Posts Tagged ‘free association’

James Joyce was a self-possessed, brilliant, arrogant, observant, modern Irish writer who gave us such memorable stories as Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, Ulysses, and the comedic, opaque, largely unintelligible Finnegan’s Wake. The latter was a stream of consciousness work without much, if any, punctuation. A novel of one seemingly endless sentence. Stream of consciousness writing attempts to get the interior monologue out on paper. At its best, it captures movements of thought as if narrating the world of dreams in which non sequiturs and jarring juxtapositions are to be expected. What this form of writing is not, though many think it is, is mere gibberish or word salad. It is intelligible prose though less encumbered by usual rules of expression. Writing of this kind has one particular virtue: It gives the writer a medium through which to bring conscious and unconscious processes into closer contact in waking time.

It is just such an experiment I turn to today. The spiritual value is considerable  as the writing increases fluency of thought without the continuous editing that renders the text “more acceptable” to supposed audiences.So, I embark today on this type of writing to explore the thoughts that are moving through me now after three days of challenging, real-world formal presenting, and conversation with other professionals. In doing so, I have one specific question in mind: What does my inner monologue show about my state of mind, feeling, and consciousness? What are the signs, symbols, terms of reference, and dynamic forces that underlie my choices? What more can this process show about unconscious dynamics that can open doors to new rooms in my psyche? I begin ……


Time itself seems heavy, fat with sluggish, molasses-like movement, after a marathon session of presenting, talking, conversing, questioning, and answering. Three days of watching adults drawn irresistably to their “crackberries” and laptops. They gaze at them as if mesmerized and they do so even while colleagues are talking, and presenting ideas. It really put me in a mood.

It doesn’t take  long after asking people to put the e-toys and tools away out of respect for the process, and being essentially ignored, before you stop caring and turn on your own Blackberry. Ah, self-importance, how completely the narcissistic impulses dominate. While so many talk about the addiction to cell phones and decry the assault on civil society and the loss of decorum, the beat goes on without hardly a dent in the habits. It confirms the truth of the matter:  behaviors don’t change because nobody really wants to change them.

Like rats pounding a target for pellets when that target lights up a particular color, the habit is well-entrenched. Looking at and tapping the keys on a cell phone to send and read e-mail releases endorphins. After all, so many emails must mean we’re pretty damned important. We matter. People care what we think. They care about us. Our lives have meaning, we proclaim to ourselves. Deep down, though, the gnawing corrosive truth eats away at us: Nobody really gives a shit! Ah, but the pleasure center is really  hot. This is powerful auto-erotic stimulation and, truth be told, we are all susceptible to the same urges.

I  enjoy mindless movement and moments of aimless entertainment, like changing channels on the remote control. Channel surfing is great sport. Inane though it is, it has the same character as cell phone addiction. Like any addiction, we become dependent on stimulation. Why? Are we that bored? Are there not better ways to occupy the mind? Sheer laziness of thought could explain it. We move so fast these days and sleep is generally in inadequate supply. Maybe  spacing out with one’s favorite electronic pacifier is a cheap substitute for what sleep accomplishes better and more wholesomely but we don’t get enough of it. Maybe it’s a stand-in for just letting the mental circuits cool down. Hmm, I wonder if Freud would consider this an oral fixation?

It’s annoying behavior when engaged in by other people though I confess it’s quite pleasing  when I am the one doing it. Since we are more alike than different, what does it mean that I find it so disturbing and offensive when I see it all day, all around me: in meetings, at dinner, in theaters, in doctor’ offices, at supermarkets, in trains, planes, automobiles,while driving, while standing at a urinal or sitting in the stall in a public bathroom, and even crossing a busy street. It seems all are glued to their cellphones, and it ticks me off. I resort to seeing them as somehow devolved and primitive for doing it.

Why so judgmental? It’s a bit hypocritical since I do the same thing from time to time. Is there a message in my annoyance? Let me follow the irritation down the rabbit hole, as Alice did before me, and Orpheus before her, who descended into Hades to rescue Euridice. I need to rescue part of myself from the mind-numbing habit of  browsing the web on Blackberry, reading email (a lot of it fairly trivial). Rescue myself from what? Maybe, from stupefaction and walking around in an electronic fog, a post-modern techno-daze. ….

Life is challenging. Things are getting more and more complex. Days are very long. I worry about my health and the health of my family. Pandemics are much in the news and encroaching on our colleges. H1N1 is here and the vaccine is already in short supply so you can’t get it. Flat out incompetence!! Public places are becoming riskier. Will there be another 9-11? Probably. Financial well-being is uncertain but the Wall Street fat cats are again awash in big bonuses. The magic Obama presides over mission-impossible. Is he losing his mojo? Will we get the “public option” or “Medicare- Part E”? Global warming will redefine the coast lines. Species are perishing rapidly, the oceans are heating up, the polar ice caps are melting along with the Greenland Ice Shelf, and storms are ever more ferocious. My best days are behind me as I move past middle age. The nest is empty, and the central mission of our lives is all changed. I pursue many hobbies. I read voraciously. I am desperate to know the truth, to know my purpose. When I die, is that it? I like reincarnation: another shot at it all. A second chance. Looking back, did I use my time well?

Both hands are getting numb from the typing, yet I type. So many questions. Dizzying. Worries are legion.

Ah, the reassuring, tap-tapping on the tiny keyboard, such a sweet anesthesia: Surfing the net, googling random ideas, catching up on the news about “balloon boy” and his insufferable mom and his dad, the insipid, erstwhile pseudo- “science detective.”

Now I wonder: if I were Neo ( in The Matrix) and Morpheus gave me the choice – red or blue pill-  which would I pick? How about you?”

© 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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Earlier today, I began to recite the word “beauty” repetitively, and the word did indeed stay with me all day.

A small variation on the practice is what I am calling “the next good phrase I read or hear.” Simply, as I read or have conversation with people from this moment forward tonight, I will pay attention to the next phrase I come across that inspires reflections about encountering the sacred.

I will then allow the word to seep into my thinking as before in a 5 minute meditation awaiting whatever random or quasi-random connections take place. After that, I will look for the next word and then the next. While there is no magic to how many times to do it, I will elect three as the number of repetitions for the exercise.

To get started, I have been meaning to begin reading the bestselling novel by the late Stieg Larsson, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” So, opening to the prologue, I begin reading ………………………….

In the last section of the third paragraph, I read: “… and the exchange between the two men seemed like a ritual attaching to a mystery…” What a beautifully crafted and intriguing phrase.

Removing it from the context of this novel, with all due respect to the novel’s author and with full intent to come back and continue reading ( now, even more-so, having discovered such elegant prose), I let my mind wander over this phrase to form patterns of  its own accord:

“A ritual attaching to a mystery.”

So much of spiritual life involves ritual of one form or another: acts of preparation, vesting, the use of incense, song, liturgy, readings and a very definite cadence.

In encountering the sacred, we always need to shift gears and, as distractable creatures of sense, mood and memory, the process is essential. Each of us has to find his or her own approach, but it always involves a process: preparation – some ritual action, and then hopefully an opening  to the miraculous.

Whether or not we get to the miraculous largely depends upon the depth and quality of the first two stages: preparation and ritual action.

When I arrive at the local ashram for yoga class, we begin by kneeling and then collectively bowing to one another, followed by all saying aloud – “namaste”. We then are guided to the asanas, one by one very slowly, from the “corpse” posture of deep relaxation to a sequence that seems to follow in a very orderly fashion.

In Tai Chi, (using the Yang family long form) the sequence of movements are prescribed and the goal is to smoothly execute each move and then just as smoothly to transition to the next. The smoothness or lack thereof is the critical issue and is the chief difference between the novice and the master.

At Mass, the opening prayers and call to worship are followed by readings and then the Gospel, and only then the Eucharist. Whatever the spiritual practice, there is some manifest form of the three-step process.

So, the ritual, as Larsson eloquently expresses it, attaches to a mystery.

The ritual involves a clearing, a time to make room for the indwelling and the opening up of the Spirit Within. So it is with all forms of prayer. Sacraments demand sacramentals ( the appurtenances and trappings, the table settings) just as mystery stories demand first the full development of place, time, and character development as the context for the main event that stimulate the reader’ s fascination. The reader is drawn in ever more deeply, until the story and the reader ( ideally) are one. We experience what key characters experience and we enter into a special time with no regard to the movement of the hands of the clock.

I find myself recalling the differences made by theologians between ordinary time ( Chronos)  and sacred time (Kairos). Symbol, ritual movement, and ritual word and chant (as well as dance) are all merely the stage setting, though indispensable. The preparation makes way for the arrival of the Holy, the mysterium tremendum, the feeling of integral communion with the One.

Now, back to this fascinating novel.

© 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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One of my idiosyncrasies on greeting someone for the first time on any given day is to ask: “What’s the good word?” Not a phrase or a sentence but just a single word.

Usually, the one I ask draws a blank. The idea of the mantra is a spiritual practice with considerable history. John Main has institutionalized as a Christian contemplative practice. He asks those meditating to repeat a single word over and over again as they quietly empty themselves of all the other thought.

So, today, I open by asking  myself this same question. “What’s the good word?” .. and I commit to its repeated recitation throughout the day ( “pray without ceasing”) noticing any thoughts or images that it attracts.

The word that springs to mind is “beauty“.

My mind starts associating things to it that act as if exerting a gravitational pull on all other incidental thoughts:

For starters – potpourri, my daughter’s face, my wife’s touch, the Sun, the night sky, the fragile rose, the feeling of warm water in a shower, the sound of rain, the sound of crickets after dark, the laughter of children, the smile of an elder, that feeling one gets immediately after solving a mystery or problem on which a lot of time has been spent in search of a solution, sitting quietly in my office, puttering in my library.

I read last evening that recent research published by the American Psychological Association has produced evidence that anger does not offer release or catharsis but only feeds the anger and produces more of it.

Thoughts that associate to anger or anything depressing or dark should logically have the effect of adding further pitch to the darkness. The word for the day should act as antidote. Also, logically, if anger feeds anger and makes for heightened distress and acrimony, one should be on safe ground expecting that joyful thoughts and words of Light should have the counter effect of making more Light.

Beauty: In Koine Greek, the word for beautiful is horaios, derived from the word hora, or hour. At its root, horaios means “being of one’s hour” or, in other words, being true to one’s time, one’s nature, one’s true character without pretense or delusion, or forcing.

© 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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