Ramakrishna’s Well

A beautiful little parable by the great Hindu sage, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1866).

It’s a great illustration of the purpose of story-telling.

Ramakrishna used to tell this story: `Three men went walking in a field. In the middle of the field there was a place surrounded by a high wall. From within this wall came the sounds of music; instruments were playing and voices sang. The men were charmed by it and wanted to see what was happening. But there was no door anywhere in the wall. What were they to do?

One of the men found a ladder somewhere and climbed to the top of the wall, while the other two waited below. When the man who was on top of the wall saw what was happening inside, he was beside himself with joy. He even forgot to tell the two below what he saw; he uttered a loud laugh and jumped down inside.

The other two exclaimed: “A fine friend he is! He didn’t tell us what he saw. We’ll have to look for ourselves.” So the second man climbed the ladder. And, like the first man, he looked over the wall and burst out laughing with joy, and jumped.

So what was the third man to do? He too climbed the ladder and looked over the wall and saw what was on the other side. It was like a market of happiness, given free to all comers. His first thought was to jump down and join in the rejoicing. But then he
said to himself: “If I do that, no one outside will ever know that this place of joy exists. Am I to be the only one to find it?”

So he forced his mind away from the sight, and he came down the ladder and began telling everyone he met: “In there is the market of happiness. Come with me – let’s enjoy it together.” So he took everybody with him, and they all took part in the rejoicing.’

Ramakrishna and his Disciples by Christopher Isherwood (Ch 6)

Fritz on Nothing

It’s an oldie but a goodie.

It seems ridiculous but it’s more than common in spiritual circles. Even humility (especially humility?) can become a farcical, competitive game.

I remember it well!

Mea culpa.

There is an old story about this: A rabbi is standing in front of his congregation and says, “I was such a good rabbi; now I am nothing. I’m really nothing. God, I was such a good rabbi and I am nothing.”

And so the cantor, the singer, picks it up. He says, “God, I was such a good cantor and I am nothing. I’m really nothing.”

A little tailor in the congregation picks it up. “God, I was such a good tailor and I am nothing, really nothing.”

And the rabbi says to the singer, “Who does he think he is to think he’s nothing?”

Fritz Perls in Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (P. 230)

MLVF on the Self

My reading has taken a Jungian turn in the last week or so.

His book, Man and His Symbols is a great way to start. Jung can be complex and difficult to follow – much of it is beyond me – but this book lays out his fundamental ideas beautifully.

The following excerpt is from an article in the book by one of his most prominent early collaborators, Marie-Louise Von Franz.

It’s worth a read:

     The dark side of the Self is the most dangerous thing of all, precisely because the Self is the greatest power in the psyche. It can cause people to "spin " megalomaniac or other delusory fantasies that catch them up and "possess " them. A person in this state thinks with mounting excitement that he has grasped and solved the great cosmic riddles; he therefore loses all touch with human reality. A reliable symptom of this condition is the loss of one's sense of humour and of human contacts.
     Thus, the emerging of the Self may bring great danger to a man's conscious ego. The double aspect of the Self is beautifully illustrated by this old Iranian fairy tale, called "The Secret of the Bath Badgerd”:

     The great and noble Prince Hatim Tai receives orders from his king to investigate the mysterious Bath Badgerd [castle of nonexistence]. When he approaches it, having gone through many dangerous adventures, he hears that nobody ever returned from it, but he insists on going on. He is received at a round building by a barber with a mirror who leads him into the bath, but as soon as the prince enters the water, a thunderous noise breaks out, it gets completely dark, the barber disappears, and slowly the water begins to rise.
     Hatim swims desperately round until the water finally reaches the top of the round cupola, which forms the roof of the bath. Now he fears he is lost, but he says a prayer and grabs the centre-stone of the cupola. Again, a thunderous noise, everything changes, and Hatim stands alone in a desert.
     After long and painful wandering, he comes to a beautiful garden in the middle of which is a circle of stone statues. In the centre of the statues, he sees a parrot in its cage, and a voice from above says to him: "Oh, hero, you probably will not escape alive from this bath. Once Gayomart [the First Man] found an enormous diamond that shone more brightly than sun and moon. He decided to hide it where no one can find it, and therefore he built this magical bath in order to protect it. The parrot that you see here forms part of the magic. At its feet lie a golden bow and arrow on a golden chain, and with them you may try three times to shoot the parrot. If you hit him the curse will be lifted; if not, you will be petrified, as were all these other people."
     Hatim tries once, and fails. His legs turn to stone. He fails once more and is petrified up to his chest. The third time he just shuts his eyes, exclaiming "God is great," shoots blindly, and this time hits the parrot. An outbreak of thunder, clouds of dust. When all this has subsided, in place of the parrot is an enormous, beautiful diamond, and all the statues have come to life again. The people thank him for their redemption.

     The reader will recognize the symbols of the Self in this story - the First Man Gayomart, the round mandala-shaped building, the centre-stone, and the diamond. But this diamond is surrounded by danger. The demonic parrot signifies the evil spirit of imitation that makes one miss the target and petrify psychologically.
     As I pointed out earlier, the process of individuation excludes any parrot-like imitation of others. Time and again in all countries people have tried to copy in "outer " or ritualistic behaviour the original religious experience of their great religious teachers - Christ or Buddha or some other master - and have therefore become "petrified. " To follow in the steps of a great spiritual leader does not mean that one should copy and act out the pattern of the individuation process made by his life. It means that we should try with a sincerity and devotion equal to his to live our own lives.
     The barber with the mirror, who vanishes, symbolizes the gift of reflection that Hatim loses when he wants it most; the rising waters represent the risk that one may drown in the unconscious and get lost in one's own emotions. In order to understand the symbolic indications of the unconscious, one must be careful not to get outside oneself or "beside oneself," but to stay emotionally within oneself. Indeed, it is vitally important that the ego should continue to function in normal ways. Only if I remain an ordinary human being, conscious of my incompleteness, can I become receptive to the significant contents and processes of the unconscious. But how can a human being stand the tension of feeling himself at one with the whole universe, while at the same time he is only a miserable earthly human creature? If, on the one hand, I despise myself as merely a statistical cipher, my life has no meaning and is not worth living. But if, on the other hand, I feel myself to be part of something much greater, how am I to keep my feet on the ground? It is very difficult indeed to keep these inner opposites united within oneself without toppling over into one or the other extreme.

Clarkson on Rumi

Been reading Petruska Clarkson’s The Transpersonal Relationship
in Psychotherapy (The Hidden Curriculum of Spirituality) and came across this little gem:

     Friend, we’re travelling together.
     Throw off your tiredness. 
     Let me show you one tiny spot 
     of the beauty that cannot be spoken.
     I’m like an ant that’s gotten into the granary,
     ludicrously happy, and trying to lug out
     a grain that’s way too big. 

(From Rumi, first dictated 
1207–1273 in Koyna, Turkey

Fritz on the Void

I’ve been reading Gestalt Therapy Verbatim by Fritz Perls.

I’m struck by the overlaps with my own book, The Naked Mystic (here in the US) and even more struck by the fact that these basic truths of human experience, often expressed in religious terms, surface again and again in all sorts of ways.

Fritz reminds me of Harvey. Here’s a sample of his thinking:

Now let me tell you something about how I see the structure of a neurosis. Of course I don’t know what the theory will be next because I’m always developing and simplifying what I’m doing more and more.

I now see the neurosis as consisting of five layers. The first layer is the cliché layer. If you meet somebody you exchange clichés – “Good morning,” handshake, and all of the meaningless tokens of meeting.      

Now behind the clichés, you find the second layer, what I call the Eric Berne or Sigmund Freud layer – the layer where we play games and roles – the very important person, the bully, the cry-baby, the nice little girl, the good boy – whatever roles we choose to play. So those are the superficial, social, as-if layers. We pretend to be better, tougher, weaker, more polite, etc., than we really feel. This is essentially where the psychoanalysts stay. They treat playing the child as a reality and call it infantilism and try to get all the details of this child-playing.      

Now, this synthetic layer has to be first worked through. I call it the synthetic layer because it fits very nicely into the dialectical thinking. If we translate the dialectic – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – into existence, we can say: existenceanti-existence, and synthetic  existence. Most of our life is a synthetic existence, a compromise between the anti-existence and existence. For instance, today I had the luck to meet somebody who has not this phony layer, who is an honest person, and relatively direct. But most of us put on a show which we are not, for which we don’t have our support, our strength, our genuine desire, our genuine talents.  

Now if we work through the role-playing layer, if we take away the roles, what do we experience then? Then we experience the anti-existence, we experience the nothingness, emptiness. This is the impasse that I talked about earlier, the feeling of being stuck and lost The impasse is marked by a phobic attitude—avoidance. We are phobic, we avoid suffering, especially the suffering of frustration. We are spoiled, and we don’t want to go through the hellgates of suffering: We stay immature, we go on manipulating the world, rather than to suffer the pains of growing up. This is the story. We rather suffer being self-conscious, being looked upon, than to realize our blindness and get our eyes again. And this is the great difficulty I see in self-therapy. There are many things one can do on one’s own, do one’s own therapy, but when one comes to the difficult parts, especially to the impasse, you become phobic, you get into a whirl, into a merry-go-round, and you are not willing to go through the pain of the impasse.      

Behind the impasse lies a very interesting layer, the death layer or implosive layer. This fourth layer appears either as death or as fear of death. The death layer has nothing to do with Freud’s death instinct. It only appears as death because of the paralysis of opposing forces. It is a kind of catatonic paralysis: we pull ourselves together, we contract and compress ourselves, we implode. Once we really get in contact with this deadness of the implosive layer, then something very interesting happens.   

The implosion becomes explosion. The death layer comes to life, and this explosion is the link-up with the authentic person who is capable of experiencing and expressing his emotions. There are four basic kinds of explosions from the death layer. There is the explosion of genuine grief if we work through a loss or death that has not been assimilated. There is the explosion into orgasm in sexually blocked people. There is the explosion into anger, and also the explosion into joy, laughter, joi de vivre. These explosions connect with the authentic personality, with the true self.

Frederick S. Perls in Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (Talk IV)

Naughty Shaman

I’ve been reading Mircea Eliade’s SHAMANISM: ARCHAIC TECHNIQUES OF ECSTASY (1951) and I came across this little gem of a story near the beginning of Chapter 3.

It put a smile on my face.

Certain legends explain the present decadence of shamans by the pride of the “first shaman,” who is believed to have entered into competition with God.

According to the Buryat version, the “first shaman,” Khara-Gyrgan, having declared that his power was boundless, God put him to the test. God took a girl’s soul and shut it up in a bottle. To make sure that it would not escape, God put his finger into the neck of the bottle. The shaman flew through the sky, sitting on his drum, discovered the girl’s soul and, to set it free, changed into a spider and stung God in the face. God instantly pulled out his finger and the girl’s soul escaped.

Furious, God curtailed Khara-Gyrgan’s power, and after that the magical abilities of shamans markedly diminished.