from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

spirit, soul and the pairs of opposites

'The heart asks for both clarity and paradox, aches equally for freedom and for joining, being part of and apart.' Roselle Angwin, in Bardo (Shearsman 2011)


One of the great insights in Jungian psychology is the idea that each constellation of energy, or archetype/figure in the human psyche, is accompanied by its opposite. To the extent that we identify with the one and repress the other, the latter will gain a kind of dark power which, one way or another, will eventually ooze, or explode, out. 
According to Jungian thought, we live in a state of creative tension between the two. To evolve, we have to make, at least to some extent, both poles conscious – and therefore less polarised. These pairs of opposites need to be integrated in us for optimum health; by which I mean recognised and acknowledged – which is not the same thing as 'acted out'. (The more usual way is to project on others – whether an individual, a race, a culture or a species – and see 'out there' what we are not aware of, or can't accept, 'in here', as I've spoken of before in relation to the Shadow and projection.) 

This integration is one way of looking at Blake's 'Marriage of Heaven and Hell'.

When this doesn't happen, a whole era can be hijacked, let alone the individual psyche. The more closely the individual or organisation is identified with needing to be seen as virtuous, the more likely that the unacknowledged corrupt aspect will be visited on another or others: so we get the witch hunts and inquisitions of the Middle Ages, so we get Hitler's persecution of the Jews, we get the dark shadow of paedophilia in the Catholic Church, we get the idea, during the Cold War, that the Russians are the 'baddies', or currently Islam, etc etc. (And given that there were no WMDs in Iraq, what were we seeing in Hussein, for instance? There are many world leaders who are guilty of human rights' abuses; why – other than for oil – choose him? Why portray him as the baddie, convince ourselves that we are pure, motivated by the Higher Good, completely innocent of ulterior motives? - You will realise I am using the word 'we' advisedly – that war was 'not in my name', as the peace campaigners' slogan had it.)

So in the psyche the pairs of opposites are eternally conjoined. In myth and fairytale we have the puer, the innocent or foolish young man, accompanied by the senex, the wise elder. We have the Loathly Lady, whose counterpart is the beautiful young damsel. We have the warty frog, who has within the prince. At some time in the journey, the puer needs to visit and listen to the senex, the prince needs to kiss the Loathly Lady, the princess the frog. Accepting and making conscious this darker or less apparently attractive part of ourselves is actually what liberates the inner truer and enduring beauty.

We subscribe all the time to the viewpoint of polarised opposites. Look at eg our 'madonna/whore' axis – more prominent than we'd like to think in our apparently liberated culture. Or the way we seem to need to believe ourselves to be either 'unworthy' or else completely virtuous, above reproach; whereas of course we are all both. Or we could say that someone focusing strongly, even exclusively, on the importance of the 'scientific' objective rational mind may well have sorely neglected the less ordered needs for creative, imaginal, relational feeling-based living; and of course there is an opposite to that too. And collectively in the Western world look at the dichotomy that has become institutionalised in the polarisation of eg Dawkins' atheistic scientific worldview and that of the faith-based Christian community. (I could say, too, a great deal about the schisms created with the Cartesian worldview and its dualistic dominance in the Enlightenment, but that's a whole other year of blogs...)

I've found it very useful to explore the hidden shadow of the archetypes with which I identify. For instance, in focusing on that aspect of me, fairly well developed, that is to do with self-determination, freedom, wildness, not being 'tamed', I tend to neglect the part of me that also needs outer 'marriage', with its containments (and this has nothing to do with whether one is in relationship or not, and everything to do with how one is in relationship). In acting as an extravert, 'out there' and doing, I have (until the last few years) neglected the very strong introvert in me that needs a great deal of silence, solitude, seclusion; and now I can neglect it no longer (sometimes an illness draws attention to the imbalances).

I have been having a conversation with a friend about the twin pulls of the human heart: towards detachment and flight as well as towards attachment and intimacy. It seems that we need to allow both to fertilise our lives and our relationships. We need both the ascension of spirit and the descension of soul. (And I think too about how our formalised world religions tend towards either the detached impersonal 'spirit-based' approach, or the deeply-engaged feeling-based 'soul' approach, each slightly sneery of the other – which it also badly needs.)

In my first book, Riding the Dragon, I speak of all this, and of how the transformational journey, mapped out in myth by Joseph Campbell as the 'Hero's Journey' and on which, in the book, I build my own picture of an integrated life, requires that any individual man or woman needs to make both parts of the journey: the journey of individuation and transcendence away from the collective that we might describe as the 'spirit' aspect, and then the return to the needs of the 'soul', the unifying, relational, personally-involved realm, from a less driven, less egocentric and more conscious place. This individual offers the greatest gift, then, to the collective: a perspective motivated by wisdom and compassion that is both engaged and non-attached. In myth, this is the return as King, or Queen. How different would our world look if governed by such people?

(And – because the workshop facilitator in me will always out – on this extra day today, 29th February, how would it be to take an hour out and look at our own journey towards king- or queenship in our lives?)

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