The ten oxherding pictures of the Zen tradition make a wonderful portrayal of a lifetime. In the first, the young man is looking for the ox. In the second, he finds the footprints of the ox. In the third, he sees the ox. In the fourth, he wrestles with the ox. In the fifth, he’s seated upon the ox. In the sixth, he’s riding off with the ox. The seventh is blank. That’s curious. You can make all kinds of things out of that. In the eighth, he’s returning the ox to the field. In the ninth, the ox is in the field and the man is walking away. In the tenth, which is possibly the most beautiful statement I’ve heard in my life, the man, now old, is utterly indistinguishable from anyone else as he walks through the village streets. No one notices him, but the trees all burst into blossom. This is the best definition of enlightenment I’ve found.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
There are a legends and predictions throughout the world of the once and future king, someone who has brought about a Golden Age and promises to come back in the future to restore it. King Arthur is one. He was the great and noble king who brought England together in the sense we know it now. It is said that he didn’t die at the end of his reign in England. He was transported to the isle of Avalon, a place of healing, and offered, when needed, to come back. The magician Merlin, the introverted aspect of the Arthurian story, also as he was leaving, said, “I will come back to you again.” In Mexico, just before his death, the God-King Quetzalcoatl promised to come back if he was needed.
According to Indian mythology, an avatar is sent to the earth every thousand years, and at other times when there are special difficulties. Buddha was one. India today is full of rumors that a new avatar has been born, that he’s only a boy at present, but when he comes to maturity, he will step forth and be a new savior, a new avatar. If we take this literally, we will probably be disappointed. They come and they go. But in an interior sense, it’s possible. A point of intersection between our time-bound world and eternity exists for us, and that’s salvation. I’m fascinated with this promise of a return — the once and future king. It’s a glorious promise that can give us hope.
The British philosopher Owen Barfield said something that still reverberates in my mind every day. He said, “Literalism is idolatry.” If you take the inner world literally into our time-space world, you lose it.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was in love with the church and devoted to it. But as I grew older, I became critical and left the church. I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Later, I read a medieval text that made Christianity real for me again. It said that Christ is constantly being conceived, constantly being born in his stable, constantly confounding the elders, constantly being tried by Judas, constantly being crucified, constantly resurrecting, and, most wonderful of all, constantly in his second coming.
But when we take this story out of literalism and into the interior world, which has no time and no space, we have an immediate, living fact. If we take the full story of Christianity inwardly, as a timeless fact, these possibilities are available for us to touch when we’re ready, or perhaps even when we choose. The Second Coming is not just available to us; it is beating on our doors.
Envision the Second Coming as an inner reality that takes place on the eighth day of the week. Eight is a symbol of infinity, as you can see when you turn the eight (8) on its side. A Baptismal font has eight sides to indicate that when a child is baptized, he’s initiated into the eight-sided consciousness, eternity. In symbolism, there is nothing past eight. You’ve annihilated the cyclic nature and completed life.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 12:18 PM
Friday, April 25, 2008
Romantic love is a profoundly religious experience by which we all can grow or falter. It is a painful fact that a good deal of what passes for romance is actually our own unlived life reflected back to us.
Take a few moments to look back on your personal relationships. What were the qualities that made your love interests attractive when you first met? What made them shine? Those qualities that we most admire in a prospective partner are those unlived potentials that are ripe for development within ourselves. When we awaken to a new possibility in our lives, we see it first in another person. A part of us that has been hidden is about to emerge, but it doesn’t go in a straight line from the unconscious to consciousness. It travels by way of an intermediary. We project our developing potentials onto someone, and suddenly we’re consumed with him or her. The first inkling that something in us is attempting to change is when we see another person sparkle for us.
This is how we grow, but if we do not become conscious of unlived life our projections will undermine intimate relationships. As a relationship progresses, so often we demand that others fill in our missing pieces rather than utilizing the relationship for mutual growth in consciousness. No one notices at the time, but in-loveness obliterates the humanity of the beloved, for we are really looking at our own incipient potentials. And precisely because we have not reclaimed these as our own, we act out unfinished business and relive old wounds with the very people we profess to love. So often we unfairly require our partners to carry what is unlived in us. By observing what we attribute to the other person, we can see our own depth and meaning.
Love, as practiced from the egocentric perspective, is finding someone to use. “I love you because you are good for me, you complete me.” I once heard a client say that she had broken up with her husband because “he doesn’t fulfill my needs anymore.” Now she wanted to use someone new to get her requirements met. In contrast to this, love is the understanding of the identity of oneself and the beloved. That’s the only true union that a human being is capable of realizing, otherwise it is just casting about for mutually agreeable bargains. People think that hate is the opposite of love. Actually power is the opposite of love. Love is identity with the other, while power is the desire to control the other for our own purposes. In our culture, mutual projection is regarded as the prerequisite for marriage.
As one painfully honest young man recently told me, explaining why he was filing for divorce, “I’ve fallen out of love. She just doesn’t satisfy my soul anymore.” I couldn’t help myself from replying, “Well, what did you expect?”
If we could only understand that expecting someone else to carry our unlived life is acceptable only for a period of time — until we get stronger — and someday it must come to an end. We aren’t wise in this respect, and it’s one of the most painful issues in our culture. When, six months or one year or thirty years after the marriage began, the relationship “isn’t working,” we don’t recognize that it’s high time for us to withdraw our projection and actually relate to the person — our partner, our spouse.
When you ask someone in a relationship to incubate your unlived life for you, try to be conscious of what you’re doing. If you ask someone to carry that numinous, glow-in-the-dark quality, understand that doing so will obscure him or her from you as a person. Naming the process helps. That’s the beginning. Why do I have this feeling when I look at such-and-such a person? Do I really see him or her? Do I truly love this person, or am I putting a bell jar over my beloved, which will obliterate the real person from my sight?
Most of the time, we are not conscious of this; our unlived life is bouncing around out of sight and out of control. It’s a serious problem, how much we project in our relationships. We see our own unlived potentials reflected as in a mirror, not the true reality of other people or the outside world. The exchange of projections takes place much more frequently than you might realize, and so you must try to be conscious of it and do what you can to reclaim it as your own. The first half of life feeds on projections – this is how the unconscious becomes conscious. If we did not project idealism and love, we might never leave home. However, in the second half of the journey our projected values, hopes, and dreams lose some of their magical power. Our illusions are disillusioned. It must be so if we are to collect our own missing pieces and become more whole.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 8:35 AM
The word “symbol” is as mysterious to most modern people as the word soul. A clue to understanding is found in the etymology of the words symbol and cymbal. There is the brass instrument in which two metal pieces are crashed together to make a composite sound, (cymbal), and then there is a symbol,” which stands for something else, often something invisible, intangible, and unknown. The root of these words is the Greek sumballein, which means “to throw together,” and we might say that the symbolic process is putting back together that which has been torn apart, that which has been split or set aside. It is the power of symbols that heals the oppositions of ordinary consciousness. This is a healing power that we need so desperately in modern life.
Symbolic language does not primarily differentiate; it fuses things into one another. For example, a flower in a poem opens itself up to diverse possibilities. As the conscious mind explores a symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason
One of C.G. Jung’s great contributions to psychology was re-discovering for us the healing power of symbolic life. It’s not a new idea. All of our religious systems are filled with wonderful symbol systems. But something seems to have gone wrong with them for so many today. As we have become more rational, driven, and materialistic, we have lost the power of many traditional symbols, though we have not lost our need for them.
We may think we have shrugged off the need for symbolic life. Instead of having a periodic holy fast – a meaningful, symbolic action that many wisdom traditions prescribe – we’ve become slaves to perennial diets, a low-grade ritual without connection to something deeper in the unconscious. Instead of saying a blessing or a prayer when crossing one of life’s thresholds, we check and double check our appearance in the mirror, twist a strand of hair, light a cigarette, or drink a cup of coffee.
To a great extent we have lost contact with the symbolic depths. But the power of symbols and symbolic sensibility to daily life is still there. If you will observe your own naturally occurring symbols and relate to them through simple rituals, tailor-made for your situation, then much of the old power of symbolic life is experienced again.
Every night in your dreams symbols arise naturally, for dreams happen and are not invented. Dreams integrate the different energies of our being utilizing symbols that seem to preexist in the unconscious. If you dream of fruit salad you had for dinner last night, the dream is speaking of that as a symbol, not just telling you what you already know, the dinner menu. A symbol pulls together qualities, ideas, or experiences that to the conscious mind seem separate or even contradictory. Symbols integrate and heal the splitness of modern life and open us to new possibilities. To read your life, the daily events of life, symbolically will render it meaningful and filled with possibilities. To see everything literally is to stay on the surface of life.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 8:30 AM
If God is anything, surely that divine force that we palpably experience in times of crisis is … what is. You must sit quietly in that still point at the center, without fear, desire, or expectation. If you will stop fighting what is, you can remove half the suffering. Love will heal the half that remains.
During a recent family medical crisis I found daily meditation upon the following prayer quite useful:
Oh God, refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in thy hand. Thou art my guide and my refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved. I will be a happy and joyful being. I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. O God, thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to thee. -- Abdu'l-Baha
Posted by ruhljohnson at 8:28 AM
“As a doctor it is my task to help the patient to cope with life. I cannot presume to pass judgment on his final decisions, because I know from experience that all coercion – be it suggestive, insinuation, or an other method of persuasion – ultimately proves to be nothing but an obstacle to the highest and most decisive experience of all, which is to be alone with his own self…The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”
-- C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 12 Psychology and Alchemy, para 32.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 8:26 AM
Saturday, April 5, 2008
My desert house has been one of the miraculous events that seem to fall out the skies without any intelligence required from me.
The story - let's call it the 'falling' - began something like thirty five years ago when I got up courage enough to explore my love for the desert. I knew nothing to do but to pack up my car and drive east over the Coast Range and watch the forest increase with the 6,000-foot altitude, only to fall over the top range and abruptly decent into the desert which is below sea level in Laguna Salada. What a dramatic drive, which never fails to thrill me even after so many journeys! I have a curious faculty of recalling events that become lifelong memories at particular places: rain squalls, snow fall, below freezing temperatures that startle even a new Californian, the time two mountain lions were startled by my sudden appearance, took refuge in a tall pine tree, only to get into a battle and fall from the tree to the ground in a snarling noisy ball of fur. Most of all the journeys thrilled me with the change in altitude, then humidity.
I found a barren bit of desert, spread out my sleeping bag and explored temperatures from freezing to 120F (the highest I have ever experienced).
Time was aware of the desert magic and condensed along with the desert dryness. A week of solitude vanished into its own version of eternity and the loneliness that has been my companion for so much of life vanished. That enigma still remains unsolved, but more than half a lifetime of mountain and desert magic have taught me the alchemical art of turning loneliness into solitude. That remains as much mystery as ever, but it is more plausible in desert or mountains than in any of our modern constructions.
There are wonderful living creatures in the desert: rattlers, sidewinders, rosy boas, tarantulas, chipmunks, large and small, coyotes, and big horn sheep, birds in wonderful migrations. I learned about them even before I came to fear some of them.
Sleeping bags spread out on the sand offer little protection, but the desert seemed not to require any. This went on for several years, vastly differing, and humidity. color. wildflowers, sunrises to make the heart sing, winds to drive one to the bottom of the sleeping bag.
One November night I bedded down in my bag already cold and shivering, and disappeared into my cocoon. I poked my head out for an instant at a time and discovered there was a riot of shooting stars going on in an icy sky. I was not aware that I had come out for the largest of the meteor showers, and even the brightest one visible for the last several years. I was torn between watching and freezing.
My city life consisted of doing lectures in San Diego and eventually places farther away. My audiences increased in size but I observed a little old lady, snow white hair, who always sat middle front row when I gave talks in San Diego. More good things falling out of the sky for me, a friend introduced me to Bea Burch and explained that I loved the desert and often slept on the sand in that lonely place. I learned that Bea Burch and her husband had built a solitary house just near where I had settled down to play desert creature. Bea's husband had died some years ago but she kept the house to loan to her friends. It was too lonely an experience for her alone.
Bea Burch immediately offered the desert house to me, "Where I would be much safer," in her words, and soon I was making my desert trips with water and electricity.
True: it was a nodal point in my life to love my desert with the comfort of a house, but it was appropriate at that time of my life. Bea and I made friends and I was able to surmount her nearly total deafness. With the aid of my portable computer with screen we had many fine exchanges at her La Jolla house. Deafness is the most isolating experience one is likely to suffer - more so than blindness my friends tell me.
One day I asked Bea if I could purchase her desert house. She exploded in indignation and I wondered what indiscretion I had blundered into. No more mention of buying the house, but several years later she quietly mentioned
it was time for me now to buy the house.
It was an unexpected shock to me the first time I went again to the desert house. A subtle change had taken place in it! The house had depreciated with little care and I focused much of my energy to its repair.
Some equally strange alteration is taking place now, since it is my experience to stay in San Diego more of the time and loan out the house to friends. Perspectives migrate so quietly!
Posted by ruhljohnson at 8:57 PM