Friday, October 28, 2011

Dealing with our inner angels and demons

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The human being is a complex entity: he is simultaneously corporeal man, psyche-man, and spirit-man. Let us linger a moment on psyche-man, that is, on his inner world, woven of emotions and passions, light and shadows, dreams and utopias. Just as there is an outer universe made of order-disorder-new order, of horrific devastation and promising emergences, so there is an inner world, inhabited by angels and demons. They reveal tendencies that can lead us to madness and death, and energies of generosity and love that can bring us self-actualization and happiness.

As the great scholar of the meanderings of the human psyche CG Jung used to observe, because of these contradictions, the journey to one's own center can be longer and more dangerous than the trip to the moon and stars.

Among those who think about the human condition, there is a question that has never been satisfactorily resolved: What is the basic structure of our interiority, of our psychic being? There are many schools of interpretation.

In sum, we hold the view that reason doesn't seem to be the primary reality. Before it, there is a whole world of passions and emotions that stir the human being. Above it, there is intelligence, through which we sense the whole, our openness to the infinite and the ecstasy of contemplating the Being. Reasons begin with reason. Reason in itself has no reason. It's just there, indecipherable.

But it goes back to the most primitive dimensions of our human reality, on which it feeds and which cross through all its expressions. Kantian pure reason is an illusion. Reason is always imbued with emotion and passion, a fact accepted by modern cosmology. Contemporary cosmology includes in the concept of universe,not only energy, galaxies and stars, but also the presence of spirit and subjectivity.

Knowing is always entering into self-interested and emotional communion with the object of knowledge. Supported by a host of other thinkers, I have always maintained that the base status of human beings lies not in the Cartesian cogito (in the "I think, therefore I am"), but in the Platonic-Augustinian sentio (in the "I feel, therefore I am"), in deep feeling. The latter puts us into living contact with things, seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole, always affecting and being affected. More than ideas and worldviews, passions, strong feelings, germinal experiences, love, and also their opposites, enslaving rejection and hatreds, are what move us and get us going.

Sensible reason is rooted in the emergence of life, 3.8 billion years ago, when the first bacteria emerged and began to talk chemically with the environment to survive. That process was deepened from the moment, over 125 million years ago, when the limbic brain of mammals emerged, the brain that is the bearer of caring, tenderness, affection, and love for offspring. It's emotional reason that reaches a self-aware and intelligent level in human beings, because we are also mammals.

Western thought is anthropocentric and logocentric and has always been suspicious of emotion, for fear of impairing the objectivity of reason. In some sectors of the culture, a kind of lobotomy was created, that is, a great insensitivity to human suffering and the suffering that has happened to nature and the planet Earth.

Nowadays we realize that it's urgent to decisively include cordial and sensitive reason along with inalienable intellectual reason. If we don't go back to affectionately and lovingly feeling as if Earth is our Mother and we ourselves, the conscious and intelligent part of her, it will be hard for us to move to save lives, heal wounds and prevent disasters.

One of the undeniable merits of the psychoanalytic tradition, starting with its founding master Sigmund Freud, was to have scientifically established passionality as the basis, at zero degrees, of human existence. The psychoanalyst works not from what the patient thinks but from his emotional reactions, his angels and demons, trying to establish some balance and a sustainable inner serenity.

The whole question is how to creatively take control of our volcanic passionality. Freud focuses on the integration of libido, Jung on the quest for individuation, Adler on the control of the will to power, Carl Rogers on the development of personality, Abraham Maslow on the effort of self-actualization of latent potential. One could cite other names such as Lacan, Reich, Pavlov, Skinner, transpersonal psychology and behavioral cognitive therapy, and others.

What we can say is that regardless of the various psychoanalytic schools, psyche-man is forced to creatively integrate his inner universe that is always in motion, with diabolic and symbolic, destructive and constructive, tendencies. We gradually discover our path through trial and error.

No one can replace us. We are condemned to be masters and disciples of ourselves.

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