Friday, October 16, 2009

Hands together now...

The re-union of opposites

If it is somehow inappropriate for me to welcome the emergence of the South African intersex athlete as a wild card disturbing the cosy social and political divisions of gender (which a large number of people seem to require for their ontological security), I must return to the iconography available in the Hindu figure of Ardhanisvara, who is the presiding deity of this blogspot, as an archetype that adroitly manages to reconcile the opposites.

In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald,

“The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.”

If a force is introduced with the intention to divide what is whole, creating separation and division, it also produces a counterforce, which is the desire for reunion.

I draw your attention to the lovely gesture of greeting used by people in certain Eastern traditions, who press the palms of the hands together – the right and the left meeting equally, with the head bowed – when meeting one another. The bow of the head acknowledges that, beyond the division of self and other, you and me, right and left, male and female, there is an over-arching (or underlying) principle of unity that can contain and resolve the apparent separation.

An apology and an explanation

Several people were offended by my posting about the case of the South African athlete. Once again I would like to thank those people who took the trouble to post comments and correct my various misapprehensions. In some cases I feel the anger and hostility were misguided, but that is something that they would have to deal with within themselves and I would not presume to offer any advice.

Insofar as the displeasure stems from a mistake that I am willing to acknowledge, here is what I think my root error was in this posting: to the extent that I was appropriating the experience of this young athlete, whom I do not know, I strayed from authenticity, which can only be based on my own experience, so I unreservedly apologise for that.

But to understand the meaning of my own experience, over many decades now, my understanding has been, unavoidably, also based on observation of phenomena outside myself. Many factors feed into the process of intelligent inquiry, and one learns to recognise and interpret useful information from others' experience, surely, as contributing to that inquiry? However, if one appropriates that experience without incorporating others' feedback, then one blunders, and even age, I am afraid, doesn't protect one from making mistakes.

To come back to my own experience, then, I wonder if you have understood the thread that informs this blogspot. You would be mistaken if you assumed that I am defending or proposing some LGBQT agenda. That has not been my intention, and if you were to presume that is the case, unfortunately, that would put you in the invidious position of ‘othering’ me.

So, if I am not permitted to observe and comment on the disturbance that this event involving Caster Semenya – or, rather, the media construction of Caster Semenya – produces, let me offer what I have understood from my own experience.

I am male, but I have nipples. Is this some flaw in the design? Should I be ashamed that as a man, not only do I have nipples, but that as an ageing man, those nipples now sit on breast tissue that has increased with age?

When I read about the stage of differentiation that produces this either/or bifurcation in the growing foetus, my natural curiosity is concerned with knowing more about the primary state that precedes the split. If biology doesn’t help me in de-coding the meaning of that fascinating (to my mind) possibility, perhaps the Tao Te Ching, of Lao Tse, might. If I remember correctly, he says something like: 'From the nothing comes the one; from the one comes the two; from the two come the thousand forms.'

So, believe it or not, in my personal contemplation of my condition, I have pondered deep and long about the 'one' that preceded the two (and later, how that very one emerges from 'the nothing', and what the qualities of that 'nothing' might be.) The urge to remember union (Carl Jung calls that the 'Unio mystica', if I remember correctly; I think of it more simply as ‘the urge to merge’) can be acted out in the world of relationships as if I am looking for the lost part of self that split off (vide Plato’s famous, if idiosyncratic model). If so, I won’t be happy until I find the partner that completes me.

On the other hand, I might try to recuperate the lost parts of self within my own psyche. If you understand that journey, you might recognise that this young athlete (whose pain I cannot presume to know) represents an icon for recovery for me.

In the incident with the yellow dress, which I recovered from memory only as I started to write my memoir with that name, I recalled something of a natural state of unity.

To enter the world of gender ('boys don’t DO that!') was to lose the easy access to a state of unity that preceded what was for me the painful division of gender. If the state of undifferentiated union was the primary reality, gender was a secondary development, and sexuality a very distant THIRD state.

My history as a sissy boy, then a queer man, has not been about 'sexual preference'; please don’t presume that to be the case. Something deeper was driving me, to recover nothing less than the state of unity. If you don’t understand why, let me give you an analogy: I can’t imagine how a house could be built without a ground floor; trying to construct a dwelling with only a second and third floor would be inherently unstable, wouldn’t it; dangerously so, in fact.

I feel that is the case within the psyche (not for everyone, just in my own personal recovery work; I don’t want to universalise a personal revelation – one that I would urge you to respect as hard won and tested – but it does work symbolically in my personal mythopoesis).

To use ‘ground’, as part of the phrase ‘ground floor’, is significant for me. Paul Tillich, the existential Christian theologian, spoke of the Absolute Ground of Being. Perhaps he was drawing from the ancient Vedic principle of Param Brahman, or even the Tao: the great formless field of consciousness/energy that contains all forms (including little me, with all his personal worries and anxieties!)

I have found, over several decades of practice, that certain techniques of introspection, taught to me by an eminently qualified practitioner who had mastered the practice, have helped me to bring the alienated, separate personal ‘me’ self into alignment with the all-embracing field of unity, and a huge feeling of relief has been the gradual result of that re-union (or ‘yoga’) for me.

The healing has not come through sex, nor political struggle, nor religion (as it is conventionally understood), nor psychology, but by recovering the lost aspect of being that was abandoned as I was forced into the world of duality (‘eating the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of good and evil’, perhaps).

In any case, that re-alignment process – which has not come about overnight – has settled the second and third stories back in contact with the ground floor. That has been a major shift at the root of being, and to the extent that it has been achieved, a huge source of healing; psychologically, ontologically and spiritually. Whew!

I will try to explain that process, and the benefits that accrue, to anyone who sincerely wants to know, but I do not need to seek a stamp of approval from any institution or individual; it is my own private victory.

However, I do like to acknowledge and thank the generous and kind assistance that has come to my aid throughout those many years, in the guise of certain people and certain experiences (both hard and gentle!). Most of all, I acknowledge with the deepest gratitude my guru; my spiritual guide and, in effect, ‘life coach’. Without his intervention when I needed it most, and his continuing guidance, encouragement and support, I would have lost my life and all the opportunities it affords.

So it is that – rather than pushing some ill-conceived rationale for whatever agendas you might have imagined and projected into my comments – that is the deeper context for my comments. If, in commenting on the events surrounding this successful athlete, I have caused offence, I apologise.

Joy for all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Beyond doctrines, direct perception

So stay here, you lucky people,
Let go and be happy in the natural state.
Let your complicated life and everyday confusion alone
And out of quietude, doing nothing, watch the nature of mind.
This piece of advice is from the bottom of my heart:
Fully engage in contemplation and understanding is born;
Cherish non-attachment and delusion dissolves;
And forming no agenda at all, reality dawns.
Whatever occurs, whatever it may be, that itself is the key,
And without stopping it or nourishing it, in an even flow,
Freely resting, surrendering to ultimate contemplation,
In naked pristine purity we reach consummation.

- Longchenpa, (a 14th century Tibetan master) Treasury of Natural Perfection