Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thomas Moore on Gathering the Light

Gathering the Light  A Jungian View of Meditation
by V. Walter Odajnyk

The following is Thomas Moore's Foreword to Gathering the Light:

In its basic forms meditation is simply something that human beings do. We stop before a beautiful sunset and take it in as a deep aesthetic experience. We hear bad news and stop and think through all its implications and feel its impact on our emotions. We walk in a forest and can’t help but get quiet to be part of the natural world around us. We think through our problems and wonder about our future and consider the past.

Spiritual traditions offer ways to make these simple, primal ways of meditating more formal and more effective. More sophisticated ways of meditating take us deep and have an even greater impact on our emotions, worldview and sense of self. They calm us not just by quieting the body and the mind, but by cleansing the impurities of our psychological and spiritual condition, a point made by that well-known champion of meditation and the dark night of the soul, John of the Cross.

If you have read C. G. Jung’s memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections, you will have eavesdropped on a remarkable man who, perhaps more than any other 20th century person, used many methods, internal and external, to explore his soul. Many readers are surprised to find what they thought was an autobiography to be slight on facts and heavy with internal images and experiences. Jung explored and mapped and named the inhabitants of the inner world with a ferocity of imagination rarely seen. All the while, he connected his discoveries and inventions to the discipline of psychology and to the religious, occult and spiritual traditions of the world.

So it makes sense to relate our efforts to meditate with Jung’s writings, especially with his notions of Self, his alchemical studies and his special method of active imagination. Having not worked this idea through for myself, after studying Jung intensely for many years, I was surprised and happy to see it done so enthusiastically and intelligently in this remarkable book by Walter Odajnyk.

When contemporary psychology confronts meditation, it often moves in a reductive direction, like telling us that certain parts of the brain are lighting up when a person enters deep focus. But Jung was not your typical psychologist. He had a vast and detailed interest in religious and spiritual issues and for the most part didn’t reduce the spiritual to the psychological. Or, if he did come close to it on occasion, generally he tried to elevate psychology through an enthusiastic appreciation of religion and opened up the meaning of religious rites and imagery with his own rich brand of psychologizing. As a former member of a Catholic religious order, I found his writings on the Mass and on the Virgin Mary enlightening and enriching.

This book also makes interesting comparisons between psychotherapy and transcendent forms of meditation. There is much to learn here about the two processes, one sorting out the psyche and the other reaching into transpersonal realms. In my own favored language, I would say that there is a spiritual form of meditating that takes us beyond ourselves and a soul meditating that remains close to life and personality, using art, images, ritual and nature as aids to contemplation.

Jung tells a fascinating story of his discovery of alchemy and its usefulness to his own life and to his work. In the first relevant dream he found himself in a wing of his house he didn’t know existed. It contained a library of esoteric books. Then he found himself locked up in the 17th century, the time when European alchemy flourished. I find it an exciting and fruitful idea to use alchemy as the basis for a special kind of meditation, and you have the fundamentals in this book.

Alchemy provides us with particular images for the materials, processes, and phases of soul work. Jung began with the Secret of the Golden Flower, and so it’s appropriate that it is the focus of this book. Today especially, a time of thorough materialism in science and psychology, we have to extract the soul from the many literal and purely physical ideas we have about human life. You might say that a primary purpose of meditation is to recover our souls from being lost and stuck and covered over with ideas that are too thick for the subtleties of soul work.

Most people who know a little about Jung are familiar with the notion of the psychological complex and the archetype. These are essential elements in a Jungian therapy that helps a person get freed from the dominance of a particular complex or archetype. Professor Odajnyk makes the important point that meditation is an effective way to contact the complexes and to reach the archetypal level of experience. I can imagine it having a useful role in the therapeutic analysis of the psyche. I might even go so far as to say that at times therapy itself is a kind of meditation. Dream work, for instance, takes you deep into reflection on images that are full of interest and relevance because they shed so much light on the underworld of our daily experience.

I welcome the re-appearance of this book because generally people focus on the technical aspects of meditating and not so much on the processes and fantasies of the psyche that are involved. I wouldn’t recommend a purely Jungian style of meditating, but Jungian ideas can enrich the experience and importantly bring the deep psyche into the picture. Sometimes people become so focused on their spiritual progress that they neglect the deep soul.

As you read this subtle, carefully thought-out book, you might draw simple lessons for yourself that you can apply to your meditations. You might expand your very notion of what meditation is and how to go about it. In a more general sense, you might begin to reconcile soul and spirit in your life, achieving one of the primary goals of alchemy. Imagine this book lying open in a warm, shadowy and mysterious laboratory of the soul. It offers you guidance and a few recipes for becoming a deeper and more soulful person.

You have just read Thomas Moore's Foreword to V. Walter Odajnyk's
Gathering the Light: A Jungian View of Meditation.

About the Author
V. Walter Odajnyk, Ph.D. is a Jungian analyst, and serves as a Core Faculty member and is the Research Coordinator for Pacifica Graduate Institute's Mythological Studies Program.
Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting-Edge Fiction, and a growing list of alternative titles.
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