Archive for December 9th, 2010

A Transforming Symbol?

“… the unconscious produces contents which are valid not only for the person concerned, but for others as well, in fact for a  great many people and possibly for all.”

Jung (CW 7, par. 275)

Jung opens us to the realization that transformation of collective consciousness can take place at any time. The collective unconscious connects all of us together in an interdependent network. This implies that the archetypal patterns arise not just in an individual, but within all of us. We have seen this happen in the past around moments of profound social transformation, e.g. the civil rights movement. Often it takes a symbol to unify people around such collective transformation. This transforming symbol arises from the tension between opposing forces or ideas. This is the essence of Jung’s concept of the transcendent function, in which, the holding of the tension of opposites produces a symbol that leads to the next step in our conscious awareness. This next step in awareness often brings a new feeling of wholeness.

How do these facets of Jungian psychology relate to our relationship to Nature? Our never ending need (or desire) for energy has led us to consume vast amounts of fossil fuels over the past century. The burning of these fuels has led to a dramatic increase in levels of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. This increase in carbon dioxide has warmed the planet and will continue to warm the planet. If we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, within ninety years carbon dioxide will be at the level it was about 40 million years ago. This was a time when there was no polar ice caps, and the world was extremely warm. What is of great concern is the RATE at which this warming is taking place, which has profound implications for how life can adapt to such rapid change. The ultimate and most reasonable solution to this problem is to move ourselves away from fossil fuels. If we do this, then we will prevent the most catastrophic effects from greenhouse warming. It has been very difficult for societies to commit to changing their behaviors around energy use, yet our way of life depends on making such a transition.

The relation to personal psychology is evident. Often we do things that are not good for us, they may even be self-destructive. Yet, we continue to behave in this way. We know we should change, but find we cannot. In terms of Jungian psychology, a complex (or complexes) interferes with our conscious ability to change. Complexes are affect-laden centers within our unconscious that often arise from past experiences or traumas. They are built on past conditioning and can be a very powerful dynamic within us. They can be the very source of the tension of opposites that arise in our life. Jung said all of know we have complexes, but what we do not realize is that often complexes have us.

A tension of opposing forces exists between continuing to use seemingly cheap fossil fuels and moving to a society based on renewable energy sources. We have been holding this tension for the past decade or more. Will our collective consciousness around energy use awaken to the need to move beyond fossil fuels? It may take a new symbol, a new image to arise to lead to such a transformation. What would be the image that would awaken people to this issue?

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