Meanwhile, back in my blog-world, I continue to tell the story of Ava who came to my consulting room carrying the vague but troublesome anxiety of feeling that "something is not right in the world" -- something beyond the everyday concerns commonplace in our everyday existence.
I have called Ava's state of mind "the disorientation of our time," while noting that a major danger for individuals and societies is two-fold. One, such a disorientation can arise imperceptibly, like a slow erosion which goes unnoticed at first. And, two, this disorientation may also be be experienced not only in individuals, but also the collective mind of a people and their institutions.
For example, who can say exactly when the Fascist ideology of Nazi Germany took hold of the German people, blessed as they were in the highest achievements of the West. Scientifically, artistically, philosophically, and intellectually, they were poised to assume leadership in an awakening world that would further the highest ideals of humanity.
And again, to jump to another extreme, consider the lynch mobs of the pre-Civil War southern United States. What hatred, racism, and amusement of human torture occupied the minds of a very warm, hospitable, and otherwise principled people! When did this dangerous disorientation creep over the walls of civility and basic human dignity?
For that matter, what disorientation clouds our minds today, evoking a distinct sense, as with Ava, that "something is wrong." The "cloud" of obfuscation blinds our perception and distorts our judgments. However, we are not entirely without perspective and objectivity. We have lived long enough and experienced enough barbarity in our "modern" times that we have a capacity to jolt ourselves awake when the way becomes muddled and our leaders speak and operate erratically, with bluster in their code of conduct and jingoism as their mode of speech.
Centuries ago, a Japanese Zen monk and swordsman lived and wrote a treatise that reads as if written today. Gifted not only in the honorable way of the sword, Takuan Soho was also a poet, gardener, calligrapher, painter, and tea master. Writing between 1573 and 1645 B.C.E., the old monk challenges us to live "the unfettered mind" with these words:
If you follow the present-day world, you could turn your back on the Way; if
you would not turn your back on the Way, do not follow the world. 1
In this brief statement of warning, Takuan distinguishes between two paths each of us may take: "the present-day world" and "the Way." By his use of "way," the Zen monk, as might be expected, means a state of existence in which the individual lives true to herself, authentically fulfilling her personal claim to human potential. And by "world," Takuan means a state of existence in which disorientation shapes the person's life-trajectory. This latter state of existence is marked by distractions, diversions, and the demonic powers that can arise from the deep unconscious and seize one's life -- in short, a mind that is "fettered."
This dichotomy between "the Way" and the "world" appears throughout the stories of Buddha, Christ, and Jungian dreams. But you as reader already have a sense of what this "breech of being" has meant in your life, as well as how it is playing out in our society at this time. It is a "pull of opposites" that we may experience in our lives each day, just as it also appears in the extremes of group life, and throughout our society.
It is this societal crisis that brought Ava to my consulting room with her disturbing sense that "something is wrong." Ava could not put into words what troubled her. Trapped as we all are within the bizarre, irrational daily dramas of our political scene, Ava couldn't name the threatening spirit that possesses us, creeping into the here-to-fore trusted institutions of our democracy.
I am using the word "spirit" here intentionally. Of course, in Christian theology, Spirit is understood as a manifestation of God and occupies a place within the Trinity: God, Christ and Spirit. But spirit is also used to refer to other animating powers that may or may not be benevolent. In general, "spirit" may be used as a force or power that animates persons, and in depth psychology the word may also be used to describe a feeling and thought that arises from the unconscious with a capacity to take over the person. An individual or group of people may be "possessed" by such a force, leading to ways of thinking and acting not normally observed in the people. Referring back to the people of Nazi Germany and the southern lynch mobs, we could say they were possessed by a spirit -- a spirit that came up from the depths of the human psyche with such force that it formed what we could call a Zeitgeist, a spirit of the time.
If we look closely at our dreams, sometimes we may discover an image of a person, an action, or a place that reflects the spirit of the time. Such an image appeared in Carl Jung's dream of Siegfried. This is the way her remembered the dream on the night of December 18, 1913.
I was with an unknown, brown-skinned man, a savage, in a lonely, rocky
mountain landscape. It was before dawn; the eastern sky was already bright,
and the stars fading. Then I heard Siegfried's horn sounding over the mountains
and I know that we had to kill him. We were armed with rifles and lay in wait
for him on a narrow path over the rocks.
Then Siegfried appeared high on the crest of the mountains in the first ray
of the rising sun. On a chariot made of the bones of the dead he drove at
furious speed down the precipitous slope. When he turned a corner, we shot
at him, and he plunged down, struck dead.
What does the dream mean? How does it reflect the spirit of the time in which Jung lived? Who was Siegfried, and how did he radiate the spirit of Jung's age? Jung struggled to understand the dream; its meaning eluded him until finally it came to him.
... suddenly the meaning of the dream dawned on me. "Why that is the
problem, that is being played out in the world." Siegfried, I thought,
represents what the Germans want to achieve, heroically to impose their
will, have their own way. "Where there is a will there is a way!" I had
wanted to do the same. But now that was no longer possible. The dream
showed that the attitude embodied by Siegfried, the hero, no longer
suited me. Therefore, it had to be killed. 2
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 180)
There it is, the spirit of the time. We see how it invaded Jung's life as well as the German nation. Such a chilling experience in light of the disastrous wars that devastated Germany alerts us to the phenomenon of psychic possession that may threaten each of us. As we shall see, this was the threat approaching Ava who entered my life with the warning, for me as well as herself: "I feel I am living through a very difficult time. ... something is not right."