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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Seeds and Deeds (3/10/17)

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

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

Coniunctio (6/24/14)

I detect a kind of trap in the Advaita path—a trap in which it is easy to become ensnared by those seekers it frequently attracts—namely, persons who want direct results right away. (John Grimes, in his last email to me, says ‘It is true that I am not interested in psychological integration and wholeness. Eventually, even if one were to achieve that, one would still have to discover the Self. As Ramana Maharshi said, ‘Why not go straight to the Self?’)

Why would Nisargadatta bother speaking about ‘ripeness’ and ‘readiness’ for realization if there were no process of maturation—of progressive unfoldment—behind such ripeness, which, as he repeatedly insists, is a crucial factor, and by no means trivial? I am perfectly happy to accept the idea of accelerated development—where the seeker does all he/she can to provide optimal conditions for growth and maturation—the ripening of the understanding and the purification of the spiritual will. But I have trouble with the idea of leaping over or by-passing stages that I suspect are unavoidable in the ‘letting go’ process—the path of return.

I am aware that—as John Grimes has informed me—there is one school of Advaitins (called Vivarana) who recognize no teacher, no student, no teachings –just the one Self—while all else is a time/space-based illusion. The other school—Bhamati—allows for levels of understanding, development, etc., as I am proposing here. Theoretically, at least, I can grasp the idea that if I were able, somehow, to find my way (or catapult myself) into an experience of non-duality, beyond time and space, mind and ego, I would instantaneously experience the transcendence of all ‘lower’ stages. Such stages of development or levels of understanding suddenly become irrelevant as soon as we transcend time and ordinary consciousness—for we are at the goal. The bridge is no longer of any use or value to us once we’ve crossed over.

I have known such experiences—even if they were fleeting—and it is precisely because I have been ‘graced’ with such unearthly inner experiences that I have spent so much time and effort pursuing and assimilating and attempting to put into practice the spiritual teachings that speak to my innermost depths.

I spoke previously of having followed Jung’s method of employing the ‘transcendent function’ as a way to bridge the gap between ‘the path of individuation’ and that of liberation. What, in more precise terms, did I mean? I realize now that I might just as aptly described the process in Hegelian terms (thesis collides with antithesis, out of which struggle emerges a new synthesis—or bridge).

At any event, the expansive and deepening process got started when I took notice of some rather glaring differences between Jung’s individuation (psychological enrichment, development, and integration) and Ramana Maharshi’s Advaita (transcendence of mind, or imagination—letting go of, rather than cultivation of, the personality).

The first stage of the work involved a radical, articulate differentiation (separatio) of the two paths. These would be purified (calcined, sublimated?) into the two poles in the middle of which I would thereafter psychically situate myself—exposing myself to the tension produced by their natural opposition. The stronger the charge generated by the opposed poles, the deeper and wider would be the synthetic perspectives and bridge-ideas produced out of their coupling. The greater their purification/clarification, the stronger the charge.

The aim during this ‘pregnancy’ or ‘gestation’ phase of the work was to remain psychically situated in the womb of creative tension, where I was obliged to patiently nurse the quarter- or half- or three-quarters-formed ‘child’ of this intense union of opposites. Had I been less experienced in this sort of inner work—like a first-time mother instead of a mother of five (or is it six??)—I would have had more difficulty ‘relaxing into’ the strange transformation my psyche was undergoing. I might have become ‘freaked out’—inducing a miscarriage or prompting a desperate abortion. At the very least, I would have gotten in the way of—rather than cooperate wisely with—the natural process. Or perhaps I should say ‘the process that is nature plus art,’ following the alchemists, who—in the more enlightened cases—were up to much the same thing—turning ‘shit’ into ‘gold’—turning flagellating sperms and ovulating eggs into divine children.

A child, being the product of both father and mother, takes something essential from both, of course. But these essential contributions from both parents (or poles?) do not remain un-modified or un-transformed in the child. And just as the child is not—and can never be—simply reducible to father or mother[1], so the synthetic ‘bridge-ideas’ born of the creative strife—say, between psychological wholeness and spiritual liberation—are never simply reducible to the terms of one side or the other. It is for this reason that I firmly resisted the temptation to dissolve Jung into Ramana’s Advaita or to ‘psychologize’ Ramana as a mere avoider or escaper of psychological responsibility and unfoldment. Although they missed the opportunity to meet face to face in 1937 when Jung ducked out of an intended visit to Tiruvannamalai, I like to believe that I am bringing about a post-mortem rendezvous between the ‘Sage of Kusnacht’ and the Saint of Arunachala here at 2046 Sul Ross, apt. 4, in 2014.

[1] Aristotle, brilliant nincompoop that he was, taught that the mother made no real contribution to the child but was merely an obliging oven for Daddy’s little dough-ball to bake in!


Two Paths (5/28/13)

The paths of purification and of wholeness lead in quite different directions, it would seem.

The path of purification has to do with the distillation or separation of clean, light, organized, and pure elements (or states) from polluted, obscure, chaotic, and mixed ones. The moral will is invoked to aid in the cleansing work of segregating the desirable from the disposable, the higher from the lower, the noble from the base. And then, after this work of moral-intellectual discrimination has been carried to a desired point, there tends to be an implicit or conscious identification with the ‘good’ and ‘noble’ elements that have been sifted out and a corresponding rejection of the abundant dross or slag that is left over from the refining process.

The path of wholeness, on the other hand, leads to a rather different response to the given materials. Instead of busying himself with the work of isolating and setting apart the pure or precious bits and throwing away all the rest, the seeker after wholeness attempts to understand and to relate himself, consciously and meaningfully, to the given state of affairs—a state of affairs that is typically messy, to say the least. Instead of striving to alter the given materials in such a way as to satisfy strict moral, rational, aesthetic, or spiritual standards of order and purity, he continually attempts to open himself up directly to the given situation in such a way as to appreciate and to embrace it as it is—to put himself into meaningful accord with that set of circumstances and conditions.

Viewed in this way, these two paths could not be more divergent in their aims. And yet, both propensities appear to exist side by side in my psyche. Some part of me longs for union with the whole—to embrace and to be embraced by that whole, as it is, while another part of me seeks just as energetically to extricate myself from this confused, turbulent, ambiguous, and polycentric condition that seems to characterize the whole. Aren’t we looking here at eros and logos, Dionysus and Apollo—the symbolic-mythological representations of these two very different, but eternally related, paths: empathetic immersion and measured or dispassionate detachment?

So then—as divergent or even as antithetical as these two archetypal factors are—don’t they always appear together, as a syzygy, as ‘twins’ joined at the hip? It would seem, then, that we cannot ‘commit’ to one path without ultimately having to confront the other. Might not our very life careers be understood as a kind of oscillation or volley between these two overpowering dispositions—where we become the tennis ball that is crucial for the actual playing of the game? It is not quite enough, then, to have two gods at either end of the court, waving their rackets back and forth, to no avail, in the thin air. Somebody—or something—needs to get knocked around, or back and forth—between the two ends of the court. And why? Is it simply to keep the two principal players (as well as the other gods who are watching from the stands) amused? Interested? Engaged? Is this yet another way of understanding human sacrifice as a necessary means of appeasing the Gods—where we become the tennis balls that make authentic volleys—authentic play—between the Gods possible?

It was Jung’s profound (and profoundly unsettling) intuition concerning wholeness that enabled him to perceive the incompleteness of Christ as a symbol of the Self. He rightly saw that Christianity—in one-sidedly emphasizing the importance of moral purity and selfless love at the expense (or to the neglect) of the darker and more ‘beastly’ parts of the psychic inheritance—led to a dangerous cultural-historical imbalance that reached a breaking point around the time of the Renaissance. This dangerous one-sidedness occasioned the compensatory reaction of that repressed instinctuality and will-to-power that we have witnessed (or should I say ‘precariously endured’) over the past five hundred some-odd years in the West. The religious symbol for this undeniable eruption of repressed (‘sinful’ and ‘worldly’) instinctuality, sensuality, and cruelty is the ‘rise of the Antichrist.’ In his provocative essay, Answer to Job, Jung explores the psychological factors behind the one-sidedness of the Christ symbol, and he makes the controversial claim that unless and until repressed evil and instinctuality are courageously and consciously re-integrated into the Self (the archetype of wholeness for the human being), authentic progress towards psychological maturity will continue to be hampered and obstructed.

Genuine psychological growth certainly includes moral development and maturation, but apparently it does not stop here! To achieve a high degree of conscious integration or assimilation of the contents of the unconscious, it is simply not enough for one to be a ‘good person.’ ‘Good’ men and women almost invariably fall into the trap of defining or understanding themselves in self-congratulatory contradistinction to ‘bad’ men and women. Thus, the ‘moralized’ ego continues to function as the privileged center of consciousness in such a person, and not the Self, which—to put it bluntly—comprehends and, therefore, transcends the moral opposition between good and evil. From the perspective of the Self—the perspective some of us are seeking as we undergo the trials (and unavoidable errors) of individuation—these opposites are reconciled or harmonized. It is in their reconciliation that the opposites, as opposites, are transcended, rather as chorine and sodium are ‘transcended’ in the chemical bond of NaCl, or salt.


On Time, Eternity, and the Puer (8/8/11)

When I was seventeen I was at a cast party for The Taming of the Shrew (I played Lucentio) and I was a bit sauced. At some point during the party I found myself alone in a bathroom and I was momentarily overwhelmed by an intuition that time is not real, that—at bottom—time is a mental construct or illusion. At that time, I lacked both the psychological acumen and the philosophical learning to make meaningful sense of this stupendous intuition—what, in retrospect, seems to have been an ‘archetypal’ experience of the puer aeternus—but such deficiencies did not prevent the monumental psychic experience from etching itself deeply into my young soul, to be recalled again and again throughout the coming years as a watershed moment in my spiritual autobiography. It was a numinous experience—a genuine and unforgettable encounter with a ‘transcendent’ idea that had floated up like an oceanic bubble—a light-filled bubble that had been released from a fissure in the depths of the unconscious. Somehow, this startling intuition had been able to bore through the insulating membrane or barrier of ego-consciousness behind which I was normally confined—and shielded from such powerful contents.[1] James Hillman writes:

To be involved with these figures (Father Time and Eternal Youth, temporality and eternity) is to be drawn into history. To be identified with either is to be dominated by an archetypal attitude towards history: the puer who transcends history and leaps out of time, and is as such ahistorical, or antihistorical in protest and revolt; or the Senex who is an image of history itself and of the permanent truth revealed through history. (Senex and Puer, p. 35)

Last night before going to sleep I began to read from a journal of mine dating back to 1989. I was reading about the struggles I was having at the time—trying to decide whether or not to stay with M.P. or to move permanently back to Houston. There was a whole lot of moving back and forth between Houston and Colorado (where she lived) at that time. As I read on, I began to feel uncomfortable for reasons that were murky to me. Was this uneasy feeling due, in part, to my ‘seeing through’ my personal account into the ‘split’ core-personality that is still there and who hasn’t essentially changed in all this time? There is something about this split core-personality that strikes me as ineradicable, untranscendable, and foundational to my very make up. I want to call it ‘puer’ because of the way this essential component of my personality has always behaved—and continues to behave. When this side of me is dominant, when I am viewing life from the standpoint of this side, not only is time unreal or illusory, but all forms and all attachments to form (including my attachments to persons, one of whom is my own ego) become shadow-like, insubstantial, little more than masks, shells, ‘roles.’ From this standpoint, there is the eternal recurrence of the same. There is no real development insofar as the eternal essences or archetypes are concerned. These are the colored chips in the kaleidoscope (another major archetypal image or insight that would have enduring impact upon my understanding of ‘final things’) that do not, themselves, undergo change—but which do undergo modifications in their interrelationships with the other chips, which are then ‘optically’ (cognitively) worked up and projected into the infinitely variable composite images we see through the ‘peephole’ of consciousness. The relationships between the (archetypal) elements which, taken together, compose the gestalt do change—like furniture and paintings continually being moved into different arrangements within a room, where the lighting is also being changed—but the elements themselves do not.

The puer, it would seem, naturally and instinctively resists getting ‘caught up’ either in the rushing gallop or syrupy flow of ‘literal’ events/developments in the temporal dimension. It rises above this sticky, enthralling river of narrative immersion, to a place where it can view this tragi-comic-farce from a ‘clean,’ detached, free perspective. But, as we see with Icarus, it winds up paying a ‘high’ price for this privileged freedom, and before long it begins to feel gravity tugging at it, as the approaching solar disk begins to melt its wax and feather wings.

The lonely heights—with the rarely experienced and rarely shared synoptic vistas of the enormous valley below—are as desolate and inhuman as they are alluring (for the views they afford the puer). It is the lure of the psyche—the anima—that tugs painfully at the wings of the spirit-boy, calling him back to the humid, shaded valley with its thick air and sluggish rivers and luxuriant foliage.


[1] It was during this period, incidentally, that my mother’s ‘normal’ ego-consciousness was being dissolved by the archetypal drama she was being absorbed into—as she suffered the first of a series of nervous breakdowns with psychotic episodes.



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.



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.