Food for Thought (II) (2/10/14)

Genuine humility is born from the sustained, sobering acknowledgement of just how unappreciated and unrecognized (by the majority of us) even the most marvelous and uncanny human accomplishments are. Napoleon was wiser, perhaps, than he realized when he said, Glory is fleeting but obscurity lasts forever. What percentage or portion of mankind—over the centuries—has properly and adequately grasped the sublime audacity and sagacity of Socrates, Sophocles, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Ibn al-‘Arabi? How many—again, collectively speaking—have fallen under the irreversible spell of Shakespeare’s over-rich verse, Dostoyevsky’s unsettling prose, Bach’s supernal melodies and harmonies? When the works and deeds of such provocative and, at the same time, reliably nourishing sages, thinkers, statesmen, poets, and artists are generally ignored and passed over so that the present-day spotlight of media attention can be perversely hogged by these stunted and broken spiritual pygmies of our own day and age, where the active blind misleads the passive blind—we behold a miserable state of affairs for all concerned!

The genuine humility that I refer to is bound up, let us at once confess, with a ‘healthy’ dose of shame. For it is only after we recognize how seriously derailed from the narrow path of wisdom we have collectively become—only then is the awakening of authentic modesty and humility possible. First we must register this deep and disturbing sense of shame for having allowed ourselves to be duped and misled by the clever, puffed-up ‘fragments’ who have thoroughly filled the power-and-wisdom-vacuum that was produced after the lamentable eclipse of former luminaries by Lilliputian levelers of every persuasion: anti-traditional, anti-hierarchical, anti-theological, scientistic, etc. And in our fit of purgative shame we must upchuck all the toxins and all the indigestible cultural-spiritual junk food that we’ve been gorging ourselves on for as long as we can remember. Regrettably, the manufacturers and distributors of this cultural-spiritual crapola are all too often the brightest stars in the murky firmament of our defunct cosmos. Many of us, for lack of any superior alternatives, navigate by these unreliable star-charts.

More often than not, these inflated, disproportionately revered, lavishly rewarded ‘diversionists’ to whom our heads collectively swivel—like a vast sea of electronically-linked prairie-dogs—are, themselves, no more than opportunistic and deluded spiritual casualties of the blighted culture—and certainly not its wise physicians and qualified repairmen. It is precisely in their role as melodramatized caricatures and pathologized purveyors of the symptoms of decay that they capture and hold our attention. In a culture of obscene excess, more is always better. More volume. More hyperbole. More gruesome violence. More tits and ass. More outlandishness. It is the only way to get two and a half minutes of the prairie-dogs’ rapt attention. If one’s writing, one’s music, one’s cinematic performance, etc., does not have something profoundly pathologized or lurid about it, it simply will not capture and hold the public’s interest these days. In such a feverish and intemperate climate of cultural decline, spiritual health and the philosophical life must needs appear boring, puny, quaint, bland, and otherwise utterly uninviting. The volume (of moral-conventional outrageousness) continues to be raised through the roof in order to break through the thick, numbing layers of jadedness, ennui, and overstimulation.

Therefore, in our shame we violently vomit and poop out this vile, viscous, and virulent ooze from every last stinky nook and cranny of our psyche’s GI tract! Almost immediately we begin to enjoy the benefits of our voided belly and bowels. We find ourselves miraculously re-sensitized to hearty, healthy, wholesome fare. All that pepper and sugar and curry and salt had previously drowned out the last trace of natural taste in the copious quantities of intellectual-aesthetic snack food that we fed on. These spices and additives had spoiled our digestion and left us spiritually emaciated—but, like bawling Biafran babies, with bloated bellies!

But behold how I have stooped, how I have lowered myself—in my tawdry display of alliteration and vulgar buffoonery—simply in order to garner the fleeting attention of an intelligent contemporary reader! Shame on me! Shame on me!

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East and West: Sober Reflections (4/11/14)

Ronald Schenk, in his terse reply to a question I posed by email (concerning Jung’s and Hillman’s ‘mistrust’ of the Indian psyche) said: ‘Jung and Hillman were both influenced by Indian thought, but both felt it was problematic for Westerners to identify with it, thereby creating a ‘shadow’ of factors that are part of the Western psyche but not included by the East.’

Now, I agree that there is some truth here, but I’m not quite sure it redounds to the credit of the Western psyche—which, on the whole, may be rather more insane and out of alignment with inner reality than the (traditional) Eastern one is.

The formative influences of Christianity, rational philosophy, humanism, republicanism, and the ‘rights of man’ have all contributed to the actual (or purported) sanctity of the individual in the West—while the more ‘collectivist’ East lags behind in its very different regard for the ‘autonomous’ individual. And while no one can deny that a goodly number of humane principles and morally enlightened practices have emerged (in the West) from this more respectful stance towards the individual, this same individualism is inseparably bound up with a slew of collective ills that now threaten to do us in—both culturally and with respect to our natural environment, which is rapidly being compromised and gobbled up by the reckless, unbridled collective appetites of devouring consumers. An honest analysis of the modern ‘individual’ in the West is more likely to reveal an amalgam of generally unfettered, irrational habits, cravings, and compulsions (that demand instant gratification) than the self-controlled, liberally educated, rationally reflective citizen enthusiastically idealized by the founders of modern democracies.

Since the mindless consumer appears to be the rather unpromising and depressing creature in which Western individualism has culminated—the rationally calculating, politically impotent, narrowly-educated conscript, serving a desire-propelled corporate-capitalist economy—we have reason to pause before deeming this a real advance over the more communitarian arrangement of the pre-modern scheme, where the energies, lusts, and personal ambitions of the ordinary human being were, for the most part, suppressed and subordinated to the comparatively restricted needs and the cohesiveness of the larger group—and to the cultural-political elites who lived off this collective labor and sacrifice. The unleashing and the aggressive stimulation of these energies, lusts, and personal ambitions in the modern West has led, unsurprisingly, to evident cultural decline and fragmentation, the evils of colonialism, obscene over-consumption and waste, the ominous ascendency of what Nietzsche famously dubbed ‘the Last Man’—a shallow, frothy, short-sighted creature who is obsessed with his own material and psychological comfort—and sees nothing wrong or ignoble about this.

It is my perception that the East—particularly Indian spiritual teachings, and to a slightly lesser extent, Chinese Taoism and Japanese Zen Buddhism—has something of vital, if not absolutely crucial, importance to offer us here in the West. This perception is founded upon two firm convictions that have come from years of experience, study, travel, and reflection:

  1. The present (and all but unchallenged) scheme in the West almost exclusively promotes personal/collective competition for (limited) material goods and for (personal) power within one’s sphere of (worldly) action.
  2. Unbridled self-interest is the principal source of evil and misery in the world—and the greatest obstacle to spiritual enlightenment and liberation. On a collective scale, aided by modern technology, it constitutes nothing less than a gargantuan pair of jaws, ceaselessly devouring human souls, natural resources, and the future of our own and other species.

It may be the case that from our ‘enlightened,’ ‘sophisticated,’ ‘liberated,’ point of view, the East seems ‘backwards’ and crude, but our forward-rushing, reckless momentum is hurtling all of us into a whole series of walls and barriers that a few of our more alert observers can clearly see directly ahead of us. If going ‘backwards’ is unthinkable—not even an option—then at least we might consider the value of slowing down, of tempering our acquisitiveness, of quieting our compulsive urges and habits, of separating ourselves from the mindless herd. There may be comfort in numbers, but that comfort will vanish as soon as those in the front begin colliding with the walls and are crushed to death by the stampeding skittish simpletons behind them—all those ‘liberated’ goats and sheep who lacked the courage to stray, alone, from the group, from which vantage point they might have clearly discerned the trouble looming ahead. Perhaps for some goats and sheep, mass suicide is preferable to solitary salvation or survival. Who knows what goes on—and doesn’t go on—in the minds of goats and sheep once they get up a full head of steam as a rutting, glutting group? We must leave them in ‘God’s’ hands. Since ‘He’ made them, they are His responsibility and we must not lose heart in dire ruminations about the outcome of the dismal stampede that is so clearly shaping up—clear to anyone with an honest pair of eyes, or even one BIG EYE. Our pity—or, conversely, our outrage and resentment—must be superseded and kept under strict watch, lest we become paralyzed on the sidelines—and miss our (slim) chance of being rescued from our own very different collision with a dead-end.

Assuming we have successfully extricated our solitary souls from the mindless, ‘possessed and enthralled’ mass of self-styled ‘individuals’—and from those positive and negative attachments that prevent the transcendence of egocentricity—what next?

In the unlikely event that my critical assessment of Western ‘individualism’ (or at least its American version, which I have observed with anxious concern and care for many years) has escaped the reader, let me pronounce bluntly: ‘Individualism’ has been thoroughly and systematically debased into an empty concept—a vacuous label signifying nothing—all style and no substance—in this mass culture we presently inhabit. The actual courage, intellectual honesty, and discrimination that are the basic requirements for becoming an authentic individual are becoming harder and harder to find. The cultural soil here is simply too depleted, the air too toxic, and the rainfall too scarce to support more than a few wild and anomalous growths, here and there. And such anomalies typically have the good sense to stay well out of the crass (and, by turns, sentimental and cynical) public spotlight, so that few of us have heard of them. Wide public engagement and activity, while it may nurture mere talent—and even certain forms of genius—often spells doom for genuine individuality, which bears a resemblance to a snowflake exposed to the merciless glare of the afternoon sun. First, the glare effaces the intricate and subtle crystalline detail-work, before reducing it to a micro-puddle of featureless non-identity.

And yet, this stage—of the genuine, self-standing, critically discriminating individual—must be heroically achieved and moved through before being sacrificed in the ‘metamorphosis’ that leads to the Self—i.e., beyond confinement to the personal, individualized ego. There is no skipping over this lonely and usually excruciating baptism by fire and into the crucifixion experience of release from ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine.’ It is harder for the bloated, inflated, puddin’-headed mass man to shrink into the modest, psychologically honest, thoroughly conscious individual (who is capable of slithering through the eye of the needle into the blissful serenity of the Self) than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. Both the mass man and the amasser of excessive personal wealth are facing in the wrong direction—in the exact opposite direction from the Self—which is to be found, if at all, in the silent, inner world, not in the noisy, fast-paced, mundane one.

Holding Hands (8/23/13)

I am at last facing the consequences of my insistent burrowing, deviating, unmasking, and inverting. As I distance myself more and more fatefully and irreversibly from the encircled hearth of normality, instead of feeling nostalgia and warm affection for the tired old stories being swapped and lovingly preserved by those who are gathered around the campfire, I feel more and more humbly-proudly alone, more and more firmly resolved never to scurry back to my forfeited seat within that enchanted circle.

The more intensely conscious we become of our actual existential predicament, the sharper and more penetrating will be our awareness of the inability of even our boon companions to muffle or silence our spiritual uncertainties and anxieties. Even if one or two of them can actually follow us into the enveloping murk that awaits anyone who ventures off from that cozy campfire flickering in the wilderness, what more can these ‘allies’ do but hold our trembling hand? I don’t mean, here, to dismiss altogether the value of having such hands to hold in the dark. I merely mean to take the honest measure of such alliances. Their ultimate powerlessness against that darkness should dispel any illusions that we cling to in this regard, for these illusions are no remedy against it.

The big, rough, but generally reliable ‘hands’ of normality have evolved over the millennia as a protection—not against the mysterious darkness, per se, for which there is no genuine antidote—but against acute consciousness of that darkness, that inscrutable mystery, that Medusa whose direct gaze turns heroes into stone (and the unheroic into hollowed-out zombies). The groping, too-familiar hands of normality that hold the many snugly within their incestuous grip—these hands are what the few are up against if it is desired above all else to be released from the shameful stupor that their stifling embrace induces. Those who would be free of the stupefying, deforming grip of the giant, warty hands of the normal are certainly not big enough or strong enough to compel the normal to release them. Rather, it is their very smallness and their uncommon lack of rigidity that enables them to slither through the tiny openings between the gargantuan fingers of the colossal hands of the normal.

What then? Do we not at once plummet to our deaths—or worse, into insanity? Isn’t this wish to wriggle free from the big stinky hands of the normal a kind of death wish? It certainly can be—and if one’s despair is so overwhelming that nothing but extinction will suffice, then that is always an option: eternal sleep for those who have abruptly awakened from the stuporous suffocating dream induced by the oafish, smelly hands of the normal. Such persons cannot bear to stay awake but they have too much inflexible pride to return to the stupefying dream.

But what happens to those of us who recklessly and defiantly choose to stay awake, as we unblinkingly strive to wriggle like slender snakes through the narrow chinks between those thick clumsy fingers? Once we manage, miraculously, to slither through these tiny passageways—uncertain as to what will befall us as we cross over into terra incognita, or the ab-normal—do we simply keep falling or can we survive out there in the darkness and the cold?

What we learn is that the sheer enormity of the hands of the normal produces a gravitational field beyond which we are prevented from drifting. Although we have been freed up from the suffocating grip of the hands of the normal, we are nonetheless bound within an orbital path that encircles the hands. Everyone we have known or loved is still snugly enclosed within the tight grasp of those enormous hands. A gap now exists between us and them that cannot be closed without wreaking havoc for those below. The very real darkness we carry is to their false light what a particle of antimatter is to an ordinary atom. We must henceforth maintain a ‘polite’ distance from one another. Just the right distance and there is the spark born of creative tension. If we get too close, we cancel each other out in a puff of smoke.

Once we are in orbit around the hands that hold our fellows securely in place, the game has decisively changed for us. Our position in orbit affords us a clear, synoptic view, both of the hands of the normal and of the myriad constellations that twinkle in the remote reaches of the vast surrounding darkness. Such vision is our partial compensation for the isolation we are now consigned to after slithering like snakes through the narrow gaps between the colossal fingers of the gargantuan hands of the normal.

From time to time—as lonely satellites—we pick up cryptic transmissions from the distant reaches of the ineffable cosmos enveloping us—and we work diligently and solitarily, like a Kepler or a Heraclitus, to decode them.

 

 

Individuation as the Middle Way (4/21/17)

I woke up this morning with an ominous feeling that something wants to be born through my pen – and soon. Accompanying this weighty sensation is an exceptionally strong feeling of my personal insignificance and transience compared to the tiny handful of interesting ideas and perspectives I am charged with “birthing” in speech.

Perhaps in this instance it is the overwhelming feeling of smallness and ephemerality that is the content inviting exploration and expression here – at least, initially. I am aware of the psychological fact, I might add, that this same intense feeling of portentousness and gravitas has frequently attended the displacement of my ordinary (personal) ego-consciousness by the much deeper and weightier awareness of the daimon who shares ownership of this body, brain, and set of faculties that go by the name of “Paul.” In the past, before a clearer conscious differentiation between these two very distinct centers of gravity had been established, the anxiety level would be higher during such transitions. This was due, in part, to the fear that accompanies ignorance of the inner process of displacement – or the powerful shift that occurs when I would be pulled down into those heavy-murky depths. In the past, my ego would understandably react in a defensive or self-protective manner. It felt threatened by the very real prospect of drowning. But the resistances it put up only made the inevitable descent more violent and jarring.

Over the years I have learned how to yield to the pull of the daimon with fewer resistances – thus making my descents smoother and faster. I now understand better the crucial part employed by the sensation of the “annihilation” or near-total eclipse of the ego’s sense of personal importance as a prelude or preliminary stage in the descent process. It is my strong suspicion that this semi-paralyzing, annihilating energy/perspective is directed (like a blast from a stun gun) from the daimonic depths up to the shallows where, like a sunfish or jellyfish, my personal ego darts or floats about. As the ego-vessel is temporarily stunned – it is lured down into the depths where it can be usefully employed as a kind of portal or mouthpiece for daimonic perspectives, directives, and ideas. In fact, that is what is underway at this moment – as I have allowed my mind and obedient pen to sink down to “earshot range” of the deeper intelligence within.

It should be mentioned that as I surrender to the descent, the initial feelings of nervousness and trepidation begin to subside. This calming comes from the fact that the new center of gravity (of the daimon) is being contacted and stably inhabited. The anxious feelings correspond to the “in between” or transitional state: prior to my consciousness becoming stably situated in the deeper center of gravity while it is no longer anchored in the familiar personal ego perspective.

Now, such a description must necessarily strike some readers as a species of mental illness or a dangerous psychic condition. And, no doubt, this experience of being uprooted or dislodged from the personal ego-complex is typically observed in schizophrenics or those suffering from multiple personality disorder. The difference between what I experience (and which I am attempting to describe) and what the “mentally ill” person experiences must be thoroughly explored and clarified – to the extent that I am equipped to undertake such a task.

The two crucial factors here are: 1) the polycentric nature of the psyche, and 2) the conscious/imaginative work of bridge-building between these various psychic centers of gravity, or autonomous complexes. Before exploring these two factors, let us first take a look at the psychologically incomplete or ignorant standpoints of mentally ill and monolithically ego-centric persons who, together, vastly outnumber exemplars of the psychologically initiated consciousness I seek, by and by, to describe.

The mentally ill person who suffers from a splintered or disassociated psyche is the victim of a weak and easily “possessed” (or overshadowed) ego, so that the autonomous complexes, always lurking below the surface of the ego-platform, can easily break through that thin membrane and act out or speak out in ways that are clearly at odds with the ‘level-headed’ aims and apparent interests of the ‘rational’ ego. In other words, the ego of the dissociated person – as weak and uneducated (about itself and about the polycentric psyche) as it is – is easily overpowered and reduced to a mere puppet of these unconscious complexes over which it has little or no control. We see such cases of possession every day (in milder form) when family members, co-workers, spouses, or we, ourselves, succumb to irrational fits of rage, terror, jealousy, euphoria, romantic enchantment, etc. The difference between these ordinary cases and those of the mentally ill is a difference in degree, but not in kind. The difference lies in the degree of strength, stability, and self-knowledge achieved by the victim of his/her unconscious complexes and affects.

Those persons, on the other hand, who have invested all or most of their time and effort in the cultivation and defense of the ego against intrapsychic powers and influences suffer from a very different set of problems. Such persons have, in a sense, deified the ego – and reified it in the bargain – so that, for them, the psyche as a whole is disastrously reduced to the much narrower terms and conditions of individual ego-consciousness. For them, the cohesiveness, heroic strength, and authority of the personal ego constitute the supreme priority. Such persons often scoff at the suggestion that autonomous (unconscious) complexes and powers exist and/or exercise ultimate sovereignty over the ego. Such skeptics and scoffers regard those persons who subscribe to such beliefs – in the transpersonal psychic forces and factors – with muted contempt or with patronizing indulgence, as Jocasta regards those who foolishly believe in prophecies in Oedipus Tyrannus. But, in almost every case, what we uncover behind the egocentrist’s contempt and “superior” disdain is paralyzing terror of the very forces and factors they deny and disdain.

How, then, should we begin to describe the optimal (or psychologically enlightened) standpoint – one that avoids (by transcendence?) the two problematic standpoints I have just sketched? The ideal standpoint would have to straddle in between the flaccid, impotent extreme of the undeveloped ego, on the one side, and the fear-driven arrogance of God-like egotism, on the other. If we wanted to couch the problem in Taoist terms, we might say that wisdom consists in navigating successfully between “the Firm and the Yielding.”

Another way to frame this archetypal polarity between the rival demands of ‘heroic’ ego and the larger, enfolding psyche is to invoke the alchemical terms “solve et coagula” (dissolve and coagulate). The ego rises up from the oceanic psyche like a volcanic island, eventually returning to that great matrix – and to the undifferentiated state of its origins – but during that brief interim, a human life, a kind of dialogue or dialectic is possible between ego and unconscious. The fluidic, polycentric, “imaginal” psyche tends to have a generally dissolving effect upon the structures and materials out of which the ego-complex is constructed. For this reason, the strength and cohesiveness of the ego depends on the assertion of effort – or the personal will – as a protective measure against weakening and dissolution. A balanced or healthy ego, therefore, gravitates instinctively towards homeostasis or equilibrium between solidity and fluidity, while our problematic cases lose this precarious balance. The extreme (or pathological) egotist instinctively dreads the dissolving waters of psyche (and, by extension, by the fluidic imagination, the native language of psyche), while the impotent or rootless ego is forever the helpless plaything of whatever complex or affect seizes possession of it.

To illustrate these various standpoints by means of historical examples, we can look at Jesus and Socrates, on one end, and Nietzsche and Freud on the other, with Jung acting as a moderating figure in between the two sides. Socrates’ dialectical questioning operated like a solvent or mild corrosive upon the often-inflated egos of his interlocutors (on the level of intellect), while Jesus’ teachings and humble example may be seen as a solvent on the heart level. Freud and Nietzsche, and their different ways, were great coagulators and enrichers of the ego as a bulwark against the id or Dionysian disintegration (to which Nietzsche eventually succumbed). Jung, as champion of the dialectic between ego and unconscious (individuation), recognized the crucial importance of a strong and psychologically/imaginatively enlightened ego in following “the middle way” between the two undesirable extremes of egocentrism and ego-dissolution.

Addendum: it is tempting to draw a connection between pessimism and over-developed/inflated egotism – despite its displays of ruggedness and occasional exuberance. Pessimism is conspicuous and Freud and implicit in Nietzsche’s stridency, despite all his coaching on the importance of “cheerfulness.” There is little in or about Nietzsche’s tone(s) or content that can legitimately be called cheerful or joyous, let alone optimistic, when it comes to the human situation. Again, Jung’s more moderate (and moderating) example serves well: generally speaking, he is measured and balanced in his tone – neither unduly pessimistic nor excessively hopeful about the human condition – but guardedly optimistic.

A Word about Ancient Athenians (12/13/17)

There is much profit in our study of the rise and fall of classical Greek – or Athenian – culture and imperial power. The Greeks were, in many ways, emblematic of “the human as such” – both individually and communally – and their chief artists and philosophers seem, uncannily, to have been cognizant of their paradigmatic-archetypal character as events were unfolding. Witness Thucydides’ remarks about his own History of the Peloponnesian War:

The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the understanding of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content. In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time. (I, 22)

Cleisthenes (b. 570 B.C.E.), a born aristocrat, recognized that without the backing, or at least the compliance, of “the people” (the demos), the old, traditional aristocracy was doomed. The democratic reforms – giving those who had hitherto been excluded from policy-making a real stake in political-cultural affairs – were absolutely crucial to the astonishing victories against the gigantic and hegemonic Persian Empire, which led, in turn, to the growth of the Athenian commercial-naval-political empire.

The unleashing and canalization of all that untapped power and talent in the common people made all of this possible, and after Pericles’ death during the plague at Athens (in the middle of the expansionist war against Sparta), the mad scramble to fill the power vacuum on the part of unwise, demagogic flatterers of the people led eventually to the disintegration and defeat of the empire (with the disastrous Sicilian expedition).

In more recent times, we can see an analogous pattern played out with the weakening of aristocratic privilege and power – after the French Revolution – and the rise of empowered commoners via the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism-consumerism. The power and talent that were needed to produce the economically obsessed, technocratic world we live in today were excited and liberated by thinkers and reformers who, for the most part, challenged aristocratic institutions and privileges. These thinkers and reformers (Machiavelli, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Marx, etc.) seem, in retrospect, to have been far more concerned with material and mundane issues than with spiritual and (traditionally) moral questions. The lures of power (individual/national) and personal freedom (usually understood in political and economic terms) were employed – either deliberately or automatically – to appeal to those commoners whose formerly frustrated/religiously prohibited ambitions and desires could provide the propulsive force needed to build the consumerist (consuming) world we now inhabit. This is the only world that most of us have ever known or will ever know. This sort of society depends, for its continued survival, upon the arousal, mobilization, and conscription of the collective desires and cravings of the more or less compliant and obedient masses.

After the devastating and exhausting defeats suffered by the reckless, over-reaching Athenians during the long war against the Spartans, things would never be the same. After Socrates – who had been sharply critical of his fellow Athenians for their follies and injustices – had been snuffed out by the very democracy that had tolerated him for 70 years, a chastened Athens was gradually transformed into the renowned cradle of arts and learning for which we remember her after all these centuries. But this renown was earned by courageous and profoundly reflective minds – figures like Aeschylus, Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and others – who, rather than allowing themselves to become dizzily intoxicated and thrown off balance by the enormous power surge that was produced during Athens’ democratic-imperial rise, chose the path of wisdom and virtue rather than the path of excess and worldly gain that most others chose. Who is our Sophocles? Our Socrates? Who, on our televisions and in our universities, sounds even remotely similar to Thucydides or Plato? Do we not, instead, see only Alcibiades, Cleon, Callicles, and Thrasymachus?

 

Seeds and Deeds (3/10/17)

In the stillest and quietest moments of meditation, the entire nexus or intricate array of personal ties and more or less defined affiliations in which I am presently involved dissolve into nothingness. During these brief, blissful moments, all the cords of connection relax and drop into a bottomless well. Duties, obligations, commitments, desires, antagonisms, and ambivalences cease to mean anything or to exert any claims upon my soul during such moments. This liberating sense of being disburdened of these bonds of attachment, aversion, and duty does not spring from exasperation or contempt, hatred or disgust. Instead, it appears to be rooted in a mysterious but indisputable faith that everything and everyone in my life will carry on without significant deviation or disruption with or without my active involvement. The seeds of our ultimate unfoldment or fate, it would seem, are not altered in their essence by the soil and climate conditions into which they are planted. Whether and how fully the seeds mature is, of course, affected by these extrinsic factors – but in the deepest meditation it is the seed-essences we zero in on – the eternal images that appear in, but are not affected by, time, space, matter, and causality.

And then, as my serenely detached meditative state succumbs to the alluring siren song of “Paul in the world,” I watch myself plugging back into those “parts” I play for others on the stage where seeds open and display their inner necessity, as does mine. But each time I reenter Paul and his many parts it is with ever-deepening irony. Would it surprise anyone if I were to say that with this infusion of irony – or double-mindedness – the playing of my parts becomes more genuine, truer to life, and surcharged with the electricity generated by that ironical tension? Here, perhaps as well as anywhere, we are granted a glimpse of the subtle marriage between the richest meaning and strangeness. We know we have stumbled upon truth when we recognize that we are in the presence of something strange – or “strangely familiar,” if you prefer sugar in your coffee. That is why we shiver in the presence of truth. It is shocking and grounding all at once.

Crazy Love (11/7/14)

Before I became all ‘grown up’ and ‘mature,’ back in my deep, dark past, I could work up an overpowering lust—the kind that takes you into its lovely-ferocious jaws and devours you in mind-erasing bliss—only for crazy women. I would erotically and psychically dive into the crazy woman and before long I caught the craziness from her and I would remain her enthusiastically tormented slave for awhile before I would eventually manage to break the spell, recover my jeopardized sanity, and soberly sever the involvement—invariably with a lot of unpleasant fallout (and a couple of times with live offspring). By and by, I would then gravitate towards a new, more soothing and ‘promising’ prospect. But naturally, when she turned out not to have a major screw loose—or if I couldn’t somehow manage to drive her crazy—I would wind up getting bored in the sack and I would do my best to ‘translate’ the lovable, sane, and decent woman into my ‘friend.’ Sometimes this would work; more often than not, it wouldn’t. Where did all this begin?

Well, my mother was crazy. I never wanted to have anything to do with her in the sack, but, for better or worse, she seems to have had a lasting impact on the way I perceive and respond to women. I suppose this shouldn’t be all that surprising.

For the past four years—since my last involvement with a devouring succubus—I have been sane and erotically ‘uncoupled.’ I have been tempted and flirted with by a couple of lunatics but I have managed to remain aloof—and celibate. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after four years of un-involvement I now find that I have the strength and independence to dismantle my deeply conflicted relationship with my mother. As that primary, foundational, and formative relationship is neutralized and dissolved, a number of new insights and opportunities emerge. For one thing, I realize that it was no more possible to have an authentic and mutually satisfying relationship with my mother than it was to have such a relationship with any of my loony lovers from the past. And the explanation is simple: none of them had yet fully developed into persons. They were little more than the personifications of desperate and overpowering needs or hungers lurking within the restless souls and bodies of my crazy lovers. And, to my shame, I responded exploitatively to their psychologically crippled condition—thus earning the hatred they unleashed upon me when I bailed after I’d had as much as I could stand.

But the truth of the matter is that it is simply not possible to have anything like a trustworthy, reliable human relationship with anyone who is completely at the mercy of lusts, passions, anxieties, delusions, and compulsions that regularly take control over his or her life. Being involved with such a half-there, half-elsewhere semi-person is to be in crisis management mode most of the time. Such a person might be your lover or spouse, your child or parent, a sibling or co-worker, a friend or a neighbor. To whatever extent their minds and wills are ‘possessed’ by their particular ‘demons’ (lust, lethargy, anger, addiction, depression, mania, paranoia, etc.), our efforts to help them will be thwarted. We are, each one of us, ultimately thrown back upon our own more or less developed spiritual and moral resources to combat the ‘demons’ that vie for possession of our souls.

Earlier, I mentioned my culpability in exploiting the ‘crazy’ women. Evidently I, too, must have shared this weakness for mind-erasing, soul-possessing eroticism—or else I would not have been consistently drawn to such volatile and crazy couplings. Does this congenital weakness on my part in any way mitigate or qualify my moral culpability in exploiting these women and situations? I ‘fell’ into them, didn’t I? The exploitation was not premeditated—any more than was my hasty, abrupt retreat once their craziness started to impinge too much upon my mental well-being and my precious freedom. Just like them, I suffered from the delusion that devouring, captivating erotic passion could be magically reconciled with mental and moral freedom—and with genuine love! Like them, I grew up in a morally unsophisticated and obtuse mass-culture that tacitly equated intense erotic passion with love, when, in actuality, they are as different as night and day. It took me many years to learn the simple fact that the most satisfying and solid relationships are founded not upon mutual desire, as I had been led to assume, but upon the natural compatibility of the higher natures of the man and woman. It’s not the ‘zeal of the organs’ for one another that is the basis of love but the sense of feeling thoroughly ‘at home’ with the other’s soul. But, alas, if one’s ‘soul’ is not sufficiently strong or developed, there is nothing to fall back upon except ‘the organs.’