As one of those attuned to larger currents sloshing through our geopolitical atmosphere, now focused once again, on the Mideast, specifically Syria, I sit here once again wondering whether the ax is going to fall. It did not fall with North Korea, despite all the nasty name calling and “red button” memes. Will Trump pull off the same kind of 4D chess here, despite his recent pick of warmonger John Bolton?
And if he does not, if he actually allows the winds of war to once again pummel the Mideast — possibly flashing into nuclear war — then, if any of us live through it, you can bet that the American people will no longer feel so energized by war as they have been instructed to feel for decades, if not centuries. We are waking up, folks. We KNOW that war is a racket. And we will no longer be fooled.
Or will we?
It’s instructive to notice the energetic roots of war. Something which this old essay, composed as the first Gulf War began in 1991, investigates. And let us notice too, how President Trump himself personally occupies the boiling center of a huge, ongoing, collective energetic chaotic node; we all feel that, too, and as ever, we quickly attempt to quell (cover over, substitute, rationalize, justify) our strong discordant feelings with ideas, which then, as usual are polarized into yes and no, right and wrong, good and evil.
Not sure why I originally chose to call this essay “Is the Lady A Tyger?” Maybe it had to do with the sense that the famous choice between one door and another (Lady behind one, Tiger behind another) is not real, that war always unleashes the Tiger. In any case, I now choose to amend it with a less metaphorical subtitle.
Let’s stop it please, stop it, right now. Just don’t open either door. Turn around instead. Back up. Back off. Let there be peace.
IS THE LADY A TYGER?
The Energetic Roots of War
This essay was first published in Welcome to Planet Earth, Aries edition, 1991.
The War Inside Me
Wednesday, January 16, 1991. It’s 4:50 p.m. Sitting at my desk, listening to “All Things considered” on NPR. Suddenly the program is interrupted. A sober, matter-of-fact male voice announces the opening of the long-dreaded, along-awaited Persian Gulf War. “As of a few minutes ago, squadrons of F-116 Stealth bombers are bombing Baghdad.” The voice drones on, detailing in a clinically detached manner the kinds and numbers of sorties, their destinations, their ordnance.
Instantly I am aroused, alert, intent on what is being said. Turning up the volume, I sit spellbound, eager to hear any scrap of information, my heart pounding, my body surging with energy.
Almost immediately, despite the extreme intensity and drama of this experience, I am compelled to wrench myself away from it. I draw back, splitting myself in two. From now on, a part of me participates in the experience and another part watches myself respond.
This is not unusual. I often practice this sort of witnessing of my experience, as a sort of controlled schizophrenia. For over 20 years I have valued this capacity and encouraged it. Indeed, this Gurdjieffian practice of “self-remembering” has been the single most important tool I have cultivated to help me break out of our “collective dream,” the brainwashing that any culture requires of its citizens. To develop the fair witness within is to gradually dismantle the automatic mechanical internal program. It’s to learn how to think for oneself.
What is unusual this time is what my observer is discovering. For the first time in my life, I am noticing something that baffles me, and which, on reflection, makes me feel guilty and ashamed.
The healthy, detached observer part of me is noticing a further and most unhealthy split, that between body and mind. A split between what I would have expected myself to feel and what I am in fact feeling.
Like everyone I know, for six long months I had been dreading the possibility of holocaust in the Persian Gulf. I had always viewed any war there as much more volatile, more likely to become nuclear, than at any other place on Earth. Worse, a Gulf War seemed eerily fated, immersed in mythic regalia, the prophecies of Nostradamus and others all pointing to the Middle East as site of end-time Armageddon conflagration.
As the January 15 deadline loomed nearer, I found myself suffering from a vague sort of underlying depression. Indeed, one week prior to the deadline I had fallen ill, so weakened and dispirited had I become within this prevailing mood.
On the morning of January 14th I began to weep. For hours I wept at the now almost certain and utterly tragic vision of the hellfires we stupid and prideful humans were about to unleash upon each other and our beloved planet.
And now, only a few days later, upon actually hearing the news announcing the onset of hostilities, I am noticing my body is surging with energy! Why? What is going on? I would have expected the opposite, a sharp blow to the solar plexus, a doubling over in pain. Instead I am feeling released, excited, all senses vitalized, alive in the moment.
In the very act of noticing this bodily surge, I also notice that my mind associates it to culturally appropriate images. A sense of identification with the winning team. I want to cheer them on!
This apparent unity between body and mind is, however, short-lived. Again, I feel myself splitting, to create a new polarity, that between higher mind and lower mind/body.
My higher mind is, of course, shocked by what my lower mind is doing. How could this be? Now the split lies between the conscious pacifist beliefs of my higher self and the jingoism of my lower mind/body. This split is so profound and so acute that instantly a part of my mind clicks into interpretation, and further, into judgment.
(What part of my mind is doing this? The witness? The higher self? Some as yet unknown aspect of mind? The continuous splitting proceeds so quickly and so complexly that I lose the ability to keep track and describe. This business of attempting to deprogram myself from the collective dream is exceedingly tricky and confusing, especially during times of war, historically known for their propensity for stirring up “national pride.”)
“Oh, no!”, says this other part of my mind. I must still be programmed at the subconscious level for my body to seethe like this!
Past associations with this kind of excitement are all with sporting events, the usual rooting for one side or the other, wanting to be a part of the winning team.
Here I am now, again with this feeling. Does this mean that I am rooting for America in this war, that all the knee-jerk propaganda has influenced even me? Am I still brainwashed into thinking America’s battles are between Good and Evil, with myself, as A Good Citizen, on the side of the Good?
The thought is sobering. Thanks to the practice of self-remembering, I have pride in my being immune at least from this sort of obvious government and cultural proselytizing. Not surprisingly, given my conscious beliefs, the thought is also judgmental, making me feel both guilty and ashamed.
The Conflict Ripens
Over the next 24 hours, while compulsively watching TV and scanning newspapers, I spend time puzzling over my complex initial reaction to the onset of the war. Attempting to put this reaction within a larger context, I recall my feelings from the evening of January 13th, the night before my weeping spell. For a few days I had been stricken with a respiratory disease (illness of the lungs — corresponding to profound sadness). So sickened was I by the realization of the carnage humanity was about to engage in, that I had lain flat on my bed, inert and in despair. By the evening of the 13th, however, energy had begun to seep back into my body, and I began to pace the floor, nervously and obsessively cleaning house.
Connecting this unusual restlessness to the weeping of the next day, I saw the latter as a release of energy.
One of my female friends also spoke of a feeling of restlessness in the few days prior to the beginning of the war. “Something’s just got to happen!” she said she had told herself at one point, and then added, “I felt bad for feeling that way.”
On the 17th, both Bush and Cheney warned against “an initial euphoria.” Apparently, just about everyone in the country was brainwashed, their internal programs automatically interpreting the initial sense of excitement as identification with the winning team.
By this time, however, the contradiction between my conscious pacifist beliefs and my bodily surges was ripening to the point where it was beginning to yield fruit. Internally, I had been feeling this conflict as a terrible pressure within my chest, a need to break through some kind of barrier, to thus emerge, once again, into an utterly open space.
The breakthrough, when it came, was both simple and profound. So simple that it seems obvious, and therefore difficult to really notice, to take seriously, much less pay attention to its implications. So profound, that it has the flavor of an actual paradigm shift, with ramifications reverberating endlessly, in all directions.
The breakthrough first involved my conscious comprehension of the conflict and my subsequent confusion as involving the blurring of two entirely different dimensions. These two dimensions, I now begin to understand, need to be viewed separately, both in terms of their individual internal workings and in terms of the manner our culture has unconsciously linked them together, as if they were not separate at all.
I had unconsciously conflated these two dimensions, and here I was still brainwashed by my culture.
These dimensions are what I will call the “energetic” and the “conceptual.” The “energetic” is connected to the body, and “conceptual” to the mind. The usual cultural way of linking these dimensions is to subsume the energetic into the conceptual.
Here’s the way it seems to work.
On a mostly unconscious level, we feel certain feelings. These feelings set up an initial separation between expectations (of the mind) and reality (of the body). Automatically and unconsciously, the mind then steps in to realign itself with the body, by rationalizing or justifying these feelings by interpreting their meaning conceptually. Once that cathexis has taken place, we remain within the conceptual level, and no longer notice the energetic. We remain in our heads, and no longer notice our bodies.
Indeed, we usually do not notice the feelings we are having in the first place, so quickly and cleverly does the mind move to replace the more primordial feelings with its “rational,” “justifying” ideas.
And here is where we part company. From the initial feeling which unites us, we split into factions, depending upon which ideas we use as substitutes for the feelings we are all having! This separation between humans on the conceptual level is what creates the breeding ground for war.
Because we don’t notice our feelings, we usually don’t even realize that the energetic realm exists, much less pay attention to it, or give it value.
This shift — to consciously stop the mind, to consciously notice the energetic (bodily, feeling) realm, without needing to cathect it into the conceptual (mind, mental) realm — is exceedingly difficult to make. It flies in the face of history, of the “progress” we have made in the last three hundred (or is it ten thousand) years.
A beginning has already been made–on the conceptual level. Critical analysis of the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am” (and, by implication, “therefore only my mind exists”) and the popular phrase “mind/body split” have, over the past 20 years, inspired an entire literature devoted to the pathology of Western Scientific Culture. The more perceptive of these writers notice that the systematic disparagement of our bodies extends to both women and nature: all three participate, somehow, in a lower, more instinctive, primitive realm. A realm therefore less valuable than mind, and, hopefully, subject to mind’s control.
This is the way our culture automatically and unconsciously works: any interpretation we give to our feelings must fall into a two-slot dualistic framework: we are either for or against, on one side or the other, either for Good or for Evil.
This explains the automatic mental images of sports events, of being on the winning team, which accompanied the bodily surges I felt at the onset of the war. In this context, note the many commentators who are pointing, with surprise and horror, to the language of sports and games in which this war is being couched. And deeper: notice the unusual emphasis on the specifics of hardware and machinery in this war, how it finds its parallel in the machinery of our internal programming, and therefore, our extreme susceptibility to governmental propaganda. Although the (conceptual) freedoms we have as Americans are continually emphasized, as long as we act and think mechanically, we are not free.
If, on the other hand, we were to notice our feelings in the energetic dimensions and remain there, in our feelings, without having to interpret them conceptually, what would happen? What could happen?
Let’s look at this same example, my initial reaction to the onset of the Gulf War. Those initial surging feelings can now be understood energetically, as a release of tension.
This is important. For the tension I was feeling was not just mine. It was ours. My body came from dust and will return to dust. Our bodies are composed of Earth, they participate in her mysterious substance. As our personal portions of Earth, our bodies have been resonating like tuning forks, thousands of miles away, to the mounting tension in the Middle East.
If we understand what is happening in the Middle East from within the energetic dimension, we can interpret the situation nonpolitically, nonideologically. That is, we don’t have to polarize things by taking sides. A biological understanding of Earth is instructive here. For if Earth is a living body, then the Middle East is a site where toxins have collected and condensed over thousands of years, creating a boil, a pressure from these toxins from under earth’s skin.
During the second half of 1990 that boil grew to enormous size, stretching the skin unbearably. “Something,” as my friend put it, “had to happen.” My own restlessness, my weeping, and the surging within me are all responses of one of Earth’s minute cells to what was happening elsewhere on her surface. The onset of hostilities then was the release of energy, the boil bursting.
I can remember, back in those last weeks before the January 15th deadline, hoping against hope that the situation could still be resolved peacefully. And yet, when I tried to imagine all 500,000 allied forces and their hardware actually backing up, leaving the area, it felt impossible. The dynamics of the situation simply wouldn’t allow it. At this time I didn’t know how or why I knew this. Now I do.
Energetically, just as the energies which create boils do not recede, but continue to build tension until there is the explosive release of toxins, so too the build up of tension in the Gulf was such that it also had to release in some kind of explosive manner.
To view the war purely from the energetic level is to begin to make sense of why so many people “rally round the flag” and become so patriotic once a war actually begins. They feel their bodies’ release on an energetic level, and as I did, they move immediately to the conceptual level, interpreting that release automatically in a polarized way, as enthusiasm for the cause. From then on, in order to remain enthusiastic, they shut their bodies down, so as to numb themselves to the carnage.
Were we to remain open to our bodies’ unerring sense of what is happening energetically during a war, we would feel not just the initial release of tension, but descend into sympathetic participation in the “hellacious” suffering it causes on all sides. Were we, as a culture to remain open to our feelings during a war, we would no longer allow war as an acceptable way of releasing tension.
To view war energetically is to cut to the core of the problem. We no longer waste time in wondering “why is this war being fought?” by inventing reasons, excuses and rationalizations for the feelings of tension and the pressing need for its release.
When we view war from the energetic level we easily recognize that using war to release dammed up energy is futile. War breeds resentment in those who suffer from it. War breeds war. War releases surface energy only to ensure that energy again builds up under the surface.
Most importantly, to view war purely from the energetic level is to encourage the formation of new question. For example, is war the only manner we have of expressing and releasing unbearable collective tension? Can we invent other ways to release toxic emotional and tribal energies? Can we imagine a peace which is not simply passive, a temporary repression of these surging feelings? If so, then what would a “healthy violence” look like? How, in short, can we create the initial conditions for a peace which encourages change as growth, a peace which values enormous explosive energy for what it really is, the creative energy of the universe?
Over the past ten years or so, this same problem has been approached on an individual basis within the therapeutic community. Many new experiential and body therapies exist to help individuals release dammed up toxic emotional energies without resorting to violence towards themselves or others. In addition, we are re-realizing the value that certain sacred ceremonies and rituals have in releasing suffering at all levels.
These ways of working with levels of human energy which exceed current capacities to express that energy can all be utilized. We have only to make the leap from personal to collective, from individuals and groups to entire societies, to address the problem of war creatively.
How different would the discussion sound if an international conference on the Middle East were to be conducted from the energetic rather than the conceptual (political, ideological) level?!
We are in the Plutonian and Scorpionic process of eliminating the toxic waste that has accumulated within the Earth’s body. As an archetypal process, it takes place on the energetic level. However, we understand and consider it purely conceptually. This approach hasn’t worked.
A more suitable approach would be energetic, and would begin, for each of us, by becoming deeply intimate with our own physical beings. As we start to listen to and appreciate the subtle energetic information we receive from our bodies’ resonance with the entire material and emotional realm, we will recognize that there is no difference among us. In our bodies we are one. Our racial, cultural and ideological splits are illusions.
Our task clear; it is unprecedented: to learn how to discover ways of releasing the energy that has been compressed just below Earth’s surface for centuries, without resorting to war. Each of us, in the reality of individual physicality, participates in both Earth’s burgeoning life and Her excruciating pain during this cathartic time. Living as truly embodied souls, we fuse into common purpose, to save the Earth without destroying Her.