Friday, October 20, 2017

The Fate of the World Hangs by a Thin Thread

"The psyche is not only a personal problem but a world problem...Nowadays we can see as never before that the peril which threatens all of us comes not from nature but from man, from the psyche of the individual and the mass. The psychic aberration of man is the danger. Everything depends upon whether or not our psyche functions properly. If certain persons lose their heads, a hydrogen bomb will go off." (C.G. Jung)
"The fate of the world hangs by a thin thread and that is the psyche of man." These words of C. G. Jung are very much on my mind these days.
I have lived through some scary times. For example, I remember well as a small child sitting by the radio and listening to the coverage of the Cuban missile crisis. And then there were those air raid drills during the cold war sitting in hallway of my elementary school with my head between my knees.
I feel the same kind of foreboding today as I listen to the threats being traded between President Trump and Kim Jong-li. Although the thought of North Korea with a nuclear bomb is scary to me, in the final analysis it seems that the dispute has less to do with the facts of the situation than it does with the personalities of the two men. I fear, as Jung said some 50 years ago, that "if certain persons lose their heads, a hydrogen bomb will go off."

We have made tremendous technological advances, advances that make things like hydrogen and atomic bombs possible. But we have not made equivalent progress in respect to the human psyche. We don't understand our own minds and behavior. Someone picks up a rifle and shoots 20 school children and all the neighbors have to say is that "he seemed like such a nice guy." We overlook a good deal craziness in ourselves and our leaders. We fail to see the warning signs before it is too late.

Are we missing warning signs with Donald Trump?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dark Grace

I believe that the goal of the spiritual life is not salvation, but transformation. Spirituality isn't about "do's and don'ts" or living up to some fixed ideal of behavior. It is about tuning in to the sacred within (Self) and following its guidance as we work to become a unique, integrated or whole self.

Transformation is far more demanding than being good. We can do good without really changing all that much inside. But to really transform, requires a death, disintegration or letting go. If the call to transformation that comes from the Self and is a divine favor, then certainly the necessity of "dying unto self", which inevitably comes with it, is the dark side of that grace.

The call to transformation can come in any number of ways. For example, it may come in a positive form such as a new job, new relationship or retirement. And it can also come in seemingly negative ways such as the death of a loved one, a diagnosis of cancer or losing a job. Regardless of how it comes, it is a grace.

In today's world, everything is marketed as something that will "change your life:" books, workshops, new cars, etc. The truth is that most of us really don't want to change. When the call to transformation comes we politely decline. We would rather remain as we are than to experience the dark side of grace.

If there is such a thing as sin it is probably this: Our unwillingness to live our lives fully and become the whole person we were meant to be.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Charlottesville and the Collective Shadow

"That which we do not bring into consciousness appears in our lives as fate."
C.G. Jung

I can't help but think that Charlottesville has let something out of the box. A dark genie has escaped from the bottle. I'm not talking about hate groups. They have been with us for a long time. What I am referring to is the collective shadow. And when this genie leaves the bottle it's tough to get it back in.

According to Jungian Analyst D. Sharp, the shadow is the "hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself, both good and bad, which the ego has either repressed or never recognized." Everyone has a dark or hidden side. We all harbor deep down impulses of fear, hate and violence. What makes us different is the degree to which we are conscious or aware of these impulses.

Hate groups like white nationalists and neo-Nazis unconsciously live out their shadows and seek legitimization from the larger society. But even counter-protesters, to the extent they allow themselves to demonize the other and become violent, are being shadow-driven.

The process at play here is shadow projection. What both sides of the conflict did was to project their repressed, dark side onto the other. The enemy, thus demonized, becomes very easy to hate. It actually is something in ourselves that we are seeking to overcome by hating the other.

What I have said should in no way be interpreted as letting the hate groups off the hook. They sponsored the event and came armed, ready for a fight. But folks on both sides of the conflict were lacking in consciousness and driven by their shadows.

Seems to me that we first need to deal with the other in ourselves before we try to confront him outside.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

My Struggle with Depression: A Quaker View

William Tuke, Quaker and Asylum Reformer
When I was 11 years old my Mother asked me to take my 4 year old sister along with me on my paper route. I wasn’t happy! We set off to cross the road in front of our house. I ran across the street, but my sister hesitated. I yelled for her to stay where she was because a car was coming. She ran out into the street anyway, now too late to avoid the car, and was hit and killed.
This happened in 1962, a time when people seldom sought out therapy and long before we really understood the lifelong, debilitating effects of trauma. My family survived the tragedy as best it could, but ultimately ended up sweeping the whole thing under the carpet. It was just too painful to talk about. Each of us grieved on our own, including me. I had no one I felt comfortable talking to about the confusing emotions of guilt, anger and grief I was feeling.

I suspect that this childhood trauma along with some issues I have experienced as an adult, have significantly contributed to my lifelong struggle with depression. For over 25 years I have experienced the usual symptoms of depression such as sadness, a lack of energy and an inability to enjoy life. I have managed the illness up until now largely through therapy and a string of antidepressant drugs, but it is becoming less easy to do so. 
Quakers are no strangers to mental illness. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, suffered severe bouts of depression. People with mental illness are often drawn to Quakerism, perhaps because of the accepting and caring environment it provides. And Quakers have a long history in asylum reform.

According to the Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies:

Quaker concern for the mentally ill dates back to George Fox’s healing of several persons who were ‘distracted’; in a 1669 epistle he urged Friends to provide for those who are distempered ‘so that they may not … run about the streets’. England’s York Retreat, established in 1796, was a realization of Fox’s dream. The Retreat became famous for William Tuke’s efforts with the Retreat’s superintendent (George Jepson) to use a bedrock of kindness and compassion (socio-economic manipulation to some critics) to help the sick. The two men tested contemporary science and traditional treatments to perfect ‘moral management’. This approach influenced the establishment of numerous imitators and became a positive counterpoint to the questionable treatments at private madhouses and public hospitals. Moral treatment waned, but was revived in the twentieth century under such new rubrics as ‘milieu therapy’ and the ‘open hospital’.

If there is a Quaker approach to mental illness I think it would emphasize a belief in the innate healing abilities of the psyche and the importance of creating an environment that does not interfere with, but fosters that process. All of this follows from our core belief in "that of God in everyone."

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Some Thoughts After a Quaker Memorial Service

I just attended a memorial service at my liberal Quaker meeting. It got me thinking about just how different a Quaker memorial is from a more traditional funeral in the Christian tradition. While this memorial had the same goals of a traditional funeral - honoring the life of the deceased and giving solace to the survivors, it accomplished these things without a minister quoting scripture or prayers and hymns putting the loss into a larger religious context. In fact, the memorial was conducted with little or no reference at all to an afterlife or supreme being.

As you may know, a Quaker memorial is conducted in the same manner of weekly worship. We sit in silence for an hour and speak only if prompted to do so, and then, generally to offer some recollection of the deceased. And yet, at the end of the hour there is a very satisfactory feeling, a sense of completeness.

The recollections shared in a Quaker memorial tend to be those things that made the deceased unique. Most frequently these are positive qualities, like the care the deceased showed towards others. But at times what might be called "negative" traits are mentioned as well. For example, in the memorial I attended there were some knowing laughs and shaking of heads about how controlling the deceased was.

To me what makes a Quaker memorial so satisfying and spiritual is not being reminded that the deceased is in heaven or reunited with God, but the simple celebration of the amazing fact of their life in all its uniqueness and wholeness. Life is mysterious and sacred in itself quite aside from what may or may not happen after we die.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reflections on a Quaker Meeting House

Centre Friends Meeting is an historic, country meeting house located in Centreville, Delaware. Built in 1796 to replace an original 1711 log structure, the meeting house is a one-story, rectangular brick building flanked on either side by long horse sheds. It stands on land deeded to the meeting by William Penn.

When I first entered the building some 25 years ago, what struck me most was how the carefully the interior of the meeting house had been designed to support the unique type of worship that took place there: silent, inward contemplation.

For example, there is the plainness or simplicity of the building intended not to distract but to encourage sustained inner focus. There are no pictures, statuary or religious symbolism on the walls, just a simple pewter candleholder here and there. The hand hewn benches have little ornamentation and only the polish of many years of use. There are only two dominant colors in the building. The walls and ceiling are painted white and the wainscoting, floor, doors and benches a dark brown. There is a simple, black wood stove at each end of the room.

Cathedrals with their high ceilings, lofty columns and walls of stained glass are designed to draw worshippers attention upward. The emphasis is on inspiring worshippers or as the liturgy says, lifting them up.  This house of worship, in contrast, tends to "ground" worshippers. There is a low ceiling and the heavy, bulky benches seem to hug the ground. The perspective isn't upward towards heaven, but down to the inner light.

One of the of the consequences of a minimally lighted, dark brown interior is that the play of natural light is accented. I have spent many a Sunday looking at a column of light streaming through one of the meeting house's windows or the sheen cast upon the floor and furniture. Light, of course, is a favorite Quaker image for the sacred.

It is impossible for me to be in the meeting house or in the grave yard behind it, without being mindful of the "host of witnesses," our Quaker ancestors who have worshipped in this meeting house over its 300+ year history.At the North end of each of the meeting rooms (there was one for men and another for women separated by a shuttered divider) there are benches on raised platforms. This is where, in times past, the elders or recorded ministers of the meeting would sit. I often imagine them sitting there, looking down upon us and wonder what they would be thinking. Would they understand why we have done away with them? Would they consider us today as good stewards of the tradition?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Living in the Interim Between the Old and New Religions

I believe that humankind is intrinsically religious. We are made to relate to something infinite and if we are unable to do so, our psyches and culture break down.

I also believe that the symbols of Christianity, for many of us in the West, have died. They no longer grasp us. They have lost their ability to connect us to the numinous. We have become de-converted.

It is my hope (as discussed in my post, "A Dream of the Coming New Religion,") that a new religion is coming. This new religion will probably not be just a reworking of Christianity or some other existing religion, but something entirely new. Unfortunately, if this happens, it probably won't be anytime soon. As mentioned in the previous post, Jung, for example, believed we will have to wait at least 600 years for the new religion to emerge!

If we are living in the interregnum between the old and new religions the question arises, what does it mean to be religious in this interim period? If living out the old mythology will no longer do, how do we live?

John P. Dourley, a Jugian analyst and a Catholic priest, in his book, A Strategy for a Loss of Faith: Jung's Proposal, offers the following advice: "We must become more at home with the idea of private revelation, whose major medium is the dream." (pg. 28)

What I think Dourley is saying is that with the death of our traditional Christian stories and symbols, we must become our own prophets based on the private revelation which will emerge from a dialogue with our own unconscious. After all, it was the unconscious from which the prophecy of old derived. And the dream is the royal road to the unconscious.

Dourley goes on to say:
Difficult though it be in the face of contemporary institutional religious and secular forces, both of which hold such dialogue in contempt, we must cultivate the sense that we are in immediate contact with the wisdom that tradition understands to be accessed only in "revelation" granted to exceptional individuals from whose power various religions, often supporting political establishments, derive their 'historical' origins.(pg. 28)
Of course, what Dourley is suggesting has been the practice of Quakers for nearly 400 years now. With their fervent belief in continuing revelation and rejection of creeds, Quakerism is a prophetic faith where anyone can stand during silent worship and speak their truth.