-Resurrection and (Re)volution-
Content warning: religious theory, radical politics, death
In our previous article, Pandemic Panic and Apocalyptic Dread, about the prevailing emotions of the time and the organs affected, we concluded with the following:
“I do not have an answer to offer that dread. I have nothing to soothe the source of that panic. All I can do is to focus on helping my patients breathe a little easier, feel a little more space inside, and try to make life a little more bearable.
What we might do with that space will be the topic of an upcoming article”
Well, we are here to deliver.
The grand-sweeping impact of the Corona Virus is unparalleled in our time. One cannot help but compare it to other far reaching plagues like the Spanish Flu and the Black Death. In these moments, death seems to be lurking all around. There is power in naming that. But it is difficult to know how to live in a world so dominated by death.
This is especially true in the context of Western culture. The taboo of death in the West has been a source of philosophical and psychological study, notably by Otto Rank, Psychology and the Soul and Ernest Becker, author of The Denial of Death. How this value system serves us in a situation like the one in which we find ourselves could be an opus in and of itself, but for the purpose of this article is used merely for illustrative purposes.
“Society has created mechanisms, forces of cultural adaptation, that are meant to keep people from being conscious of their creaturely (animal) nature- and therefore, their mortality.”
From “The Taboo of Death” by Marc Whittman Ph.D in Psychology Today
Though it may seem horrific, death as an abstract process is generative. Death and life are inextricably linked. One begets the other. By repressing, rejecting, and denying death we deny ourselves so much of what life is really about. From the psychic death of Carl Jung to the spiritual death of Richard Rohr, the death process begets living fully with all of ourselves.
Rohr writes in Near Occasions of Grace:
“Until we walk with personal issues of despair, we will never uncover the Real Hope on the other side of that despair. Until we allow the crash and crush of our images, we will never discover the Real Life beyond what only seems like death. Remember, death is an imaginary loss of an imaginary self, that is going to pass anyway. This very journey is probably the heart of what Jesus came to reveal.”
Since it’s no accident that I publish this on Easter, let’s discuss resurrection. It is a commonly held understanding that resurrection symbolizes triumph over death. As if, by accepting God, we too can cheat death. That might be true. But it is missing the power of resurrection, which does not deny death its power but is made anew by death precisely because it is so powerful. Like pruning a tree or cutting decayed flesh from a wound, the death process is essential for life. By refusing to face those diseased branches or festering flesh, we sabotage the life that could thrive from succumbing to the death process.
Instead we do all that we can to avoid, reject, and repress the death process. What, then, do we do with the decay? We project those unseemly feelings, thoughts, images, onto each other. And, to get political, especially onto lower caste systems which is so starkly obvious in these times: immigrants, prisoners, addicts, homeless, communities of color, the working class. Interestingly, many of these people are the ones who will die. Disproportionately. In droves.
There are some that are calling the pandemic a purge, though it may be couched in prettier words about the earth healing or overpopulation.
Never say this needed to happen, that those who die were sacrifices to a bloodthirsty god for our deliverance.
Does the pandemic have a “purpose”? Who knows. But that’s the point. We don’t have to create something “good” out of this as if it were all “worth it”. IT’S NOT. Nothing can make this okay.
What is true is that it is here, and every trauma has a teaching. Whether it is “for the best” or highest good” is irrelevant, and conjecture in that direction smacks of eugenics and survival of the fittest.
How, then, can we use this death process to generate life? Well, with Knotted Root it all comes down to the body. I cannot control what happens in the world. Building political and social systems is not my bag, though obviously there is much work to be done and I applaud those doing it. But, as I will go on to explain, social and political systems are reflections of our Selves.
Confucianism, in a gross oversimplification, is the idea that internal harmony begets societal harmony and visa versa. Choi Young-jin and Lee Haeng-hoon of the University of Hawaii describe Confucianism in their paper, “The Confucian Vision of an Ideal Society Arising Out of Moral Emotions”,
“It is […] a kind of ‘life community’ in which not only humans but every creature between heaven and earth is able to give full expression to its nature and can strive to reach the cosmic harmony.”
This is an interesting concept, especially now when we are seeing what impact an amoral society has on our citizens and our bodies. What do we do with that idea?
To get abstract, in the same way that we can create a moral society as an extension of moral actions we can create a vibrant reality by participating in our own internal death process.
This is not unheard of. The Quebec elders of the Whapmagoostui describe something similar in their recently published “Message to the World” about the Covid-19 pandemic:
“all beings in Nature […] even those in their own natural habitat, they suffer because of what man has done to Mother Earth. They lose their food, medicines, and other essentials they need to bring up their offspring. Their suffering does not allow their energy to flow freely with the rhythm of the Cosmos. As such, their restricted energy propagates sickness in the world. Their energy must be allowed to resonate freely through the Universe as it should for healing to come to the world.”
We are also beings in nature. I would argue that our denying the dark parts of ourselves, reflected in repressive structures, acted out in discordance from our souls, has the same impact on what the elders call the Universe as the suffering of living things that the Wapmagoostui speak of. It restricts our energy and propagates sickness in the world.
A very practical example of this discordance is that of a prevalent cause of anxiety, “pretense”. Leon Hammer MD ranks it one of the most common next to “terror of the unknown” and “separation anxiety”. Anxiety related to pretense simply arises when “one pretends to be something or someone other than one’s real self”. How many of us do this? If that is not a succinct description for modern civilization, I don’t know what is.
Largely unconscious, pretense “begins early in life […] as an attempt to adapt to the pressure of circumstances unfavorable for the person to be [their] “true self” […] The “self” suffers its repression poorly and drives always for expression. This is an endless source of anxiety, along with the fear generated by the deep subconscious knowledge that one is not oneself, and that one ‘cannot fool all the people all of the time’” Dragon Rises Red Bird Flies: Psychology and Chinese Medicine
If we, just as our fathers before us and their fathers before them, resist, reject, and repress the death process, we are living a life built on pretense because we turn away from the ugly, the difficult, the chaotic. Living like this cannot but restrict our energy and propagate sickness in the world.
The discord that is created when we act in a way not in keeping with our true nature does not stay neatly within the borders of our own human system. It has an impact on a macro level, creating systems not in keeping with our needs or nature as humans, that in turn erodes our will and perverts our hearts.
There is then an exchange between the microcosm and macrocosm: our inner landscape is reflected in the world we create, and the world creates our inner landscape.
In Chasing the Dragon’s Tail: The Theory and Practice of Acupuncture in the Work of Yoshio Manaka, Kazuka Itaya and Stephen Birch argue that the reductionist paradigm of a world divisible into separate, independent parts has been proven false by mathematical models of chaotic and thermodynamic systems. That is another opus, but it has fascinating implications for what we are discussing here:
“The world is non-reducible, non-dualist, and acausal; theoretical physics has experimentally confirmed this. We cannot separate the human subject from the world. We are the participator in an indivisible whole, both affected by and affecting all things.”
In the same vein, the physicist David Bohm describes in his Hologram theory: “…that the universe is a hologram wherein all parts of the whole contain images of the whole.” Chasing the Dragon’s Tail
The model of a co-created reality is very familiar to Daoism. One interpretation of this arises from a commentary on chapter eight in the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic or Huangdi Neijing Lingshu
“Heaven invites, and Earth responds by receiving his Virtue. Earth’s purpose is to form Breathes out of this Virtue from Heaven. Because of this community of Heaven/Earth life we can say: the Virtue of Earth is simply the transmitted Virtue of Heaven. We say the Breaths of Heaven because the Breaths produced must refer back to Heaven, to the origin of creative power. If we make a too-rigorous distinction between the Virtue of Heaven and the Breaths of Earth, we will ignore the work they accomplish together.” Rooted in Spirit: The Heart of Chinese Medicine: A Sinological Interpretation of Chapter Eight of Huangdi Neijing Lingshu
In sum, the earth, and we as a part of it, receive the virtue of heaven and reflect it back through the virtue of earth. Humans are between heaven and earth, we co-create reality with the earth to manifest the will of heaven.
All of this is to say that we have more power than we realize. The systems we create are a product of the systems we have inside. We create systems of oppression and repression not only but partly because those systems are at work inside of us. There is much to be done for revolution of external structures. My belief is that it needs to be accompanied by that within.
Revolution of self, revolution of state, certainly. But the revolution in the title of the piece refers to neither. Rather it is the movement inherent in resurrection. Imagine life and death form the same wheel, the turning of the wheel creates reality through the generation of life through death and the generation of death through life. The wheel must turn. When we stop the wheel from turning we disrupt the movement of creation in the same way that a suffering animal cannot nourish the earth.
Our bodies know how to let the wheel turn. They are always conspiring to be themselves. Express themselves. Heal themselves. Can we let them? And, what’s more, dare we assist?