We cannot save the world. Nor are we unaware that just as we live in the world described above, that world lives within each of us. But in our little life-raft, we can attempt to preserve some re-membrance of what it was like to experience safety, sanity, mutuality, reverence for life, and the care of soul -- all this as we move with the deep current through the darkening storm toward some distant shore. We do that as we watch our dreams and strive to become conscious, recognizing the great power of the unconscious out of which we come. We do that as we move against the surface tide and focus our attention on the great archetypes, the complexes, the difference in our typologies, our blindness to our defenses, and our heroic efforts to reconcile the opposites caught in the confluence where conscious and unconscious come together.
To many people this will sound only as so much verbiage, to use Shakespeare's phrase," a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." And that is to my point. So much of the distress we are experiencing in the world today strikes many of us as irrational, senseless, baseless, and dangerously pointing toward a disastrous end. But, more to the point, our efforts to look underneath this babble and chaos searching for clues that will help us to understand these perplexing personal and societal machinations, which actually have been named and described in psychological terms -- well, those attempts to understand and explain are themselves thrown into the chaotic mix as more of the same "sound and fury signifying nothing."
For example, consider Jung's remarkable warning that he published originally in 1951, following his harrowing experience of two world wars:
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made
conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual
remains undivided [undifferentiated] and does not become conscious
of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and
be torn into opposing halves. (Collected Works, Vol. 9ii, para. 1276)
When "one does not become conscious": That is the matter, most briefly stated. But it is also the challenge. One may be very, very intelligent and know a lot but still not be conscious. One may be "aware," but not conscious; one may be "awake," but not conscious. One may be very dutiful and moralistic, but not conscious. Any one of us may be very conscientious, to the point of throwing ourselves into projects that seem to promise good things, but still not be conscious.
This is a difficult thing for us to accept because our culture rewards appearances, whether it be the human body or the balance sheet of the corporation. As Jung again says: "People will do everything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls." (CW Vol. 12, para. 126). And, he goes on, "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious." (CW 13, para. 335).
Intriguing, isn't it? The more we circle around the notion of "consciousness," the more it refuses to be easily grasped. Therefore, with some trepidation, I will attempt a definition. It is this:
Consciousness is a dynamic process of differentiation at work within the
psyche, which we observe through the four functions of sensations, intuitions,
thoughts, and feelings as they sift through our attention; which, in turn,
allows for a greater or lesser experience of consciousness dependent upon the
capacity of the individual to modulate disturbances from the outside and from
within, making potentially possible a sense of meaning and moral purpose.
Let me break that down into component parts.
1. Consciousness comes out of the unconscious which precedes it.
2. Consciousness comes to our attention through:
+ sensations of hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting
3. Consciousness is an ever-changing process in which differentiation occurs, not a static
structure or thing.
4. Consciousness level depends not only on one's native intelligence, education, and
enculturation, but also upon one's capacity to modulate the disturbances that
heighten tension as they approach from the outside environment as well as from
psychic contents within, including complexes and defenses.
5. Consciousness arises primarily out of the tensions described above, particularly as they
are shaped by the conflicting psychological opposites within oneself: love/hate,
instinct/spirit, male/female, good/evil, etc.
6. Consciousness as a collective and personal phenomenon may be imaged as a "ruling
principle" appearing in dreams as a king/queen, military commander, hero/heroine
who is subject to decay, death, and eventual replacement that ushers in another level
7. Consciousness gives birth to a sense of meaning, one's place in life, and moral purpose.
We see this dramatic coming to consciousness throughout the story of Parsifal in the mythological story, "The Grail King." In very brief summary, the thematic development of the Grail legend goes like this:
1. The land is in a severe crisis, a drought that brings on the death of animals, crops,
2. Parsifal, the young hero, comes upon the land, sees an old fisherman in a lake who
guides him toward the Grail castle where he is received respectfully and hopefully.
3. Invited to the evening banquet, he discovers the old fisherman is himself the ailing
king who for years has suffered the wound that has paralyzed the land.
4. However, Parsifal is not conscious, nor does he make any effort to become conscious;
he fails to ask the question that will break the spell that has imprisoned the land and
the king within his wound. There is no consciousness.
5. The evening ends, Parsifal's night is spent fitfully with little sleep and disturbing
dreams, waking in the morning to discover the castle empty.
6. Parsifal finds his horse, leaves the castle, and wanders for years before he is permitted
to return, and ask the question of why the king is wounded, thereby breaking the spell
of bondage of the land and its people. The question of Parsifal represents a new
attitude that in itself leads to the healing of the king, unveiling an old attitude and
struggle within the king (and the culture) between nature and spirit, power and love.
A new ruling principle ascends, bringing a new consciousness to the land -- and the
7. Because the wound to the old king was in his thigh, near the area of his genitals, it
might simply be thought to symbolize a wound to his sexuality. However, the wound
also has to do with his potency or power. The wound within the king represents
the old consciousness, the unresolved conflict between the will to power and eros --
the opposites of which Jung speaks so clearly:
Logically, the opposite of love is hate, ...; but psychologically it is the
will to power. Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where
the will to power is paramount, love is lacking. The one is but the shadow
of the other... . (CW, Vol. 7, para. 78).
This was the drama playing out in the "The Quest for the Holy Grail." An old consciousness was dying; a new consciousness of love and power was arising. Notice also that in my opening paragraphs, I referred to the "death spiral" of our world today. An old consciousness is dying; a new planetary consciousness is struggling to be born out of the clash of love and power within our individual psyches, and between the groups of peoples and governments on planet earth.