Crises of Transition - 8
How to deal with changes of level
The first change occurs when the newborn organism begins to participate, unconsciously though it may be, in a system of communications primarily aiming at biological survival, yet controlled by the specific behavior patterns of a culture and a particular family situation. Cries, gestures, and changes of facial expression are the original means of communication available to the baby reacting to ever-changing internal and external situations. As it is being trained as a biological organism within a somewhat rigid cultural system, the infant has to develop an ego in order to make the most of a confusing, yet (it soon realizes) repetitive series of situations to which he or she has to conform.
What begins at birth acquires an increasing complexity as the years pass. The child is being "encultured." The process is called education, yet it actually refers to a series of instructions. A set of expected correct reactions and a vast number of memorized data are "built in" (in-struc), producing an increasingly complex network of cellular interactions in the child's brain and nervous system. These interactions define the ego, the first manifestation of personhood. The function of the ego is to make the demands of the family and school environment as comfortable as possible to the biological organism. Furthermore it is to use the expectable reactions of family members, teachers, and playmates in a way which enhances the power and increases the possessions of a psychic entity asserting itself as "I," Peter or Jane. The ability to imitate patterns of behavior is the first requirement during this process of enculturation and ego-development. Imitation (or mimesis) results in organismic pleasure and in an increased acceptance by surrounding people. Memory and discrimination are needed effectively to deal with the situations being met. Important also is the ability to sense, feel, or intuitively realize what adults and even siblings and playmates will appreciate or resent. These qualities (memory, discrimination, and empathy or intuition) are not only needed in childhood; the process of instruction extends, or at least can extend, to the entire life-span. However, the process of individualization takes on a new quality whenever a factor introduced in the relation between the growing person and his or her family and culture is given a determining influence. This factor is the transformation of mimesis into revolt as a way of growth.
At the level of depth-feeling reactions, the breakdown of a quasi-instinctual devotion to parents, and of an unquestioning acceptance of the validity of assumptions and practices embodied in the family religion, inevitably produces a crisis. It is a crisis of identification rather than identity. While it has its roots in the series of reactions which resulted in the formation of the ego, what is at stake in such a crisis is not merely the convenient adjustment to a set of situations, but rather the forceful assertion of an individual identity, I myself, and all this possesses to substantiate this "me." And of such possessions none may seem as essential (at least to Descartes!) as what is now definitely considered to be "my" mind.
At first, however, the deep sense of identity operates almost exclusively as a "gut-feeling," rooted in the wholeness of the body and the organizational power of "life" keeping all its cells integrated. This feeling establishes the way the I, as a person, manages to keep alive and relatively happy in the sociocultural environment in which it has to function. But behind the obvious ego-feeling, a still deeper yet much less focused awareness of a "purpose" for being-I may occasionally surface. Mind often integrates and formalizes this awareness in answer to a usually imprecise, yet perhaps haunting desire to discover the meaning of sufferings and deprivations, and perhaps a still more basic meaning to human existence in general. As this occurs, the concept of dharma may arise (however formulated) in the consciousness. The question is then not only "Why does this happen to me?" but "Is there behind and in 'me' a power able to act in trying circumstances so that a new level of consciousness and activity may be reached?" It could be a higher, wiser level of personhood. It could also be a level of being whose roots and source of potency are beyond personhood, even though it may still operate through personhood — thus "transpersonally."
At this point what is called "the will" should be dealt with — a factor characteristically almost ignored in twentieth-century depth-psychology until Dr. Robert Assagioli devoted a whole book to the subject. The Act of Will. The will, however, can be given an exalted spiritual meaning it does not have of itself. It operates at several levels, just as the feeling of being-l and the desires it engenders do. I have defined the will as the mobilization of the energy factor in the satisfaction of a desire aroused by a particular situation. Desire itself, as noted earlier, is the expression of the subjective factor in all experiences. Any experience implies a conscious or unconscious desire for or against some expectable event, or else a condition of indifference. The more intense the desire, the more potent the mobilization of the energy it releases, provided that the mind — whether in its cultural-collective or its personal-individual aspect — either provides an effective channel for the power, or at least offers no insurmountable obstacles.
The character or quality of the will depends primarily on the level at which the desire calling for the mobilization — and therefore the subjective source of the desire — operates. The subject may have a generic and biological character — such as a whole species manifesting its desire for food and copulation in and through any one of its particular specimens. It may be a collective factor — a nation seeking territorial conquest in and through a military leader, emotionally and mentally controlled by the vision of power his environment had indelibly stamped upon his personhood since infancy. The subjective source of the desire may be an ego fighting for self-assertion at home or for a superior position in business; and in that case an ego-will is at work. This last alternative is the most frequent in our individualistic society — a society of egos, by egos and for the greater good of egos!
Ego-will may use many methods of operation in order to achieve its basic but multifarious aim: the control of natural forces for the satisfaction of human desires. Natural forces may be implicit in biological functions (as for instance the sudden tension of muscles) or they may result from alterations in the relation between external substances or beings. An instinctual arousal of such forces is transformed into ego-will when it is made to occur deliberately and according to a set series of operations (a technique) consciously worked out by the mind. The human mind is therefore a most important factor in the effective activity of the ego-will. This mind takes on an increasingly human character when the subjective factor (I, Peter or Jane) considers itself separate from the situation it experiences. But if this ego-I is external to the situation, so is its desire for making the situation develop in a particular manner.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1986 by Leyla Rudhyar Hill
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