“I found an island in your arms
Country in your eyes
Arms that chain
Eyes that lie
Break on through to the other side” Jim Morrison
Oftentimes it is said that ideas are less important and that action is better; what counts then is what is done or made manifest. The favored status of action, an idea itself, has always struck me as a half-truth, which of course it is. An idea is as much an action as the mind is the body. I say this not to blur the lines or resolve that ideas and actions are somehow the same, but more to reveal a hidden relationship and unity between seeming opposites that reflect in many ways our condition. A condition which is itself unified in ways that we perhaps might not be accustomed to seeing or sensing. Separation then, is both a blessing and a curse. “Idea” from “idein” is akin to archetype, model or seeing and is very much related to bodily sense. All seeing comes from the body.
The constructs of our mind are also constructs of our bodies; psyche and soma, and in this world anyway, happen together. That we are capable of mentally splitting off body from mind and mind from body is an amazing human quality, but points to a deficiency of perception. A blind spot in our senses. We can think in ways that carve the world up into fragments that don’t exist apart from our mental constructs. Mental constructs can be useful, and even necessary, but when division and separation are not seen as constructs for the sake of convenience, the pain of separation, the threat of loss and death become spectral enemies that haunt us, tempting us to destroy them, either through literal murder or mentally by splitting them off from awareness. Here the past seems more real than the present, others become “not us,” foreigners, enemies, and nature removed to some place “out there.”
If it is in the realm of ideas and sense perception that the splitting occurs, that will also be the place where reunification happens. We cannot and do not live without ideas, without thought, without mind or psyche (or soma). Broadening our ideas dissolves the hardened sense and boundary of self and other. The place of wounding (splitting) is then the place of healing (unifying, or at least relating to the split). In alchemy there is first the separation of the substances, then a reuniting. But if wholeness is the background, or underlying nature of reality, seeing and sensing it may not come from ignoring the illusions of separation and parts but more from multiplying them, or seeing the many in the one. That is what metaphor, fairy tale, mythology or a good poem does for us. Instead of a literal account of reality, a metaphor intentionally takes us beyond the literal, singleness of meaning, opening up and expanding meaning by “a carrying over.”
Each chapter of Norman O. Brown’s book, Love’s Body, uses the rich history of ideas, mythology, Freud’s psychology, religion and mystical insights to define and resolve the splitting off of pieces of the world into what is mine, not mine, real, unreal, us, them, history, mythology, life and death. Do we suffer duality because language divides the world into things that we come to identify within the separateness of our bodies? Was it primitive of man to experience a “participation mystique?” Do animals experience a more unified world? …and what does love got to do with it? Everything of course – because we love what is perceived to become ours, we incorporate others and all that is “out there” into our subjective sense of self when we love. Love is communion, death where hate calls for an excommunication, a disowning in which we separate out all that we don’t, won’t or can’t commune with. A mirror darkened.
Perhaps our sense of being a separate self, along with the nature of time – our one-at-a-time perception, powerfully convinces us that the nature of the world is really not unified, but separate pieces and parts. Even language is structured sequentially; one word following another in which we grasp meaning by putting the words together as if something whole had been torn asunder.
Many of us sense both the split and the underlying unity of the world to some degree or another. But what is it that moves a sense of unity into the heart, to permeate our daily experience and slowly dissolve the need to take the boundaries literally? And, what does a sense and awareness of unity do for us? Does our sense of “I” as the unique owner and operator of “me” disappear, merging forever into the oneness? That, I believe is a false perception perhaps held by those whose mental constructs, mistaken for “reality,” are still too near, and far too dear, to part with. Or, as Brown suggests, become the “Fall” into division. He reminds us that “the erection of a boundary does not alter the fact that there is, in reality, no boundary.”
Borrowing largely from Christianity, Brown uses the analogies of rebirth, resurrection, and apocalypse to get at the problem of separation and reunification. Not following any creed or practice – every major western thinker, poet, mystic or philosopher is included in the conversation – and rightly so, as wisdom can never be “owned,” or the exclusive property of any one of us, because wisdom’s nature is to free us from our literal sense of separateness; the possessions, boundaries, framings, and identities used to divide what is by nature whole.
“The real apocalypse comes, not with the vision of a city or kingdom, which would still be external, but with the identification of the city and kingdom with one’s own body.” Political kingdoms are only shadows – my kingdom is not of this world – because kingdoms of this world are non-bodily. Political freedom is only a prefiguration of true freedom: “The Bastille is really a symbol, that is, an image or form, of the two larger prisons of man’s body and the physical world.” Political and fleshly emancipation are finally one and the same; the god is Dionysus.”
The apocalypse, or unveiling, is Dionysian, a madness in which the god is torn apart, broken, in pieces, no boundaries, moving beyond ordinary meanings into the multiplicity of symbolism, but instead of a breakdown, as in schizophrenia, a breakthrough. “Break on through to the other side,” as Jim Morrison put it. There is a danger here, for sure, but as Brown notes:
“The soul that we can call our own is not a real one. The solution to the problem of identity is, get lost.”
With the unveiling, symbolic consciousness accepts the mystery and empty space creates room for the not-known, the new. No longer do we have to figure it out, but accommodate living through our animal sense in the unavoidable present where love might find us without a purpose beyond itself.
“Symbolic consciousness is between seeing and not seeing. It does not see self-evident truths of natural reason; or visible saints. It does not distinguish the wheat from the tares; and therefore must, as Roger Williams saw, practice toleration; or forgiveness, for we never know what we do. The basis of freedom is recognition of the unconscious; the invisible dimension; the not yet realized; leaving a space for the new.”