Archive for December, 2012

Being Connected


“In reality, our psyche spreads far beyond the confines of the conscious mind, as was apparently known long ago to the old alchemists who said that the soul was for the greater part outside the body.”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 389)

This season has brought home how interconnected we are to one another. We have been immersed in tragedies from the senseless slaying of innocent children to worldwide wars and terrible assaults on individuals. Tragedy brings us together. For in the midst of suffering we recognize the fragility and unpredictable nature of our lives, which evokes within us a sense of solidarity. The Greeks recognized the importance of collectively experiencing a ‘suffering with,’ which is the meaning of compassion. They developed the tragedy play to foster the communal healing of collective suffering.

I believe this feeling of being connected to one another is THE one true thing that offers us hope. How does this connection take place? Jung’s statement above expresses the natural ability of psyche (or soul) to extend beyond the bounds of our physical bodies. He often pointed out that the awareness of our interconnectedness was something many wisdom traditions believed in and put into daily practice. Today more than ever we need to recognize this essential aspect of our being-in-the-world.

Psychologically, this sense of being connected occurs on both conscious and unconscious levels. In our present outward directed world, we tend to focus solely on the conscious pathways to connect with another. However, unconscious pathways can be far more effective for interconnectedness. For example, the existence of the collective unconscious creates a powerful way in which we sense not just a single person, but the many. Jung (CW 7, par. 275) states that, “… 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.” So, by connecting to the unconscious, we create a transformative bridge to all. History presents us with examples of rapid, large-scale social transformation, which proves that this kind of unconscious connectedness is available to us.

As we enter a new year, I hope we deepen our awareness of how connected we really are with one another. Experiencing interconnectedness is actually a way to prevent tragedies. For rather than waiting for tragedies to awaken us to our connectedness, we could choose to open up and feel the heart and soul of others before our seeming separation leads to yet another tragedy.

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“The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature… The creative urge lives and grows … like a tree in the earth… We could do well, therefore, to think of the creative process as a living thing implanted in the human psyche.”

C.G. Jung (CW 15, par. 115)

I have been struggling to find a voice with which to write longer works. I realize that this struggle is deeply imbedded in my wanting to be open to the creative process and how this wanting gets in the way of creativity. I need to let the tree grow from the earth and not force the process. I also realize there is a struggle within me between the poet and the scientist. The poet wants to live in the mystery of life and be immersed in experience. The scientist wants to understand the meaning of life events. This dichotomy between heart and head often creates a roadblock within me. How do I hold these two parts of myself in a co-creative way? Jung was well aware of this dilemma both personally and professionally as a psychologist. Here is what he (CW 15, par. 121) says about this struggle between wanting to know and living in the mystery:

We must interpret, we must find meanings in things, otherwise we would be quite unable to think about them. We have to break down life and events, which are self-contained processes, into meanings, images, concepts, well-knowing that in doing so we are getting further away from the living mystery.

We feel compelled to understand what life presents us and for those of us inclined to science, this means ‘breaking down’ the experience. Yet in the moment of analyzing the thing, the mystery is lost. Jung goes on to say:

As long as we ourselves are caught up in the process of creation, we neither see nor understand; indeed we ought not to understand, for nothing is more injurious to immediate experience than cognition. But for the purpose of cognitive understanding we must detach ourselves from the creative process and look at it from the outside; only then does it become an image that expresses what we are bound to call ‘meaning.’

So, we are caught between being in the midst of the creative process and wanting to understand it. Jung states that our cognitive approach is ‘injurious to the immediate experience’ of the creative process. It seems that he is suggesting that it is best to dwell in the experience, i.e. be a full participant in the experience, and only then look back with a cognitive gaze to find meaning. This way we give both heart and head their due.

Giving heart and head their due has become a challenging path for me. I hope to walk this path more often in the future.

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anima mundi

“Everything requires for its existence its own opposite, or else it fades into nothingness.”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 961)

The theme of opposites runs throughout Jung’s writings from beginning to end. Clearly this concept was extremely important to him, given the pervasive appearance of the opposites in his works. Opposites are archetypal given their universal appearance in so many myths and religions. I believe it is perhaps the central element to his psychology. For it is out of the tension of opposites that the third arises. Here the third is an image, or symbol that holds the solution to the tension of opposites. This transcendent function – for it transcends both the rational and irrational – is an innate process within the psyche.

If ever a concept like the transcendent function was needed, it is in today’s oppositional world. Everywhere we look we see conflict: religious, political, racial and interpersonal. We feel frozen by these various conflicts. How can we ever move on given so much disagreement and strife? How do we come to any resolution in the midst of these wars? Jung points out that the existence of opposites is absolutely natural. We would not know warm without cold, up without down, or in without out. We know what feeling better is because we know what feeling bad is like. So, we must accept that opposites compose the world as we see it. However, Jung also states that beyond this perception of opposites lies the third, the symbol that creatively unites and holds both poles. Often this is the solution that we cannot see with our limited view.

It takes time for the third to appear. We don’t get to choose when the solution presents itself. Our job is to consciously hold the opposing forces within us and let the tension between these conflicting elements cook within us. This is a real challenge. We so much want the conflict to be resolved preferably by us being right or perhaps for the other to just go away. But this rarely happens in life. The conflict sticks around and wears on us. So, what to do? I believe in these difficult times the best we can do is try to view things through the opposing perspectives and wait for the unconscious to aid us. In this world, where the unconscious is so marginalized, it is difficult to accept this position. We want to fix it. We don’t trust the unconscious or are too impatient to wait for a message to percolate up from the tension. Note that we are not passing the buck in just holding and reflecting on the opposites, for this is real work.

I encourage you to reflect on one conflict that you are facing and approach it in terms of holding the opposites. Can you identify the opposing forces and consciously hold them? Perhaps associate an image with each pole and view these images from multiple perspectives and then… wait. Wait patiently to see what happens.

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