Sunday, November 20, 2016

Parables Guard Wonder

When photographing the red maple and frosty grasses (shown above), the slow shutter signaled a probable blur. So I adjusted the f-stop to get a sharper image; but after uploading the digital images, my attraction was drawn to the blurred, less clear representation. Or perhaps a surreal view moves through the superficial and into the light that had first driven me upstairs and back with camera in hand. Clarity has value but not absolute.

  The unknown approaches through likeness, by parable. Humans, at our best, it seems, are meant to be ever leaning. The apprehension of truth falls too easily into arrogance; for the essential, the most meaningful, pulls beyond knowing and most certainly beyond commanding. 

How strange (and yet not all all) that my early academic work focused on clarity. In the late seventies and eighties when “research on teaching” depended on conducting low-inference studies on process-product variables, using quasi-experimental designs, teacher clarity was marked in the top ten for research and publication. Gaining tenure depended on pursuit of such a target.

And now, easing into retirement, relatively uncaged by publication’s jailer, it’s parable that’s so compelling. Not strange also because the path toward knowing leads so often amid the experience of opposites. How else is unity approached? C.G. Jung’s exploration of individuation abounds in the “marriage of opposites.” For example, look at “opposites” in the index of Mysterium Coniunctionis (p. 679).
Dominic Crossan, writing extensively about the parables of Jesus, elaborates on the multiplicity of meanings around parables in his preface to In Parables.  The truth seems far from clarity when he asserts “reality is parabolic” (p. xiv). And paradoxical: knowing is non-knowing. Perhaps the greatest peril to knowing comes in satanic certainty. Parable holds center stage, or perhaps dances just outside the spotlight, for all religion that I’ve seen. 

The value and authority of parable flow all through the first book of Rumi’s Mathnawi.  For example, Victoria Holbrook’s translation of Kenan Rifai’s commentary, Listen: “O heart, tell a parable that you may discern compulsion from free will” (line 1519, p. 181). Nicholson’s classic translation has the line and selected others this way:
O son, (only) they know (the real meaning of) compulsion in whose hearts God has opened the sight (of the spiritual eye)./To them the unseen things of the future became manifest; to them recollection of the past became naught./Their freewill and compulsion is different (from that of ordinary men): in oyster-shells drops (of rain) are pearls…O heart, bring (forward) a parable for the sake of (illustrating) a difference, that thou mayst know (what distinguishes) compulsion from freewill.  . .  (about lines 1466-; 1496-). 
And from Book III, lines 2114 & 2786: God hath set down these tales and parables for the purpose of concealing (the true nature of) the praise from the unworthy.  [My note: Some will not understand and will criticize the one who knows the mysteries]. 
That use of similitude belongs to the Lord, for He is the (sole) authority for the knowledge of the hidden and the manifest.
      A bit more of Holbrook’s translation of Rifai:
"So, let the light of spirit shine. Once the light of the spirt has shown, all the proofs and terms of knowledge and intellect are left in the shade. This means the shining of the sun of love within the heart. When that happens, the stars of knowledge and intellect fall into invisibility" (p. 184).

Parables are not vestiges from olden times. Howard Schwartz, considered “the preeminent Jewish folklorist in America,” compiles one hundred modern parables in Imperial Messages. The second parable in this collection is the one we focused in Good Stories, Kafka’s “Before the Law.” Here, parable in its most compelling, even Kafkaesque, drives us up against the final judgment: how do we each find ourselves purely accountable?

Such a question, almost maddening, serves to disrobe the emperor, to push us to acknowledge the arrogance behind persecution and proselytizing, the intolerance of fundamentalism. Not in dualistic conviction but in holding opposites do we approach the great mysteries. Parables help us own the limitation of words, the treasury of secrets, the authority of mystery. Parables guard wonder, enter transformation and the world of art, full of blurs, the open-ended story, as Crossan tells “to help others into their own experience of the Kingdom and to draw from that experience their own way of life” (p. 52, see below). 

*Crossan, In Parables, p. 52:  “It is one thing to communicate to others conclusions and admonitions based on one’s own profound spiritual experience. . . It is quite another thing to try and communicate that experience itself, or, better, to assist people to find their own ultimate encounter. This is what Jesus’ parables seek to do: to help others into their own experience of the Kingdom and to draw from that experience their own way of life.”

**Much commentary has been given to “Before the Law”; for example, Chapter 5 of Acts of Literature focuses Derrida’s exploration. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Teaching-Story: Working with Opposites in Multiplicity

Multiplicity of images

I keep going back to Epaminondas, not because it’s a good story for everyone, but because it has high resonance for me individually. That’s the primary touchstone: continue to check the vibration. The best value in good stories comes through making personal connection with the numinous, by going to the edge of consciousness where the water of life can be found, where the source of vitality flows. 
For over sixty years, the little story of E has offered such a wellspring for me. I’ll elaborate briefly, again not to send anyone else to E or any specific story, instead to assert the importance of searching for the inner spark. I believe Good Stories offer a guidance for one’s destiny, certainly not the only guide but a good one, and only if the personal connection is affirmed. That’s resonance. There’s no cheating fate. A person cannot copy another’s story or point of resonance.  Each must trace his or her own fingerprint into a story that fits.
When a story fits the individual, it’s generative. When I return to E over and over, the effort is more than worth it because it yields wonder, insight, even inspiration. The story, with the gift of simplicity, revealed the death-dealing power of literalism and suggested the pathway of liberation. Of course, it took me decades to articulate those supernovas, but the illumination along the way gave sufficient light and warmth to keep trekking on. 
Strangely enough, wondering enough about the fate of the puppy probably led toward the need for powerful interpretation instead of literal meaning. Finding my way to psychoanalytic theory both 1) resuscitated instinct (often indicated by the dog image), 2) saving it from being drowned by authoritative voices (like E’s mother), and 3) the process of getting to that insight brought along redefining of career toward more narrative and hermeneutic directions 4) instead of being dominated by the behavioral and cognitive hegemony in academia.  Although I won’t elaborate here, it also probably played a significant part in 5) leading me to a very surprising and lasting love affair with horsemanship (where book learning moves backseat).
Putting the brakes on what could become a very long testimonial, let’s skip ahead to the second step. Resonance gives the foundation of affirming the right place, but the particular story that has high resonance usually needs outside help if the wellspring is to be accessed. That’s where step two comes in. Because amplification has already been described in other posts and videos, I’ll only hit high points here. When I stayed with just the E tale, it remained for me in the category to which it’s often assigned: nonsense. Only when I explored source materials and related tales did meaningfulness replace nonsense. E probably derived from the Lazy Jack tale and from there I explored other Lazy stories with the special treat of finding Buried Treasure
In Lazy Jack, I began to see the importance of persistence, of simply “showing up.” But then Buried Treasure went further into the limitation of persistence because the Worker, exemplifying the virtue of being industrious in contrast with the apparent laziness of Luis. I knew that Lazy Jack’s reward lacked verisimilitude; a person can’t depend on getting rich by just showing up. So the Buried Treasure took wonder further by giving the reward to the “lazy”—but was he really? Something very true showed through the false labeling. Cultural values (in this case, hard work) sometimes miss a higher value (in Buried Treasure, the higher value is Luis’ faith statement).
The amplification with other stories shines new light on the old story. For example, I’d missed seeing into the final part where E steps in the pies. Although some suspicion kept pushing, only after long detour was I able to recognize that act as one of defiance instead of continued stupidity. E might be acting out: “If you aren’t going to teach me how to be independent enough to adapt to change, I’ll just do the opposite of what you tell me to do!” While this is troubling also, it does have verisimilitude. 1) Dominance is real. 2) Developing independence often makes trouble. The little story of E, like any other tale, doesn’t show the entire path of destiny. It stops not with the happy ending but at least with a glimpse of an important next step. This redemptive step, however, will only be seen by persons with readiness to incorporate it. And that’s probably a good thing. 
Because the steps in Good Stories are overlapping, we’ve already moved nicely into a third area, Multiplicity. Amplification proceeds into multiplicity in order to 1) identify centering terms and 2) to array a variety of descriptors around a central term. Multiplicity works with this array in order 3) to discern, and even to force, oppositions. The intention is not to produce inauthentic terms but 4) to reveal the hidden force field. 
The nature of opposites is powerfully articulated in the work of C.G. Jung. A few quotations reinforce the purpose for Good Stories as it emphasizes the development of opposites within the multiplicity step. Key features include these:
1. Essential for consciousness.“There is no consciousness without discrimination of opposites. . . Nothing can exist without its opposite; the two were one in the beginning and will be one again in the end.” From “Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype," The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, p. 96, para. 178. 
2. Life energy.“The repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible. The conscious mind is on top, the shadow underneath, and just as high always longs for low and hot for cold, so all consciousness, perhaps without being aware of it, seeks its unconscious opposite, lacking which it is doomed to stagnation, congestion, and ossification. Life is born only of the spark of opposites.” From "The Problem of the Attitude-Type, "Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, pp. 53-54, para. 78. 
3. Process includes tension, production of energy, and attempt for reconciliation.“For just as there is no energy without the tension of opposites, so there can be no consciousness without the perception of differences. But any stronger emphasis of differences leads to polarity and finally to a conflict which maintains the necessary tension of opposites. This tension is needed on the one hand for increased energy production and on the other for the further differentiation of differences, both of which are indispensable requisites for the development of consciousness . . . Then a counter-movement sets in, in the attempt to reconcile the conflicting parties.” From Mysterium Coniunctionis, pp. 418-19. 
4. Attention to feeling as well as thinking.a content can only be integrated when its double aspect has become conscious and when it is grasped not merely intellectually but understood according to its feeling-value. . .”  From Aion, p. 30-31, para 58. 
5. Connection with destiny and peace.“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”  From Aion, p. 71, para. 126.

Often a preliminary draft of opposites results in an imbalance of value with one side very positive and the other appearing strongly negative. For example, I could have a central term in the amplification of the E story as Adaptation. I might pose as opposites: 1) sense/nonsense, 2) awake/asleep, or 3) lazy/industrious. 
The sense/nonsense pair doesn’t work for me due to the imbalance.  “Sense” is very positive while “nonsense” leaves me cold, and thus the potential for transformation is limited. As I’ve shown in other posts, if I change nonsense to not-yet-sense, I’m more open to a transcendent awareness such as a realization that some mysteries or puzzling circumstances are not to be avoided. For some troubles, when I can’t figure it out, I don’t have to give in to frustration, to calling myself stupid or to feeling depressed. For example, the problem of pain (why do the good suffer?) may lead beyond human comprehension.
In order to be generative, the pairing needs to carry energy in each term. If I cannot see it in each side of the pair, I’ll either work to find it or move to other terms. Although “asleep” might look lifeless, what about the power of dreams that come in sleep? With “lazy,” at least in the Buried Treasure story, the label might point to a cultural perspective that could be challenged. The pairing might be revised to “industrious” and “devalued” or even “oppressed.” The recognition that “lazy” has been used as a stigmatizing term to justify oppression fires up the opportunity for insight and even action. 
The fourth step in Good Stories is Transformation. It’s a big concept that will only be sketched here and developed further later. Coming from the resonant E story, the work with amplification and multiplicity generates a set of oppositional terms: a) being bound by tradition versus b) breaking free toward authentic being. The central term might be framed as Liberation. The transformation concerns significant change in thinking, feeling, and/or acting. Insights about liberation include: 
1) Breaking free is likely to be messy.  For example, ruined pies may be a necessary loss. 
2) Negative labeling should be interrogated. 
3) Approval from outside may be sacrificed—so get ready for it before proceeding. 
4) A higher value can (and probably must) focus and take precedence. For example, Luis’ faith statement was more powerful than the culturally-approved norm. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Mining the Resonant Field with Mantras & Story Moments

Shakespeare’s Hamlet succinctly tells “the time is out of joint” (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5). I’ve never had a dislocated shoulder, but it looks really painful.  In a way, our stories are even more disturbing because the dislocation, the misplacement, might go uncorrected. When the warning signs are subtle, like life’s signals often are, who notices? And when we’re distracted, so busy, playing fantasy football of whatever sort, we’re out of touch with the caution to keep watch for the day and the hour. Like Hamlet, our good stories warn us: Take heed in order to judge clearly between the essential and the superficial, between true and false, right and wrong.
In the Kuan Yin story, the village was characterized by racing on swift horses and shooting with bows and arrows. We considered this situation as a life preoccupied with activities at a certain level while missing a quality more significant. When the luminous beauty entered their marketplace, they became aware of what had been missing. The story invites us to wonder if we might be missing the most important value or purpose of our lives.
As Kuan Yin guided the village to return to the quality of compassion, in a similar way, The Odyssey reminds us of the importance of xenia, hospitality, especially for the stranger. We noted that most, if not all, major religions place much importance on caring for the other, the one fallen in the ditch. Our Statue of Liberty beckons: "Give me your tired, your poor. . . Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”  As we saw in the Kuan Yin story, saying the words does not necessarily mean understanding them and much less does it approximate living them. To walk the talk takes a high level of heedfulness. Good stories push us to ask: What is the sacred text that guides my life?
This question was pushed even more sharply in “The Visit” when the youth was graced by the true love, but then fell asleep, repeatedly, and thus lost the close connection with the beloved. In this story, the condition of being separated from true purpose and vitality was represented through the image of a false parent and a traitor-tutor. In “Kuan Yin,” the people did not remember the sacred text; in “The Visit,” it appears that the teaching is oppressive and has to be cut away—if the beloved is to be embraced.
The phrase “out of joint” reminds me of a time working with a carpenter with the frequent reminder: “true up that joist!” Joists and beams are vital foundational structures and when not in proper alignment the integrity of the building is at risk. One way for persons to true up is to follow the guidance of good stories. What is the sacred text that takes root inside? When memorized, it blossoms for the wind that returns in Machado’s lines: 
Llamó a mi corazón, un claro día,
con un perfume de jazmín, el viento.  
Because this poem is rooted, memorized, in mi corazón, in my heart, my soul (to borrow Robert Bly’s translation), I’m reminded to tend my garden, to watch for the inspiration, to care for the llantos de las fuentes, the water of life. 
The instructional video (shown at the top) discusses how we are tending our resonant field with good stories by searching for the holy text and connecting with story memories. In the video, I also recite the Machado poem and talk about its guidance. May the good stories give us direction and courage to true up.