Friday, May 1, 2020

#79 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Projections)

“Beware of the projections!” These are the last words of a clergy to his secretary immediately prior to his taking his own life.

The Academy of Ideas website uses these words to depict projection:
Projection occurs when we attribute an element of our personality, which resides in our unconscious, to another person or group. We can project both negative and positive characteristics, however there is a greater tendency to project the former rather than the later….
‘Projection is one of the commonest psychic phenomena. Everything that is scope and influence unconscious in our selves we discover in our neighbour, and we treat him accordingly.’ (Carl Jung: Archaic Man)

Jung…stressed that projection was both an inevitable and necessary component in our psychological development as it is one of the primary means by which we can gain an awareness of elements residing in our unconscious. After projecting an element or our unconscious, the healthy thing to do is to recognize the subjective origin of the projection, to withdraw it from the external world, and to integrate this element of our personality into conscious awareness. Only by withdrawing our projections and becoming aware of the faults we previously projected onto others, can we ever hope to take corrective measures. This process of withdrawal and integration is a difficult task for it takes courage to face up to one’s weaknesses and dark qualities. But while difficult, this task is crucial in the battle of life, for failure to confront one’s shadow leaves these elements free to grow in scope and influence.

Jung explains: When one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be back and evil and destructive. People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvelous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions. Or they try to minimize them and to shift the responsibility elsewhere. The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil (Carl Jung, Visions, Notes of the Seminar Given in 1039-34)

In any position of leadership, in any group, one increasingly becomes conscious of the flow of projections, both of the negative and the positive variety. Those from the negative anima(us) generate animosity (duh!) between the parties, while the positive projections seem almost to lift the ‘leader’ off the ground, like a gust of wind into the sail of a wind-surfer’s polyester. Unfortunately, however, neither ‘leader’ nor group member is conscious of the drama unfolding in front of their eyes, and also before the eyes and ears of the members of the group. Teen co-ed adulation of ‘rock stars’ exemplify projections of the highly idealized kind: this person is my “ideal” of the prefect mate; he is any one of or a composite of many adoring adjectives, and the co-ed seems almost to pour herself into the “projection”…A similar dynamic can and does take place in the opposite direction signalling distaste, contempt and even hate, projecting a darker side of the shadow of the projector.

In a recently released biography of Marilyn Monroe, entitled: Norma Jean: the Life of Marilyn Munroe, the writer, Fred Lawrence Guiles, “suggests Monroe may have aborted a child from either then-President John F. Kennedy or his brother, Robert Kennedy, just weeks before she died of a drug overdose in her home….According to Guiles’ book, Monroe was ‘three months’ removed from her last meeting with John Kennedy and ‘only a few weeks’ removed from her last date with Robert, who at the time was the US Attorney General….Days before her death on August 4, (1962), Monroe placed a phone call to Robert Kennedy, with whom she had reportedly grown infatuated. (By Ariel Zilber for, April 25, 2020)

Without wading into the speculation about whose child Monroe may have carried and allegedly terminated, clearly the projection of a “perfect” woman directly onto what were then perceived by many as one of two “perfect men” cannot be missed. And the tragic implications have resounded and will continue to ripple through even more decades of research, speculation and biographical sketches.

Nevertheless, such a ‘story’ is not without both historic and mythic precursers. The story of Tristan and Isolde depicts another “love-potioned” love relationship, with the “potion” itself freeing both partners from responsibility. Our contemporary passionate love relationships, including a variety of forms, seem bereft of anything so mystical as a potion, while the effects of what we call projections differ little from the profound case of being “smitten” by another, on the part of both men and women, for each other and also for a member of the same gender.

Unexplained, perhaps inexplicable, yet nevertheless considered completely “normal” in modern cultural parlance, relationships based primarily on projections often, if not always, emerge from some period/incident/reflection/turning-point, in which one person “latches” onto another, as a potential rescuer, a heroic lover, a proof of faux stability on the part of a fragile and unstable man or woman. Their intensity is unmatched by the daily routine of what seem to some as mundane, boring and tedious repetitions of daily chores and responsibilities. And such encounters are not restricted to one’s adolescence; they can and do arise without notice, warning or preparation. Generating usually much more emotional heat than light (insight, comprehension, understanding, balance, and perspective) these relationships are difficult, it not impossible to sustain. Based as they are on the unconscious projections of one or both parties, eventually, one or both parties will awaken to the new now conscious grasp of what has been going on.

A projection of the darkest and most hidden negative monsters, by a man and a woman onto each other can and will result in epic battles of two Shadows, before the combatants come to their senses, realizing that it is not the two adults, but their projections that are ‘at war.’

Speculation here, based on some intuitive probes into the relationship between  psychological projections and the Christian template of a Saviour, Jesus, whose record of “perfection” both elevates him into the stratosphere of human imagination, and generates cauldrons of jealousy, hatred, judgement and eventually even murder/crucifixion. Reading Hillman, (Revisioning Psychology) we read his assertion that Christ has to be crucified, as one of the plethora of stories/gods/goddesses whose voices/lives/archetypes continue to play out in the lives of generations centuries in succession. For many, it would be considered apostasy to link a psychological theory to a theologically and spiritually loaded event that has marked the Christian calendar for centuries.

 Nevertheless, while attempting to walk a fine line separating psychology from faith, the former never replacing or supplanting the latter, might, just might it be reasonable to speculate that lingering and flowing through the rivers of our individual and our collective unconscious this archetypal story of a perfect saviour/rescuer/shaman/clergy/lover there is another and necessary force that
“sees” such a figure as so detestable, so despicable, so dishonourable and so worthy of elimination that the prospect of such an act actually takes over if not physically, but certainly politically, imaginatively, archetypally, and psychopathologically? Projections of our most detested and detestable (and as yet unacknowledged and unclaimed) attribute(s) would naturally find an available, accessible and vulnerable ‘christ’ (speaking archetypally and not theologically) for elimination.

From a basic perspective one might ask who and what comprise our “heroes” and out martyrs, in the light of  the interplay of so intense and overwhelming and incomprehensible sensations of either or both of guilt and forgiveness, the former reaching paralyzing proportions and the latter so freeing as to evoke images of Daedalus and his son Icarus floating through air, albeit on wings waxed and vulnerable to sun heat. The dramatic tensions of such experiences, and the perceptions of their impact are recounted in both mystical and less mystical narratives, in many religious archives.

Martyrs, too, define sacrifice to a cause, and in the Christian tradition, battlefields have been saturated with the blood of Crusaders who were attempting to reclaim the Holy Land from Islamic rule. Can we hear, in the background of our mind, those prophetic words of our clergy above, “Beware the projections!”?

I have watched and listened to the utterances of men of some repute and standing, based on their life’s contribution to a political party or a religious institution who were, it seemed then, and does even more so decades later, out of touch with their unconscious, their Shadow and the implications of their psychic wiring’s broken fuse. Too often, I wondered what actually motivated their decisions, and even their prayers and relationships. Authority figures, especially, (given my own background, previously outlined) found themselves staring down the barrel of a psychic camera lens, in conversation over coffee, some of them actually twisting and turning, physically and verbally, in an attempt to avoid detection at an  emotional or a spiritual level.
In one breakfast conversation at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, I was being interviewed by a prospective ‘employer’ in a rural church. I was interested and curious about this man’s world view, his place in the universe and his relationship with God. So discomforting were my inquiries that he reported to the bishop immediately after, “He knows me better than I thought I did!” clearly in an emotional state of feeling “metaphorically disrobed.” His attraction to fatalism was the most prominent headline and my curiosity about how fatalism related to faith seemed unnerving to him.

Protection of one’s inner life, especially among those professing a faith, seems oxymoronic in one sense. And yet, for many men, especially in what have been considered establishment churches, where the corporate culture of power, authority, obedience and ‘surrender’ as demonstration of humility, poverty, chastity and trustworthiness abound and where cold, untouched and untouchable aloofness, distance, and disciplined withdrawal from  all encounters of a spiritual nature prevail.
Consequently, personal spiritual issues, like such significant questions as purpose, meaning, identity, perceptions of God and relationship to God often never make it into the conversations either public or private. Instead, questions of budgets, furnaces, fuel costs, attendance figures, revenue figures, social and liturgical festivities and perhaps some acknowledgement of physical pain and suffering. The links between the literal, empirical and the management issues and the spiritual life of both individual parishoners and the culture and ethos of the spiritual gathering place remain outside the purview of the conscious considerations of those in charge, from the local parish to the diocesan hierarchy.

And even there, the duplicity, deception, back-stabbing, gossiping and literal and metaphoric crucifixions that take place by alleged colleagues is staggering and disappointing.  One prominent clergy once intoned, “Well the church does not operate like IBM!” meaning that there are not employment provisions of equity, security, and accountability or certainly not transparency within the hierarchy of church leadership. While it may seem paradoxical to argue for such assurances inside what this space as has consistently disparaged as the “corporatism” of the ecclesial ethos, there is little doubt that “mystery” and mystique and obfuscation and denial and avoidance of most conflicts through elimination, or through transfers, or through power-down tyrannical impositions of authority, “I am now playing bishop!” as one large fifty-something male resonated in an underground parking lot, while jabbing his index finger into my chest.
Perfection, whether incarnated by a deity, or emulated and aspired to by spiritual seekers, is a dangerous yet wildly appealing state. It is the inevitable and concomitant darkness, into projections, and yet never fully acknowledged as significant and relevant in any situation requiring reconciliation and healing that continue to plague too much of what passes for the practice of Christian faith.

These projections, and their denial, are far less prevalent among women than among male church leaders who find comfort importing their corporate ethos, methods, processes and assessment tools into the faith community, with the admitted complicity and even avid endorsement of many male church leaders. Apparently the theological argument is that there is no separation between the things of the spirit and the things of the world, and while that has relevance, there is still an open and gaping and legitimate need for the spiritual leaders of our culture to open their consciousness to the non-separation between the human and the natural, as well as between the spiritual and the secular. And such openness, while challenging, confronting and demanding more detailed, in depth and fully disclosing processes of the contextual and supporting narratives that attend each and every conflict, offering opportunity for new insight, new recognitions and the new life for which the church claims its identity and purpose.

The church has both an opportunity to inculcate complex notions of what it is to be a human, probably more than any other social or cultural organization.

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