Friday, April 19, 2024

cell913blog.com #43

 The question of bridging the extremes, has a plethora of applications, from the most mundane and trite, (jam or peanut butter), to the more challenging intellectual questions, including those of the divide between science (scientific thought, methodology, rationalism, empiricism) and even history. In the historic ‘search for’ and multiple attempts to ‘find’ and explain, relate to and live in relationship with God, in reading a history of ideas and the theologies that they birthed and struggled to sustain, we find the contenders of ‘science/math’ on the one hand and history on another. As one who has been reading some of James Hillman’s work in archetypal psychology, the name of Giambattista Vico, (1668-1774), professor of rhetoric at the University of Naples, is referenced multiple times by Hillman.

Karen Armstrong, in her incisively brilliant work, The Case for God, we read this about Vico:

(Vico) argued that the historical method was a reliable as the scientific but rested on a different intellectual foundation. The study of rhetoric showed that it was just as important to know who as philosopher was addressing and to understand the context of his discourse as to master its content. Mathematics was crucial to the new science; it claimed to yield clear and distinct results that could be applied to all fields of study. But mathematics, Vico argued, was essentially a game that had been devised and controlled by human beings. If you applied the mathematical method to material that was separate from the human intellect-to cosmology, for instance- there was not the same ‘fit’. Because nature operated independently of us, we could not understand it as intimately as something that we had created ourselves. But we could know history in this way, because our civilisations were human artifacts. So why did modern philosophers expend all their energies on the ‘study of the world of nature, which, since God made it, he alone knows? …The study of history depended on what Pascal had called the ‘heart.’ Instead of logical, deductive thought, Vico pointed out, the historian had to use his imagination (fantasia) and enter empathically into the world of the past. When a historian studies the past, he had to turn within, to recollect the phases of his own development, and this sympathetically reconstruct the stages of the evolution of a particular culture. By imagining its metaphors and imagery, he discovered the preconceptions that drew society together, ‘a judgement without reflection, universally felt by an entire group, an entire people, a whole nation.’ By this process of introspection, the historian was able to grasp an internal, integrating principle that enabled him to appreciate the uniqueness of each civilization. Truths were not absolute; what was true in one culture was not so for another; symbols that worked for one people would not speak to others. We understand the rich variety of human nature only when we learn to enter imaginatively and compassionately into the context in which a proposition or doctrine is developed…Vico seemed to sense that a gap had opened between science and the humanities that had not existed before. The scientific method taught the observer to be detached from what he was investigating, because it was essential to science that the result of an experiment be the same, whoever performed it. Objective truth aspires to be independent of historical context and is assumed to be the same in any period or culture. Such an approach tends to canonize the present, so that we project what we believe and find credible back onto the past or onto a civilization whose symbols and presuppositions might be different from our own. Vico referred to this uncritical assessment of alien societies and remote historical periods as the ‘conceit’ of scholars or rulers: ‘It is another property of the human mind that wherever men can form no idea of distant or unknown things they judge them by what is familiar and at hand.’ (Vico, Scienza nuova, p. 122)

(Armstrong continues):

Vico had put his finger on an important point. The scientific method has dealt brilliantly with objects but is less cogent when applied to people or the arts. It is not competent to assess religion, which is inseparable from the complex human beings who practice it and, like the arts, cultivates a perception based on imagination and empathy. A scientist will first form a theory and then seek to prove it experimentally; religion works the other way around, and its insights come from practical experience. Where science is concerned with facts, religious truth is symbolic and its symbols will vary according to context; they will change as society changes, and the reason for these changes must be understood. Like the arts, religion is transformative. Where the scientist is supposed to remain detached from the object of his investigation, a religious person must be changed by the encounter with the symbols of his or her faith—in rather the same way as one’s outlook can be permanently transformed by the contemplation of a great painting. (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God, pps: 216-217-218)

Of course, Vico thought and wrote long before we knew anything about quantum physics, neuroscience, behaviourism, classical conditioning, and the seeding and development of something called psychology, including Freud, Jung, and the post-Jungians. Not only has the human race been bombarded with, and even nearly drowned by, a constant, relentless wave of mathematically-scientifically-based technology. From the perspective of Vico’s eighteenth century, all of this scientific eruption would have been overwhelming. Indeed, even today, for many, the totality of the math-science-digital revolution, is overwhelming. And while it may seem that the arts and religion, separately and differently and for different reasons, are fixated on the ‘rear-view mirror’ as it were, in focusing on the past, at the expense of either the present or the future, nothing could be further from the truth. Imitation, mixed discerningly and creatively with new materials, techniques, tools and the very different perspectives of both the arts and theology in this twenty-first century, comprises a kind of template of both integration and re-inventing. We not only seek to know from our ‘ancestors’ (genetically, ethnically, culturally, religiously, politically and philosophically) we also bring to any search into our ancestors, our unique perspective. One notable example of this process, in the study of theology comes from the Jesus Seminar. A group of contemporary scholars, from different disciplines and faith traditions (spanning the Christian broadband) pored over the text of the gospels, with a view to attempting to discern the ‘authentic’ and the ‘historic’ Jesus. One of their more well know contributions is a text displaying different shades of black, pink and red, depending on their consensus that Jesus actually uttered various words that were originally attributed to him in the original text. Only the pure ‘red’ qualified, from their shared perspective, as likely.

In the religious community, as could be expected, many were not merely put off by this scholarship, in search of the authentic and historic Jesus. Some argued that such an approach was beneath the dignity, honour, respect and reverence of the holy writ, and especially of the ‘Saviour’ of the human race. Others argued that the process reduced a heroic and mythic Son of God to a mere object of human intellect, something deemed not merely irreverential, but heretical. Only the literal words were to be considered both original and authentic, and all of them qualified, based on the perception and belief systems of those opponents. The tension between academic/scientific/linguistic/historic/archeological/ processes, with their ‘objectivity’ and the ‘total commitment of what might be called ‘blind faith’ persists in many forms and fora, and lingers as a more complex than a reconciling influence among many ‘believers.’

A similar tension persists between religion and psychology, while at the same time, everyone can agree that the two are so overlapping as to be almost two circles with a small area of separation between. ‘To know oneself’ is a revered dictum of philosophy that is compatible with most religious and faith communities. How the process of self-awareness, consciousness, acknowledgment of our part in every encounter, the perceptions that grow from our experiences, including our formal education, whether or not that process is sponsored by a religious institution, unfolds, their mutually generative and life-giving aspects reinforce each other. To ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God, what belongs to God,’ (Mark 21;22) is another religious mantra for some. ‘Pay your taxes but give yourself to Jesus’ is a simple translation for many. (The American ‘separation of church and state’ is another application of this epithet.)

And, floating in and through our cultural, academic, social, political, legal and even medical ethos are snippets of ‘wisdom’ that come from various sources, among them the Christian scripture. The question of how they are interpreted, however, has been both enlightening and divisive at the same time. A literal, empirical, and rigidly dogmatic (what did the authors mean), describes one approach, while another remains open to a more ‘metaphoric, symbolic, visionary, and abstract, even ambiguous perspective. And this tension is unlikely to be resolved soon. Indeed, the energy both engendered and celebrated in any meeting of the two perspectives has the potential of enlightening both sides, as well as turning off one or both. The Roman church has a section of its hierarchy in the Vatican dedicated to the preservation and discipline of the doctrine of the church. And that discipline is not merely taught to both laity and priests; it has considerable weight in the institutional perspective and tolerance or lack thereof, of individuals who might deviate from its teachings. A similar kind of discipline, based on different expectations, comes with the scientific, empirical, approach, and is enshrined in the academic qualifications for doctoral studies. And while both ‘religion’ and ‘theology’ have been academic studies along with science, medicine and the law for centuries, the scientific, historic and philosophic modalities have prevailed. Poetry, symbols, and the imagination, at least in the two seminaries of my experience, were low on the radar of both coffee-shop conversation and lecture hall as well as homiletics classes and homilies themselves. Adhering to the text, and presenting a pastoral, friendly, comfortable, and especially supportive identity, whether in the sanctuary or the emergency room, or in the hospice, without challenging the perceptions, beliefs, attitudes or expectations of the ‘patient/client/lay person’ offered much in the way of ‘solace,’ and potential ‘relief’ of stress, especially in and through the penitential.

It is to the poets, the visionaries, and the iconoclasts that we owe much of the energy in the examination of the tension between the ‘literal and empirical’ on the one hand the symbolic, metaphoric, mythic, ephemeral, ineffable and the imaginative on the other. Not that those operating in the scientific fields have no imagination, and do not deploy images in their scholarship and their work; they do. It is the significance, and the relevance of those images, and how they are regarded, by those living and operating in a scientific/academic/medical/legal/mathematical/technological venue, and by those living and operating from a theological, religious, spiritual modality that is different.

And psychology, as it embraces both sides of this divide, in the human psyche, has struggled with what some have called a schizophrenic perspective. On the one hand, it has deferred to statistical and diagnostic imperatives, that relegate a plethora of ‘mental’ conditions to predictive and prescriptive diagnosis and medication/treatment. On the other, it has borrowed, infrequently, from various images, as it attempts to communicate its truths and meanings and ‘help’ to the many clients who access its services. Aligning itself closely with the medical and later the psychiatric fraternities/sororities, psychology, as perceived by men and women including James Hillman, have come to view that alignment as damaging both to the profession and to the clients it attempts to serve.

The central approach, therapy, more recently adduced to what many call “CBT” (Cognitive, Behavioural Therapy). Having its roots in B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory, (stimulus, response, then reinforcement of response), and in Aaron Beck’s naming of what he called ‘cognitive distortions’ in the verbalized thoughts of his clients, the process has been disseminated to most corners of North America. There is an implicit set of assumptions in many of the contemporary approaches to therapy. One is that whatever is the ‘pain’ can be alleviated, moderated, medicated, or changed whether through ‘talk,’ ‘thought,’ neurolinguistic approaches, or, if necessary, prescription medications. Another is that more and more ‘pains’ have become stuffed into the diagnostic ‘compendium’ including one of the more bizarre, grief, at the death of a loved one.

There is a general and widespread consensus among most sentient and thinking men and women, that pain, in various forms, is a constant of all human existence. The multiple approaches, scientific, psychiatric, Gestalt, Psychodrama, CBT, and the various ‘talk’ therapies, all have their place, although finding which approach best serves each individual is akin to the warning on many new drugs: ‘avoid if you are allergic to this medication’….how can one know if one is allergic to a medication with actually ‘taking’ it?

It is his valiant, somewhat cheeky, somewhat pretentious, and certainly historically rooted, (if not in the literal, scientific, empirical modality) mind-set of James Hillman that his writing has given birth to what he (and his co-envisioners) dubbed archetypal psychology, to which we have come. And this ‘coming’ to the approach has been somewhat parallel, although much diluted, to Hillman’s own path: literature, the poets, Trinity College Dublin, the Sorbonne, Zurich and the Jung Institute…and his irrepressible imagination, creativity and pushing the envelope, in whatever situation he found himself in. Of Jewish background, fascinated by the underwater sea creatures under the boardwalk in Atlantic City where his parents operated a hotel during his younger years, a stint in the military, serving blinded war veterans eventually embodied both American and European ‘instincts. As ‘knight errant’  insatiable, almost incorrigible, and certainly irascible,  this deep thinker, thrice married, and the target of both antisemitic and politically vindictive attacks that saw him removed from the Director of Studies of the Jungian Institute in Zurich, has given us an archive of challenging precepts, concepts, notions, images and the energy of continual questioning of whatever we find in the symptom of the moment. And his purpose, as attested to by some of his disciplines like Thomas Moore, is to elevate the purpose and processes of psychology by linking it back to is original meaning, the care of the soul (through the imagination). Taking therapy out of the office and handing it back to ordinary men and women, all of whom are both capable of and accessible to the principles that he articulates. We are, in his view, especially at moments of crises, being ‘held’ or ‘taken over’ or ‘psychically inhabited’ by mythic voices from our shared cultural, historical narratives.

In his Re-Visioning Psychology, James Hillman picks up on Vico’s thought:

The term soul-making comes from the Romantic poets. We find the idea in William Blake’s Vala, but it was John Keats who clarified the phrase in a letter to his brother: ‘Call the world if you please, ‘The vale of Soul-making.’ Then you will find out the use of the world…From this perspective,  the human adventure is a wandering through the vale of the world for the sake of making soul. Our life is psychological, and the purpose of life is to make psyche out of it, to find connections between life and soul….By soul, I mean, first of all a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground…Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it by itself apart from other things, perhaps because it is like a reflection in a flowing mirror, or like the moon which mediates only borrowed light….First, ‘soul’ refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by ‘soul’ I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflexive speculation, dream, image and fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical….Everything we know and feel and every statement we make are all fantasy-based, that is, they derive from psychic images. These are not merely the flotsam of memory, the reproduction of perceptions, rearranged leftovers from the input of our lives….Following Jung, I use the word ‘fantasy-image in the poetic sense, considering images to be the basic givens of psychic life, self-originating, inventive, spontaneous, complete and organized in archetypal patterns. Fantasy-images are both the raw materials and finished products of psyche, and they are the privileged mode of access to knowledge of soul. Nothing is more primary….Here I am suggesting both a poetic basis of mind and a psychology that starts neither in the physiology of the brain, the structure of language, the organization of society, nor the analysis of behavior, but in the process of the imagination. By calling upon Jung to begin with, I am partly acknowledging the fundamental debt that archetypal psychology owes him. He is the immediate ancestor in a long line that stretches back through Freud, Dilthey, Coleridge, Schelling, Vico, Ficino, Plotinus and Plato to Heraclitus….(Re-Visioning Psychology, pps.xv, xvi, xvii)

Hillman is neither ‘invading’ theology nor is he complicit in segregating psychology from theology. Are there some courageous, creative, imaginative and sentient theologians (aside from Thomas Moore and David Miller) who might ‘see’ the validity of Hillman’s work as an enhancement to the work of the theological enterprise? Answers to that question will only appear in the return of the bodies to the pews they have left.

Is the new frontier, not only the elimination of apartheid, and all forms of racism, and the elimination of military conflict and all forms of imperialism, perhaps the reduction of the psychic imperialism of the scientific, literal, empirical, mathematical-technological and the infusion of an imaginative, mythic, mysterious, ambiguous, and somewhat elusive, yet flowing, image of the human psyche (universally) that begins to ‘perceive’ the commonalities we all share in a new and life-giving perspective? I do ‘imagine’ that both Mandela and Gandhi would be among the pioneers struggling with such an innovative and healing perspective.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

cell913blog.com #42

 Reflecting on the significant contributions of Mandela and Gandhi both to their respective nations, and to the world generally, one is struck by the oppression of the ‘binary,’ the applications and implications of which are universal. Both men addressed what seemed pressing within their own national, homeland boundaries. Doubtless, today, given the world’s contextual plethora of crises, their gaze and their intentions would likely be focused on global issues. And the question of the rise and fall of civilization(s), not merely nations or regions is today a question that seems front and centre to many observers.

Writing on the website, appliedjung.com, as expression of the Centre of Applied Jungian Studies, Stephen Farah, writes a cogent and compelling piece about the Tao and the psychology of transformation. Celebrating the accomplishments of the China of the 11th century BC,

as the first government to print paper money, they had invented gun powder, used a compass to derive true north and had a permanent navy. They printed books and the people were well educated. Women were respected and ran their own successful businesses. There were retirement villages and public clinics supported by a social welfare infrastructure. They traded iron, silk, velvet and porcelain. Thinking about the various great civilizations in history, it seems that once a nation reaches their pinnacle of civilization, it somehow collapses. This made me wonder what it si that destroys civilizations that are flourishing. Then I received an email (synchronistically) which spoke about Alexander Fraser Tyler, Scottish historian and professor who wrote several books in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

What he had to say was this:

Great nations rise and fall and when they fall there is always a dictatorship that follows: The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, Fron spiritual truth to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.

Farah continues:

Of course, the real question is, are we as the human race ever going to be spiritually or emotionally evolved to stop this cycle? Surely the humanitarian goal is for the whole world to be somewhere between liberty and abundance. But is this realistic? I think not. Not unless we escape duality.

Duality in a nutshell. Our world is up and down, left and right, back and front, wrong and right, Yin and Yang. There is no escaping it. It moves form the one to the other constantly. It is the flow of life and the cause of movement, change and growth. If there were not duality, there would be no life. No birth. No death. The circle of life would be at an end. There would be no creativity, no passion, no wonder…..If there was no duality: You would not know what it is you want vs what you have…That would result in no passion or desire for change…There would be no growth or transformation…There would be no need for you to cry or laugh. And this is the key to the Jungian approach. Becoming conscious of the paradoxes in your own life, is a gift; the possibility of change is open to you.

The potent opposite

We are all complex psychological beings full of contradictions and paradoxes. What is really interesting is that my opposite to a problem is totally different to your opposite. For example, your idea of success is different to mine. I may think success is fame, but it could be wealth, happiness, love, etc.it all depends who you are and what your value. I may envy your fame, but your may envy my happiness….So, I would like to point out….that the goal itself may be the thing you think you want, but the real gold, the real magic is in the process of  achieving the goal.

Where does the energy come from to change….It take an enormous amount of energy  to change (to bridge the duality?) Where do you get this energy from? From that tension that exists between your current situation and the future that you want. The Nigredo, or the Dark night of the Soul, is part of the alchemical process of change. This is the time you draw back the arrow to gain the strength to fly off into the future. In the modern world, we have bought into this idea of pursuing a utopia, of living a life without the existence of pain or suffering. But consider that this could be the worst thing that you can do for yourself. Every time you repress your needs and goals, try to convince yourself, that you can do without, stop wishing and dreaming, you are robbing yourself of the most potent gifs of all..the potential for transformation.

(Quoting Jung) The greater the tension, the greater is the potential. Great energy springs from a corresponding great tension of opposites.

(From Marion Woodman's The Ravaged bridegroom:Masculinity in women Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian analysis, 41. p.29 1990)

Journeying betwen earth and heaven, joining one to the other, the soul understands the language of poetry, the  language of metaphor, which integrates the image with feeling, mind and imagination. The metaphor, or the symbol, heals because it speaks to the whole person.

Not only have we attempted to attain some kind of utopia, (happiness, liberty, abundance, wealth, good health etc.) without entering the Nigredo (in alchemy, nigredo or blackness means putrifaction or decomposition, in the spiritual journey, the stage of darkness or breakdown before the hope of rebirth or illumination), we have bifurcated both our perception of  the world and of ourselves, as individuals, and we tend to oscillate between, rather than actually to adopt a perspective that ‘sees’ and ‘senses’ and remains open to the ‘in-between’ and the ‘both-and’.

Much of my life has been spent in and conditioned by the Anglican church which champions the ‘media via’ the middle way. From the website, christchurchcranbrook.org,  we read:

Christianity in the Anglican tradition was born not out of religious purity or perfectionism, but out of compromise as we sought to find a via media-or middle way- between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation. As the head of the church during a bloody theological and political struggle in England between reformers and those loyal to the Pope, Queen Elizabeth I famously concluded, ‘I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.’ Common prayer rather than common belief, would be the basis for holding together the various factions of the church, and would become a hallmark to this day of what it means to be Christian in the Anglican tradition. Much of what makes the Episcopal Church so special, are arguably the fruits of that early ‘both/and; ethos, which allowed Anglicans to keep the best of both Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation….The middle way has never been about watering down or compromising beliefs but has instead sought to build an ever larger table, where all are welcome, all have gifts, and where together, we might see a more complete picture of God.

All well and good to attempt to find a middle way between the Roman and the Protestant ‘theologies’ and then form a tradition of ‘prayer’ as opposed to ‘belief’ to form a community. And for a very long time, that premise has attracted many, including this scribe, as a refugee from the heinous, contemptuous, bigoted and fundamentalist protestant movement, especially given its Anti-Roman Catholic cancer. In the twenty-first century, however, we are facing a world literally, metaphorically, politically, ideologically, intellectually and ethically ‘rent asunder’ so it seems, and the question of ‘finding ‘God’ has become central, not merely to Anglicans but to all religious faith communities. It says here, that finding a ‘place’ including a perspective, an attitude, a cognition, and a tolerance for the both exciting and exhausting tension between the various conflicting, competing and unrelenting ‘voices’ within our psyche, has both psychological as well as religious implications, not to mention serious and profound implications for how we raise and educate our kids, and, in a “Christian” ethos, free ourselves from an over-arching archetype, irrespective of denominational links.

In a predominantly literal, empirical, scientific conventional perception of reality and the attitudes, beliefs, biases and prejudices that come with it, we (the culture, including the schools, universities, colleges, corporations, governments, and especially the churches) have succumbed to the prevailing anima mundi (soul in the world), as James Hillman calls it. Seeking to turn the psychological ‘lens,’ approach and energies toward the kind of ‘ethos’ we have created and are attempting to survive, Hillman posits that the weight we have placed on our ‘egos’ not only from the perspective of achievement, success/failure, and even more importantly morally/ethically, in this society, it is little wonder that we are all not contemplating suicide.

Dominant, among the ‘Christian’ archetypes that pervade our anima mundi, is the archetype of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. And, in a literal manner of both thinking and believing, (whether from a disciple-ship perspective, or a compliant social perspective), we have compacted (crushed?) time and our psychic pain into a kind of ‘death/darkness/loss/failure/anxiety/fear/hopelessness/grief’ into a time and psychic frame that expects, no demands, release, both quickly and completely, in the Crucifixion/Resurrection archetype. Whether we are facing our own mortality, the mortality of a loved one, or the trauma of past events, even some of which perhaps bearing our own contribution and stamp and responsibility, we are being both informed, and ‘moved’ and responsive to strong voices, whose metaphoric, literary, historic and cultural links reverberate with the voices and the energies of mythic figures from our shared deep past. Such psychic ‘framing,’ however, is not, and need not be considered, interpreted or devalued as ‘pagan’ and thereby a rejection of whatever religious belief system one might find appropriate, sustaining and life-giving.
That intellectual, political, perhaps even ethical and moral hurdle, however, remains for many, unable to be crossed.

From the perspective of this scribe, however, given a primarily apophatic (rather than cataphatic) sense of the God, (only describable in what ‘it’ is NOT), and an imagination that wanders, explores and ventures where only ‘angels’ lead, on the outer edge of both thought and potential, there is  a considerable degree of compatibility in linking archetypal psychology and the former middle way, only this time, from a cosmic, psychic perspective.

What if we don’t actually ‘individuate’ (to borrow from Jung), and we find ourselves in moments of ‘profound darkness’ of whatever form, variety and source, and our lives are less ‘developmental’ and more ‘situational’ and episodic. What if, for example, we are not actually ‘moving forward to perfection, completion, salvation, and wholeness, (not in this crisis, or in the totality of our lives) but rather exercising and expressing voices that perhaps at first seem foreign, even frightening, and terrifying, all of them foreshadowing our death, that inevitable, invincible, and excruciating ‘end’ on this planet. And what if, instead of running away from those terrifying voices, we dive into their darkest corners, and actually embrace their dwelling within our psyche? And what if, in the course of such ‘cave-dives’ we come to a conscious awareness of the more nuanced, complex, and even unfamiliar aspects of our selves? Would such a proposition be so offensive, even to the theologians, if they were to open to walk with and in it?

And although the West has been attentive to the “Good Friday-Easter Sunday” framing of this dominant archetype, as a legacy of the Christian church teaching about Crucifixion and Resurrection, we need not be locked into that frame, premised on the expectation that all psychic pain must evolve, devolve, lift or transform into ‘healing’ and the release of the darkness. This kind of psychic dynamic need not, in fact, does not necessarily, always result in ‘rebirth’….indeed, as we learn from Hillman and others, both light and dark co-exist, co-habit and are mutually dependent on each other. Perhaps, they do energize each other!

The goal of addressing the trap of duality as is clearly one of the more pressing psychic, political, cultural, cognitive and even ethical and moral conundrums we all face. It is not merely the duality (binary) of abundance and liberty that we face. Nor the duality of democracy or totalitarianism, freedom or anarchy, war or peace, poverty or wealth….indeed, between each of these ‘poles’ lie a plethora of very messy, complex, co-mingled options….None of which seem to be on our shared horizon. Even separating the personal/psychic from the pattern of the rise and fall of civilizations is a duality we can no longer countenance.

Our new challenge, one that hangs over each of the psychic, political, economic, intellectual, philosophic dualities is to face both opposites, acknowledge their existence and the potential for their coming to consciousness. Even the duality of conscious/unconscious, if only one of the opposites is embraced, fails to offer the opportunity of the creative tension that can enliven one’s psychic, spiritual and even one’s intellectual life.

Oscillation, especially unconscious oscillation, is a plague on the evolution not only of individuals, but also of many of our organizations, institutions and even our national governments. Swinging from one extreme to its opposite is a dynamic not exclusive to the current American political tragedy of swinging to and from two polar opposite candidates for the presidency. Within that polarity are contained multiple other polarities, and as the trenches are dug deeper and deeper into the exclusive righteousness of and by each polarity, the potential energy that might be available to bring a new awareness, consciousness and messy, yet vital and vibrant, range of options, lies not merely dormant but actually denied.

It is our human penchant to avoid, to deny, to fall into the trap of the binary, the duality, and then to flounder like a fish floundering on a dock, at the edge of the water (his natural habitat), that lies at the root of many of our shared illusions, delusions, exhausting and debilitating rhetorical arguments. Shouting, like two deaf persons, neither either willing or able to ‘hear’ (really listen) to the other, is a toxic cancer on our shared anima mundi,,,

Can we see, from the ‘in-between’ of the opposites, as if our soul were the lens we chose to view the opposites, in each situation, not only how each opposite has it own value, that we are all complex energies of opposites, as is each other person, irrespective of his/her nationality, ethnicity, religion, tradition, ritual, belief system or ideology?

Have we, (in our wildest dream-wishing) caught a glimpse of a place ‘in-between’ the opposites, not only in our perceptions and attitudes to each other, but also in our perceptions and attitudes to very challenging and opposite nations, political systems, religious beliefs, gender orientations, and without even thinking about generating headlines, or movements, or political parties, or new churches, or new ‘schools’ under guru’s, just go about beginning to see that the challenge of the ‘mess’ between the opposites, if and when both are acknowledged, embraced, reflected upon and both can even find a place of ‘tolerance’ and ‘receptivity’ and ‘appreciation’ within each of us….

Here is the nexus where, while it is mere speculation, the potential for such a perspective is at least possible to be envisioned in both of Mandela and Gandhi. Getting past whatever duality, is not merely an honourable ‘personal’ goal; it is also a necessary universal aspiration….and such an aspiration will inevitably demand the moderating of those internal ‘extreme opposites’ which seem to shoot up each of our flag poles, at the moment when we face a threat, a crisis, especially an existential crisis.

Neither the world, nor our psyche, can endure and survive and thrive, if we hold fast to the singular opposite that seems most comfortable, conventional, socially acceptable, politically correct or even ‘necessary’ as we consider the full rage of circumstances.

The short-term ‘peak’ of comfort and satisfaction and ‘success’ whether of a civilization or a family, or an organization or even an individual has within it the seeds of its own demise…..and that is not only an trite truism; it is an inescapable truth….not because this scribe types those keys but because that is how the universe unfolds.

Bridging demoninational 'Christianity' demands, today, a path to find the 'middle' among the several, competing, dividing, exorcising and demanding voices in our psyche, our families, our communities, our institutions, our nations and our shared planet. And men and women of the strength, courage, perspicacity, intelligence, fortitude, and faith of Mandela and Gandhi, will be both needed and found, if  we are to begin the hard work of 'seeing' and 'imagining' and 'walking' into the middle.

Friday, April 12, 2024

cell913blog.com #41

 Sleepless nights have had to be integral to the lives of most men (and women) who took themselves seriously, perhaps too seriously. Often, at least in the life of this scribe, they indicate a kind of mental, psychic thrashing, a sort of ‘roiling’ as the mind re-visits, transforms, and echoes moments past and potentially yet to come. Here is not the place to analyse dreams. Far better minds and psyches are much more prepared and willing to engage in that mysterious engagement, entanglement and both beauty and horror.

Rather, questions about identity, how events, people, books, ideas, beliefs and actions have been ‘framed’ seem to have risen to the top of the moment of waking. Rather than leaving the ego at the centre of all propositions, interpretations, comparisons, identifications and meanings, it seems much more ‘healthy’ to think, perceive, and ‘frame’ everything from a different point of view. In the West, where some deep and lasting footprints of Christianity have left their imprint on many, including this scribe, beginning with that horrific ‘pauline’ epithet, ‘we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God’…(Romans 3: 23), many have been scarred, ‘branded’ as if we were new calves in the Christian farm, to be forever identified by this black mark of unworthiness. Accompanying the metaphor, naturally, is the ‘fire of hell’ as a potential, devastatingly hopeless eternity if one continues to ‘live in sin’ without redemption and salvation.

 

It is not rocket science to speculate that many young people, in their (our) teens, were ‘branded’ with a kind of binary ‘good/evil’ image, like a small hole in the end of a needle through which we were expected to make our way. Did we want to ‘go to heaven or hell’ is a question so heinous and yet so ubiquitously promulgated as to render both God and the church deeply implicit in a manner of discerning how to live that literally, metaphorically and psychically lobotomizes anything approaching a “full life”. And yet, here we are, decades, if not centuries later, still enshackled by the vestiges and stain of that ‘binary’ horn of the moral, ethical, and especially psychological and religious reductionism. Polarized and oscillating between two equally simplistic, reductionistic, and seductive (for opposite reasons) options many have often reduced to a ‘risk or avoid’ kind of mind-set. This ‘either-or’ has been a trap, overlaid with the psychic ‘ego’ as a kind of moderator (borrowing from Freud’s ego-super-ego-id tricotomy), exemplified by an extremely ‘what-would-auntie-think’ on the one hand and a ‘who-really-cares-anyway’ speculation, prior to engaging in a new activity.

Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies, speculates about the ‘inherent violence’ of the human species. Many political debates are currently framed, under the rubric of a zero-sum game, as a black-and-white choice between what one faction considers morally and ethically ‘right’ and another faction considers as morally and ethically deplorable. We have heard of the dilemma of young women, emerging into their full feminine reality, fearing and living under a cloud of a reputational depiction as ‘angel or whore’ when such a dichotomy is equally repulsive, untenable and demeaning, for different reasons. Young men, too, have faced the ‘envisaged’ reputational categorization as ‘real men’ or ‘wimps/girlie’ and in my generation ‘fags’ for those who engaged in the arts, dance, music and poetry. Real men were (are?) hunters, fishers, red-necks, bigots, over-sexed and highly competitive and thereby predictive of success in athletics, business and the professions.

While there are psychological theories that posit an influence of a ‘strong mother’ from whom some young men have had to emerge from being under their domination (Oedipal complex describing a child’s feelings of desire for their opposite sex parent and jealousy and anger toward their same sex parent), and other theories that speculate about the ‘Electra complex’ in which a young woman is attracted to her male parent and in competition with her mother, again the binary prevailed in and through the inception and dissemination of such theories (and their substantial impact). Similarly, there were and are men and women who, in the course of their encounters with others, irrespective of their professional obligations, have either exhibited traits that ‘fit’ the strong/masculine/decisive/executive or the more tolerant/considerate/relational/feminine characterizations. This ‘heaven-hell’ universe,  still smudges the doorways of our minds and hearts with smoke and fog, given that none of us really fit any of the boxes fully or comfortably.

Naturally, gender identity continues to focus the attention of many public debates, and tensions, as the emergence of the LGBTQ+ community has found both a voice and a supportive cohort. Again, however, ‘straight-gay’ is an abiding dichotomy among many of the establishment figures and voices, not only based on their unfamiliarity with the ‘new’ but also resulting in some part from the protracted history of the binary “new-old” in which the “old” is revered and the “new” distasteful.

Poised on the edge of this aspect of the dichotomy, too, is the religious/faith community, who have been reared in an theology of reverence, even sacralizing the past and projecting that reverence into the ‘afterlife’, while denigrating the present. Indeed, our minds, and our perceptions have become so integrated into a binary perception, attitude, and belief system that, while such a process may have given us the scientific method, and the multiple ‘benefits’ of those experiments, theories and discoveries, the ‘branding’ has left us bereft of ambiguity, nuance, shades of ‘grey’ and multiple options, especially in the manner in which we ‘language’ our perceptions and social encounters, not to mention our political divides.

Poised on the tips of two deeply embedded and mutually exclusive options, many of us have spent decades trying to breathe the oxygen of multiple perspectives, multiple options, multiple orientations, ethnicities, belief systems, and the need to integrate into a far more ‘rich’ (metaphorically, not financially) way of being in the world.

Even the dichotomy of “I am a human being, not a human doing” which floated through the seminaries in the 90’s, while focusing on reflection, pause from the obsessive compulsive thrust to accomplish the duty-list of chores, served as a kind of cognitive reductionism. Labels, especially those conceived and birthed by the psychological/psychiatric establishment, have mainly been based on the ‘sickness’ model, rather than on a pursuit of what is healthy in each of us and thereby worthy of both respect and enhancement and encouragement.

The dichotomous epithet from Corinthinians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things…” also divides adult from child, in a manner that at a minimum, in today’s parlance, ‘puts down’ childhood while elevating adulthood as a proposed path of religious and spiritual discipline. The psychological impact of this kind of directive (subtle though it may be) is that those attributes of the child, enthusiasm, experimentation, risk-taking, courage, exploration, invention and creativity including the emergence into the world of loving relationships are boxed into a chronology in which they cannot and do not fit or comply. Similarly, the ‘adult’ model is envisaged as ‘mature, thoughtful, reflective, complex, conservative, restrained and risk-avoidant, another grouping of attributes that defy the ‘adult’ containment.

Many sleepless nights have found this scribe reflecting on the alienation of what some might call ‘my little boy’ who had inserted energetic, creative, and somewhat challenging notes into what were otherwise ‘elder’ meetings, both among the educational establishment and more recently among the ecclesial establishment. Wearing a plastic ‘red nose’ while attending a church board meeting, as the clergy in charge, was only one example, in which a fossilized, frozen group of men and women were blind to their own frozenness, and the ‘red-nose’ was one of many attempts to ‘awaken’ whatever was lying dormant in their mind and psyche.

While the moment of the ‘red-nose’ was a spontaneous act, without the reflection that three decades offers, the moment returns as an example of how alienation can accompany ‘binary’ categorizations, and the contempt that accompanies such boxed-in thinking and perceiving and the attitudes that come from those boxes. Of course, the majority, in any social, cultural, political or ideological group prefer the ‘conservative,’ and ‘moderate,’ and ‘modest’ and ‘safe’ approach to the decisions they are asked to make. And while that may be a ‘fact’ of our culture, it is also a severe limitation not only on our culture, but also on the individuals within our culture,

Here again, the ‘young boy’ (puer, Dionysus, Persephone (goddess of Spring), Ares (god of courage), Hephaestus (god of design and creativity) are, as usual, being displaced by the others including Athena (goddess of reason, wisdom). It is not that specific ‘gods’ are images of specific persons, but rather, from a cultural perspective, these forces are in tension. And the ‘puer’ in each of us, so it seems from this desk, has been shut out of many of the conversations, relationships and initiatives in our ‘mature, stable, dependable, reliable, and predictable culture and ethos.

Well……we the saying goes, ‘how is that pattern working out for us?

Are we not both witnessing and experiencing the disastrous impacts of a one-sided, heavily tilted, deeply obsessed with ‘reactionary, conservative, nationalist, and even fascist not merely rhetoric but actual manipulation by the ‘senex’ attributes among us, taken to their extreme over-the-top absurdity.

Just as ruling a culture, society, government, church, university from sole perspective of the ‘puer’ would be absurd, so too is the dominance of the senex, rational, conservative, reactionary ‘approach. And this applies not only to interpersonal relationships but also to the kind of cultural ‘garden’ and the psychic ‘garden’ in which health ‘flowering’ men and women, girls and boys can and will thrive.

Not only in the binary unsustainable, but the dominance of the ‘old’ at the expense of the ‘young’ in archetypal terms, is snuffing out the kind of raucous, respectable, collaborative and collegial ‘messiness’ and chaos in which nature can only survive and thrive,

Yesterday, on ABC’s The View, the concept of a collaborative Scrabble game, having been introduced into Europe, was scathingly dismissed by all five members of the female panel. “Don’t they know that life is competitive?” shouted one of the panelists. The very notion that a family, or a group of friends might sit around a table and put their mind and their imaginations together to come up with the words for a collaborative game of Scrabble was so abhorrent to those five American women that this audience member was shaken.

Have ‘we’ collectively so reduced human existence to a competition (exclusively as the only model available and acceptable)? And if so, it is not surprising that the American ‘enterprise’ is itself crumbling right before our eyes. 

While Mandela and Gandhi were both fully engaged in social, political, ethical and moral transformations with opponents who were clearly identified, their world never devolved into a binary proposition in which winners only succeeded by eliminating or destroying their opponents. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

cell913blog.com #40

 Now deep into the ‘weeds’ of ‘not-knowing’ as a central tenet of one’s orientation to both theology and the world, one seeks for sources of such ‘not-knowing’. In an ethos seemingly dominated by the ‘psychology’ of how to relate to, endure, confront and perhaps ideally dissipate anxiety, uncertainty, ambiguity and what has come to be dubbed as ‘vulnerability’ or ‘weakness,’ one reads eminent psychologists’ lists for coping. Rhea Marshall Denton, PhD, writing on connectepsychology.com, in a piece entitled, The Art of Not Knowing, April 2, 2019, directing readers to reflect on what uncertainty means to us:

Observe: How do I relate to uncertainty?

Approach Strategies:

  Worrying to solve uncertainty: Worries are often plans, predictions, and preparations for hypothetical situations that are ultimately ambiguous and unknown. It may feel ‘productive’ to worry, but when the topic of worry is out of one’s control, such as for future events, worrying about it becomes an ‘intolerance to uncertainty strategy’ and only leads to more worry.

 Reasurance seeking: Asking for reassurance and seeking advice are also common ways to dispel uncertainty and to attempt to ‘feel certain’.

 Searching online: Digital and social media technology provides the luxury of quick and easy access to unlimited answers to our innumerable everyday questions. Through immediate and constant access to information, technology use in many contexts can take the form of reassurance seeking and , ultimately, reduces spontaneous daily exposure to uncertainty. Recent research actually shows that into9lerance to uncertainty is a rising phenomenon that correlates with the rise of digital technology such as smartphones.

 Double checking: Double-checking may also easily become triple-checking or more.

 Perfectionism, not delegating and overprotecting: To reduce uncertainty and to gain a sense of control, some may try to do everything themselves, over-prepare and not delegate to others. This may also take the form of perfectionistic tendencies relating to the idea that if everything is perfect, the outcome will be predictable and positive. People may also apply these strategies in the context of their relationships with significant others by being overprotective and doing things for them.

 Avoidance Strategies

 Procrastinating, choosing not to choose and indecisiveness. Putting off beginning a task that has uncertain outcomes. Having trouble making decisions that have unclear outcomes and that include uncertain elements. These strategies may serve to minimize one’s experience of the discomfort of not knowing.

 Avoiding new opportunities: Avoidance of the experience of uncertainty may take the form of avoiding new experiences altogether.

 Cognitive avoidance: Efforts to not think about uncertain topics until it is absolutely necessary.

 Beliefs about uncertainty:

 It feels irresponsible or dangerous for there to be uncertainty in life.

Uncertainty means that something bad will happen.

Belief that you cannot tolerate not knowing how things will go. (‘I will not be able to mange’).

Feeling that it is preferable to be certain that an outcome will be bad, than to not know the outcome.

 This last section, ‘beliefs about uncertainty’ offer an appropriate turning point from psychology to theology/philosophy. And we live and swim in a river that resists their dissection, separation and isolation from each other.

Agnosiophobia is defined as the “fear of not knowing”. And this fear can emerge about various issues including but not restricted to:

·        a gap between what I ‘know’ I can do, and what I really am able to accomplish;

·        a perceived gap between what others ‘think’ or ‘belief’ I can do, and my own consciousness of my capacity

·        a gap between what others expect and what I am comfortable and capable of accomplishing

·        a gap between my orientation to mystery and the world’s (including parents, schools, churches, and culture generally) discomfort with mystery, and the not-knowing.

Given the premise that our existence is ‘falsely’ dependent on our ‘success’ and the ‘opinion’ of others of my person, many of us naturally gravitate to things psychological, as our ‘method’ of self-talk to paddle our way through the ambiguities, uncertainties, and the anxieties that these ‘situations’ and perceptions hold. Similarly, from a spiritual perspective, the canard, ‘how does/will God regard my person’ in the deeply embedded Christian (and possibly other faith) proposition that, as sinners, we are obligated to ‘be redeemed’ and to ‘be transformed’ and to ‘be saved’ from our sinful nature in and through the grace of God, implicitly also embeds a foundational ‘belief’ in the minds and hearts of millions.

Good Samaritan acts of compassion, along with a plethora of ‘good works’, themselves the result of salvation, rather than the cause of salvation, from the Christian perspective, are promoted and emulated, imitated and adulated in a culture fraught with the fear of failure, however that failure, whether here and now, or in an afterlife. That is not to argue against authentic altruism, which abounds among millions of philanthropics, and the kindnesses of care and compassion among and between friends and families. And, to be sure, there is a deep resonance of ‘certainty’ in the course of enacting a noble authentic act of compassion or empathy.

However, this cultural elevation of ‘ego’ as the master-controller of our existence, is quite flawed, and perhaps even, ironically a self-sabotage. The ambiguity, uncertainty, and ‘not-knowing’ of something variously known as ‘surrender’ from a psychological and spiritual perspective is a dynamic (perhaps the antithesis of dynamic, a state of stasis) with which the contemporary western world is unfamiliar, resistance, abhorrent, or even in total and absolute denial.

What would the beginning act of ‘surrendering’ our ego even look like? For starters, it would begin with the notion that both our own, and all others’ person is not defined by our personality. Whether or not we are or appear to be arrogant or selfish, or narcissistic, or insecure, or (and this one really digs!) ‘troubled,’ would not be the ‘first thing’ that comes to mind, that enters into our conversation when speaking about a person we ‘know’ in common. Not as a way of denying the personality and the ‘ego’ but as a way of resisting the reduction of both ourself and another to a mere ‘flimsy, glib, and cardboard-like descriptive,’ we might find new ways of perceiving ‘the other’ and even more importantly, new ways of ‘identifying’ who we are from the perspective of our inner consciousness, and in possible, our unconscious. Cliches like ‘we are all broken,’ while not uttered and perceived in malice, fail to accomplish the kind of surrender that might emerge from a perception and approach that sees behind and/or beyond the personality.

If we could begin to acknowledge how demeaning and how dismissive are those adjectives that we all use as our ‘window’ and then our ‘decision’ about how to engage and to ‘treat’ the other, the high value we all place on the ‘nature’ (from such a fleeting, and falsely objective and judging perspective) of each of the persons we encounter, we might begin to shed the illusion of ‘knowing’ that other person, an illusion we all know we participate in expressing and thereby enhancing. In bald terms, we really do not ‘know’ the other person, unless and until we have spent considerable time in her/his presence, listening, watching, sensing and even intuiting and imagining another deeper level of that person.

This hypothetical exercise cannot happen, however, unless we all move in the direction of seeing beyond and behind the mask we all wear. Of course, we will not be either able or willing to bare our deepest secrets with everyone; suffice it to say that we can, hopefully, with those we hold dear. And, in holding those in a more unknowing and non-judgemental ‘place’ in our mind and heart, there is the possibility that we will learn to know ourselves even more deeply.

There is another aspect of this ‘not-knowing’ that may be even more significant than the impact on interpersonal relations. If we can ‘see’ and ‘acknowledge’ and operate in a mind-set and perspective that, while we really cannot know ‘fully’ or completely, how the universe works, or how we relate to the ineffable, inexorable, impenetrable and inexhaustible mystery of whatever we wish to call it, Tao, Braham, God, Yahweh, Buddha, Allah, we are open to the infinite both in that mystery and in the mystery of ‘the other’ as well as the mystery of the being I am. Having begun the process of moving away from a ‘personal’ relationship with other persons, (based on the perception of minimal and superficial information) and, then becoming more open and receptive to the not-knowing of ourselves, of the other and finally of the infinite, ineffable mystery of the universe, we need not to surrender any notion that the universe is without ‘plan’ or ‘order’ or processes all of which we can observe, acknowledge, and attempt to integrate into our world-view, our theology, our philosophy and our identity.

Indeed, the intersection of acknowledged ‘not knowing’ firstly in a literal sense of those words, as well as in a psychological sense, from a cognitive, emotional, philosophic and even an ontological perspective, we release much of the burden of ‘having to know’ as a path toward enhanced identity, enhanced capacity for relationship, enhanced possibility of an after-life of some kind of reward, as well as a dogmatism and determinism and ‘frozen-ness’ that seems to grow barnacles on any person, ideology, theology, and/or philosophy so far extant. This state of not-knowing, however, is not to be construed as a state of sin, immorality, fallenness, or even depravity, as some would have our identity characterized. Innocence, while given a bad name’ deserves to be re-visited, from the perspective of an honest acceptance that we are all ‘in kindergarten’ on most questions we face in our lives. Naivety is defined as a lack of experience, a lack of wisdom, or a lack of judgement, or a lack of sophistication or worldliness. As cambridge.org puts it, ‘naivety is important at an early stage-in life or in an undertaking-but a definite impediment later on.’ In a culture that obsesses in trying to develop children into ‘adults’ as quickly and as completely as possible, in order to serve the needs of those adults, (this is not about child psychology!), naivety is quietly literally and metaphorically shameful, while maturity is virtually sacred.

The notion of ‘not knowing’ in this space, at this time, is not proferred as a menu for ‘mindfulness’. Rather it is perceived and reflected upon from a cultural, and historical and a political/religious perspective. Nor is it offered as a prelude to ‘transforming’ not knowing into an opportunity to ‘accomplish’ some goal, as if it were a means to an end. Indeed, this space continually, perhaps exhaustingly, refutes the transactional ‘means-ends’ equation by which and through which we too often judge ourselves, others and events. We are not only NOT the means to another’s ends (Kant); we are also much more than the means to a collective ‘just society’ as consumers, employers, workers, tax payers, and voters (to borrow from the original Trudeau). And in the vortex of being engaged, perhaps consumed, with the processes of making a living, seeking and securing a job, serving as a parent, leading a community or a project, of even a political party or an ecclesial institution, we make lists of the ‘things to do’ each and every day and then we ‘accomplish’ and ‘perform’ those tasks only to erase that list and replace it with another.

I once asked a high school principal, ‘What would you be doing with your life, if you could do whatever you wished?” To which he blandly and blindly responded, “I have no idea!” And that question lies at the heart of this piece.

Assuming our identity through roles, or more recently in and through our gender, and then basking in the rewards of career success (salary, status, office, home and vacation preferences) or in the conflicts and prejudices and contempt (battling for equality, equity, and respect in our families and in the broader society), all of these narratives dependent on and slavishly embodying a pursuit of ‘more’ and ‘better’ and a ‘healthy ego’ and that vaunted social and political goal, ‘maturity’ and ‘mastery’…we inevitably fail. Having both set up and then become dedicated (addicted) to this model of entering and surviving in a world that idolizes both success and wealth, we have effectively committed a radical and cultural form of sabotage.

How do those of us raised and educated in the West in a culture that idolizes science, literal and empirical evidence and the many academic disciplines that have been rooted in this ‘epistemology’ shift to an epistemology that begins with ‘not-knowing’?

First, we need not abandon a notion of an effable, ephemeral deity. Nor can we abandon the notion that the universe has a ‘way of unfolding’ that both attracts and confounds us, as do we all of each other and ourselves. Plumbing the various ethnic and cultural roots, histories, traditions and rituals of the many tribal and ethnic cultures humanity has both lived and left as their legacy, we might begin, in a spirit of awe and wonder, not merely in a method and attitude of scientific objectivity, to probe new horizons. Acknowledging our historic pattern of oscillating from one ‘fad’ (industrialization, for example or artificial intelligence, for another), to another ‘fad’ as a healthy and life-promoting pattern is a short-sighted and failing proposition, might also help. And then, could we possibly begin by listening to the Buddhist exhortation to utter these words, following each of our sentences, “I do not know!”?

It may seem trite and obvious to speculate that neither Mandela nor Gandhi saw themselves as mere ‘transactional agents’ of politics, history or ideology. Nor were they slaves to their own not-knowing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

cell913blog.com #39

 So many words, actions, debates, and even ‘creeds’ have been generated around the notion of ‘knowing’…that is that whoever is ‘in charge’ ‘knows’ the ‘right answer’ to any situation, and then, whether through a theory, or an experiment, or through the interpretation of some evidence, had induced or deduced the appropriate response.

We live in an empirical, literal, and apparently observable universe, while at the same time, we also live in a smothering ‘fog’ of ambiguity, uncertainty, knowing and ignorance. While championing the former, we deny, ignore, denigrate, avoid, and even go ‘sense-blind’ not only to the existence of the ‘absence’ of knowing but more importantly, its importance and implications.

“Not knowing” is emphasized in Zen practice, where it is sometimes called ‘beginner’s mind.’ An expert may know a subject deeply, yet be blinded to new possibilities by his or her preconceived ideas. In contrast, a beginner may see with fresh, unbiased eyes. The practice of beginner’s mind is to cultivate an ability to meet life without preconceived ideas, interpretations, or judgements…..How would you live your life if you had a clear sense of the uncertainty of the time and place of death—your own and others? Most people don’t know when death will come. We often live as if we were certain about things that are inherently uncertain. How would we live if we acknowledged our uncertainty?...A simple but profound way to practice not-knowing is to add ‘I don’t know’ to every thought….Like the bumper sticker that says, ‘Question authority,’ the phrase ‘I don’t know’ questions the authority of everything we know….The practice of not-knowing needs to be distinguished from confusion and debilitating doubt. Confusion is not a virtue: the confused person is somewhat lost and removed from life. With doubt, the mind is agitated or contracted with hesitation and indecision. These mind states tend to obscure rather than clarify. Furthermore, confusion and doubt are generally involuntary. Not-knowing as a practice, is choice meant to bring greater peace……Not-knowing means not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not. As a Buddhist practice, not-knowing leads to more than an intimacy and open mind. It can be used as a sword to cut through all the ways that the mind clings. If we can wield this sword until the mind lets go of itself and finally knows ultimate fre4edom, then not-knowing has served its ultimate purpose. (adapted from a talk by Gil Fronsdal, February 10, 2004 on insightmeditationcenter.org)

 From the Tao Te Ching, Verse 71- Not-knowing is true knowledge. Presuming to know is a disease. Not-knowing is true knowledge. Presuming to know is a disease. First Realize that you are sick; then you can move toward health. (harinam.com)

It is the compulsive need to answer the unanswerable questions that is, in Taoist philosophy, the mind’s great dysfunction. ‘The unnameable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things.’…We’re accustomed to perceiving our world and all the objects in it by naming them. But what if we stop obsessively naming everything and instead just….rest in awareness? What the Tao Te Ching dos, time and time again, is attempt show us how we might see things if we could spend more time in awareness, and less time in naming. ‘Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.’ This, from the third verse, sounds positively heretical to the work-and productivity-obsessed modern mind. Perhaps if we were more aware, we would worry less, and could see better what actually needs doing. But the central thing the Tao Te Ching asks us to be aware of is not the world, but our self. Self-awareness….In the words of  David Foster Wallace, whose literary philosophy is a natural mirror of Taoist thought, the default setting for people is to be ‘uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out’. Not because we are physically alone, as we know loneliness hits heaviest in crowds. But because we are mired in a deep-seated and near-universal delusion. Despite knowing that we are part of a vast universe, on a massively complex planet shared with seven (nine?) billion other human lives, we continue with the truly insane perception that we are the centre of the world. (The Tao Te Ching by Laozi: ancient wisdom for modern times, by Damien Waiter, in The Guardian, Friday December 27, 2013)

In the West, where Christendom has reigned for centuries, we have oscillated between a pursuit of ‘knowing’ as embodied in the empirical, in the naming, and in the literal. As Karen Armstrong writes, in The Lost Art of Scripture:

In what has been called the ‘perennial philosophy,’ because it was present is all cultures until the modern period, it was taken for granted that the word was pervaded by and found its explanation in a reality that exceeded the reach of the intellect. This is not surprising since we are indeed surrounded by transcendence—a reality that we cannot know objectively….We deal with the world as it appears to us, not as it intrinsically is, so some of our interpretations may be more accurate than others. This somewhat disturbing news means that the ‘objective truths’ on which we rely are inherently illusive. The world is there; its energy and form exist. But our apprehension of it is only a mental projection. The world is outside our bodies, but not outside our minds. ‘We are this little universe,’ the Benedictine mystic Bede Griffiths (1906-93) explained, ‘a microcosm in which the macrocosm is present as a hologram.’ We are surrounded by a reality that transcends—or ‘goes beyond’—our conceptual grasp. (p. 4)

Following on the path of ‘beyond our knowing’ is a theological approach based on the notion that we also do not and cannot ‘know’ God…This approach is known as apophatic, claiming that God is ineffable, incomprehensible and inconceivable. References to God are only through negative attributes, such as atemporal, or immutable.

Armstrong posits a left-brain-right-brain distinction as the premise of our tension between our focus on the objective and empirical as compared and contrasted with the wholistic perception and the interconnectedness of reality….We shall see that when the left brain was less cultivated than it is today, what we call ‘God’ was neither a ‘spirit’ nor a ‘being’. God was rather Reality itself. Not only did God have no gender, but leading theologians and mystics insisted that God did not ‘exist’ is any way that we can understand. Before the modern period, the ‘ultimate reality’ came closer to what the German philosopher Martin Heidegger called ‘Being,’ a fundamental energy that supports and pervades everything that exists. You cannot see, touch or hear it, but can only watch it mysteriously at work in the people, objects and natural forces that it informs. It is essentially indefinable because it is impossible to get outside it and view it objectively. Traditionally, the sacred was experienced as a presence that permeates the whole of reality—humans, animals, plants, stars, winds and rain….When people tried to access the ‘ultimate,’ …they were not submitting to an alien, omnipotent and distant ‘being’ but were attempting to achieve a more authentic mode of existence. We shall see that right up to the early modern period, sages, poets, and theologians insisted that what we call ‘God,’ “Brahman’ or ‘Dao’ was ineffable, indescribable and unknowable—and yet was within then a constant source of life energy and inspiration. Religion-and scripture-were, therefore, art forms that helped them live in relation to this transcendent reality and somehow embody it. (The Lost Art of Scripture, pps. 7-8-9)

Has the modern period, through a kind of obsessive, compulsive pursuit of profit, personal power and status, and the denial, avoidance, disparagement of not only the right brain, but the poetic imagination, fallen into a self-sabotaging trap of a constricting collective unconscious, or as Hillman would put it, anima mundi, that, if and when viewed as a ‘psyche’ of its own, requires the kind of transformation that once was considered only applicable to the individual?

From personal experience, the mainline churches have become so ‘dependent’ on and complicit in the corporate model, not only of organizational structure, but more importantly of the values of ‘growth’ in both numbers of bums in pews, and dollars in plates. In too many instances, clergy are regarded in a manner and perception that parallels the ‘franchisee’ of a fast-foot outlet…reporting dollars of growth and membership growth to a hierarchical authority, as a sign of the ‘success’ of that specific practice of ministry. At the same time, various ‘after-the-fact’ measures are both envisaged and proposed that are conceived as ‘routes’ to renewed parish health.

Theology, from this perspective, has given way to corporate marketing, under the rubric/guise of evangelism. In some heinous examples, personal profit has been grafted onto a theology of God’s wish that the individual become wealthy. A theology of personal-profit-salvation is not only an oxymoron; it is unsustainable.

Ath the core of ‘not-knowing’ lies a precipitate of humility, while at the core of evangelism and marketing is a promise of ‘salvation’ through a known surrender, submission and a different application of humility, a humility of certainty. Is that not another oxymoron?

Distinguishing the contemporary approach to culture, politics, and ecclesial operations, from the perspective of ‘selling’ based on a presumption of the cataphatic, that God can be known positively and affirmatively, can be viewed as antithetical to the apophatic, and especially to the notion of ‘not-knowing’. For some, knowing and not-knowing are complementary approaches, similar to the notion of the subjective and objective being complementary. It was Rollo May who wrote, decades ago, that one of the problems of being a human is that, at one and the same time, we are both subject and object.

The Benedictine, Bede Griffiths’ notion warrants reflection: We are this little universe,’ the Benedictine mystic Bede Griffiths (1906-93) explained, ‘a microcosm in which the macrocosm is present as a hologram.’ We are surrounded by a reality that transcends—or ‘goes beyond’—our conceptual grasp.

By elevating the psychological ‘ego’ to a place of supremacy, in our thinking, our conventional conversations, and especially in our perception of its need to be ‘accommodated’ and ‘fed’ and ‘nurtured’ and attempting to accomplish these ends through the literal, empirical, rewards of the extrinsic systems, are we in danger of failing to grasp our own insignificance?

Doubtless, it can be surmised that both Gandhi and Mandela never lost sight of their own ‘microcosm’ in which a hologram of the macrocosm was constantly evolving. The paradox of keeping our feet, mind, heart and psyche ‘grounded’ in the metaphoric ‘earth’ (as well as the literal earth), while also retaining a perception that transcends our capacity to conceive, perceive and grasp, is another way of echoing Rollo May. And, in that process, embedding a God in a vault of moralisms, legalisms, and even psychopathies, in the certain knowledge that we have grasped the reality of God, seems to be more evidence that we are caught in the grip of our own need to know. And not only to know, but also to enforce, to regulate, to diagnose, to criminalize and to cling to some illusion of power and control.

Does this ‘trap’ not suggest that we have replaced ‘God’ (deity) with our own need to sacralize our own perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and knowing? One has to wonder if “God” is really so ‘containable’ and ‘compartmentalizeable’ and ‘confineable’ and ‘constricted’….Are we perhaps ‘entombing’ “God” in the anxious synapses of our own neuroses?

While dismantling apartheid, and envisioning a protest modality of non-violence are historic, heroic and indelibly imprinted on the collective conscious (anima mundi) of the world, it also seems likely that the respective ‘agents’ of these achievements were both conscious and unconscious of a transcendent reality which made their humility and their self-effacement, and their clear-eyed perspective, commitment, dedication and persistence not merely feasible but authentic and also historic.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

cell913blog.com #38

 The ‘story’ of women and Gandhi is a complicated and somewhat confusing one. On the one hand, his biographers note that he always included and championed ‘non-violence’ as much more a female approach than a masculine approach. Yet on the other, in despising his own sexuality, and maintaining his own celibacy, keeping the decision secret even from his wife, he had despairing views of the sexuality of women. In a very compelling piece in The Guardian, January 27, 2010, by Michael Connellan, entitled Women suffer from Gandhi’s legacy, Connellan writes:

(Celebrating the anniversary of his death) He was an amazing human being. He led his country to freedom and helped destroy the British Empire. Little wonder India worshipped him, as the Mahatma-‘Great Soul’. In the west he is views as a near-perfect combination of compassion, bravery and wisdom….
But Gandhi was also a puritan and     a misogynist who helped ensure that India remains one of the most sexually repressed nations on earth-and, by and large, a dreadful place to be born female. George Orwell, in his 1949 essay, Reflections on Gandhi, said that ‘saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.’ If only.

Gandhi despised his own sexual desires, and despised sex in any context except for procreation. He preached that the failure to control carnal urges led to complaints including constipation. He believed that sex was bad for health of an individual, and that sexual freedom would lead Indians to failure as a people. He sought to confine his nation to what Martin Luther called ‘the hell of celibacy’. He took his own celibacy vow unilaterally, without consulting his wife.

Both Gandhi and his hagiographers claimed he viewed women as equal to men, pointing to his inclusion of women in India’s independence struggle. He celebrated non-violent protest as a ‘feminine’ principle, neutralizing the brutality of British rule. But his sexual hang-ups caused him to carry monstrously sexist views. His view of the female body was warped. As accounted by Rita Banerji, in her book, Sex and Power, ‘he believed menstruation was a manifestation of the distortion of a woman’s soul by her sexuality’.

During Gandhi’s time as a dissident in South Africa, he discovered a male youth had been harassing two of his female followers. Gandhi responded by personally cutting the girls’ hair off, to ensure the ‘sinner’s eye’ was ‘sterilised’. Gandhi boasted of the incident in his writings pushing the message to all Indians that women should carry responsibility for sexual attacks upon them. Such a legacy still lingers. In the summer of 2009, colleges in north India reacted to a spate of sexual harassment cases by banning women from wearing jeans, as western-style dress was too ‘provocative’ for the males on campus. Gandhi believed Indian women who were raped last their value as human beings. He argued that fathers could be justified in killing daughters who had been sexually assaulted for the sake of family and community honour. He moderated his views towards the end of his life. But the damage was done and the legacy lingers in every present-day Indian press report of a rape victim who commits suicide out of ‘shame’. Gandhi also waged war against contraceptives labelling Indian women who used them as whores……

In the words of the Indian writer Khushwant Singh, ‘nine-tenths of the violence and unhappiness in this country derives from sexual repression’. Gandhi isn’t singularly to blame for India’s deeply problematic attitudes to sex and female sexuality. But he fought, and succeeded, to ensure the country would never experience sexual freedom while his legend persevered. Gandhi’s genius was to realise the great power of non-violent political revolution. But the violence of his thoughts towards women has contributed to countless honour killings and immeasurable suffering. Remember there is not such thing as a saint.

How are we to confront the obviously divided self, in Gandhi? The legacy of his misogyny, and his obviously sexist perception of women, and his elevation to mythical status among his countrymen, lingers not only over India, but, the same ‘divide’ exists, (it says here) in all of us. Not specifically, of course, but psychically, metaphorically and inescapably.

James Hillman writes of a culture embedded in the throes of literalism, empiricism, nominalism, diagnostics, statistics and the logic and rationalism that support such a perception and the concomitant attitudes, beliefs, and even moral distinctions and discernments that come with that orientation. He urges a poetic basis of mind, in and through which we see ourselves, and others, differently. Pragmatic, realistic, empiricism, while valid for many of the transactions, medical diagnoses, legal framing of both charges and defense arguments, has the ‘down side’ of missing those attributes, character traits, and the ‘essence’ or the sine qua non of what is it to be a human being….to perceive the world, and ourselves, ‘between’ the idealism of non-violence and the terror and abuse of misogyny, for example, offers us another both place from which to perceive, and lens through which to visualize. Connellan’s last sentence above, ‘there are no saints’ has relevance, not only for our perception of Gandhi, but for our orientation to and perception of our own lives and world. It is not that Gandhi must be ‘trashed’ because of his misogyny, although many will seek to accomplish that ‘eradication, but rather than, in a non-violent manner, we can embrace a lens ‘from the middle’ from the ‘in-between’ of our extremes. Hillman’s proposal is that we attempt to tease out mythical figures, voices, gods and/or goddesses whose voices may be playing out in our moments that he dubs, ‘in extremis’….

Not only are there more than ‘two’ Gandhi’s (idealist heroic prophet of non-violence, and deep misogynist) as we can agree; there are also more than two different ‘characterizations of each of us. And yet, for the purposes of perhaps managing, and understanding, and developing coping strategies for wandering through our ‘extremes,’ based on the writing, thinking and reputations of scholars, like Descartes, Aristotle, (and others) we have shared in the propagation of a binary kind of perception, along with the attitudes that accompany that perception and metaphysic. Morally based, as well as logically and rationally based, we have been complicit in neglecting a potentially leavening agent of the imagination. For purposes of attempting to understand, diagnose and then ‘treat’ our various ‘conditions’ and actions, words and behaviours, especially those considered to be ‘strange’ or ‘outside the norm’ we have generally categorized them as ‘legal’ (criminal) or ‘sick (medical). And Hillman is attempting to restore a more nuanced perceptive, through the ‘dig’ into the image of the moment, as the multiple, complex and often hidden meanings/iterations/interpretations/voices that are being enacted. And this process, for Hillman, begins prior to a moral assessment. By placing a psychological perspective at the inception of the ‘moment’ or crisis, even a moment that seems to contain the energies and motives for self-suicide, rather than our immediate intervention to ‘prevent’ or to ‘heal’ or to ‘cure’ or to ‘charge’ or to ‘prosecute,’ Hillman posits that whatever needs to be attended to, heard, listened to, and even embraced, no matter how difficult that process is both for the ‘actor’ and any ‘empathic friend,’ warrants our psychological, profoundly patient, without judgement, presence. Furthermore, as Kierkegaard reminds us, we much live life ‘forward’ and then reflect on it ‘backwards’.  

And rather than immediately searching for a psychiatric/scientific label, or a criminal or miscreant accusation, we pause to ‘hear out’ the deep meaning of the images that are flooding this moment. Revolutionary, yes, especially in an ethos fixated on the empirical, literal evidence! And yet, so many of our ‘knowings’ and diagnoses, and prosecutions are fraught with both contextual fog and intellectual uncertainty. One has to wonder if it is not those ‘fogs’ and ambiguities, and uncertainties that make us so uncomfortable, simply because we sense we are not in control. And yet, we all know, that for every ‘precise’ and detailed diagnosis, or prosecution, there is a compendium of other/unknown/unacknowledeged messages that we are neither taking in to account, nor fully appreciating.

Attempting, through the agency of the poetic imagination, to find some kind of ‘example’ of a similar ‘pattern’ or ‘voice’ among the various mythic voices to which we all have access, from a polytheistic, rather than a monotheistic, lens, offers a more ‘resonant’ if less ‘precise’ appreciation of our moment ‘in extremis’. There is, by the way, no negative implication on a monotheistic religion, if we use a polytheistic lens as a psychological instrument. Imagining multiple voices/figures/gods/goddesses/myths being on stage in moments of our psychic life, does not either negate nor disparage a faith in a single deity.

Nevertheless, while such ideas have an easy and ready application in psychological terms, they pose a serious threat to the ‘way’ we study both history and especially biography. The evidence from documents, from hieroglyphs, from papyrus, and especially from sacred texts, while perhaps read and digested, and exegeted originally by mostly men, themselves acting out a perspective, have come to us as ‘gospel’ depending on the stream of theology and philosophy in which it was originally examined.

Hillman’s ‘images,’ are never either sought or discovered as another ‘absolute’ in the search of another form of psychic tyranny. Indeed, Hillman, through a  a starting point of a ‘soul’  (a way of seeing, and not a thing, or a psychological construct), posits that each ‘soul’ like a poetic ‘heart’ beats and pulses the very meaning and identity of each person, place and thing. And he also posits that images continually emerge and disappear in our imagination, our fantasy, our dreams. ‘Ensouling’ the world, for Hillman, includes observing, addressing, assessing and identifying those mythic voices that fill the ‘ethos’ of our imagination at a particular place and time. Humans, animals, buildings, and the various expectations of commerce, politics, entertainment, talent, and, yes, perception itself, together comprise this ‘ensouling’… in homage to those Platonic ‘ideals’ which have been resurrected by several writers and thinkers since Plato.

Rather, for example, than dividing Gandhi into a mythic hero as the prophet of non-violence, or the goat of heinous misogyny, might we try another approach.

From The Collector.com, written by Scott McLaughlan, PhD Sociology, on May 21, 2022, we find:

Mahatma Gandhi was a remarkable man. He led a mass movement of Indians to freedom and helped bring down a mighty empire. A self-declared ‘non-violent revolutionary’, Gandhi was a master of political strategy. Yet his politics and philosophy were not without their contradictions. Gandhi was a complex and contradictory character. His relationship with India’s Untouchables was riddles with paradoxes, he was a misogynist and he held undeniably racist views…..Gandhi developed the concept of Satyagrapha, which means ‘holding onto truth,’ to express the practice of fearlessly, buy non-violently, engaging in civil resistance. Even as a young man, Gandhi had a remarkable aptitude for politics. Armed with his method of Satyagraha, he became a formidable activist and organizer…..Though Mahatma Gandhi was a tiny, old and frail man, he had an iron will.  Satyagraha, Gandhi’s form of non-violent civil disobedience, was his most potent weapon…..Gandhi launched the famous Dandi Satyagraha, or ‘salt march,’ on 12 March 1930. The 1882 Salt Act in British India banned Indians from collecting, producing, or selling salt. Indian citizens thus had to pay the high prices dictated by the colonial authorities, or risk punishment/imprisonment. The choice of salt was masterful and the effects of the Dandi Satyagraha were felt all over India. Everyone from the peasantry to the Indian nobility understood the importance of salt in everyday life. Thus, in a political masterstroke, Gandhi set out from his Ashram in Sabarmati with 78 satyagrahis on a 241-mile trek to the Arabian Sea. Thousands joined the march, and on 6th April 1930, Gandhi openly defied the law by collecting a small amount of salt in front of a group of journalists assembled at Dandi Beach. In the end, tens of thousand of Indians joined Gandhi’s lead, and over 60,000 were arrested—including Gandhi himself. (Adopted by Dr, Martin Luther King later),
Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha thus changed the face of protest forever….Mahatma Gandhi famously set out to champion the cause of India’s Untouchables. Et, it would be incorrect to call him a hero of the struggle against caste oppression. Untouchability entails the segregation of people considered to be outside of the caste system. The lowest groups in the system, the Untouchables, or Dalits, are forced into jobs seen as ‘polluting’ to upper-caste Hindus, such as manual scavenging (the manual collection and removal of human waste) and clearing away dead animals. Gandhi explicitly recognized the ‘calculated degradation’ to which upper-caste Hindus had subjected ‘the depressed classes’ for centuries. However, at the same time, he saw the caste system as the divinely mandated social glue of Indian society. For Gandhi, the unity of Hindu society was more important than equality for the Untouchables….At the same time, he was also clear that the duty of the (upper caste) Brahmin was to ‘look after the sanitation of the soul’. On this logic, Gandhi set out to integrate Untouchables further into the Hindy8 fold, and at the same time lock the caste system in place.

Let’s speculate, imaginatively, on another way of writing, speaking and thinking about all of this:

From howstuffworks.com, in a piece written by Michelle Konstantinovsky, entitled, Dionysus Was the Greek God With a Dual Personality:

‘Dionysus is a complex god,’ Richard P, Martin, Antony and Isabelle Raubitschek professor in classics at Stanford says via email. ‘He had the power to transport his worshippers into ecstasy, and to drive his opponents mad. He seems to come form outside and to invade the consciousness. Of course, that’s probably primarily due to his connection with wine and its effects…from the very first mild and pleasant buzz it gives you the wretched morning-afters when you have too much….’He’s more than a symbol, which implies a kind of bloodless or ever-intellectual pigeonholing; instead, he was a deeply-felt personal and social reality for the ancient Greeks,’; Martin says. ‘He’s associated with joy and terror, at once, which is why he always appeals to artists, philosophers and poets who are interested in the boundaries of consciousness and how emotions work.

Surely, too, in keeping with the mantle of Hillman’s ‘ensouling,’ we can imagine another Greek god having considerable impact on the life of Gandhi. Apollo. From britannica.com, we read:

Though his original nature is obscure, from the time of Homer onward he was the god of divine distance, who sent or threatened from afar: the god who made men aware of their own guilt and purified them of it; who presided over religious law and the constitutions of cities’ and who communicated with mortals through prophets and oracles his knowledge of the future and the will of his father, Zeus. Even the gods feared him, and only his father and his mother (Leto) could easily endure his presence.

It seems also worth imagining an interior tension of the opposites of ‘puer’ and ‘senex’ in the mirror reflecting Gandhi’s life. In his paper, ‘Senex  and Puer’ reproduced in A Blue Fire, p 239-40, Hillman writes of puer:

(T)he puer attitude displays an aesthetic point of view: the world as beautiful images or as vast scenario. Life becomes literature, an adventure of intellect or science, or of religion or action, but always unreflected and unrelated and therefore unpsychological….The puer in any complex gives I tits drive and drivenness, makes it move too fast, want too much, go too far, not only because of the oral hunger and omnipotence fantasies of the childish, but archetypally because the world can never satisfy the demands of the spirit or match its beauty…..(T)he puer eternus figure is the vision of our own first nature, our primordial golden shadow, our affinity to beauty, our angelic essence as messenger of the divine, as divine message.

Similarly, and in psychic, imaginal counterpoint, we also read, (A Blue Fire, p. 208-9):

Senex is the Latin word for ‘old man.’ We find it still contained within our words senescence, senile, and senator…..Personifications of this principle appear in he holy or old wise man, the powerful father or grandfather, the great kind, ruler, judge, ogre, counselor, elder, priest, hermit, outcast, and cripple. Some emblems are the rock, the old tree, particularly oak, the scythe or sickle, the timepiece and the skull. Longings for superior knowledge, imperturbability, magnanimity, express senex feelings as does intolerance for that which crosses one’s systems and habits. The senex also shows strongly in ideas and feelings about time, the past, and death. Melancholy, anxiety, sadism, paranoia, anality, and obsessive memory ruminations reflect this archetype. Moreover the main God in our culture—omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, seated and bearded, a rule through abstract principle of justice, morality and order, and faith in words yet not given to self-explanation in speech, benevolent but enraged when his will is crossed, removed from the feminine (wifeless) and the sexual aspect of creation, up high with a geometric world of stars and planets in the cold and distant night of numbers—this image depicts a senex god, a god imaged through the senex archetype. The high god of our culture is a senex god; we are created after his image with a consciousness reflecting this structure. One face of our consciousness is inescapably senex. The temperament of the senex is cold, which can also be expressed as distance, Senex consciousness is outside of things, lonely, wandering a consciousness set apart and outcast. Coldness is also cold reality, things just as they are, dry data, unchangeable cold had facts. And coldness is cruel, without the warmth of heart and heat of rage, but slow revenge, torture, exacting tribute, bondage.

These images/voices/figures are not intended as diagnoses, merely images that seem to have been represented in the life of Gandhi. Similarly, we are all, is we consider the implications of archetypal psychology, a flowing ‘melange’ or river of images that flow in and out of our psyche, attempting to ‘relate’ in a world of essentially cardboard cut-outs of the superficial, reductionistic, morally divisive caricatures of our psychological beings. Perhaps, through an elementary, and tentative, and somewhat tenuous attempt to imagine voices in Gandhi’s life, we might better appreciate the many and perhaps even conflicting voices in our own psyche, especially at moments of considerable tension, and confusion, ambiguity and anxiety.