How Self-Aware Are You? Epoch II: Ego Consciousness May 24, 2016
“Obviously we do not know how the ego arose in man. We have certain myths showing how ancient man thought about this problem, and we can observe the phenomenon in very young children today. Just as the individual child must undergo training and discipline, so too the primitive nature of man had to be housebroken and domesticated, restrained and adapted, if he was to advance in culture and in ability to control his environment.” Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 197.
Since we learned to talk, humans have told stories around the campfire about the inner life of the psyche and the mysterious archetypal energies which indwell it. We call these stories myths. With borrowed images from nature that instinctively aroused strong emotions like fear, awe, passion, wonder, greed, hope and gratitude, myths presented characters, settings, plots and themes that attempted to answer humanity’s most universal and fundamental questions: Why are we here? Who made us? Why do we act the way we do? How can we stay safe? What are we supposed to do and be?
Most of these images—like the sun, the moon, mountains, trees, bears, snakes, unusual stones, springs of fresh water, thunder and lightning—still have emotional power over us. Early humans would not have understood what their fascination with these images said about them. Nonetheless, they resonated so deeply that the stories are still being told.
“Myths are concerned with origins, the fear of death, and the hope for the overcoming of death in another world.” A.S. Byatt, Introduction to Maria Tatar’s “The Annotated Brothers Grimm,” p. xix.
Let us imagine how the Bible’s account of our origins came about. A storyteller wonders where the first parents came from and imagines them being created by a superhuman Father God. Fondly recalling his/her own early carefree days when every need was met by doting parents (Epoch I of self-awareness), our storyteller memorializes this idyllic time in the image of the Garden of Eden, a paradise where humans and animals co-exist in harmony…. as long as everyone obeys Father God.
Early humans would have understood this rule completely. Life was hard, and children who strayed away from camp would be in peril. Parental obedience was essential to their survival.
Other images also called to mind their instinctual need for safety. For example, a gigantic tree could be climbed when danger threatened, and its thick canopy of leaves provided cover from rain. So it made sense to situate a Tree of Life in the center of the Garden. Sometimes tribal rituals were performed around special trees to show gratitude for their protection. So far, so good.
“The further development of the individual can be brought about only by means of symbols which represent something far in advance of himself and whose intellectual meanings cannot yet be grasped entirely.” ~Carl Jung, CW 4, Para 680.
As humans gained more control over their environments, travel and communication with other tribes exposed them to other myths with different images and new symbolic meaning. Whose stories were right and whose were wrong? Which god-images and rituals were good and which were evil? Dualistic thinking had entered the picture.
This advanced the plot further. Enter the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Enter Eve who is fascinated by the luscious ripe fruit, symbolizing the psyche’s readiness for a new level of self-awareness. Enter an evil snake who represents a powerful temptation to challenge the status quo. Enter a new problem: seeing and having to choose between opposites. Enter the consequences: after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden, the dire implications of the problem of opposites for the future of humanity was anticipated with the symbolism of Eve giving birth to twin boys, one of whom killed the other.
The symbols speak for themselves. Disobeying the Father God by eating the fruit marked a revolutionary advance in the psyche. What Eve would not have known, and her storyteller probably barely intuited, was that in departing from the collective mentality, she became the mother of Epoch II Ego Consciousness.
“When the ego begins to develop and gains some autonomy—some power, over against the might of nature, to determine and control itself and its environment—it gradually acquires a feeling of being a separate entity. The individual learns to differentiate between the I and the not-I, with an ever increasing emphasis of the value of the I. That is, he becomes aware of being a self. This awareness is accompanied by an intoxicating sense of selfhood, an inner expansion of the I. Unchecked, this will produce an inflation…
“In the outer world the ego seeks to dominate its environment and to subject all things, persons, and conditions alike to its interest. In the inner world, as many psychic contents as possible are brought under its control, and those which cannot be dominated are suppressed. In this way a threshold is built up between the conscious and the unconscious part of the psyche.” Harding, p. 241.
I’ll have more to say about this second phase of self-awareness next time. Meanwhile, keep in mind that the story isn’t over and “happily ever after” is nowhere in sight. If we are to reach our fullest potential we will need to agonize over more conflicts and ask new questions like, What new thoughts, impulses and images are arising in me? Where are they coming from? Who or what do I try to dominate? Which aspects of my inner world do I try to suppress?
Image Credits: Google Images: Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach. Quote Image courtesy of Lewis Lafontaine.
Jean’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are also at Amazon as well as Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
My Animus is Afraid to Trust My Instincts June 30, 2015
Two nights before my keynote speech to the 2015 International Association for the Study of Dreams I had this dream.
#4,642: My Animus is Afraid to Trust My Instincts: Old friends have visited us for two days. I’ve just realized they left their dog alone at home. I’m worried about this. Will it have enough food? I say to the husband, “Won’t it poop and pee all over the house?” He says with a shrug, “Maybe. We’ll see.” I can’t believe he’s so casual about this. It feels wrong.
We drive to their house in another town and go inside. As we approach the sliding glass door to the backyard, he points out little piles of poop that make a trail to the open door. I see their dog sticking its cute brown and white head out from some green undergrowth at back of the cement patio. It moves into the open looking wobbly and weak, as if it’s about to drop.
I go to it, sit on the ground, and pet it. It wags its tail happily and climbs into my lap, growing excited and playful. Another little black dog who looks like Peri [our son’s dog as a child] runs to me, jumps all over me, licks me, and wiggles around in my arms. The husband is watching us from the stoop of the open door. With an ironic smile he looks pointedly at his brown and white dog and says, “I’m afraid of you.” He turns away as if he’s lost interest.
My associations: I associate the husband with the part of my animus that identifies with the Scholar archetype. In waking life this man is an intelligent, creative former college professor. The dogs represent my animal, instinctual self, especially my instincts for nurturance and activity. My dream ego enjoys and trusts my instincts, but my animus neglects them and admits he’s afraid of his dog. Why?
The key to understanding this dream is the context. Anxiety about my upcoming speech had dominated my waking hours for over a month. The previous day, an artist friend who used to attend my classes at the Jung Center called and asked if I was ready. When I told her about my concerns she said, as other friends had been saying, “Relax. You’re going to be great. You always are. Just trust your instincts.”
Bingo! My animus was afraid to trust my instincts. As a college professor, my instincts were of no importance. Nothing but an abstract concept. What was important was task-oriented, single-minded attention to texts written by outer authorities. We (my animus and ego) saw this as the only way to comprehend and express the course material clearly and correctly. This was how a good teacher prepared to teach.
When I quit teaching and began writing over 25 years ago, this habit persisted. By then my reading, studying and writing were focused on Jungian psychology and understanding my dreams. But as I persisted in this inner work, something changed. I began to rely more on my dreams and instincts and less on outer authorities to guide the direction of my thinking and writing.
Following some inner compass I didn’t know I had, I spent mornings listening to my anima—my creative, feminine, instinctual self—by meditating and working on my dreams. When a dream image, emotion or theme felt unusually fascinating, I’d spend the afternoon—time reserved for my animus to manifest my anima’s creativity—incorporating it into my current manuscript. In respecting the needs of my feminine and masculine sides I was unknowingly activating the Self, the central authority of my psyche, and learning to trust it.
This transformation awakened my passion and creativity and informed my books. Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dream Work is the book on which my speech for the IASD was based. I knew this material. It had come from listening to my feminine instincts. Yet, in preparing for my speech I’d neglected Her in favor of His traditional, single-minded, outer-referential ego-mode. And like the puppies in my dream, She was starved for attention, nurturance, and love.
Understanding this inner reality had a magical, mystical impact. With no mental effort other than a 30 minute meditation/ritual during which I thanked Dream Mother for this dream and reassured my animus that he could relax now, my concerns simply fell away. For the next several days I was wrapped in a cocoon of calm and trust. Never have I been more relaxed before or after a presentation.
Yes, after 25 years of inner work, my animus’s fear of my instincts occasionally still floods me with anxiety, but so far this tension has served me well. Tolerating the interaction between the different perspectives of my masculine and feminine sides has not only insured my survival and thriving, but created and birthed self-knowledge, consciousness, and spiritual meaning.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
The Psychology of Creativity November 25, 2014
“From the living fountain of instinct flows everything that is creative; hence the unconscious is not merely conditioned by history, but is the very source of the creative impulse.” (Carl Gustav Jung)
I’m feeling inspired to write poetry these days, and this has me thinking about creativity. Jung says creativity originates in our instincts. In other words, our body, with its physical needs and functions, is the matter (L. Mater), or mother, of our urge to create. And the psyche governs our responses to our instinctual urges.
Jung said we have five basic instincts:
“Whatever creativity is, it is in part a solution to a problem.” (Brian W. Aldiss)
Nurturance: Our bodies need fuel, and we get hungry, irritable and desperate when we don’t get it. They also need protection from the dangerous and uncontrollable forces of nature. Some human caring and creature comfort don’t hurt either. So if we, our loved ones and our tribe are to survive and prosper, our basic needs for nurturing and being nurtured must be met. Thus, creativity originally arose in the marshalling of conscious thought and focused behavior to create the necessary tools, weapons, strategies, rules and codes of conduct that would satisfy this instinct.
“The essential ingredient for creativity is wasting time.” (Anonymous)
“I have always regarded manual labour as creative and looked with respect – and, yes, wonder – at people who work with their hands. It seems to me that their creativity is no less than that of a violinist or painter.” (Pablo Casals)
Activity: Food and water don’t just automatically show up in edible and potable form when we need it, so we have to get off the couch and do something to procure them! And once we have thoroughly stuffed ourselves it feels good to celebrate with other creative activities such as walking dinner off, participating in games and athletic competitions, and cleaning and fixing up the cave.
“The emotional mind creates, and the rational mind explains it. Another way of saying this is, your ‘heart’ perceives it and your ‘head’ translates it.” (Alvaro Castagnet)
Reflection: If, after all this eating and fooling around we have a spare moment or two, and if we still feel comfortable and secure, our thoughts move into new areas. For example, we might reflect on how beautiful the sunset is; figure out how not to starve or freeze to death next winter; wonder why the kids are so cranky! So we ask questions and try to solve problems. We devise strategies and make plans. We create religious rituals to thank the earth, the animals, the plants and the gods for meeting our needs and to make sure the sun will rise in the morning, spring will return, and a saber toothed-tiger won’t have us for dinner.
“The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture and a highly creative feverishness. It is not like a drug; it is a particular state when everything happens very quickly, a mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness, of fear and pleasure; it’s a little like making love, the physical act of love.” (Francis Bacon)
Sex: Every living creature is born with the instinct to preserve the species. Plus, humans and other complex animal forms have an instinctive need for love and intimacy with others. And it feels good! So we use our creativity to attract partners and be appealing to them.
“I believed that I wanted to be a poet,
but deep down I just wanted to be a poem.” ~ Jaime Gil de Biedma
Creativity: So the instincts activate our creativity and creativity is itself an instinct, an urge that satisfies our souls and enriches our lives in numerous ways and forms. Stories told around the fire. Figurines of animals and gods. Vessels for food and flowers, gathering and gifting. Music: songs, dances symphonies and the instruments to play them. Painted images from myths and dreams. Delicious foods. Ornaments for our bodies, fabrics to wear and beautify our homes, poems to enlighten and inspire us, to make works of art of our very lives.
“Creative activity is more than a mere cultural frill, it is a crucial factor of human experience, the means of self-revelation, the basis of empathy with others; it inspires both individualism and responsibility, the giving and the sharing of experience.” (Tom Hudson)
“If I didn’t have my films as an outlet for all the different sides of me, I would probably be locked up.” (Angelina Jolie)
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” (Pearl S. Buck)
“When I can no longer create anything, I’ll be done for.” (Coco Chanel)
I’m with you, Coco.
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
All quotes except the one from Jaime Gil de Biedma are from the website Art Quotes. That one comes from my friend Jenna Farr Ludwig’s Facebook page.
Images: Macarons, Marcolini, Wikimedia Commons. Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia Commons. Hermann Paul, Les Danseuses, Wikimedia Commons. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Michele Gordigiani, 1858, Wikimedia Commons.
Musings on Mortality October 21, 2014
My father-in-law’s funeral last weekend has me revisiting the mystery of death. Organized religions have it figured out. Unfortunately, their explanations stopped working for me many years ago. I often wonder if they work for anyone. Are words and beliefs which originate outside of us really enough to erase our terror of death, or is something more needed? Something powerful and personal that arises from within.
Dad’s church service was beautiful and deeply moving. I was grateful for the opportunity to honor his life in this sacred space and it felt right and necessary to celebrate his memory with family and friends. But this time-honored tradition didn’t answer my questions about death.
Over the years I’ve wondered things like, when I die, what is the “I” that dies? Is it all of me, or just the physical part of me, or some of the mental parts too, or what? If anything lives on, what is it? Where does it live?
Other questions are about how to deal with death while I’m still alive. Shall I fight it or accept it? Ignore it or face it? Is there a way I can come to terms with my eventual death or the death of a loved one now? If so, what is it?
And I wonder about people who say, “Why would I want to think about death? Isn’t it better to be happy and see the bright side of things? What good can it possibly do to dwell on such morbid thoughts?”
I know many people feel this way, but it’s not an option for me. I’ve consciously lived with the specter of death (I imagine it sitting just over my left shoulder) ever since life brought my naively confident ego to its knees at the age of 36. Until then I thought I was tough enough to handle anything. But when I discovered I had a shadow composed of everything my ego believed it was not, the shock was so great and the internal conflicts so painful that I began to fantasize about suicide.
That was when I realized I had a choice. I could escape my pain by killing myself, or I could choose to go on living. For me, staying alive meant tolerating some unbearable suffering for as long as it took to understand and befriend the opposing forces in me that had brought me to this point. It meant choosing to take my needs and gifts seriously instead of allowing them to wither away under a persona of passive perfection and “good girl” conformity. And it meant assuming full responsibility for my choices without blaming anyone else. I chose life. Having confronted death, I had nothing left to lose by confronting my inner darkness.
Ironically, in facing my fear of death, I began to lose my fear of life! I haven’t fully conquered every fear, but if you could magically spend one day in the head of 36-year-old Jeanie and a second day in my head today, you wouldn’t believe they were attached to the same body! (Well, not quite the same!)
I don’t know the answers to all these questions but I have some theories. I do know that one thing that leaves the body at death is the light in our eyes. Light is everywhere a metaphor for consciousness. I suspect my fearful ego, unexplored shadow and all my other unconscious parts may die with my body. But years of inner work have created a new and independent entity of light that does not seem bound to physical life: a Conscious Observer. Like a lamp shining through a window on a dark night, this part of me can see beyond the walls of self-delusion that my ego has built around my psyche. I think this light may live on.
And where will it live? If it is true as some quantum physicists believe that everything in the universe is connected, then perhaps it will join the light of the One Universal Conscious Mind that has been evolving since the first human realized the miracle of his/her life.
How shall I deal with death while I’m still alive? By carrying on a dialogue with it when it whispers in my left ear, drops hints in my dreams, or shows up in waking life. And keep it up until we’re all talked out. Then I’ll just keep on living.
Is it better to be happy and positive instead of dwelling on morbid thoughts? There is no “better” or “worse” answer to this question. Different souls have different paths. Some are born to fly; some must explore the ocean depths. The healing way is to stop worrying about whether our way is right or wrong and start facing our personal realities with courage, honesty and love.
Could there be a better way than that?
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
On Interrelatedness: No Beginning, No End March 21, 2014
Yesterday I met with my writer’s group, The Purple Pros, at the Barnes and Noble Café. As is our custom in this group which has met for over twenty years, one of us brings a meditative reading; another brings a topic we write about for five minutes. Despite the fact that these activities are randomly chosen, their themes are almost always remarkably similar, if not identical. Moreover, the same themes inevitably crop up again during our touch-in ritual. We never fail to be awed by the mystery of this synchronicity.
It happened again yesterday. Margie lost her beloved husband several years ago. To the great joy of those who love her, she’s found love again and will soon marry a wonderful man. To celebrate this happy occasion, I light a small candle in a sparkly gold container and read a blessing from John O’Donohue titled “For a New Beginning.” Margie tears up as I read. Afterwards she tells us of a synchronicity that makes this blessing especially meaningful.
Since I’ll be out of the country the day of her wedding, and since she and her fiancé are both patrons of the arts, I give her a carved wooden Endless Knot that was hand-painted by the young students at an art school we support in Bhutan, a country whose economic development is based on “gross national happiness.” I bought it there several years ago. The tears continue to roll down her cheeks as she tells us the paint is the exact colors of her wedding! Enclosed is this description: “In the endless knot all the lines are interrelated to each other and the knot has no beginning and no end. It symbolizes the infinite knowledge and love of Buddha to all sentient beings. It is good to give as gift to your dear ones as an expression of your eternal love and compassion.”
Lenny’s writing assignment is to write a scene that depicts happiness that is meaningful and true to us. Here we go again. First we celebrated Margie’s upcoming marriage ritual which is all about love and happiness; then I give her a gift from a country whose official goal is to promote happiness; now we are to write about what brings us happiness. Usually I need time to think before I start writing; occasionally I never even get started. This time my scene arrives immediately and fully formed. I can’t write fast enough. Only after I’m finished do I connect all the dots: it’s about the interconnection between happiness and ritual, relationship, meaning and love.
This is what I wrote. It makes me happy just to think about it!
My granddaughters are excited about tonight’s sleepover. They ring the doorbell then run and hide, a ritual they started in early childhood and still enjoy. I loudly lament their absence until they race from their hiding places and give me hugs and kisses.
After depositing their backpacks their first stop is my bedroom. Sophia sorts through the makeup in my vanity drawer and picks out something to take home while Alex tries on my shoes. When she falls in love with an old pair that fit perfectly, I give them to her.
Dinner is delivery pizza consumed over a favorite video. Dessert is freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm.
The rituals continue at bedtime. They bathe in the spa tub with bubble bath crystals and fragrant lotions. Sophia pulls the pillow cases off her favorite Swedish foam pillow. Alex asks for her glass of water.
I tuck them in and kiss them goodnight then sit at my desk on the balcony outside the same room their mother once occupied, my presence a reassurance they still crave. Their door swings open and Sophia comes to me clutching the large furry rabbit hand-puppet I brought her from a trip to the Grand Canyon a few years ago.
“You forgot to say goodnight to Snuggle Bunny!” she says with questioning eyes as she tentatively holds out her beloved bedtime friend. Will I still want to enact a ritual that means so much to her? I receive Snuggle Bunny with infinite tenderness. As my fingers animate her head and arms in gestures of shy love, we three murmur our goodnights.
Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
Image Source = Wikipedia: Zeskanowana praca ręcznie wykonanej kopia ogólnie dostępnej grafiki