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Receptivity Remedies

(an excerpt from PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia)

Alert, relaxed listening is the radical act at the heart of our pronoiac practice.

Curiosity is our primal state of awareness.

Wise innocence is a trick we aspire to master.

Open-hearted skepticism is the light in our eyes.


If you choose to become a practitioner of pronoia, your life will suck. It has to suck.

Let me explain. As you cultivate the arts of gathering and bestowing the blessings that the universe is always conspiring to send your way, your life will suck in the best senses of the word.

First, your life will suck in the same way that you use a straw to compel a thick milk shake to disobey gravity and squirt into your mouth. Metaphorical translation: You’ll work hard to pull toward you the resources you need, perhaps even exerting yourself with a force that goes against the natural flow.

Your pronoiac life will suck in a second way: like a powerful vacuum cleaner that inhales dirt from the floor and makes it disappear. You will have a sixth sense about getting rid of messes that are contaminating your clarity.

Here’s a third interpretation: Once you commit yourself to the art of pronoia, you will most likely develop an unusually dynamic form of receptivity. Whether you’re a man or woman, you’ll be like a macho male with a willful intention to be like a welcoming female. As a result, you’ll be regularly sucked into succulent opportunities you would never have come upon if you had let your pop nihilistic conditioning continue to dominate you. Your openness to uplifting adventures will make it easier for serendipitous miracles to find you and draw you in.

Let’s take one more poetic leap of faith as we meditate on the metaphor. As you devote yourself to the art of making yourself available, your life will suck in the way that movements of the mouth and lips and tongue during close encounters with intimate partners stimulate pleasurable feelings.


I’ve tried a wide variety of meditative practices from many traditions. I’ve calmed myself through rhythmic breathing; watched with amusement as the nonstop procession of images paraded across my mind; visualized images of deities; cultivated unconditional love; chanted mantras; and taken rigorous inventories to determine whether the integrity of my actions matches my high ideals.

But in my years of study, I’ve never heard of a form of meditation that would ask me to go to a public place, take my attention off myself, and observe other people with compassionate objectivity. That’s why I was forced to invent it. Hereafter known as Sacred Eavesdropping, this meditation builds one’s ability to pray in the manner described by poet W. H. Auden: “The definition of prayer is paying careful and concentrated attention to something other than your own constructions.”


Here’s one of the Beauty and Truth Laboratory’s favorite rules for evaluating the information that comes our way: Assume that it’s a blend of truth and falsehood and every shade of half-truth in between. That applies equally to stories in The New York Times and to the raving spiels of the homeless Gulf War vet who hangs out at the local post office.

While I suspect that the Times has a much higher proportion of accurate data, I can never be sure what distortions are embedded in its reports. Its unconscious devotion to pop nihilism means that it routinely ignores vast realms of human experience. And there are odd days when the homeless guy’s rants spit out gems of poetic wisdom that give me the chills and change the way I understand the world.

Moral of the story: Useful messages may come from anywhere. I’m more likely to recognize them if I’m simultaneously curious and discriminating.


On those rare occasions when journalists deign to report a UFO sighting, they dutifully describe eyewitness accounts. But their juices don’t start to flow until they offer the derisive dismissals of skeptics they’ve interviewed about the incident. This is typical: “Astronomy professor X said that even trained pilots can be fooled into thinking the planet Venus is a flying saucer.”

I wish this approach were applied to other kinds of news. Imagine a CNN anchorman regurgitating the words he has heard at a Pentagon news conference, then calling on leftist scholar Noam Chomsky to provide a skeptical perspective. Visualize a journalist for Time magazine interviewing three politicians about their latest views on gay marriage or the Middle East, then asking poet Ann Waldman to critique the gross ahistorical literalism of the politicians’ views. This is the approach I like to take to every story I hear.


Many of the debunkers who deride astrology have done no research on the subject. They haven't read smart astrological philosophers like Dane Rudhyar, don't know that seminal astronomer Johannes Kepler was a skilled astrologer, and aren't aware that eminent psychologist C.G. Jung cast horoscopes and believed that “astrology represents the summation of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity." The closest approach the fraudulent “skeptics” usually make to the ancient art is to glance at a tabloid horoscope column. To match their carelessness, I might make a drive-by of a strip mall and declare that the profession of architecture is shallow and debased.

That's one reason why these ill-informed “skeptics” spread so many ignorant lies. For instance, they say that astrologers think the stars and planets emit invisible beams that affect people's lives. The truth is, most Western astrologers don't believe any such thing.

Is there any way in which you engage in behavior similar to the lazy debunkers? What subjects do you speak about with authority even though you really don't know much about them? Do you ever spout opinions about situations you've never experienced first-hand? Do you pass judgment on ideas you've never studied and people you've never spent time with? We all do these things—I confess to being guilty of it myself. But there is a cure.


According to, the term pareidolia (pronounced “payr-eye-DOH-lee-uh”) refers to “the erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random.” As an example, mainstream astronomers might say this is the perfect word to describe what rogue researchers have called the “Face on Mars,” an evocative plateau in the Cydonia region of the red planet.

It’s important to note, however, that not all wonders and marvels are the result of pareidolia. For instance, let’s say you unexpectedly find yourself fantasizing that a certain oil stain you see in a parking lot looks like a horse imprisoned in a cage with a ribbon wrapped around it, and that spurs you to realize that lately you’ve felt trapped by something that is supposedly a gift. That may really be a communication directly from an angel of mercy to you.

To distinguish authentic breakthroughs from mere pareidolias, you need to strike a balance between skepticism and open-mindedness. Just because some apparent miracles are frauds doesn’t mean they all are.


To be the best pronoiac explorer you can be, I suggest you adopt an outlook that combines the rigorous objectivity of a scientist, the “beginner’s mind” of Zen Buddhism, and the compassionate friendliness of the Dalai Lama. Blend a scrupulously dispassionate curiosity with a skepticism driven by expansiveness, not spleen.

To pull this off, you’ll have to be willing to regularly suspend your brilliant theories about the way the world works. Accept with good humor the possibility that what you’ve learned in the past may not be a reliable guide to understanding the fresh phenomenon that’s right in front of you. Be suspicious of your biases, even the rational and benevolent ones. Open your heart as you strip away the interpretations that your emotions might be inclined to impose.

“Before we can receive the unbiased truth about anything,” wrote my teacher Ann Davies, “we have to be ready to ignore what we would like to be true.”

At the same time, don’t turn into a hard-ass, poker-faced robot. Keep your feelings moist and receptive. Remember your natural affection for all of creation. Enjoy the power of tender sympathy as it drives you to probe for the unimaginable revelations of every new moment. “Before we can receive the entire truth about anything,” said Ann Davies, “we have to love it.”


The Swahili word kule means “in between” or “neither-this-way-nor-that.” Kule people are highly valued, according to Beauty and Truth Laboratory researcher Russ Crim, because they are unbiased but not apathetic. Their passionate objectivity allows them to imagine a common ground that’s in the best interests of both sides in a conflict, thereby promoting an organic form of harmony. “To be kule is to rule,” says Crim.


Galileo Galilei didn’t invent the telescope, but he created a better version of the first primitive model. In the early 17th century, he used it to make astronomical discoveries that contradicted the Catholic Church’s cosmology. The caretakers of the old guard were furious. “The Earth is the center of the universe,” they told him after he announced he had detected moons revolving around Jupiter. “What you say you have seen is impossible.” They refused to even look through Galileo's new tool.

In later years, scientists adopted the Church's attitude toward a variety of other phenomena, including meteorites and dinosaurs. Until the 1800s, wrote Roy Gallant in Sky & Telescope, “the scientific community scoffed at those who believed stones fell from the heavens, though meteorites had been seen to fall and had been collected since ancient times by the Chinese and Egyptians. As stones continued to rain down from the sky, learned scientists explained them away as condensations of the atmosphere or concretions of volcanic dust.”

Similarly, until the 19th century, scientists didn’t believe that large reptiles had once lived on the earth. Throughout history, ordinary people had always found what we now call fossils, but the experts decreed that they could not possibly be the remains of an ancient extinct species.

The moral of the story as far as you and I are concerned: As smart as we may be and as much as we might know, there are truths we have become dead set against believing, let alone seeing.


At the end of one of his columns, the San Francisco Chronicle's Jon Carroll corrected misinformation he’d provided in an earlier piece. “My dreamy view of the dissent during the Civil War was perhaps just a tiny bit completely wrong,” he noted. He went on to admit that contrary to what he had asserted, President Lincoln ruthlessly quashed dissidents. “My apologies to the truth,” Carroll concluded.


Receptivity is not a passive state. Nor is it a blank, empty waiting around for whatever happens to come along. In urging you to cultivate receptivity, I don’t mean you should become a lazy do-nothing bereft of goals, reacting blindly to whatever life throws in front of you.

Receptivity is a robust readiness to be surprised and moved; a vigorous intention to be awake to everything you can’t control. When you’re receptive in the pronoiac style, you have strong ideas and a powerful will and an eagerness to disseminate your unique blessings, but you’re also animated by the humble certainty that you have a lot to learn.


Most people associate innocence with naiveté. Conventional wisdom regards it as belonging to children and fools and rookies who lack the sophistication or experience to know the tough truths about life.

But the Beauty and Truth Laboratory recognizes a different kind of innocence. It’s based on an understanding that the world is always changing, and therefore deserves to be seen fresh every day. This alternative brand of innocence is fueled by an aggressive determination to empty one’s imagination of all preconceptions.

“Ignorance is not knowing anything and being attracted to the good,” wrote Clarissa Pinkola-Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves. “Innocence is knowing everything and still being attracted to the good.”


“The knowledge I’m interested in is not something you buy and then have and can be comfortable with. The knowledge I’m interested in keeps opening wider and wider, making me smaller and more amazed, until I see I cannot have it all—and then delight in that as a freedom.” —Heather McHugh, Hinge & Sign


“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka! I have found it’ but rather ‘That's funny . . .’” —Isaac Asimov


“The only real voyage consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes; in seeing the universe through the eyes of another, one hundred others—in seeing the hundred universes that each of them sees.” —Marcel Proust, translated by Kiyotesong


Though I’m critical of journalists and scientists, it’s not because I don’t love them. On the contrary, they have been great teachers, both through the ideas and information they’ve lavished on me and in the way they’ve compelled me to learn how important it is to question all my sources of ideas and information. I will keep trying to master the pure objectivity that their professions enshrine as the highest ideal. And I will remain both skeptical toward and receptive to their offerings.


The dangers of excessive politeness are perfectly exemplified in the medieval legend of Parzival, Arthur’s purest knight. His quest for the Holy Grail leads him to a castle where he is welcomed by a wounded lord. At dinner, a mysterious bowl captivates Parzival’s attention. He’s dying to know more about it, but he holds his tongue. His training as a knight has taught him that it’s uncourteous to express too much curiosity.

Tragically, he doesn’t realize that he has arrived at the very place where his quest could be satisfied. The wounded lord is actually the fisher king, the marvelous bowl is the Grail, and he is being presented with a magical test. The test consists of a simple task: to ask about the bowl. Because Parzival fails to do so, the king does not reveal the secret and does not give him the Grail.

The next morning, Parzival wakes up to find the castle empty, and he leaves having missed the very opportunity he wanted most.


“Be homesick for wild knowing.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves


To buy PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia, the book from which "Receptivity Remedies" is excerpted, go to Amazon or Powells.
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