Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Year That Almost Wasn't: Looking Into the Face of Death

Everything was surreal...hazy in fact. My vision was coming into focus. Panic. Something’s not right. FEAR. Why am I feeling all these emotions? I hear my name. I turn my head. I realize I’m upside down. How does this guy know my name? Where am I? Loud noises. Another man enters from the opposite side of what appears to be a car that has my body suspended by a seat belt. I’m dazed. Disoriented. This guy is wearing a fireman’s uniform and is putting a neck brace on me. Why do I need a neck brace? What happened!? WHAT THE…WHERE IS THIS SUDDEN INTENSE PAIN COMING FROM!? I CAN’T HANDLE THIS…MY PANIC IS INCREASING!! AM I GOING TO BE OK!? SOMEONE TELL ME! I’VE BEEN IN AN ACCIDENT HAVEN’T I!? “Yes Tim, you’ve been in an accident” the first man says. “You’re going to be fine…we’ll have you out shortly”. But his tone of voice betrayed his awareness of my dire situation. Strangely though, at that moment, the peaceful feeling returned.

Such was my initial awakening to a new phase in life at around 8:45 am on Tuesday, July 21st, 2009. I had been reborn, but I didn’t know it then. It was as if the blackout that caused the accident re-programmed my mind. The events of the previous ten years, and especially the most recent year were to take on a whole new meaning.

Adversity purifies like a fire. I don’t know how to explain it unless you’ve had a similar experience. The previous 365 days to that Tuesday had involved a painful divorce, a morbid personal financial collapse, and a disintegration of opportunities in the radio career that had occupied my life since the age of 15. Those events were enough to bring me into a deep depression. The bottom (and awakening) was being at death’s door. At that point, I had nothing else to lose. My unconscious gave my mind permission to set the depressing elements aside and to examine my interior. I’m convinced it was the beginning of a period of enlightenment that will continue for life.

My life to that point had been a constant conflict of opposites. I know now that this is part of our innate human psyche. The reconciliation or coming together of those opposites, I’m convinced, is the key to enlightenment. It allows you to embrace all of your humanity and to face your entire being. For many, this is a fearful process, and so we make this kind of self-reflection a taboo in our society. This becomes dangerous, because we suppress our dark side and only acknowledge and pursue what we perceive to be the make-up of our lives: Our belief systems, careers, family, pleasure, and daily activities. However, this dark side WILL make itself known unless you face it ahead of time. The results of this appearance of your un-acknowledged unconscious dark side will not be pleasant.

The self-discovery I’m speaking of is not easy. To search out your soul is a lonely journey, and one must be aware of that going into it. It is work, and requires a conscious effort. This is not something that just “happens” to a person. What you discover, and how it shapes your worldview, idea of God, actions, behaviors and mindset will have a direct affect on those around you. If done properly, it COULD end up costing you relationships and “friends” (and in fact has done so in my own experience). It can literally re-structure EVERYTHING in your life…if you remain true to yourself. But the rewards of filling the void…a void that religion, career or my failed marriage NEVER filled for me…are incredible and are the true meaning of happiness.

In the past, I have been on the other side of observing this process in those around me. As I look back, I realize that I created distance between us because their self-knowledge pointed out areas I wasn’t ready to face in myself. However, anyone pursuing their own discovery will have gained the independence and security of mind necessary for their journey. Instead of (for lack of a better term) a co-dependent relationship to life, they can truly love others through the great love and respect they have for the person they’ve discovered inside of themselves. This is how we establish community and peaceful co-existence.

It is especially tough for anyone that has become attached to financial obligations, career, family, religion or political views to embark on this venture. We live in fear. We crave security. So we cling tightly to what has always been there. We become dogmatic and oppressive. This is not out of the knowledge of being right, but a fear of being wrong. We surround ourselves with those who think like us. It provides a confirmation of our own beliefs, because we hear it from the mouths of others. It is terrifying to think about giving up everything we thought to be true. A complete life upheaval is too scary to contemplate. So, our minds suppress the questioning. It is an unconscious trap and a circular process that feeds on itself to create anxiety, stress and a feeling of: “Is this all there is?”

The minds of many individuals make up the collective mind of society, so the fear of questioning becomes imbedded in culture. Let’s take religion for example. Having been raised in a strict religious environment, I was always taught to NEVER question, but to accept the “truth” of The Bible. Of course, this “truth” was whatever interpretation happened to be taught by the authority figures around me, whether it was family, my pastor, or the teachers and professors at the schools and colleges I went to in my younger years.

Our political system is in many ways not open to questioning as well. We can question within certain boundaries (which are often set by the media), but most of the really BIG issues that would cause massive disruption of our daily lives (say a re-writing of The U.S. Constitution), are not open to debate. We would have to lose everything as a nation for this to even be a consideration.

I use the above examples as illustrations of the kind of interior questioning to which I’m referring. To effectively embark on this journey, I discovered that I had to discard ALL my previous beliefs and attachments. This incorporated everything from my “god-image” to politics, career, life goals, materialism, any fears of alienating or offending people, etc. Everything is open to questioning. I wiped the slate clean and started over. I had to begin with: “what if I was alone with no outside influences, people or education?” Assuming that I could still communicate with myself, I would realize that my own survival required concern for my personal well-being. In other words, it’s love and respect of self. So, love becomes my starting point. Then love becomes justice when we start to deal with others. This is the basis of my worldview. The recognition of love, just like the recognition of “good” requires an assumption of its opposite. Otherwise, love and good would simply BE, with no real significance. So, we must reconcile that we have within us the opposite concepts of hate and evil. Knowing that we all have this potential greatly reduces the pressure we put on ourselves. It also allows us to examine this dark side, to bring it into our consciousness as much as possible. Once we are able to do that, we know the interior better and we can learn to accept that this is simply a part of our make-up. This is where I believe religion gets it wrong by telling us that we are INNATELY sinful. No. What this misguided teaching does is suppress the dark element within us to the point that we step into the muck of what we were trying to avoid. What a proper balance of opposites does is produce awareness and knowledge of evil so that we can better counter it with love.

One personal conviction I would like to share is that I believe this process can NOT be done with ANY degree of substance abuse. This includes even a buzz from alcohol. I don’t know how a mind can go through intense self-observation when it is not fully aware at all times. For me personally, any craving for a form of a mind-numbing intoxicant (alcohol, tv, etc) has reduced in proportion to my degree of self-discovery. In fact, I haven’t consumed alcohol or any non-medical drugs at all throughout this past year.

It has also been important for me to write down my dreams. One of my many reading influences recently has been Carl Jung, and I strongly support his idea that the dreams reflect the messages coming from the unconscious. His idea of the primordial archetypes in the dreams has been central to my questioning of the “god-image”. I do believe in the influence of a god-image, but I hesitate to call it “God”, because that invokes familiar ideas that I do not associate with my conception of “God”. If I could name it something different, I would. In the days after my accident, I referred to “God” as “The Almighty”. However, this is also a bit too close to our religious terminology. For me, this higher power is internal. It is a part of us. It is love and understanding. It is acceptance. It is self-knowledge. It is justice. It is what binds us together and makes us one. It is inclusive, not exclusive. It is not something “out there” it is “in here”.

More changes have occurred with me internally than externally over this past year. Never before had I really learned how to embrace change. Change is a constant. That’s a phrase we often hear, but don’t truly comprehend…at least I didn’t. Society changes. Religion changes. Countries and governments evolve. Population increases. Our technology advances. This naturally involves questioning. Otherwise, how are we to understand the changes? These changes aren’t “better” or “worse”, they just ARE. They include their own version of opposites. Clinging to the past will not provide the answers. It causes bitterness, oppression and the stifling of growth, which leads to the death of the soul. Learning from our common past is important to me. Acknowledging my OWN past has been VERY important. But I don’t cling to either one. I continue to move forward. Free-thinking is crucial. I had to learn on my own how to do that. Rote learning was not and is not conducive to a fulfilling life. My wish for you is that you can have the courage to really discover who you are. It is the most rewarding journey you will ever take, and I hope you can do it without any painful adversity as a catalyst. The more comfortable we become with the art of respectful questioning, the more comfortable and secure we become around others. That’s because we realize that they just might have more to offer to us than we have to give to them.

I’m grateful for all that I’ve experienced in life. It’s been tough, but as it’s placed me where I am, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you for reading, and may you have much peace, joy and love in your world today and always.

Tim Hartman

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Playing "god"

While reading The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, I was struck by a question. What is the methodology through which a society or individual determines what is “normal” or “moral”? Despite the controversies over Styron’s novel, his portrayal of slavery in all its detailed horror was exemplary. How did (and does) humanity justify the forced labor of another individual? How did this become “accepted”? Why is it that many are so opposed to the progression of human rights of any kind? We always have an ongoing struggle for a particular segment of society. In that sense my questions involve elements of power, an objective morality, and equality, among other issues.

For me it comes down to the psychological need to play god…to be “right”. With my thoughts currently influenced by readings of Jung, it would then produce an enantiodromia or a conflict of opposites. An attempt to define morality in a specific way has the real danger of producing what you’re trying to avoid. I had addressed this topic in previous reviews of Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison. Subjectivity is reality. Objectivity is subjective. Ultimately everything is filtered through your own mind before you can “comprehend” it. Considering this, the collective morality of a society is whatever is agreeable SUBJECTIVELY to the majority of its citizens or those in power, whatever the case may be.

The question of “normality”, then, takes on the form of groupthink. Just as passages from The Bible (supposedly a source of “objective” truth) justified slavery up until the 19th century in America, so today does it justify the denial of rights to homosexuals and the oppression of women. How then is this objectivity? Doesn’t it amount to interpretation? Isn’t the mind (or group mind) the ultimate arbiter? Doesn’t the decision then become “THE” moral code once enough people agree upon it? That moral code then becomes tradition. The longer it is in place, the more authority the code attains. We see this with constant political justifications of morality through the invocation of the U.S. Constitution (a document that was DESIGNED to be amended by our subjective minded founders). Simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done” is not a justification for morality…to my subjective mind.

I once believed in the concept of the “moral law”. This is the idea that there is (supposedly somewhere out “there”) an ideal of right and wrong that everyone intuitively knows. However, as is obvious in the case of slavery, this moral law is subject to modification over the years. Therefore we are back once again to subjectivity. Even the concept of love becomes subjectively interpreted as to how it LOOKS in practice. Still, love remains the strongest concept that I can cling to.

It is with age that these questions have hit me. I can see clearly how I view things much differently from even a year ago, before my accident, and especially the last two, not to mention 10 years. My own subjectivity of time, place, genetics, etc… are all a part of me. In a very real sense, this produces a bit of chaos in my mind. I start to realize what is meant by the more you know the less you know. Or the more experience you gain, the less you know.

My goal is not to confuse with these thoughts, but to expand thinking. The best we can do is to examine these questions and consider, (with all of who we are and have been as humanity), the best way to progress forward. It is only experience that can guide us, but at the same time, we can’t use experience as a crutch. Moving forward always requires a discarding of elements of the past. Getting past the fear of asking questions has been the key to my own journey. I hope you are experiencing your own independence of mind, because it is only through your mind that “reality” exists. Your thoughts are something that no one has the right to control.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Carl Jung, Alchemy, and My Dream

Without question, this has been the most literary year of my life. Jungian thinking would point to the unconscious as guiding me towards the right books. It’s uncanny how my reading has been progressing in an order that seems planned (not by me). Sure, you have some idea of what the book is going to be about. But without reading it you don’t know what specifically will be said. My reading has helped my self-reflection immensely.

I am currently in the middle of reading Carl Jung. I don’t know if it’s a result of his words, or if I’ve become more conscious of dreams SINCE reading him. One way or the other, my dreams have been taking on different tones. Jung talks about mythological archetypes in relation to philosophical alchemy that have accumulated in the collective unconscious of humanity. I have no doubt this is true as I think about some of my own dreams. Symbolism of being trapped, circles, mandalas have all been there as I look back over the years. Also, a constant reoccurring dream has incorporated bodies of water, which according to Jung represents the deep recesses of the unconscious. Perhaps you also can relate to some of this.

I had a dream last night that absolutely floored me. I wish I could remember more of it. I woke up around 2 am thinking about it, but I was too tired to get out of bed and put it on paper. The most striking visual image went like this:

I was walking down a hallway, when I noticed a male friend (faceless, nameless, but he portrayed a feeling of warmth/friendship) approaching me from the opposite direction. I realized that we were both holding decks of cards. He smiled at me as we stopped to greet each other and said that we would both turn over the top cards in our deck and see what we had. Well, I had the ace of spades, and he had the ace of clubs. I remembered Jung talking about the ace of clubs as symbolic of a Christian motif as it represents the cross. Jung briefly mentions the importance of the ace card as the lowest and highest value card in the deck. Beyond that, there is not much insight in what I read from Jung in relation to this. Once we had identified our cards, my friendly acquaintance smiled again, and went on walking down the hall in the OPPOSITE direction from where I was going. I felt (in my dream) that our going in those different directions was somehow important.

I just looked up the symbolism for the ace of spades (my card), and it is known as the “death card” according to common mythology. I had never heard this before (that I can remember). I don’t know what it means, but I’m quite intrigued.

Jung talks about these mythological motifs that have accumulated in the collective unconsciousness over the years. These include the themes of the divine mother/son, the anima (in males…representing female symbolism) and animus (in females…representing male symbolism). There are also the higher power or “god” motifs, which can take on various forms. My thoughts drifted to these questions: Was the god motif imbedded in our collective unconscious BY a higher power? Or are humans with these symbolic motifs inclined to create gods (which all have similar attributes) BECAUSE our unconsciousness has evolved in this way? Perhaps a god is no more than what is inside of us.

I do know that over the past year, I have been allowing my conscious and unconsciousness to “transcend” as Jung would describe it. I have opened my mind to simply UNDERSTAND. Recently, I have even discarded all labels and ideological/political affiliations to further facilitate this. I began this process even before reading Jung, but now I can articulate what it was that I was doing. Self-reflection is tough, and you must face some deep dark truths about what may be hidden inside of you. However, Jung warns about the danger of not facing all the elements of your COMPLETE self. By not doing this, you are trapping psychic energy in your unconscious which may manifest itself in unpleasant ways. Part of knowing YOU includes the conscious (ego) AND the unconscious (or as much as possible…we can’t get to it all in the unconscious). THAT is the complete self.