Sunday, September 16, 2007

Richard Tarnas: A Rite of Passage

For further reflection on our previous discussion, I offer an essay by Richard Tarnas; Is the Modern Psyche Undergoing a Rite of Passage? I encourage you to read the whole thing. I find his identification of our current conflicts as a struggle between "the myth of progress" and "the myth of the fall" to be quite insightful. The reality is that there is truth to be found in both interpretations, but for the sake of our debates, we have chosen to block the truth of the other, and so have avoided the hard work of integration.

In regards to our previous discussion, I wanted to highlight just a few of Tarnas' passages, as he articulates the "something new" much better than I ever could:

...We can gain deeper insight into the polarity of these two historical perspectives, as well as their possible synthesis, by examining carefully the underlying structure of the modern Western world view. If we were to isolate the particular characteristic of the modern world view that distinguishes it from virtually all premodern world views, what we might call primal world views, I believe we would have to say that the fundamental distinction or difference is this: The modern mind experiences the world in such a way as to draw a radical boundary between the human self as subject and the world as object. The subject-object divide, the sense of radical distinction between self and world, which we could call Cartesian for shorthand, is fundamental to the modern mind. The modern mind is constituted upon it. Modern science, from Bacon and Descartes on, is deeply founded on the conviction that if one is to know the world as it is in itself, then one must cleanse one's mind of all human projections, such as meaning and purpose, onto the world.

By contrast, in the primal world view, meaning and purpose are seen as permeating the entire world within which the self is embedded. The primal human walks through a world that is experienced as completely continuous between inner and outer. He or she sees spirits in the forest, perceives meaning in the movement of two eagles across the horizon, recognizes significance in the conjunction of two planets, experiences a world in which the human being is completely embedded in a larger being that is ensouled. The primal world is radically ensouled: it communicates and has purposes; it is pregnant with signs and symbols, implications and intentions. The world is animated by the same psychologically resonant realities that the human being experiences within. The human soul participates in a world soul, or anima mundi, and the language that articulates that anima mundi in all its flux and diversity is the language of myth, the archetypal language of the human psyche. The many particulars of the empirical world are all intrinsically endowed with an archetypal significance, mythic and numinous, and that significance flows between inner and outer, self and world, without any absolute distinction...

...The modern experience of a radical division between inner and outer--of a subjective, personal, and purposeful consciousness that is paradoxically embedded in and evolved from a world that is intrinsically unconscious, impersonal, and purposeless-is represented historically in our culture in the great division between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. In the world view of the modern West, the Enlightenment essentially rules the outer cosmos and the objective world, while the Romantic aspirations of our art and music, our spiritual yearnings, rule the interior world of the modern soul. In the Romantic tradition--represented, for example, by Goethe and Rousseau, Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Beethoven and Holderlin, Emerson and Whitman all the way up to our post-Sixties counterculture--the modern soul found profound spiritual and psychological expression. The Enlightenment tradition, by contrast, represented by Newton and Locke, Voltaire and Hume--and more recently by thinkers such as Bertrand Russell or Karl Popper, the cosmologists Stephen Hawking and Steven Weinberg, or the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins--has been mainly informed by rational-empirical science. In a sense, the modern soul's allegiance is to Romanticism, while the modern mind's allegiance is to the Enlightenment. There is a kind of schizophrenia within the world view that all of us grew up with in the twentieth century. Our spiritual being, our psychology, is contradicted by our cosmology. Our Romanticism is contradicted by our Enlightenment, our inner by our outer. There is no easy congruence between those two radically different world views; yet, to use Faust's term, they are somehow forced to "cohabit within our breast"...

...I believe that humankind has entered into the most critical stages of a death - rebirth mystery. In retrospect it seems that the entire path of Western civilization has taken humankind and the planet on a trajectory of initiatory transformation, into a state of spiritual alienation, into an encounter with mortality on a global scale—from world wars and holocausts to the nuclear crisis and now the planetary ecological crisis--an encounter with mortality that is no longer individual and personal but rather transpersonal, collective, planetary; into a state of radical fragmentation, into the "wasteland," into that crisis of existential meaning and purpose that informed so many of the most sensitive individuals of the past century. It is a collective dark night of the soul, a deep separation from the community of being, from the cosmos itself. We are undergoing this rite of passage with virtually no guidance from wise elders because the wise elders are themselves caught up in the same crisis. This initiation is too epochal for such confident guidance, too global, too unprecedented, too all-encompassing; it is larger than all of us. It seems that we are all entering into something new, a new development, a crisis of accelerated maturation, a birth, and we cannot really know where it is headed...

...I believe we have a choice. There are many possible universes, many possible meanings, floating through us. We are not solitary subjects in a meaningless universe upon which we can and must impose our egocentric will. Nor are we just empty vessels, as it were, on automatic, passively playing out the intentions of the world soul, the anima mundi. Rather, we are creative participants, as autonomous yet embedded interpreters, in a co-evolutionary unfolding of reality. It is a complex process where both we and the universe are mutually creators and created. What seems to be unfolding is not only a recovery of the anima mundi but a new relationship to it. Something new is being forged; it is not simply a "regression" to a premodern state. We seem to be moving to a world view that is a dialectical synthesis of world and self, a new vision of the universe reflected in the many scientific and philosophical impulses working today toward a participatory holistic paradigm.

From this point of view, epistemologically, we are not ultimately separated from the world, projecting our structures and meanings onto an otherwise meaningless world. Rather, we are an organ of the universe's self-revelation. The human self has been forged into an autonomous intellectual and moral self, and is now in a position to recognize itself as being a creative intelligent nexus embedded within the larger context of the anima mundi. We are beginning to see that we play a crucial role in the universe's unfolding by our own cognitive processes and choices, tied to our own psychological development. And thus our own inner work--our moral awareness and responsibility, our confrontation with our shadow, our integration of the masculine and feminine--plays a critical role in the universe that we can create...
Your thoughts?

J.

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