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Archive for September, 2009

One of the most exciting and provocative of Carl Jung’s ideas, revolving around his analysis of dreams, is the enantiodromia.

The notion can be traced to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. It refers to natural tension that exists among opposites: the one exerting pull on the other. This pull is especially pronounce when the experience of one side of the opposition is especially extreme.

A few examples:

(1)When darkness is long and deep, as in Alaskan winters, the summer light is intoxicating, and too much so if one isn’t careful.

(2) The inseparability of young lovers invariably leads to their getting on each other’s nerves and the need for “space”.

(3) Political leaders preaching extreme puritanical views are often keenly tempted by the very things they claim to abhor.

Dreams are messages from the realm of the archetypes: guiding patterns within the fabric of space-time. Scripture is replete with dreams interpreted as divine revelations of destined roles and mandates. They were gifts from above and were experiences approached with great respect and gravitas.

In examining our own dreams, it is a rich spiritual practice to search for enantiodromia ( things represented in the extremes) exciting their opposites. Once flagged, it is often valuable to test the degree to which the extreme occurrence is a finger pointing to the real drama in the realities that lie opposite the given imagery.

For example, I recently dreamt that I was on bleachers at great altitude with water far below. The bleachers were more like steel beams on skyscrapers under construction.
Suddenly, a ship careened into the structure and it crumbled beneath me and my family. I moved with uncommon agility to dodge falling metal to get them to safety.

The extremes in this dream are the bizarre height and my uncommon agility.

This dream surfaces at a point when I am no longer a man of youthful strength, endurance, and daring. The enantiodromia is the archetypal reflection on aging and the second half of life. Is it a message about battling the natural life process and its necessary stages, and a call to accept new limits and new age-appropriate activity? Each stage of life brings with it new lessons and opens up novel vistas. In one’s middle to late- middle years, there is a chance to see more and take it in more fully as the pace slows.

The Spirit calls on us to find a right pace that is attuned to archetypal patterns that guide each stage of life. A dream of youthful vigor and speed, strength, heroism and thrill-seeking on mile high bleachers is a striking contrast to the natural state for a middle aged man.

So, looking at one’s dreams in terms of the enantiodromia provides a powerful perspective on the emerging hurdles along life’s journey. Next time you have a dream of extremes, ask yourself if the embedded story being told revolves around realities quite opposite to given plot lines, characterization, timing, or place.

May your dreams be occasions for fascination, spiritual insight ,and able guides on your search for joy and deep fulfillment.

Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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In the title of one of his books, Stephen Hawking declares: “God made the integers.” While we discovered numbers, mathematics is a remarkable lens on  the properties of the Universe.

Number is archetypal, an essential objective pattern underlying and organizing the cosmos. Numbers are to mathematics what words are to poetry and literature and all conversational forms of communication.  The archetype of number is, as Jung expressed it, part of our collective unconscious. It is a revelatory medium, albeit an abstract one, that sheds light  on the structure and inter-relationships among objects and forces in the physical world.

Since consciousness arises out of matter, it is easy to fall into the trap of dualism: mind vs body. In fact, they are the same thing. Mind is a property of the Universe and, so, when we engage in mathematical explorations we act as the vehicle for matter’s reflection on itself. Mathematicians engaged in complex investigations into the properties of numbers ( number theorists) and those employed in all the other branches of the field, invest in a unique form of contemplation   (if very stylized and formal).

We do not have to go to the farthest extremes of mathematical preparation and sophistication to take a spiritual journey through numbers. A few moments of thought in quiet active imagination on the integers can yield a small taste of the  exquisite character of the deep structure of our world. Numbers are magical, mysterious, and can unlock our innate mysticism.

Numbers are everywhere. They are  richly presented in sacred scripture. Just consider a few of the powerful, evocative, and profoundly meaningful numbers repeated so often in western Biblical sources:

  • The number three and the trinity,
  • the 12 (the Ogdoad), and the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles, and the twelve signs of the zodiac;
  • the number “8” and its use as a signifier of the Christ in ancient texts ( the “888”);
  • the number “9” and the  nine planets, the nine personalities described by the Enneagram, the nine major planets, etc.

Consider also the archetypal character of number in the fractal geometries of nature: the number of petals on flowers, the shapes of leaves, the manner in which trees grow. Mathematics  is the language of nature, and  I agree with Mario Livio when he says ( in his book of the same title) that  “God is a mathematician”.

Number is everywhere, in us and all around us.  They can be potent vehicles for lifting our sights in contemplative prayer as much as poetry. This morning, I am taking a few moments to meditate on a four-number sequence: 0, 1, 2, 3 & 4.

A few moments to allow my free associations to emerge without any self-editing or analysis:

The Number Sequence 0 to 4:

  • zero – is the state of latent being, not yet here, absent but not meaningless, pregnant with portent, the moment just before the big bang, the moment just before the joining of sperm and ovum, the state of potential energy, the place of nothingness out of which I came, the place to which I will one day return, the alpha and the omega, the prima materia, the moment before the first breath, the moment after the last.
  • one – I am, you are, a person’s sense of aloneness, a solitude yearning for companionship, a sense of being special, uniquely named, uniquely destined, a purpose incarnate, a thought, a word, a prime, that moment just before going from rest to motion, the singularity, the point.
  • two – right-left cerebral hemispheres, Gemini, the couple, the Janus head , holding hands, stereoscopic vision, the line, two dimensionality, two ones in an embrace, the basic dance, the simple molecule, a tending toward attraction, bonds, forces in convergence, forces in interference, conflict and exchange, shifting perspective, a chance to be so much more.
  • three– the family, the two setting common sight on the third, the complete musical chord, two on the road to Emmaus met by the third, their master/ teacher and friend, friendship, the platonic solids, the dimensionality of space as we see it and experience it, the cube, the middle way, the trend, the birth of interpretation, movement from items to groups, possibilities, a tending toward fullness ( the “pleroma”), faith-hope-charity, the triune G-d, past-present-future, the narrator in a fictional work, the Easter Triduum,the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke).
  • four –  adding the Gospel of John, time, the fourth dimension, seeing through mind into Mind, the abstract, fantasy, the author behind the narrator in the story, sibling play & rivalry, structure of the heart, playing the 7th with the 1st, 3rd and 5th of the musical chord, the number of seasons, the compass rose, variations, the observer, in-laws and the eternal cycle, 4! (factorial) =24, a leap to higher dimensions, the G-d within.

We need not shy away from number (or math in general) when we think of matters spiritual. Like  the evolution of the World’s languages, the symbolic language and the natural quality of numeracy in nature is a reminder that Spirit is everywhere, calling us to the next level, and then the next, with each thought, act, discovery, and product of mind.

A deep structure, a pattern of givens tending toward consciousness, and reaching back to before our universe came into being, is at the Heart of all that we are and all that we are becoming.

Perhaps you too will find some value in trying out this approach to meditation: one quite different from the usual that can illuminate and add great depth to a short time set aside in quiet repose and contemplation.

Counting Petals

Counting Petals

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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I cannot draw to save my life ( or, so it seemed for years).

I simply have not had much success rendering objects as they actually appear. So, when I draw or paint, I generally cheat by going abstract (one of the benefits of living through the late 20th and early 21st century where a red rectangle on canvas can fetch a fortune).

Anyway, some years ago, my wife, who is an artist and one who can render objects as they really appear, taught me how to see.

We were spending the day at a Jesuit retreat house investing in some much needed quiet time. One meditative activity was to do some pencil sketches. I resisted and suggested I do something else, but she encouraged me with some advice I’ve never forgotten: ” pick the ugliest rock you can find and try drawing that. ”

Well, I did just that and my drawing was dead on!

The lesson that day for me was that the blocks to seeing are largely rooted in expectations about how something should look and a failure to focus on true rather than expected shapes, edges, dimensions and contours.

The practice of “ugly rock” drawing is a great way to break through and discover the power of drawing as a meditative discipline that can improve our overall acuity. This memory also dredges up another dating back to when I was an undergraduate in a botany class. On day one, the instructor had us all go outside to a line of small trees and challenged us to describe what we saw on looking at a “leaf”.

This was an extraordinarily difficult assignment (though at first we all thought this challenge was proof positive of an easy “A” in this class) because we all struggled mightily to recognize the difference between describing what we expected to see from the object at which we were actually looking. The professor came to me and commented simply: “That’s not what you’re seeing but what you’re thinking; imagine you don’t know what a leaf is, and you’re seeing one for the first time. ”

I’ve forgotten just about everything else from that class but that one experience was worth the tuition. I commend this practice of meditative drawing to you and look forward to word on how well things go should you give it a try.

Rendering a thing in its essence, in truth, as it is in the world, is itself epiphany.

Wisdom of the Stones

Wisdom of the Stones

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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My two children are of college and post-graduate ages, respectively. It is a time of transitions for them, and most definitely for me and my wife.

We have less and less time  with them, and we’ve come to that inevitable empty nest. We are confronting the challenge of shifting focus from the clear, long-term priority on the children, to rediscovering each other; a bitter-sweet chapter. There is nothing unusual about this moment. Many have commented on it, and written about it, and all parents throughout history had to go through it and learn to let go. But, you see, it’s our first time.

I find myself especially pensive about it now as my son plans to leave for a year abroad: a young man who will do much, and of whom I am inestimably proud. He has become someone with whom I have shared many wonderful energetic conversations about politics, religion, economics, movies, philosophy, and countless other things. This special connection, face to face, and usually many times per week, will no longer be as it has been, though we will do our best to stay in close touch by Skype and cellphone.

My daughter is now a college sophomore and a young woman with professional aspirations to be a healer. She demonstrates natural empathy, warmth, caring, and insight ample enough to do that  with uncommon competence. She is increasingly giving very sound advice to us and her friends and colleagues. We miss her being home with us and yet are, of course, both very proud and excited about the journey of discovery that she has begun and shares with us when we talk.

For us, the children are now learning to live on their own, as they should, and we  need to relearn ourselves what that means. So having said all this, what does this change really mean spiritually? There is a contemplative practice inherent in this moment. Mindful that everything contributes to our enlightenment, I jot down this morning some thoughts on what I see as the spiritual sub-plot at work in all this.

What is the teachable core of this transit?

1. Jesus said: “Be passers-by.” (The Gospel of Thomas) – Life presents a series of threshold experiences divided by periods of relative continuities, and we find ourselves quite naturally less willing to let go of the shores we’ve visited though we prepare as we must for the less certain waters ahead. When we are on the verge of change, we then most clearly realize our attachments, and the depth of our need to control and own. As our children grow to adulthood, we want reassurance  that we are still needed and necessary to their lives. We experience a fear born of being forced to acknowledge the truth of life’s incessant and necessary movement forward.

2. We must replace our wish to perpetuate one kind of relationship for another rooted more deeply in authentic “agape”; a love that finds peace in blessing our children as they take to sea no longer in our ships but in their own.

3. We remember the ageless quality of mature, abiding, and imperturbable loving as we surrender to the Divine Beloved and the natural march of life (including the physical indignities and the special virtues of getting older).

The spiritual practice that I share with you this morning is what I call “standing on the verge”. Reflecting on the earlier transitions we’ve met  in our lives and are now facing, or will soon face, we recollect our story as spiritual autobiography, examining the “tracks in the snow” of our walk through time. In reliving earlier threshold moments and in embarking on a new one, we are given a precious opportunity to take Self  into higher dimensions of awakening and realization before we again settle into a new rhythm. In transits from one state of mind to the next, we are ever so briefly “unfrozen” from the frames and expectations of history. For a time, we are alert, fully vigilant, and deeply grateful for what we’ve been given.

Consider your transitions to date and what they’ve taught you. What verges are you approaching and to what special knowledge are they inviting you? Regardless of our age, our souls progress toward the Divine Light, just as a smaller object is pulled by the gravitational influence of one much larger.

Our fleeting transit through space-time is an invitation to a grand cosmic dance of Mystery, Unfathomable Intimacy, and Revelation.

Threshold

Threshold

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The “partner-ship” is the most important vessel for traversing life’s ocean with boldness, confidence, and meaning.

Carl Jung referred to the soul as Anima (male) and Animus (female). Syzygy is a term denoting the complementary conjunction of male and female, conscious and unconscious, that creates Fullness (or the Pleroma).

As a man blessed over several decades with a wonderful partner, a life-long soul-mate and best friend, the truth of syzygy is tangible and compelling. When the joining of male and female form a truly insoluble union, in which neither part loses its identity, a greater, more complex, and sacred radiance enters the world.

In ancient Christianity, at a time of great interpretive diversity, there was a sect that practiced a sacrament that has been lost to history. They called it the consolamentum, or the “sacrament of the bridal chamber” of which matrimony is an anemic descendent. Performed only occasionally, the charism represented advanced spiritual development. While the details of the practice are lost, one can intuit its character and sanctity, especially through a permanent relationship; a lifetime’s commitment expressed in tangible ways every day.

What is the practice?

The essential thread that runs from my awakening in the morning through my sleep at night, and then into my dreaming, is my wife’s voice and presence. Whether our emotions are running high, the issues difficult, or the conversation comforting, my encounter with her life breathes mindfulness and meaning into mine. My pleasures every day are heightened by the knowledge and expectation of sharing them with her later, and my worries, fears, concerns and conflicts quieted by that same knowledge.

The practice of the consolamentum, as I envision it, is exquisitely simple, yet more profoundly real in amplifying the  Spirit than any other. The practice involves highly concentrated dialogue, prolonged silences wrapped in affection, and listening with both the mind and body.

This morning, I am moved to generate the kinds of questions that might fuel these special moments of consolation and inspiration as we practice the sacrament of the bridal chamber as initiates.

I begin with 5 questions that arise in my meditation here this morning that she and I can explore later:

1. Where do we see the sacred, hear a call, and feel the presence of the Beloved in our individual lives? Where do we see the same in our life together?

2. How does our union color in palpable ways our time when together and apart?

3. At what other times, places, and circumstances do we feel something akin to this Presence?

4. Since sacraments are alchemical processes, how are we advancing the transformation of the silver of our ordinary time together into gold?

5. What blocks the power of our union and what action do we need to take to nurture it and further unleash it?

In approaching all sacraments we need to first be prepared.

The steps involve: (1) spiritual clearing (washing away the residue of the day’s activities, distractions, and concerns); (2) purification ( a time of quiet meditation); (3) a dedication (a brief statement of our heart’s desire such as clarity, healing, intimacy, understanding, insight, and/or resolution); and (4) the Dialogue (a deep listening to each other’s thoughts and feelings related to focal questions like those given above).

In “Marriage Encounter-like fashion,” a weekend process offered by many faith communities in the West, we would each speak for an uninterrupted period of time (say, 10 minutes) followed by 10 minutes of summary by whichever one of us was doing the listening.

No judgments. No commentary. No reaction. Just pure summary rooted in appreciative listening.

After that, the other speaks on the same question for 10 minutes again followed by summary. Once complete, the time together should move to another period of quiet meditation and then a final brief intention by each of us without discussion. Such a practice preserves the integrity of the union, strengthens it, celebrates the mystery of the synchronicities that brought us together in the first place, and affirms the central truth of Being: We are not separate.

My wish for all of you today as you read this post is that your special relationship is quickened in ways that unleash the latent grace and the full fructification of your sacred union.

Communio

Communio

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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I talk to myself every so often (and I do mean out loud).

I’ve caught other perfectly rational people doing the same thing, if unwittingly, in their offices, at a train stop, at the supermarket, etc. ( of course, usually sub-voce).

There is an understandable social stereotype about it that sees it as crazy behavior, but it can be so much more than an eccentricity.The beauty of our times is that as long, as you have an ear piece in place, everyone attributes the talking to a cell phone exchange rather than psychosis.

When we reflect, after all, we are talking to ourselves ( at least internally) and the monologue often bears fruit. So, why not formalize it as a practice for spiritual centering.

Witkins introduced the notion of sub personalities, or the dramatis personae of the mind. By assuming the character of different “masks” of the self, we can explore our relationship to bona fide aspects of our self concept and so transcend fixation on one idea.

Having a dialogue between sub personalities avoids obsessionally rigid attachment to one construction of the self. Instead, we are free, as are actors, to explore the full range of our imaginative personological repertoire. The best actors are in fact astute observers of other people and cultivate a keen sense of empathy and capacity to relate to them from the inside out. In fact, research shows that actors are often more insightful and empathic than psychologists.

My sense of self is a convenient fiction that I’ve built over time by virtue of successes, failures, role models, recognition, choices, experience, pleasure and pain. Recognition of our inner plurality brings us closer to the Divine Spirit within. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: ” the Kingdom of God is within you. ”

The value of having occasional dialogues with oneself has the potential virtue of also helping create a more adaptive disposition that may well lead to heightened resiliency. So, with these thoughts in mind, I embark for a brief time on a journey of interior dialogue.

As stage setting, I imagine a conversation between three sub personalities that articulate aspects of myself, on the subject of spiritual living in the 21st century. I will name them: Alpha, a theologian; Beta, a scientist; and Gamma, a poet.

Alpha: “If our theology is to be alive and full and relevant to this age, we must refresh our metaphors and embrace the insights of the sciences. For too long, the humanities and the sciences have been viewed as diametrically opposed. They are not. We need to find shared space within which these two mindsets and lines of inquiry can collaborate.”

Gamma: “Yes, but while avoiding “physics envy” in doing so. I find that the desire for the social sciences and humanities to embrace the new physics attempts to use the language of science or superficially invoke science as a way to give merely the appearance of being more empirically rigorous. We need to approach mystery with enough humility to accept that doing so means tolerating diverse viewpoints and methods including metaphor, myth, story-telling, imagination.”

Beta: “I agree with you both. When we challenge the assumptions of mathematics and upon uncovering a contradiction, we give rise to a new mathematics ( like non- Euclidean geometries). Science opens us up to even grander mystery and our tools bring tests to our hypotheses but, at the end of the day, we stand face to face with mystery, and the more we uncover the more we don’t know. More than anything else, science teaches us to bring rigor to our thinking but also a passion for proving ourselves wrong in the interest of going ever deeper.”

Gamma: “I am struck by the power of poetic metaphor in science that supports what you are seeing. One sees an almost childlike affection for fanciful and deeply evocative language in naming phenomena that suggests the power of metaphor in often revealing truths later verified by evidence: for example, black holes, white holes, strange attractors, big bang, strings, the multiverse, the G-d particle, etc.”

Alpha: “What’s needed in this century then, if we draw together what we are saying here today, is a theophysics, that blends the imaginative and indeed poetic starting points as we build of our hypotheses and pursue research informed by the richest multi-disciplinary look at our encounter with mystery. To my way of thinking, the best measure that we are doing things right lies in the awe we feel in the face of whatever we uncover.”

Beta: “I think we will continue to find that deep truth emerges at the intersections among models, paradigms, and professions. Playing in the intersections demands humility, open-mindedness, and a passion for studying all aspects of what it is to “Be” from as many perspectives as possible.”

Gamma: “And doing that is made possible by dialogues like this.”

Alpha: “I agree.”

Beta: “Without question. So let’s bring more voices into our next exchange.”

I wish you many rich interior dialogues.

In the Garden

In the Garden

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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I recall a very short brochure that I found in the narthex of our church many years ago entitled, provocatively, ” Your G-d is too small.”

This little tract argued that whatever you think about G-d, about the unknowable, was, by definition, way too narrow to capture the true Being of the G-dhead.

We all have many beliefs informed by experience, our upbringing and the ideas that have become important to us. Indeed, they are legion. However, those same concepts that are the foundations of our beliefs are merely scaffolding on the sides of a tremendous mystery.

Too easily, we fall prey to the idolatry of mistaking the scaffold for that which we are trying to explore, co-operate with, and with which we long to develop a deeper relationship. How do we protect ourselves from this idolatry? What practice can avoid having the very words and beliefs inspired by awe, act to paradoxically replace awe with a presumption of knowledge and intimacy?

A technique I am using this morning I will simply call the “ABCD” Model.

1. Affirmation – what is it that I believe

2. Basis – why do I believe it?

3. Challenge – what if I am wrong?

4. Declaration – how might I reframe the affirmation to better capture what I’ve discovered?

Trying it on now, I begin with an affirmation central to my belief:

A: “Where beauty and love are there also is G-d,” from the Gregorian chant, “Ubi Caritas”.

B: I assume, in believing this, that:

1. Beauty evokes awe, joy, and deep satisfaction, and G-d resides in that sweetness.
2. Love is kind, patient, generous, warm and caring and these are the signposts of goodness, grace and the spirit of G-d.
3. Beauty and love engender a deep sense of intimacy and connection.

C: Can I not see and feel G-d in what I experience as ugly and unloving? Is G-d then only in the sweet and not in the bitter? Is the Spirit absent in adversity, suffering and pain? Can there be real sweetness without bitterness? Can there be beauty without the grotesque? Can there be true light without the defining shadow?

D: Where my seeing is unvarnished so I can truly see the beauty in the ugly, the bitter in the sweet, the separation in the intimacy, the shadow in the light, and the calm inside the storms, there also is G-d!

Try it for yourself

Beauty in the storm

Beauty in the storm

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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