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.

I Fall to Pieces

I have recently discovered the ideas of David Bohm, a theoretical physicist who also had an interest in the social implications of how thought and language can lead us to perceive falsely, a fragmented world that is in reality whole. 

From Wiki:

David Bohm.jpg“Bohm was alarmed by what he considered an increasing imbalance of not only man and nature, but among peoples, as well as within people, themselves. Bohm mused: “So one begins to wonder what is going to happen to the human race. Technology keeps on advancing with greater and greater power, either for good or for destruction.” He goes on to ask:”

What is the source of all this trouble? I’m saying that the source is basically in thought. Many people would think that such a statement is crazy, because thought is the one thing we have with which to solve our problems. That’s part of our tradition. Yet it looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems with is the source of our problems. It’s like going to the doctor and having him make you ill. In fact, in 20% of medical cases we do apparently have that going on. But in the case of thought, it’s far over 20%.

After watching a couple of interviews on Youtube, I purchased and am still reading his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, in which he discusses a concern for humanity, because of our habit of thought which fragments the nature of reality including the splitting of our sense of self. Reality he says, and many of us may already agree, is an unbroken, undivided whole. He says:

“In essence, the process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical and functional activities (e.g., to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e. to his self-world view), then man ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments.”

So if thought and language by their very nature fragment and divide our experience of the world and our sense of self, what can we do about it? It’s doubtful that we can ever overcome our human nature and remove thought from our experience, but perhaps through attentiveness we can learn to recognize the subjective and arbitrary ways that we come to conclusions, decisions, and how we categorize things and events sometimes drawing erroneous conclusions and then proceed to live by them.

Bohm suggests that thought itself cannot change the world, but rather what is needed is a change in our perception and meaning. If perception and meaning at a more ontological level can include awareness of the whole, perhaps the nature and stream of thought changes.

I have often struggled with the notion of wholeness, as a state to arrive at, because I disagree that we should be seeking a fixed and permanent state of being. To my knowledge there are no fixed and permanent states in nature. Bohm reminds us of the etymology of the word broadening the definition to imply an action or event of healing. Perhaps where it occurs, our desire for wholeness may be related to an intuition of the wholeness perceived in the undivided nature that is background to our imagined foreground. Then wholeness is understood not as something to possess but rather an ongoing reconciliation with the unfragmented motion of living within nature’s wholeness.

“It is instructive to consider that the word ‘health’ in English is based on an Anglo-Saxon word ‘hale’ meaning ‘whole’: that is, to be healthy is to be whole, which is, I think, roughly the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘shalem’. Likewise, the English ‘holy’ is based on the same root as ‘whole’. All of this indicates that man has sensed always that wholeness or integrity is an absolute necessity to make life worth living.”

Along with many significant contributions to science, Bohm tried to give us a way to understand our human nature that would help us to reconsider our social relations that would further the efforts toward a more peaceful world in which humans felt they belonged.

“Whenever men divide themselves from the whole of society and attempt to unite by identification within a group, it is clear that the group must eventually develop internal strife, which leads to a breakdown of its unity. Likewise when men try to separate some aspect of nature in their practical , technical work , a similar state of contradiction and disunity will develop. The same sort of thing will happen to the individual when he tries to separate himself from society. True unity in the individual and between man and nature , as well as between man and man, can arise only in a form of action that does not attempt to fragment the whole of reality.

What is the use of attempts at social, political, economic or other action if the mind is caught up in a confused movement in which it is generally differentiating what is not different and identifying what is not identical?”

Bohm also reminds us that any theory is subject to the limitations that our tendency to fragment cause:

“We have thus to be alert to give careful attention and serious consideration to the fact that our theories are not ‘descriptions of reality as it is’ but, rather, ever-changing forms of insight, which can point to or indicate a reality that is implicit and not describable or specifiable in its totality.”

There are a number of interviews and lectures available online in which the gentle, peaceful nature of this man shines through along with the presentation of his ideas for bringing about a more peaceful, undivided world.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI66ZglzcO0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWSOtz7mhPA

Bohm was a friend of Krishnamurti and here you may explore their relationship and dialogues.

There is a good essay by Matthew Capowski on thought, meaning and perception here:

http://bohmkrishnamurti.com/essays-etc/there-is-no-activism-there-is-only-proprioception-of-thought/

Quotes taken from Bohm, David (2005-07-12). Wholeness and the Implicate Order (Routledge Classics) (Kindle Locations 515-517). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Archetypal Psychology – a Brief Account, Part I

As a lasting legacy to James Hillman, Spring publications has been publishing his writings in a 10 volume set called the Uniform Edition. The latest of these offerings now available in both cloth-bound and for Kindle readers, is his Archetypal Psychology, described by Spring as:

“Originally written for the Italian Enciclopedia del Novecento, this indispensable book is a concise, instructive introduction to polytheism, Greek mythology, the soul-spirit distinction, anima mundi, psychopathology, soul-making, imagination, therapeutic practice, and the writings of C. G. Jung, Henry Corbin, and Adolf Portmann in the formulation of the field of Archetypal Psychology.”

The book was written as an overview of what Hillman came to call Archetypal Psychology in distinction to Jung’s Analytical Psychology, or Freud’s Psychoanalytic theory. Unlike the legacy of Feud and Jung and their schools of thought, Hillman did not want to create a formal school with a following, and especially not one that advanced a training program for a therapeutic practice.

The book is brief and includes a comprehensive listing of resources that extends beyond his own works to include all those who have either influenced or collaborated with Hillman.

This list is intended as a tool for those interested in archetypal psychology. Works were selected for inclusion if they are important sources for, or are clearly within the tradition of archetypal psychology. We hope to have included the most significant works of those who have published in the field.

We begin with a definition of Archetypal Psychology:

It is a psychology deliberately affiliated with the arts, culture, and the history of ideas, arising as they do from the imagination. The term “archetypal,” in contrast to “analytical,” which is the usual appellation for Jung’s psychology, was preferred not only because it reflected “the deepened theory of Jung’s later work that attempts to solve psychological problems beyond scientific models” (Hillman 1970 b); it was preferred more importantly because “archetypal” belongs to all culture, all forms of human activity, and not only to professional practitioners of modern therapeutics.

By traditional definition, archetypes are the primary forms that govern the psyche. But they cannot be contained only by the psyche, since they manifest as well in physical, social, linguistic, aesthetic, and spiritual modes. Thus, archetypal psychology’s first links are with culture and imagination rather than with medical and empirical psychologies, which tend to confine psychology to the positivistic manifestations of the nineteenth-century condition of the soul.

Moving archetypal psychology away from the “professional practitioners of modern therapeutics” invites a larger audience, an audience not necessarily coming out of the milieu of psychopathology, but from a broader spectrum of the culture – to read, study and reflect on the nature of psyche or soul moving ideas back into the arenas of our world; arts, music, literature, politics, science, technology and religion, places where we not only live out our calling, but where we meet one another and make soul, both on a personal level and through a shared world of Anima Mundi, or soul of the world.

Hillman acknowledges the significance of the work of C.G. Jung and particularly for his extensive research into the common motifs seen throughout the ages in mythology, ritual, religion, archeology and for the ongoing significance of archetypal patterns still found today:

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From Jung comes the idea that the basic and universal structures of the psyche, the formal patterns of its relational modes, are archetypal patterns. These are like psychic organs, congenitally given with the psyche itself (yet not necessarily genetically inherited), even if somewhat modified by historical and geographical factors. These patterns or archai appear in the arts, religions, dreams, and social customs of all peoples, and they manifest spontaneously in mental disorders. For Jung, they are anthropological and cultural, and also spiritual in that they transcend the empirical world of time and place and, in fact, are in themselves not phenomenal. Archetypal psychology, in distinction to Jungian, considers the archetypal to be always phenomenal (Avens 1980), thus avoiding the Kantian idealism implied in Jung (de Voogd 1977).

Hillman understood these patterns as not only an aspect of psychopathology, but that of everyday human experience. We are all in psyche, living through the lens of fantasy, personifying archetypal patterns that speak through us.

The primary, and irreducible, language of these archetypal patterns is the metaphorical discourse of myths. These can therefore be understood as the most fundamental patterns of human existence. To study human nature at its most basic level, one must turn to culture (mythology, religion, art, architecture, epic, drama, ritual) where these patterns are portrayed. The full implication of this move away from biochemical, socio-historical, and personal-behavioristic bases for human nature toward the imaginative has been articulated by Hillman as “the poetic basis of mind.

Hillman refers to Jung as the first father of archetypal psychology naming the Parisian Islamic scholar, Henri Corbin as the second father. From Corbin we understand image as an unmediated, primary, pre-lingual phenomena from which all else follows. So rather than imagination being in us, we are in psyche, we are being imagined by powers (archai) we pretend to understand.

But more important than the ontological placing of archetypal realities is the double move of Corbin: (a) that the fundamental nature of the archetype is accessible to imagination first and presents itself first as image, so that (b) the entire procedure of archetypal psychology as a method is imaginative. Its exposition must be rhetorical and poetic, its reasoning not logical, and its therapeutic aim neither social adaptation nor personalistic individualizing, but rather a work in service of restoration of the patient to imaginal realities. The aim of therapy is the development of a sense of soul, the middle ground of psychic realities, and the method of therapy is the cultivation of imagination.

Archetypal psychology seeks to reorder the place of image by placing us in image. The reasons for this come clearer in the discussion that follows.

The source of images – dream images, fantasy images, poetic images – is the self-generative activity of the soul itself. In archetypal psychology, the word “image” therefore does not refer to an afterimage, the result of sensations and perceptions; nor does “image” mean a mental construct that represents in symbolic form certain ideas and feelings it expresses. In fact, the image has no referent beyond itself, neither proprioceptive, external, nor semantic: “Images don’t stand for anything” (Hillman 1978). They are the psyche itself in its imaginative visibility; as primary datum, image is irreducible.

Therefore, Hillman sees the attempt to see the image as the product of the imagination as backwards. The image is primary.

…all empirical studies on imagination, dream, fantasy, and the creative process in artists, as well as methods of rêve dirigé, will contribute little to a psychology of the image if they start with the empirics of imagining rather than with the phenomenon of the image – which is not a product of imagining. Empirical approaches of analyzing and guiding images strive to gain control over them.

My sense of Hillman is that he is appealing to us for an acceptance of living with ambiguity, fluidity, metaphor and desire that is not resolved by the finality of any state of being such as wholeness, individuation and salvation might suggest.

An image always seems more profound (archetypal), more powerful (potential), and more beautiful (theophanic) than the comprehension of it, hence the feeling, while recording a dream, of seeing through a glass darkly. Hence, too, the driving necessity in the arts, for they provide complicated disciplines that can actualize the complex virtuality of the image.

In part II, we’ll look at the archetypal image itself and explore the implications of Hillman’s idea that the image is primary and therefore universal, regardless of age, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, time or geographical location – to an understanding of the nature of image and how our sense of self and cosmology is both guided and misguided by how we are lived by their invisible presence in our lives.

An arche-typal image is psychologically “universal,” because its effect amplifies and depersonalizes. Even if the notion of image regards each image as an individualized, unique event, as “that image there and no other,” such an image is universal because it resonates with collective, trans-empirical importance.

All excerpts from: Hillman, James (2013-09-18). Archetypal Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.