Secret Agent Man

 

Possession

The conceptual framing of one’s experience into spatial designations of ‘inner and outer,’ ‘self and other,’ ‘me and not me,’ ‘real and imaginary,’ shape, categorize, which through the force of habit and time coagulates into an assumed identity referred to as ‘me.’ Inversely, out of all that remains, the discarded elements of raw experience become what is not me; the dispossessed, unseen, invisible, incomprehensible “other.” Possession is the coagulator of the psyche’s primary boundaries that form an identity.

 

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Hugo Simberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Influence

Extending outward from one’s identity, the habit of ownership eventually include one’s experience, as it is put to memory, and the reflections absorbed into the private realms of awareness. As we come into contact with others who inhabit public or shared places a consensus, or shared reality then affirms and negates their accuracy and value. Our subjective states categorize the world, both private and public, into, among other things, truths and falsehoods predicated upon our buy-in to the consensus experienced within a cultural context, invisibly absorbed, contained and supported. One’s internal, private divisions tend to reflect and reciprocate public, external divisions. Private and public are then, two aspects of a dynamic pole defining both our individuality and the culture that often reflects the loudest and most resonant ideas and beliefs – devaluing or rejecting what lies on the perimeter and beyond; invisible, discarded, unacceptable or unbelievable according to the consensus as one experiences, absorbs and understands it.

Ideas about ourselves and others, rather than remaining fluid, tend to congeal into static objects by the force and habit of our mental states, thereby cementing for each of us a personal ‘self’ that negotiates definitions of “others.” Beyond, a privation or abstraction of a larger boundless reality remains hidden from awareness and sometimes denied any existence at all to the degree that consensus belief, opinions and buy-in influence the permission given for consideration and valuation of the private states we all experience.

The inability to incorporate and validate the existence of private experience constitutes a loss of dimension and depth, and risks reducing what is by nature fluid into static events and figures of ‘me’ and ‘you.’ What I am then becomes defined by what I censor and can articulate from experience – through the skills, body image, gender and generation that contextualize my experience. What I am not remains dispossessed, unknown and can only be seen by what is rejected – including how others are perceived to be, or to have, that are not mine. The eyes become I’s, the nose no longer knows, and the ear cannot hear.

Consciousness then, abstracts experience into concepts of what is real and imaginary, mine or not mine, friend or foe, true or false. Because our modern myth deems it culturally unacceptable not to accept, believe or buy into the existence of a one true objective reality, imagination is rarely understood as that primary aspect of each person’s experience which apprehends; filtering according to the habits of one’s culture, time and place, but rather is believed to be a special instance of ‘creativity:’ a gift that we either have or have not.

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Agency

The more one’s agency looks to the consensus for validation rather than to one’s experience, which may not be consensual but rather deeply private and subjectively interior, the less agency one might avail towards the more interior realms of experience. Without a sense of one’s own agency, and its direct access to a reality less censored by either one’s own habits of filtering, or influence from the consensus, we in turn risk denying the existence of agency to other beings. Agency here is understood as the source and ability to apprehend and that which enables us to experience at all – to reflect, evaluate, reveal, hide and express. The less we can distinguish between our private direct experience and consensual filtering, the less agency available to us.

It’s no wonder that both the invisibles; God, or the gods, or even the visible living have become dead to us. Rather than experiencing any direct communion with the invisibles, it’s replaced with belief in ideas or opinions shared among visible beings and approved through a consensus of public agreements, however we come to define them.

Without acknowledging direct, private experience we submit our agency; our ability for true communion, to the human level of the so-called experts of our time, place and public opinion. As we seek for knowledge and power outside the agency of direct experience, the experts proliferate as god-like voices that provide a shared containment for an agreed upon objective reality that serves to validate our deprived and seemingly hopelessly subjective self.

 

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The less we avail ourselves to direct experiences of private states in which we encounter all that visibly or invisibly influences us, and in turn give full agency and permission to have these direct encounters, the more we fall prey to influence as it appears to us in any form; invisible, human, or consensus opinion. The power of unseen influence is then replaced by consensual sources within the visible, human world – making heroes, villains, saviors and saints out of those affirmed and believed to literally have power. Through consensual experience we reject any notion that power might come from unseen, invisible sources. We then look to humanity for power, placing our devotions at the feet of individual public figures, crowned as leaders, professionals or experts, rather than understanding the human condition through an ongoing personal practice of expanding one’s apprehension and senses born of subjective experience. The idealism, perfection, purity once belonging to the gods, is now a choir of fallen angels echoing god-like voices in the human world, placing an impossible burden and expectation on people just like us; limited, frail and faulty.

 

Beware of pretty faces that you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind
Oh, be careful what you say
Or you’ll give yourself away
Odds are you won’t live to see tomorrow

Johnny Rivers

“I” is an Aggregate

Terminology, concepts, definitions; these subtle attributes of our understanding seem somewhat neglected and confused in our culture. One of the joys for me of studying both Jung’s Analytical Psychology and Hillman’s notion of Archetypal Psychology, is to participate in an ongoing conversation of the fundaments of human nature.

In this next installment of examining James Hillman’s book, Anima, and Anatomy of a Personified Notion, we look at the notion of Ego, and especially its relation to Jung’s idea of the Conscious, as he understood these terms. Ego, as an idea, concept or definition, has been with us for a very long time and has a complex history of both usage and meaning. Perhaps this is fitting for a word that takes on the impossible task of serving as a single referent for the total sum of who we are.

For Jung, ego was sometimes used to refer to the conscious self, but not always, and especially not in his discussion of the soul’s movement toward Individuation, or Wholeness. Hillman says:

The ego as base of consciousness has always been an anachronistic part of analytical psychology. It is a historical truth that our Western tradition has identified ego with consciousness… But this part of Jung’s thought does not sit well with either his notion of psychic reality or his therapeutic goals of psychic consciousness. What brings cure is archetypal consciousness (mediated by the anima as we know from other passages), and his notion of consciousness is definitely not based upon ego.

Here he quotes Jung:

It is as though, at the climax of the illness, the destructive powers were converted into healing forces. This is brought about by the archetypes awaking to independent life and taking over the guidance of the psychic personality, thus supplanting the ego with its fertile willing and striving… the psyche has awakened to spontaneous activity….something that is not his ego and is therefore beyond the reach of his personal will. He has regained access to the sources of psychic life, and this marks the beginning of the cure. (CW 11, 534)

Hillman continues examining the notions of ego, consciousness and their relationship to anima and animus. He notes definitions by Bachelard and Onians that see anima as the reflective navigator of consciousness, and animus as the possessive owner of it. He then brings us back to Jung’s idea of the relativization of the ego to consciousness, a very important idea for what Hillman calls archetypal consciousness.

The ‘relativization of the ego,” that work and that goal of the fantasy of individuation, is made possible, however, from the beginning if we shift our conception of the base of consciousness from ego to anima archetype, from I to soul. Then one realizes from the very beginning (a priori and by definition) that the ego and all its developmental fantasies were never, even at the start, the fundament of consciousness, because consciousness refers to a process more to do with images than will, with reflection rather than control, with reflective insight into, rather than manipulation of, ‘objective reality.’

Poem of the Soul - The flight of the soul. Courtesy of Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon - Public Domain

Poem of the Soul – The flight of the soul. Courtesy of Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon – Public Domain

This, I believe, expresses the heart of Hillman’s insights into Jung’s brilliant work. Perhaps if the images that consciousness continually streams are too quickly interpreted by that historical aggregate we call ‘I’; dismissed, ignored, or entirely off the radar of our awareness, we are left with whatever the aggregate, habit of self has the capacity for, leaving no possibilty for the awareness that anything lies beneath the stream of consciousness, or that there even is a stream, and especially not one of our own making.

An unrelativized ego becomes both the possessor and the possessed, habitually literalizing one’s stream of consciousness into objects that one understands, controls, and that in turn, control the entire state of being of a person’s waking, conscious, experience.

By contrast, an animated, soulful experience of waking states challenges all tempts to possess one’s conscious experience, becoming more aware through time and practice that all ideas and moods are subject to archetypal influence. Just as we cannot lay claim to that which beats our heart, we cannot lay sole claim to the source of our thoughts, ideas or feelings that stream into awareness as pure, raw images.

My Native Language is Image

Recently, I have begun to keep a dream journal, again. As in the keeping of past dream journals, the very act of writing seems to stimulate the remembrance of more dreams, and I wonder if by attending to them, the door to the nightworld perspective widens, bringing with it richness and complexity, scrambling the sensibilities of the dayworld experience.

Flying foxes, or bats, sleep 18-20 hours a day.

In the nightworld’s stories and images I am no longer the master of my soul, but live as one among many. The rational order and structure that shape the dayworld no longer strictly apply; time and place shift suddenly, people, animals and situations seem unpredictable and often bizarre compared to the waking state. In dreams animals and babies talk, we fly like birds, meet strange lovers who seem to know us, run in slow motion, breathe underwater, change sex, and talk to the dead. Here we live amongst archetypal or primary forces that find their way into psyche – for in sleep we cannot but give ourselves over to their world.

The dream world is perhaps a place where soul is shaped by psychic weather much as a tree is shaped by earth, wind, fire and rain. Perhaps dream states place us closer to the primary source or state of awareness. Animals evidently dream, if REM states are any indication and even fruit flies sleep. Maybe we should reverse our idea that we fall into sleep and reconsider whether we are not, rather, falling awake. If dreams are primary and their language is image, then as James Hillman suggested in his book The Dream and the Underworld, image is primary.

Living with this idea increasingly suggests to me that we develop and use language to translate that primary state of the nightworld and its dream images. But the dayworld perspective filters our experience, by narrowing down the sense of ourselves and each other into separate, private beings; each masters of our own house. The more we live life through a dayworld translation, unaware of the depth of the source of our being and knowing, the smaller and more limited our dayworld perspective becomes. To ignore the depths of psyche, where Pluto’s riches are found, is to shrink our awareness by filtering all we know through the logic and reasoning of dayworld awareness alone, in time becoming increasingly dependent on how well we use language to translate to ourselves and to others the imagistic sense of the world’s impression upon us.

“It is this dayworld style of thinking—literal realities, natural comparisons, contrary opposites, processional steps—that must be set aside in order to pursue the dream into its home territory. There thinking moves in images, resemblances, correspondences. To go in this direction, we must sever the link with the dayworld, foregoing all ideas that originate there—translation, reclamation, compensation. We must go over the bridge and let it fall behind us, and if it will not fall, then let it burn.” James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld

Albrecht Dürer, Abduction of Proserpine on a Unicorn (1516)

This is not to say that keeping a dream journal is necessary or would even change this situation. One’s relationship to the dreamworld is always in danger of contamination by dayworld perspectives with its need to be master and commander. Dreams then are at the risk of becoming our playthings rather than angels or messengers carrying across from that primal source something new, unexpected or forgotten. Attending to the nature of the relationship between dayworld and nightworld is then, perhaps our life’s work, whether we remember our dreams or not. To acknowledge the existence of an underworld perspective, allowing a place for mystery, and experiencing as Persephone did, the force of the god Pluto dragging us out of our dayworld hubris, stripping us of our innocence, relieving us from our duty of being master and commander, might free us to live mythically, storied lives and place ourselves more fully into the context of the time and place we live in.

If dreams and images are primary, the relationship between language, sense and image then is both vital and flexible. If we see the world through the lens of language without awareness of the lens that filters our vision, our perception will be limited to our ability to define in words the world around us. For some, and they will argue, that is all there is; cold, objective reality, everything black and white, either true or false, dead or alive, good or evil. Quantity then takes precedence over quality, measure over meaning. The talk of soul or dreams, angels, messengers, gods or archetypes is then a throw back to human superstition and ignorance.

The trouble with that perspective lies in its claims of superiority; as if to no longer be susceptible or influenced by any force other than one’s strength of will, education, and societal norms will rid us all of the ills of human existence. So, if we live in the hard facts of “reality,” we have somehow reached the pinnacle of human achievement where ignorance, disease and war will be driven out and reason will usher in peace and perhaps someday, ever-lasting life, even if only through the creation of robotic machinery that we deem to be just like us, or the perfected us, reflecting back an unobtainable quality of perfection and innocence forever out of our reach.

“Mythical metaphors are perspectives toward events which shift the experience of events. They are likenesses to happenings, making them intelligible, but they do not themselves happen… We are those stories, and we illustrate them with our lives (Re-visioning Psychology, pp. 101-2).” James Hillman

An excellent essay on Hillman’s ideas here: http://aras.org/sites/default/files/docs/00051Wojtkowski.pdf