Through a Jungian Lens

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The Symbolic Life – The Quest of Individuation

with 11 comments

This is a beautiful bird that I managed somehow to capture with my camera even though it was raining.  I was on the balcony of a backpacker’s hostel in Santa Elena when I took the photo.  For this fellow, the ordinary is not what appears to be the norm.  He is flamboyant, almost cheerful with his life, bowing down before whatever it is in life that makes one rejoice in being alive knowing that one has a life with meaning and purpose.

Okay, so that is stretching it a bit, but this is about active imagination as I’ve mentioned many times.  These photos are symbolic, evocative and resonant for me.  I look at life through my lens, both the camera lens and that which is within me that filters all that comes in.  For me, the inner lens sees a world that is framed in Jungian ideas.  The camera simply frames what “I” see and how “I” see it.  The process is more a symbolic quest for me as I rummage through the clutter, cobwebs and ghosts of the unconscious; for me this is a quest for life.

For me, there is no straight line of facts and figures, no template to follow in order to uncover a life that has meaning.  It seems that each time I try to follow a trail that already is in place, someone else’s trail, I get lost and need to retrace my steps back until I find a familiar place.  Then, knowing that it is painful to have to backtrack, defeated, I start to inch forward again making sure that the trail I follow is one that I forge, one that my intuition and gut tells me is the right one for me.  Not doing this would leave me desperate, fearful of being lost; not lost in space and time, but lost to my soul.

You see, man is in need of a symbolic life – badly in need.  We only live banal, ordinary, rational or irrational things – which are naturally also within the scope of rationalism, otherwise you could not call them irrational.  But we have no symbolic life.  Where do we live symbolically?  Nowhere, except where we participate in the ritual of life.  But who, among the many, are really participating in the ritual of life?  Very few.” (Jung, CW 18, par 625)

Now I understand my need to escape the paths taken by others, it is more about the need to participate in a symbolic life.  Following the worn pathways leaves one in a meaningless rut.  Yes, we try hard to construct meaning from our careers, from the lives of our children and/or grandchildren, from our investments and from our social position.  Some expend a lot of effort and money to rebuild a home, to renovate, to upgrade, to beautify according to the latest fashion journal only to feel that once done, they are again missing something forcing them to reinvest more and more of doing the same thing hoping for different results.  These are lives of quiet desperation, banal lives.  I am lucky.  I retired and now have the time and will to follow a different path.  This is the greatest gift to me thanks to living through a midlife crisis.


11 Responses

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  1. Some words from Rumi that might help:


    Who gets up early to discover the moment light begins?
    Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
    Who comes to a spring thirsty
    and sees the moon reflected in it?
    Who, like Jacob, blind with grief and age,
    smells the shirt of his son and can see again?
    Who lets a bucket down
    and brings up a flowing prophet?
    Or like Moses goes for fire
    and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

    Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
    and opens a door to the other world.
    Solomon cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
    Omar storms in to kill the prophet
    and leaves with blessings.
    Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
    An oyster opens his mouth to swallow one drop.
    Now there’s a pearl.

    A vagrant wanders empty ruins
    Suddenly he’s wealthy.

    But don’t be satisfied with stories,
    how things have gone with others.
    Unfold your own myth,
    without complicated explanation,
    so everyone will understand the passage,
    We have opened you. . . .


    February 28, 2010 at 8:55 am

    • I find that poetry a valuable source for the soul, especially that of Rilke, Rumi and Gibran. Thanks, JF.

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 28, 2010 at 4:20 pm

  2. I apologize for going overboard here. In addition to the Rumi poem there is another source, for me, of the same wisdom embodied in Rumi’s poem. Way up in the pantheon of books that have informed my life is Peter Matthiessen’s, The Snow Leopard. Here is quote from that book that in turn quotes Jung:

    “The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one is being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one senses that there is a source for all this deep, restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home. (‘But you are home’ cries the Witch of the North. ‘All you have to do is wake up!’) The journey is hard, for the secret place where you have always been is over grown with thorns and thickets of ‘ideas,’ of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions. The holy grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own ‘true nature’; each man is his own savior after all. (Quoting Jung, the passages continues;)

    ‘The fact that many a man who goes his own way ends in ruin means nothing…. He must obey his own law, as if it were a daemon whispering to him of new and wonderful paths…. There are not a few who are called awake by the summons of the voice, whereupon they are at once set apart from the others, feeling themselves confronted with a problem about which the others know nothing. In most cases it is impossible to explain to the others what has happened, for any understanding is walled off by impenetrable prejudices. ‘You are no different from anybody else,’ they will chorus, or, ‘there’s no such thing,’and even if there is such a thing, it is immediately branded as morbid.’ …He is at once set apart and isolated, as he has resolved to obey the law that commands him from within. ‘His own law!’ everybody will cry. But he knows better: it is the law…. The only meaningful life is a life that strives for the individual realization-absolute and unconditional-of its own particular law… To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his being…he has failed to realize his life’s meaning. The undiscovered vein within us is a living part of the psyche; classical Chinese philosophy names the interior way ‘Tao,’ and likens it to a flow of water that moves irresistibly toward its goal. To rest in Tao means fulfillment, wholeness, one’s destination reached, one’s mission done; the beginning, end, and perfect realization of the meaning of existence innate in all things.'”


    February 28, 2010 at 9:17 am

    • None of this is going overboard. It is all as it should be, resonance.

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    • Thank you, J Ferric, for posting this !! I had been looking for the Jung quote for a long time !


      November 25, 2010 at 10:29 pm

  3. And in stumbling, you find. I have just chanced upon your blog, and I can just say thank you to however I have reached this place.

    Love the photograph( may I ask which camera you use?),the poem (unfolding your own myth)and the discussion.


    March 1, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    • I am using a Sony Cybershot – DSC-H50 with a 15X telephoto and 9.1 MP rating. All of my India and China photos were taken with the DSC-H5 version. Thank you for joining in here and I hope that you don’t mind if I place your site on my blogroll. I am very pleased that you have decided to take part in our collective effort here.

      Robert G. Longpré

      March 1, 2010 at 12:36 pm

  4. This is a lovely shot…full of curves and shadows and bright colors. I get impressions of a hummingbird, a baby bird, and the worm it’s begging for. Somehow, you captured the action of a peripatetic creature. Well done!


    March 3, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    • Hi Laura – you wouldn’t be the same Laura as found in Discovery Kids? If so, then we share a a strong background in education. Thanks for the kind comment on the photo.

      Robert G. Longpré

      March 4, 2010 at 7:02 am

  5. Thank you, thank you … For a long time I had been looking for the above words from ‘The Snow Leopard’ including the Carl Jung quote … and thanks to you, here they are …


    November 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm

  6. Thank you, thank you … For a long time I had been looking for the above words from ‘The Snow Leopard’ including the Carl Jung quote … and thanks to you, here they are …


    November 25, 2010 at 9:50 pm

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