March 31, 1999
JEFFREY MISHLOVE: Hello, everybody out there in Wisdomland! My guest today is Dr. Ralph Metzner. He is the author of many pioneering books exploring the far reaches of consciousness, going back to The Psychedelic Experience, which he co-authored with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. That book was a real classic, written back in the 1960's when you were a graduate student at Harvard, I believe.
RALPH METZNER: Right. They were professors. I was a graduate student.
MISHLOVE: You got your degree there in Clinical Psychology. Since then, Ralph has edited and authored many other books, including The Ecstatic Adventure, The Psychedelic Reader, Maps of Consciousness, Know Your Type: Maps of Identity, Opening to Inner Light, Through the Gateway of the Heart, The Well of Remembrance, and tonight we'll be talking about The Unfolding Self: Varieties of Transformative Experience, which is actually a new edition of your earlier book, Opening to Inner Light.
METZNER: Right. It's the new edition, revised and expanded, with new material added and illustrations, which the original edition didn't have.
MISHLOVE: This book is published by Origin Press, in its present edition, and it's been highly praised. Larry Dossey, M.D., writes, for example, "For years I followed a principle: read anything Ralph Metzner writes! The Unfolding Self proves that I'm still correct." I love this book because it gets right down to the core metaphors in all systems we find, of myth and culture. For describing the really courageous, heroic work of personality transformation, of inner alchemy, I mean, whatever I'm searching for can only be a metaphor. I guess that's the best way we describe ourselves. But you really have captured a dozen or so of the most powerful metaphors that we use, to describe inner transformation, and then you present them in their historical, mythological contexts.
METZNER: Yes. They're metaphors but what I discovered was the interesting fact that, for most of us, are literary devices; but as Joseph Campbell pointed out, metaphors are really much more than that. What I'm really describing is not just forms of literature but forms of experience. They're patterns of experience that sometimes verge on the heroic, but they're also very ordinary in many ways, because we all have experiences of transformation. Every one of us experiences in-depth transformation at various stages of our life in terms of growing up. And when we go through experiences like illness or the loss of a family member or the death of somebody or approach our own mortality, get involved in a relationship or end a relationship, we inevitably undergo profound transformations. There is a class of transformative experiences that bring us into the spiritual realms, which are an essential component of life in this world. It's those kinds of, what some people call "psycho-spiritual" experiences, or some people have called "religious experiences", "conversion experiences" or "cosmic consciousness" experiences that are the particular focus of this book. But they're not really limited only to people in the Eastern traditions sages or mystics or saints or Yogis. Anyone can have them, and what I was really delighted to discover, when I started researching the literature, and also reading and listening to accounts of clients, of people, observing stories that people told in psychotherapy, and so forth, they always tended to use certain key metaphors over and over again to describe their experience. Like the idea of death and rebirth, which is the most drastic one. A person feels like the "old self" had died, and then there's a period of in-betweenness and confusion, and then some kind of a "new self" was born. Of course the period of in-betweenness and confusion could last a long time. Sometimes it lasted a whole lifetime [and] people go around searching for themselves and wondering where they're going to be. So it gives us a way of also understanding experiences of transformation that are difficult, or that are regressive, that involves illness and depression and things like that. By contrast, looking at the patterns of how consciousness is very flexible and changeable. And then, really, listening to and observing and reading the accounts by other people, ordinary people in different parts of the world, in different cultures, could be helpful to do, because you can realize, "Well, I'm not alone, if I'm going through a difficult thing. Somebody else has gone through something similar, so maybe I'm not crazy after all, and there's some hope that I'll be able to find myself out of this confusion, out of this morass that I may find myself in!" That was really the reason and the motivation for writing the book
MISHLOVE: The metaphor of death and rebirth is a powerful one, and it's a metaphor that you, in your work with Richard Alpert now Ram Dass and Timothy Leary, seized upon in your book, The Psychedelic Experience, where you looked at the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as a model for the psychedelic drug experience.
METZNER: Right. That really came as a suggestion of Aldous Huxley in the early work at Harvard. I never met Aldous Huxley but Leary consulted with him and also with Alan Watts. Aldous Huxley in his books on his mescaline experiences, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, actually had suggested one should look at texts like The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is a test intended to be spoken to somebody when they're actually dying, and preparing them for the after-death journey. And so Huxley suggested, "Well, this is a perfect analogy to what happens: it's like the ego dies, or can die if you're well-prepared and ready for it, and then there's this in-between period when there's what Tibetan Buddhists call the Bardo state, which means "in-between state" where you're seeing various what they call peaceful and wrathful deities or we might also call "heavenly" and "hellish" kinds of visions and they tell you, "Well, you have to remember, this is all being created in your own mind. Don't take it to be too real, or you'll get scared, and try to run away from that, and you can't really run away from it cause it's all happening in your own mind." And realize that the pleasant visions are also being created in your own mind. Then there's the period of what you'd call "rebirth" where you're choosing a new incarnation, which is the period we would call in the sessions after a several hour long psychedelic experience, there's this "re-entry" phase where you gradually come back into your original personality, your original world reconstructs itself but different! In a new, and hopefully healthier way. That's one of the key metaphors, really, in a way, the most drastic one of transformation. You can't really imagine a more drastic transformation than actual dying.
MISHLOVE: It's interesting that you mention that anybody can experience these things. If we look back now over thirty years ago, to the 1960's, it seems as if millions of people, certainly hundreds of thousands, were using psychedelic drugs. It was a mass movement of a sort.
METZNER: Right, right.
MISHLOVE: And there was a sense that people were reporting mystical experiences!
METZNER: That's right. It made for profound, transcendent experiences, which is another term that's often used, "transcendent" meaning "going beyond" the usual parameters, the usual framework of Time and Space, and what we call ordinary "reality". People were having these transcendent experiences and groping around for language to try to explain them, necessarily reaching for metaphors. For example, the metaphor of the trip came up spontaneously, and that's one of the metaphors I also describe in the book the idea of a journey. Joseph Campbell, when he wrote about the famous Hero's Journey, in The Hero of a Thousand Faces, it has a similar pattern. It has a departure from ordinary reality, and there's a call, he called it a "call to adventure", the person gets some kind of call, and the call might be a sickness, or it might be an allure of some mystery, or a love affair, it might be a beautiful experience of some kind. And then there's a journey, a sense of travelling, and this could be inner travel, but it can also be sometimes associated with an outer travel, with an actual pilgrimage to India, like Ram Dass undertook, like Leary and I also undertook in a smaller way. But the transformational journey is an inner journey which can occur with just a person never even leaving their hermitage or their house. What we call a "Shamanic Journey", where the Shaman lies on the ground listening to rhythmic drumming, he's reporting, "Well, I'm just travelling through the air, with the bird." On the journey there are various encounters with beings and experiences, some challenging, some exciting and so forth. And then maybe there'll be the finding of something, typically in a shamanic journey which is oriented toward healing, the shaman then may find a healing substance or plant or power of some kind. Or find a vision. I call the chapter that deals with that metaphor, "The Journey to the Place of Vision and Power". The books by Castaneda, for example, have amplified that theme a lot: The Journey to Ixtlan, a kind of magical place where you see the world in a new way. And there's the return journey, re-entry, where you come back to your family, your home, your community, and you're a different person, the person that has come back has changed as a result of those experiences.
MISHLOVE: If we look back across the decades, one of the things I've noticed since that awakening that took place on a mass scale in the 1960's, I would say, is that then there was, people after having had these inner experiences, wanted to ground it somehow. One found a kind of revitalization of all of the esoteric arts and sciences, from alchemy to Tarot to astrology to Yoga to Shamanism, Gnosticism, you could go on and on and on. All of them began to flourish, I think, as people began to find ways of integrating their visionary experiences.
METZNER: You wrote your book The Roots of Consciousness at that time, and I wrote Maps of Consciousness, the idea being that drugs merely provide, you might say, this is an analogy or a metaphor, a kind of fuel or a kind of energy, momentum, that propelled people into altered states. But we didn't have any knowledge of what to do when we got there or how to operate. That's why books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead were very useful. Because people had studied these traditions, there was a shamanic tradition and there were yogic traditions, there were meditative traditions, there were Buddhist or Hindu or Daoist, all these [that] had explored many different realms of consciousness and many different techniques for exploring them, not only drugs. Recognizing that was very useful, and many people felt that they didn't really want to continue exploring with drugs, but they wanted to focus on mapping out and exploring within particular realms of consciousness within a tradition, and to integrate them somehow into a spiritual practice. Because really what you're interested in, in the long run, is the transformation of your whole being, not just a particular state, however interesting and intriguing that might be.
MISHLOVE: We're talking with Ralph Metzner, author of The Unfolding Self. Ralph is also the President of The Green Earth Foundation and is a faculty member of the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco, as well as the Saybrook Institute. We'll be back again after these messages from WisdomRadio. [Break] Jeffrey Mishlove: I'm Jeffrey Mishlove, host of Virtual U, interviewing Ralph Metzner. Incidentally, we will take questions from our listeners. You can phone the WisdomRadio number, (800) 655-2112, or you can send us E-mail by E-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Ralph, one of the areas that you have probed very extensively, is alchemy. That's a unique area because it was seized upon by Carl Jung, who almost single-handedly reinterpreted centuries of alchemical literature, pointing out, "No, this wasn't just scientists working in laboratories trying to create gold, it was deep psychological work that was being done." Ralph Metzner: I see alchemy as one of the three main what I would call "systems" of technologies of transformation that have existed on the planet, of which Shamanism is really the oldest healing and transformative tradition on the planet, going right back to the Stone Age, to the beginnings of human life. I would say alchemy in the West, and yoga in the East are the two other main religious/mythical/psychospiritual transformative systems. You find all the metaphors that I talk about in those books, reflected in both shamanic traditions, yogic traditions and alchemical traditions, which is one of the things that I try/tried to show. People like Jung, who was an alchemist, basically, a philosophical, a psychological alchemist, and I would say he didn't so much "reinterpret" alchemy, but he represented and continued the alchemical tradition which had been interrupted by what happened in what we call the rise of Science. In the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th century, there was a split between the materialistic, experimental, quantitative approach to the natural world, represented by science, and the spiritual understanding and psychic-psychological understanding involving morals and purpose and ethical and the philosophical, which really was controlled by the Church. But the Church itself was engaged in a struggle against alchemy, which they saw as a magical tradition associated with magic because the alchemists, like theyogis and the shamans, teach and taught that spirit is within everyone. It's not limited to a church and it's not limited to the priesthood, and it's not limited to some transcendental structure of theology, but it's within everyone, so in that sense alchemy ties into the Hermetic Traditions of ancient Greece and medieval times, the Egyptian, it ties into the Gnostic traditions and/of direct spiritual knowing. So alchemy was persecuted by religious Establishment, which is why they put their findings and their texts in deliberately obscure symbolic terms and disguised them. Everything was indirectly phrased so they couldn't be accused of being heretical, which they were anyway, very often. It's a complete system in which science and spirituality were not separated, which they later on became, so there would be scientists and they would be doing experiments in their laboratories and in their vessels. But they would also reflect upon what those experiments, what that transmutation of matter, the transmutation of the Elements, that were taking place, what that meant to us, because we are after all, made up of matter, the physical body. So when the alchemists talk about the vessel and I think Jung didn't quite understand this, because he tended to say the vessel was a psychic structure but I say the vessel really is the human body. Which is what the Yogis said. Because everything that happens in the spiritual world happens in the physical body. That's why the Yogi doesn't have to go anywhere because he can just close his eyes and observe the processes going on within with the energy chakras and all the energetic processes of the universe are happening within the body. It's not just the material body. It's the etheric body and the astral body and all the subtle bodies and all the subtle energy flow, but they're all anchored there and so what the alchemists were doing is really a Western Yoga. But it didn't maintain the continuity of tradition that the Yoga did in the East until Jung really rescued it back from this kind of limbo, which is an embarrassing limbo both to religion and science because the scientists don't like to admit that chemistry and physics came out of this background of magic, even though scientists like Isaac Newton, the founding father of modern science, was an alchemist! He did alchemical researches theyíve not been published and his alchemical notebooks weren't published until the 1950's, the Twentieth Century. Because his family and the Scientific Establishment were kind of embarrassed, but he spent two decades doing detailed experimental researches in alchemy. And Kepler was an astronomer. So alchemy and chemistry were originally one science, just like astrology and astronomy were originally one science. The spiritual science and the science that sees everything as interrelated including human beings. We're not somehow outside the Cosmos, where we can observe it like detached observers.
MISHLOVE: I think when you're using the term "alchemy" here, you're meaning it as almost synonymous with the whole Western esoteric tradition.
METZNER: Yeah. In many ways.
MISHLOVE: You include the Pythagorean and the Neo-Platonic,
METZNER: The Rosicrucian. It is related to that. And then they draw on mythological themes, they get stories of the classical mythology, Greek mythology in particular, Egyptian or Greek. As for the stories and the metaphors, which is why I and they had this particular way of expressing their teachings in coded forms and in texts, but then also in allegorical illustrations which I reproduce a lot of them in the book. The illustrations are very interesting because I sort of tap into the intuitive mind, the imagistic mind, not just the verbal, so I love alchemy, it's a wonderful magical, it triggers magical processes as you read it, even if you don't understand it.
MISHLOVE: Well, there's a sense in which the alchemists preceded the Freudians in their sensitivity to the language of dreams.
METZNER: Right. A lot of Freudian and Jungian language is very alchemical.
MISHLOVE: We'll be back after these messages. [Break] Jeffrey Mishlove: Ralph, I think in the last segment, you said something that struck me as very profound, that there are on this planet three fundamental spiritual traditions: the Shamanistic tradition, the Yoga tradition, and the Alchemical or the Western Esoteric tradition. It strikes me that your book, The Unfolding Self, is an effort to get underneath all three of them, to look at the common mythological, metaphorical structure that support all of this. Ralph Metzner: Right. Well, yeah. It looks at the particular, a more microscopic look at the structures and the patterns of transformation, as they occur in these systems. So when I discovered these patterns that occur over and over, it seemed to me it is a kind of a universal language and I made a deliberate attempt to see if I could find examples of each metaphor, in Buddhism, in Christianity, in Shamanism, in Taoism, in Yoga, in Alchemy, and in contemporary accounts of people describing their experiences. I think I was able to do that, and also show that there are psychological theories and psychiatric theories that have a similar flavor. So it seems to me that in doing so, when we find that, it does show something that Jung would call "archetypal", meaning that it's something that's a common feature of our experience, reflecting something about the way we as human beings experience our world, and the fundamental patterns of transformation that exist in our world. But those three traditions are the traditions that are systematically concerned with bringing about a transformation of human consciousness. We have the religions, and the religions have superstructures of dogma and institutional art and ritual and ceremony and all of that, which often don't concern themselves with transformation any more. They merely concern themselves with the maintaining of a certain system: it's institutional.
MISHLOVE: It strikes me that the religions are often instruments of social control.
MISHLOVE: And as such, there's an emphasis in religious traditions, I think both Eastern and Western, on the idea of good and evil. Moving away from the evil towards the good. There's a great struggle between dark and light and so on. Whereas the esoteric traditions, Eastern and Western, and Shamanistic, seem to be saying. It's not a question of this dualism this moving away from evil and towards good. Itís a question of embracing the whole.
METZNER: Yeah, that's a whole interesting set of issues. That's actually one of the metaphors, one of the Chapters I call "Reconciling with the Inner Enemy". There's this common idea that's often found, including in Jungian psychology, that part of the fundamental transformation means you have to come to terms with something like the shadow, what the Jungians call the shadow in yourself, sort of the unacceptable part of you, and integrate with that. I think the dualistic thing, the dualistic good-and-evil struggle, however, is not the only metaphor of transformation; in some traditions it doesn't play as big a role. What I was struck with, though I don't make a big point of it in this book, but I've thought about this a lot, is that the monotheistic religions that have one deity tend to get much more concerned with the problem of evil than the polytheistic religions. The reason is obvious, because once you have one creator-god who is all-powerful and all-good and all-knowing, you then have a big problem, which is to explain why all these bad things or evil things happen in the world, which they obviously do. You know, some people getting killed and hurt and why? If God is all-powerful and all good, you have this big problem. And so, you invent a counter-force, forces of Light and forces of Darkness. Or Satan or the Devil. "The Devil made me do it!" The polytheistic religions, or the religions of ancient times, or the religions before the beginning of monotheism, they don't have that problem. You have many gods and goddesses, and they're complex characters, just like human beings are; they have good sides and not so great sides, and it seems they don't have a Satan! One of the big misunderstandings, for example, is people often equate Paganism with Satanism. Well, Satan is actually not a Pagan deity, he's a Christian deity. If you really want to see what it is historically, the polytheistic religions don't need a Devil because they don't have any problem explaining evil; -- they recognize that bad things happen and people are stupid and do stupid things, and there's violence in nature and you have to come to terms with it some way or another. So I've come to see monotheism, it certainly brought a lot of wonderful contributions to human religious culture and civilization, but there's also a price to be paid for it. And one of them was this price of getting us trapped in this dualism of good and evil. People often say, "Well, we have these dualities, we have to transcend these dualities". What we really want is a unity that embraces [all]. But there are really two ways of getting out of any dualistic trap: one is towards unity, and the other is towards multiplicity. And going toward unity is OK but it's often very difficult. Going toward multiplicity is actually the natural way, because we're surrounded by multiplicity. It's inescapable. It's in everything, you know. It's in bio-diversity, the vast exuberance and multiplicity of life, of the whole cosmos, with its uncounted, as Carl Sagan used to say, "billions and billions of stars and galaxies", endless and infinitely. And then, the biological diversity on Earth, and the cultural diversity, in cultures and languages on Earth,. And the psychic diversity and multiplicity in our own nature, weíre multiple beings, you know. We're not multiple-personality disorders! Some may become that way. But we're all multiple beings. We all have multiple roles we play.
MISHLOVE: I guess the key is to go from the sort of paranoia that accompanies this black-white duality into a sort of metanoia embracing multiplicity.
METZNER: Right! Multiplicity in which you have black and white but you also have gray and green and yellow and blue and red and many colors and flowers and fragrances, and you celebrate the diversity, and you celebrate the differences because that's where the creative and the flowering of novelty occurs!
MISHLOVE: We'll be back again after these messages. [Break]
MISHLOVE: I'm back again with Ralph Metzner. I'm Jeffrey
MISHLOVE, host of Virtual U. We've been talking about Ralph's book, The Unfolding Self, and the importance of embracing the multiplicities that present themselves in reality, and it led me to think about really what will be Ralph's next book, on "Green Psychology", and the relationship between opening up to the depths of our mythological being, and at the same time, appreciating our oneness with Nature and the ecological dimensions of consciousness.
METZNER: Yes, I've become in the last decade or so in what some people will call "Ecological Psychology" or "Eco-green Psychology" which is in many ways a natural evolution of my interest in consciousness studies and the transformation of consciousness, because I've come to see that the kinds of transformation of consciousness that is really necessary in our world, and that is provoked by the challenge of the ecological disaster through which we're living, is a transformation that would reconnect us to the actual biological and evolutionary and ecological roots, and make us aware of the interdependent and interconnected web of life, of which we are a part on this planet. Two of the metaphorical patterns that I described in The Unfolding Self tie very directly into that and in some ways they are actually my favorites in the book, if I have any favorites. One of them is the idea of the "unfolding self" the chapter that I call "Unfolding the Tree of Your Life", or the tree of our life, the idea that our human life is like a tree. It starts as a single seed, and it unfolds through different stages, and the branches and the fruits and the flowers and the flowering of the tree, and the unfolding when we undergo a personality transformation, is like an unfolding. And like a flower or like a plant that unfolds in its own way, it's not something that can be forced, it's not something that can be made to happen, it happens of its own accord, if the conditions are right, and the soil and the climate and the temperature and the sun, and the watering and everything is right, it happens in its own time. And it is like becoming conscious, then, unfolding something that was previously latent or implied. That's a metaphor from the plant realm of life. And a metaphor from the animal realm is the chapter on "Integrating with the Inner Wild Animal" based on all these stories that we have in world mythology that we have, of a struggle between the human and the animal, where a lot of spiritual traditions, including the Judeo-Christian, teach that the animal nature is something that you have to overcome in order to be spiritual. But this is not the teaching of the shamanic traditions, the animistic traditions and the polytheistic traditions. Including the esoteric traditions of ancient Egypt and the Yogis, and Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, for example, all of which indicate that the animals are imbued with Spirit, just like plants are and just like human beings are. Human beings don't have a monopoly on Spirit, they don't have a monopoly on consciousness. Why is there such a tremendous revival of interest in shamanic traditions? Because I believe it gives people a chance to reconnect with ancient practices in which you could have a direct spiritual experience of the natural world, and recognize that animals and plants are not just these mechanical organisms running around, but they're divine beings with which we can be in communication. People talk about the hallucinogenic, visionary plants as "plant teachers". They're teaching us, giving us knowledge. The animals, like power animals, or guardian animals or spirit animals that talk to us in our dreams and visions and even help us heal and give us guidance on the spiritual path -- This is something that's very alien to our nature as rational, scientifically-trained beings and also as people imbued with Western religious teachings, but it turns out it's something that's extremely natural to people because we were animals, we're the descendants of animals. Human beings, Homo sapiens, are an animal species! We have that animal within us. We have animal brains, we have a mammalian brain, we have a reptilian brain, we have the residues of our animal ancestry in our very bones and sinews and cells right down to the DNA, and there's tremendous wisdom to be acknowledged, and understanding and healing to be had by tapping into that, and reconciling this kind of attitude of superiority and domination that human beings have -- that we're somehow the most evolved of the "better" animals, the "divine" animals, that have the right to lord it over the rest of Creation. All of which is very deeply imbedded in our religious teaching, in the Book of Genesis, the whole Bible, it's even in some ways in a part of scientific teachings of Darwinism, although most biologists would say that's a misinterpretation of Darwinism. But somehow, as part of what you say, yes, we're descended from the apes, and so on, but we're better! Surely we're better! We have consciousness, or we have language or we have tools and technology, and that makes us better. Well, from an ecological point of view, even from an evolutionary point of view, from a strictly Darwinian point of view, you can't really say that. It's an assumption of moral superiority. We're not better. We may be better in certain respects, but the animals are better than us in certain other respects! For example, many animals have better vision than we do and better perceptual capabilities than we do, and many animals have better habits of behavior that're better adapted than we do. No animal species has developed a technology that destroys its environment such as human beings have. So who's better? What does that mean? It doesn't really mean anything. Philosophers like the deep ecology philosophers say, every species has an equal right to unfold its potential. And no species, especially not the human, has a right to interfere with that, except as is for natural meeting of vital needs. Like, there is predation and animals feed on the plants, and feed on other animals, so that's an ongoing process in all of life. But the kind of wholesale destruction of habitats of species that we're indulging in is morally and ethically indefensible, as well as ecologically and biologically disastrous.
MISHLOVE: The point of view you're expressing seems to be most closely associated with shamanism, and less so with alchemy or with the yogic traditions that emerged maybe even after this notion of human domination came to the fore.
METZNER: Yes, that's right. That's an interesting observation.
MISHLOVE: Which we'll have to get to after we return after this break. [Break]
MISHLOVE: If you'd like to learn more about Ralph Metzner and the work in which he's engaged, let me invite you to visit his website. The URL, which is the web address, is this: www.RMetzner-GreenEarth.org And Ralph's E-mail address is: RMetzner@svn.net I'd also like to encourage you to visit the website for this radio program, Virtual U, and it's this: www.mishlove.com That's my name. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Ralph, we have about a minute before the end of the hour comes, and then we'll be back for another hour. We'll be back at 6 and a half minutes after the hour, but perhaps we have a parting thought to share with our listeners.
METZNER: Well, you brought up the question about how alchemy and Yoga traditions tie into the transformation of consciousness, towards psychology, towards a more ecological perspective. It's a question that's still in process. In my new book, Green Psychology, I go into that issue quite a bit. I talk about how alchemical symbolism is relevant to a reconceiving of psychological thought, in a larger ecological context.
MISHLOVE: We'll have another hour to explore the nuances and the eco-psychology and spiritual traditions with Ralph Metzner. I'm Jeffrey
MISHLOVE, host of Virtual U. [Break]
MISHLOVE: [missing, beginning of Side B, tape]
METZNER: They do occur, but this is the one exception, because it's such an engaging and beautifully illustrated version, and there are these woodcuts that have been published, that are reproduced in the book, that were made by a Japanese woodblock artist of the seventeenth century. As you were saying, the first six stages of the path are portrayed by the symbolic interaction of a human being, a young man or boy, and a wild animal. So if we just look at them, we see the first one shows a man wandering through a landscape, you don't see any animal. It's called "Searching for the Ox". He's wandering around, he's looking for something. He doesn't know what. This is what I say this is the stage of spiritual searching. We're all familiar with that. We're looking around restlessly for something. We're not quite sure what it is, but we feel that something is missing. The Zen Master Kakuan, in the twelfth century wrote commentaries on these, and he said, "Actually the ox has never been lost. So why are we searching for it? Because the man has turned away from his original nature. He cannot find the animal. He's confused by his perception." I think we can all resonate to that condition. It's very common.
MISHLOVE: We've already departed from the Shamanistic tradition.
METZNER: Well, we departed from out ordinary world. We might actually be in a Shamanistic tradition, or we might be -- this could be part of that, in a Shamanic Journey you could be lost and confused and wandering around. Then in the second picture, they call it "finding the tracks". The young man finds the tracks of an animal. He still doesn't see an animal. I say, this is analogous to the phase of the spiritual quest where we find useful traces. This is like, where you would read a Buddhist text or an alchemical text or you look at a painting or you listen to some music and you suddenly get the sense, "Ah! Somebody else also had an experience similar to mine, and there are other people who have trodden this path. There's some reality to this. I'm not the only person, there are traces. You start reading the books and trying to learn about it as much as possible, whatever your tradition is, whether Christian or Buddhist or Shamanic or whatever it may be. And so the third picture has the first glimpse of the ox. He sees a part of an animal -- he sees the rear end of an animal. He gets a glimpse. This could analogous to having an LSD trip or a psychedelic experience or a vivid dream where you get a sense of some greater reality that's natural but at the same timeit's non-human, beyond the human. It's kind of mysterious and you don't really understand it. It's momentary -- it's like a glimpse. It's a vision. And then the fourth picture is called capturing the ox, and in this phase the human and the animal engage in a ferocious struggle. This whole chapter deals with the integration of the inner wild animal. The word "wild" is related to the word "will". The wild is the self-willed, it's not under the control of somebody else's will, it's not domesticated. It's autonomous. Because we are animals and we have an animal nature, we have a mammalian emotional nature, our emotions are derivative from the mammalian brain. So that's perfectly appropriate to use the image of a wild animal, a wild bull that like our emotions, pulls us this way or that, whether that's positive or negative, or repulsion or anger or hatred or lust or desire, whatever it may be. Very, very powerful, much more powerful than the human ego, represented by the young man. But the human who engages in the struggle tries to control the emotions using discipline practices, using meditation, using concentration, using mindfulness. The fifth picture is called Taming the Ox, and in this, there's been some kind of an understanding. The picture shows the young man leading the ox by a rope. It is not tight. There's no physical force involved. The human can't control the animal by force, because the animal is much stronger, and you can't control your animal nature by force. The animal's much stronger. It's really the story of the "horse-whisperer", this beautiful story, based on a true story of the man who was able to tame the horse, not by using spurs and not by using ropes and not be using strength, but by using consciousness, and talking and understanding, listening and whispering, and communicating with all this kind of, unifying his/this consciousness. That's why he doesn't have to pull on the rope. The animal nature follows the human intention. The human makes the intention. Well, we're going to go in this direction, we're going to follow this spiritual path. And the animal nature, which is like your body follows along. And then in the sixth picture, it's called Riding the Ox Home. That shows the young man sitting on the ox, playing his flute. And the ox goes, he's no longer even concerned about leading the ox cause the ox is now going home. It's like, when you ride horse, when you're on the homeward path, it goes by itself. It knows where to go, you don't have to lead it. You have the bridle in your hand. So that's the analogy. Once you get established in the path, then nature and spirit are really going in the same direction. This is very different from what we usually are taught in the Western Judeo-Christian tradition, where it's constantly said, "Oh, you have to keep struggling against the animal, you have to overcome Nature." Even in Freudian theory, even though Freud taught religion was an obsession-neurosis, but also he said the ego has to control the id. The id is the animal, the ego the human, he has to control it, and it's painful and it's terrible, but that's just the price you have to pay for civilization, according to Freud. This Buddhist story is very, very different. Here you unify the two in consciousness. Then there's no struggle. Although there may be struggle in the beginning, initially, as we're going through it. There is no discontent, he' s riding peacefully and happily on the animal, going home. So that's the first series of six. There are six pictures of the young man riding the ox home. And the last four pictures I describe in a separate chapter, which I call "Returning to the Source". I'll just say about that one, this is actually a variation of the Journey metaphor, that we talked about earlier. This metaphor of returning is very commonly found in mystical traditions. It says that we're on a journey already, but the mystical or spiritual journey is a return journey back to spirit, where we came from, cause we came from the spirit world, and we're going back to them. We came from God and we're going back to God. It's a homeward journey. When you look at picture number seven in this Zen-Chung Buddhist from the tenth century series, picture seven after the Ox Riding Home, is the Ox Transcended, and it shows the young man sitting in front of his hermitage, with the moon -- There's no ox at all. He's sitting peacefully there, meditating. No sign of the ox. That means the human and the animal are no longer separate, can no longer be identified, they're perfectly fused. Which is the way we normally look, but in terms of our psyche, there's often tremendous struggle when a person has reached that stage. It's a peaceful stage, no longer struggling with the instincts. I like the commentary that Kakuan wrote in the twelfth century on that picture. He says, "This is like getting the fish with the net, or the rabbit with the trap, or gold from the dross, a ray of clear light travels throughout all creation." It's a kind of enlightenment experience. It's not the last stage, but it's definitely an enlightenment experience. Then in the eighth picture, it's called Both Ox and Man Transcended. It's a pure, simple nothing, empty -- It's emptiness. Its whiteness is nirvana. This is actually nirvana. It's not the last stage. It's, you might say, consciousness without an object. It's consciousness without form. It's a unitive state, no distinctions. "The mind is clear and void," said Kakuan, "I do not even seek enlightenment, nor do I seek unenlightenment." So there's a complete transcendence, no dualities or differences. But there's not yet complete transcendence of the individual. Unity is a certain state, but you don't stay in unity as long as you're in the world, because as soon as you have a single thought, you're no longer in unity. As soon as you have a single impulse or idea or word or action, you're no longer in unity, and even Buddha didn't stay in a unitive state. He had his unitive experience, then he came back and preached and founded monasteries and was very active in the world. So the ninth picture is Returning to the Source, and it shows a stream and a tree. There's no man, no animal, and it's called Returning to the Source. The commentary says, "Abiding in motionless serenity, I observe the rising and falling of things." It's a pure natural energy, awareness of going back to the origin where the spring originates. The root of the tree, the source of the water.
MISHLOVE: A sense of the origin of Spirit and the origin of Nature are the same.
METZNER: Exactly, exactly. This is why this is like an ecological psychology symbolism. And in the tenth and final picture, called Entering the City with Bliss-Bestowing Hands, or In the World, it shows them now in an enlightened stage, walking, smiling, meeting others, this portrays the situation of one whose personality is completely transformed. He goes, and everything he touches, the trees, the blossoms -- so that's, to me, the difference between unity and wholeness. Unity is a transcendent state of no-differences, no-dualities. But wholeness means everything is included, and therefore you can function out of that unity and then that enlightened stage is able to give to others, also what the Buddhists call the "bodhisattva", who foregoes going into a unitive state, and devotes him or herself to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.
MISHLOVE: In other words, the highest state is being in the world.
METZNER: The highest state is returning back into the world to share the blessings or the knowledge or the wisdom or the healing, or whatever you have, as all the great spiritual teachers of always done, cause as long as you're in the world, you're in the world. You chose to be here, after all. You didn't choose to stay in that transcendent state, but you chose to be here. Now you might have other experiences there. When you meditate, you might go into a transcendent state, but you always come back down from the transcendent state in order to do something, express something, teach someon e, and heal someone.
MISHLOVE: So it's a complete cycle.
METZNER: It is a complete cycle. The stages are not rigidly separated. We often may find ourselves going back to retrace our steps, and find ourselves at stages where we're searching around, and have lost all clues, and can't figure out what is happening, and maybe find some new clues, and start the process all over again. Then we find another animal, or another aspect of the animal, too.
MISHLOVE: We'll be back, with Ralph Metzner after these messages. [Break] Jeffrey Mishlove: This is Jeffrey Mishlove, host of Virtual U, and I'm back again with Ralph Metzner, author of The Unfolding Self, and his new book will be called Green Psychology. Ralph is a pioneer in the field of consciousness exploration, and his publications go back to The Psychedelic Experience, back in the 1960's. If you'd like to speak to us and pose a question to us, you can call (800) 655-2112 or you can send E-mail to Virtual@WilliamJames.com. We've been exploring, Ralph, the role of metaphor in looking at consciousness transformation, the metaphor of the journey, the metaphor of stages, the metaphor of coming to terms or integrating the inner animal. And the metaphor we just looked at, Returning to the Source,
METZNER: The Return Journey, the Homeward Journey.
MISHLOVE: One of the chapters which is more alchemical in nature, talks about purification by the inner fire.
METZNER: Right. That's an interesting one and that ties into, you know, I spent ten years of my life very intensely involved in a study of a system of Yoga and meditation called Agni Yoga, which is, Agni is the Vedic god of fire, and so it's fire Yoga. It's actually a Western system taught by a Western American teacher, a clairvoyant and healer, and it was also called "Actualism" and it has parallels to Hindu Kundalini Yoga and also Buddhist Tantra Vajrayana, and Daoist techniques. It involves direct channeling of energy, working with consuming fire, the fire aspect of life energy to actually dissolve blockages or obstructions to life energy flow. So it's alchemical in that sense. It's really a tradition that's both Yogic and alchemical. Alchemy and Yoga are basically in certain traditions like Taoism, the same. That's why I also drew from accounts of the alchemical imagery are very natural illustrations, and fire is, you could say, fire and light are two separate chapters, one for light and one for fire, although in a way they're really the same, but two aspects of energy, light being, you might say, symbolic, the awareness aspect, and symbolically, fire being the transformation aspect. But it's really more than a symbol. It's an actual experience, an actual energy process that you tap into, so the methods are not so much visualization exercises, where you imagine visual images of light or of fire. You tap into the fire, or the light energy through thought, because thought directs energy. Wherever we put our thought into, that's what we're putting our energy into. If we think how depressed we are, or how angry, we get more and more depressed and we get more angry because we put more and more energy into it. In the Bible it says, "As a man thinketh, so he is." So what we think, we become. Using the same principle, if you think of the energy, you tap into it. You can also think of them as tools, energy tools. So bringing light down from or through these energy centers, say, the heart center, and then having it expand throughout the body, and then throughout the mind, thought, feeling, that would be a Yogic process, and it would also be an alchemical process. That would trigger experiences and so [how] they get their action with the drugs or the plants is interesting to me in that way because the drugs and plants act as amplifiers. They magnify our perception. They don't actually enable you to move through consciousness or change anything by themselves. That's why people can take drugs, even powerful drugs like LSD, and not change. Or just use them to consolidate their own manipulative patterns, like Charles Manson did. He used it for brainwashing, or use it to terrorize other people. Use it to drive people crazy. So the potential is there, to use them in an enlightened and spiritual direction, but the attention needs to be in that direction. That's also why many people stopped working with psychedelics after a certain period in the sixties, and I did too, coming back to it later in a very different way. Because finding that something else was needed. Charlie Tart did an interesting study a few years ago where he asked a group of long-term Buddhist meditators and teachers of Buddhist meditation, what role psychedelics, like LSD played in their practice; and they all said pretty much, "Well, none now, but a very crucial role in the beginning. If I hadn't had those experiences, I would never have known what it was really all about." That was like the visionary experience state of getting a glimpse of the ox. It gave me a glimpse of what's possible, without which I wouldn't have had the motivation to stick to it, you know, meditating for, so,
MISHLOVE: Houston Smith, a great religious scholar once told me that he had done a study comparing the experiences of people using psychedelic drugs with the experiences of great mystics. He took their statements about their experience, and he cut them out, and then he had scholars try to sort them and see if they could distinguish [them], and he found that they were indistinguishable!
MISHLOVE: You couldn't tell the experiences apart, but if you looked at their lifestyles, the way they lead their life lives on a day to day basis, that was very different.
MISHLOVE: That's where, I suppose, this metaphor that you use, of purification by inner fire, becomes important. It's translating the visionary state to which we all have access at one time or another, into a way of life.
METZNER: Right. The purifying fire, and the alchemists said this, too, it's like separating the gold from the dross, which is done by fire. Removing the energy-obstructions in the body so that the high frequency or pure fire energy could come from the spirit world, and be burned, is grounded, into the mind, into the body and into the organs of the body, and right into the cells. The whole tradition of Kundalini Yoga is along the same lines, because the Kundalini is that energy that burns up. It burns up the accumulated dross and knots in the subtle nervous system so that the energy can flow more freely.
MISHLOVE: And the Taoist vision, which is also alchemical, of circulating the chi through the body, is like that. Well, we'll be back with more discussion, after these messages. [Break]
MISHLOVE: Hello! I'm Jeffrey Mishlove back again with Ralph Metzner. We're talking about The Unfolding Self and the many, many different expressions, metaphorically speaking, of how we transform ourselves. One that you refer to here, is "awakening from the dream of reality", the idea that our waking life is but a dream.
METZNER: Yes, this is a very common one and it's a beautiful illustration of the whole idea of how metaphor works. The metaphor says, we know what it's like, we have the experience of a metaphor gives us a sense of something we're not familiar with by comparing it implicitly to something we are familiar with. So they say, we all know what these things're like, like waking up from a dream. If you imagine that there's another kind of consciousness that is as different from our ordinary consciousness as waking up is from dreaming or being asleep, then that would be sort of what it's like. That idea is very common in Buddhism and it's tied into the whole idealist tradition of Eastern and Western philosophy, which tends to say, In many ways the whole world is like a dream, and another kind of enlightened consciousness is possible, but it's not natural. It's not what we have naturally. We always tend to say, "We're conscious." When people first hear this metaphor they might say, "What do you mean? I'm awake, you're confusing the issue, I'm awake, aren't I? If you've never had the experience of waking up, then that's what you would say. By definition you're trying to describe something you've never experienced before. This is something you've reached toward. It's interesting and Gurdjieff, one of my big teachers, so I quote a lot of examples from him. I use it all the time.
MISHLOVE: Gurdjieff? Sort of in the Sufi tradition.
METZNER: Yes.Sufi and esoteric, Asian, Christian, he kind of wove many traditions together. And Sufism was one of the main ones. He used that metaphor a lot. He said we're really all asleep all the time, it's just automatic thinking and patterns of behavior are going on in our mind, and the Buddhists say the same thing: If you want to "wake up", we have to have certain practices that are designed into either shock us into waking up or through friction or tension, will bring us to the state where we can make ourselves get woken up. Or do organizing with others. Have somebody that builds an alarm clock that would wake you up like a shock does to the system. He would then, of course, in his teaching, deliver the shocks himself, he was a specialist at that! Delivering shocks to people's self-image and self-importance and vanity and so this idea of awakening is very intriguing. It's interesting, because we always say "waking up", we never say "waking down", and we always say "falling" asleep, we never say "rising" asleep. That's itself a metaphor, it's a spatial metaphor for describing a transition from one state to another state, so waking up is like consciousness raising. When you wake up, you may be in a dream which is very real, you're having real emotions, you're searching for something, or you're being chased by something, you're afraid, and you're having experiences of real emotions and perceptions, and then you wake up, so then there's an expansion of consciousness or raising consciousness and you say, "Oh, that was only a dream, and I'm really lying here in my bed, with my wife." And then there's the room and the house and outside of the house there's the garden and then you could even go further. I live in California in the United States, and there's planet Earth, and there's the Solar System, and there's the whole universe. You can go all the way out to cosmic consciousness. That would be certainly an expansion of consciousness. So they're saying, That's what cosmic consciousness is. Or as Heraclitus said, it's a wonderful line, he said, "when we're asleep, (meaning in both senses) when we're asleep, we each live in our own little world, but when we wake up we all live in one great world." What this metaphor says, and what teachers like Gurdjieff and the Buddhists say, in many ways, we're all pursuing these dreams in our own heads. You can see people walking down the street, and they're living in a nightmare, sometimes. Someone may be tortured by inner demons, or addiction, or depression, or madness, and yet look outwardly like they're awake and they're functioning. Other people may be inwardly in some pleasant dream of our own fantasy that's unrelated to the reality about them. So there's a lot to those metaphors, and they have their own energy.
MISHLOVE: There are many different ways in which the metaphor of waking up is used, too. Sometimes it's just waking up from your conditioned habits. Or, in another sense, I'm intrigued by the Hindu word maya, which suggests that all of what we perceive as "reality" really is an illusion.
METZNER: Right. It's an illusion, it's a show, it's a phenomenal appearance and there is some other reality behind it which we have glimpses of at certain moments, and mystics often say that. Mysticism is such a strange, paradoxical concept too, and it's almost impossible to express it without using paradoxes. If you look up "mysticism" in a dictionary, it's interesting that they'll say, one of the definitions of mystical is something "vague" and "unreal". Well, the mystics never say it was vague and unreal. Not at all! They say, what I experienced was more real than what I usually experience! It's the opposite of "vague" and "unreal". It's like a greater reality, a more encompassing reality. By comparison with which, the ordinary reality is a kind of a shadow-play, a maya, a dream, a phantom, bubbles, they use all these analogies, like a rainbow, a mist, bubbles or clouds or a magic show, like a puppet show or a TV show.
MISHLOVE: There is a sense that if we want to wake up, we have to let go of all the things that we supposedly know are "real".
METZNER: Right. The trance state is another analogy. Trance is a kind of sleep state, we're fixated and so waking up from the trance, as Charles Tart calls it, the "consensual trance" that we all live in.
MISHLOVE: We'll be back with Ralph Metzner after these messages. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. [Break]
MISHLOVE: Reading from Ralph Metzner's book, The Unfolding Self, I've come upon his chapter on the Journey to the Place of Vision and Power, and here is a poem by Rilke that evokes the feeling of a life in which there are cycles of visionary, spiritual states. Rilke writes: "I live my life in growing orbits which move out over the things of the world. I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years. And I still don't know if I'm a falcon or a storm or a great song."
METZNER: Yes. And that's in the section on flying in the upper realms. In shamanism, they make a distinction between shamanic journeys into three main worlds: the upper world, the middle world and the lower world. And what I point out is that experiences of flying or going upward on a tree or on a mountain but flying as a bird or transformed into a bird, or with a bird, and also flying dreams would be really shamanic upper-world journeys. And upper-world journeys and flying journeys are particularly associated with "seeing". Like in the Rilke poem, he's talking about a "falcon" and he's circling around God. And the "power" is another ascent imagery. Also earlier in that chapter there's another Rilke poem that talks about the idea that's associated with the idea of departure. Departure when we cross a threshold, and when we get a sense of, we're being drawn magnetically towards some unknown destination. And he says, in a poem called "A Walk", a/the sense of mysterious anticipation that happens. He says: "My eyes already touch the sunny hill. Going far ahead of the road I have begun. So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp, that has its inner light even from a distance, and changes us even if we do not reach it." Which again is a very common idea, that the journey itself is the point. The point is not so much when you get there or what you find when you get there, but being on the journey, which is a journey of becoming more conscious, a journey of awakening.
MISHLOVE: Having a goal even if you don't attain it.
METZNER: Exactly, right. Or, from Zen master Mumon, the concept of the gateless gate, he says, "The great path has no gates. Thousands of roads enter into it. When one passes through this gateless gate, he walks freely between heaven and earth," (so one can go upwards or lower), and then also at the beginning I quote these lines from Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, which has the idea that the journey is your own journey: " Not I, nor anyone else, can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself. It is not far, it is within reach, that you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere, on water and on land."
MISHLOVE: Well, Whitman and Rilke,
METZNER: Yes. The poets often say it much better than we can.
MISHLOVE: That poetic voice is in a way, the voice of our own authentic self.
METZNER: Yes. And here's another one in that same chapter on the journey where it talks about journeys into non-ordinary reality, with the theme of climbing a holy mountain or going through sudden/seven valleys or wandering in the wilderness. That's a very common one, the wilderness, that's the whole story of the knights looking for the Grail, going through the wasteland, and there's a wonderful poem by T.S. Eliot that captures this kind of experience. The wasteland experience is different from wilderness. Wasteland is more like what we have in our culture. It's a barren land, a land of despair, and, "What are the roots that clutch? The branches grow out of the stony rubbish, Son of man, you cannot say or guess for you know only a heap of broken images where the sun beats and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief and the dry stones no sound of water."
MISHLOVE: We're doing fine, we might have a couple of minutes here. We can keep going.
METZNER: There's a great passage here from a wonderful book that's not that well known, but deserves to be better known, by Rene Daumal. He was a Gurdjieff student. He wrote a book called Mount Analog.
MISHLOVE: Oh, I read that back in the 1960's!
METZNER: Right, right! It's a wonderful book.
MISHLOVE: And it had quite a profound influence on me.
METZNER: It's called "a novel of symbolically authentic, non-Euclidean adventures in mountain climbing." It's about this group of explorers, they try to find this mountain. First of all, they have to go at a certain time, a certain place, and they have to find this gap between the worlds. There's only one time and one place where you can go into this one place where this mountain is. They organize an expedition and then they come down and then they say, "You cannot stay on the summit forever." That's like being enlightened by the experience. You have to come down again, so why bother in the first place? "Just this: What is above knows what is above, but what is below does not know what is above. In climbing, always take note of difficulties along the way, for as you go up, you can observe them. Coming down, you can no longer see them, but you'll know they are there if you have observed them well. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up, When one can no longer see, one can at least still know." I thought that was very intriguing to me as a description that fit very closely with the experiences that people have with psychedelics and the experiences that came out of them. You can remember everything, even though it's no longer present to you, but you remember it. So it's not like a dream, in that way, cause dreams often disappear.
MISHLOVE: We've been talking to Ralph Metzner, and we'll be back. [Break]
MISHLOVE: And now, to close our program this evening, I'll ask Ralph to read one more poem from his book, The Unfolding Self.
METZNER: Yes, this is a Navajo prayer in which there's a dialog between the divine ancestor, Hasje Alte, the Great Spirit, and the small personal self, symbolized by the grandchild. It's part of the metaphor of returning to the source. "I keep searching for you. You and I will begin our return, my grandchild. We two are leaving now, my grandchild." And circling me with the rainbow, he turns me toward himself and shows his compassion toward me. "This is your home, my grandchild," he says as he sits down beside me. "I have returned with you to your home," he says to me as he sits down behind you. "Your home is yours again, the fire is yours again. All is beautiful behind me, all is beautiful before me, all is beautiful below me, all is beautiful above me. All is beautiful all around me, for I have been found, and everything is beautiful."
MISHLOVE: Ralph Metzner, thank you so much for being with me tonight. It's been a great pleasure.
METZNER: Thank you. [End of 3/31/1999 Show]
Transcribed by Joyce Rosenfield
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