Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Holy Grail and Near Death Experiences

by Dennis Merritt

"[India] left tracks which lead from one infinity into another infinity,” Jung wrote. (MDR, p. 284) During a hospitalization near the end of his trip, he had many remarkable dreams that underscored his personal myth: to rescue the Grail for Western culture. (n 84) He said a dream he had when just out of the hospital made one of the “most powerful dream impressions” in his life. (Bair 2003, p. 429) The dream location was on what seemed to be an island off the Southern coast of England. His sightseeing companions were not impressed that there was to be a secret celebration of the Grail that night in a medieval castle of the Grail. The lower wall of the castle had a tiny, iron, hooded gnome moving among metal leaves and vines containing tiny iron houses. (n 85) For the celebration to occur that evening, the responsibility fell upon Jung to fetch the Grail at night from a second smaller, desolate island. To do so Jung had to swim across a cold, wide channel. (MDR, p. 280-282) (n 86)

He said the most important aspect of the dream was “the visibility of the Grail or the Grail’s castle”—it was to be seen as real. (Bair 2003, p. 429) It was powerful and alive—not a passive tourist attraction as it was to some people in the dream. Ten years previous Jung had discovered that the myth of the Grail was still a living thing in many places in England, “recognized again by poets and prophetically revived” in different forms under changed names. Jung took the dream to mean he should not be preoccupied with India but with what was being lost in the West, symbolized by the quest for the Grail and the philosopher’s stone of the alchemists. (MDR, p. 282) (see Appendices D and E) “The Grail is a symbol of enlightenment” in the West he wrote (Bair 2003, p. 430)–the unum vas, una medicina and unus lapis of the alchemists (MDR, p. 282) while the Buddha represents the enlightened mind in the East. Buddhists strive to attain the degree of fulfillment and perfection of the Buddha.

The ultimate meaning of the Grail lay in its connection with the individuation process of becoming whole where one gives oneself over to the impersonal, that which is beyond and more encompassing than the personal. It is about becoming a Chinese sage: “the ear listening to the Inner King.” Individuation is ultimately a mystery—beyond human comprehension—“‘a lonely search’ perhaps akin to the ‘process of dying.’” Jung added, “Only few could bear such a search,” symbolized by his swimming alone in the cold water to a desolate island containing the Grail. (Bair 2003, p. 429)

Bair noted that Jung “thought he may have had such dreams...because his overall question was how and why the evil he encountered in India was ‘not a moral dimension,’ but rather...‘a divine power.’” (Bair 2003, p. 429 quoted from the Protocols) The India trip “provoked the initial reflections upon religion that served as the basis for all his writings on the subject from then on.” (p. 497) Answers to the questions which emerged came years later when Jung used his understanding of alchemy to analyze Christianity and the dark side of God. He developed the position on morals that one should intensely engage the Self in the hope of generating an individual response to a moral conflict, perhaps even doing what is considered to be “wrong” by conventional moral and ethical standards. “India was not my task,” Jung wrote, “but only a part of the way—admittedly a significant one—which should carry me closer to my goal.” (MDR, p. 282)

The powerful impressions and imagery from India loomed large in a near death experience six years later. Following a massive heart attack, he experienced a series of visions while under oxygen and camphor in February of 1944 at age 68. Jung was at “the outermost border,” somewhere between “a dream and an ecstasy”—probably between delirium and a coma. The visions, together with his trip to India in 1937-38, which ended in briefer periods of delirium while hospitalized, were the most enormous experiences of his life. (Bair 2003, p. 497)

The 1944 visions altered his life and eventually led him to revamp his concept of the archetypes. One vision was of Jung floating about one thousand miles above Sri Lanka with the earth below “bathed in a gloriously blue light” and shimmering in intense colors: “The most glorious thing I had ever seen,” Jung proclaimed. (MDR, p. 289, 290) In another vision, a Hindu sat in lotus posture waiting for Jung in the entrance to a huge rock in outer space. Deeper in the rock was the entrance to an antechamber framed by a wreath of flaming lamps similar to a temple entrance he had visited in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The lamps represented “a purifying essence through which he had to walk.” (Bair 2003, p. 497) As he approached the step to enter the rock, he underwent an extremely painful process of having his entire earthy existence stripped away:
There was no longer anything I wanted or desired. I existed in an objective form; I was what I had been and lived. At first the sense of annihilation predominated, of having been stripped or pillaged; but suddenly that became of no consequence. (MDR, p. 291)
As soon as he entered the illuminated temple in the rock, he was certain he would meet his people who could answer his burning questions about the historical context of his life and the direction in which it had been flowing. As he thought about this he saw his doctor, in his primal form as healer, floating up from Europe. He was delegated by the earth to protest Jung’s departure and insisted Jung return immediately. At that moment the vision ceased. (p. 291, 292)

Jung was profoundly disappointed that he didn’t get to enter the temple and join the “greater company” he belonged with. It took him three weeks to decide to live again. (n 87) Reality seemed like a prison, an artificially created three-dimensional world “in which each person sat by himself in a little box” suspended by a thread. (MDR, p. 292) He was depressed, weak and wretched during the day, but woke at midnight for an hour into an utterly transformed, ecstatic, blissful state. “I felt as though I were floating in space,” he said, “as though I were safe in the womb of the universe—in a tremendous void, but filled with the highest possible feeling of happiness” (p. 293)—Jung in the pregnant void. Everything around him in the hospital seemed enchanted, a magical, sacred atmosphere with “a pneuma of inexpressible sanctity in the room, whose manifestation was the mysterium coniunctionis.” (p. 295) He experienced the divine union in the form of visions of the Cabbalistic marriage in the afterlife of the male and female principles: he was the marriage. Then he was the festive Marriage of the Lamb in Jerusalem with ineffable states of joy and angels and light, which led to a vision of Zeus and Hera consummating their marriage in an outdoor amphitheater. The midnight visions gradually mingled and paled as Jung approached life again. They were gone after three weeks. (p. 294, 295)

The sacred marriage and sexual union of divine figures are prime examples of the union of opposites as a symbol of the Self. It illustrates the symbolic dimension of sexuality depicted in Shiva and Shakti in loving embrace, one of the Hindu images for liberation or nirvana. Such symbols of the Self add the important dimension to ecopsychology of the sacredness of sexuality and the body, our most direct link to nature and a sense of the Spirit in nature.

The visions and experiences had seemed utterly real to Jung: “the most tremendous things I had ever experienced,” he said. (n 88) By contrast, everything during the day irritated him; everything “was too material, too crude and clumsy, terribly limited both spatially and spiritually.” Reality felt like an empty imprisonment, “yet it had a kind of hypnotic power.” Jung wrote, “I have never since entirely freed myself of the impression that this life is a segment of existence which is enacted in a three-dimensional boxlike universe especially set up for it.” (MDR, p. 295)

Jung’s visions “had a quality of absolute objectivity,” (MDR, p. 295) an objectivity he later related to a dream-vision he had soon after Emma died in 1955. She appeared to him in her prime wearing her best dress:
Her expression was neither joyful nor sad, but, rather, objectively wise and understanding, without the slightest emotional reaction, as though she were beyond the mist of affects…It contained the beginning of our relationship, the events of fifty-three years of marriage, and the end of her life also. (p. 296) (n 89)
The dream was an example of the objectivity necessary for a completed individuation: “Only through objective cognition is the real coniunctio possible.” (MDR, p. 297) Emotional ties contain projections that coerce and constrain both parties. Objective cognition is seeing and accepting the absolute reality of a situation, what Jung called the “mountaintop perspective” related to Winnicott’s concept of the use of the object. (Winnicott 1969) Plato said philosophy is being able to die before one’s physical death, meaning that facing death, bringing death to life, gives one the objectivity of a philosopher of life. I associate such objective cognition with a perspective that can be obtained by activities like meditation, vision quests, and the moments of deep insight in life and in therapy.

Jung had completed Psychology and Alchemy just over a year before the near death visions; he had also written the first chapters of his opus magnum, Mysterium Coniunctionis. “All I have written is correct,” he said; he felt the illness was necessary for him to know the full reality of the mysterium coniunctionis. (Hannah 1991, p. 279)

He suffered another heart attack 2-1/2 years later, in November of 1946, probably as dangerous as the first: he was “suspended over the abyss” for several weeks. (Hannah 1991, p. 293, 294) Jung believed it occurred because he was involved in an intense period of creative activity at that time, wrestling “with the mysterious problem of hieros gamos (the mysterium coniunctionis).” He felt it took the two heart attacks to understand the hieros gamos well enough to even write about it. (p. 294, 295) Eleven years later and four years before his death at age 86 Jung admitted that he had not “solved the riddle of the coniunctio mystery” and was “darkly aware of things lurking in the background of the problem—things too big for horizons.” (Jung 1976a, p. 393) He, as much as anyone, could appreciate the depth of the meaning of the union of warring opposites; he had been aware of the dark side of God since childhood, had a powerful confrontation with the unconscious, had suffered in Europe through two world wars, and was essentially married to two women!

Fundamental changes occurred in Jung’s relationships with the women in his life following his first heart attack in 1944. Emma had rented a room in the hospital and didn’t leave the building for over two months. Bair comments:
Jung’s illness struck the death knell for [his] long relationship [with Toni Wolff], which had been imperiled since Toni refused to participate in alchemical research (n 90)…By the time Jung went home, he was as dependent upon Emma as a small child upon his mother. (Bair 2003, p. 501)
Nighttime visions during hospitalizations and dreams of all phases of his long marriage confronted Jung with a sense of wholeness:
From that time on, he revered [Emma] for all that she had brought to his life, and he sanctified their marriage as “an indescribable whole.” (Bair 2003, p. 501)
A gracious and generous accommodation had sprung up naturally between Toni and Emma sometime in the late l940s, and it lasted for the remainder of Toni’s life. (p. 558)
You have just read an excerpt from Dennls L. Merritt's The Cry of Merlin: Jung, the Prototypical Ecopsychologist (Volume 2 of The Dairy Farmer's Guide to the Universe)

Bair, D. 2003. Jung: A Biography. Little, Brown and Co.: Boston and New York.
Hannah, B. 1991. Jung: His Life and Work: A Biographical Memoir. Shambala: Boston.
MDR = Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Aniela Jaffe, ed. Richard and Claire Winston, trans. Random House: New York.

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