The Spiritual, Moral/Political, and Judicious/Pedagogical Use of Words (8/21/12)

How is it that I am able to justify placing the spiritual life—as I have slowly come to understand it—on a higher rung of importance than the life dedicated primarily to moral and political justice, as Hedges and Chomsky—who are admirable men—do? It is because I have learned that the practice of moral and political justice in my own life—the only life I have a measure of direct influence over—is overshadowed and subsumed by my practice of the spiritual, or contemplative life. What this means is that, so far as I can see, the best way I can contribute to moral and political justice in my social and political surroundings is to strive to maintain a relatively disinterested, poised state of spiritual centeredness. As long as I am centered and balanced in this way, I am not compelled by powerful anger, resentment, desire, fear, and other emotions that naturally prompt humans to go to war ‘for’ this and ‘against’ that—to take sides in some kind of struggle between an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ There will, it seems, always be contending groups and embattled individual egos in the world of ordinary human affairs and the moment we take one side we enter into a potentially hostile dynamic with the other. The various pairs of opposites that appear to be composed of warring or antagonistic factions are essentially (and un-apparently or invisibly) gapless continua, not split dualisms. But in order to see—and to genuinely experience—this underlying unity beneath the apparent strife we must manage somehow to mentally transcend the dualistic or oppositional paradigm—as Arjuna does, under Krishna’s wise supervision, in the Bhagavad Gita. Of course, the simple Christian utterance which is so difficult to practice—namely, ‘Love your enemy’—is a kind of mantra, the intended purpose of which is to break the oppositional, ‘us versus them,’ mode of seeing and feeling. Alas, this is the normal mode of seeing and feeling among human beings. Consequently, the teachings of Christ and the Buddha are widely, though often privately, regarded by humans as ‘insanely’ unrealistic, and even dangerously deluded in the sort of world that we actually inhabit (one that is full of hypocritical Christians and lip-service Buddhists), while from the transcendental, centered standpoint, dogs—or even dogs and cats together in the same room—often provide a better example of how to get on in the world than most human animals can manage.

Since I am fully aware that I cannot change other persons’ minds and hearts simply by preaching to them or by apprising them of their blindness and their unacknowledged (or unconsciously projected) villainy, I am wary of moral crusades and political revolutions that aim to purge society and to right the wrongs of the unjust. Human beings simply don’t change inwardly (which is the only kind of change that matters) unless and until they are truly ready. This readiness depends on a number of factors—a capacity for honest reflection being perhaps the most important of these—but it cannot be forced or compelled from without. Unfortunately, another key ingredient to the getting of wisdom appears to be deep suffering—and no good-hearted person prays that such suffering will torment even those persons we don’t like or care for. And yet, we may have to accept the fact that their arrogant ignorance and selfishness will not likely be overcome by mere reason and reflection alone—but will need to be beaten out of them in the school of hard knocks.

It is for this reason that I have gradually come to regard preaching and sermonizing as a comparatively crude way of contributing to the social harmony, political justice, and moral goodness of our surroundings. I have found that when I am able to reflect deeply, temper my own passions, and refrain from ‘us versus them’ thinking, I am in the best position to ‘teach without using words,’ as the old Taoists used to say. And yet, because I feel very much at home with words, it’s not likely that I will ‘shut up’ anytime soon. Perhaps, instead of attempting to ‘teach without using words,’ I will just have to settle for ‘writing between the lines.’


Climbing Out and Dusting Off (5/14/18)

I picture contemporary (Western) humanity as buried under the rubble produced by the general collapse of the once defiantly anthropomorphic edifice of our two-legged culture. One strong leg was provided by our Greco-Roman heritage; the other, by Judeo-Christianity. And while it is certainly true that many uneducated or half-educated persons are able to sense this toppled, reduced state of affairs for what it in fact is (despite the misleading technological and socio-political indicators of net or unmitigated progress), only those who have managed, almost miraculously, to dig themselves from out of the ubiquitous rubble and recover a clear vision of how things were before the collapse are truly in a position to assess the scale of the damage, loss, and destruction.

Perhaps the most important question an intelligent and courageous young person might ask today is, “Do I want to spend the rest of my life adapting and catering to this malignant, inherited condition – a half-life amidst the decomposing limbs and organs of Western culture – or do I want to dedicate my best energies to climbing out of this graveyard-infirmary and explore realistic ways of starting over – of rebuilding on new ground?”

The insidious, all-pervasive “system” into which we have been born has been increasingly tailored for the purpose of exploiting our culturally bankrupt and collapsed condition – not to address and/or remedy our condition, for that requires tremendous courage, imagination, and compassion, as opposed to greed, craftiness, and deceitfulness, which will always be in greater supply and will always be more materially rewarded. Contemporary education, consumerism, entertainment, and mass politics all work hand-in-hand, first to cripple minds and imaginations, and then to keep them permanently distracted. Crippled minds and souls that are kept distracted, medicated, and restlessly hankering after addictive sensations/substances are easily kept marginalized, isolated, and depoliticized. Those of us who would climb out of the rubble must first trust our suspicion that the complex system and its conscripted servants (which usually includes our parents, our teachers and religious leaders, and virtually everyone we know who is not regarded as a crank or a lunatic) are bent on blowing out our flickering flame of rebellion and dissent. Only a few young and spirited souls possess the audacity to solitarily defy this colossal chorus of energetic corrupters who use every trick in the book to scare or tempt or drug us into adapting and resigning ourselves to a comfortable life in the shallows, the shadows, the flattened and frenetic, frothy and frivolous, wasteland that the diabolical system is set up to mentally rule and materially exploit.

What crushing disappointments and unappeasable loneliness await such audacious, promising, self-trusting souls! How unlikely it is that they will somehow manage to escape maiming or irreparable damage to their souls as they struggle, alone, to extricate themselves from the sticky web of conditioning and indoctrination that has perversely been sold to us (often by sincerely well-meaning but naïve indoctrinators) as crucial to our welfare – as a kind of privilege! How many will be able to withstand this overwhelming crisis of having the “world” turned inside out? For there is no better description of what the spirited, self-trusting solitary must endure as he slowly claws his way out from under the rubble of dying and dead forms. What an uncanny coupling of exultation and remorse, triumph and despair, such souls must endure as they survey the sinister but heart-breaking scene from which they have succeeded, if only momentarily, to step back – to view from the outside!

Even if our human, all too human attachments and loyalties to certain beloved conscripts, inmates—and perhaps even a few prison guards and officials—eventually lure us back down below, these ecstatic-climactic moments of liberation can never be fully erased from our memory, even if we sometimes wish we could forget what we struggled so doggedly to see with our own eyes. I speak as one who has known such revelatory moments and I still cannot say with absolute self-assurance whether I am blessed or cursed to have been granted such glimpses from beyond the perimeter. Nothing remains the same after such experiences. All our darkest suspicions have been confirmed and an invisible veil or membrane forms between us and all of those who know and suspect nothing of these things. The veil or membrane is porous and permeable, so much pain and a little (black?) light can pass across the border when a courageous candidate approaches and presents his hard-won passport.

On the Question of Solitude and Letting Things Be (4/11/12)

After deriving very little satisfaction from the books I have recently been reading, I picked back up with Jung’s Psychological Types yesterday—a text I can always rely upon to re-excite my keen interest. I was reading from the Definitions (of his key terms) and I was once again powerfully impressed by the subtlety and scope of Jung’s mind.

In paragraph 758 he writes:

As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation.

The passage caught my attention because recently I have wondered if my ‘individual’ ideas and my unusual way of life have not succeeded in isolating me to some extent from my fellows. It is true, though—and certainly worth mentioning—that I feel much less antagonistic towards ‘the herd’ or the collective than I used to. I may not yet have attained the Christ-like attitude that can say, in sincerest compassion, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,’ but I am slowly beginning to move in that direction.

My dear friend C— often likes to call attention to the outward resemblance between our quiet, solitary, and retreating personal lives—but I am not altogether comfortable with the comparison. Since I have slowly and reluctantly become convinced that the ideas I’m working with can be of some benefit to a few others besides myself, I will not remain forever content to keep them hidden, along with myself, away from the world. C— is not inwardly moved by such concerns and pressures, so far as I can see, so, for her, it is a somewhat simpler matter to retreat into anonymity. I love my solitude as much as any monk out there, but I don’t want to be so tyrannically governed by this love that I avoid the world altogether and miss out on opportunities to be of some service to those who stand to benefit in any way from my modest reflections and observations.

Of course, ‘moving out of my individual isolation’ can certainly be understood to mean something other than attending convivial social events. Interestingly, I find many of these ardent socializers and heavy investors in their personal relationships to be mentally, culturally, and emotionally isolated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is precisely this interior poverty and isolation that often drives such persons outwards into superficial or merely sentimental relationships with other inwardly blinkered and impoverished souls. I must confess that the company of my own thoughts or the impressions from a good book provide more than adequate protection against the needy isolation that many are consigned to because of their lack of inner/outer exploration.

Therefore, it is not for lack of trying that my social and interpersonal dealings have withered almost to a stalk. Although I often find ostensibly serious conversations quite superficial and tepid, I persist in my attempts to deepen and extend my connections with others. Is it solely my fault if they don’t show more enthusiasm and interest in the ideas and themes that supply my life with meaning and with spiritual passion? Throwing aside such edifying and transformative passions for the sake of campfire conviviality and glutinous ties of schmaltzy affection is no longer a viable option for me. I’m afraid that my unpopular passions and compelling interests are constitutional and ineradicable, and I should not—and dare not—suppress or conceal them. If these passionate interests have not inspired others in my midst to seek my company for the sake of lively dialectics—or for the spark that may kindle a kindred fire—I don’t know what more I can do. I am becoming less and less inclined to proselytize as I get older—less and less eager to seek or inspire ‘converts’ to the contemplative life.

A Note on Ambition: Moral Heroes and Moral Zeroes (6/22-23/12)

These past few weeks I have not been as focused or as disciplined as I was prior to this passive patch I seem to have entered. This dearth of productivity (especially with respect to meaty journal entries) weighs noticeably upon my conscience, I must confess. I suppose I would be lying if I were to deny that ambition, of a sort, plays a part in my personal psychology—and when I am not being productive or creative I soon feel as if I’m just taking up space on an already overcrowded planet. Being human would be an unendurably ‘stale and unprofitable’ affair, indeed, if it were not for those precious phases of focused, creative writing that I am fortunate to experience.

Of course, when I am ‘graced’ with these creative phases, they are their own sufficient reward. Because the intense awakening of my ‘higher’ faculties and my creative potentials bring such substantial satisfaction, I care not about ambition while the ‘juices are flowing.’ It is only after the source-springs of inspiration appear to have mysteriously dried up—only then do I fall prey to such ‘pedestrian’ thoughts and concerns. It would appear, then, that these slightly awkward and uncomfortable musings about the value and importance of my writings for others kick into gear only when I find myself stuck with nothing of vital importance to express. Perhaps this is as it should be. The very idea of writing about spiritual and psychological matters so that my personal ambitions may be advanced is morally objectionable to me—on a par with quack therapists who profit materially by exploiting confused and ailing patients without ever really being able to resolve their psychological problems or to enlighten them about their true sources.

I want to be careful here. I want to try to avoid hiding under the skirts of my moral indignation, for this is always an easy way to bring a quick and tidy end to a deeper investigation of the (usually) complex matters at hand. If I am to be quite honest, I must admit that my own moral indignation, when it valiantly sallies forth, almost always functions in this way—namely, as a (psychologically suspect) stratagem for shutting down an otherwise promising investigation into gnarled, twisted, and murky psychological factors. Either I become uncomfortable with the unflattering secrets I am likely to unearth there, or the following of such poorly marked trails simply requires more energy and effort than I am willing, at that moment, to expend. At any event, I have come to believe that perhaps most moral judgments and reactions—my own and those of others—boil down to this laziness and fear (of discovering uncomfortable truths) that I notice in myself. Of course, I am not recommending (for myself or for others) the jettisoning of moral judgment altogether. I’m only saying that—from a more rigorous standard of ethical values—it is not advisable to stop there. We might profitably think of our moral judgments and reactions as the frontier or boundary line beyond which we are not easily able to extend our thinking, our feeling, our limited light. Looked at differently, these boundary lines become the proper starting point for genuine psychological, as distinct from merely moral, understanding.

When I pause here to reflect, I have to say that it is precisely because of this commonly encountered abuse of moral judgments and posturing (as a means of warding off any further exploration of the countless possible ‘trails’ that open up before us every day) that I become suspicious the moment I am confronted by strong moral pronouncements and proud moral convictions—whether from others or within myself. From the standpoint of depth psychology, such decisive, ‘cauterizing’ moral judgments amount to ‘closing the case’ and refusing to consider any more evidence.

All this simply confirms our old suspicion that morality and psychology are often quite antagonistic rivals when it comes to interpreting human behavior, motivation, and so forth. The moralist—apparently—clings to the reassuring belief that his moral judgments and interpretations are not merely adequate responses to psychological phenomena—but inherently preferable to a psychological reading. And why does the moralist need to believe such a thing? Isn’t it because—dimly sensing his own limitations of will, patience, understanding, compassion, and self-control—he fears that without raising the rampart of moral defiance, ‘chaos will come again’ and swallow him up? So, why can’t the moralist simply admit this? Why can’t he admit that he resorts to moral judgment as a means of protection against certain drives, against disquieting bits of knowledge, against efforts, against uncertainties, etc., that he is simply not up to dealing with? The simple answer, of course, is ‘his pride stands in the way.’ To be fair, few persons relish the experience of being out of their depth, so it shouldn’t strain the imagination for us to grasp why the moralist leans so habitually upon his moral judgments, always striving to strengthen them and patch them up as soon as they start to become porous—allowing ‘psychology’ to leak through.

The intrepid psychologist who imaginatively presses past these moral prohibitions and boundaries within himself in order to probe more deeply into the complex and unlit roots of his own psychic life will not begrudge the more numerous ‘moral’ men and women these protective walls that shield them from ‘knowledge of (their own) good and evil—or good versus evil.’ Nor will he deride their pride in what frankly amounts to their limitations, as distinct from their (more dangerous) potentials. He will let sleeping dogs lie, as the old saying goes.

A conventionally moral life—at least where exceptionally ‘spirited’ human beings are under consideration—necessarily involves significant self-sacrifice, effective mastery over unruly drives and riotous inclinations, as well as a considerable amount of cognitive dissonance, due to the strained and occasionally preposterous interpretations of his experience that he is limited to when denied the benefits conferred by true psychological understanding, which is always subtler, more complex and more comprehensive in nature. On these grounds, alone, the life of our little moral hero can scarcely be regarded as an enviably untroubled life. He is up against real dynamisms, conundrums, and conflicting currents within himself each day as he struggles to sail a straight course through turbulent waters and maelstroms. Such efforts are not to be scoffed at. Even if these moral ‘heroes’ enjoy the support of an admiring public (the encouraging and vitalizing effects of which should never be underestimated, where the heroic ego is under consideration!), their valiant efforts to keep their ‘white hats’ unshakably fastened upon their proud heads are worthy of our respect. At least—like an ambitious or competitive athlete—he really tries his level best to be ‘good’ and to avoid being ‘bad.’ He knows first-hand the torments of a troubled conscience when he detects baseness or mediocrity, villainy or slavishness, within himself. His efforts to vanquish or to eradicate these dark, shadowy, shameful elements of his human, all-too-human nature may be doomed from the start—but the mere fact that he struggles probably sets him apart from those, probably a majority, who struggle no more than they absolutely have to.

Thus, our moral hero is situated, let us say, somewhere between the many, on the one side, and the genuine (and I don’t mean professional) psychologists, on the other. The genuine psychologists have managed, through their very different (and by no means popularly supported!) efforts, to move somewhat beyond the arena of moral heroics into the less dramatic, less ‘humanistic’ arena of psychological enquiry. Moral heroics have no recognized place in this very different realm of experience and investigation. To enter this realm one must have first loosened one’s mental ties and attachments to the other one. ‘Can’t serve two masters,’ and all that. Game change. Heroics of a sort may be involved in the new realm but they are heroics of a radically different stripe—since they have, as it were, no witnessing audience, no leaping cheerleaders, and little public fanfare.

So, to return to the point from which I started this essay: ambition makes no sense where there are no witnesses to behold and to envy one’s success. To the extent that the focus of my own work has moved beyond the exclusively human (and therefore predominantly moral-political) realm of concerns, I have begun to opt out of that game. My ‘ambition’ is simply a vestige from that earlier phase—the pre-psychological phase—of my unfoldment. Perhaps, like the little spurs at the tail end of certain snakes, where legs used to be in the evolutionary past, such vestiges are never completely ‘transcended’ or dispensed with—however fond we may be of ‘pure’ and ‘unalloyed’ fidelity to our new fields of experience. It is nevertheless worth repeating: I seem to be susceptible to such concerns only during these interim phases when the ‘muse’ is mum. When she sings in me I am sufficiently fulfilled so that I crave no beholding witnesses or approving supporters. Such solitariness appears to be the price one must pay in order to glimpse—and only fleetingly—secrets that are denied even to the most muscular of moralists. And why are they denied to them? Precisely because the moralist—as such, and due to the very nature of his divisive-dualistic campaign wherein he plants himself firmly at one end of a vast polarity—refuses to embrace and to integrate all that ‘shadow’ at the far end of his ‘pole’ of Goodness. He turns his back—and, in some cases, the tip of his righteous sword—upon those very contents, states, and perspectives that are prima materia for the psychologist.

No wonder, then, that I have long had ‘ticklish’ relations with fervently ‘good’ (or ‘good-identified’) persons. Persons who live in a state of moral oblivion or obtuseness fail to grasp what I’m ‘up to.’ Typically, they sense nothing amiss (or threatening) about me. But this is precisely because they know or choose to know little of me behind my genial ‘mask.’ Morally heroic persons, on the other hand, have every reason to be unnerved by me when, as an occasional psychologist writing from beyond their ‘good and evil,’ I no doubt come across like the lapping waves of the sea against their carefully sculpted sand castles on the shore.

There is a type of ambition that is rather more innocuous and forgivable than the cutthroat, vaunting variety that usually leads to trouble of some sort or another. We observe this benign form of ambition in children who seek the praise of their parents by making high marks at school and in adults who strive in a polite, inoffensive manner to win the respect of their peers through charitable deeds. In such striving the line between personal egotism and the social/familial instincts become blurred. As long as his striving for excellence and for success is not directly in conflict with the well-being of the community or social order, a man’s ambition is not only excused—it is praised and encouraged, since his virtues and contributions become part of the community treasure chest, as it were. As long as the benignly ambitious man continues to make valuable contributions that can be put to good use by his society, the expansion of his personal power and importance will be tolerated. But as soon as he behaves in such a way—or introduces ideas—that his society regards with disapproval or with cold indifference, the mutually satisfying and mutually beneficial love affair hits a speed bump, if not a brick wall.

As long as a person is content, therefore, to remain a faithful servant to the collective will and interest, he will be warmly embraced and handsomely rewarded by his society. The moment, however, that he bends his chief efforts to genuinely individual[1] problems and concerns, he is more likely to come under suspicion by the very society that honored and celebrated him while his best energies and virtues were earmarked for that society—or at least by those within that society whose consciousness is wholly collective and lacking in any consciously differentiated individuality. If the will or fundamental attitude of the collective—any collective—could be reduced to a simple statement, it would be ‘Either you are with us or you are of no use to us.’

Lip service is paid in this country to the idea or theory of the sanctity of the individual, but in practice, it is almost always the will of some group or another that carries the day. This de facto ‘tyranny’ of the group over the individual springs not so much from a cruelly imposed will-to power (although mob-power and group-arrogance are certainly real forces which must be taken into account) as from the inertia of the group and its extremely limited ability of its leaders to cope with the actual subtleties and complexities of human life, the hallmark of individual consciousness.

Groups vary in size and strength—and the greater their size and strength, the greater the leveling and simplifying power of the group will. It is far more difficult to stop or to change the direction of a moving herd than it is for a single individual to stop and/or redirect his own steps. In order for a single individual to change the powerful but blind will of a mob, he must not only be extraordinarily persuasive, but there must also be a latent willingness within the soul of the mob to listen to the exceptional orator. An example was provided by the great willingness on the part of Soviet society to listen to Gorbachev when the time came for dramatic reforms. If the individual orator is insufficiently persuasive, he will be unable to rouse that hidden seed of willingness and the status quo will prevail. Or, if that potential for redirection is not present, the blandishments and cajoleries of even the most impressive orators will fail to elicit any notable response from the intractable crowd. Only when these two come together—extraordinary persuasiveness on the part of the inspired leader or spokesman and a fundamental, if latent, readiness for change, on the part of the group—for a new direction, a new myth, a new vision—only then will the ground shift. The group may be as small as a board of directors for corporation or as large as the amassed members of a culture or a shared language.


[1] Jung is careful to make a noteworthy distinction between individuation and mere individual-ism:

Individuation is always to some extent opposed to collective norms, since it means separation and differentiation from the general and a building up of the particular—not a particularity that is sought out, but one that is already ingrained in the psychic constitution. The opposition to the collective norm, however, is only apparent, since closer examination shows that the individual standpoint is not antagonistic to it, but only differently oriented. The individual way can never be directly opposed to the collective norm, because the opposite of the collective norm could only be another, but contrary, norm. But the individual way can, by definition, never be a norm. A norm is the product of the totality of individual ways, and its justification and beneficial effect are contingent upon the existence of individual ways that need from time to time to orient to a norm. A norm serves no purpose when it possesses absolute validity. A real conflict with the collective norm arises only when an individual way is raised to a norm, which is the actual aim of extreme individualism. Naturally, this aim is pathological and inimical to life. It has, accordingly, nothing to do with individuation, which, though it may strike out on an individual bypath, precisely on that account needs the norm for its orientation to society and for the vitally necessary relationship of the individual to society. Individuation, therefore, leads to a natural esteem for the collective norm, but if the orientation is exclusively collective the norm becomes increasingly superfluous and morality goes to pieces. The more a man’s life is shaped by the collective norm, the greater is his individual immorality. (C.G. Jung; CW, vol. 6, par. 761)

More on the Spirit and Soul as Bases of the Coniunctio (8/6/11)

Have I become too hard on humans—my own human side, as well?

Sometimes—this morning, for instance, when I woke up in my typically somber and mildly fretful mood—I view my human side as a brow-beaten, neglected and abused dog. It is loyal to its daimon master, suffering all manner of privations on its behalf. But what if these austerities, this forced seclusion in a state of emotional-erotic ‘purdah,’ could be relaxed a bit—allowing this starved and shivering little mutt to grow into a mature and respectable man—to ‘come into his own’?

It stands to reason that there will be more sadness, regret, and frustration in my life than perhaps needs to be there, so long as this condition persists—this power arrangement where the daimonic taskmaster restricts the opportunities for ordinary human happiness for the anxious ‘host’ he now exploits and dominates. And it seems ridiculous to suppose that the ‘human, all-too-human’ sadness and pain experienced under this rather draconian ‘regime’ do not find their un-merry way into my philosophical and psychological reflections, strongly coloring the general worldview that is emerging therefrom.

It would also make sense that the frustration and sadness, the dour disappointment and deprivation, that my human side suffers under the current arrangement gets ‘translated’ into envy and resentment towards those—the majority?—who more freely enjoy what life (this life) has to offer. Of course, it would be difficult for me to acknowledge this envy and resentment because that would suggest that somehow I got things seriously wrong about how life should be lived. Then all of my criticisms of collective norms start to carry the ‘stink’ of a rearguard attempt to defend a stubborn ‘spiritual’ prejudice, a proud blindness, and an inability to relax and enjoy life with moderation.

But what would this move entail? If the restraints and repressive habits currently in place are relaxed, can my life as a whole be fairly expected to improve? In exchange for the ‘promise of greater sensual and social happiness,’ won’t I be running the risk of slackening this spiritual tension it has taken so much care and time to establish?

And what form would this happiness I’m currently deprived of be likely to take? Isn’t it the companionship of like-minded friends that I yearn for more than anything else? But this raises additional questions, does it not? If these ‘like-minded’ persons I’m interested in befriending are like-minded insofar as they, too, share many of the same exacting critical standards and ‘unpopular’ concerns that fuel and propel my thinking and writing, then don’t I run the risk of jumping from the frying pan into the fire—at least where my impatient distaste for slack feeling and slack thinking is concerned? Such ‘like-minded’ friends might serve only to reinforce and intensify my ‘ascetic’ and asocial leanings. Maybe, maybe not? Perhaps what I need to cultivate is simply greater compassion for my fellow humans.

A passage from Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis (par. 175) sheds relevant light upon my present question. Fittingly, it is found in a chapter dealing with the alchemical symbol of the dog:

The theriomorphic form of Sol as lion and dog and of Luna as a bitch shows that there is an aspect of both luminaries which justifies the need for a ‘symbolizatio’ in animal form. That is to say the two luminaries are, in a sense, animals or appetites, although, as we have seen, the ‘potentiae sensuales’ are ascribed only to Luna. There is, however, also a Sol niger, who, significantly enough, is contrasted with the daytime sun and clearly distinguished from it. This advantage is not shared by Luna, because she is obviously sometimes bright and sometimes dark. Psychologically, this means that consciousness by its very nature distinguishes itself from its shadow, whereas the unconscious is not only contaminated with its own negative side but is burdened with shadow cast off by the conscious mind. Although the solar animals, the lion and the eagle, are nobler than the bitch, they are nevertheless animals and beasts of prey at that, which means that even our sun-like consciousness has its dangerous animals. Or, if Sol is the spirit and Luna the body, the spirit too may be corrupted by pride or concupiscence, a fact which we are inclined to overlook in our one-sided admiration of the ‘spirit.’

As usual, Jung packs a cluster of potent insights into a compact passage. First, I would make these links: Sol = daimon = spirit; Luna = ‘human’ = ‘abused/neglected bitch’ = body. What’s missing here is soul, and yet I certainly associate soul as a perspective with a generally melancholy, somber mood. It is feminine (in the sense merely of being absorbent, passive, not dynamic like the daimon) and it has links with both the daimon (spirit) and the body, for which it ‘feels’ a measure of compassion.

I have become increasingly sensitive to this ‘concupiscence’ that Jung ascribes to the spirit or daimon. Occasionally I sense the ruthless, single-minded driven-ness of the daimon, with its uncaring, indifferent—nay, contemptuous—attitude towards the body and its ‘human’ needs and yearnings. The important psychological observation here is that the daimon or spirit is not the serene, neutral, blissed-out topos within the totality of the Self, as I have erroneously supposed it to be in the past. It can be like the sunlight intensely focused into a point by a magnifying lens or a raging fire that burns through everything upon which it is directed—evaporating the moisture of feeling and even of imagination. In other words, it very definitely has a destructive aspect or character where all (imaginative, personal, and feeling-related) forms are concerned, while being a reliable force of liberation at the same time. Whether it is experienced as ‘creative’ (liberational) or destructive depends, it would seem, on whether or not we are identified with these ‘forms’ which are shattered or incinerated by the all-penetrating sun-like fire of spirit—or to what extent we are.

It also occurred to me, as I was reading the passage from Jung, that it might not be an outlandish stretch to link the spirit vs. soul/body with Nietzsche’s ‘Masters vs. Slaves,’ respectively. There is actually quite a close alignment between the two symbolic polarities.

Under the diluted but culturally pervasive influence of Christianity’s absorption and assimilation of soul into the much more powerful theological concept of spirit, I have tended in the past to conflate the soul with my ‘daimon.’ The differentiation of these two standpoints or qualitatively distinct energies can help enormously in my ongoing efforts to establish ‘where’ I am (under the principal influence of which complex I happen to be at any moment) in the psyche. By more completely and distinctly differentiating these inner figures—all of which may be said to behave like more or less organized, coherent personalities, each with its own character, aims (telos), and traits—‘I’ am in a better position to become disentangled from a state of identification with any or all of them. They become further relativized—interdependent—parts of the composite that ‘I’ am, at any given moment.

Why do I find this a preferable situation to the former one—where spirit (or the ‘daimon’) and soul were largely conflated, regarded as one and the same? For one thing, I believe I might be in a better position to understand the dynamics of my psychic life with greater fidelity to the facts—observable facts that have largely been hidden until now. I strongly suspect, for example, that there is a relationship between soul and the daimon (now that they are understood as two distinctive centers of gravity, each with its own ‘will’) that was invisible to me before. What if the loneliness and alienation I often experience is the soul’s response to the spirit’s bold and solitary forays into uncharted territory? The spirit, itself, being of a cold and inhuman character, does not register these painful feelings of isolation and estrangement from all that is comfortingly familiar, but the soul feels this quite poignantly. Thus understood, the daimon’s penetrating and subtle explorations of the remote frontiers of psychic experience invariably elicit a more imaginative, feeling-toned response from the soul perspective—and this response by the soul is a crucial part of the mapping-project itself—and psychic cartography is a central component of my life task. I have too exclusively associated my ‘vocation’ with the daimon, but now I am beginning to see that the daimon, or spirit, is only half the picture. Like a drill or a spacecraft, it ventures into new territory, but the soul is responsible for working up a suitable portrait or rendering of the newly uncovered terrain or topos. The soul needs the probing, penetrating spirit to enter into (and gather raw data from) the new territory—since it must remain anchored in the depths—which it then decodes and clothes in appropriate imaginal dress. Because this process happens simultaneously when I am writing, it has been difficult to recognize, until now, just how different these two functional properties—spirit and soul, daimon and imagination—are. Perhaps the coniunctio is between ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ (rather than between Self and Ego, or some other pair of opposites).

Excavating Ourselves (3/30/12)

Where the deeper and more existentially important matters in our lives are concerned, much more is beyond our conscious reach and control than we are inclined to believe—particularly in the atomized, personal ego-driven, consumerist culture we live in today. I would go further and say that, for most of us, those matters of which we do possess some real understanding and control are comparatively trivial and insignificant when set beside the habit-reinforced, structural factors that operate (very much like digestion and our immune systems) well below the threshold of our consciousness. These are the ‘determining’ and predisposing factors that mysteriously shape, steer, and color our conscious thoughts and feelings—about the world, about ourselves, and about others—before we think, before we feel, before we choose or decide. We learn that we are invisibly and inescapably bound in unwitting servitude to such factors as soon as we dig down to a certain depth. And because these factors are for the most part unconscious, they operate behind our backs like invisible gases that intoxicate, enrage, depress, sexually excite, inspire, and panic us. They may be likened to invisible puppeteers that move us about without our knowledge or consent.

Some of these puppet strings were already in place before we were born—others were fastened to us later (following our ‘formative’ experiences with Mommy, Daddy, Father Hamilton, S.J., Uncle Sam, Ma Bell and her corporate kin, etc.)—but we cannot untie ourselves from them unless and until we become conscious of them as being somehow other than us. As long as we are oblivious to these strings and the powers that move them and us around, we will only be able to throw up our hands and say, each time they act up, ‘Well, that’s just me! I wish I were different, but that’s who I am.’ So long as we believe ourselves to be consubstantial with these unseen determining factors, we will never really be free of their power and authority over us. It is easy to see this in cases of alcohol or drug addiction—but these are comparatively crude and destructive forms of servitude. The forms that we are concerned with here are subtle and—aside from the fact that they operate beyond our conscious control—just as frequently benign, harmless, and even salutary as they are malignant, pathological, and disturbing.

Obviously, the most important first step we can take to liberate ourselves from these automatic, fate-deciding psychological complexes is to make them conscious. This means differentiating them from what I will call our essential self. As long as these complexes and patterns remain unconscious, they will remain undifferentiated from—or merged with—our core sense of personal identity. After we make headway differentiating our complexes, they become increasingly objectified. We learn about them—how they operate. We learn to recognize when we are most vulnerable to their domination, etc. But in order to proceed successfully with this sort of inner work, the psyche itself has to be understood in a radically new way. For many of us it comes as a surprise to learn that the psyche is every bit as real, enormous, complex, and ‘objective’ as the outer world and the vast universe are. We come to learn that we are in the psyche—just as we are in the universe. This is a very different perspective than the common (unenlightened) one, which locates the psyche ‘in’ us. Of course, the simple reason this actual arrangement is so hard for many Western persons to see is because our (individual and collective) attention is almost always directed outwards, in keeping with the deeply-rooted, one-sided prejudices of our materialistic, activity-obsessed, literalistic, anti-metaphorical, and unreflective culture. These prejudices must, one by one, be seen through and deconstructed before we can extricate our minds from their blinding and deforming influence. This is no small feat, of course, and considerable intellectual energy, discipline, and leisure will be required in order to make significant headway with this excavation work. We are ex-cavating ourselves (with an oblique reference here to Plato’s allegory of the cave) from the limited horizons of the prevalent modern Western worldview. Unless and until we truly begin to see this worldview (into which we were inserted at birth, just as we were dropped into our particular household, complete with our actual parents, socioeconomic prospects, religious affiliation, ethnic group, language group, etc.) as a historically conditioned, largely constructed and collective-habit-cemented, functional monstrosity, we are almost guaranteed to mistake it for ‘the truth’ or for ‘reality’—plain and simple—when in fact it is probably more accurate to describe it as a filter or veil standing in the way of more honest (and therefore messy) experience.

Ego and Spirit (10/3/12)

A state of unruffled, serene composure is what is left over after all the numerous, naturally-arising distractions of our attention have been gently but thoroughly rebuffed and brought to a stop. For the intellectual, who seems to thrive on the stimulation provided by fresh and provocative ideas, the deliberate cessation of all lines of thought feels almost like a betrayal of his calling. For the moral enthusiast, whose delicious sense of self-worth and personal importance hinges upon his unceasing efforts to ‘do the right thing’ for his fellows, the unplugging from all such thoughts and sentiments can feel like a gross dereliction of duty. For the man of action, whose very sense of identity is bound up with staying busily involved with his absorbing projects, such willed moments of stillness come up against every imaginable form of resistance. In short, numberless are the distractions that eclipse the serene stillness and contentment that are always just within the reach of the quieted mind.

If self-mastery consists largely in learning how to inhabit this ‘still point’ with greater ease and for longer stretches of time, then it depends to a great extent upon our learning how to not do, not think, and not be moved all over the mental chess board or billiard table by our habitual feelings and insistent passions. And yet, for most of us, these are precisely the factors that constitute our ‘humanity’ and our sense of personal identity. Little wonder, then, that they should put up such a fight as soon as our spiritual self (atman) begins to gently announce its presence. It is like the clash or collision between two diametrically opposed worlds, in a sense. The spirit is essentially free. It exists on its own, independently, in a liberated state. But the moment our absorption in that state of spiritual liberation is disturbed by the powerful distractions produced by (our consciousness of) the body, the emotions, and the intellect (i.e., the ego), we cannot help but see and interpret that ego (and its concerns) in completely new way. We begin to understand freedom in a radically new sense. Put simply, we learn that freedom, which is innate to the spirit, is essentially freedom from, while, from the ego’s perspective, it is understood as freedom to. But freedom to do what?

Since the ego is driven by—one might go so far as to say founded upon—desire, fear, and the will to power, freedom is understood to mean the satisfaction of its desires, the continual enhancement and extension of its will to power, and the control (or outright annihilation) of all feared/despised objects. As long as we are identified with the ego, our notion of freedom will naturally conform to these egoic objectives. As soon as there is genuine contact with the spirit, the ego necessarily experiences a profound crisis. Why is this?

From the spirit’s perspective, the ego (as a reified psychological complex) is prone to enslavement by its natural drives, habits, fears, ambitions, and cravings. The more intensely and vehemently the ego pursues its natural (literal, concretistic) aims, the deeper it digs itself into the hole of its imprisonment, which corresponds with its implicit belief in its primacy, its independent reality, and its ‘given’—as opposed to ‘constructed’—nature. Contact with the spirit does two things, then, for the ego. First of all, it presents a vividly experienceable form of freedom and contentment that is utterly new and utterly different from the appetitive forms of freedom and pleasure that it is accustomed to pursuing. Secondly, it subtly—one might almost say insidiously—poisons the ego’s naïve or innocent trust in its goals, its modus operandi, and its general assumptions about itself and the world. The ego gets a glimpse—an unforgettable taste—of the spirit’s radically different form of freedom. This spiritual freedom, as suggested earlier, is not only far more substantial and profound than the fleeting, unstable pleasures and successes won upon the human ego battlefield, but they expose the concretistic, compulsive, and consuming character of the ego’s fundamental tendencies—its dark and smoky engines, if you like.

‘Even if I win, I lose’: thus muses the newly enlightened (and therefore thoroughly humbled) ego. ‘I could be emperor of this world, and I would never really be secure, or contented, or certain of anything—except, that is, certain of my folly for choosing dominion over the whole wide world above humble abidance in the spirit that I have been mysteriously visited by.’