Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The Purposeful Creation of Suffering
James Hillman describes pathologizing as "the psyche's autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective" (Re-Visioning 57, italics mine). By viewing pathologizing as archetypal, necessary and "central to the soul" (55), Hillman expands our perceptions of suffering beyond the usual notions of anthropocentric mental illness and a sinful human will. Hillman says that suffering, revealed through symptoms, reminds us that each "I" is a "personification whose reality depends on something other than my own will and reason," and that pathological symptoms give me "the sense of being an automation, or--in Plato's words--in the hands of the Gods" (49). For Hillman, all pathologies may provide soul-making perspectives, "Were we able to discover its psychological necessity, pathologizing would no longer be wrong or right, but merely necessary, involving purposes which we have misperceived and values which must present themselves necessarily in a distorted form." (57)
I will argue that the general biblical view of suffering accords well with Hillman's description of pathologizing, focusing especially on the story of Genesis which contains the idea of pathology as being divinely and purposefully "created". I stress the word "create" because, as we shall see, not only does Hillman use it in his description of pathologizing, but it is used in Genesis and throughout the biblical literature.
Biblically, the first case of created disorder is found in Genesis 1:1-2: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the waters" (NIV). Simply put, God created the disordered depths out of which emerged the ordered cosmos. In the biblical myth, a disordered watery abyss often precedes order: Noah's flood before the re-creation of humankind, Israel crossing the Red Sea and Jordan River into the Promised Land, and Jesus being baptized before he begins his messianic mission of the new covenant.
After the void is created in Genesis, we find an image of the Spirit of God moving over the surface of the unformed depths. The Hebrew word for "moving" is merachefet (מְרַחֶ֖פֶת), and is used of an eagle flapping her wings over a nest of eaglets, forcing them from the nest (Deuteronomy 32:11). This image implies that God scatters the contents of a pregnant shell, coaxing forth the nesting dualities of light and darkness, sky and water, fish and fowl, dry land and seas, beasts and fish, male and female—the fragments of an evolving creation. Yet the Genesis myth of creative fragmentation has more pathologizing to come, specifically in relation to the newly hatched humans, Adam and Eve.
After the humans are created God places them next to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil "in the middle of the garden". Augustine (400 C.E.) viewed this tree as a symbol of ungodly desire to which the humans succumbed, plunging the entire human race into original sin. However, other interpreters before Augustine held that eating from the divinely created tree of opposites was a necessary experience for the initiation of human consciousness, a view supported by the fact that the crafty enticing serpent was "fashioned by God" as part of the original "very good" creation (Genesis 1:31). In this latter view, eating the fruit symbolized the onset of suffering, the painful yet indispensable educational experience of stark-naked alienation prior to maturation.
The second century C.E. theologian Irenaeus believed the Edenic fiasco was anticipated in Genesis 1:27: "God made man in His image, and in His likeness" (NIV). The Hebrew word for image implies potential while the word for likeness implies actual, hinting that the divine intention had always been to transform the potential "image" into the actual divine "likeness" through the expulsion from Eden and subsequent pathologizing, symbolized by pain in childbirth and sweaty manual labor. The remainder of the Genesis story, and the entire Bible for that matter, narrates the often painful unfolding of the Adamic seed into the Last Adam or Christ who is called the first-fruits of that original seed (NIV I Corinthians 15). Much of Jungian depth psychology holds to a similar view, summarized by Edinger: "...the first half of life [requires] ego-Self separation; the second half of life: ego-Self reunion" (5).
The central role of suffering in this process of human development is also revealed in the Genesis preface, chapters 1-11, which supplies a protracted encounter with pathologized images: The Eden characters are all alienated from one another, Cain kills Abel, God floods the sinful earth, Noah's son is cursed for mocking his drunken father, the Tower of Babel is toppled as humans are separated by language, and there is a sort of final pathologizing epithet found in Genesis 10:25: "In the days of Peleg...the earth was divided" (NIV). This preface provides the set up for Abram's call to heal the earth (NIV Genesis 12:1-3) and the evolution of human consciousness through conflict.
The idea of God's pathology-making shows up again when JHWH calls Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt. Moses excuses himself by complaining about his speech impediment. JHWH asks, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (NIV Exodus 4:11). The Hebrew word for make is sum (שׂוּם), which can be translated "to assign or appoint" (Theological Wordbook II.872-73). This Hebrew God-image gives people pathologizing assignments, recalling the poet John Keat's example of the suffering heart as the school-child's hornbook replete with soul-making assignments (Keats Letters). Jesus also taught an "assigned" view of suffering when a crowd suggested that a man born blind was in his mess because of personal or familial sins. Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (NIV John 9:1-2). Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures—pathologizing sometimes came from God. Seven hundred years prior, the prophet Isaiah wrote, "God says, 'I am the Lord...there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things'" (NIV 45:5-8).
Any Hebrew account of pathologizing would not be complete without mention of Satan (שָׂטָ֣ן), a word which began as a verb meaning "to oppose," referring to any antagonist, whether human or spiritual, with an oppositional and/or adversarial mission. Even the Angel or messenger of the LORD could "shatan/oppose" in behalf of JHWH (Numbers 22:22). The verb Shatan was later personified, designating a spiritual character who presented tests that could disintegrate a person with a view to future reintegration. The pervasiveness of this notion in the Hebrew psyche is evident in Jesus' words to Simon Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you...that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back [reintegrated], strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). Here Satan creates pathologizing with divine permission and with a purposeful, soul-making, intention.
It's worth noting that the word JHWH was also originally a verb meaning "to be," sometimes translated "I am". From a phenomenological perspective we may view the eventual personification of these two verbs, Shatan and JHWH, as an attempt in Hebrew culture to understand human nature as it is--one part of the psyche says, "I am" (JHWH) and another enigmatically says "I am not" (Shatan). A kind of spiritual isometrics is integral to Hebrew psychology--the name Israel means "he who strives with God" (Biblos Israel). This notion corresponds with Paul's struggle between his two natures in Romans 7:15-20, and with Freud's theory of the Eros and Death drives.
Finally, it is important to see that the Hebrews viewed suffering as necessary for the human maturation process as stated by the Apostle Paul: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose..." (NIV Romans 8:28-29). The book of Genesis and other biblical images view pathologizing, similar to Hillman, as psyche's autonomous ability to create suffering. It seems to me that a psychological understanding of the Bible, rather than sectarian theological views, can bring us to a conclusion similar to Hillman's words, "Were we able to discover its psychological necessity, pathologizing would no longer be wrong or right, but merely necessary, involving purposes which we have misperceived and values which must present themselves necessarily in a distorted form." (Re-Visioning 57)
African ethnographer Maya Deren's definition of myth enchanted me the first time I read it: "Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in the fiction of matter" (Divine 21). She goes on to speak of a West African elder who tells stories, "not to describe matter but to demonstrate meaning...[talking] of his past for purposes of his future...[composing] from the matter of memory at hand--from specific physical conditions" endemic to his own geography, era and race (21). This elder's culturally expressed stories arise from and gesture toward phenomena beyond the veil of empirical verification. These invisible "facts of the mind" in-form the mythical stories and fulfill a human hankering for cosmic order and meaning. Deren says, "[the human] creature contains the possibility of a mind, like a fifth limb latent in man, structured to make and manipulate meaning as the fist is structured to grasp and finger matter" (23). Deren captures the instinctive human predilection to mythologize--to speak of the, "...important aspects of reality which escape science, including those which are manifest within the perceived world.
These later [non-scientific] aspects are likely to be of fundamental importance for our primary understanding of things, just as those which are characteristic of the world of science are of fundamental importance when we seek to explain natural phenomena." (Merlou-Ponty 14)
Mythic reality points to truth beyond mere scientific rationalism and empiricism, summed up famously by Blaise Pascal: "The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of." Many mistakenly take Pascal's word "heart" to be synonymous with a vacuous emotional feeling, just as many take the word myth to be tantamount to illusional phantasmagoria, dismissing mythic truth as Scrooge tried to set aside his vision of Marley's ghost as "a bit of undigested beef". Not so fast--"heart," as used by Pascal, like Deren's myth, refers to perceptions that are every bit as real and "reasonable" in their own way as any empirical perception.
Lawrence Hatab argues that truth is plural, comprised of ordinary "empirical" truth and primordial "mythical" truth. This accords nicely with Deren's defintion, allowing for not only the scientific "facts of matter," but for the mythic "facts of the mind". Hatab, elucidating Heidegger's work on the philosophy of Being, writes, "Heidegger distinguishes between ordinary [scientific] truth and primordial [mythic] truth, or representational truth. In representational truth, a statement must correspond to a state of affairs. The 'tree stands in the field' is true if in fact the tree is in the field. All well and good. But Heidegger argues that before this correspondence takes effect, 'something' must first be presented, come to be, or show itself as a phenomenon. Indeed, a good deal must first show itself--the meaning of tree and field; their relation; the context of relations and meanings into which tree and field fit; statements; the relatedness of statements and states of affairs; a criterion of empirical verification; and primarily the meaning of Being itself. So before representational correspondence, before the operation of empirical verification, a primal presentation shows itself. Presentational truth refers to this primal showing or emergence, which Heidegger calls unconcealment...Such primordial truth is prior to what is disclosed." (Myth 5, italics mine)
So there are two truths: presentational truth, sometimes called presencing or prespatial by Heidegger, and representational truth. Innate mythic reason works through presencing, providing or gifting the prespatial canvas beneath the mythmaker's artistic brush. Myth is created from the primordial presentational "facts of the mind." In his lectures On Time and Being, Heidegger writes: "As the ground, Being brings beings to their actual presencing. The ground shows itself as presence. The present of presence consists in the fact that it brings what is present each in its own way to presence" (56). In what Heidegger refers to as "the fact that...brings what is present in its own way to presence," I think we find Pascal's "reasons of the heart" and Derens "facts of the mind" which prompts each culturally unique mythic narrative. These primordial "facts of the mind" are the pre-scientific and pre-human seeds which, when sown in the psyche, compel storytellers to open with, "Once upon a time".
This can be illustrated further by math and music. Like myth, these two phenomena are internal mental presences before they are external re-presences, prespatial presentations before spatial representations, or "facts of the mind" before they are made manifest in the "fiction of matter". Before the architect's blueprint or the musician's musical score are made manifest on paper, they exist in the realm of mind as archetypal "facts". Once on paper they become material fictions--fictions not because they are untrue, but because no single blueprint or musical score can contain all of the truth there is to know about math or music. Each fiction, or fantasy, presents a tiny fragment of mathematical and musical truth, but not the entire truth of these pre-human "facts of the mind". So it is with myth--each myth presents or manifests a fictional yet true fragment of archetypal reality. These archetypal "facts of the mind" incarnate as material manifestations--as spoken sound waves, ink on paper, theatrical dramas, or ritual objects and actions. They ex-press internal im-pressions or primal perceptions of Being.
It is crucial to remember that no myth can ever completely depict or contain the whole primal showing or emergence. Every myth borrows from the humanly constructed props endemic to a unique culture in order to stage its representational cosmology. Nor can humans fully exist without expressing and impressing these innate inklings--we require stories to communicate experiences that cannot be contained by material factoids or chemical analysis. The compulsion to discover and express imaginal beginnings, values and beings is the "fifth limb latent in man, structured to make and manipulate meaning as the fist is structured to grasp and finger matter" mentioned by Deren (Myth 21). Humans must create true fictitious responses that co-respond with and to the "ground that shows itself as presence". In this view all anthropic mythical systems are provisional fantasies, including post- modern science, as admitted by many physicists who are questioning the old Newtonian myth of pure materialism, "In breaking with Newtonian materialism we must accept that the objects of our theoretical models and the real entities of the external world bear a much more subtle relationship to each other than was assumed hitherto. Indeed, the very notion of what we mean by truth and reality must go into the melting pot...In quantum field theory, for instance, theorists often refer to abstract entities called 'virtual' particles. These ephemeral objects come into existence out of nothing, and almost immediately fade away again...So to what extent can they be said really to exist?" (The Matter Myth 18, 20)
In this new quantum mythology the old rejected religious myths are not only being revised, but invited back for a second look. Take for example the Buddhist idea of reincarnation and other ubiquitous religious accounts of post-mortem consciousness. Even the skeptic Carl Sagan in his book, The Demon-Haunted World, wrote that arguments for reincarnation may have some support: "...there are three claims in the [paranormal] field that deserve serious study...[one being that of] young children [who] sometimes report details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation." (282)
Sagan's comment also suggests that the line between empirical and mythical realities is fading. Consider the Tantric Buddhist bardo doctrine which teaches that people experience their own harmful mental projections in the intermediate states between life, death and rebirth. Some good research by neurobiologists like Dr. Andrew Newberg suggests that the human brain may have the capacity to access a level of reality beyond the empirical world—to actually enter into the archetypal realm of the mythic "facts of the mind". Brain scans of meditators reveal that all deeply mystical experiences are preceded by the diminishment of sensory stimulation. Newberg says that in deep meditation, "something" other than sensory objects is encountered. He makes it clear that neurology can neither prove nor disprove a non-material dimension, however, it is entirely possible "that the brain is truly in contact with some divine presence or fundamental level of reality" (NeuroTheology 145). Physicist Frank Tipler suggests that seminaries, and I would add mythologists, had better start studying physics as a prerequisite for doing serious theology and mythology.
Thank you Maya Deren for providing such a simple yet incredibly complex description of myth. This perspective allows for what James Hillman calls psychologizing or "seeing through," permitting us to see why humans have always been compelled to make manifest the archetypal “facts of the mind in the fiction of matter”.
“The more I go into this spiritual thing, the more I realize that...something else is doing it.” ~ George Harrison
Nearly 2,000 years ago, four Gospels named for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John changed the course of human consciousness and history. Fast forward almost 2,000 years to twentieth century Europe and America--a time of dehumanizing technology, world wars, political tyranny, religious decline and civil unrest. This soul-malaise moved Carl Jung in 1933 to write about Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Less than thirty years after Jung's assessment, four young English musicians named John, Paul, George and Ringo took the world on a psycho-spiritual magical mythical tour of soul evolution. With their lives and music the Beatles would penetrate a rigid Western consciousness, expanding it like a Rubber Soul.
In their early years, the four teens were influenced by what had been dubbed the Beat Generation, a term coined by a group of American writers, artists and rebels like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs who came to prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The term beat connoted being "beat down by the establishment," but Kerouac added the paradoxically optimistic notion of restoring a new "upbeat and beatific” vision of consciousness. The four English musicians liked the symbolism and called themselves The Beatles. John Lennon felt "beat down" by life, and with his assertive rhythm guitar caused the band to explore all human emotions. Lennon said, "My role in society...is to try and express what we all feel...Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all" (Beatles Biography 83). James Paul McCartney, undeniably the most musically balanced of the four, added stability and an almost naive "upbeat" optimism. Paul Vallely said of McCartney, "Paul McCartney is one of those people who has represented the hopes and aspirations of those born in the baby-boom era, which had its awakening in the Sixties" (The Independent). Add the slaphappy no-rolls drumming of Richard Starkey whom Lennon called "quite simply the heart of the Beatles," and the shy spiritually minded George Harrison with his rockabilly guitar style, and you have what drug guru and Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary, in his book The Politics of Ecstasy, called, “The message from Liverpool...the Newest Testament, chanted by Four Evangelists-saints John, Paul, George, and Ringo" (134).
It is my contention that this Beatle "message" corresponds very nicely to what some have identified as archetypal stages of evolving consciousness. Stages-of-growth theory is founded on the Freudian depth psychological work of Eric Erickson and developed at the spiritual and moral levels by James Fowler, Lawrence Kholberg, M. Scott Peck and many others. Jung refers to four universal stages of individuation in his work, Man and His Symbols, citing Paul Radin's study of the heroic cycle in the Winnebago Indians mythology(112-114). These four stages are also found in the Eros and Psyche myth, the Hindu stages of life, the phases of the Buddha's awakening, the Epic of Gilgamesh and in the evolving God-image of the Bible. I will utilize the four stages as developed by Scott Peck in his book, The Different Drum, (186-200). After a brief description of each stage, I will give parallels found in the Beatle's biographical and musical career which animated, evoked and altered the consciousness of Western civilization.
Stage one is the ego stage, or what Scott Peck calls the Chaotic-Antisocial phase, "…a stage of undeveloped spirituality [during which a person is] incapable of loving others...[and] relationships with fellow human beings are essentially manipulative and self serving…, [eventuating] often…in social difficulty" (Different 188-89). This describes the early years (1959-62) of the ragtag band that would become The Beatles. They described themselves as Teddy Boys, the equivalent of American Beatniks, with skin tight jeans, leather jackets and ducktail haircuts. They smoked, drank, did drugs and fornicated. Their early music was little more than dissonant shouting and bizarre theatrics. McCartney was arrested and deported from Hamburg, Germany for setting fire to their apartment located in a porn theater. Their first big hit song written by John, Please Please Me, was covertly sexual, admonishing the prudish English lassies to please their lads like the carnally enlightened German Fräuleins.
Eventually such pathological behavior breaks a person down, preparing them for stage two--Formal-Institutional--which provides necessary structure so that social skills might be acquired. The ego expands to embrace some "other" person, idea or tradition. Falling in love, getting a job or finding an ideological stance is common. In 1962 the Beatles, demoralized by their chaotic German gigs, met their manager Brian Epstein who encouraged the group to assume a more mature social attitude. John Lennon recalled Epstein's words, "Look, if you really want to [succeed]...you're going to have to change—stop eating on stage, stop swearing, stop smoking" (Anthology 67). During this period they donned suits, wrote formal love songs and focused on the institution of romance with lyrics like, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," and "She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah." They guided a generation of young men and women, providing both with permission to fall insanely in love and attach to the idealized "other".
This second stage also comes to an end, always painfully, as the evolving consciousness tires of symbiotic enmeshment with the "other". Stage three arrives--the Skeptic-Individual phase--wherein one becomes an "active truth seeker" (Different 192). Confused and questioning everything, a person begins to discover who lives at the core of the self. This stage of consciousness overtook the Beatles shortly after achieving success in 1964. Neither stage one hedonism nor stage two institutional stardom had worked, so they shed their conformist suits and began using drugs to expand their individual awareness. Their albums changed tone, calling out for HELP! after experiencing too many Hard Day's Nights. They longed to escape from the socially restircting box they were in. Suddenly their songs were about failed love, domestic abuse and evil taxmen. They felt torn to pieces and expressed it by releasing "The Beatles Yesterday and Today" album with the Butcher Cover displaying dismembered babies. After an initial release, the record jacket was immediately recalled and replaced. The second image was less macabre yet still showed them emerging from the conformist box as individuals bent on differentiating "yesterday" from "today". In his book, The Beatles and Philosophy, Erin Kealey writes: "Beginning in 1965, the Beatles take a philosophical turn from singing the romantic songs that brought them early popular success to scripting more profound and critically acclaimed lyrics that probe the human condition…[exploring] such issues as getting lost in the crowd, alienation, self-deception, and the call to a better way of life." (109)
Scott Peck notes that stage three typically ends in hopeless exhaustion accompanied by spiritual curiosity, leading to the dawn of stage four--Mystic-Communal. Shattered by the in depth analysis of stage three, stage four results in an emptying out of the self and an increasing awareness of an "invisible underlying fabric that connects everything" (Different 193). During this period the Beatles went on meditation retreats and produced Sgt. Pepper's in 1966 with an album cover sporting such psycho-spiritual luminaries as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Babaji, Yogananda and an image of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi. The album also included Harrison's Krishna inspired song, Within You Without You. The stark White Album was released in 1967, a symbol of emptying out the past and the future. The Beatles were helping a whole generation move through stages of development, regaining the lost soul Jung had written about in 1933.
Their first and last album covers taken alone demonstrate how the Beatles symbolized and galvanized the evolution of Western consciousness through the 1960s. Their initial album showed the four in complete conformity with no distinctions between them. Their last two albums revealed four unique characters walking away from the "institutional" Abbey Road studio, and then a final Let It Be cover that was similar to their first album with all four guys together, except that now each Beatle had acquired his own distinct look and individuated quadrant. The final message was clear: Be yourself, things change, move on and let it be.
The Beatles knew there was something mythical occurring during those years together. George Harrison said in 1967, “The more I go into this spiritual thing, the more I realize that...something else is doing it” (Gospel 194). Paul McCartney agreed, “We just happened to become leaders of whatever cosmic thing was going on. We came to symbolize the start of a whole new way of thinking” (Gospel 194). After they broke up John Lennon said, "The Beatles were a kind of religion" (Gospel 11).
Jung, in Man and His Symbols, says that the four stages of evolving consciousness found in every culture "provides a clear demonstration of the pattern [of individuation] that occurs both in historic myths and in...modern man" (114). The Beatles provided that archetypal pattern for many in the twentieth century. They became the living symbols of individuation, motivating scores of people to march forward in the messy yet magical, mythical soul-making processional.