Magnolia and Passover

The other night, for some background and a little dinner companionship, I plugged in one of my favorite movies: Magnolia. If you’ve never seen, it’s a must see. There’s a lot going on in this movie. It’s so rich with layers and dimensions that I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it and I just now really got it. And what timing (Passover). The movie is basically about personal Exodus. (I saw all the “8” and “2” references pointing to Exodus 8:2:

If you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your borders with frogs.

It’s about all of these people suffering at the hands of past decisions or experiences (i.e, “pharaohs”) that still enslave them. And their lives are just spiralling downward and they just keep making things worse for themselves because they don’t know how to break out of it. And, at the climax of the movie, when it starts to pour frogs from the sky, everyone either suddenly gets a glimpse of a different, better life or the falling frogs stop them from making their next really bad mistake.

And, of course, there’s the rapper kid at the beginning of the movie (who cryptically rats his murderous father out to the cop). His rap is about running from a “long time oppressor”. And he sums it up by saying, “If sunshine don’t work, then the good lord bring the rain in.”

Like, if you can’t snap out of your sorry ass patterns when the sun is shining, then the “good lord” will make it rain and see if that snaps you out of it. And ain’t that so true? I mean, how many times have we all hit some new low and we could have sat there whining about our misfortune but instead we have an epiphany or find some inner strength we didn’t know we had? And then slowly but finaly we turn in a new direction.

Duh. You could have knocked me over with a frog.

Edit: OK, you are probably all saying, “But what about Stanley the quiz kid”? You’re right: Stanley isn’t part of this self-oppressing pattern. He’s wise beyond his years. And, as Donny implies, “No, it is not dangerous to confuse children with angels.”

Now, can someone explain to me the title of the movie?

Cosmos and Psyche

I’m on an astrology kick lately. I’m not one to usually believe in these sorts of things. But, I have to admit that when, 2 years ago, a friend talked me into getting my natal chart read, I was shocked at how accurate the astrologer’s assessment of me and my life was. (It wasn’t 100% dead on, but was uncannily resonant.) She even said to me some things that, although I had a hard time seeing their relevance, were exactly what friends had been telling me about myself for years.

So, recently, I’ve been reading this book. It’s by a scholar who I highly respect. He, also, was skeptical of astrology. But since he is a cultural historian and recognized that many otherwise intelligent philosophers throughout history have trusted in astrology, he thought he’d look into it and see what the hub bub was all about. He too was taken by surprise at how unusually informative it was. But what’s more, he has taken astrological theory and applied it to world history and, in this book, he lays forth an impressive body of data showing correlations of trends and world events with their archetypal counterparts in the sky.

Take this simple example … Continue reading

The Biology of Belief (book review)

A while back, I mentioned I was reading a book that had me all excited about the relationship of science and mythological thinking. The author seemed to be setting himself up (by way of wonderful introductions to brain physiology, DNA, and evolutionary biology) to suggest a most interesting idea: that there is an evolutionary advantage to spiritual beliefs. But he dropped the ball. “The Biology of Belief: How our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions” by Joseph Giovannoli (2001) is full of interesting scientific tidbits and is a wonderful layman’s intro to some hefty topics. But he got trapped in his own left-brained bias.

The author speak of mythologists as social engineers. But, unlike the well-manufactured belief influencing technology we have today (e.g., techniques used in PR and advertising), mythological tales are not written and perpetuated by intention. They endure because they speak to people on some deep level, because they resonate with us in a way that is otherwise not adequately represented in our lives. They speak to a human need, a need for emotional, unconscious resonance, a need for mystery.

The author is just as guilty for lumping mythologists into one category as those he accuses: that of fundamentalists. He seems to think that the sole purpose of mythology is social control: It keeps us moral and helps us manage our fear. But this misses out on a important dimension of human consciousness. Mythology is a way of capturing the unknowable so that we can come into personal relationship with it. Not just to ease our existential angst, but because we have a basic need for mystery and experiencing awe and feeling reverance. Not because we are so mindless and sheeplike that we need someone or something to wield power over us, but because there is something deeply satisfying in doing so.

Power does not have to be “power over”. Power is simply creative potential, the ability to make things happen (for good or for evil). We need that kind of possibility, that sort of potential for change, that optimism. We need the story to not end. We need to strive for the answers with all of our faculties and we need to have something always held in obscurity. It is as much as a basic human, psychological need as is love.

Imagine how devastating it would be if we actually thought we had everything figured out. Those of us who wouldn’t be completely disappointed that all that could possibly ever happen was now in our own incompetent hands would likely have such hubris as to run roughshod over populations and natural resources. Add a dose of charisma and people will follow these narcissists down into their own destruction. One only need to look at history for examples.

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” – T.S. Eliot

Even as a mythologist, I love hard facts. When they confirm my biases, I, of course, feel excited by the sense of order and meaning they usher in. When they debunk my biases, I am set back to holding the question again. Joseph Giovannoli has a bone to pick with theologians and anyone who doesn’t rely on empirically observable and verifiable “truth” for basing their actions. My bone to pick is with fundamentalists of any kind, including this author.

Just because something doesn’t fit with the data at hand or isn’t observable by our currently limited modes of perceiving doesn’t mean that it isn’t a force to be reckoned with. Rather than drawing conclusions, let’s all hold the questions a bit longer. If one trusts that there is an answer and we just haven’t found it yet, it’s not that bad to not know, to not understand. But the anxiety that lack of resolution brings takes some getting used to. It takes a strong, healthy ego. Learning tolerance, learning to refrain from attacking perspectives of which one has no substantial, positive experience comes down to raising healthier humans and to instilling the value of the drive to discover and to experience the awe in not knowing just as deeply as the drive to adhere to methods of assessment intended to prevent delusions.

A Sufi Manual for Individuation and Beyond

“Your personal nature seeks its paradise.” – (Ibn ‘Arabi, 1981, p. 29)

Ever wish you had a manual for life and how to live it to its fullest? Well, I just found one in a book by Ibn ‘Arabi (12th century philosopher and Sufi shaykh) called “Journey to the Lord of Power: A Sufi Manual on Retreat” and I’m really digging it. It brings things I’ve heard in bits and pieces over and over again in spiritual and mental health circles through the last years together into one cohesive framework. I love that. Of all of the spiritual texts I’ve read, Ibn ‘Arabi’s is refreshingly practical in its teachings. However, he still says all this stuff in a language that might have been sufficient for a 12th century conversation with other mystics but would be frustratingly enigmatic for most folks today. So, what I write here is the interpretation that my Western, 21st century psyche gets out of his words. (BTW, if you aren’t familiar with the Sufi or Islamic use of the word “power”, try not to get bogged down here by the title. It doesn’t imply anyone getting oppressed or “lorded over”. So, just skip that part for now and let’s look at what all is inside the book ….)

Stages of Personal Development

The Elegant Universe (DVD) and The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

I’ve been reading The Fabric of the Cosmos and just watched the 3 hour Nova special based on his book The Elegant Universe. Brian Greene provides an entertaining walk through of the history of physics in comprehensible layman’s terms and the quest for the holy grail of physics: a single, unified theory that explains how everything works. Here’s the run down…

The Spiral Staircase (book review)

Just finished reading The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong.

I had great respect for her after reading the erudite yet accessible A History of God. And, now, after hearing her personal story of her years since she left the convent, I feel affirmed in my own process and preoccupation with the divine. From my sense of alienation, to my early disdain of my emotional sensitivity, to my later struggle with not letting my idealization of empirical reason completely undermine my intuition, to submitting myself to a spiritual training (or, as my teacher might say, not having submitted myself enough), to an acceptance of myself and even my feelings as my compass, to a respect for and cooperation with forces acting in my life, to a growing appreciation for paradox and the apprehension of God as an impersonal phenomenon beyond all conception and how much loving comfort that gives me, to the eventual academic endeavour (of which I have only just begun) of seeing if I can form a cohesive vision of history, theology, and psychology for myself.

Here’s a little taste from the beginning of the book …

“Exile is, of course, not simply a change of addess. It is also a spiritual dislocation…. Once the fixed point of home is gone, there is a fundamental lack of orientation that makes everything seem relative and aimless.” (Armstrong, 2004, p. 23)

And from the end …

“To my very great surprise, I was discovering that some of the most eminent Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians and mystics insisted that God was not an objective fact, was not another being, and was not an unseen reality like the atom, whose existence could be empirically demonstrated…. Most would agree with the Greek Orthodox that any statement about God had to have two characteristics. It must be paradoxical, to remind us that God cannot be contained in a neat, coherent system of thought; and it must be apophatic, that is, it should lead us to a moment of silent awe or wonder, because when we are speaking of the reality of God we are at the end of what words or thoughts can usefully do.” (Armstrong, 2004, pp. 291-2)

Thank you, Karen Armstrong, for hobbling along your path to give this back to folks like me.

To All My Single Girlfriends …

Sisters, run–do not walk–to the bookstore and grab a copy of “He’s Just Not That Into You” by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (writers from “Sex in the City”). It’s a fun, quick read and, had I been ready to hear its message years ago, I could have condensed my previous 10 years in relationships down to about 2 1/2 years of love, mutual respect, and fun and skipped about 7 1/2 years of making excuses and wondering why I was feeling so crappy.

May the authors forgive my plagarism in service of pimping their fine words …

Men, for the most part, like to pursue women. We like not knowing if we can catch you. We feel rewarded when we do. Especially if the chase is a long one. We know there was a sexual revolution. (We loved it.) We know women are capable of running governments, heading multinational corporations, and raising loving children–sometimes all at the same time. That, however, doesn’t make men different (p. 16-17).

Oh sure, we say we’re busy. We say that we didn’t have even a moment in our insanely busy day to pick up the phone. It was just that crazy. Bullshit. With the advent of cell phone and speed dialing it is almost impossible not to call you. Sometimes I call people from my pants pocket when I don’t mean to. We may try to make you think differently, but we men are just like you. We like taking a break from our generally mundane day to talk to someone we like. It makes us happy. And we like to be happy…. If I were into you, you would be the bright spot in my horribly busy day. Which would be a day that I would never be too busy to call you (p. 23).

Remember: men are never too busy to get what they want. We find it very satisfying to get what we want. (Particularly after a difficult day of running the world.) If we want you, we will find you. If you don’t think you gave him enough time to notice you, take the time it took you to notice him and divide it by half (p. 9). What you’ll never see when you’re with a guy who’s really into you: You’ll never see you staring maniacally at your phone, willing it to ring. You’ll never see you ruining an evening with friends because you’re calling for your messages every fifteen seconds. You’ll never see you hating yourself for calling him when you know you shouldn’t have. What you will see is you being treated so well that no phone antics will be necessary. You’ll be too busy being adored (p. 31).

My belief is that if you have to be the aggressor, if you have to pursue, if you have to do the asking out, nine times out of ten, he’s just not that into you …. [And,] I can’t say it loud enough: You, the superfox reading this book, are worth asking out (p. 17).

My Bookshelf

NOTE: I am phasing this page out and will get rid of it altogether when I finally get all my books and APA references set up on this page.

Armstrong, K. (2004). The spiral staircase: My climb out of darkness. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Bergman, I. (Writer & Director). (1973a). In the middle of the night in a dark house somewhere in the world [Television series episode]. In Carlberg, L.-O. (Producer), Scenes from a marriage. Stockholm: Sveriges radio/televisionen 2.

Bergman, I. (Writer & Director). (1973b). Innocence and panic [Television series episode]. In Carlberg, L.-O. (Producer), Scenes from a marriage. Stockholm: Sveriges radio/televisionen 2.

Bergman, I. (Writer & Director). (1973c). Paula [Television series episode]. In Carlberg, L.-O. (Producer), Scenes from a marriage. Stockholm: Sveriges radio/televisionen 2.

Bergman, I. (Writer & Director). (1973d). The art of sweeping things under the rug [Television series episode]. In Carlberg, L.-O. (Producer), Scenes from a marriage. Stockholm: Sveriges radio/televisionen 2.

Bergman, I. (Writer & Director). (1973e). The illiterates [Television series episode]. In Carlberg, L.-O. (Producer), Scenes from a marriage. Stockholm: Sveriges radio/televisionen 2.

Bergman, I. (Writer & Director). (1973f). The vale of tears [Television series episode]. In Carlberg, L.-O. (Producer), Scenes from a marriage. Stockholm: Sveriges radio/televisionen 2.

Campbell, J., Moyers, B., & Flowers, B. S. (Ed.). (1988). The power of myth. New York: Doubleday.

Corbin, H. (1969). Alone with the alone: Creative imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Deida, D. (2002). Dear lover: A woman’s guide to enjoying love’s deepest bliss. Austin, TC: PLEXUS.

Edinger, E. F. (1985). Anatomy of the psyche: Alchemical symbolism in psychotherapy. Chicago: Open Court.

Edinger, E. F. (1991). Ego and archetype: Individuation and the religious function of the psyche. Boston: Shambala. (Original work published 1972)

Forman, R.K.C. (1998). Mystical consciousness, the innate capacity, and the perennial psychology. In R.K.C. Forman (Ed.), The innate capacity: Mysticism, psychology, and philosophy (pp. 3-41). New York: Oxford University Press.

Gaarder, J. (1994). Sophie’s world (P. Møller, Trans.). New York: Berkley Publishing Group. (Original work published 1991)

Giovannoli, J. (2001). The biology of belief: How our biology biases our beliefs and perceptions. New Jersey: Rosetta Press.

Greene, B. (2004). The fabric of the cosmos: Space, time, and the texture of reality. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Guggenbühl-Craig, A. (1977). Marriage: Dead or alive (M. Stein, Trans.). Dallas, TX: Spring Publications. (Original work published 1977)

Johnson, R. (1983). We: Understanding the psychology of romantic love. New York: HarperCollins.

Johnson, T. (2004, Spring). Wedding night with the god. Parabola: Myth, Tradition, and the Search for Meaning, 29, 83-88.

Hillman, J. (1997). Suicide and the soul (2nd ed.). Woodstock, CT: Spring.

Ibn ‘Arabi. (1981). Journey to the lord of power: A sufi manual on retreat (R. T. Harris, Trans.). Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International.

Koestler, A. (1959). The sleepwalkers: A history of man’s changing vision of the universe. Penguin Books: London.

Luke, H. (2004, Spring). The marriage vow. Parabola: Myth, Tradition, and the Search for Meaning, 29, 49-51. (Reprinted from Kaleidoscope: “The Way of Woman” and Other Essays, pp. 166-169, 1992, New York: Parabola Books)

Mitchell, S. (2002). Can love last? The fate of romance over time. New York: Norton.

Needleman, J. (1991). Money and the meaning of life. New York: Doubleday.

Qualls-Corbett, N. (1988). The sacred prostitute: Eternal aspect of the feminine. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.

Raff, J. (2000). Jung and the alchemical imagination. York Beach, ME: Nicholas-Hays.

Preston, J.D., O’Neal, J.H., & Talaga, M.C (2002). Handbook of clinical psychopharmacology for therapists (3rd ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Shore, E. (2004, Spring). Standing under the mountain. Parabola: Myth, Tradition, and the Search for Meaning, 29, 19-23.

Shreeve, J. (2005, March). Beyond the Brain. National Geographic, 2-31.

Singer, J. (1994). Boundaries of the soul: The practice of Jung’s pscyhology (Rev. ed.). New York: Anchor Books.

Solomon, R. C. (1988). About love: Reinventing romance for our times New York: Simon & Schuster.

Spencer, L., & Krauze, A. (1996). Introducing Hegel. New York: Totem Books

St. Clair, M. (2000) Object relations and self psychology: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning

Tarnas, R. (2006) Cosmos and psyche: Intimations of a new world view. New York: Viking Penguin

Vaughan-Lee, L. (1998). Catching the thread: Sufism, dreamwork, and Jungian psychology. Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center. (Original work published 1992)

von Franz, M.-L. (1993). The feminine in fairy tales (Rev. ed.). Boston: Shambala.

von Franz, M.-L., & Boa, F. (1994). The way of the dream (1st ed.). Boston: Shambala.

Joseph Campbell, Mythos: The World of Joseph Campbell – Psyche and Symbol (video)
Joseph Campbell, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers – The Hero’s Adventure (video)
Joseph Campbell, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers – The Message of the Myth (video)
Joseph Campbell, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers – The First Storytellers (video)
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, The Twelve Levels of Initiation (audio tape)
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Psyhcology and Sufism: The Inner Partner (audio tape)
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Psyhcology and Sufism: The Inner Feminine (audio tape)
Maggie Hyde and Michael McGuinness, Introducing Jung
Robert Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Contentment: A Way to True Happiness
Robin Robertson, Beginner’s Guide to Jungian Psychology

Barbour, I. G. (1974). Myths, models, and paradigms: A comparative study in science and religion. New York: Harper & Row.
Erikson, E. (1980). Identity and the life cycle. New York: Norton. (Original work published 1959)
Fowler, J. W. (1981). Stage of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. New York: HarperCollins.
Hegel, G.W.F. (1977). The phenomenology of the spirit (Miller, A.V., Trans.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. (Original work published 1807)
Kant, I. (1998). Critique of pure reason (Guyer, P., & Wood, A.W., Trans.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1781)
Kipnis, A. (1999). Angry young men: How parents, teachers, and counselors can help “bad boys” become good men. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Needleman, J. (1991). Money and the meaning of life. New York: Doubleday.
Piaget, J. (2000). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.
Raff, J. (2000). Jung and the alchemical imagination. York Beach, ME: Nicolas-Hays, Inc..