Animalizing

During moments of awareness in which a translation into language has not yet happened, I recognize perhaps a truer, more immediate experience of my animal nature. In relationships to animals, I find these nonverbal states not only more readily happen, but are necessary for any exchange to take place. You may talk to animals, but in silent presence one practices listening, sharing and exchanging, not only with the other, but as one among many in an enlivened, inhabited world that births, sustains and contains us all.

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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 tracks the situation thus:

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 culminating into a fatal flaw? Is the fate of humanity tied to a nature which has come to distinguish themselves 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 points out that our relationship to animals can be seen in all cultures, times and places, and very much carries a sense or experience of the divine along with it. Divine in this sense being both an immanent or supernaturally presence of invisible powers. 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.

Hillman sees 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.

It’s likely that with limited technology, the vulnerability of prehistoric humans drew them to both fear, envy, but also to eventually gather greater insight and reflection from the animals that surround us. It’s as if though, we humans traded off our own animal tendencies with an ever increasing capacity for reflection. And so began the long journey: negotiating territory and relationships not only with the other animals, but to the natural state of the environment, but less and less as we sought out and discovered ways to separate ourselves through language, tools and technology. 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 relationship and cosmology which includes the animals both instructs and mediates 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, which I take to mean that through ongoing relationship with other animals, we define intelligence as not only intellect and the power to rationalize, but the intelligence of seeing beauty, grace and the wonder of the other.

Although I am not proposing solutions here, it fascinates me to enlarge the view of the long trail of human history, and especially to see how language, a technology itself, one that is too often taken for granted, influences our experience, and continually brings us into an increasingly exaggerated sense of separation, from the animals, each other and even the idea, let alone the experience, of anything outside of the human realm. It is not a matter of belief, but of finding and allowing an opening in which relationship itself becomes a vehicle for dissolving the 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.

 

 

Lament of the Dead

The mystery of life begins in death, for if death did not exist, think of all of the things that we would not struggle with and all of the questions we would not have much reason to ask. Imagine too the security and peace we might know without sickness, murder, pain and suffering that comes from both disease and the knowledge of our own death. What would be the reason for curiosity, for love, for needing each other if life was so easy that we could not err or cause harm?

It may well be that an existence that excluded death would be better, more peaceful and ideal. But that is not the world we live in. Perhaps the reason for things to be as they are is because the dayworld of the living that we know is necessary to create something greater than can be seen here. Maybe our purpose here is to use the seemingly separate and mortal lives we each live to bridge a gap between the dayworld of mortality and a world of eternity that we also belong to. Admittedly this is all very speculative.

Anna R. SmithBut doesn’t death need to be wondered about? Isn’t it the primary and essential problem of life? Does not death cause us to err, to struggle and live in fear? Doesn’t it also serve as the weapon of power for those that can garner the most security through technology, political and religious structures, serving as an insulation for an elite group of people who no longer share our common fears? Do not some people use death to threaten weaker beings?

And if that is not convincing enough and you are still reading this, how do we reconcile the angst and guilt we share and witness in the killing necessary for life to sustain itself? But don’t we also sense that there is more to life than what we know and perhaps the mystery of our existence can somehow be reconciled, and so every culture has carried on the search for that reconciliation.

These are some of the thoughts I have about death, along with the question not only of is there life after, or beyond death, but what would the nature of that afterlife be like, how does it relate to this life? Does the reconciliation between birth and death come from knowing that the nature of life is eternal, but through birth we, as Greek, Hindu and other mythologies tell us, forget about the eternal world?

Although we moderns don’t seem to easily discuss the nature of death, I believe its inevitability shades our life – remaining a constant unseen companion we fear if we do not acknowledge that we walk on our own graves. Even though the dead may depart from our dayworld they continue to haunt us when their questions, their sufferings go unacknowledged as belonging to all of us throughout history, our shared past. We live in the shadow of their unanswered questions when they’re connection to us is forgotten.

Many cultures have had a practice of ancestor worship, a way to keep a thread of continuity from those who came before us to those who will carry on after us.

In Lament of the Dead, Psychology after Jung’s Red Book, James Hillman teams up with Sonu Shamdasani, editor of C.G. Jung’s Red Book, for a series of conversations about the book in which Jung chronicles a psychotic period of his life from 1913-17. During that time he experienced visions and a flood of images that became the foundation for most of the ideas he is known for; archetypes, active imagination, typology, theories of the unconscious, individuation and wholeness.

I have not read the Red Book yet, but from reading Hillman and Shamdasani’s dialogue now feel compelled to. The dialogue revolves around Jung’s experience of encountering figures through active imagination and grappling with their questions.

Sonu says:

“What Jung hits upon is a stream of images and he encounters collective memory and fantasy. It’s not personal memory. There is a mnemonic dimension there, but he finds that what is animated, what is critical there, is collective memory. He finds himself having to address debates such as that between the Christian and the pagan and to see then how that reframes his own life. It’s not that his life is subtracted out of it, but the realia, the personalia of his life, isn’t the fundament. It’s the images that frame him.”

Jung came to believe that the figures he engaged in active imagination were not just inside him, but part of the ongoing dialogue taking place in the history of humankind. Sonu suggests:

“A shift occurs immediately when you stop thinking of Jung’s work in terms of the imperative to come to terms with the collective unconscious. If you shift from that language to the confrontation with the dead, accepting the lament of the dead, one’s understanding changes dramatically in that one enters a world and the problems one takes up and is confronted with are not one’s own.

And the issue then is how one adapts oneself, how one situates oneself, to these challenges. One is not dealing simply with an abstraction, the collective unconscious. One is dealing quite specifically with the dead of human history.”

The conversation moves on to the need for cosmology in our lives. Hillman is speaking here:

“Psychology may give you modes of understanding and you think you’re understanding yourself and others. But if you want to understand the world, you have to have a cosmology, you have to have a sense that things fit, that they belong, that there’s a need, a place to be given to it, and that there’s more and more to grasp. It’s the cosmos, and the Greek cosmos was an ordered and aesthetic realm.”

Cosmology moves us beyond our personal lives, although it also includes them, and it also includes the ancestors, their cares and concerns acknowledging the work they did carrying forward our understanding of life and the world we share. It invites us all to share in the continuance and importance of that quest.

When we can find a satisfying way to reconcile the mystery of our living with our dying; a cosmology that gives us enough meaning and sense that perhaps gives us a willingness to endure suffering, by knowing the true nature of ourselves, we may find a way to live in peace with a feeling that we belong here.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Hillman, who laments as I do, the problem we moderns have:

“We’re a very strange culture, our modern, secular Western culture, in which our conversation, yours and mine, is set. We don’t have any ancestor worship, we don’t have any true cult of the dead. Different pieces of the culture do pieces of things, but even the use of the phrase “the dead” is hounded with frightening things— it belongs on the other side. There’s a radical separation in our modern culture between the living and the dead. All the medical work is life against death, to hold off death and prolong life, and at the expense of death, I would say.

So when we talk about the lament of the dead, or anything to do with the dead, we have to realize where we are situated, with its deep, historical prejudices against what has been and what is buried, and what we have done to create a realm of the dead, because it’s not merely those who went before us and died. It’s all the depository of the accumulation of human psychic history, the history of the soul. Somehow, since Jung talks about a lament of the dead, they must feel or have felt abused or neglected or something. The first step would be listening to them, which he did in the Seven Sermons of 1916, this sort of inspired religious document. But what is their lament?”

Hillman, James; Shamdasani, Sonu (2013-08-26). Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book (Kindle Locations 2237-2238). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Think Outside

Although it’s become common parlance for people when problem-solving, to say, “we need to think outside of the box,” I hear those words and can’t help but wonder, “what box?” If we know there’s a box, surely we can see and think outside of it just as well as inside.

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This past winter when I was in Georgia visiting family, my sister took me to visit a monastery in Athens, the home of a small group of Cistercian monks. One of the elder monks is a Bonsai Master and the grounds are filled with his lovely little trees. In the garden store they sell a lot of specialty items for the growing and caring of Bonsai trees along with other gardening supplies. They also sell t-shirts with gardening themes, which is where I found the one whose image you see here. It’s my favorite t-shirt!

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When I was 13, I had a friend who wrote poetry, a sensitive soul, the first person I met who asked big questions about the world, and life. Those questions came at me as if they were resurfacing from deep inside of me, now bubbling up as if all of my life they had been anchored somewhere deep within my heart. It was exhilarating to contemplate for the first time the bigness of the world, realizing how many more questions there were that I had not yet asked. The journey had begun, or I had at last found the right journey. Eventually, I have realized over the years, a journey that never stops.

I still love poetry and enjoy reading old favorites as well as poems from friends here on WordPress. William Stafford, who in his later years lived not too far from where I live in Oregon, was a wonderful poet who I return to again and again for that big feeling that makes me think and feel inside and outside. Here is one of my favorites of his. I hope you like it.

“Counting lambs, counting sheep
We will fall into sleep
And we awake to a new day of living
And loving you so.” Ian Anderson

She Blinded Me With Science

I am always looking for better, clearer ways to articulate the modern, and somewhat magical implications surrounding the idea of randomness, especially its specific use in the field of evolutionary biology and how that particular use has persuaded many moderns to embrace a mechanistic view of not only biology but all things human. Randomness is what’s left when we can’t see a pattern or find meaning or purpose, or perhaps are hungry for a good mystery, or simply drawn to courting meaninglessness itself. It remains a very human notion evoked when we have nothing else to say, and no way to connect human action to events.

In the modern language of genetics and evolution, too often what is left out of the discussion are the mechanisms of what keeps sameness in play and how important continuity is for reproduction. We are bombarded with talk of change; mutations, adaptations, while the mechanisms for genetic stability, or what keeps organisms continuing to reproduce with amazing sameness, go largely under valued. Life depends much more upon consistency, while change is frequently an aberration. Evolutionary change is hard won, over very long periods of time, which is why it is so hard to see let alone completely understand. This is not an argument against evolution, but more an argument for seeing purposefulness in evolution and noting our under-appreciation for meaning and purpose which are so important to matters of the heart. The concern here is for the power of ideas that underlie our assumptions and filter our world view.

Evolution does not have to be meaningless and without a purpose to be true.

Science can be soulful too. And perhaps science would be a lot more useful if a certain amount of soulfulness were retained and valued instead of avoided as a threat to the hard facts of numbers and equations.

I would argue too, that the problem of studying “the nature of nature” lies in our inability to get outside of the very nature in which we view, study and understand the world. We can’t see beyond the limits imposed by the physical senses of our own human nature; the mechanisms of our consciousness and sensory organs. As Alan Watts and the Zen masters taught, who can see the eye with which we are seeing?

Our being in the world is the best part of life, the part that can never be valued enough. Tossing around the idea of randomness to depersonalize an act or event is at the very least a misunderstanding of the part we can’t help but play. The bumper sticker sentiment calling us to perform random acts of kindness, while well-meaning, depreciates the choices we make, even when they are made with little forethought.

Example: you’re in a queue and seemingly out of nowhere decide to pay for your friends coffee/dinner/beer, random you think? Well, no, as long as you are a free agent exercising your will,  the length of time that has passed between your decision to act and the act itself does not take away from the purposefulness of your choice. No matter the distance between your act and your decision, you still made a choice, nothing  random about your act of kindness. Your personhood causes love to happen, every time you choose love. Being aware of your actions and choices helps you choose consciously, next time. Love remains one of the few powers that we truly possess, never failing us or those we love.

Here is a great article in the New Atlantis that nails the shortcomings of the idea of randomness within the context of evolution.

“In any case, it is startling to realize that the entire brief for demoting human beings, and organisms in general, to meaningless scraps of molecular machinery — a demotion that fuels the long-running science-religion wars and that, as “shocking” revelation, supposedly stands on a par with Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal — rests on the vague conjunction of two scarcely creditable concepts: the randomness of mutations and the fitness of organisms. And, strangely, this shocking revelation has been sold to us in the context of a descriptive biological literature that, from the molecular level on up, remains almost nothing but a documentation of the meaningfully organized, goal-directed stories of living creatures.”

Blame it on Kindle

Wow, January is three-quarters over and I have not posted since Christmas! I’ll blame it on receiving a new Kindle for Christmas. I have read six or seven books since December 20 – so much for cutting down on my book bill!

The best part of Kindle is being able to buy books that the bookstores never keep in stock because apparently only myself and forty other people are interested in such topics as cosmology, meaning, identity and such:) I love the Amazon website for it’s reviews and ease of use.

Yes, life has been busy, I am working hard on my pipe band side-drumming as my husband and I are planning a trip next month to a 5-day long pipe band drumming workshop.

I have been off on a tangent which started from reading about NDE’s and has led to a most curious insight from one of the books I read. Apparently one of the current debates among scientists is whether consciousness is created by physiology, or consciousness precedes biology and therefore is the source of living organisms such as ourselves. Hmmmm……

That’s a lot to think about and certainly turns the world on its head. It would help explain how intelligence has been made manifest. I have never understood how intelligence could come from nothing, or even evolve little by little from the smallest particles of the big bang to Us. But, if there were a field of consciousness somehow entwined within the very fabric of the universe, that would at least account for the drive towards manifest consciousness such as we are an example there of.

Why would life forms become more and more complex? Why do life forms such as ourselves seek to be more and more conscious of who, what and where we are?

But what if consciousness, understood as a pre-biological thing-y-ness of the cosmos, could be understood to be the source of intelligence limited in our experience by the physiology of our brains?

This obviously doesn’t answer all the questions. The idea that the big bang comes from nothing does not make sense to me. It would seem that there needs to be something or someone, a Source, eternally existing with no beginning or no end. Is that something God, or the underlying Grand Consciousness and Intelligence of all?

It makes sense then, that our capacity to know and our ability to perceive is limited by our human equipment. So, it’s possible that true knowledge of who and where and what we are is not something we can access. One of the regular bloggers that I read seems to have lots of answers, and he may be right, but alas, I am no scientist and struggle to understand, and am certainly not in any position to affirm or refute what he or any scientist says, but I am most fascinated with cosmology.

On another note, I am coming to a greater understanding of how much we are limited and expanded through our sense of identity. The way in which we identify ourselves internally and externally can limit our perception of the world and also widen it.

I think our capacity for identity, when too narrow, hampers us from the ability to deepen our relationships to both people, things and world views and that one of the keys to freedom is to be aware of one’s ability and limitations in our experience of identity. The world seems to tempt us to over identify in all circumstances, and to see our identity as both static and literal when it really is dynamic and imaginal.

More on that later, but for now it’s back to Quantum enigma’s, Bio-centrism, NDE’s and other related reading.

I Can See Clearly Now

Recently, while at a Christmas dinner party, after the meal, I was struck by the thoughtfulness of a younger man at the table who asked what everyone thought about Wiki-Leaks. After a pregnant pause, the 50 something’s pretty much unanimously agreed that the leaked information would not have a positive influence between nations and that the leaks are an invasion of privacy and should be regarded as criminal acts.

The younger man (30 something?) who asked the question, along with his wife, suggested that the leaks are positive because transparency is a good that will serve towards the creation of a more peaceful world as powerful people and their secrets are exposed. The idea being that exposure can modify their behavior making them better people by diminishing their power to act in secret.

I offered up the possibility that powerful people are more likely to adapt their behavior, in this case by altering the means of communication to avoid any future wiki-leak like situation.

But the question of whether or not transparency is a good or not leads me to ponder the idea of whether or not life, humans, or Existence itself is progressing towards some greater good, and more specifically do I think, or sense that that is true?

There is a felt sense, an intuition, and certainly a desire that the cosmos has directionality, that we are moving towards some goal, even if, like the nature of God, we can’t completely comprehend or even get a glimpse of the Promised Land.

So, it is not from skepticism that I say that the transparency of a Wiki-Leak will not pave the way to the City of God, or Nirvana, or simply World Peace. But, what is it that changes a heart, or hearts, to bring about any change for the better? Has the advancement of technology or the promise of the free press made the difference where one can say yes, we are freer, more civil, more loving? Maybe sometimes…

Civility, let alone the true love of neighbor, seem so fragile, transient and so much a matter of choice and yet ones ability to choose seems rarely fully realized. How do we all choose love as long as we can forever have before us other choices some of which disguise themselves as love? Putting aside the more obvious choices of murder or theft, how do we know when the choice we are making is the most loving?

“The good that I would do I do not.” St. Paul

“We are idiots Babe, it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.” Bob Dylan

Yet, can love be love where and when it is not freely chosen?

I greatly admired this young man’s hope for the world and even more for his bravery in presenting the topic for our conversation. I regretted not having told him so and was sorry when the conversation eventually found its way to more mundane topics. I believe more talk (transparency?) between us is useful, necessary and satisfying.

So it’s not that I am without hope…or don’t see any value in transparency.

But I would say if you want to cut off the head of the snake of the most powerful political structures, a more productive use of the flashlight would come by shining it on the Federal Reserve banking system of the US. Since it’s inception in 1913, the US, once a nation who more often than not chose to not involve itself in the affairs of other nations, the Federal Reserve has provided the ability to fund any war of its choosing along with lots of other economic meddling both at home and abroad.