Signs and Symbols: A Doorway to the Holy Place

The question is, why consult signs and symbols when we are modern citizens of the Scientific Age?

What possible benefit could come from an examination of planetary positions at the moment and place of birth?

Did we not leave such superstitious ideas behind when Darwin and Descartes came along?

Granted, Carl G. Jung did much to restore interest in alchemy, astrology, Eastern traditions and the realm of the intuitive. He studied dreams in himself and thousands of clients over the years, and even sent his most challenging clients off to have a horoscope drawn up. He recognized through his theory of synchronicity that there is no such thing as randomness, that everything in this reality unfolds along archetypal lines, and that this unfoldment occurs according to alchemical cycles that appear to have been embedded in the collective unconscious of humanity. Jung was not afraid to look into the dark past for insights into psychological pathologies of modern existence – and what he found during this search was that the ancients were far better equipped to understand the workings of the mind and soul than are scientifically-conditioned “experts” of current times.

Jung paid a price for his rediscoveries, of course, in that his work was marginalized and discarded by the psychotherapeutic establishment, which retains a Freudian perspective to this very day.  So-called “Jungians” are typically regarded by the mainstream with a wink and a nod, at best.  Nevertheless, Jungian ideas have infiltrated the field of psychology in subtle (yet profound) ways, even as these ideas have done wonders in establishing astrology in the West.

Dane Rudhyar, whose work spanned the middle 50 years of the 20th century, crystallized Jung’s revolutionary perspective and combined it with the ancient art of astrology, publishing in 1936 one of the truly original – if nearly-unknown – works of psycho-spiritual synthesis ever produced: The Astrology of Personality. In this book (as well as in most of his writings), Rudhyar showed that astrology is not about predicting future events, but about bringing order out of chaos, giving the individual a roadmap for psychological unfoldment along organic and cyclical lines.

In my consultations, then, it is this ideal of “bringing order out of chaos” that informs the proceedings.

Through this “higher ordering,” something profound and mysterious occurs, and it is this deeper process that gives astrology its true value.

We spend so much of our lives “in the middle of it,” plugging away, often just surviving what seems like a random mess of external influences that push us here and there. We are conditioned, in fact, to believe that this is how life really occurs – that things just happen, and we should respond as best we can. The idea that life unfolds in cycles that may be interpreted through signs and symbols is not something to be taken seriously – so we just push ahead, doing what we can within our limited range of vision.

If nothing else, these past 18 years of working with astrology have shown me that life is not random, that it does unfold according to a collective framework that manifests cyclically, and that these cycles have been expressed through the signs and symbols of astrology for thousands of years.

Astrology puts the individual in touch with the collective, the micro with the macro, and it gives us the opportunity to avail ourselves of a collective perspective that is literally infinite in scope. It is like being put in a spaceship, flown way, way up into our local solar system – into the realm of the Archetypes – and given the opportunity to see life from the point-of-view of higher understanding. From this higher platform of knowledge, order is introduced into what the individual experiences as chaos.

While it’s true that, in identifying certain cycles running through the client’s chart, an occasional insight will arise that may be taken as a “prediction” for future events… what is actually happening is that the client and I are arriving at a synchronistic point of understanding. Together we “see” something clear and obvious, even though it may have been sitting on the client’s nose for years and years. This is an alchemical process, such that, when the two of us climb into the “alchemical crucible,” we have availed ourselves of a Mystery that expresses through signs and symbols. We have immersed ourselves, in fact, in a sea of signs and symbols, submitting to anciently-derived collective wisdom that comes to bear on the present moment.

As I explain this and describe that during a routine survey of astrological data springing forth from the chart, signs and symbols are transmuted into insights that trigger connections and associations within the client. These connections and associations then trigger a similar process within me. In short order, the client and I are seeing one another as an uncanny mirror, sharing in this deeply intimate moment a recognition of an otherwise unconscious human heritage.

There is something profoundly healing in the intimacy of this meeting, beyond even what the signs and symbols represent. It is as though the signs and symbols create a doorway to the holy place of awareness before we take birth, and in this holy place we find a spiritual connectedness that is independent of the form and drama of our current life. We have agreed to spend an hour or so in this place, suspending our conditioning and our beliefs about the should’s and shouldn’ts of life… and we make ourselves available to a wisdom that can’t be accessed in any other way.

Perhaps this description sounds forth as memory and resonance from beyond the chaos of your everyday life.

If so, perhaps the alchemical crucible may be calling you.

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Rudhyar on Personhood, Schuon on the Underlying Unity

Dane Rudhyar filtered astrology through Jung’s archetypal and alchemical psychology, emerging with a vision of wholeness that’s never found a more effective expression.

From his final book, The Fullness of Human Experience:

What is to be meant by being a person? Why are human beings today determined to operate as autonomous individuals characteristically able to make responsible decisions? Another question inevitably follows: How does a person arrive at what he or she considers a valid basis for the decision? This basis evidently depends on the particular nature of the choice being made; yet, whether or not the person realizes it, any decision implies the acceptance of an approach to life and the meaning of existence which has metaphysical and/or religious roots.

Most religions or spiritual philosophies assume as an incontrovertible fact of inner experiences (particularly in states of intense meditation or ecstasy) that human persons are essentially spiritual entities (Souls or Monads) that, having emerged from “the One” (God or the Absolute), return to their source after a long and dangerous “pilgrimage” through a series of material states. Individuality, and therefore a state of at least relative separateness which allows for basic differences in beingness, are the essential factors in the human condition.

I would add that it is this “state of at least relative separateness” that is at the root of our 21st Century existential crisis — which is why a revival of Religio Perennis is essential to both the survival and wellbeing of the human species on planet Earth.

Why?

Because, without a metaphysical structure, we are left without a context through which this material reality may gain meaning. And without meaning, what’s the point in living?

It is this dirth of meaning that ends up pitting humans against humans, each projecting suffering onto the other, mindless of their essential unity.

On the other hand, with metaphysical meaning comes a recognition of our brotherhood and sisterhood — our collective status as children of The One — and it is this recognition that invites heaven on earth.

From Frithjof Schuon’s definition (.pdf) of Religio Perennis:

One of the keys to understanding our true nature and our ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world are never proportionate to the actual range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or else it is nothing; among all the intelligences of this world the human spirit alone is capable of objectivity, and this implies—or proves—that the Absolute alone confers on our intelligence the power to accomplish to the full what it can accomplish and to be wholly what it is. If it were necessary or useful to prove the Absolute, the objective and trans-personal character of the human Intellect would be a sufficient testimony, for this Intellect is the indisputable sign of a purely spiritual first Cause, a Unity infinitely central but containing all things, an Essence at once immanent and transcendent. It has been said more than once that total Truth is inscribed in an eternal script in the very substance of our spirit; what the different Revelations do is to “crystallize” and “actualize”, in different degrees according to the case, a nucleus of certitudes that not only abides forever in the divine Omniscience, but also sleeps by refraction in the “naturally supernatural” kernel of the individual, as well as in that of each ethnic or historical collectivity or the human species as a whole.

(…) The essential function of human intelligence is discernment between the Real and the illusory or between the Permanent and the impermanent, and the essential function of the will is attachment to the Permanent or the Real. This discernment and this attachment are the quintessence of all spirituality; carried to their highest level or reduced to their purest substance, they constitute the underlying universality in every great spiritual patrimony of humanity, or what may be called the religio perennis; this is the religion to which the sages adhere, one which is always and necessarily founded upon formal elements of divine institution.

(…) A civilization is integral and healthy to the extent it is founded on the “invisible” or “underlying” religion, the religio perennis, that is, to the extent its expressions or forms are transparent to the Non-Formal and tend toward the Origin, thus conveying the recollection of a Lost Paradise, but also—and with all the more reason—the presentiment of a timeless Beatitude. For the Origin is at once within us and before us; time is but a spiral movement around a motionless Center.

This last line says it all.

It is something toward which our species once aspired — our fallible, frail species — and with any luck, it’s an aspiration we’ll discover once again.

Soon, before it’s too late.

Spiritualized

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C.G. Jung, winding down the years….

Regular commenter Hawk recently brought up a subject worthy of its own post:

I just was reading pages 275 – 288 in C.G. Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and found his comparisons of Indian thought and Christianity very interesting. If you have any reactions or thoughts regarding Jung’s insights here, it would be helpful in my own process.

Little did I know the intensity of what would follow, as I began to read this passage from Jung’s autobiography (easily one of the twelve most influential books I’ve ever read, and one of the few to which I return periodically), which has led into several Internet as well as personal conversations, not to mention a synchronistic series of written teachings from varied sources. Let me provide one slice from Jung, quoting from page 277:

In Konarak (Orissa) I met a pandit who obligingly offered to come with me on my visit to the temple and the great temple car. The pagoda is covered from base to pinnacle with exquisitely obscene sculptures. We talked for a long time about this extraordinary fact, which he explained to me as a means to achieve spiritualization. I objected — pointing to a group of young peasants who were standing open-mouthed before the monument, admiring these splendors — that such young men were scarcely undergoing spiritualization at the moment, but were much more likely having their heads filled with sexual fantasies. Whereupon he replied, “But that is just the point. How can they ever become spiritualized if they do not first fulfill their karma? These admittedly obscene images are here for the very purpose of recalling to the people their dharma [law]; otherwise these unconscious fellows might forget it.”

I thought it an odd notion that young men might forget their sexuality, like animals out of rutting time. My sage, however, resolutely maintained that they were as unconscious as animals and actually in need of urgent admonishments. To this end, he said, before they set foot inside the temple they were reminded of their dharma by the exterior decorations; for unless they were made conscious of their dharma and fulfilled it, they could not partake of spiritualization.

This brings to mind the concept of the Fool’s Journey, which comes from Tarot lore and embodies the idea of the Fool card, which is said to depict all 22 major arcana cards in the life-journey that they represent. In other words, the Fool starts at zero (the number of his card), heads out through 21 stages of archetypal growth, only to return to zero. Those 21 stages of archetypal growth include such images as the Devil, the Lovers and Death, each of which has something to say about the need to pass through the fleshly experience of existence, complete with its erroneous beliefs and its misguided passions, until our karma is played out and we return to the spiritual recognition of our Divine essence (the Universe or World card, number 21, which stands for the panentheistic notion of God in everything, everything in God).

So, in order to pass through the doors to the Holy Sanctuary, one must pass through fleshly existence and all that it entails.

This brought to mind a prominent feature of my own spiritual biography, which I’ll reproduce here:

During spring of 1967, before my fifth birthday, I passed through a phase that lasted about three weeks, during which I sat cross-legged on my bed, facing west through a window that looked out on our back yard. Through what little Bible study I’d managed to accrue, I had formed an intimate bond with Jesus, considering him to be physically present not only when I prayed, but as I went through daily life. We would hold long conversations, walking side-by-side like best friends who’d known each other for two thousand years.

Jesus was present as I sat on my bed one morning. An energy grew inside my little body, filling it with bliss and happiness. Somehow, I knew just how to work with the energy, until “I” outgrew the house, the neighborhood, the city, state, continentÉ the planet. Then I popped out of the physical dimension completely, and was met by several presences that felt like “home,” who nonverbally “reminded” me of many things I’d known before this birth. It felt like I was being infused with sacred information, “catching up” on something that I’d worked long and hard to obtain. I moved in and out of these vibrational states every day during this time. Familiar beings accompanied me on these inner flights, like a family that had sent me into human form for some collective purpose; I was “reporting” back to them, and they were filling me in on my mission objectives, as well as teaching me what I would need to know during an arduous stay in this world. The experience was one of becoming reacquainted with that part of me that extends backwards and forwards through time, such that I merely had to acknowledge what I already knew. The specific information that emerged did not remain in my conscious mind for long, however, as I was a four-year-old boy who did not normally have the language to process these things.

Once, my mother burst into the room and saw me sitting there – I could see her clearly with non-physical eyes – and she quietly backed out, clicking the door closed. She never mentioned this or any of the other episodes to me.

As the final session drew to a close, the presences who’d supported this process gave me a little mantra that I could say at any time during the ensuing years, which would give a hint of remembrance to the states that I’d experienced. The mantra, “I Am Me,” looks innocuous enough now, but at the time, it triggered something deep and primordial, not to mention fascinating. I would ponder the “I” by itself, then the “Am,” then the “Me,” noticing that each could be experienced separately and as a single presence, such that I “traveled” in and out of individual awareness as if hitting a light switch. I knew that I was being acclimated to individual identity, but the mantra allowed me to access the unitive presence whenever I wanted throughout the “barren” years that would follow these experiences.

They (the guiding presences) suggested that they would leave me to a worldly existence for about 30 years before rejoining my spiritual emergence. During precisely 30 years without ready access to the energy that visited me in those early days, I would periodically recite my mantra in order to briefly experience sensations that bridged across many, many lifetimes, and in this way I could let go existential anxieties that may have inhibited the process that would greet me when those 30 years passed.

Those 30 years “in the desert” fulfilled many of the Fool’s Journey requisites, as depicted in the major arcana cards. I’m talking about what we all go through in our own way: coming of age, leaving the nest, getting into all sorts of trouble, getting out of all sorts of trouble (hopefully), developing all sorts of self-destructive beliefs and behaviors, dealing with them, replacing them with either different forms of the same, or brand new, more constructive beliefs and behaviors that lead toward wholeness, healing and, ultimately, reunion with the Divine.

So my wife and I spent this morning having “church” in the living room. We fired up some matte, slathered butter and jelly onto some toast, and sat down at our Japanese table under the picture window — gentle rain outside, pattering the roof — and I opened the Bible to Ecclesiastes, planning to look up in Charles Fillmores Metaphysical Bible Dictionary terms that we encountered in this most poetic and achingly anguished Old Testament book. Here’s an example, taken from Chapter Two, verses 17-26 (TNIV version):

17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For people may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to others who have not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

24 People can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

While I don’t have the Bible Dictionary with me here at the coffee shop, I can put into my own words the metaphysical meaning that Fillmore attributed to Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes means (metaphysically, according to Fillmore) “experience,” which (in my words) is the working out of karma that we must accomplish before becoming “spiritualized.” Fillmore says that experience is by far the best sermon, because we cannot just fall asleep in the pew while the preacher drones on (sorry, Hawk!), but must “face the music” that life’s ups and downs dish up. Eventually, experience leads us into the Dark Night of the Soul that the author of Ecclesiastes seems to have reached — and which St. John of the Cross so beautifully described while shivering in a Carmelite dungeon oh so many years ago. Fillmore says that worldly experience is what leads us home to the remembrance of God, and to the extent that we are able to merge our seemingly separate existence with the ever-Presence of God, we may eventually transcend the pain and suffering (see Ecclesiastes above) associated with attachment to worldly things, and know that we are One with the Source of all Good.

To bring things absolutely full circle in terms of my current unfoldment, I now know from experience what the Buddha meant in the last of his Noble Eightfold Path (Right Absorption), which was/is his “middle path” away from the realm of suffering and into the extinguishment of worldly attachment: each stage of meditative absorption (jhana/samadhi) brings the meditator into greater and greater at-one-ment with the Universal I AM (my words, stolen from many great mystics)… and the absorption itself melts away our illusory attachment to gaining succor from worldly things and conditions. In other words, he/she who works with meditative absorption works with God’s transformative Presence to gradually eliminate “wrong view,” replacing it with a saturation in “right view,” which is to live life in communion with the Infinite.

That’s my take, and apologies to everyone for hitting you with such a long, involved, meandering post.

I am, on the other hand, anxious to get Hawk’s take on the Jung material exampled above….

Inner Explorations

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My main early mentor in this lifetime, Carl Jung….

From the front page:

Where Christian mysticism, theology and metaphysics meet Eastern religions, Jungian psychology and a new sense of the earth.

More than 500 web pages, 2,500 pages of text, and 1,000 images.

It’s got everything… including a $25 DVD called “Natural Building and a New Sense of the Earth,” which happens to be a subject close to my heart (though not, currently, close to my income level — but that could change!).

Here are some images of the type of dwelling shown in the DVD:

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I don’t mind saying, I’ll be spending some time reading through some of the 500 pages on this site, soaking in the good intentions of its author. Great stuff here.

Becoming Like a Child

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This is a useful concept for stepping back from our adult neuroses and reclaiming a “beginner’s mind” that is better able to see past all the crap in the world.

It’s from an Orthodox Christianity perspective, specifically from an essay by Nick Trakakis, Department of Philosophy, Monash University (wherever that is):

But how do we, who are either well on our way towards adulthood or firmly established as adults, suddenly stop and return to the mind-set and attitudes of our beginnings? Why, even, would we want to make such a turnabout in the first place? Children are, of course, very often endearing creatures, but they do not always manifest the best qualities of human nature: they can be quite cruel to each other, they are supremely self-centred, they can barely think beyond the present or the present satisfaction of their needs, they live a sheltered and heavily protected existence, they are gullible, and so on. Why, then, should we want to become like children, and what does becoming a child actually involve?

The eminent Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), in his short but insightful book Unless You Become Like This Child, provides a searching discussion of these questions. Von Balthasar points out that there are several things involved in the process that Jesus referred to as becoming like children, three of which I think are worthy of some reflection.

Firstly, the exhortation to become like children is to be understood in terms of the call to recover our childlike gratitude. Such gratitude, as von Balthasar explains, is reflected in the words and actions of Jesus, ‘the eternal Child’: “Thanksgiving, in Greek eucharistia, is the quintessence of Jesus’ stance toward the Father. ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me’, he says at Lazarus’ grave, conscious that the Father has given him the power to raise the dead (Jn 11:41).” Children, likewise, are thankful for the gifts that are freely bestowed on them by their parents, whether it be food, clothing, protection, or Christmas presents. But as von Balthasar notes, plea and thanks in a child, the child’s dependency and its gratitude, cannot yet be clearly distinguished: “Because he [i.e., the child] is needy he is also thankful in his deepest being, before making any free, moral decision to be so. And when he grows older and we say to him, ‘Say please’, ‘say thank you’, we are not teaching him anything new but only trying to bring into his more conscious sphere what is already present from the beginning.”

Secondly, becoming like children involves recovering our childlike awe, our childlike sense of amazement. The ancients, it will be recalled, sought to ground their philosophical reflections in a sense of wonder, a wonder rooted in the experience of beauty. This sense of wonder is also an integral part of childhood. Children are often amazed over everything that we take to be ordinary. A child, for example, will be overawed by all the things, great and small, that he discovers in his newly inhabited world, from the tiny insects he spots on the pavement to the starry heavens above. Unfortunately, this appreciation for the wondrous and mysterious qualities of life can be easily lost, as von Balthasar points out: “In the world of men, childlike amazement is not easy to preserve since so much in education aims at learning habits, mastering tasks and grasping automatic functions.” The problem is further exacerbated in western capitalist countries, where the emphasis on scientific inquiry and economic productivity, together with sprawling cities and the consequent alienation from the natural environment, quickly sap one’s ability to marvel at the splendour of the world.

Thirdly, becoming like children also means recovering our childlike attitude towards time. Unconsciously, and sometimes even quite consciously, we think that ‘My time is my own’. Our sense of ownership in general, but particularly as it relates to time, is perceptively analysed by C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters. In letter 21, the demon Screwtape instruct his nephew Wormwood on how to go about inculcating feelings of possessiveness in his human ‘patient’:

Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

From my archetypal perspective (yes, I completed at certification program in Jungian Archetypal Psychotherapy), we’re talking about the Elder Leader archetype here.

The Elder Leader grows up quickly, and often feels as though he/she passed up childhood altogether. Later in life, however, the Elder Leader begins to revert to a more childlike presence. My grandfather on my mother’s side was an Elder Leader type, and as he aged, he began to laugh more often. He and Grandma started traveling, following the Senior PGA Tour around the Western U.S., and even snuck into Nevado for some gambling from time to time (don’t tell anyone!).

The Wisdom of the Elder Leader is that he/she recognizes that life is too short to spend the whole thing worrying about adhering to social convention. All the hard work that goes into a “success story” — especially in America — is ultimately a vast diversion from what is really important, or from what truly has meaning. It’s not that hard work doesn’t produce rewarding results — it definitely can — but hard work at the expense of “smelling the roses” can lead to years and years of drudgery and missed opportunity.

The Child sees meaning in everything, precisely because it does not judge from past experience. Everything is brand new, and the Child has a more-or-less clean slate on which to imprint these new experiences. All things are possible to the Child, and its desires are a pure extension of an innocent way of viewing “reality.”

Our world needs the Child’s perspective more than ever. Thus, we need to become like a child in our individual lives. Meaningful change must begin with me and you.