Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why Halloween is Still about the Dead

Hello, all! Halloween is upon us once again, and I just realized that I've never really done a Halloween post. So why not do it right now?

Halloween is the time of year when we think most about the abnormal. From haunted houses to costumes to skeletons on the lawn, October 31st calls on us to abandon our traditional ideas of what's proper and explore different ways of being. The concept of "death" is also a big part of Halloween, but this preoccupation with death is really just another version of the abnormal focus Halloween does best. In so many words, Halloween is what shows us the "underside" of human reality, the side of it opposite to the one we normally see.

Knowing this, what gets me about our culture's idea of Halloween in contrast to, say, Mexico's Day of the Dead is that our idea of death is almost unanimously associated with horror and the macabre. Just watch any zombie or ghost movie and you'll see what I mean. Why is this the case? I'd wager that it's because we as a culture are terrified of death. Or perhaps more clearly, we're so terrified that we put it out of our mind and give it no thought, like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

But in addition to the way we ignore death, we also ignore the dead. Most people outside the LDS church (and many within it, I'm sure) have no idea who their ancestors are past their first set of grandparents. This means that there are legions of the dead who aren't remembered at all, something I'm sure doesn't lack consequences. If there's one idea that occurs in cultures the world over, it's that the dead demand our memory of them, and we have come up drastically short in that department.

The dead aren't just buried in the ground, and they aren't just invisible wisps of air floating here and there. No, the dead are within us and between us. Swedenborg says this, as does psychologist Carl Jung when he writes in his Red Book about...:
"...the dead, not just your dead, that is, all the images of the shapes you took in the past, which your ongoing life has left behind, but also the thronging dead of human history, the ghostly procession of the past, which is an ocean compared to the drops of your own life span. I see behind you, behind the mirror of your eyes, the crush of dangerous shadows, the dead, who look greedily through the empty sockets of your eyes, who moan and hope to gather up through you all the loose ends of the ages which sigh in them. Your cluelessness does not prove anything. Put your ear to that wall and you will hear the rustling of their procession.
As with Halloween, the dead dwell on the side of life we don't see: the underside, even the under-world. And to avoid literalizing the whole thing, the dead aren't just actual departed human beings, but anything and everything which exists but to which we haven't given heed. Among these dead, I think, is the "soul" belonging to animals, to the world, to fiction, and even to things. Yes, you heard me right. Psychologist James Hillman even talks about how "inanimate" objects resent the way we treat them as soul-less in his work Alchemical Psychology:
"Technology is cursed by our mechanical idea of it. It is the great repressed, the unconscious, the realm of the dead, forced to carry the egocentric unimaginative demands we put on it: labor-saving, cost-efficiency, productivity, uniformity, speed. It may break down--only wear out and be thrown away....These things have taken their revenge. The repressed alsways does, by insinuating our notion of them into our notion of ourselves: ourselves as mechanical functions, assemblies of parts, enduring stress and friction, attempting objectivity, until we, too, oxidize in 'burn-out.'"
The dead today rest uneasily. We have given them no thought and no heed, and, as a result, they "stand behind [us], panting from rage and despair at the fact that [our] stupor does not attend to them" (again from the Red Book). Ideally the dead and the living should stand side by side, each helping one another and each interpenetrating with the other's world. But people today don't even think about death, let alone offer the dead propitiation.

I believe that the dead have resorted to forcefully interposing their will on us. This has happened time and time again throughout history--whenever something is forgotten, the corresponding dead rise up and force us to remember them. Think of World War I and how it almost mockingly replaced the propriety of Victorian Europe with an influx of new culture and ideas. In the years surrounding the war, everything changed: this is when Jung wrote his Red Book, when Joyce wrote Ulysses, when Picasso started painting, and when all those stodgy Victorian values evaporated in a flash of shorter skirts and jazz music. I wouldn't be the first person to say that that surge in culture came about by means of the dead from ages past, breaking in through the hole in our consciousness that was the Great War.

They're doing this again today. What our cultural images of a "zombie apocalypse" represent is our unconscious recognition that our way of life is unsustainable, that the dead want acknowledgment from our hearts and mind. But what would this involve? Could it be that--like zombies--they want us to participate in the dead's secret life, to "become-dead?" If true, their subtlest trick would be to come and influence us on that day of the year that was always theirs: Halloween. Originally a day to honor the dead, they--as the repressed, the unconscious--have snuck into our celebration by getting us to honor them more than on any other day. When else do we give up our identity to act out an identity that is neither proper, ours, or even possible? When else do so many people give up their sense of propriety to explore, to dance, to party? Halloween is still the day it has always been--it's when the dead join the living as equals.

But can we extend this principle by, to paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge, keeping the spirit of Halloween with us all the year? Maybe instead of dressing up as a cat, a potato, or Captain America we can try always remember the soul of the cat, the object, and the fiction, acknowledging their life, their soul, their spirit. Maybe we can always be willing to "try on" new identities, never regarding ours as fixed but only as a costume itself. For beneath all of our masks lay the dead, with us always, and always having a share in our life. Let's remember them on this day of the dead.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Resurrection that "Matters"

Resurrection has always puzzled me. As if the scientific problems with a resurrected body weren't issues enough, the notion of going back to a physical, limited body seemed distasteful. Why would anyone want to be in this one human body forever and ever? Isn't eighty years in it quite enough? As the desirable thing Mormons paint it out to be, it didn't strike me as very appealing. And other questions arise: how does the resurrected body "work?" Is it temporal or timeless? Is it somehow infinite and if so, how? All in all, resurrection seemed altogether too "fuzzy" a concept for me to put much stock in.

But a fuzzy concept also leaves room for interpreting that concept. While the traditional notion of resurrection might strike me as distasteful, I've stumbled upon a conception of it that rubs me the right way. I'm going to give it here for your reading pleasure

What's the Matter?

In a similar way to my reincarnation post from earlier this month, I'll start by asking: "what is resurrected?" It's certainly not the physical "stuff" that makes me up right now, at least not in a literal sense; all it takes to go against that idea is the remembering fact that the matter in my body circulates in and out over a cycle of x many years, leaving none of material that originally composed it. No, I think that what is really resurrected isn't my physical body at all. Despite what others might say, I don't think that matter in its deepest sense is just composed of atoms, molecules, and chemicals--it's broader and deeper than that. The real nature of matter reveals itself in our language. When we ask "what's the matter with you?" or "this really matters," our words are more than just fluff. "What's the matter" is matter, in its real sense: the impressions, feelings, hopes, and dreams that our lives are built out of. This matter--what matters--is the substance of our convictions, what really means something to us, what gives weight to the stuff in our lives.

You can discern that matter if you're perceptive enough. When walking into a room, ask yourself: in what way do I feel different from how I feel in other rooms? When talking to another person, try to pay attention to the different "flavors" of interaction that come out between you. And when reading a book, notice the different feelings and emotional impressions that seem to "waft" from the pages. In each of these cases, what you're noticing is the matter of the situation, "what's the matter" there. And I used words like "flavor" and "waft" above quite deliberately--Emanuel Swedenborg described how auras--an analogous concept to what I'm talking about--are an awful lot like smells. For instance, he gives examples of this concept deep in his multi-volume work Secrets of Heaven:
Some have indulged in mere physical pleasure, without developing any neighborly love or any faith. Their aura smells like excrement. The same is true of those who have carried out a life filled with adultery, although their stench is even worse....When an aura of charity or faith is perceived as a smell, it yields intense pleasure. The smell is sweet, like the smell of flowers, of lilies, of different types of perfume, with unlimited variety.

Dream Matter

These auras are ways that the "stuff" underlying the situations in my life can come into sight. Likewise, this is the "stuff" which dreams are made on, quite literally: when I see my childhood house in a dream, there I'm seeing its matter, the colors, shapes, and textures that rendered it emotionally significant to me. So too with my friends and family: in dreams, I see what matters to me about them, for good or for bad.

Dreams "harvest" what matters in my life and shows it to me at night. So when Alma the Younger wrote that "that which ye do send out shall return unto you again" (Alma 41:15), he could thus just as well have been talking about this deeper matter. Moreover, Rudolf Steiner wrote somewhere (and I'm paraphrasing) that sleep is analogous to death. When I sleep, my body becomes still and I lose consciousness. But more than this, in sleep I go to a place in many respects like the spiritual world. As with Emanuel Swedenborg's descriptions of that world, in dreams I can go to places and make things appear with the power of desire and thought. Moreover, dreams speak using the symbolic language that both Steiner and Swedenborg say is characteristic of the spiritual world.

The Matter of Resurrection

If dreams harvest the deeper "material" of my life, could the same be said of "what dreams may come" after death? With death, I likewise conclude that this world of molecules and atoms is just food for the world of "higher" matter, of matter that matters." To use another image, this world is a fertile ground where seeds from that higher world can mature into fruit-bearing plants--the soil is just there so that the seed can have the nutrients it needs to realize itself. Or to use yet another image, this world is a mirror by which a higher being--made of higher matter--can see and realize itself as an object.

It is this higher being that gets resurrected, and the resurrected body is the aforementioned mature plant or image in a mirror. To my understanding, resurrection is the process by which a nascent being of this "higher" matter comes into itself, using "lower" matter as a foil. That higher matter's infinity (read: unboundedness) needs limitation and finitude to realize itself. To use a parable, the rushing fullness of water is useless unless it has a limited vessel to contain it, and an empty vessel is useless unless it contains the fullness of water. In this process, infinity and finitude meet and enter into marriage--both are worthless without the other. And the resurrection proper happens at the consummation of that marriage, when the boundless matter of infinity--again, what really "matters"--realizes its own nature in the looking-glass of finite, lower matter. In that consummation, infinity contains itself in limitedness and finitude realizes its own endlessness. The bounded and the boundless meet and become one.

But here's the real question: when does resurrection happen? If I'm being completely honest, I'll say that resurrection occurs whenever the "matter that matters" completely sees itself in the world's material. The last two Christmases have been like this for me. On both days, I experienced a closeness with my family that rarely comes on other days These were moments of love and joy when I saw what really mattered right in front of me--the matter of eternity laid bare, evident for me to see. But it also happens when I look into my girlfriend's eyes and time seems to stop--there's just us and what matters between us. These are a kind of resurrection--matter raised out of the drab obscurity of atoms and molecules to see itself perfectly.

But what about the resurrection, that ultimate consummation of the world's purpose toward which we're all heading? Well, I've had intimations and intuitions of a big change coming. By and large, the world is suffocating in the fire of desire--we want infinite satisfaction from finite objects and bodies, which, of course, can never happen. But, whether through pain or disappointment, we'll eventually realize the futility of this quest. At this point, the resurrection will happen when we stop clutching at the glass of the lower matter's mirror and instead see through it. We don't really want the literal matter of wealth, titillating bodies, or exciting new gadgets: we want what matters--spiritual matter, the matter of eternity, revealed for all to see. And it will happen, I have no doubt.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Love, Wisdom, and the Root of Being

The eighteenth-century Christian mystic and visionary Emanuel Swedenborg gave a metaphysical worldview in his books with an elegance I haven't seen anywhere else. He taught that God is identical with principles he called "love" and "wisdom," concepts he compared to heat and light; goodness and truth; substance and form; reality and manifestation; female and male; respectively. God thus exists wherever love and wisdom do, whether in my love for my girlfriend or your learning truth from a book. But love and wisdom have another aspect: Swedenborg explained that love--as the principle corresponding to un-manifest reality--is invisible as such. Love only becomes visible through wisdom. To put it differently, as the principle of invisible reality, love only becomes visible to itself by "looking" in wisdom as if it were a mirror. Wisdom is, therefore, the means by which the invisible heart of being becomes visible.

Love and wisdom in the mind

This principle actually plays out in our minds, and I think part of Swedenborg's genius lies in how well he's able to interpret mental movements too "deep" to interpret using normal language. He says that, just as love sees itself through wisdom, feelings see themselves through thoughts. Thought is the "making-visible" of feeling, or rather the way by which feeling expresses itself to our conscious awareness. This happens through a principle he calls correspondenceA feeling existing on an imperceptible level sees itself in thought as an image that corresponds to that feeling's nature. The spontaneous positive and negative thoughts we hear in our heads are examples of how this works: when I hear a thought that says "you're loved" or "you don't need to worry," Swedenborg would say that they are reflecting an underlying heavenly feeling so as to bring it to my awareness. So too with negative thoughts: heard mental phrases like "you're terrible" or "you shouldn't even have tried" are visible expressions of self-critical feelings too subtle to notice. However, this correspondence between feeling and thought also happens in the mind's eye, in daydreams, and in night dreams.

Love and wisdom in conversation

But an amazing thing Swedenborg teaches is that this reflection of love into wisdom doesn't just happen in our minds--it happens everywhere. A particularly powerful example of this process happens in social interaction. The body language, facial expressions, and tones of voice I make when I talk with another person are also mirrors for those underlying loves (desires for some end--the root of all feeling), and they spontaneously change to better reflect the loves' changes. And if you pay close attention to the subtleties of body language, you'll see the principle of correspondence mentioned above at play. If I cross my arms when talking to you, it means I feel relatively uncomfortable--I'm holding myself in, protecting myself. I don't want to cross the bridge from me to you or let you cross the bridge to me, so I erect a barrier with my arms to keep us apart. But if I open my eyes widely while talking to you, I'm fascinated--I can't get enough of what you're saying, so I open my eyes (the doors to my soul) as wide as possible so as to let more in.

Love and wisdom in art

Music and literature also display love through wisdom. In music, the underlying loves show up clearly and viscerally. The loves or feelings are there for all to hear in the notes, melodies and harmonies, as anyone who enjoys music will know. And fiction shows forth loves in its own unique way. By telling a story, the characters each exemplify a different love or combination of loves--each a different "color" of love. By showing the way they interact and come to a resolution, the author (wittingly or not) shows the ways these different emotional players habitually relate to each other. Thus, there's value in "likening" your life to fictional books as well as scripture; just like with the Book of Mormon (though ultimately in a less powerful way), I can learn more about the deep parts of life by reading fiction. True to their form as "correspondences" of love in wisdom, they're mirrors that show me life's nature.

Loves as perspectives

Moreover, I'll paraphrase Swedenborg's works by saying that loves are also perspectives--they're different ways of looking at the world which show me different sides of it. With a love for money, I'll only see opportunities for profit, to a greater or a lesser extent. With a love for parenting, I'll only see people in need of nurturing. Of course, no one has just one love; we have many, even though they're all more or less subservient to a "dominant" love. But this equivalence of love and perspective means that, when I emphasize a different love than normal, I see the world differently. This truth has a lot of practical potential. It means that when I shift my love/perspective from one to another, I effectively become a different person than I was before. I'm an embodiment of another aspect of being; I see the world from a point of view previously closed to me. So when you empathize with another person, a book character, or even a piece of music, you're really acting from the reality behind them, to the point where you and him, her, or it are manifestations of the same aspect of being, mirrors for the same eternal source to see itself in.

And finally, though wisdom is the mirror by which loves become visible, there are "higher" or "lower" (read "more inward" or "less inward") ways of perceiving love. For instance, when I read scripture, do I pay attention just to the literal story or do I delve deeper into the underlying loves? From my and Swedenborg's experiences, I know that it's possible to read scripture at a level where the words become completely transparent--they're just a window to the interaction of heavenly loves underlying the text. This can also happen in social interaction: I can get to a level where I "see through" everyone's gestures and body language to the feelings and loves trying to get expressed through that body language.

How do you learn the way to do this? From my experience, meditation and overall closeness to God are key. When you meditate a lot, you learn to separate the different levels of wisdom from each other, noting that feelings are different from thoughts and that thoughts are different from actions. And when you get to this level, you can deliberately turn your attention only to the level of pure feeling or love, having only the inmost layer of wisdom in which to show itself. And it's an amazing experience.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

What do Callings Call?

Tomorrow I'm giving my lesson in Elder's Quorum for the month of October: the chapter called "Leadership" in the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson manual. As I was preparing for that lesson, I came across a passage in the chapter that I really liked:
"He [Christ] helped us realize that the godlike qualities in each of us clamoring for expression can become glorious living realities. His example continues as the greatest hope and strength of mankind."
I realized a profound part of a leader's role while reading this quote: like Christ, he or she gets the good parts of us to "come out from hiding." While those "godlike qualities" are normally hidden unexpressed inside us, the leader "calls them out," letting them emerge into the light of day. Note that word: call. The leaders in the church "call" in more senses than one: not only do they call out that potential in us, but they also give us "callings" and sometimes also titles we can be "called" by (Elder, High Priest, teacher, chorister, etc.). But these different kinds of "calling" are really all the same thing. As philosopher Martin Heidegger notes in his What is Called Thinking:
"To call is not originally to name, but the other way around: naming is a kind of calling, in the original sense of demanding and commending. It is not that the call has its being in the name; rather every name is a kind of call. Every call implies an approach, and thus, of course, the possibility of giving a name."
In all those different kinds of "calling", the leader calls by "calling out." He calls out divine potential, as President Benson observed, but that divine potential is actually what different callings "call for." When the bishop gives you a calling as a Sunday School teacher, he's summoning the divine potential in you to fulfill that calling. He "calls forth" that possibility.

In all this "calling," it's the divine in us that's "being called," summoned, etc. But if we remind ourselves of the use of names as a kind of "calling" (that is, "I'm called Christian," or "she's called Brenna," etc.), then this gains a whole new dimension when we consider the fact that we covenant, "take upon us the name of Christ," as mentioned in countless places throughout the scriptures. This is something we do whenever we say "in the name of Jesus Christ" or any variant of that phrase, but what does it mean in the context of this post's idea? I'll put forward the notion that when we take the name of Christ upon us and we're thus "being called by His name," Christ is calling out to the Christ in us. Christ calls us Christ; Christ calls out to Him in us, to the divine revealed through Him in our spirits and bodies.

From this perspective, all our callings are ways for Christ to call out the Christ in us. Our callings are Christ calling us--calling us Christ, calling forth His divinity in us. But when we're called by Christ's name, at least in a sense, we no longer have our previous identity. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:
"But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away."
When we are "in Christ," called by His name and full of His grace, all absolute ties between our existence and our identities are severed. We still weep, but it is as though we don't weep; we are still men and women, but it is as if we are neither. This is similar to the Law of Consecration: we still own our wealth and our property, but because we consecrate it to the Church, it is as if we did not own it. In Christ, all claim to pretension and possession vanishes: we consecrate our identities to Christ, and we receive all that Christ has in return.

This is how physical intimacy between a man and a woman is, even in the innocent, microcosmic ways that I've experienced: both the man and the woman give up their manhood and their womanhood to the "space" between them, and they are both able to enjoy both identities. In that intimacy, I experience both man and woman, though I claim neither identity for myself. We are both together in the "between," and we mingle our identities there.

And this is also what happens when we are given callings in the Church. Though I am called as an Elder's Quorum instructor, it is as though I'm not called in that way. For my ultimate identity lies not in that teacher-ship but in Christ, for all callings in the Church are callings that call out the Christ in us, as I said. The man who "descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth" calls out to "all things" in us. And so should it be surprising that since I've had my calling, I've experienced a connection to "the whole" like never before? I feel like I have a place in connection to the whole Church, that I'm somehow serving that totality through my calling. I think that each calling is a way for each member of the whole to serve every member of the whole. One for all and all for one.

I guess you could say that the main thought here has been that Christ--as the "all-in-one"--calls out to the all in us and so brings our nature as Christ or at least Christ-like. As I said, Christ calls us Christ; He calls forth Christ in us. We enter that space "between" all things that Christ represents, for as He who brought about the "at-one-ment," Christ makes as at-one with all things as we take on His name. In fact, I guess you could say that this is what the "gathering" is all about: Christ gathers Christ--His divinity--wherever it lies latent, hidden, or buried. He calls forth Christ by gathering Israel. Our callings, therefore, bring about the gathering, for they gather Christ as He lies scattered across the world, like leaven hidden in so much bread, like treasure hidden in a field.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Everyday Phenomenology: Netflix

In this post I'm going to return to my "Everyday Phenomenology" series of posts, this time looking at the experience of watching Netflix.

Choosing a show to watch

The first thing I experience when logging onto Netflix is the menu screen, and it immediately confronts me with a wide variety of titles to choose from. And I do mean wide; from TV dramas to foreign films to horror movies, Netflix has more choices than I could ever hope to watch in a year, let alone in a single night. This variety stuns me like a deer in the headlights. When I face this menu screen, I feel almost hesitant to pick something, as though more depended on my choice than a simple night of binge watching. This leads to the many nights I've spent just debating with my friends and family members what we should watch.

Here, I'm actually afraid of committing to a single choice. Staying on the menu screen seems--at least for a time--more desirable than actually picking something. In fact, I feel this way because the menu screen is really just immense possibility, and I give up that potential for limited actuality when I press the remote to choose something. To think: in the next forty-five minutes, I could watch dozens of completely different TV shows! But if I make a decision, I only get to watch one. It might seem silly to think that infinite potential can rival reality (however limited), but it happens.

If you read my tabletop role playing phenomenology post, you might remember my discussion of Ananke, the Greek personification of Necessity as a cosmic principle. Necessity is what must be, that which "is what it is." When I hesitate on Netflix's menu screen, I'm really afraid of Necessity. I don't want to be something specific or concrete, even when it comes to something as insignificant as at TV show--I'd rather have the promise or potential of watching everything. And yet I must choose something, or else I've wasted an evening.

Can we see a parallel to life in a broader sense? If I have a wealth of many different talents, I might be tempted to dabble a bit in each of them without committing to any one. But this would be a mistake. To paraphrase Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise Von Franz, to be something in actuality is to give up being everything in potential. I have to "grow down;" if I want to stay in the "hub" or "menu screen" of life, I'll just end up wasting my energy by spreading out to things too widely to make a difference in the world.

This begs the question: could giving up broad potential for limited reality in this way be a reason we "came to earth" in the first place? As a part of the Mormon tradition of pre-existence, we believe that we abandoned a life with God to inhabit limited bodies on earth. This was necessary to our development--we couldn't have progressed any other way. But perhaps the reason finite earth-life helps us develop is because even finite actuality is better than infinite potential. Instead of living "up there" where we can see everything but participate in none of it, we give up our transcendent perspective to get into the thick of things, to make a difference, even if it's only in a small way.

Binge watching

But there's another aspect of Netflix: binge watching. In a way that would have been impractical for earlier generations, we can now watch episodes of TV shows for hours on end, maybe even finishing a whole season in a day or two. Binge watching has become so commonplace that everyone knows what it means; if it were just one word, the dictionary could have added it by now. Binge watching seems impractical, though. It's not immediately clear why I keep watching episode after episode for hours, even though I know I need sleep for work the next morning? What brings about this lack of self-control?

While a big part of binge watching has to do with cliffhangers and finding out "what happens next," that explanation doesn't get to all of it. I've seen people regularly binge watch story-of-the-week sitcoms, after all. I'd actually argue that we binge watch because the relation between past and future is uneasy for us. When I watch the beginning episodes of a TV show I like, I feel captivated by it. There's an aspect of that show that touches me, excites me, or makes me laugh, and suddenly I think "I want more of that." But I can't just watch that episode again; I know what happens, and re-watching it wouldn't even compare to how new and exciting it struck me when I watched it for the first time. So I watch another episode in hopes that it will give me the same feelings.

Apart from cliffhangers and such, binge watching is really about trying to find old joy dressed in new clothes. I want the same feelings of laughter, excitement, or tenderness to come again, but I want the episode I watch to be just different enough that I can see those feelings anew. I want the same emotional substance with a different form; I want the soul of the experience reincarnated in a new body. But of course this doesn't always happen. A TV show like Heroes, one with a captivating first season that subsequently became lackluster, disappoints me when I try to recapture the excitement I had before. Sadly, the emotional heart of the experience is gone, and I've run out of episodic "bodies" in which it can show itself to me.

Binge watching is therefore a tragedy--whether the TV show ends with a bang or a whimper, it will eventually end, and so the feelings I gleaned from it will eventually disappear, maybe never to return. However, there is at least one way the feeling can come back: re-watching the TV show with a friend who hasn't seen it yet. By watching it with her, I can vicariously relive the joy I experienced when I first watched it, "seeing" that joy through her eyes. This also has a profound corollary in "real life": as poets and songwriters have explained, having a child is one of the ways I can relive childhood anew.

Anyway, that's it for this post. Happy binge watching!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Archetypes in General Conference

I realized something as I began watching last weekend's General Conference: the twelve apostles are basically a pantheon of gods. By that I don't mean that they're perfect or infallible, not at all. But I'm actually not referring to their divinely sanctioned roles, either. Instead, I think that the twelve apostles are so many different facets of a "prism" that God's light shines through, with each one refracting that light just a little bit differently. In that way, they're like the twelve Greek gods: representations of divinity shining through into the many ways we live our lives.

The divine variety in the twelve apostles

Take Dieter F. Uchtdorf, for instance. He's probably the funniest general authority alive today, as he generally gets the audience to laugh at least once in every talk he gives. He also has a knack for explaining deep metaphysical truths in simple language that even children can understand. In these ways, President Uchtdorf reminds me of the archetypal old man who--though unassuming and a apparently foolish--is wiser than all of us. Socrates and Gaston Bachelard (who Foucault once said had the panache of a chess master who sneakily checkmates his opponent only using pawns) are other examples of this archetype.

And who could be more different from Uchtdorf than Dallin H. Oaks? Elder Oaks gives off a stern, no-nonsense countenance, perhaps reflecting his past as a judge, and I don't remember him ever giving a joke in a conference talk. If Uchtdorf is the archetypal Divine Fool, Oaks incarnates the archetype of order itself, bringing the stark lines and organization of eternity into clearer focus.

And Jeffrey R. Holland is different from either of these two. I realized over the weekend that nobody gets closer to the voice of God in the scriptures (especially the Doctrine and Covenants) than Holland; he combines fervor, intelligence, and emotion in ways that reflect heaven's depth more than any other apostle. In a way, his voice also reminds me of the voice of Allah in the Qur'an--a fiery passion that contains beauty, love, and soul. In fact, Jeffrey R. Holland might do more than most apostles to unite "spirit" and "soul"--he doesn't idealize the life of the spirit to where ascension seems easy and direct. Whether in terms of depression, poverty, or the difficulties of same-sex attraction in the Church, he brings out the "lows" of Church life in full relief, never denying that those lows exist. And yet he shows us that these lows too are divine, in a way that President Uchtdorf perhaps never could.

Each of these "styles" are different ways that the plenitude of God's light can incarnate in flesh. God doesn't just show up in one way; He shows up in many ways, each fit to a different type of person. See Him now in President Nelson's heart surgeon garb, now in the residual open-mindedness of Henry B. Eyring, the son of a scientist. They are all windows to divinity, ways by which the divine itself can show itself to us in its diversity.

The apostles as the Senex or "Wise Old Man"

And yet there is another way in which all the apostles embody a single archetype: the "Senex" or Wise Old Man of Jungian psychology. The Senex exists in a complementary dichotomy with the "Puer Aeternus" or "Eternal Child," and so where the Puer shakes things up with new ideas and irruptions from the timeless, the Senex represents the corresponding principle of order, limitation, and temporality. If the Puer is Eternal Youth, the Senex is Father Time. If the Puer questions established truths to "let in the new," the Senex embodies certainty as to that truth. So when an apostle seems stodgy and resistant to change, let's not see that as a bad thing--they're just incarnating the virtues of Senex. In its oft-noted entitlement and its incessant focus on idealistic politics, the rising generation is on Puer "overload," so to speak. We see the eternal ideal, but we don't recognize the value of time-proven truth and established certainties. In our millennial narcissism, we feel ourselves to be primordially perfect, never acknowledging our limitations or our tendency toward weakness. The Senex as embodied in the Apostles reminds us of this certainty. While the idealistic youth might protest the apparently embittered attitude of a Boyd K. Packer or a Dallin H. Oaks, that reminder of our limitation might be the only thing keeping us from, like Icarus, flying too close to the sun in adolescent idealism.

And yet neither Puer nor Senex are complete in themselves. They both need each other, and neither is completely itself without the other. And as James Hillman points out, the union of Senex and Puer, Time and Eternity, Father and Son, etc. can only come with the feminine element as a mediating "third." From this perspective, how glad we should be that the general authorities are increasingly valuing women, motherhood, and other faces of "the feminine!" Whether Russell M. Nelson extolling the succoring power of women or Jeffrey R. Holland explicitly comparing Christ to a mother (!), this attention to the feminine indicates the appearance of an archetype that can heal the split between old and new. The feminine in its own subtle strength can give the Church the perspective it needs--as I pointed out inmy post analyzing the Peter Pan story, the feminine is the bridge between "grown up" and "child," able to contain without being crustily self-enclosed like the negative Senex, to give without being manic like the negative Puer. And as Luce Irigaray said, woman is "the sex which is not one," able to hold the tesnion of opposites together without reducing one to the other.

So if I see any way forward in the Church, it's toward the feminine as a mediator between the old and the new. This doesn't mean elevating women to the apostleship, since that would just be the effect of a perspective that confuses the different authorities of Senex and the feminine. Instead, I can see women progressively taking up the heart of the church, more as the sustaining center than the controlling "top." The feminine is a subtle strengh, which, though hard to see, is far more powerful than anything masculine strength can do. Masculine strength is apparent and thus unsustainable; feminine strength is hidden and long-lasting. Perhaps the best way to explain this principle comes from the Tao Te Ching, which recognizes this feminine strength very well. Here are a few quotes that show what I mean:
"The Valley Spirit never dies.
It is called the Mysterious Female.

The entrance to the Mysterious Female
Is called the root of Heaven and Earth,
Endless flow
Of inexhaustible energy."
"Know the male, maintain the female,
Become the channel of the world..."
"The world has a source: the world's mother.
Once you have the mother,
You know the children.
Once you know the children,
Return to the mother..."
"...The female constantly overcomes the male,
In stillness
Takes the low place."
There you go! I think I'm going to write at least one more General Conference post, but don't hold me to it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How Reincarnation and an Afterlife could both be True

I'm going to be honest: part of me really hopes I get to be reincarnated someday. Not only does it lessen the anxiety of having only one life to prove myself, but it also means I get to look at the world from a new perspective. Essentially, then, reincarnation would mean that I'm not only me: I'm all sorts of lives from all over time and space. But of course, most think reincarnation would mean that my personality here on earth, as it is now, will eventually vanish to morph into somebody else. If reincarnation is true, tough luck if you want to talk to Abraham Lincoln after you're dead: right now he's just a used car salesman in Seattle with no idea of his former life.

That's what most people think. However, I think I've figured out a way that reincarnation and the idea of an afterlife could both be true at once. And this possibility rests on the answer a simple question: if I reincarnate, what is reincarnating? It's a given that my physical body is going to become dust one day, and there's no getting around it. But I am not that body, since both reincarnation and western religion assume that some spiritual identity survives death. But what if my spiritual identity--that is, my personality as "Christian Swenson," who all my friends and family know and love--has something even "higher" and "realer" living within it? What if that identity is actually more like a mask than a being in itself, meaning that whatever "puts it on" can go on to live other lives?

If this is true, whoever wore that mask wouldn't be "me"--by definition, I am my identity, my sense of being the person I've grown up to be. Rather, that underlying figure would be who is "living me,"the animating presence acting out my life like an actor acts out a role. And who's to say that there aren't multiple such "actors" living out my life? What if I'm complex marionette that needs multiple operators to get it to function right? In that case, my underlying "being" would come from multiple places, multiple centers of activity.

I'm going to take a leap and call these hypothetical actors "archetypes." They would be the living presences acting out my life, and I would be the way they come into actuality. Examples of these archetypes are manifold: the son, the daughter, the mentor, the friend, the jokester, the annoying neighbor, or even the man and the woman. They interlock and interpenetrate, combining and recombining with each other in near-infinite combinations.

So if this is true, the archetypes or combinations of archetypes "living me" could very well come to earth again to "reincarnate." The animating presence behind my life could pick up another body after I die, or even before I die. Heck, this would mean that I could even meet myself! But even if this is true, there's nothing to say that my personality as it is right now wouldn't exist in eternity. My life, my distinct way of living in the world as "me," will always be--its animating presence just goes on to live other lives, all without ever "leaving" me. And who's to say that I can't let in other archetypes into my being in that state? Swedenborg may have alluded to this when he said that angels in heaven often consensually let another angel "step inside" his or her identity, letting the first angel experience "what it's like to be" him or her. And of course it's only temporary--they part as easily as they came together, only enriched by the experience.

Anyway, this was some fun brainstorming. Don't take any of it too literally, though--thoughts like these are best kept loose and malleable. And if you're curious about these, check out Rudolf Steiner's works, where he says something like this. Carl Jung also hints at this possibility in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections.