Saturday, February 29, 2020

Welcome to new visitors from the Leak Project, and to returning friends!

Sincere thank-you to Kristen Bear and Rex Bear for inviting me over to the Leak Project for an enjoyable conversation today, February 29, 2020.

Our chat was broadcast live on YouTube, and you can watch the entire replay (along with the replay of the chat comments that were running at the same time) on the Leak Project channel by following this link, or by using the embedded video above.

I hope my presentation of the subject matter was helpful to those encountering it for the first time. For those interested in reading more on some of the subjects we touched upon during our wide-ranging conversation, here are a few previous posts that focus on topics raised during today's interview:
Hope you will visit again soon!

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Descent of Inanna and the Lamentation for our Buried Authentic Self

image: Wikimedia commons (link; and see also here).

The descent of a god or goddess into the underworld is an extremely important pattern found in the ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories of cultures around the world. 

The pattern is found in the scriptures of the New Testament (so-called) in the cycle of the death of Jesus and his return. However, it is also found in the Osiris cycle of ancient Egypt, in the adventures of the divine Maui of the cultures of the Pacific, in the descent of the Hero Twins to the dreaded realm of Xibalba in the Popol Vuh of the Maya of Central America, as well as in the descent and recovery of the goddess Persephone in the myths of ancient Greece, and many other traditions found in other cultures as well.

The indispensable Alvin Boyd Kuhn argues that the myths describing the descent of the god or goddess into the underworld actually dramatize for our deeper understanding the descent of our own incarnation -- the process which occurs with the birth of every single man or woman who has ever lived, a process which brings divine spirit down into the material realm to dwell for a time in a human body. It is the descent of the divine spark into the "underworld" of matter, the "tomb" of the physical body, which is being depicted in these myths, Kuhn argues. In his 1940 magnum opus, entitled Lost Light: An Interpretation of Ancient Scriptures, Kuhn writes:
The incarnation, for the soul, was its death and burial. But it was a living death and a burial alive. It was an entombment that carried life on, but under conditions that could be poetically dramatized as "death." Our inability to comprehend any but the physical sense of the word "burial" has left us easy victims of ancient poetic fancy, and led to the foisting upon ourselves perhaps the most degraded interpretation of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of deity in mortal life ever to be held by any religious group. 158
Elsewhere, he writes: "In the esoteric doctrine which regarded the present life as death, and the living body as the soul's tomb, we have the necessary background for adequate elucidation of the matter" (178).

The mourning of the god or goddess who has descended into the underworld is a widespread pattern found in many of these myths. We find it in the case of the god Baldr in the Norse myths, and in the myth of Persephone of ancient Greece. We also find this tradition in Christianity in the season of Lent which is a period of approximately six weeks (forty-two days) of fasting, mourning and self-denial in observation of the death and descent into the underworld of Jesus.

The period of forty days upon which the fasting period of Lent is patterned is sometimes said to derive from the number of days which we are told that Jesus fasts during his period of temptation in the wilderness, described in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 4 (and particularly Matthew 4: 2). 

Alvin Boyd Kuhn provides further insight into the number forty and relates it again to the concept of the descent of the divine spark into the mortal body, envisioned in the ancient myths as a kind of "living death" in Kuhn's analysis. He writes:
Since the number forty alphabetized in symbolic script the period of gestation of soul in matter, it was chosen as the time for fasting and abasement. This fasting is but another glyph for the privation and lack of true spiritual being suffered by the god in the flesh. Forty days of lamentation and grief were set aside to commemorate the death and burial of the sun-god and the shrouding of his light in the tomb of matter. For ten thousand years BC it was part of the celebration of the cult of Iusa, the ever-coming or annually-coming solar god, to keep the forty days and nights in which the sun-hero in the underworld fought the battle with Out and his Sebau "fiends," in the desert of Amenta. Forty days was the period of seclusion after childbirth appointed for the women by Parsee and Levitical law. In the transformation of Apis, when the old bull died, its successor remained forty days shut up on an island in the Nile. The spies sent out returned after forty days. For forty days Goliath came out to fight each day (1 Samuel 17). David reigned forty years. Moses was with Jehovah in the Mount forty days and nights. Jesus was forty days on earth after his resurrection. Forty appears in the Old Testament some sixty-three times. Forty days was the length of the incubation period of grain in the mud and water before germinating in Egypt; and the human foetus gestates forty weeks. The period of forty days after the planting was a time of scarcity and fasting, which, says Massey, gave a very natural significance to the season of Lent, with its mourning for the dead Osiris, to be followed by rejoicing when the grain germinated. This was transferred to the [. . .] Gospels and became a fast of forty days during which Jesus wrestled with Satan and was hungry. 444 - 445.
It is extremely noteworthy that in the texts of ancient Sumer, the goddess Inanna (known as Ishtar to the later Akkadian cultures of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who inherited significant aspects of Sumerian culture) goes down into the underworld of her own free will, is imprisoned there for three days and three nights, and then is rescued by her second-in-command, the Ninshubur.

The ancient text known as Inanna's Descent (English translation available here from the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature) tells us that the goddess Inanna (pictured above on an imprint from an ancient cylinder seal) was turned into a corpse and hung up on a hook during her time in the realm of the dead. This fact is significant, as I argue in my most-recent book The Ancient World-Wide System, because it is very likely that Inanna hanging on a hook is associated with the same constellation Ophiuchus which forms the celestial pattern for Jesus hanging on a cross. 

Indeed, in the ancient texts describing the cycle of Inanna's Descent, the importance of mourning and lamenting (a pattern found in so many other myths involving the descent of the god or goddess into the underworld) which is also observed during the Christian season of Lent (beginning on Ash Wednesday) features very prominently in the myth. 

Before she goes down to the underworld, Inanna leaves strict instructions with her minister Ninshubur that when Inanna arrives in the realm of the dead, everyone is to mourn for her. When Inanna is released from the underworld after hanging as a corpse on a hook for three days, she is released only on the condition that she find a substitute to send to the underworld in her place. So, when she returns to the land of the living, she comes across various men and women who are described as sitting in the dust, clothing themselves in a filthy garment, and mourning for Inanna who has gone down to the underworld. Each time, the demons from the underworld ask Inanna if they can seize this man or woman and drag him or her back to the underworld to take Inanna's place, and each time the goddess replies in the negative, because by mourning they are obeying her directions.

However, when Inanna comes to the great apple tree in the plain of Kulaba, she finds her consort Dumuzid the shepherd dressed in a magnificent garment, seated in luxury upon a throne. Inanna is furious. She looks at him with the look of death, and informs the demons that they can take Dumuzid to the underworld. Later, she mourns his departure and allows him to return to the realm of the living for half of the year, and spend the other half in the realm of the dead.

While I agree with Alvin Boyd Kuhn that the ancient myths regarding the descent of a god or goddess into the underworld dramatizes profound teachings regarding our own soul's descent into this incarnate life, I would also argue that these myths teach as one of their central themes our own loss of connection to our essential self, who is suppressed and even in fact buried by the egoic self. 

This alienation and disconnection from the essential self can be demonstrated to be a central theme running through the world's ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred stories, and some aspects of this division are discussed in previous posts such as: 
What could be the point of this heavy emphasis on mourning for the god or goddess who has descended into the underworld?

I would argue that this emphasis on mourning, found in myths literally around the globe which relate to this theme of the dying god or goddess who descends into the underworld, dramatizes for our understanding the importance of perceiving our disconnection from our essential self, our divine or higher and authentic self, and of seeking reconnection with our own essence.

The sad fact is that a great many men and women who are in fact alienated from themselves do not even know it! They do not even realize they have been disconnected from their own essence, and thus they neither mourn the fact nor seek to find their own authentic self, who has been buried by the creation of the egoic mind. They may even deny the existence of such a thing as the higher self.

In this sense, they are like Dumuzid in the myth of Inanna's Descent, acting as though nothing at all is wrong -- completely oblivious to the descent of the goddess into the underworld.

The myths teach us that the proper response to this profound disconnection is to mourn it as a catastrophic problem -- and to seek to recover the connection to our own authentic self, no matter what it takes.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Boogie Woogie and the essential self

One extremely vital and also immensely practical message central to the ancient myths is the teaching that our mind is not at all the entirety of who we are.

Our conscious mind, our egoic mind, is described in the Katha Upanishad (one of the ancient Sanskrit texts of India) as "the reins" by which the horses of the senses and emotions which pull the chariot of the body may be controlled -- or may be allowed to run away with us, depending upon the charioteer:

Obviously, if we find an ancient text telling us that the mind is like the reins in the above metaphor, then the question naturally arises "who or what is behind the mind, holding the reins, so to speak?"

In the above illustration, taken from the famous scene in the Mahabharata prior to the start of the cataclysmic battle of Kurukshetra, the answer to that question is the Lord Krishna himself, to whom the hero Arjuna is bowing with hands in the anjali mudra (a recognition and acknowledgement of divinity).

In the Katha Upanishad, the one holding the reins is the Atman, a term which refers to the aspect of each and every man or woman which can be broadly understood as related to the higher self, the divine self, the authentic and essential self, but also to the embodiment of the undifferentiated spirit of the entire creation, the Brahman, with which we are all connected and in fact more than connected but actually a part of.

However, our egoic mind -- which psychologists such as Dr. Peter Levine and healing teachers such as Dr. Gabor Mate tell us develops as a coping mechanism to insulate us from the trauma of this world -- tends to try to take over, and to suppress the essential self, causing us to believe that this conscious mind we have created is the totality of who we are.

See for example the quotation cited in this previous post, which contains a link to an entire talk by Dr. Mate well worth listening to, in which Dr. Mate states:
The other problem [. . .] is that your mind, your egoic mind, always wants to invalidate your essence. Because the egoic mind develops as a replacement for the essence. When essence shows up, the mind is threatened -- the ego is threatened. So it wants to fight back. When the psychedelic substance really reveals the mind -- what's underneath the mind -- and puts the ego onto the sidelines: as soon as the effect is gone, the mind wants to come in and reclaim its territory. And it does that by making nonsense of the experience you just had.
We can get glimpses of the truth that the conscious, egoic mind is not the totality of who we are, such as when we get an intuition which later reveals to have had more knowledge or truth than our conscious mind perceived at the time, or when we receive a message from a dream, or wake up in the morning after our conscious mind was asleep and not in control with an answer to a knotty problem that our conscious mind was trying to solve (without success) the night before.

And we sometimes get glimpses of someone who is connected to a deeper and more complete totality of who they really are when we see an athlete (for example) playing their sport in a state of such complete awareness and mastery that we say that he or she is "unconscious" or "beyond themself." We may even have experienced such a state in our own lives in one area or another.

I have embedded the video above, in which professional pianist, author and teacher Arthur Migliazza (excellent website here, with piano instruction!) is explaining to us how to go from "zero to independent" when playing (in this case, while playing a left-hand bass pattern) because it shows very clearly that the conscious mind is not at all the sum total of who we are. In the video, Mr. Migliazza takes a left-hand bass pattern which he does not already know beforehand, and demonstrates the process of getting to the point where his hand can play that pattern without his conscious mind's direction -- to the point that the hand becomes, as he says, "independent."

If you go through this process for yourself, for example with a boogie-woogie bass pattern for the left hand, you will experience at first the doubts in your conscious mind that the left hand will ever get the pattern that you are trying to make happen (particularly if it is a challenging left-hand pattern). Then, after some period of time and practice -- just as is shown in this video by the talented Mr. Migliazza -- you will experience something quite extraordinary: the hand will start to be able to do the pattern by itself, as if with a "mind of its own."

Indeed, you will find after some time that the hand will do the playing much better and more accurately (without mistakes) without the conscious guidance of the thinking mind, and that if you start thinking about what it is doing, your hand will make mistakes that it does not make when allowed to play on its own.

This example may seem simple, and labeled as "simply" muscle memory, but it illustrates that there is more going on in our total being than is under control of the conscious, egoic mind -- despite the protestations of the conscious, egoic mind, which wants us to think that it is the one driving the chariot and in charge of everything. The mind wants us to think that it is the totality of who we are, and that is simply not the case at all.

In fact, in order to achieve the highest potential of who we are, we have to transcend the egoic, conscious mind, which holds us back in many ways (particularly by denying and suppressing our essential self, as explained in the quotation from Dr. Mate cited above).

Note that in the video above, Mr. Migliazza also makes a very interesting observation that when he actually sleeps in between practicing a new bass pattern, his progress is much faster than if he simply tries to practice straight through. Note that this observation is coming from a professional pianist and master musician, one who has played at a very high level for three decades, and who has obviously had a tremendous amount of experience learning and practicing new songs and skills -- far beyond what most of us have experienced.

I would suggest that practices such as playing music in this way, as well as ancient disciplines such as meditation, martial arts, Yoga, and others, and also playing sports, and many other areas of human endeavor, can all be pathways towards relaxing the iron grip of the egoic mind which wants us to think that it is the sum totality of who we are -- and can be a pathway towards reconnecting with the higher self, the essential self, which is very often buried and suppressed by the mind and by the exigencies of this world.

And that is a path towards putting the "reins of the chariot" back in the hands of our essential and authentic self -- which is who we actually want to be steering our life, if we think about it!

Friday, February 14, 2020

The story of Eros and Psyche is about you: Happy Valentine's Day!

file: Wikimedia commons (link).

Happy Valentine's Day!

Previous posts related to this anciently-observed day of the year include:
Above is an image of Eros and Psyche, an ancient myth of tremendous significance to our lives, and one whose importance has been discussed in numerous previous posts, including:
The story of Eros and Psyche is mentioned in numerous ancient sources, but perhaps the most complete version to survive from antiquity is found in the incredible "novel" by the talented Apuleius known officially as The Metamorphoses (not to be confused with the Metamorphoses of Ovid) but also as "The Golden Tale of the Ass" or more simply "The Golden Ass."

The story deserves to be read there in full (as does the entire tale of The Golden Ass, which is deeply esoteric in nature and was written by one who was likely an initiate into the ancient Mysteries of the goddess Isis), but in observation of Valentine's Day is presented below in shortened form below, using selected quotations from the excellent 1960 translation of Jack Lindsay, in which I have made one change when transcribing below, which is to use the more ancient Greek name Eros for the god, rather than Cupid.

This story contains elements which are very familiar to all of us, as the same pattern forms the basis for countless fairy tales, many of which find their way into movies we have seen. 

The fact that Psyche is named "Psyche" is one very solid clue indicating that this ancient myth is about our own situation in this incarnate life -- and that Psyche represents our doubting, confused, and often self-sabotaging egoic mind, which arises as a kind of "defense mechanism" or "coping mechanism" during our earliest encounters with the rules, norms, restrictions, disappointments, and even traumas of childhood and the necessary interaction with society (including of course the family).

I spoke about this subject at the Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge in California this past October, and you can watch the video at the website of that conference here (along with other videos by the many terrific speakers who were part of that special event).
Once upon a time there lived in a certain city a king and a queen, and they had three daughters remarkably beautiful. But though the two elder girls were as comely as you could wish, yet it didn't strike you dumb with despair to have a look at them -- while as to the youngest girl, all man's passing words were too poor to touch (let alone becomingly adorn) a beauty so glorious, so victorious. 
Citizens in crowds, and droves of pilgrims, were attracted by the fame of the extraordinary spectacle. They pressed about her, and stood moonstruck with wonder at her unapproachable loveliness. They raised their right hands to their lips, laying thumb and forefinger together and throwing her a kiss of reverence as though it were the goddess Venus herself that they adored. Already the word had gone abroad through the nearby cities that a goddess had been brought forth by the deep-blue womb of ocean, and nourished by the froth of curling waves; and that she now dwelt among mortals, allowing them to gaze promiscuously on her divinity -- or that, at the very least, Venus had had a Second Birth (this time from earth, not water): a Venus endowed with the flower of virginity, and germinated from a distillation of the stars.
[. . .] 
Meanwhile Psyche, for all her manifest beauty, reaped no benefit from her pre-eminence. She was gazed at by all, praised and mazed; but no man, king or prince or even commoner, raised any pretensions to her hand in marriage. They admired her as a sample of divinity, but only as men admire an exquisitely finished statue. Long before, the two elder sisters, whose ordinary beauty had made no noise among distant populations, had been wooed by kings in good standing; and now they were happily married. But Psyche, lonely lass, sat sad at home, mourning her forlorn fate, weak in body and sick at heart; and she hated the beauty that gave pleasure to all the world save herself. 
Accordingly the sorrowing father of this ill-fated girl suspected the wrath of the gods; and dreading some visitation from heaven, he consulted the ancient oracle of the Milesian God. [. . .] Apollo, though a Grecian and Ionic, yet (for love of the composer of this Milesian Tale) gave a Latin response which translates as follows: 
King, stand the girl upon some mountain-topadorned in fullest mourning for the dead.No mortal husband, King, shall make her crop --it is a raging serpent she must wedwhich, flying high, works universal Doom,debilitating all with Flame and Sword.Jove quails, the Gods all dread him -- the Abhorred!Streams quake before him, and the Stygian Gloom. 
[. . .]
The entire city turned out to show its mourning response for the afflicted family. A day of public lamentation was at once sympathetically ordered. But the necessity of obeying the dictates of heaven demanded that the sad-faced Psyche should be surrendered to her fate. The death-marriage was sorrowfully solemnized; and the funeral of the living bride moved on, attended by the whole populace. Thus the weeping Psyche was present, not at her marriage, but at her funeral; and while her anguished parents, horrified unendurably, strove to delay the ghastly procession, the girl herself exhorted them to submit. 
'Why rack your old and harrowed limbs for ever on a cross of misery?' she cried. 'Why waste your breath, dearer to me than my own, in this endless mourning? Why do you disfigure with ineffectual tears those faces that I honour so truly? Why do you destroy the light of my life in those sad eyes of yours? Why do you tear your grey hair? Why do you beat your breasts, hallowed with the milk of love? Are these torments to be the glorious guerdon that you win through my surpassing beauty? 
'Too late you realize that the deadly shaft of envy has cruelly smitten you. When the tribes and the nations were hymning me with divine honours; when all their voices chimed in titling me the second Venus, that was the hour for grief and tears, that was the hour when you should have given me up for lost. Now I feel, now I realize, that Venus is my murderess, and none other. Lead forward, and stand me up on the rock to which the response devoted me. Why should I lag? Why should I shrink aside from the coming of Him that has been born to destroy the world?' 107 - 109
Note in the above passages that the story emphasizes the alienation of Psyche -- she feels cut off from humanity and even from the divine realm.

But, although she does not even know it yet, does not even dream it yet, there is one in the divine realm who is pursuing her with love -- the god Eros, and he will cure her alienation.

This point is extremely significant, because I myself have heard literalist Christian preachers declare, almost in these exact words, that "the difference between the literalist Christian belief-system and all other sacred traditions is that all other sacred traditions represent mankind's search for the divine, while only literalist Christianity and literalist Christianity alone tells the story of the divine's search for and pursuit of mankind.'

However, as the ancient myth of Eros and Psyche shows, that assertion is completely incorrect. The story of Eros and Psyche is the story of our alienation from ourselves -- and this theme is present in myths around the world, where the problem of our own alienation, and the solution for that alienation, forms one of the central messages of the world's ancient wisdom, given to every single culture on our planet and not exclusive to any one tradition.

Continuing with the story:
The virgin said no more. She took her place in the flocking procession and strode onwards resolutely. At length they arrived at the appointed crag on a precipitate mountain-top; and there they deposited the girl and left her. The nuptial torches, with which they had lighted their way, now spluttered out in the tears of the onlookers, and were dropped. With heads drooping, the procession turned back. As for the poor parents, demoralized by their loss, they barred themselves up in their darkened palace and abandoned their lives to everlasting gloom. 
But as Psyche lay trembling apprehensively and weeping on the top-shelf of the crag, a gentle breath of fondling Zephyrus fluttered and tweaked her dresses, and puffed them up. Gradually raised on the palm of a tranquil wind, she was smoothly wafted down the steep and rocky slope, and laid softly on the lap of the valley, on flower-sprinkled turf. 109
Psyche, exhausted but finally at peace, falls asleep upon the comfortable bed of grass. When she awakens the next morning, she finds herself in a beautiful natural landscape, and as she begins to explore, she makes her way to a mysterious palace, which is described as being encrusted with gorgeous silver worked into fantastic shapes beyond the craftsmanship of any known artist. The text tells us that the place clearly appears to be the pleasure-house retreat of some god or goddess.

Psyche goes inside and finds that her every need is attended to by invisible servants, who address her with audible voices although she cannot see anyone in the beautiful but apparently empty surroundings. She is told that all of this is for her, but she has no idea why. She dines on sumptuous food accompanied by music from an unseen orchestra, and at night when she becomes tired she retires to a lavish master bedroom and climbs into bed.

The story relates that Psyche becomes the beloved of an unseen god, who visits her only at night and disappears each morning before light, but with whom she falls in love, even though she can never see him. He tells Pysche that she must never inquire as to his identity, or he shall lose him and all the comforts of the palace.

However, the plot takes a turn when Psyche wants to ease the suffering of her family, who must believe that she has died, and asks her divine husband to allow her sisters to visit her in the palace in the mysterious valley, which he does. They are brought there by the gentle wind, and reunited with their sister. But of course, in a familiar pattern we recognize from so many other traditional tales, the sisters are completely overcome with jealousy over Psyche's newfound happiness. They cannot stand the thought that she is obviously married to a god, and -- the text informs us -- the idea that he will ultimately make Psyche a goddess as well sends them completely over the edge with envy and resentment.

So, the sisters plant the seeds of doubt in Psyche's mind, insinuating that her unseen husband must be some horrifying monster, since he never allows Psyche to see him. After their visit, proclaiming their love for Psyche, the sisters are carried back home by the west wind, and Psyche is left alone with her doubts.

What do you think will happen next?

If you said you think that Psyche's nagging doubts will grow and grow until eventually she will give in to her doubts, then you probably know something about human nature!

Note that the myths consistently characterize our egoic mind as wracked by doubt, and always prone to allowing those doubts sabotage what we are capable of attaining or achieving.

Thus, one fateful night, Psyche retires to the bedroom which she shares with her unseen husband. When he arrives, they embrace as usual, and later -- after she is sure that he is asleep -- she carefully gets out of bed and retrieves a lamp, and a knife, that she has hidden nearby.
But as soon as she raised the lamp and uncared the mystery of her bed, she saw the sweetest and gentlest of all wild creatures: Cupid himself [Eros], a beautiful god beautifully lying on the couch. At sight of him the flame burned cheerfully higher, and the razor dulled its sacrilegious edge.
[. . .] 
And then, for all her faintness and fear, she felt her flagging spirits revive as she gazed at the beauty of the god's face. She saw the gay lovelocks of his golden head, drenched with ambrosia -- the curls gracefully drifting over his milky breast and ruddied cheeks, some in front and some behind -- while the very lamp-flame guttered before the flashing splendor. 
On the shoulders of the flying god there bloomed dewy plumes of gleaming whiteness; and though the wings themselves were laid at rest, yet the tender down that fringed the feathers frisked in a continuous running flutter. The rest of his body was so smoothly warmly rounded that Venus could look on it and feel no pang at having borne such a child. At the foot of the couch lay his bow, his quiver, and his arrows: the gracious weapons of the mighty god.
[. . .] 
But while she stirred above him in the extremity of agonized joy, the lamp (actuated either by treachery, or by base envy, or by a desire to touch so lovely a body -- to kiss it in a lamp's way) spewed a drop of glowing oil from the point of its flame upon the god's right shoulder. 
O bold and reckless lamp! base officer of love! to burn the very god of Flame -- you that some lover, inspired by the need to possess the beloved even at night, first devised. 
The god, thus burnt, leaped out of bed; and spying the scattered evidences of Psyche's forfeited truth, he made to fly mutely out of the clasp of his unfortunate wife. But Psyche, as he rose into the air, caught hold of his right leg with both hands and clung there, a wailing drag upon his upward flight. Into the cloudy zones they soared, until her muscles gave way and she dropped to the earth. 
The god her lover did not desert her as she lay upon the ground. He alighted upon a nearby cypress and gravely admonished her from its swaying top: 
'O simple-hearted Psyche! [. . .] This it was I bade you always to beware. This it was against which my loving-heart forewarned you. But as for those fine advisers of yours, they shall pay heavily for their pernicious interference. My flight is penalty enough for you.' 
As he ended, he spread his wings and soared out of sight. 121 - 123
Thus it is that the doubts of the egoic mind sabotage our relationship with our own authentic self, represented in this ancient myth by the winged god Eros.

The good news is that Psyche is eventually reunited with Eros, but only after a long string of misfortune and suffering, ending in fact with her own death -- from which she is revived by the god, who returns to her and brings her back to life with the kiss of love.

This story is not some charming fairy-tale, despite the fact that so many fairy-tales are in fact patterned upon this very same plot-line. The story is about you. It is a story which applies to our situation in this mortal life, and the alienation from and loss of our essential self which the myths themselves are given to help us to reconcile and to recover.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Friday, February 7, 2020

"A sense of deficient emptiness pervades our entire culture"

Above is an interview from a podcast entitled The One You Feed -- episode number 249, published on October 16, 2018.

Beginning at approximately 0:29:30 into this interview, the host of the podcast, Eric Zimmer, asks his guest, Dr. Gabor Mate, to discuss a quotation from Dr. Mate's bestselling book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. This quotation can be found on page 39 of the 2010 New American Edition of that book.

I have listened to many interviews with Dr. Mate since discovering his work and I believe the following exchange contains an excellent articulation by Dr. Mate of some of the extremely powerful truths he has learned (truths which can be seen to be articulated in the world's ancient myths as well):

ERIC ZIMMER: I'm going to read something else that you wrote, and then maybe let you take it from there. You say: 
"A sense of deficient emptiness pervades our entire culture. The drug addict is more painfully conscious of this void than most people, and has limited means of escaping it. The rest of us find other ways of suppressing our fear of emptiness, or of distracting ourselves from it." 
So, what's happening in our culture that you think is breeding this dysfunction? 
DR. GABOR MATE: Well, if you permit me to be self-referential here, I'd like you to make your way over to another book I wrote, called Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. So one of the things we point out in that book -- in fact what we do point out in that book, is that children have this primary need to attach to a parent -- to attach to nurturing adults. That's just a need of all mammals -- and birds for that matter. Without that, the child doesn't survive.  
So as long as the culture provides an environment in which children are related to nurturing adults, especially in a village or a clan or a community setting -- that child is very secure. One of the things that our culture has done is it has broken up the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood.  
And, it has also put tremendous stress on the nuclear family, so that the parents don't see their kids most of the day. And very often, of course, children come from broken families, where there's not even two parents.  
Children have to attach to somebody. They cannot handle life without being connected to somebody. And who do they attach to? Who do they connect to? They connect to the peer group. 
So now you have this phenomenon of peer attachment, where children are now getting their modeling and their values and their mentoring and their emotional nurturing -- such as it is -- not from adults in their life anymore, but from other children.  
And of course, immature creatures cannot lead one another to maturity. So this has all kinds of negative consequences. 
So, any parent who's bringing up kids -- adolescent, at any age or below, that's just a book that I think it's important to read. And it's not my work, actually, it's the work of a psychologist friend of mine, a brilliant man named Gordon Neufeld. I did the writing with him. But one of the things that happens in our culture is the breakup of family, and community, and clan. And that leaves children without the proper modeling, mentoring, and cultural guidance. 
ERIC ZIMMER: Talk about a depressed mother, for example -- you know, postpartum depression or whatever -- you make the point that in the past, when there was more, as you said, clan or village or bigger family, there would be other people to help pick up that slack, so to speak. There would be other people to help give the child maybe what they weren't able to get in that period with the mother. But in the culture we live in, sometimes that's the only person. 
DR. GABOR MATE: It goes beyond that. First of all, we know that post-partum depression in the mother is associated with an increased risk of behavior problems: ADHD, and a whole lot of other things that predispose to addiction, in the child. But it goes beyond that -- because, in a society where there's proper support for mothers, you don't have the risk of postpartum depression!  
Post-partum depression is not an automatic biological thing that happens to women: it happens in a context. And the context is lack of emotional support. And I can tell you that as a husband whose wife had a post-partum depression -- and, at a time when I was a workaholic doctor who was not available to support her. And that had an impact on our children.  
And so, even the risk of post-partum depression -- and the rates of which is going higher and higher in our culture -- has to do with cultural factors. And the book I'm working on -- and I don't have a working title for it yet, but the general theme is "Toxic Culture," and what I mean by that is that: a culture is the context in which we live -- the social, emotional, relational interactions that we have, the work that we do, the entertainment that we pursue, the practices that we engage in -- that's broadly speaking what it means to have a culture.  
There's another meaning for the word "culture," and that's simply a laboratory broth in which you rear or you nature micro-organisms. And what would you call a laboratory culture in which many of the micro-organisms were sick? You would call it a toxic culture! 
I'm suggesting that our culture, if you look at the rates of disease: sixty percent of American adults are at least on one medication or another? This is in the richest and the most medically-advanced society in the history of the world? Well, what's going on? What's going on is that the culture that we live in, and in a whole lot of ways, some of which we've talked about, others of which I'm writing about, actually undermines people's health.  
And so that, when we look at individual disease, individual addiction, whether we're looking at mental health issues, childhood development issues like ADHD, or so-called oppositional-defiant disorder, or depression, anxiety: whether we're looking at cancer, auto-immune disease -- we're actually looking at the impact of the culture on the individual. Because you cannot separate the individual from the environment, and you cannot separate the mind from the body.
And so when people are living in a stressed culture, they have stressed minds. And stressed minds result in stressed bodies.  
ERIC ZIMMER: In the book that you're working on, and in the research that you do, do you have recommendations for those of us who live within that culture today, or how we can be more immune to it, or how we can avoid some of the more toxic parts of the culture?   
DR. GABOR MATE: The first point of course is to recognize the culture that we're living in: to see it, not to absorb it, uncritically, but to see in what ways it actually undermines human needs. As much as it has provided, and as creative and as economically dynamic and excitedly advanced as this culture has been -- at the same time, it significantly ignores, and even insults, some deep human needs. So we have to recognize that, and not buy into it.  
Now the various books that I've written, whether it's on ADHD, or stress and physical health -- cancer, autoimmune disease -- there's recommendations in each of them. And the new book will be more focused on, yes, what we can actually do. Because obviously, just because I publish a book, or anybody publishes a book, that's not going to change the culture. So we're going to have to live with this for a long time -- certainly in my lifetime.  
But the more aware we are, the more we set up conscious practices in our lives that do not "feed the bad wolf," if I can go back to your analogy, now in a positive sense -- the more mindfully aware we are, the more we recognize that our value and our worth as human beings is not dependent on what other people think of us, is not dependent on how good we look, is not dependent on what we own or what we can do -- the more we can actually respect and honor our own value, the more immune we are to the blandishments of a culture that for the most part would have us believe that our value depends on externals. 
And of course, what is addiction, but a desperate way to fill in from the outside that emptiness that you mentioned that we experience from within! 

I have added bold typeface to the points Dr. Mate is making at the end of the quoted passage, regarding the extreme pressure we feel from "a culture that for the most part would have us believe that our value depends on externals," leading to a desperate attempt to try and "fill from the outside that emptiness" which in fact cannot be filled by chasing after external things or external approval.

Compare what Dr. Mate is saying in the above selected section of the interview, particularly in the final passage about our dysfunctional culture's message that our value depends on externals, leading to a desperate attempt to try to fill in our emptiness from the outside, with the ancient teaching that Dr. Peter Kingsley traces in his essential book In the Dark Places of Wisdom (1999).

Here is a previous post, from 2015, discussing that book, and containing several powerful quotations from Dr. Kingsley's book, including parts of the following vital passages:
  • "What isn't there, in front of our eyes, is usually more real than what is. We can see that at every level of existence. Even when we're finally where we want to be -- with the person we love, with the things we struggled for -- our eyes are still on the horizon. They're still on where to go next, what to do next, what we want the person we love to do and be. If we just stay where we are in the present moment, seeing what we're seeing and hearing what we're hearing and forgetting everything else, we feel we're about to die; and our mind tortures us until we think of something else to live for. We have to keep finding a way away from where we are, into what we imagine is the future" (33).
  • "And there's a great secret: we all have that vast missingness deep inside us. The only difference between us and the mystics is that they learn to face what we find ways of running away from. That's the reason why mysticism has been pushed to the periphery of our culture: because the more we feel that nothingness inside us, the more we feel the need to fill the void. So we try to substitute this and that, but nothing lasts. We keep wanting something else, needing some other need to keep us going -- until we come to the point of our death and find ourselves still wanting the thousand substitutes we're no longer able to have. Western culture is a past master of the art of substitution. It offers and never delivers because it can't. It has lost the power even to know what needs to be delivered, so it offers substitutes instead. What's most important is missing, and dazzling in its absence. And what we're offered is often just a substitute for something far finer that once used to exist, or still does exist, but has nothing in common with it except the name. Even religion and spirituality and humanity's highest aspirations become wonderful substitutes" (34 - 35).
  • "Always we want to learn from outside, from absorbing other people's knowledge. It's safer that way. The trouble is that it's always other people's knowledge. We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves. The longing is what turns us inside out until we find the sun and the moon and the stars inside" (67).
The world's ancient myths, preserved in cultures around the globe, on every inhabited continent and island, point us towards the recovery of that "missingness," which cannot be "filled in from the outside," no matter how wonderful the external substitute.

Tragically, even the ancient texts which point us towards the truth that, as Peter Kingsley says, "We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves," have for centuries been twisted to the point that they are often presented as though teaching the very opposite message -- that we need to pursue something or someone or some spirituality outside of ourselves.

When we are told that the stories in the Bible, for example, are supposedly about literal figures from ancient terrestrial history, this approach (almost by definition) externalizes the message of those ancient texts, as if they are about someone outside of us, someone separate from us, someone we must pursue outside of ourselves.

But this is exactly the way in which we are offered a substitute -- a substitute for what we are actually missing, and a substitute for what the world's ancient wisdom is actually pointing us towards recovering.

As Dr. Gabor Mate declares in the passage highlighted in bold at the end of the extended quotation cited above: "our value and our worth as human beings is not dependent on what other people think of us, is not dependent on how good we look, is not dependent on what we own, or what we can do."

We already have intrinsic value, without having to do anything, or be anyone other than who we are. And we already have access to everything we need -- as Peter Kingsley puts it: "in the darkness inside ourselves."

top image: Wikimedia commons (link).

"Reduce Consumption of Soybean Oil" -- and note that "Vegetable Oil" usually means Soybean Oil

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The twentieth century witnessed a massive and concerted campaign to destroy traditional diets and replace them with what has come to be broadly known today as the "western" diet.

The impetus for this massive effort to change the way people eat was supposedly new "scientific" research supporting the new "healthier" dietary patterns. 

In actuality, the supposed "science" behind many of the biggest changes introduced during the twentieth century can be shown to have been massively flawed (if not deliberately dishonest) -- and the results of these supposedly "scientific" changes can now be seen to have been disastrous.

In his important book Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar -- Your Brain's Silent Killers, discussed in this previous post, Dr. David Perlmutter provides detailed evidence that many of the most-influential studies which were used to recommend massive changes in the way people eat (and which were responsible for creating what can be called the "modern western diet") were flawed in their methodology and their analysis, and led to deleterious changes in the way people eat, resulting in the rise of many of the health problems that we see today.

Discussing the massive push to convince the entire population to stop eating as much meat and replace it with carbohydrates, and to stop cooking in animal fat and replace it with vegetable oil, Dr. Perlmutter explains that this campaign was supported by studies which can now be seen to have been completely flawed in their reasoning. He writes:
In 1900, the typical city dweller consumed about 2,900 calories per day, with 40 percent of these calories coming from equal parts saturated and unsaturated fat. (Rural families living and working on farms probably ate more calories). Theirs was a diet filled with butter, eggs, meats, grains, and seasonable fruits and vegetables. Few Americans were overweight, and the three most common causes of death were pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea and enteritis.
It was also around the turn of the twentieth century that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) began to keep track of food trends, noting a change in the consumption of the kind of fats Americans were eating. People were beginning to use vegetable oils instead of butter, which prompted food manufacturers to create hardened oils through the hydrogenated process so they resembled butter. By 1950 we had gone from eating about eighteen pounds of butter and a little under three pounds of vegetable oil per year to just over ten pounds of butter and more than ten pounds of vegetable oil.  
[. . .] In 1956, the American Heart Association began pushing the "prudent diet," which called for replacing butter, lard, eggs, and beef with margarine, corn oil, chicken, and cold cereal. By the 1970s, the lipid hypothesis had become well established. At the heart of this hypothesis was the unyielding claim that cholesterol caused coronary artery disease. 
This naturally motivated the government to do something, which led to the release of the "Dietary Goals for the United States" by the Senate's Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1977. As you can imagine, the goals aimed to lower fat intake and avoid foods high in cholesterol. "Artery-clogging" saturated fats were deemed especially bad. So down went meat, milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. This perspective also paved the way for the billion-dollar drug industry's focus on lipid-lowering medications. At the same time, health authorities began to advise people to replace these now-bad fats with carbohydrates and processed polyunsaturated vegetable oils, including soybean, corn, cottonseed, canola, peanut, safflower, and sunflower oils. Fast-food restaurants followed suit in the mid-1980s, switching from beef fat and palm oil to partially hydrogenated (trans fat) vegetable oil to fry their foods. Even though the USDA has since converted its pyramid to a plate, it still communicates the idea that "fat is bad" and "carbs are good." 95 - 96.
This switch to vegetable oils may have been especially deleterious, given the results of new studies which are suggesting that soybean oil -- now the most-used "vegetable oil" in the united states and the second-most worldwide -- may contribute directly to a host of health problems, including dysfunction of the hypothalamus, which is critical for regulating weight gain in the body, as well as for reproductive function and even mother-child bonding.

Below are links to recent studies which caused the lead author of one study to declare bluntly: 
"If there is one message I want people to take away, it is this: REDUCE CONSUMPTION OF SOYBEAN OIL."
That quotation is found at the end of the first article linked below. The other two links lead to studies which have been published in scientific journals.
The third article linked above begins with this sentence:
"Soybean oil consumption is increasing worldwide and parallels a rise in obesity."
The second article linked above explains the astronomical rise in soybean oil consumption in the united states during the twentieth century:
The recommendation for decreased saturated fat consumption, as well as other factors, led to a dramatic, >1000% increase in consumption of soybean oil in the US from 0.01 to 11.6 kg/yr/capita between 1909 and 1999. Approximately 40 million tons of soybean oil were produced worldwide in 2007, which is about one half of all the edible vegetable oil and one-third of all fats and seed oils produced. Soybean oil is heavily used in processed foods, margarines, salad dressings and snack foods, and is the oil of choice in many restaurants and fast food establishments. While there has been extensive investigation of the role of various other dietary components in obesity, especially SFAs, soybean oil has received relatively little attention.
The fact that there has been a greater than one thousand percent increase in soybean oil consumption in the united states between 1909 and 1999 is astonishing -- and the results of the studies linked above suggest that this startling rise in soybean-oil consumption may be directly related to the sharp rise in many other serious problems including obesity, diabetes, insulin-resistance, and even neurological disorders including Alzheimer's, autism, anxiety, and depression. 

While soybean oil now makes up about 50% of all edible vegetable oil worldwide, other articles  linked above and USDA studies show that soybean oil makes up around 60% or more of the oil consumed in the united states, where soybean oil is the most-consumed of all edible oils.

When you see the words "vegetable oil" on a list of ingredients, you can be fairly confident that you are looking at a product containing soybean oil -- especially in the united states.

In addition to data suggesting that soybean oil consumption is directly linked to the rise in obesity and diabetes, the above articles also report that recent studies find evidence that soybean oil consumption has "pronounced effects" on the hypothalamus -- pronounced negative effects. 

Professor Margarita Curras-Callazo of UC Riverside and lead author of the most recent study explains: "The hypothalamus regulates your body weight via your metabolism, maintains body temperature, is critical for reproduction and physical growth as well as your response to stress." 

That quotation is found in the first article linked above. That article goes on to say:
The team determined a number of genes in mice fed soybean oil were not functioning correctly. One such gene produces the 'love' hormone, oxytocin. In soybean oil-fed mice, levels of oxytocin in the hypothalamus went down. 
The research team discovered approximately 100 other genes also affected by the soybean oil diet. They believe this discovery could have ramifications not just for energy metabolism, but also for proper brain function and diseases such as autism or Parkinson's disease. However, the researchers noted that there is no proof the oil causes these diseases.
Despite that caution about "no proof" that soybean oil directly causes these diseases, one of the researchers concluded, as noted previously, that the one message people should take away, it is the imperative: REDUCE CONSUMPTION OF SOYBEAN OIL.

That may not be so easy to do, given the massive adoption of soybean oil in processed food, as well as in restaurants as a cooking oil. 

In addition, the third report linked above notes that due to the widespread use of soy as a feed for animals, the meat and the fat of those animals fed massive amounts of soy will contain the components found in soybeans and soybean oil as well! They note that even studies done in the modern era which find health problems associated with lard may actually be picking up the effects of the soybean oils in the lard of the animals which were fed soy as a feed, and that problems blamed on the lard may actually be caused by the linoleic acid from the soy.

That same report also notes that previous studies have found high levels of linoleic acid in farm-raised salmon which are fed a diet of soy.

As one report quoted above points out, there has been very little research done on the possible links between soybean oil consumption and the well-known problems associated with the western diet such as obesity, despite the exponential rise in consumption of soybean oil that has taken place over the last century, spurred to a large degree by the intense campaigns to convince people that cooking and consuming "vegetable oil" is good for them (and eating the traditional way is bad for them).

This complete lack of attention on the potentially disastrous health impacts associated with soybean oil is extremely regrettable -- and extremely suspicious. 

Now, however, studies are beginning to be done on the ways that soybean oil interacts with the body, with the genes, and with the endocrine system -- and the results are shocking, to say the least.

These studies indicate that every single man and woman might want to strongly consider looking further into this subject for themselves, and become familiar with the data that is being produced by these recent studies, and decide what they want to do about it.

It may not be easy to do, but these results strongly suggest that individuals and families may want to take steps to reduce consumption of soybean oil, by looking at ingredients on foods that they buy to avoid foods containing soybean oil or the ubiquitous "vegetable oil" (which usually means soybean oil), selecting grass-fed meat, and choosing wild fish rather than farm-raised fish.

Then, people might also want to take a look at the dietary guidelines which continue to be pushed by various agencies and interests, and ask just how such disastrous changes have been foisted upon the way we eat, and why there has been such a massive push over the past one hundred years to obliterate traditional diets.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Seventy-fifth anniversary of Bob Marley's birth: born this day, February 6th, 1945

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

February 6th is the birthday of Robert Nesta Marley, born this day in 1945, seventy-five years ago this year.

His music and his conscious message continue to change the world.

Below are links to previous posts about Bob Marley and the uplifting message of his songs and his life, and his stand against tyranny, oppression and impoverishment:
Below is a newly-released animated video made for Bob Marley's haunting and moving "Redemption Song":

Here is a link to a previous blog post discussing the deep and ancient thread connecting the tradition of unshorn locks, the Sadhus of India, the god Dionysus of ancient Greece, and the dreadlock story of Rastafari.

I have been listening to the music of Bob Marley since before I was a teenager. His message lives on and refutes the forces of mental slavery and elitism with a more powerful vision of unity, dignity, and love.

I personally have "played" the music of the Wailers in my head to help get me through some very difficult times, and I believe that if we all did so more often the results would only be positive.

On this seventy-fifth anniversary of his birth, I would highly recommend listening to as much of his music as possible and meditating on its powerful message for our lives today.


image: Wikimedia commons (link).