Black Pill (9/11)

This sense of languor and diminished enthusiasm (for virtually all pursuits other than quiet reflection and the patient study of psychologically illuminating texts) persists and I continue to feel isolated by the saturnine thoughts and sentiments that grow out of the soil of this low, shaded valley. In harvesting and harboring these black and moist psychic spawn, I often have the somewhat shameful feeling that I am offering sanctuary to contagious vermin, rabid dogs and venomous serpents which few are prepared to handle without posing serious risks to themselves. Isn’t this one half of any piece of spiritual wisdom worthy of the name? By this I mean merely to dispel any illusions about psychological insight constituting an unalloyed good or blessing. Like the pharmakon[1], all genuine wisdom entails within itself both a remedy and a poison—depending on who receives it, the size of the dose vis-à-vis the capacity of the recipient to absorb and assimilate it. I have received a large dose of ‘unconscious blackness’ and my ‘system’—my psychic digestive tract—is obliged to assimilate this blackness. The energy and attention required for this process of assimilation or integration are by no means trivial, and because my energy and attention are not unlimited, other areas of my life are necessarily suffering from ‘budget cutbacks.’ The greater my progress in swallowing and consciously absorbing this big, black and bitter pill, the likelier it will be that I recover interest and enthusiasm for the neglected areas of my life. My guess is that if I lacked the freedom and the leisure and the educational advantages that support and assist this lengthy phase of conscious digestion and assimilation, my chances for success would be significantly lowered. On the other hand, by focusing so exclusively and single-mindedly upon this solitary inner work, I necessarily deprive myself of certain comforts and pressure-relievers that most other persons can freely make use of. I am keeping the ‘vessel’ closed so that little or no leakage can occur.

The naïve hopes and consoling fictions that we cling to as instinctively as the infant clings to the mother’s soft and nourishing breast, function like an array of protective shields and dampeners that filter or block out altogether the stark, unforgiving light of genuine knowledge of our precarious existential condition. In providing this buffering function, our illusory hopes, dreams, and ideals at once reinforce and hamper us. They strengthen us insofar as they help us to maintain our ‘good spirits,’ our confidence in ourselves and in those we trust. But by distracting us from the harsh realities that lurk just beyond the inflated bubbles of our benign belief systems, they weaken us. Those moral virtues (our ‘muscles’) and those wits which would otherwise be regularly and strenuously exercised (to their very limits) by an honest confrontation with our actual existential situation go soft inside us, so that, by and by, the light of truth becomes our unacknowledged enemy.

Wisdom consists primarily in gaining access to the unsettling (and potentially crushing) truths concerning our actual, as opposed to supposed, situation—and then developing the moral and spiritual stamina required to withstand this sustained realization. As soon as we glimpse the truth about our vulnerability and acknowledge the extent of our deludedness we are faced with the most important spiritual decision of our lives. Everything else, up to this point, has been child’s play—a mere distraction from the loneliness and gravity of this decision. The decision is whether we will retreat back to the childlike consolations and soothing lies that have always comforted and consoled the multitude, or will we turn from that safe but childish course of action and move onward, alone, into the darkness?

The thinnest and frailest part of wisdom—we learn soon enough—is the ‘intellectual’ component, that part which can be distilled into clever maxims or pithy aphorisms. Even the profoundest of such gnomic utterances (such as those of Heraclitus, Patanjali, and Lao Tzu) are but shoddy and makeshift ‘surface readings’ compared to the ineffable states of pregnant distress suffered or endured by the solitary delver into that subtext hiding miles below the reach of our fear-tempering remedies and formulas, our diverting works of serious and comic art, our ‘ennobling’ moral doctrines and our abstract philosophy!

To say it again—and yet again: the attainment and weathering of such dark wisdom ultimately has rather less to do with intellect or mind than it does with the heart and one’s spiritual fortitude—a man or woman’s capacity for standing alone and unarmed before…what shall we say?—the honest, but merciless truth? The opaque reality waiting like a massive pus buildup just beneath the un-lanced surface boil of our acquired concepts and assumptions? God? Aren’t all of these names and depictions equally meaningful here? Or, if you prefer, equally meaningless? I just know what it feels like when my casements are loosened and a blast of ‘wind’ slips through the little crack that has opened before me. Were the window opened any further ‘I’ would be frozen and ‘blown away.’ Out here, like a puny, stammering Lear on the heath—in the cold—alone with IT—I am most honestly and nakedly myself: dwarfish, insignificant, soon to melt and dissolve into nothingness, speaking as an imperfect witness before this stumping mystery that has granted me a smattering of brief and discontinuous glimpses before it swallows me whole.

[1] The ancient Greek word “pharmakon” is paradoxical and can be translated as “drug,” which means both “remedy” and “poison”. In “Plato’s Pharmacy”, Derrida traces the meanings assigned to “pharmakon” in Plato’s dialogues: remedy, poison (either the cure or the illness or its cause), philter, drug, recipe, charm, medicine, substance, spell, artificial color, and paint. Derrida notes: «This pharmakon, this “medicine”, this philter, which acts as both remedy and poison, already introduces itself into the body of the discourse with all its ambivalence».


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