Sunday, June 28, 2009

Shocking Nature

"Inability to accept the mystic experience is more than an intellectual handicap. The lack of awareness of the basic unity of organism and environment is a serious and dangerous hallucination." Alan Watts

How we respond to real life shocks often determines the degree our experience turns negative or positive, painful or joyous, destructive or creative, good or bad. Is it possible that shocks are neither bad nor good by nature, but neutral? To assume that shocks are not neutral but always negative or positive suggests that the universe is either out to get us and burn us - the negatively inflated paranoid bias - or that the universe is out to bless us - the positively inflated messianic bias. Both biases express self-delusion. If we value a choice-centered life of increasing autonomy and self-responsibility, how we respond to shock may have more lasting value than any initial shock itself. Here, responsibility is revisioned as our response-ability, our ability to respond.

Shocks are only "shocking" to the degree of our naïveté around the objective truths of ecstacy, uncertainty, indivisibility and impermanence. Ecstasy expresses our most natural state of being when unburdened by over-identification with the anxiety, guilt and suffering resulting from unsolved survival problems. Uncertainty refers to the truly unpredictable nature of life, of not knowing what will happen next, as a liberating and highly creative state. Indivisibility expresses the dissolution of arbitrary divisions revealing the basic unity of all life forms. Impermanence means all things pass; everything once alive eventually dies.

Real life shocks can happen anywhere, anytime and to anybody; nobody is exempt. Examples: sudden housing eviction, getting fired from work, marriage, divorce, childbirth, parenthood, loss of loved ones, natural disasters, sudden kundalini activations, death of parents, death of children, falling in love, unexpected financial windfalls, terrorist attacks, any move of residence, police arrest, incarceration, big employment promotions, social betrayals, family disintegrations, automobile accidents, hospitalization, surgery, spiritual epiphanies, cardiac arrests, strokes, epistemological crisis, heroic doses of magic mushrooms; the list goes on and on and on...

Shocks act as turning points for Self-initiation, of engaging the separatist ego in a confrontation with the archetype of the Self. And, as Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung suggests, "The experience of the Self is almost always a defeat for the ego." As more outside shocks are absorbed and integrated, we become initiated as human shock absorbers transmitting initiatic shock to others. We become as initiates, men and women of power; if that is what we want. Some of us undergo this Self-initiation process instinctively without any conscious plan or knowledge, while others approach it on purpose; either way, when outside shocks are absorbed and integrated, we are transformed by the transmission of their presence to the world.

Shocks come in basically two forms: inside and outside. Inside shocks are shocks we can administer ourselves. For example. By choosing to intentionally inconvenience ourselves amid daily activities, we can administer small shocks to our habitual routines by going against the grain of habit and altering the expected. Any way we are able to shock ourselves constitutes an "inside shock." However, there is only so much we can do by our own efforts alone. Armenian philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff called "outside shocks" those event arriving from any place beyond our personal control and comprehension.

Outside shocks tend to be far more effective in transforming and shaking things up than any self-created inside shock. Implementing inside shocks can, however, encourage enough flexibility to help us navigate and manage the greater forces of outside shocks when they arrive. Any state of shock naturally manifests some kind of an internal emergency state where, as a survival reflex, our senses open up to get more information. This escalation of awareness can also occur on small scales such as whenever we become emotionally upset, or lose our physical balance and fall, or are mentally thrown into bewilderment.

In these instances the ego wobbles as our awareness of uncertainty increases. We experience ourselves as more fluid, volatile and unstable. In this marginal state, we may be more open to taking on new directives and values. If the new direction takes and holds, it can be maintained with applied effort and a supportive environment. It can be strengthened by a series of challenges designed to test the integrity of our new patterns. In this way, the state of shock can initiate a creative state given the commitment and will of the individual.