La Passione di Roma & the difference between modern and classical art

William James (often referred to as the father of modern psychology) was greatly impressed with what he believed to be the distinction between classical and modern art.

In ancient Greek art, he argued, lay the quintessence of all reality. There the artist’s idea runs through all his creation allowing it to lose any amount of detail and still smile as freely as before.  A smashed nose or broken arm could never diminish a Greek statute’s rapport.  By contrast the ‘modern’ Madonna’s missing nose destroyed her very essence.

According to James, something in modern art created a dissonance, a subjective distance that was absent in ancient art.  Both pointed – as they should – to the existence of the ineffable beyond.  But for James, the distinction lay in the artist’s consciousness of it.

Part of the reason for this must lay in the difference between the modern and ancient worldviews.  Since Descartes, Western man has struggled with the connection between objective (I perceive) and subjective (I think) realities.  By contrast, the ancients embraced a more holistic –even magical – cosmology where all of creation was caught up in a seamless harmony of ‘being’.

For example, in the Hermetic and neoplatonic traditions, telestike or statue animation played a major part in religious rituals, which aimed to align the human soul with the gods so as to achieve immortality on earth.  In such rituals, both humans and statues became ‘god-possessed’, their material form becoming a vehicle for divine life.

While such traditions are for the most part no longer practiced today, they serve to remind us of a significant element of our humanity which sadly, we have forgotten.  As the American writer Ursula Leguin puts it, we live in an age where media continually undermines our capacity for recognising what she calls ‘real myths’.  Soul-less, artificially fabricated ‘glamour’ vanishes as soon as it appears.   But no reason or cynicism can destroy the power of the timeless truths as expressed through myth.   “You look at the Blond Hero (a golden haired Ben Hur clone),” she says, “really look – and he turns into a gerbil.  But you look at Apollo and he looks back at you.”

There’s little doubt that like the Greeks, our imaginations are still gripped with a fascination for living statues.  Many fine examples of theatre traditions of mime and tableaux have now migrated off stage to become part of everyday life.

Yet do we use them, as did the ancients to achieve immortality on earth?   No.  We use them as does the Italian company Fendi in their advertisement for a perfume called La Passione di Roma,  to sell ourselves a sexier tomorrow.

If he were alive today, William James would likely be disappointed.  For he truly believed that if in modernity a balance between the material world and that of imagination could be found, it would not in the bank accounts of multinational corporations, but in the Divine.

It’s a Four of Cups Day – Beware too much of a good thing

With the sun in Cancer (feelings) and the moon in Pisces (divine discontent), today and tomorrow are Four of Cups days.

On a divinatory level, a Four of Cups day signals a time of dissatisfaction, boredom, and perhaps even depression.  This can play out in any area of our lives, but no matter where, what, or how, we are bound to end up feeling cheated and dismayed.

What’s up for grabs, however, is whether this prompts us to make positive changes in our lives (for almost certainly our angst is due to unrealistic expectations) or drown ourselves in our sorrows.

For the Kabbalist, this relates to the fourth sephira, Chesed, which represents majesty, loving-kindness, and spiritual love.  The ruler of Chesed is Jupiter (or Zeus), who in ancient mythology was the far-sighted, benevolent king of the gods.  But when we look at the stories about Jupiter, we find that no only was he associated with a cosmic consciousness we mortals could never hope to possess he was also a dirty old man.

Mythically, Jupiter’s colossal appetite for extra-marital sex (he impregnated just about everything that moved) was as legendary as was his stormy relationship with his long-suffering wife Hera, whom one gets the impression underneath it all he really did love.

Perhaps like certain modern celebrities we could say he had an addiction to sex.   In any event Jupiter‘s ‘problem’ is archetypal and can be summed up for a Four of Cups day as overindulgence – much too much of a good thing.

In the end, Jupiter did all right despite his destructive tendencies and that we can put down to his enormous reservoir of hope and good faith.   Jupiter understood the profound difference between pleasure and happiness and was able to rise above himself time and time again – so as to refocus his energy from scattered sensuality into more prosperous, long-lasting pursuits.

Psychological Integration in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

The night before last, my husband and I attended the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Because we’ve enjoyed everything we’ve seen there before, we were sorely disappointed when the play failed to live up to our expectations.  From the lack of enthusiastic clapping as the last act culminated into closing bows, we concluded we weren’t the only ones who’d found the evening’s entertainment lacking.

In the lingering light cocooning the historic market town, we wracked our brains as to what had gone wrong.  As usual the acting had been superb.  Naturally in the company’s temporary location, we knew the stage set must ‘needs be” be limited;  that we’d already figured in.  Even the awkward juxtaposition of contemporary combat gear with the 17th century prose couldn’t account for our discontent.

Settling back for an après theatre tipple in the comfortable lounge of our hotel, we concluded that the problem must lie not with the performance, but with the play itself.   As neither of us had seen Antony and Cleopatra before, we satisfied ourselves that of all Shakespeare’s great plays this one just wasn’t our cup of tea.

Next morning while sudsing my hair with lemon scented shampoo, I realised that we’d not appreciated Antony and his Cleopatra because they’d been portrayed as ordinary persons, just like you and me.  No one likes to have their inadequacies flaunted – especially not when you’re paying for the privilege.

Cleopatra had been petty and jealous, grasping for every possible reassurance of the potency of her feminine charms.  Ladies, which of us have not at some point in our lives not behaved exactly the same way? And although admittedly Antony had once been brave and strategic, he was portrayed now as weak-willed and wooly; instead of demonstrating the strength of character expected of a world leader, he was more like a lovesick schoolboy with greying hair.  Haven’t we all seen more than a few of those in our time?

But worse, this is precisely how Shakespeare had drawn them – with all their mortal flaws shining bright and new as evening stars.   Although clearly the great bard had expected us to see through this gauzy veil to the “new heaven, new earth” of which Antony frequently spoke, it was hard to get hooked on just the promise of a better life beyond.

The problem is that with their deaths Antony and Cleopatra did fulfil this otherworldly promise.  I suppose that for the good Christian audiences for which this play was originally composed, that would have been more than enough.

However the psychologically sophisticated audiences of today can never be satisfied with a glimpse of future redemption; we’ve been told that if only we do enough ‘character work’, we’ll be rewarded with ‘new heaven’ and ‘new earth’ in the now.

That none of the dramatis personae in this play displayed the least inclination of achieving this Holy Grail of individuated wholeness was disappointing to say the least.

But to my mind, the key question is whether their lack of motivation says more about the shallowness of 17th century values or of our own.

Today is a Six of Wands Day – that’s right – lots of hot air!

With the sun in Gemini (air) and the moon in Leo (fire) it’s a Six of Wands day. When fire and air combine, you get just what you might think – lots of hot air.

A Six of Wands day may find you soaring to new heights through a well deserved pat on the back or maybe even a promotion.

Equally however, you might just get kick in the face for excessive pride.

For the Kabbalist, today’s energy puts us smack in the middle of the Tree – in the sixth sephira, Tiferet, the place of the heart. Tiferet is where the higher, lighter energies from the top of the Tree (soul) meet with the richer, darker energies from the lower (ego). Tiferet is where we come face to face with our humanity – warts and all.

To make the best of today’s energy, take yourself and your ‘accomplishments’ with a grain of salt. Of course you deserve acknowledgement for all your hard work. Don’t we all?

But in modern Western cosmology while soul tends to soft peddle, the ego drives hard. Ego has very specific needs and desires. Ego is very demanding. Ego makes lots of noise.

In Tiferet we’re encouraged to put aside ego for a time in order to make room for soul. This isn’t as easy as it might sound.

And so with the Six of Wands, we discover that while success feels fantastic – it is indeed fleeting or worse  – for at the end of the day, despite being rewarded for our efforts, we’re still faced with a lot of hard work.

Saturn in Libra – Watch the Fur Fly!

Nearly 18 years of years of serious societal dysfunction will have reached its peak during the period 2010-2012.  Losses of homes, jobs, and high personal debt will have brought many relationships to their breaking point.

On 30 October 2009, Saturn (the ‘get real’ factor) entered Libra (relationships) where it will remain (except during a dip back into Virgo from April – July this year) until early October 2012.   The impact on society, families, personal relationships, and marriages will be devastating.

Get ready to watch the fur fly.

Since 2007, the divorce rate has fallen dramatically because of the economic crisis. “It is very hard to refinance right now and many people are being forced to just stay put,” says one divorce lawyer.

Expect this to continue until mid July this year when Saturn begins its 2 1/2 year transit through Libra in earnest, during which time separations, annulments and divorces will rise significantly (especially during Mars’ transit through Libra from 30 July – 14 September 2010) generating substantial economic and psychological debris.

With Saturn, the “fear” factor always plays a significant role: fear of aging, fear of change, fear of the future – all of which are bugbears of huge chunks of Western society now faced with having to “let go” of those material things in life to which they’ve given much more importance than they deserved.

Personal happiness is the foundation of happy relationships and Saturn in Libra means to teach us that rather being an entitlement, happiness is hard work.

The most important thing you can do now is to focus on those relationships in your life that feature good old common sense and a return to the core values that make human relationships enjoyable.

We all need to take positive steps to counter the negative impact of a decade of the culture of “fear”.  The best way to do this is through “downtime” for BOTH children and adults in order to re-discover personal values for yourself and your family.  In other words, take time out of life to smell the roses.

Another way to make the best of Saturn’s transit through Libra is to reduce the amount of clutter and distraction in your life.  Take time off the Internet.  Watch less television and stop being distracted by pocketfuls of electronic gadgets.  With time and space to contemplate your life experience, you’ll gain wisdom, by which I mean the knowledge, insight, and good judgment required to live a full and satisfying life.  Saturn’s lessons are those of perseverance, commitment, and delayed gratification.

Learning these lessons are key to your ability to survive in the coming years as the effects of the economic crisis continues to have maximum impact on millions seeking to recover from the economic, social, professional, and personal damage that resulted from the internal fears of the collective that being projected negatively into the material world.

Times are changing.  There’s no turning back.  Transiting Uranus opposition to Saturn (April 2011- October 2012) assures that the “new” will win out over the “old’.

Good luck in the challenging times ahead and don’t forget we’re all in this together.

Making the Most of Meaningful Coincidence

JUNG & SYNCHRONICITY – Making the Most of Meaningful Coincidence

© 2007

by Debra Moolenaar

The more Barbara reflected on a 12th century saint’s words – ‘being a feather on the breath of God’ – the more real feathers she’d find.  One day while walking a labyrinth and grappling with whether to take her vows in a religious order, Barbara found a special feather, – a dark curved one with wispy white fronds.  When she picked it up, a small voice inside told her to ‘be a feather’.   Barbara left the order and moved to New Mexico, where her connection between feathers and spiritual inspiration grew ever stronger.

Although there’s no apparent cause and effect link between Barbara’s finding feathers and receiving spiritual guidance, we sense it’s more than an inconsequential coincidence.  Caught up in the meaningful collision of apparently unconnected events, we feel something otherworldly at work – the God-like hand of fate.  So what are we to make of it?

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung believed that certain coincidences carry meaning.  He coined the term Synchronicity to refer to a series of thoughts and external experiences that, although isolated in time and space, appear to be connected in a ‘meaningful way’.  Not all coincidences are synchronistic.  Some – like the book you need jumping off the shelf and landing at your feet – are just fun to relate.  But real synchronistic experiences hold your attention much longer.  Their significance can take years to play out.

Jung believed synchronistic experiences mirror deep psychological processes that further ‘individuation’ – the process by which we gain understanding of our place in the world.  In Jungian thought, society’s mass-mindedness creates a ‘collective’ repository of emotionally loaded wish-fantasies that are hard to resist.  Consider the steadily growing number of worldwide reports of Mary (‘Mother Mary’ or ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’) apparitions.  Jung wouldn’t be surprised.   Increasingly complex technological advances threaten to annihilate our spiritual heritage.   Yet according to Jung, our spirituality is the very thing that makes us individuals.

Statistically, synchronicity shouldn’t happen.  Although modern society encourages us to be ‘normal’ or ‘average’, we can use our synchronistic experiences to assert our individuality.  Jung believed real life to be made of individuals – not averages.  He also said that it’s by thinking outside the box that we’ll find our personal worth.

Like dreams, synchronistic experiences naturally occur when our unconscious is trying to tell us something.  Archetypes – the building blocks of the unconscious – are the key to understanding the message.  Jung described archetypes as concentrations of psychic energy that manifest as particular themes and motifs – like the spiral found in seashells.  Such motifs appear widely across history and cultures.   The unconscious connects us with the archetypes, and the archetypes trigger synchronistic experiences.

Synchronistic experiences always involve an archetype.  Consider the case of the golden beetle.  While Jung’s client was relating a dream in which she’d received a gift of a golden scarab (a large dung beetle held sacred in ancient Egypt), Jung heard a gentle tapping on the window.  He opened it and caught a beetle whose gold-green color was the same as that of the golden scarab his client had described.   When Jung related that the scarab was a classic rebirth symbol depicting the archetype of self-transformation – exactly the issue with which she’d been struggling, the client was shocked enough to break down her resistance to therapy.

Archetypes often depict universal life events such as birth, puberty, marriage, parenthood, and death.  They also depict the classic character types associated with those events.  Confronting archetypes through synchronistic experience alerts us to personal issues of which we might not otherwise have been aware.

Archetypes have been with us forever.  They speak to our hearts, and we intuitively understand.  As the result, archetypal themes underlie most myth, literature, and cinema classics like the box-office hit ‘Star Wars’, which was based on the archetype of the Hero’s journey.  Myth is a great starting point when looking for the meaning behind a synchronistic experience.

We can also extract meaning from synchronistic experiences through Jung’s technique of ‘amplification’.  For example, with Barbara’s experience, we’d  examine the associations others have had with feathers.  Throughout history, feathers have been used by shamans and priests.  They’ve long symbolized the sacred power of the archetype of the healer.  Feathers are also believed to be mystical signs,  carrying messages and opportunities.  As scraps of synchronicity in the flow of universal meaning, feathers have comforted us and renew our hope for the future.

The more in touch we are with our unconscious, the more likely that we’ll notice synchronistic events and be spiritually and psychologically transformed by them.  This certainly seems to have been Barbara’s experience.

On a bright summer’s morning a year ago, Barbara crossed the border into New Mexico and pulled into the first rest stop.   She was exhausted.  When upon opening the car door she found a raven’s feather, at last she was certain she’d made the right decision.


Whom does the Grail Serve? An Interpretation of the Prologue of the Gospel of John

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[i]

And so we begin at the ‘beginning’ when ‘the Word was with God’ and indeed ‘the Word was God.’

This intriguing combination of time and speech suggests a storehouse of immense cosmic energy awaiting release.  I’m reminded of zimzum, the Jewish mystical concept used by the Kabbalists to signify the self emptying aspect of the creator.

God (know as Ain Soph) withdraws his Light in order to create a vacuum allowing a single thread of his Light to traverse the darkness in a series of ten concentric circles called Sephiroth – collectively know as The Tree of Life.  Each Sephira acts as a vessel containing some of his Light; each represents an aspect of God.

For the Kabbalist, the ‘Tree’ is not only a diagram of God’s unfolding creative impulse, but also a path for spiritual union with the Divine.  Legend has it that after the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, angels brought the Kabbalah down from Heaven to teach Adam how to recover his primal bliss.

It’s important to remember that The Gospel of John was originally written in Greek and what is translated simply as ‘Word’ was originally Logos, one of the most complex concepts of the Hellenistic world meaning nothing less than the natural order of things –  the very rhyme and reason of creation.

Rather than decanting the majesty of Logos into a single human being, a man called Jesus of Nazareth (as is often done), I suggest that John meant to focus our attention more broadly – perhaps on Adam Kadmon, the eternal image of man and God, which historically has been equated with Logos.

In John’s time, the Pharisee mystics expounded the idea of the Son of Man as an archetypal ‘Heavenly Man – the image of God.  Adam Kadmon, the archetypal figure, is the cosmic blueprint for all mankind.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he create him.’ (Genesis 1:27)

But Adam Kadmon is not only the archetypal image of God, but of all men.   If Adam Kadmon is the equivalent of Logos – the “Word of God” – then the awesome truth is that not only did God send his only Son to dwell among us (as the usual translations go), but also in us, as it literally says in the original Greek.

Even more awesome is the implication that it’s our job to do more than simply receive Jesus, the man from Nazareth, as our Messiah, but we must actually ‘receive’ Logos, God’s big-picture plan,  into our hearts and lives.  So how might that be accomplished?  I suggest through Tiphareth.

Tiphareth, the sixth Sephira of the Tree of Life, is also referred to as Adam Kadom – the Son of Man.  Because Tiphareth lies at the very heart centre of the Tree, it forms the balance point where the component forces of manifestation stabilise. allowing God to dwell among us.  Tiphareth, the place of our humanity, represents God incarnate in the form of the Messiah – the sacrificed God.

In the Kabbalistic world, symbols and ideas find association through correspondence.[ii] As well as its associations with ‘the Son’, Tiphareth has correspondence with both the heart chakra and the astrological sun, ruler of the zodiac sign Leo.

Many equate the astrological sun with the quest for Self, or in the words of Joseph Campbell, ‘The Hero’s Journey”, which not surprisingly is a journey of the heart.

This journey is well illustrated by the story of Perceval, who is closely associated with astrological Leo.  Although raised in isolation in the forest by his mother, as the true son of a nobleman, Perceval finds his way into the chivalrous world of knights and kings.

As a Knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, with his head held high he sets off to heal the injured Grail King and redeem the failing land.  But sorely lacking in compassion and understanding of the ways of the world, he fails miserably in his task.   As the result with his head held low, he sets out on the long, painful path of self-discovery.

When finally he puts aside his personal agenda and prays to God to shown the way,  Perceval is at long last able to ask the right question, ‘Whom does the Grail serve?”.  It is with this that the Grail king is redeemed and with him, the land and its people.  It is then also, that the Grail king reveals that not only is he Perceval’s grandfather, but that Perceval is to become the new Grail king.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

So whom does the Grail serve?

Perceval never got an answer.  Perhaps it’s enough to know there’s a question that needs asking.

But I like to think that which the Grail serves is Logos – The Word of God – the natural order – the harmony of all things with all things.[iii]

————————————

[i] “Prologue to the Gospel According to John,” The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament. New York: Thomas Nelson & Son, 1946.

[ii] Imagine two violins that vibrate in sympathy with each other when their strings are tuned to the same pitch.

[iii] Perhaps the strangest aspect of the Grail mystery (and the secret societies dedicated to its service, is that its symbolism seems to have no apparent connection to Christianity.  This has led some to speculate that the Grail tradition has something do with a secret teaching of Christ or perhaps an even more ancient gnosis.

Self, Spirituality, and Zen – Journey of the Ox-Tamer

The concept of ‘self’ is as woolly as that of  ‘spirituality’.

Yet today’s Western spirituality seeker must come to grips with both because now he’s so psychologically oriented, the ‘self’ is the centre of his ‘spirituality’.[i]

While both mystics and psychologically oriented spirituality seekers often speak in terms of ‘transcending the self’, I suggest they mean completely different things.  The confusion is not surprising given that the source for today’s Western notions of spirituality is found in the European mystical traditions of the 12th century.[ii]

In his book Riding the Ox Home (London, 1982), Willard Johnson helps come to grips with relationship of the psychologised ‘self’ to spirituality using the ancient Taoist parable about the ox tamer on the Zen path to enlightenment.

The story begins with the ox tamer and his missing ox.  The ox tamer isn’t sure whether his ox is lost or he just can’t see it.  Either way he’s unhappy for all the traditional things that should bring him happiness do not.  Intuitively the ox tamer knows only his ox will bring meaning to his life so he sets off on the first part of his journey, the goal of which is to tame his ox.

Traditionally, the ox symbolises the ultimate, undivided reality, the Buddha-nature that is the ground of all existence.  The ox tamer symbolises the part of the ‘self’ that initially indentifies with the individuated ego, separate from the ox.  However with progressive enlightenment, the ox tamer finally comes to realise the fundamental reality – he and the ox are – and always have been – one.

Psychologically, Johnson suggests that the ox tamer represents that part of the self that makes choices and acts in accordance with them.  At the beginning of the ox tamer’s spiritual journey,  this ‘self is immature and uncertain of its place in the world.  This nascent (and easily manipulated) self, sees everything as in service to it needs; the world is to be exploited for its pleasure.   According to Johnson, to achieve maturity we must overcome this infantile self unless we wish to die unfulfilled having known life only from the perspective of our animalistic needs.

In turn, the ox represents the ox tamer’s psychologically deeper self – his daemon or inner voice, which keeps his more immature self in check.

As with most Eastern religions, to lose one’s ‘self’ is to rediscover a deeper ‘self’ that will become his orientation to reality.  In most Western religions, this deeper self corresponds at least in part, with God of the Divine.  In the west, generally it is only mystics who achieve unification with this other dimension of self and as they well know, this requires more than just finding and taming one’s ox.

Playing his flute, the triumphant ox tamer rides home on his ox.  Having tamed his ox (i.e. his need for self-gratification) he is free to express his creative energies in the celebration of life.  He has won the battle for self-knowledge; he knows that he himself created his ox through his thoughts.  After taming his ox, the ox tamer hears his inner voice –  he has found his true home.

But the ox tamer is not yet finished.  In next part of his journey he must say goodbye to his ox and leave it behind.

In both Zen and Western mystical traditions, the goal is not just to tame the self but instead to transcend it.  This is the essence of spirituality in the ultimate sense.  I suggest this requires more time, space, and personal commitment than most spirituality seekers are able and willing to devote.  Instead, I suggest that their goal is more like that of the first part of the ox tamer’s journey – the taming of their egoist ox.

The key point is that we confuse the two at our peril.  While psychology does offer us knowledge about ourselves as human beings, it has not yet been shown to offer us any knowledge about God.


[i] For more information see Carrette and King’s Selling Spirituality – The Silent Takeover of Religion, (Routledge, 2005).

[ii] For more information see Passage to Modernity – An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture (Yale University Pres, 1993)by Louis Dupré.

The Secret Book of John

Anger and The Secret Book of John

Short fiction by Debra Moolenaar

© 2010

“Tomorrow I shall have to tell them.”    Glancing down at my hands, I wince and stuff my wedding ring in my jean’s pocket.  After shuffling across the room, I practice silent arpeggios before the well-stoked fire.  A week before Christmas and even Marseilles is cold and damp as a grave.   With increased circulation comes unexpected hope.  “What shall I tell them in London, Mother?   What shall I tell them when I go home?”

“The truth, child.”   Mother Superior hands me a cup of strong china tea.  “Understand that your anger is that of all the wronged women since the beginning of time.   There’s no disgrace in that.”

“I am not angry.”

“I’ve something that may help.”  With polished confidence, the nun glides across the crimson carpet to her ebony bookcase.  She selects a thin volume.  “This is one of my alternative Christian texts, some of which have come down from ancient Mesopotamia.”

The Secret Book of John?”  I flip  gold embossed, parchment pages and wonder what in hell kind of sacred treasure I’m holding in my unclean hands.

“The bishop believes it heresy.”  She flashes a seductive wink.  “I prefer to think of it as wisdom from the time when man had direct discourse with his gods.”

I nod.   Best I understood, heresy was wisdom, just in disguise.

“I prefer a humanist god to one who dishes out hell and damnation for every mistake,” continues the mother with the hint of a smile.

The Mother is progressive.  That’s why I chose The Sisters of Saint Joseph for my little er, um, retreat.   But as I prepare to leave France, I’m now thinking she’s too progressive, too focused on sweetness and light.  Maybe her sheltered life is like that.  Mine isn’t.

“Like me, Hannah, you search for truth.”  The mother bows her head.   “Yet when you fail to find it, like most of us you will accept the lies.  In this case anger is justified.  It signals something deep within you is wrong.   This Gnostic text explains much about what I believe it means to be a woman and why we all share the same anger.  What would you say if I told you that it was man, and not woman, who was responsible for original sin?”

“I’d be extremely pleased.”  I sip hot tea and find it satisfying as my favourite Belgian crème chocolate.  Finally, this nun is saying something that makes sense.

“According to the story, original sin resulted not from Eve’s encounter with the snake, but from God’s arrogance.  The Old Testament god was very selfish.  He didn’t hesitate to steal light from the Mother Sophia to give life to his human creations, Adam and Eve.   Understandably, Eve thought this unjust and it was while trying to return the light to the Mother, that she first tasted the fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.”

I flip pages again.

“Let’s suppose it were true,” she continues.  “Can you imagine how Eve must have felt to be eternally damned for doing something so noble?”

“She’d be angry.”

“Yes.”  Although near my own mother’s age, Mother Superior suppresses a girlish giggle.  “Might it be possible that if, as the Church teaches women are burdened with Eve’s original sin, we might also be burdened with her anger?”

“I’m confused.”  Sometimes the mother talks in circles like my psychoanalyst in Golders Green.

“Confusion comes when you’re unable to see things for what they are. “  The mother glances at my blossoming belly.  Her mood slips.  “But anger, Hannah, anger comes when you refuse to accept things as you know they are.  Eve couldn’t change her situation but imagine how miserable she’d have been if she’d not accepted it.  Each of us must embrace her reality.”

“Not everyone…”  I stop horrified at my accusatory tone.  “I didn’t mean to say that.”

“But you did say it, Hannah.”  She watches a pair of jet-black starlings scrounge for berries, their yellow beaks bobbing against an abundance of pine green.   “And you had every right to do so.  If I’m not honest with you, how can you be so with me?”

“That’s not all that happened to Eve, is it?”  The softness in my voice frightens me. Without anger, I feel naked.  Without pain, I’m alone.

“Eve was raped.”  Her blue eyes go rheumy.

Mine glued to the floor I nod my understanding.   The mother’s life hasn’t been sweetness and light.  She’s just like me.

“John reminds us wrong lurks around every corner, even when we think ourselves safe.”  She squeezes my hand.  “But while John believed deliverance comes from outside, Eve demonstrated it comes from within.”

“Tomorrow I shall tell them the truth,” say I.  Rubbing my tummy, I shrug away tears.  “Although I was betrayed by a man I trusted, me and his child will be OK.”

Selling Spirituality – where on the package does it say no pain – no gain?

Without qualification we accept that a personal sense of self (an ‘I’ that does things and a ‘me’ to whom things are done) is essential for a healthy, happy every-day kind of life.

Yet throughout history mystics from all religions have sought the opposite experience of ‘no-self’ to grasp the ultimate truth – a reality so vastly different from that otherwise experienced that the only way to describe it, is to describe what it is not.

Today, it’s more fashionable than ever to pursue such spiritual enlightenment in any number of well-marketed ways.  Wander through the appropriate section in your local bookstore and you’ll see what I mean.  Although consumers of spirituality may not know exactly what it is that they seek, they are certain that once they’ve found it they’ll have achieved an infinite love and bliss they couldn’t have afforded to miss.

But what if it isn’t like that?

I’ve just read Suzanne Segal’s biography Collision with the Infinite – A life Beyond the Personal Self.  In it she relates that rather than being joyful, the experience of ‘selflessness’ engenders such fear, loneliness, and profound disorientation that she was marked by society as pathologically ‘disordered’ or even insane.

I find it stunning in such a psychologically and spiritually progressive society as our own, that after her enlightenment it took Suzanne over twelve years and ten therapists to find anyone who remotely understood what she was going through.

As she so eloquently puts it:

“People have always looked for things they can navigate by, signs that point the way and tell them when they have arrived at their destination.  The interpretations of spiritual experiences have been managed or organised by this need to navigate and thereby lost their validity.”

Does this suggest we ought not to seek spiritual enlightenment?  I think not.  But what it might mean is that before we start down any path, we ought to find out more about it than what’s promised on the tin.

Suzanne started her own quest though transcendental meditation.  Years after she’d stopped practicing, she got more than she bargained for.  Ultimately, she found the answers she’d been seeking.  But the process was long and hard and above-all painful both for herself and for those around her who cared.  As the saying goes (and Suzanne discovered), ‘no pain no gain’.