Mar 20, 2023Liked by Jen Howk

Check out Chloe Valdary - The Heart Speaks podcast

perhaps this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ekj9GoSCAE

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Yes! From what I know of her and her approach I like her a lot. His opening argument there is exactly the nature of the problem, as I see it—the idea that you can hodgepodge together a feel good, coexist bumper sticker variety of spirituality that serves the same social and civilizational role that religion does. It's a very nice idea but I think the evidence is in that it doesn't work. But we're well past the "solution" stage anyway, it's just about trying to make sense of it and locate ourselves accordingly, I think.

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Mar 21, 2023Liked by Jen Howk

Yes. I fully resonate with all you've said.

And I'm so excited that you know about Chloe! Like you, she is an absolute jewel, and like you, all too unknown.

If you're curious, I think her Theory of Enchantment training is outstanding. She draws from so many disciplines and influences, with such heart and spirit.

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I love the "enchantment" frame, and synchronistically just encountered it in another essay by CS Lewis. Especially this:

"The great danger we have to guard against in this age is the Unenchanted man, mistaking himself for, and mistaken by others for, the Disenchanted man."

There's a universe of insight in that observation. Full essay: https://matiane.wordpress.com/2021/09/11/talking-about-bicycles-by-c-s-lewis/

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Mar 21, 2023Liked by Jen Howk

Oh my God. What an exquisite essay!!!! I LOVE this part:

"I’m glad I had that carrot tied in front of my nose. Otherwise I might still have thought eating was the greatest happiness. Now I know there’s something far better—the something that came to me in the smell of the carrot. And I’d rather have known that—even if I’m never to get it—than not to have known it, for even to have wanted it is what makes life worth having."

And his four Ages of Enchantment:

the Unenchanted Age, the Enchanted Age, the Disenchanted Age, and the Re-enchanted Age

This reminds me a bit of the Conscious Competence Ladder, and also, more importantly, of the pre/trans fallacy articulated by Ken Wilber: https://integrallife.com/pre-trans-fallacy/

Thank you so much for sharing the C. S. Lewis essay. I am forever grateful.

In light of your recent mentions of Jung, you might enjoy this Substack post by Chloe: https://chloevaldary.substack.com/p/addiction-to-perfection-black-swan

If you don't want to access it through the paywall, here it is...


Addiction To Perfection: Black Swan & The Anti-Woke Wars

Chloé Valdary - September 7, 2022

In Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror film Black Swan, Nina, a ballerina obsessed with perfection, must take on two roles in the season’s latest show: First, that of a pure, lily white swan who is innocent and perfect, in fact a bit too perfect. According to the ballet director, Nina, who is played by Natalie Portman, is too consumed with perfection and this makes her a bit too rigid to be able to transform into the second role, the black swan, who is loose, open, and spontaneous. Whoever stars in this role must be able to play both, but Nina has not learned how to integrate her dark side. So she can only be transformed into the black swan while being unconsciously driven to madness by disorders, including bulimia, self-cutting, and an obsessive desire for order and prediction.


I watched this film only recently after receiving a recommendation on Twitter, and after reading Marion Woodman’s book, ‘Addiction to Perfection.’ Marion was a Jungian scholar who suffered from anorexia in her youth and her book explores the psychological underpinnings of eating disorders in our society. Juxtaposing both Marion’s book and Aronofsky’s film was a real study into the coping mechanisms we construct for ourselves in pursuit of the unachievable goal of perfection.

Why unachievable? Because perfection is a construct that refuses to admit the basic structure of what it actually means to be human: A being which by definition is always becoming, always growing, never static, always subject to change. To pursue perfection is to seek the foreclosure of such change and this always means death. As Marion points out in her book, this happened to figures like “Marilyn Monroe who tried to break out of the glare of the spotlights, but couldn’t. Neither the film studios nor the audiences would let her. Addiction to perfection is at root a suicidal addiction. The addict is simulating not life but death. Almost inevitably a woman addicted to perfection will view herself as a work of art, and her real terror is that the work of being so absolutely precious may in one instant be destroyed.”

At the end of Black Swan, we see this very prediction of suicide come to fruition. Nina cannot walk into the darkness in an organic way. She approaches becoming the black swan with the precision of a knife instead of the grace of a swan. Her inner being has become split, like we see in cases of schizophrenia. Unlike the Yin Yang which symbolizes the integration and balance of darkness and light, Nina’s Yin and Yang are at war with each other.

In a way we see this pattern repeating itself in some of our culture wars today, or rather in the very idea of a culture war to begin with. Folks on the left and right see each other as representative of absolute monsters to be vanquished instead of ideas whose energies must be integrated and transmuted. I recently had an exchange with Chris Rufo and David French on Twitter, more emblematic of an internal dispute since both of these gentlemen are on the right. But French, who is a lawyer by trade, criticized Rufo for trying to pass a bill called the Stop Woke Act in Florida, a bill which has now been paused by courts for infringing upon free speech. In this case I agreed with French but I was intrigued to learn more about where Rufo was coming from. When pressed, he posted an article lamenting the excesses of anti-harassment law, an article whose author claimed that anti-harassment laws were good but sometimes resulted in excess. When I read this, I noticed a glaring omission from Rufo who’d created a simple binary. He stated that the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited a large amount of speech in public and private institutions, the evidence for which he presented with the aforementioned article. But that same article, again, praised the Civil Rights acts and laments only its overreach, an overreach which is not only always possible but INEVITABLE because imperfection in human affairs is inevitable.

When I asked Chris if he agreed with the author’s observation, unfortunately he did not answer my question. Listen, I get it. Chris, like Nina, is at war. War is the only metaphor, the only heuristic he knows that can capture the moment he’s in. And in a war there is no compromising with the enemy. But the problem is that Chris fails to answer the question because he cannot. If he says he agrees with the author, then he would have to admit that excesses exist in his ‘Stop Woke Act.’ If he says he disagrees, then he would contradict the earlier claim he’d made about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But by failing to answer and failing to reckon with his own excesses, like Nina, Chris begins to go down a path of cannibalization. By failing to acknowledge that the very thing which exists within his enemy also exists within him — an inclination to overreach, to excess, and to power grabs — he goes down a path which I’m afraid will ultimately end in destruction. He and many in this camp are unknowingly at war, not only with their enemies, but most tragically with themselves.

The political polarization of our time and the need to constantly shape one’s image after the approval of whoever is on social media — and this is a temptation I personally feel as someone who is active on social media — are both illustrations of this trend. It becomes all too easy to sacrifice authenticity on the altar of being liked, especially when the practice of nuance is not only not in vogue, but considered, in some cases to be a demonstration of the countenancing of evil itself. We see this in the binary, all-or-nothing thinking that tempts people to align with their political teams, come hell or high water, as a matter of affirming their own worthiness, and moral salvation. Both those who identify as woke and those who identify as anti-woke fall into this trap. All the more so because not only are they at war with each other; they are at war with different aspects of themselves.

Now, when we speak of the principle of the divine, we are not speaking of this. We are speaking of something else entirely outside of this paradigm, something completely separate and above it. The principle of the divine — which has been called many things by many cultures: Christos, Shiva, Osiris, Moshiach, and so on and so forth — is the awakened creativity of every moment, which presupposes the assimilation of the darkness and the light.

Perfection allows us no such beauty and is a denial of the mystery at the heart of being itself, which the black, dark, swan represents because “black” and “dark” are simply synonyms for the unknown. To enter into proper relationship with life, to perform creative acts, requires a healthy orientation with the unknown. The dogma of perfection makes this impossible and turns curiosity — the root word of which is care — into a sin. The outcome of this, at least in our lifetime, is the corporatization of identity, the obscuring of the individual soul into a generalized statistic — and you’ve seen this, haven’t you?

To some, I am merely a member of BIPOC. You might be a member of the LGBTQ community. Or perhaps you identify as woke? Or Maybe anti-woke. These conglomerated labels cannot capture the complexity of who you and I are. And we as a species didn’t always do this, before we were hunger-gatherers it was commonplace for us to see each and every individual as a unique, unrepeatable being, but that has been replaced for a long long time with the conglomeration of identity and the subsequent treatment of a human being as a data point all in service of holy prediction and order.

So I believe we’ve got to transform our relationship to perfection and grow out of it and as long as we don’t we will be addicted to it and in pursuit of it, like Nina, we will kill ourselves on stage, in front of the whole world to see. This is not to say that order is bad but that it becomes a form of idolatry if it is not balanced with a reverence for the unknown, for the blackness, for the mystery at the heart of your being, for the mystery that is at the heart of your very lives.


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Mar 21, 2023·edited Mar 21, 2023Author

Thank you so much for sharing that—she is definitely swimming in this same water! I am very sympathetic with what Rufo and James Lindsay et al are trying to do, but totally agree that it has become an overly narrow "war" for them (with considerable spoils, from the EP perspective. I think Rufo got a wife out of it!) But that's just the point—these are not people who have gone through dis/enchantment, they were never enchanted; never integrated. They might be fighting for the right thing, but it isn't with the right (complete) motivation, which would be for The Good, which they cannot know without enchantment. But these are such subtle points, they are difficult to communicate and it all gets waved away as mystic noise. Are you familiar with Charles Eisenstein? He comes to mind as another who is grappling with this.

And not only was I just talking not only about Jung but specifically Marion and her greatness, just in the last couple of days. And Ken W! That is a blast from the past!!!

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Mar 22, 2023Liked by Jen Howk

It's so great to read your thoughts here (and everywhere!). I love your discernment about Rufo et al. not having gone through dis/enchantment, and how they were never enchanted, and never integrated.

I frankly wonder sometimes if this is also true of DDL, despite treasuring him dearly. For this and other reasons, I hope you continue to cultivate places where your voice can be uniquely heard.

There is such profound wisdom in your words, and you communicate these points VERY well, despite their subtlety:

"They might be fighting for the right thing, but it isn't with the right (complete) motivation, which would be for The Good, which they cannot know without enchantment."

Yes, I'm familiar with Charles Eisenstein but am not fully drawn to him for some reason.

Love the synchronicities in our thinking and exploring and sensing and feeling and intuiting and stewing! Carry on, dear one.

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Amazing. I'm reading LOTR too! and I read the Great Divorce a few years ago. I've been exploring Christianity, after 35 years as an atheist. weird stuff.

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I mean, weird to be in this position I would have never dreamed of 10 years ago.

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Thank goodness for openness!!!!

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I think Jonathan Haidt would argue that it's easy to loose a shared worldview because social media largely replaced people socializing and it largely incentivized hostility and tribal group identity with no constraints. Maybe even the strongest shared values society would falter in the face of retweets and up votes? Thanks for sharing your book recommendations, have you ever read Helen Pluckroses Cynical Theories? I stumbled upon it and it's pretty good.

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