Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
This is my free rendering of the crucial passage ("The Vision & the Riddle") from Book III of Nietzszche’s famous revelatory prose-poem about Sri Zarathustra -- the post-metaphysical saint & trans-religious guru. We can speculate endlessly about whether this or that historical sage was aligned with "postmetaphysical spirituality" but it is obvious, overt and intended in the case of Zarathustra. Consequently he should hold a special place of honor in our hearts... and even perhaps a privileged status in the ethos of this online forum.
Fans of this luminous text (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) will know how this passage fits into the basic plot. After attaining illumination, the idiosyncratic and irreligious sage is moved by his natural compassionate abundance. He wishes to share his energy and depth in the human marketplace. But he soon discovers that the world is too full of disparate viewpoints. A superficial cacophony, a motley and bovine assemblage of diverse value systems swarms in the contemporary culture -- refuting all coherence and making mockery of authentic enactments of depth. So Zarathustra turns instead to the cultivation of a small band of friends (the free spirits) who are intellectually and spiritually attracted to his message. Over time, however, he begins to worry that their positive response to him may actually be impeding their own development. Even though they understand and agree with his teachings, they are not yet enough of themselves to really get where he is coming from. Thus he retires from being a “guru” and becomes a wanderer among the Happy Islands. He seeks to discover non-obvious truths which have not been revealed in his enlightenment. He is desperate to discover why higher transformative intelligence is not getting through to human civilization in a more dynamic manner. And he wants to overcome two lingering problems that he has diagnosed in his own psyche -- the egotism of his enlightenment & his sense of depression about modern humanity.
He sets out to sea. This is the setting of The Vision & The Riddle. The subsequent passage in the text is called Of Involuntary Bliss. That is very suggestive. The passage we will examine presents a secret that may generate unforced contentment. This prophetic writing by Nietzsche should be of particular interest to those who have studied Adi Da's description of the insights which led to his own laughing, dancing and peculiar awakening.
THE VISION & THE RIDDLE
When it became rumored aboard the ship that the controversial sage Zarathustra was among them, a great curiosity and expectancy arose. Yet Zarathustra was brooding on his rare troubles and behaved as if cold and deaf to those around him. He did not respond to glances or queries. However, on the evening of the second day at sea, he relaxed and opened his ears again. He discovered that many strange things were buzzing on board that ship -- which had already come far and still had very far to go. Despite himself, he had always been a friend to those who take long journeys and do not want to live without danger. So behold! By listening to his fellow travelers he found his tongue loosened and his icy solitude broken. Thus he spoke with them, saying:
To you, bold venturers & adventurers, I speak! I speak to whomever has ever embarked with cunning sails upon dreadful seas, to you who are intoxicated by puzzling riddles, who take pleasure in the twilight of dusk, whose soul is lured by flutes into every treacherous abyss. You do not desire to grope for a rope with cowardly hands, and where you can guess you hate to calculate. To you alone do I tell this riddle of what I saw -- the vision of the Most Solitary Man.
Lately, I was walking gloomily through a deathly gray twilight. Gloomily & sternly. With compressed lips. Not only one sun had gone down for me! My path was mounting a mountain defiantly through stark boulders and rubble. It was a wicked, solitary path no longer cheered by any bush or plant -- a mountainous path crunching under my defiant foot.
Striding mutely over the mocking clatter of pebbles, trampling stones and making them slip, my feet forced themselves upward with great effort. Upward -- despite the spirit that drew them downward... down toward the abyss. It was the Spirit of Gravity! My old devil and arch-enemy. Upward I climbed although he sat heavily upon me, half dwarf & half mole, crippled & crippling. He poured lead drops into my ear and leaden thoughts into my brain.
“O Zarathustra!” he said mockingly, sounding it out syllable by syllable, “you stone of wisdom! You have thrown yourself so high… but every stone that is thrown must FALL! O Zarathustra, you stone of wisdom, you great projectile, you star-destroyer! You have thrown yourself so high but every stone that is thrown MUST fall! Condemned by your self, condemned to your own stone throwing… O Zarathustra, you has thrown you stone so far but it will fall back upon you!”
The dwarf then fell silent for a long time. His silence oppressed me. To be silent like that in company is truly more lonely than to be alone… So I climbed. I climbed, I dreamed & thought, but everything oppressed me. I was like a man with an awful illness who awakens from a nightmare to find himself in an even worse dream.
But there something in me that I am willing to call “courage”. It has always returned to destroy whatever is discouraging in me. This courage at last made me stop and say:
“Dwarf! You -- or I!”
Courage is the best destroyer -- a courage that attacks. In every attack there is a small triumphant shout.
The human being is the most courageous animal. Armed with his courage, he has overcome every beast. With his triumphant shout he has conquered so many natural pains. But inside him is a special human pain that is deeper than all others.
Courage also destroy the giddiness we feel in the face of an abyss. And where does a man not stand facing an abyss? To be able to see oneself -- doesn’t that meaning finding an abyss everywhere?
Courage is the best destroyer. Courage also destroys pity. Pity is the deepest abyss, for as deeply as a person looks into Life they will see into suffering.
Courage is the best destroyer, I say, a courage that attacks. For it destroys even Death when it declares, “Was that life? Very well then -- once more!” There is a great triumphant shout in such a saying. Whomever has hears, let him hear.
“Stop, dwarf!” I said. “It is I - or you! And I am the stronger one -- for you do not know my abysmal thought. You could not endure to know what I am now thinking…”
Then I felt suddenly lighter. The dwarf jumped down from my shoulder to examine something. That inquisitive dwarf! He squatted upon a stone and we beheld a strange portal which stood where we had halted.
“Behold this gateway, dwarf!” I announced. “It has two sides. Two paths come together here and no one has ever gone to the end of either. This long pathway behind us goes on for an eternity. And that long lane ahead -- that is another eternity. They are opposed to each other but they touch each other. They diverge in conflict but in this gateway they come together. The name written above this threshold is: The Moment. If one were to follow them further and ever further do you suppose, dwarf, that they would remain in opposition?”
“Everything straight lies,” muttered the dwarf disdainfully. “All truth is crooked and time itself is a circle…”
“Spirit of Gravity,” I cursed angrily. “Do not treat this so lightly! Or perhaps I will leave you here, squatting where you are on your lame feet. I have carried you so very high!”
That silenced him. I continued:
“Behold this moment! From this portal a long eternal lane runs back -- and an eternity lies ahead. Must not all things that can pass not already have passed along this lane? Must not all things that can happen have already happened, been done, gone passed? For they have had forever to do it! And if all things have been here before then what do you think of this moment, dwarf? Must not this gateway have been here before? Are not all things entangled so tightly that this moment pulls with it all future things and also itself?
“For all things that can pass must run once again forward along this long lane. And that slow spider creeping in this moonlight, and this moonlight, and I & you whispering at the gateway together, whispering of eternal things -- must we not have already been here? And must we not return and pass forward eternally along that long terrible lane that reaches ahead...”
Thus I spoke, more and more softly, trailing off… for I was suddenly afraid of my own thoughts and many concerns about this matter. But my worry was interrupted by the sound of a dog howling nearby.
Had I ever heard a dog howl thusly? My memory ran backwards -- yes! Once when I was a child… in my most distant childhood… I heard a dog howling in this way. And I saw it too! Bristling. Its head raised. Trembling in the stillness of midnight when even dogs believe in ghosts. It moved me to pitiful empathy.
The full moon had just gone over the roof of the house, silent as death, and stopped. A still round glow upon the flat roof as if upon a forbidden place. An intrusion. That was what terrified the dog -- for dogs believe in thieves and ghosts. And so when I heard that howling again on the mountain I was again moved to pity.
Where had the dwarf gone? And the gateway? And the spider? Had I only been dreaming? Had I now awoken? All at once I found myself standing alone between wild barren cliffs -- desolate in the most desolate moonlight.
And I spotted a man lying on the ground. Beside him the dog was leaping, bristling, whining, imploring. It saw me coming and howling again. It cried out! Had I ever heard a dog cry out for help like that?
Truly, I had never seen such a spectacle as I did then:
The man was a young shepherd, the master of a flock, and he was writhing, choking, convulsing with his face distorted. And why? Because a heavy black snake was hanging from his mouth, caught in his throat.
I had never seen so much disgust and pallid horror on a face. Had he been asleep, perhaps? Had the serpent crawled into his sleeping maw and bitten into his throat, locking itself in place?
I rushed to his side and tugged and yanked on the snake but in vain. Those yanks could not tug the snake from the shepherd’s throat. And then I heard my own voice call out:
“Bite! Bite its head off! Bite!" All my horror, hate, disgust and pity, all my good and evil cried out of me with a single cry.
You bold men around me on this ship, you venturers & adventurers, those of you who have embarked with cunning sails upon undiscovered seas! You who take pleasure in puzzles -- solve for me the riddle that I saw that night. Interpret for me the vision of the most solitary man!
For it was a vision and a premonition.
What did I see in this allegory? Who is it that must one day come? Who is this shepherd into whose mouth the snake thus crawled? Who is the man into whose throat all that is heaviest and blackest will thus crawl?
The shepherd bit as my cry had advised him. He bit with a good bite -- spitting away the snake’s head and springing to his feet. No longer a shepherd, no longer a man! He was a transformed being surrounded by light. Laughing.
Never yet on Earth has any man laughed as he laughed.
O my brothers, I heard then a laughter that was no longer human and it awoken in me a terrible thirst. My thirst for that laughter consumes me. This longing is never stilled. My longing for this laughter consumes me.
How do I even endure to live without it?
And how could I possibly endure to die now?
Thus spoke Zarathustra.
My first response to this thread: Yay!
More to come.
Nietzsche (like Kierkegaard) should be regarded as a prominent forerunner and precocious prophet of both integral consciousness & postmetaphysical spirituality.
These figures remain poorly assimilated by mainstream integral article-writers partly because their styles elude an easy grasp by academic systematizers such as Hegel and Wilber. Foucault has thus far been superior to Deleuze in Wilber's soul. And Sloterdijk has scarcely been noticed!
Envisioning and cultivating a progressive pathway for cause requires us to explore, experience and validate especially those varieties of post-pluralistic depth which express the convergence of theory with humor, philosophy with poetry, seriousness with irony, simplification with mystification, etc. It is not enough, not by a long shot, for us to be well-read meditators who make serious efforts to embrace academic rigor while also finding time to explore our sensual and artist sides in various creative projects. That is already a great triumph! We should exalt in such things. But we should also goad ourselves forward. The integration of these "lines" within (not just as a complement to) our theoretical work is also necessary.
Analogously, it is not enough to have a guru be warm, humanistic and verbally in favor of fun, creativity and embodiment. Zarathustra reminds us that we (as the sacred progenitors of the integrated postmetaphysical spiritual civilization of the Earth) should only believe in a "god who dances". The style and mood of a dancing god's priest -- like the style and mood of philosophical outliers -- reveals crucial pieces of the mosaic we are building.
When Osho insists upon the necessary of Zorba the Buddha... when Gurdjieff drives off his best students with jokes and insults... when Trungpa take another giggling and unnecessary goblet of vodka... when Adi Da erupts sideways into wild, ecstatic laughter... these are signs of the postmetaphysical spirituality just as surely as the cognitive capacity to put "God" in brackets.
Near the end of his story, Zarathustra gathers the Higher Men together in his cave to help them understand how to move toward the Overman, the New Earth and the Embodied Soul. During the feast he goes outside for a few minutes and when he returns they are celebrating the Ass Festival. It is something like a faux-Satanic mass coupled with a drunken masked orgy mixed into a comedic "roast". Zarathustra explains that although this is not enough it is perhaps what will be appropriate for a while... what is missing from their style of presentation.
We should imagine how much better Obama seems when making jokes at the Whitehouse Correspondent's Dinner. We should be anxious to see the Pope pull out a squirt gun and blast someone. We should be eager to know that our Buddhist mentors are capable of lounging naked on a sofa for shock value... rather than just hearing them gently chuckle about the moral message of Star Trek.
AND we should be just as eager for the corresponding movement to be embraced without our theory, our linguistic style, our method of interaction. We need to avoid toxic indulgence and exploitation but we should be rushing toward a glimmer of wild and chaotic madness in our scholarship and our spiritual practice. The neo-pagan spirit (what McKenna called "the archaic revival") is deeply entwined with the rise of ironic, divergent, ecological and planetary thinking.
Nietzsche would be the first to tell us that embodied postmetaphysical spirituality will surprise by its similarity to the dancing goat-men who worshiped the Branching God (Dionysus Dendrites) with an intoxication-like sensibility which mysteriously meshed with his bifurcating fractal nature.
Those who remember (or who, like me, have recently learned) about the mass-evocative emergence of Robert Plant's prancing satyr-like bisexual banshee singing, his ability to merge vocally with the ancient guitar distortions while also assuming the audience's role as a questioner and inspector of the entranced band will have a sense of the RISE which Nietzsche anticipates as an essential part of the healthy, postmetaphysical spiritual civilization.
Yes, we have our Wilbers and our alternate-Wilbers and our Meta-Wilbers... but are we doing enough to produce the Led Zeppelin of Integral-level theory? Are we oriented such that we become more likely to join Kierkegaard in his nested panoply of ironic masks? Are we bringing both the "higher men" and the "ass festival" into our work?
A strange task.
This topic becomes more and more intriguing to me as I ponder it. We are looking at something like Tom Bombadill crossed with Cthulhu as an trans-intellectual style which is the correlate of post-metaphysical spiritual theory.
This is a large part of what Nietzsche (one of our greatest ancestors) was working upon. While we may quibble about whether Wilber provides enough of this or that emphasis in his writings... it is obvious that he is insufficiently poetic, insufficiently funny, insufficiently idiosyncratic in his style. Conversely Nietzsche devoted must of his philosophical investigations to "the Wagner problem" i.e. how to escape from neutral or regressive style-tones into those which are proper to the integrative worldspace. Have we heard him on this topic? What we he say about the "auras 'n' thangkas" mood of today's preliminary integral arts? Are we getting, in our aesthetic, to that place we are trying to get in our theory?
And then how are we connecting the two?
Obviously there has been a detection of Sloterdijk around here not only because of the content of his theory but because of how it leans aesthetically. I would also posit that Paglia's hyper-literate "chthonic" lyricism is a hint. As I mentioned above, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard should be considered among the most famous explorers of the post-pluralist style. No doubt there is something in the most sly Zen masters and Sufi poets that we might like to affirm. Yet also something deeply colloquial... I suspect the blues (again the catalyst for "Led Zeppelin" and many of the other neo-Bacchanalia movements that came during the cultural high-water moment of the late 60s).
If the WHISKY
don't KILL ME
I don't knooooooooooooow
This refrain ended an impromptu performance I saw on a street corner yesterday -- four young, ragged performers (one of them using a washboard!) with a jangly croaking reminiscent of Tom Waits. The whole song was a bit like a jig. A buoyant blues song from 1800's lumberjack, etc. But it was so cheery, so halcyon, so march-y and optimistically tragic that one could hardly refrain from making a comparison to Nietzsche.
What are these lyrics? They begin with a mixed feeling. There is an affirmative embrace of both the negative (toxic) and positive (intoxicating) aspects of a crude golden soma. It is clear-eyed about the danger. It is tragic in the sense of the ancient Greeks discussed in "The Birth of Tragedy" and like them it finds in tragedy, finitude, mortality no reason for a dampening of spirits. It dances in doomed flesh. And the final line not only leaves open ended the possible cause of its own ruination but also maintains a cheerful, open-ended shrug which is not closed off to its own potential immortality -- even that immortality is non-different from its non-contracted grasp of it own mortality and weakness.
The result of their boisterous jig was a curious spirit of blended harmony and dizzying affirmation which (as the blues should do) turned the darkness of the world into light WITHOUT PROPOSING THAT IT IS OVERCOME BY A METAPHYSICAL LIGHT. And the overall mood was deliciously similar to the one which I find is shared between my favorite meditations and my favorite moments of intellectual and emotional insight.
Although Nietzsche's poetry (like Lovecraft's poetry) often seems like an afterthought which distracts us from the poetry of their prose, we should not be insensitive to the amount of time and energy he thought such experiments were worth. Not as entertainment or self-expression but rather as an attempt to ferret out the "sound" of the healthy future. His Dionysus Dithyrambs (the basic style which he simultaneously feels he recovered from the pre-Socratics and also invented in honor of his own religious visions) are especially hard to process in translation. If the delicate mixture of mood and rhythm do not translate as well as intellectual concepts then we can see why this aspect of his work has been overlooked. Yet it was precisely the dithyrambic style of Thus Spoke Zarathustra which inclined him to consider it his greatest work. It not only presented the bodily transfigured and luminous humanist saint of mixed sentiments and post-metaphysical altered states but it did so in a style that exhibited the half-ironic, half-dogmatic, rhythmic, alliterative, often interrogative, value-flipping, blended tragic-joy mood that both his art and his theory constantly attempt to bring forth into the world.
We do him and ourselves a disservice when we think this is just 'his style'.
I was transfixed in boyhood by the image of this prancing forest man putting on the ring -- and nothing happens. His joyful indifference, verging on forgetfulness, of the great contracted power and baleful fascination of the world is very much like (a) the blues (b) zarathustra (c) nondualism (d) the good spirits necessary to embrace a divergent, post-metaphysical realm.
Definitely. ZZ TOP: AFTERBURNER was the first cassette tape I ever owned. Along with bands like Guns'n'Roses they represent something important about the American version of what Led Zeppelin was doing with its Celtic roots.
The recent Cohen brothers film (whose ending hints at Eternal Recurrence) chronicles the plight of a Celtic folksinger who cannot "break through" in America. But in the conclusion of the film we witness the rise of Bob Dylan as a symbol of the critical mixture which can regenerate the pagan folk-spirit in the new soil of modern America.
While we're on this theme, I would suggest that the Dylan song which perhaps comes closet to what Nietzsche was indicating with his "dithyrambs", his complaints about Wagner's music and his praise of Bizet is "Highlands" from the Time Out of Mind album.
We are not dealing with something as simple as what the media would call "wild". It is something shows up simultaneously in the cultural paganism of Lady Gaga, the dry, measured and repetitive cosmic-trivial irony of Dylan (at his flatly rambling best), and the child-like Celtic folkspirit which empowered both the rhymes of Tolkien and the less degenerate faces of Zeppelin & others.
And if we can lay our fingers and ears upon a tone, a mood, an aesthetic which is complementary to postmetaphysical spiritual theory and practice... how does that stand relative to our discourse?
For anyone who is interested I recommend Marianne Cowan's translation of "Beyond Good and Evil" (the first book of theory Nietzsche wrote after the "discovery" represented by Zarathustra). Of all the translators she is most attentive to tone, rhythm, alliteration, etc. A critical matter since these issues seemed to mean almost as much to Nietzsche as the "points" he was making. Her translation is prefaced by several serious consideration on this topic and she directs a reader to first familiarize themselves with the passages in which N. describes how to approach his works, what his theory of communication is, and how to "read with the third ear".
Something significant is excluded when we exaggerate the important of "content" and "standard associative implications" in works of progressive theory and neo-spirituality. Nietzsche increasingly contextualized the former with jokes, poetry and conversational play. And he always tried to filter out the latter by invoking apparently charged and suggestive phrasing which he had used his own meditative intelligence to strip of their conventional charge.
In the first case we find many examples of his conclusion -- as a philosopher! -- that the tempo is perhaps the primary communication of a thinker. In the second case we find all those famous remarks about God, Jews, Women, etc. which are designed to draw a division between people who can overcome reactive implications and those who cannot.
If we judge Wilber by his tempo... what will we conclude? If we determine that luminosity, fun, play, the blending of mixed feelings into conceptual dance steps are the criteria that should be used to determine "how high" and "how leading edge" a theory might be? If we want to observe the great barn dance of meta-integral studies and, as good fiddlers and barn-owners, try to get everyone moving, circling, jumping and delighting... what must we do?
Thus far it has mostly been the effort of meta-integral thinkers look for conceptual similarities and differences and toy with their potential integration into a common structure. We would like the social, spiritual and philosophical forces of benevolent progress and depth to be "on the same page". But McLuhan would remind us that pages are old-tech. The ear & hand rise over the eye in the ever-amplifying electronic ethos. How do we get these theorists into the same rhythm?
Can we even hear their rhythms to begin with?
Have we even tried?
Here is one of the "Dionysus Dithyrambs" released with the 1891 publication of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Hard to say what use they can be to use without their original language, rhythm and whatever "dry, halcyon, intoxicated" music Nietzsche might have set them to if he were alive today...
For ten years now —
No drop has reached me,
No humid wind, no dew of love —
A rainless land —
Now I beseech my wisdom
Not to become miserly in this drought:
Pour out of me, my trickling dew,
My own rain for the yellowed desert!
Once I commanded the clouds
To move away from my mountains —
Once I spoke, "More light, for your shady places!"
Today, I entice them so that they come:
Give shade to me with your udders! —
I want to milk
You cows on high!
Milkwarm wisdom, sweet dew of love
I pour over the land.
Begone, begone, truths
That gloomily watch over you!
I do not want to see on my mountains
Bitter impatient truths.
Today the truth approaches
Me with a gilded smile
Sweetened by the sun, from bronzed love —
I break off only a ripe truth from the tree.
Today I stretch out my hand
To the curls of chance,
To lead chance along like a child, to outfox it.
Today I want to be hospitable
To the unwelcome,
I don't even want to be sharp against destiny —
Zarathustra is not a hedgehog.
Insatiable with its tongue,
Has already licked all the good and bad things,
It has dived down into every depth
But ever like a cork,
It always floats again to the top,
It flits about like oil over brown seas:
Thanks to this soul one calls me the happy one.
Who are father and mother to me?
Is not my father the prince of superabundance
And my mother tranquil laughter?
Did not these two in bond of marriage create
Me, animal of enigmas,
Me, unfriendly light,
Me, prodigal of all wisdom, Zarathustra?
Suffering today from tenderness,
A thawing wind,
Zarathustra waits seated, waits in his mountains —
In his own juice
Becoming sweet and stewed,
Underneath his summit,
Underneath his ice,
Weary and blissful,
A creator on his seventh day.
A truth glides over me
Like a cloud —
It strikes me with invisible lightning.
Its happiness climbs slowly
Unto me by broad stairs:
Come, come, beloved truth!
It's my truth!
From demurring eyes,
From velvet shudderings
Its glance strikes at me,
Charming, evil, the glance of a girl ...
She found the base of my happiness
She found me—ha! how did she figure it out? —
A crimson dragon lurks
Within the abyss of her girl-glance.
Hush! My truth speaks! —
Dear you, Zarathustra!
You look like one
Who has swallowed gold:
One day they must slit open your belly! ...
You are too rich,
You corruptor of many!
You make too many envious,
You make too many poor ...
I am cast into shadow by your light —
I shiver: go away, you rich one,
Go, Zarathustra, away from your sun! ...
You would like to give, give away your superabundance,
But you yourself are the superfluous one!
Be clever, you rich one!
First give away yourself, oh Zarathustra!
For ten years now —
And no drop has reached you?
No humid wind? no dew of love?
But who ought to love thee as well,
Your happiness creates nothing but aridity,
Makes a dearth of love —
A rainless land ...
No one thanks you any longer,
But you thank everyone
Who takes from you:
I see you as the poorest of all the rich ones!
You sacrifice yourself, your wealth torments you,
You give away yourself,
You don't take care of yourself, you don't love yourself;
Great agony always compels you,
The agony of an overflowing barn, an overabundant heart;
But no one thanks you any longer ...
You must become poorer,
Unwise wise one!
If you wish to be loved.
One loves only the suffering man,
One gives love only to the hungry man:
First give away yourself, oh Zarathustra!
—I am your truth ...
Suppose that Herr Nietzsche is one of the great pioneers & prophets of an embodied postmetaphysical spirituality. And also suppose that his foresight describes not only the great experimental revolution in intellectual philosophy but also an accompanying and equally significant and correlative movement in our aesthetic sensibility and tone. One this basis we may assume a relevant ability within ourselves to become much deeper and more lucid about the significance of his remarks concerning art, mood, tempo and the "great health" which is possible for the future of humanity. The following is a preliminary grouping of his philosophically evaluated artists. They are not two clearly opposed camps but rather indicators of two opposed trends which overlap in culture.
Walt Whitman. Stendhal. Bizet. Mendelssohn. Mozart. Goethe. Shakespeare. Raphael. Heine. Voltaire. Homer. Rubens. Hafiz.
Wagner. Beethoven. Socrates. Plato. St. Paul. Jesus. Victor Hugo. Taine. Zola.
In what sense do we know what he is talking about with this peculiar distinction?