Friday, April 26, 2024 #45

 The soul has illusions as the bird has wings: it is supported by them. (Victor Hugo)

(In analysis) ‘a revolution in experiencer occurs. Soul is rediscovered, and with it come a rediscovery of humankind, nature and world. One begins to see all things psychologically, from the viewpoint of the soul, and the world seems to carry an inner light. The soul’s freedom to imagine takes on pre-eminence as all previous division of life and areas of thought lose their stark categorical structures. Politics, money, religion, personal tastes and relationships, are no longer divided from each other into compartments but have become areas of psychological reflection; psyche is everywhere..This revolution in experience took place on a grand scale during the Renaissance, and was embodied in the philosophy of Neoplatonism; it was a panpsychism, psyche everywhere…..Neoplatonism abhorred outwardness, the literalistic and naturalistic fallacies. It sought to see through literal meanings into occult ones, searching for depth in the lost, the hidden, and the buried (texts, words leftovers from antiquity). It delighted in surprising juxtapositions and reversal of ideas for it regarded the soul as ever in movement without definite positions, a borderline concept between spirit and matter. All the while, this philosophy remained close to alienation, sadness, and awareness of death, never denying depression or separating melancholy from love and love from intellection (the action or process of understanding as opposed to imagination). It was often contemptuously negligent of contemporary science and theology, regarding both empirical evidence and scholastic syllogisms (a form of deductive argument where the conclusion follows from the truth of two premises) as only bearing indirectly on soul. Instead, it recognized the signal place of imagination in human consciousness, considering this to be the primary activity of the soul. Therefore, any psychology that would have soul as its aim must speak imaginatively. It referred frequently to Greek and Roman mythical figures—not as allegories, but as modes of reflection…Renaissance Neoplatonists also evoked ancient thinkers in their personified images. The great men of the past were living realities to them because they personified the soul’s need for spiritual ancestors, ideal types, internal guides and mentors who can share our lives with us and inspire them beyond our personal narrowness. It was a practice then to engage in imaginative discourse with personal of antiquity. Petrarch wrote long letters to his inner familiars, Livy, Vergil, Erasmus, Cicero, Horace and sent regards to Homer and Hesiod.  (James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, pps. 197-198)

Renaissance (men) were ‘ In their study, living a metaphor: the myth of classical antiquity….then and now, and now there….and here. This myth of classical antiquity in which the imaginal world of the archetypes was placed allowed a ‘present’ life to be built jupon archetypal models located in the ‘past’. It was not a history as such that supported their present lives, since their awareness of history and their interest in archeology—in the classical world of Roman civilization among whose actual ruins they lived-were at first negligible. It was a fantasy of history in which were true models of persons, images, and styles. History gave the Renaissance imagination a place to put archetypal structures—gave it a structure within which to fantasize….By giving a culturally deep and intellectually immense psychology to the psyche’s fantasies, Renaissance Neoplatonism enabled the soul to welcome all its figures and forms, encouraging the individual to participate in the soul’s teeming nature and to express soul in an unsurpassed outburst of cultural activity. (Op. cit. pps 199-200)

These images, and the shape of their collective ‘dots’ including the ideas, persons who articulated and argued these ideas, and the language itself in and through which they ‘gave’ these thoughts and perceptions to “us” are a framing both of their time, and its revisitation by Hillman, in the twentieth and twenty-first century. They are another example of the multiple ‘lenses’ humans have used, and continue to deploy, in our search for meaning, purpose, identity, relevance, and even survival in the psychological sense.

Just as we emerged from various ‘templates’ in our families, our schools, churches, teams, communities and nations, and also ‘drew outside the lines of many of those ‘fields’ of both study and perception, the legacies of both the templates and our relation to them remains one of, if not the most significant, questions of how we ‘perceive’ ourselves in relation to the universe.

Mountain top visions, under-sea excursions, scintillating rides, near-death experiences, profound losses, biological births, deaths, illnesses, and the peaks of both success and failure have all come into our lives, across our radar screens, and they have all played a part in the ‘stew’ that has and continues to ‘brew’ as our ‘sense of who we are’. Borrowing from models, like Mandela and Gandhi, for example, could be viewed as deferring to activists, as compared with philosophers, shamans, theologians, and profound thinkers. Indeed, in a universe of the literal and the empirical, activism, has supplanted ‘thinking and theorizing’ contemplation and reflection. Swords, spears, protests, missiles, cyber weapons and defenses, profit and loss, revenue and expenditure…these are the core language of both our culture and our perceptions. It is no accident that ‘action figures’ dominant our entertainment, our politics, our military and our medical and legal fields of ‘play’ and of ‘dreams’. Popular music lyrics, seeded into the digital ethos, and thereby into the collective conscious and unconscious of millions of young men and women, many of those lyrics focused on how relationships ‘work’ or ‘not’. Again, the action, perceived as supportive or not, is the prime focus of attention.

And perceptions of the actions, words, attitudes, and their potential underlying psychic ‘imbalances’ are the ‘bread-and-butter’ of much of our social discourse. Call it gossip, water-cooler conversation, competition, revenge, retribution, how and what we DO matter far more than how we think, how we imagine, how we perceive. The ‘doing’ and the ‘symptom’ and the ‘pain’ and the ‘injury’ whether these are physical, emotional psychic, professional, relational, the environmental, ideological or even the religious….are the focus of our contemporary western world.

And naturally, each of our actions, (words, attitudes, judgements, perceptions) consume our attention, both from an intellectual as well as from an emotional point of view. Action, pragmatics, literalism, empirical evidence, have all been engraved into the totem poles of our culture. Ambiguity, doubt, vulnerability and uncertainty, even speculation, while we remain blind to a the dearth and devaluation of arbitrators and mediators needed to help us deepen our insights and our awareness. Our heroes, models and mentors, are immediate ‘success’ stories of the acquisition of wealth, the assumption of the market influencer role and its pay-offs, the athletic heroes, and the executives in both corporate and non-profit organizations. Yesterday’s men and women, revisited on their death notices and funerals, through their scientific and technological inventions, and their contributions to the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

It was Eugene McNamara, back in the 1980’s, himself a poet and English professor at the University of Windsor at the time, who remarked to a poetry summer writing group, ‘The poets are currently all working for the advertising companies’ (where the money is!) And while there may be the occasional creative and imaginative comparison among the tidal wave of advertisements on all platforms, their solitary purpose is to generate profit for their sponsoring corporation. And one is prompted to wonder, speculate and perhaps even intone the inquiry: what has really happened to our perceptions and the language of those perceptions and attitudes, when the line between what everyone knows to be valid and true, even in the literal, empirical and pragmatic realm has been subsumed into ‘fiction’ or fantasy, or ‘alternative facts’ or propaganda or ‘the enemy’ and then spread instantly and ubiquitously to highly uncritical ears, eyes, and especially innocent and ignorant (in the original sense of not-knowing) minds.

It is not an accident that the ‘star’ witness in the totally ‘skungy,’ ‘scummy,’ ‘sleezy’  trial of a former president of the United States is a man who lived, embodied, profited from and proudly touts his significant contribution to the perpetration of stories, literally based on and documenting lies and untruths, in the pursuit of character assassination, and its obverse, the election of the president of the vaunted (ugh!) United States.  We all have some affiliation with the ‘underworld’ of darkness, and death…in that non of us is purely innocent and even in denial of our own darkness. And to watch that ‘affiliation’ become the protagonist in a criminal trial, at this level, tends to erode confidence both in the system of our institutions and the perceptions that we have ‘held,’ apparently as closer to ‘illusion’ or better, ‘delusion’ than previously.

The revulsion in the mind and ‘gut’ of this scribe, at having to tolerate the wall-to-wall testimony and tortuous reporting on this trial has to be more insufferable because of the template of ‘looking up’ in what might be considered a ‘spiritual’ perspective, as opposed to a ‘soul’ perspective that includes both looking ‘up’ and looking ‘down’…Raised on a skewered or unbalanced ‘diet’ or curriculum or tradition or even bias that pointed to repeated and predictable conversations about, endorsements of, and scurrilous consideration of those ‘pieces’ of human behaviour, language, attitude and even the tabloids that profit from and trumpet the stories from the ‘gutter’. As a ‘white’ male octogenarian, raised in a fundamentalist, evangelist, literalist (as to the interpretation of scripture) church, in an extremely conservative town in central Ontario, where the divide between Catholics and Protestants was both deep and tense, for me and my ‘crowd,’ even the name and the location of the town ‘bootlegger’ was both known and disdained. Rarely had there been a case of murder within the town limits although suicides were relatively frequent. Break and enter, especially in rural cottages were more prevalent than bank robberies. The occasional highway collision on the north-south road brought gasps and chatter about ‘the need for a four-lane highway’ (currently completed). The occasional legal case of a drunk driver was neither considered serious nor even frequent. Playboy magazines were inconspicuously and secretively available in local drug stores and movies, television and popular music ranged only as far as ‘blocking Elvis’ swaying hips on the Ed Sullivan Show. Occasionally, a co-ed would become pregnant and silently leave town to deliver her baby somewhere else. In the 1950’s the word ‘gay’ meant happy, and while there were high school teachers who were, in fact, gay, no one even mentioned that. Some might call it a sleepy town; others might dub it ‘stuck in the past’ while others considered it ‘stable’ given both the C-I-L dynamite production facility a few miles north, and the predominance of civil service jobs supplemented by a surge of American tourist and dollars every summer.

The adult population in the 50’s had endured the Second War, and were now breathing deeply of conflict-free air, at home and around the world, especially in the U.S. from where television programming and post-war Hollywood films were being screened. The Korean War seemed somewhat insignificant in comparison with the European theatre and the holocaust. For kids in school, grades on tests, exams and projects mattered, as did the latest ‘hit-parade’ tunes from artists with names like Elvis, Pat Boone, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Saran Vaughan, The Four Lads. It was not only the lyrics and the costumes and the movie plots that, by today’s standards, seemed ‘sanitized’ but the perspective that seemed to typify and embody the little town was somewhat sterile, and certainly not comfortable with ‘deviance,’ the ‘unconventional,’ or especially ‘violence.’ Indeed, in some homes where the was domestic violence, its ‘secret’ was never disclosed to the public. Doubtless, a similar secrecy covered many other ‘dark, black, embarrassing’ stories that might have included secret alcoholics, secret affairs, and secret animosities and enmities. Competition among retail business was elegantly polite and even collegial; if a store did not have in stock a specific item a customer desired, the clerk would recommend another ‘competitor’ who did. The interior dialogues of various organizations was never discussed in the weekly paper from the perspective of duelling personalities; only the votes on issues and their respective reasons made the ‘news’. Polite, discreet, composed, restrained, dignified and superficial are words that might be used to describe the ‘ethos’…Votes for provincial and federal governments alternated between Conservative and Liberal, with little tension between the activists…indeed the standing joke on the street was ‘whoever provides more alcohol to the people on the island will win’. This was both a profound racial slur against the indigenous as well as against the political process. Yet, it was perhaps the singular most ‘dark’ street talk among the townsfolk. Another popular topic was the victim mentality, as perceived in the bounty of provincial ‘financial support’ for the highway 11 corridor, while the ‘west side’ of the district was ignored by the provincial government.

Simplicity, clarity, dependability, predictability, and ‘stasis’ are all words that could be deployed to depict the culture in that town in the 1950’s. Right answers, neatly presented, in and through coherent sentences, as ‘extensive’ a vocabulary as possible always garnered attention from the instructors, and the theologies were apparently ‘curated for public consumption and comprehension’ into moralities, and the beliefs that both sustained and justified these moralities, all of them expressions of the will of God. This pattern seemed not only a core of parenting but also a staple in the psychological and sociological diet of the adult community. “Whites’ were dominant and ‘inside’ and inside that large circle, were smaller circles of ‘elite’ and ‘rich’ and ‘prosperous’….(learned and educated, nuanced and articulate were rarely uttered or considered)..Indigenous were ‘outsiders’ and that was ‘normal’ from the exclusively ‘white’ perspective. A rare Asian restauranteur operated successful dining facilities, without noticeable prejudice from the ‘locals.’ The rare English engineer, with a notable British accent, appeared as part of the development of the Avro Arrow aircraft project.

Sanitized, and sterilized and superficial…these adjectives describe both the ethos and the perspective of the town, whether it was conscious of those descriptors and the depth of their reality, of not.

Here is a contemporary definition of ‘soul’ from Jame Hillman, one that fills out the other side of unseen, mysterious and somewhat hidden reality:

Hillman likes the word (soul) for a number of reasons. It eludes reductionistic definition; it expresses the mystery of human life; and it connects psychology to religion, love, death, and destiny. It suggests depth, and Hillman sees himself directly in the line of depth psychology. (Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire, The Imaginal Method, p. 5) In a piece entitled, ‘City and Soul’ (p.3-6) Hillman writes, (quoted by Moore in A Blue Fire):

The barbarian is that part of us to whom the city does not speak, that soul in us who has not found a home in its environs. The frustration of this soul in face of the uniformity and impersonality of great walls and towers, destroys like a barbarian what it cannot comprehend, structures which represent the achievement of mind, the power of will, and the magnificence of spirit, but do not reflect the needs of soul. For our psychic health and the well-being of our city, let us continue to find ways to make place for soul. (A Blue Fire, p. 107)

It is the barbarian in me, and in each of us, that, from the perspective of this scribe, has been ‘devalued’ or perhaps more importantly ‘denied’ and avoided and dismissed and denigrated in our families, our schools, especially our churches and our western culture. We make headlines of barbarian activities in our courts, and schools, and then elevate the barbarian ‘military’ despots like Putin, Netanyahu, Xi and Orban, as if their inner ‘barbarian’ were a different species from our ‘respectable’ and ethical and honourable and ‘pure’ image. And let’s face it, our ‘pure’ image (from a skin colour, and a dominant moral, ideological, religious, political, superiority), however each of us defines and identifies with such an image, is pure and absolute ‘illusion’…it is a creation of our imagination, seeded by our culture, sustained by our economy, education and corporate culture and denied and deeply offensive to others who do not share our superiority.

Even the military ‘prowess’ and self-proclaimed superiority of the current war-mongers, is itself, another deeply embedded and ingrained illusion, imagined and manufactured for the purposes of sustaining and enhancing their personal need for power.

One illusion, the sleepy town as the centre of the universe, for example, is only complemented by other illusions of ‘respectability, decency, integrity and trust’ in the world of competing and mutually exclusive different ‘illusions’ of competence, ethics, morality, and religious superiority.

Shakespeare’s As You Like It, contains a speech by his character Jaques:

                                          All the world’s a


And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;

And then the whining school-boy with his


And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’s eyebrow. Then a soldier

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the


Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in


Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the


In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippery pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too


For his shrunk shank; and his big manly


Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans


Tuesday, April 23, 2024 #44

For most people living in the twenty-first century, names like Mandel and Gandhi stride the ethos, the social-political-historical stage as Titans. On, we read: The noun titan comes from Greek mythology, in which Titans were a race of gods. Today a titan is someone who is god-like, or powerful and influential in a certain field. Shakespeare was a titan of literature, Wayne Gretzky was a titan of hockey, and the Beatles were titans of music.

In his Re-visioning Psychology, James Hillman writes this about ‘Titanism:’ …

(T)he greatest constraint must be place on the greatest of all tendencies, that enemy of mortals and immortals both, Titanism, which longs toward the boundless and indefinable, represented in current psychologies as the boundless notion of Self….I would not encourage Titanism, a menace far greater than Narcissism, which presents only a pensive pretty-boy compared with the titanic grandiosity of Self….(S)imply by pronouncing the term we are seized by the inflating belief that there is such a thing, a Self, which transcends any limitation that might be imposed upon it. And so it can never be really ‘wrong’. Self can be defined only from within itself by its own representations. Principal among these are the irrefutable truth of personal experience and the inflating feelings of personal significance. Utterly self-referent, it knows no God greater than itself. Now most psychology takes all this quite literally, so that behind psychology’s devotion to the personal stands neither humanism nor individualism, but rather a literalism of Self like an invisible nonexistent God absolutely believed in. Absolute belief is either fundamentalism delusion, or literalism—or all of the Above. Perhaps, it’s then right to say there is not greater literalism in psychology that its idea of Self, a literalism that converts our supposedly investigative field into a branch of mystic fundamentalism. This leads men further to think that our culture’s omnipotent and omniscient Godhead who supposedly replaced the mutually limiting pagan beings of myth is none other than a Titan returned from Tartaros to a too high place and worse, all alone. (Op. Cit. pps. xi-xii)

Writing and thinking about Mandela, Gandhi and their respective campaigns to eliminate apartheid and to confront and erode imperialism respectively, and then to read the words and thoughts of James Hillman about archetypal psychology, and the invocation of the voices of mythic gods and goddesses, not only have I been writing, reading, reflecting and even aspiring as a male. And while masculinity, including my own, is not intrinsically toxic, (at least from my internal perspective), the paradox, irony and tragedy of the juxtaposition of historic male models worthy of emulation alongside the current tragedy of men falling behind, becomes even more evident in relief. The male perspective, seemingly out of touch with itself, as well as with the perspective of the feminine, is a crisis unfolding right before our eyes.

And yet, in order even to utter the words and concept of male fragility, male vulnerability and male ‘giving up’ in the face of the current world we are all experiencing, seems to many counterintuitive. Is there a meme in history that men are much more attuned to the ‘conditions’ of the world around us than they (we) are to the ‘conditions’ of our own plight? Is there a willful, even conditioned blindness, ignorance, denial of our own personal needs and desires and dreams, conditioned by our social and family biases, prejudices and ambitions? We know that history has been both ‘executed’ and then documented by men. Wars, empires, political systems, theologies, and the academic traditions, including the philosophic traditions have been dominated by men. We have all been raised to see the world from the historic perspective of men. And that ‘all’ includes women, who, over the last half-century, have begun to rebel, to organize, to politicize and to ‘shape-shift’ the way our contemporary culture both sees itself and how women demand their rightful place in our many hierarchies, executive positions, leadership positions. And this revolution has taken place, for the most part, without women having abandoned their sensitivity, their care-giving attributes and skills, nor their hopes and dreams for their male partners, sons, uncles and fathers.

In some ways, we are all moulded to ‘fit’ into some sociological, economic, political, even religious ‘template’ and whether that template has a protestant ethic, of hard work, self-denial, sin-based need and expectation of salvation of some kind, and, as part of the religious discipline (although framed as ‘mature responsibility’), men from that template are, have been and likely will continue to be expected and even forced into an adult life that champions executive titles, executive offices, and the exercise of the power of authority and responsibility over others. There may be overlapping values, attributes and expectations of other ‘templates’ under the banner of ‘Christianity’ as there are for Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh religious child-rearing and parenting. Discipline to parents, and especially to God, in whatever form and frame we are taught to worship and value, reinforced by workplace requirements, military hierarchies, and quasi-military hierarchies such as the medical fraternity, and the organizational structure and culture of most corporations and universities and churches carries a very high premium when we are evaluating each other. Goals, and the discipline to meet those goals, including school assignments, examinations, athletic competitions and the team-building necessary to win, motivation to commit to the kind of sacrifice needed to achieve whatever goals we (our family, our town, our school, our church, our tradition) implicitly and even explicitly ‘imbue’ us with, confer on us, rank as a very high expectation, even requirement, for acceptance, and especially for the support and encouragement (rewards) from others that this ‘system’ dictates.

Whether this kind of template can be ascribed to a religious or a philosophic or even a psychologic motive (or some combination), it has the inescapable essence of both “drive” and “competition” and the ultimate goal of the success however that might be symbolized, expressed and anticipated. And whether such a ‘template’ or motivation is intrinsic to the human psyche reinforced by a culture that has determined there are real and specific ‘benefits’ both for the individual and for the society as a whole if most participate, or whether it is our ‘fear’ of isolation, alienation, separation that lies at the heart of this dynamic, is a subject beyond the scope of this piece, and also above the pay grade of this scribe. Fitting in, winning medals, trophies, awards like ‘employee of the month’ and those previously admired and even envied degrees, are all elements of what is essentially a classical conditioning system, predictable and reliable for a vast number of people.

Naturally, resistance to absolute conformity to this and most ‘imposed’ templates, always encased in some form of authority, is genetically, psychologically and developmentally inherent to some degree in each of us. The manner of its ‘delivery,’ including the professionalism of the educators, the empathy and compassion of the parents, the sensibilities of employers, lecturers, clergy, doctors and lawyers, tends to divide a culture into verbiage that scorns the ‘nanny’ approach as compared with the more ‘hard-assed’ military, heavy, brutal and often abusive approach. A similar kind of divide exists within the core of many political approaches, even though not all are actual ideologies. Governments that ‘care’ and those that ‘demand’ arise from very different premises, many of which have their origins in early life of the protagonists. (John F. Kennedy’s inaugural hymn, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country!’ is a rhetorical balance rarely achieved by political leaders in my lifetime!)

And the balance, both rhetorical and pragmatic, that the world needs, between ‘care’ and ‘expectation’ for example, has devolved into a culture of what many deem to be complacent, insouciant, malignant, contemptuous and alienated and alienating. Rather than governments having the gravitas to ‘ask’ people to ‘do for their country,’ (And the people actually listening and respecting that ‘ask’.), it is the people who have transformed civic responsibility into an insatiable demand that government ‘provide’….not only in material, fiscal, educational, and employment opportunities, but also in those abstractions on which decent, sustainable, and survival societies depend like instant protection of rights, gratification (inordinate cash flow) from instant entrepreneurship, instant information, instant drug and alcohol access, instant medical cures, and instant delivery of each and every political campaign promise.

The deconstruction of both language and belief systems, seemingly seeded by inflated propaganda of both political and marketing executives, leaders and the media which is collectively dependent on both segments of the economy, has devolved to the point where a sitting president declares, “There are good people on both sides!” in a KKK versus protesters’ collision in Charlottesville Virginia in 2017. White nationalists were protesting the removal of the statue of confederate general, Robert E. Lee and chanted anti-Semitic, Nazi-associated phrases. The divide on the streets, in the vocabulary, and especially in the hearts and minds of those opponents in Charlottesville, while not representative of the whole American population, statistically, epitomize, symbolize and capture the essence of the ‘spirit’ of the ‘zero-sum game.’

Conflict, never absent from any situation, whether in a family, or in a school yard, or in a political rally, or in the corporate board room, or in the government legislatures, or certainly in most ecclesial institutions, has escaped the fences of not only reason, self-respect and integrity, but also the fences of ‘agreed facts,’ ‘compromise,’ ‘respect for the other,’ and even an expectation of shared responsibility and shared outcomes. And both the tone and the verbiage have come from men who have separated themselves from previously honoured traditions of ‘mutuality,’ ‘decency,’ and ‘collaboration,’ for the public interest.

Indeed, public interest, (at the heart of the work and lives of both Mandela and Gandhi) has become a victim of this ‘rhetorical, psychic, political and authoritarian/totalitarian’ war of extreme islands of both isolation and alienation, self-perceived and self-declared. We are no longer engaged in a conflict between opposing policies, or programs, as were Mandela, (apartheid) and Gandhi (imperialism). Our conflicts are currently defined by our ‘personal identity’ as we ascribe and prescribe it to and for ourselves, individually, in our desperate pursuit of whatever crumb of instant ‘power-gratification’ we can cling to. Both men and women, tragically, have fallen victim, have succumbed, have surrendered, to the kind of rhetoric that leaves a majority ‘outside’ the inner sanctums of political power.

And within those inner sanctums, neither side likes, respects, trusts, honours, or even tolerates the other side. Parallel to the rhetorical drama within, are the military conflicts without. It is as if the spirit of Al Qaeda, ‘death to the enemy’ (Satan, America) has, like a political, rhetorical epidemic infested the body politic, and has left in its wake a field of broken men and women, broken aspirations and dreams, exhausted expectations and a thin veil of ultra-rich men and women, who through diligence, opportunism, connections, legacies, inheritances, tax breaks and loopholes, and/or some combination of such factors, have risen to the top  like ‘cream’ (in the milk bottle) or ‘slime’ (on the stagnant pond) depending on your perspective.

The detritus, from this evolution, however, seems to be documented as ‘men-falling’. And, if men are falling, for reasons that may be coming from their (our) own self-sabotage, it might be worth the time and effort to examine the ‘fall’.

If Titanism, and the ‘triumph of the will’ (Hitler’s propaganda film title) has influenced the expectation of the heroic ‘male’ ego, in all of its many ramifications, it is important to reduce such an image from the lexicon of most young men. However, the aspiration for victory, and the skills needed to achieve it, irrespective of which ‘field’ of battle one engages on, (including the digital stage, the military volunteer/conscription stage, the corporate, professional athletic, or legal/governmental stage, has not disappeared from the genetic or the psychic composition of most men. And such a motivation is not and cannot be exclusively attributed to testosterone, as some would have us believe. The ‘warrior’ archetype, for all of the risks and dangers of its deployment in venal and destructive and deceptive ‘causes,’ is nevertheless an archetype inherent to both men and women, in different visages.

Befriending it, embracing it, honouring it, and conditioning it, as if it were an integral part of our individual and shared psyche, however, does not mean purchasing an AR-15 for the purposes of falsely armouring oneself, or protecting one’s family. Indeed, the ‘warrior’ archetype is more desperately needed among men and women who strenuously and energetically and enthusiastically oppose the fascism and the terror that is the stock-in-trade of the trump cult. And, from north of the 49th parallel, it seems that the Democrats have not either found or embraced that warrior archetype. Rational, literal, legal and politically and ethically correct umbrage is never going to penetrate the thick wall of both defensive and offensive armour of the trumpcult. They are immune to those tactics and strategies, and the world is dreading the result, should trump return to the Oval Office.

The ’warrior’ archetype was not only alive and well in both Mandela and Gandhi, as well as many others, for causes eminently worthy of their life sacrifices. And, in both lives, neither considered himself either a Titan or a hero. Self-effacing, self-critical, self-reflective, and self-committed to the cause are all adjectives that both men warrant. And those attributes are neither foreign nor redundant for the honourable, effective, committed and modest ‘warrior’.

Is masculinity, so much on the defensive, on the decline, and suffering erosion, as both a concept and an individual expectation, that the collective, conscious and unconscious ‘warrior’ has either chosen somnambulance, or the escape of some form of non-prescribed external agent? And will the collective consciousness of Western men awaken, not out of fear, but out of a sense of our shared and unique individual identity, to “ask what can we do for our country/world”?

Dum spiro spero! (While I breathe, I hope!)

Friday, April 19, 2024 #43

 The question of bridging the extremes, has a plethora of applications, from the most mundane and trite, (jam or peanut butter), to the more challenging intellectual questions, including those of the divide between science (scientific thought, methodology, rationalism, empiricism) and even history. In the historic ‘search for’ and multiple attempts to ‘find’ and explain, relate to and live in relationship with God, in reading a history of ideas and the theologies that they birthed and struggled to sustain, we find the contenders of ‘science/math’ on the one hand and history on another. As one who has been reading some of James Hillman’s work in archetypal psychology, the name of Giambattista Vico, (1668-1774), professor of rhetoric at the University of Naples, is referenced multiple times by Hillman.

Karen Armstrong, in her incisively brilliant work, The Case for God, we read this about Vico:

(Vico) argued that the historical method was a reliable as the scientific but rested on a different intellectual foundation. The study of rhetoric showed that it was just as important to know who as philosopher was addressing and to understand the context of his discourse as to master its content. Mathematics was crucial to the new science; it claimed to yield clear and distinct results that could be applied to all fields of study. But mathematics, Vico argued, was essentially a game that had been devised and controlled by human beings. If you applied the mathematical method to material that was separate from the human intellect-to cosmology, for instance- there was not the same ‘fit’. Because nature operated independently of us, we could not understand it as intimately as something that we had created ourselves. But we could know history in this way, because our civilisations were human artifacts. So why did modern philosophers expend all their energies on the ‘study of the world of nature, which, since God made it, he alone knows? …The study of history depended on what Pascal had called the ‘heart.’ Instead of logical, deductive thought, Vico pointed out, the historian had to use his imagination (fantasia) and enter empathically into the world of the past. When a historian studies the past, he had to turn within, to recollect the phases of his own development, and this sympathetically reconstruct the stages of the evolution of a particular culture. By imagining its metaphors and imagery, he discovered the preconceptions that drew society together, ‘a judgement without reflection, universally felt by an entire group, an entire people, a whole nation.’ By this process of introspection, the historian was able to grasp an internal, integrating principle that enabled him to appreciate the uniqueness of each civilization. Truths were not absolute; what was true in one culture was not so for another; symbols that worked for one people would not speak to others. We understand the rich variety of human nature only when we learn to enter imaginatively and compassionately into the context in which a proposition or doctrine is developed…Vico seemed to sense that a gap had opened between science and the humanities that had not existed before. The scientific method taught the observer to be detached from what he was investigating, because it was essential to science that the result of an experiment be the same, whoever performed it. Objective truth aspires to be independent of historical context and is assumed to be the same in any period or culture. Such an approach tends to canonize the present, so that we project what we believe and find credible back onto the past or onto a civilization whose symbols and presuppositions might be different from our own. Vico referred to this uncritical assessment of alien societies and remote historical periods as the ‘conceit’ of scholars or rulers: ‘It is another property of the human mind that wherever men can form no idea of distant or unknown things they judge them by what is familiar and at hand.’ (Vico, Scienza nuova, p. 122)

(Armstrong continues):

Vico had put his finger on an important point. The scientific method has dealt brilliantly with objects but is less cogent when applied to people or the arts. It is not competent to assess religion, which is inseparable from the complex human beings who practice it and, like the arts, cultivates a perception based on imagination and empathy. A scientist will first form a theory and then seek to prove it experimentally; religion works the other way around, and its insights come from practical experience. Where science is concerned with facts, religious truth is symbolic and its symbols will vary according to context; they will change as society changes, and the reason for these changes must be understood. Like the arts, religion is transformative. Where the scientist is supposed to remain detached from the object of his investigation, a religious person must be changed by the encounter with the symbols of his or her faith—in rather the same way as one’s outlook can be permanently transformed by the contemplation of a great painting. (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God, pps: 216-217-218)

Of course, Vico thought and wrote long before we knew anything about quantum physics, neuroscience, behaviourism, classical conditioning, and the seeding and development of something called psychology, including Freud, Jung, and the post-Jungians. Not only has the human race been bombarded with, and even nearly drowned by, a constant, relentless wave of mathematically-scientifically-based technology. From the perspective of Vico’s eighteenth century, all of this scientific eruption would have been overwhelming. Indeed, even today, for many, the totality of the math-science-digital revolution, is overwhelming. And while it may seem that the arts and religion, separately and differently and for different reasons, are fixated on the ‘rear-view mirror’ as it were, in focusing on the past, at the expense of either the present or the future, nothing could be further from the truth. Imitation, mixed discerningly and creatively with new materials, techniques, tools and the very different perspectives of both the arts and theology in this twenty-first century, comprises a kind of template of both integration and re-inventing. We not only seek to know from our ‘ancestors’ (genetically, ethnically, culturally, religiously, politically and philosophically) we also bring to any search into our ancestors, our unique perspective. One notable example of this process, in the study of theology comes from the Jesus Seminar. A group of contemporary scholars, from different disciplines and faith traditions (spanning the Christian broadband) pored over the text of the gospels, with a view to attempting to discern the ‘authentic’ and the ‘historic’ Jesus. One of their more well know contributions is a text displaying different shades of black, pink and red, depending on their consensus that Jesus actually uttered various words that were originally attributed to him in the original text. Only the pure ‘red’ qualified, from their shared perspective, as likely.

In the religious community, as could be expected, many were not merely put off by this scholarship, in search of the authentic and historic Jesus. Some argued that such an approach was beneath the dignity, honour, respect and reverence of the holy writ, and especially of the ‘Saviour’ of the human race. Others argued that the process reduced a heroic and mythic Son of God to a mere object of human intellect, something deemed not merely irreverential, but heretical. Only the literal words were to be considered both original and authentic, and all of them qualified, based on the perception and belief systems of those opponents. The tension between academic/scientific/linguistic/historic/archeological/ processes, with their ‘objectivity’ and the ‘total commitment of what might be called ‘blind faith’ persists in many forms and fora, and lingers as a more complex than a reconciling influence among many ‘believers.’

A similar tension persists between religion and psychology, while at the same time, everyone can agree that the two are so overlapping as to be almost two circles with a small area of separation between. ‘To know oneself’ is a revered dictum of philosophy that is compatible with most religious and faith communities. How the process of self-awareness, consciousness, acknowledgment of our part in every encounter, the perceptions that grow from our experiences, including our formal education, whether or not that process is sponsored by a religious institution, unfolds, their mutually generative and life-giving aspects reinforce each other. To ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God, what belongs to God,’ (Mark 21;22) is another religious mantra for some. ‘Pay your taxes but give yourself to Jesus’ is a simple translation for many. (The American ‘separation of church and state’ is another application of this epithet.)

And, floating in and through our cultural, academic, social, political, legal and even medical ethos are snippets of ‘wisdom’ that come from various sources, among them the Christian scripture. The question of how they are interpreted, however, has been both enlightening and divisive at the same time. A literal, empirical, and rigidly dogmatic (what did the authors mean), describes one approach, while another remains open to a more ‘metaphoric, symbolic, visionary, and abstract, even ambiguous perspective. And this tension is unlikely to be resolved soon. Indeed, the energy both engendered and celebrated in any meeting of the two perspectives has the potential of enlightening both sides, as well as turning off one or both. The Roman church has a section of its hierarchy in the Vatican dedicated to the preservation and discipline of the doctrine of the church. And that discipline is not merely taught to both laity and priests; it has considerable weight in the institutional perspective and tolerance or lack thereof, of individuals who might deviate from its teachings. A similar kind of discipline, based on different expectations, comes with the scientific, empirical, approach, and is enshrined in the academic qualifications for doctoral studies. And while both ‘religion’ and ‘theology’ have been academic studies along with science, medicine and the law for centuries, the scientific, historic and philosophic modalities have prevailed. Poetry, symbols, and the imagination, at least in the two seminaries of my experience, were low on the radar of both coffee-shop conversation and lecture hall as well as homiletics classes and homilies themselves. Adhering to the text, and presenting a pastoral, friendly, comfortable, and especially supportive identity, whether in the sanctuary or the emergency room, or in the hospice, without challenging the perceptions, beliefs, attitudes or expectations of the ‘patient/client/lay person’ offered much in the way of ‘solace,’ and potential ‘relief’ of stress, especially in and through the penitential.

It is to the poets, the visionaries, and the iconoclasts that we owe much of the energy in the examination of the tension between the ‘literal and empirical’ on the one hand the symbolic, metaphoric, mythic, ephemeral, ineffable and the imaginative on the other. Not that those operating in the scientific fields have no imagination, and do not deploy images in their scholarship and their work; they do. It is the significance, and the relevance of those images, and how they are regarded, by those living and operating in a scientific/academic/medical/legal/mathematical/technological venue, and by those living and operating from a theological, religious, spiritual modality that is different.

And psychology, as it embraces both sides of this divide, in the human psyche, has struggled with what some have called a schizophrenic perspective. On the one hand, it has deferred to statistical and diagnostic imperatives, that relegate a plethora of ‘mental’ conditions to predictive and prescriptive diagnosis and medication/treatment. On the other, it has borrowed, infrequently, from various images, as it attempts to communicate its truths and meanings and ‘help’ to the many clients who access its services. Aligning itself closely with the medical and later the psychiatric fraternities/sororities, psychology, as perceived by men and women including James Hillman, have come to view that alignment as damaging both to the profession and to the clients it attempts to serve.

The central approach, therapy, more recently adduced to what many call “CBT” (Cognitive, Behavioural Therapy). Having its roots in B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory, (stimulus, response, then reinforcement of response), and in Aaron Beck’s naming of what he called ‘cognitive distortions’ in the verbalized thoughts of his clients, the process has been disseminated to most corners of North America. There is an implicit set of assumptions in many of the contemporary approaches to therapy. One is that whatever is the ‘pain’ can be alleviated, moderated, medicated, or changed whether through ‘talk,’ ‘thought,’ neurolinguistic approaches, or, if necessary, prescription medications. Another is that more and more ‘pains’ have become stuffed into the diagnostic ‘compendium’ including one of the more bizarre, grief, at the death of a loved one.

There is a general and widespread consensus among most sentient and thinking men and women, that pain, in various forms, is a constant of all human existence. The multiple approaches, scientific, psychiatric, Gestalt, Psychodrama, CBT, and the various ‘talk’ therapies, all have their place, although finding which approach best serves each individual is akin to the warning on many new drugs: ‘avoid if you are allergic to this medication’….how can one know if one is allergic to a medication with actually ‘taking’ it?

It is his valiant, somewhat cheeky, somewhat pretentious, and certainly historically rooted, (if not in the literal, scientific, empirical modality) mind-set of James Hillman that his writing has given birth to what he (and his co-envisioners) dubbed archetypal psychology, to which we have come. And this ‘coming’ to the approach has been somewhat parallel, although much diluted, to Hillman’s own path: literature, the poets, Trinity College Dublin, the Sorbonne, Zurich and the Jung Institute…and his irrepressible imagination, creativity and pushing the envelope, in whatever situation he found himself in. Of Jewish background, fascinated by the underwater sea creatures under the boardwalk in Atlantic City where his parents operated a hotel during his younger years, a stint in the military, serving blinded war veterans eventually embodied both American and European ‘instincts. As ‘knight errant’  insatiable, almost incorrigible, and certainly irascible,  this deep thinker, thrice married, and the target of both antisemitic and politically vindictive attacks that saw him removed from the Director of Studies of the Jungian Institute in Zurich, has given us an archive of challenging precepts, concepts, notions, images and the energy of continual questioning of whatever we find in the symptom of the moment. And his purpose, as attested to by some of his disciplines like Thomas Moore, is to elevate the purpose and processes of psychology by linking it back to is original meaning, the care of the soul (through the imagination). Taking therapy out of the office and handing it back to ordinary men and women, all of whom are both capable of and accessible to the principles that he articulates. We are, in his view, especially at moments of crises, being ‘held’ or ‘taken over’ or ‘psychically inhabited’ by mythic voices from our shared cultural, historical narratives.

In his Re-Visioning Psychology, James Hillman picks up on Vico’s thought:

The term soul-making comes from the Romantic poets. We find the idea in William Blake’s Vala, but it was John Keats who clarified the phrase in a letter to his brother: ‘Call the world if you please, ‘The vale of Soul-making.’ Then you will find out the use of the world…From this perspective,  the human adventure is a wandering through the vale of the world for the sake of making soul. Our life is psychological, and the purpose of life is to make psyche out of it, to find connections between life and soul….By soul, I mean, first of all a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground…Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it by itself apart from other things, perhaps because it is like a reflection in a flowing mirror, or like the moon which mediates only borrowed light….First, ‘soul’ refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by ‘soul’ I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflexive speculation, dream, image and fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical….Everything we know and feel and every statement we make are all fantasy-based, that is, they derive from psychic images. These are not merely the flotsam of memory, the reproduction of perceptions, rearranged leftovers from the input of our lives….Following Jung, I use the word ‘fantasy-image in the poetic sense, considering images to be the basic givens of psychic life, self-originating, inventive, spontaneous, complete and organized in archetypal patterns. Fantasy-images are both the raw materials and finished products of psyche, and they are the privileged mode of access to knowledge of soul. Nothing is more primary….Here I am suggesting both a poetic basis of mind and a psychology that starts neither in the physiology of the brain, the structure of language, the organization of society, nor the analysis of behavior, but in the process of the imagination. By calling upon Jung to begin with, I am partly acknowledging the fundamental debt that archetypal psychology owes him. He is the immediate ancestor in a long line that stretches back through Freud, Dilthey, Coleridge, Schelling, Vico, Ficino, Plotinus and Plato to Heraclitus….(Re-Visioning Psychology, pps.xv, xvi, xvii)

Hillman is neither ‘invading’ theology nor is he complicit in segregating psychology from theology. Are there some courageous, creative, imaginative and sentient theologians (aside from Thomas Moore and David Miller) who might ‘see’ the validity of Hillman’s work as an enhancement to the work of the theological enterprise? Answers to that question will only appear in the return of the bodies to the pews they have left.

Is the new frontier, not only the elimination of apartheid, and all forms of racism, and the elimination of military conflict and all forms of imperialism, perhaps the reduction of the psychic imperialism of the scientific, literal, empirical, mathematical-technological and the infusion of an imaginative, mythic, mysterious, ambiguous, and somewhat elusive, yet flowing, image of the human psyche (universally) that begins to ‘perceive’ the commonalities we all share in a new and life-giving perspective? I do ‘imagine’ that both Mandela and Gandhi would be among the pioneers struggling with such an innovative and healing perspective.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024 #42

 Reflecting on the significant contributions of Mandela and Gandhi both to their respective nations, and to the world generally, one is struck by the oppression of the ‘binary,’ the applications and implications of which are universal. Both men addressed what seemed pressing within their own national, homeland boundaries. Doubtless, today, given the world’s contextual plethora of crises, their gaze and their intentions would likely be focused on global issues. And the question of the rise and fall of civilization(s), not merely nations or regions is today a question that seems front and centre to many observers.

Writing on the website,, as expression of the Centre of Applied Jungian Studies, Stephen Farah, writes a cogent and compelling piece about the Tao and the psychology of transformation. Celebrating the accomplishments of the China of the 11th century BC,

as the first government to print paper money, they had invented gun powder, used a compass to derive true north and had a permanent navy. They printed books and the people were well educated. Women were respected and ran their own successful businesses. There were retirement villages and public clinics supported by a social welfare infrastructure. They traded iron, silk, velvet and porcelain. Thinking about the various great civilizations in history, it seems that once a nation reaches their pinnacle of civilization, it somehow collapses. This made me wonder what it si that destroys civilizations that are flourishing. Then I received an email (synchronistically) which spoke about Alexander Fraser Tyler, Scottish historian and professor who wrote several books in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

What he had to say was this:

Great nations rise and fall and when they fall there is always a dictatorship that follows: The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, Fron spiritual truth to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.

Farah continues:

Of course, the real question is, are we as the human race ever going to be spiritually or emotionally evolved to stop this cycle? Surely the humanitarian goal is for the whole world to be somewhere between liberty and abundance. But is this realistic? I think not. Not unless we escape duality.

Duality in a nutshell. Our world is up and down, left and right, back and front, wrong and right, Yin and Yang. There is no escaping it. It moves form the one to the other constantly. It is the flow of life and the cause of movement, change and growth. If there were not duality, there would be no life. No birth. No death. The circle of life would be at an end. There would be no creativity, no passion, no wonder…..If there was no duality: You would not know what it is you want vs what you have…That would result in no passion or desire for change…There would be no growth or transformation…There would be no need for you to cry or laugh. And this is the key to the Jungian approach. Becoming conscious of the paradoxes in your own life, is a gift; the possibility of change is open to you.

The potent opposite

We are all complex psychological beings full of contradictions and paradoxes. What is really interesting is that my opposite to a problem is totally different to your opposite. For example, your idea of success is different to mine. I may think success is fame, but it could be wealth, happiness, love, all depends who you are and what your value. I may envy your fame, but your may envy my happiness….So, I would like to point out….that the goal itself may be the thing you think you want, but the real gold, the real magic is in the process of  achieving the goal.

Where does the energy come from to change….It take an enormous amount of energy  to change (to bridge the duality?) Where do you get this energy from? From that tension that exists between your current situation and the future that you want. The Nigredo, or the Dark night of the Soul, is part of the alchemical process of change. This is the time you draw back the arrow to gain the strength to fly off into the future. In the modern world, we have bought into this idea of pursuing a utopia, of living a life without the existence of pain or suffering. But consider that this could be the worst thing that you can do for yourself. Every time you repress your needs and goals, try to convince yourself, that you can do without, stop wishing and dreaming, you are robbing yourself of the most potent gifs of all..the potential for transformation.

(Quoting Jung) The greater the tension, the greater is the potential. Great energy springs from a corresponding great tension of opposites.

(From Marion Woodman's The Ravaged bridegroom:Masculinity in women Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian analysis, 41. p.29 1990)

Journeying betwen earth and heaven, joining one to the other, the soul understands the language of poetry, the  language of metaphor, which integrates the image with feeling, mind and imagination. The metaphor, or the symbol, heals because it speaks to the whole person.

Not only have we attempted to attain some kind of utopia, (happiness, liberty, abundance, wealth, good health etc.) without entering the Nigredo (in alchemy, nigredo or blackness means putrifaction or decomposition, in the spiritual journey, the stage of darkness or breakdown before the hope of rebirth or illumination), we have bifurcated both our perception of  the world and of ourselves, as individuals, and we tend to oscillate between, rather than actually to adopt a perspective that ‘sees’ and ‘senses’ and remains open to the ‘in-between’ and the ‘both-and’.

Much of my life has been spent in and conditioned by the Anglican church which champions the ‘media via’ the middle way. From the website,,  we read:

Christianity in the Anglican tradition was born not out of religious purity or perfectionism, but out of compromise as we sought to find a via media-or middle way- between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation. As the head of the church during a bloody theological and political struggle in England between reformers and those loyal to the Pope, Queen Elizabeth I famously concluded, ‘I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.’ Common prayer rather than common belief, would be the basis for holding together the various factions of the church, and would become a hallmark to this day of what it means to be Christian in the Anglican tradition. Much of what makes the Episcopal Church so special, are arguably the fruits of that early ‘both/and; ethos, which allowed Anglicans to keep the best of both Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation….The middle way has never been about watering down or compromising beliefs but has instead sought to build an ever larger table, where all are welcome, all have gifts, and where together, we might see a more complete picture of God.

All well and good to attempt to find a middle way between the Roman and the Protestant ‘theologies’ and then form a tradition of ‘prayer’ as opposed to ‘belief’ to form a community. And for a very long time, that premise has attracted many, including this scribe, as a refugee from the heinous, contemptuous, bigoted and fundamentalist protestant movement, especially given its Anti-Roman Catholic cancer. In the twenty-first century, however, we are facing a world literally, metaphorically, politically, ideologically, intellectually and ethically ‘rent asunder’ so it seems, and the question of ‘finding ‘God’ has become central, not merely to Anglicans but to all religious faith communities. It says here, that finding a ‘place’ including a perspective, an attitude, a cognition, and a tolerance for the both exciting and exhausting tension between the various conflicting, competing and unrelenting ‘voices’ within our psyche, has both psychological as well as religious implications, not to mention serious and profound implications for how we raise and educate our kids, and, in a “Christian” ethos, free ourselves from an over-arching archetype, irrespective of denominational links.

In a predominantly literal, empirical, scientific conventional perception of reality and the attitudes, beliefs, biases and prejudices that come with it, we (the culture, including the schools, universities, colleges, corporations, governments, and especially the churches) have succumbed to the prevailing anima mundi (soul in the world), as James Hillman calls it. Seeking to turn the psychological ‘lens,’ approach and energies toward the kind of ‘ethos’ we have created and are attempting to survive, Hillman posits that the weight we have placed on our ‘egos’ not only from the perspective of achievement, success/failure, and even more importantly morally/ethically, in this society, it is little wonder that we are all not contemplating suicide.

Dominant, among the ‘Christian’ archetypes that pervade our anima mundi, is the archetype of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. And, in a literal manner of both thinking and believing, (whether from a disciple-ship perspective, or a compliant social perspective), we have compacted (crushed?) time and our psychic pain into a kind of ‘death/darkness/loss/failure/anxiety/fear/hopelessness/grief’ into a time and psychic frame that expects, no demands, release, both quickly and completely, in the Crucifixion/Resurrection archetype. Whether we are facing our own mortality, the mortality of a loved one, or the trauma of past events, even some of which perhaps bearing our own contribution and stamp and responsibility, we are being both informed, and ‘moved’ and responsive to strong voices, whose metaphoric, literary, historic and cultural links reverberate with the voices and the energies of mythic figures from our shared deep past. Such psychic ‘framing,’ however, is not, and need not be considered, interpreted or devalued as ‘pagan’ and thereby a rejection of whatever religious belief system one might find appropriate, sustaining and life-giving.
That intellectual, political, perhaps even ethical and moral hurdle, however, remains for many, unable to be crossed.

From the perspective of this scribe, however, given a primarily apophatic (rather than cataphatic) sense of the God, (only describable in what ‘it’ is NOT), and an imagination that wanders, explores and ventures where only ‘angels’ lead, on the outer edge of both thought and potential, there is  a considerable degree of compatibility in linking archetypal psychology and the former middle way, only this time, from a cosmic, psychic perspective.

What if we don’t actually ‘individuate’ (to borrow from Jung), and we find ourselves in moments of ‘profound darkness’ of whatever form, variety and source, and our lives are less ‘developmental’ and more ‘situational’ and episodic. What if, for example, we are not actually ‘moving forward to perfection, completion, salvation, and wholeness, (not in this crisis, or in the totality of our lives) but rather exercising and expressing voices that perhaps at first seem foreign, even frightening, and terrifying, all of them foreshadowing our death, that inevitable, invincible, and excruciating ‘end’ on this planet. And what if, instead of running away from those terrifying voices, we dive into their darkest corners, and actually embrace their dwelling within our psyche? And what if, in the course of such ‘cave-dives’ we come to a conscious awareness of the more nuanced, complex, and even unfamiliar aspects of our selves? Would such a proposition be so offensive, even to the theologians, if they were to open to walk with and in it?

And although the West has been attentive to the “Good Friday-Easter Sunday” framing of this dominant archetype, as a legacy of the Christian church teaching about Crucifixion and Resurrection, we need not be locked into that frame, premised on the expectation that all psychic pain must evolve, devolve, lift or transform into ‘healing’ and the release of the darkness. This kind of psychic dynamic need not, in fact, does not necessarily, always result in ‘rebirth’….indeed, as we learn from Hillman and others, both light and dark co-exist, co-habit and are mutually dependent on each other. Perhaps, they do energize each other!

The goal of addressing the trap of duality as is clearly one of the more pressing psychic, political, cultural, cognitive and even ethical and moral conundrums we all face. It is not merely the duality (binary) of abundance and liberty that we face. Nor the duality of democracy or totalitarianism, freedom or anarchy, war or peace, poverty or wealth….indeed, between each of these ‘poles’ lie a plethora of very messy, complex, co-mingled options….None of which seem to be on our shared horizon. Even separating the personal/psychic from the pattern of the rise and fall of civilizations is a duality we can no longer countenance.

Our new challenge, one that hangs over each of the psychic, political, economic, intellectual, philosophic dualities is to face both opposites, acknowledge their existence and the potential for their coming to consciousness. Even the duality of conscious/unconscious, if only one of the opposites is embraced, fails to offer the opportunity of the creative tension that can enliven one’s psychic, spiritual and even one’s intellectual life.

Oscillation, especially unconscious oscillation, is a plague on the evolution not only of individuals, but also of many of our organizations, institutions and even our national governments. Swinging from one extreme to its opposite is a dynamic not exclusive to the current American political tragedy of swinging to and from two polar opposite candidates for the presidency. Within that polarity are contained multiple other polarities, and as the trenches are dug deeper and deeper into the exclusive righteousness of and by each polarity, the potential energy that might be available to bring a new awareness, consciousness and messy, yet vital and vibrant, range of options, lies not merely dormant but actually denied.

It is our human penchant to avoid, to deny, to fall into the trap of the binary, the duality, and then to flounder like a fish floundering on a dock, at the edge of the water (his natural habitat), that lies at the root of many of our shared illusions, delusions, exhausting and debilitating rhetorical arguments. Shouting, like two deaf persons, neither either willing or able to ‘hear’ (really listen) to the other, is a toxic cancer on our shared anima mundi,,,

Can we see, from the ‘in-between’ of the opposites, as if our soul were the lens we chose to view the opposites, in each situation, not only how each opposite has it own value, that we are all complex energies of opposites, as is each other person, irrespective of his/her nationality, ethnicity, religion, tradition, ritual, belief system or ideology?

Have we, (in our wildest dream-wishing) caught a glimpse of a place ‘in-between’ the opposites, not only in our perceptions and attitudes to each other, but also in our perceptions and attitudes to very challenging and opposite nations, political systems, religious beliefs, gender orientations, and without even thinking about generating headlines, or movements, or political parties, or new churches, or new ‘schools’ under guru’s, just go about beginning to see that the challenge of the ‘mess’ between the opposites, if and when both are acknowledged, embraced, reflected upon and both can even find a place of ‘tolerance’ and ‘receptivity’ and ‘appreciation’ within each of us….

Here is the nexus where, while it is mere speculation, the potential for such a perspective is at least possible to be envisioned in both of Mandela and Gandhi. Getting past whatever duality, is not merely an honourable ‘personal’ goal; it is also a necessary universal aspiration….and such an aspiration will inevitably demand the moderating of those internal ‘extreme opposites’ which seem to shoot up each of our flag poles, at the moment when we face a threat, a crisis, especially an existential crisis.

Neither the world, nor our psyche, can endure and survive and thrive, if we hold fast to the singular opposite that seems most comfortable, conventional, socially acceptable, politically correct or even ‘necessary’ as we consider the full rage of circumstances.

The short-term ‘peak’ of comfort and satisfaction and ‘success’ whether of a civilization or a family, or an organization or even an individual has within it the seeds of its own demise…..and that is not only an trite truism; it is an inescapable truth….not because this scribe types those keys but because that is how the universe unfolds.

Bridging demoninational 'Christianity' demands, today, a path to find the 'middle' among the several, competing, dividing, exorcising and demanding voices in our psyche, our families, our communities, our institutions, our nations and our shared planet. And men and women of the strength, courage, perspicacity, intelligence, fortitude, and faith of Mandela and Gandhi, will be both needed and found, if  we are to begin the hard work of 'seeing' and 'imagining' and 'walking' into the middle.

Friday, April 12, 2024 #41

 Sleepless nights have had to be integral to the lives of most men (and women) who took themselves seriously, perhaps too seriously. Often, at least in the life of this scribe, they indicate a kind of mental, psychic thrashing, a sort of ‘roiling’ as the mind re-visits, transforms, and echoes moments past and potentially yet to come. Here is not the place to analyse dreams. Far better minds and psyches are much more prepared and willing to engage in that mysterious engagement, entanglement and both beauty and horror.

Rather, questions about identity, how events, people, books, ideas, beliefs and actions have been ‘framed’ seem to have risen to the top of the moment of waking. Rather than leaving the ego at the centre of all propositions, interpretations, comparisons, identifications and meanings, it seems much more ‘healthy’ to think, perceive, and ‘frame’ everything from a different point of view. In the West, where some deep and lasting footprints of Christianity have left their imprint on many, including this scribe, beginning with that horrific ‘pauline’ epithet, ‘we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God’…(Romans 3: 23), many have been scarred, ‘branded’ as if we were new calves in the Christian farm, to be forever identified by this black mark of unworthiness. Accompanying the metaphor, naturally, is the ‘fire of hell’ as a potential, devastatingly hopeless eternity if one continues to ‘live in sin’ without redemption and salvation.


It is not rocket science to speculate that many young people, in their (our) teens, were ‘branded’ with a kind of binary ‘good/evil’ image, like a small hole in the end of a needle through which we were expected to make our way. Did we want to ‘go to heaven or hell’ is a question so heinous and yet so ubiquitously promulgated as to render both God and the church deeply implicit in a manner of discerning how to live that literally, metaphorically and psychically lobotomizes anything approaching a “full life”. And yet, here we are, decades, if not centuries later, still enshackled by the vestiges and stain of that ‘binary’ horn of the moral, ethical, and especially psychological and religious reductionism. Polarized and oscillating between two equally simplistic, reductionistic, and seductive (for opposite reasons) options many have often reduced to a ‘risk or avoid’ kind of mind-set. This ‘either-or’ has been a trap, overlaid with the psychic ‘ego’ as a kind of moderator (borrowing from Freud’s ego-super-ego-id tricotomy), exemplified by an extremely ‘what-would-auntie-think’ on the one hand and a ‘who-really-cares-anyway’ speculation, prior to engaging in a new activity.

Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies, speculates about the ‘inherent violence’ of the human species. Many political debates are currently framed, under the rubric of a zero-sum game, as a black-and-white choice between what one faction considers morally and ethically ‘right’ and another faction considers as morally and ethically deplorable. We have heard of the dilemma of young women, emerging into their full feminine reality, fearing and living under a cloud of a reputational depiction as ‘angel or whore’ when such a dichotomy is equally repulsive, untenable and demeaning, for different reasons. Young men, too, have faced the ‘envisaged’ reputational categorization as ‘real men’ or ‘wimps/girlie’ and in my generation ‘fags’ for those who engaged in the arts, dance, music and poetry. Real men were (are?) hunters, fishers, red-necks, bigots, over-sexed and highly competitive and thereby predictive of success in athletics, business and the professions.

While there are psychological theories that posit an influence of a ‘strong mother’ from whom some young men have had to emerge from being under their domination (Oedipal complex describing a child’s feelings of desire for their opposite sex parent and jealousy and anger toward their same sex parent), and other theories that speculate about the ‘Electra complex’ in which a young woman is attracted to her male parent and in competition with her mother, again the binary prevailed in and through the inception and dissemination of such theories (and their substantial impact). Similarly, there were and are men and women who, in the course of their encounters with others, irrespective of their professional obligations, have either exhibited traits that ‘fit’ the strong/masculine/decisive/executive or the more tolerant/considerate/relational/feminine characterizations. This ‘heaven-hell’ universe,  still smudges the doorways of our minds and hearts with smoke and fog, given that none of us really fit any of the boxes fully or comfortably.

Naturally, gender identity continues to focus the attention of many public debates, and tensions, as the emergence of the LGBTQ+ community has found both a voice and a supportive cohort. Again, however, ‘straight-gay’ is an abiding dichotomy among many of the establishment figures and voices, not only based on their unfamiliarity with the ‘new’ but also resulting in some part from the protracted history of the binary “new-old” in which the “old” is revered and the “new” distasteful.

Poised on the edge of this aspect of the dichotomy, too, is the religious/faith community, who have been reared in an theology of reverence, even sacralizing the past and projecting that reverence into the ‘afterlife’, while denigrating the present. Indeed, our minds, and our perceptions have become so integrated into a binary perception, attitude, and belief system that, while such a process may have given us the scientific method, and the multiple ‘benefits’ of those experiments, theories and discoveries, the ‘branding’ has left us bereft of ambiguity, nuance, shades of ‘grey’ and multiple options, especially in the manner in which we ‘language’ our perceptions and social encounters, not to mention our political divides.

Poised on the tips of two deeply embedded and mutually exclusive options, many of us have spent decades trying to breathe the oxygen of multiple perspectives, multiple options, multiple orientations, ethnicities, belief systems, and the need to integrate into a far more ‘rich’ (metaphorically, not financially) way of being in the world.

Even the dichotomy of “I am a human being, not a human doing” which floated through the seminaries in the 90’s, while focusing on reflection, pause from the obsessive compulsive thrust to accomplish the duty-list of chores, served as a kind of cognitive reductionism. Labels, especially those conceived and birthed by the psychological/psychiatric establishment, have mainly been based on the ‘sickness’ model, rather than on a pursuit of what is healthy in each of us and thereby worthy of both respect and enhancement and encouragement.

The dichotomous epithet from Corinthinians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things…” also divides adult from child, in a manner that at a minimum, in today’s parlance, ‘puts down’ childhood while elevating adulthood as a proposed path of religious and spiritual discipline. The psychological impact of this kind of directive (subtle though it may be) is that those attributes of the child, enthusiasm, experimentation, risk-taking, courage, exploration, invention and creativity including the emergence into the world of loving relationships are boxed into a chronology in which they cannot and do not fit or comply. Similarly, the ‘adult’ model is envisaged as ‘mature, thoughtful, reflective, complex, conservative, restrained and risk-avoidant, another grouping of attributes that defy the ‘adult’ containment.

Many sleepless nights have found this scribe reflecting on the alienation of what some might call ‘my little boy’ who had inserted energetic, creative, and somewhat challenging notes into what were otherwise ‘elder’ meetings, both among the educational establishment and more recently among the ecclesial establishment. Wearing a plastic ‘red nose’ while attending a church board meeting, as the clergy in charge, was only one example, in which a fossilized, frozen group of men and women were blind to their own frozenness, and the ‘red-nose’ was one of many attempts to ‘awaken’ whatever was lying dormant in their mind and psyche.

While the moment of the ‘red-nose’ was a spontaneous act, without the reflection that three decades offers, the moment returns as an example of how alienation can accompany ‘binary’ categorizations, and the contempt that accompanies such boxed-in thinking and perceiving and the attitudes that come from those boxes. Of course, the majority, in any social, cultural, political or ideological group prefer the ‘conservative,’ and ‘moderate,’ and ‘modest’ and ‘safe’ approach to the decisions they are asked to make. And while that may be a ‘fact’ of our culture, it is also a severe limitation not only on our culture, but also on the individuals within our culture,

Here again, the ‘young boy’ (puer, Dionysus, Persephone (goddess of Spring), Ares (god of courage), Hephaestus (god of design and creativity) are, as usual, being displaced by the others including Athena (goddess of reason, wisdom). It is not that specific ‘gods’ are images of specific persons, but rather, from a cultural perspective, these forces are in tension. And the ‘puer’ in each of us, so it seems from this desk, has been shut out of many of the conversations, relationships and initiatives in our ‘mature, stable, dependable, reliable, and predictable culture and ethos.

Well……we the saying goes, ‘how is that pattern working out for us?

Are we not both witnessing and experiencing the disastrous impacts of a one-sided, heavily tilted, deeply obsessed with ‘reactionary, conservative, nationalist, and even fascist not merely rhetoric but actual manipulation by the ‘senex’ attributes among us, taken to their extreme over-the-top absurdity.

Just as ruling a culture, society, government, church, university from sole perspective of the ‘puer’ would be absurd, so too is the dominance of the senex, rational, conservative, reactionary ‘approach. And this applies not only to interpersonal relationships but also to the kind of cultural ‘garden’ and the psychic ‘garden’ in which health ‘flowering’ men and women, girls and boys can and will thrive.

Not only in the binary unsustainable, but the dominance of the ‘old’ at the expense of the ‘young’ in archetypal terms, is snuffing out the kind of raucous, respectable, collaborative and collegial ‘messiness’ and chaos in which nature can only survive and thrive,

Yesterday, on ABC’s The View, the concept of a collaborative Scrabble game, having been introduced into Europe, was scathingly dismissed by all five members of the female panel. “Don’t they know that life is competitive?” shouted one of the panelists. The very notion that a family, or a group of friends might sit around a table and put their mind and their imaginations together to come up with the words for a collaborative game of Scrabble was so abhorrent to those five American women that this audience member was shaken.

Have ‘we’ collectively so reduced human existence to a competition (exclusively as the only model available and acceptable)? And if so, it is not surprising that the American ‘enterprise’ is itself crumbling right before our eyes. 

While Mandela and Gandhi were both fully engaged in social, political, ethical and moral transformations with opponents who were clearly identified, their world never devolved into a binary proposition in which winners only succeeded by eliminating or destroying their opponents.