Through a Jungian Lens

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Spirituality in the Western World

with 10 comments

It is not very often I bother to keep a blurry photo.  A few days ago I was attempting to capture this little fellow with the camera.  After a number of shots, I did get a few decent photos.  Yet somehow, I didn’t delete this one like I usually do.  I have a large number of hummingbird photos taken here in Costa Rica, different species in different locations and in different states of being.  Yet this recent one defied the odds and remained in the photos folder.

And now as I wrestle with Jung’s essay regarding spirituality, I find that this image deserves to be here.  Spirituality is a theme that is far from clear.  If anything, it is numinous, just that faint presence that hints of something more than what is sensed out the side of one’s vision.  It’s a theme that is so difficult that one is often reduced to comments such as “this is as clear as mud.”

One knows it is there, one has a fuzzy sense of what it might be like or where it might be located or how it might be reached.  But in the end, it is still “fuzzy.”  And that is a problem in today’s world of science and facts and things.  We demand clarity, we demand proofs.  If one is to truly believe then the answers should be easily located through an Internet search.  Life is hard enough without having to try to muddle through something the best minds in the history of human kind have yet to answer to our simple satisfaction.

“Spiritually the Western world is in a precarious situation, and the danger is greater the more we blind ourselves to the merciless truth with illusion about our beauty of soul.  Western man lives in a thick cloud of incense which he burns to himself so that his own countenance may be veiled from him in the smoke.  But how do we strike men of another colour?  What do China and India think of us?  What feelings do we arouse in the black man?  And what about all those whom we rob of their lands and exterminate with rum and venereal disease?” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

From my limited experience after two years in China, one month in China and several years in remote areas living and working with Canada’s First Nations People, I would not be able to come close to answering Jung’s vital question.  How can one answer what others think of us when we can’t fully grasp what we think of ourselves.  And they have the same limitations of consciousness even if a different orientation.  There is no magical, mystical super knowledge being held by these ancient cultures that is being withheld from us ready to transform us.  That is the problem of growing awareness, the ability to see that the fuzziness and blur extends everywhere.  For me, there is little doubt that if there is to be any clarity, I must begin and end with “self.”


10 Responses

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  1. Robert,
    Since this a “Jungian” site do you think most people even understand what Jung means by “spirit” and “spirituality?” Recently the NPR show “Speaking of Faith” ( ) was conducting a poll on the subject of people who consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. I got an error message when I attempted to answer the poll. So I emailed the show complaining. I did get an answer but still could not access the poll itself. Here is the main section of the response I received:
    “I’m sorry to hear there are web issues! Perhaps if you click on the link directly from here:

    Hopefully that will also provide more clarity to your question. But basically, there is not a consensus so we are posing the question to you…what does it mean to you”

    My point is that many people use the term spirituality, but unless we have a common understanding of the term we simply end up speaking “past” each other and no real communication happens. As the SOF producer who emailed points out “there is not a consensus” so we must be clear about what we mean when we use the term.

    John Ferric

    April 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

    • It is unlikely that most people don’t really understand what Jung meant by spirit and spirituality. It is a certainty that though this is a Jungian psychology oriented site, even I can only approach what he really meant. In all of my study about the nature of communication, it takes dialogue, a lot of dialogue, in order for two people to begin to approach understanding of an idea. It is a negotiated, constructed meaning that evolves.

      This is why this site exists. By presenting photos, some of Jung’s words and my reflections and resonances with regards to Jung’s words as well as the photos, there is the hope that others can begin to hear what I hear, see what I see and thus share my journey lived through a Jungian lens.

      Robert G. Longpré

      April 3, 2010 at 12:26 pm

      • To gain some understanding of what psychology means by spirituality consider this:

        “. . .In speaking of ‘the degree of spiritual development’ of a personality, I do not wish to imply an especially rich or magnanimous nature. Such is not the case at all. I mean, rather a certain complexity of mind or nature, comparable to a gem with many facets as opposed to the simple cube. . . .” C. G. Jung, “Marriage as a Psychological Relationship.”

        From my perspective one must bear in mind the difference between a psychological concept of spirituality, as Jung shows us which aims us toward wholeness and completion(warts and imperfections included), and the religious concept of spirituality which aims toward perfection of the person sans warts and blemishes.

        If one attempts to use psychology to obtain the religious goal then one becomes more lost and confused than before.


        April 4, 2010 at 8:04 am

      • Very, very important point to be considered, JF. It would indeed be an error to think of spirituality in religious terms rather than in psychological terms as I use the word here. You definitely help orient readers here so that communication is enhanced. Thank you.

        Robert G. Longpré

        April 4, 2010 at 9:09 am

  2. I love the photo. Hummingbirds are a symbol of joy, the joy of freedom to flit wherever one chooses, to seek out, find, and suck up whatever momentary sweetness is to be found, then move on to the next and the next. That to me sounds and feels a lot like ‘spirit.’ And like the hummingbird, joy does not do well in captivity (solid concrete definition). It must be exactly what it chooses to be, appearing when it will, where and how it will.

    These wee creatures are a rare occurrence where I live, making them even more precious when they do appear. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for brightening my day which is clouded over and experiencing intermittant rain.



    April 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    • With overcast skies and intermittent rain, there is a drawing within. Wait for a short while and the sun returns and one is drawn back into the outside world.

      Robert G. Longpré

      April 3, 2010 at 4:14 pm

  3. Lovely post. thought-provoking and more than a grain of truth. we do live in a blur of un-reality. thanks for sharing. glad you kept the photo. it’s good to remind ourselves that beauty is not always perfect. may you have a blessed weekend.

    Cindy (notjustagranny)

    April 3, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    • Somehow, I think that one only lives in a blur if one can perceive the edges of the reality in which one finds oneself. I think most are satisfied, even demand the clarity of the collective where almost everything is black and white when it comes to ideation.

      Robert G. Longpré

      April 4, 2010 at 6:03 am

  4. We look for answers to spirituality in other cultures, believeing that they have ‘the secret’. We hope that by conversion to Buddhism, following a guru, adopting Christianity (especially the more fundamental forms) we will be absolved of the need to look within ourselves.

    We have found that the religion of our culture provides no answers today, demands loyalty and obedience and promises answers in some nebulous future. If we have enough ‘faith’ ie lack of questions, lack of searching – we will be rewarded.

    I am not sure that our own spiritual growth will enable us to understand other people, other nations, unless they too undertake a simialr process. I think that my spiritual growth helps me understand me, but I am not sure it helps me understand anyone else. I hope that by being open with myself, I can be more open with others, and maybe they will understand me better. This is good for relationships and social interaction.

    But I am not sure this understanding from others is necessary for the journey to spiritual development. My personal growth gives me, I hope, a greater awareness of what is around me, in terms of ‘me’ and my actions. But my development will not move in the same way an another’s. My new ‘me’ is not your new ‘you’. Mutual openness can create a space for understanding, but despite our best hopes, we may still not reach it.

    I think hoping for greater understanding from others may be a little indulgent.

    Deborah Howard

    April 3, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    • Deborah, it is problematic to find spirituality outside of self. Though one often is at odds with one’s society and culture, that container is a significant part of who each of us are. Trying on other forms, outward forms, cultural forms of spirituality is nothing more than donning another persona and hoping that it sticks and convinces ego that “this is the answer.” Of course, it can’t be an answer. It can become part of a bigger whole. And in the end, as you so rightly put it, it all comes back to the self. Understanding oneself can then lead to better relationships with others. As for the last part, this is the most difficult, having people travel together such as in marriages and friendships over a long period of time and expecting the relationship to change in synchronized harmony. In the end, we are alone, especially if we have really done the work of becoming conscious.

      Robert G. Longpré

      April 4, 2010 at 6:27 pm

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