Monthly Archives: February 2017

In the likeness of God

If I am feeling in complete disagreement with someone else – certain politicians come to mind – how can I reconcile that we are all made in the image or likeness of God … If I disapprove of someone else’s behaviour or opinions – perhaps someone who is also saying that they are a Christian and sincerely believes that they are doing God’s will, how can I understand it if I also believe that in my disapproval of them I am also sincerely believing that I am doing God’s will. Can it be God’s will that I disapprove of what they say is God’s will?

Religion is always beset with disagreements and divisions – so as a matter of fact are most psychoanalytic institutions … and so perhaps analytic thinking can help make sense of this. There are always different levels of consciousness or unconsciousness present. We all have our personal unconscious where the contents are formed personally from the nurture we received and the specific environment into which we were born, and the contents are at the same time also individual ‘acquisitions’ – our nature whether to do with genes, or with our predispositions. This means that everyone has their ‘own’ unconscious. What Carl Jung explains and what is also to some extent covered by Freud in his ideas on the inherited id is the idea that we are also embedded in another layer of the unconscious. This Jung called the collective unconscious.

While he wrote extensively about this, the contents of the collective unconscious can be summed up as only formed personally to a minor degree, and in its essentials it is not personal at all. The contents are not individual acquisitions because they are essentially the same everywhere and do not vary from person to person. In this way the collective unconscious is a bit like the air we breathe, we can all breathe it in and yet it belongs to no body and it is the same everywhere.

Jung called the contents of the collective unconscious the archetypes, and he saw them as prior conditions or patterns of psychic formation in general which then become personalised and modified and assimilated by external influences and conditions. In a letter to a Pastor querying his ideas of God, Jung says that a good example is the crystal lattice which is the symmetrical three-dimensional arrangement of atoms inside a crystal. There is only the one crystal lattice for millions of crystals of the same chemical compositions. No individual crystal can speak of its lattice, since the lattice is the identical precondition for all of them (none of which concretes it perfectly). It is everywhere the same and ‘eternal’. Jung links this with the idea to the likeness to God. ‘There is only one imago Dei, which belongs to the existential ground of everyone and is the principle by which we are shaped and it is unchangeable and eternal.’ It is this that then feeds into the personal psyche and is accordingly adapted and changed according to our personal experiences.

We are all interconnected and children of the same Father but it doesn’t mean that we don’t and can’t and won’t disagree!

Why we live…

Why we live…

Carl Jung in a letter to an anonymous man written in July 1946 writes that we live ‘in order to attain the greatest possible amount of spiritual development and self-awareness.’
The letter is to someone who is seriously unhappy and Jung reminds the recipient that unjustified influences from childhood, as in this man’s case, are apt to take root in the unconscious. For even once the influence has long gone in the external world, it still continues working in the unconscious and as Jung explains in a straightforward and simple way ‘then one treats oneself as badly as one was treated earlier.’

He urges this person to cultivate his work especially if it gives joy and satisfaction, and in fact to cultivate anything that gives pleasure in being alive. As long as life is possible, ‘even if only in a minimal degree, you should hang on to it, in order to scoop it up for the purpose of conscious development.’ In response to what must have been a statement about suicide Jung says that while the idea of suicide is understandable he can’t commend it, because to interrupt life before its time is to ‘bring to a standstill an experiment which we have not set up. We have found ourselves in the midst of it and must carry it through to the end.’

Jung is sympathetic to the man’s physical and mental state but feels that if he can he will not regret clinging on to being alive. One way of helping is to read a good book, as he adds one reads the Bible, because in the very act of reading we are being drawn inwards. He sees the books as a bridge along which good things may flow even if that seems unimaginable in the present state of mind.

Jung, the empirical psychologist, maintains that our lives are not made entirely by ourselves; there are influences that belong in the collective unconscious in sources that are entirely hidden to us. The best we can do is to live what he calls ‘just ordinary life’ and to become as conscious and self-aware as we can.

Earlier in a dedication note to a collection of some of his offprints Jung writes about the changes that take place over our lives and how in his own life these are marked in his books and articles. He looks back on them rather as ‘moultings’ things that one has sloughed off that conceal as much as they reveal. They are like steps. Jung ends up saying:

   ‘He who mounts a flight of steps does not linger on them, nor look back at them, even though age invites him to linger or slow his pace. The great wind of the peaks roars ever more loudly in his ears. His gaze sweeps distances that flee into the infinite. The last steps are the loveliest and most precious, for they lead to that fullness to reach which the innermost essence of man is born.’

That’s why we live…

Wilderness and promised land times

‘God found them in a wilderness,
in fearful, desolate wastes.
God surrounded them;
Lifted them up,
And they were kept as the apple of God’s eye.’

Our life with God is totally relevant and totally real to our lives despite the best attempts of the church to make it seem otherwise.

One of the great messages from the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of Exodus … a journeying out into the unknown. As well as an account of an early group of people this is of course also a metaphor about our journey through life, and potentially also about each day or even moment. Human life is very largely a wilderness, a dry land where there’s not much water although there are plenty of things such as success or riches or self-importance that act as the artificial water or plastic flowers with which we pretend that we live in an authentic way … all simulated appearances of what matters and what is real.

The wilderness can be an external one full of actual fear, loss and emptiness or an internal one dominated by the same terrors. Most people have times when they know such experiences, even if we try to pretend otherwise and other times when they have reached, for the moment, a promised land of sorts. The great thing is that many others have been there and got through the wilderness times and left us their experiences to guide and support as we come along behind. The wilderness can be an individual experience or a collective one.
I’m still ploughing through the first volume of Carl Jung’s correspondence (all 576 pages) and there are some wonderful sections that seem to really open out Jung’s understanding and experiences of the relationship between religion and psychology. He also comments on the political situation during and after the Second World War.

Some of his insights seem powerfully pertinent to our current state globally For example, he suggests that given the creation of nuclear weapons (this is written in 1945) the suicide of human civilisation has moved closer and ‘chain reactions will be discovered in the future which will endanger the planet.’ Jung sees the only hope lies in what he calls ‘the great reversal’. He writes, ‘I can imagine this as nothing other than a religious, world-embracing movement which alone can intercept the diabolical impulse for destruction.’ He continues in this same letter (which was to a Pastor Wegmann with whom he discusses much of interest) that the church would have her reason for existence, her justification, if through some global spiritual force humankind and now I would add all creatures could be saved. He thought the situation urgent then as indeed it surely is now.

Jung also quotes the presence of God in life as an infinite sphere, ‘whose centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.’ We are surrounded and immersed, whether we believe it or not and whether in the times of wilderness or the promised land.

Being ordinary – being authentic

In life we are invited on a journey of authenticity – a journey to uncover and recover the true self – the person that we are meant to be. This is a psycho-spiritual journey, a voyage of discovery and it is about being ‘ordinary’ in the original meaning of the word, being usual, and being a human being.

It’s often uncomfortable pretending to be someone that we are not and many of us experience a crisis which impels us to make changes, and to let go of the false self that has often emerged as a way of coping or achieving or surviving.
Peter Lomas begins his work on Cultivating Intuition by quoting Paul Scott:
‘The truth did not come to me suddenly.
It came quietly, circumspectly, snuffling and whimpering,
looking to be let in many times before.’

I think there’s a suggestion here that we in a way intuitively know when we are real and living in the truth; in the same way we can often tell when someone is not being genuine. Sometimes there’s a need to be exceptional to stand out and to decry ordinariness. This leads to false self reassurance – a boasting and a bolstering. This is the craving to be special, to be the preferred one and the centre of attention. One suggestion is that this can then provide the illusion that we can evade the pain, disillusionment and ultimate end of ordinary living. Many a sociologist has pointed out how in contemporary society there’s a powerful conditioning factor which undermines satisfaction with the ordinary – when we are encouraged to excel or be better than, to come top of the class or develop a special skill or talent … to be superhuman, above the usual and the regular.

One of the problems is that the word ‘ordinary’ has become corrupted to mean dull, predictable, unimaginative and uninteresting. In our current society it seems that ordinary people are not special people. Turning the conventional view on its head one could say that someone who has not been able to attain a sense of ordinariness compensates by seeking an exclusive or special relationship and so to seek reassurance and importance in the eyes of another or many others.

Yet a child who has had the experience of being recognised in their own right as an individual and who then has value in themselves and who they are, has no need to seek out special status either through their achievements or through somebody or something else.

Ironically this ability to be ordinary is in itself special. There is certainly a dilemma for infants which is that they need to be recognised for what they are – neither ordinary or special – they just are being themselves, but once comparisons arise with others the young child needs to be confident about their uniqueness … but it is also important to be like others. If things go well then this paradox will be absorbed into their self-conception, and ordinary experience will provide enough excitement, richness, and security, as life unfolds so that drama, and success are not used to replace an inner emptiness.

Ordinariness then may be instead to do with richness of experience and a deep authenticity that is nothing to do with being different or special; instead it is about true to oneself … the person that God intends us to be.