Beyond Nature

Nature: Middle English (denoting the physical power of a person): from Old French, from Latin natura ‘birth, nature, quality,’ from nat- ‘born,’ from the verb nasci

Might there not be something to the idea that “women will have rights as long as men see fit to allow for those rights, all the while calculating the benefits from those rights given?” Or, rephrased in a way that archetypal psychology might rather imagine it, that “the feminine will be valued when the active forces of masculinity can transcend the seeming dualism of these notions and see the unified dynamic in which a syzygy is at work (or play) in all human existence as it is by nature ensouled?”

And is it not true, at root, that the abortion debate, like so many other disagreements in social (re)arrangements, political and personal, are dependent upon the power of technology to slowly remove the constraints, which for thousands of years infantilized us, but also left us without a sense of moral culpability? For a moral perspective is only possible where there is enough reflection to perceive oneself as a separate being from that of the tribe. Culpability then, is one of the distinctive marks of an individual as it ascribes agency and the power of choice that “I” alone can make.

Over time, it is identity which shapes and increases the ability to separate ourselves from nature, as moral creatures, in which an increasingly conscious disdain for nature’s brutality moves us beyond our former acceptance of the conditions of the natural world, urging us towards a future condition that transcends the natural state of things, beginning with reimagining the world as it is, into the world as it should, or could be. It is the increase in awareness of power and its steady transference from nature’s gods, to a transcendent God, and eventually onto man, that allow us to finally consider ourselves as co-creators.

As co-creators, through the newfound power that the imaginal realm reveals, the separation from natural conditions is increasingly enhanced through the ongoing distinctions uncovered between the physical and something beyond. This separation is the initiator of choice.

Choice suggests options; an urge to improve our lot, reducing our suffering, and through the discovery and use of technology creates the modern sense of self. A self that is separated, set apart, mission oriented, and driven towards the goal of progress, no longer willing to accept nature’s conditions and constraints as the fate of humanity. We are, finally, self-made and free at last.

Prior to these changes in psyche, there’s less of an ability to reflect on our identity, our place in time and the story of history. We moderns now readily pride ourselves as the agents of decision and the agents of power that define a very modern identity. But the more power is perceived to be ours, the heavier the price tag of conscience, whether inflated or repressed, increasingly we find ourselves weighed down by an overwhelming sense of responsibility and guilt that accompanies witnessing the consequences of our choices and actions.

Can we even say then, that psyche is nature, or rather might it also be a seductive lover that promises power and release from nature, but provides neither? And, is the dynamic between psyche and nature yet another syzygy whose unseen goal we cannot know? Is psyche the x factor in man that drives us to transform nature, through an enhanced imaginative vision that sees not how we are, but how we should be?

Perhaps then, before we get too attached to the idea that a force called the patriarchy; a masculine power dominating anything that dares to get in its way; the primary blame for all of the ills of the world, that we might at least entertain a certain irony here: that it has indeed taken a masculine force to activate our two-fold nature that rejects the herd, providing the agency necessary to assert ourselves as individuals. This may best describe the conditions in which a syzygy of symmetry is necessary to instill in us a capacity for reflection required to mimic and borrow nature’s power and whimsy.

Can this slow transformation over time, allowing us to reach this critical threshold in which debates about abortion, gender roles, equality, race, abuse, and all that sensitizes our passion for compassion be the table setter for the next stage? Might we be on the verge of igniting a holy fire that may eventually burn to ashes the imbalance of yin to yang we may at last be ready and willing to discard? I pray we not get lost in the emotional mire of debate at the expense of seeing a much bigger picture. These questions, concerns and debates want something from us.

As well, the identification of masculine with male, feminine with female, may tempt us to literalize the archetypal powers, confusing them with real persons, missing an opportunity to recognize the unseen forces operating in the background. Powers that we pretend to understand are what make up the dynamic of the syzygy. We could see both the masculine and feminine at work on us within a syzygy. What might be much needed in our current cultural, global crisis, is a deeper recognition of the dynamics between the active masculine and the passive feminine, both of which are vital aspects of any relationship.

A binding of the two, in which we fail to recognize the ways in which they are interrelated, promotes a literal view over an imaginal one. Without an awareness of the two-fold nature we lose the multi-dimensional nature of psyche and the notion of Anima Mundi, a world soul in which we all participate in and influence through our actions and inactions.

Choice is a big idea, and yet, dare we look deeply down the well of that idea to consider all of its implications, beyond the seeming choices we think we have at the moment, and get at the overarching drive that may very well mask our motivations, and miss, or avoid, the consideration and reflection of furthering the images of the goal?

“Hey girl
As I’ve always said I prefer your lips red
Not what the good Lord made
But what he intended” Roger Waters

Jim Morrison/Dionysus and Some Criticisms of Monotheism (9/09)

Great writing by Paul DeFatta on the Dionysian influence on the life and death of Jim Morrison and the affects of the shift away from polytheism to monotheism.

Paul's Bench

Regardless of its merits as an accurate depiction of Jim Morrison, the Oliver Stone movie “The Doors” serves as a useful illustration of the risks and the dangers involved in becoming psychologically identified with a religious archetype—in this case the ancient pagan deity, Dionysus.  At the same time, the film acknowledges and vicariously celebrates the imaginatively vitalizing and enriching effects produced by an influx of such “unauthorized” (by traditional Christianity) archetypal energy.  As the movie progresses, Jim Morrison’s ego becomes increasingly identified with (or subsumed by, depending on the direction from which one approaches the situation) this age-old god of “divine madness,” leading eventually to the breakdown and disintegration of an inflated, Dionysus-and-Jack Daniels-intoxicated ego-personality.  Of course, in chronicling the progressive dissolution and disintegration of his personality, the film unfolds like a cautionary tale.  The rock star’s ego, failing to maintain even a faint toehold within the arenas of…

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Love and Beauty

…for a poet is a light and winged thing, and holy, and never able to compose until he has become inspired, and is beside himself, and reason is no longer in him. Plato

Let’s start at the end. What gives us joy, reason, meaning, and a feeling of being alive, connected, loved and loving? Is it not, as Plato, the poets, the mystics and many other ordinary persons have shown from time immemorial, a deep and abiding personal experience with love and beauty?

In his most recent book, Secret Body, Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions, Jeffrey Kripal takes us on a deeply satisfying exploration of the relationship between modern currents of discontent, political division and concern for the future humanity, culture and the planet itself, compared to the state of our spirituality, or lack thereof, and specifically the loss of a deeper, more personal experience of the divine.

Consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know, or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell at the moment, this presence is entirely sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we would know later we would only know in, through, and because of this same consciousness.

There is then, by way of intimate and direct apprehension, no knowing outside of the experience of one’s conscious mind and body. Whether a metaphor or not, we are in, or within, an unseen parameter of the limits and expansions of conscious experience.

Embedded within the confines of our experience is a sense of dualism, strangely apparent, whether from the experience of being a separate body immersed in so many naturally occurring instances of “two,” or from the habits of mind in which language seems only able to abstract and translate immediate perception and sensation into discrete sequences, ideas and parts. Time and space, as primary conditions of embodied life, will always have their way with us. The sense of duality at root of embodied existence, may however provide more than what meets the eye, but also what meets the heart.

Like some immeasurable kabbalistic structure, all of reality is really made of letters, words, thoughts, in short, of a writing mind, but we only catch glimmers of this Logos, this Meaning of all meaning. As a result, we are not the writers but the written. “We are not the artists but the drawings.” And so we submit to the inherited scripts of our ancestors — so many fake worlds, unreal identities, and simulacra. (Philip K.) Dick gave all of these constructions and discourses a name: the Black Iron Prison.

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Perhaps as humans first began to use language, unburdened from the library of one’s cultural historical past, language may have been, more or less, an expression of immediate experience. The accumulation of “so many fake worlds, unreal identities and simulacra” had yet to carry with it a thread of the past, as it so clearly does today, so much so, that we’ve incorporated within our identity, histories, arbitrary and incomplete as they might be, conditioned and contextualized by how we hear and understand them today. While threads can be useful for carrying forward patterns and trends, knitting together coherency, an ongoing heroic, but futile, struggle of life against death, to our detriment, has dominated both land and mind in every culture and era. The arrow must fly, but care should be taken to know what we’re aiming at. All the random aiming of arrows over the vast expanse of the universe will ultimately fail to bring us closer to the divine, in which a fuller experience of love and beauty awaits, if we continue to shoot in the dark.

Non-human animals also compete in a struggle for life, but without the aid of technology, the damage to themselves and others remains quite limited. Although seemingly less than ever at the mercy of the elements and the powers of nature, such as they are, we moderns are out of shape and psycho-spiritually out of shape for any real struggle. Our hubris for fixing what we have in fact broken, seems to know no bounds.

We really think we are our masks and language games. We privilege our religious egos over our humanity, our societies over our species, our cultures over consciousness as such. We have it exactly backward. This book is about reversing that reversal. There is no more urgent political project than this.

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What then, can be said to the ways in which we go “about reversing that reversal?” Although we could go on forever describing our current dilemma in terms of the inherent limitations imposed from within and without, is there perhaps something available to us, from time immemorial, continually overlooked by the distractions of the day-to-day struggle, immersing us not only into our storied lives, but keeping us from stepping out into what may only present itself as impossibly remote possibilities of our future selves? And can language, story and imagination, that which immerses us, according to the prevailing myths of the day, in the “bad play” we currently find ourselves in, be the very vehicle that moves us into those future selves we currently envision and hunger for?

The one as two

Although ideas of wholeness may attract us as ways to heal division, and integrate the broken pieces of ourselves, others, and the world divided, we might question whether or not a more useful means of perceiving, which reflects more closely the physiology of the body, could prove to be useful. Surely, wholeness is a seductive word which points to a truer reality in which both love and beauty flourish, but is there any hope that mere mortals can find an access point in which we can truly commune with the divine?

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The experience of ourselves as not one, not whole, but rather as having two modes of perceiving, or what we simply refer to as an ability to both perceive through the senses while reflecting on that which is perceived, is somewhat obvious to most of us. This double vision can be seen structurally throughout the physical senses, from the two distinct sides of the brain, both with unique modes of perception, to the stereo-optics of our vision we are naturally equipped with. The mind and imagination too, see two-fold; inside/outside, conscious/unconscious, self/other, dead/alive, male/female, true/false, along with a myriad of other polarities that easily get our attention. Perhaps though, instead of being compelled to choose sides, opposites might present an opportunity to see as two, in stereo, forming a syzygy rather than a conflict.

The “one as two” dynamic appears throughout the ages in a variety of personified forms, including, the spiritual twin, guardian angel, Daimon, Genius or doppelgänger. These others may serve as necessary agents whose purpose is to engage us in dialogue with an autonomous figure in dreams or reverie. These are not only convenient fictions, but for some, living presences, visible or otherwise, that we engage with as partners in life’s journey. They offer us the opportunity to relieve the ego of its claim to that of sole purveyor of conscious experience by presenting an invisible otherness through reflective moments, offering to us messages that grace our steady movement throughout the day and night, and opening us up to a fluidity in our interpretation of reality along with an opportunity to deliteralize any stringent claims we’re tempted to settle upon, from the perceptions we are immersed in and influenced by. This would be akin to James Hillman’s perspective in which we share a “being in soul.” The soul for Hillman is necessarily a perspective, rather than a thing. Soul in this sense acts as a mediator, a carrier of the universals, downward, to the root of each personal embodied life.

We desperately need a new theory of the imagination (or a revived old one), one that can re-vision the imagination not as simply a spinner of fancy and distracting daydream but also, at least in rare moments, as an ecstatic mediator, expressive artist, and translator of the really real.

Ecstatic mediator? Perhaps the only way to entertain the possibility of such an idea requires that one incorporate a practice that acts as a portal to the impossible; for facilitating the experience of something present that is more than just “me.” The recognition that one indeed has habits of perception which can be seen through and reworked towards something more satisfying, can serve as an initiator into seeing habit itself as that which constrains thinking, exposing us to the susceptibility of falling into belief as an end point, a conclusion, which ultimately stifles the senses and constricts access to the universals. This codification easily becomes a death of soul, in which we no longer engage the living waters of life, but settle for drinking from the swamp.

Jeffrey Kripal sees the need to revitalize the quality and value of our spiritual experiences, if we ever hope to revitalize the human experience and end the current death spiral. Perhaps too, what we’ve come to call “paranormal” may just be a term that has come into use alongside an increasingly modern prejudice in which our fear of the esoteric, its relationship to the erotic, and invisible realities has gone underground.

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J.. Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions (Kindle Locations 4076-4078). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

Functional Reality

“Man is not free to choose whether to be or not to be .…” That’s probably a good thing under the circumstances. Instead, he generates “an unlimited series of other binary distinctions which , while never resolving the primary contradiction [his existence], echo and perpetuate it on an ever smaller scale.… [T] he reality of being [is what] man senses at the deepest level as being alone capable of giving a reason and a meaning to his daily activities, his moral and emotional life, his political options, his involvement in the social and natural worlds, his practical endeavours, and his scientific achievements.…”

lossy-page1-378px-RGNb10360943.01_Nollet_The_Electric_Boy.tifRichard Grossinger quotes Claude Levi-Strauss In Chapter Six of his book, Dark Pool of Light, Volume I, in which he takes on the philosophical arguments between Functionalists and Phenomenalists. I am no student of philosophy, but will try to sum up here the arguments as I understand them. The Functionalist argument says that mind is a by-product of material processes, and so, has no ability to cause itself. The implication being that there is no active agency, only chemical and genetic processes interacting to give us an illusion of a subjective self. Therefore, a functionalist sees robots, and all AI, as beings just as “conscious” as we are; there is no difference in functionality.

Regardless of any truth behind the ideas of functionalism or phenomenalism, what’s equally interesting to me, is the underlying, often hidden motivation, driving a preference for one idea over the other. Mine as well as yours. If functionalism is true, then we too are just as mechanical in nature, consisting of mechanical parts giving us only an illusion of consciousness, and reproducible with the right combination of hardware and software design. Therefore, we too are AI, so what we do to AI – the rules we agree upon for the treatment, trust, and respect for machines, might potentially become acceptable forms of treatment for humans.

Perhaps these issues of agency, or subjectivism; who has it, what is it, does it even exist, can only start from one’s own sensitivities and experience. Although a consensus may be predicated on abstract notions of a quantitative scientific measurement, when we leave out, and thereby devalue, qualitative experience, we are forgetting what is so primary to our being. We may never grasp the true nature of consciousness, but that should not tempt us to dismiss or reduce it to either irrelevance or mirage. For what, or who, and this is a key question, is making such a decision?

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The functionalist vision serves us well as, among other things, the best practical way to understand our states of awareness and gives us the tool of reductive thinking, in which breaking down and separating incomprehensible wholes into containers of parts, allows for predictive modeling and the influences of cause and effect. But when we forget, or are unaware that this approach is a functional overlay, and a tool, we may lose the necessity of that experience of the “reality of being…at the deepest level.” This may be as true for science and the study of the nature of consciousness as it is for all human endeavors.

But it is particularly the science of consciousness that potentially drives the most important aspect of the human experience; the paradigmatic cultural assumptions that are so much a part of, that we cannot see their influence on us, both individually and as a whole.

Clearly we have no saliency map for the mind, whether it is considered an indivisible whole or a homeostatic merger of synaptic components—whether it has ignition at a tipping point or represents a coalescing aggregate of incremental streams. We cannot track “mind” back to any single moving parts of cerebral anatomy. “[I]t is not even clear how … changes at the neural level relate to those at the psychological level.”

Not always obvious, but we cannot use our conscious experience to see, study, take it apart and know its source. The eye cannot both see and see itself seeing. This remains a key understanding, perhaps a preamble of the nature of our embodied existence that sets limits to all subsequent exploration of one’s experience – as well as the knowledge of all else.

Quoting Colin McGinn:

“How could the aggregation of millions of individually insentient neurons generate subjective consciousness?”

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…and why does this matter? Because the awareness of our limits of knowledge and comprehension is a much needed and essential humbling of our very human condition – particularly in light of the technological successes we’ve experienced in the last 100 or so years. Because along with the successes comes an ever-deepening shadow of destruction, not only of the environment, but of meaningful direct experience of life itself. I would argue that there’s a direct correlation between the quality of meaning that an individual comprehends through direct experience and the capacity for imparting meaning onto all else, including others, in the world.

If human consciousness denies us access to any experience beyond its native capacity, we should recognize that the true nature of the struggle is predicated on the limitations of experience. The primary struggle itself is that of coming to see that the underlying experience we have of being alive is continually being translated through sense, image, culture and language. We don’t have access to anything outside of our experience, which by its nature is continually filtered through the body, its sense organs which further constricts and adapts as part of the environment and culture we find ourselves in.

Ultimately, the insistence that we are only our genes and chemical processes, reflects back to us a paradigm we find ourselves caught up in, and not a truth about the very nature of existence itself. A materialist paradigm leaves us with a literal world in which our representations of reality are accepted as real and true, or fake and false, thereby limiting reality to that which can be measured, appreciated and expressed through language.

This paradigm is not necessarily a choice, but an inherited, deeply embedded view from which we perceive, comprehend and translate each moment of each day, and subsequently distill into something we deem as reality and truth.

No matter how refined and impartial our devices become, there is no way to get at reality apart from our consciousness of it and no machine that is not created out of and operating as consciousness itself.

The consequences of the paradigm we find ourselves in, the way we perceive and translate our experience into thought, language, action and reaction, are reflected throughout the culture(s) and world we live in. A global culture that is increasingly becoming homogenized through technology, political and economic structures, coupled with the more recent predominance of mediated experience over direct immediate experience deserves as much reflection and comprehension as we can muster. I ask myself frequently, what is trying to be born in each of us now – out of both the struggles and successes that we each experience?

All quotes, except as noted: Grossinger, Richard (2012-08-21). Dark Pool of Light, Volume One: The Neuroscience, Evolution, and Ontology of Consciousness: 1 (Reality and Consciousness). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

Consensus

Imagining offers freedom from the magic of certitude, by recognizing that beliefs begin in images and are always images too, images that have lost their wings and fallen into truths. The angelic aspect of human being is the unbounded imagination.

When consensus within a culture is driven by a desire for certitude, the safety and comfort of offering our agreement with prevailing opinions of a political or social nature, beliefs more easily become confused with truth*, truth then becomes static and personal, rather than an array of personified images or angelic messages.

The concreteness of modern cosmology, where only measured, quantifiable “facts” make up a monolithic reality, assures a never-ending opposition of disagreement, drawing the battle lines between competing visions, not only of what is true and false, but of a very black and white fabric that weaves the story we believe we’re in.

The idea that a truth exists is different from the idea that a truth can be known. For the Greeks, it was the particular burden, emphasis of power, along with place and lineage that gave each god its essence of being. Necessary, as expressions of an invisible world, these gods remained above or below the human world, and our awareness of that setting apart, from our world to theirs, was a humbling factor that informs of one’s place and time as an in-between place; limited, liminal, finite, not to be possessed, but to the contrary, that which possesses us. But this possession is also an embrace, a surround that pulls us away from our human-only world, uniting us not only with life on planet earth, but with all the possibilities that an invisible dimension holds that we can only come to know through reflection upon the images as we experience them.

But in this human-only world, if something can’t be seen, measured or quantified, it either doesn’t exist, can’t be trusted, and most importantly, can’t be exhorted into the safety of consensus. If the gods, and the images they present through our expression, account for the powers that influence us, it hardly matters whether or not they really exist in some tangible way that can be proven. The gods, all that has been written about them, at the very least, express through us something eternal about our condition. Therefore, it matters not whether we believe in them, but that they believe in us.

What Jung called a complex, (Ezra) Pound called an image. For Pound, an image is “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” “The Image is more than an Idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.”

In our secular post-modern world, could it be that the absence of any powers beyond us heightens our thirst for belief, confusing it with truth because we experience the world entirely from a human-only perspective? Could both cultural and personal suicide along with fantasies of Armageddon be an expression of a loss of the experience of those powers beyond humanity that twist human subjects into just one more object devoid of worth? In a world in which we believe ourselves to be the sole carriers of consciousness, does this existential aloneness lead us to question the reality of our experience of being? If so, we have truly lost our senses, as the pathway to the other, reducing ourselves down to the nightmare of the world as only “me;” my feelings, my awareness, my truths, all of which have usurped our ability to see the other by way of communion, or exchange that can only happen where agency allows the stranger, the unknown to become known through that which differentiates and distinguishes me from you. Perhaps we need less relatedness and more distinctiveness.

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Sun-like star in the final stages of its life.

And what of death, the dead? Is their absence, the finality of human existence through death, calling into question our very aliveness? For what a strange world it is if everything around us is truly dead except for us. No wonder the need then, to search for physical life beyond our tiny place in the cosmos. With the intrusion of a lack of belief in the invisible realm beyond the physical, we must now find other physical beings to give us back the reality and validation of our own existence.

By A.JEHANNE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By A.JEHANNE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0

Perhaps Western culture now finds itself in the most frightening episode of its brief existence. The psychic burden of living such short physical lives has us in a frenzy to now become the very powers once attributed to the gods. Powers that simultaneously create and destroy with an unprecedented fury. Whether it’s the idea that we alone can save ourselves from the wreckage of our own doing, or the idea that we must progress by any means necessary, our lack of felt experience as one creature among many, with an eye for beauty and empathy, has completely escaped us as the narrowing of our world has destroyed the experience and recognition of all except the material, human world of the here and now.

The past, once valued for connecting us to the ancestors, is now filled with familial and cultural ghosts of the sins of the father, that only bring us pain and shame for the wounds we experience as deeply personal, victimizing us with every thought and memory we are stuck with. In a material world, where nothing matters but the physical, there’s no way to see, let alone experience the multidimensional layers of an eternal, archetypal background that binds both our wounds, and the possibility of their healing, to those very ancestors we now spurn.  To escape the haunting, we must kill the past with our profane business, drugs, political battles, and forward thinking, where hope tells us that someday, somehow, we will usher in a pain-free existence, a unity of peace, love and well-being for all.

*Curiously, we have more recently chosen to refer to truth as fact, and oppose it to “fake” as in the idea of fake news. But fake’s opposite would more accurately be called “real,” which asserts a dimension of unreality rather than falsity to our current condition.

All quotes from: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications.

Untamed Speech

…always a rage against the blind harmony of an anaesthetized life. Instead, a life amid the salient, the awkward, the pathologized; buffeted and discontent, at peace only in a rough sea.*

Is it possible that the very fight away from our experience of pathology misses the beauty of its necessity, removing us from artful expression of the most rooted, inherent place we find ourselves in, a place that by necessity calls for struggle? Instead of the fight against pathology, which demands that we heal, fix and remove the soul’s infirmities, rather, might we not seek a perspective that gives the passions their due, by listening for their mythological background that conjoin the most personal sense of ourselves with the eternal happenings of a world.

Perhaps we must first acknowledge things from a mythological perspective that conjoin to the eternal; seeing ourselves and others not only as products of family, culture, time and place, but also as characters expressing the struggles inherent in every age, time and place. Death then is the primary protagonist. That battle against which remains hopelessly futile, for it is life itself that brings death into being. Can we, like Dante did, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here?”

Crazy talk maybe, especially in a frequently literalized, anesthetized world where the sensibility of ‘life as art’ is often exchanged for artifice, making believers rather than lovers out of us all. In this world, language itself is in danger of extinction, especially the beauty and danger of an untamed speech.

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The gate of Hell. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For I want to suggest that untamed speech of the widest reach and wildest pitch effects vengeance in itself. And further to suggest, that the docility of speech, the absence of vehemence and hyperbole, the balanced phrases of the nightly news, reporting the facts of worldly horror, force the Furies underground, ultimately, since the repressed returns, and directly causing yet more facts of worldly horror to be reported with that same calm mask and blank smile. Could it be that were our words wild enough, our worlds would be more inhabitable? Could Shakespearean hyperbole be a cultural remedy?*

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“Love hath so long possessed me for his own And made his lordship so familiar.” Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Just as we have pushed death underground and transformed the underworld from a place of shades; shadows who awaken us to unseen presence, they’re out of sight, into the hell of the damned, a cavernous fault where the dark repressed lies unseen, and so, feared. Now, speech too must be cleaned up by removing its ugly, so-called hateful words. As if winning the battle against death and language would change the heart and soul of humanity? It is no longer only a personal fear of death daily driving the passions, but an even more out of reach fear of destruction of the entire planet that makes us crazy for solutions, fixes and cures. Which myth(s) provides the background that instills the belief that it is uniquely up to humanity to save ourselves from ourselves? What if the dysfunction, the inherent pathology, lies within the very heart and soul of so-called civilization? What if our very desire for peace, harmony and a world without suffering were driving the very pathology we seek to eliminate?

I am suggesting that the patient’s disorder, that he and she cannot function in the civilization, is the civilization itself declaring dysfunctional bankruptcy. For what is the value of a civilization if its citizens are made ill by it? And what is the value of a therapy if it only abets the growth of civilization; in a civilization that measures its standing rank by gross domestic product (GDP)?*

As Hillman notes, shall we not also consider whether or not fixing our personal pathology means aligning oneself to the pathology of a civilization that is in the grip of its own inherently self-destructive end as it plays out the mythological battle of good vs. evil both within and between cultures? Although sometimes blamed on religious ideology, perhaps the root of apocalyptic endings lies within the heart of any culture that pathologically denies any place for its shadows, ever-believing that light can and should overcome them, striving always to beat them into submission by reforming their contents, rather than accepting the message of struggle that shadows reveal to us.

By shadows I mean not only all that cannot be seen, known and understood, but that which is forever out of human reach to change the nature of: death, both of the individual and the planet; along with all of the little deaths experienced every moment, every day; the loss of a loved one, a job, a home, a friend, a belief, our innocence, one’s health or youth. So much in life forever lies unobtainable: truly knowing another’s thought and heart, what the future may bring, security, a life without pain-whether one’s own or another’s, or what happens after death.

But neither fax nor even flesh can satisfy the fantastical appetite. We are impoverished psychologically when we are impoverished linguistically. The bridges are down because the moon is down, imagination beclouded by literal information. We have forgot Coleridge’s warning about “the danger of thinking without images” and so our minds, our very civilization, succumbs at one and the same time to both cynical nihilism and full-faithed fundamentalism.*

We know we have taken the bait anytime we find ourselves within a fantasy of good vs. evil that clamors for nothing less than a real-world outcome of a personal or collective idea of “how things should (or shouldn’t) be.” The more our ideals express purity and perfection, favoring the light over the dark, the darker our world seems, and so becomes.

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Orestes Pursued by the Furies, William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although the counter to the argument that we need more untamed speech might rightly warn that limits are necessary in a culture that places emphasis on actions over ideas, I would suggest that it is this very loss of ideas as something outside of us, and loss of any recognition of the need for reflection, because we don’t own them, they own us, that prematurely urges us to action. We fail to see ideas as actions in themselves, which act on us.

This argument against bombast makes me refine my proposal. It’s not heightened speech as such but, rather, our relation with it. An inverse proportion between words and acts — the wilder the words the less wild the acts — holds only insofar as we enjoy the language for its own sake; the vehemence, the insult, the braggadocio become pleasurable acts, giving a delightful satisfaction.*

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[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When an individual becomes the owner and purveyor of ideas, to not act is a reflection upon them, as we declare, “all talk and no action.” Who though, hasn’t experienced a rage so powerful that it scares us? While rage was once understood to come to us from the furies (hence the word “furious”), if there is no longer even an idea of the furies, “I” am all that is left to carry meaning and expression into the world.

The archetypal imagination underlies and embraces all together; all the world’s a stage, and we in our seats are in the play, since its words are voicing our souls. How hard this is for us to conceive today, since, for us, all the people we know are people first, and then they speak, words issuing from them as secondary phenomena.*

*All quotes: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations, Chapter 5, You Taught me Language (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

Animalizing

During moments of a more pure awareness, prior to any thought of translation into language, I recognize perhaps a truer, more immediate sense of my animal nature. In my relationships to other animals, I find these nonverbal states not only more readily happen, but are necessary for any exchange to take place. We may talk to animals, but in silent presence, where a different style of exchange takes place, a sense of oneself as one among many, in an enlivened, embodied world, can perhaps give us the felt experience of mutual participation in the sacredness of the world.

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There’s a lot of human chatter now days about the state and fate of our world, and specifically, the influence of humans on the environment – conflicts between cultures, religions, etc. We are, it seems, beginning to see and fear the harm whose cause is doubtless our own. As it is recognizably a human cause, we look to ourselves to correct course. Whether the correction needed is seen as psychological, political, internal or external, if we are the problem, and we are superior, we must be the ones to find the solution.

But, even as far as this is true, in what ways can the source of a problem become the solution? What needs to happen? It’s not like we haven’t been aware of our dilemma for thousands of years. It seems we can’t self-correct!

James Hillman reminds us to reconsider the notion that the cosmos is not a man-made affair:

JH Phil IntThe mechanistic (indirect) theory of perception so essential to modern epistemology and cosmology of course guarantees an anthropocentric universe. Only humans are conscious. Animals have less memory, less stored knowledge, less mediating reason, less subjective interiority. Have they interiority at all? And unless they have this interior subjectivity, they cannot claim consciousness. The mediating subjective factors necessary to our human definition are the very same factors required by the indirect theory of perception. Dismantle the radio signals and the code system — all the intervening variables — and we shall find we have junked as well our notion of consciousness as an interior mediating process. For it is this definition of consciousness that has maintained through centuries from Stoic philosophy and Roman law through Christian dogma and European rationalism that animals are nonsentient, irrational, unconscious, and inferior. This condemnation of their consciousness assures our human superiority, allowing us to ignore “their inarticulate wisdom, their certainty, their unhesitating achievement”

We might also ask, if we go back far enough, who were we prior to this current state of affairs of assumed human superiority? What brought us from being one among many within a world we inhabit, to being and feeling separate and distinctly apart? Is it that very distinction, and the ability to make distinctions that becomes too much of a good thing, and so, culminating into a fatal flaw? Is the fate of humanity tied to a consensual perception which now grossly separates itself from non-human animals to the point of possibly extinguishing it all? Does our power over the animals along with our self-appointed management over nature truly protect, or does it make us even more vulnerable?

I venture the idea that a cosmology with soul gives special attention to animals. I propose that any acceptable new cosmology will have to receive approval from the animal kingdom.

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Hillman reminds us that our relationship to animals in many cultures, times and places, very much carries with it the experience of communication with the divine. Divine in this sense being both an immanent and super natural presence of invisible powers. In this sense, animals are not simply food or predators, but carriers of messages from invisible worlds to ours. Besides the more familiar biblical story of Noah, the ark, and God’s directive to save the animals, Hillman mentions the correlation between Plato’s dodecahedron, ‘…used by the creative maker for the “whole.” ‘

Following upon the geometric shapes for fire, water, air, and earth, there is a fifth, the most comprehensive figure which has, says Plato, “a pattern of animal figures thereon.”  [ 7] It reminds of another passage in Plato (Republic 589c) where he presents “the symbolic image of the soul” as a multitudinous, many-headed beast with a ring of heads tame and wild.

And here, Hillman notes Plato giving the animals their share of the cosmic power:

Let us consider this twelve-sided animal-headed image seriously indeed, although seriously does not mean literally. Rather, we may imagine this final and essential image of Plato’s cosmology — strange, unexpected, obscure as it may be — to be awarding animal-being cosmic superiority.

The vulnerability of a past prior to the introduction of technologies that increasingly separated us from other animals, we may fail to remember what drew our ancestors to both fear and envy, but also to eventually gather greater insight and reflection from the animals that share existence with us. It’s as if we humans, by separating ourselves from them, traded off our animal sensibility for an ever increasing capacity for reflective distance. And so began the long journey: negotiating territory and relationships not only with the other animals, but with the natural state of the environment. Through time and technology, we have become less willing to tolerate the inherent conditions of life on planet earth. Each so-called advancement, while giving us an edge over other creatures, left us without the necessity of getting along.

Hillman makes a crucial point that it is through relationship, and a cosmology which includes the animals, we are instructed through a direct mediation between the earthly and the divine:

The return of cosmology to the animal is not merely to invite “brute” palpable sensuousness into our thinking. The animal opens not only into the flesh of life but also toward the gods. According to fables, legends, myths, and rituals worldwide, animals impart to humans the secrets of the cosmos. They are our instructors in cosmology, that is, they mediate between the gods and humans; they have divine knowledge.

Divine knowledge, an intelligence beyond intellect and the power to rationalize, makes room for the intelligence that sees beauty, grace and the physical wonder of the other.

Although I am not proposing solutions here, enlarging the view of the long trail of human history, and seeing how language and technology influence our experience by continually exaggerating the sense of a separation from the animals, and from each other and the idea of anything outside or beyond the human realm. It cannot only be a matter of belief though, but of finding and allowing a place for the dynamics of relationship to become a vehicle for dissolving boundaries, walls, ideologies and fears that perpetuate a felt experience of separation that has plagued humanity for a very long time.

All quotes from: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.