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.
Image Credits: Rayonnat Gothic rose window of north transept, Notre-Dame de Paris (window was created by Jean de Chelles on the 13th century). Great Temple at Honan, Canton. (Hoi Tong Monastery on Henan Island in Guangzhou, China). Wikimedia Commons. Quote image courtesy of Lewis LaFontaine.
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.
“Thinking noble thoughts does not connect us with the Holy; only the ability to feel love for ourselves and others does that.”
I recently posted this quote from Healing the Sacred Divide on Twitter and received the following comment from Amrita. “Yes, over the years of introspection, I have [come to understand] that in order to know the whole one needs to know the dark as well…to know positive , one must be aware of the negative and one must not act negative as it would amount to bad karma. The whole self-help industry talks about being positive but it doesn’t explain all the mysteries. Do explain it in your blog…”
There are so many dimensions to this issue that I could write books about it. But I’ll try to distill it into two posts by going straight to the core (or coeur) of the matter: the heart. I’m reminded of the saying, “You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to show up.” The mysteries are not about pretending to love and care: they’re about feeling and manifesting love and care. Feeling and being are key.
Humanity has always intuited that the mysteries revolve around love. Loving feelings are prayers from which everything good flows. Tenderness, kindness, healing, peace. Compassion. Choices to forgive, set aside hurt and anger, sacrifice our ego’s need for revenge so others won’t get hurt: these are choices to love.
Using self-discipline, will power and positive affirmations and intentions to be more loving is, of course, a step in the right direction. But mental activity without physical and emotional participation is not enough. Sometimes it’s just a band-aid the ego sticks on the surface of a wound to avoid dealing with deeper, more painful realities. Every ego experiences wounding, and we all try to protect ourselves by repressing, disowning, ignoring or escaping. But until our psychic wounds are addressed and healed, the pain always oozes back into our awareness. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that our mental discipline crumbles and our positive affirmations have no effect at all.
“In the realm of feeling…Western man is apt to be the puppet of his unconscious moods.”
–M. Esther Harding
We tell ourselves to blow off someone’s unkind words, but our vulnerable, innocent child within thinks, “What did I do?” and we start feeling hurt and sad. If we don’t catch those feelings right away, we move on to feeling wronged and resentful. We think, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way!” and now we’re really angry. Saying we love the person who elicited this response doesn’t make the anger go away and they can feel it whether we admit to it or not. If we’re not feeling love and they’re not feeling lovable, no one is convinced.
Or we knock ourselves out trying to look fabulous and act adorable and pleasing so we’ll be loveable and loved. But this takes a lot of work that uses up a psychological energy. When there’s no energy left we let down our guard; then the least little thing sets us off. Resentment and pettiness and self-loathing creep in, and the attitudes and actions that spew out into the world have nothing to do with love.
Unloving feelings that destroy our resolve to love are aspects of the unhealed and disowned parts of ourselves we call our dark shadow. When the shadow walks in the door, positive thoughts and will power fly out the window and the results are utterly predictable. Toxic feelings from unhealed wounds birth toxic behaviors. That’s just the way we’re made.
This is why getting in touch with our true feelings is the first step to connecting with the Holy. I’ll discuss the second step next time.
Memories of Childhood Dreams March 5, 2013
I was born in Michigan. My mother was a nurse, my father was a policeman, and I had an older brother named Jimmy. When I was four, Daddy and Mama sold our Victorian cottage, hitched a trailer to the back of our car, and we headed south. That first year we lived near Tampa. The only thing I remember about the Temple Trailer Park is that it was situated beside an icy cold natural sulphur spring where I learned how to swim. A year later Daddy found a job as a highway patrolman and at the end of the summer we arrived at Mitchell’s Trailer Park in a wooded area of Tallahassee. Daddy parked our trailer under a mossy oak tree beside a deep drainage ditch whose sides were webbed with tree roots. I had never seen a ditch or a tree that big and everything about our new forest home seemed magical to me.
Our dark green trailer had a life-sized Indian head at the top where the curved front wall met the roof. To me he was a friendly guardian warrior. Our new home was too small for a bathtub, so Mama would bathe me in the big sink in the community wash house. With the help of the trailer park handy man, Daddy built a screened porch and put in bunk beds for Jimmy and me. I loved sleeping out there. The nights were cool and you could hear crickets, tree frogs and hoot owls. In the mornings the birds began chirping at first light. On windy nights it sounded like the trees were humming, and when it rained we fell asleep to the rat-a-tat-tat of rain drops and acorns drumming on the tin roof.
Mama got a job working nights at the hospital. She slept during the day while Daddy was at work and Jimmy was at school, so I entertained myself. I got so accustomed to being alone that once when a little girl asked me to come out and play, I wouldn’t go. She bit my hand and ran away! I couldn’t imagine what her problem was. Another time I folded several pieces of typing paper into a book. Since I didn’t know how to write, I drew pictures. First, I drew myself waking up in bed. Then I was sitting on the potty, then eating a bowl of oatmeal at the kitchen table. By the fourth page I couldn’t think of anything else to draw. I found this very frustrating. Filling a book with the thoughts and images inside my head seemed like a beautiful, impossible dream.
One summer day Daddy took me for a walk down the dirt road beside the trailer park. The drainage ditches on either side were rimmed with colorful wildflowers and he taught me their names. Snapdragon. Lantana. Japanese honeysuckle. When he stopped beside a wood fence I climbed up, looked over the top, and fell in love! It was a stable yard. I had never seen a horse before and thought these were the most beautiful creatures I’d ever seen. When I saw people riding them I wanted to ride too, so Daddy paid a quarter for a lesson. While the lady cinched up the saddle, the brown and white pony took a deep breath to balloon his belly. When he let it out the girth loosened up. At first this was fine, but when he trotted the saddle began a slow slide down his right side and before long I was on the ground! I thought this was a great adventure. That’s the day my dream of having a horse of my own was born.
A few days later all I could think about was how much I wanted to ride that pony. I couldn’t find a quarter, so since Mama was asleep I borrowed one from a lady in a nearby trailer. Then I walked to the stable and had a fine ride. When the lady told my parents about my visit, I couldn’t understand why they seemed worried. I was rather proud of my creative solution! They gave me a quarter to pay back the lady, told me to apologize for borrowing money, and said I was never to do it again. I didn’t.
My life has changed in many ways since then, but some things haven’t changed at all. I still love trees and the patterns of roots and the magic and mystery of forests. I love the way Native Americans respect and protect nature. I love the night, the sounds of wind and rain. I love being alone. I love writing books. I love flowers and horses and new adventures. And when a dream feels really, really important to me, I pursue it until I make it happen.
My wish for you is that you’ll remember who you are and what you love, and that you’ll be able to pursue your dreams until you make them happen.
Freedom to Feel February 3, 2012
As a young married woman I was utterly captivated by the film, Blume in Love, for reasons I didn’t understand. The same thing had happened three years earlier when I read my all-time favorite book: The Magus, by John Fowles. Why did I find it so incredibly fascinating? Did it have anything in common with Blume in Love, or were these just random coincidences? I didn’t know then. Forty years later, I do.
The Magus, published in 1966, was an instant success and is considered one of the top 100 best novels of the 20th century. The film which came out two years later is another story. This from Wikipedia: “The film was a critical disaster…Michael Caine himself has said that it was one of the worst films he had been involved in…because no one knew what it was all about. Woody Allen has made the comment that if he could live his life over again, he would do everything the same except for seeing The Magus.”
Who understood the message of The Magus in 1968? Certainly not the general public. Even Fowles kept working on it until 1977 when he brought out a final version. Interest in psychoanalysis and mystical philosophy was growing in the West, but most of us, including women and some truly bad guys, still had the ego-driven mentality of a teenaged boy who wears the persona of a tough, white-hatted cowboy who defends the weak and is always on the side of right — even when it’s obvious to everyone else that he couldn’t be more wrong.
But the 100th monkey had hopped into a sinking canoe and we were in for a tumultuous ride down a raging river. The denizens of our collective unconscious had gained so much power that they were erupting in shocking phenomena: racial unrest, the Beatles with their Eastern religion and psychodelic drugs, the assassinations of our leaders, college sit-ins, the peace symbols and flower power of Haight-Ashbury’s hippies, the dissolving of the sexual double standard, violent protests against the Viet Nam War, and the charismatic and feminist movements.
Here’s my psychological explanation. Humanity had spent about 5,000 years developing and fine-tuning the ego, left-brained logos, and our masculine sides. All of this was a necessary part of our evolution, but then, in the first half of the 20th century, we experienced two devastating world wars, several smaller ones, and a new invention called “television.” Seeing his dark side reflected on the nightly news finally woke macho Old King Ego up. So he climbed down from his high horse and kissed Sophia, the sleeping Queen and High Priestess of the psyche who symbolizes feeling wisdom that comes from experience. We were evolving, getting back in touch with Eros, our feminine, caring, relationship-oriented side, and chaos always precedes times of great change.
So what does all hell breaking loose in Western society have to do with The Magus, Blume in Love, and me? Nicholas Urfe is near suicide due to an unauthentic life marked by unfeeling treatment of women. He’s drawn into the spell of a mysterious, magician-like man who uses a beautiful woman and an unconventional method to teach him how to feel again. Blume gets back in touch with his feelings when his desperate love for his Sophia-like divorced wife rekindles his feminine side. Like them and my society, I too was having unusual experiences that were arousing my inner feminine. Few from our generation knew what was happening, and many misused their new freedom to feel with disastrous results, but those who seized it and survived underwent life-changing initiations. Could it be that the dark Age of Unfeeling Reason is finally taking its place among the other dinosaurs of Earth’s chequered history?
Gated Religions December 27, 2011
For many years, literal belief in the doctrines of my religion (Christianity) was enough to satisfy my spiritual hunger. But the strain of containing my beliefs in a tightly enclosed, left-brained compartment labeled “Religion” while repeatedly coming up against a Mystery that encompasses the entire universe eventually wore me down. At the age of 37 my ego waved a white flag and surrendered its need to feel safe and in control. In leaving the gated community of my religion, I entered a Dark Night of the Soul that lasted nine years.
I returned from the desert with a new way of seeing and living. My mind had been redirected from needing correct belief to seeking truth; from preparing for an afterlife to living now; from pretending and pleasing to being authentic; from defending a God-image of judgment, exclusivity and stasis to embracing a God-image of inclusiveness, openness and change. When I could no longer go to church without getting a stomach ache, I stopped attending. I was by no means rejecting the Mystery, but only a local and, to my way of thinking, painfully confining way of connecting with it with which I no longer felt at home.
Sometimes I’ve been angry at organized religion but I’ve kept most of my thoughts and feelings to myself; partly because I didn’t want to offend or mislead anyone who finds hope and healing in their faith, and partly because I’m simply more comfortable with affirming than critiquing. But there’s also a deeper reason: I’ve been afraid of the backlash. Ultra conservative elements of all three patriarchal religions have a long history of persecuting “heretics,” and frankly, the rabid religious intimidate me with their polarizing prejudices; their obsessive self-righteous anger; their intolerance and lack of compassion; their willingness to turn on those who question their fear-based practices and beliefs; their ability to fire up masses of devoted followers who support them blindly; their indifference to the pain and injustice their inner Nazis inflict.
Peace-loving Muslims are getting a lot of flak these days for not speaking out against violent Islamic groups but are they any different from me? It would be easy to point fingers at them, but wouldn’t a more effective use of my energy be to address the destructive forces in my own religious community? How can I self-righteously blame members of a religion I know nothing about for failing to speak out against their fanatics when I’ve been afraid to speak out against mine? Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he criticized hypocrites for pointing out the motes in others’ eyes while ignoring the beams in their own? As my six-year-old granddaughter would say in mock exasperation, “Peepuhl! What are we thinking?”
When it comes to religion, many of us are not thinking, at least not with both sides of our brains. We’re reacting instinctively and emotionally. We want the approval of our tribes. We want to stay safe. And so we shut down the inner other who yearns for a freer, more authentic, inclusive and compassionate way to celebrate the sacred miracle of life, and we shut out others who are different. But we should be just as afraid of ourselves and our exclusive communities as of outsiders. The real enemy lives within our gates and the true work begins at home, in the place we know best and where we have the most influence.
The world is in trouble. If there was ever a time to think psychologically and live spiritually, it’s now. If there was ever a place to start, it’s with ourselves.