Steppenwolf Syndrome

When you’ve had enough of Babylon, and you’re heartily sick of all the Muggles, Muppets and Divas clamoring for your attention, it’s easy to get despondent, cynical and downright grumpy. Suddenly you’re not interested in all the news and gossip, the debates and controversies, the posturing and the posing. You feel like a dead tree, like burnt ashes. You feel dead to the world.

I call this “Steppenwolf Syndrome”. If you’ve read Hermann Hesse’s semi-autobiographical novel, you’ll know what I mean. Steppenwolf is a loner in the romantic Nietzschean tradition. He sees through the artificiality, inauthenticity and pettiness of bourgeois culture and retreats into himself, living the life of a lone “wolf of the steppes” whilst walking the streets of Basel.

Steppenwolf rejects the modes of being characteristic of the Wheel of Babylon, but has not yet found a stable alternative. The painful result is isolation, loneliness, resentment and depression. His bitterness at the superficiality and insanity of modern culture turns on him until he himself starts displaying Muppet-like characteristics, while believing himself to be free of them.

The underlying conundrum at the heart of Steppenwolf’s predicament is how to be “in the world but not of the world”. The allure of the hermit’s cell or the monastic cloister draws its psychological power from a Steppenwolf’s deep repugnance at the human ego in all its manifestations (Diva, Muggle, Muppet, Addict, Victim, Demon). He would rather escape to the forests and mountains like Henry Thoreau.

Bobby Dupea, the protagonist of the 1970 film Five Easy Pieces (played by Jack Nicholson) is another striking example of a spiritually restless character suffering from Steppenwolf Syndrome, who ends up hitching a ride on a truck bound for Alaska to get away from it all (sorry about the spoiler!).

How can spiritually inclined people be in the world but not of the world? What mode of being is resilient enough to not succumb to corruption by the Babylon matrix on the one hand or to Steppenwolfian sulkiness on the other? It’s no good joining in the fray and allowing yourself a little temporary Muggleness, Muppetry or Divahood. It will only make you feel worse afterwards. And it’s no good going to all the parties just to find fault and hate every minute of it.

One solution is to shift the focus towards the cultivation of a positive ego, instead of obsessively bewailing all the irritating forms of the negative. By flipping the six negative ego states of the “Wheel of Babylon” (based on the six realms of the Tibetan Wheel of Life) into their positive counterparts, you can focus on strengthening and fortifying yourself against the slings and arrows of outrageous egotism instead of just moaning about them.

The six negative ego states are Diva, Demon, Victim, Addict, Muppet, Muggle. Their six counterparts are Mystic, Shaman, Warrior, Monk, Philosopher, King (see the two diagrams on the Home Page). However, this is quite a juggling act. It’s a lot to deal with. Where to start?

Well, we can helpfully simplify this six-fold model by simply noticing that the three archetypes at the top of the second diagram (which I call the “Armour of Christ”) represent the mind and the three archetypes at the bottom of the diagram represent the body.

Mental life and social life is really all about talking. This is where the three mental egos, Diva, Muppet and Muggle, come out to play. How they talk and what they talk about is circumscribed by their respective outlooks on the world, focused as they are on asserting their superiority, challenging authority or achieving social acceptance. Their opposites are the Mystic, the Philosopher and the King, who are not subject to these primal drives. These three archetypes can be integrated into one, that of the “Mystical Philosopher King”.

To be in the human world of social interaction, but not of the human world of social interaction, it is far better to be a Mystical Philosopher King or a Mystical Philosopher Queen than it is to be a Steppenwolf. Likewise, to be in the physical world of the human body, it is far better to be a Shamanic Warrior Monk or a Shamanic Warrior Nun.

This is a tangible and noble aim. Rather than drifting through life like a reed in a stream, you can dedicate yourself to being and becoming the best you can be, both in mind and body, a Mystical Philosopher King or Queen in mind and a Shamanic Warrior Monk or Nun in body. That way you will be able to brush off the Babylonian onslaughts of vanity, ignorance, delusion, craving, resentment and hatred, while at the same time resisting the “spiritual” temptation of wallowing in Steppenwolfian negativity and self-pity. That way you will be able to be in the world but not of the world.