Wheels Within Wheels and the Rhythm of Bleating
Naturally, when I started blogging, I had no idea where it would lead. In fact, that is the only way I can do it -- by starting with a blank slate each morning and proceeding from scratch. In so doing, I have to have faith that there will be something “inside” or “beyond” me waiting for me when I get up in the morning. I always want the blog to be an exercise in O --> k. If it ever becomes mere k --> O, it would be tedious for me, and the more sensitive readers -- which is probably to say all regular readers -- would be able to tell the difference in a heartbeat. At risk of handing ammunotions to my detractors, although my book includes the usual scholarly apparatus, whatever I am, I am not a “scholar.”
This spontaneity reflects the wider pattern of how I try to conduct my life. Interestingly, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion -- one of a handful of thinkers who have most influenced me -- wrote that the therapist should approach each session by “suspending memory, desire and understanding” in order to facilitate the spontaneous emergence of truth (O) between patient and therapist. He called this open and expectant attitude “faith.” This specifically dynamic faith is a “negative capability,” similar to the apophatic theology of a Denys the Areopagite, Shankara, or Meister Eckhart. For this reason, Bion often cited the adage, “the answer is the disease that kills curiosity.”
Perhaps you have noticed that there have been many times in your life when you have reached “the end of the line.” In fact, if you haven’t done so by the age of 40, then there’s something wrong with you. The DSM only covers psychological illnesses, not spiritual, ontological or existential ones, but if by mid-life you haven’t seen through the world and been disillusioned (in the positive sense, which is not to say cynical) then you are probably a.... a loser. Sorry about that characterization, but it’s true.
In many traditional spiritual approaches, there is the idea that one spends the first half of one’s life in the exterior, dealing with worldly accomplishments -- education, career, marriage, family, etc. The second half of life marks the inward turn, as we develop ourselves spiritually. Thus, to the extent that you remain ensnared in, and hypnotized by, the exterior world of mayaplicity, you have fallen victim to spiritual failure to launch, for the inward is where we access the upward.
Please don’t misunderstand. Unless you join a monastery, this inward turn does not involve shunning or rejecting the world. I myself have never been more in the world. Rather, it is simply a matter of one half of the complementarity taking precedence over the other. So long as we exist, we cannot avoid straddling the interior/exterior divide which characterizes human existence.
As part of my continuing education, I recently attended a seminar on aging which turned out to be not bad. It was by a Jungian who had worked with Joseph Campbell toward the end of his life. He mentioned that in preparing for the seminar, he went through all of the most popular books on aging, and was disappointed to discover that almost none of them actually had to do with aging. Rather, almost all of them had to do with denying the aging process and pathetically attempting to hold onto one’s youth.
Naturally, it is entirely appropriate for an adolescent to be completely captivated (literally) by the world, which is one of the reasons why they embrace such dopey ideologies as leftism or atheism. But our pathological culture has come to identify “life” with “youth,” which is simply one phase of life. Life itself is always a developmental process, but especially for human beings.
For all other animals, their developmental process is determined genetically. Basically, there is a short period of development that ends with the capacity to reproduce, and that’s the end of the line. Once you’ve accomplished that, then nature has no further use for you. You have reported for genetic duty and now you are honorably discharged. In other words, you die. For some -- a mayfly, for example -- the entire cosmic process lasts from dawn to dawn. For others it is a year, or seven years, or seventy years, but from the standpoint of the Absolute being to whom we abbasalute -- the Life of life -- a single day is eternity, while eternity is a but single day.
What clearly sets human beings apart from the other animals -- some of us, anyway -- is that our development does not end with biological maturity -- with the capacity to reproduce. Rather, it can continue until the very end, so long as one draws breath. In my book, I try to explain why this is so, applying the insights of modern attachment theory to our evolutionary past, and showing how nature’s invention of the helpless infant was the key to interior evolution. Merely having a big brain was insufficient to allow our humanness to emerge. Rather, either before or at the same time, it required the emergence of developmentally incomplete nervous systems in which trans-genetic learning could take place.
For the majority of human beings, they imprint the culture they happen to have been born into, at which point their nervous system essentially “closes” except for a few later exceptions. For example, when we first fall in love, this is an example of the joy and exhilaration of our minds becoming open systems again. Likewise, for many people, this happens again with children or grandchildren. But aside from these vivid experiences that would “wake the dead,” most people’s minds revolve around a few dominant, core ideas that they have picked up along the way, so their minds are moreorlessibund.
Again, life is growth. Or to put it in the negative, nothing grows but life. Everything else is merely a mechanical process, but an organic process grows and develops toward an end point. Thus, if you are not growing, you are not just dying, you are already dead. And this is why the Oprah-esque books on aging are not really about youth worship but death worship. It is why the stretched and botoxed Nancy Pelosi looks less like the innocently beautiful young woman of her imagination than a surprised corpse.
It is one thing to deny the physical aging process, another matter entirely to deny the psycho-spiritual aging process. For me, the end of the line came when I was exactly 40 years old. In truth, it had come several times in the past, but when we are younger, we have the energy to dig in our heels and refuse the inner call. But after much loitering around the penumbra of spiritual truth, I made the conscious decision to dive heartlong over the interior horizon and into the great wide open.
One of the ways you can tell that spiritual growth is real, is that -- like life itself -- it is a process full of surprises. Only reality can surprise you. In fact, one of the purposes of unconscious psychological defenses is to remove the surprises from life, even if doing so causes pain or drains life of its novelty and unpredictability.
This is why one of the frightening hallmarks of mental illness is that one feels as if one is being swallowed up or pushed around by forces greater than oneself. That’s when you know something is wrong. That is the “lower vertical,” but the same holds true for the “upper vertical.” When one surrenders to a spiritual process, there is a definite sense that one is dealing with powers beyond one’s control. Every day is a surprise.
To get back to the what I touched on at the outset, one of the real aspects of the spiritual process is its cyclicity. While you can tinker around the edges of this rhythm, you can no more deny it than you could hold on to your breath and give up exhaling. For in reality, this rhythm is a reflection of the great cosmogonic cycle of death and rebirth, and unless you have died, you cannot live. And unless you have had many “dead again” experiences, you cannot have the joy of being reborn. Or as Joyce put it, “Horray! Surrection!” Petey says this ambiguous place between birth and death is where the resurraction is, but either way, it's a neveriverending dance along the razoredgeon.