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After telling us that the media have been too soft on Barack Obama, the pundits now want us to believe that two words — “bitter” and “cling”–are major gaffes that may sink his campaign. Is this really credible? Presidential campaigns follow a familiar arc. After a long winter’s nap, public interest wakes up for the first primaries of the season. Once a candidate has been picked, everyone takes the summer off, and attention isn’t paid again until a month or so before the November elections.
Watching the troubles of the economy, some observers don’t want a bailout for either Wall St. or stressed homeowners who find themselves in over their heads. The phrase “moral hazard” is being tossed around as shorthand for “You took the risk, now take your lumps.” It would seem that the ground is littered with moral hazards. The reckless borrowing by huge investment banks on a margin of 30 to 1 may turn out to be the greatest moral hazard since the Great Depression. Even the massive rise in gas prices with no end in sight is connected with reckless risk-taking by the Bush administration as they plunged into the maelstrom of the Middle East.
It feels discomfiting and eerie to have plunged so deeply into the realm of the shadow, which is what happened last week. In mythic and psychological terms, the “shadow” is a place of darkness in each of us — and in society as a whole — where we hide feelings we are too weak or afraid to face. The news this week was almost a catalog of the shadow’s contents: sexual humiliation for Eliot Spitzer, panic and financial ruin for Bear Stearns, dread of death in the Atlanta tornado and the crane collapse in midtown New York City. Beneath the surface of each event, unconscious turmoil magnifies their meaning. They are shared events, and thanks to the mass media, they are felt in ever widening circles. Whole parts of the world, like China and the Middle East, feel ominous.
A month ago millions of people were discovering the allure of Barack Obama's charisma, and it made for a heady change in politics as usual. Caught on the wrong side of the charisma gap, Hillary Clinton applied the only remedy she knew -- more politics as usual -- and it seemed to work. Her wins in Texas and Ohio shifted the emphasis to toughness. The notorious "3 A.M. telephone call" ad gave voters second thoughts. Among those voters who made up their minds in the last day or two before the primary, a solid majority went for Clinton. Fear, deception, and innuendo have their uses, as we know all too well.
There has been much decrying in the anti-war movement of deception and disinformation, accusing the Bush administration of using both tactics to fool the American people into the invasion of Iraq. Little has been said about the shallowness of political debate that allowed the public to be fooled in the first place. On PBS this weekend there was an enlightening interview with Susan Jacoby, author of a new book, “The Age of American Unreason” (Pantheon, 2008), where she makes the point that ignorance underlies the war as much as trickery and deception. In a poll, college and high school-educated respondents were asked to find Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel on a world map.
Searching for the real Jesus has been a growth industry and an obsession for several decades now. We read about “discovering” the tomb of Joseph and Mary the way medieval pilgrims heard that the head of John the Baptist had just surfaced in a French cathedral. The difference is that modern Christians want scientific, historical proof that Jesus walked the earth, and for many believers such proof supports their conviction that the New Testament is literally true in every detail.
August 1, 1991 saw the publication of my book, Perfect Health, a popular guide to Ayurveda that came at the height of my involvement with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although I had been meditating less than a decade in comparison with TM meditators who went back to the Sixties, my association with Maharishi quickly became personal. He felt comfortable around other Indians and had a special regard for trained scientists and physicians. In return I had a deep fascination with enlightenment and the almost supernatural status of gurus. A few days before the book’s publication, I was in Iowa to participate in a meditation course. Maharishi was supposed to address the assembly on speaker phone from India, but the phone call didn’t come through at the appointed time.
Even though I last sat with Maharishi more than ten years ago, he left an indelible impression, as he did on everyone. His extraordinary qualities are known to the world. Without him, it's fair to say, the West would not have learned to meditate.
During the Cold War era a reporter once challenged him by saying, "If anything is possible, as you claim, can you go to the Soviet Union tomorrow with your message?" Without hesitation, Maharishi calmly replied, "I could if I wanted to." Eventually he did want to, and meditation arrived in Moscow several years before the Berlin Wall fell. In his belief that world peace depended entirely on rising consciousness, Maharishi was unshakable.
The current divisive atmosphere makes it appear that each of us must choose sides. In particular, a rash of books equating atheism and science poses the choice between rational materialism and organized religion — God or Einstein, in effect, despite the fact that Einstein himself made room for God in his worldview. But why can’t spirituality be aligned with reason? One doesn’t have to blindly accept religious dogma to believe in the soul. Like any theory that needs proving, the soul is a hypothesis that can be tested. Such testing doesn’t take place in a lab. Each person is a living example of the soul hypothesis, and throughout life we can use our own experience to prove whether the soul is valid and real.
Spirituality for many modern people has become a forced choice. Either one accepts a fixed belief system (organized religion or a New Age alternative), or one rejects belief for some variety of doubt (skepticism or atheism). What this forced choice overlooks is the possibility of progress, which means going beyond any fixed belief. The soul doesn’t have to be a matter of faith or doubt; it could become an experience. Like water, the soul’s nourishment isn’t offered in the abstract. You have to taste it; you have to take it in. To put it bluntly, if you are going to invest in the idea that you have a soul, you need to get a return on your investment.