The Moon Card, Insanity, and 40 Rolls of Toilet Paper

Moving toward a new definition of normality after the pandemic.

So . . . we appear to be coming out of the other end of the corona virus pandemic.  After a year plus of being told to stay home, live in isolation, and wear masks, we’re being told that it’s at least semi okay to start to take off the masks and socialize a bit.  It’s rational to have some hope that we’re not all going to die horrible deaths in understaffed Intensive Care Units.

Huzzah!  Now we can get back to normal!

The question that I’ve been dealing with lately is what exactly IS, “normal?”  And, secondarily, did I ever really, truly KNOW what normal is?  Because it appears to me, in looking back over the past year, that a whole lot of people are a whole lot crazier than I ever thought they were.

The Moon is, “the crazy card,” in the Tarot.  It represents insanity, delusions, illusions, self-deception.  The juxtaposition of the dog and the wolf howling at the moon show us that our evolution from pure animal state was not that long ago.  The crawfish crawling out of the water shows our most primitive, prehistoric state of being emerging from its murky depths.

We’ve seen a lot of murky depths and de-evolution over the last year.  Two things stand out in particular.

The first is The Great Toilet Paper Insanity of 2020.  We, as a society, received the news that we were faced with a horrible epidemic that could kill millions and millions of people.  A virulent plague such as the world hadn’t seen in a hundred years.  Humans were dying like flies in a cosmic spider web in China, Italy, New York, and no end was in sight.  

And our response was . . . BUY TOILET PAPER!!!  Lots and lots and lots of toilet paper.  Buy so much toilet paper that the shelves of grocery stores would be stripped of the stuff for months.  Buy more toilet paper than we could use in five years. If elderly people and weak people who couldn’t shoulder their ways into the head of the line didn’t have any toilet paper because we’d bought it all . . . well, FUCK them!

It was truly insane in the real definition of the word.  You can’t eat toilet paper.  You can’t heat your house with toilet paper.  You can’t wrap your shivering body in toilet paper during the freezing winter months.  Toilet paper – to a sane mind – has a very limited value in our overall lives.  It’s good for wiping our asses and blowing our noses.  Period.

Yet, in a matter of just a few weeks, people had been hypnotized into believing that it was the most valuable commodity on earth.  And it was a truly bipartisan hypnosis.  This wasn’t just a bunch of far right, neo-conservative survivalists hoarding toilet paper.  I have friends on social media who are life-long, foaming at the mouth, liberal-progressives who were proudly posting pictures of the two hundred rolls of toilet paper they had stashed in their hall closets.

Huh . . . who could have seen that coming?  In all of the post-apocalyptic movies we’ve seen, in all of the creepy end-of-civilization Stephen King novels we’ve read, has anyone EVER mentioned toilet paper?  Was there EVER a scene of a howling mob breaking into a grocery store and killing each other over . . . toilet paper?

Not.

The second, much darker, much more disturbing scenario that emerged was the embrace of the, “herd,”  vision of humanity, particularly as it applied to frail people and old people.  At a certain point, the medical model of the virus that emerged was that it was very likely to kill older people and people with pre-existing health problems, less likely to kill healthy middle aged people, and unlikely to kill younger people.

Using that knowledge base, a pretty brutal theory emerged:  for the sake of, “the herd,” it would be better if older people and sick people were exposed to the virus and just . . . you know . . . died.  The Lieutenant Governor of Texas actually said that it was somehow the DUTY of older people to get out there, get exposed to the virus and die, because that would get the economy open faster and there, “are more important things than living.”   

Strong evidence has emerged that the anti-mask movement that many of us found so puzzling was never about, “political freedom,” at all.  It was about ensuring that the maximum number of people would be exposed to the virus as quickly as possible in order to achieve “herd immunity.”

Now, that’s basically one small step down from Nazi eugenics.  It’s a theory that views humans as a herd, rather than as individuals.  If there are members of the herd who are sick or old, they need to be, “culled,” out so that the herd will stay healthy and vital.  Yes, millions of people will die, but think how much healthier we’ll be AS A WHOLE after all of them are dead!

It’s exactly the same mentality that led the Nazis to proclaim that, “the Herd,” (the Master Race) would be SO much better after we eliminated the Jews, the Blacks, the Gypsies and pretty much anyone who wasn’t a pure aryan, whatever the hell that is.  If you’re willing to expose people to a virus that you KNOW is going to kill them, that’s essentially a gas chamber mentality.

The salient point, of course, is that we AREN’T a herd.  We’re a society.  One of the hallmarks of virtually all societies is that they take care of people who are old and ill, they don’t just kill them.  We don’t toss Grandma into a lake with a cinder block around her neck because she’s become a bit of a pain in the ass.  We don’t execute people because they’ve got cancer.

So, yes, in reviewing this last year, I have to conclude that there are a whole bunch of us who are pretty fucking nuts.  And some of us are pretty fucking nuts and pretty fucking brutal.

The question is –  being realistic and acknowledging those facts – where do we go with that knowledge?  How do we react to the idea that the lunatics seem to be running a large part of the asylum?  Do we withdraw and hide?  Do we view other people with contempt or fear?

The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is to just react with compassion.  

In The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) don Miguel Ruiz points out that many people are barely conscious.  They’ve been programmed by their parents, their churches, their schools, and society at large to NOT think.  To NOT question their values or their reality.  They just get wound up like little robots when they’re children and they go through their lives never really waking up.  In essence, they’re Sleep Walkers, stumbling around in the darkness and not even having their own dreams.

When we see something like The Great Toilet Paper Insanity of 2020, it just reinforces that truth.  If your response to a life threatening situation is to grab as much toilet paper as you can, you’re not thinking, you’re not reasoning, you’re not even awake.  And that is sad and that deserves compassion.

If your response to a life threatening situation is to view other humans as being somehow expendable so that you have a better chance to live, as mere members of a herd, then you’re cut off from love, from empathy, from basic human decency, and you’re living in fear.  And that is sad and that deserves compassion.

 What I believed to be, “normal human behavior,” has turned out to be a pretty thin veneer over a LOT of crazy shit. I’m probably going to be a little more cautious around my fellow humans after this, a little less open and willing to believe that we have a common vision of the world.  But I also know I’m going to be a lot more compassionate toward them.

And that’s a good thing.  Hell, I’d trade 40 rolls of toilet paper for a little more compassion.

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The Sun Card and The Uncarved Block

Seeing the human Soul in the Taoist concept of The Uncarved Block.

One of the core tenets of Taoism is an idea called, “The Uncarved Block,”  or, as it’s written in Chinese, “Pu,” (not to be confused with The Tao of Pooh although it IS the Tao of Pu.)  

It refers, quite simply, to a piece of wood that’s never been touched, never been carved into a statue or an ornament or a utensil.  It’s just the wood, as it came into and grew into this world.  It’s in its’ primal, original state of being.

When the term is used to refer to the human experience, it means the primal state in which WE came into this world, untouched by experiences, prejudices, or dualistic thinking.  And, of course, it implies that there was a SOMETHING that arrived when we were born, other than just a tiny little human body.  There was a primal NATURE that came into the human body. Some people call it a Soul.

This has actually been a pretty hot topic for philosophers and psychologists for hundreds of years.  Are we just reducible to the sum total of our bodies and brains, or is there something else that’s greater and somehow inhabits our bodies and brains?  Another way of putting it is, “nature versus nurture:”  are we born with a certain nature, an essence that existed before our birth, or are we simply whatever we learn as we go along in life, whatever we learn by being nurtured by our culture?

Aristotle came down firmly on the nurture side of the equation, saying that we are born as a, “tabula rasa,” a blank slate that life and culture writes upon.  There is no soul, no pre-existing essence. The idea was later picked up by the English philosopher John Locke and thus made its way into modern psychology.

New Thought writers, of course, are advocates of nature, of the idea of our having a Soul that, “arrives,” in this world using the vehicle of our bodies.  What’s more, they see the Soul as being pretty cool when it dances into the physical world.  To quote Esther Hicks/ Abraham in Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires

“You are eternal beings who have chosen to participate in this specific physical life experience for many wonderful reasons . . . You are eternal Consciousness, currently in this wonderful physical body for the thrill and exhilaration of specific focus and creation.”

In other words, when we first get here we are beautiful, spiritual beings, full of joy, who have come here on a mission that INCLUDES having a lot of fun.  To use a phrase from AA, we are happy, joyous, and free.  We would feel a lot like The Sun Tarot card looks.

We arrive as beautiful, innocent, children, full of elation and radiating the euphoria of being alive in this enchanted garden that we call the Earth.  We are naked and unadorned, and our original nature, our essence, our, “uncarved block,” is love.  Pure love.

But then something happens.  Perhaps we forget our original nature in the process of transitioning from being Spirits to existing in physical bodies.  Perhaps, as some children do, we remember our original nature and still see the angels and the fairies, but our families and society soon beat that magic out of us.  As Don Miguel Ruiz put it in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

“We are born with the capacity to learn how to dream, and the humans who live before us teach how to dream the way society dreams . . . we learned a whole new reality, a whole new dream.  We never had the opportunity to choose what to believe or what not to believe.”

And we find ourselves wandering in Paradise, lost in the collective dream of our existence, with no memory that we are something far, far greater than our mere physical bodies.  As the bible expressed it – in a phrase that christians never, never, never EVER quote – because then we wouldn’t need preachers:  “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” 

 Or to use Joni Mitchel’s riff on it, “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

That’s the rub, that’s the rough part for most of us: just remembering that we ARE spiritual beings and getting back to that garden.  It’s not as if society exactly encourages us to act like we’ve all got Souls.  If we really believed that we’re all part of the Divine, we’d treat each other with a shade more respect, wouldn’t we?  If we actually looked at killing as killing a part of the Divine, we’d have a lot fewer wars, doncha think?

It’s actually become quite fashionable to laugh at the idea of a Soul.  Many people view it as an anachronistic belief on a par with the idea that god is an old man sitting on a golden throne.  Just silly crap that’s left over from our primitive religious views.

Can we PROVE that there’s a Soul?  Of course not.  Can materialists or atheists prove that there ISN’T a Soul?  Of course not.  What we CAN do is to intuit that there is a something that lies beyond and beneath our ordinary consciousness and reality.

In discussing the difference between the ego and what we really are in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Oprah’s Book Club, Selection 61) Eckhart Tolle says:

“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am.  Who am I then?  The one who sees that.  The awareness that is prior to thought, the space in which the thought happens.”

In a similar vein, Jeffrey Schwartz, who is a neuropsychiatrist and uses very strict scientific standards of proof,  argues in You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life that there is something beyond the mere thoughts that our physical brains generate, something that directs our focus and can override our thoughts.  He calls it, “The Wise Advocate,” and it sounds very much like the description of a Soul.

“The Wise Advocate knows what is best for you, it loves and cares for you, so it encourages you to make decisions in a rational way based on what’s in your overall best interest in the long term.”

That Wise Advocate, that space that exists between our thoughts, is where our Soul lives.  It’s where our Soul is still naked, beautiful, innocent, and playing.  It’s our original nature, our uncarved block.  

All we have to do is find it again. Or at least try to be a chip off the old block.