The Evolutionary Pressure

The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.


A previous post in The Chrysalis spoke of time as a pressure. We should perhaps describe that as an evolutionary stress and pressure. Also in a much earlier post in the former Dark Age Blog, I suggested that this pressure, and the evident turbulence and anxiety accompanying it, can be likened to a state of being stuck between the anvil of the Earth and the Hammer of God, another way perhaps of describing modern malaise and modern dukkha. If you are the raw material been worked on, you might even think you are being punished, rather than being created anew. If a stone could think, it might even believe that it is being punished by a Michelangelo rather than transformed into a work of art. This is the proper way to reflect on the current “chaotic transition” and the evolutionary pressure.

Nietzsche uses the analogy of the bow and arrow or a lyre. The bow, drawn to its maximum tension, shoots farthest (although it might also snap from the stress). Gebser likewise speaks of the current stress and tension as preparing consciousness for an evolutionary “leap”. Something within us wants to be born, and something within us resists allowing it to be born, and this tension and conflict produces anxiety, paranoia, or even cognitive dissonance.

The Gebserian “leap” might well be described as ecstatic in the original sense of this term, the agony and the ecstasy. Ek-stasis means, really, to stand-forth or to stand-out. This is likewise the meaning of the word “ex-sistence” — a coming into being. Blake refers to this as “Eternity’s sunrise”.

This evolutionary pressure is very much connected with what Gebser means also, therefore, in writing that everything hinges upon our “knowing when to let happen, and knowing when to make happen.” That is a very Hermetic or alchemical principle, for the transmutation of the base into the noble element within the crucible is just this process of knowing when to let happen and knowing when to make happen.

This tension or stress is likewise present in the chyrsalis stage of the metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly. “It’s the Caterpillar’s Job to Resist the Butterfly”, writes Augusto Cuginotti on the marvelous role of “imaginal cells” in the metamorphosis of the worm into the butterfly. The caterpillar suffers dissolution so that the butterfly can live and emerge. In Greek, psyche means “butterfly” and so became a symbol of the soul. Blake seems to have that in mind with his depiction of Albion liberated from the “dark Satanic Mill”, for there is a hint of the butterfly within his portrait of Albion on his “Glad Day”, or “unfolding the wings of perception” as Castaneda’s don Juan put it.

“Unfolding the wings of perception” is a beautifully succcinct way of describing, too, the meaning of Gebser or Blake. Gebser’s new consciousness of the emergent “diaphainon” is Albion’s Glad Day as well. If Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin is about anything at all, it is about this process of “unfolding the wings of perception” leading to “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”. As we’ve noted earlier, Gebser’s “diaphainon” or Blake’s “Albion” is the meaning of the Zen koan, “show me your face before you were born”, which is very much connected, too, with Nietzsche’s “Become what you are!” and the process of self-overcoming.

The inner tension and stress building towards breakdown or leap is also the meaning of Nietzsche’s chapter in his Zarathustra entitled “The Despisers of the Body”, the significance of which appears to be lost on some people who read Nietzsche. There is a stress between what Nietzsche calls “the Self” and “the Ego” (which otherwise correspond to McGilchrist’s “Master” and “Emissary” modes a consciousness and perception). The evident stress, pressure, and tension here is between the intents of the Self and the will of the Ego. They are evidently in conflict which results in a kind of schizoid personality we call “cognitive dissonance”. A prime example of that is, of course, what is called “symbolic belief” where the ego-nature (or narcissistic mind, as you will) denies as real and true what it knows nonetheless tacitly to be real and true, so this phenomenon of “symbolic belief” (Nietzsche calls those “convictions”) is a prime example of what McGilchrist also calls the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the Master mode of attention. In other words, this “symbolic belief” which is a form of denialism is also the cause of Double-Think. What McGilchrist calls “Master” and “Emissary” correspond to what Nietzsche described as the Dionysian and the Apollonian consciousness respectively, and Nietzsche was convinced that this Dionysian consciousness was emerging from the background (or the unconscious) in his time, setting up a state of extreme tension between these two modes of consciousness, which you also find in Blake’s Prophetic Books pertaining to the fall and madness of his false god Urizen.

When the Christian prays, “not my will be done by thine O Lord!” that is a plea for peace and harmony between this inner intent of the authentic “Self” and the egoic will. This conflict between intentionality and will is what manifests as the problem of unintended consequence, perverse outcome, ironic reversal, revenge effect, Nemesis, and so on. To put that another way, “the truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter” are out of joint and in conflict with one another, which is a problem of dualistic mind. This is the significance of Nietzsche’s statement that “the will to a system is a lack of integrity” which pertains also to Gebser’s distinction between a mere Totality and the Whole.

Our present perception of “chaos” is but a failure of perception itself. “One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star”, wrote Nietzsche. This is the evolutionary pressure. Chaos is the fruitful womb, as Ilya Prigogine disclosed in this wonderful book Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature. Chaos is a transitional symptom of the emergent “diaphainon” (also noted in Katya Walter’s The Tao of Chaos). Nietzsche refers to that chaotic emotion as “Dionysian madness” which is just another way of saying “ecstatic madness”.

Becoming conscious of this evolutionary pressure should help you weather “the maelstrom of blind anxiety” that seems to have seized everyone these days. To return to our metaphor: you can understand the “Hammer of God” as this evolutionary pressure and think it is a kind of punishment for sin and be miserable for it, or you can see it correctly as a creative act — the work of a artist who is transforming a base metal into a beautiful artefact like a jewel. This is, in effect, also the meaning of the Dance of Shiva. As Gebser suggests, it is our responses to the present chaos that are decisive for the fate of the Earth.

We should recall in conclusion, the Zen proverb: “let go or be dragged” as this also pertains to what Gebser calls “the Law of the Earth”. We can, he insists, fulfill this Law of the Earth within ourselves (and this would correspond to “making happen” or assuming responsibility) or the Law of the Earth will be fulfilled automatically despite our irresponsibility, which leads to scapegoating, shadow projection, and ultimately nihilistic violence against man, nature, and life itself — the path of idiocy.

And in closing also we might mention that true meaning of the word “idiot” from the Greek “idiotes”. The word means “one’s own”, meaning a completely private life with no public responsibilities. To be an idiot was to be without responsibility — to live for oneself alone and not as a responsible member of a polis with a public role. Ironically, we have made idiocy normative with our aberrant emphasis on the primacy of individualism and the pursuit of self-interest (which Mike Judge aptly satirised in his film Idiocracy).

12 responses to “The Evolutionary Pressure”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    “The Dark Side of Spiritual Awakening”. I came across this a few minutes ago, and it is a very good example of the theme of this post, and what Gebser means also by “letting happen” and “making happen”.

    • TheOakofNormal says :

      You read/hear about detachment all the time with this kind of stuff and it’s such a complicated experience. It’s a completely necessary tool for any kind of real health, but also if taken too far, can lead to narcissism (as you’ve mentioned time and again), aloofness and kind of not really wanting to engage with the madness of the world. Can you maybe address that a bit? What’s healthy detachment and what’s not? I haven’t read much Buddhism and pretty sure it’s addressed there. Such a fine line between “witnessing” yourself and just being flat out self-absorbed it seems.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Most people think that Buddhism (for example) is highly subjective. But it’s the opposite. It is very highly objective, for it approaches the issue of Self and Mind as objects of scrutiny, or potential objects of scrutiny, so it employs much the same methods as science. Non-attachment isn’t much different from scientific “disinterestedness”, and this affinity between science and Buddhism accounts also for why so many scientists now take a great interest in Buddhism.

        As Tolle noted, the real problem here is to disentangle what we call our “identity” from these mental processes. That is what non-attachment, disinterestedness, or what is described simply as “attention” or “mindfulness” attempts. It is a skill as much as developing the capacities for “observation” in science. The goal of such practices, in Buddhism at aleast, is to arrive at the state of “inner silence” or “silent mind” or what Tolle referred to as “formless awareness”.

        This formless awareness or silent mind is therefore called “no-mind” or “no-self” and, of course, New Science has had to adopt this Buddhist approach owing to the apparent entanglement of observer and observed, or consciousness and reality, and it is well-positioned to do so given the traditional cultivation of disinterestedness in its methods which became rather misunderstood as “value-free”. Buddhism thus offers a corrective for the aberrant understanding of “disinterestedness”.

        So, the easy part is beginning with “I am not my mental processes” or “I am not the voice inside my head telling me what is and what is not”. The hard part, then, is beginning to disentangle who and what you are from these mental processes, towards which you now have to develop, really, an objective or non-attached attitude.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Actually, quite a lot of people who achieved “enlightenment” weren’t even looking for it. Tolle is a case in point. He was living in misery and perpetual anguish in London at the time and one night while in bed he had a personal crisis: “I can’t live with myself!”. Then the next moment he was thinking “wait a minute, if I can’t live with myself are there two of me?” For some reason this served as something like a Zen koan. Apparently he passed out then, but when he woke up the next morning, the old Tolle was gone, dissolved and the new Tolle had been born.

        Legend has it that Rumi went through the same. He met Shams and Shams put to him a question about the Qu’ran that caused Rumi to pass out and fall from his horse or donkey, but came to as the great “mystic” he was.

        There’s no accounting for the kinds of shaping forces at work in the so-called “unconscious”. Some are just ripe for it.

        • TheOakofNormal says :

          That’s incredible on those two. So interesting how myriad the paths are on how to “Become what one is” in Nietzsche’s terms. Always seems to take some kind of “jolt” for the bigger, more drastic transformations like that. I’ve pondered that a lot, if that “jolt” is personal and different in everyone (self-generated) or if it’s something innate in Nature. I’ve always felt a strong affinity with Hermeticism and that it’s waiting in Nature to be discovered, but I grew up surrounded in fields and woods so it would make sense for my personal outlook. The three lives I’ve studied the most in depth are Goethe, Blake and Nietzsche and I’ve always been struck with the similar patterns involved there in self overcoming/getting over the initial misery and the subsequent self-discovery and discovery/fresh eyes/openness to the world if it’s properly handled.

          Thanks for the input from above. A lot to unpack/ponder on there, appreciate it.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    On much the same topic, just now watched this brief presentation on the formless awareness by Eckhart Tolle, also quite good.

    • lyleaolson says :

      Tolle makes a strong case for the absolute need for meditation here. Talking about awareness is fine for inspiration and pointing the way toward meditation but if serious meditation is not done, it’s just talk about the finger that is pointing. “Language can give us pointers toward awareness, and pointers that look at the obstacles that may arise so that you may recognize them when they happen, and so that obstacles in the form of mind patterns don’t take you over and obscure awareness.” —Tolle
      At the risk of being self-serving, I actively researched meditation for 30+ years and found that “pointers that look at the obstacles” are still sorely needed and so I wrote The Meditation Process: Raja Yoga and Buddhist Shamatha. Yes, obstacles that obscure awareness can be removed but the serious work must be done. There are no short-cuts. Thinking about awareness is not awareness, nor will it result in awareness.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Yes. See my reply to oak of normal above.

        Interesting that you wrote a book. It doesn’t seem to be available. Do you have a link to it?

        • lyleaolson says :

          Well that’s a little distressing. On Amazon/books, if I put in Lyle Olson, it comes up. If I put in The Meditation Process, it doesn’t come up with all the other books with that title. Bookstores order it through Ingram.

          • Scott Preston says :

            Yes. Here it is. I will definitely give it a read

            • lyleaolson says :

              Wonderful! It’s so difficult to find readers of a comprehensive book on meditation. Beginners find the usual simple instructions and advanced meditators write primarily for advanced meditators. But there is little for navigating the vast intermediate terrain of obstacles and we don’t have time to fumble around.
              Also, I thank you for creating this portal for contemplation. The collegial gatherings of ancient Greece are inspiring, as are the letters shared by the wise through history, but none of that works now — I’ve tried. Carry on with your auspicious endeavor.

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