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Soulful Sundays: Depths of Dionysus

"I am not here. Touch me, Mother, so that I may be here." -Samuel Coleridge

“The goal is to live with God-like composure on the full rush of energy, like Dionysus riding the leopard, without being torn to pieces.” -Joseph Campbell

“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.” -Helena Bonham Carter

Your head is just one part of your body, albeit an indispensable part, but just one part nonetheless. Logic has a time and place of utility and so does intuition. When we are too engrossed in the thinking mind, what Friedrich Nietzsche called the Apollonian Element, we can become bogged down by order and rigor - by rules and expectations. We limit the true intelligence of the mind-body connection, which doesn't resemble reason at all. In fact, it defies reason. Unfettered power lies dormant in each and every one of us. It is what some people refer to as flow or states of ecstasy. This is the Dionysian Element.

Our physical bodies are living paradoxes. There are so many intricate parts and interactions happening that it is impossible to consciously conceive of even a fraction of them at any given time. Yet, somehow we manage just fine. Take driving your car for example. When you first started learning this activity it was overwhelming. Paralyzing at times. Now it is second nature. You can apply this to almost everything you now do with ease. We evolved with an unconscious processor to run all of the necessary calculations and calibrations beneath our level of awareness. But for some reason, it is our awareness/consciousness that we most strongly identify with. This is equivalent to labeling an ant colony as just an anthill. It misses the hundreds of miles of subterranean structure. In many ways, we are more of what we don't know about ourselves, than what we do. Reread that last sentence.

Humans have relied on the hidden depths of understanding for as long as we've existed because they were present before the emergence of logic. The unconscious is the mother of the conscious. It has to be. Nothing can be formed without a precedent, and the same is true in evolutionary psychology. Our rational brain is a channel for the power that lies beneath it - little controlled glimpses into the infinite well of possibility and imagination. It is out of this Dionysian well that motivation, creation, and art springs forth. It is what we call the muse, the spirit, or the rhythm of the dance of life. It is always present, humming along.

As you all know, I am no stranger to the creed of Appolo - to the structures and traditions that give us order and control over our world. But these must be means to a better life and not ends in themselves. I am disciplined because it gives me freedoms that would not otherwise be possible. I take care of my health by practicing modulated amounts of physical stress, nutrition, recovery, etc. so that I can take chances and engage in chaos when I know that I must. It is foolish to think that you can enter the land of the shadows without a guide. Discipline is that guide. The shadows are not bad, just wild. In many ways, it is the wild parts in us all that are actually the most loving. Cool reason has committed more evil than any primal urge ever has. Just look at what the Nazis were able to reason themselves into.

What does it mean to embrace your Dionysian nature? Well...that's relative. What I do not suggest is that you throw yourself into absolute debauchery and try to satisfy every fleeting whim. That could lead to any number of unpleasant bodily, financial, and social consequences. Instead, look for intentional ways to embrace more chaos and physical embodiment. I personally set aside time to enjoy nature, music, podcasts, friends, or meals just for the sake of enjoying them. I like to receive massages or acupuncture, take on hard workouts, or jump into cold water. Anything that gets me out of my head and into my body. Anything that involves some element of the unknown. Perhaps you can take up a dance or pottery class, call an old friend and plan a spontaneous trip, unplug yourself from the cell phone and go camping for a weekend, or invite your partner to try something new inside or outside of the bedroom. The possibilities are unlimited. The only thing holding you back is the rules you have put on yourself.

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