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The crisis of the I

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We live at a time when there is always something going on, a perpetual busyness, and this constant movement is also accompanied by a spiritual potential, a spiritual step that is now open to us in our modern times. The great Spiritual teachers that have come to us during the ages, have always taken this step, and shown us an example that we could follow. Thus, this possibility has also taken shape and manifests itself in the memory of nature, which in our time, radiates its influence over humanity.

This potential is connected to consciousness, which the German poet Hoelderlin touched upon in his poem ‘The Oak Trees’, with the words:

'Each one of you is a world

You live like the stars of the sky

Each one a God

Together in free union.’

Thus these words point to a possibility, a potential spirituality within us: like the stars of the sky, each one of us a potential God, a miniature world, a microcosm, existing together in unity and freedom. Two and a half thousand years ago, Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, also taught his pupils the same spiritual philosophy, though in his times the message was more hidden in a veiled language because of the prevailing antagonism by the powers and authorities of that time. The time was not yet ripe for this message.

In the very depths of our being, we are a God. Jesus tells us, ‘Ye are Gods’ (John 10, 34). We may accept or reject this, but for many of us, there comes a moment in our lives, an inner life experience, that can change all of our previously held views. And this ‘awakening’ is on the increase in our times. More and more people are experiencing a change of consciousness, a change driven from within the very depths of their being.

Who am I? This question is being asked by more and more people, but the answer cannot be found in this world.

Who and what is the ‘I’?

The ‘I’ perceives that which surrounds it. ‘I’ look around, and thus I am the centre of a ‘circle’ which comes about through my perceptions. The world is outside of me and has an impact on my inner ‘self’, while my consciousness continually interacts with both.  Internally, I continually generate the ‘centre’, and my life experiences and perceptions imprint themselves on my consciousness.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) expanded on this by pointing out the unique characteristics that have evolved for each individual because of this state of the ‘I’:

‘We consist of colourful scraps, each tied to the other so loosely that they flutter at will. Each human being’s awareness of self is as unique and different as we are different from each and every other human being.’

‘Each one of us is several, is many, a profusion of selves.’ (Fernando Pessoa 1888-1935)

Herman Hesse (1877-1962) stated:

‘In reality […] no I, not even the most naïve one, is a unity, but a highly manifold world, a small starry sky, a chaos of shapes, steps and states, of heritage and possibilities. […] As a body, each human being is one, but as a soul this is never the case. […] The body is always one, the soul inhabiting it however, consists of innumerable ‘ones’. The human being therefore is like an onion consisting of multiple layers, a tissue consisting of many threads.’

All of these authors tried, in their own way, to affect our awareness, to open our consciousness to a higher level of thinking. And it can transpose that during a particular life experience, our awareness is jolted and a new transparency lights up our consciousness. The ‘I’ experiences something from the living, flowing energy of life. And in a moment of vivid openness, we see that all life is connected; that there is an ebb and flow that is shaped by the activity of soul forces. We begin to see that all life forms are also filled with soul life, which speaks to us of the subtle hidden worlds active behind the visible manifested world. 

And what about the human being?

In this regard, Herman Hesse also tells us:

‘The human being is not a solid, permanent shape, but rather an attempt and a crossing. He is nothing more than the narrow, dangerous bridge between nature and the spirit. His innermost destiny drives him towards the spirit, God, while his ardent self-longing drives him back to nature, his mother. His life rocks fearfully between these two powers. What people understand by the term human being is just an ephemeral, civil agreement.’ [1]

‘The soul has been created in a place between time and eternity, both of which it touches. With its uppermost forces the soul touches eternity, but with its lower forces it touches time.’ (Master Eckhart)

I and Not-I

When contemplating the nature of the I-being it is possible that we can become aware with our inner eye of the dissolution of the more subtle energetic worlds as they transform into a spiritual ‘nothingness’. And as we are aware, everything originates from this ‘nothingness’; it creates everything and everything returns to it. Only pure awareness remains.

If we focus our concentration on the present moment, on the eternal ‘now’, we can inwardly experience that we come into being at every moment and are dissolved at every moment; our existence is continuously undergoing a birth and death cycle. Only our awareness is constant.

In the Hermetic philosophy we read:

‘God is an endless circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’ [2]

Here we are dealing with a fundamental Truth. On the highest spiritual level, the level of non-being, the pure spirit, the eternal ‘I’, becomes the centre.  Represented by a dot in the centre of the circle, yet it is not a substance. It is a principle which draws substance around itself, creating a sphere. Thus peripheries around the centre come into being, and all of them are unique and a reflection of the central principle. The abundance and diversity of existence is also reflected in each being. I am also such a peripheral place, a reflection of the divine I in the centre – in my centre.

The archetype, the principle, and the reflection, the substance, are also in constant communication since they are one unity. Powerful magnetic impulses radiate incessantly from the centre to the periphery, and return from the periphery to the centre. Thus the space between them is in constant motion. It is the soul, the field of manifestation between time and eternity; the field of encounter.

The life experiences of the mortal I, the periphery, are constantly absorbed by the divine centre, the spirit spark, the eternal I, while the spirit spark constantly radiates itself back into the field of manifestation. There is a ceaseless interaction between the two. All of the thoughts, feelings and actions of the I of mortal nature are instantly communicated to the centre and reflected back enriched with divine impulses. Thus our life receives purpose and value through intuitive insight, and can be transformed through spiritual growth.

We are a cosmic adventure! The Divinity experiences Itself in us, in each individual, consequently It shares the experiences of ‘self’. Therefore our ‘I’ takes on a specific importance as an existential significance to the inner God.  Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) the German mystic summed this up by saying:

Apart from me, I know God cannot live a minute

Should I leave life, He too could not continue it. [3]

My centre is a principle that receives life experiences through the substance, through my ‚I’. Through me the innermost becomes God. However, it is possible for me to separate from the inner God simply by putting my focus on myself. I can try to make myself the sole centre by filling my environment with objects and values that I relate only to my personality, thereby creating my own meaning through self-will and the environment I create. The consequence is that the connection between the divine and myself, the centre and the periphery, recedes into the background and becomes but vague impulses that only affect the unconscious. An abyss arises within my being and the inner connection is no longer coherent, but nevertheless the Divine centre continues to work.

The Divine impulses now cause the crisis within the self, the existential crisis. It cannot be otherwise for the connection, the field of the soul, has largely disappeared. So the forces of the centre have to dissolve and breakup everything which causes the separation, in order to heal the disruption to the original harmonious connection and re-establish the inner guiding principle. This affects me in a dramatic way, but it also leads to the point where the inner eyes can open.

In his own words, Carl Jung reinforces the current state of the I as follows:

‘The I is an empirical acquisition of an individual existence. It seemingly emerges from a clash with the environment and once it exists as a subject, it develops from further clashes with its environment as well as with its inner worlds. The I is the conscious personality.’ [4]

The philosopher Jochen Kirchhoff states:

‘I-development is combative wanting, consciousness which clings to itself, which contracts into itself. The struggle for consciousness penetrates nature. When a bulb forms in a plant and then breaks into blossom, this is a feat of strength which nature accomplishes. After such a mighty effort the blossom appears weightless, for in the blossom the plant overcomes its earthliness.’

‘What is the universe about if not the development of consciousness; a struggle for light, form and awareness? All of the suffering, pain and misery, all of the terrible things that happen can only be justified with this higher and more encompassing perspective in mind’ (Jochen Kirchhoff). [5]

After endless experiences, the earthly I can begin its path back to the centre, to reconnect with its Divine source. It reaches its last blossom, the petals mature and it is grasped by non-being, falling to the ground as fruit. The ‘ground’ is the earth on which we live, but it is also the inner God. Through our dedication to Him, the soul will be healed, it will be born anew from the innermost being, and it will be weightless, loosened from the bonds of matter.

It can also be possible that during this path of return, as the natural I becomes more and more aware of its transience, a fear enters it, a fear of non-being, of the unknown. But in our dedication to the limitlessness of the emerging new soul our being will be perfected. ‘We’ are born again from the innermost, from the unknown. On this dual path of increase and decrease, vanishing and growth, in this ever increasing ‘communication’ with the inner God, there will be moments of oneness, of absolute unity. And just as aspects of the old self dissolve, so the secret of immortality is revealed in the space provided. Then the sense of ever new crises is fulfilled and the flow of ever newly experienced revelations will fill our being.

‘In you there is all the visible

And the infinite invisible.’

(Rose Auslaender – 1901-1988: ‘In You’)

 

 


[1] Hermann Hesse, Der Steppenwolf, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch, 53. ed., p. 76-81

[2] Quoted in: Joost Ritman, Die Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, in: Die Hermetische Gnosis im Lauf der Jahrhunderte, Haarlem und Birnbach 2000, p. 668

[3] Angelus Silesius, Der Cherubinische Wandersmann, Erstes Buch, Vers 8 (The Cherubinic Pilgrim, First Book, verse 8, translated by Frederic Palmer in his essay: Angelus Silesius: A Seventeenth-Century Mystic)

[4] C.G. Jung, Aion. Beiträge zur Symbolik des Selbst, Olten, 2. Auflage 1977, S. 14

[5] Jochen Kirchhoff, Die Anderswelt. Eine Annäherung an die Wirklichkeit, Klein-Jasedow, 2. Auflage 2002, S. 217).

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