Monthly Archives: January 2009

Hotel California Cosmology

Posted on by

The unique blend of Eastern and Western mysticism, science, and parapsychology that characterizes California Cosmology makes so much intuitive sense to me that it is difficult to even describe why that is so. In my review of Jeffrey Kripal’s book on Esalen I gave it a pretty fair shot, so I won’t spend time tonight trying to say more. Instead I want to introduce its evil twin, what I call Hotel California Cosmology.

California cosmology is what I grew up on, catching glimpses on the radio, tv, and on the streets as a Bay Area youngster in the 1960s and 70s. It was wild and free, challenging, esoteric, erotic, and hinted of a grand future for humanity. It was also what I was looking for as a teenager, the lucky number on which I placed all my chips as I extricated myself from the staid environment I was raised in and headed out on my own.

My chief concern, once I moved to Berkeley at 17, was being able to tell the difference between the real thing and the cheap or dangerous imitation. My first success was landing a job at the Lhasa Karnak herb store on Telegraph Ave., where I learned a lot about healing plants. In a near miss, I went down to Shambhala Books one evening when Robert Anton Wilson was scheduled to speak.

I got halfway through the door when I caught sight of him in his bulky Alpaca sweater surrounded by acolytes, and a strange thing happened. He creeped me out instantly. I was physically repelled by his energy and by the whole scene around him, so I turned around and left. That was the first time I’d ever had such a strong negative intuition, and I consider it a minor miracle that I had enough sense in my innocence to pay attention to it.

But when you are searching for transformation, you can’t stay safe all the time. Sooner or later you will be sucked in by something and lose your bearings, because that’s the only way to undergo a powerful change. Finding yourself again is the tricky part, of course, but that’s kind of like waking up from a dream. First you have to fall asleep.

In my case, I was again fortunate to land in the Bay Area direct action community in the early 1980s, where anarchist coffeehouses, collective living and Pagan spirituality brought together a wonderful cast of characters. There was a whole lot of transformation going on, and the good outweighed the bad most of the time. I think if you can say that about the pivotal times in your life, you’ve done pretty well.

At a certain point, though, you grow up. The charismatic charmer is revealed to be a narcissistic jerk. The clever facilitator is actually a control freak. And moments where it seemed something was being accomplished turn out to have been anomalies rather than progress.

If your goal is to find yourself again after going through a life-changing transformation, this is the time when you need to bow out and forge your own path. But some people take the opposite tack. While others are working to individuate from the group, these folks decide that what the group needs is to become more enmeshed with each other. More Kool-Aid please, and double the dose.

These are the conditions in which Hotel California Cosmology (HCC) thrives. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” as the song helpfully informs us. HCC is all about manipulation, not of experience but of how you perceive and are allowed to talk about your experience. And whereas the best examples of California Cosmology merge personal gnosis and critical thinking, with HCC there is only room for uncritical thinking and emotion—lots of emotion. Analysis and logic are thrown out the window like so much old-paradigm hooey, and in its place we can all agree with each other some more about how we are experiencing something truly radical and life-affirming.

The best example of this is Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which has produced the most mind-numbing blather, and the most sanctimonious adherents, of any fad I have ever encountered. NVC completely strips dialogue of any accountability. It considers not just judgment but educating, praising, apologizing, and correcting to be coercive, blame-based communication patterns.

Intention is king in NVC, and if I tell you I will do something and then don’t do it, number one you can’t blame me because blame is a throwback to violent communication. Number two, I can hold the space for you to express your feelings if you can do so in a non-judgmental way that at no point asks me to apologize for my failure. Number three it was not a failure, and I appreciate the connection I feel with you around hearing your authentic experience. Number four, I hear that you still need me to do what I intended to do, and I am expressing that it is still my intention. Now, don’t we both feel better?

NVC is such a deep study in grandiose irrelevance, I’m sure I will have more to say about it at a later date. For now, though, I will close with a handy list of things to check for if you suspect you are caught up in a HCC vortex. I wrote these reality-check points in a comment to an earlier post of mine, but have rewritten them here in a way that is relevant to a broader range of Hotel California groups and ideas. If you suspect you are in a group that is under the influence of its own Kool-Aid, here are some things to check for in meetings, ceremonies and conversation.

  • Is deference always paid to the person with the biggest personality?
  • Are moments of real connection repeatedly broken by a call to arms over a signature issue?
  • Is the “ideal vision” invoked at times when questions or divergent opinions are expressed? Does that effectively end the debate?
  • Do the leaders play on the emotions of others to mask a lack of integrity in themselves?
  • Are policies and goals framed in an either/or, good/bad manner, rather than acknowledging a range of beliefs or possibilities?
  • Are ethical concerns re-framed as issues of personal choice or group diversity, in order to deflect personal accountability? Is this maneuver successful?

New Year’s Dream Resolutions

Posted on by

Okay gang, it’s back to work. I have spent the past couple days reading through the morass that was 2008, as written in my journals. And I am happy to report that while the year was no picnic, from it I did end up with pages and pages of really interesting dreams. It was hard to choose the best moments from these dreams to turn into resolutions for next year, but I think I’ve got 10 solid contenders. 

Why make New Year’s dream resolutions? As I wrote last year, making regular New Year’s resolutions is just awful. The one resolution I made this past year was to have more fun of all types. And while I did have more fun, it didn’t prevent lots of really tough things from happening too. So why go through the motions in the first place?

Dream resolutions, on the other hand, have nothing to do with the calculus of daily life—they are solely concerned with having the best dreams possible. Anything you like that happened in a dream, make a resolution to do it again. Anything that didn’t turn out quite right, you can do differently next time. 

There is no room in dream resolutions for moralizing or resolving to be a better person. Dreams love to break taboos, and revel in exposing the stuff we try to keep out of sight. The best attitude for making your own New Year’s dream resolutions is honesty and acceptance, with a good splash of humor.

So with all that, here are my official 2009 New Year’s Dream Resolutions.

1. When you have turned your bathroom into a spiritual purification chamber, you have to let people use the shower even if it gets water on the floor.

2. Rule of thumb when moving into old Victorian ballrooms with 58-foot ceilings: very long swings hanging from the rafters. Filtered water at the bar also makes up for the fact that there is none in the kitchen.

3. Sometimes your friend gets the hot new boyfriend and you just get a glimpse of a very old, very married fling. Be patient, your day will come.

4. Even the most beautiful boathouse and pavilion will not become a stop on the steamboat route if they are set too far up the hill from the water.

5. If a child in your dream has a dream that she should leave her favorite doll in the road for the fairies to take, let her do it.

6. Burn the candle all the way down—no shortcuts. These things take time.

7. If you’re wearing a beautiful dress to a prom, make sure you’ve got a sexy bra on under it—not that stretchy gray sportsbra.

8. When called on to facilitate a day-long meeting with lots of people, be gracious and engaging and the meeting might take only a couple hours.

9. On those long car rides through Texas, any frozen food in your backpack will probably not stay frozen very long. On the other hand, it may make it all the way to the state line. 

10. If you’re going someplace you’ve been before and you sort of know the way, just follow your instincts. You don’t need to stop and ask for directions.