from Copthorne Macdonald's Book
It is clear to me
now that the decade of my 30s was a period of development and preparation,
a period in which I tried dreams on for fit, lived a few to their natural
ends, and a few others until it seemed time to drop them. If I lived this
decade again, its details would be different, but I hope not its spirit.
Living your 20s and 30s intensely, with your own growth consciously in
mind, is not the worst possible preparation for those more contemplative
decades that come later.
I owe much to several
of the people I met early in this period. They were people who lived in
a realm of ideas. They saw what was going on in the world at a superficial
level, as I did -- but they saw more. They were able to connect the surface
facts with an array of concepts and models and perspectives residing at
some deeper level. I realized that to gain access to this other level
you had to read -- read selectively because there wasn't enough time to
read everything, but read a lot.
My friends suggested
several possible starting points, one of these being French Existentialism.
I read Sartre's BEING AND NOTHINGNESS and his EXISTENTIALISM AND HUMAN
EMOTIONS. Parts of the first book were beyond me, but I was drawn to Sartre's
basic thesis: Human nature is not a determinism set up in advance by God
or Nature. Instead, human nature is defined moment-to-moment by how we
human beings actually live our lives -- by the lifelong string of choices
each of us makes. Sartre stressed that how we act in the world is what
counts, not our good intentions. Each life is nothing more nor less than
the sum of the actions that comprise it. Personal immortality resides
only in the effect which those actions have on the world. Since we are
condemned to choose, we might as well make our choices with as much awareness
as possible. It makes sense to choose consciously what we want to do with
our lives, and to move toward the chosen goal.
Camus's theme was
similar to Sartre's but had its individual slant. I especially liked Camus's
personal journals: NOTEBOOKS 1935-1942 and NOTEBOOKS 1942-1951. Camus
stressed the need to create meaning in the universe through artistic creativity
and love -- love not just in the romantic sense, but also love as deep
friendship and lovingkindness. He realized that art was commentary on
life, and felt that the great artist must first have a "great experience
of life." Furthermore, love would play a central role in this "great experience."
Love is the main
theme of Lawrence Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet." Reading the four interlinked
volumes in the intended order -- JUSTINE, BALTHAZAR, MOUNTOLIVE, then
CLEA -- leads the reader through a progression of love's many forms and
guises -- both immature and highly mature ones.
was another writer who inspired and motivated me. ZORBA THE GREEK was
a call to adventure that I found compelling. I lived from my head. Zorba
lived from his guts. He was totally engaged in the present moment, and
always saw the world with fresh eyes. He lived each moment fully -- right
to the bursting point. He was inner-directed to the extreme, and seemed
to be beyond fear. He was always willing to risk -- to risk everything.
No wonder Kazantzakis was fascinated with Zorba, and drawn to his mode
of living. I was too.
the story of his own struggle to become wise in REPORT TO GRECO. In it
he related many adventures -- including an account of his relationship
with the real-life Zorba. Interwoven with the narrative was the Kazantzakis
philosophy of life -- and it was this that I found both powerful and personally
relevant. Kazantzakis chose one word to characterize his life: ASCENT.
Always he had kept his eye on the farthest limit; always he had tried
to attain the greatest height. His central message was this: Find that
significant task or battle for which you are best suited, then pour your
energy into it. Perceive. Love. Live the totality.
THEORIES OF PSYCHOLOGICAL-SPIRITUAL
Maslow's books are
tremendously rich. They have many levels of meaning and message, and at
each reading you hear what you are ready to hear. Four of them make my
recommended list. The oldest is MOTIVATION AND PERSONALITY. First published
in 1954, it summarizes Maslow's work to that point; it outlines his theory
of motivation and his research into the characteristics of self- actualizing
people. In TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING Maslow gets into the connections
between Humanistic Psychology and Existentialism. He expands and clarifies
his theory of motivation. And he discusses peak experiences. His posthumous
book, THE FARTHER REACHES OF HUMAN NATURE deals with "Cosmic" self- actualization
and self-transcendence -- the spiritual end-process of personal growth.
In it he also discusses some interesting aspects of Anthropologist Ruth
Benedict's work. The fourth book, RELIGIONS, VALUES, AND PEAK EXPERIENCES
deals with intrinsic values and with varieties of spiritual experience.
Wilber showed me
that mental development is a vast spectrum on which the Freudians, Behaviorists,
and various spiritual disciplines all have legitimate places. He makes
it clear that seeming contradictions -- like using one form of therapy
to build an ego and another to tear it down -- make sense if the right
thing is done at the right stage of our inner development. It's not all
intellectual, either. His reports on the far reaches of the spectrum have
the aura of first hand reports. My favorite of his books is NO BOUNDARY:
EASTERN AND WESTERN APPROACHES TO PERSONAL GROWTH. Another, which goes
into the spectrum concept in more detail, is THE SPECTRUM OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
A third, which deals with evolution and mind is UP FROM EDEN: A TRANSPERSONAL
VIEW OF HUMAN EVOLUTION.
THE PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY
(PRACTICES THAT INVOLVE REIDENTIFICATION WITH BEING.)
There are several
writings from Buddhism's Zen tradition that express the perennial philosophy
with clarity and impact. Two of my favorites are "The Lankavatara Sutra,"
and the discourse by the Third Patriarch of Zen on "Believing in Mind."
These, the famous "Oxherding Pictures of Zen," and much other worthwhile
material appears in THE MANUAL OF ZEN BUDDHISM by the late Zen scholar
D. T. Suzuki.
THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING
Written by an anonymous
Christian mystic in the 14th Century, THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING now appears
in an edition with a more mature work by the same author: THE BOOK OF
PRIVY COUNSELING. The first book links contemplative practice with traditional
Christianity. The second focuses on the essence of the practice itself.
I especially like the second.
DA FREE JOHN
put off by Da Free John's guru-with-ardent- followers image, I came to
agree with Ken Wilber that Free John was saying important things, and
saying them clearly. In NIRVANASARA Free John presents the perennial philosophy
as he sees it: an integration of Advaita Vedanta (the view held by Vedantists
like Nisargadatta), and Buddhism. THE BODILY LOCATION OF HAPPINESS focuses
on Free John's "Happiness" practice. His autobiography, THE KNEE OF LISTENING
(published under his original name, Franklin Jones), also sheds light
on this practice.
uxley was a Western
intellectual with a Christian background who discovered the wisdom of
the East -- and also discovered that this wisdom is identical with the
wisdom spoken of by the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages. In THE PERENNIAL
PHILOSOPHY, he shares some of the teachings of Eastern and Western mysticism,
and adds his own lucid and informed commentary.
Two works are attributed
to Taoist sage Lao Tzu: the well-known TAO TE CHING, and a compilation
of later teachings called the HUA HU CHING. Both are available in a volume
entitled THE COMPLETE WORKS OF LAO TZU. The first presents the Taoist
view of what IS, the second deals with the Taoist form of perennial philosophy
practice. Many translations of the TAO TE CHING are available; my favorite
is the recent Stephen Mitchell translation that uses contemporary language
If I could take only
a few books with me to a desert island, I AM THAT: CONVERSATIONS WITH
SRI NISARGADATTA MAHARAJ would be one of them. Nisargadatta, you may have
discovered in the chapter notes, was a former Bombay cigarette maker who
made a permanent gestalt flip of reidentification. Separated from the
author of THE BOOK OF PRIVY COUNSELING by culture, distance, and 600 years,
these two nevertheless watched the world from the same mental space. And
they advocated the same practice to reach that space: pay attention as
continuously as possible to the elemental sense of being, of existing.
THE BOOK: ON THE
TABOO AGAINST KNOWING WHO YOU ARE is Alan Watts' lucid discussion of the
unitive view, and of the difficulty we have in seeing things that way.
In an earlier work, THE MEANING OF HAPPINESS: THE QUEST FOR FREEDOM OF
THE SPIRIT IN MODERN PSYCHOLOGY AND THE WISDOM OF THE EAST he presents
his views about happiness.
I didn't discover
Joseph Campbell until he became popular in the 1980s -- what a pity! In
HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES Campbell contends that the great mythic hero
stories of cultures all over the world symbolize the universal search
for wisdom and Self- realization, the universal struggle to make the perennial
philosophy our own.
AND JACK KORNFIELD
is one of the founders of the Insight Meditation Society; Jack Kornfield
has taught Vipassana there (and elsewhere) for many years. Their book,
SEEKING THE HEART OF WISDOM: THE PATH OF INSIGHT MEDITATION, is the fruit
of their many years of teaching experience. It goes into the "why" of
mindfulness practice, and relates it to other Buddhist teachings. THE
EXPERIENCE OF INSIGHT: A SIMPLE AND DIRECT GUIDE TO BUDDHIST MEDITATION
is an earlier book on the practice by Joseph Goldstein. It, too, is worthwhile.
THICH NHAT HANH
Thich Nhat Hanh is
the Vietnamese Zen Master who headed the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation
in Paris during the Vietnam War. He has written two wonderful books on
the practice of mindfulness meditation: THE MIRACLE OF MINDFULNESS, and
PEACE IS EVERY STEP.
book, A GRADUAL AWAKENING, describes the changes in outlook and understanding
that take place as mindfulness practice continues and deepens. It is another
of my "desert island" books -- one that leads me to deeper understanding
on each re-reading. I find it the perfect complement to a mindfulness
Information on retreats
led by Stephen Levine, and cassette recordings of his talks and guided
meditations, are available from The Hanuman Foundation Tape Library, Box
61498, Santa Cruz, CA 95061. The Foundation also distributes Ram Dass
SOME OTHER PERSPECTIVES
psychologist William James took a perceptive look at mystical experience
in THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. James, too, believed in looking
directly at what was happening in the mind -- an approach that went out
of psychological fashion a few years later.
One slant on people
as agents of evolution was given by Nikos Kazantzakis in his poetic book,
THE SAVIORS OF GOD. Kazantzakis saw evolution as a bloody war of ascent
from chaos to high possibility being waged by a less than almighty God
-- a God that needs help from human beings and all other creatures.
I left Krishnamurti
out of the Perennial Philosophy section because he avoided cosmological
speculation and talk about reidentification -- focusing instead on exploring
moment to moment mental happenings. My favorite among his many books is
THE FIRST AND LAST FREEDOM which I find particularly clear and complete.
I also like the three volume COMMENTARIES ON LIVING series. His descriptions
of the world around him in these latter books are priceless glimpses into
his mind -- the mind of a man who lived each moment with intense alertness
THE OPEN FOCUS HANDBOOK
and OPEN FOCUS cassettes are available from Biofeedback Computers, Inc.,
P.O. Box 572, Princeton, NJ 08540.
The late Chogyam
Trungpa, Rimpoche was a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who fled Tibet at the
time of the Chinese takeover in 1959. He was educated at Oxford in the
'60s, founded Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado in the '70s, and started
the Naropa Institute of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 1980s. He
also wrote several helpful books. In CUTTING THROUGH SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM
he pointed out some spiritual traps into which we North Americans frequently
fall -- ways that we use spiritual practices to strengthen ego rather
than destroy it. A more recent book, SHAMBHALA: THE SACRED PATH OF THE
WARRIOR also focused on trouble spots, on those difficult and painful
places on the path that we can't bypass if we are serious about growing.
OTHER PERSONAL GROWTH
I mentioned A LIFE
OF ONE'S OWN by Joanna Field. A comprehensive and recent overview of intuition
is THE INTUITIVE EDGE: UNDERSTANDING INTUITION AND APPLYING IT IN EVERYDAY
LIFE by Philip Goldberg. A more scholarly book on intuition, but one rich
in detail is Tony Bastick's INTUITION: HOW WE THINK AND ACT. Roberto Assagioli's
PSYCHOSYNTHESIS presents the details of his multifaceted therapy. Another
book I found helpful was TRANSITIONS: MAKING SENSE OF LIFE'S CHANGES by
William Bridges. Bridges, by naming and talking about that fuzzy, uncomfortable
stage between endings and new beginnings, legitimizes it. He also deals
with helpful, and not so helpful, ways of going through these transitions.
THE SCIENTIFIC BIG
THE FIRST THREE MINUTES: A MODERN VIEW OF THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE presents
the currently accepted model of the origin of the universe. THE SCIENTIFIC
AMERICAN does an excellent job of updating this picture every year or
two with the latest theories, and the latest developments in cosmology
and particle physics. Stephen Hawking's A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME is worth
reading, as are IN SEARCH OF THE BIG BANG by John Gribbin and THE COSMIC
BLUEPRINT by Paul Davies.
For a variety of
perspectives you might read Ervin Laszlo's EVOLUTION: THE GRAND SYNTHESIS,
Richard Dawkins's THE BLIND WATCHMAKER, and at least one of Stephen Jay
Gould's books (TIME'S ARROW, TIME'S CYCLE, for example).
Paul MacLean (A TRIUNE
CONCEPT OF BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR) and Melvin Konner (THE TANGLED WING) do
a good job of presenting the biological basis for reactive emotion and
behavior. See the Chapter 6 NOTES for references to Benjamin Libet's work
on the relationship between consciousness and intention. Arguments for
mind being separate from matter are presented by Eccles and Robinson in
THE WONDER OF BEING HUMAN. The view that mind and matter are two aspects
of a single underlying reality is made by Gordon Globus, Bernard Rensch,
and Ervin Laszlo -- see their listings in the Chapter 1 NOTES. Refer to
the Roger Sperry articles listed in the Chapter 6 NOTES for his view that
mind is a system-emergent of the brain that can have a top-down influence
back on brain functioning.
An excellent book
on the nature of information and its many roles is Jeremy Campbell's GRAMMATICAL
MAN: INFORMATION, ENTROPY, LANGUAGE, AND LIFE. My understanding of natural
systems owes much to the writing of Ervin Laszlo, a former concert pianist
with a doctorate from the Sorbonne who became an expert on systems and
the author of several Club of Rome studies. His book, THE SYSTEMS VIEW
OF THE WORLD, is a book for the general reader that looks at nature and
human beings from the system point of view. A more scholarly work is Laszlo's
INTRODUCTION TO SYSTEMS PHILOSOPHY: TOWARD A NEW PARADIGM OF CONTEMPORARY
© 1995 by Copthorne Macdonald