Jan 29, 2012

Becoming the Real You

Photo by James K. Lindsey
What exactly does it mean "to become?" It is change, of course, activity, movement from one state to another. It is a flower closed that turns and opens to the rays of the sun. It is the metamorphosis of a moth into a brilliant butterfly.

We can't help but become. We are constantly changing. Do we need to worry and wring our hands about the future, if becoming is continuously occurring, anyway?

If the saying, "Tat Tvam Asi" (Thou Art That), written in the Upanishads is at once true, then what is it I need to become? The whole idea of striving toward an endpoint, ala Teilhard De Chardin, is a mistake, I think. Seeing we are eternal beings, how does eternity infer an endpoint? Development in a linear fashion seems to be very important to Western culture. But what if linearity is a flawed view of things?

I am that, so there is no need for me to be anxious. I am that I am. I am already what I was meant to be. There is no further need for development in the egoistic sense. Jettison the idea that "I" means "ego; it doesn't in this context. The Real You is the Eternal You.

By making the statement, I am that, I recognize I cannot know the unknowable. I know what I can know, i.e. the knowable. The unknown cannot be known with that which is known. So, if I am to know the unknowable, I cannot know it with my brain.

What can I know? Only that which becomes, i.e. the universe. I cannot be conscious of that which is not conscious.

All that remains is a tremendous sense of tremendous mystery. Live!

Jan 26, 2012

Interpretation and Meaning


I realize I've been discussing meaning in other articles, namely in my Giegerich commentaries, but I thought I would jot down a few passing thoughts before they flit out of my head.

Meaning is a very nebulous topic. Some of us claim we are searching for "meaning in life," or the lofty "meaning of life." This sounds very nice, spiritual, and important. But do we really think about what we're saying? Are we saying we want to translate life's puzzlements and perplexities into something the rational mind can fully comprehend? The word, meaning, means "the end, purpose, or significance of something (Dictionary.com). Can the mind comprehend the vastness of the universe? If we were to suddenly know "the meaning of life," it would absolutely melt us where we stand. Just as Soul, in its unfathomable depths can never be traversed, just as God will never be rationally explained, so Life, too, will remain an enigma.

Trying to comprehend the meaning of life is similar to trying to interpret a dream. Let's say you dream of a serpent slithering out of a cave. It is very large and frightening. It speeds toward you, encircles you, and begins to squeeze your body in its coils. Suddenly, you awake in a cold sweat. You're a Jungian, a disciple of Jung. You have your dream dictionary handy (even though Jung told you not to use one). You, very meticulously, with the aid of your dictionary, weave a "meaningful" interpretation. There you have it! The dream now has meaning for you.

James Hillman wrote:
. . . the dream requires translation into waking-language either to extend waking-consciousness' domain or to serve nature's demands for the more broadened and balanced quality of consciousness. In developing my thesis further, I shall follow Freud and Jung both--but not only: Freud by insisting that the dream has nothing to do with the waking world but is the psyche speaking to itself in its own language; and Jung by insisting that the ego requires adjustment to the nightworld. I shall not be following them in bringing the dream into the dayworld in any other form than its own, implying that the dream may not be envisaged either as a message to be deciphered for the dayworld (Freud) or as a compensation to it (Jung) (Dream and the Underworld, by James Hillman, pages 12-13).
My comparison of life with a dream, I believe, is an apt one. Life is certainly like a dream; it just has a different kind of language, which is that of rational discourse. When we attempt to search for the meaning of life, we are saying we want to bring the mysteries of life into the dayworld. We try to drag all the answers to life's mysteries up from the befuddling blackness of the Underworld into the light of rationality. It's a Greek myth retold; the archetypal hero, Hercules, sets out, once again, on a journey to Hades. We view our so-called heroes in the light of Hercules' victories. Hercules is the heroic ego of Western culture. Have you ever wondered why we are fascinated with solving puzzles and watching TV mysteries? 

One more point: a dream can have a multitude of meanings. The idea that there is one meaning for a dream, or that there is one ultimate meaning of life is a product of our culture's insistence on a monotheistic worldview. In my view, it is not natural to posit One from the Many. Images have many meanings and we are all images, as is the Imago Mundi.

Jan 23, 2012

Musings On Atoms, Images, And Monads


Democritus believed the soul is composed of globular atoms of fire. Referring to Democritus, Aristotle wrote,
Some say that what originates movement is both preeminently and primarily soul; believing that what is not itself moved cannot originate movement in another, they arrived at the view that soul belongs to the class of things in movement. This is what led Democritus to say that soul is a sort of fire or hot substance; his 'forms' or atoms are infinite in number; those which are spherical he calls fire and soul, and compares them to the motes in the air which we see in shafts of light coming through windows; the mixture of seeds of all sorts he calls the elements of the whole of Nature (Leucippus gives a similar account); the spherical atoms are identified with soul because atoms of that shape are most adapted to permeate everywhere, and to set all the others moving by being themselves in movement.
We usually think the idea of monads is a primitive version of our own atomic theory. But what if this is really a window into reality? I think this fits in well with the proposition that all things are reducible to images. Images are indivisible and non-reducible, just like the atoms of Democritus. Atoms are images.

As early as the Presocratic philosophers, the idea of non-reducible, indivisible units has also been expressed as monads. For Pythagoras, it was the "all-including ONE" (Manly P. Hall). The universe is also a monad, but all the individual parts are as well. For Plato, the monads were likened to the Ideas. So, it is directly in line with this tradition to suggest that monads are indeed images, and that everything derives from them.

I would equate the archetypes, as in Jung's archetypes of the collective unconscious, with monads and atoms (not the physical balls of matter we are so familiar with, but atoms in the ancient sense, as being indivisible). These are the gods of Greek mythology.

Jan 22, 2012

The Rejected Woman: Comments On Hamlet


The human experience is one of fragmentation. We are dichotomous creatures in a state of disintegration. We have within us both good and evil, love and hate, cruelty and compassion, temperance and excess. We have the ability to experience both pain and pleasure, depression and elation, fear and courage. As Hamlet said, " 'tis an unweeded garden" (1.2.135), that is, the world is like an Eden overcome with weeds.  Using the model of humans as micrcocosms, one could also interpret Hamlet's words as pointing to human experience being an unweeded garden. In all of us, there exists things of a goodly sort and things of an evil sort. There also exists within us both masculine and feminine traits.

C.G. Jung formulated theories which attempted to explain this state of disunity. One such idea was "individuation," which refers to "the process by which a person becomes an 'in-dividual,' that is, a separate, indivisible unity or whole" (Jung 212). In the process of  individuation, fragmented elements of one's personality are brought to consciousness. Primarily, this is accomplished by examining the dreams of the patient and attempting to interpret their symbols. Another of Jung's ideas dealt with the concept of the human psyche as possessing both male and female components. He believed that, usually, the person's sex determined which element dominated their psyche. The repressed female component in males he called "anima;" in females, the repressed male component is called "animus." His goal was to integrate these into a holistic unity, thus bringing about a state of tranquility within the psyche.

Jung found that the anima/animus elements appeared in the dreams of his patients as distinct personalities. The animus in a woman is her "inner male;" the anima in a man is his "inner female." Concentrating on the latter for purposes of this essay, this inner woman can show up in male's dreams and fantasies as mother, beloved sister, heavenly goddess, etc. According to Jung, "Every mother and every beloved is forced to become the carrier and embodiment of this omnipresent and ageless image, which corresponds to the deepest reality in a man" (Jung 109).

Thus, if a male is not in contact with the feminine side, he is fragmented and will project both positive and negative aspects of his own personality onto those females he is in close association with. Jung said:
It belongs to him, this perilous image of Woman; she stands for the loyalty which in the interests of life he must sometimes forego; she is the much needed compensation for the risks, struggles, sacrifices that all end in disappointment; she is the solace for all the bitterness of life.

And, at the same time, she is the great illusionist, the seductress, who draws him into life with her Maya--and not only into life’s reasonable and useful aspects, but into its frightful paradoxes and ambivalences where good and evil, success and ruin, hope and despair, counterbalance one another.

Because she is his greatest danger she demands from a man his greatest, and if he has it in him she will receive it (Jung 109-110).
Shakespeare's Hamlet is a play about a man "crawling between earth and heaven" (3.1.128-129). The events of Hamlet's father's death, and the appearance of the ghost have awakened deep, unconscious forces within him, i.e. archetypes. Jung claims that archetypes can be compared to instinctual patterns of behavior (Jung 65). They are emotionally charged images that have universal meaning. The anima, as we well know, is such an archetype. In Hamlet, it seems that the anima has been stirred by the harrowing visitation of the ghost of his father and the astonishing news that he had been poisoned by the present king, Hamlet's uncle, Claudius. Hamlet's mother has married Claudius within a month of his father's death. She, who once did "hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on," now has hastened to "incestuous sheets" (1.2.143-157). These events have suspended Hamlet between earth and heaven. He is in a position where he has the opportunity to either follow a path that leads to integration, or be dashed to pieces by the negative aspect of the anima. The anima is admonishing Hamlet to seek her out and make contact with her. But he cannot bring himself to embrace those elements within him that would save him and resolve his struggle. Interestingly, the image of Hamlet crawling between earth and heaven most likely symbolizes the conflict between the male and female within him, since earth is a common symbol for the feminine, and heaven is commonly associated with the masculine.

Even before Hamlet's encounter with the ghost of his dead father, we see evidence that he already has a problem communicating with his feminine side: "frailty, thy name is woman" (1.2.146). This indicates that the archetype has already been roused, even before the ghostly visitation. But Hamlet is plunged into a full-blown crisis when the ghost conveys his grim news, Angry, and beset by hateful emotions, he lashes out at his mother: "O most pernicious woman" (1.5.105)! And, as a result of "Hamlet's inability to integrate his feminine energy into his consciousness and thus to respond effectively to his specific mother," he begins to project negative feminine qualities onto Ophelia, in the nunnery and play scenes" (Coursen 85).

Freud would interpret Hamlet's strained relationship with women as a sign of an Oedipal complex: "Like the subconscious mind at work within the dream mechanism, Hamlet expresses his meaning through psychological substitution. Ophelia is a surrogate for his mother" (King 77). Ophelia may very well be a surrogate for his mother, but the problem runs deeper than that. Hamlet does not want to allow the female part of himself to play a role in his consciousness, so both Ophelia and Gertrude become "human screens" (Coursen 93) which capture the projections of Hamlet's scorn toward his own inner woman. Instead of initiating communication with the anima, Hamlet rejects her. By abandoning his love for Ophelia, Hamlet symbolically abandons the anima.

Hamlet's rejection of the anima is symbolized in Act 2, Scene 1, where Ophelia, referring to Hamlet, says:
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being. That done, he lets me go,
And, with his head over his shoulder turned,
He seemed to find his way without his eyes,
For out o' doors he went without their helps,
And to the last bended their light on me (2.1.94-100).
What attraction Hamlet may have once felt, for both his inner woman and Ophelia, is abandoned for the sake of revenge. The feeling that may have once coursed through his being is now replaced with vengeful hatred for Claudius. Hamlet, in rejecting this side of his personality, opens himself to disaster. Ophelia's line, "He seemed to find his way without his eyes" (2.1.98), speaks to Hamlet's rejection of Soul, that which would have given him eyes to see through his dark night. The tragedy is that Hamlet cannot find his way without his eyes.

Hamlet castigates himself several times during the play for exhibiting what he perceives as womanly traits. For example, Hamlet says to Horatio, "It is but foolery, but it is such a kind of gaingiving as would perhaps trouble a woman" (5.2.216-217). Hamlet suppresses intuitive insight here, just before the duel with Laertes. The anima is trying to steer him away from his doom, but he sees such thoughts as effeminate, and thus cowardly. Hamlet's misogyny is again exhibited when he speaks to Ophelia about the "brevity" of woman's love (3.2.125-159). He even goes so far as to compare himself with a loquacious whore in Act 2, Scene 2, indicating a very negative view of his inner feminine:
Why, what an ass I am! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murdered,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab . . . (2.2.594-598).
Hamlet wants to "be a man" and avenge his father's murder, but the war being waged in his soul causes him to hesitate. He views this hesitation as effeminacy.

Hamlet's rejection of the inner woman leads to catastrophic results. In Act 3, Scene 4, Hamlet completely loses control of his emotions, killing Polonius (Hamlet thinks it is Claudius), who has been hiding behind the arras. James Kirsch comments on this scene:
The primitive lust for murder--"hell itself breathes out contagion to the world; now could I drink hot blood"--has taken Hamlet over completely. At this moment, when he tries to kill his mother with words, it does not matter who is behind the curtain; to him it is a "rat," that is, an animal that usually lives in dark hidden places. It is symbolic for the sinister content in his unconscious. . . (Kirsch 120)
At the end of the play, we must ask ourselves, "Does Hamlet ever discover why he is being torn apart from within?" Perhaps. He seems to have some insight into the interplay of opposites: "'Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes between the pass and fell incensed points of mighty opposites" (5.2.60-62). This sentence is usually interpreted as referring to Hamlet and Claudius, but it could also hold meaning for the opposites within, as well. On the other hand, Hamlet never ceases his quest for revenge. He does, however, ask Laertes to forgive him for killing his father. Hamlet attributes the act to "madness," which implies that he has recognized the fact that unconscious forces are driving him (5.2.230-240). Perhaps, if Laertes would have put an end to his own quest for revenge, Hamlet would have been able to discover what he had rejected, that is, a relationship with the anima. Alas!

Coursen. Herbert R. The Compensatory Psyche: A Jungian Approach to Shakespeare.   Lanham, MD: UP, 1986.

Jung, Carl G. The Essential Jung. Ed. Anthony Storr. New York: Princeton UP, 1983.

King, Walter N. Hamlet's Search for Meaning. Athens, University of Georgia. 1982.

Kirsch, James. Shakespeare's Royal Self. New York: Putnam, 1996.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Edward Hubler. New York: Signet, 1963.

Vision

Through the imagination man has access to the Gods: through the memoria the Gods enter our lives (James Hillman, Myth Of Analysis, page 180).
Imaginatio is the Star in Man, the Celestial or Supercelestial Body (A Lexicon of Alchemy, by Martin Rulandus).
Living with the images from a vast storehouse seems god-like. When we access the imaginal realm and its treasure of images, we have scaled Mount Olympus and are communing with the Gods.
One of the most significant characteristics of this realm is that within it the things that one encounters—and they are very specific things indeed, ranging from rocks and trees to buildings and entire cities have about them a distinctly personal character. As Corbin says, the pronoun best used when describing the specifics of this dimension is not "what" but "who." The imaginal dimension, he wrote, is "a universe for which it is difficult in our language to find a satisfactory term." It is "an ‘external world,’ and yet it is not the physical world. It is a world that teaches us that it is possible to emerge from measurable space without emerging from extent, and that we must abandon homogeneous chronological time in order to enter that qualitative time which is the history of the soul" (Recovering a Visionary Geography, by Ptolemy Tompkins).
What hope do we have if we cannot see this world of infinite possibilities? Many of us are dead to such vision, blinded by everyday living; the rat-race; the day-to-day, painful struggle which we have been thrown into. What can we look forward to in our lives if we don't recover the vision which has the potential to fulfill our lives?

Soul Is Imagination


There seem to be two types of imagination. One is called daydreaming, where one intentionally forms a mental image of something. The other, however, brings forth images spontaneously. This type of imagining seems to be similar to what Jung called active imagination. This is what occurs in dreams and when we enter dreams, allowing them to take whatever shape they want. Soul is imagination. 
Soul is vulnerable and suffers; it is passive and remembers. It is water to the spirit’s fire, like a mermaid who beckons the heroic spirit into the depths of passions to extinguish its certainty. Soul is imagination, a cavernous treasury—to use an image from St. Augustine—a confusion and richness, both. (James Hillman, Re-visioning Psychology, 1975).
The images the Soul presents to us should not be interpreted to serve Ego. There is much of this going on today after people learn a little about Jungian dream theory and begin coming up with all sorts of off-the-wall interpretations. They even go out and buy so-called dream dictionaries to supposedly help them. This is the wrong approach. Sure, meditate on dreams, allow the images to flow, but stick to the images. They are to be examined phenomenologically.


The Soul is an immense cavern of images, as Augustine alludes to in his Confessions:
What is my nature? It is various and manifold and immeasurable: behold the numberless fields and caves and caverns of memory, each innumerably full of an in-numerable variety of things. Some of these things are there through images, as in the case of all physical objects; some through their own immediate presence, as with the intellectual arts; some by indefinable notions or impressions, as with the affections of the mind which, even when the mind is not experiencing them, the mind yet retains (although whatever is in the memory is also in the mind). Through all of these do I run to and from, flying hither and thither. I penetrate them as far as I am able, on this side and that, and nowhere is there an end. So great is the power of memory, so great the power of life in man, whose life is mortal.
He refers to memory, but Soul is memory as well as imagination. As Jung said, . . . at "bottom" the psyche is simply "world." . . . the symbol of the world itself is speaking (The Archetypes And The Collective Unconscious, section 291). Basically, Soul is all.

 Z

Memory Palaces

Using the terms of today, we might translate this art [of Memory] as a method of presenting the organization of the collective unconscious too--according to archetypal dominants. The archetypes would correspond to divine imaginal forms used as Aristotelian or Kantian conceptual categories. Rather than logical or scientific laws, mythical figures would provide the a priori structures within the caverns and dens of the immeasurable imagination. All psychic events might be placed in meaningful coherence by means of these mythical structures. In fact, the categories of logic and numbers, of science and theology, could themselves be reduced (i.e., led back) to more basic metaphors of myth. No concepts, no matter how general and abstract, could embrace the range of these archetypal metaphors (The Myth Of Analysis, James Hillman, page 179).
Everything we empirically experience is myth and metaphor. All that we experience with the senses points to a parallel archetypal reality. As above, so below. The universe we experience everyday hints at the universe within. This is why, say in Zen Buddhism, for example, one can learn more about Truth by pondering a flower than by taking all the psychology courses in the world. There is more Truth in a tree than in all the science textbooks in all the universities in the world. But we must remember. The Ars Memoriae provides us with a methodology whereby we can do just that.

The psyche is a vast universe populated with innumerable images, just as the universe we gaze out upon everyday holds innumerable planets, stars, and galaxies. What a perfect metaphor for Soul! We remember well the words of Heraclitus,
The limits of the soul you would not find out though you traverse every way, so deep lies its principle (Fragment 71).
All Truth lies within us. Because we are all connected unconsciously, and have been for untold eons, we have access to all Truth. We know this unconsciously, but we have been washed in the river Lethe and have forgotten. Truth in Greek is Aletheia. Notice that Lethe is part of this word. Aletheia, however, it is a remembering or recollection. Thus, Truth comes through reminiscence.

The Art Of Memory utilized a technique called the Memory Palace, or Memory Theater. You can read more about that here. I think the road to reminiscence may lie with this technique and the imagination. These "archetypal dominants," mentioned above by Hillman, can be seen as overarching categories under which all knowledge can be subsumed. In ancient Greece, the pantheon of gods served this purpose. Today, we call them archetypes. But they are just as powerful today as they were then. The planets were also used, as were the zodiacal signs. There are many systems all over the world for imagining the archetypes. They are, however, many roads to the same realities, just as some see the various religions as many paths to the same god. Remember?

Solve et Coagula


Solve et Coagula is the alchemical process of "dissolve and congeal." This is a very interesting metaphor for me, since I've been discussing the Metaxy, this idea of a middle-region between opposites. I came across this alchemical notion again in the past few days and really connected with it.

Some alchemists believe that Soul can become disconnected and lost. It can either be trapped in matter or it can be so high in the ethereal that it is totally ineffectual. Their answer, in the form of their art, is to dissolve the dense and literal substance into something more gaseous (spirit or mind). This is equivalent to matter giving up a part of itself. Then, the gaseous is worked upon so that it condenses, thus giving up its part. This middle-region between these two processes is Soul. Arnold de Villa Nova (1235-1313) wrote,
For the solution of the body means the coagulation of the spirit and vice versa; each gives up something of its own nature; they meet each other half way, and thus become one inseparable substance, like water mixed with water.
This is, of course, akin to the Gnostic belief that the soul is trapped in the material body and that only gnosis could free one from this evil.

Someone who is lost in the materialistic world is a good example of Soul being trapped in dense matter. Someone else might be aloft in an ivory tower with high-minded ideas of Utopia. This extreme idealism would be an example of the incorporeal substance that needs to be more concrete, or congealed. Soul is born in the middle. The Metaxy is a kind of uterine fluid which brings forth a new creation.

Jan 21, 2012

Perpetual Motion Machine

Marsilio Ficino's idea of Soul includes this thought from his commentary on Plato's Phaedrus:
The soul is self-moving; so it is the principle of motion; so it is always being moved; so it is immortal.
Thus begins his commentary on Socrates' argument of the immortality of the soul in the Phaedrus 245c-246a. The syllogism is easily understood and works fine if the basic premise is accepted. That is not, however, what I want to deal with.

I want to examine this passage more deeply, as pointing toward a curious idea which first arose in the Middle Ages and was later pursued by hundreds of people for centuries afterward, including some of the greatest minds in history. I am referring to the dream of building a perpetual motion machine.

Just as we "moderns" chuckle at the idea of alchemists trying to transform lead and other base metals into gold, the thought of a perpetual motion machine has been equally ridiculed by those who insist that a literal mode of thinking is best. However, this viewpoint does not always see what is really going on. When I first read the passage from Ficino on the motion of the soul, I thought, "Why is he using the language of physics to express an idea of the soul?" I was entrapped by literalism. After some thought, I began to see that he was really speaking metaphorically. This is the only way we can speak of Soul.

The passage reminded me of stories I read as a child of the attempts to invent a perpetual motion machine. I began to understand why these men had such a passion to discover the secret of such a device. I realized the alchemists had the same passion and were on the same quest as the would-be inventors. What they were actually doing was projecting their passion for Soul into ideas for a perpetual motion machine, just as the alchemists had projected their passion for Soul into the recipe for the lapis philosophorum. The same energy, I suspect, has been thrown into other such intense pursuits, both good and bad.

The first known attempt to create a perpetual motion machine was in eighth-century Bavaria. It was a wheel spinning on its axle, powered by lodestones. It was called a magic wheel (Wikipedia). The name is not surprising at all, since Soul is the most magical of wheels. One of my favorite symbols of Soul is the Ouroboros, the serpent swallowing its own tail. A magic wheel, indeed! Wheels are very significant in ancient mythology. We all know how much Dr. Jung discussed the mandala.

There seems to be something within us that knows the nature of the soul and tries to communicate it to us metaphorically through various ideas, and through dreams. Our egos can't grasp the deep meaning of these. We build, we write, we paint, etc. to try and bring these ideas into physical manifestation. The exercise of doing so is not detrimental, but helpful to our souls. It is an exercise which brings understanding, even if we have no rational idea why we are doing it. It is probably akin to ritual.

I doubt if most of the would-be inventors realized they were on a Soul-quest, just as many of the alchemists did not know. I think some of them did. There were a few, the very perceptive ones who probably got the hint what was going on.

Could it be that Leonardo da Vinci picked up on Ficino's interest in Plato's teaching of the self-moving soul? Was he influenced by Ficino the way Michaelangelo was? I would say so, seeing they were contemporaries in Florence. Leonardo made several drawings of perpetual motion machines. He never tried to build one, as far as I know, but I think he probably knew a little about what was happening within him.

Z

Insects

The door swung open noisily, as if the answers were riding on molten wings. In the cold blackness within, I saw the key to the abyss lying on a golden nous. When I exhaled, it vibrated eerily, its voice loud and strong. It glowed a brilliant emerald green, indicating the time was at hand.

The dawn was coming, but I dared not speak the words I knew should be spoken. I merely listened to the colors which emanated from the key. Suddenly, I felt very inchoate. The wind had blown open one of the frozen clocks on the mantle, which caused it to speak of a bygone era. It told me many things concerning treasure and something called "freedom." I was unfamiliar with this term, but surmised it must have something to do with insects.

There was a faint odor of ochre in the air, but I refused to yield to temptation. I would not deviate from the path I had chosen. My mind was under a tremendous strain due to a swarm of locusts that had invaded the grotto. Round and round my head they flew, making a terrible noise which I will not soon forget. Suddenly, the clocks, having thawed, fell from the mantle, causing a deafening crash. I was startled but continued on into the night, a brilliant moon lighting my way. This was how it must be, I told myself, as I wandered in the blackness of the forest.

The Call Of Hades

 I've recently reread James Hillman's book, Dream And The Underworld. It is a truly fascinating work. It's one of those books that bears reading over and over, for its ideas are very profound.

I am most interested in Hillman's thoughts on Hades and Death. Specifically, I would like to focus on what Hillman refers to as, "the call to Hades" (page 31). He states:
Because his realm was conceived as the final end of each soul, Hades is the final cause, the purpose, the very telos of every soul and every soul process...All soul processes, everything in the psyche, moves toward Hades (page 30).
Typically, when we hear such statements, we immediately begin to think of our own deaths, but it is not so cut and dried. For Hillman, the call to Hades is about carrying the finalistic aspect of psychology ( ala Jung, Adler, et al) to its full mythological end.
For example, Jung wrote much on the subject of individuation. In a nutshell, he said,
Individuation means becoming a single, homogeneous being, and, in so far as 'in-dividuality' embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one's own self. We could therefore translate individuation as 'come to selfhood' or 'self-realisation (Jung: Memories, Dreams, and Reflections).
So, the telos for Jung would be achieving a state of "wholeness," a state where unconscious contents become thoroughly conscious. In Jung's thinking, the path to individuation is characterized by the constant conflict of opposites, which of course produces psychic energy. One must bring the opposites into complete union in order to succeed in individuation. This means that the conscious and unconscious become integrated and assimilate the ego, after which the Self emerges. In alchemy, this union is known as the coniunctio.

The coniunctio is symbolized in various ways in alchemy. One such symbol shows a king and queen in a hermaphroditic union. In Jung's mind, this represents the union of opposites, and, more specifically, the union of anima and animus, the male and female aspects of the unconscious. Jung claims that these must be integrated in order to achieve individuation.

Hillman says that psychological theories, such as this, do not proceed far enough. His idea is that the telos for Soul is the call of Hades. This is not to be taken as literal death, but as an experience of Soul.
By the call to Hades I am referring to the sense of purpose that enters whenever we talk about soul. What does it want? What is it trying to say (in this dream, this symptom, experience, problem)? Where is my fate or individuation process going? If we stare these questions in the face, of course we know where our individuation process is going---to death. This unknowable goal is the one absolutely sure event of the human condition. Hades is the unseen one and absolutely present (Dream and the Underworld, page 31).
What to make of this mysterious statement? I believe he is saying that Hades is calling to us now, throughout our lives, not just toward the end. The objective, or goal, is always occurring now, in this present moment.

We know about the Zen teaching of "is-ness," or the "eternal now." I think this applies to life as well as death. Let's face it, they're the same anyway.

So, if we are to constantly be living in the now, we should also be dying in the now, which we do daily. The call to Hades is the call to Soul.

Z

The Watercourse Way

 There is a Taoist principle called Li, which means something like, "the watercourse," or "patterns of flow." It is the "order of flow." It is the amazing dancing pattern of liquid. Lao Tzu taught that water always seeks the lowest, most basic level. In this most basic state, lies a powerful energy.

The typical Westerner would find this state of being too passive. The Protestant work ethic, which helped to create the monster, Capitalism, considers this a lazy way of life. Passivity, however, is a good thing. It is a compensation or corrective to our Western hyperactivity. It cools the heat of action. It quiesces our chattering minds.

It is like a leaf, which has fallen into the river on a fall day. It passively drifts along, riding atop the winding serpent as it gently seeks the lowest point through the land. It simply is as it is; it simply flows as it flows.

If only our politicians could adopt such a simple teaching, our nation would undergo a dramatic renascence! But, instead, they thrash against the current.

Become like water!

Z

Heaven and Hell

Heraclitus said, "The way up and the way down are one and the same" (Wheelwright 78). Just a few thoughts on this passage:

To Heraclitus, there is no difference between up and down. This is totally antithetical to the Western mindset. In our culture, we think of the way up as success and the way down as failure. This motif can be traced back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Where did we get the idea that down is evil and up is good? For example, up is heaven, down is hell; "human development" is good, degradation is bad; maturation is positive, infantile behavior is negative; etc. I think it has much to do with viewing Being in a linear fashion, whereas, at least in my view, it is really cyclical in nature.

To many people, man's flight to the moon was the greatest accomplishment of the twentieth century. It certainly was a great technological achievement. But why do we consider this such a great thing? Is there something we are missing here?

Many of us are intent on "climbing to the top of the corporate ladder," a sort of capitalistic scala paradisi. We do everything in our power to reach the "heights of success." Those we consider important are called "stars." Stars are high above us, aloft in the heavens. We see them twinkling and shining on the silver screen and in our living rooms via the TV, but we will never interact with them. They are too far away from our circle of acquaintances. Why this obsession with upwardness?

I would venture to guess it came about because of a profound fear of the deep unknown. Heraclitus recognized a correspondence between Soul and the deep places, the dark unknown and limitless realms of the human mind. His idea, however, gave equal standing to both up and down. In the thinking of depth psychology, this would translate as consciousness and unconsciousness. Consciousness equals up; unconsciousness equals down.

At some point in our history, these motifs ("down is evil" and "up is good") took on a life of their own by infiltrating our entire cultural worldview. To this day, we are terrified of the unknown depths within ourselves. We project this fear into many aspects of our lives, such as the idea that upward mobility equals superiority; living in a penthouse apartment is to be preferred to a small, run-down urban dwelling; being rich is better than being poor; driving a Mercedes is more highly esteemed than a Ford; etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Most of us are horrified by the possibility of financial ruin, or a fear we are "losing it." We want to stay as far away from the bottom as possible. In my opinion, we think this way because we are fleeing the unknown within ourselves. We are frightened by the idea that we may have a dark side, infernal qualities, which, if not cared for and expressed, will jerk the rug out from under our happy, stable lives. Perhaps we need it jerked out from under us from time to time.

Because we feel the unknown is anathema to us, we ignore the enormous value of regression, devolution, cyclical processes, etc. We think "depression" is a disease which we must seek treatment for, when, in reality, it is a natural process we go through at times when we need to "grow down." Instead of embracing our dark moods, we are told we must ingest various forms of chemicals that make us worse off than we were before. Shouldn't we become more aware of the deep, hidden feelings within us instead of always focusing on progress and development? This seems to be the implication of Heraclitus' statement. Our downside needs just as much attention as our upside. Our melancholia needs to be recognized and given space just as much as our narcissistic tendencies.

What I said above about depression is not to suggest that this is the case with all forms of mental distress. Many need some sort of clinical treatment. I am referring to people who, when the first feeling of melancholy strikes them, they are off to the psychiatrist for a bottle of pills. I personally am in contact with people who fit this description. The pills are a palliative. They effectively mask the feelings and moods which the psyche needs to experience. Why we are like this is beyond explanation. One can only go with the cyclical flow and allow the darkness to have its own place. "A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance" [Ecclesiastes 3:4].

Some semblance of understanding may lie in the psychology of C.G. Jung. He stresses the existence of a conflict of opposites, or enantiodromia. This is a term Heraclitus used to describe the endless to and fro process of the eternal flux. The opposites are at war with each other, but in this conflict there is harmony, for both positive and negative need one another. Jung based his theory of compensation on this principle, claiming that the conscious attitude, at times, must be balanced by gaining awareness of certain unconscious processes. According to Jung, "Just as all energy proceeds from opposition, so the psyche too possesses its inner polarity, this being the indispensable prerequisite for its aliveness, as Heraclitus realized long ago" (Jung 346).

It seems that Heraclitus' teaching does not consider success any better than failure, good any better than evil, prosperity any better than poverty, etc. In the linear view, good is at one pole, evil at the other. The cyclical view, however, holds that the same reality, in this case good/evil (for want of a better term) is constantly shifting between different faces. It's like the Jeckyll-Hyde story. How would we know what good is like if we did not have evil to complement it and compare it with? How can we know how pleasant life is until we have allowed room for our angst, our fears, and the inevitability of our own death? It seems that Heraclitus is teaching a complementarity of Being. As above, so below.

Works Cited

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. New York: Vintage, 1965.

Wheelwright, Philip. The Presocratics. Indianapolis: ITT, 1966.

A Great Mystery

The thing I am most certain about is the uncertainty of life. For all my years of reading philosophy, mysticism, religious texts, etc. I have no idea what life is about. I have theories, but there is never certainty. There is always a skepticism lurking nearby, which I suppose is always healthy.

I am certain that life is a mystery and that I will never rationally comprehend it. Life is the mysterium tremendum. I am certain that profound experiences are authentic, but their source eludes me. In his book, The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto wrote,
this mystery is [for humans] not merely something to be wondered at, but something that entrances him; and beside that in it which bewilders and confounds, he feels a something that captivates and transports him with a strange ravishment, rising often enough to the pitch of dizzying intoxication; it is the Dionysiac-element of the numen.
To describe this overwhelming experience of the sublime, Otto gave us the word, numinous.

The fact of uncertainty in the face of such mystery is why Kierkegaard penned The Sickness Unto Death. He thought Christianity could solve his dilemma, but it only intensified it. It is why Dostoevsky wrote novels; it is why Goethe wrote Faust; and it is most likely why Nietzsche went insane. In fact, it is why every thoughtful person thinks what they think about human existence.

It is our Western epistemological bent that demands full knowledge of the meaning of life. Surely, there is more satisfaction to be found in the experiential, the "dizzying intoxication" of a starry night; standing in a forest of redwood trees, gazing up at their majesty; or becoming enraptured in the amazing view from a mountain peak. Do we really require meaning, or is it a Western trait which we have learned via enculturation?

Why are we here? Are we here to know, or simply to live, to be? I have come to accept this world as "the vale of soul-making," as John Keats wrote
The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is 'a vale of tears' from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven-What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please "The vale of Soul-making". Then you will find out the use of the world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it) I say 'Soul making' Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence- There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions-but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself (John Keats, Letter to George and Georgiana Keats, 1819). 

Jan 20, 2012

Dark Places


In chapter four of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic work, The Hobbit, the travelers are seeking a path over the Misty Mountains when they are assaulted by a monstrous, soul-wrenching storm. This is how Tolkien describes it:
...one day they met a thunderstorm - more than a thunderstorm, a
thunder-battle. You know how terrific a really big thunderstorm can be down in the land and in a river-valley; especially at times when two great  thunderstorms meet and clash. More terrible still are thunder and lightning in the mountains at night, when storms come up from East and West and make war. The lightning splinters on the peaks, and rocks shiver, and great crashes split the air and go rolling and tumbling into every cave and hollow; and the  darkness is filled with overwhelming noise and sudden light.

Bilbo had never seen or imagined anything of the kind. They were high up in a narrow place, with a dreadful fall into a dim valley at one side of them.There they were sheltering under a hanging rock for the night, and he lay beneath a blanket and shook from head to toe. When he peeped out in the lightning-flashes, he saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out and were hurling rocks at one another for a game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed among the trees far below, or splintered into little bits with a bang. Then came a wind and a rain, and the wind whipped the rain and the hail about in every direction, so that an overhanging rock was no protection at all (Tolkien 65-66).
The travelers cling to their lives under an overhanging rock, while this dire scenario continues. They decide to send Fili and Kili ahead a short distance to find shelter. Soon, they return and report finding a dry cave where they could shelter themselves and their ponies for the duration of the storm. Gandalf questions them as to whether they have thoroughly explored the cave. They insist they have, even though they haven't. Nevertheless, due to the severity of the storm, the travelers make their way down the path, around the corner, and into the cave.

A cave is a classic metaphor of the unconscious. The cave is a dark, primitive place of containment. There are some caves that are said to be endless; one could become lost and wander around for the remainder of one's life without finding a way out. The cave usually lies below the earth (or in this case, under the mountains), just as unconscious contents lie below one's conscious experience. The cave is the maternal womb where life originates, incubates, and from whence it issues forth. Just as the vault of heaven is inexplicable, so are the deep places of the earth.

Sometimes, there are irruptions from these deep places into one's consciousness. Fissures and cracks open momentarily, at times, revealing glimpses of the depths below. There is great treasure to be discovered therein, so it is necessary, occasionally, to descend into the abyss to procure it.

As Bilbo sleeps, he dreams of a crack appearing at the back of the cave:
...he could not go to sleep for a long while; and when he did sleep, he had very nasty dreams. He dreamed that a crack in the wall at the back of the cave got bigger and bigger, and opened wider and wider, and he was very afraid but could not call out or do anything but lie and look. Then he dreamed that the floor of the cave was giving way, and he was slipping-beginning to fall down, down, goodness knows where to.
This is the archetypal journey into the depths of our unconsciousness. At certain points in our lives, the floor of the cave simply collapses and we fall headlong into the deep places. There are myriad dangers and much travail and suffering to experience, but there are amazing and wondrous treasures down there! It takes courage to descend into the darkness, and then make one's way back up into the light. It is no easy task, indeed.

A multitude of goblins grabbed the travelers and dragged them down into the roots of the mountain. The only one not taken was Gandalf, the wizard, who had created an explosion just at the moment when Bilbo had yelled with a loud voice. The blast killed several goblins.

The Wizard is able to control the forces of Nature, pulling together the elements to create a force that keeps one in the light. No darkness can defeat it. Bilbo and the dwarves, however, had not yet mastered these things and must suffer for a season.

The way of the unconscious is a treacherous road. A comfortable journey is hardly ever in the cards. Bilbo and his friends would spend time in the belly of the beast, suffering for awhile, and exploring the depths before being brought into the Sun once more. They would return stronger and more fit for the remainder of their journey to defeat Smaug and liberate the Lonely Mountain.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine, 1937.

Jan 19, 2012

The Eyes Are The Windows To Soul


One of the most important symbols in ancient religion was the eye. A ubiquitous aphorism says, "The eyes are the windows to the soul." I've tried to trace the origin of this saying, but it may go back too far. The notion is very old. The Solar eclipse probably played a large role in the formulation of the phrase, for the ancients saw the eyes as solar orbs, enlightening the body.

In many parts of the world, the winged sun-disk symbol resembling an eye has been found graven in stone. In ancient Assyria, it represented the sun god, Shamash; in Egypt, the sun god, Re. Many believe that the symbol was fashioned from the appearance of a total solar eclipse, where the sun's corona resembles wings and the blackened sun looks a lot like an eye. The symbol has been found with the Toltecs, Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas, as well. Here is a good description of this phenomenon:
It is more than noteworthy that, during the interval of totality of a total solar eclipse, the black ball of the moon surrounded by the sun's corona bears a truly astonishing resemblance to a majestic eye gazing down from the skies above our planet Earth. The darkened orb of the moon occulting the bright disc of the sun forms the pupil of this celestial oculus while the ethereal halo formed by the myriad streamers and rays of the sun's corona which radiate outwards all around the black silhouette of the Earth's single natural satellite vividly recalls the iris of an eye. The black disc formed by the dark lunar orb is quite analogous to the pupil of an eye. Knowing that the pupil of the eye is essentially a hole in the eye via which light is transmitted to the cones and rods of the retina, we might not be surprised to find that the darkened moon observed during the total solar eclipse has been, at least metaphorically, likened to a "hole in the sky" (Robin Edgar, Eye Of God).
This "all-seeing eye" represented, among other things, the belief that God was omniscient and omnipresent.

But what does the eye signify microcosmically? Jacob Bohme said, "The Soul is an eye in the Eternal Abyss, a similitude of Eternity." To gaze into the eyes of another is to gaze into the unlimited, unbounded depths of Soul. The gaze need not be a literal looking into someone's eyes. This is the realm of the Imaginal, a term coined by Henry Corbin, the French orientalist, mystic, and phenomenologist. The Imaginal is this unbounded realm of soul.

...alam al-mithal, the world of the Image, mundus imaginalis: a world as ontologically real as the world of the senses and the world of the intellect, a world that requires a faculty of perception belonging to it, a faculty that is a cognitive function, a noetic value, as fully real as the faculties of sensory perception, or intellectual intuition. This faculty is the imaginative power, the one we must avoid confusing with the imagination that modern man identifies with "fantasy" and that, according to him, produces only the "imaginary" (From Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam by Henri Corbin, Translated by Leonard Fox).
It should also be mentioned that the image produced by the solar eclipse is the perfect juxtaposition of light and dark, producing the state of metaxy, which I discussed in a previous article. The metaxy is the in-between state, which is the realm of Soul, according to Plato. It is the middle course Icarus was instructed to fly by his father, but disobeyed and perished. It also reminds me of the Taoist Yin/Yang.

The images of Nature show us the correct path to take. The winged-eye of the solar eclipse is just one example.

Reminiscence

Again we ask: Why don't we remember? Plato gives us a hint near the close of his Republic, when the souls had each one chosen their lot for their coming birth on earth. Having been warned to have a care and not be covetous, they pass before the three Moirai or Spinners of Destiny. Arriving at sundown at the arid plain of Forgetfulness, they were enjoined to drink "a certain quantity" from the river Lethe. Sagely he notes that "those who were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary," and so forgot "all things." In those few words lies the whole drama, the tragi-comedy of human existence, and also its enduring hope. Who of us in our desire to forget the painful encounters of the day does not welcome the boon of sleep; how much more should we not appreciate the mercy of death, whereafter the noble and beautiful of a life leaves its indelible impress on the soul? (Why Don't We Remember? by Grace F. Knoche)
When we are sleeping, are we remembering? Are we drawing closer to aletheia? We sleep, we dream. We are flooded with autonomous, spontaneous images. These tell stories, tales from the underground of human being. We insist they mean something. We try to interpret them, according to some standard, such as the Jungian archetypal system. But doesn't this try to pull them from their native soil up into the light of ego and rationality? Are dreams really meant to be explained, or have we been duped into thinking this by psychoanalysts, who get rich by telling us what they mean?

If there is a way to experience dreams without resorting to rationality, this is the path to follow, I think. This thought reminds me of Zen koans.

But what if dreams are memories? Could they be the unconscious act of dredging up images from the underground that point us toward our true place in the universe? Perhaps dreams are like convoluted memories, dimmed by the darkness of the underworld.

When we dream, are we conversing with the goddess, Mnemosyne? Are we drinking from the gentle course of her waters?
Nature is ever compassionate and just: since the bright waters of Mnemosyne could be death-dealing to the unready, she provides a caring method whereby one or more of her daughters may inspire to nobility of soul. Do we not even today seek Terpsichore, Melpomene, or Polyhymnia -- Muses of Dance, Song, and Hymn -- for inner as well as outer refreshment? Do not scientists, in self-sacrificing labor and research, receive intuitions from Urania whose magic staff points to heavenly spheres whence comes her celestial knowledge? Assuredly, every human being is the particular care of one or more of the "sweetly speaking Nine" -- messengers of our spiritual self, whose life-giving wisdom is a constant aid to remembrance (ibid.).
Remembering from whence we came is the great task of human beings. Our lives are a cyclical journey, opening into aletheia, following the path of the river, Mnemosyne.

Remembering is the means by which we can join Soul to matter and become more intelligible, thus having the ability to walk unfettered in the world of imperceptibles.

Plato believed that memory is
that power by which the soul is enabled to profer in some future period, some former energy: and the energy of this power is reminiscence. Now the very essence of intellect is energy, and all its perceptions are nothing more than visions of itself: but all the energies of soul are derived from intellectual illumination. Hence we may compare intellect to light, the soul to an eye, and Memory to that power by which the soul is converted to the light, and actually perceives. But the visions of the soul participate of greater or less reality, in proportion as she is more or less intimately converted to the divine light of intellect. In the multitude of mankind, indeed, the eye of the soul perceives with but a glimmering light, being accustomed to look constantly abroad into the dark and fluctuating regions of sense, and to contemplate solely the shadowy forms of imagination; in consequence of which, their memory is solely employed on objects obscure, external, and low. But in the few who have purified that organ of the soul, by which truth can alone be perceived, and which, as Plato says, is better worth saving than ten thousand eyes of sense; who have disengaged this eye from that barbaric clay with which it was buried, and have by this means turned it as from some benighted day, to bright and real vision: in these, Souls, Memory and Reminiscense, are entirely conversant with those divine ideal forms, so familiar to the soul before her immersion in body (From a footnote to The Hymns of Orpheus, translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792)
This conversion, awakening, transformation, seems to be gradual. It is not sudden, such as the so-called "born-again" experiences of many Christians. Aletheia takes time and much rumination. Something so valuable never comes easy.

Z

Jan 18, 2012

Encounter With Death

Life and death come into the world together; the eyes and the sockets which hold them are born at the same moment. The moment I am born I am old enough to die. As I go on living I am dying. Death is entered continuously, not just at the moment of death as legally and medically defined. Each event in my life makes its contribution to my death, and I build my death as I go along day by day (Hillman, 59).
This is a most curious statement to the literal-minded masses, but it is the most profound truth. Death is encountered within oneself on a daily basis. We would not know life if not for death. The goal of life is death, but death is not a telos. We build our death-vessel day by day. Within us, there are laborers toiling, hammering, nailing, constructing, tearing down, rebuilding. This is an ongoing phenomenon, day after day, year after year. We do not begin to "get our house in order" at the point of death, but at birth.

Death is not our enemy, but simply another experience of the human condition. Where did we get this idea in Western culture that death is an enemy? The Apostle Paul bequeathed it to Christianity, influencing many later Western thinkers. Paul said,
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).
As many things in the West have been cloven asunder by repressing one pole or another of reality, so too, turning away from the death experience in Christianity has resulted in an imbalance in the human condition. This gave birth to the Apollinian heroic ego, the quintessential archetype of Western man. An overemphasis on light, life, joy, happiness, feeling good, etc. has driven many to madness and destruction. Acquainting oneself with one's impending death is a necessity to being fully alive.

I have come to embrace the idea that Soul is the death-body I am constructing in this life to allow me to successfully cross to the next experience. Soul is a bridge between worlds, the intermediate place between all polarities, the metaxy. It's an old belief, one that is rarely discussed anymore. Plato described the idea of metaxy in his Symposium.  All that I experience in this world is part of the construction of the death-vessel, my soul. All the suffering I endure is for the good of my death-body.

The poet, John Keats said,
Call the world if you Please "The vale of Soul-making." Then you will find out the use of the world . . . I say 'Soul-making' Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence -- There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions -- but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. . . . Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?
Soul-making is the building of the death-vessel.

Hillman, James. Suicide And The Soul. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

Jan 17, 2012

Musings On Poe's Descent Into The Maelstrom


We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak (Edgar Allan Poe, A Descent Into The Maelstrom).
On a theme as slight as falling, Edgar Allan Poe succeeds in providing, by means of a few objective images, enough substance for the fundamental dream to make the fall last. To understand Poe's imagination, it is necessary to live this assimilation of external images by the movement of inner falling, and to remember that this fall is already akin to fainting, akin to death. The reader can then feel such empathy that upon closing the book he still keeps the impression of not having come back up (Gaston Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination And Reverie, page 15).
We humans, who have crossed the bridge to the twenty-first century, who have scaled the lofty heights of scientific knowledge, who have even ascended to Luna, believe that we are superior to our predecessors. We are certain we have achieved a level of knowledge not known before. We are convinced we have reached the "loftiest crag." But little do we know what lies under us, in the yawning chasm below. We are totally unaware of the terrors and ecstasies which await us there.

As in Poe's story, an old man guides us, much as Virgil guided Dante. The old man is not elder in years, but in experience. He has witnessed firsthand the terror and profundity of the secret place. His hair has been transformed from "a jetty black to white," his nerves are so jangled he becomes "giddy" from peering over the cliff. Here, giddiness is a common occurrence. One cannot gaze long into the very ground of being without becoming disoriented. Some will go insane, as did Nietzsche. The maelstrom is not a safe place to visit; there is great danger there. On the other hand, there is also great blessing.

The old man mentions he is frightened by a shadow. Could it be he has gazed at the "frenzied convulsion --heaving, boiling, hissing" of his own Self and been horrified? Is he frightened by what he is? At the root of his being, he is light and shadow, but, until now, he was unaware of the darker aspects. It is a sobering experience to discover one's true nature.
In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks, at length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast. --Edgar Allan Poe, A Descent Into The Maelstrom
The image of the maelstrom in Poe’s short story is based on an empirical phenomenon off the coast of Norway called the Lofoten Maelstrom. It is situated at 67 deg. 48 min. N, 12 deg. 50 min. E between The Lofoten Point (Lofotodden) and the island Værøy south west of the main chain of The Lofoten Islands. It takes its name from the small island Mosken in the center of it.

The maelstrom is an excellent picture of Soul. A maelstrom is a spiral, probably the oldest spiritual symbol in the history of mankind. Not only is it a spiral, but it is a helix, which shows up in many spiritual traditions around the world. The helix displays characteristics of both time and eternity. The fact that it is a three-dimensional cone places it within the realm of time; the endless spiraling places it in eternity. It is a point of convergence between time and eternity. It is the Metaxy, the middle-region between humans and the gods.

The maelstrom is in constant cyclical flux, as is all of Nature. At times, it seems to sleep peacefully. Then, in a moment it awakens with intense ferocity, spinning and whirling, and threatening to engulf anything in its grasp. It is both life and death; serenity and tempestuousness. It is awe-inspiring, yet extremely dangerous.

Our universe is a cosmic maelstrom:
Which of us has never looked up at a particularly clear night sky and wondered about what is up there? For millenniums people speculated that the universe was about as simple, and as serene, as it looked. But discoveries made in this century reveal that what is up there is not so simple. It is a place of immense distances, enormous violence, a cosmic maelstrom in which countless stars are born and die and they and their galaxies are constantly moving ''away'' - the whole universe expanding from its origins in the big bang billions of years ago (From Big Science In The Sky, by Leon M. Lederamn. New York Times).
We are this universe and this universe is us.

Transmundanity

The cusp between land and sea beckoned to me from the myriad existences gone before. I stood on the Rim of Time, peering into something, yet nothing. Truly, at this point, "thing-ness" had ceased to be and I was thrown into an enigma.

I was blind and saw everything in sweet lucidity. The land was in the grasp of Winter. The forest, hot and steamy, was a haven for living creatures who could not endure the sweltering sultriness of the winter morning. Snow gracefully draped the trees making for a masterful adornment. Nearby, a small pond was ice.

Night came and the sun was a roaring conflagration. I heard a flute singing softly through the cold, mist-shrouded dampness. A gaggle flew over my head, honking a haunting tune. I followed the singing.

Suddenly, I stood in the midst of the ocean waves. The firmness beneath me felt exhilarating. As I stood, gazing into the deep, a giant stood to greet me. I acknowledged and had an epiphany. I realized it was a memory of another life. My winter had truly arrived, and, with it, remorse.

Z

The Broken Wheel

 I stood before the four judges and wondered what would become of me. Or is it me? Is it Them? Me seems so selfish, so single-minded. I wondered whether they would realize that I wasn't only me?

After much ruminating, it was decided I would spend a season in the bowels of the earth, but not a season. Actually, it was a non-season, if you will.

Soon afterwards, (or was it prior to?) We found ourselves in a lovely green meadow, filled with richly colored flowers and emerald grass. There were other selves there as well, all having returned from their just deserts. We told ourselves about our experiences. There was much talk of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Also, various pleasantries were described. One set of selves told of a beautiful woman with long flowing hair and silky soft skin.

We also talked of how we would be forced to return to the Dark Place, for it was appointed unto us to fall once again. These discussions began to draw us toward the Hinge of the Universe, The Spindle of the Moirae, where we drew our lots. Then, the Great Decision was before us and we were thrown forcibly onto a searing hot desert floor where two rivers flowed. Having drank of these, we fell into a deep sleep and dreamed of a broken wheel.

Z

Jan 16, 2012

Imagination, The Star Within Us All


Imaginatio is the Star in Man, the Celestial or Supercelestial Body (A Lexicon of Alchemy, by Martin Rulandus).
We don't realize what is available to us. We go through our daily lives, often extremely depressing, usually focused on material things. We forget that all we need do is close our eyes and enter another world. The Imaginal is a vast landscape, an immense cosmos where nothing is impossible. It is not limited by physical laws, the constraints of logic, or space-time constructs we are accustomed to.
One of the most significant characteristics of this realm is that within it the things that one encounters—and they are very specific things indeed, ranging from rocks and trees to buildings and entire cities have about them a distinctly personal character. As Corbin says, the pronoun best used when describing the specifics of this dimension is not "what" but "who." The imaginal dimension, he wrote, is "a universe for which it is difficult in our language to find a satisfactory term." It is "an ‘external world,’ and yet it is not the physical world. It is a world that teaches us that it is possible to emerge from measurable space without emerging from extent, and that we must abandon homogeneous chronological time in order to enter that qualitative time which is the history of the soul" (Recovering a Visionary Geography, by Ptolemy Tompkins).
One cannot rationally explain such things. When the experience comes, however, there is a deep sense of meaning and emotion. This is the nature of Truth, aletheia, if you will. With such truth comes, not necessarily enlightenment, but a sublime sense of satisfaction.



Comments On Jungian Dream Theory


 One flaw to be encountered in Jungian dream theory is the agreement of Jung with Freud that the dream must be brought to the daylight world via interpretation. This is the work of ego-consciousness, forcing the dream up from its abode in the Underworld and away from its natural state. Jungians wants to bring the unconscious into consciousness because they believe this will bring them to a state of wholeness. The alchemical Jungian calls this the opus contra naturam, the work against nature. This is the process of compensation, whereby the psyche, according to Jung, regulates itself:
The activity of consciousness is selective. Selection demands direction. But direction requires the exclusion of everything irrelevant. This is bound to make the conscious orientation one-sided. The contents that are excluded and inhibited by the chosen direction sink into the unconscious, where they form a counterweight to the conscious orientation. The strengthening of this counterposition keeps pace with the increase of conscious one-sidedness until finally . . . . the repressed unconscious contents break through in the form of dreams and spontaneous images. . . . As a rule, the unconscious compensation does not run counter to consciousness, but is rather a balancing or supplementing of the conscious orientation. In dreams, for instance, the unconscious supplies all those contents that are constellated by the conscious situation but are inhibited by conscious selection, although a knowledge of them would be indispensable for complete adaptation["Definitions," CW 6, par. 694.]
So, what we have here is a pretty impressive-sounding argument in favor of looking for hidden meanings in dreams and thus bringing them into the purview of the rational ego. Unconsciousness becomes conscious and one is closer to becoming individuated.
Individuation is a process informed by the archetypal ideal of wholeness, which in turn depends on a vital relationship between ego and unconscious. The aim is not to overcome one's personal psychology, to become perfect, but to become familiar with it. Thus individuation involves an increasing awareness of one's unique psychological reality, including personal strengths and limitations, and at the same time a deeper appreciation of humanity in general (Jung Lexicon).
Both Freud and Jung were wrong in thinking the dream must be forced to travel from its natural home in Hades, over the river Styx, and up into the dayworld. What we actually should be doing is following the dream downward. Our task is to pay the ferryman his due and make our way to the land of shades, where we may experience the dream where it lives.

Z

Transmogrification

http://venomxbaby.deviantart.com/
 A fierce whipping wind thrust me suddenly into consciousness, albeit a semblance. I was lying on an aery protuberance, jutting out onto a sort of transmogrified terracing of translucence. In the wind-speak, I could hear the voices of aeons gone by. Myriad images raced through my mind, as the inarticulations gushed forth from the violence of the blast. I had chosen this odyssey, and now I was facing the full brunt of its burden. 

I had been on a long journey to the least understood parts of the earth, where I had experienced things mere immortals should never witness. It was summer here and rays beat down like drunken fireflies. Throughout the ordeal, I ardently desired to eject this body and return to my homeland. I had the power to do so, if I so deemed it. Fate, however, had prepared my way and I must perdure.

My gaze into the distant panorama revealed a land weary of aggrandizement and grandiloquence. A world is sensitive that way. The terrain was gray and barren. Yes, this world was a wasteland. The voices spoke of a time when all was green and vernal. The sun rose in the morning; stars in the evening. Those days were long past. As these musings rumbled through me, a misty stench arose from the desert floor, reminding me that I was only here for a brief time, thank the Gods. The harshness of this environment shook me to the core of my being.

A world worlds; that is what worlds do. When its inhabitants become its enemies, unworlding begins. Apparently, from what I had experienced thus far, this planet had seen the devastations of unworlding for many millenia. I wondered what this world was feeling, being at such a low point in its existence. Then, I once again heard the wind-speak. With many howls of agonizing despair, the actions of this world's inhabitants were related to me in great detail. I was told how living beings of this world were senselessly slaughtered for love of something called "money." This was a strange word to me. It had an evil feel about it. I listened for many nights until I felt I could endure no more. A record of the wind-speak had been taken and I was ready to depart. I spoke a eulogy to this world and bid it farewell.

Z

Swimming In Two Worlds


Even as a great fish swims along the two banks of a river, first along the eastern bank and then the western bank, in the same way the spirit of man moves along beside his two dwellings: this waking world and the land of sleep and dreams ("Supreme Teaching" in The Upanishads).
What would happen to us if we did not visit the Underworld via sleep on a regular basis? There are all sorts of maladies brought on by sleep deprivation that you can read about here at the Wikipedia site. I grow weary of asking why something occurs as it does because this usually ends up at an impasse. The scientific method does not work well on the deep mysteries of human existence. You can only go so far.

But, phenomenologically, we know without a doubt that we alternate between two very different worlds because we experience them both daily. The Nightworld and the Dayworld have distinct rules which govern them. You can, undoubtedly, think of many differences. The point is simply this: we do sleep and wake, and we do experience reality on two different levels on a daily basis.

When we sleep, we perceive the Nightworld through our dreams. There we encounter people, places, colors, things, landscapes, etc., just as in our Dayworld experiences. Because we are citizens of two distinct worlds, we should pay homage to each. But what do we do? We have been conditioned to act as though our Dayworld existence is the only reality and that our dreams are useless, probably caused by something we ate. This is primarily driven by the ego and its endless demands for attention, to the exclusion of everything else.

When we visit the Underworld nightly, something happens to us. There is a benevolent process in the psyche that does something beyond our rational understanding. Perhaps it prepares us for the final journey to the Underworld. It is a mystery. But we know something occurs. There is definitely an intermingling of consciousness and unconsciousness occurring, as if small fissures open from below and vapors emanate upward into our conscious minds. We do retain memory of our dreams occasionally.

So, if an intermingling takes places during the night, does it also occur during the day? Do the inhabitants of the Underworld hear noises cascading downward from above? Does a glimpse of the Dayworld appear to them on a regular basis? And can we interact with that world in the daytime? I think so. We can imagine, visualize, reminisce, meditate.

When we imagine, we come into contact with images from the Nightworld, especially if we meditate on our dreams. Jung called this active imagination.
I really prefer the term [active] 'imagination' to 'fantasy', because there is a difference between the two which the old doctors had in mind when they said that 'opus nostrum', our work, ought to be done 'per veram imaginationem et non phantastica' - by true imagination and not by a fantastical one. In other words, if you take the correct meaning of this definition, fantasy is mere nonsense, a phantasm, a fleeting impression; but imagination is active, purposeful creation. And this is exactly the distinction I make too. A fantasy is more or less your own invention, and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations. But active imagination, as the term denotes, means that the images have a life of their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic - that is, of course, if your conscious reason does not interfere (C.G. Jung, Analytical Psychology : its Theory and Practice
The Tavistock Lectures (1935).

Blackened

Frozen by Sol, I made my way through the labyrinthine forest, stopping only occasionally to gaze at hoary stalagmites growing upwards toward a blackened ceiling. This was a strange place to be for one in my condition. For, you see, I have a disease known as Discontentedness. Some learn to live with it for many years, to the detriment of all green things. But, me, I am one who has sought to escape its fatal clutches. I have chosen this twisted, tangled road I now find myself on, because of its high magic.

The horrid sickness is terminal, if allowed to fester. So, I continue on, ever searching. Antagonistically, I chose to be frozen by the great Sol and wander this maze until I find the Cure.

After passing through an area where fiery talons reached down from the boughs and tried to snatch me upward, I came to a kind of misty clearing where I saw in the distance what seemed to be a large python slithering away into the deep entanglement. I spotted a many-colored waterfall on its back, where aurora water gushed from its bowels onto the forest floor.

I climbed a nearby flower to see if I could catch the essence of its fragrance, and, perchance, see where the mighty serpent had gone, but I was too late. The python had found me. Its waters engulfed me in a mighty current of its power and I was returned to my point of origin. I would not find the Cure on this day, but I would return, again and again. Next time, I will be ready to traverse the great waterfall.

Jan 14, 2012

Musings On Causality

Photo by Joanna Suska
I suspect the ubiquitous idea of cause and effect is slipping away. The West has been obsessed with it for millennia. Admittedly, it has been useful, but it does not appear applicable to everything in our universe. For example, scientists are again investigating the speed-of-light question, whether its limit is 186K m/s, as Einstein postulated. Experiments with neutrinos are being conducted at the CERN  in Switzerland. Writer Leonard Brunk comments:
What does this mean if cause and effect is obsolete? This means one can change the outcome. Cause and effect says if a house catches on fire, that house will burn down as a result; this is what we’ve always perceived as common sense. However if cause and effect is not absolute, then this means one can go back after the effect has taken place and prevent the house from burning down. Or this means after the house is burnt down from the ashes the same house, brick by brick, can arise as if never burnt. Which of these impossible examples sounds less impossible? This is a perfectly valid question, because if what has been discovered in physics recently is confirmed then one of the above two scenarios is a reality. (Personally, I’m more prone to believing the first scenario; going back after the effect) (Is Cause & Effect Obsolete?, by Leonard I. Brunk).
Plato was, most likely, the first Western thinker to formally mention the principle of causality: "every­thing that becomes or changes must do so owing to some cause; for nothing can come to be without a cause" (Timaeus 28a). So, we have had over two thousand years of this idea. But what did more ancient cultures think about cause and effect?

The Buddha had his own ideas as to causal relations.
The Buddha realized that all existing theories were inadequate to express the nature of reality. The unique contribution of the Buddha to Indian thought was his middle way doctrine, which avoided the two extremes of etemalism and annihilationism. The causal theories that were in existence at the time subscribed to one or the other of these two extreme philosophical positions. This is why the Buddha found it necessary to introduce a new term to express his vision into the nature of reality.

According to the Buddha, paticcasamuppada [dependent arising] is not the product of metaphysical speculation. It is an order of nature to be discovered by intelligent beings. He says that whether Tathagatas are born or not this order of nature (dhammatthitata, dhammaniyamata) exists in the world. It is discovered by a Buddha and pointed out to others. It is not be taken as a subjective philosophical thesis, but as a principle that governs occurrences in the physical universe and the psychological processes of living beings. It is discovered by careful observation of nature. 
If there is any relation between any two things A and B such that when ever A exists, B comes into being and with the arising of A, B also arises, and when A does not exist B too does not come into being, and with the cessation of A, B also ceases to be, such a relation may be called a dependent arising relation.
What the Buddha wanted to point out was, that in the observed world there are things and occurrences, which exhibit this relationship. It is an observable fact about the world. Things in the world do not happen merely by chance. There is a causal order or pattern, which could be discovered. When this order or pattern of events is discovered it is possible to explain happenings, to solve practical problems of life, and to predict the future course of events. (from Dependent Arising and the Doctrine of the Middle Way, by Prof. P.D. Premasiri PhD).
 We are not going to solve anything in this discussion. These musings are mostly for my own personal benefit, anyway. The debate has been waged a long time. The fact, however, that we may be close to a watershed discovery, that will turn the ideas of causality upside down, is  very exciting!

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