Tag Archives: numinosity

Chuck’s Place: Numinous Encounters

Encountering the numinous…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

The heart pounds so hard it must be audible to others. The muscles seize in momentary paralysis. The face flushes, the throat tightens, the breath is halted, the body vibrates. This is divine encounter, a  numinous experience.

A man looks at his partner and is overtaken by the beauty of divine glow. So powerful is this encounter with numinous energy that his humanness is overwhelmed with premature ejaculation.

A woman stands before a large gathering. She is there to perform. Looking out at the crowd she is overtaken by the vastness of presence. She straddles anxiety and dizziness. Is she ready to channel the divine through her instrument? Her first challenge will be to steady her smallness in her numinous encounter with the divine as felt through the bigness of the crowd.

An ordinary dream escalates to a nightmare. Before we are able to awaken we are seized by terror as we are cornered by overwhelming odds. Waking with a start, our sleep is finished for the night. Our numinous encounter with the divine terrible leaves us anxiously counting the minutes till daylight.

As helpful as our rational mind may be in orienting us to ordinary predictable life, reason is no match for the power of the numinous. Until the light of day, awakened by the tremendum of a nightmare, we remain in the grip of the monster.

Similarly, in waking life, no amount of reason can free the afflicted from the power of a compulsion. Compulsion is the energy of the numinous imposing itself upon the smallness of ego. Ego can be coached to refuse compulsion’s will, but it cannot escape the resultant crucifixion by anxiety, the consequence of refusing the will of the compulsion.

The smallness of our ego as it is overtaken by the all-consuming energy of a numinous encounter, bidden or unbidden, is the core challenge of this life. For a child, parents loom as the first numinous encounter with a power greater than themselves.

Freud’s vast contributions on the legacy of these early relations attest to the power of these numinous encounters to control and define a lifetime. How are we ever to discover ourselves if the image or actual person of our parents continues to rule and preoccupy life throughout adulthood?

Jung discovered that the numinous character of these encounters originates in the vastness of the collective unconscious, home of the archetypes. Archetypes are the gods of yesteryear that were formerly projected onto Mt. Olympus or some other heaven. Modern humans have conquered space; the gods are now operating internally through numinous encounters within the self, projected outward onto normal humans experienced as gods and goddesses.

The truth is that we are seekers of numinous encounters. They are the experiences of divine communion that lend ordinary life its luster and meaning. They can be found in an impulsive Tinder hookup. They can be experienced in the elevating music of a rock concert or the Philharmonic. They can be experienced in religious or civil rituals, in the union of marriage or the finality of death. They are certainly the draw of most mind-altering substances.

The energy of the numinous at the human animal level is instinct. Animals become instinctually driven to mate, human animals are no exception. The human spirit elevates an instinctual act into an ethereal one. The act of sex can combine with love in union of body and spirit. The projected archetypes of god and goddess imbue the perception of lovers with spiritual depth and awe.

The human challenge is to engage these heightened energy states with sobriety. For some, the attraction to heightened energy is like a moth drawn to a flame. This is addiction, whether it be to substance, sex, a person or the news. The major challenge in addiction is to find a non self-injurious way to numinous encounter. The dry drunk alternative merely relegates one to addiction to negativity, also a powerful numinous force.

The development of control enables the ego to be nourished and broadened in numinous encounter, but not possessed and taken over by it. We start with the reality that we are small and vulnerable, the numinous is large and powerful. No point in inflating, i.e., “I can handle that.” No, the fact remains that numinous anything is more powerful than the ego. Be humble, but be an adult. If the Queen offers an audience with her numinous energy, be the knight who humbly receives her blessing.

The instinctual fear activated by encounters with numinous energy is a natural reaction to the presence of autonomous power greater than one’s ego. Turning to the body to regulate the inner influx of energy is far more effective than turning to the mental plane for support. The mind is likely to be inundated with thoughts that intensify the fear—no help there. A deep breath is a far greater regulator of numinous encounter than rationality, which is already in an experience outside its league.

Pranayama breathing, biofeedback exercises, and the intent to commune in flowing calm are practical technologies for the ego to practice to facilitate its ability to calm and regulate the central nervous system’s ability to go with the influx of heightened numinous energy.

Ultimately, the ego has no choice but to encounter the numinous. Our world now reflects this reality. The numinous is playing outwardly with abandon in the Gotham City world we are now living in. How the collective ego of humankind handles this encounter is a work in progress.

The playing field within the individual is equally as powerful but on that playing field definite progress can be made. Every individual encounters the numinous. Through suffering the encounter and holding one’s own we are nourished and guided to further our individuation and advance the world.

Dreaming it forward,


The Imp Strikes Again!

As I recapitulate, it’s winter, near Christmas time. My friend Cathy and I are babysitting for friends of my parents, people my mother considers intelligent and worth knowing, people they are going to a party with, carpooling with them. Cathy is there because we have made plans for a sleepover at my house and I have asked the family if she could babysit with me. The family has been assured that Cathy is a nice girl, like me, reliable, a trustworthy babysitter.

That little imp!
-Detail of Artwork by Jan Ketchel

The kids are asleep. Cathy and I get hungry. We make macaroni and eat it at the kitchen table. Sitting on the table is a massive ornate wreath made of, funnily enough, various kinds of dried pasta shapes, spray painted gold, kind of tacky, but at the same time I can appreciate the amount of work that has gone into making it. It’s beautiful simply because of its size and intricacy. The thing is huge, a foot and a half in diameter at the very least, and it weighs a ton!

After eating we become bored. Babysitting is boring. We stare each other in the eyes and without saying a word begin pushing the wreath toward the edge of the table. First one of us gives it a nudge, then the other, which is more like a shove because of the heaviness of the thing. Goading each other on, the excitement grows. Do we dare? The wreath makes it to the edge of the table, then it’s teetering on the edge, half on, half off. One more push and over it will go. Who gives it the last shove? Me, of course!

That imp inside me, and the imp outside of me in my friend Cathy both ask me the same question just before I give it one final shove.

“Are you really going to do it? Really?”

How could I not?

It is one of the most thrilling moments of my life. The moment I shove it and watch it soar over the edge and hear it crash to the kitchen floor, golden pasta shells scattering all over the place, is one of the most exhilarating of my life. I did it! I feel a tremendous rush of energy. A devil-may-care attitude sweeps through me and my heart jolts as I realize I have actually done it! Me! I’ve done it! We laugh like crazy and then panic sets in! We have to fix it, somehow! What are we going to do!

Frantically checking the clock, the driveway, listening for the door, we set about righting our wrong, our big wrong! No glue is to be found, though we search through every drawer in the house. So, resourceful being that I am, I cook up a glue of flour and water. We pick up the shattered thing, pieces and all, and try to repair the damage. It’s not easy and it’s not very successful either. It’s pretty obvious that something has happened to the wreath.

“Well,” I say, “let’s leave it on the counter, the bad side turned toward the wall. Maybe they won’t notice.”

We clean up the kitchen, leaving it sparkling, go upstairs and check on the children, hoping they have not been disturbed by all the noise we’ve been making and then we go into the living room and sit on the sofa. It’s a cold house, an old farmhouse with stone floors and walls, low ceilings and thick dark beams. We sit there on the sofa in our coats, shivering. What’s going to happen? Will they notice right away? Or can we get out of the house before they do? Our plan is to be ready to leave as soon as they come home.

“Oh, how cute you two are!” the mother says as she and her husband enter the house well after midnight. We jump up and stand there ready to go, schoolbooks clutched to our chests. They want to talk, to hear how it went. We just want to get the heck out of there!

My parents are waiting in their car outside. It’s snowing. We make uncomfortable small talk as we drive slowly home in the falling snow. It’s the longest ride I’ve ever taken. We get home and Cathy and I go right to bed, fearful of what tomorrow will bring. Maybe we did a good enough repair job that they won’t notice. We discuss our possible fate, worrying for a long time, and eventually fall asleep.

Seven in the morning my mother hammers on my bedroom door, shouting.

“Mrs. So-and-So is on the phone and she’s very upset,” my mother says. “What have you done? What did you girls do?” My mother is livid.

“Jan, do you have something to tell me?” Mrs. So-and-So says when I pick up the phone.

“Nooo, I don’t think so,” I say.

“Well, I think you do,” says Mrs. So-and-So, “what did you girls do to my wreath?”

“Ohhhh, thaaat. Well it got accidentally knocked off the table by an elbow when we were cleaning up.”

“I don’t believe you, Jan,” she says, and then Mrs. So-and-So goes off on me, telling me that she doesn’t think I’m the culprit, that it must have been that other girl, because she knows me and doesn’t know Cathy. She knows I would never do something so terrible, so it must have been Cathy who did it.

“No, you have it wrong,” I say. “It wasn’t Cathy, I did it.”

I refuse to let Cathy take the blame. I don’t at all like the way Mrs. So-and-So is skewing the story. What she is saying is just not true. I persist in telling her that it was completely my fault, that I knocked it onto the floor, “by accident” I insist, because I just cannot cop to the real truth. No matter what I say she just won’t believe me. In the end she delivers the final blow.

“You will never babysit for me again.”

But that is not the end of it. My mother is waiting. She screams at me. I’ve embarrassed her. I’m a disappointment. Cathy has to leave and never set foot in our house again. I’m grounded. I go back into my bedroom and tell Cathy what Mrs. So-and-So said. I tell her what my mother said. We’re both scared. She’s scared she’ll get into trouble at home too. We’re both shaking with shame as she gathers her things and leaves.

News of our disgrace spread fast. It seemed as if half the neighborhood already knew. All our friends knew, other girls who babysat and were secretly happy that we, the perfect ones, had screwed up. All the other mothers whom we regularly babysat for heard about it and for a long time we were off the babysitting list. Even though we only got paid 50 cents an hour, and a dollar after midnight, it was our only spending money.

We had to bear the shame, humiliation, and embarrassment for a long time. Eventually, the hubbub died down as someone else did something worse, boys stealing mail out of mailboxes, one of my brothers involved, my parents ashamed and embarrassed again. And Cathy and I did become trusted babysitters again, but never for that family. But after that incident the trend was to never have two girls babysitting at the same time. Bad things can happen!

In recapitulating this vignette, I once again encounter the imp inside me, her thrill seeking spirit and how I consciously let her take possession of me. I chose to allow her to act, that’s pretty clear, and the draw was the numinous thrill of bringing down that massive structure, sending it crashing to the floor. The imp opened the door to a sense of power that clearly compensated for the good girl persona I had to uphold and the utter powerlessness of the years of sexual abuse that dominated my life.

I see and experience the imp as a pure nature spirit, a lightning bolt, a storm of energy that is thrilling to engage, absolutely thrilling.  That thrill is a powerful draw in its own right, but my fascination with her was also connected to the compensation she offered. She did not overtake me; I signed up to go with her. No blame for the imp. In fact, she may have kept me sane.

I am well aware of this character in my personality and appreciate her daring spirit still. She, in an integrated way now, is part of what enables me to channel every day or write honest books and blogs about the truth of my life. No more need to smash any wreaths, now I’m just telling the truth.

That imp is an essential part of my being. In communication with her I get to live life to the fullest. Gotta’ love her!

A blog by Jan Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries