Archives for the month of: January, 2012

Source: A guided tour of the collected works of C. G. Jung / Hopcke

In Freud’s view religion is an irrational illusion created out of a defense mechanism. Jung takes a broader look.

  1. Religion as a set of beliefs and rituals that also allows for a relationship with something greater.
  2. Religious beliefs may be real and valuable in the person’s psyche. Depth psychology can allow us to understand those beliefs rationally.
  3. We must account for more than just western beliefs. As we take this broader look we see that there is more than simple transference.

Jung was not interested in judging the validity of religion or religious systems. He did not believe that as a psychologist he was capable of that nor was that his task. Jung sees religion as a way to understand the human psyche.

From the universality of religion, Jung deduced that religion is a product of the collective unconscious. In Jung’s view there are two components of religion:

  1. Religious experience or contact with the numinosum (in dreams, visions, etc.)
  2. Religious practice, dogma, ritual, etc. This is necessary to protect people from the power of numinous experience.

Jung makes religion once again accessible to modern people who may have lost their faith in organized religion. By making it a vital aspect of our lives and at the same time something that we can explore ourselves he redeems religion in the modern age.

This is the first reflection paper for my Jungian Psychology & East-West Spirituality class. It may make more sense if you know a little bit about Jung (which is about how much I know). If you want to know more about Jung, I recommend his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections or (if you’re looking for something quicker) Jung: A very short introduction.

Reading about Jung’s early years I cannot help but be struck not just by the depth of his inner reflection but also by his absolute confidence in the authenticity and validity of his inner experience over any claim by an external authority (his father, the bible, the church). He seems to accord similar trust to his interpretation of those experiences:

“Moreover I was certain that this was the wrong way to reach God, for I knew, knew from experience, that this grace was accorded only to one who fulfilled the will of God without reservation”

(MDR Chapter II page 46)

In addition to his strong intuitive side, Jung possesses a sharp rational mind and is not willing to allow logical inconsistencies slide by. His strong intuition, curiosity and dedication to rationality often leave him at odds with the religious dogma of his day. Even so, the one thing Jung still holds above the critical, rational mind is personal experience.

Another strong motivating force in Jung’s life is his desire for connection, with God or with fellow men. Despite the sincerity of that desire he seems to find very few people he can connect with in his early life and the connection to God offered by the church leaves him flat (much like the bread offered at communion). Even when reading the great theologians and philosophers he often finds them lacking save for a few exceptions. As a result, Jung is often left with no other choice then to turn inward either in to his thoughts, the inner world of no. 2 or his fantasies.

In his later life, (chapters V and VI of MDR) his relationship to his No. 2 personality evolves into a much more complex dynamic. This can be seen in his relationship with Freud especially in the way he maintains that relationship out of a sense of duty or the belief that he still has much to learn from the older, more experienced man. Thoughts of this kind appear to be foreign to his No. 2 personality and most likely originated with No. 1. Later, throughout the confrontation with the unconscious, as the number of voices representing the unconscious grows, this relationship becomes even more complex.

A striking example of this evolution in Jung’s relationship to the unconscious is his relationship with his Anima, a relationship that has been rooted in suspicion from its inception. He later argues with her over the value of his work and almost accuses her of trying to deceive him. With time, Jung learns to find and appreciate to positive side of the anima but it is his that his relationship to the unconscious has evolved greatly since his younger days and this must have been a great influence on his understanding of the psyche.

Through the years his intense work with the unconscious Jung begins to discover his personal myth, movement towards the center. It seems that this realization gave him a sense of connection that has been lacking before and that he could never quite satisfy not with God or with any of his heroes (like Goethe or Nietzsche).

I’ve been feeling bad about not sitting as much.

With support from some dharma friends I allowed myself to look at my sitting practice anew. In December I took an intentional vacation from sitting practice with the hope that desire to sit will come up. Hoping that I will miss practice. A few weeks into that vacation and except from a few pangs of wanting to sit, I felt mostly the same. At some point (around the beginning of the new year) I decided that my vacation is over and it’s time to sit again. While sitting feels good (calming, pleasant, etc) in the midst of practice, it is still difficult to get myself to sit (feels like a chore).

The element of “should” is still strong within me. So is the reaction that comes up to that: “I don’t wanna!”

It’s a relief when there’s an opportunity to sit through external circumstance like a group sit or sitting at the beginning of class. This brings me to think that there is a deep desire to do the sitting practice. But I’m finding it hard to locate or harness that desire.

Through talking a bit with my therapist I’ve started to notice that the practice is still present as I go through my day. I’m paying attention, I’m being mindful, I see the 3 characteristics in experience as I go through the day and I also notice my patterns and habits. Often times I still get consumed by experience, I get taken for a ride by those same patterns but often there’s attention, there is mindfulness. I’m also starting to see elements of practice in more of what I do. Writing is a practice, reading is a practice, walking, listening, not to mention the work I do with my therapist.

After reading John Welwood (Toward a Psychology of Awakening, ch. 14ish) discuss differences between cultures, different needs for practice to answer and different types of practice I’m feeling better about including more of what I do as as practice. I am especially more comfortable about including my personal psychological work as practice and I’m starting to see the value in that work beyond just treating symptoms like depression or social anxiety.

I’m also starting to see the value of having the right (mental) container in any work that I do. There is an inkling of an idea about the importance of a containing myth in life and more specifically in spiritual practice and this could be the edge of such a container. But more on that later as it becomes more clear.

I’m not likely to ever submit this but it I feel the need to say it anyway.

How are we to respond to the twentieth-century phenomenon, which Jung noted with such alarm: that the collective containers of religious symbolism are weak, if not altogether gone? For centuries the symbols, rituals, and dogmas of religions, East and West, gathered the psychic energy of individuals and nations alike into traditions that bore witness to life’s meaning and acted as underground springs nourishing different civilization.

Jung and Religion: The opposing self / Ann Ulanov

To which I say, Have they? Are we really so special in being disconnected from the spirit? Or is the difference that in the last hundred years or so it’s become OK to admit to that disconnect? We’re finally able to talk about how we really feel (or perhaps don’t feel at all) about religious ritual and dogma without being labeled as heretics.We’re free to voice our doubts. We’re free to look at the origin of the myths we’ve been handed and ask, just as Jung did, what do they really mean?

It’s possible that the result of this freedom has been some disillusionment with the old traditions. A disconnect. But is that much worse than fear? Is it that much worse than blind devotion? How well served was a peasant from attending church services in Latin? How much spiritual meaning is there in following ritual blindly generation after generation? And does dogma really serve the individual’s spiritual life?

Certainly every period of history in every culture had its mystics. The ones who dive into the spiritual world and plumb its depth anew but those are unique individuals. Likewise there are those who find some spiritual connection in organized religion or in the tradition they were born into but do they ever outnumber those who just follow the rules (for whatever reason)? I am a cynic and so I doubt that (I doubt a great, many things).

On the other hand, this feeling of a lack of connection, we all know it (if you didn’t I doubt you’d have read this far) and the common admonition about young people these days and lack of respect, etc. comes up easily in the mind. So it is easy to say, this generation is so disconnected from the life of spirit. At least in this generation we’re finally free to choose our own path, our own myth and that by itself is something too.

Total score! I managed both a Zen reference and a Zeppelin reference in the title alone! To prevent any future confusion, I am not a Zen practitioner but I do like my maps and the Ox Herding pictures make up one of my favorite maps of the path.

A couple of days ago I started the MA program in East-West Psychology (EWP) at CIIS and the reading and writing assignments are already starting to pile up (read a billion pages by yesterday! is kinda how it feels right now). I plan to use this space for posting thoughts that come up around my readings, for sharing drafts of upcoming papers and probably some general journaling for whatever comes up on my path. I love feedback and I would especially appreciate pointing out my blind spots and my limited reality tunnel so feel free to comment and stuff.

Here goes.