Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Workshop information from the latest Joseph Campbell Foundation newsletter:
Joseph Campbell identified the archetype of the hero’s journey as the mythological individual journey toward self-actualization. He identified several stages in this journey, including:
The call to adventure.
Finding the boon.
Bringing this learning back to the greater community.
In this workshop, participants will engage in an exploration of the three pillars of Eastern wisdom (Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism) as they relate to the Western concept of the hero’s journey. Join Huston Smith, Chunglian Al Huang, and Robert Walker, three luminaries and students of Joseph Campbell, in an exhilarating day of exploration and insight.
Location: CIIS Main Building, 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Date/Time: Saturday, November 5, 2005, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
For on-line registration and details, click here.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
"It is never by chance that one takes the dishonorable way." --Albert Camus
“When banker Elouise Cobell added up the Indian trust money lost, looted, and mismanaged by the U.S. government, the tab came to $176 billion. Now she's here to collect.” – Julia Whitty, Mother Jones Magazine (September/October 2005)
“Imagine the outrage if suddenly a major U.S. financial institution were to announce that it had no idea how much money was in each depositor’s account. Imagine the headlines. Imagine the congressional hearings, the class action lawsuits that would be filed as a result. Heads would surely roll on Wall Street. Yet that’s exactly what has happened here. In the nine years that our lawsuit has been proceeding, we’ve won on virtually every single substantive point.” --Elouise Cobell, Senate Indian Affairs Committee testimony, July 26, 2005
Let’s suppose you have five working oil wells on your property. What kind of income would you expect? Enough for an upscale home and upscale cars? Enough for world class vacation trips? Enough for secure retirement years?
Sure, all of that and more.
However, if you are a Native American whose property is held in trust by the Department of Interior, your reality is much different: perhaps a $30 check and a house the size of a closet. (1)
If your leasing royalties are $30 a month and if you live in a closet, you might see new hope in the class action lawsuit (2) filed by Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet Nation (3) on behalf of 500,000 Native Americans against the Department of Interior in an attempt to fix the problem.
But I wonder.
That suit was filed nine years ago. If you were living in a closet in 1996 while the government was holding onto an estimated $352,000 of your money, you are still waiting for that money today. And, if justice doesn't get the lead out, you'll be waiting for your money nine years from now.
Each Secretary of the Interior named in the lawsuit since it was filed has stonewalled a solution with obstructionist tactics and maneuvers and each has been held in contempt of court. Yet there has been little or no positive intervention by Congress or the President.
In fact, while the court has ruled that Interior must bring its accounting records up to date, Congress has delayed compliance via riders hidden within budget and appropriation bills. And, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (as the court found in 2004) has retaliated against Native Americans by seizing land and stopping checks.
Meanwhile, Interior claims that little or no money has been lost, that things are not as bad as Elouise Cobell maintains, and that the whole shebang is a revenge-oriented attempt to extract money from the government for every real or imagined wrong of the past.
And while all of this has been going on, it’s quite likely that you haven’t heard about the missing money, the faulty records, or the lawsuit. There’s been hardly a noticeable whisper about it in the news. (4) This month’s article in Mother Jones Magazine makes a small dent in the silence.
To date, such articles have been few and far between and have stirred little public debate or media attention. While the case and the rulings are complex and don’t make for easy sound bites, the media have often made much more of much less.
While the fight against the Indian trust accounts injustice has been almost as invisible to the general public as the injustice itself, the dishonor surrounding the government’s 118 years of malfeasance and mismanagement is dishonor done in your name and mine.
(1) See “Accounting Coup,” by Julia Whitty, Mother Jones Magazine, September/October 2005, http://www.motherjones.com/
(2) The lands of the Blackfeet Nation (www.blackfeetnation.com) adjoin the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park, Montana. The lawsuit represents the interests of individuals from many tribes.
(3) The lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia. (Cobell v. Norton, Civ. No. as Cobell v. Norton, Civ. No. 96-1285 (RCL). For additional information and copies of court documents and orders, see http://www.indiantrust.com/.
(4) I would not have heard of the case either if my focus on Glacier National Park and the surrounding area hadn’t brought it to my attention when it was filed. Banker Elouise Cobell works in Browning, Montana, a few miles from the park.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
While successful writers and editors usually suggest that the first draft of a novel, short story, or non-fiction work should be written with little or no regard to “making it pretty,” beginning writers often spend so much time tinkering that they stall the creative flow of words.
Whether a writer uses an outline or not, s/he can also destroy the spontaneity of the work by methodically writing the first draft in the same kind of painstaking way one might use assemble a 5,000-piece puzzle on the dining room table.
As with everything else in life, worrying about outcomes—what the book or story will look like then it’s complete—spoils the work in progress.
There’s a difference between having an awareness of outcomes and worrying about them to the point of preoccupation. Written materials tend to have plots, key points, themes, deadlines, word count restrictions, research and fact checking requirements and other logical considerations. Writers, though, can be mindful of these considerations without keeping them in the foreground of their attention.
Growing up, most of us were taught to rely on a logical world filled with science, technology, rules, laws, and a pragmatic and empirical reality based on the five senses. So it is, that logic is the safe foundation we know. So it is that writers will often retreat to this safe foundation at a time when they should be stepping away from it.
When I write within my “logical mode,” I am focusing on each word, each point, and each thought with the precision of a computer programmer. My wife, who worked as a journalist and can spin words out at light speed, is amused at my turtle-like approach in this mode. “You’re putting the book together with tweezers,” she says. Well, once I’m stuck in logical mode, I’m either addicted to it or afraid to come out of it. So it is that my wife will note at the end of the evening that she has written several thousand words and I’m still working on the sentence I started with right after dinner.
When I write within my “intuitive mode,” the mode in which outcomes don’t matter and neither does polishing up the prose, my work unfolds much faster. But the speed of it isn’t the entire story. While writing quickly without planning every phrase and sentence in advance, ideas come to mind that I never would have discovered in logical mode. I have no clue where these ideas come from; they certainly weren’t consciously on my mind when I sat down to write.
My intuitive-mode writing unfolds the way it does because I am truly not worrying or even thinking about the end product, whether it's a book review, a grant application or a book. Clearly, I have taken the blinders off and can see what I’m doing a lot better than when I’m placing words into a manuscript with tweezers.
Because I don’t know how the intuitive mode does what it does, I am often afraid to trust it. This creates a certain amount of tension before I begin writing. I keep avoiding it because I don’t know how it works. I fear that maybe it won’t work. So, I’m usually tempted to take a deep breath and start out in logical mode because I see how that works. Even so, I’m much happier with the material when I “jump off the cliff” (so to speak) and just let the writing happen.
This anything-goes, don’t-fret-about-it approach even helps with research and fact checking, tasks that appear wholly logical at first glance. If one jumps into his or her “safe” logical mode while doing research, a lot of good stuff is going to be missed. Sure, the fact in question will be found quickly and efficiently and written down on a sheet of paper and then plugged into the manuscript. Sometimes that’s enough.
But when a writer approaches research at a somewhat leisurely pace, rather like a tourist with an entire day to explore the marketplace at a port of call, then ideas and facts that s/he did not even know existed will suddenly appear.
In many cases, these ideas and facts are so powerful and so apt, that they can completely change the direction of the book, article or story; in other cases, they may make a scene or character or viewpoint much stronger and much richer than it would have been if the writer had not allowed himself or herself the luxury of doing research in an intuitive mode.
Diana Galbadon (author of the “Outlander” Series, including this year’s A Breath of Snow and Ashes) has spoken often about the synchronicity of the research effort when one is open to new ideas. She might begin the evening looking for ABC and just happen to notice a footnote that leads to a ton of information about XYZ that’s much more important. The more it happens, the more she expects it to happen and—therefore—keeps and open mind and allows it to happen. Many of us experienced this phenomenon whenever we stop ourselves from racing to a book or a web site and then racing right back to our writing with a fact without stopping for a moment to smell the roses.
Sometimes, a playful approach will allow both writing and research to become more intuitive during the crucial first draft (or major rewrite) phases. If one tries to have fun writing a scene or a chapter rather than focusing slavishly on the points to be made and/or the best words to use, then how it all turns out suddenly doesn’t matter yet. If one is writing non-fiction, fresh key points come to mind that “weren’t anywhere” when the writing began. If one is writing fiction, the characters start saying what “they” want to say and the writer discovers some exciting dialogue s/he hadn’t planned.
If writers aren’t used to the intuitive approach, then it’s often hard for them to open up and allow the words to flow. But logic is their worst enemy at this point. It’s always there whispering, “hey, what if this stuff really sounds bad?” So what? There will be time to polish and edit it later. Or, “excuse me, but isn’t this article twice as long as it should be?” So what? It’s usually easier to cut words out in draft two than to agonizingly stare at a blank piece of paper or a blank screen in draft one. Or, “you moron, you don’t really want your characters wandering off to Vegas do you?” So what? If Vegas doesn’t work, that scene can be thrown away later; meanwhile five other scenes have shown up out of the blue that make the book a better book.
Writing in the intuitive mode is rather like a journey or a quest. The writer becomes changed in some way while writing. The intuitive mode helps him or her set out to do one thing, accomplish that thing (or some unexpected better thing) with a lot of depth and style and insight, and end up a stronger person for it. It’s always a matter of taking time to look at the scenery and smell the roses along the way.
Monday, September 05, 2005
“The more you push yourself to understand something that you are not ready for, the less likely you will be to achieve understanding. You must surrender, let it go, and be fluidic. You cannot force this door [the door to your awakening] open. It does not work like that.” –Eric J. Pepin, The Handbook of the Navigator
“Resistance is an opposition, due to some belief, to experiencing something just as it is. It’s an attempt to create from consciousness rather than from awareness.” –Harry Palmer, in The Avatar Journal, Summer 2005.
“Quests are personal journeys, and every step is taken alone.” –Deepak Chopra, The Way of the Wizard
“The hero adventures out of the land we know into darkness; there he accomplishes his adventure, or again is simply lost to us, imprisoned, or in danger; and his return is described as a coming back out of yonder zone. Nevertheless—and here is the great key to understanding of myth and symbol—the two kingdoms are actually one.” –Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
If there is a subtle message in my novel The Sun Singer it is this: the great words of the great masters about your life’s journey are—at best—hints.
The words of the masters may suggest to you that there are other worlds and other levels of consciousness and other levels of awareness. And they may also suggest techniques that will help you find the doorways, paths, enlightenments, and awakening you desire.
After that, the great words are lies insofar as your journey is concerned. The great masters’ great words describe the great masters’ journeys. As such, they are the gospel of the great masters’ experience.
Your journey is yours alone and cannot be undertaken by following in the great masters’ footsteps or by concretizing the great masters’ thoughts into a recipe book. You alone know the terrain upon which you are walking and when all is said and done, the great masters’ view from the mountaintop will never be yours. Attempting to see what they saw creates blindness.
You alone will write the gospel of your life, and it will be based on your awareness of your own experience. Nothing else matters; nothing else exists. You are both the creator of your path and the one who walks upon it enjoying the scenery and surprising yourself with the wonders you encounter.