Wednesday, March 31, 2010

(23) Two Transcendentalists

I've recently happened onto Transcendentalism, a 19th century
movement that emphasized the Spirit working in this world, in us,
in ever new ways. Consequently I started focusing on Ralph
Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, major proponents
of Transcendentalism.

I especially enjoyed reading some of Emerson's essays. One
particular thought of his attracted me, to quote:

"The simplicity of the universe is very different from the simplicity
of a machine. He who sees more nature out and out and
thoroughly knows how knowledge is acquired and character
formed, is a pedant. The simplicity of inexhaustible.

"God exists. There is a soul at the center of nature and over the
will of every man, so that none of us can wrong the universe. It
has so infused its strong enchantment into nature that we accept
its advice...The whole course of things goes to teach us faith.
We need only obey. There is a guidance for each of us, and
by lowly listening we shall hear the right word."

Emerson was also a good friend and mentor to Henry David
Thoreau, who became famous as an author, poet, and naturalist.
He lived simply, in a small cottage near Walden Pond close to
Concord, Massachusetts. He stressed self-sufficiency and
simple living. His writings on natural history serve as a
forerunner to our contemporary emphasis on Ecology and

So here I have discovered two 19th century Transcendentalists
who were already on track when it comes to my own cosmic
and naturalist interests! I surely will have to study in depth this
old Transcendentalist Movement that would seem to have been
far ahead of its time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

(22) God's Garden

Long before I left the East Coast I attended a workshop given by
Brian Swimme and his mentor, now the late Thomas Berry, a
Passionist priest and monk. At the time they were some of the few
small voices at the forefront of the "New Cosmology."

In 1992 their book THE UNIVERSE STORY was published. It
met with considerable success. However, I learned later that
Fr. Berry had written an earlier book--THE DREAM OF THE EARTH,
published in 1988 by the Sierra Club.

Now living in California, I came across yet another important book
written by Thomas Berry. In my opinion THE GREAT WORK is a
landmark study. It's an appeal for environmental responsibility, a
study in *Spiritual Ecology*--a field that I had no idea even existed.
Today, it's a movement that involves major universities, famous
people, religious groups, Green groups, right down to the grass-roots.

As for myself, I decided to volunteer with the San Diego Natural
History Museum. After more than a half-year of specialized training,
presented by scientists and curators, I graduated and became a
docent naturalist with the museum. For almost eight years I worked
in an EcoLiteracy program designed for small children.

Essentially, the message was to introduce these youngster to Nature.
It was about getting them involved early, not only to understand this
great Atmospheric-Oceanic-Geological-Biological System that we
call "Earth," but to value it.

Eventually I got a hankering to work in the "field," so to speak. After
more training, I was certified as a Volunteer Naturalist with the
California State Parks system--working at a national estaurine
research reserve shared also with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

I didn't know it--until I read Thomas Berry's book--but I was already
involved in the "Great Work."

Thomas Berry had become an important EcoTheologian in addition
to being a world-class Cultural Historian. As for his book, THE
GREAT WORK, it's the most jam-packed resourceful treatise that
I have encountered when it comes to the issues of Ecology and the
Environment. Let me quote him:

"History is governed by those overarching movements that give
shape and meaning to life by relating the human venture to the
larger destinies of the universe. Creating such a movement might
be called the Great Work of a people."
[Thomas Berry, THE GREAT WORK, p. 1.]

Some of the past efforts of the Great Work are as follows:

• For Classical Greece it "was the understanding of the human
mind and creation of the Western humanist tradition."

• For Israel it was about "articulating a new experience of the
divine in human affairs."

• For Ancient Rome it was about "gathering the peoples of the
Mediterranean world and of Western Europe into an ordered
relation with one another.

• In the Medieval Period "there was the task of giving a first
shape to the Western world in its Christian form...with the
medieval cathedrals rising so graciously into the heavens."

• In India the "Great Work was to lead human thought into
spiritual experiences of time and eternity."

• And China "created on of the most elegant and most human
civilizations we have ever known."

• In America the "Great Work of the First Peoples was to occupy
this continent and establish an intimate rapport with the powers
that brought this continent into existence in all its magnificence."
[ Ibid, pp. 1-2. ]

With this background Thomas Berry addresses our now living
generations--as put: "The Great Work now, as we move into a
new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of
human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would
be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner...Such a
transition has no historical parallel since the geobiological
transition that took place 67 million years ago when the period
of the dinosaurs was terminated and a new biological age had
begun." [ Ibid, p. 3. ]

Having said this, Fr. Berry's book provides some very useful
answers on how to achieve this transition from devastation unto
a once-again healthy planet. And I can only put, that in a small way
I found myself in the midst of the Great Work.

At the beginning of my venture into the Great Work, as Thomas
Berry put, I began to wonder how this might relate to the
Benedictine Tradition. I knew about its monastic history in
the Dark Ages, when Benedictine monks reintroduced the
rudiments of agriculture to the peasantry and helped establish
fisheries. I also knew that the monks worked the land. They
were their own farmers.

And the late Rene Dubos--an early pioneer when it came to the
environment, who I understand was a Benedictine Oblate, added
that the "monks developed skills pertaining to agriculture [and]
they learned to manage their holdings on sound ecological
principles." [Conversation Lecture, Berkeley, 1970.]

As for modern day Benedictines, they are involved in habitat
restoration projects as well as workshops. And the Cistercians
(who follow the Rule of Benedict) are also engaged in the
Great Work. One book I have found and hold dear is
by Charles Cummings, A Trappist-Cistercian monk belonging
to an abbey in Utah. His book was published early on, in 1991,
long before "spiritual ecology" became popular.

In the end, for me the Earth is God's Garden. It's not only just
about saving it, but it is especially about being in it, enjoying it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

(21) Wakan Tanka

An additional thought that Raimundo Panikkar provided, which
struck a chord, is as follows:

"The monk has a certain chthonic-telluric consciousness that
characterizes him; he does not belong like the ants or bees or
other humans to a productive society, but to a living cosmos like
the wild things and the seasons...The monk cultivates this Earth
and all the spirits that vivify her. The monk lives in communion
with the cosmos; he is in touch with the sap that runs through
the earth...[Raimundo Panikkar, BLESSED SIMPLICITY, p. 51]

Through my work at Georgetown, I already knew that I was
cosmic-oriented. But being a Phenomenologist of Science and
Spirituality was really all about being theoretical. My sense of
the cosmos mainly dwelled in thought. What I now craved was
something that I could see, touch, and even smell. My sensate
side was once again coming to the fore. Essentially, I wanted
somehow to feel God in the Earth, on the ground where I walked,
in the Sky that thrilled me with its clouds at day, with its stars at
night, and even with its wild weather. I wanted to feel God in
the pounding waves of the Ocean.

At this point a young friend told me about a Native American
spiritual teacher. His name was Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, who
was planning a workshop in our area. So I went with my friend
and began to learn a whole new approach when it came to
"Wakan Tanka," the Great Spirit in relation to the Earth, and
about the sacredness of the Earth.

Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, was a really big fellow. I couldn't figure
how he could fit into the cockpit of a fighter aircraft. A retired
Marine pilot, also a lawyer, Eagle Man is part Celtic, part Sioux.
He grew up in South Dakota, on a reservation near the Badlands.

At the workshop he talked about the basics that underlie Sioux
spirituality. There are the spiritual legends, the rituals, the pipe
that spawns from these special stories. Eagle Man specifically
addressed the Sweat Lodge, the Vision Quest, the Sun Dance,
and the Sacred Hoop and the Four Directions.

By this time I was no young chick, so I wasn't about to engage
in these strenuous rituals. The vision quest fascinated me; but
I knew that if I spent a day and night upon top a mountain, fasting,
becoming dehydrated, I wouldn't have a vision--rather I likely
would be dead.

Still I was interested in learning more from Eagle Man. But
before I could delve in more deeply, I felt that I needed to find
more of his books that described in more detail his spirituality.
Not unexpected, I soon found myself traveling once again.

Flying into Sioux Falls, we picked-up the Lewis & Clark trail
midway and followed it through the plains of the Dakotas on
into Montana. Along the way we stopped at the Battlefield of the
Little Big Horn. It was totally not what I expected, both in layout
and in history. According to the park rangers, Custer planned
to attack the Sioux while they were asleep. Of course there were
mishaps all the way, and the better military minds of the Sioux
won the day.

What really fascinated me about this trip was traveling through
the Great Plains. The sky was incredible. It seemed to press on
us, with clouds so close-up that it looked as if they might fall on
you! Swinging down from Montana back into South Dakota, we
finally reached the sacred Black Hills of the Sioux where we
visited Crazy Horse Monument, a gigantic mountain sculpture
begun in 1948--and still underway.

Below the site stood the American Indian Cultural Center. It's
equally gigantic, a building that includes a museum and
sectors that display all the banners of the Indian Nations. The
Center's bookstore provided me with nearly all of Ed McGaa's
books--and some few strays I found in other stores as we made
our way towards the Badlands.

It was obvious that Eagle Man was popular in Sioux country.
As for the books I found, beyond MOTHER EARTH SPIRITUALITY,
there were the following:


I could see that I had my work cut out for me. But there was a
good omen. While glancing at the RAINBOW TRIBE as I was
flying home, I looked out the airplane's window and saw down
below rainbows all over the place.

One of the interesting facets of Sioux spirituality was about a
special stone--the Wotai Stone--"that conveys a special meaning
to you and has come to you in a special way. It may also bear
special symbols that speak out and assure that a minute portion
of Mother Earth (the stone) was created just for you, millions
upon millions of years ago."

I have a Wotai Stone, and a very special story surrounds it.

By this time I had been "snowbirding" out in Southern California,
spending a couple of months during the winter pampering
myself with the good climate. On one such excursion, just
before Christmas, I decided that I would stop off along the way
and visit New Mexico.

Renting a car in Albuquerque, I decided to visit a Benedictine
monastery situated long the way to Santa Fe. One of the
Benedictines I met on my trip to Greece and Turkey belonged
to the community there.

Afterwards, my Benedictine friend suggested that I might like
to pay a visit to the nearby Pecos National Park. Cold, but not
snowy, I drove over to see it. It was my first encounter with the
ancient Pueblo Culture. By myself, walking around this strange
place, I felt somewhat afraid. It seemed very bleak. I did climb
down an unsteady ladder into a kiva, where ancient religious
rituals were held. I found out later that the kiva also represented
the emergence of the Pueblo from Mother Earth.

Driving on up to Santa Fe, I settled down for the night at a hotel
near the cathedral. Perhaps the visit to Pecos, to the kiva, inspired
my dreams, because all night long I dreamt of Indians hovering
over my head. Since the weather was still good, I decided to
drive-up through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on to Taos
to see the great Pueblo located there. And interestingly, in this
tourist mecca was where I discovered my Wotai Stone--or, rather,
it found me.

I was somewhat flabbergasted by the imagery in the stone.
Reflected in the agate was a rainbow streaked eagle-like bird,
high up in space, hovering over a globe. Was this my spirit
animal? According to Ed McGaa, the Eagle is the symbol of
observation--"it is the creature that best symbolizes immense
wisdom...It is the eyes of the all-seeing *Wakan Tanka,* the
Great Spirit, the mysterious unknown entity that created all things."
[Ed McGaa, NATURE'S WAY, p. 1]

With this, I remembered that on the front cover of Eagle Man's
NATIVE WISDOM there was a design by Rudy Chasing Hawk
that nearly depicts the imagery in my Wotai Stone. Of course
his design is more elaborate, showing the Eagle hovering
over the Earth that itself is encircled by the colors of the
Four Directions.

I quite liked Ed McGaa's Sioux spirituality. To me, it seemed
honest and straightforward. To quote:

"The American Indian deplores arguing over 'the exactness'
of attempted descriptions of the Great Power that Created All...
North American Indians believe there is a limit to the human brain,
at least while a person lives upon this planet. There may be some
higher answers in the spirit world where it is believed our spirit
travels, but to probe and argue with one another in this lifetime
is considered utterly foolish and quite nonspiritual. Traditional
Indians believe that attempts to describe to another two-legged
an overly definite concept of the mysterious vastness of the
Great Provider of All are crude and unmannerly..."

After my visit to Taos, I ended with a trip to Bandelier National
Monument where one can find dwellings of the ancient Pueblo
people. Some refer to these people as the Anasazi. Regardless,
considering we were just into winter--and there were now
snow-fields all around--the Bandelier park was still open
and actually accessible.

After going through the Park Service entrance, I was delighted
in that there was nobody around. I was all alone walking down
the path towards the ancient dwellings. Alongside the path were
all these native trees and plants that were somewhat low-lying,
yet so beautiful. Suddenly I heard the pounding of hooves!
I stood in my tracks.

Then the most wonderful thing happened! I saw deer heading
towards me--not one or two, but literally a small herd of deer.
The incredible followed.

This small herd of deer began to run circles around me.
Transfixed, they still circled me. Finally I decided to keep walking.
And for probably another five minutes they kept circling me as I
walked forward towards the ancient dwellings.

It was one of the most astounding things that ever happened
to me. Strange, but I felt blessed by these beautiful creatures.
I just couldn't get over it, thinking of this marvelous event as I
drove back to Albuquerque to catch my plane on to California.

Over the years I have oft wondered about this special experience
I had in Bandelier. At the time I felt it nearly some kind of
*validation* of something I had not yet come to understand.

(20) Continuum of Truth

These days "Truth" is bandied about by all sorts, some
very religious, some not so much. Maybe about the best
one can say at this time is that "Truth" is relative. In other
words, perhaps we need examine what we hold as true in
particular relation to our lives, to our modern knowledge-
base, to our social conditions, etc.

As for myself, I've been hankering after Truth most of my
adult life--and not always just religious truth. What I've
discovered is that Truth is not only a shapeshifter, but
sometimes also becomes invisible. Old truths fade, new
truths arise. It's an uncomfortable situation for a person
who demands a concrete Truth.

As for discovering all the truths in Scripture that seem to
fall by wayside, well yes when I first encountered such, I
was upset. "See, see--it doesn't compute!" At least I never
closed my mind, even in the name of Faith.

But since my first glimpse into these biblical problems, I
have mellowed. As for narratives, metaphors, well eventually
I discovered that the Ancients actually wrote in this style.
After all they were coming out of their "mythopoesis" period,
so it's not surprising they weren't literalists--like us cold

Along the way, too, I guess I became more mellow when it
came to the cracks in the window of biblical truth. And now
old, I really no longer care about these archaic inaccuracies.
"Been there, went through that," I guess.

What is important to me now maybe is more practical.
I would love to understand better That deemed Ultimate
Reality. I haven't forgot the ancient metaphors, some of
these indeed wise, but I have put my hand to the plough
of our modern data base--which mostly revolves around
Science and Depth Psychology and its different disciplines,
such as Cosmology, Quantum Physics, the Transpersonal
Experience, etc.

It would seem that we are now standing in a whole new
ballpark, but we still haven't learned how to play the game
more effectively.

As for the "game," I've pretty much put most of my money
on what St. Paul called the "indwelling Holy Spirit." In his
day he believed that the Church was the Temple of the
Spirit. Jesus felt *we* were the Temple of the Spirit. And,
now what with our coming to realize that the entire
Universal System is composed of an infinity of related
systems, via Deep Ecology, I imagine we can safely say
that the entire Cosmos--and All therein--is the Temple
of the Spirit.

Consequently, my focus nowadays is mainly on the Spirit
as the Plenum of the Universe, as Intelligence, Energy,
propelling us through both Deep Space and Deep Time,
towards a Completion--perhaps?

Where Christ fits in all this, perhaps it is a matter of
identity--or more precisely, personality. I think it's
at this point where Teilhard stepped forward. While
examining his evolutionary sense of Cosmogenesis, he
noted that he had a "special experience" that convinced
him of the Truth of Omega as the Cosmic Christ. It
would seem that Teilhard had a personal mystical
encounter and he transposed it into his faith system.

But is what he experienced *the* Truth? He believed in
Jesus as the "Incarnation of the Logos," capitalizing
on the Greek philosophers who exclaimed the
Logos-Pneuma as the Cosmic Plenum.

So what do we have here? Faith, Intuition, Mysticism,
Philosophy, Science? Probably all put together,
mixed-up in a common pot, we have what is
essentially a Continuum of thought that has
threaded through our Western Civilization since
its earliest beginnings.

Truth spins and moves us ever towards new questions
and new answers.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

(19) Archetype of the Monk

An interesting and well-known priest, Raimundo Panikkar was
asked to attend a conference of monks who wanted to discuss
what they deemed the "traditional monk" vis-a-vis the
"non-traditional monk." I note that this was not exactly a new
consideration, because this conference occurred some 30 years
ago in Massachusetts. It had been sponsored by the Aide Inter-
Monasteries (A.I.M.), which is the Secretariat of the Benedictine
Confederation. Also, the North American Board for East-West
Dialogue was involved in this conference. The conferees chose
Fr. Panikkar as the respondent. In turn, some of the major
discussions as well as Panikkar's observations were published

Well, when I saw the monk as "archetype" as part of the title, it
only took me a few seconds to decide to buy this book. (I'm
glad I did, because it is now out of print.)

If I may, I should like to present Panikkar's discussion via quick,
understandable points. (Quoting from pages 10 through 16 in
his book.) To quote:

• By monk...I understand that person who aspires to reach the
ultimate goal of life with all his being by renouncing all that is not
necessary to it.

• The monk is the expression of an archetype which is a constitutive
dimension of human life. This archetype is a unique quality of each
person, which at once needs and shuns institutionalization.

• One does not become a monk in order to "do" something or even
to "acquire" anything, but in order to "be"...

• Human perfection: The perfection of the human individual is not the
fullness of human nature; it is not nature but personhood. Yet there
are people who actualize their dormant potentialities and others who
don't, people who reach a high degree of humanness...and others
who don't.

• I shall call the *humanum* this core of...humanness that can be
realized in as many fashions as there are human beings. Religion
is a path to the *humanum.* [Also] the poet, the intellectual, the
craftsman, the man of action...all express different facets of it.

• The archetype of...the monk is an expression [that] corresponds to
one dimension of this *humanum.* Monkhood is a dimension that
has to be integrated with other dimensions of human life in order to
fulfill the *humanum.*

* The monk within the institutionalized framework often suffers from
the fact that his vital impulses toward full humanness are curtailed
merely because they are absorbed in the total institution.

• One of the crises of present-day monasticism is precisely this kind
of *quid pro quo,* that something which belongs to human nature as
one of its constitutive dimensions loses a good part of its force and its
universality once it becomes a particular form of organized life.

• The monastic vocation is essentially personal...[involving] the
search for the center...[which] immanent to the human being...
but at the same is transcendent.

• Monasticism is not a specifically Christian, Jaina, Buddhist, or
a sectarian phenomenon; rather, it is a basically human and
primordiallya religious one.

So--reading over these initial points, I began to realize that my sense
about being a monastic might not be so strange after all. :-)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

(18) Monks & Brain Waves

A number of years ago the Dalai Lama invited biological
psychologist Richard Davidson to come to India to test one
of his Tibetan monks--a Frenchman, actually--by applying
electrodes on his cranium while the monk was meditating
on "unconditional loving-kindness and compassion." This
particular Buddhist monk had already accrued more than
10,000 hours of meditation, so he surely had to be a
seasoned contemplative. Davidson's team, from the
University of Wisconsin, nearly immediately noticed
powerful gamma brain wave activity. Later more Buddhist
monks were tested by Davidson, and he found similar

Gamma brain waves essentially are considered the brain's
optimal frequency of functioning and associated with a
"conscious awareness of reality and increased mental abilities.
The reported benefits of gamma brain waves are as follows:
Boosted Memory, Enhanced Perception of Reality, Building
of Senses, Increased Compassion, High-Level Information
Processing, Natural Antidepressant, Advanced Learning
Ability, IQ Increase, High Level of Focus, and Improved

These reports about these monks and their brain waves
caught my interest when it comes to how the Universal Spirit
might be working through us, perhaps upon us by enhancing
our brain's capabilities.

Meditation more than often has been in Religion's bailiwick,
though nowadays this kind of mental focus has also rapidly
moved out into the secular world: i.e., Transcendental Meditation
and Biofeedback.

Regardless the specific milieu for meditation, it's an interesting
phenomenon when the study of such has come under the
scrutiny of neuroscientists. It would seem our brain is far more
activated. As to "why," well that's a question that will have to
wait for another day to be answered. As for "what" might stand
behind all this, well that's open to speculation.

Just maybe there really *is* a Higher Reality acting upon us,
an Universal Spirit, that might actually be evolving us. Could
be our brains have finally reached the level where some of us
humans, like the French Buddhist meditator, seem to have
become an open channel for the reconfiguring of our brain

(17) Vacuum

"Vacuum" usually means a space devoid of matter, but it can also
mean simply a space ready to be filled. For example, there's the
idea about a political vacuum--when a leadership or ruling group
have been removed, and yet there's no immediate follow-up to
replace them. A vacuum can be problematic, but it always awaits
to be filled.

Anyway, the other day I was talking to a friend who is much older
than I am. He's gone through where I have arrived. I'm at a point
where I am experiencing a spiritual vacuum. It's different from the
"dark night" I went through during my mid-life. Rather it's an
emptiness that just sits there, waiting.

After decades "seeking God," I came to realize that no matter how
I try, I haven't and never will pin down God. The old maxims,
the cultural views, the faith systems--none--seem to touch me.
I see them as efforts towards trying to understand. Some profess
that their way is the Truth. And I would love it to be so, but in my
heart I cannot quite comply.

Still, I do recognize that our human communities of faith are oft
valiant efforts towards trying to understand That Beyond us. And
it surely could be, as we ever continue to compile our understanding
that we might just be making God more comprehensible. So
collectively we shouldn't stop trying!

But during the course of my conversation with my older friend, our
talk started focusing on trying more to understand our self rather
than God.

I suppose when we are edging-up towards the end of our life's
course, we might find it more imperative to focus in more on
"Knowing Self."

But what happens when an older person suddenly finds hir self
in this vacuum of "not knowing" God. For a god-seeker, it can
be a disaster or it can be a respite, a rest from the pursuit. Me?
I decided that I am resting--and, at the same time, admitting that
I probably never will get a precise answer when it comes to God.

About the only thing that I have discovered is that the god-imagery
in my mind involves a *process.* The more I think I know, the more
the imagery shifts to yet another plateau. I used to think that God
was playing games with me, but I realize better now that God is
more an Attractor for me.

And this Attractor has a way of "growing" us towards a greater
maturity when it comes to any relationship with That Beyond
which we call God.

But there are interims in our pursuit, vacuums where we are faced
with a void, not knowing. This "not knowing" may be akin to the
mystics's Cloud of Unknowing. Yet I understand the mystics
always felt some form of comfort in this not knowing. Whereas
being in a vacuum is more a case of uncomfortable waiting.
There's the danger, too, of giving-up--and then there's *really*
a Nothing!

In my own case, I have decided to be patient, to wait, in the
hope for a new inspiration when it comes to my own God quest.