Through a Jungian Lens

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Archive for November 2010


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As I wander the streets of Changzhou with my camera, I get to see “real” life unfold before me.  For example, near the city’s People’s Number One Hospital, I saw this monk talking with an older woman.  The deal is both about donating to the home temple of the monk as well as paying for prayers that will be beneficial to the buyer or a loved one.  For me, this is one of the shadow sides of “religion.”

Shadow and light – one exists only in relation to the other.  In terms of the spiritual, we conveniently place both the shadow and light outside of “self.”  We have a God of Light and we have the Lord of Darkness.  As I said, these are convenient construction, projections, of what belongs within.  In my opinion, there is no external God, nor is there an external Satan.

By placing the possibility and necessity of humanity’s religious experience in the processes of archetypal within the psyche, Jung identifies the archetypes as humanity’s God-makers and faith givers.  Most Western theologies identify God not only as the source of revelation but also as the author of faith in that which is revealed.  Thus faith or the grace of belief, as well as what is believed in, is placed well beyond the potentially manipulative grasp of the individual ego.”  (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, p.23)

“God-makers” and “faith givers” – powerful words.  All god-heads are creations of the collective human psyche.  Religion emerges to give substance to the projected energy.  And in relief, most give up responsibility for their spiritual need.  Like children, most look for a “father” or a “mother” to take care of them, to take away their hurts and to give them answers.  The more impressive and different the costume and the setting, the easier it is for most to “believe” in their projected spiritual nature.  Answers exist, if one only believes.  Since it is too hard for most to hold the tension of “no answer, only question,” many accept these religions in spite of the niggling voice within that is pushed further and further into the shadow realm, denied.  This leaves a belief that is tainted with darkness, a darkness that gets acted out in the collective realm, over and over again.

And it all seems so innocent, as in this image – a monk offering hope to an old lady.


Quest For a God

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“It would be a regrettable mistake if anybody should take my observations a a kind of proof for the existence of God.  They prove only the existence of an archetypal God-image, which to my mind is the most we can assert about God psychologically.  But as it is a very important and influential archetype, its relatively frequent occurrence seems to be a noteworthy fact of any theologia naturalis. (Jung, CW 11, par. 102)

And yet, we do believe something no matter what we say or don’t say.  Most pay little attention to belief or the archetype.  Rather than think about it, most just let the churches and their priesthoods do the thinking for us.  We have other, more important things to worry about such as our families, our jobs, or the physical needs that often become matters of life and death.  It seems that the question of God only assaults us in youth, especially adolescence, and once we have turned the corner of midlife., and only then if we have done our “work” so as to have the time, energy and resources to tackle the question of God.

This quest for a God is as old as the human race.  We have looked for him or her in the stars, in the animated world, in the sun and the moon.  But rarely do we dare to look within for the presence of a God.  We want our God to be more than the frail and fallible beings that we find ourselves to be.  And so, we push God further and further from our centre of self.  We build the most magnificent structures imaginable so that they can point towards this God at distance.  We decorate our imaginings with the most precious of objects and materials we can find so that this God will not be associated with the baseness that we can see and feel of ourselves.  And in the process, we lose God.

I lost God and now I must begin to look downward and inward in search of the wellsprings of the spirit which I know must be where I will find this God.  This is my quest.

Imaging the Unknowable

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I took this photo yesterday.  It has been a while since I was able to see the moon because of clouds and pollution.  In spite of the things that hide, what lies hidden is full, just like this moon doesn’t lose its mass or add to its mass as it moves through its phases.  What gets in the way of awareness is simply a lack of consciousness about the darkness, the shadows, the unconscious.  It is about projection, about trying to “imagine” what is otherwise unknowable.

For me, it is almost what I can see in terms of the spiritual centre of self, the wellsprings of the religious principle.  I know its there and I can only catch a hint of its existence.  I know the moon is fully there though I only see a thin sliver of its light.  And that sliver is all I need – not just “faith” that there is a moon.  For those that are used to me writing so much more in each post, I want to say that this “minimalist” post is intended and not just a result of laziness.  Maybe less is more.

Written by Robert G. Longpré

November 9, 2010 at 7:46 pm

The Human Need For Improbability

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This is a photo of Writing Brush Pagoda found in Red Plum Park in Changzhou where I currently live while teaching English in a small university.  Though I have seen a lot of pagodas while in China, I don’t seem to get tired of them.  There is an elegance about them, as one of my readers once mentioned, a “flouncy” appearance that lifts the spirit.  I think that is what our churches were once meant to do, to “lift” us out of our ordinariness and point us to something so much bigger, something extraordinary.

I had thought that I was going to save this particular photo for the posts that I intend on writing in response to one of the books I have brought with me written by Eugene Monick.  But, that thought disappeared and I knew that this was the time to bring this image forward.  There are enough “masculine” photos in the archives to find their way into that up-coming series of posts.  And besides, there are always new photos to consider when the time approaches.

I have often wondered at the efforts the western world has taken in its efforts to bring religion down to earth.  We have tried to abolish excessive ornamentation, the use of statues, and costumes that invoke spiritual imagery.  We have opted for common-sense plainness.  No frills and no idols and no distractions.  Just the words to cling to and even those are presented in the plainest language possible.  And out of all of this, one is supposed to “connect” with something that defies being contained by ordinary and plain words, defies being explained by common sense.

“”Exclusive appeals to faith are a hopeless petitio principii, for it is the manifest improbability of symbolical truth that prevents people from believing in it.  Instead of insisting so glibly on the necessity of faith, the theologians, it seems to me, should see what can be done to make this faith possible . . . .   And this can  only be achieved by reflecting how it came about in the first place that humanity needed the improbability of religious statements, and what it signifies when a totally different spiritual reality is superimposed on the sensuous and tangible actuality of this world.”  (Jung, CW 5, par. 336)

Looking at the actuality of the world, the places of grandeur, the places that invoke awe – this is where our spiritual roots are found.  It is within out attempts to use images and architecture that we have tried to “inspire” a sense of the spiritual, to create a sacred space, a place of temenos, that we have given birth to religions.  And all of this was done so that we can get a sense of the improbable, so that we can be taken outside of our prosaic simpleness to see the depths that dwell “within.”

This pagoda does this for me.  It points upwards, begging me to surpass ordinariness, to reach as high as I can.  And in seeing the reflection of the pagoda in the water, I know that in reaching up, I also reach within, into my own depths.

Living in Hell

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Looking through the photos taken last week for a photo to go with today’s post, this photo jumped out at me.  I took this photo for my grandsons who had come to visit last time I taught in Changzhou.  This is a scene from China Dinosaur Park, a new section added to the park since their visit.  The scene makes me think of what “Hell” might look like.

There is no doubt in my mind that as doubt comes, the loss of certainty opens up a path to the repressed unconscious, and to depression.  It is about loss, at least it was for me.  I lost the certainty of structured religion.  With the turmoil of being a youth at the time, the loss left me in a dark place.  Of course, there were other factors as one would expect.  The things in one’s life are interrelated.

When and if faith as fanaticism is overcome, the results are not always unqualifiedly beneficial.  Patterns of depression and emptiness can follow the loss of whatever solace was previously offered by the so-called faith – though paradoxically the depression may be accompanied by rage at the sacrifices made to the dubious God of such faith and his strident moral demands, now felt to be hostile to fuller expressions of human life and spirit.”  (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, p.18)

When one puts one’s trust in a religion and then begins to become a more conscious being  as he or she works hard to honour the symbols and promise of the religion, and in the process becomes aware of the darkness of that religion which translates to being betrayed, anger is a natural response.  But the anger demands action for resolution.

Victims of “sacrosanct unintelligibility” are thus often faced with “no-win” options.  They can grit their teeth and cling fanatically to a burden of “revealed truth” which finds no experiential resonance in themselves.  This splits them between the demands of their faith and the demands of their humanity and potential maturity.  Or they are driven, often by inner demands for a fuller and more balanced life, into patterns of denial.  In the language of their own impoverished theological options such denial is described as “atheism.”  Not infrequently this carries with it a lingering guilt for having abandoned what may have been, after all, the one true revelation – all the truer precisely because of its unintelligibility.”  (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, p.18)

It is as though one is damned of one does and double-damned if one doesn’t stick with one’s religion.  Either way, one is effectively trapped in a hell.

Awakening the Spirit Within

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This is one of my many photos of Lotus flowers taken here in Changzhou.  Usually I focus on isolating them in the water so that I can capture their mirror image being reflected.  This time, I was pulled by the image of “fullness” in “community.”  Rather than isolation and focus on the individual, this image places the individual within the collective.  On the right-hand side in the foreground, a new lotus is emerging, being “born” into the collective so that it, too, can flourish for its moment in the sun.

The isolated lotus flower is about the individual.  In isolating and focusing on the one that is symbolic for “self,” one is able to transcend the ordinariness of being within the collective, a way of being that is messy where the stinks and detritus of both birth and decay are ever present.  One is able to enter into a state that transcends time and place while at the same time including all time and all space.  And one discovers the source of one’s “self.”

After writing the above words, I thought I would then find out the name of the Hindu God that emerges out of the lotus flower.  And in the process of doing that search (answer is Brahma) I found more than I was looking for.  The lotus is symbolic of spirituality in Hinduism, Buddhism, and in the ancient Egyptian culture.  Emerging from the lotus are Brahma, Buddha and Ra.  One interesting thing of note for myself was the fact that each of these religions are experiential.  And, in trying to understand why my “western world religions” seem to be failing me, I get to understand Jung’s similar state of dis-ease with religion in the western world.

For religions in the western world, “conceptions of faith are divorced from any experiential basis in humanity’s awareness of itself, and become dehumanizing substitutes for the life-giving experience of the unconscious which the symbols express.  Of this destructive psycho-spiritual situation, Jung writes: “It [theology] proclaims doctrines which nobody understands and demands a faith which nobody can manufacture.”” (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, p. 18)

Growing out of the mud and dirty, even polluted, waters the lotus flower provides an example of what I can do as an individual as I strive to become more conscious.  I catch a glimpse of the deity within, the spirit within.  And in being able to finally notice its presence, I awaken as a spiritual being and begin the next stage of my journey.

Setan and Chaos

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As I was wandering through China Dinosaur Park here in Changzhou on Halloween, I saw these three gigantic figures carved into the side of a desert hillside (all artificial of course), a scene which evoked the world of the gods and goddesses of Egyptian history.  My first impression was that these were all representations of “Set,” the God of Chaos (also known as Seth and Setan -> Satan?).  Symbolism, symbols – it is all about the need for symbols in our life for meaning to emerge.  Without symbols to point towards something “more,” we are left in chaos.

Maybe the need for symbols is what has driven me in my pursuit of images with my collection of cameras.  I would like to say that I am a photographer, but I am not.  I simply use the camera and have no interest or energy to “study” the art of photography as an art.  I just want to use the camera to capture images that appear to me as symbols.  Otherwise, the camera is just a recording tool that documents places visited and the life of my family.  Symbols, images and the numinous allow me to trace a thin path through chaos into a sense of meaningfulness.

To Jung the loss of the symbolic sense was a catastrophe for both individual and society.  It meant that the healing and religious disciplines of his time, themselves cut off from their own deepest resources, blocked their practitioners and devotees from them also.  The consequences appeared, on an individual level, in the widespread occurrence and experience of meaninglessness, depression and neurosis, and socially in the outbreak of new epidemics of faith (often in political form) as the unconscious offered demonic configurations of mass-mindedness to fill the gaps left by the demise of the traditional religions.”  (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, pp 15-16)

I see what Jung saw in my own backyard.  Quiet Saskatchewan is now a hotbed of black and white fundamentalism, new versions of something that is supposed to be Christianity are appearing at the same time as others are retreating to rules and forms of religion of the past.  All proclaim their “truths” that have been pared to a plain and stark set of words, a belief system that lacks the numinous.  Religions are angry and seeking economic and political power, especially the new iterations of old religions.  Under the appearance of strident purpose, chaos is rampant.

I see and hear this and I know that the only way through this is an individual path.  As much as I would like to lead or follow a surge of others who would heal the human soul and the collective spirit, I know that all I can do is to find meaning as a unit of one.  And in doing so, I must carefully watch out of the side of my eye for Set and his threat of chaos.