We don’t realize how much is being synchronized so that we might function normally in the world. There are some intricate balances that are being maintained at all times. Who is in charge? Who is orchestrating, directing, the action? It’s mostly unconscious, out of our awareness. “We” are just along for the ride! This was brought home to me last week when I had a bout with a bad sandwich, which I didn’t know was bad, but something knew. And, after my body got rid of the culprit, I not only did not want to repeat that particular sandwich experience ever again, but, food in its entirety was repulsive. It is as though my body was saying, “No more! If I can’t trust you any better than that, I’m not having any of it ever again!”
Well. Just try to function in the world without proper nutrition! You don’t think straight without proper nutrition. I couldn’t connect any dots. I would go to bed without taking my cholesterol medication, making coffee, or brushing my teeth. What does my body think it’s doing? It has to eat! Who is in charge here? What is he, or she, thinking? Kick my body back in, will you? Give me an appetite! How long do you expect me to wait around, subsisting on a diet of yogurt and dry toast, until you come to your senses?
Our bodies can turn against us. Disease, or a bad sandwich, can wreck the internal balancing mechanism. Our digestive system can shut down. Our auto-immune system can attack good cells and ignore the bad ones. We can hallucinate ourselves into a world no one can enter but us. Schizophrenics, and bi-polar victims, and psychotics have slipped out of balance. Their Synchronizer took an extended leave of absence, leaving no one at the controls.
I see that as more evidence of the reality of the Psyche. When the flow of life, when the internal harmony, is disrupted by a significant trauma, or maybe just a bump in the road (like a bad sandwich), things can be a long time falling back into place. And, they may never return to “normal.” Maybe “abnormal” becomes the “new normal,” and everyone in our lives has to adjust to a “balance” that is more “extreme” than “smoothly running.”
What can we do about it? What can we do when we are not in charge of the operation of what constitutes “us” in the world? What can we do when no one who might be in charge asks our opinion, or consults us in any way, or considers our ideas and suggestions? How can we bring consciousness to bear upon the unconscious processes? I can force myself to eat, but I can’t keep from throwing up. Now, there’s a pickle for you! What can be done to restore harmonious interaction of “the self” and get ourselves to a reasonably acceptable level of functioning in the world? Honor the Psyche! Bear the pain! Wait it out! Accept what comes! I know my body doesn’t want to eat, and I know my body has to eat. I honor the Psyche by attending my body and giving it what it will eat. If that is yogurt and dry toast, then, that’s that. How long can I live on yogurt and dry toast? I don’t know. How long will it take before my body moves on to something more substantial? I don’t know. But, I know I can’t force-feed myself without it coming back at me. My body has the lead here. I’m just along for the ride.
Learning, and accepting, my place in the world of the Psyche is the fundamental lesson. How might consciousness serve unconsciousness? What does unconsciousness “have in mind”? How might consciousness assist the unconscious processes? Who is in charge here? Who is in control? Toward what end are “we” living? How might “we” be better coordinated in the work to realize that end? How does consciousness commune with unconsciousness for the good of the whole? How do we wake up to the reality of the Psyche? Metaphor. Images. Stories. Ink blots. Art. Music. Dreams. Play. Nature. Silence. Meditation. Retreats. Reflection. Walk-a-bouts. Wool-gathering. Day-dreaming. Writing. Conversation. Slips-of-the-tongue. The list is long.
The human predicament is that we know what we want, but we don’t know what to want, and we don’t want what we should want. We want what we have no business having. Which, of course, is the essence of sin. Wanting what we should want is the essence of right-living and peace. It is our life’s work to align ourselves with the right things, to align ourselves with what might be called “the way of the Psyche.”
The Psyche’s agenda, so to speak, seems to be on the order of things like: wholeness, integrity, completion, fulfillment, harmony, concord, and peace. The Psyche is not concerned about our personal advantage. Jesus can die, for instance, in the service of his alignment with the Psyche, in the service of a greater good than his own, personal good. What is good for us may not be good at all, and thus, the factor determining action is not what’s in it for us, or what we stand to gain or lose, or what the advantage or benefit to us might be, but what integrity requires, what wholeness and peace demand.
I am well-integrated in the mountains or desert with a camera, yet, I would be radically disintegrated on a tour bus with forty other photographers, or at a week-long photography convention. Some experiences reconnect us and help us get it together, and some experiences fragment us and tear us apart. Neither the Army nor an ashram would be good for me. I do not live well on someone else’s terms, on someone else’s schedule. In some places we are splintered, in some places we are whole. It helps to know where we belong, and where we have no business being.
Our work is wholeness, authenticity, realness. But, being authentic, genuine, and real does not mean telling people what we think or saying what’s on our minds. That’s nothing more than bad manners. The work of authenticity is the work of bringing ourselves to life in the world. It is the work of waking up and becoming a true human being.
Yet, it is never enough to be awake, personally and individually. Enlightenment is not for our edification. It is for the transformation of the world. As Tom Jackson reminded us last week, waking up implicates us in the process of waking others up—to the extent that they can be awakened—by identifying, and supporting, and participating in institutions and traditions that offer alternative ways of seeing and living in the popular culture of our day. Alternative, enlightened and enlightening, movements are everywhere. It is just a matter of realizing that and linking up with them in the work of redefining the legitimate goals and purposes of life, and transforming—waking up—the world.
This social side of what we might call salvation, of what is awakening and enlightenment, has often been neglected in favor of a religion of personal piety and individual realization. Whether it is accepting Jesus, or achieving satori, the work is private and the impact on culture and society is more symbolic than substantive. We might outlaw alcohol, for example, but leave the darker, deeper matters of racism, wealth-and-poverty, and inequality, unaddressed and undisturbed.
The culture is always happy for people to get religion or become enlightened because that occupies the people’s attention while the culture is busy reducing their freedom and limiting their lives, and binding them to the service of the culture. Whom does the culture serve? Who benefits from the way life is lived? Who is harmed by it? In the west, do we exist for the economy, or does the economy exist for us? Do we serve the economy, or does the economy serve us? Who benefits from the economy? Who is harmed by it?
When Clinton said, “It’s about the economy, stupid,” he meant we will do anything to be wealthy. We will do anything to feel wealthy. We will do anything to be apparently wealthy. The economy owns us, and we will not do anything to hurt our economic chances, no matter how saved or enlightened we may be. The culture doesn’t care about our religion because it knows our real religion is our economic self-interest, and we will not allow ourselves to be any more awake than we can afford to be.
Jesus said, “No one can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have and follow me.” Jesus was dead-on, but now he’s just dead. And all the talk about his resurrection and his getting us to heaven when we die keeps him dead, and keeps us from having to deal with the deep truth of his counter-cultural challenge to the powers and principalities that force apparent life down one path and keep real life from branching off onto others.
The writer of John’s gospel had Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” John wasn’t putting Jesus forth as the only alternative to all the other religions in the world. John was putting Jesus forth as the only alternative to the predominant culture of the world. John is having Jesus talk to Caesar here. John is having Jesus say, “Rome doesn’t know beans about what is important. If you do it Caesar’s way, you will be lost and gone forever. I am the way, the truth, and the life. Stop serving the culture—stop serving the idea of your own personal wealth—and serve God.” Ah, but, we want all this and heaven, too, so, we bow to God and marry Caesar. And, the call is the same one that rolls through the ages: “Wake up! Realize what you are doing!”
Our work is that of waking up, waking ourselves up, waking each other up, catching ourselves in the act of sleeping on the job. Tools for the work are fresh eyes, “beginner’s eyes.” Ah, now that’s the trick! Looking at what we have always seen and seeing it differently! Who can do that on cue, on schedule? What’s the formula for seeing something else, something more? Where DOES seeing come from? How DOES seeing happen? It occurs, more often than not, don’t you know, just by fooling around. We stumble our way into enlightenment, and wake ourselves up by tripping over the cat, or going for a walk with the dog, or taking a shower. Which makes it an inexact science, and puts the outcome quite beyond our control. Nothing is more important or less manageable than waking up. And, that’s what’s waiting on us—to wake ourselves up and everyone else as well.