‘You cannot discover the end of the soul, even if you travelled every road to do so, so deep is its meaning.’
Our being in this world is a gateway for deepening into awareness of the vastness dwelling in existence. But who or what is this vastness? Who reside there? What is the presence we experience when we touch into it? What is this ‘place,’ this live source, this sacred river that flows inside the very essence of being? And how do we open to being deeply intimate with it, while avoiding being consumed by its sheer force? And, how do we maintain that intimacy? Does it, or they, have will or intention? As seems evident when we really experience ourselves inside the folds of its unfolding. When we encounter the magical, paranormal way it sometimes guides us through the forests of life. When we're deeply surrendered to being sculpted by it.
Carl Jung called this vast realm ‘the unconscious.’ James Hillman followed Henry Corbin by calling it ‘the imaginal’. Carlos Castaneda called it ‘the nagual’. Chogyam Trungpa's ‘the primordial mirror’ and drala certainly belong to these realms. As does ‘the Tao’. And also those realms from shamanism and mythology called ‘the underworld’ and ‘the overworld’. This is just to mention a few – many names exist for it, from many traditions.
It seems to be a place, yet at the same time a presence. At other times it seems to consist of several presences. Or voices. Personalities. Who we soon discover, abandon us the moment we imagine them existing for us or our benefit. Yet their vitality is where our life force derives from. When we've settled into receptivity. When we've opened to hear with our hearts. And to follow its unfolding, where it leads, despite its seeming irrationality. Despite the sometimes immense discomfort of the paths it takes us on.
Abandoning the child
After a while, it dawns on us that it or they are not ‘me’. That they are ‘other’. And that ‘other’ is distinct from ‘mother’ in that it is not concerned with our safety and comfort. That ‘following’ demands abandoning being a child. While not losing the kind of innocence necessary to enter into the unknown. To abandon our childishness while remaining intimate with our childlikeness. And so, to be guided into deeper relationship with the world and others. We cannot enter the depths of soul if we've not yet stopped feeding our addiction to be taken care of. Until we consistently do this, all our ideas about spirituality and soul are merely frivolous entertainment. And we really don't know what we're talking about.
Being ‘other’, it exists beyond our control. The emotions, ideas and storylines flowing from it and influencing us, are independent from us. And yet we are inextricably affected by them. But as long as we remain identified with these movements as ‘my’ emotions, ‘my’ thoughts, ‘my’ being, as ‘me’, we lack the spaciousness needed to open into authentic spiritual awareness. And our childishness continues to rule our inner world. Moving me, myself and I out of the way is required to enter ‘the magic theatre’.
The pain, discomfort and joy of truly experiencing and meeting these influences from our inner depths is our ‘inner work’. Which cultivates, gradually, deepening into awareness. Whether we do this determines whether we continue to sleepwalk through life. Or whether we enter into a wakefully involved, deeply delicious yet troublesome dance with existence. Doing our inner work, we mysteriously find ourselves more open. And more capable of navigating and relating truly and truthfully to the outer world and others. No longer needing first ‘to resonate’ with what and who we encounter.
The curse of names
Naming such realities as this vastness is dangerous. This limitless depth of Heraclitus, this infinity, not only pertains to the dimension of inner ‘space’. It is beyond time. And the diversity of phenomena ‘inside it’ is inexhaustible. When we become too attached and too preoccupied with the meanings we give these names, we no longer experience the vastness. And that experience is at the heart of the true meaning of ‘awareness’. When we become possessed by the surface of our lives, we lose the experience of depth. We suffer from ‘loss of soul’.
The danger of names relate to the intimate relationship between the naming of things, and what has been called ‘the dark arts of magic’. The very act of naming casts a spell over the user. Names for indefinable, infinite realities should always merely serve communication about those realities. In other words, we have to remember that the meanings we ascribe to these words, the images we associate with them, can never define the realities they speak of. The finger that points to the moon is never itself the moon. When we forget this, these names become a curse. We become trapped in the meanings we associate with them.
Often without realising it, we associate fixed and finite meanings with these names. Names tend to ossify. Then we lose the experience of their meanings. In other words, we lose the experience of what they point to. We say the words ‘unconscious,’ ‘imaginal,’ or ‘Tao’ and we unconsciously think we know what they mean. We believe we know how these realities work, what they do, how they affect and influence us. Even, ‘how to use them’ to achieve our own personal goals. It's as if we believe we can use them like we use symbols in mathematical calculations.
Moving ourselves out of the way
For example, we tell ourselves and others that it is important ‘to become and be conscious.’ Or, we imagine that ‘the unconscious is something in the brain’, that it is called ‘the unconscious mind’. Or that we ‘must not fall into unconsciousness’. That we should always ‘make the unconscious conscious.’ From this implicit denial of the depth of soul flow ideas like ‘psychology is all a matter of brain chemistry.’ Or, ‘our well-being is all about eating the right food.’ We tend to become so imprisoned by ‘surface-thinking’ when our ‘personal growth’ has become just another goal-oriented ‘ego project’.
Here we use ‘the unconscious’ to illustrate the point. Because it is the one name mentioned above to have been sufficiently assimilated into consensus culture. So, how it is used, has become widely visible. A big part of the curse of such names relates to how these names feed our identity. To how my speaking of ‘the unconscious’ as if I know what it is, makes me feel a particular sense of myself. That, right there, is what we call ‘ego’. It is not an accident that ‘ego’ is Latin for ‘I’. And that's the real curse: we become trapped in ego. Reassuring ourselves that we are in control. That we're okay. Special. Or, ‘in the know.’
But, the Tao that can be captured in words is not the true Tao. When we relate to the vast realms of existence through our formulas, through mental definitions, we are no longer in direct experiential relationship with that place. With its lively presence and the presences of multiple personalities in the soul. This is what James Hillman calls ‘literalisation’. What Eckhart Tolle calls ‘the mind-identified state’. Which, both are clear, is the main obstacle to dropping into a direct experience of being.
Entering the unknown
It is all secretly about me, myself and I. Which would be fine. But, that ‘sense of myself’ I feed so faithfully always runs dry over time. It does not nourish the soul. In fact, it saps the soul. So gradually, that we struggle to notice the relationship of cause and effect. A clear sign of being stuck in ego, is the feeling that ‘I've got it all figured out.’ Or the striving to do so. Because, when we are addicted to formulas, our real journey has long stopped dead in its tracks.
Here is ‘the rub’. The ‘limitless depth’ of soul is not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Its vastness, its limitlessness means that most of it is unknown to us. No matter how much inner work we have done. This is why the kind of ‘scientific-mindedness’ that sells the idea of ‘happiness’ being a matter of the right formula, does not serve soul. As opposed to the cautious trepidation of the scientist who knows the truly meaningful use of the scientific method is to explore what is unknown.
Facing the unknown always involves feeling like we do not have what it takes to meet it fully. To cope with the vastness while dealing with the demands of the world. Because the unknown always contains real danger. When we habitually prioritise our safety, security and comfort, we are ruled by our inner child. Who is always overwhelmed by this vastness. Then it is better not to enter at all. And yet, the great paradox is that this journey of entering and engaging the vastness is an essential tonic for nourishing soul. The golden elixir of Alchemy. For, an essence of soul is true journeying. And there is no true journey in already knowing what awaits us where we go.
To truly meet this vastness we must always do so ‘as a beginner.’ As Shunryu Suzuki Roshi pointed out so poignantly in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Every step we give on this journey is always the beginning of the rest of the journey. The next step in meeting what we do not yet know. This requires the kind of awareness that is ‘fresh’, open, receptive and curious to learn anew from every moment.
The real meaning of what Jung called ‘the unconscious’ lies in our live relationship with it. Not in our ideas and theories of how to use it and what it is for. Without this relationship, all our knowledge is meaningless. And, like all true relationships, this journey is difficult, unpredictable and scary. Because the forces involved do not behave as we want them to. And, they have the power to completely overwhelm us, destroy us, and rip our lives apart. One of the core implications of this, is that the only way to live truthfully involves living true to the reality of the fundamental uncertainty of our existence.
Jung told us that in its very nature the unconscious is at any moment at least 90% unknown to us. And a large portion of it is fundamentally unknowable. No amount of ‘making the unconscious conscious’ ever changes this. What makes this significant is that we are affected on the surface of our everyday existence by these vast realms. So, if the unconscious is a source of our actual experience. And if we truly consider that it is as vast and as all-embracing as the entirety of existence. Then perhaps we start glimpsing the meaning and truth of the uncertainty of living in constant open dialogue with it. Without which one's life-force dries out.
As above, so below
Imagine the countless galaxies out there. Containing millions of suns, with numerous bodies revolving around them. Some suns being newly born, some burning stably, some exploding, some fading out. Imagine vortices and black holes swallowing whole constellations. The sinister mystery of dark matter. The infinite variety of planets made up of different substances. And the millions distinct cosmic processes that are enormous, violent and turbulent in their power and scope.
Now imagine your awareness being like the surface of some tiny distant planet. And, let's say it looks similar to that of earth. With volcanoes, tornadoes, tsunamis, violent quiverings of the physical surface and countless other phenomena, both peaceful and violent. Now imagine that there are connections between everything that goes on in this vast universe and what happens on the surface of ‘your planet’. And that what happens here affects what happens there, both ways, but that ultimately ‘your planet’ is but a miniscule part of it all. Now, imagine all of it, going through phases of contraction and expansion, is one gigantic ‘animal’. Breathing in. Breathing out. As above, so below.
What is called ‘the unconscious’ is an actual reality. It is. Yet, it is constantly shifting and changing, while at the same time containing constellations that remain fixed for aeons. It contains forces utterly beyond our control. And those forces affect our everyday awareness and experience. We are fundamentally exposed to this vastness that permeates our existence. All the time. If we try to change this by numbing its effects on us, we smother our experience of soul. And expose ourselves to potentially devastating ‘symptoms’. But if we learn to open to it, a relationship develops and a true journey unfolds that is the source of enormous riches. Even if to ‘normal modern sensibilities,’ doing this seems like madness.