Reply To: The Principle of Honor: A Poor Substitute . . . ” with Craig Deininger, Ph.D.”
Thank you, Stephen. It’s a pleasure to engage the content more thoroughly in the COHO and dive into deeper detail or explore broader fields. Your prompting questions are excellent. Let’s take them in order. So, how do we get from here to there? That is, how do we get to that point where character traits (like honor) that we hold in such high esteem become natural expressions of ourselves? Simple answer: Still working on it. But this simple answer has more to it than just a playful response because it leans into “process” over “product.” That is, it speaks to that wonderful quote from Chogyam Trungpa that I am so very fond of: “The path is the goal.” And this quote “does” so many good things, I’ll just have to skip them all for now.
A good place to begin, however, would be to apply the spirit of Trungpa’s quote to our present inquiry, which would then read something like: “The here is the there.” But let’s not make the mistake of leaving it at that and think we have it! I can’t walk around repeating “The here is the there” or “I am honorable” and expect my character to become more honorable or compassionate or what have you—not in a profound and lasting way, at least.
Also, in addressing this here-to-there, I believe I’m also responding to the second prompt: What do the myths tell us about how to find and act out of that center in our own being? First, I think to the activity of reading the myths in their entirety so that one can be in thorough relationship with them as they are. I find that the messages and themes that they carry are best known by not ascribing abstract names and categories to all those moving parts under the hood, so to speak. But rather by just putting the key in the ignition and driving out into the terrain. Call it gnosis–learning by osmosis.
This gnostic region reminds me of Campbell’s response to Moyers when asked Why myths? And he responds:
“I believe in being caught by it somehow or other…a feeling…of a deep, rich life-vivifying sort.” Granted, I’ve abridged a good deal of Campbell’s response, but have done so to emphasize those gnostic aspects—namely, aspects that recognize a sense of calling—aspects that are emotional or intuitive—in short, experiential.
Okay, that’s a lot of talk about the stuff we can’t really talk about, or rather, that we can only talk about. So, now to the next tier down [following the same tiers that Joe shares in that great story about what his mentor Heinrich Zimmer said] where we do get under the hood to the practical mechanics, and which does augment the experience of the those things we can only talk about, albeit in a different way. In this tier I think of approach, interpretation, and, especially, integration.
These days, I think of integration as infusing and holding spirit within matter. Or, in less esoteric terms, infusing and holding the abstract within the concrete. Or, in the present case, infusing and holding an attribute like honor within one’s person, or better, one’s body.
To this end, in recent years, my path-as-goal has been to engage the graspable, to find (or build) those footholds and handholds of solid, literal rock—I know, I’m not supposed to say “literal” when employing a metaphor (which in fact I am employing), forgive the contradiction. But I put it that way because little wrongful-uses of language like that are worth it when they add tangibility to the content that I am handling in my imagination. The tangibility-aspect substantiates and integrates so that the vehicles of these mythic metaphors may have their fullest connotative potency. And the myths, after being themselves, are metaphors when we approach them as such. Anyway, more on metaphor for another time, alas. For now, it’s just so very important, I think, that they are approached as literally and concretely as possible—as touchable. This touchable quality likens them to the “path” or to the “here” that I addressed above and not to that ethereal, conceptual “goal” or “there” even though the “goal” and “there” are precisely what we’re aiming for! Ha, kind of ironic.
Those who are familiar with Jung’s work will have no doubt by now thought about his work with alchemy—where the practitioners of that art handle the matter to speed the correlative psychic transformation. (And by psychic, I do mean ‘soul’ as the Greek word psyche denotes). Among the many traditions, I believe there are a good many that are (or get me to) a more ethereal “there.” But I also believe that alchemy is unsurpassed in its integrative value. And that the themes of its methodology can be applied to any practice when a practitioner of whatever tradition wishes to focus more on integration because the chief aim of integration is not to transform, but rather to hold the transformation.
I guess what I’m saying is if I reach too far, it becomes abstract and does not hold. It cannot hold because my reach has extended beyond the stuff-ness that makes a thing hold or holdable in the first place. So, in how an attribute like honor can be genuinely had via mythology in a practical way, I think an alchemical approach/interpretation is the second-best that we can do. And that “second-best” is, in the context of our present and more-mechanical approach, the “first-best.” My goodness, I’ve probably gone too far into all this, and in too many directions, but wanted to put a few pieces in play for the conversation.