Monthly Archives: May 2018

Divine Spark: Le point vierge 1

Matthew chapter 5

Verse 8: blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God

The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart or as is understood in yoga practice in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one person by the soul in another person and is made by placing the hands together at the site of the heart chakra, closing the eyes and bowing the head. It can also be done by placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head and bringing the hands down to the heart. Why is this gesture used? The reason in yoga is given as increasing the flow of Divine love and by bowing the head and closing the eyes the mind is helped to surrender to the Divine in the heart.

Thomas Merton understood the significance of the idea of the Divine love within when he wrote about ‘le point vierge.’ The phrase ‘le point vierge’ – literally translated ‘the virgin point’ occurs in a well-known account by Thomas Merton of his epiphany that took place outside the confines of his monastery at the Abbey of Gethsemani and at the busy interchange of two streets Fourth and Walnut in the business district of Louisville in Kentucky.

The account of his experience that was published initially in his journal and then in an expanded form in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander describes Merton’s deep sense of interconnectedness with all the people there and with the world.

It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes… Again, that expression, le point vierge (I cannot translate it) comes in here. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal… This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, a sour dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.

Here Merton is describing the very heart of the self and also the heart of faith. He took the phrase from the work of Louis Massignon a Catholic scholar of Islam where ‘le point vierge’ has roots in the mystical psychology of Islam as explained in the thought of al-Hallaj a Sufi mystic and dervish wanderer who died in 922 CE who described his experiences of God in this way: ‘‘I saw my Lord with the Eye of my heart, And I said: Truly there is no doubt that it is You. It is You that I see in everything; and I do not see You through anything (but You).’ He also said that ‘our hearts are a virgin that God’s truth alone opens’. Here ‘the virgin’ is the innermost secret heart of the person’ Carl Jung might call it the deep unconscious. But it is here in the very depths of our being, our heart of hearts where the person knows God.


The relevance of Christ to depth psychotherapy 4

In this post I want to explore the connection between the idea of meeting within the communion of saints and the meeting between analyst and patient in the setting of long term analytical work. Clearly there are the different contexts with the different explicit aims – meeting in the communion of saints is in the context of Christian belief with an explicit aim of worshipping or being in the presence of God. In the consulting room the aim is for connection between analyst and patient – though the explicit aim of treatment is for understanding rather than necessarily for cure, though both may happen.

Louis Massignon, an Orientalist and Catholic theologian with great interest and involvement in Islam and relations between Christians and Muslims wrote about the religious values of ‘substitution’ and ‘compassion’ and how these functioned for him and reading this brought to my mind the analytic idea of counter transference and projective identification.

Massignon is describing deep personal relations – whether with those who are dead or who are alive. A primary figure for him was Abraham; and Massignon strongly felt that he was assisted in his own encounter with God and in his dramatic conversion by the intercession of living and deceased friends, among them Abraham and Charles de Foucauld, who had also experienced God in a Muslim context. So for Massignon the idea of  ‘substitution’ is deeply personal and requires meeting someone from the communion of saints and involves carrying one another’s burdens, putting oneself in another’s place, accepting another’s help – and so when the person is a part of the immortal communion of saints (i.e. described as dead) then this personal encounter is a mystical experience. Similarly ‘compassion’ is feeling the other’s predicament to the point that one is provoked to action.

Perhaps the analytic idea that correlates most closely is that of ‘participation mystique’ – a ‘mystical participation’. Carl Jung used this term deriving his use of it from the ethnologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl.  Jung (who retained the phrase in its French translation) summed up ‘participation mystique’ in this way: ‘It is a well-known psychological fact that an individual may have an unconscious identity with some other person or object’. It describes a peculiar kind of psychological connection where the person cannot clearly distinguish themselves from the other person – so it is a sort of partial identity. In other words there is a benign and helpful merging in the context of therapy where the analyst gleans something about the patient’s inner world through in/direct experience.

Jung gives an example not between analyst and patient but of something that occurred in one of his pateint’s:

I am reminded of another mental case who was neither a poet nor anything very outstanding, just a naturally quiet and rather sentimental youth. He had fallen in love with a girl and, as so often happens, had failed to ascertain whether his love was requited. His primitive participation mystique took it for granted that his agitations were plainly the agitations of the other, which on the lower levels of human psychology is naturally very often the case. Thus he built up a sentimental love-fantasy which precipitately collapsed when he discovered that the girl would have none of him.

Our connections with others can step over the boundaries of separate identities in both contexts and as Jung shows in the everyday encounters as well.

The relevance of Christ to depth psychotherapy 3

In this blog I continue reflections on Carl Jung’s ideas on the self and on Christ and the connection with Buddhism and Taoism.

Jung saw that it was not possible to experience and so recognise the difference between a symbol of the self and a God-image so the ideas appear blended together:

‘…so that the self appears synonymous with the inner Christ of the Johannine and Pauline writings, and Christ with God (“of one substance with the Father”), just as the atman appears as the individualised self and at the same time as the animating principle of the cosmos, and Tao as a condition of mind and at the same time as the correct behaviour of cosmic events.’

Jung saw the goal of psychological development as self-realization or individuation – hence his interest in Christ as a symbol of the self. Incidentally Jung also saw the self – the total personality with its unknown heights and depths that sometimes addresses the individual in tones of absolute authority as also a symbol of God himself.

Christopher Bryant explains: ‘It is because in Christian experience Christ speaks with absolute authority that Jung can call him a symbol of the self. He is using the language of psychology which is concerned with how reality is experienced rather than what it is. Speaking as a psychologist Jung is affirming that Christ is experienced as divine.’

However it is worth pointing out that Jung did not see Christ as a completely satisfactory symbol of the self because he saw Christ as a figure wholly light, containing no darkness so therefore not standing for the darker aspects of human nature. He thought that Christ was idealised through Christian devotion therefore repressing the darker side of human nature and hindering each one of us from accepting and living out who we truly are. In other words an emphasis on being good/or Christ-like rather than integrating the shadow and being real.

As has been pointed out there is much truth in this in that we tend to dwell on the qualities that we find attractive and inspiring and ignore the rest. Here there is an interesting connection between Christ and psychotherapy because we may use Christ or our image of Christ to keep negative feelings at bay. So there is emphasis on his gentle qualities, his compassion for the sick and the sinful and his love for children whilst forgetting the sterner characteristics – his anger overturning the tables in the temple and his regular denouncement of hypocrisy. This is then too narrow an image of Christ for ultimately Christ shares in the unfathomable reality of the Godhead. He is the unknown and the best pictures we conform of him are no more than pointers to one vastly greater than we can imagine.

So we might say that Jung’s criticism is a salutary warning of the effects of a narrow or sentimental devotion to Christ; but it is not valid against a deeper, indeed a more traditional, understanding of Christ as the divine Word through whom the universe came into being.

The relevance of Christ to depth psychotherapy 2    

Carl Jung was immensely interested in the symbolism and rituals of religion and in his explorations he writes about bringing analytical psychology into relationship with Christianity and in particular the question of Christ as a psychological figure.

Jung in his study of Psychology and Alchemy shows the parallelism between the Christ figure and the central concept of the alchemists – the lapis or stone. Whilst he was preoccupied in the studies for this publication he describes how he had a vision:

‘One night I awoke and saw, bathed in bright light at the foot of my bed, the figure of Christ on the Cross. It was not quite life-size, but extremely distinct and I saw that his body was made of greenish-gold. The vision was marvellously beautiful, and yet I was profoundly shaken by it…

I had been thinking a great deal about the Anima Christi, one of the meditations from the Spiritual Exercises [of Ignatius Loyola]. The vision came to me as if to point out that I had overlooked something in my reflections…’

Jung goes on to describe this as an alchemical vision of Christ with the green gold and expression of the life-spirit – the anima mundi – who animates the whole cosmos. This life force has poured himself out into everything – and is even present in metal and stone where there is a union of the spiritually alive and physically dead matter.

In Carl Jung’s work Aion he looks at Jesus Christ as an archetype primordial image, as God’s own Son who stands in opposition to the ruler of this world. In his work Psychology and Religion Jung sees Jesus Christ with all the attributes of the hero’s life:

‘improbable origin, divine father, hazardous birth, rescuing in the nick of time, precocious development, conquest of the mother and of death, miraculous deeds, tragic, early end, symbolically significant manner of death, post-mortem effects (re-appearances signs and marvels, etc.). As the Logos, Son of the Father … Redeemer and Saviour, Christ is himself God, and all embracing totality, which like the definition of godhead, is expressed iconographically by the circle or mandala.’

Jung saw Job as a kind of prefiguration of Christ with the link between them the idea of suffering. Christ is the suffering servant of God, and so was Job.

Jung saw the problems of the world and the religious problems of his patients as encapsulated in the idea of Christ as representative of the self where there is interplay between conscious and unconscious with the development of consciousness from the unconscious. The symbol of Christ occurs in dreams and projections and the content of all such symbolic products is the idea of an overpowering, all embracing, complete or perfect being. This archetypal idea is a reflection of each individual’s wholeness, i.e. of the self, which is present in each of us as an unconscious image. Carl Jung sees that it is this archetype of the self in the soul of each person that responds to the Christian message… Christ realized the idea of the self.