The Loss of the

       Four Armed God

 

 

     "Liberation" comes after we have risked the possibility that this space,
this lack of structure, might kill us--and our familiar sense of world. And
this metaphoric death is at once both what the ego most fears, as well as
what might set us free--those two faces of Pluto again.

     And so the contraction against this gap, this space, can keep us living
inside a shell that is both a protection against the annihilating space, the
death space--but also keeps the sense of ease and wisdom from arising in
our awareness.

     Here we may have to experiment in letting go of what we've been
holding onto, or to surrender in the direction of what we've been resisting
or avoiding before the sufficient holding quality of space will reveal itself to
us. Before that sufficient quality of space reveals itself as us, as what we
essentially are.

     This "experiment" is another name for spiritual practice. And in order
for it to be optimally done there has to be some kind of holding environment,
something we can trust enough to let go to ourselves, to let go of ourselves,
the self that otherwise feels itself as an isolated entity, the somewhat
threatened and deficient self we may be often taking ourselves to be.

     As opportunities have arisen I have attempted to provide a little--hopefully
helpful--orientation toward the more "benevolent" aspect of space because it
has not been adequately understood by western psychology, and also because
this element of "orientation" is part of the holding we need in order to more
fully open to both kinds of space.

                                                     *

     This orientation--or "view"--is in itself something that can help remove
obscurations, and thus it is part of the Plutonic function that might be provided
by transpersonally oriented therapists, guides, or teachers. For this orientational
support makes it feel safer to allow a movement toward groundlessness, toward
having no position we might cling to, such that the truth itself--and the truth of
our essential nature--might stand more revealed.

     But as I've been suggesting, the more "benevolent" aspect of space will be
less apt to reveal itself as long as we are still unconsciously warding off the more
deficient kind. And until we are willing to deal more forthrightly with our
avoidances and deficiencies, we will remain walled off in some way. And there
will be the tendency to have a negative hallucination about what exists on the
other side of our wall, or to have a fear of that wall collapsing entirely.

     There will be the tendency to have a negative hallucination about the space
that might arise with the dissolution of our "structure." This negative
"hallucination" grows out of our lack of familiarity with what this "space" is
actually like--and can result in common forms of resistance to the process of
letting go--that is, to the deconstruction of our previously prevailing world view.

     One of the most common forms of resistance here is the fear that should we
let go of our structure, and cease holding on to either our self image or our
avoidances, that we might become disoriented and unable to function in the
world.

     This common objection to risking a more complete surrender of our mental
"structures" was brilliantly countered by Chogyam Trungpa, who pointed out
that if this misperception were in fact the truth, then we would need to have
"enlightenment wards" for people.

     For the truth is that the ability to dis-identify from the self image and other
mental structures doesn't in the least impede functionality. In fact, quite the
opposite is true. And thus, one of the cognate terms for essential nature, along
with "unconfined space" and "unconfined cognizance" is "unconfined capacity."

     In other words, a spacious mind that has ceased to cling to a self image,
and ceased as well to be in aversion to anything, has a greater capacity to see
things more objectively. With nothing that we are needing to promote or defend,
we're more in touch with reality, with how things really are, and so are more able
to respond skillfully and creatively in what we say and do.

     We wind up with greater functionality, not less. And for this reason spiritually
developed people often tend to be "good at what they do." They bring a less
truncated awareness to what they are doing, a doing that emanates from being,
rather than being dissociated from it.

     With a lessened resistance or avoidance, it becomes easier, not harder to get
things done. It turns out to be perfectly safe to emerge from our mental structures,
and yet "stay on task."

     Another common "negative hallucination" that can stand in the way of
dropping our familiar mental structures is the fear that there might be no
alternative support to be found
, or not enough support, that it's not safe to
let go of our self-representation and the "position" it might lead us to
characteristically take as we encounter our spouses, our significant others, our
"enemies."

     And so we can wind up with a negative hallucination about our relationships,
a negative hallucination about groups of people, a negative hallucination about life
itself. A negative hallucination that assumes it's not safe to be what we fundamentally
are. A negative hallucination that tells us we have to leave our more essential nature
and "adapt" in some way to a world that cannot be trusted to support us. And in a
sense, the personality is this "adaptation."

     Here it might seem that it is the other, or the world that cannot be trusted. But
ultimately, it is ourselves that we have ceased trusting. I am saying here that "normally"
we have lost a sense of "basic trust." By which I mean we have come to evidence a
lack of trust in what is most basic, what is most primordial in our own nature. And
this is part of our "mythic dissociation."

     And thus I have been arguing that without sufficient orientation--as well as
familiarization with "primordial space," we may be so afraid, so dissociated, so
disoriented to "the Source," that we can't get back to it, can't get back to what's
most original.

 

     Unknowingly, we might wind up defending against our deepest and most innate
sense of Self-hood (a Self-hood that is completely empty, completely spacious) as if
we were reacting to a historical wound, a psychic scab that has formed around
something crater-like in the soul, and within which our awareness remains confined
in some way.

     And we will tend to have an old prejudice, and to blame life, or our parents, or
our spouse, or a social group or context for our scab, our hardening, and for the
confinement of our capacity, our contraction into a confined creature-hood. We will
tend to blame someone or something for not eliminating the gap, the sense of there
being nothing there,
nothing that might support us.

     Our blaming the other, the object, for not supporting us on one level is silly, to
the extent that intrinsic support is actually always available. But in another way
there is some truth here that is also part of the experience of being human.

     On the one hand, it's neurotic to expect a group, a therapist, a marriage, a culture,
a bank account, a government, to protect us from feeling our gap, from feeling our
feared sense of emptiness, an emptiness that has a tinge of shame, and that seems
connected to what we characteristically have learned to avoid. That's nuts in a sense.

     Though I am not saying that when we happen to be the other--the spouse, the
therapist, the group--that we don't drop the ball at times. Ultimately the holding
environment, however adequate, will seem to fail you at times, will disappoint, or not
appear optimal.

     But this too is the display of space, and perhaps a display that is trying to teach us
something. And if we are more stanced in our inner adult this too can be grist for the
mill. And though perhaps experienced as a "growing pain," this too may be part of the
process of a growing sense of autonomy.

     Similarly, it can actually be a sign of "therapeutic progress" when the issues I've
been trying to evoke here become more lit up. It can be a good thing to feel into the
ways we've been wounded, and the ways we have learned to defend, the ways we
have learned to avoid. For as we become more alerted, more sensitively aware of
both the emptiness we are avoiding and the often disturbing feelings that surround it,
it can help lead to the more sufficient kind of emptiness that outshines it.

 

     But I also would suggest that there is an echo of truth to our expectation that "the
other" might protect us from ever having to feel our gap, our deficient emptiness, our
feeling unsupported in some way. An echo of truth in our experience of having felt
disappointed and betrayed in some way. An echo of truth behind our doubting, our
lack of trust in "the space," our lack of trust in life.

     And the echo of truth is that as children we had a right to feel securely held at all
times, and not to have to suffer this gap, this gap that has overtones of deficiency and
shame, that has overtones of a panicky isolation, that has overtones of emotional
abandonment. And for a child this sense of emotional abandonment can carry as well
the fear of death, resulting night terrors, the fear of annihilation.

     It would be a thoroughly inadequate response to a child to point out that these are
just metaphoric experiences, just "displays" of "the Source." And for a child it may
be realistic to conflate lack of holding, emotional abandonment, and annihilation--the
sense of a death space--the gap that arose as we sensed there was no one there we
could fully trust, or feel emotionally supported by.

     There can be a horrible sense of betrayal here, a betrayal of trust, a horrible
unfairness. And though there are differing degrees to which people experienced this
horrible failure in the holding environment, what is equally appalling is how much
this impactful failure is a cultural norm, a formative element in our ego structures, a
formative element in our collective narcissism, a formative element in our recoil
from the deeper reality.

     It wasn't fair that a Two felt abandoned and unsupported in some way when it
came to her needs, such that even admitting that they exist becomes a cause for shame.
It's not right that a Seven came to feel shame about his pain, or a Four for her sadness,
or for feeling lost. It wasn't right that a Five failed to be able to make or sustain a bond
with others early in life, and so contracted inside the box of their own inner world as a
way of avoiding or protecting against the intrusion of a harsh, unsupportive reality, a
death-like and intrusive claustrophobia that might crush all existence out of them.

     Seemingly, something went dreadfully wrong here, that we all developed these
coping patterns that tend to block our ability to receive a more fulfilling sense of reality.
These are experiences that should have had loving arms around them, that should have
been accompanied and held and understood by another.

     Those two arms of Pluto that make reassuring gestures was missing, as if as a
culture we have received an inadequate initiation into the depth perspective of this god,
something we might have passed on to our children other than our fear of dissolution.

     The Greeks had such an initiation rite that provided orientation to the mystery of
death--the Mysteries celebrated for seven hundred years at Eleusis.

     The Tibetans have their P'owa practice, a practice for the moment of death that
teaches how to eject consciousness out through the top of the head and merge it with
space. They have gazing practices that teach merging the spaciousness of one's own
mind with the spaciousness of the sky. They have "The Nature of Mind" teachings--a
superb orientation to essential nature. They have guidance for dissolution, the
dissolution of the ego--which is seen as a virtue that can be cultivated rather than as
something to fear. Like the ancient Egyptians, they have a death manual--The Tibetan
Book of the Dead
(and I can't think of a better book than Sogyal Rinpoche's The
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
).

 

     But in contemporary western culture we don't have anything like this. Instead,
we have a tremendous amount of heedlessness, a tremendous amount of aversion and
denial where impermanence and death is concerned. We have a glaring deficit here.
We no longer even have "a god of death," nor clues as to how we might best meet
him. We have no practice for death, no clue for how to lessen its sting. Our western
psyches have become dissociated both from the god and the experience he oversees.
We have no differentiation here, no useful metaphors, no "pointing out," no overview,
no useful orientation.

     And thus, our Plutonic deficit has touched us all, all of us who have been left a
little frightened, a little scared, as we face impermanence--recoiling in some way from
the primordial spaciousness in which we might better live and die.

 

     And so for the child inside us it's completely legitimate to feel all that we do about
this gap, this sense of unconfined space, this referenceless-ness, this lack of structure
or solidity. And in our lack of orientation to this experience we fear it, recoiling toward
it, making it impossible to receive any sense of holding or support--and this too is
frightening.

     And so, it's quite understandable why we might have aversion toward the essential
element known as "space" or "void." And thus would waste so much of our lives
attempting to fill the sense of an existential void--or to have fear, blame, or shame
arise--and all manner of "adaptive strategies." It's easy to understand why we would
have this lack of trust, this ambivalence toward space, toward emptiness--and the
metaphoric "death" it is linked to. Children aren't supposed to feel, or even be
exposed to the gap that arises from lacks in the holding environment. But for the
spiritual adult inside us, it's a different matter.

     And if what we're still retaining is the perspective of a frightened, wounded,
unsupported child who has developed a strategy for defending against the terrors of
a deficient emptiness that arose from not being well-held, then the most important
question we need to ask is what is it, really, that can help us to successfully reprocess,
let go of, or resolve our wound here?

     For this perspective can keep us in what Alice Miller referred to as "a prisoner
of childhood," can block us from being more adult about things, and from coming
to experience life in a different way now than we did as children.

     It can keep us involved with our habituated "strategies" toward life, rather than
having an open-ness to things as they are. It can keep us in a state of dependency
where we keep trying to get our significant others to provide for us what we have
not learned how to provide (or receive) for ourselves.

     And it can prevent us from having a different experience of space, a more
positive experience of space that might otherwise be available to us, an experience
of space that not only doesn't want to do us harm, but is intrinsically supportive,
supportive and associated with the deepest wisdom.

 

     It is time again to evoke that image of the four-armed god--Pluto, and those two
arms that are making gestures of reassurance and comfort. For there's an important
detail here that can make this innately comforting and archetypal support appear
problematic.

     And that "detail" is, that it is not the ego that is being supported. Shall I say
that again?

     It is not the ego that is being supported.

     In fact, as Pluto arises, the ego--like Humpty Dumpty--begins to recognize the
prospect of a great fall, a swoon into space, the potential for its own immanent
deconstruction. For what is providing the support is simultaneously death-dealing
to the ego-structure we may have previously taken ourselves to be.

     And though all of this is quite natural, in fact the very expression of our deeper
nature itself, what can give rise to terror here is the extent to which we continue to
be identified with the ego.

     These two perceptions of the same reality--an innately spacious depth and death,
a comforting reassurance and annihilation--comprise the Plutonic paradox of space,
the paradox of Pluto himself. For it is the metaphoric "death," the deconstruction of
the egoic structure, that allows the depth of non-deficient emptiness to seemingly
arise.

     I say "seemingly" because the non-deficient emptiness doesn't really arise so
much as it has always been here. Our recognition of it is the Johnny Come Lately.

 

                                                     **

return to Part One


return to selections from forthcoming works

return to the Point Bonita Books home page