So many of us have strong emotions during the holiday season. For years I have toyed with writing a book on the Christmas complex in our culture. So many expectations are set up and materialism runs rampant with viral contagion.
Having recently finished reading The Soul in Grief, by Robert Romanyshyn, I was touched by the realization that individually and collectively we fear grief and are impatient with it, and something about this season, when we hunger for the return of the light, stirs our grief.
Robert writes: "So often in these moments of rest, I felt that my personal grief intersected with a collective one. On these occasions, I was lost in a kind of reverie. Time would slip away, and for a while the boundaries between myself and the world were erased, easing somewhat the cold feeling of isolation which grief brings. I could hear those other voices whispering that grief rises because we have dared to love, that grief is the mark of the power of love, to love even when we know that life is loss, to love even though we know that those whom we love will one day pass away."
Sunday, December 23, 2007
So many of us have strong emotions during the holiday season. For years I have toyed with writing a book on the Christmas complex in our culture. So many expectations are set up and materialism runs rampant with viral contagion.
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –
Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week –
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully –
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory.
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
“Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake.”
They will come, all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful that we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practise his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will will be done, that, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.
“For the time being”
Auden’s complete poem is about 50 pages long. It features all the Christmas characters: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, Herod, Simon, and a narrator. (Our appreciation to Ulrike)
Posted by ruhljohnson at 10:31 AM
Sunday, December 16, 2007
A friend named Amba Shankar in India once invited me to his village, Halasangi, for a stay to experience traditional Indian life. One day he took his American guest to a great mango tree. We picnicked, meditated, told stories, and had a happy Indian day.
One of many stories shared that day was about a yogi, hundreds of years old, who lived in this vicinity. It seems that one day Amba's father had been meditating under this very mango tree, the old yogi had come to take the father on a three-day initiation journey, during which he tested him, tortured him, frightened him, and then gave the father his enlightenment.
I was thrilled with this story and had profound thoughts under the great mango tree that had been (mythologically speaking to my Western mind) the scene of so sublime an event. Months later, back in my base camp at the ashram in Pondicherry, a city nearly a thousand miles away, I had an active imagination calling on the great mango tree as scene; the old yogi came for me (in my imagination, remember), took me on my initiation journey, tortured me, tested, me, frightened me out of my wits, etc. and then gave me his blessings.
The next day I found Amba Shankar and told him -- careful to explain this was in my room in Pondicherry and an imaginative journey -- what had happened.
Amba was delighted and was in great excitement. " I knew the old yogi would come for you! That is why I made you spend all day under the great mango tree. I knew he would come for you!"
"Amba", I relied, "All this happened in my room in imagination right here in Pondicherry."
"No matter, he came for you and gave you your enlightenment."
"Amba! You don't understand, this was yesterday right here in Pondicherry!" I replied.
“No matter, the old yogi came for you just as I had intended!"
It was at that moment that I understood, for the first time in depth, that India functions on a "reality" quite different from our own. It is absolutely essential to know this of India and its teachings if one is to understand their reality and "real" statements. The inner reality is rich, instructive and absolutely essential for the health of an individual. But it is chaos when it comes to the practical world of business and outer reality.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 4:44 PM
As modern people we have come to believe that we can have it all. In the closing decades of the 20th century men and women in the West struggled to balance careers, maintain intimate relationships, raise children, keep up with dramatic social and technological change, and still find time for leisure, personal growth, and spiritual development.
In our rush to accomplish all of this, time has become the enemy. Harried by “deadlines,” rushing from appointment to appointment, we struggle to defy limits with an intensity that has become “twenty-four/seven.” The term “quality time” was coined in the 1990s to justify what was actually less time with our children. The popular expression “your biological clock is ticking” is another indicator of our struggle to have it all and beat back the inherent limits of time.
A society’s relationship to time is an interesting and telling barometer of its happiness. There is a timeless quality to heavenly experiences. For example, when you fall in love it feels like clock time has stopped or is suspended. People report a dramatic alteration of their sense of time when they are in a life threatening situation and their ties to this world are tenuous. In many traditional societies time seems to move much more slowly, ebbing and flowing with the seasons and the rest of nature.
Why is time such a problem for us? The popular myth— driven by advertising and the media, that we really can have everything we desire without limits or tradeoffs or loss—is a lie. The truth is that you cannot have it all — at least not literally. For every path taken there is another path forgone. Every thing you choose precludes some thing not chosen. It is instructive to consider the root meaning of the word decision. Just as an incision is a cutting in, as when a surgeon operates on you, a decision is a cutting out. Life is filled with decisions, and every selection results in potentials not realized, experiences deferred or cut out.
You can try to get around this basic reality by cramming in more quantity of experiences, but not without impacting the quality of your life and turning time into your enemy. Kids don’t want quality time, they want to be with us, play with us, learn at our sides—they want quantity time, as much as we can give them. But, of course, that requires modifications to adult schedules and priorities. It forces us to admit that important aspects of our lives must be sacrificed in parenthood. This is a bitter pill to swallow if we are in denial of the fact that we cannot have everything. Into each and every existence a great deal of unlived life must fall.
An extension of our problems with time is the pattern of trying to keep all our options open for as long as possible. This attitude creates all kinds of neurotic suffering. Many individuals come to the consulting room with this kind of dilemma: the man who says, “I do really love her, we’re very compatible, but I just can’t commit. What if there is someone else out there who is even better?”
Or the new mother who says, “I want to be home with my new baby, but the demands of my career won’t let up. I’m being torn apart!”
Or the aging baby boomer who complains, “I feel depressed most of the time. I’m sick of the rat race, but I can’t afford to leave it. I want my freedom, but nothing seems to really satisfy me for long.”
A deferred life is tragic, filled with lots of possibilities none of which are fully realized. Dating three women rather than committing to one means you don’t have deep intimacy with any of them. Juggling competing demands of children and work often leaves women feeling guilty and exhausted — no matter how many balls they are able to keep in the air at one time.
The former Beatle John Lennon captured the dilemma of deferred life in his lyric, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Keeping your options open is a symptom rather than a solution.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 4:38 PM
"The decisive question for man is: Is he related to someething infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinte can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance." -- C.G. Jung
Posted by ruhljohnson at 4:32 PM
In Jungian psychology the anima (Latin for breath or soul) is the feminine side of a man's unconscious psyche, while the animus is a name for the masculine ideals contained within every woman.
Sigmund Freud recognized the fact that the analytical situation (in-depth therapy) contained a lot of projections springing from family patterns, from the transference of father and mother, brother and sister images, creating dark and unrealistic erotic attractions filled with infantile demands and prejudices. These projections also constellate parallel inner images in one's marriage or life partner -- of which we are not aware, and almost immediately the interwoven problems thus become manifest.
The act of making projections conscious is first of all a question of moral capacity, for the worst obstacle in the way of human relationship is the power complex, the wish to conquer or possess the other person. It is said that love and hate are opposites, but actually love and power are opposite in relationships. Love is identity with the other, while power is the desire to control our partner to meet our own needs. A friendship can only develop when the demands coming from the ego have been sacrificed to a certain degree on both sides. Ego wishes always contain a secret power drive.
Even wanting to help a patient is illegitimate for an analyst and contains power: "Too much helping is an encroachment upon the will of others. Your attitude ought to be that of one who offers an opportunity that can be taken or rejected. Otherwise you are most likely to get into trouble. It is so, because man is not fundamentally good, almost half of him is a devil," notes Jung.
A relationship needs love as well as understanding. The blind dynamism of love must be mastered and corrected by the psychological understanding of one’s own soul and the capacity to differentiate human beings. Only then can a real relationship take place.
As Marie-Louise von Franz has written, the four stages of the development of the feminine element in man has four aspects: a man’s anima can be Eve, i.e. biological attraction, the level of "participation mystique.” The second stage can be personified as Helen, who belongs to the romantic love phase and constellates the problems of projections. The third stage is represented by Mary, who symbolizes spiritual love, as for instance between St. Francis and St. Clara or between Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Finally there is a fourth stage: Sophia. The image of Sophia symbolizes a subtle return to the lower sphere, for from the point of view of wisdom, the less sometimes means more.
Jung writes that the anima represents a desire or a system of expectations which men project on women, in other words, a system of erotic relationship. But if his (outer) expectations, like normal sensuality, financial speculations, power drive, etc., interfere - then everything is lost. To make one’s anima (the inner feminine ideal in every man) conscious means to love one’s partner for herself and for the sake of love.
Again, from von Franz: The development of the animus in a woman is also reflected in four stages, determined by four types of inner masculinity: the animus pictured as "physical force," as a man of action (for instance James Bond), as "word," and finally as "meaning," i.e. the wise old man. A peaceful relationship with the other gender can only be attained if all those four aspects have been made conscious in the inner world of woman. The positive differentiated animus means introspection and truth, but truth for its own sake, without any interference coming from sensuality or lust for power. Only if love prevails, love for its own sake, can a woman fully integrate her animus. Then her animus will become a bridge leading to an awareness of the higher Self.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 4:14 PM
The word symbol means to strike together, like the musical instrument in an orchestra in which two pieces of brass are clashed together to create a composite sound. A symbol brings back together that which has been separated or torn asunder.
Civilization, our own especially, is masterful at differentiation, clarity, division, abstraction, and taking things apart to analyze them. This faculty of differentiation makes our civilization possible. In our vocabulary, this word means one thing, and that word means another. Differentiation is one of the divine aspects of the human mind. But if one stops there, one has only half of the human experience. To find the other half is a deep secret of human life.
Our culture has a deep heritage of symbolic life, but something has gone wrong with our connection to many of the most powerful symbols in Western experience. They no longer nourish us, as they should, as they once did, as we require. Many hours could be spent exploring why our inherited symbol systems no longer work as they once did, but suffice it to say that they have lost their power for many of us. When something is literalized or sentimentalized, then it loses its' power.
We have such a high standard of living, yet we are poverty stricken with respect to symbolic life, leading to neurosis, anxiety, loneliness, restlessness. To talk about symbolic life is to address the post-modern dilemma.
When something is missing in one's diet, then symptoms appear. A symptom is a poor grade symbol. I became Dr. Jung's devotee when I read and understood his idea that all neurosis is an effort to cure what is wrong in us, but it is applied at the wrong level. So the cure for a neurosis is to find out what the symptom is saying and then get that on a more intelligent level.
Symbol is the art of putting back together, that which has been torn apart. If you can learn to use symbolic life intelligently, it will provide the solution for neurosis, anxiety and loneliness. It does this by turning life's apparent contradiction and collision into paradox.
In the consulting room, so often my aim is to turn neurotic collisions into paradoxical symbols. This is to discover a means by which life comes back together again.
Holiness relates to wholeness, to live the god-given whole that you are. We spend so much time civilizing our children so they will be polite, kind, courteous, and fair. This is un-wholemaking, but it is the stuff of civilization. As a result we all have a vast unlived life. The first major task in the second half of life is to search out one's unlived life. There is a terrible heresy in our culture that consists of denying the dark things, to pretend that they are not there. This makes unlived life in huge quantities. The unlived things are murderous; they prevent peace. Unlived life in one is deprived of consciousness, air, and light, and so it goes rancid. I shudder at that word rancid, yet everyone has such symptom-making unlived life in them. These things are dangerous. If you overdo one of a pair of opposites, the other one goes rancid and you are in trouble.
It is terrifying to make a list of unlived life. If you are an introvert, you are not an extravert. If you are married then you are not a bachelor. If you are man, then you are not a woman, and some of the feminine experience is closed to you. Beethoven was once asked how he composed music, and he replied, "I unchoose notes and what remains is the composition." What are the unchosen notes in your life, the remainder making up the composition of your particular life? These need to be coped with in some fashion.
If you can find the collision of two things that are at war within you, then you can begin to get them on a better level. Think in terms of symbol. For example, suppose you fall in love with your neighbor's wife or husband. Without understanding symbolic life, it would appear that the opposing forces are very troublesome indeed. Is one to act out every time one is hit by cupid's arrow? Or is one to deny this God-given Eros, just say no, and end up resenting your partner, getting depressed, or going around angry.
If you have integrity enough -- that word integrity is quite wonderful and means untouched, unbroken -- you can devise something to encompass these two opposing forces in you. You don't have to tear the neighborhood up, and you don't need to be neurotic. How could you reconcile these opposing forces in a symbolic way?
This topic is explored at length in our book, Living Your Unlived Life.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 3:08 PM
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Many years ago while living in India I was confronted by an old yogi who said: “You will incarnate in every possible life form before you are finished.” This seemed to imply that I would be a rich man, a poor man, a saint, a sinner. There would be incarnations to teach me everything that is humanly possible. This was followed by a long pause as he waited for the enormity of that statement to sink into my brain. Then, he pointed at me and said, “You are in all of your incarnations simultaneously.” Again, there was a pause. Next, he said, “That which is in all of its incarnations simultaneously is God.” After a pregnant pause he looked me directly in the eye and delivered a line that sent me reeling: “And that is you!” Then he walked off. I have never been the same since.
The idea of reincarnation is a fanciful way of addressing unlived life. If we take it literally, it seems to suggest that we are reborn through time as different people, or even animals. This is the ego’s attachment to an identity. Literalism is always a form of idolatry, and the idol is usually our own ego. The ego can’t imagine its transformation and so literalizes it. A living mystery is concretized into a concept, a belief rather than a lived experience.
Understood psychologically, reincarnation refers to the redemption of our unlived life, the necessity of addressing all our potentials before we can realize God (unity). There are thousands of potentialities within, all of which are calling simultaneously to be expressed and experienced. This is the meaning of reincarnation for a modern person. All of our potentials want to be incarnated, to be lived out before our journey back to wholeness is complete. All of them are vying for attention simultaneously. Reincarnation is not for another time, another place, another existence – it is now. Understood at the proper level, we are in all our incarnations simultaneously. We embody divine consciousness.
Yet this realization of paradise is nearly always perceived by the ego to be a complete disaster. The ways of attempting to wriggle out of a potential enlightenment are legion. The mystical world is just too inconceivable for most people. But if you know what you are doing – it is sublime.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 8:53 AM
Spiritual advisors, from both East and West, often advise us to let go of our egos.
I am always amused when an American or European informs me that he or she is on the spiritual path and working on getting rid of his or her ego; the intention is noble but the practical results are often laughable if not miserable. Westerners trying to be rid of the ego generally end up with an inflation in the guise of spirit. They go around thinking that they are more than they really are, which is a far cry from enlightenment. Modern people are generally too far gone, too individuated, to return to simple pre-egoic consciousness – a quality that I love so much among India’s rural villagers.
As our standard of living gets better and we have more leisure, the tension of the opposites produced by egoic consciousness only increases. When life is hard, necessity settles so many things. This is perhaps why most people can’t stand too much freedom – it isn’t very popular and may be heard as downright un-American, but the more freedom, the more anxiety that arises due to the ego-based level of awareness.
We live in an ego-driven culture. One must work very hard, until exhaustion, just to get ego awareness working well in contemporary life. It takes the whole educational system and all of our socialization processes to promote this consciousness, and our entire society is highly invested in this struggle. However, in the process of becoming differentiated adults, we inevitably become split. We all have both a lived and an unlived life. Most psychotherapies are designed to patch up wounded people and then throw them back into the battle of oppositions. They guide people in how to become better adapted socially: more adept at making money, more highly disciplined, more dutiful, more economically productive. Even when such therapy is successful and gets an individual back out into the rat race again, you can watch them wither over time under the weight of it all.
Our post-modern problem is ego consciousness. But what is one to do with this on a day-to-day, practical level?
If you try to think about a unitive vision beyond duality, beyond the oppositions and apparent contradictions that are tearing you apart, you have already fractured it into the human dimension. Our language and our very thought forms are dualistic. So how do we get outside the limitations of ordinary thought? An intellectual understanding that we are God and all is one does not equate to an enlightened life. Krishnamurti once told me that the chief obstacle to heaven is one’s ideas about heaven, and I believe this to be true.
To at least get started on the path to greater awareness, instead of approaching life as a series of contradictions that must be fought, you can fatefully embrace “what is” -- that is, what happens in daily life. This implies taking the ego and investing it somewhere. If your power and freedom are invested fatefully, this will save you from the constant anxiety of a split world.
So simple, but not easily accomplished.
As Buddhism teaches so eloquently, anything you do to escape the fundamental duality of ego consciousness just kicks more energy into it. Your only choice is to stop. That unsplit, unifying place is found at the fulcrum. This is the holy place, the whole place. The demand for human consciousness to have the “right” thing at the exclusion of something else just sets the wheel in motion again.
It might appear that the best solution is to do nothing, but that is not exactly right. There is a kind of consciousness that assists slowing down. If you can honestly assess what is true in your life, looking at it with objectivity and intelligence, this is getting closer.
Practically speaking, if we would spend as much time being alert and aware as we do worrying, we would be out of any mess fairly soon. When you stop fighting your situation, you just have the situation but no longer the struggle to cope with. Generally one can endure that. This is to cease wounding yourself on the jailhouse bars of reality.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 8:47 AM