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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

To Boldly Go… But What’s in it for Me?

You may be asking yourself at this point, why should I bother reading this? What’s in it for me? Why does the Cosmic Game matter, and who cares about its patterns? The Cosmic Game matters, because it is the way the universe plays, and because we are a part of the universe, we also play in this way. By learning about how the universe plays, we can be more effective in our own lives. The crazy thing is, that no one ever told us that we were playing a game, let alone what the game was or how to play it. We have no choice in the matter however, we are indeed homo ludens (man the player) as Huizinga (1944/1955) argued after all, and this deep play that Geertz (1976) described can be very serious and dangerous, but play we must.


Did you get a rulebook for this game? I didn’t. We were given an insufficient map with which to make meaning out of our lives, and by not having a way to make meaning of it all, we sometimes succumb to hopelessness, despair, and overwhelm. In this dissertation, we will learn more about this "Cosmic Game," and in our exploration, we will see how Grof’s cartography of the psyche can provide us with such a map to make more meaning in our lives. Armed with this map, and with the aid of a cosmic compass—astrology—we will proceed to the "Kaleidoscope of Culture" where we will see how these cosmic patterns "play out" in the various cultural pieces, as well as in culture itself. By explaining the game, and then giving examples from culture that are readily available, we can learn to become more conscious players, and that after all is the object of the game—consciousness. Interestingly enough, one of my first bricolages, although I did not realize it until years later, used a picture of the Bollingen Stone, from the cover of Edinger’s (1984) The Creation of Consciousness, and a picture of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (Rankin & Bass, 1964). It was my first paper and graphic using this recurrent theme.




A couple of warnings are in order however. All games have different forms, for example in Chutes and Ladders, you zigzag back and forth across different levels, and in Candyland, you meander along a path from point A (the start) to point B (the finish). In Parchessi, you go around in a circle and then up an arm to the center, where all your pieces must finish, while in Monopoly you go around and around accumulating money and property. The Cosmic Game is similarly circular, you keep on going around and around, and this same pattern keeps reiterating, returning eternally, so you might occasionally get dizzy.




The second warning comes from Jung. It seems that consciousness can be pretty costly: “Identity does not make consciousness possible; it is only through separation, detachment, and agonizing confrontation through opposition that produce consciousness and insight” (Jung, 1951/1990, p. 171 para. 289). Unfortunately, it seems that the Cosmic Game is not all fun and games, and that this kind of cosmic play is not always comic play, though little “p” play can offer us some comic relief. Luckily, though, as we will see in playing the Cosmic Game, if we have a good map, the game can be much easier. Along the way, too, I will suggest strategies that might be helpful, and through these cultural pieces we can see through others’ experiences what works and what doesn’t in a relatively consequence-free environment. And also luckily, the unconscious can be quite helpful if we let it:


Not only is the conscious process continually accompanied, it is often guided or helped, or interrupted by unconscious happenings.…

Even the adult still says and does things whose significance he realizes only later, if ever. Our dreams are continually saying things beyond our conscious comprehension (which is why they are so useful in the therapy of neuroses). We have intimations and intuitions from unknown sources. Fears, moods, plans, and hopes come to us with no visible causation. These concrete experiences are at the bottom of our feeling that we know ourselves very little at the bottom, too of the painful conjecture that we might have surprises in store for ourselves. (Jung, 1951/1990, p. 178, para. 299)


These surprises will be much less frightening if we have a way to orient ourselves, if we know where we are. As Burt Bacharach lyrically describes: “The world is a circle without a beginning and nobody knows where it really ends, everything depends on where you are in the circle that’s spinning around, half of the time we are upside down" (Bacharach, 1973). And yet if we know what we can expect at different parts of the game, and where we seem to be at the moment, we will be able to experience life in a fuller way. We may also be able to take things less personally: if we are oriented to this greater context, and are able to see a wider frame, we can step back and see the forest so to speak, instead of being mired in only trees.


This has been true for me. Walt Disney said in a Time Magazine interview in 1937: "We just try to make a good picture. And then the professors come along and tell us what we do” (Watts, 1997, p. i). The same has happened with me, only afterwards, looking backwards can I see the major themes that I lived through unconsciously. This reminds me of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s description of his own experience. In the introduction to Myth and Meaning (1979) Lévi-Strauss writes:


Unfortunately I forget what I have written practically as soon as it is finished . . . but nevertheless I think there is also something significant about it, in that I don’t have the feeling that I write my books. I have a feeling that my books get written through me and that once they have got across me I feel empty and nothing is left.


You may remember that I have written that myths get thought in man unbeknownst to him . . . . but for me it describes a lived experience, because it says exactly how I perceive my own relationship to my work. That is, my work gets thought in me unbeknownst to me.


I never had, and still do not have, the perception of feeling my personal identity. I appear to myself as the place something is going on, but there is no ‘I,’ no ‘me.’ Each of us is a kind of crossroads where things happen. The crossroads is purely passive; something happens there. A different thing, equally valid, happens elsewhere. There is no choice, it is just a matter of chance.


I don’t pretend at all, that because I think that way, I am entitled to conclude that mankind thinks that way too. But I believe that, for each scholar and each writer, the particular way he or she thinks and writes opens a new outlook on mankind. And the fact that I personally have this idiosyncrasy perhaps entitles me to point to something which is valid, while the way in which my colleagues think opens different outlooks, all of which are equally valid. (pp. 3-4)


Lévi-Strauss, as can be seen in the methodology chapter, had a major effect on this dissertation, because it was he who coined the term “bricolage” to explain how mythical thinking works. This dissertation is what showed up at my “crossroads” so to speak. Equally valid outlooks are present elsewhere, but this is my outlook on play. And speaking of crossroads . . .

I have been helped by Hermes, too, the symbol for the planet Mercury, Hermes's latin name, which sits at the center of the Bollingen Stone. Mercury was the carrier of the transpersonal before the outer planets were discovered (L. D. Miller, personal communication, December, 2, 2003). Hermes is the messenger of the gods and was the god of luck, of coincidences, and synchronicity. Much of my dissertation is a direct result of synchronicity. Bolen (1990) says that:


Hermes opens up moments of discovery and synchronisitic events—those "coincidences" that turn out to be meaningful, unforeseen "accidental" happenings that lead us somewhere we couldn’t have known we would go and that yet turn out uncannily right. People miss Hermes if their minds are set on a particular itinerary and schedule, who set out and know ahead of time just what they will see and when. (p. 171)



Hermes is also a trickster, and so when I jokingly told a friend that I wanted to hand in a one line dissertation: www.cosmicplay.net, I ended up getting tricked. One of my favorite lines from the movie The Big Chill (Kasdan, 1983) is: “Be careful what you wish for, for you may surely get it.” I sure did get it, however, I also ended up with one of the longest dissertations ever. And it hasn’t been all fun and games. Throughout the dissertation process, I have been repeatedly “upside down,” and yet knowing Grof's cartography, I could locate myself, and know that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Bandler and Grinder (1975), quoting Vahinger and Korzybski about maps remind us:


It must be remembered that the object of the world of ideas as a whole [the map or model—RWB/JTG] is not the portrayal of reality—this would be an utterly impossible task—but rather to provide us an instrument for finding our way about more easily in the world. [H. Vaihinger, The Philosophy of As If , p. 15]


Important characteristics of maps should be noted. A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness. [A. Korzybski, Science and Sanity, 4th edition, 1958 pp. 58-60] (Bandler and Grinder, 1975, pp. 180-181)




The problems of our age cannot be solved by the old ways of understanding. They are inadequate to solve the problems and challenges we are facing today. We are constantly updating our technology, but our world view has remained the same for too long. Einstein said that you cannot solve the problem at the level of the problem. Our current world view is part of the problem. We are in new territory and we need a new map to make meaning out of our experiences, as a way to help us find our way and get our bearings. Since we cannot solve our troubles from the paradigm we are in, maybe we should consider getting a new paradigm. When you outgrow shoes, you get a new roomier pair, similarly, we have outgrown our current paradigm, and we need a more spacious one. This is especially important for anyone in a leadership position, to be able to generate the culture to rise to the challenges of the Twenty-First Century. We find ourselves in a world of ever rapidly-increasing change, and fundamentally, leadership is about empowering change, whereas management is about the maintenance of the current order.


The Cosmic Game is all about change, the constant change, the death and rebirth process that is occurring at every moment, all around us, from the quantum world to the stars: it is all about transformation –or as Goethe in Faust more elegantly said—“Formation transformation Eternal mind’s eternal recreation” (Freud & Jung, 1974, p. 431). Leaders need to have a new map to be able to lead effectively, and to solve the current paradigm’s unsolvable problems. “Leadership, it’s not just for corporations anymore!” A leader is anyone who is responsible for the welfare of others. Parents are leaders of families, while teachers are leaders of students.


The Cosmic Game and Grof’s cartography of the psyche offers us such a map, which enables us to navigate through the ever-changing world, instead of just shooting in the dark. As we explore the "Cosmic Game" and the "Kaleidoscope of Culture," we will be looking through this lens and will also seek to understand some of the skills and capacities that can make us more conscious players. The conversations between Rick O’ Shea and Tele Sphoros will give us clues for becoming more conscious players in our own lives. Each time you see a ∆RC, you can click on it to see what they have to say. By learning about the Cosmic Game, we can learn more about our own lives; the rhythms and cycles, which is a kind of fractal knowing. We will learn more about fractals in the "Cosmic Game" chapter, but one thing to note here is that they are what is called “self-similar across scale,” which means that different patterns repeat on different levels, they are like a miniature version of the whole, so by looking at Big “P” play, we can see different patterns that show up in our lives, and also how little “p” play fits into the cosmic picture. Different parts of fractals have different designs, and we will see that cosmic play, too, consists of different patterns.

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