Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Healing the World by Slowing Down

We are all preoccupied with saving the world these days. Thank goodness. But few public service announcements or volunteer campaigns explore the Jungian take that true transformations in our use of resources, animals, landscape and atmosphere cannot hope to occur without improved engagement with the inner world as well. The explorations of our own shadows and our own creative energy cannot be neglected if we hope for sustained global change. As Gandhi famously said, "be the change you wish to see in the world."

In his 2008 book, The World Behind the World: Living at the Ends of Time, mythologist Michael Meade introduces his perspective on the course towards healing the world through his collection of ancient stories and his mythical way of writing. (I explore similar themes in my own work and here, in an old blog post on "Saving the World"). Commenting on our attempts to save the world, Meade wrote:
As the threats to existence become more evident and more threatening many people feel driven by the urgency to interrupt the reckless course of events. Others begin to feel hopeless by forces so much greater than the frail and frequently misguided presence of humankind. Yet, the elders of older cultures often suggested slowing down to allow the inner companion and Old Man in the soul to catch up. (p. 13)
Jung (1970) commented similarly, although more cerebrally, in regards to our current state of affairs.
The more civilized, the more unconscious and complicated a man is, the less he is able to follow his instincts. His complicated living conditions and the influence of his environment are so strong that they drown the quiet voice of nature. Opinions, beliefs, theories, and collective tendencies appear in its stead and back up all the aberrations of the conscious mind. Deliberate attention should then be given to the unconscious so that the compensation can set to work. (p. 160)
Between the two of them, a suggestion that the speed and "civilized" way of most of our lives are, in fact, the keys to our undoing. Perhaps we have no hope of reversing the path of destruction in global violence, climate change, or even the health of family systems, if we do not first slow down and engage with the realm of the symbolic and the unconscious. As we work to make our external lives more peaceful and less wasteful, we must also go deeper into our own beings to reengage with the non-conscious, non-ego-centered mind.

In the physical realm, our collective continuous movement adds to enormous amounts of waste and destruction. Each bottle of water, disposable latte cup, and car trip is lamentable from an environmental perspective, but if we all moved less in general, traveled less, stayed put more often, we would all be exponentially better off. If we slowed down we would lower our carbon footprint, lesson the number of take-out containers we consume, require fewer pieces of new clothing and accessories, drink our coffee to stay instead of to go. Certainly, if we slowed-down, we would also fight less, have fewer stress related illnesses, and learn to appreciate the world more. Which would, in turn, decrease waste and suffering...

But the benefits are not just visible externally. In the non-literal realm, slowing down, as Meade suggests, also allows us to come into contact with the symbolic. In our hyper-logical, scientifically oriented world, the Self is ignored, the unconscious disrespected, the symbolic mocked or trivialized, the non-human disregarded. The 24-hour analysis of events, the overwhelm of information, the constant stimulation, keeps the conscious ego in full engagement with the conscious world, but . . . there is a much larger world that is then neglected. Of the eleven dimensions of our world, our conscious mind can only interact with four. Our psyche plays in all eleven, however, and without frequent opportunities to engage on those levels, our psyches become woefully unbalanced. Through sleep and quiet, through respect for the unconscious realm and the symbolic and non-quantitative aspects of existence, healing occurs. Through relationships that do not have a market value, and creative play which cannot be logically defended, psyche can begin to find balance and... the world's path toward health may begin to happen organically.

We need to begin by placing deliberate attention on reconnecting to the unconscious, as Jung wrote decades ago. Respect for the dream world, appreciation for the "non-logical" traditions of other peoples and the non-rational truths of intuition, will all go a long way to begin the path toward global healing. We cannot hope to save the world if we remain fixed in a world-view that respects only consciousness and the linear, logical view of life. We must, as Meade suggests, go inside and stop looking exclusively outside ourselves for answers. We must align with the Old Man of wisdom who can only be found my slowing down and becoming quiet in ourselves. We must attend to our individual and social neurosis before we spin-out further in trying to fix them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Anima Projection and the Guru's Neurotic Wife

I did not expect another post on Tolstoy so soon, but I've just returned from seeing the movie The Last Station, the semi-biographical biopic about his life, and I cannot help but write. I love Tolstoy's work, it has influenced my own life and the lives of some of the world's greats -- Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, to name a couple -- but I wonder if what the film depicted is, in fact, true. And what if it is? What would that mean? The following is not a commentary on Tolstoy so much a the phenomenon of marriage and relationship that the film expressed. I do not know about the history of his life nor marriage, and cannot suggest that what I recently saw was accurate in its portrayal.

There is a certain dynamic that develops between certain pairs of men and women in relationship. She "is needy and desperate", he "cold and distant." The farther away he gets, the more desperate she becomes; the more desperate she becomes, the farther away he gets. The cycle is horrible, the pain intolerable, the confusion and tension almost literally palpable.

The Last Station depicts a scenario in which Tolstoy has created a colony, and a nation, of admirers. They revere him, trust him, love him, and he them. But his wife feels abandoned. She feels unloved, disrespected, tossed aside. She mocks his work on love and generosity because she does not feel he expresses those virtues towards her. And she goes crazy. She is mocked for being crazy, further excluded from his life by those who edge closer and closer to him as his disciples. But if he who loves everyone cannot love his wife, does he truly love?

A couple of years ago I read a passage from Jung, a vignette, of which this film reminds me strongly. In his essay entitled "The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious" (par. 306-309), Jung wrote:
The construction of a collectively suitable persona means a formidable concession to the external world, a genuine self-sacrifice which drives the ego straight into identification with the persona, so that people really do exist who believe they are what they pretend to be. . . . When we examine such cases critically, we find that the excellence of the mask is compensated by the "private life" going on behind it. . . . I once made the acquaintance of a very venerable personage -- in fact, one might easily call him a saint. I stalked round him for three whole days, but never a mortal failing did I find in him. My feeling of inferiority grew ominous, and I was beginning to think seriously of how I might better myself. Then, on the fourth day, his wife came to consult me . . . Well, nothing of the sort has ever happened to me since. . . . Any man who becomes one with his persona can cheerfully let all disturbances manifest themselves through his wife without her noticing it, though she pays for her self-sacrifice with a bad neurosis.
I believe that this is some of the most important and revolutionary commentary that Jung ever made. Despite the attacks they have both received to the contrary, both Jung and Freud may have been some of the most adamant feminists in their day. Both men saw that where there was female hysteria, there was also a trail of social and marital unrest. What looks to originate in the wife may, in fact, not be her character at all on display -- but ours, or his.
[The] identifications with a social role are a very fruitful source of neuroses. . . . To the degree that the world invites the identification with the mask, he is delivered over to influences from within. . . . Outwardly an effective and powerful role is played, while inwardly an effeminate weakness develops in face of every influence coming from the unconscious. . . .The persona, the ideal picture of a man as he should be, is inwardly compensated by feminine weakness, and as the individual outwardly plays the strong man, so he becomes inwardly a woman, i.e., the anima, for it is the anima that reacts to the persona. But because the inner world is dark and invisible to the extraverted consciousness, and because a man is all the less capable of conceiving his weaknessses the more he is identified with the persona, the persona's counterpart, the anima, remains in the dark and is at once projected, so that our hero comes under the heel of his wife's slipper. If this results in a considerable increase of her power, she will acquit herself none too well. She becomes inferior, thus providing her husband with the welcome proof that it is not he, the hero, who is inferior in private, but his wife.
Thus it has been with men of lofty ideals and high intelligence throughout history. They are revered, respected, their character cherished. The more society loves them, the more they believe themselves to be the Messiah himself. And the more they identify with their persona of greatness, the more they make those around them perfectly crazy. The narcissistic identification with their own greatness leads them to sabotage not only their own lives, but create ruin amongst those who knew them and loved them. They become captured completely, convinced -- if not for a shadow of guilt within them that they cannot face for fear of seeing their own lack of consciousness -- that they are completely sane while their wives (or children) are ungrateful and unworthy of their time or affection.

But watch what happens when the two are finally broken apart. Who gets sane, and who goes crazy . . . or takes another lover on which to project his unconscious and avoid seeing his true self?

This is not esoteric philosophy. It's a scenario played-out in the streets and in homes daily. As we revere handsome, talented and "feeling" men, their true emotions and ability to connect become disconnected, while they go about thinking that they are the infallible men that everyone believes them to be. The time of reckoning, which always should have come so much sooner, proves in the end how very wrong everyone was. The only spiritual balance one can find on this earth is to have one foot firmly rooted in embodiment and family, if one is also to be high up in the stars of ideals and faith. A chaotic home life should be an indication to everyone that something is wrong. By seeking distance and connection to perfection, the counterparts in one's home must balance one's life by sinking deeper into the depths.

Beware of who you worship. No one is ever a guru of endless compassion if he cannot love the one he's with.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Memoirs of Madness: The Therapist-in-Training Trilogy

There are three memoirs of mental illness that should be included, immediately, in all psychology related training programs. Besides the exploration of one's own psyche in personal therapy -- another must for training practitioners -- the exploration of someone else's psyche through his or her own personal account of illness is an unrivaled opportunity for learning.

Each author in this trilogy of memoirs of madness is extraordinarily intelligent and compelling. Not one can be written off as crazy and ignored. Indeed, the brilliance of these memoirs is that they are utterly identifiable and that through them, crazy becomes identifiable. Each one, in their honesty and humility, mirror ourselves back to ourselves. In their terrible pain, we see glimpses of our own insanity. Through them, we gain appreciation for the thin line between sanity and insanity, and the absurdity of disregarding those who have had the misfortune of falling too far over the other side.

The insights gained into the human experience of mental illness (and the specific experiences of each illness) cannot be taught. The appreciation that will power alone cannot heal an afflicted individual is learned unequivocally. For two of the individuals, it was only through proper medication (after a lot of failed attempts) and highly skilled psychotherapy combined that their lives were saved. That, and a lot of love and support from family, friends, and lovers. For the other author, love and companionship also got him through a lot, but it was only a long endured hospital stay that gave him what he finally needed to survive (in addition, I believe to medication, after very poor psychiatric therapy).

The authors of each memoir are people you want to know, and each book is thoroughly enjoyable (perhaps strangely); they are true page-turners, good Saturday-on-the-couch-with-a-cup-of-tea books.

In addition to a good Saturday excuse to stay in bed, however, this informal trilogy of memoirs should be read by anyone interested in understanding more fully his or her own psyche, and absolutely by anyone working with the psyches of others. In my own training as a counselor, I was assigned only one of these three memoirs. (I regret that not all of them were assigned in the first year.) I read the other two recently (finally) after receiving recommendations from friends. One of these books, in fact, was the key to a friend's discovery of her own illness, the life-saving lynch-pin to help her explain herself to herself.

For your pleasure and edification, read (if you haven't already):

The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks; the inner experience of schizophrenia.
Darkness Visible, by William Styron; the inner experience of major depressive disorder
An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison; the inner experience of manic-depressive disorder (bipolar)


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Between Evolution and God: What was Darwin Missing?

I recently saw the biopic "Creation" about the life of Charles Darwin and left the theater quite contemplative. Darwin lived in a world in which the belief in God was so pervasive that his notion of evolution, a natural process of change that does not require the will of God, was considered hugely heretical. (We'll pretend for the moment that this debate does not still rage in certain parts of America and elsewhere.) It was for this reason, and Darwin's wife's terror that he would burn in Hell for the propagation of his ideas, that Darwin kept his discoveries secret for over two decades.

The battle in his day between God and Science continues today. On the one side, no aspect of reality can be explained without noting the hand of God. On the other side, nothing can be explained without the evidence of research and science. Today, while the debate between evolution and creationism still rages in some classrooms, in less than two hundred years, those considered truly learned are no longer on the side of God. Indeed, having abandoned God so completely, to be educated today is to speak of no force other than that which is defensible by replicable scientific experiments. To do otherwise is as damning of ridicule and banishment as it was to speak against God in Darwin's day.

But Darwin's theory of evolution that has been taken as fact today only tells part of the story. Certainly, the pendulum had to swing far to the other side of God to counteract the pervasiveness of the religious beliefs and teach us more about what is right before our eyes, but there is more to be understood and the pendulum is swinging again in the other direction to find some middle ground. There is something more, right in front of us, that lies between Evolution and God.

Darwin explained the evolution of form. His brilliance showed us, without a doubt, the way in which plants and animals can transform over time to adapt to new environments, new situations, new challenges. But what of the evolution of consciousness? What of the broad question of life and our purpose? Science does not yet fill the void left by the belief in God for why we are alive, nor what life and consciousness are. Not yet.

Between the esoteric ponderings of philosophers, the abstract creations of artists, and the meticulous calculations of string theorists, there are rumblings of what the future holds for the widespread belief in existence. Perhaps, as the debate between evolution and creationism looms large again in our culture, we are to see in the clash of the two an imminent birth of the transcendent third: a theory of existence that blends both and transforms our world view once again.

Dr. Brian Swimme, a professor of cosmology at California Institute of Integral Science and a prime ponderer of such theories of existence, recounted the notions of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) in an interview republished in 2006 by What is Enlightenment? magazine. Swimme discussed this transcendent third, between science and God, through Teilhard's theories.
Teilhard de Chardin in the West and Sri Aurobindo in India really arrived at the same basic vision, which is that the unfolding of the universe is a physical evolution and also a spiritual evolution. . . .On the one hand, you have this awesome tradition about God or Brahmin, and on the other, you have this tradition about evolution—and adherents of each view tend to be very critical of the others. . . . Teilhard attempted to get beyond the fundamental subjective/objective dualism in much of Western thought. He began to really see the universe as a single energy event that was both physical and psychic or even spiritual. I think that's his great contribution: He began to see the universe in an integral way, not as just objective matter but as suffused with psychic or spiritual energy.
. . . The central idea of Teilhard is his law of "complexification-consciousness." He identifies this as the fundamental law of evolution. He sees that the whole process [of evolution] is about complexifying and deepening intelligence or subjectivity. The entire movement of the universe in its complexification is simultaneously a movement further into the depths of consciousness, or interiority. He saw the whole thing as a physical-biological-spiritual process. He was the one who saw it all together. You could summarize his thought simplistically and say that the universe begins with matter, develops into life, develops into thought, develops into God. That's his whole vision, right there. Now clearly, this God that develops—it's not as if God is developed out of matter. God is present from the very beginning, but in an implicit form, and the universe is accomplishing this great work of making divinity explicit.
Evolution in many forms is happening all the time. Indeed, Darwin's new understanding of the evolution of biological form, was a process of the evolution of ideas, of knowledge, of consciousness. The urge towards understanding was so strong within him that even the fear of eternal damnation could not keep him silent. Truth had to be known and understood. What is that force within us? Can we understand it only as biological evolution? What is it that propels us towards truth and greater knowledge? What keeps us moving against all odds for survival? There is something more, something that blends notions of God and science that has yet to be fully understood. Just as Darwin once defended his childrens' right to "trust their own senses" about the truths of the natural world and deny the omnipotence of God, we too will be able to acknowledge questions about the world and consciousness that neither fit into the spiritual framework that denies science, nor in the scientific framework that denies the spiritual. There is something more that lies just below our noses, waiting to be understood. . .

(Geometric image: "String Theory" by Cory Ench, 2006)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

For the Love of Tolstoy

Jungian psychology (or perhaps its representatives) has a little love affair with Russian literature. It was this discovery of mine that further sealed my love affair with Jungian psychology.

I have loved Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot), Nabokov (Lolita), and Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, War and Peace) since I was in my teens. With each book, I appreciated them for their unrivaled ability to captivate my attention with humanness, not with drivel nor earnestness, but poetic arguments for the importance of empathy. In Crime & Punishment, readers are seduced into loving an ax murderer; in Lolita, a child molester; in Anna Karinina, an adulterer. But the brilliance of the authors is that we do not fall for them without remembering, and loving, their victims too. We do not give up the realities of the black in favor of the white, but are moved into a state of gray that is the human condition. Through their books, we can appreciate and better understand the complexity of the human experience of being alive. As Roskolnikov does not forgive himself, we as readers forgive him a little; as Humbert Humbert does not even understand his own crime, we acknowledge his childishness that led him to commit it -- stuck developmentally many decades in the past.

I recently came across some quotes from Tolstoy and was struck once more by his work's relevance for all of us, as well as its relationship to Jung's work.

For instance, the following quote from Tolstoy explains precisely why Jung's autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections is so extremely human and relevant, showing us not his accolades, but his inner life. Tolstoy wrote, "A writer is dear and necessary for us in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul." Of course, this quote might also suggest why The Red Book is so important as it could be argued that no other book better shows the inner workings of a man's soul.

And this quote from Tolstoy reminds me of the incredible importance of Jung's core message (albeit often overlooked in its broader application): "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." In my post on Jung's take on saving the world, I illuminate that indeed, perhaps the central tenant of Jungian psychology is that it is by changing ourselves that we change the world.

And finally, the opening lines of Tolstoy's beautiful book Anna Karenina remind us too why human suffering will always be a tangled web and why so many people visit therapists and psychologists to help them make sense of it. Tolstoy began his book like this: "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."