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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Mid-Life: Psychic Evolution

Scan some of the online literature about mid-life, and you’ll be impressed by the volume and variety of signs and symptoms associated with it. Such mild regressions as chasing the gray away, face-lifts and tummy-tucks, sports cars and younger lovers, however, are only surface reflections of what’s happening unconsciously.

One thing is gaining recognition: transitional changes begin in the body but also have profound psychological effects, as mind and body are not separate by nature. Instincts once conceived as physiological for lack of a psychological perspective were euphemized as “drives” by ego-based psychologies unable to deny them — this, despite the sweeping psychic changes attending puberty and young adulthood. It was as if ego’s current state of knowledge relieved any further development save the rote learning of facts.

But, instinctive needs are generated by emotions portending more than just biological imperatives. I know I was raised with the fearful need for security — especially by staid adults whose knowledge and authority masked a deeper uncertainty —  in a world that is as relentlessly irrational and ever-changing internally as it is externally.

Mid-life is a profound test for a consciousness that would know everything but its own nature, and it’s usually repressed to whatever extent possible to mature while still nursing a youthful pose. The mystery of nature requires an increasingly complex organ of perception to manifest itself, and the urge to wholeness will never be fully comprehended by a partial consciousness. Psychic changes merge with physical ones on the smallest scale, however imperceptible to an ego fascinated by its own image.

The processes symbolized in these images, though, must already have attained a high degree of energy-intensity (value and purpose) and complexity to register consciously. How symbols originate and how we perceive them are a great mystery, but the greater confusion may be due to an older, more literal form of perception.

Since Jung began outlining his psychology over a hundred years ago, the mystery of symbols and their effects have been struck a heavy blow by the scientific outlook. Yet, we’ve been driven by symbols, inspired by them, and instructed by them from time immemorial. This newer knowledge of the profound role they play in our psychology would, with reflection, allow an opportunity to re-connect with them on a more conscious level than the older metaphysical interpretations of who we once thought we were.

Depth psychology is acquainted with the focus and direction of consciousness as against the diffuse and irrational demands of the unconscious. Though the difference between the two ways of perceiving are naturally at odds, they’re also intended as complements — the interaction of opposed forces is how energy is created.

They attract and repel at the same time, and only the weight of nature’s purposes decides which will prevail. Jung wrote that a very powerful attraction is needed to overcome the often hostile opposition between the sexes. The same is true for the mid-life transition — only here, consciousness is pushed to assume a greater responsibility on a higher level for its inner relations, just as couples adjust psychologically long after the unconscious attraction has initiated a still-sleeping urge to wholeness.

The greater problem of adjusting to the inner opposite certainly has its origin in the dual forces compelling the union of the sexes. Their profound demands for reconciliation find us making concessions we never conceived in our youth. Religious symbols have always drawn upon those analogies to describe their purposes.

Marriage is revered as a religious symbol for that reason, yet how many cling to the old ideal today for unconscious reasons they would rather not concede? We’re being pushed to make concessions to newer values, broader ways of seeing than the conventional, one-sided interpretations of the past. It’s not by choice or accident that old values are losing the efficacy they once had.

Though many contend that our religious heritage has only made for rivers of destruction (as it undeniably has, looked at only through that lens), our history must refer more to our interpretations of ourselves and our ideals than to anything inherent in the values themselves. One need only reflect to see that their intent is far distant from what we’ve achieved. The problem doesn’t lie with values or principles.

Aside from our rational ability to focus on the most minute details (science) to the exclusion of a broader picture (life), there is another factor which exaggerates the rift between the real and the ideal. The tendency of ego to see anything outside its own interests as suspicious and dangerous is an even older part of our natures than the relatively recent Christian precepts of love and acceptance which at least set us a definable task through the latest stages of our evolution.

As I interpret Jung’s efforts, this task is not dissolving as much as it’s changing form due to the growing complexity of consciousness — and an expanding intellect fastened onto images of objectivity unimagined by the emotional cast of previous generations. Yet, this new sense of objectivity must remain compulsively tied to the material world to divert the fear and uncertainty which defines psychic development.

The new intellect is not focused on the primitive animal who lives beneath it. We can see in our history how the religious ideal failed to significantly change it except in our minds: the very illusions which compel its rebellion. Who today would know the spiritual side of this billion year old Leviathan?

This primitive side of our natures is in need of development for us to contend with its destructive power. But, we need examples to learn how to do it. Read more about the process here.

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Individuation and the Conflict of Opposites II

A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious
 
Up to this point, ego has been turning in circles in its efforts to relieve the tension created by new contents pushing into consciousness. Page 88 continues this roundabout process which now leads to the first real attempt to establish a dialogue with the unconscious; the religious function has reached a pressure and intensity that can no longer be repressed. As the story of Job illustrates, this conflict is not resolved through external relations or collective forms. 
 
THE DARK PRINCE.  
 It’s not a flight of fancy — it’s a real opposition;
His individuality prepared its recognition.
He’s stumbled on the purpose of internal tension:
To redefine and separate his thinking from the herd.
The individual is grounded in its reinvention                         
          Of the rigid values the collective has incurred.
It’s the burden of the past and the future it creates;
It puts a man at odds with what his soul relates.
Though by its own design it will ultimately lead
This man to re-evaluate the nature of his need.
          But his conflict must be further etched into relief
Before he can examine it in more detail.
He must court relations with the god beneath his grief
For any chance to see the man behind the veil.
 
THE ODDLY SHAPED MAN.  
 How will I get to know you?  What depth must I reach?
What fearful things will I do?  What laws must I breach?
You sit in darkness hid beneath the very thought
The light of knowledge fancied it could make appear.
Indirect emotions that but half-imagined brought
Your half-imagined purposes so faintly near
Are suddenly redoubled in a flood of dark concern
For the power you’ve awakened through the strange veneer
Of images my thought can only half-discern.
Old unfathomed riddles lie before me still
Staring starkly at the weakness I disdain;
Mocking the illusion of my conscious will
As I yet pretend to master what I can’t explain.
In fitful ways your mystery is living through me;
No wiser for it I am much less wise against it.
Are self-disdain and misery the light you’ve given to me
To illumine my fantasies had I but sensed it?
To cast a glow on shadow-worlds that hide your grace
From a man-child’s half-perception of reality?
Who only made himself unfit for your embrace
By clinging to a make-believe morality?
All your ways frighten me I cower and evade
Yet time and again misery exceeds my fear;
And the little light in me that once a heaven made
Again must suffer its bright world to disappear.             
You seemed insane though it was I who didn’t understand;
I fear I’m failing still and you will lose your patience.
There seems no let in all the crazy things you’ve planned
          To symbolize the sickness of my aberrations.
You’re only guiding me I know this in my brain –
Yet what a gaping wound now bleeds within in my heart!
Though I know it’s not your guidance filling me with pain
But my own desire sundering my life apart.
I can’t know your purpose through the fantasies I’m seeing;
Your piercing admonitions are my only light.
If somehow I could peer inside the deep well of being
I’d surely see the marvel of my own pretentious sight.
Your monstrous grace and its privilege I must entreat
For the only useful product it creates in me;        
Otherwise obscured by the harlequin of self-deceit
Ever stealing round the walls of thought’s credulity.
          Can I touch you in time?  In mind’s distant sphere?
When you tear these lovely veils of pretense from my eyes?
Will you be there?  Or only darkness circumscribe my fear
And my thinking then replace you with another form of lies?
I felt you once around the corpse of my dearest friend
And somehow through my agony you gave relief;
Though just enough for me to grimly apprehend
A wondrous thing beneath my agony and grief.
I know not how these enigmatic things occur –
Your living paradox is safe from modern thought.
As stupid and unwitting as my own intentions were
I then was only following what I was taught.
I’m sorry for it now — it was the only way I knew;
I feel its wrongness secreted within my soul.
But, for all the mystery in everything you do
I fear my misery’s the only thing I know.
 
THE DARK PRINCE.  
Through Time and effort he will soon begin to see:
What draws this image to the surface is his misery.
But he must step outside the circle of his Christian past
And resist his childish notions of the Devil;
For the psychic chains they represent now bind him fast
And prohibit him from searching on a deeper level.
Though he long ago pronounced such things a fairytale
They still form the basis of his valuations.
This defines the very point where intellect will fail:
          The Christian myth describes emotional foundations.
 
A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious 
 

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Individuation and the Conflict of Opposites

This selection from, A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious, picks up on page 78 with the Oddly Shaped Man (the conscious standpoint) struggling under the tension of opposites. Along with repressed emotions, the pressures of new, creative contents from the unconscious increase the momentum of the individuation process, now perceived as an “alien will” as ego is openly confronted with the demand for wholeness…
 
My head circles wildly as I strain with all my might;
All around me lay the pieces of the ghosts I fight.
I’ve forced apart the gates of my own humanity
Staggered weary to the furthest reach of sanity;                     
My own heart I’ve writhed and cried and suffered inside out –
Yet unappeased still labor on uncertainty and doubt.
 
THE DARK PRINCE.  
          Hemmed in by God on all sides like Job he struggles;
          And his pursuit means other things pursue him too.
          Relentlessly the feeling-world his thinking juggles
          Brings him closer to the conflict of his conscious view.
          The torment thrust upon him from this dark abyss
Is Nature’s dispatch to a partial consciousness:
She strives now to inform him of her wants and needs
And give him strength to follow on the path she leads.
How a man must carry on when he is forced to see
That the life he once conceived is not Reality!
He may feel his little world is being torn apart
But in fact it’s being put together quite unseen;
And he’s further than he knows from the inside of his heart
Or his notions of insanity and what they mean. 
 
THE UNKNOWN WOMAN.  
He’s not the victim of an angry god’s invective
Sending wrathful thunderbolts of punishment and pain.
He must remind himself the process is objective;
To think outside his merely personal domain.
But how else can his trembling thought be made to see:
His life is subject to a fate he can’t control?
That beneath his thinking is a greater force than he
Seeking to reveal to him the nature of his soul?
This obscure moral process must depend on more
Than simply choosing to obey a god’s command.
Which god will he obey?  Which one will he implore?
When two crossed gods of equal strength before him stand?
One is right the other wrong according to his view:         
The great deception of the life he knew before;
Yet however he perceives it there is little he can do
For his former life is gone and Nature’s closed that door.
The one she opens now brings the opposites to light
Unveiling secret truths beyond his preconception
To temper with a new sight the views of wrong and right
Which form the basis of his modern self-perception.
It will expose the partial attitude of consciousness
Flitting round its fantasies in airy self-pursuit
In the highest branches of the tree of righteousness
Thinking it had planted all the seeds of Love and Truth –
Though half-acknowledged grew to be a thing of wretchedness
And in the end bore little more than ignorance as fruit.
 
THE DARK PRINCE.  
The cheap facade he financed with the treasure in his soul
Is quickly running out of credit with the man below.
The life he once invested in is out of his control
For the loan’s conditions call for more than he could know.
The debt accruing from his youthful self-deception
Must be fully rendered from the life he leaves behind
Until it is depleted of his half-perception
And he accepts the humble place his misery assigned.
This task has led him down inside the knotted sphere     
Concealing images his thinking long repressed.
How he perceives the inner man is hidden here
Whose image only surfaces when he’s depressed.
But repression and depression are in fact related
To form the tension aiming at a new direction.
He must fight them both for how his thinking has created
This upside-down collision with his own reflection… 
 

                                Mental Health as a Social Concept

The conflict of opposites deeply affects consciousness as it begins to withdraw its projections from the external world and accept its struggle internally, fostering the recognition of a higher spiritual authority. The more frightening, rejected aspects of the personality then begin to impress themselves as living values with a vital meaning for the individual. The fear and anxiety of losing control is tempered by reflection. Jung once wrote that no one who ever had any wits is in danger of losing them in this process; however, there are many who never knew until then what their wits were for. 

THE ANCIENT KING.
          The concept of one’s mental health is relative indeed;
Primarily a social one for cultures to assess
The useful products of the citizens they breed
To work within the sanction of the values they profess.
But a culture has no conscious point of reference:
No place outside itself to judge its valuations;
Its health or sickness no criterion for deference             
To its own psychology or that of other nations.
Every man appears to suffer likewise from this fate
Though facts do not support this from a natural perspective:
The psyche functions in a way itself to regulate
And beyond his preconceptions lives its own corrective…
 
 More info here: A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

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Re-Thinking Mid-Life

I recently came across an article by Dr. John Grohol on the Psych Central website: Three Things You Didn’t Know About About Carl Jung’s Psychosis. I appreciated it because it brings into relief certain misconceptions about Jung’s psychology; about unconscious life in general and mid-life in particular.

Depth psychology refers to Jung’s ideas of the unconscious and individuation, because he most clearly conceptualized them. But, these facts of experience are common properties of humanity. It was only (!) Jung who arranged them into an empirical picture.

He outlined the spiritual nature of the mid-life process, and the urge to wholeness implicit in it can be a severe test for a partial ego. The unconscious has a disintegrating and devouring quality which can frighten and overwhelm. It’s a reality so foreign to the conscious one that nobody chooses it. Nonetheless, it’s the fate of many to try to come to terms with it.

However suddenly, subtly, or eventually the unconscious may directly insinuate itself into some lives, its indirect influence on consciousness forms humanity’s deepest contradictions. Few in an outer-directed culture see such effects as anything as fantastic as a demand for inner development (or the repression of it), and many have no need to see it. Symptoms mean disease, and the need to live according to our natures remains an idea we can’t conceive until we’re confronted with the experience.

One’s sensitivity to it is a matter of degree, which even in the extreme is less pathological than simply human. “Pathological” and “psychotic” may evoke images of lunatic asylums, yet entire cultures exhibit symptoms so widespread as to be normal from their own perspectives. Another vantage-point could as well view them as crazy. Who sees war as a mass psychotic outbreak or racial hatred, a collective form of schizophrenic paranoia?

Not only does Dr. Grohol’s article serve up on a plate mainstream psychology’s misunderstanding of the causes and purposes of mental “disease”, it exposes the fear and anxiety inherent in the direct experience of its demands. Science can only rationalize the effects of emotional processes it can neither experience nor evaluate. A century ago, however interpreted, spirit was a living reality. The mystery it once circumscribed no longer speaks to the new intellect. It sinks back into the unconscious and, as in a dream, re-emerges in strange forms.

Though extremes exist at either end of the spectrum of how mental health is defined, there’s no real dividing line between normal and pathological, conscious and unconscious — even you and me, if we have some working concept of the projections entangling subject and object; more so if the object is as abstract as the idea of psychosis in a subject as certain of it as a doctor.

A thing is what we think it is until we learn more about it, and there are some things we don’t want to learn more about. It would seem that the direct experience of the unconscious might qualify as such a thing — a psychosis according to popular psychology. At least, Dr. Grohol thinks it is. It was the crux of Jung’s psychology. He discovered that consciousness is subject to (and relative to) unconscious functions which seek their own destiny. The more ego opposes them, the more problems it experiences; though relative to the personality.

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” This intuitive truth, revered for millennia by those who felt it, were in fear and awe of the mystery it alluded to, has now re-emerged in psychological parlance as a “psychosis.” The fear of God is rationalized; Job’s suffering, a moot point.

I give Dr. Grohol credit for the reserve in his third premise: “Jung’s unconscious journey probably wasn’t the same as the unwanted psychosis people experience today.” Well, it was Jung’s — but he didn’t want it any more than anyone wants it. It happened to him. It was an unconscious need born in a mind destined to reveal a new way of looking at ourselves. But, does that mean it didn’t spring from the same well — and for the same purposes?

Dr. Grohol said that while “Jung described his visions as a type [my italics] of “psychosis” or “schizophrenia,” those terms meant something different a hundred years ago than they do today.” Indeed. The way Jung saw them is even more relevant because of that. The problem is that it required volumes to define them.

Outside the limitations of ”pop” psychology, they’re not really definable except through a kind of philosophy grounded on empirical fact: an understanding through experience. “Today,” wrote Dr. Grohol, “the terms describe a specific constellation of symptoms, one of which is the meaningful and significant interruption the disorder makes upon a person’s ordinary, daily life.”

But — that’s the very purpose of mid-life: “the meaningful and significant interruption the disorder makes upon a person’s ordinary, daily life.” It has all the symptoms of compulsion, obsession, depression, even a “type of psychosis or schizophrenia.” How else could we be shaken to the core from ego’s illusion enough to feel the mystery drawing it to a fate beyond its comprehension?

For an exploration of the unconscious which goes beyond traditional ideas of pathological/normal in search of a more natural truth, see: A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

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Excerpt from A Mid-Life Perspective:

This excerpt from A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious begins Part One following the Prologue:                                     

 
                                         The Mid-life Process
 

The mid-life transition begins with a confusing influx of unconscious emotional demands. It supplements the one-sided perspective of causal thinking by exposing its inadequacies in confronting the inner world. This re-orienting phase is marked by changing relationships as the growing insistence of the unconscious begins to intrude in the form of repressed feelings. The images attending this stage are often of a sexual character, symbolizing the creative life-urge of the unconscious, as well as the motive forces of instinctual functions which are more emotional than sensual. Psychologically, Jung saw sexuality as a function of relationship. Studies of primates suggest that promiscuous sexual activities within the group serve the purpose of social cohesion. These are the dark beginnings of culture. On a higher level, the dual nature of mind and body serves a similar role within the psyche as the two poles seeking a gradient for spiritual development: the deeper shift in values that occurs between them at mid-life. 

THE DARK PRINCE.  
 Cast to the flames of a sacrificial fire –
Nakedness, crudeness in unholy choir –
The spirit of Nature with Time will conspire
To turn into ashes her own desire.
The animal’s heated moan is heard
Deep in the body unconsciously stirred
With lust to entice the intimate vice
Of the apple of Eden’s sacrifice;
Fixed to an image his youth has crowned –
Still to a primitive energy bound.
The pretense of love dissolves and emerges
As frantic obsessions with sexual urges
Embracing another in secret fashion
Transfusing his own with the other’s passion.
Idols undressed in an intimate tryst
Are clothed in the dream of the image he kissed;
Obscured by the lure of the heightened need
To transcend himself in the concrete deed.
Selfishness grows into frenzied caprice
Unconsciously seeking the Spirit’s release.
His naked desire is then transformed
Into an object erotic, deformed;
Conceived as need in a sensual feast
Of animal functions exposed and released.
Nakedness glows as a sumptuous sight
Devoid of love and impelled by the might
Of a ravenous ravishing appetite
Consuming his senses in crude delight…
Bedazzled by erotic fascination –
Yet in the animal stage of creation –
He’s forced in his darkness to yield all control
To this secret excitement concealed in his soul.
Ribbons of touch flow over his skin
Alluring and hazy drawing him in.
Worlds of paradox dance before his eyes;
Earthly pleasures whisper and in the darkness lies
The secret co-conspirator in lusty grinning guise
Who barters sex for love through his compulsive ties.
Passion’s loneliness seeks him out
From the desperate to the devout.
For many years he has fantasized
That the flesh should hide the gift he prized.
From urge to compulsion his mind has run;
Round and round have his senses spun
          Blindly hoping to reach through the veil
          To find a passion now grown pale;
          Stripped of form by the inner eye             
          Ravaged by greed and left to die –
Then to be strewn in the dark expanse:
The seed of his nature in Time’s advance;
Compelled by fate to fecundate
The fertile spirit who lies in wait.
The grin will vanish and through Love’s guise
A more discerning man will meet his eyes.
Will he in Faustian surprise salute
The higher nature of this lowly brute?
Or fan the flames of his naked desire;
          Genuflect to the world of men
Admit his weakness before this fire
Confess the paradox and then –
Ignore the flame of fate within?
Whatever choice will not avail him long
For this dark voice will soon become too strong.
Where impulse, need, and fear ring round
Nature’s urge to consciousness is found.
Has he the courage to implore
This demon-spirit in the dark?
Stripped of the manly clothes he wore
Confronted by a truth so stark?
Here is he at a strange frontier
Caught on the edge of aloneness and fear;
Destined by Nature and Time to explore
The unknown magic he sought before:
His naked desire where once did glow                           
The secret excitement he longs to know.
 
THE UNKNOWN WOMAN.  
 A new relation with himself he now must seek;
Before this task the strongest will proves small and weak.
However much his nakedness has fascinated
A deeper image of his life will be created.
If the images he seeks at night engender love
Whence come the feelings daylight finds him thinking of?
The secret needs his lonely lust allays at night
Soon will find him subject to another appetite.
Ever in his naked pleasure, strive as strive he may
Passion’s night though darkly veiled must labor into day.
The fleet relations with the needs he fantasizes
On the plate of pleasure Nature’s power now disguises
Are appetizers for a different reality –
Ones when savored will consume him too as he will see.
While he sits starving now at the same old table
For the same old dish warmed over by his fantasy –
Only by the spice of fantasy made edible –
Youth’s repast must yield at last for Spirit’s truths to free.
What fare has he yet tasted whose illusory appeal    
Did not later seize him with the pain of indigestion?
He finds another place to eat and eats the same old meal –
Though why it never sits quite right is loathe to question.
 
THE ODDLY SHAPED MAN.  
Has a dark shadow dissipated?
Is this the image I created?
With my own seed did I propagate
This fog of illusion — can this be fate?
 
Read moreA Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

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Religious Belief and the Reality of the Unconscious

Religious images have dominated human culture since beyond recorded history; so far as we know, since the birth of consciousness. The powerful role ascribed to spirit throughout civilization suggests that we not dismiss them without due reflection.

This implies, too, that they not be blindly accepted in the centuries-old forms given us; that would mean we hadn’t evolved beyond them (?). Jung saw spirit as life-energy, and religious symbols point to a reality beyond what modern ego (preacher and scientist included) fantasizes in the unbridled fulfillment of desire it calls progress as opposed to the development of the soul.

What that means today is a matter of some importance as an analogy. Only a fluid mind can grasp an analogy, and religious beliefs and scientific assumptions alike are perhaps the greatest test of our ability to relate and discriminate between the inner and outer worlds.

Not only is this a primary goal of religion, it’s what Jung’s psychology is about: the life-energy he conceptualized as the unconscious mediates a concrete reality through images. Beneath sense perception, they express analogies of psychic processes, and the associations embedded in them describe more how we relate to things than the things themselves.

It’s the nature of ego to see our world(s) according to personal needs and desires, though it’s taken centuries upon centuries to even begin to separate the ideal from the real. Conscious discrimination of want vs. need in the larger context of this double-sided prism is how we see — and don’t see — the conflicting realities of both.

As Jung pointed out, the religious function is as innate as sense perception. In fact, it’s the complement of it, and the repression of it limits us to belief and assumption as a substitute for emotional experience. Reflections on our emotional responses to life and their associations give us deeper information about our relations to the material world and their effects on consciousness.

This counter-pole to sense perception is just as real as the concrete, though the images it creates appear the more exaggerated and fantastic (and hostile) the more we identify with only personal desire: the compensations intended to direct us toward a more comprehensive truth. When that truth becomes so opposed to ego’s that it can no longer be repressed and open conflicts result, it’s a signal for self-examination.

“… and God gave man dominion over the earth.” has a high-sounding ring when pronounced as a heavenly directive. But, whose god can assert it without revealing the profound contradiction in it? Today, it could only have been a devil who made such a proclamation. Was it only the dark side of our own self-deification?

James Branch Cabell once fabled in his, Figures of Earth, a confrontation between Manuel the Redeemer and the disembodied head of Misery, as the two met on Count Manuel’s doorstep in his isolated cabin in the “irrational forest”: ”… I wonder why misery should have been created to feed upon mankind.” the Count pondered.

“Probably the cows and sheep and chickens in your barnyards, and the partridges and rabbits in your snares, and even the gasping fish upon your hook, find time to wonder in the same way about you…” replied Misery.

What is this contrary nature-image that refutes our best and loftiest intentions and turns them into their opposites? Is it the severed head of repression, our own misunderstood natures, that appeared on Count Manuel’s doorstep as he looked down astonished and confounded? Where was it’s body, its foundation, its wholeness?

“Ah, but man is the higher form of life –” said Manuel. “Granting that remarkable assumption, and is any man above Misery? So you see it is quite logical I should feed on you.”

“Still, I believe that the Misery of earth was devised as a trial and a testing to fit us for some nobler and eternal life hereafter.” Manuel countered. “Why in the world would you think that?” the head inquired…

“Because I have an immortal spirit, sir, and –”

“Dear me, but this is all all very remarkable. Where is it, Manuel?”

“It is inside me somewhere, sir.”

“Come then, let us have it out, for I am curious to see it.”

“No, it cannot get out exactly, sir, until I am dead.”

“But, what use will it be to you then?” said Misery: “and how can you, who have not ever been dead, be certain as to what happens when one is dead?”

“Well, I have always heard so, sir.”

So are we taught. Depth psychology has shown that it can get out — here and now, if we would conceive it. But, only the “god-like” effort of consciousness, it’s active examination of its own nature, would reconcile us to the images which point beyond the concreteness of perception.

For an original look at the psychology and spirituality of mid-life and individuation, see: Notes on A Mid-life Perspective

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Psychology and the Poetic Mind

I don’t know quite how to feel about today’s poetry; most of what I read is hard for me to relate to. Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of contemporary poetry because of that. Much of it seems to be simply prose in verse form. It’s as if many just jotted down a free-floating mood (inspiration), off-set it in lines instead of paragraphs, and called it a poem. If much work actually went into some of them, I don’t see it. But, maybe that’s just me.

Some, of course, are better than others at setting moods, feelings, and thoughts down in words and arranging them into lyrical lines for effect. It’s comforting to know there’s still a place for them today, however small and crowded, however particular individual taste me be. I suspect that our current swing toward rationalism may be partly responsible for poetry’s recent decline…

I first heard of Robinson Jeffers in a quote by Joseph Campbell. I later happened on a small book of his in a used bookstore. Copyrighted in 1941, this is from, Robinson Jeffers Selected Poems:

The House Dog’s Grave

(Haig, an English bulldog)

I’ve changed my ways a little; I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a
         moment
You see me there.
 
So leave awhile the pawmarks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you’d soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking pan.
 
I cannot lie by the fire as I used to do
On the warm stone
Nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the nights through
I lie alone.
 
But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read — and I fear often grieving for
         me –
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.
 
You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that when you are lying
 
Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No dears, that’s too much hope; you are not so well
        cared for as I have been.
 
And never have known the passionate and undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided. …
But to me you were true.
 
You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

 

Like everything else, poetry is changing. To reveal the depth and movement of the soul has always been the poet’s task. The suddenness of the changes in consciousness in the last generation are duly noted discursively, as in a history book, but their effects on the soul seem only hinted at by poetical meanderings through personal complexes. It is a reflection of where we are and what we think about.

Real depth and relation are in Jeffers’ poem, for he trades between himself and something greater (and smaller, too) in a way that reflects the paradox of being human. In that sense, it’s timeless. But, much has changed since then: modern depth psychology has introduced a new reckoning for the scientist and philosopher, the preacher and the poet. None, it seems, has much embraced it.

The old poets’ openness to the collective unconscious which once revealed the secret path of the soul’s direction has, like religion and philosophy, given way to materialism and technological progress. What’s left of the poet’s time-honored truths, the immaterial ones, has become a personal tale which has little to do with the unseen movements taking place beneath culture’s frenetic activities.

I only hope the house dog we’ve made of nature and spirit, the truths we’ve sacrificed for our illusions, may sooner than later be felt as the poignant and painful loss Jeffers felt in his heart for his little English bulldog. It is today, as it’s always been, the poet’s task to reveal such things as trouble the human soul.

For a new poetic look at a very old human problem, read more here.

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Notes on A Mid-Life Perspective

A Subjective Study of Science, Religion, and Consciouness

A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

As a follow-up to the last post, I would like to share some background on the development of my book. Though it revolves around my experience, the personal aspects are more general than specific. It was conceived that way to highlight, not my personality, but the process of coming to terms with the unconscious. In that sense, the figures formed from the conversations, though intertwined with the personal shadow, provided the doorway to the collective unconscious.

That process began in a very curious way. Goethe’s Faust was behind it, as I’d been enthralled with it since my early twenties; and no wonder, for it worked in ways I couldn’t conceive as a young man. By the time I was “in the soup” as Jung called it, at mid-life, I was fortunate to have both Goethe’s wisdom and Jung’s psychology to turn to. That transition, which really hit at thirty-five, hit hard for many reasons.

Not the least among them was the discovery that I was introverted in an extraverted world — not just a lost soul unable to conform to the mainstream. At forty, after five particularly destructive years of evading the process, something had to change. Slowly, as I quit fighting and yielded to it, it turned creative. All this was absolutely instinctive, as I had no real idea what I was fighting.

My intense study of Jung’s work began at that time, and I was relieved to find that I wasn’t going crazy. I began to pay close attention to my dreams, and they (and Jung) began to impress upon me that my rational thinking was “blocking my view of the universe” as John Nash once put it. That, of course, for a non-mathematician, is the symbolic world of unconscious emotion I’d long defied in my identification with the intellect.

Very soon, I was seized with a compulsion to draw, something I’d done in my youth though had left far behind in adulthood. The illustrations foreshadowed the process and came out of an intense two-week period of concentration in which I couldn’t wait to get home and work at the images which emerged. I was so consumed by it, I saw black ink lines super-imposed on the road when I was driving. When the final eight pictures were finished, I was released and went back to my study of Jung.Notes on a Mid-Life PerspectiveNotes on a Mid-Life Perspective

Illustrations.evan_html_47c6bd47.jpgAs repressed feelings surfaced at night, unable to sleep for the tension, I’d pull out my yellow legal pad and write; the only thing that seemed to relieve me. Certain things flowed out in an almost spontaneous verse which seemed very foreign. Some of the poems were of an older style, others had a feminine, emotional quality, and yet others were deeply critical; and moreover, each appeared in its own handwriting and in the third person. This went on for six years or so, and I began to see connective threads in them as I studied Jung.

The poems multiplied, and I sorted them according to handwriting and subject. If you’d asked me then what I was doing, I couldn’t have told you. I stumbled along, studying in my spare time and writing off and on when the tension became more than I could bear. Along with the poems, my dreams began increasingly to revolve around religious and philosophical questions. I had little idea what was happening; I only knew something had taken me over.

Five years years later, as the process gained momentum, the poems I saved were about sixty pages. I had dreams that I was carrying them, and unkown figures were asking me about them. It slowly dawned on me what I was being driven to do all those years, and one dream shed particular light on it: I was walking from an underground railway station into the dawn of day, carrying my papers, and a strange man was walking beside me. He looked down at them: “What’s that?” he asked curiously. I replied: “It came from the dark.” He nodded approval.

A year later, I “sold my soul to the Devil” and applied myself consciously to the task. That was seven years ago. I can’t and don’t take credit for the depth of the ideas; for they did, indeed, come from the dark — from my dreams. I did, however, work around them to the best of my ability, for the unconscious accepts nothing less when one is drawn into this journey.

Neither can I take credit for its originality; for it, too, comes from a place where only gods may dwell — and they are not all quite human. I can take some credit for devoting my heart to it, though in retrospect, even that seems dubious. But, whatever we may have been taught about conscious and unconscious, man and nature, science and religion, I did learn this: things are not as they appear.

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A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations with the Unconscious

A Subjective Study of Science, Religion, and Consciouness

A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

For those interested in new interpretations of old ideas, this post announces the publication of a very different kind of book, many years in its development. If you choose to read it, if you’re interested in the relations between conscious and unconscious, between man and nature, science and religion, it will be among the most original books you’ll ever read. It will likely upset your ideas of what your mind is for, just as it upset mine when I was forced by my own illusions (and those I inherited) to come to terms in some way with the unconscious.

It’s well known that new and original ways of looking at things take time to sink in, at least for those revolving around the self-flattering notions of who we think we are — or should or would be. Centuries-old religious assumptions convince us even today that we can be who we “should” or would be, simply by believing it. This is the age-old way of ego, and most will remain convinced of its illusion as a defense against the unconscious — or, if you prefer, a God who makes demands on us and not just a comforting image of wishful thinking in times of despair.

The scientific view is equally convinced of this same illusion, having inherited it as duly as one is born with eyes and ears. Though, with no conception of a Deity but only an unconscious will to power, it seeks to “conquer” an external nature without taking serious note that she also works within; and dangerously so, for the double-sided hubris of humanity has been recorded since before biblical times. The artificial reality we’ve spent millennia to achieve has become so toxic today, however, the current form of education will not much longer support it…

Based on the psychology of C. G. Jung and inspired by Goethe’s Faust, this book is a poetic description of the change in perspective accompanied by the mid-life transition. For many, it will be only an odd curiosity. But for those who are deeply moved by this process, to confront the strange, symbolic figures which lead into the collective unconscious, this book will serve as a living example of the ideas and emotions encountered when an exchange, a dialogue, is entered into with the other side.

The subtitle, A Subjective Study of Science, Religion, and Consciousness, reflects the spiritual character of the philosophical depths to which these figures point; for as Jung wrote: because the unconscious consists of a living history of our mental functioning, any serious inquiry into it leads straight into the religious problem.

This problem is grounded in the opposites, and old religious ideas of good and evil still form the foundations of our world-views, whether we accept them consciously or not. They’re how we secretly see ourselves; how we relate to a greater whole both within and without, formed over centuries of intense concentration on the puzzling contradictions of subjective thought.

A major shift in values marks today’s fascination with science and technology, and the emotional and spiritual functions it ignores and represses only multiply the contradictory circumstances we create. The wisdom required to comprehend them is not accessible to the blind quest for rational facts — as if they alone would reconcile the inner division which is our fate.

Lacking an orientation to the inner counter-pole of unconscious tendencies, we can only relate to them through the old concepts. But, these no longer suffice the complexity, the subtlety and diversity, the relativity of the changes taking place in consciousness today. Without serious re-examination of our repressive view of nature and the psyche, it only leads us deeper into the hidden snares threatening from the darkness of our illusions and misunderstanding.

Knowledge has become a substitute, a compensation, for wisdom. The paradox is that the wisdom we need is secreted away in the knowledge we’ve repressed: the undeveloped soul of a human animal who yet sees nature as an antagonist and cannot accept the double laws of her demands. As a return for that, we have become our own greatest problem — and nature’s as well.

This book isn’t a remedy for this problem. It’s a way to identify and accept it; to find new ways to confront it; to enter a new psychological stage in nature’s ceaseless urge for development.

More here.

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Fantasy’s Mirror

This path was laid with stones toward a dark descent –
Unnoticed by the men for whom that world was meant;
For the last gasp of deities is centuries long
And echoes still the haunting past of a dead god’s song.
The twin-image he created out of earthly dust
From another Eden by a mortal god is thrust;
The rotted timbers of the mythic cross are shaken
And the mighty god himself has been forsaken –
All the truths a treasured faith had once revealed
Scattered by a new wind across a barren field.
A baleful gaze appears above a strange horizon
At the soldier kicking through the rubble in the sun;
Keen mind alert to threats amid the ruin
Of the searing conflict by the fearful god begun.
The soldier’s eyes had been reduced to narrow slits
From centuries of peering through a microscope;
Reducing whole realities to little bits
In his confused attempts a larger truth to grope.
He sent scapegoats to the moon to pierce desires
That existed once where lifeless craters sit;
The swords once forged by true believers’ fires
Sharpened into rockets by his war-wizened wit…
Earthly fears are all that’s left for men’s half-mortal lives –
The real horrors of the Son’s truths lay strewn behind.
The only one afflicting man that still survives
Is the guilty half-reality within his mind.
That guilt was a mighty god indeed who forged the fate
Of the men who slew it with the two-edged sword it gave;
And now they stand alone before an unknown gate
Waving it triumphantly above the dead god’s grave.
Though one edge dulled by all the truths it severed
The other edge is sharper than it’s ever been
That they might cut away the guilt that long endeavored
To seek immortal truths beyond the thoughts of men.

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