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.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this post ; )

    It reminds me of many of the things I've read from Jung's writings that have inspired me. One that I loved was on a similar topic, discussing our modern world and the disconnection with nature and the unconscious. I'll paste it in this comment for you to read, no doubt you would have read it before : )


    As scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanised. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional "unconscious identity" with natural phenomena. These have slowly lost their symbolic implications. Thunder is no longer the voice of an angry god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree is the life principle of a man, no snake the embodiment of wisdom, no mountain cave the home of a great demon. No voices now speak to man from stones, plants, and animals, nor does he speak to them believing they can hear. His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied.


    The thing I liked so much about it was (it seemed to me anyway) that it pointed out the importance of a connection with nature. Perhaps that's just because I feel moved by nature myself, but I certainly think its true regardless - a great way to slow down the modern life is to leave the modern life and be immersed in simplicity and nature for a time. I think I've never felt more inner peace than my trips down remote rivers, away from technology and hustle and bustle. It's almost as if, you become part of the other life around you again, instead of isolated. The memories of some of my trips away are so, emotionally satisfying and always leave me with a longing for more.

    So, I think, time away from the idea of modern life, and simple time with nature can also do a lot for inner peace... slowing down.. and possibly healing the world?