Coniunctionis: Truma, Transformation & Punk Rock

Mental Contagion is publishing online some of its archive. Coniunctionis: Trauma, Transformation & Punk Rock was a column that I wrote from 2000 – 2002. My sister, Karen Kopacz started editing and publishing Mental Contagion and brought together a great group of writers, including Gene Dillon, Wendy Lewis, Dean Pajevic, and Eric Hoffman, as well as many others over the years.

I wrote a new introduction for this collection of essays and I’ll let it speak for itself as you can find it below along with the table of contents. You can download the complete archive through this link. I also have the individual essays on my website under the Creativity section.


Trauma, Transformation & Punk Rock

(2000 – 2002)

David R. Kopacz, MD

Table of Contents

.0  :    Introduction

.1  :     Why Coniunctionis? (November, 2000)

.2  :    Is Reality Real? (I) (December, 2000)

.3  :     Is Reality Real?  (II) (January, 2001)

.4  :     How Can Ugliness and Disharmony, Which Are the Content of Tragic Myth [and punk rock], Inspire Esthetic Delight?” (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part I) (February, 2001)

.5  :     Why is Revolt Necessary? (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part II) (March, 2001)

.6  :    Is Alienation Necessary for Creativity? (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part III) (April, 2001)

.7  :      Is There an Inside/Outside? (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part IV) (May, 2001)

.8  :     What is the Meaning of Ian Curtis’ Death?  Where is the line between the Art Object and the Artist? (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part V) (June, 2001)

.9  :     What is Punk Rock? What is Not Punk Rock? (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part VI) (July, 2001)

.10:     What Does the Shadow Know? (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part VII) (August, 2001)

.11:      What is the Relationship Between Music and Religion? (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part VIII) (September, 2001)

.12:      What Are We to Do? Quotations (October, 2001)

I:          Interview: Ouroboros (Houston) by David Kopacz – for Mental Contagion (MC) (November, 2001)

.13:      What Does Religion have to do with Rock? A review of Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion (December, 2001)

.14:     What Did You See There? Ian Curtis and the Visionary Quest of the Shaman (Joy Division, Punk Rock, Violence, Despair & Transformation Part IX) (January, 2002)

I:          Interview: Poster Children by David Kopacz (With Special Guests Doug McCarver and Mike Barry) (February 2002)

.15:     Afterwords


On stranger waves, the lows and highs Our vision touched the sky. “A Means to an End,” Joy Division, Closer, 1980.

There is a movement within me, a current and flow that lives through me. I have felt the pull to be inside, where everything is happening. I have felt the pull to be outside of it all, where nothing is happening. These essays, written between 2000-2002 for the online journal Mental Contagion, are attempts to understand the inside and the outside and the power that flows from outside to inside and from inside to outside. These essays are investigations into the nature of reality through Joy Division, trauma, transformation, and punk rock. 

There is a pull that some people feel, to go deeply inward, sometimes that pull is a push, from alienation or trauma in the outer world. Going into this inner wilderness is a kind of darkness and it can overlap with despair. Maybe despair is the cause of the inwardness or maybe despair is a station along the path of inwardness, like a phase of grief that one goes through, leaving the communal and collective world and entering into the sacred inner cave of consciousness and being. Jung wrote,

“As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know. Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible. The loneliness began with the experiences of my early dreams, and reached its climax at the time I was working on the unconscious. . . . It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. If fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum,” (Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 356).

For Jung, this loneliness was difficult to bear, but it was a source of learning and experience that he would not have traded for fitting in. Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, also found a creativity in the darkness and the loneliness and he sent back missives from the depths, as a lone astronaut exploring space might send back scratchy transmissions from another galaxy:

“You’ve been seeking things in darkness, not in learning(No Love Lost)

“I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand. Could these sensation make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?These sensations barely interest me for another day I’ve got the spirit, lose the feeling, take the shock away” (Disorder)

Depending on how this pull is engaged in, one goes on an inner journey. If one goes deep enough, there is an inner well of transformation, drinking that water of the deep self is like a form of rebirth, but rebirth infers that there has been a death. Without guidance, many are lost on this path and there is untold loss of human potential. Yet, these brave souls, these inner warriors, can serve as heroes as well as cautionary tales. To give one’s self over to this inner secret is like taking the steps of what Joseph Campbell called the “Hero’s Journey,” with steps of 1) separating from the everyday world; 2) entering into a magical world or the underworld and going through an initiation and transformation into a new way of being; and 3) a return and reintegration into society. Jung’s process of individuation would say that the hero brings back energy and ideas from the collective unconscious, and yet the hero bringing this back is alone, because no one else made that journey and no one else yet understands the beauty and value of what the hero or heroine has brought back from the unconscious into the light of day. Joseph Campbell felt that the hero is rejected by society, because he or she has gone places that most people do not know or understand. Herman Hesse, in Steppenwolf, wrote of a similar concept, that creativity is infused into society by the lone wolf, the liminal being, the misfit.

“We are psychiatrists; we are German; we have read Nietzsche; we know that to gaze too long at monsters is to risk becoming one – that is what we get paid for,” (Huelsenbeck, quoted in Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces, 226).

I was a young psychiatrist when I was writing these columns and I was trying to find my path as an artist, a writer, a professional and a person. I was not German, but I had read Nietzsche, Jung, and a number of other writers you’ll find in these pages. I had listened to Joy Division and punk rock and post-punk. I was gazing at monsters, both inner and outer, as Richard Huelsenbeck, the Dadaist Psychiatrist.

These essays were about me trying to figure some things out, but they are really more explorations than answers. Over the years, the topics in these essays have resurfaced and recurred in my life in various ways. After a period of some years, I found that I had more to write on these topics and began writing additional columns.

For the purpose of this archival collection, I have just collected those essays published in Mental Contagion 2000 – 2002. Post 9/11/2001, I mostly shifted to doing interviews for the column, for this collection I have kept just a few interviews as many of them seem more specific to that time and that place (Champain-Urbana, Illinois). You can read more recent Coniunctionis essays on my blog Being Fully Human. My website also has the original Coniunctionis essays, along with artwork, photography, poetry, publications, and other work. The work of Coniunctionis prefigures my current work with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and has continued to influence my writing and published work:

Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice and the Culture of Medicine (2014)

Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD (2016) with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality (2020) with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

Coniunctionis.21: In A Silent Way


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 back 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 aspect of the music itself, and there are also the emotional and spiritual themes of the lyrics which can sometimes make sense of this often mysterious life we live. What I am going to write about in this column is purely instrumental music, Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way.”

In a Silent Way was released July 30, 1969 on Columbia Records. It was recorded in one session date on February 18, 1969 at CBS 30th Street Studio B in New York City. It was the first of Davis’ fusion, electric albums. For me, it combines the best aspects of the classic 1959 album, “Kind of Blue” and the dissonant 1970 album, “Bitches Brew.” In 2001, a three-disc box set was released, “The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions,” and this is what I first started listening to as I entered into a stage of transition moving back from New Zealand to the US. (Details about the album are taken from the Wikipedia entry for the album).

The Complete Sessions are 3.5 hours of music, while there are a few songs that I sometimes skip, in general I find that I can get seriously lost in this album – in a good way – the kind of being lost that is pleasant and soothing, and often I come out of it feeling kind of “found,” or at least more at peace. The original 1969 album consists only of two songs, as it appears on CD, “Shhh/Peaceful” (18:16) and “In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time” (19:52). The LP lists the songs as:


Side one

  1. “Shhh”/”Peaceful” (Miles Davis) – 18:16
    1. “Shhh” – 6:14
    2. “Peaceful” – 5:42
    3. “Shhh” – 6:20

Side two

  1. “In a Silent Way”/”It’s About That Time” (Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis) – 19:52
    1. “In a Silent Way” (Zawinul) – 4:11
    2. “It’s About That Time” (Davis and Zawinul) – 11:27
    3. “In a Silent Way” (Zawinul) – 4:14

What is apparent from looking at the song titles is the way that there is an introduction, an interlude of another song/theme and then a return to the starting point, transformed though after the journey through. As I write this, I do realize that is one of the reasons that I find this album so orienting and soothing for me. There is a lot of wandering, exploring and creating space, and yet there is this continual return. This is even more pronounced in the Complete Sessions which has 78 minutes of different versions of the core songs from the original album. Even in some of the most unstructured explorations, there is often still a simple, repetitive, bass line or a rhythmic click of a drum stick on the rim of the snare that provides an orienting anchor. It is this rhythmic element of the album that made it so conducive to the more modern remixes found on Bill Laswell’s 1998 album, Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969–1974, which is where I first heard these songs, as well as on the 1999 multiple artist Panthalassa: The Remixes.

“In a Silent Way” features many great musicians who went on to have impressive careers themselves:

As I mentioned, I can really get lost in this album, the dissonant elements of the brass, guitar and sometimes electric piano and organ pull me out, like exploring interstellar space, or closer to Earth, like the darting fish of a coral reef. While the bass and drums, and sometimes other instruments, build a solid, repetitive structure, like the hidden pulse of galaxies or the rhythmic waves over a reef. These are the two images that I get when I listen to the music, space and the ocean.

What was interesting, recently, was a conversation that my wife and I had about the album. That is not surprising as I have pretty much left it in the CD player in the car for the past months. That particular day we were juggling a lot of things, working on buying a house being the primary thing, and Mary Pat said “this is the first time I like this album, all the chaotic dissonance is like my own thoughts with all this going on.” I was surprised she found the album primarily dissonant, because I could say it is dissonant just as easily as I could say it has a strong rhythmic foundation; or that is even quite open and simplistic even as it is possible to listen to the silence which structures the notes. It is interesting that we had listened to this album in different ways and even more interesting that she had found the dissonant elements soothing on that particular day, as that is something that I have been thinking about lately, the correspondence of inner and outer states related to music.

In a Silent Way, that is the name of the album. Even the name makes me think about this space between the notes, about what it is that is being communicated silently. This brings to mind what all the mystics end up raving about, the silence, the deep and profound meaning that defies words. For instance, Carlos Castaneda writes of “inner silence…a peculiar state of being in which thoughts were cancelled out and one could function from a level other than that of daily awareness…[and to reach this state practitioners]…devised endless ways to shake themselves…at their foundations in order to reach that state,” (The Active Side of Infinity, 103-104). Paradoxically, to reach this state of quietude may require some form of agitation or surprise, thus we have the surprising dissonant elements of “In a Silent Way,” that are required in order to reach the silence. Juan Mascaro in the introduction to his translation of The Upanishads, writes that the “silent voice of the Eternal is perpetually whispering in us his melodies everlasting,” (12). The way of meditation involves quieting the mind, coming to terms with desires, in order to listen to that silent voice. The way of the shaman, which is the way of many contemporary musicians, is to find the silence through the noise or dissonance, for instance the energized focus that can come after a punk rock concert.

There is something about finding music in the outside, that when it corresponds to the inside, brings about some transformation.

What is it that brings resolution of a state of inner tension? Reaching the inner silence. How is inner silence reached? Not always through a direct quieting of the mind, sometimes it is reached by getting shaken to your foundations. “In a Silent Way” combines a little bit of several paths: the dissonant shaking, the rhythmic repetition and the liberal use of silence. Lately, there is something about all these elements that speak to something within me. I find a sense of calm and purpose in the music, the structured elements help me feel focused, the dissonant elements help me to feel expansive, and the silence – I find myself in the silence, some calm, perhaps even the silent voice of the Eternal.


Coniunctionis.20: Connecting Inner and Outer Through Music

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:

I’ll decide,

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.

The Imaginary World of Nebraska: Coniunctionis.19


I used to live in Nebraska, Omaha, from 1997-1999.

Last night, instead of watching the Oscars, I went with my friend, Don, to go see the movie, “Nebraska,” featuring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk. It is directed by Alexander Payne and written by Bob Nelson. While it was nominated for 6 academy awards, it appears not to have won any, which is actually fitting as it is a subtle film about very small, but very important accomplishments. (Quotations used in this blog are paraphrases from my memory of watching the movie).

This morning, I started reading a book on Yoga Nidra by Richard Miller. The movie had been percolating away in the back of my mind. I have been working on a blog on listening to music and inner transformation, and I have been thinking about some writing that I was doing shortly after leaving Omaha, when I had returned back to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and was writing the “Coniunctionis” column. An idea for a blog came to me as I read Miller’s words.

“During waking consciousness, we perceive the world to be made up of solid and separate objects. We believe that our waking thoughts and the objects around us are real. But, could it be that waking-state thoughts and objects are also fabrications and projections of the mind, as empty of substance as our dream-self and dream-world?” (Richard Miller, Yoga Nidra, 18).

This reminded me of a topic that I wrote on years past in “Coniunctionis,” entitled, “Is Reality Real?” That was a focus on the movie, “The Matrix,” as well as Eastern philosophy. Now all these things come together in my mind this morning, thinking about Nebraska, a state often referred to as “The Heartland,” being in the center of the country and an agricultural state.

The movie is in black and white, which is very fitting for the bleakness of the soul and loss of hope that it portrays in small town America. The plot hinges around Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a mean, demented alcoholic who mostly lives in his own world and his fixation on having won a million dollars in a magazine mail scam. He insists on going in-person to Lincoln, Nebraska, and he continues to set off walking there, appearing as a demented old man. His wife Kate (June Squibb) is another heartless and unappealing character. Crass and unsympathetic to Woody, she talks about how worthless he is and that if she had a million dollars she “would put him in a home.” The “hero” of the movie is David Grant (Will Forte). He stands in two worlds, the hopeless and loveless world of his parents and the “real” world of trying to adapt to his life in Billings Montana after his girlfriend left him and his job selling home audio and video equipment. His life seems bleak and purposeless as well, even though he is socially adapted in having a job and being able to see the narrow-mindedness of his parents. David is the predominantly likeable character in the movie, who keeps trying to tell his dad he didn’t win anything and that this is all a fantasy, but at the same time he searches for a deeper truth in Woody’s quest, realizing that the old man is just searching for something to live for.

David gradually comes to believe that the only way to get his father to see the truth of his fiction is to actually drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska, slowly and carefully, it turns out, because David is a cautious character who tries to play by the rules. In a way, his life is a fiction too, passionless, disconnected and empty. They slowly make some good time across the empty vistas between Billings and South Dakota. He convinces his dad to stop and see Mt. Rushmore, which his father dismisses as being badly done, as if the creator got bored and stopped part way through (a fitting comment about the lives of so many in the film, bored and not committed to a greater creation of a life).  They move along until Woody sneaks out of the motel at night, gets drunk and falls and opens up his head with a laceration. This “fall” is important, as is the opening up of the head because it is the point where David’s somewhat naive attempt to humor the old man and get out of Billings for a few days becomes quite serious, the quest to prove the truth of the false belief seems on the verge of failure. David proclaims the quest to be over, instead the family will meet up in Woody and Kate’s home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska.

What follows is a depressing look at the roots of where Woody and Kate grew up. Illusion after illusion is shattered for David as he hears his mother’s reminiscences of all the men who wanted to get into her “bloomers,” how Woody’s sister who died at 19 years old was a “slut,” all the while, she ignores the presence of Woody, who in truth is not fully there as he is single-mindedly focused on claiming his false million dollars. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but all the friends and family are presented as small-minded, ignorant, isolated, cut off from the world. In a sense their “reality” is a fantasy as well, yet it is a fantasy of “old wood and weeds” as Woody proclaims about the old family homestead that his father built, but is now abandoned and in disrepair. There are small moments of dark humor, as when David asks his dad how the old place looks, as they push aside abandoned items and dust and Woody says, “pretty much the same.” Kate then agrees, but takes the passive, disconnected comment and turns it into another putdown of others, when she says something like, “I’ll say, this is pretty much how his mom used to keep the house!”

At first the town welcomes Woody, particularly when he lets slip that he is going to Nebraska for the million dollars he won. He is hailed as the town hero, one of us who got out and made good, he thus brings “fortune” upon the town. But then people slowly start to turn mean and petty, threatening and intimidating David, wanting him to “share the wealth” with them for “helping” Woody in the past.  Even though Kate and Woody’s lives in Billings seem bleak and insular, it becomes clear why they left Hawthorne and they seem like successes in comparison to the world they left behind. They belong to a bigger world, but they still carry the smallness, meanness and despair of Hawthorne within them.

David begins to drink with his dad, hanging out in the generic, small town bars of middle America. He tries to have a heart to heart conversation with his dad about how to know when you are ready to get married. Woody just says, “Well, your mom wanted to get married.” David replies, “Well, were you in love.” Woody considers a moment and says, “I don’t believe that ever came up.” David asks further, “Well, did you talk about if you wanted to have kids and how many kids you wanted to have?” Woody again replies in a dismissive negative way, it never really came up, he “liked to screw, and your mom was Catholic, I figured we’d have a couple kids sooner or later.” David asks if Woody ever loved someone else or thought about being with someone else. Woody replies, “I just would have ended up with someone else who would have made my life miserable, so what’s the difference?”

The one bright spot in Hawthorne is Pegy Nagy (Angela McEwan) who runs the newspaper and turns out to be Woody’s former girlfriend. She appears as a compassionate angel in the film, comparatively to the others. She tells David about how kind and compassionate Woody was, sure he drank even before Korea, but people always took advantage of his kindness, he couldn’t say “no.” David always thought that his dad was “just” a mechanic in the war, but Pegy shows him an old newspaper photo of the brothers in uniform and tells him that Woody was shot down when his plane he was being transferred. She says that Woody never said much, but after the war the drinking got worse and he hardly talked. When David tells her there is no million dollars, Pegy says she can’t print that he won, but she kindly won’t “print that he didn’t win.” Her love for the kind Woody of old leads her to be the only other person besides David (and the doctors who stitch him up and the police who pick him up off the streets) who extends compassion to Woody and sees something in him other than the surface “truth” of a mean old drunk. Pegy’s compassion opens further compassion in David for his father.

While David always has a degree of compassion for his father, this increases as the movie goes on. He helps his father find all the things he is losing, his false teeth near the railroad tracks when he fell down drunk, and later even the “million dollar letter,” the only thing Woody cares about or for. Woody tells others that the first thing he is going to do is to buy a new truck and an air compressor. Eventually David asks his dad what the reality is behind these apparently capricious choices, particularly as he lost his driver’s license and can’t drive. Woody says, “Well, I always wanted to own a new truck.” It doesn’t seem like this is just a status symbol, but rather a dream of Woody’s as to what being successful means, maybe even what being a Person means, a dream of the heart that reveals the inner person (this is of course my extrapolation, the surface of the film is not as sentimental as I am, but I think there is a truth at a deeper level here). The reason Woody wants a new air compressor is that it is an old loss, his old partner at the mechanic shop “borrowed it” forty years ago and never returned it. Again, David seems to sense that there is something about Woody’s humanity behind this obsession with an old air compressor. When David asks, “Well that is just a little bit of the money, what would you do with the rest?” Woody replies, “the rest of it is for you boys, I always wanted to leave you something.”

I will reveal a plot spoiler as it is important to this essay as to a possible meaning of the movie. The quest seems to end in just another sad, small disappointment. Woody and David arrive in Lincoln and go to the office. Woody is summarily told by the employee that his is not one of the winning numbers, as an afterthought she says he can have a free gift. He chooses a baseball cap that says “prize winner” on it. He slumps into the car, David looks at the tired, old man, and says that they need to make a few stops on the way back home. First David trades in his Subaru for an “almost new” 5 year old pick-up truck, and he puts his dad on the title as well. Woody can’t believe that David could get this truck for his trade in and asks if the prize people had something to do with it, David passively agrees. Next they stop and buy a new compressor and it is loaded into the back of the truck. Then, the last thing is that David offers that Woody can drive the truck down the main street in Hawthorne. He does this, seen by all the important people, his old partner Ed (whom David, connecting to his own passion and sense of righteousness punched out after he was publicly humiliating his dad), and perhaps most importantly, by his former girlfriend, Pegy, who tears up (I imagine with a sense of pride and maybe even a validation that no matter how deeply buried the goodness and kindness is, it will persist and be rewarded in some way). Thus it appears that Woody did win the million dollars after all…

However, if that was the story, the creation of an illusion over another illusion, it would be a meaningless and hopeless tale. The true winning of the million dollars, from my perspective, is not the image of winning that the other people see. It is a small and subtle moment. David is driving his and his dad’s new truck, and for the first time, Woody sneaks a glance over at David, and he sees his son, David glances over and sees his father seeing him and Woody quickly looks away. I imagine that Woody sees the compassion in David for him, despite all the surface mistakes he has made in his life. There is a sense of continuity of the compassion that the young Woody had, always giving to others. His success is that he “got out” of “Hawthorne” and even though his life does not appear to be a success, his son has heart, compassion and right action…there is hope for his son in his life, a better life than the people of Hawthorne or of Woody and Kate, or of David’s previous life before the quest. A brief mention, David’s brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk) is the one who seemed the even bigger success, appearing in a fill-in TV anchor role. There is probably something significant in the appearance of success of Ross, based on his appearance and presentation, he is a success in a profession that is often thought of as being based on falseness, rather than an emergence of the true self.

I see David as the “hero” of the story. While Woody goes through a transformation and redemption, he is still mostly in a fog. It is David who has his whole second half of his life ahead of him and he has the opportunity to choose between the passive isolation and hopelessness of the men in his family, or to actually live passionately (one could almost imagine a Wizard of Oz like transformation from black and white into color, however this is not that kind of movie). One could apply Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” from The Hero With A Thousand Faces to this movie. David and Pegy are the helpers on Woody’s quest, which involves a fall into a “special” world, in this case the past, he is seeking the boon, the million dollars, but he receives a different boon, the love and compassion, being seen, by David and Pegy. Woody, like a true mythological hero, drives in his resplendent chariot (a 5 year old Ford pick-up) as a King of Hawthorne, with his magical machine that can inflate what has become deflated. However, looking at David as the hero, he is the one who stands in the liminal space, half-way between worlds. In a sense, even though he has a moment of redemption, Woody is living mostly in that liminal state, a failed hero who never fully returned to the “real” world. Yet for David, his compassion for his father also transforms him. He is the only person who treats the old demented drunk as a human being. When the employee at the prize office asks David if his father has Alzheimer’s, he simply says, “No, he just believes what people tell him.” In a sense this is a commentary that he accepts the world that is given to him by society rather than creating his own reality, his own life.

As a hero, David has a kind of divine birth. His mother tells him, as a child, “you were so beautiful that people didn’t know if you were a boy or a girl.” And a former neighbor says to David, “You were like a little porcelain prince.” Hero myths often have an unusual birth and in this case, David stands between masculine and feminine. People notice his beauty, but he has not done anything with his beauty, now people don’t recognize him. As Sathya Sai Baba said, “If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.” Or, a similar common quote on the internet is, “If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.” This is not just the superficial beauty of physical appearance, but something deeper, and it is this essence that David reveals that had been hidden and forgotten within him.

One of the disillusionments that David has of his parents is when his dad’s old business partner, Ed tells him how Woody had an affair with a “half-breed” down at the reservation. Ed brags how Woody “thought he loved her,” but Ed convinced him to stay with Kate. Ed continues that if he hadn’t intervened, David wouldn’t have even been born, because that was before he was born. For David, he is disillusioned with his father, but it also reveals that the old Woody was capable of love and that he could look beyond the small-minded racial prejudices of his society.

David’s transformation is the rekindling of his heart of righteousness that leads to a revelation of beauty in his character. He sticks up for his father, he protects him, he loves him enough to create a momentary false reality, an illusion that at the same time means something quite profound to Woody, to Pegy, to Ed, and to Woody’s family, as for a brief moment they see the Kingly beauty and righteousness of a man who always was giving to others and yet lost himself in a fog of alcohol, disappointment and regret. The appearance is of course an illusion, but as the visionary scholar, Henry Corbin has written, we can only experience that which we have already within us in some germinal form.

So, why do I call this the “Imaginary World of Nebraska?” I would again like to appeal to Henry Corbin in his discussion of the imaginal, he argues for a state of being that is not a false illusion, but rather a true imaginal realm, that is perceived through “active imagination.” While this is a complicated topic, as reality always is, the gist of it is that Corbin writes about the Sufi and esoteric Islamic view that there is a true and existing imaginal realm, a visionary realm that the mystics visit, that stands between surface reality and spiritual reality, and which acts or determines what happens here (it is difficult to know where to recommend starting to understand Corbin, one place is Tom Cheetham’s book All the World an Icon, his paper, “The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World: An Introduction to the Spiritual Vision of Henry Corbin,” as well as his blog on Corbin,  As Amit Goswami, the self-described “quantum activist” and physicist, writes that consciousness is the ground of being, rather than consciousness arising from matter, matter arises from consciousness. By consciousness he does not mean the ego, but rather the Self, (see Goswami, The Quantum Doctor). Similarly, Corbin is not speaking of the fantasies of the ego, but of a higher order of consciousness in which what is imagined corresponds to what appears in reality.

I think this movie, with its work on themes of what is real and what is false is a rich ground to explore using some of these concepts about reality and imagination from Islamic and Hindu perspectives. Buddhist perspectives, too, speak of the world as illusion. The dilemma that I have always found is that if the world is illusion, what is real and why are we here. The author Philip K. Dick, in his explorations of “what is real?” and “what is the truly human?” came to the conclusion that compassion is the hallmark of a human being. We could then say that compassion is real, regardless of the degree of “reality” within which someone is living (and it could be argued that we all live in our own experiences or creations of the world). It is possible to see the bleak realities of many of the characters in the movie as manifestations of a lack of imagination, a lack of vision and ultimately a lack of compassion. Compassion cuts across false realities and compassion creates reality and it gives others the space for their true selves or true essences to unfold. In the movie, “Nebraska,” it is compassion that changes David, his relationship with Woody, creates a momentary reality that redeems Woody in the eyes of his past, creates a connection of love between David and Woody, and, ultimately holds the potential for David to be transformed and changed when he returns to his old life. One imagines that he has the possibility of creating a new reality for himself.


Coniunctionis.18: Separation and Return

I have not posted anything on the site for a few months as I have been in the process of moving back from New Zealand to the United States. An international move takes a lot of energy and planning and I am just starting to get settled into our new home in Seattle. Although we have visited Seattle many times, this is the first time we are living here, so it is a sort of home-coming to the US, but it is also a move to a new city. We are living in a one bedroom apartment for the time being, our belongings have arrived, but will be in storage until such time as we buy a house, so this is an extended transitional stage. I have been reflecting on a number of larger life topics during this transition and during this particular stage in my life. I think the “largeness” of these topics warrants another installment in the Coniunctionis column that I started around 2000. I borrowed this term from Jung’s major work on alchemy and personal/spiritual transformation, Mysterium Coniunctionis. Chalquist defines Mysterium Coniunctionis as “the final alchemical synthesis (for Jung, of ego and unconscious, matter and spirit, male and female) that brings forth the Philosopher’s Stone (the Self). Its highest aspect, as for alchemist Gerard Dorn, was the unus mundus, a unification of the Stone with body, soul, and spirit,” (Glossary of Jungian Terms). Jung’s study of alchemy is related to his study of Gnosticism, both of which served to link his inner experiences and visions of The Red Book with historical traditions of mysticism and divine revelation. He saw the Gnostics and the alchemists as carrying on the tradition of inner experience of the divine, a form of mysticism. This work of transformation required inner work as well as outer work, in a truly holistic manner. Jung wrote that the “alchemists thought that the opus demanded not only laboratory work, the reading of books, meditation, and patience, but also love,” (The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16). Thus, in my Coniunctionis column, I investigate transformation from a wide-ranging variety of sources. In this installment, I will examine the framework of the hero’s journey for my own situation, for returning war veterans, in literature and movies, and in the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung and science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.


The theme for this column is “separation and return,” and I borrow this concept from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell elucidated a common underlying theme that can be found in mythology, religion, literature and in people’s lives. Campbell was influenced by Jung’s ideas (particularly archetypes and the collective unconscious) and applied them to the field of mythology. He influenced popular culture (George Lucas admits that he drew on Campbell’s ideas for the plot of “Star Wars”). The map of the journey can be briefly summarized as a movement from the everyday world, to a series of struggles crossing a threshold into another world and then crossing the threshold back to everyday life. different variations of this journey can be seen in mythology and religious stories, as well as in the lives of artists and visionaries. What particularly interests me at this time is how this framework applies to my own situation of having left the US to live in New Zealand for over 3 years and to now be in the process of returning. I have also been pondering how this framework might be useful in helping veterans returning home after deployment (as my job I am starting next week will be with the VA).

Here is a visual diagram of the hero’s journey from Wikipedia , (further reading under the “Monomyth” heading):

Campbell gives an overview of the journey as follows:

The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure.  There he encounters a shadow presence that guards that passage.  The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion).  Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers).  When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward.  The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinisation (apotheosis), or again–if the powers have remained unfriendly to him–his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom).  The final work is that of the return.  If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight).  At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection).  The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir), (Campbell, 245-246).

Campbell describes hero themes of warrior, lover, emperor, world redeemer, and saint. We can apply this framework of the hero’s journey to these external journeys, as well as to the internal journeys of artists and creatives (this would of course apply to Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick’s experiences as well, which will be the focus of my next book). While action-oriented, downward part of the cycle is the one that is most often focused on in movies, the return is just as trying and it is this part of the journey that separates the successful heroes journey from the tragic heroes journey. (The tragic journey is well-exemplified by rock and roll heroes like Ian Curtis or Curt Cobain, who achieved the boon, but were destroyed by it and were unable to integrate it back into a live-able and sustainable life).  It is precisely this return that I now find myself in and which draws my interest and enthusiasm. While I don’t mean to aggrandize my own experience of living in another English-speaking country and returning back to the US, I do believe that there are some universal themes of the hero’s journey that apply to cross-cultural repatriation and to returning war veterans, as well as to works of literature.

For instance in Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo can be seen as having difficulties fitting back into society after his wounds and experiences. Sam has an easier reintegration and creates a new family. Frodo continues to suffer from physical and emotional pain from his wound and from his experience of proximity to evil. Compared to Sam, Frodo always remains somewhat apart from the society that he gave so much to save – an obvious parallel with returning war veterans. This example from literature shows that even when the returning hero has quite literally “saved the world,” the return can still be problematic and for some is never complete. It could be said that with Frodo’s return, he is “in but not of” the society of the Shire. He remains partly outside of it. In choosing this language from the Bible, I purposefully invoke the themes of mysticism as another example of journey and return. For Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick,  after their inner journeys, the rest of their lives were focused on translating and linking back to historical and contemporary society their inner experiences with a larger purpose and meaning for others. Within Jung’s Red Book can be seen the glimmering of his mature works on Gnosticism and alchemy. Philip K. Dick’s 8,000 page Exegesis shows his persistent and never-ending attempts to understand his intense and overwhelming experiences of February/March 1974. Also worth mentioning is Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf which works on the theme of how those “outside” of society actually nourish the cultural life of those “inside” society.


Let us turn to the horizontal line between the known/unknown in the diagram of the hero’s journey, above. This threshold can be considered to separate the mundane from the sacred, the worldly from the other-worldly, and consciousness from unconsciousness. Those who have studied initiation rituals and transformation sometimes speak of liminality. For instance, Arnold van Gennep’s 1908 book, Rites of Passage, examines pre-liminal, liminal, and post-liminal initiation rites. This roughly corresponds to separation, initiation, return. The focus on managing this liminal boundary can be seen in concepts like tapu and noa in Māori culture (see Coniunctionis.17) as well as well as societal structures that manage individuals instincts and enthusiasms.


This is an interesting parallel between Freud and Jung in regard to culture. Freud’s views on culture are that the role of culture is to inhibit and channel the libido (sexuality) of individuals. Whereas Jung’s view of libido had more to do with spiritual and mystical energies (of which sexuality was one expression). Both Freud and Jung were ambivalent toward society and culture, on the one hand seeing it as a limitation of the individual, while on the other hand seeing it as a protective element against the dangers of instinctual drives and eruptions of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, respectively. This also is the tension between religion (which seeks to structure and define “legitimate” spiritual experience) and mysticism (which is the direct access of spiritual experience by the individual that is unmediated by social or religious structures).


The liminal boundary separates the ordinary world from the non-ordinary world. From the perspective of society, the ordinary world is reality. From the perspective of poets, mystics, it is the liminal world that is Reality, where one feels really alive, connected with the cosmos, in union with the divine. Many Eastern philosophies, such as Hinduism and Buddhism speak of the ordinary world as being a veil of illusion over the Real world. Western Gnosticism, similarly speaks of the ordinary world as an illusion or delusion that leads one away from the true world of Spirit. The Matrix trilogy played with these ideas from a technological rather than a spiritual and metaphysical perspective. The resurrection of these concepts in modern form attests to a large part of the popularity of that trilogy, above and beyond the action and visual effects of the movies. Henry Corbin’s work on Persian Sufism and mysticism also picks up this theme that the ordinary world is a projection or creation of a “more real” spiritual world (this is an extreme simplification of his prodigious work which merits a Coniunctionis column of its own). And lastly, I’ll mention Amit Goswami’s work in The Quantum Doctor and The Quantum Activist in which he argues (from a Quantum physics point of view that intersects with Hindu philosophy) that consciousness is the primary reality and matter a secondary manifestation of consciousness.


The source of mana in indigenous Fijian culture is believed to reside in the “mana-box” (kato ni mana) buried in the depths of the ocean. Katz describes this in his book, The Straight Path: A Story of Healing and Transformation in Fiji, (p. 22), and he tells of how healers are called in dreams to dive down into the abyss in order to bring back the boon of mana to use for healing purposes for the community.

Why would anyone want to return from the liminal space of the unknown if it is the source of creative and spiritual inspiration, of mana, of transformative energy, and the boon of the hero’s journey? This is of course a very real dilemma, Jung recognized this, as do any cultures with a conception of the liminal threshold to the sacred. This potential energy is energy of transformation and that means destruction of old forms as well as creation of new forms. Human life, the stability of society, and the mental stability of the individual depend upon a balance of structured forms as well as an influx of transformative energy, as was discussed in Coniunctionis.17 regarding the Apollonian and Dionysian dialectic. As David Tacey writes in his recent book, The Darkening Spirit: Jung, Spirituality, Religion, Jung’s position fluctuated regarding the role of religious and societal boundaries and the individual’s quest. Jung respects the transformative power of the liminal realm (the archetypes of the collective unconscious) and saw that contact with this realm was inherently dangerous and could destroy the individual as well as be healing or transformative. Jung struggled with this personally in his life, and while ever a champion of the individual, he recognized that the individual’s continued existence is rooted in society. He wrote that “The opening up of the unconscious always means the outbreak of intense spiritual suffering: it is as when fertile fields are exposed by the bursting of a dam to a raging torrent,” (Jung, “Psychotherapists and the Clergy,” CW 10). Further, “The modern man must be proficient in the highest degree, for unless he can atone by creative ability for his break with tradition, he is merely disloyal to the past,” (Jung, “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man”). This implies that there is a complex reciprocal relationship between the individual, the liminal unknown (the collective unconscious), and society. The individual must be willing to leave the safety and boundaries of society; then risk being overwhelmed by the liminal abyss (Mogenson describes any overwhelming, traumatic experience as being synonymous with “God,” see God is a Trauma: Vicarious Religion and Soul-making, this idea is similar to that of indigenous cultures view of the sacred as being both beneficial and dangerous, anything that is overwhelming is sacred and must be handled very carefully); and then must return to society, carrying something (having become someone) that is bigger than one’s previous place in society. The fact of the heroes transformation mid-journey is the fact that the same essence that is potentially transformative for society is the same essence which causes society to reject the transformed individual (recall Jerzy Kosinski’s myth of the “painted bird” who is attacked and killed by its flock because it is simply painted a different color).

The transformed individual simply does not fit back into the place/role in society which they left and yet to complete the hero’s journey, they must accomplish the return for their good as well as the good of society. Tacey writes, “The boon must be shared and brought into the community…spiritual experience is not complete until one finds a way back to others…We make the journey back not only for the sake of others, but for our own mental health as well,” (Tacey, 151).

This dilemma leaves several possibilities (Campbell explores many of these variations in The Hero With a Thousand Faces):

1) the prototypical, successful hero’s journey ends with a successful reintegration back into society in which the transformed individual is given/creates a new role in society and society appreciates this work;

2) the tragic hero’s journey in which the individual either dies, commits suicide, or returns but is not accepted;

3) the rejection of the return, the individual chooses not to return and rejects the original society (this could be madness, becoming a hermit, or for a veteran, perhaps re-enlisting);

4) the rejection of the boon, the hero tries to go back to who they were before their transformative journey;

5) or various combinations of these possibilities.

The work of a successful return has both inner (individual) and outer (collective) elements. What if the “boon” of the returning individual is not clear? What if the individual only recognizes that they have changed, that they are different, but does not see a path as to how this difference can be a boon or benefit to them or to society? What if society rejects what the hero brings back? For instance, Vietnam veterans were often viewed as villains rather than heroes. Society may just see the individual as changed and react to that without seeing how it can be of collective benefit. What if hero rejects his or her experience of transformation, and simply tries to fit back into their previous role in society (this is a common dilemma for those who experience trauma, that they reject the transformation as it seems only negative and they strive to recover their “lost” previous life and self). The inner work for the individual is to integrate the overwhelming, transformative experience. If this is not done, it will make the individual’s return much less likely to be successful. In many ways it is not realistic to expect that society as a whole will change to welcome transformed individuals with open arms. It is society’s goal to be conservative and to be cautionary about integrating individuals who are unpredictable. Jonathan Shay wrote, in his book Achilles in Vietnam, about the role that acting and drama had for returning war veterans. They were given a place in society that was respected, that helped them work through their transformation, and also transformed society in the process. That would be an ideal, that the structure of society would provide effective boundaries but still recognize the need for creative growth and transformation. Many earlier societies provided this type of balance to provide safety, community, belonging, as well as creative spiritual space for individual transformation. For instance, warriors preparing for battle or returning from battle in Māori culture were considered tapu and rituals would be used to render them noa.


In closing, let us move away from the theme of returning war veterans, back to my more immediate concern of reintegrating back into the US after almost three and a half years in New Zealand.  (Again, I hope it is clear to the reader that I am moving back and forth between related universal themes and not claiming my experience is that of a returning war veteran, a traumatized person, or a “hero”). The concept of “reverse-culture shock” speaks to this idea that a return home after living in another culture can have its own challenges. Picking up on the framework discussed in this column, leaving one’s culture and living in another culture transforms the individual. This transformation can be both positive and negative for the individual and it requires inner work in order to integrate new experience into the Self of the individual. For myself, I took 5 weeks off before starting work. I have spent time reconnecting to family, I’ve made two trips back to the Mid-west. I have also spent a lot of time on my own, reading, writing, thinking, walking, meditating. I have talked with others when appropriate; I recognize that my need and capacity to talk about New Zealand generally is greater than the listener’s capacity/interest to listen. It really helps that Mary Pat and I have both gone through the experience together of moving abroad and returning, however, every individual’s experience is different and even within the relationship there is the challenge of balancing and integrating each of our individual experiences of separation and return. I have turned to reading books like Corbin’s Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi. As somewhat of a parallel thinker to Jung, and a mystic scholar, Corbin has provided a spiritual framework that complements Campbell’s hero’s journey.  I suppose to voluntarily leave one’s own home culture for a period of time, quite possibly presupposes a degree of alienation from the home culture in the first place. I know for me it did. Thus, I find myself in a situation in which I am reflecting how to integrate my time “down under” (the “underworld”) into my professional and personal life. This is occurring for me at the age of 46, which intersects with the larger mid-life transition (Jung’s work was very focused on the mid-life transition and in fact both for him as well as Philip K. Dick, their visionary experiences occurred at mid-life). The universal questions of any reflective person take on new meaning and urgency at this point in life, so I suppose I have a bit of a double whammy with my stage in life as well as with my return “home.”

Coniunctionis.17: The Dangers and Benefits of Enthusiasm (or the Dangers and Benefits of God)

This essay picks up on some of the earlier themes in the Coniunctionis series, which focused on the relation between trauma, art, punk rock and transformation. This column examined the anger and aggression of punk rock (sometimes self-destructive and sometimes critical of society with an implied sense of transformation – things can or should be another way) as well as the nihilism and despair in Joy Division’s music. What interested me back then was how going into the darkness can lead to a positive transformation, in contrast to the belief that one becomes positive by distancing one’s self from the negative. It has been over 10 years since I wrote the earlier Coniunctionis columns. I recently came across some notes I had taken from the books I was reading back then for a piece I was writing on Joy Division entitled: “Something Must Break: The Joy Division to New Order Story.” I will combine these notes and reflections with more recent thoughts and work on the spiritual experiences of Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick, readings on mysticism, poetry and the conception of the sacred in indigenous cultures, specifically the Māori concepts of Tapu and Noa.


We will start with the word “enthusiasm.” The lack of enthusiasm is a significant problem in contemporary life. To be unenthused is to be apathetic, listless, disconnected, isolated, remote and unmotivated. Everyone wants to have enthusiasm in their life. It is what makes life worth living in many ways. To be enthused is to be energized, engaged, connected, full of life, bursting with ideas, the enthused feel that they are in the center of life, they are relevant and their life has purpose. The root of the word enthusiasm comes from Greek words of enthousiasmos and entheos, meaning divine inspiration or even possessed by a god. (I have also seen the word linked to Zeus, the king of the Greek pantheon of gods, such that one could be en-zeused, the words Zeus and theos seem to have some similar roots). The history of the word “enthusiasm” is ambivalent. On the positive side is the aspect of being filled with God, alive and creative. Amongst Christian sects the word was considered suspect or even heretical by mainstream religion. (Dorothee Soelle, in her book The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, makes a very interesting argument that mysticism, i.e. the direct experience of God, is always a source of resistance or even revolution to structured religion and society). The Wikipedia entry on enthusiasm details a brief history of some of its religious connotations. It also states that the Greek root relates to possession by Apollo or Dionysus, however these are two very different energies and we will turn to Nietzsche for an explication of that difference.


Nietzsche describes the two complementary but opposite effects of the Apollonian and Dionysian spirits in art and music. He states that “art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian-Dionysian duality,” (19).  “It is Apollo who tranquilizes the individual by drawing boundary lines, and who, by enjoining again and again the practice of self-knowledge, reminds him of the holy, universal norms…the Dionysiac flood tide periodically destroys all the little circles in which the Apollonian would confine,” (65). Thus we have the creative tension between the Apollonian energy of beauty, harmony, order, systems, regulated relationships and peace; and the Dionysian energy of disruption, change, sudden transformation, transcendence of boundaries and a sense of mystical unity, which Nietzsche would perhaps characterize as unconscious dissolution. Apollo was the god of healing and medicine (Asclepius was his son) as well as the god of music and poetry. He is considered a solar god with all attendant continual light of consciousness (Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God series has in-depth discussions of the differences between the masculine solar gods and the generally feminine lunar goddesses). Dionysus, on the other hand was the god of wine, of ekstasis (ecstasy) and divine madness. The Wikipedia entry states that he was sometimes described as womanly or “manwomanish” which would be consistent with a lunar rather than solar association.

Nietzsche clearly sides with the Dionysian as opposed to the Apollonian. The risk of too much Apollonian energy is stagnation, stultification and too much order. To Nietzsche, who believed that one should philosophize with a hammer, the traditional order was actually destroying true humanity. The risk of too much Dionysian energy is madness and physical destruction (we remember that Nietzsche, himself, became mad with tertiary syphilis and that his writing became more grandiose in his later life). He writes of Dionysiac ritual that “each individual becomes not only reconciled to his fellow but actually at one with him – as though the veil of Maya had been torn apart and there remained only shreds floating before the vision of mystical Oneness,” (23). Nietzsche suggests that humanity is Dionysian at heart and that perhaps the Apollonian is an illusion of order super-imposed. “If we could not imagine an incarnation of dissonance – and what is man if not that? – that dissonance, in order to endure life, would need a marvelous illusion to cover it with a veil of beauty,” (145).


Alvarez also studied the nature of creativity and its relation to destruction and suicide. He cites Bakunin’s statement that, “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion,” (17). Alvarez recognized the need for an unleashing of primal and chaotic energies in order to create art as well as the need to give this chaotic energy some Apollonian structure. “For the artist…chaos is…felt as an absence far back and a proportionate urgent need to create some new order for himself and from scratch; that is more likely to inspire work than frustrate it,” (257). Art is thus, as Nietzsche described, created from the tension of chaos and order. We can see that chaos appears to be the more primal root of experience in this last quote by Alvarez as well as in the last sections’ quote from Nietzsche. Is this surprising? It should not be given that most creation myths/stories start with: in the beginning there was nothing or chaos and then some creative act formed order out of chaos. It is not that chaos and order are two different things – although they are in opposition they are necessarily in relationship – chaos is the substance that order is created from or imposed upon.

Alvarez noted that while the passion for destruction was necessary in art that the creation of art is not always healing for the artist. For “the artist himself art is not necessarily therapeutic; he is not automatically relieved of his fantasies by expressing them. Instead, by some perverse logic of creation, the act of formal expression may simply make the dredged up material more available to him. The result of handling it in his work may well be that he finds himself living it out,” (54).  This reminds one of Nietzsche’s statement that “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you,” (Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 146).


In 1934 to 1939, Carl Jung ran a seminar discussing Nietzsche and his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Jung was interested in Nietzsche and this book for a number of reasons. The book sprang forth from Nietzsche, or through him, within a very short time. The book presents the Persian prophet, Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, as a contemporary figure (who is obviously a counter-ego for Nietzsche) who goes beyond good and evil, proclaims the death of God, and seeks to establish a new mode of living in which humans overcome themselves (the infamous übermensch, often translated as “overman” or “superman”). While many see Nietzsche as a nihilist and atheist, he feared that the contemporary belief systems of the late 19th century were symptoms of nihilism. His Zarathustra is thus a prophet who teaches the path of enlightenment. He describes man as an experiment that is in risk of failing and he provides hope for this condition. “Physician, help yourself: thus you help your patient too. Let this be the best help that he may behold with his eyes the man who heals himself…Verily, the earth shall yet become a site of recovery,” ( The Portable Nietzsche, 189). As the last part of this quote shows, the transformation is an earthly one, not an other-worldly one. Nietzsche was suspicious of traditions and hierarchies, thus he wrote, “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil,” (190). Further he wrote (and Zarathustra said) “You had not yet sought yourselves: and you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to little. Now I bid you to lose me and find yourselves: and only when you have all denied me will I return to you,” (190). Rather than followers, he teaches others to become self-actualized, to use a term from humanistic psychology.

Jung was particularly interested in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra as an archetypal vision and attempt to heal or make sense of madness – an eruption from the collective unconscious of creative/destructive chaos in the psyche. He was interested in this because he, himself, had a similar experience which he described and documented in his Red Book, which has just recently been published in the last few years. Personally, I feel that I can even see Nietzsche’s influence at times in the words and manner in which Jung documents his experiences. Jung described to Jaffé, “I stood helpless before an alien world; everything seemed difficult and incomprehensible. I was living in a constant state of tension; often I felt as if gigantic blocks of stone were tumbling down upon me…Others have been shattered by them – Nietzsche, and Hölderlin…But there was a demonic strength in me, and from the beginning there was no doubt in my mind that I must find the meaning of what I was experiencing in these fantasies…I had the unswerving conviction that I was obeying a higher will, and that feeling continued to uphold me until I had mastered the task,” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 177).  Here again we see the Dionysian up swelling of creative/destructive chaos which the Apollonian consciousness struggles to create into some form of words, order and understanding. Whereas Nietzsche sided with the Dionysian over the Apollonian “illusion,” Jung’s philosophy was more one of integration in which consciousness needs periodic injections of creative/destructive chaos and then the work began to integrate, translate and transform that energy into something useful, meaningful and understandable. For Jung, it was always about the therapeutic. As he said, “I could not expect of my patients something I did not dare to do myself,” (178). And he reports that thinking of how his experiences could possibly help his patients helped him bear the tension of his experiences.

Hopefully this makes it clear as to why Jung would spend 6 years on a seminar on Zarathustra. We will now turn to the text of these seminars where Jung examines the process of creative/destructive energy erupting into consciousness and the struggle to integrate that. Jung commented that “man does not possess creative powers, he is possessed by them,” (40). One of the dangers of the flow of creative power through a person is that the person will mistake themselves or their ego as the source of this energy. This creates quite a paradoxical situation in which an individual experiences and expresses something through one’s own being, but whose source is not from one’s own being or ego at least. Jung describes misidentification with this energy as “inflation.” “As soon as self-consciousness comes in, there is inflation: you imagine that you are the creator and then you are God, because you feel, of course, like ten thousand dollars if you have time to think of it,” (40). Jung describes the risk that Nietzsche (and he, himself) faced, that “the creative powers steal your time, sap your strength, and what is the result? A book perhaps. But where is your personal life? All gone. Therefore, such people feel so terribly cheated; they mind it, and everybody ought to kneel down before them in order to make up for that which has been stolen by God. The creative forces have taken it out of them, and therefore they would like to personify them, to imagine that they are Shiva, in order to have the delight of being creative. But if you know you are creative and enjoy being creative, you will be crucified afterwards, because anybody identified with God will be dismembered,” (41).

Of note here is that Jung slips from in earlier pages speaking of possession by archetypes and inflation to speaking of possession by God. I think this is something that can be confusing in his writing. I view his term, archetype, as an attempt to develop a psychological understanding of spiritual processes. His concept of archetype has its roots in his book Symbols of Transformation which examines universally occurring mythical and psychological motifs and he argued that this same process of generating myth occurred in a distorted form in mental illness.

How is one to avoid being destroyed or inflated when consorting with the creative/destructive energies and possession by God? Jung states that one can only do this only “by obeying completely without attempting to look at yourself. You must be quite naive,” (40). This seems to imply a level of trust, faith in the process (even without knowing where it leads) as well as an absence of egoism, narcissism and even of intellectual sophistication.

Jung picks up on Nietzsche’s interest in Dionysus and writes that in the “greatness of the completely unconscious state of the Dionysian enthusiasm…In that intoxication, the god enters the mystes [the initiate]. He becomes a god himself. He becomes the great current of nature, the stream itself, and there are no individual worries any longer,” (76).


There is, however, the common experience of mysticism that God is in all things and that God is within the self. However, Jung seems to be saying that the key to human psychological survival of an encounter with God is let God flow through one’s self without over-identifying with the energy. Thus, one has something flowing through one’s self which is not of one’s self. Dorothee Soelle, in her book, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, describes that “what the mystics call ‘becoming one’ is never a possession that cannot be lost. What really happens in mystical union is not a new vision of God but a different relationship to the world – one that has borrowed the eyes of God,” (293). Perhaps this statement sheds some light on how one can be one with God and yet still be one’s self, having only “borrowed” the eyes of God, or perhaps not.

One more comment on the dilemma of oneness and a diversity of separate objects and individuals comes from the concept of the chakra system which consists of seven different dimensions: the physical, emotional, intellectual, heart, creative self-expressive, intuitive and spiritual. One way of thinking of these different dimensions is that they alternate between energies of union and individuation. Body, mind and self-expression depend on a sense of boundaried individualness. If we were to return again to the concept of chaos and order, it is interesting to note that the fifth chakra of creative self-expression is actually based on structure and organization, in other words on Apollonian concepts. Whereas, the emotions, heart and intuition are based on principles of flow and union, of breaking down boundaries between people and things. Sometimes it is taught that the 7th, or crown chakra, which is the source of spiritual energy, is both structured as well as flowing, thus containing both a kind of yin (flow) and yang (structure) template that is then balanced toward one of the other of these seeming opposites that work together to create life.

There is much more to say about this paradox of oneness and Jung’s advice to trust God to flow through without over-identifying with it. I suppose we could say that it might be true to say that we are one with God, but we are not the One God, meaning we are part of God and God is fully in us, but we are not fully in God. Quite frankly, this is all beyond me, so let us get back on topic. Maybe a quote from a poet will put it all into perspective:


“Since nothing actually exists except You,

Then why do I keep hearing all this noise?”

(Ghalib, “Questions”)



“We are all mystics,” (9) writes Soelle, and all mysticism includes a rejection and dissatisfaction with the way the current world exists. Oddly it could be considered anti-existence (or possibly anti-Apollonian) while still being in service of a different or transformed existence. Soelle writes that all the many forms of mysticism “lie between withdrawal from the world and the transformation of the world through revolution. But whether it be resistance, rebellion, or revolution, in all of these forms there is a No! to the world as it exists now,” (3). Further, she seeks to unify the internal with the external. “This means that for the sake of what is within, I seek to erase the distinction between a mystical internal and a political external. Everything that is within needs to be externalized so it doesn’t spoil, like the manna in the desert that was hoarded for future consumption. There is no experience of God that can be so privatized that it becomes and remains the property of one owner, the privilege of a person of leisure, the esoteric domain of the initiated,” (3).

“The trivialization of life is perhaps the strongest antimystical force among us,” (13). Here, Soelle seems to be equating life-elevating or life-giving with mysticism. If trivializing, degrading or dehumanizing life is anti-mystical, then the mystical would logically be life-giving. There is thus a process or relationship, perhaps dialectic, between the internal mystical experience and its external manifestation – as above, Soelle seeks to couple the internal and external elements of mysticism. “For mystical consciousness, it is essential that everything internal become external and be made visible,” (13).  In her book, Soelle then examines different domains of mystical experience: language, the journey, ecstasy, nature, eroticism, community, suffering and joy. In quite simple terms, her argument can be summed up as internal transformation through direct experiential relationship with God leads to transformation of external relationships, world and perhaps reality.


Let us remember what we are examining here. We started this discussion about enthusiasm and given the roots of that word, we ended up talking about God, Apollonian order, Dionysian chaos, healing, possession, creativity, destruction, transformation and the relationship between internal and external. Enthusiasm, or being filled with or possessed by God, is a transformative experience. We could argue whether there is a small enthusiasm, which is not of God, and a larger enthusiasm that is of God, but let us just assume that all enthusiasm is the state of being filled with Divine energy. We also have examined a strong thread that enthusiasm is both potentially creative and destructive. There is a possible perspective that sees creation and destruction linked, not as opposites, but as partners. Would this not seem to imply, then that, for argument’s sake, God is the source of both good and evil – of both creation and destruction? You may notice that I have taken a leap from creation and destruction to good and evil, for this paper let us assume that this leap is not unfounded.

If we return back to Jung, he seemed to share this view, the energy of the collective unconscious, the archetypes (aka God) erupt into a person. This leads to an elevated, heightened state, what he often called numinousity, to be filled with a spiritual energy, or God. Jung states that “energy changes its form,” (Symbols of Transformation, 158). If we think of God in terms of energy, or as Jung spoke of “psychic energy” and we consider the relationship of matter and energy in Einstein’s famous theorem, e=mc2 in which matter and energy are in relationship with one another we can arrive at a place where we can see that the energy of God, transduced into the energy of experience, transduced into the energy of thought, transduced into the energy of actions, leads to a change of the structure and organization of the social and physical world.

Back to the language of enthusiasm, a state of enthusiasm can change and transform things, not just in the enthused person, but also in those around them. The sense of enthusiasm can be thought of as a state of surplus energy flowing through a person. Energy does work, it changes things, it alters things. The problem with downloaded God energy is that it has to go somewhere if the recipient cannot use it to transform the self. Enthusiasm is contagious, it spills over and connects – thus we have spiritual leaders and followers as well as cult leaders and even Hitler who was definitely enthused and channeled this energy into destruction of the “inferior” and the transformation of the elected. Is it reasonable to speak of the enthusiasm of Christ and his followers with the enthusiasm of Hitler and the Nazis? Generally one is considered an example of good and the other of evil. However, if we are looking at enthusiasm and where the source of this energy comes from it is logical to say that enthusiasm can be employed or manifested in such a way that it can be either creative or destructive, or as mentioned earlier as either good or evil. Both Jesus and Hitler were enthused and exhibited a style of transformative leadership. Is this saying that good and evil are both from God? I do not think it is possible to say that or to imply that God is or contains both good and evil (I am often reluctant to even use the word “God” because I am not sure I or other people understand what I mean when I use the word). We can say, however, that the enthusiasm of individuals creates a choice, often when one has limited rational capacities because of the possession of the enthusiasm. This choice is what people will do with themselves and this surge of power (which as Jung says comes through the person, but is not of the person). In this sense, we can say that the power that powers good and evil have one source – God. In other words, God is ambivalent, or ambi-valent, meaning containing two energies. While this idea might be shocking, even heretical to people with certain backgrounds, such as Christianity, it is not all that uncommon in the world.

Jung considered individuals to be ambi-valent as well; that every person had a soul that was of the opposite gender. Thus he called women’s souls the animus (masculine) and men’s souls the anima (feminine). The anima and animus were types of archetypes that one could integrate, become possessed by, or project on to members of the opposite sex. A common conception of the soul is that it is one’s connection to God. For Jung, a relationship with the soul contributed to the process of individuation or wholeness, in which one moved from the small self of the ego to the larger Self which was trans-personal. If one does not have a strong connection to the soul, one seeks “soul food” in the opposite sex. Enthusiasm further complicates this as God/sacred energy flows through the object of projection. Relationship is sacred, inherently, and as relationship builds, enthusiasm follows. What one seeks in the differentness of the other is what one feels one is missing in one’s self. It is possible to find differentness in one’s self, and that in fact is the soul – the most intimate “other” within the Self. If we return to the Soelle’s statement that for “mystical consciousness, it is essential that everything internal become external and be made visible,” it could be argued that what the soul wants is to find an external counter-part as a reminder and image of the true essence of the internal soul and connection to God. Post-Jungian, James Hillman details the circumambulations of the soul in The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. Hillman, instead of psychodynamics in which love is reduced to a form of pathology or projection describes his concept of “psychodaimonics imagines this call more phenomenologically, using the language that love itself uses – myth, poetry, story, and song – and that places the call beyond the “self,” as if it comes from a divine or demonic being,” (144). In summary, it can probably be safely said there is both internal and external considerations of the enthusiasm of love, God, soul and other people.


Girard’s book, Violence and the Sacred examines the relationship between these two elements: “in Africa, as in many other parts of the world, there is only a single term to denote the two faces of the sacred – the interplay of order and disorder…all forbidden as well as permitted sexual practices, all forms of violence and brutality, unclean things, decaying matter, monstrosities…In addition the same term embraces the creative impulse and the urge for order, for peace, calm and stability…under the aegis of royalty,” (257). Similarly, he refers to the Greek word, pharmakon, which is the word for medicine, that it is “both poison and the antidote for poison,” (95).

Girard’s book examines the many different rites and rituals around violence and sacred worship. He writes that “sacred is ‘bad’ when it is inside the community, it is ‘good’ when it returns to the exterior,” (258). When violence occurs within the community it must somehow be grounded and neutralized, or in his terms shifted from “reciprocal violence” to “transcendental violence,” (124-125). When violence is properly handled and managed, a “human being dies, and the solidarity of the survivors is enhanced by his death…the surrogate victim dies so that the entire community, threatened by the same fate, can be reborn in a new or renewed cultural order,” (255). However, for “order to be reborn, disorder must first triumph, for myths to achieve their complete integration, they must first suffer total disintegration,” (79).


Māori psychiatrist, Mason Durie, describes the concepts of tapu and noa as serving functions of “regulation and control” and as guidelines to domains of safety. He points out that there is both a sacred as well as a practical health perspective on these terms. While he leans toward the practical health interpretation, we will use his definitions of tapu and noa and then see how these might relate to our current topic of discussion, enthusiasm, or being filled with God. Durie gives the definition that “tapu situations were off limits…that contact with a particular object or activity could be unsafe, either in physical or spiritual terms…transgressions of tapu earned rebuke, ridicule, or intense mental suffering,” (Whaiora: Maori Health Development, 8). “Parts of the body were tapu – the head, genitalia, the heart – and people at different times and in different circumstances were tapu. Women in the post-partum period, the mourning of relatives of a deceased person, soldiers prior to battle, and priests engaged in ritual activity were all regarded as tapu. A state of tapu resulted in a period of forced separateness from the group at a time when vigilance and focused attention were necessary,” (8-9). Tapu is not necessarily a permanent state attached to an object, place, or situation. “Sometimes it was a more or less permanent state; at others, an interim measure imposed to restore equilibrium after an unsettling incident or to give permission when a crisis was anticipated,” (8).

Given our previous discussion, the concept of tapu is quite interesting. Girard’s comment that many cultures only have one word for “the two faces of the sacred” seems particularly relevant here. Tapu denotes that something is potentially dangerous, is to be avoided, and is to be handled with a certain degree of care and guideline. As we have been looking at enthusiasm and being filled or possessed by God as an ambivalent state of transformation that can result in either creation or destruction, it would make sense that a culture would develop guidelines for managing anything and anyone who had the potential to suddenly and powerfully transform relationships and community in either creative or destructive forms.

According to Durie, the corresponding term, noa, represents “a state of relaxed access, requiring no particular protective mechanisms or restrictions,” (9). We could think of this as a “normal” state and tapu as an abnormal state. The abnormal state of tapu could have the potential for either creative or destructive transformation. Given the ambivalent nature of enthusiasm, we could imagine that such a state could be considered tapu for other community members. For instance, Durie listed priests engaged in ritual as well as soldiers preparing for battle as both being tapu. With the danger of over-stretching Maori concepts to fit them into a Western perspective, we could consider Eliade’s description of the sacred and the profane. Tapu would designate the sacred, in the broad sense of something filled with transformative power that could be creative or destructive. Noa would designate the profane, the normal. Tapu, once it is normalized, then becomes noa – grounded, de-sacralized or neutralized.

I introduce Durie’s discussion of tapu and noa not to necessarily lead into a detailed historical and cultural explanation of the significance of these terms for Māori, but rather to lend weight to the argument that the sacred or the enthused are potentially dangerous and can lead to rapid personal, relationship, and social transformation that could be either positive or negative. There is the common term these days of “change agent” and in this discussion we could consider such a person to be tapu.


Also of interest is the ambivalence with which artists and creative people are held, particularly in many cultures. For instance wealthy people pay money to walk through art galleries or even buy art that years before would have been considered rubbish. Also, the bourgeois would never have wanted to personally associate socially with many artists. Kay Redfield Jamison, in her book Touched With Fire, cites research that, of creative people, poets had the highest rates of psychopathology, whereas engineers had the lowest rates. Poets are often considered to be divinely inspired and emotional and relational instability seems to be part of the poetic personality. We generally do not speak of divinely inspired or enthusiastic engineers. In a general colloquial sense, we could say that poets are the most mad or crazy artists. While artists and poets are often portrayed as bohemians who do not always follow the traditional ways, we do not often, in contemporary society, think of artists as channels of God. Particularly if we link enthusiasm with being filled with or possessed by God, then artists all of a sudden make sense. There is the concept of divine madness that traces back to Ancient Greece. In this kind of madness there is possession by a god. Similarly, the Greek pantheon included the Muses who were often considered to inspire artists. And our old friend Apollo was the god of poetry and music. We might think, well what about Dionysus, is not poetry somewhat Dionysian? That very well could be, but remember the distinction between Apollonian consciousness and Dionysian unconsciousness (and drunkenness). Dionysian celebrations in Ancient Greece did have music and dance and perhaps poetry, but we could think of Dionysus as the force of chaos that is then shaped by Apollonian energy into some order and form of poetry.

The poet, Ghalib, who wrote in Urdu and Persian in the early 1800s, reportedly felt that writers had to break rules in order to be poets. He is quoted as having criticized the writing of a pious Sheikh: “How can Sahbai be a poet? He has never tasted wine, nor has he ever gambled; he has not been beaten with slippers by lovers, nor has he ever seen the inside of a jail,” (Wikipedia).

Let us look briefly at another poet, Mirabai, a Hindu poet from the early 1500s. Robert Bly has included her in a collection of translations called The Winged Energy of Delight. The title is from a poem by Rilke called “Just as the Winged Energy of Delight,” which ends with the following lines:


Take your well-disciplined strengths

and stretch them between two

opposing poles. Because inside human beings

is where God learns.

(Rilke, in Bly, 177)


Bly describes Mirabai as having “pushed her way out of her family, out of many social demands, and ignored many commands given to her as a woman of her time. Her religious passion carried her into intensities that make most people turn pale,” (Bly, 21). She is a good example of a poet and mystic who’s life and work exemplified resistance and critique of society. Bly writes that her poetry brings three illuminations. “First we get the feeling of what it’s like to rebel against entrenched patriarchal interests and a deeply rooted social order. Also we can sense through her poetry the power of the Krishna movement. Krishna was said to free Indian women from long-standing bonds…Also, we can feel how much Mirabai’s poems were like a moving fire – not so friendly to people of wealth, it is a fire from another world,” (Bly 21).

What effect did Mira’s poetry have on her place in the social order? She is said to have resisted control by her in-laws after her father died. She also was considered to have had death threats and even an attempted poisoning. For pursuing her love and devotion to Krishna, she wrote that, “What I paid was my social body, my own body, my family body, and all my inherited jewels,” (31). Like the poet who suffers or gives everything for their art, Mira gives everything in order to pursue her enthusiastic embrace with God. While a poem entitled, “All I Was Doing Was Breathing,” asserts her innocence before those who would condemn her, she responds:


Approve me or disapprove me: I praise the Mountain Energy night

and day.

I take the path that ecstatic human beings have taken for centuries.

I don’t steal money, I don’t hit anyone. What will you charge me


I have felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders; and now you want

me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious,

(Mirabai, “Why Mira Can’t Come Back to Her Old House,” 36).


While Mirabai is an inspirational feminist, poet and mystic, who is willing to pay the price for this kind of enthusiasm? Not everyone can break social norms for the love of God and live without a family and a home. Her words echo the live fast, die young rock and roll motto: “live fast and die young.”


I would like my own body to turn into a heap of incense and sandalwood

and you set a torch to it.

When I’ve fallen down to gray ashes, smear me on your shoulders and


(Mirabai, “Don’t Go, Don’t Go)



Linking back to earlier themes in the Coniunctionis column, we can formulate a statement that the enthusiasm of poets, musicians and artists can be viewed as the same energy of enthusiasm of the mystics. Enthusiasm is an energy of transformation – transformation for good or evil; for positive or negative, for the good of the individual or for the destruction of the individual; and for the growth or destruction of social bonds and relationships. What is even more complicating is that sometimes transformative growth requires transformative destruction and sometimes individuals and societies get trapped in transformative destruction.

To become enthused is to have God flowing through one’s self – even if one does not over-identify (become inflated) and become possessed by God/archetype, others can be influenced by this energy in the individual. This influence could be attraction or repulsion – regardless, it causes transformation and disruption of the status quo. Jung cautions that the individual’s attitude toward the flow of divine enthusiasm influences whether the transformation will be positive or negative. This is pertinent for any charged relationship, such as healing relationships in medicine, the concepts of transference and counter-transference in psychotherapy, learning and growth in students, as well as the transformative power of love. In each of these relationships, there is the potential for transformation that is either positive or negative and thus there is significant regulation and ritual around these relationships. Even self-knowledge could be said to be a consequence of divine enthusiasm rather than an accomplishment of the individual.