Tag Archives: Carl Gustav Jung

… embracing the messy soul …

I hesitated posting this, since a deep sadness resurfaced and took hold of me while pondering Soul and Spirit. What’s the point, why exist, to what end? I asked this as a child, having been shown horrendous images in the wake of the Second World War, meant as shock treatment in my German primary school during the 1950’s. A poem I wrote about this experience I still don’t feel confident to share. I turned iconoclast, explored philosophies, religions, myths, literature, searched for exceptional minds, and resisted prescribed beliefs in favour of direct experience.

In my twenties I turned to images and their symbolic power, until a numinous event in Israel reunited me with language, literature, poetry, and science. I studied too many subjects to bore you with, at my own expense, none for economic advantage. I did meet exceptional people, including mystics, yet my question, like a spell, kept birthing more questions.

Disheartened, yet fascinated by our manic mechanistic Zeitgeist, I adopted a transpersonal view, letting things unfold until decisions fell into place. With each intuitive choice, energy for action met me half way and helped me succeed with many projects. This included workshops on dreams and myth, and the wonderful Parent Link programme I helped get on the road, all about reflective listening and the language we use. Unfortunately this parent and school-supported project received no support from the Government. Still, at times I felt I was making beneficial contributions to society.  Of late, no new question has arrived to kick off a renaissance in my poetic imagination, or shed light on the collective mood of futility, which seems to confirm the scientific view that reality is determined by numbers.

Battered, but not beaten, I honour my core resolves: that everything physical is en-souled and resonates with everything else in the universe. And that consciousness, with the potential for symbolic awareness in humans, creates innumerable realities we co-create in ever new forms.

Arthur Rackman – Twilight

Soul and Spirit have become terms relegated to poetry. Some traditions hold them to be interchangeable and interdependent, akin to the Eastern concept of Yin and Yang. In this sense the feminine and masculine principles (mentioned below) reside in women and men alike, that is, their receptive and active and qualities work in each of us. Certain myths simplified and distorted this truth, which now asserts itself with fresh understandings regarding the psychological identification with gender.

“When I say the feminine, I don’t mean gender. I mean the feminine principle that is living—or suppressed—in both men and women.”  Marion Woodman

Observing the political debates around the globe, I notice a similar narrow power dictum in entrenched wars for control, which conjure up the quarrel of parents that drive children to hide in the broom cupboard.

I understand SOUL (Psyche) as pure consciousness, self-sufficient. Yet once identified with impressions of the physical world –  soul becomes the vessel. We talk of soul shining through eyes, through nature, or as immanent presence pervading matter. Consider body, mother, growth, loss, suffering, receptivity, attachment, memory, meaning, imagination, mystery, intuition, aesthetics, melancholy, yearning, endurance, constrictions, chaos, bliss … One may associate Soul with Eros, energy, the cosmos, planets, moon, beauty, stars, history, identity, myths, time, space, past, darkness, the unconscious, unpredictability, and the female principle (Anima) inviting spirit for input and direction.

SPIRIT, to me, is like a wind of light carrying seeds of information to recipient vessels, conscious or unconscious, singular or universal. Humans interpret this information, wisely or not. We talk of actions as spirited, fiery, determined, energetic, contradictory, passionate, always moving and changing. We talk of people driven by principles, for good or bad, or, frankly, being possessed. Spirit aligns with order and ideals, again, for good or bad. Add the relentless drive for perfection which aims, in some traditions, for transcendence, seeking the divine not in the messy psyche, but only in abstract spheres beyond matter. We associate Spirit with logos, will, action, speed, the sun, innovation, reason, light, the male principle (Animus,) and future visions … welcomed by the soul.

Mothers – Käthe Kollwitz

Torn between spiritual heights and visions, and the dark depth of the collective psyche, my initial therapy training with Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis impressed me with an undeniable necessity: The higher we rise the deeper we’re called to descend into the murky shadow of ourselves and our collective inheritance. Gripped then, once again, by the deep sadness I felt as a child in the face of human suffering, I cried for days. The work began, with my own unconscious, with individuals and groups. But nearly 35 years on, I feel yet again despair that the knowledge gained about the psyche is not wider applied. The abuse of people, especially women and children, and the planet itself, continues in the name of the power principle and progress, as does the resistance to acknowledge and heal personal and collective grief. It’s so much more convenient to blame an enemy.

I had the privilege to meet a remarkable Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, and the community of his students during the mid 1970’s. As the grandson of the saintly Hazrat Inayat Khan, Fazal developed his grandfather’s message in passionate, spontaneous and radical modern ways. One of his sayings: ‘Answers are dead, questions are alive,’ gave perspective to my existential query. For him, fragile egos behind the mask of their persona needed strengthening before the Self could become conscious. He orchestrated intense workshops during which the shadow aspects of our personalities were exposed. Each event was followed by a tender and humorous process of debriefing. He taught me to forgive myself, to be kind to myself. He died much too young in 1990. The copyright to hundreds of Fazal’s pioneering talks is held by the present Sufi Way, so his deep mystical insights must wait for another day. While I was co-editing Heart of a Sufi, reminiscences gathered from his students, we were limited to a few quotes and one inspired poem, Qalandar, which I hope to share some time.

Explanations aim to reassure, but knowing the limits of reason, I search for metaphors, symbols, poetry in words and images to make my fleeting insights graspable, as lonely as they stand, and as totally irrelevant as they may be to others. Still, it’s a lovely surprise when readers explore the archives here, or read my quest novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ which defies genres.

Turbulent times call for intuitive introspection, though sifting through the avalanche of information available is probably the great task we must master in this present decade. When lame slogans and bitter opinions are shouted with animosity across the media, our conscience is severely tested.

What we call good and bad coexists in the psyche. If you’ve read Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea Saga, you may recall the poignant moment when the protagonist realises that he and his shadow opponent share a secret name. For that instant their identities merge as one.

Among great thinkers of recent decades who influenced my thoughts, I often return to Stanislav Grof, Gregory Bateson, C. G. Jung, and the people who honoured and expanded Jung’s brilliant insights, among them Esther Harding, Marie-Louise v. Franz, Marion Woodman, James Hillman, Anthony Stevens and many others who further explored the Psyche in relation to the inner work of individuation, that is – learning to hold the tension of opposites towards realising the balance of a universal underlying wholeness. Archetypal forces inspire, overpower, or dull us to sleepwalk into tragedies. We, with our humble egos can take on our small responsibility; each individual serves as a bridge, and an interface.

‘Matrignosis’ is a rich site by Jean Raffa, who explores Jung’s ideas with helpful guidance.

Related: Cartography of the Psyche, with a link to Stanislav Grof’s talk on the psychology of the future.

And my cheeky post about the ego – give the poor ego a break.

To conclude, a rare excerpt of thoughts on metaphysics from Hazrat Inayat Khan, shared with his students between 1915- 1920:

Maya Deren – Meshes of the Afternoon

The Experience of the Soul through the Spirit …

The soul has two different sides and two different experiences. One side is the experience with the mind and the body, the other side is the experience of the spirit. The former is called the outer experience, the latter the inner experience. The nature of the soul is like glass, transparent, and when one side of the glass is covered it becomes a mirror. So the soul becomes a mirror in which the outer experiences are reflected when the other side is covered. That is why, however greatly blessed a person may be with the outer knowledge, he is not necessarily gifted with the inner knowledge. Therefore, in order to attain to the inner knowledge the Sufi covers the other side of the soul, that its mirror part may face the spirit instead of the outer world. As soon as is able to accomplish this he receives inspirations and revelations.

There are people who are by nature intuitive, or who are called psychic or clairvoyant by nature. It is accounted for by the other side of their soul naturally facing the spirit within. One may call them extraordinary, or exceptional, but not mystical, for the mystic does not desire that position. He, by concentration and meditation, gains such mastery that he can cover the soul from without to take the reflection within, and that he can cover the soul from within when he requires the reflection from the outer world to its full extent. Balance is desirable, and mastery is the goal to be attained.

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… when did you last smile? …

When did you last smile? The question started us going. I belong to a bunch of friends, 10 to 20, who meet monthly. We rotate the facilitation of sessions. People propose themes worthy of engagement. Our April session had the theme of Positive Psychology. The term, coined by Martin Seligman, has been called unoriginal and evokes ongoing controversies, not least because basic theories promoting well-being have been around for a long time, for centuries. Overall, the disputes are creative.

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The off-the-track cottage and studio we hire for our monthly meetings has a delightful atmosphere. We love it, though its structure is gradually falling apart. The custodians of the property have more pressing concerns, and so have we. After a unique international creative centre was lost to us eight years ago, this liminal space offered itself. Here we challenge and cherish each other, explore ideas and welcome guests.

As to the initial question of the day – when did you last smile? – Of late, I frequently smile at my quirky thoughts. That day however, I recalled waking early and passing a vase brimming with pale double daffodils, splayed open to full perfection in the morning sun. No matter how fleeting an instant of wholeness, it tends to ravish me into my veiled wholeness. The exquisite flowers invigorated every cell in my body and set the tone for my day. It was a moment of transcendence, of grace.

We explored scientific findings as to what goes on in different parts of our brain when we experience emotions. There is evidence, for example, that prolonged stress weakens the immune system. Stress may be real or imagined. It can be maintained by resentment, anxiety, learned helplessness and the anticipation of negative outcomes, often based on scary experiences (even in the womb) that informed expectations, like the world is unsafe and we have no control over events. Neurobiology is fascinating, though I wonder if it can ever explain existential questions about phenomenology. Some of us bring along a lucky or unlucky disposition, but a great deal of what we become seems to depend on the interpretation and meaning we give to what is happening to us.

Bang head here

Which begs the question, can optimism be learned through challenging negative self-talk, the kind that rubs it in, like – here we go again, I should’ve know, stupid me, no matter what I do –  and so on. For some people prolonged attention to self-talk works. Many brilliant techniques have been developed to overlay fixed habits. Extensive research has gone into the mastery of happiness, especially in the US. This said – Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, acknowledges that negativity is part of the human condition. As such, I see negativity having a compelling function in social systems that first make us ill and then sell us pills, a larger story…

I tend to huff when a generic psychological approach is wrapped up as a brand and turned into an industry, and Positive Psychology has become a successful industry during the last decade. Then again, there were a great many innovators since Abraham Maslow, who, inspired by ancient wisdom traditions was the first to challenge Psychology’s focus on pathology at the time, by researching what motivates people up the hierarchy of needs, and by defining the qualities of achievers. The work of Seligman and his colleagues seeks to encourage functionality, resilience and well-being. It provides further valuable applications and insights regarding human potential that are worth studying.

I personally lean towards the subtle wisdom regained during my training with Psychosynthesis in the 1980s. We may reach peak states of awareness as our consciousness expands, bliss even, yet each higher view calls for a journey down, into denser spheres. C G Jung put it well … As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.’

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Our group is an irreverent lot. We had fun, warm and lively discussions, and we engaged with personal questions. From a set of 24 cards we chose our 5 dominant signature strengths. Humour trumped several times, followed by creativity, perseverance, appreciation, fairness and perspective. Oddly, there was one card I ignored but which jumped to the top when I did a test on-line – Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. I later figured out why I had held back from picking up the card. This appreciation, which I have to a high degree, is also the source of lingering sadness, because Beauty and Excellence touch me deeply, are glimpsed rarely, and are hard to live up to and shine with. Then again, moments of grace, a sudden seeing that stops time, like the daffodils of that morning, carry me through periods of melancholy and questioning. The theme of the day stayed with me, and after some reflection I came to this conclusion:

I would not be happy being happy all the time. For better or worse I walk the tightrope of contradiction.

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The cards we used are available at:  http://mindspring.uk.com/shop/strength-cards/

Here is a site with a questionnaire that measures your character strengths http://www.viacharacter.org/www/ It’s free, unless you want a longer report.

The photo of the Stress Reduction Kit poster is by Programwitch, found on Flickr.

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… imagination …

From its fountain, the psyche pours compositions of light and darkness, images shaping the natural elements that engender our sensual experiences. Countless composite images trickle through our mind. Do we pause to ponder which to let pass, like dry leaves floating down the river, and which to absorb deeply into our heart – and give life to?  

The images we energise are re-envisioned and re-told through our perception. Nature spirits, archetypes, monsters and fairies, heroes and villains, deities, gods, devils and angels, the dark unknown – mankind’s entire mythical landscapes are encapsulated by the imagination and affect our everyday life.

Through this phenomenological process we discovered language, numbers and geometry, tools that potentially enable us to re-create nature. Some scientists maintain that matter constitutes the real and all phenomena derived from nature’s building blocks is not real. But deep inside we know … our search for the world we intimately desire attracts to us enlightened scripts. Through trial and error we learn to apply these scripts, and, for better or worse, we make our worlds real. Worlds within worlds are born from the imagination.

The young in heart have a natural curiosity to play and explore what lies beyond the horizon, literally and metaphorically, with a keen drive to discover facets of their soul reflected in all matter, experiencing matter not as dead, but as vibrantly alive and animated.

Consider the present demand for SF or its playful sister, fantasy, or magic realism. These genres overlap, they deal with the human condition, the desire for a home, in the widest sense – be it for another planet, an island, a heaven, a yesterday, a tomorrow, or the grail of now. To achieve the latent desire for the ineffable, a writer, any artist, becomes a deep-sea-diver of the psyche, and, on coming up for air, re-arranges the booty found there. Some of my favourite writers are R Heinlein, C S Lewis, R Bradbury, I Asimov, M Atwood, Garcia Marquez. Jorge Luis Borges, Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin …

It’s time to re-discover the bridge between the two hemispheres of our brains and balance the outlook of our material societies, value reverie, art and fresh perspectives, engage in play, song, dance and storytelling.

Time to embrace unstructured activities, which sidestep reason’s often pre-conceived observations, the epistemological obstacle, as Gaston Bachelard calls it, the grid of unconscious mental patterns that block seeing through our deeply personal and grounded experience, through the heart.

I’ll never forget the visit during the 70s, instigated through a Sufi friend, to a small Trappist community in the vicinity of Washington DC. The handful of monks rotated duties in house and gardens, interspersed with reading time in their fabulous library. Each one of them also enjoyed an annual 40-days-silent-retreat in one of the huts sprinkled over the many-hectare-estate. My then partner and I were privileged to listen to some of the monks sharing their vastly different cosmologies, psychologies and spiritualities. What struck me was that each monk had a vastly different idea about God, including one admitting that he thought God was man-made and no less real for that. What a stimulating place to be, where you are respected for the envisioning of your world.

 ‘The imagination is not a state; it is human existence itself.’ – William Blake

‘In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.’  – C G  Jung, 1934 

‘If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.’ – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Relevant links:

Re: CS Lewis  http://users.etown.edu/d/DOWNINDC/dungeon.htm

Gaston Bachelard  http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gaston_Bachelard

The World Within, C G Jung video  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6MHRHKd4Ps&feature=related

See also https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/pattern-which-connects/

For those with a metaphysical interest in the imagination, here is an article of mine: https://courseofmirrors.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/science-of-the-heart.pdf

Excerpt … The mystic aims to raise sensory data to a higher level. This happens via the visionary imagination, the ‘presence of the heart’, and it happens precisely in that intermediate world where material beings take form and where material beings dissolve again to become subtle bodies. This intermediate world exists not at the other end of the universe, but right here with us, between each of our breaths. This is how the presence of the heart affects, how ideals, in whatever way we conceive of our Ideal, become realised. What we give being to in this intermediate sphere inevitably appears and becomes endowed with an outward reality. This is so, even when it is visible only to the inner eye, the eye of the heart, just beyond what can be perceived by the senses.

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The rose image: detail of ‘The virgin of the unfading rose,’ eighteen century.

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… pattern which connects …

For a recent book-sharing with a group of irreverent friends (archventures), I had the wish to share so many books that I instinctively reached more or less blindly into one of my shelves. Books in my home, I must add, are in a muddle. The only order to speak of is their relationship to each other through time. I picked Alice in Wonderland and Mind and Nature. During our afternoon of reading there was not enough time to do honour to the latter, Gregory Bateson’s work. So I said I’d write up something. Oh dear. After pages and pages, I finally recalled this was supposed to be a blog-post, not a novel .

I first came upon Gregory Bateson books, ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ and ‘Mind and Nature,’ during the early 1980’s, after his death. The clarity of his notion that biological forms arrange themselves through relationships struck a deep chord. What totally resonated with me was his thought that the structure of nature and the structure of mind are reflections of each other.  He had a broad perspective for a Biologist, and wanted to build a bridge between the facts of life and behaviour, and what we know of the nature of pattern and order. He was active in, and connected up many different fields of study – anthropology, psychiatry, biological evolution and genetics and the new epistemology which comes out of system-theory and ecology. He challenged basic assumptions and methods of scientific investigations, pointing to the processes beneath structures. He quoted Goethe …

A stem is what bears leaves

A leaf is that which has a bud in its angle

A stem is what was once a bud in that position …

And he provoked new thinking: ‘What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me. And me to you?’ 

His interest in morphology, the study of structure and form of organisms, involved context, meaning and communication. He distrusted reductive models of cause and effect, the scientific approach that lines up parts and classifies them, focussing on quantity.

Comparing systems, one to another, he perceived the mind as an ecological system. And he used the analogy that ideas, like seeds, can only take root and flourish according to the nature of the system receiving them. This thought alone deserves deep contemplation.

He had a way with stories … ‘There was a man who had a powerful computer, and he wanted to know whether computers could ever think. So he asked it – Will you ever be able to think like a human being? – The computer clicked and rattled and blinked, and finally it printed out its answer on a piece of paper, as these machines do. The man ran to pick up the printout, and there, neatly typed, read the following words: ‘That reminds me of a story.’ 

Concerned about the decimation of aboriginal populations (he did field-work with Margaret Mead), the degradation of ecological systems, economic oppression, and senseless wars and arms races, he took these ominous signs of contemporary life to be manifestations of deeper disorders, which he defined in terms of cybernetic systems of communication and meaning that comprise life, mind, and society. In his view, consciousness dominated by purposeful thought has a linear structure that establishes goals and ways for attaining them without being necessarily sensitive to the circular network of cause and effect that orders the systems.

Looking at human consciousness as an adaptive system, he thought the cure for its inadequacies, evidenced by the negative side-effects of purposive rationality, was not to reject it in favour of a passionate non- rationality, as in the extreme romantic position, but to augment and complete it by engaging with non-discursive, pattern-comprehending and emotional processes. He advocated the befriending of the unconscious aspects of the mind through utilising images and metaphors.

In a civilization which separates mind from body, mythologies about the survival of a transcendent mind are often meant to soften the idea of death, or even deny death as part of life. For Bateson, who saw the mind as being immanent not only in pathways of information which are located inside the body but also in external pathways, death took on a different aspect. ‘The individual nexus of pathways which I call ‘me’ is no longer so precious because that nexus is only part of a larger mind. The ideas which seemed to be me can also become immanent in you. May they survive, if true.’  (Afterword to a collection of celebratory essays, 1972)

Yet there are scientists that can no more perceive the language of nature, and politicians who feel beleaguered by sections of society that seek balance and a fresh context towards ‘an ecology of mind.’  The extreme factions of believers, for what else are they, should look again at the bridge  Bateson prepared.

 

This lovely video gives a taste of what it is all about :

Update … I discovered recently, in 2019, that some the links in this post don’t seem to work anymore. Here , however, is his daughter’s great documentary on Vimeo, unfortunately not free, apart from the trailer.  https://vimeo.com/ondemand/bateson

Looking at the structure of nature and the structure of mind being reflections of each other, it becomes obvious that not only does nature mirror our habit of thinking, but our thinking also mirrors the state of nature. Ecology and psychology must therefore both engage in listening, and seeing, and working ceaselessly towards the integration of knowledge and the re-adjustment of a dynamic balance.

I could go on, but want to bring in a famous painting of Icarus by Brueghel.                                                             Anthony Stevens, a brilliant expositor of Jung’s thought, used the painting as cover for the first hard-cover edition (1995) of his book Private Myths.

http://www.anthonystevens.co.uk/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

Stevens quotes from a poem by Wystan Auden:

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

What goes up must come down. Who knows how many Big Bangs there were before the one we so ardently explore? There is an organising intelligence behind life’s cycles, while consciousness forever expands. Thinking in metaphors we can perceive similar patterns, forms in nature and mind, cosmos and psyche, mirroring each other across scale and time. In other words, life teems with realities we can tune into, as long as we assign context and meaning.

Check out Gregory Bateson’s books ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ and ‘Mind and Nature.

His family continue his work: His daughter Nora and his wife – Mary Catherine Bateson:   http://www.interculturalstudies.org/main.html

Peripheral Vision

 http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060926309/mead2001centenni

Free chapters of Angels Fear:  http://www.oikos.org/angelsfear.htm

Nora Bateson, recently created a film:

http://www.anecologyofmind.com/

Last not least, the themes:  pattern which connects, mirroring and bridging, are subjects of my novels.

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