Saturday, December 17, 2011

Transcendent Traditions: A New Myth

by Deldon Anne McNeely
The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.
–Teilhard de Chardin, quoted in Michael Reagan's The Hand of God
There are many schools of psychological and/or spiritual development. One essential feature that distinguishes Jung’s way of individuation from other ways is “shadow work.” Let us look at what that entails.

Jung belongs to a large number of visionaries who realized that humanity in the modern world needed psychological and spiritual renewal. Not that Jung claimed to start a spiritual group movement. He tried to show a way for individuals to step back from a darkly materialistic age and find solace in their own gifts from the unconscious. But he also realized that the fear that seizes us when faced with the unknown keeps us from wanting to know the unconscious and irrational factors in ourselves, even our spiritual dimensions.

When I was a child I heard that Jesus and Mary sometimes appeared to people in visions, as happened to Bernadette of Lourdes. The thought of being visited by a divine being terrified me so, that I prayed to Jesus and Mary to please not choose to come to me. I suppose I knew intuitively that my ego could not withstand such an infusion of psychic energy. Many people experience a similar terror in the presence of a psychotic person, or the first time they attend a religious ceremony at which some people give in to spiritual ecstasy and lose consciousness. It is hard to give up ego-control.

Jung’s special contribution to the effort to renew spiritual life was his insight into the unconscious complexes that interfere with our most sincere plans and intentions. The most devout and altruistic of us are not exempt from being undermined and deceived from within. Jung was insistent that our first responsibility was to clear up any one-sided fixations of our own unexamined evils onto others of different beliefs, traditions, ethnicities, and personality types. In Jungian terms we call this working on becoming aware of our “Shadow.”

Many spiritual movements ignore the importance of this psychological fact and end in power struggles, divisive squabbles over details, and split-loyalties between members. This is why Jungians place so much importance on clearly individual psychological work while searching for spiritual nourishment. Unless we deal with our inner conflicts, we thrust them into any group efforts we attempt. They color and pollute our religious institutions.

It is possible for a person to acquire a dominant spiritual life and still remain emotionally infantile, unable to negotiate psychological pitfalls. Jung’s efforts were to help us secure a solid relationship with physical and social reality as well as spiritual reality. Power-hungry gurus, abusive priests, charlatan preachers, extravagant church funds, censors of books and information-sources by which institutions protect their authority are ways people’s personal complexes poison their spirituality.

Edward Edinger wrote that Jung’s work, which Edinger calls a “new myth,” has the capacity to unite all the religions of the world. It is not one more religious myth in competition with all the others; rather, it elucidates every other religion:
The new myth can be understood and lived within one of the great religious communities such as Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, etc., or in some new community yet to be created, or by individuals without specific community connections…. For the first time in history we now have an understanding of man so comprehensive and fundamental that it can be the basis for a unification of the world — first religiously and culturally and, in time, politically. When enough individuals are carriers of the “consciousness of wholeness,” the world itself will become whole. (Edinger, The Creation of Consciousness, p. 32.)
Shadow work is the leveler of all factions. Marvin Spiegelman, an analyst who has written autobiographical accounts of his relationship to Jung and religion, had a dream as a youth which pertains to this possibility of unity as expressed by Edinger as well as by others, such as the philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin. The dream was that three wise men, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Buddhist priest, were coming to visit a new divine child. The dream led him to believe that some new way of approaching the God-image is emerging in the psyche. He might have taken it to mean that this was happening in him as a single, personal experience, but he later learned that Jung was having the same idea. Here is what Spiegelman says about his dream:
This newer experience of the divine is to be found in a reconciliation among the religions of the world and their ability to worship and connect with a new content. I think that this content, which independently emerged both in Jung and others, is a kind of psycho-religious attitude, if one can use such a word. The qualities of this attitude are: the divine transcends us all; there are many paths to it, all of which have truth or are part of a whole; all paths are worthy, none better than others; none need be transcended; all religions find their origin in the nature of the soul itself and how the divine manifests therein. This is surely a Hindu view, a Buddhist view, a Jewish view, a Christian view, but only for some sects or branches of each one…. There seems to be more expectation or desire that the new divine child, “savior,” is to appear outside ourselves rather than inside. Thus there is the awaited Messiah, Second Coming, the fulfillment of prophecy, and in a more modern vein, the sense that our earth will encounter consciousness from other planets or stars. They are probably right, but it is Jung’s—and Buddhism’s—gift to us to look for that emergence from within our own souls. So we all will have a lot to do with ourselves until that outer Buddha, Christ, Messiah, appears. God willing, it will be synchronistic. It is noted in Jewish lore, that when every Jew observes Shabbat, the Messiah will appear. To extrapolate, when all of us are in tune with the Divine Presence, HE / SHE / IT will manifest among us all. (Spiegelman and Miyuki, Buddhism and Jungian Psychology, pp. 188-189.)
This optimistic picture seems far from possible in this age of religious strife, holy wars, and philosophical attacks on a principle of unity. But throughout history there have been men like Jung, Edinger, and Spiegelman who stand for the power of the uniting principle to transform what often appears doomed: life in the universe, and at least, the life of the soul.

Jung was not in the business of starting a new religion. Born into a Christian worldview, he was inquiring into why religion, particularly Christianity, his tradition, was not meaningful to many who called themselves Christian in name only. Their connection to their religion seemed dead, but they carried on as if they still believed what they were doing. In his research into the problem, he discovered that the religious component of psyche is deep and universal. Beneath layers of conscious material is a center, like a fountain of psychic energy, which enlivens the mind and heart and asks to be honored. It makes itself known to us through symbols which attract us and touch us emotionally. He called it the Self and realized that our notions of God spring from that center of energy.

When we are in touch with that center, we understand the religious experience. It comes alive with awe, but it may or may not resonate to the usual religious symbols; it gives us a personal relationship with a divinity or divinities that may or may not include our known institutional symbols, pictures, stories or formal rituals to which we are accustomed. The new myth has appeal to atheists and all who experience a need for integrity without a specific god-image.

For Jung the way that we express religious wonder was not the point. The point is to experience the deepest layers of the unconscious, or Self, where our divinity makes itself known. This is dangerous, however, because we can transfer the energy from the source to our own aggrandizement. Without humility, humankind can become so selfish that we can destroy our civilization and planet. Atheism is not in itself destructive. Many atheists are humanists who put the dignity of man above their own needs and achieve a lifestyle that is respectful and compassionate. But without the leaven of humility and gratitude toward something beyond the personal, Jung feared we would become victims of power hunger, with the power that belonged to the Self transferred to our egos. This raises the issue of the basic goodness of human beings. Was Jung right? Do we need a deep relationship to the transcendent layer of psyche to evolve morally, or can we do it from a purely human perspective and from the layer of conscious ego?

Philosopher Simone Weil thought that without a concept of the supernatural, human relationships would be dominated by the powerful, not by mutual consent. What is natural is for humans to assert themselves whenever possible, and if our conception of God is of a commanding being who favors one side over another and uses his power to cause events, then any atrocity can be committed in the name of such a god. Weil calls such religions false. A true religion is one which holds supernatural values and inspires one to practice supernatural degrees of justice, friendship, and so on. For example, one treats as equals those who are below him in strength and status and does not take advantage to accumulate power. (Morgan, Weaving the World: Simone Weil on Science, Mathematics, and Love.)

Spiritual leaders as well as atheists risk assuming the power of the Self for their own aggrandizement. The power exuded by a charismatic leader attracts followers who need the charge, so the inflation of the leader continues to be fed. Jung’s injunction to continually look at our shadow prevents inflation and encourages humility.

Jung suggested that the way humankind can honor the religious instinct without being pulled apart and destroyed by it is to maintain a dialogue with that inner source from which all religions spring:
This is a thought that goes beyond the Christian world of ideas and involves a mystery consummated in and through man. It is as though the drama of Christ’s life were, from now on, located in man as its living carrier. As a result of this shift, the events formulated in dogma are brought within range of psychological experience and become recognizable in the process of individuation. (“Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14, par. 650.)
How do we carry this particularly Christian drama in a way that feels alive? Christian mystics live out Jung’s thought that the birth of God in the human soul is a constantly repeated event, an ongoing act of creation. Jungian psychoanalyst John Dourley says:
The soul which is in some sense the creature of God is needed by God to mediate God’s energies to consciousness… God’s birth in the soul… Mary’s virgin birth is a symbol for processes of psychological and spiritual maturation which are universal and true of both genders… God seeks to be born again and again in the soul. (Dourley, A Strategy for a Loss of Faith, p. 125.)
Such an attitude does not apply only to Christians. As Edinger explains: “We are in a position to begin to understand scientifically, and generally, the psychological entities that generate religions.” (Edinger, Science of the Soul, p. 58.) Because we are on such an edge of self-destruction, Jung called this time in human development “a moment of deadliest peril.” (“The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i, par. 217.) Jung’s hope was that enough people would encounter the Greater Personality to effectively inoculate the culture against inflation as atheism and inflation as religious fanaticism.

“The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine,” said Sir James Jeans. (Jeans, quoted in Wilbur, Quantum Questions, p. 133.)

You have just read an article from Deldon Anne McNeely's Becoming: An Introduction to Jung's Concept of Individuation

Deldon Anne McNeely received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Louisiana State University and is a member of the International Association for Analytical Psychology. A senior analyst of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, she is a training analyst for their New Orleans Jungian Seminar. Publications include Touching: Body Therapy and Depth Psychology; Animus Aeternus: Exploring the Inner Masculine; and Mercury Rising: Women, Evil, and the Trickster Gods.

 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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