Unveiling The Mysterious Higher Self

September 3, 2016 § 6 Comments

chiffon, sheer figure, mysterious

“Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The Higher Self is whispering to you softly in the silence between your thoughts.” ~ Deepak Chopra

“Through meditation, the Higher Self is seen.” ~ Bhagavad Gita

In a time when depression & anxiety have become an international epidemic, we can no longer afford to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater—when we dismiss the idea that humanity has divine connections simply because religious dogma has made a mess of the sacred, we do just this.

We can observe that wherever great power exists, corruption will feed.

In this way we can deduce that the seed in the heart of all religious movements—the basic idea of a presence within us that transcends flesh & connects us with a vaster power—may be just such a smeared truth. I invite you to consider, as a thought experiment, that this is the case.

debra shaw, black woman, magical, http://giokathleen.blogspot.com/2012/01/debra-shaw.html[Debra Shaw]

In rejecting the idea that we are more than we appear, we cut our power off at the roots before even exploring its possibility. It should be considered logically suspicious that what has potential to be our greatest power has been routinely corrupted from the beginning of time.

Modern thinking embraces logic as a hallmark of reason, it is therefore only reasonable to consider all possibilities when considering something as elusive, mysterious and important as our place within the universe.

portal

While the the idea of a higher self has been revived in New Age literature, it is an ancient concept, dating back to the oldest sacred texts of India, The Vedas, a body of insights written by various sages after long periods of meditation between 1700-1100 BC.

The Vedas describe The Atman as the inner self or the soul, which is the true self or essence of an individual, beyond identification with form. In order to attain liberation, a human being must acquire self-knowledge (atma jnana), which is to realize that one’s true self (Ātman) is identical with the transcendent self Brahman.

By Ignacio Torres, www.ignacio-torres.com/projects/stellar/[Stellar Series by Ignacio Torres]

As pioneering thinker Terence McKenna said, “You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility, because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you is your own understanding.”

But you don’t have to meditate for hundreds of hours to touch this transcendent aspect of self, just block off five-to-ten minutes a day, preferably before you start your day, and go inward. As a thought experiment, open your mind to the grand untapped majesty that might await you, and investigate!

Germany by Aneta Ivanova[Germany  series by Aneta Ivanova]

What comes up when you focus your attention on connecting with the higher self? I’m not talking about the doubts and fears—push those aside, it’s only a thought experiment. I’m talking about: what colors? What images or words? What feelings?

Here’s an exercise. Think of a time when you felt most yourself, most alive and vibrant.  Hone in on that feeling and stoke it like a fire with your attention. Then, see what comes up. The imagination is the language of the subconscious, which is the gateway to the higher self. Play, explore.

rainbow prism, crystal sparkling

It is my experience that the better our relationship with our true selves is, the better we feel and the more we excel at what we do. So it is worth asking what your true self wants. And listening. It has rich gifts to share.

For me, discovering and forging a relationship with my higher self involved many years of trial and error, as well as an intensive year in shamanic psychotherapy, where I worked with a trained guide to re-integrate my fragmented self.

(*To work with this model yourself, check out my post: “Soul Retrieval. “ If you have trouble connecting to your higher aspect, try doing this exercise a few times to clear the psychic debris.)

reflection, hand touching hand, hand touching reflection

When I am aligned with the aspect of myself that I would call my true self or higher self, I make self-caring choices. There is a tenderness, a sweetness, a reverence at the heart of everything I do. I am kinder to others, I receive insights and visions and creative ideas…the world opens up.

My day is vastly improved if I give myself just a few minutes in the morning to tune in with my higher aspect and seek its guidance. To start the day out in this manner is a practice of many I have known and respected, and I highly recommend it. People have busy lives—do it in the bathroom if you have to. But connect, feel into this possibility, receive its impressions. There is a wealth of inspiration and insight waiting.

The conditioned mind, the mind society has groomed, has been trained into docile disconnection. The systems of control don’t want you to be empowered. But there are answers and insights waiting beyond the conditioned mind. The higher self holds the key.

cosmic human gif

 

 

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Soul Retrieval

September 26, 2013 § 21 Comments

site credit: www.moonshaman.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/soul-retrieval/

“Why do we describe a distraught person as being ‘beside himself’? Because the ancients believed that soul and body could part, and that under great emotional stress the soul would actually leave the body. When this happened a person was ‘beside himself.'” ~ Dictionary of Word Origins

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” ~ Jesus (Matthew 16:26)

Part I

Our language is rife with references to what has traditionally been described by shamanic cultures as ‘soul loss’ — “Nobody’s home,” we might say of an empty-eyed co-worker. Or, in a funk ourselves: “I feel like a part of me is missing.” Popular songs site it casually — I don’t know where my soul is / I don’t know where my home is (Nelly Furtado, “I’m Like A Bird”).

Yet, these expressions are so common, we often use them as descriptors without fully investigating their implication.

site credit: www.forums.popphoto.com/showthread.php?216626-Non-Traditional-Self-Portrait-Need-advice-please

“Many of us today don’t feel totally whole, don’t feel as if we are all here,” relates Sandra Ingerman in her book Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self. 

“Few of us live as fully as we could. When we become aware of this, we want to recover the intensity of life, and the intimacy, that we once enjoyed…We want to come home more fully to ourselves and to the people we love.”

Sistine Chapel detail (Creation) by Michelangelo

Many turn to the shamanic arts for language and methodology which address our collective angst with a soulfulness lacking in modern lexicon.

“The re-emergence in the late twentieth century of shamanism — with its lively and concrete notion of soul — seems to be a response to a very depressing cultural reality,” notes Jungian analyst John Ryan Haule. “In the past six or seven hundred years we have undergone a consciousness-shift of 180 degrees. Formerly soul was our primary reality. Now we have only a body and a rational ego.

“The material conditions of our lives have improved immeasurably, but we’ve lost the imaginal and transcendent scope that belongs to the reality of soul. In a situation like this, it is often the depressives among us who are the most realistic regarding the impoverishment of our human existence.” (“Depression & Soul-Loss.”)

masks, site credit: http://www.catastrofe.it/teorie-e-possibili-scenari-sul-2012/36-scenari-possibili-2012.html

According to modern writers on the ancient subject, soul loss accounts for depression, anxiety, a sense of alienation, incompleteness and disconnection, a feeling of being “spaced out,” or “sleepwalking” through life.  Extreme cases include coma, psychosis, fugue states and dissociative identity disorders. 

Interestingly, the concept that a vital aspect of the self flees or retreats during experiences of extreme pain or disturbance is an idea shared by shamanism and psychotherapy alike. Psychotherapy calls it “disassociation,” shamanism calls it “soul loss.” The purpose in both cases is self-protection.

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Modern shamanic healers explain that we all lose bits and pieces of our soul, or vital essence, as we go through life.

The cause doesn’t have to be something as monumental as an accident or as extreme as abuse. It can be as simple as a small child’s sensitivity to their parents’ psychic tension or continued arguing. Little by little, parts of ourselves withdraw and become seemingly lost to us.

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

Rejected elements of the personality are banished from conscious awareness — Jung’s concept of the psyche’s “Shadow” aspect. This is done unconsciously, to ease the cognitive dissonance of harboring seemingly conflicting or ambiguous feelings; what modern psychology calls “compartmentalization” and repression. 

Denied aspects — such as repressed sadness, anger, inner child or libidinous impulses — are effectively exiled. But they do not disappear. They continue to exist “underground,” as it were, in the subterranean caves of the psyche, causing emotional alienation, discomfort and disconnection from self.

The good news is that excavation of these buried aspects — and a renewal of their accompanying vital forces  — is always possible, and the focus of psychotherapy and shamanic healing alike.

site credit: www.lendricklodge.com/shamanism/soul-retrieval-by-sandra-ingerman/

“An aspect of the infinite soul fleeing under duress is a state everyone has at some point experienced, regardless of terminology or ideology applied,” comments Kelley Harrell in her Huffington Post article, “The New Treatise on Soul Retrieval.”

The most common approach of neo-shamans is to echo the ancient model of shaman-as-guide in the netherworlds of psyche/non-ordinary reality. As pioneering anthropologist Mircea Eliade wrote in his now classic text “Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy”:

“Only the shaman can undertake a cure of this kind. For only he ‘sees’ the spirits and knows how to exorcise them; only he recognizes that the soul has fled, and is able to overtake it, in ecstasy, and return it to its body….Everything that concerns the soul and its adventure, here on earth and in the beyond, is the exclusive province of the shaman.”

soul-retrieval-leslie-macon

However! A fascinating synthesis between psychotherapy and shamanic soul retrieval has been in the works over the past several decades. A growing number of healers are shifting the agency from themselves to their patients.

Practicing psychotherapist & shamanic healer Selena Whittle attributes the modernized soul retrieval method to her mentor Ross Bishop. Upon his return from studying with teachers in India, Australia, and South America, Bishop transformed the Soul Retrieval process into a method that could be embraced by the Western mind and heart by making a simple shift in the roles of Shaman and the healing recipient.

“In this contemporary method of Soul Retrieval,” relates Whittle, “the essential elements of the process are the same.  There is a shamanic journey into the inner world where the wounded part of the self is identified, healed and brought back; however, the client does the work and is guided by the Shaman. The client takes the shamanic journey. The client identifies the part of the self that is wounded. The client builds a relationship with that part of the self, heals it, then brings it back for integration.

The Child's Bath, 1893, by Mary Cassatt, http://missrobinsartclass.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html

“The Shaman guides the client every step of the way, helping the client navigate the internal world of the psyche, guiding the client in the potent words or actions that are needed to build the relationship with the fragmented aspect of the self, to heal it and to bring it back. The shamanic journey becomes a shared experience, the Soul Retrieval a shared healing intervention.”

Ross Bishop’s “Healing the Shadow” details the process. Both Selena Whittle and Ross Bishop offer in-person and phone-based sessions.

But let me initiate you right here and now into a simple yet profound method, which you can practice in the comfort of your home.

Part II

1. Create your inner sanctum. 

Visualize anything from an ornate temple to a simple spot by a running brook. The important part is that the setting has identifiable features, which can be recreated, and that the space makes you feel empowered, centered, safe and calm. Mentally construct as many details — sights, sounds and smells — as possible. Lie back, get comfortable and spend some time really making your inner sanctuary come to life behind closed eyes. (*The bath, with some low light, candles, calming scents and salts, is an excellent place to do soul work.)

"Moontemple" by Gilbert Williams

2. Call in the missing soul part.

Decide which aspect you are going to reach out to before settling in by first looking at the problem areas in your life. For example, if you are having issues with anxiety, call in “the one who feels anxious.” If you are dealing with addiction, call in “the one who is addicted.”

If you are a visual person, the rejected aspect will likely take form in your mind’s eye.  If you are not, you may simply get a feeling or “thought package” of insight — though visualization is encouraged with this particular method.

3. Reach out, reassure, & connect.

Remember, these inner aspects are in hiding because they have been wounded, ridiculed, banished, frightened. They are like scared children — who have not developed beyond the age at which they fled — and must be reached out to accordingly. So it’s important to access & project a sense of deep compassion towards them if you’re to inspire their trust.

site credit: www. http://lightworkers.org/blog/46639/recovery-codependency-inner-child-healing

Tell them you wish to discuss their unmet needs.

These rejected aspects, which you may have deemed bad, difficult, or unacceptable, actually have legitimate needs, which — as they are not being met by you, their guardian — are being substituted with unhealthy behavior. The coping mechanism employed by the exiled aspect, however far from your ideal, is truly its best effort with the tools at hand.

As Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran said: “when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.” (“On Good and Evil.”)

Explain mentally to your exiled aspect that you are here to increase communication between their awareness and your conscious personality. Remind them you both have the same goal of wellbeing and wholeness, because ultimately, you are one being. Any sense of isolation and disconnection has been a fear-driven illusion based on pain and misunderstanding. Now you are calling home your missing parts. If they have felt unloved, give them the love they crave. You have all the power. Use it.

site credit: www.crystalitas.com/30_events_25_inner_child_guided_meditation.html 4. Test for authenticity.

These injured aspects have a long history of feeling unsafe in the presence of the too often accusatory and judgmental conscious mind. As a result, they will often cloak themselves in guarded energy, which can have a menacing impression. This is not the true aspect, but a self-protective mask.

Like any vulnerable creature attempting to seem stronger than it feels, this protective presentation may take the form of something frightening. Practitioners refer to this as “entity” presence, which denotes fear-based energy that isn’t yours but is being used by the wounded inner aspect like armor.

This same goal can be achieved by the inner aspect through opposite means, by presenting an overly “goody-two-shoes” image (“See? I’m perfectly fine. Not hurt at all.”)

site credit: http://vi.sualize.us/holidays_black_and_white_emotion_child_mask_picture_ekC2.html

So it is necessary to gently test and question the initial appearance of the invited aspect by asking if it is an entity. In your sacred space the aspect can not lie. Even if it says “No” with its mouth, it’s shape may shift or the eyes may flicker, telling a different story and betraying its true nature.

It should be noted that simply because an image is disturbing does not automatically make it false “entity” energy. It can just as easily be the symbolic representation of the feeling-state of the soul part—it may feel, and thus present as, bruised, starved, beaten-up or neglected.

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

Keep probing its authenticity gently until you feel it has lain down its defenses and actually offered its true, vulnerable self at which point reach out and initiate a compassionate dialogue. A good place to start is by asking how you can help.

If the answer is simple and true, you know it’s the soul part speaking. If the reply is too convoluted or complex, it’s an entity-energy defense, or your cerebral analysis kicking in; start over and await the answer without assumption, projecting compassion. 

5. Identify Source of Disconnection, Correct Misunderstanding

Once assured of the fragmented aspect’s authenticity, ask it to show you at what age it became separated. It may show you a particular scene or instance. Ask how this situation made the soul part feel. What was the message it received? Usually, something in the “Not good enough” category will surface. As with small children who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce or general unhappiness, the impression of unworthiness will invariably be based on a misinterpretation of events. With compassion, correct this misunderstanding. The fragmented aspect needs to hear it is worthy of love. Bring it home by embracing this exiled aspect of yourself; give it the love and acceptance it has been hereto denied.

6. Stay connected afterwards.

The goal is to continue the newly forged relationship beyond your inner journey into your everyday life, eventually forming a full integration between the formerly exiled piece and your conscious awareness. Check in with the newly rediscovered aspect throughout the days following your journey. How does he or she feel? Are you meeting the needs discussed with more awareness?

credit unknown

What makes this method different from, and often more effective than, regular “talk therapy” is the willingness to surrender conscious mind constructs to the wild and telling symbolism of the subconscious. In this way cerebral analysis is transcended and the beating heart of true experience touched.

What may read as hokey can be extremely powerful in a real-time, step by step process. After all, these are the parts of self from which we are always running, from whose pain we so often seek distraction. Giving them back their voice, and gracing their needs with our attention, can be a life-changing integration.

Ultimately, whether you regard this excercise as symbolic or literal doesn’t matter. As French poet Baudelaire said, this world is a “forest of symbols.”

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

The inner fragmentation experienced by so many in this modern time mirrors the compartmentalization tendencies of society itself.

“The natural environment is treated as if it consisted of separate parts to be exploited by different interest groups. The fragmented view is further extended to society which is split into different nations, races, religious and political groups. The belief that all these fragments — in ourselves, in our environment and in our society — are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological and cultural crisis.” ~ Fritjof Capra, (The Tao of Physics)

In a so-called civilized world, which so often dismisses the idea of soul and then complains of feeling empty, soul retrieval — reclaiming personal wholeness — is a heroic act.

site credit: www.junialeigh.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/

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.

The Pursuit of Happiness

August 3, 2011 § 40 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“You’re happiest while you’re making the greatest contribution.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy

“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”  ~ Eric Hoffer

“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.”  ~Eleanor Roosevelt

“If you want to be happy, be.”  ~Leo Tolstoy

We all want to be happy. The question is, how? As philosopher John Stuart Mill pointed out: “Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.”

Certainly, this holds truth, as anyone who has become preoccupied with the question can attest. Yet the question must be asked. After all, we are given this one life as we know it, and to spend it unhappily seems a terrible waste.

We often confuse happiness with its showier cousin: pleasure. Pleasure and fun can mimic happiness for a time, perhaps even stimulate it, but since it comes from an external source — a good meal, a good time, making love, making money — once the experience is gone, so is the feeling.

And then we are left chasing it, wanting more food, more fun, more love, more money. This can become compulsive. We become like drug addicts always looking for our next fix of circumstantially induced happiness.

But a life spent running after fleeting pleasures wears down the body and starves the soul.

In the RepublicPlato addresses this issue, distinguishing between the pleasures of the flesh and the joys of the intellect. We must choose to live well, he says, if we want to experience true happiness.

For Plato, “living well,” entails cultivating the virtues of wisdom (morality, intellect,) courage (how we face adversity, how we stand by our values,) moderation (self-control, temperance of unhealthy desires,) and justice (fighting for it and demonstrating it.) According to Plato, developing these traits will lead to a good character, which creates a balanced and happy soul.

Plato sees the soul as having three parts: the appetitive, which seeks pleasure via food, sex and drink; the spirited, which seeks victory, honor and social status; and finally, the rational, which seeks knowledge, and truth. To be happy, Plato says the rational element must rule.

The other aspects have their role, but the highest element, the rational, must discern when to pursue the lesser desires, and to what degree. For Plato, cultivating the virtues of good character will allow a soul to experience eudaimonia, or happiness, which, tellingly, translates from the ancient Greek as ‘flourishing.’

Though we typically think that achievement and success will bring us what we want –and working towards goals we care about does give us a sense of purpose — to think that lasting happiness will be granted to us once we achieve those goals is a mistake.

Statistics (and the all too common tragedy of celebrity suicide and drug overdose) show that this proves true only temporarily. Like other short-lived joys in the “external source” category, the experience giveth, and the experience taketh away.

According to Psychology Today the clamor to understand happiness and its recipe has reached a fever pitch: in 2000 just 50 books on the subject were published, while in 2008, 4000 books on the pursuit of happiness hit the shelves.

A new branch of psychology has developed over the past two decades: Positive Psychology, which aims to study the healthy thriving human, rather than making the neurotic mind its research model. The Positive Psychology approach expands upon Plato’s theory of the cultivation of virtues as the recipe for happiness:

1) Wisdom and Knowledge (creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation.)

2) Courage (bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality)

3) Humanity (love, kindness, social intelligence)

4) Justice (citizenship, fairness, leadership)

5) Temperance (forgiveness, mercy, humility, prudence, self control)

6) Transcendence (appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality.)

Positive psychologist Dr. Ben-Shahar believes our greatest obstacle in achieving happiness lies in our desire for perfection. Drawing on the idea of Plato’s Theory of Forms (wherein there exists a perfect, ideal abstract version of each flawed form within the material world,) Dr. Ben-Shahar maintains that our constant measuring of things as they are against their imagined ideal leads us to unhappiness.

The perfectionist within us all is convinced that not only is it possible to attain this ideal version of our circumstance, but often we feel entitled to it. When we do this we are doing ourselves and our circumstance a twofold disservice:

1) we are being mindless, i.e. not present in the moment, appreciating and experiencing what we truly do have; and 2) we are setting ourselves up for inevitable failure, as we are never going to be happy with what we have, comparing it to a fictitious, mental ideal.

According to Dr. Ben-Shahar, the pursuit of perfection is the downfall of our quest for happiness. In his book, The Pursuit of Perfect, he distinguishes between what he terms Perfectionists and Optimalists.

The ideals of the Perfectionist (also known in psychology as a negative perfectionist) are unrealistic, based in fantasy. Perfectionists are extremely uncomfortable with failure, and tend to turn on themselves and/or others when their expectations are not met. This rejection of failure and painful emotions in turn leads them to anxiety and more pain.

Conversely, Optimalists (also known as positive perfectionists) have attainable goals, and base their high standards in reality. They accept failure as inevitable and instructive. With this awareness, and by adjusting our attitudes accordingly, we can move from Perfectionism to Optimalism, and, theoretically, from distress to the happiness we seek.

Psychology Today writer Carlin Flora observes, “Happiness is not about smiling all of the time. It’s not about eliminating bad moods, or trading your Tolstoy-inspired nuance and ambivalence toward people and situations for cheery pronouncements devoid of critical judgment.”

Which brings up the question…what is happiness?

“The most useful definition,” details Flora, “—and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioral economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks—is more like satisfied or content than ‘happy’ in its strict bursting-with-glee sense. It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.

“It’s maximized when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace. It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort.

“It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in. It’s not joy, a temporary exhilaration, or even pleasure, that sensual rush—though a steady supply of those feelings course through those who seize each day.”

She also points out that happiness is not our reward for escaping pain, but rather demands that we confront negative feelings head on.

In The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris calls popular conceptions of happiness dangerous, as they set people up for a “struggle against reality.” Real life is full of disappointments, loss, and struggle. “If you’re going to live a rich and meaningful life,” Harris says, “you’re going to feel a full range of emotions.”

For Viktor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist, writer and Holocaust surviver, happiness is having a sense of personal meaning:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” 

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankle describes how he survived the horrors of Auschwitz by finding personal meaning in the experience. He recalls a moment, amidst the brutal, demoralizing conditions, when he suddenly conjured the mental image of his wife’s face:

“…my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness […] A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.

“The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

 

The Role of the Dreamer & The Falseness of Civilization

December 24, 2010 § 31 Comments

“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
~ Arthur O’Shaughnessy

We live in a world of dead men’s dreams. Our reality, the society that has been conditioning our perception from the day of our birth, is a construction built on a construction built on ideas from other minds, long dead. Their creations compose our world and make up the maps of our psyches, a collective human inheritance.

Today, staring at a lit red traffic signal in the shape of an arrow, waiting to get on the freeway, I was suddenly struck by my—and everyone’s—trance-like acceptance of the symbol. I noted how automatic my responses to the direction had been: I stopped calmly and waited until the light turned green; a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Except, in that moment, I felt unusually aware of the lab rat-like nature of my obedience. Stranger still, I realized I had never noticed the phenomenon before, because it had always been that way.

traffic light

Green light, go. Red light, stop. Yellow, slow. It’s as if we are on a motorized conveyor belt with an endless array of arrows telling us where to go. Apart from the occasional miscalculation, our roads, our cities, our skies, run like the inside of a well-oiled machine. Sitting there, waiting for the arrow to turn green, I imagined looking down from an airplane at the grid-work of cities, the straightness of sidewalks, the neat ribbons of car rooftops.

Stop. Go. Cogs and wheels. The machine of the city, like the inside of a clock.

Our education starts young. We are groomed for the world: sit quietly, yield to authority and accept the consensus reality. Anything that falls outside of this perimeter is systematically dismissed.

We aren’t taught to ask questions but to regurgitate articulately. We go to school and learn the rules. Then, when we’re of age, we get a job and try to play the learned rules as good as or better than our peers, to make money to survive.

In a very basic sense, this rule-playing to survive is the only option given us. The alternative is homelessness, insanity.

There are other options, of course, and many brave souls do live the unfettered life of the irrepressible spirit within these thinly populated margins. But it’s damn hard, against the grain, and the majority of people get funneled into the general conveyor belt of The System, spending all day at work in order to afford the house or apartment they leave empty five days a week to go to work.

joe jones, working class artJoe Jones

As we all know, but rarely stop to consider the wild absurdity of, part of the Education involves some very highly regarded paper notes printed by The System to represent worth. We are told that some of these notes are worth more than others. Some are worth enough to exchange for a yacht and others are worth enough for only a cup of coffee. The only difference between these two notes is the symbols on their faces.

Despite our Education, I think everyone has had the passing thought that we’ve been duped. As we all know, this Monopoly money isn’t even backed by its worth in gold anymore. Though gold has its own hollow ring—you can’t eat it and it provides no information, functioning solely as a signifier—at least it has a tangibility. But the System ran out of gold years ago, and just kept printing bills. So, after spending all day at work we are given a handful of Monopoly money for our trouble.

“Here ya go!” says The System, patting Its worker bee on the head. “Some nice, crisp, colored paper. Don’t spend it all at once! Or do…”

Once we are equipped with our colored paper symbols, we are bombarded by advertisers who seek to steal our image of ourselves as we exist without their product, and sell it back to us “upgraded” in exchange for the paper notes we have earned with our labor.

We are encouraged by media everywhere to overeat bad food and shop our cares away. It’s not personal, it’s marketing. And yet how many commercials does an average American watch in a lifetime? Billions. It would be impossible to be unaffected by such a bombardment.

MBG recently underwent some criticism for creating a commercial that literally burned the image of their logo onto the inside of movie-goers retinas. Utilizing the phenomenon that happens when you look at the sun and close your eyes, the effect left an after-image on the inside of the viewers’ eyelids for several moments after they had stopped viewing the advertisement.

But how different is this from what regular commercials are doing every day? In this world of advertisers who steal our images of ourselves, of speedy soundbites and cheap entertainment, a newer/bigger/faster culture of diversion has taken us hostage on its runaway train. Writer Nicholas Carr speculates that our constant Internet trolling is remodeling our brains, making it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing.

He wonders if modern humans’ addiction to technology is weakening our ability to engage in deep thought.


Tests show that internet perusal activates the “seeker” instinct in man left over from foraging days, so that when a quest for online information is initiated, the promise of obtaining a new nugget of social interaction or trivia sets the dopamine flowing in our brains.

But research suggest that, chemically, the payoff is less exciting than anticipated. In affect, an obsessive loop can be activated, leaving us continually pressing the lever for another crumb.

Modern entertainment culture creates a largely passive experience for the viewer or listener. While some films do generate spectacular visuals, and even, at their best, mental-emotional exploration, movie-viewing is a passive experience. The image is generated for us by other minds, and viewers become happily immersed in an alternate reality. With the rising popularity and marketing push behind 3D movies, today’s cinema experience is beginning to look more and more like a “feely” out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

“Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?” inquired the Assistant Predestinator. “I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvelous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactile effects…”

In our tick-tock world we are encouraged to function like clockwork, prescribed medication when we aren’t integrating well with society [See “The Politics of Normalcy”] and given our jollies at the “feelies.” To quote Jim Morrison:

“We have been metamorphosised from a mad body dancing on hillsides to a pair of eyes staring in the dark.”

For centuries, the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures have utilized disassociative substances to step outside the hive mind & brush with other dimensions of reality. They have taken psychotropic plants to travel through inner space, bringing back dreams & stories to stimulate the imagination of the tribe.

It’s noteworthy and suspicious that substances which might open up new ways of thinking are illegal in our culture, but consumption of the cancer-causing distraction of cigarettes and the numbing agent of alcohol is legal and actively encouraged (shades of  “1984‘s” Victory Gin.)

What is to be done then, once it becomes clear that we are living in a reality inherited by long dead others? The first thing is to step outside of the consensus spell, as much as possible. Awareness is key.

And then what, after deconstruction? Endless analysis? What really can be done? Society will not disappear. Enter The Dreamer.

1-hannover-double-exposure“Hannover,” by Aneta Ivanova

The role of the dreamer is the same as the philosopher, the artist, the social critic, the wizard or shaman, and s/he has had the same noble destiny for all of time: to stimulate the imagination of society.

During times when philosophical complacency runs high and value for the arts and the humanities runs low, it is the moral and metaphysical obligation of every Dreamer to speak their truth as best they can in whatever medium most excites them. It is the destiny of every Dreamer to bring aliveness to the mechanized time, provocation to the complacent culture.

In order to engage in the original thinking necessary to provide the world with stimulating observations, The Dreamer must effectively step outside of the mental framework of society and perceive the world from a bird’s eye view.

We must question everything we have been taught and hereto assumed. We must seek new information of worth and be on a constant mission to set the imagination on fire.

There is so much beauty available, so many notes left behind by others before us who have questioned the way we live. To combat the mechanized, plastic, consumeristic worldview infiltrating our minds everyday from the outside, we must consciously seek experiences that feed the soul.

We must give ourselves time to dream, to exist in undisturbed silence and nature, to ruminate on our lives and question reality.

As the advertisement-driven Western World slowly succeeds in covering the globe with McDonald arches and brand name blurbs, as people become more and more addicted to the instant gratification of pop technology, we are increasingly in danger of losing the impulse to dream. Without vision, without self-questioning, we lose our way.

Dreamers are in high demand these days. This is a call to arms. Can you be a professional dreamer? I, for one, am certainly going to try.

Related posts

“The Outsider As Visionary”

“The Mad Cult Of The World”

“Creative Connections & The Science Of Inner Space”

“The Art Of Madness”

 

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