I've been reading a book that my husband found at a second hand store, called The Cry for Myth, by the 20th century existential psychologist, Rollo May. There are a number of chapters dedicated to the cancerous growth of narcissism through the 20th century, and reading it feels like a good wake up call. It also sort of "nails" exactly where we are right now in history, in terms of a dying age, whose sacred calves are so tied up in what has been seen as "universal truth", that the death of this age feels like the end of the world, for many. May's chapter on The Great Gatsby and the flashing green light across the water, as Gatsby displays "the tragedy of success", also points to a now aged ideal of the head honcho, the king pin, with the yacht, who every woman wishes they were with, and every man wishes they could be. In this light, we are living in almost absurdly mythic times, where we have the aged, disintegrated king, the tyrant, sitting on the throne, and all the main subjects are those who lived their glory days in the era that sold the lie that every man gets to be a millionaire. We see it acutely in the current honcho, who mirrors to all of us in the West, our appetite for the pursuit of acquisition, although not necessarily valuing the prize once it has been won.
Thomas Merton had a pretty major grasp on the increasing individualism, pathology and acute narcissism that was building in the West, in the 1960's. He was interesting because he had a tender and listening ear for those who were crying for change, and he didn't see the path to wellness as "don't listen to these new fangled beatniks, everything must remain as it is". In fact, in a talk that he gives to the novices he takes a slight turn from the subject (he was giving a talk on Sufism), and suggests that "the war in Vietnam is America working out its own neuroses". He had a keen eye for how slavery had morphed into new forms in America, and literal slavery had moved into the developing world, and how wealthier, more educated nations could be guilty of disassociating their own pathologies because they had the privilege of placing them elsewhere as a sort of diversion.
It is no secret that culturally at this point in time, discourse has devolved to the most acute volley of "two wrongs make a right" that we may have ever historically seen. We have taken this pathological diversion to a whole other level, to the point where we are able to create impasses that are so acute, they have the appearance of being impossible to transform out of. And I wonder sometimes, when we sit in our disintegrated state, if we want to move from the impasse. The impasse itself has become like a nice comfy couch to curl up on.
It is tempting to allow for these diversions to reign. In our personal lives, it is tempting to allow ourselves to be sort of internally entertained by our disappointment in others. Or by their disappointment in us. And politically, it is tempting to get high on our own "what aboutism" that keeps us firmly unchanged and certain.
The song for today's Sunday Song & Rumination is The General Dance. To me, this passage is one of Thomas Merton's most cleansing passages. Taken from Merton's book New Seeds of Contemplation, The General Dance was recorded for the album I did with James Finley, called Point Vierge: Thomas Merton's Journey in Song.
Pairing this song with the Rollo May book that I'm reading makes sense, because Merton's passage artfully takes us out of our navel-gazing tendencies, and paints the Big Picture, without sacrificing justice or compassion. It speaks to our pathologies very clearly, without narrowing everything down to a cynical, sadistic outcome. Instead, it widens out, and brings hope... that we don't have to have it all figured out, that we make mistakes and so do others. And even suggests that "our persistence in understanding the meaning of it all" will involve us in "sadness, absurdity and despair".
It is a passage for seekers to seek in a way that welcomes the incarnation of the journey itself.
It is a passage for us die hard codependents to come face to face with letting go.
It is a passage for snapping us out of whatever paralyzing loop we're trapped in.
I love the line "because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance, which is always there. Indeed we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not."
In another song on Point Vierge, (called Strange Islands), Merton says "it was a lucky wind that blew away his halo with his cares, it was a lucky sea that drowned his reputation." This is AA. This is release. This is what James Finley says is, "imagining we're trying to jump over a very high bar, and it's like, athletically, we can't do it... and just as we're exhausted by it, Love steps out and places the bar on the ground. And approaching the bar, bewildered by the simplicity of the task, we trip over it, and fall into God's arms."
When I dance to this song, I can hear our own cry for myth. I can hear the story being told, which is: us... joining in, with all that is and ever was or will be, dancing, out of ex nihilo!
God, in your "suffering with" mercy. Help us not to fear Love's bar being placed on the ground. Help us not to place the bar so high for others, that they have no choice but to disappoint. May your love flow freely inside of us, that it might be embodied, and that it might liberate our Internal Rhythm... that we may "throw our awful solemnity to the wind and join in the general dance".
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.