Binding and Loosening

Does consciousness have a structure?

Consciousness itself has no structure or form. It is polymorphous. To say it is polymorphous is essentially to say it is formless, because only something that is essentially formless (hence undefinable in any determinate and fixed way) can be polymorphous. This is the essential import of Rumi’s poem I once cited in The Dark Age Blog,

“I am the morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.
I am the wind in the top of the grove,
and surf on the cliff.
Mast, rudder, helmsman and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on….
Both candle and the moth
crazy around it…
I am all orders of being,
the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence,
the lift and the falling away.
What is and what isn’t…”

This “I” here is not Rumi’s “I” of the human person. It is the consciousness itself speaking, which is nonetheless also Rumi’s consciousness and Rumi’s “I”. They are indivisible. This “I” is what Carl Jung would call “The Self” as opposed to the Ego. The ego nature, which is Rumi’s person, is itself only one form that the consciousness can and does take, and which we call the human mold or the human archetype. Thus where Rumi writes of this “I” of consciousness being “what is and what isn’t…” it is because consciousness is essentially formlessness, but in being formlessness can express and experience itself as any and all forms (the polymorphic). The phrase “what is and what isn’t…” pertains to the formal and the informal respectively, or the actual and the potential, respectively. This is the basis for “shape-shifting” in shamanism or the polymorphous nature of the gods in mythology.

There are many, many passages in Rumi about this essential structureless but simultaneously polymorphous nature of consciousness. The structurelessness state of consciousness is called “non-existence”, as in the following poem:

Become More by Dying
O my noble friends, slaughter this cow,
if you wish to raise up the spirit of insight.
I died to being mineral and was transformed.
I died to vegetable growth
and attained to the state of the animals.
I died from animality and became Adam:
why then should I fear?
When have I become less by dying?
Next I shall die to being a human being,
so that I may soar and lift my head among
the angels.
Yet I must escape even from that angelic
state:
everything is perishing except His Face.
Once again I shall be sacrificed, dying to the
angelic;
I shall become that which could never be
imagined —
I shall become nonexistent.
Nonexistence sings its clear melody,
Truly, unto Him shall we return.

It might seem that “nonexistent” is the most undesirable state possible, unless you understand what Rumi is saying here. To become non-existent is to become formless, and therefore realise consciousness as being infinite and eternal (formless and timeless or beyond time and space). Being “nonexistent” therefore means that this consciousness can manifest as any form it chooses to become. Again, in this poem, the “I” is not the egoic “I” of Rumi, but the pure voice of consciousness or awareness itself. In our human terms, to become formlessly aware or as “pure awareness” is to shed the human form, or what is hinted at also in the term “anthropocentric attitude” (which is a variant of narcissism). This process is called “binding and loosening”, and pertains to the formal and informal. As such, what is called “The Great Nothingness” or the Void, the Nihil, etc doesn’t really exist except as the fullness of potentiality, and which Rumi here calls the non-existent or non-being.

The power of binding and loosening, which is the modus of this “I” of consciousness, is represented by Rumi in another poem called “Nobody” which is worth citing,

‘NOBODY’
says it correctly.
What is Paradise
but nothingness ?

The religion and doctrine of Lovers is
void,
emptiness,
non-existence.

Or again from Rumi, where “birth” is the binding to form, and death is the loosening away from the form.

Your non-existence before you were born
is the sky in the east.

Your death is the western horizon,
with you here between.

The way leads neither east nor west,
but in.

Remarkable stuff, really.

When I was an undergraduate student at university, I was frustrated with sociological studies and really didn’t know why. Later I understood that my frustration with sociology was largely due to the omission of consciousness from the study of society. Society was conceived as a kind of great public machine, while consciousness was treated as a private matter and as tabula rasa or terra nullius. This is impossible because society is the formal structure in spacetime of a common structure (really, a structuration) of consciousness. Any society or civilisation is the formal, symbolic expression of a consciousness structure and in that sense, always comes into being as an experiment in formalising (or conventionalising or ritualising) consciousness itself. Historical eras, which are societies and civilisations, are articulations of a consciousness structure over time, which we call “the formal”. It is the act of binding consciousness to form that results in “institutions” and “conventions”, rites and customs. The decline of historical eras and civilisational types into “informality” (so to speak) is the loosening away. This almost playful, creative, experimental binding to form and loosening away from form is what we call genesis and nihilism, or the rise and fall of eras.

A consciousness structure, then, is its formal expression in institution and convention, which is the act of binding to form. The formal expression of a consciousness structure is the formal process of institution.

So, it is licit to speak of a “consciousness structure” even though consciousness really has no extensible structure or form itself. In this sense (when speaking of social institutions) we can speak of the formal and informal aspects of society as the binding and loosening of consciousness to and away from form (or the “phenomena”).

At present, there is quite a bit of “loosening away”, which is the process “formally” known today as “deconstruction”.

And while we are on the subject of form and the phenomenal, I’ll leave the last word in this post to Rumi,

“It’s not always a blind man
who falls in a pit. Sometimes it’s one who can see,

A holy one does sometimes fall,
but by that tribulation, he or she ascends,
escapes many illusions, escapes
conventional religion, escapes
being so bound to phenomena.

Think of how PHENOMENA come trooping
out of the desert of non-existence
into this materiality….

This place of phenomena is a wide exchange
of highways, with everything going all sorts
of different ways.
We seem to be sitting still,
but we’re actually moving, and the fantasies
of phenomena are sliding through us
like ideas through curtains.
They go to the well
of deep love inside each of us.
They fill their jars there, and they leave.

There is a source they come from,
and a fountain inside here.
Be generous.
Be grateful. Confess when you’re not.

We can’t know
what the divine intelligence
has in mind!

Who am I,
standing in the midst of this
thought-traffic?”

6 responses to “Binding and Loosening”

  1. amothman says :

    Everything is perishing except His Face and into His Face shall we return. When thought intercourses with emotion they give birth to feeling.It is with this feeling Rumi navigates through forms to reach the formless.It is an experience to be pursued.To know who am i standing in this traffic.It is a process of loosening in order to bind.

  2. Scott says :

    Yes, this is really a profound poem from Rumi. What he describes was only lately taken up in Western philosophy in Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenology. But even then, Rumi possibly goes further here than Phenomenology. He recognises that within there is a “fountain” of creative energy (love) from which all form (phenomena or thought-forms) arises and to which it continuously returns for its sustenance — as its food. And the “I” of Rumi — the person of Rumi — is the mediator or facilitator standing in the midst of this traffic between the “in” and the “out”, but then intuits that he, too, as a human person is one of these phenomena or forms that arises from the fountain. He too is “moving” and being moved, and that the person of ego is also one of these thought forms in the traffic flow. Yet, the “I” of Rumi is also not the person of ego, but also the True Self. And in the face of this marvel, he can only ask “who am I, standing in the midst of this thought traffic?” There is the comprehensible and intelligible “I” of ego, and the coincidence of the incomprehensible “I” of the true self or “soul”. For Rumi already, in a sense, knows this incomprehensible “I” from the very first poem in the post above. In fact, Rumi here touches on the real point of being a human person in the physical world.

    (Need to complete that thought later, but I’m forced to run now).

    • amothman says :

      do you know that the two lines you have uderlined in red are tow verses quoted from the koran

      • Scott Preston says :

        Yes. I’ve read the Qur’an. But the English translation leaves a lot to be desired, I think. I probably need to read it in a different translation. The act of translation is pretty much everything, and the reader is often as key as the writer in constructing meaning. Not even the Muslims can agree amongst themselves, for example, what “jihad” means, which means translators and English people also get confused when they read the Qur’an in English.

  3. alex jay says :

    “A consciousness structure, then, is its formal expression in institution and convention, which is the act of binding to form. The formal expression of a consciousness structure is the formal process of institution.”

    Precisely! But then, who – what force – is the agent constructing the “consciousness structure” establishing formal institutions?

    Are we sitting in a cave looking at shadows formulating our individual creative consciousnesses, or is there a “big guy” with a club and his intimidating lackeys telling us what the forms represent?

    The latter is the history of mankind … and more so now than ever. The voices of the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Christ, Rumi etc. are voices crying in the wilderness only reaching the ears of a small band of pilgrims, who have managed to discard their chains from their institutionalised insane asylums – i.e. structured consciousness.

  4. Scott says :

    Precisely! But then, who – what force – is the agent constructing the “consciousness structure” establishing formal institutions?

    A consciousness structure, at least as Gebser describes it, represents the articulation of a latent potentiality or power of perception of consciousness itself. It is not something invented, although its expression can be distorted and perverted.

    Are we sitting in a cave looking at shadows formulating our individual creative consciousnesses, or is there a “big guy” with a club and his intimidating lackeys telling us what the forms represent?

    No. There is no “master plan”. Neither an extraterrestrial master plan for the human race a la von Daniken or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nor a master plan dating from a group of Illuminati born in Atlantis who have inexplicably kept themselves intact and on course for millennia. Nor are there arch-angels overseeing history and guiding the fortunes of the human race.

    I don’t know why people need to believe in a master plan except perhaps that they feel like pawns or like dry leaves being blown about hither and yon by powerful, inexplicable forces with near miraculous powers of creativity. History may have an architecture (as Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy both have tried to articulate), but the existence of a pattern is not proof of a “master plan” or guidance by a Hidden Hand.

    Yes, Blake does have his “Zoas” as such Titans or Vulcans (or “Olympians” as such), but these have been variously interpreted as gods (or, today, aliens from outer space). But they are aspects of the fourfold human itself, and they correspond in their character to “consciousness structures”. In a way, one can’t separate Blake’s architecture of the soul in terms of the Zoas from the architecture of history itself. But, to repeat myself, the existence of an architecture is not evidence of a master plan.

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