Archive for April 2012
The process . . .
Yes, the process, the analytical process that I am currently engaged in is taking up much of my time. For those who are not aware, I find myself in analytical sessions three times a week. This is how I am spending my time at this point since my resignation as a university instructor. Added to the process is an engagement in almost any and every Jungian seminar and workshop that dares to surface and make itself known here in Calgary. I am currently engaged in a seminar series that is studying James Hollis’ book, The Eden Project which is focused on magical other and the quest for the holy grail, the return to the Garden of Eden, to the womb of the Great Mother. In ten days I get to take part in a two-day event with Michael Conforti. It sounds busy enough, but I still find myself saying “more, more, faster, faster!”
So, into the container I have added a fairly intensive immersion into Buddhism through reading, reading, meditation, listening and attending a Sangha here in Calgary. My “extra” hours are filled with Trungpa, Chodron, Karthar, the Dali Lama and anyone who crosses my path through the library and the Sangha. The day after the Conforti adventure, I take refuge and accept the precepts; in other words, I am becoming a Buddhist in name as well as in spirit. For those who have been reading here, this probably will come as no surprise as I have often written about concepts and reverberations that come out of Buddhist teachings.
Of course, it isn’t all about Jungian psychology or Buddhism during this “sabattical” from ordinary, daily living and working. I do take time to take photographs, to walk, to cycle, and to play my guitar. After all, there are a “lot” of hours to fill in a day.
I have no wish to be more than I am for to wish to be more, is to wish to be other than myself. To believe that I am more than I am is hubris.
I have no wish to be less than I am for to wish to be less, is to wish to be other than myself. To believe that I am less than I am is hubris.
Hubris is defined as overconfident pride and arrogance. Immediately most of our political leaders, corporate leaders, social leaders come to mind. But o course, these are the people in the spotlight. Within each of us, hubris rears its ugly head. The moment we think ourselves “better than” an other or others, we are under the spell of hubris. We are in a state where we can’t see the other or others with any clarity at all, for to see them and ourselves as we really are would dispel the attitude of hubris. Understanding this, one is then led to acknowledge that adopting the opposite belief, that of being “less than” an other or others is also an act of hubris. How many of us cherish our wounds, savour the pain as we come to believe that we have the greatest wounds, take the most pills, suffer the most, have the heaviest load to carry? We wear our negated worth with pride demanding that all take note of our “greatness.”
That said, I do want to “be.” But what is it that I want to be? It might sound quite simplistic, but the truth is, I just want to be me whatever and whoever that might be. I want to know me, not just the leftover edges of various shadows and actions and projections and distorted memories that have collected in my cerebral data banks called my brain. Each of the facts as I know them of who I am are not much more than subjective illusions. I know that I am not a hero or a saint. I also know that I am not a demon or a coward – but I don’t know the essence of who or what I am. Perhaps it is because I am not as singular as I have been lead to believe. Perhaps I am only an temporary presence in a temporary form of something that is timeless and formless.
Now if I could rid myself of these vague thoughts and intimations I might just be able to be someone special perhaps a real saint or a real intellectual or a real artist. But even looking into a mirror tells me the lie of who and what I am for the eyes and face staring back are constantly shifting as time passes, if time passes. I just keep shape-shifting. So I learn silence and drop pretense an disguises and leave the hoarding of fame, fortune and infamy to others. And as for me, breathing is enough.
I am finding Hillman’s book to be quite challenging and fascinating. He is forcing me to rethink my own muddled ideas about self, and to look at the culture in which I was born and raised. As I read daily in newspapers, editorials and in the social media of Twitter and Facebook, we are, as a culture, caught in a vortex of energy that wants release, wants to escape the messiness of a world we have created. We have “Occupy” movements, we have loud and sometimes violent and destructive protests hoping somehow that we can change the world we have created. But, can we change this bed we have created for ourselves without changing our sustaining myth as a culture? That is the critical question. Certainly, we cannot change that myth if we don’t know what that myth is.
“Were we to be interviewed by an aboriginal anthropologist from Australia for our “dream,” our “Gods,” and our “cosmology,” this would be the story we would tell. We would tell of the struggle each day brings to Ego who must rise and do battle with Depression and Seduction and Entanglement, so as to keep the world safe from Chaos, Evil, and Regression, which coil round it like an oppressive Swallowing Serpent. This gives account to our inquirer of our peculiar irrationalities, why we sweep the streets, why we pay taxes, why we go to school and to war – all with compulsive, ritualistic energy so as to keep the Serpent at bay. This is our true cosmology, for Ego, who changes rivers in their course and shoots to the moon, acts not out of hunger or Gods or tribal persecutions, as the inquiring aboriginal might imagine in his savage mind, so inert and lazy bound to the maternal uroboros, with his “weak ego.” No, our civilization’s excessive activism is all to keep back the night of the Serpent, requiring a single monotheistic single-mindedness, a cyclops’s dynamism of all the God which She and Ego have partaken together at a Western banquet lasting three thousand years and perhaps now coming to it indigestible conclusion as Ego weakens in what we call “neurosis| and the swallowed Gods stir again in the imaginal dark of his shadow and of her belly. Ego and Unconscious, Hero and Serpent, on and Mother, their battle, their bed and their banquet – this is the sustaining myth we must tell to account for our strange ways: why we are always at war, why we have eaten up the world, why we have so little imaginative power, and why we have only one God and He so far away.” (Hillman, Senex & Puer, pp 144-145)
I have been spending a lot of time going over and over James Hollis’ little book called The Eden Project and have been fascinated at that quest to return to the Garden of Eden, that place before consciousness that as humans we somehow project onto our significant others. Of course, as a man, I look at this dynamic and understand it viscerally as a return to womb, not the physical womb of mother, but the womb of soul that is embodied by the Great Mother. I realise that I, as a man that carries this unconscious desire to connect with and be subsumed in soul gets played out in my relationship with my wife. Of course, there is a lot of magic in this and therein lies the biggest danger, disappearing into this web of magic so that I forget who I am and who my wife is.
Following the thread of the quest for wholeness that is the theme of Hollis’ book, I turned to James Hillman’s book, Senex & Puer in hopes of perhaps finding something there that would shed a little more light on the topic. I had expected to find something of clarity but found instead a whole new arena of confusion and messiness to consider, that of the larger nature of the Great Mother:
“We are so used to assuming that the some of the great mother appears as a beautiful ineffectual who has laid his testicles on her altar and nourishes her soul with his blood, and we are used to believing that the hero pattern leads away from her, that we have lost sight of the role of the Great Goddess in what is closest to us: our ego-formation. The adapted ego of reality is in her “yoke,” a meaning of Hera, just as the words hero and Hera are taken by many scholars to be cognate. When outer life or inner life is conceived as a contest for light, an arena of struggles, success versus failure, coping versus collapse, work versus sleep, pleasure vesus love, then we are children of Hera. And the ego that results is the mother-complex in a jockstrap.” (Hillman, Senex and Puer, p 141)
The Eden Project thus takes on a deeper layer for me, one that goes beyond relationship and projections, a mythological level that defies neat and clean answers.
“We can anyway not rid ourselves of complexes until they have given up on us. Their decaying time is longer than the life of the individual personality, since they continue in a kind of autonomous existence long after we have left th scene; they are part of the psychic inheritance of our children and their children, both natural and spiritual. The complexes are our dosage of sin, our karma, which if given up is really only passed on elsewhere.” (Hillman, Senex and Puer, p. 129)
Complexes and archetypes sort of blend in and shift shape as though the boundaries are porous. As I am learning to understand, they aren’t all that clear as each complex bumps into and merges with other complexes as though in a stew of sorts. The same seems to happen within the domain of archetypes where the shape-shifting makes them tough to contain, let alone name. As an example, Eros is considered to be the oldest of the gods yet also the youngest of the gods, the eternal youth from which life emanates and yet also the same youth who is eternally reborn. He is both the seed (masculine) and the container (feminine). On the complex front, the mother complex is twinned with a father-complex and is combined with the great Mother Earth archetype and the Father Sky archetype, a curious blend of personal complex, cultural complex and historical genetic memory as well as primal numinous image. Both are then combined to create a holy union of masculine and feminine that somehow end up being the holistic Self. Tell me you aren’t confused, that things aren’t definitely blurry. I have to admit that I am still in the dark and that it gives me a good feeling to be there. This is a cosmos that is far beyond the capacity of ego and intellect to really “know.”
It’s enough for me to realise that how I am in relation with another person is more about my history as it is about my present. My relationship to Other is a mixture of my relationship to my own unconscious contents (stuff of which I might never become aware) as well as to my relationship to community, to culture and spirituality; and, my relationship to the other person who also has his or her own history, etc., as well as a relationship to self, community, culture and spirituality. When all is said and done, I don’t really know the Other as the other person doesn’t really know him or herself. There is really nothing objective about objective reality, it is all about fuzzy projections.
“Perhaps it would not be too much to say that the most crucial problems of the individual and of society turn upon the way the psyche functi0ns in regard to spirit and matter.” (Jung)
This is how James Hillman begins chapter four in his book, Senex and Puer. One of the things that strike me in this quote is the use of the word “society,” a word that jumps out in context of what is happening in the world today. The lack of focus on “society” and a single-minded focus on the “individual” is the Achilles heel of Jungian psychology. Lately I have been reading from a number of different authors in different fields trying to find something that resonates at a deeper level, something that doesn’t get lost in my personal ego. Why is this important to me? I think it has to do with the idea of relationship with other. For me, the key word is relationship.
Psychology asks us to develop a good relationship with the self with the assumption that if we can focus on this dynamic, the rest will take care of itself. Somehow, that only seems to be making the situation of our collective worse, not better as we would have expected. As we go deeper and deeper within our psyche, we seem to get lost in the world of the Great Mother. The hero’s journey has us battle the Great Mother in order to win the reward. Depth psychology . . .
What is missing, in my opinion is the soaring psychology that embraces logos, the spirit – the world of the Great Father. I know, this is almost a dirty word in our modern world who somehow sees the Great Father as an evil force that is more about rape and pillage and brutality. Yet, as I think about it, our modern world of science, economics and politics is really an expression of the Great Mother (mater/matter). Our world is all about consumption, about things, not about ideas. Science has brought us to the idea that there is only the earth, this ecosystem which is spinning in a larger physical cosmos – God is dead and buried and Gaia now rules undisputed.
We honour the Great Mother and we are rewarded as good sons with riches – good sex, material wealth and guilt, the guilt of being too enmeshed with the Great Mother. And we have bought into this way of believing and functioning as a culture. The way to insult a man today is to say his head is in the clouds, that he is an egg-head lost in the world of spirit. Our world celebrates “common sense” and doesn’t trust logos. As a result, we have a world spinning out of balance – a world focused on the individual and not on community.
Enmeshed – relationships in which boundaries between self and other are blurred and what results is a tangled mess beneath the surface while to all outward appearances the world sees two separate beings
Nice Guys frequently find themselves in these kind of entangled relationships. In an enmeshed relationship it is confusing to figure out who exactly owns which mood, which position, which belief for the other person is quickly drawn into the mood, belief or position. If one becomes depressed, both are depressed. If one decides on a life-style change (such as diet), both embrace the life-style change. Often, from the outside, it appears as though the relationship is the perfect relationship where both parties are a perfect fit in all ways.
The enmeshing Nice Guy makes his partner his emotional center. His world revolves around her. She is more important than his work, his buddies, his hobbies. He will do whatever it takes to make her happy. He will give her gifts, try to fix her problems, and arrange his schedule to be with her. He will gladly sacrifice his wants and needs to win her love. He will even tolerate her bad moods, rage attacks, addictions, and emotional or sexual unavailability – all because he “loves her so much.” (Glover, No More Mr. Nice Guy, p. 114)
There is a problem with this. For all of his effort and intention, the Nice Guy isn’t really there for his partner. He is there to meet his unmet needs of childhood. And as a result, as Glover puts it:
“The Nice Guy’s pursuing and enmeshing behavior is an attempt to hook up an emotional hose to his partner. This hose is used to suck the life out of her and fill an empty place inside of him. The Nice Guy’s partner unconsciously picks up on this agenda and works like hell to make sure the Nice Guy can’t get close enough to hook up the hose.” (p. 114)
And what results is a relationship that fights against itself, a relationship of unidentified unconscious conflict where intimacy between the individuals has no chance to authentically appear. But what is perhaps even more dysfunctional is the missing intimacy with the self. Filling the hole makes the Nice Guy oblivious to all the things about himself that are functional, the parts that work. The task for the Nice Guy is to discover those hidden parts of himself that are bubbling under the surface. What does he really want from life, what does he need to feel “complete?” This last part is the hardest to discover for childhood and life patterns have taught him that an “other” is the key to being complete. Yet, the real path to wholeness is to discover the missing pieces within and not put that burden on another person. Once that work is done, there is a chance for real, intimate and healthy relationship.