Archive for January, 2011

Light and Shadow

“… the Self appears as a play of light and shadow, although conceived as a totality and unity in which the opposites are united.”

C. G. Jung (CW  6, par. 790)

On a path I look down and see shadows of tree limbs spread out before me. Light dances around the edges of these shadows as wind moves through the branches. Spread out before me are places of scintillation and deep darkness. I stand transfixed by Nature’s play of light and shadow.

Jung’s poetic description of the Self opens us to experiencing a dynamic relationship of opposites. The Self is often described as the archetype of wholeness or totality, as if differences amidst the wholeness are nonexistent. In the play of light and shadow, we see something more than wholeness. We see the presence of opposites that are so fundamental to life. More than just light and shadow is present. Jung notes that it is the play of shadow and light that manifests as Self. In the interconnectedness of wind, branch, light and path, I am placed in the presence of the numinous. Participating in the interplay among different elements in our lives creates a doorway to the numinosity of the Self. Resting within the interplay of light and shadow is always the possibility of wholeness.

At times, we want to pass over the shadow for all we want is light. Yet, it is being present with both light and shadow that creates a place for Self. When we open ourselves up to the play of these two elements, we become a part of the movement – the play – of these elements. In living an authentic life, we are constantly being asked to allow shadow to define lightness and lightness to define shadow. In such moments, we can dwell on the nuances of both light and shadow. We can take time to see the scintillation of the light, perhaps even discern hues within this light. Similarly, we can take time to sit with shadow. To look for a brilliance and hue within shadow. It is there if we look closely.

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Seeing Deeply

“My aim is to bring about a psychic state in which my patient begins to experiment with his own nature – a state of fluidity, change, and growth where nothing is eternally fixed and hopelessly petrified.”

C.G. Jung (CW 16, par. 99)

A significant part of analytic work is to reach a point where we can experiment with ways of being fluid and more accepting of change. Jung stresses over and over in his writings that we must experience life. Jungian work is not an intellectual exercise, we must constantly and playfully experiment and experience both our conscious and unconscious worlds.

I am motivated to write on experiencing the world after reading these words of the German philosopher Heidegger, “the basic mood of astonishment necessitates the pure recognition of the extraordinariness of the ordinary.” I have also been stimulated by Jeremy Hayward’s book Sacred World, in which he speaks of “first thought.” “First thought” is the ability to experience the world without adding past conditioning to what we see. Both Heidegger’s and Hayward’s words remind me how important it is to be open to seeing the world in a different way. Jung’s statement indicates that an important goal of our work is becoming more fluid in experiencing the world. We are to strive for a psychic state where “nothing is externally fixed and hopelessly petrified.” Basically, we are asked to receive the invitation to experience the world with both fascination and astonishment.

Can we begin to see the “extraordinariness of the ordinary?” I believe any one of us can open ourselves to seeing the wonder in the seemingly mundane. There is nothing supernatural about becoming receptive to experiencing our world in this deeper way. We have momentary experiences of seeing deeply into the world surrounding us. Seeing deeply is something that we can develop. It begins by attempting to see things as they are, rather than as we judge or preconceive them. Our experiences of this world are shaded by preconceptions, past relations, and imposed concepts. We grow up accumulating preconceptions of our experiences. How and what we value is strongly influenced by past conditioning, and perhaps even more so, by current social mores.

Seeing deeply means shedding as much conditioning – past and present – as possible. When this happens, we bring fluidity into life and rigidity drops away.  When this happens, we truly see how extraordinary our ordinary lived world is and are filled with the fascination and astonishment of our everyday world.

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Interview on Psyche and Nature

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Joanna Harcourt-Smith for her web site called: FuturePrimitive.org

If you would like to listen to the interview, you will find it at:



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Projections (Part II)

“All the contents of our unconscious are constantly being projected into our surroundings … All human relationships swarm with these projections…”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 507)

In the last post, I discussed how we naturally project unconscious material onto our surrounding world. Everyone is constantly projecting unconscious material out onto the lived-world. Projections disturb our view of the world. They force us to look through a cloudy lens preventing us from seeing and relating to the world as it is.

Specifically, how do projections affect our relationship to Nature? If qualities projected arise from our unconscious, then we need to consider how the image of Nature may appear in the unconscious.

Nature can be perceived as fearful. Nature is unpredictable and destructive. Nature is wild and dark. Nature can be chaotic. All of these qualities describe aspects of Nature. These aspects of Nature are captured in Freud’s comment that “[Nature] destroys us – coldly, cruelly, relentlessly … The principle task of civilization … is to defend us against nature.” Imagine growing up surrounded by this fear of Nature. As a child you hear how threatening Nature is and that we must defend ourselves against it. It is possible to imagine that given these types of messages about Nature, a complex will develop within us, a complex of fear rooted in the archetype of destruction.

Nature can also be perceived as a source of wholeness and creativity. For many, Nature provides a sense of containment and safety. Nature can evoke within us a numinous sense of centeredness. Often people equate deep spiritual experiences to being in the presence of Nature. Nature can place us in the presence of Beauty. Nature is a source of creation and life. Imagine growing up surrounded with these images of Nature. You will view Nature as supportive and perhaps even sacred. For someone growing up surrounded by these messages, a positive complex of wholeness will develop that is rooted in the archetype of creation.

Those filled with fear of Nature will have a tendency to project the qualities of the negative unconscious complex out onto the environment. They will see Nature as threatening, something to be defended against. Their relationship to Nature will be one of overcoming or destroying Nature. They may even look at Nature as an inanimate resource to serve the needs of humanity.

Those filled with a love for Nature will have a tendency to project the qualities of the positive unconscious complex onto the environment. They will be attracted to Nature and perhaps even overly idealize Nature. They will strive to be connected to Nature and to preserve the environment.

Of course, there are complexities to the picture I have painted. Social forces also play an important role in determining our perceptions of Nature. But the existence and power of personal projections must be recognized. We may perceive Nature in one of these two ways, in which the perception is viewed through the cloudiness of projection. Perhaps you would prefer to see only the creative side to Nature, but this one-sided view of Nature is limiting. We need to recognize the polarity of Nature, both its creative and destructive aspects.

Ultimately, we are called upon to withdraw our projections onto Nature. It is only after withdrawing these projections that we will see Nature in its totality and will find ourselves in an authentic relationship with Nature.

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