Archetypes, Religion, & Society

Archetypal patterns and symbols seem to underly what we collectively refer to as religion. However, as religions have progressed though history, there has been a pressure to replace innate symbolism with dogma and tradition. As this happens, we begin to lose the divine aspects of the symbols that have touched and shaped human life from the beginning. We sever the religion from the forces that actually gave it life. Carl Jung notes this phenomena in The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, “I am convinced that the growing impoverishment of symbols has a meaning. It is a development that has an inner consistency. Everything that we have not thought about, and that therefore has been deprived of a meaningful connection with with our developing consciousness, has got lost.

When things are lost they leave a vacuum, or void. Jung continues, “What is worse, the vacuum gets filled with absurd political and social ideas, which one and all are distinguished by their spiritual bleakness.” I presume this void left by our symbolic impoverishment still contains that fervor once seen in pursuits of the divine. Now, that intensity sits behind social and political values. This leads to increasing displays of tribalism, assuredness in one’s personal views, and ingraining of the self versus other duality. I would argue these problems sit at the foundation of today’s society, yearning for reconciliation. Now there is certainly something sovereign about the individual, and this must be protected with the utmost urgency. But is there not some way we can preserve the sovereignty of the individual, while also helping people realize we are here for others and in fact, that it is only an illusion demarcating the boundary between self and other.

This spiritual bleakness has tremendous implications. We have made immense gains in the realms of intellect and technology. We have gazed upon the vast extremities of our galaxy and the equally expansive microcosms of our own cells. Through harnessing the power of the atom we have equipped ourselves with the god like ability of utter destruction. And are we not embarking on divine creation itself through the advances of CRISPR/Cas9 and other gene editing technologies? This is certainly no alarm or cause for panic, as pushing our boundaries and abilities has always been a part of our story. However this bounding advancement in intellect and technology has significantly outstripped the advancement of wisdom and the spirit. The real danger does not lie in the technology itself, but the lopsided nature of the relationship between spirit and matter.

Jung states that we must go through descent before the ascent. We must reach to the depths, and search out the very places we least want to go. “In the Gnostic hymn to the soul, the son is sent forth by his parents to seek the pearl that fell from the King’s crown. It lies at the bottom of a deep well, guarded by a dragon.” The individual each has their own dragon, and their own pearl. We all have unique offerings to share with the world. This adventure occurs both within and without. Here, the individual will certainly encounter their shadow, that living part of the personality that is forced outside of consciousness. This then becomes the first challenge to the hero, for the shadow represents all his “helplessness and ineffectuality.” With honest and real confrontation, one is able to shape his consciousness, resulting in compensatory reactions from the collective unconscious.

You are now more inclined to give heed to a helpful idea or intuition, or to notice thoughts which had not been allowed to voice themselves before…or will reflect on certain inner and outer occurrences that take place just at this time. If you have an attitude of this kind, the the helpful powers slumbering in the deeper strata of man’s nature can come awake and intervene, for helplessness and weakness are the eternal experience and eternal problem of mankind.” – Carl Jung, The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious

Even when we have done all we know to do, there is room for improvement in that infinite realm of what we don’t know. This honest confrontation with the shadow, the meeting of oneself, is the passageway to non-dual experience of life. The way to unification of the opposites, and the quest to elevate beyond the self. To experience this moment, as one with all, holding space for another.

All the quotes in this article are from C.G. Jung’s The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (all in the first chapter even). An incredible work that I get more out of each time I come back to. I plan on exploring more of the book in this format. Going forward, I will certainly get into specific archetypes and a broader understanding of the collective unconscious.

Best explorations

-Ryan

6; 4/8/2020

Writing Your Story

*This was written 2/3/2020, the day I received word I was not accepted into medical school.

I tried to prepare myself. I knew it was a coin flip at the end of the day. But there is always some small part of you that doesn’t acknowledge the possible reality of failure. You can be the most rational, objective, even robotic person out there, but this part of you still exists. You may know the odds to perfection, but that part of you will still feel blindsided. This is the part that is crushed when the letter is read and the verdict is passed. The alternate futures you were holding in your mind instantly reduce to the one reality that is. That’s when emotions and feelings start to secure more of your consciousness. That’s when all the questions you never wanted to think about slowly trickle into your awareness.

I was officially rejected from medical school today. It was a long, tired process that was not improved by the preceding months of waiting and radio silence. I told myself the waiting was the worst part. The feeling of dangling in the air and not knowing where you would be in the future. I told myself it would simply be a relief to know. To know whether the upcoming fall I would be beginning to act out my goal of becoming a doctor, or if I would need to buckle down for another year of applications and waiting. Either way, it would be better than the waiting. 

I was wrong. The rejection and objective failure were worse. The wave of emotion that immediately hit after scanning the email (because obviously with such important news you don’t actually read the email, you just quickly search for the words that give you your answer) was worse. It revealed that I did not match into a school and that I would be placed on a waiting list. And yes, it is beautifully ironic that after months of waiting I can now officially start waiting on a formal list of some sort. 
I’ve have been very interested in the idea of narrative. The idea that we live through stories, and that we indeed act out our own story. This, mixed with some sense of spirituality, stoicism, and a curious desire to understand what we do and why we do things, led me to what may be the most profound realization of my life: We cannot control what happens to us, the objective realities of our lives, but we get to write our story. We get to connect the dots of our past in any way we see fit. This becomes our guide to the future, and the thing we always take with us.

It’s the same realization as the other banalities everyone has heard before. “Everything happens for a reason.” “It’s all part of a bigger plan.” While it is clear to me these statements symbolize the same idea as my self narrative representation, I cannot ignore the dismissive and slightly repulsive feeling in my gut when someone tells me “everything happens for a reason.” Such is life, and now I understand what everyone actually means. There is wisdom hardwired into everything around us, but we simply can’t access it until is is metaphorically spoon fed to us. And even that may require multiple attempts. 

So now I am at the point were I get to start connecting the dots. I get to create the ‘why I did not get into medical school’ and decide what that means for me going forward. The key insight is that you can do this in any number of ways. And as long as you are honest, there is no one story that is more credible than another. However, all stories are not created equal and all stories are not equally useful. Some stories don’t help us get to where we want to go. Some stories lead us down paths that take us deeper and deeper into our very own personal hells. Cherish your story.

Maybe this can shed some perspective on anyone struggling with rejection or failure in their life. If you enjoyed the above post, maybe this would also peak your interest. I will continue to put together my story and invite you to share yours.

Best explorations

-Ryan

5; 4/4/2020

*As of 4/8/2020 I was accepted into medical school off of the waitlist. I was lucky to be forced to deal with the failure first.

Why Myth?

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One method of exploration I would like to try here is presentation of a quote and a reflection. This of course is just my narrow interpretation of some idea, but perhaps it can be inspiring enough to provoke thought or incite further investigation.

“The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly releases to whatever may come to pass in him.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

If you are unfamiliar with The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I have to start by recommending the book. It would not qualify as an easy read, but I think most would have no trouble understanding the bulk of the ideas presented. In this work, Joseph Campbell presents the archetypal myth through its many different constellations. He highlights the seemingly unmistakable similarities found in stories originating from all stretches of civilization. The ubiquity of the over-arching principles leads one to the possibility of autochthonous generation of a story common to all human kind. As if the need to tell this story is somehow programmed in our DNA. I would lean towards the idea that these commonalities are found in a psychological realm, the collective unconscious, but either way, the story seems attached to our existence. In fact, I would say it is the story of our existence.

A beautiful aspect of our nature is the ability to attribute mental states to things around us, known as a theory of mind. This is the phenomena that allows us to be captivated with movies, books, and generally any social situation. It is the risk-free version of living different lives. This is the ability to infer another person’s emotions, drives, and potential actions, simply based on some limited set of information. Mind you, this all is taking place in some sort of psychological space. No physical interaction with matter is required. We are allowed to set up and run infinitely varied simulations of reality from the comfort of our own psyche.

What if the archetypal myth is the through line of beneficial psychological simulation? What if understanding this story allows us to become more suited for survival? What if this story instills in us the very adaptability that has given Homo sapiens such an advantage up to this point? If true, it is clear there would be a survival benefit to these ideas, and those species who where unable to develop such stories would be at a sizable disadvantage. I would like to bring your attention back to the fact that we see some version of this myth arise repeatedly throughout the world, and in many circumstances with no connection to previous incarnations of the story. The story seems to force its way out of us, coming into existence colored with the particular culture and time of its emergence.

When we read a book, watch a movie or series, what are we actually doing? Do we not suspend disbelief and place ourselves at the center of the situation being portrayed? The camera crew we know to be behind the shot never touches our consciousness, and we simply immerse ourselves in the situation being constructed. Does true art not make us feel as if we are actually there, in the moment? This sounds a lot like what Joseph Campbell said in his quote at the top of the page. Those moments when we are there, in the scene, we give up “all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears,” in order to take a different perspective. And when we take another perspective, we get a glimpse into another world. A different set of feelings, fears, drives, skills, and shortcomings. A brief exposure to something beyond ourselves.

The last sentence of the quote certainly summons my bias for stoic philosophy. It is very much the idea of Amor fati, literally “love of fate.” Some may dismiss Amor fati as a quality of the easily manipulated pushover. And it there is no logical flaw with that interpretation. However, that view is too myopic and fails to take into account the strength that can be found in this belief. There is power in the idea that things happen for you and not to you. You are forced to construct a future with whatever circumstances are thrown your way, and there is no regard to the distribution of equality of those circumstances. Your circumstances are what make your hero myth unique, and no one will ever be able to claim your individual story.

There are certainly more directions to go with this one. I will undoubtedly expand on the supreme importance of moving beyond our sense of self (more perspectives!) and the idea of Amor fati. Part of this experiment is to direct my mind on an idea without forcing any particular conclusion. When I picked this quote, this was not the direction I thought I would follow. So here is to exploring different lines of thought, building creativity, and following the intuitions.

Best explorations,

-Ryan

3; 4/4/2020