This is a piece I worked on a couple of years back and never got to my satisfaction. Since a comment at the last post reminded me of it, and since I was wondering what to post at the blog while I work the larger Autism project, I’m going to post this in installments, at least as long as it seems coherent and in line with my current thinking.
The Wound of Birth
“Eyes Wide Shut is a film which has an incredibly precise lesson about fantasy. [Nicole Kidman’s character] tells [her husband] not about herself effectively cheating him, but about fantasizing about cheating him . . . the entire film is his desperate attempt to catch up with her fantasy, which ends in a failure. Many people … complain this orgy is aseptic, totally non-attractive, without erotic tension; but I think that’s the point, this utter impotence of male fantasizing. The film is the story of how the male fantasy cannot catch up with the feminine fantasy, of how there is too much of desire in the feminine fantasy, and how this is the threat to male identity.”
—Slavoj Zizek, The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema
Cowboy and Fool
The nature of the Universe is feminine. Space, the emptiness of mere being, equates with the yin principle of existence. This is juxtaposed with the masculine energy of doing, will, the explosion of light that is the stars that shine in space and yet are powerless to ever fill that emptiness.
Another way of looking at this basic polarity of consciousness is that of focused and unfocused awareness. These two modalities of human consciousness I have termed “the cowboy and the fool.” The fool refers to the character in the Tarot deck, the number of which is 0 or zero, the Unmanifest. The characteristics of the Fool card are innocence, spontaneity, irrationality, an absence of differentiation (in the card, the Fool steps over the abyss not so much unwittingly, but indifferently, like a character in a cartoon who can defy gravity so long as he does not believe in it.)
The cowboy (which can be linked to the next card in the Arcana series, the Magician), is all about aim. The cowboy zeroes in on his target, draws and fires. This is focused awareness, directed towards one particular element, whether inner or outer, as the means to attain one’s goal. The most basic goal of consciousnesses, once it becomes anchored in an individual physical identity, is that of survival. Unfocused awareness is not concerned with survival, only with perception, direct experience of its environment regardless of any threat which that may pose, like the child that sticks its fingers in the fire. These are the “baby eyes” with which all of us were born, eyes that take in everything with equal wonder, that stay completely open to whatever enters their field of perception. This is pure consciousness moving through the dark sea of awareness without any need for the reference point of “ego identity.” It is moving through the energetic field of existence, not to get anything from it but merely as a witness to it.
Submersion in that great sea of unfocused awareness is a state we have all experienced as human beings. It is in fact our original experience, that of the womb and of the world as it appears to us immediately after being born (though the traumatic nature of modern birth experience undoubtedly compromises our innocence right away). Our primary experience, then, is of unfocused awareness, yin, the feminine. Surrender, oneness, nothingness, is our natural state of being, as individuals as well as a species. We are human beings before we are human doings.
When a child is born it remains within the psychic womb of the mother for a period of time. As fetuses safe in the comfort of the womb, we haven’t developed an ego identity, have not even needed to consider such a possibility. Only when we are born do we have our first, rudimentary experience of separateness. It then takes several years for consciousness to develop an identity equivalent to our physical identity, namely, one entirely separate from our environment, and eventually, at odds with it.
The Defense System of the Conditioned Self
When a baby is born, it is connected by the umbilical chord to its mother. This allows it to continue breathing with and through the mother’s body. It is connected in the most literal and complete fashion. There is then a transition period, potentially, by which we can adjust from one environment, that of water, to another, that of air. This is the evolutionary sequence of all mammalian life. It is a total change of environment, from one element to another.
Traditionally, the element of water is considered feminine (mer, the ocean, and mere, mother); that of air is equated with the masculine. Birth itself is the first stage of the individuation process by which mere being—by definition undifferentiated—evolves into a collection of doings, i.e., individuality. In modern birth, when the umbilical chord is cut, this forces the infant to breathe through its lungs, often before having time to clear out the mucus. This is the given reason for the practice of striking the infant on the backside, forcing it to breathe regardless of its discomfort by inflicting an even greater discomfort upon it. (Joseph Chilton Pearce has suggested that this blow to the backside may be one of the undisclosed causes of crib death, due to spinal damage.)
The purpose of the umbilical chord, however, is not only to keep the fetus alive in the womb, but to allow for a softer, smoother transitional period after birth. It permits the infant to breathe while its lungs have time to clear, after which the chord can be cut, or chewed off by the mother, or even allowed to fall away naturally over time. When infant children are denied this “luxury”—that of a smoother and relatively stress-free transition from total connectedness to separate physical existence—the results are severe. The infant’s first experience of the new air-realm (that of masculinity) and of the necessity of doing is one of physical pain and emotional distress. Unfocused awareness finds its initial focus to be on some form of threat. This is the inception of predatorial consciousness. To a degree, predatorial consciousness is necessary to the infant’s survival; but when the environment is preternaturally hostile, out of whack with anything that our nervous system was designed to expect, the excessive closing of awareness that occurs becomes detrimental to survival. This is the biological basis for the well-documented occurrence of psychological dissociation in response to trauma.
The transitional period of birth might also be extended to the first couple of years in the life of the infant, during which the child is not physically but psychically “enwombed” with the mother. This is the overlap between entanglement and enmeshment—taking the term “entanglement” not from psychology but from the language of quantum physics. In this sense of the word, there is complete entanglement between mother and child when the child is born. For nine months they are one, and then, like the atom splitting, suddenly they become two. As the child begins to experience the hostility of its environment through a series of mini-traumas caused by unmet needs (needs that hence become desperate wants), the child’s identity is slowly formed. This is the constructed identity or conditioned self, and since it is put together by a process of adverse reactions to a largely unsatisfactory, not to say threatening, environment, the constructed identity is essentially a system of defenses.
The defense system of the conditioned self is meant to be a temporary construction to allow the child to grow into adulthood while being protected from psychic harm by its environment, like a chrysalis that allows the transmutation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. But, since the degree of hostility, disharmony, and distortion in the modern environment is so extreme, the way the defense system is established prevents a natural falling away from occurring. The defense system of the conditioned self no longer merely defends the forming awareness from its environment—it also defends itself from ever being dismantled. This prevents the deeper awareness of one’s authentic, soul self from coming into full form.
So it is that the guardian that protects the psyche from harm becomes the prison guard that prevents the soul from becoming embodied.