Like a Spiral…Expanding: Perspectives of Joshua Bertetta

I am pleased to present an interview with Joshua Bertetta. He holds a Ph.D. in Mythological Studies with a degree emphasis in depth psychology, is a popular and well respected teacher of Religious Studies and – synchronising perfectly with our current theme of Play as essential –  he is also an aspiring fantasy novelist. When I first came across his wordpress site, I was delighted with the story offerings and it’s value as an educational resource and I wanted to learn more about how he manages to balance family, work and his writing. But there is so much more: there is his process and his unabashed openness to sharing that process. I discovered a character eager to venture beyond the horizon, willing to struggle for each degree of gnosis wherever his muse may lead; a sometimes weary soul on the anvil. Each role he lives is an integral part of his Being and I am grateful for his candid sharing with us of a life he is co-creating and experiencing to the fullest.

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berk1I think hearing that word that one day turned me on to that bliss and I followed it…followed the daimon, the genius, the guiding spirit…when it comes to following that bliss, I don’t question it, I just try to get out of its way and follow it.          – Joshua Bertetta

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 Establishing Foundation:
Was there religious or spiritual influence in your home, growing up? I am of Irish/Italian descent. What does that mean? Catholic. But outside of the name, and being baptized as a baby, my youth and adolescence is characterized by little to no religious/spiritual influence (save my Irish grandmother to pray before I went to bed). My parents divorced when I was five and my dad wanted me to be Confirmed (which seems strange now considering his views on religion), but my mom, raised without religion, said no–she wanted me to figure those things out on my own. I attended a private Catholic high school. My dad graduated from and worked there.

By and large, the greatest influence was no influence. The summer before my sophomore year I had my first beer and it was during that age, 15 or 16, when I began to examine myself. I began to believe I should not exist and began to hate God for my mere existence…Not long thereafter, the booze got harder and I though I don’t remember why or how I ever came up with the idea, I took a razor blade to one of my veins, and cut myself. This was before cutting was introduced to the media and I thought I was the only one in the world who did so. Though I felt I didn’t deserve to be alive and didn’t really feel alive, I wanted to live and watching the blood flow filled that numbness with something beautiful, something ecstatic…perhaps even God-like. Then, in my Senior year of high school, when I started dabbling in marijuana and other psychedelics, that slowly changed and would have profound impact on the development of my religious/spiritual beliefs.

You teach at a private Catholic college, you write that you are not a Muslim and that “Gods are value centers.” How would you describe or name your belief system/religion:   I used to define myself as “spiritual, not religious.” I am sure you have heard the phrase before. Having considered this statement for some time, it seems to me there is an unconscious arrogance, for I think the statement implies a superiority of the spiritual over the religious. Moreover, it is just another dualism which, while it serves it purpose, is just one way of looking at the world–and while it has its benefits, I think dualistic thinking sets up opposition and unnecessary conflict.

So today I consider myself neither spiritual nor religious. Does that mean I don’t believe in anything? No. It does not. I do believe in “God,” though I don’t like the word “God” because it carries so much Western monotheistic weight. If anything, my beliefs about the ultimate, divine truth would, I would say, resembles more of an Eastern bent akin to Hinduism’s Brahman or the Tao and much like the Tao that can be named is not the Tao, I really don’t put much thought into my understanding of my “belief” in “God” because I know that whatever words I use to explain my belief/understanding are inherently limited and as far I am concerned, this thing some people call “God” is beyond our understanding and thus beyond language. So belief is best expressed in action.

You say that there is an unconscious arrogance in one thinking it appropriate or natural to articulate an orientation that feeling-wise, seems spiritual. However, with the media-culture and world news (both quite hyper and invasive for some time now) giving us much of our vocabulary, it seems the closest genuine choice of phrases. The common man usually isn’t being schooled formally on these matters and doesn’t trust religious institutions, so what would be a better descriptor for one’s self?  Yes, I think you are right—that “spiritual” is the term that probably best suits most who are turned off by “religion.” A problem I have with the term is its vagueness. What exactly does that mean? Spiritual? Even “religion” is vague when it comes down to it. The English word “spirituality” is derived, as a matter of fact, from the French spiritualite, in the late 17th century. So we are talking of the Enlightenment period when Protestantism had already made the first moves towards the privatization of religion.

This would set up the later stage of “spirituality” in the 19th century German theological tradition and the arrival of psychology began to locate “spirituality” within the self. So to see the idea of “spiritual” as is commonly applied and used by most modern people is a new invention, though I think that many people think otherwise. This sense of spirituality then underscores the notion of the person as an independent, self-contained, and autonomous agent within the social world. So no wonder, at least in America, with our pride in our individualism, that spirituality is so in vogue.

This then leads me to another issue. Spirituality has become commoditized. Think of untitledyoga—it’s big business in America. The irony is that yogic philosophy as it developed in India over 2000 years ago was critical of the sense of the individual as just described above and yoga was a means of destroying that false sense of self. So whereas 1000s of people in America practice yoga every day and the yoga industry rakes in the cash (the prices can be quite disgusting actually), most probably do not even realize that yoga was meant to destroy the very thing most Americans pride themselves on—their sense of an individual, autonomous self (I wrote a post on this called “Amer-I-can Upanishad: A Social Commentary”).

And I can’t tell you how many commercials I’ve seen which involves a woman—usually thin and attractive—who is practicing yoga or sitting “peacefully” in meditation. “Buy this soap, or this dishwashing detergent, or buy this whatever and you will be as calm and peaceful and centered (and don’t forget as trim and attractive) as this woman here practicing yoga.” After all, soap and dishwashing detergent can be spiritual too.

People today talk about Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad as being great religious/spiritual teachers. I disagree with this. “Religion” is an invention of a modern secular society. What we speak of as “religious” is defined by certain parameters–and those parameters will change depending on who is defining the definition. Such parameters distinguish the “religious” sphere from the non-religious.

Jesus was a Jew. But Jews did not “have” a religion. “Have” implies a separation, for what you can have you can “have not.” I say Jews did not have a religion, because the aspects of their live we moderns may identify as “religious” were not divorced/separated from everyday life. It was life. Life was inextricably wound up with what we moderns may identify as the religious. Acknowledging the risk of universalizing, I would hazard to guess that was the way for all people prior to the invention of modern secular society. What we define as religious they called life.

So if not religious/spiritual teachers, who were Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed? They were teachers who taught people how to live life differently than what the prevailing norms of their time and place dictated.

I see them–and people like them–as people who tried to teach others the values of love, compassion, kindness, generosity, patience, humility and the like. And though I struggle with these daily (some more than others), I try to live my life as best I can in these regards.

Last, but not least, I get back to perspective. If there is anything I “believe” in, it is perspective. It is our perspective that determines our experience of the World. Some people remain stuck in one perspective through much of their lives. And when two perspectivepeople who remain stuck in one perspective approach one another, the “stucked-ness” for lack of a better term is, I think, a primary condition that causes conflict and unnecessary suffering. Changing perspectives does not necessarily mean one’s beliefs are changed, it just means that they can see things in a different way and if one can see something in a different way, the world looks different and when one can “entertain” multiple perspectives, the more ways one sees the world and when one sees the world in multiple ways, diversity and multiplicity are no longer to be feared. Less fear, less tension, less conflict, less suffering.

I see that you have taken the time and care to include maps for your characters’ places in The Story of the Four. I wonder if you have been in a physical location/place/space that, for you, carried great importance or resonance. If so, can you share?  Most of the places I have been to that resonate deeply with me are those places in which I partook of mushrooms. So that means many places that have deep meaning for me and with which I feel a profound connection to. But there are two places that “stand above the rest”: the Berkeley Hills and El Corte de Madera Open Space Reserve on the peninsula.

The Berkeley Hills were somewhere I explored several times a week my first two years of college so much so that I knew virtually all the smaller and much less visible trails like the back of my hand. I knew how to get places most who hiked the main fire trail did not know. It was a place I trekked through. Most of the time alone. I built a hut up there; I slept up there. People “hired” me to take them on their first mushroom trips up there. In the crazy college life, it was the place I felt most at home and most alive, most natural and most like me.

Then there is El Corte de Madera–probably my favorite place on earth and home to the most amazing single natural phenomenon in the entire Bay Area: the sandstone formation. It is in this park that my friends and I spent countless hours tripping, running down hillsides without abandon, pushing ourselves to limits none ever thought existed. And while the park is filled with I don’t know how many miles of trails, the sandstone formation is something the defies words. These pictures show how the main formation has eroded, but there is much more to the formation than just the one large stone. Before the parks department put up their observation deck, there was no barrier between you and the rocks and various little caves down the hillside.
So of all the places I have been, it has been these two places that are most meaningful to me and resonate with me the most because I was exploring them at a time in my life in my late teens, early twenties when the world as I had never known it, opened itself up to me.
 El Cotre
Over the years, can you see clear levels or stages of evolution in your belief system?   My explorations with psychedelics continued into college. Though I did a lot of acid in my last year of high school and beginning of college, I favored mushrooms and while I would occasionally do them in a city environment, I preferred going hiking much more. They were, no doubt, my entrance into the “spiritual” and still some of the greatest experiences of my life.
Then it so happened, in my freshman year at UC Berkeley that I was casually listening to some music and, much like that night listening to Neil Young with my dad, on the day that everything changed, things changed yet again in a way that I would begin to pursue the path that would lead very much to where I am in my life now.

I was in my dorm room, listening to “Wildhoney,” an album by a heavy metal band named “Tiamat.” In one of the songs, I heard the word “psilocybin” and I, being 18, thought to myself, isn’t that what’s in mushrooms? I looked up the word in my dictionary and sure enough it was. Much like I don’t know why listening to Neil that night a year prior was so life-changing, I can’t say for sure, why hearing that one word in that one song was so important, but it was and I, in course, threw myself into exploring the world of psychedelics. I was particularly interested in the indigenous uses of them and, having Jim Morrison as one of my idols, began to explore the world of shamanism. At that time, I was taking a variety of classes across disciplines, many of said classes involving mythology of various cultures–Celtic, Sumero-Babylonian, Viking.

My sophomore year, after the best summer of my life (took a lot of mushrooms with my friends, friends who turned me onto the Black Crowes–still one of my favorite bands), I got a job at a head shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and met a Cherokee medicine man. We spoke briefly and after having introduced himself and what he did, I expressed my interest in shamanism and the like. We would meet later and I would come to work closely with him–helping construct sweat lodges, tend to the fire, etc…

Then he moved to New Mexico and I, having not yet declared a major (I wanted to study Native American religious traditions–but the Native American department had little in ways of classes dedicated to religion and the Religious Studies department had no classes on Native traditions), I came to a crisis moment in my life. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue school or move to New Mexico. The medicine man had given me a deck of “Sacred Path Cards,” which work like Tarot Cards.I pulled out and shuffled the deck, asked “What should I do?” and turned over the top card. It was the Vision Quest card.

I called him, told him about my situation. We made plans: I would go on Vision Question over my 20th birthday. So I did and while I will not go into the particulars of the vision I received, the message was clear: I was to return to school and study myth and ancient wisdom traditions and eventually teach.

joshua bertetta

So I did and found out about the Interdisciplinary Studies major with which I could design and name my own major. I called it “Cross Cultural Studies of Indigenous Myths and Religions.” And thanks to my vision, I knew one day I would go to graduate school. Eventually, after learning my second child was on its way, I did. I attended Pacifica Graduate Institute and earned my Ph.D in Mythological Studies with a degree emphasis in depth psychology.

I knew little of Jung, let alone anything of James Hillmans and others in the depth psychological tradition. Pacifica introduced me to archetypes and such, but more importantly, I think I learned about perspective–seeing thing differently, to which I will speak of more momentarily.

So I graduated, and eventually began to teach where I teach now. Teaching has been equally as influential in my religious/spiritual development and understanding and so to answer your question a little more directly, I cannot name and have a difficult time describing my beliefs for they are ever changing and I might even say I have no “beliefs.”

It’s difficult for me to grasp how someone so articulate, curious and investigative by nature can be satisfied with ”much like i dont know why listening to Neil that night a year prior was so life-changing, I can’t say for sure, why hearing that one word in that one song was so important.” Could it be that you know but it’s beyond words? Is it that your passion seems to drive you outwards rather than inwards, or perhaps is driving you on a meandering journey that will eventually come full circle..?  Articulate! Now there is a word that I normally don’t use to describe myself. I take it as a compliment, so thank you and I can see how such is unsatisfactory. I guess what I mean by that is I can’t give an ultimate answer as to “why.” But I guess when I think about that—the “why?” I am thinking about some goal—like what is my life leading to? So as I sit here, addressing the question, I am reminding myself that I am missing the point. There doesn’t need to be a “why.” It just is. It is, as you say, that journey. Whether or not it will come full circle, I don’t know…And like you say, the passion drives me outwards (to a degree) and maybe that outward movement and that full circle is more like a spiral…expanding.

And yes, to a degree I do know why it is/was important and yes, it is partly beyond words…Maybe I just have not given it too much thought, for hearing that word opened up for me a path that I walked and continue to walk. I trusted it. It has also intrigued me for quite some time now that the name of the band was “Tiamat” from Babylonian mythology. That’s what I do. Myth.

James Hillman wrote and spoke of the daimon—that thing inside you that, in a way, wants to lead your life in a certain direction. The Romans called it “genius.” The daimon/genius is the guiding spirit. Joseph Campbell called it “bliss” as in the oft misunderstood phrase “Follow your bliss.” The Latin genius was related to the verb gigno which meant to “create, produce, to bring into being.” In a way, I think hearing that word that one day turned me on to that bliss and I followed it…followed the daimon, the genius, the guiding spirit. That’s why it’s hard for me to talk about—when it comes to following that bliss, I don’t question it, I just try to get out of its way and follow it.

I see what you mean. Do you still use card decks or other mediums of archetype prompting for discernment/perspective these days?  Once in a while I might break out something like the Sacred Path Cards, or Celtic Animal Oracle, or give a few tosses of the coin and consult the I Ching. Usually when I have to make some sort of a big untitled1decision—which hasn’t happened too much lately.

When I began writing my novel, however, I did consult the I-Ching when I came to a kind of writer’s block, usually when I didn’t know what happened to one of my characters. Each time that happened, I consulted the I-Ching. Whatever it said, that’s where my characters went.

Integrating Passion & Career

Would it be correct to say that your wordpress site – The Story of the Four – is all about your two favourite passions: as a playground for your fiction fantasy writing and as a growing reference space for mythologies, their archetype personas and your interpretations on these matters?   Yes and while I began my blog specifically as a venue to share my fantasy work, I found it has changed and is a perfect place for me to write more along the lines of my career as a teacher. “Publish or perish” is the name of the game in academia. I haven’t published shit. As much as I love to read academic texts, I never saw myself as one to write articles for publishing in an academic journal. Such has been a source of some personal conflict when it comes to what I do and understanding aspects of my self-identity. I finally accepted that I am not a scholar. I am a teacher. (Not to say one can’t be both, but there is, I think, a difference.) I love to teach and I love to teach what I teach. But I also like to write about that which I teach. I have for a long time imagined myself more as an essayist when it comes to “non-fiction” writing. To me, writing short essays, while being “academic/scholarly” somewhat frees me from the scholarly rigmarole of trying to prove your argument. Thus blogging has provided me a perfect avenue by which to do so. I am not necessarily trying to “prove” anything in my writings on myth, religion, and culture: all I want to do is address things that interest me and offer (what I hope) are often alternate perspectives that may challenge commonly accepted norms and/or offer the reader things to reflect upon and maybe even discuss.

And in ‘The Story of the Four’ sections, it appears you may have carefully created these characters from the inside out; would it be accurate to think that there are some strict guiding parametres for each one of them as you set them in their places, times and plots?
Yes, there are. Here was my process in creating my characters.

1) I started with archetypes: King, Warrior, Magician, Lover. While the protagonists are embodiments of each one, the primary male antagonists also embody these archetypes, though reflect the shadow sides. Each of the protagonists’ stories will in future volumes (if I ever get to that point) toe the line between the “light” and “dark” sides of the archetypes.

2) I located each character (in relation to its archetype) in its geography–I gave them their homes.

3) I used the Myers-Briggs Personality Types to further root each character to give them a little guidance, parameters.

4) In researching Taoism, I came across the Chinese theory of the Five Elements. This was huge and while I will not go into the details, the theory of the five elements, which can be applied to personality theory, even further rooted my characters, giving them their obsessions, attractions, spiritual longings, their fears, their desires, etc.

So yes, I have clearly defined who my characters are, what they want, etc. Even down to the diction I use for each character’s story. For instance, Rahim, rooted in the Sufi tradition, is sensual by nature. Jen, rooted in the Confucian, is much more rigid/rational/logical (kind of like Star Trek’s Spock) in his thinking. So in my writing, when Rahim comes across someone who is narrow at the chest, a bit wider at the waist, I will use something like “pear-shaped,” whereas for Jen, if he sees someone of the same body type, I use the term “pyriform” (which means “pear-shaped”). So even in my diction and my narrative style I try to remain true for each character.

You mention The Story of the Four as being ‘precisely not dualistic. At the same time, it is not dualism’s supposed opposite, non-dualism’. Is it difficult to avoid these set mentalities?  Again, I think it comes to a matter of perspective, at least in part. Dualism I think is how we tend to see the world and thereby define it. Thus the categories we use to define and describe are based on a dualistic understanding. Non-dualism, as much as a category of thinking, I think can really only be understood after having an experience of such reality. While somewhat reductionist, I think that is what those in mystic traditions seek. A complete destruction of the sense of dualism is a way of describing the mystic “goal.” That being said, I recognize that my statement is itself a dualism. I don’t think we can get around the dualism/non-dualism thing because it is not a thing we can get around.

I hear students say things like “I can’t wrap my head around it” quite often. I tell them that is because they can’t. No one can. The things they are trying to “wrap their head around” cannot be wrapped around. The very things they are trying to wrap their heads around are better understood, I think, if those very “heads” are destroyed a bit. Then that is an experience. So non-duality is something that can’t be understood from the perspective of a rational, thinking mind.

But in that statement, I also make the claim that my work is holistic. Let me explain. The work functions on multiple levels simultaneously. I think of it as an onion. At the surface, it is an action-adventure coming of age story about four young adults who will find their lives intertwined with the fate of the world. That kind of standard fantasy stuff.

Peel back a layer, and there is the level of political commentary/social criticism. While set in an “alternate world”, the world of the story consists of the entire Eurasian continent is equally rooted in the historical realities of the time (with a little poetic/fantasy license). But what I found in my research of the late 11th century, just before the Crusades, was, in many respects, a mirror to our modern globalizing world. So as much as there is about politics, economics, social and religious issues of the time, I mean to use them as mirrors by which we can reflect on our own world.

Peel back yet another layer, and you get to the psychological/archetypal. Since archetypes are, by definition, universal, the characters, when you strip them of their cultural clothing, are universal. You can find a character like Erosoi, who is Celtic, in any society or a guy like Jen, who is Chinese, in, say, Turkey.

Peel back one more layer and you get to the individual level. James Hillman, “father” of archetypal psychology posits that everyone of us consists of multiple selves, the archetypes. There is no one “self” that we are; we consist of “multiple personalities”. Same could be applied to the five element theory. As much as there is one element that predominates in every individual, the theory states that we are comprised of all the elements. As such, the work as a whole can be understood to reflect certain dynamics of psyche herself.

So while neither dualistic nor non-dualistic, the notion of holism I state is meant to reflect that each of these “levels” is operating through the text simultaneously.

Ok, so a LOT of design and craft has gone into these stories! And I think it shows. I think it’s also pretty likely that we who have read your works will now want to return to re-read them with a greater awareness, a sharper eye – I know I will.   I am glad to hear that because one thing I hope with my work is that those who do read it (and hopefully one day people will be able to read it in its entirety) will re-read it. Some of my favorite movies are my favorites because I see more with each viewing—things I missed the previous time around. So I hope readers would enjoy the book enough to re-read it and begin to make/see the connections.

In Closing

As I reflect on your life story – your myth! -when I see your life, to quote you, ‘as a myth: I can see it has characters (“I” just being one of the many), it has plot, it has conflict, resolution, more conflict, more characters…’, it seems we could say that you spent the first two decades of your life feeling like an unwitting actor in a storyline full of what you perceived as hypocrisy, contradiction, illusion. And you felt confined, trapped. You then launched on another two decade experience of psychic exploration which made it clear that you were in no way confined after all: perspective shift. And to help you – and eventually others – tether these ‘more true’ concepts of Being and Existing, you applied yourself happily to the study of myth and ancient wisdom traditions, along with the commentary of both the indegenous and Western view. And here you are now, on the threshold of your next stage of the journey…wanting to playfully and safely guide others – via new, larger vistas of Being and Existing in your characters and plots – along alternate possible Ego perspectives.   I like that. Yes.

Is there a specific myth- or segment of a particular archetype persona’s storyline; some have so many parables/stories attributed to them – that you feel closely parallels your own life story?   Dionysus without a doubt. In my time sober, I have come to realize quite clearly what I was seeking with my drinking and drug use. images4Dionysus is, in part, the god of intoxication, god of ecstasy. In my drinking I was literalizing the desire for participation in divine life. That is what Dionysus is. He is the dynamic life force which the Greeks knew as zoe. He is the god of dissolution—hence intoxication/drunkenness—that dissolution is when, to quote Dr. Christine Downing, “the god’s presence brings us in touch with who we are when all social constraints are removed, brings those who recognize him as a god into touch with their own potentially creative, transformative instinctual energy.” Dionysus is the obliteration of ego, of the self-other duality, that when the dissolution comes, there is only the god—the divine. I drank what I did, often to the point of blackout (the literalization of the complete dissolution), because I literalized the impulse, the instinctual desire for my own obliteration so that I might have that experience of union with the divine.

Is there a specific myth that is your favourite? If so, why?  I particularly like Norse myth, and if there was another god with which I could address the previous question, I would say Odin. My favorite metal bands are from Sweden and it is through the exposure to “things Swedish” through metal that I became fascinated with Norse myth and particularly Odin…Odin is, in many ways, similar to Dionysus, but whereas Dionysus was a late addition (and in many respects a hesitant one) to the Olympic pantheon, Odin was the king of the gods. That says something about a culture’s appreciation of the experience embodied by both gods. So Odin is the main reason Norse myth attracted me. Second, there is a “largeness” to the mythology it seems to me. Again, hard for me to explain, but the gods of Norse myth seem somehow “bigger” to me. They seem more in your face, more “earthy” if you will whereas by and large the Greek gods, to me, feel a little more aloof.

I also love the Popul Vuh, the Maya story of creation. It is a beautiful and complex story. Outside of the story itself in terms of its “plot,” one of the aspects which I particularly love is the simultaneous “plot lines” that are woven together. A casual reader might not catch it, but what is happening on one level of the narrative, that which deals with the creation of human life, is occurring at the same time as do the events concerning the Hero Twins, and all that their story entails.

Music seems to be a very important medium through which you gain insight or inspiration. Do you listen to music daily? Are you highly particular about what you listen to or have you found being open to anything brings some good surprises?   I  listen to music daily, yes. Lots of different kinds. I don’t really temples albumdiscriminate when it comes to music. My favorite is classic rock—late 60’s. Neil, The Doors, Hendrix, Floyd, the Dead, etc. Love old reggae, particularly say the period when Bob Marley transitions from ska to reggae. Metal. Rap—love Ice Cube, Digable Planets, Tupac…mostly rap that has some sort of social/political message to it. I like music from other countries, particularly qawwali from Pakistan. It is Sufi devotional music. The only music I don’t really get into is country (modern country) and punk. Otherwise, I’ll listen to pretty much anything and I still like finding new bands. Newest bands I have really gotten into are Temples and Jagwar Ma.

Any music to recommend to readers here today?   Temples and Jagwar Ma. Sixteen Horsepower is a damn good band, now broken up, and relatively unknown and the biggest unknown of them all is probably a band called The Cat Mary. CD’s are hard to find. I suggest “Her High Lonesome Days.” I think it can be found on amazon.com from time to time.

And, in closing, could you give your definition of ‘play’ and its degree of importance in life? How do you play, in a genuine sense, and how have you managed (was/is it difficult?) to create time in your life for play?  A professor of mine in grad school is probably the most influential to me in how I think of “play” today. He used the metaphor of a bicycle to describe play. I can’t remember exactly how he put it, but here’s my spin on it. When the gears and chain are too tight, the wheels won’t turn and thus the bike won’t go and if the gears and chain are too loose, well, then, the bike won’t go either. But when they are just right—when there is “play”—the bike works. Not too tight, not too loose…

Which is interesting as I think about it, for one of the names of Dionysus is “the loosener.” He loosens that which is too tight. Of course, with my history of alcoholism, there is that loosening to the point of “not being able to go,” like the bike. I thought that my drinking made things more fun, allowed me to play, as in have fun, but I now consider myself mistaken. Though it is difficult, I seek that “play”—that middle ground. However, I realize now, sadly, that my addictive nature creeps up in ways I never saw before. Such has become clearer as of late and I continue to hurt people.

In terms of a dictionary definition of play—as in engaging in activities that are for fun, recreation, or entertainment, that is hard. I have three boys, so a lot of my playtime in the past 15 years has surrounded them. That involves playing catch, playing video games, playing with toys. One of my kids is six years old now and I play with him every day. I like to teach—teaching, in a way, is like play for me. It’s fun. But like playing with my kids, playtime in the classroom is focused on my students.

When it comes down to it, for me, I don’t know what I like to do for fun. Writing. That’s one. You see, I am an alcoholic, which means I like to drink and though it has been more than two years since my last drink, I still don’t know what it is I like to do for me. I have become the gears and chain that are too tight.

3The good thing is is that I haven’t grown rusty yet and I know that with a simple change in perspective, I can get those gears going again, get riding again. They say you never forget how to ride a bike. I just have to learn to ride that bike differently now. And one thing I love to do is I love to learn. For centuries, if not millennia, learning was, in the Chinese tradition, a means of self-cultivation. As the Classic of History says, “A love of enquiry enriches, but restriction to oneself breeds a narrow mind.” And in regards to where I am now, getting on that bike, learning anew, I take the Tang Dynasty philosopher, poet, and official Liu Yuxi’s words to heart: “Make a habit of unremitting effort; forge a path of daily renewal.”

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Thank you taking the time, for being so honest and transparent, for sharing the wisdom and experience you’ve gleaned with us, Joshua. Even in this forum, your teaching gift is apparent: I feel I have learned a lot and it occurs to me that you have become Dionysus in his higher vibrational form – at least as modern-day astrologers most often interpret this archetype: you have expanded my perspective. 🙂

Joshua Bertetta’s blog site is The Story of the Four  and he has a facebook group dedicated to his work at http://www.facebook.com/storyofthefour

*photo credits: Google Images via Joshua Bertetta/Joshua Bertetta personal collection/Temple promos

 

On Life & Biomimic Design: An Interview with the Architect Veronica J. Anderson

i am pleased to bring you an interview with the architect, Veronica J. Anderson. She shares with us a journey of seeking answers to Life’s basic meanings and purposes: a quest involving the confrontation of pain and disappointment, the will to stay the course of knowing herself intimately through her experiences and the joy of making Biomimicry Design a life-sustaining reality for 21st century cities.

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Establishing Foundation

It’s clear from a visit to your wordpress site that you have a strong spiritual centre from which you live. Could you share the basic evolution of your beliefs/creed? As a child, I was raised Episcopalian and church every Sunday was an obligation. I grew up thoroughly enjoying the parts of that experience that revolved around making connections with other people: singing in the choir, meeting friends during Sunday School and growing up with older role models which my small family didn’t provide me with.

When I was ten or eleven the act of being forced to go to church every Sunday began to seem perfunctory and hypocritical. I don’t exactly recall where the questions came comp_collagehallwayS_905[1] Veronica Andersonfrom but I had a lot of them and my father especially was not pleased by my desire to vocalize certain doubts. Around the age of thirteen I realized that forcing someone to go to church and reprimanding a child for thinking for herself were both very un-Christian acts and so, disillusioned, I started to distance myself from the whole church community. I remained engaged in the church until sixteen at which point I found I just couldn’t fake it anymore. By then I had stopped living with my father and my mother was essentially powerless to force me into attending services. I was finally free to be my own spirit.

A year later I felt compelled to find out what more there was to this whole “religion” thing. I marched down to the public library and came home with twenty books on every religion I could find: Judiasm, Islam, Buddhism, even Rastafarianism. I had tried out the atheist thing for a few days but found that it was impossible to totally deny the existence of the spirit and thus, spirituality. At that point in my life, I was agnostic about the whole situation and this stage in my evolution continued until I found my first book on Buddhism which at the age of seventeen changed my life forever.
I found my yoga practice at nineteen as rehabilitation after a reconstructive surgery on my ankle that did not heal as expected. As a teenager I was suddenly unable to climb stairs and woke up every morning in pain which naturally gave way to a whole host of anger issues that were the gateway to the holistic spiritual healing I’m working with today. I would say that this is the time when I first realized the benefits of naming and identifying the energies moving in the body. Without the ability to name and identify places of stuck-ness and fluidity, one cannot embark on a healing mission; mine began with my ankle and expanded very quickly to my entire being.

When I was twenty I realized that I was an HSP and began to finally admit to myself how sensitive I really am. After two years of yoga the word “chakra” started to mean something to me and I started to notice a purple light between my eyes when I was relaxing in corpse pose; sometime around the age of twenty one I realized that this was my third eye. Once I had accepted the presence of this non-physical energy as a part of my being, I began to move even deeper into my practice of naming and learning to control the spiritual life force that moves through us all. I’m still evolving into completion and I am conscious of the work I have left to do in this maturation process. We should always bear in mind the fact that spiritual evolution is a never-ending process.

Was there a significant person or persons that influenced your evolution? This narrative has very clear stages of evolution which I’ve only discovered and named this year thanks to Caroline Myss’ book, Anatomy of the Spirit, which walks through the archetypical process of learning to manage our innate human power. When I read that book it shocked me silent to be able to literally draw a timeline of my spiritual awakening. I could see the progression of my life experiences which taught me what it meant to live in the present moment, seek truth, surrender to divine will, live love, manifest my will, relate to others, and feel total oneness with all creation. I could pinpoint specific years in which each of these lessons came to me through the seemingly random events of growing up and saw the time between the lessons exponentially decreasing as I neared spiritual maturity. That visual made the importance of spiritual work so much more real. This is a truly groundbreaking book.
The first book I read from that stack I took from the public library at sixteen that really gave me pause was by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has changed my life and continues to influence my evolution. His writing style is elegant, simple and focused around the idea of Engaged Buddhism in an incredibly profound, non-dogmatic way. I highly recommend Being Peace or any of his books for literally everyone even remotely interested in the subject of peace.

Was there a significant event or series of events that influenced your evolution? No, that would have been much easier, but truthfully it was just a long 17 years of abusive parents and not fitting in with the world around me which forced me onto this path of spiritual evolution. One moment of catastrophe is often easier to heal than a slow, painful one. I did have a traumatic surgery that five years later I am still recovering from. This has been a big catalyst for the advancement of my spiritual evolution which began a long time ago.

How would you describe or name your belief system/religion: I honestly believe that religions only serve as a means to separate people who could otherwise be united. All of the nuanced differences between the various paths to enlightenment seem distracting and I prefer to respect all religions equally, as long as they don’t justify harming sentient beings in any way. I believe what the Buddha taught: don’t believe anything I tell you until you have witnessed it to be true in your own life. I believe what Jesus taught: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I believe what the Hindus teach: there is an invisible life force that flows through our chakras and affects our minds and bodies as much as the physical world does. I create my own religion based on a deep spirituality and reverence for all life in every single moment.

 

Integration of Passion and Career:

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You have mentioned both art and mathematics as early interests and I am thinking that you find it easy to shift from left to right brain thinking. Would this be correct or is it more appropriate to say that it’s more of a merging of the two for you? As a product of American society, it would be something of a miracle if my Left Brain wasn’t stronger than my Right. I do possess the uncommon ability to easily switch back and forth between both in a parallel processing manner versus the more common serial processing. I am constantly switching from abstract, artistic perspectives and structured, mathematical ones. I feel much better when I am able to exercise both types of thinking in a balanced sort of way. Balance is more important than anything in this world.

Art can be rather abstract and subjective while mathematics and architecture suggest firm laws and boundaries – though when the products of all three elicit the word ‘beautiful’, there is a universal understanding that they are coming from the ‘same kind of place’. How have these two interests blended for you and found their synergy in application? The union of physics and art is exactly why I love architecture and exactly what makes well-designed spaces so jaw-dropping. Take for example, a building like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; in this cathedral one can see a perfectly metaphorical synergy of math and art. The objective laws of physics plus the boundaries of necessary building functions coexist harmoniously with the importance of artistic beauty, inspiration, plus the movement of the human spirit. The stunning nature of this building’s spaces comes from the way the art is supported by the math and vice versa. Total perfection comes from a balance of the physical and ephemeral, something we can take heed of in our own lives.

To place more emphasis on the physical world leaves us feeling stressed, empty, and unfulfilled and leads to a life which I equate to the environment of the cheapest and ugliest office building you can find: a place no one wants to be. One needs to bring meaningful interactions into the space of life by means of spiritual endeavors whether it’s through religion or simply intrapersonal connections — anything that activates the spirit will do.

Did your interest translate to natural ability or did you struggle with mastering some facets of these disciplines? The hardest part of the architectural training was the dogmatic and rigid format under which my professors operated. I wasn’t allowed to open into my natural abilities like a flower; I was forced into rectangular cubbies and holes like cement. I think the field of architecture has recently struggled to stay relevant as society becomes less conscious of the beauty of their living environments (art) and more dependent on technology (math). Architects have compensated with equal parts fear and self-importance which takes much inspiration out of the professional world. I’d say navigating that energy has been the hardest thing to master.

Do you continue to practice a medium of art (apart from your career work) for the pure enjoyment of it? I started my blog to document my 365 Day Creativity Challenge which is the perfect answer to this question. I started to feel a bit dried up after finishing architecture school and needed to push myself to keep creating.

The act of creating arts and crafts is a beautiful metaphor for our intrinsic ability as conscious beings to create our lives. Art is everywhere and in everything in my life because I believe beauty is one of the things that gives life meaning. I try to do everything with artistic flare but in terms of the visual arts, my creativity is presently finding its way out through drawing, crochet and graphic design (a mix of sketching, photography, Photoshop, and collage).

Are there basic criteria that must be met for you to consider a project? Everything man creates should strive to be as beautiful as the natural resources it uses and replaces. I would never consider a project that is damaging or disrespectful to Mother Earth. I am constantly aware of the impact that the chosen site, construction processes and building materials will have on the present ecosystem and the entire planet as a whole. I see myself and all humans, present and future, as part of one giant living being and would never do anything to cause harm.

My projects are an extension of myself, they are the way I am able to make this world a better place and I take great care to make sure that they are 100% sustainable meaning their execution in no way is detrimental to the ability of current and future generations to survive. This is a highly complex thing to achieve that operates almost entirely outside of the capitalistic system in place now but I have always been one to do things unconventionally.

My projects work in tandem with the local resources of the site to strengthen the local ecosystem by making it more complex. Building materials and energy sources are obvious resources but a less obvious one is the human community. It is essential to involve the users of buildings and public spaces in the design of what they will eventually give life to. I am especially interested in urban planning because of my desire to create healthy and resilient networks of people, spaces, and places in the face of an undeniably changing climate which few cities are prepared for.

When you take on a new architectural project, what is your process? I am an architect because I am in love with Mother Earth; designing healthy cities and buildings in which humans can thrive is the most satisfying way I know to serve and protect Earth and her children, my work is how I give thanks for the gift of life.

So, Nature is always my model for any design. This planet and its processes have evolved over billions of years of scientific self-testing and modification and all of the answers to our questions have already been discovered. It is merely our job to interpret them from the world around us. Biomimicry is an emerging field dedicated to exactly this purpose and has given way to some real game changers. It has been said that if the 20th was the century of technology, the 21st is the century of biology.

When Nature designs, she takes into consideration the location of the site and what resources are locally available; she finds the most efficient use of space and materials to achieve the desired function and does so with grace and style while avoiding waste that cannot be reused. I don’t believe in waste of materials, energy, or space and so the design process happens through a flow of iterations which repeatedly seek to find and eliminate inefficiencies.

sagradafamilia by Veronica Anderson 2012

Every project is different but it always starts with the same thing: site analysis. It is essential to identify the local patterns into which the project must be integrated and the local resources which can be exploited in order to achieve that. This foundation is applicable at every scale, whether it’s a design for an entire urban plan, or one small bench.

As an example, take my Urban Climate Catalyst designed for Lima, Peru in 2013. Knowing that the urban population on Planet Earth is the most rapidly growing demographic and that the two billion new inhabitants Earth will see are predicted to all reside in developing cities of the third world, I decided that increasing the resilience and health of the human race had to begin in developing cities. I looked to Latin America, the continent with the next highest rate of urbanization after North America and found a study that deemed Lima the “Least Sustainable City in Latin America.” My goal was to design architecture that increased the social, economic, and ecological resiliency of the people living in Lima as a precedent for future urbanization happening in this agglomeration of developing countries.

When I arrived in Lima I already knew that the city could not survive more than one year of drought due to polluted rivers and melting glaciers and appreciated the danger the world’s second largest desert city was facing, therefore the issue of water came to the fore. Since water is one of the most basic necessities for human life, I chose to address the issue of the four million inhabitants living in Lima’s slums without connection to the city’s water grid.

I designed four buildings, three of which allowed the members of a 300-person shanty town in Lima’s oldest informal settlement to recycle the water they bought from private suppliers to wash dishes, take showers, and do laundry. The fourth building exploited the communal nature of these activities and provided space for adult education, after-school activities, and other emergent economic enterprises.

Based on an analysis of the site at the very beginning I was able to utilize resources like knowledge of local building techniques which cut costs considerably, gravity to power the water filtration, solar power, and community networks to ensure usage of the facilities. The center of the architectural intervention is the communal resource of water which is filtrated through constructed wetlands, a collection of plants and soil that naturally eliminates toxins from water, making it reusable in a biomimetic way for non-potable uses. If you want to learn more about this innovative low-tech architecture, you can find tons of info on my website at cargocollective.com/veronicaanderson.

Must there be a meeting of the minds between your employer and yourself as to the use of the space or are you happy to adapt to requirements? The idea of prioritizing natural, efficient design is pretty much non-negotiable for me. I also hold the resources of the community in the highest regard and would never work with a client that sought to marginalize or weaken a population. Humanitarian work is my priority and I also feel strongly that architects should work with the people, not just for them.

That said, one of the things I thrive on is adapting to specific regulations and requirements. I have always thrived on problem solving and appreciate the challenge of designing with and for a client because exercises in flexibility are always an opportunity to grow. I am attracted to the idea of private residential commissions because of the appeal of working to satisfy the particular needs of one or two people. This is the same reason I am attracted to urban planning; this scale offers the chance to affect more lives in one design gesture but at a lesser degree.

It is considered the ultimate good fortune to be able to make a living doing something you are passionate about. The majority of people would say that this just isn’t possible. While this can be valid and not an excuse in these days and times, it is equally important that people understand that 99% of those who work their passion would say that it is not simply as though they walk a golden path, and that there have been/are huge sacrifices and adjustments made. Visitors to a happy, upbeat, positive site such as yours might come away with the impression that they could never arrive in a similar place, personally. What would you say to them?Fake it ’til you make it! Some days I don’t feel positive until I force myself to feel grateful for who and where I am and trust me, that gratitude has not always come easily. I think the only thing that I possess which is extraordinary is I am not afraid of hard work. I’ve struggled to survive in one sense or another for my entire life and, quite frankly, I would say I don’t know where the happiness and positivity come from but I actually consciously manufacture them to some degree every day. I am still young. I know one day the manifestation of those things will become effortless but today, they’re not, and that’s okay because the effect is the same. “Joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good thing really are.” Marianne Williamson said that and it speaks directly to the power of our own minds.

I spent enough years feeling like a victim of my circumstances in an abusive home and eventually I got to the point where I knew so much about what I didn’t want that all I had left to do was to create what I did want. So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve never been given any breaks in my life and perhaps that’s what taught me not to be afraid to work hard. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have to work for my dreams and so, I just always have.

If you’ve been blessed with a life full of support and opportunity, the first thing to do is feel gratitude and if you haven’t, be grateful for the other blessings, lessons and strength you’ve been given. Gratitude moves you from the passive into the active. From the place of the active, you begin to see that your attitude defines literally everything about your life and circumstances and that is the place from which magic happens. When a person realizes her innate ability to manifest positivity in her mind, the universe can’t help but respond to that with equally positive circumstances and interactions, that’s the Universal Law of Attraction in action. I welcome doubters to try it before they deny it. They say it takes thirty days to form a habit. Try forming a habit of gratitude and if your path doesn’t look more golden at the end of those thirty days, you can call me fortunate.

Remember that Aristotle said, “Excellence is a golden mean: A habit of good deeds and an art of balance. Between cowardice and rashness lies courage. Between sloth and greed lies ambition. Create your destiny by becoming what you repeatedly do. The path to happiness is already within you.”

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Thank you, Veronica, for sharing so much and so freely –  and  for the encouragement!

Readers, please let us know what ‘works’ for you, what gives you purpose and drive; and what are you grateful for?   – weaver

*all photo credits: Veronica J. Anderson

 

The Norse Creation Myth

Another guest post to expand your imagination and appreciation of how universal archetypes have fired the human mind in all places and times – and inspired survival and the will to prosper. As you imagine the characters and settings, can you see correlations between your own cultural ‘belief origins’ story and those presented here?

**Note: for further fascinating reading on Norse beliefs and their subsequent influence before and during the 1st century, see the link in the comments below.

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Odin, from Old Norse Óðinn, is the Allfather of the Norse gods and the ruler of Asgard. (Illustration: Victor Villalobos, Wikimedia Commons)

Odin, from Old Norse Óðinn, is the Allfather of the Norse gods and the ruler of Asgard. (Illustration: Victor Villalobos, Wikimedia Commons)

A Guest Post by Thor Lanesskog

In the Middle Ages, including the Viking Age (c. 800 – c. 1100 AD), Scandinavians followed Norse religion, and according to the creation myth, there was nothing in the beginning. The only thing that filled the universe was Cold and Heat.
On one side, to the north, was Nivlheim, with frost and fog. On the other side, in the south, was Muspelheim, a sea of ​​raging flames guarded by Surt. Between them there was nothing, except for a huge abyss, Ginnungagap. Here, in this vast nothingness – between light and darkness – all life was created, in the meeting between ice and fire. Slowly, the ice started to melt – and shaped by the cold, but awakened by the heat, a strange creature arose – a huge troll. The troll was a hermaphrodite, and its name was Yme.
Where the ice melted, the drops formed another creature – a giant cow; Audhumbla. The milk flowed like rivers from her big teats, and this is how Yme found food. Audhumbla immediately began to lick the salty, frosty stones that lay all around her and the giant. Up from one of the stones the cow suddenly licked some long hair, and the next day a head and a face appeared. The third day the cow finally managed to lick off the entire body. It was a man, big and beautiful. Bure was his name – and from him descends the gods, the ones we know as Aesirs.
The giant Yme got children with himself. While he was asleep, he began to sweat, and suddenly, out from the left armpit grew a male and a female being. Yme’s legs mated and bore a son with six heads; Thrudgelmir, father of Bergelme. This is the start of the frost giants; Jotner – a mythological race that lives in Jotunheimen, one of the nine worlds of Norse cosmology.
The different creatures mated and got children. Odin is the son of the Jotner Bestla and Bure’s son Bor. It became increasingly more frost giants, and they only created disorder and chaos. One day, Odin and his brothers Vilje and Ve made an uprising against Yme and his family. The fierce battle was won by Odin and his brothers. They killed the giant and a tidal wave of blood washed over the Aesirs’ enemies and drowned them all, except the Jotner Bergelme and his wife. From this Jotner pair, who fled into the mist and hid, derives all subsequent generations of frost giants. Also Audhumla – the first cow – must have been washed over the edge, because after this carnage no one has seen or heard anything about her.
The Aesirs dragged the dead Yme to the midst of the Ginnungagap and placed him as a lid over the abyss. His blood was transformed to sea, and his meat to land. The bones became mountains and cliffs. The teeth and shattered bone fragments became stones and scree, while his hair trees and grass. The gods threw his brain mass high up in the air, and clouds were created. The skull was used as a firmament. The gods caught sparks from Muspelheim and attached them to the skull so we got sun, moon and stars.

Small worms crawled out of Yme’s corpse. These were the origins of the dwarfs who lived in underground caves and grottoes. The Aesirs chose four of them to support the firmament and to guard the four corners. These dwarfs are named Østre (Eastern), Vestre (Western), Nordre (Northern) and Søndre (Southern).

Still Honoring Thor
Thor (Scandinavian languages; Tor, Old Norse; Þórr) is one of the most important gods in Norse mythology. He is Odin’s eldest son and his mother is the personified earth, Fjörgyn. Thor ruled the weather, particularly thunderstorms, and it was said that both thunder and lightning were created while he rode in a chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstrkjerra, while he struck with his hammer, Mjölnir. He was also the god of harvest and war. Thursday (“Thor’s day”), and many Scandinavian places and persons are named after him.
According to Scandinavian folklore, Thursday was a day when hidden powers were especially close to the human world. Many kind of work could not be done on Thursday, for example spinning. On Thursdays, people could get in touch with the supernatural and thus increase human powers.
To this day we still honor Thor with a weekday, which shows that Norse mythology is an important part of the western world’s cultural heritage.

Thor Lanesskog is the editor of ThorNews where you can read more about Norwegian and Scandinavian culture.

Sources: Hoftun 2002; Hoftun 2004

Many thanks for sharing, Thor! 

Readers, please note that along with current news on food, sports, travel and cultural happenings, there is also much more content on the Vikings in this subsection of the fascinating ThorNews site.  – weaver