Review of “The Ten Principal Upanishads”

“Neither neglect your spiritual nor your worldly welfare. Always learn and teach. Forget neither God nor Ancestor.”

*

The Ten Principal Upanishads, this edition translated and edited by Shree Purohit Swami and W. B. Yeats, are the most sacred texts of the Hindu religion. These are not God’s words to man, but an incarnation of revelation captured by Rishis that contain the ultimate Truth and the knowledge that leads to spiritual emancipation that are considered the distillation of the best of Vedic metaphysical and speculative thought. From the Upanishads the central doctrines of Hinduism are derived, the philosophy of yoga is developed, and through dialogue with Buddhism that a number of sects on both sides emerge. This is what Paramahansa Yogananda and many other yogis have studied throughout their lives. Worth nothing, a number of the benefits of such practices as those written about within are increasingly being verified by modern Western science – both as it relates to mental health, healing and general social welfare.

This particular collection contains only ten of the traditional one-hundred and nine Upanishads and are intended as an introduction to the uninitiated. The specific texts of this collected are titled thusly: Isha, Kena and Katha, Prashan, Mundaka, Mandukya, Tattiriya, Aitareya, Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka. The text is different from the one I studied at the International Meditation Institute in that it has removed a number of the repeating phrases that are of a ritualistic nature that are normally interspersed throughout. Thus while it is not the best edition for a religious scholar, the essence of it – the delineation of the path of Spirit and its importance for life – remains. This conceptual translation is not, however, without its own merits. Yeats, a poet, maintains some of those mantra-like refrains (i.e. “May peace and peace and peace be everywhere.”) and has musical qualities and well-worded conceits.

 

Each lesson within the collection of Upanishads meditates upon and interrogates themes ranging from the correct means of thinking so as to avoid disturbing thoughts but also how to properly fixate on the eternal Spirit that animates all human beings and material things. As progress is made in the pursuit of the Spirit, one comes closer to finding enlightenment and ending the cycle of re-birth. The essence of their teachings is that Truth cannot be known intellectually, but embodied through continued action inflected with faith. There are various stages in a person’s development towards moksha, or liberation, as well as reasons for why they may not achieve is.

Various forms of Vedic practices

Speaking on the myriad components of spirits, the Upanishads state the following:

“Worship spirit as the support, be supported; worship Spirit as the Great, become great; worship spirit as the mind, become mind. Bow down to Spirit as the sole object of desire, be the goal of all desire; worship Spirit as the master of all, become the master of all”

It is because of such passages, and many others like it, that a large number of corporate cultural leaders are embracing and encouraging others to use Mindfulness practices – which is a de-sacralized form of Hinduism/Buddhism – in the workplace.

I’ve certainly seen how such practices help increase creativity, presentness and productivity while decreasing tension in the workplace. I am, however, suspicious of such initiatives unless it’s practiced from the top down as otherwise it seems to me to encourage the type of workplace apathy that leads to larger social issues (i.e. you shouldn’t ask for a raise when you’re worth it, but instead just be happy with what you have as you are Spirit). All in all, however, meditation, yoga, chanting, reflective silence, and other Vedic practices, are beneficial as it helps to realize the Spirit. I’ve been reading this book prior to and after my yoga practice at Flying Tree Yoga school, found myself feeling lighter as a result of it and will likely reread it again soon.

*

In closing, here’s a great video by Alan Watts on what the Spirit is:

Reflections on a Former Lover’s Suicide in the Context of #MeToo

Recently I learned that a former significant other of mine committed suicide. While fifteen years had passed since we were an item and in that time we’d drifted apart, I still found myself profoundly affected by this news. Especially so as something that to a large extent defined and lead to the destruction of our relationship suddenly became something that wasn’t taboo to discuss.

Given the aims of #metoo and it’s importance for helping to initiate conversations that lead to policy solutions which stop the culture of rape in America, I decided to write a memoriam that would add to the conversation. Lest it seem I’m taking liberties with someone else story, I’ll point out I’m only speaking with the same openness that Krystal modeled in the descriptions of her struggles with mental and physical health and substance usage for years on her blog (NSFW) and on her social media accounts. What follows is thus a long format rendition of her #metoo story, from my perspective, that I hope will not only give evidence for the need for more action to be taken to prevent rape and give appropriate support to those that have been assaulted.

Shade Going Through the Field of Time

*

The first time I heard Krystal say the phase Beauty is pain was to explain something to me was when we were getting ready to go out to a goth club.

We were together in her bedroom at her parent’s house. The door was open. I was 18, she 16. I helped her tie up a black, lacy imitation-whalebone corset. She said that in the context of explaining how my concern over drawing the strings tight that she have difficulty breathing was unnecessary. “Beauty is pain,” she half gasped half said due to the pressure, “and I want my bust to look it’s best for you tonight. Tighten it more. So I can barely breathe, that’s fine. My boobs will look banging.”

We’d then only been dating a few weeks, so at the time I thought that Beauty is Pain was merely a witty comment of hers. Krystal was quick, perceptive and had a way with words. But during our brief relationship I came to realize that there was something more to this phrase. She’d repeat it in a number of different contexts, like it was a mantra, like it was a logic ever present in making itself felt in human existence. That night, however, I didn’t pick up the fullness of what all she meant by it.

I was reminded of this all a few days after I’d learned of the news of her suicide. I tried logging into an old email account I hadn’t used in ages and, sure enough, was granted access. I re-read the pages and pages of emails – something that now seems strange to say in this texting age – and a flood of memories came back from when we were teenagers. Most of our epistles concerns the  stereotypical topics you’d expect of adolescents, but there was another current beyond the banal and the flowery phrases of adoration exchanged in the first stages of infatuation.

Silk, from personal notebook #3 2001

In those sections where we outlined the way we understood Spirit; the shapes of our fears and how to deal with them; the outlines of the larger things we longed for; all these showed the divide between our world-views. Krystal reflections about life seemed raw and dark. Bitter. For me, while always open to admit that that murk that exists, I always tried to aim for light. I’m not saying I knew then she would take her own life, merely that there was a difficult to negotiate divide and her penchant for darkness extended beyond fashion style.

Because of her appearance – my freshman-year college roommates told me with more than a hint of envy in their voice how she looked like a goth Victoria’s Secret model. That night that I tied her up and we went out? She wasn’t even carded by the same bouncer that closely scrutinized the one legal ID, mine.

We danced together and socialized. I wanted her to get to know my friends so didn’t dominate her presence. Whenever she wasn’t directly next to me in our small group, however, male strangers would try to talk to her. She was respectful, but when conversation turned to flirtation she would quickly quit them and come over to stand close to me to show who she was with. Feeling juvenile pride at their rejection and her selection of me, I fawned over her. One person in particular – a long blond haired older man (which for me at the time meant late 20s)  – caused her to draw me in especially close. Uncomfortably so. The pressure around my ribs didn’t make me worried they break, but the crush of bone against bone was no pleasant sensation.

At first I thought this might be an ex that I was unaware of. A little tipsy, I mentally prepared for a fight, but he just smiled and continued to walk on. I looked down at her face and saw an expression that I did not then and do not now know fully what it was, other than that it haunted me. I whispered in her ear “Who was that?” and she responded “No one, I’ll explain later.” When we got home, she shared her story with me.

Portrait 2012

Several weeks before her and I started dating, she’d been raped by that man. At a party that he’d drove her too, he’d drugged her drink, cornered her and then forced himself upon her. The way she described it, she was in a murky haze due to whatever he’d dosed her with. She could see what was happening, but couldn’t get her body to move in the way her brain wanted. She willed it, yet couldn’t fend him off. This was why she was so affected when we were out together – she’d just seen that man that literally stole her virginity.

I’d later learn that this same person had tried the same thing with two of my female friends. In my novel Unraveling the very graphic, violent scene towards such a person with similar physical features as her rapist is a variant of the recurring fantasy that I had towards this person at this time.

Already prone to depression before, she explained, the traumatic experience had significant effects. She had recurring nightmares, felt anxious when around other people, took to cutting and became averse to most of her male friends. Beauty is pain, she explained, as it causes such strong desires in others that many people are willing to do unethical or immoral things to obtain or experience the object of their desires. She didn’t wholly despise her attractive visage, but felt it was like something that she didn’t entirely want either. It was a burden. A flood of what she was struggling with continued out and she ended it all with, ” …and you’re the first person that I shared this all with”.

I felt pride that she trusted me so much. I knew that our relationship and the disclosures she’d made implied a clear duty on my part. But how exactly to help her? Well, that I didn’t know. And it bothered me. A lot. So much that I thought about ending the relationship. It wasn’t because she’d been raped. No, I didn’t think that she was somehow tainted to her core as a result of her assault. No, it was learning the extent which she had suppressed so much of her emotional life that made me question whether or not a healthy relationship was possible going forward.

Portrait of Ariel Sheen

If this sounds shitty, it is, but full disclosure I’d already started to lose the initial enthusiasm I had for our partnership. Even before she told me this I’d picked up that something wasn’t “right”. I told myself, however, that it was the height of inhumanity to leave her side after she’d opened up to me like that as it’d likely lead either to her further close off from others or take her own life, something I learned that night we talked that she’d already tried before. I decided that I’d stay in order to try and do the best that I could to help break her out of the consciousness that kept pulling her back to the trauma’s she’d experienced.

At first, it worked. The bad dreams lost their frequency and intensity. She stopped cutting as often, but communicated to me that she’d only stopped as I’d asked her to.  Beauty is pain and sometimes in order to keep it alive you must make sacrifices. However the lessening or disappearance of each particular symptom didn’t mean that she’d overcome the effects the event had had on her. New ones started popped up or came back. Like the panic attacks. Hearing her describe the horror she felt being around people made my heart go out to her. But on the practical side it meant that each time I’d want us to go out, I had to mind a dangerous mine field that was our communication. I didn’t want to be selfish, but I wasn’t enjoying being wholly selfless either.

As our relationship continued I felt that our time was increasingly being occupied with issues related to her handling her rape trauma. It affected nearly every area of her thinking  and I started to resent our relationship. I told myself at the time that I stayed as I was optimistic. She was, after all, making steps to move past it so that she was less reactive to the many things which triggered her. Enough time has passed, however, that I don’t now think that that’s true. For one how she helped herself seemed to me to be a form of slow self-annihilation. As for why I stayed, it was more  aversion to shame for leaving someone for being raped in a bad place. It was a good intention, but the execution of which meant for an unstable relationship foundation.

“I’d Love To Break Your Heart”

To help “heal herself” Krystal illicitly obtained anti-anxiety meds like Xanax. While she was pleased with the way they made her feel vacant, to me that was exactly why she shouldn’t take it. The drugs shut up some the darker angels of her nature, but didn’t provide genuine relief from the underlying issues. She needed to come into her own, not numb herself.  Beauty is pain, she said with a face that was both vacant and bitter, you got what you wanted and now you don’t want it anymore but something else. 

My not knowing how to properly address the impact of the trauma was a major reason I ended our romance. At the time I hated myself for such a rationale. Now, however, I accept it as my having acted the best way I knew how. In fact, I should have ended it way sooner rather than let it drag on like a slowly removed band-aid as there was no way for her to have had a foundation for an romantic interpersonal relationship until she had a foundation for a healthy interpersonal relationship.

“Discarded Broken Dreams”

Krystal later tried therapy to help with the myriad issues she struggled with. During one of our intermittent talks she expressed aversion to talk therapy. In her blog you can read of her talking about her struggles with depression and antipathy towards the psychiatrists that labeled her bipolar. The dynamic she protested then matched the dynamic that has so previously scarred her: a male older someone handing out drugs that impact the mind to deaden the senses.

Whether or not this affected treatment, it seems to me that repetition compulsion in part explains the intermittent changes in medication and categorical disdain for the people she had to talk to in order for her to be provided with meds. After I completed my training at FICAM in 2013, she sent me an email expressing interest in doing bioenergetic therapy with me. I was happy at the thought of it as I was confident I could help her make some major inroads in releasing the energies she’d internalized, later proven true, but as she lived across the country this never happened.

Self-Portrait 2008

I know she knew this too at the time because things between us afterwards were amicable. For years after our split we socialized amongst mutual friends on a not-so irregular basis and wrote each other intermittently. After I got engaged, she even sent a nice note saying she felt happy for me as she’d not ever seen me appear so consistently joyful in pictures.

“Faithful Only She”

Lest it seem like I’m turning a whole life into the effect of a single traumatic experience let me be clear: These memories aren’t the only things that I remember about Krystal. In fact it is far from the thing that defines her in my and other’s mind. Krystal was kind and smart and creative and an amazingly talented photographer with hustle. Hearing her talk with the passion that she had about the arts that she practiced always impressed and inspired me.

Her self-made zine was an impressively put together outlet she curated from the creatives that were drawn to her. Her dark humor made some laugh and others squirm. She was an all around awesome girl and young woman. I’m detailing the long-lasting effects of the trauma as while I can’t honestly draw a straight line from that trauma to her choosing to kill herself, I also feel that had she not been drugged and sexually assaulted at 15 then she would likely still be alive.

“Creatures”

And it’s because of the fact that is far from an isolated incident, that with social effort could become less prevalent, that I focus on Krystal’s rape when memorializing her art and life following her death. I’m writing this not just to exposit on depression, trauma and their impact on romantic relationships – but as a base for action.

Those of you that read this that own her prints of Krystal/Cannibalized’s work, I’d ask that you please send me high-rendition scans of them along with typical archival info (name/date/etc/). I’d like to curate a collection of her photos and sell the prints in a hardbound book with the profits going to RAINN. If I can help fund one of their programs for someone that needs help like Krystal did, then I’d feel the work that I’ll put into it would be worth it.

Self-Portrait 2011

 

Review of “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual”

I’ve been meaning to review The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by Harold Cruse for quite some time. With it’s depth and breath of evidence and a forceful analysis it’s no surprise that following it’s publication it was a cultural touchstone amongst the cultural and political elites of the early 1970s. Truth is, whenever I’ve sat in front of an open Word document with the intent to respond to it’s arguments and evidence, I start to feel a bit overwhelmed. This despite the fact that I’ve had some pretty extended conversations on this book.

Thankfully, one of the Facebook groups whose posts I follow, the Society for United States Intellectual History, recently curated a Roundtable on the Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. Rather than provide you with my thoughts on the matter, I decided I’d share these instead:

 

Along with two other insightful PDFs:

and some random other links:

Beyond the Color Line: Jews, Black and the American Racial Imagination

Don’t Call me a Millennial!: A Critique of “The Fourth Turning” by Neil Howe and William Strauss

For almost a week several outlets in my news feed had headlines highlighting “Steve Bannon’s book” for understanding the current American moment. Described as a seminal text in Bannon’s political philosophy and the foundation for his 2010 documentary, I was curious. I dug a little further and found out that one of the authors, Neil Howe, had been the person who coined the term Millennial. I’ve long heard and used the term Millennial and viewed it as a description of the generation of people born in the early eighties to the mid- nineties. Reading The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny made me realize how wrong I was about this and has brought me to the view that the widespread adoption of the term is highly problematic. So problematic, in fact, that I’m going to make a conscious effort not to use the word and attempt to raise awareness as to why it should not be be used.

When Glenn Beck Takes Something Seriously, That’s A Good Indication You Shouldn’t

Perhaps the quickest way to show how intellectually bankrupt the term is is to look at the level of excitement  Glenn Beck has when talking about The Fourth Turning. After viewing this clip, to me it seems that Beck does not just view their work as history, but as Revealed Truth!

Beck has multiple episodes devoted to detailing Howe and Strauss’ work that details as to the significance of the saecula – the average span of a human life – the archetypal cycles within them and the psycho-social impact of their interactions. I’ve not seen these videos, but I imagine it is a further delineation of the philosophy of history which opens the book.

The Historians Wear No Clothes

H&S begin with an intellectual history that highlights numerous people that have declaimed history to be generational and circular. Citing and updating Classical Greek ideas and terms, we soon learn that the four archetypes of American History – which all have their another iteration in other national borders – are Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist.

These archetypes emerge from periods of crisis, such as war or revolution, that changes the spirit of the people due to their experience. While the collective action problem inherent in the upheavals of massive social transformation is certain to impact people’s consciousness, the historic component of the dynamic which H&S describe is piecemeal, Metaphysical and Idealistic.

History Matters 

H&S, like many others, locate the origin of “linear history” in The Enlightenment, and associate it with modernity and the State. They continue to say that despite the works of a number of eminent thinkers having created the most “cogent body of generations writing ever,” (tellingly all non-Jacobins) that this mode of thought fell out of favor while the more directional form of historical consciousness became hegemonic (63).

They import this into their account of American history, which is quite unusual, but more so due to the the method that the bring to bear on their account.

Quite simply, in Howe and Strauss’ account of America, there are very few actual people accounted for. Though masses are named and given qualities, for the most part there is little attempt to connect the qualities of the Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist into the historic conditions of the saeculum they are describing. For the most part all that we’re treated to is analysis based on movies or well-known personages that “somehow define the ages”. What’s missing is any sort of genuine political economy.

No Race, No Class, No Immigration in Howe and Strauss’ America

In H&S’s account of American history, slavery’s inheritance on the personality of the body politic writ large is marginal. Other racial and ethnic tensions have also not played a significant role in the development of the American Identity. Instead, from Slavery through Reconstruction through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Era, the same four archetypes are in conflict over the direction of the political order – and yet racial conflict is largely glossed over.

Based on this “prophetic account of history” you would also never suspect  that over 59 million people have immigrated to the United States since 1965 alone from places very different from those that first settled. Since Howe and Strauss’ opening intellectual salvo is to connect the First Turning to the end of the Glorious Revolution, it’s worth noting that many millions of other immigrants have arrived from non-Anglo countries, an unmentioned fact in H&S account.

Social struggles for women’s rights, unions and the various repressions at home and oppressions abroad justified by the “Cold War” are other dynamics that apparently play a negligible role in the development of American Identity.

Why this is so is never clearly stated, instead we are presented with conflicts stemming solely from generational conflict. That they would not entertain other theories about the cycles of conflict is surprising given that a number of other historians and political economists support the basic notion of cycles in history…

Only Weak Thinkers Avoid Attacking Their Convictions

The idea of cyclical waves existing in human history is not solely the domain of those historians such as Ortega Y Gasset. Given that much of the first writings of man are economic in nature, receipts and double entry book-keeping, it should perhaps come as no surprise that it’s in this domain – political economy – that a similar trend has been noticed.

Commodity prices like the ones above, for instance, have been shown via the work of Nikolai Kondratiev and others to follow a secular, recurring cycle of peaks, recessions and crashes. Given that American’s live within a capitalist mode of social relations to produce their means of subsistence, these “economic” indicators have huge anthropological and political effects, hence why it is so surprising that labor and economic exchange is barely mentioned in this account of America’s past. The structural constraints imposed on the working class have actual corporeality, eight hours daily in economic relations limited by varying degrees of political agency – unlike Howe and Strauss’s idealist account. New technologies and new relations of political power cause massive social disorder and economic dislocation, however these don’t play a factor in the creation of “generational identities” such as Millennials, Baby Boomers, etc.

Contending Schools of Thought: Materialism vs. Idealism 

That the authors of The Fourth Turning don’t quote any of these “cyclical” schools that have recognized cycles of life within societies that have political economies informed by capitalist property relations is perhaps unsurprisingly, for reasons that should already becoming clear.

This is because for Howe and Strauss, the current generations of Baby Boomers, The Silent Generation, Generation X, Millennial are trans-historic substantive categories that subsumes all America’s class, racial, sexual, sexual preference, and many other differences. According to their use of the term, those born within certain date border inherently, all have the same experience.

When Are You Getting To The Part about Millennials?

With all of this in mind it becomes easier to understand how problematic Howe and Strauss’s term Millennials and why their “prophecy” should be seen as bullshit and those that cite them as inspiration should be resisted.

For one, it literally emerges from the entire web of bullshit that I described above.

Secondly that prognostication isn’t so good. And by this I don’t mean Howe’s Book Millennial’s Rising: The Next Great Generation, about which one Amazon reviewer wrote the following: “The book was written BEFORE any of the predictions advanced could have happened and MISSED many of the things. I thought it was a real up-date and it was not.”

According to The Fourth Turning, Millennials are on track from which there is no escape to be a generation that sacrifices under the auspices for austerity. The way that we prepare is not as a class of people recognizing and acting upon their material interests, but to revert to tribalism. Return to classic virtues, expect for the collapse of public support mechanisms. Look to your family for support. Etc.

More than just focusing on increasing one’s self-reliance and forgetting about the “others”, “millennials” as a class ought to approach the crisis period by just  “going with it” and “prepare ourselves for it” – a message with some really weird echoes across history. Considering that most of the issues that “millennials” face all stem from historical capitalist relations, this is a big point to miss.

Wait, So Millennials Is A Crypto-Facist Term?! 

Indeed it is.

“The Fourth Turning” is a prophecy that a mythic, inner- conflictless country during a time of some outside conflict, generalized economic depression, massive natural catastrophe, or some other “panic” inducing behavior that prods changes in the normal acceptance of the status quo.

That said – I appreciated their prose. And found their brief remarks against Fukuyama to be insightful. Despite being risible epistemological sophistry, it was compelling! Furthermore, as someone that has training in the theory behind and therapeutic practice of Hellinger Constellations I found their writings on the inter-general interaction to be genuinely insightful and aligned with my own training in that field. Yet in the end the book is a rallying call for American Facism Lite™. The parts of American that it silences in its Prophecy is indeed the very foundation of Americanness. And it’s only through realizing this, that such cycles become less something that individuals must personally buttress themselves against or and instead something that we account for and address as a species-level.

Review of “The World of Sex”

I’ve read most of Henry Miller’s work but hadn’t heard of his composition entitled The World of Sex until recently reading The Selected Letters between him and Anais Nin. Impulsive Ariel, of course, jumped onto the internet, set my web browser to Amazon and two dayed it. Both delivery and in time spent reading it.

The World of Sex is an extended essay written at the time that Henry Miller’s work was being censored from publication, importation or sale of his work in the United States. He was becoming a cause célèbre in France, where he’d wrote much of his early work. However in puritanical America a number of graphic depictions of sex lead to suppression of his work. A number of copies made it into the US, making his book literally an underground phenomenon until his work was finally deemed not categorized by the legal definition of pornography, however this dynamic caused Miller much consternation and a cause for deep reflection on what sex can mean to the individual as well as the relationships between sex and art, sex and fiction, and sex and society.

As one would expect given his oeuvre, Miller tells the story of how he came to have a number of his views on sex and love through a recounting of his personal narrative. Describing his infatuations and frustrations from the vantage point of decades of distance, not to mention much internal and psychological research, provides the necessary detached frame that allows him to describe impact these impulses and urges being contained had on his – and indeed all peoples – development. Because of these constraints, be it social taboos or ideologies and religions which seek to shame the body, he comes to see these as invalid for they vastly limit our knowledge of others and ourselves.

Society takes much of the brunt of Miller’s animosity, it is an assemblage of conflicting messages that engenders neurosis is listened to. Real truth is the self, Miller believes and shows through his life and work. By rejecting those as a means for guiding oneself and allowing the internal direction one feels to fully take hold – be that in the pursuit of sexual conquests to gain self-knowledge or through living something other than the typical “get married, work hard, follow your dreams leads to failure” mantra then great things start to occur:

Our laws and customs relate to social life, our life in common, which is the lesser side of existence. Real life begins when we are alone, face to face with our unknown self. What happens when we come together is determined by our inner soliloquies. The crucial and truly pivotal events which mark our way are the fruits of silence and solitude. We attribute to chance meetings, refer to them as turning points in our life, but these encounters could never have occurred had we not made ourselves ready for them. If we possessed more awareness, these fortuitous encounters would yield still greater rewards. It is only at certain unpredictable times that we are attuned, fully expectant, and thus in a position to receive the favors of fortune. The man who is thoroughly awake knows that everything “happening” is packed with significance. He knows that not only is his own life being altered but that eventually the entire world must be affected.

Much of the many underlined passages that I have in Miller’s work relates to these moments of revelation – be it as it relates to friendship, lovers, the role of literature in society or something else. It saturates his fiction and here too, such insights appear. In one section on page 33, Miller describes a deep spiritual relationship to numerous authors that I’ve too suggested other people spend time with. Their stories, their vision, their analysis, their dynamic tension, their message, their… “X factor” was something that made it worth’s one attention to read them as well as it makes your inner vision that much more expansive.

A quote of Miller’s

There are comments Miller makes about the sexes that are open to being considered misogynistic. For instance while describing the archetypical psychological aspects of male-female sexual and romantic relationships he states the following:

“A man is usually plagued with all kinds of disturbing notions with regard to love, sex, politics, art, religion and so on. A man is always more muddled than a woman. He needs woman if for no other purpose than to be straightened out. Sometimes it takes nothing more than a good, clean, healthy fuck to do the trick.”

I’m not going to place what he says for the women here lest I seem to be endorsing it outright, but having had a lot of experience with women I think that there is some truth to it. Obviously it doesn’t apply to all, just as the above need not be the truth for all men, however I would largely agree with the above statement and feel that much of what he says is true even if not universally so. Miller, certainly, didn’t place himself fully within this mass, instead identifying himself with the “man of genius,” who through his work or by personal example, seems ever to be blazing the truth that each one is a law unto himself.

As someone versed in Miller’s work I found his reflections on his own writing to be particularly rewarding as it matched much of my memories of them. I’ve only recently begun to remind myself of him due to events in my life, but when I read this, his letters and passages like the below it all came back to me:

The Tropic of Capricorn represents the transition to a more knowing phase: from consciousness of self to consciousness of purpose. Henceforward what metamorphoses occur manifest even more through conduct than through the written word. The beginning of a conflict between the writer who is resolved to finish his task and the man who knows deep down that the desire to express oneself must never be limited to a single medium, to art, let us say, but to every phase of life. A battle, more or less conscious between Duty and Desire. That part of a man which belongs to the word seeking to do its duty; the part which belongs to God striving to fulfill the demands of destiny, which are unstable. The difficulty: to adapt to that desolate plane where only one’s powers will sustain one. From this point on the problem is to write retrospectively and act forwardly. To slip is to sink into an abyss from which there is no rescue possible. The struggle is on all fronts, and it is ceaseless and remorseless.

For fans of Miller as well as those that are interested in essay’s on sex, art, and social matters I highly recommend this book.

 

Review of “I Am That I Am: Uncovering the Truth of the Mind, Body and Spirit”

To be honest I would not have purchased I Am That I Am: Uncovering the Truth of the Mind, Body and Spirit based on its cover or back matter. When something claims itself a #1 bestseller but it is clearly not I am suspicious, but not in a way that makes me want to investigate it. The back matter shows me that the author has a similar path as my father and other superlatives made me similarly wary. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a read on someone special’s suggestion and found myself greatly rewarded as a result.

One of the aspects of the book that I found engaging was the pleasant simplicity of the prose and concepts container therein. Dr. Michael’s descriptions of a wide variety of psychological states, the causes for their crises, analysis of components of the ego, etc. align with similar, more scholastic readings I’ve done. Yet it is presented in a way that engages the reader to be a participant in his excavations of human motivation and the Higher Self (not his term) moreso than mere exegesis of the history of those concepts in various schools of thought (a la Becker). There are multiple instances of hypnotic writing therein that are intended to get the reader to explore their own embodiment of love and fear-directed thinking and behavior (Michael’s terms).

By giving in to feelings of guilt or shame or having an ego that controls rather than a more conscientious form of mind-body-spirit co-management psychic disequilibrium starts to be create. During this period crisis can be relieved or, more often, deepened as the internal contradictions become intensified. But “What happens when the reality that you created becomes too much for you to bear?” Dr. Michael asks and responds with, “You sedate yourself with something stronger to completely alter and escape from your perception of reality.” This can take the form of self-stimming in many forms, addiction to television, gaming, books, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Freud designated this tendency pattern repetition. While Dr. Michael does not use this term specifically, he does point out that “The experiences that you did not learn from lead you to continuously repeat the same reality, resulting in guilt, pain and limitation.”

It’s this focus on limitation and examination on how the heart hardens and contracts through examples that sets this books apart from others. While I’ve been studying psychological development and various disciplines to achieve personal empowerment, I’ve often found the discussion either too metaphysical or too clinical. This makes sense as the purpose of the course readings and participatory, experiential based practicing of those materials in groups and one on one settings was to impart technical training. However, the reformulation of the material here is oriented more towards being a component of a spiritual practice.

Returning to power

A post shared by Ariel Voyager (@arielvoyager) on


This is evident in the fact that each chapter ends with an overview and an affirmation. Besides the trace-inducing writing, there are also multiple points where you are encouraged to say aloud certain phrases. While I read this from cover to cover, this is also one of those books that you could simply look through the chapter list to find places to speak to certain areas in your life that are causing one to stray from Love and Truth, for it’s when one doesn’t operate from those perspectives but from Fear that profound internal and external problems begin to occur. By running from pain you lose the opportunity to learn from it and from that power is returned to the self. To quote my father, one must face, embrace and replace the survival messages that emerge from certain periods in our life that become no longer beneficial to our innermost needs.

In close I think it’s worth mentioning that after reading the book I engaged the counseling services of someone who’d studies with Dr. Michael. One of the components of the session was to repeat the affirmations with passion, in a similar manner that experiential psychologists would but with physicality included. This combined with other reformulations of previous traumatic experiences was a good reminder that living a happy life is often not nearly as complicated as our ego’s would like us to believe.

 

A post shared by Ariel Voyager (@arielvoyager) on

Review of “The Denial of Death”

We leave a worryless life and emerge from our mother’s womb and learn many new sensations that must at first feel rude and grating. We scream as we gasp air for the first time, are dried, are held by not all sides. Somehow we innately now knowing that we must eat to continue to exist in this world. To quell this state of terror we transfer onto our parents our own sense of self. We map what symbolic values they and the culture associated with them onto ourselves, while repressing the arbitrariness of it through psychological repression that people who do not practice mindfulness techniques rarely notice. Thus begins a critical response to Freud through the lens of Soren Kirkegaard and Otto Rank, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.

I found much of the commentary by Becker on Freud’s character similar to that of Walter Kauffman’s. They diverge, however, in their appraisal of Freud’s correctness in the base cause for the manifestation of anxieties in human character and thus what at base most motivates us as humans. Becker discount’s what he sees as Freud’s hedonistic interpretation and instead proffers one based on heroism of personal expression rather than inherited cultural roles, religious roles or the pursuit of wealth by explicating Soren Kirkegaard’s novelistic insights to human’s self-motivation and Otto Rank’s reflections on his own therapy practice.

The divergence of perspective has a number of large effects but the most important could perhaps be summed up as follows: whereas psychoanalysis seeks to alleviate as much as possible the neurosis that prevents the normal functioning of areas in life which the patient seeks greater control; a more appropriate means for achieving fulfilment, gratification and community is through the pursuit of a heroic ideals. Depression thus becomes a matter of courage, the inner artist failing to must their talents and energies. The neurotic, born through the choking off of action, need only keep acting in the manner that takes them on what they most want. The manner that Becker puts it is, I think, better: “When the person can no longer convincingly perform his safe heroics or cannot hide his failure to be his own hero, then he bogs down in the failure of depression and terrible guilt.”

As the human begins to develops to its highest potential, rather than just along the axis of its neurosis as process begin, the following begins to become the inner drive of our consciousness: “The self must be destroyed, brought down to nothing, in order for self-transcendence to begin. Then the self can begin to relate itself to powers beyond itself. It has to thrash around in its finitude, it has to “die,” in order to question that finitude, in order to see beyond it.” Having recently read the Seducer’s Diary I was pleasantly gratified when reading Becker’s commentary on the story of Coredelia and K in Either/Or as it was aligned with my own thoughts about his depiction of a weak spiritual fortitude. Becker even has a name for it, which is important as it becomes the point at which he turns his attention from desire, fulfilment, anxiety and character to develop his model of human health.

Jonah Syndrome is a state of consciousness that leads one to believe that lasting happiness is not only something that is impossible but that proximity to it will lead to one to be ”shattered, disintegrated and even killed by the experience”. To guard from this they pull back and away from what would in a better adjusted view would be a fount of. As it is the destruction of the self that is actually a pre-requisite to being able to achieve lasting happiness, that person soon lapses into depression and neurosis. The solution to the problem of neurosis is Goetheian: Make a game of the world and play it in the fashion that one most wishes. One may not like the cards they are dealt, but grit and perseverance will get one there.

Becker’s extensive exposition of Rank’s views of the artist are both profoundly insightful and beautifully written. Rank, like Hubbard, exalted the artist as the highest embodiment of human potential. Establishing a balance between the self and the world means thus following one’s hero project wherever it may lead for the whole of one’s life. The creative solutions that we come up to get that is the genius possible within our species being and truly being dedicated and convicted people may come to know the artists that are inside them.

 

Review of “The Autobiography of Assata Shakur”

A former Black Liberation Army member that has obtained political asylum in Cuba for perceived lack of evidence for crimes connected to the murder of two police officers, Assata Shakur is a polarizing figure. She is still wanted by the FBI and talk of her possible return to America was discussed between respective nations bilateral trade meetings leading to online talk of her spiking to numbers not seen since legal defense committees received donations in her name for other sham trials in the late 1960s. Assata was one of many black political and cultural activists that were falsely imprisoned for hours to years based upon the whims of the judicial system. The Autobiography of Assata Shakur memoirs describes the evidence against her, the conditions of her trial, penetrating and poetic social insights, her treatment in the prison as well as her socialization with white communities under Jim Crow, her work with the Black Panther Party, etc. It is, another word, wonderful for touching on so many of the important issues of that epoch.

At a young age Assata describes herself as being very sensitive to the Jim Crow conditions which she grew up under. She tells of the isolations of being unable to play with neighborhood children because of her families purchase of a home in a white community. She describes how the low level of intellectual abilities that her classmates first had for her.  Later she will also describe in detail her close relationship to two of the five young girls killed in a church bombing that happened a short distance from her childhood home.

Yet her anger is not without a certain sense of revolutionary irony. Revolutionary as while recognizing the seriousness of the situation – racially informed class oppression – she is also able to recognize the base absurdity of its claims and the essential precariousness of the various power allegiances keeping it together. For example she describes going into a shoe shop in Montgomery with her friend as a young teen. A white clerk and overweight customer look at her in red-faced anger and terror quickly take on a tone of deference granted as they speak with a French affectation and claim to be from the Martinique. They are Caribbean, the social thought of the day went, therefore exotic and ergo not black. They are conversed with by the staff as they try on shoes.  Assata, at the time named Josephine, speaks in her best accent and finally breaks character. The initial angry attitudes return, however the girls can’t stop laughing. Now speaking in plain English, as they leave the store, she calls the people present out for their bigotry. There are many poetic turns of phrase and local color captured in these and other exchanges, all of which is to sound please but be immoral. Given these exclusionary experiences it is no wonder that she begins to have increased involvement in black nationalist cultural and political networks and organizations.

What makes this such a compelling book is not just the everyday heroics that comes to be displayed but also it’s structure. After childhood and arrest are covered the structure shifts to a back and forth between a horrifying depiction of what life is like in jail and narrative of her work as an activist. First one starts to become painfully aware of the cruelties of the treatment afforded her because she was a political prisoner, such as being forced to live in an isolation room for 21 months on end – a practice which was only stopped after a long struggle to get an independent investigator of the court to verify Assata’s claims. Following this Assata describes her work at a Black Panther Party breakfast program for children. She would wake up at 4am in the morning and cook for all of the children and come up with various educational programs for them to help get in the learning mood before going to school. She describes the paranoia and fears of briefly having to live an underground life as she’s just discovered that she’s again being promoted in the media as responsible for a crime that she’s not committed. And what helped her face such COINTELPRO actions? Her good skill set was recognized and she was promoted to New York to help the Party be more efficient.

Assata’s autobiography is good not only for the above, but she also reminds the reader that there were many others targeted for assassination, observation, infiltration, and social subversion through ruses, rumors, and other sorts of intelligence campaigns designed to delegitimize and destroy trust. She names three people that were connected to high ranking members of the Party that were used in FBI conceived plots to entrap or bring harm to Members. She is not, however, wholly uncritical of the Party. Some of the members are upbraided for their misogyny when she first arrives in New York. She eventually left the group as she found Newton’s ideology to be incompatible with her own, as she thought they needed to have less of a focus on the thoughts of a greater leader and more information on black history. Certainly anyone seeking to learn about black history is well served by reading this story and her other writings.

Likert-Type Scale Response Anchors

Likert-Type Scale Response Anchors

Level of Acceptability
1 – Totally unacceptable
2 – Unacceptable
3 – Slightly unacceptable
4 – Neutral
5 – Slightly acceptable
6 – Acceptable
7 – Perfectly Acceptable

Level of Appropriateness
1 – Absolutely inappropriate
2 – Inappropriate
3 – Slightly inappropriate
4 – Neutral
5 – Slightly appropriate
6 – Appropriate
7 – Absolutely appropriate

Level of Importance
1 – Not at all important
2 – Low importance
3 – Slightly important
4 – Neutral
5 – Moderately important
6 – Very important
7 – Extremely important

Level of Agreement
1 – Strongly disagree
2 – Disagree
3 – Somewhat disagree
4 – Neither agree or 
disagree
5 – Somewhat agree
6 – Agree
7 – Strongly agree

Knowledge of Action
1 – Never true
2 – Rarely true
3 – Sometimes but infrequently true
4 – Neutral
5 – Sometimes true
6 – Usually true
7 – Always true

Reflect Me?
1 – Very untrue of me
2 – Untrue of me
3 – Somewhat untrue of me
4 – Neutral
5 – Somewhat true of me
6 – True of me
7 – Very true of me

My beliefs
1 – Very untrue of what I believe
2 – Untrue of what I believe
3 – Somewhat untrue of what I believe
4 – Neutral
5 – Somewhat true of what I believe
6 – True of what I believe
7 – Very true of what I believe

Priority:
1 – Not a priority
2 – Low priority
3 – Somewhat priority
4 – Neutral
5 – Moderate Priority
6 – High priority
7 – Essential priority

Level of Concern
1 – Not at all concerned
2 – Slightly concerned
3 – Somewhat concerned
4 – Moderately concerned
5 – Extremely concerned

Priority Level
1 – Not a priority
2 – Low priority
3 – Medium priority
4 – High priority
5 – Essential

Level of Support/Opposition
1 – Strongly oppose
2 – Somewhat oppose
3 – Neutral
4 – Somewhat favor
5 – Strongly favor

Level of Probability
1 – Not probable
2 – Somewhat improbable
3 – Neutral
4 – Somewhat probable
5 – Very probable

Level of Agreement
1 – Strongly disagree
2 – Disagree
3 – Neither agree or disagree
4 – Agree
5 – Strongly agree

Level of Desirability
1 – Very undesirable
2 – Undesirable
3 – Neutral
4 – Desirable
5 – Very desirable

Level of Participation
1 – No, and not considered
2 – No, but considered
3 – Yes

Frequency – 5 point
1 – Never
2 – Rarely
3 – Sometimes
4 – Often
5 – Always

Frequency 

1 – Never
2 – Rarely
3 – Occasionally
4 – A moderate amount
5 – A great deal

Frequency of Use
1 – Never
2 – Almost never
3 – Occasionally/Sometimes
4 – Almost every time
5 – Every time

Level of Problem
1 – Not at all a problem
2 – Minor problem
3 – Moderate problem
4 – Serious problem
5 – Urgent Problem
Affect on X
1 – No affect
2 – Minor affect
3 – Neutral
4 – Moderate affect
5 – Major affect

Level of Consideration
1 – Would not consider
2 – Might or might not consider
3 – Definitely consider

Frequency – 7 point
1 – Never
2 – Rarely, in less than 10% 
of the chances when I could 
have
3 – Occasionally, in about 
30% of the chances when I 
could have
4 – Sometimes, in about 
50% of the chances when I 
could have
5 – Frequently, in about 70% 
of the chances when I could 
have
6 – Usually, in about 90% of 
the chances I could have.
7 – Every time

Amount of Use
1 – Never use
2 – Almost never
3 – Occasionally/Sometimes
4 – Almost every time
5 – Frequently use

Level of Familiarity
1 – Not at all familiar
2 – Slightly familiar
3 – Somewhat familiar
4 – Moderately familiar
5 – Extremely familiar

Level of Awareness
1 – Not at all aware
2 – Slightly aware
3 – Somewhat aware
4 – Moderately aware
5 – Extremely aware

Level of Difficulty
1 – Very difficult
2 – Difficult
3 – Neutral
4 – Easy
5 – Very easy

Level of Satisfaction – 5 point
1 – Not at all satisfied
2 – Slightly satisfied
3 – Moderately satisfied
4 – Very satisfied
5 – Extremely satisfied

Level of Satisfaction – 7 point
1 – Completely dissatisfied
2 – Mostly dissatisfied
3 – Somewhat dissatisfied
4 – Neither satisfied or dissatisfied
5 – Somewhat satisfied
6 – Mostly satisfied
7 – Completely satisfied

Level of Quality – 5 point
1 – Poor
2 – Fair
3 – Good
4 – Very good
5 – Excellent

Comparison of Two Products
1 – Much worse
2 – Somewhat worse
3 – About the same
4 – Somewhat better
5 – Much better

Level of Responsibility
1 – Not at all responsible
2 – Intermittently responsible
3 – Somewhat responsible
4 – Mostly responsible
5 – Completely responsible

Level of Influence
1 – Not at all influential
2 – Slightly influential
3 – Somewhat influential
4 – Very influential
5 – Extremely influential

Likelihood
1 – Extremely unlikely
2 – Unlikely
3 – Neutral
4 – Likely
5 – Extremely likely

Level of Detraction
1 – Detracted
2 – Very little
3 – Neutral
4 – Detracted
5 – Very Much

Good / Bad
1 – Very negative
2 – Negative
3 –Neutral
4 – Positive
5 – Very positive

Barriers
1 – Not a barrier
2 – Somewhat of a barrier
3 – Moderate barrier
4 – Extreme barrier
5 – Insurmountable Batter

Level of Satisfaction – 5 point
1 – Very dissatisfied
2 – Dissatisfied
3 – Unsure
4 – Satisfied
5 – Very satisfied

Citation

Adapted from Likert-type Scale Response Anchors by Wade M. Vagias

 

Review of “How To Build a Girl”

I wanted to read something light and funny as a break from all of the subject area research I’ve been doing lately and I was not disappointed with Caitlin Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl. Set in the early 1990’s in a small town still within the reach of London’s shadow, Johanna Morrigan is a 14 year old girl who’s upbringing by her wanna-be rock star father and push-over mother has taught her to be audacious in the face of their poverty rather than docile. Following an extremely embarrassing interview televised across England, Johanna decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde and over the next two years we follow her around as she learns the ropes of the burgeoning indie-rock music scene.

The real Dolly Wilde
The real Dolly Wilde

While they may lack the trappings of respectability, Dolly’s home life abounds in encouragement from her mother and father. Her father was injured while working as a union carpenter and supplements his government dole through off jobs and marketing on behalf of his band – which by all accounts had not chance of becoming fmous. While he’s clearly an alcoholic whose lack of present potential for success in the life leads him to fixate on previous accolades he’d been given as a local musician, Dolly’s recognition of this is never tragic, but more melancholic. She wants to help him, but also recognizes there’s only so much she can do.

From the get go there’s something inexplicably charming about Dolly/Johanna. I think part of it is that when I was a teenager I too knew a few girls that reminded me of her. Whether or not they consciously chose to adopt the trappings of a more accepting sub-cultural, goth, as a means of coping with their non-Hollywood bodily development is debatable. What isn’t is that this suddenly gives her some cultural cachet that provides her with easy entry into a number of spaces otherwise prohibited to her – be it music review magazine offices or bars that host concerts. After her reinvention Johanna at first does not yet have the confidence in order to project herself as a sexual object into the minds of those that she desires. As Dolly, however, a “lady sex adventurer”, she throws caution to the wind and after a few drunken missteps seems to gain a greater level of confidence. Whether or not this is genuine is brought up by her boozing, cigarettes smoking and other outrageous behavior that seems to mask her own withering, intermittent insecurity. Dolly is not alone, however, in this as many in her family and in her work life also contain this recognition of the precariousness of their existence and this seems to alternately motivate and depress them. A semi-famous musician that Dolly becomes infatuated with, for instance, that is a model of the charming and self-destructive musician trope.

Morrigan writes a number of scenes that both highlight her self-creation and the “flaws” in her autopoiesis. I found the scene wherein she plasters images of her heroes on the wall in a large collage in the manner typical of procedural cop shows meant to show criminal conspiracies to be especially amusing as not only do I currently have that in my office right now as help for me to visualize the characters in Unraveling but as when I was her age I had something similar on my walls. Another humorous scene has Dolly hosting a party in the bathroom following a particularly trying ordeal. The chord most often plucked stems from Dolly’s fear of a provincial existence. Her perspective towards her parents is benign, but she also clearly does not want to replicate the life that they lived. She is bourgeoisie in her aspirations, but working class in her character.

Issues of class issues are written well into the novel. There’s the expected verbal abuse by Dolly’s father of Maggie Thatcher and familial concern over the rate of the dole. Beyond that Morrigan does a great job of situating Wilde’s world as one of relative deprivation. Dolly must rely upon state aid not only to live but also to help her find gainful employ. After leaving school to become a full time music reviewer, she first exploits the library to obtain the source of her income before coming to find out that the capitalist music enterprises will give out music for free in hopes of garnishing favorable reviews. The romantic triangle that helps Dolly realize that she needs to reinvent herself, for instance, is compelling not only for it’s keen depiction of the conflicting fantasies of teenagers and also for reinforcing just how many barriers there are to the lower classes becoming upwardly mobile. This sounds overly sociological, but the scene is quite humorous and heartbreaking at the same time. Realizing that affections are not-reciprocated is one type of pain, but when this is compounded by the other facets that Dolly faces her rebirth is all the more inspiring.