Something happened in our society that cast a shadow on our civic manner, behavior, relationships with one another, hopes and dreams, appreciation for our democratic ideals, and trust in the future. This reminds me of another time, another place, and another description of a national mood described by the English novelist D.H.Lawrence.
Something has happened. Something has happened which has not yet
eventuated. The old spell of the old world has broken, and the old
bristling savage spirit has set in. ... And it all looks as if the years were
wheeling swiftly backwards, no more onwards.
That quote by Lawrence comes from "A Letter From Germany," written in 1928 or 1929 and published in 1934. He goes on to add as he nears the conclusion to his letter:
Like a spring that is broken, and whirls swiftly back, so time seems to be
whirling with mysterious swiftness to a sort of death.
This prophetic observation by Lawrence that was written in the 1920's and published for the world to see in 1934, came to fruition only a decade later. Carl Jung picked up on the dark fatefulness Lawrence anticipated. And from Jung's vantage point, he named the events at that time in Germany as a people seized by an archetype he recognized as Wotan. Nowhere in my recollection is there a more definitive and descriptive analysis of what it is like when a nation falls under the spell of an archetype such as Jung articulated in his essay by the name of that particular archetypal power—Wotan.
We do well not to casually dismiss this historical event, national catastrophe, and terror of what happens when a people sleepwalk into a net of psychical peril. Of course, we can easily dismiss Jung's observations of an archetype named Wotan. We may think, "How quaint, how disingenuous, how removed such an experience and psychological description are from us."
But before we let our 21st century imagination run away with us, we might hold tight the reins of our distractible minds. Consider what an archetype is. Allow yourself to become conscious of the archetype's numinosity, its power to control the minds of not just one person but a nation of people, its capacity to infect an individual with narcissistic importance, and its dominating influence on social, political, and religious leaders one would expect to know better than to be hauled down the corridors of authoritarianism, savagery, and self-importance.
In other words, archetypes are not simply a psychological concept. They are to human beings what instincts are to animals. In an earlier writing, I defined "archetype" as:
primal forms of being arising from evolutionary origins, manifesting
in human beings as universal patterns of behavior, cognition, emotion,
and perception; or as images that appear in dreams, symbols, and
myths; or as deeply felt experiences and encounters that are mean-
ingful but not necessarily explicable through present-day paradigms;
functioning in the human unconscious as formative centers of psycho-
logical complexes; capable of constellating a psychoid field of
connectivity. (Musing in Search of Meaning; p. 80)
It is important to note that we do not inherent specific images but rather the biological, neurological capacity to form the images which is part of our genetic endowment. Because we become aware of images in literature, fairy tales, and myths, we mistakingly think of the images as archetypes. However, they are not the archetypes but rather archetypal images that impact us in meaningful ways because of our capacity to sense in our environment universal and timeless patterns. Carl Jung expresses it this way:
again and again I encounter the mistaken notion that an archetype
is determined in regard to its content, in other words, that it is a
kind of unconscious idea (if such an expression is admissible). It is
necessary to point out once more that archetypes are not determined
as regards their content, but only as regards their form.... .
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 392-393)
Perhaps more than any other professional in the field of psychology, Anthony Stevens has worked to clarify what is meant by the word and concept of archetypal powers. Stevens suggests that archetypes "precede all existence" and further that "they are manifest in the spiritual achievements of art, science, and religion, as well as in the organization of organic and inorganic matter." ("The Archetypes," The Handbook of Jungian Psychology, p. 90)
Something so dynamic and formative in our existence helps us understand what's happening to us at this time, personally and collectively. As I said at the beginning of this writing, something profound has happened in our society that must account for the violence and insanity we are experiencing daily. What archetypal powers have seized us?
I will return to this theme next month when we will consider Jung's essay, "Wotan," describing the archetypal power that cast a spell on the German nation and erupted in the rise of Hitler's fascism.
Since I last wrote you, I have been asked to officiate at a funeral and a wedding.
"Officiate"—such a strange word. What does it mean? To make something "official" sounds very hollow for occasions such as weddings and funerals, don't you think?
Of course, there are other words sometimes used for these occasions. We "perform," "conduct," and "do" weddings and funerals. But think about that. Those are the two occasions in life when love is most felt, shared, expressed, enjoyed, grieved, remembered, and hoped for.
In the two occasions where I was recently asked to "officiate," I knew the parties very well, shared memories and hopes, and felt the love which was palpable and permeating—filling the families and friends, the important persons who deliver the flowers, make sure the lights and microphones work, and—yes—dig the hole where the deceased may be "laid to rest," as we euphemistically cover the horrors of saying good-by to a loved one with words that somehow are supposed to comfort all of the witnesses who know that any one of us may be the next to be "laid to rest" in the cold ground or ushered through the fires of cremation before our remaining ashes are spread by the wind.
But stay with me here. This is not a soliloquy of mourning or even a remembrance of the happy times when unions in marriage celebrate the ecstasy of love. Rather, I offer an observation that love is most honored when it is recognized as the very boundary of our existence in which we come to be—to be a person, an actor on the stage of life in which love is the primary theme of our being, without which there is no meaning to our brief existence. Love is indeed the beginning and the end, but also the in-between that fills not only our personal lives but the lives of others, the lives of our dependent creatures, and the dark shadows of night with the triumphant declaration of a Presence made meaningful by love. Herein is the ontology of love.
St. Paul dove into an understanding of love when he wrote a letter to the small group of Christians in Corinth around the middle of the first century, CE. In that marvelous chapter 13 of the epistle, St. Paul reminds his readers of love's reality and importance. He weaves his way through several distractions and disagreements that separated individuals from each other, as they continue today to separate us. It is not Paul's position on any of the points of debate that need to be focused on here in this writing. Rather, it is his profound description of the importance of love because of its very nature.
So what is the nature of love? How might you and I think of it? How might you and I put it in the simplest words that might lead us toward an understanding of love? Let me try.
But before going further, it is of course important to note that we have become accustomed to thinking of the nature of love in its three-fold expressions: philia, eros, agape. Within this frame, generally we understand "philia" as a kind of neighborly love, and hence we come upon the city of Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love," as it was early-on described. Named by William Penn, an English Quaker, Penn considered this city in the new country to represent freedom from tyranny. The city did indeed play an important role as a meeting place for delegates from the thirteen colonies that went on to become the United States. Even with the many squabbles endured by the delegates, the "city of brotherly love" held its reputation as a center for grievances and differences found in a formula that united the differing parties within a restraint, admiration, and tension of brotherly conflict, a relationship of brotherly love.
Then came eros. How difficult it has become to liberate the concept and popular notion of eros from the container of sexual love. The glitter and glamour of sexual desire certainly resides within eros, but eros is much more. Even Carl Jung admitted the difficulty in fully understanding and describing eros. Listen to the anguish with which Jung wrestles the idea toward an understanding with which he can live. Referring to what he describes as "the realm of Eros," Jung acknowledges "the incalculable paradoxes of love." He goes on to acknowledge that Eros is a "kosmogonos, a creator and father-mother of all higher consciousness." And then he goes on to say this:
In my medical experiences as well as my own life I have again and again
been faced with the mystery of love, and have never been able to describe
what it is. ... Here is the greatest and the smallest, the remotest and
nearest, the highest and lowest, and we cannot declare one side of it
without discussing the other. No language is adequate to this paradox.
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 353-354)
So, we may ask, where does this leave us? As I have worked over many years to look within the mystery of love's nature, I have discovered some light in the theological explorations of John Macquarrie, an Anglican priest and theologian. Like all of us who seek to probe the depths of understanding the nature of love, Macquarrie came to my assistance with these words to describe love in the ontological sense as "letting be."
Love is letting-be, not of course in the sense of standing off from someone
or something, but in the positive and active sense of enabling-to-be.
When we talk of "letting-be," we are to understand both parts of this
hyphenated expression in a strong sense—"letting" as empowering, and
"be" as enjoying the maximal range of being that is open to the particular
being concerned. Most typically, "letting-be" means helping a person into
the full realization of ... potentialities for being, and the greatest love
will be costly, since it will be accomplished by the spending of one's own being.
(Principles of Christian Theology, pp. 310-311)
This is the beginning and the end. Such love appears over our grave sites and within the halls where marriage is solemnized. We hold this consciousness with the reverence due the highest peaks of our human experiences and the lowest descents of such suffering as love allows.
I hoped we might be finished with war. The power of our weapons, the prospect of indescribable destruction, and the catastrophic loss of life numb our sensibilities.
This cloud has hung over my head all my life. My grandparents suffered the cruel uncertainty of living daily, not knowing when a representative from the American Red Cross might drive up to their door with an announcement thousands of families received that a loved one was killed, captured, or "missing-inaction"—their location and condition unknown.
In fact, my father served in the Pacific campaign under General MacArthur and returned home physically unharmed. My uncle, however, was not so lucky. He had been captured in the battle of the Bulge during the last days of the war in Germany. In fact, this major battle was the last major offensive on the Western Front during WWII. For weeks he was listed by the US Army and the Red Cross as "missing-in-action." The good news is that he survived to return home; the bad news, however, was the ongoing PTSD he suffered most of his life until he died in his 60's.
This tragedy, and many like it in families across the United States and other countries as well, scarred a generation. Sons and daughters had been drafted to serve in a war considered to be honorable, a war fought agains a tyrannical enemy, a war to save civilization. It was also thought by many to be a war to end wars.
But it did not. Again, in my lifetime, I have experienced: the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the ethno-nationalist conflict in northern Ireland, the Iraq war, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the war between Hamas and Israel. And, in full disclosure, as many of you who know me are aware, in my lifetime I, too, have taken up arms and served as an artillery officer in Korea.
In the magisterial fiction of Herman Wouk's The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, he concludes the monumental task of describing the European and Pacific campaigns of WWII by saying this:
These two novels tend to one conclusion: that war is an old habit of
thought, an old frame of mind, an old political technique, that must
now pass as human sacrifice and human slavery have passed. I have
faith that the human spirit will prove equal to the heavy task of
ending war. Against the pessimistic mood of our time, I think that
the human spirit—for all its dark side I here portray—is in essence
Also, dear Wouk, with admiration and gratitude for your remarkable romance, war continues as does the pessimistic mood of our time. And yet, like you, I do agree that the human spirit is in essence heroic. However, I also add another dimension to this fictional dialogue you and I are having. This "dimension," if this is what we may call it, is the unconscious. In your novels, I do not recall you mentioning that word ever, nor did you tell what any of your characters dreamed. Yet, dreams are the most universal experience of each of us, as well as our dogs and cats. We all dream, and in our dreams we face the dangers with which our heroism is tested. This is the heroism of our total being: body, mind, thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
How ironical it is that many people say they do not dream, and in some cases refuse to face their dreams because the dreams scare them. Like all of us, they want to rest at night, to sleep undisturbed, to have a "peaceful" night. These night-time disturbances begin in childhood. We wake up, crying, running into our parents' bedroom, clutching our safe objects, dolls, teddy bears, blankets. My point is that at our youngest age, we run from our fears and rest under the protective shelter of whatever makes peace possible.
In some cases, the fears that disturb us are played out on the world's stage, as with Wouk's story of the European and Pacific wars. Sometimes our fears are rooted in the personal dynamics of families, couples, and children's playgrounds. Whatever the source or situations that prompt these fears, we must understand two things: First, it is a good thing that we are hard-wired so that we can experience fear because some encounters are wisely to be feared. The bullying person, the catastrophic illness, our accidents, the uncertainty of life's end, and so on. In these cases, fear helps us to respond and perhaps arise at some send of peace.
Then, there is the second case where fear is good. This is the deeper fear of our unconscious humanity. What I mean by this is our experience of the prevalence of uncertainty in the world. After all, each of us lives with a growing awareness that comes to each child eventually. "No, you are not the center of the universe. No, your mom and dad and friends will not always be here. No, in fact our solar system itself is not the center of the universe. No, you cannot be assured that all the individuals and circumstances you encounter will have your best interests at heart."
Given all of that, then how are we to live our lives with a sense of peace? How are we to hear the liturgies of Advent and Christmas in which the angels sing of peace on earth and goodwill to others? Actually this question occupies the center of most major religions. And the answer, simply put, is that we are to deepen our experience of life in a spiritual consciousness of peace.
This spiritual consciousness of peace arose within the New Testament account of Jesus and takes place in the ancient land of Palestine, consisting of three regions: Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judea in the south. The political figures were the Roman emperor, Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus; Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and sometimes referred to as King Herod or by the title of tetrarch ("ruler of a quarter") and called "that fox" by Jesus; Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judah where Jerusalem was located as well as where Jesus was arrested.
As for the social conditions in Palestine, the majority of people would be called a peasant class made up of tenant farmers and laborers as well as fishermen. Beneath them was another class carrying the name of "the poor." This class included the sick, crippled, mentally ill. Finally, there were the outcasts: sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. The sinners were those who lived immoral lives, in some cases identifying with Gentile lifestyles, in other cases excommunicated and cast out of the synagogue. Among this group also were the non-religious travelers who passed through Galilee.
In other words, it is something of a motley crew in a remote part of the world where warring armies marched through, and political power was carried on the shoulders of these Galileans, Samaritans, and Judeans at the will of the Roman emperor with his subordinate governors such as Herod and Pontius Pilate. To those people, that place, and that historical moment came the bold chorus of voices declaring,
PEACE ON EARTH
AND GOODWILL TOWARD ALL
(See the footnote for Luke 2:14, in THE NEW JERUSALEM BIBLE)
And there we have to leave it for this Advent and Christmas season. In our troubled time with the prospects of war bubbling throughout the world, where men, women, and children die brutally, where daily we turn away from the news too painful to bear—I leave you with the wish and prayer that you may know, express, and extend peace on earth and goodwill to all.
We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses, and it ain't names, and
it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars ... everybody knows in their bones
that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All
the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years
and yet you'd be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There's
something way down deep that's eternal about every human being.
That's what the Stage Manager says in Our Town. However, the Stage Manager is not really a stage manager but rather the main character of Thorton Wilder's play, written and produced in 1938, and regarded now to be perhaps the greatest American play ever written.
I know the play, personally, as I was privileged to have played the role of Stage Manager. In full disclosure, I must tell you I was a sophomore in high school when I played this role of a lifetime. Many notables wise in years and experience far beyond my sophomoric musings have been cast as the Stage Manager, including Frank Sinatra, Henry Fonda, and Paul Newman. After the production opened the doors to include females, actresses such as Helen Hunt have added to the reflective, deep role of Stage Manager.
So what is the play, Our Town, about and why should it be of any significance for us, almost 100 years after it was published? Thornton chose as a setting a small fictional town, Grover's Corner, New Hampshire, sometime between 1901-1913. And the reason it might be of interest to us is because the play opens up life's profound themes not only of death and life itself but also of goodness and badness, hope and despair, the exciting urgings of youth and the deeper pathos of age, love and loss. We are privileged to see these emotions passing through the lives of individuals like you and me, awakening us once more to what has been and what might've been if only ... .
Consider the characters. There is, of course, the Stage Manager who observes the people of Grover's Corner as they pass across the stage, revealing the daily affairs of life in their small town where everybody knows everybody, where gossip reveals the good things and the bad. There are scenes in the play where the Stage Manager stops the action, reveals more about he characters and even asks the audience to describe what they are seeing. Of course, all the actions, the conversations, and the reflections on what is taking place—all of this leads us deeper into the hearts and minds not only of the people of Grover's Corner, but within us as well.
In other words, Grover's Corner exists not only in Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning play but also in the archetypal depths of our existence. I mean by archetypal depths those universal experiences of thought, emotion, and action rooted in the very depths of our being. Across all boundaries of culture, race, religion, and gender, each us exists within the worlds of work, play, community, and spirituality of some kind. Think about the movies you have seen, art you have reflected on, music you have heard, people and places you have visited, moments when you felt suspended in awe. Without those moments, life would be banal, meaningless, maybe unendurable.
However, these archetypal moments in work, or play, social life or spirituality—each of these moments hold the potential for comedy or tragedy. The people in Our Town reveal our "ups and down," "ins and outs," "loves and losses." This was Thornton Wilder's genius bringing to life these dear heroic, sad and funny characters in which we see ourselves.
Consider the tragedy, for example, of Simon Stimson, the choir director and town drunk in Grover's Corner. Everyone knows Simon and gossips about him but does nothing to help the poor man. Maybe he is simply too repulsive. His attitude does not help matters when he says,
That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up
and down trampling on the feelings of those about you. To spend and waste
time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one's
self-centered passion or another.
Where would you locate Simon's tragedy in the four quadrants of work, play, community and spirituality? Was it his work? Was it an early traumatic experience in which someone hurt him deeply, so deeply he never recovered? Life eventually becomes too hard for him, only "ignorance and blindness," and he hangs himself in his attic.
Simon's life left him with a wound so different from the life of Emily Webb. Her father publishes Grover's Corner's Sentinel, appears to be well-informed, and supports Mrs. Webb as they make plans for Emily's wedding to George Gibbs, the high school star basketball player who gives up going to play for the local state agricultural college. He seems genuinely to love Emily and looks forward to their future life where they will rear their children in Grover's Corner.
As the play progresses, we find that George and Emily do indeed marry but she dies young in childbirth. Then in one of the most moving scenes, Emily returns in her state as one of the dead who wishes to visit her old home. She chooses the non-material form of her 12th birthday and is surprised to observe both the familiarity of her old home but also at the same time to learn of all that has happened since she died. More moving and meaningful, however, is her awareness of how precious, fleeting, and important human existence is. Unlike Simon for whom life is a tragedy, Emily claims life as a transient treasure to be affirmed and lived fully. She says:
Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen
years have gone by. I'm dead. You're a grandmother, Mama! Wally's dead, too.
His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible
about it—don't you remember? But, just for a moment now we're all together.
Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's really look at one another!...I can't.
I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't
realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back -- up the
hill -- to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye to clocks ticking....
and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot
baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for
anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live
it -- every, every minute?
I will pause here with Emily's question: "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?"
Hope or despair, I asked in my previous writing. Which is it we feel most during this historical moment of uncertainty?
You know the threats very well:
Meanwhile, we are now experiencing phenomenal developments and advancements in medical care with explorations of the human brain and body never before possible. And while we are exploring with increasing detail the human body, another exciting exploration of almost unbelievable scope flashes across the pages of National Geographic, our TV screens, and other world-wide media sources. This is the exploration of space. With the landing of the James Webb telescope, we are now given images of the surfaces on Jupiter's moon Europa, the emergence of early galaxies, but, astonishingly, a look backwards over 13.5 billion years ago in time when our universe emerged out of the darkness that was before.
So there we have it. In this short list I presented, we see despair and hope. Or do we? Maybe we do not perceive them actually. How else can we understand the ongoing seemingly oblivious perception in recognizing the threat of danger at our doorsteps, or the promise of a golden future that AI and our technological advances could make possible?
And so we come to the question of PERCEPTION. What do we perceive? How do we perceive? What blocks or distorts our perceptions? Is it not likely then, that we might look at the same object but perceive different things? What are the misperceptions in my life that are distorted because of the misinformation that falsely colors what I am perceiving?
In other words, our way of perceiving operates like this. I am given a view of the world that may be true to nature or not. Maybe I have misunderstood something. Maybe I have been misled or misinformed by a number of sources: people, media, TV studios, movies, papers, preachers, politicians, counselors, teachers, family members, and more. Perhaps I have never considered how to look for truth, how to investigate the nature of things, even the nature of NATURE. Perhaps I have become jaundiced by scams, or even by misfortunes that fell my way—sickness, accidents, death. So many factors influence what and how I perceive.
This is a theme explored by Wallace Stevens in his poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," written between 1915-1920, and published 1923, in his first book of poems, Harmonium. One of the more profound twentieth-century poets, Stevens noted the role of perception in the way we look at a work of art or an object in nature. He says as much in verse II of the poem:
I was of three minds
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
Are there really three blackbirds? Probably not. He is looking at one tree and one blackbird, but he actually "sees" one blackbird and realizes he becomes aware of three different perceptions. How subtle and "tricky" are our perceptions. Later in verse XI, he describes the experience of possible misperception when he mistook a shadow for blackbirds.
Finally, in verse XIII of the poem, Stevens comes to rest within his perception.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat in the cedar limbs.
Now he perceives only one blackbird, and he is aware that his imagination symbolized by "evening in the afternoon" created or influenced his earlier perceptions of three blackbirds. Now, his "reason," represented by "snow," makes clear his perception. He is no longer projecting upon nature but rather is allowing himself to perceive what nature is presenting.
And in this way we come back to our perception of this moment in which we are living. Is it a time of hope or despair? What are you perceiving?
"World" is a state of mind before it is a place. At any given moment you and I may think of our world as the United States, America, the hemisphere in which we are located, our solar system, or even the cosmos itself. For some of us, our political party, gender, race, religion, fraternity or sorority, region of the country, city, family name, university we attended, workplace, or even athletic team becomes our world. We may identify as a Tiger, Bear, Ram, Eagle, Lion, etc., even adopting the colors, fight songs, and sites where games are played as our world.
We all need a place to belong, something larger than ourselves. We cherish other people who understand us and share our values, familiar places, and experiences that offered meaning for an existence, validation fo our life, assurance that this life is worthwhile, perhaps even that there may be comfort and old friends in an eternal home beyond our earthly existence. This was the theme of many of our world's religions, a promise that seems to diminish the fear of death, but more profoundly to offer hope that our mysterious universe may reveal promise beyond the despair of our present time and place.
So where do we draw the boundary of our "world?" Where does our world begin and end, or perhaps even more accurately, where do our "worlds" begin and end as we live simultaneously in more than one world, more than one state of mind.
For the moment, then, I will define "world" as the state of mind that encompasses my many realities. Such are my memories and anticipations of friends, birthdays, anniversaries, jobs, travels, books, food, animals that both delight and also threaten me, pests that plague me (mosquitos!). Such are the "ups and downs" of my worlds. Some days I exhilarate in the joys of living, but on other days circumstances throw a dim light on my world
In the 1985 move "Cocoon," a friendly group of retirees discovered a mysterious trace of an extraterrestrial place where the inhabitants lived with no worries of aging, sickness, and death. At the conclusion of the movie, they are given the option of boarding a spaceship that will take them there, or the option of remaining in their present home with the human suffering that comes with aging.
Straining our capacity to imagine such a place and opportunity, I am reminded, however, of our ongoing fascination with UFOs or UAPs. At the center of this controversy is the search for hope "beyond the stars" where we may continue our existence but without the despair life on earth brings with its conditions of suffering.
THis is the nature of our life, said Siddartha Gautama, known as the Buddha. Living at the base of the Himalaya mountain range in what we now call Nepal, during the 6-5th centuries, Siddhartha forsook the life of privilege to which he had been born when he despaired over such suffering that privilege could not eliminate, suffering that threatened the meaning of life. He became a wandering ascetic searching for hope for all human beings who faced the despair of childbirth, sickness, old age, decay, and death. Renouncing his princely life, he came to find peace of mind with his realization of the Four Noble Truths.
"Noble" does not refer to the truths themselves but rather to the state of mind of individuals who live by the Noble Truths which are as follows:
Before specifying the steps along the way of the Eightfold Path, it is helpful to place this way of living and realizing hope as a Middle Way. It is called that because the Eightfold Path weaves its way through the challenges of life without falling into the extremes of either asceticism or sensual indulgence. Granted, any one of us at any time may stretch the boundaries of the Eightfold Path. And, as is most likely, the extremes are not always crystal clear. For example, consider our use of time. How much vacation time is enough? Our time for balancing work, play, socializing, loving, caring, and being cared for cannot fit within the same prescription for everyone. The Buddha never specified the balance with which we approach our commitments. But, make no mistake, the Eightfold Path clearly outlines a path of moderation.
Here is the Eightfold Path:
There are other paths that lead to hope. But none of these paths deny the present reality of despair as we face the darkening skies of climate change and political extremism. As Carl Jung reminded us, only when we encounter and endure the threat of our despair, personal and collective, only then is there a genuine promise of hope. Toward that end, we will meet again next time.
How do you and I understand this conflicted time in which we are living? The days stretch on and on, seemingly with no bridge in sight by which we may pass over our days of deep polarization, misinformation, and the failure of our democratic institutions to clarify the issues that polarize us. How are we to restore our conscious mind, personally, socially, and politically?
We, of course, are not the first society to struggle with threats to our personal and collective health, safety, and sanity. Over the course of human existence, consciousness has been achieved even in the darkest days, such as the terrors of World War II that ravaged all nations and witnessed the death of 70-85 million people, including 6 million European Jews in the Holocaust.
How do we cope with such savage unconsciousness and evil? Asking that question, I went back in time, perhaps as many as 6,000 years ago, and consulted the I Ching which may be the world's oldest book. Drawing upon the ancient wisdom of the Chinese culture, the I Ching presents what we may refer to as the archetypal dynamics of change in individuals and societies. Consulting the I Ching is comparable to sitting before a centuries-old sage who unfurls the experiences of life from the vantage point of a deep wisdom. But instead of spoken words, the I Ching speaks in the recorded wisdom of hexagrams. When I posed the question of consciousness in turbulent times such as ours, the I Ching's response was "Inner Truth!"
What is this "inner truth" that may yield insight as to what makes possible a conscious mind? The I Ching speaks symbolically: "It furthers one to cross the great waters," and the text offers an image of wind as it blows over the water and stirs the surface. Within this natural and mythic imagery comes an impression of the "invisible" making itself manifest, just as the unconscious becomes conscious when the waters of our unconsciousness are stirred by events acting within and/or upon us.
For example, consider a passage of scripture in Luke 6:4 as it is recorded in Codex Bezae, one of the older manuscripts that contains Luke's gospel. In that reading, the story is told of Jesus observing a man working on the Sabbath, which would have been considered a sin. Jesus says to the man, "... if indeed thou knowest what thou dost, blessed art thou, but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the law."
In other words, how conscious is the man? Perhaps he was starving. This would reflect the consciousness of Jesus that appears in his statement elsewhere (Matthew 12:68; Mark 2:27-28) that the Sabbath is made for humanity and not humanity for the Sabbath. This principle appears in the writings where the disciples of Jesus are criticized for picking corn on the Sabbath, and Jesus defends them because they were hungry.
Consciousness may prevail when necessity confronts the law. If our child is deathly sick and we break the speed limit rushing to the hospital, we know we are breaking the law, but if we do not, the child may die before we get to the emergency room.
Breaking the law in this case is a clear choice. Why? Because we value the child's life over the law. Yes, we have broken the law, but a higher consciousness impels us to do so. Our conscience has become conscious, and this is what I mean when I refer to "the conscious mind."
The definition of conscience is "an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting a a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior." (New Oxford American Dictionary) And it should be no surprise that conscience and conscious derive from the same Latin roots (con-and scire-) that have to do with "becoming aware." To become conscious, then, is to listen to the inner voice of conscience.
But conscience is not only a private experience. It is also a collective, social, public experience. We affirm our social conscience each time we say our "Pledge of Allegiance." Consider the words of the Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United Sates of America, and to the
republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with
liberty and justice for all.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy (1855-1931). Changed several times over the decades, the Pledge was amended last in 1954, when the words, "under God" were added—against the objections of Bellamy's daughter.
Obviously, the Pledge is a dynamic evolving document, revised over the course of time, but reflecting the public conscience of our nation, just as it also reflects our consciousness. This is the point of my writing. The conscious mind arises from the very lofty ideals of humanity to pledge "liberty and justice for all," a commitment which, if realized, would bring healing to our conflicted time. However, our conscious mind is shaped also from the more foreboding impulses of our unconscious, forces that make our future uncertain. Will we realize the counsel of the I Ching: "It furthers one to cross the great waters."
When Carl Jung looked ahead to the promise and perils of our civilization in the closing pages of his autobiography, he said this:
Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought
about a demonization of man and his world. The phenomenon of dictators
and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has
been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-
intellectuals. Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness. But
man's task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents
that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his
unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his
being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more conscious-
ness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to
kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 326)
In my last blog, I presented a dream that concluded with the terrifying experience of a whirlwind that sucked the breath out of the dreamer. Dying, the dreamer thought, "This is God." However, even before this traumatic ending of the dream, there were other daunting images: darkness where there should have been light, light where there should have been darkness, a source of light where there should have been vacant space, and the bizarre performance-like movement of people underneath the light where there should have been no meaning or reason for such a performance. Lastly, there was the vulnerability of the dreamer sitting in a convertible as the whirlwind approached.
Now a word of caution. We must be careful not to dismiss this dreamscape with its unsettling images simply as a meaningless nightmare. Rather, we ask, why this dream at this time? Why these images? Why the trauma? What are we to understand about this supernatural trauma?
In general, I think of trauma as the experience of unbearable pain. This "pain" may be acute (experience of a very stressful event), chronic (repetition of experiences of pain), and complex (the ongoing experience of the very stressful source). But in this case I have also used the term "supernatural" to describe the experience of the dreamer who is not likely to label experiences beyond his understanding as "supernatural."
That adjective, "supernatural," is described by the New Oxford American Dictionary as "a manifestation or event attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding of the laws of nature." However, the workings of nature have long led human explanations to seek explanations beyond rational understanding. In fact, one of the synonyms of "whirlwind" is "dust devil." How remarkable can that be? But also how understandable that if in the past a powerful and destructive force of wind destroyed homes, uprooted tress, threw heavy objects through the air as if they were match boxes—then we might say in colloquial language that "the devil did it," with no understanding of what this really means. However, there is in the language a residue of myth, superstition, folk tales, and religion in which nature and supernatural beings become entwined.
For example, in the Old Testament book of Job, Chapters 38-40, the terrifying whirlwind is described as God a "tempest" swoops down upon the home of the eldest son of Job where the other sons and daughters are visiting, and all of them are killed. Later, in this account, the voice of God speaks from "the heart of the tempest" and lectures Job about the Creator's ways of "conducing the business" of creating. Job cannot possibly understand but can acknowledge a force beyond his natural understanding.
Much more can be said about the Old Testament's book of Job, and for those who are interested I recommend Carol A. Newson's masterful commentary with reflections in Volume IV of The New Interpreter's Bible. However, this folk tale or didactic story as it often is described, is not the point of my writing here. I referred to it as one of the countless stories, commentaries, and folk tales that wrestle with the problem of suffering, the nature of justice, the mystery of how our world came into being, and the role of its creator.
In its own limited way, our dream under consideration leads us to look at how the dreamer understands the trauma of a destructive whirlwind bearing down upon him in the darkness of night. What are we to make of the dreamer's words, "This is God"? What kind of "God" is this? Is the dreamer's "God" a natural explanation for understanding the place of traumatic suffering? Or is the dreamer's "God" a supernatural force that acts upon the natural order of things with no discernible reason, sometimes bringing "blessings" and at other times bringing destruction and suffering?
However, the probing of all the images seems thus far to lead us back to where we started. Like the dreamer, we remain in the dark.
But before we turn our backs on this exercise in dream interpretation, there remains one symbol in the dream we have not explored. This is the total darkness in which the dreamer finds himself. The darkness is markedly pronounced. There are no lights in the building, no stars, no moonlight, not even the lights of his car. Except for the mysterious light descending from somewhere up above, silhouetting the movement of unidentifiable characters who appear to be miming a meaningless act, except for this light there is total darkness.
What are we to make of such darkness? As I work with my dreams and those who bring their dreams for understanding, I have found over the decades of dream study that wherever darkness appears in such a pronounced way, there is something unconscious that needs to be brought to light.
A person may "know" much about many things and still not be a conscious person. As the Buddha taught, we may sleepwalk through life in the sense of not being conscious. To those of us who are sleepwalking, the Buddha says, "Wake up"!
In other words, bring to mind your consciousness, meaning-full perception and awareness. Such perception and awareness bring us face to face with our full potential to be ourselves, to do good but also to inflict harm upon ourselves and others. In the absence of such consciousness, we dwell in darkness.
We ask, then, what brings us to consciousness? How do we "wake up" psychologically? Unfortunately, our education today focuses largely on the transmission of information that we remember and regurgitate when called upon. And also there are times when our consciousness is so shielded with superstition, misinformation, convenience, or secondary gains of wealth, fame, power, etc., that we settle into the pseudo-comfort of unconsciousness. However, in our lives there are whirlwinds, accidents, sickness, or dreams that wake us up to the darkness of our unconsciousness and awaken us to the consciousness of meaning by which we are fully alive.