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Archive for October, 2012

The Right Moment

“We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos – the right moment – for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. … Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science.”

C.G. Jung (1956) (CW 10, par. 585)

As I sit writing this piece the East coast is under assault from Sandy, a storm of historic proportions. Over 10,000 flights have been cancelled, millions are without power, and storm surges in New York City are at record heights, and all of this just a few hours before landfall. People are already estimating the financial costs of damages in the billions of dollars. There are questions about whether this particular storm can be blamed on global warming. Climate skeptics point out that storms have happened in the past and this is just a natural event. Unfortunately, we no longer live in a natural world, if your definition of natural is a world where humans have no effect on Earth. The overwhelming scientific consensus (97%) is that humans are warming the planet due to the burning of fossil fuels and the associated increase in greenhouse gas warming. The scientific basis of this is unquestionable. It is based on fundamental physics and solid observations. We do not believe that the theory of global warming is real, we know it is. It is as sound a fact as the theory of gravity. For, yes, gravity is only a theory too. But I doubt many of the skeptics would want to test that theory! So, a natural world is a thing of the past.

The truth is that we cannot state with 100% certainty that Sandy is due to a warming world. There is always a chance that such things can happen without warming. But what we do know is that storms like Sandy are going to become more and more likely due to global warming. Few things in life are absolutely certain. Everyday we make important life decisions in the face of uncertainties. It is time to own up to what we are doing to the planet and start choosing a different way of living in the world. This is an ethical issue of global and historic proportions. I personally do not feel we have the right to condemn future generations to a planet where storms like Sandy are frequently disrupting life on Earth. We are talking about the safety of our children and their children, and generations to come for a very long time into the future.

As Jung notes, the Greeks had a concept of special or opportune moments in time when significant transformation can take place. I believe we are in the throws of the next “right moment” and the coming kairos is the most challenging of all. For we humans have now reached a point in our technological development where we are in the driver seat. Jung (CW 11, par. 870) also states that,

“Western man has no need of more superiority over nature, whether outside or inside. He has both in almost devilish perfection. What he lacks is conscious recognition of his inferiority to the nature around and within him. He must learn that he may not do exactly as he wills. If he does not learn this, his own nature will destroy him. He does not know that his own soul is rebelling against him in a suicidal way.”

Very little has been done to stop global warming. World governments have turned their backs on the problem, as have apparently both of our presidential candidates. It is time that each of us takes on the responsibility of making this “the right moment” for this problem. We need to bring more consciousness to bear on this issue. Consciousness of the science, the ethical responsibility we all hold for life on the planet and consciousness of the rejected parts of our selves. These rejected parts being our feelings and imagination, which hold the solutions to this terrible threat to the world. We can solve this problem, if we choose to make this the right moment.

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“By way of compensation for the loss of a world that pulsed with our blood and breathed with our breath, we have developed an enthusiasm for facts – mountains of facts, far beyond any single individual’s power to survey… The facts bury us…”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 767)

Jung wrote these words in 1939! What would he say of today’s world with cloud computing, massive data centers and Google? We live in an Age of Information, in which ‘mountains of facts’ reside at our fingertips. It is estimated that every two days we create as much information as existed from the dawn of civilization to the year 2003. Yes, every two days! In the same paragraph, Jung goes on to say that:

“We have the pious hope that this incidental accumulation of facts will form a meaningful whole, but nobody is quite sure, because no human brain can possibly comprehend the gigantic sum total of this mass-produced knowledge.”

Our increasing technological prowess has created a race to accumulate more and more facts. I am not opposed to the gathering of information. Those beautiful pictures of Earth from space are the result of such an effort. Let us also not forget the luminous pictures of deep space from the Hubble telescope. Scientific knowledge is rooted in the accumulation of facts. But we seem to have entered a place where we feel compelled to accumulate facts indiscriminately. We no longer reflect on what we are accumulating.

Jung is concerned that this process of indiscriminate accumulation arises to compensate for our loss of experiencing a living, pulsing world. It is as if we are trying to replace a lived experience of the world with a representation of that world. We are choosing to look at images of nature, rather than walking away from our laptops and going outdoors. In this fast paced world, we feel we have little time for a direct experience of the animate world. We look at it on a screen. Is this why so many are seduced into ‘reality’ television? Have we reached a point where people want to live vicarious lives through images on their TV screen, rather than living their own lives?

This week, choose to walk away from your screen for an hour. Go outside and touch the earth.

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George McGovern passed away today. I will always remember him as one of my political heroes, a professional field that has held very few heroes for me. I became passionate about politics in 1968. George McGovern was running for president, but did not make the ticket that year. I was young and idealistic and was immediately attracted to what he stood for, as well as, the figure of Eugene McCarthy. McGovern was a man of integrity and intelligence. He was a history professor who decided to make a difference in the world. He fought tirelessly for peace, equality, and the rights of the oppressed. He was a calm, peaceful man who spoke with a quiet voice. I deeply admired him as an individual and a public servant. Perhaps most of all, George McGovern cared about people. Everything he worked for in his life was grounded in caring. As I look around at the political scene of today, I am saddened by the lack of his caliber. I no longer hold a passion for things political. I supported and believed in the things he stood for in 1968, as I do today. I guess I am still idealistic about the things that matter. Today, I mourn the passing of this peaceful warrior. I hope we never let go of the fight to care for others.

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The Numina that Cross Our Path

Something empirically demonstrable comes to our aid from the depths of our unconscious nature. It is the task of the conscious mind to understand these hints. If this does not happen, the process of individuation will nevertheless continue. The only difference is that we become its victims and are dragged along by fate towards that inescapable goal which we might have reached walking upright, if only we had taken the trouble and been patient enough to understand in time the meaning of the numina that cross our path.

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 746)

What are these “numina” that enter our lives, invited or not? For those living in ancient times, they were the gods, those powerful forces that could push or pull one through life. Myth is full of stories of those “dragged along by fate” to their ultimate comic or tragic goal in life. Think of Homer’s great epics or the plays of Sophocles. Religions are rooted in tales of individuals seized by the numinous power of their particular God. In today’s world, biographies of individuals following their muse fascinate us, life stories in which the beckoning muse may lead the yearning follower to riches or ruin. The film The Master portrays two such individuals, each living their fate.  One possessed by a numinous savior archetype, while the other character follows a trajectory of downward spiraling self-destructive darkness.

Jung stresses that we can choose to understand the meaning of the numina that populate life. Note, he says this process takes patience and time. Such a process is portrayed in fairy tales where the hero or heroine must sort seeds, or carry out tedious tasks in order to obtain their treasure. Patience is a virtue as the saying goes, i.e., patience is somehow linked to truth. The root of the word patient means ‘to bear or endure without complaint.’ It is interesting that in fairy tales, the young dummling carries out his or her tasks with no complaints. The dummling is completely in the present, open and willing to do what is required. Unlike the self possessed older siblings who constantly complain about being tasked to do anything.

These stories remind us that we need to be patient with ourselves. Even though the outer world may be rushing us along to DO, we need to endure without complaint. The process requires us to consciously wait and pay attention to those things that come “to our aid from the depths of our unconscious nature.” Like the dummling we can open our hearts to whatever lies in the depths. In this way, we “walk upright” towards the goals in our lives, which seems so much better than being dragged…

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Esalen: Land of Transformation

 

My wife and I have just returned from the 50th Anniversary celebration at Esalen Institute in Big Sur. The celebration was called A Moveable Feast and allowed participants to sample many dimensions of Esalen. I attended workshops on Gestalt process, creative writing and sustainability. In addition to the smaller workshops, the celebration included evening events reflecting on the history and future of Esalen. In addition to all of these splendid dishes at the feast, a concert on the lawn took place one afternoon. Joan Baez, who was there for the week, performed. She sang soulful songs of loss, joy and social awareness.

Then there was the Land. From the time I walked onto the Land, I felt the presence of the sacred. The Land has always been known as sacred. For thousands of years, the Native peoples in this place cared for the Land. For the past 50 years, the peoples of Esalen, including Native elders, continue to preserve and protect the sacred Land.

The sacredness also appears in the silence, a quiet that fills your soul. Each morning I would sit by the sea listening to this silence. My body became infused with the silence. Everyone there commented on this unique aspect of Esalen. We were filled with awe of its abiding presence. I hope that I can carry some of this quiet with me now that I returned to the busy world.

The Land is truly precious, but so are the People of Esalen. From the time you drive down to the gate to the time you leave, you experience an open acceptance and authenticity by those dwelling on the Land. The people reflect the sacred quiet of the Land. Their work reflects back on the place. Place and People are inseparable. The dwellers of Esalen, some who have been there for 40 years, make Esalen a place of personal and social transformation. They recognize the importance of community of being together to make a whole. The people attending the anniversary were filled with beauty and I am thankful for encountering newly found friends.

Finally, this is a place of the Body. The Esalen baths and massages are known throughout the world. Natural sulfur hot springs feed the baths, which reminds me of the alchemical nature of the place. The importance of Body to life, to being an authentic being pervades all aspects of Esalen. I experienced some great massages there that were in themselves transformative.

I went to the 50th anniversary to honor elders who I have received so much from: Aldous Huxley, Gregory Bateson, Alan Watts, Fritz Perls, Joseph Campbell, to name a few. Walking the grounds I was constantly reminded of their presence at Esalen and now living within me. I also went to experience what ever happened. Experience. Perhaps this is what Esalen is really about. You never know what you will experience, but in the Land of Transformation, you know you will be changed forever.

Thank You and Happy 50th Birthday Esalen!

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