Enlightenment is marrying yourself. All of us are two people; depending on our cultures and ‘spiritual’ inclinations, we partake in activities to either close off the gateway between our two minds (e.g. caffeine) or open it for further commingling (lucid dreaming, ayahuasca, etc.). The former approach we usually call “focusing,” e.g. on work. The latter we call “spirituality.” Both are useful and not mutually exclusive.
The ‘mind’ can be perceived as a singular entity — with various components operating in relative discretion, silo’d from one another via kludgy, evolutionarily-modulated neurocircuitry. In this 20th century conceptualization (Freud, Jung, etc.), we can be said to have one mind containing a ‘conscious,’ ‘subconscious,’ and perhaps ‘unconscious’ layer, all of which interfuse to a greater or lesser extent at various junctures: depending on external circumstances, time of day, our psychoanalytical ‘progress’, etc. The soteriological goal of this psychological framework is union; and enlightenment is seen as the physical embodiment of all three minds — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — expressed in one living body, conjoined as, say, Jesus, or the Buddha.
This theory of psychological union underpins the philosophy of Joseph Campbell, wherein whose “Hero’s Journey” (remember that Campbell was basically a disciple of Jung’s) the ‘hero’ sets out, through some seemingly-irrational, catalytic mechanism of compulsion, on a journey of ‘external’ discover (wherein the ‘world’ always becomes a metaphor for ‘self’), and eventually, through slaying various outer and inner demons and obscurants, ‘realizes’ (in the being sense, not the knowing sense) his/her ‘true nature’ as an entity both eternal and temporal, gains full conscious access to the deeper layers of sub- and un- consiousness, and then returns to the ‘regular’ conscious world, now forever living both in and out of this unified, tripart-consciousnes.
But while the Freudian/Jungian/Campbellian framework is spiritually compelling — and compatible with more ‘ancient’ philosophies of union such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. — it contains a fundamental, albeit implicit, assumption that total union is possible, and also necessary for full salvation. But this philosophy was never based on a modern understanding of mind, and may paradoxically induce us, in our 21st century socio-economic realities, towards new layers of guilt, insecurity, and feelings of permanent imperfection which no amount of meditation, drugs, or yoga can alleviate.
Is there a saner schema? One that inspires us towards self-realization and -growth without burdening us with impossible fantasies of perfection? I think there is; but it requires us to stop believing that we ultimately are of ‘one mind,’ its fragments yearning to be conjoined, and instead start believing that we are, fundamentally and inextricably, made of two minds. This is Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind theory, which I originally encountered via the greatest TV show ever made (Westworld), and which I further investigated by reading his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
In this 1976 treatise, a culmination of his life’s work to clarify the etiology and definition of ‘consciousness’, Jaynes asserts that the human mind began, at the dawn of humankind hundreds of thousands of years ago, as two entities: a ‘human’ side (the listener/slave) and a ‘God’ side (the speaker/master). The ‘human’ side of the mind did not possess what we would now call ‘consciousness’; it was not self-aware, and it did not make decisions. Instead, it acted as a sort of control center, taking directions from the ‘God’ side of the mind and instantiating them in physical reality. The book goes into insanely more depth, of course, but the key takeaway is that the birth of we now call ‘consciousness,’ wherein the ‘God’ side of the mind stopped regularly telling us what to do and the ‘human’ side of the mind started to have volition, occurred only a few thousand years ago, due to some as-of-yet-fully-explained evolutionary-meets-culturally-mediated change in the wiring of the human brain, likely due to the dampening effect of written language on the formerly chattering heard voice of the ‘God’ mind. In short: the written word, instead of creating God, killed God over time by snuffing out the voices in our heads. In modern terms, schizophrenia can be seen as a ‘throwback’ to the bicameral mind, wherein certain lucky/unlucky people still have regular access to the ‘God’ voices; however, of course, these people are no longer considered leaders or shamans but, instead, lunatics. Jaynes asserts that, up until a few thousand years ago, all people would have been considered schizophrenic, by current definitions.
So what does the bicameral mind theory have to offer us in terms of adjusting our soteriological goals for our 21st century lives? First, it allows us to eliminate any pursuit of perfection; because the bicameral-to-unicameral mind journey is seen as an evolutionary process, both biologically and culturally (in some ways akin to the theories of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin), the human mind is considered a ‘work in progress’, and at no arbitrary point in space-time should its conceptualization be ‘frozen’ into a sort of Platonic ideal. There is the ideal kind of mind for this generation, and that generation, and the generation to come, and so on and so forth.
Second, the bicameral mind theory gives us a new lens on the conscious-subconscious-unconscious divide. In Jaynes’ updated view, the ‘God’ side of our mind may still be talking, but we’re no longer listening (or not as much; perhaps lucid dreams, deja vu, etc. still offer us flickers of what humans once, not long ago, experienced regularly). Furthermore, when we conceive of the ‘God’ side of our mind as a fundamentally separate entity, there is no ‘official’ way to permanently, consciously access or override it. In other words, total psychological union is impossible; the best we can hope for is a sort of symbiotic partnership between our two minds.
At first, thinking of our ‘minds’ instead of our ‘mind’ may inspire feelings of dread, but ultimately this construct can alleviate much unnecessary self-flagellation. The reason we cannot consciously access our entire mental stratum — cannot be perfect, omniscient — is not because we haven’t tried hard enough but because it’s literally, biologically impossible. ‘You’ have two minds in one brain, forever trying to communicate with each other — married forever, in a sort of “Odd Couple”-like relationship. It’s not a perfect union, but it is a partnership, and it can work — to the extent that you’ll relax a bit and let it.