It is such a struggle for human beings, and our collective humanity, on a personal, interpersonal and communal level to come upon and exercise what is true and real beneath the surface appearance of things. What you are reading is an attempt to address this struggle and to help or entice us to make greater effort in uncovering this sense of what is true and real in our interconnected universe.
Fresh off of reading Dr. Fred R. Gustafson’s (1997) Dancing Between Two Worlds: Jung and The Native American Soul and on the day of the solar eclipse where it was said that we had an opportunity to “consciously choose to shed … old patterns like a snake skin” … I headed off into the woods.
In this, now, one of my favorite books, Dr. Gustafson proclaims wonderfully that:
We have emerged with the rest of creation along an evolutionary path that is integral to the earth itself. For some reason there is a fear of these roots and of making our connection with the whole of creation. Our own inner Indigenous Ancestor has been pushed aside and all but forgotten …. not only have we lost a connect to our own indigenous roots, but alongside this there exists a profound sadness and longing for its return.
A key piece to stress here is that “we have emerged with the rest of creation”, meaning, every last one of us – as inheritors of this “evolutionary path” – have deep indigenous roots. This is important to stress because due to the history of colonialism/racism we have typically used the term indigenous to refer to the original inhabitants of colonized spaces. In using Carl Jung to support his claim, Gustafson quotes Jung as saying, “…every civilized human being, however high his/[her] conscious development, is still an archaic [wo]man at the deeper levels of his/[her] psyche” (p. 7).
This “indigenous” or “archaic” sense of ourselves that is in natural relationship to earth and the rest of creation is the truest sense and wonderment of who we are – underneath the rubbish that has been placed on/in us – and is what I am referring to as “the awe-thentic”. Let me portray how I got there and then its significance for our awkwardly modern humanity.
(bear with me … or … bare with me.)
It was a medicine walk at San Jaoquin Miller Park in the Oakland Hills. It was a simple query into what I needed to know at the moment in order to keep getting the most out of this awkward path through life that I am walking. I left some sunflower seeds for the squirrels, dumped a mouthful in my cheek, poured out some water for the surrounding beings, and crossed the threshold into discovery. It doesn’t take much but an intentional, open, mind.
The walk was beautiful as always. I imagine that so many other people don’t like the overgrowth that has seemingly come with county/city cutbacks. But, the wildness that grows every which way, unkempt, is educational. My open heart allowed my eyes to witness how everything within nature cooperates within space – and place – quite naturally. These giant redwoods don’t compete with the birds that fly onto its branches nor with the squirrels that jump from limb to limb. The earth in its stable, rooted, rotation doesn’t resist or beg for the stillness of the sun, it does what it does naturally, for the sake of the life that inhabits it. This ability to do naturally, unashamedly, effortlessly what life has designed is a life of authenticity. It is what is true and real beyond what we project onto its abundance. Further, this natural cooperative … or … this earth full of magic and wonder – interconnected with other planets, the moon, sun and entire cosmos – when witnessed with even a simple glance into its primordial depth has the simple capacity to leave one in awe. “The world around us is Awe-thentic”, I thought. It’s authenticity leaves me in awe.
Just as seeds bust out of the earth toward full bloom this thought began to bloom in my consciousness. “Everything in nature lives true to its origin, and cooperates with everything around it, except human beings.” As this thought began to take root, it was easy to notice the many ways in which our natural earth inheritance, embodied everyday with delightful unawareness, has been psychologically stripped from its roots. Yet, it remains to be true that when the human being is then stripped of those things that have been placed as barriers to what is true and real within … what is truly authentic in our nature … the depths of wonder that live there (here) will leave us in awe. With this understanding, the seed of imagination grew into, “How do we get to the awe-thentic within ourselves, our relationships and communities?”
At the end of this medicine walk, having been looking into this beautiful dynamic (and talking to myself like I do), I packed my pipe (tobacco – earth), set flame to it and started writing underneath a fabulous redwood grove.
This is nothing new. This need to shed the old pattern of beliefs, to become “absurdly nude” psychologically and sensually, is a depth psychological practice that has been talked about for ages. As the man-made climatic condition of the biosphere is threatening life on earth and human beings continue to outdo themselves with escalating levels of brutality toward one another, the need to free ourselves from limited belief systems, stories, ideas and information into a naked awe-thenticity that lives openly engaged with all of life is becoming an absolute emergency (IF we want to survive).
I wonder if you notice how much we are beat down psychologically. How the TV and the advertisers that fuel the networks love to tell us how bad we look. How we are wearing the wrong clothes, need to lose weight, need a nicer car, more money, better medication, etc. and so forth until we begin to internalize the lie that we are not good enough. There’s nothing wrong with the aforementioned things yet the weight of comparison cuts into the psyche doing damage that is hard to undo. Maybe we were born into poverty and everywhere we turned we got the message that we were the “lower class”. Maybe we were born black or brown in a Eurocentric worldview. Maybe we were born a female under male-dominated hegemony. Maybe we were born homosexual under ill heterosexist logic. Hell, maybe we inherited generations of trauma that manifests in odd ways and can’t bear to look into the darkness that lurks behind our smile. Maybe it was the trauma of last year, or 20 years ago that tugs at our thoughts, sending us back into memories and stories we would rather not revisit. These things and countless others have generated “complexes” in our psyche. Thus, we have a world of things that live within our conscious and unconscious mind that prevent us from witnessing the absolute beauty within that reflects the infinite, miraculous, beauty that created us. These barriers block the awe-thentic.
Under the weight of such psychological noise the notion of self-love becomes theoretical fluff. The idea that we can simply sit with adoration for all that we are seems silly when we constantly see a reflection of our limitations and imperfections. Yet, this ability to love oneself through the weird exhibition that plays out in our psyche is a compassion that heals.
This is partly a solo journey, but to take this love from the corners of our own self-approval into the interrelated web of personal relationships and community is just important – if not more necessary – for transformation. To allow ourselves to be loved through the dark shadows that live within and the ability to love others through the odd ways in which they express themselves and the ridiculous things they do helps us all get closer to the awe-thentic. This doesn’t mean that we don’t protest when it becomes necessary but that we acknowledge the imperfect perfection that is a flawed human being on planet earth as a reflection of the universe.
Now, this is not easy. For many people in the world this is not even an option. Many of us are so full of contempt for different types of people, or behaviors, or limitations that our judgements and expectations get in the way of our ability to simply behold the beauty of another (or ourselves). This movement to witness the awe-thentic requires a few psychological, or phenomenological maneuvers.
Phenomenology asks that we “bracket our natural mind” – our assumptions, beliefs, judgements, etc. – to allow the world before us to reveal itself to us in in its own way. Maurice Merleau-Ponty (2012) in his famous Phenomenology of Perceptions explains this by saying:
Because we are through and through related to the world, the only way for us to catch sight of ourselves is by suspending this movement, by refusing to be complicit with it … to put it out of play.
The world and the various things that come along with it is conditioned into our perception, thus the best way to get a clearer perception is to utilize the phenomenological reduction to “put it out of play”.
Jiddu Krishnamurti puts it like this:
If your mind is tethered to any conclusion, to any experience, to any form of knowledge or belief, it is not free; and such a mind cannot possibly perceive what is truth.
This type of abstract subjectivity that attempts to break through the obstructions of a clear vision of the truth of ourselves, others and the world around us is a difficult maneuver. For this reason I believe that confidants, comrades (if you like that word), are necessary to aid our will toward awe-thenticity. Transformative relationships and communal spaces can be a crucible in which our solidified rigidity can get alchemically transmuted into open explorations into what is unknown yet awe-thentic in and between us.
How about a couple of more fun ideas?
James Hillman (1975) in talking extensively and imaginatively on Archetypal Psychologizing describes this “method” as:
… looking at our frames of consciousness, the cages in which we sit and the iron bars that form the grids and defenses of our perception. By re-viewing, re-presenting and re-visioning where we already are, we discover the psyche speaking imaginably in what we had been taking for granted as literal and actual descriptions.
I’m just having fun now, but, this non-literalizing of the material of the psyche is an important psychological move. In our world of logic and rational thinking we have not been trained to look metaphorically or non-literally. We often take manifestations of psychological material quite literally never imagining what they would teach us if we re-imagined their presence metaphorically. This is important.
Lastly, because I like Ignacio Martin-Baro’s (1994) Liberation Psychology and his philosophy of “The People”, I will use his words to help close out this minor exploration. The hope is that we take this work from the personal, to the interpersonal to the community. I feel that Martin-Baro may have theorized about “The People” for this expressed purpose. Check it:
“the people” cannot be discussed as a static, fixed, finite entity. If anything has become clear, it is that what is deepest in the structural meaning of the people is its dynamic opening …. Its essence consists precisely in not allowing itself to be fixed in static categories …. it offers a conceptual base that can serve as a satisfactory platform for revolutionary work, giving the people a consciousness of their own identity, not as a simple fact but as a historical vocation.
This opening that leads us to a consciousness of our own identity is, for me, a consciousness of our awe-thenticity; that which is real and true within us and the world around us that inspires us to be in awe. Many people might call this decolonization. I’m not for buzz words. I understand the sentiment, yet, even if we were not a colonized people we would have to break through the ways in which static, rigid, traditions attempt to stifle the free expression of awe-thenticity.
Lastly (for real this time), Fred. R. Gustafson on Dancing Between Two Worlds:
Doing such a dance requires an appreciation of multiplicity. There is more than me or my way, my culture, my race, my religion, my political views, my interpretation of reality. Here we stand with the unknown, that which is “not me,” that which is outside of myself. Here we have a chance to yield to the bigness beyond ourselves and to the wonderful but significant smallness of our own being …. All too frequently there is the temptation to find answers, to break through the unknown, instead of letting ourselves stand the tension of unrevealed possibilities and be worked by what we do not know.
Enter into and become … awe-thentic … and help other do the same.
Fred R. Gustafson – Dancing Between Two Worlds.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty – Phenomenology of Perception (Donald A. Landes translation)
James Hillman – Re-Visioning Psychology
Ignacio Martin-Baro – Writings For a Liberation Psychology
(Fun not going all the way with APA formatting)