Home of Wis-Myth. Just left of Sci-Fi looms Wisdom-Focused Modern Mythology

Novel Insights & Wisdom
Page Three

November 10, 2014

For the multi-faith explorer, the novels of Susan Howatch - especially her Church of England series - provide entertainment that delves into many sides of Christian spirituality. One more recent find, The High Flyer, begins each chapter with a quotation from either of two authors: John Habgood's Confessions of a Conservative Liberal, and David F. Ford's The Shape of Living. Samples of these quotes offer unique ways to express some of the common threads that interconnect many religious/spiritual systems, such as:

"Communication in intimacy takes on a great urgency and even risk. When and how should I say what I feel? What questions should I ask? What are the limits, in physical or emotional intimacy, or in commitment? What should be shared with others? But surrounding and underlying all those is the central mystery of the other person and what is happening between us." David F. Ford, The Shape of Living

"The wounds which most cruelly disfigure the heart are given and received between lovers, husbands and wives, parents and children, friends, long-term colleagues and partners - any relationship where deep trust and loyalty create potentially tragic vulnerability." David F. Ford, The Shape of Living

"The open door; and the closed door. It is a profoundly religious theme, because religion has always dealt with what anthropologists call 'thresholds,' those periods of significant transitions in life, the passing throgh a new door into the unknown ... They are potentially dangerous moments ... And the question of who stands at the door, and whether doors are perceived as open or closed, and what we expect to find on the other side of them, is more than a nice piece of religious imagery. It has to do with our capacity to change, and with the kind of security needed to cross some major threshold." John Habgood, Confessions of a Conservative Liberal

"When someone has compassion on us we find ourselves really seen, heard, attended to ... If someone's attention is genuinely compassionate it does not stop at attentiveness: he or she is willing to speak, act and even suffer with us and for us. It is in such passivity, as we receive their compassion, that the most powerful dynamics of our own feeling and activity are shaped. Amazed gratitude for such compassion can last a lifetime." David F. Ford, The Shape of Living

Throughout the past 18 years I often referred to a book that has been called, by Larry Dossey, M.D., "a spellbinding spiritual walkabout." What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America, by Tony Schwartz, was published in 1995. Since almost 20 years have passed, of course, he may already have written a sequel to this fascinating account of explorations in fields of mysticism, psychology, philosophy, medicine, and science; nevertheless, his book is a gathering of in-depth reports on the work of some of the most famous names in American fields of wisdom.

One of the highest recommendations I can offer for What Really Matters is what he writes in the conclusion of the book called "The Point Is to Be Real": "What I'm most committed to is searching for my own truth. Like most people, I still often avoid, or deny, or rationalize, or act out of habit, or look to blame others in an effort to avoid truths that I find unpleasant or threatening.

"This capacity for self-deception sometimes seems infinite. Being honest with myself now strikes me less as an end - something I'll finally achieve after enough work - than an ongoing challenge every day. Over time, the attempt to be more broadly aware has enlarged my life. I spend less of my energy defensively, and that frees me to reach out to others more positively and to work more productively. Seeking the truth in the face of my fears has given shape and passion to my search. In turn, I'm convinced that the planet's survival - and evolution - depends on our collective capacity to look within more honestly, and to act more consciously and less defensively in every sphere of our lives.

"I've grown less hungry for absolute answers and more skeptical of those who claim to have them..."

Given this taste of Mr. Schwartz's approach, if you've ever been curious about meditation in various systems, biofeedback, enneagrams, the mind/body connection, psychic work, transpersonal psychology - to name a few areas covered - you will find this book worth spending time with.

November 2, 2014

Getting down to basics, paring away distraction and opening up to infinite possibility, this offering from Laotse:

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel's use;
The use of clay in molding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absence;
Doors, windows, in a house
Are used for their emptiness;
Thus we are helped by what is not,
To use what is.

Consider this jacket blurb from a precious small text by H. H. the 14th Dalai Lama: "Real compassion extends to each and every sentient being, not just to friends, or family, or those in terrible situations. True love and compassion extend even to those who wish to harm you. Try to imagine that your enemies are purposefully making trouble in order to help you accumulate positive forces for shaping the future - what Buddhists call 'merit' - and face them with patience. If your life goes along too easily, you become soft. Trying circumstances help you develop inner strength and the courage to face difficulty without emotional breakdown. Who teaches this? Not your friend, but your enemy." How to Be Compassionate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2011, Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects,

By Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore

In 1970 I was urged to read this book, and affected by the reading, keeping five legal-sized pages of quotations from the book that have remained in my files.

McLuhan emphasized that rather than make value judgments, he explored human perceptions and sensibilities. He was known to predict the World Wide Web as early as 1962 and coined the term "surfing" as applied, to quote Wikipedia, "to rapid, irregular and multidirectional movement through a hetrogeneous body of documents or knowledge."

Indeed, in the early sixties he heralded a new age based on the uniting factor of electronic media and coined the term "global village," inspired by Teilhard de Chardin and James Joyce.

Marshall's son Eric shares that the book title being The Medium is the Massage originated from a typesetting error with the word "message." Seeing the typo, Marshall exclaimed, "Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!"

Eric further offers that there are four possible versions of that word, each one accurate: "Message," "Mess Age," "Massage," and "Mass Age."

Quentin Fiore's role as designer and co-author of the book stemmed from their both thinking along the same paths, and from Fiore's impressive graphic design background and depth of technological concepts.

So here are a few of the quotes that I jotted down in 1970:

"'Precision' is sacrificed for a greater degree of suggestion. Myth is the mode of simultaneous awareness of a complex group of causes and effects."

"Electric circuitry confers a mythic dimension on our ordinary individual and group actions. Our technology forces us to live mythically, but we continue to think fragmentarily, and on single, separate planes."

"Myth means putting on the audience, putting on one's environment. The Beatles do this. They are a group of people who suddenly were able to put on their audience and the English language with musical effects - putting on a whole vesture, a whole time, a Zeit."

"Young people are looking for a formula for putting on the universe - participation mystique. They do not look for detached patterns - for ways of relating themselves to the world, a la nineteenth century."

"Most people find it difficult to understand purely verbal concepts. They suspect the ear; they don't trust it. In general we feel more secure when things are visible, when we can 'see for ourselves.' We admonish children, for instance, to 'believe only half of what they see, and nothing of what they hear.' All kinds of 'shorthand' systems of notation have been developed to help us see what we hear."

"We employ visual and spatial metaphors for a great many everyday expressions. We insist on employing visual metaphors even when we refer to purely psychological states, such as tendency and duration. For instance, we say thereafter when we really mean thenafter, always when we mean at all times. We are so visually biased that we call our wisest men visionaries, or seers!"

"The Finn cycle of tribal institutions can return in the electric age, but if again, then let's make it a wake or awake or both. Joyce could see no advantage in our remaining locked up in each cultural cycle as in a trance or dream. He discovered the means of living simultaneously in all cultural modes while quite conscious."

"Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act - the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change."

"The new feeling that people have about guilt is not something that can be privately assigned to some individual, but is rather something shared by everybody, in some mysterious way. This feeling seems to be returning to our midst. In tribal societies we are told that it is a familiar reaction, when some hideous event occurs for some people to say, 'How horrible it must be to feel like that,' instead of blaming somebody for having done something horrible. This feeling is an aspect of the new mass culture we are moving into - a world of total involvement in which everybody is so profoundly involved with everybody else and in which nobody can really imagine what private guilt can be anymore."

"The main obstacle to a clear understanding of the effects of the new media is our deeply imbedded habit of regarding all phenomena from a fixed point of view. We speak, for instance, of 'gaining perspective.' This psychological process derives unconsciously from print technology. Print technology created the public. Electric technology created the mass. The public consists of separate individuals walking around with separate, fixed points of view. The new technology demands that we abandon the luxury of this posture, this fragmentary outlook."

Steve Jobs, advice to Stanford University graduates, included in Shambhala Sun, November, 2014:
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Thank you for viewing this introductory post. Frequent additions will appear on this and adjacent pages as time and circumstance allow. -Lily G. Stephen, November 2, 2014

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