Sunday, April 13, 2008

Self-Reflection & Idiot Responsibility

by Robert Augustus Masters

Self-reflection is not always what it purports to be. First of all, so much depends on who or what is actually doing the reflecting or introspecting -- for example, if our egoic conditioning is running the show, there won’t be much clarity or depth, given the density of the lens. Our conditioning -- whether gross or subtle, superficial or deep, mundane or metaphysical -- will then tend to make the picks; if we identify with it, then we’ll think that we are making the picks, all but oblivious to our case of mistaken identity.

Secondly, even if we are getting a relatively clear read on what’s happening, we may nonetheless frame it in a way that simply reinforces habits in which we are still entrapped -- for example, if we are dependent on others’ approval or are prone to being overly self-critical, this will likely turn our apparent self-reflection into not much more than an exercise in self-deception, laced with self-flagellation.

We may think that we’re taking an honest look at our part in what has happened -- wanting to see what the situation “says” about us -- but in fact are only assigning too much responsibility (and causal agency) to that part, and too little to others. In letting them off the hook too easily, we simply impale ourselves on our good intentions, perhaps acting as if the resulting pain is an inevitable and even justified consequence of our having fallen short.

And, at the same time, we may feel a certain pride in our apparent willingness to take such an unguarded and probably unflattering look at ourselves, when we are in fact doing something very different -- namely, submitting to our conditioning while acting as if we are not. Such is the essence of idiot responsibility, namely the irresponsible practice of assuming and behaving as if we are being responsible when we’really just taking on --and assuming ownership of -- more responsibility than is actually ours; and such “responsibility” is not necessarily just something which we have taken on ourselves, but can also be inculcated in us by esteemed others.

Just as it’s easy to make our relational difficulties mostly about our partner, it’s just as easy to make them mostly about us. It all depends on which way our accusatory finger is pointing. If it’s aimed at us, the odds are that we are female; if it’s not, the odds are that we are male. Why this is so can be partially answered by considering the emotion that’s most often overlooked in psychotherapy and spiritual practice: shame. Shame usually feels so unpleasant, so painfully exposing, so mortifying, that we understandably want to get away from it as quickly as possible. A particularly common way of doing so is to convert our shame into aggression -- just think of how often those who have been shamed in a film redirect their energies into getting even or getting revenge.

But aggression is not always other-directed; it can also be self-directed. Many (mostly men) turn their shame-based aggression onto their partner, finding fault with, for example, her delivery of what she has to say, thereby conveniently framing her as the messed-up one; and many (mostly women) turn their shame-based aggression back onto themselves, casting an overly critical eye on their shortcomings, or on how they might have better put across their position or needs, thereby cutting their partner too much slack.

This tendency to take too much of the responsibility (which frequently gets degraded into blame) for our relational difficulties is rooted in a crushed, deflated, or otherwise disempowered sense of self, in which love-deserving me is largely supplanted by “bad” or “not-good-enough” me. Seeing how messed up we supposedly are reinforces this diminished sense of self, even as we try to make up for it by being “good” -- admitting our screw-ups, holding ourselves accountable for them, and so on, but taking this too far. Yes, what bothers us about our partner may say plenty about us as well -- as when what we don’t like about them is but a projection of what we don’t like about ourself -- but to assume that whatever bothers us about our partner is no more than a reflection of something less than loving in us simply cuts us off from taking needed stands with our partner, leaving us floundering in the excuse-polluted, confrontation-phobic riptides of idiot compassion.

Some may go so far as to assume, in allegiance to the New Age belief that we literally create our reality, that they -- and they alone -- have literally “created” whatever ills or misfortunes come their way, including in relationship. Such a narcissistic view -- me-centered to the extreme, however humbly, and infused with more than a trace of omnipotent fantasy -- not only bypasses the fact that what others around us are doing inevitably impacts and is impacted by what we are doing, but also is shame-inducing, in that it blames us for things over which we may have either no control or less than full control.

If a girl is raped, and we assume that she has “created” it and is therefore responsible for it (thereby saddling her with the dogma of a particularly pernicious variety of idiot responsibility), we are then, however inadvertently, okaying the rape, perhaps even asking (in spiritually sloppy New Age thinking that’s marooned from common sense and real compassion) what lessons she is trying to give herself by having chosen to be thus raped. (In the pantheon of dumb questions, this is a top contender, all wrapped up in its distorted, insensitive, emotionally vacant, and disembodied metaphysics.) If our partner is abusing us, and we choose to view this as having been created by us, then we are just doing time in a me-centered hell, cut off from any intimacy with the intersubjective space co-created by our partner and us, turned away from the no-bullshit forcefulness and consequence-delivering fierce compassion that our partner may actually need.

Just as there is idiot compassion (acting as if being unrelentingly nice and avoiding taking needed stands is somehow an act of genuine caring), idiot humility (making a virtue out of playing small and not excelling), idiot tolerance (politically correct acceptance and force-fed egalitarianism), and idiot understanding (the disembodied assumption that knowledge is synonymous with wisdom), there is idiot responsibility -- holding ourselves (or lettiing ourselves be held) overly accountable, as if doing so is an act of integrity, when in fact all we’re really doing is setting ourselves up for guilt (after all, if we’ve “created” our cancer, and we just can’t get rid of it, we are failing, aren’t we?).

However, we don’t so much create our reality, as we create our experience of our reality. Yes, we can have a tremendous impact in certain areas, hugely effecting and altering our reality, but that does not mean that we brought it into being. This is a tricky area, because sometimes we can have such an effect on our world that it seems as if we have actually formed or created it, as when a deadly disease miraculously disappears from us. How we are, and how we think, feel, and act, has a definite effect on our reality -- as both quantum physics and genuine spiritual practice demonstrate -- but there are so many factors at play, so many causes and causes of causes and so on ad infinitum, that we cannot conclusively really say -- let alone prove -- that we, and we alone, create our reality. To assume otherwise is to ignore the contingent nature of our existence. We not only exist in relationship, but through relationship -- which means, in part, that creativity is not a solitary but an inherently collaborative process.

If we say to those who have cancer that they have created it, and ask them why they would choose to do so, and what lessons they are trying to give themselves through making themselves so ill, we have, among other things, vastly oversimplified how things actually happen -- there are so many factors involved in their having cancer that there’s no way we can view and take into account all of them -- as well as trying to implant in such people the notion that they must have really screwed up somewhere (beyond obvious inner and outer factors, such as their emotional state and diet) to get so sick, forgetting that many great saints have had cancer, regardless of their degree of illumination.

None of this is to say that we ought not to take full responsibility for what we do with our lives, but that we would do best to only take responsibility for what is our part (which, of course, also takes into account its impact on others). To do more may seem noble or generous, but is really just deflated egoity having its time in the sun, no matter how dark the day. Genuine responsibility does not shame or blame, but simply is the capacity or ability to fittingly respond to what is happening, rather than just reacting to it.

Such responsibility does not fall prey to the inappropriate assuming of agency, but rather stabilizes us, grounding us in real integrity and compassion, preparing us for a deeper life, a life of fully embodied, ever accountable awakening to what we truly are. As we thus awaken, we go beyond belief into self-illuminating experience, no longer seducible by hope (nostalgia for the future) and knowledge, entering a domain where self-reflection is no longer self-deflection and where being responsible is not something we do, but naturally are.

- Contributed by Robert Augustus Masters; originally posted on his blog (January 2007)

see also

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

From Slumber to the Fires of Computation - Kevin Kelly

In this article Kevin Kelly considers the history of the universe from the perspective of a hydrogen atom, and how the flow of energy has evolved from the Big Bang to the present time.

An atom’s brief journey through a technological artifact is a flash of existence unlike anything else in its long life span.

Most hydrogen atoms were born at the beginning of time. They were created in the fires of the big bang and dispersed into the universe as a uniform warm mist. Thereafter each has been on a lonely journey separate from anything material. When a hydrogen atom drifts in the unconsciousness of deep space, it is hardly much more active than the vacuum surrounding it. Time is meaningless without change, and in the vast reaches of space which fill 99,99% of the universe, there is little change.


After billions of years, a hydrogen atom might be swept up by the currents of gravity radiating from a congealing galaxy. With the dimmest hint of time and change it slowly drifts in a steady direction toward other stuff. Another billion years it bumps into the first bit of matter it has ever encountered. After millions of years it meets the second. In time it meets another of its kind, a hydrogen atom. They drift together in mild attraction until eons later they meet an oxygen. Suddenly something weird happens. In a flash of heat they clump together as one water molecule. Maybe they get sucked into the atmosphere circulation of a planet. Under this marriage, they are caught in great cycles of change. Rapidly the atom is carried up, and then rained down into a crowded pool of other jostling atoms. In the company of uncountable numbers of other water molecules they travel this circuit around and around for millions of years, from crammed pools to expansive clouds and back. One day in a stroke of luck a water molecule is captured by a chain of unusually active carbon in one pool. Its path is once again accelerated. It spins round in a simple loop assisting the travel of carbon chains. It enjoys speed, movement and change such as could not be possible in the comatose recesses of space. The carbon chain is stolen by another chain, dissembled many times until the hydrogen finds itself in a cell constantly rearranging its relations and bonds with other molecules. Now it hardly ever stops changing, never stops interacting.

The hydrogen atoms in a human body refresh completely every seven years. Our bodies are fancy buckets whose water runs out the bottom as fast as they are being filled up from the top; while we age we are really a river of very old atoms. The carbons in our bodies were produced in the sun. We are, as Carl Sagan so famously said, made of star dust. But the bulk of our body weight is water, and 2/3 of that is hydrogen. So in fact, we are not star dust, but big bang dust. The bulk of matter in our hands, skin, eyes, and hearts was made at the beginning of time, 14 billion years ago. We are much older than we look.

For the average hydrogen atom in our body, the seven years it spends dashing from one cellular station to another will be the fleetingest glory imaginable. Twelve billion years in inert lassitude, and then a brief wild trip through life’s waters, and then on again to the isolation of space when the planet dies. A blink is too long as an analogy. From the perspective of an atom, any living organism is a tornado which might capture it into its mad frenzy of chaos and order, offering it a once in a 12-billion-year-lifetime fling.

As fast and crazy as a cell is, the rate of energy flowing through technology is even faster. In fact technology is more active in this respect and will give an atom a wilder ride than any other sustainable structure we are currently aware of, such as life, planets, stars and galaxies. For the ultimate trip in 2006, the most sustainable energetic thing in the universe is a computer chip.

How can this be? The power density of a system is measured as the amount of energy flowing through a gram of matter per second. The power density of a star is huge compared to the mild power flows drifting through a nebulous gas cloud in space. But remarkably, the power density of a sun pales to the intense flow of energy and activity present in grass. As intense as the surface of the sun is, its mass is enormous and its lifetime is 10 billion years, so as a whole system, the amount of energy flowing through it per gram per second is less than in a sunflower soaking up that sun’s energy.


A nuclear bomb has a much higher power density than the sun because it is an unsustainable out-of-control flow of energy. The same flame-out applies to well, flames, bombs, supernova and other kinds of explosions. They literally consume themselves with energy. The glory of a star is that it can sustain its brilliant fission for billions of years. But it does so at lower energy flow rate than the sustainable flux that takes place in a nuclear bomb, or a green plant! Rather than a burst of fire, the energy flow in grass yields the cool order of green blades, tawny stalks, and plump seeds ripe with information that can replicate the entire plant. Greater yet is the energy flow within animals, where we can actually feel their energetic waves. They wiggle, pulse, move, and in some cases radiate warmth.

System ------ Power Density (erg/s/g)
Galaxy - - - - 10^-1
Star - - - 10^0
Earth - - - 10^2
Plants - - - 10^3
Otto engine - - - 10^4
Animal body - - - 10^4
Human brain- --- 10^5
Chevy ----- 10^6
747 ----- 10^7
Jetfighter ----- 10^8
8080 chip-------10^10
Pentium chip ------ 10^11

Still greater is the flow of energy through technology. Measure in joules (or ergs) per gram per second, nothing concentrates energy as much as hi-tech gadgetry. At the far apex of the power density graph is the computer chip – the most energetically active thing in the known universe. It conducts more energy (per second per gram) through its tiny corridors than animals, volcanoes, and the sun. It may be better thought of as a very slow nuclear explosion.


A 1-megaton nuclear bomb will release 10^17 ergs, which is a lot power. But the total lifetime of that explosion is only a hyper blink of 10^-6 seconds. If you “amortize” a nuclear blast so that it spent its energy over a full second of time instead of microseconds, its power density would be reduced to only 10^11 erg/s/g, which is about as intense as a laptop computer chip. Energy wise, a Pentium chip is just a slow nuclear explosion.

Indeed the incredibly intense flow of energy required by computation is the major constraint in continual acceleration of small size and increased speed we’ve so far gained in silicon computer chips. It is not so much small-scale engineering that is the challenge for future peta-hertz chips as much as it is dispersing the atomic-bomb levels of energy generating in such small places. So much energy is focused so intensely that laptops will simply melt without sophisticated help. MIT quantum computer maven Seth Lloyd performed a calculation to determine the energy needs of the “ultimate laptop” – one that used all the atoms in one tiny nano-cube of material to compute -- and figured it would be like having the big bang in your lap. Yeah, it was efficient, but boy did it wreck the living room.

Because of the ever-increasing power of smaller chips, only the tiniest femo-fraction of the earth’s atoms will be subjected to this fiery experience. A bit of heavy-duty computation here and there will guide the rest of materials. But more and more of the mass of atoms will be incorporated into either living systems or technological ones. Four billion years ago, none of the atoms on earth were cycling through cells. Today the biomass of earth totals 10^15 kilograms. I know of no figures for the total technomass of this planet, but it is certainly expanding. We need only watch the rate of mining and logging to see that more and more atoms are being swept out of their billion-year slumber and channeled into the explosive, dizzy, action-packed, short-lived ride we call the technium.

City Arch

This transfer is the grand story of the cosmos, in which matter everywhere in the universe is steadily hijacked by extropic systems. Over the course of cosmic history atomic particles are gathered by galaxies, combined by stars, cycled by planets, twirled by living cells, and most recently, jiggled and enlivened by technology. These all are self-sustaining systems, with no ends in sight. If one extrapolates, one can imagine that eventually all matter in the universe will someday be touched by these energetic processes at the highest levels of life and technology. According to physicist Freeman Dyson there is sufficient energy and time before the end of the universe for all matter to be encompassed into the intelligent design of technology. Or, as he puts the same thought flipped 180 degrees: there is sufficient energy and time for Mind to expand to fill the entire universe. At that moment, all atoms born at the big bang will have, at least once in their long boring existence, been part of a thought.

- Written by Kevin Kelly; contributed by Arthur Gillard. Originally posted on The Technium on February 24, 2006.

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Have We Moved Beyond the Age of Gurus? (Ken Wilber transcript)

The following is a transcript of a selection from Kosmic Consciousness, an interview with Ken Wilber conducted by Tami Simon.

Tami Simon: What about the idea that the ages of the gurus are over, and that as meditations come into the Western culture – a democratic culture – that, yes we need meditation mentors, but we don't need these hierarchical gurus that we don't question.

Ken Wilber: Yeah. Well I think…there's a basic ripeness about that, that the time of the gurus is gone in certain ways; but…that doesn't mean that everything about a guru is therefore unnecessary. Most of these great traditions that we're talking about – whether they're Sufis or Christian Contemplative or Zen or Buddhist Tibetan – really came about during the agrarian era, which is really two major technological epochs ago; and the very typical sort of political structure at that time was almost feudalistic. And so, in Tibet for example, a guru wasn't just what we would call the pastor at the local church, or your local rabbi or priest – the guru was often the political leader, the educator, the priest, the rabbi, everything rolled into one, and if the guru said “jump,” you would sort of say, “how high?” I mean, it was just sort of a very, very complex office that a guru was serving. It was entirely appropriate that under those circumstances you would basically offer every aspect of yourself to the guru, and that was part of a very, very complex training that also had a cultural background that supported it – and…under those cultural conditions it wasn't harmful in a way that we today would think of as harmful.

Nowadays, though, in democratic industrial and postindustrial egalitarian societies, that is a fish out of water to put it mildly; and a lot of the turmoil in the first couple of decades that the eastern traditions came into this country is that the gurus and teachers were coming out of these cultures and traditions where the guru was sort of everything – and then you come over here and that doesn't play in America. It's like, “are you kidding me?” We've got this incredibly individualistic, egalitarian culture. At the same time there are parts of it that, there's just no going back. There's a kind of democratic, egalitarian attitude that is going to mark this and most future forms of governance. So what you have to do is sort of scale the guru down, so to speak, in an appropriate way.

What you don't want to do is throw the baby out with the bathwater. And the problem, in this otherwise very necessary scaling down of the guru, is that we've shrunk the guru to really a miniature version of what it's supposed to be. And we want to do that because a real guru or a real teacher threatens our ego; that's basically the whole essence here. And we're not talking about, [at] this point, the guru as some sort of domineering figure that tells you everything you're supposed to do. At some point any form of profound spiritual practice is a real transcendence of self, if you want to find some form of higher kosmic consciousness other than your mere egoic identity; and under those circumstances, the ego does not go gracefully or willingly. And so if you're just sort of hanging out and you're your own spiritual teacher, you're probably not going to go as far as you can on the path – because you just won't endure the torment, the difficulty, the embarrassment, the profound pain of dying to your own separate self and your own separate identity. And under those circumstances, then you want a – by whatever name – spiritual teacher that's going to walk you though that. At some point there is a profound surrendering that goes on – again, it's not a dominating or domineering situation, but it's a profound letting go of your own absolute desire to be in charge, or be in control. That can happen in a spiritual teacher-student relationship in a very profound way.

Obviously there has to be checks and balances about it – there are certain things that you really can't do in those circumstances and they are very similar to the things that you cannot do if you are a psychoanalyst or psychotherapist. It's the same kind of relationship in a sense, and that has to be in place – you're not allowed to have sex with students, you're not allowed to take money in certain ways, you're not allowed to in any way make career choices for them, etc. etc. etc. But there comes a point where there has to be a profound surrendering of the separate self to that greater awareness and greater consciousness; and if a spiritual teacher is living that to you and transmitting that to you in an authentic way, then that's a very important component. That's not just a bunch of spiritual friends walking the path together holding hands! That's somebody who is enlightened and is fundamentally transmitting that enlightenment to you, as a demand, that you yourself awaken to that estate.

So my concern is that in necessarily and appropriately scaling down a guru, that we've scaled him out of existence; and we've replaced him with a kind of feel-good spirituality that lets us all rest in our own egoic self and nobody challenges us. So we have no rankings, no degrees of better or worse, higher or lower, no more enlightened or less enlightened – and then we're all equally unenlightened in a certain sense. Nobody's challenged, nobody's threatened – and nobody's awakened. And so that's the sort of downside of what I call Boomeritis, which is kind of a “mush egalitarianism” that really prevents any form of growth or transcendence or depth of development.
- Kosmic Consciousness, Disk Eight, track 4

This transcript was prepared by Arthur Gillard, and is posted here under fair use guidelines. I highly recommend the Kosmic Consciousness CD set as an entertaining and comprehensive introduction to the work of Ken Wilber.

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Lady in the Water (review by Robert Augustus Masters)

Movie critics generally panned The Fountain," but really trashed Lady in the Water,” M. Night Shyamalan’s latest effort. And they didn’t just trash it, but also castigated Shyamalan for the role he played (a character who is apparently destined to have an enormous impact on humanity) in the film. Perhaps what incensed them the most was that the movie critic in the film was not only a desiccated pedant, but also met an untimely death, scripted of course by Shyamalan, who had received some pretty rough treatment from said critics for his earlier films (other than The Sixth Sense).

If I were to take “Lady in the Water” literally — as the children’s fable it supposedly is — then I’d perhaps be irritated by it, grumbling that Paul Giamatti’s virtuoso performance as the central character, Cleveland Heep, was largely wasted. But the very fact that Shyamalan lays out the tale the way he does — after all, he is a very skilled director — is a clue that more is going on than meets the viewer’s eye. (Hint: It’s more than a fable.) In fact, we are being invited not just to look, but also to look inside our looking. And how many movie critics are inclined to do that? Certainly not the majority.

To me, the entire film is about Cleveland’s interiority — and interiority in general, on both personal and collective (and maybe even transpersonal) scales. His is a badly fragmented psyche, compartmentalized without any awareness that it is compartmentalized. An apart-ment complex that he barely manages to manage.

He is us in our usual state (suffering a case of mistaken identity), made worse by the trauma (his wife and children all murdered) he has suffered and is determined to keep secret. The various elements, mostly disconnected or only superficially linked, that constitute him — as personified by the characters in the film — are not let in on his secret. Only the sea nymph, Story, knows, once she has surfaced and entered his life.

Her surfacing — his surfacing, projected onto her — stirs him up, reacquainting him with his pain and his longing to take care of what is naked and vulnerable in him. Her presence forces him to more deeply encounter those who live in the apartment building which he caretakes — that is, those who live in him. Each has a role to play in helping Story, and Cleveland works hard to pull it all together, trying to clearly identify what each person — each part or piece of him — is meant to do in this endeavor. The fragments of his psyche are not so scattered now, as the first signs of a coming together (and perhaps even an integration) appear, orchestrated by Cleveland. Although he is not particularly skillful, he has the advantage now of an increasing single-mindedness.

The common goal is to serve the needs of Story — the needs of his purity, innocence, and depths — but to effectively do so, he has to leave his comfort zone, dive deep, and meet what opposes the purpose with which he is aligning himself. Several encounters with dark, red-eyed, bristling monsters called scrunts shake him up badly, but still he persists. An unlikely hero, perhaps, but a hero nonetheless, aimed toward wholeness.

He goes for advice to the movie critic — his (and, of course, our) inner critic — and takes it in too uncritically. Only when the critic meets a scrunt and is killed by it (after dryly concluding that he will, no doubt, escape from it just in time, because that’s how these movies go) — and is therefore silenced — does Cleveland really start pulling it all together. Now he can finally hear what he needs to hear.

Nevertheless, Story is dying, and the person supposed to heal her cannot. Cleveland finally realizes that it is his role to heal her, to bring her back to life, so he lays his hands upon her wounds, and lets himself go into the heart of the trauma he has been carrying and hiding in the darker places in the apartment building. He weeps and grieves (and Giamatti does an astonishing job here) with abandon, crying for his loss without any self-consciousness. As he does so, Story is revived. And so is he.

Now Cleveland is no longer so apart from his myriad selves. They all go outside — stepping out of the complex that ordinarily contains (or overcontains) them — and align themselves with what must be done with minimal fuss and maximal cooperation.

As was conveyed earlier, each character can be viewed as part of Cleveland’s psyche. Before Story arrived (or was invited forth, however unwittingly, by him), he took superficial care of each character, keeping them in their place (and role), no matter how odd their behavior. However, once Story entered the scene, he took a deeper look at the residents of his building — thereby getting a better look at his interiority. The characters therein are colorfully varied, mundanely archetypal, all stuck in their identities, mostly disconnected from each other until Cleveland, now truly in touch with Story, brings them more and more together in a common and life-enhancing cause.

Think of your sleep-dreams, and how bizarre, odd, surreal, elusive, or disconnected they can be, and remember that everything in them is literally part of you — and not just the people or the role you play, but also the animals, furniture, plants, things, and even the space in which they all arise. Pretty amazing this is, but not so amazing as our tendency to take it all to be real, instead of recognizing it for what it really is.

Cleveland plays himself in the film, but he is also playing everyone and everything else, just like our dreaming consciousness. The more varied and colorful and bizarre the characters are, the less likely Cleveland is to recognize them as himself in disguise. But when he gets close to his depths and innocence and fragility, he begins to awaken, not enough to fully recognize what is going on, but enough to take fitting action, much like someone who, when being pursued by something in a nightmare, wills himself to turn around and face it, even though he doesn’t know he’s dreaming.

To heal is to make whole. “Lady in the Water” puts this across at a level rarely touched in film, and for this it deserves another, deeper watching. Curl up with the fable, yes, and get cozy beneath your blankets as you would for any good bedtime story (which, naturally, needs a few scary parts), but also keep your eyes open for what underlies the fable, existing between its lines and beyond its metaphors. You won’t be disappointed.

- Contributed by Robert Augustus Masters; originally posted on his blog (May 2007)

see also More Than Entertainment: The Fountain

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008


by Arthur Gillard

Why Chant?

We chant to join our voices to the voices of countless seekers, worshipers, mystics, and lovers of life, in every time and in every place, who have shared in sacred song.

We chant to fill our hearts and fill our homes with loving and peaceful vibrations of sound.

We chant because it's fun.

We chant to help the stress and freneticness of our busy lives melt away.

We chant for the sheer joy of letting our God-given voices sing out.

We chant for the heartful communion that we feel with others when we come together in song.

We chant our prayers to God, so that our lives may be graced by more intimate Presence of the One known by so many names.

- from Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound, by Robert Gass, p.10

Chanting may be defined as “a short, simple series of syllables or words that are sung or intoned to the same note or a limited range of notes,” but chanting covers an amazingly diverse spectrum of musical expression, and serves many purposes – telling stories, healing or casting out disease (e.g. when used by shamans or ayahuasceros), conveying instructions, inducing trance, quieting the mind, mourning the dead, opening the heart, relaxation, communing with others or for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Chanting is a form of meditation, and may be synergistically combined with other practices. Chanting in groups can be a very powerful bonding and healing experience, fostering feelings of communion. It is also often a form of devotional practice, a heartfelt prayer, as illustrated in the following quote by the 13th century Catholic lay sister Mechtild of Madeburg:

As the Godhead strikes the note,
Humanity sings.
The Holy Spirit is the harpist,
And all the strings must sound
Which are touched in love.

In addition to the spiritual and meditational aspects, chanting has many measurable physiological benefits as well – and may be used for its physical benefit alone. For example, the repetitive nature of chant induces deeper, slower, more rhythmic breathing, and the sound vibrations of chant resonate throughout our bodies in a kind of internal massage. Brainwave patterns are measurably altered, in a way that is correlated with states of relaxation or heightened creative response, and blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. Eastern traditions believe that chanting frees up the vital bodymind energy known as chi, prana, or kundalini, with very positive impacts throughout the body.

Exercise: Simple Chants

The simplest way to try chanting is to play a chant recording and sing along with it. There are many samples available for free on the Internet – see the reference section for some useful links.

Here are two examples:

Om Namah Shiviya (this may be translated as “I bow to Shiva” or “I bow to the god within”) and is one of the most popular chants in the world today. Samples of this chant are available here.

Om Tara Tu Tare Ture Svaha (“Homage to you, Divine Tara, Radiant Mother of Compassion and Great Protector”).

Track one ("Tantric Tara") of Jonathan Goldman's excellent “Trance Tara” CD is an unusual and particularly powerful version of this chant. A sample is available here.


1. Robert Gass, Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound (New York: Broadway Books, 2000).

2. Robert Gass, Chant: Spirit in Sound (CD companion to above). [This is perhaps the best single introduction to the variety of chant practiced throughout the world.]

3. Jonathan Goldman, Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics (Rockport: Element Books, 1992).

4. Don Campbell, The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit (New York: Avon Books, 1997).

5. For information on icaros, powerful chants used for healing in Ayahuasca ceremonies, including samples you can listen to, go to


This article was written and contributed by Arthur Gillard.

see also:
Infinity Hymn

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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Saturday, February 9, 2008


by Arthur Gillard

“Toning is the use of the voice to express sounds for the purpose of release and relief...It is nonverbal sound, relying primarily on vowels, though it may incorporate the use of consonants to create syllables as long as they are not utilized to create coherent meaning. Sighing, moaning, and humming may also be recognized as forms of toning.” - Jonathan Goldman, Healing Sounds

Toning may be simply defined as “to make sound with an elongated vowel for an extended period.” Simple in concept and easy to practice, it is nonetheless a powerful tool which may be used for such diverse purposes as pain relief; releasing emotions; resolving past trauma; balancing the flow of energy in the bodymind and restoring harmony.

At a very basic physiological level, toning facilitates deep breathing because in order to release the sounds, the belly and diaphragm must be expanded; deep breathing slows the heart rate and calms the nervous system and thus promotes deep relaxation. Toning facilitates meditative states of consciousness and is believed by many to help clear energy blockages in the chakra system (energy centers in the subtle body).

Simple forms of toning include moaning and groaning to relieve stress or pain. One can adopt a playful attitude and experiment with making diverse sounds using the freedom of your voice, and optionally incorporating other sound-making practices such as banging drums, gongs, pots and pans, etc. In toning the main “rule” is that the sounds should be devoid of conceptual meaning, otherwise you are chanting or singing – certainly worthy in their own right, but not the same practice.

In the following introductory exercise, don't worry about toning on particular notes, rather take an intuitive approach. When the instructions say to change the note, simply make your voice tone deeper or higher as feels right to you.

Toning Fundamentals Exercise (from Sounds of Healing by Mitchell L. Gaynor, p. 99)

Inhale through your nose. Release your breath through your mouth while making one long sustained sound. When you run out of breath, inhale again through your nose and exhale through your mouth, again making a long sustained sound. Repeat this procedure as often as you like.

You can stand, sit in a cross-legged position on the floor, or sit on a chair. Be sure your spine is straight and your diaphragm and abdomen are unobstructed. If you're standing, imagine that the sound is coming up from your feet. Relax your jaw. When you make a sound, let your jaw hang open.

Tone a vowel on the note of your choice for as long as your breath allows. Repeat several times.

Tone the same sound on a different note.

Tone a syllable on the same note. Repeat several times. (Example: Tone OM, LAM, or HU.)

Tone the same syllable on a different note, and repeat.

Find a syllable-and-note combination that you like, and tone it again and again.


1. Mitchell L. Gaynor, M.D., Sounds of Healing

2. Jonathan Goldman, Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics

3. Jonathan Goldman, Healing Sounds Instructional CD

4. Linda L. Nielsen, Ph.D, Microtonal Healing: Spirit of the Healing Voice

5. Don Campbell, The Mozart Effect

6. Deborah Van Dyke, Traveling the Sacred Sound Current

7. Simon Heather, The Healing Power of Sound

8. Renee Brodie, The Healing Tones of Crystal Bowls


This article was written and contributed by Arthur Gillard.

see also:
Infinity Hymn

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Infinity Hymn - Stuart Davis

[The following is an excerpt from the book Radical Spirit.]

The Radical Spirituality of Generation X, Part 5: Infinity Hymn

Spirit in Culture/Arts By Stuart Davis

Meditation and Creativity Three A.M. Though I’m lying in bed next to my zonked-out girlfriend with my eyes nearly closed, I’m wide awake. Or maybe I should say wide aware. This year, in addition to sitting meditation, I’ve started meditating in bed before and during sleep. I use simple practices focused on breathing in order to move my awareness to a place where I witness events (internal, external, physical, cerebral, et cetera) without identifying with them.

Other times I’ll use a mantra. I’ve only been meditating for a couple years, so I’m a beginner, but I’ve noticed some differences already, most notably in my creativity. The way I write songs, their content, and how I perform them has been changing right along with the way I’ve been changing as a person. Tonight, my creative and meditative dimensions are intermingling more deeply than usual.

As I lie trying to follow my breath and witness things with equanimity, something unusually compelling pops into my mind. It’s a song. A new song. What makes it so unique and intriguing is that it has appeared complete and instantaneously, right out of nowhere. As a songwriter, I know this moment is like hitting the artistic jackpot.

As a meditator, I know this moment may be a distraction which can yank my awareness out of hard-won focus. Conflicted this way, I run the same silent debate I’ve had a hundred times; should I break my focus to get up and write down this creative burst?

If I don’t, I may lose a special song. If I do, I feel like a bad meditator, a scatter-brain who meanders off the path whenever something beguiling appears. But then, part of me argues (or perhaps rationalizes), this song is about spiritual seeking. Rumi created thousands of poems while spinning in an ecstatic state. My lyrics may not compare to Rumi’s poems, but maybe it’s okay to explore a creative flow that comes during meditation.

Discernment is key: I can’t just jump up every time my brain generates an idea while I’m meditating. But this song feels like it came through my brain, not from my brain. This sort of creativity is new to me, but my intuition tells me I won’t be spiritually AWOL if I get up to write down the song. So, I do. It is simply this:

It was easy
when I thought I had to go somewhere
to find You
now I learn
that I must attend to my own funeral
while this body still works
so that You may look through these eyes
and draw breath through this nose
and reach with these fingers
and pulse with this heart
who am I
to keep You from Your house?

When these words appear, they are without music. But, as I write them down in my dream journal next to the bed, a melody arrives too. There it is, a new song, but I feel as if I haven’t done any writing.

It’s more as if by meditating I created an internal setting that precipitated the creative burst. Later, I write more lyrics to it, to "finish" it (with a discerning artistic eye?), and then give it to my Sufi teacher. Without knowing any history of which lyrics were written when, my teacher circles the original lyrics that came in meditation and writes the comment "wonderful.” He also underlines exactly my later additions and writes "Is this material necessary?"

Reading his comments, I burst out laughing. Caught red handed! Over time, I’ve started to get the hint that in some cases my most important job as a songwriter is not to write, but to learn to open an inner space for things to come through, and then to know when I shouldn’t meddle with the results. I can’t say precisely where or what such lyrics emerge from, but I think it’s safe to rule out the ego.

I can sense where a song comes from by what part of me is moved when I write and play it. The above song is about the ego lying down so that something greater can move in. It appeared when I was in a more open, aware state, and when I play it I feel a softening and expanding take place within me.

These are all good indicators that its genesis was from somewhere beyond the ego. I can check any of my songs in this way and trace their roots. I have lots of songs that I know come from my intellect, emotions, or wit because that part of me was buzzing when I wrote them, and the same part is gratified in playing them. The smart-ass in me gets a kick out of writing something like:

Stephen’s exhibition is a masterpiece to see
it’s a series done in oil of his wife in bed with me
in really wild positions, all throughout his home
we cluttered every room with empty tubes of paint and foam
he’s done good work before, but this is closer to his heart
I’m glad that I could help out my friend Stephen with his art

But such a song never comes out of a meditative state. Work like that comes out of my brain, and takes a lot of thinking to write. For a long time thinking and egoic emoting was the only way I created, but meditation has brought more to the way I write songs, what they’re about, and how I perform them. Although having a song appear completely finished is still a rare event, it has become very common for me to write songs with tools other than just my brain.

Many of my creative blocks are now resolved by meditating for a while and stilling the thinking part of my mind. Whereas I once would sit for days on end pulling out my hair (most people still think I shaved my head) trying to come up with the next witty, intellectual zinger for one of my verses, now when I become blocked I often choose to lay back and focus on my breath and open up inner space.

I still write songs using my intellect, but it’s no longer the only way I write. Of course, blending creativity and meditation doesn’t mean that whenever I meditate I get a song out of it, or that God is writing songs for me and then dropping them in whenever I open up enough. But I think it does mean that I have access to parts of my "self" that run much deeper than my intellect, and that those dimensions can be every bit as active in the creative process as my brain has been.

For me, this means developing intimacy with Spirit, and when the intimacy is there (even a little bit), it has a great deal of influence on my creativity. There are artistic drives present in the sub-conscious, conscious, and super-conscious awareness, and meditation enables my creativity to move more freely among all three. Exploring this new creative terrain not only changes where my songs can come from, but what they’re about.

And is this my beautiful house?

When I took up esoteric spiritual practices, it was because of an ache that was tough to describe, but unmistakably real. I felt a need for closeness with God, through something more than just beliefs.

Reading or hearing people talk about God just made me sick, like I was being shown pictures of food to treat my starvation. What did seem to help was prayer/meditation, and my creativity. In retrospect I think that my art was a mystical ‘start-up kit.’ In fact, all the time that religion was empty for me, art kept my soul going. I started using songs to help create a closeness with Spirit.

The Sufis say that if you take one step toward God, God comes running toward you. Soon after I started exploring my spirituality through songs, that became the only thing I could write about. It went from me wanting to take a closer look at spirituality to me looking at everything from a spiritual perspective.

Opening a different kind of awareness in prayer and meditation carried over into and colored the rest of my life. Everything from sleep, sex, eating, driving, watching t.v., and especially songwriting looked and felt different. And if I wrote a song about sleep, sex, eating, or whatever- Spirit would show up in there every time. I would write a song about a cowboy, and it would come out like this:

They say I’m how the West was won
that’s a God-dammed myth
the West is what I’m One with

I’d write a song about sex and it would end up like this:

Every body wants to taste
a little something carbon-based
sex is proof the Holy Ghost
crawls around in stuff that’s gross

If I tried to go for the opposite and write about the Devil, I ended up with this:

God is Spirit
Spirit is everything
even the Devil


Right now they’re building Gandhis
they’re gonna bomb our ass with Love
and bring us to our knees
just using what we’re made of

Even when I didn’t want to write songs about Spirit, I would end up writing songs about how I didn’t want to write songs about Spirit:

What I refuse
You will use to surround me
I spit out Your seeds
and You grow all around me
even my poison flowers in You

Since then I’ve been getting what I’ve asked for, which is simply some One awakening in my heart, which changes my inner and outer worlds. It doesn’t mean that I’ve magically had all my faults removed.

Far from it. I still have all the same laziness, lust, greed, arrogance, fear, and on and on. But the difference is that now there’s something Else present in addition to all those things. I’m able to witness, to observe those aspects from a place that both acknowledges their reality and their impermanence.

Very slowly, my sense of identity is moving into that place, where "I" am the awareness of the stuff that comes and goes, but ultimately, I’m not the stuff that comes and goes. My personality is finite and impermanent, but my awareness does not have to be finite and impermanent. Songwriting is one way I can move into that witness, one way I can observe the qualities without clutching them. The old baggage is still there, but my relationship to it is changing. My relationship to everything is changing, including how I approach giving concerts.

Live from Buddhakhan….

Because I can get stressed out before a show, I often hide in the green room (when there is one) and meditate or repeat a mantra before I go on. On one tour I started repeating the words to a song I had recently written like they were a mantra:

stretch this thread into Your loom
pick this rose to scent Your room
boil this leaf to make Your tea
boil me
mold the bones that form this face
break the dam that holds Your grace
burn a wick so Light can be
burn me

The message was simply offering all parts of my self in hopes that God would reinvent them. It worked. It worked a little too well. Because when I did go onstage, I found myself no longer able to automatically slip into my "entertainer" stage persona, and if I did, another part of me was observing it for what it really was: vanity.

From this new perspective, I could see how my ego craved to get up and be the center of attention, and how shows could often just be a vehicle for the gratification of ‘me! me! me!’. As the tour went on, I started to become less and less fulfilled by doing shows where I was mostly being smart, witty, shocking, or entertaining. I needed something more out of it.

A tension formed between my inner world, where I had been seeking closeness with Spirit, and my outer world, where I was still the outrageous performer. I was writing tender songs about God in private, and then doing shows where I would fall right into my old routines of being the guy with the big brain and crazy antics. I began feeling untrue, being touched by Spirit in meditation and writing, and then getting on stage and forgetting all about it. I was trying to have my metaphysical cake and eat it too. But those tidy compartments were starting to merge, and boy did my ego piss and moan when it realized that its free ride was about to end.

Over one hundred times a year for seven years I have gathered with strangers who offer their attention for over an hour. Only now have I started consciously asking, what do I want to do with that attention?

For much of my performing life my ego has soaked it up like the sponge that it is. But, just as meditation has taught me that sometimes my job as a songwriter is to create a space, and not to fill one, it has also shown me that my role as a performing artist includes putting people’s focus on things beyond just the performance. Nothing else can be the center of attention as long as my personality is inflated like a big balloon on stage. But if I deflate it from time to time, some beautiful surprises can then arise.

There is a place for both actually, the balloon of my personality and the space for something more. Both can be part of the same evening. It isn’t a matter of either/or, the ego vs. the soul, it’s more about knowing how to coordinate them so that they work together.

And they can work in harmony. In fact, ego is actually an asset in increasing the depth of a show. It can be crucial set-up tool. For instance, I use entertaining or accessible material as breathing space between songs with deeper messages, so that the evening keeps moving through different layers. And I often find humor to be an ally when sneaking into a delicate subject.

Knowing how to pace this dance, where personality grabs people’s attention and then steps aside to make space for something greater, is a skill I’m still learning. Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to get beyond the surface, but that’s almost always because everyone in the audience is drunk. Then I either stay on the surface or annoy the hell out of a hundred drunks with songs about spiritual intimacy. Trust me, that can be dangerous in some parts of America.

Even when an audience is amenable to going deeper, it’s still the hardest part of my practice to resist playing on the surface where there’s an easy pay off for just being entertaining. It’s tough to surrender the show to the Heart when it’s so safe and fun to stay in the brain. But frolicking in the brain all night gives me a metaphysical hangover after the show, and those are even harder to deal with than surrender is.

Luckily, if I say a mantra long enough, it keeps going even when I’m not trying to repeat it, and that reminds me during a show that I should be steering things toward the Heart from time to time. One thing is for sure: if I don’t surrender and open up, the audience won’t either.

Being a performer is like being a tuning fork. I try to get people to vibrate at the same frequency for a while. When I’m able to become totally un-self conscious playing certain songs, the audience sometimes opens up in similar ways. People’s boundaries will drop from time to time during a show, without them even realizing it’s happening.

The best part of giving concerts is simply being in a room when this happens, and right out of nowhere (again!) a bunch of strangers suddenly all forget their "selves" and fall into a shared, contemplative stillness. It doesn’t happen all that often, but often enough to keep me waiting for the next time.

That’s what I always wanted church to be like; unacquainted people letting down their walls and connecting through what is common to them all- Spirit. Concerts are another kind of church, a setting that encourages raising the consciousness of a group of people through inner and outer activity. A perfect blend of the exoteric and esoteric.

While I know that greater awareness is available to me all times, the reality is that I’m only able tap into it intermittently. My hope is to find ‘on’ more often and have ‘off’ become more infrequent. I also realize that the way meditation has changed my songwriting and performing is really just a happy byproduct of the real blessing, which is being more aware of Spirit. The Heart is the gem, and art is the play of Light shining through it.

On tour a few weeks before I wrote this, I was meditating before a show. I had a very strong notion pop out of nowhere that said I should change the way I perform one of my new songs, Infinity Hymn. Typically I play it like I do all my other songs, just me and my guitar. But this impulse said to change it so the audience had the most important role.

The song uses a single note to represent the presence of Unity throughout all manifest and unmanifest reality. Normally, I sing a verse, then sum up its message by simply humming one note, the note that stands for God. But instead, on that night, I changed it so the audience and I sang together after every verse, so that each of us were in the role of God. With a couple hundred voices humming the same note in one room, I was reminded how each of us really is God, that our essence is that unifying hum from which all else issues.

Every atom plays the hymn
every echo is from within
every eardrum makes a map
and it sounds like this when one hand claps:

(audience hums the note in unison- hmmmmmmmm)

* * * *
Stuart is a performing songwriter with international recognition and ten albums to his credit, including Bright Apocalypse, Kid Mystic, Nomen est Numen, and 16 Nudes. He tours extensively, doing more than 100 shows each year. (

If you would like to purchase the Radical Spirit book from which this essay was drawn, please email us at and we will email you back details.

About every two weeks we will post another article on generation X spirituality from the book Radical Spirit.. For more articles, more about our (r)evolutionary spirituality and who we are, go to .

- Written by Stuart Davis; contributed by Arthur Gillard. Originally posted on

see also:

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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