But, as I said, the stress we experience is not just a response to our outer world. Rather, if we are honest with ourselves, in our quieter moments when we dare to engage in deep reflection, we sense a foreboding within the inner chambers of our soul. Of course, the intensity of this foreboding, the consciousness of it, varies from person to person. If at all! I say this because here at home our economic situation is relatively stable. We have money to support our habits and distractions.
But still there is something rumbling in our psyches. We might refer to it as a quiet anxiety, but for this moment I am focusing on the frantic pursuit of happiness, which is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “deep pleasure in, or contentment with one’s circumstances.” And The New York Times (September 29, 2019) included an article by Laura M. Holson titled “Are We Living in a Post-Happiness World?” That could very well have described the question rumbling around in my head as I was pondering what seems to me to be a pervasive absence of happiness, which Ms. Holson also must be pondering if we are to place credence in her provocative question “If joy is everywhere, why does happiness feel so elusive?” What she means by joy being “everywhere” is what I see as the frantic pursuit of happiness.” In other words, the references to “joy” drive the marketing engine in our media, portraying the idyllic life which each of us reaches for and is led to believe we really can experience joy with another gadget, toy, and/or special happening.
Meanwhile, however, we appear to be becoming angrier and angrier, more and more aggressive, less and less confident the future of our children will be as “happy” as our past life was, and more and more confused about where, how, and when to discharge our malcontent.
So what do I say to the unhappy, joy-seeking individuals who come to my consulting room with darker and darker dreams? But, of course, to begin, it is not my business as a psychoanalyst to see my business as that of passing out “joy-pills.” Rather, it is my business to listen carefully to the anger, bewilderment, and puzzling images in their dreams.
It is also my business to attend to my own life, as I also live in the same “joy-seeking” culture of my analysands. And in that regard, it is my business to remind myself of the “truth” of our existence as far as I have been able to discern it.
And there have been “markers” along the way, markers that point to a depth dimension in life where, I believe, happiness may be discovered. For example, in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, one of the characters, a fox, shares a special secret with the little prince. It is this: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
But it is here where the “mind” gets involved. Of exactly what are we “mind-ful” of what the heart has “seen?” What does it mean to us? For we know very well the possibility of which Takuan Soho reminded us in his book, The Unfettered Mind, a title which I borrowed to insert in the title of this blog. Soho, a Buddhist priest and sword master, born in 1573, in the village of Izushi, a village long since lost in the early history of Japan. Soho says this in his book, “If you follow the present-day world, you will turn your back on the Way; if you would not turn your back on the Way, do not follow the world.”
But to follow the Way may prove to be tricky, as is one’s understanding of what the heart “sees.” Why? Soho would say it is because of the nature of the mind itself, and here he quotes from a song of his Buddhist heritage:
It is the very mind itself
that leads the mind astray;
Of the mind,
Do not be heartless.
Here, then, we see our predicament when we think we are living with an “unfettered mind” and a “pure heart.” How deceptive our perceptions may be! How irrational our rationalizations may prove to be! And how self-serving may be our feigned attempts to make our way in the world, negotiating our way through the general complexities of life itself and the chaotic delusions of our present age in particular!
In other words, our awareness arises from the heart, the “seat of one’s inmost thoughts and secret feelings” (Oxford Dictionary). Then, when the awareness of what rises from the heart comes to our attention, the mind gets busy because it forms a “person’s opinion, judgment, and/or view” (Oxford Dictionary) of what has risen. But can we trust what the heart has “seen,” and the mind’s “judgment?” After all, this is the point where differences and conflicts develop between persons, groups, and even nations. Clearly, we do not always agree on what the heart sees and/or the mind judges to be true.
What is happening here? How can we look at the same thing but “see” differently and become “mindful” of conflicting conclusions? This dilemma greatly concerned Carl Jung. If civilization is to survive, he believed, we must try to understand what goes on in the heart and the mind.
So what did he conclude? Simply put, Jung conducted psychopathological laboratory experiments, observed closely the behavior of people, and intently examined dreams of individuals from cultures around the world. From this life-long work, Jung defined the human psyche as having two dimensions, two processes at work – the conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious is the source from which the conscious arises. Jung says it is ... “the source of the instinctual forces of the psyche and the forms or categories that regulate them, namely the archetypes.” (Collected Works, Vol. 8, para. 342)
Our consciousness allows us to reflect upon our heart and mind, and what goes on within them. But then there is the unconscious which we cannot see except from hindsight – after the fact. We may become aware that something is going on in the way we are thinking, feeling, and sensing in our bodies, but we can become fully aware only later when there is a reflection upon the meaning of what we have experienced.
This is the task, the challenge, and the value of becoming conscious. But it appears that in the history and evaluation of our species as human beings, we are a long way from becoming conscious, as well as a long way from even understanding the interplay of consciousness and unconsciousness. This absence of understanding threatens our survival as a species precisely because our means of destruction have far exceeded our capacity for survival, along with the importance of understanding how the greatest conflict in the world today is not between persons, or groups, or nations – but between the forces and powers of consciousness and unconsciousness.