My last post was about how resisting growth and change perpetuates disorder and chaos. The result is entropy, the inevitable decline of life and civilization. Here I’d like to explore how conscious individuals can reverse this trend and support forward movement. It can happen if we understand The Law of Change.
5. The Law of Change: Energies in both universes (inner and outer) are constantly circulating. Change toward stasis and polarization increases disorder and chaos. Change toward communication and integration increases movement toward perfection and completion.
Your psyche is a universe of unimaginable potential. Like the outer universe in which moons circle planets, planets circle stars, and stars circulate around each other in galaxies, so the energies of your inner universe interact constantly. Nothing remains fixed. The ongoing cooperation between all Mother Nature’s elements creates changes in your psyche and the world.
You see it in your outer life every day. Neighborhoods decay, houses are torn down. Condominiums, parking lots, and strip malls fill the empty spaces. Nations and governments rise and fall. Toxic leaders are voted out and new ones replace them. All life is in constant flux. It’s a basic law of nature.
You can observe this flow in yourself. Your emotions and moods constantly change. One moment you’re exuding hope and energy, the next you’re sinking under the shame of something somebody said, a painful memory, or bad news. Your opinions and values change depending on your education, health, relationships, and current events. Your family system changes: children are born and grow up, adults fall ill and die, couples marry, new babies are born.
Overall, your ego is aware of only a very small portion of your psyche. Most of your potential sleeps in the darkness Jung called the unconscious. You notice a few changes now and then, ignore others. Approve of some, fight others. Sometimes you fight changes that conflict with your values. Sometimes unfamiliar people and challenging ideas make you uncomfortable. Sometimes you fight change out of habit, or because you fear the unknown.
Psychological change doesn’t end when your ego switches off the light of awareness and sinks into sleep. Your unconscious is a dark and vast ocean beneath your ego awareness. Like the earth’s oceans, its elements move with the winds and tides of change. Since they are nature and therefore not subject to your ego’s will, some elements come unbidden to you in dreams where they appear and disappear at will, morph into expected and sometimes terrifying forms, behave in unpredictable ways, and perform beautiful, shocking and mystifying acts. Like all natural events, some dreams are easily forgotten. Others leave lingering effects. Occasionally an unusually powerful dream influences change in your thoughts and behavior.
Whether or not your ego is aware of this oceanic change, there are forces in your unconscious that resist and fight it. Some are instinctual and archetypal, some are functions of your DNA, and some are aspects of your personality which was shaped by physical trauma and family and social experiences. You can reduce the toxic effects of these forces by noting their consequences. You can accept their presence in you and everyone. You can remove yourself from situations in which they are apt to create problems that are not in anyone’s best interest.
Regardless of where your resistance originates, it takes enormous energy to maintain it. In fact, you can waste so much libido — psychological energy — by fighting change, that you have little left to explore and enjoy your life, your fuller potential, and your loved ones. Your resistance makes your waking life more problematic and your dreams reflect your struggles in terrifying and depressing nightmares. When this happens, you need to get proactive if you want to save your soul. Because it’s telling you it’s time for change.
You can refresh your soul and retrieve libido when you step toward positive change. For example, you might take your dreams seriously enough to study them. You might seek advice from your partner or friends. You might watch a different news channel to see what the opposite political party is saying and seek intersections of agreement. You might see a therapist, body worker, health practitioner, or spiritual guide. None of these things will kill you, and all of them will open your mind to healthy change.
Here are five guidelines for moving forward:
engage in open and honest dialogue with others
listen closely to inner and outer realities you have rejected
challenge habitual responses and consider healthier new options
free your libido to integrate the opposite, yes/no, either/or opinions that have ruled your life into a middle space of dialogue they can share
step toward experiences and values that have the potential to perfect and complete you
Image credits: Google free images: Cornerstoneccs.com, Michael Nichols; The Wheel of Change, Michael Goldsmith, visual, http://www.discoveryinaction.com.du; Change, Managements Models, lucid chart.com.
“The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
Last week I addressed Oneness, an ideal state in which all pairs of opposites are consciously connected and united. Oneness is rare, but worth the effort because it is the path to renewal, peaceful thinking, right action, and the survival of our species.
Like the universe itself, we are in a constant state of flux. Psychologically we are evolving in the direction of greater consciousness. Spiritually we’re evolving toward the highest ideals of every authentic religion: to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This requires awareness — the ability to remember that everyone and everything we meet is our neighbor, and to choose to treat everything with compassion, kindness, forgiveness, honesty, patience, gentleness and self-control.
Most of us aren’t self-aware enough to do this all the time. Despite our best efforts we fall short every day. Yet, there is hope. The disorder can be reversed and we can continue to evolve. But if we refuse to budge from our ego opinions, we will grow more disordered and toxic. We have to surrender before we can evolve. This is the law of entropy.
4.The Law of Entropy: When opposites remain isolated from one another, any disorders within them remain constant or increase.
The law of entropy is a doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration. It says that when disorders in us and around us increase, our ability to act in accordance with our highest values decreases. For example, throughout history and until a few hundred years ago in the U.S., it was common for people to have the power of life and death over their slaves. This not only goes against the values of all authentic religions, it goes against the core values of the Self.
We all contain these core values — like love, freedom, and justice for all — but fearful and ambitious egos prefer to ignore them. When we focus on our outer needs and separate from the Self’s truths, we perpetuate personal and societal entropy.
In the U.S., many justified slavery until the Civil War ended it. Some still do. Some believe men are preordained to go to work and women to stay home. Some, even if they won’t confess it, believe that rich, white, males are entitled to be bosses and leaders.
Today, our limitless avarice for more power, material objects, status and prestige; our hatred of ourselves and each other; our mindless destruction of the earth’s creatures and resources, are modeled for us daily via television, cell phones, and the internet. Disordered ways of thinking are gaining momentum because we are seeing more of them while being separated from our spiritual cores.
While it seems that people are no longer isolated from one another because of these technological advances, the truth is that technology is neither good nor evil. We are the problem. if we refuse to see the truth about ourselves, help our neighbors, or curtail our daily diet of disordered images and ego-driven role models, our children will learn our disorderedness and civilization will decline and die. It’s inevitable.
“When I began studying the notion of entropy it became clear to me that thermodynamic entropy was merely one instance of a concept with much broader applications … I became convinced that entropy applied to social phenomena as well.” Sociologist Kenneth Bailey
How can we reverse the decline? In graduate school I wrote a term paper on a book called Social Learning Theory (1977), by psychologist Albert Bandura. He formulated his ground-breaking theories in part by putting children in a room containing a variety of toys and watching them play through a hidden mirror. Here’s a summary as best I can remember. (This was 40 years ago!)
The first group of children saw an adult playing with a Bobo doll — one of those large blown-up plastic clowns that’s weighted in the bottom so that it won’t tip over. The adult had a grand time striking it. After telling the children to play with the toys, the adult left the room. Then another group of children entered the room. The adult told them to play with the toys, then left.
Many of the children in the first group immediately went for the Bobo doll and began aggressively punching and kicking it. Most children in the second group dispersed and played with different toys. A few playfully pushed the Bobo doll around.
Bandura formed three main principles of social learning from his research:
You can learn through observation.
Learning a new way of thinking and behaving through observing it will not necessarily change your behavior.
You are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if it results in outcomes you value. You can attain your highest level of observational learning by organizing and rehearsing the modeled behavior symbolically and then enacting it overtly.
“The … ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.” Steven Pinker
Our bodies will decay and die because our genes are subject to the law of entropy. But in every death there is new beginning and unlimited opportunity to better ourselves. We can surrender our ego’s ignoble ambitions. We can evolve while we are still alive and be so renewed that we can “carve out refuges of beneficial order,” and observe our physical bodies die with joy and meaning.
We can aspire to attain our god-like potential through rituals and practices that mature us.We can transform our lead into gold, our suffering into excellence. We can model our growth to our children and neighbors. The more we try, the better our chance of reversing the death of civilization. And even if our current conceptions of civilization die, those who are left can do the work and model their integrity and boldness.
Whatever we choose, our children will learn from us.
Image credits: Amazon.com book cover; Google images, unknown.
Last time I began a new series about the sacred laws of the psyche. Understanding them can help us think psychologically and live spiritually: the only lasting way to heal ourselves and the world.
Psyche, sometimes translated as soul, refers to your mind, your psychological self with all its capacities and potentials. Psychoid was Jung’s term for the mystery of the One Mind beyond ordinary consciousness that is the source and subject of every religion. Wholeness is the ability to connect with both realities. To attain this enlightened state we have to venture beyond our normal-one-sided thinking to a broader perspective that uses both the logical/literal and the imaginative/creative qualities of our minds.
But this is not the only pair of opposites you and I need to integrate into our thinking and living. In fact, separation and divisiveness in every realm of human behavior is the dysfunctional norm in today’s world. Nobody thinks this is a healthy situation. To find a solution, we first need to understand a second sacred law.
2. The Law of Opposites: For everything we know about ourselves (beliefs, values, attitudes, emotions), there is a corresponding unconscious opposite.
Carl Jung wrote:
There is no consciousness without discrimination of opposites. [“Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 178.]
In our psychological immaturity we think we know everything about ourselves. We don’t. No one does. Your unconscious self is a mystery as vast as the unknown universe stretching beyond our world to infinity.
When you were a child, your parents taught you to see things dualistically, in terms of either-or, good-bad. They did this to socialize you into the norms of acceptable behavior and keep you safe. Every time you exhibited qualities or traits they considered inappropriate, they guided you into ones they believed were more desirable.
Perhaps you thought you should drop an activity you loved, something fun, like art, boxing, or dancing, to learn a skill or pursue an occupation your family admired. But leaving it behind didn’t make your passion go away. Every potential you’ve disowned still lives in your unconscious. If you repressed an especially important feature of your unique personality, you will never be happy until you free it from its prison. As long as it’s locked in the unconscious, your shadow will gain power until it creates so much tension and unhappiness that it bursts out and creates havoc in your life.
Carl Jung said:
The repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible. The conscious mind is on top, the shadow underneath, and just as high always longs for low and hot for cold, so all consciousness, perhaps without being aware of it, seeks its unconscious opposite, lacking which it is doomed to stagnation, congestion, and ossification. Life is born only of the spark of opposites. [“The Problem of the Attitude-Type,” CW 7, par. 78.]
In lecture 10 of the Opposites Seminar in 1925, Jung said:
The opposition is a necessary condition of libido ﬂow, and so you may say that by virtue of that fact one is committed to a dualistic conception of the world; but you can also say that the “ﬂow”—that is, the energy—is one.
But when we become aware of the opposites we are driven to seek the way that will resolve them for us, for we cannot live in a world that is and is not, we must go forward to a creation that enables us to attain a third point superior to the pairs of opposites.
Finding a third way to oneness can solve the conflicts between opposites that torment you. But this does not mean you will live happily ever after. As Jung said:
The united personality will never quite lose the painful sense of innate discord. Complete redemption from the sufferings of this world is and must remain an illusion. Christ’s earthly life likewise ended, not in complacent bliss, but on the cross. [“The Psychology of the Transference,” CW 16, par. 400.]
Tough as it may be to live without our illusions, it’s better than being “doomed to stagnation, congestion, and ossification. Life is born only of the spark of opposites.”
What passions have you left behind? What pairs of opposites have created conflict in your psyche? Have you found solutions?
A few years back I wrote a post about eight sacred laws of the psyche and how our lack of understanding of them is responsible for the mess our world is in today. In this post and a few to follow, I’d like to explore these laws more deeply in the hope of raising awareness about the interconnectedness of all things in One Mind and One God. The ability to think psychologically and live spiritually is a skill we desperately need to learn if we hope to heal ourselves and the world.
The inner universe of the mind is, like the physical universe, a living organism that functions according to natural laws. Deciphering them has been the work of holy fools, for who can presume to understand the sacred inner workings of creation? Yet everyone from scientists to artists to gurus tries to understand these autonomous patterns of energy (archetypes) in our minds (the psyche) and in the mystery of the One Mind beyond ordinary consciousness (the psychoid) because we feel their profound influence.
The two hemispheres of your brain know two languages: logic and imagination. They interact every moment of every day to help you understand and respond to all you see and experience. Separately, each language has limits, together, they aid your journey to intelligence, wisdom, competence, centeredness, and consciousness. Wise people from every age have deliberately used both to make inroads into the mysteries of life. Albert Einstein was one such person. He said,
“Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell were others. Jung explored his inner life and that of his clients with the help of archetypal myths and symbols from various wisdom traditions. Campbell developed some of Jung’s themes in his own extensive research. Together, their imaginative work has shed much-needed light into the darkness of the psychoid.
Following are some natural laws they midwifed into collective consciousness. As your logical mind attempts to make sense of the words, allow your imaginative mind to wander freely. Play with these ideas instead of automatically rejecting them.
1. The Law of Correspondence: The outer universe is a reflection of the inner universe.
This intuition gave rise to the ancient adages, “As above, so below,” and “As without, so within.” Humanity has expressed this relationship in symbol systems like mythology, religion, tarot, alchemy, astrology, magic, literature, and film. Imaginative languages like this have always awakened minds that are trapped in prisons of dry reason, tight logic, and literal belief.
This law means that if we believe in a spiritual reality “up there” or “out there,” it’s because our minds are furnished with an archetype Jung called the Self — our religious function. As long as we don’t understand that this is a very real force in us — an inner instinctual need for love, compassion, creativity and connectedness we share with every human being — we automatically (unconsciously) project it onto outer deities whom we then worship to earn favor and protection. We think our belief will “save” us. We don’t realize we have used our imaginations to create ideas about our gods that have been prompted by the inner archetype. We think some higher, more powerful reality apart from us made us and rules us. We think our very lives depend on propitiating it with literal belief.
We’re right in a way, but not in the way we think. The reality is not an inflated, grandiose, anthropomorphic image of the human ego in the sky. It is an unimaginably vast and diverse field of love and connectedness in which our puny, minimally conscious ego is immersed but to which it is not consciously connected. A universe that is both outside and within us. A universe that contains inner forces (archetypes) that influence and shape us just as the outer forces of gravity, magnetic fields, weather, our environments, our families, and our religions shape us from the outside.
Fortunately, your ego can develop a broader consciousness capable of seeing this reality. For this to occur you need to make room in your mind for new ideas about what is sacred. In the early stages of your psyche’s remodeling project you may suffer crippling doubt, dread, and loss of faith. It’s only a phase. Let it happen.
Because if you persist, you will discover that the only thing you lost faith in was the incomplete and inadequate idea you learned from your religion about a vast and mysterious field of reality. What you thought was the truth about God was a tiny piece of a giant puzzle at the core of everything that is.
Lifting your gaze to the bigger picture will take you to the state of peace, trust, wonder, and love sought by every individual and religion. You can’t get there without using your imagination.
“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry, an umbilical spot of grace where we were each touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologists call it the Soul, Jung calls it The Seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it the Atman, Buddhists call it the Dharma, Rilke called it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qualb, and Jesus calls it The center of Our Love.
To know this spot of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it. This is a hard lifelong task, for the nature of becoming is a constant filming over of where we begin while the nature of being is a constant erosion of what is not essential. We each live in the midst of this ongoing tension, growing tarnished or covered over only to be worn back to that incorruptible spot of grace at our core.” Mark Nepo
Mark Nepo rightly notes that we each live in the midst of an ongoing tension. Part of it is caused by the natural stressors of living in a fast-paced, instant-gratification world, and part is our natural inner compulsion to grow and better ourselves. The reality is, we can’t grow without conflict or suffering. The different energies of the north and south poles need to interact to create our earth’s magnetic field. You have to contend with the different specialties of your brain’s two hemispheres as well as the realities of your inner and outer lives to resolve everyday problems.
Tension motivates change. If we can tolerate the tension of our conflicts long enough without acting rashly, our unconscious can find solutions that will further our growth. But if we ignore our tension too long without addressing it, it can create burnout and physical symptoms.
How do we address our tension? How do we find that magical, unencumbered spot of grace that issues peace? Whether we’re aware of it or not, this is a central question around which our lives revolve, but many of us are so distracted by our outer lives that we don’t stop long enough to hear the question, let alone try to answer it. To further complicate things, the answers vary from culture to culture and individual to individual. But four principles remain constant.
1. Create some personal alone time to find your center. This involves more than saying an occasional affirmation or prayer, listening to a weekly sermon, or hearing a few motivational speeches. You’ll need to be willing to delay some pursuits which your ego finds instantly gratifying in favor of ones that will bring future rewards which may be a long time coming.
2. Try different practices until you find what brings you to a place of love, joy, and peace. Pay close attention to your inner life, not only while you’re practicing, but throughout the rest of the day and coming weeks. Notice how your practice affects your emotions, moods, self-esteem, and relationships. Commit to the one or ones that make you come alive and bring you close to Spirit. Here are some I’ve tried: writing, poetry, meditation, prayer, dreamwork, yoga, playing and listening to music, being with animals and nature, hiking, and reading. Of these, writing, dreamwork, and meditation have been the most helpful and enduring.
3. Persevere. Some practices take a longer trial period than others before you get into the groove and begin to notice beneficial effects that motivate you to continue. For example, I’ve always loved to write — letters, poetry, diaries, journals, stories, plays, etc. — but when I began to write my dissertation at the age of 39, it was far more difficult than fun. Since it was my dissertation, I forced myself to persevere. Because I had a part-time job and two children, I wrote for a few hours every night after they went to bed. Of course, this meant I had to let other responsibilities slide and my husband had to help more with the kids and household duties. At first, these changes were hard for all of us. But day by day my resistance lowered, my writing brought more pleasure, and my family grew accustomed to our new routines. By the time I finished several months later, I realized that this had been the happiest time of my adult life! Hard as it was, the moment I sat down at my typewriter, time disappeared and all my concerns dissolved until I got up again. It was pure magic.
4. Practice regularly. Daily is ideal. Set aside a time when you can be alone and concentrate for at least 20 or 30 minutes. But there’s no need to beat yourself up if you miss a few of these appointments with your soul. For example, when I first committed myself to dreamwork, I recorded and worked on dreams most mornings and totaled over 300 every year. Last weekend I finished summarizing my dreams from 2019 and my total was 119. Weeks passed when I didn’t remember and record a dream. But I’ve done this for so long that I know when I need to get serious about it again. And when I do, it always brings me back to peace and love.
What practices make your true Self come alive? If you haven’t found your center yet, may 2020 be your year of returning to that umbilical spot of grace where you were touched by God.
Image credits: Serpentine Fire, Google Free Images, unknown. Heart Mandala, Google Free Images, Daniel B. Holeman.
In an early post from 2011 titled Qaddafi Vs. Kali: Who Will Win?, I wrote that the film Avatar highlights the differences between the heroic and immature ego. Avatar’s hero, Corporal Jake Sully, succeeds because of his bravery, receptivity to Princess Neytiri and her culture, and willingness to heed his wise and truth-pursuing mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine. His adversary, the obsessive and soulless Colonel Miles Quaritch (there’s an interesting similarity between his name and Colonel Muammar Qaddafi don’t you think?), fails because of his resistance to the Na’vi and their spiritual leader, Queen Mo’as, and his determination to destroy whatever threatens his power.
Some of you might not remember Muammar Qaddafi, so here are a few excepts from Wikipedia. Qaddafi
“…was a Libyan revolutionary, politician and political theorist.
“Amid the 2011 Arab Spring, protests against widespread corruption and unemployment broke out in eastern Libya. The situation descended into civil war, in which Nato intervened militarily on the side of the anti-Gaddafist National Transitional Council (NTC). The government was overthrown, and Gaddafi retreated to Sirte, only to be captured and killed by by NTC militants.
“A highly divisive figure, Gaddafi dominated Libya’s politics for four decades and was the subject of a pervasive cult of personality….he was posthumously accused of sexual abuse. He was condemned by many as a dictator whose authoritarian administration violated human rights and financed global terrorism.”
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of cult of personality:
“A cult of personality, or cult of the leader, arises when a country’s regime – or, more rarely, an individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organised demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by the state or the party in one-party states and dominant-party states. It is often seen in totalitarian or authoritarian countries.”
Is this what we’re seeing in the U.S. today? If so, why? Here’s a psychological explanation. Quaritch and Qaddafi exemplify the Old King/Warrior ego. It attains power and success with two primary strategies: first, by believing it is the supreme authority of the psyche and the center of the world around us; and second, by rejecting otherness, which in Jungian psychology is associated with the feminine unconscious. As long as we function in this mode, sharing our power and trusting the wisdom of forces we consider inferior is unthinkable.
The old ego’s belief in its superiority created, and still supports, patriarchal cultures with their hierarchies of authority. In extreme cases, hierarchies can create a cult of personality surrounding an inflated ego which fought its way to the top believing its powerful position would immunize it from the suffering and failures of those below. To someone like this, losing to the corporals of the world feels like a mortal, humiliating blow administered by a cruel enemy. Likewise, for many people, including the Biblical Job and Jung, an experience of God — the ultimate Other — as a force with far more power than our puny ego, is, in Jung’s words, an “unvarnished spectacle of divine savagery and ruthlessness” that produces shattering emotion.
In my original post about Qaddaffi, published when he was still alive, I imagined he might be feeling some uncomfortable emotions as he faced growing rebellion in Libya. Perhaps in the secret places of his soul he even questioned his God. After all, if he who did everything right to gain such a wondrous position of power could be threatened by the loss of control of his country, what had his life been all about? This is how every ego feels when confronted with the power of repressed otherness. Losing control feels like a violation. Like utter unfairness. Like death, the ultimate feminine mystery.
In Hinduism this mystery is symbolized by an aspect of the Great Mother known as Kali, the Mistress of the Dead who reminds us that when new healing is required, the old ways must change or die. Her natural cycles of birth/death/rebirth terrify the Old King/Warrior/Ego who wants to escape the darker demands of growing up: things like aging, becoming vulnerable in relationships, being humbled by a loss of power, money, status, loved ones, or health. So he deludes himself into believing that controlling, banishing or destroying otherness proves his omnipotence and protects him from the Great Mother’s power. It doesn’t. The Old King/Ego aided the survival of our species, but the rules have changed. Now he is a dinosaur whose dominator mind-set is rapidly becoming extinct.
Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Fearful, immature egos currently control the U.S. government, hoping to delude, confuse, and attract followers via divisive tactics and a cult of personality. Stalin, Hitler, and Qadaffi did the same and lost. Why? Because humans are wired to grow into wisdom and maturity. To rise above our self-centered egos, to become less fearful and more humble and respectful. To befriend the otherness of our unconscious selves and other people, religions, races, genders, and nations. And if we can’t manage that, Kali — who lives in each of us and in the collective unconscious of our country — will force us to. It’s nature’s way.
The U.S. has been infected by the cult of personality and we are in desperate need of change. Dying to the old patriarchal ego and aiding the birth of a nation with a heroic ego is the great work to which each of us is called. What kinds of leaders will we vote into office next November? Will we, like the brave Corporal Sully, attain our heroic destiny by embracing the otherness in ourselves and others? Or will we bring the wrath of Kali down upon our nation because our egos are too frightened of the darker demands of growing up?
The secret of alchemy was in fact the transcendent function, the transformation of personality through the blending and fusion of the noble with the base components, of the differentiated with the inferior functions, of the conscious with the unconscious. Carl Jung, Vol. 7 of CW, par. 360.The
A friend and I have been discussing painful, life-changing experiences and what we’ve learned from them. Why do they happen? Why do they cause us and those we love so much suffering? Is there meaning in humanity’s endless suffering? The suffering of our planet? Can anything good come from it? Here are my thoughts on one of life’s biggest questions.
Jung said we have five instincts—nurturance, activity, reflection, sex, and creativity. Normally, we’re unaware of our instinctual needs, but at a deep unconscious level, our inability to fulfill them causes great suffering. The instinct for sex is associated with humanity’s desire for love and pleasure. These days, experiencing love and pleasure seems to be our top priority. Not finding it creates enormous suffering, which may be why we are so obsessed with sex. But our failure to satisfy the other instincts can also cause us to suffer.
A strong attraction to another person might initially appear to be about sex, but the love and pleasure you desire is not always or only sexual. Other instincts are also involved. You can find deep pleasure in loving yourself, others, and life. You can’t force love, and you won’t feel the real thing if your youthful need for safety, guidance, and reassurance aren’t met. So maybe there’s something about this person that involves your instinct for nurturance. Maybe your parents couldn’t give you what you needed and this fascinating person instinctively feels like someone who can.
Or maybe your attraction comes from an unfulfilled yearning to express your creative instinct. If you repressed your artistic interests in your youth because of cultural standards and pressures, your attraction to art and artists could be rooted in an unconscious desire to actualize your own creativity. Awakening that instinct will likewise provide access to untapped reservoirs of passion and pleasure.
Regardless of why you think you’re suffering or which instincts are involved, at bottom your pain is caused by your separation from your transcendent function—your true Self. What you don’t realize is that your ego’s conscious life is only the tip of your psychological iceberg. Beneath the water’s surface, you harbor memories of past experiences, forgotten thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and emotions. Deeper than that, the collective unconscious you share with every other human being contains myriad archetypes—each with different personality traits—and at least five different instincts—each with specific needs and urges. Like the inhabitants of the ocean’s depths, your unconscious entities interact with one another, and the alchemy of their interactions transforms you.
To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. Carl Jung, The Red Book, p. 249.
Facing dark inner realities is painful. From childhood you’ve unconsciously disowned traumatic experiences and memories. When they seep into your awareness, it can feel like a matter of life or death to ignore, escape, or rise above them. But anything you have repressed simmers in your unconscious where it can morph into a powerful shadow you can no longer contain. When this happens, like steam from a pressure cooker, your shadow can burst into your consciousness and instigate a personal crisis.
This is a shattering experience that can seriously mess with your life. But things will not necessarily stay this way forever. As my friend wisely wrote when we discussed these matters, “the trauma creates the roots for the drama that cannot be resolved without trauma.” Pure poetry. In fact, this scenario is typical of theHero’s Journey.
This is not just an imagined story. Myths are rooted in psycho-spiritual processes with transforming power. Like caterpillar whose body has to dissolve before it can morph into a beautiful new butterfly, your ego has to die to old habits and fears before your true Self can revel in the light of day.
With enough time and effort, you can acquire self-knowledge, love for yourself and others, and gratitude for the miracle of life. Even then, your suffering will not be over. Like the poor, our dragons will always be with us. But you will find comfort in the knowledge that you are taming yours and that your heroic accomplishments make a difference. In assuming the burden of your own suffering, you lighten the load carried by your loved ones, our planet, and every form of life.
Image credits: Alchemy, from Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”).Google images. Butterfly, personal photo.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.