The concept that the human psyche, or Soul, is made up of multiple, conflicting parts is nothing new. As such, perhaps it is worth giving it pause.
In Plato's Phaedrus, the Soul is seen as a chariot with two horses, each vying for power and position, while the Soul's charioteer must hold the reins firmly in order to keep the cart in balance and the horses of desire in check. In the Bhagavad Gita, we see that Arjuna's Soul is tormented by what he wants and what he must do, his dharma. His charioteer, no less than the human embodiment of God, in the form of Krishna, tells him he must overcome his specious grieving for those about to die, mainly because they are already dead, yet also, never shall die and always will be. Arjuna is conflicted, torn between what he feels and what he knows.
More recently, William James, in a series of brilliant lectures for the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion, which were given at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1901-02, talks about the concept of the Divided Self, and the Process of Unification, something I can highly relate to at this juncture of my life.
I recently visited New Mexico, my birthplace and Texas, where I mostly grew up, with someone I love dearly, despite our paths seemingly going different ways now. I wanted to share something very personal, special and close to my heart with her. The trip had some serious ups and downs, and many things were brought into question that later culminated in the troubles we've had of late. But, not to go down that road at the moment, it is significant to talk about what happened to me when I saw certain things through her eyes.
Although I have not lived in New Mexico since I was very young child, I have always kept it close, and have visited it nearly every year for at least the past 30+ years of my 49 years on this earth. It was a refuge, my ashram. Especially living as a foreigner in Flanders, Belgium, where it is very difficult to meet people as being a said foreigner, and it is highly congested being the most densely populated country in Europe. Quite the contrast from Texas and New Mexico, where open skies and friendly faces are the norm, not the exception.
My friend was indeed moved by the openness of the country and the people, though the latter can become tedious when you sense a veneer of falseness. Not always the case, but it can be overblown at times, and is in stark contrast to the closed nature of the Flemings, and the claustrophobia one can feel at every turn.
She was moved, literally to tears, by the countryside as we drove across Northern New Mexico, which was moving to me, and I realized how different this was for her, having never been outside of Europe, much less to the American West, which is iconic in its scope of vastness and otherworldly landscapes.
However, things have changed in New Mexico, and I had not noticed so much the last few times that I had returned, either on my own, or with my daughter. Whether it be Heisenberg's Breaking Bad, which is ubiquitous in the curiosa shops now, along with the handful grab of gemstones at Clines Corners and the like, or if it be the heavy tourism marketing that I witnessed in many places, including the DFW airport, screaming out the glorious Nature of New Mexico, something had changed.
For literally decades I have told people I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and for decades I received blank stares, even from people in Texas and definitely when further afield, and absolutely when in Europe, where I have lived nearly half of my adult life. Now, if I say Albuquerque, I can hardly finish saying the name, before Breaking Bad comes up. Don't get me wrong, I binged on Breaking Bad, and loved it, and moved through Better Call Saul just as swiftly. But, something is gone.
When we went, it was during the worst snow season in a very long time for Northern New Mexico, and there simply was no snow. As such, the hordes of people on vacation who normally would be on the slopes, were on the streets and elsewhere, such as Bandelier and Meow Wolf and in the restaurants and so forth. It was crowded, congested and did not feel like New Mexico, but rather Flanders in the West.
My friend was divided as well, loving some, yet highly critical of other things. I took offense (yes, I believe one can only take offense, not be offended) at first, until I began to see it more through her eyes, and then I became disheartened, and even worse dis-enchanted in the Land of Enchantment.
When I was still married, we had a plan. We moved back to Belgium to begin raising our daughter so that she would be bi-lingual, and then, maybe after elementary school, we would move to Santa Fe, I would get a great job at St. John's and my ex-wife would had a great job at an art gallery, and life would be beautiful. That did not happen. We got divorced, she is with a Belgian man, and I stayed in Belgium to co-parent our child.
I then thought, okay, I'll go back when she is done with High School and can split my time in Europe and New Mexico. Then, I met my friend, and we thought we might spend the rest of our lives together...and that seems to have come to an end, and moreover, the idea of splitting time in New Mexico and Europe with her evaporated while were there for less than a week. It was obvious that that would never work. My Self and Soul were rent in pieces, as was my heart.
William James says:
The higher and the lower feelings, the useful and the erring impulses, begin by being a comparative chaos within us--they must end by forming a stable system of functions in right subordination. Unhappiness is apt to characterize the period of order-making and struggle. (from The Divided Self)
More true could these words not be for me now.
There is chaos in my Self, in my Soul and in my heart, and the reconciliation is a process, one that may take quite some time, rather, will take quite some time. To love so intensely, both a place and a person, and in one fell swoop, to lose them both, is not an easy pill to swallow.
I will be returning soon to New Mexico and Texas for a short visit to my mother and her partner. I do not know what my feelings shall be, having had such a close encounter of late with the disillusionment of my memory and of my expectations. I imagine I will also re-visit India in the not-so-distant future, another place that has its tenterhooks in my Soul, but perhaps that too shall be a strange experience.
I live straddled. My Self is indeed divided between places, amongst loved ones, and within my own body.
James suggests that as with older medicine, the concepts of lysis and crisis, gradual and abrupt cures were roads to recovery, and that the same bodes true for the divided Self, that there can be a gradual or an abrupt unification. In the tradition of Zen, enlightenment can come like a lightning flash or slowly like a glacier, or, not at all.
My life's path has hit forked ways of late, and I will take one or the other, and the journey at hand is yet to be seen...