Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations IX

241. Several times I have had the mental image of a man and woman, both of whom are overshadowed by two non-human, giant figures – like deities – who are channeling through the man and woman. The “possessed” human couple experiences a dramatic intensification of experience on a variety of levels, simultaneously. Both the man and the woman mistakenly assume that the source of all this intense, dramatic emotion and desire, fear, and insecurity arises from the human all too human level, when in fact – all along – it is coming from the impersonal, godlike creatures behind them. It is only with our acceptance and understanding of these daimonic or transpersonal “background” factors that we are able to let ourselves and others “off the hook” for words and deeds over which they frequently have little or no authorship or control.

242. 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 carnal 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?

243. Sleepwalkers. In imaginatively reflecting upon the habitual cues and inner directives that orient and motivate most of our behavior—instead of acting them out like obliging, unswerving meat-puppets—we add to the terribly limited supply of genuine freedom in the world, for to reflect is, in effect, to momentarily neutralize a compulsion—to forestall the literalization and materialization of a perfectly satisfactory image or mental phenomenon. When regarded from the relatively unencumbered and uncompelled vantage point of the educated imagination, much of what gets acted out upon the world stage reveals itself to be the work either of mad men or of sleepwalkers who do not know that they are asleep and dreaming. When human beings become entangled in the snares of literal events—and they either forget (or they never learned) how to step back reflectively and see these events metaphorically in an ‘as if’ manner—they resemble psychotic persons who mistake hallucinations for reality. Words of true and liberating insight are usually wasted upon such persons—for they fall upon deaf ears.

244. Unsponsored. It darkens my mood to reflect upon the fact that there is no merely human remedy or solution to the enormous spiritual conundrum we are in today. We got ourselves into the mess largely by collectively turning our back upon ‘the Gods,’ as I see it, and now the Gods have returned the dis-courtesy, leaving us utterly un-sponsored. In our desperation we cling to our merely personal relationships with other more or less blinkered and spiritually anemic humans, seldom getting what we inwardly yearn for. All our humanistic, technocratic, pragmatic, psychotropic, and scientific methods and ideals have proven to be incapable of filling the vacuum left by the vanished Gods. I am acutely aware of the inadequacy of even the staunchest bonds with the noblest and best human beings to permanently quench my transpersonal spiritual thirst. In my grave and sober moods—like the one I’m possessed by today—I am tempted to regard virtually every human I know as something of a child—perhaps a decent, obedient one or perhaps a selfish, bratty one, but a child nevertheless. Why? Is it because no one is rightfully entitled to be called an adult unless and until he/she has recognized the terrible truth about our spiritually isolated and unsponsored condition and who does not suffer the profoundest distress over this fact?

245. Whitest Spot in a White Space: Ramana Maharshi is, hands down, the most radical, the most challenging, and the most profoundly intriguing voice I have ever encountered—in print. When I set Jung and Nietzsche beside him, they both seem fettered by their individual egos. Plato and Shakespeare seem caught up in a web of complex cultural and political questions, while he seems to live beyond their reach. Ramana Maharshi stuns my personal will by exposing its innate waywardness, along with the seeds of its inevitable self-defeat. By repeatedly insisting on the sole reality of the Self—and the illusoriness of the ego—RM implicitly declares the ego-will to be illusory, as well. Only when it ceases, only then, does the Self rightfully eclipse the ego, or reabsorb it back into itself. I have, throughout my life, had intimations—episodic flashes—of this reabsorption by the Self. But the will, my carefully cultivated and coddled preferences, my earthly ‘path’—all return with a full head of steam—and willy-nilly, I find myself boring back into the world—following one or another trail, another ‘lost highway.’ As long as it is the ego driving—or being driven, repetition of the same basic scenarios is bound to occur, is it not? In being still, am I not attempting to dissolve or neutralize that will? Nietzsche certainly got things wrong, did he not? There is no resignation with him—Buddhistic or otherwise—is there? Only the attempt to dominate or to assimilate.

246. Getting Plastered: Established doctrines and dogmas may justly (and temporarily) be used as scaffolding by ice sculptors, whose private and public works stand erect and retain their distinctive shape for as long as the proper weather conditions hold out. Or they are like the scaffolding around a large sandcastle that excites our admiration until the tide rushes in and levels it to a featureless mound of sand. Like dogma, scaffolding interferes with our direct view—and therefore, our full appreciation—of the ephemeral ice sculpture and the sandcastle. At its best, dogma provides us with a temporary, provisional place to stand as we creatively employ the elastic, volatile prima materia of the imagination to sculpt figures that serve the needs of the momentary situation before fading away. Perhaps they are covered in plaster before they vanish. Words, icons, concepts (nama-rupa) constitute such plaster. Life is drunk with ceaseless transformation. It is, therefore, always getting plastered, one might say, in serious jest.

247. Particles and Plasma: It is becoming harder and harder to work up serious interest in this laughably soft no-thing that doesn’t really exist: inviolable and incontrovertible philosophical truth. At least it doesn’t exist in a reliably communicable and thoroughly intelligible form. Devoting one’s life and one’s best energies to its pursuit is like spending billions of dollars on a fully staffed cyclotron in order to produce a single, rare, subatomic particle that ‘lasts’ about a nanosecond. And there—just beyond the frequency range of this evanescent, extremely expensive subatomic particle is the utterly intangible, plasma-like imagination. There is no admission charge to enter the theater of imagination and it is open seven days a week for all comers. But I have lied. There is, in fact, an admission price. Everything rigid and solid has to first be deposited inside a locker just outside the entrance gate—and most persons simply cannot cram their hulking, bulky, balking egos into the locker. Then, assuming you get past the threshold, it is necessary to tip the three-headed dog that stands guard there. Only then do we truly enter the underworld that is always present slightly out of phase with this solid one that most of us are frozen into.

248. A Path towards Neutrality: One way of describing the macrocosmic return to a state of balance, or centeredness, is in terms of neutralization. Positive and negative charges are continually canceling each other out—acids and bases commingling in such a way as to arrive at a pH level of 7, that of pure water. From either extreme, or pole, this ongoing process of neutralization initially looks and feels like death—but from the centerpoint it is experienced as marriage—what the old alchemists called the coniunctio. Everything in or about us that is extreme or one-sided stubbornly resists marriage to its apparent opposite—to which it is nevertheless mysteriously attracted, as the moth is to the flame. That essence buried within us—that core which ceaselessly partakes of quiet, still centeredness—trusts in the justice and soundness of the marriage. The sparring, half-blind spouses have little besides passion to bring them together and bind them at first—but eventually, after much patient sacrifice and stretching on both ends, they learn to love one another so that, by and by, they die together in a tender embrace.

249. The Gnostic view of things: The world of everyday experience is the inversion of the true order of things as perceived from the spiritual perspective. Therefore, it only makes sense that from the standpoint of ordinary commonsense, spiritual truths often sound paradoxical and absurd. If the literal world of concrete experience is the inversion of the spiritual reality, then the same holds in reverse: the spiritual realm seems like ‘the world turned inside out.’ The more we adapt to the everyday world of commonsense experience—the more completely ‘at home’ we feel in its familiar or passionate or soothing embrace—the further we fall away from our true source, our first home. In a nutshell, this is why genuine spiritual experiences are typically disturbing to the uninitiated, and why ordinary religious experience within our ‘ordinary bearings’ tends to be counterfeit, spurious, and merely comforting to those who are as yet unfit to withstand the ‘world-subverting’ power of the spirit. Such ‘religious’ persons obviously need to be protected from authentic spiritual experiences—for genuine encounters with the spirit would be their undoing. Conventionally ‘religious’ persons talking about spiritual realities are like persons talking about Java and the Javanese after reading about them in a Lonely Planet travel guidebook, but who have never set foot on Javanese soil or conversed in Bahasa with a native of the island. The genuinely spiritual person is like someone who has been to Java, learned the language, coupled with a woman there, and sired a child. Later, he, the wife, and child—all bilingual by now divide their time between Java and the Western country where he works.

250. Terra Incognita: Even the dozen or so greatest contributors or benefactors to human culture and to our understanding of ourselves—and of what is possible—provide us only with discrete pieces of the picture. This ‘picture’ can never be finished, but is always evolving. Moreover, its frame is always shrinking or expanding. It is not fixed or inflexible. No single contributor or benefactor can provide a complete or exhaustive vision—and even if this were possible, how many of us are in a position to fully benefit from such a vision? No, it is the ongoing conversation—which all too frequently deteriorates into a feud or spat—between the divergent visions of these exemplars that carries human culture further and deeper than would ever be possible if only one or two sacrosanct, ‘authorized’ visions were singled out to orient and guide us. As soon as we become devoted advocates or proselytes for one or two of these savior-benefactors, we implicitly opt out of the conversation and forfeit the privilege of making a more original contribution to the unfinishable picture—the elusive gestalt longed for by the more curious members of our groping, hoping, moping, coping (and increasingly doping) species. It is always in those ‘gray areas’ of unfinished business and unexplored territory (lying in between the colonized positions articulated by one or another of the great benefactors and their scribes) that original contributions are to be made. And, oh, there is so much terra incognita!

251. Ultimate Privation: What if the ultimate—and, therefore, the most potentially creative—privation is the absence of God or the divine (transcendent) dimension from our life? Of course, in order to inaugurate the questioning, the probing, the deep inner exploration, the fervent and disciplined study of spiritual scriptures, this privation of God must be acutely, painfully conscious. The pain of this absence must be so intense that it exposes the comparative unimportance and frivolity of everything that the sensual, the social, and the conventionally religious ‘worlds’ have to offer. We are driven from within to pursue most avidly that which we feel the absence of most stingingly: sex, renown, the feeling of power, moral superiority over others, to be loved by others, money, aesthetic pleasure, God, peace, centeredness. We are, in a deep sense, defined by our driving and compelling privations. In other words, we are best known by what we are most fearful of lacking, since it is the pursuit of that particular object or state of being that reveals our trajectory—our daimon—our fate. What we want most—what matters above all else—is what we are known by and for, whether that is wisdom or blow jobs, offspring or celebrity, honesty or knavery.

252. S.C.U.B.A.: Imaginatively extricating ourselves from the ‘moral universe’ (or moral context) that we, along with nearly every other human being, typically inhabit is no guarantee that we will slough off our ingrained sense of being a moral agent. Functioning as a moral agent goes along with inhabiting a moral context in the same way that wearing S.C.U.B.A. equipment goes along with deep sea diving. Prolonged, deep-sea diving without S.C.U.B.A. equipment is suicidal, just as wearing S.C.U.B.A. breathing apparatus on land is not only superfluous, but extremely cumbersome and attention-drawing, as well. The lesson here? Beware of dismantling and shedding your morality—your sense of being a responsible moral agent—before you have developed lungs that allow you to function without artificial breathing apparatus in the very different, de-moralized realm of the imaginal psyche. The two realms—the undersea arena of moralized experience and that of non-moralized imaginal experience—must never be conflated. They must always be kept distinct in one’s awareness, even though the psychic realm, being the subtler one, permeates the literal, moralized realm of dayworld experience like a kind of perfume—or stench, as the case sometimes may be. The reverse is not the case, however. That part of me which is consciously established within the psychic underworld—the realm of the soul—is both inaudible and invisible to other human beings whose consciousness is confined to the bulkier, grosser level of dayworld (or ego-) consciousness. They can neither see nor smell me. Only those persons who have similarly succeeded in transcending the literalistic, egocentric realm of dayworld consciousness—and have attained a foothold in the subtler realm of soul—are able to see and hear me as I am. To everyone else, I must necessarily seem paradoxical, murky, unintelligible, and yawn-spawning.

253. Dayworld/Nightworld: Today I prefer an evenly distributed inner light—and not the focused beams of incandescent thinking. The diffuse, subdued luminosity of the imaginal realm allows new phenomena to emerge from the shadows—shapes and delicate impressions that are thoroughly washed out by the bright light of ordinary rational-ego consciousness. These are nocturnal creatures that begin warily to slither and tiptoe from their dens only after dusk. These I desire for my new friends and allies—these owls, bats, lynxes, and sloths of the nightworld of the psyche. Aside from dreams, reverie is perhaps the most suitable doorway through which to enter this ‘twilight zone’ where the shades of the underworld reside—unseen and unheard by everyone confined to the surface dayworld, where the bright solar light and the loud city sounds blot out all evidence of the souls that surround and move through us—as if we were the insubstantial ghosts. There would seem to be a kind of inverse relationship between the solar light of the dayworld and the crepuscular light of the underworld—or, if you prefer, between the focused, gathered light of the heroic ego and the unfocused, diffuse luminosity of the soul. For one to wax the other must wane. This truth is hinted at in Plato’s allegory of the cave, where the liberated prisoner must undergo a significant ocular adjustment both in exiting and in re-entering the cave. Plato warns us that the liberated prisoner experiences disorientation—and accompanying ineptitude or clumsy judgment—at both transition points. It would appear, then, that we must have successfully crossed and re-crossed this threshold, or border, between the dayworld and underworld many times before we can become adepts, someone who quickly recovers his bearings when crossing from one dimension into the next.

254. Advice to ‘New Age’ writers: in your works, instead of providing umbrellas to shelter and shield the fallacies in your readers’ minds from the ‘acid rain’ of truth, INVERT those umbrellas so that they become baptismal fonts wherein their ‘half-truths’ may be dissolved—and their hidden ray of light released.

255. Genuine, solid sanity is devoid of hype, hoopla, and hyperbole. Why, then, are our presidential campaigns pumped up with so much hot air? Or is it nitrous oxide? Aren’t good government and good leaders free of giddiness and glitz, bombast and braggadocio? And when these vices and vagaries hijack political discourse and become the new norm, might we not assume that sanity has left the building?

256. The unparelleled conservatism of those ancient Egyptians (in their artistic conventions, traditional customs, religious beliefs, etc.) was a splendidly fertile stupidity on a monumental scale—for which we are obliged to feel boundless gratitude. Nearly 3,000 years of minimally interrupted barnacle-clinging to static motifs, styles, rites, dogmas! The very epitome of adaptors to materially beneficent conditions, equipped with a cultural system that fit snugly—like a well-tailored glove—upon these optimal material circumstances. Perhaps Plato had such a bodily and mentally conservative culture as Egypt in mind when, in Bk. II of the Republic, he had Socrates fabricate the ‘city of pigs’ as a first attempt at an ideal city—one that is immediately rejected by the spirited and ambitious Glaucon. Little wonder that the Gnostics viewed Egypt as the dark apotheosis of the Fallen World. Even (or especially!) all that treasure and artful obsessiveness squandered upon the mummification of bodies merely underscores the point here. How different from Indian culture of the time—where such things are burned. And how different from the Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian) cultures—where everything moved and was continually being renegotiated. In Egypt, the ‘I-am-the-body’ idea takes deep root.

257. In their soliloquies, Shakespeare’s fictional characters can safely be relied upon to tell us what they think and what they’re up to. However, we would be foolhardy to mistake such candor and honesty for the truth, pure and simple. For even the most honest and candid character cannot simply be presumed to possess a self-understanding that is complete, unprejudiced, exhaustive, and therefore fully truthful. No doubt, even Shakespeare was denied such a complete and exhaustive understanding of himself and his extraordinary characters. And are we not in the same boat? Are we not also constrained by the ‘necessary fictions’ that we have come to believe implicitly about ourselves—and about most of those around us? And how continuously we make this false, untenable equation between mere sincerity, or honesty, and the truth, when often they are as different as the sun and the moon!

258. Life feeds upon life. Mind, too, upon close inspection, appears to be a self-consuming principle or entity: thesis provokes anti-thesis, and in the ensuing conflict syn-thesis consumes and transforms both into something else. Thus, the temporal process of continual transformation and self-consumption goes on and on and on—unless and until, miraculously, a point of absolute changelessness—of perfect stillness and peace—is revealed. This is a game-changer—or rather, a game-ender.

259. Stillness is far more closely linked with spirit than with soul, since soul—as it has been traditionally understood—is mercurial, shifting, and infinitely malleable. Thus, it is only with the quieting of the imaginative faculty that sattvic stillness is realized.

260. As psyche deepens we are quite naturally nudged towards myth, metaphor, and poetry (understood as pregnant, polyvalent, densely packed language—and not merely as ornate language)—not only in our thinking, but in all our modes of expression. We move away from prose, which seems anemic by comparison.

261. It is not so much in the acquisition as in the transcendence of knowledge that we divine its ultimate meaning and worth.

262. Another way of saying ‘all that is born must die’ is: ‘every thing and every state or condition eventually encounters its opposite and is thus canceled out.’ Let the truth of this sink in and relax your grip on all desired things, states, and conditions—and from this detached, quiet stance be content with your freedom from all change and perturbation. Take no more than is necessary to sustain life and be at peace with those around you.

263. It is very much in the interest of ruling elites that the majority of Americans who are capable of serious thought remain cynical when it comes to politics, society, and the prospects of cultural renewal. The reason for this is plain. With cynicism, the moral-spiritual will is weakened, if not poisoned, into more or less complete impotence. It destroys community spirit and throws the isolated individual back upon his own meager resources—to fend for himself, his beleaguered and isolated little self.

264. The many can indulge their hatred for political/warmongering villains like Tamerlane, Attila the Hun, Adolf Hitler, and Pol Pot—while conveniently forgetting the fact that none of these monsters would have made the slightest bit of difference in the world if they hadn’t managed to raise armies of men who were (more or less) willing and eager to follow them. And so, when I indulge in my deep feelings of antipathy for those two key founders of the modern world—Bacon and Descartes—I cannot lose sight of the fact that their writings seduced the minds and the wills of self-serving, spiritually undiscerning intellectuals who remade the world according to the Baconian-Cartesian blueprint—slowly choking the soul and the mythical-metaphysical imagination to death in the process.

265. Papuan communities have traditionally staged ‘mock battles’ against one another, using blunt javelins as spears, so that when one person died, the battle would be over and a time would pass before a retaliation attack would occur. This went on for centuries and then a pirated copy of the film Rambo was introduced, along with semi-automatic rifles, and it has been a snowballing catastrophe ever since.[1] This faraway instance shows, in miniature, what has happened in the modern, ‘developed’ world since WWI and the emergence of mechanized slaughter. ‘Man’ hasn’t changed a bit. He’s as much a savage as ever. Only now we possess the means to channel that savagery down much more effective paths of mass destruction as soon as living space and/or precious resources become limited. It is fairly easy to envision the course the future will take.

[1] http://www.sidereel.com/Unreported_World/season-9/episode-3

266. His mind is like a luxurious Swiss watch: accurate, intricately designed and tooled, overpriced, and small enough to be snugly attached to the wrist of a vain and worldly man who believes the watch tells far more than the time!

267. Combating one elaborate fiction with another elaborate fiction gets us no closer to the ‘absolute’ truth—to unequivocal, non-perspectival reality—which transcends all mere fictions. We must learn to regard all thinking ironically, as Ortega y Gasset teaches us, since thinking, in generating concepts, can only beget fictions. Scientists and philosophers and theologians are all wont to forget the fact that they are trading in fictions—so when ‘trade wars’ rage between scientists and theologians or between philosophers and scientists, it is worthwhile to remember that the final ‘winner’ is not reality or the truth, but the most seductive and elaborate fictions.

268. Caesar and Christ: Like the ‘sword in the stone’ of Arthurian romance, genuine authority can be claimed only by those rare spirits who are destined from birth to carry man and history from ‘A’ to ‘B’ (and then get out of the way, as Nietzsche would have added!) so that humanity and history can keep moving by ever-renewed light.

269. Marriage (in the Twilight Zone): Subtilization of consciousness develops out of the gradual marriage or reconciliation of those contraries which most distinguish and define our individual nature. At first, the subtler forms of consciousness are likely to seem a bit boring when compared with the dramatic interplay and conflict of contraries that have defined our lives up to this point. We now have delicate shades of gray to navigate through, instead of dramatic oscillations between light and dark, action and torpor. But eventually, as our inner eye adjusts to the crepuscular light of the conjunction, where the subtle mingling of polarities is stabilized, the thought of going back to our former condition is odious to us. Instead, we desire only to delve deeper and ever deeper into the ‘marriage of heaven and hell.’

270. Idolatry: Rather than regard the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso as actual locales with metaphysical validity, I approach them as topoi within the imaginal realm—as Dante sees them. This final qualification is crucial, since Dante’s underworld is different from Vergil’s (in the Aeneid) or Homer’s (in the Odyssey), or mine (as I read others’ accounts or make my own visits and report my findings). Tradition collects and preserves significant works of literature, poetry, painting, myth, religion, etc., as repositories and collectively available ‘mappings’ of the imaginal. These works are bequeathed to us by individual artists, philosophers, visionaries, historians, and so forth—but they become collective possessions. They become the (usually disorganized) furniture of our minds—as inheritors of our tradition. For many persons these inherited works are regarded as sacrosanct—as still, today, many regard the stories of the Bible or chapters from the Koran. This is a kind of idolatry.

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.


Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations VII

181. Desire and Inner Structure: It is rather crude and misleading to say that we ‘see what we want to see.’ Rather, it is far more accurate to say that we ‘see how we want to see.’ This ‘how’ is the implicit—and almost invariably unexamined—structuring mechanism invisibly at work behind most of our thinking and perceiving. This structural mechanism guides, organizes, and powerfully delimits our thinking and perceiving. What lies behind—or beneath—this more or less elaborate structural apparatus, or guidance system within our minds? It is the hierarchy of dominant desires (along with the familiar fears which limit those desires) that, together, comprise the actual propellants that drive us into and through our (structurally guided) lives. So long as the hierarchy of desires, or implicit priorities, remains roughly constant and fixed, the structuring habits and orienting assumptions will to that extent be preserved. Only when there is a major disruption (or ‘revolution’) of these determining desires—only then do we see authentic changes in those structural habits (deep within the mind, or psyche) that govern ‘how’ we see and value the things, persons, ideas, and situations that we meet with in our experience.

182. The New Way of Knowing: To take the world as it actually is—to regard humanity (the rule, the typical specimen) not as we would wish mankind to be but with as unbiased and disinterested an eye as we can summons for the task—is to adopt the proper starting position for philosophy. But how much must first be overcome within ourselves before such an unprejudiced and honest eye can be attained! Nothing less than the jettisoning of our most ‘categorically imperative’ moral-ideological assumptions! One thinks of Spinoza’s aim to treat human passions after the model of a geometrician treating lines, planes, and solids. So deeply-rooted within our psyches is our moral-cultural standard of weights and measures that uprooting and ‘bracketing’ our scales and yardsticks seems tantamount to annihilating our human nature itself! Such alienation—whether brought about by ‘monstrous’ curiosity or by the subtlest possible desire for liberation from that which has hitherto been our most familiar, if not always the most comforting or welcome, affiliation (that is, with our own species)—cannot help but strike the venturer as the most frightening and undesirable of conditions to which a man might be consigned, with the exception, perhaps, of sheer madness. Nietzsche invoked the term ‘Hyperborean’ to denote this flirtation with the brink or outermost verge of the human. Hyperbole can scarcely be avoided, it would seem, when contemplating such ‘crossing over’ from the known into the great unknown—or perhaps the great unknowable. For it seems reasonable to suppose that once that line has been crossed, what we recognize as ‘knowing’ will simultaneously undergo a radical transformation, as well—so that the new knowing bears as little affinity with the old knowing as a mirrored image shares with the three-dimensional object it reflects.

183. Entitlement to Criticism: It seems to me that unless my consciousness or awareness is as comprehensive and as subtle as the thinker whose book I’m reading (or whose lecture I’m attending, or whose play I’m watching, or whose symphony I’m listening to, etc.), I have not yet properly earned the right to pass judgment upon his work. Certainly, I am entitled to react and to venture an opinion but, strictly speaking, such reactions and assessments are not worth all that much, are they?  To be in a position, say, to critique or pass general judgment on the work of Dante, Shakespeare, or Carl Jung, the critic must not only have had more or less the same sorts of inner and outer experiences that these great figures had, but he must also be able to see beyond those decisive, formative experiences. Only by thus seeing beyond them is it possible for the judge or critic to see where the work in question is incomplete, biased, blind, or inexplicably silent.

184. As soon as a cosmic principle (e.g.—Ma’at, Rta, Tao, Logos/Dike, ‘grace,’ etc.) is assimilated into the moral-political-theological realm, it suffers considerable degradation, deformation, and crudification. So long as it remains an inner experience that resists or defies orthodox formulation or literalistic codification, it retains much of its mysterious innocence and its native purity. As soon as such ‘transcendent principles’ become ‘useful’ or ‘adjusted’ to the apprehension of the vulgar, it is downhill all the way. Just look at what happened to Christianity in the hands of generations of the very bigots and Pharisaic hatemongers to whose bolted minds and cramped hearts its gospel was initially (and pointedly) addressed. Did it loosen and open those blinkered minds and closed hearts? All the evidence points in the opposite direction: bigoted minds and hearts hypocritically corrupted and prostituted the religion to serve their own thoroughly anti-Christian purposes. Thus, all delicate plants are crushed beneath the hooves of skittish and clueless brutes.

185. Any way you look at it, partial truths are still, strictly speaking, falsehoods. It is in this sense that everything I’ve written (or ever will write) is, at best, misleading—and, at worst, false.

186. Nisargadatta teaches us that there is no world to save. There are only illusory egos creating unnecessary and unreal problems that nonetheless urgently cry out for solutions—thus giving the egos one more reason for becoming trapped in a labyrinth of their own making.

187. Misunderstood: When people casually ask me what I’m up to and I honestly inform them that I am diligently striving to destroy my restless, clever mind and to permanently silence all my stubbornly ‘human’ habits and impulses, they just stare at me like I’m crazy—instead of offering me the encouragement and support I look for from them. What gives? Perhaps it would be prudent for me to simply keep my designs to myself.

188. We need to get ‘Christ’ and the ‘Antichrist’ to kiss and make up. Then, perhaps we can put them both behind us and move on into the true peace and stillness that awaits us beyond all this illusory drama.

189. A Parable: The sad thing about being born in some little Podunk out in the sticks is that, chances are, you’ll stay there and gradually wither away. Our measly little ‘modern’ culture ‘starter kit’—our ‘skin-deep’ language and texting range, the glaring absence of any real grasp of history, mythology, or philosophy; the diabolical design to reduce us to well-trained ‘producers’ and obedient ‘consumers’—is the spiritual equivalent of being born and then wasting away in some little backwater hamlet far away from the royal city at the center of an old kingdom. Our days may appear to be full—out in the sticks—but all too often they are full merely of flotsam and treadmillish, circular repetitions that soothe and stupefy us into an imperturbable slumber. Better then, to attend carefully to our salutary frustration and redemptive disgust and kiss our somnolent kinsmen goodbye—and slip out of town in the dead of its night. It almost doesn’t matter which direction we head in. All that’s important is that we’ve moved on.

190. The End of Philosophy?: Paradoxically, it would appear that we must abandon our old quest for an intellectual comprehension and representation of the whole if we are to genuinely merge with the totality of the Self—which, alone, is real. As long as we are pursuing a more or less rationally coherent, conceptually representable quarry, we will be traveling down a pair of rails which must eventually dissolve beneath our wheels before our surrender to the all-enfolding Self can truly commence. All linear pathways—all verbal-conceptual frameworks and constructions—begin to offer more obstruction than assistance as we sink into the fleshless embrace of the absolute. This deeper quest—which is a profounder shedding—involves the transcendence of all limiting and defining forms generated by the intellect. Pure, formless awareness is no longer bound by the subject-object duality, so there is no longer a separation between knower and known. There is no knower and known. Such boundlessness and boundary-less-ness is necessarily abhorrent to all rational philosophers, is it not?

191. What Zoroaster realized over 3,000 years ago: Without those tensions and those consciousness-sharpening conflicts that are born whenever we project our moral convictions upon the seemingly indifferent and refractory text of nature (by which I principally mean our own and other persons’ stubborn and troublesome drives and instincts), civilization as we know it would dissolve into mayhem in short order.   Morality as flint—nature as steel—consciousness as spark. No freedom without the spark, no spark without conflict. No conflict without all this enhanced antipathy between the agents of good and the servants of evil. But then, we might ask: isn’t a preference for morally-motivated-and-scripted civilization over anarchical, self-organizing, unscripted barbarism just another one of these prejudices that can be relied upon to stir up a good fight? A vicious (or virtuous?) circle??

192.  Herds and Atoms: How can we reconcile the (plausible) claim that modern society is atomized with the equally plausible assertion that modern society is, on the whole, herd-like? Are we moderns more akin to isolated, disengaged individuals or are we more like interchangeable cogs in a vast, lumbering machine? A provisional answer to this question is that, while our intellects and bodies are generally herd-like insofar as they have been conscripted into the service of collective ideas and trends, our souls have suffered such severe undernourishment that they have been reduced to isolated, endangered atoms of impotence and insignificance.

193. The soul-workers are always anima-munding, while the work of spirit-seekers is extremely demunding. The literalists, on the other hand, are continually being remunded of one thing after another. (mundus [Latin]: world, universe, heavens)

194. Benevolent teacher to bemused pupil: “You seem to occupy a lower rung on the ladder of human evolution. You are like a throwback to an earlier, cruder stage of our pre-civilized past—which is to say that you remind me very much of myself when I was your age.”

195. Schopenhauer was no more justified in characterizing the will (which, for him, constituted the ultimate, transcendent source and ground of everything that is both knowable and unknown) as blind and restlessly, eternally striving than he would have been likening the metaphysical ground of everything to Plato’s idea of the ‘Good in itself.’ How arbitrary of him! How personally presumptuous!—even if he found corroboration for this incompletely understood insight in the recently translated Upanishads. How profound the consequences for those similarly romantic thinkers who followed in his wake. These 19th Century Germans: one is always having to unearth, interrogate, and then re-bury them!

196. A useful way of taking the measure of another person: how tight or slack is the bowstring of their soul? What note does it sound when plucked? Is it the original string or has it been replaced? Of what is the string composed? Wound bronze? Tempered steel? Catgut? Dental floss? Spider’s silk? Kite string? Does the note change or remain constant when the surrounding temperature and humidity change? Is the person able to reach and to adjust the tuning peg or are they obliged to make do with their A-sharp or D-flat?

197. As we ripen, greed for wealth (and for the comfort and security it can buy) tends to supplant lust for fleeting fleshly delights and ecstasies, which now seem a childish waste of spirit to the vexed, aging man whose nostalgic memories fume and snicker at his present performance.

198.What if we permit ourselves only to have those inner experiences for which we can find adequate expression in words and concepts? Under such carefully controlled conditions is it likely that the mind will be humbled—let alone, shamed or stilled—into silent submission to the sublime or the transcendent? Isn’t it far more likely that such constraints are put in place by the mind precisely so that it can more fully display the impressive range and subtlety of its powers? Isn’t much the same thing going on—albeit it on a more modest scale—when a poet restricts himself to the sonnet form, a composer to the concerto form, a painter to the watercolor medium, a chef to four or five commonly available ingredients?

199. Where the creative thinker-poet is concerned, it is far better for him to follow his inner experiences as far beyond the normal or familiar horizons as possible (and to put ordinary words to extraordinary use in adumbrating these experiences) than it is to craftily orchestrate grandiloquent-highfalutin words and gaudy-grandiose images to overdress homely little truisms that are guaranteed to resonate with a wide audience.

200. What are my principal moorings? Where are my familiar anchorages? In what ways—and to what extent—do each of these havens and harbors become coffins and cages for my consciousness? To what extent do they provide crucial tethers that prevent me from prematurely floating away? Am I not destined, eventually, to float away—no matter what? Don’t these attachments and bonds assist merely in slowing down the process of dissolution that is relentlessly underway for all forms? Am I not always saying goodbye (forever) to someone or something—or to some melting incarnation of that volatile mind-body, ‘Paul’? Down deep—where it counts—I am neither happy nor unhappy with this measured drift into nothingness. ‘Bittersweet’ is the word I would choose to describe it. A beautiful, poignant melancholy with which I suspect those two strange Renaissance Italians, Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino, were all too intimately acquainted.

201. Ancient reason and its bastard modern child: Life is essentially a humongous, self-consuming and self-perpetuating organism. It is continually negotiating billions of truces between existence and death—and then violating these fluid, fragile truces. The rise of science and modern technology has concentrated an unprecedented amount of power in the untutored, clumsy hands of our adolescent, blinkered species—power to partially override and disrupt the delicate balancing act that nature is continually engaged in with itself. ‘Reason’ and scientifically developed techniques have, for the most part, been conscripted into gratifying human desires and medically dampening the very anxieties that stem, in large part, from the anti-natural, modern way of life that modern ‘reason’ gives rise to. This is a radically different employment of reason than we find with the ancient philosophers who, when at their best, employed it to temper and to rein in human desire and fear—rather than sate it or deaden it (the Stoics were an exception here, with their doctrines of apatheia and ataraxia). We call our modern form of instrumental reason ‘pragmatism.’ Plato, no doubt, would have called it an ‘insane perversion of reason’ and a ‘recipe for disaster,’ largely because it has divorced itself from all ethical and speculative questions. But then, no one bothers to read Plato anymore.

202. It is misleading to speak of cultivating stillness—as if we were cultivating corn or beans—since the stillness, being foundational, is never absent. It is ever-present. It is merely the ego, with its outward-directed thoughts, plans, and desires that ignores the ever-present stillness. Better, then, to say ‘Let the mind un-cultivate the field of sprouting thoughts,’ which is not quite the same thing as letting it go fallow. Turn off the irrigation pumps and certainly do not spread compost on the weeds.

203. For the moment I precariously retain the exclusive rights to this private viewing portal that is my body and my ego-personality. The light of the Self shining into and through it produces the spatio-temporal illusion of an actual, developing entity—just as the light shining through the lens of that ‘false I’s’ mind generates an individualized ‘world.’ Once the ego gets ‘up and running’ with its varied compelling plans, purposes, and desires—the source light continues to be exploited as ‘fuel’ for these mundane and personal purposes rather than revered as the proper source and goal of one’s reflections. To misuse the sacred light of the Self to fuel one’s mundane exploits and designs is rather like burning the pages of the Book of Kells to roast a hot dog. In order to get reoriented (from ‘not-self’ to source), we must undergo the experience of the ‘world turned inside out.’ Such conversion ordeals, from all reports, are as personally cataclysmic as they are spiritually regenerative.

204. To be morally outraged by the glaring fact that corruption of some kind or another normally prevails over virtue in human affairs—now as ever—is like being surprised that people are having sex in a whorehouse or gambling in a casino.

205. Where egos are outspoken, eggs will be broken.

206. Be careful what you adapt to: Obedient adaptation to a set of social/historical norms that significantly retard or impede the rounded development of human beings is far more injurious, psychologically, than non-conformity and conscious resistance to assimilation, which, of course, entails its own risks, dangers, and disadvantages. On the other hand, those who flourish within—or rather, chiefly because of—such imbalanced or generally pernicious cultural/socio-historical conditions must be regarded with all the suspicion due to them. Such persons are either of only very limited and passing cultural value—mere creatures of their peculiar times—or they are virulent intensifications and dangerously contagious carriers of the imbalanced way of living they so thoroughly embody. This rule of thumb applies equally to artists and politicians, philosophers and religious figures. When aberrant and psychologically lopsided conditions prevail, then wholeness and spiritual health are forced to become ‘underground’ and heterodox pursuits.

207. On the Collective and Individual Contents of the Psyche: What the collective lacks in nuance, subtlety, specificity, and accuracy it more than makes up for in the broadness of its appeal, the depth of its resonance among the multitude, whose consciousness is almost entirely of a collective nature outside some narrowly confined little patch of personal-ego turf.  Carefully observe what happens when the ordinary man or woman is confronted with an utterly individual idea, sentiment, or motive to action.  Either they are bowled over in reverential amazement and delighted perplexity at this wondrous piece of enchantment, or they want to strangle it to death as soon as they can with their bare hands—assuming they can get their maladroit ‘hands’ around its slender and slippery neck.  In the first instance, the individual content hints at what they might—under ideal (or even supernatural) circumstances—have made of their brief lives.  In the second, it portends everything that is threatening and undermining, so far as their stubborn loyalty to the group-preserving collective is concerned.  In both cases, it rather startlingly reveals to them what they are not: individuals.

208. The artist, considered as a type—especially if he is a popular success—is addicted to play, which is linked to enchantment and intoxication, of sorts, even when dealing with the weightiest and gravest of themes. The genuine philosopher, on the other hand, is not addicted to play, but seeks to expose, weaken, and uproot those usually intoxicating distractions and button-pushing fictions and formulations that obscure or veil the sobering but liberating truth. If the artist is to merit true greatness he must ‘play’ with weighty or potentially sobering themes and questions. And if the philosopher is to be read, he must learn to make limited, provisional concessions to his readers’ love for play, for intoxication, for un-truth. Ultimately, the great artist and the great philosopher have more than a little bit of the other type woven into him and they may be said to serve a shared end: whether we call it ‘sobering play’ or ‘playful disenchantment’ makes no real difference.

209. To assume a fixed intellectual, moral, or ideological position is to be like a broken clock: you will be ‘right’ twice a day, but only fleetingly.

210. In discharging its verbal-conceptual functions as commander, legislator, and manipulator, the mind is like a hinged, swiveling pivot (greatly to be preferred to an unhinged, swaggering spigot) operating on two vast fronts: the outer world of objects, events, and other persons—and the inner world of thought. How and where the mind goes about its business with language and concepts is determined to a decisive extent by the will, the temperament (inner- or outer-directed), the degree of development (or education) and overall maturity.

Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations VI

151. It is one thing to have a sensitive and well-stocked mind, and another thing altogether to have one that is disciplined and under our watchful supervision.

152. My body: it seems to have a mind all its own!

153. My intuition tells me that bliss is not the ultimate triumph of pleasure over pain—but rather, what is left over after pleasure and pain cancel each other out. Bliss, while intrinsically pleasant, should perhaps be thought of as the reward that accompanies liberation from those cruder categories—pleasure and pain. Pleasure and pain, remember, are concerned with desire and fear. Bliss, therefore, is born from the death of desire and fear, the primary engines driving human thought, action, and reaction.

154. It is much easier to steal people’s attention than it is to earn their respect.

155. So long as our thrusters are burning at full tilt, it can be extremely difficult to mentally step outside of our powerfully propelled trajectory and see through it into its emptiness (from the standpoint of the dis-illusioned Self). Therefore, it is only as we begin to run out of gas—to burn out our last fuel—that we are sufficiently freed up from our momentum to view things quietly. Thus, a kind of melancholia often accompanies the getting of wisdom. There is, however, a silver lining to this cloud: it requires a lot of thrust to break free from Earth’s gravitational grip—but once in space, very little fuel is needed in order to traverse vast distances.

156. I am but a rod or a cone in the eyeball of God. Or, is it the devil? And, might these two share more than a little DNA? Do they not, in fact, merge into one another, once all distinguishing masks have been removed?

157. In the West, the veil of Maya has been elevated and deified into an arch-principle known familiarly as ‘materialism.’ In the East, despite the tsunamic onslaught of Western values and ‘dialectical materialism,’ the veil of Maya (or, in China, ‘the ten thousand things’) continues to be regarded with the instinctive suspicion reserved for all grand deceptions.

158. One could do worse than conceive of the ego as a ‘self-consuming artifact.’ Or, if you want to put a more optimistic spin on it, you might say that the ego is a ‘self-resolving equation.’ But then, you’re back to square one, since pessimism and optimism necessarily cancel each other out in the end.

159. There are insights that come to us, if at all, only at certain points in our life, when—as with auspicious astrological events—the inner and outer conditions are suitably aligned for those insights. When these conditions change or are outgrown, such insights (which are as indigenous to those conditions as are the fauna and flora to an ecosystem) inevitably undergo a corresponding change in status. There would appear to be a tiny handful of insights that refer not to incrementally changing conditions but to perennial and abiding ones. These—and perhaps only these—are the insights worthy of our greatest sacrifice and effort. They constitute the wheel upon which the bones of the personal ego are broken—pulverized into iron filings that are utterly obedient to the magnetic field produced by the spirit, which bloweth where it listeth.

160. Letter written to an old friend: ‘The old bridge between us was becoming rickety and unfit for use—at least on my end.  Therefore, I have pretty much demolished the old structure and I have begun construction on the new.  I can only meet you halfway.  You will need to build your half if we are to reconnect in the middle.  But be forewarned: the finer materials from which the new bridge is constructed are not cheap.  I have found that I cannot cut corners, as you will no doubt discover if you undertake this project from your bank.  I look forward to rejoining you in the middle when our two ends meet.’

161. In full self-realization, there is no longer an other to perform for, or to save, or to worship, or to talk to. This is why the prospect of dissolving the personal ‘I’ (which is correlative with the ‘other’) is so utterly terrifying to us. For even the most selfish and ungenerous of egos needs to have ‘others’—if only to mistreat, or to run away from, or to exploit, or for entertainment, etc. Egolessness (or Self-realization), then, is simply out of this world.

162. One puffed-up American individualist teenager to another: “Go ahead and try out for cheerleader if you’re that insecure! I have to be completely and utterly true to myself! That’s why I’m going Goth.

163. A man’s honesty is founded upon his store of courage. He will allow himself to admit only as much as he has the courage to bear. There are persons who experience sporadic eruptions of courage, during which fleeting episodes they honestly dredge up many buried thoughts about themselves, about their fellows, and about life itself—thoughts they will abruptly and thoroughly forget about, and even deny, as soon as the momentary spasm of bravery wears off.

164. Are there two utterly incompatible value-systems at play, depending on ‘who’ happens at any given moment to be behind the wheel—the daimon or the ordinary human (who serves as a kind of host or vessel for the indwelling daimon, or soul)? Are we not concerned here with two quite distinct ‘fields of operation’: the ‘underworld’ of psyche and soul-making, on the one hand, and the ‘dayworld’ of collective consciousness in the mundane realm, on the other? Shouldn’t they perhaps be kept distinct and not forced to merge in the interests of some ideal form of integration? Does the heroic Hercules really have any rightful place in the Hadean underworld of immaterial shades and images—and doesn’t moist soul quickly wither and desiccate in the parched, over-heated dayworld of sun-like consciousness?

165. Peeps or Pimps? Why do we call them ‘people’? We should do better to call them ‘pimples.’ They are eruptions or bulges that appear on the surface—upon the facial skin of life. They are produced when pores, blocked and begrimed with soil and soot, begin to fester upon that skin. Some pimples are big and they leave unsightly scars after they’ve burst and dried up. Most come and go almost without a trace. Because they appear in large numbers during the teenage years, many associate pimples with adolescence—that mysterious transitional phase wherein one is no longer as innocent as a child, but not yet a self-reliant and self-responsible adult. Strangely enough, there are few pleasures as nasty and, at the same time, as purging as popping big fat juicy pimples in front of the lavatory mirror.

166. Little cowards use big guns.

167. All our ‘possessions’ in this world are rented, not owned—and the dearer they are to us, the greater the rent exacted from our souls.  And perhaps, some will say that even the highest rents are worth paying with our very souls. It is not just things and persons that fall under this category of the leased or rented.  Thoughts, feelings, and memories are there, as well.  Perhaps even our individual identities cost us an arm and a leg!  All of these, without exception, may turn out to be no more than schoolbooks used throughout the year by fifth-graders to learn some geography or history, and then are left behind for the next wave of clueless incomers.  They are no more than smudgy mirrors ineptly reflecting the developing face of the soul as it gradually ‘wises up’ about the evanescence of the world—and of itself.

168.  If I prove capable of dissolving my own ego, the big, brittle, bulbous, and bunglingly constructed egos of certain other persons should be relatively easy for me to see through and to analyze into their component parts, were I to apply myself to such work.  In this realm, it is not size that matters so much as quality of materials and the strength of the joints and linkages between the various components.

169. It is because, deep down, I know that all apparent opposites are just that—merely apparent—and that because they cancel each other out, in the end they are nothing, they therefore matter as nothing to the mind that is established in the truth.  I know that in taking the world at face value I chase after dreams and flee from ghosts: therefore, I should seek only stillness and the silence of dispassionate awareness.  Each time I allow myself to get worked up over some distracting piece of personal concern—which can never be anything more than a lapse or disturbance of my attentiveness to the real—I emerge with heightened resolve to stray no more.  All I should allow myself to be concerned with, so far as the world goes, is how I might best contribute to the release from mental bondage of all whom I address.

170. There are certain persons who continue to serve as anchors for me—so that my attachment to them helps to prevent me from flitting and floating away from the human realm.  Unfortunately, anchors are typically composed of lead or some other heavy metal.  Often, these companions have a good deal more success holding me down than I do prying and pulling them up from the sticky sea floor.  Nevertheless, it appears that we need to be tied to each other, even if we continue to baffle and rattle one another.  I’ve already said why I need them.  Could it be that they need me in order to know where to point their gaze should they wish to observe something other than moldering squid carcasses and the innards of sunken ships?

171. Rather than attempt the complicated task of laboriously untying the knot that binds the spirit in a spell of identification with the illusion of egoity, it seems preferable to dissolve the knot in a font of untangling stillness. Desire and fear—which are always ‘pulling our strings’ (or ‘jerking our chains’)—only tighten the knot. Desirelessness and ‘wu-wei’ (not-doing) relax the strings.

172. A person’s style—where it is genuine and not merely an empty posture—arises like a distinctive aroma from his/her most dominant, governing affect(s). I refer here not to transitory or surface emotions and moods but to the deepest affective patterns or energy signatures of the person. Not everyone (consciously or experientially) reaches into these depths, so we often search in vain for anything beyond surface symptoms—all treble but no bass, all leaf and no root, all flesh and no blood-filled heart. For such surface-dwellers, style, such as it is, has no connection with anything essential to the person. When, however, anyone expresses himself from the ground up, an unmistakable sense of style is invariably communicated. It may not be particularly pleasant or appealing, but it will always be unmistakable and recognizable.

173. All the energy and care that the archetypal psychologists lavish upon differentiation of images, motifs, and styles certainly pays big dividends in terms of intellectual and cultural attractiveness—but eventually we find such over-rich food cloying and such precious fare begins to spoil our digestion. In the end, it seems a bit like free-basing samsara—a very different endeavor than seeing through it and loosening its hold upon us. In their initially praiseworthy efforts to regenerate and revitalize the ailing culture of the contemporary West, they eventually began to celebrate culture for its own sake—to sacralize and deify the usefully restored images. As commendably evasive and slippery as he is, James Hillman nevertheless comes within a hair’s breadth of equating these images with divinity itself—if he doesn’t explicitly do so. The prospect of transcendence of the image is not an option for Hillman. To be sure, he does offer the prospect of greater depth—and this is certainly a great advance beyond the shallow literalism and rigid dogmatism of modern ‘fundamentalisms’ of every stripe: Christian, scientific-materialistic, political, etc. But it is still a far cry from true release.

174. It makes all the difference in the world whether a person’s strongest inclination is to search out opportunities for channeling and discharging his human-instinctual desires—or if it is to find a way to liberate his mind and his will from thralldom to these same desires. And then, there are those who just passively stick to the path of least resistance.

175. One simply cannot see anything of true importance concerning his spiritual problem until he has learned to be still. By ‘being still,’ of course, I mean detaching from the automatic mental processes that typically absorb and thoroughly ensnare our limited attention—the crucial factor in bringing about our self-transformation. The actual form or type of mental activity is of secondary importance here—what is important is that it is automatic, habit-reinforced, and therefore almost always compulsive. Only after this power is broken—if only momentarily and intermittently—does genuine stillness begin. And with stillness begins the path of liberation.

176. ‘To love all things equally,’ or equanimity—that is code for being no more moved (or dislodged from a state of centeredness) by one thing than by another.

177. Preferences and Prejudices: In order to fully accept ourselves, we must dispense—at least temporarily—with all those deeply ingrained, stubborn preferences and prejudices that simultaneously guide and restrict our vision of the whole that we’re seeking. But since it is largely this particular constellation of preferences and prejudices that constitutes our prized and precious individuality, the suspension or momentary transcendence of this defining array is tantamount to ego-annihilation. Little wonder that this occurs so rarely—if ever—in most persons’ lives. As hard as it is to retain enthusiasm for our stubborn preferences and prejudices (our governing taste) after we have learned that it is upon such flimsy and questionable ‘ground’ that our little personal lives are erected, most of us dig in our heels and hold our position rather than ‘let go’ and acknowledge just how constricting our defining preferences and prejudices actually are. Perhaps the better part of the general anxiety experienced throughout the human family stems precisely from such doggedly determined exertions to preserve and to protect these precious blinders that are secretly synonymous with our personal egos!

178. Homo Ludens: To what extent does realization of the Self sound the death knell to homo ludens? Play would seem to depend on mind—the wily, protean, beautiful-ugly, parasitic, restlessly productive mind. With the subjugation of mind (as master) infinite play is supplanted by infinite and eternal peace, is it not?

179. Equanimity and Brainwashing: Regarding all things with equanimity is to look upon all things fearlessly and without desire. It entails the suspension of our accustomed habit of assessing things, persons, ideas, and conditions in terms of how appealing or antagonistic they are to our preferences, our personal sense of comfort, propriety, meaningfulness, beauty, and self-interest. Instead—regarding all such phenomena as insubstantial and changeable—we gradually learn to pay them no mind. Absorption with such phenomena only prolongs our bondage. Equanimity is a helpful tool in our effort to wake up from the (by turns, alluring and terrifying) hallucination that is ‘life in the world,’ the body and mind that spawned all this. To those around us who are still thoroughly hoodwinked by the collective hallucination of the world, our efforts to un-brainwash ourselves—to wake up—will necessarily appear to be…brainwashing!

180. Talking to Myself: Oftentimes in the past I have whined about not having like-minded companions and knowledgeable allies within easy reach—persons who strive to live by the same lights, who share more or less the same spiritual goals and priorities. I would bellow out the same old bitter lament: ‘I have no genuine spiritual kin with whom I can speak and who will fully understand both me and my present plight.’ But that is not—and has never been—quite true. For when, with as complete and unreserved a confession as I can deliver, I talk to myself in these journal entries—year after year after year—am I not talking to the closest ally and spiritual kin of all? The one who is always there—always patient, always capable of pointing to the next depth, to the center, to the ground and source—to itself?





Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations (V)

121. The Greatest Threat of all: From the standpoint of ego-consciousness, perhaps no thought is more threatening or horrifying than the idea of the essential oneness of reality, or the Self.  Why?  With the return to oneness—the return to the one source—the distinction between the Self and other is dissolved.  No more subject-object distinction!  And, of course, every thing and every person the separate ego lives (and may be prepared to die) for hangs upon the thread of this mental ‘illusion’ of duality.  Hence, oneness, or the ultimate unity at the source of all creation, is the scariest thought of all to mere human egos.  Far more menacing than Nietzsche’s ‘eternal recurrence’ idea!  What is experienced as supreme bliss and utter peace from a perspective just beyond the ego’s is dreaded with horror by the ego—and perhaps understandably so, since it must repeatedly pay the ultimate price in order for the Self to emerge into consciousness.  It must get out of the way!

122. It is almost certain that we grow into our individuality in a manner that resembles the downloading of a bittorrent—where a large file is broken up into many pieces, and the pieces gathered from multiple sources, as they become available.  Then, as these fragments are gradually accumulated, they are assembled into the coherent file that we eventually open and experience as a more or less coherent movie.  But then, this is an ideal or best-case scenario, is it not?  Are all the pieces of the whole file—the whole life—ever finally gathered?  This is highly doubtful.  What is certain is that the path to wholeness is never a straight line, but a crooked, zigzag, up-and-down journey that is never the shortest distance between point A and point B.  It is an episodic, picaresque journey that regularly detours from the straight way.  Sometimes the expedition comes to a complete halt for long stretches of time before resuming in a fresh direction.

123. The individual most emphatically does not become a microcosm—or miniature replica of the cosmos—by accident or without effort, any more than Plato’s Republic or Goethe’s Faust wrote themselves.  The ‘whole’ or complete individual is every bit as much a work of art as he is a child of nature.  Perhaps the dismantlement and transcendence of individual consciousness similarly requires a high degree of art—the art of liberation?

124. Taking the Middle Road between Scientism and Christianism Today: In view of what has degenerated into a spiritually barbaric feud between shallow, doltish, moralistic ‘fundamentalist’ believers and secular, science-friendly skeptics, agnostics, and atheists, I refuse to align myself with either side—as these populous sides are presently constituted.  Interestingly, they both suffer from similar infections: literalism, arrogance, narrow-mindedness, psychological superficiality, smugness, and a lamentable lack of (bridging) imagination.  Because the adherents to either side of this generally hostile cultural divide are almost invariably the animated mouthpieces for affectively-charged, dogmatic opinions, rather than exemplars of multifaceted wisdom and psychological nuance, much heat and little light comes from the war between them.  I’ll have none of it.

125. Instead of announcing (to anyone who might be interested) ‘This is where I stand’ (on some particular philosophical or psychological issue), I now find that it is more honest and accurate to proclaim, ‘This is where I currently swim on this matter!’

126. Oscar Wilde’s great genius (and his superior humanity) consisted in his exceptional ability to see through the generally misleading, hypocritical, and shallow surface level of social behavior and conventional morality and make his findings amusing instead of scornful (after the manner of a Cato or Pascal—and even Mark Twain in his last years), enlightening rather than merely chiding, humanizing instead of misanthropic (as with Heraclitus and Nietzsche, now and then).

127. In a quest for clarity and airtight certainty, perhaps far too many of us willingly accept a tiny plot of well-guarded turf where we unwittingly insulate ourselves from vast swaths of perfectly experienceable reality—all those possible experiences that we will never actually have.  Upon our tiny-tidy plots of well-fortified turf we become so familiar with every square centimeter that any chance of surprise, shock, or inconvenience is assiduously reduced to the barest minimum.  But, as with any closed-off and cramped enclosure, access to fresh, vitalizing air declines in direct proportion to our ascending mastery over the last few remaining leaks in our systems.  Nevertheless, our self-suffocation usually progresses so gradually that we lose consciousness long before we actually die.

128. Inland mines.  These days, I shy away more and more knowingly from all unitary systems or explanatory models.  No One—except that mysterious and incomprehensible whole which forever eludes all our cartographing and conceptualizing—can possibly do justice to the continually transforming drama that is life-and-psyche.  Better, I find, simply to give “thick” descriptions of those fleeting moments of epiphanal insighting—encountered like randomly placed, time-delay, land mines designed to blow off the legs of any lazy settler who would presume to stand and plant himself instead of continuing on his way.

129. The enlightened mind is inclined to perceive everyday events—along with the actual opinions and behavior of human beings—as manifest symptoms or effects of (usually unconscious and invisible) causal factors.  There is recognition of the extremely narrow limits within which preaching, shaming, cajoling, and exhorting are able to work.  It is well understood that mere changes in behavior or in one’s prejudices do little to reform or to regenerate one’s will.  And the will always secretly governs or steers one’s actual, innermost beliefs as well as one’s actual, as opposed to feigned and rationalized, behavior.  Because the enlightened person ‘gets’ this—because the truth of it has sunk in—he knows to expect little from preachments directed to the unready, the unripe, the ‘defended’ or insulated soul.  The mind, then, appears to wait upon the will—in some fundamental way.  It is the will that must be ripe for change—for moral-spiritual transformation—before the mind can open up to the truth that is always present or within easy reach.  The truth is always available precisely because it is not ‘information,’ but an alignment between the quieted mind and reality.  But none of this simple and timeless truth can be properly registered unless and until the noisy mind—full of inherited untruths and half-truths—settles down and submits.

130. Belated Ruminations on some Inflated Expectations.  When I was young I often found persons, ordinary activities and emotions, schoolwork, and much else offensive on what I now suspect were aesthetic grounds.  There was much about myself, my ‘culture,’ and my surroundings that I instinctively regarded as boring, crude, shabby, sloppy, and shallow.  At around the age of sixteen or so I began to seek refuge in literature, in ‘philosophical’ ideas—and in the life of the mind, generally.  Now, well into my fifties, I am beginning to see this refuge as a kind of (posh) prison (for the spiritual equivalent of white-collar criminals).  So much of what used to excite and entice me now feels rather like a luxurious (and pricey) distraction.  The costliness of these (fairly exclusive and by no means popularly embraced) distractions pertains to the years of care, study, and reflection that were required to cultivate my appreciation for these exquisite intellectual and aesthetic snowflakes that melt so easily into irrelevant nothingness in the presence of the far more noble and satisfying silence from which they have distracted me for decades.

131. On Leisure as a Need. Isn’t a serious thinker’s need for leisure tied up with the demand that he slow down before he can be granted even a fragment of wisdom—that commonly undervalued wisdom distilled by those bygone, “pre-modern” races of tradition-bound humans? Wasn’t it precisely the constancy and the slowly turning rotisserie of human drama that allowed such wisdom to cook and to cure—like photographs that require long exposure to faint light before the negative can capture the full richness and delicate shadings of the photographed object? Isn’t this why clever, “successful” persons in the modern world are seldom wise and—vice versa—why wise persons, scarce though they be, are seldom clever and successful by the warped standards of modern civilization? The one demands the utmost from the versatile and mercurial learning capacity, while the other necessarily reaches down below that surface intellect into the older resonances of the intuition and the archetypal imagination, neither of which answers to the clock or the watch.

132. When in purgatory, purge. Don’t binge.

133. Where there is no such thing as time, there is no time to waste. Or…there is no time to waste in our efforts to get to the place where there is no time to waste?

134. Alchemical fable: What happens when we begin not merely to view, but to experience, the concrete events and personal relationships in our daily lives as the ore, or the raw material out of which the precious, but immaterial meaning is painstakingly extracted? A strange thing happens. As soon as essential meaning is grasped and digested—assimilated and incorporated, as it were, into the soul—it is as if the concrete remnants or ‘leftover’ material becomes devoid of gripping significance. The formerly projected value and meaning has been recollected, reabsorbed into the soul from whence it sprang, and all that remains before us are the gorgeous or grotesque shells and husks of our former life—which turns out to have been a kind of enthrallment, a captivating, coagulated dream from which we have miraculously awakened. This may sound like a sad fable to some ears, but it should be remembered that in undergoing this dis-enchantment, we recover the lost or neglected meaning of our lives. We have awakened and in our wakefulness we are offered protection against hypnotic ensnarement by the siren song of the world—and perhaps this is to be rejoiced in, not lamented.

135. “The greatest gift that the guru can offer the disciple is to show him that he is nothing and that he does not matter.” “But,” you will ask, “who are you referring to—the guru or the disciple?”—to which I will wryly reply: “How could it possibly matter?”

136. Few endeavors provoke more inner noise than the strenuous effort to be still.

137. When the Allies defeated the Germans and the Japanese, power without a myth (unless it was the ‘myth’ of freedom) triumphed over power from myth (of…racial superiority).

138. Contemporary America: We can only hope and pray that Blake was divinely inspired when he wrote: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

139. It is always helpful, I have found, to remember that ‘ego’  is not a thing or an entity, but a mode of consciousness—rather like dreaming is not a thing or an entity, but a mode of consciousness.

140.  If, in this world, there are builders and destroyers, it would appear that I am every bit as much a destroyer as I am the other. Genuine freedom pertains to the dissolution and smashing of binding, constraining forms that the indwelling spirit has begun to outgrow—so freedom is necessarily bound up with destruction. The kinds of forms that the spirit willfully destroys (or dissolves) are mental forms—thoughtforms—but once these have been overhauled or dispensed with, results are bound to follow on the emotional and physical planes.

141. Just as vulgarity and the obvious will often pass unnoticed by rare and exceptional souls, so the subtle is reliably lost upon the gross.

142. Youthful enthusiasm is inseparable from youthful ignorance, while adult enthusiasm depends largely on a talent for forgetfulness.

143. Meditation is not a waste of time. It is a taste of timelessness.

144. What are we left with after all the self-canceling opposites have cancelled each other out? Are we canceled out, as well, with the collapse or neutralization of that sustaining tension?

145. First I am a sinker; then, I am a thinker (logos from the bathos?).

146. Rooting out radicals in our midst: My guess is that not a few of my countrymen—were they to read some of my cultural criticism—would label me a ‘radical thinker.’ But I would contend that any person who thinks long and deeply about being human in a world of other desiring, fearing, deluded, and deluding humans necessarily deserves that title—‘radical.’ Radical comes from the ‘root’ word radix which, not without exquisite irony, means none other than root. So, rooted in his delving thought about the roots of what his humanness consists in, a thinker becomes radical by a kind of necessity—by fate. Or at least by etymological reduction!

147. It was not our destiny to maintain the pretense of a friendship that was based solely upon sentimental attachment to earlier versions of one another that we both gradually and decisively outgrew.

148. So long as we recognize a center, we must also acknowledge a periphery. The move (in consciousness) from the periphery towards centeredness is a qualitative move towards greater stillness—towards silence and detachment.

149. Even at its best, mundane human life is little more than a Navajo sand painting.

150. Cassandra was not among the cheerfullest of ancient mythological figures.


Neo-Catonic Musings on Degree (4/11)

The so-called ‘lower’ (personal, instinctual, and animalic) nature should, where possible, be subordinated to the ‘lordship’ of the higher attributes. The cravings and demands of the lower/personal self should not be given unrestricted user rights to the higher faculties and the creative imagination. This dark state of affairs has become firmly established at the level of mass ‘culture,’ which is insidiously bound up with marketing and with propagandistic puppeteering of the putty-like, collective mind. This is achieved through the manipulation and the channeling of herd appetites, sentiments, values—in the interest both of profiteering and of keeping the masses preoccupied with trivial pursuits. This is a base and brutish form of ordering—and an inversion of the proper hierarchy or degree (as in Ulysses’ famous speech in Troilus and Cressida).

A ghastly image serves here: men and women (who have been given Viagra and aphrodisiacs) corralled within a mental ‘stockyard’ and obliged to watch graphic porn before being slaughtered, but only after they’ve rutted and bred the next generation of compliant consumers. More and more I see persons I know and love being conscripted into this degrading, relentlessly busy, soul-slackening scheme whereby they work and work at one or two things just so they become big players in a stupid-sterile accumulation game. There is little or no room for disciplined cultivation of our nobler and rarer potentials within such a leveling scheme. Most of us have been taught by ubiquitous cynics to be suspicious of these ‘nobler’ potentials—to mistrust all talk of ‘higher’ possibilities. That’s all dreamy poppycock and the worthless detritus left over from more innocent and idealistic ages, before science and technology gave us real toys and tangible comforts to enjoy. People in past ages concocted imaginary goods and ideals because they didn’t have great cars, plasma TVs, and all the million and one bits of gadgetry and diversion we have to keep us amused and pacified. People—good, intelligent people—fall for this ruinous ruse every day and never turn back.

Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations (IV)

91. I have tried, again and again, to approach the Old Testament with due reverence and respect, but I always slam into the same wall.  The very idea of a ‘jealous God’ is as morally abominable to me as it is ridiculous.  And as for anyone who adores such a deity?  Well, all I have to say is: ‘watch out for such people!’  They are bound to stir up trouble.  But then, that would mean all adoring, orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims are bound to stir up trouble—between themselves and with anyone like myself, who finds their All-Powerful, jealous God to be a supernatural, bloated Wizard of Oz mouthpiece for their own collective will-to-power and egotism.  No wonder I keep such thoughts to myself—at least when I’m not traveling in certain parts of Asia, where a whole different set of prejudices prevail.

92. Under the most favorable conditions, the ‘furniture’ of the modern mind comes from IKEA, but in the vast majority of cases, Wal-Mart (or Wal-Mart by way of Craigslist) is the source.

93. Nietzsche certainly saw in culture an enticement to (or immersion in) life—at least when it was functioning properly and healthily (and not decadently).  His objection to cultural forms and philosophies that viewed such ‘immersion’ warily and mistrustfully was that they were ‘pessimistic’ and ‘life-denying’ rather than ‘Dionysian’ and life-affirming.  This, in nuce, was Nietzsche’s heroic egotism at work.  And yet Nietzsche speaks almost incessantly of ‘freedom’ and ‘free spirits’—apparently without ever genuinely recognizing the root cause of all bondage: attachment to forms.  And what is ego, what is body—if these are not forms?

94. The problem with most ‘serious’ thinking and art is that they typically do more to reconcile us with Samsara (the not-Self) rather than to help liberate us from our ensnared and ensnaring minds.  To what extent may this same criticism be leveled against Jungian psychology?  The seductions of culture exert greater power over some minds than a gorgeous, beckoning geisha or a treasure chest full of doubloons.  The end result is more or less the same: one becomes lost, captivated.  How would Jung respond to that famous stanza of Dzyan?  ‘The mind is the slayer of the real.  Let the disciple slay the slayer’?  But then, Jung ran away from holy men.

95.  The ‘death of God’ (or of the Gods) necessarily implies a corresponding inflation of the ‘human,’ does it not?

96. We might think of the transcendent and the immanent as two poles on a spectrum, or continuum.  As we move closer to one pole we retreat from the other.  Extreme, dogmatic anthropocentrism (humanism) is extreme immanentism.  According to the ‘law’ of psychological compensation, man’s historically recent, extended run of anthropocentrism will elicit an equivalent transcendent compensation, just as the exhausted immanentism of the classical Greco-Roman world elicited ‘inward and upward’ Christian thinkers, from Augustine to Meister Eckhart.  This will involve a collapse of man’s present state of inflation.  If you listen closely, you will hear the sound of hundreds of millions of bubbles bursting.

97. The inner-outer dichotomy inherited with Cartesian epistemology adds to our confusion when we attempt to come to an understanding of the transcendent.  The isolated, disengaged subject is human, through and through; therefore, going deeper and deeper ‘inside’ often carries (the Westerner) only deeper and deeper into the rabbit-hole of his/her unlit and unacknowledged human subjectivity.  It does not necessarily lead us beyond the human, all too human, where the transcendent is to be encountered.

98. It scarcely seems a coincidence that Descartes died of pneumonia in a frigid Swedish January while serving as a mentoring guest of the asexual ‘Ice Queen’ Christina, when we recall that his philosophical legacy to the West is ‘disengaged, procedural, rationality,’ which depends largely upon the transcending (or elimination?) of all feelings and ordinary passions?

99.  To philosophize is to learn to die—Socrates:  Variations on this theme: (Version 1): Keep pretending you don’t have a body and pretty soon you won’t.  (Version 2): Keep pretending you don’t have a body because pretty soon you won’t.  (Version 3): Keep pretending you don’t have an ego and pretty soon you won’t.  (Version 4): Keep pretending you don’t have an ego because pretty soon you won’t.

100.  A Joint Betrayal: Not only did Western culture thumb its nose at the original spirit of Christianity (as it was exemplified in the life of its inspirational source, Jesus, the universal forgiver of enemies) by substituting a power-and-wealth-preoccupied institution—the ‘Church’—for those power-and wealth-renouncing teachings; it has also betrayed the spirit and the charitable intentions of modern science (and the technology that modern science made possible), as expressed in the works of its principal architect, Francis Bacon.  Bacon repeatedly warned against using the new science and its beneficial (but intoxicating) fruits for private gain and the profit of the few.  (From Bacon through Oppenheimer, its champions have been overestimating humanity’s moral preparedness for the knowledge and power unleashed by modern science and technology).  Most all of the glaring evils of our present state of affairs are intimately linked with these two catastrophic derailments—of religion and science/technology.  It may be said that man’s lower nature—his greed, laziness, and his lust for power—has decidedly triumphed over his scarcely explored higher nature.  What is needed now is not some intellectual or ideological or methodological revolution—but a complete moral-spiritual overhaul and regeneration from the top down, and from the bottom up.  But honestly: is such a sweeping, collective overhaul rationally conceivable?

101. In my writings—as in my inner life—I seem to oscillate between the two poles of stillness and shrillness.

102. On Fame and Recognition: What is hidden deep within this irrepressible yearning—not for fame, but for recognition—that many of us suffer from?  The desire for personal fame is perhaps no more than a crude distortion or a corruption of this very different yearning for recognition.  And what is it that yearns to be recognized?  It is not that which is common or ordinary about us that seeks acknowledgement—but that which looks and feels extraordinary, as delicate and evanescent as a snowflake or a meteor shower.  It longs to be acknowledged by those who are capable of appreciating what we’ve been singled out to express.  That which craves recognition is thus linked with the sacred—with the ‘holy of holies’—within us.  (Or, perhaps, with the ‘diabolical’ or ‘daimonic,’ which makes it no less charged with transpersonal significance.)  And precisely because of its mysterious depth, subtlety, and fragility, fame and notoriety are subtly inimical to it.  Dirty, callused hands and wax-clogged ears are unapt to feel or hear such subtle contours and tones.  Only those who recognize that which nudges us relentlessly towards expression: perhaps only these are our spiritual kinsmen…our true family.  Thus, the paradox stands revealed: the authentic craving for recognition is subtly at odds with the pursuit of vulgar fame and—rather than a self-serving drive towards personal distinction and preeminence—it is a faint but persistent homing signal that is crucial to attracting that tiny handful of others to whom we are linked as if by fate.

103. The Real Contest: When I have a successful meditation I see that the real contest or rivalry is between the impersonal stillness, on the one hand, and the personal ego-will, on the other.  My thoughts are merely foreground symptoms of the ego-will, so an assault upon them accomplishes nothing of real significance.  It may temporarily lead to quietness within, but it doesn’t really transform (or destroy) the ego will—any more than removing a desktop icon uninstalls the associated program from one’s hard-drive.  It seems important to keep reminding myself that the principal showdown is not between the silence and my busy thought-activity, but between the will to silence and the will to active personhood.

104. I would not go so far as to claim that profound ambivalence (concerning important issues that pertain to our spiritual life) possesses any special dignity, per se.  Nevertheless, I will always prefer to be ‘at sea’ rather than permanently docked in some dank dogmatic harbor where there is little or no chance of liberty.  The (false) sense of security such harbors provide is purchased at too high a price for me.  And when I speak of my preference for the freer state of ambivalence over an imprisoning sense of dogmatic certainty, this has little to do with a concern for what is more pleasant.

105. Plans: Ordinary human mental activity typically amounts to little more than a relentless flight from the source of consciousness—the Self.  Ramana Maharshi is essentially correct, then, when he says that all thinking is, at bottom, outer-directed or extraverted.  Only as thought ceases does the mind subside into stillness, allowing the Self to emerge.  One of the principal forms of thought that I am regularly confronted with consists in plans or conscious intentions.  These plans may be trivial or mundane tasks that I employ in creating a trajectory for my day’s activities, or they may be significant undertakings (or even life changes) that will involve years of disciplined effort.  The projection of these trajectories—or courses of action—regardless of whether they are of little or enormous significance to the ‘big picture’ of my life is doubtless a crucial factor in the maintenance and assertion of my personal will.  Going after the planner and conscientiously undermining its doggedly persistent efforts is one important way of making room for stillness.

106. On Screen: If you want true serenity you must learn how to quietly strangle all those little agitators and disturbers of your peaceful natural state—as they approach, either as single spies or in battalions.  To hold onto the peace of our natural state we must become highly effective killers and destroyers, figuratively speaking, rather than doting mothers and creators.  Few persons are willing to fully accept this tough truth—and allow it to sink in.  But from a certain angle, there is far more killing and destruction involved in backing ourselves into the source-Self than creativity, making, thinking, and speaking—all of which are dilutions and degradations of the pure state of blissful stillness.  To return to our natural silence is to allow the teeming, grasping, oozing, and groping ‘world’ to die, along with every other within it.  Only a firm abidance in the embracing silence can provide us with the resolution required to wrest our individual soul from the world’s glutinous embrace.  But to remain still is the hardest thing in the world.  In fact, it is precisely because we are unable to remain still that we have an apparent world at all.  The mind goes out…the world and the individual soul come on screen.

107. I look on in dismay as my regularly orbiting ‘asteroid belt’ of thought-forms are being pulled, one after another, like discarded and obsolete machine parts, electronic components, and mental utensils into a large melting vat.  The high temperatures dissolve and purify these outmoded instruments and components.  As they become elastic and merge into a single mass of mercury-like substance, they can be put to better use as conveyors of the new forms of consciousness that are gradually beginning to take shape.  ‘Out with the old, in with the new’—but it is the form and not so much the substance undergoing radical change.

108. The ‘fishing rod’ that seems always to be reeling me into the future (the next moment, the next action or errand, next year’s trip, the next ‘stage of life,’ etc.) is not, itself, real.  It is merely a symbol or projection of the instinct for action with which my psyche is hard-wired.  How can I override this interior mechanism that is always pushing or pulling my ego into the future—and out of the here and now, where I simply long to be?

109. Channels:  Aimlessness, or the sense of being directionless, can be exacerbated into one of the most disturbing conditions faced by us.  When we hear someone make the criticism, ‘No wonder his life is a complete mess! He has no direction or purpose to his life,’ we are hearing a categorical devaluation of a life that appears to lack an orienting, purpose-and-identity bestowing goal.  It almost doesn’t matter what a person’s goals are—just so long as there is some target he or she is shooting for.  The acute feelings of disorientation, confusion, and diminished self-worth which frequently assail persons who have recently retired from their professional careers provide evidence of the hefty psychological importance we attach to goal-directed activity.  Before retirement, it was as though the person had a clearly defined channel down which (or through which) his energies could travel.  For many new retirees who still have energy to burn, there can arise a sense of being a river with no riverbed.  And, like a flood, such a condition can be dangerous to the man who has no course to follow, as well as to those who happen to be standing in his haphazard, pathless path.

110.  One of the infrequently mentioned benefits of a fixed prejudice is that once it’s in place, you never have to bother with it again.  It is there quietly and invisibly distorting reality, come rain or shine, from installation date till doomsday.  Prejudices and sweeping, undeviating judgments are a favorite among the indolent and the ignorant precisely because they demand so little effort or attention from their complacent owners.  Once you’ve installed a tall thick wall to block out light and actual evidence, you just sit back and let the wall do all the work while you play intramural sports with others who take comfort and shelter behind the same prejudices.

111. Unsolicited advice on how to deal with respected thinkers towards whose ideas we take deep and serious objection: aim and deliver a few rounds at their vital organs and keep moving.  Do not stop to schlep the carcass to the taxidermist or (if you missed your shot) hunker down and become embroiled in a long, drawn-out feud.  On the other hand, if you do hunker down and become embroiled in a long, drawn-out feud with a sincerely-motivated enemy (as opposed to a fatuous gas-bag who nevertheless has millions of admirers) then you may learn something about the respect due to a worthy enemy.  Thus, I must confess that I have a good deal more respect for Nietzsche than I do for a number of my so-called ‘friends.’  When approaching minor thinkers that we find irksome, do not pause, unless it be for an amusing and bracing draught of schadenfreude or to briefly take stock of our own disentanglement from toils that still bind them.

112.  A note on Nietzsche and Jung: Nietzsche’s bold ‘critical-iconoclastic’ campaign did much to subvert the unchallenged authority, if not the tyranny, of many of the moral, metaphysical, ideological, and conventional assumptions that held—and, alas, still hold—many educated minds in thrall.  This, I believe, was his chief contribution to the much larger and more comprehensive enterprise of establishing a regenerated spiritual-imaginative culture in the West.  Like Moses (and, incidentally, like Freud), Nietzsche was not to enter the promised land after leading a number of his followers out of the ‘Egypt’ of various venerated dogmatisms and mummified creeds.  Jung would be the Joshua who actually captured and began to settle the New Canaan—the imaginal realm where the restorative wellsprings of spiritual-imaginative regeneration are to be encountered.

113. ‘Truth’ that is definitively formulated can never be the full truth since formulation invariably entails limitations—and the truth is nothing if it’s not everything.  Traditionally, philosophers have attempted to construct theories of the whole—the totality.  Since theories—regardless of how comprehensive, deep, and nuanced they may happen to be—are formulations, they are bound to fall short of their implicit goal: capturing the slippery truth.  The paradox, which should already be apparent, is that the very means employed by the philosopher (unequivocal terms, concepts, logical relations, etc.) tend, eventually, to become the principal barriers to a direct experience or unmediated communion with the ineffable ‘X’ we fumblingly dub ‘the truth.’  In standing for the truth, our best abstract terms and concepts also stand between the mind and the direct, wordless and imageless, experience of reality.

114. Personal religion: Eliminate personal feeling from religious experience/practice (which is by no means the same thing as eliminating emotion, as such, which is not always merely personal) and in one blow you knock out the million reasons for taking offense when some ignoramus makes an irreverent or thoughtless remark about one’s personal savior or one’s ‘national-tribal’ God.  But perhaps only one in a million believers is capable of undergoing such enlightened surgical procedures.  Likewise, when all considerations for one’s personal salvation have been extinguished, it is a safe bet that the personal ego is nearing extinction as well.  Given the rarity of such instances of ego-transcendence, it should not be surprising that religion—even so-called religions of love, of peace, and of universal brotherhood—have been behind perhaps the bloodiest wars mankind has waged against itself.

115. Rungs and planks: It would be terribly misleading to suggest that all of my ‘spiritually-fraught’ journal entries are accurate depictions of stable and thoroughly established inner conditions.  Far from it.  Rather, these ‘sketches’ are like rungs on a ladder (one, of course, that ascends and descends) or planks on a bridge that is still under construction (and which, also, points both inside and out).  They are anticipations, provisional and tentative steps out, in, up, down—beyond the comparatively crude and merely ‘potential’ beginnings from which work was commenced long ago.  It is nevertheless upon these rungs and planks that something continues to move, to deepen, to advance, to dissolve, to transform…

116. Imperturbable: That which we hold to be our chief end or ‘greatest good’ is that condition against which we weigh and measure every other aim or good, correct?  A whole new calculus is gradually being established as inner peace and poise become the primary aim of my endeavors—the touchstone against which every other aim or endeavor is tested.  It seems that my ideal state is one of equanimity—where I am unmoved, beyond the reach of disturbance and distraction.  How much must be lopped off before this state—our natural state, according to Ramana Maharshi—is no longer obscured and obstructed by the many false trails I have been accustomed to follow!

117. If we take the mystics and sages seriously when they tell us that bliss and perfect peace are our natural state—and that all we need to do is to quiet down the mental chatter that distracts us from our natural bliss—then interesting consequences follow.  Viewed from this perspective, we are foolish to lose ourselves in mental ‘building projects,’ such as constructing a philosophy, the aim of which is to convey us to the truth.  The aim, rather, is to learn how to silence the chatter and, in that delicate silence, to resist the temptation to jump onto one or another of the many trams that crisscross the way before us.  These are the thought-currents that, once we’re on them, proceed to the end of their line or to a linking station where we get onto another transport vehicle—and thus, keep moving through our mental city day after day after day.  Just watch, take note, and stay still.

118. The enthusiastic thinker strives to work the little ‘spark’ up into a brightly burning bonfire, while the seeker after stillness learns how to douse such sparks so that he will not be led, first down this, then down that, diverting pathway.  The intellectual typically—if not habitually—seeks mental stimulation, while the quietist places himself out of reach of such charged thought-trails and scintillating ideas.  If and when the seasoned intellectual decides to take up the path of quietism, he has his work cut out for him.  At first, stillness can be misconstrued as torpor or nescience (tamas) by the active-minded (rajas) intellectual.  Only as he gradually accustoms himself to the very different vitality of the depths (sattva)—only then does he learn to let go of this ignorant superstition.  In moving from intellectualism to quietism, the truth-seeker’s principal source of spiritual vitality dramatically changes.  There is an unavoidable death and rebirth experience in this transformation.

119. The aim of meditation is not so much to learn how to avoid being pulled back into the external world of distracting personal involvements and affairs.  Such would be a crude account of its aims.  Rather, it is to learn how to avoid being pulled back into the affect-driven mind, since it is what the mind thinks and feels—pro and con—about the world and its inhabitants that determines both the quality and depth of our involvement in outer world attachments and concerns.  The battle is not between the spirit and the outer world.  It is a contest between one part of the inner world, the spirit (or atman), and another part of the inner world, the impassioned mind (which is ‘external’ to it).  The ‘world’ is but a huge staging area.  Our liberation is actually worked out offstage, even when staged events in the biographical-theatrical arena happen to accompany this essentially interior process.  Attend to your thoughts and to their true source.  The ‘world’ and its business?  What others think and expect of us?  Leave these things to ‘God.  After we have learned to master the pull of the impassioned mind, withstanding the allurements of the big, bad, lovely concrete world is a piece of cake.

120.  All-one-ness is aloneness—of the ultimate sort—is it not?  The myriad creatures—the multiple levels and diverse states: might not these merely be symptoms of God’s flight from aloneness?  But why speak of God in the third person?  In doing so am ‘I’ not playing along with the ‘creation story’?  An accomplice?