The Annapurna story has stayed with me since I wrote about it earlier this week. There's much to learn from her tale and I wanted to break down some of it. For example, when did "material" go from the fruit born of the Earth to double-stacked, super-sized combos? And where in mythology did ego go from being a feminine principle to a masculine one?
Material vs. Material: Survival Gone Excessive
One of the biggest things I've been sitting with is the difference between the material world as described in the Hindu story of Annapurna and the material world of modern Western times. They are different, and their distinction is important.
For the Hindus, material meant physical survival in service to spirit. Mother Earth was the provider of the material food necessary to satisfy the human body so that it could focus on its spiritual expansion.
In the Western conceptualization of the material masculine, material serves as a sort of distraction from spirit, not a vehicle to it. It's the excess, the luxury, the cell phones and cars and needlessly fancy homes and alcohol and double-stacked super-sized meals; things our physical nature doesn't require but things that beg for our attention. Perhaps with the goal of avoiding our spirit.
(And yes! In Annapurna's story the material was feminine; in our modern Western story, masculine. Another distinction. Keep reading, I'll get into it).
So why would we want to avoid our spirit?
Perhaps because of its honesty. Spirit is as much celebration as it is suffering; as much amazement as it is pain; as much heaven as it is hell. There is a light and shadow to all things, including spirit and what it allows us to see in ourselves. And when shadow can't be tolerated, something must stand in between us and it. We inherently want to transcend but only if we feel in control or safe from the darkness. So we use material things to get there, putting ourselves under an illusion of spirit through our addiction to things. Aldous Huxley called these things substitutes for liberation.
While material may mean different things, both versions of material are associated with ego; the conscious, aware part of ourselves that is intended to serve as a vehicle for spiritual experience. In other words as humans we can transcend our bodies by using our bodies. Our functioning ego tells us when and where to settle safely in order to meditate. Our legs carry us to our neighbors so we can use our voices to connect. Our bodies allow us to breathe, see, listen, dance, have sex, make art, all things that, when done purely, grant us access to spirit. When our inner spirit guides us, it is our ego who does the physical, material work to make it so.
So we are not cut off from spirit entirely, but we struggle to stay there comfortably. We breathe, but we breathe in car fumes and cigarette smoke. We see, but only what we want to see. We listen, but only for what we can get out of it. We dance, but only to look good. We have sex, but only to orgasm. We make art, but only to become famous. In growing prevalence, we utilize material things to gain more material things rather than to bring us home to spirit. We choose self-satisfaction over self-discovery, growth, and intimate connection to others.
There very well could be something I'm missing here. These are just some thoughts I've been navigating in response to a new story. I can't help but think Alan Watts has some writings that tie up my loose ends on these distinctions but for now, my wonderment.
Feminine vs. Masculine: A Shift in Representation
The masculine principle in our Western context is the material world, whereas it was the Earth Mother in this Hindu story who brought material goods such as food. It is the masculine in our context which correlates to the ego whereas it was the feminine in Annapurna's story.
Why are the roles different? Because different cultures represent these energies as their mythology sees most appropriate? Or perhaps because our relationship to the material world has evolved over time, growing and becoming more perverse with the rise of technology and the ever-widening distance between humans and spirit?
I might need to study up on the vast and abundant world mythologies to find the possible turning point which explains this.
Spirit vs. Material: The Importance of Harmony
In the Hindu story where material was in service to spirit, Shiva didn't require it. As a god, he didn't carry the physical needs of a human, i.e. needing to eat food. Still, even an enlightened being such as Shiva couldn't see that in so many aspects, the material world and the spirit world need each other; that dual energetic principles can only exist with each other, not instead of each other. Especially with regard to our lives as humans on this Earth.
This makes me reflect on the current social order of modern Western cultures in which the material principle is coveted more powerfully and the spiritual principal is demonized as weak, silly, and even sometimes harmful.
To see one as superior represses the other.
We learn through Shiva that coveting only spirit leaves humans to physically starve.
We learn through modern Western culture that coveting only material leaves humans to spiritually starve.
So what now?
We can't simply slow down the wild and frantic momentum of our fast-paced, Facebook-arguing, multi-tasking, financially expensive, student debted, politically-silo'd culture. The collective will continue to chase material excess and leave spiritual collateral damage in our path.
But this isn't the worst news because we have individual agency. We can decide how much we want to keep up with it. We can perhaps slow down the momentum by tending to our own spiritual selves, addressing where we find ourselves utilizing substitutes for liberation and instead seek out actual liberation.
Psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Edward Edinger said:
The 'coming of the Self' is immanent; and the process of collective 'individuation' is living itself out in human history. One way or another, the world is going to be made a single whole entity. But it will be unified either in mutual mass destruction or by means of mutual human consciousness. If a sufficient number of individuals can have the experience of the coming of the Self as an individual, inner experience, we may just possibly be spared the worst features of its external manifestation.
So... no pressure?
I'm reminded of a scene from Finding Nemo when Dory gets caught in the fishing net and Nemo rallies all the fish to swim downward together, breaking the net and freeing all the fish. If only a few fish swam downward, it wouldn't work. But when enough fish joined in (we can account for some potentially apathetic fish, some fish who were perhaps resistant to their own freedom, and the ones who were caught above water at the top, weak and losing their breath), the mission was accomplished.
We can return to the notion that matter feeds spirit and spirit feeds matter; that our human body is an airport tram that can run back and forth between material and spirit without taking too long of a detour in either.
We can feed our feminine in order to restore its strength and reflect its value into our communities; to bring harmony and balance to the prevailing masculine. We can achieve balance and peace in our collective but we must first achieve balance and peace within ourselves.