One of my favorite quotes is this from Carl Jung, which addresses the reality of nature and our loss of contact with it. It also identifies a deep and burgeoning issue for humankind:
“Man feels isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree makes a man's life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom and no mountain still harbours a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, springs, plants and animals" (The Earth Has a Soul, Sabini, 2005, p. 79-80).
The disconnect I experience between the ancient, primal knowing carried over from two million years of unity between spirit and matter, the concept that everything I encounter is alive and ensouled and is made up of the same intelligent energy contrasts with what the modern mindset so many of us unconsciously carry--that is, that the world around me is made up of inanimate objects with which I have no relationship other than to manipulate them.
On a cultural level, as a defense mechanism against this sense of disconnect which Jung refers to, many of us have separated even further, unconsciously isolating ourselves from the world and from others so we can have a safe vantage point. We have wrapped ourselves in a blanket of dissociation, even proceeding to despair of being so alone and alienated in a terrifying world that might devour us at any moment and striving mightily to either fit in or get ahead in a culture where no one seems to be grounded in the feeling of an abiding, abundant universe.
What is missing in my life and the lives of most of us is an ongoing alive connection to something we consider sacred; something that inspires awe in us. We all experience brief moments of this in our lives. It could be in the form of the setting sun, a magnificent storm, the smile of a child, or a feeling of gratitude when we are suddenly struck with a knowing we are lucky in a specific aspect of life. But how many of us feel we are embedded into a fabric of being that is made of these moments, where every thread in the tapestry is awe-inspiring and sacred, where reverence and respect for the spirit-infused environment around us reduces us as human beings to a dynamic, flowing force that is carried by a current far more powerful and important than our individual lives?
Modern science and technology have moved us further from the one source that has provided this connection from the dawn of time, the one aspect of life on earth that supports and promotes such awe: nature. And yet, science--including the “new sciences” like quantum physics, neuroscience, and complexity theory-- is just beginning to recognize that we are all interconnected, in the existence of a field of being wherein we do not have clearly defined boundaries that stop at the edge of our skin, but that we exert influence on things and individuals around in time and space unperceived by the five basic senses.
But the rift between our perceived self and the experiential knowing of being held, sustained, and rooted in something bigger than ourselves that inspires our awe and demands a dialogue that evokes passion, emotion, and participation is quickly and systematically destroying us as a species. And the main reason the rift is destroying us is because we have shut it out, dissociated, covered it over, and made every attempt to pretend it doesn’t exist in order to manage our fear, whether it be conscious or not, of the gap that exists between what Jung calls the Self and our everyday ego self we have developed in order to navigate the demands of our culture and environment.
This massive ability to rationalize our meaningless existence and provide surface solutions to our fear of the gap negates our ability to tap into the creative life force that would reconnect us to our sacred roots and provide meaning in our lives--a force that lives in and arises from the gap itself. Anywhere there is space; there is energy and potentiality. But we must be willing to regard our fears, our current situation, and where we’ve come from –our primal roots in order to benefit from the potentiality there.
My own experience, like many of us, has been polarized by both evidence of extreme beauty and unity of the Self as well as by despair at “what we have done to ourselves” in contrast to our true nature. As a presumably evolved species, rather than using our superior thinking functions to be stewards of the planet and nature that sustains us, we are quickly moving in the direction of destroying it.
Jung recognized our trajectory of destruction virtually a half century ago, even before the trend had reached the epic proportions we are experiencing in our culture today. However, through his explorations, he developed a sustained optimism and lived his life with faith and hope that there were larger forces at work that would sustain us, auto-correcting the imbalance and guiding us at crucial moments of need.
Jung seemed to maintain a connection with the invisible realm, the spirit that inspires nature and the Self, a dimension that, though unperceived through our five senses, provides hope, nurturing, and creative life-renewing force. Jung trusted and engaged in ongoing dialogue with these forces he could not see but knew existed. It required a tremendous amount of faith to maintain this belief, but it seemed in fact to continue to grow stronger over the course of his life. This is of vital interest to me as I contemplate my own feelings of dismay at the current state of our psyche and the apparent downward spiral our culture is experiencing and as I struggle to find faith and hope in myself, my psyche, and in our species as a whole.
Jungian analyst Donald Williams, in his article “Hope and Fear” stated:
“Jung invariably watched the psyche for glimpses of unconscious creativity and for renewal and transformation. His psychology was forever forward-looking, and he repeatedly emphasized the role of the human psyche in the fate of the earth. We have a psychological heritage in Jungian psychology that prepares us well to see and cultivate a new psychological attitude. Jung's work is there to help us one day weave stories of a credible and desirable future, a future to inspire us. We need a vivid dream of a continuous future, a future that does not die for want of air and water and food” (Williams, 1998).
I believe NOW is the time to cultivate the new attitude and start weaving the stories, but where to begin? Digging into your own process of inner work is a good first step--and then taking your learning out into the world and helping others understand and do the same comes next. Change which happens one individual at a time will one day suddenly hit critical mass, engendering massive cultural change. Get started today by contacting one of the depth practitioners here on Depth Psychology List.
Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, the world's first comprehensive online community for depth psychologyand hosts a regular podcast, Depth Insights, as well as editing the semi-annual scholarly e-zine of the same name. She recently founded www.DepthPsychologyList.com, a free online database to find or list depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners. She holds Masters degrees in Psychology and Depth Psychology, and is a Ph.D. candidate at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA.