Introducing the Center for World Spirituality’s new blog with a global vision based on Integral principles

An Enlightenment of Fullness for the rising dawn of the 21st century

What does a post-consumerist society look like?

Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard

By Joe Perez

One of the huge gifts that an environmentally conscious World Spirituality brings into the conversation around green living is its understanding that people are more than consumers, and that identifying with any limited conception of ourself is the bane of health spirituality. If what we value is something beyond our Self — consumer products, for instance — then we are headed away from our Unique Self. If what society values us for is something other than our Unique Self — then society is leading us down the road to perdition.

But for many of us it’s easier to see how we can change our own outlook, or progress in our individual consciousness. How can we possibly change the way that society drives, defines, shapes us? The answer, I think, begins with a twofold response. First, we are all leaders, and called to leadership. Of course there’s a role for following in some areas of our life, but we must be leaders where it really counts — in the ways that we are uniquely called into leadership. Through this leadership, we can do our own role to change the way that society squashes our fullest human potential.

Second, we must all see ourselves as part of a “We Culture” which is collectively responsible for being the new good global citizens that the world needs. We must lead by example and take the initiative to create a world that values the Unique We that is our collective Self. We must look for ways in which our organizations and institutions can honor more and deeper parts of our humanity in everything they do, instead of treating us like idiots, numbers, or cogs in a machine.

This is all so abstract, one might say. But actually there are abundant examples that I would point to to show how leaders today are birthing companies and doing business in ways that are advancing a World Spirituality. Patagonia, the green clothing company that also forays into territories such as salmon jerkey, sees the light at the end of the darkness of a world economy driven mainly by consumerism. In article appearing in the May 2012 issue of Fast Company, the Patagonia founder and green living pioneer Yvon Chouinard is asked:

You write about the ideal of a “postconsumerist society.” What is that?

We’re not citizens anymore; we’re consumers. The government views us as consumers, and our economy is based on us consuming and discarding. That behavior is destroying the planet. How can we use the power of consuming to do some good? I introduced the concept of the sustainability index, and Patagonia is working with 40 clothing companies, including Walmart, to implement it. In the future, customers will be able to zap their iPhone and find out just how a clothing article was made. The index will give a grade, and suddenly the consumer is armed with information. Some jeans, for example, will have a score of 10, some a score of 2. I think it’s going to be the start of getting away from consuming as recreation.

Now this is just one small example, but think of it if it were ever radically implemented. Before we buy any product, we could easily find out more about the human, spiritual values of the people who built and sold the product: we can learn if they support causes we object to, or whether they used environmentally friendly methods, or if they donate to charities that we support or behave in other socially responsible ways.

In such a society, it would be so easy to be socially responsible in our behavior that we would just take for granted that buying a product is an expression of our most precious human values. If we want to support a business that makes a lot of non-biodegradable trash and toxic waste, then we know that that is an expression of our self-image. But if we know that our precious worth is not trash, but more like gold, then we can look for companies acting from a place of genuine love and compassion and responsibility to the planet.

In this society, “buying” would no longer be an activity separated from Who We Really Are. What we would be doing is “buying in,” fully to our most radical humanity. We would be living in a post-consumerist society, closer to a genuine “We Culture.”

Joe Perez and Stuart Davis in Dialogue, Part 1: The Future of Art and Integral

Stuart DavisBy Joe Perez

Last month, I engaged in dialogue with Stuart Davis, a contemporary American musician, actor, and stand-up comic. With over 10 full-length music albums to his credit, including the brand new Music for Mortals, Davis has bravely brought depth and spirituality into popular culture — including the topics of God, sex and death — crafting them into lyrical and memorable pop songs.

This is the first of a three-part series of posts. In this section of the interview, I speak with Stuart about the topics of the future of Integral, spirituality, celebrities and popular culture.

Part 1: The Future of Art and Integral

(or: What if Kim Kardashian Endorsed World Spirituality Tomorrow?)

Joe Perez: As an introduction to this interview, let me say that I did a board retreat for the Center for World Spirituality last month [February] and met a couple of dozen of people contributing to World Spirituality in different fields working in this area that nobody even knows about. The more I am exposed to that, I think, there really seems to be something bubbling up in the world right now. And then there is the article by Terri [Patten] and Marco [Morelli], “Occupy  Integral!” that people are talking about… Did you read that?

Stuart Davis: I think I did read that, a couple weeks ago.

Joe: Their basic idea being that there is something about Integral that hasn’t completely entered the cultural consciousness yet, and so there’s a discussion around what needs to happen, where are we at, what is this moment, and how can we best rise to the potential of the moment. What’s your take on all that, Stuart?

Stuart: I couldn’t agree more for starters. To go back to the initial, for me when this first started, the passion about integral entering the public consciousness at large, however you want to frame that, let’s say crossing over the threshold into something that’s bigger than our own private club, whatever that means in different domains. When I first encountered Integral, I encountered something that many people probably do, and I didn’t realize what it was. But when you get that initial hit of Integral and you begin to crackle alive in that regard, you have this sense, almost tactile, not just an idea or a promise, but you can feel it in your gut. And that promise is Integral taking its place and inhabiting its portion of the body of humanity, growing, being a truly emergent, novel dimension coming to life. And we all sense that.

SESAnd what I think has been interesting to navigate and process is that when I first felt that, I felt it was just a few years away. I felt it was just a few years away. It was 1998. When I first read Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and first met Ken [Wilber]. I just had this certitude that it was pregnant, that we were giving birth, and it felt to me that the baby was crowning. Right, so I began, much in the fashion that people who think the apocalypse is coming, and that’s been going on for centuries, I began to prepare and anticipate and behave and conduct myself as though that promise was emergent and it wouldn’t be long, it would be just a few years, that you could turn on the NBC, or feel it coming from the White House, that it was going to enter into every domain.

I was really intoxicated for many years, and I was really wrong about a lot of timelines. I’ve felt the same certitude that I felt back then. It’s either inevitable because we’re talking about human development here. Either this is coming down the pipeline… or there won’t be humans around. Because we’ve never seen humans not develop. But on the other hand I will fully admit that I was really wrong about the timeline, what it was going to take, and specifically in the realm I can speak most precisely from, which is entertainment, because where I work is movies and film, television and books. I felt an immediacy that has turned out to be much more difficult. This inevitable process occurring I way underestimated in the people that I work with. I would say the way that I feel about it is that: Yes, I read that article and I have felt ever since day one that it’s occurring and I would qualify it by saying I’ve also been wrong about the timeline and how hard it would be. “Hard” in quotes. It’s a beautiful difficulty. It’s tough.

Joe: I was reading an article recently about youth today – specifically 18-to-19-year-olds. They’re less political, less concerned about the environment, and they’re turned off by organized religion, thinking it’s become very judgmental. But what’s most interesting in what I noticed is in what they ARE engaged with. If young people are to be recruited into politics, they said, it will be from selective use of entertainment media, celebrities, Facebook, Twitter and mobile technologies with forms of participation limited in their duration, sophistication, and intensity. You’re closer to this than I am. Do you think entertainment, celebrities, and social media can help to reengage youth into a developmental path?

TrendingStuart: What a great question. That brings to mind the pop song. That has been my experience with the pop song since day one. The greatest triggers and invitations I have experienced have come through these brief, concise, but potent pop song type piece of pop art. Some of them literally pop songs.  I have had moments of mystical insights that were unrivaled, more effective than anything I learned in church … Does that mean that pop songs are more effective, or is it just my typology, or something about how I’m put together? I do think that there is in a deeper place, my conviction is that art existed before organized and conventional religion, and it will exist after.

To me, art and the creative impulse and the way that it comes alive in us is primary and more enduring than some of the structures that will come and go. I don’t think religion is on the way out in the next century or two. Maybe a few millennia if we’re still around. I believe art will always endure. I personally find art much — even if it’s a three-minute pop song — I find it to be a more gratifying and effective channel for me to connect with the Mystery and with the Spirit. So definitely pop music is my Church. … So that’s my yes to that kind of thing. Yes, kids, three-minute pop-songs, stand-up comedy, television shows, movies. I have always felt personally that they’re more effective, meaningful on the whole than sitting in a pew for an hour and a half or whatever than the things that kids think are antiquated…

But the other half of this is that… I have miscalculated many times. I have predicted and anticipated that there would be some sweeping movement that would come up through these artistic domains (television and film and music), and I have seen a tension – not a contradiction — that it something I don’t know how it’s going to solve itself. I know on the one hand people like you and Saul Williams, I know so many creative, deeply insightful, awakened people working and making amazing profound work that has transformed my life. I feel that going on in the culture. It’s coming to life. It’s got a very significant presence. I believe it will exponentially increase. But on the other hand, getting it to the mainstream, a larger populace, has not occurred. And I don’t know why.

Music for MortalsIt’s very curious to me especially as someone who sits in meetings with television networks and film studios and who has worked for years in Hollywood working passionately to cultivate this in a larger audience and it hasn’t happened yet. The reasons it hasn’t happened have been fascinating to me. I’m still learning about that. It’s a tough one. Sometimes I’m left…  I had a bit of a dark night of the soul actually last year, which is partly what about when my album came out of. I’m divided about it. What those kids seem to be saying, I sign on with that. I think a couple thousand years from now art and creativity will be a bigger part of the body of spirituality and religion than sitting in buildings, the way things are today … but it’s very mysterious how things unfold. The culture doesn’t know about these artists yet. You can’t even test and determine —

One of the things I keep coming up against in television: executives are capable of perceiving that there are tens of millions of people who are hungry for things they’re not getting. I know I’m one of them. I wish there were more movies that came from a depth and a span and were more entertaining from a place of substance and mystery. I feel that about television, film, and music. I want more of that. If they make more, I will buy it. People look at that and know it exists. And then they look to the creative side, and when people come to them with those projects, they get very paranoid about putting them into development and actually making them because the risk to their job, the unpredictability of betting on something that doesn’t exist, that hurdle is one that is very difficult to get over. Not just for me. The abortion rate of those projects in those industries is multiples higher than the average death rate.

Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian

Joe: Still on the same topic… A couple of months ago I heard about this young guy, 28 years old, his name is Mastin Kipp. He has a new age, daily positive thinking Facebook page and Twitter. He had next to nothing. And then he somehow got a celebrity, Kim Kardashian, to tweet about him, and the next day he had 10,000 readers, and pretty soon that turned into 50,000 and 100,000, and so forth, and a couple of years later he finds himself listed on a list of the 100 most spiritually influential people in the world. I’m sure it took a ton of hard work on his part, but it all started with a tweet by Kim Kardashian.

This is the world we live in. Lady Gaga just hit 49,531,259 Facebook likes. One endorsement from a celebrity like Lady Gaga to her fans related to the Integral world – it’s going to be mocked by those people who think the scene is all about chasing celebrities all because some celebrities gave interviews with Ken Wilber a couple of years ago (there’s always those people out there who will say you’re not serious if you’re dealing with pop culture). But let’s push that aside. What’s the possibility of getting that attention? It ought to be exciting to people. It ought to be able to generate some juice. Don’t you think?

Stuart: I think that’s such a great point. Not only will it get mocked, but it will be derided and set this avalanche into play. The haters will come in, etc. But the truth about is: you know this as a creative person who has anchored your work in depth and substance is that you can’t do anything. There’s nothing you can do, even a celebrity on reality TV, and people will attack you for that. Or you can be Ken Wilber. Pick anyone who made anything and put themselves out there and they’re attacked. That’s inevitable; it doesn’t have anything to do with Integral. It has to do with making something in the world. When you get Julia Ormond or Sharon Stone or Larry Wachowski, the celebrities who have come into Integral and worked with Ken, that has triggered this allergy. But it’s not unique with integral. I have seen over and over again artists or figures who have worked with great loyalty to the Mystery for years and years, loyal to the creative impulse. Nothing has changed about that work, but it becomes successful, and the people who supported them now resent them.

HollywoodI think people want to keep the party small, they don’t want it to be popular. It’s not cool anymore. It’s a sndyndrome. What I’ve always loved about Integral, is its impulse to include and inhabit more. As long as this is our private tree club up in the mountain, it’s irrelevant.  If Love is what we’re really loyal to, there’s no way in good conscience we can withhold our work and our presence from trying to enter into the largest part of humanity. If your loyalty is to Love, not only can you not withhold that, you have to pursue that with the greatest diligence.

That being said, I think it is difficult. It is my experience every day that it’s confusing and problematic waking up knowing that (a) under the loyalty to Love and that principle, you have to dedicate yourself to try to introduce and engage with as many humans as possible – television and film in my case — and (b) trying to not to get sticky, desperate, or nedy or greedy about that. It’s very tough. The ambition and drive to bring your Dharma to life in this lifetime will always comingle and magnetize the negative inversions which are greed, neediness, stickiness. I’ve never figured out a way to cleanly divide those and cleanly divided and separated. Every morning I wake up and go through it again. I address those questions a dozen times a day. I don’t anticipate it will ever go away. But it doesn’t mean you can stop working for Love.

I think celebrities… When I see Sharon Stone or a Larry Wachowski or whoever and I hear people deriding that, implying that it’s going to be the death of Integral or the death of our integrity, it’s really confusing to me. I don’t know Sharon Stone from a hole in the ground, but I know she showed up in our community and wanted to focus attention on that work, that’s all I really know. And that’s fucking incredible.  … and that’s beautiful. And we need so much more of that.


Stay tuned for more… in Part 2 (coming soon), Stuart and Joe discuss the topic of “beautiful people” and more.

Nightly View: The march to spiritual marketization

Owl

By Joe Perez

High in the heavens above, the Sun’s sweet sextile with Neptune suggests a universe hospitable to fantasy and the belief that anything is possible. It’s time to inaugurate a new crazy idea: a nightly column on Spirit’s Next Move which follows the hooting of the owls, listening for wisdom, however disjointed and scattered the whos and hoos and hoots may sound, amid the many boughs and branches of the World Wide Web.

Resplendent hues of Sol’s gold and Neptune’s briny green above; on Earth, hues of pastel pink and baby blue. Ever wonder if the preference of pink for girls and blue for boys is universal? Not even close. It appears to be a cultural choice that could easily have gone the other way.

The marketization of color

The Smithsonian writes:

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti says.

Today, American retailers are doing more than picking the color palettes to sell to young children, they may also be establishing the limits on democracy.

The marketization of everyday life

According to an article by Harvard’s Michael Sandel at The Huffington Post:

At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.

And so, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?

Is it really so that the marketization of everything leads to greater class stratification? Will Wilkinson, criticizing Michael Sandel on Big Think, doesn’t think so. But Sandel may be correct, it seems to me. Money buys many things, including the ability to live one’s life without other people around. Having no money, you don’t have that option.

And so on this inaugural expedition of The Daily Hoot, I invite us into a dream-like visualization:

First, everything in the world is “fully marketized,” as Michael Sandel fears, (let that term stir up whatever it does for you). The markets define the conditions of our citizenship and common life together. Almost everything is up for sale. 

One definition of “marketization” is simply “The exposure of an industry or service to market forces.” At a minimum, everything is registered by the market, located within its own value coordinates.

BUT… Dystopia is not the world we find. Instead, we find a Utopian world in which people of all means share a common life and care deeply about their history as a species and as a people, and how they came to live together in peace. Market forces helped to create the delicate balance, because they evolved from the rudimentary capitalist measurements we use today into instruments capable of transferring all measure of value — aesthetic, moral, and spiritual. 

Can we imagine that? Remember that the process towards gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. The process towards a sort of spiritual and aesthetic marketization will not happen overnight, if it happens at all.

It happens not in the skies but in the choices we make, starting with the choice to let our soul slumber a slave to industry and capital forces or to awaken as a Unique Self alive with the creative power of the stars. It happens in the choice to heed the call of Utopia rather than succumb to fears of Dystopia.

When spirituality becomes a mask

Leather Jacket

By Mariana Caplan

Adapted from Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path, Sounds True, 2010. Originally published on the Center for World Spirituality blog in October, 2011.

We become skillful actors, and while playing deaf and dumb to the real meaning of the teachings, we find some comfort in pretending to follow the path.
~Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche

Given that global culture has been turned toward materialistic values in a way unprecedented in human history, it is inevitable that this same ethic would infiltrate our approach to spirituality. We live in a culture that values accumulation and consumption, and it is naïve of us to assume that simply because we are interested in spiritual growth that we have relinquished our materialism — or even that we necessarily should.

There is nothing wrong with having an “om” symbol on your t-shirt or being an avid practitioner of meditation while also enjoying moneymaking and big business, but it is useful to explore, understand and check your integrity in relationship to your choices. Spiritual materialism is not a matter of the things that we have, but of our relationship to them.

We all resist seeing the ways in which we deceive ourselves on the spiritual path. It is an embarrassment to ego, though not to who we really are, to look in the mirror and see ourselves dressed in spiritual drag. Yet we allow ourselves to be exposed for the sake of greater freedom and to become more expansive through recognizing how we are limiting ourselves in the name of spirituality.

We also use spirituality to gain power, prestige, recognition and respect, and even to avoid our own troubles. And we misuse the very teachings, practices, and all the spiritual things we do and think to increase our awareness to avoid a deeper intimacy with the truth we seek. We use our practices, paraphernalia, and concepts to support ego rather than truth. Even a monk on a mountaintop can be attached to his robes or begging bowl as a way of creating a false sense of spiritual security.

The ego wants to think of spirituality as something it can “have” once and for all, and then we do not have to do the continual work of showing up and practicing moment after moment for the rest of our lives. The ego creates a whole identity around one’s spiritual self. This is part of what we all do on the spiritual path, but it is helpful to learn to see it in ourselves.

There are many forms in which spiritual materialism may manifest:

The spiritual resume refers to the list of important spiritual people we have met, studied with, done a workshop with. At times we might find ourselves reciting our spiritual resume to impress ourselves or somebody else.

Spiritual storytelling takes the form of reciting narratives about our spiritual experiences. While they may be interesting, we often hide behind our stories to shield ourselves from the vulnerability of deeper human connection.

The spiritual high often manifests by going from workshop to teacher to beautiful place in order to stay on a perpetual high and avoid our own shadow, which is a different form of spiritual bypassing.

“Dharmacizing” refers to using spiritual jargon to account for our confusion and blind spots and to avoid relationship. If we’re a dharmacizer and someone tells us they feel tension around us, we might counter with a truism such as, “It’s just a passing phenomenon. Who is there to experience tension anyway?”

Spiritual shopping sprees are characterized by accumulating initiations, empowerments, and blessings from saints the way others collect cars, yachts, and second homes. We need to feel that we are always getting somewhere — that we’re becoming richer and better. Some people unconsciously believe that if they collect enough spiritual gold stars to become enlightened, they don’t have to die.

The spiritualized ego imitates, often very well, what it imagines a spiritual person looks and sounds like. It can create a glow around itself, learn eloquent spiritual speech, and act mindful and detached — yet there is something very unreal about it. I remember going to hear a particularly well-known spiritual teacher talk. He was trying too hard to act and talk spiritually–saying profound things and wearing a certain “knowing” smile — yet his message was empty of feeling and dimension. His ego had integrated the spiritual teachings, but he had not.

The bulletproof ego has assimilated constructive feedback and integrated it into its defense structure. If someone shares an opinion about us we may say, “I know it appears that I’m being lazy and selfish, but I’m actually practicing just ‘being’ and taking care of myself.” A spiritual teacher with a bulletproof ego may justify verbal abuse or economic extortions from his or her disciples by saying he or she is trying to cut through the egoic mechanism or trying to teach them they must learn to surrender all they have to the divine. The problem with people who have spiritualized and bulletproof egos is that they are extremely slippery and difficult to catch — and it is particularly difficult to see how this spiritual defense mechanism operates within ourselves.

It is important to understand that spiritual materialism is less about the “what” and more about the “how” of relating to something — whether it’s a teacher, a new yoga outfit, or a concept. It is not a question of wealth or money but rather of attitude. I have encountered numerous sadhus, or holy men, in India who live as renunciative beggars, yet waved their fists at me when they felt the donation I gave them was insufficient or others’ attachment to the pilgrim’s staff they carried was as prideful as many bikers are about their prized Harley-Davidsons.

As we penetrate deeper into the layers of our own perception, we discover that the origin of all forms of spiritual materialism rests in the mind. We find that we can relate to information, facts, and even profound understanding in such a way that it precludes the emergence of deeper wisdom. At this most subtle level, in which even knowledge itself becomes a barrier to wisdom, our sword of discernment — the deep desire to see ourselves clearly and the willingness to take feedback from others — can cut through our confusion.

When we were studying the subject of spiritual materialism in a graduate school psychology class I was teaching, a young student raised her hand and said, “I know I am really drawn to spiritual life, and somehow what stops me is this really cool black-leather jacket I bought in Italy. I think that if I really give myself to spiritual life, I will have to give up my jacket, and I know it sounds ridiculous, but it really holds me back.”

My student’s leather jacket was a material possession, but we all have something — a reason, possession, or something we tell ourselves that prevents us from looking at ourselves more deeply — that can keep us away from the path for our whole lives. For many of us, in spite of our best intentions, our spirituality itself becomes one more layer of subtle armor behind which we shield ourselves from deeper truth.

Top 10 rules for building a unique Online Presence

Sunglasses

Note: Adapted from content originally published in December 2011 on Awake, Alive & Aware.

Scientific research has tentatively suggested that how a person shows up online actually is very much like how they show up in real life. The same mannerisms and tics, values and qualities of character, personality traits, etc. And if you have lots of friends and are very social in the real world, you tend to also make many virtual friends, too. So we must give some credibility to the hypothesis than when we are talking about your “Online Presence” we are actually talking about a part of yourself — that part appearing, as the Integral Theorists say, in the Lower Quadrants. Put simply, your Online Presence is really YOU.

And yet there are few guidelines telling us how to navigate the waters of social media, blogging, website and to really claim our online “self” as truly part of us. There are few guides, in any case, that really grasp deeply the interpenetration of psyche and cyberspace, philosophy and Facebook, temperance and Twitter. So several months ago, I attempted my own guide for myself to follow in helping my Unique Self show up more often than my False Self.

1. I Will Not Distract Myself. I will not use social media as a distraction to keep me from doing more pressing work in the world. I will recognize that moment when it becomes a distraction because I will begin to feel that I am procrastinating on something that is more enlivening and rewarding but which requires delayed gratification.

2. I Will See My Online Presence as a Mirror. My Online Presence will be a unique reflection in the objective and intersubjective realm of my Unique Self. It already is; but by cultivating awareness of this feature of my life I can further develop the use of social media as a spiritual discipline. Since I am constantly loosening in identification with my ego and expanding in identification with my True Self, I can expect ongoing surprises and transformations in my blogging from time to time.

3. I Won’t Give Much Weight to Opinions. I will not forget that the Online Presence is not “me,” nor will I write from the vantage point of merely stating opinions. Online Presence is about enacting my Unique Self which is just as alive in its uncertainties as it is in its convictions. I will inhabit perspectives lightly, and not get fixed into flatland thinking. I will avoid criticizing others’ opinions by merely expressing a counter-opinion; instead, I may disagree, but it just might be by helping them (and me) to find a path beyond opinions.

4. I Will Always Add Value. I will endeavor to not pass along links without adding a value that only I can add at this particular time for this particular audience, whether through writing commentary or by selecting a link out of dozens or hundreds because it seems to carry some value for aiding in the development of a more whole, loving, and compassionate world. I will read and like links others have passed along when they move me.

5. I Will Not Avoid Controversy. I will not hide from controversy or strongly stating the judgments which arise within the wisdom held by my True Self, nor will I allow fear of others’ criticism or desire of others’ praise to dictate what I say. I will exercise discernment in whose words I choose to pass along with favorable notice, but will not “play politics” by writing with motives that are not owned.

6. I Will Speak My Truth with Kindness. I will pay attention to what I’m choosing NOT to write about, and let my words expess my Unique Self’s perspective by virtue of exercising wisdom in not repeating dubious gossip, slander, or idiocy. I will write with kindness. I will ask myself if the seasoning of snark and sarcasm is really my Full Self before sprinkling it into cyberspace. I will react less to news; I will write things that can help myself and others to create news. My Unique Self is a creative artist, not a robotic human news feed.

7. I Will Read More Than I Write. I will read the content of the links that I pass along, or let my reader know if I haven’t. I will reflect on how the topics I write about mirror my Full Self. If I notice that my interests are too narrow, partisan, or ethnocentric, I will stretch myself by endeavoring to notice when I am moved to write about topics outside my comfort zone and challenging myself to go there.

8. I Will Not Blog Asleep From the Neck Down. I don’t need to wear all my emotions on my sleeve; I just need to find a place where I’m comfortable that the person who is showing up online really reflects me, including my emotional side. At the same time, I will not retreat into a narcissism of writing only about my own feelings, my own backyard, and my own likes and dislikes. I will not be afraid to feel into the heart of the universe, and express the voice that comes from the joy and sadness, fear and anger, of the world’s soul.

9. I will Make Things Personal. I will get to know, at least a little, every one of my Facebook friends, Facebook fans, and Twitter followers … and recognize them as also part of my Full Self. I will read their Facebook profiles, if their privacy settings allow it, so I know who my readers are. I will respond to the vast majority of comments and inquiries with public responses, and engage some of them with direct messages.

10.I Will Forgive. When I fall short of my resolutions, I will go easy on myself and correct what I can.

Photo Credit: Brigitte Deisenhammer

The Israel Moment: Reclaiming uncertainty as a spiritual value

Old Person

By Dr. Marc Gafni
Edited, prepared and with introduction by Dr. Heather Fester

Uncertainty is ethically and spiritually essential, Marc Gafni writes here, because it allows us to reach higher certainty, avoid the seduction of false certainty, and reach spiritual authenticity. In this excerpt from Chapter One of his volume Uncertainty, Marc introduces the core “Ullai Stories” or “Maybe Stories” of the Old Testament, explaining the role of Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel, as a major character in these stories.

The Israel Moment: Reclaiming Uncertainty as a Spiritual Value

Much of religious tradition can be understood as culture’s attempt to fully triumph over uncertainty. Indeed one of the most important modern Biblical commentaries argues that divine revelation is the gift of a loving God who wants to spare the world the pain of uncertainty.  Many voices in the religious world have declared unilateral victory, arguing that all of life’s doubts can be defeated through faith, religious observance, and logic.1

I believe our life experiences give lie to absolute religious and spiritual claims to certainty. Sometimes the way religious tradition critiques itself and conveys its more subtle and even radical ideas is through the seemingly innocent story. It is in this light that I understand the following wonderful story:

Yankele used to go to the market every week to buy the basic necessities for the Sabbath. Every Friday, he would buy Sabbath candles for one ruble, bread for one ruble, and Kiddush2 wine for another ruble: three rubles were all he and his wife could spare for the Sabbath meal. One day, Yankele arrives at the market with the three coins jingling in his pocket, and he comes across an elderly gentleman that he has never seen before. The old man looks at him deep in the eyes and says softly, “Excuse me, young man, but I am terribly thirsty. Could you please buy me a cup of tea?”

Now a cup of tea cost one ruble. To buy this man a cup of tea means that Yankele would have only two rubles left, which would make one of his Sabbath purchases impossible. Yankele is not sure what to do. But he looks into the eyes of the stranger, and for some reason, has a feeling this man is truly thirsty.  And, as something of a scholar, Yankele knows that one can make Kiddush over bread even without  wine, and so he decides to do without the wine this week and buy this enchanting stranger a cup of tea. Together they sit down in the tea-shop, the old man picks up his tea cup, makes a blessing and drinks the tea, closing his eyes in pleasure as the refreshing liquid pours down his throat. It is a few minutes before he opens glistening eyes and thanks Yankele with a very slight bow of the head.

Just as Yankele stands up to leave, the old man says, “Excuse me, could you wait a moment? You have been extremely generous to me. But you see, I am very, very thirsty. Perhaps you could buy me one more cup of tea?” Yankele looks at this old thirsty man and knows he has a problem. What to do? On the one hand, he likes this strange old man. On the other hand, his wife will not like him too much if he comes home with no way to celebrate the Sabbath.

……But then, on the other hand, Yankele remembers that one legal authority,  R. Akiva Eger, taught that lacking bread and wine, one can just say “Shabbat Shalom” to bring in the Sabbath.  In the end, Yankele takes the plunge. He sits back down and orders the man another cup of tea.

Again, the old man makes the blessing and drinks deep with eyes closed. Again, the man thanks Yankele with glistening eyes. But this time, as soon as the man bows his head, Yankele stands up quickly in the hope of escaping the words he knows are about to come: “Excuse me, sir,” says the old man before Yankele has reached the exit, “I am still very, very thirsty. Please could you buy me just one more cup of tea?” Again, Yankele is full of uncertainty. A crowd of Halachic variables rush around his head, but this time he can find no legal justification for forfeiting the last ruble which he needs for the Sabbath candles. “I’m sorry,” he says, “But I can’t buy you another cup of tea.” The old man smiles a sad smile, and bows his head. “Before you leave, let me bless you,” the old man says. “I bless you with great wealth, health, and a good long life.” Yankele thanks the man for his blessing and hurries off to prepare for Sabbath.

Sure enough, Yankele becomes a very wealthy man. He is able to look after his wife and all his children in luxury and style. He lives the epitome of a good, long life. But he is now nearing the end of his days, and he has only one desire left in the world and that is to thank the old man from that fateful encounter in the tea-shop. And so he goes and sits in the tea-shop every Friday in hopes of finding him again. Finally, one Friday before the setting sun, Yankele looks up from his tea and sees…the old man. It’s the old man—and although Yankele has grown older, the old man seems to look exactly the same.

Yankele jumps up, grasps the old man’s hands and blurts out all the gratitude that has built up inside him all those years. But the old man does not return his embrace, does not respond to his thanks. Yankele sees that the old man has bowed his head in order to hide a silent tear running down his face. “What is the matter?” asks Yankele, “Did I say something, did I do something wrong?” And the old man says, in a quiet, infinitely understanding voice—a voice which resounds throughout the heavens—he says, “If only, if only you had poured me one more cup of tea…”

The story,3 speaks to the experience of us all. We have all of us faced situations where we have needed to risk buying a cup of tea for a stranger, where we have to decide whether to take a leap in the dark. Likewise, we have all come across situations where we wish we had risked more, where with the benefit of hindsight we regret our caution. I have drawn on a story from within the Jewish tradition to point out that this universal experience of the uncertainties in life happens to us all. Yankele is a religious man, an observant, knowledgeable Jew with a deep faith in God, and yet this faith does not save him from uncertainty. Yankele acted according to the certainties provided to him by the law. The stranger makes the radical suggestion that there are times when we need to move beyond the soothing certainties of law or even common sense. This is the symbol of the third cup of tea. There is a point in our lives where, in order to reach authenticity, we need to buy the third cup of tea. Indeed in this story, sometimes only through entering uncertainty can the highest treasures be attained.

And yet Safek, which we have translated as uncertainty or perhaps more correctly, ambiguity, is the greatest producer of anxiety, tension, and existential malaise. There is no joy like the resolution of doubt. But how do we know how to resolve and when to resolve? Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hamlet wavered for us all.” His “to be or not to be” soliloquy is Shakespeare’s song of uncertainty which resonates in the melodies of all of our lives. How, if at all, can certainty be achieved? How are such decisions made? When to buy the tea and when not to buy the tea? When do we need to be safe and clear; when is risk irresponsible and immoral; and when is risk courageous, audacious, and even the highest expression of our humanity?

Biblical theology’s unique understanding is that living the sacred life requires a dialectical relationship between paradise and paradox, between core certainties and the existence of uncertainty. Both certainty and uncertainty are vital—each has its moment. Healthy religion, as well as healthy living, flow from simultaneously maintaining certainty and uncertainty.

In order to live in the world in a way that is both grounded and passionate, I need first to be certain about myself. If I do not doubt myself, then I have the inner strength to be able to encounter the many areas of my life where uncertainty is inherent and inescapable. Moreover, healthy acceptance of uncertainty will enable me to avoid both the paralysis of indecision and the recklessness of an extremism which craves the certainty of over-simplification. If I am anchored and motivated by some sense of inner certainty, then I can act courageously in uncertainty. If I hold no inner certainties, then acting from uncertainty is almost invariably a far too dangerous proposition.

In our book on Certainty, we understood that in order to reach sippuk—fulfillment—I need to resolve my inner safek—uncertainty. My failure to resolve that inner safek will prevent me from ever reaching true sippuk—satisfaction and will cause me almost pathologically to seek sippuk in places which are not of myself. Such a spiral will eventually lead to Amalek—the embodiment of evil—which the Zohar explains is the mystical equivalent of safek.4

In the first book of this study entitled Certainty, the Judah Moment framework was introduced, associated with the biblical story of Judah, in order to unpack the experience of core certainty. There is, however, a second moment in biblical consciousness where precisely the opposite holds true: where, rather than being enemies, safek-uncertainty and sippuk-satisfaction are inseparable allies. In this way of thinking, I can never reach deep sippuk without holding, choosing, or grappling with safek. Satisfaction is not attainable without uncertainty. In this second mode of Jewish thought, it follows that if I am unable to countenance safek in my life, I will always rush to grasp at a false certainty in order to escape the tension of uncertainty. This false certainty will never lead me to true sippuk.

In conjunction with teaching the need for inner certainty, biblical thought also deeply affirms the benefit of doubt. Uncertainty is understood to be both a spiritual necessity, a requisite for reaching authenticity, and an indispensable tool in achieving the highest levels of certainty. I shall refer to this experience as the Israel Moment. This because the archetypal Biblical figure of Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel, is the paradigm for the spiritual reclamation of uncertainty as a reality to be embraced and not resolved. First, however, let us acknowledge the common assumption that faith and uncertainty are inherent contradictions.

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Photo of the Day: John Craig

Cross

By Joe Perez

Across
Up, under
Crying
Creature
God
On, All
Separate
Sin, Son
Cross

Photo Credit: Craig Photography

Daily Wisdom: On James Joyce’s definitive return to Yes

Ulysses Yes

By Marc Gafni

From Marc Gafni’s Your Unique Self:

One of the great literary masterpieces of the twentieth century is James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce spends reams of pages portraying the No reality encountered in the streets of Dublin by the main character, Leopold Bloom. Joyce masterfully maps the life of the archetypal human whose life is a series of unnecessary losses. The death of Bloom’s son and father, his daughter’s leaving, the passing of his youth, and finally the adultery of his wife.

Yet in the last scene of the book, Bloom returns home to his sleeping wife. Never mind it is a recently desecrated bed. Never mind he sleeps with his feet at her head. It is still home, the erotic haven of the inside. The book ends with a crescendo of Yes. As his wife feigns sleeping, we float along in her stream of consciousness, finally concluding with reminiscences of the early ecstatic hours of her and Leopold’s love. It is a definitive return to Yes:

And then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes
and then
he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain
flower and
first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down
to me
so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his
heart was
going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Photo Credit: the queen of subtle

Could uniqueness become extinct? Lessons from monkey faces

Monkey Face

By Joe Perez

One of the most interesting puzzles of science today is to be found in primatology research. Primate researchers have been stymied to explain why the faces of monkeys are so amazingly, disconcertingly unique. Could the answer to this riddle lead us into greater understanding of the significance of human uniqueness and all of culture?

A recent report on io9 explains:

New World Monkeys are the strangest-looking primates on Earth and they all look nothing like each other, from the bald-headed, demon-like Uakari to the lion-maned golden marmoset to the massively mustachioed emperor tamarin up top. What’s behind this insane variety?

That’s the question UCLA researcher Michael Alfaro set out to answer that question. The monkeys of Central and South America represent a truly staggering amount of facial diversity, with many species like the emperor tamarin sporting truly epic facial hair. But it’s unlikely that all these monkeys evolved such bizarre appearances just to amuse us so what’s really going on here?

Alfaro and his team realized the monkeys’ faces weren’t the only thing that had unusually strong variation. The social structure of the different species also varied greatly, with some living almost completely solitary existences while others lived in huge populations of a hundred or more….

They discovered that the monkeys with the most complex faces tended to live by themselves, while those who lived in groups tended to have plain faces. Another factor behind facial diversity seems to be the proximity of other species. When lots of different monkey species live in close quarters, they will tend to have much more complicated faces than more isolated species.

The study has implications for understanding culture, the report suggests:

Our species, generally speaking, has quite simple, bare faces, and of course we’ve also evolved what is arguably the most sophisticated system of communication in our planet’s history. Language itself might never have emerged if we were lion-maned or hugely-mustached or even polka-dotted basically, anything that would have kept our ancestors from producing crisp, clear facial expressions.

via Why are monkeys’ faces all so bizarrely different?.

Uniqueness itself, in a biological sense, is an evolutionary emergent. And as culture evolves, we know that some of the ways uniqueness emerges become more or less prominent. If highly distinctive, unique faces may become more a thing of the past, what is to stop a massive homogenization of culture in the future?

These are questions worth asking in an age in which the leading, most prolific and influential enlightenment teachings (but not Marc Gafni’s Unique Self teaching) encourage a sort of radically undifferentiated sort of realization. Is spiritual uniqueness itself something that could become extinct unless we preserve and cultivate it?

Nick Georgiou’s art, inspired by the death of the printed word

Our Names writ, writ in Kosmic scroll,
Our cosmic names turn and turn,
Books they are written in, burn and burn,
Ever Our Names are writ, rewritten.

— Joe Perez

Nick Georgiou:

My art is inspired by the death of the printed word. Books and newspapers are becoming artifacts of the 21st century. As a society we’re shifting away from print consumption and heading straight towards full digital lives. My sculptures are products of their environment — both literally and figuratively. As often as I can, I use local newspapers to add authenticity, and the form the sculpture takes is a reflection of the personal connection I feel to that particular city. From a day-to-day standpoint, I’m heavily influenced by my surroundings. These days, I draw inspiration from America’s South West, and in particular Tucson, AZ — where I’ve lived and worked for almost four years. Going from NY to the desert is a pretty dramatic shift. Your concept of space expands when it’s not obstructed by buildings. You pay closer attention to nature because you’re always in it—and you do what you can to preserve it.

Georgiou’s blog.

Photo Credit: Nick Georgiou

Critics cool to new film about Aung San Suu Kyi, citing a “cult of personality.”

Aung San Suu

By Joe Perez

ThinkProgress commentator Alyssa Rosenberg poses a challenging question for filmmakers: how do you capture sainthood in a story told on film? In her comments on Luc Besson’s The Lady, a biopic on the life of Noble Peace Prize-winning pro-democracy dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, she says the movie is flawed. She seemed to enjoy the movie more for the performance of Michelle Yeoh and its aesthetic, not its storytelling.

A large percentage of critics also found the movie lacking, according to the Rotten Tomatoes website, but there were defenders of the respectful and dignified tale of the Burmese national heroine. A top critic for NPR, for example was one of the most severe critics, saying that the film is hagiographic: all in favor of “a cult of personality” and which “nominates her for the sainthood.”

Alyssa highlights the key tension:

How do you tell the life story of a saint? In the old days, the formula for a Christian hagiography was simple: isolation, a hint of torment, prayer and the timely intervention of God. But when the saint is Buddhist, and Burmese, and has a husband, you make something rather more like Luc Besson’s The Lady

It seems to me that movie critics today — professionals, bloggers, and audience members alike — don’t quite know what to do with a story about a saint. Popular culture demands black and white portrayals of morality, heroes who stand up for principle, and (like comic book characters) are endowed with super-human traits and only permitted modest flaws.

I don’t think it would have made the filmmaker’s job any easier if Aung San Suu Kyi were Christian rather than Buddhist; she defies conventions in a way that people appreciate in the abstract but find difficult to relate to in the concrete. Critics lack a worldview which proclaims the divine dignity of each individual, personal unique selves with unique shadows equally fascinating. Having disowned their own sacred essence, they resent it when people are portrayed with their own sacred essence intact. It just seems too immodest.

Those who attack The Lady as sanctifying a “cult of personality,” lack awareness that in certain times and places, it is only through the efforts of strong-willed and admired personalities that the work of peace happens. Burma did not experience progress because abstract forces of evolution worked dialectical miracles; it progressed because millions of people faced difficult decisions and made personally courageous choices.

Until I see the movie I can’t wade deeply into the critical discourse. But I want to strongly highlight that the challenge faced by these filmmakers is an increasingly important one to be navigated in our times. We simply must find ways of understanding human stories as great mythic epics, simply lived stories as grandiose spectacles of human nature and destiny. Ours is a time for claiming the divinity formerly given only to mythic gods and owning its reality here in each of us, present in our Unique Selves.

The unfortunate fact that telling our story in such a way will lead to critical dismissal as a “cult of personality” is just one of the risks we all must bear when we tell our spiritual autobiographies. We have the choice to be the heroes of our own stories, and when we tell the adventure tale of our lives, it need not be about personality, but about character and Unique Self.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Ekphrasis poem by Joe Perez: Playa de Górliz

Playa de Górliz

By Joe Perez

Playing at a beach,
Prana dwells in
Between marks
Of low,
High

Water.
Breath transferring
Speech, sight, sense-thought:
All movement of Spirit.

(The reflection:
It’s You.)

Photo Credit: ibardanza