Tuesday, 30 July 2013

loving the dark


Fear and death have been and remain a big part of my life. Many people think this is a weakness, and I would have agreed with them once. I have been obsessed with death since I was a child - it lives on my left shoulder. I have a habit of imagining disastrous scenarios right in the middle of life affirming experiences. I always attributed this to a rocky childhood and subsequent lack of emotional resilience. Now I think there is much more to it. The sort of fear I am talking about arises from the knowledge that I am always one breath away from death. Paradoxically there is real comfort in that knowledge, but I don't deny it is often difficult to live with.

Much of my life occurs in the realm of 'consensual reality' - constant activity, other people, egos, things, stuff and so much trivial nonsense. After spending a bit of time in this realm I feel quite mad, insane mad, not angry. I've stopped beating myself up because I don't fit into this world, because I am now absolutely convinced it is an illusion. Of course I am not the first to say this. I think instinctually I have always known it, but I have tried hard to fit in because nobody wants to be completely alienated.

After a lifetime of study and grappling with this issue, I no longer feel bad for deliberately seeking out the darkness. In fact I feel quite vindicated because there is much evidence to support my love of it. Here is one example (of many) I found recently, but first a bit of background information.

In 1932, Jung met Heinrich Zimmer, 'professor of Sanskrit at Heidelberg University'. Zimmer became one of Jung’s few close male friends and helped him to more fully understand Eastern spirituality. 'Through Zimmer....Jung became acquainted with Ramana’s life story and....spiritual teachings'. (Stein, 66) This is an excerpt from one of those stories:

'During the immense interlude after the destruction of the universe, when the potential for a new creation exists only within Vishnu’s dream, there is a remarkable event. A holy man by the name of Markendaya wanders around inside the body of the god, gazing over the peaceful earth....One day, in his aimless meander....he inadvertently falls out of the mouth of the sleeping god. “Vishnu is sleeping with his lips open a little, breathing with a deep, sonorous, rhythmical sound, in the immense silence of the night . . . And the astonished saint, falling from the sleeper’s giant lip, plunges headlong into the cosmic sea”. 

Landing in the black waters of nonexistence, Markendaya sees only the utter darkness of an endless ocean. Fearing for his life, he splashes in the Void until he begins to question whether this experience is a dream, but then he wonders whether the comfortable world of his normal existence is the real illusion. While pondering the true nature of reality, his eyes adjust to the darkness, and he sees the sleeping god, whose giant body resembles a mountain range. “The saint swam nearer, to study the presence and . . . to ask who this was, when the giant seized him, summarily swallowed him, and he was again in the familiar landscape of the interior” 

Startled and puzzled by the experience, Markendaya gradually resumes his holy pilgrimage, enjoying the beauty of earthly life for another hundred years. But then again, he slips from the mouth of Vishnu and falls into the pitch black sea. This time he sees the god as a small child, cheerfully at play in the vast dark ocean. Vishnu once again reveals his true nature as the Lord of the Universe, and the sage prays to him. “Let me know the secret of your Maya, the secret of your apparition now as child, lying and playing in the infinite sea.” In response, Vishnu teaches the identity of opposites:

The secret of Maya is the identity of opposites. Maya is simultaneous and successive manifestation of energies that are at variance with each other, processes contradicting and annihilating each other: creation and destruction, evolution and dissolution, the dream-idyll of the inward vision of the god and the desolate nought, the terror of the void, the dreadful infinite. This “and,” uniting incompatibles, expresses the fundamental character of the Highest Being....Opposites are fundamentally of the one essence, two aspects of the one Vishnu. 

For a second time, the god swallows the holy sage who vanishes into his body. Rather than trying to judge which experience is true, Markendaya meditates on the teaching that his earthly existence and the Void are one. (Stein, 67)

This is what I have learnt. I know this to be true - but I regularly forget as I busy myself with my worldy life. After a while though, as has just happened again recently, I go in search of the Void. There was terror in confronting this reality for the first time - real terror - and that terror may come again. However, avoiding the terror by taking anti-depressants, alcohol, drugs or chasing constant worldy distractions just delays the inevitable. If you don't love the darkness, integrate the opposites, acknowledge and face the 'negative' energy that is an equal part of the universe, it is not possible to know what reality is.

Having said that, I accept, but I don't really understand, that many people have no interest in knowing what reality is anyway.

Maya: The power by which the universe becomes manifest.
Markandeya is an ancient Hindu sage. He is celebrated as a devotee of both Shiva and Vishnu and is mentioned in a number of Hindu stories.

Richard Stein, "Snapshots from the Void: Reflections on Jung's Relationship to Indian Yoga" Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Spring 2010), pp. 62-84, University of California Press

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