This is Post 34 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
Before we can go further in our exploration of the wisdom of the green Northern Quadrant of the mandala, we need to ask why it is that the perceptual function of Intuition-Volition, which so naturally finds expression as Empathy, and as a compassionate recognition of the needs of ourselves and others, should so often manifest instead as fear and disintegration, and as actions characterised by deep inhumanity. This takes us to the heart of the distinction between resting as Consciousness on one side, and living in egoic identifications on the other.
When we are in identification with egoic parts, Intuition serves those parts, and responds to, and adds to, their fears – and our reflex response is to act to manipulate our internal and external world in the light of those fears. While Intuition and Volition are entirely integrated on the level of Consciousness, in the egoic psyche they give rise to fused pairs of psychological parts. Usually the vulnerable, predominantly intuitive, part is more deeply exiled from awareness, and the more volitional part, which carries and energy of protection and defence, is more conscious in the personality.
The Psychology of Bullies and Bullying
If these pairs of parts predominate within the psyche, they can form a narcissistic dissociation – a deeply unconscious and defensive psychological dynamic, which usually manifests in a range of extremely unconscious, violent, and unethical behaviours. These behaviours might be described psychologically as sociopathic or psychopathic, but they are actually relatively common statistically, and are frequently seen as personality traits in many of the ‘successful’ high profile individuals who shape the culture of our world.
One part in each of the pairs of parts has an intuitive recognition of a vulnerability or threat, while the other part carries the impulse to control that vulnerability or threat. And the greater the unconscious fear and vulnerability of the intuitive part, the more destructive and heartless will be the volitional impulse of egoic control, to protect it, or prevent its emergence into awareness. This is the stark truth of the deep heartlessness that we face in the egoic psychology of the green Northern Quadrant – which is also, paradoxically, the quadrant of Compassion.
For completeness, it needs to be acknowledged that, in narcissistic dissociation, the pairing can operate the other way around, so that the vulnerable intuitive part is the one that is uppermost in the persons identity, and the desperate need to control circumstances at any cost to relationships, is the more unconscious one. These vulnerable personalities tend to attract the violent attention of bullies, and find themselves locked in conflicts in which they experience themselves as the victim.
There may even be circumstances in which the previously described bully identity will flip into the deep vulnerability pattern, only to bounce back once again, into the emotionally cut-off bully mode – but a core self that is capable of empathy and self-empathy is found to be disturbingly absent in both states.
Volition – Needs and Empathy, …… or Fears and Violence
The Volitional Body, which is most keenly felt in the region of the Heart Chakra, is ultimately a field of sensitivity which connects us with our world, with others, and with our own true self, and which allows us to know things directly, recognising motivations, dynamics, and processes – and especially the Needs of ourselves and others. I find the notion of Needs extremely useful in this regard, especially as it is defined in the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model of Marshall Rosenberg, where it refers to the intuitively recognised energetic essence of what is being sought in any action, and also as the energetic or volitional ‘driver’ of that action. I find it useful to capitalise the words ‘Need’ and ‘Needs’ as a way of referencing this important and quite subtle definition.
When we rest as Consciousness, Intuition manifests as Empathy, and is deeply and essentially relational. Unfortunately however, our normal psychological disintegration and unconsciousness is such that psychological parts often use Intuition in a completely non-relational way, and without any integration with thought or feeling, giving rise to deeply delusional beliefs and deeply irrational fears. Even in normal neurotic people this can give rise to surprising inhumanity and violence in our behaviour, thinking, and communication, as we seek security through activities of body, speech and mind that are entirely lacking in Empathy.
Heart and Heartlessness
If we are not resting as Consciousness we do not recognise our desires as positive and benevolent – as the drivers of fulfilment that they are. Instead, every Need perceived within, is a source of vulnerability and weakness, and every Need perceived in others, is an opportunity to gain dominance over them, and to gain the security that comes from control – from power over the people in our lives. Relationship is sacrificed in the service of power.
Without a recognition that the volitional energies of Consciousness are inherently benevolent, there is no reason to trust life, and life is given over to the pursuit of power, and the various strategies by which power is accumulated – money, wealth, property, political control, and dominance by physical violence and war. The predominance and excess of these preoccupations, and the bizarre acceptance of this as necessary, and as a societal norm, can only be understood by deep reflection on the nature of the Egoic Will – which is the focus of our enquiry in the green Northern Quadrant of the mandala.
By regularly returning to the state of resting as Consciousness, in meditation and in the experience of mindfulness, the Volitional Body and the Heart Chakra are healed and realigned with our true nature. When however, the Egoic Will is functioning in a state of normal neurotic dissociation or worse, it is common for all ethical discernment to be lost. At worst, humanitarian values, and consideration for other people does not even enter into it; everyone is looking after number one, and life is a game – a race to the bottom – in which the most heartless player is the most powerful.
Asura Culture – Fear, Manipulation, Dominance, and War
One of the great strengths of Buddhist wisdom is its dual focus, within a non-dual context – what the Buddha aptly called a ‘Middle Way’. This Middle Way invites self-enquiry into both our compassionate true nature as Consciousness, and into the habitual and unconscious egoic nature that we manifest when we fail to recognise who we are. I have spoken before about the very clever and engaging way in which the Buddhist tradition came to present the key spiritual choices that we face in every moment in the form of a mandala.
Each quadrant of this mandala is associated with a particular spiritual dichotomy – a choice between a brahmavihāra, or attitude of Consciousness, on one hand, and a loka, or ‘Realm’, on the other. And each loka, or ‘Realm’ is a collective manifestation, or objectification, of one of the Skandhas, or perceptual components – or one of the four ‘Functions of Consciousness’ to Jung’s mandala model of the psyche. For more on the way the Buddha’s ‘Six Realms’ teaching is integrated in this way into the mandala framework of the brahmavihāras and the Skandhas, consider reading my previous articles on this (here, here, here and here).
The choice that the tradition associates with the green Northern Quadrant is very stark indeed. On one side there is the fearlessness, deep trust, empathy, and the instinctive and skilled compassionate activity that springs from resting as Consciousness. On the other, there is the egoic function of Intuition-Volition, manifesting collectively in the archetypal psychology of the Asura Realm – a realm of fear, manipulation, domination, and warfare.
I will be devoting a whole separate article to the Asura Realm, because it is so important. Neither human psychology nor human society can be fully understood without recognising and understanding the Asura archetype – an archetype without which we cannot understand the problematic nature of the Egoic Will and the closely related notion of the psychological Shadow, and without which we cannot understand how our natural ethical instincts are so easily eroded.
Appropriation of Consciousness by the Egoic Will
One of the archetypal themes of the Asura Realm is theft. When the Asuras are not fighting amongst themselves, they a locked in an eternal struggle to appropriate the Wish-Fulfilling Tree from their great enemies the Devas, for whose lifestyle they feel deep envy. But this Tree and the harmonious, integrated and creative mental states that it represents, are integral to the style of consciousness of the Devas. The Asuras cannot possess it, however hard they try. The idiocy of the Asuras’ approach is represented by the fact that the roots of the Wish-Fulfilling Tree are in fact in the Asura Realm. They need not fight for it – they could just let the fruits fall.
This archetypal situation is clearly an eloquent metaphorical pointer to the nature of the egoic mind, and perhaps also points to the dangers of a particular and very common type of wilful and unreflective approach to meditation practice. It is also a warning about the delusional nature of the Egoic Will, which appropriates and personalises the impersonal life energies of motivation – the innocent creative desires. Motivation that has been pumped up by fear of deprivation, and envy of what others possess, does not serve us in the subtle processes of cultivating somatic integration through meditation practice, or of opening to wisdom.
Asura Culture and the Psychology of the Heroic Ego
Thankfully there are now a variety of approaches to psychotherapy and personal development that understand the limitations of the Egoic Will, but this critical perspective is nowhere more strongly expressed than in the Buddha’s imagery of the Asura Realm – the imagery of an eternal battle. Despite this warning, many meditation teachers, within the Buddhist tradition and elsewhere, continue to teach meditation as if we must engage in an eternal battle with our own minds, or must struggle to appropriate something that is outside of ourselves.
From the perspective of an archetypal approach to psychology, like that of Carl Jung and others, we find the Egoic Will to be personified in the legendary and mythic heroes of various ancient cultures, like the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome. Freud and many others in the history of psychotherapy, have mostly failed however, to emphasise how very limited the hero is as a guide on the path of psychological and spiritual development. When we examine the myths closely we usually find the hero to be a deeply flawed figure – and that more often than not the heroes fail, or only succeed with the help of divine forces (Perseus for example, as mentioned previously – here), or by gaining wisdom, and becoming beings more akin to the Buddhist Bodhisattvas, much more than mere heroes.
Perhaps because of our crude understanding of the nature of the heroic, our everyday psychological and cultural assumptions about the creative process are often deeply flawed. It is helpful to acknowledge that the default unconscious psychology of humanity is a heroic Ego Psychology, which is a psychology of the Egoic Will – and one that is unfortunately very close to the psychology of the Asura Realm.
The wisdom of the green Northern Quadrant however, urges us to embrace a Mandala Psychology – a mandala wisdom, which shows us how human motivation really works, and how, when we are resting as Consciousness, psychological energy can move, act and create, without effort, and without conflict.
Resting, Trusting, Yielding, and Receptivity
There is a place for vigorous effort, and a place for courage and determination, but the mandala wisdom and the subtle intuitive psychology of the green Northern Quadrant invites us to apply effort on the basis of deep reflection and self-enquiry – with a particular focus on the nature of psychological energy and the nature of the transformative psychological processes by which we recognise, and return to, our true nature. The mandala wisdom reminds us that creativity, the resolution of internal conflict, and psychological integration, can ultimately only take place on the level of Consciousness.
An understanding of the Asura Realm and the flawed nature of the Egoic Will is fundamental to our ability to practice meditation and mindfulness correctly and effectively. I have been endeavouring to create a fresh conceptual framework for our reflections on meditation and mindfulness by talking about these practices in terms of ‘resting as Consciousness’ – resting as Consciousness.
The notions of resting, of yielding, and of receptivity are all fundamental. We cannot achieve psychological integration simply by an effort of the Egoic Will – only Consciousness can do that. Through self-enquiry we gradually gain a deeper confidence in the great benevolence and psychological support that Consciousness provides when we recognise it and open to it. Then we can start to relax and trust, and allow the compassionate, evolutionary and healing energies to do their work – the work of creating psychological integration and real fulfilment.
The Egoic Will Cannot Bring About Psychological Integration
Indeed the wisdom of the mandala is telling us that the Egoic Will is inherently conflictual, and entirely incapable of bringing about significant psychological integration. Until we start to engage in self-enquiry, resting as Consciousness and familiarising ourselves with that experience, we are helplessly identified with the Egoic Will – and enmeshed in its dysfunctional fear-based psychology.
Until we learn to rest as Consciousness, it is as if the Egoic Will, and our egoic identification with thoughts, feelings, and sensations, are all that exists for us – and all these components of experience are experienced as entirely personal. But when we see the emptiness of the Egoic Will, the whole edifice of the separate self begins to collapse.