December 2, 2012
Karen Horney, the brilliant post-Freudian psychoanalyst, had an expression that informed much of her work, her contribution to the still-evolving process of retreat from the Freudian religion. Her term for one common source of the psychological distress she encountered in patients was “neurotic claim.” I guess my only complaint with it would be that it’s kind of redundant. For every claim is neurotic, particularly the claims made between individuals. The moment you claim another as your own, you have made your first step into the abyss of delusion, of walking death. And the moment you submit to another’s claim upon yourself, your life becomes locked in a prison of expectation. Let your limits be defined by the laws of your being, not by the claim of another.
In our culture, marriage is the biggest scale on the back of the dragon whose name is Claim. It is not a random coincidence that more than half of marriages end in divorce, while so many others trudge on in name only amid the prison of claim. Consumerism similarly entangles us, imprisons us. There is also the neurosis of claim in many of our other social relationships — work, military service, group and political affiliations, and, of course, religion. If we can kill the dragon of claim within ourselves — and I am convinced that we can — it would be a quantum leap in our evolution both as individuals and as a species.
To do that, we must be led towards the very heart of this dragon, to the poisonous organ that feeds its vile, burning breath. This organ has the name Guilt.
…the function of the guilt spell put upon people by the collective ego…is to enslave them into its service, and garner their life energies through their striving. All self-images, regardless of the type, cause a person to strive….A self-image, though something we often try to ‘live up to,’ is more often something we really ‘die to.’– Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog, I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way, p. 371
If Guilt is the heart of neurosis; then Fear is its blood. If we can stab that dragon’s heart, its blood will cease to flow. Guilt is the invisible foundation of neurotic attachment; it is the fundamental claim made upon the individual: it says, “I own you, and my blood of fear drives you — there is no other energy available to your life.” Then it papers that claim over with lies about self-sacrifice and the Greater Good and duty and service to God. In our society, we are taught to fear both God and the Law. We must “abide by” the latter and live in terror of the former (that is, be “God-fearing”, as if it makes any sense to fear what is purportedly the Source and Essence of Love) — there is no other kind of invisible leadership or truth available to our lives than these.
This is the drill of what I call the “medieval ego.” That drill is really an iron shroud, thrown over the self from the cradle to the grave. And that medieval ego is an insular cabal, a corporation of ideology that builds the caskets of belief into which we must all fit. These coffins are what Anthony and Moog refer to as the self-images that we must “die to.” For it turns out that the life of Law and the god of Guilt are really the tools of death and oppression. When you submit to either, you accept the self-image and your life becomes an agony of striving to become one of the scales upon the back of the dragon of Claim.
The Way Beyond Claim
You already know the way out, the way free of the dragon’s flaming, toxic breath. You do not have to learn it, acquire it, buy it, or become worthy of it. It is yours, as free and abundant as the light of Nature. It only needs to be revealed to be discovered. The chaos of lawlessness and the sin (original or derived) of godlessness is not your real nature — these are the medieval ego’s lies that claim us, that oppress us, that kill us even while we appear to walk and breathe and work frantically to become another scale of sameness on the dragon’s hide. Again, to kill that dragon and to thus reveal our selves — to bring down its massive but illusory body of claim, we must stab its heart of guilt and stop its blood of fear. To do that, of course, we have to go there.
We begin with a commitment: to strip ourselves psychologically naked, in the trust that our nakedness is not shameful or sinful; that whatever we find along the way, whatever we strip apart and away from ourselves, is not who we are but rather something false, derived, or cast upon us (thus Anthony and Moog’s choice of the word “spell”).
There is another aspect to this trust in our original beauty, the beauty of our inner nakedness, which becomes a trust in the process, a trust in the path. There are two points to remember in this: (1) nothing that is true of your self, or your real nature, can be stripped away — we may as well speak of trying to tear off our own physical skin as of attempting to strip off what is genuine to our inner being; and (2) you will discover a natural order and deep sense to the process: in any moment, you will peel off only what you are capable of discarding — you will never be made to strip away a belief, a teaching, an illusion whose absence will leave you emotionally raw, exposed, or in danger.
The rest is a matter of perseverance. For as you strip away more and more, as you come nearer to the source of your natural light, your true being, your original and free life-space; the dragon’s breath will grow ever hotter and more emotionally violent. Remember the last time you had the flu or a similar viral or bacterial infection: how its heat and pain and misery seemed at their apex of violence and danger just as the infection itself was breaking, dispersing, dying. As of the body, so of the mind and the heart, for there is no separation between them.
With each step, each successful inner cleansing, you will find that the medieval ego’s hired thieves — guilt and fear — will seek another opening through which to enter and rob your true home, your personal life-space. If you have shut the door of law, they will seek entry through the gate of religion; if you have closed the windows of nationalism or group affiliation, the robbers will find the more intimate opening of family, which may include those of ancestry and Tradition. It is not in the nature of a thief to be compassionate or deferential.
This is where the presence and assistance of a human guide may be of use to you. For while the ability to reveal your life’s purpose and your true and uninhibited nature is already complete and inherent to your original being, there are challenges built into that process of psychological stripping that a psychotherapist or counselor can help you to overcome. The only point you have to recall about such a relationship is that there is no hierarchical or proprietary aspect to it: the true guide, the genuine leader of the revolution known as self-discovery (or, as Maslow called it, self-actualization) is your true self and its connection to the quantum source of truth and healing. The human medium is not an Illuminati or a guru or a Master or a doctor of perfection; he or she is merely one who has already started such a journey as yours and has the experience to deliver support, encouragement, and direction to your quest, which is the search for what you already have, and are.
The challenges of this path are not there because of something that is wrong or pathological about you. They are there merely because the medieval ego, and the collective (to the extent that the medieval delusions have been accepted into collective belief) have had thousands of years of practice in the way of oppression and inner death. The dragon of claim has grown large, but it is no less of an illusion for that — this is why I frequently use the term “monument of shadows” to describe its body of guilt, fear, and falsehood. Its very size is a lie — it is great only in appearance; but when it is exposed to light, the monument crumbles and collapses.
This is where the restorative breath of Art can support us. It is the very nature of Art to reveal truth by stripping away falsehood; to find the source of healing within the very body of agony; to touch the universal through the creation of the individual. Every life needs art, for art is, in its essence, a rejection of claim. Thus, art rises above and apart from neurosis — yes, even art that is made by neurotics surpasses its individual creator’s illness by connecting with the cosmic wellspring of healing and truth.
Your path of stripping yourself psychologically naked, of revealing your unique and original self, is perhaps itself the primordial act of creation, of artistic endeavor. There is an old bromide among us psychotherapists that psychological health is generally unmeasured and undefined — there is no 98.6o or 120/80 for psychological health — so our measure for such health must be purely subjective. One common phrase I’ve heard in professional conferences and conversations is, “the ability to tolerate ambiguity.” That’s not bad, but I think a more inclusive definition for psychological health might be “the ability to embrace, and then transcend, apparent contradictions; the capacity for healing through the complete experiencing of pain — which includes rejecting its claim upon the self.” My shortest such definition would be: “the ability to create and to experience one’s life as a work of living art.”
Once again, art. Every work of true art — the poems of Homer or Dante; the plays of Shakespeare; the operas of Mozart or the Toccatas of Bach; the paintings of Van Gogh or Picasso — any art of any era or genre arises from this capacity to tell the story of transcendence; to point the way through and beyond suffering, falsehood, and the emotional darkness of guilt and fear, simply via the rejection of their claim upon us. Thus I say again: every life needs art. It is not merely a matter of possibility, but of urgency, of the necessity of Nature. Your future as an individual life whose like has never been and never will be again; and our future as a species — as a living instant of the breath of Infinity, a note of its eternal music — depend upon it.