Love and Joy White Crane Journal #49 Summer 2001
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Conversations with Neale Donald Walsch Miracles Around Us Homosexuality is Spirit's Joy #49kasperek Mindful Masturbation It Is, After All, a Spiritual Journey Book Review: The Direct Path by Andrew Harvey Book Review: Christopher Isherwood by David Izzo Continuation of Full Disclosure
The fruits of the Spirit are: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control.
These are not traits you can practice (like sobriety or vegetarianism). They flow naturally from awareness of spirit. They are the fruits in our lives of our being aware of our place in the Greater Reality. They are the consequences of seeing the beauty all around us.
There's a Buddhist story that one day, when it came time for the Buddha to give his usual little morning talk, he took his seat but said nothing. He simply held up a flower.
The monks who were waiting for a sermon, of course, were confused. But one monk, a fellow named Kashyapa, got it and smiled. Only he understood.
And what was there to understand?
Well, you might have to sit in meditation for many years to get this. That, after all, is what meditation practice is for. You might have to study Buddhist doctrine. The scholars used this story to explain what they called the Silent Transmission, the notion that there's something like "grace" that can be communicated between guru and disciple just by being in one another's presence. This is also known as "darshan."
But maybe it was much simpler than that. Maybe the Buddha had just found a pretty flower and wanted to share its beauty. What words would he have needed?
Beauty speaks for itself. It communicates delight in existence all by itself. It radiates joy--if you pay attention. Maybe that's what the Buddha was trying to communicate: just pay attention.
We can find in this story a certain message about the distinction beween religion and spirituality. Religion, you might say, uses lots of words: theologians carefully parse their sentences when they discuss doctrine (to avoid censure); Church officials make declarative statements about what the faithful must believe in order to avoid God's sending them to hell; priests specialize in saying prayers; preachers love to tell other people what to think. Gurus tell their disciples how to live.
Spirituality, on the other hand, may come down to the simple practice of paying attention.
Of course, these days "Spirituality" has become a literary genre, and it takes lots of words to fill all those books. This little magazine too is full of words. (If I'd sent you a chrysanthemum instead of issue #49, you might be as confused as Buddha's monks. Tho' I bet there are Kashyapas among you! In fact, recently the Feyarts Newsletter went out containing only graphics. No words. Hyperion and Swami are up there with Buddha.)
But the words too can be like flowers. They communicate their own sense of beauty. And from that beauty flow joy and love: joy in being alive, love for life itself.
Maybe that's all we need to know.
There are some very interesting words in this issue. I hope they will communicate a message
of Joy. We begin with an interview with Donald Neale Walsch, author of the Conversations with God books. He reminds us that God loves his gay children. But most of us know that. He also reminds us that God exists in our experience, in the dialogue in your mind with your Deepest Self. This is a very important part of the message of spirituality (as opposed to religion): the truth is in you, not just in those carefully parsed words religion is so full of. Walsch's God reminds us that the central truth we need to be aware of is that We Are All One. From that insight all morality flows (better than from the words of preachers proclaiming they know what God said 5000 years ago and that there's no room for updating this to modern reality).
In his latest book, The Direct Path (reviewed below), Andrew Harvey tells us why we need to find God for ourselves and can't rely on gurus. Bruce (Swami) Grether tells us how to practice masturbation as meditation. Balance from Zuni Mountain Sanctuary recounts a marvelous, miraculous experience of joy in nature. Jeff DeVore, David Jonson, George Paris report, as David Scherzer explains, that "shadow becomes joy" with just a little enlightened distance and a little liberation. And John Steczynski has a precious article on shit and its place in our spiritual joy. And much more . . .
It's interesting that most of the articles readers submitted for this issue about Love and Joy turned out to be about leaving religion and finding spiritual meaning elsewhere. I am grateful for all these contributions. They seem to substantiate my own belief that by moving beyond the conventional understanding of religion, we come to higher, more meaningful and more applicable spiritual truths for today.
I am happy, by the way, to introduce you to David Izzo by way of a review of his new book on Christopher Isherwood. David Izzo is a non-gay man who, for whatever "karmic reasons," has made himself an expert on Isherwood, W.H. Auden and the group of gay literary and cultural icons of the first part of the 20th Century who helped set the stage for the spiritual side of the gay movement by sharing their own spiritual quests in their writings. He too seems to be part of the transformation of religion that White Crane Journal seeks to address. I've been corresponding with David for a couple of years now. He's proved a helpful supporter of WCJ (you'll notice he got his publisher to buy an ad.)
In that regard, see the continuation of last issue's Full Disclosure in the Letters to the Editor section below.
This issue's beautiful cover art is a detail from a stained glass window of the reclining Buddha by South Carolinian glass artist Wil Biggers. Web site: www.BiggersGlassPainting.com
A Conversation With Neale Donald Walsch
Neale Donald Walsch began receiving what he describes as "inspired messages" from God in 1992, a time when he felt discouraged and worn down by the difficulties that kept showing up in his life. A hardcover edition of his first book, Conversations with God Book 1--essentialIy, a transcribed dialogue between Neale and God--was published in 1996. It soon hit the New York Times nonfiction best seller list and stayed there for nearly three years. He has produced four more Conversations With God books which have been translated into 27 languages and have attracted millions of readers worldwide. Not surprisingly, he has been both praised and vilified for his writings which challenge many of the teachings of organized religions and the scriptures they regard as sacred.
To those who embrace the books as truth, the messages seem to offer God's latest word on every conceivable subject from who is God and who are we to descriptions of the universe and other beings that populate it. To others, especially to those who believe God stopped talking some 2000 years ago, the books are an elaborate fantasy or, worse, blasphemy.
Among the more controversial topics addressed in the books is God's take on homosexuality, which Neale says is one of the most asked about subjects by people everywhere. In one of his recent newsletters, Neale voiced a strong commitment to the gay and lesbian community, stating, "I will not rest until all of God's children are accepted and loved by all of humanity, without condition."
I met with Neale before a gay and lesbian weekend retreat in Miami Beach in late March. A scheduled 30 minute conversation stretched into nearly two hours as Neale clearly warmed not only to the gay and lesbian issues we were discussing but also to those affecting the entire human family. Following are excerpts from that conversation and some of Neale's teachings during the retreat.
JA: God's messages fill five books in the With God series. Can you give a short version of what God is telling us?
NDW: 1) We are all one. 2) There is enough. 3) There is nothing we have to do. 4) Ours is not a better way. Ours is merely another way. Four profound statements of ultimate truth in the five books. If you want more after that we can sit down and take a little more time.
JA: If you were going to expound on it a little starting with "We are all one," wouldn't you say that that idea changes everything?
NDW: The implications are obvious They are so far-reaching that if we ever lived that truth--even time to time, much less all the time--everything on the planet would change: economics, spirituality, education, sexuality, sociology, politics. Everything that we do and all the institutions that we put in place to do them would change. We would eradicate anger to a very large degree and war and conflict. Disagreements and difficulties would be reduced to an extraordinary minimum and would be resoIved in a way that would recognize the incredible truth of our oneness. If we redesigned all our institutions from the ground up, if we rebuilt our social infrastructure from the ground up using the idea "We are all one" as the foundation, we would construct each of those institutions in an entirely different way. Now, unfortunately, we have to deconstruct them, take them apart, and that is very difficult.
But difficult as it is, it is happening. We've seen the political, social and economic structures of the past 200 years dismantled in the last 20. And if you don't think so, look at how things were back in 1945.
JA: If you look at it from the perspective of many gay people, they may not see so much change in social attitudes and our institutions. I'm thinking of how so many gays view the Republican Party, much as the Jews regarded the Nazis. With Bush coming in we're already seeing attempts to change social policy and priorities, growing anti-environmental forces and his selection of a conservative attorney general who many fear will try to restrict the protection of individual rights and freedoms.
NDW: The pendulum swings, but less and less in each direction. The Bush presidency was absolutely necessary. We had become so complacent in the Clinton years that what had seemed to be a bold stroke at the outset of his administration came to seem commonplace by the end of it on most social issues. So by the end of his administration when it was announced, for example, that Clinton was making a new social initiative or he was seeking to protect more forests and parklands, it was met with a big yawn. Gore had no place to go. Gore couldn't promise more than had already been given. All he could say was that he was going to give more of the same. There comes a time when more of the same does not sell on the street because we can no longer see how good that is. In just the 12 weeks since Bush took over the White House, people are already starting to say, oh man, he's unraveling everything. They'll walk over hot coals for Al Gore or whoever the Democratic nominee is next.
JA: So you're saying the Bush presidency was necessary to bring about this understanding?
NDW: To solidify the contextual field within which the contrasting elements we're talking about are made clear to us. Bush won't be doing as much damage in the four years he's in as the good that will be done in response to the damage after his term is over. You'll see. Watch 15 years from now how perfect it was that George Bush was elected. The part of the country that represents the knee jerk reactionary that agrees with many of the stands of the conservative right is getting a chance to look at itself. And America is getting a chance to look at it. This is its last hurrah. Look what happened to Buchanan. He wasn't even on the radar screen. He's had his last hurrah. This will be the last hurrah of those who are toward the center of Buchanan but still to the right of everyone else. Slowly but surely we'll be rejecting these right wing policies. I don't have any doubt about what is going to happen in four years.
JA: Well, I'm thinking of that old Jewish expression, "from your mouth to God's ears." But when l say it to Neale Walsch it seems to take on special meaning.
NDW: (Laughing) I don't think there is much to worry about now. All you need is some patience. From coast to coast with each headline more and more people are waking up. You know what the Sierra Club said. Their contributions have shot up through the roof. Many social and environmental organizations are being revitalized.
JA: In one of your newsletters you make a very strong commitment to further the rights and acceptance of gays and lesbians. Where did this commitment come from? Many spiritual leaders have compassion for homosexuals, but they have no commitment.
At this point Neale launched into a passionate discussion of the prejudice he heard voiced by his father and uncles about blacks and gays when he was a child of only seven or eight. "My father's attitude toward black people in Milwaukee was almost impossible for me to accept. He would say things that even as a young child I knew couldn't possibly be appropriate to who I knew I was. And it hurt me deeply. He would say the same kinds of things about gay people. I felt impotent because all I could do was say things like, "Dad, don't talk like that. It doesn't feel good to hear you say those things."
About age 15 Neale began an association with the theater and the entertainment industry that lasted over 25 years. He says he developed many gay friendships and a feeling of camaraderie with many gay people who were so strongly represented in the theater industry. "When anyone outside of that environment--where I worked, inside my church or anywhere else--spoke in anyway disparaging about the gay lifestyle or a person who was gay, I would immediately jump, probably overreact. Some of my gay friends would say, 'relax.' When I would say to someone, 'you don't know what you're talking about,' some of my friends would say, 'neither do you, my friend.' (Laughing. So I had to temper that.
"The straw that broke the camel's back for me was Matthew Shepard. When that happened, I thought I would" . . . (Neale's voice became choked and his eyes teared up.) "It's difficult for me to discuss this. It was very deeply painful to me. And those people at the hospital and funeral holding those hateful signs. I thought, we're back to Hitler, to the kind of insensitivity we saw toward the Jews when they couldn't see the ugliness of their own actions. And I turned to Nancy (his wife) and said, 'I have to do something about this. l can't be silent."
JA: The subject of homosexuality comes up in at least two of your books. What does God say about homosexuality?
NDW: That there is no form of love that is true and real that is inappropriate in this universe. There is no form of love expressed truly and authentically that isn't appropriate.
That's number one. And so long as we imagine that there is a right way and a wrong way to do the thing called love, we have no idea of what love is. l mean true love. I asked Him, "How do we know that a love is true?" And the answer came back with such simple clarity, "Love that is true would never hurt anyone or anything knowingly."
That seems like such an obvious thing to say. But right there out the window went all the stereotypical reasons why homosexuality was supposed to be not OK. I mean as a child and a young man I was told gays have no morals. That they had ruined the lives of young boys, etc. As if straight men haven't, as though it was a characteristic peculiar to gays. It's clear in that answer that it's not gays or straights who do those things. It's human beings who don't know what love is. If you understand what true love is, whether you're gay, straight or anything else, you simply don't do things that you know could hurt or damage another. You could have a whole other discussion about what is hurt and damage and who decides all that which could take you into the middle of the night.
JA: Religions and cultures throughout the world continue to demonize homosexuals and make them targets of hate and prejudice. Why do you think these attitudes continue to be so virulent when so many other prejudices have faded somewhat?
NDW: For most people homosexuality is so far from their experience and so different from what they consider to be normal that the only way to explain it is to declare it wrong and attack and vilify it. Normal to them is what is done by the largest number of people. That which is different from the norm has always been attacked and vilified. The vilification is reduced or stopped to the degree a behavior becomes more common. As the practice approaches the frequency of what most people consider normal, the condemnation tends to decrease or sometimes vanish. Unmarried people who lived together In the 30's and 40's were vilified. My mother and father lived together but couldn't marry because of complicated personal reasons involving his previous wife who sanctioned their relationship. My mother was castigated and disowned by her parents and was dropped from her mother's will even though my parents had married by the time her mother died. The degree of condemnation she experienced was so extreme because the distance between what was considered normal and what my mother was doing at the time was enormous. As more and more unmarried people began living together, it was no longer a big deal and the level of vilification dropped in direct proportion to the narrowing in the numbers between the two groups.
The reason the vilification of gays has not decreased is that there has not been an increase in the number of gay people relative to the rest of the population. The percentage of gay people has held steady at about 10% to 12% since they began recording those numbers. If there was a way for the homosexual lifestyle to increase as a percentage of what is considered normal behavior then the vilification would decrease. It's just as simple as that. lt's the same with any social issue you want to name: drugs, pre-marital sex. You name it.
Sometimes an increased understanding about an issue can bring about a change in social attitudes about it. Left handedness is an example of that. Not that long ago--within my memory--left handedness was vilified. They would tie a kid's left hand behind them and make them write with their right hand. That's how embarrassing it was to be left handed. There was a time when left handedness was even thought of as being the sign of the devil. Later it was blamed on psychological, environmental or physical reasons, much like homosexuality is often explained today. Now we have stopped vilifying left handedness through increased understanding of its natural causes. In another 50 years, by the time the next generation is our age, they will consider it just as preposterous to vilify gays as we consider it preposterous today to vilify left handers. Remember, 50 years ago it was not preposterous at all, but very commonplace. Incidentally, it's ironic that the number of left handed people in the population as best we can tell is roughly the same percentage of the population as are homosexuals and always has been.
JA: There are some gay spiritual writers who suggest that there is a special soul mission associated with being homosexual. Have you thought about that? What do you think?
NDW: I haven't thought about it with specific reference to the gay person or gay lifestyle. But in the larger context of what we are all doing being and having I believe that what you say is true of all of us, each in our particular way. I believe that each of us has undertaken or given ourselves a particular and specific purpose or mission. And we have drawn to ourselves the exact and perfect people, places and conditions to fulfill that mission or experience. Since l know that is true of all of us within the larger context of what we are told in the CWG books, it stands to reason that it would be true for the gay community as well.
As to what that mission is, that is open to wonderful conjecture. And I think that's a question not of discovery--as in "Gee, I wonder what that mission could be"--but an issue of deciding it. This is where we move to the idea that life is not a process of discovery but a process of creation. I would invite the gay community to decide its mission, not to try to discover it. What does it seek to show life about life? What it seeks to show the human species about the human species? What it seeks to demonstrate to love about love. What it seeks to demonstrate to people about people. When the gay community becomes clear, or the largest number of the members of that community does become clear about those issues, there will be a huge paradigm shift.
JA: That sounds like such a challenge. It may make perfect sense to make a statement like that but in all honesty I'm feeling somewhat befuddled. If I were a gay leader, I would not know how to move forward to make that happen.
NDW: If you thought you did, what would your answer be--if you gave yourseIf some time to think about it? If you said to yourself this is interesting, he is not saying to us let's see if we can discover what our mission is. Let's see if we can--not through the years, but in the next several days, in the next week, the next month, the next year--decide what our mission is going to be. Or decide what my mission is going to be. Suddenly you turn from a seeker and a searcher looking for the purpose and the reason to one who empowers the world by announcing what your purpose and mission is. You become an incredibly powerful creator. And that is why you have been called to life.
Our discussion ended barely 15 minutes before the retreat began at 6:00 PM Friday night. Neale held the attention of about 75 gay men and women from around the country until the retreat ended at 5:00 PM Sunday, lecturing and answering questions about God, life and the many issues relating to sexual orientation.
Here are some of Neale's observations and quotations from the retreat:
"I can't think of a thing that causes me more pain than the thought that someone felt that they are not alright with God. God would never not love someone. That anyone could stand in a pulpit and state that God would condemn you because of the way you have chosen to love. That people would go out on the basis of that and commit a heinous crime and feel justified. That a Matthew Shepard would have to be crucified out of someone's judgment of right and wrong. There is no way that an expression of love that is true is inappropriately expressed. If it's the last thing I do with my 15 minutes in the sun, we will change this--heal this with your help. I need your help."
Neale frequently referred to this definition of love as a guideline for creating and living in various kinds of relationships (romantic, family, friends, etc.)
"Love is freedom. Where love resides freedom resides. Love and freedom are the same energy. God is love. God is the essence of freedom. Love is also truth. Joy is the essence of who you are. Love is freedom, truth and joy. The greatest of them is freedom. Freedom to be, have and choose."
He counseled that all relationships should allow each of us to live our "authentic seIves" in joy with freedom to "be, have and do."
Neale believes we are in a period which Jean Houston calls "Jump Time" when the human race takes a giant step forward in consciousness and civiIization.
"It's the biggest step the human race has taken in many millennia. We have all caused ourselves to be here to create Jump Time. That's what we're up to. We've come here by choice. We are here to evolve the planet to the next grandest expression of itself. That will be called blasphemy by those not ready to hear it. All great truths start as blasphemy."
"We are all in a great cosmic dance giving each other circumstances that allow us to announce who we are and to create it. By design we have all come together to show up in each other's lives to provide the right circumstances to express and declare who we are."
"Each day is a chance to be the next grandest version of who we want to be, even if it's a miniscuIe move. Small changes are often ignored and set aside because we are looking for a huge shift."
"Be the source. Give what you want to receive and be in the Iife of another, what you wish to receive yourself. When you are the source you are not looking for anything. When you give to others you have the experience of having it already."
"Give what you think you need. Be that which you seek. You can't help but attract what you are being."
"If you find kindness and love here, it is because you brought it. And if not, because you did not. What you want to find in the room you must bring into the room. You must be the source of what you want to experience. Kindness and love exist because you cause it to."
"Life flows out of your intentions for it. You are creating your life on three levels: the subconscious, conscious and superconscious. Therefore, we are not always aware that we are creating our own experience. The master assumes that at some level he must have created what he is experiencing, or he could not he experiencing it. So he looks inside for why this is happening."
"When we shift our consciousness from victim to creator of what we are becoming, everything changes."
"Your will for you is being demonstrated now by what you are being, doing and having. Have you decided yet why the way things are are the way things are? Have you decided what your life here is about? Your life lived is the message."
Joel Anastasi and his partner Phillip Collins live in New York City and Fort Lauderdale FL.
Miracles Around us
Raised in Polish Catholicism, I was strongly attached to the dogma, the ritual and all the sensual trappings of that religion until I was sixteen. Then, when I realized I could not give up masturbation and my attraction to other males, I left The Church behind. In turning away from Catholicism, I began searching: Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Rosicrucianism, Christian Science, Zen, Gnosticism... the list goes on.
I learned a lot from all of these and took parts of each with me as I moved on to the next. It was an eclectic learning experience. But I never found a home. Despite what I gained from studying many different belief systems, I found serious shortcomings, if not outright hypocrisy, in nearly all of them. My litmus test was simple: What's the "policy" on same sex love/sex relations. With few exceptions, the answer was "not permitted."
So I gleaned what I could from the various writings and teachings. But because they were mostly from remote cultures, originally written in foreign (or dead) languages and from times long past, the power of the original inspirational/mystical experiences that produced them had faded. The cork had been out of the champagne bottle too long.
Then about five years ago I picked up a copy of A Course In Miracles (ACIM). As I looked it over I got a powerful sense of immediacy from it. When I read the text and lessons, it seemed as though someone were talking to me. It felt alive. I was astounded.
The experience of this book speaking directly to me at a deep level, without any intermediary, has lead me to think of it as Scripture.
Because of this unique feeling, I decided to postpone looking into the book's origin. I did not want to be influenced by anything but what I read in it. I would judge it for what it was, not from whence it came or what others said about it. I told myself, "I don't care if it was channeled by Adolph Hitler and edited by Idi Amin--it speaks so clearly to me that it doesn't matter how it came to be."
After studying ACIM for a couple of years, I did read several books about its provenance. To my amazement one of the two people most directly involved in bringing ACIM into being was a gay man named William Thetford. Finding this out was, in itself, a miracle. My litmus test had been passed without me having to apply it. Before I could even ask, I was answered.
I continue regular study of ACIM on my own, without the aid of any group or teacher. I suspect it will be with me (or I with it) for the duration of my days. A Course In Miracles is not for everyone, but it is for me. I find it profound yet simple, though not always easy. It is pristine and completely consistent. It is also highly practical:
"A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary... there is no answer; only an experience. Seek only this and do not let theology delay you." (Manual For Teachers, p.73)
Some people have problems with its supposed origin in the person Jesus. Others object to its exclusively male oriented language (all "Father," "son," "brother," "he"). But for me, as a gay man, these attributes are comforting.
"The Christ in you looks only on the truth... He is your eyes, your ears, your hands, your feet. How gentle are the sights he sees, the sounds He hears. How beautiful His hand that holds His brother's, and how lovingly He walks beside him..." (Text, p. 473)
These words are clearly meant in a spiritual sense, but the images they evoke in me resonate deeply with who I am and how I feel. In reading such passages, I can once again gladly call myself Christian--a label I came to despise long ago. And in this modern Scripture, I find no condemnation or criticism of the feelings I have for other men.
A Course In Miracles is a self-study curriculum that guides students toward a spiritual way of life by restoring their contact with what it calls the Holy Spirit or "internal teacher." The Course uses both an intellectual and an experiential approach within its 650-page Text, 500-page Workbook of 365 daily meditations, and 90-page Manual for Teachers. Published by the nonprofit Foundation for Inner Peace in 1976, the Course was written down in shorthand over a period of seven years by Dr. Helen Schucman, a research psychologist at Columbia University, and typed up by her supervisor Dr. William Thetford, director of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center's Department of Psychology. (Excerpted from the introduction to The Complete Story of The Course by D. Patrick Miller, Fearless Books, 1997).
Gregory Fillar lives in Chicago and can be contacted at FraterG@Earthlink.net
Homosexuality is Spirit's Joy
Let's imagine that moment when we all were securely cocooned within Spirit and examine what happened that caused us to eventually wind up as struggling humans. Back in the beginning, slightly after the first eon had passed, we Spiritual essences began to wonder if being Spirit was all that special. This thinking came about because of our having always been nothing but Spirit. Since we had never experienced anything else, we Spiritual beings decided to create a means by which we could measure and interpret what it meant to be Spiritual. We devised a plan to live as Spiritually ignorant beings with limited powers. In that way, we could feel how it felt to "not" be Spirit and thus gain a real understanding and appreciation of our Spiritual roots.
Humanity's ongoing pre-sence on planet Earth is the direct result of the Spiritual directive that evolved out of the "know thy Spiritual self" concept. Many eons ago, Spirit set out to design many different "forms" in which to express its many attributes. Along the way countless prototypes were "seeded" into the Cosmos in an ongoing effort to research Spirit's capabilities to know joy through the attainment of experience. Each new vehicle of self-expression built upon the previous forms until it reached its current model: humanity.
Humanity is Spirit made flesh. While in the flesh, Spirit can examine and experience bit by bit all that it is, without letting its Spiritual all-knowingness get in its way. In this manner, every conceivable challenge can be given free will to express to its fullest, and mountains of valuable experiences reaped as a result. In the end, all these experiences paint a massive "picture" of what truly comprises the total essence of Spirit's Spirituality. Because we all are Spiritual beings first, and human beings second, our experiences as humans will eventually allow us to truly know ourselves intimately as omnipotent Spiritual Gods.
Humans began as prototypes who were comprised of both sexes. These hermaphrodites understood each other intrinsically, being as how they were almost carbon copies of each other. We all played and interacted quite well, but it was all a little too reminiscent of our original time spent in Spirit. We Spiritual beings desired challenges of far greater difficulty so as to really get to know what we could do. So it was decided that the hermaphrodites would be separated into two distinct sexual creatures in an effort to create variety and controversy.
The hermaphrodite's sexual division created two separate sexes that were magnetically opposed to one another. This magnetic repulsion pushed apart these two groups, which had the effect of making separation desirable. To compensate for this isolating desire, the opposing magnetic concept of sexual attraction was introduced. Strong sexual urges were incorporated into this newly created race of human beings so that the sexes did not elect to take the easy way out and just ignore the opposite sex. (Sexual urges were also added so that we could have fun, as sexual pleasure is one of the greater joys of Spirit made physical.) However, even with sexual ecstasy, it would take much struggle and determination for these two unique groups to learn how to get along.
The ultimate evolutionary path of our separate male/female sexual identities is to recombine ourselves in order to once again form a race of individualized dual-sexed organisms. But this specially evolved race will be (and is) very different from the original group of hermaphrodites. The very act of working to recombine ourselves will fill (and has filled) our evolving essences with massive amounts of variety filled experiences. These independently acquired views of vast self-awareness permanently changes what it had meant to be just a dual sexed being.
The simple hermaphrodites that we were are miraculously transformed, through the gathering of personal experiences, into very complex physical beings. The resulting evolved individuals are now comprised of the self-awareness gained through their intimate interactions between the magnetic polarities of the original sexual divisions. These former clones now manifest unique personalities, i.e., individuals comprised of personally obtained concepts and ideals forged through their intimate struggles to survive and expand. In essence, the process of recombining male/female energies allows each individual to bring into existence a fully independent personality type that is all their own.
Uniqueness. Among individuals' most important contribution was the excitement of variety! (This concept of circumventing cloning also freed up energy and time that otherwise would have been lost through wasteful duplication of identical personalities by all the members of the larger group.) Variety offered the possibility of having curiosity driven exchanges between the other members of humanity. Desire to know what the other knew and had experienced made life more joyous and interesting. These exchanges and the excitement they provide would be impossible without separate identities.
Individuality. This is the most desired and prized ultimate goal of a Spiritual being. When we were in Spirit, all of us were basically the same because we shared and shared alike everything we accomplished. One of the primary reasons for creating the physical realm was to provide us with the ability to be independent of one another. To have something we could call our own: personality! And personality is formulated through our intimate contact with different versions of interacting male/female energies. Thus each of us has had and continues to have the ability to obtain an abundance of uniquely different reactions to the events unfolding around us. All of which, is motivated through the joys of reuniting our opposing root energies in our quest to complete ourselves.
All of this activity requires that we possess a means by which we can accumulate and store each lifetime's experiences. It is by examining past experiences that we decide what we still desire to acquire. This retaining of experiences is accomplished by a special aspect of our Spiritual selves that we call the soul. Our souls store all that we experience and then use this knowledge to design each future lifetime until no more are desired. Thus the soul allows us to incarnate over and over so that we can experience every possible combination of human behavior. These behaviors of course, are created as the human race works to recombine its male/female energies through countless exciting ways.
Sexual behaviors are definitely one of the most interesting forms of self-expression. That is because sexual joy is very close to the core essence of Spirit. Since this energy is so basic, we automatically strive to express every possible version of sex that is possible. As we evolve, we slowly begin to mix male and female sexual energy together. Eventually, we have blended sex beings that can relate easily to their own gender. This accomplishment brings the reward of increased opportunities to experience enhanced individual joy.
The gay/lesbian subgroup of humanity is probably the most aware of what its like having differing sexual energies expressing simultaneously within the same individual. As a homosexual we find ourselves jumping with ease between male behaviors and female expressions and vice versa. For most of us, the only thing standing in our way of completely unrestricted self-expression, is how we think the rest of society is viewing and/or judging us.
Contrast. Contrast is a vital component that helps us to define our experiences. Without something to use as a measuring stick, we would be unable to fully appreciate what we are expressing. Society is one of our best measuring sticks. Every person within their society constantly uses this same society as a comparison tool in order to understand their personal feelings and experiences. It is in that way that we define our personal individuality. As a homosexual, we also look to general society in order to determine where we are and who we are as we move through the personal aspects of our evolution towards our ultimate goal of a balanced individual comprised of joyfully integrated male/female energies.
The more balanced the ratio between male/female energy within the individual becomes, the closer that that individual is to the end of their human experience. Because gays/lesbians are so close to expressing equal parts of male/female energy within them, they are automatically very near the end of this initial segment of human evolution. What lies next is the joyful self-expression of a Spiritual/physical combination of energies that will propel the individual into the status of the gods. That's another story.
It is important that "our homosexual society" begin to accept its existence as a vital aspect of the total mosaic that is life. We must move beyond ex-pressing ourselves as an overly sensitive group that bristles constantly at the misunderstood treatment heaped upon us by the ignorant straight part of our overall society. Instead, we need to embrace our position as Spiritually evolving individuals whom are setting an example for all those poor straight souls who will one day follow in our footsteps.
Keep in mind that from a soul perspective, humanity is scattered maturity-wise all along a scale that stretches between newly beginning young souls and about to graduate old souls. Since we are all scattered along this continuum, the differing soul-age groups are constantly testing each other while expressing their beliefs. This causes confusion and irritation, while also stimulating intense personal growth. Since the gay/lesbian group is so near the graduating end of the spectrum, they are challenged with the responsibility to provide love, joy, education, and guidance to those who will follow in our footsteps.
Since we still evolve right up to the very end of our human existence, we also continue to be regularly challenged and tested by those aspects of society to which we once belonged. By overcoming our past connections to heterosexuality and its behaviors that divided the sexes against one another, we become Spiritually stronger and joyfully more complete.
Two united together is always more potent (and more fun) than a single individual. And in this case, it is the two vibrant sexual polarities of male and female energies that when combined become joyfully synergistic in nature. That is to say that their combined powers are greater than the sum of their original essences. This is extremely vital as we follow our paths of becoming increasingly omnipotent beings.
Evolved Spiritual joy is our destiny. We cannot avoid it, but we also should not be blasé about it either. We have a tremendous responsibility to assist our Spiritual Gay brothers and sisters, as well as the heterosexuals who torment us, so that they too achieve the joy that is rightfully theirs. For in the end, no matter what your subgroup, whether it be gays, lesbians, heterosexuals, males, or females, we are all Spiritual beings filled with deep and everlasting Spiritual love and joy for ourselves and each other.
Gregory Kasperek is a self-taught Spiritual philosopher who resides in Phoenix, Az and runs Cosmic Revelations; a private publisher and retailer for his uniquely written insights and theories that trace humanity's roots back to the pre-Milky Way era. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce P. Grether
Masturbation practiced freely and creatively can be one of life's great joys. Yet even among open-minded men, only the cutting edge is now considering the possibility that masturbation may be pursued as a profoundly spiritual activity. In this fascinating frontier of personal awareness and growth, as we often do, gay men are leading the way.
Despite the almost universal taboos and superstitions surrounding masturbation it is doubtless the most common form of sexual pleasure human beings experience. For most of us it's necessary to overcome some personal and cultural conditioning in order to relax into fully enjoying masturbation without inhibition, guilt or shame. In fact, not only is masturbation harmless, but the full enjoyment of it is beneficial to your health and well-being. One common misconception is that masturbation is merely an alternative or substitute for "real sex." On the contrary, physical self-love is a worthy form of erotic pleasure in itself.
There is nothing wrong with masturbating simply because you like how it feels. But in my own experience, masturbation has become far more than just a release of sexual tension or a way of feeling good. The truth is that I often consider my masturbation practice to be a profound form of meditation. Masturbation as a meditative practice can always be pursued solo, it can serve as a special bonding between partners, or it can even be enjoyed together between friends or groups of men. It helps to enter into this sincerely and respectfully, while at the same time not taking yourself too seriously. This is really not about seeking ordinary sexual pleasure, so much as your own personal and spiritual evolution. With other men it's a matter of mutual support, encouragement and empowerment.
Meditation is a means of dealing with the stress and confusion of everyday life by quieting the mind and achieving increased awareness. The Buddhist concept of mindfulness applies in this approach to masturbation as a form of meditation. Mindfulness means paying full attention to what might otherwise be overlooked, being fully present in the moment and in your body. Traditional methods of meditation vary from just sitting still and paying attention to your breathing, to walking slowly in a circle and noticing every step, to chanting aloud or silently reciting a mantra.
In this day and age we're all aware of how easy it is to get too accelerated, stress-out and goal-oriented. I recall at the Lammas gathering at Zuni Mountain Sanctuary in New Mexico a couple of years ago, a major theme was the contrast between human doing and human being. A common element of many forms of meditation is the emphasis on a shift from effort and "doing" to simply being in the present moment and allowing that--at least temporarily--to be enough. Meditation allows awareness to expand beyond ordinary limits, inviting fresh insight and a greater perspective. Occasionally meditative practice leads to major inspirations or even to a changed life. Sometimes the results are nothing so spectacular, but simply a rested and refreshed state, or a renewed sense of joy over simply existing. That's surely enough to make it worthwhile.
Human beings are highly verbal creatures and we spend much of our time describing to each other and mentally to ourselves what is going on. One factor that commonly limits our ordinary awareness is that mental chatter almost always going on inside our heads. The reality we experience is largely created and maintained by our use of language. This "inner dialogue," as don Juan Matus called it, tends to continue incessantly, reinforcing our assumptions and concepts of what is real. It goes on and on even when we are outwardly silent, not communicating with anyone else. Thus an important technique of meditation is to stop the inner dialogue. This allows us to experience with our senses directly, beyond interpretation, providing a glimpse of the reality beyond words. Trying too hard to achieve this directly doesn't work. In a real sense, you have to allow it to happen.
In don Juan's teachings this is called seeing the universe as it is--nothing but flowing energy. This is sometime referred to as confronting the Nagual or the unknown. The Taoists have a similar concept called the Uncarved Block, or that which cannot be limited by a name. Tibetans mention the Ground of Luminosity. And physicist David Bohm proposes that there is an Implicate Order to the universe, encoded into the structure of space and time, much as the DNA language encodes life itself into the biosphere. Heady and challenging as such concepts seem, they may not be beyond our experience if we surrender our habitual limitations and relax into exploring our inherent potential. By allowing the artificial duality of mind and body to merge back into their natural unity, we discover that we've barely scratched the surface of our potential. My personal feeling is that in states of high erotic ecstasy we actually connect with the Source. This experience necessarily remains ineffable, innately beyond words.
Masturbating in a mindful manner is particularly well suited to stopping the inner dialogue and allowing a glimpse of that reality beyond words. The word ecstasy means literally "ex-stasis," or moving from fixed states into flow. By surrendering your fixation with language and description, you can allow ecstatic sensation to carry you beyond the ordinary flow of sequential time into a feeling of timelessness. Rather than looking beyond this world to some other world for transcendence, you might want to seek meaning in a deeper look at this world, a concept called "immanence." Instead of rejecting the sensory realm, as most religions urge you to do, you might try embracing the senses fully as the Tantric sects of India recommend. These viewpoints suggest that instead of a separation between the material and spiritual realms, perhaps all matter is merely the expression of spirit. The two may be considered aspects of a single whole. Masturbation performed as a meditative practice can provide precisely this kind of awareness.
If you find this notion interesting, I suggest that you try combining your favorite forms of masturbation with an attitude of meditative mindfulness. Use plenty of lubrication and employ the techniques of nonejaculatory pleasure, which allow you to prolong & intensify the sensations indefinitely. Joseph Kramer's videos and classes or the Body Electric workshops are the best places to learn such techniques. It's always a good idea to breathe slowly and deeply, into you abdomen. Relax into the process. Ignore everything else and pay full attention to exactly what you are feeling. Fully enjoy every breath of life; savor every moment of touching yourself. Forget about the destination; surrender to the journey.
If there are a thousand ways to kiss the ground, there must be at least as many ways to approach masturbation as a form of meditation. Caress every part of your body, not just your genitals, inviting the whole to participate in your ecstasy. Once you are highly aroused, try coordinating your breathing with stroking, one stroke per breath. Combine this with anal breathing, which means to contract your anus as you inhale & relax your anus as you exhale. It's really best not to just lie there or sit there, but get up on your feet, move around. In a vertical position the energy flows differently than when prone. It's more active and vibrant. I often stand while masturbating and gazing at a colorful East Indian poster of Lord Shiva. Try stroking one hand slowly up and down the front of your torso while masturbating with the other hand. This helps to open the heart-genital connection. Consider putting on a favorite CD of music or drumming or environmental sounds then walk or even dance around while you masturbate. This helps the ecstatic energy to flow throughout your entire body, a practice I call "danceturbation." You might try a walking meditation, walking very very slowly in a circle, step-by-step watching the ground just before you. Masturbate stroke-by-stroke while you walk. Notice every step, how you lift your heel and place it back down. Do the same with your stroking, noticing every motion and each nuance of sensation.
This can become an effective means of growing more integrated within yourself. Masturbation practiced as meditation makes you feel more whole and one with yourself. It may be enjoyed by an amiable and supportive group of men, by friends or partners practicing together or mutually masturbating, and also practiced very effectively alone. Why not try using something you love to do anyway, as a tool for self-empowerment and expanded awareness? Experiment, explore and have fun with this. Let it take you into that timeless sense of direct, uninterpreted experience beyond words.
Bruce P. Grether is a writer and pleasure activist for the erotic liberation of his fellow men. He lives in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas with his partner Tom. They are also known by the Faerie names Swami and Hyperion. E-mail them at Texas Fairie Connection
Bruce has a Yahoo discussion group called Mindful Masturbation for Men.
It is, After All, a Spiritual Journey
There is nothing quite like sitting bedside watching the person you love most in the world die an ugly and untimely death. If you are middle aged or older and gay it is likely you have had such an experience or know someone who has. It provides a rich opportunity to re-exam your belief system and the place of organized religion in your life.
Rusty died in 1988 of AIDS when it was still popular to do so. Phillip followed in 1994 dying of cancer. Both were in their 40's and otherwise healthy, caring and loving men. I had loved both passionately in their time and, in fact, still do. With each I had been in a committed relationship of long duration and with each active participation in church had been a part of our routine.
Rusty and I had been together for 18 years but somehow when he died it was an event so much a part of gay life at the time that, although extremely painful, it was what gay men were doing then. It was "normal" for us and was "expected." There weren't many of us who didn't think our own death would soon follow. It didn't turn out that way of course. Phillip came into my life only a few months after Rusty's death and provided enormous healing and caring and the needed distraction from grieving. Our time together lasted just over 5 years. This time he wasn't followed quickly by another. There has been plenty of time to reflect and to wonder again about life's big questions.
Growing up in America I too experienced what I have come to view as the indoctrination of the Christian church and the social values of a culture formed and framed by the principles of that same church. Like many, there have been times when I questioned the dogma and its role in my life although for many years I maintained at least a loose working relationship to a church.
This time my questioning was different. This time it wasn't an intellectual luxury. This time I was stopped dead in my tracks by what had happened to me. This time I had to look really closely at what the church was promoting and what my culture was endorsing and what they both wanted me to believe. This time they both failed.
It took a long time. In fact, it is still going on. It has been a sometimes amazing and sometimes deeply distressing process. It has often been lonely and even scary. It has also been wonderful, energizing and grounding. It has never been boring.
It is, after all, a spiritual journey.
The first thing to go was the notion of a personal loving God, that ultimate friend there for you through thick and thin, available all hours of day and night to comfort and heal and work the needed magic to make the bad stuff go away, or at least seem manageable. That is the church God, the God of the promise, the one that is supposed to give a damn about what happens to you and those you care about. The one that is supposed to be there when it counts. The reality turned out to be much different of course. When the crunch came that God was evident by his, (her, its), complete absence. Not a word, not a sound, not a presence, not a vision, not a dream. No response to the prayers, the pleading, the begging, the weeping, the pain, the rage, the bargaining. Nothing. Not then, not since.
It took awhile to realize that was really my experience of the church God all along. The God of my faith turned out to be a God of my imagination. The fact that it was a fantasy shared by a large number of people across many years, supported by innumerable testimonies did not, in the end, change the reality of anything. In the end it was still fantasy. In the end he, she, it, wasn't there. Although I have had too many profound positive personal experiences of a spiritual nature to dismiss the idea of a power greater than ourselves at work in the universe, it was clear that I didn't know what that power was. One thing for sure it wasn't what I had been taught it was by the church or the culture.
As it turned out, the ultimate mistake was to have believed in the common imagined personal God (and what it could and would do). It was a belief and a God based on the information presented in and encouraged by the church rather than on my experience. In retrospect I am amazed at how long it took me to see that and how easy it was to deny my experience. In my own defense I must say that I have never considered myself to be a quick study.
Our society is heavily invested in denial and supporting the status quo including a narrow range of particular notions about a particular God. We can't really have all the citizens running about not believing in "God" as defined by the mother church (or Judaism, or Islam) and its numerous offspring. Who knows what might happen if the homosexuals, for example, get the idea that they aren't sub-human creatures deserving only to die and burn in hell for ever.
A lot of us have gotten the idea that we don't deserve to be treated the way the church and our society likes to have us treated. We have and are making other choices about our beliefs and the way to live. More informed ones based on our experience and knowledge rather than on tradition and indoctrination. And we have found a colorful tapestry of belief systems with a broad range of points-of-view available for consideration. It will likely turn out that no one system has all the answers for they have all been created to fit the times and needs of particular circumstances. And perhaps in that awareness is the closest we can come to an ultimate truth. There likely isn't a single answer or we may not have the capacity to know it.
Even that can still leave a lot of us with a reservoir of low self esteem. The indoctrination by our traditional faiths and the relentless reinforcement of the non-gay point-of-view that we all endless endure every day is not easy to overcome. It takes a lot of work and constant vigil. The first step is just to become consciously aware of the problem. The second is to decide to not allow it to run our lives, to deliberately choose love of self and who and what we are over fear of rejection, recrimination, condemination etc., etc. by others who's caring, support or respect we would like to have.
It is very important to notice the ultimate sources of our low self esteem are the teachings and indoctrinated values of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim faiths. It is our acceptance of and belief in those teachings and values, even subconsciously, that is the problem.
The lesson to learn is that we all have been and continue to be misled by the teachings. Religions continue to propagate the myths about who and what we are and what or who God is and wants of us. Some religious people are well intentioned but misguided. Others, like the Falwells, the Robinsons and Trent Lotts are in it for fun and profit. Their attacks are particularly gratuitous but at least more understandable. The others whether misguided or simply uninformed have the same lessons to learn that we do. It will be more difficult for them as they have no particular vested interest in changing the way things are. It is, after all, their society built and maintained by and for them for the most part. They do not see the need or benefit of change. For them, in large measure, "it works, don't fix it."
Regrettably there are a number of gay collaborators in the game. The most egregious being closeted clergy. The cloth by day and leather or feathers by night crowd, determined to have it both ways. Trying to pass at the altar and playing when they can get away with it. Teaching and preaching the myths for a living and in so doing, causing huge damage to themselves and the rest of us, including non-gay people, spiritually, morally and physically. They are, unfortunately, aided and abetted by our gay brothers and sisters of faith who can't or won't desist from supporting the process with their time, talent and treasure.
It is not the teachings alone that need to be questioned for many of us have had doubts and questions about doctrine along the way and have found ways to justify a different or modified interpretation of scripture. It is the very basis of the belief systems which needs to be considered. Few in this country have dared to seriously question the existence of a personal god. After all, what if you were wrong? The consequences could be serious. But if you honestly and fearlessly look at the human experience can you really believe that a loving personal god exists? No one in all of human history has apparently ever encountered such a god. There is no irrefutable evidence of the existence of such a being. It is a creation of the human imagination powered by fear and hope and maintained by tradition, ritual, ignorance, habit, superstition and the assertions of those hired to keep telling the tale.
There are many who can and do make eloquent arguments for questioning the teachings and the basis for the teachings we have accepted and allow consciously or sub-consciously to run our lives. One of my favorites is a book called The History of God by Karen Armstrong, published by Knopf. Well and clearly written by the former Catholic nun, it is a beautiful exposition of the changing nature and perception of the "changeless" God through human history. It illustrates how malleable our notions of God are and how we modify our view as circumstances require. A good friend of mine expresses the idea succinctly when he talks of his "now god." Another profoundly important piece of scholarship is a book by Burton L. Mack, a former professor of New Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont, titled The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q & Christian Origins published by Harper Collins. It should be a must read for anyone making life directing decisions based on Christian doctrine. A fairly easy read in spite of its somewhat intimidating title, it effectively shreds nearly all the basis for today's Christian beliefs as it identifies the circumstances and agendas of the first Christians and the evolution of what has come to be Christian teachings. My all time favorite though is the recently published Gay Spirituality: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness by Toby Johnson through Alyson Books. Clear, compassionate, authoritative, wise and profound it creates the space to reform our belief system in a gentle and sensitive way that reflects who and what we are.
Ultimately it is our experience as gay people that will lead us to the right answer. The important thing is to be willing to question the assumptions our society makes about God. Assumptions we have learned and absorbed in growing up in this culture and which are reinforced everyday in the media, in the customs, expectations and laws of our society. It is not scripture or a particular faith form and the attendant endless debates over dogma so much as the assumption of the existence of a particular form of supreme being ensconced in a place called heaven and preoccupied with the choices we make about the trivia of our everyday lives that is the problem. If we assume the presence of such a petty being we should expect to be mired in debate about what it wants for and from us. Lacking evidence for such a God, we as victims of the teachings and standards attributed to it must vigorously and courageously challenge the assumptions about it. It is not what and who we are that is wrong. It is what we and others have been taught about what and who we are and the assumptions of the existence of a particular form of divine being and what it expects of us that is wrong. Today's God is only one of countless gods worshipped down through the ages and almost always with bloody results for anyone deemed not in favor at the time. When we notice the falseness of the assumptions forming the basis of theology used to condemn us, we can claim our full self esteem and define for ourselves a belief system based on our experience and not the agendas of seriously uninformed peoples long ago and far away. And as we begin to see ourselves "as good as" and "as equal to" it becomes easier to take our rightful place in society and to require the Falwells and Robinsons and their manifold fellow travelers to make room for us at the table for it is our table also.
In the final analysis it seems one would be wise to choose or create a belief system that works. One that supports who and what we are, maybe even one that is fun. Certainly one that doesn't demean, degrade, discriminate and try to manipulate what and who we are. Gay people are another melody in the song of life. We are no better and no worse than the rest of the song.
David Jonson works in San Francisco. It was he who took David Goodstein as a guest to hear Werner Erhard invite participation in est. His email address is email@example.com
Reviews and Books
The Direct Path
by Andrew Harvey
Broadway Books, 291 pages, pb, $14.95
reviewed by Toby Johnson
Subtitled: "Creating A Journey to the Divine Through the World's Mystical Traditions," Andrew Harvey's most recent book is part autobiography and part guide book to a contemporary religious practice.
What he calls the "Direct Path" is religiousness without a guru or submission to a particular set of beliefs and practices. Harvey recounts how, growing up in India as a British Protestant boy surrounded by Muslims and Hindus, he'd come through experience of a variety of religious traditions to commit himself to a current pop figure of religion, the Indian woman known as Mother Meera. (She is the wonder-working holy woman Mark Matousek also tells about in Sex Death and Enlightenment.)
One of Harvey's ordeals on the spiritual path was acknowledging and accepting his homosexuality and then developing a beautiful and fulfilling relationship with his lover Eryk Hanut. Already a published author with a little bit of a following, he was told by Mother Meera that he should break off his relationship with Eryk and write a book declaring how her miraculous powers had cured him of his homosexuality. In his guru's self-serving and wrong-headed instruction, Harvey realized she was just a human being, not the incarnation of God's will and that obedience to gurus is just another form of religious delusion.
Hence the Direct Path, "the Path to God without dogmas or priests or gurus, the Path of direct self-empowerment and self-awakening in and under God in the heart of life."
The book goes on then to suggest how one can create their own spiritual path with a series of eighteen sacred practices, eight exercises for reducing stress, seven methods of walking meditation, three kinds of swimming, several kinds of dancing, a variety of exercises for unifying body, mind and spirit, nine exercises for experiencing the divinity of nature, instructions for practicing sacred sexuality, designing an altar and finally dying into Supreme Consciousness--all the things a guru might have prescribed but without the ego of the teacher getting in the way. An impressive amalgam of sacred practices and methods.
Hinduism describes several different kinds of yogas or paths of spirituality. One of these is called bhakti yoga: the way of devotion. Another is jnana yoga: the way of intellectual understanding. Andrew Harvey is clearly a bhakti yogin. Readers of White Crane may recognize that this reviewer is definitely a jnanin. I found the devotionalism of the book just a little too much: too many superlatives, too much of the personal God, too much of the author's private mystical experiences and insights presented as spiritual practice, too much religion. But, of course, I can only make that critique because I've been through similar experiences to those Harvey describes.
The central insight of the book--that we're on our own and have to find our own spiritual meaning, based in the mythological traditions but adapted to modern life--is right on. And for those who haven't been through some sort of religious training, the suggestions for spiritual practice are useful and well-described. The final chapter on service to humanity, saving the world as it were, is a wonderful statement of what religion and spirituality are really about.
At the same time I was reading this book, Newsweek Magazine featured a story on neurotheology, explaining how mystical experience is generated in the brain by changes in bloodflow and production of neurotransmitters. This application of modern brain science to religion necessarily raises the question of the significance of mystical states. But the conclusion Harvey comes to, I think, correctly addresses that question. The point of religion and spirituality is to transform us so that we put out "good vibes" and work consciously and devotedly to end suffering and further the evolution of consciousness, what in the end Harvey calls "the flowering earth."
This is a very good book, especially useful for those who've grown up outside--or rejected by--religion, seeking to discover greater meaning for their lives. A good workbook too for those of us looking to renew or refresh our spiritual practice. And the matter-of-fact acknowledgement of the author's sexuality in the context of religious practice is satisfying and inspiring. Clearly, confronting homosexuality provides important insights into religious meaning.
The Direct Path is available in bookstores and can be ordered directly at www.andrewharvey.net.
Christopher Isherwood: His Era, His Gang and the Legacy of the Truly Strong Man
by David Garrett Izzo
Univ. of South Carolina Press, 256 p., hb, $29.95
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
David Izzo's biography of Isherwood is part bio, part summary of the author's work, part in-depth literary anaylsis, and part spiritual philosophy. It's an impressive and interesting book. This is because Izzo's style manages to weave together so many themes and so many sources and because his subject had done precisely the same thing with his own life.
It becomes clear very early in this book that Christopher Isherwood and his gang were remarkably self-aware and self-analyzing. We discover that from very early in his life, Isherwood was treating his own experience as matter for journalism. His father, Frank, who was killed in WWI in 1915 when Isherwood was only 11, had "published" a family newspaper called "The Toy-Drawer Times" every morning, illustrated, about young Chris's life. His mother, Kathleen, helped him write his first "book" at age 6 called The History of My Friends, turning history into personal myth and fantasy.
In his last year at St. Edmund's Preparatory (high school), he met a boy who would change his life forever, alter the course of British literary history and give name both to the gang of friends and an entire generation, Wystan Hugh Auden. At St. Edmund's he also met his life-long friend and first collaborator, Edward Upward, with whom he wrote a series of subjective and obscurantist stories, peppered with nonsense words and set in a fantasy world called Mortemere.
Throughout his life, Isherwood continued to craft fiction based on these early experiences. He wrote about himself and his friends in the third person, sometimes using pseudonyms. He commented on history and meaning by placing himself and his experiences in the center of a fictionalized world. He also kept diaries and later in his life wrote commentaries about his own work. And, because he and Auden and their friends Stephen Spender, Cecil Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, etc. became important literary figures and popular writers, other people, critics and literary analysts, also wrote about them.
Part of what is remarkable about Izzo's analysis is that he has managed to piece together and explain all the many perspectives on Isherwood's life and personality development.
This phenomenon of writing about himself, only slightly veiled, is apparent in Isherwood's most familiar work The Berlin Stories which ultimately became the musical and movie Caberet. The story of William Bradshaw, British writer in pre-Nazi Germany, is the story of Christopher Isherwood in Berlin. The first dramatized version of the story was called I Am a Camera. That's precisely how he decided to report on what he'd discovered lurking behind the sexual liberation and sophistication. What isn't quite so clear in the literary creations is that Isherwood went to Berlin because of what Auden told him he'd find there: boys.
Auden and Isherwood's lives are important to us today in part because they helped create a world in which it was safe--even stylish--to be homosexual. It took a while and some personal growth, of course, but they told the truth about their experience of life. Isherwood's novel A Single Man, published in 1964, frankly and positively acknowledged homosexuality and portrayed it as to a call in increased consciousness.
An ongoing discussion throughout Izzo's book is the meaning of being Truly Strong and Truly Weak. The Truly Strong Man, the goal Isherwood apparently set for himself, acts from love and tells the truth; he passes Tests and proves himself, but not out of fear or neurosis (Isherwood and his gang grew up in the newly psychologically-sophisticated world announced by Sigmund Freud); his self-consciousness allows him to tell the truth. The Truly Weak Man acts from fear, in order to hide, turning self-consciousness into self-absorption.
Two pivotal experiences in Isherwood's later life were meeting Swami Prabhavananda, the apostle of Ramakrishna who came to America to teach the Hindu-inspired wisdom of Vedanta, and Don Bachardy, the young man who would remain Isherwood's lover and life-partner from 1953 to his death in 1986.
Isherwood's last book was My Guru and His Disciple. The title, of course, referred to Prabhavananda and Isherwood, speaking of himself in third person. It recounts the author's spiritual development and one-time effort to live as a Hindu monk. Though he preferred life with Bachardy to life as a celibate, he turned the quest to be Truly Strong to that to be truly spiritual and to live out of religious wisdom.
David Izzo's analysis of Isherwood's life and quest is impressive. As I try here to review it, I discover it's so rich in detail it is almost impossible to summarize. That's both its strength and its weakness, the problem created by Isherwood's self-conscious, self-analyzing, self-referential style. It's hard to keep track of what was real and what was fictionalized, of who was Isherwood the man and who was Isherwood the character, acting under pseudonym.
Readers and fans of Christopher Isherwood's are likely to thoroughly enjoy this book, finding in it a level of meaning they may not have seen in the writer's creations. The casual reader may find it daunting, but at the same time intriguing. It inspires curiosity and reverence for the life of a homosexual man, born in a time when that was still totally verboten, who becomes, partly through spirituality and partly through his commitment to honesty and self-analysis Truly Strong.
Izzo argues that Isherwood's legacy was shaping the anti-hero of early 20th Century literature into the sensitive, Truly Strong Man we see today as the hero in fiction and film, the person who can cry without shame and stand up for himself and others, changing virtue from stereotypically male traits to realistically human ones.
Letters to the Editor
Continuation of Full Disclosure
In the last issue on The Shadow, I ran a piece called "Full Disclosure" in which I accounted for the cost of White Crane. I showed that after the costs of printing and mailing, WCJ earned $360 on the copies of issue #47: The Word mailed to subscribers. Since Bo Young edited that issue, he and I split that amount.
Bo pointed out to me that I'd neglected one of the major categories of book-keeping. I'd included "Income from Sales" and "Cost of Goods Sold," but I'd failed to include "Expenses of Doing Business." What I'd reported as "earnings" are offset by the cost of post office boxes, postage, travel to and from the post office and the printer, etc. etc., many of them impossible to identify, but no less costly.
Apparently my shadow didn't want to let you know that Bo and I aren't making money.
I am pleased that several of you have said they were glad to see we make a little income, even though it isn't exactly true.
It does concern me that the job of editing and publishing White Crane seems to assume income from some other source than this job, which has turned out to be an ongoing occupation. I am fortunate to have the wherewithal to manage this.
I hope that in a few years another editor will come forth to replace me. Bob Barzan edited White Crane about seven years. That sounds like a good term for Editor. I have other things to do. And there should be other voices and other visions. Besides, I might be hit by a truck tomorrow. (Bo observed that any discussion of money ultimately becomes a discussion of mortality and death. A very wise point!)
It would be good if the job could pay a little salary. It would be especially good if WCJ could pay its authors.
What could make that possible is expansion of the readership.
The other way we'd make more income is by selling more ads. There aren't a lot of merchandized products that would be appropriate--though clearly books are one of them. Even so to woo publishers WCJ needs a larger subscriber base.
If you'd like to help--both WCJ and the gay spirituality movement in general--get us more subscribers.
We're repeating the offer of "last millennium prices" for gift subscriptions. --TJ
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Call for Submissions
Link to Toby Johnson's GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness Last update March 21, 2001