February 11, 2007

Tea with Maynard & Carl

Lunch at Teavolve in B'more. Sun-dried tomato quiche and a pot of Keemun hairpoint. Such a serene spot, and it was especially nice that Sunni, the proprietress, apparently recognized me when I walked in. After my first visit three weeks ago, I messaged her through MySpace to ask about the paint color in the shop's bathroom. As I was ordering today, I asked again and she knew exactly what I was talking about. Though I guess most patrons don't inquire about the decorating details of the 'loo…

I've been on a synchronous kick lately of Carl Jung and T00l. As I stated in my post about "Forty-six&2", that song got me into Jung in the first place, through the exploration of the Shadow archetype. On their next album, Lateralus, the song "Reflection" also steers me towards Jungian contemplations. (Man, I'm gettin' deep already tonight. Anyway…) Here are the lyrics:

I have come curiously close to the end, down
Beneath my self-indulgent pitiful hole,
Defeated, I concede and
Move closer
I may find comfort here
I may find peace within the emptiness
How pitiful
It's calling me...

And in my darkest moment, fetal and weeping
The moon tells me a secret - my confidant
As full and bright as I am
This light is not my own and
A million light reflections pass over me
Its source is bright and endless
She resuscitates the hopeless
Without her, we are lifeless satellites drifting

And as I pull my head out I am without one doubt
Don't wanna be down here feeding my narcissism.
I must crucify the ego before it's far too late
I pray the light lifts me out
Before I pine away.

So crucify the ego, before it's far too late
To leave behind this place so negative and blind and cynical,
And you will come to find that we are all one mind
Capable of all that's imagined and all conceivable.
Just let the light touch you
And let the words spill through
And let them pass right through
Bringing out our hope and reason ...
before we pine away.

What I always wonder about this song is how Maynard defines the term "ego". When he sings that he must "crucify the ego", he seems to be using the standard connotation of ego as something that becomes inflated and takes over our better selves, as opposed to the Jungian interpretation, or even the Freudian, for that matter.

The book I've been working on lately is Jung's Map of the Soul, by Murray Stein. It's basically an introductory overview of Jung's theories regarding psyche, the ego, the self, persona/shadow, anima/us, complexes and consciousness. Stein starts out in his introduction comparing Jung's exploration and explanation of the psyche to a map, but the impression I keep getting is of a solar system or a universe, with just a bit of a skew. At the core of Jung's 'universe' is the ego: "It forms, as it were, the centre of the field of consciousness; and, in so far as this comprises the empirical personality, the ego is the subject of all personal acts of consciousness" (Jung). As the center of the 'universe' I keep picturing, the ego becomes not the Sun but, as in an antiquated view of our solar system, the Earth. It is "one's experience of oneself as a center of willing, desiring, reflecting and acting" (Stein). "The ego is a kind of mirror in which the psyche can see itself and can become aware. The degree to which a psychic content is taken up and reflected by the ego is the degree to which it can be said to belong to the realm of consciousness" (Stein). What's important to keep in mind with Jung's concept of ego is that it is not consciousness itself- consciousness is awareness, it contains the ego as well as the other complexes that revolve in the solar system of the psyche. Floating throughout this solar system are the various contents of consciousness- thoughts, memories, identity, fantasies, emotions, images and words. As the center of consciousness, the ego plays a large role in determining "which contents remain within the realm of consciousness and which ones drop away into the unconscious" (Stein). Here's where we begin to get into repression: the ego can choose to repress contents that it doesn't like or finds painful or incompatible with other contents (which leads to the development of the Shadow).

The ego can also be said to be the factor that sets us apart from other creatures, as well as from fellow human beings. It gives our conscious behavior focus and direction. It wills and acts, it represents our free will. Stein gives the very basic example of choosing to go to the post office as an action decided upon and directed by the ego, but it goes far beyond that. "Because we have an ego, we possess the freedom to make choices that may defy our instincts for self-preservation, propagation, and creativity… A strong ego is one that can obtain and move around in a deliberate way large amounts of conscious content. A weak ego cannot do very much of this kind of work and more easily succumbs to impulses and emotional reactions" (Stein).

The ego is developed via "what he [Jung] called 'collisions.' In other words, conflict, trouble, anguish, sorrow, suffering… As the ego tries to apply its will, it meets a certain measure of resistance from the environment, and if this collision is handled well the result will be the ego's growth… A moderate amount of conflict with the environment and some frustration are, therefore… the best conditions for ego growth" (Stein). A strong, well-developed ego is necessary to deal with the various complexes buried within us that throw our psyche out of balance at the touch of a button. "What the ego can do, if it is strong enough, is to contain some of the complex's energy within itself and to minimize emotional and physical outbursts" (Stein) that can occur when we are in the grip of a stimulated complex.

Similarly, Freud's definition of the ego implies a "a set of psychic functions such as reality-testing, defence, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory" (Wikipedia: Ego, super-ego, and id). It is "based on the reality principle. The ego understands that other people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or selfish can hurt us in the long run. Its job is to meet the needs of the id [the source of our most basic drives and impulses], while taking into consideration the reality of the situation" (AllPsych On-line: Freud's Structural and Topographical Models of Personality. On the flipside, while satisfying the desires of the id, the ego must take care to not upset the super-ego, which is the seat of our conscience and sense of morality. A weak ego, in the Freudian sense, would not be able to maintain this balance, leading to a personality either given to impulsive self-gratification or a rigid and judgmental morality. A strong ego is one that is able to balance these other aspects of the psyche to keep us centered and able to cope with reality.

Considering these definitions of ego, it seems that Maynard has it backwards. Rather than crucifying the ego, what is needed to escape that "self-indulgent pitiful hole" is to strengthen the ego, to develop it in order to prevent our descent into that hole in the first place.

Now, when I look at this song from a Buddhist perspective, I pick up on other elements of it with which to disagree (Sorry, MJK) First off, Maynard describes finding peace within emptiness as "pitiful." This is in contrast to the Buddhist idea of emptiness: "This concept, known as sunyata… is a key feature of Mahayana Buddhism. Such a term may appear, on the face of it, to have negative connotations, as though something is lacking. The opposite is in fact true. In Buddhism, the realization of emptiness equates to the experience of nibbana (nirvana) and therefore the cessation of suffering or dukkha" (About.com: Buddhism- Emptiness). As such, the concept of emptiness is a comforting one to Buddhists, and not a pitiful state to which one concedes in defeat.

"So crucify the ego, before it's far too late
To leave behind this place so negative and blind and cynical,
And you will come to find that we are all one mind
Capable of all that's imagined and all conceivable."

There is one line in which MJK sounds a tad Buddhist, in his assertion that "we are all one mind." The idea of interdependency is just as basic to the study of Buddhism as is that of emptiness. We are all one and inseparable. This lack of separation, this oneness, means that the self-indulgent narcissism Maynard sings of is a delusory state that leads to that painfully blind cynicism. Baaaaad Buddhist that I am, I have to admit that this idea actually kind of scares me sometimes. When I look at the people around me, the idea of being of one mind with some of them just freaks me out. I mean, I'm of "one mind" with that Larry-the-cable-guy clone in the pickup truck that just leered at me as he cut me off in traffic? I'm of "one mind" with the Ebonics-talking woman in the Sheetz restroom, screaming at her kids while carrying on a raucous conversation over the cellphone growing out of her ear? Forgive my blind, cynical and narcissistic ego here, but can't I just be of "one mind" with somebody like MJK and leave it at that?

And the Buddha's probably now rolling in whatever entity he's currently incarnated in… (Oh wait, I've used that joke already. It wasn't funny the first time, either.)

That'th all folkth!

Revision added 2/14/07:
Seriously, though, in spite of my nit-picking contradictions with MJK's use of certain terms, the overall message of this song is a valuable one. The idea that letting go of the narcissistic b.s. we all cling to will open us up to oneness and peace is very Buddhist, and certainly something to aspire towards. And the music to which these words are set is beautiful and haunting. On those rare occassions that I make an effort, I've found this a wonderful song to meditate to. (Note to self: Make that effort a little more frequently!!)

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