Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
On David Marshall's Integral Archipelago forum, a member there named Shashank recently posted a blog (and initiated a discussion) on the relationship between horror and
fantasy literature and spirituality that I am quite enjoying. I invite
you to read it, if you're interested. Here, I wanted to open a related
discussion, based on some of my comments to Shashank, particularly if
any of you enjoy the horror or fantasy genres. (I wish I had time to
compose something nice, but I don't, so here are a few jotted notes).
I no longer read fantasy or horror, but I used to read and write quite a lot of both, and I still enjoy an occasional horror or fantasy film. In my conversation with Shashank, we were discussing the respective approaches of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft. I was noting that Barker tends to see "order" behind the terror and horror, and redemptive or transformative potential in the encounter with darkness and evil, whereas Lovecraft attempts to present a vision of reality as ultimately alien, containing dimensions which are wholly other -- realms and beings that are wholly unassimilable, human contact with which can only result in madness or destruction. In other words, absolute limit conditions.
In my reading, Lovecraft's Otherness is an Otherness that must remain Other for the human center to hold, and for our higher ideals to flourish (though those who encounter it now come to see those ideals largely as flimsy defenses in the face of a vast, menacing, terrifyingly alien realm). If I had to place Lovecraft along the values line, I'd say he was a Modernist -- writing for a genteel Modern audience, many of whom were likely in hard flight from "animal nature." This is revealed, I think, in his preference for pre-human, visceral images to represent the Other: slime, gelatinous substances, crustacean or invertebrate anatomy, etc.
But while Lovecraft is primarily a modernist (as opposed to Barker's more postmodern approach, where otherness is a functional limit condition of particular stages of development or perspectival frames rather than a concretely identified, metaphysical "thing" or "realm"), I still find his work offers something interesting to consider, particularly in the context of Integral spirituality: he presents a powerful challenge to complacency and a "comfortable" anthropocentric view of the universe, a view that honestly I sometimes feel marks much New Age and even Integral discourse and thought. I don't think Lovecraft is an Integral thinker (as I said, I view him as essentially a Modernist, though some post-metaphysical materialist writers find kinship with him as well), but I think he makes a kind of move -- a firm presentation of That which intractably challenges and disturbs present boundaries and narratives -- that we could use more of in Integral circles, in my opinion. With talk about "making sense of everything" in Integral marketing, and even in the popularized use of phrases like "swallowing the whole universe in one gulp" (assimilating it in its entirety to the "known"?), I feel there is a move towards what we might call the suburbanization (or urbanization) of the Kosmos. No spooky corners left, no pesky unknowns, no threatening or destabilizing shadows. (This is why King, Barker, Lovecraft, etc, are so powerful: they bring the 'unknown,' the terrifyingly alien and powerfully Other, back into our comfortable suburban back yards).
So, I guess what I'm groping toward is the question, What is an Integral nightmare? What, in its appearance or irruption, would deeply disturb, even terrify, Integral consciousness? What are the boundaries of our (often comfortable, suburban) narratives, and what has the potential to shred them?
I enjoy and appreciate this topic because I think wrestling with, encountering this sort of "dark" or Otherness, is both humbling and chastening (something Lovecraft cultivates through his shocking, chthonic vistas) and potentially transformative (a la Barker). I am thinking here of several things: Rilke's terrible angels, which perhaps show up in modern popular form in something like Strieber's Communion series (where the Other is a vastly more evolved and powerful entity, an entity that has a disturbing, inscrutable agenda for us); and which showed up for me, in a wilderness visionary experience many years ago, as powerfully disturbing -- even terrifying -- entities who I associated with Krishnamurti and who put me through a mind-blowing (and humbling) ordeal. And I think also of the "darker" aspects of Tibetan practice, which I explored when studying with Dzogchen teachers: practicing ch'od, for instance, or purposefully going to graveyards or other frightening places in order to practice. But even doing that, I also was aware of bumping up against worldview differences: not all of the images cultivated in traditional Tibetan practice were really terribly disturbing for me, and I recall wondering at the time what a modern equivalent could be -- how could the practices be made more challenging and relevant for our time?
What would scare the bejeesus out of the Integral community? :-)
A new system of classification, which at its root, may be a very old system, but in new skins - recontextualized. As you know from what I've written of my own research, Integral Theory's AQAL model of classification has its roots in a very old geometric-philosophical model. So in some ways, this is what we will be seeing more of - people re-discovering relationships that the ancients already knew, but expressing it in modern terminology.
One critical theme in this re-discovery and recontextualization process is the issue of OPEN SOURCE Vs. CLOSED PROPRIETARY Systems. This relates to the thread on economic systems as well. The old closed proprietary systems were the gilds, the priesthood, the secret societies, etc... but now we have Orange and Green versions of these closed-proprietary cultures which may or may not be compatible with the new Aeon.
I do not want to see these new systems ensconced within closed and proprietary frameworks. What this means in practice is that recontextualization must be a key part of the new Aeon. To put it into blunt language, if you want a paradigm to spread, you must give it away and empower people to incorporate it freely into their lives and create whatever they want to with it. In this way people will co-create with it, come to own it, and it will become the defacto universal. And if using this paradigm also changes the user themselves, then this would be the ultimate Trojan Horse (in a good way). As I'm sure you know, this paradigm is already in the hands of millions of people, sitting in plain sight as a simple "game," and with variations of its imagery being used everywhere in our popular culture and entertainment (movies, various literary genre's such as SciFi, Horror, etc...).
If we can make the connections systematic - to really show the linked relationships between all these various domains, in an operable, accessible, practical, and open source paradigm, this would allow the people themselves to recontextualize effectively and thus create for themselves fully functioning (generative) containers and vehicles for accelerating growth in all domains & quadrants. This theme is essentially what Bruce wrote about in his paper on Translineage Practice.
The novel I referenced earlier, The Babylon Rite, is good historical horror fiction. Some excerpts from the wiki entry on the Moche's religion:
"Both iconography and the finds of human skeletons in ritual contexts seem to indicate that human sacrifice played a significant part in Moche religious practices. These rites appear to have involved the elite as key actors in a spectacle of costumed participants, monumental settings and possibly the ritual consumption of blood. [...] Excavations in plazas near Moche huacas have found groups of people sacrificed together and the skeletons of young men deliberately excarnated, perhaps for temple displays.
"The Moche may have also held and tortured the victims for several weeks before sacrificing them, with the intent of deliberately drawing blood. Verano believes that some parts of the victim may have been eaten as well in ritual cannibalism. The sacrifices may have been associated with rites of ancestral renewal and agricultural fertility. Moche iconography features a figure which scholars have nicknamed the "Decapitator" or Ai Apaec [...] The 'Decapitator' is thought to have figured prominently in the beliefs surrounding the practice of sacrifice."
The author is also weaving a separate line with the Templars. I'm curious to see how these two cultures meet.
It has been ages since I read a Stephen King book, but this looks interesting and fun enough to lure me back in: Doctor Sleep.
A Halloween treat for today*
* The original link in the video section has expired, so this is to replace that...
A soundtrack for this evening...
Joel Morrison shared this documentary on FB today:
Speaking of horror movies, see this initial post on Ender's Game. It depicts the horrors of childhood war programming, turning war into a video game, and then realizing the true horrors of the actual effects when one gets beyond the 'game.' It would horrify Colonel Kurtz!
I was planning to see Ender's Game today with my son, but when I showed him the trailer, he unexpectedly didn't seem at all interested. So .... maybe I'll see it on my own sometime!
That which cannot be assimilated; but this would not be the only feature of the Beast. Its gaping maw would be capable of consuming the radiant AQAL matrix into an abyss of Unknowable Chaos, where systemic thought dare not tread, and a singularity of the Infinite would burst said-systemic thought under their own amplified weight. A Cthulu of sorts, an Anti-Assimilation Non-Matrix which defies categorization.
I can't say "Amen" to that, Jeremy, but I can give a hearty, phlegm-thick, guttural sthaaghlarghurechxxxx! of approval. :-)
I came across this story earlier this week (an old Buddhist tale):
“Once, a man who had been sent on a long journey found that he had to spend the night alone in a deserted house. In the middle of the night, a demon came in carrying a corpse on his shoulders, which he set down on the floor. Later on, another demon came in and began to berate him angrily, ‘That dead man belongs to me. How did it come to be in here?’
To this the first demon answered, ‘He is mine! I got him, and I brought him here myself!’
To this the second demon retorted, ‘I am the one who brought him in.’ And in this way the two demons fought over the corpse, and one grabbing and pulling it.
Then the first demon -— noticing our traveler witnessing all this -— said, ‘There is a man here whom we can ask.’ So the second demon began to question him, ‘Who brought this dead body in here?’
The traveler reflected, ‘These two demons are very strong; whether I tell the truth or whether I lie, I am sure to be killed by one or the other of them. So why not tell the truth?’ And he declared that it was the first demon who brought the corpse.
At that, the second demon got very angry, and grabbing the traveler’s hand, he ripped off his arm, and threw it on the ground. But the second demon took an arm from the corpse and attached it to the traveler’s body. In the same manner the traveler’s other arm, legs, head, and torso were ripped off, but replaced with corresponding parts taken from the corpse. Then the two demons together devoured the now dismembered original body of the traveler, and wiping their mouths, they went away.
The traveler then reflected, ‘I have just seen these two demons entirely devour the body that my mother and father gave birth to. Now my present body is entirely constituted by the flesh of another. Do I or do I no longer actually have a body? If I say I do, it is someone else’s body; if I say I don’t, there is nonetheless a body here that looks very real.’ And so reflecting, he become very troubled and was like one who has lost his mind.
The next day, he set off on the road again and arrived in the kingdom to which he was heading. There, near a Buddhist stupa, he saw a group of monks. All that he could say to them was to ask them whether his body existed.
The monks inquired, ‘Who are you?’
He answered, ‘I don’t even know if I am or am not,’ and he told them at length all that had happened to him.
The monks said, ‘This man has learned on his own the nonexistence of the Self; he will easily attain salvation.’ And turning to him they said, ‘Not just now, but from its beginning up until present, your body has all along been devoid of Self. It was only because of the coming together of the four basic elements that you thought, ‘This is my body.’ But there is no difference between your former body and that which you have today.’
In this way, the monks converted the traveler to the Buddhist Path; he cut off all defilements and attained arhatship.”
I'll have to go through this thread with more depth, but this morning I found on my FB wall:
"Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes."