Posts tagged #the Alchemist

Art, Love and Transmutation - A guest post by Abigail Amalton

Art is about love. It is love, pure love.

 

I can't even begin to describe what music has done for me. How can an art form, independent of the flaws of its creators, catalyze such deep healing and transformation? How can somebody else's stories lead me back to myself, deeper into my own bliss? The deeper I move into the subjective, the more often I hit the universal. Do we all ultimately share the same core?

Art is love. And love is transcendent, transformative. Love has no opposite. Love is the step beyond dualist thinking. Dualism dissolves completely in the heat and light of pure love. This wonderful step beyond is not even thought nor is it just feeling - it's pure being. Love is being absorbed in the flow: the conscious observer-participant co-creating the universe, the drop of water in the endless ocean of existence. It isn't merely an emotion, not merely a state of mind - love is all-encompassing being. It is a subtle awareness of the life force that flows through us - through bone and bloody capillary, through neural networks and the serpentine energetic currents in our spines.

Love is the knowing that this life force is one and the same with what moves stars to begin their lives in misty stellar nurseries, light years away. It is the possibility that everything in this universe, every last little organism, every drop of blood is alive - purely. And simply waiting for us to realize this.

Love is a new way of being on this planet. It revolutionizes each individual who decides to make it a way of life, changing her so that she may never go back, never settle for anything less than pure joy. So what do lovers do? We live for love. We show, through our lives, that it can be done. That we can partake in this cosmic dance with joy - that this is our birthright. Love is the activation of our potential for continued and unending bliss.

Love transmutes.

 

It is the knowing that in spite of pain, we live. Pain, however deep, helps us remember that we are embodied and interconnected. When we reflect on our pain, then we remember that we are ensouled. As long as you love, you'll never lose your soul. So, why continue to hurt? Catalyze the transformation with a deliberate joy in every moment of this ecstatic existence. Push for it. Let it open you up. Let joyfulness be a breaking open of the calcified shell of the ego. Decide you'll never live in the egoic mode again - and when you do, laugh at it.

Live this way and let life have its way with you, move through you - let spirit sense matter in whatever way it will, for the purpose of love. Live this way and you won't have to meet with death to finally live - because you will no longer unconsciously push yourself further and further to hurt simply to feel alive.

Gather with other souls in love and explore collaborative ecstasy. Collaborative beauty. Explorations like these are how the planet will begin again, how we can jumpstart conscious evolution. Let go of the patterns we only cling to out of habit and replace them only with love.

Love is how we will reach the stars sooner than we think.

Abigail Amalton is an amazing artist who lives and creates in New York City.  Check her out over at The Silent Infinite!

The poetics of occupation: pressing reasons we need to "occupy" our own cities

The Poetics of Occupation

I've been thrilled and privileged to participate in the Occupy movement via Occupy Pittsburgh. While sitting out in the cold and rain, I got to having some deep thoughts about the poetics of the occupation and I figured I'd share them here with you.

 

 

The term "occupy" has obvious military connotations.  The poetic use of the term as a metaphor to describe a peaceful protest demands some reflection.

 

Currently, the U.S. military is just winding down a massive, costly and controversial occupation of Iraq. This occupation of Iraq is the  prominent cultural back drop in the minds of most Americans when we hear the term "occupy." "Occupy" in this sense suggests going on to foreign soil where we're not particularly wanted or welcome and ensuring that our interests are protected there.

 

Thus, the notion that we would need to Occupy Wall Street, for example, frames "Wall Street" as a kind of hostile foreign nation, a place where we need to send "troops" (of peaceful protesters) in order to control the situation there and to protect our interests.

 

But Wall Street IS American soil, right? Why should we feel we need to "occupy" it?

 

How Wall Street Made Itself a Foreign Land: Usury

The answer to this, I believe, lies in the spiritual dimension of our financial institutions and failing economy. The spiritual malaise of Wall Street, the banking industry, and the corporations has created a sense of alienation and violation so potent that those institutions can no longer be perceived by Americans as even belonging to their country. There's a sense of these institutions and corporations as alien and hostile.  This sense is not imaginary or paranoid.  It's completely correct, and it has its root in the alienating and hostile actions of those institutions towards the American people.

 

In order to make my point clear, I need to explain a few rather arcane (but fascinating!) points which I first learned from Lewis Hyde's brilliant book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.

 

To begin, the banking industry's practice of usury is a practice that was recognized in spiritual traditions throughout the ancient world as an act which promoted division, suspicion, and alienation within a community. I think we need to reconsider ancient and indigenous attitudes towards usury in order to understand the extent to the unity and spiritual virtue of the United States has been violated by Wall Street.

 

Today, "usury" means "lending at unbearably high interest." In the ancient world, usury just meant charging any interest at all on a loan.

 

Lending at interest itself is now widely accepted and taken for granted as perfectly acceptable and normal.  Loan-sharking, or lending at really high and outrageous interest, is the only stuff that raises eyebrows now.  Loan-sharking on the part of the banks is a large part of what created the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

 

We can keep in mind that the banks have practiced the intense form of usury-as-loan-sharking and that this practice has led to the current widespread poverty and outrage, but in order to understand the severity of loan-sharking, I want to start by discussing the problematic spiritual dimensions of usury, period.

 

In order to understand why usury (which is now so widely accepted) would be seen as a spiritual problem, we first need to understand a little bit about the way gifts work.

 

The Increase of the Gift

An interest-free loan is a form of a gift. For example: if I give you an interest-free loan of $1000 dollars, and you are able to use that loan to invest in a business which then makes you money. A year later, you return to me $1000, but you've still been able to create an "increase" out of the loan that I gave you, an increase that you wouldn't have been able to enjoy if I hadn't loaned you the $1000 to begin with.  So the increase that you make on account of me loaning you $1000 is a kind of gift from me to you.  Theoretically, if I had held on to my $1000 and not given it to you, I could have used the $1000 to invest and thereby enjoyed the increase myself.

 

Gifts are really cool because they create relationships of community and connection.  There's something magical and in harmony with the natural growth and decay of nature in the increase that properly treated gifts can create.

 

In indigenous cultures which maintained gift economies, it was always considered imperative that the increase generated by a gift  be passed on or used up, and never hoarded or used as capital itself. This passing-on or "paying it forward" was thought to be necessary in order to keep the "spirit of the gift" moving. So, for example, if you were able to make $2000 out of the $1000 interest-free loan I had given you, it would be good form for you to spend that $2000 on necessities for you and your family or to throw a big party and share the wealth. It would be very bad form for you to keep that $2000 to invest as capital or to hoard in savings.

 

The idea behind this is that gifts in a community should be kept in circulation and not used to unduly benefit or to create an unfair advantage for any one individual. When gifts are hoarded or used to create only private benefit, the spirit of the gift dies and the nihilism of separation, meaninglessness and isolation arises. This nihilism of separation creates a general atmosphere of cruelty. It's the atmosphere we're living in now.  It's the atmosphere that the Occupy movement has arisen to protest.

 

The Spirit of the Gift

We can think of the "spirit of the gift" as a sense of gratitude that puts human beings in an attitude of reverence and love for each other, nature, and divinity.  When gifts are kept moving and circulating, no one person has giant storehouses of money or goods to use as "security." The "security" and "prosperity" of an individual is instead intimately tied to the security and prosperity of the community, and thus to relationships of good will, love, and interdependency. Furthermore, a person who is living in the spirit of the gift, rather than seeking to extract and hoard the riches of the earth in warehouses instead respectfully fosters and tends for the earth so as to continue to enjoy the bounty of her gifts in a sustainable fashion.

 

Living in the spirit of the gift is an act of faith.  It involves a surrender of control.  This surrender entails two spiritual attitudes that are largely unknown to our control-obsessed modern world: 1) A general trust that the community / nature / divinity will continue to provide and 2) A graceful willingness to accept death and suffering in the event that the community / nature / divinity does not provide.

 

The act of living in the spirit of the gift is something which my favorite poet and all-around-awesome dude, Jesus, pointed to many times, perhaps most memorably in his Sermon on the Mount, when he suggested that everyone live "like the lilies of the field."  The lilies of the field, J.C. pointed out, don't do any work or save for rainy days, and yet they're gorgeous and happy. The lilies live in the spirit of the gift, accepting the nourishment of the sun and earth and giving forth radiant beauty.  Then they gracefully die when it gets cold and they don't whine about it. They don't control or hoard anything.

 

The Nihilism of Usury and the Control Freaks of Wall Street

Usury, in essence, is an expression of fear and clinging to material existence.  It's a refusal to surrender control. Usury hears about the notion of living like the lilies of the field and says "screw that!"

 

Usury seeks to maintain control over the increase generated by a gift.  It thus kills the spirit of the gift and creates disconnection.

 

When I give you that $1000 interest-free loan, I'm letting go of my say over that money. I'm letting you "use" it.  In turn, in our little gift society, I trust that you will put your "use" of the gift (the increase you accrue from investing it) to benefit all of us.  But I'm trusting. I've surrendered control of the "use" of the gift.  Through my trust, I'm making space for the spirit of the gift to live and breathe.

 

When I give you a $1000 dollar loan with 20% interest, I'm not letting go of my say over that money. I'm not trusting that you will use the increase of the gift to ultimately benefit our community and thus me. I'm demanding that you put the increase that you generate through your "use" of the gift back in my pocket. Thus I am controlling the "use-stuff" or "use-ury" or of the gift. In my control, I don't trust you and I certainly don't love you.

 

Usury = commerce between foreigners

Lewis Hyde explains:

 To ask for interest on loaned wealth is to reckon, articulate, and charge its increase.  The idea of usury therefore appears when spiritual, moral, and economic life begins to be separated from one another, probably at the time when foreign trade, exchange with strangers, begins. As we saw in an earlier chapter, wherever property circulates as a gift, the increase that accompanies that circulation is simultaneously material, social, and spiritual; where wealth moves as a gift, any increase in material wealth is automatically accompanied by the increased conviviality of the group and the strengthening of the hau, the spirit of the gift.  But when foreign trade begins, the tendency is to differentiate the material increase from the social and spiritual increase, and a commercial language appears to articulate the difference.  When exchange no longer connects one person to another, when the spirit of the gift is absent, then increase does not appear between gift partners, usury appears between debtors and creditors. (144-145 The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World)

 

The key point that Hyde makes here is that usury begins when foreign trade begins.  It's an economic relationship forged between groups of people who have no necessary bonds to each other communally or spiritually and who do not trust each other.  It's a relationship of outsider to outsider.

 

Think about this: usury now colors every exchange in our financial institutions.  The banks lend to us, the people, at interest-- and in the case of the sub-prime mortgage crisis at insanely high, loan-sharking interest.  They might call themselves things like "Bank of America" but to them, we, their debtors, are obviously foreigners.

 

The Occupy Movement as a Gift Society

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the movement against the banks, against our financial institutions and corrupt government and corporations calls itself an "Occupation" and takes the form of physical encampments.

 

We are occupying Wall Street and occupying symbolic squares and parks in our hometowns because the banks have made themselves foreigners to us through their usury.  We have no fellow-feeling and good-will for them because we have no trace of a gift relationship with them. They've destroyed the spirit of the gift through their rapacious lust to control and their absolute unwillingness to trust.

 

They've treated us, the people, their fellow citizens, like strangers.

 

To speak in biblical terms, our financial institutions have committed grave sins and the consequences of those sins are alienation and disunity.

 

It is absolutely no accident that the Occupy encampments in NYC and throughout the world are operating as communal gift economies with free healthcare (in the form of medic tents), free education (in the form of teach-ins, speakers, and lending libraries), free food, free shelter (in the form of donated tents, clothing, sleeping bags, etc.), and free entertainment (as people share their musical and artistic skills).

 

The Occupy encampments are modeling the living power of the spirit of the gift which the banks, corporations, and corrupt government of the United States had sought to destroy through usury, among other means.

 

Debts create suspicion, scarcity, distrust and death.  Gifts create love, abundance, trust and life.

 

Why doesn't Occupy need to articulate demands?

In the Occupy movement, the spirit of the gift is rising up and roaring through the hearts and minds of people throughout the world. This is what makes it enormously powerful and wonderful.

 

This is why it doesn't need to "articulate demands." The demand of the movement is implicit in its very existence.  The medium is the message.  Gifts, not debts. Consensus, not tyranny. Community, not commodity. The time has come. The spirit will prevail.

 

Check out this tour of the gift community at the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment, given by yours truly:

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTMvFWhjNq8

 

Love!

Carolyn

Letters to a Young Dream Warrior - Letter #1

 

Dear X,

 

You want to know: how do I thrive in the world while also realizing the deep potentials of my being which seem to have nothing to do with money-making and being respectable out there in the fray?

 

These are deep questions whose answers take us into the heart of what it means to be a dream warrior, to be one who works to realize the truths of the heart and the beauty of the imaginal realm on this physical plane even in the face of onslaughts from materialism, mechanistic science, and the whole paradigm of separation (a conglomeration of devouring joylessness which I like to call the Nothing).

 

First, let's consider your dilemma.

 

Everywhere you turn you find there are gatekeepers: for employment, for education, for anything.  The main thing the gatekeepers seem to want from you is that you agree with them and the world they've created-- and not just a token agreement, but a permeated, soaked-through agreement.  They want you to be as saturated with their ideology as the balls of dough in gulab juman are saturated with sugar syrup. They want to see evidence that your whole life and soul is devoted to it, to them, to the Nothing.

 

At interviews, in applications, the gatekeepers come up close and breathe you in deep.  They are smelling out how much of you is theirs.  If they find an off-note, a fragrance of dissent or noncompliance in your being, you see yourself shut out from the shelter of their institutions and their money.  If you are a dream warrior, as you are, they certainly detect it and recoil in fear.

 

So they've sniffed you and you didn't pass the test.  They could sense the stirring of wakefulness in you, the aura of resistance and questioning that you've tried to repress.  They rejected you despite your best efforts to fit in. Now you don't have access to their credentials; their money; their approval.

 

Is this terrifying? Yes.  But less so if you remember that the institutions and the money are losing power anyway.  The gatekeepers can't even afford now to shelter the ones who have soaked themselves completely in compliance.  There are people being turned down for work and education who have denuded their lives and souls of everything but what the gatekeepers said they wanted-- and now these people, too, are turned out into the cold.

 

At least you have not done this great violence to yourself.  At least you kept the truth and beauty alive in you, you have fostered it and nurtured it-- so you are not the most unlucky.  You still have this wealth, and this -- though it may not appear so at the moment -- is very great wealth indeed.  Perhaps most valuable of all is your love.  Your love which is not sentiment or romance but rather a form of wise vision, the perception of your heart.

 

The intimations you have of magic and loveliness, of wonder and agonies, these are precious and these will fuel your life in the new world that you are about to help bring forth.

 

Right now this is hard to see.  Right now you are full of bitterness.  "I wanted a job," you think. "I wanted to support myself. To contribute.  Now what do I have? What can my perception of loveliness yield me but a handful of poems that no one will want to read? What will magic get me but more scorn and abuse?"

 

More than anything, though, it astounds you that the people of our world do this to themselves: that they demand of each other and of us only the boring, the utilitarian, the violent, or the prurient.  Not given to violence or extremes of lust, you sought to cooperate by offering the utilitarian.  But you could only go along with it for so long: leaping through the hoops they set up-- and now you find yourself unable to leap anymore.  Your leap failed.  It failed not because of your vice but because of your virtue: your soul is too thrilling, too rich, too deep and too broad to be limited to the prescribed tasks of business as usual.

 

Now you have a choice of what to do. It seems to you like you only have two choices: Try again to please the gatekeepers and win this time or just be a failure and a burden, someone who lives on the edges of society, someone who goes mad.

 

It seems like winning or losing are the only possibilities.  You either fool the gatekeepers and reap their rewards or you land flat on your face and get nothing.

 

But there's a third choice open to you.  You could choose neither to win nor to lose but to surrender completely.

 

What does surrender look like?  It looks like leaving the game altogether. And what does that mean? It primarily means to stop understanding yourself in the terms of the game.  This is internal work.  This is dream warrior work.  It is very far from being easy and it takes constant vigilance.  But it is work which from the first day you undertake it ignites an enormous shift in your experience of the external world, a shift which only snowballs more and more rapidly.

 

In order to stop understanding yourself in the terms of the game, you have to give up feeling the least bit of shame, self-pity, or resentment for your present condition.  You must learn to take your sense of self-worth not from success or loss within the game but from your own sense of the strength of your heart. You must become willing to offer love and celebration to everything that seems to oppose you or confound you.

 

Does this sound easy? Are you ready to say to me, "But I already am proud of who I am; I already know that I am right and that the system and the Nothing are wrong." Dear brother, I would reply that you have not truly let yourself know this if you are still suffering, if you ever feel low or conflicted.

 

When you are fully in your power, when you are replete with joy for the truth that you are, you will feel no trace of this doubt or reservation about yourself.  You will not worry that your inability to garner success in the external world up to this point reflects some secret defect of your own being.  Instead you will see with crystalline clarity the fact that any difficulty you've experienced up to this point has not been your fault at all but the fault of the nightmare that all the sleepers are projecting, the nightmare of separation and scarcity.

 

When next I write, I will tell you my own methods for reaching and maintaining this condition of repletion.  In the mean time, I ask you to begin by hurling a strong refusal against all the voices that tell you that you have failed and you are wrong.

 

Refuse to accept any judgment which would say to you that the gatekeepers' rejection of you signified that you did not try hard enough or did not do well enough.  You did exceedingly well. You preserved the fragrance of beauty and truth in your being.  You are our hope for a future that is truly, radically different from the present.  You are winning at a level that those who are still asleep in the nightmare cannot comprehend.  You, O Dreamer, are perfect.

 

Love, Carolyn

 

 

 

 

 

How to Desire

Dear Reader,

Let’s work on getting in touch with what we want. It’s our first step in the March Adventure. Write “Stuff I Really, Really Want” and list 25 items, everything from grand abstract achievements to the most paltry of household goods. Got it? Good, now if you have a mind whose automatic setting is anything like mine, you will now be thinking “I won’t do that, it’s pointless.”

The Depths of Disbelieving

My mind tells me it’s pointless to bring to the forefront of my mind all the things that I long for because, as it reports, “I won’t get them anyway.”  This automatic setting of pessimism is a strategy I learned in childhood to protect myself from the wrenching disappointment of missing out on things I really, really wanted. This was a great strategy when I was five and my acknowledgment of my impotence was actually spot on— back then I couldn’t read or write, I was 3 feet tall with limited motor skills, and I didn’t even have the right to vote! Yes, I was an illiterate, disenfranchised little person. Things were bleak back then. But look how far I’ve come!

I’m now (like you, if you’re reading this) in full possession of literacy, motor skills, and voting rights. You’re no longer limited by your parents’ arbitrary and tyrannical decisions regarding bedtime and dessert.

The Power of Innocent Longing

Frankly, you’re empowered and it’s time to start recognizing that. The “I won’t get them anyway” belief that your mind espouses is outdated. Since you’re big and literate now your odds of attaining most of your desires are pretty darn good.

Even if your life does indeed turn out to be one long dreary European film, if you go through it holding the belief all the while that you “won’t get them anyway” (your desires) your life will be a completely unwatchable long dreary European film.  Why? Because heroes and heroines desire stuff.  They go out and pursue their desires through various means. They learn stuff along the way.  Even if they completely fail to get what they set out to attain at the outset, the very act of valiantly, innocently, even somewhat stupidly, reaching to fulfill their desire puts forces in motion that show them valuable things and connect them to fascinating people.

Yes, that’s right. I’m getting all Joseph Campbell on your ass. This March Adventure is a hero / heroine’s journey.  I know, it’s terribly unoriginal of me. But that’s because it’s also just plain true.  I think Joseph Campbell may have missed some of the finer points regarding the heroine’s journey (I’ll be happy to discuss this at some point) but all in all, he was really right about the underlying mythic structures that span across time and culture, and which have things to tell us (Poetic Truths!) about the magic ways that life works.

The Call to Adventure

The first leg of the hero / heroine’s journey is the Call to Adventure.  Maybe you have not lately had a recurring prophetic dream calling you to travel to a strange land in search of hidden treasure.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have a Call to Adventure! Our longings and desires are our Call to Adventure.  They’re the stirrings that prompt us to undertake a course of action that will change us and our understanding of the world for the better. Some of them more so than others. And of course, it matters how we go about pursuing those desires. And also, there are certainly dragons to slay along the way. But we’ll worry about sorting all that out later. For now, get started with your list!

My List

To encourage you in coming up with your List of 25 Things you Desire, I figured I’d show you mine in all its random, jumbled glory:

1. A fireplace

2. A claw foot bath tub.

3. To publish an awesome self-help book.

4. To record a freak folk album.

5. To perform a stand-up act.

6. To be rich, having absolutely gazillions of gold coins to swim in.

7. To be struck enlightened like Byron KatieEckhart Tolle, and Jan Frazier.

8. To be very very glittery, like David Bowie circa the Ziggy Stardust era.

9. To finish my PhD.

10. To learn to play the guitar and write songs.

11. A super-flashy glam rock wedding.

12. New clothes for spring and summer.

13. Speaking engagements around town.

14. To make some videos for youtube, like my friend Kevin, who is super-cool.

15. The Nobel Prize in Literature

16. A lot of rainbow colored silk scarves.

17. An awesome house in the woods somewhere with giant fireplaces and clawfoot tubs.

18. A pug puppy.

19. My poetry books published.

20. A mind-blowing flower garden.

21. A gypsy caravan that is so rad I can hardly stand it.

22. To make and sell incredibly awesome tote bags.

23. To write a didactic novel like The Alchemist.

24. To make meditation cds / podcasts.

25. A house that looks like a Lisa Frank sticker sheet exploded all over it, in a really good way.