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.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home