All this focus on the world, on its singular and peculiar character, has a corollary: individuals, too, are important. Not only are we peculiar things in the world (i.e., important like all those things) but the ‘coiling’ that defines our being plays a special role in the production of what is sacred and holy. That is magical and marvelous all on its own. We are capable of facilitating the sacralization of the world. Other spirits are capable of this, too, no doubt, but our particular connection to the materiality of the world, the weightiness of the world, gives us special access.
The catch? What we are capable of doing isn’t often what we actually do. Our capacity to amplify the spiritual can also manifest as an intensification of its baseness. The old gnostics knew this part well. We can become wicked servants of the world’s worst just as we can become agents of its best. The gnostics struggled to purify and liberate themselves from the worst. This isn’t an easy choice. Talk of liberation and escape can lead to dead-end delusions about self-perfection and transcendence. It isn’t easy, but it is workable. Joined to a fierce sense of our mortal limitations, it leaves correction a perpetual necessity; that may be the best we can manage in this world.
Each and every one of us, a knotted up network of spiritualizable and spiritualizing consciousness, can be a force for improvement or degradation. God’s little air scrubbers or the Devil’s tailpipe, if you will (as long as you take the labels ‘God’ and ‘Devil’ to be more whimsy than theology).
Last post, I made a point about how many claims to transcendence result more from blockage than enlightenment. I want to clarify that. Blockage isn’t bad in and of itself. Our very existence is a kind of blockage through which we ‘route’ the world through our filters, our coil. But locking down the process so it gets lodged at the ‘holy-holy’ chokmah-keter phase of the process, feeding you a steady buzz of good feeling, is just that. It doesn’t make you actually more holy and it tends to go stagnant after a while. Stick with that and you’re going to start getting hungry for something more substantive. Try long and hard enough to hold out and, well, I think we all know some version of the story where the holier-than-thou sort ends up doing the belly-crawl through the trough of sin.
The highest levels are all about the softening of the boundaries of yourself, the opening toward creation as an element of it. Carried on too long, you get spiritually leaky, unable to hold and run the spiritual current through yourself, from and to the world. You need some hardness to stabilize the whole process. Our saints and buddhas? The best of them manage this by a well-developed awareness of suffering, both their own and others’, joined to a notion of good works. Suffering, when accepted and embraced, seems to be precisely about the resistance of consciousness to the world, its deferral through us. Good works, motivated by this acceptance, brings the coil back into contact with creation ‘outside’ us; it completes the circuit.
The Kabbalah already has some good ways of talking about this. The much-vaunted and overly romanticized Klippoth are kinds of blockages. The ‘twinge’ of consciousness, where it occurs in the coil, partially defines our individuality. The entire coil is a sort of Klippoth. We are each a sort of Klippoth. Our particular Klippothic structure limits what sort of work we will best be able to undertake in creation, what sort of places and things we will be able to purify.
The Kabbalah provides us with a good structure for talking about where to look for resistances and how to work with them, but the coil is always specific to the individual. There isn’t some ideal coil from which all our individual coils are variations. There are only the many specific coils shaped by our fate, the specific part of the world into which we manifest, and affirmed by our animating spark as our destiny, as capable of manifesting some spiritual work. If we want to set about that work, we have to proceed through ourselves, our specific coil. We can’t pull out some one-size fits all manual. At best, those manuals are rough and insightful amalgamations of individual’s experiences with their coil. At worst, they are ham-handed abstractions.
The mess that we are is also our spiritual work and that spiritual work is valuable. On this point, we can benefit a little from looking at depth psychology so long as we don’t get caught up in making the psychological work identical with the spiritual work. When latter-day analysts like James Hillman (on the Jungian end) or Jacques Lacan (on the Freudian end) write about the work of depth psychology, they write about the way in which what troubles us also forms the basis for the therapeutic process. That troubling knot we can’t untie stretches along our coil and turns us back to the world.