Sunday, November 8, 2015

Desire! Dogma and/or Inner Light? And whence Love…

“Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the truly passionate painter who dares.” 

Vincent Van Gogh, letter to Theo, Oct 2, 1884. 
See below*.




                    Path of Attraction.

        The dogma on desire in the indoctrination of my youth spelled “desire” as “evil”; the passage through longing and long years tells it in multiplicity.

         In one spin, those warning tones still weigh heavily, like a phrase from Stephen Mitchell’s retelling of the 84th Psalm, “let go of all desires” (although the surrounding context gives a fuller meaning, see below**).

         And yet, heard in a different voice, the radiance of desire glows; like Mitchell’s version of Psalm 34:

            You who desire true life
                  and wish to walk on God’s path:
         Depart from evil; do good;
                  seek peace with all your soul

         The alchemical complexity of desire simmers in the marvelous excavations that William C. Chittick works in The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi:

         On the Day of Alast the Beloved said something else, but in a whisper. Do any of you remember?
         He said, “I have hurried to you, I have made you for Myself. I will not sell what I have made for Myself at auction.”
         I said, “Who art Thou?” He said, “The Desire of all.” I said, “Who am I?” He said, “The desire of the Desire.”
                        Divan, lines 9265-67, p. 69.

         Which will overcome, Mercy or Wrath? Which will overcome, the springs of Paradise or the fires of Hell?
         Since the Covenant of Alast both branches—forbearance and anger—have existed to attract men to themselves.
         That is why both negation and affirmation are contained in the single word “Alast” (“Am I not?”).
         For this word is affirmative through its interrogative form, but “not” is buried within it.
                        Mathnawi, Book V, lines 2123-26, p. 69.

         Let’s consider “Desire” in this way: Am I not? Hold the deep questioning. Contain the affirmation of desire.  Allow attraction to the essence, to the divine, to Love.  And realize the “not” is buried within it.

Thanks to Maria Popova for focusing this letter from the extensive correspondence of Vincent to Theo: ).

**Happy are those who trust you/ and merge their will in your will./ They let go of all desires/ and give up everything they know,/ until they finally enter/ the inmost temple of the heart,/ where there is no self, no other,/ nothing, but only you.

Psalm 84, p. 37; Psalm 34 on p. 18. Stephen Mitchell, A Book of Psalms. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Pathway into Destiny via Teaching-Stories & Digital Media Production

1. Our pathway finds guidance by continuously searching for resonance within the oral narrative of teaching-stories. By actively engaging the archetypal material coded by spiritual guides into the cultural lore, we attend for textures that throb against our unique fingerprints and the passion in our heart.  A “hit” signals connection between “inner knowing” and a universal, archetypal source of vitality. Because the archetypal ocean stretches into mystery and out beyond human capacity to encompass, our attempts to articulate such material are therefore clumsy and incomplete, fragmentary at best. Although humbling and uncomfortable, a recognition of limited knowing avoids the dangers of arrogant presumptions that result in the proverbial pitfall (e.g., Proverbs 16).

2. To navigate the unknown and to control harm, cultures draft and enforce laws, norms, and moral codes. As civilization and consciousness advance, these norms sometimes become restrictive and are broken. The storyteller, like other artists, dances at this edge. For example, in the story of “The Visit” (cf. the Russian tale, “Maiden Tsar”), this break is represented when the protagonist does away with the tutor who was preventing connection with the beloved by putting the youth to sleep and colluding with the dominant rule, represented by the stepmother.

3. Despite the difficulty, the frustration and frequent failure in attempting to access the great unknown, our destiny depends on attempts to decipher the inarticulate points of resonance. The process of articulation, of focusing the abstractions coming from the source material, proceeds through amplifying the resonance across other teaching stories and then translating the archetypal images into local and individual levels.  
[show example of dmp2]

4. Because archetypal spaces are expressed in a variety of representations, the amplification typically and productively yields multiplicity. For example, the archetypal guide may be presented as a small voice (dwarf or haystack figure), in an apparently ugly or threatening form (Dame Ragnell/Beauty’s Beast, Baba Yaga), or in a disappearing beloved (e.g., Kuan Yin).

5. This multiplicity almost always yields feelings of uncertainty, but it also allows for individual instantiation of the archetypal field. In other words, each person has the opportunity to collaborate in his/her unique destiny. The work/play involved in digital media production offers a generative space for exploring the uncertainty, for constructing enactments in the possibility space making connections with the resonant moments from teaching stories, and translating toward the particular level. The particular level is the immediate experience where the multiplicity gets resolved into a best-fit response to the contingencies presented in situated truth-making. In relation to the particular level, hermeneutic phenomenology points to the importance of caring and commitment, and of self-forgiveness for unintended boo-boos. Our study of contemporary human development emphasizes our opportunity to cooperate to a degree beyond previous capacity in order to advance social good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Integrity Cues Truth

Autumn with the falling leaves takes my musings back, way back. 
And it’s harvest season…

Almost a half-century ago, my part-time job while in college had me behind camera at the local TV station. Among our handful of live programs, we featured a weekly “On the Farm” with Harry Holt. My memory still holds the show as a pretty-good representation of West Texas. But the standard was set not by the host of the show; instead it goes to a bit-part on the program. The sharpest memory targets a bow-legged rancher who mumbled out the two-minute stock report, monotone, auctioneer-paced, almost expressionless.  He recited the numbers for livestock sales: stock on-the-farm means cattle sales, not New York Stock Exchange. Why would I remember this?

Why after these fifty years following those two to three years of employment in a TV studio does memory command attention to that minor figure? His name escapes me, but not his iconic presence. His rhetorical “plain style” must have impressed me with an indelible mark. Maybe it’s because his presence restored a faith that had been debilitated, almost destroyed, by the flamboyant preachers who were making me increasingly cynical about style. While majoring in the study of rhetoric, the canon of style had been put at risk of being demonized.

As in contemporary political discourse, hellfire gets results, the crowd-response kind, but it skirts individual understanding. It’s not faithful to the unique, “god-given” gift. It’s Common Core scores without personal life-long empowerment. It’s number of publications with insufficient attention to depth of quality. It’s missing the movement of consciousness and the moment of moral responsibility.

Perhaps the integrity of the cattleman’s presentation staked out a territory of true religion; #Belief twines together word and character, inseparable. Why can’t style be a treasure? Or is it destined to deceit? Despite all the manipulations of deceptive rhetoric, at some deeper level I wanted to know that appearance can complement reality.

Over the subsequent fifty years, I am increasingly convinced that integrity cues truth, but such discernment requires a person with eyes to see, ears to hear.  That’s the goal of Good Stories: our explorations and productions reach toward integrity, to know it, to live it. And it resonates with scripture from at least three major faiths. As cited below, most cannot or do not discern who walks the talk.

 About five years after leaving the part-time TV job and while in graduate school, that staked-out territory found partial redemption when a professor of rhetoric cited the classical definition: “style is the man.”  Integrity—like the cattleman refusing to accommodate the TV standards that required spotlighting the speaker’s face, especially the eyes and mouth.  His Stetson stayed, planted deep enough to withstand the perpetual duststorm, true to character even if his eyes were shadowed from showtime lights. And his insistence on self-identity pushed me to search for a different spot to focus the picture.

It’s not on made-up eyes. No. Not on the show. Not on scores. No, instead it’s found in that center of being that plumbs to where the most personal alchemizes into the most universal.  #Belief.

Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people. Ezekiel 12:2

He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.”'
Luke 8:12

So have they not traveled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts which are within the breasts. Qur’an 22:46

Sunday, September 13, 2015

In the Buried Treasure

In the Buried Treasure story, a person called Lazy, goes in search of a new spring, that flow coming fresh of the earth.  The spring appears in the rush of a runaway horse mounted by a spirit being. This event summons a hidden depth from the searcher who responds by twirling, catching the bit in the mouth of the galloping horse, and stilling the charge.
   What a tale! The life spring, explosive horsepower, throbbing stillness. Good stories charge us with translating the generative images into lived experience. So I’m playing with translating the image shown above into one with me and our horse, Leg’cy. Here goes:

   When phenomenologists like Max van Manen focus our attention on “lived experience,” we glimpse layers of meaningfulness, and sometimes we yearn to go deeper. Playing with images offers one way to invite the movement toward our buried treasures. To do this, I draft the moment in the story (using Sketchbook Express) and then substitute real-life photos.
   This composing supports my reflecting upon this moment in the story. I actively wonder about how Lazy meets the horse and rider. Should I put a figure in for the rider or is it within the spirit of the horse? In translating across story into experience, I’m wondering how I might find more horsepower, perhaps from the spirit world flowing into everyday.
   Buried Treasure offers revelation and unveiling of that which is most precious. One of the veils consists simply in labels that are accepted. In Strangers to Ourselves, Timothy Wilson’s “adaptive unconscious” articulates the way unexamined cultural biases blind us. “Lazy” appears to be one of those projected labels used by a dominant force to discredit the “other.”  What if we’re veiled from seeing the runaway horse because we’re turned away from the force, and what if revelation is just an imagination away?
   How does the buried treasure translate into our lived experience? Might it be that “sohbet,” the mystical conversation, flows from the other world as much if not more so over morning coffee on our deck as it does in travel to the holy shrine in distant lands?  Public accolades might transport less of bliss than the laughter of children, the blink of insight glimpsed in the eyes of adults during a shared story.
   I need frequent wake-up calls along the lines of Jung’s disclosure that it’s the “inferior” function entering ecstasy, not the dominant. For me, this is to trust “felt sense” enough to dedicate a ride with Leg’cy while giving the analytical mind a rest. A priority given to photography and refining images in Sketchbook Express or digital media production opens imaginations and removes blinders imposed by hegemonic systems in the workplace, in pewed religions, in sold sports. My dominant thinking function isn’t thrown away, but it gives way while other knowings, perhaps more meditative ones that seem lazy to “higher-level” scientific method, find insight, sometimes in a flash. Later, the rested dominant function serves a valuable part in articulating the insight.
   Buried Treasure serves to remind me of the way the discovery dimension moves into grace. We can enter liminal space, where the dominant parts dare not venture, where boundaries of the world show rainbows of light in mist. N. Scott Momaday muses about the nature of story in the midst of his beautiful volume, The Bear’s House: “Grace is the substance of story, albeit invisible and remote. Grace is the soul of story./ It is a presence without its mask./ Or perhaps a mask behind which there is no presence. . . nothing, only silence, a perfect stillness” (p. 37).
   Reflecting on this, I wonder: Peace in the Great Mystery. A buried treasure: the gift of holding inspiration…  **Spoiler Alert** I’m about to reveal part of the Buried Treasure that might lessen the effect if you haven’t heard it. My version of the tale is on Diane Wolkstein’s version, “The Tatema,” is in Lazy Tales. I’ve traced the print source further back to Wilson Hudson’s The Healer of Los Olmos and Other Mexican Lore.
   In the story, the one who meets up with the horse is given a buried treasure; the gift aligns with a faith that God gives even if God has to push it in the window. Before long, silver coins flow into their home, through Lazy’s window.  In my work/play with this story, a deepened sense of the grace of life’s blessings flows through the unveiling: the joy of horsemanship, loving the class I teach, storytelling, the presence of beloved friends and family.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Infinite in One Step

photo by Joseph McCaleb                                                                                                                    
In a time that wants the whole thing right now, in a culture obsessed with control while hating authority, and amid media flooding with information, what if we focus on just one step. Interestingly, this advice comes from both the mystic and the scientist. Since, I opened this post with Ghalib (b. Dec. 27, 1797, in Agra, India), I’ll explore the mystic first; the scientist is already cued up but saved for another post.  Applications related to teaching and learning, particularly to my current courses, are interspersed throughout.

And a third part seems needed in my attempt to compose a response to the incredible notion posed by Ghalib. Just as a scientist needs an instrument to see the world within a microscopic bit of matter, our capacity to see the universe in a single step requires assistance. Friends of mine know that I look to horsemanship for something like this. My engagements with Leg’cy offer validity checks, especially when the single step contains essences of power and love. An account of yesterday’s ride likely drifts in and out of our consideration of the “Infinite in One Step.”

As we enter, we might notice the naysayers. While within me at a deep level something knows the rightness in the modest grasp of a single step, still I sometimes twinge due to an accusation of being irresponsible because I’m not looking further ahead. The naysayer chastises me for not setting goals, counting costs, and allocating resources. Echoes still reverberate through my being from some forty years ago when an esteemed educator, highly published and president of the national organization, proclaimed that he could tell excellence in teaching because the outstanding pedagogue has the final examination prepared before a course begins. 

My gut revolted when I first heard him say it, and my conviction that he’s wrong is even stronger today even though his position aligns with our hegemonic standards/accountability/testing regime.  To steadfastly seek the infinite possibility in a single footprint as a professional educator requires courage, discipline, and dedication to advance one’s consciousness beyond the prevailing selfish and cynical conditions of schooling, politics, and materialism.

A further complication comes in a shiver that apprehends the immensity and impossibility of entering one moment with full presence. The advance in consciousness that is needed includes a tolerance for mixed messages and a capacity to withstand apparent contradiction and paradox. To deal with complexity involves a dialog between lived experience and representations about it. Uncertainty becomes a close companion. Building the advance in consciousness includes a patient unraveling of felt sense, and it looks for advice.

So I search for models about the meaning of the infinite possibility of one footprint. This notion comes not just from Ghalib; for example, often quoted is the mystic poet William Blake:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

A few lines down, in these fragments from Auguries of Innocence, Blake illustrates how the infinite condenses into the minute: “A Horse misus’d upon the Road /Calls to Heaven for Human blood.” A universal value manifests in the daily moments of ethical behavior; the infinite distills into the bit.  While a beautiful simplicity inhabits these lines and this life world, I believe that their enactment reflects a lifework, an engagement with one’s destiny, along with the advancement in consciousness.

I’m already pondering how the infinite/finite dynamic penetrates in our Good Stories course, and I believe it’s evident in a first step that established primary focus on resonance and then a second one on multiplicity. In our first class session, I told the college students that today’s lesson was brought to us by the letter R with support from M: R for resonance and M for multiplicity. In a way, we only engage Ph.D. concepts by taking Sesame Street steps. Specifically concerning resonance, our attention reaches for the vibrant response to life that’s stored in traditional narratives. In my view, the resonant vibration is signaling a core connection with the infinite; a mystic might consider this a link to the divine.

Continuing briefly into multiplicity, we open the resonant moment by weaving through several levels. We experience stories that I have found to contain the legacy of cultural investment; perhaps not infinite, but at least of considerable significance. Then, during and following the engagement with the resonately-selected and experienced oral narrative, we explore the archetypes and their expressions as they play out in lived experiences, social and personal, historical and contemporary. I’ve elaborated the nature of resonance and multiplicity in Good Stories in other posts that can be consulted, if desired, by clicking on those labels at the bottom of this post.

Building consciousness includes extending our understanding of both resonance and multiplicity. One opportunity to do so comes in looking at how the translators work with the poetry of Ghalib. In addition to including Ghalib in The Soul Is Here for Its Own Joy, Robert Bly collaborates with Sunil Dutta to focus solely on Ghalib in The Lightning Should Have Fallen on Ghalib. We might begin by noting the importance of the selection of the poet and the poem. Like the selection of a traditional tale or the theme for phenomenological inquiry, a point of focus by the participant needs to have a felt resonance.  Without vitality, the work lacks sustainability and will not even engage our own attention to say nothing of how it will fail to inspire our students and readers.

The poem cited at the top attracts my attention (as well as that of the translators, I believe) because it embodies multiplicity in the dynamic yin/yang-like entanglement of infinite/finite. The traditional tales that I select for Good Stories have to be tingling with incipient meaningfulness each time I begin telling them. The theme a teacher selects for phenomenological inquiry merits that attention in its resonance because that's what promises to animate the teacher’s being which will subsequently spread into the classroom thereby compelling attention and motivating work.

Multiplicity gets acted out in the process of translation in ways that inform how participants in our Good Stories class explore the levels of a story and how our work with phenomenological inquiry empowers our teaching. By looking at Bly’s and Dutta’s comments on the translation process, we can gain insight about our translation of resonance into our decoding of destiny.  The process of translation includes accessing the vitality needed to light up our lived experience.

Bly writes of the translation process with his collaborator Sunil Dutta:
“Our work would begin as he wrote out each couplet in Urdu script: a word-by-word version in English, awkward and virtually incomprehensible, followed. Sunil would then abandon the Urdu word order and create two lines in English that hinted at the content of the Urdu. So many ambiguities would be omitted in this version that he usually followed by writing several paragraphs of prose to bring the hidden cultural, religious, or philosophical questions out into the open. At that point I would enter the process and try to compose a couple of lines that would resonate a little with each other. Imposed meanings would stick out here and there like burrs on a dog, and we would have to painstakingly remove those burrs” (pp. 7-8).

As we appreciate the slow careful work given to moving verses across centuries, religions, and cultures toward today, we gain patience for the time and attention needed to translate time-space-matter-ing from traditional tales into our own social and individual lives. We may be able to accept more generously the complexity, subtlety, and preciousness of teaching in classrooms with constantly reforming prisms in the diversity of children who renew their minds moment by moment. Dutta writes, “In Urdu, words convey subtle shades of meaning, so that a well-composed couplet will shine, so to speak, with several colors at once” (p. 65). So do our classrooms. So should the stories that we re-tell and translate into the making of finer lives and advanced consciousness.

This work, the care given to translation, models for us the way to treat as sacred the precious moments that array the phenomenon of teaching/learning. The Ghalib and Blake poems and the comments on the translation process amplify for me the texture of teaching connected with phenomenological inquiry. An orientation that focuses on “one footprint” contrasts with the behavioristic approach to teaching and research which imposes a predetermined order complete with objectives, step-by-step procedures, and test questions. Contrasting with the behavioral and the accountability model of education, the “world of infinite possibility” is found in each moment of discovery.

Something as small as just taking one next step can breathe with the infinite.