I’m in awe of the poetic intelligence of the psyche’s deepest aspects. That’s quite a phrase, isn’t it, poetic intelligence? What does it mean? Isabel Clarke introduced me to the transliminal dimension (“beyond threshold”), which operates more like poetry than logic. Transliminality is a psychological term for content moving past the unconscious/conscious threshold. The higher this tendency, the more creative someone is likely to be.
People with high transliminality access to dimensions the majority don’t find so easily. The deeper you go, the more poetic the dimension becomes, leaving behind the familiar ground of logic and reason, entering the symbolic and the mythical. Poets and mystics return from this dimension, people we view as mad get lost. Poetic intelligence, then, is the ability to discern, interpret and engage with this dimension.
Not all unconscious territory is the same. The transliminal dimension is within the unconscious, but other elements are closer to the surface. Content from the subconscious or preconscious is available to recollect upon choosing, such as the mental map of your journey home, or the verbal narrative explaining why you were angry during your last conflict.
When starting inner work, the belief that awareness alone will reveal all the mysteries of the self, as if everything is waiting to be seen, available to recollect upon choosing, is deceptive. Sure, with patience, self-awareness makes subtler and subtler layers of experience conscious. The origin of automatic thoughts, feelings and behaviors fall into place. Samskaras, imprints that perpetuate suffering and unconscious mechanisms, may surface readily, the psyche presenting what is ready to be addressed into consciousness without much effort.
The closer to the surface, the more ripe the content for understanding. But the nature of the self is that its depth will always be beyond thresholds of knowing, beyond the light of self-awareness. Whilst there are exceptions, such as spiritual practices or psychotropics, contents cross the threshold in their own time, initially camouflaged as chaos, before evolving into coherence. Within those depths lies the soul’s blueprint, clues to life’s path, a trail of destiny.
Words and the Primordial
Long before the development of modern language, humans understood primordially through symbol, intuition, imagination, knowing, sensing. Modern culture’s intellectual excess is so innate and well-trained, it’s easy to forget language is a sophisticated system of symbols. Words are the least effective mode of insight, they’re the apex of understanding, usually the last point through which insight arrives.
Even the most gifted orator or writer has to use the symbol of language to capture ideas beyond language. The same applies to the unconscious mind. Art, music, film, dance, and other forms of expression are frequently better-equipped to capture the ineffable, where meaning translates on a deeper level, primordial-in-tact, arousing a knowing that may be impossible to articulate, to put into words.
As words and concepts have evolved and become the currency of civilisation, they’ve taken precedence over reality. It’s possible to understand symbols whilst losing contact with the source of the symbol, which French philosopher Jean Baudrillard called simulacra, copies with no original. In spirituality, simulacra appears as regurgitated and lifeless platitudes that remain conceptual, disconnected from truth, counterfeit wisdom.
Why is this relevant to the soul’s blueprint? All of us have the potential for psychological simulacra, concepts about the world and who we are that aren’t based on truth, but relics from past experiences. Insight from the soul doesn’t arrive in consciousness neatly packaged. The soul bursts with life, a primordial chaos, catching words off-guard. Its guidance has to be interpreted differently, with poetic intelligence.
The Enigma and The Psyche
“Miracle it is to find the right words, words that carry soul accurately.” — James HillmanJames Hillman
The psyche is an intelligent structure in harmony with the cosmos. Its principle drive, in contrast to reductive theories like the “survival of the fittest,” is to thrive and manifest individuality and wholeness. In The Soul’s Code, Jungian author James Hillman describes the acorn theory. Like an acorn encoded to grow into an oak tree, each human soul is coded with the potential of fully-formed individuality and wholeness.
It’s impossible to know what the subjective experience of the oak tree’s growth is like. But for humans, the subjective experience is in accordance with the symbols and messages presented by the psyche. The soul’s blueprint is the enigma. To a large degree, the blueprint is outside of conscious awareness, often in conflict with what you think your life should be, or who you think you are.
If you’re getting the sense of destiny, you’re getting warmer, keep going. Some traditions call it karma. There are vantage points where you can trace back and comprehend with the benefit of hindsight. But the enigma is a life-long quest. It will never be captured by words alone. It guides life direction, and the moments you trace of its influence, in ways that you weren’t aware of but were clearly at play, is surreal, exhilarating, the hint of a Grand Design, notes of God’s gospel.
You get glimpses from time-to-time. The epiphany that floods waking consciousness. A feeling of everything making sense. Mostly, the enigma has to be held, teased apart, cracked open, nurtured, allowed to flourish in its own time, treated like a mystery, in which you play the detective, a piece of art, in which you’re its interpreter. The longer the symbolic is held in consciousness, the more coherent it becomes. The enigma becomes a puzzle pieced together.
Is it possible to see the enigma in its fullness? You may be familiar with the Buddhist parable of the blind men and the elephant. Having never encountered an elephant before, each man touches a different part of the animal to comprehend its form. The man touching the trunk compares it to a snake, the man touching the leg compares it to a tree-trunk, the man touching the tail compares the elephant to a rope, and so on. The parable is a reminder that any attempt to grasp truth is limited by perspective. Each man grasped a partial truth.
Even when engaging with the enigma, its images and insights are part of a vast unfolding, a mythological process, outside of time and space. Weeks, months, or years later, earlier images make sense, only now they’re contexualised, their interdependence understood. Poetic intelligence doesn’t cling to conclusions, but opens up to the metaphorical, the movement of meaning, the partial truth of each passing moment held in humbling recognition of the elephant’s shadow.
Engaging with the enigma is an act of humility. The willingness to admit that the territory of you is far beyond what you have conscious access to can feel uncomfortable. It raises valid questions around free will. Factor in the misconception that the unconscious is a depository of animalistic desires (thanks Freud), and fear is understandable. But what if this is the space of the majestic, the poetic, the sublime? Where your soul is the guiding hand to lead you through the dark?
The Adventure of A Symbolic Life
Holding out this hand is the shift into symbolic life, the Tao of inner and outer, a dimension that must be reinstated into its rightful place. Receptivity is crucial, to engage from a space of not-knowing, to trust the process. Dreams are intimately intertwined with the transliminal, when receptivity and curiosity is enhanced, dreamscapes sculpt the symbolic freely. What, though, separates the symbolic life from pure fantasy?
Madness doesn’t give a choice; it demands full engagement, right now, even at the risk of disengaging with outer reality, receptivity dissolving the transliminal boundary. Sanity is choosing when to engage with what emerges in consciousness. The degree of choosing varies. Intense and unexpected emotions, visceral dreams, intrusive memories, may force engagement, that in itself part of the psyche’s intelligence, the call to engage something to trust.
What emerges into consciousness isn’t random. It’s not a collection of meaningless fragments, but parts of a greater whole. The emergent process is a call to adventure, an invitation to explore. This is a way of living, reinstating the primordial. A symbolic life isn’t lost in fantasy or imagination, but connected to the soul’s blueprint, an effort made to live in accordance with it.
A symbolic life is interconnection, the poetic intelligence of the soul rhymes with the poetic intelligence of the world, bridged by synchronicities and impossible manifestations of meaning. If life is poetry, the fine-tuning of the universe is its masterpiece, priming the Earth for life, 13 billion years after its creation, properties of its primordial soup, just right. Even the slightest deviation in physics would’ve made life impossible.
That Earth created the environment for humans to thrive, along with other life on this planet, and language evolved, from primordial symbols to the complexity of the spoken and written word, a Grand Design stretching to this moment, and these words, words you’re reading to remind you to engage with the language your soul is yearning for you to understand, the poetic intelligence you know is yours to speak.