Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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Casting out demons

I've always been intrigued by those portions of the New Testament in which demons are cast out. In one story, Christ transfers demons from a person into a group of pigs, which promptly cast themselves off a cliff. Please pardon me if I do not tarry over the issues of literalness and faith and scientific plausibility inherent in these stories, but I much prefer in this post to address the metaphoric heart of this demon issue. I'd like to talk about how we find and cast out the demons in our own lives.

We live in a world in which our societal construct involves a great deal of assumption about the "sub rosa" life--the life underneath the surface of who we are, rather than whom we appear to be. In therapy, one explores the past, looking for semaphore signals about the problems of the present. In religion, we so often talk about the soul or the inner Mind or the being within the illusions. In science we speak of autonomous and subconscious systems, about which we know remarkably little. I'm a bit skeptical about how much truth there is "beneath the veil". Sometimes I think we are more "veil" than we care to admit. But the "inner life" is such a commonplace in our thinking, let's pass over that debate.

The prolific writer St. Paul expresses in one of the various epistles in the New Testament the problem of actions not matching words, as if the conscious man is lost to the power of the inner "sinful" man. "I do that which I would not do". Here on LJ, I read incredibly self-berating posts by people who find themselves to fall so far short in conduct of whom they really assume themselves to be. Now I'm not one of those people who thinks guilt lacks any purpose. I think that guilt has its place, as one of many emotions. But I notice that so many of us feel prisoners of our emotions and our impulses, as if we were possessed by demons that share our love for cinnamon rolls but say and do the meanest and most despairing things. I'm sometimes tempted to make my comment function entirely a sympathetic hum, as I hate to see people I find so fascinating tear themselves down. Over time, I try to temper that response, though, as people are "writing down the bones" in order to feel the touch of some inner skeleton, and inner soul anatomy is not my strong point.

I'm in one of those phases in my own journal in which I am posting as many as three or four times a day. I notice that whenever my work is busy and interesting, my journal posts increase. I don't think it's about stress relief, but instead about that sense of outward flow, that desire to surface the various daemons that are sharing ideas in my head and listening to them. I don't mean I hear voices of course, and I'm not going to divert for more than a mention into the story of the internet acquaintance I met once who did hear literal voices which told her to move from the UK to California--a form of demon which accounts, by the way, for a large portion of the population of Santa Monica. I speak a fair bit in metaphor, but it was very odd indeed to meet someone for whom the metaphor had literal voice. It's like "is it live or is it Memorex", except that the real question was "is she deluded or is this really metaphysical?".

I find that for me the desire to share thoughts and to receive input seems to be enhanced. A certain percentage of my posts, of course, are just watermarking events for myself. But sometimes other posts are fun to post in order to throw an idea or emotion into the ether, and see if the ether throws back thoughts about it to me.

LiveJournal is wonderful for surfacing notions. A "notion" as I use it here can be anything from a chance whim to a deep thought. These notions are like independent beings--it's not important that I am saying them, it's merely fun to pop them into the LiveJournal network. In this way, LiveJournal has a mail art quality to it--it's not so important who is the artist, it's important what whorls of thought the post inspires.

The "notion", or the "demon", or the "insight"--we need not be lost in terminology--is such a curious thing. On some level, something inside me "needs" to write about this. The "need" is sated by posting it in my weblog, but before I had a weblog, the need was met in correspondence and in creative writing.

Although I'm one of those people who tends to take things as very important (if not always very serious), I nonetheless am a skeptic about so many things about the "inner life". Often I wonder if we do not make life more complicated than it needs to be. I have the paradoxical feeling that the way to happiness and personal meaning is to recognize that in some ways, life is hard, and we just learn how to cope with it. I disparage somewhat the notion that "life is not fair", as it seems so beside the point. Life per se is not fair or unfair--we construct such fairness as we can in life, and perhaps that is our role. Even if one assumes a theist view (and, by the way, I do), the fairness of the gods is not something that we can easily convert into our own lives' experience. I digress, though, from my main point--so many of us seem so impelled to write about who we are and what we are about. Most of us are not hunting fame or a hot date or the missing pieces of our personal jigsaw. We are instead surfacing our thoughts, for our own reasons, in a cool interactive environment. Indeed, lately I wonder about the strangeness of editing those parts of my personal life which I omit from my journal (for example, I do not name my wife or discuss her concerns other than obliquely, out of respect for her privacy, but that leaves me with this odd "my wife" floating through my journal); I have never yet wished I had not revealed something.

I always thought it was rather sad for the pigs who got all demony and went off the cliff, if one will pardon the Willow Rosenbergism. How much nicer to cast out those demons by typing assiduously, typing in lj-cut, and then hitting "update journal".

The process is not all about writing, though--the reading process of LiveJournal is almost entirely delicious. But what do we learn from the demon texts we read? In my own case, I learn that in the main, people are a lot cooler than I ordinarily assume. I get the impression that lots more people have more ecstatic highs and more moribund lows than I have in life. I see a lot of argument for the old 50s CP Snow notion that there really are "two cultures" between the arts and the scientists, although I would perhaps define the "two cultures" in this country as "liberal arts" v. "practical arts", based on the journals I read. Although I tend to make fun of the "self-esteem movement", I must admit that what most LJ posters I read seem to need the most is a huge burst of confidence. I wish Dr. Salk were still alive, because I feel like if he'd only known that despair kills far more souls than smallpox, he'd have had the cool lab overlooking the ocean in La Jolla doing more research into self-esteem. I'm not a wizard of self-confidence myself, though, so you'll pardon me if I don't prescribe some quick Rx of my own on this score.

I am reminded of the party that we attended years ago. One couple was sternly "charismatically conservative Christian, amd we home-school and our culture is too liberal and Satan is all about us" variety, and the other couple was of the free-form "He picked me up in a bar and we had a hot night and I moved in and I never moved out but when we had our first kid we got married in a pagan ceremony in Ireland" variety. Still, when these thirtysomethings got together, their issues in life proved nearly exactly the same--how does one solve the issues of childcare and schooling, meaningful work and time to do the things one wishes to do. Similarly, although my LJ friends run a very wide gamut, I see the same longings for connection and the same searches for meaning, expressed in a dozen idioms in a hundred journals.

Sometimes the recurrent themes amuse me, such as the folks in the nanowrimo who post repeatedly about whether putting a novel in a weblog loses "first publication rights" in the novel (because I don't give legal advice on the 'net, I have to bite my tongue each time to avoid launching into the long post about the difference between copyright law and what some publisher in New York might argue in a negotiating session, which is probably just as well, because, unbitten, my tongue would probably go on to say that the people who write these wonderful weblogs might be better served by not worrying so much about seeing nameless huge corporations as some savior machine for fame and fortune, which worry is really none of my business). I guess one thing I love about LJ is the sense of common humanity I get from reading so many posts. I don't labor under the impression that the whole world is this one big, happy family. But it's nice to know some long lost cousins are out there in the world someplace.

I once went to a group which met to discuss dreams. I learned about it from a friend; when I got there, I was surprised to find that it was led by a Jungian therapist, and that for many of the group it was indeed a form of therapy. Nonetheless, I went for a long while, until the therapist (appropriately named Sven) moved away. I will not, as if customary of the secret nature of such things, discuss what other folks said and did about their dreams. But I do remember expressing a frustration of my own once. I found the analysis of the dreams to interfere entirely with the wonderful, allusive storytelling quality of shared tales about dreams. I told everyone that I wanted us to cast our dreams up into the air, and let them shimmer, and just watch them. In my mind, I pictured some aurora borealis of dreams. I was a bit younger then, but I still just want to cast my dreams (and journal posts) into the air, and let them shimmer, and I want to read a constellation of shimmering dreams. Sometimes the dreams are cool daily routines, interesting cartoons, works of art. Sometimes the dreams are dreadfully disquieting, like the LJ friend or two who has engaged in self-abasement and in at least one case a public display of a very private matter right before our eyes. But often the dreams are works of incredible beauty and, yes, in some cases, great style. I love that in LiveJournal, dreams shimmer.

It's as if we chant the incantations and spread the magic powders to dredge these notions from within and convert them from pain into story. But once they are converted, their magic power to hurt us eases a bit. Indeed, instead of hurting, they now entertain. The Demon becomes flesh and is redeemed, and becomes an Angel; however, that's not quite it. The dark, frightening things still exist,but if we can tell them as stories, somehow we can process them. Somehow they are less frightening. I like that.
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