Friday, September 22, 2006

On September 15, 2006, the Saint Louis Jung Society hosted a panel discussion of four local Jungian Analysts--Sheldon Culver, Shirley, Fontenot, Ellen Sheire, and myself. My contribution to the forum follows:

Presentation for Analysts Panel Discussion - September 15, 2006

The question for this panel discussion, “What is rippling your waters?” is a good one for any of us to reflect on. It has surely provided a lot of reflection for me. I want to thank the Jung Society Board for this opportunity and for their very hard work to make these kinds of programs and events possible.

The subject that has most gripped me in recent weeks has to do with states of consciousness. It is an extremely broad subject but one that lends itself to some brief discussion.

Of compelling interest to anyone is: what is the state of consciousness that I find myself in and why is it important to know that state? Examining one’s own consciousness is a questionable endeavor for we are apt to find what we want to find rather than what is more objectively true.

It seems to be the case that each of us has a conscience that is a state sometimes discernibly different from our usual mode of being within ourselves. Even the word ‘conscience’ in its derivation (con = with and scio = to know) implies a knowing with something other. The effect of conscience is that we feel a dissonance, often in the body, when our ego state or ego action strays too far from this implied other. This often vague dissonance can be a most helpful guide in any examination of consciousness

How does one examine one’s own consciousness, especially while necessarily and hopelessly stuck inside it? I think the answer to this question is one of the most important that Jungian Psychology attempts to provide. Jung thought that by taking a very long view, by studying what others in different epochs had to say about certain issues, one could develop an Archimedean point of view. By “Archimedean,” Jung meant in a psychological way what Archimedes expressed for physical reality: Give me a fulcrum sufficiently removed, and I can apply force that can move the earth.

When Jung studies and comments on works from Eastern philosophy, world mythologies, and from ancient alchemical texts, he is giving us an Archimedean point of view for modern consciousness. Even though modern individual experiences are short-lived and limited; images from the unconscious fleeting and illusory; and states of consciousness sporadic and discontinuous, Jung demonstrated that an aggregate view—gained from many texts from many eras—shows an unfolding process in which all humankind is involved.

This process is not random. It consists of regularly occurring images, motifs, and patterns that Jung called archetypal (from arche = ancient and typos = imprint). Our experiences of archetypes go primarily unnoticed even though archetypes are universal and everyday. In subtle but powerful ways they determine our patterns of behavior. For example, most of us have lived through one such pattern, having experienced the sadness, loss, and sterility of a Demeter state of consciousness when Persephone (that youthful, forward-looking younger daughter state) is snatched away.

Or consider the pattern of Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Aires. When Aphrodite and Aries have an illicit affair, Aphrodite’s husband Hephaestus makes a net and entraps them, exposing the affair. That ancient myth describes the universal pattern of a consciousness that unwittingly sets up a situation to make sure his/her questionable behavior is uncovered.

Our modern consciousness, unmoored from the underlying and continuous unconscious, can get stuck in one state or can transition unnoticed from state to state. Today we label someone bipolar when he/she swings from Demeter to Persephone states, often with dire consequences. Knowing the pattern we are living, that is to say making the pattern conscious, may lead us to make different choices. And bringing an underlying unconscious archetypal pattern into consciousness has a healing effect. It is as if we need story, especially our own story, to connect us with universal human experiences and emotions—this universal archetypal bedrock--and to end our modern states of alienation from ourselves and others.

Why this need, we can’t be certain, but we do know that without story an individual grows ill. Dreams, in some fashion, connect us with our ‘story.’ When not allowed to dream, an individual will become psychotic in a remarkably short time.

Dreams are a fine way for examining our conscious state. When we remember a dream, it is as if the Dream Giver (perhaps the Self in Jungian thought) has filmed a drama from a point of view removed, then says, “Here, take a look at yourself and your relationships with psychic figures and events from my perspective.” Any of you who have examined dreams no doubt have seen archetypal figures and motifs in them, perhaps Mother, Father, Home, the Journey, Conflict, the Child, the Automobile, Moon, Sun, Stars, Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Sacrifice, the Scapegoat, to name a few.

Why all this interest in states of consciousness? I think with some degree of self knowledge, one can learn to choose one’s state without identifying with it. When identified with a state, one is trapped, things are as they appear. As one ancient put it: We must “learn whence is sorrow and joy, and love and hate, and waking though one would not, and sleeping though one would not, and getting angry though one would not, and falling in love though one would not. And if thou shouldst closely investigate these things, thou wilt find God in thyself . . .” [Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 11, Para. 400]

Someone I know personally described disidentification this way: “When you look at your dreams, it’s amazing the information you get that’s different from your perception, information that gives you a different way of walking through life. You don’t have to go through it the same old way any more. I used to go strictly with my feelings that were raging around, would get stuck in them. Now I find that if I can go over them, process them, those feelings don’t hang around for days. I am unstuck then.”

Ultimately, there is a creative state of consciousness much to be desired. The best attempt I’ve seen to explain this creative state is from Toni Morrison:

“I’ve said I wrote The Bluest Eye after a period of depression, but the words ‘lonely, depressed, melancholy’ don’t really mean the obvious. They simply represent a different state. It’s an unbusy state, when I am more aware of myself than of others. The best words for making that state clear to other people are those words. It’s not necessarily an unhappy feeling; it’s just a different one. I think now I know better what that state is. Sometimes when I’m in mourning, for example, after my father died, there’s a period when I’m not fighting day-to-day battles . . . . When I’m in this state, I can hear things. . . . . It has happened other times . . . At that time I had to be put into it. Now I know how to bring it about without going through the actual event.” [Black Women Writers at Work, New York: Continuum, 1984, edited by Claudia Tate, p. 189-9]

You might ask a most practical and fundamental question: how do we self-examine, how do we discover precisely what our state of mind is? Here are some ways: (1) Paying attention to dreams and dream images, a topic I touched on earlier; (2) observing synchronicities that occur in our life; (3) watching for repeating patterns in our own behavior; (4) being mindful of the unintentional effects we have on others and on events; (5) mapping our own psyche for the complexes (which act like mine fields) that exist in our unconsciousness and that explode or erupt occasionally; (6) being more or less aware of the triggers that set off our complexes; (7) paying attention to our emotional state and its many variations and swings; (8) entertaining fantasies that can provide information to our ego state; (9) observing which characters we resonate with in literature and film; (10) noticing who gets under our skin and asking why; and (11) above all, having an awareness that ego consciousness is embedded in something larger than itself that exerts pressures, that influences attitudes and behaviors, and that has real affects.

In our shared interest in Jungian Psychology, we are making an additional effort. By relating to Jung’s ideas and the images he explores, by developing a relationship with them, we are in effect establishing a better relationship with the Unconscious. Or we are at least studying the map Jung provides for our own journey. The psyche, or the Unconscious, consists of images and patterns that picture vital activities which are full of meaning and purpose. When we do make the kinds of efforts I have described, it is as if a connection gets made from one’s small personal existence and experience to some underlying source of all existence and experience, and the individual has an ‘ah-ha’ realization that is satisfying and helpful. The ‘ah-ha’ is of the nature of the experience one gets when a mathematical proof “clicks”. There is a feeling of completeness and unshakeable certitude. Many of you may remember that feeling from your study of geometry in high school.

It would seem to be case, the Unconscious also gets something of an ‘ah-ha’ when connections between consciousness and the Unconscious occur.

The word psyche is a Sanscrit word that also means “butterfly” so that in the word itself is an understanding of the experience of transformation or metamorphosis. If the ego is an epiphenomenonon of the psyche, that is to say, the ego is formed on the substratum of the archetypal bedrock and takes on its patterning, then the ego, too, will be subject to psychic transformations. However, without an awareness of the underlying nature of the psyche and its pattern of regular, somewhat predictable transformations, the ego will simply be dragged through the transformations and may experience primarily the suffering. Or the ego may simply try to numb itself to all experience, in which case the baby has definitely been thrown out with the bath water. With memory, knowledge, imagination, patience, and perseverance, an individual can better weather the suffering and storms that are part and parcel of transformation.