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.

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.

The Little People (2/17/14)

Don’t oppose the world! See through it. We need charters, not martyrs. Of course, we must possess monstrous courage to see through the world, since this is tantamount to seeing through ourselves—or, at least through our personal egos, which are pumped up by the very desires that will be deflated and punctured in the supremely daring act of seeing through them.

To state it as clearly as possible: the world is not the problem. It is our situation vis-à-vis that world that is decisive. And what is that situation—typically?

When we are born it is as if we are delivered into a transparent coffin that has a small hole in its side. At first, the coffin that houses us is roomy and not at all cramped, so we are not even tempted to slither out of the hole in the side of our coffin. We can see that everyone else is similarly housed within their own sarcophagus, so nothing seems amiss. As we consume the fatty, sugar-filled foods that are fed to us through our hole in copious quantities by our loving parents, teachers, pastors and political leaders we grow bigger and fatter like the grown-ups around us—filling up our coffins in the process, and leaving no play-room inside our cramped little cages. Alas, the option of slithering through the small aperture has long-since lapsed. As it would happen, we are able to use that small hole for the purpose of mating with other coffin-dwellers. We pass our generative organ through the ‘escape hole’ and into that of our partner. This exciting experience is the closest approximation to the freedom and happiness (of actual release from the coffin) that most of will ever know. In the course of time, other little wanted or not-so-wanted coffin-dwellers will come of these pleasurable couplings, making the general cemetery more and more cramped and full.

As coffin-dwellers, the larger we grow, the more acutely we feel our confinement as our fatty flesh presses against the coffin walls. This discomfort is responded to in a variety of ways by different persons. A great number of persons simply learn how to moderate their consumption of food so that the pressure of flesh against the wall is kept under control. A smaller number of persons—those who simply cannot control their gluttonous cravings—burst through the walls of their own coffins and displace the residents of those adjacent plots, taking up more and more of the cemetery in the process. A very tiny minority, however, learns that if the consumption of normal fare is terminated altogether—and only pure water is drunk—something miraculous happens. They begin to shrink. Eventually they are able to slither through the ‘glory hole’ that has always been there—but which has hitherto been used only for food intake, coupling, and voiding one’s bowels.

As the shrunken little non-consumer slithers through the stinky little hole (through which, as it turns out, he first entered the coffin) he drops to a soft bed of green turf below the rows and rows of elevated coffins. There he discovers an entire, thriving community of other ‘little people’ like himself who welcome and embrace him—as they congratulate him for having learned the secret of liberation from the coffin-crammed cemetery.

Mazes, Corkscrews, Inversions, and Wavelengths (2/14)

What if the following proved, on the whole, to be a true account of our ‘existential predicament’?

To be born of woman is to be thrust into a labyrinth with strangers who pretend to know their way around (and sometimes out of) the maze.  The last thing we want to do is to complacently adapt ourselves to the terms and conditions of the enthralling maze and permanently settle down there.  Those who find the broad, densely populated corridors of the labyrinth satisfactory for their happiness are in greater peril, spiritually, than those who ultimately find existence there disappointing, alien, and untrustworthy.  As it turns out, these ‘malcontents’ will be far better motivated, psychologically, to undertake a search for an exit.  It should be noted, however, that while discontent may be necessary, it is scarcely sufficient for liberation.  Malcontents who strive to deny that the maze is in fact an endless maze; or who attempt to translate or transform this purgatory into a material heaven; or who go to war against everyone and everything that is opposed to their ideals—such persons will never find the secret exit door that leads out of the labyrinth.

A portion of those who are discontented with maze confinement will learn that desire for personal success or fulfillment within the maze is the magnetic force binding them there.  Only these candidates stand a chance of attaining true liberation.  They learn that it is only by gradually relinquishing all desires and dissolving all sticky personal attachments to maze phenomena and to other maze inmates that the soul places itself in a position to extricate itself from its subtle mental manacles.

The initial phase of this fateful realization about the binding power of maze-desire is experienced as a radical inversion of values.  One’s ‘world’ is being turned upside-down or inside-out.  Thus, a process known as the ‘Great Reversal’ commences.  Formerly, the soul was being plunged, like a corkscrew, deeper and deeper into the labyrinthine tunnels and channels of the world—and now this immersion process screeches to a halt.  The spiral corkscrew reverses direction and the unscrewing commences—not without much initial pain and disorientation.

But after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, the soul gradually acclimates itself to this reversed direction and there is a mounting sense of relief.  It is understood that this reversal is, at bottom, the burning away of sulfurous desire and the serene untying of those knotty attachments that formerly bound one to one’s familiars, to one’s enemies, to one’s labyrinth-plans and projections.  As one after another desire and attachment is dissolved within the soul, there is a more and more complete experience of the peace and the sense of inner freedom that are unwavering beyond the outer walls of the labyrinth.

*****

The image of the labyrinth—with its ramified array of corridors or discrete passageways—suggests a number of things respecting consciousness.  Since the labyrinth image is obviously presented in a metaphorical sense, consciousness is clearly what we are concerned with here.  Perhaps the most obvious suggestion is that of differentiation, since each individual passage or path is set apart from all other paths within the labyrinth by a dividing wall.  We can imagine, then, two rather different ways of exiting from the maze.  The obvious method, of course, would be to locate a doorway or portal somewhere along the outermost perimeter of the maze and depart into a (presumably) free space.

The other, less obvious, way is to bring about a lowering or demolition of all the maze walls, themselves—so that a vast open space is thereby revealed.  I used the word ‘revealed’ rather than ‘created’ since the actual space was already there to begin with—only now, with the removal of the partitioning maze-walls, that space is restored to a condition of undifferentiated unity.  It was there before the complicated and implicating maze was superimposed.

This second way of understanding our liberation from imprisonment within the maze of mundane allurements and attachments—those wall-erecting forces (between one self-interested ego and another, or between one individuating person and another) that are native to the human personality, as such, may be the better of the two options.  Instead of fleeing—in some concrete manner—our given situation (our existential situation, if you like), we are invited to undergo a kind of inner transformation.  The question, or challenge, is: How can we remain in the labyrinth without being limited in any way by the ‘walls’ of the maze?  Must we aggressively embark upon some kind of wall-demolishing campaign that systematically reduces the partitioning, differentiating structures to rubble?  I have my doubts and my suspicions about such a ‘heroic’ or ‘Herculean’ approach.  Such an approach strikes my intuition as misguidedly muscular—lots of brawn and precious little brains.

What if it were somehow possible not only to see through these dividing, differentiating walls, but—eventually—to pass through them, as well?

It is my intuitive hunch that the answer to our riddle lies in the mystery-cloaked ‘law of vibration.’  I have, on occasion, experienced what I might figuratively describe as a frequency-shift in my consciousness.  What happens during this shift in vibratory frequency is quite remarkable.  It involves a jump, as it were, not just from ‘bass’ to ‘treble’—or from a very low C-note to a very high one—but a leap from a kind of audible sound to inaudible silence.

How, it will be asked, does all of this pertain to labyrinths and maze-walls?  Well, what I am learning is that there is a necessary connection between the partitioning maze-walls, on the one hand, and the vibratory frequency of ordinary human ego-consciousness, on the other.  When this vibration is raised (just a few ‘octaves’) to an ultrasonic silence, the ego-generating note is temporarily muted and “the walls come a-tumblin’ down.”  In that silence, the distinctively individual, insulating sheaths that constitute ego-consciousness are briefly shed.  The principium individuationis has been momentarily suspended and there is the restorative sense of homecoming to the source of consciousness itself.  The potent, immediate reality of this inner stillness and desirelessness acts, eventually, as an effective antidote against the gravitational pull of mundane and ego-related allurements, which cannot help but pale in comparison.

Flowing Faucets and Piping Flutes (7/1/10—Asunción)

It is not difficult to form a conception of ourselves as little faucets that are opened up (with our eyes) in the morning and turned off (with the television set in our bedrooms) at night.  Throughout the waking day, the ‘water’ that pours or trickles through us is essentially the same water pouring and trickling through the billions of other human faucets around the globe.  But the distinctive plumbing concealed within the walls and below the ground (near the water main from which our allotment gushes or trickles) lends a peculiar taste, color, and odor to the water that comes out of us.  Or, because of crimps and constrictions in the pipes, the water may be blocked or focused into a thin but powerful stream.  If the blockage at the end of or behind our faucet is severe, the flow may diminish and eventually die out altogether, or it may cause pressure to the bursting point.

Another, closely related metaphor is the flute.  The quality of the music produced by the wind passing through the flute is beautiful or discordant, loud or faint, shrill or warmly resonant, depending on the size and quality of the flute, the condition of the holes or stops, and the artful management of the airstream.

Habit and early instruction, along with the fortunes and flaws with which we are born, are the great shapers and sustainers of our faucets and flutes.  Much, if not most, of the flow of our faucets and the sound of our music is irrevocably established within the first two decades of our lives.  It is very difficult, and therefore rare, for us to significantly increase the volume or to artfully modify the flow pattern of that which trickles or pours from our faucets and flutes.  Thus, it is always easier to adapt to the way things are—to “go” with the flow.  But then we have even less control over the hidden plumbing behind and beneath us where so many coloring confluences, strange aromas, and other additives are mixed into what pours or trickles out of us.

 

Capillaries, Catacombs, and Cisterns (6/9/16)

It starts with the plunge of a spade – or perhaps even with one’s bared fingers clawing at the earth below the feet. The daylit world above-ground – along with the ties that bind us to that world – have mysteriously begun to lose much of their former appeal. Thus, the initial impulse to dig underground may come from a desire to escape or hide from duties, persons, and even pleasures that no longer “call” us or engage our sincere interest.

But not all those who begin this descent are mere escapists or skittish shunners of the surface dayworld. Some delvers, after tunneling down to a certain extent, begin to feel the irresistible “pull of the depths.” At the beginning, of course, all they encounter is darkness, dirt, and the occasional boulder. Their work is solitary, unwitnessed, and unappreciated. If such diggers and tunnelers did not feel the mysterious, alluring pull of the depths, they would soon give up in despair, would they not? Only the promise of discovering an answer or remedy to the peculiar hunger within their soul – a hunger that has remained unsatisfied above ground – is capable of inspiring the seekers to keep on digging. They do not realize it in the beginning, but these “possessed” or “inspired” delvers are actually creating capillaries and veins through which the waters of life will eventually flow – thus animating a new or resurrected “body of experience” yet to be fully born.

Let us now form a picture in our minds of the isolated, determined delver. Deeper and ever deeper below the surface-world – to which, from time to time, he is obliged to return for the love of familiar faces and to earn his daily bread – he tunnels his way. Though his loneliness frequently overwhelms him, his visits to the surface only leave him hungering for a return to the depths after a short time. Then, one day, while doggedly digging into the moist earth and stone below him in his capillary, he pauses to recover his breath. Suddenly, he hears the faintest “clang, clang, clang” penetrating through the tunnel wall beside him. What on earth – or rather, under earth – could that be? Orienting himself in the direction of the muted clanging, he directs his pickax and his shovel toward the feeble sound. As he makes his way slowly through the lateral tunnel he’s creating, the sound grows louder and more distinct. He hears the clangs increasing in frequency and notices that his own efforts have also intensified. His pulse is racing.

What words can adequately convey the astonishment and joy experienced by the two lonely delvers when the last separating layer of earth and stone have collapsed between their final shovel thrusts! How can this be! Another – just like me – was compelled, just as I was, to answer the call of these lonely depths which are suddenly, miraculously, not so lonely anymore! As the two beheld one another, their respective feelings of unearthly strangeness fell away from their souls like useless porcupine quills – and, with them, a leaden weight, thus making their hearts incalculably lighter and clearer. After exchanging their ecstatic salutations, grimy handshakes, and muddy embraces – and expressing their wonderment at encountering one another at such an un-peopled depth – the second delver said “Hang on to your helmet while I tell you this! Right before I began digging my way to you, I heard another – even fainter – clang coming from the opposite direction. Let’s both hurriedly pass through the tunnel I’ve just dug and jointly work our way to that other digger!”

Now I must merely mention, but not dwell upon, the elaborate series of underground events that led to the linking up, first, of three delvers, then four, then ten, and so on, until it became necessary to carve out an enlarged congregation space—like a hidden catacomb, beneath a bustling, teeming ‘Rome’ above on the surface. What marvelous stories were shared and created in this subterranean congress of like-minded, kindred spirits – all of whom began in loneliness and isolation, only to dig their way down into the richest and most nourishing bonds of community.

Over the course of time the catacomb expanded into a spacious underground cavern. Before long, the waters of life began to trickle and, later, to pour into the cavern that housed and maintained the creative delvers who had cleared this underground space. Because of the water and because of the enlarged tunnels and shafts leading upwards, it was now possible for large numbers of surface-dwellers to make occasional day trips to what had now become a kind of cistern. Such descents became increasingly popular during times of drought upon the surface. At some point, a commercial operation began to pump the cistern’s precious water supply up to the surface. For awhile, an oasis was sustained in the desert above-ground – but eventually the light of common day evaporated the last bit of moisture that had been pumped up from the now empty cistern. It had been spread too broadly among those who could only consume, but not “divine,” the waters of life. Eventually, the sheer weight of the populous city that grew around the oasis collapsed the cavern below, leaving no record of its existence. Many centuries passed. Stories still circulated about an oasis that had long since dried up. Some believed in the stories but many more regarded the fabled oasis is no more than a mirage imagined by thirsty travelers in the vast desert that surrounded the planetary orb.

Nestled deep inside the core of this orb there was a dreaming deity. And in this motionless core the solitary God dreamed of children – companions and diversions from his solitude. And this dream radiated outwards from the still, solitary center – out into the spinning, ever-changing, noisy surface, where a few of the creatures registered a mysterious pull. Then, as if by some inexplicable but compelling instinct, a nomad in the desert formed his hands into the shape of little spades. Tentatively but determinedly, he started to claw at the baked earth until, by and by, he was able slowly to descend into the cool, unlit tunnel he had begun to carve out for himself.

A Man-ner of Fish (12/15)

For me, earnest thinking may be likened to conjuring spirits or fishing for leviathans from the deep. When commencing to think or write, only rarely do I already have a ‘fish’ on the line, unless it’s a shiny minnow meant to attract the attention of more massive or intriguing marine creatures. Here I have pointed to the difference between imaginative/intuitive thinking and discursive/analytical thinking. To be sure, both have their dignified place in the vast and intricate economy of multi-tiered cerebrations—but I have long felt a deeper affinity for the former speculative-imaginative sort.

Unlike that ‘fisher of men’ from the last aeon, I am a ‘man-ner of fish.’ ‘Fish,’ in this instance, stands (or swims?) for those silver-finned, darting and diving, seminal ideas which inwardly yearn to become part of man’s ‘gray matter.’ Thus, I (and my ‘ancient mariner’ kin) venture out upon moonlit seas, beneath which our tutelary spirits glide and drift and surge—devouring and being devoured—all of us alike in that respect. These are the fish that dream of ‘becoming man’—and it is the vocation and privilege of fisher-men to lure these voluntary sacrifices to shore for others to carve up and portion out as they deem fit. Thus, in the truest sense, it is our peculiar destiny to remain ‘middle-men’ or ‘go-betweens’—bawds, if you like—and I don’t mind admitting that there is something more than a little ‘fishy’ about such work…and such workers. And yet, as fishy as it smells to those who have never been pulled out to sea by a fierce undertow, this lonesome-malodorous vocation may very well prove more honest and above board than all dry and fragrant forms of work.