IMAGINARY LANDSCAPE: Making Worlds of Myth and Science, by William Irwin Thompson; St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989; hardcover.
“To construct an imaginary lost cosmology from a mere six pages of Grimm…”
Every now and then there is a book that witnesses to the sheer joy of journeying in the real of mythic imagination. In Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science, William Irwin Thompson provides as a point of departure, a brilliant reconstruction of Grimm’s Rapunzel. We are taken on an analytic journey deep into the imagery of this Marchen and discover it describes the experience of our psycho/social transformation of human evolution through historic time. We are invited to travel along on this Bateson-inspired quest to find “the pattern that connects.” Perhaps in the journeying, we might just be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a future born of observations and imaginings as bravely new and all-encompassing as the once novel notion of a round Earth. In Thompson’s words, the tale holds the very
…setting up of an order that is not simply familial or societal, but planetary; that in fact, the story is one of the setting up of a new world system with its relationships between the sexes, its new societal organizations, and it’s new arrangements of the planets in the solar system.
In touring Rapunzel’s mythic landscape, Thompson articulates for us a cultural history shaped of the stunning empirical correspondences in our myths, and the hidden mythic images in the very stuff of our sciences. We are led through Rapunzel only to find that our fairy tales
…have their roots in prehistoric darkness, and the hidden geometry that survives in them is not simply the obvious stuff of phallic symbols and devouring maws, but a lost cosmology of correspondences that connect the flowers to the stars. It requires an act of the imagination to bring it forth, much in the same way it required an act of the imagination to look in a new war at the dripping of a faucet.
Literally, Thompson asks for a revisioning of the very geography of what we view in out mind’s eye. It is no less than an excursion to the most compelling of new paradigm horizons.
As companions on this journey, lest we be unconvinced of the potential vistas, Thompson invites four friends to join us- Ralph Abraham, Jim Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, and Francisco Varela. All are pioneers in their respective fields, and witness by their work to radically different modes of looking. Through personal anecdote and empirical explication, Thompson provides passage to the very center of the correspondences between these independent thinkers.
Thompson constructs an opportunity to view through their eyes a reality literally laid down in the shaping.” We are provided an intriguing glimpse of a possible perspective, a Thompsonian cosmology that has the carrying capacity worthy of these thinkers’ paradigm-challenging research. In a vital and imaginal conversation between cognitive biology and geo-physiology, as well as non-linear Gaian and chaos dynamics, we are treated to an intimate viewing of the fullness of possibilities that outdistance the individual horizons of each of the disciplines. The most spectacular view is at the composite vista point.
Thompson divides his synthesis of this possible view into five great cosmological emergences, providing an analysis of each according to its prevailing mode of consciousness and technology, its constellated cultural identity, the concomitant cultural complex, and the resultant societal victim. He considers these evolutional realities as polities, that is, five different mental landscapes that externalize themselves in these five great emergences.
Scanning the period from the remotest Paleolithic to the present time indicated as the period of Planetization, Thompson concludes that our present emergence has as its prevailing mode of consciousness the press for participation or “attunement.” To arrive at this point, Thompson leans upon the empirical historical evidence of our contemporary experiences. To help us envisage the future, he draws upon the cosmological implication sin the research of his four friends, demonstrating that it is possible for the multi-dimensionality and “inter-relatedness of all sentient beings” to inhabit the new imaginal landscapes shaped of transformed and transforming participation.
Dealing as it does with the future, Imaginary Landscape is perhaps the most personally revealing and intimate of Thompson’s books. Here he reveals his own passions, exuberances, and cautions for the razor-edged path participatively emerging before us. This is for Thompson the “middle way of the Mind” that
…lies between the angelic height of the macrocosm and the Gaian atmosphere and the elemental depths of the microcosm of the material earth.
Here imagination is the passport, and in tribute, Thompson concludes the book with four poems, one dedicated to each of his four traveling companions. As epilogue to the text, they provide a proper container for the late-night conversations and encouragements among friends. They serve to inspire, for in the end what matters is that we, too, must cultivate together the imaginal possibilities for our brave new land.
CIRCULAR EVIDENCE, by Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews; Bloomsbury, United Kingdom; hardcover.
The resourcefulness of Mother Nature appears to be boundless. If an objective can be accomplished in two or more ways it is almost axiomatic that they will all be used in appropriate circumstances. Eyes are a good example. For most creatures, this most valuable complex of sense organs appears to have been reinvented several times during the course of evolution, and includes compound eyes and independent eyes on opposite sides of the head in some birds, fishes, and insects.
It was with such thoughts in mind that I approached the problem of crop circles. These are areas of flattened corn or other crops that appear mysteriously overnight from time to time in various places in the world. The circles can be up to 30 meters (about 33 yards) in diameter. Inside the circle the corn is flattened to the ground in a regular pattern, while beyond the circle the standing crop remains undisturbed. Most of these depressions are precisely circular, but a few elliptical ones have been noted. Multiple circles and rings circumscribing a circle have also occurred, along with straight lines and other more complex forms.
Although these phenomena appear most plentiful in the western counties of England, similar events have occurred in many countries in the last few decades. Nobody has reported seeing a circle as it is being formed, because this appears always to happen in hours of complete darkness. The assumption that these were hoax circles would require use of heavy equipment, yet no tracks have ever been found leading to the circles. It is impossible to walk through a field of standing corn with out leaving a track.
Quite recently two seemingly incompatible theories as to the origins of these crop circles have been propounded. One is that they are due entirely to natural causes, namely whirlwinds. The second is that non-human intelligence must be involved. It occurred to me that these need not be mutually exclusive: non-human intelligences might be manipulating whirlwinds or other natural forces to achieve these ends. During a discussion at a Theosophical conference at Tekels Park, Camberley, Surrey, I suggested half-jokingly that the non-human intelligences might in fact be nature spirits.
It was at this point that I came across an excellent book on the topic, Circular Evidence by Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews. It represents the work of a group of engineers and trained observers who have painstakingly investigated hundreds of these crop circles and other formations. It is highly commended to anyone seriously interested in these phenomena.
The book presents numerous "explanations" that have been put forward to explain the crop circles, and ultimately discounts all of these as implausible, concluding that unknown forces must be causing the circles.
Since the book was published, an international conference at Oxford in June 1990 sought to present whirlwinds as the definitive explanation. A whirlwind is essentially a column of rotating and rapidly rising air. This causes air to be sucked in from all directions. The damage done by whirlwinds is caused partly by objects being lifted by the rising current and partly by sideways pressure from the air rushing in. It should be obvious that such air movements are quite incapable of producing crop circles. It could almost be said that the air is moving the wrong way, because the crop within the circle is flattened and not pulled upwards. Moreover, whirlwinds are extremely noisy, and usually move across the ground at a considerable speed and are rarely stationary, so that a swath rather than a precise circle could be expected.
However, the most telling objection to whirlwinds as an explanation is the circles themselves, which invariably show sharp demarcations between the circle of flattened crops and the surrounding standing crop. This would be quite impossible to achieve with a violent column of air moving either upwards or downwards.
Attempts to duplicate the flattening effect by researchers were unsuccessful. No known natural forces could account for the characteristics of the circles. There are many reasons for concluding that these circles are not made by brute force, but by some far more subtle means. In the true circles, no real damage is done to the crop. Each stem appear s to be bent sharply at right angles close to the ground, but normal growth continues with the stem remaining in the horizontal posture.
The circles in rape crops are particularly puzzling. Rape stems are hard and brittle, particularly close to the lower end, and it is quite impossible to bend them sharply without breaking them. Yet in such circles all the stems are in fact bent without damage.
The book presents considerable detail about the numerous complexities of these crop circles, including copious illustration by diagrams and photographs.
I follow Delgado and Andrews in attributing the circles to the work of unseen intelligences. They must use natural forces to perform the actual operations, but these appear to be forces not yet recognized by science. If we examine these phenomena without prejudice we are obliged to concede the existence of superior unseen intelligences and hitherto unknown forces in nature. Moreover, these are not evanescent phenomena such as materializations at séances seen by only a few people. They are massive demonstrations persisting for many weeks, and available for inspection and photographing by many people.
For the moment it seems we are being provided with irrefutable evidence and are being left alone to ponder upon its meaning. Further enlightenment seems probable in the years to come.
E. LESTER SMITH
THE EYE OF THE HEART: Portraits of Passionate Spirituality, by Harry W. Paige; Crossroad; paper.
The Eye of the Heart takes its title from a Lakota word describing a way of seeing that is "not with the eyes alone but with the heart," a way that is meant to complement our already well-developed faculties of logic and rational thought. Harry W. Paige links this idea with the Christian concept of faith, finding much contemporary Western spirituality to be without passion, the yearning for God that has been the subject of the poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi, the medieval mystics, and the Indian ecstatic poets.
In these accounts of his experiences, mostly in the American Southwest among Hispanic, Native, and Anglo Americans, the author not only paints a living cross-cultural portrait of other people's passionate spirituality, but also investigates the spiritual emptiness and isolation he himself feels in the midst of such experiences. Although his perspective is mainly Catholic, he looks at the "double lives" of Christian Native Americans, who see no conflict between older spiritual practices and Christianity, and at the inner conflict of an atheist parishioner.
Paige describes himself as a "head" Catholic, one who has seen through the eye of reason for most of his spiritual life. The experiences described in his book, consisting as they do of an inner journey or pilgrimage, lead him to feel a personal emptiness and a yearning for the spiritual passion he sees in others around him. "I would like to shed the shackles of the mind…allowing the imagination to soar to a…greater faith ."
Of course, an overabundance of passion can carry risks as great as any posed by excessive rationality. Even as the author describes his loneliness and detachment from true feeling, we read horrifying accounts of acts of penance committed in moments of passionate spiritual excess. Whether it is a Yuwipi healing ceremony, in which pieces of flesh are gouged from the arms of petitioners, or a dangerous reenactment of the Passion in northern New Mexico, where a secret society publicly scourges and crucifies one of their number who volunteers for the role of the Cristo . we realize the extent to which a world seen only through the eye of the heart can blind us. And yet, Paige's yearning, his sadness at not being able to feel his beliefs strongly, despite his genuine desires to share the strong feelings of the people he writes about, made this writer wonder which excess is worse. Broken bones sustained from falling under the weight of a 200-pound cross can heal - but what about a heart, broken or in disrepair from lack of use?
Memory is another element that plays an important role in The Eye of the Heart. The memories of a mother whose son died in war, of the priest of a deserted "ghost church" without a congregation, of the author's own Catholic childhood, all playa vital role In passionate spirituality. Eastern and Western religious rituals often have much to do with remembering a story; and when we think of the origin of our word "religion"- from a Latin word meaning "to bind back" - the elevation of simple, personal memories to an almost sacramental role in the awakening of passion seems to fit. We make people sacred-ancestors. saints, teachers - because of our present use of them to reconnect with a higher reality. Likewise, it is the memories we associate with a place whether it is a son's grave, a military cemetery, an abandoned church, or a hometown-and our use of them now that make a place sacred, either individually or collectively.
The Eye of the Heart is recommended both as a first hand account of spiritual practices in the Native Southwest, and as a tale of personal discovery and aspiration to spiritual passion.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE GODDESS, by Marija Gimbutas; Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1989; hardcover.
THE ONCE AND FUTURE GODDESS: A Symbol for Our Time, by Elinor W. Gadon; Harper & Row, Sun Francisco, 1989.
THE HEART OF THE GODDESS, by Hallie Iglehart Austen; Wingbow Press, Berkeley, 1990; paperback.
The Goddess peers at us from the covers of many books these days as she reenters society jaded from too much science and rationality. Women and men are looking to her more and more for inspiration and are invoking her spirit to create a new pattern of partnership, peace, and harmony. Three Goddess books in particular are notable for their profuse and stunning images.
In The Language of the Goddess anthropologist and prehistorian Marija Gimbutas documents the prehistoric Goddess era with over 2000 symbolic artifacts (shown in black and white) dating from Neolithic times, She adds more archaeological data to the growing evidence that the Goddess as Earth Mother was worshipped for millennia through a vast area of Europe to the Near East. Gimbutas attempts to recreate the worldview of these prehistoric agrarian cultures by interpreting the images they left. For example, she cites the persistence of images of snakes as a sign of devotion to snake Goddesses and Gods as symbols of the life force, of fertility and increase, of regeneration and healing. The scope of the material is dazzling, and one wants to accept the author's conclusions. However, skeptics could accuse her of reading too much into the designs of these people whose inner lives are lost in the mists of time. One wonders if the zig-zag or the chevron, for instance, always were meant to convey spiritual meaning, and if so if they had the same meaning from one culture to another.
However, Joseph Campbell is one who was convinced. In his foreword he writes. “The iconography of the Great Goddess arose in reflection and veneration of the laws of Nature.” For him “the message of [this book] is of an actual age of harmony and peace in accord with the creative energies of nature.”
In The Once and Future Goddess, art historian Elinor Gadon traces the vast sweep of history from the Ice Age to the present. Through 200 black-and-white and 50 color photos, along with full explanations, she illustrates the varied visions of the Goddess and ways of worshipping her through the ages. Yet, according to the author, “While the Goddess has indeed had many names, many manifestations throughout human history, she is ultimately one supreme reality.” The richly illustrated accounts reveal the feminine deity as earth-centered and body-affirming; not otherworldly; holistic; immanent and part of nature. The way of lie she inspires is peaceful and promotes harmony among men and women and with the natural environment. To bring her spirit into our times, contemporary artists from many backgrounds are reimaging the Goddess as a symbol of resacralizing the feminine in our male-dominated world, and their creations are well represented in the book.
Again, the author's thesis is appealing. But when she tries to recreate the mindset of preliterate peoples, we could wish that she would distinguish more clearly between fact and interpretation and back up her interpretations more thoroughly. Still, this is a book that those who appreciate the Goddess will treasure.
The Heart of the Goddess by Hallie Iglehart Austen is not a scholarly treatise about the Goddess. Rather it is a visual meditation on some of her manifestations. The author has assembled beautiful images of seventy Goddesses from cultures throughout the world, each a piece of sacred art that was at one time worshipped and revered. A description of the cultural background of each image is given. And for each Goddess a bit of a story or myth or a poem or song offers another mode for sensing her essence, as does a visualization, prayer or ritual prescribed for each. The gentle, meditative practices suggested for restoring an appreciation for the sanctity of life are a welcome complement to the more aggressive methods of some environmentalists and feminists.
As more and more Goddess books come out every year, we realize, as a bumper sticker says, that “The Goddess is alive and magic is afoot.”
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD: New Writings by Spiritual and Psychological Leaders, edited by Benjamin Shield and Richard Carlson; New World Library, Sari Rafael, CA, 1990; paperback.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GANDHI: Conversations with Spiritual Social Activists, by Catherine Ingram; Parallax Press, Berkley, CA, 1190; paperback.
THE FIRESIDE TREASURY OF LIGHT: An Anthology of the Best in New Age Literature, edited by Mary Olsen Kelly; Simon and Schuster, New York; 1990; paperback.
A NEW CREATION: America’s Contemporary Spiritual Voices, edited by Roger S. Gottlieb; Crossroad, New York, 1990; paperback.
AT THE LEADING EDGE: New Visions of Science, Spirituality and Society, by Michael Toms; Larson Publications, Burdette, NY, 1191; paperback.
New age … new visions … new creation. Whatever the label, these five books share a sensibility, as they offer up a virtual feast of spiritual thought at the “leading edges” of the new spiritual experience and its relationship to science and culture. Some of the same people pop up ubiquitously in two or three of these books, yet each of the books also has its own character.
The Ingram book contains interviews never published before with Desmond Tutu, Joan Baez, Thich Nhat Hanh, Cesar Chavez, and others, and has a distinctive focus on social activism. The Shield-Carlson book is all new writings by the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Matthew Fox, David Steindl-Rast, and others.
The Kelly and Gottlieb books are both collections drawn from many sources; each contains dozens of short samples of the work of contemporary spiritual thinkers as diverse as Shirley Maclaine, Louise Hay, Fritjof Capra, and M. Scott Peck.
Toms offers up a sampling of interviews from his New Dimensions public radio series, including Joan Halifax, Rupert Sheldrake, David Bohm, Huston Smith, and others.
IRON JOHN: A Book About Men, by Robert Bly; Addison- Wesley, Reading. MA . 1990; hardcover.
KING, WARRIOR, MAGICIAN, LOVER: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette; Harper Collins, San Francisco. 1990; hardcover.
Long ago in the seventies, in an inchoate “men's group” which had no sense of any national “men's movement,” the name of Robert Bly was never spoken. Someone in the group of professional men may have known his work as a poet and critic, but his name never came up. With no Bly, we were discussing the changes we were experiencing as men in terms of Jung and Jungians, Campbell, and Castaneda's don Juan Matus- especially don Juan.
We loved it when don Juan would accuse the comically over-intellectualizing Carlos of “indulging,” since we all knew that the intellectual life could be an evasion of the maturing process. Rather than deal with some of the feelings generated by inventories of our male shortcomings created by ex-wives and feminist writers, we could “rationally” discuss the archetypes of animal/animus or look for some faint trace of the heroic journey in our lives in academia. But don Juan would be there at the end of the evening, tapping derisively on our shoulders, laughing and letting us know that internal and external dialogues can be nothing more than indulgence and evasion.
The men's movement of the eighties and nineties, however, seems inseparable from Bly's name, his craggy face, his droning voice, his wicked smile. And his long awaited Iron John .is a powerful expression of the mature masculine spirit. Bly's insight into contemporary and ancient history, his self-knowledge and observational skills, his poetry and his storytelling skill make this guided “depth-tour” of the Grimm brothers tale of “Iron John” an experience which is clearly not an indulgence. The account forces one to ask tough questions and respects grief while disdaining whining. (And I cannot imagine don Juan telling Bly to “Shut up!”)
King, Warrior. Magician. Lover by Moore and Gillette, however, is a different case. Getting a clear focus on what we mean by and want from human maturity is an important task for both sexes. Moore, a Jungian analyst, and Gillette, a mythologist, definitely have the scholarship and experience of working with contemporary men to provide a useful framework for delineating the mature masculine.
That framework includes an analysis of each of the four archetypes in the title which contrasts the mature realization of the archetype with two polarized immature examples of the stunted archetype. Thus, the King in His Fullness is contrasted to the Tyrant and the Weakling, and the Hero is contrasted to the Bully and the Coward . The framework can be interesting in itself for the academically inclined. And yet this work seems to lack the fullness and vitality of Iron John. In some ways it seems like the outline of a stronger work which may come later from Moore and Gillette, after they have experimented more with the framework. And I hear my inner vision of don Juan's mocking voice telling me that playing with these archetypes can be just an indulgence.
FREEDOM IN EXILE: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama; Harper Collins. New York. 1990; hardcover.
OCEAN OF WISDOM: Guidelines for Living, by the Dalai Loma of Tibet; Harper & Row. San Francisco. 1990; paperback.
TO THE LION THRONE: The Story of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, by Whitney Stewart; Snow lion, Ithaca, N Y, 1990; paperback.
WHITE LOTUS: An Introduction to Tibetan Culture, edited by Carole Eichert; Snow lion. Ithaca, NY, 1990, paperback.
CUTTING THROUGH APPEARANCES: Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism, by Geshe Lhundup Sopa and Jeffrey Hopkins; Snow Lion , Ithaca, NY, 1989; paperback.
TAMING THE MONKEY MIND, by Thubden Chodron; Graham Brash. Singapore. 1990; paperback.
The Dalai Lama has said that the Chinese, by occupying Tibet, inadvertently helped Tibetan Buddhism. As Tibetan Buddhism was drawn out of isolation and thrown into the larger world outside of Tibet, the tradition has been invigorated.
Evidence for this observation is abundant, not the least in the thriving industry of books about Tibetan Buddhism. This is only a partial selection of the latest batch of releases.
The autobiography by the Dalai Lama is simply wonderful. “It is as a simple monk that I offer this story of my life,” he writes. The Dalai Lama “is a title that signifies the office I hold. I myself am just a human being, and incidentally, a Tibetan, who chooses to be a Buddhist monk.” The book is illustrated with a number of photographs.
The pocket-sized Ocean of Wisdomis a splendid little book that can be used as you would a meditation manual; it has many brief comments by the Dalai Lama on compassion, kindness, just ice, taming your mind, non attachment, and their application to life. It is beautifully illustrated with color photographs.
The Whitney Stewart book is an illustrated story of the Dalai Lama for children. On the day the Dalai Lama was born , the story says, “The weather was dark and thundering, but some people saw a rainbow touching the baby's house. Other neighbors noticed that a pair of noisy crows came to perch on the family's rooftop. And the baby's father jumped from his sickbed, declaring himself cured by his son's birth.”
The Eichert book is a collection of short essays on various aspects of Tibetan culture, illustrated with many photographs, some in color.
Geshe Sopa was one of the young Dalai Lama's teachers, and has been a longtime faculty member at the University of Wisconsin. The book by Sopa and Hopkins covers the fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice and theory.
Thubden Chodron is an American woman who graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles, taught school in Los Angeles, and did graduate work in education. In 1975, she attended a Buddhist meditation course, and two years later was ordained a nun. In 1986 she received full ordination in Taiwan. She travels throughout the world, teaching Buddhism and meditation. Her book is a clear description of the Buddhist view of life and relationships, and should appeal to non-Buddhists as well as Buddhists.
REACHING FOR THE MOON, by Kenneth W. Morgan; Anima Publications, Chambersburg, PA; 1990;paperback, 207 pp.
As a graduate student the auth or began his journey into Asian religions through an extended visit to India in which he resided at numerous ashrams. Some of the questions that he wished to have answered were how important ritual is to a religious way of life, whether purity is a relevant concern, and how charitable deeds enter into fulfilling religious responsibilities.
He discovered that while his quest had started out as “learning about” other religions, it evolved into “learning from” those religions. His own spiritual journey allowed him to contrast personally the worldview of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jain s, and Taoists as he struggled to understand karma, ahimsa, and wu-wei as an Asian does.
Morgan manifests remarkable sensitivity to all the good in nature, in artistic expression, in love and loyalty, and in helping others that he observed among the Asians with whom he lived and worshipped and learned. The focus throughout is on “Sacred Reality,” or Ultimate Reality. Morgan concludes that those choosing to follow a religious path find along the way other seekers who may help them to live within “the given natural and sacred realities that set the limits for human life.”
Advice is extended to the seeker on the importance of asking questions, of evaluation, and of showing respect for any help received. Most import ant of all, however, is to make one's own decision and then to follow that path.
The methodology, according to Morgan's summary of various religions, is regular participation in ritual plus individual ways of improving religious understanding and behavior. This summary was derived through his seeking out persons who “push and search beyond the current cultural form ... toward the edges of possible human outreach.” Among those with whom Morgan became acquainted were Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
Morgan is a skeptic regarding a number of issues for which he has found no evidence in his own search, for example, of mantras, miracles, or rebirth. He does concede, however, that karma seems to be a “dependable guide” for following a religious path.
Morgan set out to achieve a greater understanding of the world around him through his spiritual journey and has ably shared his findings with the reader. The warmth with which he embraces his subject encourages the reader to pursue his or her own journey.
-MARY JANE NEWCOMB
HEALING, HEALTH , AND TRANSFORMATION, by Elaine R. Ferguson, M.D.; Lavonne Press, Chicago. 1990; hardcover.
In a field where books on the holistic and spiritual dimensions of healing have almost become commonplace, Elaine Ferguson, a doctor practicing out of the Chicago land area, has written a book that may well come to be regarded as a classic in the health literature. Having experienced directly both the effects of the modern medical system as well as the field of alternative treatments, Dr. Ferguson has brilliantly managed to bridge the best of both systems, and offers an inspiring look at the healing presence in each of us. This is an outstanding work that will be of interest to anyone involved in the area of health and healing.
PRAYERS OF THE COSMOS: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus, by Neil Douglas-Klotz; Harper & Row, San Francisco. 1990; hardcover.
Prayers of the Cosmos contains the Lord's Prayer, the Beatitudes, and three biblical passages in the Aramaic language and then translated into English free verse. Commentaries follow each passage, and after many sections a “body prayer” is included. The use of these body prayers is to assist with re-establishing harmony in all creation.
The Lord's Prayer is considered especially useful in the movement toward harmony by Douglas-Klotz, who perceives that Jesus presented it to all of humanity and all of creation in the interest of unity in the world. The meditations frequently contain a recommendation for utilizing them with a partner, although this is optional. There is often an earthy quality about the meditations, and many of these passages go beyond inner peace to peace in the community.
Douglas-Klotz maintains that humanity has tended to assume an intellectual and metaphorical viewpoint toward the words of Jesus, while the universal, or mystical, viewpoint has been neglected. He considers that Jesus the mystic would have included all the layers of meaning that were inherent in Aramaic. Thus the “kingdom of heaven” becomes the kingdom within as well as that among humans and other entities in nature.
Some of the meditations recommend the intoning of certain sound s from the Aramaic language in order to enlarge on the use of “the many facets” of the ancient language. The writer finds that the rich “sound-meaning” of certain words in Aramaic has similarities to words used in native Middle Eastern chants for thousands of years.
The author is committed to viewing Jesus as a mystic, a feminist, and an environmentalist. Lacking an inclusive term as a substitute for “kingdom,” he used queendom alongside it. He translates the Aramaic word for neighbor as a coming together to form a bond among all humans, plants, and animals. He ties this in with the Sufi stages of evolution by which the division between self and God disappear, Douglas-Klotz relies on the work of George M. Lamsa and other contemporary scholars who have found evidence that the New Testament originated in the Aramaic language.
Douglas-Klotz' English versions admittedly are influenced in form by the poetry of Walt Whitman and William Blake. The resultant free verse creates some pleasing lyrical lines from the words of Jesus, while taking nothing away from the beauty of the familiar language of the King James Version of the Bible.
-MARY JANE NEWCOMB
THE YOGA OF THE CHRIST, by Ravi Ravindra; Element Books, England, 1990; paperback.
SCIENCE AND SPIRIT, edited by Ravi Ravindra; Paragon House, New York, 1991; paperback.
Ravi Ravindra, raised in the Hindu tradition in his native India, and now a professor of physics and chair of Comparative Religion at Dalhousie University in Canada, has produced a quite remarkable book in The Yoga of the Christ. As a self-described “outsider” to the Christian faith, he has nevertheless long loved the Gospel According to St. John.
In the book he draws forth the Christian story as related by John and shows how it fits with other traditions, especially the Hindu Bhagavad Gita.
Ravindra has long been a student of the core of divine wisdom which is found at the center of all great religious traditions – “the perennial wisdom,” as Aldous Huxley put it, “Theosophy,” as Blavatsky expressed it.
“I am persuaded that the major division in the human psyche is not horizontal or regional, dividing the Eastern from the Western soul,” Ravindra says at the outset of his exploration. Instead , the division is “vertical and global, separating the few from the many, and the spiritual, inner and symbolical way of understanding from the material, outer and literal one. . . .”
John's gospel has long been considered the most mystical , the most interior and esoteric of the Christian gospels. It is the inner message of the gospel Ravindra seeks in his reading of and commentary on John. “The basic question is of the right inner preparation for understanding spiritual truth,” he writes, “which is the same as believing in Christ.”
And : “As far as Jesus Christ is concerned, the right preparation consists in dying to one's self-will, and in denying oneself, so that one could obey the will of God . His yoga consists of this; and of this the cross is the supreme symbol.”
The literal events - for example, whether Jesus was actually physically crucified - are of less import than the psychological and spiritual significance of the symbols, Ravindra contends. “Every moment, whenever a man is present to it, he is at a crossing; at this point of crossing he chooses whether to remain in the horizontal plane of the world or to be yoked to the way of the Christ and follow the vertical axis of being.”
The point Jesus makes again and again, Ravindra says, is this: “no man can make himself God, but a man can empty himself so that he will be filled with God …” And: “ In the way of the cross, there is no place for man's own egoistic ambitions and projects; as a Hasidic saying has it, 'There is no room for God in him who is full of himself.”
In his other recent book Ravindra has collected a number of essays bearing on the relation ship between religion and science. Ravindra's unusual dual appointment at Dalhousie makes him a leading spokesman for efforts to overcome the barriers to communication between religion and spirituality.
These essays address a number of questions at the borders of science, technology, and religion - for example, recent assertions that science (especially physics) and mysticism are more closely related than one might think. The various authors also consider the place of values in the relationship between science and technology, the contributions East and West have to make to each other, and in what sense science can be a spiritual path.
More than half the 25 chapters are by Ravindra himself. Most of the papers gathered in Science and Spirit grew out of conferences supported by the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS) and held in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
- WILLIAM METZGER
FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.; Delacorte Press, New York, 1990; hardcover.
This book is based on ten years of experience at a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center , where the goals are regaining health and attaining peace of mind. Much of the work is taken up with instruction and exercises as practiced at the clinic. The program is based on mindfulness, a form of meditation derived from Buddhist tradition. The author acknowledges J. Krishnamurti, Ken Wilber, and poet Robert Bly as contributors to the clinic's program.
The title of the book is derived from Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek in which the title character responds to a companion's question as to whether he had ever been married, “Am I not a man? Of course I've been married. Wife, house, kids, everything… the full catastrophe.” Dr. Kabat-Zinn states that the word “catastrophe” represents not a lament but a supreme appreciation of life and its dilemmas: catastrophe relates to the human ability to come to grips with life.
Kabat-Zinn describes the clinic program, which includes a process in which groups of patients attune to the moment during sessions of ten to forty-five minutes. Participants must agree to daily practice for the eight-week period of the program, in which mindfulness is emphasized in all areas - eating, breathing, walking, concentration. Hatha yoga is done mindfully as a meditation, with emphasis on unity between the individual and the universe.
Throughout, emphasis is placed on wholeness of mind, body, and behavior. It is presented in the language of lay persons, and provides a clear outline of mindfulness practice and its benefits. It should be of interest to those wishing to interrelate Eastern and Western approaches to dealing with the stress of contemporary living.
- MARY JANE NEWCOMB
REIMAGINATION OF THE WORLD; A Critique of the New Age, Science, and Popular Culture , by David Spangler and William Irwin Thompson; Bear and Company, Santa Fe. Late September 1991; paperback.
"A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions. Rather, it is a mailer of having the courage f or an attack on one's convictions. "- Nietzsche
Nietzsche liked writing that was done with one's “blood”: self-critical writing. The use of blood as a metaphor which synthesizes the earth, air, water, and fire of life into the complexity of one's experience in history seems appropriate in a descript ion of the reflections of these two writers who have had their hearts beat in the midst of the media's “New Age.”
Bly has used “sewerage” to rhyme with “new age,” a judgment that is perhaps less kind than Ken Wilber's portrayal of the new age as an expression of baby-boomer narcissism. And other critiques of new age writing have suggested that its intellectual and spiritual roots are no thicker than a tarot deck – the mere difference between getting stoned and getting crystalled.
Spangler and Thompson, however, locate their roots prior to their work with Findhorn and Lindisfarne. Spangler was a student of science, for example, and Thompson cites a mystical experience he had while reading Whitehead's Science and the Modern World as a teenager.
These two thinkers, then, are far from any stereotype of the typical “new-ager” as an undisciplined, irresponsible, and mindless wanderer who seeks direction and escape from thought and reality through form s of divination. They are two knowledgeable thinkers who know philosophy, science, religion, and art. And their reflections and critiques of the movement they are associated with carry with them the scent of enough blood and courage to satisfy Nietzsche who, like them, was willing to challenge the paradigms of academia and popular culture.
The chapters of the book are based on seminars delivered in Washington at the Chinook Learning Center in 1988 and 1989 and possess a vitality that gives one a sense of being there as a witness in the way one witnesses Socrates in Plato's dialogues. These men speak of their lives, their spiritual and intellectual development, their former hopes scaled down or restructured by their experience over the last twenty years. And while they find plenty of things to dismiss in the so-called new age movement, they both understand to their depths what that movement was opposing in our society.
So while Thompson may decry the “sloppy syncretism” and “vulgarization” of the movement and Spangler may characterize it as “a kind of metaphysical Disneyland ,” they both see the movement as a thrust to express qualities of the “soul of the planet itself.” Spangler sees his fellow workers promoting “the capacity to empower co-creativity and to manifest connectedness, intricacy, complexity, and synergy.”
Spangler and Thompson look back into history and look straight into the emerging future and find value in this movement after they criticize it and themselves. And in being so vibrantly honest, they offer insights into how science may provide a new sense of spirituality based on quantum mechanics and how the idea of “holarchy” may supersede “hierarchy” in esoteric thinking.
I think this book is worth reading for academics who have dismissed the new age with little knowledge of it, since Spangler and Thompson relate new age ideas to the history of thought quite gracefully with all the caution of scientists. And think this book is important for anyone familiar with the new age movement who wants to reflect on her/his own experience. And this book will be a great joy for any critical spirits who like writing to be done with one's blood.
GRACE AND GRIT: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber, by Ken Wilber; Shambhala Publications, Boston, 1991 ; cloth.
This is an extraordinary book- a mixture of love story, medical drama, spiritual quest, and philosophical/psychological contemplation.
The love story is that of Ken and Treya Killam Wilber, who fell in “love at first touch” in August 1983. At their first meeting, they barely exchanged five words, yet both went home with the feeling that they had been looking for each other for lifetimes. Within two weeks they decided to marry.
The wedding was November 26, 1983, and they planned a honeymoon trip to Hawaii to start two weeks later. But within a few days they learned that Treya had breast cancer, and were plunged into the medical drama.
Grace and Grit alternates between Ken Wilber's narrative, Treya's journal entries, and Ken's philosophical/psychological commentaries on the great wisdom traditions. There are explanations of meditation, the relationship of psychotherapy to spirituality, and the nature of health and healing.
At the outset Wilber advises readers on the structure of the book, inviting them to skip the philosophical and technical sections if all they are interested in is following Treya's story. But these more intellectual “thought” sections in their own way enliven the whole, showing how import ant the “life of the mind” is to the unfolding medical drama. The reader who chooses to skip these sections in order to stay with the drama of the story will be missing much, and may wish to return to the philosophical sections later to think more deeply about the life and death issues that confront us all.
Treya's openness to a multitude of approaches to healing is a major aspect of this book. These include traditional medicine with its chemotherapy, alternative medicine with its massive doses of enzymes and other methods “not approved by the AMA,” and various spiritual and “new age” techniques including meditation, visualization, affirmations, psychic healing, and more.
Counterbalancing what many readers might regard as a great credulity about Treya's pursuit of healing through this plethora of techniques, Wilber describes his own skepticism about much non-traditional healing. In one particularly interesting passage, he describes watching Chris Habib, a psychic healer, at work on Treya:
. . . I didn't doubt that something genuine was going on- she was definitely moving energy- but I believed hardly a word of what she said. I had never heard so many tall tales in my life. She was spinning them out with an ease that would shame the Brothers Grimm. But that was exactly her charm, that was what I found so endearing about her. Like Treya, I found her enormously likable. You just wanted to hang out with her, gel caught up in her magical stories. That, I came to see, was exactly a crucial part of what she was doing.
Wilber concluded that it is “this charm that is so missing in white man's medicine.” And the net effect of the session with Chris Habib was that both Ken and Treya “felt vitalized, alert, happy. And the constant stream of outrageous tales made both Treya and I hold everything more lightly.. ..”
Also, the book includes an excellent critique of so-called new age ideas, the most pernicious being the not ion that mind alone causes disease, and that we can literally create our own reality. These are what Wilber labels “level two beliefs,” characterizing an infantile and magical worldview including grandiosity, omnipotence, and narcissism. His is not a blanket condemnation of the New Age, though Wilber believes, along with William Irwin Thompson, that about 20 percent of new agers are transpersonal (genuinely mystical), while about 80 percent are prepersonal magical and narcissistic).
The Wilbers' book is no “miracle cure” story; it tells of a real life and death, for Treya does die in the end. After all, she had forty lung tumors, four brain tumors, and liver metastases. Still, she carried on a five-year battle with cancer, and died in a state of what Ken calls “enlightened awareness.” The story is a moving one, and the final pages brought tears to my eyes.
The Wilbers have given a gift to all those who suffer from cancer and those who are support persons to those with cancer. Ultimately this is a story of an unfoldment of “passionate equanimity,” a Buddhist perspective on being (in Treya's words) “fully passionate about all aspects of life, about one's relationship with spirit, to care to the depth s of one's being but with no trace of clinging or holding… It feels full, rounded, complete, and challenging.”
– WILLIAM METZGER
THE EARTH MOTHER: Legends, Ritual Arts, and Goddesses of India, by Pupul Jayakar; Harper and Row, 1990; paper.
Pupul Jayakar is one of India's most highly respected citizens for the outstanding contributions she has made to Indian life and culture . For many years a close associate of the late Indira Gandhi, she has continued to be an adviser on heritage and cultural resources to the prime minister of India. She is also the president of the Krishnamurti Foundation of India.
Author of many books on Indian culture, she here takes us on a journey to the realm of the goddess as revealed in India's rural and tribal art. For anyone at all familiar with India, the book will awaken memories of entering villages where huge statues stand guard to protect the people and where the creative energy of the Earth Mother, the primordial goddess, is still potent.
She writes: “Two vast anonymous rivers of the creative flow in parallel streams over the landmass of India .” The first is the well-known “male-oriented artisan tradition” which traces its origin to Viswakarma, the first creator. The other, less well known, “is based on the recognition of woman as the original creator.” This heritage “traces its origin to Adi Sakti, the first woman, who spins the threads of creation.”
In India, time is cyclic, and ritual recreates the past, bringing its power into the present and ensuring the future . Pupul Jayakar 's description of the reenactment of the legend of the goddess in south India stirs the imagination:
On a dark moonless night in the light of flickering oil lamps, an image of Bhagavati Kali is drawn on the earth with colored powder. In her is the power and glory, the abundance of the earth, its savage ferocity, its tranquility. In one hand she holds a flame. To the thunder of chanting and drumbeats, the magician-priest dances the destruction of the goddess. With his feet he wipes away her limbs, her breasts, her belly, her face, her eyes, till only the fire held in one hand remains. For fire is eternal and primeval female energy has no end. When the form of the goddess finally disappears in the dust from which she has emerged, in the distant darkness, an oil lamp is lit. The fire from the hand of the goddess leaps across space, to light the oil lamp held by a human hand, and then her victory over the demon is reenacted. Drums reach a crescendo; creation, destruction, the cycle of birth and death are transformed in the hands of the village painter…; in that instant the eternal dance begins.
Mrs. Jayakar draws us deep into the roots of Indian culture and village life. The book is profusely illustrated. It is well documented and referenced, and scholarly, but never pedantic and academic. A delight to read, The Earth Mother reveals the contemporaneity of the ancient goddess legends, reminding us all that within each of us the past is still alive and powerful, even though we may have forgotten our own heritage.
- JOY MILLS
SERPENT IN THE SKY: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, by John Anthony West; Julian Press/Crown (Random House); paperbound.
THE TRAVELER'S KEY TO ANCIENT EGYPT by John Anthony West; Alfred A. Knopf; illustrated paperbound.
Egyptology as a science is less than one hundred years old; as an innate yearning for the spiritual life it is timeless. West's approach to the Egypt experience either as a study or a journey is to relinquish the “cerebral approach” for the sake of the vital experience that its art and architecture conveys.
Serpent in the Sky is in its second edition, the new paperback format reflecting a resurgence of interest in ancient cultures from both scholarly and esoteric viewpoints. Serpent offers both, in addition to a trove of illustrative material that ranges from temple and tomb reliefs to mathematical theorems which articulate the sacred geometry.
West has produced a significant work in that for the first time in the English language, the prodigious work of French orientalist R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz is presented in a thorough, engaging overview. As originator of the Symbolist approach to understanding ancient civilizations, de Lubicz's work was, in the middle of this century, derided, or ignored by orthodox Egyptology. Currently, the basic premises of Symbolist thought can be found in a number of new Egypt works, and it appears that esoteric Egypt is finding its way into mainstream thinking.
The fundamental theme of Symbolist thinking concerning Egypt is that the underlying cause of its architectural, artistic, engineering, and medical achievements is the existence of a Sacred Science This body of knowledge was, according to de Lubicz, far more sophisticated and in concert with universal principles than our own physical sciences. West articulates the disciplines which compose this ancient wisdom, from Pythagorean concepts to esoteric symbolism in temple art.
The Traveler's Key 10 Ancient Egypt is the result of West's numerous research journeys to Egypt in the last twenty years and the development of his special guided tour events. The latter bypass standard, popular monuments for truly special sites that offer genuine spiritual ambiance. This “Guide to the Sacred Places of Ancient Egypt” offers far more than the common tourist itinerary. It is truly a pilgrim's compendium to the sacred journey through temple, tomb, and pyramid.
The Traveler's Key provides a comprehensive overview of cur rent Egypt “theories.” With the pyramids, for instance, West impartially discusses the probability of slave labor along with pyramid power claims, UFO origins, and undiscovered chambers of initiation. With his characteristic dry humor and thorough grasp of the facts, Egypt becomes easy.
Egyptian art, architecture, and the historical background of the monuments' period is discussed in opening chapters to each site. This prepares the traveler for the esoteric experience, and establishes an appreciation for the subtleties of each place. At Ombos, for instance, one may envision the temple crocodiles adorned with earrings splashing about while descending down the sacred well. At the same time, one is reminded of the ascent of the spiritual entry into the sacred marsh of time, embodied in the temple's lotus form capitals that fill the sky as the traveler attains ground level.