Lecture 6: MAPS OF THE JOURNEY(This is the last of a 6-lecture series (given on November 3) to the Fall 2008 session of the Senior University Georgetown.) Re-Posted on website November 5, 2008.
Adam Blatner, M.D.
See Previous Lectures: Lecture 1 (9/29/08) ; Lecture 2 (10/6/08); Lecture 3 (10/13/08) ; Lecture 4 (10/20/08); Lecture 5 (10/27/08).
Note: A set of DVD's of most of these lectures are available for purchase.
(Some of the warm-ups to this lecture about mandalas were put into a revised version of the last lecture (5).
My goal in this series has been to offer you images and ideas that would stimulate your thinking. This is the kind of subject that needs to be more deeply integrated, and this can only be done by your talking with others about these ideas, or writing up your own thoughts about your own process. Of course you may use some of what I’ve presented as a stimulus to your thinking.
Advice can be problematical. Mixed in with noble platitudes may be silly injunctions. Steve Martin, the stand-up comedian, caricaturized this in a little song he sang in 1980 on Saturday Night Live. He attributed this advice to his Grandmother, and said that it really helped him:
.Be courteous, kind and forgiving, / Be gentle and peaceful each day.
Be warm and human and grateful, / And have a good thing to say.
Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike, / Be witty and happy and wise.
Be honest and love all your neighbors, / Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.
Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus, / Be dull, boring, and omnipresent.
Criticize things you don't know about, / Be oblong and have your knees removed.
Be tasteless, rude and offensive, / Live in a swamp and be three-dimensional.
Put a live chicken in your underwear, / Get all excited and go to a yawning festival!
No, I’m just kidding. Advice is sooo 20th century! Even then it didn’t work that well. Really, I’m more into critical thinking, which I’ll talk about next year. In contrast, I've found the advice of Siddartha Guatama (also known as the enlightened one, the "Buddha") back five hundred or so years before the Common Era: He was said to have suggested the following:
So consider some more advice: Buddha said:
• Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
• Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
• Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
• Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books.
• Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
• But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
Adult education (androgogy) is a bit different that the schooling of children (pedagogy). It requires more empowerment of the student, less authority, more mutuality, more learning by doing. To absorb the material presented in this class more effectively, you would need to gather in small study groups of not more than around eight, so everyone could contribute and feel there was room and a need for your thoughts. A significant agenda would be not what we’ve presented here—that’s like the eating of the meal—but rather the digestion of the material, with each of the participants having time to get in touch with what is important to him or her.
Learning Like NutritionOkay, another thing about this material in particular: It’s like nutrition: It requires not only digestion, but also assimilation—this is where the broken down parts are absorbed and transformed in the liver so that the substances can be used by the body, and the processes where those component nutrients are indeed utilized. Translating this analogy, each of you need to find out which symbols or ideas work to fit your own needs and interests. One size does not fit all.
Another thing: This material is aimed at a part of your mind that is intuitive, that works with images and dreams and feelings, as well as ordinary logic. Remember in the first lecture we talked about different levels of interpretation—so this is that third level that deals with wondering how a story or idea may apply in your own life. It requires the development of skills of reading and creating mythic images and symbols, a more poetic turn of mind. This is a fine thing to cultivate in later life. One need not be formally schooled or erudite to do this, it’s more a matter of what you include in your thinking.
Part of what we are doing—and we’re setting the stage for presenting a sort of map of what deep maturity is about—is to realize that we are shifting back and forth between what cannot be expressed precisely in language and the effort to try nevertheless to express it at all. While recognizing that certain kinds of learning should indeed be more oriented to facts, this class is addressing more elusive qualities such as character and meaning, and this takes a bit of poetic approach.
Seeking a MapWhat's it all about? Is life just a random series of events, meaningless and demoralizing? This is the vision of the characters in the late 1960s Becket's play, Waiting for Godot, expressing a nihilistic worldview that had become increasingly prevalent around that era. It was also when Alitzer and others proclaimed "The Death of God," referring actually to the dying of certain concepts about Divinity that were becoming less common even in theological seminaries. But back to life: Might there be some purpose? And if so, are there any maps? It turns out that indeed, there are, and there are many. The alchemical process, as described in the last lecture, hints at life being a kind of purgatory (in the most constructive way!), as an opportunity to purge or refine the contaminated soul so that it becomes more pure. In this sense, purgatory isn't to be viewed as a punishment inflicted by Higher Authority, but rather a spiritual way to describe the predicament of human consciousness evolving from brutishness into the glimmerings of civilization---and I fear we're closer to to that than to its fullest flowering---and beyond that, humanity moving toward its fullest potential.
In past lectures, we used the Major Arcana of the Tarot Cards, the 22 special cards not associated with any particular suit, to be the basis of a crude symbol system. (Sorry if this seems weird to some folks, but I really couldn't think of another way to organize many of the key principles.) Then I did something similar using the different major procedures in alchemy, or some of the elements in the circular diagram called the "mandala." These are symbolic ways of expressing deeper principles that deserve to be appreciated by intuition as well as by logic.
Although maps are useful tools, they also have many limitations. They are diagrams for the journey, but yet far from the actual experience, which has thousands of times more dimensions and aspects than can be communicated by any map. Still, a halfway-helpful map may be better than having no map at all. So I make no claims to these ideas being authoritative. Life is a zillion times more complicated than I can hope to know. Rather, I’ve found some of these ideas, images, metaphors, useful, and potentially evocative. That is to say, they may bring forth ideas in you that hadn’t been so close to the surface before.
What is the map for the second half of life? First, we should recognize that many of the more commonly-available ones, implicit in television advertisements and other public media, tend to be consumeristic, materialistic, reductionistic, and don't do justice to an appreciation of the qualities involved in deep maturity. Indeed, these common images imply that after mid-life, one is over the hill and there is little of value in being an elder---unless one has accumulated the accoutrements of wealth, fame, and/or power. The goal of the consumerist map is simple: those who possess the most stuff when they die are the winners. It’s pretty shallow, actually, materialistic. Even if the possessions are status, fame, or rank rather than absolute wealth, that is still not really enough.
On the other hand, I can’t offer you a nice neat answer, a verbal formula, that will fit everyone, because as I mentioned in the beginning, your are all so individual, unique, differentiated, that different values, images, and formulas will be more or less useful to different people. So I offer you a bunch of images, hopeful that your intuitive wisdom will find in these grist for the mill.
It would be nice if the brain could function with information the way the kidney functions in the body with chemicals. The kidney is a marvelous organ for fine-tuning your chemistry. In the mid-1960s, kidney dialysis was just coming in, and I was fortunate to do my medical internship with a kidney specialist who dealt with failing kidneys. We had to use daily blood tests and a number of not-easy-calculations to adjust their body chemistry so that there wasn’t too much acid or alkali, not too much potassium or calcium. It helped me appreciate the absolute wonder of the kidney, which will make finer adjustments. Just give it some stuff to work with, some salt, potassium, carbonate, the stuff in Gatorade, and it will self-adjust the details. It is smarter with no brain than a team of doctors trying to figure out the right amounts of different chemicals to give intravenously or through food.
Actually, if we do our part, which is just to be curious and talk about the images, we don’t have to be terribly clever. The unconscious mind will use these images and over months or years build on them so that you can grow towards greater wisdom and maturity. You do need to keep yourself open—that old love, faith, and responsibility triad—but you don’t have to feel intimidated if you don’t mentally realize any clear answers, meanings, and so forth. It will work for you.
Why then don’t we just imagine our lives as an upward-moving line? Because life has a rhythm, a going-out and coming-in, not only with breathing, but with awaking and sleeping, work and rest. It’s not just in activity. The mind also needs to balance seemingly opposite modes of thinking. We’ve talked about that in the Tarot cards. Two lectures ago I wrote about the archetypal tendency to see things in terms of three (i.e., trinities), and last lecture, in terms of four (quaternity). Now I want to note as one component of the map we'll be using the tendency to think in terms of contrasting opposites. Some examples include: model dualities.
We breathe, in and out. The sound of my voice involves fine pulses of air, forward and backwards—vibrations. Vibratory phenomena pervade the cosmos, and that’s why the auditory symbol of the mantra, “aum,” carries meaning. Light is a vibration, too. And as we live, there are vibrations, rhythms, built into our bodies, in the routines of our days, in the whole idea of doing and not-doing. The sabbath is the only one of the Commandments that has to do with a ritual, the idea of taking time to pause and contemplate. You don’t need to be Jewish, Christian, or in any way religious to recognize the psychological value of this, and perhaps a physical value, too.
The LadderI'm proposing the symbol of an upward-expanding spiral. It is in a sense the product of several other symbolic components:
* The ladder or tree
* The duality, vibration back and forth between seeming opposites
* A circle, implying that there may be multiple types of dualities, or many different elements involved, with some sense that various elements oppose each other and need to be balanced.
* A spiral, suggesting progress in or out even as the process circulates in the circle.
Putting them together, one gets a spiral moving in three dimensions, more in the shape of a kind of column---and when that happens, a spiral moving in three dimensions, that's called a helix, technically. The DNA molecule that is the basis of our genes and chromosomes in every nucleus of every cell n our living bodies takes the shape of a double helix.
The hoop and tree. The symbol in the picture to the right is a diagram of the essentials in many religious or mythic portrayals of life, involving a range of themes. (The diagram is from a book titled The Hoop and the Tree, by Chris Hoffman.
Let’s examine its components.
First, it goes upward, like a ladder or a tree. There are a number of esoteric symbols that partake of this, which represents a hierarchy of levels of organization. Remember I showed you the mandala of levels—that could also be seen as a vertical ladder. Smaller parts fit into bigger parts which work within bigger systems. Indeed, this realization that systems work within systems is a major part of modern intellectual theory.
The second dimension is the hoop, or the circle or mandala of the world, which contains the various dimensions of existence. Often these are condensed into the quarternity, the four directions or principles.
A third dimension of this diagram is the aforementione theme of duality, and the diagram hints at their reconciliation. Still, it is worthwhile to consider the variety of dualities noted in different systems.
Yet it isn’t just a line, but a thicker figure. It goes back and forth. There are those dualities. It deals with reconciling dualities, which give it a bit of thickness. Thesis or idea, antithesis or contrary idea, then synthesis—this is called dialectic. And the synthesis or new provisional answer then becomes challenged by another antithesis that would revise or refine it. So it continues as a process.
Why does it go around, rather than just vibrate back and fourth? There are a couple of reasons here: First, the mind or complex situations contain not just one variable or domain, but many [mandala of personality]. Any advance in a system generally affects a fair number of other system components. So you have to go around checking out and tightening up each adjustment—a bit like tightening the different lug nuts when replacing a flat tire.
An expanding circle becomes a spiral, and when this is combined with the idea of a ladder, adding the dimension of height, it rises, becoming a cylinder. Actually, a three-dimensional spiral is called a helix. Our molecules of DNA are organized in the form of a double helix, as shown to the left. (This was a significant discovery in biochemisty). Interestingly, if you look down the middle of a model of a DNA double helix from the top, as if looking in the cylinder and shown on the nearer picture on the left, you see a lovely mandala!
The Expanding-Rising SpiralCombining the tree, the hoop, and the spiral, we add one more feature: The spiral expands or grows larger as it rises, so that it begins to suggest something like a downward pointing cone.
The key theme here is that as we grow we don't just vibrate back and forth between dualities, but we add more roles, more dimensions of experience, more complexity. Also, as Ken Wilber notes, the higher levels tend to include to varying degrees many features of the lower levels.
For example, a baby begins with a limited number of roles, but as she grows, becomes interested in an ever expanding variety of roles, things to do and be as well as things to learn about; skills to master, new ways to play and discover and manipulate the world, and so forth. In addition, the child develops increasing complexity of skills and abilities to manage these skills. This is the widening, rising spiral.
To note again why a spiral rather than a line: Because life moves not only as a vibration in and out, active and rest. Rather, as life pulses, and also it goes back in learning and brings along what you’ve done before. It’s one of these new programs you download onto your computer that needs to save all the work you’ve done even as it formats it so that you can work with it in a more sophisticated fashion.
Development as a Spiral ProcessYou learn to walk and then you need to re-learn a lot of what you learned as you learn to hop, skip, jump, climb, and then ride a bike; and then you need to go back and re-learn about using your body in a new relationship to gravity as you learn to swim, and so it goes.
You learn to become more mature—this often is a little more or less conscious depending on your age and situation—when it comes to dealing with anger. If you just learn to suppress it, at some point you need to go back around and learn to be angry again, along with the idea that there are smarter and more foolish ways to do self-assertion or make boundaries. Many emotional skills require a re-processing of past learnings in order to become established.
For Example, here is what someone wrote a story that captures their own process of getting over an addiction. It could be an addiction to drugs or alcohol, to going into debt or falling in love with the wrong kind of guy. You all know of stories, but this is eloquent:
AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS
by Portia Nelson
Chapter 1: I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter 2: I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter 3: I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there. I still fall in -- it's a habit.
My eyes are open. I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter 4: I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
Chapter 5: I walk down another street.
-from Black, Claudia. Repeat After Me. Denver: MAC Publishers, 1985.
Similarly, in the symbols we use, at times we try to put language to them. I’ve tried to explain them a little.
. My explanations are only hints, and more important than my explanations are your associations, getting you to dare to imagine your own thoughts, words, concepts, related images. This again is a major skill to develop once one is finished making a living and raising kids: You can begin to cultivate a garden of depth in your soul. In previous talks I’ve noted how other symbols drawn from the Tarot cards, alchemy, and the circular symbol of mandala can suggest the processes involved in deep maturity. In this talk I’ll note a few more symbolic systems. First, though, some other pictures, illustrating how this spiral and ascending spiral is widespread in consciousness and literature: To the right is a picture of Jacob's Ladder, drawn by the 18th century poet-artist, William Blake:
Here on the left, looking at a spiral from the bottom up, one glimpses a different view, as imagined by the famous etching of Gustave Dore, showing Dante and Beatrice in looking at the "empyrean" or highest levels of Paradise---and even there, there are perceptible levels upon levels of angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim.
Here below is another picture of those levels, returning from the "hoop" to the "ladder" or "tree" image to suggest such levels---also from Dore:
A Few RefinementsEven this symbol of the upward moving spiral, like a line traveling around an inverted cone, needs to be realized as involving a shift in quality half-way up. The first phases in life tend to involve learning more, the eating part. The second phase gradually requires a focusing, eating less, digesting and assimilating what has been eaten—like certain animals that can go for weeks between a good-sized meal.
You learned so much so fast that you overshot the mark in many directions. Becoming a parent, learning your job roles, establishing your independence and self-sufficiency, your status in your community—these tasks can keep you busy enough that there were a goodly number of unresolved issues, parts that hadn’t been fully balanced. It’s time to go back and get the bugs out, to develop and upgrade the system, to purge the impurities—speaking both alchemically and with an edge of traditional theological language.
So half-way up the expanding spiral it’s time to begin to integrate and balance the progress you make. Spiritually, in the activity of alchemy, this spiral drawing (below right) represents the way an initiate in
a spiritual - alchemical process spirals through the various planes of the cosmos to the higher realms and then spirals back—the point being to bring back to ordinary life the awareness of a more enlightened being.
Back to the predicament of our sense of ourself in relation to our circle: Who are these others? In our immature to ordinary mature years, we begin by knowing only our parents, then siblings and family members, then playmates, schoolmates, teachers—we soon learn about clubs and nations and the world. Our tendency, though, is to care for our own kind and think of others as “them,” if not an enemy, at least fair game to be exploited, converted, used. Alas, many forces in our world reinforce this attitude, using as an excuse the idea that they consider us an enemy, so we have to also. [overhead: social networks] Anyway, the point is that we are social animals embedded in social systems, and the myth of the noble “loner” is misleading, with a tiny bit of truth to it. (See link to Our Social Being-ness)
So moving towards deep maturity involves moving beyond egocentric perspectives, selfishness, and tribal thinking. For most ordinary mature people it stalls half-way. It’s called widening the circle of caring, to all people, and beyond, to all sentient beings, and to the recognition of the interdependence of all life and non-life—also known as wising up about ecology.
The appeal to this widening upward spiral has multiple levels of appeal—and this bridges over into the concept of the ladder. We operate from multiple needs: To survive, to connect, to be effective or competent and get recognition and status, to truly love and include, to creatively express and join with others in creative communion, to deeply surrender to the greater flow of the cosmic unfolding, and so forth. This series of needs hints at the aforementioned ladder.
The Breadth of RolesA key dynamic to note is that humanity can enjoy many different kinds of activities. It’s not just a matter of being good or bad. There’s creating music, singing, dancing alone or in different-sized groupings, drumming, gardening, hanging out with friends and talking, hanging out and not talking much, play of all sorts, being in love, and so forth. In some of these role we have more talent or skill, in some roles it doesn’t matter how much skill is involved, it’s just the doing that counts, the experiencing. In some of these roles, more mature parts of the psyche are operating, in other roles, less mature types.
There’s a term Jung uses—circumambulation, from the Latin, circum, a circle, and ambulare, to walk. It refers to a common ritual in many religions in which there is a walking around a temple or structure—remember Joshua’s having the people march around Jericho before the walls came tumbling down. Jung used the term circumambulation of the self. Now what this means to me is that our higher self, figuratively speaking, strolls around the garden of our mind every few days and notices where weeds are growing, or certain plants are getting overgrown, maybe overshadowing other plants and not letting them get enough sunlight. We recently had some tree work done to allow an oak tree to get more light, as it was being overshadowed by a crepe myrtle or redbud tree.
Point is that the deep mind, what Jung called the psyche—which is equivalent in Greek to soul—senses, as does the body, when there’s too much or too little of certain vital whatevers. It lets us know even if we’ve been fooling ourselves, over-riding our deeper needs or instincts. It lets us know with dreams and synchronistic events—those meaningful coincidences like a book just popping into your hands, or a paper, or meeting an old friend by chance, and so forth. The psyche lets us know through our deeply felt intuition, as in “this doesn’t feel right to me” deep down in your chest or heart or gut. If you override that, you get psychosomatically ill. The psyche lets us know how it’s unbalanced by the way we behave—especially those ways we can’t explain, the people we find ourselves hating for no obvious or sufficient reason; or loving, idolizing; or mistreating, and so forth.
So back to deep maturity, imagine yourself walking around the inner garden of your mind, looking at all the roles you play, the mandala of the twelve houses of the zodiac, or any other check-list of major categories. Are any being left out, over-done, under-done?
All work and no play? Too much career and not enough family?
This is the balancing. Assessing your various astrological houses—and of course you don’t have to use such symbols—I don’t, really—all that means is that you have a mental check list of at least five to fifteen types of life roles: Community, the arts, sexuality, recognition, social action, giving back, maintaining family roles, and so forth.
Have some roles “out back” been neglected and are they in need of redemption? For some it’s sexuality, or feeling empowered, self-acceptance or the willingness to be vulnerable. Walk around your garden, take stock of what needs more or less or just recognition and encouragement.
The Tree or LadderThe other part of that map is the tree, which is the idea that there is a hierarchy of values. In the mid-1950s, Abraham Maslow suggested that we need a psychological approach that really respected what only humans can do. (See figure below, right.)
Much of academic psychology up to that point had addressed what rats can do, or monkeys. In another domain, the psychoanalysts were addressing how who we are is determined by sexual and childish motives. Maslow suggested a third alternative that he called Humanistic Psychology, an approach that thinks about how humans are more purpose-driven, experience themselves in terms of goals, and in terms of wider goals than their own needs.
Maslow acknowledged that when stressed to the edge, some people engage in more primal reaction patterns. Not everyone, though. A colleague, Viktor Frankl, who had been in the Nazi prison camps, spoke about maintaining one’s attitude in a positive way, and of witnessing many who helped others even when sorely tested. Anyway, Maslow suggested that this is our general hierarchy: If we don’t take care of the ones at the bottom, then the ones at the mid-point and higher tend to be neglected or forgotten. It's important to remember that under stress there’s still a temptation to regress to the more primitive or childish goals, but it’s good to know about the higher goals.
The Chakra System of Kundalini Yogi
In India they have a tradition for helping people to feel more connected spiritually, a tradition that includes the body methods that folks in the west think of as Yoga, but the exercises for the body---"hatha yoga"---really only express one part of the far more multi-dimensional practices within the general activity of yoga. There are many other ways, using meditation, the diagrams such as some of the mandala drawings I showed you last week, certain mantras or chants, rituals, and many other activities. Other cultures have also used a variety of ways to feel more connected and to explore the further reaches of human nature.
One of the ideas in Yoga—the word is related to the northern European word, “yoke,” by way of an ancient common language many thousands of years back—; one of the ideas is that the mind-body are one, and the mind-body includes multiple sites of core consciousness. It’s not all in the head, as it is imagined to be in the West. Many people who have meditated deeply have agreed with this perception.
The major centers of consciousness and psychic energy are located at different levels along the spine, corresponding anatomically with major autonomic nervous plexuses—certain networks of the nerve roots of the types of nerves that run our body outside of our conscious will. These centers are imagined as something like mandalas, but also vibrant, as if they were alive, like flowers, with petals. These centers are called chakras.
The Yogi meditators folks were exploreres of the mind. Just as explorers of the oceans were also called argonauts, these folks were psycho-nauts. Just as the European explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries discovered new worlds—new to them, that is, not to the natives—so there were people meditating, contemplating, arguing, delving into the subtleties of mind, soul, and spirit.
The key thing about this theory is that it suggest a map, like Maslow’s, of different levels of maturity, personal growth. Most ordinary people get about halfway up, in terms of giving much attention to these types of concerns. Everyone has a little bit at least of every one of these chakras, they’re pulsing in us with different levels of energy, depending on how much attention and cultivation they give us. We’re talking about different kinds of human potentials.
As an analogy of the way people can develop potentials that had been previously undreamed-of, there was such a shift in human cognition. Around six thousand years ago, before writing was invented, theoretically the human mind had the potential for writing—one of the topics I’ve lectured on and will again—but at that time we hadn’t yet really invented the technology. A thousand years later, it was invented, and was beginning to catch on and spread. A few thousand years later it was profoundly starting to change the way people think, as described by Julian Jaynes in a mid-1970s book titled "The Evolution of Consciousness and the Emergence of the Bicameral Mind." So, perhaps in a thousand years from now kids will be learning to better cultivate types of consciousness, higher chakra energies, that we hardly can appreciate today.
More About the ChakrasHere’s the progress: At the base of the spine is the center of basic survival, responding to the desire that says, “I want to be here,” or “I want to live.” Very basic. Below right is the first chakra at the base of the spine, the "muladhara" chakra. (They are numbered from the bottom up, just as consciousness rises from the childish or primitive towards higher levels of enlightenment.
Here below left is the Svadishthana Chakra, which is about emotional connectedness. It is associated with sexuality, but also with what goes with sex, which includes marriage, parenting, for the baby, bonding with the parent, caring for family in general, for friends.There’s the bonding to family, allegiance, tribe, and the bonding to friends. There’s also a subtle bonding to the Wholeness of Life, which is often symbolized as God or given many other names. I want to connect is the core desire here, so it requires that we expand our appreciation of what sex is really about. (It tends to get oversimplified, cheapened in a consumerist culture.)
Each of these has a rich matrix of associations, symbols, and interrelations—again, just savoring the complexity of these could fill several semesters.
Third ChakraThe next level up is the third chakra from the bottom, located near the solar plexus. This is also what in Oriential medicine and martial arts is called the “chi.” It’s the part of the mind, the expanding sense of self, that has to do with feeling effective. Again, this includes many components. It includes the sense of possessing. I “got” the prize. It includes the sense of building together, or winning a competition. We’ll return to this, because it is one of the centers of attention in our culture. I want to have, I want to feel effective. It has been noted that in a sense, the behaviorists psychologists describe better the dynamics of the first chakra, the Freudians the second chakra, the Adlerians the third chakra. At each of these levels people can learn more or less finely discriminated or mature reaction patterns.
The next level up is the autonomic nervous plexus in the region of the heart. The core sensibility is what needs to be the core also of the goal of deep maturity. The key desire here is "I want to share." This is a more mature type of love, more giving than getting, and more aligned with an awareness of responsibility for the community. (Remember I spoke of love, faith and responsibility needing to play off of each other.)
Most people are still overly concerned with issues related especially to the second and third chakra, and more problematic, mainly encumbered with misunderstandings and false goals associated with an immature culture that panders to and feeds off of our individual immaturity. If I spoke in terms of subtle addictions about sex and power, perhaps that would explain a little better what I mean. So part of the work of deep maturity is to begin first to help get past these confusions and misunderstandings.
In general, our culture tends to overdo its focus on the second and third chakra types of consciousness; many churches try to give attention to the fourth level. And while all spiritual traiditons have a few pioneers who aim higher, at mystical union, most Western traditions almost ignore these "higher" dimensions of the map. However, I think that, first, our culture needs to know about these wider possibilities, and this is especially relevant for elders, those in the second half of life, those who are more aware of the transience of life and the inevitability of their demise.
It may help in this work to open to the idea that there are really better things than sex and power. Yes, more fun. People who are into mysticism, or even more mature third through seventh chakra activities say they are more fun—the Hindu term is ananda, loosely translated as bliss—more fun than power and sex.
The Fifth Chakra
For example, the fifth "Vishuddha" chakra from the bottom is located at the level of the autonomic nerves supplying the general area of the throat. Have you ever belted out a song with great joy, with great fullness? It’s a powerful high. Letting the energy come through you and expressing it, thus circulating it, giving it back, this is also a kind of connectedness at a higher vibration. If the second chakra of relationships are the tone, this is the octave. Deep maturity involves beginning to let your little light shine. It can be in any truly spontaneous activity—singing, dancing, making love, really getting into a game. It’s when the you part of you gets out of the way and your creative subconscious can do its thing. This is what an important contemporary psychologist, Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, calls flow. It may also be recognized as literally ec-stasy, the word roots meaning standing (stacy) outside, (ex).
This is the voice, the prophet, letting your light out from under the bushel basket, letting your light shine. This, too, is a major task in deep maturity and I’ll be saying more about this.
The Sixth Chakra: "Ajna"The psycho-spiritual-energetic center the next level up is located at that third eye location (see picture, below right), in the middle of the forehead just above the eyebrows. It has only two petals. This is a place that, if you relax it, reminds you to release, surrender, practice acceptance, and sets the stage for the next higher stage of
mystic union. We can get to that a little, but there are dimensions here that go beyond my knowledge. The desire is to release desire, preferences.
Seventh Chakra: "Sahasrara"
The seventh level from the bottom is the crown of the head, where one is willing to release I-ness, the sense of separation. This "Thousand-Petalled" Chakra represents a potential reached occasionally by great mystics and saints. I don’t expect to reach this in my lifetime, but who knows, perhaps I'll be surpised by Grace. There is a very small fraction of a percentage of people who really want to experience this, though, and few are willing to make great sacrifices and a lifelong commitment to this end. The importance for us is to realize that this potential is there in all of us, if only as a seed.
Here is Alex Grey's interesting picture of the chakra system, below right:
The general schema of the ladder may also be found in the the Jewish mystical tradition known as Kabbalah, and pictures of this may be seen elsewhere on this website. Mystics in the Christian tradition also partake of this, and it resonates with what I’ve said about Alchemy, too.
Again, a careful exposition of these chakras and its associated theory could fill several full college semesters, scores of books, and even then not fully or authoritatively treat the subject. The point here, though, is just to know that such maps exist that suggest the full potential of human life.
Some Other PrinciplesAs for applying this map, as hinted at in the previous lectures, there are too many components. Here are some specific suggestions just as examples:
• As aids to your thinking about your life, developing the internal connections among your values, explore not only talking with friends about these lectures, but also: memoir writing, autobiography, making an ethical will, creating a website with these elements for your relatives and friends. It’s better than a tombstone.
• Witnessing to what you value or enjoy, such as favorite works of music or art. Share these. A few friends or relatives might enjoy them too.
• For your own soul-deepening, identify the things that might serve as “personal symbols,” such as favorite animals, heroes, objects, and so forth. Write or talk with others about why they connect for you. Also, it works the other way: While talking about things you love with others, certain ideas or images become stronger in your mind.
• In that same vein, pay attention to the situations that bring tears behind or to your eyes, that choke you up. Don’t feel embarrassed: Rather, simply say to yourself, “This touches my heart.” Respect your subconscious. Don’t feel you have to explain it. The associations and understandings may unfold over layers and years.
• Also, pay attention to your dreams, and to synchronicity (i.e., meaningful “coincidences”). All these approaches feed your soul.
• As an aid to sustaining faith and cheerfulness, learn the words to some of your favorite uplifting songs, inspirational poems, or inspirational quotes. These may serve you well when you find yourself in hospital settings or the like, waiting.
• In the service of being “young at heart,” pay attention to activities that for you redeem your natural heritage of imagination, exuberance, playfulness, spontaneity, curiosity, and en-joy-ment.
• Continue to learn about psychological literacy: For example, next year, I’ll be presenting and discussing the components of critical thinking. Check this website. I may be posting some past lectures, too.
Summary: The World Needs YouNot that these approaches to self-development are just for your own good. The happier, mellower, and deeper you are, the more you can be a good example to others, you can inspire and stimulate them. Of course, you can also do substantial volunteer or paid work in continuing to "give back," engage in social action, help the world be born anew.
The world needs you. The world needs elders who are empowered in the right way. They aren’t competing with the younger generation, they are blessing them—these, your kids and nephews and nieces and all: These people in mid-life are working within a culture that has a relative lack of the kinds of guidelines that lead to a clear sense of purpose, self-acceptance, a hunger for growth. Some find it within religion, but for many the old forms need revision, or they need to find a new path.
The larger movement is what I call psychological-ization, a mouthful that suggests that spirituality and psychology need to get together as much as spirituality and science. These lectures are part of that trend, laying the foundation, getting people thinking and talking more about psychology, the psychology of spirituality, and the spirituality of deep psychology. These syntheses can and should be made, and all will benefit.
I welcome suggestions, input, discussion. Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember, DVDs of most of these talks can be obtained for a nominal fee.