In my previous post, I discussed the limitations of the conscious mind, the deeper wisdom system residing in objective psyche, and the relevance of these ideas in both our personal lives and in the global community. In this follow-up piece, I will reflect on the abuses which occur when we unconsciously attribute a personal, subjective meaning to archetypally-derived issues.
Humanity has often sanctioned ruthless, evil and destructive actions by claiming allegiance to a myriad of forces. Fidelity to religious beliefs and political ideologies is frequently used to justify these behaviors, believing them to be the will of a higher power. Such is the way of human delusion, and the power of our personal and collective susceptibility to these darker forces of the unconscious. In my thirty years of clinical practice, I have witnessed the terrible damage adherence to “sacred truths” has wrought in the world, and I hope this essay stimulates a conversation about this important topic.
Realizing the limitations of a personal, ego-centered viewpoint, humanity has always sought to heed the voice of the transcendent. Called God, Jesus, Allah, the Self, or the search for “the greater good”, we attempt to align our behaviors with this higher virtue, and to make decisions reflecting its values. Much that is just and compassionate in our world flows from this source, yet we must admit that much of the violence and abuse perpetrated throughout history also has resulted from this same field of influence. Rooted in the transcendent, religions become a ready screen for the projection of all that is both good and bad in our hearts, minds and souls.
Our sacred texts and bible tales reflect humanity’s attempts to transmit the wisdom of these eternal archetypal truths. However, our personal fallibilities serve to limit our perspective, and lead to a misunderstanding of the true meaning of these timeless stories. For example, in the Old Testament we are told that Abraham believed God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Did Abraham ever consider the ramifications of exiling his first-born son Ishmael into the desert? This abandonment, or killing-off of his first-born son, was repeated in the slaying of Isaac. Was it God or Sarah who demanded the banishment of Ishmael, and was it God or Abraham himself who acceded to these wishes? Was Abraham able to look at himself and clearly see the truth of his actions? Freud once said that we repeat what we do not want to remember, and perhaps this is what we find in the binding of Isaac.
In the name of God, deeming ourselves to be righteous believers, we have engaged in untold horrific acts and unspeakable atrocities. Holy wars are waged killing countless individuals, destroying families and nations. Thousands of women worldwide are stoned to death each year as punishment for adulterous behavior. In the privacy of the consulting room I have seen far too many lives shattered by obedience to religious edicts forbidding divorce, abortion or intermarriage. I have seen the fires of loving relationships extinguished because of irreconcilable religious beliefs. Can a just and caring God ever claim the dissolution of such love as his victory? Not only in the religious arena, but also in psychotherapy, the wisdom of the deep unconscious has been lost in the mire of the subjective. Believing ourselves to be advocates for the Self, we advise and act from the viewpoint of a faulty and limited ego.
Any way out of this cycle of abuse, this misattribution of the personal and subjective onto the eternal wisdom of our spiritual traditions, requires an ability to clearly listen to the mandates of the Self. We must approach this work as free of conjecture, speculation, and bias as possible. Like ethologists, we must seek to understand the objective natural patterns that drive the human condition.
Dreams, sacred texts, and global initiatives each have an intrinsic meaning that is not open to speculation or interpretation. Instead we must learn to translate their messages in order to pave the way to a truly spiritual approach to life. Stories convey eternal truths by presenting universal motifs that resonate in our collective psyche, and each story contains its own valuable nuggets. Like miners searching for hidden treasure, we need to learn the work of refining these raw materials. A story reveals its gold when its symbolic meaning is recognized. While most of us are aware of the limitations of a fundamentalist belief system, we can now understand that it is this neglect of the symbolic – which occurs each and every time we linger in the literal – that causes harm. The symbolic allows for the meaning of a story to be revealed, for its message to become part of our psyche. Very little change or transformation can occur without a deep regard for and an ability to translate the profound wisdom residing in our repository of spiritual, psychological and archetypal truths.
We need to turn away from literal interpretations, from dogged obedience to belief and doctrine, from careless approaches to working with images. Like ancient Biblical and Talmudic scholars, those of us interested in the ways of psyche need to learn the discipline of working with the sacred representations presented in our dreams and in the expressions of psyche in our daily lives. This commitment requires more of us than we may have ever realized, and may bring far greater meaning to our lives than we have ever imagined. Recognizing both the riches and abuses that may result from this work, we must adopt a new attitude. Like new parents, we need to embrace the precious opportunity offered to us, knowing that like tending to a newborn, tremendous care, attention and love is required of us, not for the moment – but for a lifetime.
Elie Wiesel’s assertion that the development of the rational mind gave rise to our capacity to rationalize anything is evidenced in even a cursory survey of Western history. How many heinous acts have been committed in the name of God, country or clan? Many of humanity’s most horrific atrocities have been justified by proclaiming them to be “God’s work”. Abraham was convinced that God, rather than his own unconscious guilt for banishing his first-born son Ishmael to the desert, demanded the sacrifice of Isaac. Religious warriors, from the Crusaders to contemporary jihadists, have believed in the righteousness of their cause and the eternal rewards awaiting them for their so-called sacrifices. The Holocaust and other genocides have been deemed necessary, in the minds of their perpetrators, to “purify” society. These “rational” decisions are actually the result of archetypal possessions, and demonstrate the susceptibility of the conscious mind to these unconscious forces. With the gullibility of children, we are seduced by the compelling power of these archetypal influences, and march goose-step toward yet another unimaginable horror.
Throughout history, great spiritual teachers, philosophers, artists and clinicians have known that the most profound wisdom emerges from the Self, and resides within the deeper levels of the psyche. Psychoanalyst Robert Langs once commented that he had reached a new understanding of good and evil. In this schema, the devil represents the workings of the conscious mind – deceiving, misleading, colluding, and obliterating truth, while God corresponds to the deep unconscious, the bedrock of wisdom and knowledge. Both are living realities within the human psyche, and it is our task to navigate through this Scylla and Charybdis of insight and duplicity, as we continue our journey through life.
I am not seeking to make the conscious mind the proverbial “fall guy” for all the wrongs and injustices in the world, but when our behaviors are determined solely through a personally-constructed frame of reference, we not only access a miniscule part of the available knowledge field, but also open the door for unconscious complexes to influence our decisions. Complexes are quanta of energy organized around a particular theme* – e.g. mother/father complex, inferiority/superiority complex, etc. – that work by eclipsing the individual ego. When these complexes are activated, thoughtful discerning behavior is replaced by blind adherence to the dictates of the complex itself, further contributing to human misery and strife.
We now stand at a grand precipice where the consequences of faulty decisions are potentially more devastating than at any other time in human history, and we need to be vigilant in distinguishing the voices of the angels from those of the demons. Ancient rulers consulted their councils of elders on major issues affecting their sovereignties. Today a profound wisdom is available to us as a real and vital element within the psyche, and we must learn its language and heed its messages. Can we really afford not to listen?
In today’s audio blog, I address these issues – the limitations of the conscious mind, the deeper wisdom system of the unconscious, and the relevance of these ideas in both our personal lives and in the global community.
*I would like to acknowledge the late Dr. Yoram Kaufmann for this definition of the complex.
The Archetypal Search for the Treasure Hard to Attain
Enter Hell’s Kitchen, the reality television series featuring Chef Gordon Ramsay and a group of contestants vying to win the grand prize of a prestigious head chef position. In each episode, we find these young disciples enduring public humiliation in front of millions of television viewers. For those unfamiliar with the program, we generally find Chef Ramsay shouting obscenities, throwing objects around the kitchen, and abusively berating the young chefs for their ignorance and incompetence. His behavior resembles that of an out of control, power-hungry leader seeking to break the will of his young initiates, who will do anything to please the keeper of the key to their golden dreams.
As I watched a recent episode, I found myself enraged at this maniacal man for his cruelty, and at us, the viewing public, for finding his behavior entertaining. Our enjoyment of this program only serves to increase its ratings, which in turn reinforces this model of behavior. I also was shocked at how easily the contestants acceded to his demands, and suffered his insults and verbal abuse. But precedents abound throughout history! I began to think of other more severe circumstances where despotic rulers, believing their actions were justified by a higher god or authority, tyrannized their submissive subjects.
Upon reflection, I realized that I was yet again witnessing the power of an archetype to entrain individuals into enacting a much larger and well-orchestrated eternal drama. Personal behaviors were subsumed into an archetypal context, which eclipsed individual discernment, even temporarily extinguishing the necessary instinctual reactions that should have been activated under such conditions. It is fascinating to note that these aspiring chefs may have believed that they were consciously submitting to these conditions to better their chance for achieving their dream. However, a much deeper and profound psychic process was engaged, propelled not by the conscious mind but choreographed by what Dr. Yoram Kaufmann often referred to as the antique soul, calling them to respond to an archetypal imperative — that of the “Treasure Hard to Attain”.
This drama of apprentice and master is essentially a transpersonal one, and demanded the total obedience of each and every player in this Hell’s Kitchen drama. Even the “great” Chef Ramsay was acting out of a possession, driven by an archetypal reality. When an archetype is constellated, human discernment is eclipsed by its needs. In this example, the archetypal mandates of the apprentice were so powerful that the individuals were no longer able to discern what was and was not appropriate treatment at the hands of their “teacher”. However, here we also find a serious skewing of the archetype — Chef Ramsay was not their teacher, but merely the one dangling the carrot in front of them. Unconsciously, they complied with his demands in order to get closer to grabbing the golden ring.
I have had the good fortune to be mentored by two brilliant and exacting teachers. Both held me to a very high standard, but were never cruel or belittling. Why did Chef Ramsay behave in such a violent and abusive way? We can gain some perspective by examining the research findings of Dr. Philip Zimbardo*, a psychologist at Stanford University, whose book, The Lucifer Effect, recounts the story of the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this classic study from the 1970’s, Zimbardo randomly divided college students into groups of “prisoners” and “prison guards” in a simulated prison. Originally intended to last two weeks, the experiment was terminated after six days, due to the brutality of the guards. What caused these students to behave with such abusive cruelty? Zimbardo postulates that context, place, or situation – what I would call an archetypal field — is often the single most powerful determinant of both personal and collective behavior. I am reminded of Dr. Ervin Laszlo’s comment that field precedes form, and the workings of these fields not only determine the shape of events, but also the particular behaviors and tendencies occurring within the constellated field.
My son Christopher told me of a television program he recently watched featuring Chef Ramsay and his family on vacation with Jeremy Clarkson, a well-known television personality and automotive expert. In this episode, Chef Ramsay prepared dinner for the group, and his demeanor was pleasant and friendly – no hostile outbursts. Perhaps it’s because Jeremy Clarkson is about a foot taller than Ramsay or, more truthfully, Ramsay may not be such a bad guy in his private life. It may also be true, as Zimbardo and I have stated, that fields structure phenomena, and all the players in Hell’s Kitchen were unconsciously ensnared in this specific drama.
By understanding and articulating the nature of the constellated field, we can work with it to bring something potentially transformative to fruition. On the other hand, as we see in Hell’s Kitchen, unconscious entrainment to an archetype results in the eclipsing of individual will and discernment. Much of our personal and collective lives are lived under the sway of these powerful archetypal influences. What occurred in Hell’s Kitchen also takes place on a global level, and what may appear to be thoughtful economic policies, diplomatic initiatives or other governmental actions are really the workings of these same archetypal complexes.
We still have much to learn from these types of situations, and if we do our work, perhaps we can stem the tide of blind obedience to these living psychic realities. We need to develop the ability to better understand the meaning and nature of these archetypal processes. Such is the work of Archetypal Pattern Analysis.
In all honesty, I must admit that I am just waiting for that day when Chef Ramsay has to work with a group of Italian-American chefs from Brooklyn !!!!!!
* I would like to thank my friend and colleague, Superior Court Judge Rufus Yent, for introducing me to Zimbardo’s study, and pointing out its parallels to my work on archetypal field theory.
The Archetypal Search for the Treasure Hard to Attain
Throughout history, young artisans learned their craft working side by side with a master teacher. This time-honored tradition typically began with the apprentice assigned to less than inspiring activities such as playing scales on the piano, sweeping the floor, cutting vegetables, or preparing the canvas. While these tasks were often tiring, mundane, and boring, the apprentice understood that finding the “Treasure Hard to Attain” – realizing one’s true destiny or vocation – required a period of arduous training.
The “Treasure Hard to Attain” is a familiar mythological and archetypal motif found in folklore and legend throughout the ages and across cultures. In these tales, the hero or heroine is faced with a series of challenges and must overcome great adversity on his or her quest to find the treasure – the treasure of knowing what the soul wants in life. The search for the Holy Grail is perhaps the most familiar rendition of this story, which as we have seen by the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, continues to captivate the individual and collective psyche.
Once the apprentice demonstrated his or her ability to literally learn from the ground up, he or she was allowed to enter the sacred world of the grand artist. Advancing to the next stage of training, he or she began to learn the intricacies of crafting fine wooden instruments, designing beautiful textiles, or bringing out the subtle flavors in a sauce. Looking back through history, we discover that virtually every great painter, musician, teacher, chef, and psychoanalyst has spent many years under the tutelage of an elder mentor.
In today’s fast paced world we have all but forgotten the true value of mentorship. Not only have we tended to lose sight of the destiny factor, but also we have settled for living far too small of a life. Our regard for the wisdom of the elders has diminished, and so too has our appreciation of the effort it takes to reach beyond our limited ego desires. Seeking immediate gratification, amassing material possessions, achieving fame and fortune, and reaching the top often supplant psyche’s goal for living a meaningful life.
Sidetracked by the lure of these ephemeral aspirations, we ignore psyche’s insistent voice seeking to guide us on the journey that humanity has traversed since the beginning of time. Yet despite our refusal to hear its message, psyche continues to show us by way of dreams, outer world situations, and physical sensations what we must do to become a truly talented master chef, writer, painter, stockbroker, or musician. This eternal archetypal knowledge is always available to us, and psyche’s voice will not be muted by popular trends and current social whims. Its needs remain primary, and if repressed, dismissed, or overlooked, will find expression in unexpected situations, times, and places.
In my next post, we will explore how these ideas play out in contemporary culture by looking at the reality television show, Hell’s Kitchen.
Toward the end of his life, Jung was interviewed by John Freeman in the BBC film, Face to Face. Jung discussed his life, work, thoughts about God and religion, and his relationship with Freud. At one point, Freeman asked if Freud had ever discussed his own dreams with Jung, and Jung replied that yes, such conversations were part of their relationship. Freeman then asked if Jung would analyze one of Freud’s dreams. Jung refused, stating that it would be inappropriate to reveal such information. He believed that details about one’s private life should not be made public, even after death. Jung was quite firm and strong in his decision to maintain Freud’s privacy and integrity.
Now with the release of Jung’s Red Book, we find that many of his own intensely personal thoughts, fantasies and private inner processes have been made public. Now I am sure that the people involved in this project have many reasons for releasing this material, but a few important questions need to be asked. Is this publication in keeping with Jung’s deep regard for the privacy of one’s inner world? What is the objective psyche’s reaction to publishing this book? What is the real significance of making this material public? Is there really much of value that the Jungian community can gain from glimpsing this side of Jung’s unconscious life? Will it truly deepen our understanding of the psyche? I am sure the goals of this project are admirable, but the editors may have neglected to consider its unconscious implications.
It was interesting to read, in the New York Times Magazine article, about the dreams constellated around this book. The writer of the piece cites her own dream, of attending to a barbecue where an elephant’s head is on the grill. This is a profound dream, and reveals as much about the dreamer’s psyche as it does about the unconscious meaning of this publishing project. While a barbecue can be an enjoyable experience, a fun social event, I have never heard of an elephant being offered in such a manner. Elephants are symbolic of great wisdom, as we see in the Indian god Ganesha. So looking at this dream, one is compelled to ask, “What is it that is being sacrificed?” Something that is sacred, something that in reality is far too large, too grand, and too special to be put on a grill. We then have to wonder what kind of grill (that is, what kind of psychological structure) would ever be large enough to contain something as enormous as an elephant’s head? I don’t believe that such a structure exists. Viewed from this vantage point, the dream may be capturing the psyche’s understanding that something which should NOT BE SACRIFICED has been slaughtered, and offered to the masses. At this point in time, we collectively have not developed a psychological structure that can adequately manage a process as powerful and dynamic as witnessing the workings of Jung’s inner life.
Another way to approach this subject is to ask how we would feel if after our death, our most private thoughts, fantasies, inclinations and behaviors were made public? How would this affect our families, our loved ones, and our spirit, which may continue to live on in some domain? The private world is just that – private, and these areas need to be respectfully left alone. With these thoughts, I would like to begin a dialogue around this issue, in light of our work reading archetypal patterns and learning to discern the meaning of the psyche on a deeper level.
Einstein once said that it is not that our answers are necessarily wrong, but that our questions are not big enough. It was this spirit of discovery and inquiry, coupled with an intimation of a grand world existing outside of our ordinary awareness, that has paved the way for others to ask big questions about what is happening in the universe.
The presence of unseen forces often generates movement in both the inner and outer world. In the domains of psychology, organizational dynamics, politics, and education, we search for effective responses to these important shifts by drawing on what is within our perceptual field. We reflect, consider, react, create laws and reforms, and yet the persistence of the world’s intractable struggles (e.g. war, hatred, failed peace efforts, addictions, abuse, etc.) shows that our attempts to address these issues are unsuccessful and insufficient.
Shifts within both the individual and collective domain express movement within the psyche. Approaching these shifts from the perspective of archetypal dynamics shapes a different form of inquiry to such events. Our questions change, and we begin to ask, “What is the meaning of this event? From what archetypal constellation is this movement occurring?”
C.G. Jung first brought this archetypal perspective to our understanding of the individual personality, and later to the movement of psyche in the world. “As above, so below” goes the ancient alchemical adage, and so too in the dynamics of the individual and collective psyche. Both are governed by the Self, and even the world’s greatest tragedies such as the Holocaust and other genocides can be understood as a collective possession by an archetype. In these examples we see the archetype taking hold of the individual and society, holding them captive within ITS orbit, making them enact ITS mandates, and serving to eclipse individual functioning.
On the global stage, most political leaders and policy makers tend to rely on their own conscious perspectives to understand and respond to groundswells that are generated from a domain that is essentially archetypal. However, there are a few individuals who understand the power of the collective unconscious as the true source of these dynamics. François Mitterrand, former President of France, was one of those world leaders who understood something essential about what drives the mobilization of forces – in this instance war – in a collective setting. In Memoir in Two Voices, co-authored with Elie Wiesel, Mitterrand explains that from the onset of war “…civilization had evaporated and lawlessness took over. …War lays waste to every social structure and unleashes a whole range of primal urges.” (Pg. 112).
Our understanding of individual and collective dynamics points to the futility of examining global issues and developing social policy from the perspective of an ego-driven psychology. In contrast, Jung’s perspectives on the Self and the objective psyche, combined with discoveries from the new sciences, lead to greater discernment of the archetypal roots of these issues and the creation of interventions based on the specific meaning of these psychic movements. In this blog, I will be addressing global and personal concerns from this archetypal perspective. I hope that you will find my reflections interesting and relevant to your lives, and I look forward to your responses.