Monthly Archives: October 2008

What Rough Beast

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In the darkness before sunrise I got up, put the kettle on for tea, and went to the computer for a first pass at headlines and email. It was a bit early for poetry, but my eyes were caught by a snatch of it, in all places on the New York Times op-ed page. My favorite econo-guy Paul Krugman had titled his Monday column “The Widening Gyre,” and quoted the first three lines of the poem right up front.

What caused Krugman to think of Yeats’s famous poem while studying economic data? And did he think twice before summoning the spectre of some unnamed dread whose hour has “come round at last”? It is certainly a sobering metaphor for the economic crisis which is now spreading to developing nations, especially at 6 a.m. when one hasn’t even had a cup of black tea yet.

I have more to say about these myths and stories that are being tossed around both consciously and unconsciously these days. Much more, especially given the threads I spoke about in my last blog post. But one thing at a time here at the Blog o’ Gnosis, and right now I have to pick up my daughter, walk the dog, and make dinner. Life does shuffle on, with or without the slouching.

Stopping on a Paradigm

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Yesterday in a Sebastopol parking lot I ran into an old acquaintance who, like me, drives an aging car. I joked with him about the fact that we were still keeping our jalopies going, when he came over to me with a conspiratorial smile.

“I don’t know what you believe, but there’s this website…” Oh no, I thought. Please don’t start talking about 9-11 conspiracies. Please, please, please. “…where a lot of people are finally coming out with their UFO experiences.” Okay, UFOs. Are we going into crop circle territory? Or chemtrails? Please no, please no.

My friend continued, “Anyway, they say that any day now there could be a huge electromagnetic blast from the sun, and if that happens all of these,” he gestured with his arm at the late-model cars surrounding us, “will get their electronics fried. And the only cars that will still work will be ours!” Trump card in hand and still wearing a satisfied smile, he strode off on his errands.

It strikes me as highly unlikely that our old cars, increasingly held together by rust and duct tape, will save us in some post-apocalyptic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang scenario. Sure, they get better mileage than most cars on the road, but will there be gas to put in them if a rogue solar flare eats up the world’s electronics? Even in a perfect, pre-doomsday world, just how much longer can we keep them running?

One is hard-pressed to know where to start in refuting some of the claims overheard in Northern California towns these days. I am rather proud of the fact that I manage to stay friends with good people who hold what I consider to be lunatic fringe ideas. Yet I am frankly alarmed at what passes for reason among intelligent, well-educated people who ought to know better.

I saw another eco-activist friend in town recently, while the bailout bill was being debated in Congress. Her greeting to me was an enthusiastic, “The Empire is falling!” This is a woman who lives so close to the margins of solvency that all I could see was the great gray bricks of the Tower falling right on her head. And she was elated, obviously unconcerned with just how she was going to survive if her sidewalk stand ran out of paying customers.

Tracking world events while having almost daily exchanges of this nature has caused me no small amount of cognitive dissonance. I am struck by how easy it is to lapse into belief when thinking is just too complicated. Marx may have considered religion the opiate of the masses, but had he been alive today he would have quickly revised his notion: around here, “paradigm shifts” are definitely the opiate du jour. And things have only gotten worse with the spread in recent years of the leftist version of Christian Endtime predictions: the 2012 prophecies.

I recently met an accomplished businesswoman some years my senior who told me in all seriousness that “these times” demanded a new way of thinking. She was convinced that the “old way,” defined by competition-based, hierarchical, either/or thinking, was on its way out. In order to survive in the years ahead we all had to embrace the new paradigm, which emphasized supportive social networks, enlightened cooperation, and “both/and” thinking. Again, she had that conspiratorial tone to her voice, but it was overlaid with the lustre of knowing that she was somehow sent here to help shepherd people from one bank to the other, across the ruinous tide of “these times.”

I have heard versions of this scenario so many times now that I really must ask the question: if the new paradigm is about both/and thinking, why does it hinge on throwing the old paradigm out? Shouldn’t a both/and paradigm have room for the old paradigm, too? In fact, by its own definition it must have. Therefore the internal logic of the idea doesn’t even make sense, and only proves that anyone who embraces it either never learned to reason, or is desperate for a way to believe in doomsday while not being a Christian. And because this is now a both/and world, I assume that both my conclusions are correct.

There is no doubt that huge, unprecedented change is taking place on our planet. Climate change and the spectre of global economic collapse are ample reason for us all to be running for whatever safe haven we can find. Yet having lived through the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the Harmonic Convergence, the Oral Roberts Death Watch, Y2K and Bush v. Gore without having any major appliances explode or noticing any Rapture-like behavior, I simply cannot believe this is anything more than a very difficult period that we will live through somehow.

If people need a new laudanum to get by, then fine. The marketing of 2012 fantasies is, after all, the Mother’s Little Helper of the aughts. Yet it should never be mistaken for more than that. In fact, my personal preference for doomsday scenarios is the Rapture, for one reason only: at least in the fundamentalist Christian world view, they are all raised up to heaven while the rest of us get to keep the planet. In the New Age version nobody gets teleported, and we are stuck listening to crap about new paradigms until we die. This is not intelligent design!

Things that Shift in the Night

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Like so many others, I have been glued to the screen over the past few weeks. Debates, opinions, news of the economic collapse, cowpies from the election trail—it is all so important, and so crazy, that I consider it a survival skill to understand what is going on as best I can.

Along with this, coming from the margins on both sides, have been both predictions of doom and visions of justice served. On one side is the raving, hate-filled mob stoked by fear, and on the other the wackiness of 2012 prophecies. The tension between these two poles of true believers is more than we should have to bear, given that there are so many actual issues that need our full attention. But it is all part of the zeitgeist, part of the craziness that is swirling around and through every conversation, every interaction across the globe right now.

I spent the past few days writing a really funny post about awful New Age jargon. But the longer I wrote the less funny it seemed, and the more serious and philosophical I got. Eventually I realized I had to write something completely different. There comes a time when making fun of the obvious is no longer useful or even enjoyable. Now is one of those times. The world feels like a vast echo chamber this evening, where the ripple effect of all our words is magnified greatly, for good or ill. So I will choose with care what to send out into the chamber tonight.

After my dad died this summer, I took from my shelves Robert Moss‘s The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead. I had been meaning to read it, and this seemed like an opportune time to ponder the many pathways between the worlds, and where one might wander on the way from this one to the next. I skimmed the first section, read carefully the second section where he talks about William Butler Yeats being his spirit guide through all sorts of adventures (Golden Dawn fans, take note), and skimmed again the third.

One thing the book helped me with was imagining where my father’s spirit was during the weeks and months after his passing. I have had visitations from the dead several times in the past, notably with my friend Raven Moonshadow who came to say farewell to me as well as several others just two days after his death.

My father has been much more difficult to track. Early on I saw him waiting on an observation deck, looking down at all of us planning his funeral and dealing with his remains. He was watching it all, accompanied by a couple close friends who had met him there, and was waiting until after our ceremonies had been completed before taking off on the longer leg of his journey.

Then I lost track of his spirit for a while. I had dreams of him walking away with his back turned toward me, or actively trying to exit his life but not quite getting there yet. There is a way that the dead feel like their old selves for a while, then suddenly they change. They let go of their old personalities and become joyful and free, like how we always wished they could be. For Raven that didn’t take long at all. For my father, and for many others, it is a slower process.

In the last day or two, though, I have felt the shift. Suddenly I feel a lightness around him, like he has remembered what he loved about my mother and is looking after her as best he can. I can sense his unconditional love for his daughters and grandchildren beaming through as well. That in turn helps me to simply cherish his memory, and say goodbye in a deeper way. With Samhain coming on, I am grateful for the change.

Why is this what I choose to write tonight? Because at a time when all the news is lit with neon, it is easy to get lost in the bright lights. Particularly if it is our retirement that has vanished, or our job that is on the line, and when the future of so many countries hangs in precarious balance, we are gripped by urgency and cannot easily break away.

The dominant narrative is powerful and pervasive, riveting, life-changing. Yet the subtle flows of power and feeling are still at work too, and can help us if we pay attention to them. In times like these, every heartbeat is a prayer. Every breath taken in freedom, every lightening of the spirit, is a blessing. Let us not forget these.

I don’t think we are entering easy times, but I also don’t think we need to succumb to fear. We can take time throughout the day to feel the life force supporting us, buoying us from underneath and opening the way ahead. There are paths of possibility we can follow, if we have the patience and courage to listen for them, whispering to us from the dim corners of the echo chamber. May our eyes and ears be open, and our feet find the way.