On Our Being Naturally ‘Homo Mysticus’ as a Species.
6.0. Myth, Faith & History
To what degree is the mystical a universal phenomenon, and to what degree is man homo mysticus? Is there, as suggested in the last chapter, a natural level to mysticism which theology has obscured, or is mysticism fundamentally a religious concern which only theology can properly understand and explain. The analytical psychologist Erich Neumann tackled this question in The History of Consciousness (1973),1 observing that the psychologist’s experience not only encompasses the human, but that it opens out into an area so vast that we cannot actually detect its limits. This suggests that the theological approach to mysticism, although useful in the sense of supplying a series of symbolic markers, may in the end be forced to give way to an approach unhindered by theological concerns – that is, to a mystical anthropology rather than a mystical theology. Surrounded by a plethora of religious configurations (heavens, hells, prophets, angels, saviours, redeemers and devils), the religious individual struggles to make sense of their experience of self and world. While capable of viewing another’s religious beliefs objectively, they experience their own religious beliefs as beyond objective assessment.
The New Testament scholar Burton Mack homes in on this problem: “Christians never feel comfortable with the notion of myth or willing to see their own myths as the product of human imagination and intellectual labour.”2 But Mack does notice a fundamental difference between the Christian myth and religious myths in general. The Christian myth, he tells us, was fused with history and demanded a statement of faith allied to a canon of beliefs. At first only for the purpose of clarification, ‘faith’ then hardened into a fixed credo demanding unquestioning acceptance, the church’s adherents being forced to affirm a particular version of the Christian myth. Left with little room for maneuver beyond theological hair-splitting, the belief that ‘belief’ was the central focus of Christianity overpowered the myth’s experiential core, group politics of the most basic kind coming to dominate the myth’s shape and expression. But only externally. Internally individuals continued to push out a flood of creative insights that threatened to disrupt the religious status quo. Challenging the restrictive historical myth now in place, early Christian radicals attempted to breach the wall of fixed belief and liberate themselves from the growing menace of a Church turned maniacally certain. They failed. Overpowered by a self-validating system backed by a strong secular arm they were driven underground and all but exterminated. The experience of God as sacred myth, as silent, contemplative adventure was under threat, the ability of the Christian ego to attend to and be moved by psyche’s creative centre all but outlawed. Inwardness, in the sense of a contemplative approach to reality, would be replaced by intellectual endeavour for the favoured few, or by emotional identification with aspects of the fixed canon for the many. And so the dividing line between the conscious, differentiating ego and the creative unconscious was drawn up on two levels of expression, those who stepped beyond the faith’s carefully delineated theological parameters declared heretical and deemed unfit to associate with.
In his study of mysticism3, W R Inge talks of human weakness and insecurity in relation to a God who remains silent. Faced with what we perceive to be an unintelligible universe, we warm to the idea of an ultimate religious authority. Relieved of the responsibility to think for ourselves, we may even submit voluntarily to that authority’s dictates. As with Neumann, however, Inge is aware of an alternative to this external authority, namely, the creative unconscious. And so he contrasts ‘religions of authority’ with ‘religions of the Spirit’, and speaks of a creative centre. But he does so with qualification. In alignment with Neumann and Mack, he notes that this internal authority can be made external and given a spurious infallibility, and by way of example quotes an old Quaker lady who said “Jerusalem? It has not yet been revealed to me that there is such a place.”4 In contrast to Neumann’s suggestion that mystical theology may have to be replaced by a mystical anthropology, Inge roundly condemned the psychology of his day for its quasi-scientific rationalisms and demanded recognition of mysticism as a possible intuition of objective reality. That was a telling move; it anticipated Harry Hunt’s “Consciousness . . . cannot be ultimately inconsistent with the system principles of the universe that generates it” by not a few decades. (see 4.3. para 5) On the basis that our present world view had all but removed traditional religious supports, Inge argued for a comprehensive philosophy of mysticism and asked that the data supplied by genuine mystics no longer be neglected or ignored. Having developed the concept of mystical man to a quite extraordinary degree by 1949, Neumann clearly described the creative process we are each involved in at the unconscious level, and but for the two year gap between the publication of their separate works, Inge would have had at his disposal the comprehensive philosophy of mysticism he so much desired.
Erich Neumann’s plea for a mystical anthropology to replace mystical theology was not an attempt to claim an area of experience belonging to religion and change it into an appendage of psychology; it was an attempt to wrest what he believed to be an expression of the psyche’s higher systems of functioning away from religion’s constrictive grasp. Theology, he was saying, hamstrings mysticism; it is a process utterly at odds with the often challenging nature of mystical experience. Bound to dogma and doctrine at the conscious level, theology does not have the existential plasticity to accommodate the taboo-breaking nature of mystical experience. And so, Christianity has had a problem when confronted by the statements of its own mystics, and its mystics have had a problem staying within the fold of the Church. Neumann’s summation is exact: all mystical trends strive to dissolve the traditional forms of religion and worship, although they often disguise this endeavour as a ‘renewal’ of the old religious form. As this exactly describes the ministry of Jesus, it allows us to conjecture that his so distinctive platform of religious renewal was the result of contemplative experience, not of his being in some fashion God paying planet earth a visit.
The Catholic scholar Harold O. J. Brown is of much the same opinion as Inge, but he approaches the problem from the Church’s point of view.
Mysticism tends to do away with the need for intermediaries between the believer and God. The church cannot exist at all without a measure of mysticism, but as soon as mysticism begins to gain ground, it begins to do away with the need for the church’s ministers and their services. In the extreme case, the mystic may dispense with the Scriptures and even with the incarnate Christ himself, and seek to relate directly with the uncreated, absolute godhead. Mysticism appears to make the church and institutional religion unnecessary, and thus is a threat to the established church when it operates within a totally orthodox theology.5
6.1. The Territory of the Anthropos
The mystic’s fundamental experience of his/her creative centre is, by Neumann’s standard at least, anticonventional, anticollective and antidogmatic. So it is pretty certain that a mysticism exhibiting dogmatic characteristics is either theology disguised as mysticism, mysticism of a low-order, authentic mysticism usurped and re-shaped to sustain the religious status quo, or mysticism intentionally disguised by the experiencer for fear of reprisal. Neumann is particularly clear on these differentiations. He nominates as low-level the mysticism of an individual affectively overpowered by some theologically defined element of the fixed canon. Authentic to the extent that it is undoubtedly an ‘experience’, it is also inauthentic in that the experience is brought about through conscious fixation with some theologically constructed idea or image. The individual’s creative centre is not at work, merely the conscious mind revolving around an idea or image to the point of delirium and/or dissociation.
Of particular interest, however, is that form of mysticism defined by Neumann as ‘disguised’, for it opens up to us a world of restriction and fear where profound religious experiences are made support an erroneous religious conception of history. Unwilling to confront the religious system to which they belong, some mystics will unconsciously re-dogmatise their authentic mystical experiences to fit in with this consciously constructed system, whereas others will consciously disguise what they have experienced in the hope of remaining undetected by the hierarchy. Marghanita Laski adds a further dimension to this when she suggests that the religious vocabulary used to describe mystical experience is often a terminology intrusion, that is, the language used does not necessarily belong to the experiencer, but to the religious system backing the experiencer.6 Which presents us with a conundrum, for the very area of human activity believed most likely to produce mystical experience is the area where censorship of such experiences is at its greatest. And there is the further complication of naive acceptance of the fixed canon triggering, at the contemplative level, a breakthrough into the very levels where the surface belief system’s contents are symbolically questioned. This is a catch-22 situation. It reveals both the affective efficiency of theologically-driven forms of worship in terms of deep concentration, while simultaneously suggesting that such forms can inadvertently lead to breakthroughs capable of rearranging or even annulling such forms. Why so? Because the individual concerned is making moves, however tentative, in the direction of Inge’s ‘creative centre’, and in doing so may be drawn nearer to that centre’s transformative core beyond their initial set of intentions.
Along with Inge and Neumann, William James was of the opinion that mystical states overthrow “the pretensions of non-mystical states to be the sole dictators of what we believe.”7 That is a strong statement, and Inge is aware of it. But he is not satisfied with such a declaration; he feels impelled to remind us that psychology is an abstract study of human consciousness held within self-imposed limits. It is the ‘states’ that psychology studies, not the relation of those states to objective reality. Neumann seems to agree, he speaks of ‘special limitations’ in the sense of psychology’s interpretation of such states being firmly anchored in the human. But in contrast to Inge he does not see this as limiting psychology, for although centered on an anthropology and not a theology, he intuits the territory of the anthropos to be so vast that it becomes hard to imagine any part of it being beyond psychology’s grasp. But not just any old psychology; only those psychologies which have developed a suitable language descriptive of the mystic’s relationship to self, other and world. If the language of ego-transcendence is missing from a particular psychology’s vocabulary, then that psychology will in principle be incapable of going beyond its own utilitarian attitudes to mind, consciousness, psyche and much else.
Neumann points to this fact when he says: “Any attempt to understand mystical man . . . must be grounded in a psychology which takes into account the different phases of the ego and consciousness in their development from the unconscious.”8 A system of co-ordinates is required for the psychologist to understand what is taking place, and these co-ordinates have to translate out into a map of consciousness showing the stages of human growth in relation to mystical experience. There are, this psychologist argues, phases in the development of consciousness, and through an analysis of these phases the ego’s containment in, and eventual escape from, the unconscious can be successfully described. These phases are birth, puberty, middle age, old age and death. Our eventual escape from the unconscious will only be partial, however, for the ego-personality which evolves is a divided system, a system of conscious and unconscious attributes, the tension between which constitutes its creative and transformative dynamic. So it can be said that human beings are naturally mystical, for the development and transformation of the ego-personality is stamped from beginning to end with interactions and confrontations at the unconscious level. Whether conscious of this level or not, we may sense or even glimpse something of this level’s capacity to express itself if we momentarily dip towards it. Or we may simply be overpowered by it if our style of life, or thought, causes us to ignore its promptings. Whatever the case, each phase has, according to Neumann, its transition point, and this point is generally experienced as a crisis. Question is, what is it about psyche that it should react in this way?
And what greater crisis can there be than the suspicion that our pet religious ideas about God and Jesus and the church are at best inadequate, and on occasions, gibberish? How can we handle the fact that the nearer we get to what constitutes God the less this term seems to fit into the Church’s theoretical constructions? Which suggests that the stages of life with their built-in points of major crisis are capable of delivering up a great deal more than social balance and maturity, but also levels of experience through which we can begin to consciously approach our creative centre. This is of course to mix psychology with what is generally considered to be religious aspiration, but it is in fact necessary to do so, for when separated the language of religion and psychology taper off towards absurdity, whereas when joined they open out into a perception of reality that resonates with fundamental being. Why so? Because human beings seem to be naturally mystical, and as such their phases of development can be deeply transformative and illuminating beyond the dictates of historically distorted religious ideas.
6.2. The Archetypal Encounter
In analytical psychology a person’s life from birth to death, from unconsciousness to what Neumann terms “the integration of the final phase” is said to be marked by archetypal zones. These zones, phases or sectors punctuate the life stream at intervals, and are responsible for the ego’s growth towards an interaction with what Paul Tillich termed the Ground of Being. In this sense it is individual existence that reveals the divine, not theology. Neumann captures this interaction when he tells us that the divine void [the ground of being] ” . . . fills the psychological inwardness of the anthropos.” As creatures of form we are expressions of the formless void (that from out of which ‘matter’ emerged), and as such are capable of experiencing what lies hidden at our creative centre. Our creative centre is not the formless void; it is the location where we step beyond the boundary of form and encounter formlessness. But it is important to note that this experience at the creative centre of being is actually an ‘encounter’, an encounter dependent on the kind of people we are. It is our encounter, and being our encounter it is an experience touched by the quality of our thinking and the texture of our daily lives.9 Jesus can call his encounter with formlessness ‘father’; we may not find the experience quite so comforting. And who is to say how many encounters Jesus had with his ‘father’ before he became comfortable with formlessness. For formlessness must by its very nature be dangerously ambiguous, and ambiguity is the sworn enemy of religious certainty. In this context the development of the personality becomes important, for it is the personality that undergoes the experience and is changed or transformed. Everything depends on the stage reached by the personality, the zones traversed, the sectors gone through, the phases completed. At least this is how Neumann the Jungian perceived things.
6.3. The Archetypal Zones
But problems can arise in relation to the mystical; not all mystical experiences are beneficial. The encounters which follow can cause immense problems for the personality. The historian and ex-Carmelite nun Karen Armstrong agrees. “A journey to the depths of the mind involves great personal risk because we may not be able to endure what we find there.”10 There is a mysticism of childhood, a mysticism of maturity and a mysticism of old age and death, and this raises the question of where the personality is in its development – it may not develop quite as it ought. It can happen that the broadening effect of mystical experience on, say, a deeply religious-oriented consciousness is usurped by the desire to succumb to the formless void and close down consciousness. Mystical death in the sense of ecstatic abandonment can result, and such episodes can lead to general sickness or even severe neurosis. Civilisation demands consciousness of the child, the adolescent and the adult, but clouds the fact that archetypal encounters are regularly taking place. These unrecognised encounters create crisis points that rearrange elements of the personality and identity and may result in sudden, unexpected breakdowns of nerve in the face of what appear to be ordinary events. Which tells us that ordinary events are not quite as ordinary as they may appear; they may be laden with Iris Murdoch’s moral and ethical challenges, and with challenges belonging to psyche itself. It may be that the individual concerned has persistently ignored the promptings of the creative unconscious and is falling apart psychologically, that is, has failed to recognise how they constantly disappear into the spaces between their many words, spaces that can, if allowed, broaden out into chasms (abysses?) of experience capable of putting the injured self back together again. Reverie is such a space. The deep, dark hole of sickness is such a space. Creative insight is such a space. All genuinely creative people understand this process; they cultivate the art of descent towards their creative centre and may well develop this art to the point of contemplative competence. Genuinely creative? In the sense of their going beyond mere fabrication, beyond the unconvincing tendency of the ego to manipulate reality for its own self-centered ends.
If properly integrated, mystical experience at the contemplative end of the Christian spectrum is creative and self-transforming; if poorly integrated it tends automatically towards nihilism. Neumann sums up the situation thus: “The decisive factor in this orientation is the condition of the ego after its mystical experience.”11 There are two kinds of mystic: those who return and shed a positive influence on the world, and those who reject the world and cast a negative light on everything they touch. [Consider the kind of nihilistic reasoning that might be built on such a scheme?] Such mystics reveal themselves to be prophets of disintegration; they advocate the unformed paradise of the unborn infant and reveal their infantile desire to achieve beatific nonexistence in the divine womb of nothingness. As representatives of the prenatal stage of human development, they project their own repressed natures onto the world and consign it to the devil. This state of affairs is termed ‘uroboros incest’ by Neumann; it is a return to prenatal bliss, a return to the undifferentiated state of the infant. In the attempt to kill off their ego in mystic dissolution, they avoid the problem of integration and the ambiguities which underpin the creatively active life. Left with their consciously constructed, historically-embedded, God, they sacrifice the chance to know and experience their creative centre. Succumbing to ecstatic seizure, inflation, depression and even psychosis, they are attacked from within by what they fear most, the ‘feminine’,12 a frightening world of devouring shadows which they attempt to counter with male-dominated symbols. And all because the sensed state of ‘perfection’ underlying the conscious matrix in its early, infantile stages has, according to Neumann, been mistaken for an end product. Alpha has displaced omega. The infant’s state of perfection without will now lies at both ends of the ego’s archetypal journey. Form coming out of formlessness has been swapped for a pointless process where the ego suffers conscious differentiation for no other purpose than to regain its infantile paradise. There is no point to the lived life except the moral refinement of the creature; by such means alone will it be able to return to the arms of its creator. The path is circular. The end is the beginning. The snake of creation devours its own tail, psyche’s primary concerns swapped for grocery-lists of secondary concerns.
But this need not be the case. A progressive strengthening of the ego is the functional aim of a life, not a weakening of the ego. The child does not remain a child, the adolescent does not remain adolescent, the mature adult seeks ever greater maturity. This causes the ego to suffer at every stage of its development, for inherent in its suffering lies its capacity for growth and transformation. Here, too, however, we stumble into the territory of the negative mystic, for the positive mystic’s counterpart is an utterly rigid religious ego oblivious to the nudgings of the creative unconscious. And this apples to secular mystics as well, that is, to those who would, for the very best of scientific or philosophical reasons, dissolve the self into a meaningless nothing. They too could be said to be involved in a form of unconscious suicide, a progressive erasure of the self.
Erich Neumann’s grasp of what it means for a human being to encounter, and be encountered by, the archetypal realm, is deeply challenging. Describing an archetypal encounter as a shattering of the ego’s ordered world, he speaks of the ego being ‘encompassed’, and of undergoing a change in personality. This change can be orderly in spite of its disruptive effects; but it can also be chaotic and apparently directionless, religious, delusional, artistic, philosophical or simply the experience of falling in love. In this sense everything is potentially archetypal, for everything carries a hidden charge capable of triggering an experience of Tillich’s Ground of Being. Reality, like a work of fiction, carries us towards an uncertain end. In principle revolutionary and heretical, such experiences tend to dissolve traditional religious forms and draw the ego into the solitude of consciousness.
Contrary to much religious opinion, we require a strong ego to survive this journey into the vast solitude of the self, the negative mystic’s wish to lose his/her already weakened ego in an act of spiritual abandonment a mistake of major proportions. The converse of this is an ego that learns to live with psyche’s nudgings, an ego that recognises from whence such nudgings arise and undergoes change in its reflexive habits. This tells us that reflexive mind is “a temporary mechanism for developing a certain type of intelligence, an intelligence we must eventually learn to live without.”13 So says the ultra-modern Catholic mystic Bernadette Roberts, and the subtlety in what she is saying should be noted. She is not advocating ‘abandonment’; she is advocating a learning process within which the ego reaches a new level of conscious maturity. The nature of the encounter between ego and psyche depends entirely on the shape and texture of the personality. The personality’s stage of development governs the nature of the experience, not the experience the nature of the personality. And so the measure of what is realised, understood or intuited is not fully a gift given (a revelation in its entirety), more a gift received; that is, a gift which the receiver must have the psychic strength to unpack. If successfully unpacked, the personality will undergo positive change and the ego will be further transformed, for in being able to bear the creative tension between conscious and unconscious levels, the gift of experientially gained insight will enable the personality to endure an enhanced creative tension. If unable to unpack the gift offered, the personality will suffer not a creative epiphany, but a further withdrawal from the process of change and transformation. Held in a world of rigid ideas, hopes and expectations, such a personality, if deeply religious, will do the only thing it can do: attempt to escape such rigidity through mystical abandonment. If unreligious, similar avenues of escape will be sought in relation to intellectualised forms of nihilism where the ego undergoes inflation even as it deflates psyche to the level of a mindless automation.
Neumann sums up this tendency towards spiritual and intellectual suicide by advising us not to plunge ourselves into the white primal light and lose our identity. In saying this he is not advising against an encounter with our subterranean depths; he is suggesting that our capacity for comprehension at psyche’s creative centre should be exercised with care because the creative process at depth is an experience at the limits of the ego, an experience of psyche as primal vortex that has to be managed by way of a ritual circling. Or, to put that another way, a ‘looking’ without looking, a ‘seeing’ out of the corner of the ego’s ‘I’ that does not result in conscious engagement, but in a conscious relinquishing of the ego’s need for reflexive thinking. Ego and psyche are necessarily intermeshed, they are interdependent systems whose relative independence causes problems for the ego as it develops,14 but this curious relationship need not result in mystical, nihilistic religious or secular intellectualist abandonment. An entirely new cognitive arrangement allowing ego and psyche to collaborate is possible, the emergence of new type of intelligence the next vital step in the evolution of human beings as Bernadette Roberts so astutely suggest.
6.4. Consciousness as an Experimental Organ
In spite of its long and well-documented history, religious mysticism is in fact only one of many approaches to the creative centre of being. This suggests that the theologically complex notion of God as Ground of Being makes every avenue of life sacred, not just the religious life. The artist, teacher, engineer, dustman, flower arranger or pastry cook has as much chance of forming a deep and transformative relationship with what is ultimately real as any religious mystic. This is ‘natural’ mysticism; it is what we are in our essential natures. We are already functioning in an instinctive manner in relation to psyche’s creative demands and need only turn inward to make this discovery for ourselves. This is Neumann’s approach. Consciousness, in his scheme, is an ‘experimental organ’; we are, whether aware of it or not, deeply involved in a process where, in relation to ego, psyche as a whole functions in the direction of a final integration of conscious and unconscious processes even as physical disintegration makes its final demands. Such an integration may not take place, but it is in the organism’s interest that it does. If it does not take place, then both the organism and the socio-cultural milieu to which it belongs may suffer, or have already suffered, unexpected consequences. Neumann sums up the situation so:
This splitting off of the unconscious leads on the one hand to an ego life emptied of meaning, and on the other to an activation of the deeper-lying layers which, now grown destructive, devastate the autocratic world of the ego with transpersonal invasions, collective epidemics, and mass psychosis . . . Even when it is not so acute as to bring on a psychic sickness, the loss of instinct and the overaccentuation of the ego have consequences which, multiplied a millionfold, constellate the crisis of a civilisation.15
Neumann’s view of psyche is not readily detectable in present-day psychological, philosophical evaluations of consciousness; certainly not his kind of penetrative language, which is of course Jungian based. Today’s approach, on the whole, links consciousness to the body as ‘halo’ effect and explains its phantom-like functioning in terms of reflex responses, that is, as a system of responses to environment within which ‘freedom’ of choice is an illusionary effect. (see opening quotes to this book) Beneficial, but nevertheless illusionary. Yes, we are free to choose, but only within a narrow range of possibilities dictated by circumstances and unconsciously calculated outcomes. It’s not that we ‘choose’; it’s that we have no option but to choose what is hopefully best in relation to personal and collective survival needs. This also applies to the creative impulse which, with a similar twist, is viewed not as something exhibited by self-determining individuals, but as the result of the evolutionary process functioning unseen in the background of individual lives. Creativity is then an ‘impulse’ written into psyche at the genetic level in relation to the workings of natural selection. We simply can’t help ourselves; intellectual curiosity is as hardwired as eating or drinking: both are survival mechanisms in need of constant replenishment. This physicalist evaluation of mind and psyche is unfortunately quite accurate due to our generally low level quality of awareness in relation to self, other and world. We are, much of the time, mindlessly automatic in our responses, our thinking and in our relating; it takes a crisis to shake us out of our mental lethargy.
In Neumann’s scheme ‘psyche’ is that which balances psychological variables towards a healthy, integrative outcome. In physicalist parlance it is a system of unconscious calculations directing the organism towards outcomes that are, in terms of an inbuilt survival instinct, of individual and collective benefit. So what’s the actual difference? Is there really any difference? Well, yes, there is, and it lies in the terminology used and in the attitudes that have spawned this alternative way of thinking and talking. Physicalist terminology reflects an ideological stance that dismisses psyche’s postulated archetypal depths as wholly imaginary. It’s psychic mush all the way down for physicalist; ‘creative evolution’ displaces the notion of psyche’ having higher-order, directive capacities. The idea of ‘creative evolution’ is of course fairly recent; not so the notion of a ‘creative principle’ in matter: that is one of the earliest ideas expressed in the form of creation myths, myths whose roots are to be found in the highly imaginative and informative relationship individuals once had with psyche, and with their environment.
The notion of a ‘creative (teleological?) principle’ in matter is everywhere evident in the ancient myths of creation, and ought not to be written off as mere primitive imaginings, or as primitive pointers in the direction of science’s later postmodern conclusions. Myths are not lies. Myths are another way of thinking, a way of thinking reflective of psyche’s capacity for a form of thinking that probably preceded language and triggered language’s appearance and development. Myths may in fact reflect a zone or dimension of mind still operative today but dulled almost to the point of silence by our chattering minds. Our almost pathological engagement with consciously directed, consciously constructed thinking may have cut us off from a rich vein of archetypal associations capable of blossoming out into technical, theoretical evaluations of worth. Archetypal associations? In the sense of there being available to us a form of imaginal thinking carrying the seeds of a primitive, generic form of reasoning without which conscious reasoning cannot fully realise its aims even now. Not ‘magical’ thinking; imaginal thinking. Imagination is not the conscious mind making things up; it is an altogether different level of mind functioning through affectively charged images or states of consciousness instead of language, the way into this alternative creative space lying, as Bresnick and Levin suggest, in the spaces between words, and in a comprehension of what these spaces signify. The spaces between words may have to be recognised as other than mere gaps in language, but perceived in terms of a dimension of mind behind language, a dimension within which and without which language would have no capacity to form meaningful concepts. Hemmed in by language, yes, but not subservient to language unless you broaden that out to mean an inherent ‘linguisticality’, a propensity towards the production of language there from the very beginning. Linguisticality, in this sense, is not language in the sense of butt-ended words and meanings, grammar or syntax; it is the possible condition of psyche prior to the arising of language as a natural extension of inherent intelligibility. This is, I think, William James’ ‘fringe’ consciousness, that elusive transitional stage in the formation of thoughts leading to conscious realisation and judgment. Neumann pulls all of this into focus when he says:
It is after all scientifically justifiable to regard consciousness as one of life’s experimental organs, more justifiable at any rate then to gloss over the fundamental fact of man’s spiritual existence and explain it away with reflexes or behaviourism.16
In the face of physicalist, reductionist explanations of human behaviour, how can we accommodate such notions? What does it mean to speak this way? Is it mere poetic license to suggest that we exist in the spaces between words, or is it a manner of speaking that allows us to glimpse, through words, something otherwise beyond the power of words to fully convey? Yet to an extent expressed through words in relation to psyche’s natural tendency towards coherence and intelligibility. Not in the sense of a conscious reckoning of what we might be, but in the sense of a momentary, and necessary, descent into what we are in spite of a contrived aversion to doing so. Contrived? In the sense of a secular angel having been set up in the garden of comprehension that bars us from considering anything other than status quo thoughts. Poetry, real poetry, is such a descent; it does not hide, it reveals. It is a doorway, and the door is wide open for those capable of sensing their way beyond the sterilities of logic-chopping systems.
This causes me to conjecture that we may not actually live through words as so many now claim, but, as already suggested, inhabit the naturally occurring space (psychmental abyss?) between words. Not metaphorically inhabit this space; actually exist as the space itself – that is, as psyche in its beyond differentiation wholeness, a wholeness within which a multi-layered ego as appropriating element, or agent, oscillates between apparently contradictory poles: the subjective and the objective which, in essence, only appear to be contradictory because they have been objectively conceived. Hence our ubiquitous sense of self-wholeness and the possibility of ‘pure perception’ as claimed by Schleiermacher, Husserl, and others. We have at our disposal the unrecognised capacity to consciously slip out of conscious gear and enter a neutral perceptual zone at will.
Enter Jean Curthoys with Gottlob Frege’s notion of thoughts being “independent of the minds that grasp them”, a conception of thought and its arising “corseted by grammar into meaningful shapes” which suggests, in turn, that language is not the primary generator of meaning.17 Thoughts and ideas expressed in words are then not one and the same thing: worded ideas belong to the conscious mind, thoughts to an ambiguously situated dimension of being in relation to psyche and body as Wittgenstein seems to suggest when he says: “[I]t is indeed possible to make up words, but I cannot associate a thought with them.”18 Which tells us that we are unaware of the transition points, or gaps, in our thinking about anything, unaware that we are continually dipping down into the greater matrix of psyche. And how, when one comes to think about’ it, could it be otherwise? How could we think anything coherent if there was no subject, no affective sense of this backgrounding wholeness or sense of overriding meaning to confirm that a meaningful thought had taken place? You simply can’t have ‘meaning’ without a meaningful context within which meaning can register. The conscious ego may have lost tract of itself in such moments, disappeared into process, but sense of ‘wholeness’ is not altogether absent. Physicalists may claim that it is a ‘what’ that thinks, a process and not a ‘who’, but I believe that to be mistaken view: the ‘who’ is not an illusion; it is, as far as I can make out, a centreless (formless?) form of awareness capable of infinite extension bound by the limitations of an easily distracted ego. Centreless? A backgrounding wholeness? Well, more than either, actually; also a presence beyond that of self-presence in the physical sense, yet related to the physical, to ‘matter’ in terms of what might be conceived as an inherent and ever-burgeoning natural teleology.