Foundations of intellectual shamanism

I used myself as a guineapig for much of my investigation into the realm of the psyche. My understandings were founded on the fact of my very strange subjectivity. That is to say, I found my subjective states very strange because they didn’t seem to match other people’s states under various circumstances. Most of the time, they were the opposite to other people’s expectations. For instance, where other people took situations very personally, I didn’t — I saw what I perceived as wrong behavior as being a consequence of larger social and cultural dynamics. I took very personally my inability to fully comprehend or come to terms with these dynamics. I would sequester myself from the rest of the world for hours — and days — on end, to try to understand the meaning of these broad social movements that led to the adoption of conventional subjective postures.

I remained puzzled for an inordinately long time. I’m sure I would have given up after a few years, had not my sense of having an alien subjectivity spurred me on.

My first break-though came about after reading an article by a Jungian, which spoke of “pre-Oedipal” states. There, I encountered, for the first time, the concept of “projective identification”. This concept suggested that we do not have permanent or fixed identities, but rather identities that are permeable by others. Another person may project into us parts of themselves. We subconsciously accept the projection, perhaps out of fear or love, but most often out of necessity, in order to feel we are conforming to societal expectations. Another book, written in the style of childish analogy, offered further elucidation of this extremely complex and sophisticated psychological dimension. This was Soul Retrieval, by Sandra Ingerman. As a student of literature and cultural studies, one learns to draw knowledge and information from all sources. One doesn’t necessarily interpret a book at the intellectual level of its typical reader: one looks for any commonalities it shares with other texts, and discards whatever isn’t useful.

Ingerman’s text outlines how one may form emotional attachments to others in a way that leads to losing aspects of one’s own identity in a fundamental sense. One can also leave parts of oneself behind in the past, if an emotional relationship with a location in the past is so great that it replaces the meaning of the present.

I immediately diagnosed myself with “soul loss” — having lost parts of myself to the past. My emotions had certainly not moved into the present, through no fault of my own. The rupture with the past had been so sudden that my sense of identity had become scattered. My problems were cognitive as well as emotional. I simply couldn’t understand the present, and my emotions, being scattered to the past, gave me no inroads into the present, as they were inaccessible to me.

The metaphor of looking for my lost soul made enormous sense to me. I dedicated the time spent writing my PhD to this particular task. I saw myself as an intrepid hunter on its tracks.

My first breakthrough came with understanding that typical gender relations are most often a feature of projective identification. This finding was extremely relevant in terms of ongoing communication difficulties, where I’d often been intent on pointing out that some situations I was in were unworkable. I received gender-based responses, along the lines that my suggestions that any situation was untenable or had to be changed was simply unrealistic. I was left with the untenable situations. It was as if I hadn’t bothered to communicate my views.

I later understood that this non-responsiveness was a result of others viewing women as being primarily creatures of emotion and fantasy. Not only were we seen to be making up statements on the basis of nothing at all, we were deemed, in a sense, not to exist. This was a result of males projecting their fantasies and emotions onto women. We could no longer be taken seriously as a result of male projective identification.

The more I began to understand my experiences in this light, the more they began to make sense. I’d finally understood the way that gender was constructed in contemporary Western societies. I should have felt pretty self-satisfied at this stage, but there was still something awry. I sought confrontations in order to discover the lay of the land. For some reason, every disagreement I had with significant authorities ended with a sense of clarification of my identity. The illogical nature of reality was capable of being straightened out whenever an authority revealed his (or her) actual motivations. This was fascinating.

If I had lost a great deal of my “soul” to others through being brought up in a typical patriarchal society, I was now getting it back. Even the hostile responses to my inquiries about the nature of the world were extremely instructive. They allowed me to see more starkly the difference between other people’s perceptions of my motivations and my actual sensibilities. Thus I took back from hostile and antagonistic forces a little more of my “soul”.

In Western society, it is generally assumed that if one projects something onto others, this must necessarily be the ugly or unpleasant parts of one’s character, which one wishes to deny to oneself. In my case, I was unconsciously engaging in the opposite behavior. I was projecting all my goodness into those I deemed authoritative. My original society had been authoritarian, with some legitimately fearless and sincere authorities. I had no idea that I had internalized the cultural dynamic in such a way that I was losing my very center of gravity by projecting insight, knowledge and benevolence into certain others, whose help I could have used.

The fact that these others inevitably let me down through displaying a very high lack in all of these characteristics should have given me a clue. It was my typical experience to be let down by the authorities in whom I had invested my implicit trust.

It took me a long to realize what I was doing, mostly because the messages were so mixed. Projection is actually encouraged by this society, in order to reinforce hierarchical norms.  At the same time, people view any sort of projection or mixing of boundaries as pathological — although the fact is we all do it all the time. Our very societal structures of gender and many facets of social hierarchy are founded on the necessity of psychological projection. Without this, they start to crumble and are gone.

My advanced understanding of the inevitability of projection, as well as its political nature, gave me much of the basis for my theoretical platform of intellectual shamanism.


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