Monday, July 1, 2013

#147. Imagination As the Forming Force of the World

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Blog entries beginning with #101 are not essays but minimally-edited notes and reviews from the files I've collected over the last few decades. I no longer have the time and energy needed to sort out and put together into decent essay-form the many varied ideas in these files, but I would like to share them with all who are interested.

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These are notes on Robert Sardello's Foreword to Tom Cheetham's Green Man, Earth Angel (SUNY, 2005), the second of Cheetham's quartet of books on the work of the French religious thinker, Henri Corbin. 

Robert Sardello is a Transpersonal Psychologist. I learned from Wiki that there are now five commonly agreed upon types of Transpersonal Psych: "Analytical" (Jung), "Archetypal" (Hillman), "Psychosynthesis" (Assagioli), "Zen Transpersonal Psychotherapy" (Anthony), and "Spiritual" (Sardello).

I'd been very much looking forward to reading Cheetham's Green Man book, and was quite disappointed with the very few references to the Khadir and Green Man. But it turns out that when I read the Foreword, "I was floored."

I don't remember ever using that phrase in my life! And, alas, I don't have any easy way to describe such a strong reaction on my part. I'm writing this 'essay' as a kind of therapeutic exercise.


Sardello begins by saying that there are many stories which account for the matter-spirit split and that hold to the view that we must return to the past-- or at least its values. He notes, however, that we can only do that by being apart from the world's destiny and surrounded by fear. Indeed! That's a good description of Western monasticism, of RC in general in the ideals it has held to, and of religious fundamentalism.

Sardello says we need to understand the longing for the past differently; not as a longing for a historical past but as a longing for wholeness-- by which he seems to mean healing and "salvation" in the fuller sense than it's usually meant in conventional religious terms. Already, the inadequacy of our available words is apparent!

He also says this is obvious "to those who have an inner life" and who are concerned with the meaning of out lives/existence. But we now need new ways of telling that old story of the matter-spirit split (newer, he means, than the Adam & Eve stories and the doctrine of original sin).

We need, he says, new ways of imagining-- of telling the story of our existence. While he doesn't mention the New Cosmology by name, he clearly means, it seems to me, exactly what "cosmology" means in Anthropology and in references to the New Cosmology.

OK so far, but then he says it's "soul" and "soul ways" that we need. I note that, to me, that's no more helpful that any other wording that's presently available for telling a [or the] new story. But Sardello has evaluated the problem nicely....

He says, "Only soul understands and responds to soul." And so to understand the longing for wholeness and meaning we need to use soul's own terms; we need soul-words, like "archetypal" and "imaginal." I wonder if there isn't some other way to talk about all this. Certainly we need a wholistic cosmology. But we need to look at soul-ways?? Hard to accept that as is.

But... Sardello then makes a very powerful point: "Imagination is a world force." Without imagination any metaphysics splits spirit and matter, with no linkage possible. I note that I hear "world force" here as dynamis, holy Spiritus-- "energy" in the broadest cosmo-the-andric sense, which is also the missing fourth of the mandalic understanding of time and space, matter and energy.

What comes next is a bit fuzzy-- not that his initial references to "soul" aren't. But apparently, in his transpersonal psych perspective, he uses "soul" as James Hillman does, and sees no need to say so.

The fuzzy part is that he seems to talk about science and materialism as the two sides of the split. Either he has a special 'philosophical' meaning for "materialism" or he just didn't say well what he was trying to say.

Anyway, that so far is his presentation of the problem of dualism. He never used the word "dualism" nor does he even note that he's talking in what seems to be not just a Western but also an explicitly American context. (Although his later reference to "this country" can only mean the USA.)

He then moves on to say that Cheetham helps us to see what's lost when we ignore the imaginal and archetypal aspects of "soul." His list: imagination, speech, words as angels, reading ("from, not about, reality," he says) and, "most important of all," sense of place.

What he means by "reading" seems close, I think, to the traditional lectio; and his "most important of all 'sense of place'" could easily be called "sacred geography."

In any case, these five aspects of soul clearly have to do with the "human" (in contrast to the "cosmic" or "divine"), and specifically have to do with human consciousness. It is the first list I've seen of just what it is that the imaginalis perspective involves that makes it different from other views.

Aside from the sense of place (and probably that one, too, when I think about), the items on the list are all obvious characteristics of not of the divine or of the cosmic but precisely of anthropos-in-cosmos. He is exactly right with that.

And here is the project at hand: Sardello says Cheetham helps us first to feel the loss, then to establish a "metaphysics of imagination as the forming force of the world." This, as far as I can see, presumes a scientific worldview.

Earlier Sardello used the phrase "world force," but this phrase-- "the forming force of the world"-- is an even clearer-- indeed, a much clearer-- way of talking about energy (dynamis, holy Spiritus) in exactly the sense it's understood by people like Fred Spier (Senior Lecturer in Big History at the University of Amsterdam), and the American physicist Eric Chaisson (from Harvard and Tufts) whose book is so good.

That phrase is also exactly a way of talking about energy (dynamis, holy Spiritus) in the same sense that "evolution" is used in the New Cosmology, and in the way "non-stasis" is understood in a more philosophical sense. "Etc, etc, etc," as the King of Siam says. (That last sentence is an indication that I feel swamped!)

There's no indication in the Foreword that Sardello is tuned in to much (or any) of the mandalic perspective, but he's expressing the right idea in a very clear way: "The forming force of the world." Any aware 6th grader (my criterion for good communication) can readily understand what's being said there! This is a major breakthrough for me. (Although, amazingly, not the only one in this Foreword!)

Sardello goes on to describe the archetypal/imaginal/soul "metaphysics of the imagination" that Cheetham helps us establish:

• it allows for participation (our participation in the dynamic process)
• it sees creation happening always and everywhere
• it sees that all reality is alive
• it sees us (humans) as "part of soul" and not v.v. (Obviously a definition of "soul" would be of tremendous help here!)

"This metaphysics exists," says Sardello, "in a radical interpretation of Jung and in Henry Corbin." He says that Jung has some limitations which Cheetham clears up (I like that!), and it "opens us to Corbin's and Islamic (Sufi) mysticism's fully developed imaginal metaphysics."

I note that except for that list's last statement (about humans being part of "soul"-- with its, again presumed, Hillman-ian meaning for "soul"), that this is the same perspective offered in various contexts and with enormously varied terminology by many modern thinkers such as Bruno B, Karl Rahner, the Paleo perspectives of Native peoples, Thomas Berry, et al. Also, recently-- with the NYRB's review of the book by Patricia Crone on the context of Islam's emergence-- the ancient Persian-Zoroastrian perspective.

It is amazing that with those few words of his, "the forming force of the world," Sardello makes all these views and perspectives tie together so well for me. It feels good. He is saying, maybe, even more than he is aware! I'm grateful.

I especially delight in the statement about Jung's limitations. I knew Hillman went beyond Jung, but never saw what was lacking in Jung's seemingly exhaustive understanding of the psyche. That Tom Cheetham is the one who "clears up" those limitations is delightful.

He (Cheetham) is alive and well today, I've had some contact with him. We're not just trying to catch up with the thinking of a century or two in the past. We're on the growing edge. That feels very good.

Sardello's next part isn't well presented at all, alas. About Jung's limitations... He says Jung did not distinguish between soul experience and spirit experience. (Sardello has only used "spirit" once previously here, and this too will be like "soul," an undefined term-- at best, a starting point.) He says that the limitation persists not only in Analytical Psych but also in Hillman's Archetypal Psych. (Hillman pushed "soul" at the expense of "spirit," apparently.) All this needs much more explanation!

The distinction between soul and spirit is that the darkness of the Shadow (capitalized in the Foreword) is a soul experience and is to be integrated into consciousness, whereas the Divine Luminous "Black-Light" Darkness is a spirit experience and needed for experience of the world (and "wholeness"). All this is far too carelessly and quickly stated!

Soul goes with anthropos, spirit goes with cosmos. (I think that's what Sardello's saying.) Spirit and world go together in the same way that soul and consciousness do. There is a soul-consciousness and a spirit-consciousness. (Those two different uses of "consciousness" are an example of Sardello's fuzziness-- and of the difficulties we have today with language.)

Sardello then notes that Hillman sees Corbin's imaginalis as helping Depth Psych. And what Cheetham does, says Sardello, is to bring up precisely the right quotes from Corbin that establish-- if I'm getting this right-- that "un-conscious" goes with "soul" and "super-conscious" goes with "spirit." He also notes that the Islamic understanding of imaginalis mundus knows the mundus as spirit-consciousness, and then he talks about soul-darkness and Luminous Divine Spirit-darkness-- but does so fairly poorly, alas.

To me, there's a lot of very sloppy talk here! But it's not at all easy to dismiss. If it wasn't obvious (to me, at least) that he's trying to talk about the fourth function as something more than "soul" (in an un-defined sense), I might have given up at this point. The mandalic perspective is being affirmed here but, alas, very poorly!

While Sardello notes that neither Jung nor Hillman distinguishes soul and spirit, and at one point he says that soul-consciousness is related to the unconscious while spirit-consciousness is related to super-consciousness. He also distinguishes soul-darkness from spirit-darkness (which is in fact light, not darkness!), but he never says clearly and simply what that difference is.

The darkness of soul (the un-conscious, soul-shadow) is archetypal (as with Jung and Hillman); the divine-darkness (spirit-darkness, luminous darkness of super-consciousness) is imaginal (as in Sufi mysticism). Too many words! Maybe they're needed, and I'm happy to know someone's trying to sort all this out, but it's really difficult to handle well.

According to Sardello, Cheetham says that the un-conscious soul is perceived by soul, but the super-conscious realm is perceived by the "supersensory senses."

And this fits well with the mandalic view-- that the fourth function is a perception function just as the Sensing function is. So maybe "super-sensory senses" is a good term there! Maybe! And maybe, someday, thinkers might be talking about the physical senses as the "sub-imaginal senses."

In any case, Sardello goes on to note that he and Corbin use, as a term for "supersensory sense," nothing other than "heart."

So here at least we're with the Hesychasts and Cynthia B, in trying to distinguish perception in the imaginal realm-- by the "heart"-- from perception by "soul'"--although there doesn't seem to be some other "soul realm" wording to go with imaginal realm). Again, this is not as satisfying as it might be, considering how profoundly significant it is. Surely we can do a better job with all this! There is sensory realm, soul realm and super-sensory/imaginal realm. As I see it, using "heart" confuses the soul realm and the imaginal realm! It sure as hell confuses me.


Next: Some explanation of Imaginal Metaphysics.... In imaginal metaphysics "all persons, places and things are mirrors of the spirit world." Note that "spirit world" is same as "imaginal realm." I presume this is Sardello's way of saying 'all is theophany' (even though "expression of" and "reflection of" surely do not mean the same thing, although I think they are meant to, here). Seeing by the "heart" is perception of all things as theophany.

But this has nothing at all to do with soul-"perception"! (I think, even, that we can say there is no such thing as perception via "soul." It is an evaluation of all things as good, something very different from perception of all things as theophany.)

Sardello adds: We see by the light that makes all things visible, but then he also says "we are, in effect, composed of the artistic play of spiritual beings." Maybe that's supposed to be "poetic"? But both it and his use of "mirrors" seem to me to negate any real reality to "persons, places and things"-- even though he obviously doesn't mean to do that. So I find his language totally unacceptable here.

But he concludes this section by saying that the imaginal metaphysics of Ibn Arabi is fruitful (his word) "for gnosis of divine worlds and earthly worlds," and this is precisely because it "does not confuse or separate them as Jung does." "Gnosis" here is used in the right sense as perception.

So there's no question that all of this is on the right track. It's amazing, though, that Sardello does not attempt a more clear distinction between the various expressions of that all-important distinction he's saying Corbin, Cheetham and Islamic mysticism are presenting to us. I'm sure he thinks he is, however.

Even with all of (what I call) his "sloppiness," it's still very, very impressive. It is all about wholeness and meaning-- nothing less than our understanding of and participation in our life and existence-- to which gnosis we have access via "heart" (i.e., imaginality, our fourth function).

The language here is very different but it reminds me a lot of the Carmelite Constance Fitzgerald's understanding of John of the Cross and the dark night of the soul, where his (John's) directive is "move on." I.e., "Get out of your isolated Feeling function." It also reminds me of Bruno B saying simply, that "There is no dark night."


I'm about half way through my 10 pp of notes on this 6 ½ page Foreword. This is the end of Sardello's introduction to Cheetham's book. The rest of the Foreword talks about the implications for the culture of seeing imaginally. Some of it is good, some of it is awful. He mentions seven topics....

1) Incarnation. The first topic is about what I think is an extremely poor understanding of incarnation and Xnity. Sardello says "Gnosis from imaginality is in opposition to any kind of incarnational Xnity." Sloppy, to be sure. He actually means something like "is in strong opposition to the conventional/popular Christian understanding of incarnation." His sense of "incarnational" is almost fundamentalist.

He talks about "Christ" when he means Jesus, and says that the Christian understanding of incarnation is both "archetypal secularization" and "the death of God." He says that Cheetham's chapter about all this-- which he calls "the theological chapter"-- is pivotal in the book.

One more thing the conventional understanding of incarnation does is that it "collapses any sensitivity of the angelic hierarchies." (How's that for clarity!)

Sardello adds: "An imaginal theology accompanies-- even precedes-- imaginal metaphysics" and is "founded on Beauty, not salvation."

What a testimony all this is, to the failure of the church! That a leader of Spiritual Transpersonal Psychology sees Christianity only as a fundamentalist does, with no sense at all that "salvation" can mean healing/wholeness/fulfillment, rather than a rescue from reality.


2) Beauty. About Beauty, Sardello says, "That's what the longing is for." But it has to be strived for, via soul-purification.

He then adds that "Beauty is the theophany of Sophia." This is the first use of Corbin's "theophany" term, and offers no hint of what "Sophia" might mean in this context. He does, however, describe Sophia as "a destination," but then uses what I thought of as a singularly dumb image about "arriving but not arriving" when he's trying to say that it's a goal into which we can enter ever more deeply.

He then backs off from trying to talk about imaginal knowing by saying that non-dual gnosis is "epistemological complex." I realize that this is a Foreword, not an explanatory essay, but surely this phrase is nothing but what used to be known-- when people still looked for explanations of things-- as a "cop out."


3) Freedom. Next comes a paragraph about Freedom.... Sardello identifies freedom in the conventional understanding with nihilism, blames it on the Christian understanding of salvation, and notes that "this country's battle cry is freedom"-- which, as nihilism/terrorism, "speaks of wars of self-destruction." Hard to know what to make of all that! He's trying to say something of the greatest importance, but stutters woefully.

He adds that for freedom not to be nihilistic, it has to be filled with love, and he seems to be critical of Cheetham about this.

Somehow, Christian freedom leads to Christian technology (which seems to be yet another name for nihilism), and stands in great contrast to Islamic mysticism. The difference "hangs on transformation"-- he uses the term metamorphosis-- "and on initiation into the Source of Love, 'the Beloved'."

He says conventional Christianity "lacks the angelology to proceed to this Source;" it can only lead to nihilistic freedom. And adds that "Cheetham's work on all this is wondrous." (Earlier, he called Corbin's work on Beauty "stunning." Hmmm.)


4) Geigerich. A paragraph about someone new to me, Wolfgang Geigerich, follows. It's about Jung's spirit-matter dualism, which comes, says Sardello, from Jung's work on alchemy. The main idea seems to be that without spirit, matter can only lead to nihilism and thus to technology understood "as the god and the means of salvation."

Sardello says of these ideas in Cheetham's book that "Just this section is worth the price of admission to the book." That statement is followed by one more comment about Geigerich and incarnation, which, alas, makes no sense at all. (All my condemnations of Sardello are really laments-- that he doesn't talk better about these tremendously important perspectives!)


5) The way out. Cheetham's concern is for valuing the world, Sardello says, "but not in an abstract or nostalgic sense." He describes Cheetham as "one of the most courageous thinkers I have ever read." What Cheetham does is "shows us the way out of the nihilistic worldview through-- not above-- the labyrinth."

And that way-- based on the imaginal, and not on a dichotomy between spirit and matter-- is two-fold:
 • love, as an initiatory process via purifications
• re-sanctification of the world.


6) Word. This is followed by a fascinating section on Word "as way out and as way to rightly respond to the longing for wholeness." He refers to Ibn Arabi's understanding that our language is a unique articulation of divine Breath, saying that "our breath belongs to us and to the world" (i.e., that it expresses both a human and cosmic reality).

Our breath is "poetic and creative speech," he says. As spirit is linked to world via soul, so speech embodies spirit without collapsing it into matter. He notes that "This is a new idea of soul, as that by which spirit is embodied and thus matter is spiritualized." I hear him saying something like: we are the world speaking and our symbol-speech is Divine Breath. Surely Rabbi Arthur would agree!


7) Lectio. We need to read the world-- which is a discipline of imaginal asceticism-- keeping us from giving in to technological worldview desire, and giving us the courage "to be fully present to what is present." That's it. End of Foreword. So many significant things!


Summary. I think what "floored me" most about all this is that it so directly addresses the dualism of Western culture in terms of psychology (which I wasn't expecting), including the different dualisms of Jung and Hillman, while at the same time incorporating them into much bigger perspective. And of course I am delighted by the fact that that it does so precisely by affirming the reality of the fourth function.

Most of what has been important to me all my life, and utterly absent from the culture as a whole, is here recognized as central to our existence. Can't ask for more than that! As I've said, I'm grateful! (1 July 2013)


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