Sunny Strasburg, LMFT
Some nights I wake up at 3:00 in the morning, and lie in bed with my mind racing within and around my existential angst. There’s an unsettling combination feeling of yearning along with bittersweet nostalgia. It’s nostalgia for my own mortality and watching the process of my ego tenaciously holding on to what I believe “Me” is. The internal witness observes my body and soul held between two worlds…one in which I am decomposing and degrading with each passing moment, and the other world in which my cells replicate and regenerate. Held in that holographic pattern of “Me” is the psyche…perhaps. Or, it is equally possible that my Self has been created by a complex series of operant conditioning with variable outcomes? Entropy and syntropy in a homeostatic flux.
Perhaps my memory bank is (merely) a fantastic bundle of neurons cruising along dendrites and firing synapses. When I have this thought, I become profoundly sad. I try to hold that it is a possibility that this may be the totality of meaning in being human. I am saddened that this is offered to us as a sufficient explanation of consciousness by our default cultural system, which has been built for centuries on the Cartesian split between mind and matter.
As I ponder this, it is very odd to me that I also consider the “nostalgia” neuron crackling in the back roads of my brain. How bizarre it is to think about this as it is actually happening. What inevitably follows is that, in perhaps an ego defensive way, I consider that there is something else beyond mere chaos and survival to my experience. Is love only for social survival and generativy?
There must be some meaning and intentional organization to the spectacle that is my reality. This scene plays out often in my psyche. I know the cascading scenes so well it feels like I’m watching a play written by B.F. Skinner for the umpteenth time.
Mystical experiences are the only thing that has persuaded me to believe there is some intention to the universe. Now I think that rather than chaos, we live in a system of realities based on syntropy and entropy. Intention, love, and consciousness create syntropy and fear, anger and hatred devolve into entropy. The natural and most pure manifestation of intention seems to be love. For humans, love is the only thing that connects, complexifies and defies entropy. Again, this could be purely my value system being projected in this thesis. We have no way of assessing the validity of either my statement or your reaction to it without returning to the vantage points of our individual realities.
I study depth psychology. The most salient aspect of it for me is the complexity of the psyche. It is the only theoretical framework I have found that says “and” rather than “or”. Like Hinduism, it is able to hold paradox, embrace the process, rather than the conclusion, and hold all other theories within it. I do agree that, as Jung said, the universe is archetypal by nature…at least in the way our minds perceive it.
We as humans, appear to be hard-wired for story. We need a narrative, a meaning infused into everything. The external reality of our personal histories is irrelevant, really. What did or did not happen isn’t as important as how we interpreted what happened.
Storytelling has been used for millennia to heal ourselves. Our memories are encoded either in our unconscious minds and our bodies, or explicitly in our autobiographical minds. The visual representation and the recollection of the experience which accompanies its creation and reflection can transfer the memories from implicit to explicit. When individuals are given a chance to reintegrate their emotions and image of Self, we are allowed a glimpse that something else within us is possible.
And if nothing else, psychedelic trance and visionary states tell us there is more….more to the explanation of the story, to the psychic landscape. Ultimately, mythology is not about its own content, but about us, our challenges, dangers and rewards that await each of us on our paths. The fact that we share these myths individually and cross-culturally demonstrates that we have more in common with one another than circumstances may suggest. Additionally, the common themes and visions while navigating psychedelic worlds suggest to me that there are other, deeper archetypal realities to tap into.
As individuals who together create a collective consciousness, it would serve us well to uncover, develop and make peace with our personal narratives, and consciously integrate them into a larger global experience. The art of storytelling and replaying our cultural mythology fulfills this need. A lucid tool such as the use of dreamstates may facilitate and hasten a fluency in constructing and understanding personal narrative.
It is clear to me that we can only activate our own destiny when we awaken to the fact that our destiny is only ours if we create it. This is our choice. As we tell and re-tell our life stories, our character has the opportunity to move further away from the role of victim in a perilous universe, toward the role of a heroine on a path to triumph and self discovery. This process can be expedited by the presence of a sensitive and reflective healer, be it a shaman, mentor or a therapist. In particular, this process can be lubricated and facilitated by shamanic trance, meditation, or dreamwork.
Often, however, the experience of these voyages are so foreign and confusing that I have no reference point for its interpretation. As I filter the experience back through my monkey’s mind, the assimilation process inevitably leads to some imaginal myth building. It seems people who have near death experiences come back saying they saw Brahman (if they’re Hindu), Jesus (if they’re Catholic), and the Visitors (if they’re UFOlogists). It’s all the same really-it’s all an archetype. It will be the archetype of a savior if you’re in a good place, and a demon if you’re not. And in no way am I implying that these experiences are not real. In fact, they are the most real, because archetypes are not connected with their specific presentation, but the story they tell. Another way to say this is that archetypes are verbs rather than nouns.
So in my nights filled with existential angst, what gets me back to sleep is…”If anything is possible, what do I want to create?” If any reality is possible, why be a nihilist? That’s such a limited and sad existence. I would rather be a magical explorer with the belief that the Goddess/God is benevolent and loving and her attendants have my best interest in mind. That is so much more comforting.