Thursday, December 22, 2005

Birth of a Poet: Second Meditation

Meditation II: Time and Identity

It may appear that linear and cyclical time are discrete, but that is not so. Cyclical time (in its trans-egoic form) can include linear time and causality; but linear time always to tries to exclude cyclical time. However, linear causation is ruptured by intrusions from cyclic patterns in every moment. We simply are not aware of this happening most of the time. This is explainable only through paradox: all of linear time is contained within cyclical time, and all of cyclical time is the immediate present (in both prepersonal and transpersonal forms).

Strangely enough, the best way to understand our current place in cyclical time is to look back through linear history. Beginning in the Renaissance, linear time and rational thought became dominant in Western culture. But just when the Age of Reason was at its height during the 18th and 19th centuries, various groups who were dedicated to pursuits directly opposed to reason appeared: the Romantics in England, Germany, and America; the Transcendentalists in America; the Symbolists in France; and more. These movements have had major influences on art and literature, but, until recently, not in the culture as a whole.

The yin-yang symbol can help explain this push and pull of forces: whenever one force is at its most powerful, the equal and opposite force is still present, though weaker (the white circle in the midst of the largest area of black, and the black circle within the largest presence of white). This is why Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the redeemer, only a few days after the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year.

Having recently entered the 21st century, rationality has reached its apex and is in decline. Ideally, a more integral consciousness would emerge to replace it, but that is not yet the case. Certainly many people are working toward a more integral awareness, but the culture as a whole actually seems to be regressing.

Rationality is being rejected on all fronts. Those who are interested in moving forward are looking for the integral path: rationality with heart and spirit. Those who are less brave are allowing themselves to be pulled back into mythic thinking--cyclical time.

We have also seen the re-emergence of cyclical time into the consciousness of our culture as a whole, as exemplified in the recent explosion of books in the fields of religion and angels, psychology/self-help, and personal spirituality. We know we have betrayed some part of ourselves in a wholesale reliance on reason, and now we are searching for just what it is that we have lost.

As always, the goal is to avoid regressive pre/trans assumptions. Still, we may need to regress in service of transformation. If we have used reason and linear time to cut ourselves off from our experience of cyclical time and our mythic heritage, we may have to reclaim those lost parts of ourselves if we hope to move forward into a more integral worldview. This is where I am in my life.

In the sixties, when cyclical time--with the aid of hallucinogens and other drugs--enjoyed a massive eruption among the youth of Western culture, a whole new group of psychologists emerged with an interest in exploring the potential of human consciousness. The West also discovered a renewed interest in the religions of the Eastern traditions, religions that seemed to offer a more personal experience than the largely static and sanitized Western traditions.

Both of these trends resulted in an increased awareness of cyclical time. Researchers such as Stan Grof and Charles Tart became deeply interested in the ways in which psychedelics provided access to deeper layers of the psyche. What often emerged from these sessions, and for recreational users as well, were vivid experiences of mythic patterns and motifs. Grof and others assumed the drugs were opening the mind so that the contents of the Jungian collective unconscious could be more directly experienced.

Others, such as Stephen Larson, Joseph Campbell, Michael Harner, and Jean Houston, among others, explored the mythic imagination as a way to heal some of the wounding so common to many of us. Following Jung's lead, many of these psychologists and anthropologists elevated prerational mythic thinking to transrational spirituality. The methods are good and worthy of our attention, as long as we keep in mind that the prepersonal myth is not a transpersonal spiritual experience.

On the other hand, religious scholars like Mircea Eliade, Houston Smith, and Alan Watts brought Eastern religion to Western seekers hungry for a new path. Zen Buddhism was also brought to American culture by the Beat literary movement, including Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder, among others. Around this time, as well, Indians and Tibetans began coming to the West to offer their teachings, a direct result of the sheer number of Western young people who had gone to the East looking for new paths.

What both of the movements have in common is the re-emergence of cyclical time into Western culture. One of the powerful elements in experiencing cyclical time is that it requires the reduction of ego consciousness.

With drugs, ego consciousness is temporarily shattered, offering glimpses of possible higher states of consciousness (sometimes), or of lower level mythic consciousness (more often). Either way, the experience is outside of the ego, so it feels sacred.

With meditation, ego consciousness is eventually transcended, but before that can happen we can glimpse the egoless state, which can serve as fuel for the quest. Without ego, we do not experience linear time, which allows cyclical time to re-emerge. In this case, however, we do not a regress to a mythic experience of cyclical time, but rather a more integral experience of all time as one time. My own experience of this state (temporary in my case) is simply feeling outside of time.

For most of us, our identity is bound to our ego. Ego is bound to linear time. Therefore, our identity is limited to a great degree by our identification with ego and the constraints of linear time. We tend to focus our sense of identity on achievements of the self, accomplishments that set us apart from our peers. We seek recognition. In linear time, singularity of self is the mark of individuation and a healthy psyche.

Linear time seeks to separate the subject from the object. Cyclical time, especially in its pre-rational forms, seeks union and belonging. In the pre-rational variety of cyclical time, self-realization grows through participation with the group (clan, tribe, culture). Even for those of seeking an integral path, this mode of consciousness holds significant value that we should not ignore. Belonging is a basic human need. Even as we enter second-tier consciousness, we can benefit from strengthening our bonds with our fellow human beings, honoring ritual occasions, and recognizing important symbols along the path.

William Everson maintained that the poet must become familiar with cyclical time and learn its patterns. He had no real experience with Eastern disciplines, feeling the most affinity for Catholicism with a shamanic element, so he relied mostly on the mythic imagination as the realm of the poet. To him, the role of the poet was a sacred vocation. It derived sacredness from its ability to tap into cyclical time and bring back forms of truth unavailable to the ego in linear time.

All vocations have their source in cyclical time because all vocations, at their root, have a mythic or archetypal origin. If we want to find more space in our lives to experience the scared, one way to do so is to cultivate the sacred origin of our vocation.

If we want to cultivate the sacred in our identity, we need to cultivate the elements of our identity that reside outside the ego and, therefore, outside of linear time. Vocation is one way to do this.

Importantly, our vocation may not be how we earn a living. We may do any number of jobs, but our vocation is the thing that makes our soul sing. It is the reason we were born. It is who we are at the deepest levels of our psyche. It is our identity when the limitations of ego are stripped away.

As we transcend ego, even this element will also fall away. But few of us have transcended our ego, and many of us are ungrounded in our search for the sacred and the spiritual. Remembering our mythic past, seeking the vocational archetype, and holding as sacred the symbols that speak to us are ways to stay grounded as we seek higher levels of consciousness. A tree must have roots to reach the sky.

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