Shamanism, the Dao, new spirituality, new technology and cultural revolution
Personal
Perspectives
How this all began for me The trouble with humans Lived reality - felt reality The weave of fact and feeling








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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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   Lived Reality: Personal Perspectives
Here is a page that stays almost exclusively within the personal frame - beginning with my account of my own initiation into a new pattern of life, one unforgettable night in September, 1969. On this night, I had the irresistible sense that I was being catapulted out of my home, and the pattern of life I thought I had chosen and settled myself into. Here is my story of what happened.
Dylan's voice had broken free. It was no longer merely an emanation from the spinning vinyl. Some quality in that voice, nasal, insistent and other-worldly, had become a force in its own right. Now it had me by the throat.

"What did you think you were doing, playing Side Two of "Bringing It All Back Home" at full volume, seriously "stoned" on an old Indian recipe of yogurt, herbs and spices, and at a time when your life was in complete chaos?" This would be the obvious question, wouldn't it - asked from the position of hindsight? But this was 1969 and we did that sort of thing all the time. Anyway, Dylan begins that side harmlessly enough, with what has since become a well-loved favourite...


"Hey, Mister Tambourine Man, play a song for me

In the jingle jangle mornin' I'll come followin' you".


No sensible person would read into this the suggestion that we have reached some crucial point of no return - the time to place our final bets and await the spin of the wheel. On the other hand, some seeds are surely being planted...


"I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade, into my own parade

Cast your dancin' spell my way, I promise to go under it.... "


And during this and the two songs which follow, against a background of swirling harmonica and an acoustic guitar which ranges between a lilting serenade and a hammering on the door, Dylan heaps image upon image, wild, resonating, and beyond the zone of overkill. The man was no longer writing songs that could be said to carry any simple "message" - but this extraordinary sequence of tracks climaxes in something that still, I can only hear as a radical demand:-


"Leave your stepping-stones behind you, there's something that calls for you!

Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you!

The vagabond who's rapping at your door

Is standing in the clothes that you once wore...

Strike another match, go start anew...

And it's all over now, baby blue!"


So that is what I heard. I knew then, that something beyond my personality had already begun to re-design my life for me, with no respect for the boundaries of what I might plan - or even imagine - for my own future. I heard great iron doors slamming and saw myself stumbling out into the winter weather. My home subsequently took on an oddly unfamiliar aspect; it was no longer quite recognizable as the place where I lived. However it was, that I had managed to feel "at home" in my past life, it had evidently been a piece of self-deception.

In those days we talked freely about "blowing each other's minds" - for it seemed that this was a genuine favour which one friend might gladly render to another. It was simply the other side of the craving so many of us felt: that we might break free from the pleasantly meaningless hell we had constructed for ourselves, out of habits of mind which had come to us so effortlessly, and which we had mistaken for our own personality.

The promise of those times, that sweet and sexy Revolution of Love, has now been severely broken - or so it seems to many of us today. In the paranoid wasteland of the new millennium, one would no longer consider it a kindness, to kick a person (friend or enemy) out into the bewildering light of day. Yet the need to discover a better way to live remains with us; and as one who counts themselves as lost in the wilderness now for more than 35 years, I cannot help but notice that there is still a severe shortage of useful maps.

The study which now follows is about something broader than my own personal journey. It is a progress report on my practical quest - which has been the attempt to join forces with those others who also recognize the need for maps and signposts - something to help us navigate the crazy space-time of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

This is also an exercise in the re-orientation which becomes possible after the kind of radical dis-orientation which Dylan propelled me into, on that September night of 1969. I bring to the project an acute sense of what it is like to feel at home, in contrast with the other feeling which I have learned to accept - of feeling radically disoriented and lost. Also, life still has a way of pitching me without ceremony upwards and downwards of this spectrum of lost-and-found. Out of this experience I have developed a finely-tuned sensitivity to the kind of Ariadne's threads, or the helpful signposts, that seem to promise - in some measure - to draw me home.

And this is also an invitation to the reader, to share in a new collective research. This is open to anyone who is willing to recognize that they, too, are lost in some kind of wilderness; it is open to you, if you believe that signalling our position to one another, combined with honest attempts to map the terrain around us, could be a first step towards a change for the better. I want us to search for ways we can build bridges between us - that might allow some real communication, in an era of collective cultural breakdown.

The talk of "maps", "signposts" and "bridges" may either seem to imply that I am preoccupied with physical space, or it may be taken as an extended metaphor for something that exists in "inner" or psychological space. But I have come to feel that the space between us needs to be negotiated first, before we start to consider what we might count as geographical or as psychological space. A genuine smile - even the flicker of recognition - between friends or strangers is a more profound signpost towards a possible better world, than almost anything that you can find in the conventionally styled "inner" and "outer" worlds.

I draw on a wide range of influences, as you will shortly be finding out. At the time when it all began for me there was, in particular, Carlos Castaneda's account of his apprenticeship to the Yaqui Indian sorcerer Juan Mateus. Castaneda's work helped to advance the process which had begun with Bringing It All Back Home, effectively booby-trapping my old reality and making it impossible for me to return to it. There was also Martin Buber, and his philosophy of radical human and trans-human encounter. He kept me trusting in a path that leads to the other side of chaos and the void - and which might have something to do with redemption. Buber's work has a deep affinity with the ancient Chinese philosophy of the Dao(1) and it happens that the classic Dao De Jing has been another significant companion for me. I have always wanted to create a New Dao which could somehow encompass the new directions, the new unfolding of life which is called for at our own unique juncture of history. And the name I have given it - this Dao for the Twenty-first Century - is: The Dao of Beginning Again.

The Chinese ideogram "Dao" is an ambiguous symbol that indicates a way, a vision, or a method. The expression: "beginning again" carries forward this sense of ambiguity; I have crafted the whole phrase in such a way that it lacks a settled meaning, and can float freely amongst a range of possibles:-

The need to begin again (because we have spoiled what we have made of our collective life so far).

The chance to begin again (a fresh start, as if we were born anew, trusting that we can do things better, or differently, this time).

Life beginning again (as it does with every new morning, and in every new generation).

The recurring nightmare beginning again (as some people re-live their childhood trauma, again and again).

I intend these shifting connotations to point towards the conflict I see within our deepest nature, which has to do with our instincts, traditions and customs. Which elements shall we count as something we are entrusted to take care of, to follow and to conserve? Which elements would it be better for us to overturn, or clear away, to make way for the new? The Dao of Beginning Again is the quest for some reconciliation between these conflicting drives - to bring them, in fact into the arena of method, of intelligent direction.

There is something restless in us; something that prevents us from feeling at home in the world. Looking at ourselves as one species within the world ecology, we may suspect that there is only one natural habitat which we can confidently call our own: its name is Paradox.
Consider such paradoxes as this: we regularly behave as if we were the natural predator to our own species. More bizarre than this, is the fact that our most common object of murder is a member of our own family (this is where the "Selfish Gene" hypothesis starts to look quite silly).

And unlike other monogamous pair-bonding species, we have laws with penalties, to make sure that we mate with the right person, or even with the right animal. And there is more paradox in the contrast between our viciousness and violence on the one hand, and the fact that we are quite probably the most tender and the most solicitous animal species on the planet. Certainly our capacity for empathy and care shows at least as much richness and diversity, as our capacity for exploitation, ruthlessness and destructiveness.
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The tree of knowledge of good and evil
As far back as we have written evidence, human beings have been trying to grapple with the nature of our own evil - to explain or understand it, as well as to find some effective way to keep it under wraps.
An obvious answer
The most obvious solution is that it is the others who are the carriers of evil. Our own people - our tribe - have found the right way, the right vision, the right method for living the good life. It is those others - the ones who live differently and at a distance from us: they are the ones who embody everything that is undesirable.
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Religion tells another story
Yet the world's major religions tell a different story: every one of them has enjoined us to meet the Stranger with respect and benevolence. Christianity goes so far as to tell us that we must "love our enemies". And the commandment to "love our neighbour as a being like ourselves" is likewise a demand to extend our empathy and compassion beyond the narrow circle of our own - the parable of The Good Samaritan makes clear that "neighbour" is meant to extend even to those we may have been regarding as our habitual enemies.
They often fail
And it remains true, that to burn each other's houses down (most often with the inhabitants inside), to seduce and abandon, to enslave, extort or exploit, or to stand aloof in the face of others' want and starvation, are typical features of the human scene.

In truth, we have a recurring need to Begin Again. How shall we do this?
search for a methodThe Dao of Beginning Again
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© all content: copyright reserved, Michael Roth, January 2004