For the Few? (7/25/16)

It is only “natural” – and perhaps unavoidable – for us to encounter stubborn resistances to the transpersonal energies, factors, and perspectives that are nevertheless crucial to spiritual maturation. The strength of these resistances will be determined by the degree to which our consciousness is identified with the personal ego, or “mind-body complex.” Certainly those of us who have genuinely begun to acknowledge the scripted or “fictive” character of our own and others’ personal identities are in a somewhat better position to absorb the shocks that accompany deep transpersonal insights. Those of us who have long been engaged in the chilling, thrilling discipline of unmasking ourselves to ourselves are certainly better prepared to withstand lengthy exposures to these transpersonal “X-rays” that would almost surely produce a mental breakdown or collapse in innocent “psychological virgins.” These resistances are there for a reason, then. They are the indicators – the telling symptoms – of our fitness for receiving fateful truths that have no regard for persons or for our personal hopes, feelings, preferences, principles, etc.

It is no accident, therefore, that myths and accounts of spiritual transformation typically employ the symbols of death and resurrection – the most conspicuous example of which in our Western tradition being the crucifixion story. Given the unpreparedness of most human beings – now as ever – to undergo the “ordeal by fire” entailed in a genuine spiritual transformation or initiation, we can see the folly – or worse, the abomination – of prescribing or recommending such practices and genuine spiritual pursuits on a grand scale! Isn’t there already quite enough madness and mayhem in the world? The present madness and disintegration stem, in part, from the erosion of traditional moral values and restraints. But we cannot leap from nihilism and flaccid moral relativism onto an authentically transformative psycho-spiritual path without disastrous consequences. Before the “personal self” can be properly relativized and overshadowed by the transpersonal or “higher” self, it must first be brought under control – not through mere repression and aesthetic austerities, but by the enlightened will of transcendent understanding. The higher will alone authoritatively subdues the lower will. The “light” of the higher intellect and the love of the awakened heart are certainly crucial aspects of this comprehensive spiritual transformation, but they are not alone sufficient, it would seem. The transformed will is what is decisive in the end. It slays – and gives life.

So, how – it will be asked – does the newly fledged initiate regard those in his midst who are, or purport to be, on the path of initiation? To begin with, he will view them as he views his former “self” – the way he was prior to the deposing (psychologically speaking) of the old “personalistic” standpoint. That standpoint still lives a much-reduced, vassal-like existence in the psyche, but its former sovereignty has been decisively supplanted, along with the assumptions, priorities, and binding limitations upon which it was founded. The initiate knows, not merely from books by Plato and Jung, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta, but from direct inner experience, that the shift from the former center of gravity to the new one involves an even greater challenge and reorientation than a move from a medieval European village to present-day New York City or London. Such tectonic plate shifts occur only where it is possible – or perhaps fated – for them to occur, and all merely intellectual sampling and exploration of spiritual materials cannot change that fact. Such pursuits are just as likely to result in mere confusion, consternation, frustration, and even despair. The last thing genuine spiritual work consists in is escapism or moral-intellectual hedonism. More will be lost or sacrificed (from the “personal” standpoint) then could ever have been expected in the exchange of shocking-liberating light for familiar-ensnaring darkness.

The obvious reason the psychic confrontation with transpersonal energies or archetypal factors tends to be so terribly disturbing to the ego lies in the “inhuman” character of these overwhelming data of experience – regardless of whether they approach from the outside (as stunning synchronicities) or from the inside (as numinous/diabolical presences). When the human-sized ego fails to differentiate itself (and it’s tidy, compact little platform and horizons) from these super-human factors, the trouble begins. (This was perhaps Nietzsche’s undoing). When the ego makes the common mistake of identifying with these outsized factors and energies, there will almost invariably be an inflation (with accompanying delusions of grandeur or depravity, depending on the archetype identified with and the attitude of the ego). Egos are easily lifted up or crushed by archetypes, just like unseasoned, wannabe surfers who foolishly swim out to waves that are way too big for them to mount (with appropriate respect and modesty). The human-all-too-human realm of experience is a bit like Lilliput when set beside the archetypal realm, which is full of benign, malign, and neutral Gullivers who can be relied upon to piss on, piss off, and piss out our little “hearth fires” if we’re not careful – even, or especially, when we’re in “mass formation.”


A Modest Proposal (9/7/16)

What benefit, if any, comes from viewing our relations with others in terms of energy transactions? How much vital, mental, and emotional energy is being expended in our various relationships? How much of that expended energy is being put to fruitful use? How much is being wasted? Are there some relationships that are quite simply bottomless pits – so that no matter how much we pour into them, it is never enough – leaving us exhausted in the long run?

Now let’s look at the energy itself. As we expend – or burn – our energy in (or upon) those relationships in our life, does that energy burn cleanly – or poorly, so that there is a lot of sputtering and smoke? When the energy that we expend burns poorly or inefficiently, who is chiefly responsible for this? Does our engine need to be tuned, cleaned, or overhauled? Are we in the habit of using low-octane fuel? When we are talking about energy transactions, the other person’s engine conditions and fuel choices must be factored in, as well, right? Are these relationships which rob us of our energy – which repay us poorly, or not at all, for our investment – always deserving of the axe, or are some of these “non-profit” enterprises necessary or unavoidable, even in the best human life? Should moral, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual maturation be understood in terms of ever-improving energy utilization – all the way from the selection of fuel and the partners for transactions (where possible), to engine maintenance?

What I’m describing in the abstract here – human interactions strictly in terms of energy use and transactions – will no doubt strike some readers as inhuman, heartless, and cold-blooded. In removing all those endearing additives like sentimental attachment, personal loyalty, moral duty, and so forth, it would appear that I have reduced something that is arguably the most “human” activity of all – our defining relationships with others – to terms that are as devoid of charm as food digestion or photosynthesis. So, I pose the question: where is the value, if any, in viewing this “quintessentially human activity” strictly in terms of energy exchanges that have been carefully and thoroughly purged of all familiarly recognizable “human” features?

I will confess to a fascination with this strange and peculiarly disturbing approach to human relations. It may readily be likened to the “creepy” fascination certain young medical students have for the human cadavers they are dissecting and getting to know, intimately, in anatomy class. They are gazing into – nay, getting their knives and fingers into – the “nuts and bolts” within a once-living man or woman. And it is precisely this delightfully gruesome initiation that clears a path that can lead to open-heart surgery – where a living heart’s valves and aorta might be purged of nasty encrustations or plaque build-up that reduce the efficiency of the patient’s circulatory system.

I will confess that I have a penchant for the sort of psychological vivisection that depersonalizes my own ego – allowing me glimpses of the governing powers and structures therein as utterly impersonal mechanisms. I admit that this sort of flaying away of layer after layer of familiar and grounding anthropomorphic masks and fictions can be about as harrowing an experience as Neo’s rude awakening and release from his pod in The Matrix for anyone coming at this stuff innocently unprepared. But once the transpersonal or non-human psychic building blocks and architectonic schemes (that provide a platform and a variety of perfectly adequate scripts to get the human spectacle up and running) have been peeked into, the jig is up. For good or ill, the initiated one can never return to la comedie humaine (or is it the “divine comedy” with the humans as unwitting actors for hire?) without remembering, always in the back of his mind, what he saw when the curtains were pulled away! How can he not see mouthing personae where he once imagined there to be solid persons – scripted performances by hypnotized thespians who have become lost in their labyrinthine roles? And all this unmasking began, of course, with his own ego-personality. He may yearn to say to another, “Yes, yes – but it is simply a grand illusion – live theater – a vast, complicated plot into which we’ve all been woven! But it’s no more substantial than Bottom’s Dream, from which it is possible, at least for a few, to awaken.”

But no one who hasn’t himself pulled aside the curtain and seen through all the props and costumes and magical artifice has earned the right to say such things.