Monthly Archives: July 2021

Teachings from the autobiography ‘Being Ram Dass’

The teachings of Ram Dass are the teachings he was given by his Indian guru Maharaj-ji. Ram Dass’ teachings are a confluence of Hinduism, Buddhism and aspects of his own American culture including from Christianity. The central aspects were to cultivate emptiness, cultivate compassion and honour his guru.

Ram Dass writes in his autobiography Being Ram Dass that you can’t achieve your way to God. You can only surrender.

‘You make the efforts to purify and clear your mind, and then you have to let it all go: desires, attachments, ego, mind, conceptual thoughts. It was the polar opposite of achievement motivation, this cultivation of desirelessness. Maharaj-ji used to quote a line from the poet Kabir that went, “I walk through the market, and I am neither a buyer nor a seller”.’

What’s interesting is that the spiritual and the psychological are so deeply interwoven so as Ram Dass deepens his spiritual practices so he changes his priorities and personality. One example is that Maharaj-ji kept giving him experiences with power until Ram Dass saw that it was love not power, that matters. This often came to the fore when Ram Dass was teaching others: ‘The teacher role fanned my ego, except that Maharaj-ji kept undercutting it. … I was connecting with monstrous egos, and not just my own.’

Ram Dass learnt that the eternal present was ever present for his guru. For Maharaj-ji it was as if people long dead were present for him.  ‘It’s as if Maharaj-ji’s eternal present intersects our timeline at a perpendicular from another dimension’… he sees:

‘time from outside our reality. When he spoke of Christ, tears rolled down his face. It was as if he was witnessing the crucifixion. Later he told us to meditate the way Christ meditated. When asked how Christ meditated, he said, “he lost himself in love”’.

Ram Dass internalises his guru so after Maharaj-ji’s death although the body has gone the soul is still present to guide his devotees. Indeed, on one occasion Ram Dass has a vision – planning

Ram Dass with Maharaj-ji

to return to India he wakes to find someone sitting on the end of the bed. ‘It was Maharaj-ji. The apparition said in perfectly good English, “You don’t need to go to India. Your next teachings will be right here.”’ And so Ram Dass stays in the US and receives more teachings via others but directed by Maharaj-ji.

 

 

 

Synchronicity 4

In his correspondence Jung offers further comments about synchronicity – meaningful coincidences – and the probability that ‘the collective unconscious coincides in a strange and utterly inconceivable way with objective events’. Here Jung means that an archetypal situation will reflect itself also in physical processes. He quotes a 2nd century dream book from a Greek soothsayer Artemidorus who writes of a man dreaming that his father perished in a fire, and a few days later the dreamer himself dying of a high fever – Jung adds that he himself has observed such things.

The difficulty in looking at synchronistic events from a scientific perspective or through experimental means is that as Jung writes, ‘when we observe statistically we eliminate the synchronistic phenomenon, and conversely, when we establish synchronicity we must abandon the statistical method.’ Jung is in part drawing on medieval thought to understand contingencies beyond mere probability.

He is also looking at his idea that in the archetypal there is no time – it is eternal – in other words outside time, and is everywhere. In the archetype there is no limit to space and place.

‘In our ordinary mind we are in the worlds of time and space and within the separate individual psyche. In the state of the archetype we are in the collective psyche, in a world-system whose space-time categories are relatively or absolutely abolished.’

Synchronistic events are outside the usual and acknowledged limits of ordinary time and space – they link to the deep unconscious and the archetypal: ‘When an archetype prevails, we can expect synchronistic phenomena’.

In a letter written in 1954 Jung sees synchronicity as comparable to the idea of ‘pre-established harmony’. This leads him into discussions of astrology and predetermination – in other words has everything already taken place? This is the same as with ESP (extra sensory perception such as telepathy and precognition etc) which all have the same underlying principle which is ‘the identity of a subjective and an objective arrangement coinciding in time’. The subject takes Jung to what he writes of as ‘the frontier of transcendence, beyond which human statements can only be mythological.’

Synchronicity 3

There is anecdotal evidence of clocks stopping during highly emotional times – when someone is ill, or there is a death or an accident. This happened to the first analyst I worked with – the grandfather clock that her elderly mother had wound once a week for many years and to which she was deeply attached, stopped at the exact moment of her death – time had run out.

Another person writes:

‘I was away visiting a friend when one morning I found my watch had stopped. It was not long after that I received the shocking news of my father’s passing. The timing seemed to correlate with the stopping of my watch.

I returned home, soon after, to find all the clocks in my house had stopped, though at different times. Nothing could explain it and I am left wondering about these unexplained coincidences. Was my father trying to send me a message?’

Similarly, there are many accounts of meaningful coincidences in happy emotional situations such as finding future partners, or where a number of people who are deeply loved all share the same birthday. Various research studies suggest that people with high rates of sensitivity and intuition, and those who practice mindfulness are more open to such experiences, which are inevitably dismissed by those who defend against such happenings.

This is a famous light hearted example:

‘French writer Emile Deschamps claims in his memoirs that, in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fontgibu. Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a dinner and once again ordered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fontgibu was missing to make the setting complete—and in the same instant, the now senile de Fontgibu entered the room, having got the wrong address.’

Jung wrote after describing some examples: “When coincidences pile up in this way, one cannot help being impressed by them – for the greater the number of terms in such a series, or the more unusual its character, the more improbable it becomes.” Jung’s thinking is very much aligned with his work on the collective unconscious and the deep connections between people through an invisible network. If a number of coincidences occur then there is a possibility that the deep unconscious is drawing one’s attention to something or someone. There is a form of signalling taking place. Jung saw the collective unconscious ‘more like an atmosphere in which we live than something that is found in us. It is simply the unknown quantity in the world’.

He continues:

‘it does not by any means behave merely psychologically; in the cases of so-called synchronicity, it proves to be a universal substrate present in the environment rather than a psychological premise. Wherever we come into contact with an archetype we enter into relationship with transconscious, metaphysic factors which underlie the spiritualistic hypothesis as well as that of magical actions.’

Synchronicity 2

In the last post Jung’s clinical example with the scarab beetle was used in the explanation of synchronicity. The additional meaning is that the scarab is a symbol of rebirth and Jung pointed out that that was what one would expect to accompany any process of psychic transformation such as the events that began with the female patient’s dream.  From this particular individual experience Jung realised that the implication was that synchronicity came from an archetypal foundation. As the patient described the scarab beetle in her dream so the actual rose chafer arrived at the window and together this allowed a numinous experience – mysterious and awe-inspiring.

Jung wrote:

‘Synchronicity therefore consists of two factors. (a) An unconscious image comes into consciousness either directly (i.e., literally) or indirectly (symbolised or suggested) in the form of a dream, idea or premonition. (b) An objective situation coincides with this content.’

Jung then describes his work with a depressed man whom he had helped recover, but who had then married a woman who seemed to scoff at the therapeutic work. This placed a burden on the patient who again became depressed, but did not contact Jung. One night after giving a lecture Jung lay awake for a long time:

‘At about two o’clock – I must have just fallen asleep – I awoke with a start, and had the feeling that someone had come into the room; I even had the impression that the door had been hastily opened. I instantly turned on the light, but there was nothing. … it was still as death. “Odd,” I thought, “someone did come into the room!” Then I tried to recall exactly what had happened, and it occurred to me that I had been awakened by a feeling of dull pain, as though something had struck my forehead and then the back of my skull. The following day I received a telegram saying that my patient had committed suicide. He had shot himself. Later, I learned that the bullet had come to rest in the back wall of the skull.’

Jung continues:

‘This experience was a genuine synchronistic phenomenon such as is quite often observed in connection with an archetypal situation – in this case, death. By means of a relativisation of time and space in the unconscious it could well be that I had perceived something which in reality was taking place elsewhere. The collective unconscious is common to all; it is the foundation of what the ancients called the “sympathy of all things.” In this case the unconscious had knowledge of my patient’s condition. All that evening, in fact, I had felt curiously restive and nervous, very much in contrast to my usual mood.’

 

 

Synchronicity

What did Carl Jung mean by his theory of synchronicity? Anthony Stevens explains that Jung was writing about a connecting principle that creates meaningful relationships between events occurring at the same time.  This principle goes back to ancient Chinese thinking about reality which you can find in the I Ching or Book of Changes. Since all life is pattern it follows that time also functions as an aspect of that pattern. In other words, everything that happens is related to everything else that happens through the time at which the happening occurs.

Jung was sympathetic to this view because it corresponds to the way in which we experience meaningful coincidences and also how we experience time. We may be taught that time is an abstract measure but it doesn’t feel like that. Rather, it is felt to have a character of its own which colours all events as they occur. The whole ‘nostalgia industry’ is based on this and it is as true of physical events as of mental events that may as a consequence appear to be causally related – such as when a door slams at the same time as one is reading of a door slamming in a novel. Our Western minds dismiss such things as meaningless, but life reaches beyond that. As Stevens writes:

We are not prisoners on a mechanistic treadmill driven by abstract time. Through awareness of acausal relationships between the phenomena of life we enter a wider reality capable of liberating us from the intellectual chain-gang whose warders are Cause and Effect.

There is a great example of synchronicity from Jung’s clinical work with a female patient described as rationalistic and argumentative. She had been to other analysts without resolving her difficulties and one day she told a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While recounting the dream there was a tapping on the window, and Jung let in, catching in his hand a rose chafer which is a time of scarab beetle not usually found at the latitude where he was working. He describes what happened:

‘I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, “Here is your scarab”. This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance.’