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Archive for January, 2013

Cosmic Affinities

“… wholeness … has always been characterized by certain cosmic affinities: the individual soul was thought to be of ‘heavenly’ origin, a particle of the world soul, and hence a microcosm, a reflection of the macrocosm. … The macrocosm is the starry world around us …”

C.G. Jung (CW 10, par. 635)

Sometimes a simple news story awakens wonder within you. This week there was an article on how the dung beetle uses the light of the Milky Way galaxy as a compass. The beetle creates a ball of dung by rolling it to a larger and larger size. The ball serves as a sustained source of food. Studies show that the beetle has an uncanny ability to roll the dung ball in a straight line, which ensures the ball is far away from competing insects. Now scientists have performed ingenious experiments to show that the beetle uses the galaxy to guide it. This study adds to others findings of how many life forms use the Sun, the Moon, Earth’s magnetic field and now the Milky Way galaxy as a compass for their local to global journeys.

Jung was fascinated by the ancient idea of how the macrocosm (the heavens) is reflected in the microcosm (humans). This idea appears in the Hermetic adage of “As above, so below,” an idea that fascinated Isaac Newton.  Jung speculated that the reflection of the outer universe within us was an original archetypal image of wholeness. Jung (CW 13, par. 372) says that, “Because the microcosm is identical with the macrocosm, it attracts the latter and thus brings about … a restoration … to the original wholeness.”

If the humble dung beetle sees the heavens above, then what of our connections to the macrocosm? Ultimate wholeness would be seeing our place in the cosmos, not just in our local environment. We are a part of the universe integrally connected to it in ways  yet to be discovered. Let us marvel at the dung beetle’s ability to see deeply into the macrocosm. Tonight I will stare into the heavens and wonder how the macrocosm lives in me.

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Balrog_-_FOTR

“People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! … The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.”

Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth)

Last week I gave a university seminar on how affect plays an important role in communicating climate change. A few days later, I met with some environmental studies students to continue to discuss climate change and how to better communicate this issue to the public. As I looked around the table I saw the interesting faces of students working on their graduate degrees. I was reminded of that life the excitement of research and the stress of getting through it all. I also realized that when I was working on my degree –some thirty years ago – global warming was a basic research problem, not a phenomena taking place everyday, not a problem threatening our future. Unlike me, these students were not just studying global warming they were witnesses to it. Even more disturbing, their lives stretched out into a future where increased disruption would be the new normal.

The room was full of sadness, anger and hopelessness. Statements of “It’s already too late,” “The issue is too big for individuals to solve,” and “Nothing is going to happen to solve this problem” wove through the discussion. The more we talked the more we descended into a dark emotional abyss. It is so easy to enter darkness when facing this issue. It’s one of the reasons we all tend to avoid the issue. Who wants to go down into that darkness? Who wants to live in hopelessness?  Global warming seems to be a very dark cloud with no silver lining. The students wanted to know if I thought there was any hope. Could we pull ourselves away from the rapidly approaching climate cliff (by the way, far more destructive than any financial cliff)? I sat for a while experiencing the depths of despair. I was down in that dark place. Part of me wanted to admit defeat. Yes, we seem committed to destroying ourselves. I wanted to accept the hopelessness.

It’s so easy to slip into that feeling for it absolves us of any action. Joseph Campbell compared this space of limitation to the appearance of the dragon or monster in myths. Whenever we find ourselves in that place of “I can’t” we know the monster has appeared. Campbell says that, “Slaying the monster is slaying the dark things, the dragon locking you in.” Remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings when the fellowship was down in the dark caves of Moria? They had awakened the Balrog, the flaming monster of the depths. Gandalf stood up to this darkness. He faced the monster with, “You shall not pass!” His sacrifice enabled the rest of the fellowship to come up out of the darkness. Any transformation requires sacrifice.

Sitting in that classroom amidst darkness I experienced a sense of peace. This wasn’t my ego wanting some magical escape. It was a deep sense of strength and resolve. Jung would say that the Self, the archetype of centeredness, had arisen within me. I felt peaceful in the presence of the monster. In that moment I heard myself telling the students of my growing up in the fifties, how I lived amidst rampant racial discrimination and the ever nigh threat of nuclear annihilation. People knew these things were wrong – just as we know the wrongness of global warming. But many felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. How could things ever change? It took individuals to find the strength within to live a different way. To stand before the monster and say, “You shall not pass!” Rosa Parks chose one day to say this to a bus driver. Martin Luther King Jr. chose this path and many others joined together to slay the dragon of discrimination. Think of all of the changes that have taken place over the past fifty years that began with the few who chose to live one day.

Joseph Campbell says, “become alive to yourself” if you want to change the world. I believe this is what happened back in the fifties. Individuals awoke to life. In the darkest of times we can truly experience this sense of inner peace and resolve. We have many examples to guide us. With such resolve we can stand before the dragon of global warming and say with certainty, “You shall not pass!”

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Tree

“Sometimes a tree tells you more than can be read in a book”

C.G. Jung (Letters I, p. 479)

“So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading … he gradually loses the capacity for thinking; just as the man who always rides, at last forgets how to walk.”

Schopenhauer (On Books and Reading)

A strange thing can happen when you are writing about a subject, especially if you are inclined to thinking a lot about a subject. Mea Culpa! In the process of researching a subject, you may find yourself moving further away from the heart of the matter. I have experienced this in my writings on our relationship with Nature. I choose an idea of interest and feel compelled to research it first. I carry out this research so that I am ‘well prepared’ to write on the subject. As a scientist I was trained to thoroughly research a subject before beginning my work. But there are inherent problems with this approach if pursued too far. The research may become an all-consuming endeavor. It becomes so fascinating to read other’s words that we forget what we want to say about the topic. Unfortunately, the more time we spend reading other works, the less time we have to write down our thoughts.

The field of phenomenology teaches us to go “back to the things themselves!” To go out into the forest, rather than read about trees is essential to the process. Clearly there is a role for reading and research on any subject. The peril arises when we dwell too much on the research. There is also the peril that we may use our research to avoid our writing. Mea Culpa, once again! As Schopenhauer writes,

“… to take up a book for the purpose of scaring away ones own original thoughts is a sin against the Holy Spirit. It is like running away from Nature to look at a museum of dried plants or gaze at a landscape in a copperplate.”

Schopenhauer (On Thinking for Oneself)

So, this year I am determined to spend more time listening to the trees.

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