Integral Consciousness and the Narcissus Trap
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Everywhere people declaim for peace. Everywhere they find themselves entangled in war and the celebration of war. If human beings really wanted peace, human beings would have it.
But where there is no peace within, there can be no peace without. That is the rule. The rule is, that you create the reality you know. The human form is a strange juncture of good and evil, a hybrid of god and monster, reason and appetite, and being such becomes a battleground, a battleground called “dualism”. A heaven. And a hell. “Integral consciousness” is self-transcendence in the respect of the overcoming of dualism. “Integral consciousness” is just another way of speaking of “peace within”, or the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Reality is always the faithful mirror in the sense that it is the realm of the projections, projections misconstrued as purely objective, as belonging to “the natural order of things”. But that is only the narcissism of the human form.
We return, then, to a familiar theme: narcissism as the human condition — the “all-too-human” condition — and perhaps the inevitable and unavoidable spiritual problem for any consciousness that becomes “self-aware”, which is the riddle of individuation and the ego consciousness. “Idolatry” was the name given to this condition by the mytho-religious consciousness. “Narcissism” and “idolatry” are one and the same, meaning, to live in the realm of the projections and mistake the projections for truth. “Fundamentally, we experience only ourselves” was Nietzsche’s insight into this world as the realm of the projections. The realm of the projections is called samsara. It is also called by other names, such as Gehenna, Hell, Land of Shadows, “This World”, or, by Blake, the Ulro.
The important thing to remember about Narcissus is, not that he fell in love with himself, because he didn’t. That’s the crucial error of most interpretations of the myth. Narcissus did not know that the entrancing and enchanting figure in the reflecting pool was only an image of himself. That is key. He lacked insight into the image as a projection, which fatally absorbed his energies in infatuation and fascination until he withered away. The nymph Echo vainly and impotently tried to alert him to the peril he faced, that the image in the reflecting pool was only himself. Narcissus perished because he lacked self-knowledge. He lacked insight.
The reflecting pool is our spatial-temporal world, our “mirror of confusion” because it is the realm of the projections. In that sense, “reality” is our own autobiography.
That is the significance of the quote from Genesis that opens this post. This “imagination of the heart” is all-important to human self-knowledge and self-understanding, yet it seems not to be truly understood. The “imagination of the thoughts of the heart” is the root of the projections, and is otherwise what we call “intent” or “intentionality”, and therefore identical with creativity. This is the same “Imagination” as used by William Blake. It is also identical with what Carlos Castaneda described as “intent”. “Intent” and “the imagination of the thoughts of the heart” are the same thing.
“They [shamans of Ancient Mexico] saw that the entire universe was a universe of intent, and intent, for them, was the equivalent of intelligence. The universe, therefore, was, for them, a universe of supreme intelligence. Their conclusion, which became part of their cognitive world, was that vibratory energy, aware of itself, was intelligent in the extreme. They saw that the mass of intent in the cosmos was responsible for all the possible mutations, all the possible variations which happened in the universe, not because of arbitrary blind circumstances, but because of the intending done by the vibratory energy, at the level of the flux of energy itself.
Don Juan pointed out that in the world of everyday life, human beings make use of intent and intending in the manner in which they interpret the world. Don Juan, for instance, alerted me to the fact that my daily world was not ruled by my perception, but by the interpretation of my perception. He gave as an example the concept of university, which at that time was a concept of supreme importance to me. He said that university was not something I could perceive with my senses, because neither my sight nor my hearing, nor my sense of taste, nor my tactile or olfactory senses, gave me any clue about university. University happened only in my intending, and in order to construct it there, I had to make use of everything I knew as a civilized person, in a conscious or subliminal way.” (Author’s Commentaries, pp. xvii – xviii, The Teachings of Don Juan)
Now, what Genesis means by “the imagination of the heart” is exactly this same issue of “intent”, and of “intentionality” as it is understood in the philosophical school called “Phenomenology” and by Friedrich Nietzsche as the Nietzschean “Self”. This usage compels us to differentiate between the meanings of “intent” and “will”, and even as the conflict of intent and will, and therefore we have come to make a distinction between “soul” and “mind” or “self” and “ego” or “unconscious” and “conscious” functioning.
The conflict between intent and will is the theme of Nietzsche’s chapter in Thus Spake Zarathustra called “The Despisers of the Body“, and has, moreover, become the issue of conscious versus the unconscious. This is the meaning of that passage from Genesis — man divided against himself in apparent self-contradiction. The imagination of the heart (intent) overruling the will of the ego nature. And it is because intent (or the “imagination of the heart”) and will do not align, which for all intents and purposes is described as “self” and “ego”, that the delusion of dualism arises and we speak then of a “true self” and a “false self”. And with that, also, we have the conflict of the instinctual and the logical, or the intuitive and the rational, or arts and sciences, and the sense of Being divided against itself in a dis-integrate state.
How on earth did such a situation arise?
This is, I believe, the source of the problem: consciousness functions in two principal modalities or polarities or “tensities” — as attentional or intentional, which we translate into relative terms of “passive” or “active” moods, or even in terms of listening and speaking, respectively. Our delusion has been to think of them as distinct and separate states, or perhaps as alternating currents, but most especially as opposites of inactivity and activity. But, in fact, every act of consciousness involves both attentional and intentional modes simultaneously. This is the function called “feedback”. In other words, attention is also intention. What I consciously attend to, is shaped and configured by the act of attention or perception, so that my attention is also an intending in the same sense used by Castaneda’s don Juan. My attention is as much constitutive and creative as my intention, because there is no separation. Consciousness, in other words, is always an intending. And that is the issue of what is today called “the collapse of the wavefunction” or “the Measurement Problem” in quantum mechanics.
“A fool sees not the same tree as a wise man sees” — Blake. In those terms, this is quite true. If attention is constitutive (and therefore intentional), it isn’t the same tree at all.
The “imagination of the thoughts of the heart” is, today, what we call “the unconscious”, and the supposition is that the ego consciousness and its will is out of synch with the “imagination of the heart” or “intent“. Because these are out of synch, therefore, we have problems like ironic reversal, “perverse outcome”, “unintended consequence” or “revenge effect”. Ironically and paradoxically, what we intend is not what we will. Our intent overrules our will because we lack self-knowledge and personal insight. We have become, in a sense, completely opaque to ourselves. This “imagination of the heart” was what Nietzsche called “the Dionysian”, which he contrasted with the “Apollonian” way of the intellect.
Self and Ego are not separate issues except in terms of the intentional and the willful, and this is tied up with distinctions of the “truthful” and “the factual”. The “truth that sets free” is not the same as the dry “facts of the matter”. Dishonesty and insincerity are conditions in which the “imagination of the thoughts of the heart” (or intent) does not correspond with the will.
So, in effect, we may claim that we long for peace and will it. And that’s a “fact”. But the “truth” may be that we intend just the opposite in either a more or less “conscious or subliminal way”, as Castaneda puts it. And we are disintegrate beings because this imagination of our hearts and our ostensible will do not correspond. For that reason, the ego nature has been considered deceitful, false, tricksy, and devious. What it wills is often not what it intends.