Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations VI

151. It is one thing to have a sensitive and well-stocked mind, and another thing altogether to have one that is disciplined and under our watchful supervision.

152. My body: it seems to have a mind all its own!

153. My intuition tells me that bliss is not the ultimate triumph of pleasure over pain—but rather, what is left over after pleasure and pain cancel each other out. Bliss, while intrinsically pleasant, should perhaps be thought of as the reward that accompanies liberation from those cruder categories—pleasure and pain. Pleasure and pain, remember, are concerned with desire and fear. Bliss, therefore, is born from the death of desire and fear, the primary engines driving human thought, action, and reaction.

154. It is much easier to steal people’s attention than it is to earn their respect.

155. So long as our thrusters are burning at full tilt, it can be extremely difficult to mentally step outside of our powerfully propelled trajectory and see through it into its emptiness (from the standpoint of the dis-illusioned Self). Therefore, it is only as we begin to run out of gas—to burn out our last fuel—that we are sufficiently freed up from our momentum to view things quietly. Thus, a kind of melancholia often accompanies the getting of wisdom. There is, however, a silver lining to this cloud: it requires a lot of thrust to break free from Earth’s gravitational grip—but once in space, very little fuel is needed in order to traverse vast distances.

156. I am but a rod or a cone in the eyeball of God. Or, is it the devil? And, might these two share more than a little DNA? Do they not, in fact, merge into one another, once all distinguishing masks have been removed?

157. In the West, the veil of Maya has been elevated and deified into an arch-principle known familiarly as ‘materialism.’ In the East, despite the tsunamic onslaught of Western values and ‘dialectical materialism,’ the veil of Maya (or, in China, ‘the ten thousand things’) continues to be regarded with the instinctive suspicion reserved for all grand deceptions.

158. One could do worse than conceive of the ego as a ‘self-consuming artifact.’ Or, if you want to put a more optimistic spin on it, you might say that the ego is a ‘self-resolving equation.’ But then, you’re back to square one, since pessimism and optimism necessarily cancel each other out in the end.

159. There are insights that come to us, if at all, only at certain points in our life, when—as with auspicious astrological events—the inner and outer conditions are suitably aligned for those insights. When these conditions change or are outgrown, such insights (which are as indigenous to those conditions as are the fauna and flora to an ecosystem) inevitably undergo a corresponding change in status. There would appear to be a tiny handful of insights that refer not to incrementally changing conditions but to perennial and abiding ones. These—and perhaps only these—are the insights worthy of our greatest sacrifice and effort. They constitute the wheel upon which the bones of the personal ego are broken—pulverized into iron filings that are utterly obedient to the magnetic field produced by the spirit, which bloweth where it listeth.

160. Letter written to an old friend: ‘The old bridge between us was becoming rickety and unfit for use—at least on my end.  Therefore, I have pretty much demolished the old structure and I have begun construction on the new.  I can only meet you halfway.  You will need to build your half if we are to reconnect in the middle.  But be forewarned: the finer materials from which the new bridge is constructed are not cheap.  I have found that I cannot cut corners, as you will no doubt discover if you undertake this project from your bank.  I look forward to rejoining you in the middle when our two ends meet.’

161. In full self-realization, there is no longer an other to perform for, or to save, or to worship, or to talk to. This is why the prospect of dissolving the personal ‘I’ (which is correlative with the ‘other’) is so utterly terrifying to us. For even the most selfish and ungenerous of egos needs to have ‘others’—if only to mistreat, or to run away from, or to exploit, or for entertainment, etc. Egolessness (or Self-realization), then, is simply out of this world.

162. One puffed-up American individualist teenager to another: “Go ahead and try out for cheerleader if you’re that insecure! I have to be completely and utterly true to myself! That’s why I’m going Goth.

163. A man’s honesty is founded upon his store of courage. He will allow himself to admit only as much as he has the courage to bear. There are persons who experience sporadic eruptions of courage, during which fleeting episodes they honestly dredge up many buried thoughts about themselves, about their fellows, and about life itself—thoughts they will abruptly and thoroughly forget about, and even deny, as soon as the momentary spasm of bravery wears off.

164. Are there two utterly incompatible value-systems at play, depending on ‘who’ happens at any given moment to be behind the wheel—the daimon or the ordinary human (who serves as a kind of host or vessel for the indwelling daimon, or soul)? Are we not concerned here with two quite distinct ‘fields of operation’: the ‘underworld’ of psyche and soul-making, on the one hand, and the ‘dayworld’ of collective consciousness in the mundane realm, on the other? Shouldn’t they perhaps be kept distinct and not forced to merge in the interests of some ideal form of integration? Does the heroic Hercules really have any rightful place in the Hadean underworld of immaterial shades and images—and doesn’t moist soul quickly wither and desiccate in the parched, over-heated dayworld of sun-like consciousness?

165. Peeps or Pimps? Why do we call them ‘people’? We should do better to call them ‘pimples.’ They are eruptions or bulges that appear on the surface—upon the facial skin of life. They are produced when pores, blocked and begrimed with soil and soot, begin to fester upon that skin. Some pimples are big and they leave unsightly scars after they’ve burst and dried up. Most come and go almost without a trace. Because they appear in large numbers during the teenage years, many associate pimples with adolescence—that mysterious transitional phase wherein one is no longer as innocent as a child, but not yet a self-reliant and self-responsible adult. Strangely enough, there are few pleasures as nasty and, at the same time, as purging as popping big fat juicy pimples in front of the lavatory mirror.

166. Little cowards use big guns.

167. All our ‘possessions’ in this world are rented, not owned—and the dearer they are to us, the greater the rent exacted from our souls.  And perhaps, some will say that even the highest rents are worth paying with our very souls. It is not just things and persons that fall under this category of the leased or rented.  Thoughts, feelings, and memories are there, as well.  Perhaps even our individual identities cost us an arm and a leg!  All of these, without exception, may turn out to be no more than schoolbooks used throughout the year by fifth-graders to learn some geography or history, and then are left behind for the next wave of clueless incomers.  They are no more than smudgy mirrors ineptly reflecting the developing face of the soul as it gradually ‘wises up’ about the evanescence of the world—and of itself.

168.  If I prove capable of dissolving my own ego, the big, brittle, bulbous, and bunglingly constructed egos of certain other persons should be relatively easy for me to see through and to analyze into their component parts, were I to apply myself to such work.  In this realm, it is not size that matters so much as quality of materials and the strength of the joints and linkages between the various components.

169. It is because, deep down, I know that all apparent opposites are just that—merely apparent—and that because they cancel each other out, in the end they are nothing, they therefore matter as nothing to the mind that is established in the truth.  I know that in taking the world at face value I chase after dreams and flee from ghosts: therefore, I should seek only stillness and the silence of dispassionate awareness.  Each time I allow myself to get worked up over some distracting piece of personal concern—which can never be anything more than a lapse or disturbance of my attentiveness to the real—I emerge with heightened resolve to stray no more.  All I should allow myself to be concerned with, so far as the world goes, is how I might best contribute to the release from mental bondage of all whom I address.

170. There are certain persons who continue to serve as anchors for me—so that my attachment to them helps to prevent me from flitting and floating away from the human realm.  Unfortunately, anchors are typically composed of lead or some other heavy metal.  Often, these companions have a good deal more success holding me down than I do prying and pulling them up from the sticky sea floor.  Nevertheless, it appears that we need to be tied to each other, even if we continue to baffle and rattle one another.  I’ve already said why I need them.  Could it be that they need me in order to know where to point their gaze should they wish to observe something other than moldering squid carcasses and the innards of sunken ships?

171. Rather than attempt the complicated task of laboriously untying the knot that binds the spirit in a spell of identification with the illusion of egoity, it seems preferable to dissolve the knot in a font of untangling stillness. Desire and fear—which are always ‘pulling our strings’ (or ‘jerking our chains’)—only tighten the knot. Desirelessness and ‘wu-wei’ (not-doing) relax the strings.

172. A person’s style—where it is genuine and not merely an empty posture—arises like a distinctive aroma from his/her most dominant, governing affect(s). I refer here not to transitory or surface emotions and moods but to the deepest affective patterns or energy signatures of the person. Not everyone (consciously or experientially) reaches into these depths, so we often search in vain for anything beyond surface symptoms—all treble but no bass, all leaf and no root, all flesh and no blood-filled heart. For such surface-dwellers, style, such as it is, has no connection with anything essential to the person. When, however, anyone expresses himself from the ground up, an unmistakable sense of style is invariably communicated. It may not be particularly pleasant or appealing, but it will always be unmistakable and recognizable.

173. All the energy and care that the archetypal psychologists lavish upon differentiation of images, motifs, and styles certainly pays big dividends in terms of intellectual and cultural attractiveness—but eventually we find such over-rich food cloying and such precious fare begins to spoil our digestion. In the end, it seems a bit like free-basing samsara—a very different endeavor than seeing through it and loosening its hold upon us. In their initially praiseworthy efforts to regenerate and revitalize the ailing culture of the contemporary West, they eventually began to celebrate culture for its own sake—to sacralize and deify the usefully restored images. As commendably evasive and slippery as he is, James Hillman nevertheless comes within a hair’s breadth of equating these images with divinity itself—if he doesn’t explicitly do so. The prospect of transcendence of the image is not an option for Hillman. To be sure, he does offer the prospect of greater depth—and this is certainly a great advance beyond the shallow literalism and rigid dogmatism of modern ‘fundamentalisms’ of every stripe: Christian, scientific-materialistic, political, etc. But it is still a far cry from true release.

174. It makes all the difference in the world whether a person’s strongest inclination is to search out opportunities for channeling and discharging his human-instinctual desires—or if it is to find a way to liberate his mind and his will from thralldom to these same desires. And then, there are those who just passively stick to the path of least resistance.

175. One simply cannot see anything of true importance concerning his spiritual problem until he has learned to be still. By ‘being still,’ of course, I mean detaching from the automatic mental processes that typically absorb and thoroughly ensnare our limited attention—the crucial factor in bringing about our self-transformation. The actual form or type of mental activity is of secondary importance here—what is important is that it is automatic, habit-reinforced, and therefore almost always compulsive. Only after this power is broken—if only momentarily and intermittently—does genuine stillness begin. And with stillness begins the path of liberation.

176. ‘To love all things equally,’ or equanimity—that is code for being no more moved (or dislodged from a state of centeredness) by one thing than by another.

177. Preferences and Prejudices: In order to fully accept ourselves, we must dispense—at least temporarily—with all those deeply ingrained, stubborn preferences and prejudices that simultaneously guide and restrict our vision of the whole that we’re seeking. But since it is largely this particular constellation of preferences and prejudices that constitutes our prized and precious individuality, the suspension or momentary transcendence of this defining array is tantamount to ego-annihilation. Little wonder that this occurs so rarely—if ever—in most persons’ lives. As hard as it is to retain enthusiasm for our stubborn preferences and prejudices (our governing taste) after we have learned that it is upon such flimsy and questionable ‘ground’ that our little personal lives are erected, most of us dig in our heels and hold our position rather than ‘let go’ and acknowledge just how constricting our defining preferences and prejudices actually are. Perhaps the better part of the general anxiety experienced throughout the human family stems precisely from such doggedly determined exertions to preserve and to protect these precious blinders that are secretly synonymous with our personal egos!

178. Homo Ludens: To what extent does realization of the Self sound the death knell to homo ludens? Play would seem to depend on mind—the wily, protean, beautiful-ugly, parasitic, restlessly productive mind. With the subjugation of mind (as master) infinite play is supplanted by infinite and eternal peace, is it not?

179. Equanimity and Brainwashing: Regarding all things with equanimity is to look upon all things fearlessly and without desire. It entails the suspension of our accustomed habit of assessing things, persons, ideas, and conditions in terms of how appealing or antagonistic they are to our preferences, our personal sense of comfort, propriety, meaningfulness, beauty, and self-interest. Instead—regarding all such phenomena as insubstantial and changeable—we gradually learn to pay them no mind. Absorption with such phenomena only prolongs our bondage. Equanimity is a helpful tool in our effort to wake up from the (by turns, alluring and terrifying) hallucination that is ‘life in the world,’ the body and mind that spawned all this. To those around us who are still thoroughly hoodwinked by the collective hallucination of the world, our efforts to un-brainwash ourselves—to wake up—will necessarily appear to be…brainwashing!

180. Talking to Myself: Oftentimes in the past I have whined about not having like-minded companions and knowledgeable allies within easy reach—persons who strive to live by the same lights, who share more or less the same spiritual goals and priorities. I would bellow out the same old bitter lament: ‘I have no genuine spiritual kin with whom I can speak and who will fully understand both me and my present plight.’ But that is not—and has never been—quite true. For when, with as complete and unreserved a confession as I can deliver, I talk to myself in these journal entries—year after year after year—am I not talking to the closest ally and spiritual kin of all? The one who is always there—always patient, always capable of pointing to the next depth, to the center, to the ground and source—to itself?

 

 

 

 

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An Exercise in Reconciling the Pairs of Opposites (6/20/16)

What typically happens as soon as we begin to take our closest relationships for granted? Do they necessarily begin to wither and die at that point, or are there some situations where such an “autopilot” mode is ideally suited for the growth and development of trust, intimacy, love, and mutual understanding? Don’t genuine love and trust largely depend on a stable container or vessel in which to grow and mature? If such structures – the so-called “terms and conditions” of the relationship – are continually being questioned, scrutinized, and critiqued, won’t their leak-proof protectiveness and stability be under continual threat?

What seems not merely to be implicit, but quite conspicuous, from these preliminary questions is that we can err in either direction. Thoroughly unexamined relationships – where all is taken for granted –invariably deteriorate into suffocating prisons or emotional straitjackets that eventually cripple or kill the very ‘goods’ they were designed and built to protect. At the other end of the spectrum, those relationships, the terms and conditions of which are incessantly being renegotiated on a minute-to-minute basis, are highly susceptible to collapse from sheer exhaustion and wild fluctuation.

Our human-instinctive craving for security will typically nudge us in the direction of unadventurous acquiescence to fixed patterns and routines in our relationships. In religiously adhering to the comfortable (or merely familiar and anchoring) patterns and habits that provide “plot” and “formal structure” to our relationships, we may be purchasing a dubious sense of security at the price of other goods, virtues, or benefits. Honesty and spontaneity may have to be sacrificed, for instance, in order to avoid “rocking the boat.” The more rigid and constrictive the implicit terms and conditions become, the greater the risk of an eruption or meltdown as soon as the repressed, “disturbing” energies begin shaking things up from below – and eventually “life bursts forth.” These repressed instinctual-psychic energies manifest themselves in a variety of different forms: erotic, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and imaginal—and sometimes collectively, as looting/rioting, civil strife, genocide, international war, violent revolution, etc.

Many of us possess a measure of discretion and control over the course of events when the rising sap of life begins to disturb and disrupt the mummified patterns and rigid, rutted rituals that have been locking us up securely inside our mind-forged manacles and protective prisons. We hear persons say that a sacrifice or loss to the ego is an enrichment or enhancement of the soul.  This strikes me as an idea that is relevant in this context. When either the disruptive-vivifying energies of life or the assumption-shattering insights of living wisdom powerfully collide with our protective prison-walls, many of us instinctively cling to our familiar shackles and manacles rather than don the wings of unfamiliar freedom. Some must be dragged, kicking and screaming, from their cells and thrown forcibly into the sea to learn to swim – or fail to learn, and sink. It turns out that a good deal more is under siege than our ‘human, all too human’ attachment to familiar or comfortable feeling states. Such attachments are clearly under threat but these are comparatively trivial, foreground matters when set beside the subtler assault upon our very sense of identity – our established sense of who (or what) we take ourselves to be. This is a far more insidious and terrifying threat precisely because it resembles a death sentence issued against the ego itself – a death preceded by a profound sense of disorientation sometimes so extreme as to warrant the name of “insanity.”

To be sure, there are successful cases on record where such unpleasantries were mitigated, if never quite eliminated, by an outstanding spiritual-psychological education and exceptional self-discipline. But more often than not, these days, such priceless preparation is not readily available to those who need it the most. Such raw recruits upon the internal battlefield of spiritual-psychological transformation are obliged, in most cases, to rely on the extremely limited assistance provided by outmoded, dogmatic teachings (or frothy/diluted “New Age” offerings) that tend to be more stultifying than salutary, more obfuscatory than preparatory. Nevertheless, in spite of such outmoded or diluted spiritual resources as we find upon the barren contemporary cultural landscape, a few intrepid and resourceful initiates are able to navigate through the fateful transformation of consciousness that is detonated by the crisis hinted at above.

As the transformation reaches its destined climax, the newly initiated consciousness has been, in effect, turned inside-out. Where, before, there was an apparently self-serving, outer-directed ego named “so-and-so” who was driven chiefly by personal desires and the will to power, we now find a centered and balanced, interior observer who artfully cooperates with the body-mind-complex (or personal ego) that functions as a kind of agent or vehicle in the waking, sensible world. A new psychic center of gravity has gradually been established over the course of the transformation – and the new center of gravity displays markedly different characteristics than the one from which the initiate’s consciousness has been uprooted and, in a sense, liberated. Echoes from the old standpoint may continue to resonate from time to time within the soul of the initiate, but the once authoritative and irresistible grip of compulsive desires and fears has been broken. Thus, the serene neutrality native to the new standpoint is accessible if and when the tempests of desire, passion, and imagination begin to rise up from the outer periphery of the vortex—while the center always remains calm and still. As the consciousness of the initiate becomes increasingly “at home” within the timeless, motionless center, a number of significant developments occur:

The dispassionate, detached, and pure awareness at the source has the effect, over time, of gradually dissolving the ‘I-am’ thought—the root of the illusion of separate or individual existence. Because the “world” and the “separate self” (or subjective standpoint) are interdependent, as one dissolves, so does the other – into merely apparent existence. The very contexts of time and space no longer have any ‘place’ or ‘duration’ within the perfectly still and peaceful ‘heart of being and non-being.’ In the approximation of consciousness to this rarefied state of stillness, the dependent human ego humbly acknowledges its insignificance and ultimately fictional status. It recognizes its own dependence upon mind, that magical-creative power which emerges from, and is dependent upon, the mysterious source – the formless, eternal absolute.

 

 

Thoughts on Father’s Day (6/19/16)

(Part I)

When I was unable to reach my dad, just now, to wish him happy Father’s Day, I thought about phoning my mother instead. They’ve been divorced since I was seventeen (and I’m now 59) and, although it was my mother who deserted the family after falling insanely in love with another (married and unavailable) man long ago, she has curiously regarded my father with the bitterest hatred ever since—literally demonizing him while elevating herself (in her imagination) to divine status. I would have told her that, despite the fact that THEY have been divorced for twice as long as they were together during my ‘formative years,’ they are still quite (uncomfortably) married inside of me—one of the four (three living) products of their dissolved union. Funny, isn’t it, after all these years, how we—the children of divorce—have no choice but muddle our way through the inherited contradictions, misunderstandings, and incompatibilities that our parents were not equal to. I do not expose these ‘family secrets’ merely to invite others to make analogous public confessions. This is not the Oprah or Ellen page. I am not even lamenting or regretting the way things happened between my parents, for—paradoxically—the things I treasure most about my life and (admittedly) peculiar consciousness would have been inconceivable without that fateful split and enmity between my imperfect ‘creators.’ My dead brother (of alcohol and drug abuse) was not such a fortunate beneficiary of the split, but there’s no telling whether his life would have turned out differently if my parents had found their way through their challenges and opportunities rather than around them. But it’s worth remembering that we—the (grown-up) children of divorce—have no choice but to ‘stay in the marriage’ that our parents, for one reason or another, are unable/unwilling to carry through to the (bitter or sweet or bittersweet) end, for we are, in a sense, the fateful and problematic embodiments of these problematic marriages and divorces, are we not? No judgment here—just some ‘pregnant’ musings directed to those of you who are still struggling to marry your parents’ joint legacy within your valiant souls.

(Part II)

But there’s more to the story—a good deal more. For those who have suffered-endured a certain inner initiation, my next move will resonate powerfully, while for those who have not, it might seem like tricky business, a kind of verbal-conceptual legerdemain. I will preface my remarks with a quote from the great Jung-ster himself:

This is the mother-love which is one of the most moving and unforgettable memories of our lives, the mysterious root of all growth and change; the love that means homecoming, shelter, and the long silence from which everything begins and in which everything ends. Intimately known and yet strange like Nature, lovingly tender and yet cruel like fate, joyous and untiring giver of life – mater dolorosa and mute implacable portal that closes upon the dead. Mother is mother-love, my experience and my secret. Why risk saying too much, too much that is false and inadequate and beside the point, about that human being who was our mother, the accidental carrier of that great experience which includes herself and myself and all mankind, and indeed the whole of created nature, the experience of life whose children we are? The attempt to say these things has always been made, and probably always will be; but a sensitive person cannot in all fairness load that enormous burden of meaning, responsibility, duty, heaven and hell, onto the shoulders of one frail and fallible human being – so deserving of love, indulgence, understanding, and forgiveness – who was our mother. He knows that the mother carries for us that inborn image of them mater natura and mater spiritualis, of the totality of life of which we are a small and helpless part. Nor should we hesitate for one moment to relieve the human mother of this appalling burden, for our own sakes as well as hers. It is just this massive weight of meaning that ties us to the mother and chains her to her child, to the physical and mental detriment of both. (CW, Vol. 9, pt. 1, par. 172)

What I have to add will, in effect, merely be a gloss to Jung’s profound insights and advice. I sensed, early on, that my own mother was not able to carry the great burden that I instinctively WANTED to saddle her with. Many of us become dimly aware, at some point, of the need for a kind of spiritual love that is as pure as it is impersonal and non-discriminatory—the sort of love that Christ and the Buddha gave unforgettable expression to in their exemplary lives. Not even Mary, his ‘immaculate’ and perfectly charitable mother was able to answer Jesus’ ‘superhuman’ or transcendent need for the ‘higher love’ that stirred in the depths of his heart. How much less equipped was my delicate and nervous mother to provide me even with stable human love, let alone the ‘transpersonal’ sort! The soul of my mother was fragile and as prone to compensatory delusions of grandeur as was the soul of ‘Blanche Dubois’; her ‘shortcomings’ as a mother were not so much her fault as they were constitutional and culturally reinforced. All of us are helpless—at some point—against the overwhelming power of the archetypes and a big one swallowed up my poor mother a long time ago. (She’s still alive and probably monitoring this thread, so I will try and be as respectfully discreet as possible while disclosing only what is necessary to make my point.) In many cases, the child’s relationship with the actual mother becomes one of, if not the crucial, battlefields whereupon the transformation from ‘personalistic’ to ‘transpersonal’ (or transcendent) consciousness is played out. It is a ‘razor-edged path’ insofar as both excessively positive and negative forms of attachment must be transcended so that a benign neutrality can supersede them. Viewed in this way, our most important and fateful actual relationships (with parents, spouses, teachers, adversaries, children, etc.) turn out, for some of us, to be merely the foreground or ‘staging area’ for archetypal negotiations and initiations into the subtler, deeper realm—behind the scenes—of the underworld of the psyche. But the price of admission, of course, is the ‘letting go’ of our ‘mother complex’ or some other ‘literal-personal’ attachment that BINDS us to the ‘stage drama’ that is always underway in the concrete realm of persons and events.

Pilate’s Query (6/17/16)

With respect to ourselves, we cannot tell the truth unless we know the truth – and, as we shall find, we cannot deliberately lie about ourselves unless we know the truth that is being falsified, minimized, or distorted. Of course the only way to begin knowing the truth about ourselves is to courageously and honestly confront that truth. The habit of presenting ourselves in the most favorable or advantageous light may almost be counted among the basic instincts of the human animal. It is this self-serving instinct that the honest and courageous human being is up against in his or her valiant attempt to tell the truth about himself-herself. Our ideals – or some “presentable” or socially acceptable facsimile of ourselves – are always closer to hand and more easily employed than the truth, which is comparatively elusive, complicated, and problematic.

Undoubtedly, after reading this, some persons will be tempted to respond with, “Yes, Paul, what you’ve written here is all very nice, even if it’s a bit superficial and naïve. Now, really, what is this truth you speak of – and how can it be anything but subjective, and therefore different for each person – or perhaps even a meaningless abstraction altogether? Haven’t we moderns outgrown old-fashioned, objective notions of truth and other such dogmatic concepts?” I used to be a good deal more obliging and indulgent toward such questioners. Now I find such questions shallow, tedious, and evasive. Thus, I would have to answer: we all remember, as children, playing hide and seek, when someone would say “you’re getting warmer… No, now you’re getting colder.” Similarly, we all have a sense of when we’re getting warmer or getting colder when it comes to that elusive “X” referred to as “the truth about ourselves.” And we can always tell when we’re getting warmer because certain resistances have to be overcome in order to approach it, which is why it is artfully disguised from us most of the time. A certain amount of humility, exertion, and courage are always required, and in such virtues are not broadly distributed, so far as I can tell.

On the Feminine Today (11/13)

There is still a good deal of talk about how needful the present world is of ‘the feminine’—and of how patriarchal, or male-dominated forms of thinking and governing are somehow resistant to this ‘feminine’ energy that could help to heal us and the planet. But this whole position seems very suspicious—if not cockeyed—to me. For one thing, materialism—which, last time I checked, does in fact appear to be the prevailing metaphysical scheme behind the vast majority of Western cultural-political-economic initiatives, is intimately bound up with mater. And if ‘mother’ is not female, what (or who) is? From where I am standing (or swimming), the obsession with material objects, with the body, with owning and acquiring, and so forth, seems to be the antithesis of (noble, ‘Brahmin,’ ‘Spartan,’ etc.) male disdain for such ‘sticky’ and ‘binding’ preoccupations. It may be worth noting here that ancient sages—East and West—typically regarded the ‘merchant class’—as well as wealthy oligarchs—with a heaping (and healthy) measure of contempt. What I detect is the eclipse of the genuinely masculine revolt against all such ‘worldly’ and ‘possessive’ concerns. Like the spirit, the truly male side of the continuum prefers liberty over liberality, inner autonomy over ‘global economy,’ stillness over busy-ness, composure over exposure. Contrary to many Jungians, who often argue that our male-dominated culture needs more of the feminine, I would claim that the current (popular) obsession with wealth, economics, sensual pleasures, bodily concerns, the feverish acquisition of goods and property is more closely tied up with the feminine (material) end of the spectrum than the masculine (immaterial) end. Yet another of my ‘unpopular’ opinions.

Zero-Sum and Balancing Out (7/11)

Periodically—and unfailingly—this grand but simple thought returns to me: everything in the world of experience ultimately balances out, so that nothing essential is truly lost and nothing is truly gained—in the universe.  (I wonder if this grand and simple, sobering thought isn’t a first cousin to Nietzsche’s equally grand, simple, and sobering thought of the ‘eternal recurrence of the same.’)  My ‘zero-sum’ thought is either crushing or edifying (like the eternal recurrence idea), depending on what standpoint we view it from.  From the standpoint of the separate ego—the ‘part’ (in both the theatrical sense of the word and the geometrical sense, as well) is foredoomed to reabsorption into the whole—and this means its death as a separate, dependent entity.  From the standpoint of the Self, or spirit, however, this same process of ‘transcendence’ of partiality by way of reabsorption into the source, or whole, is the guarantee of liberation.  In between these two opposed standpoints stands the Cross, where the ego (the body) is broken and spirit is released.  Happiness is for children.  Bliss is reserved for survivors of the Crucifixion.  Unless and until a man ceases to ‘pursue happiness’ in the ordinary, mundane sense, he will remain a child, spiritually—forfeiting his right and his opportunity to attain the bliss of liberation (from ego-identification).

Obviously, this grand and simple idea shares archetypal DNA with the First Law of Thermodynamics, or the Law of Conservation of Energy, which declares that energy cannot be destroyed or created—only changed in its form.  My recurring intuition simply amounts to the psychic equivalent of this law of physics.  We may appear—now and again—to be heading up or down in our fortunes, either in terms of our freedom or in terms of pleasure or pain, but ultimately we are always heading for the centerpoint, where all apparent contraries are neutered.  At this neutral point in the center, all dynamic tensions—all attractions and repulsions—cease.  It’s as still, quiet, and safe as the eye of the hurricane.  There is no incentive to move—but there are many incentives to stay put.  Paradoxically, they are incentives without pressure.  One surrenders to the peace and stillness, or one ‘suits up’ for yet another round in the big game that’s always going on just outside the quiet zone.

*****

When the pairs of opposites are balanced and the wars have simmered down, there is nothing to do—and the doer is therefore threatened with the bliss of destruction.  It is the cessation of all striving that ‘unhinges’ the doer.  From the strife of the warring opposites is born the striving doer and the forward-looking thinker.  Striving and willing are familiar to the doer and, because familiar, they have something soothing and comforting about them.  Paradoxically, it is the balancing of the pairs of opposites—the end of the wars and the beginning of peace—that discombobulates the actor, for driven doers don’t take well to ‘retirement.’  The death of the ego is bound up, then, with the end of strife, a word related to ‘strive’ (in German).  Out of the ashes of egoism, effortlessness rises.

There is another conspicuous paradox inherent in the pursuit of inner peace by means of ‘mind control,’ for inner peace is attained only with the surrender of control, not its unchallenged sway.  The ‘part’ cannot force or command the whole to come to it, but it can recognize its incompleteness and its ‘partiality’ and—in recognizing this—quit striving to achieve the impossible.  The will of the individual ego reaches its final stage of development—and the beginning of its end—precisely here, in the recognition of its inadequacy as a bringer of peace.  Those who live by the sword die by the sword and the will must willingly fall upon its sword.  Caesar kisses Christ.  Impassioned Nietzsche kneels before impassive Buddha.  Matter meets antimatter and both are consumed, leaving the Void.

Flowing Faucets and Piping Flutes (7/1/10—Asunción)

It is not difficult to form a conception of ourselves as little faucets that are opened up (with our eyes) in the morning and turned off (with the television set in our bedrooms) at night.  Throughout the waking day, the ‘water’ that pours or trickles through us is essentially the same water pouring and trickling through the billions of other human faucets around the globe.  But the distinctive plumbing concealed within the walls and below the ground (near the water main from which our allotment gushes or trickles) lends a peculiar taste, color, and odor to the water that comes out of us.  Or, because of crimps and constrictions in the pipes, the water may be blocked or focused into a thin but powerful stream.  If the blockage at the end of or behind our faucet is severe, the flow may diminish and eventually die out altogether, or it may cause pressure to the bursting point.

Another, closely related metaphor is the flute.  The quality of the music produced by the wind passing through the flute is beautiful or discordant, loud or faint, shrill or warmly resonant, depending on the size and quality of the flute, the condition of the holes or stops, and the artful management of the airstream.

Habit and early instruction, along with the fortunes and flaws with which we are born, are the great shapers and sustainers of our faucets and flutes.  Much, if not most, of the flow of our faucets and the sound of our music is irrevocably established within the first two decades of our lives.  It is very difficult, and therefore rare, for us to significantly increase the volume or to artfully modify the flow pattern of that which trickles or pours from our faucets and flutes.  Thus, it is always easier to adapt to the way things are—to “go” with the flow.  But then we have even less control over the hidden plumbing behind and beneath us where so many coloring confluences, strange aromas, and other additives are mixed into what pours or trickles out of us.