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Christian Mysticism and Jungian Psychology
This is a stand-alone summary of a retreat on Dr. C.G. Jung, the depth psychologist, and St. John of the Cross by means of three diagrams. The first illustrates the relationship between the ego and the unconscious with its archetypes.
The second explores the meaning of meditation and infused contemplation in John of the Cross.
And the third deals with the application of both of these perspectives to many questions in the spiritual life like Marian devotion, cult-like behavior in the Catholic Church, etc.
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this video for free on youtube at:
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We are going to start with the Jungian side of things, and so we will make our favorite diagram here. Here is that dividing wall, or that membrane that separates the ego from the unconscious. We saw that in Jungs life from his very earliest years he was fascinated by these psychic images that were emerging from the unconscious, and so when he began to develop his science of the psyche, a science based on these images, it went something like this. He would study the various images, and then he would hypothesis that these images must have originated from deep in the psyche. All over the world he would see the same idea appearing in various images, the same structural idea, and so through many years of work he eventually delineates various features that he imagines exist down here in the psyche. It takes him even more work to finally begin to see that there is some kind of dynamic relationship between these factors down here. In other words, the archetypes, themselves, go together into some kind of organic process that he called the process of individuation. So what is happening is that Jung is going everywhere he can, literally. He will go to his own dreams, the dreams of his patients, he will go to the material coming up in psychotics, he will go to ancient myths, he spent many years studying alchemy. At first you say, alchemy. Thats just these guys who know chemistry. What possible use could that be? But he saw that they werent trying to do chemistry as we understand it, not just that, but they were doing these processes that were supposed to lead naturally to the production of gold, but there was a whole psychological side to it. They were projecting on these outer processes, some of these inner psychological contents, and because they were doing that, in their writings he could see a whole anticipation of modern psychology, and that really pleased him because then he would have a kind of historical base for his own psychology because they were discovering some of the same things, but veiled under their various stages of the alchemaical process. For instance, they would have a stage that was equivalent to what he was to later to call the confrontation with the shadow, and things like that.
We have the world of images. Jung is saying these images are real inasmuch as they exist in the psyche and they effect us, and from the images we are deducing the existence of the deep structures in the psyche, structures that apparently all of us have, all over the world. The deep structures dont have anything to do with culture and personal history. They have to do with the very nature, we could put it, of the psyche, though I dont think Jung would use that word.
What emerges here is a picture of these deep levels of the psyche, and how they are connected, and how there is a dynamic movement, and how these archetypes are not just generating images, but it is as if they are surrounded by energy. Call it emotional energy, or psychic energy, or whatever you want to call it, but they are not just static, lying there like some stone, but like some crystal that is pulsating with all this energy and light. Jung felt that this ego, our ego or our ego-consciousness, was connected with all this in one system, even energetically, so that energy would flow into the consciousness, and it would flow back into the unconscious, and so there was a whole dynamic of psychic energy.
What we ended up doing about Jung last night was simply to say, OK, this is what Jung is doing. What are some of the basic ways we, too, can see what he is doing, almost verify it for ourselves, get in touch with the unconscious. And we did that by talking about dreams, because dreams appear here at this borderline. The same way, if you are going to sleep, and just as you close your eyes and are about to drift off you can have these images flash in front of your eyes. They are called hypnogogic images. Or some people who are gifted in images can just close their eyes and relax, and see very vivid images. They just pop up from the unconscious if we sort of turn down the light here. Consciousness sort of acts like a bright light, and while it is on full force it tends to obscure what is appearing on the screen, but if we turn down the light enough, then what is appearing on the screen between conscious and unconscious, those pictures begin to become more lively.
To get off a little on a tangent, when people do certain kinds of drugs, it is not like the drugs are producing the imagery. I believe the drugs are effecting their brains, dimming the lights here, so to speak, on certain parts of the brain, and allowing them to perceive the imagery that is in a way already there. You have only to get into one of those situations where you go to sleep and either you are in a strange situation or there is a lot of energy going around, and you have dreams that you begin to remember. You wake up and you say, wow, where did all that come from? It is just another of those images indicating that there is a tremendous life going on down here.
The other thing we touched on quite a bit was the fact that these centers of energy, if we dont find a way to connect with them, somehow realize they are there and give them their due, they almost become swollen with energy. There is no channel for that energy to come up into consciousness. They become swollen with energy, and then they have to find a way to express themselves. The pressure builds up and they come out, and they appear in the outer world in the form of what Jung would call projection. They attach themselves, for example, to other people, and so we think that the person we are really angry with is the only reason we are angry, and yet many times our anger has some component from inside ourselves, and we realize that too, sometimes. We have a glimpse that I am losing it, and I am really going to destroy this person, I am ready to throttle them, and it is not just them. There is something more going on.
We even talked about how you could project out some of these contents one of our further flights of fancy you could project out some of these contents and become really obsessed with UFOs and aliens and whatever that may exist in inner space, but there is no demonstrable evidence that they exist in outer space. So there is a connection, even with our most precious outer activities, with this whole inner world.
The final point about all this is that, well, what are we going to do? Are we just going to find the door here heres the trap door and jump down there and try to sort all this out? No. We are not going to do that because this is bigger than us. It is almost as if we are drawing this out of scale and we should make the boundary up here, and pretend this is the iceberg, and what is it? Nine-tenths is under the water? Well, I think we are a lot like that. We have a certain amount of ego development, but there are forces down here that are bigger than us, just like there are forces in nature that are a lot bigger than us, and if we go head-on with them, we are going to lose. So we sort of have to have a lot of respect for what is happening in this dimension of our psyche and approach it with a certain amount of trepidation. If we do it in that spirit, we can actually get all sorts of insights, whether we do it from dreams or from these moments of high feeling intensity, or analyzing various events in our lives that really strike us, we will gradually develop our own picture of the psyche. We can read Jung, and he is going to show us certain landmarks, but if we never go on the journey, ourselves, and perceive in our own psyches, we will never really believe that it is real. It will still be effecting us, but we will never really believe that it is down there. Jung is not asking us to take it on his word. He is saying, go to sleep at night and see what happens. Wake up and go to get through your day with not one upset at all and see what happens.
What we have here, then, is Jungs science of the psyche. We also talked about the fact that Jung took this science of the psyche, and he kind of wrapped it up with his ideas about he was so enamored with this process, this was such a great discovery, that he said this is really the only way you really know things. We talked about that, as well. If this is the only way we really know things, then spirituality, theology, philosophy, they are all reduced to just ways to illustrate Jungs analytical psychology. So that doesnt please us, so we have to take that part of it away, and then we are left with the real core of Jungs psychology which we can then begin to use.
Lets go over to the other side, and we are going to do spirituality more like John of the Cross, but it fits many of the other things, as well. First, lets call it again the ego. Heres God, and here are our various faculties by which we try to draw closer to God: our thinking, our feeling, our sensation, our intuition, and when John of the Cross is talking about meditation, he is talking about using these faculties in any way, whether we favor the affective side, or the thinking side, or the imaginative side, or a very simplified kind of intuitive side, he is talking about using all these faculties as ways we can draw closer to God. He feels that for many people at the beginning of the spiritual life they are exercising these faculties, and they are kind of feeling connected to God by, lets say, these different channels, and the sweet water of Gods presence is flowing down these channels and they are drinking of it whenever they want. Thats great. Thats how they started, and it is like confirming them in their conversion where they move away from the things of the world. After that goes on a while, whether gradually or suddenly, this can disappear, and it is what John calls the dark night of sense in the wide sense. I will explain that in a minute. But these channels no longer work. You cant draw that energy and that sweet water any more, and you go around disconsolate, figuring you must have done something, or somehow God is angry with you, or whatever the reasoning is, because this bond is broken. John says that one possible outcome of that is that contemplation is beginning, this presence of God in a fuller, richer way that could never come through these faculties. It is beginning in the center of the soul or the depths of the soul, and if we knew enough to turn around and instead of doing this, use our attention, what he calls our loving attention, and look down there, look in the depths of the soul, we would see, or a better word is feel, that God is present in a new way, and He is trying to communicate it in a new way, and we sort of meet Him. Probably the best way is that this gradually comes up, and we meet Him right at the boundary here. And we have a new kind of knowledge and love of God which is not as distinct. It is not in various images, and not in various kinds of distinct thoughts, but it is richer and deeper. More obscure, but richer and deeper. And it is actually a presence of God. It is not just that we believe God is present to us. We do that all the time. But the faith somehow becomes illuminated. This faith, animated by charity, actually becomes the way we know God. It is some kind of knowledge even though it is very difficult to describe what it is.
I want to refine this a little because I believe that there are some interesting issues here, and this will be a way we can bring the two together. What happens is that this dark night of sense in the wide sense happens to many, many people. Just about everyone, or 75% or 90% of the people who really go through the spiritual life end up in this dark night, wondering what happened and how they should deal with it. This is one explanation. John is saying that this is one possibility to explain why this dark night of sense is taking place. But if you read his Dark Night of Soul, when he describes it, then he goes on after that to talk about the three signs. If contemplation was always the reason why the dark night takes place in this wide sense, he wouldnt have to use the three signs at all. They would have been superfluous. But he gives us the three signs because there could be other reasons why we are in this dark night of sense. What he explains is that this dark night of sense could take place because of sin, for example. We have turned back, and we are involved in other things, and our spiritual life isnt going well. So thats one possibility. And so he says, all right, you cant meditate as you did before, that is sign one, but you shouldnt be drawn to other things, either, in the sense of having this real attraction for all these worldly things because that might be an indication where the problem is. So there are two signs. You cant use your faculties to get to God, but you are not glomming on to all sorts of worldly things.
Then he gets to the third sign. This is the sign that causes all the problems because most of them we can see, well, I cant pray like I did before, and I cant see any reason. It is not like a committed some great sin or I have really become more worldly than I was before to account for this lack of attraction to God, and so we have two of the signs. But what is the third sign. Now, this is where people interpret it in different ways. What I think John is saying is the third sign is the actual beginning of contemplation, itself. Thats the third sign, and thats why it is legitimate in his mind to turn away from doing this to stop the discursive activity and turn around and be receptive to what is going on. He will say sometimes, if you are not using your faculties, and you are not receiving contemplation, then you wouldnt be doing anything. So thats John of the Cross third sign, which is actual contemplation, or what he calls infused contemplation, which is this mysterious presence of God in the soul in a new way.
This is where we end up with another whole looking at John, another kind of interpretation which sort of goes like this. I hope it wont be too much of a caricature. He says, well, you cant meditate like you did before, you are not called that way and it is not because of any real sin, and therefore, you should turn around and be lovingly attentive. But it doesnt go on in this kind of explanation to say that you will be lovingly attentive to this experience of contemplation that is being given. It says more like, we believe by faith that God is present in the soul, and we are going to be lovingly attentive to this presence of God we believe is down there in the soul. I hope you see that that is different than the way that, at least the way I am interpreting John and I think the way he is. This loving attentiveness isnt the reception of an actual gift that is being given. It becomes an active exercise. We try to exercise loving attentiveness to some gift we hope is down there, and so people do that, and it becomes a kind of simplified affective prayer. To the degree that it is a practice of loving God and believing in Him, and is actively exercised, you really cant find too much to criticize about it because you could call it another form of meditation in the wide sense that John of the Cross is talking about. But if we say that we are being lovingly attentive, and it really doesnt exercise any of the faculties, we are just kind of being passively lovingly attentive, then the question is, to what? I am denying that God is present in the soul for all of us, but we are taking John of the Cross idea of being lovingly attentive that he developed in relationship to infused contemplation, and we are turning it into some kind of active exercise of contemplation by faith, hoping that that will somehow prepare us for the actual infused contemplation to come. That is a different kind of a thing. Why do we do that? Why is this a popular interpretation that has lasted from the 17th century all the way until today, and is still being promoted today? I think we do that because we realize that we have the first and second sign, and we dont know what to do. We cant pray like we used to pray, and we cant figure out that there is some reason why we cant do that, and we say we must be contemplatives even though we dont know it, we dont experience it. We end up with a contemplation that is just unexperienced contemplation. Then it gets to the point where we will say there are two kinds of contemplation. There is an active contemplation, and there is a passive, infused contemplation, and most of us are called to go by that active contemplation, and so here is the goal and here are the two roads, and they are just two different roads to get to this goal. We say we read Teresa of Avila and she is talking about this infused contemplation, and you read John of the Cross and he is really talking about this active contemplation, or this kind of loving attentiveness we do, but I dont think they are talking about two different things. I think they are talking about the same thing. I think they would be shocked if someone said they are talking about two different things. They never thought they were when they were together.
What I would like to do is, this kind of loving attentiveness can have two meanings, and I think that is the crux of the problem. There is a very valid way in which we no longer can pray in that kind of discursive way that we started out, or the imagery or that sensible consolation is gone. We are left with what we think of as the apophatic way, where you are beyond images and concepts and so forth, but I am leery of turning that into us getting too passive and too receptive to an experience that we have no indication that it is actually be given, the actual contemplative experience. I dont like that from that point of view, that kind of pretending we are contemplatives, but we are not contemplatives. We want to be contemplatives. I think there is a way we can preserve the insight here without doing that, and I would like to call that the way of faith. The way I am going to use that phrase is simply that, if here is God, indwelling in the soul as the Trinity, God isnt asking us to be contemplative. If they want to canonize you after you die, do they say, was Greg a contemplative during his life? They will not ask that question. It is a secondary issue. They will ask what degree of charity did Greg exercise because the way you get united to God is through love, or to put it a slightly different way, when John of the Cross says the only proximate means of union with God is through faith, he means a faith animated by love. We believe by faith that God is present indwelling in our souls, and we can draw closer to Him by faith and love, by the active exercise of faith and love. We can do that anytime we want. We dont have to call that some kind of contemplation. We dont have to pretend we are not using our faculties, albeit in a simplified way. We are. We make our acts of faith and love. We do whatever we can do. If God grants that experience of contemplation where it kind of gets up here We believe God is present in the depths of the soul. It may be He is even present in that way that contemplation talks about, but it is so far down in our soul that it doesnt make its presence felt, and so we really cant say that we are. I think we have to get out of that whole scene, and say the real issue is being united with God, and we can do that as much as we want. Even the people who are blessed with, I believe, genuine contemplative graces, through this Christian Prayer and Contemplation Forum, I think we have met a few, I think they are in the real minority, for one thing, and you listen to them, and you talk to them, and after a while you say, I dont think I need this because it sounds great, but when you see the kinds of problems or sufferings these people go through, sometimes they are horrendous, they really are. It is as if the mountains are higher and the valleys are lower. Or maybe the mountains are higher because the valleys are lower, or something, who knows if we could even take that kind of thing. Like one of them put it, he had all sorts of experience, he was a fascinating guy who really had started his Christian life, he hit this dark night of sense, and he just seemed to go on hold for a long time, and it was through the practice of Zen meditation that he rediscovered his spiritual life. He actually had some Zen-type enlightenment experiences, and then it awoke in him this whole contemplative side. This contemplative side began to express it in actual contemplative experiences. To boot, he had these wonderful, numinous kinds of dreams. You figure this guy is blessed with everything. There he is, going on the road of individuation and hes doing Eastern mysticism, and Christian mysticism, and then he describes what happened to him. What happened to him was, all those things disappeared. He knew they had happened, but they didnt sustain him, and he is left out in the desert. The way he describes it is he is nailed up on the barn door, like a hide being scraped. This went on for years. He said the only thing that he could do was exercise faith and love, and that taught him that that was the core, that everything up until then was trying to teach him. We can do it without having to go through all that. We can exercise that faith and that love whenever we want. It is as simple as that. There is no problem in doing that. We dont even have to worry whether we are contemplatives, or whether it may be happening down there and we are kind of listening to see. That would be fun. That would be great. But if God wanted to give it to us, and we are serious about the spiritual life, I dont think it is not being given because we are not being receptive enough. It is because we are not back here the way John is describing. We would be more than receptive. We want nothing more than to receive that if He wants to give it. But if He doesnt give it, lets not kind of get hung up on it. Lets just kind of get on with it, and instead of trying to create another kind of contemplation out of whole cloth, so to speak, and foster it off on John of the Cross, why not just say that we are allowed to go by the way of faith and love, and ultimately, thats the core of all this stuff about contemplation.
We have one more diagram. Thats simply to put together, heres the ego. We can than borrow from both sides, and use our two skills, our sense of the meaning of the spiritual life, and our sense of Jungs psychology, to take each problem that comes up. Yesterday we did Marian devotion, and we talked about Charismatic experiences, and we talked about the possibility you could look at the dark night and there could be psychological reasons why the energy left here. We could talk about a psychological dark night. And we talked about scruples and sexual obsession and all these things that dont have to be viewed purely in spiritual terms or purely psychological terms, but can be looked at in both lights, and then we make better headway. So I dont think there is any area of the spiritual life that is exempt from that. To give one illustration. The Trinity. Well, that certainly should be exempt from any of this kind of stuff. Well, we are certainly not going to take the Trinity, and like Jung was prone to do, reinterpret the Trinity in terms of a quaternity to make it a more fitting symbol because we dont believe it is just a symbol. At the same time, it is entirely possible that we havent been conscious enough of the kind of psyche that is receiving this doctrine of the Trinity. For example, we could have looked at it as some kind of masculine reality. That has nothing to do with the theology of the Trinity in itself because even in the Middle Ages they were keenly aware that there could be no sex in God, in the Trinity, so it isnt like they were saying that the Trinity is male. But that doesnt prevent the church as a human institution from getting on the human side and viewing God in a masculine way with all the attendant problems that creates, and then by compensation, developing a doctrine of Our Lady that is excessively sweet and the language becomes super rhetorical. That doesnt have anything to do with the tremendous role that Our Lady plays in the spiritual life, which she does. When we talked about Marian devotion, you put it in the realm of theology, and what you are left with is, you can receive these beautiful truths and then kind of cover them up because of our lack of psychological inspiration, and so we are left with the situation that the Trinity is somehow male, and then by a secret compensation we are devoting all this energy to a kind of Marian piety that eventually gets swept away because it is just not founded enough, but it may have served the purpose, especially in a theological world that didnt appreciate the feminine, that was the one outlet, and so they would do these giant tomes, or they would have these excessively sweet kind of piling up of various devotions to Mary among men who, as celibate theologians or in the general atmosphere of the church, simply didnt have any outlet for the feminine inside themselves, and not much in relationship to women on the outside. Lets not get involved in that. (laugh)
I think that what we are doing is we are saying that there are many, many problems that we now have not just one way of talking about, but two ways of talking about, and we will be all the richer for it.
One other example is that we have groups in the Catholic church that function sort of like cults, and one of the reasons I think they do that is because all they have is a spiritual vocabulary, so there is no way to talk about the whole human dimension and the unconscious dimension and all these things, so they treat every problem like you have to analyze it in terms of purely spiritual categories. If there is a conflict of obedience and group relationships, it is cast in the form of, God has really given us the power to be your superiors, and if you do what we say, then you will be on a direct line to obeying God and all these things. Where there can be a core of spiritual truth, it is overlaid with a lot of undeveloped human beings, and we end up with what is a real problem. You just end up stretching spiritual language to try to deal with psychological realities.
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