, the cry of a child, the death of a loved one—all of these and more we encounter along life's way. These are not "meetings." These encounters are not planned, likely not expected, sometimes dreaded and scary, sometimes hoped-for and happy. And in many cases, they are transformational. They change lives in some fashion, perhaps in great ways or in little ways. but our life becomes transformed in ways that may or may not be evident to our family and/or friends. We feel feelings long forgotten or never known, we think thoughts that we never knew we could think, we experience transformations deep in our body, and one's actions leap along in new ways—sometimes in new directions. Sometimes we discover courage we never knew we held, strength to lift burdens we thought were too heavy to bear, heights to attain of which we did not feel capable or even worthy. Such is the experience of transformation; such is the experience of that encounter.
But now a warning. It is this: We do not always recognize the encounters. For example, even in the most powerful of dreams, we may dismiss them as "just a dream." Sometimes in the passing of a friend or a situation or a concert event, we may think it's just a friend, just a situation, just the concert event, experiences whose meaning we overlook. But, in fact, these encounters may well be clues to the deeper meaning of our existence, our time, and our world.
In other words, much happens in the space and time of what might be dismissed as meaningless encounters. Consider again Frost's poem. His subtlety lets us in on a mystery. Whose "woods" are these really? What prompts him to pause on his journey? What intrigues him about this open space between woods and lake? It is not nothing; it is indeed something. But what do we say about it, and why does this matter anyway?
I think it matters because this brings us back to what I was describing at the beginning of this writing when I referred to the feelings, thoughts, and sensations I experienced this time of the year as a child. I think it is the incredible experience of being human—the encounter with Being itself. You might say it is a state of mind because the experience certainly is that, but more than that. The encounter with Being is an experience of awe, wonder, enchantment, reverence, and amazement that makes our life worthwhile and transforms our existence.
Note also, however, that Frost does not indulge himself with that encounter of the empty space between woods and lakes when he passes in his journey. He does not linger, because he has "promises to keep."
And our deeper encounters are like that. They transform our preoccupations with our own enjoyment by bringing to mind a deeper purpose in life. We want to share the experience with others. This is a truly fascinating quality that has evolved in our centuries-old journey of becoming human. Actually, we are not selfish beings down deep inside. Any self-centeredness we experience in our being may be transformed by the wonder of our deep encounters and the remembrance that we have "promises to keep."
Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, copyright again in 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc. renewed 1951, by Robert Frost.
My editor and I went around and around on the wording of this blog's title. First, there was the question of why I am focusing on the word and idea of entertainment Once that was somewhat settled, next came the question of my choice of the word "enchanted."
Now, I recognize that this blog will likely not be read at the United Nations, or even the council of "Building Better Mousetraps: Inc." Nor am I in any way posing as a political commentator on current events. I am simply a psychotherapist who listens to people confused by, disturbed by, and scared by the political happenings in our world at the time of this writing—a time when our living rooms seem to be invaded by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
And so, when I sit down to write my blog, I reflect the themes and concerns of people who come to me for counsel. Most often, I find that the frequent disturbing feature of peoples' problems come about because of their unawareness—for example, their unawareness of just how drenched they are in the ever-flowing cascade of entertainment from the commercials we watch on TV, to the raucous political bombardment of our fragmented society, to the programmatic offerings of our megachurches, to the family squabbles that threaten to torpedo our fast-approaching holiday season.
But, as my editor will no doubt point out, I have slipped here on what might appear to be editorializing commentary on current events, and thereby I have drifted away from the theme of what I hope to discuss in this blog. But have I really drifted away? Or, am I perchance smack dab in the middle of our public world in which we cannot be sure if we are bewitched by entertainment or if we are enchanted by the source of the entertainment.
In other words, as I stressed to my editor, our world has become a platform for entertainment in which we emulate the actors and actresses who are paid to entertain us, or the preachers who perform for us, or the politicians who occupy the frontier of current events, oscillating between exposing and being exposed, which is as one of my acquaintances said, "the most entertaining show in town" of which there are many, many offerings.
This is today's "world of entertainment." How did this never-ending feature show come to be? Oh, so many sources, and so many means, and so many projectors operating 24/7.
But let's begin at the beginning. And that would be our very precious infants lying in their very comfortable cribs, on their backs staring up and fascinated by the moving mobiles above their heads. Why do we do that? As most child physicians and psychologists tell us, these mobiles enable young children in several ways: (1) They bring awareness of the world to the baby, (2) They strengthen eye muscle development, (3) They encourage eye, hand coordination, (4) They evoke curiosity, (5) They assist the infant in judging distance,
(6) They redirect the children's focus from only physical sensations of the body while encouraging a fascination with the outer world, (7) They may provide soothing melodies that calm the infant while also stimulating the auditory cortex that identifies and analyzes music in the cerebellum impacting pitch, melody, rhythm, and tonality in addition to cognitive skills.
In other words, mobiles provide an early life work-out that will impact blood pressure, anxiety, one's shifting mood, as well as memory, in addition to the processing of dreams that involve the entire brain. No wonder, then, that we sing to our infants while we rock them, and the movements lead the babies to stare at the parent with wonder and fascination.
Is this entertainment? Or is it a comforting behavior that provides a calming sensation. I maintain that it is both. And here, at this point in my writing, we come to the theme of this blog. I am not referring only to the enchantment of our infants but to each of us. Entertainment has enchanted the American mind and thereby disempowered our capacity to engage in rational discourse.
Think about that. Why has our society become so irrationally fragmented? Why has one television network poisoned the mind's natural tendency to think critically, to engage in a rational understanding of the difference between democracy and authoritarianism? Why have we as a society been so slow to recognize the precarious precipice upon which our planet's climate hangs? Why have we been unable to stop the gun violence which accounts for one or more mass shootings each week, to the point where we are afraid to send our children to school, afraid they will not be safe?
I could go on, but here is the unspoken truth: There is a perverse entertainment in the dark side of human nature and the shadow side of our society. Why do we slow down to look at wrecked cars on our highways? Why do we gravitate to the horror movies even when it is not Halloween? Why do we feel drawn to the horrifying scenes of natural catastrophes such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes? Because they are entertaining and this entertainment has a quality of enchantment.
Entertainment is an archetypically driven experience that has been a part of human nature from the beginning. Consider this definition of entertainment from Wikipedia:
a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience
or gives pleasure and delight. It can be an idea or a task, but is more
likely to be one of the activities or events that have developed over
thousands of years specifically for the purpose of keeping an
However, not only is entertainment an innate activity of human nature, it has now been polished to enhance its appearance with all the enticements made possible by technology that shapes appearance and image.
Historically, behind the forces shaping images that entertain us were the masters of enchantment. Think back to the earliest records of our human history and you will uncover the clever manipulations of ancient chantors (sometimes spelled "chanters") and you will wind up in the dark realm of the shape shifters, sorcerers, witches, wizards, charmers, conjurers, magicians, etc.
If you think much about this, you will come to the point of recognizing that the enchanters manipulate the reality we experience, or manipulate the way we experience the reality, or manipulate the observer. In any case, this is one of the earliest experiences of entertainment.
Such enchantment may be used in religious rites to cure illnesses. It may be used to manipulate powers of the psyche and external world. Or, it may be used for commercial profit. And, of course, throughout many of these experiences and even as an end in itself, such enchantment may be used for entertainment.
It is no wonder, then, that people who come to my office may feel quite confused about what is real. It is no wonder that one of the disabling currents of thought in our society is the threat that anything spoken or believed may be misinformation. And the result of this disabling system of communicating is that it undermines civil discourse. How compelling are the "snake-handlers"! How entertaining the enchantments in our fragmented political world. And how deceitfully dangerous!
Still, it is good to recall that all "snake oil salesmen" cannot stay long; they pass on. Having charmed and entertained audiences with the promise of their one and only elixir for making life better, the enchanters have to move on, either because they are found out, or because their charm fades when losing its entertaining enchantment.
May it be so today.
WHAT KINGDOM ARE YOU FROM?
In an ancient story of how a place (country, land, province, town, etc.) shapes our personal life, and how we shape a place where we live, a young knight comes upon a barren land that has become infertile. The crops are dying; in fact, all vegetation droops as if under some kind of spell. Looking more closely at a still body of water, the prince notices an old man hunched over in his small boat, fishing and catching nothing.
Haunted by the somber tone of the land around him, the knight rides on, following a path that leads finally to an old castle, itself bearing the scars of time, old battles waged, and roof coverings that need repair. "What is going here," he wondered. Drawing closer, he follows the drawbridge across the muddy moat, finds a place to stable his horse, discovers a vacant room where he might spend the night, and prepares for sleep when he hears noise from a distant room in the castle which he supposed at one time must have been a bright and happy banquet hall. Curious, he decides cautiously to explore the increasingly mysterious old castle that is located in an even more mysterious and depressing countryside.
Following the sounds from the old banquet hall, the knight picks up the low level chatter of human voices and arrives at an entrance way to the dull light of shadowed walls with men and women gathered for what must be some event. They pay no mind to the knight, but seem to have prepared a place where he can sit and observe, almost as if the company of "lords and ladies" may have mysteriously expected him.
The knight sits at a small round table with others who pay him no attention, focusing instead on the dias elevated by a small dimly lit stage at the center of the room. The earlier chatter grew dimmer and dimmer until finally nothing could be heard in the disturbing silence. Then, suddenly but quietly and reverently, two stretcher bearers entered the banquet hall. Propped on the stretcher that appeared to serve as a pillowed cot was the old man who had earlier been seen fishing. Apparently he could not walk by himself, and the young knight could not be sure the old man could even speak as he said nothing, but obviously was a person of importance, a Fisher King.
Silently but meticulously, the Fisher King was served and proceeded to eat as did the men and women of his kingdom, as did the knight. There was no dancing, no music, no merriment. Finally, the knight could stand the tension no longer, stood awkwardly and was about to ask the bed-ridden Fisher King, "What ails you?" But he did not ask the question, and feeling embarrassed that he had drawn attention to himself, he quickly moved his chair aside and hurriedly made his way to the door—but not before noticing how the lords and ladies looked at him when he stood. The look was not one of anger or even surprise, but almost a look of anticipation and hope, or so the knight thought, while realizing he could be wrong about what he saw. In fact, he wondered if any of this was real. Was he dreaming? Had he lost his mind? Was his mind playing tricks on him?
The young knight's name was Perceval, a name that appears first in the story by Chrétien de Troyes (1130-1190 CE), "Perceval, The Story of the Grail." Another elaboration of the story comes to us from the pen of Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170-1220 CE) who names the knight, Parzival, which serves also as the title for Wolfram's work. The story thrusts itself in the Arthurian legends with attention on "the quest of the Holy Grail," in which with the influence of the Church, the quest became a search for mystical union with God.
My brief summary of this grand and noble story is a loose rendering, with the aim of noting a secondary theme. This theme is the identification we humans tend to make with a place, and how this identification becomes fateful. For example, consider the moving conclusion of the Jewish Yom Kippur service when the liturgy proclaims, "Next year in Jerusalem"! This represents a peoples' escape from slavery in Egypt and the experience of freedom —physically, spiritually, communally—in the new Land of Israel, a place and the symbol of deliverance and hope.
Consider also how Muslims undertake the Hajj Pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, which all able-bodied Muslims are required to perform once in their lifetime. The Pilgrimage, undertaken in some cases with canes or crutches, follows the route taken by the Prophet Mohammed, as Abraham and Ishmael are also thought to have traveled. The modern-day pilgrims make their journey to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca and the sacred site of a cube-shaped Kaaba which is understood to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael thousands of years ago as a house of monotheistic worship. Viewed reverently as a metaphorical house of God, who is One, Muslims around the world turn their face toward the Kaaba during each of the five daily prayers.
We observe how for Jews and Muslims, these places shape their thoughts, prayers, and ritualistic life. But more, and this psychologically is very important, a "place" can also become a state of mind. And with that thought, I return to the story of the Fisher King. Why had the land become infertile, void of life and meaning? The land had become a state of mind for the Fisher King, or the Fisher King's state of mind became the fate of the land, bringing barrenness, meaninglessness, and joylessness.
What hope then was there? As the story unfolds, Perceval visits the castle not once but twice. On the first visit as I described it, Perceval burns with a question for the King, but never asks it. On his second visit, the same drama presents itself but with one exception.
The exception for Perceval's second visit to the Fisher King's castle is this: Perceval asks the question. It is a very human question, an authentic question that escapes the entrapment of role-playing human encounters. Of course, roles may serve the purpose of providing services that help people and saves lives even in some cases. But role-playing can also become wooden, formulaic, inauthentic, and deadly.
Much depends upon our state of mind, because our state of mind is the place in which we live. Our state mind is our inner kingdom, so to speak. And now we understand Perceval's second visit to the Fisher King's castle. The Fisher King had not changed; he and the land were still in a desultory state of mind but Perceval was not. And he asked the very human, authentic question of the king: "What is the reason of your illness?"
"Yes, there is an illness; yes, your state of mind is ill, and your illness has infected the land." And with that consciousness, the Fisher King and the land were healed.
Were it so easy, you might be thinking. We live in a time of rancorous divisions. Our "land" holds many "kingdoms," many states of mind. This includes the bellicose voices that seek power, control, domination, and authoritarianism, a way of life that deadens the human spirit as the land of the Fisher King was oppressed. And we come now as did Perceval to ask the authentic question carrying the weight of history: "What ails us?"
A SOCIETY AT ODDS WITH ITSELF: How We Lost Our Mind and Where We Might Go Looking
What is "MIND?" Each of us has a mind. What is it?
Definitions include the following: a person's attention, a memory, the intellect, awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations, memories; but also fantasies, dreams, and creations. In other words, our mind is a storehouse but also a function of our being that solves problems and projects a future, a glimpse not only of who we have been but also of who we yet may be.
But we have lost our mind. Why do I say that? Because we are at odds with ourselves. We are not of the mind to consider that future in which a healthy society finds meaning creating. This is what it means to EXIST, not just to live. Many creatures "live," but as far as we know, they do not experience the meaning of human existence in its fulness of human CONSCIOUSNESS.
When we are conscious we dwell within the far reaches of human potential; but when we lose our mind, we experience unconsciousness. To be unconscious is to dwell within the stupor of depression, anxiety, anger, aggression, envy. We might say then that the aim of human existence is consciousness. Looking at this from the perspective of human evolution, the time-line in which consciousness arose would include these developments:
Of course, this "time-line" is quite simple when compared to the more detailed descriptions of humanity's emergence. My intention, however, is to describe most simply the backdrop to our present-day crisis: the loss of our mind. In other words, I want to make it clear that I am not talking about our present political craziness, of which there is plenty in our 24/7 parade of political stupidity.
But I am not talking about our present insanity and its mindlessness. I am concerned that we as a society seem not to be conscious. We have lost our mind. Consciousness is the TRUTH of our existence. To hold a truth is the most blessed of human experiences because truth separates the REAL from the UNREAL. How incredibly wonderful this is, to realize TRUTH exists, that it has its home within consciousness, and is guarded and enjoyed by our mind.
Now, however, we are in danger because we lost our mind. Consciousness has dimmed, and truth is mistaken for lies, misinformation, irrationality, all of which fuel the obsession of power that is available for the highest bidder. The intoxicating allure of power threatens our personal lives when our society has lost its mind.
Where will we find our lost mind? In MEMORY. Memory is a bridge over forever, and memory is the great Mother. She has given birth to our greatest triumphs as well as our most tragic defeats. She has inspired humanity's greatest artistic achievements and informed the warriors who fought our world wars; she has witnessed our footprints on the moon, and mourned the burial of our dead in the catastrophes of our epidemics.
Within memory's legacy, we may find our lost mind, as we recall George Santayana's warning: "A country without a memory is a country of madmen."