Tag Archives: Goethe’s Faust

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 describes 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 ideals 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 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 prompted 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 spiritual/emotional functions it ignores and represses only multiply the unforeseen consequences they 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 the unconscious, we can only relate to it through the old concepts. But, these no longer suffice the complexity, the subtlety and diversity, the relativity of the changes taking place today. Without serious re-examination of our repressive view of nature and the psyche, we are only led deeper into the hidden snares which threaten from the dark shadows of an unconscious earthly reality.

Today, information and knowledge have become compensations 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’ve 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.

See Amazon.

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Brother Dave — Pinned Down and Crystallized

Brother Dave Gardner was a southern comedian at his height in the sixties. What I liked about him was his ability to introduce different ideas to his audience. He majored in philosophy at the University of Mississippi — a reflection of his natural grasp of a wide range of viewpoints. He had one of those minds that looks at the world in a unique way, and his inner conversations were translated through different voices in his routines.

Southern audiences in the sixties were not exactly acclaimed for their open-mindedness, and Brother Dave was subtle and inventive in expressing his philosophy. During a show in Texas, he began talking about the Hindu reverence for cows — in obvious opposition to the interests of the cattle and beef industry represented in his audience.

A spectator shouted, “Be careful!”, and Brother Dave replied, “If you’re careful, then you might break it!” The man shouted back, “Break what?” Brother Dave laughed, “Anything! It don’t matter!” Unperturbed, he continued:

“They say that for every cow you kill, you will spend that many years in that dark abyss as there is hairs on a cow’s body…wouldn’t that make folks think twice about slewin’ a bovine?” He ended the piece by saying, “I gotta go along with them Hindus on that.”

If his audience began to murmur discontentedly over the breadth of his ideas, he simply steam-rolled them into another story with such a mix of hilarious voices and off-beat speech, they were soon laughing uncontrollably. He knew his audience, and he knew how to make them laugh — even when introducing ideas which provoked hostility.

His addition of the word “Brother” to his stage-name was a direct satire of the southern, Bible-belt perspective comprising most of his audience. In one show he explained the idea of “dualities” (the one behind his reply to the man in Texas) like “hot and cold — heaven and hell”, and then he paused: “I never thought I’d ever say that word, unless I became a preacher.” and then he added, “Actually, I am, you know. The only difference is that I’m preachin’ for it.”

He parodied race relations in the south by using a black vernacular and tone in his voices, even when obviously referring to his white counterparts. He philosophized often on stage with a blend of varying styles of speech from beatnik or hip, to redneck, to African-American.

His philosophy was as unique as his style, which brings me to the real point of this post: the introduction of new ideas. I received my first Brother Dave album from my sister for my eleventh birthday. I had little notion of philosophy then, and as I listened to his album through my teen years, certain things he said stuck in my mind. One of his on-stage discussions with himself centered around his own version of epistemology:

“Them that don’t know are better off than them that think they know, because by them that think they know, that pins it down and crystallizes it to the point where it’s all hung up in limitations.” and then, in a different voice he questioned the statement, “Said, if it’s all pinned down and crystallized, then what’s all that around it?” I thought about it for many years, wondering what he could have meant.

What Brother Dave had hit upon was an intuitive idea of the difference between rational and irrational (or symbolic) thinking; the difference in the organization of conscious and unconscious experience.

Goethe sounded the same idea in Faust: “To what the mind most gloriously conceives/An alien, more alien substance cleaves.” These two ideas from such widely divergent times and cultures are analogies of a symbolic language and how it differs from conscious thought.

What all that is “around it” in Brother Dave’s reference to knowledge is the creative process of unconscious association — the same “alien substance” to which Goethe referred.

Jung explained these ideas in his discussion on two types of thinking. Directed thinking is that rational, conscious thought which requires concentration. The more intense and focused it is, the more it’s expressed in language. Ideas are organized and clarified through speech or writing.

Directed thinking requires much effort and can’t be maintained but for relatively brief periods. When directed thinking stops (observe it in yourself), fantasy-thinking immediately begins. Thought is less focused, lapses into reverie or stream of consciousness as associations gather around vague ideas.

The connections aren’t readily apparent because of the undirected form of unconscious fantasy. That they’re the foundations of thought, however, can be observed by anyone who makes the effort. How fantasy works is documented by Jung in the many examples he supplied in his, Symbols of Transformation.

“Them that think they know” remain imprisoned in a logical structure of thought which is unable to see the hidden web of unconscious idea-formation. The loose associations must be linked together consciously to grasp the unconscious information they convey. It’s opposed to the way we normally think.

To get outside this fence of false pretense and certainty, to connect with the mystery of unconscious ideas, requires a recognition of fantasy and the role it plays in the development of thought. It requires studying those associations and their relation to ideas, translating and reconciling them to what and how we think. We then find ourselves beyond the boundaries of science and what is known. We’ve moved outside statistics and collective opinion and toward the uniqueness of our own personalities.

This dark, uncertain world requires effort to illuminate, but before that can begin it must be reflected. Again, Goethe had it “pinned down and crystallized” over two centuries ago: “Formation, transformation / Eternal mind’s eternal recreation.”

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