Into The Fire

For those of you who’ve read Tally: An Intuitive Life, and for those who haven’t but wouldn’t mind an introduction, here’s a piece from Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, which I’ve published on my site. He appears in the first chapter and then on other occasions throughout the story.


Working on PJ’s cryptic writing, I played with his new definition of Intuition.

At an elemental level, he described how we learn what advances our desires, and what thwarts our wishes. When the action or its consequence is harmful to ourselves or others, we learn to dissemble, all to ensure our “emotional security” by convincing ourselves of our innocence.

I made notes. What’s valuable and what’s not? How do we make these judgments?

With him I challenged his ideas on building the intuition in childhood. “What kind of intellect can a child have? What level of perceptual awareness?”

“A child’s sensory and perceptual apprehension of the world is pretty great,” PJ responded. “It has to be for the learning process to take place. The intellect evolves, often seeming to the individual to match the world’s maturation. It’s an incredible process, both gradual and immediate.” Then, he added, “But the concept of time is another subject.

“You see, you keep piling one lie on top of another and another on top of that,” PJ said, developing his theory of rationalizing guilt. “And the deeper you get into rationalization, the more you get away from ever becoming amiable again.”

This is a process over time, he said, and can lead to justification of whole sets of actions. Eventually we feel the overload and break down, and start over again with the slate wiped clean, or we continue to heap one justification on another until the intuition, swamped by guilt and lies becomes more hostile than amiable, and is unable to change.

“What about your conscience? Doesn’t that give you a guidepost to follow?”

“The idea is that once a person becomes saturated with guilt, he has to abandon his conscience, because he can’t do anything against his conscience, so he forgets he has one at all, and he is no longer a man integrated at all. He has no integrity anymore. You run across these people everywhere you go, as you know.”

I nodded.

Winter with PJ was a return to innocence, a primitive meta-state when human beings held the future in their opposing thumbs and “emanated” abstract renderings on cave walls.

He showed me a series of small designs he called “Emanations.” He said that he may have chosen the colors to work with on his watercolors and designs, but there was no way he could have planned the forms that came out.

“It was purely an intuitive thing,” he said. “And the intuition brings you back to innocence.”

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5 thoughts on “Into The Fire

  1. I like this Mary, as it gives me a contrast to my own thoughts on guilt, innocence, conscience, and art.

    I think of experiencing guilt as being part of having a conscience. The capacity to feel guilt shows one’s conscience is in good working order. If one feels no guilt, convinced one is always innocent, there is a problem. There are of course well known ways to deal with guilt, and move on, with integrity.

    What you describe as emanations are a sign that one is in touch with Being (an innermost state, from which creativity flows). If one is unable to feel guilt, one is also unable to be in touch with such emanations. Or what comes forth will be a distortion, something horrible.

    I think then of art as an expression of Being, rather than an expression of an artist’s (or someone with such a title’s) state of mind, which might be riddled with guilt, anxiety, hopelessness, and is certainly not innocent.

    The question for me then is how could a person who is self deceived about their own guilt produce good art? I think all they could do is produce the same distortions; the covering up of the truth of Being, rather than its disclosure.

    But of course here my view of art is connected to what some would see as metaphysical nonsense. The question is why would they think this. Perhaps art and metaphysics suffer from the same process of being discredited. Instead what those who think in the way I have outlined must endure, is the weight of public opinion, which has by now completely convinced itself that truth (and what is worthy of the term ‘art’) is nothing other than what public opinion dictates.


    • David, you wrote: I think of experiencing guilt as being part of having a conscience. The capacity to feel guilt shows one’s conscience is in good working order.

      You have a healthy conscience, as you say. But PJ is writing about those who don’t and how that happens. It’s important to believe that other people are acting out of integrity, but also to recognize that not everyone is. And what leads to this dis-integration? PJ tried to address that.

      If one feels no guilt, convinced one is always innocent, there is a problem.

      This has been commented on by moral philosophers, and various wits over time. The righteous can do a lot of harm. Basically, if a person thinks they are always innocent, they have dropped all moral considerations. They have a rationale for everything they do, which serves as an answer to all matters of conscience.

      There are of course well known ways to deal with guilt, and move on, with integrity.

      I’d like to know what these well known ways are. PJ said one way was to avoid rationalizing, and conduct an honest evaluation of one’s motivations, actions, and the consequences of behavior. It requires intellect, perception, and access to consciousness and the subliminal stream of consciousness. After that process, a person can make adjustments so that future thoughts and actions are improved.
      I know you put a lot of weight on dialogue. What other ways do you know of?


      • Mary, one of the difficulties with PJ’s account is that the term ‘rationalization’ is an obscure psychological term. How does one know when one is rationalizing? If that is what one does, then any reflection on motivations etc will also be tainted with it. So first one has to know what it means to avoid rationalizing.

        I see an important distinction between psychology and moral philosophy. The difference is that moral philosophy recognises the distinction between intention and intentionality. The former is about will; the latter about states of mind. The difference is between merely having a thought about something, and willing a change in the social context in which one has become involved. In the case of guilt, mere intentionality would focus on the state of mind, attempting to change that. What is needed is a will to change the entire situation in relation to the guilt, what brought it about, and what needs to happen as a consequence.

        Now the person who experiences guilt, and willingly acknowledges it, has at the same time recognised the existence of a moral law, that has been broken. If one places oneself under such a law, then the only way forward is to do what the same law dictates should happen. And doing that depends on a whole lot of contextual factors, to do with culture and so on.

        But what happens when there is cultural diversity? What if one culture imposes unduly harsh penalties? What if one is expected to endure public humiliation and shame?

        These are difficult questions to answer, in the absence of a detailed consideration of such contexts. In the case of an individual wrestling with a guilty conscience, one well known way is to confess what one has done to someone else one can trust. That at least has made the guilt sufficiently public for it to be undeniable, and gives one a reference point for moving on.

        Beyond that there are also ways to make reparations, but again, what these are dependent on different cultural expectations.


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