Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Clown-Skeptics

Every faith needs its clown-skeptics. Of this I am certain. They must be welcome, and welcomed in, within certain bounds of hospitality, if they can observe those guest-host relations. Odin welcomed in Loki for a time, when he was more the jester than he was the saboteur. That changed in time, and as he wore out his welcome with his ill, he was ousted ; but for the time that he did serve, even his brand of capricious mischief was given place to serve. That is what good is all about, after all : not namby-pamby goody-two-shoe-ism, but finding a place where everything can contribute. That takes work, skill, and vision, because some things it is difficult to find the angle where they can really serve, but to do good in the world is not to primarily enter in as a moralistic judge, but to find ways to turn even poison into medicine, where it can be made to serve.

In this regard, atheists keep us on our toes, and represent the skeptics the religious need to ensure that their spirituality does not degenerate down that long, historically-established and all-too-prevalent road of becoming mind control, delusion-serving, politically pacifying drek.

But the baby is too often thrown out with the bathwater. To call all perception of the subtle “delusion” is a form of spiritual autism, whereby very real energetic currents in the world, that can be felt by the sensitive soul who opens his or her heart, are left unperceived, and because unperceived, declared to be nonexistent. Look, we can admit that there is a lot of bathwater in religion as a whole, and even in more new agey kinds of things, and some of that bathwater can be downright dangerous and pernicious. If we are awake and aware, we know how easily deluded human beings can be. Why are we so often Loki’s playtoys? And if we need a Loki’s Advocate, as it were, to skeptically scathe that gullible, duped part of ourselves into smarting up so we stop being Loki’s playtoy, so much the better. Loki is associated with baths (thus Laugurday in Scandinavian countries, replacing Saturday, which may very well have been accepted or heard, as I have argued before, as Saetur-day, Traitor’s Day) ; in Saxo, under the heiti Hiarni (“brainy”, a good nickname for his brand of clever and cunning unwisdom), he is made to wash by Fridlief (a byname of Njord), and his scars (from Thiasi’s eagle-thrashing) expose just who he is. Yet the fact of the matter is that even bathwater can become greywater. In permaculture, every waste is also a nutrient for some other component in the total energy system. Inability to feel the subtle, even when we are surrounded by a circus of charlatanism and spiritual carnival barkers, is a kind of autism that can blind us to deep aspects of reality without which we are not fully alive.

And frankly, if one is going to invite in clown-skeptics, they ought to be good, and they ought to be funny, and sometimes the atheists take themselves far too seriously. Their critique is usually pretty nuanced and even funny when it comes to their main opponents, the monotheists, but when they broaden their brushstrokes to tackle pagan religions, their unfamiliarity with the nuances of autochthonic religions dulls their blades. They aren’t as funny because they aren’t as accurate ; they don’t know the terrain. Hell, we’ve got a lot of nonsense and puffed-up-ness in paganism that could use a good, critical edge, but it falls flat if it doesn’t know what it is talking about. Telling me that everything I experience is just nonsense and delusion just doesn’t do the trick. My body and my senses tell me I am experiencing something real. But at what level of reality am I feeling it?

We can be sensitive realists (and realistic sensitives) and acknowledge that there is a broad spectrum of density in this world, as it were, and thus there are great thresholds and distances to be crossed between that which is very subtle and that which is very dense. I’ve never seen telekinesis, and if it’s real, it’s got to be a very rare event, and for very good reasons that have a great deal to do with hard, physical laws. My spirituality need not violate laws of physics, as we understand them at denser levels of things. And this is not simply a matter of retreating into quantum physics and trying to utilize it as a cover for gobblygook, but rather, understanding how chaos and complexity so wormhole, mole, and thread the energy dynamics of matter at every level, that there may be (and certainly are) nonlinear effects and Prigoninic emergences we aren’t aware of yet.

I celebrate the density of the world, its relative impermeability to mere thought, and the sense of stability that brings. But this does not deny the more subtle, energy flows that exist throughout the universe, and which can be felt by the sensitive instrument that is the human body. And that is not just random, airy-fairy talk. Acupuncture is an acknowledged discipline and healing modality authorized by the public organs to practice medicine. When I go on the table, I am not imagining : I am feeling the deep qi-flows of maegen and hael redistributing themselves in my body with very real effects. Similarly, qi-gong exercises can charge up a person’s qi enough that they can project qi in such a way that some of its electromagnetic effects can be felt by others up to a foot or more away. That too I have experienced directly, and there was nothing imaginary about that at all. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to lift buildings with my mind (or that I even project that we will be able to do that someday, although with the increase in neurobiofeedback and other technologies, who can arbitrarily set limits on possibility, even if we set probabilities given our present knowledge a bit lower?), but it does mean there are things going on in the world that don’t quite fit the perfectly rationalist paradigm as presently understood. (I believe rationality can be bolstered and enriched in such a way that it can be much more nuanced and full of color and vitality.)

Linear rationalism alone, however, is not enough to understand things, and this is why a nonlinear approach is needed. As a counselor, I help people work through dreams, and thus I have a great appreciation for the sheer symbolic genius that manifests in dreams. Dreams that clients feel are completely meaningless and banal, upon being worked, open up like flowers that can reveal core issues in new and significant lights. Freud, Lacan, and Jung, each in their own ways, revealed how close dreaming is to our linguistic functions, and considered from an evolutionary level, the emergence of language as an expression of the symbolic function has deep, nonlinear, associative chains that indeed forms a kind of thinking. Whatever bathwater you need to throw out from Freud, his notion that dreams compress long strings of dream-thoughts into dense, multifaceted symbols, and that these can be unlocked through associative work, still holds as strong as ever.

Odin’s wisdom does not disclude linear rationalism. Why? Because under some circumstances in this world, things travel in straight lines. But often they also curve, and bend, and twist, and even arc, as in Tesla coils. Thus, an ambidextrous approach is needed : thinking that can meander with the bend and curve of the river in its turbulence, as well as thinking that can follow Euclidean lines in their more geometric logic.

It is unfortunate that there is such a gap in social awareness that when one talks of the Norse Gods, or the fairies, that it is socially heard as a kind of wonkiness (and again, let’s be honest, we do have our wonks in this regard), rather than being heard in the register of something akin to, but different in important nuances from, Native American spirituality, which since the 1970s has been accorded in some circles a measure of respect, and a perception of depth. It is difficult talking to people about this, and we’ve all probably felt that sense of embarrassment as words come out of our mouth that we can hear their incorrect perception and misheard feedback even as we speak them. To talk of feeling the fairies in the lush, green mountains makes people wonder a bit about our sanity, instead of referencing deep feelings attuned to energy currents in the hills, that feels real and right, or at least is accorded some level of respect for the indigenous. But I do feel these things, and speaking of the energy of the Gods, or of the fair-folk is a vocabulary that allows common reference-points for real, felt experiences. There is some social discourse that needs to be reclaimed.

In the meantime, we can welcome in the clown-skeptics, but we can clown them back where they bumble and show themselves the fools in their autism. As heathens, we have great ability to laugh. Feel free to keep us on our toes, but we shall return the gift. A gift, after all, calls for a gift. If your gift is poison, we shall try to turn it to medicine, in our heathen quest to make good of the world in all its variety. But should you become too poisonous, should you forget basic rules of guestliness and hospitality, even under extended conditions of clown-welcoming, then clown, you shall be shown the door, not because we take ourselves too seriously, but because our laughter is deep and comes from the heart, and we need our halls to be hearty and full of good mirth. To the degree you feed the latter, we welcome you in with open arms and embrace.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, the comparison to autism was really offensive. Just...what?

4:17 AM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Political correctness is not going to turn autism from an impairment (which it is) to an advantage. I have nothing against blind people, but they cannot see. If I said someone was "spiritually blind", that wouldn't be a jab at the blind, but a proper metaphor for not being able to see. Similarly, a dearth of intuition, particularly regarding emotional and social situations, is one of the key characteristics of autism, amongst others. The application of spiritual autism to diagnose those who declare something nonexistent simply because they lack the capacity to feel it is appropriate, and throws out no slander upon those who legitimately suffer from this disorder. I know and love many who range on this spectrum, and they are awesome people. Inability to perceive something doesn't make someone bad ; it does disqualify them from definitive statements on that particular subject, however. I speak entirely logically and with no bias towards the feelings of any. I'm sorry that you were offended.

2:16 AM  

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