Tag Archives: alienation

Maria Popova on “Outsiderdom”

Decades ago I read a book entitled, “The Outsiders” by Colin Wilson, an unlettered but very erudite gentleman who spent his life “thinking outside of the box.”  At the conclusion of this post I provide a link to an essay from Brain Pickings about William Blake and Ludwig von Beethoven who spent their life in what Maria Popova described as “Outsiderdom.”  These two men made significant contributions to human history but their life story was complicated, to say the least, and existential loneliness abounded for the whole of their life. Beethoven was isolated by blindness but also by social awkwardness, so he battled the anguish of alienation as he developed his musical genius. But Blake was more of a rebel, balking at convention and then finally “turning his back to the citadel of convention.”

Standing apart from the herd is excruciatingly painful.  Some people, such as Blake and Mozart, lived with it from their youth and adjusted adequately though with great pain.  Some do not experience it in their life at all, others during times of crisis or tragedy, and others after some neurological “shock.”  This loss is extremely traumatic as one is suddenly bereft of all the trappings of his identity and suddenly starkly “alone,” like King Lear on the heath, where he stood naked and, “pelted by this pitiless storm.”

But loss, and the sting of existential solitude can be redemptive.  Jacques Lacan has noted that “nothing of any value comes into being without the experience of loss.”  Emily Dickinson suggested that is hope found in this void, writing, “Renunciation is a piercing virtue, the letting go of a presence for an expectation.”  Dickinson knew that most men and women are comforted with a cloak or “presence” of culturally provided accoutrements.  She was stating that in this profound loss she had found hope

Culture is predicated upon avoiding all existential anguish.  Loneliness is one of the most painful experiences and we have been given the comfort of contrivance to avoid it.  I call this contrivance our God-given “fig leaf” as it hides our nakedness.  And these “contrivances” are useful but not when one spends his whole life immersed in them, pulling them tightly around him to keep from being exposed.  This thought always comes to my mind in this Christmas season as I watch American culture gorge itself on “stuff”, naively assuming that this “stuff” will suffice.  If you think it works, just look at Donald Trump.

Carl Jung has been a guiding force in the past three years of my life as I’ve participated in a reading group of his work and often come across his wisdom about the importance of loneliness in the quest for individuation, aka “authenticity.”  Here are a few samples of his wisdom on the subject.

 

 
The highest and most decisive experience of all . . . is to be alone with . . . [one’s] own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12, par. 32.

As a doctor it is my task to help the patient to cope with life. I cannot presume to pass judgment on his final decisions, because I know from experience that all coercion-be it suggestion, insinuation, or any other method of persuasion-ultimately proves to be nothing but an obstacle to the highest and most decisive experience of all, which is to be alone with his own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy; CW 12: Page 32.

As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know. Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible. ~Carl Jung; Memories Dreams and Reflections; Page 356.

 

(Link to Brain Pickings—https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/08/08/aldred-kazin-william-blake-beethoven/)

 

 

 

 

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Embedded Thinking #3

Blog—embedded thinking#3

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Abu Abdallah is in an Iraqi prison, awaiting execution for recruiting suicide bombers.  In the following Guardian interview he remains adamantly committed to his cause, firmly resolved that his actions were Allah’s will, and that even collateral damage in the attacks he orchestrated were Allah’s will.  Abdu perfectly illustrates the “embedded thinking” that I have been writing about the past week, “thinking” which has such an emotional (and unconscious) investment that the body of thought appears to be completely autonomous.  He is not thinking, he is being “thought.”  This is the “dis-embodied word” that, carried to an extreme, leads to pronounced evil.  Abu Abdullah is enslaved by ideology and this “enslavement” is so complete that human experiences like regret and remorse are not possible.  Those “bothersome” human qualities are laid aside for the accomplishment of Allah’s will.   (See full article in following link:  http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-mastermind-describes-suicide-bombers-2015-8

Certainty is usually not toxic like Abdullah’s.  Most human beings live daily with the comfort of certainty that their way of viewing the world does not merit any introspection and the doubt it would create.  Give everyone the “pauser reason” that some of us have and the world would collapse immediately.  But for some individuals, and groups of individuals, the need for certainty becomes pathological and the consequences are often severe.  This need stems from deep-seated fears, an unconscious uncertainty that can be assuaged only by investing inordinately in a vein of thought that provides the illusion of certainty.  This “illusion” might appear delusional to outside observers but to those who are deeply embedded in an “illusion” it is the right way of viewing the world; and, so often this assuredness is attributed to a Supreme Being.

Life is fragile.  We are merely dust of the earth, “quintessence of dust” to use Shakespeare’s term, that has miraculously managed to gain “consciousness” and find the power to create human culture.  But beneath this thin veneer of consciousness, that reptilian brain still percolates and sometimes it “breathes out threatenings and slaughterings” and overrules the “pauser” that our forebrain was designed for.  One poet had this in mind when he wrote, “Only a tissue thin curtain in the brain shuts out the coiled recumbent land lord.”  (Eugene L. Mayo)

Pathological certainty is like a cancer in that it cannot be contained and always needs to “convince” others even at the point of the sword.  For those embedded in their own ideological certainty need to swell their ranks for the end purpose of making the world “the way it should be.”  And inevitably this “way the world should be” will be “God’s will” or “Allah’s will” and the end will always justify the means.  And as long as there is anybody in the world who does not subscribe to these “noble” and “true” ideas, the fear-based ideologue will be threatened.  The fear-based ideologue seeks to obliterate difference or “otherness”.

Mental illness is a reference problem.  This clinical bromide grasps the pathology of this “embedded thinking” which at a certain point of “embeddedness” becomes incapable of realizing that there are other ways of viewing the world.  One who feels certain that his tin foil hat will keep intrusive thoughts from outer space away is not insane in a community of like-minded souls.  And one who believes that President Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim socialist is not “nuts” in a group that firmly believes this to be true.

Thoughts About Identity

Identity has always been a fascinating subject for me because, I now realize, I had such a hard time constructing one in my youth and maintaining a sense of identity through the course of my life. But I’ve always been blessed with some core sense of who I am, some basic center, which has allowed me to function well though often with self-doubt and insecurity.

A Spokane, Washington woman has just made the news with her parents exposing her duplicity of passing herself off as a black woman for years even though she is white. With her dark complexion and hair style, she has adopted “black-ness” for decades and achieved some prominence in the Afro-American community. (http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/rachel-dolezal-tried-really-hard-be-black-why?sc=fb)

This is just a fascinating story and I’m so curious about what motivated her to perpetuate this ruse when there was so much she could have done for the Afro-American cause as the intelligent Caucasian woman that she is. But she had some deep-seated need to be “black” and that this ruse has been exposed, I’m concerned for her. All of our identities are a pose in some sense and to have them suddenly torn from us, to be exposed, is to open us up to the nakedness that underlies our persona.

W. H. Auden had the following to say regarding the illusionary dimension of identity. In this poem a father is speaking to his young son:

I wish you first a sense of theater.
Only those who know illusion
And love it will go far.
Otherwise, we spend our lives in confusion
Of what to say and do with who we really are.

AFTER THOUGHT—A new development in this story answers all questions about this matter.  The family now reports that Rachel had four adopted Afro-American siblings while growing up.  

“The Closed Cab of Occupation”

THE CLOSED CAB OF OCCUPATION

W. H. Auden declared that “We drive through life in the closed cab of occupation.” Auden was, like myself, an alienated soul sentenced to life as an “observer” of life rather than a “participant.” But being an “observer” with the capacity to even “observe” himself, i.e. self-reflect, he realized that even his occupation of poet was a “closed cab” and he was fated to view life through the prison of metaphor. And I’m glad he accepted that imprisonment as his work has been a god-send to myself and to many others, though he suffered greatly under its torments.

My “occupation” from very early in my development has been to “observe” life rather than to experience it, a stance that eventually evolved into the “closed cab” of a diagnostician, a mental health counselor. In the comfortable confines of that self-imposed prison I could…and still can…categorize and label this beautiful mystery that we call life and keep myself insulated from its hoary depths which are often frightening. But, mercifully I have the gift that Auden had and can self-reflect somewhat even about my “self-reflection” and thus my clinical detachment is breaking down. Yes, the prison-bars are bending and with a “little bit of luck and a strong tail-wind” I’m gonna be able to slip between those bars at some point and come out to play for moment before that damn Grim Reaper has his way with me!

A recent phrase I stumbled across on a Paul Tillich Facebook page is someone’s observation that Tillich’s teachings had taught him “just how much I am embedded in my own thought.” This “embeddedness” is a critical dimension of life that is difficult to grasp; for, to grasp this nuance of life is to see and experience a schism in the depths of one’s heart and he/she begins to realize there is more to one’s “experience” that what can be “thought.” This insight can be the beginning of recognition of one’s “closed cab.”

I want to share with you the insight of John O’Donohue about this discovery:

Thought is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. The way you see things makes them the way they are. We never meet life innocently. We always take in life through the grid of thought we use. Our thoughts filter experience all the time…Even your meetings with yourself happen in and by means of thinking.

 More often than not we have picked up the habits of thinking from those around us. These thought-habits are not yours; they can damage the way you see the world and make you doubt your own instinct and sense of life. When you become aware that your thinking has a life of its own, you will never make a prison of your own perception…In order to deconstruct the inner prison, the first step is to see that it is a prison. You can move in the direction of this discovery by reflecting on the places where your life feels limited and tight…”Heidegger said, ‘To recognize a frontier is already to have gone beyond it.’” (“Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong.”)

“Quintessence of Dust” We Are!!!

Emily Dickinson is one of my soul mates. She was a spinster, living in her father’s attic, making observations about life with her brilliant poetry which would not be appreciated here on earth until she got to heaven. One of her pithy little quips that I really like is, “Life is over there, on a shelf.” Cloistered there in Puritanical New England, she dared to explore her own soul and at the same time pay attention to what was going on out there “on the shelf.”

I can relate so well. For, I too am an “observer” and in some way I too have spent my life cloistered in some spiritual attic. I think Shakespeare also lived in one of these little self-imposed prisons and from that vantage point could offer such brilliant wisdom about the human condition. He referred to humankind as the “quintessence of dust” and that pretty well sums us up, though considering our “dustiness” is very difficult for our ego. It is for mine. I am DNA’d to take myself way too seriously which is what we little dust bunnies tend to do.

One of my Facebook friends is apparently also one of these observers though he is blessed with brilliant poetic skill. He lives only five hours away (in Denver) and one of these days I’m gonna meet this kindred spirit. I want to share with you here one of his poems which so astutely captures the essence of being a human. His name is Randy Welch and you can find him on Facebook.

HUMANS
(BEING HUMAN)

Being Human
Is As Far From Being A Spider
As It Is From Being God
It Is To Live In The Past
While Fretting About The Future
Barely Aware What’s Going On Right Now
Being Human Is Feeling Alone
Amidst A Crowd
Yet Crowded By The Presence
Of Just One Other Human Being
Being Human Is Wanting
To Save The Children
To Save The World
But Being Too Busy
Getting The Car Tuned Up
Or Spreading The Latest Gossip
About Other Human Beings
To Actually Do Something About It
Being Human Is Being
The Most Glorified Presence
On The Planet
Yet Constantly Wishing
We Were Anything But Human
It Is Having The Gifts Of
Conceptualization And Visualization
Of Logic And Reason
And Refusing To Use Them
In The Face Of Raw Emotion
Being Human Is Knowing
The Beauty Of The Ocean
And The Fear Of Drowning In It
It Is The Tragedy Of Living
In Complete Ambivalence
Most Of The Time
Being Human Is Something
That May Not Continue
For Very Much Longer
On Account Of
Humans Being Human…
-randini- (aka Randy Welch)

The Adventure of Life

“Life is an adventure,” so they say.  It is a commonplace that is almost banal, ranking right up there with “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  But, I find it really is an adventure which takes place when one begins to venture beyond the narrow confines of the way one was taught to see…and feel…the world.  But the real challenge lies in the very difficult task of becoming aware of this narrow prism through which one views the world, how the tyranny of assumptions shapes our fundamental perceptions of the world.  And to ask one to see these premises that shapes this world view is like asking a fish to see water.

It must be noted by those of us who swim in the aether of cerebral thought that most people in the world cannot ever make this meta-cognitive leap; and for them to do so would be catastrophic for human culture.  The day-to-day grind of reality depends on people who “mindlessly” go through the motions of their daily life without questioning the “basic assumptions” that I am putting on the table here.  And furthermore, for me to use the term “mindless” here merits caution as I do have a contempt gene which is too often near the surface!

We are tribal creatures and the tribal rituals are easily analyzed by people like myself who have lived their whole life “off the grid” in some fashion.  (I think one term for people like me is “pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals” or perhaps more accurately “alienated.”)   But we are a tribe, a global tribe composed of smaller tribes who must somehow find a way to live together with a modicum of harmony.  But each tribe has an innate tendency to not see beyond the safe confines of its basic assumptions and each member of that tribe learns to drink the same “kool-aid.”  That is what makes it a tribe.

But the adventure of life starts when we realize that we have “drank the kool-aid” in some fashion and are shaped by basic assumptions given to us by our culture.  Then we can begin to find a bit of freedom and can begin to play with reality.  Yes, we can even begin to “play with our self” (wink, wink) and with the beautiful human and natural world that we find ourselves in, a beautiful “Garden of Eden” in some sense.

However, it is scary!  We are hard-wired to live within those “safe confines” and to suddenly realize we are “off the reservation” can easily be a Pyrrhic victory.  To take a quantum leap here, it will ultimately bring us to the Shakespearean issue of “to be, or not to be” and can even bring one to the point of suicide.  For it is gut-wrenchingly painful to realize that one does not belong to the tribe, to be deprived of that “fig-leaf,” and to stand there on that heath like King Lear, pelted by that pitiless storm, naked as a jay-bird.

This is where faith comes in for me.  But the temptation here is to take one’s tribal faith, make a fanatical investment or re-investment in it, and hold on “come hell or high water.”  And all fanaticism (i.e., “addiction) has its roots with this deep-seated existential loneliness.  The tribal religion that my culture offered me was the Judeo-Christian tradition and I have certainly allowed it to be in my life the “opiate” that Karl Marx described.  But opiate does not work for me anymore…or at least that one does not! (I do drink too much!)  I find that my “tribal religion” offers symbols, stories, traditions that are very valuable as I stand here on this heath with King Lear and others and find that there is hope and even purpose.  This “adventure” I am discovering now beyond those aforementioned “confines” involves death, for pushing limits always involves a death-wish of some sort but the Christian tradition teaches that death and live are intertwined and that to “die” is to “live.”  To put it succinctly, there is no “life” without “death.”  Oh yes, there is existence but there is no experience of human-ness, being a live body and soul for this brief moment we have in this time-space continuum.  This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples who wanted to delay going with him for to help with a burial party, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

However, here is an important point that I’ve already touched on.  It is easy to interpret that quip from Jesus to mean that everyone else in the world who did not follow him was “dead” and therefore would “burn in hell one day.”  That is how I was taught!  But I don’t think so.  Jesus was playing with words, telling his disciples that they needed to follow him and let the burial party take care of its business, that it did not need them.  Jesus was saying that the rest of the world was okay and “dead” was only a metaphor to say they were not amenable to his teachings, that their role in life was to see things differently and to live different lives within “safe confines.”  Jesus realized that the “adventure” I’ve described here was not for everybody but that their life also was “ok”. 

Shakespeare has taught me so much and his teaching continues to delve more deeply into my heart as I gain more maturity and with that the ability to swim in the depths of metaphor. Shakespeare did not live in this world; he lived “on high” up in the aether as I often claim to myself. That is to say, he lived in his head. With that aloofness, that cerebral detachment, he could take the liberty of “mis-using” words to convey wisdom but “mis-use” them in such a deft and artistic manner that he could reveal to us so much about the depths of our heart. Just one simple example is in a lovely line from Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy when Hamlet noted that the intense passion and desire of his heart was often “sicklie’d o’er with the pale cast of thought.” First of all, “sick” is not a verb and second how can words make anything sick even if you morph the word into “sicklie.” But by putting it this way he vividly described how one who is given too much to thinking…whose heart is beset with an over wrought inner critic…can find himself stymied by the thinking process itself.

Shakespeare knew that thought and feeling must work in tandem. If either is in too much control, there is a problem. Feeling run amok is lunacy but also thought…or reason…run amok is lunacy, the latter point noted so eloquently by Goethe when he noted in Faust, “They call it reason, using light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.” Just look at our contemporary linear culture and its egregious object lesson in the U. S. House of Representatives.

The Bard, like me, knew about “waging the war we are” as described in the 20th century by W. H. Auden. He was conflicted by myriad voices in his heart but wonderfully integrated by what I would describe as “the Spirit of God” so that he could harness the unleashed energy and convey to generations hence stunning revelations about our heart’s internal machinations. Matthew Arnold noted that the poet has great familiarity with “unleashed energy”, alleging that “the poet, in whose mighty heart heaven hath a quicker pulse imparted, subdues that energy to scan, not his own heart, but that of man.” Shakespeare did that. In terms of linguistics, he harnessed the energy of the “floating signifier” so artfully that many…but not all…can understand.

However, there is a price to pay for this aloof detachment, this cerebral, dispassionate view of the world and even of one’s own self—alienation and the feeling of loneliness…existential loneliness or solitude. But just this past week I discovered through a friend the writing of a contemporary spiritual teacher, Mary Margret Moore, who noted that discovering and embracing one’s solitude was one of the steps one must take in spiritual development. It is closely akin to St. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul” or Dante’s going into “the dark forest”: or as Dante put it, “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”

There one finds he/she is all alone and must explore who and what one really is which always entails a rendezvous with the boundaries of existence itself, an emotional/spiritual experience which in my culture is often described as “God” or by some as “the Ineffable.”