Reading the biosynthesis Journal Energy and Character (as I have since its inception) gives me at once a profound sense of hope and an equal one of despair in the pursuit of my personal quest for understanding the nature of my life and of Life - life in the sense of being, not just of existence, of the ontological nature of the experience of which we know only that aspect which is confined to the time between birth and death. My mind seems unequal to the task of such an understanding, yet drawn to it again and again. Sometimes the quest seems quixotic - as when I compare the quality of my life with those of others around me who seem content simply to live - without struggling for this kind of in-depth awareness. Yet I know it is not really true that human beings in general lack the dimension I refer to as a kind of quest. The evidence from the writings of a wide variety of people suggests the universal presence of an inner spirit which presses people to go ever deeper into the experience of becoming, although in very varied ways.
This kind of self-transcendence can be called up by anything or anyone one loves deeply, whether the focus be on painting the living room, having a baby or washing the cat, let alone getting up in the morning. Early Christians called this sense of inner hope "good news" (evangelion, or gospel, in old English). I used to think they meant something like the "good news" of a marriage announcement in the newspaper, but more recently, I have begun to believe that it is what I am pointing to when I speak of an inner spirit. This spirit is the inner sense of presence which informs us, tells us who we are in a wider sense than simply our learned personality, and which gives us that sense of hope, of the on-going pursuit of one's life. Thus, the issue I am addressing has to do with the nature of that inner ground which is not the same as one's identity, in that it is not grounded in roles, nor in the opinions of one's fellows, nor even in the body itself.
The response to E&C I mentioned above (as evoking both hope and despair) has to do with this matter of the body. Followers of Reich focus on the body, work with it, pay attention to its "language," look to its balance and vitality as a criterion of overall healthy-mindedness. Looking at this issue of the body, I ask myself, what do we actually mean by the body ? Is it different from what we mean when we say "a body" ? Do we really mean by the body a universal entity we can recognize as, for example, what lies on the bed or the slab when the spirit has fled at death? Do we mean the human meat eaten by cannibals? Well, that corpse is real enough, whether or not we eat its meat, and the fact that before death it is an "informed," a sentient corpse, why would that make a difference? Are we right along merely "pre-meat," as you might say - or perhaps "meat on the hoof"? Personally, I have a hard time looking at myself as a big hunk of hamburger in motion, even if I catch myself occasionally looking at a cow that way! Well, then, are we one thing when alive and only meat when the "inner part" has fled?
Well, perhaps, in a sense. But what we tend to do, I suspect, whether or not we notice, is to extrapolate backwards from that ultimate separation to a kind of Cartesian dualism existing during the time of the indwelling of the spirit, of life, sort of putting Descartes before the horsemeat. Joking aside, however, I have come to believe, on the basis of direct "transpersonal" experience, that the indwelling period we call our life span is far more mysterious and awesome than a mere "ghost in a machine," and to see it in terms of such a simple duality leads, I believe, to a most unfortunate definition of life - and hence, to the living that follows the definition. It is this issue of belief about the nature of the body and the effect of what one believes about "physis" - a Greek term meaning "nature" - that concerns me.
I want to know about being. Why? Because, I believe, the saying "Know thyself," the first saying of the Delphic Oracle, was more than "Dear Abby" advice. I see that statement as a kind of bell - as a truth about being, not simply a command to do or to be something. I say a bell, because, for me, it reverberates - has reverberated - through my body like a sonic code which has functioned like an "open sesame," like a kind of key in the "inner door" which keeps opening and closing, has done so throughout my life. I see myself more and more choosing my responses to life in terms of the sound of that bell, whether I realize it or not. And the range of that response, like the sound of that bell, goes from cottonwool silence to dull thud, tinny clunk, flawed clang (like the sound of our American "freedom bell" hanging in Independence Hall in Philadelphia), all the way to full-throated boom-m-m which seems to reverberate in harmonics worthy of a Pythagoras and to echo down the centuries! That opening sonic key is to me the heart of the mystery I call life, and has to do with the heart itself. It is this issue of the heart which calls up both my hope and my despair.
Thinking about something takes place, necessarily, in time, and in this sense, is linear, just as the course of one's life is lived one moment, hour, day, and so on, at a time, and is thus in this sense also linear. The experience of the "non-linearity" of human life is not, however, in itself a linear event, because it is not based in thought. Only thinking about "non-linearity" is conceptual in nature. Thus for many, perhaps even for most people, since they have not had this kind of experience, life does not feel "non-linear" but is believed by them to be linear - conceptual - since what they do is to think about it when asked to define what it "is." The name "transpersonal" as a definition of what I have called non-linear seems to be coming more and more into general usage, so I shall use it.
Once more in the course of the history of mankind, it seems to me, we are gradually coming to believe - not just subjectively experience but objectively think, speculate, postulate - that this transpersonal experience occurs often enough to be considered a universal attribute or dimension of life except where the teachings of the society prevent it from being recognized and thus defined as real.
If this is the case, then, might it not follow that thinking about life could actually govern the quality of life in the sense of either "allowing in" or excluding from evidential data experiences which "reify" the transpersonal or, alternatively, relegate it to a separate realm of "non-substantiality," like the land of Faerie, to be read about to one's children or sung about but not sought out on foot or by automobile on "real" roads in the "real" world? It seems to me that if it be true that our beliefs about experience can have this powerful an effect on the entire character of our lives, then we are confronted as human beings above all with the mystery of the physis, the nature of that life, and more generally, with the nature of being, since the alternative to conceiving life as temporal - as temporary, really - and hence, as dependent on the body, merely pushes the mystery out to the edges of human experience, as it were - from the time-bending mystery of outer space to the mysterious, indefinable nature of fundamental particles - from the mysterious origin of species to the mysterious moments of conception and of death - to the mystery of consciousness itself - to the outer reaches of time and space.
We pretend to understand these dimensions as we nod sagely at their calibrations on clocks and rulers, yet somehow "allow in" without acknowledging our inconsistency those vast and shrouded mysteries. We are a society which likes to reify through quantification, yet these ultimate entities are essentially non-quantifiable in nature. We even have "thinglike" terms for this non-quantifiability. We speak of "the Heisenberg principle," for example, as though that name gave unquantifiability spatio-temporal location! Heisenberg, after all, did come upon his discovery at a specifiable moment of time and space! We speak of "relativity" in the same way a dressmaker describes "easing" the curve of a sleeve into the linear edge of the bodice of a garment! ¹ - that eternally unspecifiable, totally mysterious mathematical entity we employ so coolly, sounds as real as "pie" to us, so used are we to thinking in terms of "things."
Paradox becomes heaped upon paradox the moment one begins looking for "solutions" to these "mysteries." For example, traditional medicine insists that evidence of human deviation from the "norm" (from norma, L., meaning "a carpenter's measure" - hence a rule or model of how something should be in order to fit somewhere) is a "symptom," (synpiptein - syn + piptein , Gr., "to fall together") something which "happens to" one - certainly not a matter pertaining to the quality of one's thinking. We have developed vast language systems and the therapies dependent thereon to help people "cope, " from kolaptein, Gr., "to peck or strike, to meet or contend with on equal terms" - in other words, to fight back against the "stress" (in itself a depersonalized term) with which one wishes to "cope" as an adversary. This is the language of dualism which undergirds the model on which medicine, law, learning, and living in society depend, the paradigm of the chief institutions that shape our thinking about life!
From the moment of birth, then, we encounter a shape of life which defines us as dual - as "divided selves," looking at ourselves in the terms established by others who themselves define their lives in the same way. Looked at in this way, we are a race of robots building robots, machines that are "healthy" when we function in ways recognized by other machines as indications of "okayness." It is not so much what we think inside ourselves but what we think about what we think that matters to the socially conditioned "self" we live with and usually identify with.
Seen in this way, I might almost say that the lucky ones are those who cannot fit the Procrustian bed of society! R.D.Laing's view of psychosis as the result of repressed creativity, as the end result of the dividing of the self, certainly has more than a grain of truth in it. If that be the case, is it what we "need" if we are engaged in the quest of which I spoke? Is it a prescription one can successfully follow along the road to self-discovery? I think that may depend a lot on the place where one first sets foot on that road. For some few, it may act as a valuable signpost. If one suffers acutely from the stigmata of "mental illness," such suffering, properly understood, can undoubtedly function as a sign of hope, even as it did for Simone Weill, for example - but even here, what we call "psychosis" is manifested in so many patterns conditioned by class, culture, and fashion that its value, like Freud's model of life, must be seen to be relevant as a signpost primarily in the context of a specific time and space. For the group that reads Laing, his words evoke a cult image more than they reflect "reality," I believe. Psychotics (the alleged subjects of his writings) do not read him. Educated neurotics do, and take comfort in his beliefs about psychosis, in much the same way novelists, poets, and composers have given romantic comfort to people who identify their diseases and addictions - tuberculosis, alcoholism, opium addiction (in its many forms), and so on - as unavoidable side effects of the sensitivity engendered by being creative. Laing is to psychosis what Thomas Mann, Somerset Maugham, Puccini, and countless others were to tuberculosis.
The model of the body which emerges from the pages of E&C is one of "energy" shaped through character - or, one might say, of nature under the influence of nurture. Reading the articles printed in this journal over the years in the light of Wilhelm Reich's model of human life as "orgonomic," it is clear to me that the term "energy," like Reich's orgone energy, does not refer to the underlying "stuff" which we call matter but physicists call energy, but rather, the "stuff" that A-Hameed Ali ("Essence and Sexuality," E&C, vol. 14, no. 2, August, 1983, pp. 21-31), for example, calls "essence," and identifies with "beingness."
My impression is that, although this author has spelled out what he means by energy more fully and clearly than any other I have so far read in the journal, the term energy as used by most of the contributors to E&C includes this, what I would call subjective, aspect of the word by implication. The body therapies described by them clearly have to do with modification of, expansion of, an unfolding of, one's sense of self as implied by the use of the term essence, beingness, whether or not they spell out this usage by explicit definition.
This concept of essence as the focus of therapy, then, which I see as the principal theme of E&C has, I believe, profound implications for a person like myself who sees herself as engaged in a quest for essence. It used to be that such a quest was considered to be a spiritual one, and hence, in the province of the Church or of spiritual groups like the Sufis, Hasidic Jews, Shiite Muslims, or the followers of Sun Myung Moon! The opening of the heart to the totality of life seems (as seen from inside) common to all of them. This might be a social or a political commitment as well as a spiritual one, but its central characteristic was surrender to a belief about life which involved an inner opening.
It is this same notion of surrender to the true nature of life as the life of the essence, and of the body as essence which, I believe, is the subject of the kinds of therapies described in so many articles in E&C. The theme of them all is that of spiritual rebirth, of unfolding, of opening, of inner growth, or some other process closely allied thereto which I would call a quest, and which I see as identical to that process traditionally associated with religion and/or spirituality.
But there is something new here. When you decide to join a church or a spiritual order of some kind, you are joining a community of believers who are engaged in common social activities as well as spiritual ones. When you do this, you will be expected to pay your dues, whether by tithing or by direct work for the community. You know this when you join, and you take it for granted that it is a way of life you have chosen which is for a lifetime, and that you will receive rewards as a member of the community not available to non-members. But when you undertake therapy, you are receiving services from a trained practitioner of that therapy who makes his living doing so. And, like the pay demanded of other professional services, the cost is high - so high, in fact, that only the (relatively) well-to-do can afford any kind of therapy which is not simply counseling, a form of advice-giving which may or may not be relevant to the person's inner experience.
Clearly, there is no harm in limiting one's therapeutic clientèle to people who can afford it. This group may well be the only one which is in a position to become the source of enlightened influence within a society (if any group can wield such influence), and thus, bring maximum reward in social terms to the one engaged in conducting the therapy. My concern is that it is the implicit obligation of social justice, the imperative of noblesse oblige in the therapeutic process to which I referred above which is all too often omitted, the significance of doing so denied both by the therapist and his client as well. This, I believe, is new. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was taken for granted by professional people of superior talent and character that part of their moral obligation to the creative source of their being - God, Christ, their society, their profession, or whatever they identified as the body conferring the obligation - inhered in giving of themselves without cost and on a regular basis to those members of the society who needed their services. Thus, for example, all the bright lights of the pediatric medical and surgical profession in Boston, Massachusetts, during the pre-World War II period which is now being called "the Golden Age of Medicine" in Boston, worked many hours a week on the public wards and in the operating rooms of the Children's Hospital with the problems of the children of the poor. One could say that they were really using these children as guinea pigs for the training of younger doctors. It was sometimes said of them that they were. I don't think that is the whole story, however. It is my belief that a very important ingredient in the inner belief system of these men (they were all men then!) was a sense of the importance of "Christian charity," which is now so closely identified with capitalism as to be denigrated or relegated to "Lady Bountiful" do-goodism which substitutes patronizing for true charity (from caritas, "dearness, love," as in the Italian term of endearment, cara mia, "my love"). The welfare state, in America equally with the more fully organized system in Britain, has knocked out this function almost completely, and has substituted cold-hearted or at the least impersonal care for the swelling throngs of the poor in both countries. It is probably less damaging in England than in America, I would venture, since the gap between public and private is far less closely divided along class lines, but it's still there.
And when one moves away from the care offered under the aegis of the medical profession into the adjunctive realms of therapies not covered by health insurance, shall we say, the gap becomes huge. I don't know if it is evident to anyone else except myself why this fact - which the reading of E&C evokes in me - elicits the dual response of the hope and despair to which I referred above. The reason I call this essay a Christmas story is connected with that response.
One of the yearly rituals throughout my early years, extending from my earliest recollection well into adulthood, was the reading aloud by my father of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It took three nights to read through, and the bedtime aftermath of those nights were for me an intensely significant sequential process. The first night's reading always ended with Jacob Marley's unearthly visit. My father's deep, wailing cry of despair as he enacted Jacob's rattling of his chains and money boxes was such as to send us all into ecstasies of terror, and I always stayed as close to my sister's side as I could manage as we went up to bed afterwards. The deep and highly spiritual sweetness and compassion of the Ghost of Christmas Past, evoking with bitter-sweet nostalgia the scenes of Scrooge's childhood at a time when he was still alive to human feelings yet gradually growing more and more spiritually closed-in, followed by the hearty joie de vivre of the Ghost of Christmas Present and ending in the (for me) climactic image of the ending of this stave, always sent me to bed deeply moved and shaken. My skin still prickles with love and pity when I read this passage:
The last segment of the story was read on Christmas Eve, following the trimming of the tree and the hanging up of our stockings on a string strung in front of our hearth. Its gloomy, death-filled despair created the perfect preamble to the utterly blissful folly of Scrooge's awakening to the child-like celebration of life and the lives of people which represented the spirit of Christmas to Dickens (and to me as well). I believe it is this sense of the total joy of selfless giving which comes out of one's inner fullness that we have lost in giving up our sense of "Christian charity," which need not be either "Christian" nor "charitable" in terms of the associations which grew up around both those words over the years, "Christian" coming to stand for a hypocritical self-aggrandizement at the expense of poor people, and "charity" meaning a humiliating dependence by the poor on the surplus of the rich.
I am not advocating a kind of "quid pro quo" relegation of a mathematical fraction of one's work hours to pro bono services for the poor. What one does is totally one's own affair. I am referring, not to "doing," but to "being," as I said at the outset. It is to the attitudinal implications of the relationship between the spirit and the body to which I am referring. If one has an immediate sense of what I have called "the web of being," the entire human realm immediately takes on a totally different connotation from the "ordinary world" of custom, rules, traditions and categorical distinctions, such as the distinctions between intimate and stranger, family and acquaintance, worthy and unworthy, important and ordinary, even between friend and foe, as Christ said.
One comes from a kind of gut-level awareness of another person which transcends and transforms the ordinary categories we use with others. One sees "into" the person more fully. It is not a question of blurring the accuracy of one's powers of discrimation - in fact, quite the opposite - but it does do two things - it allows one to see into the essence of the person, and thereby wipes out one's sense of social distance while at the same time making one much more aware of the barriers to intimacy we raise which keep us from acting upon that seeing. I believe such seeing - what one might call "in-seeing" - gives us a much greater sense both of love and compassion for our fellow men, and is the basis for wanting to give more of ourselves to one another, and to the neediest most of all. As Tiny Tim said, in his piping voice, "God bless us every one!"
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