‘When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep. ...
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. ...
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.’
– Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet
Those who are absorbed by the values and culture of their society often experience others who follow their authentic paths, as 'transgressive'. This relates to what used to be called ‘taboo’ in older societies. Studying the old taboos, we discover they were created from fear of being exposed to spiritual forces released when someone acts contrary to a taboo. Only some priests powerful enough, were said to be capable of containing these powers. Paradoxically, taboos were used in rituals presided over by such priests or shamans, in contained environments, precisely because
these released powers had the potential, if used skilfully, to bring about profound shifts in people’s awareness and psyches. An example is the use of bread and wine in various Christian and other rituals. It directly descends from rituals where human blood was drunk and human flesh eaten. When one starts to open up sufficiently to the depths of being, so that one’s awareness becomes more constantly rooted in these depths, one naturally begins to live more authentically. But this usually entails, often inadvertently, that one breaks what has been spoken or unspoken taboos to the group to which one has belonged. And those who are wholly subscribed to the culture of the group feel this to be transgressive of ‘what is right’.
Consensus culture has always, throughout the ages, felt itself entitled that we all live according to its rules. This largely stems from the paramount value ego gives to security. But, when we start to experience the change of awareness brought about by practices of the spiritual pathπ, like opening to our fear and letting go our description of the world, we begin to glimpse that love itself is transgressive of consensus culture. We cannot truly open to love if we have not yet let go of rule-based existence. We start to notice that at the core of love there has to be erosπ for it to truly be love. We start to see past the generally accepted ideas of what love is, and that love too has a darker side. Then we begin to understand why so many great artists, scientists and philosophers were morally rejected and even condemned to death by the mainstream morality of their time – because they knew that to abandon eros meant to live without soulπ and that doing this was too high a price to pay. So, instead they died for their way of life, some of whom like Socrates, willingly embraced their own execution, to the perplexity of their loved ones. It can be a shocking event when we experience first-hand how truly following what we love, provokes the ire of those individuals subscribed to consensus culture. As the generally accepted clichés about love are indeed very powerful, truly seeing through to the nature of love may necessitate that we seek out older ideas about love, sources closer to the origins of our culture. Like mythology, or that wonderfully stimulating account of the discussion on the nature of love by Socrates and friends in Plato’s Symposium.
The roots of why consensus culture has felt the need throughout the ages to condemn genius in this way, can be glimpsed when we notice how the unspoken culture of our society or the group we belong to is snidely intolerant of those who go against it.π Learning to embrace the presence of fear is key to opening to love. But, to truly see this, we have to understand that love is not the peaceful, caring harmony consensus culture says it is. Mythological Eros, from whom flows the kind of love that soul requires, is anything but harmonious in nature. This kind of love always contains tensions that have the power to dismember our beings and our lives. And such dismemberment goes in against everything consensus culture stands for. As the mythological story of Psyche and Eros tells us, these two belong together – a life without eros is a life without soul. Significantly, the Latin word ‘genius’ translates the Greek word ‘daimon’. It points to the fact that genius simply derives from opening to one’s daimons. In the days when people still sincerely used these words to try come to grips with such forces as actual realities of soul, everyone were regarded as having daimons, not just a select few who were called geniuses.
However, in our world of today, the little details of how we live, how we habitually keep ourselves ‘surfing’ only the surfaces of lifeπ without truly dropping into spending time in the depths of being, prevent us from experiencing our daimons. The very way of life that consensus reality advertises and sells to us, the activities we go about doing every day, and how we do it, all of it, often develops as a defence against fear. In other words, then we are no longer living authentically. Because, as James Hillman says,π ‘love stirs fear,’ which means living authentically, there will be fear. Chogyam Trungpa tells us to face the fact that fear is lurking in our life, always.π So, when our life is rooted in numbing fear, it means we are no longer following love. Then, if we’re fortunate, the repressed daimon will become demonic by manifesting as ‘accidents’, or ‘symptoms’ like panic attacks, nervous breakdowns, addictions, physical illnesses and uncanny situations, to try wake us up. And using medicine or behavioural measures to numb or ‘deal’ with these symptoms will not facilitate such awakening, while the actual underlying ‘illness’ is not attended to in the way it truly requires. So, even if we are cured we are not healed, and it is likely that the symptoms will later recur with renewed venom.
The thing about opening to the daimonic, is that daimons always have something demonic about them. Eros himself was often said to be a daimon, and at other times part mortal, part god. A daimon imbues us with immense attachment to something or someone, and often the ‘why and wherefore’ of that attachment is clouded and vague while the propulsion to follow is urgent. This attachment is not simple ego-attachment, something ‘to detach from in order to arrive at quiet harmony and peace’; it does not derive from ‘me’ and ‘my will’ but from something very powerful that is beyond
our own personalities. If we turn our backs on the daimonic, we turn our backs on love, for love always is the kernel of any daimon. Following a path of heart means following the daimon, which is the only true journey of life. The Latin word genius also meant ‘the tutelary spirit of a person’, i.e. the spirit that teaches; following the daimon brings with it the appropriate ‘lessons’ and experiences our beings long for in this life. But as the poet says, ‘even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you.’ Consensus culture typically values peace, harmony, comfort, security and health. The love that crucifies takes us on a journey that would not be possible if these values were our priority. But for those who truly have travelled this path, no other way of life can ever again be worth living. As the bible tells us, without love, we are nothing, merely ‘useless nobodies’. And perhaps the true meaning of the death of Jesus of Nazareth is not ‘that he died so we are (automatically) saved’, but rather that his death was a metaphor of the kind of deaths a soulful life requires. There is no deepening into soul without rebirth and there is no rebirth without ‘being crucified’; that is, without the experience of dismemberment.
Perhaps, with this as context we may understand better what James Hillman is on about when he writes of the close relationship between love and fear.π Opening to our fear opens us to the vulnerability ‘below’ our fear. And this ‘vulnerable’ energy is vitalising, the very ‘chemical soup’ that opens us sufficiently to discover the daimon. Trungpa also tells us, ‘fear has to be acknowledged’ and ‘not acknowledging our fear is the essence of cowardice.’π When we start to open to our fear and especially when we start to overtly follow the daimon, it causes ‘ripples’ in the unconscious of those who live by the rules of consensus culture. Unconsciously, our actions then act as a mirror for their cowardice. But because this is unconscious – that is, they’re not aware of it and they don’t want to be aware of it because it causes them pain – and because what is unconscious causes projection onto the external mirror, it usually has the effect that they feel an urgency to break that mirror. That is, to either overtly attack, or to do so more underhandedly in ways that utilize their consensus values, like gossiping that we are ‘abnormal’ or ‘weird,’ thus implying we are unacceptable to the group. And if we have not yet embodied ourselves deeply enough in following love, their doing this may still have the effect of ‘tripping us up’ so that we inadvertently fall back in line with consensus values.
So it is important to see what we’re up against, how it functions, but also how it in fact facilitates the very processes involved in what Carl Jung called ‘individuating’. Otherwise its potentially insidious, undermining presence will continue to trip us up to falling back into old habits that actually imprison us. However, it is important to see that ultimately ‘the enemy’ is never outside of us, but inside us. That it is rooted in our own habit of adhering to consensus culture, and in the fact that really, deep down beyond our awareness, somewhere in the depths of our being, something in us still believes in consensus values, still cannot believe it is possible to follow when love beckons to us from outside these values. What we experience as anger at external people who we feel are ‘trying to trip us up back into consensus culture,’ should be heeded for what it is: a mirror of our enslavement to forces inside us. For it is really Psyche’s frustration at us for obstructing her from being re-united with Eros, which we project onto others. It is really still we ourselves that give our power away to consensus culture to the extent that it cuts us off from following love. So, it is inside us, and in our habits that we need to separate out from our enslavement to what is not authentic and true for us, which we start by doing what Castaneda calls, ‘stopping our world.’
The voice of consensus culture inside us is powerful and we may experience it as ‘the voices of others,’ as many anxious thoughts that rise in us like the clamouring of an unruly crowd, or more ‘invisibly’ as bodily sensations of intense discontent, dissatisfaction and discomfort. When we act contra to consensus values, these experiences will rise with great power inside us. But, in fact, they are not really ‘our’ discontent, fear or discomforts. Yet, because our scientific models of psychology tell us that ‘our’ emotions and ‘our’ thoughts are ‘our own,’ it may be
very hard to see that these voices and discomforts derive from something that is really ‘foreign’ to our true natures. In order to separate out from the forces in our psyches that are not authentically ‘us’, we have to first see that they are ‘not us’. This kind of discomfort is another instance of where we have to simply ‘contain the experience of it,’ which allows it to do what the Buddhists call ‘burning our Karmic seeds’. That is, the discomfort itself is not only the pain we suffer as we undergo the process of separating out from forces that used to enslave us, but is also the very sensation of the alchemical process of ‘burning through,’ which is here triggered by not capitulating to the compulsion of our own habits. Until it is ‘burnt clean to silver ashes’. Then we become less possessed by that karma. This process is experienced in the body, and is the process needed to embody true change. Only then do we come closer to have paid our karmic debt.
So, the process of separating out from consensus reality is a process of opening to ‘a separate reality,’π as Castaneda puts it. And it is just that: a process. Which always takes some time to fulfil itself. We stoke the embers that fuel this process by always coming back to our heart’s longing contained in this question: ‘how can we live authentically if we don’t trust and follow what we love?’ Ultimately, this process is really our initiation into living authentically, and it prepares us for all else to follow on the sacred path. It is also how we become an individual in the true sense of the word, someone with ‘character,’ someone with ‘soul’. It demands courage, which really means nothing other than following one’s path of heart. Then, one fine morning, we simply find ourselves with a lot of freed up energy. Energy that is now released as it is no longer consumed by a way of life false to our true natures. We find ourselves energised, ‘fresh’. And in time, with more such shifts in awareness, we eventually ‘wake up’ to the presence of the daimon (or daimons) who yearn to be expressed through us. Which opens the door to the long process of coming to terms with the difficult love of the daimon and of developing a relationship with it. Which unfolds into ‘the story of my life.’ And so, perhaps after all, we may be graced, in moments, with feeling truly alive.