Archive for November, 2012

“… the moon, sublime, purposeful suddenly steps out over the peak, bringing the night to serene completion.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

We spent Thanksgiving at a colleague’s house. The food was delicious and the company and conversation were heartfelt. After dinner we went outside and gazed through a large telescope to view the moons of Jupiter and our own moon. It was quite moving to stand outside and view these celestial bodies.

I was reminded of Galileo and how science has evolved, since he first looked at Jupiter and its moons in 1610. Galileo’s observations supported the Copernican view of the solar system, not the reigning Church approved paradigm of Ptolemy, in which all planets were believed to orbit Earth. Galileo was tried for his heretical planetary views and forced to recant his observations.

We also had a chance to look at our moon. What a sight to see the craters of the moon in such detail. The surface of the moon has a rich diversity of light and dark regions. Galileo also looked at our moon and saw these features. This too upset those who believed the moon to be a perfectly smooth glowing sphere in space. So, again Galileo was in the proverbial doghouse for upsetting prevailing beliefs.

Such is the role of science in the world, for science often comes along and upsets a reigning worldview. Science has spent the past 500 years physically displacing us from the center of the universe. First, Galileo and others proved that we do not sit at the center of the universe, Kant came along to show that we are limited in how we know the world, Darwin came along to show we are not a separate species in the world, and finally Freud and Jung came along to show that we are not in complete control of our personal world. This is quite a series of blows to our place in the universe.

But I felt something completely different Thanksgiving evening as I gazed at the celestial sphere hovering above me. I did not feel small and displaced as I stared at the moons. On the contrary, I was filled with the wonder in the structures of our solar system, the wonder of our ability to build devices to look so closely at these bodies, and the wonder of our ability to construct theories that accurately predict the motions of the moons of Jupiter. If anything the past 500 years has shown how imaginative we humans are at building models of the universe. Our imagination is a precious facility that we often forget about in a world so focused on practicality. Galileo, Kant, Darwin and many others were filled with curiosity. Their curiosity and imagination led to wonder filled ideas about the universe. I am thankful for these two gifts: curiosity and imagination, may they continue to make us a creative part of the Universe.

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“It is … the incapacity to love which robs mankind of his possibilities.”

C.G. Jung (1912)

Jung is often described as Freud’s student, but nothing could be further from the truth. Even though Jung was much younger than Freud, from the start of their intense friendship, they were actually working colleagues, more than teacher and student. At the time Jung met Freud in 1907, he had published a number of papers on complexes and was established at a world-renowned psychiatric clinic in Zurich. In 1912, however, their relationship reached a breaking point. Jung had his own ideas about psyche that were very different from those of Freud’s. The catalyst for their falling out occurred one hundred years ago this Fall. For it is in 1912 that Jung published a work, which translated into English is known as The Psychology of the Unconscious. Freud could not accept Jung’s interpretation of the psyche put forth in that work.  It was the final chord in a growing dissonance between these two great thinkers.

To honor the centenary of this event, I have been reading the original 1912 work. It has been a joy to trace Jung’s thinking about psyche. The first part, published in 1911, is still very much in tune with Freud’s ideas, but as the book unfolds you see Jung becoming more independent about his interpretation of psyche, in which the key turning point is his view on libido. Jung felt libido was far more than just sexual instinct. He reframed libido in terms of the general concept of psychic energy. I like to think of this energy as where our interest lies, what excites us, or gives us a charge in life. Simply, to where does the love in our life flow? The quote above can be restated in the positive sense that our capacity to love gives us possibilities. What a wonderful way of looking at how to relate to the world around us. If we hold onto the capacity to love, then possibilities unfold before us. Jung further states that, “The resistance against loving produces the inability to love.” So, it is our own resistance to love that prevents us from being able to love. We may expect others to first extend their love to us, but this will be thwarted if we resist loving others. This resistance resides within us and it is our task to work with the resistance. If we cannot accomplish this, then Jung says we live with an “incapacity to lovingly include a thing outside of ourselves.” We live a life of isolation.

So, let us take Jung’s words to heart, words written a century ago, but still so relevant to living a life full of possibilities.

This week, discover your capacity to love.

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“The problem of synchronicity has puzzled me for a long time, ever since the middle twenties, when I was investigating the phenomena of the collective unconscious and kept on coming across connections which I simply could not explain …”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 843)

Based on a great number of personal experiences over many years, Jung came to the realization that events take place in the outer world that have a direct connection to the inner world of the psyche. Yet, these events have no direct causal connection. He called these meaningful events synchronicities. Synchronicity is archetypal and provides an ordering to lived phenomena.

Perhaps the most well known example from Jung’s work was the time he was meeting with a client who was stuck in her therapy process. She was very reluctant to move outside of her overly rigid views about things. One day she brought a dream in which the image of a scarab appeared. Just at the moment she was describing the scarab image in the dream there came a tapping sound. Jung went to the window and there was a scarab beetle tapping at the window. He opened the window, caught the beetle, carried it over to the women and said, “Here is your scarab!” She was so moved by the meaningful nature of this event that she was able to break out of her overly rigid views and her therapeutic process moved on.

There are events in our lives for which we have no logical explanation, yet they happen. These events place us in a space between psyche and matter. Who among you reading this has not experienced a synchronicity? You were thinking of someone whom you had not seen in a long time and your cell phone rang and that very person was calling you. You were in a foreign country walking down a street thinking of someone from home and there they were walking towards you. You had a dream about something and a few days later that very thing took place. All of these things are highly improbable, yet they happen and are meaningful to you.

I believe that synchronicities are taking place all the time, but our rigid conditioning creates a blind spot to such occurrences. Yet, if we become a little more attuned to their presence, we would see more of them in our lives. I do not speak of these things lightly. I was trained as a scientist and believe we should validate our suppositions. However, I am also aware that our scientific perspective can become too rigid. We can move into scientism, which is a blind adherence to rationality. Science can become a dogmatic creed. I feel we have to remain open to the fact that we are still searching to understand the universe.

Consider how people from times past viewed electricity and magnetism. No doubt these phenomenon appeared impossible, unreal, or even magical. Then later science came up with a way to explain these phenomena. Is it not possible that synchronicity is a similar phenomenon? Jung (CW 8, par. 967) states that, “Synchronicity is no more baffling or mysterious than the discontinuities of physics.”

Here Jung is referring to the very strange world of quantum physics. Jung had entertained Einstein at his house for dinners while Einstein was developing his special theory of relativity. He also had a long and productive collaboration with the world-renowned physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Thus, Jung had great respect for science and was only asking people to keep an open mind about the strange phenomena of synchronicity.

I encourage you for a moment to open yourself to the possibility that there are unknowns out in the world yet to be understood, wonders yet to be explained. Open yourself to seeing a synchronicity in your life this week.

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On a Western Cliff

Western sky opening before me,

inviting me to be present.

Standing on this cliff,

earth flows through me.

With a roar, sea and rock greet one another,

reminding me that body and soul are one.


Behind lies a shimmering space,

a door to timelessness.

A place where past gods dwell,

waiting patiently with vision.

This place of deepest memory calls to me,

reminding me that body and soul are one.

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