We live in a time where we have quantum science and magical thinking, a time where we have both religion and psychology with philosophy. This world is full of facts and mysteries as well as mysterious facts; how do we move ahead where we are able to blend our past with our future in this incredible moment of the now? This article is to display a possibility of what that could look like and how we might go about making sense out of nonsense in the lives that we live.
Ken Wilber, a contemporary western philosopher, lays out in his thesis of integral theory that reality is composed of a natural hierarchy built on things that exist as a whole thing in and of itself as well as simultaneously existing as a part of something more. Explaining that things exist on levels and when things on one level gather together the collection transcends to a higher level where something new and novel appears that was not present in the existing pieces below. In short, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, if we take letters from the alphabet E, F, I, L each one a letter is a whole, there are no such things as a half of an F. When we combine a number of letters together, each one not having much particular value by itself but when put together they can form words such as LIFE from the same letters. When a word forms, it becomes a whole thing that now exists on a new level as it transcended from the collective span from a level below. Upon this higher level, there is more value to the word than what existed prior to the single letter alone. The same thing happens, when we combine a number of words together and they form sentences, more value (information) carries than the single words alone. This pattern continues as words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, paragraphs become chapters, chapters become books and books become volumes. Ken Wilber also points out that the same idea is also seen in matter. Atoms exist as a thing that is whole, i.e. when atoms (like atom of gold or uranium) come together they form molecules and when molecules come together they form cells and cells become organisms and organisms become complex sentient beings and sentient beings give way to civilizations. Each thing is a whole as well as being composed of other parts all the while contributing to a something larger. This would illustrate the acknowledgment of the idea that each level that transcends must include all previous levels below, and shows that as high as you go it’s the stuff below that allows us to rise. Each level is completely dependent on all levels below. We can have volumes of work only because of all the levels that precede it. We can get rid of Volumes and we can still have letters and words and paragraphs and such but if we get rid of words then everything above it would collapse; we wouldn’t have chapters or paragraphs and all that is left would be individual letters. Let’s elaborate some more by highlighting an example with Matter. If we get rid of humans, we will generally do away with civilizations. (This could be a tricky area! Arguably, perhaps there are examples of civilizations in the animal kingdom but none on the level that we see with Humans.) All animals will go on, the vegetation will survive, and I’m sure rocks will exist for a while too. But if we remove cells, this would cause an epic destruction of all life forms at least on our planet, minerals, liquids and gases of various elements and their combinations would exist as is but nothing above that. So things come together and build off of other things. The idea is seemingly always to “transcend and include”.
Ken then goes on to explain that this same idea can be carried over into the development of the collective human perspective over time. Through the ages of humanities’ development and as we crawl out of the primordial soup of animals, we wake to the rise of the most dominant creatures on this planet. When we were animals, there was no greater picture; and with stories of creation, gods or laws it was nature in its most prime. On a side note, around 2016, there have been documented recordings of chimpanzees performing a bizarre ritual collecting rocks and piling them into the hollow of a tree then taking another rock walking some distant away turning around and while making some grunts and then throwing the rock at the tree… seemingly not for food. One possibility was that they may have been trying to split the tree to get at termites or other food sources. This didn’t seem to be the case either and without connection to status. Males were seen leaving the group and joining other groups and repeating the practice with the new group. An article of this with a video showing some of the activity can be found here (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mysterious-chimpanzee-behavior-may-be-evidence-of-sacred-rituals/). Outside of this more recent act, we don’t see anything that would resemble what some form of spiritual practice would look like in the animal kingdom. Ken Wilber lays out some of these levels as the “Archaic” era where consciousness is just emerging from the animal mind eventually moving into a perspective of the world that is seen as the “Magical” era where things are alive with spirit from the individual animal to the herd, trees and wind, plains and bodies of water, unseen forces that move and change the world around us and within us. From there, we moved into the “Mythical” era where we began to attempt to explain our origins and give a greater understanding and context to existence as well as guide us on how to behave in this world and where we saw the rise of religion and their myths begin. We then started to transition into the “Rational” world view where science prevails and we have now done away with our “silly” superstitions, impractical rituals and outdated beliefs. With integral theory the idea is always to include the rungs below and to not do away with it as this would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. After rationalism, what comes next? We would see the rise of “post-rationalism” where we merge our seemingly irrational views from our archaic, magical, mythical world view into a rational way. So how do we make the irrational rational?
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Psychomagia
Alejandro Jodorowsky is a man who wears many hats. He is a director (some of his more notable work would be “Holy mountain and El Topo”), producer, actor, mime, screenwriter, author, comics writer, musician, a teacher, advocate of the Tarot, and a spiritual healer of the most secular sorts who hails from Chile. Having traveled a fair bit in South America, Mexico and abroad, he has made some observations in regards to human behavior and our perceptions of reality. He claimed to have helped many people who were at their wits end for some form of resolution or release from their angst or inner turmoil. Through various acts of what he called Psychomagic (a term he coined combing the ideas of psychology with magick ie; psycho-magic, people that sought him out did find help when there seemed to be none in sight.
The rational that Jodorowsky provides starts with the question of how do we communicate with our unconscious self? Sigmund Freud has brought the unconscious into our awareness and the field of psychology has gone on to demonstrate that the unconscious mind makes up around 95% of our brain power and exerts a huge amount of influence on our decisions we make in our day to day lives. The conscious mind communicates with language while the unconscious mind communicates through non-linguistic forms and that can be through our senses whether it be smells, sounds, taste, physical sensations, postures and movements as well as imagery such as symbols, we see this most commonly expressed in dreams where it is potentially filled with symbolic meanings of all personal sorts and rarely is interpreted in a literal sense.
The unconscious mind does not differentiate between fantasy and reality. It can be observed from the sensations we feel during a movie, while reading a book or waking from a dream/nightmare. When reading a book or watching a movie, we can feel ourselves getting anxious or gleeful; we experience an emotion that we are not directly experiencing or when we wake from a nightmare and our heart is racing all the while we are dripping with sweat. Even though we were not in any actual real threat, our body was responding as though we were in a fight or flight situation.
Jodorowsky suggests using non-linguistic acts to communicate with our unconscious minds. With that in mind, suddenly all those bizarre acts and rituals that we see in the practices of Magick, as this does not seem to be so much about changing the world outside but rather changing the world inside. For example, Jodorowsky has suggested to someone who was having issues with their father around unresolved anger to take a picture of their father and stick it onto a pumpkin; then take a sledge hammer and smash the pumpkin! The hammer being a form to express the emotions that have been harbored for so long and then afterward pick up the pieces and put them into a bag and mail it to their father. Whether this resolved anything with the anger issues or not is up for debate. Though it’s hard to see how it might help, we can see that the act itself would initiate some form of a conversation to take place between this person and their father and that conversation may bring to head an issue that once uncovered can begin the healing process.
Another example shows him during an interview that took place in front of a live audience. The host of the show asked Jodorowky if he could give an example of his form of “psychomagic” therapy in play. Jodorowsky obliged but beforehand noted to everyone that this was not how it normally goes. He likened this “performance” to that of a circus act rather than actual therapy acknowledging the shear fact that there is an audience present which would change many things. Jodorowky is then introduced to a young woman in her mid-20’s and he asks her why she is here speaking with him. She explains after identifying as bisexual that she has had a difficult time in her relationships with either men or women and wanted to improve this aspect of her life. He didn’t waste any time in digging deep and asks her about her first sexual experience to which she divulges she was sexually assaulted by a female teacher she had when she was 7 years old where the teacher would repeatedly use a pointer stick on her. He then asked if she has ever used a pointer stick for masturbation since that occasion to which the woman acknowledged she has. Jodorowky then asked the host if he could bring over a pointer stick that was resting by a chalk board in the studio where the interview was being held. He presents the pointer stick explaining this is not the same pointer stick that was used originally but will symbolically represent that same one. He then asks her to imagine all of her connections, associations and relations to that stick and to take a moment to imagine putting all those things into the stick (however she felt to express or visualize that). He then asked her to… break the stick. The woman took the stick and attempted to break the stick with no success; the host started to offer her advice on how to hold it for better leverage to break it. Jodorowsky quickly silenced him and told him that this is for her to figure out and that if she is unable to break it, then she can’t! Jodorowsky encouraged her to try harder and to put more effort into it. Finally, with a little more ‘oomph’, she broke it! She exclaimed that she didn’t think she could. Jodorowsky suggests it was because at that moment she was that 7 year old girl holding that same stick and in breaking the symbolic stick, it represents breaking the power that the experience held over her. He then instructs her to continue to break it up into smaller pieces. Once done, he tells her to collect the pieces and put them into a pile on the table. Then, he asks her to treat these pieces as though they were holy relics, to take them back home and bury it in her front yard to which she was to plant a fruit tree on top of. The second part of that act with the fruit tree was to be a constant reminder that her trauma bears fruit and the rejuvenation that sprouts into her Life. He is quick to point out that none of this is a guarantee and nothing may be resolved. However, the mere act of trying prompts the healing process to begin and even in the attempts to heal, we begin to break the patterns that held us so firmly in place.
On a less intense example we could use similar acts to seed the unconscious mind with primers for example people are looking for success, networking, financial independence and such when the unconscious has certain agendas it seems to notice all sorts of things. For example, buying a pink car and suddenly noticing all the other pink cars on the road. It’s not that people are going out and buying pink cars all of a sudden. But now that we have a pink car, whenever a pink comes into our peripheral we notice it. Often it does not seem to be enough for us to just say to ourselves “Im going to quite/start something” as we often fall flat on our faces changing nothing after weeks of setting the goal to change something.
From here, we have some degree of framework to merge the rational with the irrational, to make sense from that which seems to make nonsense, and to simply add another lens to look at reality with.