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Inner Wilds Glossary
A running list of words and terms I use that are... let's say not always immediately obvious in their definitions.
Words, amirite? Well-chosen ones can reshape reality. They can make hopelessly complex ideas intuitively simple — or make simple ideas look like a complicated jungle of knots and swampland.
Me, my curse is that I both A) think that using simple, common words wherever possible is the royal road to clarity and rapport with the reader, and B) I make up new terms and re-define old ones in non-obvious ways. I can't help myself. One of the most common bits of feedback I get is "I love what you're saying! I don't like, understand what you mean half the time, but when I do it's great!"
Lately, I've been working on writing more simply, using words in more widely-understood ways.
But today, I'm giving myself a jubilee — I'm gonna write down all the neologisms and portmanteaus and re-defined terms and nomenclature drawn from obscure literary forms and I'm just going to lean into using language as a paintball machine gun to splatter all y'all with meaning and evocation, and that's just how it's gonna be; so let's get to it.
"Auto-" means self, and "chthon-" means earth. Autochthonous refers to something that belongs to the earth it springs from and stands on — an archaic synonym for "native" or "indigenous," but one that blessedly lacks the baggage of those terms for modern readers, so I'm free to re-tool it from scratch. Love when that happens.
I use autochthony as a refreshed and intensified version of "authenticity." Whatever springs natively from the soil of your own being, your own soul, your own deepest connection with the vow you made before you were born (with what Corbin called the "unfathomable mystery of pre-existential choice") — that is what is autochthonous to you; and when you are aligned with what springs natively from the soil of your own soul, that blessèd state of flow and wonder is what I call autochthony. People in that state have a magic to them — they're just clearly doing what they were meant to be doing, it's like they're tucked into a fold in the universe that's exactly them-shaped. Good stuff, very good stuff.
A catch-all term for the transformative capacities and realms of the human imagination. Think of the psyche's impressionistic fantasizing tendencies as an ocean: you can walk out a certain way while keeping your feet firmly on the ground, but at a certain point you can't touch the bottom and you have to start swimming, or scuba dive, or take a boat. The shallows where you can still touch the bottom, that's "imagination"; everything beyond that, that's imaginal.
Henry Corbin is usually credited with bringing the term into philosophical and psychological circles, in his study of Sufi mysticism and the ways it used the imagination as a sense organ for realities beyond the usual senses.
But actually the word came into English usage earlier, from Frederic Meyers, who used it specifically for an instructive double-meaning. The first meaning is the one above: it means "imagination," but not-imagination; something deeper and more fundamental than just imagination. The second meaning comes from entomology: the final form of an insect is called its "imago." For example, the butterfly is the imago of the caterpillar. The adjective for "imago" is imaginal, eg- "the caterpillar transitions into its imaginal form by entering the chrysalis."
The double-meaning is apt in ways that are hard to understand for those of us (I assume everyone reading this) who was raised in a culture that discounts imagination as childish daydreaming — but it's not for nothing that scholar after scholar and tradition after tradition put human transformation and human imagination right next to each other. From shamans to sufis, from gnostics to tantrics, from papists to therapists (that one's a stretch, I'm so sorry), the journey towards the "human imago" — the transformed, creatively evolved adult — has imagination as a key component. Whether through visual meditations, journeying, or even affirmations, our ability to perceive and orient towards something that doesn't (yet) exist in our outer world is critical.
And the more deeply we can perceive and orient, the more deeply we can evolve.
Sometimes people assume I mean something really specific by Somatic Resonance. I don't. It's a pretty broad term, capturing the spontaneous, intuitive at-home-ness that comes out of most somatic awareness practices if you keep up with them for awhile. (And, key point, if you practice them in a way that lets your body feel itself, rather than sweeping a spotlight of attention from your head through the body, part by part.)
Somatic resonance tends to feel incredibly simple and matter-of-fact once you've tapped into it. The closest analogy (not really even an analogy, just the shallower end of the same pool) is the way you feel your basic bodily functions. I've never met anyone who had to drop into a transcendental state of awe in order to find out if they had to pee. Most people don't need to spent 40 minutes on the meditation cushion before attaining the gnosis that they're kinda hungry for that Chinese restaurant down the street.
When you're hungry, when you're thirsty, when you need to go to the bathroom or stretch out your stiff shoulders — these aren't ethereal knowledge attained from th'Empyrean realms of the Dharmakaya. Your body just tells you you're hungry. You simply know; it's not a big deal.
Somatic resonance is the extension of this somatic sensing into every other area of your being. No big deal, you simply sense that today is a good day to dedicate to errands and admin. No big deal, you just know after walking into a room that a couple of the people there are angry at each other. No big deal, you just walk into your office one day and realize that you need to change careers as soon as you can, and you call a friend to get lunch and help you figure out your next steps.
No big deal, you just develop a sturdy, flexible sense of who you are, who you aren't, what feels alive to you, and what ain't yours to handle.
We carry impressions and images around in our bodies all day. They're usually so subtle we don't notice them, but I'd reckon you've noticed at least a few times. Leaving the movie theater after an intense movie, for example: maybe after coming out of Avatar, your body-mind felt brighter, bluer, maybe felt like it wanted to leap energetically from tree to tree; or maybe after Dune, your body held lingering impressions of sand and sunlight, of the noble self-assurance needed to survive in uncertain environments.
More subtle versions of this are always drifting around our awareness, nudging our posture and facial expressions and emotional atmosphere. Something cave-like about the space between you and your computer screen. An impression of servility when you're at the grocery check-out with that guy on the register who reminds you of your dad. At a work conference, realizing that the crowd, seats, and lecture format are making you feel like you're in high school again.
It's always there. You can always poke around at it, notice it, work with it. You can always imaginally nudge your somatic scenery towards more autochthonous atmospheres.
I feel like the term "consciousness" has taken on more baggage than it was meant to handle, especially now that more panpsychist-adjacent philosophies are catching on.
Say the word "conscious" and most people hear something like "the most surface-level layers of mind." When a patient is no longer sleeping, they say he's "regained consciousness." When we talk about the layers of the mind that our ego has immediate access to, that's the "conscious" mind. When we ask someone to keep a fact at the forefront of their awareness, we ask them to "be conscious" of it.
I just don't think it's helpful to talk about ideas like "cosmic consciousness" — where we mean some fundamental, base-level property of the universe involving the Deep Intelligence and Deep Aliveness of Being itself — by using the same word that we use for the shallowest of human cognitive processes. Hell, even using the term for "plant consciousness" feels like a stretch. Whatever the interior life of a plant is, I doubt it has much at all in common with anything we'd recognize from our own interior experience of what we mean by "consciousness."
All that said, I propose using a different term entirely for the deep intelligent aliveness of Existence, so we can bring less baggage to the inquiry.
I'm proposing Cosma for now, mostly because it was one of the terms that came out of a brainstorming session around this topic while on vacation — after which session I went for a walk, and found out that the church outside my window was named for a saint I'd never heard of before: Saint Cosma. (And no, there's no chance I saw the name of the church before this.)
So, synchronicity-wise, if there is a deep intelligent aliveness inherent to the cosmic fabric... it seems like it wants me to call it Cosma.
James Hillman describes myth as "the metaphor that translates libido into configurations."
Mary Midgley says that myths are "networks of powerful symbols that suggest particular ways of interpreting the world."
What I'm calling myths are the deep, underlying patterns in the psyche that provide paths for my energy and efforts to flow into — which is to say, the patterns that structure what stories about me and the world I live in seem true.
If that doesn't seem terribly important to you, take another minute to feel through it.
The meaning-patterns that organize your libido (your drives, your life-energy) decide what feels worthwhile to you, what feels useless, what feels admirable, what feels evil.
Your inner ecology of myth drives how you see, think, feel, and act — more than that, it makes your ways of seeing, thinking, feeling, and acting feel like obvious, natural responses to what the world is like. The myths you live by make the difference between:
a life where power, money, and status are the most obviously important pursuits in the world, or
a life where connection, feelings, and relationships are the most obviously important aspects of existence, or
a life where being objectively, demonstrably correct — and minimizing any way that someone can prove you wrong — is the most important thing, or
a life where nothing matters very much, you just find a job, play some video games, find a nice mix of drugs, and let yourself slide from birth to death with as little hassle as possible.
Generally, we don't pay much attention to our inner ecologies of myth. Most people might deny that we have any myths at all — we're simply seeing the world as it actually is, and it's other people who are living by myths [derogatory].
If we take seriously that myths (see last entry) are one of the primary forces that organize our drives, that make certain stories about who we are and what the world is feel more real than others — then it would be irresponsible not to study how those myths emerge, how they catch on, how they interact and develop and get sick and die. How, just like with your gut microbiome, there are some myths that work well and keep you healthy, and other myths that make you sick. How this isn't only individual, but collective — that entire societies can become subject to sick myths that drag them down.
Mythodynamics is that area of study. I came up with the term this year, but the field has a genealogy of folks who have done amazing work on all this. James Hillman, Mary Midgley, Carl Jung, Peter Kingsley, Marshall McLuhan, Rene Girard, Jeffrey Kripal, Joseph Campbell...
And how about you? No time like the present to make a contribution.
Most dream work focuses on interpretation. I am pretty vocally opposed to most of that; I much prefer dream return.
In dream return, we drop into meditation, call up a recent dream that feels like it has something to say, and we simply allow our awareness to rest in that dream. Usually, the dream will start to unfold a little further, if you let it — the scene will continue, figures will speak to you, new bits of intuitive recognition will strike you, the way that dream-logic sometimes does.
Even if the dream doesn't unfold any further, just spending time resting awareness in the dream-space again usually turns up something fruitful. Somatic sensations that want to be stretched, shaken, flexed, rolled; a curtain in your mind suddenly falling away, letting you see some obvious truth about yourself; or even just a sense of calm that permeates the next few hours of your day after practice.
Dream return is basically one method (of many) for putting the conscious and unconscious mind in closer relationship, helping them learn one another's languages, and gradually helping to unify them into a more resonant whole.
Another word for "myth," basically. Another way of pointing at the underlying, wordless level of proto-story that we carry around with us, that the events and emotions and vibes of our lives fall into, like iron filings into a magnetic field, falling into a pre-existing shape that any other events and emotions would also have fallen into, more or less.
If I'm not mistaken, "schema" seems like it points at a similar thing in psychology, at least on the personal level.
I wrote a big ranting document on this one, so you can go check that out for the full download. But if I were to condense it into a couple paragraphs:
A tilism is a pocket-world that operates by its own rules, its own laws, its own magics and physics. We all live in a vast forest of overlapping tilisms, overlapping pocket worlds. Some of them are very clear about their rules (the world of taxes is a byzantine tilism), while others are much more nebulous, and take much more intuition and experience to navigate (the subtle social 'laws' of many social groups can take some getting used to).
Each tilism also has a ruler (the person or entity in charge, who sustains it), a breaker (the person or entity who is destined to challenge it and destroy it), and a keystone (something that helps the breaker navigate the tilism, destroy it, and/or kill its ruler). The intricacies of this metaphor are really useful, but you'll have to check out the main document if you want to dig into them.
Overall, a tilism is a really useful framework for navigating psychological environments — it allows you to ask yourself questions like "what are the laws of this world?", "what are the qualities of its ruler?", and so on. I've found it helpful when moving to a new city where the vibes are very different, or when dealing with someone who holds a very strong ideology that I'm not fluent in.
I borrowed this one from Visa, because it's terribly terribly useful. It's also nearly self-explanatory: psychofauna are thoughtforms with their own goals and agency, and they don’t care much about the people in their path.
I think it's good to have a rich vocabulary for this category of things (ideologies, egregores, psychofauna, psychoflora, tilisms...) because each metaphor lets us see them from a different angle. I cover this a bit more fully in this article, but basically: "psychofauna" lets us zoom in on the ways they're like living animals, "tilism" lets us clarify how they're like psychological environments, "ideology" lets us approach them primarily as intellectual systems... each frame brings something new to the table, it's brilliant.
A lot of this glossary is about the ways that our minds, our bodies, our actions, our cultures, even our lived environments are shaped by mythodynamic forces — by the psychofauna we encounter, the tilisms we move through, the myths we live by, the somatic scenery we carry; even by the configurations of Cosma that pour through our world.
Imaginal literacy is, quite simply, the ability to recognize all this; to look around you and see where the psychofauna are migrating; to look inside yourself and notice what tilisms you've been entangled with your whole life, and which ones you want to extricate from; to see clearly what myths and values are autochthonous to you, and which ones need to be untangled.
Imaginal literacy can be a long road — you didn't go from ABCs to reading Dostoevsky in a week — but the upside is that once you've got the basics down, you can also begin practicing imaginal authorship: the art of skillfully navigating all these mythodynamics, and even re-shaping them towards autochthony.
As I see it, values are the layer of experience underneath even myths. If myths are what pattern your drives in life, values are what attract your deep psyche to one myth rather than another. Values are one of the deepest levels of autochthony that I'm aware of. And valueception is the ability to sense which values are autochthonous to you (and to sense what they ask of you).
I haven't thought this one through a lot, but at the moment it feels about right: it may be fair to describe valueception as "Advanced Imaginal Literacy." If somatic resonance helps put you in touch with the basics of imaginal literacy, then imaginal literacy helps put you in touch with the basics of valueception.
There's a bit more on valueception (and the origins of the term) at this link.
There's a line I really like from Jeffrey Kripal "The Humanities are the study of consciousness coded in culture." To me, that captures a deeply important and under-recognized fact. (Though I might alter it to "the study of Cosma coded in culture.") As questions about consciousness come more and more to the center of many discourses, it gets harder and harder to ignore that the field best equipped to deal with these questions is, broadly, the Humanities.
To me, this is a really lovely idea, but also... the academic humanities are definitely not up to the task. It would take another whole article to get into that can of worms, so for now I'll simply say that I see one part of the answer as a coalition of scholars outside of the academy. This would bypass a lot of institutional dead weight and limitations, allowing a re-assessment of what it means to create and explore knowledge while taking seriously the responsibility to engage and build rapport with the interested public. Specifically, to engage the public (aka, humans) in questions like:
What can we learn about the unfolding of consciousness through the study of history, culture, and anthropology?
What does it look like to carry out deep research as a whole person, rather than by valuing only the bare intellect? How can heart, mind, body, and soul all be included in knowledge work, and does this lead to better, more meaningful scholarship?
What can we learn about mythodynamics, the process of constellating human energy, by exploring history, biography, psychology, contemplative practice, art, architecture, and the rest?
If the humanities stop trying to compete with the sciences and engineering by becoming increasingly cerebral, frameworked, and "objective" — what shines through, when we return to heart, soul, and body, as well as mind?
Can human consciousness mature and evolve to meet its level of technological maturation and evolution?
And about a hundred other questions that I'll just backspace for now.
Anyway, I'll be writing more about this later when I get Project Imago up and running, I'm sure.
There are some people whose work I talk about a lot. Reggie Ray, Mary Midgley, Michael Ashcroft, Tasshin Fogleman... I've lost track of how many messages I've gotten from people telling me "I heard you mention [person] a few times, so I bought their book! (or took their course, or hired them for 1:1 work, or whatever else.)"
I call this hype-bending. If you like someone's work, you can often gift them a lot of money and resources without spending a cent of your own money. Just mentioning them to a friend, posting one of their articles in a Facebook group, quoting them here and there, or live-reading their work on Twitter — things like that can and do irrigate a path where resources can flow to them, allowing them to continue their work and thrive.
Yes, on the one hand this is an appeal — if you like my work, it would be more helpful than you know to retweet me, post an article on reddit, hit the little heart button at the bottom of this post, or just email my Hero's Journey article to your cousin with pink dreadlocks and a crystal collection. I assure you this makes a significant difference — I've seen it again and again.
But on the other hand, it's not just an appeal for me — even if you never share or talk about any of my work, think about doing it for other writers, artists, and indie scholars you like.
One month last year, a single twitter reply was literally the difference between me being able to pay rent or not. Two people saw the reply, bought my course, and suddenly my landlord was sated for another 30 days.
You can do the same thing, whether for me, or for your favorite ASMR Youtuber, or whatever else you're into. You can shift the culture in pretty significant ways, just by hype-bending to boost voices you like.
Vibe translation is one of the most important tasks of our time. There is so. Much. Useful. Information. Just lying around in different corners of the world. And if it were more widely available, so many problems would dissolve, so many lives would be improved.
In olden times, the main problem was what language information was in. The lives of translators used to be much much more intriguing than they are today. Some of them would travel to distant countries on foot, learn the local languages, find some of the texts they saw as most important for their own people to have, and then haul those back and translate them for their countrymen. This could be a decades-long process. Nowadays — well, I took a picture of some Albanian graffiti in the park the other day, and an AI gave me an English version with commentary.
Raw language translation is increasingly a solved problem. Vibe translation however, is not.
There are some uniquely, wonderfully transformative ideas out there — ideas that are inaccessible to most people just because of the domain they’re used in, or the social group that came up with it.
Those ideas need to be translated into vibes and explanations that are accessible to the people who need them.
One case study is the idea-complex of “how great vast open awareness is.” This inner move is available to everyone, this move of letting go of all the zoomed-in problems, particularities, and granular manipulations in awareness, and letting yourself surrender and expand into a vast sense of the whole situation you exist in. The move is so good and so useful, that you can find it in Tibetan Buddhism (namely Dzogchen), posture work (Alexander Technique), neuro-anatomy (McGilchrist’s explanation of the brain’s right hemisphere), and embodiment practices (Somatic Descent, somatic resonance, etc). The core move has been translated into enough fields and vibes that anyone who feels drawn to it will be able to find a way in.
The same isn’t true of every useful ideas. There are a lot of things that are currently held mostly in communities and domains that most people either can’t understand, or actively dislike the “flavor” of.
If there’s something you think is important, something that needs to be made available to many more types of minds than can currently access it, you gotta get good at vibe translation, or at least support people who are doing vibe translations you think will work well.
I expect this list to expand and shift over time. I’ll be leaving it here as a reference, feel free to come back later — whether to check for additions, or to see if you can decode something I’m tweeting in summer ‘24.