When we meditate, we begin by assuming a comfortable posture that will best enable us to forget the existence of the body. If we are sitting in an uncomfortable position or the surrounding temperature is too hot or cold…if there is loud traffic noise pouring through the windows and walls—we will be distracted and unable to surrender to our meditation.
This analogy corresponds to the dilemma I face with ‘personal issues’ (usually in connection with relationship disturbances, unmet emotional/sexual needs, and occasionally, work/financial matters) when I set out to contemplate ‘large’ or transpersonal questions. These personal issues, like a cramped leg muscle or annoyance with the heat in the room, greatly hamper my efforts at concentration and if I am unable, for some reason or another, to quiet them, my opportunity to ‘lift off’ the planet of mundane concerns is lost and I feel that my day has either been wasted or poorly spent.
Clearly, then, I recognize a significant distinction between personal and impersonal concerns—or arenas of activity—in my own life. Moreover, I believe it is fair to say that I show a marked proclivity for the impersonal realm of issues, questions, and concerns—so much so that I often regard the personal realm as little more than a necessary evil which must be borne with patient fortitude. I know that I am not unique or even all that much of a rarity in preferring the impersonal over the personal, but experience suggests that most persons around the world are more at home and comfortably ensconced in personal affairs and preoccupations. For them, this situation is completely reversed. The impersonal realm is regarded as a necessary evil—its unfamiliar and ‘cold’ concerns are often felt to be rather unsettling, disruptive, and to be avoided wherever possible.
Whether I am legitimately entitled to do so or not, I tend to associate ‘personal’ issues and preoccupations with the ‘ego,’ while linking impersonal matters to a region of the psyche which stands apart from—or at a certain remove from—the ego. The ‘spirit’ and the ‘soul,’ regarded here as psychic perspectives or standpoints, are therefore less ‘personal’ than the ego-perspective. Of course, as the spirit and the soul become related to the ego—or they get channeled or filtered through the ego—they inevitably take on a more personal coloring. I wish to avoid making things more complicated than is necessary in speaking about these matters, but it seems from my experience that these three psychological standpoints or perspectives (spirit, soul, and ego) coexist continually—interpenetrating each other. One or another may typically predominate, but the others are always present in the mix of the human psyche. Moreover, they may or may not be consciously differentiated to any great degree, but of course when and where such conscious differentiation has been accomplished to a significant degree (in the psyche of the reader), my description will correspondingly make clearer sense.
My acquired wariness and mistrust of the excessively or lopsidedly personal standpoint has emerged from a good deal of self-observation. This mistrust has emerged after years of regarding the ego from the comparatively impersonal perspectives of spirit and soul. From the lofty, airborne standpoint of spirit, ego phenomena typically appear clod-like, coarse, hard, limiting, reductive, and dense. It is like peering down through the eyes of a soaring eagle, aloft in the thin air, to the rocky terrain below. From the liquid, protean soul-perspective, ego-constructions display their comparatively fixed, concretistic, frozen, literal character—a character markedly different from that of soul-creations which are essentially metaphorical, imaginal, protean, and polyvalent. And yet, all three perspectives co-exist side by side like vapor, liquid, and ice—the three states of water—all deriving from a single source. Failing to see and understand this, however, we all too frequently find ourselves embroiled in a condition of ‘warring states,’ either within our own psyches or, as is more commonly the case, projected onto other individuals, groups, ‘types,’ or entire nations.
Thus, ice (the literal perspective) butts its hard head with other literal-minded ‘cubes’ of frozen life and hobbled imagination. Or water (the imagination) threatens to melt, efface, and dissolve the carefully chiseled ice sculptures that have required so much time and effort to produce. Or the airy spiritual state, contemptuous of all confining and limiting forms—concrete and imaginal, or metaphorical—retreats to the heights of lonely isolation, far from the madding crowd.
The spectrum stretching from the rarefied state of spirit through the liquid state of soul to the solid state of ego-concreteness also resembles the three states of water insofar as it constitutes a descending scale of psychological temperature. The hidden inner fire of existence loses much of its intensity in the move from pure, boundless spirit (which may be likened to electric fire) to the literal, limited forms of ego-consciousness. The ego may be said to ‘coagulate’ spirit and soul, to fix and contain them in the act of formulating them. Ego consciousness often hypostatizes exalted states of spirituality into dogmatic abstractions, whether of a theological or a metaphysical character. It freezes the protean and mercurial images of soul into dogma—i.e., idols and icons. There is great value and utility in this service, automatically and spontaneously rendered by the ego, so long, that is, as the letter is not lazily mistaken for the spirit, the sign for the meaning, the definition for the experience being formulated or ‘defined.’ Of course, one must already be awake to soul and alive to spirit before these pitfalls can be averted.