Posts filed under Life Adventure

Letters to a Young Dream Warrior - Letter #2


[Read the first letter here.]


Dear X,


So it seems to you that either you win over the gatekeepers or you fall flat.  You win or you lose. I offered to you that there's a third possibility: surrender. Leave the game.


What does this leaving entail? First, it requires a clear recognition that you cannot "win" the gatekeeper's game.


How is this true? It's true because even if you bluffed incredibly well for many years, even if you got through the initial hurdles and mastered the whole act, the prize that you would ultimately earn would be this: a life of quiet desperation, hiding your great light, becoming a gatekeeper yourself-- becoming someone so personally invested in the system that he defends it vigilantly, even in the face of its evident wrongs. Is this what you really want? Is this outcome made fully palatable because it comes with a garnish of social respectability and prestige?


Second, leaving the game entails recognizing the fact that any failures you've had thus far in the gatekeeper's game do not mean that you are valueless or a "loser."  In fact, they signify that your value exceeds the ordinary.  You have something to offer that exceeds calculable commodities and quantities. This excess of your being is sacred; it is precious-- it's also incredibly disturbing to people and to institutions who have built themselves up on a foundation of measurement and control.  Why? Because what is sacred about you can't be measured; can't be controlled; can't be quantified; can't be commodified.  It isn't predictable or mechanical.  It's disruptive and potent and beautiful.


In other words, if you have a powerful soul, gatekeepers won't like you because they can sense that there's something about you which puts their methods and their smallness to shame.


At this moment, monetary wealth is concentrated in the hands of these people and institutions who value control, measurement, security, debt.  You're not wrong in the recognition that you might have to do without monetary wealth for a time if you choose not to pursue the acceptance and approval of the gatekeepers. You're not wrong to see that you might have to live very frugally and without the comforts and safety nets of someone who's playing by the rulebook. This thought might frighten you; this thought might frighten your family and your friends.  But let's think through it in earnest; let's think about what it means to risk living a life of truth rather than a life of begging for approval.


We mistakenly tend to imagine that our work in this life is to fulfill our ego's goals and demands: become important, secure, powerful, insulated from possible harm.  But this is a way of spiritual stagnation and death.  It's a fear-driven and control-obsessed path.  Follow it and you'll find yourself one day depressed, sick, filled with anxiety and loneliness.  It's the modern dilemma and the modern mistake.


In truth, our real work in this life is to fulfill the aims of our soul, not our ego.  The soul asks that we become humble, vulnerable, intimate and connected-- it asks that we always be open and available to express love, that we give our gifts freely and receive freely from others.


In my own exit from the game (which has been a slow process), I decided that I would never again insult my soul by pretending to believe something I did not or by doing work that did not resonate with me as deeply important.  I decided I would stop lying, even if it meant losing all respectability and support from the people who had previously respected and supported me as long as I went along with their game.  I decided that I would devote my energy to creating stuff which would give to others something that I truly wanted to give.  And then I started giving it away. And since then I've been enriched immeasurably with friendship; with gratitude; with community; with love.


So that, Dear X, is my suggestion to you.  Don't ask yourself, "What can I do to be respectable and secure?" because in a world where the reigning institutions and people are corrupt and petty, respectability and security are for souls too timid to tell the truth loudly.  Ask instead, "What would it most thrill me to give?" and then get to work on giving that.


If you are fully honest with yourself about the answer to this question you'll find that gates will fly open in front of you.  The universe will stop at nothing to help you bring forth the gift it most truly delights you to give.


Many of us get so confused about this because we've been hypnotized by the myths of specialization and professionalization.  For instance, I always knew that it most thrilled me to give to others the gifts of knowledge and empowerment through writing and teaching.  For years, though, I was gravely confused-- I thought I needed a very specialized degree and approval from hard-to-please gatekeepers in order to give this gift.  What I finally realized was that I needed no authority to make me a writer and a teacher apart from the authority of my own soul; I didn't need to appeal to gatekeepers, I needed to appeal to other people who hungered for beauty and truth as I did. As soon as I took full responsibility for my inner authority, the opportunity to publish on a wide scale came to me.


As you do the labor of readying your gift; as you give forth your gift; as you do it day after day with great love-- you may find that all your needs are being met, but that you receive this need-meeting indirectly.  In other words, people may not pay you directly for the gift you're offering, but support comes to you in other ways. This happens because our society only knows how to pay directly for quantifiable commodities, and the gifts of the soul can't be quantified. Still, as you give support comes to you-- in ways you can't control or predict-- in ways that are more perfect than you could arrange for.


The support comes because by choosing to give your deep gift loudly and fearlessly without asking for permission or approval, you're living in the gift, you're living in grace.  You've surrendered.  You're no longer living by the sensible and measurable but by the magical and synchronistic.


Perhaps this answer raises more questions for you. Let me know what they are and I'll endeavor to meet them.






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Abandon the Brain that Divides

Prolegomena to an evidence-based policy for software patentsCreative Commons License photo credit: opensourceway

I suggest that our ability to cling to falsehood and generate stuckness and boringness in our lives arises from the fact that we’ve learned to use the opposite of poetic perception: fragmented perception.  We all come into the world as perfectly honest and expressive young soul-makers, but school and society beat that out of us right quick.


Our culture is dominated by what the poet Walt Whitman called  “the brain that divides.” We learn to see ourselves as isolated little egos who have to fight and scrap and scrape in order to hold on to our little drops of comfort or pleasure or power.


We feel threatened by the other isolated little egos outside of us who might try to take these things away. We have to push ourselves harder and harder to continue to win, to protect what we have, to get more.


Within this perception of fragmentation, we see everything, including our own bodies and talents and the natural world, as objects to be manipulated in order to attain some end.


It’s only in this fragmented perception that a life of untruth can spring up, because falsehood seeks to manipulate the vast and messy unfolding of our lives into a neat and pretty picture that we’re confident will gain the approval of others and thus secure us our comfort, pleasure and power.


When we are able to see ourselves and life from this perspective of wholeness, we are better able to recognize our untruth.


This honest recognition is enabled by the wholeness of poetic perception because we create our falsehood in the first place in an attempt to deal with the fragmentation and alienation we perceive.


A Very High Sort of Seeing

In his essay “The Poet” Emerson describes in great detail someone who has a solid grasp on poetic perception—namely, the ideal poet. According to Emerson, the ideal poet has an intuition of unity which is so total that it constitutes a kind of dramatic enlightenment, a state of higher realization. Emerson refers to this unitive insight as “Imagination.” He tells us that Imagination is

a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees; by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others. (298)

Yet in order to do soul-making, I don’t think it’s necessary to be fully possessed of this realization of underlying oneness, and certainly not necessary to “believe” in it—I think it’s only necessary to be willing to move towards it—in other words, to soften one’s sense of oneself as a limited, isolated entity, as a thinking subject for whom the world (including your talents and your body) is merely a mess of objects to be manipulated for socially approved ends.

We can enter poetic perception by ceasing to take ourselves and our lives so literally.  We can start to take ourselves symbolically, instead.  Tomorrow I'll discuss how we can interpret the letter we've written from our hearts to ourselves in order to accomplish this.


Posted on August 8, 2011 and filed under Creativity, Life Adventure.

Use Dreamspeak to Launch Your Mythic Journey

UntitledCreative Commons License photo credit: Pete Radocaj

My book, Awesome Your Life, contains a series of 7 active imagination experiments designed to lead you through a cycle of the mythic journey. Here's the first one:

Experiment 1: The Heart’s Call

In order to start our mythic journey to uncovering our genius, we need to enter into a real and dynamic dialogue with our hearts. Start by writing a letter to your heart, telling it all that’s going on with you now and asking it for guidance.

Now write a response to yourself from your heart’s perspective. In other words, create a letter from your heart to you.  Your heart knows things that your conscious mind doesn’t.  In order to access that intuitive knowing, it will help if you write your letter from your heart to yourself in dreamspeak.

What’s dreamspeak?

Dreamspeak is a mode of language which accesses the same tools of interweaving and meaning-making that our night-time dreams use.  It’s the language of the unconscious.

Dreamspeak has the following characteristics:

1. No use of the “to be” verb. This means that dreamspeak avoids all conjugations of “to be” including be, being, is, are, will be, was, were, and have been. Similar simple verbs which dreamspeak does allow include become, has, have, do, can, will, should, ought, may, remain, and equal.  Dreamspeak excludes “to be” verbs because such verbs have a tendency to imply stasis and absolutely identity where actually the soul knows that only activity and fluidity present themselves.

2. Metaphoric naming.  Dreamspeak disallows conventional or habitual proper names for people and places.  Instead, dreamspeak invites you to coin new names for people and places based on descriptive or associate qualities.  For example, if you’re writing about your friend John in dreamspeak, you would not call him John but perhaps “The Long-Haired Wanderer.”  If you’re writing about Australia, you might rename Australia “Upside Down Land.” Dreamspeak also discourages conventional or habitual names for everyday objects and invites you to coin new names for those, too.  So for example— in dreamspeak you might call a tree a “spreads-forth” or a “tall green.”

3. Allusions. Dreamspeak invites elaborate and associative references to words and things and places you’ve Experimented in books, films, travel, foreign languages, conversation—and, of course, night-time dreams.  If you’ve dreamt recently about being trapped inside an amusement park closed for wintertime with a pack of rabid dogs, you might allude to those dogs and that park in your dreamspeak.  If you’ve been reading books on yoga and you’re fascinated with the Sanskrit vocabulary of yogic practices, you might include some of those words in your dreamspeak.

4. Portmanteaus. In dreamspeak, we’re free to make up new words by combining elements from already-existing words to create new in-between meanings. So if a landscape is both rocky and boring, we might in dreamspeak say that it’s “bocky” or “roring” or even just “bocking.”

5. Neologisms. Go ahead and just plain make up words and expressions.

6. Sensory Amplification. If you get stuck or slowed down in your dreamspeak writing, you might try amplifying upon something that you’ve already noted by describing it with similes that reference all five of the physical senses.  So maybe you’ve written the word “soil.”  You might go on to say, “The soil smells like tar.  It looks like the spit-up of baby plants. It sounds like insects toiling.  It feels like a soft disaster.  It tastes like the end of a night.”

7. Nonlinear. In dreamspeak, there’s no need for a linear narrative or argument to be present.  Feel free to just riff.  You might spiral around a topic or an idea in several different ways.  You might go on wild tangents.  That’s perfect.

8. Puns. Dreamspeak invites puns.  Puns are simultaneously plays on the meanings and the sounds of words or phrases.  Once, puns were considered a very high form of humor—isn’t that hilarious? Well, I at least find it punny.

9. Free association. Maybe you write down “daffodil” and that makes you think of old Victorian daguerreotype pictures, which makes you remember the guy you dated once who was really into those and hated Christmas, which makes you think of how you really love Christmas, which makes you think of your complicity in American consumer junk culture, which makes you think about the soft pretzels and slushies that they sold at Hill’s when you were a kid and your mom took you there and the popcorn was always stale.  So in dreamspeak, go ahead and write about all that: “Daffodil daguerreotype Matt Christmas junk Mother Hill’s layaway pretzel slushies stale.”

10. No fidelity to “reality” required. In dreamspeak, it’s fine to write about or be inspired by “real” events and things, but you’re not at all limited to describing reality.  You have full poetic license to wildly make stuff up.

So, using dreamspeak and writing as if from your heart to your conscious self, discover the following: What does your heart ask you to do? What does it warn you about? What does it know about your potential that you don’t know yet? How is it beckoning you forward to the gift of ecstatic joy? What sounds, smells, sights, places, visions, scents does it invoke in order to call you onward?  How does it address you? What instructions does it give you?

Write for at least 20 minutes, uninterrupted.

Now read over what you've created.  What does your heart want you to do? If it said "wear lilacs until the sun goes down" I suggest doing exactly that, no matter how silly it might sound.

Posted on August 5, 2011 and filed under Creativity, Life Adventure.

The Sleep-walking Poet

The following essay is from my forthcoming book, Awesome Your Life: A Journey to Ecstatic Joy through Soul-making

After a human being has glimpsed the outer orbits of heavenly possibility through any means- whether through falling in love, taking an entheogenic drug, dreaming an astounding dream, or being illuminated in a moment during meditation – that person can no longer peacefully snooze through life. If you’re reading this book, I know you’ve had such a glimpse and that you’ve been moved to restlessness.  You may have buried or repressed your season of insight, but it happened, and now you are irrevocably changed.  The period of fleeting transcendence that we’ve Experimented is a wake-up alarm, a call to adventure.  The tremendous beauty of the call is usually followed by a viciously challenging low— the break up of a romance, the come down off the drug, the having to get up and go to work after the gorgeous dream, the doldrums of ordinary existence after a flash or stretch of huge realization.


tictac Creative Commons License photo credit: pj_vanf


This low and the hopelessness that can come with it can destroy a poet and keep her stuck in an unpleasant state between being fully asleep and fully awake.  Following the awakening, it’s therefore imperative that the poet find a means of integrating the heaven she’s glimpsed with the warp and weft of daily life.  In other words, it’s imperative that she make her soul.


There are many forces that conspire against the successful completion of this integration, this making.  Poets are often told that it flat-out isn’t possible to bring heaven to earth.  After a poet talks to therapists and teachers, parents and even friends about his brushes with the infinite and his desire to enter into a lasting and grounded experience of that bliss he will likely be told that what he’s asking for is far too grand.  “No one lives in ecstasy,” a friend once told me. “Your problem is that you want to.” On the contrary, I would say that my problem was at the time, I didn’t know how to. My friend was making the strange and unfounded assumption that I was a being incapable of transcendence and magical transformation.  She likely made the same sad and unjustified assumption about herself.


The role of the poet is to essentially heal, transform, and evolve consciousness.  At this fraught time in our planet’s history this role is all the more necessary—consciousness must evolve so that from it we can create what the cultural philosopher Charles Eisenstein has accurately and romantically called “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible.” Too often, however, poets are encouraged to use their abilities to fulfill pre-defined roles in existing institutions: artist, teacher, minister, professor.  These functions serve the maintenance of the existing society, the existing order of things.  Yet the existing order of things is itself greatly disturbed and out of harmony, the product of a level of consciousness that needs raising and healing.  So the poet who works to maintain the present order and to succeed within it becomes out of harmony with herself.  In this condition, she’s a sleepwalker.


A sleepwalker is not quite awake and neither is she asleep in her bed. She’s a being maneuvering simultaneously in dreams and in actuality, in danger of destroying herself and those that surround her as she moves here and there without conscious volition or awareness. This is the pain of knowing that there’s a more gorgeous world and yet believing that its manifestation is impossible.  This pain causes a restlessness which is sufficient to make its sufferer stir and wander but not great enough to entirely wake her.


To wakeup, the sleepwalker first needs to honestly admit that she’s still asleep—sleeping is all she knows—and a part of her doubts that anything else lies beyond.


If you feel trapped or limited in life, admit it.  Admit that the present way of things does not correspond to the deeper truth present within you.  Admit what sleepwalking feels like, the dull pain of it.


The burden of a poet is to make consistently manifest for herself and for others the profound love and beauty she’s Experimented.  As long as she denies her duty and her ability to bring forth this manifestation, she stays asleep in denial.


Denial of our extraordinary potential as healers and agents of deep change is a huge and pervasive danger to our souls.  It causes us to do taxing and destructive things in order to stay asleep.  In many cases, poets maintain their sleepwalking through acute addictions to drugs, sex, and food.  These addictions are so engrossing and seductive that they consume the spiritual energy the poet could otherwise use to awaken.  In addiction, we become unendingly thirsty for things that are material substitutes for immaterial power.  We try to fill a spiritual hunger with material substances and we end up more thirsty and sick than ever—like drinking seawater and dying of thirst.


Less acutely, but ultimately no less destructively, a sleepwalking poet may numb herself with intellectual rationalizations, doubts, and self-criticisms.  She convinces herself that the sleeping world is the only real one and insulates herself from full waking by concentrating intently on the practical details of achieving success and recognition in the sleeping world.  She still participates in an addiction, but on a more general scale—she’s an addict in the societal sphere, through consumption.


The frustrations of sleepwalking are so great that the poet may wish for ignorance—to be able to play the game of ordinary life without any suspicion of something more.  But this is impossible. The call has happened.  The restlessness has set in and must be fully dealt with.


Posted on August 1, 2011 and filed under Life Adventure.

The Real Purpose of Poetry

The following is from the Introduction to my forthcoming book, Awesome Your Life:  

When students show up in my Reading Poetry class at the University of Pittsburgh, they’re usually taken aback to discover that I think the only reason to read poetry is to become a poet in the fullest, most sacred sense of that term—a sense that’s been largely forgotten both by contemporary academia and by modern publishing poets.


IMG_2609 Creative Commons License photo credit: kdTeall Every flower has its genius


I explain to my class that real poetry is stuff which is the side-effect of poeisis.  In ancient Greek, “poeisis” meant “making.” What is made in poeisis?  The soul.  What is the process of poeisis?  It has various names, but in the Western tradition it’s been widely known as alchemy.  This alchemy is a deep work of collective and personal transformation and evolution.  It is the mysterious union of the conscious with the unconscious, of the witnessing faculty of the mind (Shiva) with the electric energy of the subtle body (Shakti).  I tell my class that anything anywhere that we have, any painting or piece of writing or house or garment or nation which was made by a person or group of people who used the occasion of making it as a chance to imaginatively work out evolution, collective or personal, is poetry—it is alive, it has a restless, provoking energy, a soul of its own. Looking on it, enjoying it, teaching it, reading it, hearing it, living in it can stimulate our own souls and launch us further on our own alchemical trip.  The result of successful alchemy in any human life is abiding, grounded ecstatic bliss, creative potency, and joy.  Lots of things are made by human hands which are not part of this alchemy—these things might entertain or decorate or serve a purpose—but they don’t stir, alter, enlarge the spirit of the one who engages with them.


For my startled students, it usually takes a while for it to sink in that I’m really talking seriously about all this crazy stuff—alchemy, electric energy, ecstatic bliss—and worst of all—the soul! They’re at first disturbed to understand that our course is not devoted to parsing iambs from dactyls but is rather a course in becoming a poet in the highest, deepest, most radical way—that is, a course in becoming one who makes the soul in himself, in others, and in the world manifest —a course in becoming a person fully alive in the expression of her genius, fully joyful and illuminated with strength.  Gradually, as the weeks pass on and they see I’m really willing to support them on this undertaking, they become restless with excitement.  They’re able to follow me when I suggest that they don’t need to believe in or prove this notion of soul in order to participate in it—they get it that soul is itself a poetic theory, an enabling fiction, something created.  That which creates is that which is created.  Should this surprise us?


All this strangeness is predicated on certain premises which I hold:

1)      The only reason to read or write poetry at all is to be helped on your own trip towards becoming a poet in this strong sense.

2)      A poet is not an insipid person who writes nice verses and gets them published to widespread approval in pretentious magazines among polite professors.

3)      A poet is a soul-maker. She’s a dynamic force that radically changes the movement of thought and imagination within her generation.  A real poet is a shaman and a healer, a warrior and a scientist, a philosopher and a living dream.  She might write some verses or she might not.  The verses might be published or they might not.  This has exactly no consequence or bearing for the poet’s actual purpose and mission, which is to bring soul into the world, by whatever means available and necessary.


Sceaux: X Creative Commons License photo credit: basheertome Beauty on a stony bank.


It’s presumptuous of me to assume that students who sign up for a course in Reading Poetry want to do this weird business of becoming a poet in the most profound sense— after all, reading poetry sounds like a nice, easy, fireside activity. But becoming a true poet—that is not easy and that is not safe at all.  It’s vital, intimate, demanding and thrilling work.  It’s an adventure into the depths of the unconscious, into the life-force of the body.  It’s a descent into the underworld whose outcome is uncertain.


I operate my presumption on the faith that anyone who wanders into my classroom is there by virtue of a synchronous alignment and is ready to ripen in this way.  After years of teaching, I’ve found I’m very largely right.  My students come to me stressed-out, hung-up, disaffected, sick with worry, cynical, stifled and depressed in a thousand ways.  Half of them don’t think they’re creative or imaginative at all and heavily doubt that anything we can do together will change that.  Yet after a semester together I see the overwhelming majority of my students blossom into poets of real and dazzling power—which is to say, people who are capable of stirring and expressing the deepest levels of imagination in themselves and others.  They become relaxed, confident, capable.  They become truly responsible in that they learn to be responsive to their own soul.


My basic insight as a teacher is to recognize that there’s no use in anyone reading the written stuff called poetry or attempting to write it unless that someone is themselves on a journey of poetic evolution, a journey to become a soul-maker. To start students on this evolution, I invite them to participate in a course of adventure which the famous mythographer Joseph Campbell observed as the underlying movement in all myth and folktale.  This adventure is widely known as “the hero’s journey” but as I use it, I prefer to call it “the mythic journey” both to denote the non-gender specificity of the process and also to allow for the adjustments and elaborations which I extend out of Campbell’s work.


When we consciously, deliberately enter the mythic journey we begin the work of joining our conscious with our unconscious and so we become much more alive to symbol and metaphor, allusion and story, character and drama— all this stuff is the stuff of dreams, and it is also the stuff of poetry and myth.


The mythic journey is a labor of answering our heart’s call to evolve by deliberately engaging with and taking on the challenges offered by our own unconscious.  It stirs up stunning synchronicities, omens, and mysterious forces in our lives.  It is a symbolic and imaginative process but not “merely” so – because as we do it we find the symbols and the imaginations that we meet with in our fantasies and dreams becoming living realities outside of us.


When we start to adventure into unknown and magical territory, we become hungry for the poetry of others, wanting guidance and confirmation that the path we’re walking can be navigated. We become eager to create poetry—in verse or in action. If we’re not actively travelling this path, the poetry of others and the poetry that we ourselves generate is dull and irrelevant.


What I teach is a process of becoming a soul-maker.  In this process, we liberate our creativity and our joy, our power and our purpose.  We become imaginatively rich and spiritually vibrant.


The interesting thing about soul-making is that everyone craves it – an enlarged imaginative perception of themselves and the world, a deeper emotional connection to their own hearts and to the hearts of others, a wilder capacity for joy—and yet we have almost no societally sanctioned space for it.  Soul-making is the rightful province of humanities education, as the depth psychologist James Hillman has pointed out—yet in the present-day scrupulously secular academy, the word “soul” creates a scandal.  Depth psychology itself makes room for it—but how many people have access to their very own archetypal analyst?  In my work as a teacher, I bring soul-making back to the secular humanities classroom—and in the present work I offer soul-making to the world at large.


I’ve taught budding neuroscientists, engineers, writers, medical doctors, philosophers, historians, linguists, and mathematicians—and people who had no notion what they wanted to do.  I’ve seen orthodox religious students undergo ecstatic Whitmanian spiritual awakenings, stoic pre-meds unleash tearful emotional breakthroughs, and business marketing majors write poems that made me feel as if the top of my head had blown off.  I’ve come to understand:


No matter who you are or what you do, you have genius within you that demands to be brought forth.  It is not too weird, too useless, or too fluffy to go about the labor of soul-making.  Through my own work and that of my students I’ve come to see that the soul will have its way with us whether we will it or not.  Our resistances to the process of undergoing deep adventure is just our fear and clinging to the surface stabilities of life.


If you’re clinging to the surface, if you’re afraid and tired and empty and see no lightning bolts of passion in your life, it is possible that you can liberate yourself and those around you by taking up the tools and processes this book offers.  This world, as the poet John Keats told us, is not a vale of a tears. It’s a vale of soul-making:  a place to flame the little sparks of divinity that we are into roaring fires capable of our own unique bliss.  Keats suggested that we make our souls by learning to read the terrors of the world through the expansive wisdom of our hearts.  This process is an inevitable one—it can happen very slowly, over a million life times, or it can happen right now, in this one, if the work is undertaken.



Posted on July 28, 2011 and filed under Creativity, Life Adventure.

4 Ways to Turn Searching Into Finding

Dear Reader, Navigating the search for fulfillment and joy in this life can be tough. It often feels like groping in treacherous darkness. I want to offer some simple suggestions for summoning more synchronicity to help you on your journey.

1) Each day, spend time focusing on what your ideal relationship with the world would feel like.

We tend to think that we want specific things-- for example, let's say that you think you want a house in the country with cathedral ceilings, a lush garden, and a teacup poodle. I would argue it's not really these things that you want.  It's the ideal relationship with the world that those things represent to you that you want. You want a relationship with the world that's rich with beauty and opportunities to nurture. A relationship that's expansive (cathedral ceilings), alive (lush garden), adorable and adoring (teacup poodle).

Many teachers of the law of attraction will suggest that you focus on imagining having the specific things that you want-- I suggest this, too, but only as an aid to imagining and vividly experiencing the feeling of what it would be like for you to be in your ideal relationship with the world.

Because let's face it-- the things without the relationship would be meaningless.  There's lots of people who have fab houses and gardens and poodles who are out-and-out rotting with misery. Being surrounded by wondrous things and creatures only feels good when those things occur in the context of a rich relationship with life.

What would it feel like if every person you encountered knew you as you wish to be known, honored you as you wish to be honored, helped you as you wished to be helped? And what would it feel like if all the unseen forces of the universe were continually showering you with gifts? Focus on this feeling every day-- discover it and nurture it.

2) Notice what beliefs or self-images you hold that seem to argue against the possibility of this ideal relationship and work to release them.

The very act of imagining yourself within your ideal relationship with the world has the effect of turning on the bright lights within your spirit, so you can see the shadows more starkly.

As soon as you begin to focus on the feeling of that relationship, you'll notice parts of yourself objecting-- "that's impossible" -- "that's not how life works" -- "that could never happen for me."  Those objections come from the conditioned beliefs and self-images which we hold about ourselves.

The process of releasing long-held limiting beliefs and self-images is on-going and multi-layered. Great progress can be made immediately on some important layers, and some layers take years to effectively budge. It's important, though, to accomplish this work because doing so clears our perception so that we can find our way towards our best world relationship.

In my experience, the most effective way to work with these doubts and false limitations is through meditative inquiry, which can be done alone or with a tutor.

3) Discover what it is in your life that conflicts with or argues against you enjoying your ideal relationship with the world and make changes accordingly.

Imagining what your best possible relationship with the world would feel like not only brings into stark view our inner doubts and limiting beliefs, it also can have the effect of showing us what elements in our current life are out of tune with the harmony we envision.

Once you begin focusing on your ideal world relationship, you may clearly realize that your critical friend or your demanding career don't fit in with your best vision.  This can be very painful to realize, since we like to hold to the familiar and can easily make the mistake of putting loyalty to others above loyalty to our own genius hearts.

Nonetheless, our dream relationship with the world won't be able to come true until we consciously let go of that which is presently in our lives that doesn't resonate with it.

4) Follow the path that sings.

As you focus on your ideal world relationship and let go of fearful doubts and people, places, and things which don't resonate with your vision, you'll come upon a path that sings to you.

When you come upon the entrance to a path that sings, you'll find yourself surrounded by people who know you as you want to be known, in an environment rich with beauty and love.  There will be spiritual resources and opportunities present for you in this place, and you'll be able to recognize it because the feeling that you get when you're there will feel like the wondrous world relationship you've been virtualizing in your daily practice.

As it happens, my path includes bhakti yoga, which-- quite literally-- sings. In bhakti yoga practice, we sing the names of the divine, offering ourselves to it in unconditional devotional service.  The first time I came to a kirtan (a session of music and chanting meditation) I immediately knew I was in the right place for me because the people and the environment there so fully resonated with my heart, which I had carefully tuned using the above-outlined steps.

Once you find your path, don't stop dreaming of that ideal world relationship and releasing that which doesn't align with it.  Keep dreaming and dropping until your life is a radiant pulsing jewel of love.



Innocence amid the Zombie Apocalypse

Dear Reader, In a post on The Absent Narrative from way back in December, my deep-thinking friend Tait McKenzie Johnson reflects upon his life-long sense that there's something amiss in our modern world.

Johnson considers that this something amiss is a set of actions and values which colludes to either steal our souls or, if we ascribe to the romantic Coleridgean / Keatsian idea that individual souls are not inborn but rather made as we go through life, that these actions and values collude to prevent our souls from taking shape.

I do, by the way, ascribe to romantic notion that individual souls are made rather than born.  As Keats suggested in his letters, I think we're all born with sparks of divinity, and then by means of poetic inquiry (aka alchemy) we learn to read the world through our hearts and thus forge our own individual souls as distinct aspects of the divine.

And I think that Johnson is on to something when he offers that there are anti-soul actions and values at work in the world.  He writes:

Granted, I’m not entirely sure what a soul is or where it resides – this has been contended for centuries – but I do know from experience that there is some part of ourselves that, if intact or developed, enables the only honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life beyond our most immediate animal interests. Without this, life grows meaningless and absurd, and we bury our heads in the sand avoiding anything beyond the struggle to pleasurably survive from day to day, and even that with far less pleasure than we would like.

Johnson is right to suggest that the soul is the part of ourselves which "enables the only honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life beyond our most immediate animal interests." I never thought of it that way before, but it sure rings true. It's a definition that also coincides with my experience about how the soul is made through a process of contemplative truth-seeking and the subsequent creative expression of those truths discovered-- a process which might likewise be described as the "honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life."

Wherein Zombies Devour Our Brains

Johnson goes on to offer that the symbolic weight of the soul is made legible in our culture through the representation of its absence in images of zombie apocalypse, images which continue to grow in popularity. And of course, he's right: what better depicts soul-lessness than a glassy-eyed ghoul trying to eat your brains? Heck, what's a better metaphor for our American consumerism than a ghoul trying to eat your brains?

Finally, Johnson offers what is for me a very thought-provoking list of the actions and values present in the world which deny or suppress the soul. Here I offer just a selection of items that resonate especially powerfully with me from the full list:

- The objectification of our own bodies and desires

- The quantatative monetization of all ideas/values/objects

- The exploitation of the natural material world as something corrupt and given to our dominion

- The dogmatic demand for a literal and singular Truth

- The glorification of violence as a problem solver and form of entertainment

- The embarrassment of sincerity and engagement leading to an ironic, belittling emotional detachment

- The giving away of personal choice to corporations whose options for us don’t fill our best interests

- The denial of imagination and myth as having real world validity and effect

- The insistence that the way the world is now is the way it will always be, despite all evidence otherwise

- And if the world does change, it can only do so through an outside cataclysm rather than by our choice toward a new positive future

Yes, we've got soul-threatening problems, and Johnson sums it up very well.

So what can we do to defend ourselves against the soulless zombie apocalypse?

I suggest practicing innocence.

Cultivating Innocence

Innocence, like optimism, gets a bad rap these days.  We tend to think of it as something exclusively belonging to children or to the developmentally different.  For an adult in full possession of all her faculties to cultivate innocence sounds like a weird notion.

I went to pre-school at a Roman Catholic elementary called Holy Innocents. Lovely title for an elementary school, right? Yeah, it was named after the hundreds of infants whom King Herod had slaughtered in his efforts to prevent the prophesied birth of Jesus.

The day they told me this I started crying and wouldn't stop until my mother came to pick me up.

I got the idea pretty well that day that innocence is a liability-- it means you're vulnerable and unprotected, available to be slaughtered by any unscrupulous authority that comes along.

We tend to not value innocence as a virtue because we associate it with the extreme vulnerability of childhood.  In the process of becoming adults, we all suffered various blows to our innocence which woke us up to the fact that the world isn't always kind, and we ourselves can harbor motives and desires which are significantly less than pure. Within this process, we learn to value sophistication above innocence.

The Problem with Sophistication

There's a bit of a problem with loving sophistication-- namely, that "sophistication" is word which describes the process of becoming sophistic -- i.e., like a sophist. Let's consider for a few minutes if we want to be like sophists.  The sophists were travelling teachers of rhetoric in Ancient Greece who charged students lots of money in order to learn the art of rhetoric, namely,  persuasion.  Rhetorical persuasion is, of course, a perennially valuable skill, useful in the market place, in law, and in politics-- in pretty much everything.

The philosopher Socrates had a major problem with the sophists: why? Because the sophists weren't interested in teaching their students to discern truth through their arguments-- just in teaching their students to sound really great.  The sophists offered that it wasn't their concern whether their students used their rhetorical skills for good or for ill, for truth or for falsehood-- rhetoric was just a skill like any other, able to be used for any ends.

Socrates insisted that the art of rhetoric, of argumentation and persuasion, should be used to direct people toward the true and the beautiful.

So how did things play out? Well, the sophists got richer and the people of Athens forced Socrates to drink hemlock and die.

Hmmmm. Maybe I'm not yet offering a very convincing case for innocence.

Why Socrates Rocked

My point, though, is this.  Probably all of you dear readers recognize the name Socrates. Probably very few of you recognize the name Gorgias, who was the most famous sophist in Socrates' time.

In the short term, the world rewards sophistry because it's an efficient means of achieving results which society already thinks useful (start a war, win a law suit) or producing complex arguments which make you look super-smart. Sophistry can be incredibly subtle and fascinating. Most all of modern humanities study, for example, is sophistic.

But over time, the world celebrates radical innocence because it's a means of arriving at truly new thoughts -- ideas which reveal something genuinely fresh and valuable, which don't just achieve an already-known and desired end within the socially established game of life but which alter the whole game itself by revealing new facets of the imaginative and spiritual principles which underlie reality.

The new thoughts which emerge from radical innocence are valued across time and throughout the world because they're genuinely liberating, and there is nothing so exhilarating as liberation.

Genuine new thought is always threatening to the social world in which it immediately emerges, because it's not bound by that social game.  Therefore, the radically innocent people who bring forth liberating new thoughts can be seen as villains and dangers by the societies in which they live.  This is what happened to Socrates.

Socrates was said to have claimed that the only thing he knew for sure was that he didn't know-- a statement of radical innocence if there ever was one. Some folks have suggested that that claim was just a wily fake-out on Socrates' part, and that he actually thought himself quite clever.

I'm inclined to think that Plato, Socrates' student who wrote dialogues depicting Socrates at work  (dialogues which constitute most of our lore about Socrates) was indeed a wily guy who thought himself quite clever-- but that Socrates, the historical figure who was Plato's actual teacher and not just the character depicted in Plato's dialogues, was genuinely a radical innocent. If he wasn't, I don't think he could have elicited so much fresh new thought among the youth of Athens that the authorities would have seen the need to put him to death.

Why Only Innocence Can Defeat the Zombie Apocalypse

Okay, so there are all these zombies.  They're intent on eating human brains, so the general human impulse is to fight back: blow off the zombies' heads with double-barrel shotguns, for example. Trouble is, that's not really a long-term solution, is it? There are far more zombies than bullets.  And building better anti-zombie weapons won't really help either. Zombies are a kind of self-renewing violent parasite: they can reproduce by attacking humans as long as humans continue to reproduce.

Furthermore, they're very single-minded in their goal. Unlike human opponents, zombies don't get demoralized and just give up when they feel outnumbered.  They already are dead, so they don't mourn their dead.  They're going to come after our brains indefinitely. Regular ingenuity, the kind which produces more and more sophisticated weapons and strategies is not going to solve this problem.

In other words, shooting zombies is a video-game type activity that can go on endlessly. It's no way to live.

In order to halt the onslaught of soulless brain-eaters, we need a new game altogether.  We need to see things from a completely different point of view, and change the field of play. We don't need sophisticated weapons and fighting strategies-- we need a truly new thought, a fresh perception of the nature of reality that will alter what we know to be possible.

The zombies are our own dead, our own past which has risen up from where we buried it and become poisonous, aggressive and malignant.  Zombies are the legacy of our old paradigms, a relentless hoard bent on consumption.

In order to defeat them, we need radical innocence.  Zombies don't really just want to eat our brains. They want us to truly use them.

So what's the new insight? What's the new game? Man, I don't quite know.  But we'll continue to see representations of zombies in our popular culture and we'll continue to be assaulted by all the troubling actions and values that Johnson lists until we're able to stretch ourselves wide open and find another way.




Raise Your Resonance with Loving-kindness

Dear Reader, One of the most potent means I've found for improving the resonance of my being so that I'm more open to love and happiness and all the good things of life is to practice loving-kindness virtualization.

About Loving-kindness Virtualization

Loving-kindness virtualization is like traditional Buddhist loving-kindness meditation, except instead of just verbally wishing others well, you take time to vividly imagine and feel the happiness and well-being that you wish for them.

I notice that when I practice this form of virtualization it gives me a big energetic boost and enhances my awareness of my connectedness to all other people. When I vividly imagine another person feeling happy and loved --  sometimes especially if I don't like that person or have a grudge against them -- I feel the happiness and love that I'm imagining on their behalf.

This clues me in that my happiness really isn't separate from theirs. It's all one big field, available to be shared.

How to Practice Loving-kindness Virtualization

1. Find some place to be relatively alone and relaxed.

2. Take a few deep breaths, center yourself in the intention to extend your love and drop your grievances.

3. Bring to mind someone you're a little bit irritated with-- a friend, a colleague, someone you see on the bus every day.

4. Imagine that person in a place where they're tremendously happy, doing what they most love.  This can be tough if you don't know the person all that well or you've never seen them really happy. Nonetheless, make something up.

Example: See your colleague who likes to bake standing in the midst of a totally gorgeous kitchen with glossy blue walls and a high stamped-tin ceiling: she has graceful cake plates stacked with luscious cupcakes all around her; her heart is full with joy and peace; she's stirring a bowl of golden batter; she's surrounded by people she loves who are sharing in her bounty. She's radiant, her face is beaming. The room smells like swiss cocoa and cinnamon. Someone makes a joke and the happy baker bursts out with a delighted, full-bodied laugh.

This virtualization might take some work to come up with because you usually encounter your colleague looking bored across the table from you at meetings, quibbling with your ideas, rushing past you in the hallways.

The Benefits for Another

To invest your time imagining her gloriously happy and fulfilled is a real act of generosity on your part.  Since all of us human beings are connected by a morphic field, your kind vision for your colleague actually has the effect of improving the probabilities in the field directly surrounding her.  The altered condition of the field can then draw forth from her new manifestations of joy.

The Benefits for You

While practicing this loving-kindness virtualization for your colleague, you'll immediately start to feel more of your own love and generosity. Even if you begin from a place of resentment or irritation, you'll discover after awhile that you really would like to see this person being completely fulfilled and relaxed. Just realizing this brings you to some important knowledge: you're a kind person who can take real pleasure in the happiness of others.

You'll also start to feel happier and lighter yourself.  It's impossible to vividly imagine anyone feeling really great without you also starting to feel really great.  You've not just improved the field surrounding your colleague-- you've improved the whole field surrounding you.

You may notice that after doing this meditation you feel more alert, more interested in your life, more inclined to do things, more glad to listen closely to other people when they talk.

The next time you see your colleague after you've practiced the loving-kindness virtualization on her behalf, you'll feel more inclined to be soft towards her and less inclined to judge her.

You'll sympathize with her own best wishes for herself, and you'll be able to intuitively grasp how her irritating actions (quibbling, rushing) are part of her means of coping with life's difficulties and defending her tenuous sense of self.  You'll see she can't help it. You'll feel more compassionate, and interested in helping her.

We human beings are all extremely perceptive. Because we're connected by the field, we can feel when someone genuinely wishes well for us, and we respond to this positively.

Over time, your colleague will pick up on your altered resonance. She'll notice that you don't put out vibes of irritation or disapproval when she brushes by you.  She'll be able to relax more when she's in your presence. She might ask you how you're doing. She might support one of your ideas brought up at a meeting.

One day she might bring you some rad cinnamon cupcakes with cocoa-custard icing, and then you'll know the magic is really working.



Image Credit: Photo of cupcakes from Little Cupcakes, Desgraves St., Melbourne by dootsiez on flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

How to Dwell in Possibility

Dear Reader, Yesterday I discussed the importance of shifting to poetic perception in order to clearly see where in our lives we're holding on to kitschy denial that keeps us in patterns that no longer serve us.

Today I want to offer a specific suggestion for moving into poetic perception-- or dwelling in Possibility, as I like to call it.

Dwelling in Possibility, we should note, has a lot in common with the practice that the poet John Keats called "negative capability." Negative capability, according to Keats, was the distinguishing trait of geniuses like Shakespeare, and it consists in the ability to remain in "uncertainties, Mysteries, and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact or reason."

So try this:

1. Sit somewhere comfortable. Take a few deep breaths.

2. Decide to agree with reality for the next five minutes. Whatever it is, you'll offer no argument, no resistance, and no attempt to control it.

3. Let yourself soften.

4. Admit to yourself and to the universe that you don't really know exactly what's up with the world or exactly what you should do today with your life.

5. Allow that not-knowing to just be there with you. Allow yourself to not demand an answer or a solution to all the things you feel like you should fix and resolve.

6. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I find that when I do this for five minutes and then go about my business-- especially in the midst of times that I'm feeling frantic and crazed -- big, real solutions will pop into my head at weird moments, like when I'm climbing the stairs to get to the gym.

Also, when I do this on a regular basis I develop a greater and greater sensitivity to my own kitsch.  Since my shit solutions are all arise from a desire to control what's not mine to control and a refusal to trust that the universe has a real and great solution in store for me, surrendering my management for just a few moments allows more sane and honest perception to drip into my murky mind.

Over time, these little drips of sanity expand into a pool that's great for splashing about.

In other words, the poetic perception of dwelling in Possibility slowly lets me stop seeing myself as an isolated little fragment at war with the whole and allows me to feel the way in which I contain and am contained by everything that is.

Which feels pretty darn great.



Image Credit: Photo by Lawrence OP from flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Shift to Poetic Perception

Dear Reader, Today, let's continue to consider what it takes to be honest with ourselves and ditch our kitsch.

The Eye Altering, Alters All: Poetic Perception

It can be difficult, if not entirely impossible, to ditch our kitsch when we are in the midst of it, because it doesn’t look like kitsch to us—it looks like the unassailable way things need to be in order for us to be okay.

This is true even if that dubious “okay” is really miserable.  Our calculating minds would still like to call that misery “okay” because at least it’s known, and what we know we think we can control.  Actually, we can’t, but the illusion that we can is hypnotic.  In order to break out of it, we have to be willing to alter our perception.

One of my favorite mad poet-prophets, William Blake, observed that “the eye altering, alters all.”  In other words, when we change our perception, the whole world around us changes.

Abandon the Brain that Divides

I suggest that our ability to cling to shit and live in kitsch arises from the fact that we’ve learned to use the opposite of poetic perception: fragmented perception.  We all come into the world as perfectly honest and expressive young poets, but school and society beat that out of us right quick.

Our culture is dominated by “the brain that divides.” We learn to see ourselves as isolated little egos who have to fight and scrap and scrape in order to hold on to our little drops of comfort or pleasure or power.

We feel threatened by the other isolated little egos outside of us who might try to take these things away. We have to push ourselves harder and harder to continue to win, to protect what we have, to get more.

Within this perception of fragmentation, we see everything, including our own bodies and talents and the natural world, as objects to be manipulated in order to attain some end.

It’s only in this fragmented perception that a life of kitsch can spring up, because kitsch seeks to manipulate the vast and messy unfolding of our lives into a neat and pretty picture that we’re confident will gain the approval of others and thus secure us our comfort, pleasure and power.

Poetic Perception Sees Wholeness

In order to end the reign of kitsch in our lives and see our shit for what it is, we need to begin cultivating poetic perception, a mode of seeing from the heart which acknowledges connectedness and interrelation amongst ourselves and everything in existence.

When we are able to see ourselves and life from the poetic perspective of wholeness, we are better able to recognize our shit, to stop telling ourselves and the world that it’s gold, and instead allow it to be simple fertilizer for awesomeness.

This recognition is enabled by the wholeness of poetic perception because we create our shit in the first place in an attempt to deal with the fragmentation and alienation we perceive.

I clung to my lousy boyfriend and my socially respectable position as an academic because I felt lacking, estranged from the flow of life.  I didn’t trust that the world might have better things in store for me because I felt as if the world and me were two separate things, and why should the world care what happened to me?

As long as I saw myself primarily as an isolated little ego and not as an integral part of life’s unfolding who could be uplifted and blossomed by the same force that blossoms flowers, I was unwilling to ditch my kitsch; I still felt I needed it to survive.

A Very High Sort of Seeing

In his essay “The Poet” Emerson describes in great detail someone who has a solid grasp on poetic perception—namely, the ideal poet. According to Emerson, the ideal poet has an intuition of unity which is so total that it constitutes a kind of dramatic enlightenment, a state of higher realization. Emerson refers to this unitive insight as Imagination. He tells us that Imagination is

a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees; by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others.

Yet in order to start on a project of poetic inquiry, I don’t think it’s necessary to be fully possessed of this realization of underlying oneness, and certainly not necessary to “believe” in it—I think it’s only necessary to be willing to move towards it.

In other words, I think it's necessary to soften one’s sense of oneself as a limited, isolated entity, as a thinking subject for whom the world (including your talents and your body) is merely a mess of objects to be manipulated for socially approved ends.

Dwell in Possibility

The shift to poetic perception requires the willingness to enter, at least temporarily, the condition which I call “Possibility," after a poem by Emily Dickinson.  Dickinson wrote:

I dwell in Possibility—

A fairer House than Prose—

More numerous of Windows—

Superior—for Doors—


Of Chambers as the Cedars—

Impregnable of eye—

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky—


Of Visitors—the fairest—

For Occupation—This—

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise—

The house of Possibility is a symbol of a  condition of profound openness: it’s a  a house which abounds in thresholds (More numerous of Windows-- / Superior for Doors—“) and it’s also a house which declines to provide shelter from the elements (“And for an everlasting Roof-- / The Gambrels of the Sky”).

Yet for the very reason that the house of Possibility gives so little shelter, it leaves its inhabitant open to receive the fairest visitors and to practice the gathering of Paradise. And that's what we do in poetic perception.

It’s of course significant also that the house of Possibility is one which Dickinson compares to the house of Prose—implying that Possibility is identified with Prose’s opposite—poetry.

Possibility vs. Imagination

I find the term “Possibility” to be a useful word to describe the condition which it’s necessary to enter in order to begin seeking and creatively expressing truth, even more useful than Emerson's term, Imagination.

Possibility, perhaps because Dickinson figures it as a house, suggests to me a state which one can readily enter or depart without undergoing a complete transcendental enlightenment-- which is a connotation that Imagination carries for Emerson and his friends, the British romantic poets and German idealists.

This distinction is important to me, given that complete transcendental enlightenment is notoriously tough to come by.

I envision my work as a teacher of awesoming not as a project of leading you into the life of  a realized sage but rather as one of inviting you to experiment with an alternative mode of being, perceiving, and expressing truth.

The ultimate end of such experimentation could be that you decide to commit to “dwell[ing]” full-time in Possibility as Dickinson herself did, but I’m pleased if it simply lets you admit your shit, to live more compassionately and bravely.

Though I envision Possibility as a state which can be easily entered or exited, to enter it at all nonetheless requires accepting a risk, because it is a condition not only of enlarged receptivity but also of increased vulnerability.

It's a condition of increased vulnerability because when we open ourselves wide to the fairest of visitors -- truth and beauty -- we are simultaneously loosening our grip on our defenses-- namely, our kitsch.

Stay tuned for our next post, in which I discuss explicit instructions for entering Possibility.

Love, Carolyn