Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Am I doing it? How can I know? Will I ever know? Is there an underlying pattern to it all?
These are some of the Big questions that philosophers, Spirit Persons, and ordinary seekers are compelled to ask and answer. Some rely solely on intellectual methods: following teachers, reading, studying, getting degrees, writing books. Some seek answers in traditional religions and ‘religious’ practices. Some experiment with various forms of self-reflection aimed at self-discovery, self-knowledge and consciousness. Some try combinations of these plus alternative practices like body work, mind-altering drugs and artistic pursuits.
As I noted in my last post, our hunger for answers to these questions is motivated by the ‘transcendent function,’ a form of archetypal energy we all inherit just by being human. As a reminder, here’s Jung’s definition:
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 other words, even though we think of enlightenment as a strictly spiritual pursuit, it also has psychological (mental/ emotional/intellectual) components. Further, I would argue that it has physical components. In fact, I have come to believe that enlightenment is not solely a function of any one aspect of human nature, but of the whole package.
Buddhism expresses this idea through four “Aims” or goals of human life. As I see it, each goal is met within a particular domain of human functioning. Each domain is fueled by a physical instinct and represented by a masculine and feminine archetype. These stand at either end of the pole of energy in which that instinct specializes.
To be fully functioning spirit persons, we need to awaken, activate, and heal our fullest potential—masculine and feminine—in each of these four areas. ~Jean Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 203.
Here’s my summary of these relationships:
(1) The aim of Lawful Order and Moral Virtue takes place in The Social Domain. Our social lives receive energy from our physical Instinct for Nurturance. Psychologically, this instinct is symbolized by the King and Queenarchetypes, our inner authority figures who govern our social behavior for the benefit of all.
(2) We accomplish our aim for Power and success inThe Physical Domain. This goal is primarily accomplished through our Instinct for Activity. We cannot just think or will our way to success. Our bodies have to be engaged in studied, committed, goal-oriented and self-disciplined practices. For me, the Warrior and Mother archetypes represent the opposite poles of physical energy available to us in pursuit of our goals in the material world.
(3) Release from Delusion: The Mental Domain. Our search for truth and enlightenment relies on our cognitive functioning, or intellect, which matures as we consciously activate our Instinct for Reflection and its archetypal representatives, the Scholar/Magician and Wisewoman.
(4) Love and pleasure: The Emotional Domain. To find emotional satisfaction in life, we need to activate our Instinct for Sex and its psychological equivalents, the Lover and Beloved archetypes. This does not necessarily require our participation in physical sex, but the aspect of our libido which specializes in this kind of energy does need to be activated. In other words, we need to experience passion, and being loved and loving in return.
Since Jung believed we have five instincts, and in keeping with his insight that the transcendent function progressively unites the opposites, I respectfully offer a fifth domain which is equally essential to enlightenment.
(5) Perfection and Completion: The Spiritual Domain. In my experience, spiritual growth is fueled primarily by our Instinct for Creativity: our capacity to imagine and find meaning in the inner forces which influence our journeys through life. Our creativity is symbolized by the Couple archetype, or Self, which gradually manifests in every area of our lives via the transcendent function.
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, HSD, p. 203.
As you can see, the search for enlightenment cannot be compartmentalized into one domain, but requires cooperation between every part of us in every domain in which we function. I stress this point to dispel the common misconception that putting all our spiritual eggs into one basket—traditional religious participation and belief—is the only way to attain enlightenment. This obsession with using only intellect and emotion to connect with a loving God not only dismisses the sacredness of the physical body, but it ignores the fact that our actual words and behaviors can be decidedly unspiritual. Moreover, it can lead to a dangerous split between mind and body, spirit and soul.
In conclusion I would like to note that despite all the thought and energy I’ve given to the pursuit of enlightenment, I cannot say for certain what it is. As I wrote in response to a comment after last week’s post:
“I wish I knew what enlightenment is. If it’s a conscious, consistent, ongoing process of trying to understand, individuate, love, realize our true selves, and appreciate the miracle of our lives, then, perhaps all of us who do this kind of work could be considered such. I mean, we know we’re part of a process, and we’re consciously involved in it. But if enlightenment is not a process, but an end-product, then I know I’m not “there.” I keep re-hashing old stuff and coming up with new stuff to process, so in this definition, I’m only as ‘enlightened’ as my thoughts, behavior, and motivations are in this very moment!” ~Jean Raffa
Nothing can exist without its opposite; the two were one in the beginning and will be one again in the end. Consciousness can only exist through continual recognition of the unconscious, just as everything that lives must pass through many deaths. ~Carl Jung CW Vol. 9i par. 178
There’s a battle going on in my head. I hate fights. I hate conflict of any kind. But I’ve been witnessing this battle every day for six weeks and I’ve decided to give you a ringside seat. First I need to set the scene so you’ll know where I am and what the fight’s about it and who the antagonists are.
The setting is the political arena as seen from the perspective of my philosophical, introverted, sensitive, non-political mind. The issue is Affordable Health Care. The antagonists are various aspects of my Ego, Shadow, and Higher Self. Sometimes I know who’s speaking, sometimes I don’t.
For six weeks now, ever since I had an emotionally-charged conversation with a friend after I attended a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, some of my inner characters have been having a dicey dialogue. I wake up to their arguments. They make points throughout the day. Their themes populate my dreams and interrupt my sleep.
So why am I inviting you to view this inner drama? Here are a few of the reasons I recognize at the moment:
To clarify my thoughts.
To ease my conscience.
To heal my conflicts.
To get some sleep.
To show you the kinds of challenges people face when they’re committed to self-knowledge, thinking psychologically, and living spiritually. After all, that’s the theme of this blog.
Because I want to make a difference in individual and collective thinking and living.
I realize the last reason may sound a bit grandiose, but wouldn’t everyone like to think that maybe their lives made a positive difference, if only a very tiny one? In fact, isn’t there an inner archetypal force, a mysterious ‘transcendent function’ that pushes all of us, no matter how craven, to better ourselves, to rise above our ignorance and selfishness?
What but a personal experience of this function could motivate me to write a book called Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World? What but a taste of the joy that comes from heeding its call would cause any of us to do our best at our work and build loving, intimate relationships? Would we be fully human if we cared about nothing but ourselves? I believe we wouldn’t. Yet sometimes I still fight my mysterious task master.
So here’s what’s been going on in my head:
“But I’m a philosopher, not an activist.”
“How’s that working for you? And how’s the view from your Ivory Tower?” (Pretty sure this latter comment came from my Spiritual Bully, not the Self.)
“But I abhor politics. What possible good is there in self-serving rants and self-righteous blame games motivated by power and greed?”
“Don’t be so cynical. You know that’s human nature. We all react instinctively to fear, and the less awareness we have, the more we project our shadows onto others to take the heat off ourselves.”
“I know. But the fear and projection seem to be getting worse. And so few people seem to see it or care, and my psychologizing can’t change that. People have to want to change.”
“So if you really care, what can you do?”
“The only thing I know how to do is write, but I know absolutely zero about this issue and the factors involved.”
“You could find out. Do some research. Ask around.”
“I’m not interested in that kind of research. I want to understand how our minds work and why we behave the way we do. I don’t want to read thousands of pages of boring details, know who lobbies whom to get bills vetoed or passed, or learn the depressing facts about the twisted, depressing lies politicians tell to push their personal agendas through. None of it makes any lasting difference in the end. Meanwhile, it hurts to be constantly reminded that some people who are supposedly devoted to serving our country care more about getting re-elected than easing people’s pain and suffering. That they would rather distort the truth and blame the other party than be true to their consciences. That they may not even have consciences.”
“Hmmm. I’m hearing some powerful anger and resistance here. What are you really afraid of.”
“Venturing into this new arena is difficult for me. My position is unusual and I don’t want to be misunderstood or scorned. What if I can’t present my case with clarity and objectivity? What if people hate me or think I’m arrogant or frivolous? It’s hard enough to see and deal with my own crap. Do I have to heap more coals on my head?”
“I see. Pooor baby. You think you shouldn’t have to suffer any more. After all, look how hard you’ve worked to become a more conscious, ‘spiritual’ person! (That had to be my Spiritual Bully again.) So if that’s how you feel, why keep agonizing about whether to write about this? Why not let people with thicker skins and extroverted personalities enter this particular fray?”
“Aaarrgh! Because nobody else seems to care what’s happening to him and it’s not fair! I can’t stand to see him suffering over this injustice. And I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t try to help.”
“Well alright. Let’s get on with it then, shall we?”
So that’s it. Next time, the full story from my friend.
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.