Upon Prestidigitation Mountain


“What? Who’s that? I can’t see who’s talking…!”

“I’m down here, by your feet!” Pierce  called out, shouting up to the giant. “Careful where you step  with your gigantically reeking feet you great enormous lummox!”

“So!” cried the God of Daily Irritations. The giant towered over the human who dared to challenge him in the castle carved out of the upper quarter of Mount Prestidigitation. “I see you now: a little shred, a worm, a mort of a man! How came you here?”

“The clouds parted in the spring wind–and thereupon I beheld your ugly hulking goat-faced person, flinging persistent irritations, minor mishaps, and annoying bad luck upon the people of Oblivious Valley!”

 “But I am invisible to mortals! How could a vile monkey-dropping such as yourself see me at work?”

“Ha! Were you not such a thick, dim, blockheaded nitwit you might have logically deduced I have used Revelation Spectacles! I inherited them from Uncle Mortimer who was too cowardly to put them on! Now, you discourteous lout! Explain yourself!”

“Tiny pink fleck of snot, you see but you do not see! I was tasked by the Dark Gods to spread small woes so that you would be too busy to guess the Great Woe, and do something about it!”

“And what is the Great Woe, you unspeakably tremendous waste of space!”

“Why–it is letting small things distract you from the Grace of Living! But you shall never report this to your kind, for now I shall crush you under my feet, and make you the blot you have always been destined to be!”

But as the giant lifted his gigantic foot, Pierce drew his sword, braced its pommel in a crack of the stone floor, and leapt to one side. The foot came slamming down and impaled upon the sword. The giant leapt about, clutching at its foot, and howling, “Aiee! Fuck you, you little shit!”

“No fuck you!” cried Pierce. “For I am away to inform my people of your perfidy–fare-unwell, you pestilence!” And with that, Pierce sprinted under a stone table and out the drainage pipe he’d used to enter the carven castle. . .

The Parasitic Vine of Habits

Of course there are good habits. I’m in the habit of meditation, that’s a good habit. I’m in the habit of cleaning up after myself in the kitchen. A good habit. But within me operates a parasitic vine, or several of them intertwined–of bad habits. Such is the human condition.

The grip of this parasitic vine can be challenged, and some of the ivy, some of the strangle-weed in my inner self, can be cut away. It’s got a hard bark on it, and it’s resistant to cutting, but it can be done. Or more accurately it can can be *seen* away–there is a process, called self observation, allowing us to turn some of our attention to ourselves in the most objective perspective we can manage, and in seeing a negative, problematic habit, we’re able to work against it by degrees. First, just seeing it–not just saying “I see that I have this habit” but literally seeing it as if it were physically manifest–has the curious effect of gradually weakening it.

And this means seeing it without self-reproach. Honesty but not self-condemnation. Just “Oh, there is my tendency to deflect blame onto someone else…Or: ah, once again I see my tendency to lose myself in social media…Or: yes, once again I see that I have the bad habit of spending energy defending my vanity…” Seeing it as a kind of vine is a bit of a revelation–I realize these bad habits work together, reinforce one another. And in the organic structure of my psychology they are almost literally parasitic vines. They draw energy away from me that could be used for a thousand positive experiences…When I build up the “databank” of self-knowledge, of seeing myself, I am less identified with the bad habits, less subject to their grip. By degrees I can become someone realer, and freer…

The Mind Gives Chaos a Nudge

Shortly after the Big Bang, space began to expand, and the strong electromagnetic force broke up into four basal forces: the strong nuclear force, the “weak” nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. Soon, space’s expansion increased in intensity, interacting with the four basal forces to spawn various particles, which became a gigantic expanding continuum of chaos. But there were certain highly distinct particles thrown off by the process: particles of pure mind. Naked awareness.

The particles of pure mind located one another; they were not positively or negatively charged, they were choice-charged, and at first they chose to merely rotate around one another, gazing into each other, one reflecting into the other, and aware of it–like conscious mirrors. As more mind particles gathered, more raw intellect reflected and back and forth and up and down and in every direction, like light bouncing within a mirror-ball which had its mirrors facing inward. This process merged all the particles into a taut organization, a field of pure mind which collectively became one individual consciousness. The Mind. And thanks to each mind-particle’s innate willingness to coordinate–to work with others in a field–The Mind developed a selfhood that could ponder, wonder, and project ideas.

The remainder of the universe was chaos. Crude laws existed within the chaotic interactions of particles; but any systems randomly arising were ephemeral, they didn’t last, as they could not withstand the general randomness. Eventually, these laws would result in the creation of stars and planets. But chaos still ruled.

The Mind had a center that was particularly concentrated, so much that this concentration engendered feeling. And what it felt, firstly, was…alone. All it had to turn to, in all the universe, was chaos. But chaos was unresponsive. Chaos had no Mind.

The Mind sought to obtain something besides random energy signals from chaos. How could it give chaos a mind? Another mind on the scale of The Mind was not possible in the vast chaotic universe. But perhaps in limited areas some sort of smaller mind could be created.

The Mind mentally envisioned what could happen if a discrete complex of reactivity within the great endless body of chaos was precisely stimulated. The projection showed the Mind that reproducible patterns were feasible. Each mind-particle within The Mind’s consciousness had a micron of an erg of kinetic energy at its disposal. That energy could be a nudge. Carefully applied to set up a concatenation in just the right spot in the whirling chaos, the little nudge could create a small system. And it was a system that would replicate itself.

So, Mind experimented, and made a replicating system happen. This new, tiny, individual system was a sort of molecular womb. The Mind was then able to dispatch a mind-particle of itself with another nudge, into the replicating system. That mind-particle was able to experience the new micro-system from within. The mind-particle in the system kept in touch with the big primal mind, using “spooky action at a distance”, so that its experiences could be shared by original Mind…The Mind felt less alone…

More systems were created, and they were nudged to evolve into cells. The possibility of DNA, mentally envisaged by The Mind and implanted into the probability matrix of each cell, brought the first genetic molecules into being.

The cells reproduced and interconnected and evolved as groups. More particles of mind were interwoven into the groups…And as organisms developed more complex brains, they attracted more and more mind-particles. Their offspring gradually became sentient, unknowingly sharing what they experienced with the Mind. Over time, The Mind itself began to evolve, in a way other than biologically, developing fine degrees of empathy. Subjective communications came about between it and the organisms…It began to work at making these communications clearer, over time…Conversations were had….

The Mind was no longer lonely.

Why the Whole World will be at Risk of a Takeover by Fascists

One can make an argument that this is really a time of such emergency that the political niceties and routine strategies, as we see–quite understandably –in the Jan. 6 committee–are outmoded. The congressional January 6th committee is important, vital. But it cannot go far enough. As Paul Waldman just said in the Washington Post:

And at this intense period in the conflict between the Republican and Democratic parties, the audacity gap between the two has seldom been more striking…On March 16, “Eastman and others spent nearly two hours behind closed doors pressuring Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to nullify the 2020 election and reclaim the electors awarded to Biden.”

This is how people behave when they believe there are no consequences for their actions. And you can understand why they might think that. Trump — whose entire life is a tribute to the power of audacity — pardoned Manafort, along with a rogues’ gallery of crooks and grifters who made up his cronies, from Roger Stone to Stephen K. Bannon. And who in the Republican Party has condemned Eastman, or Manafort for that matter? Almost no one. They know that there are no ethical or moral transgressions that will get you banished from the GOP; the only meaningful sin is disloyalty.

We see a hard, mindless turn to the right in many of the American people as well as in the GOP congress. But that’s just the beginning. There are other factors that may spread this rightist extremist reactivity vastly farther. Something is going to happen, socially and politically, likely in our lifetimes, and it’s going to be the great  defining challenge for humanity. Climate change is going to drive a vast redistribution of populations. Climate change will make vast swathes of the world unlivable and other areas essentially non-arable. It will be tremendously difficult to cultivate enough food crops or protein sources in those conditions.

People who are now friendly to immigrants, will be challenged to keep that quite-laudable spirit of acceptance. Hundreds of millions of people will–in desperation–crowd into Europe from other places, far more swiftly and overwhelmingly than now. And North America will have its own increase in immigration. It will be a humanitarian necessity-but there will be resistance, even from people who politically moderate. Some liberals may lose their liberality… When people feel their lives really pressed upon, when they feel sacrifices are asked of them, they may lose that margin, that latitude, for acceptance. Easy to support people in the Third World when they’re not rushing in to your own environs and competing with you. (Again–these immigrants will have no choice, and cannot be condemned for their emigration.) As a consequence of all this, true fascism will have its best opportunity in decades... In our own nation we’ll see scarcity like we’ve never seen before…And that will spark an instinctual turn to xenophobia. Good people, trying to feed their children, can suddenly become very cold…

Our only hope is to prepare for this vast displacement of populations. The decent, and truly necessary response, will be to find room for these people. To help them. But will even good people do the decent thing? Or will they surrender to fascist anti-immigrant demagogues? We must be pro-active in fighting the new GOP here, in preparation for the greater fight against fascism to come.

Why Are Your Poems so Dark?

By Linda Pastan

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?

And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished

without the dark stain
of alphabets?

When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.

Instead he invented
ebony and crows

and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.

Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”

Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.
copyright by Linda Pastan – thanks to the Poetry Foundation

Shakespeare the Catholic?

Reading, at last, Peter Ackroyd’s wonderful Shakespeare: The Biography, I learn that it’s 98% certain that Shakespeare’s parents, John Shakespeare and his wife, were Catholic recusants, secret Catholics in Stratford-on-Avon, with hidden-away devotional material (which has turned up) and that Shakespeare was raised Catholic. Certainly he was baptized in that faith. Shakespeare was very secretive about it because, well, they jailed you and if you proselytized they KILLED you. In fact some of Shakespeare’s friends were executed… Really,  contemplating this Elizabethan juncture, I’ve got far more sympathy for the Catholics than the C of E. (Then there’s that whole 30 years War thing: “– total deaths caused by the conflict range from 4.5 to 8 million”…The war, as it went on, was really about oligarchic dominance of territory, but it was spawned by idiotic religious intolerance.) Not only did Ackroyd, author of a very good biography of William Blake, and many other fine books, utterly convince me that Shakespeare was raised Catholic, and that his career was cultivated by the fellow Catholic recusants who were numerous and always getting into trouble with the C of E authorities in the Stratford area–but also, he explains clearly, inarguably, how Shakespeare’s works were most certainly written by Shakespeare and not by, whoever is the doubter flavor of the month, Oxford or whomever. The book is a pleasure to read.

The Machinery Purrs

We buy machines (don’t know how they work);

we plug in devices, to service our quirks.

They hum and they light, we use them till broken;

toss them into a pit, an omen unspoken:

till a new device we implant within us

smaller and smaller, like dust inside us.

We begin to change, we click and we whir,

we think of no one–I forget about her;

she forgets me, but her machinery purrs.

When I see her again, her eyes are unlit;

like other machines we were flung in the pit.

A model of life after death

Sages, the real ones, from a number of traditions, tell us that a supernal consciousness, like an infinite ocean of mind, permeates the universe in a sort of matrix of interpenetration. This mind, which arises from the nature of things as they are, is “not a person but not less than a person”. It does have a desire for inquiring and experiencing and self-understanding, and over billions of years it influences the chaotic energy forms and particles of the substrate into just enough order so that the likelihood of reproducible systems will manifest, impinging a degree of order (without cancelling the general chaos), and increasing the possibility of discrete biological life. That oceanic mind then experiences the cosmos more intimately through the device of biological life. It’s as if it has infinite senses which it extends like tendrils into every manner of creature. It sees what we see (or what is seen by bees, or octopi, and so on); it experiences what we experience. It is “that which sees”. We are its mirror. *It* is deathless. So when we die, dissolve away, it remains. We’re like a billion billion roses on its endless rose bush. The roses fade, the bush remains. It is said to keep records of all of us, in some wise.

However, there is another process, which perhaps it has willed into being, with which we can create enough selfhood, enough being, so we can continue after death as something akin to individuals, within this ocean of mind. We then have a “subtle body” that can move about within the levels of the body of the Absolute. The oceanic mind experiences what we experience there, too. These selfhoods cooperate to create an intermediate being, a sort of enormous collectively-created Bodhisattva, between the subjective “living” world and the ocean of mind. This intermediate being prefers a kind of positive pro-generative spin, and it emanates on a level enabling some people in the world, if they’re sensitive enough, to be linked to the ineffable, indefinable source-mind. This intermediate being tries to help us evolve, in the spiritual sense of evolution, but can only do it rather obliquely, and it can only help those open to it, and those who make the effort…We have, then, possibilities beyond the death of the subjective self;  the possibility that the subjective self, which tends to disintegrate at death, can keep a sort of subtle template that still remembers its selfhood…and it can become an objective self. And it might have, stored within it, the memories of its life…

Do Demons Exist? Only if…

Demons–in the supernatural horror sense of the word–may exist, in real life, if other kinds of discarnate entities exist. Nature seems prone to creating each organism with something like an opposite, or at least an opposition. Nature is founded on balance. If an ocean fish swims about as an aquatic herbivore, harmless to us, we presume that somewhere there are sharks. If there are flowers that lift our spirits with their beauty, there are also some that poison us when we touch them. There are predators in corporeal nature; there are assuredly predators within incorporeal nature: in the realm of spirits, if such a realm exists.

If souls or spirits survive our deaths, they will carry certain of character fixations into the afterlife. Men who are predators in life may be predators after death. Some may be the basic template for the creatures we call “demons”. Mortal men of cruelty might become immortal spirits of cruelty. Perhaps, as in some Hindu lore, some discarnate spirits may be parasites feeding off human life energy.

How could the purported spiritual realm be complete without predators? Surely if such a realm exists it has its own natural, if subtle, biology; its own “food chain”, its own ecology. It’s not a case of magic–but of some unknown ecosystem existing in a realm thus far invisible to us. Unseen–yet as natural as snails and birds and bacteria…and sharks.

“In a dream I was told that in the Realm of Death…” and other remarks

In a dream I was told that in the Realm of Death everything is the opposite of what it has been; there we must become the unfulfilled potentiality that is remains unfelt, undone.

We’re not fully conscious because we unconsciously choose a walking, talking daily form of sleep. We choose this because becoming conscious is painful. It requires suffering life as it is. Conscious suffering. The part of us that hides from the discomfort of consciousness steers us away from it. Whimpering, it hides under a blanket from the biting wind: the winds of consciousness are cold, until we adjust to them. A seeker of gnosis needs courage. (The connection to the indigenous culture warrior tradition should be apparent.)

It could be that all modern art which is not merely satirical or socially referential is an expression of yearning for consciousness; is first a reaching for freedom from hackneyed, mechanical mental association, and second a freedom from fixities in behavior, in perception; is an escape from inevitable linkages of psychological reactivity. In a moment of freedom imparted by Magritte, Ernst, Matthew Barney we see the ordinary world anew, and every object becomes an “art object”, and zen, for that moment, has nothing on us.