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.