Advent Meditations Part III: The Inner Throne

Advent Meditations Part III: The Inner Throne

Last week, what struck me the most was the irony that many of the so-called reactionaries that I have met recently—those individuals that have a strong attachment to a benevolent, strong, and compelling overarching authority in political matters—are surprisingly democratic, anarchic, or blatantly communist. But let me backtrack.

Everyone is usually not themselves. Their true “self” or “I” has abdicated or vacated. Instead, there is a flurry of thoughts, emotions, and actions which pull their soul, spirit, and body willy nilly into automated and learned responses. But I shall be even more explicit and deliberate.

I. The Democracy of Personalities

What people think is their personality—this culmination of their various likes and dislikes or preferences in how they do things—does not stem from an act of the will, but a habituation usually engendered through external circumstances in their lives. They “tend” towards something and these tendencies push them, by a critical majority or plurality of their sensations and feelings, towards a direction. This direction is often mistaken for their “will.” This confusion of “preference” for “identity” is something I hinted at though did not really cover in my article on homosexuality, but homosexuality is obviously one such example in, perhaps, an extreme case. These tiny personalities—each representing a different agenda, fetish, or impulse—have overthrown the authority of the will and mind and established a dictatorship for the members.

Despite its obvious case in homosexual behaviour, most people of a “conservative” or “moral” disposition are just as susceptible to this internal democratic process. How often, for example, do any people weigh whether or not to get up in the morning promptly as if by committee? How often do people prefer metal bands over Korean Pop because “I just like this one better.” And if you ask people why they have certain preferences—why they can’t eat seafood or they don’t like this or that—they’ll often say “I don’t know.” Or, worse yet, “I just do/don’t.” Is there really a person in there making that decision or was it just a simple consensus of the various members of the body voting? The head was no longer involved, it was just the most energized lobby of the body that gets their way. Whether it’s the gonads threatening extreme discomfort if they are not allowed stimulation or the stomach allying itself with the lobby of the lazy limbs who are afraid of pain to convince the body to take on more cheesecake, it isn’t the “self” creating the agenda or guiding the direction, but the members.

And so the body continues without understanding who it really is. Like a de-racinated nation that simply relies on its political system to maintain its economy and stability in society, nothing special occurs in the automated man. He merely persists. It is ironic, therefore, that many reactionaries overlook this essential nation—the nation of their own members. They pine for an Emperor or at least a strong man at the helm and yet they allow their actions to be maintained by the surging, populist energy of their members. How often do individuals simply do things because they’re “in the mood?” Is not abdicating to that mode not the very essence of a populist candidate winning over the members? Indeed, many people desire a higher consciousness and a higher awareness in their body politics and yet have not made any effort to increase their own consciousness and their own awareness. When people speak of “higher states of consciousness” it is not some abstract idea, but a practical realization of where our “self” is.

II. The Mechanization of the Self

I had written before about the necessity of a Butlerian Jihad of an internal variety—a war against the machine-self. Plenty of individuals believe themselves to be liberated from the machine-self. They say that they are “thinkers” or people who have the “proper ideology” and therefore are immune to the collectivist mode of thinking that their leftist cousins possess. Yet inner consciousness of one’s thoughts and emotions seems to be blatantly missing despite these external advertisements.

Examples do not even have to be of an obvious morally detrimental character—in fact some things, such as habitual prayer—can become automated even if it’s a real boon. Is this not what the Teacher has advised us not to do; did He not advise us not to engage in vain repetition? It is the abdication of the will and the mechanization of prayer—the profanation of it through unconsciousness—that is the sin associated here. It’s obvious, after all, if I teach a parrot to say the Our Father that it would not be prayer. Yet, how much of this mechanization takes over our very lives? How often do we rely on our instinctual responses, reactions, attitudes towards other people, things, or ourselves?

How often does something happen and, immediately, we feel as if we were slighted? Is not the message that comes to our mind that says, “they don’t respect me” something we have lived with for so long that it has become habitually listened to? The automated response, as a friend of mine would say, is like that of a computer—creating behavioral algorithms that follow a set programming. Hence, this is why I wrote in my previous article on the machine-self how it is not that we shall create artificial intelligence, but that human actions and thoughts will be so automatic that it will be indistinguishable from machines.

Emotions, too, become programmed into us instead of decided upon. How often, for example, when we are told a different opinion from one that we gave do we immediately feel threatened and must defend our position even if the other person might be right? In fact, how often are we so convinced that we are right? Indeed, “deciding” is made ex post facto, it is never made about whether or not the emotion we feel at all is necessary. The machine reacts for us and the throne of our self is left empty occupied instead by something inhuman; something programmed. Because only a human can react organically to a given situation, person, or ourselves. Only a human can discern what is proper for that situation and if those feelings are necessary no matter how valid they might be. Is it not in the best tales of old that we see kings who are able to discern between the various courses of actions with temperance and wisdom?

III. The Inner Court

The abdication of the self was something I was visualizing in this past week as an interior court where the young prince who was supposed to ascend to the throne has neglected his duties. Instead, he lets his learned advisors run the realm. In any given situation that a man encounters, his immediate judgments about the person and situation are supplied to him by his learned interior advisors. “That man is suspicious,” one might say. “That woman is absolutely hot,” another might say. They compel the body-nation to take certain steps. “Say something in this situation to make us look better,” commands one advisor. “Don’t disagree with him,” says another. “We need to make ourselves look smarter than the others,” another will say. All automatic and mostly unconscious. We just say, “well it’s just my personality to be this gregarious,” or, “I just like to be alone.”

The young prince relies on this because they tell him, “how can you ever run this nation? You haven’t trained for this, but throughout the life of the nation, we have. You’ve done this for so long this way there’s no reason to change. We are what we do.” Indeed, our personalities and interior advisors have learned from past experiences how to deal with situations and patterns that we see. And yet, do we discern them? Do we act as a King should and listen but not immediately follow the advice of something we may or may not really be able to trust?

The Inner Court, therefore, must have the returns of its King. The true “self.” Discovering this true self is an arduous journey of maturity. It is the “self” that lies beyond the shadows of desire and looks upon the nation of his body and the community of nations around him of persons with wisdom, mercy, respect, etc. He embodies the virtues and he decides whether or not these impulsive ideas, thoughts, or emotions should be enacted in his kingdom. Yet this technique of invoking the higher self is greatly missing especially as there is a foolish misunderstanding that the “strong” self is the real self or the “intelligent” self is the real self. These are usurpers. I have often seen very intelligent individuals who retain great impulsiveness and disquiet but believe that because they are intelligent that this makes them immune from decay.

As for myself, this past week, as part of Advent Meditations, I have continued to practice the discernment of the Kingly self. He sits on the Inner Throne and allows the various thoughts and impulses to bring their cases and petitions to him. He then decides from a place of wisdom; hearing multiple advisors to see if perhaps there are multiple ways to look at a situation or person. He feels at peace because he knows that he is not subject to the impulses and desires. He can listen to them and decide for himself what action to take.

Wisdom is necessary because many of the impulses which come with wicked thoughts are perhaps simply misguided. An erotic desire, for example, is actually a plea for power which is in turn is actually for the sake of being seen as powerful so as to seek the respect of other men and, thus, not to be left alone. The “wisdom” of the King allows him to follow these long lines of motivations to their ultimate, golden core which can be addressed in healthy and productive ways rather than in the learned ways of past actions. Thus, the King applies justice with mercy. He recognizes the gold within the shadows and draws them out. He transmutes the base to the noble. He makes noblemen out of brigands. This is the alchemical task of the King and his power and it is the primary task of every man who wishes to assume an interior Aristocracy. If any man wishes a nation to be ruled gloriously by a King or benevolent patriarch, he must start with his his own person.

Advent Meditations Part II: The Lesson of the Christmas Tree

Advent Meditations Part II: The Lesson of the Christmas Tree

I was quite happy to hear from my friend Adam the Northern European legend behind the Christmas Tree and how it became a symbol for that which points towards the light in the darkness—towards the Star. Trees were also the topic of this past Sunday’s gospel reading which spoke about the fruitless trees being cut down and how “the axe is laid to unto the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10) signifying the imminence in which judgment comes.

The tree itself is an interesting image to contemplate often as it shows up not just in Christmas but in religious symbolism in general. It is not my place since I am not a historian of religious symbols to point out all the examples of where this is so, but I like to ponder about what it is about the tree in particular that makes it compelling. I suppose one such consideration is how it is an organic, natural symbol of growth. Trees, in general, are the tallest organisms on the planet; they are the most vertical, spatially speaking. They also rely on four ingredients for their manifest growth: the invisibility of air, the “invisibility” of light, the nourishment of water, and the stability of earth. It’s not difficult to see the balance and harmony of the four elements here although one could argue that the regality of the solar contribution is more quintessential which leaves the destruction by forest fires—yet another necessity for forests—a viable alternative. Trees, therefore, are these mysterious creatures of spirit and light which grow towards heaven. They are vertical signposts towards the divine.

The growth in trees is something to be pondered as well. Unless one can be as stable and patient as a tree is, he cannot “see” the growth of the tree. It, too, is invisible. Only do we notice that the tree has grown another foot or meter a few months later does it become quite obvious that it is increasing. It is this slow and continuous pace that serves as a model for the kind of spiritual growth that I am looking to emulate. The tree endures seasons of great foliage and great barrenness throughout the year, but, year after year, without fail, it does grow. Barring some natural disaster or the natural cleansing of fire, one can even say that these are immortal creatures. The link of trees to proper spiritual growth is even more apparent when I was meditating on the wise tome I mentioned in last week’s Advent meditation. In it, the author speaks about the difference between the growth of a tree and that of a tower:

A tower is built; a tree grows. The two processes have this in common: that they present a gradual increase in volume with pronounced tendency upwards. But there is at the same time the difference that the tower rises by leaps and bounds, whilst the tree shows a continuous elevation. This is because bricks or hewn stones are put one on top of the other in the process of building the tower, whilst the microscopic bricks—the cells—of a tree multiply through division and growth in volume. It is the sap in the tree, rising from the roots into the trunks and branches, which renders growth of the tree possible and which makes it shoot up through the multiplication and growth in volume in its cells. Whilst the tower is dry, the tree is filled with sap in movement, which underlies both the division of its cells and their growth. In a word, it underlies the process of growth.

Growth is flowing whilst construction proceeds by leaps and bounds. And what is true of the artificial and the natural in the physical domain is also true in the psychic and spiritual domain. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree… they are ever full of sap and green…” (Psalm 92), “but a down cast spirit dries up the bones…” (Proverbs xviii, 22).i

In other words, it is the fluid, organic, and natural growth and evolution of the human spirit which is modeled in the physicality of the tree. A tower, in comparison, is that growth set in an artificial mode and while this may appear to be an advancement over the slow pace of the tree, the outburst of a tower usually entails a great “fall.” Whether this is Babel or whether it is the eventual collapse of the precarious system exemplified by the towers of the modern world (one does not even need to think up of the horror scenarios of terrorist attacks since modern towers are bulldozed and replaced almost every other day; the precariousness of the modern world should be obvious to anyone who observes towers spring up in major cities and ponders their titanic natures), a downfall—a destruction—is imminent.

So as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, I also ask myself how much of my spiritual life is immortal and natural like the tree and how much has it been built artificially like the Tower of Babel or a modern skyscraper? How many times must I insist to myself that I must advance a certain amount every year and then get discouraged when I have obvious setbacks and corrections? Just like Advent allows us preparation-in-time for Christmas, so, too, is it an invitation to properly pace our spiritual lives. If we take our model of growth to be the tree—of expanding only when we have been filled by the grace, the sap, the agent of spiritual growth, then any other expansion is artificial; it is a Tower; and, without the sap, it is empty and ultimately fruitless as we await a “correction.”

Often our hewn stones or bricks of our spiritual life can also be heavy burdens and weights that easily get disturbed by the earthquakes and winds of the world around us. It is one indication that perhaps our spiritual achievements have not been of an immortal and organic nature when they are so easily snapped or broken by the changing currents of the world. After all, brick sinks in water while wood floats. It is the incorporation of the invisible spirituality of air in the very pores of the wood that allows it to rise above the element of water—the element of dissolution (water being such a universal solvent). When the flood came, the Ark was built of wood rather than stone. And how often, upon reflecting in my own spiritual journey, had I relied on the solid rocks of accumulating apologetics like a fortress I was making around me to avoid the high tide of the modern world’s dissolution. It may create islands and pockets of safety and orthodoxy for plenty of us—and it is sorely needed—but there is also a great freedom in relying on the spiritual wood; the Barque of a living spirituality rather than an ossified one.

This is part of the challenge I ask myself and my friends who seek to strengthen their faith. Do they strengthen it through leaps and bounds and the solidity of brick or do they accept the slow, organic, living, and merciful aspect of the tree. And yes, trees are merciful and resilient. We had some rather heavy winds the other day here in Southern California and I noted how the trees in front of the house bent low. Their living flexibility allowed them to weather the storm. They may have looked bent at the time, but anyone watching the tree bend and says, “what an idiotic tree, it’s not pointing towards Heaven,” would be laughed at like a fool. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people—though sometimes with good will—who point to the Barque of Peter and condemn it for steering along the waves of the flood in order to avoid capsizing or, through its living flexibility, for bending like a humble reed—like a humble tree—awaiting the promised return of calm weather and sunlight. I suppose for them, they prefer an artificial, plastic Christmas tree. One that is perfect in its pretend-green colour and looks un-scandalously upright…

This living flexibility of trees also brought me to a little epiphany I had. Thanks again to Adam, since he and I had been discussing Dante the other day, I thought about the trees in the Wood of the Suicides in the Inferno. This was a wood where those who had committed suicide were condemned to be barren trees for all of eternity. Their torment, too, was that they could not speak unless someone broke one of their branches or otherwise harmed their trunk. I have plenty of thoughts already on this beautiful contrapasso—everything from the inversion of the Cross to the meaning of why they could only speak while being hurt—but I thought of something new: about how suicide was the opposite of this flexibility and vitality that trees possess. It is no wonder, then, that those who killed themselves—those who would not adhere to the living truth of flexibility—are given that inflexibility in death.

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To live through life, therefore, is to also practice the art of flexibility—it is to be like the tree. It rarely snaps; it never betrays its vertical alignment by virtue of its organic and adaptable nature. It keeps growing despite the distractions and storms around it. Indeed, cell by cell and silently, a tree’s verdant bounds increase. Like many of the wise men of old, we could do well to understand our Christmas trees better and what they can offer as models for spiritual growth as well as the warning they possess to avoid the sclerosis of our spiritual lives.


i Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, Letter XVII: the Star.