Monday, May 6, 2024 #48

 The proverbial heroes of the last several pieces in this space, Mandela and Gandhi, are known primarily for their strenuous, persistent and epic dedication to the respective causes of dismantling of apartheid and British imperialism. Those external political, ideological, and even historic and philosophical negative forces, dark, heinous, abusive, and, as their future would regard them, illegal, immoral, unethical and intolerable. Essentially, Mandela and Gandhi were integral agents in their demise, like conquering heroes, slaying dragons, the stuff of the military, political, economic, industrial, capitalist and the literal, empirical measurable universe. Commonly shared enemies that had to be slain, both apartheid and imperialism, while partially alleviated, continue to infest the ethos, the zeitgeist and the anima mundi of the world soul. Like many of the prescriptive drugs we are given for specific conditions, these men served as ameliorating agents, rather than cures. They nor their successors were ever able to erase, surgically remove, eviscerate or etherize the scourges of apartheid and imperialism. Profound and seemingly inescapable, indelible and permanent stains on the psyches of the human species, racism and the abuse of power by individuals and institutions governed by individuals are permanently branded on the history and the meta-history we all share.

It has been the perceived ‘task’ and objective of many scholars, in all academic fields, to confront the demons that seem to have taken up permanent residence on our shared psychic and literal landscape, from the beginning. Given the multiple tribal, ethnic, racial and philosophic and psychological, as well as religious lenses through which, and by which we have conceived, reflected, taught and disseminated the various approaches, mysticism, rationalism, scientific investigation, especially as it applies to the mental state of individual humans, and our shared heritage of those epic images of both heaven and hell, and the various models of grappling with words, actions, beliefs, attitudes that seem to impale us in our ‘worst moments,’ this human search continues.

And at the heart of each search is the intersection of the human being with both his/her external world, and the perceptions it offers, and the interior, inner world of the psyche, that, almost like the process of the film editors selecting and discarding images to ‘include’ and to ‘leave on the cutting room floor,’ we sift through both the external moments, and the multiple reverberating reflections, as if each image were a prism which, when looked at, say, at twenty, cast a certain ‘view’ and at sixty, that same image casts a very different ‘light’…And one of the questions that we all face, is the difference between seeing those images (each unique to each of us) as casting a dark shadow over our life and value, or whether they shed light on our past and our present and our future. And while that may sound glib, superficial, cliché and reductionistic, the difference between those light and dark ‘perspectives’ never leaves, and, like apartheid and imperialism, racism and the abuse of power, never really leave either from the extrinsic universe or from the psychic universe. And we all walk in search of a path that helps, partially and continually, to clarify not only our physical ‘vision’ but more importantly, our ‘inner, psychic,’ vision.

One of the more obvious implications of what we might call ‘psychic blindness’ (some refer to it as the ‘unconscious’ including the Shadow) is currently regarded as implicit racial bias, for example. Subtle, seemingly insignificant, even dismissible for its transitoriness, and its feeble impact, implicit racial bias infects each and every one of our encounters with another human being. As in our reading of a novel, for example, the characters evoke images of an ‘aunt’ or an ‘uncle’ a ‘boss’ or a ‘teacher’ or a ‘doctor’ or a ‘nurse’ or even a ‘neighbour’ from our childhood. Into our imagination and from that imagination, effectively a ‘stew’ of images, in a ‘heated’ pot of our imagination, we ‘relate’ (like, dislike, admire, withdraw from, are confused by, are curious about, adore, emulate, imitate, despise, judge) to these images in ways that, sometimes, if infrequently, we can verbalize, at other times, we are ‘not sure’ about how we feel about the image of their person, their character, their behaviour, their beliefs and their attitudes. Similarly, in movies, television dramas, stage plays, as well as in politics, academic lecturers and research laboratory instructors, and naturally in personal relationships, we interact, respond to, defer from, withdraw from, invite, or simply observe these people, their facial expressions, their body language the rhythm and melody of their larynx, and, as some have said, especially as children, we learn more from ‘who’ they are than from the ‘content’ of their message. Doubtless, there is at least a vestige of that dynamic among adults.

Traditional psychology has attributed two different ‘responses’ to another person: transference and projection. In the first, one directs feelings/desires that are connected to an important person in one’s life to someone who is NOT that person. In the second, projection, one attributes to others what is in their (our) own minds. (Example: Individuals who are in a self-critical state, may think other people are critical of them, consciously or unconsciously.) Both aspects of these ‘dynamics’ tend to take one out of the full clarity, and real comprehension of the actual, literal, perhaps even ‘healthy’ (open and honest) perception of the situation and the in-the-face person.) For each of us to ‘call’ out our participation in either or both transference and/or projection, is a engagement fraught with trepidation and risk. And to ‘call out’ another, is even more risky and frightening. As an insightful friend put it recently, in a social situation, ‘Who knows who is play-acting?’

What if the perception attributed, from James Hillman, that the ‘way of seeing’ (he calls the soul), embraces both the literal and the ‘transference/projection’ as part of each encounter, whether with an actual human being or a fictional/fantasy character/animal/image? Is this not a foundational premise that attempts to capture the fullness of our ‘perception’ that it will inevitably, whether we are conscious of it or not, entail both the literal and the psychological (transference/projection.) How, for example, can one ‘know’ that one has fully detached, separated and boundaried the physical from the psychological? To the limited perception of these ‘eyes,’ that might be a challenge beyond the capacity and scope of many, including this scribe

And from this perspective, (borrowed, stolen, imported and proudly still being investigated here) we live in a space in which both the literal and the psychological/imaginative/poetic not merely co-exist, but also, as expected, impact each other. We are never either in one domain or the other. And yet, we seem to be wont to acknowledge the intersection, and the rainbow of perceptions that is constantly emerging and reinforcing and impacting other perceptions in a kind of river of both conscious and unconscious images….over which we have limited, if any, control. Just as images appear involuntarily in our dreams, in a similar manner, images of people we meet, and shake hands with, as well as image of others we encounter in photos, in literature, including what some call ‘holy scripture’ mix and mingle in our imagination (what else might we call this place, locus, machine, reactor, vat, cauldron?).

Of course, we have all been indoctrinated into a perception that ‘segregates, separates, isolates and studies those ‘figures’ and images that are perceived to be ‘external’ to our psyche. Comparison, competition, analysis, diagnosis, investigation, academic discipline and research…these processes are all based on the clear and unequivocal grasp, perception and comprehension of ‘literal’ empirical, measurable ‘data, facts, details. Simultaneously, which these processes engage all of us, in our legitimate pursuit of learning, knowledge, academic achievement, careers, family relationships, social memberships and relationships, building of homes and families, there is this contiguous process in constant ‘flow’ within our psyche. And, whether we anticipate it or not, there will be times when the extrinsic and the intrinsic processes and images collide in various versions of ‘crisis’ or calamity. Proverbially, a mid-life crisis is named as one of those ‘collisions’ when a dramatic change in direction seems to ‘overtake’ what the external life path might indicate.

Other times, a death, or a divorce, or a ‘kind of hitting wall’ of ‘impossibility’ erupts from where or why we have no idea. Something internal and seemingly unique to our psychic survival volcanically erupts to our surprise, dismay, consternation, embarrassment, or even exhaustion. And then, …and then what?

Traditionally, given a highly responsible and respectable and honourable adult life of family, career, adequate income, social connections, achievements and healthy ‘appearances,’ these ‘eruptions’ bring a ‘cost’ in terms of instability, loss of trust of both self(?) and others, social repudiation, and critical judgement that ranges from ‘psychologically unbalanced and in need of treatment,’ to ‘untrustworthy,’ to ‘dangerous,’ and perhaps even either ‘criminally’ charged or ‘mentally incarcerated,’ and especially, ‘irresponsible father/mother/parent’.

Living in an interventionist professional and academic culture, in which the specialists ‘know’ and are ascribed the roles of ascribing both a diagnosis and a treatment plan to such ‘eruptions,’ we have come not merely to accept and to tolerate but even to embrace and to celebrate the medical and legal professions that are drawn into such crises. Instantly, when either or both professions are ‘involved’ we become a ‘case’ for their professional expertise, counsel, treatment and ‘protection’. Some of that protection is even considered essential for those ‘abandoned’ in such situations, and if the personal crisis is deemed severe enough, even protection from suicide is invoked.

At a minimum, from a professional and academic psychological perspective, these crises are often lumped into a category of ‘abnormal psychology’….by definition outside the norm. And the norm is a ‘framing’ that bears the weight of history, tradition, theology, criminology, sociology, politics, economics, and especially social convention. Who really ‘knows’ and can declare for all situations, what is ‘normal’? And yet, whether it is a written ‘code’ or a ‘religious dogma,’ or a psychological (or psychiatric) diagnosis, or a social ‘expectation and obligation’ each crisis, while inevitably painful and transformative, the experience may not necessarily fall easily, readily, or even ethically, morally and psychologically, and especially spiritually, into a familiar frame. Indeed, the experience/crisis may well qualify for a more ‘lay-person’ (including the subject individual) focus, and Hillman’s guidance could well prove useful, if not conclusive.

It is the conclusive, and the absolute, all of them based on the empirical and the literal and the scientific, that have imprisoned, encased, constricted and impaled our vision of our most momentous moments and have permitted others to define who we are, when, that responsibility can be and must remain in our purview. And that is the new frontier for both exploration, investigation and embrace….and not to be conquered.

And the complexity and the subtlety, and the ephemerality, and the ambiguity and the uncertainty of whatever each of us ‘discerns,’ in our moments of crisis, while leading to more ‘digging’ and ‘freeing’ is also more grounded and fathomable, without being ‘categorical’…and so there will need to be many more than single military, or political or theological or shamanic heroes….we can all take up our own mantle in our own quest for our own identity.


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