Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Consciousness per se has no sense of its own ends or limits. When it becomes introspective and reflexively creates or perceives an ego, that ego develops fear of its demise. Even meditation can seem threatening to an ego, because its self-centredness is suspended by it. But it is, perceptibly, a fiction, deriving from a greater power and love than itself.
The body, which has its own being and a rudimentary sense of selfhood via the Nephesh, or vital soul, has clear temporal limits, and isn’t fictional. Its inhabiting consciousness has observed that death is inevitable, and this knowledge gradually penetrates it. This is background information for most of us in our first half-century, but later on the gradual fading of physical efficiency brings it to the foreground.
There’s a passage in one of Mary Lutyens’ books on Jiddu Krishnamurti where some of his followers have a conversation with his body-being when Jiddu himself is asleep. Guph – the body, which includes (in Qabalistic tradition) the etheric self, the ‘field’ that surrounds the actual material form – has a beingness all its own, and apparently it wasn’t uncommon for JK’s body-self to talk when the master himself was having a siesta. It speaks in Lutyens’ book with a sense of awe, almost fear: “Krishna’s not here right now,” it says, and goes on to recount its wary attitude toward the ‘higher’ inhabitant.
My own body has been like that throughout January. I have a heart arrhythmia, which was detected some years ago in Canada, and I’ve displayed a bunch of other symptoms from different afflictions.
I’m probably not dramatically ill, but something about the tests, plus an oddly phobic attitude I’ve always had to my own heart and blood, triggered the constellating of what I can only call a big ball of fear. It was impermeable to suggestion, breathing and relaxation methods, banishing rituals and the usual armoury of techniques I would use to shut down or dilute anxieties or other obsessive ideas. And my body responded with some alarming symptoms. At one point I suspected I might have bladder cancer, which runs in my family, and soon after I developed a painful case of colitis. A few other minor aches and pains I’ve experienced in the past joined in as a corporeal Greek chorus.
There are a few things wrong with me – my body is in its seventh decade, and my family tends not to make it past 80. As people age, joint stiffness, stronger glasses, iffy memory, intestinal grumblings and odd twinges become accepted facts of life, and I was planning on doing the whole graceful aging thing with all of that for another dozen years at least. This particular experience forced me to question my timeframe, and dispelled my personal version of Jung’s Wise Old Man archetype. I felt scared shitless, a condition the colitis and my cramped-up bowel temporarily made literal.
The physical side of all this is probably the least interesting – “Aging boomer notes that his body is getting older” isn’t a very original or grabby headline. It’s not as if I hadn’t noticed other people undergoing the same thing. Normally, I have a fairly ironic attitude to death and dying, and I do make efforts to stay healthy. There’s always broccoli and fresh fruit in my fridge, and garlic and olive oil on top of it, I walk from two to four miles a day along hillside trails, and I weigh less than I did five years ago. If I hurt myself, I reflexively produce instant ‘safety’ suggestions: “Scorpion sting –watch for changes in breathing, but it was only one of the black ones; Ouch, that bruised knee will feel better in 48 hours; Darn, a migraine’s coming on, but at least it’ll be gone by tomorrow.” Even when I fell and dislocated an elbow last year, I knew as I waited to go to the emergency department that once it was realigned, the primary pain of the injury would start to subside. I don’t panic at ailments; or if I do, it’s a short-lived reaction.
Thus, the fear that came over me was something new. I lost any conscious direction of it all, and any effort at such control gave rise to new levels of fear. It formed an autonomous complex, and it had no intention of paying any attention to the egoic me.
Now, the only way to deal with such a thing is to let it have its way. A brute fear has no strategy, and little flexibility. It feels (so far as we can use such a term) that it has to issue its dire warning – “Life system threatened!” – and once that’s done, it has no Plan B. Accepted as a presence, it is then amenable to palliative treatments, which for me included a herbal prescription, acupuncture and massage at a traditionally based clinic near where I live. I also made some dietary shifts to placate this emergent demon.
The remaining impression, though, is about how much force aggregated inside of me and knocked aside all conscious attitudes, however well buttressed I thought they were.
In past ages, people saw the demon dwelling in the flesh, and mortified it. That seems neurotic to us, but it makes a certain sense. Fear is something we want to exorcise. It’s our least-favourite teacher. Usually, it arises out of a story we compulsively tell ourselves, and we can disarm or outflank that once it’s recognised. But the body, as its better options start to run out, needs to express its own terror, which we easily assume is integral to our whole self. The fact that the body is part of the whole, but easily convinces us it’s the entirety, only complicates matters.
I’d love to wrap up this post with a crafty syllogism, implying “I” am back in charge again, but that would be deceptive. My body is three-quarters of the way through its life, possibly further, and it needed its say on the matter of its own termination. It might have more to say as nature takes its course, and the life I’ve crafted gradually starts to come apart. All I can offer is a progress report, where the fear has diminished but not evaporated.
My old teacher always insists, “We are not physical beings having occasional spiritual experiences; we are spiritual beings having occasional physical experiences.” That’s easy to say, and to believe, when the physical experience is comfortable. To be a Thelemite means making the choice to accept the significance of all phenomena that enter our lives, because excluding them denies key facets of existence. There is something about this fear that requires inclusion in my life, simply because I can expect similar experiences in future: hopefully in a more manageable form, but there’s no guarantee of that.
Love is the law, love under will,