Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Path of Invention

Part 32 of Prisoners of the Real

In Sufism, Dionysus is described as a process of "deep understanding" or direct perception. In Zen, it is called kensho – to enter inside. And the I Ching, whose first hexagram refers to Apollonian power and energy, calls it K'un – the Receptive.

K'un, the second hexagram, is a series of broken lines representing the dark, primal power of yin, related both to devotion and the Earth. It is a perfect complement to the Creative, representing nature in contrast to spirit, earth in contrast to heaven, and the female in contrast to the male. Within the individual, it points toward the need for co-existence between the spiritual world and the world of the senses.

With the help of Dionysus, humanity can liberate itself from manipulative structures and transform the arrogant dragon into a receptive spirit: plurality can become unity, the gradual building of trust and love between all beings, with individual entities acknowledged as temporary forms filled with a single mind-energy. Planning can be matched by designing, sequence can be mated with synchronicity. In short, the isolated parts of the social body can be re-united as interdependent elements, equipotential within the whole.

This Dionysian force is a universal, collective and dynamic instinct within all human beings, the single substance within every system. It expresses itself through patterns of instinctual behavior, archetypes or motifs of the psyche pre-existent in the collective unconscious. Eternal repetition has engraved these archetypes into humanity's psychic constitution, not as images with content but, at least initially, as forms without content that represent the possibility of a certain kind of perception and action. The potential can be released through dreams and active imagination; although both have valuable uses in organizations, the latter can be more easily applied to social and work life.

Deliberate concentration can produce a group of fantasies – chance ideas, as yet unrealized possibilities. They can be considered through reflection, searched for their associations and material contexts. The result has been called inspiration and innovation. For Maslow it was primary creativity, for Noam Chomsky an "instinct for freedom," and Emerson called it transcendentalism. Whatever the name, it is the door of perception opening.


The Dionysian collective has weathered a chilling winter of rationalism. Violated in the seventeenth century. dismembered by skeptics in the Age of Reason, its essence was given a ritual burial as rationalized humanity sacrificed itself to the clockwork deity it had constructed. But Dionysus is about to return, and arrogant dragons will relearn the meaning of annihilation. Historical circumstances, environmental consequences and instinctual will have combined as humanity gazes over the edge of history at a 2000 year cycle that began with Pythagoras, and is ending with the dictatorship of structures and the fetishism of the "real."

Throughout this cycle, and particularly for the last four hundred years, our guardians of order have been rational managers who have turned further outward and upward. The One has become a digit, objectified and classified by purveyors of data. Scientists have built a routinized world through a logical sequence, a progression that has simultaneously destroyed intuition and myth for the greater glory of reason.

In reaching to command and shape natural forces, other living beings and humanity, these managers have smothered their instincts in a machine-made blanket of facts. Total systemic predictability has been an imaginary carrot dangled from the calibrated stick of science. As a result, tools have been used to shape human beings in an image that appeared to Renaissance philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, and certainty-bound mechanics. In the 20th century, the reflex doctrine of controlled and controlling humanity became the central prophecy of our age.

But as the I Ching suggests, the current standstill will not last. "First standstill," predicts the oracle, "then good fortune." Rational leaders have made necessity the commanding father of spontaneous invention. But human beings who discover within themselves the potential of Dionysus can turn the inverted pyramid back upon its base. In doing so, they can find wisdom and creative intellect, using Earth as the foundation for understanding higher things. They can make invention the tolerant mother of order and necessity, and through their intuitive methods create a web of Dionysian collectives that will regenerate the world.
Dionysian leaders use artistic methods to invent structures of reality. Although they acknowledge that both scientific and artistic processes have worth, they de-emphasize logical reasoning and deduction and focus on metaphorical thinking. Their interest is not definition but discovery.

Metaphor is a ceaseless movement of association – of ideas, experiences and tensions. It swings in two directions as one object is related to another, one phenomenon, experience, behavior, or personality. Pairs define one another and emerge mutually. Reality is related to unreality and becomes partially abstract. Unreality – the inexpressible – becomes more tangible. Through their fusion the two create a new reality with an evolved nature.

Metaphorical method relies upon both sense experience and spontaneous creation. The first, observation by the senses, is a traditional scientific tool. When combined with abstract thought it leads to scientific theory. Used in concert with reflection – that is, purposeful concentration as a vehicle of spontaneity – it instead produces artistic discovery.

Dionysian beings use metaphor for creative activity rather than abstract reasoning, suspending their routines as they deal with the "real world." They remain receptive to the subject of group action, and to the various members of their group. Though they may be leaders, they don’t consider themselves "professionals" or executives within a hierarchy. They act instead as integrated group members whose specific contribution is their ability to create images of whole systems, and to initiate change while maintaining a harmony of meaning between their groups and the environment.

The intuitive approach places the leader within the subject. She "sees" it, coincides with its unique aspects. She remains mobile within a shifting organizational framework, using her skill to provide others with images, expressions to which they can respond. Another crucial aspect is the maintenance of ethical sensitivity. Dionysian leaders are value-conscious adhesive bonds within their groups. Others may monitor output on a timely basis, but the primary concern of the Dionysian leader is input.

In Dionysian collectives structure emerges gradually as a by-product of activity. History combines with the sum of individual perceptions to shape the future of the group. The leader is a generalist. Others may move toward specialization as they increase their awareness of interpersonal relations and the meshing of individual and group purposes. The leader assists them in shaping and reshaping their group meaning, and varying their individual experiences. Although leaders assume "operational" tasks along with everyone else, their central assignment is the continual posing of questions that promote spontaneity and change. Rather than relying on analysis – the orderly sequencing of thoughts – they use association – the relationship between ideas.

Taken together, these approaches make the leadership role a force away from centralization. Large systems are broken into more functional units, each one operationally autonomous yet sensitive to the infinitely varying purposes of other groups. It is at the level of purpose that Dionysian collectives relate, and their leaders open the gates for the transfer for energy.

The assumption that unifies these entities is that belief regulates structure. Dionysian leaders expand the limits of belief and restrict the limits of resulting structures.

Next: The Turning Point

To read other chapters, go to
Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dionysus & Apollo

Part 31 of Prisoners of the Real

The worship of Dionysus predates the Greek version of the myth and grew out of an ancient belief in the spirit of nature and fertility, often expressed in celebratory rites. It was only a matter of time before the Greeks recognized the cult. For them, Dionysus was the God of Wine, a constantly changing energy that oscillated between benefaction and destruction. His cup was life-giving and could heal any illness. His influence quickened courage and banished fear. Worshippers soared as they realized through Dionysus their innate ability to transcend their own limits. Working within and around human beings, he could transform them into gods and goddesses.

As Edith Hamilton described it, "The momentary sense of exultant power wine-drinking can give was only a sign to show men that they had within them more than they knew."

Dionysus has also been identified with the Indian figure Shiva, the Egyptian myth of the dead and resurrected god Osiris, as well as various rites of the killed and resurrected divine king. In The White Goddess, Robert Graves describes the figure of the lame king in Levantine, Cretan, Greek, Celtic and Germanic legend. Dionysus is said to have had a bull-foot. Campbell relates these symbols to the moon, the celestial counterpart of the sacrificed and resurrected king. The moon is lame on one side, then on the other. One side of the tree of life is beautiful, the other in decay. The moon is also the heavenly cup of liquor drunk by the gods.

In Jewish and Chinese legends of the deluge, the hero becomes lame. Noah is injured by a lion (a solar beast). He and China's Great Yu survive, ending the old and bringing on the new. The deluge itself is described in several ways – as mathematical inevitability, culmination of a cosmic cycle, monstrous catastrophe brought on by a freely willing god, or local geographical event marked by neither guilt nor mathematics. In any case, it is a hero legend whose central theme is not the deluge but the virtue of the hero who responds in harmony with the order of nature.

One of the most arresting of the Greek gods, as well as one of the two gods of earth, Dionysus eventually achieved the status of a major divinity. His admission to Delphi indicated the full acceptance of his worship as part of the state religion, often expressed in dramatic festivals. More than a mere merrymaker who freed people momentarily through wine, however, Dionysus represented the spirit of human liberation through inspiration.

Countless poems were composed for this expression of the divine idea. Through the power of Dionysus human beings were said to act gloriously, even divinely. He was a symbol of revelry, inspiration, destruction, and also afflicted suffering. According to the Greeks, Dionysus died with the coming of the cold, torn to pieces by elemental forces. But this death was merely a prologue to resurrection, since Dionysus also embodies the idea of life beyond material existence – the basis of belief in immortality.

In sum, the Greeks realized that instincts couldn't be denied. Therefore, they embraced and elevated as a god a force that personifies basic human instincts and desires. They were also well aware, of course, that the dangers of denial were paralleled by the dangers of excess. As a result, Dionysus reflected both the potential for inspired creation and frenzied destruction. Unfortunately, the inheritors of Greek culture lost sight of the liberatory implications and, much like the vengeful Hera, embarked on a campaign of persecution.

Apollo and Dionysus are primal twins buried within the human psyche, yet for almost two thousand years we have worshipped Apollo and devalued the god of inspiration. Master musician and archer, Apollo is also known as a healer and god of light. No darkness exists, for the deity or his followers, as they seek the truth. Known as the son god, his second name – Phoebus – means "brilliant" or "shining."

The origins of Apollo, like Dionysus, stretch back further than the Greeks; in this case, to Indo-European migrations and ancient tales of fear and vengeance. To the Greeks, however, he was simply the son of Zeus and Leto, another victim of Hera's spite. Driven from country to country in search of sanctuary, Leto eventually settled on Delos, the island on whose northern slopes Apollo is said to have been born. A favored child, he was fed on nectar and ambrosia, reaching manhood in four days as a result.

Though courageous and skilled, Apollo was also hasty. Seeking to kill the serpent named Python, for example, he tracked it to the shrine of Mother Earth at Delphi, and struck it down in the very spot where the oracle spoke. Earth, demanding atonement for the defiling of her sacred place, forced Zeus to send his son away for ritual purification.

And despite Apollo's gifts, including the power of prophecy, he wasn't always kind. To Greek herdsman, for example, he was a fearful, "wolfish" presence that had to be placated, a god who could either protect them from wolves or, if he was offended, give tangible shape to their fears.

Here is another link between myths and men, with more lessons about the complex nature of human will. The light-giver, who can heal and purify, can also be quite pitiless and cruel. Just as the excesses of Dionysus have been accentuated, the cruel and primitive side of Apollo has been ignored.
Dionysus is the desire to burst through the reality bubble that surrounds us, to experience a general sense of affirmation, to touch the unknown. It's the spirit of magic, potential scattered through time, matter becoming spirit, the ideal that cuts through the skin of the real world. Apollo is Dionysus is ordered form, spirit becoming matter, the actuality of space, the practical application of Dionysus when this unlimited complexity is captured.

The Pythagorean synthesis fused formless substance with harmonious form, incorporating the evolutionary movement from impulse and sensitivity to rational order. But the goal of the process was spiritual, personal and subjective – to grasp the One through the power of intellect. In the two millenia since the great triangle was conceived, however, humanity has used and abused intellect primarily to gain mastery over knowledge. Ultimately, the triangle was inverted: wisdom and creative intellect were sacrificed in order to concentrate on classifying truth. We lost sight of the One by endlessly subdividing it into the many.

The harvest of our rational, Apollonian choice, and the concomitant denial of intuition, has been a painful and deadly discontinuity and alienation between entities. The world is perceived as atoms, particles, and individuals, bound to one another only by the laws of cause and effect. Rationalized humanity has assumed that aggression and territoriality are inherent. In this bright, cold world surrendered freedom has been promoted as the only way to avoid war and shield the world system from chaos – widely accepted as the "state of nature."

Next: The Path of Invention

To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rediscovering Dionysus

Part 30 of Prisoners of the Real

A small pearl-white sphere bounced before the eyes of the French scientist Marc Mathieu. Within it was the very essence of human life energy. The infinite, encased in a technological package, was about to be put to practical use.

"It so happens," Mathieu explained, "that when we become matter -- all right, when we die --
the energy within us frees itself with a fantastic speed. That's all. We call it speed of ascent. We were able to harness it and to make it work for us. Damning it, so to speak. Locking it in a generator. Or storing it in a tank."

How simple it sounded. Yet even this rational scientist was aware that a strictly realistic strategy for the use of the ultimate power would not suffice. When the approach of science is merely scientific, it often betrays human values. Thus, Mathieu planned to use the captured spirit of humanity -- the Gasp -- to control destructive power. A technological solution would be applied to the arms race and other forms of international hostility. The Gasp, he thought, would serve as a coercive force for peace.

But this final solution also posed a final problem. Since the people who wished to use it hadn't changed, the Gasper became another manipulative tool of negative power. One frightened Pentagon emissary pondered, "What we are faced with here is the possibility -- the probability-of overpull...the living will be emptied of their -- let's say, energy. Instant dehumanization, that is."

"Dehumanization," Mathieu mumbled. "Funny the Pentagon should suddenly start to worry about that."

Despite the dangers, Mathieu continued his research. The only answer to science, he assumed, was more science. And another irony. His purpose was moral awakening, yet his product threatened a genocide of the spirit, formless substance enslaved by form. And control wasn't the end. The next step was fission, the splitting of the Gasp.

"It can be done," thought Mathieu, "therefore it must be done...and I did it...The fission of the gasp has a power of destruction about a billion times stronger than that of the biggest bomb ever built...The gsp is potentially the most dangerous, the most devastating force in all creation, such as it is known and accessible to man. Which is exactly what the world's greatest poets have often said, but now this is no longer mythology, words, philosophical moonshine, this is now a technique...I've never felt so creative in my whole life."

Mathieu built a huge "gasper," called "The Pig." The great nations of the Earth waited nervously to learn in which direction it would be turned. One hundred and seventy thousand Albanian gsp units were captured in the disintegration chamber -- a lot of gas. If an implosion could be triggered, it would create a world of matter twice the size of the solar system.

But rather than inflicting dehumanization and destruction, the Gasper became an instrument of liberation. Its contents were released. The huge pearl-white sphere vanished in a maelstrom of exploding color. "For the first time since creation," thought Mathieu, "living men were looking at their ultimate freedom."

In The Gasp, author Romain Gary's morality tale of science the creator and destroyer of humanness, the "real world" has reached its limit. The forgotten purpose of control is rediscovered -- through the negation of control. Rejection of absolute order and predictability is manifested as the most beautiful light in the world. The dominance of matter and structure gives way to infinite human potential.

Such a force cannot be harnessed, objectified and put to purely operational use without horrendous costs. But when this Apollonian order metamorphoses into the formless life energy of Dionysus, humanity catches a glimpse of its godlike potential.

The association of Dionysus with frenzied dancing and excess is an unfortunate, though not accidental, case of stereotyping. In truth a symbol of the life force itself, Dionysus has been equated instead with dissipation and ruin, and condemned as a threat to certainty and precise organization. Emphasizing the threat of chaos, rationalists through the ages have hidden and denied the dionysian potential: an ability to produce inspiration, ecstatic joy, and blessing.

After initially appearing in the Far East, the cult of Dionysus found its way into Greece around 1000 BC. As the myth evolved, Dionysus, representing the force of life in all growing things, became known as the son of Zeus and Semele, daughter of the King of Thebes. The Lord of the Thunderbolt, according to the best known version of the story, had fallen in love with a human woman. At the same time, however, he had earned the rage of his jealous and vengeful wife, Hera. Learning that Semele was pregnant, Hera disguised herself as an old woman and gained the young mortal's confidence. She urged Semele to demand the truth – that is, to be shown the true identity of her lover, realizing that it would mean Semele's death.

As both Zeus and Hera knew, no human could look at the king of the gods in the full blaze of his divinity and survive. Nevertheless, Zeus eventually submitted to his lover's demand. For a moment, before Semele was consumed by the divine fire, she saw Zeus in his glory. The same fire made the unborn Dionysus immortal.

Despite Hera's continuing efforts to destroy the child, he survived under the care of Hermes. Living on a mountainside, he learned the inspirational properties of the vine and the juice of the grape. Persecuted by those who refused to recognize his divinity, he eventually left for Asia, where he learned to use his power. After collecting many followers, he returned home and joined the company of the Olympians.

Another version of the story makes him the son of Zeus and Persephone, who was herself the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. The achetypal maiden, Persephone was the product of a union between air (Zeus) and soil (Demeter), a force of fertility who was ultimately seduced by Gaia (Earth) at the behest of Hades (the underworld) and became his queen in the land of the dead. Before that, however, she was hidden by her mother in a Sicilian cave and discovered by her father, who had disguised himself as a serpent. Offspring of an incestuous union, Dionysus was born and nurtured in the cave until the jealous Hera sent two Titans to destroy him. Pouncing from behind, they tore him into seven parts, boiled them in a cauldron, roasted them, and ate everything except his heart. Athene saved that single organ. Attracted by the scent, Zeus found and killed the cannibals, and, by swallowing the heart himself, gave birth to his own son.

According to Joseph Campbell, this version mirrors the transformation from child to adult, as well as the puberty rites of many cultures. The child is carried across the threshold from dependency on the mother to participation in the nature of the father through physical transformation, intense psychological experience, and reawakening. In Freudian terms, Oedipal impulses of aggression and will to live have been redirected.

Like most myths and rites, these tales are derived from a common base, a cosmic insight of such force that, at certain times in human history, the formal structuring principle of the universe is caught up in it. Rituals and stories are comparable to the formulae of physics, wrote Campbell, "through which the modes of operation of inscrutable cosmic forces become not only accessible to the mind but also susceptible to control."

Mythology is essentially an organization of images conceived as a rendition of the sense of life. It is seen in two ways – thought and experience. As thought it is a primitive prelude to science. As experience it is art.

Next: Dionysus & Apollo

To read other chapters, go to
Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey