Thursday, August 31, 2006

Birth of a Poet: First Meditation

[Last year on Integral Options Cafe, I posted four articles based on the book Birth of a Poet, by William Everso, the poet on whom I wrote my master's thesis. I am reposting them here as an exploration of the role of vocation in the spiritual life of an artist.]

The poet William Everson achieved his greatest fame while he was a lay brother in the Dominican order. He once appeared on the cover of Time Magazine under the title of The Beat Friar. He was friends with Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, and Denise Levertov, among others, who are central to the development of poetry in America during the 20th century.

Everson received attention as a Dominican as much for his persona as for the quality of his work. The poetry from that period was deeply religious, yet it contained a pronounced eroticism, nowhere more evident than in River-Root, the book-length meditational poem on sexual union that was not fully published until after he left the Dominicans.

Despite all that, his most important work came in the final stage of his life, when he returned to the world and married for the third time. In this final period of his development, Everson adopted the persona of the shaman, and it was deeply authentic in his experience of it. He began the "return" portion of the monomyth (separation, initiation, return) when he took a job teaching at UC Santa Cruz. One of the classes he taught was called "Birth of a Poet."

A book containing the lectures from one year of his "Birth of a Poet" class was published by Black Sparrow Press (defunct) in 1982 (edited by Lee Bartlett). The class was on vocation as much as it was on poetry and becoming a poet. I once taught a small course based on the Everson class and have wanted to teach such a class again.

But here on this blog, I can present some of the ideas, with an added integral twist, and hopefully spark some conversation. This first meditation serves as an introduction to the topic. Future meditations will amplify various themes and concepts.

* * *

Meditation One: Vocation

Everson thought of the poet as a charismatic vocation. Vocation: vocare, the calling; vocari, to be called. We tend to think of the most noble of human professions as callings: priest, nurse, doctor, firefighter. To become aware of one’s vocation is to hear the call as it rises from the depths of the unconscious. Hearing and accepting the call represent the approach to and crossing over of the threshold between linear time and cyclical time.

    Linear Time
    Cyclical Time

cause and effect...........synchronicity of myth
ego consciousness........expanded consciousness

Cyclical time is the only kind of time known to pre-egoic cultures. Linear time is a rational concept that is unavailable to all but the most advanced members of pre-egoic cultures. However, as we transcend linear time through transcendence of the ego, we again gain access to cyclical time, but it now exists in the form of all time being one time. This is a distinction that Everson and Jung were unable to make.

It's important to avoid the mistake Carl Jung made so often in seeing mythic consciousness as exclusively transpersonal, rather than recognizing that most myths and archetypes are prepersonal. Everson, as a Jungian, made the same mistake. In the list above, which is based on Everson's own dichotomy, some of the elements are personal versus prepersonal, while others are personal versus transpersonal. For Jung and Everson, anything not personal was thought of as transpersonal since they could only distinguish between personal and not personal. This is Ken Wilber's classic pre/trans fallacy.

I will try to be clear as I progress so that I don't fall into pre/trans fallacy myself. Many of the stories and myths involving a hero figure grew out of the transition from tribal, animistic cultures to cultures focused on "power gods," essentially the first emergence of an individual self unique from the tribe. These myths mark the transition, historically, from pre-egoic to egoic consciousness.

Joseph Campbell named the process of answering the call the monomyth, a term he borrowed from James Joyce. The monomyth is an archetypal process that occurs outside of linear time, fully imbued with the power of cyclical time. Jung referred to this process as individuation, the development of Self, the archetypal self. Self: that aspect of each individual psyche which is connected to cyclical time; self: that aspect of each individual psyche which lives in linear time (i.e., the ego).

Perhaps it might help to ground this idea in something we all experience. Our dreams offer the possibility of a hero's journey every night, the possibility of what we may be, the nature of our vocations, and the clues to our callings. Arnold Mindell, who developed a system of psychology called Process Work, focused on the concept of the “dreambody.” He maintained that all dreams occur “over the edge,” in cyclical time, and that dreams are about a new identity trying to happen but that has not fully arrived.

Many of us are still living on that edge. Someplace in our unconscious minds we are converging on what is possible, listening for the call. Some of us already have heard the call and are attempting to reconcile our lives as they are to the knowledge of what they can become. Most of us, though, still await the sign or symbol that will concretize the calling of our vocations. Our culture does not offer much in the way of guidance for this process, and it often ends up manifesting as a midlife crisis or "spiritual emergency" (Christina Grof's term), or as some other event that totally shakes up our lives.

Every vocation is controlled by an archetype and its corresponding symbols. This comes not from the individual but from what Jung termed the collective unconscious. It is the human race which creates the vocation; all we, as individuals, can do is answer the call. The vocation can only be actualized if the response is in sync with the call. This is important.

Each of us possesses a unique set of traits and potentials--our inheritance. There is no one else who possesses the same set of skills and traits. There is a certain convergence of energies that can manifest only in one individual, and that unique identity demands recognition. Our callings offer us the opportunity to serve that identity, that potential of being, both consciously, through our outer lives, and through the unconscious, our spiritual lives.

Everson suggests that vocation is like love: until you have been awakened to it you can not know its truth. This is how it is with all forms of expanded consciousness, whether it's drugs, conscious dreaming, or advanced meditative stages. This is also how it is with death.

On the subject of death: Everson felt that
the whole mastery of your vocation is a mastery of the mystery of death. It is an approach to that mystery, because in death all our purposes are subsumed into another dimension; we achieve in death what we opted for in life.

Hearing and answering the call of vocation teaches us how to surrender and, in so doing, teaches us how to die.

"We achieve in death what we opted for in life." What an interesting statement. Everson was devoutly Catholic, but this comment has a very karmic flavor to it. We might interpret this statement as a suggestion that our next incarnation will be based on how we live this life, which is an essential Buddhist tenet. In surrendering to the call and living our vocation, we earn merit that may result in a better incarnation the next time around.

The idea of surrender is also contained within the Tarot card of the Hanged Man, active non-doing. We are taught that surrender is wrong, that it is a sign of weakness. But if we want to have access to cyclical time, we must learn to surrender; we must learn the art of active non-doing. We must learn to surrender self, the ego, to Self, the transcendent convergence of spirit and soul.

* we surrender to God if we are religious
* we surrender to the other if we are in love
* we surrender to the call if each of us is to know a true Self

If we are unable to surrender to these things, we learn nothing--we do not grow as individuals. Everson said: “You have to lose your life in order to gain it.”

Two Photos: Ruth

"Barn Window"

"Window on rue des Barres"

~ Ruth blogs at Synchronizing and Paris Deconstructed.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Photo: John Craig

~ Untitled photo by John Craig of Craig Photography.

Poem: Tiel Aisha Ansari

Earth And Sand

It happened last night. This morning
I woke to find the bedroom full of sand,
marked with the delicate webbed tracks
of some creature native not to earth,
but air and water. Some bird, it could be
but not one I’ve ever (waking) seen.

I have no time for the unseen —
there’s work to do every morning,
and if I let it go, I could be
overwhelmed, drowned in the quicksand
of everyday life on earth.
My job is waiting — better make tracks!

A line of cars at the railroad tracks
waiting to cross — a sight I’ve often seen.
As I wait my turn, my mind unearths
memories of the hour before morning.
We were walking side by side in the sand.
You said, “It could be...”

What was it? What did you say could be?
Who were you, to leave mysterious tracks
on my heart? I count minutes like sand
grains in an hourglass. I stare unseeing
waiting for evening to swallow morning
and dreams to cover the earth.

I’ve always been so down-to-earth.
Not really the type who could be
found in bed dreaming all morning —
or wandering off to explore the trackless
untrodden shore of an unseen
ocean, over dunes of invisible sand.

But my shoes are damp and crusted with sand
and I’m losing my hold on solid earth
drowning under the weight of the unseen.
My dreaming echoes with sounds that could be
surf on rocks, or night trains on the tracks
and salt stains my pillow in the morning.

Into the bright morning I follow your tracks
believing you could be real, though never seen
one foot on earth, one foot on sand.

~ Tiel Aisha Ansari, who can be found at her blog Knocking From Inside.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Poem: Anonymous

portrait of loss


her blood / close to water / cyclic
awareness of omens
not memory / knife scars
on her calves / where she bled loss
from her body

records cryptic
prophecies / a purple-skinned
volume / burns the pages
in dreams of drowning

stays close to water / announces
pull of moon hallowed / her body
bleeding / a magnet hidden
in blood / no nectar in silence


photos of the black dog
gone blind and deaf / now dead

sifts through dust
collecting on her hands / eyes
yellow and brittle

opens small room curtains / stands
smiling / an echo / knows
memory as light
turned inward

small red birds nest
in the tree outside her window

her grandfather / consumed
by cancer / stepped over
the inscrutable line / left his body
to the earth

(mourning / she smiles / loss
not quantified by color
or scent of lilacs)

pours merlot / dreams this night
she eats her dog's dead body / disturbed
by the taste / grey flesh / disturbed
by her own laughter


days dispel themselves / wandering
as a minstrel where music
can never be heard / a place
without walls / windows/ without
a surface for sleep

alone in this desert / feels . . .

loss / a disease
beyond flesh / skin shed
as a rattlesnake
wriggles through renewal

harsh surface of stones / sand
spiders /doesn’t trust sunlight

horror of a vulture
atop a saguaro / stilled
lizard in its beak

these omens of loss
she feels . . .


a place where wind
silences words / where
she is lost
without the cool scent
of water

~ poem submitted by Anonymous (comments will be forwarded)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Two Photographs: Ani



~ Ani is also known as ~anycrow at deviantART, which is where I found her work.

Flash Fiction at ETR

In addition to poetry and photography, I am opening Elegant Thorn Review to flash fiction submissions. You can find some examples of flash fiction here, here, and here.

Ideally, flash fiction (or sudden fiction) for ETR will be under 500 words and focused on some variation of a meaningful event, unless you can pull off the Raymond Carver meaningful non-event. Writing should be crisp and show your readers an event they can pull meaning from rather than telling them what they should feel.

I look forward to receiving your submissions.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Photo: Kira Freed

Kira Freed is a writer and life coach living in Tucson, AZ, where this sunrise photo was taken.

Poetry: Joneve McCormick

Back to the sea

I want to go back to the sea,
deep enough,
where light and dark are one,
where I came from,

back to sea wiggles and wants,
to hungers and reliefs...
I would be a small pebble
or a tiny fish, alive one marvelous moment --
or a big fish snapping up the little
(both are good).

The sea sings,
'the one who doesn't know me is an orphan.'

I would travel to the deepest place I could find
and listen to OM --
beyond the sea floor --
beyond glittering stars

I want to fly now
where my wings first formed.

~ by Joneve McCormick. More of her poetry can be found at Poetry Soul to Soul.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Two Photos: Erica Cornejo

~ Erica Cornejo recently finished law school at the University of Arizona and is enjoying having her life back.

Poetry: Tim J Brennan


funny how things disappear:
lilacs by early june, deep lavender
blossom stems reduced to mere stubble
on thin chin branches; Halley’s comet,
off somewhere every seventy-six years
like some kind of celestial wooley mammoth

dirty and dusty steve mcqueen on a mud caked
motorcycle; hydrox cookies. cold milk, poured
into three tall pink plastic glasses

i walked to this home on pitt street in 1964
from washington elementary in shawtown
i walked, watching ambulance lights
disappear down our narrow street
tiny sister lisa tucked into its
windowed cradle never to return
mother wouldn’t budge from the nursery,
almost dissolving behind the thick oak
door until father came, hornet like,
in his yellow and green 1953 Bel Air,
hurdling the front hedge like an olympic athlete
on our black and white Zenith.
i’d never seen him do something
that bold that masculine

i was in awe

funny how things disappear: a mother
playing peek-a-boo, fading back behind
soft mother fingers, knowing a child will
be smiling, knowing behind her empty hands
a face needs to be wiped, blankets need to be folded,
applesauce needs to be scooped into small bowls,
and first birthday pictures need to be taken,

all before bedtime

just in case something comes up
and all those mother chores,
all that wanting,
just disappears

~Tim J Brennan can be reached at this email address.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Poetry: Tiel Aisha Ansari

Soul Music

The lonely desert echoes to a lonely cry, the same sound reverberates in neon alleyways.
The heart reads its own compass
and knows no other geography.

Who is it that weeps among the jackals and wolves?

This is the sound of the reed flute wailing.
This is the blues harmonica playing.
This is the tongue of the soul crying out to God.

Tiel Aisha Ansari is a Sufi, martial artist, ecologist and computer programmer living in the Pacific Northwest. You can visit her online at Knocking From Inside.

Photo: John Craig

Photo by John Craig of Craig Photography.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Call For Submissions: Elegant Thorn Review

Elegant Thorn Review
Submissions Guidelines

Elegant Thorn Review is a new blog that seeks well-crafted and spiritually intelligent poetry. There are no limitations on subject or spiritual tradition, nor are there limits on style and length. Obviously, since this in online, there are technical issues with highly formatted work, so I prefer everything to be left-justified if possible.

* I don’t like cliché, hallmark verse, and clumsy rhyme.
* I do like fresh imagery, striking phrasing, and depth of thought.
* If it helps, think of Mary Oliver, Theodore Roethke, Robinson Jeffers, Charles Wright, C.K. Williams, Jane Kenyon, Louise Gluck, Linda Hogan, David Ignatow, Galway Kinnell, and Denise Levertov, and you’ll have a sense of what I like.

* 3-5 poems at a time, from which I will post one or two if I like them.
* Photographs that are web-friendly.
* Photographs can be stand-alone submissions, or they can go with a poem.
* Please include contact info with submissions, including website/blog urls if relevant. Your name and blog/website will be posted with poems. If you do not have a space on the web, an email address will be posted unless you object.

All work must be original and unpublished — and it must be yours. Previously posted (on the web) poems and photos are okay if you tell me. I am asking for one-time posting rights and the right to use any submitted work in possible future publications (you’ll have right of refusal). In the event that this goes to press, payment will be two copies.

The long-term goal is to produce a yearly Elegant Thorn Review magazine featuring the best of the web. At this point, that is still just an idea, not a plan. Please email your submissions to Elegant Thorn Review.