Literalisms are resistance – ideas are resistance, concepts are resistance, thoughts are resistance, methods and plans are resistance, beliefs and theories are resistance, words are resistance. All the products (or tactics) of our everyday, grasping mind are resistance…
But resistance to what? The simplest answer to this question is perhaps to say “resistance to what is”. The next question that comes along, hot on the heels of the first one, is of course “Yes, but what exactly is it that mysterious-sounding ‘what is’?” Come to the point, in other words. Quit beating around the bush. Spill the beans. What is it that we are supposed to be resisting?
The glitch here is obvious – if concepts and ideas and theories and words are resistance to ‘what is’, and I want to know what this ‘what is’ is in terms of concepts and ideas and so on, then I am simply going around in circles.
I say I want to know what this ‘what is’ means but actually I don’t at all; actually I am resisting ‘knowing what is’, but I am cleverly disguising this resistance as ‘wanting to know’, as ‘open-mindedness’…
With such infernal cleverness it is no wonder that I never get anywhere. And I don’t get anywhere – I simply go round in circles the whole time, swapping one type of resistance for another, exchanging one rigid posture for another, replacing one fixed stance with another.
Putting it like this gives us a big clue as to what it is that I am resisting the whole time – I am resisting flow, I am resisting change.
So we can say that this ‘what is’ is precisely that which lies outside of our literalisms, outside of our concepts and ideas and theories and beliefs and words. Wherever the concept is, the idea is, the word is, the reality isn’t. Wherever I think it is, it isn’t. Whatever I think it is, it isn’t. I’m missing the point big-time. I’m in the wrong ball park entirely.
This is an ancient idea, for all that it might seem strange or unfamiliar to us. The alchemists spoke of this essential elusiveness as being a property of Mercurius, who is the key figure in alchemy. Mercurius has the qualities of being wet or moist, watery or fluid, both feminine and masculine, volatile like the air, but – as Jung says in Volume 13 of the Collected Works, Alchemical Studies (Par 62), ‘finer than mere air’. Mercurius, according to ancient passages reproduced by Jung, represents the ‘subtle body’ or ‘breath-soul’– he is an aerial spirit, and yet more than a spirit. He is also the guide (or psychopomp) to the aspiring alchemist on his extraordinarily arduous and confusing journey; Mercurius is the lumen natura, the ‘light of nature’, the ‘source of mystical knowledge’.
Jung quotes from the alchemical compendium known as Musaeum Hermeticum –
He is the spirit of the Lord which fills the whole world and in the beginning swam upon the waters. They also call him the spirit of Truth, which is hidden from the world.
Mercurius is a later form of the ancient Egyptian deity Thoth, generally said to be god of knowledge, mathematics, magic, secrets and writing. Thoth ‘makes the souls to breathe’ [Jung. CW 13. Par 261]. As Hermes (later to be known as Mercury) he was a wind god, the ‘winged messenger’, the god of magicians and revelation. According to the Wikipedia entry –
Hermes was a god of transitions and boundaries. He was quick and cunning, and moved freely between the worlds of the mortal and divine, as emissary and messenger of the gods, intercessor between mortals and the divine, and conductor of souls into the afterlife. He was protector and patron of travellers, herdsmen, thieves,orators and wit, literature and poets, athletics and sports, invention and trade. In some myths he is a trickster, and outwits other gods for his own satisfaction or the sake of humankind.
These days, mercury is either the silvery, free-running metallic element (atomic number 80), or it is the inner planet, nearest to the sun, fastest of orbit, whose ‘year’ is 176 terrestrial days. Thus, even in our prosaic modern representation of the original Mercury we still see his essential nature – fleetness of foot, ‘uncontainability’, the power to avoid being held still in the one spot, the ability to avoid being detained, incarcerated, rendered immobile and as a result, being made knowable. Thus, even in these overly-rational times, Mercury is still visible as the principle of motion, the principle of flux.
One amongst very many other ways of speaking of Mercurius that the alchemists had was to refer to him as cervus fugitivus, the ‘fugitive stag’ who always (and effortlessly) eludes his pursuers. This elusiveness is his most ‘annoying’ characteristic – wherever we look for him, he isn’t. Whenever we think we’ve got finally him, he’s already long gone. Wherever our clever trap closes shut, he’s somewhere else.
The alchemists – the Hermetic Scientists, the Sons of Hermes – knew this well a thousand years ago and yet we in the twenty-first century, for all our self-proclaimed cleverness, haven’t the remotest understanding of the principle. [One notable exception to this general ignorance about the limits of our ability to obtain positive knowledge about the world is found in Werner Heisenberg’s famous ‘uncertainty principle’, which roughly states that the more one knows about (or is able to measure) one aspect of an atomic particle, the less we are able to know about (or measure) the complementary aspect.]
We have invented all sorts of sophisticated traps, all sorts of complicated intellectual nooses with which we hope to catch hold of the truth, and of which we are inordinately proud. We are so proud, in fact, that in our foolishness we have confused our convoluted intellectual devices and descriptions for the truth itself. But we know nothing. We have nothing in our traps, for the one we seek to trap is the supreme, all-time master of escapology. None can outrun him. The faster we chase him the faster he runs away, since his ‘running away’ is actually a function of our chasing…
We are no better off for all our sophistication than the dullest, most unimaginative fool who ever walked the earth – in fact we are worse off than him by far because we have so very much invested in the collective notion of our great cleverness. At least an ordinary fool (who is not encumbered by degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs and professorships and whatever else nonsense) may more readily admit to his foolishness…
But what are we trying to do with all our supposed cleverness? What are we at? What is our game? Why do we resist? Why do we have to strategize so much?
These questions are not hard to answer. There is a secret gain in resistance, and that secret gain is the self, that sense of ‘me’ lurking there at the centre of things, like some kind of mysterious jack-in-the-box. The reified self is what we gain as a result of resistance, as a result of thinking and talking and conceptualizing and planning and intending and strategizing, and so on. Resistance creates and maintains the self, and without resistance there is no self at all.
This sort of assertion doesn’t generally make any sense to us at all. It sounds – at best – like an obscure philosophical riddle: If I stand in the middle of a forest, quietly, without resisting anything, without in any way ‘conceptually processing’ my experience, am I still there? This tends to sound like a dumb question – I know very well that I am going to carry on being there no matter what I think or don’t think. My body is going to carry on being there (unless it gets crushed by a falling tree!) and so this means that I am still there. I am always there, until I die…
What eludes me in this chain of reasoning is however the undeniable fact that my body is in no way separate (or disconnected) from the rest of the universe. I just think of it as being separate, as being distinct, just for convenience. In other words, it is my analyzing and classifying mental processes that put me in a special conceptual box, a special conceptual box that is indeed separate or distinct from all other conceptual boxes. But if I stop with the conceptual processing – which it will be remembered is the primary stipulation of the exercise – then I am of course no longer going to experience myself as being in any sort of a special mental or conceptual box.This is the principle of annatta, or ‘selflessness’.
When I stop conceptually processing my experience, then I cease to be a separate or disconnected self, and all that remains (once this habitual illusion has been subtracted) is the unbroken and unbreakable Totality of Everything. And in this unbroken Whole there is no self, no ‘me’, because the self or ‘me’ is [by definition!] a break in the Whole…
It is therefore the ‘resisting’ of the Whole that creates the illusion of the reified and separate self.
This insight – if we were to allow it as such – turns everything on its head. It puts a different complexion on things entirely. What it essentially means is that we are just not honest with ourselves; it means that we have a secret agenda that we’re just not admitting to ourselves, a secret agenda to slant absolutely everything to our own advantage. We can explain this as follows –
The overt aim in resistance (which we don’t call resistance) is to construct a world-view; the covert aim in resistance however is to construct the self that has the world-view.
When we say to ourselves that we want to gain knowledge about the world this is simply not true – what we really want is some form or variant or ‘tame analogue’ of knowledge that props up our idea of who we are, that props up the idea of the self as a separate, independently existent sort of a thing. This is of course not a conscious intention but simply the automatic consequence of starting off from the basis that we do start off from, which is the basis of our thinking.
Rational thinking always confirms its own premise, it always agrees with its own underlying assumptions – this is the way in which it functions, the only way it can function. Because thinking necessarily assumes the existence of absolute boundaries, it also necessarily assumes the existence of an abstract (or extrinsic) self.
The inversion of values means therefore that when we say our aim is to ‘know the truth’, what we are really after is whatever ‘sort of truth’ we can find that will enable us to create and continuously validate (i.e. maintain) the idea of the self. We want our own truth – we want the truth to be on our side. We want ‘the type of truth that suits us’, in other words.
The separate (or reified) self does not actually have any existence of its own (obviously so, or we would not need to manipulate things in order to create the impression that it does) and yet – very curiously – it is the conditioned viewpoint that is ‘the reified self’ that gives rise to the need or urge to be forever validating or proving its own existence.
In other words, once the ball starts rolling in the first place, then it has no choice other than to carry on…
The point of resistance is to create the self. Our allegiance is exclusively to the self therefore (or to the rule-based mind, which comes down to the same thing) and yet that self, that mind, is something that doesn’t actually have any existence of its own. To paraphrase Wei Wu Wei (1963) from Ask The Awakened –
All I care about is the self, and there isn’t one…
Thus, the nullity furthers the aims of the nullity, but this is all ‘wasted effort’ since in reality there is no one there to benefit.
Image – Mercurius_by_Giambologna_casting_in_Pushkin_museum_by_shakko_03