What Is the Grass

Walt Whitman in My Life

by Mark Doty

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Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

Gay Spirituality

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

Gay Perspective

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

Secret Matter

SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan

Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods

The Fourth Quill

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

Two Spirits
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers

Myth of the Great Secret

THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

In Search of God


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Toby and Kip Get Married

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

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Gay Consciousness

Why homosexuality is a sin

The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Advice to Future Gay Historians

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

The Gay Succession

Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

Queer men, myths and Reincarnation

Was I (or you) at Stonewall?

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

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"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

You're Not A Wave

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

Toby's Experience of Zen

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

What happens at Death?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

What Anatman means

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

A Funny Story: The Rug Salesmen of Istanbul

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

Cutting edge realization

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

World Navel

What the Vows Really Mean

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse

The est Training and Personal Intention

Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

Drawing a Long Straw: Ketamine at the Mann Ranch

Alan Watts & Multiple Solipsism

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Gay Spirituality

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Two Loves

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

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The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

The Monastic Schedule: a whimsy

Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Redeem Orlando

Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar

Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

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Mystical Vision

"The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross & the Dark Night of the Soul."

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

Sex with God

Merging Religion and Sex

Revolution Through Consciousness Change: GSV 2019

God as Metaphor

More Metaphors for God

A non-personal metaphor God

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016

The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)

You're On Your Own


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Seeing Differently

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"

Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

A Different Take on Leathersex

Seeing Pornography Differently

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The Vision

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby

Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection

Part 4: A Course in Miracles

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The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube

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About Alien Abduction

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

Intersections with the movie When We Rise

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

Toby at the California Institute

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

My first Peace March

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Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Mark Thompson

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

The Alamo Business Council

Our friend Tom Nash

Second March on Washington

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"

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Book Reviews

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

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett

Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans

Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen

Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden

The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood

Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman

The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak

Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon

Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message

Life Interrupted by Michael Parise

Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire

The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman

True Religion by J.L. Weinberg

The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer

Everything is God by Jay Michaelson

Reflection by Dennis Merritt

Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson

Hard Lesson by James Gaston

God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson

The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson

Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther

Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen

The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether

The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber

AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar

Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal

Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal

In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane

Walking on Glory by Edward Swift

The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey

Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire

In Search of Lost Lives by Michael Goddart

Queer Magic by Tomas Prower

God in Your Body by Jay Michaelson

Science Whispering Spirit by Gary Preuss

Friends of Dorothy by Dee Michel

New by Whitley Strieber

Developing Supersensible Perception by Shelli Renee Joye

Sage Sapien by Johnson Chong

Tarot of the Future by Arthur Rosengarten

Brothers Across Time by Brad Boney

Impresario of Castro Street by Marc Huestis

Deathless by Andrew Ramer

The Pagan Heart of the West, Vol 1 by Randy P. Conner

Practical Tantra by William Schindler

The Flip by Jeffrey J. Kripal

A New World by Whitley Strieber

Bernhard & LightWing by Damien Rowse

The Mountains of Paris by David Oates

Trust Truth by Trudie Barreras

How to be an Excellent Human Being by Bill Meacham

The Deviant's War by Eric Cervini

What Is the Grass by Mark Doty

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:

Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe

Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here

charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman

secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 

The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams

Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III

Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld

The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.

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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.

Who is I? and Who is You?

What is the Grass cover

What Is the Grass

Walt Whitman in My Life

by Mark Doty

W. W. Norton & Company (April 6, 2021)

288 pages, paperback, $15.95

ISBN: 978-0393541410

Available from Amazon in other formats

What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life

5 stars


Effortlessly blending biography, criticism, and memoir, National Book Award–winning poet and best-selling memoirist Mark Doty explores his personal quest for Walt Whitman.

Mark Doty has always felt haunted by Walt Whitman’s perennially new American voice, and by his equally radical claims about body and soul. In What Is the Grass, Doty effortlessly blends biography, criticism, and memoir to keep company with Whitman and his Leaves of Grass, tracing the resonances between his own experience and the legendary poet’s life and work. 3 illustrations


What is the Grass by poet, art and literary commentator, college professor, and surprisingly self-disclosing memoirist, Mark Doty, is a literary analysis of Walt Whitman's poetry, into which is beautifully blended a series of meditations and musings on the nature of language, sex, love, and especially the Self, with a capital S.

Whitman's Leaves of Grass was a transformation of poetic form. Never before had a poet taken such liberties with the traditional rules of rhyme and meter.  The 19th century poet (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) effectively created what we know today as "free verse." An important aspect of Whitman's poetical identity was that he had been assistant to a printer and so was able to use the presses to "self-publish" his book(s) —mostly, all the same book revised, expanded and published over and over again. Doty discusses how the typesetting was used to create spaces between stanzas and to break up lines of thought, and sometimes were used to mask or obfuscate homoerotic references: if the lines about men's bodies were broken by a double space, the next lines could be taken for new meanings, perhaps women's bodies. Thus the typesetting itself was part of Walt's meanings.

Mark DotyThroughout the book Doty —and I, as reader and as reader of Whitman— expresses amazement that the poet could get away with so much homosexuality. Doty suggests that homosexuality, though known about, of course, seemed simply so beyond the pale and so foreign and unspeakable in the 1800s that readers just read right through it without realizing what was being said.

As Doty's title suggests, one of the themes of his book is what "grass" means. And the meanings are multiple. I was surprised and pleased to learn that among printers at the time, scratch/ dummy copies run through the press to test spacing, registration, and print quality were referred to as "grass." And, of course, the pages of a book are called "leaves," so leaves of grass would have been pages of experimental tests in typesetting—a whole new meaning for Whitman's title.

Mark Doty's literary discussions are interwoven with bits of autobiography and personal experience —some of these areWalt Whitman spiritual, almost mystical, some sexual, some romantic, some nostalgic: a scene in a men's changing room at the beach, a few hours at a gay bathhouse, a tryst with a longtime fuck buddy turned romantic then magical when the Beloved's face transforms into that of Walt Whitman (specifically, the face in the photo to the right), a struggle with sex addiction, accounts of boyfriends and husbands, of AIDS and grief, and, importantly, the recognition of the Buddhist character Avalokitesvara hiding just behind Whitman's words.

(Permit me a moment to interweave a bit of my own bio in this review to mention that I first studied Whitman —for his mystical/archetypal meanings— in a class on Jungian interpretation of literature at Saint Louis University in 1966. That was just at the time poster art was becoming a craze among the Youth Generation. The fad at S.L.U. was poster-size scratch paper from a nearby map-printing company that had been run through the presses multiple times to clean the ink off the rollers, so they were all one-of-a-kind fantastic blurs of color and shape. I had one of these on my dormroom wall that year. I now discover from Mark Doty that that poster was a "leaf of grass," wasn't it? And just to share a curiously ribald association, let me add that the dormitory was named after a great benefactor from the brewing industry of St. Louis. So the men's dorm at that Jesuit college was named Griesedieck Hall.)

But grass is also the stuff of life, the ever-present fecundity of planet Earth that sprouts life abundantly everywhere. Grass is also the stuff we cut down and throw away. Grass is a symbol for human mortality and the evanescence of ego and personal selfhood.

Doty focuses on two important poems: "Song of Myself" and "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," effectively the first and last extended poems of Leaves of Grass.

"Song of Myself" begins:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" ends:
We use you, and do not cast you aside —we plant you
        permanently within us,
     We fathom you not —we love you— there is perfection in
        you also,
     You furnish your parts toward eternity,
     Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.

Who is the I who celebrates self? And who the you that furnishes parts for the soul?

The nature of self —and maybe Self to use the Jungian, new-age convention of the capital-S for distinguishing between personal ego and cosmic consciousness— is an ongoing theme in Doty's book. It begins with Walt loafing at his ease, inviting his soul into consciousness,
observing a spear of grass. Throughout Whitman's extended meditation on human life, Doty observes, the antecedents of personal pronouns shift around. Sometimes the you is the reader, sometimes the generic human being, sometimes the speaker referencing himself as part of humanity, sometimes the greater consciousness that creates all things and that the poet "celebrates."

Doty makes an interesting point that in Whitman's day, "celebrate" would have meant less holding a party and more officiating at a sacrament: the priest celebrates the Mass. Celebrate is an act of creating.

Doty elucidates at great length the meanings in:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Science with its atomic theory tells us that every atom of every one of us was born in a stellar collapse and supernova; that every atom is shared among all people; we breathe in and excrete out a myriad of atoms. Every atom in me has been in some other being, a you. So every atom of mine also has been or will be an atom of you —and if not you (specifically), then some other you (generically) who is you to both of us.

Another sense is that the atoms I think of as mine belong as good to you because you are me. "I" am both the subject and the object. The "you" I speak to is the "me" that is being spoken to. To celebrate Self is to become one with all. And all of us are like leaves of grass.

In discussing Whitman's use of literary language, Doty cites the King James Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6:
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
To go on one more verse:
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
There's the grass, isn't it? We are all One. Individual blades of us are mowed down and cast into the oven of time, and yet the field—and the fecundity of the earth—lives on and flourishes.

Avalokitesvara I loved that Mark Doty introduced the myth of Avalokiteshvara —it is a
story dear to me, a story by which I explain my life to myself. The myth (which is discussed elsewhere on my website at great length) tells that this young monk renounced his own nirvana to remain in the round of rebirth to save others. In the version I learned from Joseph Campbell, the way Avalokiteshvara "saved" all other sentient beings is by becoming them, by assuming all their future incarnations. He is the one soul reincarnating in everyone. As Whitman says:
And what I assume you shall assume
Campbell called this spirituality: The Way of Joyful Participation in the Sorrows of the World. What the I assumed —meaning to believe in, but also to be incarnated in— you are also assuming. We are all participating.

Doty writes:
Imagine a Buddha who turns to us and says, Shoulder your duds! Walt Whitman in "Song of Myself" is a homespun American Avalokitesvara; he finds with immeasurable joy his own realization of unity, and that vision leads to a tenderness toward all things: And I know that the hand of God is the elderhand of my own… And that a kelson of the creation is love. Surely Avalokitesvara is the “elderhand” of Walt Whitman; this passage overflows with a universal, swelling tenderness. [A kelson is a beam running the length of a ship connecting the floor to the keel, the "backbone" of the ship.]

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars…
Doty, Mark. What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life (p. 50-51). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Doty concludes: "Radiant and endless: I am all and all never ceases…"

There is a lovely, sexually-charged story in the book that I referenced briefly above in which Mark tells how he has spent a wonderful time of lovemaking with an old boyfriend, now older and grayhaired. And as they are loafing afterwards, he looks at his friend and unexpectedly, inexplicably he sees the face of Whitman.

It's like the One Being — Avalokiteshvara, the Lord Who Looks Down on the World and Hears the Cries of All Beings and whose name also means The Lord Who is Seen Within, and also Walt Whitman, the homespun American poet who celebrates himself as the I and the you — cannot help but reveal Itself throughout creation. For it is the "You [that] furnish your parts toward eternity, Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul."

In a way very much like Doty and his grayheaded friend, I once, in a sexually-charged moment in a gay bathhouse, saw the face of Avalokiteshvara. In the darkness of the orgy room, he held me tight and we connected chakra to chakra. His parting words to me: Have faith.

We are all sharing our parts in creation of the soul.

Walt Whitman, the poet of proud and mystical homosexual vision, gave birth not just to new poetic forms and rhythms, but to a new religion of cosmic consciousness and Nature divine — one that is still being born. And Mark Doty is surely one of its prophets.

What Is the Grass is a lovely book, so full of interesting points and observations about mystical reality as well as about what it means to be a gay man today. I recommend the book for the inspiration it will afford.

Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell, Gay Spirituality, and other books and novels.

About Walt Whitman

from goodreads

Walter Whitman was an American poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist. He was a part of the transition between Transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse.

Born on Long Island, Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, a government clerk, and a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War in addition to publishing his poetry. Early in his career, he also produced a temperance novel, Franklin Evans (1842).

After working as clerk, teacher, journalist and laborer, Whitman wrote his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, pioneering free verse poetry in a humanistic celebration of humanity, in 1855. Emerson, whom Whitman revered, said of Leaves of Grass that it held "incoWalt Whitman oldmparable things incomparably said." During the Civil War, Whitman worked as an army nurse, later writing Drum Taps (1865) and Memoranda During the War (1867). His health compromised by the experience, he was given work at the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. After a stroke in 1873, which left him partially paralyzed, Whitman lived his next 20 years with his brother, writing mainly prose, such as Democratic Vistas (1870). Leaves of Grass was published in nine editions, with Whitman elaborating on it in each successive edition. In 1881, the book had the compliment of being banned by the commonwealth of Massachusetts on charges of immorality. A good friend of Robert Ingersoll, Whitman was at most a Deist who scorned religion. D. 1892.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine 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, four 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 and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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