A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

14 In the Service of the Ego-II

John 6:27
27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

For the past three weeks we have been attempting to describe more and more specific techniques we can use to reliably distinguish between the meat that perishes and the meat that endures forever. Today we will go deeper into some established concepts from the field of psychology, to see if we can find in them connections that will be helpful in sharpening our perceptions of and sensitivities to spiritual truth.

Last week we discussed the unhappy fact that many, many people use what ought to be spiritual food as fodder to feed their famished carnal nature. The language of spirituality, or, we might say the jargon of spirituality can deceive us into thinking we are being spiritual when, in fact we are being merely mindless monkeys parroting back empty words. As Julian Jaynes has reminded us, consciousness consists, in large part, of the language with which we express experience--and if our language is corrupt at bottom, our expressions will convey no truth, only noise.  As we mentioned last week, this is why, even when we seek the spiritual truth of the Word, so that we may transcend the natural propensities of our sinful flesh, we so often fall short of this potential, and remain sinners; we discussed how sometimes, even with the purest of intentions, our literal consciousness mistakes truthful virtue for just another kind of sin in sheep's clothing.

It goes without saying, that the things our literal consciousness, the ego, needs to function well in daily life, and the things our higher consciousness, the soul, needs to experience HIGHER reality, may not be the same things. This is the problem: we need to learn to distinguish carefully between the qualities of our various experiences, and, as Rainier Maria Rilke says:
"Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”
As Chogyam Trungpa says:

“Enlightenment is ego's ultimate disappointment.”

Deepak Chopra says:
“The ego relies on the familiar. It is reluctant to experience the unknown, which is the very essence of life.”

The aggressive dogmatist is always ready and spoiling for a fight over some semantic detail, not because the idea  is significant, but because clinging to the familiarity of the concept gives him a false sense of security. Like the youthful RFT, he wants truth that stays the same tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

As Joseph Campbell says:
“How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick.”

I found this quote in the medieval work Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. In this statement, Boethius is proposing the idea that the perfect good (God) exists and manifests as a unity, and that any expression that falls short of a perfect unity cannot be true:

"And here I conceive it proper to inquire, first, whether any excellence, such as thou hast lately defined, can exist in the nature of things, lest we be deceived by an empty fiction of thought to which no true reality answers. But it cannot be denied that such does exist, and is, as it were, the source of all things good. For everything which is called imperfect is spoken of as imperfect by reason of the privation of some perfection; so it comes to pass that, whenever imperfection is found in any particular, there must necessarily be a perfection in respect of that particular also. For were there no such perfection, it is utterly inconceivable how that so-called imperfection should come into existence. Nature does not make a beginning with things mutilated and imperfect; she starts with what is whole and perfect, and falls away later to these feeble and inferior productions."

Thus, Boethius insists on the existence of a perfect world created by a perfect God; any departure from that perfection is the consequence of a departure from wholeness into a partialness, a privation of perfection. The villain in this scenario of "feeble and inferior productions" is the EGO. It is the Ego that attempts desperately to maintain psychic stability by creating "empty fictions".

Last week we reviewed Freud's theory of the three-level structure of consciousness: the Id, the Ego, and the Super-ego. In this theory, the term "Id" refers to our most base carnal impulses--impulses which are totally self-centered, animalistic, and which demand immediate gratification; the term "Super-ego" refers to man's highest, most civilized states of consciousness, such as patience, tolerance, and forgiveness--consciousness states which clearly reside on the borders of the world of abstraction. The term "Ego" refers to the state of mind which acts as a buffer, a mid-ground between the base carnal nature, and the higher moral nature.

Clearly, it is not difficult to translate Freud's terminology into Christian language:
1. the Id is man's fleshly carnal nature,
2. the Ego is the human nature, the state of consciousness which, deceived by the false truth of mundane language, is still victimized by origin sin, but which is gradually becoming aware of the spiritual dimension of its own existence, and
3. the Super-ego is the born-again, combination Son of Man and Son of God.

Last week we heard the following from Rudolf Steiner:

"By overcoming the dictates of both our 'lower' and 'higher' sources of experience, by orchestrating a meeting place of objective and subjective elements of experience, we find the freedom to choose how to think and act.

Freedom for Steiner thus does not lie in uninhibited expression of our subjective nature, but in the conscious unification of this with the objective constraints of the world.

Steiner coined the term moral imagination for the inner act which results in free action. He suggests that we only achieve free deeds when we find a moral imagination, an ethically impelled but particularized response to the immediacy of a given situation. This response will always be individual; it cannot be predicted or prescribed. This radical ethical individualism is, for Steiner, characteristic of freedom."

The idea of "orchestrating a meeting place of objective and subjective elements of experience" is the crux of the matter; becoming conscious of how man's subjective nature can achieve unification with the objective constraints of the world is the whole problem; in order to evaluate experience as either spiritual or carnal we must develop the powers of discrimination which allow us to distinguish between the spiritual and the carnal. Easier said than done, to be sure. We must learn how to take the various levels of experience in hand (expressed, made conscious, largely through the medium of language, remember) and reconcile them into an integrated gestalt (which can only take place in the domain of the heart). Indeed, the relationships between, or, rather the FLOW between the Will, the Spirit, the Word, and the Language, is the subject of this discussion. The linking of the higher to the lower ground is a miracle, but it is not beyond our powers of description, a description which may prove useful in developing the sensitivities of discrimination mentioned above.

Steiner, coins the term moral imagination, to represent this meeting ground of the higher and lower nature; however, what is lacking in Steiner's lecture is a precise description of the actual structure of moral imagining--he doesn't say HOW--he gives us no blueprint of the process by which is made possible "an ethically impelled but particularized response to the immediacy of a given situation". What is it that kicks the mechanism of moral imagination into operation? We will get there.

At this point, we will take a closer look at a mental process called "Regression" and hopefully this will provide us with a rationally articulate, step-by-step process for reproducing in ourselves, as in a spiritual laboratory, this experience of moral imagining that brings the carnal ravings of the Flesh and the Heavenly resonance of the Word together into an harmonious synthesized state of mind. It will be noticed right away that this regression of which we speak is intimately linked to the idea of Epiphany, of which we have already spoken at length, but let's tuck that idea away in a corner for awhile, and come back to it in a minute.

The following material exposes and develops the concept of psychological regression. This not a new idea for us, since I have previously mentioned it as one of the key stages in the process of epiphanic re-centering: in simple terms, regression is a state of mind in which clarity of verbal thinking disperses into a more basic, experience of primitive physical impulses, a sinking into the Id, you might say. The psychological consequence of regression is a reduction of emotional tension.

The following is taken from the Psychology Wiki: Regression in Service of the Ego:
"This was a phrase developed by Ernst Kris during his work in ego psychology indicating the creative benefits of regression.
He felt that the aims of the ego were sometimes enhanced by the ability of people to regress and use the irrational processes of the unconscious and the Id to develop alternative ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. While this is of obvious advantage to artists he was thinking too of the wider benefits of such flexibility."

This is from Healthy Regression, by Mark Sichel, LCSW:

"We discussed regression in somewhat negative terms in Regression. The important thing to realize is that not all regressive behaviors are bad for you. Regression, like the flight/fight response, is universal. Every one of us has times when we regress. There are many regressive behaviors that are actually healthy and adaptive. Below you will find behaviors which clinically are considered regressive, however, they are what psychologists call "regressive in the service of the ego."

Psychologists define the ego as the part of our psychological makeup which functions as the executive in charge of our psyche.

Regression in the service of the ego consists of activities and behaviors that help us to repair from the stress of life, and replenish ourselves in order to continue to function well."

The following is taken from The Myth of Sisyphus: regression in service of the ego, written by aldussault:

"The egoic presence is a warrior ever standing guard and waiting for the moment to engage.  It is forever scanning the world to look for something to judge badly and by so doing think that it has the upper moral hand. The ego, the part of me that I mostly know by my first name, Al, is confusing what it needs to stay dominant, with what my organism needs to stay content and peaceful.  The ego grew with the same pace as my physical development.  It was the perceiving, organizing, protecting, defensive aspect of me that kept me safe, that is, kept my identity safe.  As the chore of keeping my identity safe became confused with the chore of keeping my organism safe, my ego developed its current practice of keeping my identity, my thoughts and emotions and opinions safe from encroachment.  

In other words, it became engaged in keeping my ego identity safe and forfeited the job of keeping my organism safe  There is a phrase we use in psychoanalysis called, “regression in service of the ego.”  This phrase was developed in 1952 by a then prominent psychoanalyst, Ernst Kris.  Essentially he talks about a feeling of elation that is used as motivation in the creative process.  He speaks of this sensation as feeling as if it comes from outside, from an as outside agent.  His thought was that this was some kind of psychotic regression to some pre-egoic condition.  I have a different take on it. My feeling is that it feels like it comes from outside the self because it is coming from the wider consciousness that is actually outside the prevue of the ego…Or, I might say it comes from the soul of the self rather than from the rational ego."
[Sidebar: As we will see, momentarily, this "wider consciousness" spoken of here may go by many names. In Jung we hear of the "collective unconscious", in Tielhard de Chardin we hear of the "Omega Point" (the gathering together of all human minds into one great over-arching cloud of consciousness), in Boethius this perfect wholeness of consciousness is simply GOD. So many labels, so little time! Oy vey!]

Back to aldussault:
"There are many folks who feel a need, so desperately, to keep their identity intact that they lose all contact with the higher principles of peace and contentment and happiness.  The ego in its uncanny fashion differentiates  itself from the wider sense of self and  diminishes the value of contentment in the face of maintaining its own righteousness and place of permanence in the psyche."

[Sidebar: Hence a primary drive of the ego is to simulate a feeling of stability by "maintaining its own righteousness and place of permanence in the psyche." To me, self-righteousness is the most pernicious psychological attitude I can think of, and yet, it is the hardest to recognize in ourselves. We all want to feel right, we all want to feel like we have the truth in our back pocket, but it is so hard to feel right about something without:

A: feeling prideful about it, and
B. feeling that anybody who disagrees with us is wrong.

As CS Lewis says:
“If a man thinks he is not conceited, he is very conceited indeed.”]

Back to aldussault:

"Creativity and sensitivity to one’s experience of freedom and joy are activities that are built, or discovered, outside the agency of the ego.  In that way we often hear people talk about channelling another source, or being inspired by a muse.  In fact the source of creativity is the self, but the self that lives outside the ego.  The ego need not be dismantled in order to tap this source.  It is just that one needs to learn to NOT rely on old egoic positions and instead be ready to capture ideas that are free floating and less tied to convention. The source is the divine in us.  It is the great “I AM” of creation and we exist as co-creators.  It is not up to the universe to bring us joy.  It is our task, indeed our purpose in life, to bring joy to the universe.  We live in the paradise that we create by flowing down stream, or we are condemned like Sisyphus  to be rolling the bolder of life  forever uphill."

Now, we need to introduce the terms "redundancy"and "functional fixation", since they are linked, in turn, to the idea of regression. The following is from from my Doctoral Thesis Article, On the Improv Mind State. Remember, that this article was written not only:
 1. to affirm that there is just such a meeting place, as Steiner suggests, between spirit and flesh, but also that
2. the directions to that place can be mapped out with some rational precision.

The fact that, in this case, the links in the chain of thought which leads to a re-centered end condition of repose, (an intuitive or epiphanic response), are forged using the language of music does not lessen the relevance of the psychic event as it applies to prayer; as you have heard me say, many times, the language of music and the language of prayer are quintessentially the same.

The main source of the psychological background for my thesis came from a book called Intuition, written by Tony Bastick.

"Bastick also explores the importance of redundancy to intuitive thought:

"The Theory of Intuitive Thought describes intuitions as the highly redundant responses conditioned to an emotional set, responses made conscious by an awareness of the feelings accompanying the increase in redundancy. The redundancy is increased by the combination of emotional sets to produce this terminating emotional set."

Thus, by measuring the degree of redundancy, we can trace the effects of recentering; in a musical context, we can observe the influence of intuition on the flow of musical events as they move towards an ultimate state of emotional repose. We can observe this activity because familiar musical patterns, idiomatic expressions associated with historical and personal styles, provide us with literal signposts."

[Sidebar: Remember that a musical cliché and a literal cliché are invested with equivalent emotional charges, so this discussion of musical recentering applies with equal validity to the verbal recentering involved in problem solving.]

"We can also observe (though perhaps not as easily) the recentering process which transforms clichéd concatenations of musical events into anomalous (original) progressions, progressions which provide both satisfying subjective feelings of relationship and logical connections between elements.

Intimately associated with redundancy is "functional fixation," the tension- reducing effect of the use of familiar material. Bastick explains how a fixation on familiar linguistic structures may inhibit the flow of intuitive responses:

"When an object is shown in its common use, this inhibits novel ideas for other uses. The subject loses flexibility because he has a course of action that is plausible. In experiments by Duncker, K. (1945), repeated by Adamson, R.E. (1952), this process is called 'functional fixation'. This is related to field dependence . . . functional fixation acts in opposition to recentering.

Functional fixation as it is used in problem-solving is explained here as the possession of a solution that reduces any tension that might otherwise give intrinsic motivation to find another solution."

[Sidebar: In other words, the ego feels better (less tense) when it thinks it already has a solution, than when it is still out there seeking one. This is why people fix on one set of dogmatic truisms, rather than leaving themselves open to the vicissitudes of change.]

Back to the thesis:

"Functional fixation is essentially the converse of originality, that quality with which most musicians strive to infuse their work. In effect, familiar musical material, whether momentary or extended, may inhibit the generation of intuitive responses, and therefore suppress the manifestation of original ideas. The use of familiar material is an attractive, safe, alternative because it provides a tension-free, literal-minded solution to a musical problem—a solution in which very few intuitive choices are made."

[Sidebar: This is exactly like the ego clinging to dogmatic religious truisms because they are familiar, stable, and comfortable, not necessarily because they are true. I find truth to be consistently unstable because truth is DYNAMIC--it is always moving ever closer to the the face of God, and changing with every change in me.]

Back to the thesis:

"Because functional fixation reduces the likelihood of an intuitive response the mere parroting of stylistic clichés, or other literal material, will not engage the collective mind in the creative process. Adherence to textbook examples of harmonic progressions, for instance, will not challenge the mind to seek an unfamiliar end-condition, so the emotional tension necessary to produce an intuitive response will be lacking. However, the reduction of tension by the use of clichés, results in another condition which Bastick calls "psychological regression."

[Sidebar: My doctoral thesis mentions the introduction of archetypal material as the catalyst for re-centering. We have already observed that the rhythmic acceleration of mental constructs, as they strive to achieve a projected end condition, leads to a regressed consciousness state, a functionally fixated, pre-conscious state, which constitutes the final state immediately preceding the miraculous moment of epiphany.

At the moment of epiphany the redundant collective expression is suddenly, instantly transformed, by a charge of Heavenly energy, into an anomalous spiritual entity--a finger of God extending into the physical dimension with pointed power and clarity at man's paltry literal understanding. The surface features of the THING become radiant with spiritual light, and the familiar (as a paradigm, a category) becomes new and singularly unique, an anomalous now. As Steiner says:

"This response will always be individual; it cannot be predicted or prescribed."

As C. S. Lewis says,

"Aslan is not a TAME lion."]

Back to the thesis:

"In psychological regression, consciousness turns back—regresses—to a more primitive state of awareness. The regression itself may well produce a momentary
lapse in attention or effort, typically associated with the use of clichés; but it is precisely at such a moment that the mind is open to new possibilities for recentering and originality. Bastick traces the evolution of his notion through several previous writers:

"Rothenberg, A. (1970) in a study of "inspiration, insight and the creative process" says that "Ernest Kris applies his term 'regression in the service of the ego' most particularly to inspiration" (p. 173).

Pine, F. and Holt, R.R. (1969) use Kris's (1952) idea of "regression in the service of the ego" as " . . . a momentary and at least partially controlled use of primitive, non-logical and drive-dominated modes of thinking in the early stages of the creative process" (p. 370) which agrees with what we have already seen in this section, namely that the early stages of the creative process are intuitive.

Hartmannn, H., et al. (1947) consider primary-process thinking as regressive and productive modes of intuitive thinking which give rise to novel and creative ideas (p. 320)."

Creativity being a primary process is supported by Hammer, E. F. (1973) who says that creatives have to be " . . . attuned to more primary thought processes while maintaining touch with reason and reality." This also necessitates control of change and constancy of ego state."

[Sidebar: This principle of becoming "attuned to more primary thought processes while maintaining touch with reason and reality," is central to the conclusion at which we will very shortly be arriving.]

Back to the thesis:

"There is an interesting paradox here. On one hand, functional fixation (via redundancy) causes a decrease in tension; by imposing familiar, clichéd solutions, it works in opposition to recentering. On the other hand, the psychological regression resulting from functional fixation ultimately leads to a state of accelerated thinking, or at least some kind of highly compressed synthesis of material, with a concomitant increase in tension. It follows, then, that fixation on musical clichés, with the resulting psychological regression, may be precisely what is needed to call the collective mind into operation, to open the individual mind to a "primitive," preconscious state, and to allow superpersonal material to surface. Perhaps it is the paradigmatic, archetypal character of these collective expressions that is the most profoundly human aspect of art; perhaps the content of these expressions crosses the line between material reality and spiritual reality."

[Sidebar: But there is still one more step.]

Getting untied from a conventional truism has got to be the most difficult task the mind can perform. It is a very big deal. People tend to make vast mountains out of molehills. Contrariwise a molehill can sometimes command a truth of infinite space. Many times, a largely magnificent intuitive response can be triggered by a single physical event or a trivially small associated thing. Many great works of fiction use a simple small THING as a symbol for a larger thing; I could give hundreds of examples:
the handkerchief in Shakespeare’s Othello, which comes to symbolize the fidelity of his wife Desdemona;

the little bauble the hero of James Joyce’s Araby fails to buy, thus losing his chance to attract his young love;

the signature that the hero of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible refuses to sign, thus losing his life; and, of course,

Judas’ kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane. 
Small actions can have big consequences—small things can symbolize very large things. The trick is to use our moral imagination to tell the difference.

Once again, what is it that triggers the "moral imagination"? It has to be something literal, because it influences our thoughts and actions; and yet it can't come from the ego, because the ego is only interested in a quick fix--anything to give us a sense of repose, whether it is the truth or not. Through all these labyrinths of psychological terms and functions there has been one word lurking in the back ground waiting to spring forth and clarify the situation with its divine simplicity: the word is Faith. Faith is absolutely a verbal expression in the mind, because is is always relative to some THING, faith in the future, faith in the affections of our loved ones, faith in the weather, etc.; but faith always points away from what can be scientifically proved to something that can only be believed without laboratory justification. Faith is an inner image of what ought to be if God is just--hence, MORAL IMAGINATION. Faith forges the conjunction between the Will and the Word by catalyzing the process or reentering. Faith is the ACT that accelerates mundane concepts into their epiphanic mode. And it is FAITH that is the armor of God that can protect us from the savage attacks of Satan with his repertoire of false truths.

Last week I repeatedly mentioned this:
it must be admitted that some things have only carnal value, while other things have only spiritual value--but sometimes the same THING can be possessed of both carnal AND spiritual qualities, depending on where the attention of the devotee is directed. Verily, verily I say unto you, the temporal or eternal value of a thing is determined not by the inherent quality of the thing itself, but, rather, by the attitude of the observer towards it; the spirituality of the observer transforms a thing from one consciousness state to another by an act of will. 
An act of faith is an act of will because it forces our consciousness out of the redundant ego-serving track into virgin territory--a territory in which miracles not only happen, but which are the region's stock-in-trade.

Ephesians 6:10-18 says this:
"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
"And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints...." 

Christians have the advantage over other seekers after Truth, because repeated acts of faith make the whole armor of God stronger and stronger. Still, in developing the sensitivity to spiritual truth, we have identified, above and beyond the protection of angelic entities, several clear rational signposts that will give us the confidence to be sure that what we think and say is Truth that will actually endure, and not fade to nothing as the transitory ego identity shifts with the tides of time.

These signposts are:
1. redundancy as a starting point--sure, gimme that old time religion, it was good enuff fer my mother and it's good enuff fer me;
2. acceleration as the experience of the expression begins to gather momentum and mass; and
3. transformation--the expression begins to resonate with unstable but radiant Heavenly light.

An act of faith is necessary to kick this mechanism into gear, but once the process has begun, the Light will be visible to us through grace and nothing else; it will be clear, and bright, and accompanied by music.

Let us pray: Jesus, it is so easy for us to betray ourselves with the language of verbal consciousness. Strengthen our faith in our own ability to create divine meaning out of inert verbal structures. Give us the skill to recognize the true from the false, and, having recognized it, grant us the grace to dwell in the radiance of the True Word. Amen.

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