Archives for category: Jung

“Man, if indeed thou knowest what thou doest, thou art blessed; but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the law.” (Apocryphal insertion at Luke 6:4, quoted by Hitchcock p. 185)

“It is equally a grave mistake to think that it is enough to gain some understanding of the images and the knowledge can here make a halt. Insight into them must be converted in to an ethical obligation.” (MDR quoted by Hitchcock p. 13)

The two quotes above may be enough to form the basis of an entire spiritual practice. On the one hand, we are encouraged to bring conscious awareness to every moment of our life, to clearly see the intention behind every action. This awareness, however, is not enough. It lacks moral guidance which we find in the second quote. We must take whatever understanding we receive as moral guidance and hold ourselves up to this new standard. Continuous consciousness is how we hold ourselves up to our own standards, thereby creating a virtuous cycle.

It is interesting to see these two ideas play out in my own life. For example in bringing consciousness to the act of giving. There are times when I do so out of generosity and other times when I do so out of a feeling of obligation, wanting to be seen in a certain light or feeling guilty about my internal conflicts regarding generosity. If I fail to bring consciousness to this act it becomes hard to see the real intention behind it. I may miss the fact that I am not acting out of right intention and therefore am, in fact, supporting a habit that is unhelpful (e.g. acting out of guilt). When I do bring awareness to this action, I can notice the internal conflict that is happening and new ethical commitment arises: to be compassionate with myself when working with difficult habits and to respect my internal conflicts even when they appear to be at cross purposes with who I “should” be.

I, by myself, often lapse into a lack of consciousness of my motivations or even my actions for example when dealing with shadow aspects of my personality. In these cases I find it helpful to surround myself by friends who will help in holding me up to my own best intentions. Their presence alone may be enough to remind me of who it is I want to be. At other times, clearer and more direct feedback is necessary. Even this reliance on community comes out of the above quotes. Having seen my own limitations, I’ve placed myself in an environment that will help me stay true to my values and intentions even when that is challenging.

Another important aspect of environment is that it can serve to push me out of my low-energy, “stable equilibrium” into states that are further and further from equilibrium. I consider CIIS to be exactly such an environment and getting out of my comfort zone was a main reason for choosing this path. I’m already seeing the effects of this injection of energy into my system. One of the interesting side-effect of living closer to a point of unstable equilibrium is that it becomes harder to foresee what shape the future might take. For me, this is a good chance to learn how to simply enjoy the ride.

“Deep inside, we still know that the aliveness is in the risking of ourselves in some real way with an irreversible outcome. Only out of the risking comes the joy.” (The Web of the Universe, John Hitchcock)

It is curious to see Jung, as a scientist, criticizing the rational mind:

“things have gone rapidly downhill since the Age of Enlightenment, for, once this petty reasoning mind, which cannot endure any paradoxes, is awakened, no sermon on earth can keep it down.” (C.G. Jung, Introduction to the Religious and Psychological Problems of Alchemy, p. 16)

This criticism on the part of Jung arises out of Jung’s unique point of view: he is looking forwards at the same time as he looks backwards. Looking forwards, Jung sees the potential of the rational mind to understand the psyche in ways that were never possible before. Looking backwards, he sees that have lost as much as we’ve gained: The capacity to hold the mystery that religious paradox points at.

For quite a while I was laboring with a “insufficiently cultivated mind” and as sure of myself as possible. I saw religious dogma as “manifestly absurd” therefore completely empty of value. Slowly I was able to accept that religion may have some value, although only for others, not for myself. Over the years, my point of view shifted even further.

I was initially attracted to Western occult traditions as those seemed to embrace the paradox head on. Modern incarnations of these traditions seem to accept the reality of the psyche wholeheartedly and all that comes with that. This seemed to fit my understanding at the time however I was unwilling to completely commit (surrender) to such a drastic path. My rational mind still required a hold on a rational world, safe from paradox.

I found a compromise in Buddhism where I was able to slowly approach this new world. Starting, as I did, in Theravadan Buddhism I was not overwhelmed by religious imagery which allowed me to find my own way in negotiating my relationship with this part of the psyche. Within this framework I started to tackle the “new task”: “to lift this still undeveloped mind step by step to a higher level” and to acquire “at least some inkling of the scope of paradoxical truth.”

I think that today, I may finally have exactly an inkling of the scope of this paradoxical truth. One way that I see this kind of paradox manifesting in my life is in my relationship with meaning. Looking back at this particular exploration I can see the time where I was attracted to one extreme (meaning is all-important) or another (meaning is an illusion). I can also see the resolution of this conflict – accepting the paradox – learning to hold meaning as both important and contingent.

Returning to the larger picture, I believe that rather than having suffered a loss of connection with the soul as part of the Enlightenment, humanity has actually gained the potential for a greater connection than ever before. Being able to step beyond what is conventionally accepted, we are able to see the paradox in its fulness and choose to ignore its existence or engage with it consciously.

Donald Sandner describes an appreciation for the meaning one discovers through the shamanic lens:

“Why does this new shamanism seem so important to the modern world? I think it is because it brings relief to the modern mind, which is always so focused on some minutes details of outer reality. Shamanism un-focuses the mind, loosens the ego from its rigid outward ties, and allows it to descend in the other, inward reality of the core psyche.” (The Sacred Heritage: The Influence of Shamanism on Analytical Psychology)

This loosening of the mind, allows us to unwind the grip which the rational meaning-making process tends to have on the modern mind. Through that unwinding we can open up to the bigger picture which includes nature, myth and symbols. Doing so from a modern perspective requires that we hold this other view with the same light touch. In my own experience, I’ve learned to bring this kind of balance to my study of the Tarot.

After breaking through my initial resistance, I discovered that I can find wisdom in the Tarot, although the source of this wisdom does not lie in the cards. I can use the rich symbology in one card to study the effects of a particular aspect (archetype or spirit) in my life. The card’s associated meanings help explore that aspect from multiple dimensions. I can also look at my projections regarding the card and discover shadow aspects of myself. I may even be able to use the card to summon that archetype and communicate with it. 

When using a full spread of cards, I look at the interactions between different symbols and meanings. I find that if I hold on too strongly to a particular way of reading the cards, the meaning gets lost. If, however, I can allow the mind to rest on the cards, move between the different connotations offered by the complexity of the spread (much like described by Sandner, above) I often find that meaning arises of its own, usually in the form of a story. Through this story, I can look at a situation in my life in a way that was not obvious to me before. This allows for a new way of engaging with the situation and therefore new outcomes may arise that were not possible before.

In order to be able to work with the Tarot I had to suspend a part of myself that craves stability and clarity. Through this work and later through my meditation practice as well, I realized that there is no such stability to be found. As a reaction to being confronted with that truth, I tried to create the same stability through denying all meaning. This devotion to emptiness was comforting for a while but is eventually unsatisfying. I’m now learning to accept multiple levels or layers of meaning, none of which is always true or always satisfying. In this world view there is room for scientific truth and there is also room for the shaman’s spirit world. Jungian psychology helps me in seeing the connection between them and my Buddhist practice helps me hold them both lightly.

Found at the Albany BulbIn the Kundalini Yoga lectures, Jung continues in his role as physician for the Western world. In this role, Jung takes it upon himself to, first and foremost, understand the condition of Western society and through this understanding perhaps offer a course of treatment. Throughout his research Jung uses different works of religious, mystical or mythic nature as lenses through which to view his own culture. These various lenses afford him different points of view and therefore unmask issues that cannot be seen clearly when viewed from inside the culture itself.

In a similar way I find myself looking at maps of consciousness and of the spiritual path, looking for correlations between different maps and connections to my own experience. These comparisons have been useful to me in different way. Finding correlations between my personal experience and what has been described before has been supportive, especially in difficult times. Similarly, knowing what may be about to come can help me prepare and accept it when it does. Last, from looking at the various maps, I’ve learned about myself and about who I can be – what hidden potentials lie in me that I’ve not explored yet.

Lately two such systems that have been on my mind are the Buddhist process of awakening and Jung’s process of individuation. There are a several maps that describe the progress of awakening (for example Zen’s Ox Herding Pictures and the Theravadan Progress of Insight described in Buddhaghosa’s Vissuddhimagga), a few of which I’ve used over the last couple of years. More recently, I’m finding Jung’s exploration of Individuation through various lenses to be enlightening as well.

I find this comparison to be particularly relevant at this point in my practice as my movement towards transcendence (awakening) seems to have taken a second seat and instead I find myself focused more on wholeness (individuation). Some similarities come up, for example Jung’s descriptions of ‘letting things happen’ and ‘observing objectively how a fragment of fantasy develops’ in his commentary to Secret of the Golden Flower are similar to Eastern practices of non-attachment and mindfulness. Some striking differences come up as well, for example, Jung’s claim that the crown chakra, sahasrara, is “merely a philosophical concept with no substance to us whatever; it is beyond any possible experience.” (p. 57)

Statements such as the one above can be found in many of Jung’s studies of Eastern spirituality. They may demonstrate a misunderstanding on Jung’s part but they also seem to point to Jung’s focus on living a life that is more consciously in touch with one’s internal world. Jung saw Western civilization as disconnected from the internal life of the soul and therefore his focus was more on the instincts that move us and the archetypes that guide us. As I am naturally drawn toward living in a world of concepts and transcendence, Jung’s focus on the lower chakras (up to the heart chakra) may be a useful pointer for my own practice as well.

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.

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.

“So long as the self is unconscious, it corresponds to Freud’s superego and is a source of perpetual moral conflict. If, however, it is withdrawn from projection and is no longer identical with public opinion then one is truly one’s own yea and nay.”

— C. G. Jung, “Transformation Symbols in the Mass” c. 1942

It is now 70 years later and we’re still not there yet.


I created this one as part of my Jungian Psychology and East-West Spirituality class. Jung considered mandalas to be a symbol of wholeness and therefore of the Self. Jung himself used mandalas as a way to explore his current state of mind and as a way to restore balance. It was interesting to notice how at some point the process took over and I was no longer in control.

One of the earliest numinous experiences I remember happened during my late teens at a Computer Science lecture. The speaker demonstrated a simple algorithm that approached the efficiency of the theoretical optimum and my mind was transported to another realm. On the bus home my mind still reeling, I felt expanded, open and excited. I couldn’t wait to share this with someone who could understand it as well. Looking back at this experience, it seems like contact with the archetype of wholeness. In this case the wholeness of human knowledge and therefore of humanity itself as a part of nature.

For quite a while this was the spirit that moved me. The search for wholeness embodying through understanding nature. When I was in touch with that spirit through my studies or through work, I was excited, energetic, happy, moved. If I lost touch for too long I would fall into depression. Now, that I’m intellectually stimulated again, I’m happier than I’ve been in a while and yet I’m conflicted.

Some spiritual circles look down at the cognitive function of the mind as something lower and unspiritual, maybe even a hindrance on the path. At the same time, something in me knows that thinking, learning and understanding are and have always been a part of my path.

I’m driven to understand more about myself and about my path. This understanding feels right in both mind and body. And yet, I’m told not to “think the Dharma” but to “be the Dharma”. This kind of feedback caused me to deny an important part of myself in a a somewhat misguided effort to engage the path more fully. Another way for me to work with this guidance is to see that it is pointing out the shadow side of the Thinking Mind.

This shadow side can keep me from directly engaging with my experience, instead engaging only my conceptual framework. Another aspect of this shadow is in supporting my tendency for Ego inflation (being the smart one, being “in the know”, etc.) and therefore undermines my intention to hold such self-images more lightly.

Confronting this shadow can be helpful in finding freedom from the patterns I mention above. Perhaps once I’ve made progress in working with the shadow side of the Thinking Mind I can find a better balance between thinking and being. A balance that won’t be found through repression of either because for me, at least, both are gateways to the numinous.