We might conceive of human consciousness—and the individual ego that is a by-product of that consciousness—as a glowing filament, the sort of filament we find in light bulbs. The filament does not last forever. Eventually, after producing its allotted quanta of photons, it ‘burns out.’ Interestingly, its luminosity depends on the resistance it puts up against the electrical current flowing through it. If it puts up little resistance, little light will come from it. If an excessively large electrical current passes through it, it may blow out or it may be permanently weakened thereafter. So, the material from which the filament is composed certainly makes a difference in the quality and intensity of the light it produces—as does the steadiness and the intensity of the electrical current.
The filament is a comparatively delicate and fragile ‘bridge’ between two electrical poles—and yet it is the sine qua non for illumination. Without this slender thread mounted between these powerful, mysterious poles, there is only the potential for incandescent consciousness, but its true birth depends on this frail bridge—installed in a vacuum and of finite duration.
The experience of generating light—by straddling between the two poles of the mysterious inner world of the psyche and the equally mysterious outer world presented to our senses—is a very different experience than passively receiving the light generated by other, more energized filaments. One must be willing to withstand the strong electrical charge that is capable of producing a high degree of luminosity—the sort of luminosity that reveals objects previously veiled in darkness and obscurity.
Light is a fundamentally paradoxical quality, or energy. Thus, it should come as no surprise that most of us feel powerful ambivalence about its cultivation and intensification within our lives. And while there is certainly a greater sense of exhilaration for the human filament who surrenders to the deeper and more powerful currents within—in order to become a producer of heightened illumination—there are far greater risks involved than in remaining a ‘dim’ recipient of ambient light, or from basking in the light of an esteemed teacher or guru. The greater the flow of electricity through a filament, the higher the risk of an early burnout or a catastrophic power surge. Prudence nudges us toward a safer, low-voltage life in the shadows.
Where light is concentrated or intense, it is ideal for illuminating the immediate vicinity of the filament, but everything just beyond that lit up space is thrown into even darker shadow, as we see in the difference between noon-time sunshine and twilight. This radical clarification and vividness of consciousness can be extremely daunting, if not altogether blinding, to anyone who is not accustomed to such brilliance. Most of us learn that we prefer softer lighting and softer edges to the surfaces of the objects we perceive in our midst. The starkness and the vivid intensity of incandescent mental lucidity are not for the squeamish, but for those who are temperamentally drawn to such intensity of consciousness, the perils and the discomfort are often an acceptable price to pay for the experience of providing a slightly resistant filament between those two gargantuan parent-poles—Father spirit and Mother matter.
For a brief time—before we inevitably burn out and our electrical connection forever broken—we, along with many other active, self-sacrificing human filaments scattered throughout the world, can assist in the ongoing work of reconciling these titanic parents who are so naturally prone to misunderstand each other. One might go so far as to say that the only reason these two grudgingly remain in their profoundly problematic marriage is ‘for the sake of the children.’ And the children, of course, are those of us who—’caught in the middle’—are trying to generate light about our own origins, to try and light up the mixed and contradictory impulses and inclinations that we inherited from two such contrary parents.
But for those who have never allowed more than the absolute minimum of this life-sustaining ‘alternating current’ to course through their filament—between inside and out, Father and Mother, Spirit and Matter, eros and psyche—these words can mean next to nothing.