‘I’ of the Beholder

“What do you mean,” a Spirit reader asked, “when you say the ego feels deeply threatened by the so-called sacred marriage of the sun and moon?” It’s quite simple: The ego—or what our conscious mind thinks it means when it says “I, Joe,” or “I, Jane”—views certain qualities as belonging to itself but not to others. It classifies that which belongs to itself as subject, or “I,” and that which doesn’t as object, or “not-I.”

And so we seek certain qualities in the opposite sex because we believe we don’t have those qualities and need to find them. Likewise, we may resent people who are strong, sexy and successful because we don’t believe those traits apply to us. In Jungian terms, the undeveloped qualities we categorize as “not-I” belong to the shadow, while contrasexual characteristics belong to the anima for males and the animus for females.

But in the inner journey of the ars regia or “Royal Art” of alchemy, such oppositions are broken down and cooked in a cauldron. Before rebirth can occur, however, there is a long period bordering on madness as the ego no longer knows what it is, resists transformation and fights to hold on to its familiar self-construct.

Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. On the path of the wisdom tradition, we encounter the doctrine that in order to truly know something one must experience the thing, and in order to do that, one must become it.

Take the movie The Karate Kid. The weakling who could never imagine standing up to a bully wants to feel confident, but in order to feel that he must know he can defend himself, and in order to know that, he must be able to actually do it. Transcending this paradox is the very nature of hero mythology, as the weakling-subject becomes the distant object, or tough kid, that he never thought he could be. The breaking down of the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between “I” and “not-I” is a recurring theme of metaphysics, as in the ancient texts from India known as The Upanishads.

So with the inner union of sun and moon, or masculine and feminine energies, we may come to the realization that the long-sought object of our desire is in fact merely a dimension of our own personality. But it is trapped in our unconscious and therefore experienced as an object, or “not-I.”

Achieving such a knowledge of oneself should help eliminate projecting onto others, so we can see who they truly are and not what we want them to be.

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