Through a Jungian Lens

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Ambiguity and Religious Attitude

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Invoking the gods for tea time in China

As I prepared myself for today’s post, I began with a search through my archives for a photo. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, only that the photo somehow was symbolic, artistic. With the archives being quite vast, I clicked on the folder for last October and this photo caught my immediate attention. I didn’t ask why, but knew that I had to go with it, trust that it would somehow carry the idea that was still hiding in the shadows of my consciousness. It was only when I had cropped the image and tweaked it in terms of exposure that I began to see where the image would take me.

“The truly religious attitude toward life obliges us to suffer ambiguity, ride the current of soul as it changes and disappears, and await its reappearance in a fresh place.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 10)

I would have to say that my life somehow has shifted from a secular attitude to a religious attitude. And in saying this, I don’t mean that I am embracing a religion in terms of church or a theology. Rather, it is about looking at life, the whole of life, as a numinous experience of the divine. In this particular photo I am drawn to the tea table as spiritual symbol. The tea shared is not simply about the relationship between the individuals who would sit at this table, but also with the spirits that are invoked when a few people gather to immerse themselves into the ritual, the silence and the sharing that has a place at this table. I can sense the soul of this table that joins in with the souls of those gathered around it if those people would be open to the fullness of the experience. The soul is found in the wood as well as in the craftsman who formed the wood into the table and the stools. The soul is found in relationship between people sharing tea together. The soul is found in the tea, the water and the delicate cups which hold the liquid. The soul is found in the appreciation of the tea, the company, the artistry of the table. It takes a shift in consciousness to note the soul which is always present in all things and in all life.

Most people, including myself, often take the word soul to be representative of a separate and individual inner aspect of self. Most people, including myself, often take the word religion to mean a church, a theology. But as I have come to understand it anew, religion is about an attitude, a way of being in relation to self, to others and to the world. I have deliberately used the word “anew” because as a child the religious attitude is vibrant. One enters the world with a religious attitude which renders the world as a numinous place. It is a function of time and relationship with adults which leads each of us away from a natural religious attitude to a life of rules, objectivity, compromise and maturity. Though many of us attend churches, the magic and numinosity of soul is lost. The harder we strive to cling to a church, the more rigid we become. In my practice I have worked with those entrusted with our souls in churches. Our guides within the churches fight hard to find their own soul, their own faith within their churches. Because, like us, they have externalised religion, they are left feeling empty, soulless. When the pain of that emptiness overwhelms, it is time to begin the process of becoming like children, the process of soul recovery and the embracing of a religious attitude toward self, others and the world.

“Just as religious faith obliges us to wait with trust in the mystery, so the evolution of the personality, the individuation urge toward wholeness, obliges one to wait upon, and trust the guidance of, the soul’s energies. The enemy of such trust is the anxiety occasioned by ambiguity. As one matures, a greater tolerance of ambiguity is essential both for growth and as a measure of respect for the autonomy of the mystery.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 11)


2 Responses

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  1. Tea cups, tea pots, and drinking tea have been a huge part of my active imagination processes over the years. So, I find myself overflowing with “aha’s” as I read your words here. And the photo is absolutely magical for me. Thanks so much for sharing this.


    February 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    • Hi Lee – as I am learning, everything that we see in nature, that we make, that we build – all can be, and are holders of the human psyche, all are alive in terms of their atomic particles – quirks and quarks – and it is that energy that we sometimes tap into through imaginal links that make things and places numinous.


      February 26, 2012 at 7:09 am

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