How to Tell Your Friends From the Demons
The classical psychoanalysis of Freud was a one-person psychology, whereas the modern psychoanalysis which grew out of that is a two-person psychology -- or, more to the point, intersubjective. Looked at this way, instincts are not just animal discharges, but links between two people. An obvious example is sexuality. For a normal human being, sex is not just an animal instinct that can be separated from a relationship. Rather, it is a link between two persons -- which is why only for humans can this link be loving, or sadistic, or perverse, or narcissistic, whatever.
This is only possible because we are intimately linked to the other from the moment we come into the world, just as we are linked to the atmosphere and physical environment. Just as we exchange food and oxygen, we exchange psychic "substances," so to speak, with others. And just as the physical nourishment we take in is used to build our bodies, the psychic nourishment we take in is used to build our minds.
But it is not just good things that are taken in. Rather, a frustrating, neglectful, or abusive primary relationship is also internalized, and becomes a "bad object." But because of the logic of the unconscious mind, the person can identify with either pole of the bad object relationship, and project the other side into someone else, to whom he remains linked. Which is why one person can become an emotional sadist in search of masochistic victims, while the other becomes an emotional masochist in search of sadists.
Now, these good and bad objects result from our horizontal openness to others. Religion results from the fact that we are also open systems vertically. In a letter to a disciple, Schuon talks about the moment in life when a man makes the decision "to realize a permanent relationship with his creator" and "to become what he should have been" all along, whether we call this state "salvation" or "union."
But after the initial enthusiasm subsides, in many cases "the aspirant is unaware that he will have to go through difficulties he carries within himself which are aroused and unfolded by the contact with a heavenly element." Very similar to what Sri Aurobindo taught, the "lower psychic possibilities -- quite evidently incompatible with perfection -- must be exhausted and dissolved." This is known as the "initiatic ordeal," the "descent into hell," the "temptation of the hero," or "spiritual combat." In Vedanta, it is called the fire of "tapasaya," which refers to the burning that accompanies the dissolution of these patterns and knots.
And as I mentioned yesterday about discerning the plane from which the difficulty is arising, Schuon says that the psychic elements that are unfit for consummation can be "hereditary or personal." Or, they can result from our own will, or, conversely, pressure from the environment. In any event, they generally take the form of "a discouragement, of a doubt, of a revolt," and the important thing is to not further empower them by "embarking on the downward slope of either despair or subversion." One must detach and fight back, not build an errport for these parasitic thoughts to land and establish a beachhead in your head.
In an essay on Trials and Happiness, Schuon points out that "a trial is not necessarily a chastisement, it can also be a grace, and the one does not preclude the other. At all events, a trial in itself not only tests what we are, but also purifies us of what we are not." Just think of all the things you thought you wanted at the time, but which would have been disastrous if you had gotten them. As they say, more misery is caused by answered prayers than unanswered ones.
Who we are is up ahead, not behind. It reminds me of mountain biking. In order to avoid a crash, you should generally not look down at what you're trying to avoid, but up ahead ten or twenty feet. By focussing on where you want to go, you'll keep your balance and automatically avoid the obstacles.
Similarly, as Schuon says, "we have to avoid becoming hypnotized by the surrounding world, for this reinforces our feeling of being exposed to a thousand dangers." It is as if we are on "a narrow path between two abysses; when looking to either side one risks losing one's balance." Instead, one must "look straight ahead and let the world be the world," or "look towards God, in relation to Whom all the chasms of the world are nothing." This is the meaning of Jesus' statement that "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).
Schuon also talks about the distinction between the "trial by water" and "trial by fire," the former essentially involving the siren song of temptation, hypnosis, and seduction, the latter the dragons of the unconscious mind and the dreaded General Law.
I first came across the idea of the General Law in Mouraviaeff's Gnosis. I don't know if there is actually a General Law in the cosmos, but there might as well be. He begins with Origen's comparison of the cosmos to a living organism, the soul of which is God, the "soul of souls." He then asks what the purpose of human existence could be. On the one hand, it could be "an element of the universal organism," serving its aims; or "an isolated individual" pursuing his own aims.
If we compare the human being to a cell in the body, the cell is subject to two categories: "The first keeps the cell in its place. In esoteric science we call it the General Law. The second leaves a certain liberty of action for the cell, and is called the Law of Exception." I'll skip some of the details, but as it pertains to humans, the General Law allows man a certain margin of free movement. Although objectively limited, the limits appear subjectively vast to horizontal man, who "can give free rein to his fantasies and ambitions" within their bounds -- what you might call the "bourgeois happiness" of the tenured:
"As long as man accepts the principle of the final annihilation of his personality without a fight, he can carry on in life without attracting the increasing pressure of the General Law upon himself."
Ah ha! This would explain why the sub-Raccoon population seems so blandly content. They have no idea that their lives are subject to the General Law. They don't rock the cosmic boat, and therefore do not attract the attention of the authorities.
But dash it all, wouldn't you know "the case is totally different if he struggles to surpass the limits which [the General Law] imposes.... It acts simultaneously on several planes: physical, mental and moral. Its action on the moral plane is conceived by man, since time immemorial, in the form of a personification: the Devil."
Now, in the Orthodox Christian tradition -- which I suppose we'll be getting into later -- there is much practical consideration and advice on how to deal with the provocations of the General Law, i.e., how to wage hand-to-hand combat without hands. In any event, it is a commonly encountered pattern that "once positive results are obtained," the seeker will "unmistakably run up against the opposition of the law and the game of the Crafty One."
Pleased to meet me, hope I guess my name!
Again, you can debate about the ontological basis of all this, but as far as the phenomenology goes, it is identical in form to the resistance that is universally encountered in psychotherapy. As soon as you make a move toward health, a legion of internal propagandists and saboteurs will be aroused from their slumber to block the way. Likewise, by "placing himself under the aegis of the Law of Exception, man goes against the General Law, which he is even called upon to overthrow, if only on an individual scale." The seeker must remember -- "under penalty of surprise attacks" -- that "salvation depends on victory over the Devil," which "is the personalized aspect of the General Law."
In other words, to live outside the law, you must be honest (Dylan). Whatever you do, don't engage in autokidding, or pulling the wool over your own I's. You must show proof, including three forms of disidentification, that you are a worthy candidate to defy the authority of the General Law, because as soon as you defy it, you'll get it from all sides.
The Law of Exception is a narrow way, more difficult than it is for a Camel to pass through the lips of the surgeon general, but it's where the razoredgeon is.