I was energetically drawn to read Scott Stossel’s article, My Anxious, Twitchy, Phobic (Somehow Successful) Life, in the January/February issue of The Atlantic. Though totally appreciative of his full personal disclosure, I was disappointed in the outcome of his lifelong journey to lift this pervasive, crippling symptom from his life; his seemingly best cure—a combination of Xanax, Inderal, and either scotch or vodka—necessary prior to a speaking engagement in order to pull it off. It’s pretty clear that the subject of anxiety needs revisioning beyond the failed rational therapies of our time if we are to truly tackle this mythic giant.
Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell spent much of their lives demonstrating the relevance of myths to modern life. Carl Jung insisted that analsands discover the myth that governed their own lives that they might effectively find the path to their individuation. I propose that we treat anxiety as the curtain call to our personal myths, that is, that when anxiety calls, we treat ourselves to a mythic encounter, a mere mortal summoned to interact with the gods.
When anxiety calls we become helpless children, shuddering before a world of giants—adults—who have total power over our life and death. How will we fare in the encounter? Will we survive, be cared for, tossed aside, punished, welcomed, accepted? These are the fears and hopes we harbor in our smallness when we enter into our mythic encounters.
What will his/her mood be when he/she enters the room? I shudder.
Will my work be acceptable? I shudder.
Will I get promoted? I shudder.
Will I be expected to have sex? I shudder.
Will I be capable of having sex? I shudder.
Will the plane fall from the sky? I shudder.
Will I be able to perform? I shudder.
Will I lose it? I shudder.
Will I be attacked? I shudder.
Behind each of these anxious anticipations lies a mythic encounter, whether it be with a goddess, a good witch, a bad witch, an ogre, a wise god, or some other permutation of power that we feel inadequate in the face of. Our challenge, in this life, is to become the hero that takes the journey to secure our rightful place and find fulfillment. That journey, like all heros’ journeys, is filled with adventures into mythical realms; encounters with dragons, tricksters, witches and helpers that challenge and support our growing ability to hold our own as we follow the yellow brick road.
Anxiety is the necessary alarm that summons us to our challenge and ultimately asks us to turn off its shrill call. The tasks are formidable; all myths are epic and lifetime adventures. Sometimes the challenge is to unmask the larger-than-life wizard, like in Oz, to subdue a projection that generates anxiety. Sometimes the challenge is to marry into the gods, to experience the numinous and ecstatic without disintegration. Sometimes the challenge is to wrestle the giant to the ground, overcoming our fear that we are not enough, that we have no power. Turning off the anxiety alarm might also mean challenging ourselves to consciously learn to deeply relax and regulate the nervous system; the mythic encounter here being with the body itself.
In revisioning our lives in this world as, ultimately, anxious encounters with the mythic realm, we offer ourselves the opportunity to hone our beings to continue as mythical, magical beings in infinity beyond the human form. Thank you anxiety for waking us to our magical selves! May we all be heroes that accept where we are, our starting points of fear and trembling pointing out our immediate challenges.
Heroes come in all forms and each must face their own unique challenges. If we are here in this world, we are already heroes, even if reluctantly so. We all made it through the dark canal, cut the cord, and became adventurers in a new world. Don’t stop now!
We issue forth from infinity, a seed planted with the intent to individuate, to become a unique life with a specific purpose in this world. All seeds share the same fate: to become fully what they are. And when this life ends, we return from whence we came: “Going home behind the curtain, going home without the costume that I wore,” -Sincerely, L. Cohen—from Going Home
All the while we are here, we seek our lost wholeness in the many masks of God we attach to, projections that reflect our infinite Selves. But, while here, we are also on a mission. Our infinite self, Brahman, must stay safely ensconced behind our bliss sheath, beyond our awareness, as we, in turn, seek our bliss in becoming the seed we are intended to be in this life.
Joseph Campbell, like Carlos Castaneda, encouraged us to fully embrace and experience the life we are in. After all, our challenges are experiments from the fourth-dimensional Self, as Jung put it. For Jung, the fourth dimension was the dimension of quantum physics, which grasps the unitary interdependent nature of reality. It’s the dimension beyond space and time, where psyche and soma merge like a particle and a wave, in infinite oneness.
Jung designated our Brahman self, the Self, granting recognition to the part of us that is infinite, that lies behind the curtain. Less than one year before his death in 1961, Jung confided the following in a private letter:
“…one can define a dream as an experiment of a four-dimensional nature. I have never tried even to describe this aspect of dreams, …because I have found that our public today is incapable of understanding. I considered it therefore my first duty to talk and write of things that might be understandable and thus would prepare the ground upon which one could later on explain the more complicated things…” –C. G. Jung Letters, Vol. 2
Here, Jung hints that dreams, in sleeping and waking life, are experiments from the fourth-dimensional Self. The experimenter is the Self that lives in infinity. It is that Self that projects its seed of intent into this life. This higher Self intends the life we are sent to live in this third dimension of time and space, birth and death. Jung suggests that it is this higher Self—seeking to view, enhance, and experience itself in an experimental life—that projects us into this life, to then live that intent, whichever way it goes, bringing back its recapitulated experience to infinity in dying.
The Shamans of Ancient Mexico came to the same conclusion: we are beings projected from infinity, granted awareness that may be enhanced through experience—whatever that might be—in a three dimensional life, which eventually ends and contributes its findings back to infinity.
From this perspective, we can see that we are always in two places at once: Self and ego self, eternal and transitory. Furthermore, the antagonists in our life, our petty tyrants, are necessary players in our quest to individuate. Our petty tyrants rattle our self-importance. In fact, by their merciless actions, they stamp out any flame of ego-worth. It can take years to emerge from the ashes of such abuse. Yet, freedom can only be obtained in accepting the true nature of things—that ego life is an illusive life, partitioned in third-dimensional reality.
If we drop our ego attachment yet maintain our awareness, we enter fourth-dimensional experience: enlightenment now. This is what our petty tyrants offer us. Our encounters with them tear apart any illusions of ego importance. We encounter fully the relativity of our life in this world.
We are beings who are going to die, our lives are transitory. No need to build up a trust fund of worth to obtain immortality; it’s all a distraction. Our true purpose is to fully actualize the seed in keeping with the intent of our higher Self, without attachment to everlasting life in a temporary vehicle. This experience of bliss—fully actualizing the life in the seed—aligns us with that higher Self, without need for a protective sheath. We can handle the impact of our immortality while in our temporary vehicle. Here we join with our fourth-dimensional Self in our three-dimensional life, living now.
We must all take the hero’s journey. At some point in our lives it becomes imperative. When we stand on the threshold, about to take the first step into the unknown, we feel totally alone. No one has ever done what we are about to do. Our journey is our own to have, to experience, and to return from.
Perhaps our first journey is to leave our parents at the age of five and go off to school, to get on the school bus and return at the end of the day having had an experience that no one else has ever had. We must all do this at some point in our lives if we are to become mature, independent beings.
“Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss,” writes Joseph Campbell. And it’s true, we all have to leave the known, the easy comforts of a provided life and experience the discomforts of life on our own.
There are many stages of the hero’s journey. There is that first stage of leaving home, of going off to college or moving far from where we grew up, to begin anew, as youth chomping at the bit for our own experiences beyond the world of our parents. Many never take another hero’s journey after that. We settle into our lives, become complacent, disillusioned, perhaps angry at the world for not meeting us in the way we expected. Our spirit, however, never gives up. It comes knocking, constantly asking us to please get up and do something to change ourselves!
Sometimes the call of the spirit is finally answered later in life. The journey is taken up again, when other duties have been met, when our maturity allows us to shed some of what has held us back in the past, when we are finally ready. Others continue the hero’s journey unabated, letting something else besides the dictates of society and family tradition guide them on their way, those free-spirited ones who never seem to settle in one place for very long. Others constantly refuse the call, even late into life; even upon their death beds they do not heed the proddings of their spirit to experience the bliss of life.
Besides the hero’s journey in the world, there is another kind of hero’s journey, the inner journey, the call of the spirit to encounter and experience the Deeper Within, as I like to call it. The journey into the Deeper Within is as frightening as taking that first step on the young hero’s journey, when leaving home for the first time and finding out what it means to be a fully responsible adult.
The Deeper Within calls to us throughout our lives. Calling and calling, it asks us to come closer, to hear what it has to tell us of the treasures and mysteries of the deeper self, like a deep well, the bottom of which is endless. The Deeper Within is where our true bliss lies, where our real transformation awaits. Once we heed this call, we are offered the opportunity to go on a journey that never ends.
To be ready to encounter and experience this Deeper Within we must allow ourselves to take the first part of the hero’s journey in the real world. We must leave home, grow up, create a life for ourselves on our own terms, as fully independent beings. We must gather experiences, learn what it means to face our fears and test our merits, to have gains and losses, to have love and to lose love, to build our egos and strengthen our spirits in a world that is often ignorant, disharmonious, and could care less.
Once we have had experiences in the real world, we might be ready to have experiences in the Deeper Within, where everything that we have learned from being in the outer world will be utilized and tested, proven to be useful or useless in our inner world. In the Deeper Within we will finally meet our spirit face to face, all that it encompasses, our light side and our dark side. We must be prepared for such encounters.
Our ego, strengthened by our life experiences, will prove its worth, showing us what we are really made of as we dive into the Deeper Within. The shamanic process of recapitulation is taking the hero’s journey into the Deeper Within. It entails facing what has controlled us and what has guided us, what has supplied us with our energy and what has drained us of our energy. Recapitulation is the hero’s journey to reconnecting with the spirit self. During recapitulation we surrender our ego to this spirit self, so that it may guide us to full transformation.
As we return to the real world from our hero’s journey through the Deeper Within, we must ease slowly back into society, quietly and humbly take our place again, transformed yet fully present. We return to life like a newborn, full of a new kind of knowledge that others cannot totally grasp. We return from taking the journey into the Deeper Within speaking a strange new language, having had visions and mystical encounters. We return with a new way of perceiving the world, with a new kind of awareness.
Everything is now so clear to us, life explained on so many levels, death faced and found to be nothing more than this life extended, experienced in another state. We return with a new kind of sober fearlessness, with a new kind of detachment, and yet we feel and experience life with far greater love and compassion than previously possible. We emerge fully aware of our universal interconnectedness and our energetic connection to all living beings. Yes, we return with blissfulness coursing through us, having experienced bliss, having fully known what bliss really is.
Our new self wants everyone else to experience the bliss of life in this manner, to take the hero’s journey to the Deeper Within and transform too! But we learn soon enough that not everyone is ready. “I can’t read all that spiritual crap!” someone said to me the other day. I was not offended, nor did I feel sorry for the person. I simply acknowledged the journey that was being taken.
There are millions of kinds of journeys being taken simultaneously. Some people are here, others there. But the thing to remember is that we all had to start somewhere. We all had to take that first step into the unknown at some point, whether in a past life or in this life. At one time we all had to, and have to, take the first step on the hero’s journey to the Deeper Within too.
Wishing you all well, wherever you are on your hero’s journey. Keep going!
When asked, “What is the meaning of life?” Joseph Campbell responded thus: “There is no meaning. We bring the meaning to it.”
Our very lives provide us with everything we need to discover who we are and why we are here, offering us everything we need to find meaning. We are all heroes on meaningful journeys.
Chuck and I have revealed intimate details of our lives over the past several weeks in our blogs, having had to face moments of deep anguish and wrenching sadness. Yet interwoven within those moments of turmoil were many moments of awe, moments of breakthrough and insight, moments of transparency leading to transcendence, for all involved. Meaning is being discovered and lived each day as the members of our family take their journeys, as they face their deepest issues and broken selves, as we all face where the devastating and the magical have landed us.
All of us live magical lives. If we accept ourselves as magical beings, as magical pursuers of meaning, we find that the very lives we live are more than fulfilling. There is great power and energy in turning what on the one hand may appear as devastating and hopeless—those knocks on the head, those wake up calls—into meaningful encounters with what we need to progress and grow. “To refuse the call means stagnation,” says Joseph Campbell.
We are all offered supremely necessary encounters with our inner darkness as we live our lives and face the reality of where we are. Our real duty in life is to take what is offered as a new opportunity to face our fears and challenges with a shift in awareness. That shift in awareness must be that we are being asked to evolve, that we are being asked to wake up and take the hero’s journey. Suddenly, our journeys take on new meaning. Suddenly we are no longer victims but warriors of our own destiny. “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging,” says Joseph Campbell.
And so, as the energy of change that has rolled through our family reverberates throughout the world—for none of us are alone in our moments of darkness or our moments of awe—as we look for the higher meaning in all of our lives, we share the energy of change with all of you. For we are aware that there is a greater interconnected web of energy that courses through us all.
As we acquiesce to that greater interconnectedness, we discover that we are all the same, that we are all nothing and that we are all everything; we are darkness and transcendence alike. We discover that we all must suffer personally for the greater good, for if we are to change the world we must suffer the changing self.
We are all capable of experiencing the transcendent. As we reach up out of our stuckness and seek meaning for all that befalls us, we offer ourselves the answers that we seek. Why did this have to happen to me? Well, it happened so you could grow. This is what we personally have had stressed to us over the past several weeks. We are all in the process of growing every day of our lives. Let that be the guidance that moves you along on your own journey.
In the deepest of challenges, and in the most radiant experiences of awe, we discover the meaning of who we are and why we are here. Joseph Campbell, whose words of wisdom have helped us weather through the flood of recent events, says: “Breaking out is following your bliss pattern, quitting the old place, starting your hero journey, following your bliss.”
Keep breaking out and bliss will meet you.
Joseph Campbell quotes are from: Reflections on the Art of Living, A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and Edited by Diane K. Osbon
In 1916, the period that came to be known as Jung’s Confrontation with the Unconscious, as recorded in his now publicly available Red Book, Jung’s household and family were seized by a haunting. As he relates in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections:
“There was an ominous atmosphere all around me. I had the strange feeling that the air was filled with ghostly entities… My eldest daughter saw a white figure passing through her room. My second daughter, independently of her elder sister, related that twice in the night her blanket had been snatched away… (T)he front doorbell began ringing frantically. It was a bright summer day; the two maids were in the kitchen, from which the open square outside the front door could be seen. Everyone immediately looked to see who was there, but there was no one in sight. I was sitting near the doorbell, and not only heard it but saw it moving. Then I knew that something had to happen.” (From pp 190-191.)
What ultimately did happen was Jung’s interaction with a group of ancient spirits. Once he engaged in the dialogue the hauntings stopped. These dialogues were documented in the Red Book, and prompted Jung to embark on his lifetime career of mapping the deeper structure and dynamics of the psyche.
Among his major discoveries was the principle of synchronicity. As evidenced from his personal haunting, spiritual forces from within the psyche can effect physical reality. In Jung’s case, he had not been paying attention to the deeper layers of what he came to call the collective unconscious and so the collective unconscious came to encounter him in a physical haunting. Physical events in one’s personal life may represent the true energetic picture of reality at a moment in time. This is the synchronistic value of an oracle like the I Ching as well, who’s reading is built by the image generated through the physical throwing of coins.
In Vedantic science we are beings comprised of five layers. Our outermost sheath is our physical body within which lies a series of energy bodies, housing our emotional, mental, wisdom, and blissful selves. Beneath all the sheaths lies the Atman, the Buddha, or simply God, beyond all the many Masks of God, as Joseph Campbell would say. We become enlightened when we fully realize—become—our deepest nature, shedding our attachment to all our sheaths.
In the meantime, we are complex beings who synchronistically interact with our deeper spirit in a myriad of ways. We are constantly being pushed by our spirit to discover and become who we really are. Life events can be viewed as our conscious or unconscious relationship with our knocks from spirit. This happens individually in the events of our lives and collectively in the events of our time. We are now in a time of great knocks from spirit, asking us to awaken to our truths and make great changes in how we care for ourselves and our planet.
I share today a most personal story, as spirit has drawn the events in my family into a public forum. I must answer this call, this request from spirit for transparency. We are all requested now to become, as Joseph Campbell put it, transparent to the transcendent. In this manner, we release our attachment to the self-centered demands of our individual sheaths and open to the energy and truths of our deepest spiritual selves in new balance. And so, here is how spirit, the impersonal, came to interact with the personal in the recent life of my family.
It was a Friday afternoon, around 3 PM. I decided to mow the lawn. A tire was flat on the mower. I turned on the small air compressor to fill it when suddenly the motor died and sparks started shooting out of it. It was finished.
I gathered Jan to drive to Kingston with me to purchase a new compressor. We took our time studying what was available at Lowe’s and finally made our selection. As we approached the tollbooth to the Kingston bridge on our return journey, something compelled me to notice a black Mercedes in front of me. I noted the word Kompressor above the back bumper. I said nothing.
After crossing the bridge, we drove a ways and came to a light. Jan’s attention was drawn to the same black Mercedes. “Look,” she said, “Kompressor! Funny that we see that just after we’ve bought a new compressor. I wonder what it means.”
After returning home, I mowed the lawn and in the early evening the phone rang. It was my younger son, a Georgia resident, who informed me that he was in town for a surprise visit. He was ten minutes from the house and would like to come over. Excitedly, we awaited his arrival. A car pulled up—it was the black Mercedes with the word Kompressor on the back. Unbeknownst to me, my son had bought a new car.
Over the next two days we had brief visits that ended abruptly due to energetic/emotional turmoil. Saturday evening, Jan and I slept outside beneath the stars. At about 5 AM Sunday morning, Jan awoke me to share a very powerful dream she had just experienced. Here is her dream as she related it:
“In my dream, as in reality, I am sleeping outside with Chuck on the deck—lying beside the bench where the stone Buddha sits. I have my back turned to the Buddha both in reality and in my dream. I am startled by the sudden PING of a tiny bell that sounds like it is made of glass. This PING wakes me up in my dream and is immediately followed by a shattering sound, as the bell breaks and the shards of glass fall to the ground. I am aware that if I roll over to look at the bell, which I had envisioned over the head of the Buddha, I will see nothing, for in the moment of ringing the glass bell has shattered. I lie awake in my dream, aware that something has happened regarding a life, but that the message is for all of us, that it’s a universal message: there is only one opportunity to wake up. I understand that although we have many small wake up calls throughout our lives there is only one big wake-up call from our spirit, because at the moment it calls out, the opportunity is gone, never to come again. In its ringing, the bell breaks, thus there is no longer a bell that will toll for us. The sound of the bell, so light and ethereal, yet so profoundly startling and penetrating, stayed with me as I woke up and told Chuck of my dream. “Your son is in serious trouble,” I said, for Chuck’s second son came clearly to mind.” (Here ends Jan’s dream.)
We went back to sleep for about an hour, arising by 6:30 as I was determined to finish stacking several cords of wood. Shortly after 7AM the phone rang. It was my son’s fiancé calling from Georgia. She had just received a call from a State Trooper. My son had been in a serious car accident at 5 AM and had been taken to St. Francis Hospital. The Kompressor had crashed.
I called the ER to discover that he was alive, somewhat conscious, but bleeding internally. We arrived at the hospital emergency room. The doctor told us that he needed to be airlifted by helicopter to Westchester Medical Center as he has severe internal injuries and numerous shattered bones. A helicopter was on the way. They also awaited a heart surgeon who might be able to find and stop the internal bleeding. In the meantime, he was being given blood transfusions to compensate for lost blood.
The helicopter was arriving, but so did Dr. Kobak, the heart surgeon. With competence and compassion, he assured us that he’d do his best, and he did, as he found and cauterized a severed artery on one side of my son’s pelvis. “Don’t worry,” he assured us, “the artery on the other side will supply more than enough blood to the entire region.” Dr. Kobak held my heart in his hands. I feel nothing but gratitude for this man. Within ten minutes of this surgery, my son was strapped to a gurney and loaded outside onto a helicopter and off he went, with us following, to another hospital and another surgery.
Two surgeries later, my son was put back together with screws and a tension bar with an excellent prognosis to fully recover over the next several months. He himself views the accident as a rebirth, having crawled from the compressed and mangled car on his elbows, having received new blood, and having to be contained until he can learn to walk again. His containment is the creation of the impersonal, his opportunity to meet his inner truth and change the direction of his life.
Within ten days of his surgeries my son was discharged from the hospital to begin a driving pilgrimage back to Georgia with his fiance. Just ten minutes from the house, on this past Wednesday evening, he called me from the car to tell me that he’d be stopping by to say goodbye. I hung up the phone and it immediately rang again. Suddenly, the sound of a large helicopter hovered over the house, and the synchronicity did not go unnoticed. On the other end of the phone was the sullen voice of my older son. “Dad, it’s bad, I’m in the Ulster County Jail.” It turns out that he was involved in some kind of illicit drug transaction, involving heroin. He faces three felony charges.
My younger son pulled up within minutes and I had to deliver the news about his brother. He became hysterical, but himself recognized the knock of the spirit. Everyone had been given the events they needed to face their lives, their inner truths, at the deepest level. As Jung discovered a century ago, and as my family experienced in this series of events, if we don’t voluntarily go to meet spirit and take the journey of recapitulation, then spirit will come to claim us in the daily physical events of our lives.
We can refuse that call, but as Jan’s dream warns, we only get one chance, at least in this life. Then it’s all about karma, not as punishment, but as the necessary picking up of the thread of where we are stuck, perhaps to be addressed in a new life, in a new time.
Personally, I love deeply, and I am deeply affected by the journeys of my sons, but I am not attached at the level of anger, pity, or victim to the events that have transpired, for I am more fully aware of their significance and the greater interconnectedness of present day life with lives lived, and lives still to come—with the urgent call of our spirits to wake us up. In fact, these events have pushed me to further stalk the sheath of bliss, bliss in the form of deep compassion but nonintervention in the fate of others, even those closest to my heart.
The bliss sheath reveals what lies beyond the veil of personal emotion and sees, without judgment, the workings of spirit through the events of our lives, traumatic and awesome alike. My love is expressed compassionately, in my guidance, when sought, and in the respect I have for all to heroically face their deepest truths in full transparency. We cannot rescue anyone. If we do, we make them victims and cloud their access to their own deeper truths.
We live in a world now that must transcend blind allegiance to family, tribe or nation and acquiesce to the truths and needs of our greater interconnected whole. To do less is to stay steeped in the greed of “me and mine” that has brought us to our current brink of destruction.
May we heed now all our knocks, the signs and synchronicities from spirit, and go to meet our truths directly, as Jung guided, and stop the hauntings—the extreme compression spirit resorts to in physical catastrophes—though sometimes that’s the only way to prompt us to wake up.