Unleash Your Gnostic Fury

I recently came across an online image/meme that said, “God gave me depression because if my ambitions went unchecked I would have bested him in hand to hand combat by age 16.” I don’t know the original source of this image or who created it. When I saw it, in addition to thinking, “Wow, this is so Gnostic,” I also immediately resonated with it because this topic is one that I have had on my mind lately: depression resulting from suppressed or denied anger.

To begin, a bit of background: God, from a Gnostic perspective, is not one of the good guys. The Gnostics—originally 2nd and 3rd century Christian heretics though likely coming out of a stream that existed in pre-Christian traditions as well[1]—saw this world as a “prison planet” of sorts. They viewed it as a “false” world in which the spark of divinity lay deep within us as human beings but was actively suppressed by ruling “archons” who sought to maintain power for the Demiurge, or creator god who mistakenly thought he was the God despite actually simply being one of many[2]. Gnostic spirituality is centered around gnosis—direct experience of the primordial, the pleroma, as they called it. Gary Lachman describes this as “immediate, direct, non-discursive cognition of reality.”[3] Gnosis is the key to thwarting the powers of the archons and the Demiurge who keep us imprisoned. Whether we wish to take this as an origin story or a symbolic myth, it holds a lot of power as a contemplation or worldview, particularly as one considers how to “wake up” from the slumber of cultural programming and familial conditioning to a more conscious way of being.

On some level, one would expect that waking up would be a process of becoming more and more at peace and at home in the world. However, opening one’s eyes to the reality of the atrocities that exist within this world as well as to our deep wounds and the repressed shadow aspects of ourselves can be incredibly painful. It is hard to do this, fully and wholeheartedly, without becoming depressed or infuriated or both.

Over the past several years, as I have become increasingly aware of the horrors this world of ours beholds—endless war, unfathomable inequality, very deliberately orchestrated oppression—I have at times felt profoundly heavy. Defeated. A sense of impossibility. As the times grow increasingly dystopic, it can be easy to slide into a sense of hopelessness, to feel the archons have already won. But I think this is what they want us to feel. They wish for our fury to remain inaccessible because it is our fury which is the true threat.

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I have never felt comfortable with my own anger. It is fiery, it feels claustrophobic, it makes me want to crawl out of my own skin. As a child it was discouraged in me—I learned from my parents and teachers that one should be nice and good and keep their anger under control. With this foundation already in place, my suppression was fortified further as I began my spiritual path in my late teens and took on the idea that being a “spiritual” person meant being peaceful, calm, at ease. Through some combination of the teachings I was exploring (primarily Buddhist) and my own interpretations of them, I developed an idea of what it looks like to be an “awake” person in the world. Anger was not part of the picture.

However, as I entered into the practice and study of Vajrayana Buddhism, one of the most valuable teachings I encountered was that of the five wisdom energies or five “Buddha Families.” The notion is that there are five core energies within ourselves and within the phenomenal world, and that these energies are neutral in and of themselves. They can manifest in a neurotic, ego-centered way, or a conscious, open, awake way—like two sides of the same coin. The neurotic manifestation of vajra energy—one of the five wisdom energies—is anger, based in self-centeredness. The awakened manifestation is clear seeing, a diamond-like quality of mind. Irini Rockwell, who has written several books on the five Buddha Families, writes, “Vajra energy reflects its surrounding like a calm, clear pool of water, without distortion or bias. Thus Vajra wisdom is mirrorlike: it sees things as they are.”[4] There is tremendous wisdom and intelligence in this clarity, and the intensity of the energy can be a powerful motivating force to drive us forward.

If we are unable to stay present with that intensity, we tend to find ways to bury it, to suppress it. So part of my experience over the past few years has been noticing how I will often feel anger about our world, but then suppress it because I don’t know what to do with it. The result is a sense of hopelessness, heaviness, despair.

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Visual representation of the five Buddha Families of Tibetan Buddhism

I will pause here for a necessary clarification of terms and perspective. I have never been diagnosed with clinical depression. I believe depression has a lot more social causes than we typically acknowledge today. Frankly, I don’t quite understand how someone could be alive today and not experience a frequent sense of depression. However, I am aware that there are biological causes for depression in many people, and that many people benefit from taking medication for it. I am not a psychologist and I am not claiming anything universal here, just trying to speak from my own experience. Furthermore, as you might anticipate where we’re heading here, I do not advocate violence nor do I believe that any form of violent expression of anger leads anyone to genuine liberation.

There is another important caveat here, which is to be clear about what to be angry about. There are a lot of angry white males out there today, desperately clinging to their dying worldview and evaporating privilege. As a white male, I would implore these people to deeply examine the social and psychological causes of suffering and to recognize that while class oppression is something to be genuinely angry about, the erosion of white privilege is not. When you’ve been privileged your whole life—by being male, white, heterosexual, cisgender, neurotypical, able-bodied, in a financially stable situation, or any combination of these—equality can feel like oppression. But we need to learn and understand history better than this (not just the history we’re spoon-fed in school) understand socio-political power better than this (not just the picture portrayed by mainstream media), and work tirelessly for collective liberation—which is centered around supporting the empowerment of marginalized and oppressed peoples. This also means recognizing that identifying as a Democrat or “liberal” in 2018 not only doesn’t go far enough, but also usually means you are part of the problem.

So this is where our fury must be directed: at all the forces that create genuine oppression in this world. We must examine these systems, understand them, and then work to dismantle them. They do affect all of us, albeit in different ways. Many of us who grew up in middle or upper-class suburban homes were effectively programmed to see the world in a certain way that encouraged us to be cogs in the machinery that perpetuates the system. In that sense we are both complicit as oppressors and also victims, because who wants to live their life as an automaton?

In order to awaken our fury at the gnostic situation we somehow find ourselves in, in an effective way, we have to tap into the power of vajra energy—that icy cold, focused, sharp clear-seeing that can pierce through both the inner veil and the outer walls of society. It may mean allowing ourselves to feel the uncomfortableness of anger in order to lift ourselves out of hopelessness and despair. Then we can access the power and drive to begin to fight back against the archons and the Demiurge himself, in whatever unique, transgressive way our particular daimon calls upon us to.

Let us allow ourselves to feel what is a very appropriate response to the situation we have awoken to find ourselves in. The very mission of the archons of this world is to believe this situation is so impossible that we sink into our depression and give up hope. Sadness is okay to feel. In fact, sadness is very good to feel. Our hearts are tender because we know things could be otherwise, and sadness keeps us in touch with our longing for a better world. But instead of allowing that sadness to veer into despair, let us instead, with crystalline precision, unleash our gnostic fury and make it our life’s mission to dismantle the prison that keeps us enslaved. The Demiurge and his minions can be bested.

[1] Lachman, Gary (2015). Secret Teachers of the Western World. p. 105,

[2] Ibid, p. 109

[3] Ibid, p. 30

[4] Rockwell, Irini (2002). The Five Wisdom Energies. p. 33

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Imagining Infinite Play

One of my favorite thinkers, the writer, activist, occultist, and now podcaster Conner Habib, writes and talks a lot about the importance of imagining and creating a new world. A self-described utopianist, Conner uses a really brilliant and helpful image to represent this bold vision of possibility: Bugs Bunny, chased into an alley until he reaches a brick wall, then pulling a marker out of his pocket and drawing a door which he can open and enter just before his pursuer reached him. This is also reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood books, Harold and the Purple Crayon, in which the protagonist literally creates his world as moves through it. There is a key for us embedded in these images. At this point, it appears there is only one way out; our backs are against the wall. And that doorway contains infinite possibility.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we are indeed on the edge of a collective precipice. What has led us to this point is a web of causes and conditions too vast to explore here, but important that they should be named. They include, but are not limited to, the interconnected web of: Neoliberalism, capitalism, our pillaging and raping of the planet, the culture of imperialism, settler colonialism and white supremacy, patriarchal culture, and rampant materialism that breeds greed and fosters an utter misunderstanding of the nature of what it is to be alive on the Earth. The problems we face globally are complex beyond measure.

In an article called “How to make enemies and influence people: anatomy of the anti-bugsbunnysoursepluralist, totalitarian mindset” that grows ever-increasingly significant by the day, creativity researcher Alfonso Montuori discusses how the ability to handle complexity and ambiguity is one of the marks of creative people.[1] What we see from those who cannot handle complexity is a fixed, black-and-white line of thinking that seeks oversimplified answers for the sake of a false sense of certainty. This is what attracts people to authoritarian leaders and to scapegoating[2], both of which—obviously—are widely prevalent today. More than ever, we need people who are able to think creatively, rather than succumb to authoritarianism or conformity. Quite literally, any future we may have depends on it.

Of course, it is so much easier to just blame immigrants, or Muslims, or name-an-oppressed-peoples-or-ethnic-scapegoat-here than to actually be willing to look at a complex, interconnected web and attempt to think outside the box for creative solutions. In fact, that task seems quite impossible. I know that when I try to think about creative possibilities for society, I often become quickly overwhelmed and feel like it has just all gone too far—we’re cornered—and there is nothing to be done. And maybe there is nothing to be done.

Regardless of whether there is anything to be done at this point, this is a time for creativity, imagination, and infinite play.

We need to learn to use our imaginations. Really use them. In using the word “imagination,” I am talking about a faculty of knowing—a way of exploring unseen worlds and possibilities by using a very ordinary human superpower that has largely become dismissed as the stuff of child’s play. I go into more depth about this in this essay. I am talking about Bugs’s and Harold’s moves as real, as ontologically valid. His method worked, right? Is it not worth a try for us as well?

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What does this look like? It is tapping into something beyond our conceptual mind. Something beyond rational thought. Something beyond “thinking” altogether. It is seeing, feeling, directly experiencing. This can take a variety of forms: shamanic journeying, art, writing, music, forms of meditation, Jungian active imagination, dreaming; occult and magickal practices. The key is that it arises from a source beyond conceptuality, beyond ego. Does that mean we will receive messages from another realm? Possibly; I don’t know. The whole point is that we don’t know. Somehow we have to be willing to go to this place of not-knowing and see what emerges

Going to this place of not-knowing and using the faculty of our imagination is drawing the door. Once we enter the doorway, we are in the realm of infinite play, a concept framed by James Carse in his brilliant must-read Finite and Infinite Games. There is vast openness. There is possibility.

Infinite play cannot occur, however, if our minds remain fixed. “Finite play,” for Carse is life led within socially constructed boundaries. Finite play is about control: trying to control what will happen in the future, trying to prevent what we do not want to happen from happening and trying to make what we do want to happen occur. Infinite play, however, is life lived in connection with primordial vastness and possibility. “Infinite players prepare themselves to be surprised by the future” and because of this they “play in complete openness.”[3]

In order to be surprised by the future, I think we first need to be surprised by our past. We all need to be constantly challenging ourselves to see where our minds are stuck in seeing things the way we were taught to see them, to see where our perspective is based on unexamined assumptions, to see where we’re seeking comfort and security. Most of us have been indoctrinated into a variety of ways of thinking and seeing the world based on our familiar and cultural upbringing. This matrix can be very hard to penetrate, even for the most insightful people.

In order to open up to actual infinite play, we first need to go through a process of deconstructing how we see the world and questioning our beliefs at a core level. What have we normalized as part of our worldview? Some of these unexamined assumptions and normalizations are personal, others cultural—ultimately, that’s a difficult distinction to make anyway. They can include beliefs such as, “I am fundamentally flawed,” “War is inevitable,” “We are moving slowly but surely in the direction of ‘progress,’” “My favorite source of media is the most accurate,” or “Science is real, magic is not.”

In order to be able to think outside the box, we first need to be able to fully see the extent of the box we’re in. We need to dig deep and think critically. We need to tease apart what thoughts and beliefs we have that came from other people. Let us understand what led us to this cliff, and not try to claw our way back to the death trap. Let us let go of what we think to know, and open to something we couldn’t have even thought of. Then we can leap into the unknown, using both our imaginal capacity and our ability to think beyond the confines of the known, into the vast space of openness and possibility.

Our backs are against the wall. The only choice is to draw the door. Let’s invoke our inner Bugs and Harold and see what we can do.

[1] Montuori, A. (2005). How to make enemies and influence people: anatomy of the anti-pluralist, totalitarian mindset. Futures37(1), 18-38.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Carse, J. (2011). Finite and infinite games.