211. On language and the cherished sense of security that its limited or poorly-developed use fosters: Let us liken the non-verbal or pre-conceptual regions of the psyche to a continually-flowing stream. The ‘solid’ words and concepts that a person has at his disposal may be compared to large stones or boulders that can be seen jutting above the surface of that ever-flowing stream. On either side of the stream are solid, earthen banks where lots of persons dwell, many of whom avoid or deny the existence of the stream altogether. Here, I am not concerned with these deniers, but only with those who like to leap from stone to jutting stone above the stream’s babbling surface. These leapers over and above the stream often fancy themselves ‘knowers’ of the stream from firsthand experience, but that would be scanned. True firsthand knowers of the stream are actually aquatic or at least amphibious creatures. And the aquatic-amphibious stream-dwellers who happen also to be writers and poets tend to be impish and mischievous. This comes out in their cunning skill at luring the un-aquatic out onto the slipperiest rocks and then splashing them with their tail fins, doing their rascally best to make them fall in.
212. Because heightened sensitivity (of intellect, of feelings, of our sense of justice, of the importance of our work, etc.) significantly magnifies the power of ‘stimuli,’ the occasions that elicit a more or less fitting response from the sensitive person will frequently be correspondingly fainter than is the case with their more pachydermic and bullheaded comrades. So faint, in fact, that more often than not these ‘occasions’ are deemed ‘imaginary,’ ‘unimportant,’ or altogether non-existent by the less attuned. But, of course, upon seeing how his experience is slighted and misconstrued by those around him, the sensitive man labors all the more assiduously to validate and articulate his ‘findings.’ Thus, by and by, he establishes stable criteria—new standards and tests—by which he is able to determine the meaningful difference between the few who can hear what he is saying and the many who cannot—or will not.
213. In what respects is individuation ‘particularization’? Why do generic emotions, generic speech, and generic persons leave many of us cold and yawning? Particularized human beings with highly differentiated traits and thoroughly articulated views, feelings, and aesthetic responses are far more likely to provoke a response—a definite judgment of some kind. With the former sort, it’s a bit like trying to stick a pin in a frothy surge of soap suds.
214. Let’s take a look at ‘personalistic’ consciousness and the gradual process of depersonalization that accompanies the extension, deepening, and subtilization of consciousness. A related theme here is that of the mind’s capacity for transcendence of its initial anthropocentric and anthropomorphic bearings. Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Christ, Plato, Plotinus, Newton, Einstein, and other visionaries seem to have glimpsed and then, to a certain degree, mapped territory that surrounds (or inheres in) the ‘human’ horizons of ordinary experience but is beyond the range of ordinary human receptivity. From such exceptional cases, are we justified in inferring an innate capacity within the mind itself to untether itself from the merely human horizons?
215. How does loneliness or solitariness promote creative expression? In what ways can being in an erotically/emotionally satisfying relationship with a conjugal partner slacken creative tension and the pressure to communicate from one’s depths? Are we even incited to plumb the depths so long as we are contentedly ‘completed’ or ‘other-halved’?
216. By assigning two, seemingly divergent terms to designate the ongoing process or ‘evolving’ goal of psychological development—‘individuation’ and ‘wholeness’—Jung plants the seeds for a therapeia with two foci. One focus pertains to everything that is particular, unique, and singular about the person: his/her distinctive endowments, cumulative experiences, habits, limitations, preferences, tastes, etc. The other focus pertains to the whole, the interrelated, transpersonal, natural, psychic, and spiritual factors which, together, constitute the mysterious source from which all individuals—past, present, and to come—are spawned, and back into which they are eventually dissolved or reabsorbed. The art (or opus) of personality development consists chiefly in the comprehensive, nuanced articulation and expression of the living and ever-transforming marriage between the individual psyche and the whole of existence. This is essentially a philosophical life, an artistic life, and a religio-ethical life rolled into one.
217. What if Heidegger’s refusal to recant his association with the Nazi party (or to publicly condemn National Socialism after the war)—instead of being regarded as incontrovertible evidence of his moral obtuseness, his haughty pride, or his intrinsic corruption—was his silent, private/public acknowledgement that, under certain conditions, virtually all ‘Daseins’ (by virtue of the evil latent within them) are capable of ‘descending’ into Nazism? What if, instead of writing him off because of his notorious silence on the Nazi question, we were at least to entertain the possibility that his silence veils strength equal to his ‘weakness,’ goodness equal to his—and our—terrible evil? I, for one, choose to believe that he deliberately left the ‘nut’ of his conspicuous silence for us to chew on and attempt to ‘crack’ with teeth of varying grades of fitness.
218. Loyalty, as a virtue, is rightly linked with the integrity of the personality as a whole—but not without qualification. There must also be a proper sense of measure respecting the principle, person, or aim to which our loyalty is attached. If, for instance, the aim is too narrow or the person vicious and unworthy of our precious store of loyalty, we do great violence to our prospects for wholeness, or rounded development—key features of integrity. If, on the other hand, our loyalty is directed to some ideal or aim that is so baggy and abstract that we are unable to get it into focus or ‘sink our teeth’ into it, we have once again missed our shot. Finding principles, persons, and projects that are properly suited to our capacities and worthy of our loyalty can take a while, but since we’re talking about what may well be the most important question of our life, we should take our time with this one. Thus, we should never listen to those persons who tell us that it doesn’t matter so much what or to whom we are loyal—just so long as we are intensely sincere in our loyalty—for they are deluded fools.
219. It is easy to see into and right through a person when there’s not a whole lot in there to begin with. Their ‘souls,’ rather than consisting of richly-textured, varicolored tapestries and garden-menageries worthy of exotic sultans, are cobbled together from haphazard, inherited skeletal fragments and spider-web filaments. When gazing into their psychic innards we may, for a moment, mistakenly believe we are beholding great variety and complexity, lurid colors and dramatic movement—but we soon discover that we are actually peering into the marvelous unconscious background—with which the ‘person’ has no more of a consciously articulate or imaginative relationship than a translucent, spineless jellyfish has with the ocean’s vast panoply of creatures. It is precisely because there is almost nothing there where the person should be that such vistas are afforded to those who are equipped to see beyond the vapid and vacuous little ego, which has no choice but to get out of the way like a good little window.
220. Sex and Spirit: I have often suspected that the deeper psychological roots of my own rather mysterious and formidable erotic yearnings are bound up with the equally uncanny and stubbornly irrepressible craving for personal oblivion—for ecstatic and utterly blissful self-forgetfulness. Is there some subterranean link between this speculation of mine and Nietzsche’s aphoristic declaration from Beyond Good and Evil (75): ‘The degree and type of a person’s sexuality reaches up into the furthermost peaks of their spirit’? There is certainly the suggestion here that a kind of ‘grounding’ is afforded, if only momentarily, by such unreserved and abandoned immersions in the body—or in the euphoric coalescence of body with body in the transports of sexual congress. In such moments that critical-creative tension typically present in self-consciousness temporarily dissolves or collapses in the rapture of orgasm. Analogously, the experience—also typically fleeting for those of us who qualify for such experiences—of absorption in (or by) the spirit seems to dissolve the tension of self-consciousness. This mystical union—as Rumi, the Sufi poet, recognized—serves as a kind of mirror image or spiritual twin to the rapturous communion of sexual ecstasy. Are we then to conceive of these as two poles—somatic and pneumatic—and that the charged space in between these two poles is the ‘field of play’ for most of us most of the time we are alive?
221. The gloomy or glorious character we philosophers ascribe to existence, as such, typically depends upon whether, at the time of writing, we happen to be surfing – or drowning – in the sea of ambiguous, polaristic possibilities referred to by that general-purpose word, ‘consciousness.’
222. Following Jung’s and Hillman’s salutary examples, I have attempted, in my own slightly different manner, to recover the lost language of the soul. I have perhaps given somewhat more care and attention to the study of Plato, the Advaitists, and Shakespeare than they were inclined to give, in my search for lost or neglected spiritual resources. But instead of making short shrift of Indian spirituality and of Platonic metaphysics as I sometimes suspect Jung and Hillman did, I have learned something of importance about the value and the limits of soul, or imagination, in the path of liberation, which may be distinguished from the path of human wholeness.
223. ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’ in the present-day world: It is only natural that talented persons love nothing so much as putting their talents on display. There is virtually universal agreement that such display is a good thing. Since every person is supposed to possess at least one talent, all of us are nudged or prodded, both from within and without, to show off our talent. Even if the overwhelming majority of the people around us happen to ignore or snore at our particular skill set, the same people unanimously agree, in principle, that the development and display of our unvalued talent is a good and necessary thing.
224. I suspect that the middle way between the Dionysian path of ego dissolution (in a condition of blissful merger with nature or the void) and the Apollonian path of ego differentiation – the principium individuationis – is the best way for me to go – and to go out.
225. I am increasingly disposed to approach all things, persons, and situations paradoxically, ironically, dialectically, equivocally, and guardedly. This seems quite appropriate, given the polaristic nature of the psyche. The natural language of the psyche is metaphor, polyvalent images, paradox. Strictly defined concepts and dogmatic formulations that pride themselves, as it were, on their inflexibility and universal character are native to the extremely egoistic range of consciousness. It is a defensive posture – one that is unworthy of the truly creative spirit. Such consciousness is inherently binding and uncompromising.
226. One thing I’ve learned – or that I’m finally beginning to learn – from James Hillman is the liberating power of pathologizing. As the imagination becomes increasingly free from the regulative-leveling fantasy of “the reality principle” – or the hypostatization of literalistic-concretistic ego-consciousness into the inviolable law that determines and decides what valid utterance consists in – it is no longer burdened with the onus of having to scrape and bow before the tribunal of fact-idolaters. The imagination was born for bigger and better things than to genuflect before well-documented and “commonsensical” banalities.
227. In its most virulent and exaggerated manifestations, ego is the antithesis of spirit – an armed defense against spirit, which is rightly perceived as the ego’s inimical twin, its undoing, its annihilation. The natural response to this perceived threat of annihilation is an intensification and rationalization of self-interest. The Renaissance was – from a collective psychological perspective – an articulate, organized reaction by “anti-Christian” egotism against the ascetic and selfless directives that had gained cultural traction during the medieval era. Dante to Machiavelli marks the transition (by way of Petrarch and Boccaccio).
228. Socrates’ daimon never told him what to do – only what not to do. But it doesn’t take a “genius” to see that “what not to do” is simply the obverse side of a single coin, the front side of which is “what to do.” Nevertheless, Socrates’ daimon seems to have personified the via negativa for him – a kind of doorway to stillness, perhaps. I am thinking here of the sort of stillness that cuts like a scalpel through the noise and mental clutter of those one is questioning.
229. If I am genuinely becoming less and less invested in my own ego-personality, how can I be expected to work up a lot of personal attachment and enthusiasm for others—as egos? It seems that attachment to other persons is being gradually supplanted by deepened attention to my own and other persons’ capacity for liberation from the waking dream of separate personhood.
230. We might ask: what consequences are likely to occur from the following circumstances or events: 1) An unsuitable or utterly inadequate “actor” gets cast in one of the most important “roles” in our early life (say, “mother” or “pastor,” “first love” or “best friend”)? 2) After benefiting from a long and satisfying relationship with an adequate “actor” in such an archetypal role, that person dies, drifts away, abandons or betrays us? What happens if we re-cast that vacated role with a new and more or less suitable replacement? What happens if we leave it vacant?
231. What, finally, does it matter if a person professes his faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, the Loch Ness monster, or the Bermuda triangle? So long as such canonical doctrines and modern myths remain mere articles of faith – concepts we may either assent to or reject at will – nothing of genuine psychological/spiritual moment is at issue. If, on the other hand, someone has a bona fide vision of the Trinity; a compelling intuitive understanding of the symbol of the Immaculate Conception; an actual encounter with the Loch Ness monster; or inexplicably goes down in a plane over the Caribbean Sea precisely where dozens of other flights have crashed – then we’re talkin’. Anything less than this and I find it difficult to suppress a yawn.
232. If you sincerely desire spiritual transformation or moral regeneration, it is necessary to be creative, and not optional. One must actively explore and undertake the work involved in this process. There’s nothing “automatic,” or “foreordained” about this process of self- transformation. Passivity and laziness result, reliably, in spiritual-moral torpor, decay, and death. There’s no getting around the sobering fact. The “living” are continually stepping over and around corpses and the walking dead, day after day.
233. The fact that humans are, for the most part, ruled by commonsense is precisely why they used to disappoint me, practically without deviation. At age 59, I’ve trimmed my expectations accordingly. Genuine wisdom – and exceptional virtue – have very little to do, as it turns out, with ‘run of the mill’ commonsense and the timid-prudent, self-interested ‘goodness’ that it so smugly and unanimously masks. Do ‘commonsense’ and ‘conventional wisdom’ share a lot of DNA, or is one superior to the other?
234. The only way to attain a proper understanding of the ‘human’ – and the limits to the human, as such – is, first, to be sufficiently immersed to gain a feel for its principal modes and arenas of experience and, second, to rise and to descend ‘above’ and ‘below’ the frontiers of the human. This would not be possible unless the imagination contained within itself the seed, or potential, for such ‘trans-human’ experiences. My accustomed feeling states both bind me to the orbit of human experience and point beyond that orbit. In other words, they are ambivalently conservative and radically liberating in their character, their orientation, and their potential. The conservative feeling states nudge me towards maintaining vital ties of mutual affection/respect with other humans – whereas the radically liberating ones perceive all such bonds of personal attachment as fetters that must be cast off if I am to attain the freedom I yearn for.
235. With a certain number of my Facebook posts it is not a presentation of the ‘expressed views of the author,’ but rather a riddle to be cracked by the reader. It is as if the piece (which is typically provocative or jarring in some way or another) were asking ‘under what sort of conditions – inner or circumstantial – does this depiction of things make sense? What, if anything, is problematic or dubious about such conditions of which this depiction is a symptom?’
236. Pleasure and pain (and the tidal oscillation between them) pertain to the body and the passions/emotions connected with the bodily experience. Freedom, on the other hand, pertains to the spirit and, therefore, transcends mere pleasure and pain. Soul – or metaxy – resides in the region in between the body (as an arena of experience) and the spirit, and thus partakes of both: pleasure/pain and freedom, but not in a pure or unadulterated sense.
237. Imagination and psychology are concerned with the various states or topoi of the ‘soul perspective.’ Advaita is concerned with the pure, formless awareness before which mere states rise and fall, leaving it unchanged and unmoved. Neither the soul-perspective nor still, silent awareness are entities, but one is identified with mind and form, while the other is not – abiding in itself.
238. The psychological quest for quality should perhaps be distinguished from the quest for happiness, and certainly from the search for pleasure. There is a quality, say, of bitterness, of indignation, of remorse, of forlornness, of alienation, of contempt, of helplessness – all of which should be intimately known by the ‘psychologist,’ but which are scarcely deserving of the name ‘happy’ or ‘pleasant.’ Quality here pertains to the purity or depth of one’s experience of these perspectives and states of the soul.
239. To what extent does the active assertion constitute or ground personal identity? If we distinguish the formal elements of personal identity from those factors that pertain to the will, we can begin to understand this problem. The formal elements may be said to consist in those memories, habits of thought and feeling, and other particularizing features that we familiarly acknowledge as ‘our own.’ The will to assert and affirm the reality, the validity, the importance, etc., of these formal, defining features may be vehement or weak – but, in any event, it can be distinguished, if not entirely separated, from them, in the same way that a battery can be distinguished from the radio or cell phone that it powers.
240. A monistic philosophical or psychological scheme is only as respectable as its detailed, comprehensive, and penetrating treatment of the various disparate elements that come under its broad canopy, as well as the interrelationships between these elements. Most monistic systems fail precisely here. Why? Because the unifying and totalizing will of the philosopher thrives at the expense of the will to differentiation. Put differently: the logical will to unity and consistency tyrannize his over the will to pluralistic, polycentric meaningfulness.