Archives for the month of: March, 2012

Compass for the Soul
Over the last few months I’ve discovered a growing willingness to be present with more and more of my experience of myself and the world. I like this kind of change for many reasons. For example, not being at odds with my experience means having more peace. Also, being able to face reality as it is rather than hide from it or wish it was different means I can engage with things as they are and I don’t have to waste mental energy on playing mind games with reality. But what struck me as interesting this time was how bringing attention to difficult places facilitates healing. This is what I’d like to focus on here.

The healing I refer to is the kind of healing that occurs during therapy when one is able to bring the light of attention to dark places. I’ve found myself more often during therapy sessions willing to admit to things I’ve never been able to admit to before (not even to myself). I’ve engaged difficult truths and the difficult emotions that accompany them. Not only that but I’ve also found myself willing to accept the times when I cannot engage things as fully as I’d like to. The result of bringing engaged, accepting attention to those difficult places is that healing can occur in those long neglected parts of the psyche. Needless to say, I’ve been finding myself more dedicated to the practice of therapy because I can feel the effect it has on me.

Over the last several of days as my meditation practice is directed toward the practice of Metta (Lovingkindness) I’ve noticed something else. When I have the intention of holding myself and my experience with kindness, I can be present to even more. For example, moments of distraction that I usually notice only briefly and push away were recognized and held in kind attention. The involuntary reaction of repressing that part of my experience was not as prevalent as it often is, leaving more present and able to accept this moment of “failure.” Bringing this kind of attention to a therapy session could be very powerful indeed!

For various reasons I’ve been thinking recently about the combination of meditation practice and therapy. Reflecting back on my experience, in this way, allows me to see the power of combining both practices, how well they support each other and how they help me in opening up to discover a more whole and more wholesome version of myself. The more I see that, the more I’m convinced that for many of us in the modern world, this is what spiritual practice looks like – a combination of East and West, transcending and transforming.

Making Meaning
Over the last few months I’ve struggled in different ways with the ideas of meaning and purpose. I found this struggle described quite often in Jung’s writings, for example in Man and His Symbols Jung writes:

Man positively needs general ideas and convictions that will give meaning to his life and enable to find a place for himself in the universe. He can stand the most incredible hardships when he is convinced that they make sense; he is crushed when, on top of all his misfortunes, he has to admit that he is taking part in a ‘tale told by an idiot.’ (Man and His Symbols, p. 76)

At first I understood Jung as saying that that answer to modernity’s illness is reconnecting to a containing myth and I grappled with the idea of myth in a modern age. But on reading Jung’s Is analytical psychology a religion? I learned differently: “… life has gone out of the churches, and it will never go back. The gods will not reinvest dwellings that once they have left.” It appears that Jung does not believe that going back to blind faith in myth is the solution.

Another avenue of exploration came up through reading Victor Frankl:

In attempting to answer the question of the meaning of life – that most human of all questions – man is thrown back upon himself, must realize that he is questioned by life and has to answer and be answerable with his life. That is, he is thrown back upon the primal elements of human existence – being conscious and being responsible. (The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, p. 63)

It is our responsibility, says Frankl, to find meaning in each and every moment. I find his call for personal responsibility inspiring but not completely convincing. If meaning is created and destroyed with each moment, man’s life becomes, indeed, a search for meaning. A search that may never be satisfied.

Throughout my life I’ve occasionally found meaning and satisfaction through intellectual understanding of the world. I also found glimpses of truth on my spiritual path. In both ways, I found connection to what Jung calls the Numinous. But as the months and years went by even those moments of shining truth faded away and all that is left for me, are memories. Even the clarity of faith I had is now mostly gone, often replaced by gnawing doubts. Can I truly say that those moments truly had meaning?

After struggling to understand and failing, after searching and finding and losing, I feel that I have no choice – I have to admit that I don’t know. I don’t know if anything I do has lasting meaning. I cannot point to any purpose – high or low – that has guided me through life. Yet, I am still here. There is no denying that despite all that I’ve said so far, despite a lack of any convincing reason why, I am still here and I’m still moving. This leads me to one conclusion that appears inescapable – that there is something other than me, something greater than myself that has kept me going so far for reasons that are unknown to me and that possibly will continue to be unknown to me.

This realization is accompanied by a feeling of openness and settledness in the body. It is a knowing accompanied by a sense of truth that goes beyond logic and reason. I’ve encountered this way of knowing before. It is often referred to as a feeling of authenticity but it can also be called truth, a deep inner truth. I call it that because it appears to be unshakeable and undeniable. In places where my reason ends up running around in circles, this is the truth that cuts right to the center.

Like the sense of an unknown mover, I do not know what the origin of this truth is. I know that it often points at what would be called wisdom. I also know that often this is not the direction I would have chosen myself because it seems too hard or demanding. At times when I find myself aligned with this truth, it seems that my decisions are completely natural, as if there was never even a decision to be made. When I cannot find this truth or when I try (usually not quite consciously) to avoid it, I end up feeling confused, conflicted or disappointed in myself.

I conclude then, that there is no point in struggling. Struggling is only likely to bring harm, I think. There is no point in trying to understand, either. The most I can do, it seems, is come to terms with whatever these forces are. All that is left to do, therefore, is trust. I can trust that what has moved me so far, will continue to move me until there is no longer any further purpose to moving. I can trust that as long as I align myself with truth, I will be moving toward greater openness and acceptance.

I cannot know if I am moving towards any particular purpose. I can try and guess or somehow divine the final goal but to what avail? I can only assume that this thing which moves me and whatever it is I’m moving towards both come from the same source therefore both are beyond me and beyond my knowing. Even if there is no purpose and no goal, the strategy is the same – try to align myself to the best of my ability with that which is beyond me simply because it is.

What little glimpses I got of spiritual realization appear to confirm this newfound understanding. With greater freedom there appears to be even less choice, although, this lack of choice is not the result of limitation, rather, it comes from clarity. With increased clarity, it becomes easier to align oneself with truth, at times this may seem to happen on its own as all other choices simply fall away.

At this point it may be asked, isn’t this process of alignment with truth a purpose in and of itself? It is tempting to call it purpose, thereby creating solidity and comfort but I do not think this is quite true. This process is no more a purpose than checking a map for directions is the purpose of a trip. I could say that like the trip, life isn’t about the individual turns and it isn’t about the destination either. It may be simply be about living to the fullest of one’s ability.

So far in my studies of Jung, the unconscious and the self have been the most difficult ideas for my mind to accept. Since I couldn’t quite accept that there was something there, the idea of letting go of control seemed scary: If I (that is, ego) am not in control, then who is?

As I was trying to outline my original ideas for this paper (about myth and meaning-making) I felt that there was something deeply unsatisfying about writing a purely conceptual paper and instead started to wonder how do those ideas apply to me personally. In that process I came to the realization described above and through that I began to accept those same ideas of the reality of the unconscious and the Self. I came to see that the ego is not the center of the psyche and that it definitely is not in complete control. I find the symmetry of this process satisfying, in that the way this paper emerged mirrors its contents.

“A view that honors and appreciates the full range of human experience, then, must include three dimensions. First of all, there is samsara, the pre-human realm of conditioned existence, characterized by survival concerns and dualistic alienation. The dualism of the egoic mind sets up a strict divide between self and other, resulting in endless suffering and conflict. Then there is nirvana, trans-human liberation, characterized by a pure, open field of awareness that is not divided into subject and object. This awareness of nonduality is unconditioned, for it is not produced by any cause or condition. It does not arise and cease; it is always there, ready to reveal itself to the mind that knows how to tune into it. Nondual awareness is the doorway to liberation by revealing absolute truth: There is no separate self and no separate other, and thus dualistic alienation and conflict cease.

Thirdly, there is the human domain proper, which comes to full measure through bringing the complete openness of supra-personal awareness into personal responsiveness and vital engagement with the situations and people we encounter. On the human plane, our lives evolve and unfold through the relative play of duality — otherwise known as relationship. Indeed the central, defining feature of the human realm is relationship— the network of interactions with others that supports our life from the cradle to the grave.

Relationship only happens when there are two— who engage in a dance that continually moves back and forth between twoness and oneness. In this way, the human realm serves as a bridge linking samsara— the experience of separateness— and nirvana— non separateness. This is why being human is a living paradox, and also a field in which a vast range of feeling— from unbearable sorrow to unthinkable joy— is possible.

Because human existence is a bridge spanning two worlds— absolute and relative, freedom and limitation, indestructibility and vulnerability — it requires a capacity for double vision, where we recognize how opposite truths can both be true at the same time. In the light of absolute truth, the play of duality is illusory because self and other are not truly separate. Even though two waves appear to be separate and distinct, they are but transient pulses of one and the same ocean. This is transcendent truth. Yet from the relative perspective, each wave is distinct, with its own unique characteristics. This is immanent truth. It is the perspective of a surfer out on the waves who must attend and respond to the particular quality of each wave if he is to ride it skilfully and not endanger his life.”

From: Double Vision: Duality and Non-Duality in Human Experience, John Welwood (2003).

NOTE: I find it uncomfortable speaking about the nature of realization. I do not believe that I have the authority to do so. In this short reflection I rely on descriptions offered on Awakening to Reality which I find make sense based on what I know and what little I’ve experienced myself.

Jung appears to have some difficulty with the Eastern concept of awakening:

“It makes no difference if they call our unconscious a ‘universal consciousness’; the fact remains that in their case the unconscious has swallowed up ego-consciousness. They do not realize that a ‘universal consciousness’ is a contradiction in terms, since exclusion, selection, and discrimination are the root and essence of everything that lays claim to the name ‘consciousness.’” [Collected Works 9i, quoted in Jung’s Dialog with the East.]

I believe that Jung’s difficulty comes from his view of Ego as central to consciousness (though not to the entire personality) and further, that the two are inseparable. The Eastern view differs on this point and to a limited degree my experience sides with the East.

In my experience consciousness and Ego are two separate processes. I would say that it is Ego which excludes, selects and discriminates. Consciousness, on the other hand, merely reflects experience as it arises, it is a process of pure knowing. Ego’s various activities are reflected in consciousness just like any other aspect of experience. It is true that Ego often lays claim to this knowing and so it appears to me that ‘I know.’ Once that happens, ‘I know and discriminate’ can easily be seen as one inseparable action instead of two distinct steps.

The text of the Hui Ming Ching appears to go even further:
1: A halo of light surround the world of the law.
2: We forget one another, quiet and pure, all-powerful and empty.
3: The emptiness is irradiated by the light of the heart of heaven.
4: The water of the sea is smooth and mirrors the moon in its surface.
5: The clouds disappear in blue space; the mountains shine clear.
6: Consciousness reverts to contemplation; the moon-disk rests alone.

This section, quoted by Jung in his commentary, appears to describe the progress of meditation. Following is my current understanding of these lines:
Lines 1-3 describe the mind calming down, withdrawing from the world of form until all that remains is emptiness and the light of consciousness. This state is also described in Genesis 1:2 “darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Line 4 As the mind calms further the meditator sees that there is no one knowing – all there is, is consciousness reflecting experience. Process without doer.
Line 5 describes the further clearing of the mind as all obstructions fall away and all that remains is clarity.
Line 6 We now see that conscious doesn’t reflect but that conscious (or knowing) is all there is. The moon rests alone, object and consciousness are no longer two.

In the “Vedantic Self and the Jungian Psyche” Carol Whitfield attempts to integrate the Vedantic Self with Jungian Psychology. Even though I’ve only started reading this study, I’m already finding it very exciting. The two models come from very different cultures (modern Europe and ancient India) but it seems as if they are two halves of a whole.

To explain how I’ll start with a brief explanation of Jung’s concept of Self and the process of individuation. Then we’ll look at the Vedantic Self and process of awakening. Once both are laid out, I believe that the connection between the two will be quite clear.

In Jungian psychology, the Self is at once the center and the whole of the psyche (conscious and unconscious). Jung claims that the psyche is largely unconscious and that Ego-consciousness (or simply consciousness) arises out of the unconscious. The relationship of Ego to Self is that of moved to mover. In fact, the Self can be seen as the template for the Ego.

Through the process of individuation the Ego comes into a conscious relationship with the autonomous processes in the psyche, most importantly with the Self. As the Ego is confronted with the Self it must recognize the later’s superiority and accept its own secondary role in the psyche. The process of individuation is, and can only be, driven by the Self. According to Jung the urge for individuation, for greater wholeness, for becoming more conscious is a key feature of the self and a major drive in our lives.

According to Whitfield the Vedantic Self is “the non-dual substrate reality of all that exists.” Relative reality is likened to the waves in the ocean. The waves rise and fall but the water always remain, unchanged and unblemished. Since waves are in essence nothing but water, we cannot separate the two. Wave and water are not two distinct entities, they exist in a non-dual relationship.

Through the process of awakening in Vedanta we realize our own non-dual existence – that we are not separate from the Self just as waves are not separate from water:

The Vedantic Self is, by nature, full and complete, being the source of the love one seeks throughout life. Self-ignorance causes the Self to be projected onto the world and then sought through various pursuits and accomplishments. Knowledge of the Self puts an end to this projection and allows the source of wholeness and love to become immediately available to the seeker as his or her own Self.

The Jungian Self embodies the masculine drive to expand, this expansion being the process of individuation. The Vedantic self, on the other hand, represents the feminine aspects of fullness and connection. The process of awakening in Vedanta moves towards a realization of truth that was always there. Taken together, these two views represent two aspects of being human that are shared by all of us as well as a more integral path toward wholeness.