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    Poverty and Abundance

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009, 5:50 PM [General]

    “Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21:1-4)


    Recently, my sister, Carla, wrote a post on her blog which was titled A Call to Action. It’s a wonderful meditation on the activity of love. She writes:

    “If your partner is ill, love is a call to action. Love wakes parents up in the middle of the night. It caused a man I know to risk tenure because his mom was sick half way across the country in Cleveland. It invited my friends to discover the bottomless depths of their generosity and compassion. Yes. Yes. Love is not so much a feeling as an alarm bell, a runner's gun, a reminder that we are only as good as the good we do for one another. 

    Love is not so much a feeling as a call to action.”

    Regular readers of this blog will know that my sister has ALS. Carla faces everyday with the knowledge that her time for action in this world is limited. She cannot use her legs or her hands. She has round-the-clock caretakers who wash her and feed her and get her dressed. And yet, through all this, she remains a woman of action.

    Carla is endlessly creative. She has turned her confrontation with death into a work of art. She writes a beautiful blog. She doesn’t just use a wheelchair, she transforms it. She has  decorated it, and the van in which she now travels, with colorful, funny, completely irreverent, and appropriately inappropriate images of her experiences.

    In recent weeks she has been putting together her latest brainchild—a pinup calendar featuring regular people with ALS in provocative poses to raise money and awareness for ALS. It’s going to be called the Always Looking Sexy Calendar, and even though she is confined to a wheelchair and tires easily, Carla has coordinated the activity of models and photographers, printers and publicists from different parts of the country to get this project completed for the holiday season. It is a daunting project for someone with full capacity and energy. Like many creative people, she’s a little crazy, but this allows her to throw herself into such a project and make it happen.

    Whenever I read the story of the widow’s gift from the Gospel of Luke quoted above, I think of my sister. Whatever she does, she gives it all she has and all she is. She lives what she writes – that love is a call to action. One of the things that she loves the most is life itself, and her creative activity is one of the ways that she cares for life.

    Last winter, after my wife had come home from the hospital following emergency surgery, Carla offered to come out to help take care of our family. She was already in a wheelchair and had very limited mobility. “I can’t do much,” she said, “but I’ll do whatever I can.” She didn’t have much she could do, or much she could give, “but she out of her poverty put in all she had.” She’s crazy like that.

    And isn’t that the point of the gospel story? The widow’s poverty—like my sister’s—is, in reality, abundance because it is full of love. The abundance of the rich, really poverty if it is devoid of love.

    I remember when I was a little boy getting into situations which seemed to me at the time scary or panic-worthy, like having soap in my eye that stung me, or getting my pants leg caught in my bike chain that I couldn’t get out so I was unable to get back home to safety. I remember in those situations crying and calling for help. Inevitably, it was Carla who would appear out of nowhere to see if I was okay. Rarely, did she get angry at me, but with simple caring and compassion she would rescue me and bring me back home.

    In stating that love is a call to action, Carla has touched on the thing that Karen Armstrong finds is the root of all the major religions, that is, compassion:

    The religions are forms of ethical alchemy, if you like. That you behave in a compassionate way and this changes you. Why? Because all the great masters of religion tell us that what keeps us from a knowledge of the divine, from — which has been called variously God, Nirvana, Brahman, the sacred — what keeps us from this ultimate reality is our own egotism, our greed, that often needs to destroy others in order to preserve its sense of self, or even just to denigrate others. What compassion does, it makes us dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there. And it's this that they all teach leads us into the presence of the divine.”

    Carla’s version is immediate and imperative:

    “If you knew you were going to die, who would you want to be with and how would you spend your time together? What are you waiting for? From my vantage point I can see that there is no time to delay -no time to deny the people we love of our time, our attention or our action.”

    Carla’s love is an active love. I have known it from the time I was a small boy. For this I am grateful. For this I am blessed.

    I love you, Carla.


    0 (0 Ratings)

    In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 8:53 PM [General]

    I listened to a really compelling interview on CBC’s Tapestry, a radio program which explores religion and meaning, much like Speaking of Faith in the U.S. The interview was with Gabor Mate, a doctor in Vancouver, B.C. (my old hometown) who works with drug addicted patients in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, a very rough and troubled part of the city.

    What was so refreshing about the interview was to hear a medical doctor discussing the spiritual void that is present in a lot of substance abuse. On the one hand, there is nothing new about this—AA and its offshoots have finding a “higher power” as a central part of their healing process. But to hear it coming from a medical doctor is unusual, especially in these days when an increasing number of psychiatrists and MDs are leaning more and more heavily on neurochemical explanations of psychological disorders and abandoning more psycho/social/spiritual approaches.

    Dr. Mate’s idea is simple enough – at the root of addiction is a “God shaped void,” a spiritual vacuum that one attempts to fill with drugs, alcohol, or sex. The effect of the drug-taking is to simulate a dissolving of the ego into a larger spiritual essence. Of course, it is not God, or Spirit, or the Transcendent, and it is only a fleeting moment and so it leaves a person in a state of constant yearning, and ultimately, disappointment and disillusionment. Mate’s metaphor is the Buddhist image of the realm of hungry ghosts. The beings in this realm of suffering “are constantly extremely hungry and thirsty, but they cannot satisfy these needs. These beings are drawn with narrow necks and large bellies. This represents the fact that their desires torment them, but they are completely unable to satisfy themselves.” (quoted from Wikipedia)

    I couldn’t find a transcript of the program or I’d include some quotes. One of the more fascinating moments in the interview is when Dr. Mate offers his definition of addiction, and then reveals his own addictive behavior around Classical Music CDs. Buying CDs is benign activity unless you spend thousands of dollars on it every month, hide your behavior from your wife and kids, and feel high levels of shame around your behavior.

    Gabor Mate struck me as thoughtful, insightful, and honest. The interview runs about an hour, and is worth a listen. It’s called Filling The God-Shaped Void.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    A Grace Deeper Than No

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 8:37 PM [General]

    “It’s whether you say yes or no to the serpent, to the adventure of being of alive.” ~ Joseph Campbell

    Last week I attended a beautiful Vespers service at my church. Dimmed lights, silent reflection, and quiet music set the mood for a meditation on the 23rd psalm. The minister took the image of the cup that runneth over as the focus of his talk. He read a quote from Martin Luther that I haven’t been able to track down, but it spoke of the grace that comes when we stop resisting the troubles and difficulties that are a part of life, when we stop saying ‘No’ to hardship. There is a Grace that is deeper than that No, says Luther, if only we are able to affirm all that happens to us, good or bad.

    In the quote, Luther describes his own experience of being “crushed in the spirit.” By enduring his anguish, by surviving it, but, more than this even, by saying Yes to it and affirming his suffering, he discovered that Grace awaits on the other side of such pain, and he knew the experience of the overflowing cup talked about in the psalm. Listening to this meditation, I was moved by the idea of a Grace deeper than No, which I take to mean that to resist a part of life is to resist the whole of life, and that pain and sorrow are not barriers to living, but are also bearers of life’s secret.

    When I was in theater school, we would take classes in improvisation. One of the cardinal rules of improvisation is that you can’t say No. That doesn’t mean that you can’t actually use the word no, but that you must avoid blocking the suggestions made to you by the other actors. So, if someone says, “Gee, your sex-change operation went really well,” you can’t say, “I didn’t get a sex-change operation!” You would have to go with the suggestion. In other words, you have to adapt. But it is about more than that. To say No is to cut off the creative possibilities of the moment. As Keith Johnstone, an improvisation teacher and the creator of Theatresports, once put it, “There are people who say Yes and there are people who say No. Those who say Yes are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say No are rewarded by the safety they attain.”

    Saying No, or blocking, is not just a problem in improv, it is a problem in life. In many ways, we have become people who are unwilling to suffer any kind of discomfort, let alone pain and suffering. Our collective mantra has become “I can’t deal with this,” or sometimes, “I don’t need this right now.” And yet we don’t always get the option to decide whether we will deal or not.

    There have been many times in the past two years when I have been confronted with the question of whether I could deal, whether I was willing to face pain and loss. After my wife, Allison’s, cancer treatment was done, and she began to look and feel healthy and whole again, I realized I was having trouble opening up to her and allowing myself the emotional intimacy that was always so easy and natural for us. I had come too close to losing her and I recognized that in opening up to her, I was recommitting myself to the possibility of experiencing that agony again.

    I have experienced something similar with my sister, Carla, since she was diagnosed with ALS. Beside the instinct to be near her and get every moment I can with her, there is a counter instinct in me to stay away. Pain in this situation is not just a possibility. It is a certainty. And something in me wants to run far away from it. With both Allison and Carla, there is a strong No in me that does not want to have to feel my grief. But, the thing is, the alternative is unacceptable, because it would mean not having the experience of loving and being loved by these two incredible people in my life. It would mean saying No to happiness and joy. I believe that there is a Grace deeper than No.

    In my work as a psychotherapist, and in my personal experience, it has become ever clearer to me that one of the most important qualities a human being can develop is the willingness to tolerate pain and suffering. I have found that a person who has a capacity for grief usually has an even greater capacity for joy.

    To deny pain and suffering is to deny life. It is to choose a less than human life. Because there is no life that will be free of difficulties, that will be spared the encounter with sorrow. To accept this is not to give in to despair. Quite the opposite. It is to develop an important strength, a strength born of an honest vulnerability. And this becomes a doorway to joy, because when we are faced with loss we remember that each moment is a gift. Life is a gift. Love is a gift.

    This is not just a nice idea. It is literally true. We do not and cannot will life and love into existence. They are given as part of the condition of existence and it is our task to learn to receive them. And this is the heart of the matter. To receive these gifts means that we agree one day to let them go, to give them back, to lose them. This is what it means to say Yes to the adventure of being alive. Yes is a small word, but its implications are immense. To accept love means to accept loss. To fully accept life means we must fully accept the fact of death. But the opposite is also true. If we accept loss, we will know love. If we allow death, we will truly be alive. It is only in saying Yes that we finally come into the fullness of our true being.

    Saying Yes takes courage. It takes courage, says Paul Tillich, simply to be. It can be a trial and a sacrifice, but the reward is great. Deeper than No is Grace. Passing through pain we discover joy.

    At Vespers, as the minister spoke, I knew that this was a service I needed to hear. I knew as I heard about the Grace beyond No, that I was blessed to know love that caused me pain, and to know pain that taught me also about joy. At the end of the service, the sanctuary was lit only by candlelight. Everyone lingered a while in that glow, in the still silence, before, one-by-one, we each got up to leave. I wandered out into the cold, dark New England night thinking about Allison, and Carla, God, my life. At that moment, I was the cup that runneth over. Everything seemed to be exactly in its place.

    If you had asked of me anything that night, I would have had only one answer: Yes, yes, yes.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Wrestling With Joy

    Sunday, October 25, 2009, 9:44 PM [General]

    A friend posted this quote on Facebook and I felt it added such a great new dimension to the topic of rewards that I had to pass it along:

    "If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us... We are far too easily pleased." ~ C.S. Lewis


    Religion in general, and Christianity in particular, are often imagined as populated by figures such as the prudish moralist or curmudgeonly ascetic who are concerned that somebody somewhere might be having a good time and are out to put a stop to it. But this remark of C.S. Lewis turns the whole thing on its head.

    It's not that we are creatures carried away by our desires. Rather, our desires are "weak." We are "half-hearted." We don't want enough! Is it possible that we talk about pursuing happiness, but are really seeking something less? We look for admiration. We want to be entertained. Many just want to be numb and not feel at all. For me it's comfort (which includes all of the above) for which I trade the possibility of joy.

    The poet, Rilke, knew that we asked for too little. He wrote:

    You see, I want a lot.
    Perhaps I want everything:
    the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
    and the shivering blaze of every step up.

    So many live on and want nothing

    In another poem he uses the image of fighting, but the message is the same. We set our goals too low:

    What we choose to fight is so tiny!
    What fights with us is so great!
    If only we would let ourselves be dominated
    as things do by some immense storm,
    we would become strong too, and not need names.

    When we win it's with small things,
    and the triumph itself makes us small.
    What is extraordinary and eternal
    does not want to be bent by us.

    I don't know why "we are too easily pleased." Rilke suggests that our perspective is too narrow. We want to reduce the "extraordinary and eternal" to a manageable, consumable size. But if the joy that is offered us is truly infinite, we need to take on some of the quality of that larger world. When we "let ourselves be dominated," we grow. Rilke goes on to say that being defeated by the eternal changes us at a fundamental level. We become ready to give up the ambitions of the ego and to accept the promises of the Spirit:

    Winning does not tempt that man.
    This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
    by constantly greater beings.

    Letting go of our "half-hearted" wants can sometimes feel like a defeat. But perhaps it is our little self that is being overcome to make way for a much larger life.

    I, for one, am ready to stop wrestling with infinite joy. It's time to cry "uncle!"

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Following After Rewards

    Saturday, October 17, 2009, 10:21 PM [General]

    “to the humble and faithful, to those with compunction and devotion, to those anointed ‘with the oil of gladness,’ to the lovers of divine wisdom who are enflamed with its desire, to those wanting to be free to magnify the Lord, to be in awe of him, and even to taste him.” ~ Bonaventure (from The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism)

    PsyBlog has an interesting article on how rewards can have a negative impact on motivation. The article points to research that shows that when people are engaged in an activity they like, their interest in continuing that activity will diminish as soon as they start to expect a reward for doing it. At first this seems counterintuitive. Surely, if you like doing something and you get a reward for it, that should increase motivation. Shouldn’t it?

    The problem is that when rewards are introduced, it doesn’t so much add motivation as shift it from one location to another. That is, an activity that used to be fueled by an intrinsic motivation—you just liked doing it—is now driven my extrinsic motivation—the external reward. In other words, pleasure becomes associated less with simply doing a particular activity, and becomes attached to the reward itself.

    The authors of the article suggest some other reasons to be wary of rewards:

    “Not only this but rewards are dangerous for another reason: because they remind us of obligations, of being made to do things we don't want to do. Children are given rewards for eating all their food, doing their homework or tidying their bedrooms. So rewards become associated with painful activities that we don't want to do. The same goes for grown-ups: money becomes associated with work and work can be dull, tedious and painful. So when we get paid for something we automatically assume that the task is dull, tedious and painful—even when it isn't.”

    Back in July when I entered into the Beliefnet blogging contest, I did so because I loved writing, and I loved exploring the ideas of God and of religion. It was a chance for me to engage in the “love of divine wisdom.” It was for me a form of prayer and devotion, a way to focus my thoughts and feelings about God, not to mention a chance to think about and share my enthusiasm for the works of people like Rilke, Rumi, Abraham Heschel, Carl Jung, Paul Tillich, and Alan Watts. A chance to dive into the scriptures of the Great Traditions and be enlivened and enriched.

    I was honored and excited to win the contest. It was truly a thrill. It is a great gift to be recognized for doing something that you love to do. It is a great need that we all have to be seen, to be given some kind of positive mirroring, to have the things we offer be received and welcomed. I will always be grateful that I had a moment of having those needs met through the writing of this blog.

    But rewards also have consequences.

    Somewhere along the way, my enthusiasm for writing was overshadowed by my concern for the aftermath of the contest. Where was the blog being promoted? For how long? The fact that it was being promoted at all created such a pressure to come up with new material that my inspiration all but dried up. Then the blog stopped being promoted and my desire to write all but vanished. A lot of this was exacerbated by some miscommunication with the Beliefnet staff, which, I’m embarrassed to admit, left me feeling hurt, abandoned, and a little resentful. (This has all been cleared up, by the way. The people that I have dealt with at Beliefnet have been very helpful, very professional, and very gracious. I’m aware that the feelings I experienced are in large part due to my own psychology, of which I’ll spare you the details.) In short, my thoughts and feelings about this blog became distorted and disconnected from the simple joy I experienced when I first started writing it.

    And that brings me to the quote from the mystic, Bonaventure, with which I prefaced this post. When I read this quote it reminded me of the things that initially inspired me to write. These posts are my acts of devotion, and this quote highlights all the qualities that I want to be present in my writing – humility, joy, desire, freedom, and awe. I want this blog to “magnify the Lord,” and, yes, I hope through my writing “even to taste him.”

    And so I rededicate myself to writing as an act of love, as an act of devotion, as an act of prayer, and as an act of play. I want to remember the intrinsic pleasure that I get from engaging in these extended meditations and allow that to be my motivation to create. Of course, I still like recognition and I still like rewards. But I believe the true “oil of gladness” with which we are anointed comes from within, and being connected to the world within, teaches Jung, gives a person dignity and certainty in this life.

    That said, I still want you to like it.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    The Making of the Red Book

    Monday, October 5, 2009, 4:36 PM [General]

    This video plays a little like a trailer for the Da Vinci Code, which is too bad, but it is an interesting look at the process that went into scanning Jung's Red Book:



    0 (0 Ratings)

    Valuing the Inner Life

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009, 9:26 PM [General]

    The New York Times magazine ran a cover piece this past weekend on the publication of C.G. Jung’s Red Book. It’s a fascinating read and well worth the time. There is also an interview with the author and a Jungian Analyst named David Oswald on NPR that tells a little bit more of the story. It also gets a mention over at the World of Psychology blog.

    The Red Book is a painstakingly detailed record that Jung made of his dreams and visions for a period of several years in his 30’s and 40’s.  It records what he called his “confrontation with the unconscious.” This period of Jung’s life has also been called his mid-life crisis, a “creative illness,” and a psychotic episode. It may very well be all of these things combined.

    One of the interesting undercurrents in the story of the Red Book is the anxiety that it is causing some in the Jungian community. Many Jungians are concerned that the contents of the book will not be properly understood, because they are so unusual and so different from what most people today consider to be the domain of psychology. It is feared that people will use the publication of the book to claim that Jung was really crazy and therefore his theories should be totally discounted.

    Personally, I think that there are people who are already prone to do that with or without the publication of the Red Book. The people who are disposed to appreciate Jung will continue to do so. At the time that I am writing this, The Red Book is #9 on Amazon’s bestseller list and it hasn’t even been released yet. There are so many people who are moved, helped, consoled, and excited by Jung’s theories – Jung has always appealed to creative artists, to religious and spiritual people, as well as to that subset of psychotherapists called Jungians.

    Right now the Jungian world, as small as it is, is abuzz with the imminent publication of this book. One of the questions that the author of the article asks is What about people who aren’t Jungians:

    Is there something in the Red Book for us? “Absolutely, there is a human story here,” Shamdasani [the book’s  translator] said. “The basic message he’s sending is ‘Value your inner life.’”

    In our world of consumer values and materialistic strivings, that is a good message to recall. 

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The Thing You Fight The Most

    Saturday, September 19, 2009, 1:32 PM [General]

    “The Holy One directed his steps to that blessed Bodhitree beneath whose shade he was to accomplish his search. As he walked, the earth shook and a brilliant light transfigured the world. When he sat down the heavens resounded with joy and all living beings were filled with good cheer. Mara alone, lord of the five desires, bringer of death and enemy of truth, was grieved and rejoiced not. … Mara uttered fear-inspiring threats and raised a whirlwind so that the skies were darkened and the ocean roared and trembled. …

    The three daughters of Mara tempted the Bodhisattva, but he paid no attention to them, and when Mara saw that he could kindle no desire in the heart of the victorious samana, he ordered all the evil spirits at his command to attack him and overawe the great muni. But the Blessed One watched them as one would watch the harmless games of children.”

    ~ from Buddha, The Gospel by Paul Carus

    Jungians love parallels. We love myths and stories that seem to have strong parallels in the stories of a different, or several different, traditions. When there are clear similarities between different stories, we think, “Here is something true.” For Jungians, such a parallel is a validation of the psychological truth of a story. This way of thinking is similar (though, not identical) to the search for replication in the scientific method. The results of a scientific experiment are considered valid if they can be replicated in further experiments. In the study of myths and stories, when distinct traditions show a strong correspondence of image and theme, it suggests that these stories describe an important universal truth about the human experience.

    It’s not that individual differences between religious and mythological traditions and the stories they tell are not important. Far from it. It’s just that when there is a striking similarity between stories, it’s a signal to pay attention, a signal that says here is a truth about human experience that has such an intensity to it that very different peoples of very different backgrounds and beliefs have felt it necessary to make a record of it. As Jungians we think, “Wow. Human beings all seem to tell stories of a god or gods (for instance). God is clearly a central concern of human existence.”

    The story quoted above is an account of the moment of the Buddha’s enlightenment and his subsequent temptation by Mara, “lord of the five desires.” There is a parallel to this Buddhist story in the Christian tradition. Jesus, having just been baptized by John, having just seen the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove, and having just heard the voice of God declaring, “This is my beloved Son,” is driven by the spirit out into the wilderness where he is subjected to a series of temptations by Satan.

    In both of these stories there is an event in which the transcendent or divine order breaks through into the ordinary realm. “A brilliant light transfigured the world” or “the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended.” Both stories tell that the divine realm responds approvingly. In the Buddhist tale we read, “the heavens resounded with joy.” In the Christian tale, God himself declares that he is “well pleased.” And in both of these stories, this transformative and transcendent event is followed by a kind of negative movement. The devil—Mara or Satan—tries to undo what has just happened.

    These stories describe the defining, transcendent moments in the lives of Buddha and Jesus, but they also present an image, albeit on a cosmic scale, of both the gifts and the perils of the spiritual path. It is hard to imagine that these accounts with their heaven-rending imagery could have anything to do with the lives of ordinary human beings. Let’s face it, very few of us will ever attain the status of a World Redeemer. Ordinary, everyday enlightenment is tough enough and will probably elude most of us on this go around. Jesus and Buddha both seem to brush off the devil without much effort, but if even these transcendent figures must face temptation, how much more will this be the case for those of us struggling on The Way.

    Years ago, I was the supervisor of an after-school daycare program. Anyone who has spent any time with large groups of children knows how hard it is to maintain order and, even more, to maintain one’s cool. I would often get disturbed at how often I would lose my temper and act in ways that continue to embarrass me almost twenty years later. Many times I would promise myself that today I would be “totally zen.” I was not going to let little things bother me and I would remain calm and collected. Without fail, it was on those days that the kids would be particularly bad—screaming, hitting, fighting. It was as if they knew I was trying to stay cool and decided to put me to the test. It was a test I rarely passed. Usually, before the day was out, I’d be shouting, too, yelling crazy things like, “If you don’t pick up that Lego you’ll never be allowed to play with any of the toys ever again!”

    Today, I am very conscious that there is, too often, a discrepancy between who I imagine I am during times of prayer and meditation and who I am at other times. The phone rings, but I refuse to answer it because I don’t want anyone disturbing the “spiritual” state that I have just achieved in my meditation. Or, I am sitting in prayer, asking to be a force of love in the world and my daughter calls me, demanding a drink of milk, and I growl at her, “I’ll be there in a minute!” Hardly the voice of love. Or, I will be tempted away from meditation and prayer altogether by the TV, the internet, or some compelling new app on my so-called smartphone, eventually crawling into bed with a vague feeling of emptiness and disappointment. These things are relatively minor, it’s true, and there are other, more serious things I do that I am not proud of, but I’ll spare you a lengthy confession.

    Alan Watts once said that a person must be very careful about making New Year’s resolutions because the devil would be sure to find out about it and put a stop to it. It seems that our best impulses are always in danger of being cancelled out by our worst impulses. The early Desert Fathers of Christianity used the image of a war with one's own heart. Some schools of Buddhism have pictured a whole universe of demons that must be overcome on the spiritual path.

    In Jungian psychology, it has been observed that the first “layer” of the psyche that must be worked through is usually the personal unconscious, that aspect of the psyche that Jung termed “the shadow.” The shadow includes all those aspects of someone’s personality that are not compatible with the image that they have of themselves. For those whose interests tend toward the spiritual, this is often some form of aggression or anger that does not fit in with the conscious idea a person might have of being a peaceful or loving person. Jung once famously said that enlightenment is not achieved by imagining figures of light, but of making the darkness conscious.

    And maybe this is the important point in the stories of the temptations of Buddha and Jesus. They tell us that temptation is a constant presence on the path to enlightenment and the greater the light we may attain, the greater the shadow will be. Even the great World Redeemers are not free from temptation. If we do not stay conscious of our darkness, we may never experience our light. How many times must we see a “family values” advocate, like Mark Sanford, admit to an extra-marital affair, or a corruption crusader, like Eliot Spitzer, become corrupted, before it becomes clear that the things we fight against in others might best be addressed in the privacy of our own hearts?

    “You always become the thing you fight the most,” says Jung.

    It’s not that I believe that we should all feel ashamed about our human failings, but simply that we should admit and accept that we have them. I believe it is important to try to be good, but dangerous to believe too much in our own goodness. Acceptance of our own darkness makes us more compassionate to the darkness in others. And in my own life, I know that when I let go of my airy self-righteousness and get back down to the solid ground of compassion, I feel I am getting closer to the light.

    I figure it was not for nothing that when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he made sure that they included the phrase, “lead us not into temptation.”

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The Path Your Soul Longs After

    Sunday, September 13, 2009, 10:52 PM [General]

    It is no easy matter to live a life that is modeled on Christ’s, but it is unspeakably harder to live one’s own life as truly as Christ lived his. ~ C. G. Jung

    Today I resumed my training at the Jung Institute after a year’s absence.  It is good to be back in that environment, amongst a community of people that share a similar interest in and a concern for the human psyche. It’s good to remember why it is that I value Jung’s work and ideas so much.

    As it affects this blog, my return to the Institute means two things: 1) My posts are likely to take on a more Jungian tone, at least for the next eight weeks or so while the semester is in session. 2) I will not have the kind of time during the next two months to devote to writing as I have in the past two months. I fully intend to keep posting, but my posts will probably be a little shorter, a little more raw, a little less crafted than I am used to making them. In speaking and in writing, I tend to be someone who thinks and re-thinks (and, all-too-often, over-thinks) before I express myself, so putting something together more quickly will be a challenge, but one that will perhaps help me develop a different set of writing muscles, so to speak.

    One of the things that I love about Jung is how seriously he takes religion and the religious impulse in human beings. For Jung, the religious instinct is of central importance because it both provides a portrait of our collective psychic past—how human beings through time imagined their deepest concerns—as well as providing a kind of map for our present-day individual and collective development. For Jung, it isn’t enough to know how human beings related to God in the past, or to just repeat the rituals or beliefs of time gone by. What is of crucial importance is how each individual confronts the task of living and comes into their own individual relationship with the depths of being—what religion might call God.

    As the quote above states, Jung’s idea of the imitation of Christ is not just to live as Jesus lived and to do the things Jesus did. Jung would not wear a WWJD bracelet. As he sees it, the true imitation of Christ is “to live one’s own life as truly as Christ lived his.” In other words, to live one’s own authentic life. This is not a prescription for rampant individualism, but for individuation, which in religious language could be stated as relating to the divine source of one’s being with integrity.

    There is a story from the early Christian Desert Fathers that speaks to this idea somewhat:

    One of the monks asked the great teacher Abba Nistero: “What should I do for the best in life?” And the Abba answered: “All works are not equal. The scripture says that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him; it says that Elias loved quiet, and God was with him; it says that David was humble, and God was with him. So, whatever path you find your soul longs after in the quest for God, do that, and always watch over your heart’s integrity.”

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    Thought For The Day

    Thursday, September 10, 2009, 9:33 PM [General]

    I haven't had time in the past few days to sit down to write. Until things settle down a little and I can set aside some time to write a longer post, I thought I'd put up an occasional "thought of the day." 

    This is from Paul Tillich's Dynamics of Faith, which I am reading right now and which I find an exciting read:

    "Literalism deprives God of his ultimacy and, religiously speaking, of his majesty. It draws him down to the level of that which is not ultimate, the finite and conditional. In the last analysis it is not rational criticism of a myth which is decisive but the inner religious criticism. Faith, if it takes its symbols literally, becomes idolatrous! It calls something ultimate which is less than ultimate. Faith, conscious of the symbolic character of its symbols, gives God the honor which is due him."

    This aligns with my thinking.  But, what do others think? How do you respond to this thought? 

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