I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought;
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth
– T.S. Eliot
Although we speak of the Dark Night of the Soul, it would be a misunderstanding of the experience to say that it is the soul that is undergoing a dark night; it is actually the ego that experience the dark night. The term ego has become the scapegoat for most of humanities evils, demonized in fact. The ego in my understanding is simply what we think we are. The word ego simply means “I” in Latin. I mean the conscious self while in its normal, everyday state of consciousness. The ego is only one aspect of a larger self. One’s ego is born from the matrix of culture-language-family.
Human identity is relational. Unless we can compare ourselves to what is around us, we cannot understand why we are special and individual. We are therefore formed and sculpted by all those external influences much as a sculptor turns a block of clay, wood or stone into the desired image. We are moulded by events and our identity takes the shape we are given.
At the same time, however, we have an ability to evaluate our experiences, reject external events, and form our own views. We are all at once the sculptor and the sculpted, the creator and the created.
Our identity is not based on who we are, but on who we perceive ourselves to be. If a very physically beautiful person perceives themselves to be ugly, their identity will be formed around their perception of their ugliness.
– Victor McGill
The reason there are so many negative connotations attached to the ego is because most egos have not matured. The ego at its inception – around the age of four – is naturally narcissistic.
“ A mature ego understands the occasional necessity of surrendering to – or being defeated by – a force greater than itself, sometimes during the death-rebirth of soul encounter (when the ego surrenders to soul) and other times during ego transcendence (when ego surrenders to spirit). Ego obstructs personal development when it gets stuck, lost, or entrenched at any life stage – when it resists change, loss, grief, or radical transformation at the hands of the gods and goddesses.” – Bill Plotkin
So it can be seen that the narcissistic qualities so often attached to the ego is really a reflection of an immature ego, stuck in an early life phase. A person who is for example always acting defensively is identifying with a narrow perspective of an early phase. The inner child has become enmeshed in the mature environment and feels insecure. Even in the highest stages of human development, an enlightened person chooses and act from ego – from an everyday conscious self – but has an expanded ego, so expanded that it is quite different from what most of us experience as ego. It is thus the ego that needs to undergo a death during the rites of passage in order to change its perception of itself, and so to embrace a wider perspective of reality, a new paradigm of understanding. The old ego requires you go through the dark night in order to be transformed.
“One cannot become a butterfly by remaining a caterpillar.”
I can think of no better metaphor for humanity than that of the butterfly. Just like the butterfly humanity is a being in transition. It is therefore no co-incidence that the ancient Greek word for soul – Psyche also means ‘butterfly’ or ‘moth’. The soul it is said, contains the destiny of the ego. The Ancient Greeks also used the same word for ‘alive’ as for ‘ensouled’. Aristotle defined the soul as the core essence of a being, but did however argued against its having a separate existence. For instance, if a knife had a soul, the act of cutting would be that soul, because ‘cutting’ is the essence of what it is to be a knife. The soul indeed contains the core essence of a being, or what some call our unique ecological role. To be alive is to be ensouled and have a unique ecological role. If we look at the caterpillar, and say that its everyday consciousness is aware of its soul’s purpose; That is to eat, to devour virtually non-stop what it knows its source of nourishment is, until it reaches full maturity of that stage, then we could say that the caterpillar’s soul purpose is to eat. If it did have an ego, its ego would think it is a caterpillar. Now comes its rite of passage, its dark night of the soul and its ego must surrender to a greater force, the caterpillar must in fact prepare to die to what it thought it was, and what it thought its purpose was . The caterpillar does not resist even though it could have no idea of what it will become. Does the caterpillar’s soul die too since the soul contains its ecological role?
If we did not know that a caterpillar will be transformed into a butterfly, our perception of what its core essence is would indeed be limited. Just like with the caterpillar our soul will only reveal to our egos what our purpose is in a very stage specific way. Its soul knows what its ultimate transformation will be, and knows too the timing of the unfoldment. Because the caterpillar does not have a reasoning ego, it surrenders without a fight, or resistance to its soul’s prompting.
“The caterpillar is to the the butterfly as an uninitiated ego is to an initiated one. “
What distinguish our souls from our fellow entities that constitutes the natural world, is that our souls have a capacity to reflect on itself. Unlike most inhabitants of the natural world we are not innately conscious of our purpose, which is the double edge sword of being conscious. The ability to reflect is a creative ability engaged by the ego through the imagination. So it comes as no surprise to me that the final stage of the caterpillar’s transformation is called Imago – to image. Psychologists use the word imago to mean an idealized image of a loved one, including the self, which relates directly to the story of Eros and Psyche. Psyche had to undergo a Dark Night of the Soul before she was finally united with her beloved and so finally had a true image of her soul.
“ … be it an idea, or be it life in becoming?”
The thirteenth century,Persian mystic Aziz Nasafi wrote that the spiritual world, standing like a light behind the bodily world, shines as through a window through every creature that comes into being. According to the type and size of the window, more or less light enters the world. Each one of us is a window on the Universe, the whole of understanding. Physicist Raynor Johnson even suggest that while in ordinary states of awareness we view the world through five slits in the tower, our ordinary senses, there are states of consciousness in which we open the roof to the sky. It is in these moments of consciousness that a new paradigm is born. Suddenly a light is lit in the darkness of our understanding.
And here we can see why the same paradigm, such as the Aristotelian or Newtonian, is perceived as a liberation at one time and then a constriction, a prison, at another. For the birth of every new paradigm is also the conception in a new conceptual matrix, which begins the process of gestation, growth, crisis, and revolution all over again. Each paradigm is a stage in an unfolding evolutionary sequence, and when that paradigm has fulfilled its purpose, when it has been developed and exploited to its fullest extent, then it loses its numinosity, it ceases to be libidinanlly charged, it becomes felt as oppressive, limiting, opaque, something to be overcome – while the new paradigm that is emerging is felt as a liberating birth into a new, luminously intelligible universe.
“The Passion Of The Western Mind – Richard Tarnas
Within each of us, we progress from paradigm to paradigm in our personal self-evolution. Each stage of this evolution is brought about by a personal crisis, a turning point, a dark night of the soul, a soul encounter. Our personal evolutionary shifts reflects the evolutionary shifts of the greater whole. Within each stage is contained a germ of “betrayal” that will be the wound that causes the Dark Night of transition for our next level of understanding. Our ego must undergo a death to what it thought it was to find the new image of itself; it must enter into the chaos of the dark night.
In 1977, Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel prize in theoretical chemistry for his discovery of dissipative structures. Prigogine described how every natural system grows in a nonlinear way: the organizing structure of a system is at some point no longer useful and has to disintegrate before the new structure can emerge. A prime example of this principle is the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. A caterpillar does not really become a butterfly in the cocoon. Rather, it turns into into a chaotic molecular mesh. Out of this chaos, the structure of the butterfly spontaneously emerges.
Another finding of chaos theory is bifurcation theory. A bifurcation is a place or point of branching or forking into qualitatively new types of behavior. It is usually a sudden change, rather than a slow and gradual evolution. Furthermore, it is a transition of a non-linear system into a realm where new laws dictate what will occur to the system (Barrow, 1988).
Dixon (1993) calls bifurcations, sensitive decision points, or SDP’s. He points out that, far away from an SDP, a system can be well behaved, but as an SDP is approached, the system’s trajectory becomes random and unpredictable.
Complex systems (dynamic systems with numerous interrelated parts) tend to encounter bifurcations, which when amplified, can lead either to order or to chaos (Briggs & Peat, 1989). As a complex system functions, over time, tiny changes or perturbations (such as a single photon of energy, or a slight fluctuation in temperature) can be iterated (repeated) to a size that will result in a bifurcation and the system will then take a new direction.
Bifurcations can be considered as critical points (SDPs) in the life of a complex system. They points can either cascade toward chaos, through a process called period doubling, or stabilize the system in a new behavior through a series of feedback loops (such as autocatalysis, cross catalysis, and autoinhibition) so that the system once again is in harmony with its environment. http://www.schuelers.com/ChaosPsyche/part_1_7.htm
If we consider the ego as a complex system, then when a person reaches a critical decision point in their life where they must decide which of two possible choices to make, either consciously or unconsciously, they will have encountered a bifurcation point. The number of the primary bifurcations of the psyche, caused by the archetypes as attractors, are limited in number for each of us. Just as everything has a soul, so one can say that even a particular paradigm has a soul and an ego. Just reflect on how this relates to the state of our outer world.
Our identity shows self similarity. All aspects of our identity must be interactive and congruent. Even flaws in our character are reflected fractally through all aspects of our being. If we have a violent identity, it will be expressed through all the aspects of our being. The violence acts as an attractor for violent images, attitudes, and values and draws them in to become integrated implicitly throughout the entire personality.
It is not only individuals who form identities. While the physical boundary of an individual is generally obvious, the boundaries of a group are more difficult to define.
As we humans evolved, we often found existing social structures to be unable to meet our needs. Small family groups gradually grew in size until the group cohesion was threatened. A more complex tribal structure was needed to restore stability. Again, when too many tribal groups exist in close proximity, the level of conflict rises. Historically, one of the tribes has tended to conquer the others and the tribal leader has become instituted as a King or Queen of the empire. As education levels and individuals’ expectations increased, democratic forms of government formed nations as the most effective social structure. Each level has its own, appropriate corresponding identity. We each have an individual identity, a family identity, a community/tribal identity a national identity, and a planetary identity.
Identity form as nested levels, including the previous level as we progress to a new level (Wilber, 1996). The levels have a fractal relationship. Identity is formed in the same nested way as our brain. Our basic survival functions are controlled in the hindbrain (also called reptilian brain) at the centre of the brain. The paleomammalian midbrain wrapped around it controlling our emotions and the neomammalian neo-cortex is wrapped around all those formations controlling higher brain functions. (Eysenck, 1970: 84). Evolution does not do away with existing structures, but instead forms new structures to modify earlier ones. We do not do away with the need of a family level when we move to a tribal identity and so on. All the levels are interactive. Any level not fully functioning affects the whole organism.
– By Victor McGill
“The caterpillar is a voracious consumer that devotes its life to gorging itself on nature’s bounty. When it has had its fill, it fastens itself to a convenient twig and encloses itself in a chrysalis. Once snug inside, it undergoes a crisis as the structures of its cellular tissue begin to dissolve in an organic soup.The Great Turning – David Korten
Yet guided by some deep inner wisdom, a number of organizer cells begin to rush around gathering other cells to form imaginal buds, multi-cellular structures that give form to the organs of a new creature. Correctly perceiving a threat to the old order, but misdiagnosing the source, the caterpillar’s immune system attributes the threat to the imaginal buds and attacks them as alien intruders.
The imaginal buds prevail by linking up with one another in a cooperative effort that brings forth a new being of great beauty, wondrous possibilities, and little identifiable resemblance to its progenitor. In its rebirth, the monarch butterfly lives lightly on the earth, serves as a pollinator, and migrates thousands of miles to experience life’s possibilities in ways that the earthbound caterpillar could not imagine.”
In my dream, I found myself in a strange land, so strange that I cannot describe it, neither did I know how I got to be there. Yet, I knew I did not belong there, and the customs were strange to me. I saw a lot of delusional entrapment in the way of life, and wanted to speak out to say there is another way, you do not have to live like that, but the authorities tried to silence me, and I escaped. I then found myself in an ancient tomb where there were a lot of decaying bodies, and I saw four green and white butterflies emerge from a body. I knew that when the transition of death was complete four of these butterflies, which was host specific, thus human hosts, would emerge. I walked outside and saw swarms of these butterflies. Someone said to me, if you see so many there will be a lot of deaths.
In the dark night, the lifelong ego sense dies: impotent. Having fulfilled its part, now weak and incompetent, it is dissolved — transmuted. From a higher sense now awakening within you, you slough off your false sense of self. You now know yourself to be a different person than you thought you were. Your ego was merely experiencing some of the attributes, some of the qualities, of your true nature, while at the same time obstructing others.
Inside the cocoon, you will come to understand what the butterfly knows; in answering the call, you prepare to die in order for something new to be born – and to take flight, when the Other reaches for you, but first you must face the storm.
You are not surprised at the force of the storm –
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know;
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.
The weeks stood still in summer.
The tree’s blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit;
now it becomes a riddle again,
and you again a stranger.
Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
To be continued; Part 4