Category Archives: Identitry


ginseng plant

Men of a certain age love their ginseng. Ask a ginseng user, and he’ll tell you it gives him more energy. It’s like a cup of coffee without the screeching violins. A health nut will tell you that ginseng is good for the immune system, it increases your concentration, and it’s good for the heart. An old cowboy will tell you it makes his dick hard.

What makes ginseng tick?

Until recently, scientists considered Ginsenosides (ginseng saponins) to be the active ingredient in ginseng. During the past two decades, pharmacists have found another active ingredient called Gintonin, a glycolipoprotein – a protein with bonded carbohydrates and lipids, or fats.

Ginsenoside and Gintonin

Ginsenoside is Yin. It acts as a negative regulator. Gintonin is Yang. It acts as a positive regulator.


At the atomic level, Ginsenoside blocks positive-charged ions and it enhances negative charged ions. In the amazing factory of our bodies, this atomic action relaxes the excitability of nerves, it relaxes smooth muscles, and regulates heart muscles. In plain language, the Yin property of ginseng is that it soothes jangled nerves, which increases concentration. It lowers high blood pressure and regulates the heartbeat. And because it dilates the blood vessels, it makes that old cowboy one of the favorites at the dance hall.


At the atomic level, Gintonin increases the calcium ions that play a role in signal transmission along those miles of nerves. In the amazing factory of our bodies, positive calcium ions stimulate neurotransmitter release, increase muscle contraction, and stimulate fertility. In plain language, Gintonin makes the brain and nerves work better, it makes muscles stronger, and yes, that old cowboy is smiling now.


Ginseng molelcule

Lost Tools

Old Gumbo Jones wove his way through the garage, stepping carefully to avoid power cords, fiberglass body parts, and hardware that had fallen from one of his many on-going projects. He was looking for the 4mm T-handle Allen key. “I had it in my hand 3 minutes ago. How could it disappear so completely? I mean, it’s just gone. Vanished into thin air.” His eyes lit up. “There’s that damn Phillips head screwdriver!” He pulled it from under a bungee cord where he had tucked it next to a Barbie doll on the rack of the Oilhead. It dawned on him that an old nemesis was back with him. Conventional wisdom saw it as absent-mindedness. But it was something else. His mind was always present, but it was present in different dimensions at different times. He knew that he had set the 4mm down in a different dimension which would reveal itself in time. That knowledge allayed his anxiety, but it did nothing for the fillister head screw that needed to go up under the side panel. He edged his way back to the tool chest to find another set of Allen wrenches. He reached out to the side work bench to balance through a tight spot, and there, behind a plastic tub full of odd bits from the table job – or was it the Airhead fairing job or the rug shampoo machine job or the timing belt job, he saw the old O2 sensor coiled up like a snake. He lifted it to study the carbon-coated sensor, the kinked wires and the corroded connector. “Where should I put this?” A small skirmish broke out in the middle of his mind. The poverty rider saves everything, because you never know. But here he was, trapped in a jumble of tables and benches littered with old parts and new projects. He lifted the O2 sensor and flung it. It landed in the galvanized trash barrel with a satisfying thunk. He lay the Phillips down at the work bench. A smile filled his eyes. “There you are!” he held the T-handle wrench up like the Holy Grail and admired it. He remembered that he has set it there in a hurry on the way to the restroom. The urgent bladder always summons the old guy into a dimension that is walled off from anything else that seems important. It is the balloon payment that comes after coffee. Old Gumbo Jones stepped out into the April sun. He looked at the 4mm T-handle socket and wondered, “Now, what was I going to do with this?”

How We Turn Off the Light



                 If I’m such a spiritual giant, why do I get so worked up over bullshit?


We know that love can build a beautiful world. We know that our own fear and anger can only destroy it. Let’s take a look at one theory of the brain, and how it relates to this dilemma.

Was it Karma or did my parents do it?

Neither. We did it to ourselves when we programmed our Reptile Brain. The Reptile Brain crowns the spinal column like a knob in the middle of our heads. This is the involuntary brain that keeps our hearts pumping, that keeps us breathing. It is the seat of knee-jerk responses like flight or fright. The Reptile Brain is the repository of all our basic instincts. It is programmed by what we make of our very early childhood experiences. It sends electronic impulses to other parts of the brain in response to stimulation from what is outside of us, and in response to what is going on inside of us. These impulses carry no meaning. They are just energy. The patterns we stuff into our own little Reptile Brains are set for life. What other parts of the brain make of these patterns can change.

triune brain
Image from


Pink clouds and raging bulls

The energy of impulses from the reptile brain change as they travel through higher portions of our gray matter. The first area the impulses hit is the Mammal Brain, the seat of emotions. During the first year of our lives, before we develop language, the reptilian impulses register as feelings. Sucking on a nipple, whether of flesh or soft rubber, the gush of warm milk, feels good. That hot nasty thing in our diapers feels bad.

The sweet embrace of our mother, the loving cooing of our daddy feels good. When mommy abandons us to be with daddy, it feels bad. This little story is the basis of Freudian Theory. Oedipus wants his mommy and he wants to kill daddy. Electra wants daddy and she wants to kill mommy. Sweet romance.

Before we develop language, none of this has a story yet. We are programming ourselves with basic instincts, storing energy patterns into the Reptile Brain in response to their effect on our middle brain, the Mammal Brain, also called the limbic system, which scientists have discovered is located in the cerebellum. The field of human development calls this “early patterning.” We develop patterns of behavior that, in later life, will serve us well and drive us mad. Good instincts gone awry.

As we grow toward language, we learn how to exercise our will. Crying, we learn, will tear mommy from daddy’s embrace, bringing her to us to change our diapers or stuff a nipple into our mouth. Making bright eyes and gurgling sounds makes daddy coo and smile at us. We learn the power of a smile. We learn the power of a frown. We learn how to work it.

The Reptile Brain is territorial. It is the seat of the will to power. The Mammal Brain changes these primal instincts into basic instincts. These instincts are good, but they go awry. This is the basis of Country Music, The Blues, and all of their popular derivatives.

The shit hits the fan

When we develop language, the shit hits the fan. We begin to make up stories about the things that cause little electric currents to jump from the Reptile Brain into the Mammal Brain. When the language centers of the higher brain come on line, we begin to make up the story of reality. We are so convinced that our story of reality is true, that we are willing to die for it. All forms of life share this illusion.

In the Triune Brain scheme, this higher brain is called the Human Brain. The part of the Human Brain that makes up stories about reality is located in the pre-frontal cortex. To be fair to our beloved pets, they also have a pre-frontal cortex, but ours is 40% larger. This is why humans can invent complex things like politics and economics, but a dog can find a bone n a forest and be perfectly happy.

Like evolutionary theory, which has life moving from the swamp to crawling snakes to mammals on all fours and eventually an erect form, Homo Sapiens, the human brain has evolved to an erect state.

The erectile brain and the making of the new world

Before the modern world happened, the culture we were born into controlled the stories we made up about reality. People felt safe with a strong leader and a set of proscribed rituals that everybody practiced.. The theory of law came into being, and small tribes came together to form larger collective states. Like dogs, we were happy and secure when we were obedient to the laws of our culture.

genghis_khan_and_the_making_of_the_modern_world_by_jack_weatherfordThen things changed. I blame Genghis Khan. His will to power drove him to conquer much of the known world. He brought the best ideas of each culture into each new territory that his hoard swept into. Things got mixed up, and a new form of human mind evolved. Historians call it “the enlightenment.” The enlightenment brought about ideas of freedom that led to the greatest social experiment in history, The United States of America. Aamerican dieals of freemdom have spread to the rest of the world. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? As the Zen Master.

Erectile brain dysfunction

And, so we come back to the question, “If I am such a spiritual giant, why do I get so worked up over bullshit?”

A conservative might point to a lack of discipline. A liberal might point to an over-developed sense of constraint. A politician will analyze your zip code and credit card bills and tell you “the other” is to blame. Most spiritual gurus say it’s in the stories we make up about things.

Chances are you are intelligent, you have a cultured mind, and because of this you are aware that the same bullshit pops up over and over again.

So what is it, really? It’s quite simple. Things bother us deeply when we don’t create a space between the primal instincts of the Reptile Brain, the emotional reactions of the Mammal Brain, and the stories we make up in the Human Brain. This lack of space is called “habit.”

Doing the Jerk

We cannot change the knee-jerk instincts programmed into our Reptile Brain. When we react to them without thinking, we act like a jerk. That’s where the term comes from. We jerk each other around, but in our own minds, we are innocent, meaning we can be unconscious when we truly feel “I’m innocent. You’re the jerk.” This is the wonderful thing about drugs like alcohol, cocaine, opioids. We can remain unconscious but the feel-good neurotransmitters flow, so we act with impunity and feel great – until the hangover sets in, the remorse, the self-loathing. We can make the decision to stop using drugs and alcohol, but after a year or two we realize, oh dang, the same bullshit keeps coming up over and over again. This is because we cannot change the primal instincts we stored in the Reptile Brain before we were old enough to use the Human Brain.

The only thing we can do is to become aware of the causes and conditions that live in that bump on top of our spines, how they leap into the higher parts of our brain, the stories we make up in response. We can change our habitual responses.

Space, the final frontier

In 1974, a group of neuroscientists met with a group of Tibetan monks in Boulder, Colorado. The monks asked the brain guys what they would most like to develop in their field. The reply was, “We’d like to help people take four seconds between stimulus and response.” This is the space between the Reptile Brain and the rest of it that is required to change our habits. This is the space required to become a happy person.

My mother knew that. She taught us to count to ten when we were angry. Neuroscientists got it down to four. They were smart guys. While it is true, that pausing when agitated can prevent World War III, we still have the old problem of pain, terror, and uncertainty that wells up almost daily as we have our average of 66,000 thoughts a day. If you think you’re over it, drive out to get groceries during rush hour. Fall in love. Check your bank account. The Days of Our Lives, a soap opera, has been showing weekly since 1965.

The way out is the way in

The way out is through daily practice. The brain will revert to it’s original state if we don’t tune it up on a regular basis. The practice of creating space in the brain has many names. Those who were born into or who adopted religious cultures call it prayer. Eastern cultures and the new age call it meditation. Cultures that predate the common era call it contemplation. Athletes call if focus. Atheists and agnostics sometimes think of it as self-hypnosis. By any name, it is Love. Turkish poet Yunnis Emmri wrote, “Love, you have taken me away from me.”

                                       The way out is the way in. May you find it now.


The Golden Shower

In a post-apocalyptic America, an old man sits with a group of people under a tree and regales them with a story.

“There was a man,” he tells them, “Called Lawrence Durrell who wrote a set of books that  stirred many readers. The subject of these books was Love.” His audience drew closer. “Romantic love is a relatively new invention,” he said. “Durrell told us that the invention of romantic love made man the most vulnerable of all creatures, subject to fits of hunger which can be killed by satiety but never satisfied.” He pauses to let that sink in. “ Unlike D.H. Lawrence, who built a Taj Mahal around something so simple as a good fuck, The Royal Road to Happiness, he told us, is open to souls with a morality that does not attach meaning to that which kills joy.” And then, the old man leaned forward and spoke in a whisper, as storytellers will do. “The subtext of the books,” he said, “Was power.”

“You see, during the time of the Industrial Revolution, when natural resources like oil became very important, the powers of Europe colonized North Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, where Durrell’s tales of Love were set, the British encountered a sticky problem. The government leaders were smart people, the Coptics, who knew how to run things.” A woman who was listening raised her eyebrows. She knew the Coptics were Christians, that they had been wiped out by Muslim evangelicals. The old man nodded, and he continued. “The Coptics knew the pitfalls of governing, so they kept the people informed. As we all know, informed people cannot be colonized and subjugated. They will not tolerate lies and manipulation. So the British knew they must soften the will of the people They came up with a very crafty plan. They replaced these smart government leaders with the Mullahs, the religious leaders who were vain men, more subject to flattery than common sense. The powers of Europe, the colonizer, whispered into the Mullahs’ ears, You must convince the people of these truths: That you, the Mullahs, are the direct representatives of God, so the people must listen to you, for you are wise beyond belief, and as a sign of the favor of God, you wear rich garments, You have dinnerware made of gold and large, rare jewels on your fingers.”

The old man sat back and looked around. Then he leaned forward and put his hands on his knees. “And so the foolish Mullahs held sway over the people, convincing them of their fears, and the people began to feast on each others’ unwholeness. Women, they said, must be kept in their place. They are inferior to men. The Mullahs, you see, were very afraid of their own mothers, who in the time of smart leaders, ran the world. The shamans and healers amongst us, the Mullahs said, are tools of the Devil. You must come to our places of healing, and buy only or medicines at great cost. It is wrong for workers to join forces and make demands of their employers, for they, like the hand of God, make it possible for you to put bread into the mouths of your families. As the foolish Mullahs installed their religious policies, cities began to fall apart. That is how the colonizers gained their power. They allowed the infrastructure to crumble. They poisoned the water. Roads fell into disarray. Bridges collapsed. And the middle east crept back into the Dark Ages.”

“70 years later, my friends, the same thing happened in a land far to the west.” The story teller waved his hand in a semi-circle. “The ruins where we now sit,” he said, “Was once a great nation called America. For 200 years, America was a land of prosperity. Then, little by little, as it was colonized by a ruthless oligarchy, it slid into darkness.”

“Years before, a great leader tried to warn them. Beware, he said, of the military-industrial complex. And for years the people listened. As we all know, an informed group of people cannot be colonized and subjugated. They will not tolerate lies and manipulation. But, the conquering horde had a plan. They softened up the people, as colonizing entities often do, by reshaping the role of women. They made them into sex object because sex sells. Love became a hunger that could be satiated but never filled. Let’s go shopping, the people said. They subverted the Arts, building a Taj Mahal around something so simple as a promise of a good fuck. Where once they were purveyors of Truth, artists became the instruments of shame and fear. They began to craft an American Dream. They subverted a medium that came into everybody’s home, called television, and filled people’s heads with inane stories that had one message: You are not good enough. You cannot possibly live up to ideals portrayed in our images unless you become wealthy, and the only way to do that is to sacrifice your lives to the ideal of work, and to keep your money in these large banks, which we will manage for you. We will give you credit cards so that you can get whatever you want at low-interest rates of only 27%. They commissioned economists who convinced the people that a golden shower trickled down upon the land.”

The old man looked around to see if they were still with him. They were. “But still, the people maintained control of their government, which regulated the would-be conquerors and held them in check. The corporate oligarchy had to be content to work behind the scenes, using lobbyists and perks and junkets to buy the favor of politicians.” His older listeners nodded. They remembered these government regulations against monopolies and for fair trade policies.

“And so the oligarchy, who were billionaires by now but could never amass enough wealth came up with a second plan. They studied the techniques of Imperial Europe. We must give power to the Mullahs, they said. Just as our forefathers sent missionaries to soften the minds of the Indians so that we could take their lands, we will send them again to take the power of government away from the people. And so, my friends, America fell into the hands of the Mullahs, the vain and foolish fundamentalist leaders. They took over school boards and changed the textbooks. The deliberate dumbing down of America opened the floodgates. They ran test cases, poisoning the wells with industrial spills and bursting pipelines, to slowly gain the power of controlling water and selling it to people in plastic bottles. When The People stood up against this heinous act in South Dakota, they passed a law to make it legal to kill protesters with a car or a truck. As this new millennium began to ripen, the Mullahs gained control. Women, they said, must be controlled. We will close down their evil clinics which sin against God. Unions, they said, were evil. Our golden shower cannot trickle down upon the people if there is a minimum wage. The power of the evil empire came to a crescendo when they took over the government. They installed an orange faced narcissist with nylon hair as the chief executive. He appointed foxes to guard the hen houses, a cabinet of oligarchs, each of whom contradicted the very truths their positions were supposed to uphold. And the people who called themselves Patriots thought that this was good. The billionaires are smart, they said, so they know how to run things. This, they felt, is the Brave new World.”

A shrill whistle pierced the silence. “You,” a policeman hollered. He pointed at the storyteller. “Get on your knees. Put your hands behind your back.” The audience scattered.

How the Self Constructs Itself

Anyone who has contemplated the nature of being knows they’re making up a story when they answer the question, “Who are you.?”

The story we make up depends upon who is asking the question. During a job interview, we deliver prerecorded messages about our work habits. At a cocktail party, we trot out some version of the most interesting man in the world. If we are speaking with a potential lover, we dim the lights and play romantic music.

An existentialist would say, “You are what you do.” In turn, we ask, “Why do we do what we do?” The thing that makes us tick, the mainspring that runs our clocks, is a collection of inherited traits, ideas, values, feelings, and accumulated magnetism that comes from mental operations evaluating our past experiences. The Tibetans know how to have fun. They call it bag chags. Hindus call it Vāsanā, and psychologists call it the accumulation of habitual tendencies which predispose us to particular patterns of behavior.

My particular bag chags predispose me to go on at length to set up a context in which my thoughts can be understood by others who may have had the same thoughts but cannot understand what the hell I’m saying. I suppose this trait is the result of frequent constant hammering by academic committees who were themselves hammered by other academic committees. It’s a cruel world.

Running Away from Home

My cohort, the collection of people who operate on their suffering in the ways that I do, comes from the materialistic West, a collection of cultures conditioned by the belief that reality is concrete, that the world is made of “things” called atoms which behave in a predictable manner described by a belief system called “science.” This mindset underlies our suffering. *See bag chags above.

Somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12, when we begin to realize that mommy cannot fix our suffering, we begin to rely upon the mind. So begins the journey. When we strike out into the world on our own, we may choose academic disciplines like philosophy or psychology to “figure things out.” When our suffering becomes acute, we pursue religious experience. When our native religion fails, we find it useful to run away from home.

Eastern paths become attractive. We fly trial balloons painted with “I’m, like, into…Aztec Toltec Buddha Hindu Cabala Mormon Sufi Zen.” Some may delve into western forms with eastern origins – Christian mysticism, or a variety of Pagan forms from ancient cultures. Others find solace in derived forms like astrology, the enneagram, numerology the I-Ching, Tarot Cards. Eventually, we return to our capitalist roots and rent a guru who has distilled a variety of religious and philosophical systems into a cohesive commercial package like A Course in Miracles, Avatar, Scientology, EST, and on and on from Bryon Katie to Zig Ziglar.

When these “other culture” fixes stop working, those of us who survive begin to meditate on the nature of Self.

The Big Bang

Image result for the big bang theoryThe problem of “self” began with the Big Bang. Physical science sees the Big Bang as a massive explosion where a Single Big Thing – literally everything in the Universe – went KA-BOOM and separated into zillions of things. As these smaller things traveled away from each other, the notion of space came into being. Because it takes a while for these separating pieces to get from point A to point B, the notion of time came into being. If you ask a science type how that Single Big Thing got there in the first place, he will begin to mumble. Chances are he is actually saying something, but most of us feel like a dog listening to a person speak. “Blah blah blah primordial potential blah blah.” Ms Oddi, my 5th-grade teacher, told me that God put it there.

Here is why The Big Bang is a Problem: In order to experience “being,” the “I” must separate from “The One.” There can be no “self” without this separation. Speculation on the nature of “self” is, therefore, a flawed narrative spoken by a first person narrator with a limited perspective. When my “self” thinks about my “self,” it is purely subjective.

We believe The Big Bang happened a long time ago because The Big Bang itself created time. Recursive self-generation contrives to create obvious facts that are, strangely enough, not facts. Each time you reach that timeless state where you are one with everything, you know, somehow, that time and space are contrived notions. The Self, however, rails against such an idea, because a separate, distinct individual can exist only after the Big Bang. All life is suffering because our notion that we are separate and distinct entities hurling through space at high speeds is a contrived notion. And yet, the tools our minds have for becoming conscious of existence, the very stuff of awareness, depends entirely on being separated from the one place we really want to be. What a pain in the ass.

Wu Li Masters

Physical science does not bother with the idea of self. In strict materialism, we are just bags of fluids with electrical pulses running through us. The best way to end suffering is to get a good job and buy a big truck.

People who have run away from home see the Big Bang as a metaphor signifying the separation from unity, creating the duality necessary for consciousness and awareness.

Please take a moment to adjust the contrast in your thought bubble.

Matter, or stuff, is made up of increasingly smaller units. All matter, from a galaxy right down to an atom in your fingernail, obeys the Laws of Physics. The good orderly direction of the Laws of Physics provides us with a measure of security. We feel safe, knowing that everything will be there when we wake up in the morning. Life is good. Then something terrible happens. Anarchy. An outlaw gang of sub-atomic particle physicists shows up. The Wu Li Masters (Teachers of Physical Essence) dance with The Merry Pranksters, and suddenly the Laws of Physics don’t work anymore.

Image result for the wu li mastersProblems of duality did not arise in the field of science until quantum physics came into being. Until these guys started dissecting the atom, the laws of physics were a Fact. The solid, predictable nature of existence, heralded from the time of Aristotle right up until the Beatles made us start thinking about it, got blurry. Yes, there were smart people who understood what Albert Einstein was talking about way back when Henry Ford started up his assembly lines in Detroit, but most of us didn’t get it until we dropped a hit of acid. The Philosophers among us have come to terms with the anarchy by taking a cue from Einstein’s notebook. We know that everything is relative. It’s all about perception. The guys who work on sub-atomic particles feel the same way. They know that the observing system modifies that which is observed. It all depends on how you look at it.

Like the Self, which depends on its bag chags for a picture of reality that either promotes a nice, secure, safe feeling, or a churning nightmare of insecurity, the guys who cannot live with the contradictions between Newtonian Physics and Quantum mechanics have been scrambling for decades to explain why things ain’t what they’re supposed to be. Like a brilliant neurotic who cannot rest until he or she “figures it out,” they have come up with increasingly complex calculations that have rocketed out of the 4th dimension. We now have a calculus that can handle 11 dimensions. The secret formula for a unified field theory is hidden in the Tower of Babel.

The arc of descent

The Big Bang Happens. We are separated. We find our soul in a body, and we scramble to make sense of the world. We accumulate experiences and our mind incorporates these into evident truths, so we develop habitual tendencies – bag chags – that predispose us to particular patterns of behavior. Our personality, the mask we wear to navigate the world, colors our experience, and our bag chags cause us to behave in ways that accumulate something called “character.”

Most models of “self” hinge on duality: It’s all One, but here we are, separate from the one. We’re all in this together, but each of us is separate and distinct. Unless you’re one of the Three Musketeers, it’s every man for himself, which generates a trinity. In the egocentric world, it’s I, myself, & me. In society, it’s I, you, he/she/it. We take this for granted. Therein lies the rub. When Sri Maharishi Ramana followed the notion of “self” all the way to the end, he found nobody there.

Our notions of “self” are largely bound by culture. By culture, I mean a group of people who agree on a particular interpretation of archetypal myths. This unified interpretation makes things easy, in that there seems to be a hard, fast reality. It makes it difficult if that hard reality is difficult to accept. We become outcasts and we run away from home to find ourselves in alien cultures. The American experiment created a culture of outcasts united by the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For most of us born in the USA, culture is a quaint notion, an organizing principle enjoyed by our ancestors, but celebrated as little more than a nostalgic notion in our lifetime. As a result, we are confused. We have shifting notions of who we are, what our function is in the larger community. We adopt artificial roles that work for a time, then become dysfunctional as reality shifts.

Our interpretation of the myths that explain human existence alter with each film, with each novel, with each trend that comes along. We are barraged by images of who we should be, calculated to sell us laundry detergent. We find that we fall short. To cope with that, we have adopted post-modernism, a form of phenomenology that accepts everything as relative to a point of view. This works fine until we decide that we need to control reality in order to feel safe. We try to find security through romantic relationships, membership in clubs, professions, work, money, possessions, positions, status. Unless we are in denial or outright sociopaths, the quest for security, the attempt to control reality, results in fear, grinding anger, frustration, a sense of hopelessness. This is an arc of descent.

There is a hole in the doughnut and we seek madly to fill it with work, fun, love, booze, ice cream, hobbies, avocations, new shoes, a bigger boat, a faster car, fame, art.

Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements, describes the fog we operate in. The Toltec term is the mitote. This fog is created by the false agreements we accepted – first as children in order to survive or to obey our caregivers, then as adults when we found we could get what we wanted, that we could feel safe by making false agreements. Ruiz describes these false agreements as the source of our pain. The arc of descent takes us ever farther from our true nature.

The arc of ascent

Image result for doughnutThe hole in the doughnut is our desire to reverse the Big Bang, to be reunited with The One, The Divine, the Spirit of the Universe. God. Rumi describes the yearning song of the reed flute that is torn from its bed. That is our yearning, that is the hole in the doughnut. But we are human, separate, and everything we have learned is a result of this separation.

But there is something else, a quiet whisper, an intuition. We begin to understand that there is a lower self, that part of us that operates in the world beset with desires and fears., and a higher self, something or some part of us that is closer to the heavens. We begin to follow the bread crumbs that will take us back to the source. This is the arc of ascent. Often it begins when we run away from home and become seekers. For some, it starts in church or temple. For others, with the birth of a child, a magical experience in nature, a stroke, or a brain injury. The communication with the hidden part of ourselves, that vast connection we knew as children before the world jaded us, begins to open and we discover a different way of being in the world. We become free.

The range of Self starts at the lower end: complete self-absorption, and extends to the higher self: ecstatic awareness of the Unity of all Beings, which Ranger Bob calls having “both feet firmly planted in The Absolute.” We, all of us, experience the full range. At the low end, we suffer. At the high end, we feel joy. Our notion of self may be colored by the particular position between lower and higher self that we typically occupy with our mind and feelings. As we practice, in our daily lives, this movement from the lower self to the higher self, we embark upon the arc of ascent.

Thomas Carlyle presented the theological model for the arc of descent and ascent in his “Apologia pro via sutra, ” His attempt to master life through pure self-will plunged him into shades of Tartarian Darkness. After a long period of inquiry, he surrendered his agnostic logic. He emerged into the light by accepting Faith.

Gautama, born a royal prince, embarked on the arc of ascent by denouncing his birthright. He saw that life was suffering, that suffering was caused by wanting things to be different than they are.

Mohammed took a tour of the Seven Heavens with the Archangel Gabriel. When they reached the end of the seventh heaven, Mo was excited. At last, he thought, he would see God. But, there was nothing to see. Only a tree, the lote tree of the limits. There were symbols in the tree. “We cannot see God,” Gabriel told him. “Only symbols of his existence.”

The realization that the higher self is real, and that the lower self is an illusion, is called “enlightenment.” An old Zen proverb says, “After enlightenment, the dishes.”

Life goes on until it doesn’t. You never know what delightful surprise will come beyond the drudgery.

What we do for each other hearts

Chances are you’ve worked your way through the problems of existence in your own way. Most of us arrive at the conundrum of the dual nature of reality, that we are somehow all one, and yet each of us is separate. Many of us have become enlightened. However, life is like a yo-yo. Sometimes it spins up. Sometimes it spins down.

When a friend gets stuck in the fog down at the bottom of the yo-yo string, we give him or her a nudge to bounce back up from the bottom. Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, don’t stop.”

When we get stuck in a rut so deep that we move in and furnish it, it’s time to run away from home. Try something new.

When the chaos of tumbling shards from the Big Bang gets overwhelming, we learn to enjoy the ride. That’s why God invented motorcycles.

The simple fact is, we were born knowing. But we need to be reminded of what we know from time to time. That’s why friends will tell us the same stories, the same parables, maxims, memes, jokes, the same truths time and again. We forget when we get lost in the fog of the day-to-day, and those same old things that we’ve already heard are like a signpost to remind us. It’s what we do for each other.
In the end, the true answer to the question, “Who are you?” is, “I am everything.” This sounds like a cop-out to most people, or, at least, a supremely egocentric answer. For those of us who have chosen a mystic’s path, the honest answer is “I don’t have any idea.” Anything else is just a story.