The sound of my own voice resonates inside my consciousness in a way that helps me to determine that I am alive. It is not as if i really need proof of this fact, but the condition of my humanity and the experience of where and how I live my life within the context of the larger or the greater universe have always given me a a sense that though I know that I am here, I can not help but to wonder if there is also a there.
As I move internally towards the voices that i hear inside my head, and they do differentiate from the sounds that i hear outside of me–the cars, the alarms, the noisy hum of the refrigerator, even the slight annoying hum of a light bulb all remind me that there is a world that exist outside of the inside of my consciousness.
But, it is the internal voices that really give me the direction that i need to search for the other place that is the not me. The existence of a spiritual life above and beyond my soul or myself is only slightly visible from the perspective of myself. It is there enough so that generations of ancestors have searched among the primordial oozes looking for proof that an existence beyond my human existence lives someplace and that I probably exist within that larger context that is beyond my own consciousness.
As I wander though the internal world that I call my life, I am aware of a deep connection to things that make up my world. I am aware of the blue sky and the milky while sky and the turbulent dark grey sky of a stormy day. I am aware that my consciousness only stretches out so far before i can not longer see the horizon. I am aware that life has a deeper and a more substantial meaning, but it escapes me when I try to touch this more meaningful meaning to life.
I grow to understand that my egoic self is a small corner of the wider consciousness that it lives within; but I also become aware that even my wider consciousness exist in an even wider consciousness; and that there may be universes within the ever expanding universe that I have come to know through the art of science. Here I am willing to acknowledge that there is a power greater than me and suddenly I begin to wonder if there is power greater than the power that is greater than me. How many magnifications of consciousness are out there beyond my grasp.
I love the story about the mouse and mathematics. Noam Chomsky tells it in one of his many books. To the ordinary house mouse the idea that mathematics exist is so far beyond its capacity to comprehend that we immediately get that there is no way to train or teach a mouse that mathematics exist. Yet I know that even though the mouse does not get it, in my world which is essentially the same universe that the mouse lives in, mathematics does, indeed, exist. So what stops me from thinking that there may be concepts out there that exist in my universe that are beyond my ability to comprehend in the same way that the mouse can never get mathematics, might there be a consciousness that is out there in my world that is beyond my ability to comprehend.
We have been involved with the study of human consciousness long enough to understand that we once believed that the sun revolved around the earth and that it was flat and not round; and there was a period in time before Caravaggio when light could not be painted onto a canvas. There was a time not so long ago that people could be slaughtered and tortured for believing in anything less that a literal interpretation of the Bible. There was a period in time, not so many years ago when 99% of the people had no capacity for reading language and perhaps only some 10,000 years ago when language was even invented as a way to communicate from one human to another.
When we look back at the passage of time, we are but a speck in the cosmology of existence. The entire human race is merely a speck in the evolution of the planet’s multi-billion year history. The idea of time itself is nothing more than a relatively recent commodity. So, when we begin to be interested in our own history, I mean in the history of our individual being, we are tampering with such a speck of matter and time that our insignificance is daunting. This does not mean however, that we ought not be interested in what our internal world has to tell us. For all we know our internal history may have a longitudinal quality to it that rivals the longitudinal history of the universe outside of ourselves.
As we look internally for answers to questions that have plagued man forever, we begin to get a glimpse of the fact that we really do not know all that we know. There are very few facts that stand up to the eventual test of science. The sleep of the world is being perpetually awakened by mysterious stirrings within our consciousness that prompt us to investigate facts that turn into legend or myth when they are placed under the microscope. The microscope and the telescope each have there limitations, neither go far enough or come close enough to satisfy once and for all any of our mysteries. We simply do not have the width and breadth of consciousness necessary to even ask the right questions. Therefore, like the mouse and mathematics we can not begin to understand the mysteries that are so far beyond the capacity of any scope that we have to remain tethered to the few threads that we have that imply we know very little about the universes inside or outside of us.
Christian monasteries and Muslim and Jewish temples and Buddhist teachings all come to a very ineffective conclusion about what we need to know in order to live out our speck of time and history. There is a wish among we humans that something will become an answer, but each answer only opens new doors to be examined and leads us each time to more and more spaciousness both inside our minds and outside of the walls of human consciousness.
Given the vastness of eternity and the speck that we are within that vast eternity what can we realistically expect from life? Are there ways to position our thoughts so that we can be somewhat more accurate about scoping out the extremities of both the internal and the external worlds that we have come to understand thus far in the evolution of the human condition?
I like to think that there are ways of living life that are more useful than others. I am not talking about being of use to the planet like a scientist might be when discovering that certain carbon emissions are ruining the ozone layer, or even useful in such a way as to construct a philosophy or a religion that assists us in not murdering each other as we aim for the last few drops of water or oil that we are squeezing from the shale beneath the surface of the earth. These of course have there place and their usefulness, but neither science nor art will give us the answer that most of us are looking for.
So, what are we looking for? Sometimes i think that we are always only looking for God. Perhaps this notion of God is the furthest most point in our consciousness that includes the extremities of what we know about and also include the reach just beyond these extremities to that next thing which we do not even know exist yet. The idea of God may well be the most exciting creation that man has discovered to date. God may well be the mathematics to the mouse. All the mysteries, all that we do not understand, including all that we do not even know we do not know–the convenient Word for all of this
may well be the word–God.
In the beginning there was the word. I think that that is where it started. And to the current limited resources that we have, it well may be the very extent to which we can go. Are we really only just searching for the unknown, the ever expanding unknown. Do we always place ourselves at the furthest most point of our individual existence and look out or in from that perspective and wonder. Wonderment is a delightful experience. When we see it in a child or a puppy or any young creature, we watch with amazement as it learns in front of us to solve the problem of walking or standing or talking. We see an eagerness that includes a kind of vitality that we love to watch. Creation of any kind brings about a joy in life that allows us to stand as tall as we are able to and to say to the universe, “look at me, see spot run, see spot go!”
The very elementary aspects of learning are the vital signs of life searching for life. The enthusiasm with which we see spot run is the same enthusiasm that created the wheel as well as the atomic bomb. As we mix the elements of life together, i believe that coming to terms with the authentic self, the wandering, floundering self is the greatest meaning that we can give to life. Be it spent in a monastery or a prison, the search for who am I is the same search as who is god. The scoping out of who I am bring me closer to the mysteries, the all that is unknown, the great void that exists just outside the reach of my consciousness. And that is all that is ever really expected of a human life. As Henry James put it, “the rest is the madness of Art.”
The awakening is never encouraged by simplicity, or by serenity. The awakening is the result of a fall. The awakening comes about on the heals of genuine sadness, awful pain, terrible news or some natural calamity that occurs just because that is the nature on life on earth. The patients who I work with never come in to see me because they have a great life and want to make it better, they come in to see me at the time of a desperate consequence, a death, a suicide, a murder, or an illness of a child or the end of a love affair, the end of a relationship. People seem to do very well when they are doing well. They are capable of marching to the same marching orders that they received years ago as long as nothing interrupts the tempo that they have grown accustomed to.
It is an encounter with darkness that either brings about an awakening or further casts that person into a deep well of depression. Depression is the result of an encounter with life that has grown sour. Depression occurs when a terrible thing has happened and the person find himself unable to cope with the terrible thing. Depression is never caused by the terrible thing, it is caused by not coping with the terrible thing. There are countless books and countless television shows that delineate the process of depression. What i am interested in, in this this essay, is not the fall from which a person does not get up, but the fall that produces within the person an awakening to the internal life that might have been previously ignored because thing were just going too well.
When I was first starting my analysis, i remember telling my analyst that I had a good childhood. I was brought up in a poor family but it it was a family that had good values and deep pockets when it came to compassion. I always had what I needed and many of the things that i simply wanted, like a shiny new English bike with skinny tires and three speeds and a leather seat. My analyst responded with something that i thought at the time was very strange, he said, ”I feel sorry for you. It will be more difficult for you to undergo this analysis because you will resist knowing your darker nature.”
It turns out he was right. My love affair with my good grandmother and my hard working parents made it nearly impossible to understand suffering. As the years went on and my losses, my inevitable losses, began to accumulate, I found I had little coping skills for even the slightest inconveniences in life. Still today I rage at the dying of the light. I still want the life that I had when my child like naivety protected me from all that was bad and evil in the world.
I sprang forth into adult hood with a vengeance and an arrogance that had me believing in my rage as a sword of justice. I took it upon myself to discover the slightest injustices and went after those wrongs in people as if I was spider man himself with the joker in his sights. My introduction to loss and life was met with a crusader like passion. I believed in my righteousness and my righteousness gave way to a grandiosity and an arrogance that nearly cost me my life and in the process broke the spirits of people near me that I loved.
My awakening was not easy on me, but it was cruel on others around me. I fought my awakening with christian like vengeance. It was only the extreme sorrow of seeing the pain on the faces of people that I loved that eventually helped me to crawl up from the depth of the pit that had swallowed up my soul.
As we wander through this life amid a series of good fortunes and horrible luck we are struck by the passion that a fall has on our consciousness. So mush stronger is the influence of pain on our motivation than the influence of pleasure. As we careen though life sometimes hurting sometimes loving, the real sense of who we are comes more into focus as we discover that we have an inner eye that has the capacity to watch the machinations of the ego. When it finally occurs to us that not only are we capable of doing something, but we are capable of watching ourselves do something, and are capable at that same time to cast a judgement on that action; only then do we begin to understand the deeper influences of the instincts, those ancestral callings from the wilds of our inner workings. It may be a collective consciousness or it may be a collection of historic facts and events that accumulate to an awakening of sorts; but what ever it is, it is the most powerful experience we can have. Pain so great that we think we can not bear it–that is the ancient call of the wild that finally beckons us to resolve our conflict.
Much has been written about the usefulness of the persona, the egoic self; and of course, we can not grow up without an ego guiding us and collecting information that we need to have to defend ourselves in a world that can be hostile to our lives. But in the same way that we eventually grow up to distance ourselves from our parents, and we begin to have thoughts of our own about how we want to proceed in life, we also need to begin the final phase of individuation by distancing ourselves from our own egoic personas. The move away from taking commands from the ego and following the rules and the regulations adopted by the growing ego, is the final stage in awakening to the wider consciousness that has us connecting with the more cosmic elements of being alive and being human. This is the only way to the divine. That we can have an individual relationship with the cosmic greatness and that we do not need an intermediary to guide us is a true religion. The spiritual well-being of our souls can not be discovered by tweaking the ego further. Our soul is simply not our self.
A question that arises as we talk about this egoic drive and the default position of the ego has to do with the “how” of this mechanism. How do we move our ego aside sufficiently so that we are not eclipsing the deeper and the wider instincts of our consciousness? How do we take something as intangible as our own ego and move it aside? First we need to acknowledge that the concept of the ego is a bit like the concept of time. We have invented it as a way to segment something that is otherwise too amorphous to comprehend (something the mouse has not yet learned). Time only exist as a convenient way for us to allocate our attention in a orderly way. In actuality time is a purely abstract condition that works for the purpose it was designed, but is not in fact a reality of the physical world. The ego works in a similar manner. When Freud assigned the word “ego” to the concepts that he was working with, he did so in order to segment different aspects of the psychic apparatus so that we could talk about the processes that interplay in a dynamic fashion inside of our heads. In fact there is no more reality to the ego than there is to time.
Given this fact it feels somewhat strange to begin talking about moving it around when it fact there is no “it” to move. Yet, however insufficient the arbitrary concept is, it does allow us to assign words to certain functions that we subjectively know are taking place within our consciousness. It is clear to all humans that words are being used internally to communicate with ourselves as surely as words are being used to communicate with another person or another organism. The word order, the rules that are constructed entirely out of words exist inside of our minds and give us commands and remind us of things and circulate internally in such a way that we can be creative and come up with brand new sets of words — constructructions into phrases that have probably never been used before. If I say that colorless green ideas sleep furiously, you know that I am speaking a phrase that is grammatically correct, but the words create an entirely non-sensecical sequence. Then mean nothing. But inside my head if I say the words, “shut-up, don’t say anything, you are only going to get yourself in trouble if you say that out loud,” you instantly understand under what conditions those words might be spoken to ones self.
So, who is speaking to whom?
I have the linguistic capacity to speak words to myself. I can convince myself to do something or to not do something. I can do this because I have the internal capacity to speak to myself in much the same way that I might try to speak to another person. But, when we stop to think of this process we are left with a quizzical inquiry. Who is speaking to whom and what is the purpose of language when It is contained narcissistically within the confines of our own head? In the practice of psychoanalysis it is a common theme to assume that all conflict originates from a conflict within. When we begin to look at the ambivalent ways in which we can be of two minds about something we are closer to understanding that we possess a very active divided mind and we might even be able to make use of some of the early Freudian concepts like the ego and the id. We can assign one side of the conflict (say something) to the ego and we can assign the other side of the conflict (don’t say anything) to the id. We are essentially making use of the duality of our opinion and internally tossing around the pros and cons of what position we will take.
The importance here of recognizing this duality lies in the fact that the duality represents two arenas of the brain that have two distinct modes of operation and two distinct purposes. The relatively newer part of the brain, the ego, has been commissioned to defend and protect the persona. In other words the defenses of the ego are there to protect the integrity of the ego. The id or the more instinctual self is an older part of the brain and it is commissioned to operate essentially out of the drives basic to survival of not only the individual but the specie as well. So the ego has a place in society as an arbiter of good will, but the instinct has the nose for sniffing out potential danger much greater to the organism that simply maintaining social accord.
Our inner workings establish themselves in compartmentalized or segmented fashions. We can not really claim that one of these operations is better or more needed that the other, the lungs are more or less important than the heart. Both organs have there duties in the autonomic functions of the organism. Having said this, I want to aim our discussion in a specific direction. I want to talk about the ego as not only indispensable, but as a condition of being human that has so taken over the sense of self that it is frequently no longer possible for people to be able to talk about their souls. I can go a step further and add that if we like to we can begin to use the word heart and the word soul interchangeably. I think it is more than a simple metaphor when we say to someone, “I know this in my heart.” When we refer to something being heartfelt or when we cry that our heart aches we are speaking of an element of us that is not the same as the persona of the ego.
Individuation from the ego does not lead us to a simple void. Individuation from the ego brings us closer to soulful and heartfelt conditions that are not assessable by the ego alone. This spiritual condition has never really been the purview of psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, but what if it were? What if the end of an analysis were to bring about an end to the reign of the ego and usher in a new marshall. There may never be an end to the ego, but it might lose its weighty influence on us when we start to understand the awakenings that heartfelt sympathy can have. Sorrows and regrets are as much a part of life as joys and concerns. When I hear someone say they have no regret, I think to myself this person has not yet awakened to the full impact of his or her soul. Regrets and sorrows reign sovereign in the person who has awakened to the wider consciousness that the ego sit in.
Joys and sorrows are soul felt, heart felt aspects of us. They are more than an emotion running through as a response to an event. Joys and sorrows are a cornerstone to the human condition. Something or someone can make me happy or even make me ill, but only my direct contact with my soul, my heart, can make me feel a deep joy or a deep sorrow. The ego in its marshaling commanding way of defending against the world does not permit intensity. Intensity in the ego is manic or depressed. Intensity of the soul is a fullness that can only be experienced from within the deeper structures of our being. The conflict that arises within, and all conflict is really within, comes from the persona arguing with the heart. Conflict occurs when we react rather than recall.
I have grown to love and honor my regrets as the word of God. My regrets are absorbed from a place that gives guidance. Guidance like we receive from a friend, from a therapist, a priest or a minister is often guided by the deeper principle that have created a joy or a sorrow. We would like to turn away from these massive opportunities, but when we do we are left with insufficient answers. We are left feeling shallow, or un finished when we have not delved into the abyss that feels like a void to search in the darkness for that ember of light that only glows from within. That glow of light is God, it is my soul, my heartfelt compassion for not only others but for myself. When we find that location we know that we have arrived at a truth, at a revelation that comes from an accumulated consciousness that is greater than the knowledge we possess by the simple workings of the mind. We push at the very envelope of time, we are at the most extreme end of our consciousness when we allow for these deeper instinct to emerge from the primordial ooze. This is the journey that gives light to the darkness within.