Wholeness and Time (8/15/17)

If I’m on the right track and supposing that “called or not, the Gods are present,” then the quest for wholeness – or the full unfoldment of the personality – may be somewhat less dependent upon actual or manifest cultural-historical conditions than is commonly assumed. How do I arrive at this view?

In the field of time, or history, the eternal archetypal drama must perforce be enacted in narrative form, as a kind of complex story-line. As a sequence of events, one episode, mood, or character conflict/resolution comes into prominence after another as the archetypes – like the colored bits of glass in the kaleidoscope – continually move into and out of new configurations. The primordial archetypal factors – like the colored chips in the kaleidoscope or the Greek Gods and Goddesses of Olympus – retain their distinctive characters, but the enacted dramas and kaleidoscopic permutations emphasize this and now that mythic situation, color scheme, mood, and set of opportunities/obstacles.

With these helpful analogies in mind, let us return to our original question about the quest for psychological wholeness within the field of space-time – or the present cultural-historical context. Out here on the surface of mundane experience – the flat screen, as it were, upon which the eternal (timeless) archetypal drama is continually being projected – we are granted only a partial, slit-like vision of the whole, since certain aspects are always being emphasized at the expense of others. Thus, our actual birth in space-time – say in prerevolutionary France or postwar America – inserts or embeds us in a particular scene or worldview within a very long play or, if we get stuck, into one frame of a motion picture. If perchance we allow ourselves to become too comfortably adapted or attached to that particular scene or frozen movie frame, all our little psychic tendrils groping for wholeness will gradually wither and die. To become fully invested in and stubbornly attached to one’s “day and age” – one’s particular cultural-historical setting – is to become a conscripted servant or slave to those particular limited terms, conditions, and role requirements. This would seem to be a rough description, now as ever, of upwards of 95% of humanity.

If we are denied the freedom to literally teleport or catapult ourselves into earlier or future eras and cultures – in our quest for an experience of the full drama underway in space-time via archetypal projection through humanity – we are not forcibly prevented from vicariously experiencing other “scenes,” stages, worldviews, aeons, etc., imaginally.

It will be apparent, then, to some readers that our incremental advances towards psychological wholeness will be dependent in large part upon our ability to loosen up the mental straitjackets and manacles that confine us to our limited/limiting scene – our day and age, our inherited worldview – so that we may regard our situation from fresh and different perspectives. Thus we are continually extricating ourselves from Plato’s cave, striving to get a glimpse or two of the drama as a whole – from start to restart, from soup to nuts! There can be no vision quest that is more comprehensive or demanding.

In my kaleidoscope analogy, a reversion or archetypal reduction process corresponds with attending primarily to the turning, reconfiguring colored ships that are the source of all the particular images appearing at the far end of the kaleidoscope through the peephole. Practically speaking, this is achieved by immersing ourselves in ongoing researches into mythology, history, comparative religion, philosophy, the visual arts, world literature, depth psychology, and other disciplines in and by means of which we are granted glimpses of these archetypal figures and motifs.

There are two points I want to get across here: 1.) The development of the individual towards wholeness is significantly but by no means exclusively dependent upon the prevailing cultural opportunities, collective preoccupations, and other outer factors – but has as much or more to do with the inner work involved in germinating those seed-potentials (for wholeness) within the psyche and tending to their growth. 2.) The distinctive seed-potentials, along with the peculiar cultural-political soil into which we are born, do not – by themselves – make us into conscious, whole personalities. Together they comprise the “original state” or “prima materia” with which we began our artful work.

If we look, say, at a hundred persons who receive the same splendid formal education and upbringing or thousand persons born with the same balanced, auspicious horoscope, we will find that perhaps one or two from both groups will make extraordinary use of these exceptional, given conditions, while the majority will have un-exceptional success. And conversely, a minority among those born into palpably adverse conditions will – precisely in their creative/heroic response to these hurdles and adversities – be spurred on to achievements that would otherwise lie beyond their grasp. What is being singled out for emphasis, of course, is the role played by our individual effort, imagination, and ingenuity in the alchemical-transformative process we are engaged in here.

Mere mimesis – or adaptive inculcation and imitation of given, prevalent cultural forms, values, and directives –serves only as a point of departure for the individuation process. If we get stuck there, the process of inner growth and differentiation comes to a halt. Naturally, such compliant and obedient adaptation and conscription into the prevalent system is always being encouraged by those who profit (materially, politically, socially, etc.) from such systems and schemes. As compliant servants – say, to an unscrupulous, profit-driven corporation or a reactionary political party – we may “gain the world and lose our souls.”

That being said, unless we initially adapt to and gain an “insider” understanding, as it were, of the scheme, system, or “day and age” into which fate has dropped us, we will thereafter be hampered in our most strenuous efforts to move beyond this preliminary level of acculturation. The more clearly and thoroughly we see and understand our limited and limiting beginnings – i.e., our peculiar insertion point into time-space – the greater will be our success, later, when it becomes necessary to push off from that first platform into terra incognita. If our understanding of our early formation and stamping is dim and sketchy, our attempts, later, to differentiate our consciousness from these horizons will be correspondingly sketchy and ineffectual. The platform against which we push will feel mushy and flimsy, giving way under our feet.

Gnosis and Projection (9/11/12)

The supremely triumphant effort of Irenaeus to stamp out Gnosticism, back in the second century—in his Against Heresies—displays a politically motivated, this-worldly stance that has been characteristic of Western Christianity ever since. Elaine Pagels has observed that, unlike Islam, Judaism, Coptic Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism, Western Christianity lacks an esoteric branch or a generally recognized mystical tradition. This lamentable lack or gap within Christendom is due in large part, of course, to the relentless campaign of the Church Fathers (and their heirs up to the present day) to sniff out and eradicate all forms of imaginative or spiritually innovative alternatives to canonical dogma. Such alternatives, when they would arise, were categorically regarded as heresy and they were often punishable by excommunication or burning at the stake.

The Gnostics, in contrast to orthodox Christianity, were startlingly original, radically imaginative, deeply suspicious of ‘natural man,’ and thoroughly antinomian. They were a big, bracing breath (pneuma) of fresh, chilly air. In attaching a generally negative value to mundane affairs, to physical nature, to the ‘official’ God of this (sensually apprehensible) world, and to merely literal words and dogmatic concepts, the Gnostics posed a potentially subversive threat to the Church as a political and doctrinal institution. Perhaps if the Gnostics had been left alone, they would have fizzled out on their own—or perhaps they would have found a way to maintain their unorthodox values and perspectives while shielding themselves from persecution and misunderstanding by the worldly Church (as the Sufis have found a haven as a kind of esoteric branch of Islam).

Plato—according to Leo Strauss and Laurence Lampert—attempted to devise and to establish such a haven for philosophers. If Strauss was right, Plato employed his writings as a means of making philosophy tolerable to ‘the city’ and attractive to that select few who are potential candidates for the life of philosophical enquiry. (By ‘the city’ we mean ordinary society with its typically power-driven, conventionally religious, acquisitive, anti-philosophical tendencies). Plato’s marvelous writings did not aim so much to turn the reader into a philosopher, although they strove to pique his/her interest in philosophy as a way of life—as embodied in the career of Socrates, the fascinating central figure in most of Plato’s dialogues. It seems that one is born a potential gnostic or potential philosopher, or one is not—just as one is born a great poet or composer, or one is not. In order to actualize these potentials—which, again, do not seem to be conspicuously present in the majority of human beings, now or ever—a special form of education by a special kind of teacher seems to be required. In the course of becoming a gnostic, a genuine philosopher, a mystic, or a visionary, it is fair to say that the world (as we first come to know it and as it is presented to us by our parents, teachers, and peers) is turned inside out.

In order to survive this inversion of values and established norms—and avoid going insane or becoming swallowed up once and for all by an inescapable tar pit of pessimism and hopelessness—the candidate for initiation must be exceptionally strong (spiritually), exceptionally humble (in terms of personal ego desires and ambitions), and exceptionally imaginative/subtle (in terms of soul). Moreover, without an exceptional degree of compassion (for all beleaguered parties in the wars for domination that typify life among humans), there is a real danger that the initiate will have his insides eaten out by anger and his will snuffed out by exasperation. Such poise and compassion can be achieved and sustained only by the practice of detachment and cultivated neutrality towards the various contending forces and groups. Injustice—when it is recognized—excites anger in the breast of the ‘good’ man or woman. Where it is unacknowledged, there is apathy, confusion, and (oftentimes) unconscious complicity with the agents of injustice. The initiate understands that the only way injustice can be eliminated from human affairs is through a transformation of human consciousness—and this is not likely to happen on a grand scale anytime soon. It happens, when it does, one person at a time.

In having experienced the world being ‘turned inside out,’ however, the initiate’s psychological bearings have undergone a stunning reorientation. As a consequence of this stupendous inversion, a significant part of the initiate’s personality has, in effect, ‘died’ to the world. The ‘old,’ inverted or subverted world seems no longer to exert its formerly invincible spell. The initiate has partially seen through that world into the core behind its mask. What this means, psychologically, is that he has recognized that the value and meaning normally attributed to events, persons, objects, and public ideas is unconsciously projected by men and women everywhere and at all times. Because it is understood that it is the unconscious process of projection that underlies (and underwrites) the value and meaning that appear ‘out there’ in the world, it is also simultaneously understood that by getting control over our projections, we loosen the world’s sticky grip upon us.

Let’s begin with a rather obvious example of projection. If we learn that the chief reason an acquaintance of ours is averse to a particular political figure—or to an entire nation, for that matter—is because he is projecting prejudices and falsehoods that have been deliberately served up to him by the news media, then we are in a position to raise important questions about ‘orchestrated’ projections with him. We may, for example, begin to ask questions like ‘Is the media presenting a fair and comprehensive picture of the politician or nation, or is it distorted in a big way?’ ‘Who owns and controls the media and why might these interested parties want you and me and millions of others to dislike the political figure or this foreign nation?’ This is just an elementary example—one that most intelligent and/or honest persons can immediately appreciate—but there are far subtler and, therefore, far more powerfully determining prejudices and valuations that we unconsciously project into ‘the world’ with its entire cast of characters and contents.

The initiate has learned that the only truly effective way to make these projections conscious is by momentarily interrupting the process of projection itself—and stepping back from these projected values and half-baked ideas to the extent that he can. The effect of this sort of reflection—of arresting our projected assumptions and valuations and subjecting them to careful analysis—is precisely what enables us to ‘turn the world inside out.’ What we are doing, of course, is learning about the subtle and generally unconscious process by which the world—any ‘world’—is generated and kept more or less intact by the simultaneous, interrelated projections of all our fellow humans.

The quest for spiritual freedom is fundamentally bound up with the problems of projection. If we would be free, we must first make conscious our projections, for it is these projections that—taken all together—provide structure and the specific contents or furniture of our world. Into this structure and into these contents our psychic and physical energy is pumped as gasoline is pumped into the tank of our automobile—gasoline that fuels the combustion that drives the motor, propelling us down the road. And it goes without saying that unless and until we make a projection conscious, we are in no position to manage it (to raise serious questions about its right to be part of our ‘world-forming’—and ‘world in-forming’—internal apparatus) or to dismantle it. As soon as we begin to realize that the outer events, implements, possessions, and persons depend pretty much entirely upon this projected value and meaning for their perceived significance to us (though not their existence), then it is a short step to the rather sweeping realization that the ‘world’ itself as a meaningful cosmos—which is made up of the totality of these unconscious projections—‘hangs upon the slender thread of the human psyche,’ as Jung put it in one of his grimmer moments.

Now, we eventually come to see that spiritual release or liberation really consists in release from thralldom to limited versions of ‘the world’ as it has been constituted by these unconscious projections. There is, then, no authentic liberation from these limited notions of reality so long as we believe in the independent, self-standing reality of that world—i.e., that our psyches make no essential contribution to world-making. We must first recognize the dependency of the world upon the psyche—not our personal psyches, but the psyche as a whole, of which the personal unconscious is but a tiny segment. All efforts, therefore, to ‘fix’ our spiritual dilemma by trying to modify concrete conditions and circumstances in the outer world are, from one angle, misguided—backwards—since they are founded upon the erroneous assumption that our imprisonment and the way of our release are essentially to be found in the world.

Dozens of times I have employed this analogy (traceable, of course, back to Plato’s peerless allegory of the cave, found in Bk.VII of the Republic) of ordinary human affairs and doings as an elaborate, ongoing stage play. The initiate who suffers this momentous about-face breaks free—more or less completely—from his identification with various roles upon that stage. He dis-identifies with his stage personality—simultaneously acquiring the capacity to see through the masks and the scripted roles of everyone around him. The shock and disorientation occasioned by this revelatory psychic experience can mean little or nothing to those who have not experienced this fateful unmasking, for what it reveals is the enormous—nay, the incalculable—extent to which all of us are slaves to the stage, unconscious conscripts in a generally tragic (or farcical, or trivial, or absurd, or what have you!) drama that only a tiny minority of us ever truly and completely see through, let alone, escape from. And, as I have also observed many times before, the initial reward experienced by the newly liberated initiate is an utter and seemingly irremediable sense of his aloneness in having stepped of that stage! For let it be clear: it is not as if, in stepping off the accursed stage of blinkered sleepwalkers mouthing their unoriginal lines and pursuing their pre-plotted courses, he is suddenly welcomed and embraced by throngs of former escapees waiting just offstage—waiting to celebrate his anomalous and semi-miraculous success in breaking the almost invincible spell of ‘the world.’

In fact, if there is any celebrating at all, it occurs within the privacy of his own breast. He may be warmed by the sense of kinship he feels with that select number of (mostly) long-dead unveilers of the secret that always remains hidden from mere believers. I mean, of course, believers in the pageantry and pomp of the world as it presents itself. Men as different as the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Valentinus, and Jung all speak as one in their warning against believing in the world as it is predigested and pre-interpreted for us by our early environment. All of them were outstanding un-believers, mis-trusters, and reflective deconstructors of the dominant projections that held up the inflated bubble-worlds into which they were born.

On Individuality (4/2/12)

There is some part of my nature that has always displayed a mysterious reluctance to treat my family members—and my two sons—with more tender regard than I would a non-family person, just because they are my kin. Of course I am not altogether immune to those instinctive and societal promptings to show favoritism towards family members. Nevertheless, for some time now, the degree of concern and warmth that I feel for my immediate family members has not been decided principally by the fact that they are blood relations. Rather, the quality of my regard for them is influenced chiefly by the sort of natural ‘chemistry’ I feel for each one of them. Their actual merits and individual qualities…how much they give of themselves to life and to those around them…their sense of justice and their honesty with themselves and with others—these and other factors play a part in shaping my regard for them, just as these factors shape and influence my regard for persons to whom I am not related by blood and shared history. In this way, I seem to differ from many persons, the quality and depth of whose relationships with blood ties appears to be determined to a much larger extent by these collectively inherited—one might almost say archetypal—structures. This peculiarity of mine has its pluses and its minuses, its benefits and its drawbacks.

My partial liberation from these inherited collective structures (and the conventionally-dictated obligations that accompany them) has developed slowly and gradually over the years, though I strongly suspect that I entered the world already blessed (or cursed) with the seeds of ‘impersonality’ that were germinated under my peculiar biographical circumstances. I would be reluctant to claim that all persons are born with this predisposition towards impersonality, along with the greater degree of immunity from collective or ‘herd’ instincts that allows such impersonality to grow and develop in the soul. But I was, and it has always inwardly set me somewhat apart from most persons I’ve known, read about, or seen on TV. In other words, my sense of being a peculiar sort of creature has not been foisted onto me primarily by others, or entirely because of the way they have treated me. It is innate and, so far as I can tell, it is no more separable from my ‘core being’ than my DNA or my brain are from my body.

Does this preclude the possibility of my ever truly experiencing an enduring and completely unconditional heart-and-soul bond with another human being—blood relation or otherwise? Such a complete and utter marriage of hearts and souls would require the suspension or transcendence of this seemingly intractable seed of individuality—or uniqueness—would it not? Truth be told, it has often proven to be a problematic factor in my relations with others, at least when things move beyond the persona level—whether they acknowledged it or not.

Now, as I see it, genuine individuals (who will probably always constitute a small minority—if only because of the solitary inner work, leisure time, and freedom from ordinary distractions, preoccupations, and burdens that seem to be required for the cultivation of this individuality) are not engaged in some secret conspiracy or relentless campaign against members of the collective. But those persons who, either knowingly or unknowingly, have suppressed and betrayed their ‘weirdness’—their fragile and delicate seeds of genuine individuality—in order to conform with the herd, or the collective, in exchange for its conditional protections and its membership benefits—such persons are necessarily engaged in guerrilla warfare against genuine individuals—and vice versa. That ‘weirdness’ that I just confessed to about myself—my innate resistances to treating my blood ties and my own sons with greater (or lesser) regard than I would extend to someone I’m not related to by blood—might alone be enough to win the scorn and hostility of perfect strangers. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of my weirdness!

Because the exceedingly collective person tends to be disturbed by, or disparaging of, anything ‘weird’ or truly individual about him- or her-self, the more I open up to my own weirdness and my own elusive individuality, the more I am induced from within to conceal that individuality from those around me—or, at least, to underplay it. A goodly number of my friends and old acquaintances don’t really know what to make of my peculiar ideas—when they bother to read them at all, so far as I can tell. Their very different lifestyle choices and priorities make it plainly evident that our paths began to diverge quite some time ago. I am a tolerably affable enigma to them, just as their own precious (but largely buried and repressed) strangeness is perplexing to them. But I am also (sometimes) an ambivalent reminder that such stubborn and lonely individual consciousness has not been completely annulled in the otherwise anti-individual matrix of contemporary collective consciousness. I said ‘ambivalent’ because the faint voice of authentic consciousness is always as irksome and unnerving in its impact upon the herd-like elements of the responding psyche as it is reinforcing and inspiring to the repressed individual buried deep beneath the thick, muffling layers of white noise that constitute collective consciousness.

But surely such a claim must sound preposterous to many ears—the claim that authentically individual consciousness is inherently ‘disturbing’ and even ‘frightening’ to most persons. And it must sound preposterous whether or not these persons happen to have been ancient Athenians, or Hebrews in old Jerusalem, or contemporary Americans. For most persons, individuality is professed to be a prized quality, right? Cookie-cutter replicas of the ‘same old, same old’ are boring and put us to sleep, right? But perhaps we need to make an important distinction between ‘novelty,’ on the one hand, and genuine individuality, on the other. Or between a fresh approach to the same old themes, patterns, and routines—and an altogether radical or revolutionary re-visioning of everything.

True individuality of consciousness is not achieved by a ‘face-lift’ intended to cosmetically enhance the ordinary, to remove its crow’s feet and pockmarks to make it easier to gaze upon. Rather, individual consciousness—like a scalpel or a corrosive acid—slices or burns away the smiling or scowling, comely or homely face altogether. It exposes all the musculature, nerve endings, oozing veins and capillaries behind the mask of ordinary life and consciousness. Such tepid life, such skin-deep consciousness, is thereby shown its true face in the unforgiving but more revealing mirror of a deeper consciousness, a starker life. Rare is the soul, indeed, that can withstand such honest reflections without flinching—without turning tail and fleeing back into the warm, soft, milky bosom of family and friends. Better to heroically slaughter a hundred ‘official’ enemies on authorized battlefields than to FACE MY TRUE FACE in the mirror of lonely, individual consciousness! Only then do I step off the stage and stand alone before the temporal spectacle—out of the river of programmed human affairs—out of the narrative in which I have been embedded for as long as I can remember. If I can retain my sanity, my compassion, and my sense of humor after repeated encounters with scalpel and acid, I may qualify and prove myself as a candidate for initiation—initiation into authentic individuality.

Could it be true that this individuality has less to do with our egos than many of us suppose? Could it be true that the ego is to the deeper individuality what the persona is to the ego? A kind of mask, trained servant, or instrument? An ambassador or envoy, if you like, from an altogether different plane of consciousness—from which perspective concrete, literal earth-events are no more than coagulated fictions or shadows on the wall of Plato’s allegory of the cave?

But for whom would any of this make familiar sense? Unless and until such accounts and descriptions are drunk down like cool water after a long desert journey—they are perhaps not fit to be imbibed. Could it be that we are not ready to drink from this cup until we are prepared to stand completely alone with no more than one remote (angelic) witness?

Scalpels and corrosive acids! These are certainly violent metaphors for the agents or tools required for this job of meeting our true, unique selves! But to what do such melodramatic ‘horror movie’ images refer? The scalpel is the knife edge of discrimination that assists us in differentiating the scripted from the authentic ‘parts’ that we act out; the pre-established and prescribed factors that are received from our cultural and educational environments, on the one hand, and those deeper psychic factors that arise spontaneously from within, on the other. The acid is the fiery solvent that breaks down this ‘composite’ of intrinsic and extrinsic factors into elements that can be separated and sorted out. This whole process of discrimination, conscious differentiation, and chemical transformation may be called analysis in the full and proper sense. When we emerge from such an analysis, we are not the same as we were before we entered. We are more and we are a good deal less. What has changed most dramatically is our inner relationship to our ‘vehicles.’ We are no longer simply identified with our bodies, feelings, and thoughts. They are now our instruments—our less than perfect means of interacting with a world that has also been transformed (in our consciousness of it) from a literal into a symbolic field of activity.

 

Glimpses (6/27/13)

That drive to discover and then to abide in some inviolable ‘palace of truth’—a drive that certainly had its way with my mind and soul for many years—was gradually whittled down to a trickle of intermittent ejaculations after my grudging recognition that such a palace appears only in fairy tales, but not in reality, or at least not in the reality I have precariously and gradually come to inhabit. And when the target of one’s restless yearnings is seen to be a phantasm or, worse, an elaborate deception willed into (fictional) existence out of the yearning itself, then honesty counsels us to temper rather than inflame and nurture that drive.

It was by such a circuitous course that I arrived at a more pluralistic—or polytheistic—view of that most elusive of mirages, the Truth. At bottom, it may very well be ‘true’ that eventually all roads lead to some privileged center that is synonymous with Truth (deserving of a capital T) in some thoroughly comprehensive or complete sense. But, in all honesty, from where I am presently situated on my journey, my understanding is infused more with the sense of polycentricity, variety, and complexity than with unity, simplicity, or oneness. I am not saying that oneness is not implied, but as of now, such implied, ultimate unity registers far more faintly to my mind than the image of multiple inner galaxies, each with its own abundant supply of distinctive solar systems, composed, in turn, of various planets—all of which dwarf in size and complexity the individual creatures (or features) found thereupon.

I have spontaneously employed a cosmic analogy to express my point here. In the enormity of its scale, this cosmic image underscores the puniness and the restrictedness of the individual human ego’s field of vision, or range of experience. Always keeping this image of the puniness and restrictedness of the ego’s range of experience clearly in mind helps me to maintain my salutary mistrust of convenient ‘unitary models’ and all simple, self-consistent schemes. As far as I can see, all such models and schemes ultimately do more to hamper and slacken my thinking (and the questioning behind such thinking) than to invigorate and push that thought as far as it can go. It may be different for other thinkers, but for this one, the seductions of oneness and of all-embracing unity are a bit like the pull of a so-called ‘mother-complex’—a hankering to return to mother’s breast—or even to climb back up into her warm and watery belly. Of course, we could just as easily invoke the ‘father complex’ here, insofar as it stands for the urge to submit, in complete, selfless obedience, to the will of the All-Seeing Nobodaddy. At any event, nothing so successfully collapses or ‘shorts’ the electrical tension that is the sine qua non for soaring (or deep-delving) thought than such pat unities and crude simplifications.

I would suggest that a glimpse of authentic unity is possible only after we have courageously weathered and withstood this profound electrical tension—and emerged, as it were, on the other side of the charged field. Note that such glimpses are fleeting—even if the ‘mark’ they leave behind is as indelible as a tattoo. If I may be permitted to employ an erotic metaphor, such a ‘mark’ is like the memory of a supremely satisfying consummation of love with an ardently pursued partner—after many struggles and frustrations have been endured.

By way of contrast, the crude and spurious unities resorted to by the impatient, the careless, the shallow, and the negligent are like a doorbell or telephone ringing just as we are about to achieve our ‘climax.’ They ruin everything!

Depth-seekers and Depth-shunners (7/25/17—Quito)

When a marriage, a friendship, a political alliance, or a professional career is simply not working, despite our best efforts, do we not acquire permission to withdraw—permission that may entail a measure of free moral choice on our part but is not ultimately founded or dependent upon our voluntary choice? Where does this extra-moral permission—or should we not, perhaps, call it an imperative or a mandate—come from? And if this permission, this mandate, this imperative comes from some source or region that lies beyond or deeper than our conscious will and reason—say, from some instinctual or pre-conscious level—how much freedom is involved in the act of withdrawal? What we are describing here is a situation where one’s former investment (of desire, interest, love, trust, enthusiasm, hope, etc.) has dried up at its very source. Next, we cannot resist asking: Did we freely create or generate that desire, interest, love, etc., in the first place—and did we just as freely command or orchestrate their evaporation and extinction—or weren’t all of these rising and falling affects secretly and invisibly set into motion and then doused by unseen agencies well out of our reach and, therefore, beyond our control?

But what percentage of men and women living today have learned how to rely chiefly upon this invisible and more mysterious background out of which emerge those most compelling—if unheeded—inducements, commands, warnings, and interdictions? What portion of humanity attends, first and foremost, to these cues and clues from below, from beyond the foreground consciousness that enjoys so much more power and authority over the multitude? Why is this the case and how did it come to be this way? Why does this foreground consciousness and its stock, collective contents so commonly and so effectively muffle or drown out altogether the much older and much more thoroughly ‘road-tested’ voice from the depths—the voice, if you like, of the ancestral spirits?

If we take a close, scrutinizing look at the comparative minority, now as ever, who do in fact heed these ‘cues and clues’ (from what Jung called the ‘unconscious’), what do we observe? What, if anything, sets them apart from the majority who live, as it were, closer to the surface of consciousness rather than in and from the depths? Moreover, how might we characterize relations between these two segments of humanity? Are we justified in speaking of the depth-plumbing minority as the ‘elders’ of our species? Does their attunement—their at-one-ment—with these profounder and older strata of our shared history place them in the position of pioneers, guides, and scouts for humanity—or should we perhaps regard them as atavisms, retrograde relics from a generally barbaric and backwards past?

It must be admitted that this relative minority of depth-seekers are more conservative (and I certainly do not mean ‘right wing Republican’ by this) than the majority who instinctively avoid the quieter and darker depths. The depth-seekers may even be characterized as ‘archaic’ in some respects since the strata of the psyche into which their conscious roots descend have an ‘immemorial’ or archetypal quality about them. And yet, it would be going too far to describe them as ‘primitive,’ outmoded, or backwards. Au contraire. Like seasoned and venerable old elephants, whales, tortoises, and condors that have savored and suffered life to the full, the minority of human depth-dwellers of all ages and climes have something timeless about them. As such, they are emblematic of their kind—their type or species—like living, breathing, suffering, and delighting symbols. At once particular and universal, mortal and undying, actual and imaginal, part and whole.

Such reflections point to a welter of paradoxes respecting the multifaceted, elusive notion of freedom, depending on whether one is a denizen of the depths, the shoals, or from some place in between. The archetypal legacy or inheritance passed down from the primeval past may be likened to a deep, broad river. The waters of this mighty river are gathered from throughout the vast territory surrounding it. The river stretches from its headwaters to the delta where it merges with the sea.

For the minority of depth delvers—employing our river analogy—freedom means adaptation to, and acceptance of, the currents within the rising and falling river. At times, it is both wise and joyfully revitalizing to surrender to the current that follows a course or line of least resistance through the vast surrounding territory. At other times, it is salutary and strengthening to swim upstream—against the current—to revisit past scenes and atmospheres with new eyes and perspectives. What distinguishes the freedom of the depth-seekers is graceful movement or navigation within the all-embracing stream of life. The freedom of the depth-shunners, however, is of a very different sort, indeed.

The depth-shunners are as needful of hydration as their distant kin, the depth-seekers, but rather than immerse themselves, trustingly, into the stream of life, they prefer to dwell along its shallow banks where they can fetch what they need without having to swim—or even get wet. This, in a nutshell, is their notion of freedom. In stark contrast to the freedom I described earlier, the bank-dwellers’ freedom is freedom from immersion in the flowing stream of archetypally-informed-and-animated experience. Levees and ramparts along the river help to protect and insulate them from rising waters, while irrigation channels and hydroelectric dams allow them to exploit the river for countless benefits. Thus, because of these artificial means, the depth-shunners are able to live and move about in relative security and comfort farther and farther away from the river itself. Larger and larger tracts of the desert surrounding the river are steadily settled and inhabited by these depth-dreaders who have never seen, let alone swam in, the distant river that supports them and everyone they know via aqueducts and pipelines.

Whole generations of desert-dwelling descendants of depth-shunners come and go with only a few persons undertaking the long pilgrimage to the river to behold the shared source upon which all depend. As the centuries pass, fewer and fewer of those pilgrims are able to sufficiently overcome their fears—fostered and fueled by stories passed down through generations of depth-shunners—to leap into the magnificent river when they at last reach its distant banks. But one or two from each generation do take the plunge—and then learn how to swim and to navigate the river’s currents. Later, these same depth-seekers send emissaries to challenge and discredit the superstitions and false beliefs of those teeming, timid desert-dwellers who are ignorant and fearful of the very source upon which their thin, dry lives depend.

Horror Vacui (10/9/13)

Lurking within the handful of reliably terrifying thoughts that periodically sneak up from behind and have their way with us is the harrowing suspicion that we lack reality in some substantive, metaphysical sense. I point here to an insidious, paralyzing suspicion that our dotingly tended and cultivated personalities are founded not upon some transcendent, undying essence but upon fanciful fictions and our frangible physical frames. Such a creature more closely resembles a wave on the ocean or a dispersible breeze blowing through a forest, if that wave or breeze could somehow be endowed with reflexive consciousness. Perhaps only a minority of us will be possessed and then reduced to quivering jelly by this crushing, annihilating thought—but once it is thoroughly digested, our lives will never be the same thereafter.

As with any profoundly moving experience, a bundle of quite different responses are possible. One person may never fully recover from this thought which, of course, does not strike us as a mere ‘thought experiment’ or an armchair speculation, but as a momentous, potentially traumatizing, realization. It is an abrupt and shocking glimpse into the baffling vacuousness and vexing vapidity of 99 per cent of everyday, mundane experience. If one can become too intoxicated (with ideals, blinding passions, tyrannical desires, inescapable attachments, etc.), mightn’t one’s life suffer derailment from an excess of sobriety, as well? If one person is maimed and crippled by this sobering thought, another person will be moved to immerse himself as unreservedly and unreflectively into his actual, everyday life and relationships as he can. This psychological ordeal—this anticipation of the nullification of the personal self—will, in such cases, incite a frenzied assertion and aggrandizement of that imperiled self—even if that ‘walking shadow’ is now inwardly known to be little more than a second-rate actor strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage. This frenetic abandonment to busy-ness and action will, of course, constitute a kind of manic defense against the stumping nullity and insubstantiality that have been glimpsed in the abyss. The exuberance of the personal life—the enormity of one’s investment in his projects, involvements, and duties—will be roughly equivalent to the intensity of the horror vacui suffered by the person.

And yet another person will suffer neither from a catatonic collapse and withdrawal nor from a manic defense—but will be prompted to imaginatively cultivate a fresh new set of bearings that enables him, gradually, to avoid either of these two questionable turns. The new perspective that is gradually composed is that of the soul. The soul-perspective is distinguished from the ego-perspective by its capacity to approach all things, persons, and events imaginally or metaphorically—and not only literally or concretistically, as the ego is wont to do. It is this capacity for ‘seeing through’ and beyond literalism that safeguards the soul-perspective against the very real psychic maladies of paralysis and of manic defense. Thus, it is only the reified or hypostatized personal ego that is paralyzed—or driven to a kind of madness (of reckless immersion and flight from reflection)—by this startling vision of the transpersonal core. From the soul-perspective—which is fluid, imaginative, and not entirely ‘human’—this vision, so devastating to the limited/limiting ego, is the doorway into a subtler and deeper dimension than the one normally inhabited by that ego. To say it again: as soul waxes, ego wanes.

 

On Edinger’s “The New God-Image” (4/4/11)

I will begin this entry by confessing that the Edward Edinger book (The New God-Image) is stirring up powerful feelings ‘below deck.’ I am currently re-reading the middle chapter on ‘The Paradoxical God,’ in which the problematic coexistence of good and evil—or light and dark elements—is attributed to God, along with unconsciousness! These ideas strain even the most fertile imagination and test one’s spiritual courage as few ideas can. They are beyond our ‘Christianized’ ken, while at the same time, the attitude we assume towards these perplexing questions would seem to have profound implications for us, psychologically. And even if we ignore or pay grudging respect to these questions—or never adequately register them so that we can, in turn, be infected or stung by their disturbing power—they will still be there lurking like cancer cells in the unconscious. Of course, as long as they are lurking murkily in the unconscious their power to darken and cripple our journey through life is only that much greater because, in that case, they’re operating ‘behind our back.’ Perhaps most of us will never arrive at the point (of conscious appreciation of these profound religious riddles) ever to recognize what has been eating away, like a corrosive acid, at our insides.

But if, like Jacob, we wrestle with ‘God’—if, that is to say, we surrender to these searing questions which implicate us not only in God’s coming-to-be-conscious, but in the dangerous work of harmoniously reconciling cosmic good and evil—we may emerge with a serious limp, but also as walking and talking contributors to the founding of the way ahead. For me—because of what I now so strongly suspect—opting out of the wrestling match is no longer a viable option.

So where does my own anxiety and inner turmoil come from when I read from Edinger and from the uncharacteristically direct passages from Jung’s letters, where he seems to be very much out on a limb by himself—making connections, speculating, creating a new way to imagine deity?

Part of the anxiety stems from the central notion that God is not ‘perfect’ (nor as capable of looking out for us, like a good Daddy, as many of us were brought up to believe since childhood), but should perhaps be regarded as a ‘work in progress.’ To seriously entertain this notion—which, for me, means getting inside of it and inhabiting it like one might dwell inside a myth or story—is to suffer the most intense deprivation of metaphysical comfort conceivable, for it injects the God-image with a stronger dose of chaotic indeterminacy than of stabilizing cosmos. To be sure, Jung is willing to concede a latent meaning behind this work in progress, which is certainly preferable to a stance wherein no such latent meaning suffuses our experience of existence. But because of where present-day humanity is situated, historically and psychologically, the consolation offered by this idea of latent meaning gradually becoming manifest over the next few centuries is not quite consolation of the deepest and most gratifying sort. If the integration of the ‘Cosmic’ shadow—or the reconciliation of the split halves of good (love) and evil (naked will to power)—does actually take place over the next few troubled and disaster-marked centuries, none of us alive today (who are supposed to draw consolation from this possibility) will be around to enjoy the benefits of such a ‘healed’ split. As for the rest: well, they are left to feed like scavengers upon the rotting corpse of the dead ‘God-image.’

Another cause for inner unrest lies in the (psychological) fact that in pursuing the questions and themes of absorbing interest to me since I was young, I have—nolens volens—become conscripted into this unfinishable project that, as Jung rightly said, consists of ‘endless approximations.’ And as I have noted many times before, the deeper into this work I descend, the more alone I feel since few are seized and caught by this strange and strangely consuming task. How many authentic practitioners of alchemy were there? Because I have the compelling sense that this work and this path are my fate—and therefore cannot be forsaken or abandoned without inviting terrible guilt (the guilt of having betrayed or neglected one’s calling)—I naturally want for my life and my work to contribute something of substantial value to others after I’m gone. And yet, what I have to offer is so very different from the more solid and readily acknowledged contributions made by those talented and creative persons who serve men as they are now. I do not seem to be serving man as he now is—do I? And it’s doubtful that I ever will. My inner sights seem to be trained upon the way ahead—the way beyond the fragmented, decomposing culture I have already diagnosed and painfully come to terms with over the years.