The tree of knowledge of good and evil

 

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Genesis 2:16-17

Traditional myths tell us something about ourselves, and myths from religion are no different.

In a non-dual context, there is a pretty straightforward way of looking at this.

Before thought, and before taking thought as telling us something that’s fundamentally real and true, there is no knowledge of good and evil. Everything just is.

With thought, and specifically taking thought as telling us truth and reality, there is suddenly knowledge of good and evil. Thoughts tell us what’s good and evil. And what falls into each category depends on our culture, parents, subgroups, and to some extent personal history and preferences.

And that’s how we throw ourselves out from the garden of Eden. Suddenly, we are not innocent anymore. We know what’s good and evil, we judge others by it, and we judge ourselves by it.

Why a tree with fruit? Perhaps because beliefs, including beliefs about good and evil, are a bit like eating something juicy. And these thoughts do grow and branch out just like a tree. We may start with something simple, and from there comes a lot of complexity.

And how do we return to the Garden of Eden and our age of innocence? We cannot return to what was. But we can examine how our mind creates its own experience of good and evil, and there are ways to dismantle it. We can have the same thoughts without so much of a charge on them, and without them appearing to tell us something inherently real about the world. The thoughts can be allowed to be thoughts, and we can relate to them more consciously. We can be more discerning in how we relate to them.

That’s another form of Eden and one that’s a bit more mature.

Myths mirror ourselves, and in this case, they may mirror the shift to believing thoughts, and specifically thoughts about values and good and bad. It threw us out of Eden, but the good news is that we can dismantle the process and find a more mature Eden.

The saint and the beast: when I modeled for a painting

 
Twins with knives, Odd Nerdrum

Back in the 90s, I was a student (aka apprentice) of Odd Nerdrum and also modeled for this painting.

I knew he saw me, but I was also embarrassed to admit it. I was embarrassed by the knives and that aspect of me.

If people asked me what the knives represented, I would innocently say “I don’t know”.

So here it is, all laid out.

This painting is of a saint and a beast.

The face is that of a saint, and I have that side of my personality.

The arms and knives are those of the beast.

What is the saint-beast dynamic? And what is the beast? It can be seen in several ways.

The first is one I don’t like to admit to so much. I have a tendency to people-please and set aside my own needs, and that comes with suppressed anger, feeling like a victim, reactivity and so on. The face is the people-pleasing, and the knife is the suppressed anger. (This also reflects a family and cultural pattern.)

More generally, any identity comes with a shadow side, and if I identify as good and “spiritual”, what in me doesn’t fit goes into darkness. It’s more hidden. Not acknowledged. And I have spent a lot of time exploring and owning – or owning up to – those sides of me, even from before this painting was made.

The beast also mirrors a ruthless side of me. If something is important to me (awakening but sometimes other things), I can be ruthless going after it.

And that’s related to another way to look at the knives. Swords and knives can represent cutting through the bullshit. Going for the truth and reality, even if it’s uncomfortable (see Manjushri). (This is best applied to oneself.)

I think this dynamic in me is also why I resonate with characters like Hellboy (especially as depicted in the del Toro films). He is born a beast (demon) but has a pure heart.

Why the twins? I am not sure. If this image was in a dream of mine, I would wonder if it represents a division or kind of a split. The saint on one side and the knives and beast on the other. Something that’s not (yet) brought into or recognized as part of a whole. That was more true of me then although it’s still part of me. I am still working on it.

And the primal clothing and setting? It’s typical for Nerdrum (and one of the reasons I resonate with and love his art). And the theme is primal too, whatever the theme is. That too is typical for Nerdrum.

Most of the subjects have a mythic or archetypal feel to them, and we can have a sense of it, but the exact meaning is hard to pin down. My sense is that by trying to pin it down, we miss the point and the power of the paintings. They are meant to work on us at a more primal level.

Here are some comments about the painting from Alejita, my partner.

The painting: They are two. Two parts of you. Although the clothes and the hair are of a mystic, the look of him (especially in the man behind) is bestial. And with the knife, he is opening the left side of your body, your heart. One of them covers the heart of the other. One, the one behind is more beastly than the one in the front. However, most beastly is the one who opens the heart. The force with which he is taking the knife is abysmal. And the horizon is at neck height, splitting your body from your head.

And what she wrote after reading this post:

I feel that the two of you are both a beast, both have a knife, both are ready to kill the “things” are not any more “useful”. I don’t see the two characters as a separation, rather they are the complete image of you. It looks like the two coexist with the beast, there is no separation. The double image is more the feminine and masculine together, living with the beast that is not a third party. It is completeness, union.

I resonate with that way of looking at it. The one on “stage right” is more masculine (this is the original) and the one stage-left is more feminine (he copied this based on the first). And both have the saint and beast together. It’s all one – feminine and masculine, saint and beast.

Sincerity on the spiritual path

 

Professor Broom: In medieval stories, there is often a young knight who is inexperienced, but pure of heart.
John Myers: Oh, come on. I am not pure of heart.
Abe Sapien(who’s psychic) Yes, you are.
Professor Broom: Rasputin is back for him. What I’m asking of you is to have the courage to stand by him when I am gone. He was born a demon; we can’t change that. But you will help him, in essence, to become a man.

– from Hellboy (2004), quoted in Wikipedia

One of the most valuable qualities on a healing and spiritual path is sincerity, a pure heart. As Broom says, this is a recurrent theme in some of the traditional legends and perhaps most famously the grail legend (Perceval).

Sincerity allows us to be more honest with ourselves, and that’s essential for emotional healing, awakening, and embodiment.

Is also essential for having a meaningful and juicy relationship with ourselves and others, one that allows for authenticity, growth, and surprises.

If we have some sincerity, it doesn’t matter so much if we are young or inexperienced on the path we are on. Sincerity is gold, and we can always learn tools and we will gain experience.

Is sincerity something we can learn or develop? Perhaps not. But I can notice when I am not sincere and I can then shift into sincerity.

Sometimes, it’s not so easy. We may be caught in fear of a situation or something coming up in us and retreat into defensiveness to try to stay safe. That’s OK. Again, it helps to notice. I can be honest with myself about what happened. And that, in itself, is sincerity.

It also helps to notice what in me takes me away from sincerity. What is the fear about? What is the fearful story? What beliefs do I find? Identifications? And then explore it further, befriend it (find healing for my relationship to it), and perhaps find healing for the issue itself.

As I wrote the second paragraph (“Sincerity allows us….”), I noticed a synchronicity in the lyrics of the song I was listening to:

There are times when a man needs to brave his reflection,
And face what he sees without fear,
It takes a man to accept his mortality,
Or be surprised by the presence of a tear.

– Sting and Rob Mathes, I love her but she loves someone else

Image: The Achievement of the Grail by British Artist Sir Edward Burn-Jones design, William Morris execution and John Henry Dearle flowers and decorations, from the Holy Grail tapestries 1891-94, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham, wool and silk on cotton warp.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

 

Luke: What do you see?

Rey: Light…. darkness….. the balance….?

Luke: It’s so much bigger.

What do these words from the trailer mean?

The following is one of the mainstream interpretation, and although I try to avoid topics that are covered in the mainstream, this one is too good to pass up.

In many spiritual traditions, and in our own ordinary maturing as human beings, we tend to initially split between good and bad, light and darkness. We seek the light and avoid the darkness. That’s the safer approach, initially, until we gain some more experience and reach a certain level of maturity.

And then, we realize we need to outgrow it. We see the pitfalls in splitting life in that way. We realize that we all have both in us, and if we identify with one we have to suppress the other which doesn’t work in the long run. At a social level, we end up demonizing groups, which is not good for any of us.

So we need to find both sides in us. Find a larger whole that already embraces and includes both. Find ways to live with and from both. And in that process, we find some maturity and a different and more real type of kindness. We don’t have to demonize anything in ourselves or others. We recognize ourselves in the whole world, as it is. There is a deeper and more genuine empathy.

Is that why it’s time for the Jedi to end? If the Jedi only know and use the light side, they are out of touch with life and reality. A new approach is needed. And Rey may be one of the first ones to be trained in this new approach.

Embracing both sides we find something so much bigger than either one. So much richer, fuller, more mature, and – if done with some skill – more kind in a real way.

It can also be a dangerous transition. We go from a safer and more immature identification with the good, to getting to know and embracing both sides. We often make mistakes in this transition, and that’s how we learn and mature. That’s how we find the deeper form of kindness that can come from embracing and befriending both.

There is nothing new here. This is part of any relatively mature spiritual tradition, and it’s what we realize growing up – at least most of us. It’s also not new in literature, mythology, or even movies. But if this is the theme of the new Star Wars movie, it’s certainly good that it comes into mainstream culture in this way. It is a message that can be helpful to many, especially younger ones, and especially in the US.

It may not be popular, but I still have to say that the US culture tends to be more obsessed with the good/bad split than many other cultures and has a more immature take on it. Evangelical Christians, and any form of Christian or religious fundamentalism, is an example of that more immature view. Other examples are, unfortunatly, how the US media tends to frame issues, and aspects of US foreign policy.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach although it does create some suffering and is dangerous if taken too far. And it’s also a stepping stone. One of an infinite number of stepping stones. Each one with its own drawbacks that we eventually discover, take to heart, and partially resolve with the next more inclusive approach.

Of course, this may not at all be how these words are explained in the movie. Somehow, I doubt it. I think they’ll take an approach that’s more “horizontal” in terms of maturity. One that doesn’t neccesarily require a step up in maturity.

And the Last Jedi movie poster is awesome. A great take on classic 50s sci-fi art.

Note: When Rey says “light” there is an image of Leia and a rebellion control room (I assume), when she says “darkness” we see Kylo Ren’s charred helmet (I assume), and when she says “the balance?” we see some books perhaps symbolizing wisdom and maturity.

Note II: I see that people talk about “grey Jedi” as a term for those who embrace the larger and more inclusive wholeness of the light and the dark. I don’t like the term since it sounds bland and as if the light and dark blend together. It’s much more about including both, the full spectrum. Maybe “full spectrum Jedi” is more accurate but obviously less catchy.

Note III: As mentioned above, there is an apparently safe simplicity in dividing the world into good and bad, and identifying with the good. It seems safe, and it’s also a bit naive since that’s not how the world works. We all have both in us, and identifying with parts within that split leads to scapegoating, dehumanization, us-them attitudes, and struggles with others and oneself. So eventually we realize we need to include both. We need to find both in ourselves, and learn to befriend both and live with and from both. And in that, there is a deeper and more mature kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others.

The simple dualism is a stepping stone. And the exploration of a more inclusive wholeness is also a series of stepping stones.

There is a slight risk here: the initial exploration of wholeness can be used to justify living from parts of ourselves in an unkind and less wise way. We can tell ourselves that “it’s good to embrace all of me, and that means it’s OK to be mean” or greedy, or hateful, or whatever it may be. I certainly saw that with some of the senior students at K. Zen Center. They used the wholeness principle to justify being jerks.

That too, of course, comes with consequences, and those consequences invite us to find a kinder and more mature path.

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