We dwelled a bit on the negative aspect of supervaluation in the comments of the previous post. Obadiah quoted from Jung’s description of externalized idealism (as an expression of the extraverted thinking function) and I contributed my favorite quote from Frankenstein. However, we ought to present a sober judgment of the experience, which is not by any means negative on the whole (or else I must throw out neo-Thomism altogether) but rather an imitation of God the father in his capacity as creator.
To that end, I’d like to share the only part of Les Miserables I truly enjoyed (save a very similar transformation of the detective toward the end), which paints a positive picture of the subjective experience of insight-as-worship.
It was his last effort; his legs gave way abruptly under him, as though an invisible power had suddenly overwhelmed him with the weight of his evil conscience; he fell exhausted, on a large stone, his fists clenched in his hair and his face on his knees, and he cried, “I am a wretch!”
Then his heart burst, and he began to cry. It was the first time that he had wept in nineteen years.
When Jean Valjean left the Bishop’s house, he was, as we have seen, quite thrown out of everything that had been his thought hitherto. He could not yield to the evidence of what was going on within him. He hardened himself against the angelic action and the gentle words of the old man. “You have promised me to become an honest man. I buy your soul. I take it away from the spirit of perversity; I give it to the good God.”
This recurred to his mind unceasingly.
For those of you interested in training your discernment, this latter statement is important. Meditate on the sensory experience of your fixations to odd details in your memory, because this typically means your unconscious mind is saying “this represents something important to me”. Identifying these totems of budding intuition is a necessary but not sufficient step in the process of insight, because they beg to be interpreted by the rational mind. Your subconscious mind is very poor at putting the pieces together to render a holistic judgment, but it is very good at identifying the most important details.
If you’re training your spiritual discernment, you will have to combine this sort of training with prayer in order to reorient the unconscious values which determine the small judgments of relative importance which produce such fixations.
To this celestial kindness he opposed pride, which is the fortress of evil within us. He was indistinctly conscious that the pardon of this priest was the greatest assault and the most formidable attack which had moved him yet; that his obduracy was finally settled if he resisted this clemency; that if he yielded, he should be obliged to renounce that hatred with which the actions of other men had filled his soul through so many years, and which pleased him; that this time it was necessary to conquer or to be conquered; and that a struggle, a colossal and final struggle, had been begun between his viciousness and the goodness of that man.
In the presence of these lights,
he proceeded like a man who is intoxicated. As he walked thus with haggard eyes, did he have a distinct perception of what might result to him from his adventure at D——? Did he understand all those mysterious murmurs which warn or importune the spirit at certain moments of life? Did a voice whisper in his ear that he had just passed the solemn hour of his destiny; that there no longer remained a middle course for him; that if he were not henceforth the best of men, he would be the worst; that it behooved him now, so to speak, to mount higher than the Bishop, or fall lower than the convict; that if he wished to become good he must become an angel; that if he wished to remain evil, he must become a monster?
Part of why I maintain that suffering is a necessary but not sufficient condition for authority is that it drives a person to confront this moral question at a level beyond mere reason or sense. It’s a difficult thing to forgive the people who tortured you, but the alternative is what psychologists call “introjecting the monster”. A person who has not faced this dilemma could break either way under their first experience of real pressure, and if they haven’t been broken before they would be unable to learn how to recover while still bearing the responsibilities of authority, and so would have to be removed temporarily anyhow (in the best case).
Here, again, some questions must be put, which we have already put to ourselves elsewhere: did he catch some shadow of all this in his thought, in a confused way? Misfortune certainly, as we have said, does form the education of the intelligence; nevertheless, it is doubtful whether Jean Valjean was in a condition to disentangle all that we have here indicated. If these ideas occurred to him, he but caught glimpses of, rather than saw them, and they only succeeded in throwing him into an unutterable and almost painful state of emotion. On emerging from that black and deformed thing which is called the galleys, the Bishop had hurt his soul, as too vivid a light would have hurt his eyes on emerging from the dark. The future life, the possible life which offered itself to him henceforth, all pure and radiant, filled him with tremors and anxiety. He no longer knew where he really was. Like an owl, who should suddenly see the sun rise, the convict had been dazzled and blinded, as it were, by virtue.
That which was certain, that which he did not doubt, was that he was no longer the same man, that everything about him was changed, that it was no longer in his power to make it as though the Bishop had not spoken to him and had not touched him.
In this state of mind he had encountered little Gervais, and had robbed him of his forty sous. Why? He certainly could not have explained it; was this the last effect and the supreme effort, as it were, of the evil thoughts which he had brought away from the galleys,—a remnant of impulse, a result of what is called in statics, acquired force? It was that, and it was also, perhaps, even less than that. Let us say it simply, it was not he who stole; it was not the man; it was the beast, who, by habit and instinct, had simply placed his foot upon that money, while the intelligence was struggling amid so many novel and hitherto unheard-of thoughts besetting it.
When intelligence reawakened and beheld that action of the brute, Jean Valjean recoiled with anguish and uttered a cry of terror.
“Son, never trust a man who doesn’t drink because he’s probably a self-righteous sort, a man who thinks he knows right from wrong all the time. Some of them are good men, but in the name of goodness, they cause most of the suffering in the world. They’re the judges, the meddlers. And, son, never trust a man who drinks but refuses to get drunk. They’re usually afraid of something deep down inside, either that they’re a coward or a fool or mean and violent. You can’t trust a man who’s afraid of himself. But sometimes, son, you can trust a man who occasionally kneels before a toilet. The chances are that he is learning something about humility and his natural human foolishness, about how to survive himself. It’s damned hard for a man to take himself too seriously when he’s heaving his guts into a dirty toilet bowl.” ― James Crumley
It was because,—strange phenomenon, and one which was possible only in the situation in which he found himself,—in stealing the money from that child, he had done a thing of which he was no longer capable.
However that may be, this last evil action had a decisive effect on him; it abruptly traversed that chaos which he bore in his mind, and dispersed it, placed on one side the thick obscurity, and on the other the light, and acted on his soul, in the state in which it then was, as certain chemical reagents act upon a troubled mixture by precipitating one element and clarifying the other.
First of all, even before examining himself and reflecting, all bewildered, like one who seeks to save himself, he tried to find the child in order to return his money to him; then, when he recognized the fact that this was impossible, he halted in despair. At the moment when he exclaimed “I am a wretch!” he had just perceived what he was, and he was already separated from himself to such a degree, that he seemed to himself to be no longer anything more than a phantom, and as if he had, there before him, in flesh and blood, the hideous galley-convict, Jean Valjean, cudgel in hand, his blouse on his hips, his knapsack filled with stolen objects on his back, with his resolute and gloomy visage, with his thoughts filled with abominable projects.
Excess of unhappiness had, as we have remarked, made him in some sort a visionary. This, then, was in the nature of a vision. He actually saw that Jean Valjean, that sinister face, before him. He had almost reached the point of asking himself who that man was, and he was horrified by him.
I’ve spoken to someone who’s experienced this literally, as a hypnopompic hallucination that lasted for a few minutes rather than the typical 10-15 seconds.
His brain was going through one of those violent and yet perfectly calm moments in which reverie is so profound that it absorbs reality. One no longer beholds the object which one has before one, and one sees, as though apart from one’s self, the figures which one has in one’s own mind.
Thus he contemplated himself, so to speak, face to face, and at the same time, athwart this hallucination, he perceived in a mysterious depth a sort of light which he at first took for a torch. On scrutinizing this light which appeared to his conscience with more attention, he recognized the fact that it possessed a human form and that this torch was the Bishop.
This imagery is Promethean but I believe not occult in nature. It’s difficult to draw distinctions between what is merely a Jungian dream representation and what is proper Zodiacism but this strikes me as a good example of the former.
His conscience weighed in turn these two men thus placed before it,—the Bishop and Jean Valjean. Nothing less than the first was required to soften the second. By one of those singular effects, which are peculiar to this sort of ecstasies [Ed: that is, “epiphanies”], in proportion as his reverie continued, as the Bishop grew great and resplendent in his eyes, so did Jean Valjean grow less and vanish. After a certain time he was no longer anything more than a shade. All at once he disappeared. The Bishop alone remained; he filled the whole soul of this wretched man with a magnificent radiance.
Jean Valjean wept for a long time. He wept burning tears, he sobbed with more weakness than a woman, with more fright than a child.
As he wept, daylight penetrated more and more clearly into his soul; an extraordinary light; a light at once ravishing and terrible. His past life, his first fault, his long expiation, his external brutishness, his internal hardness, his dismissal to liberty, rejoicing in manifold plans of vengeance, what had happened to him at the Bishop’s, the last thing that he had done, that theft of forty sous from a child, a crime all the more cowardly, and all the more monstrous since it had come after the Bishop’s pardon,—all this recurred to his mind and appeared clearly to him, but with a clearness which he had never hitherto witnessed. He examined his life, and it seemed horrible to him; his soul, and it seemed frightful to him. In the meantime a gentle light rested over this life and this soul. It seemed to him that he beheld Satan by the light of Paradise.
How many hours did he weep thus? What did he do after he had wept? Whither did he go! No one ever knew. The only thing which seems to be authenticated is that that same night the carrier who served Grenoble at that epoch, and who arrived at D—— about three o’clock in the morning, saw, as he traversed the street in which the Bishop’s residence was situated, a man in the attitude of prayer, kneeling on the pavement in the shadow, in front of the door of Monseigneur Welcome.
I’m reminded of Mike Cernovich’s practice of recording your negative self-talk and listening to it a couple of days later, so that your subconscious can be disgusted by the image of its own pathology.
Get a tape recorder or use your computer or iPhone’s record function. In today’s smart phone era, there are many easy ways for you to record yourself. Turn on the recorder. Start talking. As with the mirror exercise, above, do not censor yourself. Be real. Let it all out. Say all of those mean, nasty, angry thoughts out loud. Get it out of your system! Then, in a day or two, play back the recording. Listen to it objectively. You will realize it sounds ridiculous. When I have coaching clients perform this exercise, they often feel disgust. They simply cannot believe they said those things. Yet before using the recorder, my clients repeated those words to themselves day in and day out.
Criticism and self-hate are not based on open inquiry. They are based on value judgments. More often than not, those value judgments were someone else’s. The attacks in your head are other people’s voices that you’ve heard and internalized over the years. That means that you are attacking yourself based on someone else’s standards. How goofy is that?
Cernovich, Mike. Gorilla Mindset: How to Control Your Thoughts and Emotions to Live Life on Your Terms (pp. 27-29). Kindle Edition.
This is, incidentally, why watching Shinji work through his attachment issues in Evangelion is only tolerable to people who are interested in psychology.