The Ego, the Ka, and “the Seat of the Soul”
“We wish to follow the deepest question,the central call which goes straight to the heart, and promises our soul the lasting certainty of being inscribed in the book of life.” — Rosenstock-Huessy, “Farewell to Descartes”.
Upon reading the interview with Canadian rocker Neil Young in this morning’s news — following the first concert in Toronto yesterday of his “Honour the Treaties” tour in support of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s ongoing legal fight with the Government of Canada and the petrochemical industry over the oilsands; and after reading Young’s justified accusation that “Canada is trading integrity for money,” (the “bean-counter” mentality) I thought I would lend a hand and elaborate upon the fuller meaning of “integrity” and the integral, and of its lack or contrary, which Young rightly calls “hypocrisy”; for hypocrisy is, in effect, the dis-integrate.
However, there is more to the issue of integrity and the dis-integrate and what it means to “speak with a forked-tongue” than meets the eye.
(A short autobiographical note which might be of relevance here: I was raised for a time in a traditional Cree community in Northern Saskatchewan, and later worked as a researcher, adviser, and interpreter for the Aboriginal Healing Project in the wake of the Indian Residential School fiasco).
After reading Young’s remarks, I recalled something of Carl Jung’s encounter with Chief Mountain Lake of the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico (as recounted here)
“Chief Mountain Lake: ‘See how cruel the whites look, their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something. They are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think that they are all mad.’
“When Jung asks why he thinks they are all mad, Mountain Lake replies, ‘They say they think with their heads.’
“’Why of course, says Jung, ‘What do you think with?’
“’We think here,’ says Chief Mountain Lake, indicating his heart.”
Now, I wanted specifically to highlight this dialogue because of what it says about the nature of human identity and the integrity of consciousness, and how this dialogue suggests, further, a sharp contrast between what is called “Ego,” or thinking thing, and what — in ancient Egypt — was called “Ka” (or later, “psyche” or “soul”). The Egyptians believed that “the seat of soul” — consciousness — and the true man was to be found in the heart, not in the brain, and this was called the “Ka”.
(The Greeks, in fact, credited the Egyptians with “the discovery of the soul” for Greek had no equivalent word for the meaning of “ka” or specific name for what we now call “soul”. The history of this interesting period of early psychic differentiation is recorded in Bruno Snell’s scholarly masterpiece The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought).
This “common sense” seating of the soul or consciousness in the heart rather than the head is very typical of oral societies and traditions, (as explored by Harold Innis in The Bias of Communication and later by Innis’s most famous student, Marshall McLuhan). The “ear-heart” pathway of knowledge is different from the “eye-brain” pathway. This difference between Ego and Ka lies at the core, too, of the “speech-thinker” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s essay “Modern Man’s Disintegration and the Egyptian Ka” (as well as his objections to Cartesianism in “Farewell to Descartes”, both essays being contained in his collection I Am An Impure Thinker, which is available online and to which I have referred frequently in earlier posts). Moreover, it is not the only potential over-specialisation of function, or division, of the human psychic whole.
Thus, the split between (or dissociation of) Ego and Ka is not just a question of personal integrity (which, spiritually realised, is called “fulfillment”) or lack of it (or, what is called “deficiency”, “lack”, or, in Buddhist terms, “dukkha” as malaise or suffering) — this is not just a personal or individual matter or a matter of mere “morality”, it is a state of the “universal human” — a general state of the human condition.
This reflects William Blake’s mythology of the “Four Zoas” in their dissociated state — the fragments or shards of the “fallen Adam”.
The Nakota Sioux, with whom I worked on the Aboriginal Healing Project, recollected to me a saying that they had heard from their elders, but which had now become a complete riddle for them — “to speak from the centre of the voice”. It is a lovely expression, and it characterises their highest ideal of human perfection or, rather, the momentary performance of that perfection as fulfillment. To “speak from the centre of the voice” cannot be interpreted without reference to the basic symbol of almost all aboriginal nations — the “sacred hoop”.
“To speak from the centre of the voice” is to speak from the centre of the Sacred Hoop, whose arms represent the four directions and spirits of East, West, North, South. In broader terms, these directions are the fourfold human self corresponding to Blake’s Zoas. The centre is the point of power, truth, and peace, where the powers are gathered together through a man or woman’s inspired speech, whose voice becomes like the lyre of Orpheus, and the contradictions of the four directions are reconciled and integrated, when the wholeness is made audibly manifest. “The centre of the voice” can also be called the point of articulation, and as such, the point of integration. To articulate is to integrate. The wheel of time and space is made to stop, as if breathlessly pausing itself to heed the words of the man or woman who “speaks from the centre of the voice”. That centre — the centre of the Sacred Hoop — is what people call “Eternal Now” or equally Blake’s “eternity in the hour” or “eternity in love with the productions of time”.
If Rosenstock-Huessy once remarked that “God is the power that makes men speak”, it is connected with this speaking “from the centre of the voice”. In effect, to “speak with a forked -tongue” is the exact contrary to speaking “from the centre of the voice”, just as the disintegrate condition is contrary to the integral.
The Sacred Hoop, in fact, bears a notable resemblance to Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” as his own basic symbol of “speech-thinking” and his “grammatical method”, with its two axes of time and space driving backwards, forwards, inwards, outwards — radiating forth from the vital centre (which is the root or originating “ever-present”),
That, in turn, bears a resemblance to Carl Jung’s “four psychic functions” of the psychic whole,
And this, in turn, corresponds to the Buddhist “vantra”, in which the Guardians of the Four Directions are reconciled through the Buddha dharma, for as legend has it, upon his enlightenment, the Guardians of the Four Directions gifted the Buddha with the “gift of their own begging bowls”, but which he, “for the sake of his dharma“, integrated into his own.
The four remain four, yet are integrated or performed and reach fulfillment through the one. This refutes the vulgar view that “assimilation” and “integration” are to be considered as one and the same process. This is equally the meaning of “to speak from the centre of the voice”. These are the universals of human experience and reveal the significance of Blake’s “fourfold vision”, of the Four Zoas, and of their final reconciliation in Albion, who is the integrating consciousness, just as the man or woman who “speaks from the centre of the voice” is the integrating consciousness, and just as “Buddha Mind” is integrating consciousness.
Integrating consciousness is peace-making consciousness. No one “has” integral consciousness as a property. It is, rather, something done — something enacted or performed. No one “has” integrity as a virtue or private property, it is rather enacted or performed. We want to emphasise the act over the “thing” by suggesting the phrase “integrating consciousness” rather than “integral consciousness”.
Now, let us return to the dialogue between Carl Jung and Chief Mountain Lake. There is a certain tendency (particularly amongst those who identity as “anarcho-primitivists”) to over-romanticise and over-idealise aboriginal ways of life. This is a reaction to our civilisation’s over-specialisation of the ego-function which has left the heart hungry and the soul feeling depleted through a sense of total lack. But aboriginal ways of life are no less unfulfilled ways, too, due to an equal over-specialisation of function, which is why the man or woman who speaks from the centre of the voice, and who is the ideal of wisdom, is such an important and extra-ordinary figure.
The “seat of the soul” does not lie in any part of the human body. The ancient Greeks attempted, at various times, to situate the soul in the joints (animism), then in the blood (vitalism), then in the breath (spiritualism, or pneuma), and finally in the brain (mentalism, or nous) — thymos or psyche. But they were mistaken in that. The seat of the soul is not in time or space, but at the still centre of the wheel of time and space. That is what it means “to speak from the centre of the voice”.
Man is a being divided against himself. This is why “the clash of civilisations” thesis is such a hoax and a piece of narcissism. The “whole man” — integral man — is not found in any of them, but only in their mutuality and reciprocity. For this to be realised, a “universal history” of the human experience is necessary as a counterpart to globalism. But such a task can only be achieved by a consciousness that has become, itself, integral. And the man or woman who succeeds in articulating such a universal history would, indeed, be one who has come to “speak from the centre of the voice”. Rosenstock-Huessy referred to this accomplishment of an integral history of the human experience as “the synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries”. “Clash of civilisations” is that principle’s antithesis.
This “synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries” in terms of civilisations as “consciousness structures” (archaic, magical, mythical, and mental-rational) is exactly what Jean Gebser attempts in his great book The Ever-Present Origin, for this “ever-present origin” is the exact same as “the centre of the voice”.
“To speak from the centre of the voice” suggests to me a new approach appropriate to a ‘new age’ — “integralism” and dialogics should replace “universalism” (and not “clash of civilisations”) as the guiding star and principle of our post-modern age, and as a new “Age of Discovery” in which time and timing and synchronisation — and not spaces and their coordination — is becoming the central and pressing issue.