Asking what makes a good therapist is like asking what makes a good cook.
While it's nice to know where that cook learned to poach eggs, it's more important to know that the chef is capable of creating something that appeals to you. A good chef will introduce you to new foods, preparations or combinations of foods and spices you might never have trued. A good chef, in the right environment, makes taking that risk, stepping out into the unknown, a willing adventure. Good chefs are artists in their own right.
Therapists aren't much different (except maybe, for the higher bill and never ending supply of Kleenex).
A good therapist makes you aware of ideas, options and opportunities you might never have recognized. A good therapist responds to your unique needs needs (and not necessarily wants. You are patient, not a client, unless you live in Hollywood and therapy is secondary to Botox. Also note: Woody Allen is not the poster boy for long term therapy of any kind). A good therapist is a guide or a mentor. Notwithstanding the drivel, that you need to like your therapist, trusting your therapist is even more important.
There are plenty of good chefs and therapists. Finding really good or great chefs and therapists is another matter. Greatness has never been about schooling, technique or decor and greatness is not determined by address, location or neighborhood.
One of the ethereal qualities that sets our favorites in the psycho-sphere apart, Dr Sanity, Shrinkwrapped and Neo, is their curiosity. They are observers to life of course, but they are not passive observers. Each of them continue to learn and evolve and none of them are entirely satisfied with themselves. It is clear they teach well because they share the enthusiasm of willing students.
Gagdad Bob, author of One Cosmos, is a welcome addition to that superior lineup. He is funny, smart and piquant. His unique journey began yesterday, it seems- he writes with a verve and passion that is at once refreshing and poignant. He answers our questions thoughtfully and in the process,we see ideas and possibilities that may have been hidden from us. We recognize our potential with fresh eyes.
Gagdad Bob is looking for God (not necessarily religion) following the trail of breadcrumbs left by human behavior, history and thinkers- past and present. By acclamation, he has become a kind of scout leader for those of us on similar journey. We are willing to follow- like a good therapist, we trust him to lead us through the wilderness. His strengths are found in originality and his ability to reinterpret the obvious. In the playpen of great ideas, Gagdad Bob is the reason you count all the toys and pieces at the end of the day- there is no telling what ideas he may have grabbed on to, or where he might place those ideas in tomorrow's chapter.
Gagdad Bob has been kind enough to be tied to our well worn brown leather couch. Over the next few days, we will present his responses to our 'On the Couch' queries.
We will have more to say, later in the day. For now, well, let the feast begin.
Petey and I have been bickering again, so we decided to consult a professional about it. ShrinkWrapped won’t return our calls and Dr. Sanity wants to charge us double for "multiple personality," but Sigmund, Carl and Alfred at least consented to interview us and ask a few preliminary questions.
Q: Your book, One Cosmos Under God
, has been very well received. One reviewer wrote, “Daring to venture where language cannot go, One Cosmos Under God actually begins in the 'mind of God' prior to creation, and culminates in the 'mind of the saint' who has transcended the culturally conditioned ego, awakened from the nightmare of history, and merged with the divine mind."
Did you wish to look into the mind of God, or converse with God? Did you accomplish either?A: First of all, I would say that the book has been well received where it has been received. But therein lies the rub, since it is very difficult to get the word out about a book when you have a relatively small publisher. They pretty much rely on the author to publicize it, which was one of the original purposes of the blog--to somehow spead the weird so it wouldn’t just die a completely anonymous death and be buried in a pauper’s grave of remainders, right alongside John Kerry’s remarkably acrobatic work of autofellatiography, “A Call to Service Myself.”
Which would be a shame, because there is a narrow segment of the population for whom my book will be just what they have been searching for, if only they could somehow stumble upon it--eccentrics, troubled loners, misfits... But I got nowhere with the sandwich board, which is when I hit on the idea of blogging.Actually, one of the central purposes of the book and blog is to give intelligent, sophisticated, and even thoroughly ironicized postmodern folks a way to think about religion instead of dismissing it out of hand. This appreciation of traditional religion has been one of the great surprises of my life, and to a certain extent, the structure of the book reflects this. It begins with an examination of the scientific evidence, which leads to the ineluctable conclusion that there is some sort of transcendent, nonlocal intelligence undergirding the cosmos.
It’s pretty easy to prove the existence of this intelligence, at least if you are inclined to believe the evidence, although no amount of reason or evidence will sway the person who is truly hostile to religion. Militant atheists are generally obligatory
atheists, meaning that they are driven by an unconscious agenda that is unknown to them. For whatever developmental reason, they are anti
-theists, hung up on their absentee God, the empty space where God should be but isn’t.
I was once an atheist, but not the obligatory kind. Rather, I was open to the evidence and soon realized that, in order to discover God, one must respect the time-tested means for doing so. In other words, many people believe that you need to first believe in God in order to be religious. However, it’s generally the other way around. In order to know God, you must be religious. Religions--real religions--are ways to make God present in your life.
It’s really not that dissimilar to, say, psychoanalysis. Scholars can argue back and forth about whether or not the unconscious exists, and make plausible arguments on both sides. But the only way to really find out is to undergo some form of psychoanalytic therapy, in which you free associate in the presence of the analyst, and together you “discover” the unconscious. Psychoanalytic therapy is a way to make the unconscious present in a stable circumstance, so that it can be “observed,” so to speak. It will inevitably appear like Marley’s ghost in the transitional space between patient and therapist. But in reality, the same unconscious, just like God, is always popping up “wherever two people meet.” In this regard, the unconscious cannot not
be. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re going to pay attention to it.It is the same with God. As a matter of fact, God also cannot not be. People generally begin at the wrong end of the teleoescape, trying to prove to themselves whether or not God exists. That’s not the problem. The problem, which some astute philosophers have realized, is whether or not, and to what extent, we
exist. For example, there are still many philosophers who will argue that free will doesn’t exist, or that the mind is merely a computer, or that knowledge is not possible. If any of those statements are true, then human beings don’t actually exist except as an illusion, or perhaps only in a strange and ethereal "tenured" form that somehow collects a paycheck while doing "nothing."An even better analogy would be music. As a matter of fact, I employ many musical analogies in the book. As an aside, it’s just amazing how many mysteries of the cosmos are unlocked by the existence of music. I have always been a great music lover, and now I see that, even in my atheistic days, it was one of the things that kept me connected to Spirit, for music is a spiritual transmission, pure and simple. Great music casts a luster of noetic light from one world into this one, somehow riding piggyback on vibrations of air. No one knows how or why this should be so in a species that was simply selected by evolution to hunt for food and sexual partners. Why on earth should vibrating air molecules be beautiful, even to the point of moving one to tears or to ecstasy?
Imagine two deaf people arguing over whether or not music exists. Perhaps one of them even discovers a musical score and considers it proof positive that music must exist. He decides that this musical score represents the inerrant notes of the great God-musician, and founds a musical school based on the score, in order to transmit the musical teaching to others.But the point, of course, is not to study the score but to hear the music. The score is pointless unless it achieves the purpose of making music present. It must be read, performed, and understood experientially, not theoretically. Where was music before humans made it present? Roughly speaking, it was in the same place God is before you make him present. I don’t mean to sound flip, but this is why it is so easy to find God, because the finding is in the seeking. Don’t worry. If you seek earnestly and sincerely, you will soon enough find, just as, if you pick up a guitar and learn a few chords, you will soon be able to play Smoke on the Water. You will be able to start making music present, in however a limited degree. And as you practice, you will be able to make more and more music present--music that would not have existed had you not gone to the trouble of practicing
and bringing it into being.So paradoxically, the living God cannot exist unless we give birth to him (which is why we are here--or so we have heard from the wise). Just as there are a few musicians who stand above the rest in terms of “making music present,” there are people known as saints, sages, avatars and gurus who are, for whatever reason, much more able to “make God present.” To a certain extent this is a matter of taste. This is not to say that revelation is arbitrary or relative, any more than great music is. But in my case, for example, I really cannot tap into the depth of classical music. Although I "know," for example, that Beethoven’s late string quartets contain unfathomable, even superhuman, depth, it is inaccessible to me. In my case, the spirit comes through loud and clear in Van Morrison or in certain avant garde jazz artists such as John Coltrane, the latter of whom many listeners might categorize as “noise.”
One of the innovations of Christianity was to present the idea of God in such a way that people could wrap their minds around it. The Jewish God was so utterly transcendent as to be inaccessible to the average Joseph. Most of us need the Abbasolute to be made accessible to us in a relative form, so that we may think about what is otherwise unthinkable. Of course, Judaism accomplishes this in a different manner, through the study of Torah, which you might say is the Word made word instead of flesh.Given the fact that well over ninety percent of people in the ancient world were illiterate, one can well understand how God might have conceived the idea of extending the courtesy of making himself available to the masses. Although inter-religious dialogue can obviously be a sensitive area, I happen to know some Jews who are able to reconconcile Judaism with Christianity by viewing it as the ideal way to have spread Jewish monotheism.
Likewise, many Christians recognize that Jesus could only have appeared in Jewish culture. He would have made no sense whatsoever to the ancient Aztec, to polytheists, or to other pagans. (The issue of the psycho-spiritual technologies of the East, for example, Vedanta, is something I will keep separate for the time being. We’re only talking about the West right now.)
Back to your first (!) question, “Did you wish to look into the mind of God, or converse with God? Did you accomplish either?”As the inimitable ethnobotanist and psychedelic mushroomologist Terence McKenna once said, “it is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure it’s telling you the truth.” When you come right down to it, all revelation--whether personal and idiosyncratic or collective and canonized--originates in a “voice in the head,” so to speak. Behind the Biblical canon are a bunch of very special loose cannons to whom God revealed himself. How do we know it’s true or reliable?
This is an epistemological question that really applies to all knowledge, whether secular or religious. How do we know it’s true? What reason do we have for relying upon it? Here again, we are confronted with an inevitable degree of subjectivity. But that doesn’t mean that we should equate “subjective” with “arbitrary” or “unprovable.”There is a story about one of the great Hindu sages of the 20th century, Sri Krishna Prem. He was plowing through a number of books that had been sent to him, each expressing this or that writer’s particular teaching. He tossed one of them to a disciple, and said “Take a look at that.”
When the disciple finished reading it, Krishna Prem asked, “Well, is it there?”
“Is what there,” the disciple fumbled.“The thing,” Krishna Prem replied. “Is the thing, the spirit, in that book?’
“How should I know?,” the disciple countered.
“But you must
know. You must be able to recognize whether he is writing from experience or whether it’s just words, hearsay.”
“Some of the things he says seem true,” the disciple ventured.
The disciple continues: "Krishna Prem’s reply was devastating. ‘One can’t write anything on this subject without saying something that isn’t true
. What you must see is whether the truth shines through the words or whether they are platitudes, words repeated by rote. Look behind the words. Feel!'”
“I felt as might a man blind from birth suddenly ordered to see.... He might as well have said ‘fly.’ That was the way he treated me, forcing me to see that it was not just a matter of having a superior mind or of my not knowing the jargon, but that there was a range of perception of a different order which he had and I had not. And since he never pretended to be anything other than an ordinary man, I could not take refuge in the plea that he was extraordinary and that nothing could be expected of ordinary mortals like me.”So, back to my book. Petey and I are obviously ordinary men, no different than anyone else. And yet, we tried very hard to accomplish what Sri Krishna Prem is talking about, not by being extraordinary, but mostly by getting out of the way. I, in particular, wanted the book not just to be about ideas conveyed from mind to mind. Anyone can do that. Rather--especially in certain parts--my goal was to “make present” that which I was writing about, just as if I were performing music.
Did it work? Definitely for some readers. I’ve received enough “personal testimony” to know this. And this, much more than any material success (which the book will probably never really achieve), is profoundly gratifying to me, for it means that I am no longer just a music aficionado. To some limited extent I am actually able to play
it, and no one is more surprised about this than I am. Not to say humbled. But it did take a lot of practice. To the extent that I am able to help people, I like to think that it's just because I've already taken the next music lesson, so I'm maybe a week ahead of my readers. But don't tell anybody. I need to preserve a little mystique.Wow. That’s only the first of eleven questions. I’m not sure Sigmund, Carl and Alfred know what they’ve gotten themselves into. No wonder ShrinkWrapped won’t return our calls.