Archive for March, 2011

“When I was a graduate student in Germany – this was in 1928-1929 – I discovered the works of Freud and Jung, which opened up a psychological dimension to the field of mythology. … Jung became more and more eloquent to me. I think the longer you live, the more Jung can say to you. … Jung gives us clues as to how to let the myth talk to us in its own terms, without putting a formula on it. … [In 1953] Jean and I had tea with Jung and his wife at Bollingen … He was a very big man, and my wife tells me that his eyes were very attractive.”

Joseph Campbell in An Open Life

The second person who has had a deep influence on my life is the mythologist Joseph Campbell. He was a rascal in the way he used myths to get us to question our beliefs. He encouraged us to follow our bliss, knowing the challenges this would bring up within us. He was both charmer and gentleman. He was a man filled with immense knowledge, which he obtained through a self imposed retreat to Woodstock, New York where he  filled the hours with intense reading. He once said that his form of meditation was underlining. Campbell was far more interested in the similarities among myths than the dissimilarities. Through his research in comparative mythology he formulated the concept of the monomyth of the hero’s journey. This archetypal pattern is found within many cultures around the world. It describes the pattern of coming to grips with living an engaged life. He felt that through this journey we bring meaning into our lives.

A sample of Campbell’s rich knowledge and style as storyteller can be found here:

I discovered Campbell’s writings only after he had passed away. After watching the PBS series Power of Myth I started to read Campbell. I wonder what effect his writings would have had on the direction of my life had I discovered him earlier in my life? I did not so much read his books as devour them. As soon as I finished one, I would run out and buy another. His ability to trace many of the foundational images of the Judeo-Christian belief system to its more ancient roots in Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures was a revelation to me. His description of the myths of indigenous cultures awakened me to the deep seated wisdom that has existed from the dawn of human beginnings.

It was in the midst of reading Campbell’s works that I kept coming across the name of Carl Jung. I knew who Jung was, but had  paid little attention to him. The more I read of Campbell’s works, the more I realized that I needed to find out what Jung was saying. At the time, I was living in England. I remember walking down to the local bookstore to buy something of Jung’s. I found a copy of his work on the archetypes of the collective unconscious, i.e. volume 9i. It is difficult to describe in words what I experienced when I began reading this work. After reading the first page, I knew I had discovered a remarkable and invaluable treasure. What grabbed me was Jung’s appreciation of the shadow and how our suffering was a source of transformation. Well, that was all it took… I could not stop reading Jung, and I could not hold back from getting myself into analysis. So, I am very thankful to Joseph Campbell for leading me to Carl Jung. It is no exaggeration to state that he saved my life.

“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you … When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Joseph Campbell

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Irreducible Rascality

“I had a long talk with him back in 1958 … and there was a sort of twinkle in Jung’s eye that gave me the impression that he knew himself to be just as much a villain as everybody else … It showed that he knew and recognized what I sometimes call,  “The Irreducible Element of Rascality” in himself.”

Alan Watts (1961)

I am going to wander from the central theme of this blog on Jungian psychology. I want to reflect on certain people who had a major influence on me. These people influenced how I view my world and provided me with a certain direction on this journey called life. I note that these are people who I never personally met. I know them only through their words and their (auto)biographies. Looking back, I realize I could have met a number of these people had I been brave enough to travel around the country to meet them in person. Unfortunately I lacked the courage to make these journeys. I also realize that these men (yes, I am going to discuss the men who have influenced me) were all rascals. In today’s world of political correctness, ethics, rules, regulations and moral judgment  it is impossible to be a rascal. The world no longer has the kind of rascals I am going to talk about. To be honest, I feel the world is the worst off for it. Gone are the tricksters, the pranksters, and men of crazy wisdom. Now the world will only tolerate fools from Hollywood, who – from what I can tell – sorely lack the intelligence, wit, wisdom and heart like the people I will describe.

For the morally sensitive, I realize that the people I will talk about had big shadows. The important thing to note is that all of these men realized they had these shadows. Indeed, it was part and parcel of what made them who they were. I will not apologize for their “shadow issues” and I doubt they ever would have. There is another curious fact about these men. Many of them met Jung at some point in their lives and had a deep respect for him as a man.

The first rascal I would like to talk about is Alan Watts, who often described himself as a “genuine fake.” I first started to read Watts when I was seventeen, in 1969. Well, that was a different world and Watts was all the rage among those of us who were searching for something beyond the Judeo-Christian myth. Here was a man who had been ordained in the Anglican church, had written numerous books on Christianity, but had left the church to explore eastern religions, in particular Buddhism. For a seeker like myself, I was immediately captured by Watts’ writings on religion, the illusion of our encapsulated ego and our relation to nature. I often go back to re-read his books and they are as fresh today as they were over 40 years ago. He was certainly a rascal. He poked fun at the social establishment, the corporate world, the military and most of all religions and philosophies. Like Jung, he had an innate ability to pull information from mythology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, etc. His gift was to weave all of this material into the most interesting stories. He was a great storyteller (and again, I realize this is a common gift of a number of the people I will talk about). He was adept at coming up with the best metaphors for his stories.

I can’t summarize Watts’ works. If you are interested, I would suggest you read some of his books. Luckily, we can also still listen to Watts. For example:

What did Alan Watts give me? He made me ask questions about how I experienced life. He opened a door allowing me to look at the world through the lens of eastern religions. He made me think and feel a different way. For a seventeen year old living in a small town in Pennsylvania surrounded by farmland, this was significant. At that time, I had a close friend Patrick, who first turned me on to Watts. Patrick and I would sit for hours talking about the books we had read. It was in that place, at that time that I was initiated into experiencing the world in a new and exciting way. I realize I am still on the path that I started with Alan Watts and Patrick, so many years ago. Alas, Patrick is no longer here, but I still have Alan Watts to journey with and to make me think and laugh.

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