Ruins of Soul’s Empire

As the Pythons would say, “Now for something completely different…”

I was reading an interesting article in The Guardian about the haunting and eerie beauty, and “glory,” of abandoned places. It is a review of a book of photographs of such abandoned spaces (or lost times) by Richard Happer. At the end of the review Happer is quoted

“I don’t want to get too philosophical, but something about decay suggests human endeavour. There’s something about the fallen majesty of human hope that has an eerie beauty. It makes you remember the things that are still around you.”

That haunting feeling of the eeriness of “fallen majesty” in ruins is the soul’s memory of its own loss that becomes a kind of nostalgia. You might feel it when you view a beautiful landscape or scene. You feel also an ache, a pain, a kind of homesickness that comes from a feeling of being apart or separate from it all. You want to merge with that view as much as lover wants to merge with his or her beloved. And you may wonder “where does that come from?”

When you are born, you are formless awareness. You are, as psychology puts it, “oceanic feeling”. And yet, an oceanic feeling that is not conscious of itself as such. Oceanic feeling means you are all feeling, and do not experience yourself as a self apart from experience. The other faculties of consciousness — will, sensation, reason — are still only latent or unmanifest.

Psychologists sometimes call this “infant narcissism” but that’s a misnomer and a confusion, because I’m afraid the shoe is on the other foot. There is as yet no “self-image” or ego-nature to be confused with that which would justify the term “narcissism” except in this one sense that feeling is all, but it is as yet not conscious of itself as such.

This oceanic feeling corresponds to what Jean Gebser calls “archiac structure of consciousness”. It is timeless. There is, as yet, no separation of things like self and other, subject and object, ego and it, or earth and sky. It precedes the acquisition of speech. That is the very meaning of the word “infans” — “without speech”.  It is remembered, vaguely, as the lost paradise and lost innocence or primordial oneness. We will call this “Archaic Time” although it is really timelessness precisely because it is formless awareness.

As you mature (which means acquire experience and an ego-nature) you enter into the  “wonder years”, corresponding to the magical structure of consciousness. This corresponds to the gradual acquisition of speech and incipient ego, especially the magical word “No!” There is often a peculiar tendency of the child to refer to himself or herself in the third person. “Johnny wants a cookie!” rather than “I want a cookie!”. That is, an identity is beginning to precipitate out of the initial “ground of being” that is formless awareness or oceanic feeling, and it is this formless awareness that is becoming conscious of itself as an identity and which now refers to itself as such — not an “I” but a “he” or “she”. The formless awareness is not yet fully “incarnate”, we might say; not yet fully invested in an ego or a self-referential name. We will call this “Magic Time” because it also has its own sense of time that is not yet the disciplined and structured mechanical time of “the clockwork universe”.

In the course of investing itself in a structured identity — which is the process we call “socialisation” or acculturation or becoming conscious — the incipient ego consciousness is acquiring not just the grammar of its society, but also the society’s narratives about itself. The formless awareness, from day one, is being socialised into the narratives of its milieu — basically it’s myths. Those myths tell the ego-consciousness what it is, and what its world is like (and in economic society these myths are largely encoded in television stories and television advertising). Stories of heroes and heroines which tell the ego-consciousness who is, and who is not, appropriate role models. Comic books, movies, etc are all instructions in the mythical. This is often called the “teen” years, when identity is once again in a state o turmoil and crisis as it transits from the magical to the mythical. We will call this “Myth Time”.

Then comes the “adult” phase, by which time you are now certifiably insane — meaning, that the formless awareness you are is now fully invested in a “point of view”, an ego-consciousness, an identity. In our case, we call this “the mental-rational structure of consciousness”. You have become fully disciplined to the temporal rhythms of the dominant milieu. You have appropriated its narratives and stories as the essence of your own identity (and who knows how much narrowness and narcissism there is in narrative?).

In other words, being now certifiably insane and half-mad, you are now a ruin yourself. You have made your way from “oceanic feeling” to “point-of-view-line-of-thought” and there’s now a painful and aching feeling of loss and lack, and of having lost something important along the way.

The haunting and eerie beauty of ruins remind us of that, and this I am calling “ruins of the soul’s empire”. We’ve passed through all the various stations of Gebser’s historical “structures of consciousness”, but without integrating the former stage with the successor stages. Rather, they are abandoned like old ruins, and making new ruins is what is called “progress” today.

You might recognise this process of transitions from “oceanic feeling” to “point of view” as the principle of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” that is to say, that the “development” of the individual specimen recapitulates, or follows the same pattern or blueprint, as the evolution of the species. This is a principle of biology (however controversial) that has come to be applied in psychology.

It is in those terms that Gebser speaks of the “latency” of the various structures of consciousness within the overall consciousness structure, and that rather than integrate each structure with the succeeding structure, the earlier are abandoned as being “aberrant” (childish, juvenile, adolescent, etc). So, in that sense, “integral consciousness” is the integration of the whole person, and that means different “life-times” as it were: Archaic timelessness, Magical Time, Mythical Time, and Mental-Rational Time. The eeriness or haunting beauty of ruins is a reflection in the soul’s memory of the loss that has come with abandonment of its earlier states of being and modes of awareness.

Oceanic feeling means that the potential infinite possibilities of awareness become narrowed to a very small point on the spectrum of possible experience or perception. That narrowing is, of course, related to the meanings of “narrative” and also of “narcissism”, and also “narcotic”. Oddly enough, German “Narr” means “fool”, while Gebser has traced the nar– prefix to words related to water.

These earlier stages in the process of the individuation of consciousness as the “selfhood” have now become vague memories to the ego-consciousness, an ache, a sense of lost innocence, but also a sense of guiltiness about that and a sense of something betrayed. Nonetheless, all these earlier passages and states are available to the ego-awareness as its inheritance, and integral consciousness is really only about integrating these “lost civilisations” of the soul, as we might call it, into full awareness.

In that sense, every one of us is a bundle of lost civilisations and of empires in ruins, and in that sense it is quite true: “you are the world”.



3 responses to “Ruins of Soul’s Empire”

  1. donsalmon says :

    (From Krishna Prem’s commentary on the Katha Upanishad)

    We must go inwards if we would find [the source of the Light of Consciousness]. Like salmon in the breeding season we must ascend that River…as an arrow we must shoot ourselves against the current to the Source from which it springs. There and there only shall we find the Bliss that throbs at the heart of being, the Bliss that is the World’s desire and whose reflections in the forms that come and go, lend the attractiveness to our desires.

    When that Point is reached a wonderful sight is seen. The Waters of Light that we have traced back, narrowing and narrowing to their Source, are seen to widen out again on the other side into a great Ocean of calm and living Light whose blue waters shine with a radiance never before beheld.

    Softly the waters rise and fall in ceaseless rhythm and with each wave a throb of bliss pulses through the watching Soul, so that, forgetting all, it longs to plunge for ever in their cool depths.

    It is the eternal Summer Sea, the Sea whose waters wash for ever the inner shores of being. A channel leading to it is to be found in the heart of every living creature and all these separate channels lead to the same Sea, one and all-pervading, in whose Waters all sense of separateness is lost. Therefore we are bidden to seek the Way in our own hearts for only there shall we find it.

    As it bursts upon our view we realize that it is That for which all our life we have been seeking. Nor has our search been confined to this one life alone. Spurred on by a dim memory of having known it long ago, we have wandered on and on through life after life in a darkness so great that we have almost forgotten that this Sea of Light existed. Always it has lured us on over the next range of hills and always when we got there the view disclosed has been of a country similar to the ones we have been wandering through so long. Only when we realize that the blue light that makes those far hills so magical comes from a Light that shines within our eyes do we call a halt to our endless wanderings, and, turning back upon ourselves, enter the Stream that leads us to the Sea.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Both are beautiful, they are call for self-reclamation in its wholeness to feel that separation is lost, not only internally but also externally. It is the sea of the divine consciousness in which we swim, is the source of our consciousness. It is presence in me and in him. The breath is the tool of my speech and my breath from him that is my speech is from him, that is why the Sufis say, as if he is the speaker not me. Remember the contract to rejuvenate the contact. Thank you both, yet the initiator is always the first .

  3. abdulmonem says :

    Only to put here the Sufi saying, and you think you are a small germ and in you contained the expansive cosmos. A call to remember how grand you are and not forget you are a divine image. A call to respect.. and fulfill the obligation and decline from expending yourself in triviality.

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