May 30 2012

Grad School (part 1)

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We listened to a tape by Robert Bly last night. I’m not necessarily a big fan of his, nor do I agree with everything he says. On the other hand, I don’t disagree with everything he says, either.

On the tape, he discussed the idea that when we are born, we have what is known as a 360° personality. Our potentials are limitless and we radiate outward in all directions. (For a less “metaphysical” angle, think of the ability for infants to mimic all sounds until they start to learn to speak). Due to the feedback we receive from our parents, we begin to adapt, and cast aside traits that are undesirable to them. If our parents dislike loud noises, they may react negatively if we cry. Eventually, we learn to not do this. If our parents prefer proper well mannered children who are “seen and not heard”, we learn to adapt, and cast aside some of the more rambunctious parts of our personalities (this is where I differ from Bly in some respects, in that I think there is a process of rebellion, but even within this, we’re casting aside traits that we’re rebelling against, so it all still works out in the end). This process doesn’t just happen with our parents, but also with our teachers in school. We are taught to behave in certain ways, or we’re diagnosed with ADD, and put on Ritalin. The process will repeat itself with other social institutions, such as church, and peer groups. As we whittle away at ourselves, conforming and acclimating ourselves to the world around us, the traits we cast aside, accumulate into our shadow selves. The shadow self isn’t necessarily all bad and evil and full of murderous impulses (Bly mentioned Robert Louis Stevenson’s Doctor Jekyll And Mister Hyde as an interesting study of this phenomenon, btw), but can also contain many positive things as well.

Well, this is all well and good, you say, but “so what?”

The idea is, that eventually, we need to reclaim our shadow selves, and reintegrate them into ourselves, in order to achieve some kind of wholeness. And allegedly, we are constantly seeking this wholeness, by projecting some of our shadow attributes onto the people we surround ourselves with. But we can take this a step further, and look at how we do it as a society. If you readthis post in Tom Tomorrow’s blog, I think you have a great example of Bill O’Reilly projecting attributes he wishes he had in himself onto a victim of the World Trade Center attack. Take it a step further. Bush’s supporters projecting onto him “heroic” attributes they wish they had. Take it a step further. Bush attributing all sorts of evil and nastiness to Iraq and Saddam Hussein, that we’re just as, if not more, guilty of, than he is. He’s denying certain aspects of himself, and putting them on others. This goes on individually, and collectively.

There are 5 steps to Projection, according to Bly. Think about current events, as you read these.

1. The Shadow Fits: we agree that our perception of the other is true. (“Saddam Hussein is evil, has violated UN resolutions, and has weapons of mass destruction”)

2. The Picture Begins To Rattle A Bit. (“Well, maybe he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction after all, and hey, have you noticed how many people will die, and what the sanctions have done to destroy people over there?”)

3. Rationalization, using “moral intelligence” to find reasons to make the projection fit. (“He gassed his own people! He’s another Hitler! He’s a liar! He tried to kill my Dad!”)

4. Feeling Diminished From Giving Energy Away (I can’t vouch for anyone else, but I’m feeling a national weariness creeping in, perhaps we’re putting out too much energy demonizing others? Perhaps this is why the anti-war movement is gaining momentum?)

5. Eating Your Own Shadow (reintegration): (“Hey, maybe we’ve done a lot of bad things too, and we should look at admitting and correcting our mistakes…”)

“yes, that sounds all nice and happy newage fluffy bunny….”

and I agree to an extent. I started looking at it in direct relation to myself.

Part of what resonated with me about this concept of Shadow, was what Seth terms “probable selves”. Directions we could have taken, or even have taken in other quantum realities. Somewhere, there is a probable reality where I’m still working at my old job. Somewhere, there is a reality where I got married in Ohio.

When I was living in Maryland, most of my interests had to be marginalized. I could not breathe. I couldn’t talk about any of this with anyone out there. I couldn’t be me. I was neglecting vital parts of myself, and forcing them into shadow. I was living one aspect of my life, but not the other. You could even say this was causing a bit of a Taoist imbalance. (more on that, in a bit)

Jung talks about integrating the shadow, as well.

“Like the Taoists, Jung warned against resolving this tension by identifying with only one pole (for example, trying only to be productive in life). He felt that overvaluing or overdeveloping any single aspect of the psyche is dangerously one-sided, and often resulted in physical illness, neurosis, and psychosis. The alternative Jung recommended was to confront the opposites within ourselves – the sine qua non of the individuation process.

“One of the major ways to integrate our inner opposites is by consciously confronting the shadow – the ‘dark’ part of the personality that contains the undesirable qualities and attributes we refuse to ‘own.’ Facing and owning these attributes is a difficult and painful process, for although the shadow may contain positive elements of the personality, it primarily consists of our inferiorities – primitive, unadapted, and awkward aspects of our nature that we have rejected due to moral, aesthetic, and socio-cultural considerations.” – The Usefulness Of The Useless, Gary Toub

Toub also references a story by Chuang-Tzu:

” Shih the carpenter was on his way to the state of Chi. When he got to Chu Yuan, he saw an oak tree by the village shrine. The tree was large enough to shade several thousand oxen and was a hundred spans around. It towered above the hilltops with its lowest branches eighty feet above the ground. More than ten of its branches were big enough to be made into boats. There were crowds of people in a marketplace. The master carpenter did not turn his head but walked on without stopping.

“His apprentice took a long look, then ran after Shih the carpenter and said, ‘Since I took up my ax and followed you, msater, I have never seen timber as beautiful as this. But you do not even bother to look at it and walk on without stopping. Why is this?’

“Shih the caprenter replied, ‘Stop! Say no more! That tree is useless. A boat made from it would sink, a coffin would soon rot, a tool would split, a door would ooze sap, and a beam would have termites. It is worthless timber and is of no use. This is why it has reached such a ripe old age.’

“After Shih the carpenter returned home, the sacred oak appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘What are you comparing me with? Are you comparing me with useful trees? There are cherry, apple, pear, orange, citron, and other fruit trees. As soon as their fruit is ripe, the trees are stripped and abused. Their large branches are split, and the smaller ones torn off. Their life is bitter because of their usefulness. That is why they do not live out their natural lives, but are cut off in their prime. They attract the attentions of the common world. This is so for all things. As for me, I have been trying for a long time to be useless. I was almost destroyed several times. Finally, I am useless, and this is very useful to me. If I had been useful, could I have ever grown so large?

“‘Besides, you and I are both things. How can one thing judge another thing? What does a dying and worthless man like you know about a worthless tree?’ Shih the carpenter awoke and tried to understand his dream.

“His apprentice said, ‘If it had so great a desire to be useless, why does it serve as a shrine?’

“Shih the carpenter said, ‘Hush! Stop talking! It is just pretending to be one so that it will not be hurt by those who do not know it is useless. If it had not become a sacred tree, it would probably have been cut down. It protects itself in a different way from ordinary things. We will miss the point if we judge it in the ordinary way.”

Toub concludes from this:

“Chuang Tzu’s stories tell us that to develop our full potential, we must become useless to the world. Otherwise, we will live bitter, dissatisfied lives, abused and stripped of precious parts of our personalities. In his exaggerated way, Chuang Tzu is telling us to live as individuals.”

The key here, is that these are exaggerations, but made to prove a point. One needs to live truly to one’s self. If one is happy working 9-5, and being a productive member of society, that’s great. If that is what you are happy doing, then you are being true to yourself. People exist for whom this is a positive, happy thing. I’m not being judgmental, nor is Toub, Jung, or Chuang Tzu.

I am not one of these people, however. I have tried for years to fit into that mold, even going so far as to rationalizing out to myself that I could sell myself for 8 hours a day to The Game. Realistically, I know for a while yet, I still have to do this to some extent.

I had to laugh though at the “to realize our full potential, we must become useless to the world” bit, in relation to discussions I’d had with my parents as far as why I was pursuing this degree. :)

Toub continues:

“Jung also emphasized the importance of living one’s unique life. The key element in individuation is to develop one’s own personality as opposed to living collectively. Jung was particularly concerned about the plight of the individual in modern society, for he observed that the moment the individual combines with the mass, his or her uniqueness is diminished and blurred.”

A lot of this resonates for me in regards to Seth, reality creation, and development of ourselves. I suppose you could also look at this in a thelemic view, as well, or even a satanic (LaVeyan) view, too.

Toub quotes Jolande Jacobi’s work The Way Of Individuation:

“All too many people do not live their own lives, and generally they know next to nothing about their real nature. They make convulsive efforts to ‘adapt,’ not to stand out in any way, to do exactly what the opinions, rules, regulations, and habits of the environment demand as being ‘right.’ They are slaves of ‘what people think,’ ‘what people do,’ etc.”

(I’m again reminded of bot Seth, and LaVey)

Again, I should emphasize that your mileage may vary, and that there are people for whom this sort of adaptation is a healthy and wonderful thing. But like I said, I don’t necessarily feel that I am one of them. I’m not judging. Just observing. :)

More from Toub:

“The more we align ourselves with our own individual paths, the less we can live strictly according to collective norms and values. To realize our wholeness, we must free ourselves from the suggestive power of the collective psyche and the surrounding world and be willing to appear useless or stupid.”

From Lao Tzu:

“When the wise man learns the Way
He tries to live by it.
When the average man learns the Way
He lives by only part of it.
When the fool learns the Way
He laughs at it.
Yet if the fool did not laugh at it,
It would not be the Way.
Indeed; if you are seeking the Way
Listen for the laughter of fools.”

This, of course, immediately conjures up the image of The Fool from the tarot. The beginning of the quest. Initiation, etc. etc. etc.

To summarize, one must embrace the shadow (cross the abyss?), to become whole (annihilate the ego?)

One must live one’s own life, and be true to one’s self (do what thou wilt?)

But should we all remain selfish enlightened hermits? No.

As Toub concludes his essay:

“…we should aim at becoming ourselves, and bring what we are into the world.”

Regime change begins at home.

Or as others have said, only by changing ourselves first, can we hope to change the world.


Toub also mentions:

“The tie between illness and self-realization was further developed in Esther Harding’s The Value And Meaning Of Depression (1970), in which she showed how depressive states are often creative attempts by the Self to drive us into deeper communication with our wholeness.”

Unfortunately, there are no direct quotes from this book, but I’m somewhat curious about it now. This reminds me of Seth’s discussion of the psyche, as well as my own experiences with depression.

Over the last two years, (and much longer than that, really), I’ve suffered from depressive bouts. The last two years have been rather busy with them, but since starting school and arriving here, I’ve only had one. And in all honesty, its intensity and duration was nowhere near what they had been when I was in Maryland (or Atlanta, if you’re keeping track).

I have to wonder if on some level, they haven’t been some sort of attempt by myself to get myself on this path that I’m on. I’d been focused on “playing the game”, having a successful (or at least palatable) career in the tech industry. I was too focused on one aspect. One direction. And I was neglecting my inner self. The “true” me, who wants to find out just what the fuck is going on with this “awareness” thing, this “consciousness” thing, and this “being alive” thing. Sure, I was stockpiling books, and reading, but my environment was not conducive to the exploration I needed to start. The over focus on the things I “had” to do, instead of the things I “wanted” to do was causing immense inner turmoil. Oftentimes, I’d be too drained from a day of work to even pick up a magazine, much less a book.

Something was wrong, and on a level, I knew it. I think this also explains the hostilities I’d feel towards the people around me, and the world around me when I’d go through one of my bouts.

I’m not saying “I’m cured!”, not by a long shot. But its something I want to note.

Just some thoughts, really.

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