By Francisco Javier Ruiz-Tagle
It’s curious that the word in the title of this article doesn’t exist. Other words have been coined like internaut, cybernaut, astronaut and Argonaut, but this word that might allude to a journey towards our interior is not included in our vocabulary. If we consider that language fundamentally refers to those fields visited by knowledge it is disturbing to notice that the inner world doesn’t form part of such explorations.
The unknown dimension
Nevertheless, this hasn’t always been the case. The Aphorism “know yourself” that according to the Greek historian Pausanias was found inscribed in a part of the temple of Apollo in Delphi, and that was subsequently made their own by later philosophers, is testimony to the profound interest in the Ancient Greek world in fathoming out the fascinating mysteries of the human interior. But there is no doubt that it was Asian cultures who thousands of years ago were the first to develop a systematic inner knowledge that was then shaped into different expressions of yoga and the various forms of meditation that derive from those original works.
For reasons that merit a more complete study, what has survived until today of this enormous volume of information and experience are no more than fraying remnants, meanings hidden in the hearts of dark myths, indecipherable for the contemporary mentality. Nevertheless, since the 19th century onwards a genuine disposition to comprehend these exotic landscapes has appeared in the Western world and religious historians, applying methodologies belonging to their own discipline, have managed, in part, to interpret the complex philosophical and operative structure in which those millenary practices were maintained.
And what happened in the West during the passage of that long period of time? As we know, the discovery of rational thought as a tool of knowledge in Greece in the 6th century BCE, and the enormous influence that this exercised in this part of the world, implied a progressive distancing from the mythical universe. Although the distance was rather small in those distant beginnings, the angle expanded with the passing of the centuries until the illustration ended up consolidating this tendency, establishing the “Goddess Reason” as the only guiding principle and placing all forms of religiosity in the sphere of superstition and obscurantism.
Even if this path made the development of science and technology possible, disciplines that have delivered enormous material benefits for humanity, it’s necessary to also recognise that it has left us a desecrated world that ignores the inner dimension of the human being.
Many thinkers have noticed this lacking. Nietzsche announced the terrible existential void that the death of God would imply and the dire consequences derived from the denial of the irrational and instinctive aspect of the human being (the Dionysian). Even Comte himself, creator of Positivism, ended up speaking of the need for a new religion, and he took on himself the task of writing a Positivist Catechism (1852). But the emergence of psychoanalysis in a world suffocated by madness (given that, according to Goya, “The sleep of reason produces monsters”), drove new incursions into the – at that time – Unknown Ocean of subjectivity and returned to resonate through all parts of the old myths, although with meanings different from the original ones.
The advances of Freud and very especially those of Jung revolutionised their era and still continue to strongly influence us today. But their approximations were still heavy with positivism and therefore the philosopher Edmund Husserl described this current as naïve psychology, as its methodology based on the interpretation of isolated psychic events prevented it from comprehending the psychic phenomenon as a whole. It was his own investigations that describe the consciousness as a ceaseless flow constituting an indivisible structure with the world, to the point that a consciousness cannot be conceived without the world to refer it to, or a world without consciousness. The symbol of infinity (the number 8 on its side) can be useful as a graphical synthesis to illustrate this notion.
What the times demand
Finally, nearly all Western psychology has led to therapeutic formulae that recommend adaptation to the environment, with more than isolated results – it must be said – and abandoning, maybe for ever, the radically offending spirit of the so-called mystical disciplines whose purpose was inner transformation and the final liberation of the oppressive conditions imposed by the world. A psychic plague would have expanded for ever if it weren’t for the discovery of psychoactive drugs whose aim has been to block the eruption of mental alterations, anaesthetising the symptoms, rather than curing them. Today isolated explosions come from subjects who haven’t managed to be controlled by the system, while the laboratories extend their unchecked action towards children, a kind of Herodianism of the 21st century.
At the same time, fragments of that ancestral wisdom inundate the West in the form of Shamans, Gurus, fortune tellers and diverse practices that have been labelled a “New Age sensibility”, characteristic of a pre-religious stage, and something that indicates the persistence of a profound latent need which is driving these disordered searches, some of which are even dangerous.
“Man is a useless passion,” proclaimed the existentialists and they weren’t wrong. So much strife so that everything ends up the same: draining away in death. The fact of dying takes us to non-meaning and rebellion against this brutal end is the most sublime and moving libertarian gesture that we know of. So a new humanism that aspires to confront the challenges of the present and the future must also be capable of proposing a path to satisfy this inner need. But to retake these explorations and go back to exercising the “inner look” is not an easy task given that ancient wisdom has been lost to us and subjectivity appears as a chaotic, complex and even threatening field. Nor does our experience with the traditional religions that we know help much; an experience that speaks of a painful history filled with fanaticism, violence, denial of life and freedom, to the point that no one could lament its disappearance. On the contrary: rejection of these unhealthy doctrines constitutes an act of genuine survival.
So the intranaut of today must necessarily confront a double task that is adjusted to the “Husserline” figure of consciousness-world. If the dehumanised form of contemporary life urgently requires a new humanism, the eruption of the absurdity of existence in the psychosocial background demands that one opens up to a new spirituality. The struggle for greater social justice allows us to advance towards the overcoming of human pain, but it is the search for a meaning in life that will make internal suffering recede.
Rationalism has made enormous contributions in different spheres but its postulates and methods have shown themselves to be insufficient for understanding the complex human dimension in its totality. The crucial problem will be in the generation of new means appropriate for moving in this “unchartered territory” thereby avoiding the danger of a fall into irrationality. But what is certain is that this new humanism and this new spirituality constitute the two essential aspects of the same reality and must progress simultaneously if the human being is to be seen as a whole.