Shamanism, the Dao, new spirituality, new technology and cultural revolution
Search for
a method

a meta-method...for new science, new philosophy and new directions
The Dao of systems The Cross-current of contradictions Mixing the Ingredients Survey of the main ingredients








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Who am I?
I am Michael Roth, the author of all the material on this site. While training as a medical doctor, I was also an alumnus at the famed AntiUniversity of London (1968-1969), and became involved with the alternative psychiatry movement in that era and later.

I worked and studied with the existential psycho-analyst R.D.Laing, and was a founder-member of the Arbours Association (London), which provides alternative care for persons diagnosed with severe mental illness.

My research path has taken me into spheres of philosophy, social politics, linguistics and anthropology - whilst I have continued to seek out a genuine way of relating to other human beings in the troubled milieux of psychiatry, communal living, and twentieth and twenty-first century social and cultural instability.

I have been consistently inter-disciplinary in all of my reading and exploration, and the personal and philosophical insights to which this has given rise are almost always outside the prevailing classifications - or accepted lists of subjects.

The following authors are they whose work I have been most deeply occupied with, at different times in my life. This has often entailed exploring what the actual world feels like, within the patterns and definitions of life offered by these people. I have also written extensively, and often critically, about many of them.

Philosophy

  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Martin Buber
  • Lao Ze
  • St Matthew
  • St Mark
  • St Luke
  • St John
  • Rudolf Bultmann
  • Paul Ricoeur
  • Richard Rorty
  • Robert Pirsig
  • Donald Davidson
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Benedetto Croce
  • Charles Peirce
  • John Dewey
  • A.N.Whitehead
  • J.H.Randall
  • Justus Buchler
  • Martha Nussbaum

Biology, Physiology, Ethology and Cybernetics

Anthropology

  • Mary Douglas
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Milton Ericson
  • R.D.Laing
  • David Cooper
  • Clifford Geertz
  • Victor Turner

Virtual Reality

  • Jane Austen
  • George Eliot
  • Dorothy Richardson
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Iris Murdoch
  • Joanne Greenberg

Psychology

  • Eugene Gendlin
  • Arnold Mindell
  • M. Scott Peck

I am the foremost exponent of Charlotte M. Bach's ground-breaking theories of emergent evolution, described in my A Bolt From the Bleeding Sky (Dielectric Publications, London, 1984). I continue to work as a psychiatrist and as a researcher into holistic methods of facilitating social change. This encludes facilitation and training sponsored by the organization, Community Building in Britain which continues to develop and disseminate the work of the holistic psychiatrist M. Scott Peck.

I am also involved in an exploratory research group seeking to fuse poetic, practical and fantastical modes of action to create significant cultural/political interventions in the here and now.

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   Our Search for a Method


Our emerging method comes from the meeting of ancient practices such as shamanic ecstasy and the Chinese dao - with the modern disciplines of cybernetics, neuro-lingistic programming and cultural theory.
The Chinese philosophy of the Dao de Jing is often treated as obscure and strangely spiritual - but I have always seen it as being foremost a practical guide to living. This fits in with the Chinese character for "Dao" - which means all at once a way, a vision, or a method.

The revolutionary step I have taken, is to place the Dao in the context of modern systems thinking. The Dao is eloquent about the mysterious guidance which comes to us from the deeper, hidden realms. From the point of view of systems theory there is no great mystery - even though it feels no less wonderful or mysterious in the actual experience of it.

We need to bear in mind: we are a richly complex organism attuned through millions of lifetimes of co-evolution in a richly complex environment. And so it is, that the subtle workings of the Dao are actually inherent in our location in the here and now. The accumulated experience of our entire evolutionary tree is continuously available and resonates within our cellular organisation, and also in the spaces between us. (NOTE: these aspects are explored in more detail in the section of this web-site entitled: biology, culture, evolution)

The co- presence of living creatures, which means you and me whenever we meet, brings a complex - in some respects ancient, and bordering on the eternal - web of forces into play. And so, without denying the astonishing mystery of ourselves actually being here in the first place, we can understand the Dao quite prosaically as a method for seeking a better attunement to the force field we find ourselves in: to learn to ride more skilfully the eddies and currents that regularly arise within us, around us and between us.

So it is, that one key aspect of our developing practice, is that we willingly surrender to the "blooming, buzzing confusion(1)" in which we live, move and have our being. We shall explore in detail, in other sections, what this means in practice - but we can recognize straightaway that there are two almost contradictory aspects to the surrender of which I speak. On the one hand, we inherit at each moment the traces, patterns and pressures of the past - which throng about us, hungrily seeking to embody themselves in this newly crystallising moment. And on the other hand each moment is a re-birth, an opening on to what is new. In this respect it carries for us the possibility of a new direction, a new point of departure(2).

We exist in the cross-current of these twin forces: of repetition, and of renewal(3). This is what it is like (in words), to be a species that is suffering the labour-pains of our own evolutionary process. Our quest, embodied in this present study, is the cultivation of a new way to dwell within that cross-current.
The method for doing this, depends upon the interaction of a small number of basic principles which - quite surprisingly - give rise to a radical new orientation to the flow of life.

This phenomenon: that a combination of ingredients can bring about a radically different whole, applies in many different locations, and in many different ways, within the fabric of our lives. We are so used to this that - as with other things very familiar to us - it easily escape our conscious notice entirely. Consider any of our everyday practices, for instance: baking a cake, flying a kite, making a cup of tea, manufacturing and letting off a firework, or playing a Beethoven symphony. In every case there are multiple elements that have to be brought together and combined in very precise order, so as to bring about the desired result. Any one of these activities would actually appear bizarre or nonsensical, if we did not already know the purpose of the whole thing and have a general idea of how it works.

Let us take another example: imagine the components of a jet engine, displayed before you for the first time in your life: here is an air inlet, here a turbo-compressor, a combustion chamber, a fuel inlet, a turbine and a propulser unit. But what are they doing here? What are they for? None of the ingredients makes sense on its own; the whole thing will have to be assembled and organised, first on the level of understanding and then on the level of action.

(Actually there are some additional ingredients without which the jet engine remains a heap of non-functional metallic sculpture. For instance: a mathematical theory of propulsion - expressed in precise and complex equations; and a mechanical theory which includes exhaustive knowledge of the properties of the various different materials used in manufacture and operation. In addition to all of this we have to presuppose the design of the actual aeroplane, which will have the capacity to convert the propulsive power of the engine into actual flight through the air.)

In this respect, the Dao of Beginning Again conforms to the same pattern as any of the examples given: we have a set of components, (definite ingredients that need to be gathered together and prepared within certain limits of accuracy). And there is also a kind of choreography in how it all gets put together, so that each ingredient can perform its proper function within the whole. Thus our practical method will emerge as something that anyone can learn how to do, given a skilful and empathic teacher.
There are two major points of difference, however, which we need to take into account. One is the extremely flexible and broad-based application of this new method, which make it appear vague and undefined, in comparison with baking a cake or playing a piece of music. We are lacking a tangible product that will bring the process to a tidy completion. The Dao of Beginning Again can be relevant to all sorts of different situations - and in fact we shall need to learn how to deal with a whole array of situations at the same time, if we want to make any effective impact on the state of our world). At this point we shall find our multiple commitments shading off, one into another, and it will be easy to lose the sense of completion and of clear-cut boundaries.

There is an additional factor, which makes this more problematic than the other practical tasks I mentioned: that we are inaugurating a new kind of practice altogether (though foreshadowed by the Daoist culture-heros(5) of old). So we do not have generations of cake-makers, kite-fliers or classical musicians to assure us that this can be done, and to show us how to do it. Without an available body of teachers and role models, our next step has to be delicate and a little bit strange.

Now we can proceed with an initial survey of the ingredients of this prototype mystery-cake we are going to bake together. After that, an effective recipe will be needed - but I have to own up that this is still very much work in progress. The method is waiting to emerge, as we proceed to combine the components into a functioning whole - regretfully I am unable to give a well-ordered account in advance of the actual practice of it. In the forthcoming chapters we are going to explore various aspects of this new world-view and this will certainly give strong pointers to the practice which flows out of it. The actual development, however, will depend significantly upon yourself. And for now, we have the modest aim of simply surveying the main ingredients.

NOTES TO THIS SECTION

1. The phrase is William James's (Principles of Psychology, 1890, p.462) and was intended by him to characterise the noisy, raw experience that impinges on a baby's sensibilities. I have commandeered his phrase to symbolise the busy-ness of nature at large. I think it is significant that William James - though he regarded himself primarily as a psychologist - belongs to the one philosophical tradition which tried to integrate the new biological theories of evolution into the search for an integrated understanding about what we are, and what we are doing here. The best overview of this tradition which I have found, is TEJERA, V.(1966) American Modern: The Path Not Taken

2. It is well worth noticing that the "repetition" may be re-vitalising, or deeply oppressive, and may be felt in either of these modes, too. Likewise, the "new direction" may be experienced as joyful liberation, as subtly disturbing, or as horribly disruptive. What is more, the felt experience may not correspond to the actual consequences - which themselves may be genuinely liberating, disturbing or disruptive, or a combination of all three.

3. In this foregoing section I have tried to crystallise the deep insights of A.N.Whitehead (Process and Reality, Adventures of Ideas) which have the virtue of melding a sensibility in tune with mathematical physics and relativity theory, a deep sympathy with the entire sweep of Western philosophy and powerful resonances of Jewish mysticism and the Dao. I am not claiming that I have succeeded, but the same undercurrent hopefully pervades this entire project.

4. Lao-ze and Juang-ze probably stand for a whole cohort of cultural revolutionaries cum problem resolvers who helped to make ancient China a place that was bearable for human habitation. Examples from within our own culture might be the Shakespearian Fool and his mediaeval predecessors; perhaps also Shakespeare himself. And in other cultures than our own, there are folk characters such as the Sufi "Nasrudin" and the Hassidik zadek - who may have performed the same role, of cultural revolutionary cum problem resolver within their respective cultures. The ancient Hebrew prophets might also serve, except our tradition has transmuted these into towering authority figures. In their own time they would have appeared as misfits, inspired revolutionaries or madmen. In any case, none of these are on the scene today to guide or instruct us, and those of our own times who claim to be mystical and revolutionary teachers offer us little or no clues as to who is, or is not, the genuine article.

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© all content: copyright reserved, Michael Roth, January 2004