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Week of August 8th, 2019

Often a Sweetness Comes

Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

—Stephen Dunn

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My old teacher Norman O. Brown used to say, "The proper response to poetry is poetry." In that spirit, I reply to Stephen Dunn's poem with one of my own:

a honeyed tang arrives
a consoling gusto
a dreamy grace

as if consigned to our care
for a brief embrace
not to be cradled or hoarded

only redeemed for a glimpse
of how much fun it is
to be alive

and then released
so it might rejoin
the shadows
from which it sprung

I'm not mad
it can't stay forever
not sad it may have
roosted in desolate welcome
or marinated in wild grief
on its way to me

am only grateful
it chose me
for a while

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excerpted from Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings

The 19th-century poet John Keats said that if something is not beautiful, it is probably not true. But the vast majority of modern storytellers—journalists, filmmakers, novelists, talk-­show hosts, and poets—assert the opposite: If something is not ugly, it is probably not true.

In a world that equates pessimism with acumen and regards stories about things falling apart as having the highest entertainment value, pronoia is deviant. It is a taboo so taboo that it's not even recognized as a taboo.

The average American child sees 20,000 simulated murders before reaching age 18. This is considered normal. There are thousands of films, television shows, and electronic games that depict people doing terrible things to each other. Netflix alone is the most potent and inexhaustible source of violent imagery in the histpory of the world

If you read the news, you have every right to believe that Bad Nasty Things compose 90 percent of the human experience.

The authors of thousands of books published this year will hope to lure you in through the glamour of killing, addiction, self-hatred, sexual pathology, shame, betrayal, extortion, robbery, cancer, arson, and torture.

But you will be hard-pressed to find more than a few novels, films, news stories, and TV shows that dare to depict life as a gift whose purpose is to enrich the human soul.

If you cultivate an affinity for pronoia, people you respect may wonder if you have lost your way. You might appear to them as naive, eccentric, unrealistic, misguided, or even stupid. Your reputation could suffer and your social status could decline.

But that may be relatively easy to deal with compared to your struggle to create a new relationship with yourself. For starters, you will have to acknowledge that what you previously considered a strong-willed faculty—the ability to discern the weakness in everything—might actually be a mark of cowardice and laziness.

Far from being evidence of your power and uniqueness, your drive to produce hard-edged opinions stoked by hostility and cynicism may be a sign that you've been brainwashed by the pedestrian influences of pop nihilism.

Before the onset of pronoia, you may feel fine about the fact that you generate much of your dynamic energy through anger, agitation, discomfort, and judgmental scorn. But once the pronoia kicks in, you may naturally want more positive feelings to be your high-octane fuel. That will require extensive retraining. The work could be arduous, delicate, and time-consuming.

Are you truly ready to shed the values and self­images that keep you locked into alignment with the dying civilization?

Will you have the stamina and inspiration necessary to dream up bigger, better, more original sins and wilder, wetter, more interesting problems?

Do you realize how demanding it will be to turn yourself into a wildly disciplined, radically curious, fiercely tender, ironically sincere, ingeniously loving, aggressively sensitive, blasphemously reverent, lustfully compassionate master of rowdy bliss?


What might you need to kill off in yourself in order to tune in to the beauty that's hidden from you? What worn-out shticks are blinding you to the blessings that life is conspiring to give you? Which of your acerbic theories may have been useful and even brilliant in the past but are now keeping you from becoming aware of the ever-fresh creation that unfolds before you?

It's not enough to terminate your stale mental habits just once. The price of admission into pronoia is a commitment to continual dying. You'll have to ask yourself rude questions and kick your own ass again and again.

Today's versions of beauty, truth, love, goodness, justice, and liberation will pass away. To keep abreast of the latest developments—to cultivate tomorrow's versions of pronoia—you will have to immerse yourself regularly in the waters of chaos. Your relationship with pronoia will have to be a never-ending improvisation.

The dream of a steady-state utopia is anathema to Beauty and Truth Lab researchers. We're allergic to any paradise that resembles a spotless shopping mall within the walls of a gated community in heaven.


Pronoia is fueled by a drive to cultivate happiness and a determination to practice an aggressive form of gratitude that systematically identifies the things that are working well.

But it is not a soothing diversion meant for timid Pollyannas strung out on optimistic delusions.

It's not a feel-good New Age fantasy used to deny the harsh facts about existence. Those of us who perceive the world pronoiacally refuse to be polite shills for sentimental hopefulness.

On the contrary, we build our optimism not through a repression of difficulty, but rather a vigorous engagement with it. We understand that the best way to attract blessings is to grapple with the knottiest enigmas.

Each fresh puzzle is a potential source of future bliss—an exciting teaching that may usher us to our next breakthrough.

Do you want to be a pronoiac player? Blend anarchistic rebelliousness with open-hearted exuberance. Root your insurrectionary fervor in expansive joy instead of withering hatred. Enjoy saying "no!" but don't make it the wellspring of your vitality. Be fueled by blood-red yeses that rip against the grain of comfortable ugliness.

—the above is excerpted from my book Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings

available at Powells

available at Amazon

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Listen to my spoken-word piece "Shadow Blessings"

Here are the lyrics:

Life is a vast and intricate conspiracy that's guaranteed to keep you well supplied with blessings.

What kind of blessings? Ten million dollars, a gorgeous physique, a perfect marriage, a luxurious home, and high status?

Maybe. But it's just as likely that the blessings will be interesting surprises, dizzying adventures, gifts you hardly know what to do with, and conundrums that dare you to get smarter.

Novelist William Vollman referred to these types of blessings when he said that "the most important and enjoyable thing in life is grappling with a complicated, tricky problem that you don't know how to solve."

Sculptor Henry Moore had a similar idea. He said, "The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is -- it must be something you cannot possibly do."

So in other words, pronoia does not guarantee that you will forevermore be free of all difficult experiences.

It doesn't ask you to pretend that everything is sweet and harmonious all the time.

On the contrary, when you embody the spirit of pronoia, you build your optimism by loving your challenges, not repressing them.

You know that your problems are gifts from the Goddess that are designed to make you smarter and wilder and kinder and trickier.

You welcome each fresh puzzle as a potential source of your future bliss, as an exciting teaching that will usher you to your next breakthrough.

Now here's a spell to commit pronoia, written by psychotherapist Jennifer Welwood. I invite you to say it:

Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;

Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within me;

Opening to my loss and pain and ignorance,
I remember who I am and what I'm here for.

Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.

Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me

and becomes itself transformed
into the blessing it always was.

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Listen for free to two hours' worth of my music and spoken-word stuff at my Soundcloud site

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I have thousands of opinions still—but that is down from millions—and, as always, I know nothing.

—Harold Brodkey

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Every man or woman who is sane, every man or woman who has the feeling of being a person in the world, and for whom the world means something, every happy person, is in infinite debt to a woman.

—Donald Winnicott

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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood."
—Karl Popper

"Nothing worse could happen to one than to be completely understood."
—Carl Jung

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Attention, please. This is your ancestors speaking. We've been trying to reach you through your dreams and fantasies, but now we're taking a more direct route.

So listen up. You're at a crossroads analogous to a dilemma that has baffled your biological line for six generations. We ask you now to master the turning point that none of us have ever figured out how to negotiate. Heal yourself and you heal all of us. We mean that literally. Start brainstorming, please.

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When they say "Go with the flow," what "flow" are they talking about?

Do they mean the flow of your early childhood conditioning? The flow of your friends' opinions? The latest cultural trends? Your immediate instinctual needs?

When they say, "Go with the flow," are they urging you to keep doing what's easiest to do and what will win you the most ego points, even if it keeps you from being true to your soul's code?

Consider the possibility that there are many flows to go with, but only one or some of them are correct for you. Do you know which?

Maybe it's the one flowing in an underground cavern, far from the mad crowd.

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Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.

—André Gide

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If you want your personal chart done, I recommend a colleague whose approach to reading astrology charts closely matches my own. She's my wife, RO LOUGHRAN. Her website is here.

Ro utilizes a blend of well-trained intuition, emotional warmth, and technical proficiency in horoscope interpretation. She is skilled at exploring the mysteries of your life's purpose and nurturing your connection with your own inner wisdom.

In addition to over 30 years of astrological experience, Ro has been a licensed psychotherapist for 17 years. She integrates psychological insight with astrology's cosmological perspective.

Ro is based in California, but can do phone consultations and otherwise work with you regardless of geographic boundaries.

Check out Ro's website.

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I propose that we set aside a week every year when we celebrate our gaffes, our flaws, and our bloopers.

During this crooked holiday, we are not embarrassed about the false moves we have made. We don't decry our bad judgment or criticize our delusional behavior. Instead, we forgive ourselves of our sins. We work to understand and feel compassion for the ignorance that led us astray.

Maybe we even find redemptive value in our apparent lapses; we come to see that they saved us from some painful experience or helped us avoid getting a supposed treasure that would have turned out to be a booby prize.

We could call it Love Your Imperfections Week.

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When I look at my life I realize that the mistakes I have made, the things I really regret, were not errors of judgment but failures of feeling.

—Jeanette Winterson

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If religion is the opiate of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister.

If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein, and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made.

—Zadie Smith

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Sapiosexual: a person who has a strong attraction to intelligence in others, regardless of gender or conventional attractiveness

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What shall I do,
by nature and trade
a singing creature
as I go over the bridge
of my enchanted visions,
that cannot be weighed
in a world that deals only
in weights and measures?

—Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated by Elaine Feinstein


[a different translation:]

Since I was born
a singing creature
forever crossing
my bridge
of marvelous visions
how do I live in a world
that only calculates and analyzes?

—Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated by me

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Scribble treasure maps on naked promises. Search for messages from the hope-rich future in the warm glow of yesterday’s sweet shock. Initiate uproarious deep-breathing interventions in the midst of a secret test.

Drum up feral breakfast conundrums with wicked, lickable angels. Welcome imperfect violins and joy snakes at the heart of a cool mistake.

Glean just-in-time oracles from runaway shopping carts, Youtube videos of immortal jellyfish, and a song that pops into your head that you haven't heard for years.

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You owe it to us all to get on with what you're good at.

—W. H. Auden

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You have the keys to promising doors that don't exist yet; save those keys.

You know the titles of rousing stories that haven't happened yet; write those titles down.

You've caught glimpses of your best future, but they're confusing because you can't imagine how you'll get to that future; imprint those glimpses on your memory.

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You've heard the term "Higher Self"? We might define it as the aspect of your intelligence that is usually beyond the reach of your conscious awareness but is always looking out for you and always offering you guidance—if you take the trouble to tune in to it.

Fun fact: Your Higher Self is itself evolving. One of its goals is to activate the genius that comes fully awake through a synergetic meld of Higher Selfishness and Higher Selflessness: "where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet," in the words of Frederich Buechner.

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Frans de Waal writes: "What separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe you think it’s your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future―all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet’s preeminent species. But in recent decades, these claims have eroded, or even been disproven outright, by a revolution in the study of animal cognition.

“People often assume a cognitive ladder, from lower to higher forms, with our own intelligence at the top. But what if it is more like a bush, with cognition taking different forms that are often incomparable to ours? Would you presume yourself dumber than a squirrel because you’re less adept at recalling the locations of hundreds of buried acorns? Or would you judge your perception of your surroundings as more sophisticated than that of a echolocating bat?”

Frans de Waal’s book is available:

at Powells

or at Amazon

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One of the leading intellectuals of the 20th century, Aldous Huxley, wrote more than 20 books, including Brave New World.

In his later years he made a surprising confession. "It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life," he wrote, "and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'Try to be a little kinder.'"

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'I have thousands of opinions still—but that is down from millions—and, as always, I know nothing.

—Harold Brodkey

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We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.

—G. K. Chesterton

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