Saturday, November 7, 2009

The World Within: Faith, Hope, Love and Insight

"The four highest achievements of human effort [faith, hope, love and insight] are so many gifts of grace, which are neither to be taught nor learned, neither given nor taken, neither withheld nor earned, since they come through experience, which is something given, and therefore beyond the reach of human caprice."

Reading Carl Gustav Jung is like walking outside during the moments before a thunderstorm. The ground keeps shaking, there is rumbling in the air, a sense of expectancy fills the quiet before the intimation of a storm. His quotation above is from an essay entitled "Psychotherapy or Clergy." Among the questions addressed in the essay is the role of a loss of meaning in the malaise the characterizes modernity.

When I read the following, I see the outlines of a critique of what we have become: "But what will [a doctor] do when he sees only too clearly why his patient is ill: when he sees that it arises from his having no love, but only sexuality; no faith, because he is afraid to grope in the dark; no hope, because he is disillussioned by the world and by life; and no understanding, because he has failed to read the meaning of his own existence?"

Jung issues a challenge. Modern science has transformed the world. The materialist assumptions that undergird scientific success -- that events have material causes, that the world of sensation can be charted and known -- have their place, he acknowledges. But does giving them pride of place, setting these assumptions loose to devour all that we can conceive, does this make sense? Is not the psyche an independent source of experience, of vitality?

If mind is mere epiphenomenon of brain, then it is at least possible that we can derive a chemical alogrithm for each mood, each idea. Yet crossing the synapse from mind to matter is, literally, inconceivable. At best, we can associate a sense of lived reality with any given set of phyical phenomenon. These associations can be tested for statistical significance. Armed with the assumption that all that we experience is caused bya material substrate, we can reach every farther for a paradigm that shatters the now unbridgeable chasm between mind and body.

But what if this assumption is wrong? What if this assumption is, in its own way, as crazy and misplaced as the notion that all the world is simply the creation of mind? We reject naive idealism because it does not comport with common sense. But, in reality, does naive materialism comport with lived experience? Jung says no, and he is convincing. Why must we regard the ghost in the machine as an unwelcome guest?

I am struck in Jung's writing by a simple argument I cannot defeat. We acquire self-consciousness in the course of living. Yet we spend a significant portion of our life in a non-self-conscious state, either pre-conscious or, frankly, asleep. The reality of our unconscious experience is entitled to great weight in considering who we are and what we become. Is it not likely that given our membership in a species with common characteristics as both conscious and physical beings, that we also share common unconscious characteristics? Is not a complete view of the psyche, that force which expresses itself through us and gives our life shape, one which accounts for the role of the unconscious?

Earlier this year, I began psychoanalysis. I spend four hours a week considering what it is that becomes apparent to me in my waking state, reveries, fantasies and dreams. But for this experience of seeing how my very sense of self is less the creation of conscious will than something summoned from sources, depths, if you will, I cannot perceive, has opened me to consider that Jung may well be right, if not in the contours of the world he conceives, at least in the notion that the world is both far more and far less problematic than the conscious mind conceives.

Consider the issue of dreams. A reductionist approach to dreams regards them as mere symbolic representations of past experience. This seems closer to the view Freud espoused. But suppose one looked at dreams not simply as reductive renderings of the past to be decoded, but as in some sense evocative of an independent present reality? Suppose a dream is not simply a tug reaching backward, but an invitation to something new and as yet unseen? Suppose dreams are as much a part of us as are arms, legs, appetites and desires?

I'm not sold on the notion of the collective unconscious, at least not yet. But I am drawn to Jung in a way that I cannot quite fathom. I've recommended his Memories, Dreams and Reflections as a good introduction to the man and his work. Those wanting to take the next step might consider a slim volume of essays entitled, Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Jung invites consideration of a secret world accessible to all because we each carry it with ourselves. Somehow accepting this invitation has become an imperative.