The Authoritarian Personality and the National Divide

‘In talking to right-wing authoritarians (RWAs) — in any situation — the first and greatest challenge is to reduce the level of fear and increase the level of trust. They cannot hear or see you at all until this happens.’ — Sara Robinson

I think it’s fair to say that a majority of Americans are completely boggled that so many of our fellow citizens are willing to believe so much crazy crap that is so utterly disconnected from reality. Just saying that they’re nuts is not helpful. Strangely enough, there is actual research to help explain why and how they are able to continue living in their alternative reality and steadfastly fend off any facts that might attempt to intrude. And it’s been around since before the last period of far-right fantasy hegemony.

I came across a very useful set of posts by Sara Robinson, who was raised fundamentalist and closed-minded but was able to transcend her upbringing, and who has a lot of understanding about how to communicate with those who are still inside the “Wall” of insulated post-factual unreality. So much became clearer for me. (Scroll down for links.)

Robinson was summarizing the work of John Dean— yes, that John Dean, from Watergate— who wrote Conservatives Without Conscience, which is based on the work of social psychologist Robert Altemeyer.  Although Robinson’s posts pertain to right-wing Americans, certain evangelical Christians in particular, the dynamics of authoritarianism are the same across cultures and religions.

“Research into ‘authoritarian personalities’ began in the aftermath of WWII, as scientists tried to figure out how otherwise civilized people succumbed to the charisma of Hitler and Mussolini and allowed themselves to be willingly led into committing notorious atrocities. The inquiry continued through Milgram’s famous experiments at Stanford in the early 60s; later, some of it became subsumed in the work of The Fundamentalism Project convened by Martin Marty at the University of Chicago in the 1980s and early 90s. Long story short: there is now over 50 years of good data on these people coming from every corner of the social sciences; but since almost none of this has been common knowledge outside the academy, nobody on the progressive side has really been putting it to use.”

The bully leads

The description of authoritarians who are on the leader side of the equation sounds eerily familiar in our present environment:
“High-SDO [social dominance orientation] people are characterized by four core traits: they are dominating, opposed to equality, committed to expanding their own personal power, and amoral. These are usually accompanied by other unsavory traits, many of which render them patently unsuitable for leadership roles in a democracy:
“Typically men
Intimidating and bullying
Faintly hedonistic
Vengeful
Pitiless
Exploitative
Manipulative
Dishonest
Cheat to win
Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
Mean-spirited
Militant
Nationalistic
Tells others what they want to hear
Takes advantage of ‘suckers’
Specializes in creating false images to sell self
May or may not be religious
Usually politically and economically conservative/Republican”

“Dean notes: ‘Although these collations of characteristics…are not attractive portraits, they are nonetheless traits that authoritarians themselves acknowledge.’ In other words, these guys know what they are, and are often quite unabashedly proud of it.”

But these leaders wouldn’t get very far unless there were legions of authoritarian personalities on the follower side, and unfortunately there are. It seems that there are all too many people who want to be told what to think and what to do.  Robinson postulates that while the bullying leader types may be beyond the possibility of redemption, a lot of followers may have some openness to communicating across the divide.

I can easily sympathize with the desire to be given simple answers and clear directions. The world is so overwhelmingly complex nowadays, and our path forward seems so uncertain. Sadly, I expect that fundamentalism and authoritarianism will continue their ascent in the near future as climate change and population growth create even more conflict and pressures for water and other resources. They may even provide some sort of genuine protection against chaos, at least temporarily and in limited areas. However, this kind of mindset works against the innovative drive and mental agility that is needed most under fast-changing and stressful conditions.

Dedicated to the cause


“RWAs are sadly accustomed to subordinating their own needs to those of their superiors; in fact, one of the struggles we often see in recovering fundies is a complete inability to even acknowledge that they have needs of their own, let alone identify them, let alone act to meet them. They simply don’t know where to begin. Also, because their own authorities use guilt and shame to control them, they’ve seldom been allowed to see themselves as truly good and moral people.
“Giving an RWA permission to recognize, give voice to, and take action to satisfy his or her own needs is a powerful act. In affirming that they are not just allowed, but entitled (in the name of fairness) to feel their own emotions, own their own goodness, indulge a few harmless appetites, enjoy themselves, assert their boundaries, or stand up and say ‘no’ to overweening authority, you are being an enlightened witness to their true self — something many of them have seldom if ever had. In the process, you are also giving them a direct view over the wall. Often, it’s a view that they never forget, and will keep coming back to until they’re persuaded to go over it for good.”

Red Family, Blue Family

“The best writing on this I’ve seen comes from Unitarian writer Doug Muder, who has taken George Lakoff’s model of ‘strict father’ versus ‘nurturant parent’ politics one step further, and uses it to explain precisely how the right wing came to believe this preposterous notion…. Muder asserts that, while Lakoff’s right that family models are the right frame, the real dialectic is between families of ‘inherited obligation’ versus those based on ‘negotiated commitment.’ Go read the article, then come on back. We’ll be here.”

Here’s the article: “Red Family, Blue Family” https://www.gurus.org/dougdeb/politics/209.html
I strongly recommend that you read this. In fact, I implore you to read it. Lights will go on for you. For example:
 “The Inherited Obligation model, on the other hand, is ambivalent about the social safety net. On the one hand, it is good that people don’t just die when they have no one to take care of them. But on the other hand, the safety net weakens the network of familial obligations. A young adult who moves to the big city to seek his fortune doesn’t come home when he fails, he draws unemployment. Social Security and Medicare may provide an excuse not to take care of aging parents.
“…The Inherited Obligation model is likewise ambivalent about freedom. Freedom to fulfill your obligations according to your best judgment is a good thing. But the kind of freedom that releases people from their obligations is not. In the Negotiated Commitment model, a life without commitments is empty, and there can be no commitment without freedom.”
“Their demonic liberal is a person with no moral depth or seriousness. Convenience is his only true value. Words that we revere, such as freedom and choice, rebound against us: We like these words because we want to be free of our obligations and choose the easy way out.
“Just as married people sometimes imagine the single life as far more licentious and libidinous than it ever actually is, so people born into life-defining obligations imagine a life free from such obligations. The truth about liberals – that we more often than not choose to commit ourselves to marriage, children, church, and most of the other things conservatives feel obligated to, and that we stick by those commitments every bit as faithfully, if not more so – easily gets lost.”

Sometimes those on the left are accused of attempting to control and tyrannize others in the same way that the right does. That isn’t really characteristic of liberals, with their tendency toward fluidity and emphasis on choice:
  “As a final point: Dean’s book puts to rest once and for all the right-wing shibboleth of ‘liberal fundamentalists’ and ‘liberal authoritarians.’ Altemeyer and his colleagues have found, through decades of research, that authoritarians almost universally skew toward the far reactionary right on the political scale. This very much includes Stalinists and other ‘left-wing’ totalitarians: though these men used socialist rhetoric to create ‘Communist’ political orders, they’re classic examples of high-SDO leaders taking control by whatever means they had at hand, and using them to create archetypal far-right authoritarian states. Dean and Altemeyer make it clear that authoritarianism is, by long-accepted definition, overwhelmingly a right-wing personality trait.
“Dean is also emphatic that authoritarianism, in all its forms, is completely antithetical to both classical conservatism (he still considers himself a Goldwater conservative), and to the founding ideals of America. We must be clear: when right-wingers threaten liberals, they are directly threatening the seminal political impulse that created our nation. An operative democracy depends on having a populace that is open to new ideas, able to think for itself, confident in its abilities, willing to take risks, and capable of mutual trust. America was founded as the world’s first radically liberal state. History has shown us that the nation’s best moments, past and future, are created by people with a strong liberal orientation.”

(Note that standing up strongly for principles, such as equality of opportunity in jobs and housing, does not constitute tyranny.)

“Alt” authoritarians

Then there are those who reject established authority but believe in “alt” authorities without question. It’s easy and seductive to see oneself as part of a persecuted minority, a group that’s in the know and smarter than all those “sheeple.” Robinson’s “A Short Detour” section is about them:
“I’ve known way more than my share of these guys, since Silicon Valley is one of their primary native habitats. And my take is that they’re at least as driven by their burning desire to fit in as any other RWA. In fact, their feelings of victimization may be rooted in the belief that they were promised an acceptance in liberal intellectual circles that they intensely wanted but never really found. The most extreme ones were frighteningly bright and well-read, and usually also from very religious family backgrounds. Those two qualities alone guaranteed that it was going to be hard to find a niche among the better-rounded, more secular big city liberals. So they decided that, if they were going to be outcasts anyway, they could at least claim moral superiority. I may be a nerd, but I am RIGHT — the possessor of Ultimate Truth! — and that’s what really matters in the end.”

Why so many of them?

I’ve wondered why the authoritarian-follower trait has been so persistent in the human population, being that it involves so much unwillingness to face facts and thus to deal with real and immediate threats. There must be some advantage, or it wouldn’t exist. Authoritarians do know how to organize and come to agreement, for good or ill, and perhaps that confers an ability to respond more quickly to danger than a dithering, contentious group could, despite their propensity to live inside their imaginary constructions. (Even more than the rest of us, I mean.) Black and white thinking is faster and easier than taking all the grey into account. Perhaps group cohesion has been historically favored over innovation under adverse circumstances?

(Since to be a Christian is to see everyone as your neighbor, and to love your neighbor as yourself, it’s particularly perplexing to me to see that right-wing fundamentalists are so invested in being part of an in-group and demonizing everyone else.)

The most depressing thing about all of this is that Robinson wrote it back in 2006, so hopefully, but nothing seems to have changed, except to get worse. At least, that’s how it looks. I would love to see evidence to the contrary. Please tell me if you’ve got some.

 

Sara Robinson’s posts:

Cracks In The Wall, Part I: Defining the Authoritarian Personality
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-i-defining.html

Cracks In The Wall, Part II: Listening to the Leavers
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-ii-listening-to.html

Cracks in the Wall, Part III: Escape Ladders
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/cracks-in-wall-part-iii-escape-ladders.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part I: Divide and Conquer
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-i-divide-and.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part II: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-ii-nothing-to.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part III: A Bigger World
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/08/tunnels-and-bridges-part-iii-bigger.html

Tunnels and Bridges, Part IV: Landing Zones
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/09/tunnels-and-bridges-part-iv-landing.html

Tunnels and Bridges: A Short Detour
http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/09/tunnels-and-bridges-short-detour.html

 

 

 

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Filed under history, human rights, politics, psychology

“You know my heart.”

About a week ago I heard that the pastor of one of our local megachurches, Steve Smothermon, had referred to my city councilor as a “militant homosexual.” The exact quote was: “Pat Davis, I think that’s his name, City Councilor Davis on the city council, he come out and said it’s the greatest thing, ‘cause he’s a militant homosexual.”

It kept popping back up in my mind, especially since I have friends who go to that church, and they wouldn’t say such a thing. The issue, if I understand it, was that Councilor Davis was trying to defend LGBTQ kids against some school board members who were trying to remove protections that had previously been put in place.

I must be more sheltered than I think, because I didn’t realize that the term “militant homosexual” is used all the time by a faction of religious extremists who believe that gay people are trying to destroy Christianity, indoctrinate their children, and take over the whole country and perhaps the world. As I write this, the image that is running in my mind is that of my kind, gentle lesbian colleagues and their wives, doing their gardening and puttering around the house. It’s pretty hard to square with the fire-breathing monsters these folks are warning everyone against.

This same pastor has gotten notoriously entangled in politics a number of times. He spoke out against Gov. Susana Martinez a few years ago when she appointed an openly gay man to the PRC. ‘Smothermon told NMPolitics.net last month that Martinez “looked me in the eye personally and said she’s socially conservative… she wouldn’t espouse the homosexual agenda.” He said Howe’s appointment “goes against that.”’ http://nmpolitics.net/index/2012/02/pastors-comments-spark-protest-online-debate/

Ah, now we are on familiar ground— “the homosexual agenda.” Hiring the most qualified candidate, who happens to be gay, is “espousing the homosexual agenda.” Because apparently gay people shouldn’t be allowed to work and therefore have food and a place to live. Or maybe they just shouldn’t be paid with tax dollars? The pastor continued: ‘”These aren’t the people we voted for you to appoint. We voted for you to appoint people who think like we do,” he said, adding that he is “not against the human being, but the lifestyle and the political power that the homosexual agenda has today, as a lobbying agenda, that’s what I begin to come against.”’

“We voted for you to appoint people who think like we do.” Separation of church and state does not seem to mean much to such pastors (and indeed, I have heard a few voices on the right say that it should not exist).

If wanting to avoid being killed or beaten in the street, wanting to be able to work and survive economically, and expecting the fundamental respect accorded to any other member of society— just wanting to live— makes us “militant,” I will be happy to count myself as militant and stand up for that “agenda.” In fact, this crap is making me feel more militant by the day. I fly under my bisexual cloak of invisibility most of the time, for good or ill, so these guys don’t see me. If they did take notice of me, though, they would probably be just as happy to attack me as they would my gay friends. I am taking all this extremely personally.

I could go on with a lot more obvious points, such as the propensity of so many religious folk to harp on their favorite few lines taken out of context, and in translation, from the huge literary tradition that constitutes the Bible. But you know all that. I do want to add a word from someone who comments at liberal pastor John Pavlovitz’ blog, a religious person herself, who stated this at least as well as I could: “If we believe God doesn’t make mistakes and that God it is love and that God made humanity in God’s image, then it stands to reason that if God created someone to be homosexual, then it must have been because it delighted God to do so.”

I will not even engage with the contention that people “choose” to be gay. Everyone should know better by now.

And I should know better than to give all this garbage any space in my brain, but it’s amazing what can worm in there and take up residence. I’m going to tell you about an experience I had nearly three years ago and wrote about then but never dared to share with you because it seems an order of magnitude farther out than anything else I’ve posted. It isn’t, really— that’s probably just my inner insecurity talking. As intense spiritual experiences go, it may even be fairly mainstream. Anyway, it changed everything for me. Here goes:

 

*************************************************************************
Events of 9/30/14

A friend told me with great excitement about a channeler she had discovered, who was giving messages from Jesus, as many do. She felt that his work was what she had been trying to find for a very long time, and said that she had at last discovered real peace. The messages she described sounded very much like what I had heard from Hania Stromberg’s channeling [see my old post “An Appointment with Jesus”] and what I had picked up myself, a real antidote to the controlling, limiting, shaming version of Christianity my friend and so many of us had grown up with.

I went to the channeler’s website to find out more. There were a number of messages that seemed worthwhile and helpful. I was a little put off by the fact that the channeler had been associated with the I AM Movement, which has a number of problematic aspects and was founded by questionable and deceptive leaders. He still uses much of their terminology. But I don’t care about the channeler’s background so much as the content of the messages themselves.

I scanned the sidebar of the home page for subjects. One entry was “Teachings on Homosexuality.” My heart sank. “Oh, crap,” I thought. “Here it comes.” I had a pretty good idea what I was going to find— and what I found was even worse than I expected. Not only was it judgmental in the most insidious and damaging manner I had ever seen, it was couched in language that insisted the speaker wasn’t being judgmental at all. The effect was, “I would never judge anyone, but you’re horrible beyond redemption.” It also came off as “I’m only telling you this for your own good.” I will not repeat what I saw there, because it doesn’t need to be given any validation, and my readers don’t need the trauma. The sanctimoniousness was thick and sticky, and so very familiar.

If this had been written by any typical yahoo wingnut preacher, I would have shaken my head sadly, closed the page, and moved on. But my friend’s reaction to the channeler, and her typical level of depth and thoughtfulness, gave it far more impact in my mind. I felt deeply ill, sick to my stomach. The idea that people, especially young people, would read this and let it get into their systems was horrifying. I knew this wasn’t the Jesus I had met, not remotely, but I couldn’t just leave it alone.

This was one of my piano lesson/lunch and writing/walk on the ditchbank days, and as I strolled under the cottonwoods that afternoon, I quizzed myself very rigorously, just in case, on whether I might be rejecting an actual truth because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. (That sounds silly now, that I could consider accepting anything so insane even for a nanosecond.) No. Every molecule of my being told me it was utterly, evilly wrong. I sent out distress calls. Normally I don’t have conversations with Him, and don’t have a clear “phone connection,” but I hoped to get a reply. After all, he had told me years earlier that I could always come to him for comfort if I needed to.

A little later, when I got home, I felt his presence. As soon as the contact began, I knew there was really nothing I needed to ask. The answers were in the presence itself. A fountain of love and acceptance rushed down through the top of my head and filled me everywhere. Being me, though, I had to ask for clarification in words.

He did not say that he had nothing to do with this man or that the messages were wrong; he said that the channeler was getting only the surface of what he was trying to say. He showed me a view of an ocean full of creatures, and explained that while there were a great many fish living in the water, this man saw only the few fish that swam toward him and presented themselves to his vision. This image formed clearly in my mind, one fish after another swimming forward, turning, and moving away into the darkness beyond. It was an odd metaphor, it seemed to me, but the meaning was easy to understand.

At the end of that sequence, I heard, “I am the ocean.”

I realized that the reason I had been so upset by the channeler’s presentations was that some part of me believed he might be right. “I need reassurance,” I went on, chattering nervously, along these lines: “I, and people I know, do feel in a way that we are broken or unbalanced or wrong. I don’t really think it’s true, but I feel it. You know that I feel something’s wrong with me because I fall in love too much. I guess you probably think that’s silly, and it is, but I feel it. Anyway, I need a hug!” I was getting seriously teary by this time.

I’d been getting a lovely cosmic hug the whole time already. He said something that surprised me: “You know my heart.” Yes, I did. “And I know yours,” he continued. I was both feeling much better about everything and dissolving further into weepy, overwhelmed jelly.

And then he said something even less expected, something so large that it doesn’t fit in these words: “My heart is yours.”

I felt the meaning, far beyond the words. He had told me Tat tvam asi, Thou art that. We are one. I already partake of Christ Consciousness and I am in my rightful place in the universe of humanity. I am not unacceptable, not wrong, not broken. I am loved, and I always will be. (You are too.)

 

In the weeks that followed this experience, my friend kept sending me more material from that website. None of it was particularly problematic or offensive. I wondered if she had even seen the part that had upset me so, and was afraid to ask. She wanted to know my reaction to what she sent, and I couldn’t figure out how to talk about any of it without bringing up what I saw as a central issue that invalidated the whole body of work. At last I couldn’t avoid it any longer, and I found a way to discuss it with her. She didn’t like that section any better than I did, but she wasn’t worried about the validity of the channeling overall. She reminded me that even the channeler himself had written about the difficulties of getting messages through without having them colored by our own biases and expectations. That was good enough for her. It wasn’t for me.

I was left feeling that I would rather listen to Source Itself than to what anyone else says. To whatever small extent my antennae can receive it, that is. All I can tell you, as usual, is, “This is what I heard. Make of it what you will.”

So what’s the difference between me and others, like the wingnut preachers or this channeler, who claim they know what Jesus is saying? Maybe not much. But I can truthfully state that I am not trying to get any power over others.
****************************************************************

Perhaps the people I am complaining about have tapped into a pervasive field of fear and judgment, just as I connected with a field of love and acceptance. I would suppose that it is absolutely real to them. I know where I would rather live, and I know which is more likely to generate a world that is better for all of us.

More recently, I found myself in a lengthy and eye-opening discussion with a Catholic priest who reminded me that a traditionally religious viewpoint does not necessarily require a narrow, judgmental attitude. I think I’ll save that story for another day.

 

While looking for background about Pastor Smothermon’s comments, I found a couple of other articles of interest:

http://www.paulholtministries.com/2012/02/10/homosexuality-steve-smotherman-and-the-torah-observant-jesus/
This is an argument against those who point out that Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality one way or another. Holt writes that Jesus didn’t need to say anything about matters that were already covered in the Torah because he was an observant Jew and so must have agreed with everything in it. Pastor Holt apparently believes that not only does he understand everything Jesus said, he understands everything Jesus did not say as well.


http://nmpolitics.net/index/2012/02/forgiving-smothermon-praying-for-those-his-words-affect/

“Pastor Smothermon does not need to apologize. I have already forgiven him. I pray for him, but more importantly I pray for those his words affect.
“The kids that are bullied on the playground because Pastor Smothermon says being gay is wrong. The individual that continues to seek God’s love but can’t find it because Pastor Smothermon says there is no love, and in essence gays should not hold any job.”

For some perspective on the centrality of the fight against “militant homosexuals” among members of the religious right, check this out:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Gf4jN1xoSo
“True Origins of the Religious Right”
  The emphasis on homosexuality and abortion, issues not brought up in the gospels, turns out to be surprisingly recent. In contrast, although the gospels say that Jesus did speak against divorce, repeatedly, most evangelicals seem happy to let divorce go on. They would like to keep it available for themselves, so it’s perfectly fine. It’s those other people who are doing all the evil.

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Filed under channeling, human rights, spirituality

The Face in the Shroud

I intended to put this out on Easter, but as with so many things during this overwhelmed period of my life, I’m way behind. I did spend a good deal of Sunday reviewing research on this subject, finding that there was a lot more available than there had been the last time I looked.

Among the surprisingly many religious articles in my mother’s room, I found one that I’d given her myself. I bought it at the gift shop of the Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico. It’s a small card with the kind of double picture that changes when you hold it at different angles. One view is the familiar face found in the negative shot of the Shroud of Turin:

And the other is a reconstruction of the living face as imagined by an artist, whose name is not given:

I was so struck by the beauty and power of the artist’s conception portrait that I wanted a copy to bring home.

There is not much I can say about the Shroud of Turin that hasn’t been said already. I’m writing about it here because it is a source of continual fascination for me, as for so many others. It is one of the anomalous objects in the world that reminds us that reality is not at all what we’ve been told it is, and that we have far less understanding of what is “really” going on than we might like. No matter how one interprets the phenomenon, there is an irreducible amount of mystery. Something beyond the ordinary happened here. What exactly was it?

Here is a summary of the facts and questions about the Shroud, as my small knowledge of them permits:

We don’t know, no one can say for sure, who the Man in the Shroud really was. We can be sure of the meaning of some aspects of his image, though. What we see is a gruesome record, in literally excruciating detail, of the torture and murder of a man by the Roman state, in a way that myriad others were also tortured and murdered. This is what holds my attention above all. The terrifying injuries— the thorns piercing the scalp, the hundreds of tears made by the lash, the abrasions and bruises, the slash of the lance, and all that beyond the horror of the nails themselves— bear witness to the cruelty of human beings to their fellows. It would be difficult to believe if we did not see it right in front of us, right down to the still-obvious blood and body fluid stains. When I was a child, the nuns told us that Jesus being nailed to the cross was unusual, that most of those who were crucified were only tied to the wood. That was not true. What happened to this one whose sufferings we see so clearly in the Shroud happened to thousands.

We do know that the blood is type AB. It turns out that the Sudarium of Oviedo, the cloth said to have been used to wrap the face of Jesus when he was prepared for burial, is saturated with the same type of blood. Records of the Sudarium’s whereabouts over time go back about seven centuries further than those of the Shroud, lending weight to the contention that the Shroud is at least that old as well. Similarities in the placement of the stains as well as the blood itself point to the same origin as the Shroud. The shapes and contents of the stains indicate that the person whose head it covered died in an upright position, consistent with crucifixion. It must be the most historically important dirty rag on the planet.

We don’t know the age of the Shroud through testing of the cloth itself. Carbon dating done decades ago placed it in the medieval period, meaning that it had to be a fake, but since the cloth was much handled over the centuries, in addition to surviving fire and water damage, there is now agreement that it was too contaminated for carbon dating to be accurate. There is also a question about the part of the cloth that was tested, which appears to be a repair added later.

We know that pollen grains found in the cloth of the Shroud place its origin in the area of Jerusalem, and are consistent with the species of plants that would be used with a burial.

We know that the color forming the image is not paint or dye. There are simply no molecules of such things present. If the image was faked during medieval or any other times, it is very challenging to give an explanation of how the faking could have been accomplished. The contention that the Shroud is simply a fake just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The situation is more complex than that.

One theory is that a Maillard reaction, similar to the browning of bread in the oven, could have formed the brownish-yellowish image. This does not explain the holographic and X-ray like properties of the image, in which some structures that would have been behind others can be seen.

Similarly, the theory that the Shroud is an example of a medieval photograph is intriguing and more or less plausible, but it does not explain how details other than those on the surface of the body can be seen. (Although all the materials needed for photography were indeed available in the 14th century, there is no evidence that photographs were actually made anywhere at that time.) It also fails to explain the details of the wounds and patterns of bodily secretions. Neither a live body nor the corpse of a person who had died other than through this specific series of tortures would display these particular details when photographed.

So what do I think happened? I am agnostic. The most likely explanation, it appears to me, is one that raises still more questions. Some form of radiation emanated from this body and caused changes in the surface of the cloth, by a mechanism we don’t understand but may at some point be able to reproduce. I mentioned, when I described the events around my mother’s death, that a huge amount of heat was present around her body before she left it. Could a much more powerful burst of energy of some kind be released from a human body under certain circumstances? Could this perhaps have happened many times, but to bodies that were left peacefully in their graves so that we never saw the evidence? Have images like this one been imprinted upon many other burial cloths but crumbled away unnoticed in the earth?

And in this case, what happened to the body? Why was the Shroud not left in place with it? Was the body simply disinterred and moved— the obvious hypothesis— then wrapped in a fresh length of linen and buried elsewhere, with the original cloth kept as an object of veneration? Did it reanimate and walk away, as the stories say? Did it go poof and disappear in a burst of light, which formed the image?

It seems that there have been recorded cases of people who survived crucifixion, unlikely as that sounds. Could the Man in the Shroud have been one of these, and if he was Jesus, could that explain his apparent resurrection? The evidence in the cloth is against this, as the patterns of bleeding and fluid leakage look like what would be expected to occur postmortem. As far as anyone can tell, the man was dead when he was wound in the Shroud.

Is the Shroud a supernatural phenomenon, a miracle? To me, “supernatural” only means something that is natural but not yet understood. There has got to be a way of expanding our scientific understanding to encompass this phenomenon. Even if that might mean understanding how a physical body could suddenly transform into pure energy, which is one conceivable interpretation of the evidence. The physically-measurable electromagnetic signals in and around a human body, photons included, are fairly small. It’s hard to imagine how there could be enough light or other energy emitted to produce an image on a physical surface, but equally odd things have happened, and I don’t want to rule it out.

The one thing we know for sure, from studying the Shroud, is that we are creatures who have a gigantic ability to torment other members of our species. The only comfort I can find about this is that nowadays we at least give lip service to the idea that doing this is wrong, even as we keep doing it every day, all around the world.

But what I hope we’ve learned from this strange artifact is that we are also far less limited beings than we believe, and that possibilities exist that we’ve barely begun to grasp.

Article on the mysteries of the Shroud
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150417-shroud-turin-relics-jesus-catholic-church-religion-science/

A website giving an overview of what is known about the Shroud

https://www.shroud.com/menu.htm
The Sudarium

https://www.shroud.com/guscin.htm

A reply to Nicholas Allen’s “medieval photograph” theory
http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/orvieto.pdf

The evidence of plants wrapped with the shroud, through pollen samples and images
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990803073154.htm

Holographic studies of the image
http://shroud3d.com/home-page/introduction-holographic-observations-in-the-shroud-image-holographic-theory
‘While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whichever angle you look at it from, it will remain the same, with the Shroud that is not the case. Moving around that table (lighting under an angle from one side only!), from a certain angle I saw this image so faded as if to practically disappear, while from others it seemed as if the figure WAS ALMOST OUTSIDE THE SHEET: it was, I repeat, an incredible emotion. At that moment I knew that this image was unique. I approached the face placing my camera at a distance of about 20-30 cm, aimed the camera at the face and saw…………………nothing in my viewfinder.” “And yet,” I said “I know it by heart.” I had to beg my friend to point to the position of the eye, because from a distance of 30 cm I could not see it. I could only see it as I moved away from it.’

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Filed under history, mythology and metaphor, physics and cosmology, spirituality, the unexplained

Worthy to Sit at the Divine Table

Icon by Andrei Rublev, 15th century

I’m posting this on International Women’s Day, which is appropriate for reasons that will probably be clear to you.

Last time I told you about the powerful experience I had in the hospice while my mother was dying, where I felt that I was surrounded and embraced by uncountable beings who loved and supported me. This feeling of ineffable love continued as my mother stayed present with me over the next few days, and then the typical disjunctions and confusions of life took hold more again, in addition to the stresses of adjusting to her absence and dealing with the many responsibilities of her estate and planning her memorial.

We allowed nearly three weeks to prepare for the memorial service and the get-together for family and friends afterward. It was a massively busy period but also one in which I was able to contemplate important matters and to have deep discussions with friends and patients about life and death. A subject that came up was one that I’d been planning to write about anyway, the pervasive feeling of not being worthy and not deserving. It was on my mind the day of the memorial Mass, which took place on February 10, a few blocks from my house at Our Lady of the Assumption church.

I was apprehensive before the service, even felt like I was going into enemy territory. I had only met the pastor once and never heard the church’s singer before, and I had no control over the proceedings. But my family and I were welcomed warmly by the pastor and the deacon, the singer turned out to be one of the best I’d ever heard in our area, and friends gathered closely around us with great love and caring. My piano teacher played an organ piece right before the Mass, and as the last chords were sounding, the church bells began to ring with magically perfect timing.  I’m not sure if one is supposed to enjoy a funeral, but I did. It was everything it should have been, and we all felt sure it was just what my mother would like.

Some of us were feeling strongly that my mother was present and did in fact like the event. That sense of an atmosphere filled with myriad kindly beings visited me again. I had felt that in certain churches before, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting it at this one, which seemed cavernous and perhaps a little impersonal. The priest told us all, a little apologetically, that although people of different beliefs were present, we were going to hear about Jesus and get the standard Catholic experience. (Exactly as it was supposed to be.) When he said “Jesus,” I suddenly felt as if a cord flew upward from my head and connected with that loving presence.

Feeling that I was cradled in the love of my mother and the heavenly entities, I was busy communing ecstatically when I heard the words, “Lord, I am not worthy….” Wow. There it was again, stated flat out. “I am not worthy.” I am not good enough for God. I do not deserve to have the Divine be with me or within me.

And you know what? That idea rolled right past me and none of it stuck. I was completely immune to its destructive power. In every quark and photon of my being I knew that I was a child of God, a citizen of the universe, an integral and indispensable part of All That Is, however you want to put it. I was deserving of all the goodness that was pouring into me and I soaked it up joyfully and with profound gratitude and with absolutely no reservation. Not only was I worthy to receive the Divine, I was doing it right then and there and with no effort at all.

Later, as I am wont to do, I spent time rationally analyzing what had happened. I considered the fundamental contradictions embodied in “Lord, I am not worthy.” I read about the Gospel story* from which this line in the Mass was taken, and worked through a few different exegeses of it. (A nice scholarly-sounding word!) I could see where they were coming from, but I just wasn’t buying them. And this was new. Although I could still recognize my inadequacies perfectly clearly, a lifetime of existential guilt and subjugation to self-hatred had evaporated. What I knew intellectually had come to live in my heart. After years of struggle, I was at last ready for this radical acceptance.

Think about it. Even a moment of attention will show you how odd and backwards that “unworthiness” is, by doing no more than following along through basic Judaeo-Christian religious thought. God is supposed to be all-good and all-powerful, so surely God must have done a fine job at creating everything. We’re told that God looked at His creation and saw that it was good. Why, then, would human beings be total pieces of crap?

I am far from the only person to bring this up. When I was reading one of the articles on “Lord, I am not worthy,” which insisted on the truth of our not-deserving, I was pleased to see that a commenter asked, simply and directly, why we should disagree with the Creator’s opinion.

Now, suppose that God is a loving parent, as we are so often told. Imagine that you have a child, and you tell that child, “I love you, but you are really a mess, and you will never be worthy of my love no matter what you do and no matter how hard you try.” Only a twisted, psychopathic parent could say such a thing. How could an all-good God say it?

To an extent I’m oversimplifying, but this not-worthiness, this fundamental self-rejection that undermines us at a core level, is one of the most notable characteristics of mainstream religion, in our society at least.

There is another way.

The work of Fr. Richard Rohr, at the Center for Action and Contemplation here in Albuquerque, has been getting international attention. Fr. Rohr stays within the fold of Catholicism but at the same time is profoundly radical. His “Franciscan alternative orthodoxy” views our flawed humanity with great compassion, and constantly points us toward union with the divine, never into ashamed isolation.

Fr. Rohr’s recent writings have had to do with the concept of the Trinity. The idea of three-persons-in-one-God has never made sense to me, nor resonated emotionally, but he uses it to present a dynamic, moving, relational energy, a “divine dance,” rather than a static deity that doesn’t particularly interact with us or the universe. Referring to the painting shown at the top of this post, he wrote:

“In Genesis we see the divine dance in an early enigmatic story (18:1-8). ‘The Lord’ appears to Abraham as ‘three men.’ Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy One in the presence of these three, and they bow before them and call them ‘my lord’ (18:2-3 Jerusalem Bible). Their first instinct is one of invitation and hospitality—to create a space of food and drink for their guests. Here we have humanity feeding God; it will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination. ‘Surely, we ourselves are not invited to this divine table,’ the hosts presume.

“This story inspired a piece of devotional religious art by iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century: The Hospitality of Abraham, or simply The Trinity. As icons do, this painting attempts to point beyond itself, inviting a sense of both the beyond and the communion that exists in our midst….

“The icon shows the Holy One in the form of Three, eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves. If we take the depiction of God in The Trinity seriously, we have to say, ‘In the beginning was the Relationship.’ The gaze between the Three shows the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. Notice the Spirit’s hand points toward the open and fourth place at the table. Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing space? I think so! And if so, for what, and for whom?
At the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it—there was room at this table for a fourth.
The observer.
You!
Yes, you—and all of creation—are invited to sit at the divine table. You are called ‘to consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved,’ as Wm Paul Young, the best selling author of The Shack, writes.
The mirror seems to have been lost over the centuries, both in the icon and in our on-the-ground understanding of who God is—and, therefore, who we are too!”

In this view, we are not unworthy to receive the Divine— we are invited to sit right next to it, co-equal, at the same table. Imagine if all children were brought up this way instead of in the shadow of the Antichrist of guilt and unworthiness. The world would be transformed.

I would add one more thing: to me, the angelic figures in the painting look androgynous. The Trinity is not being shown as “three men,” but as three human beings— perhaps even three women.

Never let anyone tell you that you don’t belong at this table.

 

*The story is that of the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant, and trusts that he need “only say the word” and the man will be well. The centurion says that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter under his roof.

https://cac.org

http://catholicexchange.com/lord-i-am-not-worthy

http://www.fromwordstoprayers.com/2011/09/lord-i-am-not-worthy.html
‘What roof do we mean? We are temples of the Holy Spirit, and our flesh is like the “roof” of this temple. We know we are unworthy to be such temples, where God is present spiritually; we are even less worthy to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.’

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Filed under history, spirituality

Being Dead Is Easy. Getting Dead Is Hard.

mystical-door-shutterstock_184672772-webonlyBeing dead is easy. Getting dead is hard.” — Gerrie Glover

Gerrie is a wise and formidable lady, and truer words were never spoken. I thought of this maxim of hers over and over while my mother, Molly, was going through the process that ended in her death on January 22, 2017.

All this time I’ve been writing about the “dead” and the spirit world from a position of being in touch with that reality, but for the most part I was not down in the trenches with death itself and its gritty and messy biological details. It all became immediate and concrete when my mother had a stroke on January 12. I’m going to write about what I observed in hopes that it is useful to someone.

First, on December 30, 2016, our 20-year-old cat passed. She had done astonishingly well for a long time with her failing kidneys, but her body reached the end of what it could handle. Sheena had been velcroed to my mother constantly for a few years, and her death was a hard thing for my mother to get through. We nursed the old lady through to the last, very hands-on because she would not allow herself to be left alone and cried if we weren’t right with her every moment. We were left with her tiny body between us on the sofa, like a perfect sculpture of a cat down to every hair but somehow no longer a cat. My mother wondered what we should do with the body overnight, since it was late and we weren’t going to bury her till morning. “Well,” I said, “no matter where we put her body, she will probably be in your lap.” And at that moment I felt Sheena crawling into my own lap, a small warm weight that stayed till it was necessary for me to get up.

For a few days it was as if we still had two cats, only one was invisible. After that, it seemed that we only had one cat.

Shepherding Sheena through her journey, being the person who listened to see if her heart had stopped, arranging her little limbs for burial, gave me a kind of dry run or rehearsal to help me deal with what would happen with my mother. In Sheena’s case, there were no wrenching medical decisions to make, no questions about whether she might get better. We had known the end was coming and that there was no treatment possible. Things are more complicated with humans and hospitals.

On January 12 my mother suffered a major stroke, affecting areas on both sides of her brain. I think the emergency room doctor had the right instinct. She told us very gently, based on what she saw, that it was time to think about making end-of-life decisions. But within a few hours my mother was able to move her left side again, and within a couple of days she was speaking somewhat intelligibly and swallowing a bit. It looked like she might recover enough to at least sit up in a chair, communicate and feed herself. We exhorted her to rest so that her brain could heal as much as possible, but for a while she was using a lot of energy to make it clear that she wanted to get the hell out of the hospital and get rid of the IV and the other medical annoyances. Which was certainly understandable.

Two and a half days after the stroke, late on January 14, she was able to explain to my daughter that she was ready to go and had nothing else she needed to do. She had great difficulty speaking but was able to get a whole paragraph out and be completely clear. “I’m ready for the sky,” she said, and Lenore confirmed with her that this was really what she meant to say. We’d pretty much known that she felt that way, as she had been weak and had felt rotten most days for a long time, due to problems with her heart, but it was a great gift to hear it in so many words and be sure of it.

The hours and days had a way of running together, and I’m having trouble remembering exactly when various events occurred. It was probably the 16th when she suddenly pointed straight ahead, no trembling in her arm, and clearly called out, “Ann!” That’s her eldest sister, with whom she had had some previous dreamlike contacts. “Is she here?” I asked. My mother nodded. Since the other contacts had been extremely helpful and positive, I was glad to hear it. I couldn’t detect my aunt myself, but I knew that communication with deceased relatives was common near the end of life, and I took this very seriously. My husband and daughter were familiar with this phenomenon as well, and I think that was when we all knew she was turning the corner toward death.

I will spare you the details of the indignities and unpleasantnesses that my mother had to suffer over the next few days. We were told that most people in this kind of situation “just slip away,” but unfortunately she had to take a harder road. We had assumed that the severe agitation she was displaying so much of the time was an effect of the stroke and would likely improve, but if anything it got worse. By the time the palliative care team came to see her on the 17th, she had been through at least a day of hardly any rest or respite and the nurses and I were getting frantic trying to help her. As soon as the palliative care doctor saw her, he recognized what was going on as “terminal delirium.” I had never heard that term before, but apparently it happens a substantial percentage of the time.

The doctor said that we should stop bothering her right away, pull the IV, the heart monitor, and the other devices that could not possibly do her any good. Thankfully, we were moved to a private room where there was relative quiet. We still had a terrible night because the low doses of medications being given weren’t enough to stop the seizure-like agitation. I couldn’t imagine any of us going on like that. The palliative care people agreed and very quickly and efficiently put through an order to move to the inpatient hospice. Their nurse held me and let me weep all over her.

The Kaseman Presbyterian inpatient hospice was a revelation. Instead of a cramped, chaotic hospital room, we found ourselves in a space big enough to walk around easily, with home-like seating and nearly perfect calm, and an atmosphere that felt like it was filled wall to wall with angels and helpful beings. Soon after my mother was brought in and my daughter and husband and I gathered around her, a priest came in to give her the blessing for the sick. The moment Fr. Charles opened his mouth to pray, it was as if the ceiling opened and a thousand more angels dropped into the room. My mother had been stressed further by the ambulance trip there, and this uplifting interlude was soothing to her as well as to the rest of us. I had only once before had an experience like this with being prayed over. Not everyone has that kind of connection to the heavens, it seems.

We more or less lived at the hospice during the next few days. They had a miraculously comfortable place for a family member to sleep, such a contrast with the hospital, and I took advantage of that. The first night, Wednesday, I felt that I was embraced hour after hour by myriad beings of light, wrapped securely in grace and benediction. In that state it was easy to make a strong heart connection with my mother and feel her embrace as well. I was up often to respond to the nurses and check on things, but when I slept it was a wondrous and restorative sleep, and I dozed off and on far into the day, with the staff encouraging me to rest.

Despite that, Thursday night I felt ill and crashed at home. I intended to go back to the hospice in the middle of the night, but never made it. We all continued to limp along through the process, my mother still sedated most of the time and moving slowly toward the end, not really responsive anymore.

Friday morning there was some drama. Her body became extremely hot, not just to the touch physically, but radiating incredible energy all around. The nurse could also feel the heat and energy— I think anyone would have noticed it— and she and I assumed my mother must have had a raging infection by that time, but since they don’t take temperatures in hospice, we didn’t determine whether she had an actual fever. It was far more than that, though. I had never seen so much energetic activity around a person, and I’ve seen a lot. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and wondered if it had anything to do with the nonphysical part of her moving away from the physical substrate. I haven’t found any information or opinions about this, but much later I did see a reference to a dying person’s skin becoming very hot at about the same stage.

I will describe my subjective perceptions of the next stages of the process. Friday night, as I was keeping watch from the sofa bed across the room, I saw what looked like a sudden opening in my mother’s chest, like a door or hatch being opened. Something that seemed whitish poured out. (This was a “mind’s-eye” vision— I was not looking directly at her.) This energy appeared to congeal into a mass near her body, with a sort of band still connected rather tenuously. It looked like a vague ribbon or stream to me, not the famous “silver cord,” though it must have been functioning in the same way as that.

Drifting through the hours in the middle-of-the night state of grace (not dreaming, mind you), I lost track of where that main concentration of energy was. Where is my mother? I kept asking myself. She didn’t seem to be close to her body anymore. Fryderyk was accessible, and I asked him what he could see and if there was anything he could explain to me about what was going on. I said something about wanting to be sure to be present when my mother actually passed and not wanting to miss the moment.

“If you wait to see it, you will already have missed it,” he told me in his usual aphoristic and slightly cryptic way. In images, he conveyed the idea that death is not a moment but a series of steps or distinct events.* I was already witnessing it, he said. And as usual, I realized that he was telling me something that should have been obvious to me already.

The next morning, Saturday, I found a distinct change. Her skin was still physically quite hot, but there was almost no feeling of energy near it at all. My mother’s body was still functioning, more or less the same as the night before, but she was somehow much less alive. She had already been mostly unresponsive, but now she seemed not to be “in there” in the same way anymore. I took this as a positive sign. It seemed much better for her not to have to experience too much of her body’s travails.

My understanding was that beneath the painkillers and sedatives, the body was still feeling some distress. I could detect a strong sense of disturbance in her heart, that is, the physical organ, and I felt pain in my palm when I held my hand near that part of her chest. I mentioned to the nurses that I was feeling pain in her chest, and no one seemed to think anything was strange about my statement. Hospice personnel hear and see all manner of things.

We began to feel like midwives, encouraging my mother to make the leap into the next birth. We talked to her and told her it was OK to go, which we figured she knew, but we thought we should say anyway. We started to wonder whether there was some unfinished business we didn’t know about. As I would with a regular patient, I poked around and looked for any emotions or issues that might show up, and worked to clear the minor things I found. (Mostly, she was concerned about leaving the mess of papers and paraphernalia in her bedroom for us to sort out.) We reassured her that we were fine and she didn’t need to worry about us.

I stayed over again Saturday night, afraid to leave, thinking that it would happen anytime. By mid-morning Sunday, I was wanting to get a change of clothes and clean up, and the nurses were gently pushing me to get out of there. (We know that often people wait to pass, not wanting to do it in front of their loved ones.) “Did your mother spend a lot of time alone?” they asked.  (She did.) “Maybe she’d like some alone time now.” So I went home, and Bob went to replace me a little while after. Hardly an hour later, they called for Lenore and me to come back right away.

It was almost comically anticlimactic to rush back to the hospice only to sit there again just as before. But things were beginning to change more noticeably. An elderly friend who hadn’t been able to come sooner arrived with her daughter, and they confirmed, based on their experience, that it wouldn’t be long. Their perspective and wealth of experience were helpful, but a little disturbing and imposing too. When they came to my mother’s bedside, I moved to the foot of the bed so that they had space, and they immediately told me not to stand there. Huh? They explained that in their belief system, the soul exits the body through the feet, and they didn’t want me to block its passage. I was completely nonplussed by this thought— I’d been brought up Catholic too and had never heard such a thing— and taken aback that anyone would try to dictate anything to me at my own mother’s deathbed when she was so near the end. I moved over, though, mumbling something about having seen my mother’s chest open and her soul pour out that way already, which didn’t seem to get through to them.

Every so often the nurses checked on the color of my mother’s extremities and the sound of her breathing. There was nothing to do but wait as the death rattle set in. I sat very close, and the sound was terrible even though I knew it was normal and expected. I was insulated from the distressing events, though. What I mainly experienced was the warm, reassuring sensation of my mother embracing me as if I were a tiny child. It was an incredible gift. I knew that whatever her body was going through, she was fine, and so was I. I wished that my husband and daughter, and the staff too, could feel what I was feeling and know the same peace.

I was the one who probed for a pulse and announced that it was gone. The nurse confirmed the time of death, then left us to say our goodbyes. We weren’t quite sure how to react. I remember blurting out, “I’m so excited for her!” and really meaning it, since so many new possibilities had suddenly opened for my mother. She was vibrantly present in the room, so I kept talking to her. Her mouth was hanging open awkwardly, and I wanted to close it for a more dignified appearance, thinking that she would not appreciate being seen that way. I kept trying to reposition her head to make that possible, and it just didn’t work no matter what I tried. I apologized for my failure, laughing helplessly. The absurdity somehow seemed natural. We found ourselves engaging in some gallows humor, and I wondered how the other families in the facility were dealing with this kind of thing. It was surreal and bizarre as much as it was sad, and at that moment I was feeling relief more than anything.

I wistfully noted that the individual cells of the body, most of which were probably perfectly healthy, were now condemned, along with the billions of commensal organisms that ride along with us and make our human life possible. But that is the way of things.

My mother was around and available a great deal for the next few days, and others besides me experienced and enjoyed her company. I couldn’t really feel grief-stricken, since she wasn’t gone. She didn’t continue to hang around so much of the time, and I expect that she’s been doing more worthwhile things than watching us, but there is contact now and then. I still haven’t found her current will; I’d thought I knew where to look, but her papers were not arranged the way I expected. When I begged her for help in locating it, she pointed me in a definite direction in her bedroom— but what we found there was her will from 1963… this would be a great time for me to be a much better medium than I am… still no current will to be seen, unfortunately.

But that situation can be easily dealt with. I have no major complaints. My mother is dead but not lost, and I’m at peace with her and with the process of her life and death. I’m intensely grateful to have been privileged to observe and perceive so much of what went on. My only discomforts have been a few small lingering questions about the medical decisions we made. I’m comfortable that we did the best we could with the information we had at each moment, though.

I understand far more about death than I did before, but there are myriad questions remaining. For one, I have been wondering, if a person dies suddenly in an accident, by gunshot, etc., do they go through the same stages, only much more quickly? Or is it a very different process? I’m sure there must be some after-death accounts of sudden deaths out there.

Friends and patients have been telling me about their experiences of the deaths of their own parents and others close to them. I would love to hear anything you would care to share, either as a public comment or privately.

————————————————————————————————-
*Michael Tymn posted this on his blog at
http://whitecrowbooks.com/michaeltymn/entry/guarding_against_premature_cremation/:

‘In his 1998 book, Light & Death, Michael Sabom, an Atlanta cardiologist, cites an article by Dr. Linda Emanuel, who comments that life and death are viewed as non-overlapping, dichotomous states, whereas in reality there is no threshold event that defines death. “Several scientific observations support Emanuel’s argument that loss of biologic life, including death of the brain, is a process and does not occur at a single, definite moment,” Sabom writes.’

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On the Nature of Persons

1/4/11

Fryderyk hadn’t been around for a couple of weeks, and I was starting to feel lonesome. I “rang his phone” a number of times during the day, and then late in the evening, while I was reading in bed, he visited.

A little while before that I had seen a video about Jay Greenberg, a young composer and pianist with near-miraculous abilities, someone it seemed Fryderyk might be able to relate to, a good topic of conversation. The boy was only 12 at the time the 60 Minutes excerpt I saw was made, but he had already written a huge amount of music, and even as prodigies go, he was positively scary. For example, at the age of 2 he’d started asking for a cello, although his parents were not musicians and he’d never been exposed to such a thing, and he started drawing wobbly staves on paper and putting notes on them. When he was given a cello, at age 3, he could play it right away.

I told Fryderyk what I had seen and asked if he had anything to say about it. Many of us see reincarnation as a likely explanation for such extreme abilities in children, and indeed, in the Leslie Flint tapes, the Chopin entity had talked about his efforts at music in other lives, and being ready to hit the ground running in the 19th century because of that preparation. Michael Tymn* favors another theory, that the spirits of deceased adults who had developed their abilities in the arts during their lives “overshadow” and take control of these children, using them to express their own work. What did Fryderyk think about that?

First, he gave me to know that I was looking at the matter from the wrong angle. This happens rather a lot– at least he no longer insists that I’m not listening to him! The idea of a person having different lives in sequence was incorrect. I don’t think of time as linear, myself, so I was fine with that. This part was fairly incoherent, with a sense of rushing energies and various ideas flying at me at once. I struggled to pin it down. “What are you?” I asked for the zillionth time. As has happened before, I saw a flame– same thing you and I are, of course. When I tried visualizing a child artist, such as himself, and asked about other spirits floating around trying to control it, I got nothing.

I was able to pick out the thought that the rushing lights and colors represented a person and its activities and creations, and that the person was an extensive being that existed in many forms and did many things at once, so to speak. He seemed to be using the term “person” (at least as I was hearing it) to mean a total entity including what we might call the Higher Self and any and all individual, earthly lives or personalities. I would be more likely to use that word to mean one of those individual personalities, myself. So I asked him to elaborate on what a person was, in his view.

This time I got words. “A person is an outpouring from God,” he told me. Along with that, I received feelings and visual flashes of a kind of river of light and fire. I still wanted to know more about how he saw the relationship between the different parts of the larger entity.

He explained, “The person is a force which pushes out in all directions, and those directions look like separate lives.” This sounded a lot like the concept described by the Seth entity years ago, in books like The Nature of Personal Reality. It also sounded so good that I wanted to be sure to remember it. I turned a light on and hunted around for my notebook and pencil, which would normally be right by my bed, but dang, I had cleaned my room and moved them. By the time I’d written the sentence down, the contact was broken. As I had feared. I wanted to ask him something about his own larger being, but there was no more communication to be had.

 

* Find his blog here, with links to his books: 
http://whitecrowbooks.com/michaeltymn/

 

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Inedia, Molecules, and What Are We Made Of?

While working on something else, I came across this page I’d written in 2008 while in the midst of taking a seminar in Richard Bartlett’s “Matrix Energetics.”  It explores some ideas I want to develop soon in these posts, so I think I’ll just submit it in its original form for the moment and whet your appetite.

Yesterday, before the intro to the Matrix seminar, I was reading an article on “breatharianism” or “inedia,” in which people go for very long periods of time without taking in physical nourishment and yet stay alive and healthy. The article, written by psychologist Jon Klimo, did not say that this is necessarily possible or true, but since there are recorded cases that are well studied and seem convincing, it asks whether there might be some kind of theoretical framework that could allow for this phenomenon. Klimo uses zero point energy, among other concepts, to offer possibilities.

(Seems like Chopin was attempting inedia at times, but I think being able to breathe well is a prerequisite if you are planning to live on air….)

I was thinking, “This sounds a lot like what we’ll be talking about in the seminar.” And right then I saw the Matrix Energetics book listed near the top of the bibliography. I’ve had the article for a couple of months, but didn’t read it till now, a time when it fits right in with the rest of what I’m thinking about. This is always happening to me. Sometimes the universe is so nice and convenient.

The inedia article, in part, concerned what humans are made of and what really happens when we take substances and energies into our bodies. This led me to ask a question I hadn’t thought about in a long time: What is Fryderyk made of? He doesn’t have molecules these days—or does he have them, but in a different form? (Just bear with me for a minute here.)

Not that we understand what molecules are made of. They certainly aren’t made of anything solid; if you cut them into smaller and smaller pieces, you find that there aren’t any pieces. There’s just something that could perhaps be called energy, though that’s not a particularly good term for it. I’m not sure what the fashionable term is for the fundamental Stuff at the moment. We could call it Qi, which would be fine with me; Oriental medicine says that everything is made of Qi, and that concept fits my experience. When I was a Rosicrucian, I learned to call it Nous. Whatever. Now we know that what we always called “vacuum” and thought was empty is actually seething with activity, serving up particles of all sorts at every instant and destroying them just as quickly, so that we don’t notice unless we look for them in the right way. “Solid” matter appears and disappears effortlessly and instantaneously, matter and energy transform into one another, and everything seems to do whatever it damn well pleases.

One of the first things Richard Bartlett told us in the seminar was, “You think you matter, but you don’t, ‘cause you aren’t!”

I always thought of Fryderyk and his ilk as being made of Qi, like the rest of us, but missing that one layer that appears to us as matter. In terms of energetic perception, a “dead” person feels very much like a “live” person to me—indistinguishable, in fact, if I am not in direct contact with the Earth-plane person’s skin or clothing.  (One of the entertaining aspects of being in a room containing 560-plus individual humans is noticing the different flavors of their personal fields—otherwise, I pretty much hate it. Some people I would like to have sitting next to me all the time, others I want to get away from as soon as possible, and most, strangely, I don’t notice at all unless I put forth some special effort. The field of the group as a whole, as you can imagine, is pretty overwhelming.)

But we don’t know what Qi is either. Some of the people writing on healing, Qi Gong, etc. talk about electromagnetic energy, but Qi can’t be electromagnetic. I wish it were, since that is something we sorta kinda understand, but it it’s not. It can’t be, because the strength of electromagnetic fields falls off rapidly with distance, but Qi can be shown to act at seemingly impossible distances. These effects are measurable. While there are models within physics that involve action at a distance, the EPR paradox and Bell’s theorem, as far as I know they do little or nothing to explain phenomena like remote healing. They also don’t explain the observed effects, also at a distance, of purely mental interventions like prayer or positive intentions. So saying that everything is made of Qi doesn’t resolve the mystery.

This matter (no pun intended) of Qi-at-a-distance is bothering me increasingly. It’s an obvious reality that can’t be avoided, yet it doesn’t fit known physical laws. Which has to mean we don’t know all the laws yet, because everything is ultimately physics. I don’t know what kind of research strategy could deal with it, and I don’t have the math(s) to even begin to think about this like a physicist might. If physicists were thinking about it, which only a few of them are willing to do. (David Bohm and Nick Herbert deserve mention.)

Metaphysics is physics too, just physics we don’t understand so well yet. I don’t think there’s really a “meta” anything, except maybe metaphor. And whatever Fryderyk is made of, it has to be physics.

One way, one fruitful way, to look at reality is that it is made up of interacting fields. Unfortunately, that is likely to bring us back to electromagnetism, but for a moment let’s postulate that everything is information. Dr. Bartlett said that we were working with fields of information, that that is what we are. Ah, I thought, Fryderyk is a field of information. I think that’s probably the closest I’ve gotten to the truth of the situation. But what is information made of? I have no idea.

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