(I’m posting this rather more quickly than I usually do simply because it’s already written, and because Part Two should have some relationship to Part One. Enjoy. I hope!)
I believe the Higher Self has ways of guiding us onto the path we’re meant to travel, our destiny. If we (our egos) are too stubborn or too strong or too dense to figure that out, or if we try to do it all ourselves, or if we use the “deliberate unconsciousness” that Caroline Myss describes, the Higher Self must use whatever means necessary to nudge us in the right direction. If that nudge has the size and power of a 2×4, then that’s what it takes. We have no one to thank but our selves.
In other instances, though, the Higher Self may not resort to such forceful nudges. In some cases it may be that the ego is so spellbound by what appears to be the “real” world that it can’t be rescued by nudges or sharp pokes or even crashes. In these cases the ego will continue living but the élan in its life will be reduced or even eliminated as the self’s separation from the influence of its Self becomes nearly unbridgeable. It might even lead to an early demise from workaholism or some other similar “ism” or a physical illness. I came very close to this in my own experience.
Instances of people who appear to have it made and yet who seem puzzlingly dissatisfied are legion. Of course, it doesn’t do to judge such situations because, while we may see someone who appears unhappy in spite of all their accumulated stuff, their dissatisfaction may really be the nudge that moves them along. There’s no way to know the movings of spirit in the lives of others; we can only know our own experiences. Those experiences can change our point of view and allow us to step back and notice how others are experiencing their nudges from their Self. We can quit judging and just notice.
The mazes we might wander in our search could have dead ends throughout their twisting paths but there is a way out, though not all will find it. The path of the labyrinth, however, while it might seem to similarly wander aimlessly like the maze, actually has as its sole purpose to guide us inward to the center, our own interior, where dwells the Self. It then leads us back out again with the knowledge and wisdom we’ve gained from that meeting, now a more integrated being.
Just because the ego hesitates or resists doesn’t mean that the Higher Self gives up. I think my own experience shows that. Campbell says, “Not all who hesitate are lost;” similarly, J. R. R. Tolkien says in Lord of the Rings, “Not all who wander are lost.” The Higher Self may harass and niggle and provide all sorts of impassable barricades in our egoic life as well as use other implements to ensure that the ego is guided, even if unknowingly, into the necessary byways of the labyrinth.
Recall the instance of Jonah in the Bible. He was told to preach and prophesy to the city of Nineveh that it must give up its evil ways or be destroyed. In his effort to avoid this spiritual mission he attempted to run away by boarding a ship to a place as far away as it was possible to get from his homeland or, in Jonah’s case, his mission.
However, he was not able to avoid his fate. His life was struck by turbulence in the form of a storm at sea (symbolic of the chaos of the watery unconscious?) and the terrified sailors threw him overboard in an effort to appease the unruly waters. It apparently worked and the storm abated but a giant fish or whale swallowed Jonah.
Now this was indeed a very deep and dark world! Jonah’s prayer suggests the dark depths when he says, “…from the midst of the nether world I cried for help.” He goes on, “The waters swirled about me, threatening my life; the abyss enveloped me…. Down I went to the roots of the mountains; the bars of the nether world were closing behind me forever.” With this description we can see echoes of similarity between Jonah’s journey and the descent of Inanna where the depths of the underworld were guarded by gates she had to squeeze through to get in and then she was unable to get out through them again on her own.
Jonah’s prayer was heard and the fish spat him out. Jonah said, in essence, “I can’t do this any more!” He’d had to face his dark world and acknowledge it. Yet did he really learn from his experience or was he simply coerced by it? Let’s see.
Jonah was given a second chance to fulfill his mission and this time, preaching and prophesying as he was bidden, he was successful. The people of Nineveh, a city that in his self-righteousness he would have preferred to see destroyed for its sinful decadence, listened to him. The people changed their ways, and the city was saved from destruction.
Then Jonah got angry about that. He hadn’t wanted this mission in the first place and now, after being pressured into doing it, and after preaching that Nineveh would be destroyed, it wasn’t, because the residents had heeded his prophecy and changed their ways. That really burned him up! Especially because, in some ways, it made him look like a fool. Firstly, he’d preached destruction that then didn’t happen, and secondly, because the people who’d listened to him weren’t even Hebrews and he truly hadn’t wanted to save them because of that.
He obviously didn’t understand the big picture even yet. Now is it apparent how much of his ego was involved in this mission? If he couldn’t avoid it and just had to do it, then he wanted to be in charge of the results, to have it to go off according to his desires and plans. Is this much different than how our egos might feel after having had some scrapes with our own interior depths and come out of them feeling fortunate and maybe a bit cocky because we hadn’t been trapped down there with that “stuff?” Our egos would probably take a lot of credit for that.
The story ends with Jonah being reproved by God for his anger over something that was really none of his business. He’d been given a job to do and he was not to concern himself with the outcome. Similarly in our own lives, the ego can resist and yet still accomplish the work of spirit even while not having a complete understanding of the entire process.
At any rate, Jonah didn’t seem to learn much and he certainly didn’t have a very good time because of his resistance to his mission. Just think what a great adventure he could have related if he’d had a different outlook on the whole thing. After all, how many people can survive a storm at sea and be swallowed by a whale and live to tell about it?
While his ego’s attitude didn’t prevent him from ultimately achieving his mission it did make a big difference in his experience of it. As Seneca aptly and humorously reminds us, "The fates [or God or Higher Self] lead him who will – him who won’t, they drag." Much better to learn to go with the flow than to ignore the Call and end up doing it the hard way, being dragged kicking and scratching and maybe screaming all the way.
Now, there is another way for the ego to answer the Call or, rather, to not answer the Call and yet to accomplish its mission. Campbell calls it “willful introversion.” It’s sort of the opposite of Myss’s “deliberate unconsciousness.” The ego can make a choice, perhaps unconscious of what it means, but a deliberate choice all the same, to drive or push or in some way cause itself to enter into the psychic depths, to find out what Ereshkigal is in agony about, to seek something greater than the egoic self even if it’s not sure just what that might be.
Some egos attempt this union with a greater something by enrolling in the military or becoming an activist or joining a church or even a cult, etc. These methods all have the potential to lead to something worthy, something greater than even that group of which we’ve become a part. But too often they are only egoic ventures that proceed no further. The ego sort of accomplishes the mission without any real understanding of the purpose.
There are some who suggest using drugs to facilitate the willful introversion route, to rapidly open the ego to the contents of the unconscious but I believe that psychoactive substances, whether LSD or peyote or even alcohol or some other material, can be dangerous if not used with the proper spiritual training and purpose. Using these sorts of drugs simply for a recreational high is even more dangerous. The unconscious is very powerful and no matter how one is exposed, opening to it before one understands what can be called forth is playing with spiritual and psychological fire, not to mention physical pitfalls.
I believe that it’s safer to use a slower method that will enable one’s ego to become gradually strengthened and psychologically acclimatized so as to not be overwhelmed by the experiences. Forms of intensive meditation as well as measures like depth psychology, active imagination, dream incubation and interpretation, etc, can also accomplish this purposeful entry of the ego into the depths. Even these activities can be potentially dangerous or at least uncomfortable for the unprepared or weak ego, though, so they should be undertaken with proper guidance and training.
Campbell discusses the dangers when he states, “[Willful introversion] cannot be described, quite, as an answer to any specific call. Rather, it is a deliberate, terrific refusal to respond to anything but the deepest, highest, richest answer to the as yet unknown demand of some waiting void within…” He goes on, “The result, of course, may be a disintegration of consciousness more or less complete…but on the other hand if the personality [ego] is able to absorb and integrate the new forces there will be an almost superhuman degree of self-consciousness and masterful control.” One more intimation that a flimsy or weak ego can be at risk even if the potential rewards can be great.
This method of willful introversion is not one that’s often undertaken in our culture but it’s the way of certain styles of yoga and some types of meditation. It’s also similar to the process used by some artists for many kinds of creative endeavor from painting and sculpture to writing and dance expression. It’s no accident that great creativity and madness are so often linked in common lore. What happens is that the ego makes a conscious decision to attempt to enter the depths and to train itself to work with the energies that arise from those depths even if they might be uncomfortable or frightening. It then attempts to direct and construct those unconscious energies into expressions in the conscious world.
Those who undertake this route are sometimes described as neurotic but, like depression, neurosis can actually be a constructive state. Neurosis is simply a psychological sense that the ego/self and the Self are not in complete harmony. This sense of disjointedness, this neurosis, is often what propels the ego to enter upon this difficult path. The pain of staying disconnected, wrapped up in its tight little bud, is worse than the fear of what it may find in its own depths. With the ego’s conscious choice and deliberate willingness to undergo this discomfort, the disharmony can be eliminated.
It’s not easy and it may take quite some time. The trick is to not get stuck at the neurotic stage but to be willing to bear the discomfort as the ego is transformed into one that is in harmony with and thus useful to the Self.
Willful introversion aside, if the ego refuses to respond to the Call and invests more and more of its energy in accumulating “stuff” for a specific lifestyle, it has less energy to commit toward the opportunity to grow into a partnership with the Self. In one way or the other, then, the ego has crippled itself by refusing to partake in the adventure available to it.
Of course, from the egoic viewpoint, if it can even understand or think about it at all, it thinks it’s saved itself from a great deal of discomfort at least and from death at best, and it expects to always get home in time for dinner. Thus, we sometimes see people who may have very comfortable physical lives but who seem to feel empty and lost. A bud rotting on the stem is not the way to exist in comfort and/or to keep death at bay.
It may take the ego some time to realize this. Perhaps it never will get the message. One way to avoid this dismal end is to teach our children, through myth or religion or initiatory rites or even fairy tales or movies, that there is a Call that we can expect to receive at some point in our lives, what this Call signifies and what it might entail, and what symptoms and emotions might be involved.
If we don’t refuse it or overlook it, if we are taught that it’s a normal part of life, we can make our passage an exciting adventure instead of a miserable experience.
If we’re not afraid to heed the Call we needn’t look for ways to avoid it.