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… embracing the messy soul …

I hesitated posting this, since a deep sadness resurfaced and took hold of me while pondering Soul and Spirit. What’s the point, why exist, to what end? I asked this as a child, having been shown horrendous images in the wake of the Second World War, meant as shock treatment in my German primary school during the 1950’s. A poem I wrote about this experience I still don’t feel confident to share. I turned iconoclast, explored philosophies, religions, myths, literature, searched for exceptional minds, and resisted prescribed beliefs in favour of direct experience.

In my twenties I turned to images and their symbolic power, until a numinous event in Israel reunited me with language, literature, poetry, and science. I studied too many subjects to bore you with, at my own expense, none for economic advantage. I did meet exceptional people, including mystics, yet my question, like a spell, kept birthing more questions.

Disheartened, yet fascinated by our manic mechanistic Zeitgeist, I adopted a transpersonal view, letting things unfold until decisions fell into place. With each intuitive choice, energy for action met me half way and helped me succeed with many projects. This included workshops on dreams and myth, and the wonderful Parent Link programme I helped get on the road, all about reflective listening and the language we use. Unfortunately this parent and school-supported project received no support from the Government. Still, at times I felt I was making beneficial contributions to society.  Of late, no new question has arrived to kick off a renaissance in my poetic imagination, or shed light on the collective mood of futility, which seems to confirm the scientific view that reality is determined by numbers.

Battered, but not beaten, I honour my core resolves: that everything physical is en-souled and resonates with everything else in the universe. And that consciousness, with the potential for symbolic awareness in humans, creates innumerable realities we co-create in ever new forms.

Arthur Rackman – Twilight

Soul and Spirit have become terms relegated to poetry. Some traditions hold them to be interchangeable and interdependent, akin to the Eastern concept of Yin and Yang. In this sense the feminine and masculine principles (mentioned below) reside in women and men alike, that is, their receptive and active and qualities work in each of us. Certain myths simplified and distorted this truth, which now asserts itself with fresh understandings regarding the psychological identification with gender.

“When I say the feminine, I don’t mean gender. I mean the feminine principle that is living—or suppressed—in both men and women.”  Marion Woodman

Observing the political debates around the globe, I notice a similar narrow power dictum in entrenched wars for control, which conjure up the quarrel of parents that drive children to hide in the broom cupboard.

I understand SOUL (Psyche) as pure consciousness, self-sufficient. Yet once identified with impressions of the physical world –  soul becomes the vessel. We talk of soul shining through eyes, through nature, or as immanent presence pervading matter. Consider body, mother, growth, loss, suffering, receptivity, attachment, memory, meaning, imagination, mystery, intuition, aesthetics, melancholy, yearning, endurance, constrictions, chaos, bliss … One may associate Soul with Eros, energy, the cosmos, planets, moon, beauty, stars, history, identity, myths, time, space, past, darkness, the unconscious, unpredictability, and the female principle (Anima) inviting spirit for input and direction.

SPIRIT, to me, is like a wind of light carrying seeds of information to recipient vessels, conscious or unconscious, singular or universal. Humans interpret this information, wisely or not. We talk of actions as spirited, fiery, determined, energetic, contradictory, passionate, always moving and changing. We talk of people driven by principles, for good or bad, or, frankly, being possessed. Spirit aligns with order and ideals, again, for good or bad. Add the relentless drive for perfection which aims, in some traditions, for transcendence, seeking the divine not in the messy psyche, but only in abstract spheres beyond matter. We associate Spirit with logos, will, action, speed, the sun, innovation, reason, light, the male principle (Animus,) and future visions … welcomed by the soul.

Mothers – Käthe Kollwitz

Torn between spiritual heights and visions, and the dark depth of the collective psyche, my initial therapy training with Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis impressed me with an undeniable necessity: The higher we rise the deeper we’re called to descend into the murky shadow of ourselves and our collective inheritance. Gripped then, once again, by the deep sadness I felt as a child in the face of human suffering, I cried for days. The work began, with my own unconscious, with individuals and groups. But nearly 35 years on, I feel yet again despair that the knowledge gained about the psyche is not wider applied. The abuse of people, especially women and children, and the planet itself, continues in the name of the power principle and progress, as does the resistance to acknowledge and heal personal and collective grief. It’s so much more convenient to blame an enemy.

I had the privilege to meet a remarkable Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, and the community of his students during the mid 1970’s. As the grandson of the saintly Hazrat Inayat Khan, Fazal developed his grandfather’s message in passionate, spontaneous and radical modern ways. One of his sayings: ‘Answers are dead, questions are alive,’ gave perspective to my existential query. For him, fragile egos behind the mask of their persona needed strengthening before the Self could become conscious. He orchestrated intense workshops during which the shadow aspects of our personalities were exposed. Each event was followed by a tender and humorous process of debriefing. He taught me to forgive myself, to be kind to myself. He died much too young in 1990. The copyright to hundreds of Fazal’s pioneering talks is held by the present Sufi Way, so his deep mystical insights must wait for another day. While I was co-editing Heart of a Sufi, reminiscences gathered from his students, we were limited to a few quotes and one inspired poem, Qalandar, which I hope to share some time.

Explanations aim to reassure, but knowing the limits of reason, I search for metaphors, symbols, poetry in words and images to make my fleeting insights graspable, as lonely as they stand, and as totally irrelevant as they may be to others. Still, it’s a lovely surprise when readers explore the archives here, or read my quest novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ which defies genres.

Turbulent times call for intuitive introspection, though sifting through the avalanche of information available is probably the great task we must master in this present decade. When lame slogans and bitter opinions are shouted with animosity across the media, our conscience is severely tested.

What we call good and bad coexists in the psyche. If you’ve read Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea Saga, you may recall the poignant moment when the protagonist realises that he and his shadow opponent share a secret name. For that instant their identities merge as one.

Among great thinkers of recent decades who influenced my thoughts, I often return to Stanislav Grof, Gregory Bateson, C. G. Jung, and the people who honoured and expanded Jung’s brilliant insights, among them Esther Harding, Marie-Louise v. Franz, Marion Woodman, James Hillman, Anthony Stevens and many others who further explored the Psyche in relation to the inner work of individuation, that is – learning to hold the tension of opposites towards realising the balance of a universal underlying wholeness. Archetypal forces inspire, overpower, or dull us to sleepwalk into tragedies. We, with our humble egos can take on our small responsibility; each individual serves as a bridge, and an interface.

‘Matrignosis’ is a rich site by Jean Raffa, who explores Jung’s ideas with helpful guidance.

Related: Cartography of the Psyche, with a link to Stanislav Grof’s talk on the psychology of the future.

And my cheeky post about the ego – give the poor ego a break.

To conclude, a rare excerpt of thoughts on metaphysics from Hazrat Inayat Khan, shared with his students between 1915- 1920:

Maya Deren – Meshes of the Afternoon

The Experience of the Soul through the Spirit …

The soul has two different sides and two different experiences. One side is the experience with the mind and the body, the other side is the experience of the spirit. The former is called the outer experience, the latter the inner experience. The nature of the soul is like glass, transparent, and when one side of the glass is covered it becomes a mirror. So the soul becomes a mirror in which the outer experiences are reflected when the other side is covered. That is why, however greatly blessed a person may be with the outer knowledge, he is not necessarily gifted with the inner knowledge. Therefore, in order to attain to the inner knowledge the Sufi covers the other side of the soul, that its mirror part may face the spirit instead of the outer world. As soon as is able to accomplish this he receives inspirations and revelations.

There are people who are by nature intuitive, or who are called psychic or clairvoyant by nature. It is accounted for by the other side of their soul naturally facing the spirit within. One may call them extraordinary, or exceptional, but not mystical, for the mystic does not desire that position. He, by concentration and meditation, gains such mastery that he can cover the soul from without to take the reflection within, and that he can cover the soul from within when he requires the reflection from the outer world to its full extent. Balance is desirable, and mastery is the goal to be attained.

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… body electric …

Tolima Pectoral 1000AD

In my last post, Teddy mentioned my fascination with AI. This interest became obsessive while doing a sabbatical film degree that ended in 1997 – my lucky chance to catch up on cultural history and post-modern theories. I plan to re-type my dissertation, which includes pages of tedious notes and a bibliography. But presently, like so many papers I wrote at the time, the master piece rests in an old Mac disc in a format I can’t translate to Word.

Artificial intelligence is unstoppable. I’m curious as to your take on the subject, so I’m sharing a few quotes from my exploration of human identity in the digital age.

I pinched the title for my dissertation ‘Body Electric,’ from Walt Whitman’s poem ‘I sing the body electric.’  He celebrates the body – of man, of woman, of child, bodies of flesh, sinew and blood. Do follow the above link, the invigorating poem stands in ironic juxtaposition to the theme of AI. Could a mechanical electric body ever convey the curious, breathing, laughing flesh that Whitman hearts because it pleases the soul? How would its divine nimbus compare to a form governed by mechanical algorithms? For Whitman the human body is sacred. Its magnetism comes through eyes, from the soul, a term shelved by neuroscience. Call it what you will, soul or consciousness; its light will forever seek vessels and new direction.

Fronting ‘Body Electric’ is my translation of R M Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus X, which, even at his time, bemoans machines that ignore the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand. Here only one a few lines:

Yet our being remains spun in mysteries of birthing

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers

To behold only with eyes closed and in adoration.

The text develops as an intuitive assembly and starts with a quote by Michael Foucault:

‘Man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge; he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form.’

For the artist Maya Deren (1917-1951,) who created some highly influential films in her short life, scientific findings were but the raw materials of creative action: ‘The first step of creative action is the violation of the natural integrity of an original context.’ She saw the function of art and its validation in the creation of mythical realities. Her symbolic images of personal significance also chime universally.

Here is a link to her film ‘At Land.’

In dreams, time vanishes. This applies equally when dream worlds are shared, with the additional ecstasy of an interactive virtual reality:

‘… we would enter the world of fluids … Over with the solid, over with the continuous and the calm; some dance quality would invade everything and Cartesian philosophers would go through a trance, floating on history like chops on gravy.’ – Henry Michaux

But what about the vanishing space? In the public realm of instant ‘in’form’ation’ nothing keeps its form long enough to take root. Spaces to hide or resist the other fade as human nature is flood-lit. Jean Baudrillard foresaw a silence of the masses as ironic and antagonistic coping mechanism:

‘… hyper conformist simulation of the very mechanism of the system, which is another form of refusal by over acceptance …’  Jean Baudrillard

Simulated reality blinds with the Gestalt of our collective mind, where every viewpoint exists at the same time. It lacks context and shadow definition, over-exposes our field of consciousness. For Baudrillard, the schizophrenic subject can no longer produce the limits of its own being, or produce itself as a mirror. It becomes a screen, a switching center for all networks of influence. The electric sphere of the internet simulates our nervous system and turns it inside out. There remains the reality of our psychological experiences, where shadows have to be reckoned with.

Donna Haraway, a biologist and professor of the History of Consciousness, sees pleasure in the confusion of boundaries. She once said, ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.’ This intrigues. The inspiring, if manic torrent of concepts pouring into Haraway’s lectures requires extreme co-presence from her students. I resonate with her thought that contradiction is the criterion of the real, which is a theme in my planned third book (following Course of Mirrors and Shapers.) I like it that Haraway’s favourite story teller is Ursula Le Guin 🙂

CYBORG – a human, enhanced with integral technology. Visit this link for a taster – a TED talk by Kevin Warwick, a Professor of Cybernetics.

When it becomes possible to clone super humans one has to ask, why the need for babies, why the need for women, and what’s the point of males. Can myth be banished, and what if the human being – that pack of neurons – is squeezed into microchips like genies into bottles, how will future societies hang together?

An emerging idea proposes that to maintain homeostasis requires a new religion, DATAISM. Check this link to an extract from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari on WIRED … 

Would shadow entities of the collective psyche slip through data and act out hidden agendas? Kevin Kelly wrote: ‘… as we unleash living forces into our created machines, we lose control of them. They acquire wildness and some the surprises that the wild entails. This then is the dilemma all gods must accept: That they can no longer be completely sovereign over their finest creations.’

Besides the above quotes, my dissertation includes thoughts from Marshall McLuhan, Paul Virilio, Roger Callois, Walter Benjamin, Gregory Bateson, Don Cupitt, Francis Crick, D Dennett, Goethe, Anthony Stevens, John Searle, David Chalmers, Horst Hendriks-Jansen, Sherry Turkle, Danah Zohar and many more – all of them google worthy.

As a golden thread through my dissertation I use scenes from the film Bladerunner, where replicants are indistinguishable from humans and develop emotional responses. If we give them a past, Tyrell says, we create a cushion for their emotions and can control them. A fail-safe device makes sure of that. Familiar? It turns out that ‘mother’ the equivalent of history, is a trigger word for lack. One replicant blasts his tester to smithereens and seeks revenge on his maker. The film leaves one with the uncomfortable sense that we are all replicants, with memories implanted by history. There is no escape from the burden of existential insecurity.

Theodor Kittelsen 1857 – 1914

Relationships and the context of place are vital to experience a sense of identity, like an energy field that grows in relation to the reality we create for ourselves. In other words, we are artists of our continuous self-invention, and we must choose our horizons.

Reverend Don Cupitt wrote the self is an animal with cultural inscriptions on the surface. Not that he is wrong, but when he assumes the soul has died, he must refer to his personal version of soul and its loss of meaning.

The Soul, the light of the universe, eternal life and consciousness, is essentially independent of matter and mind. Once embodied, we tend to forget the light’s source and feel trapped and homesick. Whether there is a purpose to the cyclic embodiment of consciousness may be a useless question, since purpose can only emerge through living and through the myths we create. Bless our imagination. Presently AI is the most generously funded myth, forging ahead, regardless of the dire state of humanity and our planet as a whole.

Birth and death remain the ultimate spinners of life. In the parlance of the mystic, the moment of exaltation is in the immanent glimpse of the curl of the beloved. Can the beloved be the beloved if she is fully known? And what do we know of the various dimensions where she resides?

Don’t miss this worthwhile article by John Gray in the New Statesman (Oct 2016) on the upgrade from Homo sapiens into Homo deus. The page may take a while to load.

All links open a new page. They are part of post and totally worthwhile.

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… musings of a neglected teddy bear …

She brought me down from the attic this morning and gave me a good bashing and brushing at the back door, where the wind scattered my accumulated dust. She had no idea why she suddenly wanted me, the transitional object, around. But I know.

I make her smile – something to do with face muscles relaxing. And she needs a perk. Glued to the news, she’s expecting a revelation of meaning from the madness around the globe. She tells herself to ignore the surreal headlines that flit across her laptop screen, to no avail. As if that was not enough, her intense curiosity in AI and its implications on society, can take up her mornings. It may be because a new, man-made race is the theme of ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors.’

And I used to think teddy bears were the pinnacle of man-made intelligence.

Though she can’t remember, she valued me time ago, to be held by her therapy clients in need of hugging. How cool is that? Then, one day, I was unceremoniously replaced by a trickster rag-doll, apparently more successful in bringing up suppressed psychic material – alarmingly uncool.

For now I’m redeemed. Everyone knows that teddies are brilliant listeners. I nod and never talk back, avoiding all misunderstandings.

Her son used to benefit from an associate of mine. Such shame he was a rare antique, and had to be sold.

Not that my presence fools her. She may be a good listener to her clients, but not to her own heart in these bewildering times, which is why she brought me down from the attic. I listen and open spaces for self-reflection. Just think of the waste of all the other teddies dusting away in attics.

She learned that to really understand how another person feels, their experience has to be felt in her own heart. There is nothing to be done. She’s a crushed angel and needs to feel her own bewilderment deeply to be of use to anyone.

That said – I’m happy to be here, in this warm space of reflection.

She says hello to all crushed angels. There must be many of you out there, given the consistent visits to a post of this poem by Hafiz from May 2015.

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… the mystery of thoughts …

Every child is truly switched on to the imagination. But frequently the environment belittles the imagination, and the gift can end up suppressed under the blanket of rationality. People with a strong creative drive may settle down to live in a straitjacket, and then find themselves overwhelmed by images, thoughts and associations, especially around full moon.

As a child I was intensely curious about the spaces between things, and about light. Had I not locked horns with an opinionated physics teacher I might have taken up the challenge to study sciences. Another fascination of mine was pattern repetition – how the veins in a leaf resemble the shape of a tree. And scale – how tiny bodies, big bodies, our planet, galaxies, the universe, are all reflected in each other.

 Hindukailash, image from wikipedia.

Hindukailash, image from wikipedia.

Like Indra’s net of pearls in Vedic mythology, where the surface of each pearl mirrors all other pearls, a metaphor for the interconnected networks of mutual relationships between parts and systems. Mount Kailash is depicted here as the timeless and motionless centre of this net, housing Shiva’s family.

Not only visible structures are held together by interactive nets, our social systems, political systems, spiritual systems and the internet operate within a network. We can observe that the invisible psyche (mind) functions not only through logic, but also through aesthetics, independent of space/time, and is held by another kind of coherence – a net of meaning. And what is generated from this net of meaning is a finer kind of energy, not evidenced by present scientific methods – namely intelligence.

We knew it all along – research established that our emotional experiences leave an imprint in the cells of our body, that the brain is more than the squishy mass under our skull but a medium spread throughout the body via a network of neurotransmitters. There have been hair-splitting arguments for and against the idea that the recipient of an organ can experience personality traits of the donor, based on the speculation that each cell carries a hologram of the whole body and its memory.

Feelings and thoughts arising in my consciousness are filtered through my body’s memory. They also depend on my state of anxiety or calm, my interest, attitude and other variables, such as the weather, my relationship with the elements, with people, the collective mood, solar flares, or the constellation of planets. On some days, maybe after a meaningful dream, or a spell of mantras, thoughts are forming clearly on the breath, like reflections in a still pond, on other days, thoughts rush in on water rapids threatening to drown me, or they plod in like turtles, slow and guarded.

Objective reality is not the only game there is – what in the universe has not interacted at some point in time, irrespective of distance? Everything is linked up. Einstein called it the ‘spooky action.’

The motherboard for this wonderful instrument we call the brain, which comprises our whole body, is formed in the womb. I believe the intelligence involved in creating any specific body must lay in more than known DNA codes, must include the indeterminable non-local DNA of a spirit world. Our body foremost operates like a receiver and transmitter for as many wavelengths our radio station in time attracts or is able to tune into.

From this station, stabilized by repetition, I sort clusters of sensations and feelings, and process thoughts and ideas attracted to me from the collective psyche, a vast sea, which the individual mind must learn to navigate. Images and signifiers are coloured by whatever I consciously or unconsciously mirror and relate to.

No matter how much information we absorb, through our senses, through language and concepts, through comparing patterns, reasoning and calculation, everything, comprehended or not, will be filtered through the body’s motherboard that keeps adjusting to experiences and expanding fields of perception, fields that extend way beyond personal memory. All this information is continuously re-shuffled, as is the meaning we assign to it.

Our body is a motherboard – planet earth is a motherboard – the whole cosmos is a motherboard for a spirit we cannot comprehend, an invisible hand that touches us like a breeze, made visible through what it animates.

All we know is that images, thoughts and ideas are reflected in us. They travel via synapses in the neurons of our body, they travel on the air between minds, they travel among stars, they echo from under the sea, waving to us as plankton, they speak to us from every creature, from every blade of grass, from every stone, and they beep from within our bodies through tweaks of pleasure or pain. All matter, all people and objects we interact with store the memory of that interaction, including interactions with things we hate or nurture, and with places we live in.

We don’t invent anything, we re-discover, re-connect and re-create from the vast storehouse of knowledge and information provided to us by nature, and by the spirit between matter that makes up the cosmos, an embodied being that is becoming conscious of itself.

We are on the air, sent, programmed, radioed and broadcast, identified with all manner of things, ideas and beliefs. Yet if we look deep inside our emptiness, we know, the non-material aspects of us can potentially detach and be free, maybe enjoy tea with Shiva’s family and witness the world turn on its axis – a state some people experience spontaneously or through meditation. A state of pure consciousness not identified with this or that. In the meantime, we could at least be kind to ourselves …

‘Thoughts are beings that generate … One thought of kindness gathers a thousand beings of love and kindness around one.’            Hazrat Inayat Khan

I don’t know if a singular mind/psyche, the incredible art of a lifetime, survives the physical death of the body. Maybe a coherent individuated mind leaves a dent, an influence within the collective psyche. Like the organ of the heart, over time, achieved its definite function. But does it matter? Nothing is lost. All information is continuously re-shuffled into new forms and constellations.

Digital storage provides a metaphor – information exists and roams freely in the wind of the collective psyche (unconscious) until it is embodied and gathered towards a purpose. Every event has a consequence. Nature is exacting, but also generous, what has been repressed in the flow of evolution will always return in one form or another.

Everything alive speaks to us, and all such relationships are processed in the stories we share, stories being containers of the richest kind of information. 

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You can source other posts on the theme of reflection in the tag cloud on the right of this page. Like this sequenc of posts: https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/tag/hazrat-inayat-khan/

And you might want to check out posts under the tag ‘psychology,’ especially the one on ‘awareness,’ where I share R. Assagioli’s 10 psychological laws – how the body affects the mind and the mind affects the body. https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/tag/psychology/

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This post also appeared at  Third Sunday Blog Carnival: September 2013 | Third Sunday Blog Carnival

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