Tag Archives: psychology

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

This has been on my list of mystical books to read for quite a long time. A couple years ago, I found a copy at a garage sale and bought it. Of course, I felt guilty every time I saw it unread upon the shelf. But I finally got around to reading it, and probably right when I needed to.

This particular copy includes a large amount of introductory text. Usually, I skip introductions, but the commentaries here were very enlightening and I’m glad I read them, particularly Carl Jung’s introduction to the text.

Before embarking upon the psychological commentary, I should like to say a few words about the text itself. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the Bardo Thödol, is a book of instructions for the dead and dying. Like The Egyptian Book of the Dead, it is meant to be a guide for the dead man during the period of his Bardo existence, symbolically described as an intermediate state of forty-nine days’ duration between death and rebirth. The text falls into three parts. The first part, called Chikhai Bardo, describes the psychic happenings at the moment of death. The second part, or Chönyid Bardo, deals with the dream-state which supervenes immediately after death, and with what are called ‘karmic illusions’. The third part, or Sidpa Bardo, concerns the onset of the birth-instinct and of prenatal events.

 (p. xxxv – xxxvi)

Because the book deals primarily with what happens to one’s consciousness after death, the text is understandably highly symbolic. As Lama Govinda points out in his introductory section, whenever the subconscious is being explored, it must be approached through the use of symbols.

If, through some trick of nature, the gates of an individual’s subconsciousness were suddenly to spring open, the unprepared mind would be overwhelmed and crushed. Therefore, the gates of the subconscious are guarded, by all initiates, and hidden behind the veil of mysteries and symbols.

(p. liii)

Lama Govinda then points out a common misconception regarding the Bardo Thödol. Many people may assume that the text is a set of instructions solely intended for the dead or dying. But this is not the only purpose. For people pursuing a spiritual path, there comes a time when they must symbolically die, essentially killing their former selves so that they can be reborn as an enlightened being.

Such misunderstanding could only have arisen among those who do not know that it is one of the oldest and most universal practices for the initiate to go through the experience of death before he can be spiritually reborn. Symbolically he must die to his past, to his old ego, before he can take his place in the new spiritual life into which he has been initiated.

(p. lix – lx)

During the 49-day period in which a person’s consciousness is in the Bardo, the individual experiences numerous visions. The text is very clear that these visions are nothing but illusion. The goal, then, is to recognize that what we perceive, in this reality as well as in the Bardo, is illusory by nature. Once we recognize that what we sense is illusion, our consciousness becomes free.

The whole aim of the Bardo Thödol teaching, as otherwise stated elsewhere, is to cause the Dreamer to awaken into Reality, freed from all the obscurations of karmic or sangsāric illusions, in a supramundane or Nirvānic state, beyond all phenomenal paradises, heavens, hells purgatories, or worlds of embodiment.

(p. 35)

The text offers a great prayer which should be used when facing the terrifying visions associated with the Bardo state.

Alas! when the Uncertain Experiencing of Reality is dawning upon me here,
With every thought of fear or terror or awe for all [apparitional appearances] set aside,
May I recognize whatever [visions] appear, as the reflections of mine own consciousness;
May I know them to be of the nature of apparitions in the Bardo:
When at this all-important moment [of opportunity]of achieving a great end,
I may not fear the bands of Peaceful and Wrathful [Deities], mine own thought-forms.

(p. 103)

Fear is a manifestation of our thoughts. While some fears may be justified, the fact remains that fear is pure thought, which then triggers a physical response to the mental visions. This is something that is carried on with us to the next stage of existence. When our consciousness moves to the next plane, it brings with it the capacity to generate fearful images which can then paralyze the progress of the spirit.

O nobly-born, whatever fearful and terrifying visions thou mayst see, recognize them to be thine own thought-forms.

(p. 147)

I realize that I have barely scratched the surface of this symbolically rich and complex text. But hopefully I encouraged you to read it yourself and explore the wisdom woven into the book. I suspect that this is something I will read again in the future.

Cheers!

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #7

It has been a full year since the last issue of Sabrina came out, probably because Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was busy writing for the television show “Riverdale” (which I watched with my daughter and is quite good). Although it was a long wait, it was well worth it. The quality of this comic, in terms of both writing and visual artistic style, sets it in a class by itself.

Essentially, this is the back story concerning Sabrina’s father, Edward Spellman, who is resurrected and inhabiting the body of Sabrina’s boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (a little Electra complex happening here). Edward recounts his initiation into the dark arts, his rise to power in the Church of Satan, and how he came to be imprisoned in the limbo dimension.

This installment is dark and disturbing on multiple levels. The content is macabre, the imagery intense, it is psychologically distressing, and the tale leaves the reader with a sense of tension and foreboding which is stoked by what is left unsaid. For truly, it is the unknown possibilities that stir the deepest fear within us, and Aguirre-Sarcasa is a master when it comes to leaving just enough of the story hidden to evoke the most profound terror in the reader.

Readers should be warned that this is not a comic for the timid. But if you love the macabre and long to peer into the stuff of nightmares, then get thee to the store and buy a copy.

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Hellboy and the B.P.R.D 1954: Black Sun

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This tale is told over two issues, which I read consecutively. It’s kind of a cross between Indiana Jones and the X-Files, with Hellboy fighting Nazis who have reverse-engineered an alien craft and built a fleet of saucers which they plan to use to conquer the world and establish the 1000-year Reich.

Overall, the story was very entertaining, well-written, and the artwork was great. There were also a couple themes that were addressed that I found particularly interesting.

In the first installment, when Hellboy arrives with his field partner in the Arctic, the partner, who is black, is met with racial disdain.

Oh. Didn’t think they’d be sending a colored.

What I found most striking about this short scene is that while the U.S. was fighting against an enemy that was claiming racial superiority, people in the U.S. also had their prejudices and biases. And as proven by recent events, these prejudices are still thriving in our society.

The other part of this graphic tale that resonated with me was how myths and legends are used as symbols for aspects of human consciousness.

There are, of course, countless legends about the hollow earth, and hidden passages that connect one pole to the other. I had assumed these to be a metaphor for the hidden recesses of the human mind, but they may have been a material reality.

I am reminded of the classic Journey to the Center of the Earth. I have not read the book (yet), but watched the film numerous times as a kid, fascinated with the idea that hidden below the surface of the earth was an entirely different world, populated by dinosaurs. Now as an adult, I understand the metaphor. The center of the earth is a symbol for the center of our brains, the primordial root of our consciousness, the primal animalistic part of our psyches that exists in the amygdala within the limbic cortex. The dinosaurs symbolize our collective lizard brains, a residual that we never lost through our stages of evolution.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!

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“Haunted” by Siegfried Sassoon

Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré

Evening was in the wood, louring with storm.
A time of drought had sucked the weedy pool
And baked the channels; birds had done with song.
Thirst was a dream of fountains in the moon,
Or willow-music blown across the water
Leisurely sliding on by weir and mill.

Uneasy was the man who wandered, brooding,
His face a little whiter than the dusk.
A drone of sultry wings flicker’d in his head.
The end of sunset burning thro’ the boughs
Died in a smear of red; exhausted hours
Cumber’d, and ugly sorrows hemmed him in.

He thought: ‘Somewhere there’s thunder,’ as he strove
To shake off dread; he dared not look behind him,
But stood, the sweat of horror on his face.

He blunder’d down a path, trampling on thistles,
In sudden race to leave the ghostly trees.
And: ‘Soon I’ll be in open fields,’ he thought,
And half remembered starlight on the meadows,
Scent of mown grass and voices of tired men,
Fading along the field-paths; home and sleep
And cool-swept upland spaces, whispering leaves,
And far off the long churring night-jar’s note.

But something in the wood, trying to daunt him,
Led him confused in circles through the thicket.
He was forgetting his old wretched folly,
And freedom was his need; his throat was choking.
Barbed brambles gripped and clawed him round his legs,
And he floundered over snags and hidden stumps.
Mumbling: ‘I will get out! I must get out!’
Butting and thrusting up the baffling gloom,
Pausing to listen in a space ’twixt thorns,
He peers around with peering, frantic eyes.

An evil creature in the twilight looping,
Flapped blindly in his face. Beating it off,
He screeched in terror, and straightway something clambered
Heavily from an oak, and dropped, bent double,
To shamble at him zigzag, squat and bestial.

Headlong he charges down the wood, and falls
With roaring brain—agony—the snap’t spark—
And blots of green and purple in his eyes.
Then the slow fingers groping on his neck,
And at his heart the strangling clasp of death.

I wanted to find a good “horror” poem that was not written by Edgar Allan Poe, so I did a web search and found this one. I was totally unfamiliar with Sassoon, so I did not have any expectations. I have to say, I really found this poem powerful, haunting, and well-written.

I see this as symbolic of someone who is haunted by memories of his past, most likely something deeply traumatic. He has kept his pain locked inside, and this pain is represented by the forest in which he wanders. He keeps thinking that he will eventually find a clearing, a place of reprieve from his inner torment, which is symbolized by the “open fields” and “meadows.” But it never happens. The vines and brambles of his memory snag him and hold him in the past. Demons that haunt his psyche swoop down on him. Eventually, he dies, carrying with him the burden of his suffering.

While this is certainly a grim poem, it should be looked at as a warning. We all carry guilt, pain, and suffering. But what is important is that we do not keep that pain hidden inside us. When we do, it grows and morphs into nightmares which haunt us psychologically, and the longer we keep those secrets hidden inside us, the sicker we become, until they ultimately consume us.

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“Tales from the Darkside” Issues 2 – 4: Manifestations of the Shadow Self

darkside_02

I decided to wait until all three issues in this mini-series were published so I could read them consecutively, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes I forget some of the details from the earlier installments in a serialized arc.

This story is about the struggle between the conscious mind and the primordial shadow part of the psyche. The main character, Brian Newman, finds himself in a struggle with a manifestation of his shadow self, who he calls the “big winner.” The big winner is the opposite of Newman, who is timid, uncertain, and withdrawn. Big winner is more like the trickster archetype: capricious, boisterous, and prone to the chaotic. As the big winner begins to take control of his reality, Newman agrees to undergo experimental surgery to gain control of this darker self. As you can imagine, things do not end well.

Before the surgery, the doctor explains to Newman that the manifestation of his shadow self is the result of a brain abnormality.

The anomaly in your brain is connected to an overdeveloped amygdala, a more primitive part of your mind. The part of you that can distort reality – this big winner – is undoubtedly very id like. Impulsive. Childish. A sort of negative image of yourself.

darkside_03

The surgery does not go as planned, and instead of reigning in the shadow self, that darker aspect of reality becomes the prevalent reality. What is so fascinating about this concept is that, truthfully, our reality is based solely on perception that is agreed upon by the majority of people. But this begs the question: what happens when the paradigm of reality shifts? And this is what occurs in issue 4.

Here we encounter two kids who are constantly wired into their devices. They are obsessed with a sort of virtual reality app that allows them to control the “windows” through which they view their world. What they create through the app manifests in reality, and their darkest fantasies are manifest. What is eerily accurate about this portrayal is that virtual reality gaming can actually tap into the primordial center of the brain, the amygdala. Is it possible that virtual reality will one day alter our actual reality? It’s a thought-provoking question.

darkside_04

Because the darkside becomes a part of them. It waits for them when they close their eyes, when they sleep… if they ever sleep again. Just below the surface of what they think is real… the darkside is always waiting.

Anyway, this arc is a great read. The writing and artwork are outstanding, and the concepts are challenging and relevant to our world today. I highly recommend giving this series a read.

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Tales from the Darkside: Issue 01

Darkside_01

On my last trip to Comic Envy, the owner had added a new comic to my folder, thinking it would be something I might find interesting. He obviously knows my taste. This is the first installment of a new series based on the television series of the same name. When I was younger, I watched “Tales from the Darkside” a lot. The program featured short vignettes about supernatural occurrences. I found it to be like a modern Twilight Zone, creepy tales, usually with a twist at the end. Anyway, I was definitely intrigued by the comic.

So this tale is about a lifeguard who falls asleep at work, resulting in the drowning death of a woman. He gets off in court, but is consumed with guilt and remorse. Then something strange begins to happen. He starts having a narcoleptic effect on people. Everyone he encounters falls into a deep sleep, adding to his psychological isolation and torment.

In keeping with the original television series, there is a nice twist at the end. Sorry, I’m not going to spoil it. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

I will definitely continue reading this. The next tale will be delivered in two installments. I’m thinking I will wait until I have both issues, then read them consecutively, so you will have to wait a while for the next post on this graphic novel. But remember…

The darkside is always there,
waiting for us to enter—
waiting to enter us.
Until next time,
Try to enjoy the daylight.

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Jungian Symbolism in “Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters” by Mike Grell

GreenArrow_LongbowHunters

I picked this graphic novel up at last year’s Asheville Comic Expo and got it signed by writer/artist Mike Grell. I have to say that Mike was not the friendliest of the writers and artists I met that day, but whatever. Maybe he was tired or having a rough day. Anyway, it took me a while, but finally got around to reading it and overall I liked the book. I watched the “Arrow” series on TV but had never read any of the graphic novels. I must admit I was happy with this one and would certainly consider reading more in the future.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, the Green Arrow is Oliver Queen, and he is sort of like a cross between Batman and Robin Hood. I actually like that he does not possess any “superhuman” powers and relies on his physical strength and prowess.

In this novel, he is aged and reflecting back on his life. It is during this time that a mysterious female assassin appears who also uses a bow. This woman is systematically killing members of a crime organization who have a shrouded history.

What I found most interesting about the story is that the mysterious woman, known as Shado, is essentially the Jungian shadow aspect of Oliver’s psyche. She is able to kill without remorse, whereas Oliver struggles with moral issues, not wanting to take a life even though doing so is justified.

The hits on the target are only the outward proof of your mastery… like the symbol of the dragon you bear – a symbol of dishonor. Both are meaningless. You have transcended goals. You are the artless art. You are Shado.

(p. 95)

Toward the end, when Oliver faces Shado, it becomes clear that the two are different aspects of the same self, symbolic mirrors of themselves. It is symbolic of Oliver facing that part of himself that he has sought to repress.

Oliver: Why did you bring me here?

Shado: You have been hunting me. At least this way I don’t have to wonder where you are. We are alike, you and I.

Oliver: No. I’m nothing like you.

Shado: No? You want Magnor for what he did to that woman. I want him for what he did to my honor. How is your vengeance different from mine?

(pp. 130 – 131)

I’d like to close this post by talking a little bit about the artwork. It’s very good. Most writers of graphic novels seem to rely on others to create artwork to accompany the story, but Grell handle both the writing and the artwork with equal skill. I was impressed with both, and the fact that Grell did all this on his own is a testament to his artistic talent and versatility.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff!

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