Archives for posts with tag: jung

Going at least as far back as Jung, we’ve seen psychologists promoting the view that psychopathology is not a disease but rather an attempt by the psyche to bring about greater wholeness. There are usually several common factors that go into this view of psychopathology:

  1. The reality of the psyche. In Jung’s view, the intra-psychic experience of an individual cannot be ignored. The psyche has its own life and cannot be reduced to biology or basic psychological drives. The psyche speaks to us through dreams, intuition, visions, synchronicity and more.
  2. The psyche as as self-regulating system. When there is imbalance in the psyche, the psyche itself will attempt to bring back balance and healing. This attempt to restore balance often occurs through the methods mentioned above (dreams, visions, etc.) but in some cases, when the imbalance is too powerful, may appear to be a form of psychopathology. The Jungian view invites to look at psychopathology in a new light.
  3. An archetypal and/or mythical view of psychopathology. By considering the two points above, many researchers recognize an archetypal or mythical element in psychopathology. A good example of this view is in (Lukoff 1985) where we see various symbols and archetypes coming up in the patient’s experience of psychosis. These symbols can be used to gain insight into the patient’s world during the episode and perhaps more importantly can be used later as a source of guidance and insight for the patient himself.
  4. A spiritual component of psychopathology. In exploring the similarities between manic psychosis and mystical states, Lukoff (1988) suggests that there may be unrecognized spiritual insight hidden in what we call psychopathology. This insight may be valuable to the patient personally and may even be significant for society as a whole. A theme that occurs often in this context is that of the Hero’s journey where the hero’s confrontation with monstrous perils (psychopathology in this case) ends up in victory and the hero returns to his people bearing gifts (of insight).

I would like to explore this view deeper, specifically as it relates to addiction. I begin this exploration with the following quote from a letter C.G. Jung wrote to Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) regarding a shared acquaintance and former client of Jung’s named Rowland H.

His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.

Jung equates here the alcoholic’s thirst for alcohol with the power that motivates the spiritual search, the the need for wholeness or a union with the divine. Jung goes on to talk about the ways to satisfy this craving.

The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.

According to Jung the way to satisfy this thirst is through a spiritual experience which comes about through an act of grace, contact with friends or through spiritual practice. Jung sees the symbolic connection between alcohol and God in the shared latin root – spirit. Indeed the 12 steps of AA are designed to bring about a spiritual experience based on Jung’s formulation: spiritus contra spiritum.

Following in the footsteps of Jung, Stan Grof (1993) looks at addiction as a form of spiritual emergency. Spiritual emergency is an “evolutionary crisis” (Grof & Grof 1993), a difficult stage that is a natural part of the developmental process. Spiritual emergency can be easily misdiagnosed as a form of psychopathology since they share many common symptoms like changes in consciousness, perception, emotional or cognitive functioning and others. However, a person undergoing a spiritual emergency is usually able to form a healthy relationship with the process and see it as part of an internal psychological process.

Addiction as spiritual emergency is different, since the spiritual component is often masked by the addiction itself or by the addict’s destructive tendencies. However, once we take into account Jung’s thoughts expressed above, the spiritual connection becomes clearer. This is supported by the reports of some alcoholics who describe their first experience of alcohol as containing a numinous character.

Grof (1993) suggests that the addict’s journey through and recovery is similar to a process of ego-death and rebirth. We can see this process by looking at the 12 steps of AA.

To begin with, the addict must recognize that he has hit bottom and is powerless in the face of his addiction, he has lost control of his personal and interpersonal lives and is unable to repair this on his own. The addict is then invited to turn over control to something greater than the personal self. When the addict becomes willing to surrender his will to a Higher Power, he has set out out on the path of transformation.

Next, with the guidance of a sponsor, the addict makes a “fearless and searching moral inventory.” In this step, the addict looks at his old way of being and lists out all the way in which it does not serve him and others. This part of the work focuses on blocks: fears, selfishness, dishonesty, etc. By making this old way of being conscious through self-reflection and through sharing it with another, the addict becomes willing to let go of this old way of being and to create room for something new. It is worth noting the similarity between this part of the healing process and Ken Wilber’s description of self-growth as a process where “the subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject of the next.”

It is possible that through the moral inventory, confession and willingness to let go of the old way of being the addict is now discovering a new way of being. In order to integrate the personality and to bring it more fully into this new way, the addict now engages in shadow work through the practice of making amends. Through this practice, the addict brings the light of consciousness to places that before remained hidden. It is important to note that the process of making amends is not about making apologies or seeking forgiveness; it is a process of admitting wrongs and accepting the consequences. In this way the recovering addict integrates those acts into wholeness.

Once the process of integration comes to completion, the addict is ready to engage with the world from a place of freedom and security. He is now becoming established in a healthy way of being and is supported in it through community and by continuing the practices of moral inventory, making amends and meditation or prayer. And, like the mythical hero returning from his adventure, he now has something new to share with the world and is called to do so through a dedication to service.

Of course, this is not the path that every addict takes. Not even every addict that arrives at a 12 step program walks the entirety of this path. But for many, the spiritual component of 12 step work is crucial and for those, the work becomes more than recovery, it is a spiritual practice.

C. Grof & S. Grof (1993). Spiritual emergency: The understanding and treatment of transpersonal crises. In R. Walsh & F. Vaughn (Eds.), Paths beyond ego (pp. 137-44). New York: Tarcher Putnam.
C. Grof (1993). Addiction as spiritual emergency. In R. Walsh & F. Vaughn (Eds.), Paths beyond ego (pp. 144-6). New York: Tarcher Putnam.
Lukoff, D. (1985). The myths in mental illness. Journal os Transpersonal Psychology, 17 (2), 123-153.
Lukoff, D. (1988). Transpersonal perspectives on manic psychosis: Creative, visionary, and mystical states. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 20 (2).

Note: This is part 1 of a multi-part series based on a short paper I submitted for my Psychology of Spiritual Awakening class. I’ll update the links here as I post the rest of the piece, hopefully I’ll get through all of it in a week or two. For now, here’s a brief overview:

  1. Introduction & Psychological Ideas of Self (this post)
  2. The Witness & Atman
  3. Working With the Experience of Self

At some point in our development the mind identifies a part of our overall experience as special. This aspect of experience is split off from the rest and is given the special role of the self. This sense of self becomes an almost constant companion to us manifesting in different ways, sometimes helpful, sometimes less so. In this paper I will explore some of those manifestations, how we can understand them in terms of eastern and Western theories of self and how can we work with them to bring greater freedom.

This terrain is both wide and deep. Yogis, mystics, philosophers and psychologists have been at work, mapping this terrain for over two thousand years. I do not expect to cover it all in this paper but I hope this serves as an introduction and offers a few practical ways to approach this experience. I will start with aspects of the self that may be easier for the reader to relate to. Most readers are probably familiar to some degree with the personal self (Ego) and the interpersonal self (Persona, Super-ego). I will then move on to the sense of the Observer or the Witness that is described in many traditions. Next, I’ll introduce some views of the self that originate in the ancient East and finally I’ll describe a way of working with the moment-to-moment experience of the self that I’ve found helpful in developing a more flexible sense of self.

Psychological Ideas of Self
The personal I, often called the Ego, serves two main functions and can be experienced in both of these functions.

  1. Maintaining my own view of myself. This is the ongoing story constructed in my mind about who I am, what I do, where I come from and where I am heading.
  2. The agent. This is the part of the mind that is busy planning and acting in the world.

The Ego is very helpful in moving through the world; without it I would be quite lost; however, clinging to the this part of the psyche too strongly can be limiting. When identified with the Ego we often find ourselves in opposition to world, threatened by those who oppose our views or unwilling to share our resources with those around us. Instead of seeing the ways in which we are similar, related and connected to everyone else, we notice our separateness and therefore our basic loneliness.

If we pay close attention we can become aware of the continuity of the self over time. Looking back on my memories, there is the sense that all of this has happened to one person – me. My memories from high school and my hopes and plans for the future have all happened and will happen to this same person. This is another face of the Ego, which allows me to feel continuity in my personal experience and to plan for a better future. At the same time, it helps perpetuate old self-views, opinions and hurts. It may be helpful to question this experience: where is the person that read the previous sentence? Am I really the same person I was when I was 5 years old?

The interpersonal I is composed of Jung’s persona and Freud’s super-ego. This is the part of the psyche concerned with the way in which I function in society and the way I’m seen in society. This is the part of me that is concerned with belonging to the in-group. Another way the interpersonal self is experienced is as the judgmental voice, warning me of violating the group’s unwritten rules. This aspect of the psyche is helpful in navigating the complex relationships we find ourselves in, be it with family, at work or with friends. Just as it includes one group it excludes everyone who is not a part of this in-group. Those seen as outsiders become easy to ignore or even vilify, leaving us with a narrow view of humanity and often justifying cliquish behavior, violence, or even war.

According to Jung the Persona1 (the mask, the way we present ourselves to others) is collective in nature. The Persona is the Ego’s attempt to approach society’s notion of the ideal person. A large part of Jung’s individuation process involves becoming aware of and then letting go of the constructions of the Persona, making room for more authentic self-expression.

So far we’ve been exploring manifestations of the self that are well studied in Western psychology but there are manifestations of the self that Western psychology did does not pay much attention. In exploring these parts of the self, especially our relationship to them, there is the possibility of great freedom. This possibility has been explored at great depth in many different Eastern traditions. In the next section I will present that possibility and how we may experience it.

1 Jung C.G. (1972) Two Essays of Analytical Psychology. Collected Works vol. 7 Bollingen Series.

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.