I certainly won’t deny the power of world politics and social dynamics to influence the individual. But I recognize that the inner state of the individual is equally as powerful and perhaps even more influential upon our lives. The domain over which we all have the highest degree if sovereignty and authority is our own consciousness, our own minds or psyches.
Because our minds are so intertwined with our culture and the natural world, separating the two begins like a fish separating itself from the ocean in which it swims. But the human being is a unique organism. We all have the ability to choose how much separation exists between our conscious minds and our cultural programming, as well as our own unconscious, a domain as vast as all human culture. This takes time and great effort, but is the essence of all spiritual inner work. We are all potential astronauts of personal and collective consciousness. What we choose to do with our powers is up to us.
While certain eastern and indigenous cultures have extensive experience with the exploration of the mind, the West has more limited resources. This is partly due to the fact that our awareness tends to be outwardly focused. Our mastery of technology is an example of the benefits of our outward focus. Our extremely high instances of personal and cultural disease are to a great degree the effects of our alienation from our own inner states and our unfamiliarity with psychic journeying.
The famed Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung posited the existence of a “collective unconscious” – a repository of all mankind’s ancient memories of the past. Another 20th century explorer of the mind, John C. Lilly saw how the human being was a “magnificent bio-computer”. The body being the hardware and the mind or psyche its software or operating system.
In a very real sense, our minds are nodes of information throughput, connected together like a biological internet which we call “culture”. Or like a bacteriological culture in a Petri dish, we human beings are a totally interconnected ecosystem of energy and information. What comes out of the mind evolves the culture, and what comes out of the culture evolves the mind. As Above, So Below, as the alchemists used to say.
“That which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of the one thing.” – Hermes Trismegistus
The deeper our understanding of this interconnection becomes, we begin to realize that our cultural disease cannot be addressed solely by political and other social work. We come to realize that whatever is discordant within us, is shared collectively and whatever is discordant in others, becomes our own resonance. It’s as if we bring to the world our own darkness, like a communicable disease, spread by contact.
The essence of truly effective spiritual inner work is to gain conscious control over the internal software of mind and to manage the effects it has on ourselves and culture. When Mahatma Gandhi spoke of “being the change we want to see in the world”, he was speaking of Yoga. He was suggesting that we change our minds, so that our culture may change in accordance.
The personal objective of spiritual methods of transformation whether they be yogic or otherwise alchemical is to bring coherence to the individual and to facilitate the manifestation of one’s highest purpose. The social objective of these methods is to bring coherence to the world by mastering the internal control panel for reality that we call mind.
An esoteric truth is that the outer world is a very real reflection of our internal states. The movie The Matrix portrayed this perfectly. It takes time, training and deep faith but eventually we come to understand Morpheus’ answer to Neo’s question.
Neo: “What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?”
Morpheus: “No Neo, I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”
In other words, the master alchemist manages the forces of evil by managing the internal representation of that evil within themselves. Where darkness exists “in here” it manifests “out there”. When the individual is coherent, their outer world is coherent.
In the present Information Age, it is now possible to synthesize a personal transformative practice out of any or all of the world’s esoteric traditions of enlightenment. But the West does have a sound starting point in the work of C.G. Jung. Jung called his shamanic science of transformation “Individuation”. It appears at first to be highly novel and esoteric, but it was in fact a recapitulation of the ancient practice of spiritual or internal alchemy, which itself serves the same purpose as all esoteric yogas and indigenous shamanic work. There is only one master process of human psychosocial clarification and mastery – alchemy, by whatever name is ascribed to it.
Spiritual alchemy of all traditions is both exploratory, but equally it is hands on work. It’s archeological excavation work. It’s journeying inwards and then finding the correlation with what is found inside with what we experience in the world. The deeper we go, the more we find the synchronicities, the resonances, the emotional and otherwise energetic charges that compel us and control us. We discover and learn about the circuitry or we could say, the biology of the mind.
There is no one method for awakening our consciousness or accessing our “alchemical gold”, although there are archetypal patterns of transformation. Joseph Campbell called this the “hero’s journey”. It begins with a calling. Something calls us to greater depths than what we had experienced before. Or perhaps like Alice, we unexpectedly slip and fall down a rabbit hole. The hero or heroine, on their own path towards wholeness, ultimately heals and evolves themselves, but what they bring back is also pure gold for their people.
In this hero’s journey, this alchemical path to healing and inner mastery, there are fundamental patterns which repeat, that apply to all people in all times. One of those is that of facing darkness. It is called the “nigredo” in western alchemy and it is present in every epic tale of fiction and myth. On our paths, we will face the devil in one form or another. In Jungian language, this is our shadows. It is through the embracing and clarifying our inner darkness that we attain the capacity to heal and transform. This essential first step is frequently left out of western spiritual practices and is the biggest reason why so many do not achieve their spiritual goals.
Traversing and integrating our shadows may in fact be the most important step we can take in personal and collective evolution. It is through this journey that we mature the most and bring into balance our own destructive projections which when not brought to consciousness, become the very evil we want to eliminate from the world.
More on the shadow and doing shadow work to come…