Archives for posts with tag: meaning

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.