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What does it mean to be fair?

 

Snow White

By Marc Gafni

What does it mean to be fair? In one sense being fair means to be just and good. To be fair is to be honest and have integrity.

Fairness implies appropriate weights and measure. To be fair means to give things the right weight and measure accurately.

When my sons were young the phrase that would indicate that they were the most upset or disturbed was the mixed English and Hebrew idiom, “Zeh Lo Fair.” It’s not fair. When they said that, they were appealing to a universal standard of the good and the just, which has ultimate natural authority.

The word “fair,” however has a second meaning as well. To be fair means to be beautiful.

The Queen asks the Mirror in the famous Snow White legend, Mirror on the Wall, “who is the fairest of them all.” And of course there is My Fair Lady. To be fair then is also a quality of aesthetics.

This reminds us that a lack of fairness is not merely an issue of justice but also an issue of beauty. Goodness and integrity are beautiful. To be unfair is not only a violation of justice, it is to be ugly.

All too often in the spiritual world fairness is seen as a practical obligation and an ethical value. And it is that as well. But it is so much more than that.

When someone — anyone — is treated unfairly, a kind of sordid ugliness is born into the world. It can be papered over with a thousand popular albeit numbing spiritual platitudes. It remains just as ugly.

In a forthcoming book (Radical Kabbalah, 2012) I trace the original texts in Hebrew mysticism that talk of the goddess, especially in the work of one pivotal Hasidic master. From a careful reading of that the entire Eros of the goddess is really about justice. The erotic passion of the goddess in Hassidic teaching is about the radical erotic commitment to fairness.

It is in that sense that some of the minions of the goddess in this world are sometimes called fairies. A fairy is a gentle yet sacred and seductive incarnation of the goddess. The fairy is both fair and fair. Beautiful and just. Any good devotee of Peter Pan and Tinkerbelle knows is that to believe in fairies is to give them life. If we would chant Tinkerbelle’s mantra, “I do believe in fairies I do, I do,” fairies come to life as integrity and beauty are once again united and made manifest in the land.

The Daily Wisdom: Creation stories

Path in Woods
By Marc Gafni

From The Mystery of Love:

The trees are part of the Goddess’s erotic manifestation. The central symbol of much of the ancient pagan cult in biblical Canaan was the Ashera tree. The Ashera is the feminine earth goddess erotically expressed in the image of the Ashera tree. In a wonderful phrase of Keats, “Even as the trees that whisper round the temple become soon as dear as the temple self.” For the pagan, the hills were literally alive with the sound of music. Nature is the music of divinity undressed to the human ear. Every hill, brook, tree, and blade of grass was invested with its own divine muse.

The Daily Wisdom: Before God…

Stone Circles

By Marc Gafni

From The Mystery of Love:

Before God…

To be in Temple consciousness is to be in God–eros pure and simple.  This shift in consciousness is hidden within the folds of biblical myth text itself.

We have already seen that the biblical term Lifnei Hashem, which is usually translated as “before God,” can be more fruitfully understood as “on the inside of God’s face.”  This allusion plants the seed for the much more radical move made by the mystic Isaac Luria in the sixteenth century.  In Luria’s graphic and daring vision the world is not formed by a forward-thrusting male movement that creates outside itself.  Quite the contrary–Divinity creates within itself the sacred void in the form of a circle.  The creation not of the line masculine God but of the Goddess, of the Shechina!  This is the Great Circle of Creation.  The circle, unlike in the original biblical image, is within the Goddess.  It is an act of love that moves the Goddess to withdraw and make room for the other–paradoxically within God.

Photo Credit: Jos van Wunnik

Fierce Grace: The Boons of Kali

Kali

By Sally Kempton

“You need to find your Kali side,” I told Annie. You may know someone like Annie. She’s a production manager at a local tv station, a single mom with a busy schedule, and a really nice person. She values yoga as a doorway into peace and well-being, teaches it to troubled teens, and always stresses the importance of equanimity and other yogic virtues — non-violence, surrender, contentment, detachment.

But Annie’s approach to yoga is like her approach to life: she is so conflict averse, that its hard for her even to admit that she has negative feelings. She rarely raises her voice, and she once told me that she can’t remember the last time she felt anger. But at this moment, mired in a family conflict that involves missing money, elder abuse, and shady lawyers, Annie senses that her carefully cultivated tendency to seek peace over conflict is not helping her. She’s called me for advice: she wants to be told how to keep a good relationship with her brother and sister, and still stop them from cheating her mother out of her property. In other words, she wants me to give her a prescription for non-violent conflict from the yogic playbook.

Instead, what pops out of my mouth is, “You need to find your Kali side.”

My intuition was that Annie needed not so much a rational argument as an image, something to bypass the cultural conditioning of her left-brain dominated mind. Annie, like so many people who practice yoga, had a half-conscious tendency to confuse ‘being yogic’ with being nice. Not that kindness and equanimity aren’t essential yogic qualities. It was just that people close to Annie often noticed that her practiced yogic calm looked like a way of papering over difficult emotions, knotty feelings, and desires that felt dangerous, or at least not socially acceptable.

She had yet to recognize that even though in the west we tend to privilege the calming, rejuvenating and stress-reducing aspects of yoga and spirituality, that yoga is also a path to bringing out, then taming and channeling our wildness. To go deep into yoga will not just calm down or induce well-being. It will also at some point ask us to confront those parts of ourselves that may have been suppressed by fear, trauma, or social conditioning, and which may be shutting down our joy, undercutting our confidence or our passion, sabotaging our health. To bring forth our repressed passion, and purify it into pure energy, or give us access to a transpersonal level of anger and wisdom that when owned and channeled can renew our bodies and give us the power to act skillfully—these are some of the hidden gifts that the yogic spiritual technology can offer. Hidden in texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or the Shiva Samhita, strewn through the texts of tantra, are verses on deity yoga, verses that are not just casual meditation, but point to one of the most powerful known technologies for unlocking our hidden powers.

Deity yoga is a path that uses ‘forms’—images, mantras, ritual, and simple invocation of the Hindu and Buddhist deity figures—to touch and become familiar with different aspects of the transpersonal divine. Hinduism is an immensely sophisticated approach to spirituality that encompasses worship traditions for people at every level of consciousness, from the superstitious to the subtlest level of philosophical and ethical understanding. Deities—the Sanskrit word is ‘deva’, meaning ‘shining ones’ – are light forms who represent qualities of the divine. The Indian tradition recognizes the Absolute both as vast, impersonal awareness/love, but also understands that thebsolute can take forms. And these deity forms are present both in the collective consciousness and in our personal consciousness, which is Deity Yoga can have such important psychological effects.

In Jungian language, a deity image is an archetype, a personification of qualities deeply embedded in the human. The archetypes are the underlying forces in human life, which all of us tap into in our most primal human moments –for instance, as parents, as lovers, as soldiers, as students or teachers. Deities are archetypes of higher, transpersonal forces, forces that may not be accessible to us, but which are embedded within the psyche nevertheless. Yogic practice has always offered practices for tuning into these archetypal forces. For example, the statues and pictures in yoga studios and Buddhist temples are not just as decoration, but meditation aids, focal points for ritual, and as reminders of powers that we hold within. When someone waves incense in front of a stature or picture, you might think of this as weird, or (especially if you were brought up Jewish) as idolotrous and reject them. Or you can approach ritual, mantra, and especially the powerful practice of directly invoking a deity energy, as a way of opening yourself to energies within yourself, powers that can support, protect, and act with a kind of numinous power.

Kali shows up in yogic art almost as much as the elephant headed Ganesh. Kali is the one with the wild hair, the bare breasts, and the severed heads around her neck. She usually carries a sword, and one of the ways you know its Kali is that she’s sticking out her tongue. (Try it as you read! Sticking your tongue out, all the way out, is one of the quickest ways there is to get you in touch with your unconventional wild side!) She’s usually described as the goddess of destruction, and she looks scary, even though when you look at her face and body, you realize that she is also beautiful. Kali is supposed to have arisen out of the warrior-goddess Durga during a particularly fierce battle with some demons. The demons had a nasty skill: their spilled blood turned into more demon-warriors. Kali’s job was to lick the drops of blood from the slain demons, and she did it so well that Durga won the battle.

But as Kali ‘developed’ over the centuries, this image of the wild-eyed battle goddess came to symbolize both spiritual and psychological liberation. She came to be understood as a form of the archetypal Great Mother, not just the warrior, but also the protector and giver of boons. In fact, the way a practitioner approaches Kali depends on his level of consciousness.

There’s a ‘primitive’ version of Kali, often seen as a forest goddess, invoked for protective and magical purposes by many tribal people in India. As such, she is the object of village ceremonies and seasonal dances and ritual, and in the 18th and 19th centuries was the ‘goddess’ of the Thuggees, a tribe of bandits who supposedly sacrificed their victims to her. That Kali also symbolizes the death and rebirth cycle of agricultural societies.

At the level of orthodox Hindu religious practice, Kali is Kali Ma, a benign, respectable, garland-bedecked temple icon, invoked as the mother of the universe, worshipped as a source of blessing. At this level, her wildness is explained away as purely symbolic or metaphorical. The skulls around her neck become symbols of the sound syllables that create reality, while her apron of hands stands for the multiple powers of the divine. She is a warrior, yes, but the demons she slays are the demons of the ego, the attributes of our ignorance.

At the highest level, the level of serious spiritual aspirants and enlightened devotees, Kali represents the Absolute Reality itself. Her devotees—including the great 19th century universalist guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the 20th century Siddha Ananda Mayi Ma, and the contemporary teacher, Amritananda Ma—regard her as the embodiment of the Shakti, the dynamic power aspect of divine Consciousness.

To them, and to anyone who seriously meditates on her and studies her, Kali is not only fierce, she is also motherly. Behind her scary face is the face of the Divine Lover, the almost overwhelmingly dynamic force of divine love. Her darkness is the mysterious darkness of the ultimate void, into which we can plunge and, in the words of the Bengali poet Kalidas, drown our individuality and merge with the ultimate.

From the point of view of esoteric practice, Kali is the dynamic force of liberation, the inner evolutionary energy that awakens us and guides us to realization of our identity with divine Consciousness itself. In the path to freedom and enlightenment, the energy of Kali has the power to cut away the limitations that tie us, smashing our concepts, freeing us of beliefs, false personal identities, and everything else that keeps us from recognizing our true identity.

In other words, part of what Kali represents in yoga is the power to move beyond the false self, the persona, and to release that in you which is true—not only ultimate truth, but the truth that is uniquely yours. That power often remains in shadow, hidden behind our social masks, and even behind our spiritual masks. So tuning into Kali in daily life often means tuning into aspects of ourselves that we normally don’t have access to, a power that can step outside the conventional and become bold and fierce, fierce in our love, fierce in our ecstasy, fierce in our willingness to stand up to the ‘demons’ in ourselves and others.

We don’t become free just by going with the flow. We become free by knowing when to say “No,” to fight for what is right, to be appropriately ruthless, to engage with the fiercer forms of grace.

So ‘finding your Kali’ is always about liberation. For someone like Annie, Kali can offer a kind of permission to find her warrior side. For someone else, a way of approaching the ‘darker’ side of grace, the power that takes away something in order to make room for something else. Kali is also discernment, the sword-like eye that sees through the disguises of the personal ego. That’s the Kali-esque quality of clarity, which wakes up at a certain point in our journey and shows you how much of what you’ve thought of as ‘me’ is actually a series of socially conditioned roles and responses, ‘stories’ about yourself, usually taken on in childhood.

For Annie, that meant seeing into the fear that lay behind her politeness, and then finding that in her which could stand up both to her fear and to her siblings. At one point, I had her imagine herself as Kali—strong, fearless, holding a sword aloft, and to notice how she felt in this role. 
Her response was a huge “NO!” shouted to her siblings, but also to her own passivity. She started doing an ‘asana’ that she called Kali Pose: half a squat, raised arms, tongue stuck out, vocalizing: “Maaaaa!” or “Nooooo!” and finally, one day, a strong, triumphant ‘Yes!’ That was the day she managed to talk her siblings into putting her mother’s money in trust, under a lawyer who was answerable to all three of them.

That was also the day that Annie’s siblings started, for the first time, treating her not as a little sister, but as someone worth listening to.

Every one of us, at some point will be brought face to face with the need to discover and integrate Kali. Integrating Kali does not mean giving way to tantrums or violent impulses—in fact, people who have tantrums are people who are out of touch with the truth of Kali, because the liberated Kali energy will always bring consciousness to the unconsciously angry parts of ourselves, and allow them to transform.

However, it is also true that we are often drawn to look for Kali in those moments when our social face is breaking down, when suppressed anger or fear is threatening to overwhelm us, or when we’re faced with a crisis in which someone else’s anger seems to threaten our survival or sense of justice. For me, the impetus to investigate Kali started during a health crisis. I had intuited that illness had something to do with suppressed aspeacts of myself, and so I decided to start a process of dialogue with what I, like Annie, saw as my own suppressed Kali energy. It often happens this way: we seek Kali at the moment we realize that we are living in dissonance with parts of ourself which we may not fully understand or know

Sometimes people do this kind of shadow work out-loud; I did it as a written dialogue. I began by writing, with my right hand “I’d like to speak to Kali”, and then taking a pen in my left hand. As I did so, I felt a leaping in my heart, and saw these words flowing through my pen, “I am anger, I am power, I’m the girl in the corner, I’m the wild dancer, I’m you, I’m you, I’m you!” “What do you want?” I wrote. “I want out,” wrote my other hand. “to be free! To be wild! To be in control!”
The process went on for several hours, and ended only when I got a cramp in my hand that finally made it too uncomfortable to write. In the process, I could feel myself swinging from wild exhilaration to resentment and back again, but always with a feeling of mounting energy and excitement.

After a few weeks of this process—which I have periodically come back to in the years since—I began to notice that near-miracle that occurs when we begin to tune into any divine archetype, and especially to allow it to consciously speak through us. I began to find that positive Kali qualities—a natural kind of assertiveness and freedom—were coming back into my life. My health improved, but more to the point, I began to be able to speak my truth in the moment in ways I hadn’t in years.

This was one of the process I recommended to Annie. I didn’t suggest that she look into the reasons for her passivity in the face of others’ aggression, though often that kind of psychological help can be useful. Instead, I asked her to talk to the Kali energy inside, and see what it had to say to her. She has been dialoguing with Kali ever since. I notice that she’s a bit sharper than she used to be, but that there’s a freedom in her stride that wasn’t there before. More to the point, she’s beginning to be comfortable with confronting people–not just her siblings. Her friends find her more authentic, even though Annie doesn’t always know how to express her new found clarity. “I’m actually learning that when I let myself feel my anger, I can usually figure out how to say it in a way that doesn’t blow up the conversation. I actually think I’m learning how to manage conflict.”

This is one of Kali’s great and secret boons. In pointing you towards those parts of yourself that you have rejected, feared or ignored, she inspires you to transform your identity, and transform it again, letting go of rigid ideas of who you and others are, stretching your emotional range, your mind and life itself in delicious and liberating ways.

Copyright © 2011 by Sally Kempton. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

A hidden danger of high states and structure stages: unkindness

Deer

By Marc Gafni

There is great danger in both in the New Age idolization of state experiences and the excessive premium that much of the Integral community places on complex levels of cognition. As I have pointed out in many teachings, higher levels of cognitive complexity do not a better human being make. It is not by accident that we rarely see posts in the blogs of persons at higher stages of development about kindness.

Kindness is a value that all to often is relegated by writers and thinkers to the lower levels of amber (AQAL) or blue (Spiral Dynamics Integral) consciousness. It rarely appears as a value in many Integral contexts. Or worse still it is given lip service even as it is ignored in practice when the real gods of cognition and power are worshipped.

In New Age contexts “Love” is the buzzword which often means very little. The more practical and actionable kindness gets very little play. At the same time, the most powerful mechanism to assure kindness is fairness. Fairness is a conventional value of law and integrity, but it is also more than that.

A Need for Berur, Clarification

While both Integral and New Age spiritual contexts revel in the appeal of post conventional possibility all to often there is a failure to appreciate the requirement for what my teacher called berur, for the clarification that comes from the due process of law including impartial parties hearing all sides, clarifying ulterior motives and getting the facts straight.

Many New Age spiritual contexts place a high premium on wonderful state experiences of ecstasy brought about through chant and prayer or high structure stages of cognitive complexity, while all to often engaging in spiritual bypass in relation to essential issues of ethics and integrity. Hiding behind the group think which no one dares to question, cloaked in distorted narratives that sometimes have even fooled the unconscious narrator, political fear and small self egoic preservation, all manner of injustice and suffering is inflicted.

The consequences of this failure are substantial. One cannot move beyond the conventional without first honoring the great wisdom of the conventional.

In the Radical Kabbalah of my teacher Mordechai Lainer, it is precisely in this transcending and including of the conventional in post conventional contexts that the Eros of the goddess, the Shekinah is incarnate. As I describe in my writings on Radical Kabbalah (including my forthcoming books from Integral Publishers), the entire Eros of the goddess for Lainer is poured into assuring the correct verdict in what appears to be a petty case in small claims court.

It is in the precision and caring of justice–in the details of justice that the Eros of the goddess lives.  Certainly when issues of even greater import are at hand which meta implications on the lives of individuals and entire communities is at stake, the genuine Eros of Shekinah, demands careful fact checking, revealing of complex motivations at play, appropriate deliberation and mechanisms established to assure fairness, decency and healing.

Minimally a fair “court” must be established which truly seeks justice and healing and which is willing to think past self-interest, communal pressure. Group-think and simple ignorance are not options. When issues of gravitas are instead resolved in smoke filled rooms and in the darker corners of blogosphere then the goddess is violated indeed. The Integral community needs to pay heed to this.

Minimally all sides need to be in direct communication, talking and trying to work things out with integrity and love.  The failure to put such mechanisms of fairness and integrity in play is tragic and is exactly the kind of violation of the goddess which post-conventional contexts whether of the Integral or New Age variety must passionately and rigorously avoid at all costs.