12 Symptoms of Your Psyche’s Immaturity April 10, 2018
Since the aims of the second half of life are different from those of the first, to linger too long in the youthful attitude produces a division of the will. Consciousness still presses forward in obedience, as it were, to its own inertia, but the unconscious lags behind, because the strength and inner resolve needed for further expansion have been sapped. This disunity with oneself begets discontent, and since one is not conscious of the real state of things one generally projects the reasons for it upon one’s partner. A critical atmosphere thus develops, the necessary prelude to conscious realization. ~Carl Jung, CW 17, Para 331b
The mother bear is one of the most tender, nurturing, and fiercely protective mothers in the animal world. The first and most difficult lesson she teaches her new baby when they emerge from hibernation in the spring is to stay hidden and quiet high up in a tree while she searches the forest for food. Soon the baby learns to stay in the tree until mother comes home and they are joyously reunited.
This goes on for about two years and then one day the mother bear trees her cub as usual. She goes out into the woods as usual. And she never comes back. It may seem cruel, but the good mother’s job not only is to protect but also to liberate. If she does not leave her cub when the time is right—a time roughly equivalent to adolescence in a human—and if the cub does not disobey the good mother by climbing down from the tree it will never survive to preserve the species.
We humans are like that cub. We began our lives as vulnerable, instinctive animals utterly dependent on Mother. She was the center of our universe and we had no choice but to submit to her, our caregivers, our teachers, our leaders because conformity to outer authorities kept us safe. In time we grew into adolescents with growing awareness of our egos and our agency. We believed we were thinking for ourselves and making our own choices. But most of the time we simply parroted what we’d been taught by others, claiming their preferences as our own and defending them with fervor. And when we found jobs and love partners and moved out of our parents’ homes, we thought we’d grown up.
But in the cosmic view of humanity’s history, our species is still in its adolescence. We may not be consciously tied to our mothers any more, but in the world of our psyche, our unconscious attitudes toward or against her still prevail and we have yet to take the hero’s journey to conscious individuation. How do we know we’re still in the tree? Here are 12 symptoms:
when things go wrong we proclaim our innocence while blaming our mother, father, partner, or someone else
when we resent our mother for unresolved childhood grievances which govern our thoughts and behavior toward her instead of being able to forgive and love her as she is
when we who are safe, well-fed, and comfortable resent our family for not serving our needs, our religion for not helping us change, and our government for not treating us fairly while taking no steps to rectify these situations on our own
when we despise our flawed unworthiness and beg our gods to fix us instead of facing our inner realities and doing the necessary work to understand and heal ourselves
when we’re afraid to listen to our own hearts, trust our own instincts, explore our own dreams, communicate honestly, and live our own lives in accordance to our interests, enthusiasms, and passions
when we sulk, complain, and criticize others without accepting the responsibility for and consequences of our own negative attitudes and choices
when our unconscious inner inertia prevails over our resolutions to change our toxic habits and attitudes
when we want freedom, yet stay exactly where we are because conformity and familiarity are preferable to exploring the frightening unknown
when we haven’t suffered the agony of making an original choice in the direction of our own hearts and passions
when we can’t love ourselves or forgive each other
when we resist changing our attitudes or values in directions that serve the greater good
when we ignore the fears and fantasies that trap us in our trees
We are living in the twilight of the psyche’s immaturity. Those of us in the second half of life must accept responsibility for our part in contributing to the growing darkness. No one can save us but ourselves. We must leave our trees and become good mothers to ourselves, each other and the planet. If we cannot awaken from our dreamy fantasies and childish attitudes—if we cannot develop our own authority and speak the truths of our own spirits and souls with love, if we cannot face and deal with our disappointments, discontent, and fear of death, if we cannot live our own lives with the passion and joy we were born for—we will contribute nothing to the evolving consciousness which alone can birth a hopeful new dawn.
There was a time when time stood still as death.
I shinnied up the mast of an old oak, breezes
ruffling my boat’s leafy sail, floating
dreamily over an ebony sea. One branch
was a mustang. We raced through the West
herding cows, chasing rustlers in black hats.
A three-pronged fork was an eagle’s
aerie where I savored new books…
as I awaited my mother’s return.
There was a time when time stood still as
death: I played house in log cabins outlined
with fallen twigs, imagined mother inside.
Prepared pretend lunches of crushed acorns
and mud, swept dirt floors and tangled roots
with dead branches, covered beds with crisp
leaf quilts, napped beneath a shaded
canopy, mother-made for me…
as I awaited my mother’s return.
Once, time moved as slowly as a glacier
and waiting and pretending were enough.
Now time surges like a raging river;
my gut growls and I am hungry, restless
to leave this tree despite the father bears
who crave me and my heresies for lunch.
But, oh, the bliss of frozen fantasy…
as I await my mother’s return!
How mature is your psyche?
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.
Books: The Perfect Holiday Gift December 18, 2017
Holiday Greetings to all. It’s a week before Christmas, so there’s still time to order books for the readers on your list. In case you’re looking for ideas, here are some of my recent favorites. They’re all wonderful. Enjoy.
Regina Aguilar, Alchemy of the Heart: The Sacred Marriage of Dionysos and Ariadne. Chiron Publications. November 7, 2017.
Manipulated by mythologies which legitimate the authority of those who use them for economic and political advantage, we are increasingly estranged from our Source, our environment, one another and ourselves. We need stories that describe the soul’s healing, bring reverence for life, and connect us to an inner authority based on experiential knowing. Alchemy of the Heart—an in-depth Jungian analysis of the myth of Dionysos and Ariadne—is such a story. Dionysos exemplifies the destruction and restoration of wild, virile, passionate masculinity in deep rapport with the earth and femininity. Ariadne symbolizes innocent, trusting, devoted, but deeply wounded femininity in patriarchy. When a woman’s romantic illusions are shattered by masculine betrayal, the experience of feeling her supportive inner masculine brings renewed vitality and a mystical sense of oneness with life. The story and eventual union between the masculine Lover and feminine Beloved in the alchemical sacred marriage described in this myth is a metaphor for the inner path of integration and individuation available to you.
HeatherAsh Amara, The Warrior Goddess Way: Claiming the Woman You Are Destined to Be, Hierophant Publishing, October 24, 2016.
Written for women, The Warrior Goddess Way is filled with wise principles and insights from which anyone seeking greater power, passion, and freedom can benefit. Amara describes a pathway of presence, baby steps, and practice—a road to reclaim all of you, including your darkest fears and most precious gifts. It asks you to recognize how you have been trained to think and behave, to witness your mind instead of believing everything it tells you, and to embrace yourself in your entirety. Most of all it asks you to stop resisting things beyond your control and learn to love it all. To say Yes! to every situation in your life and ultimately, Yes! to death. Befriending death frees you to be more fully engaged with life. Examples and activities demonstrate the value of such qualities as presence, forgiveness, apology, authenticity, respect, listening, stillness, and awareness.
“Regardless of gender, the key to success in life is creating meaningful relationships.” With this line, the reader is ushered into a bold new territory where successful men care more about connecting and being real than wearing macho masks. In today’s world, authenticity and other qualities this two-sport All-American athlete now associates with greatness—like empathy, insight, honesty, vulnerability, compassion, acting for the good of others, and the ability to heal from one’s own wounds—are traditionally associated with femininity. Howes hopes to change this one-sided and outdated stereotype by describing nine toxic masks men wear which, when discarded, enable them to accept their vulnerability and evolve into a modern-day masculine archetype of benevolent and compassionate power, courage, inner peace and happiness.
Ira Israel, How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening, New World Library, November 7, 2017.
Western culture’s beliefs in capitalism, science, and religion taught you to value the wrong things like productivity, consumerism, and romantic love. Your futile struggles to find happiness and unconditional love via these beliefs created resentments and judgments about the past. As an adult you still dwell on these beliefs and ignore your present pain to stave off future pain. In How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult, psychotherapist Ira Israel deconstructs common dysfunctional mindsets and encourages you to accept and own the reality of your life. Suggestions to raise and reorient your consciousness include seeking a new definition of authenticity—encompassing the psychological principles of attachment, atonement, attunement, presence, and congruence—and practicing Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Three Jewels. Your practices will alleviate suffering, promote loving relationships, and help you live with authenticity and love.
Winifred M. Reilly, It Takes One to Tango: How I Rescued My Marriage with (Almost) No Help from My Spouse—and How You Can, Too, Touchstone, April 4, 2017.
Written by marriage and family therapist Winifred M. Reilly, this wise and practical book addresses unrealistic expectations and dysfunctional interactions which damage love relationships. With examples from clients and her own marriage, Reilly takes the reader through five developmental stages of partnerships. She concludes the key for positive change is for one partner to name the basic issues that create conflicts, accept personal responsibility for their role in them, learn how to manage their anxiety, and take risks to respond in new ways. This weakens habitual patterns and transforms the relationship into a more forgiving and loving partnership.
Tosha Silver, Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead, Atria (Reprint Edition), July 12, 2016.
Doctrinaire religions can leave you spiritually alienated because they focus on external observances instead of internal realities. Tosha Silver suggests you align with the Divine by asking for what it wishes for you instead of insisting on your ego’s preferred outcomes. When you offer your problems to the Divine and invite it to take the lead, then symbols and synchronicities tell you when to act. Your openness and trust in a divine order of love and abundance frees you from worry and allows the perfect solution to any problem to arrive at the right time. Silver shares a fascinating and entertaining collection of brief stories which illustrate these principles at work in her life and the lives of others.
Sara Avant Stover, The Book of She: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power, New World Library, October 13, 2015.
Building on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1973) and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey (1990), yoga and meditation instructor Sara Avant Stover’s The Book of She describes how women can reclaim their feminine power. Combining personal stories, examples from wisdom traditions, and advice from noted psychological and spiritual teachers, Stover highlights 13 stages of the feminine journey. These are organized into five parts: Preparing for the Journey, The Descent, The Initiation, The Ascent, and The Homecoming. Readers are encouraged to explore and heal their inner and outer lives with numerous activities, rituals and guided meditations within a framework of guiding principles—cultivating an ongoing practice, welcoming silence and prayer, clarifying your priorities, taking responsibility for your life, exploring dualities, and facing your shadow.
Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Whitaker House, October 4, 2016.
“Bad theology is like pornography—the imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one.” This sums up the theme of The Divine Dance—a repudiation of Empire and a celebration of Relationship. Central to this celebration is your willingness to actively change what you let into your heart and consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved. Trinity is a foundational principle of perennial philosophy—the core beliefs common to every religion. Some call it the Third Force. It is also a living reality—a circular flow of love in you and the universe that mirrors the orderly spinning dance of subatomic particles which birth and sustain life. The 67 essays in this book depict God as absolute relatedness. They affirm that your participation in the dance can transform your illusion of separation into a spiritual experience of radical relatedness with yourself, your life, and the Divine.
I think of you often as I work on my next book and will stay in touch in the New Year. I wish you the happiest of holidays. As the nights grow longer and darker, may your inner light grow stronger and brighter.
Staying Conscious April 11, 2017
Surprise! I’m back with an update. Reworking my old manuscript is bringing enormous satisfaction. My unconscious is sending solutions to knotty problems via my dreams and early morning ruminations before I’m fully awake. I’m meditating for 20 minutes before I get to work and writing for hours at a time. The latest entries in my dream journal say it all.
I’m teaching a one-hour college class in Language Arts. I have two pages of written notes stuck to a clipboard and am carefully peeling them off so I can hold them in my hands while I teach. Little chunks of the bottom of the second page stick to the board, but there’s nothing written on them so I won’t worry about them now. I suddenly realize I’ve spent the first 15 minutes getting my notes together and have no idea what’s in them. I feel an urgency to start teaching.
I start quieting everyone down, but interruptions and distractions prevent me from actually teaching. This is okay with me, because I can use this time to figure out what to talk about. I hope I’ll know by the time the class is ready to listen. A mother comes in late with two little girls. I don’t want them here but realize she must not have a choice so I smile to let them know it’s okay, all the while hoping she’ll keep them from disturbing the class. A loud male student gets my attention and I firmly ask him to quiet down. I realize I was too harsh and could have handled this better. I see I’ve used up another 15 minutes.
In the third 15 minutes the little girls fall backwards into a deep hole or well in the floor—it’s round and maybe 4 feet deep. The girls are submerged in a foot or two of water. I’m worried, but the mother doesn’t appear to be. They’re holding their breath and enjoying themselves. I decide they’ll come up when they’re ready and continue thinking about what to teach. But soon everyone is gathered around and I can’t ignore the situation anymore so I ask the parents (the father is here now) to pull them out.
Now I only have 15 minutes left. What’s the best way to use this time? I realize I haven’t given them the course syllabus yet. They need it to prepare for their end-of-semester project. I try to remember what it is. Oh yes, they have to create original learning centers. I feel better now. I know what to say before the class is over and I have to leave. I organize my thoughts and begin to teach.
This feels like a metaphor for the way I’ve spent my time in Earth School.
During the first quadrant I unconsciously spent my time preparing myself, gathering information without having a clue about what I was meant to do with my life.
In the second quadrant I was teaching and becoming aware of forces within me that were preventing me from finding and fulfilling my life’s work. One challenge was juggling parenthood with teaching and learning. Another was some strong masculine energy that presented me with problems I didn’t know how to handle gracefully.
During the third quadrant I committed myself to dreamwork as a means of self-discovery and wrote my first three books. At last I knew what my purpose was: to share what I knew about the transformation of human consciousness. Sometimes my immature feminine shadow fell back into unconsciousness. But I knew the importance of my mission and had the awareness to ask the Self (the parents) to bring her back into awareness.
In the final quadrant where I am now, I know how little time I have left to fully prepare my students (whoever might be influenced by my teaching and writing) for what is to come. Now I know what to do and am doing it.
There’s a girl-woman I know well who’s done something problematic. She’s got a bandaged wound. I’ve apprehended her and have to keep my eyes on her at all times to make sure she doesn’t escape and create more problems. This feels extremely important. Occasionally I take her by the wrist to keep her near. She’s pleasant and compliant, but I can’t trust her.
The girl is my feminine shadow. The dream says I am seeing her clearly and objectively. When I stay with her she’s not a problem. But if I fall back into unconsciousness and forget to watch her, she will resurrect and negatively impact my work and relationships.
Staying conscious is vital to this last quadrant of my life. I meditate every day now to be more mindful of subtle thoughts and inclinations that might prevent me from doing my best work. When something uncomfortable emerges I align with my observer/Self to look at myself objectively, recognize my shadow, and gently bring myself back into a place of repentance, forgiveness, gratitude and love. Making this effort is working.
Sending you love and blessings, dear friends. I’m having the time of my life.
What Do Our Relationships Have to Do with Our Spirituality? February 7, 2017
The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious [two opposing halves of one psyche] is called the ‘transcendent function’…. This function progressively unites the opposites. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, par. 1554.
In my January 4th post, “What Is Enlightenment?” I wrote, “…even though we think of enlightenment as a strictly spiritual pursuit, it… is not solely a function of any one aspect of human nature, but of the whole package.” I went on to describe what I consider to be the fundamental psychological components of enlightenment. They consist of four archetypal couples—each consisting of a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ form of energy—and a final androgynous archetype, The Couple, which evolves as we work to create reciprocal relationships between the other four pairs.
I agree with Kirsten’s comment that the Couple is not completion. As I see it, it is a conscious, expanding, integrating way of thinking, being and living which aims for perfection and completion. In this respect it is a portal to transcendence. I’d like to expand on that idea here.
Last weekend I attended a talk by Father Rohr in which he made two profound statements:
“Organized religion has not taught high-level consciousness.”
“Unless your religion is transforming your consciousness, it’s junk religion.” ~Richard Rohr, Speech in Winter Park, FL, Jan 28, 2017.
This from a Catholic priest. How refreshing is that? Here’s the point I want to make: We are much more than we think we are, and reality is much more than we think it is. The thoughts and feelings of which we are aware are the tip of a massive iceberg, and we will never experience spiritual transformation (non-dualistic, high-level consciousness) until we admit the data of the unconscious, i.e. what lies below, into our awareness.
And how do we do that? As Richard Rohr says, “the relationship is the vehicle” that will take us there.
“God is absolute relatedness. I would name salvation as simply the readiness, the capacity, and the willingness to stay in relationship.” Richard Rohr. Divine Dance, p. 46.
This is a truly profound statement. Once again, to quote Rohr,
“…the principle of one is lonely; the principle of two is opp0sitional and moves you toward preference; the principle of three is inherently moving, dynamic, and generative.” Richard Rohr. The Divine Dance, p. 42.
Three. Trinity. The foundation of Christian theology. Any relationship between two opposing parts of ourselves, or between two individuals, is by nature oppositional. However, a long-lasting, committed relationship between any two entities is a sacred crucible in which two souls (or two opposing parts of one soul) can hope to attain psychological and spiritual maturity. This is why I’ve written:
I see the Couple as integrating the other four archetype pairs in a sacred marriage of fully individuated and fully related opposites. This union activates the creative instinct and brings us into the spiritual domain and Epoch III integrated consciousness. ~Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 203.
Epoch III thinking is neither perfect nor complete. But at this point in human evolution, it is a step forward: a portal to further growth. Moreover, as Kirsten noted, and as I write in Matrignosis and my books, the genders of the human partners whose interactions usher us into this domain is not an issue. Here’s Kirsten’s take on why:
“There are good reasons why “Two Spirit” people in many indigenous cultures have a significant role in spirituality, because they (we) literally transcend the human tendency to create dualistic models of relationships (both internal and external) that are actually intricate, reflective, webs of interdependence—more like Indra’s net than like pairs of complementary opposites….
“With gay relationships, we’ve got to experiment with going beyond the duality and open up the possibilities… because we don’t just fit the mold. In my own 29 year relationship, we’re constantly exploring new ways of balancing, responding, creating, and dancing with each other… I hope that’s true in any healthy relationship!” ~Kirsten Backstrom
I find Kirsten’s thinking on this issue to be profound. I believe with my whole being that it is possible for partners in any couple relationship to relate in such a way that the creative instinct within each is activated. This enriches both their individual selves and their relationship such that each partner creates an original work of art of his/her own soul as well as of the relationship itself.
Moreover, their creative interaction in the space in-between activates a third entity, sometimes called the Holy Spirit, or God’s indwelling presence. This three-in-one relationship is a spiritually transformative love, a divine presence which transcends religious dogma, gender stereotypes, and dualism. Thus can we evolve into high-level consciousness and high-level spirituality.
The Couple Relationship Within and Without January 24, 2017
“The original sperm from which we are formed is masculine and feminine, the one which is in the majority wins, but the other side does not die, it remains living but as a minority, just as in politics the Government and the Opposition both exist.” ~Carl Jung, ETH, Page 216.
Unfortunately, whether we are talking about the masculine and feminine attributes of our physical bodies, the psychological relationship between our inner masculine and feminine qualities, or relationships between males and females, Jung’s use of the word ‘Opposition’ in the above quote is only too appropriate. Once our egos start identifying with one principle in childhood, we tend to set up an antagonistic relationship with the other, and this polarization permeates every aspect of our lives.
Dualistic thinking appears to be a natural and inevitable by-product of ego-formation in the first half of life, but it does not have to end there. Nor should it, if we want to keep growing. As Dr. Jung noted, we’re all formed from both principles, and each of us has our own unique spot somewhere along the continuum between them. Ultimately, our satisfaction and fulfillment in life depends on finding our own place and learning how to be true to it.
“It is only possible to live as we should if we live according to our own nature. But in these days we live by our brains alone and ignore the very definite laws of our body and the instinctive world. We damage ourselves severely when we offend against these…” ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Page 219.
As long as we’re unaware and unaccepting of our true nature and fuller potential, we inevitably damage others too. Regardless of our gender, if, as a child, we learn to fear, mistrust, and dislike our fathers or other adult males, we may grow up to feel the same way about our own masculine sides, other men, or the masculine sides of women. Our attitudes toward our mothers and adult females will likewise effect our attitudes toward our feminine sides, other women, and the feminine sides of men.
We all have different personalities, experiences, biases, complexes and shadows, and no one wants to look at their painful aspects. But we ignore them at our peril, because our disowned selves influence our health and the health of our relationships.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to spot our prejudices and barriers: they are mirrored every day in intimate couple relationships. But unfortunately,
“We have not been educated to look inwards, though most people are able to give their attention to outside things.” ~Carl Jung, ETH, Vol. 3, Page 13.
If we want loving couple relationships, we must redirect our attention from the outer world to the inner. We must commit ourselves to practices which reveal our soul’s truths, which we must accept, especially the painful ones. If we persevere, over time our wounds begin to heal and our perspective changes. As this happens our outer lives change too.
We will never change completely and our shadow will always be with us, but we can recognize it sooner and make reparations faster. Moreover, accepting and integrating our fuller potential empowers us to break out of our prisons of conformity and blossom into our individuality. Gradually our resistance to, and fear of, others and the unknown lessens. We pretend less, react less habitually, feel less need to conceal our honest feelings or stifle our gifts. Our need to know everything, control anyone, or prove anything diminishes. Defensive postures such as resentment and hypersensitivity soften.
We grow more mindful, less agitated. We can more easily relax into the present moment. We can anticipate what the next may bring with pleasure and enthusiasm. We can make original, authentic choices. When we feel our prejudices, painful emotions and unhealthy habits rising within us like monsters from the deep, we can find new ways to express them without hurting others.
Over time, our thoughts and behaviors spring more often from healed archetypes than wounded stereotypes. Life becomes a delightful gift to be savored; less of a contest to win, obstacle to overcome, or ordeal to be endured. Thus do we create an ongoing, original work of art: an increasingly more authentic, empowered, and conscious being with balanced energies which flow appropriately between masculine and feminine, here manifesting qualities of the drive for self-preservation, there acting from the drive for species-preservation. In a culture distorted by one-sided worship of the masculine, integrating the feminine brings a refreshing return of feeling and the ability to live with soul.
Respecting both masculine and feminine values fashions a new morality of impeccable integrity and personal responsibility based on universal standards of justice and care for all. Our wish to cause as little pain as possible, combined with our growing ability to see and restrain our shadows, helps us listen with patience and tolerance while allowing our partners to speak their truths. Creating the Couple within dramatically increases our hope of healing our relationships and establishing the intimacy and compassion for which every soul longs.
“If our inner journey does not match and lead to an outer journey, we have no true freedom or “salvation.” Richard Rohr Online Daily Meditation, January 16, 2017.
And I would add, if our inner relationship does not lead to a more honest and healthy couple relationship, we can be sure we are neither spiritually mature nor enlightened.
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons.
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 Transcendent Function January 3, 2017
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.