The Pitfalls of Archetypal Identification
In Context to Paratheatre and Life Itself
by Antero Alli © 2007 -- updated 2/18/2011
A delusion is commonly defined as a fixed false belief and is used in everyday language to describe a belief that is either false, fanciful or derived from deception. In psychiatry, the definition is necessarily more precise and implies that the belief is pathological (the result of an illness or illness process). Delusions typically occur in the context of neurological or mental illness, although they are not tied to any particular disease and have been found to occur in the context of many pathological states (both physical and mental). However, they are of particular diagnostic importance in psychotic disorders and particularly in schizophrenia. -- wikipedia.org
It's been my experience so far that self-delusion comes with the territory of any work, solo or collective, that evokes and engages autonomous forces of an archetypal nature. Throughout my thirty years of leading and working in group paratheatre processes, I have encountered many forms of delusion within myself and in the attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, and actions of others. As a facilitator of paratheatre, I also hold myself responsible for the various influences this work has on others. To honestly address the issue of self-delusion, certain intentions must be clarified, like, what is it that I am actually attempting in this paratheatre work and why am I doing it ? - Antero Alli
WHAT WE DO AND WHY WE DO IT
Though there are numerous reasons to do this group paratheatre work and many influences it brings, the overall effect can be descibed as a kind of undoing of our falsified selves towards a liberation of more authentic response, interaction, and being. The first stages of this work often involve a series of exposures to the culturally-conditioned and randomly absorbed assumptions, fixed ideas, self-images, belief systems, dogmas, we have about ourselves and the world - what we mistakenly identify as "ourselves". This "undoing process" demands more discernment between the external conditioning of our socially-accepted and politically correct responses, values, beliefs, and ideas ~ and ~ the more spontaneous expression of our true thoughts, impulses, feelings, perceptions, and actions.
Sometimes, this quest to heal and rid ourselves of toxic cultural influences can lead to outright renunciation of second-hand, twice-boiled information in lieu of turning to our most direct firsthand experience as our most direct source of authority and guidance. As noble an aim as this can be, it can also be rife with self-delusion and why I think it critical to continue examining the nature of delusion itself, its possible causes, and whatever adjustments might help to defuse or minimize its confusing influence.
To express authenticity of being, doing, and relating means to fully commit to restoring our capacity for direct experience, a capacity often corrupted by layers of other people's opinions and the socially-accepted, cultural ideals of the era. By restoring our capacity for direct experience we can gradually (re)build a basic trust in ourselves and the universe, a self-trust that nurtures our autonomy and integrity as individuals. I must also say here that to achieve such an endeavor may be nearly impossible, as we are attempting to become as active vessels for the containment and expression of our true nature. And from there, to navigate the miraculous interactions of self-governing bodies with those sharing the common purpose of awakening to our sovereignty.
In this paratheatre medium we engage numerous ritual forms and designs to evoke the existing conditions of our lives, whatever their nature may be. By facing, accepting, and eventually embracing these actualities, we learn to rely less and less on pretending, or imagining, or idealizing ourselves. In this reality-based approach, the actual eventually becomes synonomous with the ideal. This can happen through a process of surrendering to What Is. This self-actualization process also acts as a stimulus for the imagination, not towards imaging more fantasy and illusion, but towards manifesting our intentions, investing our lives with meaning, and making our more reality-based dreams come true.
If Life itself is sacred then, recognizing and accepting the existing conditions of our lives carries its own inherent presence of value. This is why any truly "sacred theatre" must look to existence itself for its material, its dramas, characters, stories, and myths. Once the living presence of our own existence can be accepted, it can then become more consciously embodied as sacred.
ON BECOMING AS "LEGENDS IN OUR OWN MINDS"
The ritual labs conducted within ParaTheatrical ReSearch offer a rich palate of pathways and techniques for accessing the internal landscape in dynamic and sometimes cathartic ways. With practice, these processes can arouse great feelings, insights, revelations, and epiphanies about oneself and one's place in the cosmos. However, any experience -- no matter how profound at the time -- that cannot be applied to one's daily life and integrated into one's personality, can easily vanish into fleeting memories.
These deeply charged internal events can lead to self-delusion when we assume that the initial experience itself was enough to significantly change our lives. Without consistent follow-through and application of our ritual lab realizations, we can easily become entranced by the spell of thinking we are doing something important when, in fact, we are only thinking we are doing something important. What actually gets done is self-delusion. Without applying or integrating our insights into the larger fabric of life beyond the ritual setting, we set up a delusory escapist relationship with ourselves and the ritual work itself, a mental habit that can lead us into becoming as "legends in our own minds".
When we approach ritual work with the intention or hope of escaping the drudgery of mundane existence, we risk a kind of presbyterian milktoast approach. This approach is shared by the millions who work forty-plus hours a week, get drunk and attend Sunday morning church to pardon their sins; ad nauseum. This kind of escapist self-delusion can be curbed by testing and applying the results of one's ritual work in daily life. For example, we might practice the no-form technique while waiting in line at the grocery store or let's say, source the earth while jogging or walking or maybe show more respect for the personal space of those we are intimate with. Or, align with verticality while facing a difficult encounter with an adversary. There are countless ways to unobtrusively apply ritual techniques and insights to everyday routines, affairs, and relations.
ON BUILDING A BRIDGE BETWEEN WORLDS
Our most cherished experiences and impressions feed the wellspring of our memory bank where they gradually transform into the very sediment of our souls. If these emotionally-charged images remain trapped within the sphere of our innermost lives, with little access to the outside world of others, then personal alienation can result. As this sediment grows richer with subconscious layers upon layers of experience, so can the personalities these layers support slowly implode under the cumbersome inertia of excessive internalization. To alleviate these internal pressures we must find or create outlets for their expression and communication. This bridge-building process between inner and outer worlds serves the ongoing self-work of any real artist and expresses a chief function of Art itself: to cultivate the talent for bringing forth what's within towards the light of day in the eyes of others.
This bridging of internal vertical sources into the external horizontal world at large involves a process of Self-initiation. Neither the inner life of the soul (the vertical domain) nor the outer events of others and the world (the horizontal domain) matters so much as the fibers maintaining their connectivity. To live as bridge-builders we must learn to see with a kind of double vision, a perspective that can hold an awareness of vertical and horizontal realms together so as to afford the freedom to come and go and traverse between them.
NEGATIVE EGO INFLATION: THE "POOR BABY" SYNDROME
Sometimes paratheatre work can ignite a kind of epistemological crisis when our current values are questioned or exposed as meaningless, trivial, and/or worthless. This crisis can sometimes lead to an emotional downward spiral of a diminishing sense of self-worth. If we cannot stop judging our failures or live up to our bloated expectations or high standards, we can suffer a kind of negative ego-inflation. Sometimes this can happen after we are shocked by the vapidity and excessive narcissism of our lives. Other times we may feel morally outraged at the greedy, godless existence we see in ourselves and society. We might sink into self-pity over our perceived wretched condition or become appalled by the failure of the culture at large. No matter what the cause or the symptoms, when our spirit is crushed by self-imposed negative attitudes and beliefs, we become as victims of our own self-imposed suffering.
Whether the ego inflates positively (expands) or negatively (shrinks) we remain fixated on the ego. Whether we narcissistically believe the cosmos is out to bless us or we suffer the paranoid belief that the universe is out to get us, both types of ego inflation express self-delusion. Any excessive negative inflation manifests in various forms of the passive martyr complex or, the "Poor Baby" syndrome (awww, poor baby), one of the most common ways we drain our power and ravage the energetic body.
Emotional energy is drained by the self-important dramas of the "poor baby" syndrome. Since paratheatre work demands a healthy energetic body, it may be impossible to do this work in a state of heavy negative inflation or low emotional energy. It is like trying to drive a car with an empty gas tank. In paratheatre work, an ample supply of emotional energy is required, lest the rituals turn rote, contrived or superficially "play-acted". To break the cycle of negativity, the Victim archetype of the Poor Baby syndrome must first be exposed, defused, and dismantled.
I have experienced negative inflation as a natural response to any situation that presents itself as an impossible task or endeavor. It is natural enough to feel ineffective, helpless, and inadequate in the face of any hurdle we perceive as insurmountable. However, feelings of helplessness are not the same as being helpless. Feelings of inadequacy are not the same thing as an inadequacy in your very being. When negative emotions are mistakenly identified with, we become self-deluded into believing they are absolutes. Emotions are not absolute; they just feel absolute. When over-emphasized, negative emotions diminish the being which eventually shrinks and shrivels away. A negative being equates to an absence of being.
Negative energy can also express resistance. Resistance expresses energy in its frozen state. When we are ready to experience any resistance directly, by sourcing that resistance as energy, that resistance can then be engaged as a force. In doing so, we can bypass our negative reactions to resistance. By blending with the resistance, as Aikido and other martial arts show us, its trapped energy can be liberated; ice melts and turns fluid. By continuing to resist the resistances of our lives, we only feed the Poor Baby syndrome while draining our power with whining, complaining, and martyring out. It takes a special talent to continue making a bad thing worse or turning an already difficult phase of life into an unbearable hell zone.
The Poor Baby complex feeds an overly complicating web of self-created drama that mistakes pain for food. A positive result can be drawn from the Poor Baby complex if our suffering sensitizes us to the suffering of others and deepens our empathy and compassion for ourselves. Without this insight, however, Poor Baby spirals down into to an ever-sophisticating masochistic ritual of self-torment, where the pain we feel is primarily self-generated and egocentric.
POSITIVE EGO INFLATION: THE MESSIANIC COMPLEX
Conscious surrender to, and embodiment of, archetypal energies -- an important ritual talent -- can naturally result in an inflation of ego, or self-image. We can become "as gods" for the moment. Positive ego inflation expresses a natural phase of ego development. As we open up to more aspects of our whole self, we discover the inherent contraries of our true natures -- we are good enough to be bad, intelligent enough to confess ignorance, free enough to embrace dependencies, strong enough to feel weak. This process of embracing polarities expresses an alchemical opus of opposites uniting within us, where the ego, or self-image, plays a small and subordinate role in context to the larger archetype of The Self.
Positive ego inflation starts when we confuse the ego for The Self and forget the subordinate role ego plays to The Self in this alchemical opus. When we source the ego, instead of The Self, self-delusion enflames a messy messianic complex and inflates our sense of entitlement and self-importance. This confusion can result in attitudes, behavior, beliefs, and actions of excessive narcissism. We become more easily offended and/or lose a sense of humor about ourselves. We erroneously expect others to take us as seriously as we take ourselves. Sometimes these internal expectations are fed by the squads of Yes Men and Yes Women who buy into our fantasy and help maintain our self-delusion. When these delusions of entitlement lose the support of others, our egoic bubble bursts.
ON RELIGIOUS CONVERSION EXPERIENCE
Another symptom of the messianic complex manifests as a compulsion to convert others to beliefs falsely assumed as absolute truths or realities. As this self-delusion escalates, the ego bloats by seeing itself as a kind of master, messiah, or savior figure stridently rallying others behind its cause. These conversion tactics often express a naive reflex following any genuine religious conversion experience where one experiences God and naturally wants to share God with others, whatever that God is or has been made into. Us humans have been historically consistent in making a religion out of almost anything as if to satiate a quest for meaning in an inherently meaningless universe.
"Existence itself may be considered an abyss possessed of no meaning.
I do not read this as a pessimistic statement but a declaration of autonomy
for my imagination & will and their most beautiful act of bestowing meaning
upon existence itself." -- Hakim Bey
The messianically deluded can overstep the personal boundaries of others in their unconscious attempts to gain control over their own out of control lives. Sometimes this involves attempts to manipulate or coerce others into sharing the premises of our own delusions, ie., "my vision is THE vision for all of humanity." When these messianic assumptions are questioned or refuted by skeptical others, hostility and aggression can arise. Unspeakable violence and warfare have erupted over the last two thousand years thanks to messianic rage. Beware the slippery slopes of paranoia and the mental illness that hide behind religious symbols and nationalistic flags.
SHADOW WORK: THE SCAPEGOAT COMPLEX
Paranoid delusions can sometimes require an external scapegoat or an outside enemy image to justify the "rightness' of one's fanatical visions, beliefs and dogmas. These "enemies" can be larger governing bodies -- actual governments or political leaders or entire socioeconomic castes -- which mirror the Shadow of the person with a bloated messianic complex. Scapegoats can also manifest as any individuals that oppose the self-deluded person's cherished dogmas. In more extreme cases of self-denial, the "enemy" can become the ego itself. A kind of reversal of the persecution complex can occur when we paint others as the egotistical, self-important deluded ones without seeing our own distorted behavior. When this type of reverse scapegoat complex backfires, the self-deluded person can ironically become the object or target of persecution him/herself. Kettle, meet pot.
If it has not gone too far, the messianic complex can be remedied by any carefully enforced isolation. To withdraw and separate oneself can sometimes serve to deflate the ego back to "body size". For example, the self-deluded person can participate in a ten-day Vipassana Meditation retreat or if they are resiliant enough, spend four or five days camping alone in the wilderness. Any form of sense-deprivation and self-imposed solitude can help alleviate the suffering incumbent to excessive positive ego-inflation.
When especially charismatic persons suffer from a messianic complex, their powers of persuasion effectively delude others ("my people") into buying into their fantasy. This is why enforced isolation can be an effective self-healing ritual. Another measure of freedom from this kind of delusion can be achieved by learning to listen and pay attention to others without immediately verbalizing self-referential commentaries ("oh, that's what I do" or "I feel just like that, too") or offering advice. By seeing others in their own context and hearing out their stories, we can restore the warmth often missing in any abstracted state of self-delusion.
THE EGO SOLVENT OF NO-FORM
Effective strategies to defuse the positive inflation of the Messianic complex can be found in any ego-corrosive actions where we place ourselves in service to others. This can take on any number of forms, from actions that alleviate the suffering of others to assisting those who cannot help themselves to performing hard physical labor for the benefit of another. Ego-corrosive actions, however, are not for everybody. Those with more fragile egos or who cannot endure or stomach the suffering of others, may not find it as useful.
In this paratheatre medium each and every engagement with archetypal forces begins and ends in no-form, a standing Zazen meditation technique for disidentifying with any preconception, image, force, idea or belief, towards cultivating deep internal receptivity. No-Form represents a kind of intimacy with Void or, our potential state of being nothing. From the receptive state of no-form, we can begin detecting energy sources, currents, and forces in the body itself. From no-form, the body's energy sources can be engaged as movement resources capable of animating motions, gestures, sounds, and actions. As our commitment to the body's energies increases, these somatic currents can lead us into the deeper collective wellsprings of archetypal energies.
The deeper the immersion and identification with any archetypal force, the more powerful and emotionally charged the experience. As we gain deeper access to the internal landscape of the archetypes, a deepening no-form practice is required lest we risk self-delusion by walking away after the ritual believing we are as gods or goddesses, or demons and angels, when we have only inflated our egos. This is why after each ritual in this paratheatre medium, we diligently return to the no-form stance to discharge and disidentify with whatever source of energy we have immersed in and merged with. By deepening our commitment to No-Form practice, we can approach this work with the humility and respect it deserves.
ON BREAKING CERTITUDE TRANCE
Self-delusion can also result from suffering the illusion of excessive certainty. We delude ourselves this way after fixating on any picture, image, idea, vision, belief or assumption as an absolute in our minds. The self-deluded mind confuses opinions for facts, and fantasy for reality. This tendency of mental fixation can be defused by learning to relax the search for meaning and opening to a more direct experience of phenomena without immediately assigning interpretation to it. This process begins the training of the second attention, that awareness not linked to the thinking machine or language but to presence, energy, and phenomena.
To break the trance of excessive certitude, learn how to permit more uncertainty. This can be accomplished in many ways. Make an effort to read books and magazines that hold no previous personal interest or gain for you. See if you can find points of interest beyond your previous and current beliefs. Attend social gatherings where you don't know anybody and where the purpose of the activity holds no previous fascination for you. Avoid mirrors; they only present reflections, not reality.
Experiment -- spend a day or two without looking into mirrors and see what happens. See if you can live a day without a self-image, or without fixating on any idea of who you are or should be. Breathe in the air of a concept-free zone. All these ego-corrosive actions involve getting your attention off yourself. Other ways of getting your attention off yourself might include serving the well-being of others and/or the alleviation of their suffering. Whether that means comforting the dying in hospitals or assisting the elderly or volunteering at soup kitchens or going out of your way to help someone in need, what matters here is getting your attention off yourself.
SELF-HEALING: PLAYING WITH CHILDREN
Working with children, as a teacher and/or performer, can also become its own ego-corrosive action. As honest and open as most children tend to be, excessively self-important adults either learn more flexibility or cower away to save face. Either way, the immediate presence of children helps expose where we have become too persona-identified and are taking ourselves more seriously than the life we are actually living. Children an act as teachers in this way; we only has to spend an entire afternoon with a five year old to discover as much.
ON FEELING THE BODY DEEPLY
Strenuous physical labor and exercise can also humble the inflated ego. Whether you sign up for a personal trainer to put you through your paces in a fitness training program or, initiate your own regime to feeling your body deeply, a regular schedule of intense physical activity can be a very simple and direct way of keeping the ego close to body-size. By meeting the body's central-most need of being felt deeply, true physical confidence can be restored while minimizing the false bravado of ego.
GETTING YOUR ATTENTION OFF YOURSELF
The act of getting your attention off yourself initiates an important skill for anyone with talent working in artistic and creative mediums. Ego-corrosive actions ought to be mandatory for any serious artist and apprentice expecting to develop their craft. Without it, talent can stagnate from the treadmilling action of repeating whatever we already excell at. With it, we can escape the talent of identifying with our talent and depending on it as a measure of our self-worth. The "it" in question refers to any ego-corrosive actions that help us get our attention off ourselves. Get your attention off yourself. Pay attention to your actions; know what you are doing. Pay attention to what is happening around you; let your environment inform you. Pay attention to others and listen to their stories; this will authenticate your responses.
Also see "A Human Sacrifice" by Matt Mitler, director, Theatre Group Dzieci, NYC )
and Potential threats and dangers of this work by Antero Alli
Other writings on paratheatre by Antero Alli
antero interviewed on paratheatre