Expression

“In culture, any culture, we are bound to that which is deemed possible. In the comparative imagination that can relate consciousness to culture and culture to consciousness, we begin to free ourselves for the impossible.”

Language

Language can be seen as one mode of expressing aspects of the unseen. Through definition we divide and separate the world into things. Words, however combined and multiplied, cannot express the true essence of the things they refer to. But words, as referents to the essence of things, serve as portals to what is currently unknown, or impossible, to a future in which the impossible becomes possible.

Erfurt in the 19th century1820 paintings. Letters in art. Trompe l’oeil in Germany

Language not only divides, but conjoins. It’s use becomes a sexy, reproductive participant in creation. Language reveals layers of meaning, expanding awareness through metaphor, imagination and suggestion. Writing becomes an art of being authored, or written, in which we in turn are authoring, or writing the impossible into being. The once impossible becomes possible, not only in the sense of the creation of tools, technology and artifact, but through the discovery of other realms and beings at one time invisible to us. If this sounds far-fetched, think only of dreams and all that you encounter there. But if you write or read as a creative practice, you probably have experienced the power of language, ideas and symbols to expand your awareness.

Cosmology

People in every culture have expressed a cosmological belief of some kind. From stories of the gods and creation myths, down to our modern language of mathematics and physics, cosmology can be seen as culturally dependent expressions of current states of consciousness, or perhaps, expressions as what the cosmos itself is aware of.

Our current understanding of a theory of evolution that believes we are the result of a series of mutations of life forms through a force called natural selection, would disagree that the cosmos is “aware” of anything. The belief that Intelligence or consciousness of any kind is a participant in the creative process is suspect, and so, called anthropomorphic. Consciousness and intelligence are here understood as mere by-products of a neurological brain.

“Krao”, the “missing link” : a living proof of Darwin’s theory of the descent of man : special lectures, 2.30, 5.30 & 9.30… : all should see her : [jungle illustration].
The theory of evolution is also an expression of a culture that believes in a Cartesian duality; seeing with a mind split from the body. If consciousness is a by-product of evolutionary processes, it could not have been a participant in anything prior to its existence, so the story goes.

It is curious to me that there is no current recognition of evolutionary mutations beyond us humans, except allowing for the possibility of alien life forms. If we can’t see it, touch it and measure it, it doesn’t exist. Consciousness as something generated by matter has implications for how we understand ourselves and the nature of reality. But, if consciousness is experienced as an expression of a primary intelligence of the cosmos, than we are also participants in the evolution of a reality that intends to expand the limits of our current awareness.

Expression

The sense of separation that we experience may be what helps to bring into being the impossible into the possible. The suffering of separation and division through thought and language, perhaps seeds the cosmos through a dialectic between what is possible and impossible. We are perhaps then, the cosmos creating itself into powers and realms not yet known, or perhaps, not yet existing. This can only be possible when we admit the possibility that consciousness is not a by-product of matter, but a primary aspect of the cosmos.

Jeffrey Kripal suggests that somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century, modern culture began to disdain any notion of metaphysical aspects to reality. His book, Authors of the Impossible, recalls a multitude of modern accounts and stories of people’s adventures in other realms, which we now call dreams, OBE’s, NDE’s, UFO abductions. He says:

“We are magicians all. But as whole cultures extended through centuries of time, we are much more than a collection of knowing and unknowing magicians stumbling about with their consensual spells called Language, Belief, and Custom. We are veritable wizards endowed with almost unbelievable powers to shape new worlds of experience and realize different aspects of the real.”

In closing, I must add that the ideas, except as noted, are my own take on the ideas in Kripal’s book. Although in so many ways, I remain indebted to the ideas of others and those discussed in his book, Authors of the Impossible.

“To author one’s world, however, whether literally or metaphorically, implies the use of language, which is a left-brain capacity. So an author of the impossible is not someone who has shut down the left brain with all its critical and linguistic powers and tender sense of individual identity. I do not mean to be so simply dualistic . Rather, an author of the impossible is someone who has ceased to live, think, and imagine only in the left brain, who has worked hard and long to synchronize the two forms of consciousness and identity and bring them both online together. Finally, an author of the impossible is someone who has gone beyond all of these dualisms of right and left, mystical and rational, faith and reason, self and other, mind and matter, consciousness and energy, and so on. An author of the impossible is someone who knows that the Human is Two and One.”

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011-09-16). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

The Unseen I

“The unseen eye remind me of a midnight dream

You know it remind me of somebody I have never seen”

Sonny Boy Williamson

What is meant when we say, “I?” What we know of self and other may only be an immediate perception; a glance, a choice of words or clothing, a smell, or intuitions of recognition and deception – all steps on a never-quite-finished bridge from me to you.

For some, who we are is an idea so old and tiresome it’s no longer compelling or useful to ponder. The impossibility of knowing lessens the value of our imaginings. Whoever or whatever we are seems too slippery, incomprehensible or mercurial to be grasped; void of any tangible meaning worth imagining. For who is it that imagines the very self we want to comprehend? Are there then two of me? Ugh.

Yet, the life span of the body, the persona of an “I,” accumulates, weaving time and memory into a continuous sense of me. Underneath the limits of language, essentially there is something here, even if definition and identity fail to uphold an enduring portrait. With depths hidden even to oneself, others will see even less than that.

As much as we moderns may disparage the separateness that the “I” invokes, seeing the very notion as the source of strife, conflict and suffering, who among us could tolerate being unselved, without the opportunity to feel and respond uniquely as we do? What there is to know of self and other, begins with what shows up, and continues with what is revealed.

And, do we ever act completely independently of others? Are not others just as much ungraspable, mysterious extensions of our (in)ability to differentiate? Perhaps the drive to differentiate is the very thing compelling us to see anew. For who would remain an undifferentiated “I” sees neither others nor themselves. The more we are able to differentiate subtle distinctions, the more articulate our responses. From that comes an ability to see more of the whole.

The palette expands though not for quantities sake, but for quality – where beauty, love and compassion, already rooted in our being, respond as a tree to moisture and sunlight. What we learn through distinction and relationship is to appreciate the strange, the unknown which afford us access to the source of creation, that unseen I.

Like others, I am driven by both an urge to see, comprehend, understand and to reveal. But the double-edged sword of seeing and revealing will admit that through differentiating, focusing, defining, or what alchemy calls the separatio – necessary as they are, are themselves a mode of perception and never the whole story.

A time of darkness, not seeing, not even looking, can then become a place for renewal. Like the womb of our birthing, the dark periods of life can seem forbidden, empty, neither separate, nor unified, but a place of mystery of life itself, as necessary as food and shelter. Willingly or not, sometimes we find ourselves in the dark womb. Immersed in undifferentiated unity, we now belong, unquestionably protected and loved. The noun and verb as one, actor and act, lover and beloved, creator and created, heaven earthing, no “I” here to see or be seen.

It has only been with age that I begin to see “as above, so below.” As above, my life embodies the pulse of the universe as comings and goings, and like the weather, I watch and tend to them as best as I can, trusting in an unseen “I.”

File:NGC 3132 "Southern Ring".jpg
A jewel of the southern sky, NGC 3132 – Judy Schmidt

The unseen “I” immersed in the womb, sleeps and dreams itself into the next incarnation. Is there only one “I?” Perhaps that is so, and we may sense this strongly in times of convergence where the walls tumble-down, “things” smear into undifferentiated unity. No worry. Perhaps you’ve slipped back into the womb.

Time, the stream that moves us like seeds in the wind, needs us – our small life, in ways we may never fully understand, both giving illusions and taking them away, articulating the woven body of “I” into the cosmos, feeding and nurturing new life, hidden, fallow, unseen. Then perhaps what begins with desire, is fulfilled through the love of the unseen I, forever creating, destroying and renewing.

Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum

It has been a wonderful adventure re-reading and sharing here James Hillman’s wonderful book Alchemical Psychology. Every time I read Hillman I am inspired to keep digging the well that continues to give me sustenance, joy and the feeling that life does make sense. The writing of this series is my attempt to pay tribute to Hillman by presenting a smattering of his writing to you, along with a few of my own thoughts. Hillman has had a profound and lasting influence on my life and my intent here is to be true enough to the gift he has given me – keeping alive his spirit by passing along a bit of his writing to you. Links to parts One through Seven of this series of posts can be found on the Index page of the blog.

Hillman begins the last chapter of Alchemical Psychology by referring to Jung’s final work, Mysterium Coniunctionis in which Jung refers to the idea of the Caelum as:

‘ “a Heavenly Spirit that makes its way into the essential forms of things” ;

the “anima mundi in matter,”

“the truth itself,”

“a universal medicine,”

“a window into eternity,”

radiating “a magic power,”

“the unus mundus”

“unio mystica with the potential world, or mundus archetypus”

and the final realization of the alchemical opus.  We are headed to the edge.’

The chapter begins with a reflection about transcendent experience from a poem by Lisel Mueller partly quoted here:

“I will not return to a universe of objects that don’t know each other, as if islands were not the lost children of one great continent. The world is flux, and light becomes what it touches, becomes water, lilies on water, above and below water, becomes lilac and mauve and yellow and white and cerulean lamps, small fists passing sunlight so quickly to one another that it would take long, streaming hair inside my brush to catch it.”

And a story about Gustav Fechner, a 19th century German Philosopher and Experimental Psychologist who lost his sight for a while becoming completely house-bound when upon regaining his sight experienced the things of the world anew, as if now radiating light from within:

“I stepped out for the first time from my darkened chamber and into the garden … It seemed to me like a glimpse beyond the boundary of human experience. Every flower beamed upon me with a peculiar clarity, as though into the outer light it was casting a light of its own.”

About Fechner’s return to the world Hillman says:

“The book on the soul that followed his return to life was subtitled “a walk through the visible world in order to find the invisible.” Fechner now wore blue glasses. To protect his eyes? Or to protect his vision from the materialist perspective that preceded his blindness and which he now called the “night world”, i.e., the nigredo from which he had emerged.”

We don’t need science to point out what the poets and many others have always known to be true.

This last stage is a return to blue, although not the blue of “the Blues,” that we find in an earlier stage of Alchemy discussed in chapter two of Hillman’s book.

This blue is that which connects heaven and earth and is indeed the marriage of spirit and matter.

In 1944 Carl Gustav Jung suffered a heart attack that brought him very close to death in which he experienced what might be called a Near Death experience. What he experienced was a lifting up from earth into the heavens in which he then sees the beautiful blue world below:

“I experienced dreams and visions which must have begun when I hung on the edge of death … I had reached the outermost limit … It seemed to me that I was high up in space. Far below I saw the globe of the earth, bathed in a gloriously blue light. I saw the deep blue sea and the continents … its global shape shone with a silvery gleam through the wonderful blue light. ”

Hillman sees the common thread  running through these blue visions as a move towards the edge, which bring a unifying sense of the matter and spirit in the cosmos.

“Again that theme: cosmos without horizon, without partitions, as if a deeper layer of existence, which is “the foundation of the world of objects,” and is initiated by the blue experience.”

Jung, deeply touched, describes his experience as a rebirth:

“The being which had been reborn in me … with a sudden shudder of happiness … is nourished only by the essences of things … A minute freed from the order of time has recreated in us, to feel it, the man freed from the order of time.” 

Jung would go on to write about this experience in his book, Alchemical Studies and discuss the experience with numerous friends. In a letter to Jung from Wolfgang Pauli, Pauli writes:

I have come to accept the existence of deeper spiritual layers that cannot be adequately defined by the conventional concept of time. The logical consequence of this is that death of the single individual in these layers does not have its usual meaning, for they always go beyond personal life. ”

This idea of going beyond the personal may perhaps need some clarification. Transcending the personal does not mean leaving it behind in favor of a greater and more glorious transcendent world. I do worry that some may read into this that a move beyond the personal is a goal in which we attempt to abandon the personal mundane aspects of our lives. I do not see transcendence as a state to be achieved in which we leave behind the material, personal nature of our lives, but one in which a bridge between the two is built. The physical form of our bodies, our earthly life including the material nature of things, with their height, weight, birth and death are as much intended and necessary as is the spiritual and psychic nature that enliven us.

It also worth keeping in mind that these states are not limited to a chosen few, but available to us all. Many of us not only sense that there is more to this life than our physical, visible world, but that being inclined to favor one over the other is just as unsatisfying as being stuck in the mud of physical existence pining for the freedom of a purely spiritual existence. It’s the marriage of the two worlds that brings joy and ignites the passion of the creative force that delivers the gifts that each of us is to give.

Hillman puts it this way:

“Embodiment: is that not what is meant by macrocosm and microcosm together, a unus mundus? If embodiment is presaged already in the “blues” that sing of sadness and pull the soul down into the body’s longings and mournings, then the caelum expands skyward (Jung’s vision in the hospital, Pauli’s cosmic clock), the senses awakened to the presence of the whole wide world, urged forward as Miles Davis felt, enlivened as Proust says, as Fechner perceiving the dazzling flowers. Blue initiates “the birth of the aesthetic sense.”  ‘

And more:

“As I contemplate the blue of the sky I am not set over against it as an acosmic subject; I do not possess it in thought, or spread out toward it some idea of blue … I abandon myself to it and plunge into this mystery, it ‘thinks itself within me,’ I am the sky itself [my italics] as it is drawn together and unified … my consciousness is saturated with this limitless blue.” 

The point again having more to do with the marriage; an aesthetic sense of our lives which we find in the stories, display, or “things as they are.” Hillman rightly worries that his former profession, Psychology, has dropped the Psyche in favor of the Ology, boxing the soul in with formulas for interpretations rather than letting our stories show us where we are and “which god we have followed home.”

Hillman frequently insists that by sticking to the image, we will see what is there to be seen and that moving away from the image risks replacing them with concepts and formulas that move us away from the phenomena of the world, rather than towards it, in which we can then welcome what is trying to be born.

“Alchemy caught me and taught me with its aesthetics – its colors and minerals, its paraphernalia, freaks, and enigmatic imagistic instructions. It is like a vast collective artwork built through centuries. It offers an aesthetic psychology: a myriad of aperçus, images, sayings, stories, formulae; and all the while engaged with the matters of nature. It tells us to throw away the book of conceptual systems; no need for male and female, typology, stages, opposites, transference, self. Conceptual systems may be useful as a scaffolding for better access to the massa confusa, which alchemy presents to a logocentric mind. Too soon, however, the conceptual scaffold replaces alchemy itself, reducing it to merely providing examples to support the conceptual scaffold. ¡Que lastima!”

There is much more to this book than I could possibly present here, but I will stop here with Hillman’s nod to astrology in which he so beautifully summarizes the Caelum:

“The caelum, then, is an aesthetic condition of mind, on which the entire opus depends. Envision it as a night sky filled with airy bodies of the gods, those astrological images that are at once beasts and geometry  and participate in all things of the world as their imaginal ground. The caelum does not take place in your head, in your mind, but your mind moves in the caelum, touches the constellations. The thick and hairy skull opens to let in more light, their light, making possible a grand new idea of order, a cosmological imagination whose thought speaks for the cosmos in the aesthetic forms of images.”

Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Links to all posts in this series:

Colour My World , Alchemical Psychology, Part I – Black http://wp.me/pZ0y1-T7

Alchemical Psychology, Part II – Blue http://wp.me/pZ0y1-TA

Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver http://wp.me/pZ0y1-Um

Alchemical Psychology, Part IV – White http://wp.me/pZ0y1-UT

Alchemical Psychology, Part V – Yellow http://wp.me/pZ0y1-WV

Alchemical Psychology, Part VI – Red http://wp.me/pZ0y1-XT

Alchemical Psychology, Part VII – Air http://wp.me/pZ0y1-11b

Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum http://wp.me/Z0y1