Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Alchemy Of Emotion

By James Curcio

I've been doing an incredible amount of introspective work over the past few months. I only seem to catch myself doing it out of the corner of my eye, but I think that in truth it has been my primary preoccupation lately.

Much of this has to do with working on being of better service to my lovers and friends, of learning more about how humans tick, and of course, how I do. I've been trying to heal myself to heal the world because it is the only way. And there is such a long way for all of us to go, and so many social forces at work against being able to even discuss this topic without the practiced cynics dismissing the line of thought with a chuckle and a shrug. I've been working against habit rather than along with it, more time than not, and as a result it probably looks like I'm not doing a whole lot in this regard at all to those around me. Allowing yourself to experience your emotions differently is not something anyone but those closest to us can see at first. But I'm starting to see the results, even if the opportunity for backsliding is constant.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." -- Wendell Phillips

I've been thinking about emotions as an expression of various kinds of energy, running through us. These currents and cross patterns may encounter a variety of dams, canals, rapids, or furious crackheads ranting about reptilians munching on human pineal glands.

Consider the sublimation and redistribution of this energy when you feel yourself feeling something. Look to be more aware of what you're feeling, seeing it and looking it in the eye before you react. It's like trying to force a blade of grass between two bricks but there's simply no other way.

Let's be clear what exactly we're talking about when we say "energy." I essentially mean libido or manna. It was observed by Freud that libido - and let's not just restrict that to the sex impulse - drove the formation of civilization. Jung refined this idea, observing that
E=mv2/2 contains the factor m (mass) and v (velocity), and these would appear to be incommensurable with the nature of the empirical psyche. If psychology nevertheless insists on employing its own concept of energy for the purpose of expressing the activity of the psyche, it is not of course being used a mathematical formula, but only as its analogy. But note: the analogy is itself an older intuitive idea from which the concept of physical energy originally developed. The latter rests on earlier application of an activity not mathematically defined, which can be traced back to the primitive or archaic idea of the “extraordinarily potent.” ... The use of the term libido in the newer medical psychology has surprising affinities with the primitive mana. This archetypal idea is therefore far from being only primitive, but differs from the physicist’s conception of energy by the fact that it is essentially qualitative rather than quantitative. (See also this essay I wrote on this subject within the context of sexuality, Hillbilly Tantra.) 
For example, when we're furious about something we can't do anything about, we may redistribute, transmute that "energy" into push ups or a fist to someone's face. We may trap that energy in our body, often leading to chronic ailments (such as some of those that I now struggle with), or it can get on top of us, and our passions rule us wholly. Nietzsche, too, recognized this, perhaps first in the arena of Greek theater: the conflict of the Apollonian and Dionysian sensibilities is at the root of all human creativity.

Image by Vitali
However, Jung's greatest breakthrough was recognizing that all the alchemical systems of the world relate to psychology rather, or more usefully, than physics. (This is why I have symbols of the elements and zodiac permanently painted on my flesh. They are not divinitory maps, they are psychological ones - they are not divinatory, they are revelatory.)

The challenge is making these symbols tool rather than abstract concepts. If we throw ourselves into a sport or run or channel that initial emotion in one way or another, it turns into fuel. The same is potentially true with anxiety, joy, fear, and so on. Obviously, it is a difficult task to habitually hardwire that transferrence, or re-wire it in the case where our habits are not leading us to healthy results. Anxiety can make us smoke, it can make us lose our hair, it can give us a heart attack. ...Or it can be the hand of vigilance. What distinguishes one from the other?

The social sciences may have their say on this matter, but it has been my experience that systems like Taoist Internal Alchemy excell in this area and this area alone. So-called Western systems tend to emphasize the abstract and intellectual, no doubt a result being grown in the same cultural soil that yielded the Christian emasculation of the flesh for the sake of the spirit, and Cartesian dualism. It is so much better to find a method of movement to represent these forces, an ecstatic process, a trance inducing process like drumming. Our emotions beset us - and I can only imagine that if you don't feel your emotions so strongly that you are in a never ending arm wrestling match with a demon, then you are probably either sublimating them, for better or worse, or you are dissociating yourself from them, and will pay the price for that some day. Worse yet, you may become a stranger to yourself, only dimly aware of your feelings except for from the outside.

Alright, how does something as seemingly abstract as the 5 element system apply to our emotions, you might ask?

Books could be written on this, but I'll give a single example. Imagine that the pathological expression of emotions work as follows: anger is associated with the element of fire. Anxiety and nervous disorders with metal. Depression with water. Earth in groundlessness and dissociation. Well, you get the idea. If you draw the 5 elements in a circle, representing the circle of the archetypical year, then water is winter, wood is spring, fire is summer, earth is the period of "indian summer" when everything is in balance (also possibly representing the center of the circle), and metal is autumn.

The "parent" of each element is simply the season that comes before it. Its child is what follows. In many cases, the emotion that we experience may turn from one to the next, so that for instance anger may turn to anxiety when held at bay. But this is not of course always the path that our emotions take. There are far more variables at play, and it is in these particularities that the real alchemical work neeeds to be done.

Otherwise, it would simply be a matter of applying the oppositional force of each element, which is found when you draw a pentegram between the elements that you've arranged on that circle.

There are many of angles of exploring these elements, including any number of physical movements you can find in martial arts like Xingyi or Bagua, or Chigung, or - well many of the formal approaches to such arts will have you believe that these things are a science, but they are quite plainly creative rather than analytic.

This reduction of gnawing guilt or deep sorrow into a series of hand gestures or colors may seem specious or even absurd. However, the truth is, there are thousands of years of trial and error behind this. There are complex and arcane systems of association which are utilized in acupuncture and other Chinese medicine, and I have in my practical use only truly brushed the surface of this. Granted, I'm not advocating that the associative magic and superstition which rules some elements of Chinese medicine need apply - that tiger penis will make you strong, for instance. But those who dismiss these things outright are belittling generations of very intelligent, spiritually and emotionally aware people with an ignorant and ill-begotten sense of superiority.

Daoyin Seminar: 1st hour from Assc for Traditional Studies on Vimeo.

I spent several years getting an initial crash course in the systems at work here. (Shaolin, Bagua, Xingyi, and altogether too much Western esotericism.) I focused on it so completely I could hardly be said to be living, much like a Berkeley student who has gone so far down the rabbit hole of music theory that he can't jam any more. It was time to pull the plug, and I did. Or more accurately, life did it for me, because I'd gotten out of touch with myself. (And it's a long fucking story, so moving on...) In the years since, I've been hindered by chronic illness and the usual stresses and challenges that keep us from consistently sticking with some of our best intentions.

I suppose the reason I'm writing about this is: I'm ready to return to them, from a new angle and as a slightly different person. My myth / media work will and must continue, but for that to even be physically possible, I have to put this ox before the cart. This has to happen, or I will quite simply be dead.

The last time around I had some friends and lovers who helped goad me on. I hope that is the case again, as these things are more fun when you can share and explore them with others.

I'll try to share the fruits of this with those who come with me for the ride, or those who are interested in practicing with me. I've got a lot of work to do to even get back to where I was at, at the still far too stubborn age of 23. The Immanence of Myth was always intended to be the beginning of an ongoing discussion, not its conclusion. I hope some of you join me there and follow your own winding course, in parallel, or off in an entirely new direction.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011. (Or sign up to be notified of its release on Amazon.com)

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