It is my belief that the problem of opposites…should be made the basis for a critical psychology. A critique of this sort would be of the utmost value not only in the narrower field of psychology, but also in the wider field of the cultural sciences in general. ~Carl Jung, CW 8, par. 260.
In my last post, “What is Enlightenment” I introduced the Couple archetype. One reader responded with some thoughtful observations about same-sex couples, and I look forward to exploring this rich topic in future posts. But first, I’d like to lay the psychological and spiritual foundation for the Couple archetype. The following material comes from my manuscript, The Soul’s Twins.
According to Dr. Lawrence Odermatt of the Jung Institute in Zurich, the Couple holds profound spiritual meaning for many people in today’s world. Dr. Odermatt’s research has convinced him that the Couple is, in fact, emerging from the collective unconscious as a symbol of the Self. By this he means that people today expect things from the couple relationship that were formerly expected from their God-images, or ideas about The All, and from the religions created around these images.
Dr. Odermatt cites the following as some examples of the spiritual expectations people have about relationships today. People expect the couple relationship to provide a space or place of relaxation and regeneration from the stress of work and economic pressures. This is exactly what people in the past expected from places of worship, sacred rituals, and sacred festivals and days like Beltane, Christmas and the Sabbath.
People want their couple relationship to bring emotional security and satisfaction. This has not always been true. In the past, when marriages only took place between men and women and were primarily for social and political power and financial security, people rarely hoped to be emotionally fulfilled by their marriage partners; they did, however, expect it from their spiritual lives and practices.
People today also want their couple relationships to be containers for their spiritual and intellectual development, for their deepest yearnings and newest insights. They want the couple relationship to nurture their creativity and unique potential, to provide meaning for their lives. These functions too, have traditionally been associated with religion.
Finally, and to me, this is the most telling and pertinent expectation of all, Dr. Odermatt says that today people want partners who will confirm and accept them as unique individuals while at the same time providing them with an opportunity to merge with another so as to experience oneness, togetherness, wholeness. In other words, today the couple relationship is becoming a symbol for the creative union between humanity’s two basic drives, the two halves of the Self:
1. The drive for self-preservation is our compulsion to express our individuality. The need to find, develop and manifest our unique skills and passions in meaningful work has traditionally only been associated with and assigned to males and denied to females. In some parts of the world it still is. Nonetheless, it is inherent in all of us, regardless of gender.
2. The drive for species-preservation is our compulsion to experience oneness with another in caring, intimate relationships which nurture our creativity and bless our community with new life, whether physical, cultural, psychological, spiritual or all four. This drive has traditionally been associated with and assigned to females, and some families and cultures still discourage its expression in males in any outlet other than sexuality.
Humanity is evolving and here, in our time, our collective God-image is undergoing a dramatic transformation. We are imagining God as something far more balanced and complex than a superior masculine spiritual authority who is fascinated by the feminine other—whether the world of physical matter (L.mater or mother), the Mother Church, or women—while remaining separate and aloof from her. In a development prefigured two millennia ago in the beautiful myth of Psyche and Eros, we are imagining God as an inner reality: our potential for a sacred intimate union, a loving partnership between our masculine and feminine sides. This new God-image honors the masculine and feminine principles equally and in all of us as a spiritual reality. In other words, each of us is in and of God.
This way of imagining God has already had thrilling, far-reaching effects. In the social and political arena it has allowed us to consider granting people ultimate authority over what they do with their own bodies and offering full and equal opportunities to everyone regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality, or sexual preferences. Such a God-image also gives contemporary religious institutions far more freedom than their predecessors had to encourage individuality and celebrate mutually meaningful relationships free from fear-based prohibitions and prejudices. And it gives religious groups permission to offer instruction on world religions, mythology, psychology, dreams, meditation techniques, and the newest scientific advances in medicine and physics because of a growing awareness that this knowledge liberates people from debilitating fears and helps them live more purposeful, meaningful lives.
The internal union between our masculine and feminine sides was anticipated by the practice of alchemy in the Middle Ages and the great wisdom traditions throughout the world before that. It was brought to our attention by Carl Jung, who likewise used the over-arching metaphors of masculine and feminine to represent every pair of opposites. Conducting our own magnum opus of uniting our inner opposites into our conscious awareness is our hope for wholeness, individuation and enlightenment.
The coniunctio in alchemy is a union of the masculine and feminine, of the spiritual and material principles, from which a perfect body arises, the glorified body after the Last Judgment, the resurrection body. This means an eternal body, or the subtle body, which is designated in alchemy as the philosopher’s stone, the lapis aethereus or invisibilis. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lectures, Pages 158-167.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard: a symbolic butterfly hovers over Psyche in a moment of innocence poised before sexual awakening.
In the almost 7 years since I began Matrignosis, I’ve written much more about depth psychology than what I would call ‘depth spirituality.’ Perhaps because I’ve been doing in-depth studies of Jungian psychology for 27 years and feel more comfortable about my knowledge and experience of it. Perhaps because I have no formal credentials on the subject of religion and so have left writing about it to those who do.
Either way, I’ve only hinted at depth spirituality and its connection to depth psychology, shared a few meaningful religious experiences, and occasionally addressed mysticism and religion. Yet, depth spirituality is a passion of mine and I’m feeling compelled to write more about it. So here goes.
I’ve been deeply spiritual since the age of 17 when I experienced an epiphany about some Bible verses and eagerly answered an altar call at a Billy Graham Crusade shortly afterwards. Perhaps it started before that, when, at the age of 10, I was encouraged by my Baptist paternal grandmother to kneel beside my bed and invite Jesus into my heart. Or did it happen a few months later when my minister immersed me in the baptismal font at the First Christian Church we attended?
Maybe my spiritual spark ignited when, around the age of 5, I experienced awe and wonder on a walk with my father beneath the cathedral-like canopy of a forest? Or was it earlier still at age 3 when I was lost and alone on the shores of Lake Michigan, following a faraway light that twinkled through the darkness like a star?
Regardless of when it awakened, I know for certain it didn’t begin to deepen until midlife. That’s when I experienced a crisis of faith which caused painful internal conflicts between known and previously unknown parts of myself. Gradually, taking these conflicts seriously and exploring them over a long period of time transformed my old God image of a distant and aloof heavenly father into a sacred, genderless, benevolent force which was real, present, and life-changing.
Carl Jung, whose father was a minister, experienced a similar crisis which activated the same compulsion to understand himself and participate in the Mystery of life. He called this compulsion the ‘transcendent function.’
The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious is called the ‘transcendent function’…. This function progressively unites the opposites. Psychotherapy makes use of it to heal neurotic dissociations, but this function had already served as the basis of Hermetic philosophy for seventeen centuries. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, par. 1554.
In fact, people have been encountering the transcendent function for thousands of years. Here’s what happens. Consciousness is born when we become self-aware: when we see ourselves objectively and realize we can make original choices instead of conforming and being buffeted about by unknown forces. We start out believing these forces are outside of us, in nature, other people, gods. We grow by acknowledging that they are in us, and that we project them outward to avoid taking responsibility for who we really are.
It is we who create our religions, our cultural standards, our wars, our beliefs about right and wrong, good and bad. This good/bad opposition is the source of our internal and external conflicts. We have no control over the transcendent function or when—or if—it kicks in. But if and when it does, everything changes.
The transcendent function does not proceed without aim and purpose, but leads to the revelation of the essential man. It is in the first place a purely natural process, which may in some cases pursue its course without the knowledge or assistance of the individual, and can sometimes forcibly accomplish itself in the face of opposition. The meaning and purpose of the process is the realization, in all its aspects, of the personality originally hidden away in the embryonic germ-plasm; the production and unfolding of the original, potential wholeness. ~Carl Jung, CW 11, par. 780.
Self-discovery is the basis of Eastern religions like Buddhism and Taoism and the mystical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some practices that lead to self-discovery are introspection, meditation, contemplation, centering prayer, dreamwork, body work, active imagination, journaling, psychotherapy, art, and so on.
Our choice to explore our unconscious selves is where East meets West and Soul meets Spirit. Working together in partnership toward understanding, union and love, our divided selves can eventually merge into One. This transforming process is both depth psychology and depth spirituality. It is where Life wants to take us.
By means of the transcendent function we not only gain access to the ‘One Mind’ but also come to understand why the East believes in the possibility of self-liberation. If, through introspection and the conscious realization of unconscious compensations, it is possible to transform one’s mental condition and thus arrive at a solution of painful conflicts, one would seem entitled to speak of ‘self-liberation’. ~Carl Jung, CW 11, par. 784.
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.