I started writing the Coniuctionis column for the on-line magazine, Mental Contagion, back around the turn of the millennium. At that time, it grew out of my re-reading of Jung and Nietzsche, along with a personal journal work I was doing that I called Die Untergang, a term that Nietzsche used for a “down going,” or “going under,” which to me symbolized a review of my life up to that point (through going through my journals and writing a commentary on them). The Coniunctionis column was about exploring ideas that came together from various fields (comparative religions, spirituality, mysticism, science fiction, technology, consciousness, personal growth, transformation, trauma and finally, music) and it was also somewhat personal and informal as well as scholarly. It was a place for me to explore different ideas and topics without having to worry about how to publish them in more academic publications. I have recently picked up the thread of some of the topics of this column and thought it would be good to resurrect it. The term, “Coniunctionis” is Latin and I took it from Carl Jung’s last major work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, which explored transformation, particularly through an integration of the opposites, in alchemy and applying that to psychology and personal growth.
In this column, I would like to re-visit a topic that I have always found interesting: transformation through the correspondence of an inner state when it harmonizes with an outer state (music). I was a fairly introverted kid and teenager and had a fair melancholy streak as well. The image that returns to me when I consider this topic is sitting in the dark in my basement room, on top of the dresser, my back against the wall, and my gaze upward through the window at the moon and the night sky, while listening to music. Music has always been a very important part of my life. I am serious and enthusiastic about music. I would listen to bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, and my favorite bands, then, were Joy Division and the band that the 3 surviving members formed, New Order.
What has always interested me is that when I find myself in an intense inner state, one which many people might consider a “negative” state, if I find music that seems to resonate and harmonize with that negative state, this correspondence of inner and outer leads to a transformation of the inner state. I suppose this is a homeopathic treatment of sorts, treating “like with like,” however, unlike homeopathy it is an immersion in high dose external “like,” rather than a miniscule “like” dose. Contemporary, Western medicine is often called allopathy, meaning that symptoms are treated with their opposites rather than with “like.” In regard to music, this would mean that if you were sad, you would listen to happy music. My method was to immerse myself in sad, melancholy music, introspective, or in terms of Joy Division an almost nihilistic despair, but one which has tremendous power and energy behind it. In earlier Coniunctionis columns I have written about the similarities of various forms of punk rock and mystical rituals and experiences (see “What Did You See There? Ian Curtis and the Visionary Quest of the Shaman,” Trauma, Transformation and Punk Rock Part IX, in particular). The allopathic approach to feeling “sad” is to say that something is wrong with me and reality and I will fix that by making myself “happy,” a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy of logic. The extreme homeopathic treatment to feeling “sad” would be to say that I am experiencing a sense of being inwardly troubled, and rather than try to change that, I am going to accept it and not only accept it, but I am going to amplify that, I am going to enter into it and I am going to experience it to the fullest extreme. It is at that point that this becomes like a mystical practice, by following an inner state to its extreme, using external stimuli to amplify and maximize that state. For me, what would often happen is that I would emerge with a sense of peace, possibly you could call that happy, but that doesn’t quite seem to capture it, more a sense of inner expansiveness, a greater sense of self-knowing, as well as an ability to go back into the external world without feeling hampered by an inner state, instead feeling rejuvenated and more adapted to reality.
I suppose this is not without dangers, though. Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, committed suicide, and the line between transformative amplification and obsessive self-pity and internalization can be a fine one. This is what Jung cautioned about, particularly in regard to Nietzsche, that in his die untergang, he descended into the unconscious, he encountered the numinousity and power of archetypes which had the power to transform his life, but, in Jungian language, he identified with the archetypes as his own personality, which led to ego inflation, rather than ego transformation to incorporate more of the Self, and thus led to madness. The safe and superficial way leads to adaptation to society. The dangerous, inner way of transformation, holds both the danger of madness as well as the marvelous transformation of the ego to hold more energy of the Self (another way to say this is that the personality is stretched beyond its narrow confines of materialism to include a larger capacity for compassion and spirituality, and in that to find a greater sense of meaning in which the ego and the Self are harmonized, as well as inner and outer being harmonized).
Joy Division’s first album was titled, “Unknown Pleasures.” The title invokes many things, but for our purposes, we can focus on the language of mysticism in which the mystic experiences something that is beyond what can be described and that can be found in things that are often discarded or devalued (e.g. Philip K. Dick’s “God in the gutter”). This album, rather than having a side one and side two, was labeled with an “inside” and an “outside.” I could never tell whether there was a real correspondence between the songs on the inside and those on the outside, but I always took it more as a way of being creatively contrary to convention and it also sets up the template or archetype of correspondence and even movement (New Order’s first album was called “Movement”) between inner and outer, thus an initiation or transformative journey is prefigured.
All of this is leading up to the fact that I recently went and saw Damien Jurado perform here in Seattle. This may seem like an abrupt transition, but I am writing this column because music has had a renewed importance to me lately and I would like to write about it in the format of the Coniunctionis columns.
I have recently gone through a major external change in my life, moving from New Zealand (where I had lived the past three and a half years), back to the US, but to Seattle, a place I had visited many times, but never lived in. This major external shift has corresponded with a major inner turbulence that coincides with my mid-forties, in which I feel many different closing and opening of circles and themes in my life, with a sense of completion but also a sense of bewildering newness and outer uncertainty about the future. This also corresponds with a degree of inner certainty which does not, however, have an outlet in the outer world at this point. I have submitted my book, Re-humanizing Medicine, to go into the final proofs stage, with publication maybe, hopefully, 6 months or so from now. The next major project that I want to work on is called Every Thought Leads to Infinity. It is a study of Carl Jung’s Red Book and Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis, both of which were personal journals that were unpublished during the authors’ lifetimes, but held personal, mystical experiences that informed their later mature work. Anyway, it has been a trying year of transition…
When I was in New Zealand, I got the new Moby album, “Innocents.” My favorite song on it was “Almost Home,” which has guest vocals by Seattle artist, Damien Jurado, whom I had never heard before. The song had a lot of personal meaning for me as I was “between places,” between two homes. The song begins:
in a moments time,
to turn away,
leave it all behind,
so we’ll fly,
somewhere I will draw the line,
the ground is hard, the treasure fine,
so let it go,
wake up wake up wake up we’re almost home
(For the line “so we’ll fly,” others on the web have heard that as “so inclined,” or “so we climb,” I can also hear it as “soul will fly”).
The song invokes many images, such as a child asleep in a car after a long trip, in which the parents are confidently driving home; or for myself, literally being about to leave it all behind and move to a new home; but most truly, the song describes the spiritual element of life as a journey in sleep, in which the soul returns to its source, or “home.” In most transitions in my life, I felt a strong connection to what was ahead of me as well as a sense of the current situation being “done,” yet in this move from New Zealand back “home” to the US I didn’t have the inner bridge or connection or sense of the “rightness” of the move, and so it felt in some ways like a death. All change is a form of death, at least symbolically, but this was more than that and I found this spiritual sense to the song comforting. Moby, whose album this song is featured on, is often able to combine this element of spirituality into a chilled dance song which seems transcendent without necessarily being preachy or even denominational. Moby has long been an animal rights activist and vegan and also has a personal Christian spirituality, which is quite humble and does not seem to alienate non-Christians in the way he uses spirituality in his songs (see Wikipedia article).
Damien Jurado has just released his eleventh studio album, “Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son,” which has more prominent Christian spiritual themes, intermingled with some Sci Fi-like references as well. He seems a good match up with Moby in that the spiritual themes in his music, while often being clearly Christian, are expressed in such a way that they have universal appeal. (There is a brief discussion of his spirituality in a Pitchfork interview). Although, with this album, these themes are very overt, Jurado also recently put out a gospel chorus album entitled, “Sisters,” which is available as a bonus disk with “Brothers and Sisters.” “Sisters” is mostly alternate versions of Jurado songs, with him on acoustic guitar and singing and backed by the Silver Sisters Choir, but also includes the song “All For You,” which I believe is a Christian spiritual, if I remember correctly what he said when he played the Neptune Theater here in Seattle.
Jurado, Moby, Joy Division, and Bill Laswell (whom I’ll just mention here) combine, in different proportions, electronic technology, rhythmic and hypnotic beats, soaring emotional/spiritual soundscapes and lyrics that explore existential and spiritual themes. I think it is a valid perspective to state that all music is spiritual in nature as it has the ability to create a bridge between inner and outer states. This is one of the definitions of healing, bringing together that which has been separated, like the edges of a wound or an imbalance between the inner person and the outer world.
Music has been a bridge for me lately, it always is something that I rely on when I am in a big transition or when I have an inner chaos of turmoil. I think that the energy of music has the ability to connect to inner states, to serve as a mirror that amplifies the inner state until it can be clarified, transformed or resolved in some sense. In this aspect, music is therapeutic. This is nothing new as music has long been associated with healing rites and rituals and as having the ability to bring together body and soul. While the roots of music and healing are in the sacred, we have lost this association in the modern world. For me, there are at least two levels to the transformative nature of music as it creates correspondences between inner and outer. There is the physical, vibratory aspect of the music itself; and the emotional and spiritual themes of the lyrics which can sometimes make sense of this often mysterious life we live.