The Bark of Freedom (2/11/11)

Any dignity I may lay claim to…any real pleasure I can trustingly savor: these depend upon the degree of freedom that I can justly claim for myself. Isn’t that true? And my conception—rather, my experience—of freedom has undergone many significant transformations over the years, has it not? It may very well be a much more compact and fragile possession now than ever before, but it is also more authentic and more fully within my limited power to maintain—if I so choose—than was the case before. Instead of conceiving freedom as the ecstasy of being swept powerfully along by a gigantic wave of passion or emotional zeal—by merging with that wave—I now see it as the tiny, handmade boat I employ either to stay on top of the waves that come upon me, or to get out of their way altogether before being swallowed up and compelled to move where the waves take me.

But alas, it is an unpopular pursuit. We often look about in vain for other boatmen. What we more commonly encounter are poor souls who are either merged helplessly with the waves or we see them huddled on the shore, determined to never again venture out into the sea.

It may be true that the genuinely free man has always been left pretty much alone to enjoy his freedom—and not only because of its rarity as a laboriously constructed, delicate vessel that transports him for a short while over the many forms of unfreedom which generally prevail—but because we are obliged to create and inhabit our own boats. We cannot be given the little boat of freedom. And because it is little, there is only room for one—its owner and maker. We may encounter another navigator upon the waves from time to time—and we may even travel alongside him or her for awhile—but it must never be forgotten that they are not precisely in the same boat we’re in, and vice versa. And eventually, the very freedom we prize so heartily compels us to bid a friendly adieu—or an au revoir—to our companion. Perhaps muffling a sigh of commingled sadness and relief, we move on in the sweet melancholy of our familiar solitude towards new tracts in a boundless sea.

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In the past few years I have done much ‘diving’—perhaps as a corrective or counterbalance to all the (puer) ‘flying’ I did earlier. Eventually, I hope to live meaningfully and calmly on the surface where the sea meets the sky. This is the hidden sense behind my ‘bark of freedom’ image: the boat moves rather freely and securely upon the plane (or membrane) of connection between the sublime heavens and the profound watery depths. Without a boat that is equipped with sails, a rudder, compact cargo deck, and a strong hull, we are much more exposed and much more limited in terms of mobility and safety. With our sails we can harness the wind from the heavens. But our constructed vessel also allows us to travel more safely and securely upon the seasonal currents when the wind dies down. Below deck we can store provisions and fresh water for long and extensive journeys—a benefit not enjoyed by swimmers.

 

CPR on a Relative Day (8/14/11)

Today is one of those days (they’ve happened before and they are likely to happen again) when I wake up to a completely relativistic experience of reality, where nothing is solid and reliable or sound and trustworthy. I have the stabbing sense that everything I have struggled to express and to create over the course of my 54 years—all of it!—is stale, lamentably makeshift, a provisional sketch with no more validity than a wooden nickel. This relativistic experience of the inadequacy and spuriousness of every thing and every perspective is abhorrent to that stubbornly persistent will to truth inside of me. It mocks it into stammering paralysis.

Is this relativistic dissolution of all seemingly solid standpoints an unavoidable implication of the zero-sum game model that I have been inclined to accept, of late? (There I go, trying to find and hang onto a paradigm that contains the relativism in a conceptual net! ‘Will to power’ in its most spiritualized mode of expression?) In any event, there is no denying that in making a mockery of my own and everyone else’s attempts to construct or create ideas, works, or perspectives that are impervious to corrosion, subversion, and contradiction, this relativism certainly feels nihilistic. When I am enveloped (or devoured) by this zero-sum game perspective, my own will to persist and to create is momentarily hamstrung, if not castrated. In writing these lines am I not merely drawing on fumes from my emptied gas tank?

But what if life—inside and out—depends on a continual administering of cardiopulmonary resuscitation to itself, by itself—in order to keep going? This would indeed be a kind of continual creation ex nihilo, would it not? An urgent sort of nuclear fission process that reaches from the very core of the cosmos out to the desolate periphery where flotsam and jetsam like myself are enabled in rare moments to peek through the deceptive veils of ‘Being’ into the anxious, irritated bowels of ‘Becoming.’

When I am ‘caught’ by this relativistic-nihilistic perspective, I am enabled briefly to ‘see through’ my own merely apparent and ephemeral ‘being’ into the non-existence that does not simply await me after my death—or precede me before my birth—but (to employ a paradox) is always already there. It is as if my personality, my body, and everything that has or can come out of me is no more and no less than a momentarily congealed image, dream, or fantasy.

When I gaze into this ‘black bile’ of my personal negation—this ‘antimatter’ mirror image of my briefly entertained sense of substantiality—what prevents me from being utterly baffled and obliterated? By treating this whole experience non-literally, as metaphor…as fantasy. And this seems perfectly fitting, does it not, since not so many sentences ago I dismissed the possibility of real being, abiding substantiality. But fantasy—the ongoing play and counterplay of images in a continually dying and rebirthing psyche: is it real in any reliable sense?

Reversals (7/30/10—Buenos Aires)

In struggling always to assume the position of the detached observer—the aloof assessor and psychic cartographer—much of my adult life has been very different in many respects from the lives of others. I have perhaps instinctively (or, was it more artfully?) resisted the sort of immersion and investment in the world of everyday, concrete affairs that most of those around me are happily and/or hellishly steeped in. To what extent does my ‘sideline’ position make me unfit for play upon the field? Whatever advantages my disengaged perspective may enjoy (because of its distance from the actual business being transacted on that field) are offset or countered by the shortcomings that also attend my position. Too much theory and too little practice? Too much Apollo and Hades and not enough Eros, Hermes, and Dionysos?

Is it possible that I flatter myself in supposing that these deficiencies I suffer from in the realm of real-world affairs are more than adequately compensated by the rich and full engagement I have with psychic or inner affairs—both my own and those of a number of persons around me? By giving this situation such a positive spin I may be excusing myself from having to develop the other side of my personality—the side that has remained aloof from the mundane activities and binding commitments that define the lives of most human beings, now as ever. If it is in fact true that I have painted myself into a corner by refusing to invest (any more than is absolutely required of me) in the world of everyday affairs, then a number of consequences seem likely to have followed. Aside from possible weaknesses (of vision, ability, endurance) that come from my simply not exercising myself in that big arena—weaknesses I’ve already touched upon—there are perhaps certain prejudices and consoling lies that I have been susceptible to, as well. These prejudices against ‘the others’ who are quite well-adapted to the practical demands of everyday life implicitly disparage the importance of an entire range of ‘normal’ and even pleasant experiences from which I have, to a great extent, ostracized myself because of my cranky aloofness and my attitude of ‘superior’ detachment. By undervaluing or maligning the mundane preoccupations of the majority in this wholesale manner, I am unconsciously defending (or inflating the value of) my own questionable, lopsided position as a disengaged outsider. It would greatly behoove me to expose all such psychological tricks and stratagems that I unconsciously exploit as a means of dubiously propping up my comparatively unpopular, ‘outsider’ way of life—the life of the watcher, observer, psychologist, and cultural critic.

In seeking a better understanding of how and why this wary attitude towards the majority of my fellows developed over time, I undertake my self-delivery from this dark womb of ignorance and moral-political-paternal aloofness in which I have been bobbing about like a feisty and finicky fetus for many years. Sure, the antinomian and antagonistic posture I have assumed—or which has turned me into its poster boy—for all these years has yielded its share of interesting insights and valuable lessons. But it is quite possible that I have attributed disproportionate value to these lessons and insights (and to the unavoidably limited perspective out of which they emerged) simply because I was stuck there for so long and had little else to write about but the view from my commodious cell. Certainly, it was more the cell of the devout and contemplative anchorite than it was the prison cell of the lawbreaker or the padded cell of the lunatic.

Were I convinced that I’m securely situated in the driver’s seat of my little life, I would unhesitatingly claim that these developments owe everything to my consciously deliberate efforts. But that would be scann’d. Earlier, I used the phrase ‘my self-delivery’ as if I hatched all this on my own. But the truth is somewhat more complicated, I now see. An enantiodromia, or ‘running counter to (itself),’ has been underway for some time in my psyche, a process of enormous psychological significance over which I (as ego) have no control—no more than I do over the aging process. What this process of enantiodromia consists in, quite simply, is the gradual redirection of psychological values and perspectives towards their polar opposites. Certainly, we can fight or resist the natural ebb and flow of our psychic energy, or libido, but the laws of inner tidal activity are beyond the reach of our personal will and control. All is in a process of being turned on its head precisely because the flow and tendency of my psychic energy reached its furthermost limit—like the incoming tide—and now it quite spontaneously and lawfully reverses its course. What this fundamental reversal of the flow of psychic energy translates into on the conscious plane should be fairly obvious by now. I am being compelled (not simply coaxed or entreated) to see, to feel, and to live the ‘other side’ of life—all those qualities, perspectives, and values from which I have been psychically aloof for so long.

If I am reluctant to take personal credit for orchestrating and engineering this great reversal that is having such a profound impact upon my inner and outer life, I cannot, by the same token, take full responsibility for the ‘problematic’ situation I’ve been enmeshed in for quite some time, now. Where I did have a goodly measure of freedom was in how much of myself I was willing and able to pour into the exploration and articulate expression of the psychic territory into which I had been pulled by powers greater than my ego. I want to believe—perhaps need to believe—that I have acquitted myself well and honorably here, employing all my strength of mind and heart in the performance of a task that can scarcely be expected to garner the sort of encouragement I nevertheless tacitly yearned for from others. Now I understand a bit more clearly why such encouragement could only come from a few friends and sympathetic spirits here and there along the way, for now I recognize that this task, by its very nature and bent, causes the souls of most decent folk to bristle with anxiety and muted outrage if and when they are transfixed by its hypnotic gaze. It is their undoing, as it was mine. But now I begin, ever so gradually, to stick my head—and later, perhaps, my hands—out of this beautiful, deathlike underworld.

Our Indebtedness to Fear and Ignorance (12/7/10—Buenos Aires)

I recognize the bipolar character of the psyche. Now, this bipolarity is actually a matter of direct experience and not simply a theoretical concept for me. It seems like a natural, simple, and obvious thing to acknowledge the fact that all of our stances—in terms of our emotional attitudes toward things, persons, conditions, etc.—are variable (polyvalent) and subject to significant alteration and transformation, if we are able, that is, to relax the grip with which we tend to cling to these positions.

Hanging onto our ‘positions’ affords the temporary benefit of simplifying things—by ‘freezing’ our experience of the persons and conditions in our lives in such a way as to fix their value. Some persons are designated ‘friends’ and ‘allies,’ others are ‘foes’ and ‘rivals.’ Perhaps most persons simply leave us indifferent. Likewise, circumstances that we’re immersed in are either favorable or not—pure and simple—and this illusory sense of stability is immensely comforting to persons who are frightfully inept at dealing with the more liquid and equivocal actual character of things. Roles and values are assigned, as it were, by the ‘fixing agents’ in the ego, and a blind eye is, in effect, turned to all evidence that fails to conform with the stubborn preconceptions unconsciously projected upon the dramatis personae in the ego’s ‘staging area.’

Needless to say, most of the people with whom we are dealing—the co-players with whom we are acting out our little or large roles in life—view and respond to us as if we, too, were fixed entities. To the extent that our co-actors are unwilling or unable to acknowledge those qualities or potentials of ours than are not included within their fixed (prejudiced and reductive) conceptions of us, many perfectly valid parts of us simply go unseen, unheard, and unresponded to by them. These projected, governing ‘frames’ greatly delimit, color, and simplify the relationship with these persons, from their end. And, let us remember: a relationship is only as subtle, comprehensive, and deep as the mental aperture of the ‘lesser’ participant is open and sensitive. The rest is merely unconscious projection—a very different kettle of fish than genuine relatedness with the other person.

Of course, it happens often enough that we become confined by our own preconceptions and fixed notions about ourselves—so that we scarcely require other persons’ insultingly simplistic projections, alone, in order to feel ‘reduced’ to something markedly less complex and protean than we are—or at least potentially are. Normally, we get stuck in such ruts through laziness or passivity—so that by continually repeating and reinforcing our fixed patterns of behavior and reaction, the complex array of other possible ways of living, valuing, and being start to atrophy, rather like unused muscles or an unpracticed foreign language that we once could speak with some proficiency.

And while laziness should never be underestimated or left out of account where human beings are concerned, we must never deny fear and ignorance the prominent places they rightfully deserve in any such discussion. Fear ‘freezes’ pretty much whatever it touches and ignorance blocks out information and potential knowledge that is always right there in front of us, should we ever bother to look.

So, laziness induces us to take the easy, familiar path of least resistance—to allow life’s richness to remain unexplored because it simply requires a bit of effort. Fear and cowardice, on the other hand, conspire to reduce everyone and everything to a more or less fixed, familiar, and non-threatening shorthand. The result is to minimize the strain occasioned by a torrent of complex information or valuations that obstinately refuse to remain stable, predictable, and consistent. Many of us secretly prefer to have things, persons—and our very futures—‘nailed down.’ We do not like it, typically speaking, when the situation is not ‘under control’—if not under our control, then at least someone’s! Our physician’s, our Führer’s, the Pope’s and the clergy’s, our spouse’s, the general’s, the scientific community’s, Monsanto’s, the financial sector’s, etc. It takes considerable courage to acknowledge just how liquid, mutable, and un-nailed-down most of life really is—which leads me to my final and perhaps most controversial point: we should be thankful for the enormous contribution made by collective fear—in the ongoing, mass campaign to ‘keep the situation under control’ and ‘to keep everything nailed down.’ Life—ordinary, everyday existence, would suddenly become much dicier and riskier without the fear, laziness, and ignorance that—gathered and assembled from every corner of the human world—work fiercely and tirelessly to preserve the status quo.

Antinomies and Subtilization (6/18/10—Asunción)

Does the process of psychological differentiation consist, in a sense, in breaking down the terms and containing forms of consciousness into smaller and ever smaller units—so that differentiation is fundamentally movement from grosser to subtler forms of awareness—from boulders to ball bearings, and then from ball bearings to fine sand? Perhaps in the embrace of antinomies we find a useful means of pulverizing our ‘gross’ half-truths.

Jung writes: ‘We have to learn to think in antinomies, constantly bearing in mind that every truth turns into an antinomy if it is thought out to its end.’ Here he invokes the idea of enantiodromia he borrowed from Heraclitus (and which we find in Taoism, as well) to remind us of the inescapably polaristic ground of all possible ‘truths.’ Wholeness, completeness, comprehensiveness of vision are more successfully approached, it would seem, when we are willing to embrace the complements to all those ‘half-truths’ that we are apt to take sides with—to ‘stand’ upon—often with the idea that because we are on the right side, we are ‘in the right.’ But, of course, we are only half-right, at best, since we are identified with one half of an antinomy—and the antinomy, not our biased position, contains the more comprehensive perspective. Moreover, the harder we struggle to isolate our half-perspective from its inseparable twin, the ‘other half,’ the profounder is our error. In fact, this very struggle to purify and isolate (logically, morally, ontologically, aesthetically, etc.) one side of a ‘contrary’ from the other seems more or less to be what Blake spoke of as ‘the consolidation of error.’ (Thus Spake Blake’?)

Thinking Outside the Gap (8/11/10-Buenos Aires)

Sky Gods and Father Gods are perhaps more comfortably associated with spirit, the unobserved Observer, and with the transcendent realm of Death beyond this visible, tangible world. Earth divinities and Mother Goddesses, on the other hand, are more readily linked with Nature, the Observed, with cycles and processes of Life in its immanence. Sr. Yang and Sra. Yin. We Westerners worshipped one of those Father-Sky Gods for a long, long, long, long time. He has pulled back a bit—or, did we push him? At any (cosmic) event, neither He nor any She appears to be strongly felt or generally recognized today (by anyone with his or her eyes and ears really open). We are all waiting for Godot or Godette to make His or Her divine presence felt, but I suspect that a dozen or two more generations of our kind will inhabit and then perish from the Earth before the first faint waves of that awaited Presence lap tentatively against our thirsty shores.

There is nevertheless much work of preparation to be undertaken before that fateful arrival. We do not want our great- (multiplied by a factor of 12) grandchildren to be caught with their pants down or their thumbs up their butts when those first divine ripples (or nipples) reach our thirsty shores.

Nietzsche’s (sane) ‘Madman’ ran into the marketplace declaring that ‘God is dead’—to deaf ears and mocking tongues—but perhaps He merely retreated into the vacuum of space that Newton and Co. mapped out for Him. He-She is not entirely persona divina non grata with us, after all. If He-She can play Hide and Seek with us, we can certainly play Hide and Seek with Herm. This may very well be the one exceptional case of co-dependency that we do not want to allow those well-meaning little psychotherapists to ‘cure.’ It would appear that we do, in fact, need each other in a symbiotic way—

Gods and Goddesses—Gods and Humans—Sky and Earth—Men and Women—Jews and Christians—Heaven and Hell—God and Rome—Rome and the Clergy—the Clergy and the Laity—Men and Boys—Faith and Reason—Man and Nature—Gogo and Didi—Rock and Roll—Here and Now—Now or Never.

Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations VIII

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.

 

Beastly Thoughts (8/7/14)

What would a truly honest life be like? Is such a life possible in the midst of so much hypocrisy, shallow-cowardly politeness, and false propaganda that both the givers and the recipients want—perhaps desperately need—to believe in? I suspect that I’ve retreated into greater and greater seclusion and (public) silence over these past few years largely because I am convinced that if I were to speak out honestly and courageously about what I see going on around me and inside of me, I would assuredly turn the world angrily against me. The society I live in is simply too invested in preposterous over-simplifications and comforting delusions—and too willingly led by simplifiers and deluders—for an openly honest person to escape ostracism of some form or another. And given the natural shallowness, intellectual laziness, and moral timidity of the ordinary human being, it has almost certainly always been this way—basically. That’s my ‘educated’ guess, at least.

If it is in fact true that ‘collective consciousness’ is constituted, for the most part, of comforting lies, then the truth-sayer who decides to go public is asking for trouble. He is, by definition, a disturber and disruptor of the soothing, dreamlike delusions that, in their intricate assembly, compose the very fabric of that snarling, dangerous beast, the public mind. This beast apparently needs to be drugged (with sedatives, narcotics, intoxicants, or stimulants, depending on the present needs and desires of the ruling elites—who may be political tyrants or demagogues, religious authorities, or corporations, peddling their goods and services) if any compliance or obedience is to be won from that enormous, powerful, semi-conscious beast.

Before the modern era in the West, the beast was simply de-clawed and caged, but for the past few hundred years it has managed to break out of the various cages that had confined it throughout the millennia. The beast received assistance from various elites—some of whom were cynical and thoroughly self-interested, while others sincerely believed that the beast would, upon its release, gradually cultivate and civilize itself! But, by and large, the experiment has not turned out as well as many of its champions expected it would, despite what generally drugged and deluded modern barbarians will tell you. What has happened, of course, is that the beast, after being released from the various social, religious, racial, and gender cages in which it had formerly been bound and chained, has been craftily conscripted into the service of new ruling elites whose vision, despite all the hype and PR, is in many respects even narrower and more ignoble than that of the beast’s former warders and keepers—the politico-cultural and religious ‘aristocrats’ of premodern times. I should say that the dominant goals and purposes that are served in today’s inordinately economic scheme are inherently baser and cruder than the thoroughly discredited and nearly obsolete aims and purposes of human fulfillment of the premodern scheme. If we hadn’t all become so accustomed to breathing the pestilent air of this spiritually bankrupt bubble we inhabit, I strongly suspect that everything I am saying would be so obvious as to require no comment.

If I have learned anything from my study of history and of myself and of my fellow humans, it is this: the beast is not capable of governing or restraining itself—especially when it suffers from a malignant medley of overwhelming addictions and from an imposed blindness. Because of this fact, empowered elites of some type or another will always be sought out to prevent the beast from destroying both its ‘world’ and itself. The beast is no more intrinsically evil than it is good. Rather—because it is ruled by its dominant drives, compulsions, and fears—it is essentially amoral, like a brute force of nature.

We might liken today’s ruling elites to drug dealers organized into a powerful governing (and administering) cartel. And now, with the psychiatric-pharma and entertainment-propaganda divisions within the cartel, it is no longer merely a likeness, but a literal drug-and-delusion-dispensing, coordinated operation. Its power is challenged by those who have uncovered the truth about how the cartel works, but in their scattered, culturally and politically marginalized state, these watchdogs and whistle-blowers can do little to stem to the growing tide of addictions (to money, personal prestige, sex, entertainment, booze, drugs—legally prescribed or otherwise—pseudo-religion, etc.) The most they can do is to keep themselves ‘clean’ and inoculated against the spreading epidemic—and perhaps offer encouragement and support to other brave souls who are struggling to extricate themselves from the new and more materially comfortable prisons in which the beast is presently ‘serving time.’

These concerned ‘uncoverers’ of the sobering truth about beastly intoxication by exploitative, cynical (and just as morally obtuse) elites have at last figured out that simply increasing the power, but not the wisdom, of the beast-addicts is not a viable solution to the systemic meltdown that is underway. There is no good reason to believe that the beast, if given the reins of power, will proceed in a moderate and wise manner towards the restoration of order, sanity, and justice. So much for the much-vaunted ‘General Will’ of Rousseau. The uncoverer of the truth understands that the drug-and-intoxicant-supplying cartel must be overpowered and subordinated by a new elite—and certainly with the endorsement and cooperation of the feverish beast, since the sobriety-providing new elite cannot pull this off without the beast’s grudging assent. But how is the order-and-sanity-restoring elite going to bring about this ‘miracle,’ so long as the beast violently resists all enticements to sober it up? The new elites, then, are diametrically opposed to the drug dealer cartel. The new elites are like AA and Narcotics Anonymous leaders who have, themselves, overcome or avoided addiction. What they offer is indeed a painfully acquired salvation for those who are addicted and lacking in sufficient strength and determination to overcome their addiction. The new elite will appear to place almost impossible demands upon the beast. The cartel, now exposed, will energetically embark upon production of a new line of milder, less virulent narcotics and intoxicants (like the makers of low-tar cigarettes in the 70s) to keep their ‘market share’ as high as possible.

Cavemen (8/7/15)

To be awakened from the dream of human existence is thoroughly unpleasant and deeply disturbing for all who are not spiritually fit as a fiddle – since we are being awakened to our unconscious complicity in the hypocritical savagery and camouflaged cupidity that secretly drives and rules the “fallen world.” This realization is terribly painful and deeply humiliating – and only the strongest and most honest persons can sustain their awareness of this profoundly unflattering fact about themselves – and about our species, generally. A powerfully articulated account of this particularly unflattering insight is provided in Freud’s late essay, Civilization and its Discontents.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing, after all, to feel like an alien among cannibalistic sleepwalkers. If virtually everyone around you is deep asleep or dreaming and you, alone, are awake – it stands to reason that you might very well feel estranged from these snoozing and snoring others. And it makes sense that, under such conditions, you might also feel both vulnerability and a sense of responsibility for the sleepers and dreamers all around you. This pretty accurately describes my perception of those around me – as well as my sense of my peculiar relationship with them. Their somnolence and their enmeshment in dreams cuts them off from me and my sobering perceptions of our actual predicament. Their sleep shields them from consciousness of this predicament while I feel all the more alone, precisely because I have few reliably wakeful allies or companions with whom I can profitably explore our shared, actual predicament.

It has long since been absurd for me to measure and assess my life and my thoughts/perceptions by their collective standards and values. That leads nowhere but to bitter disappointment and despair. I can feel that old context or frame of reference gradually melting away – decomposing and collapsing. And with it, my former sense of personal identity – which was, all along, correlative or interdependent with that crumbling context – the context of human somnolence in dreams.

In Plato’s allegory, the philosopher who returns to the dimly-lit cave full of ignorant and deluded prisoners is transitioning from a natural standard (the sunlit realm above the cave) to an ethnocentric, merely cultural-conventional set of standards. It is not a difference in degree here, but a difference in kind – just as there is a difference in kind between a live animal and a stuffed one, or between an actual human being and his reflection in a mirror. This corresponds to the epistemological-ontological difference between waking experience and dream experience. The awakened mind sees things as they are while the dreamer sees only dreams and imagined creatures. The philosopher who returns to the cave makes a serious – and perhaps avoidable – mistake when he consents to the prisoners’ demand that he “form judgments about those shadows (on the cave wall) before his eyes have recovered (from his ascent to the sunlit surface above).” (517a) He would be wiser, no doubt, to undergo the necessarily painful sacrifice of his former cave-vision and cave-attachments and cleave to the natural, sun-illumined vision into which he has been initiated upon forcibly removing himself from the cave-prison. One must always view the shadows on the wall ironically, skeptically, disbelievingly.

This bold and courageous move (into the natural light of real, as opposed to culture-circumscribed, perception and understanding) involves a conscious repudiation of all claims of binding authority alleged or asserted by any culture, any religion, any system of philosophy – past, present, or to come.

The philosopher does not leave his original cave and become initiated into the free and true perception above-ground only so that he can turn around and search out another, more accommodating cave with slightly more enlightened convicts and shadow-mongers. No, he buckles down and undergoes the trying and lonely ordeal of relinquishing his former ties and attachments to cavemen, cave women, cave wisdom, and cave entertainment.

Ephemeral Personhood (8/14/15)

Why am I gradually beginning to think of myself as a meaty metaphor in motion rather than as an abiding entity?

Starting with my body—if a ‘real’ entity is generally held to possess enduring constancy or a more or less stable form, my body is ultimately no more ‘real’ than an ephemeral, melting snowflake or a metamorphosing insect larva. If the course of growth, development, and decay traveled during my body’s three score and ten year career is greatly sped up—as with time-lapse photography—this corporeal fluidity and instability becomes plainly evident. The fundamental evanescence of my body and that of the snowflake or insect is the same, despite the fact that my body extends the protean, transformative process a wee bit longer.

Even more impermanent—because more volatile and fluid—are the ‘personal’ contents of my psychic life. I refer to my airy thoughts, inconstant moods, malleable memories, and shifting attitudes. To be sure, there is a measure of stability, regularity, and constancy to these immaterial components of my personality—but whatever durability they possess is due largely to my frequent rehearsal and re-employment of these mental forms which would otherwise wither and atrophy from lack of exercise, like any other neglected organ or muscle group.

To what purpose do I provisionally embrace this notion of my ‘personhood’ as an ever-transforming metaphor (a metamorphosing metaphor?) and dispense with the old, outgrown idea of ‘being’ an ‘entity’? Instead of ‘being an entity,’ the ‘person’ named Paul DeFatta is experienced as a ‘process’ that is always becoming, but never being. Because it has been acknowledged that everything personal, particular, and individual about me is continually dying and being reborn into a slightly or significantly altered form—whether I like it or not, and despite all my vain efforts to arrest the process—my personality and the body that temporarily houses it enjoy only a relatively, and not an absolutely, real existence. Everything personal and individual is subject to change without notice, while the ‘real’—where it is to be found—abides without change.

If we liken ordinary human life experience to a continually-running movie, the ‘person’ is in the movie—is incorporated into the movie—while that which is real within us may be said to merely behold, but never fully enter, the movie. The divested, utterly detached awareness of the movie—and of the mind-body complex or ‘person’ who provides a portal or insertion point by means of which the movie can be viewed or experienced—this alone is real, timeless, causeless, dimensionless. This is the source not only of the movie that corresponds with the world, but of the consciousness of the movie that is the world and the persons in it. As our awareness steadily recedes back into this source, we become progressively depersonalized, detached from all binding and limiting forms of thought, feeling, perception. As our awareness thus deepens, we become quieter, more peaceful, and less reactive to the drama always underway in the movie.

We are willing to recede from our former level of involvement and investment in the movie in large part because we begin to have the sobering impression that we’ve seen all this before. And because we know that no matter how high we turn up the volume, no matter how brilliant the sets or the actors’ performances—regardless of whether we watch the movie in 3-D or in regular format—it’s the same old basic assemblage of roles and plot lines (and their derivative variations) endlessly being recycled. Some of us—before we actually die—earnestly act upon this sobering realization instead of merely resigning ourselves, either cynically or contentedly, to our insight into the eternal recurrence of the same. Thus, we actively dis-identify with the person who represents or ‘stands for’ us in the movie. We stop doing and saying things to beef up and draw unnecessary attention to this shadow who no longer is mistaken for substance. This is the act of receding. The act is not performed by the person, but by that source-awareness that has been disabused of the illusion that it and the person are one. The ‘person’ is thus left behind as a vacated shell that can henceforth be employed as a platform for the indwelling, impersonal awareness to shine through—adding its very different, penetrating light into the movie theater. This disruptive—intrusive—light is welcomed by a few in the theater but generally despised by the majority, since it exposes the movie as no more than a movie—and they have literally paid with their lives for those seats.