Tuesday, December 16, 2008

En-Humanment, Not Enlightenment

Make Room

"God comes into our lives when we do things that make us truly human. When we help the poor, when we speak out for justice, when we get over our exaggerated sense of our own importance..."

~ Rabbi Harold Kushner


We use many terms without much examination. The term 'enlightenment' is one such word. It is assumed we know what it means: to have the 'light' come 'in', hence, en-lightenment. The implication is that we are in the dark of useless ignorance and need to have the light of awareness. That sounds plausible, and is clearly true, at certain times. However, I maintain that we also need 'endarkenment' to become aware. Why? Because so much of it exists. On the physical level, it has been estimated that over 90% of the Universe is dark, and most matter 'out there' is dark matter. On the psycho-spiritual level, every mythology begins with darkness:

  1. Genesis – The earth was without form, and it was void of light. Eventually, God's Spirit hovered over the roiling dark chaos and out came light.
  2. Taoism – The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1 says all that is came from darkness, using the image of the dark womb.
  3. Greeks 1 Erebos, or darkness, was the child of Chaos, and from them came light and form. In some myths, Erebos marries Nyx (Night) and they populate the world, in other myths, Erebos is a part of Hades, the Underworld where the dead reside.

Based on the raw data of our day to day existence, darkness is as necessary and normal to the Universe as is light. If the Cosmos comes with so much darkness, and all mythologies make darkness the foundation of light and life, then we need to rethink our use of the word, enlightenment. For my approach is 'phenomenological' – that is, we must begin our examination of reality with the basic phenomena (events, experiences, observable incidents) that exist rather than begin with our ideas or theories about how it ought to be. Of course it is good to imagine how our human world could be someday, and the need to work for change. However, we must begin with 'what is'. This approach is especially important if we do not believe in Original Sin, that is, if we see the Nature as being perfect as it stands, not having been modified or ruined by a a human, alien or evil spirit.

Many humans prefer to develop theories of life based on personal experiences rather than the existence of ALL of the raw phenomena of daily life. Hence, a man's terrifying experiences of night, chaos, darkness and all that goes with these phenomena cause him to assume these aspects of existence to be bad. Based on that assumption, he develops a metaphysics or religion of light and order. On one level it makes total sense. Humans want stability, pleasure and happiness, so feeling secure and content are the beginning points and aim of existence. But do those elements alone make a beneficial spiritual system?

Try to imagine a child developing a philosophy of life based on what giveS him pleasure in school. Depending on the student, the enjoyable experiences would form the basis, structure and goal of his metaphysical or philosophical system. He would call algebra and grammar evil, while physical education and recess might be called the good. Most of us recognize that such an approach to a life would be utterly ridiculous. My algebra teacher used to remind me daily that sometimes the uncomfortable and difficult experiences (phenomena) of school were normal and necessary for long term gains. I didn't believe him then. I do now.

But sometimes as adults, our religious and spiritual ideas and systems work just that way. We view pain, disease, suffering, fragmentation and dark emotional experiences like worry, fear and sadness as bad. We view security, wholeness, health and order as good. We call the emotions of peace, joy and happiness good. With those unquestioned assumptions of what the good ought to be, we proceed to find a scapegoat for the unpleasant stuff – usually finding some form of Satan and/or the selfish human Ego to be the problem and obstacle blocking us from the good. That is, we blame a Malevolent Spirit and/or humans for the painful stuff, while the God or Gods are the source of all good stuff. From that assumption, we see the aim of existence as a continuous struggle to extricate ourselves from all dark, chaotic, bad situations and 'negative' feelings. Many resort to deciding that there must have been a good world in the beginning that went sour, and that there is a good world coming in the end which will put an end to all suffering. In the meantime, sandwiched between the beginning and end, we try to do all that we can to escape, avoid and villainize the darkness.


The only problem is that this view never works!

Occasionally we have periods where all goes well as we have periods where all goes smoothly and we are 'in the light of God'. But inevitably we run into a period where life fall apart and we are assailed by anger, fear, resentment, worry and grief. This is true of all human beings, even those who teach that you do not have to suffer. I suppose they could be right, but I have never yet that avoided suffering altogether. Every mystic I have known reacts to pain to some degree - when they stub their toe, or feel outrage at an act of injustice, or become violent against those they accuse of using violence. Why? Because we are made to have those feelings. Lions tackle, strangle, eviscerate and devour Gazelles. Cats eat mice and meteors slam into planets. The sun will one day burn out and all life on this planet will disappear forever. Einstein's biggest disappointment was that the Universe wasn't absolutely stable and predictible. The Cosmos is filled with disintegration as well as integration, darkness as well as light. So if we begin with the phenomena of existence, life includes not just enlightenment, but also experiences of darkness and disintegration


It seems to me that we are here to become aware through light and darkness, both. I think we are here to conceive of and develop mature souls. I call it 'En-Humanment'. That is a new word as far as I know. By en-Humanment, I mean that we arrive on this planet with a body, soul and spirit. Those elements are not mingled or formed when we arrive. The aim of life is to experience all that goes on in this earthly classroom in order to combine body, soul and spirit into something we might call a Human. I capitalize the word intentionally, implying that we begin as humans, and become Human as body, soul and spirit move through daily life and congeal into some essence which we cannot see with the ordinary physical human eye. The earth is truly Mother Earth in that She is a womb for embryonic souls being coceived via all events in this life, the good, the bad and the ugly. Through a kind of Spiritual Isometrics, we meet resistance in many forms and increase strength. That is the way the physical body develops, and I think it is the way the soul body evolves.


This invisible state of the forming soul is illustrated beautifully by Charles Dickens in his 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol. Miserly old Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Bob Marley, who had died seven years earlier. Marely, like Scrooge, had been an avaricious and self centered human being. Scrooge notices that the pale specter of Marley is wrapped in locks and chains. The following conversation ensues:

``You are fettered,'' said Scrooge, trembling. ``Tell me why?''

``I wear the chain I forged in life,'' replied the Ghost. ``I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?''

Scrooge trembled more and more.

``Or would you know,'' pursued the Ghost, ``the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!''

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

Though not visible to the human eye, the state of soul which accompanies us beyond this physical incarnation is being formed moment by moment through our attitudes and choices. We are either becoming more, or less, en-Humaned. A similar kind of idea is explored by C.S. Lewis in his wonderful work of fantasy, The Great Divorce, about a group of tourists from Hell taking a bus trip to Heaven.


Every religion recognizes humans as being curiously constructed of various ingredients not quite stirred together and cooked yet. These include the physical body which I see as a kind of playing field where the game of making a Human takes place.The human spirit is the rational part, or mind that strives for unity, wholism, health and continual joy. Finally, soul is the illogical, insane, fragmented, dark part of us that leads us into thoughts of fear, anxiety and pathology.


Spirit is compelled to light, joy, peace, compassion and dreams of world peace. Soul is compelled to darkness, turmoil, terror and nightmares. Spirit pulls us straight into the heavens, soul plunges us into the meandering dark depths. We all know both realms of experience. But modern psychology minimizes the necessary work of soul by telling us that we are disordered as bi-polar, manic-depressive, schizophrenic, having multiple personalities and a host of other disparaging terms that often cause more harm than help. We don't need so much to 'cure' these dualities as see their psychic function in making us into Humans. We need to shift our primary focus away from curing unnecessary conflicts, to caring for necessary spiritual isometrics that make us into Humans. Our spiritual churches and psychiatric centers need to resemble gymnasiums rather than hospitals where we treat sick people. Clearly there is room for both metaphors, for sometimes we break spiritual bones and need cures, but the emphasis ought to be on training rather than illness.

We all have bodies that wake up some mornings feeling great! and other mornings feeling like crap. Each of us has an insane person living in us, our own personal Mr Hyde to accompany our socially acceptable Dr Jekyl. Robert Louis Stevenson understood human nature; the book became a classic because we are all, to some extent, both characters. You will find some form of this interactive dichotomy in all classic stories, ancient and modern (Bilbo's shire-self and ring-self in the Hobbit; Darth Vader and others struggling with the two sides of the Force, etc.).

Some will deny this saying, "Oh no, not me, I am a nice person, love my family, work hard each day, pray and love my neighbor; no, not me." I once knew a woman like this, and she was a nice woman. But after she died, her family cleaned out the back of her closet and found several dozen novels about serial rapists and killers. She had read them all, and hid them in her closet. Not even her husband knew she had them. Does this imply that she secretly liked rape and murder? Heavens no! But it does imply that her soul, like all souls, had a dark side that had to be fed and recognized. But like many, she closeted her dark soul, kept it hidden down in the sub-consciousness of her being. I think she resisted the en-Humanizing process.

Not until we recognize and face these soulful phenomena can we become truly Human. One of the reasons the 12 Step movement is so powerful is that addicts who are on the verge of death are literally forced to engage their dark shadows if they want to go on living. Those who seriously practice the 12 steps evolve into a Humanity they would have never imagined. However, people who are more 'normal' are more likely to hide their dark selves in some version of a closet. That is why Jesus hung out with the drunks and whores, and chastised the religious moralists. The sinner's darkness was exposed and out in the open. They had a chance to become Human if they could engage in the process of transmuting darkness into Humanness. This is illustrated beautifully in a story from the Gospel of John where a prominent Jewish clergyman named Nicodemus seeks Jesus out in secret, in the dark of night so he won’t be caught by his morally pure Rabbinic associates. In a very famous passage, usually misquoted as referring to immoral sinners, Jesus says to the socially virtuous Nicodemus, "Men love darkness rather than light because their works are evil." Jesus shocked this socially good man, telling him that his closeting of dark and evil fantasies, feelings and imaginings was not virtuous, but tantamount to a love affair with darkness. That is why confession is so powerful. When our 'dirty little secrets' spill out, we join the human race and become more Human, and humane.

So it seems to me that the goal of life is to become a Human, a complete and mature Being, through endarkenment as well as enlightenment. All the phenomena of life, from egoistic hubris to philanthropic giving are soul-making incidents. Our moments of failure and fragmentation are as normal and necessary as our moments of success and integration. Our pathologies of darkness are as necessary as our path into the light. We are here to become en-Humaned, to become fully Human. Life and death, war and peace, good and evil and all opposites work toward this end. Just as there are two poles on a car battery, negative and positive charges in an atom and two prongs on an electrical cord, so we cannot achieve en-Humanment without these opposites, spirit and soul working through the body.

"Don't you know the soul must travel through eighty-four thousand births in order to become a man?" Professor Shankar (Naga Baba), A River Sutra, Gita Mehta, p.281

[1] In Greek mythology, Erebus (pronounced /ɛrəbəs/) or Erebos (Ancient Greek: ρεβος, English translation: "deep blackness/darkness or shadow") was the son of a primordial god, Chaos, and represented the personification of darkness and shadow, which filled in all the corners and crannies of the world. He was the offspring of Chaos alone. He was Nyx's (Night) Lover and fathered her children, Aether and Hemera, according to Hesiod (c. 700 BC). According to Hyginus (c. AD 1), he was the father of Geras.

According to some later legends, Erebus was part of Hades, the underworld. It was where the dead had to pass immediately after dying. After Charon ferried them across the river Acheron, they entered Tartarus, the underworld proper. Erebus was often used as a synonym for Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.

The word is probably from Proto-Indo-European language, *h1regwos, cognate to Old Norse røkkr, Gothic riqisSanskrit rajaniTamil Eravu "night", Tocharian orkäm "darkness". A loan from Semitic, c.f. Hebrewerebh and Akkadian erebuMartin Bernal, has not found acceptance. "night", "sunset, evening" (hence, "darkness"), as suggested by "darkness".

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