Through a Jungian Lens

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Taking Care of the Dark Spaces

with 3 comments

This is a detail from the hallway that separates the main temple from small meditation and prayer rooms at a Buddhist temple in the central part of the city of Changzhou.  The temple, Jiuhua Chansi – 九华禅寺 – is a Buddhist Temple For Nuns.  One of the things about this photo that caught my attention was the shift from darkness below to darkness above with the light located at the bottom central part of the photo.

This temple was a lot smaller than most Buddhist temples I have visited here in China.  It’s smallness made me think of how focused the life of the nuns must be.  Each bit of space was treated as if it was at the centre of their care, even the darker spaces.  Being within the temple with its dark and light spaces, I sensed that they “fit” together and “belonged” together.  There was no attempt to banish the dark areas with artificial light.

I know that I am driven to bringing more light into my own darkness.  I now doubt that the intention is to banish the darkness, but more to give it form and to feel that I am “more” rather than “less.”  The darkness is also who I am on a personal and a collective level.

A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious is undoubtedly personal. I call it the “personal unconscious”. But this personal layer rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the “collective unconscious”. I have chosen the term “collective” because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behaviour that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. (Jung, CW 9i, pp 3-4)

It would be absurd for me to think that “I” could bring light to all this darkness, awareness to all that is unknown within me including the collective darkness.  In thinking more about this, I realise that to banish darkness would leave one blinded by light, totally undifferentiated.  The “I” would disappear and all that would be left would be a white void.  So, I begin to be thankful for the shadows that give form and substance. that gifts me with images.

I looked a bit further into Jung’s work and found this:

Why have we not long since discovered the unconscious and raised up its treasure-house of eternal images? Simply because we had a religious formula for everything psychic — and one that is far more beautiful and comprehensive than immediate experience. Though the Christian view of the world has paled for many people, the symbolic treasure-rooms of the East are still full of marvels that can nourish for a long time to come the passion for show and new clothes. What is more, these images — be they Christian or Buddhist or what you will — are lovely, mysterious, richly intuitive.” (Jung, CW 9i, pp 7-8)

Ah!  Now I know why I am entranced by these images, they “are lovely, mysterious, richly intuitive.”

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3 Responses

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  1. Robert, i have really been enjoying the photos and thoughts. thanks.
    having lived on the southside of chicago and now in the middle of the appalachian forest i find my reaction is the same when walking alone at night. i avoid the lighted places, for it is in them you can be seen and likewise you are blind to what is in the dark. Shadows would not be half so deep if we were all not furiously trying to banish the dark.
    obviously there are differences between the city streets and the forest path, yet people’s reactions have always been the same; “(gasp!) aren’t you afraid?!”

    i cannot explain it, but the night and the shadows are soothing in a way. (it is a gift i wish more women who live in our so-called developed nations could feel safe enough or brave enough to do.)
    to walk alone in the dark brings me to witness parts of myself (often rising from fear or needing to ‘see/know’) and slowly slowly i can unwind my judgements from things and those catagories of neutral dicotomies which i carry around in my mind as heirarchies can unravel and Vision (with the great V) improves.

    sproutingcrow

    October 8, 2010 at 1:42 am

    • Like yourself, I both fear and enjoy the darkness. It’s as though I am really alive in holding the tension of that fear of the darkness and unknown. To play it safe seems to me to be cheating myself. Thanks.

      Robert G. Longpré

      October 8, 2010 at 8:36 pm

  2. I second you Sprouting Crow, but don’t forget that men also can be afraid of the dark – so I think that many people don’t like to undergo your experience with the soothing feeling of the dark and the shadows – because they are confronted with their own horror scenarios.

    Opa Bear

    October 8, 2010 at 6:00 pm


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