Inner Spirituality

WHILE TWENTIETH CENTURY behavioural psychology denies the existence of spirituality, soul and even consciousness, in line with scientific positivism,[i] there is a long historical tradition of locating spirituality or ‘God’ within the individual, in both psychology and religion – hence Jungian depth and archetypal psychology, world mythology, Gnosticism, Buddhism, Western and Eastern mysticism and the ancient primal and polytheistic religions of the world.

Depth and archetypal psychology maintain the idea of spirituality as being inner, inherent in the mind, or intrinsic to the psyche or soul. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961), one of the greatest explorers of the human mind and a life-long student of world religions, both historical and cultural – is more than any other Western thinker in recent times associated with the search for inner spirituality. His thinking spans both modernism and postmodernism. English writer and broadcaster J.B Priestly (1894-1984), wrote of Jung in the Sunday Telegraph:

“He was on a giant scale…he was a master physician of the soul in his insights, a profound sage in his conclusions. He is also one of Western Man’s great liberators.”[ii]

Perceiving ‘spirituality as intrinsic to the psyche’ is both a recent phenomenon as well as having its roots in antiquity. However it has never been a mainstream focus of religion in the monotheistic West – and it is outside the orthodox religious establishments that it is again being seriously considered. Donald Broadribb argues that ‘God’ is increasingly being seen in terms of inner experience and process.

“In line with the more introverted religious philosophies of the East to which many Westerners are turning, “God” has come to be understood more and more as an inner experience and less and less as an identifiable “object” existing apart from the individual.”[iii]

Both Jung and the Gnostics of the early Christian period saw spirituality as an intrinsic property of the psyche. Self-exploration at the deepest levels, both believed, leads to spiritual wakening. In fact, “a true spiritual experience may be one of the most basic drives in the psyche, and may even be an essential psychological need.”[iv] Curtis Smith summarises Jung’s view that “the human position is supreme, with the psyche and its realization serving as the basis of religious meaning.”[v] To realise the psyche is to realise one’s interconnectedness with all things:

“At the farthest reaches of the self-realization process the boundary between psyche and world blurs to the point of extinction, so that rather than an impenetrable wall separating psyche and world, psyche and world appear as points on a continuum, forming an indivisible whole. For Jung, therefore human existence is simultaneously universal and particular… to realize the self is to realize one’s interconnectedness with all things.”[vi]

For Jung all religious experience is psychic in origin. While he is arguably the twentieth century’s greatest thinker on religion and spirituality as grounded in the psyche, and hence of depth or imaginative psychology, he is not the only thinker to link spirituality with the psyche. Even Freud (1856-1939), who made a devastating critique of religion on the “manifest” level as illusion, was on the “latent” level preoccupied with religion as mystery deep within the psyche.[vii]

THE INTERIOR JOURNEY into the depths of the psyche in search for the ground of all being, is inherent to both mysticism and depth psychology. Even within the Western monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which were not originally mystical, there are schools of thought and prominent individuals who have emphasised the subjective experience. ‘God’ and the Pleroma (representing a map of the soul) were not external realities ‘out there’ but were to be found within. Karen Armstrong, for example, points out that the Gnostics “showed that many of the new converts to Christianity were not satisfied with the traditional idea of God which they had inherited from Judaism.”[viii] Hippolytus in the Heresies admonishes:

“Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you makes everything his own and says, My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body. Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, loves without willing. If you carefully investigate these matters, you will find him in yourself.”[ix]

By concentrating on the divine energy within, rather than the nature of an external God outside, the mystic was better able to ‘untie the knots’ within the psyche and take ownership of personal ‘evil’, or the unrealised shadowside which conflicts with the ego, as Jung defined it. This was rather similar to the psychoanalytic attempt to unlock complexes which impede mental health and fulfilled living. Karen Armstrong, theologian and a former nun, argues:

“One of the problems of ethical monotheism is that it isolates evil. Because we cannot accept the idea that there is evil in our God, there is a danger that we will not be able to endure it within ourselves. It can then be pushed away and made monstrous and inhuman. The terrifying image of Satan in Western Christendom was such a distorted projection.”[x]

It is not hard to see that the mystic was often at odds with the certainties of mainstream and more dogmatic forms of religion. Since each individual had “had a unique experience of God, it followed that no one religion could express the whole of the divine mystery”.[xi] Donald Broadribb makes the point that:

“Judaism, Christianity and Islam in their main streams have at times during their history persecuted union mystics as heretics who deny the essential division between humanity and God, reserving the possible full union of human and divine for only one person (Jesus, in Christianity) or denying it altogether (as in Judaism and Islam).”[xii]

MYTHOLOGY which is a feature of primal religions, the pagan and the early matriarchal religions, has often been an attempt to explain the inner world of the psyche. However as Armstrong points out, the Gods and Goddesses of the myths were regarded as heathen, inferior and a challenge to the supremacy of the monotheistic God of the prophets of Israel:

“The prophets had declared war on mythology: their God was active in history and in current political events rather than in the primordial sacred time of myth.”[xiii]

Mythology was reasserted however when some monotheists turned to mysticism. Inadvertantly or not, the mystics reissued the challenge to the supremacy of a monotheistic God idealised in dogmatic and politically orientated religious traditions. The mystical experience of “God” has characteristics common to all faiths and hence it tends to pull down the barriers separating religions. Armstrong further describes the mystical experience as being subjective, involving an interior journey.

“[It is] not a perception of an objective fact outside the self: it is undertaken through the image-making part of the mind – often called the imagination – rather than through the more cerebral, logical faculty. Finally, it is something that the mystic creates in himself or herself deliberately: certain physical or mental exercises yield the final vision; it does not always come upon them unawares.”[xiv]

Both Freud and Jung turned to the myths of the ancients to explain the inner world of the psyche and the unconscious.

The American Joseph Campbell’s (1904-1987) work in the study of world comparative mythology and comparative religion, also has strong affinities with Jung and depth psychology. As Armstrong points out, the current enthusiasm for psychoanalysis in the West can be seen as a desire for some kind of mysticism because there are arresting similarities between the two disciplines.[xv]

[i] Behaviourism is a school of psychology that regards objective observable aspects of the behaviour of organisms as the only valid subject of study; cf. Collins English Dictionary, eds., Hanks, P., Long, T.H., Urdang, L. (London: Collins, 1977),132. See also; A Dictionary of Philosophy, eds., Speake, J., Isaacs, A. (London: Pan Books, 1979), 37; The Oxford Companion to the Mind, ed., Richard L. Gregory (Oxford University Press, 1987), 71-74 ; The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed., Ted Honderich (Oxford University Press, 1995), 81-2.

[ii] J.B. Priestly, Sunday Telegraph. See review C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Great Britain: Fount Paperbacks, 1977. First published, 1961)

[iii] Donald Broadribb, The Mystical Chorus – Jung and the Religious Dimension (Australia: Millenium Books, 1995), 127.

[iv] John Pennachio, ‘Gnostic Illumination and Carl Jung’s Individuation’, Journal of Religion and Health v.31, no.3, Fall (1992), 245.

[v] Curtis D. Smith, ‘Psychological Ultimacy: Jung and the Human Basis of Religious Meaning’, Religious Humanism v.25, no.4 (1991), 174.

[vi] Ibid, 178.

[vii] R. Melvin Keiser, ‘Postcritical Religion and the Latent Freud’, Zygon v.25. no.4 (1990), 433.

[viii] Karen Armstrong, A History of God (London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1994), 115.

[ix] Hippolytus, Heresies 8.15. 1-2 as cited in Armstrong, Ibid, 114.

[x] Karen Armstrong (1994) A History of God, 287.

[xi] Ibid, 275.

[xii] Donald Broadribb (1995) The Mystical Chorus,122.

[xiii] Karen Armstrong (1994) A History of God, 244.

[xiv] Ibid, 253.

[xv] Ibid, 245.

Trickster Hero

THE HERO AND EGO are more developed in the Trickster than in the Anthropocentric Landscape of the Heavenly God-Father Archetype.

While the hero myths vary enormously in detail, structurally they are very similar. There is a universal pattern even although the myths were developed by groups or individuals without direct cultural contact.   

The special function of the hero myth is the development of the individual’s ego consciousness and his exploration and coming to awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses, which equips him for later challenges of life.[i]   Joseph L. Henderson argues:

“Over and over again one hears a tale describing a hero’s miraculous but humble birth, his early proof of superhuman strength, his rapid rise to prominence or power, his triumphant struggle with the forces of evil, his fallibility to the sin of pride (hybris), and his fall through betrayal or a “heroic” sacrifice that ends in his death.”[ii]

Erich Neumann states “The hero is always a light-bringer and emissary of light … The hero’s victory brings with it a new spiritual status, a new knowledge, and an alteration of consciousness”: the heroic age is characterised as the “predominance of individual personality”.[iii] All are characteristics of the Trickster Hero.

The heroic culminates in the Technological/Materialist Landscape in the development of science and the world as object:[iv]

“The activity of masculine consciousness is heroic in so far as it voluntarily takes upon itself the archetypal struggle with the dragon of the unconscious and carries it to successful conclusion… The correlation of consciousness with masculinity culminates in the development of science, as an attempt by the masculine spirit to emancipate itself from the power of the unconscious. Wherever science appears it breaks up the original character of the world, which was filled with unconscious projections. Thus, stripped of projection, the world becomes objective, a scientific construction of the mind.”[v]

THE TRICKSTER HERO PITS HIMSELF AGAINST THE OLD GOD. Neumann maintains that in the modern world the disintegration of the old system of values is in full swing.[vi] In the modern world the hero with his human ego pits himself against the old deity. Thus:

“the hero ceases to be instrument of the gods and begins to play his own independent part as a human being; and when he finally becomes, in modern man a battleground for suprapersonal forces, where the human ego pits itself against the deity. As breaker of the old law, man becomes the opponent of the old system and the bringer of the new, which he confers upon mankind against the will of the old deity.”[vii]

[i] Carl Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols (London: Picador, Pan Books, 1978).
[ii] Joseph L. Henderson, ‘Ancient Myths and Modern Man’ in: Carl Jung (ed.),  Man and His Symbols, 101.
[iii] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (New York: Princeton University Press,  Bollingen Series XLII, 1973), 160-161.
[iv] Ibid, 340-341.
[v] Ibid, 340-341.
[vi] Ibid, 390.
[vii] Ibid, 177.

Participatory, Poetic Landscapes

HUMANISTIC, EXISTENTIAL and postmodern geographers, who have questioned viewing the world through an objectivist epistemology, or theory of meaning – are supported by some Western philosophers, biologists, neurophysiologists, environmentalists; and East Asian philosophy, particularly Taoism and Buddhism.   Here very briefly, are the arguments of some others who advocate meaning or an epistemology based on an active and relational process of perception and cognition.

OBJECTIVISM AS A ‘GODS-EYE-VIEW’ of reality independent of human understanding is opposed by philosophers Mark Johnson and Hilary Putnam.    According to the Objectivist orientation, which is rooted deeply in the Western philosophical and cultural tradition, the world consists of objects that have properties which stand in relationships independent of human understanding. Human beings can have no significant bearing on the nature of meaning and rationality.[i] Johnson, like Putnam, argues for realism based on our mediated understanding of our experience. They argue that experience is an “organism-environment interaction”. The organism and its environment are not independent and unrelated entities.[ii] Johnson concludes that objectivity “does not require taking up God’s perspective, which is impossible; rather, it requires taking up appropriately shared human perspectives that are tied to reality through our embodied imaginative understanding”.[iii]

Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela reach very similar conclusions to Mark Johnson’s “embodied understanding” by “offering a scientific study of cognition as a biological phenomenon” wherein “the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism)” are eschewed.[iv] The act of cognition does not simply mirror an objective reality “out there” – rather it is rooted in our biological structure and is an active process in which we actually create our world of experience through the process of living itself. We are “continuously immersed in a network of interactions, the results of which depend on history”.[v]

Steve Odin observes that “the primacy accorded to relational ‘field’ over that of the ‘substantial objects’ implicit in the ecological world view is also at the heart of the organismic paradigm of nature in East Asian philosophy, especially Taoism and Buddhism”.[vi]

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), environmentalist, scientist, ecologist, forester and writer of the classic ‘A Sand Country Almanac’ (1949) is widely regarded as establishing environmental ethics as a distinct branch of philosophy. His ethics arise from a “metaphysical presupposition that things in nature are not separate, independent, or substantial objects, but relational fields… the land is a single living organism wherein each part affects every other part”.[vii]

J. Baird Callicott an American philosopher of environment and ethics, follows the insights of Leopold and argues that “object-ontology is inappropriate to an ecological description of the natural environment. Living natural objects should be regarded as ontologically subordinate to “events” and/or “flow patterns” and/or “field patterns”.[viii]

THE RELATIONAL FIELD idea of environment or landscape, has been promoted by ecologists and some significant philosophers, East and West. In the Western philosophic tradition, English philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was seminal with this view.

Modernism and hence objectivism was systematically challenged by Alfred North Whitehead. Regarded as one of the earliest postmodernists, Whitehead whose contribution to philosophy, mathematics and logic as well as metaphysics is “considered by many to be one of the great intellectual achievements of all time”[ix] is known in particular for his relational field view of reality. A.N. Whitehead gave the field concept of nature implied by ecology its fullest systematic expression in his process metaphysics and philosophy of organism.

As Odin points out, Whitehead “elaborates a panpsychic vision of nature as a creative and aesthetic continuum of living field events arising through their causal relations to every other event in the continuum”.[x] Odin argues that nature, in terms of the Gaia hypothesis, is “a synergistic ecosystem of symbiotic relationships” and this is the relational view of reality of many ecologists as well as much philosophy of East Asia based on Taoism and Buddhism.[xi]

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski is another one who argues for a new epistemology based on a “participatory concept of truth” wherein ‘objectivity’ “has become a myth which is pernicious and which we need to transcend”.[xii] He holds that there is “a close and inevitable relationship between the view of the cosmos of a given people (cosmology) and the system of knowledge of a given people (epistemology). One recapitulates the other, and is in the image of the other. Thus the outer walls of the cosmos are the inner walls of the mind.”[xiii]   In other words, there is a close and inevitable relationship between the landscape ‘focus of perception’ of a given people and the system of meaning or knowledge (epistemology) of a given people.

For example, Lopez argues that the rational, scientific approach to land loses something profound; rather the land is like poetry. For instance:

A Lakota woman named Elaine Jahner once wrote that what lies at the heart of the religion of hunting peoples is the notion that a spiritual landscape exists within the physical landscape. To put it another way, occasionally one sees something fleeting in the land, a moment when line, color, and movement intensify and something sacred is revealed, leading one to believe that there is another realm of reality corresponding to the physical one but different.

In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound. The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.[xiv]

[i] Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind – The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1987),  x.
[ii] Ibid, 207.
[iii] Ibid, 212.
[iv] Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge –The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1987), 214.
[v] Ibid, 241.
[vi] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no. 4 (1991), 350.
[vii] Ibid, 346; see also Aldo Leopold, A Sand CountryAlmanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River (N.Y: Ballantine Books, 1966).[viii] J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames (eds.) Nature in Asian Traditions ofThought – Essays in Environmental Philosophy (State University of New York, 1989), 58.
[ix] Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 909-910.
[x] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, 350.
[xi] Ibid, 360.
[xii] Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind – A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe (Arkana, Penguin Group, 1994), xviii-xix.
[xiii] Ibid, xvii.[xiv] Lopez (1998)  Arctic Dreams, 274.