Chromotherapy (6/28/17—Arequipa, Peru)

We each have—or function within—a worldview: a more or less comprehensive, nuanced, coherent, and articulate picture of the world and of our place in that world. Our native cultural context and early education provide us with a starter kit, of course, but—depending on how much effort and application we bring to the task—our worldview gradually develops into a more or less individualized mental-affective map of experienceable reality—the terra incognita into which we are dropped at birth. Aside from the particular environmental or circumstantial factors into which we are born—variables that differ from family to family, place to place, era to era—there are individual factors (temperament, natural talents and aptitudes, health and genetic factors, etc.) that play an important role in the development of our worldview.

A philosophy, roughly speaking, is a worldview that has been artfully and conscientiously cultivated or worked out over the course of time. This development goes quite some distance beyond the ‘starter kit’ worldview. The lion’s share of the work involved in the development of an individual philosophy can be divided into two interrelated enterprises: (1) Clarifying and critically examining/assimilating one’s inherited or cultural materials and (2) continually extending one’s knowledge of those cultural resources and materials that lie beyond one’s initial inheritance. These two distinct pursuits are closely interrelated for reasons that should be plain: unless and until we have come to a clear understanding of our initial cultural inheritance, we are scarcely in a position to compare and contrast the various strengths and weaknesses of our inherited views and values with those of the different, rivaling worldviews that we encounter in our studies and our travels.

Why, it will be wondered, is it even necessary or advisable for the aspiring philosopher to venture beyond his initial cultural-educational horizons? Here we encounter one of the cardinal differences between the genuinely philosophical life and the un-philosophical life. The philosopher is a cosmopolitan—or ‘citizen of the world’—through and through, while the non-philosopher is, comparatively speaking, content to remain a prisoner of his unexamined, inherited worldview and value scheme. Plato compared the non-philosopher to a person trapped in cave and obliged to watch, in effect, the same limited/limiting movie or puppet show over and over and over again until he dies, none the wiser about life outside the cave. The genuine philosopher, on the other hand, through a combination of luck and struggle, manages to break out of the dark, closed cave and perpetual puppet show. He comes out of the cave and above ground where he learns all manner of natural things that transgress the mental and experiential ‘ring pass not’ of his fellow prisoners down in the cave.

I spoke of the natural phenomena that the philosopher encounters after he liberates himself from the cave where only cultural—or, if you like, historically conditioned—things are to be found. (This, incidentally, is why Strauss rejects Heidegger’s historicism and, following his friend Jacob Klein, sides with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.) Inwardly steered by a transcultural and ahistorical vision or insight, the genuine philosopher slowly makes his way towards an understanding of man that is both timeless and pre-cultural/pre-historical. It is an experience of ANTHROPOS vis-à-vis nature, antecedent to the coloring biases and blinkering limitations imbibed through acculturation. Thus, the cosmopolitanism of the genuine philosopher entails an implicit element that is both a-cultural and a-historical—a core element at the formless hub of the philosopher’s worldview that is timeless and correlative with nature. The imprints of these timeless, natural elements within the psyches of humans are called ‘archetypes.’

The genuine philosopher who encounters the timeless, natural elements (of ‘world’ and ‘psyche’) in moments of pure theoreia, or contemplation, knows and accepts the fact that to conceptualize or to speak of these encounters inevitably degrades and delimits that which transcends and defies all such limits. Thus, he accepts the fact that all such speech and even the most sublime concepts have only an ‘as-if’ character. They can merely point to—but never substitute for—the ineffable that can be glimpsed only in moments of deepest contemplation of the mysterious root of all being. Thus, the genuine philosopher properly understands why those who speak about the highest things as if they have grasped them know not what they speak of.

How, it will be asked, are the various world cultures; the central, founding-orienting myths; and the essential teachings of the great religions related to these ‘timeless natural elements,’ the imprints of which within our psyches constitute archetypal images? We see how the various internal organs can be differentiated according to the function they serve in the health and maintenance of the body. We see how the various members of a family can be differentiated into distinct roles or functions within that family. Let us glance hurriedly over the ancient cultures of the Fertile Crescent, Indus valley, and the Far East: Egypt; Sumer-Babylon; Vedic India; and China. What—in a grossly simplified or condensed form—do we see? Agriculture, geometry, and measurement; the hieratic state reflecting astronomical/astrological order; introspective spirituality of the first rank; practical wisdom and harmony of the opposites. If we advance a bit further in time, we see the Greeks, Romans, and the Judeo-Christian religions of the Levant: speculative and dramatic-poetical genius; political will and organization; monotheism, morality, and the opening of the heart.

All of these extraordinary cultures—and others before, alongside, and after them—like the organs of the body or the roles and functions performed by various members of a great family, emphasize some talent or virtue while deemphasizing others. Like diverse colors in the color wheel, the different cultures interact—sometime harmoniously, sometimes antagonistically—with each other, but ultimately it is the whole and not any single part that reveals or points to the shared, timeless elements. Analogously, all the different colors of the spectrum, when combined, merge into the white light, the source of them all.

The present era has been called ‘the Age of Comparison’—and for good reason. For those of us, today, who care to survey the cultural-historical resources at our disposal, great opportunities lie within reach. Recent figures like Jung, Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Mircea Eliade, James Hillman—though not philosophers in the traditional or technical sense—saw the unprecedented opportunity to acquaint themselves with this rich cornucopia of mythological, religious, literary, and other cultural materials that, together, can serve as a basis for a more comprehensive picture of the human being, as such, than has perhaps ever been possible before. We now have access to more pieces of the puzzle than our ancestors possessed.

Each of the major cultural-historical worldviews brings its own distinctive color and melody to the polyphonic/polychromatic psyche of the whole human. The aforementioned psychologists, scholars, mythologists, and spiritual explorers were not mere polymaths or dabblers but astute divers and decoders whose immersive encounters with these rich colors and melodies from across time and space produced numerous remarkable, if provisional and preliminary, forays into regions of syncretic experience that rival or surpass the best such ventures during the Hellenistic era—which serves as perhaps the most appropriate historical antecedent to our own peculiarly over-rich era.

No doubt, some readers are perplexed by my depiction of our present state of affairs as ‘over-rich’ when there is such widespread consensus that we live in times of spiritual and cultural bankruptcy and disintegration. How is such a discrepancy to be resolved? It is certainly true that we presently live in lean times so far as nourishment from intact and thriving cultures, myths, and religions go. Where these have not collapsed altogether, they have, in most cases, been weakened or ossified into ghostly echoes of themselves.

Where, then, is this richness of which I speak, if it is not evident in our actual cultural predicament? The old cultures have broken into fragments, just as the old Gods have withdrawn into silence. These fragments are hiding in plain sight, but almost everyone is overlooking them—ignoring them. It is as if the building blocks essential to a thriving culture have been scattered about and within us. They await rediscovery and reassembly into new configurations—freshly conceived narratives that speak to our changed conditions. Human nature and the human psyche—the sources of these perennial building blocks—have not changed, but the terms and conditions of the world we inhabit have indeed undergone the profoundest changes over the past four hundred years or so. We have the essential materials we need to proceed with the conception and gestation of a new worldview—a new myth and a new religious orientation that can respond to these radically new terms and conditions that embrace the whole species for the first time.

As always, the greater part of the creative work to be done falls upon the shoulders of a minority—precisely because it yearns most intensely for a new myth and meaning for humanity—that recognizes the necessity and the privilege of working tirelessly with these fragments or scattered essential materials to respond to the collective hunger for a truly adequate and embracing myth for the whole of mankind.



Theory and Praxis (9/24/15)

As we gradually chip away at the dense, hard accretions of ignorance and falsehood that have entombed our minds since childhood, we simultaneously destroy obsolete bridges that have long linked our minds with many of those around us. And, more often than not, our most dedicated and valiant efforts to inspire others’ cooperation in the work of rebuilding and replacing those outgrown bridges will meet with disappointment. If we are unable to shoulder this great weight of disappointment, we might ask ourselves if we were destined for knowledge of the deepest sort—for pursuing elusive truths into the isolated depths where they are hidden. Thus, as the ancients understood, the genuinely philosophical life and the commitment to socio-political life are fundamentally incompatible. ‘Theory’ and ‘praxis’—philosophy and political life—are essentially conflictual, not harmonic. Since the peculiar array of conditions necessary for the education and growth of the philosopher are so difficult to secure and to stabilize, it is tempting almost to say that one is born for this lonely and difficult destiny or one is not.

Long acquaintance with this chilly, impersonal solitude gradually transforms the philosopher’s emotional character. This peculiar solitude—a solitude that is felt perhaps most acutely in the close proximity of unreachable others—is profoundly sobering and purgative. What is being frozen or burned away, of course, are all those childlike, sentimental, and nostalgic modalities and moods in which we once sought shelter from the storm, a warm refuge from the cold.

Rods and Cones, Colors and Patterns (9/17/14)

Deep introspective thinking, when pursued with passion and persistence, is necessarily conducive to loneliness—and this is perhaps the principal reason it is avoided like the plague by most of us. What’s the connection? Prolonged philosophical activity radically alters both the content and texture of our thinking, while these tend to undergo only the most modest changes in unreflective persons. As Plato recognized long ago, much of the content of our deep thinking is turned upside down, or inside out—while the texture invariably becomes much more subtle and complex than it was before. Dialectical thinking has a higher ‘thread count,’ so to speak. It is this radical transformation of the content and texture of his thinking that can set the philosopher apart from those he loves—or with whom he must deal. The thinking of the philosopher is no more capable of being reduced to their terms than Mozart’s 27th Piano Concerto is playable on a harmonica or a banjo. Too much is lopped off, foreshortened, deformed in the ‘translation’ process. Too much ‘dynamic range,’ amplitude, and nuance is compromised.

Nonetheless, the philosopher’s loneliness is, in the end, a beautiful loneliness. What has happened is that the ‘rods and cones’ within the ‘eye of his mind’ have undergone a wondrous mutation—as a result of his metanoia. Now this transformed mind is able to respond to mental colors and shadings—subtle patterns of occult interconnection—that are invisible to those around him who have not suffered the same mysterious transformation, but this aloneness seems merely to intensify his inexpressible gratitude for the strange mental mutation that enables him to ponder and exult in this unsharable splendor. His warmth and affection for those who are unwilling or unready to see what he sees is undimmed, although he is well aware of the risks involved in speaking too freely about what he sees. If he is even suspected of lying, or boasting, or even posing challenges that are next to impossible to meet—he is guaranteed to attract derisive criticism, at the very least, and even overt hostility if he is not careful.

Borderlands (6/24/16)

Might we attempt with our imaginations to view the human person, as such, with a divine – or, shall we say “Olympian” – sense of humor that is neither maliciously mocking and derisive (after the fashion of some modern absurdists and deconstructionists) nor with implicit, categorical disparagement (as certain schools of Indian practice have been doing for centuries)? One thing that both of these camps have set out to do (along with others that I needn’t mention here) is to analyze the human personality down to its elemental nuts and bolts or constitutional ingredients. I recognize the need for such preliminary steps before any genuine progress can be made along the somewhat different lines I am proposing. What I am after, though, is something more than a mere THEORY or explanatory scheme. I am all for entertaining various theoretical elements or suppositions, but these must certainly not be etched in stone. Perhaps, on the contrary, they will appear to be written in water or sand on a windy day – or cloud-like in their ephemerality and puffy provisionality. What I’m after is not so much a solid stance or a firm attitude but a fluid kind of counterpoint or complementarity towards an ever-metamorphosing field (or gestalt) of complex phenomena. There is no sitting still, for long, upon or within the sea, and there is indeed something fundamentally oceanic about this fluid, ongoing dance – or is it a kind of mysterious copulation? – between the observer and the observed. And regardless of whether there is penetration or not, this divinely humorous dance is indisputably a tango, whether or not both partners are aware of the fact.

Cutting to the chase, let me say that what imbues this “morphing perspective” with the epithet “divine” is our developed capacity to see the person essentially in the transpersonal terms of energy constellations and interrelationships. What, then, allows the sense of humor to enter the mix? I would suggest that this depends primarily upon our ability to break the hard nutshell that protects the sacrosanct feeling of personal importance and inviolability. Not a nut easily cracked, to be sure, but the most important one for our present purposes, nevertheless. For those who have been reading “between the lines” it is already evident that there is indeed something “inhuman” about the enterprise we are embarking upon here. It stands to reason that the human, as such, can only be viewed (or experienced) in its naked entirety from a psychic position that is somehow extra-human, supra-human, or in-human. At this point, I suspect only the most monstrously curious reader is still genuinely gripped or intrigued by the experiment proposed here. All those for whom such a “view” is too dizzying, or incomprehensible, or constitutionally repellent have said to themselves, “Now he has gone too far! I’ll have no more of this rubbish.”

For those, then, who are still with me I wish to suggest a potentially helpful paradox. The key to breaking the nut and releasing the “sense of humor” hidden within is to learn to see life from the vantage point of “death.” It is only from the stillness and silence of the motionless center – or eye of the hurricane that life is – that the fundamental angst of human consciousness can at last be dissolved and transcended. So long as the silent (death-like but vital) stillness of the center is unknown or forgotten, our attention will be more or less helplessly enslaved by the swirling, churning maelstrom of life at the periphery. And at the farthest remove from the center, the winds and flying objects are most likely to carry us away and wound us.

Perhaps now it will be understood that I enclosed the word death in “scare quotes” earlier because I was in fact talking about the mask or specter of death. The still, silent, vital center appears death-like, of course, from the immersed and dramatic condition that most of us are engrossed in most of the time. I am referring to the enormous spectrum of possible experiences, passions, and perceptions that are native to consciousness within the pairs of opposites. And if profoundly still, spiritual centeredness looks like death from the ever-shifting perspective of the hurricane-periphery, what do the “persons” (and their consciousness) look like to those quietly planted in the center? Like dreams and dream figures? “Death” and “dreams.” And where is that elusive sense of humor spoken of earlier? It is always within reach just beyond the magnetic/gravitational field of angst – which appears to be mysteriously synonymous with the “human/personal as such.” No wonder such humor has something essentially divine about it.



Destruction, Change, and the Coincidence of Opposites (4/18/10—Cordoba, Argentina)

The mystery of creativity is secretly bound up with destruction. I do not, of course, mean the sort of destruction exhibited by fanatical Protestants smashing off the heads from religious statues or artists impaling themselves with kitchen utensils, but something closer to simply allowing things, human relationships, moods, desires, etc., to change—allowing them to follow their natural course without our unreflective insistence upon ‘holding everything together’ and proceeding in a ‘business as usual’ fashion. Such an approach to our lives can be unexpectedly refreshing, even though it concerns the sorts of changes that we are typically inclined, because of our more conservative instincts (and aren’t all instincts, by their very nature, conservative?), to resist and oppose?

Change, then—at least in terms of how it is experienced psychologically—bears an undeniable kinship relation with death. Of course, this involves something of a paradox, since habit and resistance to change often have a repressive or suffocating effect upon the drives, passions, and even our feelings. This is the truth hidden behind the phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’ Ironically, it is often the ‘destructive’ experience of shattering our habitual patterns of acting, feeling, thinking, and so forth that shakes our sleepy souls back to life after they’ve been confined to a kind of sarcophagus for a long time. So, depending almost entirely on the subjective attitude and the spiritual resiliency of the person, the same objective event—say, a divorce, the death of a loved one, loss of a job, relocation to a new city or culture, etc.—will either be experienced as negative, death-like, and merely painful…or positive, vivifying, and liberating. I seem slowly to be approaching an equivocal, fundamentally ambivalent perspective that sees the coincidence of these opposites in every change—as a matter of principle, whether I can feel poised equanimity or not.

Hillman, Heidegger, and Forgotten Wisdom (5/19/12)

Insofar as I am able to grasp what Heidegger and Hillman share in their otherwise quite different approaches to the deeper realms of experience, I recognize their respective attempts to relativize inherited systems and structures of thought—those buried, unconscious assumptions that tend to limit or thwart the connection between man and Being. In their different ways they both see the root of this collective malady in our metaphysical inheritance. Our experience of Being is not simply mediated by abstract metaphysical concepts. On the contrary, these concepts typically obstruct—or merely replace—our encounter with Being. These abundant, ever-proliferating abstractions possess a fixed and stable character, while Being is never reducible to static or stably fixed forms, as wise Heraclitus, the Ephesian, recognized long ago. The very advantages afforded by these ‘lofty,’ idealized, abstract metaphysical concepts—their time-tested, reliably unchanging magnificence—constitute, from the reverse position, a wall of separation between our fluid souls and the reality these concepts were ostensibly constructed to serve, in much the same fashion that ancient oracles might serve a divinity like Apollo or Zeus (as cryptic mouthpiece). If we substitute ‘the Gods’ for Being, then much of our philosophical activity—from Plato through Nietzsche—has cut us off from the Gods, and plunged us into a fallen condition.

We cannot serve the Gods so long as we are merely custodians of metaphysical concepts that wall us in and block us off from the very divinities we purport to serve.

Behind this simple statement is the idea or image of mystical union—or participation—with the Gods, with Being, with the divine. Elsewhere I have written about dogmatists and the fearful fixity of the paranoid perspective—a perspective that aggressively defends itself against the very metaphors that could dissolve its walls and liberate the dogmatist from his self-created citadel-cell. Following Hillman, I located the cause of this imprisoning paranoia in literal-mindedness—that peculiar but practically ubiquitous form of mental blindness that defiantly refuses to prostrate itself and bow down before the ineffable and irreducible mysteriousness of life and the psyche. It might be of interest to note that this aggressive-defensive and inwardly split perspective is often closely linked with humanism or anthropocentrism. Variants of humanism spring from the illicit arrogation of Godlike powers and rights to the merely human perspective. On a grand scale, this is conducive, of course, to a collective inflation—evidence of which no one with his eyes open will deny today. A collective inflation—i.e., borrowing (or filching) far more divine authority and power than we can ever hope to wield in a responsible way—upsets the general balance of things. Balance can be restored—and it will be restored—only by deflating that which has been wrongfully inflated.[1] The balance I refer to is that between man and the Gods. It is noteworthy that this very question (of maintaining a proper balance or proper terms between the human world and that of the Gods) has always been a primary concern for humans everywhere until quite recently in history—the past several hundred years in the West, during which time the rise of science and, with it, modern technology, have risen to prominence.[2]

Are we simply to assume that our distant (and not so distant) human ancestors were merely unsophisticated know-nothings—no more than groping ‘precursors’ and fumbling ‘rehearsals’ of modern man, the ‘paragon of animals’? Did they cling to their quaint superstitions about Gods and mysterious powers, a ‘Great Chain of Being,’ and a moral order within the cosmos only because they lacked what we have: modern science and technology? Science has pretty much dispensed with claims and ‘entities’ it cannot see or touch, measure or weigh, in its scales and in its terms. Technology, on the other hand, by making our material lives more comfortable and secure, has set up a new and more easily attainable version of ‘happiness’ than the dubious immaterial versions known and cultivated by our ‘benighted’ ancestors.

But if our ancestors were the naïve, blinkered and brutish boobs that many of us assume them to have been—why is it that millions of modern persons suffer from profound feelings of alienation, anxiety, meaninglessness, and rootlessness that our ancestors appear to have been spared? Was their sense of rootedness and anchoredness in the world perhaps bound up with their respect for the balance that we moderns have recklessly undermined—so that we have been driven insane by our stolen power, our compulsive covetousness, and our unceasing restlessness? Is it possible that the balance has been so seriously disturbed that most of us no longer can even be fully human—let alone, little Gods? Could it be that our ancestors understood the importance of remaining within the bounds of the properly human because these limits were still clearly discernible to them in a way and to a degree that they are not for us? And why might this be so?

Perhaps it is because we have been transgressing those limits long enough by now to have forgotten—as a culture—what such balance looked and felt like. In this sense, perhaps more than any other, humanity has begun to behave, collectively, like a cancer that is slowly but surely killing the larger organism—the world—of which it was once a modestly restrained and integral part. The evidence suggests that, for the most part, our premodern ancestors abided within a balanced order of things and, precisely because they did so, they were able to behold the world and man’s place in that world in a way that is practically lost to us now. The modern worldview is rife with the Muzak of shallow distractions and narrow, short-term objectives that deafen us to the faintly audible strains of the song of creation—a song that appears to be dying down within and around us. And yet—within the modest limits of the individual life—something of this fading, balanced melody may be recovered or re-sounded. The price for this may seem too high for many, however, since it involves unplugging ourselves from the tinny and sterile pageant that presently passes for ‘normal life.’ There is little that is normal, let alone healthy, about contemporary life—but the sickness can only be perceived for what it is after we’ve managed to get our fever down. Only then do the hallucinations cease and we begin to see just how close we came to ‘succumbing.’

[1] This is a much less melodramatic and graphic way of describing the evisceration of the wild beast that we are always on the verge of collectively lapsing into.

[2] The idolatry of science (as the only or best method for getting at the truth and for resolving all of our real problems) is called scientism. Like all so-called ‘-isms,’ scientism tends to be reductive, unduly simplistic, and inimical to a true understanding of the actual complexity of things. Some scientists are certainly infected with the malady of scientism, but certainly not all of them. With the semi-educated, secularized portion of the general public, scientism is quite endemic, unfortunately. There is a very close link between the spread of this psychic infection and the collective inflation I mentioned earlier.

Poisons and Pathogens (9/12/12)

We have long been told that ‘the truth shall set us free,’ but that would be scanned. It may well be the case that in matters of spiritual insight, this old saying actually carries some weight. However, when the ‘truth’ pertains to political/social problems, a different situation often obtains. Instead of feeling liberated by many of the truths that I am uncovering about dubious corporate practices, the World Bank and the IMF, the ‘military-industrial complex,’ cowardly and corrupt Congressional and Senate members, taxpayer-funded bailouts for incompetent and/or villainous financial officers, etc., I am left feeling more and more helpless and powerless as a citizen. It is perfectly correct to say that I am liberated, in part, from my ignorance, but one may ask: does learning the truth, say, about toxic elements or infectious pathogens in our air and our drinking water make us feel free—especially if we’ve been drinking that water and breathing that air for years? Certainly not if we also learn that both the leaders and our fellow citizens in the poisoned, infected city are in denial about the seriousness of the threat facing all of us. Under such conditions, we are scarcely in a suitable position to address and correct the problem. From the standpoint of feeling, mightn’t I actually have been better off never having uncovered the truth about the poisons in our air and the pathogens in our water? I would be just as lamentably (or contemptibly) naïve and credulous as the other ‘ostriches’ and ‘know-nothings,’ but since ignorance and bliss have long been intimate bedfellows, I would not feel as helpless as I actually am. So, it would seem that ignorance and bliss are far more closely connected than are feeling and being (or the actual truth of things)—at least in many cases.

For those who need to be alerted to such things, let me announce that I am about to launch into an extended metaphor. As for the rest of you, my apologies for having to spell out what should be apparent: As long as I see little convincing evidence that a sizable number of my fellow citizens and our elected officials are addressing the pressing issue of poisons and pathogens in ‘air’ and ‘water,’ I don’t know whether I should stay in the endangered city or not. The air is slowly killing me and the water—even though I boil it and meticulously filter it—is still causing fevers for me. I am painfully aware of the fact that I am worthless as a Cassandra uttering prophecies and warnings that no one hears or heeds—and I am worthless dead or senselessly martyred (by continuing to take in poisons and pathogens that are made even more virulent by my consciousness of the havoc they are wreaking upon my vulnerable body). An alarming number of my ‘friends’ have become conspicuously silent and aloof towards me. Perhaps they regard me as a kind of smelly untreated wound or as a disturbing nuisance who spoils their ‘happiness,’ which is easily uprooted, since it is often planted in such thin, poor soil to begin with. Perhaps a number of them regard me as a crank, or worse, a resentful malcontent who is secretly envious of their ‘success,’ their prestige, their material ‘security,’ and their participation in a game which I have long viewed with the profoundest mistrust. How doubtful—how unlikely—that I will convince such persons they are dead wrong about me and about the true nature of my unsightly, stinking wound!

It is quite obvious that the knowledge I have been inwardly compelled to seek is neither welcome nor pleasing to most persons I am acquainted with. This observation applies both to knowledge about the socio-political realities of our own and earlier times, as well as the spiritual and psychological knowledge that pertains to the largely unexplored inner world. The first sort is unpleasant chiefly because it invariably conflicts with the comforting stupidities, official lies, infantile diversions, preposterous over-simplifications, and petty poppycock that we are continually awash in. The second sort is welcome only in small, watered-down, sandalwood-scented doses, but soon is felt to be burdensome and taxing, for its cultivation requires serious discipline and considerable leisure (for study and digestion), two things that are in scant supply for busy professionals who have families to feed and hefty expenses to cover.

So, for this student of life (and of humankind), the acquisition and disciplined cultivation of liberal knowledge (as opposed to merely technical skill and know-how) have occasioned a fair measure of sorrow and disappointment, if I am to be completely honest. Rather than having the effect of puffing up my sense of my own power and personal importance, my knowledge has had a generally deflating and curbing effect upon my native human arrogance and my joie de vivre. The overall effect of the knowledge that I have endured may be likened to the alchemical process of purification through fire in a crucible or to immersion into a vat of corrosive acid—where superfluous impurities are burnt away. Of course, such psychological torture (yes, this is the appropriate word) is not for the squeamish or for those of little faith (in the psyche). The work is necessarily lonely since it is business between me and my own soul, and finally has little to do with other persons. I now am convinced that I and others like me were born for such lonely interior labors, for unless the drive to pursue this work is there from the start, it is not likely to be ‘put there’ by books or by anyone else.

Alas, my ongoing quest for interior knowledge and for authentic (individual) experience—often appears to move in the exact opposite direction taken by the great majority of my fellows. Opening up to this constitutional mistrust of the goals and values of the majority and coming to more or less peaceful terms with this sobering fact about my personality has constituted most of the ‘torture’ and disorientation that I have encountered since I was very young. It is only insofar as I have deeply and irreversibly accepted this fact about my innermost nature that I have been able to lift my head somewhat above the confusion and pain that resulted from bucking against my true nature. What for the majority of persons constitutes their familiar and stable ego-personalities can no longer be more than a kind of mask or provisional platform for me. I no longer experience my ego as my ‘true self’ or my essential being. Someone—or something—different, other, and more essential has always been there—but now I am more inclined to recognize that ‘alien’ as my true ground, my essence.

It has been through my voluntary submission to this mysterious but decisively authoritative essence that I have begun to realize that much suffering, confusion, and folly were necessary by-products and symptoms of the metamorphosis, the seeds of which have been inside me all along. This interior work that I have been drawn to since I was young has been responsible for germinating those seeds. And of course, in realizing what feels like my life-work—how could I possibly regret it? How can one genuinely regret the realization of one’s given nature without at the same time being a traitor to themselves?

We are what we are at the deepest, core levels—and likewise, we can never be what it is not within our nature to be. If all of us could learn to be what we are, as purely and as completely as possible, there would be a lot less unnecessary noise, waste, and confusion in the world. There would still be tensions and conflicts, of course, but they would be purer and more intelligible. They would be meaningful tensions and conflicts—nothing like the conflicts, say, in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which were founded upon lies, false pretenses, and deeply conflicted motivations. But to learn what we are—and what we are not: is that a priority or even a serious consideration for our teachers, our parents, and others whose responsibility it is to guide and educate children? Or, do we find, instead, that nothing is more common than for these parents, teachers, and guides to mislead by trying to shape their charges after their own idealized image (of themselves)? This is a collective problem of the blind often leading the innocent down narrowly constrictive paths that are seriously out of touch with the innate seeds (the intended tasks) of the young. They are simply being fitted for service within an extremely imbalanced and fundamentally unsound system that has forcefully weakened any ties to nature, to the psychic depths, to the heart, to genuine sanity—and almost always in the interest of material profits and personal power for the winners. Most children today never have a chance to see or to experience any viable alternative to this unsound, anti-natural, pathologically imbalanced system, with its low, vulgar aims and its empty prizes that are quickly found unsatisfying to anyone with healthy or developed taste and judgment.

Between the Extremes (8/27/10—Buenos Aires)

Some of us tend to feel more ‘at home’ at the extremes than in the far more populous and generally commodious ‘temperate zone’ located between these hot and cold extremes. I have suggested elsewhere that a chronic tendency to swing back and forth between these hot and cold extremes can indicate a hampered ability to move about comfortably and knowledgeably through the vaster and more populous temperate zone in between. The polar bear, bioluminescent dragonfish, sperm whales, Gila monsters, sidewinders, and desert hawks are solitary creatures that live far above, below, or away from the antelope, wolves, geese, and piranhas that cluster and crowd in between. If we become adapted to the extremes that nature or nurture nudges us towards, then we may have great difficulty learning how to feel ‘at home on the range’ where the deer and the antelope play. And, should it come as a surprise that as soon as the ‘in betweeners’ catch a glimpse of the scaly skin and sharp fangs beneath our blouses and our smiles—or a whiff of the venom that both taints and protects our breath—they abruptly shrink away without an explanation? We are simply too hot or too cold for them—and they know it. But unless we know it, as well, there is apt to be ongoing misunderstanding on our part, unexplained losses, disastrous miscalculations, and many painful, unanswered questions.

So, with our little sketch or story here we have the extremists and we have the more numerous ‘in-betweeners.’ We can also see that in actual human affairs, problems and misunderstandings often arise between the one type and the other, largely because they are adapted to rather different inner and outer conditions—and this translates into very different needs. The needs of the one are often at odds with those of the other. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, and so forth.

Which of the two types is naturally in a more advantageous position to understand the other in a way that is fair and just to the other? Or, to put it differently, which of the two is better equipped by nature to insert himself into the other’s world, to walk in his shoes, to imaginatively adapt to the other’s way of seeing and valuing things? Are they equally equipped to undertake such a psychological or imaginative stretch into unfamiliar or inhospitable territory—or is one of them already innately equipped with what he needs to know in order to relate with the other—but not the other way around? Is it more likely for the extremist to learn how to function as an ‘in betweener’ than for the in-betweener to learn how to live as an extremist? If, for instance, it was discovered that the extremist includes the ‘in-between’ within his extremes, but the ‘in-between’ person does not naturally reach or stretch to the limits experienced by the extremist, then certain things follow. The extremist at least has it within his range to locate and possibly stabilize a foothold ‘in between’ his hot and his cold, while the other type may not possess the corresponding capacity for locating and stabilizing a foothold at the extremes familiar to the other. These extremes (which are, let us remember, states or qualities of psychic experience) are beyond the limits of his nature, and are therefore not easily experienced in a direct or sustained manner.

The eagle can land upon the back of the cow, but cows can never fly. The whale can be ‘beached’ for a lot longer (before being reclaimed by the sea, its home) than a horse can survive far below the sea. But the eagle that remains flightless upon the ground and the whale that remains beached upon the shore are somehow no longer true eagles and whales—for they are out of their elements, removed from their proper environs or contexts, like the animals at the zoo, and are thereby reduced to something less than they are in their natural habitats. They can survive for a limited time, but they cannot really thrive under such limiting conditions. Perhaps much the same applies to the ‘free spirits’ or extremists among us who only thrive under those conditions which the more numerous in-betweeners, try as they may, find inhospitable, uncomfortable, disturbing, and too intense to tolerate for any more than the briefest time.

Now, if we may permit ourselves to carry our conjecture one step further, let us ask: Does this hypothetically supposed capacity of the extremist—this capacity for temporarily inhabiting and making intelligible the various states and ‘positions’ between his extremes—impose certain obligations, tasks, or responsibilities which are quite different from those imposed upon the in-betweeners? If the in-betweeners may be likened to settlers who farm the vast plain that stretches between the mountains and the sea, can we justly liken the extremist to the pioneer, or the mariner, who powerfully yearns for new discoveries, new vistas, and new seas? Such pioneers, mariners, and adventurers love their journeys to the far corners of the world, to be sure, but they also need to return to their home port from time to time. They return again and again throughout their lives for a variety of obvious and some not so obvious reasons. Certainly, they return to reconnect with family and loved ones. They come to rest and to recover their energy after the trials and exertions of their journey. But they also bring knowledge and experience of exotic places, strange customs, and conditions unknown to their kinsmen and old friends who never leave the town and the nourishing farmland around it. It would be strange and unnatural for the mariner or pioneer to keep such stories to himself or to swap such tales only with others like himself. He feels it incumbent upon himself, in fact, to leave as true and exact an account of his travels between and around the antipodes as he can. He does not always know why—or even where this pressure, this charge or duty springs from. But he knows he must answer it. Perhaps somehow in the sharing of these accounts—perhaps only by doing so—do they at last become fully real, authentic, and genuinely meaningful. Until then, they only set him somewhat painfully apart from the others—those who long to hear the stories of places they will never be able to visit directly, as he has. In the telling, they warm up to him, even when a bit of his venom now and then leaks somewhat embarrassingly from one of his fangs, or his spiked tail excitedly wags right out of his trousers. And he, in their hearing, warms up a bit to them, even when his nostrils are assailed by the odor of soured milk and nervous perspiration that always seems to follow them about.