Monday, February 06, 2012

Sigmund Freud and the Scratching Post

I woke up sometime in the night, maybe around midnight. The moon was full, and from the skylights there were two pillars of white light in my bedroom. The right pillar lit up a pair of slippers that my nephew gave me for Christmas. Each slipper has the head of Sigmund Freud on it, and collectively they are known as "Freudian Slippers". The left pillar lit up one of Shiva's scratching posts, strategically placed to keep him from scratching the bed, but hardly ever used. It crossed my mind that this was a scratching post with a mission--it was going to replace the large blue "tower" post that he has in my living room. I had saved the blue tower from my neighbor's garbage when I lived in Clinton--at the time, there really wasn't anything wrong with it, other than it being unattractive. Now it has been torn to shreds, and is an eyesore in the living room. Come Spring clean-up, it will go into the garbage where it now rightfully belongs, and this one will go downstairs to get some use.

Contemplating this scene and my thoughts, I looked at the layout of the room and decided that there must be something to this layout, as though the objects were strategically placed to collect moonlight, as Stonehenge is strategically laid out for the solstice. Then I decided I was full of crap, and that it was a bad idea to read Robert Anton Wilson before going to bed. Not that Wilson really has anything to do with it--he would have thought I was full of crap, too.

I always read before going to sleep. Regardless of what writing, reading, or research I've done during the day, I never read anything that makes me think too much before bedtime. While I might read Umberto Eco during the day, my nightstand will usually have a collection of Dave Barry articles, or a book of Peanuts comics. I broke with that tradition last night, and brought "Cosmic Trigger 2" to the nightstand. The book looks like a deceptively simple and straightforward read. And it is, which is what makes it so mind-blowing. Part 2 is actually the "reality" section of the book, where Wilson talks about his life. It still manages to be mind-blowing. Not that this is a bad thing, unless you want to get some sleep.

One of the things Wilson talks about, and that I've read about before, is "information doubling". I don't think he invented that idea, but he discusses it in a way that is different from what I've read before. As more and more new information pours into our civilization, the more quickly we have to "re-frame"--change our frame of reference. He talks about information doubling between the 1950s and 1960s, and imagines that information may double every nanosecond by the year 2012. (I wouldn't doubt he's right.) He notes that this leads to social breakdowns, sometimes revolutions. He's not pessimistic, though--he believes a lot of good can come out of the ensuing chaos.

Wilson also talks about "reality tunnels”, which has everything to do with our frames of reference. He mentions the "respectability" of ideas, and how a Caucasian culture of fixed ideas makes it difficult for us to re-frame. When we learn to accept that there are many "realities", not just one, we can stop fighting over who has the "right" reality. (Carlos Castaneda was getting at the same idea in his books.) To sum up in Wilson's own words:

Learning a new art or science requires what psychologists call "reframing". Abandoning a fallacious dogma and accepting new facts requires "reframing". The cure of any neuroses or compulsion requires "reframing". To grow means to reframe, or to change reality tunnels. But we cannot do this if we have a conditioned attachment to conditioned perceptions and conditioned frames or glosses. We all want "liberation" but we rarely notice how conditioned reflexes make us our own jailers.

In our modern information explosion, reframing is even more difficult than ever. The rise in religious fundamentalism and scientism is not surprising, as people are desperately clinging to some illusory rock to avoid drowning, whether they think their scripture will save us or hardcore materialism. But one can only avoid drowning by not getting caught in the undertow. Which is why I think meditation is so important. The purpose of meditation is to bring you back to your own center, where it is quiet, and you can hear your own inner guidance.

I read another piece from Jung's commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower, where he strongly advises against Westerners getting involved in what he calls "Chinese yoga". I have written in previous blog posts about the dangers of jumping into certain forms of yoga without a proper teacher. Joseph Campbell has made similar remarks to Jung--we are Westerners, we do not have the frame of reference of the Easterner. However, neither Jung nor Campbell lived in a society as globalized as it is today. Campbell was certainly around for television and the first computers, but never experienced anything like the Internet. Marshall Mcluhan has noted that television turned us into a global community--we were no longer so isolated from everyone else. The Internet has removed many more barriers, though it has also created some new ones--while we can talk to someone on the other side of the world, we have stopped communicating with those closest to us--they send us a "text" or comment on our Facebook status, and no longer speak to us on the phone or face-to-face. It is an interesting situation, and I wonder what Jung and Campbell would have made of it.

At any rate--Campbell has also commented in his lectures about the functions of mythology. The problem is that the cosmology of Western religion does not square with modern discoveries. Most mainstream churches have accepted that their cosmology is a mythical allegory and have accepted the new one. But many more have not, as evidenced by the push to teach creationism in schools. The Eastern cosmology fits in quite nicely with the modern worldview, and hence it is more suited to this global world. People who do not wish to abandon spirituality entirely, and yet can’t find meaning in the Western traditional ideas are often interested in that “third alternative” of the Eastern world view. Their practices may not be entirely Eastern, but they become something else that doesn’t have to be an empty cant of ego aggrandizement. In short, the firm lines between East and West are blurrier in a globalized culture, and that doesn’t have to be bad.

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