In the summer of 1977, I would not have recognized the name of Carl Jung even though the major event of my life back then was premised to a significant extent on the work of one of his disciples, scholar of world mythology Joseph Campbell. I’m talking about that great space opera, Star Wars, which, over the course of six weeks, I would see no less than eleven times.
Many years later, when I told my now ex-wife Laura about this—emphasizing how I saw the movie eleven times—she (who had seen it no less than 43 times) muttered, “amateur.”
Each time I saw Star Wars made me want more. Each time I witnessed Luke Skywalker stepping deeper and deeper onto the hero pathway, I felt something within me triggered, some recognition that I was on a hero pathway too. The something within felt timeless, meaningful, powerful–quite the opposite of my actual age of ten years. In this respect, Star Wars was like a Bible to me. It was revealing a great, sacred Mystery to me.
Of course, being ten years old, I didn’t possess the maturity I would have needed to articulate all this when, one day, Dad walked into our house’s garage and saw me mimicking my favorite movie scene. It’s that scene where Luke Skywalker is practicing with his lightsaber, face completely covered by a specialized helmet, defending himself against the laser blasts of a randomly floating, metallic ball-like robot, while Obi Wan Kenobi is coaching him, saying, “Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him. Stretch out with your feelings.”
That’s exactly what I was trying to do as well, except I was blindfolded, my brother was throwing foam hockey pucks at me, and I was whipping my hockey stick this way and that to defend myself. I was stretching out with my feelings, just like Obi Wan Kenobi said. But when Dad walked in and saw me swinging my hockey stick/light saber around and I was so very close to breaking a window, he shut it down, cried out, “What the HELL do you think you’re doing???”
Perhaps if I had been mature enough, articulate enough, and well-versed enough in Carl Jung’s thought, I would have replied, “But Dad, Star Wars has activated the Hero archetype in me, and I’m just trying to become more conscious of its characteristic energy so as to facilitate my individuation!” I might have even quoted Jung directly, saying, “Dad, just listen to what Carl Jung says: ‘Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.’ That’s what Jung says, Dad! I’m just trying to look inside my heart and awaken!”
Clearly, this didn’t happen. What did happen was shame and confusion crashing down upon me. I was shocked back to the earth Dad was standing on, which was the flat earth of an ego-consciousness that had been conditioned to be (as the rock group Supertramp puts it) “sensible, logical, responsible, practical; dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical; acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable.” Such a conscious attitude makes it very hard to be in right relationship with the dynamic unconscious. Such a conscious attitude can only be a source of endless misery.
What the heck was I doing? I simply couldn’t say, and therefore I stopped, and that’s how it happens. That’s how we lose contact with our deeper wisdom. That’s where the troubles begin.
Years later, by the time that I had myself developed a kind of flat-earth consciousness of my own, I happened to come across Carl Jung’s spiritual autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections. And in it, I discovered a story that resonated with my Star Wars epiphany. It happened when Jung was ten years old also. It was a time when he was feeling extremely unhappy at school, feeling alienated from his school-mates, feeling at odds with himself. Spontaneously, from his depths, he found himself moved to take his wooden ruler and carve a little human figure about two inches long onto one end. He gave this figure a coat, a top hat, and shiny black boots. He sawed this part off and nestled it into a little bed he’d installed inside his pencil case. Nice and snug. He added to this nest a small smooth stone from the nearby Rhine river, which he had painted to look as though it were divided into an upper and lower half. Ten year old Jung intuitively felt that this stone was his stone, the little man’s stone. It was all a great secret. Jung then secretly took the case “to the forbidden attic at the top of [his] house (forbidden because the floorboards were worm-eaten and rotten) and hid it with great satisfaction on one of the beams under the roof—for no one must ever see it!” In those days, when difficulties would arise, whenever he was feeling bad, his thoughts would go to that carefully-bedded small man, with his coat, top hat, and shiny black boots, and painted stone. It brought such comfort to him, such stability.
In his memoirs, Jung says that he did all this without any self-consciousness whatsoever. No one burst in on the scene (like my Dad did with me) to demand that he explain himself. He also says that he soon forgot about ever doing this. There was a point where the carefully-bedded small man, nestled in his pencil case, was simply left behind, forgotten. Until twenty-five years later, when he was doing research for his book Psychology of the Unconscious, and through this research he encountered accounts of “soul stones” found in ancient ruins near Arlesheim, Germany, which looked exactly like his stone: painted so that they were divided it into an upper half and a lower half. “Soul stones” like this had also been found half a world away, among the aboriginal tribes in Australia. As for the small man he carved, Jung’s research led him to findings from ancient Greece, where people would carve images of the God Telesphorus–the God who helped people recover from injury, whose characteristic look involved a coat and a hat and boots. Just like Jung’s own carven little man.
The realization hit him like a ton of bricks. Spontaneously, his ten year old self had accessed the same deep currents of instinct that ancient people had themselves accessed. This is when, for the first time, Jung developed the idea that, at bottom, far below ego consciousness, and below personal memories that have become unconscious, there is something deeper, a Larger Life, not personal but collective, ancient wisdom, millions of years in the making, upon which we build our lives here and now. This must have been the source he was tapping into as a child of ten, when he did what he did….
This insight had been building and building in Jung for a while, though, in conflict with his mentor and colleague, the famous Sigmund Freud. In 1907 they would both be sailing to America, to a university where, through a series of lectures, they would shine as stars of a new movement in psychology called psychoanalysis. At the time, Freud considered Jung to be his intellectual heir and successor, the one to whom he would eventually hand over his life’s work. Yet even then, on the boat to America, Jung found himself balking at certain things, especially Freud’s theory that the unconscious is nothing but a build up of all things repressed by consciousness–denied as inappropriate, decried as immoral, demonized as shameful. Really, it’s like a secular version of Christianity’s concept of Original Sin. “Yes,” Jung recalls Freud saying, “so it is, and that is just a curse of fate against which [humans] are powerless to contend.”
But Jung would never agree with such pessimism about what drives the human spirit, or keeps it in bondage. For Jung, the focus is not original sin, but original blessing. As he has said,“In every adult there lurks a child—an eternal child, something that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention, and education.” Life, Jung believed, has a spiritual purpose that can’t be reduced to something morbid, and it is deeper than repressed drives, it is deeper than the judgmentalism which drives social conditioning. It is an eternal child—carrying the wisdom of the ages—which is fundamentally healthy, and it will take us to healing and wholeness if we learn how to follow Obi Wan Kenobi’s advice and “stretch out with our feelings” to listen.
By the time Jung published his book Psychology of the Unconscious, the split between him and Freud was irreversible. From 1912 on, he would have to blaze his own new way.
And this is what he did. One of his major contributions was to name the reality of the deeper wisdom within all of us: archetypes of the collective unconscious.
By now you probably have the impression–which is correct–that the collective unconscious is ancient. But what are these archetype thingies which it is supposed to hold? Above all, it serves as a refutation to the idea that people are born as “blank slates,” without innate wisdom. An archetype is a pattern recognition dynamic hardwired into the mind that, when triggered, releases a full-blown sequence of behavior. It’s very much like what people who have raised ducks or geese probably know full well. They know that if you happen to be seen as the first moving object by newborn chicks, they will start following you around as if you’re their mother. It’s because newborn chicks aren’t born empty but they are full of a pattern recognition dynamic which is triggered by the very first moving object they see. Once triggered, the resulting behavior is to imprint upon that moving object the meaning of “mother” and then to act as if that were so.
And that is what an archetype is, how it works. They are products of experience and evolution; encoded in our DNA as built-in expectations and patterns of response; waiting for the proper sign stimuli to be triggered; and meant to equip us for successful adaptation to the ups and downs of human existence.
So now, go back to my story from 1977, when I was ten years old. Now I can explain what was happening in more precise Jungian terms. The movie Star Wars proved to be the sign stimuli that would trigger an ancient pattern recognition dynamic hardwired into me, the Hero archetype, which is also what inspired George Lucas to write the movie to begin with. And, it is but one of many archetypes. There’s also the Persona archetype, the Shadow archetype, Anima and Animus archetypes, the Self archetype. Then there are archetypal figures like mother, father, child, God, Goddess, wise woman, wise man. Events can be archetypal also, like birth, death, courting, sacred unions. So can objects be, like stone, water, sun, moon, snake, cross, chalice. All are archetypes, all are sign stimuli that trigger a characteristic response in us; and they also populate our dreams, they surround us in popular culture, they are characters in our favorite stories. Over and over again, the storylines of the archetypes play out, and we can never ever get enough of them.
Yet Jung also discovered that a prime source of misery in human life is how our archetypal potentials have been triggered in incomplete, distorted, or just unsatisfactory ways.
One example of this comes from Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens. “Take,” he says, “the case of a woman whose childhood had been dominated by a tyrannical father, who always insisted on having his own way and made terrifying scenes whenever he was thwarted. The father archetype was activated … by this monster, but only partially: only the [authoritarian and abusive] aspects of the father archetype [were built into the fabric of this woman’s personal orientation in life]; the loving, protective aspects [were not and remained] in the collective unconscious as unactivated potential. The result,” continues Anthony Stevens, “was that throughout her life this woman seemed fated to be drawn into the orbit of bullying, self-righteous men, whom she felt she had no alternative but to placate, appease, and obey. At the same time, there persisted in her an unfulfilled longing for the man who would do none of these things to her but, on the contrary, would give her love, support, and protection. Unfortunately, she could never seem to find him, for she could never get into a relationship with such a man: he was too alien, too essentially unfamiliar to her, and she did not possess the emotional vocabulary necessary to share such love.”
Can you relate? Have you ever found yourself drawn, repeatedly, to the wrong person for you?
The path to healing for this woman is to become more conscious of the unhealthy pattern she found herself living—seeing it at arm’s length, realizing that though it feels like fate, though it feels inescapable, it need not happen. For she has within her everything she needs for her fulfillment. Parts of the father archetype in her remain unactivated—the loving, protective aspects—and they just wait to be triggered. They come to her in her dreams. They call out to her from kind men in books and movies and TV. The task before her is to learn how to find them within—learning how to weave them into her emotional make-up, to become whole, so she might develop a fuller emotional vocabulary with which to connect with the actual kind of men she longs for.
You may not be able to personally relate to this woman’s story, but can you relate to her problem of imbalance? This is where human suffering comes from. And Jung was earnest in his belief that there is a drive in all of us to heal all the imbalances. He would call it the archetype of the Self within–again, the something within us, deeper than ego consciousness, which is a center of clarity, compassion, courage, spaciousness, presence, and all such good things. Some call it the Inner Light, or Shakti energy. Whatever the language, it’s within us all, deeper than the ego, and it knows the way to healing and growth.
Let me leave you with one more story of an imbalance in process of being healed, which introduces yet another concept for which Jung has become famous, albeit highly controversial. The story is about one of his patients. She was a young woman, super educated, super smart, but unhappy, feeling dull, feeling exhausted all the time. And nothing Jung was doing seemed to be helping. He couldn’t seem to get past her intellectual defensiveness. Until one day, when she came in and shared a dream about being given a golden scarab beetle. While she was telling him this, he was sitting with his back to the closed window. Suddenly he heard a noise behind him, like a gentle tapping. He turned around and saw a flying insect knocking against the windowpane from outside. He opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. To his astonishment, it was the nearest thing to a golden scarab beetle that one could find where they lived. Jung then presented it to his patient. “Here is your scarab beetle!” Her inner world had somehow been answered by the outer. Dream and reality rhymed. It proved to be exactly the thing that this young women needed, to get past her rationalistic defenses and to become more open to healing. That’s the story.
I’ll never forget when I first heard it and the chills it sent down my spine. Jung calls it synchronicity. It’s when happenings in your mind and heart meaningfully coincide with happenings in the world, and you get the unforgettable feeling that the interdependent web of all existence is something meaningfully woven, not randomly and accidentally thrown together. For example, you may be worrying about something in your life, something you want more than anything, but it seems impossible, so you are repeating to yourself over and over this quote: “Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know this so it goes on flying anyway.” You happen to be walking out of a store while your mind is repeating the quote, carrying your worry, and it’s at that exact moment when two bumblebees dart straight at you and grab your attention, buzz around each other as if in a dance, and then they fly off. Synchronicity.
Jungian writer Robert Moss says, “The greatest crisis of our lives is a crisis of imagination. We get stuck and bind ourselves to the wheel of repetition because we refuse to reimagine our situation.” If Jung is anything, he is an inspirer of reimagining what psychological and spiritual health mean, as well as how our world works. Oh yes. Not original sin but original blessing. The something deep within which unceasingly drives us towards wholeness. That inner something which somehow works in tandem with the outer somethings of our physical universe as synchronicities that get our attention and redirect our pathways.
Oh yes, oh yes.
For me, way back in 1977, it was the image of the Force in Star Wars. So much more compelling than the angry judgmental God I grew up with. “Remember,” said Obi Wan Kenobi in the movie—and it felt like he was speaking right to me, as I was sitting there in the dark movie theater eating popcorn and Twizzlers—“a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him. Stretch out with your feelings.” So I stretched out, I stretched out with my feelings. It’s what Jung would have all of us do. Stretch out, stretch out with our feelings.
“Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”
The reading before the sermon:
Today’s reading comes from Carl Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. It records a pivotal dream that Jung had while on route to America, in 1909. Accompanying him on this trip was Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. They were together every day, and analyzed each other’s dreams.
This was the dream:
I was in a house I did not know, which had two stories. It was “my house.” I found myself in the upper story, where there was a kind of salon furnished with fine old pieces in rococo style. On the walls hung a number of precious old paintings. I wondered that this should be my house, and thought, “Not bad.” But then it occurred to me that I did not know what the lower floor looked like. Descending the stairs, I reached the ground floor. There everything was much older, and I realized that this part of the house must date from about the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The furnishings were medieval; the floors were of red brick. Everywhere it was rather dark. I went from one room to another, thinking, “Now I really must explore the whole house.” I came upon a heavy door, and opened it. Beyond it, I discovered a stone stairway that led down into the cellar. Descending again, I found myself in a beautifully vaulted room which looked exceedingly ancient. Examining the walls, I discovered layers of brick among the ordinary stone blocks, and chips of brick in the mortar. As soon as I saw this I knew that the walls dated from Roman times. My interest by now was intense. I looked more closely at the floor. It was of stone slabs, and in one of these I discovered a ring. When I pulled it, the stone slab lifted, and again I saw a stairway of narrow stone steps leading down into the depths. These, too, I descended, and entered a low cave cut into the rock. Thick dust lay on the floor, and in the dust were scattered bones and broken pottery, like remains of a primitive culture. I discovered two human skulls, obviously very old and half disintegrated. Then I awoke.
What chiefly interested Freud in this dream were the two skulls. He returned to them repeatedly, and urged me to fund a wish in connection with them. What did I think about these skulls? And whose were they? I knew perfectly well, of course, what he was driving at: that secret death wishes were concealed in the dream. [… ] I felt violent resistance to any such interpretation.
I was never able to agree with Freud that the dream is a ‘façade’ behind which its meaning lies hidden—a meaning already known but maliciously, so to speak, withheld from consciousness. To me dreams are part of nature, which harbors no intention to deceive, but expresses something as best as it can, just as a plant grows or an animal seeks its food as best it can. These forms of life, too, have no wish to deceive our eyes, but we may deceive ourselves because our eyes are shortsighted…..
It was plain to me that the house represented a kind of image of the psyche…. The ground floor stood for the first level of the unconscious. The deeper I went, the more alien and the darker the scene became. In the cave, I discovered remains of a primitive culture, that is, the world of the primitive man within myself—a world which can scarcely be reached or illuminated by consciousness. The primitive psyche of man borders on the life of the animal soul, just as the caves of prehistoric times were usually inhabited by animals before men laid claim to them.