Sunday, December 11, 2016


Coyamito agate, Northern Mexico


On my Northwest coast in the midst of the night a fishermen's group
stands watching,
Out on the lake that expands before them, others are spearing salmon,
The canoe, a dim shadowy thing, moves across the black water,
Bearing a torch ablaze at the prow.

~ Walt Whitman

Needless to say, the photo shows a scene of night fishing somewhere in China and not on the “Northwest coast” (somewhere near New York, or maybe in New England). But it’s a wonderful image, and the symbolism is the same: a light in the darkness, the light of consciousness, the power of the mind, the collective genius of humanity across countless generations.

The canoe, a dim shadowy thing, moves across the black water,
Bearing a torch ablaze at the prow.

This is so vivid that it makes me shiver. We’ve all seen a wide expanse of water at night — the blackness can be overpowering. And a canoe is small — “a dim shadowy thing.” But the torch is “ablaze.” The black water is sublime, but like Rilke’s terrible angel it could destroy us. The bright light makes night activities possible. We’ll leave it to experts to argue what lies at the foundation of civilization. But control of fire is on the short list — the taming of the night, the greater freedom and security.

The blazing torch in this short poem is both literal and symbolic. That’s the power of the right image — truly an archetypal image, as Jungias would say. And since we’ve just invoked Jung — it was he who said: “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

It is better to say, “I am suffering,” than to say, “This landscape is ugly” ~ Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace.

Vermeer, Little Street, 1658


~ “[The word “lust”] originally meant simply pleasure and then was modulated to signify desire and, specifically, sexual desire. . . . Sex possibly did not seem to Paul a very big deal; the world was about to be dissolved in the second coming of Christ and procreation, of such concern to the Old Testament God, was practically irrelevant. The seventh chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians treats lust tersely: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman . . . I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”

Augustine had had more experience of burning than Paul. In Carthage’s “caldron of dissolute loves,” his “Confessions” tell us, he fell “in love with loving.” Some chapters after sketching his youthful life and his concubine, he confides to God, “I had prayed to you for chastity and said, ‘Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.’ For I was afraid that you would answer my prayer at once and cure me too soon of the disease of lust, which I wanted satisfied, not quelled.”

His youth passed, and the worst of his burning, and Augustine evolved, as an African bishop beset by Donatists and Pelagians, a pessimistic theology that virtually identified human sexuality with original sin. Though Augustine’s fierce insistences (on infant damnation and predestination, say) reminded other Christians of Manichaeism to which he had been been a convert for a time, his theology became one of the foundations on which the church instituted a thousand-year war against the flesh — for saints, mortification, and for the laity, regulation.

 It tests the patience of a Protestant to peruse the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on lust . . . “The Church has condemned a proposition that states that a kiss indulged for the sake of a carnal pleasure and that does not involve danger of further consent is only venially sinful.” That is, a kiss is mortally sinful. . . . We are invited to consider two sinners against the sexual order, “a prostitute who plies her trade for monetary gain without any physical enjoyment, and . . . a married man enjoying normal conjugal intimacy but with no motive except that of physical pleasure.” The first commits a sin “against the sex order without a sin of lust,” the second commits “a sin of lust without a sin against the sexual order.”

. . . Is lust, however, as marginal to our spiritual and mental being as sleeping and eating? Is it not, as Freud and Augustine darkly agree, central to our Promethean human nature? We are attracted not merely to the bodies of others but to their psyches, the shimmering nonmaterial identities that used to be called souls.

Liberal truisms on the joy — nay, the downright goodness — of sex are very easy to write in this day and age. What we may lose in this ease is a sense of the majestic power that the religious deniers felt — the power of sex to bind souls to this transient, treacherous world. Sex loses something when we deny its tragic underside.” ~ Even the Bible Is Soft on Sex ~  John Updike, New York Times Book Review, June 20, 1993


This is where religions seem to miss the whole essence of love and sex — which is almost like saying that they miss the essence of humanity. That essence lies in the statement: “We are attracted not merely to the bodies of others but to their psyches.” Even “illicit” desire can’t be dismissed as mere lust. We are projecting, idealizing, yearning . . . being human. The interplay of personalities, the union of the minds that suddenly see themselves mirrored in the beloved (what I call “mind sex”), and the personality enlargement that accompanies falling in love are immensely rewarding in themselves, and part of the overall erotic fulfillment.

The religious view of erotic love is that it’s our “animal nature” — our “base animal instincts.” On the contrary, that’s when our highest and most human nature can manifest itself. It’s transcendent, that “holy hush” when lovers stare at the each other in wonder and ecstasy, realizing that the beloved is that whole other human being, a mystery — and yet he or she accepts us, will not hurt us, is going to be totally loving. And the sudden shyness that may come over us — touching each other only lightly, our fingers trembling a bit — it’s as opposite of “mere lust” as it gets.

Erotic love is the strongest competition that religion has; it’s is much more threatening to religion than “mere lust.” Love includes a union of the minds, and that is so much more powerful than sex without love (though sex itself can kindle love; feelings happen when bodies touch). Love itself has an element of worship; a lover thinks of his beloved instead of thinking about god. When Eros enters, god and religion are instantly diminished in importance, or even altogether eclipsed. Hence the need to denigrate love (and, for St. Paul, marriage) to mere sexual “burning.”

Still, given that Judaism is positive about marriage, why is St. Paul so hostile to the very idea? There may have been a personal reason — but the apocalyptic mind-set is reason enough. The idea that the end of the world is just around the corner has had all kinds of bad consequences, demeaning this life and this earth, doomed to be consumed in apocalyptic fire. Two thousand years of this delusion! An anti-earth, anti-life idea can poison everything.

Because religions specialize in sexual repression, they tend to demean love (unless the people were married in a religious ceremony) as mere lust. Love as the union of minds is very frightening to the clergy, who then pronounce statements like, “Put Jesus at the center of your marriage.” But the lovers prefer each other, making god unnecessary.


If love is demoted to lust, to the union solely of the bodies (not that the psyche can ever be completely kept out of it), then celibate clergy can be admired. The Catholic church regards celibacy as superior to having sexual fulfillment. But we know the tragic consequences that church-imposed celibacy can have — because it’s not just the need for touch and other sensations that is being denied, but the need for that which is the highest.

Not “merely” the body, but the soul. Not that it’s possible to separate the two. Robert Desnos captures that transcendent aspect in these lines:

If only you knew how I love you . . . how
joyous I am, how strong and proud of
going out with your image in my head,
stepping out of the world.

How joyous to the point of death.

If only you knew how the world submits to me.

If only you knew.

Picasso: Marie Thérèse 
With the image of the one we love, we step into the world filled with a private joy. Yet we also step out of the world — the world of mundane cares, of aches and pains and tax returns. All that petty negativity simply ceases to exist. Death ceases to exist. The world submits to us because we are not as dependent on the externals. We have a secret source of strength within.

I realize that it’s possible to argue that loving god can substitute for human love and that mysticism has an undeniable erotic coloration. But an imaginary lover can’t hold you in his arms. Nor can you play with his hair. 


“Falling in love” — a supremely important experience in adolescence — was never mentioned in my religious instruction. What was discussed was the sin of "kissing" (obviously a euphemism for more than that) and, even more ominously, “impurity” and “dirty thoughts” (an official clerical phrase).

I thought of myself as a terrible sinner, virtually an adulteress — a term I didn't really understand, just as I was such an ignorant virgin that I wasn't sure what "virgin" meant. How incredibly lucky that I left the church before I started dating. It was bad enough to have developed breasts before then and have those obscene things on my now-ruined body. I stooped to conceal them and wore heavy vests so the obscene flesh wouldn’t show.

You may say this is old stuff, this old-time Catholic hatred of the body and sexuality. But several years ago I did visit a local Catholic church, and saw, prominently displayed, the bilingual “Guide to Clean Dating.” So obviously there is also “dirty dating.”

And worst of all, there is there transformative experience, love. Calling it clean dating or dirty dating doesn’t begin to describe the power of what happens.

(“Infant damnation” — how different the mentality of Augustine's times was to even conceive of that . . . )


I woke up around 3 a.m. from this dream: I'm standing among a large crowd on a beach. On a huge screen above we are watching a black-and-white video reminiscent of the mafia movies of the forties. It shows Trump as mentally defective and being manipulated by gangsters who’ve given him the sarcastic code name “Bright” (or “Mr. Bright”). After the video ends, the silence is total. Even the ocean is silent — no sound of the surf. I shout as loud as I can: “Has anyone called 911 yet?”


"Make Russia great again"

to detox from the above:

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” ~ Gwendolyn Brooks

The more I read the statement, the more I like each part of it. This morning I was struck by "we are each other's magnitude." Let's face it, just googling something is really an act of helping ourselves to the collective knowledge, or intellectual magnitude. And by learning about Gandhi or Mandela — or anyone’s refusal to give in to anger and violence (including verbal violence) — I vicariously share in their moral magnitude. Yes, we are each other’s greatness.

“No man is an island” — we are more just one person; we are part of humanity, and that’s why our stories matter. If someone perseveres and overcomes difficulty, that’s a victory for humanity; if someone gives up and commits suicide, that’s a defeat for humanity. Each story is a larger story.

According to Borges, we are also each other's immortality:

You yourself are the embodied continuance
of those who did not live into your time
and others will be (and are) your immortality on earth.

Borges, last lines of Inscription on Any Tomb


The charm of mythology understood as mythology — an imaginative fount of moral lessons, but not at the price of forcing yourself to believe in nonsense, and even cowering in fear before a fictitious judge and ruler. I’m thinking of the notion of a Lamed-Vavnik, and how 36 righteous men (I guess women don’t count) keep god from destroying the world. It’s charming as long as we don’t believe in it. If we take it literally (I doubt that anyone does, but let’s suppose), it’s monstrous — what if one generation becomes short of just one Lamed-Vavnik? And the dangerous lunatic up there is constantly counting and re-counting . . . But if we take it metaphorically — yes, the world is sustained by the righteous — if we think of examples of people who are indeed very kind — then no harm is done and our hearts are uplifted.

I like the idea that a Lamed-Vavnik doesn’t realize he’s one of the 36 Righteous Men; what pressure that kind of knowledge would be!


Is an anthropomorphic god the ultimate development and we can’t imagine anything beyond that?  Even if we abstractly god to an “oblong blur” (to quote a woman mentioned by William James), there is still an anthropomorphic element in “oblong.” Could we perhaps return to the sun, or more broadly nature worship? Or will some of us perhaps worship artificial intelligence?

First, let me quote Nancy Abrams:

~ “My husband, Joel R. Primack, is one of the creators of the theory of cold dark matter, which answers these questions by telling us that everything astronomers can see — including all the stars, planets and glowing gas clouds in our galaxy, and all the distant galaxies — is less than half of 1 percent of the contents of the universe. The universe turns out to be almost entirely made of two dynamic, invisible presences unknown and undreamed of until the 20th century: dark matter (invisible matter not made of atoms or the parts of atoms) and dark energy (the energy causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate). They have been in competition with each other for billions of years, with dark matter's gravity pulling ordinary (atomic) matter together and dark energy flinging space apart. Their cosmic interaction with ordinary matter has spun the visible galaxies into being and, thus, created the only possible homes for the evolution of planets and life.

Over the decades, as data confirming this story began to trickle — then pour — in from telescopes and satellites, I kept wondering: What does it mean for us humans that we're not living in the universe we thought we were in? Today, astronomers worldwide accept the double dark theory as the modern story of the universe, but they have not answered this question.

Does God have to be part of our understanding of the universe? No. But if scientists tell the public that they have to choose between God and science, most people will choose God, which leads to denialism, hostility to science and the profoundly dangerous mental incoherence in modern society that fosters depression and conflict. Meanwhile, many of those who choose science find themselves without any way of thinking that can give them access to their own spiritual potential. What we need is a coherent big picture that is completely consistent with — and even inspired by — science, yet provides an empowering way of rethinking God that provides the human and social benefits without the fantasy. How can we get this?

We can have a real God if we let go of what makes it unreal. I am only interested in God if it's real. If it isn't real, there's nothing to talk about. But I don't mean real like a table, or a feeling, or a test score, or a star. Those are real in normal earthbound experience. I mean real in the full scientific picture of our double dark universe, our planet, our biology and our moment in history.

These are characteristics of a God that can't be real:

    God existed before the universe.
    God created the universe.
    God knows everything.
    God intends everything that happens.
    God can choose to violate the laws of nature.

This list pretty much agrees with most atheists' reasons for dismissing the existence of God. But this is no place to stop. We've merely stated what God can't be. We haven't considered yet what God could be.

To me, this is the key question: Could anything actually exist in this universe that is worthy of being called God? My answer is yes.

There is no single meaning for the word "God." The idea of God and gods has been evolving and shape-shifting nonstop for millennia, and it's not over yet.

All traditional ideas of God are demonstrably inadequate to our time. They perpetuate conflict or fail to inspire us enough to rise to the existential challenges of our complex and dangerous world.

A 99-million-years-old baby dinosaur's tail encased in amber along with ants, a beetle and plant fragments (NPR). Part fibrous, part feathers — look toward the bottom center of the photo. Seems like feathers. Note also the funny-looking creature that seems stuck to the tail. It has a little horn on its head, and looks like something out of Bosch.


Emergence is a powerful scientific concept that cuts across many fields — in fact, it happens throughout evolution. From the formation of galaxies to the evolution of life to the folding of proteins to the growth of cities to the disruption of the global climate, emergence creates utterly new phenomena out of interactions of simpler things.

Almost everything we humans do collectively spawns an emergent phenomenon. So, for example, people trading things has led to the global economy, an emergent phenomenon so complicated and unpredictable that not only does no one know the rules, but the professionals don't even agree on what the rules should be about. The never-ending effort to get people to behave decently toward one another has spawned governments. Our innate desire for gossip has spawned the media. Economies, governments and the media are all emergent phenomena. They follow new and complicated rules that often cannot be derived from the behavior of the parts that make them up. They are real and have immense power over us, but they are not human or humanlike, even though they arise from human activities.

But we humans are not just traders, moralizers and gossips. Far beneath those behaviors, so deep it distinguishes us from the other primates, is this: We aspire. We aspire to different things, but we all aspire. Our aspirations are as real as we are. They are not the same as desires, like food, sex and security. Every animal has those desires from instinct alone. Aspirations reach beyond survival needs. Our aspirations are what shape each of us humans into the individual we are. Without aspirations, we are nothing but meat with habits. We humans are the aspiring species and may have been for hundreds of thousands of years.

God is planetary, not cosmic, Abrams claims

Something new has to have emerged from the staggering complexity of all humanity's aspirations, interacting. What is that something — that emergent phenomenon both fed by and feeding the aspirations of every human being? It didn't exist before humans evolved, but it's here now, and every one of us is directly connected to it, simply by virtue of being human and having aspirations. It didn't create the universe, but it has created the meaning of the universe, which is what matters to us.

Meaning, universe, spirit, God, creation and all other abstract concepts are themselves ideas that took form over countless generations, as people shared their aspirations to understand and express what may lie beyond the visible world. This emergent phenomenon has created the power of all our words and ideas, including ideals like truth, justice, and freedom, which took millennia to clarify in practice, and which no individual could ever have invented or even imagined without a rich cultural history that made it possible.

We humans are entering an era of enormous danger. Chaos and injustice will inevitably accompany the changing global climate, and right now we humans don't have much to unify us in facing that. Our species needs every advantage we can possibly muster, and peace between science and God, peace between reason and spirit, would certainly be advantageous. For millions of thoughtful rational people to have no way to draw on their spiritual power is a tragedy.

The idea of an emerging God triggers as many taboos for atheists as for believers, but if you dare to try it out by moving in with all your furniture, the way scientists are willing to live inside a theory as if it's true — sometimes for many years in order to test it and discover its implications — I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it will transform your life. It has mine.” ~

Yes! These are dinosaur feathers in amber! (The Smithsonian)

from a review in Pathos

After Copernicus, we know that Earth is not at the center of the universe. Our planet is merely the “third rock from the sun” on the edge of one spiral galaxy, which in turn is merely one among more than a billion galaxies in the universe. After Darwin, we know that we humans are not “a little lower than the angels,” but merely “a little higher than the apes.” These are but two of the paradigm-shifting ways that science has de-centered traditional religious claims.

While in recovery from an eating disorder, she was skeptical about claims that, “a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” But to her surprise, she found herself entering “the first period in my life when food was not a problem.” And as a scientifically-inclined person, she wanted to know why this approach worked: was there any divine “there there,” or was it merely a psychological trick? The complicating factor was that the more she began to think of the “God of her understanding” as only a psychological trick, the effectiveness of that “Higher Power” in helping her stay in recovery decreased. So she began searching for a “God that could be real” in light of all science teaches us about the 13.8 billion year old universe story. In her words, “Science can be brutal about placing truth above human consequences.”

In constructing a positive theology, the most interesting perspective she proposes is that ‘God’ is not cosmic, but “planetary” — an emergent phenomenon of life on Earth. This evolving, emergent “God that could be real” is akin to Carl Jung’s “Collective Unconscious” in which the sacred is understood less literally than metaphorically and archetypally — but which is still actual, efficacious, and real.

In her final chapter, “A Big Picture for Our Time,” she explores the implications of this perspective. As she see it, the invitation is to “wake up to our god-capacity” and harness the power of the “God that could be real” to transform ourselves and our society, as she has experienced in her own life.

Reliquary of the Holy Umbilical Cord, Cluny, 1407


Thus, Abrams posits god as an emergent phenomenon. God did not create humans; it’s humans who are constantly creating god(s), the way ants create a complex, self-organizing colony — or humans create governments and economies. And this emergent god is so real that it can be known, prayed to, and heard.

I like the idea of god as an emergent phenomenon. We can certainly pray to a god that we strongly imagine (as I’d put it). And I agree with Abrams that such a god is planetary and a person, rather than a “cosmic consciousness.” Having emerged from the human psyche, it has be human. We can talk to that god in our heads. Where I draw a line is the existence of that subjective deity as a kind of super-person “out there.”


This is not to deny that our mind, both conscious and unconscious, interacts with the external reality in a way so intricate that we can never fully map it. And I like Nancy’s idea of a higher power as a “loving but unbullshitable witness to my thoughts.” But isn’t the concept of the unconscious enough? And the “witness” part (which I think I have experienced) could be a portion of the unconscious that takes charge during certain critical times?

The “inner witness” is real to me. It’s the “outer witness” — the 24/7 “eye in the sky” that sees your every action and reads your every thought — that I shed with great relief  when I left the church at fourteen. Talk about oppressive non-stop surveillance and invasion of privacy!

Inner witness: sure. The wise witness self. Not idealistic, as the “higher self” may feel, but rather totally, ruthlessly realistic. And that is quite powerful. That is enough.

Yet the “higher self” is so ingrained in the culture that perhaps the “emergent god” is best understood as an analog. But that “higher self” remains internal, a part of an individual’s brain function, though we can also speak of collective wisdom and how “we are all connected.” We also know that when a group of people (or even two individuals) gather together, all kinds of interesting patterns can emerge and, assuming harmony, a lot can be accomplished. That’s how civilization developed.

An emergent god may function well in a small group where people aren’t all that individuated, so that one person’s deity isn’t all that different from how someone else imagines the super-being.

And this reminds us that hunters-gatherers obviously had different, nature-related gods than the “big gods” that emerged later. The emergent god(s) is subject to cultural — and personal — evolution. It’s certainly not the all-powerful, all-seeing and all-knowing god that most people would recognize as divine. It’s human, all too human. It’s a psychological and social construct. It can become extremely important to some. But none of this makes god exist in the sense that the sun and the moon exist — or even a snowflake. 

 Michelangelo: Last Judgment — St. Peter holding the keys to heaven. Look at the size of those keys! And of course the size of the muscles, since Michelangelo was turned on by muscle. And I like the little head next to Peter's massive thigh.


The emergent god is limited in that it cannot violate the laws of nature. Call it “god” — but you have to be very careful in your prayers. Grandma (it’s easiest for me to see the emergent god as a grandmother) may be very wise in her guidance, but she can’t violate the laws of nature. And since grandma/the emergent god can’t violate the laws of nature, it’s the laws of nature and not god that are in charge. Thus, you can’t pray for regrowing an amputated limb. One day we may learn how to use stem cells to grow a biological limb in the lab — but that’s science and “biotech.” It’s not religion. 

I'm fine with the concepts of the collective psyche — both the conscious and unconscious part of it. I think it would be wonderful if the aspirations of humanity became more benevolent and more coherent so that more cooperation would be possible. Right now both nationalism and traditional religions work against such cooperation.

 Cretaceous ant


On a personal level, I greatly enjoy what I call “working with my unconscious.” It was mainly my experience of the creative process that taught me to be cease striving so much on the conscious level and have patience so the answer can emerge whenever the unconscious processing has done its work (it may take just minutes, but it may also take years). That trust in the unconscious has in fact improved my life.

That trust in the unconscious is what works for me, and I think it works for most creative people. You can’t be a writer for very long and not realize that writing comes from the unconscious and all it has processed (including nonsense and false memories). Various writers use different terms for the unconscious, and there are some who’d say that their writing comes from god or the Great Mother or Spirit or the astral world etc. I don’t think the terminology matters as long as it serves us and doesn’t hurt others.

But, following William James, I'm a pragmatist: if praying to a parent-in-the-sky works for you, you don’t have to ask if that super-being is real. In my youth, sure, I’d be indignant: how can any intelligent adult believe in such nonsense? Now I’ve mellowed, and I prize happiness much more (in youth I tended to despise it). Truth is elusive, while happiness is at least good for health. If praying make you feel better, go for it.

And it can be a matter of habit. As a woman on Facebook put it, “Honey, I know there is no one up there, but I still talk to him.” As for the reply that she’s simply talking to herself, does it matter? Whatever works.

 Lion playing the violin in a medieval French manuscript circa 1300

(a shameless digression: Some rail against the concept of god as a person, as a parent-in-the-sky. Much as I appreciate Rabbi Kushner’s idea of god as a personification of the highest human ideals all rolled into one super-being [or a “super-thing”], that “personification” isn’t concrete enough to do much for me — or for anyone else, I suspect. And there is vagueness and imprecision here. If we are discussing generosity, it’s only logical to just call it generosity; if beauty, beauty, if kindness, kindness, etc. Is there anything gained by giving the name of “god” to the non-existent “sum” of such ideals? Isn’t it just a useless complication and obfuscation?

And this peculiar personification doesn’t address the disturbing fact that for the most part the biblical Yahweh personifies not the greatest human ideals but the greatest human faults: vengefulness, jealousy, egotistical pride, anger, capriciousness, sulking and withdrawing, playing favorites, sexism, racism, commanding genocide . . . the list could go on.

Cruelty wasn’t exclusive to Yahweh. The Greek gods, Norse gods, Celtic gods etc were also vengeful, jealous, mean, full of ego, and so forth — it’s almost odd the way people used to project nastiness on their gods. Perhaps they thought those were GOOD traits. Certainly vengefulness is considered good in a macho “culture of honor,” as is any other display of power.

We probably have a poor understanding of the prevalent culture of long, long ago. That mentality is lost to us, just as we don’t really understand why any god would want 70 bullocks sacrificed to him on special occasions.)

Photo: Robt Schleith
God made everything out of nothing, but the nothingness shows through ~ 

Paul Valery


~ “Evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder can be traced back to 1300BC — much earlier than previously thought — say researchers.

The team at Anglia Ruskin University analyzed translations from ancient Mesopotamia.

Prof Hacker Hughes told the BBC News website: “The sorts of symptoms after battle were very clearly what we would call now post-traumatic stress symptoms.

“The [warriors] described hearing and seeing ghosts talking to them, who would be the ghosts of people they'd killed in battle — and that's exactly the experience of modern-day soldiers who've been involved in close hand-to-hand combat.”

Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes, a former consultant clinical psychologist for the Ministry of Defense, said the first description of PTSD was often accredited to the Greek historian Herodotus.

Referring to the warrior Epizelus during the battle of Marathon in 490BC he wrote: "He suddenly lost sight of both eyes, though nothing had touched him."

A diagnosis and understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder emerged after the Vietnam War. It was dismissed as shell shock in World War One.

Prof Hacker Hughes said: "As long as there has been civilization and as long as there has been warfare, there has been post-traumatic symptoms. It's not a 21st Century thing.”

What is a “21st century thing” is our awareness that PTSD produces a great deal of suffering and can be deeply disabling, which raises the question of whether we have the moral right to impose that kind of trauma on anyone.

Of course trauma can happen in all kinds of circumstances. Fortunately we are now seriously interested in treatment. Blocking adrenaline with a sufficient dose of a beta-blocker and then presenting a triggering image is one promising approach that follows up on William James’s theory of emotions: block the bodily response, and you block the emotion. Block the shaking and sweating, the dry mouth and the belly cramps, and you won’t feel fear.


Having dealt with daytime practicalia, I am now dealing with nighttime practicalia. No wonder so many people imagine paradise as floating about without a body.

What they don’t realize is that they won’t have their iPhone either.

ending on beauty:

The streets were dark with something more than night. ~ Raymond Chandler


I'm interested in the book by Nancy Abrams, so I read some Amazon reviews, and they are not all that encouraging. I think she is onto something, and you’re onto something — it’s brain function, but interconnected, amplified — both individual and collective.

Still, if I am to use the word god, I want to be able to pray to that god — that’s actually the main use of him/her/it/them. Can you pray to your unconscious?


I think you can guess my answer: it depends on the definition of prayer. The unconscious is definitely not a sky god, so no prayer would start with “Our Father who art in heaven.” I think I could live with “Our Mother who is within us and around us” — but no, I don’t need that; I prefer to use my private name for my “interconnected unconscious.”

But if prayer is simply talking and asking for guidance, sure.

To borrow from the 12-Step lingo, you can “turn over” your problems to your unconscious. Call it the Wise One or any other name you like (if you don’t know what name to call it, just “turn over” that problem to it — I mean it).

It really was a nice change in my life when I learned that instead of working myself into a cold sweat over a difficult situation, I could “sleep on it” — the easiest way to “turn it over.” And sure enough — the next morning, or several mornings later, I would wake up with clarity. I don’t mean the answer would come to me in a dream — in fact I don’t remember that ever happening — though a few times I woke up in the wee hours with a thought blazing in my mind.

And I don’t mean that it’s necessarily in the morning that you suddenly simply know. It can be any time of the day, and often feels “out of the blue” — like remembering the name of someone you knew in high school.

Remembering to turn over and trusting that the answer will come when ready can be very soothing. I think I lost half of nervousness and my habit of agonizing when I learned to trust my unconscious. Of course there are still times I forget. But I can catch myself at overthinking.

Before I knew about “turning over,” I think I was getting ready for it with my attraction to Taoism and the idea of “non-doing.” The less effort, the better. Here I was, raised in the ethos of achievement, completely enchanted by the idea of not making a conscious effort.

Dali: Raphaelesque Head Exploding, 1951


Also, let’s not forget Jung’s concept of the Self. Isn’t that a lot like your “trust in the unconscious”?


There are similarities, but I am not trying to deify the unconscious. It’s not all-knowing. It’s not infallible. If it were, my poems wouldn’t need so many revisions!

Seriously, I think it’s a big mistake to deify anything, to try to turn a process (here a type of brain function) into a  thing. Note that (at least in English) this deifying starts by spelling a word with a capital letter, e.g. Being.

I am afraid that Abrams is making the same mistake with her Emergent God. She’s onto something with her emphasis on emergence, but logically it just doesn’t hold. To some extent it holds on the emotional level — I am glad she’s got the courage to insist that her kind of god is planetary and not cosmic, and a person rather than some abstraction.

But there is a difference between a person (or an imagined super-person) and a process. You can love a person or a pet. And I suppose you could say, “I LOVE the creative process!” — but it means you enjoy it, you like to see it happen. But a process doesn’t have a face. It’s certainly not a parent in the sky waiting for you to come home.

I favor avoiding the word “god” with all its archaic baggage. Let’s speak of consciousness and the unconscious, of the creative process, of being with a small b. 

Jean Cocteau at work


I confess that I was instantly disappointed with Jung’s Self and the idea that the task of life is individuation. What interested me a lot more is his notion that what makes a person exceptional is an exceptional dedication to their calling. Here we are close to the “daimon” of the Ancient Greeks — literally “destiny,” usually personified as a guiding spirit. Socrates, for instance, mentions consulting his daimon.

(The Romans used the word “genius” — this may be more congenial to us, once we realize that it’s not boasting to speak of one’s genius — it’s simply the special talent that anyone potentially has, and that can be nurtured into  full development given the right circumstances.)

Again, there is the question of whether we need a word like “daimon,” or can we just stick to “calling.” I know that when I spend enough time doing intense creative work I have a sense of living from my essence, of being on the right path rather than squandering my one and only life.

I'm resigned to the fact that there is no avoiding “wasting time.” But even one hour spent doing the right kind of work provides a sense of depth. 

As he awaits execution, Socrates hears a voice in a dream: “Socrates, make music.” And he begins to write poetry, starting with a hymn to Apollo. Others ask: “What use?” In the transformation of the story by Emil Cioran, Socrates replies, “To know before dying.” I would change this to “To live before dying.” 




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