Oscillations in the Void: on ecstasy and shivering

Last night I attended a Dave Matthews concert at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. It was part of my gift to Albert for his birthday. I am not terribly familiar with Dave Matthews' music, but whenever Albert likes someone, I generally trust his opinion and am willing to give it a shot. As a musician's musician, he tends to steer us toward live shows that are interesting, skillful, and diverse. Last night was no exception, and the Dave Matthews Band seriously rocked. \oo/ (No, they didn't play Crash, but I respect them for it.)

There were (I overheard one of the gate staff saying) 22,000 people at this show, which afforded me the opportunity to experience an epic empathetic feeling that I enjoy at huge stadium events like this one. Before the show began, the din of 22,000 people with all of their mixed chatter, thoughts, emotions, dramas, and drunken revelry was quite a beautiful and terrible jangle of chaotic vibratory energies. The great dance of everything in a single-stadium microcosm. But the moment Dave Matthews and the other musicians stepped onstage and played a single note, the entire crowd leapt up in simultaneous joyful abandon, unraveling their individual egos and dropping them like so many threads to the ground while embracing a greater, shared feeling. The surging forward in common purpose of collective passion.

That spike of energy when a shared common purpose reveals itself at a level beneath mind is the essence of ecstatic ritual. It is the centerpiece of power raising in many traditions. The spiral dance tightens in and a powerful cone of energy is raised; a group of monks chanting devotedly in unison experience a moment of satori; the Sufi dervishes whirl their way to wisdom; the priest raises the host in the middle of Mass and all hearts lift along with it in anticipation of spiritual communion; the Orixa descends on the head of the devotee during the Bembe, and the drums crescendo to herald the arrival. If you love group ritual, it is likely that you can appreciate the moment when the analytical aspects of mind drop away in the glorious oneness of energetic consummation, regardless of Tradition, politics, or personal grievances with any group or individual. In other words, when in the presence of the Great Gorgeous, nothing else seems to matter; we experience bliss.*

"So, great! Now we have the solution to all our problems, right? If we unite everyone under the idea of moving toward that feeling together, we can save the world!" I know what it feels like to think this. When I'm in the middle of it, I always think this.

But...there are people who become ecstatic over horrible things. There is a video here that I strongly urge you to watch. It is a 90-second  clip, with narration, describing Hitler's "ecstatic" reception at a Nazi rally in 1937. Go ahead and watch it. There is nothing graphic- it is a study of public emotions only. Look at how strongly the emotions are expressed. This is still an issue that many people feel uncomfortable about and, consequently, look away from. But take a moment to look at it and to think about it and the way that ecstasy was used as a tool to whip people into a movement of great harm and horror. Ecstasy can dangerous, just as easily as it can be beneficial.

The mere mention of the word "Nazi" tends to evoke a subtle or overt shiver. Why do we shiver? We shiver because of our collective level of heightened emotion around the history of the Nazis. The emotion varies, as there are still people who are staunchly Nazi, who are Holocaust deniers, as well as those of us who cry "Never again! Never forget!" and hold that ground with our own passionate hearts for justice. There are many different streams of emotion that bundle into this one shivering nerve of energy, a nerve that is historically, emotionally, and collectively still very much alive and raw.

Like its cousin collective ecstasy, the collective shiver is a collective consequence of collective action. The shivers we feel when we hear about witch trials, slavery, rape, and abuse of children are all collective consequences. There were and are people who believe that some or all of these things are not only acceptable, but good ideas. And they were/are fervent in their opinions. The believe these things fundamentally. There are also many (and I should hope many more of us) who believe that these things are wrong, are egregious crimes that must never happen again, and demand whatever recompense or apology is possible. Are we not, also, fundamentally committed to our views?

Fundamentalism, in any fashion, even for what might in the moment seem like a good cause is not actually ever going to be the solution. Because what can seem like "the solution" at the time may be the product of tremendous fervor without incisive critical analysis. Hitler thought of his genocide project as a solution. The Tea Party thinks of its mission to curtail abortion rights as a solution. There are people who think that killing all of the witches is a solution. There are people who think that unconditional love is the solution. There are those who think of moral education as the solution. There are those who think yoga is the solution. There are those who think that freeing all prisoners is the solution. There are those who think that if we were all one body under one god, that would be the solution.

And so, each person or group will do what it can to enlist others in a common cause or agenda, thus addressing the shivering feeling. One of the easiest ways to gather people around a goal is to promise an experience of ecstasy. Everyone likes a good party. And in the midst of that ecstasy, the message is propagated. Think of the political National Conventions for the last two weeks as an example. Pagan Festivals do this, also. So do protests, rallies, demonstrations, certain concerts where the artists choose to use their fame to spread a message. All of these things tend to promise "the solution" amid the revelry.

What would happen if we took a step back from thinking of anything as "the solution" and instead began to view each of our own acts as but one expression of a conscious unfolding with intended, but not forced, results? What if we could begin to admit on a more collective level there are no solutions, that there is no ultimate "better," that this isn't about fixing things "once and for all," but instead it is about holding one's ground or allowing formlessness and flow in the ongoing, forever tide of human push and pull called existence? Would we be more patient with ourselves and compassionate toward others if we were able to see all of the progression of life, time, and events as part of the uncritical, agenda-neutral, original "great flaring forth" from the Big Bang?**  Look at history, look at the Now- all of it has always been at work forever, in different names and places, under different guises. Does it make you feel hopeless to think about it that way, as though permanent progress might not be attained? But, paradoxically, does it not also show you how very important it is that you do your best to hold your position in the Now and be of benefit to others in whatever ways you have deemed important at this time?

Would we be less urgent, less fearful and panicked, and ultimately more mindful and diligent in our own attainment of our own missions if we were able to calmly accept that what is happening right now, with all that we can and cannot change, is part of the organic Universe proceeding forward from its original event, and that we need to focus primarily on doing a good job at our own part instead of coming to a point of frenzy about what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future? What if we resisted injustice mightily and yet were also willing to accept that there is no possible way all injustice will ever be resolved at once? How might it change our relationship with idealism for the better?

Is it possible that if we held our ground for good more diligently and calmly, we would actually set a tone for a possible better future by doing so, instead of by fighting histrionic fundamentalism with histrionic fundamentalism? Has fundamentalism actually ever fixed anything?


It's hard to think this way. Hard on the mind and the heart. Hard to give up a certain "I'm on this side, you're on that side" kind of feeling. Hard to give up the actually-external parts of our agenda that have substituted as authentic identity. Hard to conceive of ourselves as just one speck in spacetime and accept the unknowable enormity of it all. But in that unknowable enormity, that Great Gorgeous, we are so free to be who we really are, and all the goodness that is possible from that, and all the self-work that is possible from that. It means we have to really think about the countless horrors and genocides visited by one nation upon another, one tribe upon another, one being upon another all the way back to the arising of humanity. They happened, just as surely as genocide is happening right now. Beside that, we are also expected to hold the singular joy of the touch of a loved one's hand, or the happiness of jumping to one's feet at a concert, or the triumph when a nation's people push back for their rights successfully. Very difficult! Our minds are not capable of holding all of it very well.

In fact, many humans begin to act emotionally inappropriately when they reach critical mass of knowledge. A certain callousness creeps in when we are holding too much knowledge of horror. We begin to make insensitive jokes and snide comments. Our outrage becomes aggressive and violent, beginning to potentially morph way from the original intent of goodness. Some of us protect our compassionate hearts against callousness by filtering, usually to the most recent or most personally-relevant horrors. Then there are those who refuse to see horror entirely, living entire lives of rainbows and peace signs and fairy tales. Those who refuse to even consider that there might, sometimes, be evil lurking in the hearts of others or (gasp!) in their own hearts.

It is better to intimately know your own inner potential for evil, to name and confront it so that you can hold ground against it, then to pretend it isn't there OR to assume that you are powerless over it.

The end result of a study of fervor and ecstasy is awareness of the fickle nature of humans' emotional sway. For good or ill, we like to be moved. This, when taken deeply into contemplation, will eventually disrupt a sense of hope for pushing the big sway toward permanent change that can then be forgotten and thus must be repeated. It will replace this hope with something else. For some, the sense will be futility. This is a choice and CAN be shifted. There is also acceptance: that the sway of the universal tide has always and will always surge and ebb, and that one might be the minnow or the stone or the sand, and that all is as it must be in this moment. The only fundamentally universal collective ecstasy that is happening at any time, and indeed at all times, is that all of life courses with the great I AM. Should the ever-flaring-forth come, as scientists say it will, to a reversal of the Big Bang, to a contraction of consciousness, there will still be a fundamental concept present to unify all: the I AM NOT (or Nott, or Naught, or None.) One person's life and death cycle is this concept in microscosm. War and disaster are this in a ring of microcosm wider than that of the individual life. The evolution of the planet and the solar systems provide yet wider rings of the same story. The breathwork of Time. The eternal unfolding. The long procession of ecstasy and shivers. Oscillations in the Void.

* My friend Angelina Blasich coined the term "Great Gorgeous" to describe the Divine, and I love it.

** Biologist Rupert Sheldrake spoke recently at Grace Cathedral of the original event of creation of our universe, and said "The Big Bang" is not a very good term for what happened. He referred to it as "the original flaring forth" and said, "Everything is a ramification of the great original flaring forth."