Tag Archives: mind

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: Creating Our Own Gods and Demons

This was my third reading of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. What struck me on this reading was just how rich this text is and how many layers of symbolism and metaphor is woven in to the story. As pages of my journal filled with notes, I realized that I faced the daunting task of narrowing down all my thoughts to a short blog post. After some deliberation, I decided to focus on the concept of humanity creating gods and demons.

The first thing to point out is how Shelley uses the term “creature.” It is specifically the product of the creative process, particularly from the mind. A creature, therefore can be anything which we as creative beings consciously create.

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally at the panes, and the candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

(p. 34)

Throughout the text, I noticed that the creature is depicted as both godlike and demonic. That is because the things that our minds create can be both positive and negative, and often a combination of both. The issue becomes whether we allow the creatures of our minds to elevate us spiritually or drag us down to our lesser natures.

I will first provide an example of the creature as godlike, as a being described as both omnipotent, invincible, and in control of the future.

But to me the remembrance of the threat returned: not can you wonder, that, omnipotent as the fiend had yet been in his deeds of blood, I should almost regard him as invincible; and that when he pronounced the words, “I shall be with you on your wedding-night,” I should regard the threatened fate as unavoidable.

((p. 132)

The other thing I would like to point out regarding this passage is the tone of the creature’s proclamation. It almost sounds like how God speaks in biblical text. God speaks, and what he says comes into being.

Next we will look at a passage where the creature is depicted as demonic, particularly associated with Satan. Here the creature embodies Lucifer’s characteristics of persuasion and eloquence.

He is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart: but trust him not. His soul is as hellish as his form, full of treachery and fiend-like malice.

(p. 145)

Near the end of the tale, Victor Frankenstein warns Walton about the dangers of creation, about how when we use the power of our minds to create our gods, we inevitably also end up creating our own personal demons.

Sometimes I endeavoured to gain from Frankenstein the particulars of his creature’s formation; but on this point he was impenetrable.

“Are you mad, my friend?” said he, “or whither does your senseless curiosity lead you? Would you create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy? Or to what do your questions tend? Peace, peace! learn from my miseries, and seek not to increase your own.”

(p. 146)

This parable in Frankenstein is an important one and pertinent to our times. Many of us allow the news, social media, and the plethora of mental distractions to create imagined threats, monsters, and demons that plague our minds. What we imagine ultimately becomes our reality. We should learn from Frankenstein’s mistake and not let ourselves create our own demons which will inevitably destroy ourselves and our world.

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“Sonnet 28: How can I then return in happy plight” by William Shakespeare

How can I then return in happy plight,
That am debarr’d the benefit of rest?
When day’s oppression is not eas’d by night,
But day by night, and night by day, oppress’d?
And each, though enemies to either’s reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me;
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil, still farther off from thee.
I tell the day, to please him thou art bright,
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:
So flatter I the swart-complexion’d night
When sparkling stars twire not thou gild’st the even.
But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
And night doth nightly make grief’s strength seem stronger.

This is a poem about how we deal with the pain of separation from the person we love.

The sonnet’s protagonist is apart from the one he loves, and as a result, suffers from restlessness both day and night. In an attempt to deal with the pain and restlessness, the speaker tries to acknowledge the good things about life around him, pointing out the brightness of the day and the rich darkness of the night. But ultimately, the clouds obscure the azure heavens and the stars lose their sparkle, and the man is left with the weight of loneliness and grief, feelings he must suffer through in isolation.

I find this a sad yet comforting poem. Most likely, we have all experienced the feelings expressed here. In these moments, we feel such a sense of isolation and solitary suffering that it is hard to imagine anyone else having suffered through the same and emerged happy. This poem reminds us that we are not unique in these feelings, that it is a part of the human experience. We must remember that all things pass.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a wonderful day.

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“Sonnet 27: Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed” by William Shakespeare

mansleeping

Painting by Carolus Duran

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee and for myself no quiet find.

For me, this is a poem about one’s obsession for another person and how that can affect someone. We are given a glimpse into the mind of a person painfully in love, who spends his days working in order to distract himself from the longing that is within. But while the toiling is a good distraction, the desire is still below the surface, ever present in the deeper recesses of the mind.

But it is in the evening, when a person goes to bed and tries to sleep, that obsessions most often take the strongest possession. As we stare at the insides of our eyelids, or gaze upon the canvas of a darkened ceiling, thoughts and images are unleashed and we spiral down the rabbit hole. It’s a feeling I know too well. Many a night I have spent lying in bed, thinking about a person, or replaying a scenario over and over in my head. When we are stripped of external distractions, the mind is free to wander where it will.

In line 6 of the sonnet, Shakespeare uses the word “intend” which in the context means direct, specifically that his thoughts are being directed towards the person he loves and is not with physically. I find this a really interesting word choice, because it creates a sense of tension. On one hand, the thoughts appear to be something the speaker is trying desperately to suppress, and yet, there is also a willful intention on his part to summon and direct his thoughts toward his significant other, to conjure the image in his mind. He doesn’t want to think about his love, but he also does not want to forget. It is a feeling that anyone who is missing another person can relate to.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a beautiful and inspiring day.

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“Catching the Lizard by the Tail” by Nissim Amon

buddhastatue

This morning, after meditating, I perused a magazine called Watkins Mind Body Spirit and read an inspiring article on Buddhist meditation. The article tells the story of a monk named Potila who lived at the time of the Buddha. The Buddha encouraged the well-respected monk to seek guidance on meditating from a younger monk, who provided the following sage advice on how to be attentive to one’s thoughts:

The young monk then gave the following example: “Suppose you want to catch a lizard hiding in an anthill that has six entrances. The lizard can escape through any of them. The best way to catch the lizard is to block off five holes and wait patiently outside the sixth. The five blocked holes are the five senses. When we sit motionless in meditation with our back straight, we are not engrossed in sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch. Generally consciousness escapes through these openings.

“When the five openings are blocked, silence diffuses inside and it’s possible to hear the lizard running around. Then, when it tries to escape, we can catch it immediately.”

I love this analogy, and I can completely relate to the image of consciousness escaping through my senses. One of my biggest challenges when meditating is turning off the mind chatter, but during those rare moments when I do, and my senses are silenced, the experiences are profound.

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“Man and the Sea” by Charles Baudelaire

Painting by Ivan Aivazovsky

Painting by Ivan Aivazovsky

Always, unfettered man, you will cherish the sea!
The sea your mirror, you look into your mind
In its eternal billows surging without end
And its gulfs are bitter, so must your spirit be.

You plunge with joy into this image of your own:
You hug it with your eyes and arms; your heart
Forgets for a time its noisy beat, becomes a part
Of a greater, more savage and less tameable moan.

In your own ways, you both are brooding and discreet:
Man, no one has mapped your chasm’s hidden floor,
Oh sea, no one knows your inmost riches, for
Your jealousy hides secrets none can repeat.

As the uncounted swarm of centuries gathers
You two have fought without pity or remorse, both
From sheer love of the slaughter and of death,
Oh, eternal wrestlers, oh, relentless brothers!

(translation by Ruthven Todd)

The use of the sea as a metaphor for the subconscious mind is not unusual in literature, but this may be one of the most clear examples of it. Right in the first stanza, Baudelaire describes the sea as a mirror that allows you to “look into your mind.”

The second stanza intrigues me. The idea that is expressed is that once a person connects with his or her subconscious mind, then that person loses awareness of his conscious self. One’s ordinary awareness is replaced by something primordial, something that exists in the deepest recesses of the psyche.

In the third stanza, we are faced with the mystery of consciousness. The subconscious mind is something that cannot be fathomed or comprehended by our normal state of awareness. Like the divine spirit, it is ineffable.

This brings us to the fourth and final stanza. We have here a struggle, between the rational and the emotional, between the physical and the spiritual, between our inner good and our inner decadence. But what Baudelaire does so eloquently is that he ties these personal internal struggles in with the greater cosmic struggles. The “eternal wrestlers” and “relentless brothers” conjure images Jacob wrestling the angel, as well as Jacob’s struggle with Esau.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 8” by Lao Tzu

ChineseWaterPainting

The highest form of goodness is like water.
Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them.
It stays in places loathed by all men.
Therefore, it comes near the Tao.

In choosing your dwelling, know how to keep to the ground.
In cultivating your mind, know how to dive in the hidden deeps.
In dealing with others, know how to be gentle and kind.
In speaking, know how to keep your words.
In governing, know how to maintain order.
In transacting business, know how to be efficient.
In making a move, know how to choose the right moment.

If you do not strive with others,
You will be free from blame.

Water is a pretty standard symbol for the spirit and the subconscious mind. But this passage builds on that metaphor and uses water as a symbol for how to live a spiritual life in the material world. Fluidity is the key. Lately, it seems like people are taking the complete opposite approach, asserting that a “hard stance” is what is required, that one needs rigid adherence to ideologies in order to be successful. This is the materialistic approach and is antithetical to the spiritual path.

When you move like water through life, obstacles that may arise to not block your progress. You are able to flow past the stones that crop up in your way. And then you are happier, because you are not spending your energy struggling and fighting against things that you cannot change. It is a great philosophy for how to live life.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 9

Nosferatu

Nosferatu

As a musician, I have always been intrigued at the way sounds and rhythms can be used to stimulate parts of the subconscious mind and cause hidden aspects of the psyche to surface. I believe this is why chanting and drumming are integral parts of ritual, the goal of which is to alter the consciousness of the participants.

There is a great passage in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is sharing an experience he had where he was playing violin and the notes blended with other vibrations resulting in a sudden shift in his consciousness. This shift allowed a dark, primordial aspect of his psyche to surface, an experience that was terrifying and traumatic.

‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’

‘A thing.’

‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’

‘But it was inside you, though.’

‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped the violin and ran from the room.’

(p. 649)

In this scene, the addict experiences the emergence of what Jung termed the shadow.

The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown “dark side” of our personality–dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.

(Source: Psychology Today)

Throughout my life, I have experienced instances where music or sound caused my consciousness to shift, sometimes dramatically. But it can be particularly unsettling when the shift is unexpected. It’s one thing to experience this while meditating and actively seeking to unlock hidden realms of the psyche, but when it occurs for no apparent reason, it can have a devastating effect on a person.

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