Sunday, February 13, 2011


Once again, it is sunrise, and a spectacular one. I am only awake because of the cat's vigilance. I've noticed a tendency to write a lot about sunrises and sunsets. When I think about why, the immediate answer is that they are edges.

Sunrise and sunset--dawn and dusk--are neither day nor night, and yet they're both. It's the edge of darkness and light. When we speak of being "on the cutting edge", it invokes images of that far-off horizon, the edge between the known and the unknown. That phrase is usually used in connection with a discipline (the cutting edge of technology, the cutting edge of fashion, etc.). But I think of that edge as the place where I'm most comfortable.

In ancient religions, the shaman is said to have a foot in both worlds. Whether that makes me a shaman or not I can't say, but I like the idea of being able to move freely between those two "countries". The "edge" is more of a mental construct than a reality--we filter out the unknown and unseen rather than acknowledge it. We are BOTH, not either/or. There is no taking sides. I have been told by colleagues, friends, and mentors in the past that I MUST choose a side. But I've never seen a need--that is someone else's need for a filter.

There is much joy in not choosing, and life is less conflicted. Some days my more "divine" impulses prevail, other days my more "demonic" ones may be more evident. It's easy to get caught up in feelings--the ecstasy of falling in love, the anger at someone who has betrayed you, the anxiety that is the result of unexpected bad news. But our reactions are just a role--it's like a giant role playing game without the 20-sided die. They are all components of our psyche, but the underlying self doesn't have anything to do with any of those feelings, just as it has nothing to do with what career we choose, or how much money we make. Emotions are tools, and like everything else, they are useful for prompting us to act out our roles.

Ethics is a difficult field, because it is impossible to make absolute statements about right and wrong in the broadest sense. We have certain metrics that we give ourselves--for instance, the Holocaust is a measure of something horribly evil and wrong that probably the majority of humankind can agree on. However, most "moral" decisions that we make on a daily basis are not on the scale of Holocausts. Still, they could be major events in our own lives, and knowing the "right" thing to do isn't always clear. In fact, in most cases, there are complicating factors. It is better not to be wedded too much to black-and-white thinking about right and wrong, or else every decision becomes an oppressive challenge. There's no openness to going with your higher instincts, because your superego has imposed a strict narrative on the subject. It's bad enough when the individual suffers, but when we try to impose those narratives on others, then we risk doing serious damage. Frequently we are on the edge, and you shouldn't push someone to one side or another--where they turn has to depend on their own circumstances.

All dualities are edges--night and day, male and female, good and bad, right and wrong. The reality of the psyche is that we are all of these things. It is rare that we stand so strictly on the edge--often we are some mixture, with one aspect being more noticeable or dominant than the other. If we identify too much with the dominant trait, then we are often surprised and confused when the opposite traits present themselves. "Surely this is not me." If the opposite trait does not fit in with social or religious norms, we might be labeled "abnormal", or, at an extreme, "possessed". It's as though something not part of you has taken hold of you. But it almost never an outside influence--it is the "you" that you and others have chosen not to see.

Jung's psychology is based on what he calls "individuation". This is the integrating of these opposites in our psyches. It's a merging of the opposites rather than the rejection of one over the other. We think perfection comes from cultivating our "good" traits and trying to exorcise ourselves of our "evil" traits. There is no faster way to give your "evil" traits control of you than to repress them. That's worse, because you believe you are doing good, but in fact all you are doing is alienating and/or hurting others.

A last thought--I received a comment on an older post that made me think of the notion of the sublime. Often, the terrifying is actually our salvation. For instance--if you think of certain Hindu and Buddhist deities that are terrifying aspects of the Ultimate (the Goddess Kali comes to mind), you find that they are actually the deities that will provide you with clarity, and then with peace and stillness. You do risk being torn apart, but it is for a greater, more beneficent cause. The step into the unknown is always dangerous, but it is a step that you need to take if you want to have a life. Living safe is not living.

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