Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET:
An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Cutting edge realization
What Anatman means
The Myth of the Wanderer
Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss
The World Navel
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook
Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer
The Way Out by Christopher L Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson
Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry
Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr
Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois
Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson
Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low
Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman
The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman
Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor
Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine
The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada
The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook
The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther
The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel
Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak
Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez
Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr
Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano
The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo
The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar
Occam’s Razor by David Duncan
Grace and Demion by Mel White
Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso
The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass
Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen
War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar
The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal
Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion
by Jeffrey J. Kripal
The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre
Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak
A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey
Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes
The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes
Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour
In Walt We Trust by John Marsh
Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary
A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary
Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott
Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou
Internal Landscapes by John Ollom
Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks
Yes by Brad Boney
Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler
Sanctity & Male Desire by Donald Boisvert
Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal
Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson
Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette
Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson
In March, 2016, I participated in a seminar at Easton Mountain Retreat Center titled Journey to Elderhood. It was led by Ed Marchi, a Health Care administrator and professional in geriatric services and current President of the Board of Directors of Easton Mountain.
Marchi was a wonderful leader, interesting, knowledgeable, personable, and very welcoming of participation from everyone present. A number of the participants shared expertise and perspectives on aging… And what amazing wealth of knowledge, insight and experience the fifteen or so men in the seminar showed!
I presented an idea from my “Wise Old Man,” Joseph Campbell, about looking back on life from the perspective of elderhood—and making a discovery.
In “The Power of Myth” PBS-TV series with Bill Moyers which is how most people came to be familiar with the comparative religion scholar and consummate storyteller, Campbell says:
“[The 19th C German philosopher Arthur] Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called ‘On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual,’ points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot?
“Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others, The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else.
“And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.
“It’s a magnificent idea —an idea that appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems.
Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, or has lived the life that he quite intended.”
This image by Gail Atkins at Awakening to Reality
Neither Campbell nor Schopenhauer were gay, and there’s nothing particularly gay about this notion of the Will within us as the creator of our lives. In a way, the whole idea is an example of selective sampling, primary narcissism, and the blinders of ego. But it is also a “magnificent idea,” as Campbell says, because it calls us to affirm our lives and experience being part of something bigger.
Most of us at the Easton Mountain seminar seemed relatively happy, but a few shared experiences of depression, and I’d bet all the rest have experienced despondency at some time. Certainly this generation who lived through AIDS saw a lot to be angry and despondent about, though we’ve also seen an unbelievable transformation in how homosexuality is accepted by the general public. And just by being here—gems in the Net of Indra—we’ve been part of the transformation and get to take credit for that success.
But gay people, even still, are set up to experience isolation, fear, loneliness, and poor self-esteem. Everybody experiences this just as part of developing a sense of self and learning to deal with the slights of the world, but gay people are really inculcated with the idea that we can’t achieve the normal happinesses of life because these are all centered in the heterosexual reproductive cycle. And our sex-linked pop culture is so focused on sexiness and youth—for lots of wonderful reasons, as well as some hurtful ones—we are led to expect there’ll be no place for us as we age.
We face a particular kind of crisis in self-image anyway that straight men simple don’t: we have to keep addressing the self-reflexive questions: would I have sex with myself? Am I attracted to people like me? And because we grow up surrounded by so much homophobia, we are likely to feel alienated from other homosexuals. What "internalized homophobia" means, after all, is that we inadvertently buy into the negative judgment of homosexuals—including ourselves—but then, for self-protection (as humans do), we project the negative judgment out onto other homosexuals, seeing them as different from us. And, according to the dynamic C.G. Jung called The Shadow, we resent them and blame them for what we fear in ourselves.
(There is a curious provenance here: Back in 1890, when history might say there were only two "openly gay men" in the world —Walt Whitman in America and John Addington Symonds in England— Symonds wrote a delicately worded letter to Whitman effectively asking if his words about male comradeship meant he were gay. And Whitman denied it. The homophobia stared from the very beginning of modern gay consciousness.)
It’s a wonderful practice then to see how Schopenhauer’s “will to life” has manifested itself. How is it that you are still alive? Look how many times you’ve escaped death. This is an especially poignant question for those who’ve lived through AIDS. Look what amazing things have happened to you. Who helped you along? Our sexually-liberated environment often gave us the chance to meet people we would never have otherwise, to leap social classes, to break racial and economic barriers. How did you get to be where you are now? What doors opened?
Campbell is famous for this aphorism: “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you never knew there were going to be doors.”*
For the gay men of the Stonewall/Gay Lib generation certainly “bliss” meant sexual liberation and recovery from internalized homophobia. Our journey to elderhood has taken us through many doors. It’s been a “roller-coaster,” to mix metaphors, with ups and downs, successes and tragedies, joy and pain. And it is still going on… We have to say: Yes.
Schopenhauer’s “will to life” is personal and subjective. I am the one composing my story. But we individual subjects are also part of some bigger will. Indeed, the will that creates our world is shared. We are part of a community. What we are manifesting in our lives is the will—and the long hoped for dream—of all the homosexuals who’ve lived before us.
Experiencing being part of a community was especially meaningful in our coming together at Easton Mountain. That we were there was certainly selective sampling. The journey to Easton leads through one of Joseph Campbell’s unknown doors.
Here's a link to a wonderful essay by Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. titled Deeply Gay about finding meaning in aging, especially in developing meditation and loving attitude.
*I’ve wondered if Campbell wasn’t trying to quote from the last lines of the Broadway play Auntie Mame:
“Oh, I am going to open doors for you, doors you never even dreamed existed.”
The character of Mame Dennis, created by the gay playwright Patrick Dennis, is a wonderful example of enthusiasm for life. She's a whimsical exaggeration, of course; she's a "myth," in the way Joseph Campbell might have used that word. She is famous for her dictum: "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death." Her advice: "Live, live, live."
Rosalyn Russell played Mame on Broadway and then in the original movie of the play. She looks like a drag queen. The play was rewritten in the 1960s as a musical, titled Mame; Angela Lansbury opened in the part on Broadway (personal note: I went to the 1983 revival of this play when I was in New York July 23, 1983 with Lansbury in thje lead). Lucille Ball played the part in the 1974 movie of the musical.
I’ve joked that gay men get God to be their Auntie Mame. back
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are
available now from Lethe
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