Friday, August 27, 2010

Quo Vadis

Its not difficult to get sucked into a pessimistic, even nihilistic and apocalyptic view of things at the moment. At the same time, there is an enigma because everything that's happening is part of the universe, part of consciousness; and an aspect of what is emerging inside the mystery out of which we're coming too. Our presence here - just our very presence, without any thoughts or acts - is a response, a participation in something much larger that is invisible to us. Something that on some level, without having to posit extraterrestrials or interdimensionals, is connected and connecting to other intelligences in the universe and the intrinsic intelligence of the universe itself.

These realms are being informed by our situation in some way - again, remove any Gothic sci-fi images: we are receiving aid, advice and godspeed from them despite how things are going here, despite the fact that it looks as though morons and madmen and crime bosses are informing everything. That's the particular dialectic that we're in: things are a mess and inextricable, but we are alive and conscious and filled with the song and heart and yearning of the universe. So it's important not to over-focus on "fixing" things in the ordinary sense: politically, ecologically, economically. It's impossible. Yet on the other hand it's absolutely crucial that all of those matters of stewardship and right livelihood be tended to and remediated in exactly the mechanical and practical and moral ways that are called for. We must act. We must do the right thing. Service is absolute and non-negotiable.

Yet we are impotent against the scale of physical and financial forces. We can't plug the hole. And that's the least of what we can't plug or mend. It's like both are true and wrapped around each other: the apocalypse and the awakening. Only the apocalypse writes itself glowingly and brazenly on the face of our times; the spiritual awakening is deep and subtle, hidden inside our gestation in the universe, our pagan, untold initiation that is written in nature - the whole of nature - and in the sky. In our cells and atoms and electrons and quarks and chakras and auras too. Written but not yet transcribed, at least not at the same clarity as the darkness. We think and feel the universe - the deepest magus, angel, avatar, lover voice it has, and that has to be enough. It is enough.

This collective false human self is doomed, and no solution whatever from the consciousness of that collected false human self - however noble, however self-awake, and however righteous - is going to work. What we are looking at is an appalling, dreadful, ferocious, inescapable dark night of the species, which is going to get worse, very, very fast. That is the bad news. But there's good news within the bad news because when you understand through divine grace, and through the flicker of the divine evolutionary intelligence shining on your mind and heart, that this radical ferocious process is the sign of an enormous new potential struggling chaotically to be born, then you can begin to cooperate with that birth in two main ways.

The first is to really undergo ourselves - as rigorously and as ruthlessly and as abandoned as possible - a radical transformation which does not look like the ordinary mystical awakenings; which are essentially awakenings to transcendence alone, but is a real evolutionary mystical awakening which is destined to illuminate the mind, shatter the heart open, and start birthing the divine in the cells of matter. So we can pledge ourselves to the birthing transformation.

And the second thing that we can do, is through really fusing together the deepest mystical awareness with a commitment to unflinching divine action, we can midwife a birth through the chaos; and start in this atrocious dying, building consciously with others who are awake to the evolutionary potential of this crisis, the structures of the birth - cooperating with the evolutionary intelligence to build these structures of birth; in the hope that humanity may not be suicidally psychotic and on a death-trip, so intense that not even the pulsations of the divine will can save it from itself.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

T-Shirt Of The Month Club

Inside The Dream

Thanks to movies like Inception and Avatar, lucid dreaming has become a household word. Although definitions vary depending on your culture and the strength of your resistance towards the transpersonal, most call lucid dreaming the experience of dreaming with awareness, and sometimes dreaming with control, while the body sleeps. Everyone is now asking the same questions: Is dream control possible - or is it science fiction? Will technology ever let us share dreams like virtual reality? What fool-proof methods or pills can we take to wake up in our dreams?

The truth is, these themes were perfected thousands of years ago by our ancestors, and are still practiced today in dozens of indigenous cultures around the world. And this work is done without pills, headsets, VR goggles, and dream machines. Lucid dreaming is actually a shamanic skill, a method of heightened awareness in the dream that allows healers, soothsayers and medicine men access to information, insight and energetic powers. Lucid dreaming doesn't require technology: it is the technology.

But this is a far cry from how Westerners are taught about lucid dreaming. More often than not, lucid dreaming is discussed as a fantasy realm indulging private fantasies, seeking entertainment and pleasure. Not that there's anything wrong with this perspective, limited as it is. It's simply a marketer's dream seeking the lowest common denominator, neatly paralleling the adolescent cravings that drive the main engines of distraction and consumption in Western culture.

The father of modern depth psychology, Sigmund Freud, discusses dream interpretation as the work of culture to drain the swamps of the psyche to build monuments for the ego. On the other hand, Freud's younger colleague Carl Jung warns that, "Any efforts to drill (the unconscious) are only apparently successful, and moreover are harmful to consciousness." Unaware of this divide, but still caught in its net, many lucid dreaming books promise unlimited potential; explore, manipulate and conquer - the manifest destiny of lucid dreaming. This myth places the dreamer in the center of the world, the creator and arbiter of the dreaming landscape.

From a scientific perspective, REM dreaming has a pretty specific neuro-phenomenology. Activation of the limbic system brings strong emotions, and this is combined with an enhanced access to long-term memory - and a depression of short-term memory so we don't tend to question who or where we are. The parts of the brain that bring mental imagery are also actively firing away, creating symbolic structures for all this content. In a nutshell, dreaming is a potent mix of visual-emotional-linguistic metaphors that link to our deepest memories and experiences.

We don't have to be indigenous peoples to appreciate the shamanic aspects of lucid dreaming, but Westerners may need to let go of some destructive myths in order to participate at the deeper levels of imagination like those cultivated in dreaming cultures. Some of these myths include the idea that we as individuals are alone, we as a culture are owners of the lands we inhabit, we as a species are separate from nature; and that the universe itself is a dead, mechanistic realm of cause and effect. When we take these notions into the dream, the stages are set, the possibilities are limited and the anomalies are stamped out before they have a chance to speak up.

Dream control can be used to surrender and go with the flow. This tension between maintaining awareness and dancing with the unknown is the thin line that connects us to the source(s), leading us into a light brighter than our own lucidity. At this time in history, the ability of dreamers to tap into the wisdom of the ancients and to draw from the intelligence of non-human sources may be critical to our survival, at least for the dream's ability to make conscious what is happening in the world, in each of our communities, due to the ecological effects of civilization.

Monday, August 9, 2010

In The Land Of Elam

With respect to Women's Day and in honor of women, mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, nieces, girlfriends, godmothers, fiancees, godchildren and daughters everywhere (with excerpts from Circle of Stones by Judith Duerck).

Long ago when life was still sacred, in many places on earth, the Goddess was worshipped. Known by many names in many lands as Isis, Astarte, lshtar, Ashtoteth and Hathor; temples built in her honour saw to the care of lands and flocks and kept the books and records. The Great Goddess was revered in ceremonies perpetuating the fertility and holiness of the earth. Sanctified and empowered unto herself, a woman could empower other women. Woman passed down to woman a sense of herself, of her body, of the mysteries of fecundity and regeneration. Woman was autonomous, sat on the councils of elders, served in the courts of law; and passed down the sovereign rule in many lands. The children born to woman were legitimate and respectable - inheriting her name and title in many places - whether or not she was married.

Woman was recognized for her knowledge and sought out for her advice in practical matters. She held jobs alongside men and was valued for her insight and authority in all things seen. But it was for her insight and authority in things unseen that woman was most valued. Through her feminine rituals, through the sacred art of sexual love, woman came into the direct presence of the Goddess, and through this experience, was opened to her own prophetic and oracular vision. Woman knew the mysteries of life and how to invoke the primal elements of nature, touchable and untouchable. Woman passed down to woman knowledge of the elemental energies in the earth and of herself, and of how to align herself with the eternal flow of those energies, within and without.

Among the last of nations to hold the Goddess in highest reverence and woman in a place of honour was the small land of Elam. Elam was an ancient civilization located in what is now southwest Iran, as well as a small part of southern Iraq. Situated just to the east of then Mesopotamia, Elam was part of early human urbanization; and the recent emergence of written records (circa 3000 BC) parallel Mesopotamian history. The Elamite culture and language has no established affinities with any other, and seems to have developed in isolation.

The Elam society was matrilineal, that is, in tracing descent and settling inheritance, they followed the maternal line. Their system of kinship was matrilineal too, and women held a very good position and wielded great influence. A child belonged to the clan and village community of its mother; and wealth as well as social position was inherited, not from father to son, but from maternal uncle to nephew. As regards kinship, the main thing to be remembered was that the Elamites were matrilineal, and that the succession of rank, membership in all the social groups, and the inheritance of possessions descend in the maternal line.

Property was succeeded inside the mother-line; the ownership of trees in the village grove and ownership in garden plots was ceded by the father to his son during the lifetime of the former. At his death, it often had to be returned to the man's rightful heirs, that is, his sister's children. Men had life-long obligations to work for women and their relatives in that society; they entailed a life-long obligation of every man to work for his kinswomen and their families. When a boy began to garden, he did it for his mother. When his sisters grew up and married, he worked for them. If he had neither mother nor sisters, his nearest female blood relation would claim the proceeds of his labour.

Time passed. Things began to change. Laws were introduced taking rights of inheritance away from woman. Control over her property, finances and legal affairs was given to the men related to her. Her political and social autonomy was taken, and in some places she was considered property. The most supreme gift of the Goddess was denigrated - sexual love was shamed and reviled. Her claiming of her sexuality as sacred to herself and to the Goddess was scorned and humiliated. Sexual union, once sacred and ecstatic, became debauchery. The sacred temple rituals, wherein a woman had become holy and free, were condemned as orgiastic and the priestesses as temple prostitutes.

The sacred groves dedicated to the worship of the Great Mother were condemned as closed. The serpent, venerable symbol of wisdom and nobility, was denigrated and reviled. It became, for the epochs following, a target for humiliation and derision; treated as a symbol of woman’s folly, evil, cunning and lust. This ancient symbol of life was abased as that which tempted Eve; and, through Eve, all of humankind into sin and death. The wisdom of woman, gained through her identification with her body, with the Goddess and with the earth; was no longer revered but ridiculed and rejected. Once honored as prophetess and seer, woman was now scorned. Her instincts and intuition, through which she perceived the elemental energies and the cycles of nature and her knowledge of healing, were rebuked and humiliated.

Some 2500 years later, following recent international protests, the present day Iranian government announced that a 43-year-old woman will not be stoned to death. Sakineh Ashtiani was arrested in 2006 and charged with carrying out an "illicit relationship" outside marriage; and has been in Tabriz prison ever since. Although judicial authorities have announced that Sakineh will not be stoned to death; they have not however indicated whether they have lifted the death sentence against her. Sakineh, a mother of two, had initially been sentenced to 99 lashes and stoning for "committing adultery". She has already been flogged and her stoning sentence was approved by the Supreme Court.

In the mean time Mohammed Mostafaei, human rights activist and Sakineh’s lawyer; has fled to Turkey and left his family behind in Iran. He has had to make difficult, life-altering decisions in recent weeks. The lawyer has been a longtime defender of Iranian juveniles facing the death penalty. On July 24, as activists around the world staged protests against Ashtiani's death sentence, Mostafaei was taken in by Iranian authorities for hours of interrogation. After they released him, he went into hiding. Around the same time, Iranian security forces detained his wife and brother-in-law. The brother-in-law has been released, but his wife Fereshteh is still being held in solitary confinement without charge.

Before the 1979 Islamic revolution, consensual sexual relations between adults did not figure in the country's criminal code. But the revolution enacted a version of Islamic law extraordinarily harsh, even by the standards of the Muslim world. Under the new regime, extramarital sex was a crime punishable by law. On the face of things, stoning is not a gender-specific punishment, for the law stipulates that adulterous men face the same brutal end. But Iranian law permits polygamy, so it offers men an escape route. Because Iranian law recognizes "marriages" of even a few hours between men and single women, men can claim that their adulterous relationships are in fact temporary marriages. By exploiting this escape clause, men are rarely sentenced to stoning. Married women accused of adultery have access to no such reprieve.

Stoning has long been criticized by Islamic jurists, most notably the Iranian Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei. These jurists believe that such punishment was meted out during Islam's early history - in the 7th Century desert of Saudi Arabia - in accordance with the customs of the time, but are no longer valid. Iran tries to limit international knowledge by not announcing stoning verdicts publicly. Only slowly, and by word of mouth, do stoning cases make their way to media in Iran and sometimes elsewhere. A year-and-a-half ago, Iranian media reported that a man was executed by stoning in the city of Qazvin. We cannot know how many Iranians have been killed by such punishment in the past three decades. Sakineh Ashtiani may yet become one more. Others are in her position, but how many, no one knows.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Coalition of the Willing

Coalition of the Willing is a short animated film that discusses how individuals can use new Internet technologies to leverage the powers of activists, experts and ordinary citizens in collaborative ventures to combat climate change. The video calls for a new social revolution, bringing the fight against global warming to the people through online activism.

This carries a strong message about the power of self-organizing groups that goes beyond the fight against climate change. Using the internet to "find the others" is proving to be a successful tactic. The video highlights a return to the 60’s with the “birth of a new individualism;” shrugging off mass-market culture and bringing forth a new era of individual expression.

Coalition Of The Willing from coalitionfilm on Vimeo.