Symbolic Thinking: Combining Two Realities

“Often tymes herde Manuel tell of the fayrness of this Queen of Furies and Gobblins… insomuch that he was enamoured of hyr, though he neuer saw hyr: then… made he a Hole in the fyr, and when he had spoke with hyr, he shewed hyr his mynde.Figures of Earth — James Branch Cabell.

Jung wrote of two kinds of thinking: the concentrated, directed kind which demands language for clarity and the fantasy-thinking which flows, like nature, through images. The differences between conscious thought and unconscious perception are most clearly revealed in the confusing language of dreams.

He later evolved his theory of psychological types to show the influence of the two ways of thinking and how they inform the differences in perception of what we so off-handedly and euphemistically refer to as “reality”. The antagonism between introverted and extraverted viewpoints is so subtle, it can’t be resolved by “normal” dialogue in our current form of consciousness.

Jung also demonstrated cultural swings, beyond the subtleties of individual types, in which the spirit of the times may be more or less extraverted or introverted according to shifts in the collective unconscious. He traced their historical ebb and flow through his psychological interpretations of religious conflicts and their gradual development through philosophy into science and rational thought. Beneath individual and cultural differences, Jung explained the empirical facts of two fundamental and contradictory psychic realities.

I cite this as psychological background for the writings of James Branch Cabell. A contemporary of Jung, extraverted critics classed his writings as fantasy and escapist, though what he described was a literary, symbolic example of Jung’s research material. In Figures of Earth, Manuel, a folk analogy of Christ, seeks the spirit, not in the conventional heavenly sphere but through the natural, earthly figures in the unconscious.

An obligation, a “geas”, has been conferred upon him by his mother (the unconscious) to fashion a clay figure of himself in the world until it is to his liking and then to animate it, make it real — his life’s work. In this inner journey, he meets the shadowy wraiths who will aid him in the fulfillment of his strange “geas” whom no one understands.

Through various sources, Manuel learns of Queen Freydis, who alone can animate the clay figures he has fashioned. She can be summoned only by magical incantation and only when the moon is full. She’s dangerous and able to change into frightening images at will, and these must be confronted and endured to catch hold of her in human form.

When Manuel has made the sacred fire from which she would appear according to the rites, a giant serpent leapt upon him, and he clutched it desperately. As he holds it at bay, it changes into a monstrous black pig with great tusks “which possessed life of their own, and groped and writhed toward Manuel like fat white worms.” He recites the magic words per instruction.

“Now Manuel was grasping a thick heatless slab of crystal, like a mirror, wherein he could see himself quite clearly. Just as he really was, he, who was not familiar with such mirrors, could see Count Manuel, housed in a little wet dirt with old inveterate stars adrift about him everywhither; and the spectacle was enough to frighten anybody.” Suddenly, Manuel found himself “grasping the warm soft throat of a woman.”

“… do you take no thought for me,” says Queen Freydis, “who am for the while a human woman: for my adversary is a mortal man, and in that duel never yet has the man conquered.” She described her kingdom:

“… So do I tread with wraiths, for my lost realm alone is real. Here all is but a restless contention of shadows which pass presently; here all that is visible and all the colors known to men are shadows dimming the true colors; here time and death, the darkest shadows known to men, delude you with false seemings: for all such things men hold incontestable, because they are apparent to sight and sense, are a weariful drifting of fogs that veil the world… So in this twilit world of yours do we … appear to be but men and women.

“… I am Queen of all that lies behind this veil of human sight and sense. This veil may not ever be lifted; but very often the veil is pierced, and noting the broken place, men call it fire. Through these torn places men may glimpse the world that is real: and this glimpse dazzles their dimmed eyes… and this glimpse mocks… Through these rent places, when the opening is made large enough, a few men here and there, not quite so witless as their fellows, know how to summon us… when for an hour the moon is made void and powerless… and we come as men and women.”

The veil of the senses was rent large by Jung for those who would see beyond it by reflecting on their own images of themselves. With the knowledge he discovered and these figures of earth, you may glimpse such psychic contradictions in more contemporary form, though it’s mirror may yet be a very frightening spectacle to a scientific philosophy caught in the senses, only now without any religious values to support it.

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Re-thinking Science and Religion

In a previous post, I quoted Jung’s definitions of rational and irrational: part of his efforts to describe a natural, empirical ground beneath the mythic flight of our religious and philosophical history.

It finds us still chasing a natural reality – on earth as it was in heaven — still in a world of concrete thought. So anxious is it for certainty, it would make of the deepest realities only the dry artifacts of theoretical projections despite the most obvious contradictions in them.

Contradictions in our thinking, however, also produce symbolic reactions in the body (the unconscious) which sometimes violently reject the half-truths forced upon it — just as the long history of religious obsession verifies.

As much as we may consider ourselves rational beings, deeper puzzles than stone gods and modern desires define who we are. You may sense the paradox in the space-age illusions which have replaced the old ones; the new astrology of a strangely alive material universe, still reflecting and recording our deeds, only now through the devious satellites of men: symbolic attempts to see living mysteries from a different perspective: the singularity of earth, nature, body, animal, individual.

These are the mysteries of psychic images working beneath consciousness, the paradoxical language of nature: circumstance, chance, and accident, and none are quite certain what to make of our vulnerability to them…

In a reference to Christianity, Joseph Campbell remarked that its hostility (its vulnerability) to nature was unique in the context of world mythology. Any serious history student can see it. Identification with intellect means the hostile influence of repressed emotion, and this bi-polarity will find us always in great conflict; though until you become aware of yourself to the extent that you question your sanity, your greatest conflicts will appear outside.

Jung wrote that the Western emphasis on the exclusive power of thought may hold some peculiar divine plan in the gradual unfolding of our natures; that we might discover something about that plan if we could account for the greater purposes behind our surface fascination with the material world and the devil’s banquet we’ve made of it.

The Pandora’s box of scientific object-ivity may eventually lead us to a closer, more realistic examination of our subject-ivity — but what it makes of our souls in the meanwhile is frightening to those who sense it.

I was born into the aftermath of WWII, and those dire conditions resulted in much thought on the circumstances which produced them — by a few for a while. As a child, I watched a panicked nation construct bomb-shelters in the event of nuclear war. Even the scientists were startled by what they’d unleashed, though few admitted that the seeds of destruction existed also in themselves as unconscious reactions to general conditions.

Then the civil rights movement exploded, and a confused and off-balance culture suddenly became aware of its conflicts on two levels. The enemy which was once only outside now appeared inside as well, and the clash of changing values suddenly burst through the tension. The ugly hypocrisy of race relations, coupled with an unpopular war, also formed the tipping point of a much wider dissatisfaction which captured young people everywhere.

The hippie movement that followed — an instinctive attempt to re-connect with nature — was the unconscious response of a generation saturated with the deep-seated religious hostilities it had inherited. A rigid Establishment with no ability to examine itself was so threatened by it that the young idealists’ radical notions of being “natural” were branded as products of drug-induced fantasy. Mind you, these were adult responses to children. The ideas were repressed for further absorption, even as the drug culture was subliminally incorporated by it for the same reasons…

Psychology has snatched a few crumbs of objectivity from the plate of science since that time — from the otherworldly fare of god-like fantasies it was called upon to digest: the circumstances and consequences created by literal, one-sided conceptions of a dual psyche which reflects life through images. But psychology, like science generally, dismissed religion as fantasy; though the mind it was charged to study, outside its own thought, was itself comprised of images and fantasies.

Science only fancied the more that it could extricate itself from the threats of its inventions by inventing even more novel things to occupy itself with — though its exclusive concentration on objects created problems which became only the more threatening the more objective the solutions. That the novel age of diversion were more revolving than evolving by-products of its destructive side, no one considered in the blinding glare of immediate gain.

The dark spirit-shadows (the earthly ones) lurking in the background went right on generating the same spiritual aims they always had — only the times and circumstances changed according to ego’s perception of itself. Psychology tagged along behind an objective science and assumed it could discover the depth of nature’s spirit, not by delving into the mystery, but by soaring above it with the same certainty the preachers used to avoid it. 

How will a rational science discover the mysteries of an irrational nature? Maybe you’d rather not think about such things, pursue your diversions while you can, and leave the burden for your children. On the other hand, if you feel a strange and uncertain anxiety about where the old dual morality is taking us, read more here.

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How Conscious Are We?

Philosophical ideas of what consciousness is have been debated for centuries. Wikipedia quotes Max Velmans and Susan Schneider: “Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience one of the most familiar and most mysterious aspects of our lives.” True, but we need empirical concepts to move the debate beyond philosophy.

Jung defined consciousness as “… the function or activity which maintains the relation of psychic contents to the ego.” He defined ego as, “… a complex of ideas which constitutes the center of my field of consciousness and appears to possess a high degree of continuity and identity.”

His association tests proved ego to be one among a number of complexes which range from dimly perceptible to wholly unconscious. As the central complex of consciousness, it relates only to contents with which it identifies. His concept of projection asserts that complexes of ideas not associated with its identity will appear outside it…

The accidental nature of life presupposes creative functions which correspond to it: instincts designed to anticipate fluid conditions. In another post, I cited Erich Neumann’s description of the “image-symbol”: the instinctual readiness to a given situation which is shaped by personal experience. It originates internally and is as much emotional as sensual.

Immediate awareness, however, is further confined to those images which excite attention: the measure of energy by which instinct compels action. Our initial responses are to images which reflect inner and outer conditions equally.

As physics illustrates, the reality beneath appearance is often counter-intuitive to sensual experience. Jung showed how the unconscious mediates psychic reality for purposes of development beyond conscious perception.

This example is of the pious priest, Abbe Oegger, taken from a story by Anatole France. Jung wrote that the priest was “… much given to speculative musings particularly in regard to the fate of Judas: whether he was really condemned to everlasting punishment, as the teaching of the Church declares, or whether God pardoned him after all.”

The priest concluded after much reflection that Judas was an indispensable instrument in the attainment of God’s work — still, he had great doubts. In his conflict, he prayed to God to give him a sign of His benevolence.

He felt a touch on his shoulder and was convinced that God had forgiven Judas. He resolved to go out into the world and preach God’s mercy. It signaled a new dimension of his personality; one he helped create by the attention he gave to the problem.

So why, Jung asked, was the priest so concerned with the legend of Judas? “We are told that he went out into the world to preach the gospel of God’s unending mercy. Not long afterwards he left the Catholic Church and became a Swedenborgian. Now we understand his Judas fantasy: he was the Judas who betrayed his Lord. Therefore he had first to assure himself of God’s mercy in order to play the role of Judas undisturbed.

“Oegger’s case throws light on the mechanism of fantasies in general. The conscious fantasy may be woven of mythological or any other material; it should not be taken literally, but must be interpreted according to its meaning. If it is taken too literally it remains unintelligible, and makes one despair of the meaning and purpose of the psychic function. But the case of the Abbe Oegger shows that his doubts and his hopes are only apparently concerned with the historical person of Judas, but in reality revolve around his own personality, which was seeking a way to freedom through the solution of the Judas problem. Conscious fantasies therefore illustrate, through the use of mythological material, certain tendencies in the personality which are either not yet recognized or are recognized no longer.”

Jung wrote that they usually turn around ideas which are incompatible with the conscious attitude “… whose conscious realization meets with the strongest resistances. What would Oegger have said had one told him in confidence that he was preparing himself for the role of Judas? Because he found the damnation of Judas incompatible with God’s goodness, he proceeded to think about this conflict. That is the conscious causal sequence. Hand in hand with this goes the unconscious sequence: because he wanted to be Judas, or had to be Judas, he first made sure of God’s goodness. For him, Judas was the symbol of his own unconscious tendency, and he made use of this symbol to reflect on his own situation — its direct realization would have been too painful for him.”

The priest was thrown back on himself for reasons far beyond his conscious knowledge. The images compelling his attention anticipated what he did. He was Judas in the sense that his unconscious personality was opposed to the collective ideas of God he’d been given.

When we’re able to reverse the mirror of thought through attention and reflection, it allows some of the mystery to appear through it. Which are the facts: hypothesis or experience? This is what separates gods and devils for those who would reflect on it.

The facts of Abbe Oegger’s experiences were precisely as they were when seen through the mirror of reflection. He did relate his problem to Judas, he did leave the Church, he did spread the gospel of God’s unending mercy. These are psychic facts beyond philosophical meanderings about Church doctrine: the subjective facts of a mind which took the meaning of its own existence seriously.

For a contemporary example of how the subjective mind may discover meaning in a world governed by collective notions of objectivity, continue reading.

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Metaphysics and Jung’s Psychology

I’m impressed by Wikipedia’s definitions — a model today’s psychologies might want to consider. It defines metaphysics as “a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world… notions by which people understand the world, e.g., existence, objects and their properties, space and time, cause and effect, and possibility.”

It sounds like what psychology and religion might be concerned with were they more attuned to the advancement of consciousness than cultivating subjective ideologies for purchase by consumers.

“Prior to the modern history of science, scientific questions were addressed as… natural philosophy.” Science is: “knowledge of, originating from epistemology. The scientific method, however, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity deriving from experiment unlike the rest of philosophy.” After the eighteenth century “… metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.”

Etymology traces it through “Latin scoliasts” as “the science of what is beyond the physical” to the Greek “… science of the world beyond nature…  of the immaterial.”

It evolved from the Greek skeptics, “How do you know?” to “epistemology (how we know)… and this led to science (Latin to know) and to the scientific method (the precision of which is still being debated). Skepticism evolved epistemology out of metaphysics. Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical inquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.

“Since the beginning of modern philosophy during the seventeenth century, problems that were not originally considered within the bounds of metaphysics have been added to its purview, while other problems considered metaphysical for centuries are now typically subjects of their own separate regions in philosophy… In some cases [italics mine], subjects of metaphysical scholarship have been found to be entirely physical and natural, thus making them part of science proper (cf. the theory of Relativity).

Metaphysics then is the language of imagination, of the psyche. To think that anything could exist outside nature is an illusion with profound implications. There is no other reality; how human thought ever arrived at two distinct perceptions of it can be examined historically.

Because of the psyche’s fluid nature, we can’t observe ourselves with the same objectivity we apply to inanimate objects. The subjectivity of perception and thought, the unconscious exchange of projections, and the artificial conditions of test methods find psychological experiment to be so relative to unknown factors that it can be only superficially objective.

Jung transformed the studies of religion, philosophy, and epistemology into empirical activities; his method, however, derived less from experiment than the comparative study of ideas and symbols. The ever-changing flux of perception dictates that the only fixed reference-point by which psyche can be pinned down  is an historical one.

One of his basic assertions was that the psyche is the medium of all experience; with no perceiving subject, there is only the timeless world of unconscious impulse. Natural functions translate psychic experience through images. To apply an empirical method to their study, they must be confined to that medium.

His subject was not what objects are in themselves, but the mind. There we have the possibility to understand the ideas we conceive: images reflect objects but also unconscious responses to them — their usefulness, our needs and desires for them — as well as reflections of the medium itself.

Jung’s psychology was the study of our mental functioning through images, not their literal forms. If you believe that only concrete objects can be real, you can’t conceive spiritual ideas as symbols of psychic functions.

The fantasy-thinking that led theologians in the Middle Ages to argue over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin was a formal stage of thought; it conceived ideas as concrete things, as many still do today. But, we can see how our thinking has changed since then. Jung conceived a new exploratory method for the age-old philosophical problem of fantasy vs. reality: a symbolic one.

He showed how the metaphysical world could be described empirically, just as natural science studies the material world. Since the unconscious is outside awareness, it’s a natural, objective reality no less observable than the external world. To understand its symbolic nature, however, we need broader concepts than conventional science can furnish.

Erich Neumann described the nature of them: “… the psychic image-symbol “fire,” as something “red,” “hot,” “burning,” contains as many elements of inner experience as of outer experiences. “Red” possesses not only the perceptible quality of redness, but also the emotional component of heat as an inner process of excitation. “Fiery,” “hot,” ”burning,” “glowing,” etc., are more emotional than perceptual images. We contend, therefore, that the physical process of oxidation, fire, is experienced with the aid of images which derive from the interior world of the psyche and are projected upon the external world, rather than that experiences of the external world are superimposed on the inner… In human development the object becomes disentangled only very gradually and with extreme slowness from the mass of projections in which it is wrapped and which originate in the interior world of the psyche.”

Jung’s method of disentangling ideas from objects was a great advance in our attempts to view ourselves with any objectivity. Neumann’s statement derived from in-depth studies of symbols and ideas, their evolutionary development, and how our perceptions of them compare and contrast over time: the only reference-point outside a given historical viewpoint.

Their studies provided a new perspective on epistemology, philosophy, and religion — based on empirical evidence. It’s no less scientific than black holes, the extra dimensions of string theory, or the parallel universes of theoretical physics. Wikipedia will be compelled to update its definition of metaphysics — when the rest of science catches up to Jung’s ideas.

For an example, based on Jung’s discoveries, of the analogical thinking required to come to terms with a symbolic reality, continue reading.

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An Historical View of Normalcy

Despite affectations of uniqueness, we’re all driven by intense desires to appear normal. This social instinct to conform is present from birth. It’s just a hint that you’ll suffer strange psychic disturbances at mid-life, when your individuality begins to emerge.

Don’t panic, this split in personality is natural. But, because it’s so little acknowledged, we must go far back in time to discover why. Young people may be astonished that this search for historical roots leads into the ancient world — of the nineteen-fifties.

The brutality characteristic of that time was recorded on crude black and white media transmissions through a “boob tube.” Brief but startling interruptions in the otherwise fantasy-based programming allowed viewers to tune into world events at the end of each day.

Euphemistically referred to as news, these horrifying glimpses into reality were successfully numbed by unconscious associations with the pleasant dream-world surrounding them. Viewers were quick to identify with the new carefully manipulated means of repression.

To redirect any reflection on the actual state of human affairs, “sit-coms” depicting outlandish exaggerations of collective behavior, accompanied by dubbed laughter at prescribed intervals, subtly informed a smooth flow into the newly scripted norm.

Fiercely competitive game shows stressed acquisition and entitlement to spur industry after a devastating world war — and to avert attention from the increasing threat of run-away destructive tendencies. Owing to the anxiety of the time, all desperately seized upon the new medium without compunction. This is not to be wondered at:

Contrasting with today’s highly educated specialist, a “general practitioner” slapped the newborn’s bottom in that distant age to jump-start its breathing. Judging from available records, since most infants’ lungs were then located in the chest cavity, we can only theorize that it was to accustom it at the outset to being hit by parents and strangers alike. The para-sexual practice was so prevalent, we assume it to have been a primitive birth rite associated with the reigning cult of violence.

No general instruction or education was provided for the care of the wee thing, and upon initiation it was thenceforth dispatched to the homes of inexperienced novices whose worst traits were only magnified by the confusion of having brought a living self-replicant into their private, inside-out social bubbles. The compulsion to tackle such a task without knowledge or preparation was happily accepted by all, along with a host of other irrational behaviors describing the history of that age.

The powerful symbolic significance of the child was unrecognized by the rude psychology of that era; its broader evolutionary function remained as unconscious as in the Anthropithecus Abnormalis of prehistoric times. Of course, we now know that the child is also a profound psychic image: each generation’s highest hopes doubled back against natural, regressive instincts for self-examination and reflection with the aim of higher development.

Relentless coaching was required to refute this, and the contradictions intended to reveal unconscious aims through reflection were subliminally absorbed by the infant to be channeled into the hostile and defensive reactions required to participate in the norm.

The pointless and frustrated squandering of vital energies dedicated to re-interpreting natural functions into embarrassing and inadmissible private “necessities” afforded effective early training for the grander cultural illusions awaiting the tiny initiate.

As determined as the efforts were, they failed to fully repress the drive to self-awareness behind the dissociated intellectual development of that day. Devious commercial marketing of all manner of useless gadgetry merged with a vast entertainment industry to siphon off the psyche’s increasing demand for personal and social consciousness. This only plunged the culture deeper into regression.

The natural, ape-like instinct for imitation was artificially managed to retard the much-needed reflection, and the child was alternately cajoled, hit and screamed at to ensure conformity to the mass madness. So advanced was emotional retardation in the boys, they yearned to hit others far beyond the attainment of physical maturity.

Many habitually struck their spouses, not just in retribution for the chimp-like traditions forced upon them, but to hone the competitive ruthlessness which drove the obsessive commercial machinery. Most were routinely whipped into submission from an early age to abet the general conspiracy of self-neglect required for an exclusive focus on commerce far exceeding need or comfort.

The primitive desire to hit and be hit was so conducive to the objectives of educators and parents and fitted so neatly into the collective program, none inspected the deep personal insecurities beneath the violent cycle of reaction and response.

Due to guilt-ridden projections, the imitative function bidding the youngsters practice the lessons they learned on each other was paradoxically punished. Authorities had also to rationalize the humiliations inflicted upon their own youth: unconscious retaliation for the still-living brute and the buried shame of ignominies required to mold a credulous and exploitable citizenry.

No reliable records exist of the girls’ reactions to these conditions. They were segregated into a far-off emotional world beyond psychic reach of the boys who later became the men who furnished the only reports we have. More objective assessments must discard them as too subjective: crudely egoistic caricatures of an early stage of development.

The split between the sexes was so deeply rooted, males often persisted in chiding one another long into adulthood for crossing the artificial sexual barrier when mating for purposes outside coitus.

Consonant with the lack of reflection and the blind acceptance of gender roles, moribund religious rituals deeply entrenched in a rigid patriarchy held any reconciliation of the sexual divide in strict abeyance.

As psychic images were then viewed as concrete things, the repressed urge to reconcile contradictory impulses and the consequent one-sidedness contributed significantly to the homosexuality which flourished in all genders. Appearance dictated that sexual differences existed only in the body, and causation was ascribed to dualistic notions of hereditary weakness and environmental circumstance as suited the typological bias of the investigator.

Unconscious fealty to patriarchal ideals with no compensating feminine image was so tightly woven into the fabric of society that the effete religious views were shrouded in superstition and forbidden any elaboration. It remained to be discovered that the goals of psychology were inseparable from spiritual development, and their separate inquiries remained at cross-purposes.

Beneath the religious cult was a morbid fear of nature which endured despite the grave consequence of destroying that which supported it. Mental functions were sensed as powerful demons just as they had been for eons.

The rote science of that era was so fixed on objects, symbols were declared meaningless across the psychic board. Any emotional advancement was thus stopped in its tracks. Because of the stoppage, the innate balancing function of spiritual values needed to guide the use of dangerous technologies metastasized into a compulsive greed for personal wealth and power.

For a more serious inquiry into collective ideals, visit Amazon.

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On the Religious Nature of Mid-Life

In a previous post, I discussed some dreams I experienced at mid-life; my transition from a rational, too-masculine thinking type to one who could feel the emotions designed to relate to a symbolic reality. I mentioned dreams of a religious nature that supplemented the ones which were the focus of that post.

I would like to bring the religious ones into relation with those: to show how the unconscious attempts to reconcile deeper psychic facts with the more recent ideas of Christian social development — and the modern truths of causal education. The three intertwine today, accentuating an emotional confusion which only compels us more certainly into an all-consuming collectivism.

The dream-series about dogs was interspersed with others which began to draw me to very old ideas. I’d moved into a “fixer-upper” and had some leaks repaired under the house. Afterward, I dreamed I was looking at the plumber’s bill. Below the list of repairs was a penciled illustration of Christ on the cross. I was struck by how beautifully it was drawn, and it occurred to me that I’d drawn it!

I was still in a rational mind-set, though; anti-religious — I couldn’t reconcile the contradictions of traditional belief intellectually. Even so, the dream described the spiritual nature of the psychic energy leaking out (wasted, unused) underneath consciousness: I had no real feeling-experience of the ideas the unconscious seized on to inform me where I was in life. I was being prepared emotionally for dreams which would further elaborate that initial theme: the image of a man struggling under the tension of opposites.

I soon experienced what I now call “the fall into the hands of the living God”: an emotional state so intense and frightening, I felt like I’d lost my mind; I held on tight. After a wrenching sleepless night, it took all my efforts to get through the next day. I went to bed that night exhausted from the mental tension. I was so overwhelmed, all I could think was to read the Bible! I — who was raised with it as a youngster yet compelled to dispute every word of it! “Somehow”, I found myself reading about Abraham and Sarah.

I put the Bible aside, wondering whether I would be able to sleep for the tension which still held me in its grip. As I lay there, preparing for another sleepless night, an image appeared in my mind’s eye: Arthur Ashe, the great tennis player, was playing tennis with a shadowy opponent! He was from Richmond, Va., my “hometown”. He’d died of AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion. A sudden wave of relief swept over me, the tension disappeared, and I fell asleep.

(Later reflection on the image yielded its ideas: tennis as a symbol of the back and forth exchange process with the unconscious, Ashe’s death from AIDS, a “sexually” transmitted “disease”: how I saw the “creative” process “afflicting” me; the blood transfusion, death, the transition of an old attitude and re-birth at mid-life — exactly what I was experiencing in the analogy!)

I recalled only one dream that night: a chimpanzee in a blue dress looked at me intently. “I’m Sarah.” it said. The dress was the same one a friend described a few years before, when he’d confessed to me that he wore it to bed with his wife. He’d struggled with that since he was five, too ashamed to tell anyone else. He was an engineer, a rational, thinking man whose male image had diverted vital feelings. They appeared feminine to him, just as the unconscious reflected it back through the lonely compulsion which bid him wear its image.

You remember Sarah, right? She was barren, couldn’t “conceive” (just like me). She was older, Abraham’s second wife (a reference to the second half of life). The Lord yet decreed she would have a child. I remembered the alchemical parable in which a “king had a baby in his brain.” His kingdom was dry and arid; to fructify it, the unconscious birthed a new image to re-direct his duties to it.

I related the chimpanzee’s primitive nature; I thought about Sarah and my friend’s blue dress (the color of the sky, of lofty patriarchal fantasies), the dogs who’d turned against me. It slowly dawned on me that these pictures were describing the age-old spiritual longing inside: the unconscious direction of my own soul, the psychic function meant to mediate what I thought I knew about myself but didn’t know: what my nature revealed outside an artificial collective viewpoint.

The image of Christ is not just a faded, antique form of imitation in which an undeveloped and over-compensating ego once convinced itself that it had already accomplished our deepest intuitions. It’s a profound historical model which today describes the psychic conflicts endured by one who turns inward and sacrifices his/her personal desires for something greater than itself.

Read the story of how intellect is drawn into an exchange process with the unconscious through the gradual development of symbolic thought.

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Mid-Life: A Living Form of Dying (questions for atheists)

I recently read a post by Dr. Bud Harris concerning a discussion on life after death presented by the Asheville Jung Center. As Jung noted: there are questions which will never be answered; but, Dr. Harris pointed up the value of reflecting on such existential ideas as connect us with the “beyond”.

For Jung, death and the beyond represented psychological needs outside consciousness; unconscious perspectives over generations far exceeding our temporal awareness. Symbolically, they have little to do with actual death. The divide between belief and knowledge also contains connectors, though — facts of emotional experience. One question Jung asked was: why would the unconscious insist on such beliefs? Why is it important to consider things we can’t know?

The short answer is: they connect to a deeper level of being than intellect can achieve, and this feeling-level lends a more balanced view of life than one’s immediate conscious desires. Today, the commercially instilled need for instant gratification may prove a graver threat than the atomic bomb. Here is another perspective which may shed light on our relations to the past which also orient us to the future, our continuity:

In an earlier post, I related an exchange between Manuel and the severed head of Misery from James Branch Cabell’s, Figures of Earth, in which ideas of the soul were discussed; of immortality, human disregard for animals and the earth, and other such ego-based religious projections as describe the cross-purposes between man and nature.

As the conversation went,  Manuel explains to the head of Misery that he has an immortal soul. A concrete, literal-minded (think science) Misery wants to see it. Manuel says it can’t get out until he’s dead. The head asks how he, who has never been dead, can “… be certain as to what happens when one is dead?”

Manuel takes up the argument: “… there is about at any rate some persons a whiff of divinity… do you not find it so?” He feels the inner weight of beliefs which give broader meaning and purpose to his life.

“The head looked graver. “Yes, Manuel, most young people have a spark in them which is divine, but it is living which snuffs this out of all of you, by and large, without bothering Grandfather Death to unpeel spirits like bananas. No, the most of you go with very little spirit, if any, into the grave, and assuredly with not enough spirit to last you forever. No, Manuel… I never quarrel with religion, because it is almost the strongest ally I have, but these religious notions rather disgust me sometimes…

“Now you are talking nonsense, sir,” said Manuel stoutly, “and of all sorts of nonsense cynical nonsense is the worst.

“By no means,” replied the head, “since plainly, it is far worse nonsense to assert that omnipotence would insanely elect to pass eternity with you humans. No, Manuel, I am afraid that your queer theory, about being stuffed inside with permanent material and so on, does not very plausibly account for either your existence or mine, and that we both stay riddles without answers.

“Still, sir,” said Manuel, “inasmuch as there is one thing only which all death’s ravishings have never taken from life, and that thing is the Misery of earth — ” Misery allows the premise is indisputable and asks what he deduces from it.

“… I deduce, sir, that you, also, who have not ever been dead, cannot possibly be certain as to what happens when one is dead. And so I shall stick to my own opinion about the life to come.” The head replies that his “… opinion is absurd on the face of it.” Manuel:

“That may very well be, sir, but it is much more comfortable to live with than is your opinion, and living is my occupation just now. Dying, I shall attend to it in its due turn, and, of the two, my opinion is the more pleasant to die with. Thereafter, if your opinion be right, I shall never know that my opinion was wrong: so that I have everything to gain… and nothing whatever to lose, by clinging to the foolish fond old faith my fathers had before me…”

The severed head of Misery (an aspect of a dissociated intellect) can’t understand Manuel’s reasoning and questions him, but Manuel interrupts: “Ah, sir,” says Manuel… smiling, “in this world men are nourished by their beliefs; and it may well be that, yonder also, their sustenance is the same.

“But at this moment came Reeri (a little crimson naked man, having the head of a monkey) with his cock in one hand and his gnarled club in the other…”

Apparently, such heady ideas also summon up unconscious conflicts of a very primitive nature (our Devil is still crimson, though no longer naked). The repressed animal-spirit that holds the creative urge in one hand wields the threat of violence in the other.

You may not relate to such ideas, but you hear daily about this little crimson naked man (with the head of a monkey) on the news. An unconscious religion may yet be the strongest ally of misery — until we interpret the emotional reality beneath the beliefs.

Read more about how we may relate to such problems in a more productive way than current education bears.

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Relations Between Conscious and Unconscious: The Exchange Process

Jung once wrote that it’s not so important to interpret dreams as it is to experience them. This is especially so at mid-life, when one may feel the need to make conscious emotions out of the educational stages which fortify ego into a separate identity — one stable enough to overcome its former illusions and confront an objective reality inside.

While it’s instructive (and somewhat flattering) to work a dream into a form acceptable to intellect, nature works over centuries to produce even smaller fruits of Eden ripe enough to be ingested by the conscious part. They attain the clarity to appear as associable ideas only by the added energy of attention. That (somewhat figuratively) is how Jung’s energic theory describes the exchange between conscious and unconscious.

A dream doesn’t stop working when something valuable is discovered in it. At mid-life, it’s only the beginning of a process designed to form a relationship, just as two strangers might establish common ground. But, the figures confronting you inside are vital parts of you who want attention doubly on that account.

They’re sometimes comforting, but at other times, too, are very contrary — even hostile — especially when they want you to inspect needful things that you may have been taught were of no importance by a backward (causal) and collective ego-worship.

At such a point, I dreamed of a small white poodle busily re-arranging my house. As I watched, I became incensed. The damn thing set up a fan in my kitchen to draw outside air in through the window — in the winter! I screamed at it: “This is my fucking house!” Yet it went right on, paying no attention to my ranting.

I associated the black poodle of Goethe’s, Faust: the supportive instinctual form of the creative force of Lucifer (the Light-bearer) yet to shine the light of consciousness onto darker conflicts. I awoke anxiously but fell back asleep. The dream continued: the white poodle was in my bed stimulating me sexually!

I considered the color white, a reference to consciousness — the opposite of unconscious blackness. I thought about Jung’s premise that sexuality symbolizes creative nature in its most profound sense — an instinctual function of relationship. When I became hostile and screamed, it was the reaction of an anxious and defensive ego being re-arranged to make room for creative (fucking) processes outside its perception.

It portended intimate relations (the bed and the sexual stimulation) with this feminine poodle (the unconscious), to compensate a rational, too-masculine ego. I saw myself as an action figure, as I was expected to be in the outer world; an actor, a worn-out Sylvester Stallone: an aging, faked-up hero-idol clinging to a moribund masculine image.

Along with other dreams, I went back to it again and again over the next two years. That was ten years ago; I couldn’t describe it symbolically then as now. But — I felt it, intuited it; able only through devotion (conscious attention) and the aid of Jung’s ideas. When I’d experienced its emotions enough to satisfy the unconscious that I was ready to move on, it changed into my black lab who’d died years before. She’d come back in my dreams!

But, her friendly form didn’t last long. Over the next year, she became threatening, snarling, biting at me. Toward the end of that dream-series, I could only ward her off on my back, with my feet (my deepest conflicts), as she attacked me viciously.

In a later dream, I explained to a shadowy figure that she’d had a psychotic episode. I had more dreams about dogs turning “psychotically” against me. Over the next year, still more dreams embraced religious ideas, and they slowly bore their core meaning into my stubborn consciousness. The dream which tipped the scale found me shouting at an old, disheveled woman in a square with a dark pond surrounded by apartments: “You’re crazy!” I screamed, as she stared uncannily.

My soul, which I had accepted was of so little importance in a world of men; of power, wealth and social striving, was sick — in full rebellion of the way I treated it. I felt sick. Well, I was — but not in the way I thought…

My dreams showed me that it wasn’t she or I who was crazy; I only thought the unconscious was crazy! It reflected back to me the way I was looking at it. I saw it as crazy — which it is in the sense that it’s irrational, beyond collective judgment.

Within a year, I was writing poetry, making emotions out of the strange dreams which continue to reveal who I am — outside the ego I identified with. Three more years of intense self-analysis, guided by my dreams and Jung’s ideas, found me constructing the symbolic tale of my own inner journey. It’s as profound and insightful as the figures which lurk behind it, and though it may appear strange to the rational mindset — it is a reality.

Along with my posts, the book is one small man’s effort to shine just a little new light on its mystery. Read more about the events leading to it here, or visit Amazon.

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Symbolic Thinking, Reflection, and Mid-Life

The value of religion and philosophy lies in their power to evoke ideas which the unconscious seizes upon to express itself. That value was semi-conscious in the past, though another factor today reveals the complement which would lead us into the next developmental stage: psychological reflection. The last fifty years have brought into stark relief how easily ego can lose touch with inner reality when its needs aren’t recognized and projected onto the material world.

When we can no longer relate to symbols, we lose the use of vital functions. We begin to feel signals from the unconscious to compensate the loss; symbolic, too, because it’s the language of psychic reality. They consist of a litany of disorders designed to re-connect us to the living Deity (not the one of wishful fantasy, but the one who makes demands, remember? like the one from the Old Testament, in league with Satan, who afflicted Job?)

You wouldn’t know why you felt such things as Job suffered, if you had no blueprint of the design. You’d see a doctor and take “medicine” for problems that were conceived materially (just like in the old story), because the doctor had no modern concept of psychic reality, either. One in ten adults takes anti-depressants (not to mention everything else we take), and that jumps to one in four among women in their forties and  fifties. Is it significant given the patriarchal mid-life myth we fancy we’ve outgrown — yet are discarding without having reflected on its meaning?

Jungians prescribe a heady brew of archetypal symbolism; it makes sense, but much of it is even further removed than the more recent symbols of our Christian heritage. Jung used alchemy to illustrate the connective stage between the medieval Christian world and the modern rational view; to show how the unconscious described the changing conditions. But, alchemical symbolism, too, is very abstruse to a modern mind in search of meaning.

I’ve recently been absorbed in James Branch Cabell’s 1920′s re-telling of two medieval folk tales: Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice and Figures of Earth. A friend who knew the peculiar workings of my mind saw a local PBS program on Cabell; we live in his hometown of Richmond, Va. Funny, how such books may fall into one’s hands! It sold poorly — until local courts declared it obscene, at which point sales soared briefly. It was Cabell’s own symbolic mid-life mystery.

Not only did the tales allow the unconscious to express itself through them, he lent conscious development to them by his reflective work. But Cabell was no psychologist; he was a writer and philosopher, a thoughtful man drawn to the ideas by the process he gave himself to. Like alchemical ideas, they described natural, creative instincts outside the dogma of conventional belief.

In the tales of Jurgen, the same exchange process as in the partriarchal story of Job takes a more modern, personal form. Jurgen’s journey began in search of his wife (!) who, upon returning from the market, was lured into a dark cave by a “black gentleman (poor fellow!)”:

Chapter 24, The Shortcomings of Prince Jurgen, describes a meeting with Queen Anaitis, “whom Jurgen found to be a nature myth of doubtful origin connected with the Moon… who furtively swayed the tides of life… It was the mission of Anaitis to divert and turn aside and deflect: in this the jealous Moon abetted her because sunlight makes for straightforwardness… These mysteries of their private relations, however, as revealed to Jurgen, are not very nicely repeatable.”

Jurgen, in conventional reverence to Sunday, had offended the Queen by not paying proper respect to Monday, to the unconscious. “But, you dishonored the Moon, Prince Jurgen, denying praise to the day of the Moon. Or so, at least, I have heard.”

But, Jurgen was a “monstrous clever fellow”: “I remember doing nothing of the sort. But I remember considering it unjust to devote one paltry day to the Moon’s majesty. For night is sacred to the Moon… night, the renewer and begetter of all life.”

“Why, indeed, there is something in that argument,” says Anaitis, dubiously.” Jurgen knows he must propitiate her power, for hers is “the werke of an High Deity.”

” ‘Something’, do you say! why, but to my way of thinking it proves the Moon is precisely seven times more honorable… It is merely, my dear, a matter of arithmetic.” Anaitis is apparently somewhat innocent of the rational, deceptive ways of men: “Was it for that reason you did not praise… Mondays…?”

“Why, to be sure,” said Jurgen glibly… Then Jurgen coughed and looked sidewise at his shadow.” This shadow followed Jurgen throughout his journeys; only in darkness could he cast off the silent reminders of its constant presence.

“Anaitis appeared relieved. “I shall report your explanation. Candidly, there were ill things in store for you, Prince Jurgen, because your language was misunderstood. But that which you now say puts quite a different complexion upon matters.

“Jurgen laughed, not understanding the mystery, but confident he could always say what was required of him.” Jurgen “… found that unknowingly he had in due and proper form espoused Queen Anaitis, by participating in the Breaking of the Veil, which is the marriage ceremony… His earlier relations with Dame Lisa [his wife] had, of course, no legal standing in Cocaigne, where the Church is not Christian…”

Jung discovered a language by which symbols may be more clearly understood by the rational viewpoint today, but they require reflection. Read here about a symbolic mid-life tale in more modern form.

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The Value of Religious Ideas

“And they relate that while… Manuel sat cosily… and noted how the snow was drifting by the windows, the ghost of Niafer went restlessly about green fields… in the paradise of the pagans. When the kindly, great-browed warders asked her what it was she was seeking, the troubled spirit could not tell them, for Niafer had tasted Lethe, and had forgotten Dom Manuel. Only her love for him had not been forgotten, because that love had become a part of her, and so lived on as a blind longing and as a desire which did not know its aim.” – Figures of Earth, James Branch Cabell.

This quote poignantly expresses a modern problem which is yet as old as humanity. It came into being with consciousness: you know, the mysterious complex of associations by which nature evolved a sense of personal identity for each individual of our species. (It grows out of your childhood, its foundation too dark and ancient for memory or knowledge.) Its greater purposes can only be surmised, though we know much about its immediate advantages.

The pre-capacity to think, to learn and anticipate causal effects in the environment, along with the seeds of advanced social instincts, were unique to nature. A basic quality of personal identity was its conflict with its inborn social structure, and the tension between them yielded creative energies which excelled other beasts. The conscious/unconscious exchange between individual and group was a catalyst for development so sweeping, it changed the face of the earth.

(Over your own centuries, it changes your face, too, often in ways unknown to you; for, the partial complex also has hidden liabilities. You can’t see them; they impose an invisible fence around everything we do…)

The fear, uncertainty, and confusion caused by its inner conflicts produced unconscious defense-reactions which compelled it to cling to the security of an illusory present as long as it could. Only the tension of creative conflicts endured by certain individuals pushed it forward into an irreversible future (the nature of time perception).

(You may remember the psychic distress which sparked awarenesses of yourself in your own primitive history — or they may return only as fleeting images and feelings at night, when the “old brain” recalls them in its own strange way to sketch out your tomorrows.)

The unconscious energy intended for its development naturally guided it toward solutions for relieving it. Beyond the demands of physical survival, a kind of psychic devotion slowly differentiated itself. It was the “excess” energy reserved for inflicting the painful tension of conflicts meant to guide the beast toward its still-evolving human potential.

(You actually resembled this beast psychically when you were in grade school, preparing you for the medieval stages of puberty and young adulthood.)

The battle for survival shifted more and more onto a psychic plane, and “the unbearable surfeit of energy” (as Jung called it) — the reserve intended for development — presented existential religious and philosophical problems as a means of stimulating self-discovery. They were so fundamental to human nature, they were innate in it as a blind longing, a need, which could only be filled through devotion to it.

(You were probably beginning to think about ideas of God, spirits, ghosts, even your dreams at that time, weighing your feelings against what you’d been taught — if your attention wasn’t constantly diverted by electronic devices. In any event, you would be soon to fall headlong for a very attractive image which would entice your development further — its conflicts and compromises, too. This is where the love factors in.)

Though the tensions steadily evolved into ever higher aims, the silent anxiety and clinging to the security of the known convinced the general consciousness that it had attained to its final stage at every temporary signpost. Only when very grave conditions threatened it through the unintended consequences of its repression and its hostile projection onto others was it slowly driven to change its notions of its inner reality.

Unconscious ideas then circulated through mythic messengers, creative individuals, designed to make the partial complex reflect on itself, to re-orient it — to guide it out of the grave conditions it had half-created…

(This was when your philosophical and religious education had long since ceased and mass illusions of ego/intellect and the certainty of rational thought stopped up your ability to observe what was happening inside you; you were carried along in the collective frenzy, never thought about where you were; you were seized by vague desires that couldn’t be repressed or satisfied; you got depressed, had obsessive thoughts, felt compulsive urges, misplaced hostilities, became moody and sensitive, took “medicine” to relieve stress or help you sleep.)

So it is decreed by nature. For a split consciousness with limited, personal notions of time, however, spiritual ideas required centuries of upheaval to take root. Only when enough individuals had reflected on the need for them were the rest drawn to participate in the task of lifting humanity out of the heavy burden of its primitive heritage — and its flighty rejection of it. Nature also decrees that each is bidden to confront it anew on a higher level with every generation.

If you’ve never experienced such things, I leave you with this statement by Cabell from the same book quoted above:

“But of living persons, I dare assert that you will find King Helmas appreciably freed from a thousand general delusions by his one delusion about himself.”

You may read about an inner journey of confrontation with this self-delusion here.

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A Reason for Religion: Subjective Views in an Objective World of Illusion

After watching a program on Caligula, I found myself thinking about a quote from Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, in which he set out his theory of psychic energy. Historians have written volumes on the decline of cultures, the reasons, parallels with modern ones, etc. But, historians aren’t psychologists, and few psychologists are historians. Jung’s historical studies are what distinguished his work:

St. Augustine described the fate of Alypus in his, Confessions, in 398 A.D.: “But at Carthage the maelstrom of ill morals — and especially the passion for idle spectacles — had sucked him in, his special madness being for gladiatorial shows… As a result of what he had heard me say, he wrenched himself out of the deep pit in which he had chosen to be plunged and in the darkness of whose pleasures he had been so woefully blinded. He braced his mind and shook it till all the filth of the Games fell away from it and he went no more…”

Augustine told how Alypus went to Rome to study law, turned from the games, and detested his former passion:  ”But it happened one day that he met some friends… coming from dinner: and though he flatly refused and vigorously resisted, they used friendly violence and forced him along with them to the amphitheatre on a day of these cruel and murderous Games. He protested: “Even if you drag my body to the place, can you force me to turn my mind and my eyes on the show? Though there, I shall not be there, and so I shall defeat both you and it.”

When they found their seats, “… the whole place was in a frenzy of hideous delight. He closed up the door of his eyes and forbade his mind to pay attention to things so evil. If only he could have stopped his ears too! For at a certain critical point in the fight, the vast roar of the whole audience beat upon him. His curiosity got the better of him, and thinking he would be able to treat the sight with scorn… he opened his eyes, and was stricken with a deeper wound in the soul than the man he had opened his eyes to see suffered in the body.”

He wrote that Alypus’ weakness was his self-reliance (the illusions of collective ego) when he should have trusted only in God (the unconscious urge for unity and wholeness in the symbol). “Seeing the blood he drank deep of the savagery. He did not turn away but fixed his gaze upon the sight. He drank in all the frenzy with no thought of what had happened to him, revelled in the wickedness of the contest, and was drunk with lust for blood. He was no longer the man who had come there but one of the crowd to which he had come, a fit companion for those who had brought him.”

To end the passage, Jung wrote: “One can take it as certain that man’s domestication cost him the heaviest sacrifices. An age which created the Stoic ideal must doubtless have known why and against what it was set up.” He compared the age of Nero four and a half centuries earlier with a quote from Seneca’s forty-first letter to Lucilius: “We push one another into vice. And how can a man be recalled to salvation, when he has none to restrain him, and all mankind to urge him on?”

Jung saw Christianity as a deep need for “… the founding of a community united by an idea, in the name of which they could love one another… a mediator in whose name new ways of love could be opened, became a fact, and with that human society took an immense stride forward. This was not the result of any speculative, sophisticated philosophy, but of an elementary need in the great masses of humanity vegetating in spiritual darkness… evidently driven to it by the profoundest inner necessities, for humanity does not thrive in a state of licentiousness.”

In the West, the age of sacrifice for anything much more than our biological natures is fading, though a frenzied new mass greed finds us still with just enough self-knowledge to keep us above a tide of unconscious emotion which can ignite as surely as history dictates who we are. Today, over thirty wars are being fought worldwide, and whole cultures are drawn into the frenzy of the spectacle just as in Augustine’s day.

Consciousness is changing quickly, but a deep part of the new mass individual remains stuck in an era already in decline before it developed. What happens when the ideas constituting humanity’s “immense stride forward” sink into oblivion, no longer visible through its illusions of objectivity; when the deeper image, too, is repressed by an ego which cannot of itself relent in its unconscious efforts to destroy its own hubris with its own creations?

The beast of historical regression rages openly in the Middle East; the mass mind compelled into its global implications. It’s what religious ideas were meant to counter: to develop the animal lurking beneath ego-ideals. To confront it requires an inward struggle — to keep the twenty-first century from becoming an immense stride backward.

Read more about the symbolic entanglements which would turn the confrontation with ourselves into an image of the individual beyond the illusions created by the modern greed of mass media, diversion, and deception.

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Mid-Life and Psychic Regression

I ended my last post with broad references to Christian ideals, our animal heritage, intellect, the urge to wholeness, and how they relate to mid-life. They were vague to anyone not familiar with depth psychology; I’m aware that rational viewpoints dismiss as nonsense anything that doesn’t logically follow their reasoning. Images and symbols weave through our lives as fleeting dreams which dissipate upon waking, leaving only traces of ideas and emotions soon forgotten in the frenzied rush of contemporary life.

To the youthful mind, they’re of little importance — the first half of life is designed to strengthen and consolidate consciousness. Over its course, however, those same fleeting, soon-forgotten emotions gain energy and themselves begin to coalesce and consolidate to reveal a greater, less egocentric perspective.

They form complexes of opposed ideas revolving around philosophical questions and religious uncertainties clamoring to be resolved. When they attain a certain degree of unconscious development, and we can’t relate consciously to the ideas informing us of where we are, they appear to doctors as mental disorders.

These are symbols of transition, and they can only apparently be repressed. To medically oriented psychologies, when they’ve attained enough energy (value and purpose) to openly oppose conscious intent, they require drugs to further repress. Causes are usually hypothesized around unalterable conditions: genes, inherited traits, past trauma, even the body’s chemistry.

The intended soul development remains trapped in the body, in the unconscious, where the stress and tension eventually disrupt its natural rhythm. The unrelieved tension, the reinforcement of the biological viewpoint, and the treatments themselves all conspire to effect real physical problems which then prompt this reassuring statement from the physician/therapist: you’ll probably have this condition for the rest of your life (indeed)  – but there are treatments which can alleviate the symptoms (but not the cause).

My step-father was a very intelligent, rational man. He confided once when I was a mid-teen that he didn’t dream any more. In the Freudian haze of his wishful assessment, he thought he’d mastered the “subconscious” and was living fully consciously. Ten years younger than my mom, he was thirty at that time. Five years later, he and my mom divorced, he married his high school sweetheart, and I never saw him again.

However — my younger sister lived with them while attending college, and she later described those years. He only drank two or three times a year when I lived with him and my mom — on festive occasions, maybe a Christmas party or a visit from an old college friend. My sister was adopted after I’d gone to live with my father, but we established a close friendship through family visits which we still maintain.

Because of her reserved nature, we didn’t fully discuss those years until he died at fifty-eight from a heart attack. She’d left after her undergraduate work, and procured loans for her graduate studies, visiting him only sporadically over the years, trying to forget the things she revealed after he died. She was so angry at the end, she didn’t want to attend his funeral — though she did.

He and his high school sweetheart bickered constantly and got shit-faced every night. Later, when my sister took her fiancee to meet them, he passed out at the dinner table and his face just plopped down in his plate, drunk. He had to be picked up, cleaned off, and taken to bed like a baby.

I didn’t have to be there to know what people said after he died. “He was a drunk, an alcoholic… his father was an alcoholic… he had the gene… he should’ve gone to rehab…” Yet, he’d been a vital and productive man, however closed off in himself, before the unconscious repression of mid-life consigned him to his slow demise. Because he had no concept of the regression of psychic energy and its purposes, he was stuck confronting his own soul concretely through the projected adversary he both loved and hated in his “real” life.

His is not my only experience of the repression of mid-life psychology which sometimes begins the slow unraveling (or constriction and stiffening) of an ego which has no concept of what’s happening to it — and nowhere to turn when it takes hold. Fortunately, mid-life doesn’t always end in the catastrophes I’ve seen in my admittedly limited personal experience.

Still, as I studied Jung and became conscious of my own catastrophe, I began to see their effects in most everyone I knew. Few, in fact, were spared these trials of Job, and most who navigated them were probably lucky not to have had the money or inclination to seek professional help.

Over the years, they yielded to the inner demand to confront themselves at least on some level. It was the unconscious which guided them through the confusion and distress, though they had little concept of it other than “just getting older”.

How much more meaningful could our development be if we actually had conscious knowledge of the emotional twists and turns this process takes in its natural course? Actually participated in it with some conscious sense of its profound importance in our lives? Jung outlined it for those would be aware of it, and we need those ideas to relate to ourselves. My step-father needed them desperately and never knew it.

You may read an example of the ideas and emotions provoked by the mid-life process and how it can become conscious through the value of Jung’s work in my book, A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

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