A breath resounds with ecstatic shouts and cries beyond doubt that the revolution- the revolution, will not be psychologized.
20th March 2023
Transcript of The Revolution Will Not Be Psychologized by The Emerald
A couple months ago, the New York Times released an article called The Problem with Letting Therapy Speak Invade Everything.
It called into question the increasing dominance of psychology vernacular in modern life.
Psychology vernacular, you know what I mean, right?
Like you may have heard words like trauma, narcissism, dissociation, shadow work, process a lot these days.
Everyone's processing all the time, right?
Half of TikTok, one recent meme said, is people announcing their pathologies.
So the Times article raised some important issues questioning the end goal of endless individual processing, and the degree to which we evaluate life, relationships, work, and everything else according to whether it is meeting our individualized psychological needs.
As if, you know, the purpose of life is to get all of our psychological needs met, rather than say, to exist as a strand in a great web within which we have ongoing responsibility to offer back.
Right around the same time, a prominent progressive organizer, Maurice Mitchell, released an article highlighting the transformation of the activist workplace into a theater of endless personal processing.
Basically saying that progressive organizations can't get anything done anymore because they are constantly engaged in an internal war of psychologically driven discourse that centers around words like trauma and harm.
Let's stop everything and process again.
And then came Nigerian writer, author, philosopher, trickster, Bayo Okomolafe, who spoke about the urgency he felt to de-center Western psychology.
Quote, I have felt the need to say more about the colonial dynamics at work within the discipline of psychology, how it manufactures its object of analysis, how it is value-laden and culturally composed instead of being, as is often presumed, an epistemologically superior glimpse of the true nature of the psyche.
So why this sudden urgency?
Why this urgency to de-center Western psychology?
I mean, surely we all benefit from an increased emphasis on mental health.
Surely a system that has encouraged individuals to share feelings and bring old traumas to light, to speak repressed truths is a welcome change from the alternative in which everything is buried and never allowed to breathe.
And of course it is.
Therapy can be amazing.
Individual therapy helps thousands upon thousands of people in the modern world.
I grew up among therapists.
I know and love many people in the psychology profession.
I've personally benefited from therapy.
I would probably never encourage anyone to not get therapy.
Please, go to therapy.
I mean, really, get your ass to therapy.
I also know very well that there can be value in Western psychiatry's identification and treatment of what are sometimes called mental disorders.
I have friends whose diagnoses of ADD or neurodivergence have helped them define something that for years remained frustratingly elusive.
I know that in extreme cases mental health help can be a person's only refuge, and modern psychiatric medicine helps a whole lot of people who otherwise would have no recourse.
I also know that modalities are changing and evolving.
Depth psychology goes deep.
Group models, constellational models, relational models, all of these are increasingly common.
There's a co-mingling of therapeutic modalities with what's called spiritual modalities.
Ritual models are now emerging.
There's a whole lot of profound work happening.
So this episode isn't a send-up of all things psychology.
Instead, it's a dive into how psychology vernacular has come to dominate culture, and the consequences on individuals and systems when we evaluate societal issues and personal issues solely through a psychology model.
It's a provocation, an invitation, an invitation to blow open and expand the discussion around the possible in the psychological sphere, and to ask ourselves what we miss, and slips away when this language becomes the primary language of the human experience.
For psychology, discourse has grown from a simple way to understand and evaluate the forces at play in one's own psyche to be the medium through which much of modern discourse takes place, through which everything is evaluated.
So the purpose of everything in one way or another is assumed to be psychological.
It's all about the individual process.
If there's a value to ritual, it is increasingly articulated as a psychological value.
Ritual in some circles has become synonymous with processing.
The yoga world is increasingly inundated with therapy speak, and the traditional yogic process has become deeply conflated with the psychological process.
Consciousness has been psychologized to the point that psychologists who long rejected the centrality of altered states of consciousness are now somehow arbiters of what states are safe and what aren't.
Traditional plant medicines are on the verge of a global psychologization.
Psychology vernacular has been adopted en masse and also weaponized en masse, so that simple disagreements in viewpoint or worldview are now called out as psychological pathologies.
You know, you don't agree with me, so you must be a narcissist.
Societal ills are psychologically evaluated and activist movements have abandoned the spiritual vocabulary of Martin Luther King and Gandhi and the Dalai Lama in favor of psychology vernacular.
Movements are now less about walking hand in hand to promise lands and much more about outing narcissists and addressing collective traumas.
And you can say, well, it's just another language, right?
Just another prism, just another way of seeing the world.
It's just as good as any other.
And sure, I've benefited greatly from psychology terminology and the understandings of individual process-oriented systems.
But like any vernacular, it has qualities, characteristics, and limitations.
And the issue is that this particular vernacular is increasingly being positioned, both intentionally and unintentionally, as absolute, as the right way to evaluate life, as the only legitimate way to talk about certain things.
This particular vernacular prism is increasingly seeping into every aspect of our lives, encroaching into traditional animisms and spiritualities, encroaching into discourse around consciousness and psychedelics, around ritual, around yoga, around, you know, what it means to be alive.
And what I'm offering here today with a few accompanying drums is that there are consequences to this process of psychologization.
You know, consequences, like an inordinate emphasis on the individual, like pathologization as currency, like an erosion of animacy.
I'm always looking at the way that the animate gets sidelined, often imperceptibly.
And we have to be careful in the hyper-focus on individual process, in the trauma discourse and shadow work, that we don't inadvertently lose connection to a greater animacy, to the breath of life that is beyond us.
So when the third book of the Yoga Sutras is omitted from yoga teacher trainings because the first two books are much more recognizably psychological, and the third one is frighteningly animist, that is a subtle consequence of psychologization.
When countless yoga teachers post psychotherapeutic lingo as if it's traditional yogic wisdom, which happens all the time now, that is psychology vernacular fundamentally changing the scope of how we experience certain things.
When all of the once inextricable animisms and magics of Buddhism get forgotten, and Buddhism is presented as almost indistinguishable from the psychotherapeutic process, that is psychologization.
When all of the associated songs, beings, forces, protocols of a particular Amazonian plant medicine are left aside in favor of the understanding that the core of the process is individually therapeutic, that is a deeply consequential byproduct of psychologization.
And we have to be careful in all this not to lose connection to the breath of life.
The breath of life.
Once upon a time, psychologist James Hillman spoke about anima, the breath of life, the soul of the individual, the soul of the world, as something that had to be rescued by psychologists from theologians.
And at the time he wrote that, given the iron vice that theology held the world in, he may have been right.
But now in this climate in which we've possibly reached the natural limit of the amount of individual processing that any planet can take, in which we are losing traditional perspectives in favor of self-help modalities, in which a particular vernacular is turning public discourse into a massive struggle session, I'm saying that anima, the soul of the world, the breath of life, may have to be rescued all over again.
There are simply some things about this life, ways of seeing and being, that cannot adequately be defined through the vocabulary of modern psychology.
There are textures and depths to the way that traditional systems understand consciousness and relationality with the larger animate world that get lost when seen through the modalities that have arisen out of individualism.
So there is value in preserving, for example, tantric systems of understanding consciousness, or Yoruban systems of understanding consciousness, on their own terms, as opposed to seeking to make them all fit into psychological terms.
There are ritual systems that can only be understood from within.
There are animacies that move through these ritual systems that modern psychology as a science would simply have no conception of and no vocabulary to even begin to elucidate.
Forces that the Yoruban or Afro-Haitian practitioner, for example, understands intimately that psychology vernacular fails to even touch.
So this podcast, as you know, is very concerned with what it means to re-center the animate.
And that means understanding animacy on animacy's terms.
In traditional animist visions, there are forces that cannot be fully understood as individual mental archetypes or even collective archetypes.
Forces of ancestry, of place, of grove, of stream, of season.
Forces of growth and rot, of balance and imbalance.
There are forces that spring to life through song, that leap from head to head in group ritual, that arrive through hot points in diagrams in the center of the circle, that creep up the back of the neck as burnings and itchings, that devour unless fed, that stagnate unless acknowledged over and over and over again.
Forces that want to be honored much more directly than we honor them when we speak of them as archetypes, as brain chemistry, as behavioral patterns, as symbols.
Forces whose intentions can be described in no other way than that they want us on our knees, singing to them, arms raised, crying aloud, crying aloud to the powers of the world.
There are forces that in their ritual context defy modern psychological notions of safety and agency and trauma and dissociation.
In fact, throw them completely to the wind.
Do you hear the call of such forces?
Do you hear the tremble of the revolutionary drum?
There's something I hear, something brewing, a far off sound.
It is the cry, the cry of the devotee, the cry of the mad saint who revels in the divine madness.
It is the cry of the boiling trance.
I hear it.
The stirring of forgotten beings, of neglected forces, with names like Bacchus, with names like Eshu, with names like Grace, with names like outstretched on the ground before you, Mother Power, with names like in awe before the ocean of mystery, with names like weeping at your feet, with names like eternal sacrifice, with names like the devouring jaws of creation, with names like nature, nature, nature, wild in her mysteries, with names like the ocean who owns all of the heads, who cries to us that not all that moves through this body, this head, is mine to own or process, who speaks to a profound porousness to individual bodies and that what we call ourselves is actually an interweaving and within that not all patterns are mine to bear, who whispers directly to individual heads, remember the web, remember the breath of life, the breath of life that sounds across oceans of time and resounds with ecstatic shouts that cry beyond doubt that the revolution, the revolution will not be psychologized.
The revolution, the revolution, the revolution, the revolution will not be psychologized.
The revolution, the revolution, the revolution, the revolution will not be psychologized.
So here's a question to start us off.
What's the goal of the psychological process?
I mean, what's it for?
Well, for a very long time the end goal of the psychological and psychiatric process was considered to be normalcy.
Never mind that no one could ever quite agree about what exactly that was.
Normalcy was the goal.
Normalcy quote can be defined as any behavior or condition which is usual, expected, typical, or conforms to a pre-existing standard.
Which sounds nice and friendly enough, I guess, right?
Let's all be normal.
Let's help those who aren't yet normal.
Except that it hasn't been historically friendly.
It hasn't been friendly to anyone who veered from the narrow definition of normal.
Let's just say that Western psychology and psychiatry have committed brutalities in the quest for normalcy.
Pathologized entire native traditions in their narrow vision of normalcy.
Institutionalized women for being hysterical in the name of normalcy.
Over-medicated in the name of normalcy.
Lobotomized 50,000 people in the United States alone in the name of normalcy.
Demonized anyone who deviates from the norm in the name of normalcy.
Which sounds a whole lot like, you know, what the Puritans did to the witches.
So clear are the historic parallels between the Western psychological pathologization of the abnormal and the Christian persecution of heretics and witches that writer and friend of the pod Sophie Strand has called the DSM, the traditional psychiatric manual for classifying mental disorders, the modern day Malleus Maleficarum, the modern day hammer of the witches.
So historically, the different has been psychologically pathologized.
Deviance from normality is the monster that must be driven out.
And in this Puritan vision in which ugliness and difference is to be rejected and wellness and normalcy are to be embraced, the psychological process for a long time was the process of ridding the individual of abnormality in favor of an elusive wellness.
Of course, in recent decades, psychology has rebounded from the stark black and white definitions of abnormal and normal.
In an insane world, a world on the verge of environmental collapse, what does normal even mean?
It's no measure of health, Krishnamurti famously said, to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
And as part of this rebound, you see what hopefully less emphasis on the goal of normalcy, right?
Gabor Maté just released a book called The Myth of Normal that specifically addresses what it even means to be normal in a sick world.
So what is an individual supposed to do if they're not supposed to be seeking normalcy or an ever elusive wellness?
Just show up, right for the ongoing process.
The emphasis now is on showing up for the process, showing up for a kind of perpetual brokenness.
There's a lot of beautiful discourse celebrating brokenness.
I've written many poems celebrating brokenness, discussed this in many episodes.
But here's a thought to chew on.
What if neither the quest for individual psychological normalcy and wellness or the perpetual celebration of individual brokenness is a complete picture?
It's like we've been given two options, right?
Either you're working towards some elusive individual health wholeness or you're doing shadow work forever, celebrating your own individual muck as some kind of end into itself.
And don't get me wrong, I think shadow work is valuable.
But let's just say that there are traditions, non-psychological traditions, animate traditions that might say, what if you aren't the issue at all?
What if you aren't the issue at all?
What if all of this is way too much emphasis on the individual, the individual as processing unit for all the pain in the world, the individual that must rid themselves of patterns and traumas all by themselves, the individual that is fully responsible for the progression of their own psyche that has to make it on their own, come to resolution on their own, figure it all out on their own, plagued forever by what Tyson Yonca Porta calls the adolescent questions.
What am I doing here?
What is it for?
And left to figure it out on our own.
So the entire context of communal interaction, every single psycho-spiritual support system the individual being unit has historically had, which has mostly involved each individual not being treated as an individual unit at all, each strand in the web is plucked away until the individual is alone in the glaring light of their own consciousness.
Brushed by the weight of the world and then told that everything is up to them to sort out.
It's up to you to figure it all out.
Yes, let's isolate the individual and watch them under a microscope in a fluorescent lit room and then marvel at the fact that they shrivel in those conditions rather than thrive.
So in a world of interconnected systems, many current psychology models put too much weight on the individual.
We have withdrawn to a highly subjectivist form of individualism, says Eva Illouz in the New York Times article, in which everything is about how I feel, what I want, if my needs are being met, and then conversely, the burdens I bear.
The fact I'm not living exactly the life I want.
I haven't lived up to the great standard.
I haven't saved the world from climate change yet.
All of it is about me.
I mean, let's be real here for a minute.
Modern humans, specifically modern middle to upper class humans from the developed West, spend a whole lot of time talking about ourselves.
Those of you who've spent time in indigenous communities, traditions, have you ever heard discussion of the individual process on the level that we do it?
We talk about ourselves constantly.
And let's just say that this is an emphasis on individual process that has never existed in the 350,000 year history of human beings.
And you can say it's necessary in a world which has isolated individuals as the unit at the heart of everything.
It's necessary to have a model in which people treat individualized symptoms individually.
Yeah, you can say that.
To a point.
But there also comes a point where you have to be willing to question that model too.
There comes a point where it might also end up exacerbating the problem, where it reifies self-centered individualism, where it reinforces the vision that the individual is the unit at the center of everything.
I said in the episode on embodiment recently that the transformation of the old gods into archetypes that live within individual heads puts too much pressure on the individual.
So for example, the gods that form the basis of certain modern psychological traditions, the Greek gods, these were never traditionally seen as internal psychological forces.
They were ecological forces, communal forces, external forces.
And so they were traditionally honored how?
Through protocols and practices that get lost when you make the process solely an internal one rather than a process of external alchemy.
Of fire and water and sacrifice.
And here's something to be really clear about.
I'm not in any way saying don't do the inner work.
I'm saying that we have a stunted view of what most effectively gets at the inner work.
Because in fine western individualist tradition, we assume that the work must involve the isolation of the subject.
This is the scientific way, right?
And I'm saying there are a hundred thousand ways of doing the work that are lost to us when we think that the work only happens inside us.
That it's our responsibility.
That we must bear the weight of it.
Perhaps we can turn the microscope off of ourselves just a little bit.
And when we expand the scope of vision we get a glimpse of something much larger.
Circles within circles, hoops within hoops, spheres within spheres.
And we shrug the weight off our shoulders, shrug off those spheres with a sigh and a sound.
And we cry beyond doubt that the revolution, the revolution, the revolution will not be individualized.
The revolution will be familial, polyvagal, not I alone, I and you, and the inexpressible force between us.
The question will be less about what's wrong with me, it will be how can we work to bring whole animate ecosystems into balance.
Of course the health of the individual must be looked at, but so must the whole mandala of systems.
There's a meme about a wilting plant.
You don't diagnose the plant with wilting plant syndrome, right?
You look at the soil, the water, the light, the container, the mandala of systems.
The story is not about one person.
The full evaluation of the health of the individual is the individual in relation to systems.
The human journey is not simply a journey in our heads, a journey that is mostly about brain chemistry, about an internal process.
The primary issue facing individual beings has to do with connection to the web of life, with the wheel of animacy, with the breath of the world, with spirit.
It's not about who am I in relation to my own brain, or even just in relation with other people, it's about who I am in relation to the power of nature itself, in relation to what Joseph Campbell called, thou, you, you.
Within this, the recognition of external forces, forces beyond brain chemistry, is absolutely vital.
Sure, there are therapeutic systems that recognize this, but I want to give these external forces more than tacit acknowledgement.
I want to go into what I mean by rigorous interaction with external animate forces.
I want to go into some of the simple animate protocols that get lost when the journey becomes just about me.
So imagine this.
What if there are certain things at play in our lives and in the world around us that are only addressed, only opened up, only transformed through drumming?
Only drumming, nothing else.
Something so specific as this understanding, for example, in Afro-Brazilian or Haitian traditions, that there are certain rhythms for certain forces that need to be called, certain rhythms for certain communal adjustments that need to be made.
There are rhythms for the seas that wash away the sorrows, rhythms for the winds that move internal and communal stucknesses, rhythms for aggressive forces that need to be given their time and space to burn, need to be honored ritually so they don't play out intercommunally, rhythms for the waterfall that returns us to easeful joy.
Rhythm syncopates the heart-mind of the individual in tune with the pulse of the animate world.
Only drumming will adjust certain patterning.
No amount of talking about it will do.
Certain movements, certain currents, certain shifts can only be initiated through the steps of the dance.
Certain communal patterning does not melt away until three hours into the dance.
There's an alchemy to pounding feet, an alchemy to repetitive sweat.
If I can't dance to it, said Emma Goldman, it's not my revolution.
And that beat of ritual feet reaches back across oceans of time, resounds with ecstatic shouts and cries beyond doubt that the revolution, the revolution, the revolution will be...
You know, the transformation of base matter.
It happens through the friction generated from repetitive synchrony, from sweat.
It happens through enacting over and over the stories of the old gods until tissues start to re-knit, until cells of fascia start to spiral around ancient songs.
Around what are we spiraling?
Around what are we re-knitting?
Around ancient songs?
Or only around ourselves?
The mass enactment of Demeter's grief over the loss of her daughter Persephone required nine full days of fasting.
And you know, it wasn't fasting for your nine day individual wellness challenge.
It was fasting as alchemy, to empty so that the force of the goddess can move through.
It wasn't fasting for me.
It was fasting for thou.
All this for you.
All this, all alchemy, all ritual activity, all of it is about relationality with the breath of life.
You breath of life.
Relationality with spirit.
Relationality with the mystery.
Relationality with specifically that which is not me but of which I am a part.
The alchemy doesn't happen with me in my head alone.
The journey to find harmonic balance is a journey that necessitates interaction with that which lives without as well as within.
Inner work is not so much a thing in the animist world.
There is a fusion of inner and outer.
The outer ritual transforms the inner.
Within sanctified ritual space, the individual is a facet, a conduit, never the culmination.
This is how energy moves between things, through story and offering, through ritualized communal enactment.
I feed you.
I offer water to you.
I offer fire to you.
Over and over again.
What if there are certain things, certain patterns, that may only be dispelled with fire?
To substitute anything other than fire doesn't work.
Scientists have found that there is a certain neurological calm that is only instigated with campfires.
There is an alchemy to getting covered with ash and soot.
There is alchemy to getting buried up to one's neck in red earth.
There is an alchemy to the application of ochre.
Any revolution must involve ashes.
Tinders become cinders.
The revolution will be alchemized with drops of sweat and ceremonial fires.
The revolution will be awake and sensitized.
It will prickle and burn at the nape of the neck.
It will be awake to the four winds, awake to the voices of the forest.
The revolution will be an ancient pulse, a thrum.
Do you hear the revolution thrumming?
The universe reimagining herself as a heartbeat inside of you.
That's the revolution.
That's the revolution.
And that boom is a beat that reaches back across oceans of time.
Across meters and rhymes.
Across creatures and kinds.
Across teachers and minds.
Across seekers and signs.
Across flowering vines.
Across spiraling lines.
A beat that resounds with ecstatic shouts and cries beyond doubt that the revolution, the revolution will be ancestralized.
There are certain things that require negotiations with ancestors.
Not only today I want to talk about my ancestral trauma, but through a contained space in which ancestral forces are called, fed, offered to, honored, appeased, reconciled, invited to sit beside us.
Congolese ancestral negotiations happen through cauldrons.
The meticulous construction of ancestral cauldrons.
Through concoctions of ancestral soil and ash and medicine.
Have you held a pinch of ancestral soil in between your thumb and forefinger and whispered to the ancestors?
Whispered come here.
Have you heard the ancestral voices?
"Why would I want the voices in my head to stop?"
Bayo Okomolafé asks.
It might be a grandmother trying to speak to me.
The revolution will be guided by voices.
By whispers and unseen forces.
The revolution will recognize the ghosts that are hidden in corners.
If the spiritist traditions are to be believed, there are forces that stick in the corners of houses.
Certain energies perhaps can only be dispelled with salt or with ringing bells.
In some animist visions, there are certain entities that will only dissipate with loud cracking noises.
There are certain entities who are fed outside to rid them from the house.
There are entities that like chilies and lime.
There are others that like to be slathered in red clay.
And others that like to be doused in milk.
There is an alchemy to ritually pouring milk.
There is an alchemy to pouring water on stone that can be accomplished through nothing other than pouring water on stone.
There are transformations that can only happen texturally, sonically, repetitively.
Certain things will never shift other than with a great cry to the world.
The great cry of, Oh Mother Power, I offer everything to you.
The revolution will be an offering, a great offering.
The world offers itself to the world.
I sacrifice myself to myself, cries Odin.
This is the revolution, the cycle of offering.
The revolution will be a platter of marigolds and opening of palms, a song offered from the heart, a surrender outwards, northwards, westwards, eastwards, southwards, feast directional horses, thunderous horses, forest mosses, through our pains, our losses, feast.
So in many, many traditions, certain dynamics can only be addressed through deliberate feeding of forces that exist outside oneself.
There are certain things that only begin to move once there is offering.
In traditional animisms, the offering is essential to the transformational shift.
How can there be movement unless there is offering first?
If I show up to therapy and sit down and immediately start talking about myself and what I feel and what I want without any offering first, then how would anything shift?
How would powers move?
Where's the space for them to move?
The sacrifice is first.
Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, eats first.
First is the acknowledgement of the spiraling animate breath around us.
First is the opening of palms to the holy air.
First is, I am nothing without you.
I am nothing without you.
For many traditions, to be a human in balance requires sacrifice, especially in times of exaggerated consumption.
We are taking more than ever we must offer back more than ever.
How do we give back?
Through offering food, through offering fire, through offering song, through offering prayer.
A friend of mine from Santa Clara Pueblo here recently reminded me, remember our prayers.
Remember our prayers in these times.
Remember the breath of life that leaves the lips as an offering prayer.
And with arms upheld and the name of the holy mystery of life on one's lips, maybe there arrives that little thing called grace.
And that grace is a space that opens up wide across oceans of time.
A rain sublime.
The wind in the chimes.
A space that leaves its trace within the whispers of place and speaks aloud in undeniable ways that the revolution.
The revolution is a flood of grace.
Have you felt grace?
It was a movement that happened wholly outside of you.
It was an exhalation from the forest, a downpour from above.
It was a great shedding.
And here was the thing about that moment of grace, the only thing you had to do was make space for it.
And perhaps you didn't even need to do that.
You weren't responsible for it.
It was not your mind that made it.
It was not your process.
It was instead a conspiracy of vast forces.
It was an utterance of the breath of life.
It was, as Paul Tillich said, an all-encompassing acceptance.
That place where all we could do in the face of a hard, hard world is soften even more.
Whatever our vernacular, whatever the prism through which we see the world, it is vitally important that we leave room for grace.
A worldview that doesn't leave room for grace has abandoned the winds and seas and the currents and the tides.
There are traditions that sing for hours and hours and days and days just about grace.
The revolution will come as a cascade of grace, of falling rain, and arms uplifted in devotion that grace arrives at last in rhythmic refrain.
Devotion, have you heard?
There are aspects of the human experience.
There are patterns, there are forces that can only be addressed through devotion.
There are certain downpours that only come when crying aloud for rain.
The revolution is us, cast upon the ground in devotion, in awe before the powers of the world.
The revolution is us, weeping by the side of the river that day, held by the riverbank, washed in the waters of the world, washed clean.
Devotion, the drip of devotion, the nectar of devotion, the flood of devotion, the downpour of devotion, the fire of devotion, the warmth of devotion.
Devotion unlocks certain marrows, precipitates certain tricklings, instigates certain burnings, fires certain primordial kilns, crumbles certain constructs, emits certain ashy residues, allows for certain downpours that nothing else does.
So when the devotional saints cry to the vastness, cry to the great power, make me into a pyre of sandalwood and aloe, light me on fire, reduce me to ashes, rub those ashes all over your great body, and then dance.
This is not a therapeutic request.
This is the devotional cry that says obliterate me altogether.
Obliterate me altogether.
When we gaze out across human history through the lens of devotion, we see the centrality, the essentiality, the primal necessity of devotion to the human organism.
We see multi-thousand year movements that have swept across vast territories of earth.
We find a torrent of songs and poetry and cries from the heart.
We find that the sound of people falling to their knees before the mother of the universe has been the percussive soundtrack of human life, a soundtrack of individual obliteration and absorption into the web of life that reaches back, back, back, across oceans of time, across rhythms and rhymes, across luminous sublimes, like, lover, did you see it?
The sun through the blinds.
It must be daytime.
It must be daytime.
It must be daytime.
Another day in awe of the shine.
Another day in awe of the shine.
And that shine reminds that in precarious times, the revolution, the revolution, the revolution will be bhaktified.
So devotional fervor in these times gets a pretty bad rap, right?
Because in the West now it's mostly associated with conservative right-wing ideological fanaticism.
But mystic devotional fervor has actually been a vital driving force, a necessity for many who feel so deeply, long so fervently, want so wildly to be held to the heart of the world.
Unclothed, raw, skin against skin, real.
There are hearts that will settle for nothing less than for the devotional cry.
For surely there is a place in this world for the mad saint who can do nothing but sing the name of the great power again and again.
Whatever happened to the cry of the mad saint?
The ektara, the one-stringed instrument, leads the baul singer across the torrent, through the great spirals of their lives into the great beyond.
The ektara is the guide.
Once you hear the sound of the ektara, says Sri Parvati Baul, it will take you, take you, you will never be the same again.
Be careful, beloveds.
Follow that call and who knows where it may lead.
Who knows what long winding path through what steep canyons.
That path, the devotional path, is deadly.
Who knows how many hearts lay scattered by the wayside.
But for some it is undeniable.
An undeniable twang that grows, that gnaws, that pulls at us.
You know, the one-stringed instrument that whispers your name, that calls you with the call that sends the gopis fleeing their houses at midnight to join the devotional dance.
The call that sends us flying out of our doors.
The call that asks, which path is yours?
Which path is yours?
Which path is yours?
Pranamandura, yamar, ekul, kul, du, kul, gailu.
And it would be so clear if we weren't so deeply timid around the word devotion.
I have a feeling that there are a hundred thousand closeted devotional singers out there, longing to be set free.
I have a sense of a hundred thousand voices longing to cry out, a hundred thousand tears waiting to be shed.
How many in this culture, this modern world, how many fractured individual minds long to drop to our knees and open our arms to the great mystery and turn the spotlight off of ourselves for just a minute.
Because what we've wanted all along, perhaps, is for this I that bears so much burden, this I that stumbles blindly, that awkwardly seeks its way.
What we've wanted all along is for this I to be in right humming relation with you.
You great world of forces, you winds and directions, you waters and waves.
What the I wants, perhaps, is not to talk about itself for endless hours, to shout what does it all mean forever into the echo chamber of its own cranium, but to be humbled, cast upon the forest floor, sent stumbling in awe before you.
The revolution will be madness within madness, a great clamoring of the ostracized.
Yes, the revolution will be ecstaticized by ecstatics, lunified by lunatics, wept by weepers, sung by seekers.
It will not seem remotely sane.
I'm mad, cries Ramdrasad.
Mirabai by all accounts was mad.
Bamakepa was mad.
The Bengali saints are mad for God.
They wear their madness like a badge.
The Siberian shaman convulses in ecstasy.
The voodoo practitioner shakes for spirit, disassociates flies, jerks about to feel the breath of life, move them.
Boiling energies and wild otherworldly visions populate the devotional histories.
Odin hangs upside down for nine days, gasping for a vision.
Yelopa, the Tibetan yogin, was stark raving mad.
Sadhus cast away their clothes and smear themselves in cemetery ash and cry, Bum Shiva.
Crying to the vastness from the ash heaps of these times.
Crying force of life, force of life from the cremation pit.
Force of life, force of life, force of life.
Do you feel what I mean now about the breath of life?
Do you feel what I mean about the breath of life?
Do you feel what I mean about the breath of life?
The invitation of this life is pranic.
It is, how are we in relation to the breath of life?
Offer those anxious thoughts up.
Offer them out.
They might not even be ours.
For this is about the breath of life.
This journey is about the breath of life.
The breath of life.
About the power, the pulse, the lightning tree of ancestry and ecology.
The journey of what it is to be a breathing being in a world of vast forces.
Supportive forces, devouring forces, and the potion of mouths that need to be fed and are constantly feeding.
Of what it is to be one with this great world and separate at once.
Of what it is to feel trans hairs rise and mist lick the skin.
Of what it is to be born and live and die.
And along the way to root and grow and branch like wind whipped cedars.
Like wounded cedars.
Like glorious cedars.
Like wounded glorious cedars.
Howling with pain.
Dripping with medicinal sap.
Dancing in the spaces where pain and medicine and beauty are not separate things.
Drinking the world into us and expelling it back out with words.
The journey of what it is to strum, to sigh, to sing, to chant, to invoke, to play.
This journey can only be described in terms of breath.
In terms of energy.
In terms of vibrancy.
In terms of spirit.
And that vibrancy, that breath is known, is felt in ritual.
The ritual exists so that we may have direct communion with the pulse of life.
Direct communion with the powers.
Direct communion with the powers.
The revolution will be ritualized.
It will be enacted.
It will be drummed.
It will be chanted.
The revolution will be sung aloud in circles.
It will be burnt as offerings on altars and set adrift and left for the angels of the waters.
The revolution will be ritualized.
Western psychology will describe to no end what it considers to be the value of ritual for the individual.
The value of ecstatic ritual cannot be psychologized or anthropologized from the outside.
There are things that communal ritual gets to that only it can get to.
There are animacies that are only understood within that specific ritual framework.
There are forces that move through ritual space that can only be understood as exactly how they are understood in traditional context.
Things that psychology has no words for at all.
So ritual transcends the limitations of psychology vernacular.
It exists within another sphere entirely, which is the sphere of direct communion with actual powers.
The value of ritual is deeper than a psychological value.
But increasingly the value of ritual is seen as psychological.
And modern reclamations of ritual tend to be rituals of personal process.
Rituals in which the focus is mostly on individuals and their experience of the ritual.
And this is fine.
We need all kinds of expressions of ritual these days.
But check this out.
There is a fundamental difference between I am participating in this ritual to go through my own personal process and I am participating in this ritual to honor Persephone's descent.
I am participating in this ritual as part of my journey towards wellness versus I am feeding the devouring goddess because the devouring goddess needs to be fed.
I am doing this for me versus I am doing this to reprioritize and connect to the movement and balance of the greater animate world, of which I am only a part.
In a hyper-individualized world, there is value in a festival of the goddess that is just about the goddess.
I recently went to Navaratri, the nine-day goddess festival in India, for the fourth time.
It was all about her.
All nine days it's about feeding her, singing her songs, telling her stories.
This is what re-centering the animate means.
But it's so difficult to convey in this psychologized day and age that it doesn't all have to come back somehow to the individual process.
And that in having it not be about the individual process, there actually may be more room for individual alchemy to occur.
Ritual puts the individual, the communal, the ecological, and the cosmic in humming relation and then enacts alchemic change.
But that change only works when the individual turns it over in some way to the communal and ecological and universal.
This is why traditional ritual is trauma work without ever having to name itself trauma work.
And when you take the individual out of the individual spotlight, another alchemy occurs.
You ensure that whatever individual triumphs, ecstasies, aggrandizements, depressions, weepings, or despairs each person experiences in the ritual live as part of a larger aesthetic being understood within the contextual whole rather than reinforcing either individual specialness or worthlessness.
So the Haitian trans-practitioner, after convulsing on the floor with clenched fists as the force of the loa moved through, would be less likely to say, this is how I felt about what happened, and more likely to say, spirit showed up strong today.
The fact that spirit moved through is the barometer of efficacy.
More important ultimately than if each individual body felt well or heard or held within a cradle of safety.
But here's the paradox, ultimately the individual is held within a safety that is beyond what we call safety in modern psychology terms.
It is the safety of having it not be about us at all.
And if the devotional texts and songs are to be believed, it is the greatest safety there is.
To be perpetually dissolving like offering sugar on the tongue of this lion universe.
And all that matters is that the lion was fed, and that the feeding was sweet.
So the ritual process has been conflated as psychological.
And really the entire spiritual process and psychological process have become conflated.
So if there is a value to spiritual practice these days, it's seen as psychological value.
I'm meditating or chanting this mantra to, you know, become more well adjusted.
To self fulfill, to actualize wellness, to live my best self, to show up for the process, to do the individual work.
Which is all fine and good, but this isn't traditionally what most spiritual systems are actually about.
Let's take the example of yoga.
These days, yogic discourse has basically become psychology discourse.
Yoga teachers on Insta post psychology quotes all the time as if they're ancient yogic teachings.
And here's the thing, yoga and the modern Western psychological process are actually pretty different.
For example, traditional yoga doesn't really want you to dive into the content of your thoughts and own them as inseparable parts of your identity.
There are aspects of the yogic journey that run directly contrary to what we would call modern psychological processing.
Mostly in terms of yoga's attitude towards the individual self.
Are both important?
Are both valuable?
Can therapeutic experience be spiritual and spiritual experience therapeutic?
Of course, there's no dividing line between what an individual might experience in a therapy session versus on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion.
But dividing lines also become necessary in order to preserve the value of traditional systems.
When everyone starts to believe, for example, that the goal of yoga is individual wellness or personal process, then it can be important to say, this isn't exactly what traditional yoga was about.
And the issues arise when psychology tries to have the final word.
Tries to define spiritual experiences as ultimately psychological because that's the only language it knows.
You know, tries to appoint itself as the expert in the room.
And when it steps into the realm of mystic experience and altered consciousness and tries to arbitrate, modern Western psychology has very little idea what it's doing.
What do I mean?
Well, let's take a big example.
The big example where all this comes to a head.
The psychologization of traditional plant medicines.
And this is a tricky one because I'm ultimately in favor of psychedelics being used to treat PTSD and treatment resistant depression and this kind of thing.
I think it's good that psychedelics are going to be more widespread.
I just also happen to think that the psychology world has no idea what it's getting itself into.
Psychedelics are magnifiers.
You know this, I'm sure.
Everything is magnified.
Little moments are blown up into something big.
That one story, that one thought, that one spoon becomes the whole universe.
Have you ever seen that spoon?
That spoon is f***ing huge, man.
There are like whole worlds in that spoon.
Anyway, this magnification means that in traditional contexts, when done ritually and communally, psychedelics can magnify communal fields, enhance communal bonds, enhance ability to perceive forces that are known to the entire community and interacted with ritually.
Psychedelics magnify relationships with ecologies, with particular beings, plant beings and animal beings and luminous beings and oceanic beings, beings sung to and named.
They magnify a person's sensitivities to animate forces, both benevolent and not so benevolent.
What happens when you turn that magnification entirely on one's own individual thought process?
And all the forces that one encounters are said to be inside one's own head.
And if not inside one's own head, then dealt with inside one's own head.
And the therapist's role is to facilitate the person going deeper and deeper into their own heads and to perceive everything as their own story.
How does this not magnify already existing problems of hyper-individualism?
How does this not turn up the pressure on the individual psyche even more?
How do you avoid, I went into psychedelic rapture and encountered the supreme importance of my own process again?
And again, this is intricate.
Like I said, I'm in favor of more widespread psychedelic use.
I'm just posing some difficult questions here.
What happens when something that in animistic psychedelic ritual would be seen as a not so benevolent force passes through a psychedelic therapy session?
And instead of knowing what counteracting force is to call, the assumption is that this is an inextricable part of someone's psyche.
This is them.
This trauma is them.
That this must be part of their story rather than a confluence, an arising of factors and forces.
This intense force must be owned, must be part of the individual psyche because, you know, there's no such thing as external forces.
And rather than simply clearing that intense force and moving on, a magnifying glass is turned on the person's own head and once again we find a way to say, it's all you.
It's all your responsibility.
So the everything is in my head worldview results on the one hand in inordinate guilt, shame and pressure on the individual.
And on the other hand, everything is in my head leads to I'm the most important thing in the world.
In individual psychedelic therapy sessions, things may arise that the modern psychotherapeutic practitioner simply doesn't even have the vocabulary to recognize.
But people who've had how many experiences of psychedelic journeying, like a few, right?
Suddenly will be the experts on states of consciousness and fields of animacy that they know nothing about?
What will they know about the spirals, tunnels, other world portals, beings that populate the entheogenic realms and how to work with them?
Meanwhile, there are traditions that have built relationships with plant entities over thousands of years.
They can recognize disturbances in the group field, can recognize what needs to be called and what needs to be cleared and they know how to do it.
So I'm concerned that the psychology model is not nearly complete enough to encompass the scope of what people encounter in psychedelic rapture.
Because for a system that considers itself the authorities on consciousness, modern Western psychology actually understands very little about consciousness.
You know, this vibratory field that is inextricably linked to ecosystem.
Inextricably linked to the moon and the sun.
Inextricably linked to the land and the sky.
That like all else, follows the principles of wave dynamics, reflects the pulses and movements around it.
Consciousness flows, it lingers in eddies and pools, it expands, it self-architects.
One moment transparent as sunlight through crystal and the next floundering in a whirlpool of muck.
How can you understand consciousness unless you have sung hours and hours of hymns to consciousness?
Unless you have met one by one each of the hundreds of goddesses that preside over the varying states of consciousness.
Unless you have basked in their luminous gradations.
The tantric traditions recognize tens of thousands of gradations of consciousness.
Each gradation a being, and in this recognize the potency and power and necessity of both the internalization and externalization of consciousness.
The tantric dakinis are both inner and outer forces at once.
The Yoruban orishas, the forces of nature, are described as shards of consciousness.
These traditions, the Afro-Caribbean traditions, the Afro-Brazilian trans traditions, the Spiritist traditions, the Kalahari trans traditions, the Peruvian Shipibo traditions, these traditions exhibit a complete understanding of the spectrum of consciousness.
They have celebrated and steeped in the centrality of altered consciousness for thousands of years.
But in its understanding of consciousness, Western psychology is still in the infant stages.
Even though Carl Jung spoke directly of outside forces, imaginal forces, of the archetypal symbol as a living being, a living presence, there is an unmistakable modern tendency to abstract the animate forces of consciousness and place them only in the individual head.
On the Freudian side, states of altered consciousness were banished altogether, and modern psychology is still reaping the after effects.
Out of altered consciousness, the playing ground of the Siberian shaman and traditional tantrika has been historically pathologized.
Entire traditions that center around what modern psychology would call dissociative trance are pathologized.
Intuition is still to this day pathologized.
The urge towards spirituality, an absolutely fundamental human urge, is still pathologized.
The inclination towards the religious or the spiritual is seen as a flaw or a coping mechanism.
I'm not saying in any way that all psychologists think this.
I'm saying that it is out there in the discourse in a pretty strong way.
Pathologization, a byproduct of psychology's fraught history with that which veers from normal, is at an all-time high.
I mean, have you been on the internet recently?
It's like a full-on carnival funhouse of pathologies.
Perceived pathologies are celebrated, used as currency in one instance, and then vilified in another.
So, like, my own trauma story can become a way of propping myself up, of making myself unassailable.
Yet calling out someone else's trauma can be a way of putting them down.
Trauma discourse becomes a way to absolve oneself of sin and to label others as sinners.
Kind of becomes a little like hierarchical puritanism, doesn't it?
Like, I'm in favor of non-hierarchical communication models, but anyone who doesn't see the socio-politics of the day in the exact same way I do is pathological.
That's a good one.
Or when we psychologically diagnose as a way of making our view seem like the only view, that's the new thing, right?
If I don't like what someone says, then I label what they're doing as dangerous.
We can't simply live in the paradox.
We have to pathologize it and label it as dangerous.
That must be your trauma talking.
That must be narcissism.
We pathologize rather than accept paradox.
And I'm going to say that again, because it's an important one.
We pathologize rather than accept paradox.
Do you remember that scene from White Lotus where Harper just can't stand the thought that the possibly right-wing couple across from her who don't share her socio-political views might actually be happy, so she has to diagnose them?
Yet check this out.
People who see the world differently than I do are just as likely to be happy as I am.
Personal stories are intricate.
Communal stories are intricate.
Personal stories are intricate.
Life is paradox upon paradox.
But it fills us with dread, right?
Like that cultural appropriation might have led to some of the most beautiful music ever made?
It fills us with dread that, say, a Hindu woman in an arranged marriage might appear on Indian matchmaking and say that arranged marriage is really the only way to find love?
She must be oppressed, right?
She must have internalized the patriarchy.
She's certainly not actually happy.
We have to diagnose it.
Because, what's the alternative?
That we live in an infinitely variegated web of life in which we have little to no control over the prevailing winds or prevailing thoughts or prevailing ideologies?
And our viewpoint isn't superior to anyone else's?
And we're not better than anybody?
Now, of course we carve out views and we hold to those views.
Of course, in an age of environmental destruction and systemic racism, we see views that perpetuate injustice as problematic.
But increasingly, the culture of supposed inclusivity is constructing major walls around the acceptable and the unacceptable when it comes to discourse.
And increasingly, those walls are defended with the twin armaments of psychologization and pathologization.
If it's different from how I see the world, then it must be a pathology.
And in this, we see a worldview that is not very different at all from its ancestral puritanism.
Perhaps in times of rupture and ambiguity, of forced cross-pollination, we have to become a lot more familiar with what Bayo Akomalafé calls the gods of the fault lines.
We have to not only nourish the ability to hold paradoxes, but to place paradoxical gods right at the center of our altars.
For the world doesn't fit neatly and tidily into postmodern, postcolonial psychological definitions.
There are native traditions that, when judged through a modern psychological lens, would be considered deeply codependent in their familial and social structures.
There are traditions in which rituals of dissociation form the lifeblood of the community.
There are traditions that harness trauma specifically as a means to instigate the visions that come with dissociation.
And this is seen as a good thing.
There's not a perfect answer for how to be a person in these times.
There's not a fail-safe recipe for individual wellness.
There's not, ultimately, a trauma-free option in this cycle of life.
This cycle of the birth canal.
This cycle of the hunt.
This cycle of the cooking pot and cauldron.
This life is a response to a rupture.
A detour of flower is a response to a rupture, whose seed pods crack open and spark a thousand more ruptures.
Songs emerge in the rupture spaces.
Syncretic traditions blossom in the rupture spaces.
West African orishas possess the hollow bodies of Catholic saints.
Amazonian plant medicines sprout through their eye sockets.
They deliver songs of pain and rupture and joy and renewal.
What do we do in such precarious times?
Do we seek to wall trauma out?
Do we seek to extract it like a tumor?
Do we seek to keep out all that is unsafe, like a great wall to keep out barbarian hordes?
Historically, times of precariousness, times of revolution, times of what is sometimes called apocalypse, are invitations towards rituals in which the prevailing energies are harnessed, not shied away from, utilized in all their broken glory.
At the heart of the only successful slave revolt the Western Hemisphere has ever known was a trance ritual, born of trauma, born of blood and fire.
A quote, dance of violent trembling to explosions of gunpowder.
The petwo voodoo ritual harnessed off-kilter rhythms, sharp sounds, and volatile substances to send participants into states of trance.
Petwo comes alive at night, says Richard Ward.
That was the time when it forged its path in Haitian history, as powerful spirits were called to free the enslaved.
Petwo is and always has been an incendiary rite.
Its true face is illuminated by flames flickering in the darkness.
It is bathed in the blood of its ancestors, proudly bearing its scars.
Nothing about the petwo ritual was safe.
Indigenous Taino warrior relics, Congolese mountain spirits, colonial whips and whistles and Masonic Christian symbols fused in a ritual that was hot, intentionally harnessing precarious forces, conflicting ideologies, and conflicting energies to substantively alter consciousness.
The question wasn't about clearing individual patterns or processing individual emotions.
The overarching question was, what forces need to be called?
What do the times require?
So let's ask.
What do the times require?
What are our rituals in precarious times?
Are they rituals of pathologization that reinforce the other as the enemy?
Or can it last at last?
Can it last they be rituals that embrace precious precarious paradox?
If you wonder why I'm focusing so much attention in this episode on Yoruban traditions, Afro-Haitian traditions, Afro-Brazilian traditions, it's because these traditions occupy a space that is so thoroughly realized in their own treatment of gradations of consciousness and relationality, and simultaneously stand in glaring juxtaposition to current psychological models of safety, agency, trauma, and alterity.
These are traditions in which spirit governs all.
Spirit determines and delineates ritual space.
Spirit determines safety along its own terms, not ours, and its terms, in the convulsion of the trance and the heat of the beat, look nothing like current discussions around psychological safety.
And it's no accident that these are also the traditions that were most likely to be historically psychologically pathologized.
Well, for the obvious reasons.
Because they're African.
Because the rhythms jolt Western minds.
Because the firelight on the faces haunts Western dreams.
Because convulsing bodies speak to a place where we have to let go of individual safety in favor of a much vaster safety.
And to reach that safety has often required being obliterated along the way.
Very little about traditional ritual is safe at all.
We might look at safety as that which doesn't trigger a trauma response.
This is only one vision of safety.
Traditional animus cultures might look at psychology's hyperfocus on the individual as profoundly unsafe, at the fact that there's no sacrificial offering performed as unsafe, at the fact that we don't know how to clear malevolent forces as unsafe.
Safety in these traditions can't be achieved in carving out spaces of vernacular control.
Safety comes through knowing who to feed when, knowing who to call when, comes through the right talismans and adornments, through learning how to dispel thoughts that don't lead anywhere good, through, in the Yoruban traditions, knowing who owns your head, knowing your ori-sha, and cultivating a good long-term relationship with them so that in the ritual circle agency can be turned over altogether at last as we've always longed for it to be.
And within that larger spiritual safety, what another person does or doesn't say doesn't matter very much at all.
The revolution will not be safe at all.
It will be many things, but it will not be safe.
It will breathe hot breath down the back of the neck like an untamed, unwelcome god.
The trance starts with a burning at the nape of the neck.
Something is happening, something beyond control.
Volatility is the very medium of the dance.
In times of precariousness, times of collapse, cultures ritualize access to dangerous spaces instead of attempting to retreat.
For the revolution will not preserve selves or identities or beliefs.
Does the jaguar care what I believe?
Does nature care what I believe?
Does Kali care what I believe?
The revolution will devour us whole, each of us, completely regardless of belief.
In fact, it may come as a surprise in these times of I, Me, and Mine, but the revolution will eat us alive.
The revolution will eat us alive.
Have you heard?
One day nature is going to eat us alive.
One day these bones are going to be worm food.
And a patch of blue forget-me-nots to blossom from my bones there on that high, penitent ridge line.
And possibly blue blossoms to grow from my bones in that brief, glorious alpine summer in which everything is in full flowering, prismatic flowering, and nothing is remotely safe.
In Norse tradition, the apocalypse, the end times, the Ragnarok, arrives specifically because the gods try to extract guarantees of safety from the world.
And when that fails, they pin Trickster underground so that he can't move.
They pin down Loki, immobilize his joints, and if you know myth, you know that trying to immobilize Trickster is probably never a good plan.
We can't wall other opinions out.
We can't wall the different out.
We can't expect everyone to share the same vernacular lens as we do.
Increasingly, discourse seems to want to wall the other out on both sides.
And we need different gods of discourse besides Puritan gods that would see only the demonic in the other.
We need a different aesthetic governing the space of discourse.
We need a fully realized pantheon.
Here's a question.
What gods do we invite close to us with the words that we speak?
What forces do we invoke?
Have we ever considered, for example, that we might have an obligation to the deities that govern aesthetic beauty when we speak words?
How would that change things?
To consider the needs of Aphrodite every time we speak?
The space of modern discourse has become so narrow, a polarized, dichotomized, walled-off fortress of ick.
And we urgently need discourse to expand from this little jail cell to a vibrant capoeira circle or a hip-hop battle.
The hip-hop battle, you know, when people used to be able within a ritually marked circle to be able to air conflict but it was all considered part of the play?
And the aesthetics and the poetics of the play were of the ultimate importance.
It had to be done to the beat.
It had to be done within a flow.
And if it wasn't, then the content of what you said didn't even matter.
And at the end of the day, no one actually meant anyone any harm over it.
And what really mattered was the connection to the underlying aesthetic.
You know what I mean?
You old enough to remember those classic takedowns?
Like when LL Cool J said, or more mythically, or when Cannibus inexplicably decided to pick a fight with LL Cool J with the meekest takedown of all time, saying 99% of your fans wear high heels?
And LL responded with one of the greatest disses ever, 99% of your fans don't exist?
99% of your fans don't exist.
Or this simple diss from the justifiably maligned yet still deeply quotable Kanye West before he lost it completely.
What did Ye say?
He said, I forgot better shit than you ever thought of.
Think of that.
I forgot better shit than you ever thought of.
Remember when takedowns had style?
I mean, really, like how boring is it to tear people down the way people tear each other down these days with psychology terminology?
You're a narcissist, you're dissociative, you're codependent.
So aesthetically boring.
Where's the anima?
Where's the breath of life?
What happened to the aesthetics and play of the hip hop battle?
Like this one from the king of diss, Jay Z.
That's right, sooner or later, Trickster says, I'll take you up on your offer.
Take me down, I'll take you down.
Let's make a game of it.
But somewhere along the line, we lost the game of it.
We lost the aesthetics, the lightness, the play of it.
And these days we have a very unhealthy relationship with the gods of takedowns.
Yes, there are gods of takedowns.
Because takedowns are an inevitable fact of community.
At some point, someone somewhere is going to want to take someone down.
In the Capoeira circle, there are deep protocols to takedowns.
And nothing is more important than the integrity of the circle.
The flow of energy, the alignment to the axé, the breath of life, the prana that moves through the circle.
All of it must be in service to the rhythm, the music, and ultimately all interpersonal conflict must be resolved without breaking the aesthetic of the circle.
In fact, it should enhance it.
The invitation in those takedowns is call and response and conversation and theatrically enacted battle in a way of reinforcing human bonds and bonds with the more than human at once.
Contrast that with people lobbing pathologies at each other on social media.
All life gone.
All aesthetic gone.
All responsibility gone.
All relationality gone.
No sense of, at the end of the day we can work this out and go break bread together and I respect you.
I respect you.
I respect you because ultimately no one's better than anyone else.
So here's the mythological thing.
If you're going to try to be Trickster, if you're going to decide to be the god of takedowns on your own, you better be willing to have the trick played on you too.
If you're willing, if I'm willing, to point out others' flaws but I'm not willing to have my flaws pointed out, then I've quickly drifted from Trickster to fascist dictator or cadre leader and the Capoeira circle quickly becomes a struggle session.
You know what a struggle session is?
When everyone points fingers at someone in the town square and shouts out their flaws publicly.
Sound like the internet?
The aesthetic of communication spaces is something that traditional cultures have a vernacular for, often an unspoken one, that we in the modern world have a very difficult time understanding.
For what does it mean to have a communication aesthetic in which spirit, the animate, sits right at the center?
And what is of utmost importance is not necessarily individual process or opinion.
What does it mean to honor animacy in group conversation, even in heated discussion?
What does it mean to make space for gods of war and tricksters and goddesses of fierce beauty and huntresses and lunar kings?
To make space for expansions and flows, eddies and currents and all varieties of fluid interplay?
It means a focus off of the immediate utilitarian mechanistic needs of me as an individual unit establishing either my perfection or my brokenness towards a much larger vision.
It means the adoption of a whole panoply of animate considerations, which can sound complicated, but it's most easily summarized like this.
We need to make space for poetry.
We need to make space for poetry.
What happened to poetry in discourse?
For the revolution, the revolution will be poeticized.
Please let it be poeticized.
I look at discourse today and I'm like, where is the poetry?
Tired overused vernacular repeated over and over stifles the flow of the poetic, leaves no space for unexpected revolutionary acts, unpreprogrammed ruptures.
All transpires as the paralyzing virus intends.
Digital buzzwords freeze people in their tracks.
Suddenly it is as if we each have to defend against charges rather than co-create space for a larger life force, a larger aesthetic.
I'd like to see a greater commitment to poetic rhapsodic throwdowns to free us from the cinderblock wall of modern discourse, the eastern block architecture of modern discourse, the struggle session of modern discourse.
For when a movement loses its poetry, it is a dire, dire warning.
So I'll just say it outright.
The language of modern activism is losing its poetry.
Historic movements for social change, Martin Luther King and Gandhi's movements for social change had at their core a spiritual vision.
And in any spiritual tradition that I know of, everything always comes back to how am I walking in the world?
How am I living?
What is the role I'm playing in my own resentments?
Everything comes back to the fact that if I point fingers, as the old saying goes, I've got at least one finger pointing back at myself too.
And so I've got a responsibility to reflect the larger vision of the change that I want to see.
I believe that what is loosely called the left these days, the progressive left, needs a deep spiritual renewal.
A deep reintroduction to the breath of life.
There was a spiritual fervor to these historic movements that allowed for anima to awaken and pass through.
A fervor that is very different than the fervor of finger pointing or the fervor of individual takedowns.
A fervor of spirit.
A glimpse of the promised land, which is us in conjunction with the infinite.
A fervor of alignment to something much larger, within which human concerns, as vital as they are, are also small and transitory in the face of a larger movement.
A justice that is aligned not to immediate individualisms, but to long arcs in the cosmos, primal forces.
This is the ritual architecture, not just human bickering at the center.
Life community in alignment with the great wheels of the cosmos.
So I don't hold a whole lot of sway, but I guess I'm inviting, for whatever it's worth, the progressive movement, the activist world, to examine its relationship with spirit.
And if the immediate response is, well, what is that?
Then the answer is, exactly.
What is that?
What is that?
What is that?
What is that mysterious thing that we may have never directly felt, but that is present in the tides of history as it is present in the next breath we take?
What is it?
There are things we must do, Bayo Okomalafé says, sayings we must say, thoughts we must think, that look nothing like the images of success that have so thoroughly possessed our visions of justice.
Whatever our modality, whatever our framework, let's spark an inquiry into the life breath itself.
Into how to make space for it to flow through.
Into how our conversation spaces and our therapeutic sessions and our ritual circles and our strategizing workshops can honor a multiplicity of gods.
Hidden gods we've forgotten.
How can we allow the polyvalent dynamism of nature itself to be present, for the non-human world to ring out?
For it does ring out.
It rings out when we make space for it.
Success from an animate perspective may not look like psychological normalcy, like all traumas cleared, like wellness, nor may it necessarily look like showing up for the endless work.
It may not look like one viewpoint or ideology triumphing for one hot minute over another until another one comes around and wrecks that one.
It may look like an ongoing commitment to presence.
It may look like that time I sang instead of speaking.
That I wept instead of singing.
That I poured coconut milk into the sea.
That I mumbled a name that I'd forgotten.
A viable success metric poet Tom Hirons recently told a group of us is if the fibers of the universe start to hum along.
Does that get you to your next immediately articulated conversation or campaign objectives?
What it does is open up space, eventually, for another world to squeeze through just because we made space for it.
Over the breath of life.
And that breath reaches back across oceans of time.
Across meters and rhymes.
Across creatures and kinds.
Across teachers and minds.
Across seekers and signs.
Across flowering vines.
Across spiraling lines.
A breath that resounds with ecstatic shouts and cries beyond doubt that the revolution, the revolution will not be psychologized.
First of all, much praise and adoration due to the song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, the 1971 song by Gil Scott-Heron off of the album Pieces of a Man.
Obviously it served as the inspiration for this episode and all respect and love to the great spoken word artist and musician Gil Scott-Heron.
And speaking of musicians, an old friend of mine played some guitar on this episode.
His name is Sonny Reinhart.
One of the best guitarists I know and his current band is called Necrot.
You know, easy listening type stuff.
Also special thanks to Bayo Okomolafé.
The conversation that I had with him wove its way into this episode in numerous places and then there is going to be a full episode coming on similar topics that is an interview with Bayo.
And as always, this episode contains reference to many songs, books, movies, etc.
These include the song Petro Voodoo Ceremonie Petro by Roots of Haiti, Ceremonie Petro by Voodoo La Friguenine, the book Mama Lola, A Voodoo Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown, The Spirits and the Law, Voodoo and Power in Haiti by Kate Ramsey, The Problem with Letting Therapy Speak Invade Everything, an article in the New York Times, November 12, 2022 by Tara Isabella Burton, Building Resilient Organizations by Maurice Mitchell and The Forge on November 29, 2022, the DSM-5, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association, and its ancient partner the Malleus Maleficarum, The Hammer of the Witches, Born of Blood and Fire, an incredible book about the Haitian pet will ritual by Richard Ward and Scarlet Imprint Press, the book Divine Horseman by Maya Deren, Voodoo Music in Haiti, an article by Bettino Lara, The Myth of Normal by Gabor Mate, the song Ako-Runo-Shatire by Parvati Baul, and I highly recommend listening to Parvati Baul's music, it's P-A-R-V-A-T-H-Y, and then new word B-A-U-L, the song Ogun Beramar by Kabogla Yaqira, the song Arawa Romiwa and Oshum Omiro, the song Now Beretowa by Carlos Nunez, the song Volto No Mundo Kamara, Zinga Capoeira, volume three, the songs Get Down, Four Three Two One, and The Ripper Strikes Back by LL Cool J, the song Diamonds from Sierra Leone by Kanye West, the song Watch What You Say to Me, T.I. featuring Jay-Z, The White Lotus, the HBO show from Mike White, and of course the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking.
I am rooting for you Aparna.
I don't have much hope, but I am rooting for you.