Recovering Lost Wholeness

TheLotusEater

By being unreflectively purposeful all the time we lose the ‘essence’ of who we are – which is to say, we identify more and more with the quantitative thinking mind and as a result lose touch with the qualitative nature of our true nature. The more of our lives we spend in purposeful mode the more essence we lose until we have identified completely with what Colin Wilson calls ‘the robot’ and ‘who we really are has become a total stranger. And it is not just that who we really are has become a stranger, it has become an unwelcome stranger, a rejected stranger…

 

Purposefulness is a dangerous dish to nibble on, therefore! It is a dish with a drug in it that can send us to sleep very quickly, a drug of forgetfulness. It tastes very good – addictively good in fact – but the price we pay for it is our ‘inner freedom’ and our inner freedom (to not be who or what our thinking says we are) is who we really are. The more we nibble away on the dish of purposefulness the less essence we have, the less inner freedom we have, the less Wholeness we have. Very quickly we’ve been compromised; before we know it (literally) we have none left at all…

 

When we’ve lost our inner freedom (our inner connectedness with who we really are) in this way then the only thing that’s left for us to do is to keep on snacking on the dish of purposefulness. The only thing that is left for us is to keep on drinking the wine of forgetfulness, so that we keep on forgetting who we really are. We keep on with our ‘unreflective purposeful behaviour’ in the unexamined hope of recovering our lost Wholeness, which is the Totality of who we truly are. This Wholeness is what we are really looking for with our ceaseless purposefulness; we’re caught in a trap therefore – we’re using the ‘purposeful mode’ to help us find what that same purposeful mode caused us to lose (or ‘forget’) in the first place!

 

We are of course going to deny this. We’re going to say that our purposes are legit – we’re going to say that our goals, our purposes are valuable and worthwhile in themselves, not because of what they ‘unconsciously represent’ to us. We’re going to say that there’s no game going on! We’re going to say that the reason we’re so busy all the time is because we’re doing important stuff, stuff that needs to be done. The truth is of course that what we’re really trying to do is to recover our lost Wholeness – that’s what we trying to do but we don’t know it. We’re trying to get back what we lost but don’t know we have lost! We’re scratching an itch we don’t acknowledge ourselves as having – the itch to be Whole when we’re not! In some kind of an unexamined way we imagine that our Wholeness can be found in our purposes, in our goals and this is why – in the Western world at least – we’re so frenetically busy all the time. If we’re not busy working we’re busy entertaining ourselves and we’re doing the same thing with our entertainment that we’re doing with our more serious, goal-orientated activity.

 

When we go into a city we see great activity all around us. There’s an awful lot of busy-ness going on. The world will tell us that this busy-ness in all about ‘the economy’, or ‘commerce’ or ‘industry’, or ‘progress’, and so on, but really it’s about us trying (in a perfectly futile way) to get our lost Wholeness back. If I get myself a new pair of top-of-the range Nike trainers I think this is me just trying to make sure I have the right gear, but really it’s me trying to get my Wholeness back. If I check into a nail bar to get my nails done I might think I’m treating myself, or making sure that I look the best I can, but again it’s my lost Wholeness that I’m after. I’m always after my lost Wholeness! If I get lots of ‘likes’ for the post I put up on Facebook the pleasant feeling of validation I get is really all about me trying to be Whole again. If people respect or approve of me because of the position I hold in society it’s the same thing. If I’m made keen for gambling it’s because I hope to get my inner freedom back when the dice fall right for me. If the team I support wins the match and I am ‘over the moon’ this represents to me – in an inaccessibly symbolic way – the recovery of my Wholeness. If I get a promotion in my job before my co-worker or manage to buy a better car than my neighbour can afford it’s the same thing...

 

In general (and even though it might on the face of it sound totally preposterous) whenever we achieve one of our ‘purposes’ we get a little jolt of satisfaction, a little jolt of pleasure and the reason for this is that we have unconsciously allowed ourselves to feel that in this way we have recovered a little bit of what we have lost (even though we do not consciously know that we have lost anything). This is of course also the reason we feel so aggrieved or annoyed when we have been thwarted in successfully carrying out our purposeful behaviour. This is the reason we get in bad form when things don’t work out for us in the way that we would have liked for them to – because (unconsciously) we feel that we have thereby been denied what is rightfully ours, i.e. our Wholenesss. We experience euphoria when we allow ourselves to unconsciously feel that we have regained a little bit of what we have lost but cannot admit to having lost, and we experience negative-euphoria (or dysphoria) when we are denied the possibility of conveniently fooling ourselves in this way!

 

If there wasn’t this unconscious agenda for me engaging in whatever purposeful activity it is that I am engaged in then there wouldn’t be the satisfaction on the one hand or the dissatisfaction on the other when my plans are either met or thwarted. There wouldn’t be the ‘up’ or ‘down’ in my mood that comes with getting my own way or not getting it. We’re so used to experiencing satisfaction / dissatisfaction with regard to whether things work out for us or not that saying what we have just said sounds rather strange to us. It sounds strange at first (perhaps) but when we reflect on the matter we can of course see the sense in it. If I am in genuinely good form (i.e. if I am genuinely happy in myself) then no matter how things work out for me in the arena of daily life I am going to have my peace of mind. I am OK in myself no matter whether I ‘do well’ or ‘don’t do well’. It’s equal. I’m not invested in outcomes – success or failure in my daily goal-orientated activities does not seem like a ‘life or death’ matter. I don’t get cranky when things fail to go my way, in other words. To give a more extreme example of the same thing – if another motorist slips into ‘my’ parking space before I do I don’t explode into sudden homicidal rage!

 

When we feel deep-down happiness then we have a ‘lighter touch’ in life. We’re not ‘heavy-handed’; we’re not being viciously competitive in every little thing. We’re not ‘playing to win’ the whole time (even though this attitude is culturally approved of) – winning isn’t actually that important to us (actually it isn’t important at all). People only want to win all the time (and feel the euphoria of winning) when they are miserable inside, when they are driven by unacknowledged inner pain. When we’re genuinely happy then we are no longer ‘heavy game-players’ – no longer are we being so ridiculously serious and humourless about everything. We’ve got nothing to prove, no axe to grind. We know that we’re already ‘rich inside’ and so we don’t have to obsessively chase after external treasures, external prizes. We’re not driven by an inner deficit and so we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to be devious and calculating, we don’t need to be strung out and mean…

 

We can express all of the above by saying that there are two modalities which we can be in – either we can be serious and driven, or we can be light and playful. Being light and playful doesn’t mean that we aren’t being ‘responsible’ or ‘mature’ or that we’re somehow being flippant about life – it simply means that we haven’t got a hidden agenda in everything we do! It means that we’re being honest with ourselves and others; it means that we have integrity; it means that we are conscious and sensitive rather than being goal-orientated and controlling. It means that we’re not cut off from who we really are. We’re Whole, rather than being ‘fractions who don’t know that they are fractions’ (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

 

There’s a kind of a Catch 22 in this though. If we hadn’t already ‘lost our qualitative essence’ then we wouldn’t be going around being heavily and humourless purposeful the whole time. We won’t be losing our inherent lightness in everything we do. But on the other hand if we already had lost our essential Wholeness (i.e. forgotten our true nature) then we are of course going to be invested in heavy-duty purposefulness, heavy-duty game-playing, heavy-duty rationality, and so we’re going to be in even more of a bad situation than we were to start off with. It’s a slippery slope and we’ve already started slipping! The thing we’re doing to help ourselves is the very thing that is getting us into more and more trouble. The remedy that we’re turning is creating more pain for us rather helping us – the ‘remedy’ is in fact the cause of the pain that we’re trying to escape from…

 

There is a way out from the Catch 22 however, but it just isn’t the one that we’re looking for. The fundamental cause of our addiction to unreflective purposefulness is our unconsciousness, which is to say our lack of insight into what we are actually doing and why. As long as we allow our attention to be magnetically fixated upon the ‘outer world’ of our goals and purposes (i.e. what we are supposedly hoping to achieve with our purposeful activity) then we are turning our back on what our real motivation is. Our real motivation – as we have been arguing – is to escape from a type of pain that we don’t actually admit to having. But suppose our motivation were different? Suppose that instead of the unconscious motivation to escape from a type of pain that we don’t admit to having we had the conscious motivation to find out what is really happening with us?

 

In this case, instead of constantly fleeing into the world of external goals we would pay attention to our own interiority (which is to say, the precious inner life that unreflective purposefulness ignores so thoroughly). Purposefulness (or ‘controlling’) has no role to play here, clearly. We’re not trying to do anything with this inner pain that we’re running away from, we’re just being sensitive to it being there. If the truth is that I am feeling pain inside, then I heed that truth. ‘Controlling’ and ‘truth’ aren’t two words that go together, after all! The lack of Wholeness is the injury that we do not admit to, that we dare not admit to. If ever an intimation of this loss comes our way it is tinged with such an intense ‘bitter-sweet flavour’ that we cannot bear it – we instantly move on from it, we habitually disregard it. It is as if we can see how we ourselves have betrayed ourselves and this is of course the one thing we don’t want to see. We therefore engage in unreflective purposeful behaviour and this straightaway causes us to forget! Unreflective purposeful behaviour is our Nepenthe. Keeping ourselves eternally busy (or entertained) is our nepenthe.  It is the lotus fruit / flower we are forever snacking on…

 

If we didn’t instantly turn away however then it would be a different story – if we didn’t turn away so heedlessly, so disinterestedly, we might realize that ‘seeing that we have forgotten something’ is the same as remembering it! We might realize that (as Kevin Ayers puts it in Eleanor’s Cake Which Ate Her) – ‘maybe what you’ve lost you’ve found’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark Father

cronus

The ‘Dark Father’ of unbridled rationality eats his own children, just as Cronos did in the ancient legend. He might not actually physically eat them as Cronos the Titan did, but by the weight of his controlling and stultifying authority he represses their psychological growth – he prevents them from ever becoming what they could otherwise be. ‘Control’ – in this context – doesn’t just mean telling people what to do and what not to do, when to do it and when not to do it, it means telling us how to see the world. But it isn’t enough simply to say this. It’s not just that we have been told how to see the world, we are told in such a way that we don’t realize that we actually have been told how to see the world. We don’t realize that we have been controlled at all – we think that the world just is that way.

 

Cronos the archetypal dark father eats his own children. He devours them before they can amount to very much, he devours them before they can get to the stage of challenging his authority. Later on, as we know from the legends that have passed down to us, he slipped up (tricked by his wife) and failed to devour the infant Zeus and this ‘slip-up’ was the beginning of the end for him. Zeus – with the help of his mother who was naturally not happy to have all of her children eaten by their infanticidal father – and was reared elsewhere, in secret. Later, Zeus returned in all his strength to defeat his father and the rest of the Titans in the war to end all wars – the Titanomachy. So in a way we can say that Cronos was right to eat his children – he knew what would happen if he didn’t!

 

Cronos devouring his children – and the war between the Gods and the Titans that followed – has immense psychological significance, which is of course what gives the myth the power that it still has. Even in the second decade of the twenty-first century we are making films about this cosmic conflict – albeit not very good ones. The myth is a universal one – in the Norse tales the Gods (Odin, Thor, Loki, and the rest) had to contend with the Ice Giants, which was an another ‘titanic’ struggle. The significance that we’re talking about here has to do with the struggle between the dark, repressive force of unconsciousness, and the emergent consciousness, which despite being fragile in its beginnings is a force that in time – if allowed to grow and become strong – will overturn the whole order of things.

 

Consciousness is born in the dark cave of unconsciousness – it emerges from this suffocating darkness and all too easily returns to it. It flickers like a newly lit candle and is very easily extinguished again. It is not just that the newly emergent consciousness is precarious – the force of what we have called unconsciousness is actively opposed to it and is implacably resolved to snuff it out as if it had never existed. Jung draws upon European fairy-tales to highlight this archetypal scenario. The precarious situation of the emergent consciousness can be seen – according to Jung – in the motif of the young child abandoned in the forest, helpless before all the terrible dangers that have their home there. The motif of the child points to the archetype of the Self and what this type of story tells us is that in order for us to realize the Self in our lives (i.e. in order for us to become who we really are) we have to brave all these dangers as the abandoned child does and yet somehow come out on the other side...

 

That the child should survive all the dangers of the wild forest (just as Hansel and Gretel survived, just as the twins Romulus and Remus survived) seems incredibly unlikely to say the least! We might quite reasonably object that this is too improbable a story to take seriously, given the number of co-incidences that are needed for it to work. The point is however that whenever consciousness does come into its own (whenever the Self does miraculously come back into being after being broken apart and scattered to the four corners of the world) this is the only way that it could have happened – through an extraordinarily unlikely ‘chain of chance’. This is the same argument we meet in relation to the huge improbability of coming across a planet possessing the exact conditions necessary for the evolution of life. How unlikely is this? But the thing is of course that it is only after life has arisen and sentient beings have evolved that we can be in the position of asking the question. We’re looking at things backwards therefore – once consciousness has arisen then we can become aware of the difficulty in it ever arising in the face of all the forces that are ranged against it!

 

We can relate this point to Cronos eating his children. The odds against surviving as a child of Cronos were always formidably great. It is very nearly a sure thing that you will be immediately be eaten. But then again it only takes one helpless infant to beat the odds and you have a Zeus on your hands! Only one helpless child has to survive the tyranny of the Dark Father and there will to be a full-scale Titanomachy for him to reckon with later on! Or as we could also say, only one Romulus and Remus has to survive (or even just a Romulus) for there to be a Rome, and not just a Rome in fact but a fully-fledged Roman Empire with all the trimmings…

 

From a psychological point of view therefore we can say that the odds are very much against consciousness surviving very long before being devoured by the forces of unconsciousness. Consciousness is always being born, just has Cronos’s children were always being born, but it is very nearly inevitable that they will meet their end very quickly indeed, as a matter of course, as a matter of mere routine, we might say. We can see this drama (the annihilation of consciousness) being enacted all around us every day – or rather we can’t see it being enacted around us every day because we’d have to be consciously present to witness it and we aren’t. This is a crime without witnesses (a ‘perfect crime’, as Jean Baudrillard says) and so it is also a crime that goes widely unreported…

 

The reason for the lack of witnesses is because if we are not conscious in the first place then none of this talk of ‘consciousness being devoured’ makes any sense at all! When we’re safely unconscious then everything seems fine, everything seems dandy. Everything is as it should be. We can’t see that there is anything amiss with the world at all – everything seems to be in the proper and correct order and so there is simply no cause to be going on about this business of ‘consciousness being unceremoniously devoured shortly after it is born’. In a world where no one is their own true Self the lack of the Self is hardly likely to be commented upon! In a world where everyone is asleep being asleep is going to be seen as the right and proper way to be. In a world where everyone is telling the same lie, then that lie has become the truth…

 

Life – for us – has become a matter of ‘fitting into the format’ (although at the same time we don’t see that we have fitted ourselves into it or that there was any ‘format’ to fit into in the first place). The format has become invisible because we have fitted into it so well. When we adapt ourselves perfectly to the format then what this means is that we’re seeing the world in terms of that format (such that there is no element of our daily experience that remains unformatted) then this situation is simply seen as ‘the correct way to be’, ‘the only way to be’. Only it isn’t exactly seen as such but assumed as such so that the only time we bother our heads about the status quo is to notice when someone isn’t fitting in and is therefore standing out to everyone else because of this ‘failure to adapt’.

 

The formatted way of things is just taken for granted – we unquestioningly accept it without realizing that we have accepted anything. This is of course simply the way that ‘formatting’ works – to believe is not to know that we believe. As soon as we know that we are believing something then this is the beginning of us not believing it. As soon as we see that we have made an assumption about reality then we are ‘conscious of the assumption’ and when we are conscious of it then it is no longer an assumption. We are no longer ‘assuming’ anything in this case. We’re no longer taking it for granted.

 

This gives us a good way of what is meant by the term ‘consciousness’ therefore. Consciousness, we may say, is when the formatting that the rational mind is imposing upon us becomes visible as formatting. Normally, as we have said, the truths that make up our shared (or agreed-upon) world are so ‘self-evidently valid’ that it would never occur to us to question them. When we become conscious however this changes everything. The so-called ‘self-evident’ truths that everyone takes for granted all of a sudden get shown up as being not so true after all. They get shown up as being lies – lies that everyone automatically believes in, lies that everyone accepts as being true…

 

Becoming aware is an act of rebellion. Becoming conscious is as Krishnamurti says ‘the only revolution’. It’s the only revolution that is worth a damn – everything else is just empty posturing. Everything else is just a smoke-screen, everything else is just a red herring. Once we understand consciousness as the capacity to see our formatting (or ‘our ability to see a lie for a lie’) then we can see why unconsciousness has to react the way it does to the emerging consciousness. It can’t afford to do otherwise – it can’t afford to have the light turned on. The lie can pass itself off very easily indeed as the truth when there is no consciousness around to see it for what it really is. When there’s no consciousness then we all just accept the lie at face-value. We all just passively go along with the formatting, no matter what the formatting is. We don’t care what the formatting is – we just care about fitting into it. We don’t care what the rules are, we just care about how well we can obey them…

 

The ‘Dark Father’ is the male (or ‘rational’) authority that our society is based upon. It is the system that defines us, and regulates us once we have been defined. It is the system that tells us what life is and how we should live it. It is the system that tells us what is real and what is not real. Psychologically speaking, the reason we can say that society is based on masculine authority is because it is the expression of the rational mind – the rational mind’s essential property being that it defines (or ‘quantifies’). It ‘lays down the law’, which is the masculine (Yang-type) principle at work. The rational mind says what is, and saying what is also means saying what is not. By asserting a positive ‘truth’, therefore, the thinking mind restricts us absolutely. We become trapped in the stated world, the defined or ‘positive’ world, and being trapped means that we lose the ability to see what has been denied in order that this ‘positive world’ could be created. We lose the capacity to see what assumptions have been made, in other words. We lose ‘consciousness’.

 

This is not to say that the masculine principle is inherently evil in nature but simply that when it is overvalued (which means of course that the feminine principle has been denied) then it turns malign. The balance has been lost and the result is disaster – albeit a disaster that we cannot see! This idea of an imbalance in favour of the masculine principle was – according to Jung – well known to the ancient alchemists who spoke in terms of the need (as a certain point in the alchemical process) for the ‘Old King’ to be murdered and dismembered. The Young King uses his masculine power not in denial of the feminine but in order to protect the kingdom against misfortune and enemies. His is a wise, benevolent, tolerant authority, therefore. The Old King on the other hand has become a dark force, an embodiment of ‘restriction for the sake of restriction’, ‘control for the sake of control’, ‘power for the sake of power’. The Old King has come to love the exercise of power just for its own sake, and so the only thing he cares about is hanging on to his power, hanging on to the authority he abuses… As Paul Levi says in his article on the Dark Father motif on his website Awaken In The Dream

The figure of the dark father is traumatizing to others, as it traumatizes everyone under its dominion. Because it is attached to the position of power it finds itself in, this figure is not interested in change, and therefore has become calcified and rigid.

In Tales of Power, Carlos Castaneda speaks of how the benevolent guardian all too easily morphs into the despotic guard, which is the same idea applied to the ego (the inner ruler) rather than any external figure –

We are born with the useful aspect of having an ego as our guardian. But too often a guardian becomes a guard. A guardian is broad-minded and understanding, a guard on the other hand, is a vigilante, narrow-minded and most of the time despotic.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell talks of the ‘Tyrant Holdfast’, whose name alone is enough to explain what he is about –

He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of ‘my and mine.’ The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain. This may be no more than his household, his own tortured psyche, or the lives that he blights with the touch of his friendship and assistance; or it may amount to the extent of his civilization. The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world – no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper.

 

Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflections of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-achieved independence is the world’s messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions. Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then – more miserably – within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will liberate the land.

The Tyrant Holdfast’s grip on his kingdom is absolute and nothing is permitted to thrive in it unless it serves him. The same is true for the Dark Father of our over-valued rationality – nothing is permitted breathing space unless it agrees with the unquestionable rules of the assumed formatting. Nothing is allowed unless it serves this formatting, unless it does this formatting’s work and not its own. Independence from the framework is not tolerated, under any circumstances. It’s prohibited. As soon as we are old enough to understand language we are subjected to this insidious formatting of reality, and before very long we have lost the ability to experience ourselves and the world in any other way than the way it permits. We see ourselves via the mechanical format, via the external framework and we lose ourselves in the process…

 

There can be no part of us that doesn’t make sense within the terms of the framework. Nothing that doesn’t make sense within the framework is given any credence, any credibility at all. The only part of us that is given credibility is the part that accords with our assumptions, that part that agrees with the rules of the game that we have unwittingly agreed to play. But the ‘part’ of which we speak actually isn’t a part of us at all – it isn’t actually a part of us at all because the game that we’ve unwittingly agreed to play is ‘the game of being what we’re not’.

 

Consciousness keeps on being born into the world and the system keeps on formatting it, turning it into ‘not-consciousness’, turning it into pseudo-consciousness, turning it into a parody of consciousness. And if we think we are already conscious (and that this whole idea of over-valued rationality being the Dark Father is ridiculous) then that’s because we’ve already been devoured. That’s because the thinking mind is telling us – which it does as a matter of routine – that we’re conscious already, when the truth is that we’re not…