Pushing a little deeper into this ‘why’ – it seems to me that when we ask ‘why’, which archetypally we do in childhood, we open up an evolutionary basis for questioning events and phenomena – at least at the relative level. We begin to seek causality and understanding – why this? Why not that? Later, if we persist, we frequently turn the big ‘why?’ to the service of reason – from ‘why this?’ to this is why. Certainty arises, and we cast ourselves into the concrete world of believing our own provisional answers – we author an official narrative. What began as radically open questioning becomes drawn into proximal certainty. Very often, as Bill Plotkin has it, understanding becomes ‘standing under, direct experience, at this point, sub serves the tyranny of the fact.
In a more mundane way ‘why?’ becomes the driver of story, the ultimate narrative tool, detective-driven – why? Why? Why? Why me? Why indeed. Why, perhaps more than any other question we can ask, derives its juice, its fuel, from the ego; which is to say, from that part of us that seeks to turn all events and processes, inner or outer, towards its own project of persuasion, control and survival. It is profoundly, the part of us that is afraid, seized by terrors vast and specific, and therefore narrowed into suffering form. Ego, in this sense, is a decaying thing, “behind, beyond and within” the royal ‘I’ we consciously identify with, and, in Zimmer’s phrase it “makes its voice echo from the dead forms around, threatens sudden death to us should we refuse to obey its whims”.
The part arising from the ego, be it a subpersonality, a complex, a psychopathological idiom – it is the part that stands behind the question ‘why?’. It is the child before an infinite parent-god who may well answer, inexorably, ‘why not?’(which is perhaps why therapists warily shun it, readily identifying with conventional empathy over the more radical compassion of the void?) So the ‘why’ of that small ‘I’ is always partial, needy, demanding, assertive, indignant. It wants to know, but by asking ‘why?’ ensures that it cannot ever discover what it tells itself it needs to know. As the Celtic riddle goes, ‘how can the knower be known?’ What knows already knows, and no ego can assay it. For as the Tibetans observe the ego ‘never lives long enough to see itself crowned king’. From this view, in asking ‘why?’ we are asking the wrong question with the wrong self.
As in life, so with death – that which fears to die is indeed justified in its fear, since it is precisely what cannot and will not survive death. That which knows, knows death as the mystery, not as the end. A does not cause B, not really. Everything gives rise to B, and A, should it be still enough to realise its non-separateness, sees this naturally enough. If we disidentify from the one-who-needs-to-know, we open up a possibility for connection, for the freedom to be knowing.
In such times as ours (so sophisticated in surfaces and bedazzled with alluring distractions, awash in an aeon’s wisdom hiding in plain sight under debt-clocks and cluster bombs, cancer cures and fusion reactors, always just around the next decade’s desire-stiffened corner) we do well to remind ourselves of some deeper forms, and nowhere better than the living symbols of the poets of tradition.
Merlin, prime mover of the Arthurian tradition (and the courtly, troubadour-chivalric, imaginal torrent that it engendered) starts that heart beating, that still speaks to us today. So, as an example, The Holy Grail stands like a vivifying beacon calling forth questing knights (and psyches) and ten thousand tests, from the upper world of order and roundness to the down-below of the monstrous and destroying. And all to precisely no avail from the perspective of ‘why?’ – for it all rises and falls, passes away in mist and margin. The pre-eminent heroes, pure (Galahad) or solar (Gawain), kingly (Arthur) or of the Animus (Lancelot), the abundant fey anima shapes (Lady of the Lake, Morgan, Ninian, Nimue etc) and queens of this immanent life (Guinevere), even the chivalric ideal of the Round Table itself – all must pass. Until Merlin, who breathed it all alive, by his own surrendered will, is finally ensorcelled by and back into the ur-forest from which he once emerged – reabsorbed into a primal green Field, all-knowing, all-beautiful, he speaks one last time:
“Be not sad Gawain, everything that must happen, happens” (Roman de Merlin)
All is understood through the ‘Liebestod’ – the ‘love-death’ (Tristan & Isolde), that is not only the surface world tragedy of forlorn and impossible love now lost, but strikes ecstatically for the immolation of the separate self, the flashing open of a new not-two. And here alone, without a ‘why?’, in fundamental acceptance and trust, one can ask, as Merlin may well have done:
“What is the world to the Forest, consciousness to the Unconscious? What is history, in time and space, to the Abyss?” (Heinrich Zimmer, The King & the Corpse, 1943)
If we want a psychological analogy, let’s try ‘inscendence’ – Thomas Berry’s term for a journey of deepening, not transcending , not buying a pre/trans fallacy – but descending into, rather than ‘spiritually bypassing’, seeing through by seeing with. For as Zimmer points out, most poetically:
“the heart of man is committed to two worlds. On the one hand, there is the wild forest of experience, which is without as well as within, pathless, full of monsters and adventures… And, on the other hand, there is the dense sweet-smelling whitethorn hedge (Merlin’s resting place); all longing for far spaces comes home to rest under its cloud of flowers, painfully yet blissfully stilled. The serpent coils into its last sleep. And this is the eve of the day of creation, the dark night before the myriad forms and events of the visible world have burst from the sanctuary whose veil no hand has ever raised” (Zimmer, ibid)
“Don’t go away, come near.
Don’t be faithless, be faithful.
Find the antidote in the venom.
Come to the root of the root of your self.
You were born from a ray of God’s majesty
And have the blessings of a good star.
Why suffer at the hands of things that don’t exist?
Come, return to the root of the root of your self.
You are a ruby embedded in granite.
How long will you pretend it isn’t true?
We can see it in your eyes.
Come to the root of the root of your self.”
(Rumi, verses from ‘The Root of the Root of Your Self’, Ghazels, trans/ Kabir Helmisnki)
19th/20th August 2011