The Golden Thread

I give you the end of a golden thread, Only wind it into a ball, It will let you in at Heaven’s Gate Built in Jerusalem’s Wall — William Blake

This clever line from Blake is an allusion to what was known as “the Eye of the Needle”, which occurs in a couple of parables in the New Testament, such as “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. Tradition has it, and Blake evidently is referring to it, that the Eye of the Needle was the name of a gate in Jersualem’s wall (although no archaeological evidence exists for this). Blake’s “golden thread” passing through Heaven’s Gate in Jersualem’s wall is quite evidently a reference to this same Eye of the Needle. Traditionally, and perhaps significantly in terms of the parable, this narrow gateway called Eye of the Needle was the only entrance into Jerusalem when the main gates were closed for the night. Because the gate was so narrow, any baggage or cargo that the camel carried would have to be unloaded first before the camel could pass through the gate.

In my reading of current literature on consciousness and the state of contemporary society, there are a few common themes emerging, which might be considered strands of this golden thread. It would be worth our while to identify them.

The foremost theme is the emergence of “unconscious knowledge”, mostly of an intuitional character. Jean Gebser refers to this as an “irruption” (which is equally, a disruption). This intuitional or unconscious knowledge is not the abstract, conceptual kind of knowledge of the mental-rational or perspectivising consciousness structure, but living knowledge. Rosenstock-Huessy calls it “survival knowledge”, although “sur-vival” has, in Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy, the special meaning of “trans-cendent” or of “outrunning” decay and nihilism.

The emergence of this unconscious knowledge is both irruptive and disruptive. But because it is living knowledge it is transformative and transfigurative, powerful enough to bring about a “new heaven and a new Earth”. This is, for example, the premise of van den Berg’s “metabletic phenomenology” as adopted by Robert Romanyshyn, and discussed in his essay on “The Despotic Eye” and in his book Technology as Symptom and Dream. It is also the premise of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy in The Ever-Present Origin. It is also, significantly, the title of one of Eckhart Tolle’s books – “A New Earth“. The emergence of unconscious knowledge is synchronistically the transformation of the cosmos. This is not just a change of the “world picture” or models or what we call at present a “paradigm shift”. Because consciousness and cosmos are “co-evolutionary” — the term frequently used today — the cosmos physically mutates along with any mutation in consciousness structure. Knowledge of this co-evolutionary character of consciousness and reality is what Blake calls “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell“, nirvana and samsara.

The irruption of this unconscious knowledge, which is being termed “the return of the repressed”, is acknowledged even when not fully understood as such. It’s only recognised in its external or objective effects — the anomalous turn to the magical and the mythical, usually in quite deficient forms, simultaneous with the breakdown or disruption of the perspectivist consciousness structure or the “mental-rational”. Because the irruption and disruption are coincident, the sense of contemporary chaos, madness, and widespread uncertainty (attended by great Angst) is met with different responses.

The sense of disintegration is pretty much universal. It is expressed in the feeling amongst indigenous North Americans that “the Sacred Hoop is broken” (i.e, Black Elk Speaks). At the same time, it is recognised that “mending the Sacred Hoop” — that is, a new integration and return to wholeness — has become pressing.

Our responses to this irruption of strange unconscious knowledge and life are decisive for the fate of the Earth. Those who are aware of the “return of the repressed” — of the return of the “ancient force” of unconscious life and knowledge (Nietzsche’s “Dionysian”) — will seek to integrate that with consciousness. There are those also who are not aware of the meaning of this and respond with great anxiety and anguish, because the return of the repressed feels overwhelming and chaotic — “the Kraken Awakes”, “alien invasions”, “Reptilons”, etc, etc; the free-floating sense of Dread, a sense of “losing it”. This is the “irrational” response, some of it typically associated with “New Age” movements. This is associated with manias and frenzies of all kinds. And there is a third response which apparently Bollas calls a “hostility” or hostile response to “unconscious life”, which is the hyper-rational response — the attempt to preserve the status quo or stay the course by often hostile suppression or more subtle and implicit censoring of everything associated with this “return of the repressed”.

Bewilderment, “wild magic” and the return of the dragon power – the kundalini energy of “the coiled one”. It’s interesting that the attitude to the dragon has changed recently too. Films like Never-Ending Story, Pete’s Dragon, or How to Tame Your Dragon about befriending the dragon power, tussle with more classical and fearsome depictions of the dragon energy like Jurassic Park that recall more the combat of the Christian saints with the dragon power. Godzilla is an ambivalent symbol of the dragon power. Taming the dragon is, however, what William Blake did in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. There are likewise, many images of the Buddha depicting him taming and being protected by the dragon power represented by the cobra. The dragon is a creature of paradox. It may be the most benevolent of creatures or the most terrifyingly destructive. It’s polarity is the basic polarity of all energy.

buddha and cobra

So, too, the energies unleashed by the return of the repressed can be benevolent or fearsome.

There are more than two responses to the “irruption” of unconscious knowledge in today’s global context. Discounting the apathetic and indifferent, the integrative, the disintegrative, and the suppressive (even in more passive terms of willful neglect) are at least three responses, and they are everywhere today. But in the current American mainstream context, the latter two have coalesced around Trump and Clinton. But this configuration looks the same everywhere, including Canada.

In the present historical and spiritual context, neither a return to an idealised past nor preserving the status quo are adequate responses. In the current context both are deficient responses and even reactionary responses. And even some responses that feign “integralism” or “holism” — like Capitalism 3.0 or “holistic branding” — are disguised attempts to sustain the unsustainable status quo. Come “hell and high water”, which both look to be our literal fate, it seems they will have to run their course to its tragic ending.


It occurred to me after I posted this to relate an anecdote that is, perhaps, illustrative. I have a friend, who is a well know naturalist in these parts and who has written a few books about naturalism, who praises “bewilderment” in his books as benevolent — the return of the wild. Yet his ambiguity about bewilderment is revealed in his frequent escape from it back into the folds of the Catholic Church. He returns to the Church, he retreats from his bewilderment. He leaves the Church and returns to his bewilderment. And so it goes. Like a pendulum. Bewilderment versus civilisation. He’s caught in the apparent duality, when his “bewilderment” becomes frightening, he retreats to the Church. He’s torn between “paganism” and Christianity, and has become the plaything of forces he doesn’t fully understand. When he’s in his “pagan” or bewildered mode, he gives expression to some pretty outlandish things like all that is native is good, all that is non-native is bad (which leads into fascistic thinking), and then he retreats from those dreadful thoughts back into Mother Church.


16 responses to “The Golden Thread”

  1. edlevin2015 says :

    The foremost theme is the emergence of “unconscious knowledge”, mostly of an intuitional character. Jean Gebser refers to this as an “irruption” (which is equally, a disruption). This intuitional or unconscious knowledge is not the abstract, conceptual kind of knowledge of the mental-rational or perspectivising consciousness structure, but living knowledge.

    The beginning of your essay resonated intensely for me with a video I watched yesterday of David Abram.

    He is the author of “The Spell of the Sensuous” and “Becoming Animal”, both of which I found very nourishing. He has followed a strand of the golden thread, through the eye of the needle as an academic phenomenologist and sleight of hand magician, to emerge embodied as a messenger from what it was like before we became abstracted. A true mutant whose line I hope survives and flourishes.

    • Scott Preston says :

      That was superb, Ed. Thanks for linking. Abram is integral, no question. It’s in his every word and gesture. There are depths to his talk that could take pages and pages to make more explicit. Abram is the best exemplar of integrality I’ve yet seen or heard anywhere. His presentation of integrality was flawless. Very impressive.

      I’m going to enjoy watching and listening to it over and over again.

    • davidm58 says :

      Oh crap, I was just writing a very long reply that felt very important to me (and my project on the role of energy), and ‘poof!’ it disappeared from the screen.

      Now I’ll just say – yes, superb video. And I experienced another synchronicity this morning in that my reading of Gebser included his discussion of “living knowledge.” See page 222 of The Ever-Present Origin. And note his thoughts further down the page in regards to the correspondance between the “acute energy of the soul to the latent energy of the body.” Follow the reference to page 25’s discussion of body’s being “nothing but solidified, crystallized, substantivated, and materialized time that requires the formation and solidification of space in order to unfold.” Note possible correspondance to the sacred hoop and cross of reality.

      I see what Gebser called latent energy as what we now call embodied energy, or what H.T. Odum called “emergy” – the embedded energy memory to reflect the “acute” energy it took to make an object, now serving as a kind of stored energy residing in that object that can still be released and transformed into higher quality energies.

      Acute energy is required to transform calculative, estimative knowledge (the latent energy of understanding) into living knowledge (sensing and experiencing), which in turn releases a higher quality energy necessary for achieving conscious integration.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Abram has another video lecture called “Climate and Psyche”, which sounds promising. I haven’t viewed it yet myself, but here it is

        • Scott Preston says :

          Wow. Some interesting stuff in Abram’s talk. Basically, the meaning of the Anima Mundi and then followed by its eclipse by the Anthropocene, but then he ends abruptly by linking climate “chaos” to “the return of the repressed”! That is to say, the return of the Anima Mundi (disruption) is the return of the repressed.

  2. davidm58 says :

    There does seem to be a double movement in response to the sense of disintegration that is happening all around us. You’ve got the regressive tea party andTrumpism, and then there’s the more progressive response as exemplified by Occupy Wall St. and Bernie Sanders.

    What’s interesting to me is to see a growing consciousness in someone such as prominent conservative commentator David Brooks. See this insightful column on “The Post Trump Era” from March 16th:
    “The great question is not, Should I vote for Hillary or sit out this campaign? The great question is, How do I prepare now for the post-Trump era?

    The first step clearly is mental purging: casting aside many exishting mental categories and presuppositions, to shift your identity from one with a fixed mind-set to one in which you are a seeker and open to anything. The second step is probably embedding: going out and seeing America again with fresh eyes and listening to American voices with fresh ears, paying special attention to that nexus where the struggles of Trump supporters overlap with the struggles of immigrants and African-Americans.”

    In a recent column he writes about “Why Millenials Want Less Stuff and More Community.”

    There’s nothing much new in these columns, but it’s nice to see these ideas expressed by the conservative columnist in “the paper of record.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      I think there are a lot of problems with the way Mr. Brooks has framed the situation. I detect a kind of whistling past the graveyard in the piece — a understated undercurrent of great uneasiness.

      The article begins in a fantasy and ends in a fantasy, and in between is a lot of magical thinking. The first fantasy:

      The Reagan worldview was based on the idea that a rising economic tide would lift all boats. But that’s clearly no longer true.

      “A rising tide lifts all boats” was true during the Reagan regime but became false after Reagan? It was never true. It was just The Great Communicator communicating. This sounds like revisionist history to me.

      Then it ends as it began, with a lot of magical thinking in between, including an attempt to salvage the Bush neo-con “compassionate conservatism” meme from the conservative wreckage.

      We’re going to have two parties in this country. One will be a Democratic Party that is moving left. The other will be a Republican Party. Nobody knows what it will be, but it’s exciting to be present at the re-creation.

      Eh? What the hell’s he saying here? It seems to be this: before there was a false duopoly. Post-Trump there will be a true duopoly. The Democrats will “move left” clearing room at the centre for a new Republican party to occupy the sensible and moderate “middle” — what we call in Canada “Red Toryism” or “Progressive Conservatism” until it imploded a few years ago like the Republican Party today, and was taken over by the reactionary conservatives and social conservatives around Harper. There are quite a few parallels between what has happened politically in Canada in recent years and what is presently happening in the US.

      And the Trumpistas? Now that Mr. Trump has uncorked the genie from its bottle, does Mr. Brooks think they will meekly return to a new improved moderate Republican fold, even a new amended moderate Republicanism of a “compassionate conservatism” of national unity and general consensus?

      Seems he’s dreaming of some kind of Grand Restoration, ideals that have been waylaid but now need to be resuscitated. What he seems to be looking towards is a coalition (like the late “progressive conservative” party in Canada) or liberal Republicans with conservative Democrats.

      • davidm58 says :

        Yeah, well Brooks still has a long way to go if he’s ever to arrive at anything resembling integral, but I think I’m seeing the beginning of a shift. You could very well be right that it’s more “whistling past the graveyard,” or perhaps he’s still in the bargaining phase of the Kubler-Ross grief cycle.

        The piece was written in March, and he did at that time seem to think Donald would go away and a different kind of Republicanism could emerge. However in last week’s discussion on the PBS News Hour, he expressed fear not only if Donald wins, but also if he loses (i.e. Trump’s recent comments about the election being rigged). So if he loses, the level of cynicism from his base supporters goes up another notch, and Trump may keep goading them even after the election.

        • Scott Preston says :

          the bargaining phase of the Kubler-Ross grief cycle.

          That’s very good.

          The Trumpistas (or Trumpeteers, as I’ve heard them called too) very much resemble “Ford Nation” in Canada — those who rallied around the notorious, late Toronto mayor Rob Ford — suburban Toronto and beyond. It may be comparable to UKip (and Farage) in the UK.

          Nationalistic movements of this kind have, as their motivation, the idea of preserving and keeping social and psychological distance — the perspectivist approach. It certainly seems a backlash not against neo-liberal globalisation (it still embraces capitalism) but against the idea of “Global Village”. Hence Trump’s “walls” and so on. The racialist and anti-immigrant mood is connected with the need to preserve psychological and social distance, and at the same time the retraction into the “point-of-view” as the sense of narrowing of options that Gebser talks about.

          That’s the “double-movement” of which Gebser speaks — the attempt to distance or distantiate through objectification has the reciprocal movement of retraction into the narrowing “point-of-view”. It’s the karmic law of action and reaction. Objectification is the attempt to preserve psychological distance, but at the same time it results in “Single Vision”, as Blake calls it — and the quote that adorns the masthead of the Chrysalis: “for man has closed himself up until he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern”.

          That’s, basically, Gebser’s “deficient perspectivity” in a nutshell.

    • Scott Preston says :

      In contrast to Brooks’ article, there’s this interesting piece by Tom Frank in today’s Guardian.

      • davidm58 says :

        I share Tom Frank’s concerns about the “triumph of complacent neoliberal orthodoxy” via Clinton that will keep us on the slow road to rack and ruin, but I’m not at all convinced that the populist backlash, from both right and left, will simply fade away.

  3. Andrew says :

    it’s an interesting experience to read these two blogs side by side everyday:

    I can’t for the life of me see how anything could be integral/integrated/holistic/universal if one is prone to complete attachment to either side of life’s polarities . It seems certainly so that the oligarchic duopoly rules (by either chance or design ) by manipulating these opposing binaries .
    it also seems that any conscious attempt ( especially in the political/economic spheres) to unify these polarities has been a dismal failure .
    Not that I’m arguing for the one world guvment but more hoping for the loosening of attachment to these binary systems of control ( at least for those who consider an integral hypothesis).

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Just occurred to me, that the metaphor of the camel passing through the eye of the needle, only after it has been unloaded of its baggage and cargo, is pretty much described, too, by Jill Bolte-Taylor in her TED talk on her “stroke of insight”

    where she says something to the effect “Imagine losing thirty years of emotional baggage!”.

  5. Andrew says :

    Well, she’s not being entirely forthcoming in her analysis of the right hemisphere functioning if it is indeed a portal/gateway into higher modes of consciousness . The experiences from my experience are not monologically unifying in the way she frames it . If one goes there one finds populations! Archetypes, Akashic fields; seemingly self-aware agents/archons of both light and shadow; and further complicating the matter is the fact that human culture seems to play a role in how we experience this phenomenon .
    I don’t see in and of itself see how this solves or can solve the political/economic polarities that we experience in materiality . Individuals yes, but systems seem to be a whole other mode of complexity ……

    • Scott Preston says :

      Archetypes are not the Ultimate Existents. Before they were called “archetypes” they were called “the gods”. They are intermediaries only between the One and the Many. There is still what is called “the godhead” from which all gods emerge.

      The human archetype is also a god. It is called “the mold of man”. Most people confuse the human archetype with God or even the godhead but it isn’t so.

      Even in Bolte-Taylor’s experience the metaphorical and archetypal became the only language possible to describe her experience. She experienced herself as a “great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria” as she put it. The Great Whale is Leviathan. It’s meaning is this: that she soared beyond the mold of man, beyond the human archetype.

      “Emptiness is what your soul wants” (Rumi). Becoming nothing and a nobody. That just corresponds to the meaining: “how can your cup be filled if it is not first emptied”? That’s the secret impulse and meaning of “nihilism” too. Emptying the cup.

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