Tension of the Times

One of the hallmarks of Carl Jung’s work is his conceptualization of the shadow. Roughly speaking, the shadow consists of instincts, aspects, qualities, and the like that are unrecognized or repressed in oneself. Jung did not believe that the shadow was only comprised of bad things but also included good parts and positive potentialities (Sharp, 1991).

However, Jung believed that ignoring the shadow had dangerous consequences since he believed this simply contributed to the person continuing to operate through life in an unconscious manner, driven by forces unknown to the individual. Therefore, Jung earnestly believed that the task (or process) of assimilating one’s shadow is an essential one that each individual has a responsibility to undertake for the development of one’s personality.

Another central feature of Jung’s work is not solely focusing on the individual but instead demonstrating the interconnectedness between the inner and outer worlds, the individual and the collective. This lens allows us to observe the ways our interactions with the outside world affect the state of our inner world. This can be reversed to observe the way our inner world is affected by the happenings of the outer world. It is the latter of these two vantage points that offer an entry into what is called Shadow Work, which is the conscious process of becoming aware of parts of oneself that had previously been hidden or repressed and working to find a way of coming to terms with these parts that are viewed by the conscious mind as being in someway unacceptable.

Below is a quote from Joseph R. Lee, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Certified Jungian Analyst, sharing his thoughts on a recent episode (#217) of the podcast This Jungian Life:

We are in a stunning time in the western world. Where powerful cultural mechanisms have been set in motion which support us in disavowing enormous aspects of our own nature and allowing us to weaponize our own denial, so that we will find targets of people, institutions, religions, any numbers of things, where we will lay parts of our own unacceptable nature and then participate with great fervor in the destruction of the thing we’ve landed our shadow on and the motivation to annihilate the thing that I have pushed my shadow into has reached a shocking, shocking level in our culture.

Jung offers us an antidote for that, but it cannot be forced on anyone; the only way out of the place we are in our culture is to see that the enemy is us, and if we have any hope for transforming this muddy painful mess that we’ve all created in our culture it’s in the redemption, and the purifying fire that is set in motion when we reclaim our accusations and transform them into statements that declare what I do not want to know about myself (Lee, Marchiano, & Stewart, 2022, 44:46-46:47).

This excerpt addresses the rampant and intensifying reliance on and usage of projection to sidestep our dire need for inner work, both as individuals and as a collective society. It is through our perpetual avoidance, assisted by the mechanisms of denial, projection, and the like, that the societal we have been able to maintain this unyielding holding pattern between the polarizing forces vying for societal control.

Nevertheless, the underlying tension between these opposing forces has not been stagnant; rather, it is growing in intensity with the amassing of each piece of reality suppressed, denied, distorted, or in any other way blocked from the path of integration. The path that is not sought after—at least collectively—is nonetheless the path necessary for wielding the enormity of the tension between the opposites present in our time. Nevertheless, the responsibility lies on each of us to learn to navigate this path, if not for the purpose of growth as an individual, then, at least, as a citizen indebted to some degree or another to each other.

References

Lee, J. A, Marchiano, L., & Stewart, D. (Hosts). (2022, June 10). Death: A Jungian perspective [Audio podcast episode]. This Jungian Life. https://thisjungianlife.com/episode-217-death

Sharp, D. (1991). C. G. Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms and Concepts (Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts) (First Edition). Inner City Books.

Holding Pattern of the Tension of Opposites [Digital Image]. Self-created (2022). https://nightcafe.studio/

Decisions of Motion

Why is it that whenever something comes to an end we tend to, or inevitably succumb to the urge, reflect back upon how it all began?

There is a part of me that wants to refuse the tug of the past and instead continue steadfastly moving forward, with my gaze fixed upon the potentialities held within the unknown mystery of the future. Thus, I’m also pulled forward by my anticipation of what lies hidden and awaits being actualized, while simultaneously being tugged on by the past’s allure to be reflected upon and mined for gems of wisdom and treasures of meaning. The result is a state of tension and disequilibrium; my inner world stirs with the restlessness of indecisiveness of where to place my focus – which direction should I place my attention and, subsequently, galvanize my energetic resource to pursue.

Life is held in this dialectical tension, if by nothing else, by the law of entropy, which is solely responsible for the arrow of time. Consequently, we fill our time with busyness working tirelessly against disorder while also hoping to arrange our lives in some order that we find a sense of safety or security in – at the very least, a sense of familiarity. We crave normalcy and, to some degree, we cling to the delusional notion that someday our lives will be suspended in some abstract fixed state of continual satisfaction; we desire a state of being where all of our needs are met, so we conjure goals from our hopes, dreams, and role models to develop some plan of action for setting out on this quest.

However, the undertaking is tricky for two main reasons: first, future goals have a way of branching off into additional goals and/or dividing themselves into numerous subgoals that serve to continually postpone our attainment of the initial goal we set as our target; second, even when we have attained a particular goal, inevitability dissatisfaction and tension finds us once more, and we are left feeling as if we’ve drifted back to the shore from which we’d initially set sail. The cycle repeats once more.  

Many people convince themselves of their eventual conquer of this journey and spend their lives committed to this belief, even until their last day. Others, also convince themselves of thoughts more comforting than the truth and pretend that all their needs are already met, so there is no need for them to strive.

It is challenging to confront these distorted beliefs held within ourselves because to do so requires some degree of both acceptance and humility. Both of which are praised as virtues, when viewed from a distance, such as abstractly, but seldom do we genuinely wish to adopt and embody these virtues in the experiential realm. Rather, we decide that an intellectual appreciation of these virtues will suffice and, once more,  dodge the actual challenge presented to us by life.  

We spend most of our lives trying to avoid the realities of life by either convincing ourselves or allowing ourselves to be convinced by others’ fictions about life. This cognitive maneuvering allows us to sidestep the discomfort experienced when life’s challenges are indeed acknowledged as an obstacle. We prefer to become like Sisyphus destined to exert effort toward a task that never ceases in the rest of completeness but provides the illusion of progress by conflating motion with progress. Unlike Sisyphus who the repetition of his task to be his punishment, we harness our creative powers of meaning-making and allow our imaginations to construct grand narratives of how our work and task-pursuit are in fact of the utmost significance.  

There is real meaning to be found in the tasks we choose to undertake in our lives. However, issues tend to arise when we choose to deny the reality that we will never arrive at the fixed permanent state of satisfaction, which we so crave.

This issue resides within ourselves. We lack the sufficient self-knowledge necessary for us to properly identify what tasks, goals, and pursuits provide us with the meaning, purpose, and satisfaction we seek.

Consequently,  if we haven’t allowed ourselves to succumb to the illusion of pursuing tasks like Sisyphus, then we may find ourselves aimlessly wandering from place to place searching for others to tell us about where we should look within to discover answers to what propels our internal restlessness. This movement of outsourcing may even be taken so far as to alter how we perceive our inner world as to align ourselves more fully with the direction we’ve allowed others to corral towards. 

Yet, this too is fruitless and leads to feeling stifled or as if one were an imposter. Nevertheless, many choose this path because it supplies more comfort and security than embracing the alternative; that is, the recognition of what an incredibly challenging, ambiguous, and arduous task it is to become an individual.

A word of caution feels warranted here because of our proclivity to gravitate toward extremes. To be an individual is to understand, appreciate, and embrace the inherent uniqueness of oneself and others; it does not necessarily entail that one must become solely an individual concerned only for oneself and own self-interests.

This is an example of how often we take a particular point about a specific matter and then run ahead with it, applying it to a whole host of other ideas. Quickly, and often subtly, the result of this type of hasty generalization is a product that has lost its connection to, or hardly even resembles, the initial point from which it was derived. Consequently, this too leads back to another method of deceiving ourselves.

How significant must this force be that we try everything within our powers to wriggle our way out of having an encounter with it by means of avoidance, suppression, denial, and the list could continue ad infinium. Nevertheless, despite any of our attempts, like Sisyphus, we are not capable of such a maneuver, as to sidestep or bypass this force that imposes upon us, since, to succeed in such an endeavor would be to contradict our essential quality of being. For what confronts us is the task of becoming something with the being that is inherent to our existence. 

While the temptation to delegate the contemplation of the topic of being to the domain of the philosopher is an enticing way to, once again, duck our responsibility, we are nonetheless incapable of escaping the task placed upon us by life itself to discover what it is that we are, both as an individual and within the context of society.  

We know that we are something; we know that we exist and can quickly provide a list of identifiers to prove our existence within a societal context; that is, by utilizing the tool of language to articulate the ways by which we identify, or distinguish, ourselves from that of others. However, does this articulation of an inventory of individual identifiers truly resolve the task placed upon us by life? Is there not more to our existence and to who we uniquely are than merely that which can be articulated in a manner as to communicate it to others?

However, since these aspects to which I refer are definitionally ineffable, their existence becomes easy to merely dismiss as sophistry and continue navigating through life operating purely from what can be explicitly stated or objectively shown. Moreover, science and empiricism offer further validation that it is only the manifest, the quantifiable and the qualitative, that our existence is justified. Consequently, that which is unable to be spoken nor seen must then not actually exist. Yet, how much of our life is undermined and/or dismissed if our sole criterion for evaluating existence requires some sort of external or externalizable proof before being eligible to be deemed as being something “real”?

Societal Observations

I have spent too much time observing human behavior, especially on social media platforms, and here are my takeaways at this moment in time:

That resisting medicine is heroism, but so too is embracing it; that freedom of religion means deciding how others should practice theirs; that the goal of a vocation is to someday not have one; that one’s freedom of speech is to defend one’s right to avoid thinking.

That righteousness is determined by the admiration of others; that education is to avoid the uncomfortableness of inconvenient truths; that entitlement is the issue, unless you’re the beneficiary.

That to be a patriot is to be unreflective to the point of resisting change; and that to be woke is to be engrossed with change to the point of being outraged by the shortcomings of others—both in the name of freedom. This is what I have seen, and I laughed.

This was inspired by the observations of Soren Kierkegaard during his time:

“When I was young, I forgot how to laugh in the cave of Trophonius; when I was older, I opened my eyes and beheld reality, at which I began to laugh, and since then, I have not stopped laughing. I saw that the meaning of life was to secure a livelihood, and that its goal was to attain a high position; that love’s rich dream was marriage with an heiress; that friendship’s blessing was help in financial difficulties; that wisdom was what the majority assumed it to be; that enthusiasm consisted in making a speech; that it was courage to risk the loss of ten dollars; that kindness consisted in saying, “You are welcome,” at the dinner table; that piety consisted in going to communion once a year. This I saw, and I laughed.”

Meaning in Repetition

The only way to determine significance is to view the contents within their context. We live an embodied cognition, meaning we are intertwined, psychic and physical experiential states enmeshed. To separate the two, for study or any meaningful inquiry, requires a degree of acknowledging at the onset that error will occur and, indeed, already has merely due to limitations of the observer and the infinitesimally small uncrossable separation between me and it. This and that. Object and subject.

We always have a personal and collective aspect of our life; we cannot separate one from the other even if we have convinced ourselves of the lie that we have successfully performed this task. No. You may never escape that which you don’t know; because how would you even know what it was that you were escaping? The most blind individual is the one who only understands themselves as an individual and never as an object in context.

To maintain such a psychic position requires a strong degree of hubris willpower. It is effortful and painful to push against the currents of life—yet, that is by no means a declaration that we are not allowed to try! In fact, many of us, myself included, have spent significant portions of our life striving against ourselves. Like an auto-immune disease attacking its own body, we utilize our mind to attack the very roots that hold us up.

Then, when we imagine ourselves to have succeeded in such an absurd task, we reverse course in a dramatic fashion, worrying about our isolation and complaining about our separateness. Given enough time, this mindset begins to take hold as the default position. It extends a step further, lamenting the initial act of severing one’s own roots—then, another step, vilifying the agent that could carry out such a horrendous action against our body—the body wherein our personal, individual mind resides.

And, with the small steps of each movement, the fact that we were the initial cause and agent that cut us from our roots slips into the unconscious, where the forgotten and repressed mingle and plot their schemes for returning to the light of our conscious mind.

When looked up from the depths of this dark, bottomless abyss, the stream of consciousness appears as an illuminated flow crossing across the mind of the liver. And so the process repeats: unconscious content vie for life in the spotlight of the stage of consciousness, and we go about operating from this place of awareness, left once more with the choice of acknowledging the existence that there exists far more within ourselves persistently knocking at consciousness’ door, or relying on more effortful and convoluted measures to attempt in vain to seal this unknown door.