Toughen up

Mike and I enjoyed a brilliant conversation, today, on the beach, going for our early morning run.

The issue was the differences in perpectives between people predisposed to a shamanic perspective and those who actively avoid one. It’s not just that some passively recoil in fear at some shamanic notions, but rather that a totally different mindset in the first place does not lend itself to some having shamanic notions.

In the end it surely comes down to physics. At least in Nietzsche’s sense, it does. Shamanism involves destruction and rebuilding, but if somebody senses that there is not enough within them to facilitate rebuilding, then shamanism has no positive side to offer them, only a grave negative. Destruction without rebuilding is like renovating whilst only completing half the job — the tearing down of elements. You want to rebuild again, but sorry, there is no money in the bank account.

That is why shamanic books are for the few. You have to be rich enough to afford devastation. Because it’s not just devastation you’re affording but the opportunity to rebuild.

When stated like this, I think the matter becomes very plain as to why many feel no pull toward intellectual shamanism. They implicitly recognise that they can’t afford it.

But there’s something else that goes on, too, which is that our value judgements are contorted by the dominant cultural set of values. We may use words that are suited to a set of values that automatically preclude entrance into shamanic experience.

I think both Nietzsche and Bataille would agree that there is enjoyment to be had in terror, specifically that terror relating to the danger of one’s self-destruction. This has to do with being able to withstand the terror and expand oneself in the process. Instead of contracting and being destroyed, one allows the frightful experience to enter ones bones so that one starts to grow from it.

But the language we use for people who initially encounter this terror is pejorative. We call them
“sensitive” or overwrought, thus precluding the possibility that they may rise to the occasion of their terror and learn and grow from it.

An example that came to mind, as I attempted to explain to Mike what obstructs our enjoyment of shamanic experience, was, fortuitously, and prosaically, a situation on a soap opera last night.

Here we have a middle-aged woman who contracts a soldier’s PTSD just be listening to him. Leaving aside whether this is a realistic scenario, or probably not, she has an episode of terror, involving an image of her husband who opens the fridge and then blows up.

We might leap to defend her psychical structure by remarking on how she needs to withdraw from her weirdness and not be so fragile and imaginative. That would be the normal reaction, as conditioned by the common-sense of the majority of people who do not have sufficient resources in their banks to afford a psychical reconstruction.

But consider it from a shamanic point of view. The boring suburbanite achieved a really dramatic and potentially life-changing experience at little cost to herself. She didn’t even need to go to Afghanistan. She only had to sit still for a while and listen. This psychical intrusion gave her a window that could lead to insight into whole dimensions she would not be able to experience. She could know a soldier’s life, experience the meaning of death, know mortality, understand the limits of suburbia and of conventional thinking all in the flash of a shamanic lesson.

It would not take longer than the lighning strike of this psychical intrusion to know much more than she had ever previously known.

The problem is the rebuilding. If she has the energy to do so, she would radically advance her knowledge and experience of the world.

Perhaps it would be unlikely, though, that a suburbanite would have those kinds of resources. She’d have to be exceptional among her ilk. But supposing she had the necessary recourses, then psychical tenderness would be the gateway to psychical toughness.

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