Posts Tagged ‘hierarchical systems’

honing: necessary delusion

Monday, December 16th, 2019

loungeact-front

If you ever come to the little town of Carmeline Creek on the far northern coast of California and do more than stop for gas, you will almost surely find your way to Mona’s, the only café/bakery in town. And if you happen to spend the night in one of the town’s several inns or at the charming Carmeline Creek Hotel, you will undoubtedly hear about honing. And should you be in town on the evening of a honing happening, we urge you to attend. Admission is free and you may leave at any time during the event. No one will mind.

What, you may ask, is honing?

In physical terms, honing is the ground floor of a stately old brick and wood building three doors down from Mona’s, most of that ground floor a large high-ceilinged room. Some honing happenings employ stages of various sizes constructed somewhere in the large room, while at other honing events a stage does not figure into the production. Lighting is an event-by-event adventure.

In terms of personnel, honing is a collective of seven principals—four women and three men—and an ever-growing number of associates. The principals are Elisha Montoya, 53, Paul Windsor, 60, Ephraim Spinoza, 73, Tivona Descartes, 69, Terence Duval, 47, Adaugo Duval, 41, and Florence Duval, 75. Paul Windsor is the only American-born member of the collective. Elisha was born in Ireland, Ephraim in Spain, Tivona in Morocco, Adaugo in Nigeria, Terence and Florence in England.

Philosophically speaking, the honing folks are ever reformulating their philosophical guidelines. The one guideline that has not changed since the collective came into being two years ago is: we meet at least once a week for supper with the intention of catching up with each other.

On this warm summer night, honing is packed—fifty-six comfortable folding chairs arrayed in front of a small stage softly lit by three spotlights suspended from the high ceiling—two armchairs arrayed on the stage a few feet apart and facing the audience. Thirty-one locals and twenty-five out-of-town visitors are sitting in the folding chairs, ten locals and eight out-of-towners standing.

At 7:23, Elisha Montoya, a graceful woman with shoulder-length reddish brown hair, steps up onto the stage to polite applause. Wearing a pale blue dress and red sandals, Elisha gazes around at the many people looking at her and says, “Though this may evolve into something reminiscent of a play, we begin with Terence and Ephraim discussing necessary delusions, or as Ephraim prefers to say: the necessity of delusion.”

“Here we are,” says Ephraim Spinoza, stepping up onto the stage as Elisha steps down.

An imposing fellow with a mop of curly gray hair, Ephraim ponders the two armchairs for a moment and chooses the slightly larger one stage left.

Terence Duval, tall and broad-shouldered with short black hair, steps up onto the stage, settles into the armchair stage right, looks out at the audience and says, “A few weeks ago we had a spirited discussion about what motivates an artist to continue working on his or her creations when there is little or no support for that work from the greater world.”

“Or,” says Ephraim, “what empowers the artist to persist in creating a work of art that may take months or years to complete with no promise of any sort of external reward?”

“Paul suggested, and I agreed,” says Terence, nodding, “that most artists come to believe that the song or story or painting or play she is creating is important and valuable, not only to the artist, but to those who might hear the song or read the story or see the painting or watch the play. Without this belief, the artist will not continue?”

“I wonder if this belief embodies the difference between an artist and an artisan,” says Ephraim, pursing his lips. “Surely the potter doesn’t need to believe each bowl she makes is valuable and important. The process is important, surely, but not each individual artifact.”

“I think we digress too soon,” says Terence, his arching of an eyebrow eliciting laughter from the audience. “Let us finish elucidating our main thesis first.”

“Ah yes,” says Ephraim, nodding in agreement. “The necessary illusion.”

“Delusion,” says Terence, laughing.

“What’s the difference?” asks Ephraim, shrugging. “Illusion. Delusion. In either case, the artist is depending on an imagined truth to engender hope.”

“I don’t think so,” says Terence, shaking his head. “I think once we have poured hours of intention into a creation, that creation becomes our energetic equal, with a will and intention distinct from our own. And with even more work, the creation becomes our energetic master, which is when we come to fully believe our creation is endowed with special power. This is what I mean by the necessary delusion, a psychic momentum that enables the artist to keep going for however long it takes to finish the work.”

“Yet so many creations are never finished,” says Ephraim, sighing. “Is this because the delusion collapses?”

Terence gazes solemnly at Ephraim—the lights fading into darkness that reigns for a few minutes before the lights grow strong again.

Ephraim and Terence have been replaced by Tivona and Adaugo—Tivona sitting in the armchair stage left, Adaugo sitting in the armchair stage right. Tivona is wearing a brown suit, white shirt, and purple bowtie, and she has a glossy red rose in her short black hair. Adaugo is wearing a billowy white blouse and a long brown skirt, the many braids of her black hair strung with blue wooden beads.

Adaugo: I disagree with everything Terence and Ephraim said. When I make a song, I don’t think the song is more important or more valuable than anything else. A song wants to be born, that’s all. So it comes to me and says, “Hey you. Sing me. Sing me over and over again. Find my parts and put them together in different ways until you know how they go together. And then I will be born and I can live in the world.” I don’t think this is a delusion. I think this is how songs come into being.

Tivona: I agree with you. But I think if we are enmeshed in the egoistic notion that what we do is important to anyone but us, we require a belief system that supports the idea of a hierarchy of value. And it is from the womb of that hierarchic belief system that the idea of necessary delusions is born.

Adaugo: Oh I want everyone to be free from feeling that anyone is more important than anyone else.

fin

Speaking of songs being born, my brand new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven has just been released into the wild wild world and you can buy copies of the actual CD with neato artwork for just five dollars from my web site. Or you can download and stream the album from iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, qobuz, YouTube, or any of your favorite music sites.

Competitive Meditation

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

What a silly idea, competitive meditation. Yet in America all things become competitive and hierarchical as reflections of the dominant operating system. Twenty years ago the notion of competitive yoga would have been just as absurd as competitive meditation, yet today yoga competitions are all the rage with big cash prizes for top asana performers ranked nationally. An asana is a particular yoga pose. Could league play be just around the corner?

The history of Buddhism, with meditation as its foundation, is a fascinating study in what happens to a non-hierarchical, non-competitive, crystal clear philosophy when it comes into contact with different societies, each with entrenched systems of social organization and religious dogma. Because Buddhism in its purest form is not a religion, it is easy to discern how in coming to China, Tibet, Japan, and now the United States, the original tenets of Buddhism have been deformed to fit the pre-existing religious or pseudo-religious structures.

Organized religions universally feature a head priest or priests, priest lieutenants, their favored adherents, the less favored, and so on down the steep slope of the pyramid. Trying to fit the fundamental Buddhist notion of the essential emptiness of reality into such a pyramidical structure is akin to building a complicated factory in order to produce nothing. Delusion, greed, arrogance, jealousy, all of which Buddha called enemies of enlightenment, are, ironically, the building blocks of organized Buddhism in America.

One of my favorite stories about Freud, not to change the subject, is that he said to his American cohorts on several occasions before his death, and I paraphrase, “Whatever you do, please don’t make being a medical doctor a prerequisite to being a psychiatrist.” He made this plea because many promising psychotherapists in Europe, among them Erik Erikson, were not medical doctors, and Freud didn’t want to preclude this valuable source of input to the field.

Sadly, the Americans did just what Freud feared they would do, and we suffer the consequences to this day. Why didn’t the Americans heed Freud’s advice? Because greed, arrogance, and most importantly the desire to control who gets into the exclusive club, won the day. People at the top of pyramids will do almost anything to stay there, and since there isn’t much room at the top, the maintenance of the ruling elite requires the ruthless exclusion of anyone or any idea that threatens the status quo.

Indeed, our government and our entire economic system reflect this basic tenet of organizations structured as steep-sided pyramids. Ironically, the collapse of such pyramids is inevitable because without new ideas and original personalities, these systems decay from the top down. This is why Jefferson suggested revolutions at regular intervals were essential to the continuing health of any large organization such as a nation.

The worship of celebrity, not to change the subject, is a hugely important aspect of the American psyche. Americans aspire to be celebrities, to associate with celebrities, and to know all about celebrities. I attribute this particular mania to our collective genetic memory of being subjects of kings and queens for the thousands of years when members of the royalty were the primary celebrities until the Industrial Revolution spawned a middle class. Regardless of how it came about, celebrities rule our psyches, individual and collective, and American Buddhism has become a celebrity-based system, too; a happenstance every bit as absurd as the notion of competitive meditation. Absurdity, however, is another hallmark of American culture along with ignorance, racism, and senseless violence.

The historical Buddha, Gautama, so say the texts, witnessed these hallmarks of American culture as they manifested in India circa 600 B.C. and was so disturbed by the terrible suffering such ignorance and violence caused victims and perpetrators alike that he left behind his princely life and embarked on a journey, both inward and outward, to discover the root causes of pervasive human misery. And the vehicle he rode, as it were, on his quest to discover the source of suffering, was meditation.

Now here is something crucial to remember about Gautama Buddha: no one anointed him, no one taught him, and he did not belong to a lineage of teachers. Through meditation he attained enlightenment and discovered what he believed to be the source of suffering, and he did this…drum roll…all by himself.

Today in America or Japan or Tibet or China or Indochina, one would be extremely hard-pressed to find any “officially recognized” Buddhist master who would dare say that a practitioner can find his or her way without the guidance of an “accredited master”. I am currently reading for the third time Sogyal Rinpoche’s wonderful text The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying in which he repeats ad nauseum that no one can ever hope to understand the true nature of mind or really make much spiritual progress without devotion to, and instruction from, an accredited, official, bona fide Buddhist master, and to think otherwise is dangerous and foolish and wrong. In subtle ways, he contradicts this message throughout the text, yet he seems terrified to overtly suggest otherwise.

Which brings me to The New Testament, not to change the subject. There is now both academic and popular support for the theory that the gospels of The New Testament were selected from a much larger body of Gnostic gospels in order to espouse the view that it is impossible for a regular person to connect with God except through an accredited, official, bona fide priest who somehow or other is linked by direct transmission to Jesus Christ. Any gospel that suggested you and I might connect directly with God through our own efforts without the intervention of officially accredited priests were simply not allowed into the anthology, i.e. The New Testament.

I may be stating the Gnostic case in an extreme nutshell, but I think it an accurate description of how a hierarchical system was imposed on the teachings of a Buddha-like being (Jesus Christ) who got His download, so to speak, directly from God, with no accredited anybody officiating. Which brings me back to Buddhism and competitive meditation.

I first became interested in Buddhism when I fell in love with the poetry of Philip Whalen in the late 1960’s. Searching for texts to explain Whalen’s passing references to Buddhism in his poems, I came across a little book, and I mean a tiny paperback of less than a hundred pages, written by Alan Watts entitled The Wisdom of Insecurity. Reading this book was more than a revelation to me; the experience rearranged my synapses. The basic premise of The Wisdom of Insecurity is that if I am thinking about the past and/or thinking about the future, I’m not actually here because our awareness determines our place in time and space; from which followed the popular expression Be Here Now.

The Wisdom of Insecurity was new stuff in America when it was published in 1949 (the year I was born) and it was one of Watts’s many attempts to elucidate the primary purpose of Buddhist practice, which is to bring the mind into communion with the present moment and thereby reveal the past and future to be illusory. Watts, it should be noted, has of late been marginalized by contemporary American Buddhist orthodoxy because he adamantly rejected the idea of official anointment and wasn’t particularly keen on formal modes of meditation. In this way, he was another of those folks who apparently “got it” without being knighted by an official of the hierarchy he helped found.

Inspired by Watts and Whalen, I continued to read Buddhist texts, contemporary and classical, for some years, and I was inspired to write a batch of contemporary short stories springing from various aspects of Buddhist philosophy. For instance, I would read about generosity, meditate with generosity as my starting point, and then write a story that welled up from that meditation. Then I’d send copies of the story to several friends, some versed in Buddhist philosophy, some not, wait for feedback, and then rewrite the story. Over the course of three years, I wrote forty-two such stories that eventually became a manuscript entitled Buddha In A Teacup, the title homage to Yasunari Kawabata’s Palm of the Hand Stories.

I made a photocopy edition of a hundred and fifty copies of Buddha In A Teacup, informed my friends I had done so, and within a few months sold all the copies for twenty-five dollars each, which covered my copying and mailing costs. Many of my readers urged me to try to get the book published, so I sent the manuscript to a half-dozen publishers of Buddhist texts in America and Canada. Reaction was swift and universal; the book was fascinating and fresh, but I, Todd Walton, was no one of even minor note in the galaxy of Buddhist celebrities, so No Thank You. To which I replied, “Is not the goal of our practice to transcend the illusion of ego and embrace the essential truth of our no oneness?”

Only one editor replied to my reply. He reiterated how much he liked the stories, and regretted that his company only published well-known Buddhist teachers armed with rave blurbs from really famous Buddhist teachers.

I eventually self-published a lovely edition of Buddha In A Teacup through Lost Coast Press in Fort Bragg, and though not a single Buddhist publication large or small would deign to review the book, Buddha In A Teacup has now sold over fifteen hundred copies and continues to gain a wider audience. People, those not constrained by the worship of celebrity or constricted by devotion to orthodoxy, love the book, and I think they do because the stories illuminate essential messages of the Buddha; that we are all on the same path, each of us seeking to become less fearful and less judgmental of ourselves and others, each of us aspiring to become more loving and generous.

In the vast Buddhist library there are many versions of what happened at the moment Buddha’s body died and his essence returned to the essential ground of being, an extremely subtle and eternal energy field from which you and I and all things arise and dissolve. My favorite version of this last corporeal moment is a poem by Mary Oliver entitled The Buddha’s Last Instruction in which his only spoken words are, “Make of yourself a light.”

And that is what I suggest you say to anyone who challenges you to a meditation contest. “Make of yourself a light,” and leave the competition to the organized and fully accredited yoga teams.

Copies of Buddha In A Teacup signed by the author are available from Underthetablebooks.com.

(This article first appeared in The Anderson Valley Advertiser in October 2009)