Summer in Sin City

Purge Photo

We’ve been experiencing record heat here in Las Vegas.  I suppose it’s apropos that Sin City feels as hot as hell.

Hell’s a good description of what the last two months have felt like.

Straight Jacket

“Do you have have anything in black, with an upturned collar?”

When I first got here, I spoke with a kundalini therapist that I got in contact through the Spiritual Emergence Network.    He gave me some tips and exercises, mainly to help me ground the energy.

I re-discovered some of the material that I’d been reading when all this started seven years ago.  The first was the book Spiritual Emergency, which was edited Stanislav and Christina Grof.   You can read an overview of the book’s central premise here.  There’s a good body of research and case studies involving people dealing with this type of phenomena, and in 1994, the American Psychological Association even added it as a new category (“Religious or Spiritual Problem”) in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – Fourth Edition.  I’ve also made repeat visits to the Spiritual Emergency Blog.

A day later, I tried sitting down to write, but I had to take breaks every 2-3 minutes.  I couldn’t concentrate with all this energy moving around my head.  So I tried surrendering to it.

From there, I plummeted into a deep depression, during which all the deep dark shit that has been lock away in the prison of my subconscious staged a massive jailbreak.  The more I let the energy in, the more garbage came up.

Looking back on it now, I’m seeing that it was all part of the purging process, but I really wish I had kept up more of my grounding exercises while it was going on.

I’ll spare you the details, not because I don’t think you can handle reading them, but because I know there’s a part of me that will enjoy dramatizing my private hell for you.  And that troubles me.

Within the last couple weeks or so, I started turning a corner, for a number of reasons.  I forced myself to exercise more and tackle some projects in the backyard.  That, and a host of other factors, led me to the following realizations:

1.  I’m horrified that our civilization is bringing us to the brink of planetary destruction.

 

800px-Holzkohlegewinnung_im_Regenwald

I wasn’t much of a nature buff growing up.  I preferred to be indoors, in front of a TV or nose stuck behind a book.

When I went traveling, I started to develop a sense of connection to the natural world.  One time when I went camping, my friend and I had ingested huachuma, commonly known as the San Pedro cactus, which is a close relative to peyote. I had a profound experience.

I became aware that there was no individual “me” – that life was an intricate web of relationships, one form of life affecting another.  I felt streams of energy connecting me to the earth, to the sky, to the trees…particularly trees.  As I walked among them, it didn’t feel like I was moving by my own volition, but rather that I was being carried along by…everything.  Everything was one.

I remember calling out to the earth, asking for guidance.  “What am I supposed to do with my life?  Can you help me?” I asked.

And I felt the earth respond, “Help you??? Help me!!!”

I’m not really sure if this is a point worth arguing, because it seems incredibly obvious to anyone with a set of smog-filled lungs (which is most of us). Our civilization’s behavior – what we’re doing to each other, what we’re doing to non-human life, what we’re doing to the ecosphere – seems nothing less than psychopathic.

The earth is our home.  It is the source of our food, water, air and shelter.  If it goes, we go.

And right now, it’s going.

Right now.

For a while I was beating myself up for not being able to “get my shit together” and getting back into the game.  Now I’m seeing why.  It’s like my body is reacting to my current environment like a body sometimes reacts to a foreign tissue transplant.

Rejection.

Asphalt, lamp posts, buildings…they say nothing to me.  I can’t hear them speak.  But I can hear the trees…

I need the feel of living wood against the palms of my hand.

I need the sun that shines on the just and the unjust unlike.

I need the dirt underneath my feet, pulling my energy towards it, grounding me, reminding me what’s real.  

I need the songs of birds and the sight of bees.

I’m lucky.  I can satisfy all these cravings, to various degrees.

But there’s one  desire I still struggle to fulfill, and before this summer, I couldn’t even identify its name, let alone how to fulfill it.

I need the songs of my ancestors.

2.  I have no sense of ancestral history

570px-Africa_satellite_plane

Years ago, during a series of dreams that changed my life, I felt a compulsion towards political activism and social justice.  I read Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience”, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and John Lee Anderson’s Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life.  I also started reading a host of anarchist literature, though the stuff that sticks with me today is the works of Emma Goldman and Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas.

These writings blew my mind, exposing me to  political and economic realities I was utterly  blind to.

Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that I knew the world was full of these realities, but I showed little initiative to try to do anything about them.

“Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring.  Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important book on the subject, States of Denial.  The book examines how individuals and institutions – victims, perpetrators, and bystanders-know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts.  They see only what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest.  This has been true about slavery, genocide, torture, and every form of systemic oppression.”

– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

This summer I started digging up all this old material that I used to read.  Reviewing it.

I came across new stuff too.

I learned that Hitler, arguably the most  reviled figure in human history, was partially inspired by the U.S. government’s efforts to eradicate the Native Americans.  From John Toland’s biography, Adolf Hitler:

“Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the Wild West; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination—by starvation and uneven combat—of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”

Here’s the kicker, an excerpt from one of Ward Churchill’s speeches:

Scholars estimate the North American Indian population at 15 million at the time of Columbus’s arrival. In 1900, the US census found that there were 237,000 Indians in North America. This dwarves anything that Hitler ever did. What is interesting about the American architects of genocide is that they don’t even feel the need to use euphemisms. They openly called for the “extermination” of the Indian, while nobody can find a single statement by Hitler that is so blunt.

There are no words.

And of course…I could not help but finally turn my eye to the subject I had long been avoiding.

The subject of my people.  Our history in this country.

From the African Holocaust website:

Some historians conclude that the total loss in persons removed, those who died on the arduous march to coastal slave marts and those killed in slave raids, exceeded the 65–75 million inhabitants remaining Africa at the trade’s end. Over 10 million died as direct consequences of the Atlantic slave trade alone. But no one knows the exact number: Many died in transport, others died from diseases or indirectly from the social trauma left behind in Africa. Not only was Transatlantic Slavery of demographic significance, in the aggregate population losses but also in the profound changes to settlement patterns, epidemiological exposure and reproductive and social development potential. And perhaps one profound difference between Arab and European systems was that Africa’s development potential was being experienced outside of Africa, as opposed to inside Africa.

I knew this already.  I knew the facts and the numbers.  I knew  of the atrocities.  But I pushed them back in my mind so I could get on with life.

Until I couldn’t get on with it anymore.

At this point in my life, my yearning to connect with the earth as fully as possible can’t be fully realized because I don’t understand it.

I don’t fully comprehend both its brutality and its beauty.

I don’t know how to hunt, fish, find pure sources of water (provided there are any left).

I don’t know how to build shelter, start a fire from scratch, bind wounds.

I don’t know which plants are good for food, which plants are good for medicine, and which plants will kill you.

I don’t know how to talk to the gods.

I don’t know what my ancestors knew, but I like to imagine that they must have known all these things.  It’s easy to imagine them as perfect specimens of humanity because I don’t have anything else to go on but my imagination.

I don’t know what part of Africa they came from.  I don’t know what their culture was like.  What their religion was like.  If they lived off the land, or if they lived in cities.  If they were good people, or if they were the worst people alive.

I suppose I could pull an Alex Haley, go get some genetic testing done, figure out what region I’m from, and see if I can track down anyone who might be related to me.   I don’t have the resources available to do that today.  Maybe some day.  But I digress..

The point is, I’m here now, bereft of a culture, religion, and way of life that speaks to my spirit.  I feel loss, and I feel anger at what was done to my people.  I feel like something very precious was stolen from me.

From all of us.

3.  The only way to transcend one’s shadow is to go through it

800px-Cornava

I’ve been reading a fantasy series called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.   **SPOILER ALERT**  It’s about a man (Thomas Covenant) who, after being diagnosed with leprosy, is abandoned by his family and becomes a social pariah.  While walking through town one day, he is involved in an accident and is mysteriously transported to a fantastical world known only as the Land.

Everything in the Land has a vibrant quality to it, giving one the sense that the Land is actually alive and humming with magical, healing energy.  This energy – known as a Earthpower – allows people to perform magic and shape stone and wood according to their desire.

When Thomas Covenant arrives, the people of the Land believe he is the reincarnation of a messiah figure named Berek Halfhand (Covenant is missing two fingers on his right hand because of his leprosy).  The people of the Land believe that Thomas Covenant is only one who can defeat Lord Foul the Despiser, the Land’s ancient enemy.

While in the Land, Covenant is healed of his leprosy.  He’s hailed as a hero.  People offer him help, and even give up their lives on his behalf.  At one point, he commits an unspeakable crime, but nobody holds him accountable because they believe he must be allowed to go free in order to save the land from Lord Foul.

But Thomas Covenant is a leper.

A leper must be constantly vigilant in order to stay alive.  Everything in their environment represents dangers.  They must constantly check their bodies for cuts, abrasions or other types of wounds.  Because their nerves are dead, their bodies don’t know when they’ve been injured, and small wounds can  easily lead to infection and gangrene.

Because he is a leper, it is imperative that Thomas Covenant refuses to believe in the Land’s existence.

If Covenant allows himself to believe that the Land is real, if he accepts its healing properties and beauty, he risks going insane and possibly dying when he eventually returns to his own world.  He’ll let his guard down and won’t be able to face the challenges that all lepers must face in order to stay alive.

He must dismiss the entire episode as a delusion, caused by the accident that occurred back in the real world.  His very survival depends on it.

Yet, the Land seems very real.  So the question these books pose is, “Whether you’re experiencing reality or the illusion of reality, how should you act?”  The book asserts that this is the fundamental question of ethics.

Guilt is a major theme in the novels: characters are often burdened with the memories of past actions, feeling inadequate to the challenges that lie before them because of past crimes.

The characters eventually realize that only when they accept their darkness can they find the inner strength necessary to defeat  evil.

At the end of the day, we are as only strong as the weakest link.  The weakest link, in this case, would be the pockets of darkness, guilt and unresolved pain that dwells within us.  Running from it won’t help.  Ignoring it won’t help.  Only be accepting all parts of ourselves, without judgment, and integrating those aspects into the rest of our being  can we find freedom and release,  fortitude and conviction.

This was especially meaningful to me, because kundalini has been dredging up all kinds of shit.  Past pain.  Memories of hurting others and being hurt.  Reservoirs of rage.  Dark places within myself, that I’ve kept hidden away, unexposed to the light because I so desperately wanted to be considered a “good person.”

I think of all the times in my life that I’ve failed.

When I did the first peace walk, I was acting largely out of despair, not conviction.  There seemed no place for me in the world. I didn’t know what else to do but walk.

But I lied and told myself that I was doing it to follow in the steps of Peace Pilgrim.  I took on this “holy mission” and broadcasted to everyone I knew, when deep inside, I was barely hanging on.

The second walk was more honest.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I was just being guided by my intuition.  And eventually, I was led to the realization that until I make peace with kundalini, until I bring myself into harmony, until I exercise integrity and honesty within myself, I will always be fractured.

This process has been hard.  Because I’m realizing I’m not the holy, righteous person that I want to be.

I’m a dick sometimes.

A lot of the time.

I’ve manipulated people in order to get what I want.  I’ve lied to people or hidden certain truths from people out of fear of being ostracized or because I wanted their respect.  These are not the actions of a peace pilgrim, but of a coward.

Perhaps I am judging myself too harshly.  That’s the key, isn’t it?  Can I admit all this about myself without thinking of myself as a “bad person”?

Can I just accept that I’m a fallible human being who tries to do the right thing but fucks up more often than he’d like?

Therein lies the paradox…

The second way in which these books affected me has to do with the theme of how to act in a world that might be nothing more than an illusion.

I find this to be an incredibly poignant issue, given some of the attitudes of the New Age philosophy in regards to human suffering.

I’ve read articles my New Thought writers that have advocated not listening to “upsetting new stories” so that you can cultivate a positive state of mind.

I’ve heard people say that the reason that people suffer in other parts of the world is because of karma…because “their souls chose that path.”

I was discussing the destruction of the planet with a friend of mine, and he said that all is an illusion, that the earth will shake us off like fleas if it must.  That’s it all in our minds.

That shit pisses me off.

It’s the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and going, “LA LA LA LA LA LA!  I CAN’T HEAR YOU!! LA LA LA LA!”

Not only does this attitude trivialize the suffering of others, it fails to recognize the history of imperialism,  colonization, and human and planetary exploitation which has caused much of the world’s suffering.

It’s easy to minimize the suffering of another as being “their soul’s choice” when you’re occupying a position of privilege within an oppressive system.   I have a feeling that these folks would be singing a different tune if they were sitting at the bottom of the shit slide.

The world may very well be an illusion, an impermanent thing.  The earth may shake us off like fleas.  So what?  Does that absolve us of the responsibility to act on its behalf (and ours, since we can’t survive without it)?

Whether this world is just a passing dream or not, we still have to act.  We still have to make choices based on what we know about ourselves and about the world.  And those actions say more about the type of people we are than any philosophy or belief we claim to subscribe to.

4.  Love may very well be the most powerful force in the Universe

Amaa with goat on the front porch

As angry as I get, when I open myself up to the Divine, a calm comes over me.

This is the paradox.

The calm, timeless ground of reality that underlies all being.

And the swirling, time-bound maelstrom of the world of forms.

How do we live in both?

This is the paradox.

Can’t do it without love.  That much seems obvious.  At least, I can’t.  But I have problems with the world “love”.

“All you need is love,” they say.

I imagine dewey-eyed hippies running around, sticking flowers into the barrels of guns and sending out “positive energy.”

No diss to dewey-eyed hippies, flowers, or positive energy.  The world needs ’em, I suppose.

But that’s not me.  I’m not sure what is for me.  I do know that when I’ve reached out to God, I don’t feel afraid anymore.  I feel strong.  Protected. Preserved.  Grounded.

Whatever I do, I can’t do it without God.  I cannot see apart from Him.

In my TAL interview, I said that I wanted a mission statement from God.  Something with explicit instructions on what to do and when to do it.

How silly.

Does a flower need a mission statement?  Does an ant?  Does a bear?  Does a goat?

Do the oceans and rivers need to be “told” what to do?  Does a mountain?  Does a tree?

Their purpose is hard-wired into the fabric of their being.

You don’t need to receive a mission statement.  You ARE the mission statement.

If I don’t know what my mission statement is, it’s because I have become so numb to my own emotions, thoughts, and intuitions, that I don’t know how to respond appropriately to anything.

The goal of religion, if I’ve understood anything about it, is to get human beings back to a place where we don’t have to consult books and endless rules and regulations about how to behave.  We act according to what’s in our hearts.

If God wants anything from me, it’s simply to surrender.

Surrender the will, the ego mind.  To be an empty vessel through which the divine can act.

And surrendering isn’t just a one-time act either.  It’d be much easier if it was.

Surrender is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment choice.

Once I’ve surrendered my need to know the answers, I might actually receive them.

Or better yet, I might learn that I never really needed them.  Because everything I needed to know was already within, waiting to be expressed.

I’ma leave it at that.

And with this.

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5 thoughts on “Summer in Sin City

  1. Recommended: the Mankind Project (mkp.org). Perhaps not quite as spiritual as your take on things, but pretty good.

    Also: Read David Graeber’s “Debt: the first 5,000 years” if you haven’t already.

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    • Thanks, Adam. I’ve heard of the Mankind Project, but hadn’t heard of David Graeber’s book. Just ordered it from the library.

      Like

  2. Wow. Just wow. Thank you for being you, doing what you’re doing, and for sharing it with us. I am often aware intellectually of the horrors of what we (humans in general, and my white ancestors in particular) have done and are still doing. Less often I let myself really experience it. I think I’ve dealt some with what comes up for me then, but I know there is more, and that being with it more fully would make me more powerful in living my mission statement. There are a lot of people writing about and offering workshops on this sort of thing, the one I always think of is Joanna Macy and her Work That Reconnects. http://workthatreconnects.org/

    FInally, I wrote some just a couple days ago about my spiritual journey. In case you want to read that: http://johnabbe.wagn.org/Learning_to_Fly_a_Spiritual_Home

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    • Hi John,

      I read your post and really enjoyed it, especially what you said about community being necessary to make sense out of rituals – also reminds me of what Christopher McCandless said: “Happiness is only meaningful when it is shared.” Also liked what you said about the importance of being able to find spaces where people can talk about what’s going on inside of themselves without fear of judgment or retribution, which I suppose is related to the sacrament of confession. Definitely not down with the Catholic Church’s power structure, but they’re right when it comes to confession; it is good for the soul.

      Is there a way to comment directly on your blog? I tried a couple times, but was unable – I admit I’m not the most computer savvy person.

      Like

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