Navigating The Dark Night of the Soul

October 30, 2012 § 17 Comments

By Tai Carmen“The night sea journey takes you back to your primordial self, not the heroic self that burns out and falls to judgment, but to your original self, yourself as a sea of possibility, your greater and deeper being.” ~ Thomas Moor 

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ~ Carl Jung

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth” ~  Pema Chödrön

So named after St. John of the Cross’ classic religious poem of the same title, the dark night of the soul is described by seekers of all mystical traditions as an important stage of the quest for deeper knowledge — as unavoidable as confronting the dragon who guards the treasure in every mythic hero’s story.

“The mythological goal of the dragon fight is almost always the virgin, the captive, or more generally, the ‘treasure hard to attain.’ This image of the vulnerable, beautiful, and enchanting woman, guarded by and captive of a menacing monster gives us a picture of the inner core of the personality and its surrounding defenses,” relates Donald Kalsched in Myth & Psyche.

The maiden or treasure on the other side of the dragon symbolize our own inner wealth or spirit, awaiting reunion with the conscious mind, guarded by the ego and shadow-side aspects of the personality.

“Only one who has risked the fight with the dragon,” notes the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, “and is not overcome by it wins the hoard, the ‘treasure hard to attain’. . . . he has faced the dark ground of his self and thereby gained himself.”

In myth and life alike, when the seeker first sets out upon the path, it is often not by choice but by necessity. To live in denial of the call simply becomes unbearable. Many times transformation is triggered by a crisis of meaning, forcing a reassessment of values and priorities.

Increased awareness shines a light on dark corners of the personality and/or the world at large. So the dark night period is really a sign that transformation is occurring — the labor pains of personal rebirth.

If processed, all who have undergone the dark night of the soul agree that it is ultimately a doorway to deeper awareness and understanding. On the other side awaits a more authentic self and a broader concept of the world. But in the meantime the false constructs and denied aspects of self become increasingly uncomfortable, even painful, giving the impression that something awful is happening, when, in fact, this period can be seen as nature’s way of encouraging regeneration — as a snake’s partly shed skin irks and itches him until he rubs the husk off entirely.

Because of his powerful ability to shed old layers of himslef, mystical traditions the world over associate the snake with transformation and regeneration.

Jesus had his forty days in the desert, Jonah his time in the belly of the whale. In Star Wars, when  Luke Skywalker asks Yoda what he will encounter in his first test, the mini master replies: “Only what you take with you.”

“Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” In other words, the more we deny it, the more power the shadow self has over us.

“The Shadow is an archetype—a universal motif or image built in to all human beings. You can no more get rid of this inner Shadow than you can avoid casting an outer shadow when you’re in sunlight. For most of us, that creates a problem, because the Shadow appears as the sum total of the weakest, most flawed, inferior or even disgusting parts of yourself. It’s everything you don’t wish to be, but fear that you are.” (“The Tools” by Phil Stutz.)

When one is experiencing a dark night of the soul, one inevitably comes face to face with one’s shadow side.

“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings,” says Zen monk and author Pema Chödrön. “We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

Continues Chödrön,”It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately trying to fill up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness.” By spaciousness, Chödron means the vast calm available to us in the “inner space” of turning inward in meditation and conscious presence. (For more on third eye meditations and inner space travel see “The Art of Seeing: Third Eye Perception and the Mystical Gaze”).

“It takes a long time to learn to listen to the still, small voice within,” notes Psychology Today writer Wendy Lustbader. “We tend to seek direction outside ourselves, while our soul’s language is drowned out by the commotion of day-to-day doings, all the external strivings that distract us.

“It is possible to lose awareness of this inner voice for years and to be carried along by the force of society’s dictates and other people’s conceptions of a worthy life. At any point in the lifespan, suffering makes our need to hear what is within acute.”

“We see our Shadow as a source of  humiliation that we try to hide—usually through some kind of perfectionism,” explains Phil Stutz. “The counter-intuitive truth is that when we reveal the Shadow… its nature changes. It becomes a source of creativity and confidence.”

This is because it has been noted by students of the psyche, and Jung in particular, that, as psychologist Ken Page puts it: “Our deepest wounds surround our greatest gifts.” Continues Page, “Cervantes said that reading a translation is like viewing a tapestry from the back. That’s what it’s like when we try to understand our deepest struggles without honoring the gifts that fuel them.”

“Core gifts are not the same as talents or skills,” continues Page. “In fact, until we understand them, they often feel like shameful weaknesses, or as parts of ourselves too vulnerable to expose.” He gives examples of a client who feels she is “too much,” whose core gift is passion. Another who feels he is “not enough,” whose core gift is humility.

“Yet [these vulnerable parts of ourselves] are where our soul lives…” Page observes. “But gifts aren’t hall-passes to happiness. They get us into trouble again and again. We become most defensive-or most naïve-around them. They challenge us and the people we care about. They ask more of us than we want to give. And we can be devastated when we feel them betrayed or rejected…”

“Since the heat of our core is so hard to handle,” details Page, “we protect ourselves by moving further out from the center. Each ring outward represents a more airbrushed version of ourselves. Each makes us feel safer, puts us at less risk of embarrassment, failure, and rejection. Yet, each ring outward also moves us one step further from our soul, our authenticity, and our sense of meaning…

“So, most of us set up shop at a point where we are close enough to be warmed by our gifts, but far enough away that we do not get burned by their fire. We create safer versions of ourselves to enable us to get through our lives without having to face the existential risk of our core.” (“How Our Insecurities Can Reveal Our Deepest Gifts”).

Considering these angles, it becomes easier to see how the symbolic dragon of the shadow side protects our greatest riches, and how shining a light on our darkness is one time-tested way to liberate the luminous gold of our authentic self.

The only way out is through. Once we begin to see the value in our shadow aspects and dark night periods — whether it’s a dark night day, month or year — we can learn to stop resisting the discomfort and surrender to the process, to view it as an initiation, a transition. If we view every aspect of the journey as sacred, we are better able to glean its gifts, for behind the dark night awaits a silver dawn.

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Dreaming The Dark: Technologies of Immanence

March 10, 2017 § 3 Comments

jefferson-muncy-visions[“Visions” by Jefferson Muncy]

“Magic is the technology/psychology of immanence, of understanding that everything is connected.”

~ Starhawk, “Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex & Politics.”

Before advertising stole our souls and scientific materialism denied its existence, dogmatic religious institutions held our souls hostage. The result has been a continually morphing and adapting form of systematic soul erasure in the Western world.

Author & activist Starhawk calls this “removing content.” She notes that it allows for power relationships in which human beings are exploited, and for a worldview that results in the exploitation of nature, because the inherent value of being has been denied.

Compartmentalized Sanity by KingaBritschgi[KingaBrit]

“I call this consciousness estrangement,” Starhawk details, “because its essence is that we do not see ourselves as part of the world. We are strangers to nature, to other human beings, to parts of ourselves. We see the world as made up of separate isolated nonliving parts that have no inherent value. Among things inherently separate and lifeless, the only power relationship possible is manipulation and domination.

“As we become separate, and are manipulated as objects, we lose our own sense of self worth, our belief in our own content, and acquiesce in our own exploitation.”(Dreaming the Dark.”)

In this worldview emptied of spirit, a tree becomes merely timber to be measured in feet, given value only by its profitability; not its being, its beauty, or its part in the larger ecosystem.

Considering that Western society sees virtually nothing as sacred, it’s easy to see why we are poised on the brink of collective self-destruction.

[Robin Wood]

And so an effectively soulless society is created, inhabited by shells who struggle to see their own value beyond doing & having. A sense of nonreality permeates our lives. As my dear poetry mentor, Barry Spacks, once phrased it: “Waiting to arrive, we’ve been here all along.”

“We live our lives feeling powerless & inauthentic—feeling that the real people are somewhere else, that the characters on the daytime soap operas or the conversations on late-night talk shows are more real than the people and conversations in our lives; believing that the movie stars, the celebrities, the rock stars, the People Magazine-people live out the real truth and drama of our times, while we exist as shadows, and our unique lives, our losses, our passions, which cannot be counted out or measured, which were not approved, or graded, or sold to us at a discount, are not the true value of this world.”

[“Blessed Art Thou” by Kate Kretz]

Starhawk notes that estrangement permeates our society so strongly that to us it seems to be consciousness itself. Even the language for other possibilities has disappeared or been deliberately twisted.

“Yet another form of consciousness is possible. Indeed, it has existed from earliest times,  underlies other cultures, and has survived even in the West in hidden streams,” Starhawk notes.

“This is the consciousness I call immanence—the awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, interacting and infused with moving energies: a living being, a weaving dance.”

img[Victor Tongdee]

“Magic is a word that makes people uncomfortable,” notes Starhawk, “so I use it deliberately, because the words we are comfortable with, the words that sound acceptable, rational, scientific, and intellectually sound, are comfortable precisely because they are the language of estrangement.”

She details that magic can be very prosaic—a leaflet, a lawsuit. Anything that changes consciousness at will. It can also be esoteric—inner work, interacting with the cosmos at large. At its heart, magic is moving energies.

“Ironically, as estranged science and technology advance, they have begun to bring us back to a consciousness of immanence. Modern physics no longer speaks of separate, discrete atoms of dead matter, but of waves of energy, probabilities, patterns that change as they are observed; it recognizes what shamans & witches have always known: that matter & energy are not separate forces, but different forms of the same thing.”

42-46209404.jpg__800x600_q85_crop

Starhawk defines: “To say something is sacred is to say that we respect, cherish and value it for its own being.”

In a world stripped of sacredness, it is a revolutionary act to see the innate beauty and value in being—one’s own and others’—to cherish & respect, to view life with reverence. When we remove the veil of Western materialism, the world comes alive again; and anything is possible.

This paradigm shift—from viewing reality as composed of separate, isolated, nonliving parts; from seeking power-over-–must be replaced by a worldview that acknowledges the living ecosystem of our dynamic inter-connectivity, to seeking power from within.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the survival of our species depends on it. And change starts within. Like seeds, we dream in the dark earth, but inside us we hold a blueprint for blooming.

So let us feel into our own aliveness today, let us expand our attention to include our own being; let’s look for it in others, in animals and plants. The world is shot through with immanence… for those who care to see.

ashes to snow, elephant, gregory colbert, empathy art[Gregory Colbert, “Ashes & Snow” series.]

If you liked this post, check out:

Beyond Division: Studies in Bliss”

“Unveiling The Mystery of The Higher Self”

Connectivity Through Form”

Carl Marx described man as being estranged from his Gattungswesen (“species-essence”). 

Less Agony, More Ecstasy

April 12, 2016 § 11 Comments

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

~ Carl Jung

Tolstoy famously opened Anna Karenina with the statement that all happy families are alike, while unhappy families are unhappy in their own unique way.

I have noticed the same thing about the highs and lows of my emotional life: my unhappy states all seem to have a wide array of causes, while my happy, high, in-the-flow states all seem to sing the same tune, as it were. The same insights flash back at me like familiar road signs. An invisible river of energy seems to flow through me, carrying treasures on its back in the form of ideas, inspirations and connections.

wave art

Apparently I’m not alone. Author, speaker, researcher & founder of the “new existentialism” movement, Colin Wilson shares related thoughts in a fascinating recorded talk at San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore: 

“I began by writing this book, The Outsider, which came out in 1956. My basic interest then was the problem of certain romantics of the 19th century who had experienced tremendous feelings of ecstasy & insight, and then wondered the next morning if the whole thing had been a total illusion, so that we got this tremendously high suicide rate among the romantics.”

site credit: www.trendhunter.com/trends/alex-stoddard

Wilson continues:

“I became preoccupied with this because I had had the same kind of feelings ever since I was a small boy. It wasn’t until I read Wordsworth—who talks about this time in childhood when everything seems wonderful and then how, as you get older, the shades of the prison house begin to close—that I began to see this is a problem that all human beings experience.

“What I wanted to know was: is there some fundamental gap between these moods of ecstasy and the ordinary reality of the physical world in which we live? Is it totally impossible to reconcile the two of them? In a sense, you see, I couldn’t really believe that it was so. Because whenever I experienced moods of intensity or of total relaxation I always had the same insight, as if I had gone to a kind of hilltop and seen precisely the same vision, exactly the same landscape below, which made me feel that it was, in a sense, objective. It must be solid or else it would be different every time.”

Bohumil Kröhn

“On the other hand, in what you might call ‘the worm’s eye view’ moods, things are bad in a different way every time. And you suddenly feel that it’s only the bird’s eye views that are true. It’s the big that’s true, not the small. Close-up-ness deprives us of meaning. I’ve always felt this is the basic truth of life. Somehow you’ve got to get that trick of pulling back & seeing things through a kind of wide angle lens. As soon as you do this, you go into this state of intense optimism.”

In Zen Buddhism, the high feeling-state of satori, which literally means “to understand,” is the goal of meditation practice. A brief but clear glimpse into the awakened state of satori is known as kenshō, which translates as “seeing into one’s true nature or essence.”

This is always how it feels to me when I am in the flow & feeling good: things feel like they are back on track, as they should be, aligned, harmonious. Like Wilson, I have often wondered which state is the more accurate reflection of the nature of things; both seem to negate the validity of the other.

Black_and_White_by_Kiraan“Black & White” By Kiraan

And I’ve come to the same conclusion as Wilson, that the low mood generally lies while the high mood informs. Although a low mood tries to paint our previous high states of awareness as the purely illusory fantasies of a fool—while portraying its own staunch negativism as the only reasonable, realistic assessment—there is another clear giveaway that hints at which of these two opposing states is more to be trusted:

a low mood feels very uncomfortable, while a high mood feels very right. In fact, it is characterized by a feeling of rightness. When we tell a lie, we feel our body contract. A sense of wrongness permeates our being to various degrees. When we say something that is keenly true, we feel that too. It’s a feeling of empowerment, harmoniousness, rightness.

The Pleasure Principal by Magritte “The Pleasure Principal,” by Magritte

In my study of this phenomenon, I have concluded that while the low mood may have something to tell me about myself or my life—revealing an uncomfortable truth that I must face in order to become who I truly want to be, (seeNavigating The Dark Night Of The Soul,”)-–there is no benefit to remaining in this place, because it becomes an energy-sapping, self-feeding loop of defeatist thinking.

Unfortunately, once we are out of step with the sensation of rightness, that high state can feel a world away. It’s helpful to remember that it is, actually, only a few flow-inducing thoughts away.

Christian SchloeChristian Schloe

Personally, I think these two states are better described as “connected” vs. “disconnected.” Connected to what? To yourself. But how can I be disconnected from something I am? The answer can be summed up in a verse from the East Indian sacred texts, the Upanishads:

“There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree, and the other looks on in silence.”

two-birds, credit unknown

The bird who eats the fruit represents our worldly nature, our everyday “smaller” self. And the witnessing bird is our larger aspect (called the Atman in Vedanta, meaning soul self) which remains connected to Brahman (ultimate reality), even when the small self has lost sight of the bigger picture.

According to the Vedanta (the East Indian philosophy based on the Upanishad writings), Atman is the true self, beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. In order to attain liberation, a human being must acquire self-knowledge, which is to realize that one’s true self (Atman) is identical with the transcendent self (Brahman). (Traditionally achieved through meditation, wherein the distinction between these two selves becomes increasingly evident.)

I’m not one to care about religious dogma or what some ancient text says—unless it puts a language to experiences I have had myself already, for which we have poor working vocabulary in English language & culture.

helping-hand

I do think the Vedanta framework establishes a helpful concept of what is going on when we feel low, which, by my way of thinking, is essentially a state of disconnection, when we are overly identified with the “small self.”

When we are connected to our essence or greater self (which is connected to the broader sweep of larger reality), it seems we receive intuition freely, we are in sync with the rhythm of life and other people. We receive inspiration more easily, which in turn lights us up and “turns us on,” fueling our sense of optimism, curiosity & movement.

Our world seems to expand. We notice subtle “shimmers”—little beautiful moments that add to the textured richness of being alive. When we are open to these nuances, we become more easily inspired and interested. Which creates a sense of possibility & engagement.

Gabriel Moreno,Gabriel Moreno

When we are disconnected, our world seems to shrink.  It is like we have run out of gas. We feel sluggish and everything takes a lot of effort to do. This induces a feeling of depression and futility, which feeds upon itself until we can feel quite locked away from that “Atman” self.

In this emotional state we seem to forget all of the insights which once gave us a sense of hope and possibility. We are entirely identified with the “bird who eats the fruits” of the world, and completely dissociated from the “sweet friend” who looks on, waiting patiently to be remembered & reclaimed.

reflection, hand touching hand, hand touching reflection

Colin Wilson dubbed this “small self” aspect of human personality “the robot.” He elaborates in the following interview:

“We have inside us what I call The Robot, a sort of mechanical valet or servant who does things for you. So, you learn something like talking French, or driving a car, or skiing—painfully & consciously, step by step. Then the Robot takes over and does it far more efficiently than you could do it consciously.

“The Robot does all these valuable things—like talking French & so on for us. The trouble is, he also does the things we do not want him to do. We listen to a piece of music, it moves us deeply the first time. We read a poem, we go for a country walk, and it moves us. But the second or third time you do it, the Robot is listening to the piece of music, or going for the country walk for you. I’ve even caught him making love to my wife! This is a real problem, that the Robot keeps taking us over and doing the things that we would rather do.”

giphyGiphy

“The secret is to keep your energy so high that [you avoid being taken over by] the robot, who’s a bit like the thermostat on the wall, which turns on quite automatically when your energies drop below a certain point, and then suddenly without even noticing it, you’re living mechanically, robotically, instead of as the real you. And the interesting thing is that it’s only a matter of one degree. Therefore if it’s just one degree to turn onto the Robot, it’s only one degree of effort to turn the Robot off.”

I have found that simply being aware of this dynamic initiates a ripple effect of more expansive feelings. Think of it as a thought experiment. I’m not advocating the removal of cynicism or discernment, only for the suspension of its mechanisms for long enough to collect the necessary data to really decide what’s what. If we decide something sounds too good to be true before launching a thorough investigation, we aren’t really giving ourselves all of the information necessary to make an assessment.

Christian SchloeChristian Schloe

Just imagine, what if it were true that our sense of an isolated small self is not the whole picture, and, when we feel into a larger, more expansive & connected being-hood we are actually more fully embodying who we are? What if that self did have wisdom beyond our acquired knowledge & access to universal perception?

And what if there was a force of energetic support available to us, waiting for us to tune into a more expanded sense of self? What if the darkness & pain of the world is simply the result of a widespread belief in the smaller, isolated self—a collective disconnection from the expanded essence?

soul_ascending_by_suiatsu-d7b6exu josh hutchison“Soul Ascending” by Josh Hutchison

The only way to know for sure…is to explore it.

Unless we investigate the possibilities within ourselves & our relationship to reality with an open mind, we may never experience ourselves as we might become.

presence, embodiment, energy, artistic nude

 

 

 

Self-Renewal & The Art Of Transformation

May 10, 2014 § 15 Comments

serpents, http://www.unique-design.net/library/myth/serpent.html[Lawrence Turner Design]

“Whenever there is a strong lock used there is something extremely precious hidden. The thicker the Veil, the more valuable the jewel. A hoard of treasure is guarded by a large snake; do not dwell on the hideousness of the snake, contemplate the dazzling and the priceless things you’ll discover in the treasure.”   ~ Rumi 

“Men may rise on stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things.” ~Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” ~ Romans 12:2

Just like a snake, we must periodically shed our outgrown psychic skins.

http://ericasodos.wordpress.com/2012/12/, snake shedding skin

During a time when this need is pressing, the snake becomes uncomfortable. From the outside he may appear sick—his skin dull & ragged. He feels— he knows!—something is wrong & has to change. Something must be done! Intuitively, he begins the shedding process by rubbing his deadened dermis against rough surfaces. It is painful, but he feels compelled. When he is finally free of the outdated layer, he is more luminous & vital than ever!

This natural process reflects our own need to periodically embark upon an inner journey of self-renewal.

Taylor James, human metamorphosis, site credit: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/human-metamorphosis-15-pics[Taylor James, “Human Metamorphosis”]

When it’s time for a sloughing off of psychic weight—outmoded belief systems, behaviors, situations—we are alerted by a sense of palpable emotional discomfort.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture of distraction, where the numbing of emotional pain is par for the course.

shutterstock_71677819, http://marycrimmins.com/our-ways-of-numbing/[Mary Crimmins, “Our Ways of Numbing”]

Television, comfort food & alcohol are some popular forms of socially acceptable self-numbing. However, those modalities are at least straightforward, in that they are acknowledged as being distractions.

More insidious, because it is rewarded & ennobled, is the “busyness” phenomenon. Because productivity has tangible positive results in one’s life, it’s also an extremely good cover story for not doing much needed inner work.

If we feel emotionally uncomfortable within ourselves & dive headlong into (outer) work, we may feel temporarily better because we are not engaging with the difficult emotions pressing at our awareness. When we come home, we’ve worked hard & are, understandably, tired. The last thing we want to do is engage with challenging questions & uncomfortable emotions. So the “I-worked-hard-I-deserve-it” syndrome sets in—we flip on the TV or the computer, grab a beer—& maintain a vicious cycle of almost unrecognizable escapism that can go on for years.

information-overload, site credit: http://socialmediastrategiessummit.com/blog/the-new-consumer-how-social-media-has-impacted-consumerism/

“For many years,” relates blogger Gabby, in her post “Escapism As A Lifestyle.” “I worked two and three jobs at a time to make ends meet. A few weeks ago, I quit my regular weekend job. It was such a relief to know I wouldn’t be working weekends anymore. I did not expect the panic that would invite itself to my table and have coffee with me in the morning. For me [it had been] a means of escaping. Being so busy I didn’t have the time to look at myself and think about what I really want out of this ‘one wild precious life’.

“I panicked and started filling up my life with other things, just to keep me busy. It took only about two weekends of this before I realized what I was doing. Which is good, because not all that long ago, it may have taken me years to figure out what I was doing.”

escapism_by_kokopa, site credit: http://kokopa.deviantart.com/art/Escapism-371012430[“Escapism” by Kokopa]

Unshed psychic skins begin to take their toll. We feel a vague sense of discomfort that may be hard to name. Perhaps we feel anxious or disconnected from a certain aliveness we recall having once felt, but we’re not sure how to get it back.

“Numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating,” notes Brene Brown, “because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.” (“Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live.”)

hiding-photodream-art, site credit: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/hiding-photodream-art.html[“Hiding”]

Everything living requires renewal. Our cells shed automatically, but our emotional life requires more intentionality. If we don’t consciously process our feelings & old wounds, address our pain & pressing questions, we begin to suffocate under the weigh of old, dead layers.

Unfortunately, the signs of needing self-renewal mimic the symptoms of depression & anxiety—human experiences which modern psychiatry is all too eager to label a condition, prescribe pills & call it a day.

pills like candy

The blogger of “Spiritual Emergency” writes about her experience of what a traditional western worldview would categorize as schizophrenia, which she processed through a mystical-transformative-shamanic lens. Noting that this approach empowered her to find her true self & center, she observes:

“Mainstream reductionist psychiatrists […] by and large presume that if an experience (such as chronic depression) is unpleasant, it must be stopped or band-aided, but because an experience is painful or difficult, it doesn’t necessarily follow that’s it’s not valuable, or therapeutically worthwhile as a ‘wound which heals’.”

Solar System byTill Gerhard, site credit: https://www.frieze.com/issue/review/altered_states_of_paint/[Till Gerhard, “Solar System“]

There are many times in my own journey when, if I had regarded my feelings of emotional discomfort—or “anxiety & depression” as we commonly define them—as simply a chemical imbalance & not the voice of a buried aspect of myself trying to come through & tell me what was untended in my life, I would never have found that next “trapdoor” into a deepened, expanded level of being.

In our lives, we periodically come across what appear to be ceilings in our personal-growth & sense of wellbeing. They always, however, contain trapdoors. You just have to keep feeling around for where the door to the next level is hidden…

http://www.jodyrobbins.com/hotel-el-ganzo/

Releasing old pain is an essential aspect of the art of self-renewal.

For me, finding that trap door has involved radically honest self-reflection & the willingness to face & experience my unresolved emotional pain head-on. We have to keep in mind that having emotional pain does not make us defective, it makes us human (at least, humans of this current un-enlightened age of Earth).

“Grieving is an intrinsic part of the healing process,” notes psychotherapist Daniel Mackler in “Grieving The Ultimate Loss: Your Imperfect Parents.” “Everybody suffers loss, right from the beginning. The primary loss is the fact that no parent, at least no parent who is not fully enlightened, is perfect. Grieving is long, painful, and confusing, but richly rewarding. Life is not complete unless all traumas are unearthed, grieved, and thus resolved. Those who fail to complete this process live forever in a limbo of partial misery, stuck unconsciously in the past and unable to escape […]

“Most believe that a healthy life feels no pain. This is why the majority are insane. Avoiding all pain is not healthy. Grieving is horribly painful, and totally necessary. Grieving is beautiful.”

http://impressioniartistiche.blogspot.com/2012/12/massimiliano-gasparini.html#.U2g1916Cbq0[Massimiliano Gasparini]

A heart-healing excercise I’ve found helpful is to, in a manner of speaking, go to my heart & “knock there” to see what needs processing. This involves first finding/creating a peaceful, meditative & relaxed state, then putting one’s attention on the area of the heart.

How does it feel? Often, our first response is that we feel nothing. Don’t let this deter you. We live mostly with protectively blocked heart chakras, because our world is harsh & our culture does not encourage inner excavation as the essential part of life’s journey that it is. Keep inquiring. Meditate on the heart & eventually you will begin to receive impressions. What psychic swords are still stuck there?

3 of swords heart

Using symbolic imagery like this is useful. Just as our subconscious communicates with our conscious mind in symbols, so, too, the heart speaks.

Try mentally pulling a psychic sword out of your energetic heart. Who, or what experience, put it there? Asking yourself these kinds of questions can be very useful in identifying the areas of one’s emotional life which need attention. By attention, I mean simply confrontation (identifying & feeling the emotion). This alone will start the process of release & consequently, healing.

Heart in Hand by: Małgorzata Wielek-Mandrela, site credit: http://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Heart-in-hand/389735/1545830/view[Małgorzata Wielek-Mandrela, “Heart In Hand.”]

The idea of the heart as the locus of man’s emotional life is not accidental. Mystical traditions of both East & West have long embraced the idea of a heart chakra. In today’s climate of materialist cynicism, it’s all too easy to see the heart as simply an organ whose function is to pump blood to the rest of the body.

As with everything, there is an exoteric function to the heart & an esoteric one. The invisible life of the heart is a very real thing. It is truly the compass for our life’s direction. And too often unhealed emotional pain—like a snake’s unshed skin—blocks our connection to our greatest resource.

personal-transformation, site credit: http://www.thechangeblog.com/personal-transformation/[From “6 Steps to Personal Transformation”]

Clearing the emotional cobwebs, which block connection with our internal compass, is a key step in self-renewal.

I am also a strong advocate of art therapy & the cathartic value of creativity. It’s a myth that some people are creative, while others are not. Creativity is inherent in human nature. Some people may have nurtured specific modalities & refined their skills for particular crafts, but everyone can self-express if they simply allow themselves the space to play.

Creativity_Nithyananda, site credit: http://www.projecteve.com/effects-of-and-remedies-for-scatterbrain-creativity/[Nithy Ananda]

Creating a painting, song, collage, poem, short personal essay, etc. expressing the feelings you’ve unearthed in your heart work is richly rewarding. It’s as though one has coughed up one’s pain & caught it in the butterfly net of art, wherein it is transmuted into something positive. Transmutation is a powerful act.

It can be particularly rewarding if you continue to craft a piece from a rough, private catharsis to a polished, artistic offering. My book of poems, “Pollen,” is largely a result of processing my father’s untimely death & the consequent existential crisis that ensued. When readers write to tell me that the work has moved them & helped them with their own process it is doubly rewarding. Like oysters, we can transform our painful sand grains into luminous pearls. Thus is the redemption of art.

oyster, pearl, http://www.livescience.com/32289-how-do-oysters-make-pearls.html

Once the initial malaise has begun to clear through processing, intentional visioning—identifying meaningful goals—is a helpful step to continue momentum.

Vision boards are popular these days for a reason…They’re fun! Compiling representative images of your goals in an inspirational collage is a greatly constructive form of play. More tangible & exciting than a list.

Another method is to work “backwards” by writing down the ways you wish to feel, and then making note of what actions & activities promote this feeling.

vision-crane-fire-postcard-image-vision-boarding, site credit: http://loveyourlifevisionboarding.com[Vision Boarding]

So if you’re feeling stuck, don’t worry! It’s simply time for an internal house cleaning. And Spring is a natural season for it.

If you’re feeling lost, do not lose heart. While it’s true life does not, as is commonly bemoaned, come with instructions, you come with a compass—your own inner guidance system, the heart. The connection has just likely been muted & clogged with unprocessed emotion. A little catharsis & honest self-reflection, followed by constructive action, will do wonders.

If you’re feeling depressed, don’t buy the hype; our society is so afraid of unpleasant feelings, it has instilled in us an unhealthy fear of challenging emotions. Depression, like physical pain, is just our system alerting us that something requires attention. Modern culture is pathologically fixated on happiness, with an equally pathological rejection of unhappy feelings. This is a recipe for disaster! Ironically, the only way to reach true inner peace & wellbeing is to traverse the psychological labyrinth surrounding the proverbial treasure.

These are all simply symptoms of the need for self-renewal, rejoice! And enjoy the journey.

Taylor James, human metaphors is, site credit: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/human-metamorphosis-15-pics

*Psychologist Daniel Mackler’s website of insightful essays on self-healing is a great self-therapy resource. 

Related articles:

“Navigating the Dark Night Of The Soul,

“The Modern Vision Quest,” 

Soul Retrieval.”

Synthesis: Reflections on the Journey

January 7, 2014 § 46 Comments

By: Tai CarmenCurtain-Call, site credit: www.millstonenews.com/2013/05/synthesis-ii-fibre-art-show-opens-may-9-2013

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” ~ Marcel Proust 

“The only journey is the one within”. ~ Rainer Marie Rilke

The turn of another year inspires reflection on what has come before.

When I first started Parallax three years ago, I didn’t know what the theme would be. I wasn’t sure if anyone would care about the topics that interested me, or indeed, if I had anything interesting to say. I had only a vague feeling—a multitude of disconnected puzzle pieces floating around inside me, like dots begging to be connected.

Damien Hirst, dots, site credit: www.thelmagazine.com/TheMeasure/archives/2011/08/08/damien-hirst-to-connect-his-dot-paintings-around-the-world

I had one focal point, and it became the source of my first entry: “The Role of the Dreamer & the Falseness of Civilization,” inspired by a stop light. I realized how automatic my response had been upon seeing the amber traffic light turn red: foot on break, like a trained animal. Then the light changed to green and without conscious thought my foot obediently pressed upon the gas.

In that moment, I wondered what else I had been conditioned to accept that had become automatic—even intimate—to my functioning, which was the product of some external system. I saw that my experience with the traffic light—my unconscious conditioning—was a metaphor for society at large.

"they live" still, site credit: www.streetdemocracy.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/the-signing-of-peaceful-protesting-laws-first-uk-then-spain-now-egypts-interim-president-adly-mansour-signs-anti-protest-law/

The blog soon became my shared in-process journey connecting the dots, many of which (of course!) remain unconnected. Yet, a picture emerges…

I began to see a coherence to the topics, which at first seemed merely a loose, eclectic collection of curiosity-driven investigations.

Connecting the Dots, site credit: www.artisautobiographical.blogspot.com/2012/03/connecting-dots-differently

A theme began to crystallize. I realized I was trying to mentally pan back—to accurately perceive a reality, which I had witnessed for so many years that I had ceased to truly see it. Familiarity seems to breed a kind of trance state of assumptions. I began to attempt to deconstruct society as I knew it—imagining what our world would like like to an alien observer (“The Mad Cult of the World”) with no preconceived notions. This excercise was a tremendous eye-opener for me.

What I saw was a well oiled machine. An (apparently) self-perpetuating system of control, with built-in reinforcements & viscous cycles so as to appear both inescapable & desirable.

john-kane-i-had-an-epiphany-new-yorker-cartoonI observed how conformity & consumer-based lifestyles that feed the system—and increase people’s wage-slave circumstance with debt & emotional dependence on external status—are marketed & reinforced constantly from every angle (“Invisible Architects,“The Engineering of Human Desire,“Mind Control in the Music Industry,” “The Perversion of the American Dream”)…

How our natural instinctual herd mentality & desire for acceptance (The Mythology of Conformity: Totem & Taboo) is exploited by marketing to create a climate of uniformity (The Politics of Normalcy), where independent thought that jeopardizes the status quo (“Polarity & Paradox”) is not given a widespread platform of expression.

I began to realize that my feelings of alienation within mainstream society were not necessarily indications of personal failing, but perhaps symptomatic of a larger imbalance within the system.

conformity

As Krishnamurti says, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (“The Outsider” ).

I became convinced that positive social change, in fact, could only come from an outsider, because only someone looking in from the outside could see the problems for what they were (“The Outsider As Visionary”, “The Art of Madness”).

looking-at-world, site credit: www.louisdietvorst.wordpress.com/tag/world/

 I became interested in the idea of personal authenticity (“Authenticity & The False Self”) as the path towards true self-knowledge, beyond social conditioning. For I believe we can only incite true social change—contribute positively to society— when we have processed our own shadows (“Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul,”) and begun to piece together our true selves, which have been fragmented by a compartmentalized system (“Soul Retrieval”). 

As I became more conscious of my personal journey (“The Modern Vision Quest,” “The Question of Reality, “The Human Soul & The Floating Man,” “The Art of Seeing,”) I began to explore my own thoughts, feelings & direct experiences with reality. The further down the rabbit hole I went, the more the dots seemed to connect. And it felt different to come to these ideas in a visceral way—through personal gnosis—than through reading the ideas of other minds. I only used their works to substantiate my own discoveries, and offer what I hoped would be interesting background to the topics which most compelled me.

connect-the-dots

As I wrote on these subjects, I received—wonder of wonders!—a positive response from readers (you guys!), which reflected back to me that I was actually speaking to subjects which were not just in my heart, on my mind, alone, but were also meaningful to others. I actually acquired readers at all, which itself is both humbling & thrilling.

Your feedback is what keeps this blog going. To know I am not dropping letters into a well but actually contributing to the collective conversation has shown me that these subjects, which at first seemed so disconnected, are truly on our collective mind—and truly form a cohesive picture.

Global connection, site credit: www.thebrooklynscribbler.blogspot.com/2011/12/meet-your-creative-needs-with.html

The idea put forth by British Zen philosopher Alan Watts in the 60s that “[We] are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself,” later re-popularized in the 80s by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan—“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself”—was actually first developed in its modern form by 18th century German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Hegel contended that Spirit was at first unconscious of Itself. (Hegel’s use of “Spirit” is a translation of the German word “Geist,” a nonreligious term, not comparable to our English word for “God,” but a neutral term, mingled with the idea of “transpersonal mind” & “essence”.) He called this stage of unconscious Spirit the Thesis stage.

Cosmic Man, site credit: www.tsgarp-mysticlight.blogspot.com/2012_02_05_archive.html

At one point,  Spirit-exploring-itself-through-Man became conscious of existing.

The self-aware man looked around (or Spirit looked around through Man’s eyes) seeing himself and others—others who might be similar to him, but were not him. And the newly self-aware man defined himself through this negation. In short, he knew himself in part by what he wasn’t: the other. He looked at the world and saw many, a multi-facetted prism. He saw division. Those who were not him were perceived as foreign, alien, other—often, too, inevitably, as “enemy.”

This was Antithesis stage.

by: Francisco_de_Goya, "Two Men Fighting with Clubs"

Eventually, as man’s time on the planet progressed, a few, rare introspective humans—specifically, for Hegel, the philosopher—became aware of the interconnectivity of all life-forms (“Connectivity Through Form”), at which point he perceived Self in Other (a hallmark throughout all mystical literature of enlightenment) and became self-realized. The prism revealed itself to be—while multi-faceted in appearance—in essence, a single diamond.

This was the Synthesis stage—where thesis & antithesis, two apparent opposites, merged & integrated to form a more complete truth.

Polarity by Jair Rhuÿs, site credit: www.absolutearts.com/cgi-bin/portfolio/art/your-art.cgi?login=rhuys&title=Polarity-1118522979t.jpg

I believe we are currently experiencing the growing pains of collectively & individually moving—shifting—into a Thesis stage of existence (“Transformation, Destruction & The Inner Apocalypse“). That is where my studies thus far have lead me.  (“Starseeds, Cosmic Consciousness & The Galactic Generations,” “Stardust Contemplating Stardust: Inner Space & The Science of Illumination”).

There are many fighting this emerging connectivity. But there are an increasing number straining towards it. Some, only half-consciously, as I was when I first began this blog—driven only by a vague sense of discontent & yearning. As Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix: “Something is wrong with this world, you’ve known it all your life, you don’t know what it is. It’s like a splinter in your mind … driving you mad.”

Still others, aware & awake through their own process of trail, error & self-discovery, are fighting for the cause: of reverence for life & planetary harmony.

The Fear Culture of the media news may tell you otherwise, but I—perhaps you, and so many others—are beginning to tear down the facade like a paper sky and see it for what it is: the attempts of a system under threat to maintain control through division, traumatization & uncertainty.

Practical Paranoia, by Mike Elko, site credit: www.blog.lib.umn.edu/peza0001/arts1001wednesdays/2008/11/millions_of_innocent_accidents

I perceive this as a time—intense & trying as it may be—of integration for many. We are all connecting the dots. Feeling more connected to one another, across space & time, even while we may still experience major bouts of isolation…we see that we are not alone in our strange (or not so strange) thoughts & visions. If through the advancement of technology alone.

We are a mere Google search away from learning, for example, that the long-dead Hegel’s complete life philosophy beautifully articulates that intuition we could not quite put to words; or perhaps that blogger you’ve never met, but read sometimes, has been mulling over the same insights you’ve been contemplating on your journey.

And it is a journey. (“Alchemy: An Allegorical Map for the Transmutation of Consciousness.“) No doubt about it. Complete with dragons to slay, puzzles to solve & dark forests in which we must, by virtue of necessity, learn to generate our own inner light to illuminate the path ahead.

site credit: www.awesomedigitalart.tumblr.com/post/60796504639/polarity-in-art-fraility-of-memory-and

We are heroes and heroines scaling Dark Nights of the Soul like mountains … swimming rivers of sorrow, where we reach dry land of revelation & new strength. Each trial, an initiation, each passage, a threshold into new insight, if we continue to search for the lesson, for the center, for the truth. Nothing is wasted. We can use it all.

Happy 2014, fellow journeyers! I would love to know what you think about all this! All comments on this first post of the new year—as has become Parallax tradition!—will be entered into a drawing, the winner of which will receive my current heart-compass book-companion,  “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…And It’s All Small Stuff,” By Richard Carlson, Ph. D: a slim inspirational little easy-read manual for transcending postmodern angst and tapping into inner peace.

Here’s to the journey, fellow travelers.

On on!

TC

Alchemy: An Allegorical Map to Consciousness Transmutation

January 30, 2013 § 27 Comments

By Tai Carmen

"Interpretation of Tabula Smaragdina" by Dennis William Hauck, site source: http://www.alchemylab.com/smaragdina.htm

“We are unraveling our navels so that we may ingest the sun. We are not afraid of the darkness. We trust that the moon shall guide us. We are determining the future at this very moment. We know that the heart is the philosopher’s stone. Our music is our alchemy.” ~ Saul Williams

Shrouded in mystery and steeped in mysticism, Alchemy is the art and science of transformation. The multi-leveled, symbol-rich philosophy of the ages functions both on an exoteric (practical) and esoteric (spiritual) level.

Alchemical-sun-moon, alchemy art, site credit: www.astroquestastrology.com/articles/alchemy/#

At its most literal, alchemy was the chemical quest to create the Philosopher’s stone—a legendary substance derived from a series of laboratory processes, known as the The Magnum Opus, The Great Work, or simply The Art. The Philosopher’s Stone was said to be the agent of gold transmutation, and the key ingredient in the creation of the fabled elixir of life, said to heal all diseases, induce longevity and even immortality.

Yet it’s clear from the ancient sacred texts, known as the Corpus Hermeticum—upon which alchemy’s Hermetic principals are based—that gold transmutation is but the tip of the iceberg, as well as a symbolic teaching, of what is essentially a philosophical and mystical tradition. The Philosopher’s Stone can be, and often is, viewed metaphorically.

“[T]he Stone is a symbol of  incorruptible wisdom achieved by uniting both rational, intellectual thinking (masculine, right brain activity) with our intuitive knowing of the heart  (feminine, left brain activity).” (Alchemy & The Philosopher’s Stone.)

Alchemy art, credit unknown

“Alchemy posits that all things in the universe originate with the materia prima (First Matter),” notes P.T. Mistlberger in his essay “Psycho-Spiritual Alchemy.

“The idea of the ‘primal material’ was developed by Aristotle and refers to the idea that there is a primordial matter that lies behind all forms, but that is itself invisible. It is the womb of creation, the field of pure potentiality, but it only gains existence, in the strictest sense, when given form.”

Mistlberger continues: “In the alchemical process, the primal material is that which remains when something has been reduced to its essence and can be reduced no further.”

From a mystical perspective, “essence” is also commonly associated with the soul.

“Psychologically,” Mistleberger adds, “this is a potent symbol for the inner process of transformation in which we regularly arrive at ‘core realizations’ that cannot be deconstructed further, but that themselves become the ground for successfully moving forward in life—‘integrating’ as we evolve.” alchemy sacred marriage, sun moon, site credit: www.agaoth.tumblr.com/post/24774242032/the-alchemical-marriage

Certainly such high-level claims as gold transmutation and immortality elixirs made alchemy ripe for abuse from charlatans. Its cryptic language and oblique symbolism only aided sham-peddling swindlers with the perfect smoke screen behind which to operate mysteriously.

Fraudulent claims drove The Art into disrepute—Dante reserves a special place in his Inferno for alchemists—and the modern materialist mind is often quick to dismiss alchemy as an arcane jumble of smoke and mirrors hogwash. Though it is considered a protoscience for modern chemistry due to its establishment of basic chemical procedures (the most notable being distillation), its discovery of phosphorus, antimony and bismuth, and preparation of nitric, hydrochloric and sulphuric acid.

and it shows the alcheHenning Brand discovers phosphorus by Joseph Wright .

The real “gold,” however, seems to lie in the deeper, spiritual heritage of Alchemy. The mystical truths preserved in its archetypal imagery and symbolism still serve as an allegorical map for seekers today.

“Only through discovering alchemy,” notes pioneering Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, “have I clearly understood that the unconscious is a process and that ego’s rapport with the unconscious and his contents initiates an evolution, more precisely, a real metamorphosis of the psyche.”

 The Spiritual Pilgrim (16th Century German woodcut), alchemy, art, alchemical woodcut, recolored by: Roberta Weir, site source: www.kvmagruder.net/flatEarth/examples

While the imagery associated with alchemy can be bafflingly surreal and even disturbing, every detail holds symbolic meaning that becomes coherent when viewed through an allegorical lens.

The 7 Stages (or Operations) of Alchemy give insight into many of these symbols. The system is thought to be based largely on the ancient text, The Emerald Tablet of Hermes—the jewel in the crown of the Corpus Hermeticum. The first translation dates back to the 13th century, though its origin is suspected to go as far back as the 2nd century or older.

emerald tablet, new translation, site credit: www.alchemylab.com/emerald_tablet

The 7 Stages, undertaken with the goal of the Philosopher’s Stone (both literal and metaphorical), are as follows:

birds, nigredo stage, blackening,alchemy, site source: www.channeledessence.com/2011/06/26/birds-of-alchemy/

1.Calcination. (“Its father is the sun.” ~ The Emerald Tablet of Hermes)

Chemically, this initial stage involves heating the substance over an open flame and burning away the first layer of impurities.

“Psychologically,” remarks Dennis William Hauk, an Internationally recognized expert on alchemy research, “this is the destruction of the ego and our attachment to material possessions. Calcination is usually a natural humbling process as we are gradually assaulted and overcome by the trials and tribulations of life, though it can be a deliberate surrender of our inherent hubris [igniting] the fire of introspection and self-evaluation.”

“In spiritual symbolism, this stage is sometimes humorously referred to as ‘cooking’ or ‘baking’ (and in fact the prime symbol of this stage is fire),” observes P.T. Mistlberger in “Psycho-Spiritual Alchemy.

Calcination stage. "Athanor of the Mind"  -- "a curious drawing form the eighteenth century that presages the methods of modern psychotherapy using an alchemical furnace instead of a psychoanalyst." Site credit: www.alchemylab.com/directory

Spiritually, Adam McClean points out in his essay Birds in Alchemy, “the nigredo indicates the initial stages of the alchemist’s encounter with his inner space, through withdrawing from the outer world of the senses in meditation, and entering what is initially the dark inner world of the soul,”

Symbolized by crows, ravens, toads, sculls and skeletons—as well as the alchemist in his own burning flask or cauldron—philosophically, this stage represents the breaking down of old structures. Called the nigredo, or “blackening,” Calcination involved putrefaction and decomposition of the alchemical substances—a “trial by fire” that psychologists often equate with the Dark Night of the Soul, the death of old aspects of the self and confrontation with the shadow within.

nigredo stage, blackening, alchemist in flask by Karena A. Karras

2. Dissolution (“Its mother is the moon.”)

Also called the albedoor “whitening,” the second stage, was said to result from the washing (ablutio, baptisma) of the products of the nigredo. Chemically, this phase denotes the dissolving of the ashes from Calcination in water. Often symbolized by a white swan or a white eagle, Dissolution marks a time of emotional cleansing, a purification through catharsis and letting go.

“It is, for the most part, an unconscious process,” details Dennis William Hauck,  “in which our conscious minds let go of control to allow the surfacing of buried material. It is opening the floodgates and generating new energy from the waters held back. Dissolution can be experienced as “flow,” the bliss of being well-used and actively engaged in creative acts.”

alchemical swan by Karena A. Karras, site credit: www.alchemywebsite.com/contemp_artists

“This stage is often characterized by experiencing the emotion of grief,” adds P.T. Mistlberger, “and allowing ourselves to truly grieve painful incidents from our past that we may have long buried.

“A key to the stage of Dissolution is the awakening of passion, and the harnessing of the energy of emotional pain toward an object of creativity. We do not just passively witness the reality of our inner pain; we redirect its energy, wedding it to our authentic personal desires and constructive aims.”

“It is that stage of catharsis after some intense experience of being consumed in the crucible,” details Adam McLean, “when we glimpse the appearance, however fragmentary, of a new possibility —a flickering light in our souls which draws us towards its promise of change.”

The Alchemy By Ella/Mihaela Sebeniswan, alchemy, site source: www.paintingsilove.com/image/show/37938/the-alchemy-1

3. Separation (“The wind carries it in its belly.”)

Chemically, according to Hauk, this stage marks “the isolation of the components of Dissolution by filtration and then discarding any ungenuine or unworthy material.

Reaping the Golden Head depicts the spiritual warrior dismembering the body to save the most valuable part in the process of Separation. site credit: www.alchemylab.com“Psychologically, this process is the rediscovery of our essence and the reclaiming of dream and visionary ‘gold’ previously rejected by the masculine, rational part of our minds. It is, for the most part, a conscious process in which we review formerly hidden material and decide what to discard and what to reintegrate into our refined personality.”

The Separation stage, much as its name suggests, denotes a time of discernment and taking stock. ”In this stage,” notes Mistlberger, “we begin to see what is of value in our life, and what is not.”

Splitting the Egg of Being shows the spiritual warrior about to slice through the hermetically sealed egg of his own being during the Separation operation. (Splendor Solis 1500s), site credit: www.alchemylab.com
4. Conjunction (“The earth is its nurse.”)

“Chemically,” Hauk tells us, “it is the recombination of the saved elements from Separation into a new substance…”

“Psychologically, it is empowerment of our true selves, the union of both the masculine and feminine sides of our personalities into a new belief system or an intuitive state of consciousness. The alchemists referred to it as the Lesser Stone, and after it is achieved, the adept is able to clearly discern what needs to be done to achieve lasting enlightenment, which is union with the Overself. Often, synchronicities begin to occur that confirm the alchemist is on the right track.”

The divided self, often represented by a king and queen, now purified and healed—is reunited, producing filius philosophorum, or “the philosopher’s child,” a magical, hermaphroditic babe, representing the reborn, integrated self.

conjunction, alchemy,

“Esoteric alchemy proposes,” Mistlberger elaborates, “that what is left if the first three stages of calcination, dissolution, and separation have been properly undergone is a state wherein we can more clearly mediate between our ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’.

“In this sense ‘soul’ refers to our embodied spirit, the part of our essential nature that is fully on Earth, and ‘spirit’ refers to our most rarefied connection with the divine, transcendental Source. These two are sometimes categorized as the divine feminine (soul) and the divine masculine (spirit). The combining of the two is the essence of inner tantra, a sacred marriage of spiritual opposites.”

The integration of the active, “impregnating” principal of divine spirit is often depicted as the masculine sun, or Sol, while the receptive principal of the body receiving that spirit infusion is represented by the feminine moon, or Luna. Below these aspects integrate via the symbolic sexual union of Sol and Luna.

Conjunction in the Libido shows the opposing forces of Soul and Spirit coming together in sexual Conjunction, site credit. www.alchemylab.com

“In conjunction, fears melt,” adds Nephtalia Leba in her essay “Alchemical Transformation.” “The old scripts that played in our head that said we ‘must’ or we ‘should’ are quieter, if not gone. There is more joy now. We begin to see the world more clearly. The acts we do choose to engage in – even the mundane acts – take on a greater delight.”

alchemy symbolism

5. Fermentation (“Separate the Earth from Fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with great Ingenuity.”)

Chemically, Fermentation is the growth of a ferment (bacteria) in organic solutions, such as occurs in the fermenting of grapes to make wine. And this idea is mirrored in the psycho-spiritual stage it represents in the seeker’s journey. Fermentation is a two step process, which begins with Putrefaction.

fermentation, alchemy: Putrefaction of Two Different Things shows Saturn and Death looking on as the decomposition of the Soul and Spirit begins. Site credit: www.alchemylab.com In this stage, Hauk details, “matter is allowed to breakdown and decompose. The alchemists often added manure to help get the process going…The dead material seems to come to life again with an influx of digesting bacteria, as Fermentation begins.

“This new life force changes the fundamental nature of the material in what the alchemists saw as a process of spiritization [the second phase in Fermentation].

“Psychological Fermentation is the introduction of new life into the purified presence that developed during Conjunction. This child of the Conjunction, however, is really just a melding of opposites of the personality that may still be contaminated with traces of ego, so it is necessary to “sacrifice” it to bring about its resurrection on a new level of being.

“During psychological death or Putrefaction, the ‘child’ of the Conjunction, which is the strongest presence you can create within your earthbound personality, is exposed to the decadent humidity of your deepest and most clinging psychic components, the psychological manure in which most of us wallow.”

Hauk continues: “Fermentation then begins with the inspiration of spiritual power from Above that reanimates, energizes, and Fermentation, alchemy, The Soul Is Quickened in Her Grave depicts how putrefaction feels to the Soul. Site credit: www.alchemylab.comenlightens the blackened soul. It can be achieved through various activities that include intense prayer, desire for mystical union, breakdown of the personality, transpersonal therapy, psychedelic drugs, and deep meditation. In simplest terms, Fermentation is a living, loving inspiration from something totally beyond us, something existing wholly Above in the realm of pure mind.”

Like the first “nigredo” stage of Calcination, the Fermentation phase has been associated with the Dark Night of the Soul psychologically.

“Here, we undergo a type of rebirth,” observes Mistlberger, “resulting from the deep willingness to let go of all elements of [ourselves] that no longer serve our spiritual evolution. This marks the true beginning of inner initiation, of entry into a ‘higher’ life in which our best destiny has a chance to unfold.”

This stage is often associated with the peacock due its reported accompaniment of multi-colored visions upon entering the spiritization phase, known as “the peacock’s tail.”

site credit: www.alchemywebsite.com, artist unknown, alchemy peacocks tail

Interestingly, the cobalt blue center of the peacock’s tail is often used in Eastern mystical symbolism to represent “the blue pearl,” a third eye phenomenon observed by meditators during practice.

6. Distillation (“It rises from Earth to Heaven and descends again to Earth, thereby combining within Itself the powers of both the Above and the Below.”)

Chemically this stage involves the boiling and condensation of the fermented solution to increase its purity, such as takes place in the distilling of wine to make brandy.

“Psychologically,” Mistlberger details, “distillation represents a further purification process, being about an ongoing process of integrating our spiritual realizations with our daily lives—dealing with seeming mundane things with integrity, being as impeccable in our lives as we can be, and not using the inner work as a means by which to escape the world…

Sacrifice of the Pelican shows Soul and Spirit being purified in Water during the Distillation operation, alchemy, site credit www.alchemylab.com

“…At this stage remaining impurities, hidden as ‘shadow’ elements in the mind, are flushed out and released, crucial if they are not to surface later on (a phenomena that can be seen to occur when a reputed saint, sage, or wise person, operating from a relatively advanced level of self-realization, appears to have a fall from grace).”

Mistlberger tells us that a common alchemical symbol for this stage is the Green Lion devouring the sun, suggesting “a robust triumph and an embracing of a limitless source of energy.”

20-the-green-lion-rosarium-philosophorum

7. Coagulation (“Thus will you obtain the Glory of the Whole Universe. All Obscurity will be clear to you. This is the greatest Force of all powers, because it overcomes every Subtle thing and penetrates every Solid thing.” )

“The end result,” concludes Mistlberger, “is the Philosopher’s Stone, also sometimes called the Androgyne, and is often symbolized by the Phoenix, the bird that has arisen from the ashes.

Phoenix_Reborn_by_Iron_Phoenix deviantart

“This is closely connected to the idea of the Resurrection Body of mystical Christianity, or the Rainbow Body of Tibetan Buddhism, which includes the esoteric idea of the ability to navigate all possible levels (dimensions) of reality, without loss of consciousness.

“It is the form of the illumined and fully transformed human, in which matter has been spiritualized, or the spiritual has fully entered the material. Heaven and Earth seen as one, or as the Buddhists say, nirvana (the absolute, or formless) is samsara (the world of form). At this end stage, whatever we set eyes on we see the divine, as we have come to realize our own full divinity.”

rainbow body, tibetan buddhism, site credit: www.aliencontactandhumanevolution.com

Below, an alchemical woodcut depicts the Stone as eternally youthful and fully integrated. He controls the forces of duality and fends off any materialistic advances on his unified Soul and Spirit

Mercury Becomes the Stone depicts the Stone as eternally youthful, fully integrated Mercury. He controls the forces of duality and fends off any materialistic advances on his unified Soul and Spirit. site credit: www.alchemylab.com

“In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself.

 “The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia.” ~ Carl Jung

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*To see where you might be on the path of alchemical process, take a test at www.alchemylab.com.

Transformation, Destruction & The Inner Apocalypse

December 21, 2012 § 10 Comments

Tai Carmen

mayan apocalypse, 2012, transformation, rebirth, cosmic

“Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. Our divided, schizophrenic worldview, with no mythology adequate to coordinate our conscious and unconscious — that is what is coming to an end.” ~ Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That

“If there is an Armegeddon it is within each of us.” ~ Robert Ghost Wolf

I write on the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse, Dec 21st 2012 — a date they are calling “the most anticipated date in history,” which has been gaining power and momentum in the collective mythic imagination for literally decades.

2012 has become a cultural phenomenon, far exceeding any basis in Mayan history, expressing, rather, our own collective sense of dread — that we are heading for destruction, and change of a radical nature is needed if we are to survive.

Cognitive_Transformation by Ben Tolman, www.bentolman.com/__full_by_bentolman

Archeologist, anthropologist and author Michael D. Coe was perhaps the first to put forth an apocalyptic interpretations of the ancient Mayan codices, writing in his 1966 book The Maya:

“There is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b’ak’tun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.”

Since then, apocalyptic prophecies have proliferated exponentially, leading up to the fervor of the 2012 phenomenon. The film industry has capitalized off this fear/trend with a mounting plethora of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies. Post-apocalyptic video games like Fallout abound. New Age bookstores are exploding with 2012 material. Youtube features a veritable frenzy of 2012 videos…

2012_movie-poster-01

Yet actual modern day Maya and Mayan scholars insist that the end of the ancient calender simply signifies the end of an era, known as the thirteen ba’kt’un (each ba’kt’un being equivalent to 394.26 years.) It is the end of an age of man, what the Maya called the fourth world.

Ricardo Cajas, president of the Colectivo de Organizaciones Indígenas de Guatemala, states that the date does not represent an end of humanity, but of a new cycle, which “supposes changes in human consciousness.”

2012 mayan pyramid

According to a diverse group of indigenous peoples’ creation myths, from Mexico to New Zealand, there have been three failed worlds before our current age (could these legends refer to lost continents such as Plato’s Atlantis?).

The Hindus believe that earth goes through four world  cycles, or ages of man, which repeat indefinitely. Most interpreters of Hindu scriptures believe that earth is currently in a Kali Yuga cycle,  a dark time marked by destruction and degeneration in human values, known as “the age of the demon” or the “age of vice.” Eventually, the Kali Yuga will evolve into three more cycles, each one improving, until we reach a Golden Age.

Kali, Kali Yuga, site credit: http://nightmaremode.net/2011/11/playing-the-apocalypse-part-i-13705/

“We Hopi believe that the human race has passed through three different worlds and life ways since the beginning,” details Hopi Elder Dan Evehema. “At the end of each prior world, human life has been purified or punished by the Great Spirit, or Massau, due mainly to corruption, greed and turning away from the Great Spirit’s teachings. The last great destruction was the flood which destroyed all but a few faithful ones who asked and received a permission from the Great Spirit to live with Him in this new land.”

Chief Dan Evehema, site credit: www.ilhawaii.net/~stony/chiefdan.htmlAccording to Chief Evehema, the famous rock inscribed with Hopi hieroglyphs (Hopi Prophecy Rock) foretold both world wars and indicates an upcoming time of choice, where humankind will be offered a choice between the path of the heart and the path of the intellect and materialism.

“Modern man is out of balance because he lives in a left-brain dominated society,” asserts the Hopi elder, “leading to imbalance and conflict, and ultimately to destruction.”

Listen_To_Your_Heart_by_Carouselhorses site credite: www.carouselhorses.deviantart.com/art/Listen-To-Your-Heart-55457988

We find ourselves in a runaway culture of technological advancement, where authentic human connection –to the earth and one another — threatens to be left behind. Isolation and distraction abound. As Daniel Pinchbeck, author of Breaking Open the Head, says, “We live in a culture where everything tastes good but nothing satisfies.”

Violent outbursts, like the recent tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and the stabbing of 20 school children in China — bizarrely, on the same day — create a disquieting atmosphere of building tension and mounting darkness. It’s as though we are experiencing a dark night of the world soul.

apocalypse, apocalypse dreams, www.rockpubano.blogspot.com/2011/03/visoes-do-apocalipse.html

“A dark night of the soul,” writes Erin Reese in her post of the same name, “primarily occurs when the old self-image is ready to go. This is the outdated identification of who you think you are – the ego structure. When the self-image becomes calcified in any way, a dark night of the soul comes rumbling in like storm clouds.” (For more, check out Parallax’s Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul.)

Astrologically Pluto and Uranus have been, and continue to be, influential.

Uranus, Pluto, site credit: www.tarot.com/articles/astrology/about-uranus-square-pluto“The effect of Uranus is to shatter old outworn forms so as to allow new life to be born. Pluto is the Lord of the Underworld in the Roman archetypal pantheon. In traditional astrology Pluto represents the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. In the Egyptian pantheon Pluto is Osiris, the God of Regeneration; Uranus is Wadjet, the Great Awakener. The long lasting square between these two astrological giants [during 2012 and for the next few years] suggests that we have only just begun our journey of incredible transformation and change.”(Astrological Insights.) 

earth from space, site credit: http://www.writeonnewjersey.com

“Uranus represents change, invention, revolution, and higher awareness,” details astrologer Jamie Partridge. “It’s effect is shocking, unpredictable, and erratic. Pluto represents globalization, destruction, transformation, and renewal.  It’s effect is grinding, ruthless and extreme. Both of these planets are distinctly non-personal and emotionless, yet their effect is dramatic and deeply felt. The square is the most challenging of the planetary aspects, representing tests and challenges. It’s effect is stressful and frustrating.”

site credit: www.weheartit.com

I wouldn’t include an astrological analysis if I hadn’t felt the truth of these interpretations in my own life. So many people in my life tell me they feel it too: that 2012 was one of their most intense, full years. Many have had very hard years, while others have had intensely wonderful years. Most of us have had a mixed bag of extreme highs and lows. Few people found 2012 to be “just another year.”

caterpillar-emergingFor many, a pressure is building. The need to burn away all that is false (a trait associated with Pluto.) Many I speak with seem to be going through an emotional-spiritual purge or some kind of shadow work at the moment. I think many of us feel innately that it’s a good time to purify and detoxify (look for tips on this in future posts!). Many feel pushed to their limit and filled with a desire to restructure their life. Old behaviors which no longer serve us are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I realize this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it strikes me as significant that so many people I know are experiencing one or all of these things right now — more than usual, it seems.

And so the 2012 phenomenon, the so-called Mayan Apocalypse, can be seen as an expression of our personal and collective discomfort with old existing structures and outmoded patterns of behavior. When Dec. 21st comes and goes and the world remains in all it’s chaos, we will be left with the anti-climatic but significant realization that there is no escaping ourselves.

Let’s die to the past through this inner apocalypse  — harness the intense energy of this time  and use it for personal rebirth and transformation. We are collectively craving it. But it can only start with each of us, individually, and it can only take place in the present, right now.

transformation-butterfly11

The Question of Reality

January 19, 2011 § 9 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” — Chuang Tzu

From Plato’s Cave to The Matrix, thoughtful humans throughout the ages have found different ways to ask the same question: Are we fully cognizant of the true nature of the reality that surrounds us?

There is a basic unease to the human condition, the vague and gnawing sense that there must be something we are missing, something we have not been told; a feeling rooted, no doubt, in the fact that we are born into a world where the most burning questions have only theoretical, subjective answers.

Religion has attempted to fill this void with meaning, but even in its answers, more questions arise.

How solid is our reality? Science, so often pitted against the mystical, has the most mystically fraught of answers: not solid at all. On an atomic and subatomic level — as we all learned in school, though most likely didn’t grasp the full implication of at the time — there is space and movement between atoms. The so-called solid wall is teeming, pulsing, dancing — molecules full of wide open space.

If I put my hand on the wall, the sensation I experience as touch is the interaction between the molecules of my hand and the molecules of the wall; on an atomic level, there is a point where the difference between my hand and the wall become indistinguishable.

In other words, it has been scientifically proven in our lifetime that the reality we behold is — to some degree, anyway — illusory.

The idea that the nature of form is misleading and ultimately unreal, of course, has been in existence for centuries — perhaps most famously put forth in the Eastern concept of Maya, (found in Buddhism and Hinduism,) a word derived form the ancient Sanskritma, meaning “not,” and ya, meaning “that.” Though the details differ, Judeo-Christian philosophy reiterates the same basic idea: that things are not as they appear, and this world is but a pale echo of a brighter, truer place.

There are more sinister shades, more paranoid potential, to this question of reality. The possibility that, as in The Matrix — where humans are grown by sentient machines, imprisoned in a virtual computer-generated world —we are living in an unperceived prison of sorts. As the character Morpheus says:

“What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.”

Of course, we can clearly see that there are many things wrong with the world — war, hunger, violence, hatred. Easily, that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-feeling of unease can find its root in quite tangible phenomena. Perhaps it is a form of escapism to look elsewhere than the obvious issues — wishful thinking that there is some explanation which would make the world’s horrors somehow more comprehensible. And yet, true though this may be, it doesn’t hurt to probe, to dig, to question consensus reality.

The Matrix premise borrows heavily from the Gnostic tradition, wherein the world was created by imperfect gods (though within the spectrum a perfect one exists.)

These flawed creators are described as a race of inorganic beings local to our solar system, called Archons. Agents of error, they feed off human misery and hence work to deceive the mind towards darkness. Pretty trippy stuff, considering the ancient texts date back to the 3rd and 4th century.

The fact that our experience of stimuli in the world is actually an experience of our brain’s interpretation of that stimuli (rather than the thing itself) does make a Matrix-like gap between reality and perceived reality plausible.

After all, the smell of a rose is simply information recognized through sensory organs and registered as “rose.”

The light waves we see when we perceive the rose are in our eyes, not the thing seen; the molecules we smell are in our nose, not the thing smelled. They are not the thing itself, but a relayed message or impression of the thing.

In the language of philosophy, this is known as the “brain in a vat” thought experiment. Theoretically, if it were scientifically possible to place a brain in a life-sustaining liquid environment (or “vat”) & hook its neurons up to a supercomputer—generating electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives—the brain would perceive the simulated reality as experiential reality.

This concept is used as a  basic argument for philosophical skepticism; as theoretically it is impossible to know, from the brain’s perspective, whether it exists in a scull or a vat.

Brain in a vat

Surrealist artist Rene Margitte plays with this concept in his famous painting, The Treachery of Images, which displays a pipe, underneath which is written in French: “This is not a pipe”

For, indeed, it is not a pipe, but a representation of one. Yet our first thought upon reading the painting’s caption is to object—certainly this is a pipe. 

Yet upon reflection we must admit that the clever artist’s pronouncement is absolutely accurate and, indeed, our tendency to associate the-thing-itself with its representation has been illustrated.

How can we assume this world is as it seems, when nightly dreams themselves can seem so real? What deeper, truer, more expansive identity and truth might be revealed to us about the cosmos and our place in it upon leaving or waking from this reality?

I’m not in any hurry to get there, and as Tom Hanks says in Joe vs. The Volcano, “Some things take care of themselves,” but I do — after many a dark night of the soul wrestling with doubt — have a good feeling about it. After all, the world minus man’s debacles, is a place brimming with potential and inspirational phenomena.


I’ve heard the life-as-dream/world-as-illusion theory described as angst-producing, proof of pointlessness. I don’t see it that way. Does an inspiring nocturnal dream enrich our spirit any less because it gives way to a deeper, fuller reality upon waking? Is a great novel any less meaningful because it didn’t really happen? When you start subdividing it, the word “real” itself begins to lose meaning.

We can knock on a table and feel reassured by its bright, solid sound. But even the table is like Magritte’s pipe — both what it seems to be and also not at all. Reality ripe with paradox and potential, lots of wide open space for us to take a tip from the molecules and dance, even in the smallest spaces.

Beyond Division: Studies in Bliss

August 13, 2014 § 14 Comments

il_570xN.197907530“Nepenthe, Goddess of Bliss” by: Emily Balivet

“I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sight and sound around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once, like an atmosphere, sustaining me […] Every little pine-needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again.’

~ Henry David Thoreau

As Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell returned from the moon, he beheld Earth from the spacecraft window. In that moment he had a life-changing experience for which his scientific background had not prepared him.

“I realized that the molecules of my body and the molecules of the spacecraft had been manufactured in an ancient generation of stars. It wasn’t just intellectual knowledge—it was a subjective visceral experience accompanied by ecstasy—a transformational experience.”

earth-from-space-1

The experience was so powerful that when he got back to Earth, Mitchell started digging into various literatures to try to understand his experience.

“I found nothing in science literature but eventually discovered it in the Sanskrit of ancient India. The descriptions of samadhi, Savikalpa samadhi, were exactly what I felt: it is described as seeing things in their separateness, but experiencing them viscerally as a unity, as oneness, accompanied by ecstasy.” (“Samadhi In Space.”)

Mitchell went on to found “The Institute for Noetic Sciences” to study consciousness-related experiences, such as his, through a scientific lens.

earth reflected in eye

While terms like “bliss” & “ecstasy” sound vague & faraway to most of us, these states are actually quite natural, glimpses of which need not follow years of dedicated medication.

In a study, 3000 people who claimed to have had spontaneous mystical experiences were asked what had triggered them. The four major triggers were:

1. Depression/despair 2. Prayer/meditation, 3. Natural beauty 4. Participation in religious worship. (I would imagine psychedelics are also high on the list! Though perhaps not in the demographic sampled.)

cosmos in brain

Metaphysical author Eckhart Tolle famously described an experience of intense despair proceeding a monumental shift in consciousness, which would become, for him, an awakening.

During a sleepless night of “almost unbearable” depression, a thought came to Tolle: “I can not live with myself.” The answering thought became like a kōan: “Who is the “I” who can not live with the “self?”

In Zen, the koan—a seemingly answerless riddle with profound implications, designed to break down ordinary ways of thinking & stun the analytic mind into awakening—is a traditional technique to induce satori.

zen koan

Savikalpa samadhi is a Hindu term for the temporary, exalted state of consciousness wherein the subject retains his or her sense of self, but at the same time, awareness expands into an experience of divine cosmic consciousness, or universal oneness. The Hindu tradition calls this Brahman: “the ineffable unchanging reality amidst & beyond the world,” translating directly as “being-consciousness-bliss.”

East Indian poet & mystic Sri Chinmoy observes: “Nature’s dance stops. There is no movement. Everything is tranquil. The Knower and the Known have become totally One. The lover and the Beloved have become One. The Yogi enjoys a supremely divine, all-pervading, self-amorous ecstasy.”

In Zen Buddhism, this euphoric state of peace is known as satori, which literally means “to understand.” It is the goal of meditation practice. A brief but clear glimpse into the awakened state of satori is known as kenshō, which translates as “seeing into one’s true nature or essence.”

Freeing-the-Bird-1

20th century Zen master Keido Fukushima describes his first kensho experience, a glimpse into satori:

“At Nanzenji there is a small hill. I used to walk near there, look at it, and often smile at the high school students who walked by there as well. One day as I walked by, I looked at the hill and it was truly amazing. I was totally lost as if there was no ‘me’. I stood gazing at the hill. Some students walked by and one of them said something like ‘look at that crazy monk’. Finally I came out of it. Life was never the same for me. I was free.”

friendly hill

British novelist Forrest Reid describes a beautiful experience of classic Kensho:

“It was as if I had never realized before how lovely the world was. I lay down on my back in the warm, dry moss and listened to the skylark singing as it mounted up from the fields near the sea into the dark clear sky. No other music ever gave me the same pleasure as that passionately joyous singing. It was a kind of leaping, exultant ecstasy, a bright, flame-like sound, rejoicing in itself. And then a curious experience befell me.

“It was as if everything that had seemed to be external and around me were suddenly within me. The whole world seemed to be within me. It was within me that the trees waved their green branches, it was within me that the skylark was singing, it was within me that the hot sun shone, and that the shade was cool.

“A cloud rose in the sky, and passed in a light shower that pattered on the leaves, and I felt its freshness dropping into my soul, and I felt in all my being the delicious fragrance of the earth and the grass and the plants and the rich brown soil. I could have sobbed with joy.”

man and nature, one with natureChristoffer Relander

In the West, a typical kensho experience is more likely to be called a “mystical experience.” Pioneering American psychologist William James identified four key characteristics common to the mystical experience:

1) Ineffability (elusive to capture in language; hard or impossible to describe the subtle nuances to another in all their import & grandeur.)

2) Noetic quality (a sense of timelessness & unity with all things, illumination or knowing beyond the grasp of intellect.)

3) Transiency (It is rare to sustain a transcendent mystical experience for more than half an hour; though time appears to stand still, in linear time the mystical experience usually lasts for only a few minutes…a few hours at best. Though longer periods have been reported.)

4) Passivity (the individual feels swept up & buoyed by a force greater than themselves.)

Cosmic Man, site credit: www.tsgarp-mysticlight.blogspot.com/2012_02_05_archive.html

I came across the word “kensho” in my internet search to find a term that described my own experiences of euphoric, peaceful interconnectivity. Mine came about as a result of intentional vision questing, with the help of some earthly substances. Psychedelic mushrooms are probably the fastest rout to experiencing kensho…and once you’ve experienced it, it becomes easier to access during regular meditative moments. These experiences are deeply meaningful touchstones of my path.  I will do my best to share what it felt like to inhabit this beautiful state:

For one, there was a sense of timelessness. And completion. Nothing needed doing. There was nothing I wanted, nowhere to go, nothing more to be or say…I was just perfectly content & blissfully peaceful. Yet the experience was not static or dull; it was intensely alive.

I was in nature, as one always should be for these things….

one-with-nature- -allison-blickle“One With Nature” by Allison Bickle 

The moment was all; my awareness expanded outward to include every tree branch, bird & hill. Everything felt deliciously divine & I wondered how it was that I did not always feel this way. A sense of tremendous kinship towards everything surged through me & in return the environment itself replied in silent, sentient, visceral, ecstatic kinship.

The very air around me felt loving, a supportive, nourishing substance. Reality itself felt feathery, forgiving. All of nature felt conspiring, intimate, friendly. I recall looking at some lovely pine trees, their tops dancing in a light breeze, and feeling that their branches were as intimate-feeling to me as a strand of my own hair.

What folly to think ourselves so separate & divided from our environment! We were of course like living threads in a living tapestry, which made up a whole picture, each crossing over the other, each contributing to a whole picture of the world; absolutely intertwined.

rl131_2Fracois Boucher

I describe my experiences now from memory, because I remember the metaphors that came to mind at the time, yet during these kensho moments, my intrinsic connectivity with all living things & my surrounding environment was entirely visceral, entirely known beyond intellectual questioning.

I felt entirely safe; buoyed by a tangible presence within myself & everything; it flowed within me & those dancing pine tree tops, as well as between us, connecting us; it was in the wind & the grass & my own hands, breath, hair….

A blissful sense of remembrance & reunion flooded through me…I had forgotten this state, the true state—the way we are naturally, minus mental over-activity, compartmentalization & contractive doubt. The feeling was hyper-real; a revelation of truth. As if illusion had fallen away to reveal our natural state; one that some part of me remembered. My whole being rejoiced.

one with nature, Christoffer RelanderChristoffer Relander

One of my most profound experiences of kensho was with three other women, good friends of mine. First, I saw their beauty, radiant, as if before I had seen them only through a fog—so distracted by my own thoughts. I perceived them unmediated by the analytic mind, beautifully pure, and for the first time I understood why the new agey phrase “goddess” has come into circulation as a superlative. It was simply accurate: they were divine beings & it was as clear as the sky is blue.

From this perception, I moved on to a deep & beautiful sense of empathy. I could feel my own spirit, somehow, my own awareness, within them. It wasn’t that I was not me & they were not them—but I viscerally knew that the same spirit lived in them that lived in me. As if a telepathic link had been activated, which allowed me to be sensitive to their spirit, presence & feelings, in a way to which I was usually closed off, drowned in the workings of my own mind.

It was as if we had been fingers on the same hand all along, thinking ourselves isolated digits floating through space…we were still our own unique fingers (one a thumb, another a pinky) but there was a broader connection at the root level that made us at once unique, yet unified.

dan-mountford- handsDan Mountford 

As the classic Beatles line goes: “I am she and she is me as you are me & we are all together.”

“Of all the boundaries we construct,” notes American philosopher & author Ken Wilber, “the one between self and not-self is the most fundamental. It is the boundary we are most reluctant to surrender. It was after all the first boundary we ever drew. It is our most cherished boundary.

“In unity consciousness, in no-boundary consciousness, the sense of self expands to totally include everything once thought to be not-self…And obviously this cannot occur as long as the primary boundary, which seperates the self from the universe, is mistaken as real. But once the primary boundary is understood to be illusory, one’s sense of self envelops the All.” (“No Boundary.”)

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I am so grateful I had the kensho experience I did with my three friends, because otherwise this talk of non-boundary consciousness would seem dangerous to me, as I’m sure it does to many; and perhaps, misunderstood, it is.

After all, boundaries in the traditional sense of the word, are important. The question naturally arises: couldn’t someone use this philosophy as an excuse for self-indulgent force, projecting one’s own desires onto another? In it’s most extreme form, one could imagine a rapist excusing his crime to himself with the rationale: “Well, there is no difference between us, so what does it matter?”

This could not be further from the meaning of unity consciousness. For one, unity does not mean we don’t possess individual consciousness; it simply means we are connected at a deep level, the way mushrooms are individual yet share the same root system.

Also, once you have experienced the kind of non-divisive awareness Wilber is describing, which I experienced, the concept of harming another, whether physically or emotionally, becomes inconceivable. Because what ever you did to another, however you made them feel, you would instantly feel yourself.

Diane Arbus April 1964-2Diane Arbus

For this reason, it is no stretch to say that world peace & the hope of humanity lies in the ability for more people to tap into the “being-consciousness-bliss” of Kensho.

We are already connected in this way, we simply need to unwind the intense mental constructs of division in which we have, as a society, become ensnared. You can start simply enough, by just connecting with nature & the energies around you…extending your awareness to include the surrounding life forms & environment. We are born with this inherent sense of connectivity, conditioned into a divisive worldview that inflicts separateness & isolation onto what in fact is a continuum.

After all, as the great British Zen writer & philosopher Alan Watts beautifully said: “We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.'”

one with nature, anamak “Sunshine On My Mind by Amamak Photography

In his fascinating book, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order,” theoretical physicist David Bohm asserts:

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

“Being guided by a fragmentary self-world view, man then acts in such a way as to try to break himself and the world up, so that all seems to correspond to his way of thinking. Man thus obtains an apparent proof of the correctness of his fragmentary self-world view, though, of course, he overlooks the fact that it is he himself, acting according to his mode of thought, who has brought about the fragmentation that now seems to have an autonomous existence, independent of his will and of his desire.”

world inside, inner space, inner selfDan Mountford

I would love to hear about your mystical/kensho/samadhi experiences in the comments section (located above, under the post title). Though of course, any and all feedback & sharing is welcome & encouraged. Please join the conversation….!

*For more on KENSHO check out this awesome page!

*Edgar Mitchell’s exploration of his samadhi experience in space lead to the development of a new theory called “The Over-View Effect;” many astronauts had experienced similar reactions upon beholding the Earth. The subject was made into a fantastic short film of the same name, which you can view by clicking here

Authenticity & the False Self

April 2, 2013 § 37 Comments

By T’ai Carmenhide_behind_a_mask_by_Catliv, deviantART,  site: http://catliv.deviantart.com/art/hide-behind-a-mask-IV-187210592

“No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

“To be nobody but myself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else—means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting. ~ e.e. cummings

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – C.G. Jung

Helene-DeutschIn 1944  Helen Deutsch—notably, the first psychoanalyst to specialize in women’s psychology—coined the term the “as if” self.

This concept was expanded upon and called the “false self” by D. W. Wincott  in 1960. “Other people’s expectations can become of overriding importance,” Wincott noted, “overlaying or contradicting the original sense of self, the one connected to the very roots of one’s being.” (“Our Need for Others.”)

social mask, site credit: www.http://theresalduncan.typepad.com/witostaircase/philosophy/

The idea of a false personality construct being distinct from one’s essential, authentic nature dates back over 3000 years: in the  Bahgavad Gita, Ego (or Ahamkara) is described as the body-identified sense of self which is disconnected from the true soul.

virabhadra, site credit: www.yogablog.hari-kirtana.com/“According to the Gita,” notes Ramnath Subramanian “there is a fundamental difference between ‘real’ ego and what it defines as the ‘false’ ego. Real ego is our very essence, the consciousness that makes us aware and awake to reality. The false ego is a false identity crafted to preserve the sense of being the most significant and the most important all the time. In short, it is a narcissistic search for being loved, validated and appreciated.(“The Bhagavad Gita and the Problem of the Ego,” Huffington Post.)

The Bhagavad Gita asserts that the Ahamkara (ego) must be removed for true fulfillment to be achieved.

the-ego-is-not-who-you-really-are-deepak-chopra

social mask, site credit: www.mentalhealthy.co.uk/blogs/social-vs-public-mask

“We all need an ability to mask or control our baser emotions so that we don’t blurt them out inappropriately where they can get us into trouble,” explains Dr. Tain Dayton in “Creating a False Self: Learning to Live a Lie.” “The real danger lies not in creating a mask or false self, we all do that somewhat. The danger lies in mistaking the false or idealized self for the true self.

“A false self because it is an unconscious defense, can stifle the growth of a conscious, authentic self. It’s the false self that strategizes and develops strength, confidence and acceptance. And the true, conscious self gets suffocated and sent into hiding.”

removing the mask, site credit: www.justinmorrisroe.com/2012/07/11/lies-and-hard-knock-lives/

One surefire  way to distinguish one’s core center from the egoic personality structure or false self is meditation, in which we cultivate what has been called “the witnessing self.” Meditation asks the practitioner to become conscious of when one is thinking, which really just means becoming aware of when one is talking to oneself internally. 

In our everyday Western life, a constant inner monologue  for us has become like breathing. We identify with our thoughts to the point where the statement “I am not my thoughts,” however factually correct, feels somewhat radical when taken to heart.

Yet the meditation practitioner soon finds moments, however fleeting, when the inner dialogue is stilled and mental silence is achieved. Anyone who has ever experienced this will tell you that this moment feels very much like making contact with one’s true being—which, according to mystical traditions the world over, it is.

psychic, site credit: www.otisfunkmeyer.com/on-clairvoyance/

“Based on the philosophy of [the ancient Hindu texts] the Upanishads,” details Neera Kashyap in “Personal Growth & The Witnessing Mind,” [we are taught] that if we could witness our thoughts and emotions, we would discover that what is witnessed false self, site credit: www.neomysticism.com/false-selfis not our essential nature, but an ever-changing flux of our mind’s desires and tendencies.

“By practicing witness consciousness, we can distance ourselves from our chameleon-like mental tendencies. [This way] we observe our world, but simultaneously also absorb the detachment, power and impartiality of our anchor, the witnessing mind.

“Anchored, we observe,” continues Neera. “Anchored, we inquire into the origins of our thoughts and emotions, and the problems that arise from them. Anchored, we see them rise, take form, and ultimately merge into the witness. The thoughts, emotions, and problems are transformed, by their mergence in the silence and peace of the witness.”

descent_into_the_abyss_by_bestarns.deviantart.com

“There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree, and the other looks on in silence.”

“This verse from the Upanishad,” notes Neera Kashyap, “sums up the secret of abiding happiness, in our lives. We enjoy the fullness of life, yet simultaneously witness this participation silently. This seems essential, when we consider the next verse of this Upanishad, in which the imagery is further developed.

“The active bird is overcome by sadness at her unceasing and unwise partaking of life. However, when she beholds on the same tree the eternal power and glory of the other bird, the witnessing spirit, she is freed from sorrow. For she sees that between herself and the other bird, there is a fundamental identity.”

two-birds, credit unknown

Wincott prescribed what he called “play”—anything that brings out spontaneous aliveness, from art to sports to meaningful conversation—as a way to revive contact with the authentic self.

removing-mask, site credit: http://stephrobbins.com/2012/07/the-mask/removing-mask/There is no doubt that self-acceptance is also key.

“When we’re self-accepting,” elaborates Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. in “Evolution of the Self, “we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more ‘esteem-able’ parts. As such, self-acceptance is unconditional, free of any qualification.

“We can recognize our weaknesses, limitations, and foibles, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves…Perhaps more than anything else, cultivating self-acceptance requires that we develop more self-compassion.”

It can be hard in a world that values success, perfection and positivity to accept our failures, flaws and darkness, but ultimately, in order to touch the authenticity within ourselves we seek—ironically!—-accepting the aspects of ourselves which we like least is the first step to unleashing that part we like best.

removing the mask, credit unknown

What are your thoughts on authenticity, identity and the false self?

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