…But thought-provoking nonetheless….
Some quotes on Waking Up, from Anthony de Mello, SJ:
Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.
Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys. “Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.” This is what they want; they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.
Waking up is unpleasant, you know. You are nice and comfortable in bed. It’s irritating to be woken up. That’s the reason the wise guru will not attempt to wake people up. I hope I’m going to be wise here and make no attempt whatsoever to wake you up if you are asleep. It is really none of my business, even though I say to you at times, “Wake up!” My business is to do my thing, to dance my dance. If you profit from it, fine; if you don’t, too bad! As the Arabs say, “The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.”
There’s a Methodist church here in Boulder that offers a Wednesday night meditation class, and they are reading de Mello. For a Catholic friar living in India, he sure liked to talk about Awareness and Sadhana… which is a good thing, of course.
Jack Kerouac and the other Beats were my heroes (I was, of course, not alone) when, in 1991, I moved to Boulder, Colorado… home of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute (now known as Naropa University). I could not afford to attend Naropa — who can? — but I did meet Allen Ginsberg on several occasions, which made relocating here worth it.
Kerouac, Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs have all moved on to adventures beyond my wildest imagination… and, of course, I’m still in Boulder, wondering when my boat will leave the dock.
Here’s a random Kerouac quote that reflects my own reality at different times in this life:
I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till i drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.
And here’s something from his Wiki entry (sans irritating Wiki footnote numbers and internal links):
Kerouac is generally considered to be the father of the Beat movement, although he actively disliked such labels, and, in particular, regarded the subsequent Hippie movement with some disdain. Kerouac’s method was heavily influenced by the prolific explosion of Jazz, especially the Bebop genre established by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and others. Later, Kerouac would include ideas he developed in his Buddhist studies, beginning with Gary Snyder. He called this style Spontaneous Prose, a literary technique akin to stream of consciousness. Although Kerouac’s prose were spontaneous and purportedly without edits, he primarily wrote autobiographical novels (or Roman à clef) based upon actual events from his life and the people he interacted with.
Many of his books exemplified this approach including On the Road, Visions of Cody, Visions of Gerard, Big Sur, and The Subterraneans. The central features of this writing method were the ideas of breath (borrowed from Jazz and from Buddhist meditation breathing), improvising words over the inherent structures of mind and language, and not editing a single word (much of his work was edited by Donald Merriam Allen, a major figure in Beat Generation poetry who also edited some of Ginsberg’s work as well). Connected with his idea of breath was the elimination of the period, preferring to use a long, connecting dash instead. As such, the phrases occurring between dashes might resemble improvisational jazz licks. When spoken, the words might take on a certain kind of rhythm, though none of it pre-meditated.
Kerouac greatly admired Gary Snyder, many of whose ideas influenced him. The Dharma Bums contains accounts of a mountain climbing trip Kerouac took with Snyder, and also whole paragraphs from letters Snyder had written to Kerouac. While living with Snyder outside Mill Valley, California in 1956, Kerouac was working on a book centering around Snyder, which he was thinking of calling Visions of Gary. (This eventually became Dharma Bums, which Kerouac described as “mostly about [Snyder]”.) That summer, Kerouac took a job as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in the North Cascades in Washington, after hearing Snyder’s and Philip Whalen’s accounts of their own lookout stints. Kerouac described the experience in his novel Desolation Angels.
Desolation Angels, by the way, is my favorite Kerouac novel — and I do believe I’ve read them all.
I don’t care what anyone says about his place in the literary pantheon: Jack Kerouac was an original from head to toe, and I’m glad I went through a life-phase with him at the center.
Per Jonathan Ott:
“Shamanic ecstasy is the real “Old Time Religion,” of which modern churches are but pallid evocations. Shamanic, visionary ecstasy, the mysterium tremendum, the unio mystica, the eternally delightful experience of the universe as energy, is a sine qua non of religion, it is what religion is for! There is no need for faith, it is the ecstatic experience itself that gives one faith in the intrinsic unity and integrity of the universe, in ourselves as integral parts of the whole; that reveals to us the sublime majesty of our universe, and the fluctuant, scintillant, alchemical miracle that is quotidian consciousness. Any religion that requires faith and gives none, that defends against religious experiences, that promulgates the bizarre superstition that humankind is in some way separate, divorced from the rest of creation, that heals not the gaping wound between Body and Soul, but would tear them asunder… is no religion at all!”
I’ve been going back to my own spiritual roots these past several months, from which I escaped some 26 years ago and have dutifully avoided ever since. When I haven’t been avoiding it, I’ve been criticizing it, as though it has nothing to do with who I’ve become at age 45.
I’m talking about Christianity, of course… and specifically, the form of Protestant Christianity associated with evangelicalism, fundamentalism, fire and brimstone.
My father is a Presbyterian minister (who, thankfully, has migrated away from his Pentecostal roots into the far left wing of his denomination’s contribution to “Liberation Theology“). His father was a Pentecostal tent preacher who went on to found a large Full Gospel Tabernacle in Fresno, CA. My father’s father and uncle were also preachers. So, you can immediately understand why I had to rebel in a big way in order to put distance between myself and my family heritage.
[UPDATE: My father just emailed with a clarification on the above paragraph. I’ll just paste what he wrote here:
Full Gospel Tabernacle had been in existence for some years before my dad got there as pastor in about 1941. It was an old barn of a building with open rafters and hard seats, individually attached to the floor, kind of like a theater, but with no cushions. We tore it down and built a new building on the same spot in the early 50’s. Then, in 52 or 53, dad left with about 50 others to found Peoples Church, meeting in rented halls until we could buy land at Cedar and Dakota Streets where the first buildings were erected, mostly with volunteer labor.
What I’m finding, some nine months after my mother’s death, is that you cannot ever get away from your family heritage.
For all my Buddhist meditation, my Hindu cosmology and my Sufi-inspired devotional ecstasy… I cannot help but be drawn back to my true spiritual roots, the fertile ground from which my experience of the Sacred sprouted.
Using some of the modest amount of money my momma left me, I’ve been buying up all sorts of Bibles, as well as evangelical “Bible helps” like concordances, word study dictionaries, interlinear Bibles, commentaries, sermons, systematic theologies, topical Bibles, Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias, Bible software, hermeneutic texts, Biblical criticism texts. I’ve read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelations twice in the last year, having never so much as read a single chapter beforehand.
Truth is, I am embarrassed to be seen with any of this material. I do all my studying at home, usually in conjunction with my still-rigorous daily meditation practice (three hours a day, as well as into the night when I manage to remain lucid in the sleep state). When a new book shows up in the p.o. box, I quickly slip it into my backpack and wait until the bus takes me home before I bust it out for a look. After spending the first 19 years of my life being forced to attend church, usually three times a week (Sunday morning and evening, Tuesday choir practice, Wednesday Bible study… which was more like a bull session amongst serious stoners), I’ve prided myself on being anything but a Christian. As I frequently say, the only times I’ve set foot in a church since 1982 have been for weddings and funerals — and I’m not the only one, because most of the weddings have been held outside the church, and funerals are usually done at the funeral home. When I got into Eastern studies, as well as astrology, Tarot and other oracular symbol systems, I proudly rode the bus with a Baghavad Gita or Dhammapadha held high in front of my face. I’ve felt no compunction against gently opening an English translation of the Qur’an at my favorite coffee shops.
But the Bible? No way.
Winding our way back to the point of our post — Shamanism — let me say that it is the issue of ecstasy that drives my current investigation into evangelical Christianity.
Like Jonathan Ott above, I’m finding that, outside self-described “charismatic” churches from within and without the Pentecostal fold, there is not a lot of institutional support for the cultivation of religious ecstasy. The church within which I was raised, Calvary Presbyterian Church in Fresno (which, I believe, no longer exists), was known for its silent congregation — no clapping or shouting, just polite recitals of well-worn hymns, combined with certain Scripture readings weaved into the liturgy — and even as a young child I would ask my father why there was no “experiential component” to our religious routine. He would just laugh and ruffle my hair.
Later, I would find that monastics from the Orthodox and Catholic traditions have left us a body of ecstatic writings, and from these I have been able to find a measure of validation for the “charismatic gifts” that have arisen from my meditation practice. The Christian Mystics would often equate the Holy Spirit with Sophia, or the Divine Feminine, and they would have to hide Her presence between the lines of their writings in order not to end up burning at the stake — but She is there, undaunted, performing her work of spiritual awakening within her lovers.
What about the Bible, which purports to be the inspired Word of God for Christians down through the centuries? Did Paul and the other early Christians have to hide the Spirit between the lines?
Have you ever seriously read the Bible? I’m talking about just plopping it open and beginning to read, day after day, until you reach the last page and immediately start over again at the beginning. I’m not talking about reading the Bible out of a fear of everlasting damnation in Hell, but rather as an act of spiritual thirst. Have you had this experience?
My reason for asking is, I am curious as to whether or not I am the only one to discover in the Word an actual living, energized, intelligent, transformative Presence that has a gradual building-up effect within the earnest reader. One may even say that diligent exposure to the Word is availing of true healing, from the inside out.
Am I the only one?
Maybe so — but I think not.
Let me just say that, when you read the four Gospels, Acts, Romans and the other early-church letters, you cannot help but be impressed by the Presence of Spirit. You cannot help but marvel at the life those early Christians led, totally surrendered and dependent on Spirit, to the point of giving up all worldly connections in order to answer a higher Calling. You cannot help but pine after that sort of fervency, tied as it was to intimate connection with Spirit that moved the early Christians well past faith into the realm of undeniable Truth.
The Shaman pictured above understands this connection with Spirit, this higher Calling.
I do believe that this Calling is available to us today, should we ever manage to distance ourselves from worldly concerns long enough for Spirit to integrate into us.
We may, unfortunately, also need to distance ourselves from the mainstream expressions of our chosen religious institutions, as the ecstatic has been all but banished from their current expressions.
In the absence of institutional support, we may need to make do with our individual contemplative practice, combined with immersion in the Word (i.e., Divinity written down, made available for those who are ready to receive), until Spirit deems us ready to assume our Calling.
God willing, new institutions will arise that recognize the religious centrality of the ecstatic.
Perhaps one has already begun to spring up… who knows?
An interesting compilation of the 10 most prominent world religions.
Okay, so no surprises there. Click through to find out who the other six are…