Through a Jungian Lens

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Archive for March 2010

We are Part of the Whole – Homo Maximus

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How can I explain this photo?  Why did I even take it?  I have to admit that I had already written a good portion of this post before figuring out what I wanted for a photo.  I knew which quotes I was using for the post and had searched through my photos taken here in Costa Rica only to feel that there was nothing that “fit,” nothing that could speak for me where words failed.

So, I returned to the quotes and did some serious thinking.  The first quote finally convinced me to risk exposing things that I have devalued.  I knew that Jung was talking of something broader, something at the collective level.  What did I share with others in the collective?  What has the collective devalued that has convinced me to devalue in myself?

The answer is body identity and sexual identity.  In my culture a man is considered normal or better if he is tall, light-skinned, and trim and fit.  I am small: short, dark and hairy.  Society has men be men with an active sex life that woos many and scoring many conquests.  I only wanted to be desired by one woman.  One woman finding me to be the man of her sexual dreams was my dream.  Of course that only set me up for maintaining my virginity into my twenties.

So, I took this photo, an image that is explicit though its lines are soft enough to give the photo a certain artistic quality that saves it from being just another opportunity for exhibitionism.  But in all honesty, can I deny the intent?

“If anything of importance is devalued in our conscious life, and perishes – so runs the law – there arises a compensation in the unconscious.  We may see in this analogy to the conservation of energy in the physical world, for our psychic processes also have a quantitative, energic aspect.  No psychic value can disappear without being replaced by another of equivalent intensity.  This is a fundamental rule which is repeatedly verified in the daily practice of the psychotherapist and never fails.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

What has been devalued in my life?  Well, I guess that the answer isn’t as easy to state as I thought it would be.  For so many years I devalued myself as a short man, one who didn’t fit in.  I lived in redneck country when I left my youth as a city kid.  I was the odd man out and soon believed that I even looked odd.  That feeling has never really left me and I am just now learning to accept that perhaps I am not odd as I came to believe.

There was no question in my mind that any woman would actually find me attractive, especially in midlife.  I never did understand what my wife ever saw in me.  I was and am certain it had nothing to do with looks or sexual attraction.  She saw something buried under the skin that was valued, likely that old expression holds true here – opposites attract – we are fully opposite (INFP versus ESTJ) in so much.

Of course this lack of body and sexual value for myself had to find another outlet.  Dreams became a hot and steamy affair.  The face of anima often came looking like a harlot, tempting me.  Strange how all of these dreams did nothing but leave me feeling guilty as though is some way, I had cheated on my marriage.  The repressed contents also found a veiled presence in poetry.

My outer life served as a reverse mirror for what was happening within.  Denying self, denying need all in hopes of becoming more acceptable only served to have anima become even more a temptress.  I saw myself as more and more unworthy because of the dirt within.  It was only to be expected that something would break.

“The doctor in me refuses point blank to consider the life of a people as something that dos not conform to a psychological law.  For him the psyche of a people is only a somewhat more complex structure than the psyche of an individual.  Moreover, has not a poet spoken of the “nations of his soul”?  And quite correctly, it seems to me, for in one of its aspects the psyche is not individual, but is derived from the nation, from the collectivity, from humanity even.  In some way or other we are part of a single, all-embracing psyche, a single “greatest man,” the homo maximus, to quote Swedenborg.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

“The psyche of a people” is a powerful statement.  When one thinks of it, it is something we have always known.  We have no problem with the idea of a culture, a nation having a certain way of being and believing and acting in concert with each other; something that defies logic where one sees a large group of individuals in any particular culture.  One would expect a lot more variation.  Travelling has accentuated the notion of a collective psyche.  And in accepting this idea, I see how my psyche is connected to the collective regardless of my sense of alienation.

Shame of body, shame of sexual desire is embraced by the collective of a conservative people.  And in the collective of which I am a part, the body is best hidden under layers and layers.  Even at a beach, bikinis are worn but are covered with teeshirts and baggy shorts.  Shame of body, a sexual body is also hidden under layers of fat.  If one can look unappealing sexually, then perhaps one will kill sexual desire within.  But it doesn’t work and we cover ourselves in tattoos and ugly clothing that avoid any vibrant colours.

So we repress as individuals, repress as cultures, repress as a human race trying to proclaim that we are beings that transcend fascination with the human body and human sexuality.   And in this repression, we end up hurting ourselves and others.  We become tyrannical.  The individual is part of the whole.

And as each of us become more conscious, we do influence the consciousness of the whole.  There is real hope.  Maybe I am not so absurd, not a dirty old man after all.  Perhaps I am a human.

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While Waiting for Something From the Psyche

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I really don’t know what type of reptile this is though it is some kind of lizard.  I found him while near the end of a morning walk, not too far from the outskirts of the town.  He is actually quite small and I was very surprised that I even saw him.  But, when carrying a camera, sometimes the slightest movement is all that it takes.  I caught him inflating his throat pouch and that was all that I needed to alert me to his presence.  I did manage to get closer without scaring him in order to get this photo.

I know that he was waiting for something; what, I don’t have a clue.  Well, likely he was waiting for contact with more of his kind.  Perhaps the inflating of his throat pouch was about trying to attract a mate.  Regardless, he was waiting, just like I am waiting.

I don’t know what I really am waiting for while spending this time in Costa Rica, I just know that this is a prelude to something else.  So, while I wait, I take the time to turn a dark shade of brown thanks to the sun; I take the time to read and think and write here; I take the time to work on relationship with self and other.  I know that this isn’t the main scene of the play that is my life, but a pause for something more.

“The rapid and worldwide growth of a psychological interest over the last two decades shows unmistakably that modern man is turning his attention from outward material things to his own inner processes.  Expressionism in art prophetically anticipated this subjective development, for all art intuitively apprehends coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.”  (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

Turning inward.  For most people I know this is something to be avoided at all costs.  It is with the help of television, DVD collections of past TV series and movies and all sorts of other toys and technology that one can keep oneself busy enough to avoid that confrontation with self and its innate desire to turn inward with questions.  Sometimes I wonder if it is even possible for many of them to turn inward, to wrestle with questions about self, others and society that aren’t questions that are fully outward focused.  Perhaps even all the right conditions would only be met by a roadblock that tells them, “entry not allowed.”  Perhaps it is more about some people having a defect in terms of the collective that opens up the psyche so that one pokes about within those dark, dank spaces and stirs up all sorts of shit which only serves to make the self dissatisfied with self and other and society.  But, regardless of any of this, the pull is real and so like a few others who have this obsession with the psyche, I must trust to my intuitive instincts and so journey on through the confusion.

“The psychological interest of the present time is an indication that modern man expects something from the psyche which the outer world has not given him; doubtless something which our religion ought to contain, but no longer does contain, at least for modern man.  For him the various forms of religion no longer appear to come from within, from the psyche; they feel more like items from the inventory of the outside world.  No spirit not of this world  vouchsafes him inner revelation, instead he tries on a variety of religions and beliefs as if they were Sunday attire, only to lay them aside again like worn-out clothes.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

I must admit that reading this made me chuckle.  I was quite young yet when I found myself checking out other churches.  I tried on Greek Orthodox, Born-Again-Christians, an assorted variety of Protestant churches and studied up on the Hebrew and Muslim faiths.  I thought that if I tried hard enough I would find my “place” in the real world.  But, nothing seemed to fill the empty hole.  So I turned to music and hoped that it would make the difference. I tried painting with acrylics and tried drawing with charcoal in hopes that I would find the centre found by the artists I found in the National Art Gallery.

It was all for nought.  Nothing I found in the outer world could ease my longing, me sense of emptiness.  It was as if I had a closet full of clothing but found nothing I could wear and so had to present myself to the world naked and vulnerable.

Finding Hope in the Approach of Darkness

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This photo was taken recently while waiting for sunset to arrive on the Pacific coast.  I have to admit that sunsets are special moments for me.  I share these moments with my wife and often take her photo with the sunset.  My desktop background photo is one of these special moments.  It seems that regardless of how the day has gone, if we get to share a sunset, the level of contentment and even a promise of hope for more peace for us.

An intimation of the terrible law that governs blind contingency, which Heraclitus called the rule of enantiodromia (a running towards the opposite), now steals upon modern man through the byways of his mind, chilling him with fear and paralyzing his faith in the lasting effectiveness of social and political measures in the face of these monstrous forces.  If he turns away from the terrifying prospect of a blind world in which building and destroying successfully tip the scales, and then gazes into the recesses of his own mind, he will discover a chaos and a darkness there which everyone would gladly ignore.  Science has destroyed even this last refuge; what was once a sheltering haven has become a cesspool. (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

There is little doubt that there is truly less security in the modern world.  Even though there are appearances of wealth easily obtained and the promise of it only becoming easier as the world shifts out of the current slip backwards, I sense that there is much worse to come within a short bit of time.  False security.  I find myself counselling my children to conservatism, don’t over-extend themselves, be ready when the next wave of recession hits.

Yet,it is within the dark and damp swamplands of the psyche that we find some hope, for there we find the evil we see outside, the roots of that evil.  And in the process, we see how our personal unconscious somehow is a porous thing which is embedded in the collective unconscious.

. . . it is almost a relief to come upon so much evil in the depths of our own psyche.  Here at least, we think, is the root of all the evil in mankind.  Even though we are shocked and disillusioned at first, we still feel, just because these things are part of our psyche, that we have them more or less in hand and can correct them or at any rate effectively suppress them.  We like to assume that, if we succeeded  in this, we should at least have rooted out some fraction of the evil in the world.  Given a widespread knowledge of the unconscious, everyone could see when a statesman was being led astray by his own bad motives,  The very newspapers would pull him up:  “Please have yourself analyzed; you are suffering from a repressed father-complex.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

It doesn’t take much to take a little bit of knowledge and think we have now become a master, ready to set the world straight.  That is one huge problem of moving towards a state of more consciousness.  One then again falls into the trap that with more consciousness it would be, by extension, much easier to regulate ourselves, others and the world as a whole.  And so a few who have gained a bit of consciousness rush to the centre of the stage with New Age religiosity and expect the spotlights to shine on them as they become the new saviours of society.  Are Jungian analysts any different?  Do they see themselves as the new religion, the new hope of the present age of mankind?  More than a few such analysts are in existence.  These analysts see themselves as modern men and as the new priesthood.  I think that it would be important for them to rethink and perhaps re-read at least this chapter in this book.

That said, there is hope to be found in approaching the darkness within, a personal hope that comes with the realization that one can survive one’s own evil, that one can find a balance that allows one to live more humbly and more in tune with the world around him,

Modern Man and Scepticism

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Yesterday morning I got to take a few photos of a family of Crested Caracaras.  I’m not too sure if this is the papa or the mama with one of the two juvenile birds.  Just moments before, this parent had brought dinner to the youth.  Life seems fairly simple for these birds with no worries about the economy or politics that seem to be continual front page news in the modern western world.  Sometimes I wish that life could be so simple.  But, of course, that option has long ago disappeared.

I have another WordPress blog site that is for expressing my political views with hopes of making a difference as my country shifts more and more to the right political spectrum.  It has been quite a while since my last post there as I become more and more discouraged about the whole mess.  I don’t think it really makes much difference which man becomes leader of the country or which party that man leads.  The political system is vested in acquiring and maintaining power, not in vision and policy regardless of what anyone says on the sidelines or in opposition.  I guess that this makes me a sceptic.

“The revolution in our conscious outlook, brought about by the catastrophic results of the World War, shows itself in our inner life by the shattering of our faith in ourselves and our own worth.  We used to regard foreigners as political and moral reprobates, but the modern man is forced to recognize that he is politically and morally just like anyone else.  Whereas formerly I believed it was my bounden duty to call others to order, I must admit that I need calling to order myself, and that I would do better to set my own house to rights first.  I admit this the more readily because I realize only too well that my faith in the rational organization of the world – that old dream of the millennium when peace and harmony reign – has grown pale.  Modern man’s scepticism in this respect has chilled his enthusiasm for politics and world-reform; more than that, it is the worst possible basis for a smooth flow of psychic energies into the outer world, just as doubt concerning the morality of a friend is bound to prejudice the relationship and hamper its development.  Through his scepticism, modern man is thrown back on himself, his energies flow towards their source, and the collision washes to the surface those psychic contents which are at all times there, but lie hidden in the silt so long as the stream flows smoothly in its course.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

Jung’s description here is found to hold even today, almost eighty years later.  In a liberal country such as Canada, we now require the Niqab to be removed for security reasons.  So much for religious freedoms.  Do I think that we can put it all together and fix the economies of the world, we who have been so focused on putting privilege for the wealthy into golden containers at the expense of the economic security of the middle class?  It’s broken and those who already have more than enough have found a way to gather even more to their coffers.  Even science is suspect if it threatens the deep pockets.  Climate science is now denied and the most educated are ridiculed as being too intellectual and lacking common sense.   And the common sense in question is that of expecting those with the economic deep pockets to actually take responsibility for the environmental damage they do.

This wasn’t supposed to be a political rant, but that is how it is turning out.  Being fed up with the whole mess, I simply say “Fuck it!” and go back to work on trying to regulate the same monsters within me as are found in the economic and political spheres.  I am not much better as I sit and whine about what our “leaders” are doing or not doing, rather than doing what needs to be done on a personal level.  It’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Location of the Psyche – Not Necessarily Inside of Man

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I actually don’t like this photo.  I rarely take photos such as these but felt that it was representative of what is happening here in Costa Rica for my family and friends travel blog site.  The photo features another in an endless series of “missionary” events.  This particular group, the “Church of God” is hoping to convert poor Costa Rican Catholics into their superior version of Christianity.  I noted that as with other such events by other missionary groups that the focus ended up on becoming a photo opp for the organizers rather than meeting the spiritual needs of the people they have convinced to attend their event which is focused on children.  The idea is if you can attract the children, their parents will likely come with them.

Personally, I find this practice of roaming the earth with the intention of trying to convince others that your particular brand of externalized spirituality is better than everyone else’s brand to be morally bankrupt.  The implication by each of these competing missionary groups is that belonging to any “other” group will be catastrophic for your soul, that you likely will end up in hell.  The only thing all the competing Christian missionary groups will have in common is the belief that non-Christians are truly lost people who need saving more than anyone else, even if it means that non-Christians (such as Muslim radicals) should be subject to modern day versions of the Inquisition.  I know that I am not being kind here, but the arrogance of missionaries is too much to bare.  Obviously a complex is showing its face here.

“Whenever there exists some external form, be it an ideal or a ritual, by which all the yearnings and hopes of the soul are adequately expressed – as for instance in a living religion – then we may that the psyche is outside and that there is no psychic problem, just as there is then no unconscious in our sense of the word.  In consonance with this truth, the discovery of psychology falls entirely within the last decades, although long before than man was introspective and intelligent enough to recognize the facts that are the subject-matter of psychology.  It was the same with technical knowledge.  The Romans were familiar with all the mechanical principles and physical facts which would have enabled them to construct a steam engine; but all that came of it was the toy made by Hero of Alexandria.  The reason for this is that there was no compelling necessity to go further.  this need arose only with the enormous division of labour and the growth of specialization in the nineteenth century.  So also a spiritual need has produced in our time the “discovery” of psychology.  The psychic facts still existed earlier, of course, but they did not attract attention – on one noticed them.  People got along without them.  But today we can no longer get along unless we pay attention to the psyche.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

This is the age of psychology and I agree with most of what Jung has to say here.  But, I must hasten to add that many, many people are still in a world where the psyche is outside the person, located in the rituals of community or church.  The need for psychology is growing as more and more people fall out of the embrace of community rituals, falling flat on their faces and notice that they are now on their own.  This view of psychological need isn’t about fixing people who have bad habits (behaviour modification or solution-focused therapy) or disorders that are relieved with a proper equilibrium of pharmaceutical products.  This notion of psychology is about relocating the psyche back to within an individual.  Hillman was correct when he claimed that we’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and no one has really been fixed.  As Jung claimed, no one gets fixed in doing psychological work, one only becomes more aware of one’s self and becomes personally responsible for that self.  One is not a victim.  One simply is.

Modern Man is Destined to Become a Disappointment

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This is my brother-in-law.  He is a good man, a very good man.  Somehow, he is now for the most part, alone.  He suffers from a work-related condition not unlike Alzheimer’s.  His children have long left home to build their own homes while he remains in a small rural farming town in which he was born and where he spent most of his working life, where he raised his family, where he had his dreams.  He was a man more connected to his roots than I am.  He didn’t challenge the status quo and was loved in his community.  Strange how I use the “past tense” in talking about him, but the truth is that his condition has changed everything.  And for the most part, he isn’t even aware of any of this.  Whatever gains in consciousness he had mastered have slipped back into the shadows.

I have to admit that I worry about losing the small gains that I have made.  I worry that I will “settle” for less and be left with nothing.  I don’t want fame, but I do want to make a difference in the world that my children and grandchildren will have as an inheritance.  But at what cost?  In achieving this goal will I have lost the threads that have connected us?  Does this journey demand even this from me?  But if I turn back and say no more, will this failure to follow up on what calls me result in my becoming a wasted and depressed man that no one wants to be near?  So many questions, so many doubts.

It is true that modern man is a culmination, but tomorrow he will be surpassed.  He is indeed the product of an age-old development, but he is at the same theme the worst conceivable disappointment of the hopes of mankind.  The modern man is conscious of this.. He has likewise seen how all well-meaning governments have so throughly paved the way for peace on the principle “in time of peace prepare for war” . . . [snip] . . . And as for ideals, neither the Christian Church, nor the brotherhood of man, nor international social democracy, nor the solidarity of economic interests has stood up to the acid test of reality.”  (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

The idea of modern man being surpassed is a good thing.  I don’t believe a man could be considered modern if he was preoccupied with being remembered as the greatest, the wisest, or whatever.   But to think that the modern man would be that instrumental on the world stage would suggest that no ordinary mortal could ever become a modern man.  Yes, the modern man would be a disappointment to those who knew him for his very existence mocks all that they cling to as beliefs.  A wife would believe, rightly, that she was abandoned for some crazy idea.  A community would believe that he had wasted his talents which could have been put to better use in the community.

The church in Krasne, a Ukrainian church south of Wynyard is where the photo above was taken.  For my brother-in-law, this place of his childhood, though mostly abandoned, provides a place of peace.  It is interesting to me that stripped of power, what remains likely holds a truer face of spiritualism.  The promise of the church wasn’t really delivered until the conditions holding the church eroded enough to allow the promise to be set free.

I have to admit that as I look out onto the world and see the economic terrorism being practised by the first world countries on the rest of the world; and as I see social democracies shift increasingly to the right taking on a hard and angry face against those who would dare to believe in a concept of sharing; and as I see armies grow stronger and deadlier weapons being created; and as I watch nature being tortured by those who are intent on wresting another dollar from the earth regardless of the effect on the planet, as I see religious strife, especially between Christian and Muslem – I have to admit that I feel that we humans are on our way to the next global disaster that will feature warfare on the grandest scale yet.

Have we not learned anything as a collective?  No wonder modern man can only end up disappointed after giving so much.

Every Good Is Matched With an Evil

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I took this photo in La Fortuna, just a few metres from my room in the El Buho hostel.  Various kinds of iguanas and lizards were all over the place and of varying sizes.  This particular fellow was in a plastic box in which the owner of the hostel puts in food for both birds and the iguanas living in the tree.

This guy reminds me of time before human history, a time of heat and transformation, a time of chaos for the most part.  It is no wonder that our images of devils and evil are often based on reptiles.

I try hard to distance myself from the chaos and confusion and darkness of primordial past – especially as found within my own self.  I don’t want to allow the inner reptile loose and have him destroy the little bit of good I try to fashion.  Yet, I know that if I deny too much, this inner shadow, it will slither out and damage even more.  Somewhere I need to find balance.

In my journey, I want and work hard to bring something good to those around me and to the community.  I think of my children and my grandchildren and all of the good souls I see that I don’t know.  I look at the children and grandchildren of strangers and know that what I do must include them.  And in recognizing all this need, I ache with the regret that I can’t do enough, that I will never be able to do enough.  I don’t have enough money, or time, or energy to do what needs to be done.  I also know that there are forces at work trying hard to undo anything good that does emerge.  Balance between good and evil.

“Many people call themselves modern especially the pseudo-moderns.  Therefore the really modern man is often to be found among those who call themselves old-fashioned.  They do this firstly in order to make amends for their guilty break with tradition by laying all the more emphasis on the past, and secondly in order to avoid the misfortune of being taken for pseudo-moderns.  Every good quality has its bad side, and nothing good can be come into the world without at once producing a corresponding evil.  This painful fact renders illusory the feeling of elation that so often goes with consciousness of the present- the feeling that we are the culmination of the whole history of mankind, the fulfilment and end-product of countless generations.  At best it should be a proud admission of our poverty:  we are also the disappointment of the hopes and expectations of the ages.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

I don’t want to be clumped with the pseudo-moderns, nor do I claim to be “modern” as Jung frames the word.  I have no rational reason for my doubts about the New Age movement and the claims being made by those embracing this New Age.  I have no proofs that they are just as lost as I am and that they are headed down a false trail.  I say this, not as criticism, but simply as a reason for my not travelling down this trail, the New Age trail.  Perhaps I am wrong and that is okay.  I can only go with what I know/intuit/feel.  I don’t have any answers, only questions.

And I worry.  I worry that any good that I do create will be destroyed.  I worry that somehow I will be the one who destroys that which I create.  Does the way I live my life, the way I am changing, render my words worthless?  Will my tendency to transparency expose too many warts and ugly shadows be seen as proofs that the small bits of good are made invisible?  That is the risk I take.  Now I am beginning to understand what Jung says about poverty, as I become poorer in terms of relationship the further along this road of individuation.  So why do I continue knowing that in the end I will be fully alone?  Well, the truth is in spite of outward appearances as I am surrounded by family and community, in the beginning and in the end and everywhere in between, I already am fully alone wrestling with demons and angels while looking at the outer world through thick lenses.

How can my children and grandchildren, let alone anyone who would partner with me, celebrate my arrival as a modern man?  Rather, I do see how their response would be of mourning and of anger.