Tag Archives: progression and regression

The Conscious Perception of Opposites

“Beneath our scientific preoccupations, we remain in the stage of psychological awareness reflected in our religious heritage. Behind the curtain of moral judgment lurk the split figures of good and evil: a model of how we relate to our unconscious natures. Jung has described how those ideas reflect the positive and negative poles necessary to produce psychic energy: the sliding scale along which consciousness fluctuates in its on-going efforts to define itself. Just as it forms the path of collective history, so in the growth of the individual in the first half of life, the repression of the unconscious required for ego to strengthen and develop now creates circumstances which signal the need for a new relation to it — to balance conscious direction; to relate it, make it relative to the counter-pole of inner development.” — A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

The world today is in crisis. Though the Western mind has pursued it unaware for millennia, it has now created a dangerous tipping point. As we continue to live out the unconscious myth of God-likeness, so we make illusions of our highest ideals. We don’t know what Nature’s purposes are, but the conscious assumption is clear: “We would be as Gods”; whether knowing good and evil is not so certain.

The unconscious counter-pole (the inner value) which defines what we do that we don’t know we’re doing is a recent insight that goes deeper than ego and intellect. That we’re driven to subjugate nature is plain: it’s the law of ego-compensation, and all our creativity and resources are devoted to it. That it threatens to destroy us, we’re coming to understand but lack the self-knowledge to stop it.

It’s not as if the warning signs appeared out of nowhere with modern technology. The primitive nature of our destructive capacity is only brought into relief by it. But, if we would indeed be God-like in our self-appointed dominion over the earth, a more comprehensive view of life seems worth the effort.

Historically, we’ve given much lip-service to the biblical parables that describe the roots of our problems. Man’s hubris is a major theme of myth and religion. Ego-inflation is a dangerous form of possession. Intellectually, we may know that, but without higher values, ego is blind to itself.

Whatever truths the old religion holds, the contradictions are too transparent for modern sensibilities. Maybe the old adages only echo the hypocrisies of the past. But, if we reflect on our history with the new insights available, we may relate to some of the old truths we’ve left behind. Jung’s discussion of this parable from the Koran is found in his, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, from which the following quotes are taken:

The story concerns Moses’ life-quest for meaning, as he related to his servant: “I will not cease from my wanderings until I reach the place where the two seas meet… though I journey for eighty years.” They reach their ostensible goal only to discover that a mishap has occurred. Moses said: “Bring us our breakfast, for we are weary from this journey.

But the other replied, “See what has befallen me! When we were resting… I forgot the fish. Only Satan can have put it out of my mind, and in wondrous fashion, it took its way to the sea… Moses said: “That is the place we seek… and they went back the way they had come...”

We get an idea here of how the unconscious operates. Leaving things behind is a motif that expresses the progression and regression involved in the stages of development. Consciousness can’t see beyond its own state, and the end-purpose appears first as Satan — but later proves to be indiscernible from the God-image:

And they found one of Our servants, whom we had endowed with Our grace and… wisdom. Moses said to him: “Shall I follow you that you may teach me for my guidance… the wisdom you have learnt?

“But he answered: “You will not bear with me, for how should you bear patiently with things you cannot comprehend?”… Moses said: “If Allah wills, you shall find me patient; I shall not… disobey you…” He said: “If you are bent on following me, you must ask no questions… till I myself speak to you concerning it…”

“The two set forth, but as soon as they embarked, Moses’ companion bored a hole in the bottom of the ship “A strange thing you have done!” exclaimed Moses. “Is it to drown her passengers that you have bored a hole…?

Did I not tell you,” he replied, “that you would not bear with me?”… “Pardon my forgetfulness,” said Moses. “Do not be angry with me…” They journeyed on until they fell in with a certain youth. Moses’ companion slew him, and Moses said: “You have killed an innocent man, who has done no harm. Surely you have committed a wicked crime.

Did I not tell you,” he replied, “that you would not bear with me?” Moses said, “If ever I question you again, abandon me; for then I should deserve it.

They travelled on until they reached a certain city. They asked the people for some food, but they declined… There they found a wall on the point of falling down. The other raised it up, and Moses said: “Had you wished, you could have demanded payment for your labors.

Now the time has arrived when we must part,” said the other. “But first I will explain those acts… which you could not bear with in patience… Know that the ship belonged to some poor fisherman. I damaged it because in their rear was a king who was taking every ship by force.” (Elsewhere, Jung described how a fisherman happened upon them, rescued them, and took them to the city.)

As for the youth, his parents are true believers, and we feared lest he should plague them with his wickedness and unbelief. It was our wish that their Lord should grant them another… more righteous and more filial.

“As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys… whose father was an honest man. Your Lord decreed… that they should dig out their treasure when they grew to manhood. What I did was not done by caprice. That is the meaning of the things you could not bear with in patience.

For a modern, poetic experience of the confrontation with the opposites from a psychological angle, click here, or visit Amazon.


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Nature’s Child: Progress vs. Development

Why hast thou stolen into thyself, thyself?” — Friedrich Nietzsche

It may seem odd in this age of technology that anyone would suggest the idea of regression amid such fast-paced progress as we’ve seen in the last century. But, not only are the two ideas relative, together they form a complementary process in which neither works without the other. Psychological functions are paired in opposites designed to balance each other. Throughout centuries of shifts in conscious development, progress in one area means decline in another. Jung wrote:

The child motif represents not only something that existed in the distant past but… something that exists now… it is not just a vestige but a system functioning in the present whose purpose is to compensate or correct, in a meaningful manner, the inevitable… extravagances of the conscious mind. It is in the nature of the conscious mind to concentrate on relatively few contents and to raise them to the highest pitch of clarity. A necessary result and precondition is the exclusion of other contents of consciousness…” which is “… bound to bring about a certain one-sidedness.”

Jung saw the child motif as an aspect of the spirit archetype. As a primordial image, it still functions regardless of our views on science and religion — or, in more general terms, rational and irrational — at a given point in history. Science means progress in the spirit of our times, but it also carries with it a dangerous underside. It’s a flattering image for all who identify with it; but if history is any guide, identification with a single function leads to disaster. Despite our most storied achievements, it remain our Achilles’ heel:

Since the… consciousness of civilized man has been granted an effective instrument for the practical realization of its contents  through the dynamics of the will, there is all the more danger, the more he trains his will, of his getting lost in one-sidedness and deviating further and further from the laws and roots of his being. This means, on the one hand, the possibility of human freedom, but on the other it is a source of endless transgressions against one’s instincts. Accordingly, primitive man, being closer to his instincts, is characterized by a fear of novelty and adherence to tradition.”

But, as progress in one direction means regression in another, a kind of primitive fear still lurks in re-interpreting the religious function as opposed to simply dismissing it as fantasy against the literal truths of science. Obsession with novelty in one sphere compensates the fear of it in another, and though much is admirable in the technical creativity celebrated today, it makes for a perilous illusion of a darker psychic reality.

Erich Neumann’s description of the dissociability of the personality reads like a who’s who of the contemporary individual: “This betrays itself in many ways… as a technologist he may be living in the present, as a philosopher in the period of the Enlightenment, as a man of faith in the Middle Ages and as a fighter of wars in antiquity — all without being in the least aware how, and where, these partial attitudes contradict each other.”

Superstitious beliefs in the unity of conscious multiplied by seven billion subjective ideologies and the ceaseless speculations of experts on cable news are only so many contradictions. Solutions are generally superficial opinions based on immediate causes and effects which have little to do with the wider development of personality suggested by Neumann. The military man may be a man of faith and even a scientist, too — all his knowledge filtered through a subjective philosophy rooted in the pride of personal identification. Jung:

But our progressiveness, though it may result in a great many delightful wish-fulfilments, piles up an equally gigantic Promethean debt which has to be paid off from time to time in the form of hideous catastrophes.” Nature decrees that the “fore-thinker” owes something back to the unconscious for the fire he stole…

The symptoms of compensation are described, from the progressive point of view, in scarcely flattering terms. Since, to the superficial eye, it looks like a retarding operation, people speak of inertia, backwardness, skepticism, fault-finding, conservatism, timidity, pettiness… But inasmuch as man has, in high degree, the capacity for cutting himself off from his own roots, he may also be swept uncritically to catastrophe by his dangerous one-sidedness.

The older view… realized that progress is only possible Deo concedente [granted by God]… The more differentiated consciousness becomes, the greater the danger of severance from the root condition. Complete severance comes when the Deo concedente is forgotten…  it is an axiom of psychology that when a part of the psyche is split off from consciousness, it is only apparently inactivated; in actual fact it brings about a possession of the personality, with the result that the individual’s aims are falsified in the interest of the split-off part. If, then, the childhood state of the collective unconscious is repressed to the point of exclusion, the unconscious content overwhelms the conscious aim and inhibits, falsifies, even destroys its realization. Viable progress only comes from the cooperation of both.”

As I quoted Jung in another post, the narrow door of inner confrontation is enough to frighten most people away — but how on earth could it be more frightening than the world spectacle confronting us today?


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