I love the following passage from Carl Jung…not because I like that it’s true, but because it’s true.
The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two forces are at war within him on the one hand the common human longing for happiness, satisfaction and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for creation which may go so far as to override every personal desire. The lives of artists are as a rule so highly unsatisfactory, not to say tragic, because of their inferiority on the human and personal side, and not because of a sinister dispensation.
There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of the creative fire. It is as though each of us were endowed at birth with a certain capital of energy. The strongest force in our make-up will seize and all but monopolize this energy, leaving so little over that nothing of value can come of it. In this way the creative force can drain the human impulses to such a degree that the personal ego must develop all sorts of bad qualities — ruthlessness, selfishness, and vanity (so-called “auto-eroticism”) and even every kind of vice, in order to maintain the spark of life and to keep itself from being wholly bereft.
How can we doubt that it is his art that explains the artist, and not the insufficiencies and conflicts of his personal life? These are nothing but the regrettable results of the fact that he is an artist, that is to say, a man who from his very birth has been called to a greater task than the ordinary mortal. A special ability means a heavy expenditure of energy in a particular direction, with a consequent drain from some other side of life.
from Modern Man in Search of a Soul
We live in a mystical cosmic structure, naturally. It is only our stubborn Minds and years of outside conditioning that prevent us from accessing mystical experiences daily.
The mystical is always here, awaiting our attention.
Mystical experiences themselves are difficult to describe because they exist in a realm beyond language and reasoning. Even so, I’ll attempt to recount my understanding of the mystical as I have lived it. I’ve put together some common qualities of a mystical experience:
The inability to explain the encounter in words often accompanies a powerful mystical happening. Because the spiritual realm is beyond the power of the human Mind to describe, as soon as we attempt to put our mystical experiences into words, we have already shrunken them, regardless of how beautifully we speak. Still, it is in our nature to want to share our understandings with each another, so we do the best we can. Rather than attempting to translate the experience in linear, rational thoughts, the experience may be illustrated by means of metaphors, poetry, art, or music.
A core element of a mystical experience is an undeniable sense of the inter-connectedness of all people, things, elements of nature, past & future happenings, and cosmic entities. One may even see this connectedness as a matrix-like grid or web of energy. Or the wholeness may be felt as a shared consciousness or unity. It’s important to note that this sense of unity is not merely intellectual; it is known—as a deep understanding.
I often also feel this connectedness at the primal, tribal level.
Sitting in the circle with my group and my guides I am overwhelmed with the feeling that–
This is how it’s supposed to be. We are all here together making music, exploring consciousness, and supporting each other’s discoveries. There is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.
Transcendence of Time and Space
The union of past and future into the present moment may occur during a mystical happening.
I am often asked, “Where do you go when you meditate that deeply? What is this other place you speak of? Is it here, physically?”
To this I say: the place one encounters is always here. It is always happening. When one experiences mystical transcendence, one need not go anywhere physically; there is a different level of awareness accessed which transports the individual to a plane of ultimate resonance with the universe. That is, one is perceiving multiple dimensions, planes, ‘times’, and spheres of the cosmos simultaneously.
I may be sitting on the floor, cross-legged in deep mediation—but ethereally I am traveling vast distances through space and time. I may be simultaneously at the center of the center of a cosmic mountain and also at home with a friend. I may be freezing on the tundra at the beginning of human history. I may be in the Amazon. I may be facing my greatest fears. I may be floating in a crystalline transport device through an unexplainable kingdom of jeweled mysteries. All of these ‘places’ have been experienced by me.
Those who share the details of their mystical happenings often describe a sense of arriving at an ultimate Reality—claiming that their experiences were “more real” than the ordinary state of being we experience in during day-to-day living.
I sometimes try to explain it like this: when you are dreaming at night, no matter how real the dream may seem, once you wake in the morning and begin to move through your day, you can (typically) clearly look back and say, “That was a dream. Now I am awake. I understand the difference between the two.” Similarly, in the midst of a mystical experience, I can clearly look back at day-to-day living and say, “That is but a mere dream when compared to this Reality.”
The things experienced during a mystical encounter cannot be qualified as hallucinations, beliefs, or even versions of reality; what is encountered is fact. Films like The Matrix, Inception, Waking Life, & The Fountain play around with these ideas (not always on a mystical/spiritual level, but nonetheless.)
Encountering the Divine
Various Gods, Goddesses, and other non-human entities may appear during mystical encounters. Accompanying these is often a sense of sacredness, reverence, awe, and wonder. I will share a direct experience with this later on in this entry.
I feel no better way to describe this element of the mystical experience than to share a moment from one of my own person experiences. The passage will be shared later on when I go into more detail about my recent retreat.
Often accompanying a mystical experience is a new and deeper appreciation for what it means to be alive. This could be due to an ego death, a connection with one’s most authentic soul-self, or visionary revelations experienced during the happening.
People who have encountered the mystical often report rekindling lost passions, talents, gifts, and dreams that once meant everything to them but were suppressed by the influences of culture and society. During a mystical experience, a deeper sense of self-acceptance, purpose, and personal calling are often unveiled—and after having felt these things so purely, it can be difficult to return to regular life without integrating these discoveries.
In fact, returning from a mystical experience can be downright painful! This has been the case for me when I haven’t been living 100% congruently with my highest calling.
“Mind the gap,” my dear friend says, “Between where your life is now, and where you know it should be.”
I have returned from transformative retreats and quit jobs, left long term relationships, and uprooted mentally from patterns of mind-behaviors that were suddenly unfulfilling. Had I been living more congruently with my true nature pre-retreat, my life would not have had to undergo so much reconstructive surgery upon return.
At a retreat that I attended about a year ago, a woman shared the difficulty she experienced when returning from one of her own mystical encounters. “I was so depressed!” she said. “I had just spent an entire week playing with God—I didn’t want to return from that! I wanted to stay forever playing with Divine energy.”
But we can! We can construct our lives so that we are always playing with God. The ability to integrate one’s mystical experiences into everyday living is key to long-term empowerment and peace. It is not enough to experience mesmerizing, blissful, perception-altering encounters with the Divine. Individuals blessed with mystical experiences are blessed so that they may return to the ‘regular world’ better equipped to make lasting, positive, truth-inspired change. These initiates are meant to help evolve humanity. That does not make them prophets, saints, seers, or revolutionaries (though they can be!), nor does it make them innately more important than other human beings, but it does give them an added sense of responsibility. What they have seen cannot be unseen. After a mystical experience, one’s consciousness will never return to its prior state of being. It has reached ever-higher planes, and there it will reside.
Humility & Gratitude
I have yet to experience an awakening that was accompanied by a feeling of superiority. In fact, the exact opposite holds true. A deep sense of humility and gratitude prevails over me. Granted, these feelings also arrive with a rush of Divine power (as we are all infused with Divinity), but I do not return from mystical journeys screaming, “Look at me!” I return with an undeniable urge to serve humanity. I return overflowing with tears of gratitude for my guides and fellow healer-explorers. I return a better, sweeter, more open-hearted, more connected me.
Personal Notes from my most Recent Retreat
Note: The mountain we visited is itself said to be an extraordinary place of great power, healing, and spiritual activation.
Intention: to be further guided to my personal calling
The first night of ceremony was filled with “settling in.”
I immediately knew my personal calling was to serve, though in what capacity was not made clear.
I noticed how whenever my Mind found its way into a neutral state, it didn’t stay there long. It had the tendency to drift—and not to a place of positivity. It often began imagining negative possibilities. Why is this!? I wondered. Why not drift somewhere amazing? Why always the downward spiral?? I made a mental note to consciously stop this Mind traveling—or, at least make an effort to re-direct the wanderings to flights of fancy!
Spirits rowed slowly in boats from the base of the mountain towards our retreat
There was a high-vibrating “alien” presence, which I later spoke of to another member of the group. “Don’t worry,” she said. “They’re friendly.”
I felt safe throughout the night, enclosed in my white shield from the sacred valley.
I thought a bit about my father. A “2-3 month” framework kept appearing to me. I don’t know why. I tried not to think morbid things.
The night was gentle and introductory. Our guide explained that tonight was just a warm up. “Tomorrow we take off,” he said.
I thought I was grounded enough to go to bed around 2 a.m., but after I gathered some food from the kitchen and climbed the stairs to my room, I suddenly felt that I could no longer stand—and I felt the bread crumble from my hand, and the hard-boiled egg dropped to the floor as I dropped beside it. I broke into a deep sweat. I came to a few moments later, left the food on the floor, and climbed into bed to go to sleep.
The morning awaited me with fresh mountain air and a clearer way of seeing. There was less Mind surging through me, and I knew that meant the second night’s experience would arrive more swiftly and intensely.
What I remember most from the second evening was the incredible love I felt for my boyfriend, for all of my beloveds, and—most profoundly—objectlessly.
During the portion of the meditation when my heart-space was focused on my boyfriend, the amount of love I felt for him terrified me! It was so raw and real and pure…I realized he was not just someone I was dating, he was the man in my life (and that meant a lot to me!) Perhaps he was even the man of my life.
I remember thinking of Jason, “I wish you could feel this feeling! I will spend my entire life trying to give you this feeling. You mean so much to me. I love who you are, how you are…everything!” Here is where I began to laugh and cry simultaneously. The fact that I could feel such profound love—the fact that I could generate that—astounded me.
I had never felt love with such intensity and clarity before. I was not ‘in love with love’ or ‘in love with possibilities’ or ‘in love but from a place in me that needed some sort of completion or healing.’ I was just Love. I was Loving. It was my reason for being! I was amazed by the capacity for love that I contained.
The fact that we humans are capable of such an overpowering feeling brought me to even more tears of depth-filled joy. Surely it must be our greatest gift, to feel this love. We go through so much—our hearts are so broken so many times—yet we continue loving. What beings!
This is a true gift: to love as a human being.
I’m happy I was able to experience this on the second night, because on the third night there was no Jason. There was no love at all. There wasn’t even me.
I’m getting ahead of myself. What else occurred on that second evening?
A beautiful tree enclosed in a bubble emerged from my heart and set off on a journey through the cosmos.
A flowering Goddess (who I later discovered to be Shakti) kept appearing to me. I bloomed along with her, from the center of a lotus flower.
When the guide and his assistant came around to give me a personal healing, I was elevated and re-aligned. I felt myself growing taller into space. The entire cosmos welcomed me. When the gudie tapped between my brows, my third eye was blown open! I was taken to the center of the cosmos where I realized: the center is everywhere. Accessible always.
At one point, when I was dancing ecstatically, I remember experiencing darkness, Mordor style—it was frightening! I thought, “When you’re going through hell, keep going!” so I danced even harder, keeping in sight the bright light of Shakti.
Strange and practical thoughts of Jason and our future flooded over me. I realized Jason and I were similar because neither of us wanted something ‘ordinary.’ Our visions for what we did want may or may not align—that was yet to be discovered—but we are neither ordinary.
A group member shared afterwards that this particular group of people was “the holiest place” he knew. “The place with the most spiritual integrity.”
Another member spoke of the incredible discipline our guide had.
And I was brought to tears (again) by the music our guide and his assistant created. Their singing was filled with such love and powerful healing. “They are my cosmic parents,” I thought. “This music is their love, healing.”
Sometimes my service was dancing, as when others were going through difficult times and the energy level in the room was escalating. I danced to churn the energy. To add more to the pot. To up the ante.
The stillnesses were profound.
“I’m here to take you deeper and higher,” the guide said.
“Are you there?” he asked me, smiling quietly.
“Yes, thank you,” I said.
Jason had called me a Princess Warrior before I left. I wanted to tell him I was the female version of him. Strength. Humor. A heart opening.
I danced with the Mother
and the wind surrounded
the stars spoke
from their galaxies
I fell in love with our guide
—and his assistant as she sang
with such vulnerability
a new level of depth & beauty
to her prayers
my prayer was a dance
On the third night, I traveled to the center of the cosmos for a more extended period of time.
It was Mt. Meru. Shambhala. Mt. Qaf. I had arrived. These names only came to me after the experience when I asked “Where was I?” to the guide. There was a twinkling in his eyes not unlike the healing chimes that led me to the twinkling center of things.
At one point I was in a protective crystalline transport device—that is the best way I can describe it. I was given a glowing, bright, ruby-like gem upon entrance to this mystical place. The gem felt like an initiatory reward—a “Good job, you’ve made it to the next level!” boon.
The transport device and ruby-like gem lingered with me, post-ceremony, much in the way St. Francis had continued to watch over me after the sacred valley. This time, the lingering felt physically tangible; I could feel the weight of the ruby beside me! It glowed brighter whenever I was in the company of someone I could trust, someone with whom I could be vulnerable, someone who understood mysteries. It was another form of protection, much like the white shield had been. These gifts were meant to help me make my way though the world.
The Nature of Shakti
Any time I was scared during the third night of ceremony, I asked, “Mother spirit, is that you?” When I knew it was, I surrendered.
She entered me as a serpent
down my throat
She arrived in my belly
planted a seed
(Great, I thought. Now a demon baby grows in me)
I quickly corrected my thoughts
back to Reality
It was not a demon baby
as strange as the creature inside me seemed
It was the idea of a child
being born in me
I saw it first as a beautiful Hindu god
Then it became of me
this conscious being
Sitting beside me
waiting to be guided
I’d never felt that before—what it would feel like to bring another consciousness into this world and support his growth and journey. Later my boyfriend would laugh and say—
“You couldn’t get to that point on your own?”
“No,” I said. “That’s what these ceremonies are for. They get me to where I need to be.”
Thank you, Mother spirit, for planting that seed in me.
It could have also been a creative seed that was planted in me…as an ultimate reminder of my power to create anything. Earlier that day, I’d wondered if the purpose of my current journey was to bring all my creative, sexual energy up through my chakra system so that it could be expressed more fully, in higher forms of creativity.
Everything I discovered in the days after the retreat confirmed this feeling. On the second day back, I stumbled into a metaphysical shop and the first thing I set my eyes on was a necklace containing a symbol that had appeared to me during ceremony. I learned it is the “Sri Yantra” and is tied to the Mother Hindu Goddess, Shakti, who also appeared to me many times over the course of the three nights of ceremonies. I had never seen or heard of her before the retreat.
Also in the shop, I found a reading by Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati that described Shakti. “Shakti embodies the power to manifest inherent in supreme consciousness. When people create ideas out of thin air, they are revealing their Shakti. There are people who create empires, and they too are showing their Shakti. Anyone who exhibits talent and creativity puts their Shakti, or power to create, on display. Even the creation of a beautiful moment in someone’s life is a glimpse of Shakti… There is no place where Shakti does not reside.”
It was she, Shakti, who had impregnated me. She had taken the form of the serpent that night. Shakti sometimes takes form this way, representing upward-rising Kundalini energies.
Shakti is intrinsically tied to the Sri Yantra mandala, the ‘Mother of all yantras’ because all of the other yantras derive from it. In its three dimensional form, Sri Yantra represents Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain residing at the center of the universe—the place a mystical Buddhist would refer to as Shambhala.
I did not know the name for this place until the guide told me post-ceremony, but as soon as I began to research pictures, prayers, and descriptions, I immediately knew, “Yes, I was there.” I am intimately familiar with this place.
Also during those evenings of meditation on the retreat, vivid imagery of the pyramids and other Egyptian symbols came to me. The ‘eye in the sky. was watching.
The ever-present eye in the sky. My college boyfriend and I first encountered it together, while we were trekking through the Valley of Fire one night. We noticed it, noticing us.
“Know we’re here,” it said to me this time around. It was non-threatening, simply present as a flower or a tree—only its presence could best be described as ‘other worldly.’
It twinkled at me several times.
“Why me?” I asked, ridiculously.
“Because you’re here,” it sent to me immediately. “You showed up. You’re the one in ceremony! You’re the one suddenly paying attention! We are always here.”
They are always here. Watching.
We shared in a circle. There were tears.
And such beautiful women.
A diva dressed in white sat atop her fuzzy pillow and reached for the glass bottle of Voss at her feet. I crawled over—not unlike the feline way I’d crawled to the alter during ceremony. There had been a beautiful procession of human spirit beings approaching the alter earlier that evening.
I crawled over and told the diva she reminded me of a snow bunny.
“I’ve wanted to tell you something, too,” she smiled. “You are so beautiful.”
“So are you,” I said. Thanks for noticing me.
She selected a Zincite gem at the store for me the next day.
“Your new piece,” she said.
Oh how I love women.
Oh how I love men.
“Their simplicity,” the youngest group member said. “I feel like men are just—much more primal.”
“Yes,” I agreed. She was 23. It was good she understood sooner than later. “But such beautiful simplicity.”
“How do you go back to regular life after this?” she asked. “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
My new mantra was given to me: I bring into my life abundance, joy, and prosperity.
If I wander from my dreams, may my heart sound the alarm.
I picked up The Alchemist and read, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
“The point is,” our guide said, “There is no physical healing. It is all spiritual healing.”
Final Fragments and Lessons Learned
It was all about birthing, creation, the Mother, the Divine Mother in me
The symbol of my Goddess was given to me
The Goddess herself revealed herself to me
Integration is the key
I can’t lie about my truths any more
Not to others, and not to me
“Not even white ones!” the snow bunny said
We all saw the beauty in each other
There was no arguing
No defending of the things understand as Reality
And we were able to evolve from there
I want to go further
And Further with Jason, too
I can’t explain it this evening, My soul-friend wrote from thousands of miles away. But you are becoming powerful, my love.
He had always wanted power for me.
I was coming into alignment with myself. This was something all of us in the group were feeling. We wrote each other about it in the weeks that followed the retreat. Our experiences at the mountain had been so life-altering, we couldn’t deny changing. We couldn’t sweep anything under the rug. We needed to integrate the lessons now. There was no more unconscious waiting.
by Jaclyn Costello
Corbin, Nature, Divinity (and me!)
One of the questions that appears on nearly all social-networking profiles, dating & matchmaking sites, and every other personality survey is: What is your Religion? I typically answer, ‘Spiritual but not Religious’ though even this response is not entirely authentic to me. There is never a box to check that adequately defines my relationship with the Divine.
I grew out of my Catholic upbringing before I hit puberty, and I’ve been exploring the spiritual reaches of the human condition ever since. I’ve spent time with Muslims, Mormons, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Korean folklorists, Celtic Pagans, Raliens, Amazonian Shamen…the list goes on. In this moment, I’m going to focus on some of the realizations I came to after a six-month sojourn to Morocco in my twenties, when I was led to discover Islam and the Sufi tradition (and from there—an explosion of the mystical, Gnostic, & esoteric means of revelation.) I also dove into the philosophies of Heidegger, Jean Biès, Mircia Eliade, Avincenna, Suhrawardi, and one of my personal favorites—French philosopher and theologian, Henry Corbin.
Kind-hearted author/philosopher, Tom Cheetham, does a beautiful job of describing Corbin’s unique faith as: a bit of Christian theology, Heideggerian phenomenology, and Islamic mysticism fused with Zoroastrian angelology… all united by a deep reverence for the primordial revelation: the book of Nature. There is no better way to introduce Corbin than by reading a bit of his writing, so below is an excerpt from a meditation titled, Theology by the Lakeside, written by Corbin in 1932 at the edge of Lake Siljan in Sweden.
It will soon be dusk, but for now the clouds are still clear, the pines are not yet darkened, for the lake brightens them into transparency. And everything is green with a green that would be richer than if pulling all the organ stops in recital. It must be heard seated, very close to the Earth, arms crossed, eyes closed, pretending to sleep.
For it is not necessary to strut about like a conqueror and want to give a name to things, to everything; it is they who will tell you who they are, if you listen, yielding like a lover; for suddenly for you, in the untroubled peace of the North, the Earth has come to Thou, visible as an Angel that would perhaps be a woman, and in this apparition, this greatly green and thronging solitude, yes, the Angel too is robed in green, the green of dusk, of silence and of truth. Then there is in you all the sweetness that is present in the surrender to an embrace that triumphs over you.
…The Mystery of Holy Communion where you will be ushered in, where all beings will be present, yes, you can only say it in the future. Because at each moment where you read in truth as now what is there before you, where you hear the Angel, and the Earth and Woman, then you receive Everything, Everything, in your absolute poverty. But as soon as you have read and have received, as soon as you consider, as you want to understand, as you want to possess, to give a name and restrain, to explain and recover, ah! there is only a cipher, and your judgment is pronounced…
…you are the poor one, you are man; and he is God, and you cannot know God, or the Angel, or the Earth, or Woman. You must be encountered, taken, known, that they may speak, otherwise you are alone…
I believe one of the goals of being a human being is to bring everything possible into consciousness so we can become as whole as possible. We can then obtain freedom from compulsion, freedom for the ego to participate in conscious evolution, and freedom to consciously submit to the larger whole. This is, in part, why I resonate so intensely with the mystical aspects of Islam. In its purest sense, islam = submission.
There is a story about a student who approaches a great sage and asks, “In the olden days there were men who saw the face of God…Why don’t they anymore?” The sage replies, “Because nowadays no one can stoop so low. One must stoop to fetch water from the stream.”
The greatest leap of faith we can take is to kneel, to bow, to relinquish control and to allow the God-head to lead. I believe the hesitancy and fear many of us have is that we’re unsure of what exactly we’ll be submitting to. Will God expect to leave our partners or families for a life of solitude? Will we be called to relinquish our desire for wealth in order to follow our dreams? Can we hold onto our most cherished beliefs even after we’ve agreed to open our hearts & minds to bigger ways of seeing? Ultimately, these questions are futile because when we agree to submit to God, we are just submitting to the reality of the Universe—the natural unfolding of things—and to not submit to that natural force is the only losing battle.
As Cheetham brought to the foreground of my consciousness: it’s been a long time since most of us have really experienced the World. Instead, we experience a constriction of it, a selection of it, a lack of breadth and depth. We step out cautiously checking ourselves against What is Allowed & What is Known. We throw a world out ahead of ourselves and move safely into it. We have found our way into a closed world…and we have mistaken it for infinity. So how do we come to know the World most authentically? And why our aching desire to know anything?
There is an old Sufi saying that God created the world so he could come to know Himself. By igniting the spark of creation and then hiding deep in the human heart, God could feel and be felt as an outpouring of Divine love. Following this line of belief, to be is to be perceived (by the Other), so God chose to forfeit wholeness so that He could then make the choice to return to that wholeness again… in part, through loving the Beloved. Only by making the choice to nestle inside the human heart did God have the ability to then turn back towards the source (Love!) and direct his gaze in contemplation and admiration. If God had never divided itself, it would have never come to know itself in all its infinite possibilities.
And since the purpose of creation is knowledge (for us to know God…which ultimately means: God within our hearts knowing Himself) we are fulfilling the purpose of creation by desiring to know and know thyself. To be known, is the most Godlike desire a creature can have.
—and it takes a special kind of attention to hear it. Jean Biès explores this beautifully in his book, Returning to the Essential. Nature is best addressed through a receptive mind and a gentle soul. It takes more than mere physics to explain nature. Nature is an equation of unknowable beauty and dignity. And the psyche of Nature, or what Henry Corbin refers to as the anima mundi, is often evident as a kind of sadness. Nature’s tone strikes many of us as having some melancholy in it. Lucretius refers to this as the tears of things. In Japanese poetry it is called ‘mono no aware’, the slender sadness. Iranian philosopher Mir Damad perceives this sadness as the silent clamor of beings in their metaphysical distress. All things can only be as made-to-be. This is mystical poverty. I feel this sadness in nature as similar to the sadness that the unrevealed God once experienced in his unknownness. It is a Divine sadness—an anguish, really.
In our ever-present desire to know, to be, and to become more and everything and whole and complete—one of the saddest paradoxes remains: we can only be as-made-to-be.
Everything human exists within the realm of the ‘more-than-human’—we are limited and bound by this fact. But it is when we can no longer sense the presence of something alien, vast, and Other just beyond our reach—when we imagine we are the be-all-and-end-all of creation—then, just where we feel secure, we are truly cut off and lost in a false universe of our own making.
The Imaginal Realm, Words As Angels, and Why Heidegger & Nietzsche fail…
Brought to my consciousness by Cheetham’s book Green Man, Earth Angel, we are currently living-out the consequences of three great crises: a rupture between the individual and the Divine, a severing of the felt connection between human beings and the living earth, and a profound breakdown of long-held assumptions about the nature and function of language.
The excursion into spirit must always return to a grounded soul in order to be connected with sensuous reality, and it is through speech and song—the primordial technologies of the soul—that this return continually occurs, embodying spirit without collapsing it into matter. The language of poetry is as close as we can get to the language of the angels. It is a language of images, of imagination. And imagination is central in helping us understand and navigate the imaginal realm. This realm is the gulf that lies between the senses and the intellect—the place of the Prophets, the mystics, the shaman’s visionary flight, the place of the burning bush. It is interior, but not subjective. Real, but not visible to all. It is the realm of the alchemical, the wonder-ful. It is the Earth of visions, Hurqalya.
According to Henry Corbin, Hurqalya is the world in which all spiritual events take place…though they do not ‘take place’ in the sense that events chronologically recorded to ‘make history’ take place because in Hurqalya, events transcend historical manifestations. The imaginal realm is the suprasensory dimension.
A case could be made that Frank Baum’s Oz was created as a reflection of this imaginal realm. Baum was known to be a Theosophist, and the 14 books comprising the Oz series are laden with esoteric Theosophy. One vibrant example: for the Theosophists, the ‘rainbow bridge’ leads to higher realms, and the seven rays of the rainbow correlate to the seven steps of initiation that one must master along the return to God. The Theosophists also had a system where each of the colored rays correlated to the seven chakras, or energy centers, in the human body.
Most Baum fans are familiar with the geographical landscape of the world of Oz; it is surrounded by a deadly desert of shifting sands. In the teachings of Theosophy, this is called the ‘ring-pass-not’ between the etheric and other dimensions. As Baum lay on his deathbed, his last words to his wife—“Now we can cross the shifting sands.”
Is the imaginal realm imaginary? No. Not at all. It is as vast and full as the entire Universe itself; it is the multi-verse itself…darkness et al. Though the Divine darkness found in Hurqalya is not a Darkness to be feared. It is the nihil a quo omnia fiunt, the Nothing from which all things derived—the Nothing superior to being and thought. Do not be afraid of that Darkness. That is where we all come from. That emptiness is also God.
This leads me to address the contingency of being—the experience behind the great question of metaphysics: “Why is there something instead of nothing?” What is typically lacking in the philosophies of the grand-daddy, Western metaphysical thinkers such as Heidegger & Nietzsche is the Godly breath of compassion which breathes life and sympathy into the world. This breath is the soul-substance of all living things. It is Divine love and energy itself—the Sufi’s God-song-love-poetry hidden in the human heart, yearning to ascend back to God. Both Heidegger & Nietzsche built philosophies denying the spirit’s need for transcendence of the human being. There is no ascent for Heidegger, no ascent for Nietzsche. According to them, and to most other Western-minded philosophers: we have appearances, we have things, we have subjective reality—but there is nothing except nothing behind all this. And not the Divine Nothing which is also God, but rather an enormous, gaping LACK. It is this belief that is ultimately responsible for the Godless emptiness and inhumanity of Heidegger and Nietzsche’s work. (Cheetham)
Moving Eastward, we find the core of Islamic philosophies regard the ta’wil of a text (or any subject or thing) as the spiritual exegenesis (interpretation) of that text, subject, or thing. Literally translated, ta’wil means: “to take something back to its source”, and it involves understanding on multiple levels simultaneously. It is a matter of harmonic perception, of hearing an identical sound (the same verse, the same hadith, or even an entire text) on several levels simultaneously. The Qur’an itself is said to contain seven levels of inner meaning… the highest which only God knows. And not every individual possesses the inner Hurqlyan ear which allows one to hear the richest resounding possible of any given text, nor can one be made to hear what one does not possess the ability to hear. Which leads to this question asked within the Qur’an: “Are they equal, those who know and those who know not?” (Qur’an 39:9)
Surely God does not judge us negatively for what we do not know, if there is no means at our disposal by which to overcome the ignorance, but that does not alter the reality that in order to be spiritually efficacious, our understanding and our actions must be based upon the truth.
…scroll down to see a book of Sammie’s first two weeks with me, and below that you’ll find a video of her dozing off to some music…
…then scroll down even further to read about Religion & Dogs.
A video of Sammie nodding off to French music
“Religion, is a smile on a dog.”
Do you remember that old Edie Brickell lyric? I do. And at this moment, I don’t find anything to be more true.
Dogs live in the moment… and only in the moment. Sure they remember old tricks and all their favorite trees, but dogs don’t sit around worrying about the past or stressing about the future.
Dogs ‘get it’. And while you and I may need to meditate, pray, and constantly remind ourselves to be here now, dogs are always living in a state of utmost awareness.
Did I tell you I adopted a dog? Her name is Sammie, and she’s an angel. I won’t ramble on about her, but I will say this: she keeps me grounded in the present moment. If I’m ever suffering through a spell of sadness and get the urge to stay in bed feeling bad for myself…I can’t. Why not? Because Sammie jumps up beside me, licks my face, and reminds me it’s time for breakfast.
So I get up, feed us both, and stay out of my head long enough to begin to feel how nice it is to be walking my dog through the park when the grass is still wet from dawn, how lovely the smell of waffles is drifting from my neighbor’s window, how excited I am to check the mailbox and find a package Amazon delivered yesterday. Before I know it, my morning funk has disappeared, and I’m living.
This is not to say we should go through life without ever examining our experiences or ourselves, but to linger too long in a state of doubt, depression, fear, or sadness is not a healthy mode of being. Thank you, Sammie, for forcing me to remember that when I’m down.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from one of Andrew Harvey’s memoirs, in which he recalls an elderly friend in Paris who had fallen into dark, lost times filled with suffering, until she finally resurrected herself because, well, here’s the quote…
Her life did not change because she had a vision or met a master or suddenly fell in love with God. “I did not meet Jesus,” she used to say tartly, “I met a dog.”
Here is a video I created, inspired by Max Ehrmann’s prose-poem “Desiderata.”
I hope it brings you peace.
I recently discovered this passage and wanted to share it with you. It’s rare that I come across a quote, stop abruptly in my tracks, and say: “Hey! This is absolutely true.” But that’s what I did when I read this passage by Terence McKenna. Enjoy.
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”
– Terence McKenna
This was the topic chosen by one of my students, Brenda, for her final project in my Honors Seminar this summer. “The Hedgehog’s Dilemma” (also called ‘the porcupine dilemma’) is a metaphor exploring the challenges of human intimacy. A group of hedgehogs desire to become closer to one another in order to cuddle-up and stay warm through the cold weather. However, when they get too close, they poke each other with their spines, so they must remain apart. So even though they have the shared desire for closeness, which they continue to attempt to create, they also recoil as to avoid hurting one another.
Schopenhauer applied this situation to individuals in society, suggesting that despite good intentions, human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm, and what results is cautious behavior and weak relationships.
Brenda composed a chapbook of poetry based on this concept. Accompanying that written portion of her project, was a 15 minute presentation during which Brenda asked her classmates to come forward and stand in front of a projector screen displaying a series of images and music that she had previously compiled. The activity was meant to have students experience the warmth, comfort, and awkward uncertainty of intimacy firsthand.
Brenda asked that I remain in seat in the classroom during the experiment. I abided, though not without taking out my phone to record a portion of the experience.
So a lady with a green sweater waves me down at Target, and despite the fact that I’m on the phone, she pulls me over to an older lady who is standing dumbfounded in front of the greeting cards.
“Can you help her?” the lady in the green sweater asks. Before I answer, she disappears.
I turn to the older lady, who is holding a card in her hand. “What does this mean?” she asks me, pointing to a phrase.
I hang up the phone and glance down at the card. It reads: Happy First Communion.
“You’re not Catholic, right?” I ask the older lady.
“No!” she says, appalled.
“Okay.” I say. Bear down. “This is a card for someone celebrating their First Communion.”
“Communion?” she asks, wrinkling her face.
“Yes,” I say. “In the Catholic religion it’s an important ceremony. It usually happens around second grade. It’s when the children eat the Eucharist for the first time.” I hold my hands up together as if I’m holding a holy host in my fingers. “The Eucharist is–” I size up the old lady, trying to figure out how in the world I’m going explain the complexities of what follows. Do I call the Eucharist a ‘symbol’ of the body of Christ? Or should I just tell her it’s Christ himself? Apparently, it didn’t matter because the old lady had heard enough.
“That’s not what I want,” she tells me. “He’s graduating from high school.”
“Oh. Let’s move to this section then.” I take her elbow and transport her there. “Here are the cards you’re looking for.”
She stands in front of the cascading cards, not knowing where to begin. There are a lot of cards…
“I’ll pick some out as options,” I say, “and you can tell me which one you think he’ll like.” I select a variety of cards for her–funny, sweet, minimalist, poetic.
“Too expensive,” the old lady says. She rolls her cart away.
I’ve been coaching & consulting on the side for years now, but I recently decided to ‘get all entrepreneur’ about it… so here goes a leap into my most exciting creative endeavor yet.
I have a Conscious Business Coaching & Online Marketing website now, too.
I couldn’t be happier!
we were feeling a little blurry
Let’s pretend this is my bedroom
Friedrich Nietzsche acknowledged the will to superficiality–an embrace of the trivial and an avoidance of anything troubling, profound, or anomalous–as a healthy impulse and natural tendency in the human psyche. Nietzsche also thought this instinct was hidden beneath most claims in science. “Here and there we understand and laugh at the way in which [science], at its best, seeks most to keep us in this simplified, thoroughly artificial, suitably constructed and suitably falsified world.”
The instinct toward the false and flighty protects against the chance that one might “get a hold of the truth too soon, before man has become strong enough, hard enough, artist enough” to handle it. Nietzsche also believed that the seeker of knowledge was secretly “lured and pushed forward by his cruelty, by those dangerous thrills of cruelty turned against oneself.” The insistence on truth was a violation, a desire to hurt the basic will of the spirit which unceasingly strives for the apparent and superficial.
This is something I’ve been confronting lately…and though I’ve never been a big Nietzsche fan, these thoughts resonate with me. Rather than cling to everything that I know preserves my spirit in its original, purest state, I insist on descending to the Grund in search of what I sometimes believe is a more substantial truth.
Wasn’t that Sophia’s descent? Eve’s tantalizing bite? Isn’t the search for truth always a form of self-inflicted exile? And isn’t it necessary? Doesn’t all of creation begin with descent? Isn’t the creation of concrete form in which we can then contemplate the Divine, the very reason for existence?
If ‘soul’ refers to the deepening of events into experiences, then it’s upsetting that the soul’s depression is often under attack by modern medical and societal conventions–for a society that does not allow its individuals ‘to go down’ cannot find its depth and must remain permanently inflated in a manic mood disorder disguised as growth. Perhaps it is through allowing gravity that we enter depths, and in depths we find soul.
Depression (gravity) is also essential to the tragic sense of life. It brings refuge, limitation, focus, weight, and humble powerlessness. Nietzsche writes, “It might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who know [the truth] completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the “truth” one could still barely endure–or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified.”
Are we brave enough to really see?
Once we open the part of ourselves that is able to see things clearly, we can never return to our prior state of seeing again.
I asked Antolak to share his thoughts on living so closely to the truth. He said it was a fine aspiration, and that today more than ever, we need more people to attempt it. “Most don’t even look for, let alone to live by it. Because it can make your life very uncomfortable and very dangerous.” Antolak didn’t stop there. He said he didn’t think any of us ever really reached the Truth.
“Truth with a capital T, that is. We keep getting ever closer but never quite reach it. Instead, we settle for minor truths (which we outgrow when we see things from other perspectives). Usually we settle for some kind of rational explanation, definition or verbal expression. Words and concepts.
And words can be the problem, rather than the solution. They are often the illusion that prevents us from perceiving the Truth. Truth is not a verbal explanation. But once we make it so, words, cherished beliefs and concepts become idols to be fought over or jealously guarded. And then we’re stuck.
We need to treat language (and concepts and “thought” in general) with a degree of healthy skepticism, as just conventions, rough signs and descriptions, (fingers pointing to the moon). Only then can we really “wake up” to Reality (in the Zoroastrian sense) and perceive it as nearly as we can. We need to become “disillusioned” by the enchantment, the seduction, the spell of verbal thought, of words and concepts. We can take them or leave them; change one for another when it suits. Believe all or nothing. We need to treat concepts and ideas the way we treat images: as works of art which point to reality but which shouldn’t be confused with it. For the real reality always comes veiled. The trick is not to mistake the veil for the real thing.”
The story of the soul is partly mythical and partly literal—though we can ever really draw a line between the two and say, “This is poetry; this is philosophy,” for the transition from one to the other is imperceptible. I like to think our minds are in service to our souls. Maybe we’re in this worded world to find the vocabulary to describe what’s going on, so we can then bring into words that which has all along been sounding. (A phenomenological coming-out party, if you will.) I think that by sharing our experiences with each other, we’ll somehow validate the experiences themselves, and ourselves, and our personal truths, whatever they may be. I think we all just want to be known. Maybe words help us to be seen. Maybe if you touch me, I’ll exist. Maybe men are trees.
I’ll end this with a line from one of Lila’s poems. She was a sudden and beautiful friend of mine– and while we sat on the floor in her walk-in closet, underneath her skirts and sequins, she unearthed a journal from 2nd grade and opened to a random page. “Here,” she said. “I’ll read.”
You and I are traveling a path
too parallel to truth to ever find it
Sadly, I have yet to visit Iran. I did a good deal of planning last year but fell into difficulties because I have an American passport and was restricted to travel only within a guided group.
Since traveling in a tour group is not my preferred method of exploring the world, I momentarily tossed my hands in the air and placed the trip on hold. Since then, I’ve begun the lengthy and tedious process of obtaining Italian citizenship through my great-grandfather’s line. I’m sure an EU passport will allow for much more freedom. Until then, I will dream.
Iran has moved within me since I first began to feel Islam during a six month stay in Morocco several years ago. Reading all that I have since then, and re-watching my sappy Majid Majidi films, has only propelled my heart further Mid-East–and if an opportunity ever arouse for me to live or study in Iran, I wouldn’t think twice before receiving it. I’ve been told there’s something in the soil and air in Iran that naturally turns the heart towards poetry, and this leads me to focus on nothing other than ways to transport myself to Damavand.