Saturday, December 10, 2005

Autobiography of a Yogi (Paramahansa Yogananda)

This book is a rare account of the life of a certain type of individual--the yogi. It is rare that we get a clear first-hand account into the life of such a person, as the responsibilities attendant to spiritual vocation often do not permit for such indulgences. However, Paramahansa Yogananada had an important message to convey. And he endeavored to convey that message through the telling of the story of his extraordinary life experience.

Yogananda takes us through the formative experiences of his life, with remarkable candour, elegance, and charm. His life is laid out as on a canvas for all to see, the texture of his experience bordering on the fantastic and unbelievable. And yet there is a deep sense of honesty and truthfulness in his words. His friendships with diverse peoples from all strata of society, from common folk to scientists, statesmen, Nobel Laureates, or other spiritual giants of his day, leaves one to reconsider the initial impression of inauthenticity in the face of such grandiose phenomena, and whether there is a great deal more to human existence than we are generally led to believe.

The book is replete with fascinating insights into human nature, and the relationship between the material and immaterial realms. Yogananda displays his awareness of Western thought with a liberal sprinkling of quotes and aphorisms suitable to the occasion, by many illustrious figures of Western culture, including Socrates, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Dostoevsky, and Emerson to name a few. The book is extremely well-written and extraordinarily scholarly without detracting from its readability. There are generous footnotes expanding on ideas or providing references to other works. The index alone is worth its weight in platinum; it provides a thorough listing of people, places, ideas, and events, complete with contextual entries, the likes of which I have rarely seen. Such attention to detail clearly reveals this work as a labour of love.

Perhaps the single most prominent feature of this work is it's remarkable description of what Eastern spiritual traditions call samadhi. Yogananda's experience was brought on by an act of compassion on the part of his Christ-like guru, Sri Yukteswar. Seeing the young yogi struggling with meditation, desperately attempting to still his mind, Sri Yukteswar gently and compassionately strikes Yogananda on his chest above the heart. What follows is an incredible experience in Cosmic Consciousness. Yogananda's body becomes rooted, breath is drawn out of his lungs, "as if by some huge magnet." Consciousness disidentifies with his body and streams out, "like a fluid piercing light from my every pore." Yogananda describes a sense of aliveness never before experienced; an expanded perception of people on distant streets, discernment of root structures and the inward flow of sap in plants and trees. His ordinary frontal vision transformed to, "a vast spherical sight, simultaneously all-perceptive." All objects within his panoramic gaze,

[...] trembled and vibrated like quick motion pictures. My body, Master's, and the pillared courtyard, the furniture and floor, the trees and sunshine, became violently agitated, until all melted into a luminescent sea; [...]

As an oceanic joy pervaded his being,

A swelling glory within me began to envelop towns, continents, the earth, solar and stellar systems, tenuous nebulae, and floating universes. The entire cosmos, gently luminous, like a city seen afar at night, glimmered within the infinitude of my being.

And then, suddenly, "the breath returned to my lungs. With a disappointment almost unbearable, I realised that my infinite immensity was lost." The words of Yogananda's guru cap the experience with a revealing wisdom, "You must not get overdrunk with ecstasy. Much work yet remains for you in the world. Come, let us sweep the balcony floor; then we shall walk by the Ganges." And much later, Yogananda's deeply insightful and practical realisation that through stilling of the dual storms of thought and breath, release from delusive convictions and direct perception of the Infinite as One Light could be had.

The reader's interest is continuously piqued until the tension becomes almost unbearable--enter the science of Kriya Yoga. This is the centrepiece of the book and Yogananada's life purpose: an explanation of the how and why.

Kriya Yoga is a simple psychophysiological method by which human blood is decarbonized and recharged with oxygen. The atoms of this extra oxygen are transmuted into life current to rejuvenate the brain and spinal centres. By stopping the accumulation of venous blood, the yogi is able to lessen or prevent the decay of tissues. The advanced yogi transmutes his cells into energy.

Yogananda refers frequently to the Bhagavad-Gita, and quotes from it liberally. He states that Kriya Yoga is the same science Krishna gave millennia ago to Arjuna, and that it was also later known by such notable figures as Patanjali, Christ, St. John, and St. Paul among others. The basic tenet (interpreted from the Bhagavad-Gita) is:

The yogi arrests decay in the body by securing an additional supply of prana (life force) through quieting the action of the lungs and heart; he also arrests mutations of growth in the body by control of apana (eliminating current). Thus neutralizing decay and growth, the yogi learns life-force control.

Yogananda quotes from the Gita again,

The meditation expert (muni) becomes eternally free who, seeking the Supreme Goal, is able to withdraw from external phenomena by fixing his gaze within the mid-spot of the eyebrows and by neutralizing the even currents of prana and apana [that flow] within the nostrils and lungs; and to control his sensory mind and intellect; and to banish desire, fear, and anger.

Patanjali, the renown Indian sage, is also quoted in reference to the Kriya technique or life-force control:

Liberation can be attained by that pranayama which is accomplished by disjoining the course of inspiration and expiration.

Most revealing is the further explanation of the Kriya technique that follows, and shall be quoted at length:

St. Paul knew Kriya Yoga, or a similar technnique, by which he could switch life currents to and from the senses. He was therefore able to say: 'I protest by our rejoicing which I have in Christ, I die daily.' By a method of centering inwardly all bodily life force (which ordinarily is directed only outwardly, to the sensory world, thus lending it a seeming validity). St. Paul experienced daily a true yoga union with the 'rejoicing' (bliss) of the Christ Consciousness. In that felicitous state he was conscious of being 'dead' to or freed from sensory delusions, the world of maya.

In the initial states of God-contact (sabikalpa samadhi) the devotee's consciousness merges with the Cosmic Spirit; his life force is withdrawn from the body, which appears 'dead,' or motionless and rigid. The yogi is fully aware of his bodily condition of suspended animation. As he progresses to higher spiritual states (nirbikalpa samadhi), however, he communes with God without bodily fixation; and his ordinary waking consciousness, even in the midst of exacting worldy duties.

'Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened,' Sri Yukteswar explained to his students. 'The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India's unique and deathless contribution to the world's treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaing the heart action, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.'

The Kriya Yogi mentally directs his life energy to revolve, upward and downward, around the six spinal centres (medullary, cervical, dorsal, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal plexuses), which correspond to the twelve astral signs of the zodiac, the symbolic Cosmic Man. One-half minute of revolution of energy around the sensitive spinal cord of man effects subtle progress in his evolution; [...]

The body of the average man is like a fifty-watt lamp, which cannot accommodate the billion watts of power roused by an excessive practice of Kriya. Through gradual and regular increase of the simple and 'foolproof' methods of Kriya, man's body becomes astrally transformed day by day, and is finally fitted to express the infinite potentials of cosmic energy--the first materially active expression of Spirit.

The details of the Kriya technique are, unfortunately, not described in detail, due to certain injunctions in communicating such information in a format intended for the general public. However, not all is lost, as Yogananda indicates that the technique can be learned from an authorized Kriyaban (Kriya Yogi) of Yogoda Satsanga Society / Self-Realization Fellowship--for those so inclined.

Yogananda also gives a brief summary of the Yoga system as outlined by Patanjali (different from the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path). The first steps, (1) yama and (2) niyama, require observance of ten negative and positive moralities--avoidance of injury to others, of untruthfulness, of stealing, of incontinence, of gift-receiving (which brings obligations); and purity of body and mind, contentment, self-discipline, study, and devotion to God.

The next steps are (3) asana (right posture); the spinal column must be held straight, and the body firm in a comfortable position for meditation; (4) pranayama (control of prana, subtle life currents); and (5) pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from external objects). The last steps are forms of yoga proper: (6) dharana (concentration); holding the mind to one thought; (7) dhyana (meditation), and (8) samadhi (superconscious perception). This is the Eightfold Path of Yoga which leads one to the final goal of Kaivalya (Absoluteness), a term which might be more comprehensibly put as "realization of the Truth beyond all intellectual apprehension."

A fascinating account of an extraordinary man and his life experience. The essence of Autobiography will likely not be understood by those who seek to understand solely through conceptual analysis. At the core of the book is something ultimately ungraspable by the mind. It appears to be pointing to something beyond mind, something that requires a direct personal experience in order to fully appreciate. And whether that experience is sought through the science of Kriya Yoga or some other path is a decision best left for the reader.

Friday, September 30, 2005

When Things Fall Apart (Pema Chodron)

This book is a collection of independent talks that were given at various times by Pema Chodron, the principal teacher at Gampo Abbey, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery in North America established for Westerners. Her editor sifted through the years of material to produce a large portion of the contents of this book. According to Pema, it was only later, once the book was more or less complete that a theme seemed to emerge. First, the great need of loving-kindness towards oneself, and developing from that the awakening of a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others. The second underlying theme was, "dissolving the dualistic tension between us and them, this and that, good and bad, by inviting in what we usually avoid." Pema's teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, described this as "leaning into the sharp points."

The depth, pertinence, and usefulness of these talks are really quite astounding and even mind-altering. Something at a deeper level resonates with what is being said. Reading this material is like being told something you already know to be true, but you're not sure why or how. It's a fascinating experience of having been there before, in a kind of pleasantly incessant deja vu. Pema adopts a very down-to-earth writing style that gets to the heart of the matter in a language everyone can understand.

The first chapter is entitled Intimacy with Fear. The underlying idea is that we need to learn to stop running away from fear, and instead have the courage to embrace it when it arises. Further, that fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth. A powerful insight that tells of a kind of emotional/psychological barrier, beyond which lies some deep truth about ourselves or the world. I am reminded of Dante's Inferno, and the sage advice that the only way out of hell is through it's centre. As Pema says, "No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear. We are very rarely told to move closer, to just be there, to become familiar with fear."

It is from the second chapter that the title of the book takes it's name: When Things Fall Apart. We learn that Pema began her journey with the advent of what some would call a genuine spiritual experience: standing in front of her adobe house drinking tea, the car drove up and the door banged shut; her husband walked around the corner and told her without warning that he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. "When things fall apart and we're on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize. The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that's really swell." The idea is brought home in the famous quote by Karlfried Gras von Durkheim, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us."

The next chapter is entitled This Very Moment Is the Perfect Teacher. The basic idea here is to understand that everything we need to develop on our path is happening right now, that we don't need to create artificial situations which test our limits. It happens naturally all the time in the present moment. As Pema states, "Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape—all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can't stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain." Instead, when we meet our edge, we can realize that we have a profound growth opportunity before us. To just be with the experience, allowing the quality of what we're feeling to pierce us to the heart, without reacting or repressing. "Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity and the unconditional goodness of humanity, rather than meeting an obstacle or a punishment."

Skipping ahead we come to a very interesting chapter entitled Not Causing Harm. The essential idea here is to be mindful of everything happening inside and around us, so we can see things as they arise and before they acquire enough power to control us. Such mindfulness affords us the space to choose how to respond, rather than responding by force of habit or impulsively. In this way we avoid causing harm to others and to ourselves. This idea is very much related to the notion of refraining. However, this refraining is not repression, but rather holding back from habitual or compulsive behaviour, and creating a little space between stimulus and response. Interestingly, Pema states that when we begin to create space, we begin to approach an underlying groundlessness, a kind of free-flow or free-fall that we experience as restlessness, agitation, or fear. "There's something there in us that we don't want to experience, and we never do experience, because we're so quick to act." However, regularly experiencing this phenomenon, with calmness and acceptance, is key to being free from the grip of the compulsive ego, and gives way to the birth of genuine free will.

Another extremely insightful chapter is entitled Eight Worldy Dharmas. This title alludes to one of the classic Buddhist teachings on hope and fear which concerns four pairs of opposites: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and disgrace. The idea is that we desire and are attached to the "positive" experiences of life while we dislike and reject the "negative" experiences. The key to understanding lies in seeing the powerful movements of mind to have one and avoid the other. This is what keeps us stuck in the pain of samsara—the continual habitual seeking for pleasure and running away from pain. So how can we be free from these patterns? Pema advises us to begin by noticing how we react when someone praises us, when someone blames us, when we suffer a loss, and so on. Do we just experience things? Or do we unconsciously fashion fantastic stories to accompany experiences thereby getting hooked and caught up in hope and fear—of wonderful and terrible phantoms of the mind that lie outside of what's happening in the present moment? "We might feel that somehow we should try to eradicate these feelings of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace. A more practical approach would be to get to know them, see how they aren't all that solid. Then the eight worldy dharmas become the means for growing wiser as well as kinder and more content." Interesting. Closely related to this is the idea of how, "... [w]e carry around a subjective reality that continuously triggers our emotional reactions." We unfailingly misinterpret statements, due to our conditioning and patterns, and spin off in these patterned directions. If we could only observe how we do this, bring this process into consciousness, we would achieve a level of freedom from these unconscious habitual processes. We would be able to see them as they arise, and we would no longer allow ourselves to spin. It is precisely these emotional reactions that manifest when we get hooked by one of the eight worldy dharmas, which in turn form the foundation of our subjective reality.

One last chapter worth mentioning which is particularly interesting from a practical perspective is entitled Going Against the Grain. It provides a concrete psychological tool for dealing with all kinds of physical, emotional, and psychological pain and turmoil. In fact, the method introduced as tonglen practice is more than just a tool for dealing with pain: it repatterns the mind by transforming old patterns of reaction and repression into new patterns of calmness and acceptance. But it goes further; tonglen practice actually reconditions the mind to be an agent of positive change, rather than solely a passive recipient and endurer of pain and suffering. The practice involves breathing in the pain of others (or our own), while allowing oneself to fully experience the pain, and breathing out calmness, kindness, or whatever we feel is appropriate in the present situation. One does not just visualize or imagine, but one actually attempts to create the feelings of calmness and kindness, while radiating these feelings outward with each out breath, focusing these feelings on the person(s) of interest. A powerful technique employing feelings and emotions to reprogram negative mental patterns into more constructive forms.

This is just a sampling of some of the material covered in the book. After reading, I found myself in better spirits, and better equipped to deal with the pressures and difficulties of modern life. I also found myself employing some of the techniques described in my daily interactions, resulting in a capacity to see through some of the games we play, and an ability to touch the underlying pain with a sense of acceptance and forgiveness. I'm grateful that Pema chose to share her extraordinary insights on the skillful handling of human pain and suffering. It is clear that she has been through difficult times herself, and is offering the benefit of the fruits of her personal experience, supported by an all-too-uncommon understanding of human nature.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Kosmic Consciousness (Ken Wilber)

There is an incredible amount of material covered in Ken Wilber's Kosmic Consciousness. The ten CD set follows a question and answer format led by Sounds True publisher Tami Simon. The interview is prefaced with Tami's motivation for conducting the interview, "... My goal was simple and direct: to hear Ken Wilber describe the integral model in his own spoken words. And to bring forward the aspects of his teaching work that could provide the most benefit to human evolution."

The first five CD's deal with the nuts and bolts of the integral model itself, including quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types. The second five CD's deal with topics of consciousness and development as seen through the lens of the integral model, and application of the integral model towards a wide variety of contemporary issues.

What is an integral model? In brief, an integral model or map is something that takes into consideration all other maps that came before, giving value and a place to all other points of view. The basic tenet is: everyone is right, but not everyone is equally right, and the degree of rightness depends on one's level of understanding. Integral means inclusive, balanced, and comprehensive.

In Ken Wilber's paradigm, quadrants represent one of the five foundations of the integral model. Quadrants refer to the different perspectives in which human beings can look at things. There are three fundamental perspectives: "I", "we", and "it" (a fourth perspective, "its", is also included as this adds a little extra granularity on the map, and since collections or systems of "its" behaves a little differently than an individual "it"). There is a strong correspondence between the quadrants, "I", "we", and "it", and the philosophical concepts of the beautiful, the good, and the true. Beauty deals with art, aesthetics, and self-expression. Goodness deals with morals, and ethics. And truth deals with science and objective truth. The main mistake of modern society is the attempt to reduce these perspectives to one of the other forms. For example, subjective idealists tend to reduce everything to the beautiful, the subjective, or "I"; post modernists tend to reduce everything to the good, the moral, or "we"; and material reductionists tend to reduce everything to science, the objective, or "it". This reductionism yields catastrophic consequences in the psychological health of human beings, our relationships, and our environment.

The second foundation of the integral model is the notion of lines of development. The idea was originally put forward by Howard Gardner in his model of multiple intelligences. There are perhaps two dozen different types of conventional intelligences. And these intelligences can be more or less developed depending on various factors, including biology, predisposition, environment, society, family, upbringing, etc. It is not necessary to be fully developed in all the different intelligences, however it is necessary to be aware of potential problem areas, so that they do not hinder one's overall development. That being said, there are a few lines of development which are particularly important. These are the lines of moral development, needs development, self or ego development, and values development. Further, the cognitive line of development is also particularly important, as this underlies our capacity to understand and take different views, which is necessary for advanced moral development (see the work of Carol Gilligan for more information on moral development). One of the biggest problems in modern society is the presence of a high level of cognitive development (with associated advanced technological capacity) coupled to a relatively low level of moral development. The result is widespread crime, oppression, and war.

The third foundation of the model is the concept of stages of development. This idea was originally put forward by Jean Gebser in his work on cultural evolution. There is a strong parallel between the stages of development of a culture, and the stages of development of an individual. The integral model adds some granularity to the original model by considering seven basic stages of development: archaic, ego-centric, conformist, rational, pluralistic, integral, and transpersonal.

Stage 1: Archaic – all lower stages leading up to human development
Stage 2: Ego-Centric – Gilligan's selfish stage (magic)
Stage 3: Conformist – traditionalism, pre-rational (mythic)
Stage 4: Rational – modernism, formal, highly individualistic
Stage 5: Pluralistic – post-modernism, multiculturalism, post-rational
Stage 6: Integral – consciously aware of holistic outlook (second tier)
Stage 7: Transpersonal – all higher stages

These stages of development however are not fixed and rigid, as it is common for individuals to have a developmental center of gravity at one stage, but aspects of themselves at higher or lower stages. Also, one's culture is heavily influential, as it will tend to pull individuals up to the developmental centre of gravity for that culture. However, this is a double-edged sword because this cultural centre of gravity also tends to pull individuals back down to that culture's level if one seeks to go beyond.

There is also an interesting discussion on what Ken Wilber calls the "Pre-Trans Fallacy." This is essentially the tendency to treat pre-rational and post/trans-rational states as the same. Since they are both non-rational, on the surface they may look the same. However, the underlying difference is that individuals in post/trans-rational states have passed through the rational stage of development, and so their actions are based on something other than simple tradition, belief, or superstition. As an example of the kind of errors that can be made, Freud took every trans-rational state he saw and reduced it to an infantile pre-rationale, regression-to-the-womb-type state. Jung, on the other hand, tended to take some pre-rational states and elevate them to a kind of trans-rational spiritual glory. The primary test to determine if someone is operating at a pre-rational vs. post/trans-rational level is to see if they treat their mythology "as if" it were true, rather than "it is" true (see the work of Joseph Campbell for more information on mythology).

Ken Wilber speaks of what Clare Graves called a momentous leap from first tier to second tier development. First tier is the equivalent of all stages up to and including the pluralistic stage five. In first tier development, people have "deficiency needs," and are motivated out of lack. In second tier development, people have "being needs," and are motivated out of a feeling of fullness. When moving from first tier to second tier, two things happen: first, fear drops off across all domains. The second thing that happens is that there is an intuitive appreciation of the first five stages of development. Stage six is the first stage that lets all prior stages be themselves. Fear drops off because individuals are no longer so strongly identified with their individual self. These stages transcend individuality, so some call them transpersonal. Wherever there is identification, there is fear, as you are defending something from annhilation, threat, hurt, pain, shame, etc.

The fourth foundation of the integral model is the notion of states. According to the model, there are three great states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Each of these states has an energetic support: gross (physical), subtle (non-physical), and causal (formless). You can experience any of these states at any stage of development, and when you do, you will interpret these states according to the stage you are at. So what is the relationship between states and stages of development? The more you are (skillfully) plunged into non-ordinary states of consciousness, the more you disidentify with your present stage of development, and begin to identify with higher stages. Methods to induce non-ordinary states include meditation, various types of yoga, body practices, breathing exercises, etc. This continuous disidentification with all objects arising in awareness is the essence of what is called "spiritual" practice. Attaining this as a permanent stage takes years of development. At that point, it is sometimes called subject permanence or constant consciousness. It's a subtle tacit awareness that has a threat of continuity through all states. Therefore, the "self" or "ego" developmental line (through nonidentification) is perhaps the single most important line for what is called spiritual development.

The fifth and final foundation of the integral model is types. The classic example is male and female types. All human beings have both types, but one tends to dominate. We can get in touch with either the maculine or feminine types in the gross, subtle, and causal realms, giving a unique masculine or feminine texture to experience (see the work of David Deida for more information on masculine and feminine types). Other well-known types include Myers-Briggs types, which includes feeling, thinking, sensing, and perceiving. Another is The Enneagram which includes the nine basic personality types, all of which exist at each of the seven stages of development (see the work of Helen Palmer for more information on personality types). We can even use astrology as a kind of typology, with each astrological type occurring at all of the seven stages of development.

Ken also speaks of developing "witness" consciousness and its relationship to EEG evidence of brain states associated with Satori, how meditation accelerates vertical development, and gives some highlights of his own personal experience. In relation to integral transformative practice, Ken speaks about the uneven development of spiritual teachers, choosing a spiritual teacher, the worlds of dream and wakefulness, and exercising body, mind and spirit in self, culture and nature. Another fascinating area discussed is what Ken calls the "basic moral intuition" and the principle of the greatest depth for the greatest span. He discusses this idea in relationship to animal rights, abortion, capital punishment, war, diplomacy, and peacemaking. Finally, Ken discusses application of the integral model to art, business, law, politics, science, and spirituality.

After listening, I was left with a feeling of awe and clarity, and a great deal less confusion. A veritable tour de force. Ken Wilber's integral model appears to be the only truly unifying map of human consciousness and evolution, applicable to all fields of study, capable of accommodating all points of view.

A brilliant philosopher/psychologist/scientist, a captivating storyteller.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)

Totalitarian government. Mind control. Social conditioning. Free will. These are some of the themes that come up repeatedly in Aldous Huxley's classic Brave New World. As I read this book, I was struck by the many similarities between the modern era and the futuristic dystopian world described by Huxley in 1932. Indeed, Huxley predicted such a world might come to pass in about 600 years. After WWII he adjusted his prediction to within 100 years. It's almost as if we are now in the toddler stage of the establishment of socio-economic and political structures that would ultimately lead to a complete fruition of this dystopian vision in the not-too-distant future. Today, such a world may well be on our doorsteps, just decades away.

In Huxley's day, Brave New World was met with derision and ridicule, the lot of many great visionaries. However, we have begun to see the nexus edge of his visions making way into our present reality, but only for those who choose to stop, look, and listen. Huxley, doesn't provide any answers, he simply presents the possibility of what may come to pass if individuals do not act in the face of tell-tale signs of the degradation of society and loss of humanity. The work is markedly different from Orwell's 1984 on many counts, but particularly, in Huxley's world we see an utopian society as viewed by those ensnared by it, and dystopian to those looking in from without. In Orwell's world we see a dystopian society irrespective of viewpoint, and those ensnared by it are conditioned to simply accept their unfortunate lot. Huxley addresses the problem of happiness, and the perception of happiness. As he says, "we have been conditioned to love our servitude."

In Huxley's utopian dystopia individuals have been thoroughly conditioned from the moment of conception, to happily accept the view of the world the Controllers have presented. Here we have a markedly stratified society with specific conditioning and development according to the required function of the individual in society. Of interest is the requirement for creating inferior human beings (Delta and Epsilon) to perform the menial repetitive tasks of society, where little intelligence or creativity are required. Conversely, the superior conditioned classes (Alpha and Beta) possess far too much intelligence to allow a sense of satisfaction to ensue from such repetitive labors. Even the most elite class of Alpha Plus-Plus, in spite of their penetrating intelligence, are sufficiently conditioned so that although they may question and consider, they will ultimately arrive at conclusions that are in keeping with preservation of the status quo as the best avenue for social stability. Obviously, their lofty position as the social elite, destined to be "World Controllers," helps keep them more or less happily enslaved to such views, thinking they are serving the greater good. The dialogue between the Savage and one of the World Controllers, in the second last chapter of the book, is especially insightful.

And then, of course, there is the everywhere-prevalent "soma," a synthesized drug that is taken in a variety of quantities depending on the depth and duration of effect desired. Sought after in any situation where the slightest presence of anything even remotely unpleasant is encountered. "Better a gram than a damn..." is the conditioned catch-phrase for all forms of mental and emotional turmoil. A society that is conditioned to be so alienated from it's feelings; seeking and indulging in all manner of pleasure to the point of neurosis. Coupled to a total rejection and refusal to examine and consider anything even remotely unpleasant, to the point of popping a pill that immediately plunges one into a sensational wonderland.

There is an interesting analogy to religion where everything occurs "in the year of our Ford," suggesting a society that has become religiously dependent on machination, technology, and the industrialized world. The implication is to a distant past, where technocrats had usurped the role of messianic-like saviors, promising liberation to the conditioned masses from all the ills of society. Their goals were realized, with conditioning from cradle to the grave, the social order was established, and the "year of our Ford" had begun.

As one reads, one can clearly feel the profound shallowness of individuals in such a society, of lives completely devoid of any meaning. They act out as on a stage their conditioning incessantly, whilst all-the-while thinking they are free. Their minds have been so imprisoned. One cannot help but to be amused at the parrot-like unconscious utterance of conditioned statements interspersed regularly throughout their interactions with one another. It all begs the question: what is free will? And are we really free?

The inversion of social values as part of the framework to establish a stable social order is quite interesting. A world in which no one is born naturally, and everyone is made artificially. Indeed, to the extent that even to mention the words "mother" and "father" is to engender great disgust and embarrassment. A world in which there is no genuine passion or sensitivity, where everyone belongs to everyone else sexually, and the thought of wanting deep and personal relationships is inconceivable—certainly to be stigmatized.

Enter the "Savage." He comes from a remote "uncivilized" part of the world, where people are born naturally, and raised according to traditional tribal and familial values. When one of these savages comes into contact with "civilized" society, the reality of the situation becomes extraordinarily clear. Although the Savage and members of civilized society share the same language, and each believes and thinks they are able to communicate, there is a clear inability to really understand each other. Each assumes the other shares their unconscious world views, as each have been conditioned (although the Savage less so) to view the world in a particular way. And these "world views" are so in conflict, that personal interactions give rise to tragically comical situations. Alfred Korzybski in his Science and Sanity immediately springs to mind. And with this inability to communicate and understand, comes the ineffectiveness of seeking to "help" individuals who are so deeply conditioned, as seen through the Savage's well-meaning attempt to destroy the local supply of soma pills, resulting in chaos.

One final area explored is the notion of highly intelligent individuals (Alpha's and higher), who somehow become dissatisfied with society. In spite of all their conditioning, a feeling of hollowness and emptiness pervades, a sense there must be more. This, of course, is the beginning of their demise within the structure of the established social order. If they can conceal their dissatisfaction they may be able to continue as seeming members of an inwardly rejected social order. Otherwise, they eventually transgress the various rules and laws of the establishment. After all, everything is and must be in the service of maintaining the social order. And so, these fortunate unhappy people are sent away to remote islands where they can live out their lives free from the constructs and obligations imposed on individuals by a highly structured society. The interesting allusion is that such islands would be composed of all varieties of interesting and intelligent individuals who have had some falling out with society, people with a keen desire to know and understand more than what they've been told. What such a population of individuals would create for themselves is an interesting speculation, and may have been intended to forebode Huxley's later utopian work entitled Island.

An entertaining and thought-provoking read. In his forward, Huxley indicates that in order for such a scenario to come about, there clearly must be an increasing tendency towards centralized governments. In fact, he predicts that almost all the worlds governments will be of a totalitarian nature in due course. Once these have been established, it is only a comparatively small further step to unite totalitarian governments into a one world government. The antidote for this kind of establishment is a massive movement towards decentralization of power. However, he did not see this happening as of post-WWII. And although Huxley certainly would be encouraged by many positive grass-roots movements in modern times, his verdict would likely be the same today.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (John Perkins)

This is a remarkably revealing book. It condenses a great deal of sensitive and shocking information spanning a period of forty years. Of course, John Perkins has the advantage of having been an "economic hit man" or EHM, and so is privy to a great deal more insider information than most of us would ever know. And this is what makes the book so interesting: it's not speculative, or philosophical, but based on personal experience and facts. It tells the story of a man who was originally hired for one specific purpose: to persuade countries to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development, contract lucrative development projects to U.S. corporations, and ultimately enslave the governments of those countries ridden under the weight of these large debts. This is a story of the corporatocracy of large corporations, international banks, and big government bent on establishing a global empire. Perhaps the single most revealing passage for this book is found in the opening pages as Perkins embarks on the training that would prepare him for his new career:

Claudine pulled no punches when describing what I would be called upon to do. My job, she said, was "to encourage world leaders to become part of a vast network that promotes U.S. commercial interests. In the end, those leaders become ensnared in a web of debt that ensures their loyalty. We can draw on them whenever we desire—to satisfy our political, economic, or military needs. In turn, they bolster their political positions by bringing industrial parks, power plants, and airports to their people. The owners of U.S. engineering/construction companies become fabulously wealthy."

The book covers a lot of territory, and reads like a thriller at times. Whether it's observing alpha-male behavior in the local strip bars of Panama escorted by his friend Farhad, dining in an opulent restaurant in Iran speaking with his secret contact Yamin leading to a mysterious rendezvous with Doc, or touring on a moped in Jakarta with his friend Rasy to witness a highly political Dallang puppet show, only to end up engaging some of the educated locals who seem to know more about global empire and geopolitics than most Westerners. It is difficult to forget the very apropos quote by one extremely bright Indonesian university English major:

"Surely," I protested, "you can't believe that the United States is anti-Islamic?"
"Oh no?" she asked. "Since when? You need to read one of your own historians—a Brit named Toynbee. Back in the fifties he predicted that the real war in the next century would not be between Communists and capitalists, but between Christians and Muslims."
"Arnold Toynbee said that?" I was stunned.
"Yes. Read Civilization on Trial and The World and the West."

Perkins sets the stage by describing the various mechanisms by which the corporatocracy achieves it's objectives of global empire. If the EHMs fail in their task of 1) convincing foreign governments to assume enormous debt, and 2) securing infrastructure development contracts for large U.S. corporations, then

an even more sinister breed steps in, ones we EHMs refer to as the jackals, men who trace their heritage directly to those earlier empires. The jackals are always there, lurking in the shadows. When they emerge, heads of state are overthrown or die in violent "accidents." And if by chance the jackals fail, as they failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, then the old models resurface. When the jackals fail, young Americans are sent in to kill and to die.

Those less developed countries which Perkins was directly involved with in the role of EHM, or for whom he was privy to geopolitically sensitive information, include the Islamic nations of Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq; and several nations of Latin America, including Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Chile, and Venezuela. Provided below is a brief summary of several of the key scenarios presented with partial disclosure of U.S. involvement. Overall, a shocking eye-opening encounter replete with intrigue, extortion, and murder all under the purview of a corporatocracy bent on establishing a global empire in the uncertain geopolitical climate of the modern era.


Sukharno emerged to declare independence of Indonesia in 1949, free from centuries of Dutch rule and Japanese occupation during War II. Close alliances were forged with Communist governments. Over time, opposition built, and a coup was launched in 1965, and army-initiated massacres of 300,000 to 500,000 followed. The head of the military, General Suharto took over as president in 1968. It was during this time the U.S. became determined to seduce Indonesia away from Communism. The master plan for the electrification of Java began in 1971, where Perkins was involved to provide the economic forecasts that greatly exaggerated projected growth in order to secure government approval and financing.

Saudi Arabia

The United States support of Israel in the Middle East conflicts of the early seventies was largely responsible for the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The position of the Arab states during this time was sufficiently powerful to potentially result in a panic in the U.S. not unlike the panic of 1929. Realizing this, after the oil embargo was lifted, the U.S. immediately proceeded to develop a relationship with Saudi Arabia, and form agreements for infrastructure development and modernization. The sentiment in Washington and Wallstreet was that such an embargo must never happen again—U.S. oil interests must be protected at all costs. The idea was to make the Saudi economy inextricably linked to the economy of the U.S. Agreements were devised which required Saudi petrodollars to be used to purchase U.S. Treasury notes, and the interest from these notes would be used to finance infrastructure development in Saudi Arabia through U.S. corporations. Saudi Arabia was to become dependent on U.S. corporations to maintain, service, and upgrade the advanced technological society being fashioned from the ground up. This heavy dependency in itself would hopefully prevent the catastrophe of 1973 from ever occurring again. But even more, this resulted in another round of development in the way of military infrastructure, to protect the newly modernized Saudi society from unstable and potentially destructive influences in the region. The agreement had the effect of entrenching the U.S. deeply into the Kingdom, fortifying the concept of mutual interdependence. Not only was the entrenchment technological, but eventually ideological, as Western values and beliefs inevitably followed. This would ultimately pave the way for Saudi-U.S. joint financing of the mujahideen in the Afghan war against the Soviet union in the 1980's. In time, the fast-growing jihad movement would lead to the House of Saud becoming the epicenter of terrorist financing around the world.


The Shah came to power in 1941 after the British and Soviets overthrew his father whom they accused of collaborating with Hitler. He was forced into exile in 1951, when the popular democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh came to power. Mossadegh came into conflict with a British oil company, and nationalized all Iranian petroleum in response. An outraged England sought the help of her long-time ally the U.S., but rather than deploy the military and provoke the Soviet Union, Washington dispatched CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt. Roosevelt fomented a plot through payouts, bribes, and threats, to organize a series of street riots and violent demonstrations, which created the impression that Mossadegh was both unpopular and incapable. Finally, Mossadegh was deposed, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The pro-American Shah was reinstated, became the unchallenged dictator of Iran, and launched a series of revolutionary programs aimed at developing the industrial sector and bringing Iran into the modern era. This was the event that reshaped the politics of global empire, as it testified to the effectiveness of propaganda and payouts in over-throwing foreign governments in non-wartime conditions. However, after years of behind-the-scenes corporatocratic rule, a violent Islamic uprising finally exploded onto the scene in 1979. The Shah was forced to flee into Egypt, and the Ayatollah Khomeini took power and declared Iran a cleric state.


The Reagan and Bush administrations wished to transform Iraq into another Saudi Arabia. However, over time it became apparent that Saddam Hussein was not open to the EHM scenario that was successfully employed in the neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia, and Iran during the rule of the Shah. This resulted in escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iraq, and attempts to oust Hussein from power. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 gave the U.S. government the ideal pretext to employ the military card. Although the campaign was not a success as far as the corporatocracy was concerned, an uncooperative tyrant had been severely chastised and relegated to a position of relative powerlessness. It would not be until about a decade later under the new Bush administration, that the U.S. government would employ another catastrophe—the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center—as the latest pretext to complete the task that was left unfinished in the early nineties: the complete removal of Saddam Hussein, the installation of a pro-American government, and behind-the-scenes corporatocratic rule.


At the beginning of the twentieth century the United States demanded that Columbia sign a treaty turning the now Panamanian isthmus over to a North American consortium. Columbia refused, and in 1903 U.S. soldiers landed, seized and killed a popular local militia leader, and declared Panama an independent nation. A puppet government was installed and control of Panama and the Panama Canal was in U.S. hands. In 1968, a coup overthrew the puppet dictator Arnulfo Arias, and Omar Torrijos, a non-communist who was not involved in the coup, emerged as head of state. Omar Torrijos was one of those rare principled leaders who was genuinely interested in helping his people, offered asylum to refugees from all sides of the political fence, and sought to resolve conflicts between the various factions among the Latin American countries. Perkins met with Omar Torrijos, and ended up agreeing to work more honestly with him, and in return contracts were guaranteed. However, this situation was distinctly different than others, in that President Torrijos was determined to use the money to help his people rather than enslave them. And in 1977 he successfully negotiated new treaties with President Carter that transferred the Canal Zone and the Canal itself over to Panamanian control. Several years later, President Torrijos adamantly refused to give in to the Reagan administration's demands to renegotiate the Canal Treaty. He subsequently died in a plane crash in 1981.


In 1922 oil was discovered in Venezuela, and by 1930 the country was the world's largest oil exporter. Oil revenues for the next forty years allowed Venezuela to evolve from one of the poorest nations of the world to one of the richest nations in Latin America. During the 1973 oil embargo, oil prices soared, and Venezuela's national budget quadrupled. The EHMs were brought in, and international banks flooded the country with loans that paid for vast infrastructure and industrial projects. Oil prices eventually crashed, and Venezuela could not pay it's debts. In 1989 the IMF imposed harsh measures and pressured Venezuela to support corporatocratic policy in various ways. Poverty increased dramatically, and Venezuela reacted violently in riots killing hundreds of people. In 1998 Hugo Chavez was elected as President in a landslide victory. He made rapid and extensive changes, by taking control of several institutions including the courts, dissolved the Venezuelan Congress, introduced a hydrocarbons law, doubled the royalties charged to foreign oil companies, and replaced the top executives of the state-owned oil company. The Bush administration eventually brought in Kermit Roosevelt's Iranian model of propaganda, payouts, and threats, and in 2003 Hugo Chavez was overthrown. However, in a matter of days Chavez was back in power with the help of his loyal military. It appeared to be only a matter of time before the U.S. military would be sent in to overthrow Chavez and install a pro-American government. But the U.S. was already embroiled in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and could not afford another war in Latin America; Venezuela would have to wait.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Heaven and Hell (Aldous Huxley)

This essay deals with what Huxley calls the "antipodes" of the mind, leading potentially to the personal experience of heaven and hell. He draws the analogy of the great explorer of unknown lands of the mind:

A man consists of what I may call an Old World of personal consciousness, and beyond a dividing sea, a series of New Worlds—the not too distant Virginias and Carolinas of the personal subconscious and the vegetative soul; the Far West of the collective unconscious, with its flora of symbols, its tribes of aboriginal archetypes; and, across another vaster ocean, at the antipodes of everyday consciousness, the world of Visionary Experience.

Huxley draws our attention to the absorbing quality of bright colors immanent in precious stones, flowers, stained glass, light displays, and many forms of visual art. He suggests that these artifacts are all potential transporters of consciousness to the antipodes of the mind. The idea that for all those accounts of visionary experience, the most important experience is one of light. That everything is perceived to be brilliantly illuminated from within.

However, there is not only the experience of the positive, and so we have the personal experience of both heaven and hell, and descriptions of each in terms of theology and their translation into art. We have the beatific visionary experience, and the terrible visionary experience. Huxley sites various painters, poets, and other artists that have described the positive and the negative visionary experience. He gives as examples of positive visionary experience, George Russel, Wordsworth's Ode on the Intimations of Immortality in Childhood, certain lyrics by Geroge Herbert and Henry Vaughan, Traherne's Centuries of Meditation, and many others. Examples of the negative visionary experience include Kafka, Dante's Inferno, Van Gogh's later landscapes, Gericault, Goya, Charles Williams, and others.

Huxley describes two reliable means of transporting oneself to the antipodes of the mind. One is by aid of a chemical substance such as mescalin or lysergic acid, and the second method is through hypnosis. In Appendix I, he further explores the subject by describing the use of carbon dioxide and the stroboscopic lamp. He provides a lucid description of the effects of carbon dioxide on the brain, and it's parallel to yogic breathing exercises. The prolonged suspension of breath over time leads to high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood, which lowers the efficiency of the brain as a reducing valve of Mind-at-Large. Sustained shouting, singing or chanting have similar effects. As for the stroboscopic lamp, brilliant colors are seen with eyes closed, depending on the frequency of the lamp. Huxley describes how a medical friend who had taken lysergic acid and was seated in front of the stroboscopic lamp with eyes closed, was seeing only colored moving patterns that were transformed into "Japanese landscapes" of surpassing beauty. He describes these small mysteries as particular cases "of a larger, more comprehensive mystery—the nature of the relationship between visionary experience and events on the cellular, chemical, and electrical levels."

Huxley speaks also of other means of inducing visionary or mystical states through fatigue, sleep deprivation, or a period of confinement in a place of darkness and complete silence (Appendix II). He describes how undernourishment, illness, and fasting can lower the effectiveness of the brain as a reducing valve through the reduction in blood sugar and vitamin deficiencies. And also through physical mortification and psycho-physical stress due to the chemical results of adrenaline and histamine released into the bloodstream. In short, all our experience is chemically conditioned. But this in no way denigrates the visionary or mystical experience, it only grounds them in physical science. The end result being to lower the efficiency of the cerebral reducing valve of Mind-at-Large in order to allow into consciousness visionary or mystical experience.

Returning to the mysterious nature of mind in it's relationship to the experience of heaven and hell, Huxley states,

The nature of the mind is such that the sinner who repents and makes an act of faith in a higher power is more likely to have a blissful visionary experience than is the self-satisfied pillar of society with his righteous indignations, his anxiety about possessions and pretensions, his ingrained habits of blaming, despising and condemning. Hence the enormous importance attached, in all the great religious traditions, to the state of mind at the moment of death.

This speaks quite candidly about not only qualities of mind attendant to visionary experience, but also religious tradition, and the importance of not confusing the map for the territory.

However, the experience of heaven (or hell) is not the goal—there is something more, something beyond the visionary experience. Huxley states,

Visionary experience is not the same as mystical experience. Mystical experience is beyond the realm of opposites. Visionary experience is still within that realm. Heaven entails hell, and "going to heaven" is no more liberation than is the descent into horror. Heaven is merely a vantage point, from which the divine Ground can be more clearly seen than on the level of ordinary individualized existence.

A truly visionary mind.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Illuminati Papers (Robert Anton Wilson)

This book carries with it a flavor of flippant irony and dry humor weaved together with the thread of a keen and discerning intellect. Wilson's style encourages the reader to explore uncommon views and ideas using common everyday language, continuously challenging the reader to question the status quo. Not only is the reader educated and informed in the process, but s/he is thoroughly entertained. The book is essentially a collection of informative essays, with more light-hearted material interspersed throughout as a kind of information overload relief valve (e.g. "Conspiracy Digest"), usually with additional generous helpings of erudite Wilsonian wit. A great deal of area is covered, including science, literature, art, music, politics, economics, sociology, psychology, and religion. The key ideas in each essay are summarized below.

There is a brief article outlining the eight circuits of the nervous system adapted from Exo-Psychology by Timothy Leary, which is a nice condensation of Timothy Leary's model of the human being. This eight circuit model is referred to repeatedly throughout the book when describing patterns of behavior and the specific neural circuitry being employed. In brief, the eight circuits are in order, biosurvival, emotional-territorial, semantic, sociosexual, neurosomatic, metaprogramming, neurogenetic, and neuroatomic. The first group of four are termed the "terrestrial circuits," and the second group of four, the "extraterrestrial circuits."

The Abolition of Stupidity is an essay whose main idea is to encourage a War on Stupidity. The essay moves to arguments in support of such a war by examining some examples of the effects of stupidity on science, politics, economics, and religion. The most memorable and amusing quote by Voltaire is extremely appropriate, "The only way to understand the mathematical concept of infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity."

Neuroeconomics is an extraordinarily perceptive essay that describes the effects of modern western economic policy on the human mind. It makes the point that human beings have the biosurvival circuitry that in former times imprinted pair and group bonds for security. Today however, "Paper money becomes the biosurvival imprint in capitalist society. [...] The capitalist citizen learns neurologically that money equals security and lack of money equals insecurity." We become so fixated on acquisition of money, that we literally take leave of our senses, and "the conditioned token, the symbol money, controls our mental well-being." Parallels between capitalism and heroin addiction? An interesting comparison by William S. Burroughs.

Coex, Coex, Coex! is an excellent essay about Finnigan's Wake by James Joyce. 'Coex' stands for 'condensed experience,' and 'coex systems' are condensed experience montages. This means you are experiencing a variety of images, feelings, memories, etc. all at the same time. This is a powerful concept, as it suggests what happens to consciousness in certain expanded states, where everything takes on profound depth of meaning due to sheer numbers of interconnections between symbols. A single phrase can have dozens of meanings through clever manipulation of symbols—a testimony to the genius of Joyce. As Wilson states, "To learn to read Finnigan's Wake with ease and pleasure, is to learn to think with your whole brain, 'conscious' and 'unconscious' circuits included [...] Finnigan's Wake is not just a great novel and a semantic symphony; it contains a whole science of psychoarchaeology, and historical linguistics."

Beethoven as Information makes some fascinating points on the importance of art, in particular, how the artist so dramatically expresses the struggle which every human being must fight: "the struggle to see and hear with one's own eyes and ears, not with the circuitry of social conditioning." Wilson states (through Maynard Solomon) that the formula for all creative endeavor is given by "irresistible motion and intolerable strain"—the typical structure of Beethoven. How important is the function of art? Well, it is hinted at in the statement: "The mystic, unless he or she is also an artist, cannot communicate the higher states of awareness achieved." And it is this profoundly important communication that serves to establish individual transcendent experience, which in turn transforms society. Listening to Beethoven, one shares in his expanded perceptions.

Mammalian Politics: Thackeray via Kubrick is an interesting essay that describes some of the powerful Brechtian-Joycean "artistic judo" techniques employed in an attempt to disintegrate the viewer's emotional identification of traditional patterns of human socio-political behavior. More specifically, in Kubrick's portrayal of Thackeray's Barry Lyndon (but also in Thackeray's sister work, Vanity Fair). To quote Wilson, "Barry Lyndon is a precise neurological dissection of the robot imprints that underlies predatory politics."

Beyond Theology, The Science of Godmanship is a brilliant essay that explains succinctly and with great lucidity Quantum Theory and it's three interpretations: the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Multiple-Universe Model, and the Hidden Variable Theory. The story begins by presenting an incident described in Carl Jung's autobiography concerning a psychokinesis event occurring in the presence of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud (which incidentally so shocked the latter, that the incident was never spoken of again). Wilson then proceeds to explain this phenomenon by way of Quantum Physics and the notion of nonlocality that was examined by Einstein, Bohm, Bell and others. In fact, Bell had published a demonstration that seemed to prove nonlocality of quantum phenomena, which was later experimentally verified by others. The resulting implications are, of course, tremendous. Ranging from how we view ourselves, the universe, and the pursuit of knowledge in general. The end result is the tantalizing view that consciousness is everywhere, everywhen, in all things, and not localized to our brains or even our bodies. And that it is our task as sentient beings to discover how to step outside our prevailing slice of space-time consciousness, so we may experience consciousness in myriad other forms, and make weird and wonderful things happen. One of the most accessible and inspiring explanations of Quantum Theory that I have yet come across.

The Goddess of Ezra Pound, is a brief examination of Ezra Pound's feminine religious principle in his Cantos. His beloved goddess is seen through the eye of neo-Confucianism and appears repeatedly in many diverse forms. As Wilson states, "The Cantos are full of references to Gnostic and Christian heresies, especially the erotic tantric ones." The "initiation" process of the soul was one that Pound decided must begin his entire Cantos, and this work seems to teem with the expression of the profound mystical experience of an initiate. This wonderful essay fosters a much deeper interest and appreciation for Pound and his Cantos, especially for those with a poetic-mystic bent.

Celine's Laws is a very appropos essay that discusses the issues surrounding security, surveillance, information, and disinformation. The first of three laws states, (1) National Security is the chief cause of national insecurity. The basic premise is that those who employ secret police must monitor them so that they do not acquire too much power. This group then must also be monitored to insure they do not acquire too much power, and so on, ad infinitum. Worry and suspicion lead to more worry and suspicion. As Henry Kissenger is rumored to have said, "Anybody in Washington these days who isn't paranoid is crazy." Once a secret police is established, we are then lead to the second law, (2) Accurate communication is only possible in a nonpunishing situation (i.e., non-authoritarian). Every authoritarian structure can be visualized as a pyramid. At each rung the individual bears a burden of nescience to those above. They must be very careful that their perceptions, or rather, inferences drawn from perception, as Wilson states, "be in accord with the wishes of those above them. [...] It is much less important that these perceptions be in accord with actual reality." As Freud noted, that which is objectively repressed (unspeakable) ultimately becomes subjectively repressed (unthinkable). Wilson makes the amazing but accurate statement, "It is easier to cease to notice, where the official reality grid differs from sensed experience." The third law states, (3) An honest politician is a national calamity. The idea here is that a typical dishonest politician is interested in enriching himself at the public expense, as is almost everyone. An honest politician, on the other hand, is sincerely committed to improving society by political action. This political action is invariably manifested by way of passing new laws. However, every new law creates a new class of criminals. The example that is given is the illegalization of marijuana in 1937, where several hundred thousand law abiding citizens instantly became criminals overnight by Act of Congress. As more laws are passed, more citizens become criminals, with increased restriction on freedoms. Wilson provides the perceptive and alternative view, "The chief cause of the rising crime rate is the rising number of laws being enacted." Brilliant.

Stupidynamics, is a supremely satirical but serious essay that examines some of the main categories of stupidity, and their remedies in modern society. Generally, "Stupidity is a blockage in the ability to receive, integrate, and transmit new signals rapidly. [...] Enculturation can also cause signal-blindness: signals not consistent with the tribal mythology are repressed, ignored, covered over with projections or distortions until they do fit the local mythos ..." According to Wilson, their are four main categories of stupidity, in correspondence with the four lower circuits of the nervous system: biosurvival, emotional, semantic, and sociosexual. Remedies? Martial arts or yoga alleviates biosurvival stupidity, pranayama alleviates emotional stupidity, proper nutrition and education alleviate semantic stupidity, and group encounter psychotherapy alleviates sociosexual stupidity. A fascinating approach to intelligence increase.

Paleopuritanism and Neopuritanism is a technically astute essay that dissects and analyses Puritanism and it's neo-variant, through the lenses of the lower level circuits of the nervous system. The Puritan personality begins from aversion-based second circuit emotional imprints during the crawling and toddling stages of infancy. As Wilson states, "Puritanism is imprinted when the child is taught aversive, loathing, shameful reflexes toward its own anal-genital parts." When the child has later learned to handle language, the emotional imprint is reinforced by a third circuit semantic imprint, by way of a special vocabulary "associating all sexuality with the anal shit-dirt-mess aversion reflexes." The forth, sociosexual circuit then imprints with a "Mr. District Attorney" or "Holy Inquisitor" persona. Stimuli that trigger the anal guilt-shame reflexes in the Puritan are mediated through the semantic circuit, where they are appropriately labeled, and the emotion is discharged by attacking the person who was the source of the stimuli. Most importantly, "Those who identify their own imprinted emotional-glandular response with the external stimuli, cannot imagine how the stimuli appear to someone else who has not had their imprinting." In short, they act as if the map is the territory—their own emotions are all that are real to them. As usual, Wilson does not fail to offer a humorous and pertinent epithet, "Emotional identification is a mild form of hallucination."

The RICH Economy is an inspiring essay describing a vision of the future, where individuals are transformed from modern "wage slaves," to independent creative producers. In this vision, unemployment is no longer viewed as a disease that must be eradicated, but rather as a natural and healthy functioning of an advanced technological society's increasing tendency to do more with less. But how will people sustain their lives without income? Enter the notion of a Negative Income Tax or Guaranteed Annual Income as devised by Nobel economist Milton Friedman and others. The Negative Income Tax or Guaranteed Annual Income simply asserts a minimum annual income for all citizens. This would gradually be raised to the level of a National Dividend, which calls for all citizens to receive dividends on the Gross National Product for the year precisely equal to the GNP. This would afford every citizen the living standard of the comfortable middle class. As Wilson states, "Delivered from the role of things and robots, people will learn to become fully developed persons, in the sense of the Human Potential movement. They will not seek work out of economic necessity, but out of psychological necessity—as an outlet for their creative potential."

A wonderfully illuminating read.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Doors of Perception (Aldous Huxley)

In this famous essay, Aldous Huxley describes his experience of swallowing four-tenths of a gram of mescalin that would influence a generation's perception of life. His descriptions of external phenomena are immensely rich and detailed, filled with depth and vitality. It is as if everything in his new world comes alive. He makes the statement of "seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation—the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence." Huxley makes extraordinarily profound descriptions of the various contents of his experience while on the drug, including his perception of common things such as flowers, fabrics, furniture, painting, color, music, poetry, space, and time. In particular, he makes a very insightful point with regard to the essential function of art, and the poet-artist's uniqueness not consisting in the visionary quality itself but,

solely in his ability to render, in words or [...] in line and color, some hint at least of a not excessively uncommon experience. The untalented visionary may perceive an inner reality no less tremendous, beautiful and significant than the world beheld by Blake; but he lacks altogether the ability to express in literary or plastic symbols, what he has seen.

In preparation for the description of his peak experience, Huxley neatly addresses the issue of how the mind and sensory apparatus function, quoting an eminent Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C. D. Broad,

[...] that we should do well to consider much more seriously [...] the type of theory which Bergson put forward in connection with memory and sense perception. The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.

And so, with this protective and eliminative function now largely removed, Huxley is confronted by a chair that he perceives as the chair of the Last Judgment, and finds himself on the brink of panic:

This, I suddenly felt, was going too far. Too far, even though the going was into intenser beauty, deeper significance. The fear, as I analyze it in retrospect was of being overwhelmed, of disintegrating under a pressure of reality greater than a mind, accustomed to living most of the time in a cosy world of symbols, could possibly bear. The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the 'Mysterium tremendum.' In theological language, this fear is due to the incompatibility between man's egotism and the divine purity, between man's self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of God. Following Boehme and William Law, we may say that, by unregenerate souls, the divine Light at its full blaze can be apprehended only as a burning purgatorial fire. An almost identical doctrine is to be found in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, where the departed soul is described as shrinking in agony from the Pure Light of the Void, and even from the lesser tempered Lights, in order to rush headlong into the comforting darkness of selfhood as a reborn human being, or even as a beast, an unhappy ghost, a denizen of hell. Anything rather than the burning brightness of unmitigated Reality—anything!

Huxley then goes on to describe the profound affinity of the mystic and the schizophrenic. The primary difference between the two being, the mystic has learned how to swim in the waters of the unconscious, whereas the schizophrenic has not. As Huxley puts it,

The schizophrenic is a soul not merely unregenerate, but desperately sick into the bargain. His sickness consists in the inability to take refuge from inner and outer reality (as the sane person habitually does) in the homemade universe of common sense—the strictly human world of useful notions, shared symbols, and socially acceptable conventions. The schizophrenic is like a man permanently under the influence of mescalin, and therefore unajavascript:void(0)ble to shut off the experience of a reality which he cannot explain away because it is the most stubborn of primary facts, and which, because it never permits him to look at the world with merely human eyes, scares him into interpreting its unremitting strangeness, its burning intensity of significance, as the manifestations of human or even cosmic malevolence, calling for the most desperate countermeasures, from murderous violence at one end of the scale to catatonia, or psychological suicide, at the other. And once embarked upon the downward, the infernal road, one would never be able to stop. That, now, was only too obvious.

     "If you started in the wrong way," I said in answer to the investigator's questions, "everything that happened would be proof of the conspiracy against you. It would all be self-validating. You couldn't draw a breath without knowing it was part of the plot."
     "So you think you know where madness lies?"
     My answer was a convinced and heartfelt, "Yes."
     "And you couldn't control it?"
     "No I couldn't control it. If one began with fear and hate as the major premise, one would have to go on to the conclusion."
     "Would you be able," my wife asked, "to fix your attention on what The Tibetan Book of the Dead calls the Clear Light?"
     I was doubtful.
     "Would it keep the evil away, if you could hold it? Or would you not be able to hold it?"
     I considered the question for some time. "Perhaps," I answered at last, "perhaps I could—but only if there were somebody there to tell me about the Clear Light. One couldn't do it by oneself. That's the point, I suppose, of the Tibetan ritual—someone sitting there all the time and telling you what's what."

Huxley describes through direct personal experience the world of the schizophrenic, and goes on to prescribe methods he believes would be particularly helpful in dealing with the states encountered. These are in principle the same methods employed by the Buddhist monks of Tibet described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It essentially requires the psychiatrist to assure the patient day and night, even while they sleep, that "in spite of all the terror, all the bewilderment and confusion, the ultimate Reality remains unshakably itself and is of the same substance as the inner light of even the most cruelly tormented mind." He indicates the use of public address systems, and pillow speakers, for example, to keep the patients constantly reminded of these primordial facts, walking them through the turbulent waters of their unconscious.

Moving towards societal implications, Huxley speaks to the possible uses of a mescalin-like psychoactive as an innocuous aid for the initiation of the masses into self-transcendent experience—a temporary release from selfhood—which in present times are sought ineffectively in so many ways to the detriment of the individual and society. A kind of "gratuitous grace" available for those who wish it,

[...] To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large...

And finally, Huxley presents a pertinent critique of our education system, indicating that it places far too much emphasis on book knowledge and little if any on knowledge obtained through direct perception. And for those learned individuals who have climbed the heights of this system, the "Angels" described by Blake as those who "have the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise, doing so from an insolent confidence sprouting from systematic reasoning," Huxley describes a more realistic scenario, a less exclusively verbal system of education, where every Angel would be permitted, urged, and even compelled to take an occasional trip through some chemical Door of the Wall to the other side. To what end?

The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

On the Road (Jack Kerouac)

This book is a wild, mad rollercoaster ride through the hearts and minds of a generation. Everything is so believably crazy and insane, one can't help but imagine it could happen to any one of us if we just let it. The themes of adventure, freedom, fearlessness, optimism, and acceptance are especially pronounced. A kind of Hero's Journey through the depths of ones mind and heart that vibrates and manifests on the material plane in regard to what's happening all around. The book takes you criss-crossing all over the United States lost in the adventures of circumspect Sal Paradise and crazy Dean Moriarty. Although I've never read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, I've read of them, and my impression is here we have a great tribute to such enduring classics, though couched in the speak of a new generation. "Digging" everyone and seeing beauty everywhere even in the midst of paltry mediocrity, fostering a deep interest and curiosity of people and life.

The book continually reveals layers of people and culture with amazing clarity and insight. One is left with the impression that the work is based on the author's own personal experience, such is the depth of observation and attention to detail. The many adventures really brought home to me how paranoid we have all become in the West, how untrusting and fearful. Such a contrast with the people encountered in the later adventures in Mexico, a journey into the true unknown—"The New World." Also a symbol for the return to that childlike state we all find ourselves in at the beginning of our lives, a state of heightened perception and consciousness, where everything is so new, fresh, virgin, one profound discovery after another. That is, all until the machinery of conditioned society grabs hold of us, and forces upon us the monotony of our role as cogs moving forward it's wheels—all the while, being taught to pay relentless homage to the gods of unbridled greed, power, selfishness, and anything and everything lacking intrinsic value or meaning. Life stops flowing. Everything becomes planned to the finest detail. Our lives become mere shadows and pretenses of plastic experience concocted so we can lull ourselves into thinking we are genuinely partaking of life.

There are also some very philosophical sections hinting at getting TIME, about getting IT which I absolutely must quote. This seems to point markedly towards ideas in Eastern philosophy regarding the importance of moment to moment awareness. That the more present we are, the more IT manifests all around us. In a nutshell, stopping our continual reminiscing or regrets for the past, our compulsive planning or worrying for the future, and just being here, now. Letting all just unfold on it's own. Kind of Ram-Dassian, but then Jack Kerouac's followup book a year later was The Dharma Bums, so it all fits together.

In one extremely potent moment, as Sal wanders alone down the streets of San Francisco, desperately tired and hungry with no money in his pocket, picking butts from the street, passing by a fish-'n-chips shop on Market Street, and making eye contact with the proprietress:

[...] I walked on a few feet. It suddenly occurred to me this was my mother of about two hundred years ago in England, and that I was her footpad son, returning from gaol to haunt her honest labors in the hashery. I stopped, frozen with ecstasy on the sidewalk. I looked down Market Street. I didn't know whether it was that or Canal Street in New Orleans: it led to water, ambiguous, universal water, just as 42nd Street, New York, leads to water, and you never know where you are. I though of Ed Dunkel's ghost on Times Square. I was delirious. I wanted to go back and leer at my strange Dickensian mother in the hash joint. I tingled all over from head to foot. It seemed I had a whole host of memories leading back to 1750 in England and that I was in San Francisco now only in another life and in another body. [...] It made me think of the Big Pop vision in Graetna with Old Bull. And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven. I could hear an indescribable seething roar which wasn't in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds. I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn't remember especially because the transitions from life to death and back to life are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it. I realized it was only because of the stability of the intrinsic Mind that these ripples of birth and death took place, like the action of wind on a sheet of pure, serene, mirror-like water. I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment. But I didn't die, and walked four miles and picked up ten long butts and took them back to Marylou's hotel room and poured their tobacco in my old pipe and lit up. I was too young to know what had happened.

Wow. And again:

Now, man, that alto man last night had IT—he held it once he found it; I've never seen a guy who could hold so long... Here's a guy and everybody's there, right? Up to him to put down what's on everybody's mind. He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it, and then he rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the chorus he gets it—everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He's filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it's not the tune that counts but IT...

And finally:

[...] the point being that we know what IT is and we know TIME and we know that everything is really FINE... Now you just dig them in front. They have worries, they're counting the miles, they're thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they'll get there—and all the time they'll get there anyway, you see. But they need to worry and betray time with urgencies false and otherwise, purely anxious and whiny, their souls really won't be at peace unless they can latch on to an established facial expression to fit and go with it, which is you see, unhappiness, and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that too worries them no end. Listen! Listen!

I wanted so much to be there with these crazy madmen as they traipsed across America and beyond in ultra-cool devil-may-care style. Wanted to let go, join them, lose myself, and become a little bit mad also.

The novel that defined a generation? Definitely—and inspired the next.