Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Art of Tending the Fire March 26, 2013

An ancient theorem of enlightenment is As within, so without. Essentially, this means that we humans project the themes and processes of our souls outward into the physical world, which then functions like a giant movie screen. If we will look at this screen through the eyes of Sophia—by which I mean with right-hemisphere mythos—we will see our inner dramas enacted everywhere and this seeing will enhance our self-awareness.

For example, the following themes of the ego’s heroic journey into consciousness are found not only in ancient rituals, scriptures, and myths, but in current books, films, songs, paintings, sculptures, and other creative works:

Separation (leaving the safety and comfort of the maternal matrix to find your identity),

Achievement (strengthening your ego by finding and proving your individuality),

Sacrifice (changing your ego’s attitude toward power),

Suffering (entering the dark abyss of the unconscious),

Surrender, Death, Descent (losing the safety and comfort of familiar assumptions and conventional formulas; submitting to an authority greater than the world’s opinions),

Receiving help from unexpected sources (befriending your shadow and feminine side),

Rebirth (acquiring self-knowledge and more consciousness; being released from the prisons of rigid belief systems; becoming empowered to make original choices),

Return (re-entering the community on your own terms as a maturing, authentic individual),

Reunion (being reunited with feminine feeling and participating in the sacred marriage in which your inner opposites are united), and

Blessing (bringing healing new consciousness to your community).

These archetypal themes are developed in such literary works as Somerset Maughm’s The Razor’s Edge, Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, John Fowles’ The Magus, and even the humorous Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins. Films include Alan Ball’s American Beauty, M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Village and Lady in the Water, and George Lucas’sStar Wars series. The songs of Kris Kristofferson and other musicians likewise address many of these issues. Ultimately, the symbols and motifs of every work of art are imaginative manifestations of the artist’s need to understand and express him/herself, evolve into greater consciousness, and share what s/he has learned with others. Some artists know this; others don’t have a clue.

Imaginatively tracking the underlying threads of psychological and spiritual meaning that we find in myth, literature, film, art, our dreams and even the everyday events of our waking lives, is soul-making work.  As Jungian analyst Monika Wikman says, “The symbolizing function alive in the imagination unites the opposites of spirit and body and brings us into experience with the third, the intermediary, realm, which is both corporeal and spiritual and also more than the sum of the parts. The star in humankind—the living imagination and its connection to the divine—mediates psyche/body dimensions and misalignments…”  Using our imagination to find personal meaning in the themes and images that speak to us heals divides that prevent us from becoming our true selves.

The alchemists understood the transforming value of imagination. They addressed it with their symbolism of tending the fire and cooking earthly elements until they were distilled into their purest essences.  The essences were lifted into the heavens to mingle with and be fertilized by what Jung called the “seeds of the stars,”  their celestial, archetypal source.  Thus renewed, they returned to purify and renew the earth. This was a metaphor for transforming the baser, earthier elements of our psyches in ways that bring us spiritual awareness,  emotional warmth and the light of consciousness.

Our transformation does not happen quickly or easily. It is, as Wikman notes,  a never-ending process of cultivating “inner attentiveness to the life of the soul, and learning how to live and work with this flame that burns within in ways that are life enhancing, rather than destructive.”  This leads us “into growing awareness and participation in new transmutations between heaven and earth, between human and divine…[wherein]…we and the guiding spirit of wisdom grow in relationship to one another.”

If wisdom is the goal we seek, tending our inner fire is the art that will take us there.

 

The Space Odyssey of Projection: Part I January 10, 2012

After my post “Animal Healers” in which I said that we project our unconscious emotions onto animals, a reader wrote, “I am a bit confused about the concept of “projection” within the context of Jungian Psychology. I hear Jungians use it a lot, and I get the concept in general, but only in a vague sense. For example, I understand that we “project” our own subconscious concepts of perfection on our beloved, but I’m unsure what that means. Are Jungians saying that the world we see is simply a hologram of what our subconscious minds expect to and want to see? How do we differentiate between what is existentially in the world from a projection?”

This is a great question and I won’t be able to explain it adequately in just one post, so I’ll continue next time. Projection is one of the most difficult psychological realities of all to understand because we do it at an entirely unconscious level. Your ego believes it is the center of your psyche and that everything pretty much revolves around it. Moreover, it believes it knows exactly what you are doing, and why, at any given moment. To convince your ego that it is mistaken is akin to Copernicus and Galileo trying to convince our forebears of only a few centuries ago that contrary to the evidence of their eyes, the sun does not revolve around the Earth and there is an unimaginably vast universe beyond the bowl of the sky with contents and influences yet to be discovered.

It is no coincidence that during the second half of the 20th century people throughout the world became fascinated with science fiction novels, television shows and films like War of the Worlds, Star Trek, Star Wars, E.T. and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Freudian and Jungian psychology were entering collective awareness in a big way during that era, and a major discovery was the reality of the unconscious self. With our growing awareness of an unknown inner universe came a parallel interest in the outer one.

The idea that we might contain potentially dangerous unknown contents made us extremely uncomfortable. Since these unconscious phenomena were still inaccessible to our egos, we dealt with our anxiety by imagining and exploring ideas about aliens and space ships and planetary wars going on somewhere outside ourselves and the known world. “As above, so below,” as the ancient saying goes. To put it another way, “As without, so within.” Whether or not space aliens are physical realities remains to be seen; but there is no doubt they symbolize psychological realities.

This is an example of projection. Jung said (Volume 6, paragraphs 783 and 784 of the Collective Works) that a projection is a transferral of our own unconscious contents onto another person or object. It is an automatic process that happens to everyone and is not under our ego’s conscious control. When we project our negative unconscious contents onto others we make them responsible for our discomfort, flaws, or problems. This helps us get rid of painful, incompatible contents. We do the same with positive contents of which our egos are still unaware. Then we make those onto whom we have projected them responsible for our happiness or salvation. Thus do we demonize others in whom we see our negative contents and create God-images out of entities, real or imagined, onto whom we project our positive contents. This, of course, is how wars, love affairs, and religions are formed.

Next time I’ll give some examples of what projection looks like in everyday life. Meanwhile you might want to ask yourself who you demonize, who you love, and why.

 

Boys Behaving Badly April 5, 2010

I recently wrote about the obsessive warriors in Avatar and Star Wars from a psychological perspective and suggested their behavior was rooted in the rigidity of a one-sided, self-serving ego. Lest anyone misunderstand, I hasten to add that the ego’s problem is not one of gender, but lack of self-awareness. Surely it goes without saying that girls behave badly too. Snow White’s Evil Stepmother, 101 Dalmations’ Cruella DeVille, and Fatal Attraction’s Alex Forrest are merely images of self-centered egos with wombs, dresses, and long hair!

Many of us think of the ego as being “bad” by definition, and I know people who have trouble with the very idea of warriors, but every psyche is furnished with an ego and Warrior (and several other archetypes as well) at birth, and we all need both to get through life with a measure of success. This is why Jungian psychology does not judge the ego as good or bad but simply sees it as the center of consciousness. A healthy ego with mature awareness nurtures a noble, heroic Warrior; an immature and minimally conscious ego can create a destructive one. The point is to become conscious of our ego’s destructive tendencies and learn how to control them. And what are these tendencies?

Consider Colonel Quaritch and Darth Vader:  Self preservation is more important to them than species-preservation.  They want to prove themselves by acquiring worldly power and authority.  The more power and authority they have, the more resistant they are to giving it up.  They are so full of themselves (pride and hubris are two words that immediately come to mind) that they believe they are entitled and infallible.  They sincerely believe their way is RIGHT and are closed to alternative views.  They insist on having their way regardless of who they hurt.  They are totally unaware of the powerful tool – repression – they unconsciously use to ignore their true motives and justify their behavior and the damage they do.

These are the basic inclinations of every ego and it’s extraordinarily difficult to transcend them. Think about it. Don’t babies start out being utterly self-centered little tyrants? Doesn’t it require enormous effort to civilize them? Don’t we adults still struggle with these tendencies in ourselves? Isn’t this why we create laws and rules and schools and moral codes and social standards and religions? The human animal is trying to contain its instinctual willfulness, trying to respect the significance of others, trying to grow more conscious. But we are still incomplete.

Legal systems and religions can help an ego acquire good intentions and a veneer (persona) of balance and maturity, but by themselves they cannot soften a hard heart. To be able to love others we first have to love ourselves, and we can’t love ourselves until we can see and forgive our self-serving motivations and self-defeating tendencies.

This is why even the most well-intentioned religions and political regimes have difficulty containing the Colonel Quaritches and Darth Vaders of the world. There is only one force powerful enough to transform an immature ego and that is consciousness.

May the Force be with you.

 

 
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