Posts Tagged ‘Jung’

I was recently interviewed by Bonnie Bright founder of Depth Psychology Alliance concerning my upcoming participation in C.G. Jung Psychology & Spirituality Conference  being held in Santa Fe, New Mexico from June 9 – 16, 2017. I will be teaching for a day on the topic of “Reclaiming a Sense of Wholeness Amidst Our Current Environmental Crisis.”

Please listen to the interview in which Bonnie and I explore this topic. I also encourage you to sign up for the conference. It provides a unique opportunity to build community and share experiences around wholeness.

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Looking for Caesar

Rome, Arch of Constantine. Address of emperor to soldiers (adlocutio). Relief on south side. Marble. A.D. 175—196.

“If we are stumbling into an era of dictators, Caesars, and incarnated States, we have accomplished a cycle of two thousand years and the serpent has again met with its own tail. Then our era will be a near replica of the first centuries A.D., when Caesar was the State and a god, and divine sacrifices were made to Caesar while the temples of the gods crumbled away. You know that thousands in those days turned their eyes away from this visible world, filled with horror and disgust, and adopted a philosophy which healed their souls.”

C.G. Jung CW (18, par. 1342)

The recent outcome of the US presidential election has resulted in a mood of tremendous worldwide anxiety. Many wonder how we got to this point in history. Many question how we will survive the coming days of political, social and environmental upheaval.

Jung wrote the above quoted words in 1936, a time when many Caesars were appearing in the world, a time when nationalism was on the rise in Germany, Russia, and Italy. Here he observes that the appearance of dictators occurred in the past and a common response for some in such times was a turning away to find a way to heal the soul. Such soul-based philosophy requires a turning within in order to transcend the materialistic poverty of the outer world. In reaction to the outcome of the US election there is a call for immediate action. I do not deny action is essential, but of equal importance is taking the time to look quietly within, which opens us to healing our wounded souls. At such pivotal points we need to balance ‘doing’ with ‘being’ so that our actions come from a deeper place within us, a place rooted in consciousness, connectedness and caring. At this pivotal point in our history we are in need of soulful approaches for working with our highly fragmented world. Depth psychology roots us in the varied dimensions of psyche and provides us with skillful means for exploring shadow and light in imaginative ways.

How did we get here? Earlier in his 1936 essay Jung (CW 18, par. 1330) says that,

“Nations in a condition of collective misery behave like neurotic or even psychotic individuals. First they get dissociated or disintegrated, then they pass into a state of confusion and disorientation.”

Here in the US we have felt this state of confusion and disorientation for a while. There is dis-ease in financial markets, growing inequity in monetary wealth, rising housing costs, lack of proper health care, and dislocation from place. Post election analysts describe a yearning among many Americans for radical change. Consciously and unconsciously there is a recognition that the old paradigm does not work anymore. There is a desire for a new way, even if we do not know what that way is resulting in a state of confusion.

Jung goes on to say that at first,

“… the confusion affects mainly the conscious and subconscious layers but does not touch the fundamental instinctual structure of the mind, the collective unconscious. On the contrary, the confusion in the top layers produces a compensatory reaction in the collective unconscious, consisting of a peculiar personality surrogate, an archaic personality equipped with superior instinctive forces. This new constellation is at first completely unconscious, but as it is activated it becomes perceptible in the form of a projection.”

The collective psychological sense of confusion and loss touches the part of psyche most associated with personal and social complexes. We can recognize the complex-ed state of the collective psyche through the highly emotional outbursts plaguing the nation during the election process. The unconscious reaction to the outer sense of confusion with its associated emotional outbursts creates an ‘archaic personality’ possessing tremendous power. Since this personality is unconscious it is projected on to some outer form.

In terms of the individual and even the collective, Jung explains that

“It is usually the doctor treating a patient who unwittingly assumes the role of the projected figure. The mechanism of this projection is the transference. By transference the doctor appears in the guise of the father, for instance, as that personality who symbolizes superior power and intelligence, a guarantee of security and a protection against overwhelming dangers.”

Perhaps here is the key to what has happened in the recent election for in a state of mass confusion many search for an individual who presents as powerful, who offers ‘a guarantee of security and a protection against overwhelming dangers.’ Donald Trump has promised to make “America great again” and to protect us from varied threats real and imagined. Out of a sense of insecurity people look for the protector and they believe they have found their protector.

Is this where the process of projection ends? Jung proceeds by saying,

“So long as the disintegration has not reached the deeper layers, the transference will not produce more than the projection of the father-image. But once the confusion has stirred up these unknown depths, the projection becomes more collective and takes on mythological forms. In this case the doctor appears as a sort of sorcerer or saviour.”

The collective emotional intensity during the US election indicates that we dropped down into the deeper archetypal layers of psyche and excited more than just a need for a paternal protector. A father figure was no longer sufficient to allay the fear in people. The current rise in nationalism indicates that people yearn more for a ‘sorcerer or savior.’ Of course the sorcerer often appears in his darkest of forms and we find ourselves now facing a great illusionist, rather than a savior.

What to do? Have we returned to a time when many will turn their “eyes away from the visible world” and search for a philosophy to heal the soul? I would argue that this is exactly what is needed. Before we act, we need to do some soul healing. We need to look within our hearts and, in stillness, discover the darkness within ourselves that has created this world of confusion.

Jung (CW 9ii, par. 255) writes that,

“Only ruthless self-knowledge on the widest scale, which sees good and evil in correct perspective and can weigh up the motives of human action, offers some guarantee that the end-result will not turn out too badly.”

Self-knowledge comes from looking inward, but this does not mean we flee from the outer world. Essentially we need both inner reflection and engagement with the world to bring about healing. Jung felt very strongly that the healing process was not one of retreating from the world, he says (Visions Seminar, p. 1367) that,

“… we are only complete in a community or in a relationship. There is no possibility of individuation on the top of Mount Everest where you are sure that nobody will ever bother you. Individuation always means relationship.”

Depth psychology tells us that we need to balance our search for self-knowledge with worldly engagement. The result of such a balanced approach is to discover an inner sorcerer that provides the wisdom and compassion required for creating a fear-less world. Through such a process we need look no further for a Caesar…


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The Care of Nature


“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

John Muir, 1890

I have just returned from a walk through a small part of Muir Woods. I was captivated by the immense beauty and wonder of the Woods. The silence there penetrated deeply into my soul. I left those Woods transformed. Driving up the winding road, I reflected on the precariousness of Nature’s beauty for this valley and forest were threatened by the building of a dam. The care of just a few, including Theodore Roosevelt, saved the forest from ultimate submersion. Psychologically, this act of submersion is repression of a thing feared. I was reminded of Freud’s view of our relationship to nature, summarized in these words, “The principle task of civilization, its actual raison d’etre, is to defend us against nature.” For Freud civilization was under constant assault from nature and it was our task to conquer or, at least, subdue nature, lest it overwhelm us. The feeling that nature must be subdued is actually quite old and represents an innate fear of the natural world.

Of course, Jung viewed our relationship with Nature in a completely different way for he saw a direct connection between psyche’s archetypes and Nature, he succinctly reflected that, “…the archetypes are as it were hidden foundations of the conscious mind, or, to use another comparison, the roots which the psyche has sunk not only in the earth in the narrower sense but in the world in general, …[archetypes are that portion of the psyche] through which the psyche is attached to nature.” So, to the extent we explore archetypes we approach Nature and, of course, the opposite is equally true to the extent we explore Nature we approach the archetypes of psyche, which is the sentiment exactly expressed in the words of John Muir.

I find it difficult to fathom people who choose to submerse the beauty of a forest with a dam, or to cut down a forest for a housing development or a shopping mall. Are these destructive acts toward Nature a reflection of Freud’s fear of the natural world? Are we so unconscious of our innate archetypal rootedness to Nature? What do we truly value?

Leaving Muir Woods, I was thankful for those few special people, so long ago, whose care afforded me a glimpse of the Universe while walking through the forest.




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Green Man 1 copy

I will be doing a webinar on March 24th for the Depth Psychology Alliance. The webinar will be based on my book, Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future. Please join me on the 24th to explore the psychological dimensions of climate change. Just click on this CLIMATE to go the web page to sign up.

Here is a description of what I plan to cover during the event:

The purpose of this webinar will be to explore how a Jungian perspective on the climate crisis can not only shed light on why we are so reluctant to engage with the issue, but how we can use Jungian psychology to break through these barriers and actively engage in creating a more flourishing world. It will cover four dimensions of climate change:a look at the affective reactions associated with the news of climate change and the complexes connected to these affective reactions; an archetypal view of the climate change issue and how an understanding of the power of archetypes can help us address this issue; a reflection on how we can relate to our world in a deeper way, which allows us to see the sacredness in our everyday world; and the role of the religious function in providing us with a deeper ground from which we can create a flourishing future for all beings. I use personal story and myth to relate these concepts.

The lecture part of the event will use images and text to amplify the four dimensions of dealing with climate change. After the lecture I would like to engage the participants in a conversation around Jungian psychology and climate change.

Webinar participants will discover:

• How to view our current climate process as a manifestation of inner psychic processes

• How to use phenomenological processes to experience the sacred nature of the world

• How a transpersonal dimension is essential to fully addressing the climate crisis.

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Seeing the Unseen


Nobody can afford to look round and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself. But since nobody seems to know what to do, it might be worthwhile for each of us to ask himself whether by any chance his or her unconscious may know something that will help us.

C.G. Jung (CW 18, par. 599)

As a scientist I recognize how difficult it can be to communicate our current scientific understanding on climate change to the general public. As a Jungian analyst I recognize the essential role the unconscious plays in our ability to take in disturbing information associated with climate change. Being both a climate scientist and a Jungian analyst has helped me in finding more effective ways to communicate the science of climate to the public.

The field of depth psychology was born in the consulting rooms of Freud and Jung over a century ago. These two pioneers recognized the importance of unconscious processes in determining human thought, feeling and behavior. Each developed methods to make the unseen world of the unconscious seen. Jung carried out pioneering scientific work on identifying complexes that take center stage in our lives. They are the actors that cause us to say after the fact, “Why did I say that?” or “Why did I behave that way towards that person?” Freud explored how we unconsciously defend ourselves to insure that we are not overwhelmed by a disturbing reality. Complexes and associated defenses are core parts of who we are and how we react to the world.

Over the past decade many scientific studies have confirmed the importance of unconscious processes in human behavior. These studies have led to a plethora of popular books reporting on the important role of the unconscious in our daily lives, see for example: Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior; Thinking Fast and Slow; Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain; and Strangers to Ourselves. A number of scientific studies have argued these unconscious processes are rooted in evolutionary strategies. Thus, many of the early observations by depth psychologists are being confirmed with current research.

Despite the recognition of the importance of unconscious processes in human behavior most discussions on issues like climate change assume these problems are solely rooted in the conscious realm. Most plans to address the issue of climate change ignore unconscious processes. Given all that we have learned about the role of the unconscious, it is important that we begin to look social issues from a more comprehensive psychological perspective. We need to include our understanding of the unconscious in communicating and addressing the critical issue of climate change.

Jungian psychology has much to offer towards moving forward on the problem of climate change. Although many in this field focus their attention on the interior world of psyche, it would be of great benefit for members of this community to turn their gaze on the outer world and consider how a Jungian perspective can help the world at large. Likewise it would be of great value for the public policy community to recognize the research that shows how important the unseen world of the unconscious is to addressing many of societies problems.


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The Great Mystery


“Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. The synchronicity phenomena point, it seems to me, in this direction, for they show that the nonpsychic can behave like the psychic, and vice versa, without there being any causal connection between them. Our present knowledge does not allow us to do much more than compare the relation of the psychic to the material world with two cones, whose apices, meeting in a point without extension – a real zero-point – touch and do not touch.”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 418)

One of the most challenging problems to understand is the connection between psyche and matter. Psyche as realm of mind, thought, perception, idea, emotion, soul and spirit seems most un-matter like. Matter as realm of the solid, substantial, measurable, quantifiable seems far more predictable than psyche. Yet, here I sit at my laptop using my hands to type thoughts, ideas, and playful imaginings for you to read. In this act I become an embodied form of psyche. Psyche and matter, as seemingly disparate entities, unite into a visible whole. Of course, materialists will see no problem with this picture. For does not psyche arise as a complex emergent property from our bodily vat of biochemical substances? Is it truly possible that my humble ramblings are a result of solely a series of chemical reactions? I don’t deny that these reactions are taking place. What I do seriously question is that they are sufficient to explain ‘me,’ or any one else for that matter.

As I write, I am listening to a concerto by Bach. I find it astounding that one could describe this work of genius as merely the result of complex biochemical reactions. I believe that the interplay between psyche and matter is far more subtle than we recognize. There is still mystery here…

The psyche/matter, or mind/matter, puzzle has interested people for centuries. Jung witnessed connections between psyche and matter in his own life and the lives of his clients. His years of accumulated empirical observations led him to postulate the synchronicity principle as the interaction between events that have no seeming causal connection. Since our psyche is involved in experiencing meaning in these so-called ‘acausal’ events in the material world, we are immediately thrust into the realm of psyche and matter. Jung spent the latter part of his life thinking about this subject. He worked with the renowned quantum physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, on his ideas. He asked that we keep an open mind about synchronicity and that serious investigations be made on this topic.

There is richness in opening ourselves to questions about psyche and matter. Perhaps a deeper sense of meaning for our lives lies at the ground of this issue. The fact that the question of psyche and matter has entranced us for so long points to its archetypal nature. How does psyche arise from matter? Can psyche affect matter in some way? Is there something beyond psyche and matter? During these dark winter days, I encourage you to contemplate these intriguing mysterious questions. What will arise from within when you do?

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milky way monument valley

“The world used to be, in its various forms, a world of sacred, shining things. The shining things now seem far away.”

Dreyfus and Kelly (2011)

Recently I gave a presentation on finding meaning in our current world. The talk wove together ideas from Carl Jung and Martin Heidegger and considered how our sense of being and meaning evolved through Western history. Starting with the ancient Greeks and their view of the cosmos (universal order) up to our post-modern world of fragmentation and little meaning. We now live in world where it is easy to slip into meaninglessness. Few believe in any absolutes with tremendous cost to our psyche. In an interview near the end of his life, Jung stated that, “man cannot stand a meaningless life.” Meaning provides us with some sense of order within our lived-world. It informs and guides us, especially in difficult times. The result of such meaninglessness is a sense that something is missing in life, a richness or depth to life seems far from our reach.

One source for my talk is a book by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly called, All Things Shining. Dreyfus is a professor of philosophy at UC Berkeley and an expert on Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. Kelly is the chair of the philosophy department at Harvard and an expert on phenomenology. The book is based on their classes combining philosophy and literature. I heartily recommend this book for any of you who love literature and are seeking deeper meaning in life. Ultimately, Dreyfus and Kelly argue for a way of living that they call meta-poietic, in which we experience the shining sacred nature of the things in life. From a Jungian perspective, this is a way of life that allows us to bring a particular form of consciousness to our everyday experiences, a consciousness that sees into the interiority and value of the things in the world. This is a consciousness that opens us to seeing the archetypal forces at play in psyche and opens us to the synchronicities constantly occurring in our lives. Heidegger called such consciousness, “meditative thinking,” which opens us to the mystery of the world.

We have not lost our ability to see the shining nature of the world. We can overcome the forces that constantly pull us away from this way of seeing and experiencing, forces that create dullness in the world. Dreyfus and Kelly argue that by living the meta-poeitic life, we “live a life attuned to the shining things and so will have opened a place to which all gods may return,” clearly, words that resonate with Jung’s life work. Finally, let me also recommend the film Being-in-the-World, which explores the ideas of Dreyfus and many of his colleagues through the lives of living crafts people. You will not be disappointed by what you see.

May we all see the shining things of the world this week!

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“Life calls us forth to independence, and anyone who does not heed this call because of childish laziness or timidity is threatened with neurosis. And once this has broken out, it becomes an increasingly valid reason for running away from life…”

C.G. Jung (CW 5, par. 461)

In 1776, we as a nation decided to leave home. We realized that staying under the influence of our parent nation was not healthy. We chose independence in order to develop our own character. A natural part of life is to leave home. If we remain too long or too close to our families, then we never find our own life. We may be attracted to the seeming security that home may offer, but there will be a price to pay for remaining in the orbit of our parents. Jung notes that, “It is not possible to live too long amid infantile surroundings, or in the bosom of the family, without endangering one’s psychic health.” If a person stays stuck in the family orbit, then, “He is incapable of living his own life and finding the character that belongs to him.”

Note that this effect arises whether the parents are ‘good enough’ or just the opposite. Either way we can be bound in their orbit leading to a state where the person is “always demanding love and immediate emotional rewards, [or] is so identified with his parents through his close ties with them that he behaves like his father or his mother.” In order to avoid these states of either perpetual neediness or parental identification, we need to proclaim our independence.

In the act of declaration we open ourselves to defining our own character. We become who we are meant to be. Such transformation is never easy or perfect, but always better than the alternative of forever remaining under the influence of the paternal powers.

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Striving Towards a Goal?


“Life is teleology par excellence; it is the intrinsic striving towards a goal, and the living organism is a system of directed aims which seek to fulfill themselves.”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 798)

While walking along a path in the Point Reyes National Seashore Park I came upon the above small tree growing out of a bare rock outcrop. I marveled at the tenacity of this life form arising directly from such a rugged environment. The experience of seeing this tree striving to be in the world reminded me of Jung’s musing on teleology. Telos is the Greek word for final cause or goal. Whether life has a final goal or not has been debated since the time of the early Greek philosophers. By the end of the Middle Ages the rise of secular thought proclaimed that we could never know, nor certainly prove, if nature contained a final purpose or goal. Since then teleology has had its philosophic proponents, but the idea that life contains some final purpose or goal finds little favor in today’s world. Presently, the dominant perspective states that we live in a world of random mutating matter lacking any inherent purpose or goal except the perpetuation of our genetic code.

What does such a ‘philosophy of life’ do to us psychologically or socially? On one hand it forces us to find and define our separate goal or purpose in life. On the other hand, it leaves us standing alone in the midst of a dead purposeless universe. Personally, I feel there is more to life than blindly passing on genetic code. A perspective like this leads to a disembodied and detached view of our being-in-the-world. More than ever we need to be experiencing our interconnections and greater purpose in life. Perhaps our teleology is to become conscious of the integrity of our selves and a commitment to caring for others in the world. Can we take a lesson from that solitary tree emerging from bare rock? No matter where we are, no matter how seemingly hostile our environment can we strive to manifest the value of life in this world?

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“… all unconscious functioning has the automatic character of an instinct, … [which] … because of [its] compulsiveness, … may positively endanger the life of the individual. As against this, consciousness enables [one] to adapt in an orderly way and to check the instincts, and consequently it cannot be dispensed with.”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 412)

“The closer one comes to the instinct-world, the more violent is the urge to shy away from it and rescue the light of consciousness from the murks of the sultry abyss. Psychologically, however, the archetype as an image of instinct is a spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives; it is the sea to which all rivers wend their way…”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 415)

Looking out on the world today can cause one tremendous anxiety. Just this past week new studies were released indicating that we are putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than previous years and that the current rate at which the world is warming is unprecedented. Rate of warming is significant, because it effects how readily life can adapt to change. Since the rate of climate change is now unlike anything we and many other species have ever experienced in our history, we are placing ourselves in a very precarious situation.

How does all of this relate to depth psychology? Depth psychology tells us that we are more than just our ego. That our decisions and behaviors towards our world and others is determined in large part by unconscious factor or forces. This fact about our way of being is continually reinforced by neurological and social science research. Thus, learning about our psychological depths is imperative if we are going to pull our selves back from the murky abyss of global warming.

Jung views the unconscious as holding both the dynamism of biological instincts and the numinous archetypes, or images of instinct. In the quotes above, Jung explores the dynamic capabilities of the these two forms. We know that compulsive instincts lead to life threatening behaviors. With regards to  global warming, think of our rampant consumerism and excessive use of energy to fuel this compulsively consumptive behavior. We consciously recognize that if we come too close to this ‘instinct-world,’ we approach the ‘sultry abyss’ of collective destruction. However the compulsive urge is so strong that we continue the behavior.

How do we avoid the urge towards destructive compulsiveness? Jung argues that we consciously engage with the image of the instinct, rather than the compulsive urge itself. The image or archetype holds collective meaning and connects us with a sense of the numinous. It is not that we reject the physical or biological instinct, but that we include the spiritual or numinous dimension of it. Jung poetically states that this experience of the numinous is the “spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives; it is the sea to which all rivers wend their way…” What is the numinous archetype embedded in the instinctual compulsion to consume? What is the image arising from this instinctual force that holds the ‘spiritual goal towards which [our] whole nature… strives?’

Perhaps our compulsion to consume Earth is an attempt to fulfill our inner selves. Could our need for tremendous amounts of energy to create new material things in the outer world be a reflection of our need for creative energy within us? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but depth psychology opens the door to such reflection. If we are to deal with our compulsive need to consume the world, then we need to consciously work on the images that surround this instinct. Depth psychology is a way to do this work. It provides a numinous and valuable way to deeply explore psyche and the world.

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Listening to the Beatles

Sgt Peppers cover


“… the anima is the archetype of life itself.”

C.G. Jung (CW 9i, par. 66)

Last week I talked about the animate power of the Beatles’ music. Their songs sing themselves through our lives. So, let’s continue our exploration of soul by listening to their music. The Beatles were aware of Jung’s writings for if you look at the cover of the Sgt. Peppers album, you see Jung’s picture between those of W.C. Fields and Edgar Alan Poe! Perhaps the Beatles were avid Jungians for many of the photos on this album cover are of people who strongly affected them.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Beatles’ music follows Jung’s description of anima development. Anima is the feminine archetype within us representing soul. The important role of the feminine in the Beatles’ music is no accident (are there accidents?). Both John and Paul lost their mothers at an early age. Jung points out that the earliest anima form within us arises from the mother image. So the loss of ones’ mother often leads to a strong yearning for a connection to the lost feminine.

The first stage of anima development is the biological drive of blind love. Close your eyes now and reflect back on your youth. Imagine sitting in school (elementary, middle or high?) and bring before you the image of that special one, boy or girl, with whom you fell in love. Remember that feeling of first love the dreamy state of walking on air. The image of that person still lives within you for we never forget our first love. Listen to this Beatles’ song and remember back to that moment:

Ask Me Why

The second stage of anima development is about maturing relationships. We are no longer fearfully falling into blind lascivious love, but beginning to recognize the other person for who they are, not for who we want them to be. This realization requires us to pull back the projections we have been placing onto the person. This moment of seeing the other as an individual is an eye-opening experience. The moment when we wake up one morning, look at our beloved and ask, “Where did my true love go?” Our initial inclination may be to run away and find a new someone to project onto. Listen to this Beatles’ song reflecting the second stage of soul development:

I’m Looking Through You

The third anima stage is one of spiritual mediation. For Jung, the anima connects us (our ego) with our inner Self, the archetype of wholeness. When this connection occurs, we experience the numinous. Sometimes this experience occurs in dreams. Paul composed a couple songs from his dreams like the melody of Yesterday. Yesterday is the second most covered song (a song played by other artists) in the history of music, while the first place most covered song is Eleanor Rigby. The universal appeal of these songs to other artists is yet another indication of how the Beatles’ music is archetypal. Paul composed the song Let It Be from a dream of his mother, Mary. Here is his song representing the spiritual mediation stage:

Let It Be

The fourth and final stage of anima development is one of transcendence. Jung (CW 16, par.361) says this stage, “illustrates something which unexpectedly goes beyond the almost unsurpassable… ,” in which the anima represents an expanding spiritual state that includes the universe. Spiritual transcendence was a central theme of the sixties. Eastern religions flooded into the West to meet this yearning for transcendence and the Beatles played a critical role in opening the doors to the East. Their travels to India to visit Maharishi Mahesh Yogi raised interest in the power of meditation. The Beatles’ experiences with LSD led the sixties generation into a new psychic space of expanded consciousness. Listen to this song written by John representing the fourth stage of transcendent non-ego experience:

Tomorrow Never Knows


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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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“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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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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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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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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Finding Meaning

“Man cannot stand a meaningless life.”  C.G. Jung

Jung makes it clear in the statement above that we cannot live a life without meaning. Things in life do not go as well when we have no meaning. Anxiety is very present in a life without meaning. Meaning situates us within the cosmos. It provides a frame for why we are here and how we relate to the world around us. Joseph Campbell defined myth as the stories that provide meaning. We have no unifying living myth for the age in which we live. We are surrounded by a world of particulars; pieces of a world jigsaw puzzle that just don’t seem to fit together.

I actually believe this lack of meaning is the essence of our dilemma around the environment. Our destructiveness towards the world we live in is a direct result of our struggle to find meaning in life. How so? If I do not have a strong center of identity, then I will seek an anchor in many ways and places. If my tendency is to look outside of myself for this center or anchor of meaning, then my identity is integrally tied to the outer changing world. For the outer world is in a constant state of flux: political positions change, styles change, fads change, and people change. Finding some fixed point of meaning within the changing outer world is difficult.

Jung discusses how we tend to have two approaches to this quest for meaning. We can allow the outer world a large role in defining our meaning. If we choose this path, then we project the archetype of centeredness – the Self – out onto something in the world. This would be the realm of consumerism, where our identity is strongly coupled to what we own, especially compared to what others own. This is a life where our fixed point of centeredness is at the whim of marketers, political ideologies or religious credos. This approach to life places us – the ego – in a tough situation. We are suspended between the vagaries of the outer world and the inner needs of the unconscious. Freud would say our ego is in service to the superego in such a situation and Jung would agree with this. However, Jung goes further to show how this relates to a spiritual emptiness, a meaningless existence. We just can’t tolerate this type of life forever. If we are lucky, then we will reach a point where we begin to search for centeredness within. We reflect on what our life is and how we need to go deeper to find a true solid center. We need to pull back the projection of the Self and look within. For you see, the Self, even though it is projected, has never left the psyche. This is the second path described by Jung. As Jung (CW 11, par. 401) says,

“Self-reflection or – what comes to the same thing – the urge to individuation gathers together what is scattered and multifarious, and exalts it to the original form of the One…”

So, by going in and doing the work of individuation we discover an inner sense of wholeness that serves as a true fixed point for us. We no longer need to buy things, over consume or follow someone else to find meaning. Meaning is an emergent property of the individuation process.

Why do we so often choose the first path over the second? Well, for one thing, the outer world is constantly beckoning to us. There is no shortage of messages, explicit or not, that we should be a part of the consumer culture. Peer pressure and advertisements are key lures to follow the collective path of ‘meaning.’ Perhaps it is also due to what is called upon us should we choose to follow the second inner path. Jung (CW 11, par. 411) tells us that,

 “… every step forward along the path of individuation is achieved only at the cost of suffering.”

Who wants to consciously choose a path of suffering? The irony here is that if we choose the collective path, then we will ultimately end up suffering. The shiny objects in the world will not provide true meaning for us. Try as hard as possible, one day we will wake up with that old anxiety back in our life. The suffering that arises from the inner second path is a more honorable suffering. It involves sacrifices, which we may not like at first. But ultimately lead to solidity in our lives. Remember that ‘sacrifice’ derives from the word ‘sacred.’

Our existential choice in life is always present. In this moment do I choose the outer path and let the world provide me with meaning, a shifting illusion? Or, do I choose the inner second path, one that leads to deep, solid centeredness? Each moment we are presented with this choice.

In this very moment, right now, which path do you choose?

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Living the Examined Life

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Philosophy is often considered as having little to do with our everyday world. However, I have found that philosophy has much to tell me about living in the world. At an early age, I became intrigued with philosophy and began collecting books on Greek and Roman philosophy. Later around 1970, I remember going on a road trip with a friend, where we spent our long hours of driving reading the dialogues of Plato. Over the past 40 years I have continued my love of philosophy weaving and wending my way through the writings of many great thinkers. Along the way, I have been comforted to find fellow philosophy enthusiasts. People who do not hold academic positions in departments of philosophy, who do not write for philosophical journals nor attend meetings on philosophy. Yet, they have a deep love for the ideas of philosophy. Their lives are creatively affected by what they discover in these ideas.

Succinctly, philosophy brings depth to our lives.

Philosophy looks at the why, what and how of life. Of course, psychology also asks these questions. Indeed, I believe the particular emphasis on either why, what or how plays a critical role in defining a given psychotherapy. Psychotherapies focused on the why seem to be more grounded in interpretative techniques, while those focused on the what are interested in phenomena and are more likely humanistic, e.g. Gestalt therapy.

My interest in philosophy circles around how we know our world and experience being in the world. In the language of philosophy, I am attracted to the areas of epistemology and ontology. These two areas are rooted in essential questions we ask ourselves, questions like: how do I know or experience the world that surrounds me? How does perception or sensation effect my knowing? How is the world outside of me affected by my interior world? What defines my very being in the world? How does my being in this world depend on the world out there? What determines my experiences of the world? Difficult questions, but very important to living an examined life.

In the next few posts, I hope to take a few of my favorite philosophers and play with their ideas. I hope to show how these ideas are essential to psychotherapy. Finally, I will end with a post on how these philosophical ideas relate to Jungian psychology. I hope to make these posts fun for you. Philosophy need not be abstract or difficult. It can be grounded in everyday experiences.

So, get ready to drop into the world of Immanuel Kant, for he is the first person we will meet in our philosophical circumambulations.

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The Eternal Return


Just a note to say that I will be returning to more regular posts after a few months hiatus. Coming up… how philosophy informs psychology…



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Esalen Workshop


This is just a reminder about my upcoming workshop at Esalen in early June. For more information, please click here Sustaining Earth  to read more about the workshop. We will use a number of approaches to develop deeper ways to experience our surrounding world in a more soulful way.

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