Puppies, Instars, and the Kingdom of the Mind
We open on a tyrant. He was born into a world his forefathers had conquered generations ago. He can take for granted his control over the lands and people around him. Those people might complain, riot, or occasionally rebel, but it doesn’t actually matter; his power is sure enough that there’s no real threat of anyone but him ruling the kingdom.
Fast forward to find two versions of a crisis, with two very different outcomes.
The first crisis is serious, but gradual. The various peoples of the kingdom gain power, try out some alliances, and are able to make enough trouble that it’s not a foregone conclusion that the tyrant could beat them if it came down to an all-out war. They do have some good points, after all, and a lot of his own soldiers seem to know it. He knows it’s bad when even a couple of his own generals seem to get where the subjects are coming from.
So in the end, some representatives are chosen from among the people to represent the needs of the people before the King. Some rules change, things get less tyrannical, some power and agency are ceded back to the individual lands that make up the kingdom—and even the King himself is no longer such a tyrant. He’s learned lessons about being a good ruler and a good man and all that third act stuff.
But let’s not overstate the changes: the family that conquered this land generations ago is still the family that rules it. The man who was raised to think of that land’s people as chattel property is still the man making decisions about how those people will live. —The situation is unquestionably improved, unquestionably changed… but the change probably looks bigger to the people inside the kingdom than it does to the people in the next land over.
The second possible crisis is much more serious. We can skip the 7-book fantasy series worth of details, and simply note that by the last book, the tyrant is still alive, but his entire administrative state has collapsed. The people have come together, and their representatives are ruling the kingdom now (or trying to) while the former tyrant performs slave labor around the castle grounds.
The slave-tyrant learns a lot about humanity and being a good man and so forth, and the new representative government learns that ruling is really fucking hard, so by the end, a balance has been reached where the former king is given a seat on the council, to share his perspective from ruling for years. He’s a changed man, of course, and is content to mediate between the other representatives, point out faults and strengths in their plans, and get things running smoothly. This is more than enough for him, he has no other ambitions than to help the people he once ruled get back on track before he dies.
And while the relationships between the other ruling representatives isn’t exactly all sunshine and rainbows and world peace, their power is mostly equal enough, and the consequences of clashing are shitty enough, that they basically work together and try to give the whole “rising tide lifts all boats” thing a shot.
The change in this crisis is much more significant. The kingdom coming out at the end is not the same kingdom, and the tyrant who begins the story has now become a humble, honorable mediator. A real revolution has taken place, and the destiny of this kingdom is very different from the destiny of the one that came before it.
I’ll assume you caught onto most of the metaphor as you read, since I put “Kingdom of the Mind” up in the title, but to make sure we’re on the same page:
Most of us born in the past couple centuries are born into a world where our minds rule our lives. The mind has conquered and suppressed the body, the heart, the soul, basically everything about us. If you have an emotion without a rational basis—smoosh it down. If your soul stirs and shouts that your career is destroying it—crush that uprising right away. Your body has persistent aches and pains—take some pills or find a mechanical solution, but under no circumstances should you ask the body about its needs.
The tyrant is the mind, and for many people, that guy can keep ruling for the rest of their life without much problem. The conquered lands of the body, heart, and soul can suck it up, pay their taxes, and accept getting occasionally conscripted into some war they have no stake in. That’s life.
For others, a crisis crops up—and that’s where things get interesting.
When a puppy is born, you have all the material for an adult dog. The puppy will get bigger, its face will change shape a little, it’s barks will get deeper—but all things considered, a puppy isn’t significantly different from an adult dog.
Dragonflies, frogs, and—famously—butterflies are a bit different. When one of their eggs hatch, you’d be hard pressed to find signs of their adult form in what emerges. Dragonflies go through several instars (forms between metamorphoses) between hatching and finding their way to their adult form. They have to molt over and over again, shedding their own exoskeletons and moving back into the world as something new. Butterflies and moths, of course, go from furry little worms to mummified goo to delicate flying beauties.
The two crisis situations we ran through above, I’ve met a lot of people who have gone through both types. The gradual crisis that resolves easily tends to follow the basic dog pattern, and the total crisis tends to more closely resemble a change between instars.
For some people, the crisis in the Kingdom of the Mind builds up slowly. They’re lucky enough to notice and react in time, and find their way towards reasonable compromises. They learn some Gendlin Focusing to get in touch with their bodies; maybe someone points them towards therapy, or Bio-Emotive Framework, or Jungian shadow work for their emotions; a little taoist poetry here and there, to nourish the soul. Maybe keep some Rilke on the bookshelf, or find a Unitarian Universalist church in their area. Compromises are found, new paths forward are mapped—and life can go back to a more workable version of normal. Like a puppy growing up, the snout has gotten longer and the voice has gotten deeper, but for the most part, things are now as they were before—just nicer.
For other people: chaos, madness, collapse. The mind-tyrant and its consequences explode into being, and no compromises can be worked out. It’s an all out war as the long-neglected body, heart, and soul claw over each other to get to the throne, to be seen, to be heard—to let loose at last their long-suppressed primal screams and hear them echo from mountain to sea. It sucks bad, and it might kill you.
But the people I’ve met who emerged with the unmistakable scars of a collapse like this, they emerge like dragonflies: glittering, otherworldly, nearly unrecognizable. Spending just a few hours with them, you can tell that their mind isn’t a tyrant, ruling over their life—but a servant, a mediator, putting the other parts of their existence in contact with each other, in flow with the world around them.
I have no idea why I’m writing this. It’s not like you get to choose between the two options, anymore than a dog can decide to become a butterfly. Maybe I just love stories and wanted to tell a couple. Maybe I feel like I’m in between instars, and want to draw a map for myself. Regardless, I hope you all have a perfect day—read some Rilke, listen to your body. Plant some basil and tell it your secrets.
If you like me, but not like, that much, the occasional retweet makes a great stocking stuffer.