Dialogue of a World Weary Man with His Ba
Depression is ordinarily a subject we don’t want to confront, filled with uncomfortable material and issues we like to leave buried in the unconscious, but which rear their head in the mandatory passages of life. From birth-trauma and postpartum depression to abject grief, to self-sabotage and addictions, star-crossed lovers, to suicidal tendencies these archetypes exert their fatal fascination by drawing us into the seductive depths of despair. “Going Down” has multiple metaphorical meanings, ranging from sexual to bottoming out. You can ‘hit bottom’ in self-destructive behavior or find the primal groundstate through self-affirming techniques that help your resilience emerge.
You can choose emergency or emergence, expanded reality, living your gift. When it comes to adapting to our environment, our response can either be based in self-organizing emergence in the face of chaos, or non-adaptive breakdown which creates emergency. Adaptive challenge is what leads to critical states to which we either succumb, or rally with a new sense of self-image, a new higher level of self-organization. This holds true whether the challenge comes at the physical, emotional, intellectual/moral, or spiritual level. Some have a frustrating pattern of choosing “emotionally unavailable” people, repeating childhood issues. At “rock bottom”, you’ve “been down so long it looks like up,” but paradoxically, it is the best time to begin mining the vein of gold in the unconscious.
Indifferent to the body, the soul becomes weary of yearning for delight in the inhospitable wilderness and cries out for surcease. Life becomes dry and precarious. There are losses we feel we cannot live with. Souls full of pain and anguish do succumb to the undertow of deprivation or self-loathing and give up. The cheerful heart is gone and only wrong roams the earth and death hovers near the face. When life is a drag some crave the grave. But we can also consciously enter the subterranean realm of the unconscious, instead.
Self-annihilation, or at least fantasies about it, may seem the only solution to unrelenting misery, the existential impasse. But the Ba or soul says “love me here, having put aside the West,” or realm of death. The “higher” transpersonal components were associated with the “ba” (its body and the shadow of the latter) and the “akh”, or divine spark. This soul was the hidden dweller, caught as prey like fish in a net. The physical body is closely connected with the double, while the “ba” was ethereal.
Akh, ba, and ka are the three spiritual light principles. Akh is at the outset of all becoming. It is the light proceeding from the darkness presupposing darkness containing the light and the cause that held both in potential. Akh is the spiritual birth of light in matter revealing itself and demonstrating three aspects. Ba is the “soul”, which is birthed with the individual, the “astral body”, which is the animating breath of all that lives, constituting the world and its final perfection. Ba is the natural soul in bodily form, subject to cyclic rebirth. Ka represents the higher self and is one of the five subtle bodies. Ka is the connection to the higher subtle bodies. Its reflective essence in the khaibit causes initial connectivity to all the subtle bodies. The ka is the assemblage point in the physical body and mind and point of access to universal memory.
The task of the “ba” (true individuality) was to guide the person during life and to fly with the deceased to the sky, to the heaven of the stars. The “ba” dwelt in the heart, the receptacle of the higher components, but only in the heart of those who spoke and practiced Maat — balance. Those established in their humanity would see their heart as the permanent abode of the soul. They are “in their middle”, in their true nature and mastery of the passions. Those who have a sick heart carry their burdon with them as a load of heavy stones. The words of their soul do not reach them. Hence, they lack rejuvenation and are stuck. However, the soul is a trustworthy guide who always remains, encouraging a return to the middle of life.
Fixing to Die
This material naturally resists being brought into the light of consciousness. Feeling like killing oneself is condemned by society as a criminal act, which may compound the sense of guilt. Such encounters and the soul-searing experience of depression can end in ultimate despair or transformation. The world-weary spirit seeks to leave the body through the “relief” of dissociation, suicide or spiritual flight. But the psyche tends to appear as “other” and malevolent alters may replace the displaced ego.
The retrieval or recovery of the soul requires its return to its rightful owner. Our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.
The unknown author of the Egyptian scroll, the Berlin hieratic papyrus 3024, lived more than 4,000 years ago when that ancient country was in an unsettled state, with erosion of ethical values and uncertainty for the future. From the papyrus, it seems the author faced a decision between two philosophies or paths: one involving the inner life of the individual and the other, contending with it, focused on the hedonist enjoyment of the present, with little thought of the future and immediate pursuit of pleasure.
This World Weary man engages in an internal discussion with his Ba, or soul on the relative merits of his life and his compulsions and yearning for death. Egyptologist Jacobsohn interpretes this ancient man dealing with his Ba (soul) as the center of his individuality and inner power. He feels the tragedy of helplessness and wrestles with the problem of suicide.
Depression is soul loss — soul-searching. Did the weary Egyptian suffer from mental illness such as DID, Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder)? People with trauma disorders reportedly attempt suicide more often than people who have major depression. Research also shows that people with trauma disorders have more serious medical illnesses, substance use, and self-harming behaviors. Early and continuous stress leads to the simultaneous development of dissociative tendencies (including indifference to the body and pain) and heightened vulnerability to stress. These dispositions may facilitate suicidal behavior in the face of mounting intolerable stress, helplessness, and hopelessness.
Ours is a cautionary tale to not allow the Dragon to devour you alive. The dragon also hides underworld treasures. We can draw on the ancient Light of Egypt and Jung’s depth psychology to understand the problem and its solution better. The transformative process can proceed through initiations or stall out in any phase, to the detmiment of the individual who fails to reach their potential, even due to circumstances beyond their control. The choice is simple, you can serve the dragon, or it will eat you. Psychosis or suicide are real possibilities. But the potential of prepersonal structures fuels spiritual development, too.
In devastating experiences is not clear from one day to the next whether one wishes to be alive, or even is still alive. Face-to-face with the darkness, immersed in it, hardly a spark of life, out of touch with anything meanigful, one seeks the “ground of being”, but in a nihilistic way rather than through spiritual means.
The more spiritual light we experience, the more we are confronted by our own darkness, which may wreak havoc on us as well as on others if it is unconsciously projected rather than contained and transformed by the burning, sealed, alchemical retort of consciousness. It is the uncomfortable confrontation with the constant interplay of opposites within the crucible of consciousness which reveals that the ‘ape’ and the ‘angel’ in us can enter into a mutually enriching relationship. Numinous archetypes do indeed ‘wobble’, teleologically, ‘between transrational glory and prerational chaos’ (Wilber 1983).
Each era has its version of the same depressive malady. The ancient Sumerian myth of Inanna and her descent into the Underworld reveals a series of profound psychological and contemporary messages, including the concept of a higher self, the abandoning of old values and artifacts, and the ultimate empowerment of voluntarily making the descent. Inanna embodies a wholeness pattern, of the feminine beyond the merely maternal. Our own descent into Hades is a form of spiritual initiation: a seeking of wisdom and growth and the shedding of illusions, like the Dance of the Seven Veils. Our world and society may be in the process of making its own descent, releasing traditional paradigms in preparation for a period of “accelerated growth”.
The underworld journey of depression is a passage that pushes us down deeper, a state which we must enter into and pass through. Mythologically speaking it is an underworld journey. It is associated with stagnation, rotting, suicidal-wishes and morbidity. But it is also a universal pattern of self-reorganization. The final stage takes each of us into the mystical and metaphysical realm, where we encounter our ultimate understanding of self and identity and its universal connections. All descents provide entry into different levels of consciousness and can enhance life creatively. All of them imply suffering. All of them can serve as initiations. Meditation and dreaming and active imaginations are modes of descent. So too are depressions, anxiety attacks, and experiences with hallucinogenic drugs.
Being able to not care about relating to an external other, nor to the collective society or its paradigms can initially be very frightening because it cannot be validated by the collective from which one is releasing themselves. But the act of letting go, being able to not care, can provide the possibility of a totally fresh perception, a creative perspective in the form of Enki reacting to the needs of the moment, a new pattern and a never ending exploration. What mass consciousness may fear as chaos, monstrous or ugly, is hard to endure. It implies the elimination of our defenses, a sacrifice of easy collective understanding, the dashing of hopes to look good and safely belong, and the giving up of being agreeable to a patriarchal paradigm. It involves hitting bottom, but a bottom where all the “assets” that have been given up, lost, or taken, become irrelevant. (Perera)
Depression is a narcissistic injury. We have to enter deep into it to recover self-esteem. Part of us may succeed, even while part remains trapped in hungry depression. Narcissistic injury can cause a vertical split, with grandiose fantasies/hopes on one side and a profound feeling of worthlessness on the other. The injured person clings tenaciously to grandiose hopes, and may become enraged if he or she is forced to give them up, even by positive growth. Creative work steals distinction from the unconscious, overcomes the devouring force and brings it back to consciousness. Narcissism and creativity are closely related. To heal a narcissistic injury one often must develop creative expression. Crafting a distinctive work of art protects one from the compulsion to be a person of distinction, better than, or worse than, or more important than others.
Narcissistic injury sometimes causes a horizontal split. Here the person is depressed, shamed, and acutely sensitive to criticism. Grandiosity is not gone but it is repressed or displaced – perhaps onto the person’s children. We may call the person “thin-skinned”. In both horizontal and vertical splits the injured person’s sense of self is identified with the split. Of necessity the person tenaciously resists giving it up. In a horizontal split the depression has a stubborn, tenacious quality which is different from a creative depression or a depression due to abandonment.
Indigenous cultures describe the initiation of the shaman or spirit-doctor as a descent into the underworld of the dark spirits where a death and dismemberment experience takes place. After this dismemberment the helpful spirits arrive to help patch the initiate’s body together again. Next is a journey to the sun or upper world where a vision is received before returning to the earthly realm to fulfills one’s responsibilities. This shamanic rite of passage mirrors the process of depression. As we go down into a depression we are torn apart, slowly we regather ourselves before we rise from out of the depression with a whole new perspective on life. After depression we are often elevated into a state of realisation, of vision and inspiration.
Hunger & Healing
Understandably we act to avoid depression, but mining the soul deepens it, as in the alchemical axiom, VITRIOLUM: “Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicinam” (“Visit the interior of the earth, and by rectifying you will find the hidden stone which is the true medicine.”) In alchemy the process must pass through the Nigredo or Mortifico (the blackening and death phase) before the Albedo (the whitening). After the Albedo comes the Rubedo (the reddening and return to life). Depression becomes the gateway to a deeper and fuller relationship with one’s Self. As Dante illustrated in his The Divine Comedy the passage through hell and purgatory leads directly onto heaven.
We fear depression’s impact not only upon our being but also on our social life, our relationships, career, families and finances. A state of depression is a demanding experience. The downward dimension is neglected, judged. The upper world is associated with light, freedom and inspiration, the underworld is a dark and heavy place but is also considered a place of transformation and regeneration. In this depressive state we either find ourselves, a new direction, a solidity and integrity or a previously untapped creative capacity. In the depths of depression wisdom and a greater relationship with one’s Self is forged.
Psychologically speaking, the underworld is the rich depths of our interior being. This withdrawal of energy may also be viewed as a retreat demanded by the unconscious. The unconscious only doubles its efforts if we fight it. The shame, shyness, apathy or sadness are all cues to pull back from life. If we consciously acknowledge and honor the need for retreat psychological symptoms ease. Embracing a depression we ‘let go to psychological or ego-death. In limbo the true work begins. The old has fallen away and cleared a passage for the new; we piece ourselves and our lives back together. Without really knowing we prepare ourselves for new life. Meditation schools advise us to prepare for death and life by “dying daily” in the process of meditation.
In the Arthurian legends, this was the “sickness unto death”, the never-healing wound. When the King suffered, so did the Kingdom. A sick king means a weakened and vulnerable society. The King embodies the whole situation, symbolically and actually. If he is spiritually impoverished, so is the kingdom. The Heir is the final result of human genesis: a spiritual, indestructible form of life in which the soul is exalted. The image of this blissful state is haunting this desperate mind. Despair is blocking the way to his spiritual evolution. Unable to overcome this despair he tries to shortcut it.
Earle observes, “chiefdoms are states of mind [and] chiefs rule not because of their power but because of their place in a sacredly chartered world order — the world order of alters and their containers. The more kings appropriated maternal alter power—her mana—the more they had to go through seasonal cleansing ceremonies, including ritual abasement and even “killing of the king,” in order to punish themselves for their hubris.
In these ceremonies, the king was ritually called “a turd [who] has come to save us,” hit in the face with a sword, and only then invested with his portion of maternal mana. But everyone in antiquity knew where his power really came from: the vaginal maternal crown. It was addressed by the king as “O Red Crown, Let there be fear of me like the fear of thee.” The throne was called the “mother” of the king, and the sceptre, “a branch from the placental Tree of Life.”
T. H. White wrote in The Once and Future King aboutyoung Arthur’sdepression, his dark night of the soul. He sought counsel from his mentor Merlin, the magician. Merlin tells Arthur, “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies. You may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins. You may miss your only love. You may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it, then: To learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”
In the midst of death, there is life in learning.More than information, it’s about healing, wholeness, empowerment, liberation, transcendence and reclaiming the vitality of life. When you can’t work, and can’t connect with others, you can begin learning what is within yourself by groping around in the darkness to see what and who is there. Thomas Merton called it true self. The Egyptian Ka represented the world-creating power of a god or king and the life force in every human being. The Ba is an aspect of the soul, connected to the uniqueness of the individual. The Ba is an immanent component of everyone, comparable to the concept Atman also representing the innermost center of the individual and as Atman Purusha — the all-embracing Deity.
The daimon knows the future and is at all times in touch with the world-spirit, with the Logos or spermatic pneuma of the universe. Masculine and feminine merge in this androgynous symbol of wholeness. This archetypal image, like the lapis in alchemy, unites the opposites of masculine and feminine in one figure (Von Franz).
The Ba, or soul is a power to be reckoned with even during this life, a power that men cannot escape by any conscious act of will and cannot entirely grasp by conscious understanding. The Ba has something to do with the incarnation of a god — his individual forms of appearance on earth — or represents an immanent component of a human individual. The Ba is prepared to witness against consciousness; it voices a personal, individual truth. It is a real power with claims of its own, capable of opposing the conscious intentions of those who take for granted that one is united with it.
Ba is not interested in what is conventionally considered good; it obviously wants something else. Ba chooses the symbol of unborn children to express still unrealized potentialities. Ba cautiously leads the world-weary man to the real goal. The sense of at-one-ment with the Ba is newly gained through self-knowledge and restoration of the wholeness of personality, now consciously experienced as the result of transformation. (Jacobsohn).
Neumann has commented on the various soul-parts in Egyptian religion in his classic, The Origins and History of Consciousness. He links Osiris with the heart-soul, or Ba, and notes that the hieroglyph for “hear” and ‘thought” are identical. The ka soul has a particularly important part to play in this process [of transformation and unification of soul parts]. It is extraordinarily difficult for us to understand what is meant by the ka…the Egyptians conceived it as a man’s double, as his genius or guardian angel, as his name and as that which nourished him.
When the ka and the body are purified and united — the king — like Osiris before him and every individual after him — is a complete being who achieves perfection. Through this union of soul parts the king becomes a ba, a heart-soul who dwells with the gods and possesses the breath of life; he is now akhu, a perfect spiritual being.
The Ba represents paradoxically, both the unconscious personality complexes of an individual, but also the indwelling of the Self. On the other hand, the ka describes the pranas, or vitality of the life force, genetic heritage, and environmental effects on personality.
According to Plutarch, Isis and Osiris are very great “daimons” but they are not gods. Therefore they represent something which is trans-subjective but which is closer to the human than to the gods, something which can be experienced inwardly in certain states of strong emotion. (Von Franz, Projection and Recollection in Jungian Psychology)
Images of the Self appear spontaneously throughout the entire transformative process. It appears in all symbols from the highest to the lowest. At the beginning of the great work it appears in animal forms, such as snakes, birds, fish, horses, or beetles. It shows through the plant forms of flowers and tree symbolism. It progresses through metaphors of sexual union into human and mandala forms.
The symbols of the Self in human forms may be contaminated with other archetypes, since pure forms are rarely seen outside of mystical meditation. For example, if one’s image of the Self were contaminated with the anima/animus, the vision would be of a vibrant, solar woman whose aura radiates like the sun. Contaminated by the shadow, one might experience a magical creature like Mephistopheles or the demonic.
In the Timaeus (90B-90C), Plato theorizes that every human being has a divine daimon that is the noblest component of the psyche. Whoever seeks wisdom and seriously concerns himself with divine and eternal things nourishes his daimon, whereas worldly trivialities abase and mortify him.
The capacity for transcending the self through art arises from the creative process, an altered state of consciousness facilitating the occurrence of anomalous events such as precognition and interior visions that appear to be outside the spacetime of waking life. Frustration can trigger the far-from-equilibrium conditions necessary for creativity, while inspiration may seem as if its source is exterior to the artist, and the experience of flow, like a trance state, can produce an altered sense of time. Archetypes in the creative process link a single mind to the collective unconscious and works of art become self-opening worlds that create an expanded reality.
The black hole of depression conceals deeper meaning. Severe depression shakes emotional stability and equilibrium. It is a long, difficult, and trying period, or a series of cycles. This model places suffering and pathology within a larger paradigm of spiritual unfolding. Symptoms provide a larger meaning. Alchemy provides a larger framework. A crisis or a Dark Night of the Soul precedes spiritual awakening and also describes the quantum leap in consciousness some mystics call Crossing the Abyss.
Regeneration of spirit is a potential, not a promise. Today’s “cure”, the antidepressant pill, can be the very “poison” that pushes some over the brink of suicide, while “talk therapy” has been proven just as effective without the fatal side effect. Without one’s angel, genius or daemon there is little chance of successful regeneration, for general deterioration and contraction of the personality ensues with compulsivities, fixed ideas, projective rage, and obsessions. Even the higher mind does not contain the capacity to transcend itself, within itself. It must rely on Grace..
Suffering is a natural part of spiritual unfolding, a necessary part of the process which is not shameful. It is not uncommon to go mad with grief. What is lost or repressed is retrieved in the process of a larger psychological reorganization. It is marked by withdrawl, then either rupture or rapture, emergency or creative emergence. Depression is significantly inversely related to self-transcendence and positively related to death anxiety. Self-transcendence is significantly related to health promotion behavior and negatively correlated to death.
Ken Wilber’s Cool Structured treatment of the Dark Night of the Soul leads to a significant distortion of Teresa’s testimony. He argues in his earlier essay ‘The Spectrum of Psychopathology’ (1986) and in Sex, Ecology and Spirituality (1995) that the Dark Night of the Soul is a psychopathology or disorder belonging to the psychic stage of development, and he defines it as a profound depression in response to God’s abandonment of the soul (see Wilber 1986, p. 121; 1995, p. 296).
‘The Dark Night’, he says, ‘occurs in that period after one has tasted Universal Being, but before one is established in it. But there are other aspects besides Absence of God: (a) psychic fatigue in reaction to the strain of mystical lucidity; (b) mental chaos; (c) intellectual impotence; (d) loss of volition; (e) emotional chaos; (f ) loss of self-control; (g) self-naughting; (h) spiritual poverty; (i) acute sense of worthlessness, guilt or imperfection; (j) the pain of God, or dark ecstasy (see Underhill 1961, pp. 380–412).
The purpose of the state of the Dark Night of the Soul is the completion of the purification of the self begun in the earlier spiritual stage of purgation (see Underhill 1961, p. 395). It is clear that the Dark Night of the Soul is not a pathology or disorder of another spiritual stage of development (the psychic), but a separate stage of spiritual development which, Underhill suggests, ‘normally intervenes between the Illuminative and the Unitive Life’ (Underhill 1961, p. 388. From Wilber’s perspective, the self or self-system cannot establish itself permanently at the subtle level prior to the Dark Night of the Soul.
Hot and Cold Spirituality
Pro-active traditions include the following: (a) esoteric, cryptic, disturbing, initiatory knowledge, revealed (granted) piecemeal, often miraculously (see Rawlinson 1997, pp. 106, 114, 129), which is in sharp contrast to the openness or transparency of the revealed knowledge; (b) the emphasis on ecstasy rather than on enstasy, and the tendency to attract unpredictable, shape-changing, ‘crazy wisdom’ practitioners); (c) most significantly, the microcosm/macrocosm homology (based upon the image of the human body) and the emphasis on Hot magic: the manipulation of the laws of the cosmos in the service of self-transformation (see Rawlinson 1997, p. 106).
Clearly, these traditions embrace a magical worldview, concerned with the recreation of the cosmic in oneself. Thoth taught that there exists a vertical connection to the cosmos through which the true seeker can pass and witness the thoughts of the divine mind becoming reality. Having seen how to change reality by traveling to its source Above, the initiate returns to the physical world and participates in the creation of the universe according to the divine plan, which is to make the Above and Below One, to make all matter conscious, to make all darkness light. It was what Akhenaten called “living in truth,” and the Cosmic Code Book containing that formula is the Emerald Tablet.
Each model of spiritual development has strengths and weaknesses, and none can be elevated above all others. Models conjoin or disjoin prepersonal and transpersonal development and experience, shown by their contrasting judgments on the relationship between spirit and psyche. Cool traditions discriminate between prepersonal, psychological experiences and transpersonal, spiritual experiences and stages of consciousness and regard the pursuit of the prepersonal as obstructive or at best irrelevant to the attainment of the transpersonal. Hot traditions tend to interpret prepersonal, psychological experiences teleologically, as an expression of transpersonal, spiritual development, either because they are perceived to be a gift from God or because they possess a Hot, magical function of transformation of the self and the cosmos, illustrating the mysterious, microcosm/macrocosm homology.
Jung’s Hot Structured teaching includes the following: (a) archetypal images are numinous and ‘wholly other’ (having their own life) to the ego; (b) cryptic, initiatory knowledge is granted by these inner images, in Jung’s case by Elijah and Philemon; (c) the inner cosmos is a labyrinth, and liberation from the powers/beings in it, created by the archetypes, is effected by images which function as esoteric passwords; (d) expansion away from a point is triggered by the practice of active imagination, producing leaps in understanding; (e) the danger of the journey towards individuation is psychosis; and (f) both the withdrawal of psychic projections from the world and the experience of synchronistic links between inner and outer events serve the cosmic purpose.
Either way, the dark life passage can lead to empowerment or self-negation. Self-defeating and self-destructive tendencies are slow-motion suicide. Severe dissociation, personality disorders, or addiction stops the process, stops the flow cold and freezes the emotions. Alcoholism is often an intimate partner of depression. What is really demanded is not just the regression but evolution of the ego toward transcendence — interiority, rather than guilt or cosmic engulfment.