Personification

“Ideas that we do not know we have, have us. Psychology’s job, it seems to me, is to see the subjective, archetypal factor in our sight, before or while looking at facts and events. Other sciences have to pretend to being objective, to be describing things as they are; psychology fortunately is always bound by its psychic limitations and can be spared the pretense of objectivity. In place of the obligation to be objectively factual, it obliges to be subjectively aware, which becomes possible only if we are willing to have an exhaustive go at the assumptions in our primary notions.” James Hillman

512px-Raffaello,_studio_per_gli_affreschi_della_farnesina

Hillman begins a discussion on the relationship of anima to personification by bringing in its pathological opposite, he calls depersonalization. Clinically speaking, a state in which one loses a previous normative sense of themselves in which ‘I am not I’, and perhaps not even a person at all. It is a detached feeling characterized by a loss of subjective interiority in which oneself, others, and the world around us seem unreal, distant or undifferentiated.

“We each may have experienced depersonalization and derealization in less extreme degree. I refer to those states of apathy, monotony, dryness, and weary resignation, the sense of not caring and of not believing in one’s value, that nothing is important or all is voided, outside and inside.” James Hillman

Hillman uses this pathological state as a way to understand the relationship between personification and anima. For Jung it is akin to a loss of soul understood here as anima.

“… permanent loss of the anima means… resignation, weariness, sloppiness, irresponsibility.” CW 9, i, 147

“According to Jung, it is the anima who provides the relationship between man and the world as well as between man and his interior subjectivity. She is in fact the personification of that interiority and subjectivity, the very sense of personality.” James Hillman

“Man derives his human personality…his consciousness of himself as a personality… primarily from the influence of quasi-personal archetypes.” CW 5, 388

Evariste-Vital_Luminais_-_PsychéAnima then is the ongoing source of life, the very breath of life that is generative, not only of the body, but also of what makes us human, giving us identity, personality and character, thereby shaping the way we perceive, understand and make sense of the world. The ancients understood soul as the carrier of one’s genius or daimon. This invisible otherness is an animating force connecting us to the ancestors and to the gods themselves. Personifying is then understood as the way in which we experience all relatedness. Ideas, myths, dreams, stories come through us dressed in the form of others. ‘I’ am an ongoing, living expression of soul’s relationship to all that has gone before me and all that is.

Without a recognition of personification in ourselves and the world around us, there is a loss of a mediator, the animating factor, between archetypal reality and everyday life, leaving one with both the felt experience and behavior stemming from a sense that only ‘I’ exist. All experience then becomes mine and the capacity to truly distinguish oneself from others is diminished. The depths of soul become a void, and while still felt deeply, when stripped of our capacity to truly know and differentiate the other, they are experienced only as what they mean to me, or through my reactivity towards them. For better or worse, to never see oneself as a being personified by archetypal influence, ‘I’ now takes on an identity, regardless of the source, with everything that comes through my experience.

“This loss is not merely a psychiatric condition; it is also a cosmology. We all live to a larger extent then we realize in the state of depersonalization. Hence the work with anima – including my writing and your reading – because it is at the same time a work on the moribund anima mundi, is a noble task.” James Hillman

Noble, because without bridging the gaps between oneself, others and the world around us, the world and others remain depersonified, suffering our neglect of their aliveness and reality. Speaking for myself, this condition seems a contagion, which when sensed at all, seems to be accepted as the human condition, leaving us powerless to do much of anything other than suffer the trail of destruction left in its wake. We may, and do, seek refuge in activism – whether religious, spiritual, political or otherwise. I include myself here, only my preferred form of activism is for soul and for the soul of the world.

Ghost_2_--)_(2236727529)

“A self-knowledge that rests within a cosmology which declares the mineral, vegetable and animal world beyond the human person to be impersonal and inanimate is not only inadequate. It is also delusional. No matter how well we may know ourselves, we remain walking, talking ghosts, cosmologically set apart from the other beings of our milieu.” James Hillman

Jung’s solution, which is sometimes forgotten or ignored in some modern Jungian thought, is what he called active imagination. Through active imagination, we turn our awareness to fantasy, not by indulging in the realm of their content, but by attending to everyday thought and emotion, and coming to understand the fantasy inherent within the mundane as it reaches us through everyday personifications, voicings, all of which are particular expressions of archetypal, or universal realities we are all subject to.

“The light that gradually dawns on him [modern man] consists in his understanding that his fantasy is a real psychic process which is happening to him personally…. But if you recognize your own involvement you yourself must enter into the process with your personal reactions, just as if you were one of the fantasy figures, or rather, as if the drama being enacted before your eyes were real. It is a psychic fact that this fantasy is happening, and it is as real as you – as a psychic entity – are real. If this crucial operation is not carried out, all the changes are left to the flow of images, and you yourself remain unchanged.” CW 14, 753

For Jung, the anima is an initiator into ever greater distinctions between oneself and others, for the purpose of respecting the power and influence of the archetypes, and to increasingly become a mediator between ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ realities. While like Hillman, I question the notion of any complete integration, the necessity for a practice of mediation between what is within the purview of my awareness and the unfathomable depths of what is not, continues to make all the difference in my life by enriching the felt experience of a more expansive sense of myself, others and the world.

Admittedly, every increase of sensitivity also brings with it a greater recognition of the troubles of the world. This can be painful. What seems a lesson for me of late, is to keep in mind Jung’s admonition to stay in the tension and the suffering. And as Hillman suggested, don’t fall prey to the adoption of overarching beliefs, static goals, dogmas or conclusions about the troubles of the world. We are all still writing the story, as we in turn, continue to be written by it. By their very definition, endings always destroy something, and are perhaps where fantasy finds us most unaware.

Except where noted, all quotes from James Hillman, Anima, the Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Spring publications.

The Bravery of Being Out of Range

In a truly powerful presentation on the prevalence of war in human history, James Hillman asks us to reconsider why war has always been with us, what is it about war that we remain so attracted to? Listen to the podcast here:

A Terrible Love of War:

http://www.kcet.org/socal/podcasts/aloud-at-central-library/james-hillman-on-a-terrible-love-of-war.html

War is something I have never understood nor tried to understand. Through the ages, war plagues us as an ever present reality. No culture, at any time or place, has escaped its grip. What the attraction to war is and why we humans always engage in it has seemed completely incomprehensible to me. But war continues, in spite of the protest and disgust that some of us profess. Like most human affairs, you can love it, hate it or try hard to ignore it, but the persistence of war is seemingly bigger than our professed dislike of it.

In James Hillman’s last and perhaps most provocative book, A Terrible Love of War (outlined in the talk which is linked above), an attempt is made to delve into the human history of war and our simultaneous attraction and repulsion to it. Of the many points that Hillman presents, I was struck by his idea that although war has always been with us, the nature of our engagement has radically changed in the last 100 years. As technology advances we are much more able to do battle at a distance. Not that this has decreased in the number of casualties, but that the nature of those casualties and who is involved has changed. No longer the domain of the soldier, advancement in war’s technology has increasingly blurred the lines between soldier and civilian.

Where as once upon a time casualties were limited by the lack of efficient ways to kill one’s enemy, requiring a close encounter with the enemy in order to do any harm, that is no longer the case. War was at one time a much more local, slower paced affair. Technology has given the modern soldier many advantages that take him out of range of harm’s way at the cost of doing more collateral damage to civilians in far away lands at greater distances.

Perhaps difficult to acknowledge, war does benefit us by providing an incentive for engaging in a race with our enemies for better weaponry which has continually advanced the technologies of transportation, communication, first aid and surgical procedures.

Do the technological innovations help justify and support war’s place in our world as inevitable and necessary? Can we, if we choose to, eradicate war and live in everlasting peace? Perhaps, whatever our feelings about war, a need exists to put down the weapons of our opinions, especially our fierce insistence that war must either be, or not be, and examine our personal relationship to war and the political structures we live in that war serves. Instead of taking aim at war’s very existence, perhaps by turning our focus on what ideas underlie our acceptance or rejection of war’s presence in our world, we can revitalize the ideas we have about war and the cultural conversation around us.

As Americans this is a particularly difficult task, especially in recent times where war seems a constant presence in our lives. After 911, I was of a mind that we absolutely needed a military response to the attack on our country. After 11 years in which it seems there is nothing but war in our future, and seeing how deep the wounds have been both here and abroad, I am left doubting that our involvement in the Middle East will ever bring about any good. I fear that structurally, our place in the world, especially since WWII, is turning us into a powerful, unstoppable monster in all future global affairs. Our political structure is turning us into an international serial killer, taking on what Hillman calls an “uncontrollable autonomy.” The political powers that be; left, right and center, have been sucked into the war machine.

Can the permission slip granted us in the post WWII era, to remain perpetually involved in the affairs of other sovereign nations be revoked? My hope is that we, and especially our political leaders, begin to consider a way to pull back, both the financial and military presence America has achieved worldwide before we are forced to, either by the collapse of our economy, or by a war to end all wars scenario in which other global powers force us to accept a more humble place in the world community.

My respect for libertarian ideas comes partly from the way in which they have opened me up to reconsider my support for the post 911 war machine. Perhaps we needed to respond to the attack on our soil, very likely our global engagement both financially and militarily have led us to this place where we are perpetually involved abroad and so attacks on us have become increasingly more likely.

If we were to disengage globally, sacrifices will have to be made. We need to ask ourselves collectively exactly what will it look like to dramatically change the nature of our relationships with the countries in which we currently support either militarily or financially. I believe a discussion in which we revision America realistically as to what would be lost and gained by giving up our role of Big Global Daddy would be much more productive in fostering an understanding of who we are right now and who, as a nation among nations, we’d like to be.

It All Looks Fine…to the Naked Eye

The Future (apocalyptic fantasies) 
In my younger days, I assumed that humanity has and continues to change for the better. Whether from the optimism of my forward looking youthfulness in a world full of possibility, or from absorbing the current cultural voices that inspired hopefulness, the story line in the America that I grew up in was one of optimism for a future made easier, safer, and longer and better by science and technology. Much of which remains true.
Things change. I first remember being aware that all is not well with the world, and hearing that the end is in sight, during the 70’s when environmental issues or events such as the approaching planetary alignment hit the news. Doom was coming. Later in life I came to understand that just like creation stories, apocalyptic fantasies abound throughout human history and in all cultures. Even if we do not know how or when, we do know that everything, our individual lives, and the life of the cosmos has its end.
I have over the years come to understand end times primarily as archetypal, with the power to draw us into imagining the future and so better to be aware of our attraction to Endings and how much influence their ideas may have over both our thoughts and choices. Keeping this in mind we can look at all end time scenarios for the fantasies contained within them. What do they say of us – our hopes, fears and sense of meaning and purpose (or lack there of) in both our individual lives and the span of the bigger cosmos we find ourselves in?
Presently, there is a Christian, primarily post reformation, view of the end based on a literal interpretation of Revelations, a political play by play of the end of the world as we know it often referred to as the Apocalypse. All you need to do is google “the coming apocalypse” to see how much currency this idea has in our culture. Entering politics in many ways, but especially concerning itself with current events in the US and the middle east, this view centers around a belief that since Israel has come back into existence, the count down to the end game has begun. A battle between good and evil has been in play ever since Adam and Eve got evicted from the Garden, and there will be a grand finale in which all the supernatural forces will make themselves known to us and a battle to end all battles will play out before us. In the end, though this world will be destroyed, Believers will be saved and God will make a new heaven and a new earth for them.
Although the idea of Cosmic Justice is sometimes appealing in a world in which Justice does not always prevail I have never been convinced that Justice in God’s eyes is equivalent to Justice as we, with our limited vision, see and understand it. In this world where we are all vulnerable to pain and suffering, living with a frequently unavoidable ability to cause hurt to others, how likely is it that God created us just to simply destroy us at some point along the way? Why bother to create us less than perfect in the first place? Perhaps some of us really need to believe that evil will be punished in order to live with the reality of evil, but the more peace and compassion I come to feel, the less likely the thought of punishment of others seems attractive to me. Evil deeds, it seems, come from a lack of a sense of an ability to love and to choose goodness. We do evil things when we’re wounded, living in fear, and have not yet known and experienced a true and compassionate love in our lives.
We can’t lay claim to know what torment a murderer may live with, no matter how hard we try, but we might consider the possibility that their choices and actions reflect their own suffering and torment. Maybe Justice is the torment we experience when we have knowingly taken advantage and hurt someone weaker than us. But when we are wronged it can be so hard to see anything except through the lens of our weakness, pain and suffering that we’ve been reduced to at the hand of another. If only they could feel our pain, we imagine, then justice would be done. But I am not so sure what Justice really looks like or feels like. If Justice does mean that someone should suffer for hurting me, it certainly is not my job to decide what that suffering looks like. But how could I, not wanting to suffer, ever want suffering for another and not see that want as evil?
But I do think that Christian ideas are still very much with us, even for non-believers and that it’s worthwhile for them to consider just how they might be influenced by them. It may be just as dangerous to reject Christianity without understanding what it is that’s being rejected. You might reject Christianity wishing to be rid of authority and fantasy. Here God becomes the fantastical big daddy rejected perhaps out of our hope of growing up, living in reality and being responsible. And yet, childishness has permeated American culture to the point that we sometimes take pride in our childishness.
I say we have not moved beyond a need for authority, but rather have embraced new gods, such as Science, Commerce and Entertainment. Or, we have become the gods, and we are the destroyers, hence the strong belief in a coming environmental apocalypse caused by Us, as well as our love of war with our bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. And because in this modern sometimes atheistic view, God is a fantasy, we must be real, and so, save ourselves. This I think explains why political power and a belief in Central Government has for some, taken on a sense of import and urgency. Just as the literal Biblical Apocalypse has been politicized by Believers into war games in the Middle East, non-believers want Us to Save Ourselves from Us using primarily political means.
But the Christian idea of Salvation may help us to understand what Endings have always been asking of us. The root of the word salvation is related to healing, or making whole. So, perhaps we should be asking ourselves, what is it that heals us, and makes us whole and how could another’s pain aid our healing? If we have any capacity for compassion, would we not wince at another’s suffering, especially when we know well our own suffering? I do believe that healing and a sense of wholeness, or the ability to be at peace with oneself is the end game for all of us. There is no more rewarding sense than to be at peace with oneself and others along with feeling a genuine love and compassion for all of our sufferings weaknesses. Life is truly hard and we are, each of us, at the deepest level of our being truly alone left to figure it out the best we can. That is, I believe, both a blessing and a curse.
Thank you to The Who for the theme-

You hold the gun and I hold the wound,
And we stand looking in each other’s eyes,
Both think we know what’s right,
Both know we know what’s wrong,
We tell ourselves so many many many lies,
We’re not pawns in any game, we’re not tools of bigger men,
There’s only One who can really move us all,
It all looks fine to the naked eye,
But it don’t really happen that way at all.

-Pete Townsend

I’d Love to Change the World but…

Part III – Political Identity (what being politically identified does for us)

Identity, political or otherwise, continues to be an enduring theme in my life. Political identity as well as voter participation is of course optional. Many of us are though, invested in a political vision, and view the world through political lenses. We place politics high enough on our list of priorities to stay informed; read newspapers, watch news programs and perhaps even read political books. The influence of Politics in America has increasingly infiltrated many of our social structures; schools, churches, businesses, while awareness of who we are ethnically or through our life style distinctions are punctuated more than ever. Perhaps because access to the world at large has increased, and technology continues to bring more voices into the cultural conversation, political awareness and identity is on the increase.

My sense has always been that from out of the continuity of experience, from which I know that I am me and not another, there is an ever extending chain of events that through their effects on what I see, feel, sense and know, change the aggregate sense of self that carries me forward. Sometimes changes wrought from terrifying or painful events bring regret, and cannot be undone, calling for a reconciliation in order to bring some peace of mind. I found this to be true from both bad choices I have made in my life as well as from exposure to violent images and events, whether in life experiences, or in films or books.

To live with the knowledge of evil brings pain that cannot easily be reconciled with the desire for peace and goodness. For even when we are sometimes able to choose the good, we remain in a world frequented by evil and live in a world of ambiguity of moral effects. There is not always a clear path to the good, and certainly no absolute knowledge that what I do brings about the goodness intended without some unintended evil. Also, it is as if the weight of the collective evil can be in our hearts and spoil our peace. Although letting oneself get pulled down into darkness will never dispel evil from the world, we live much like Rilke shows us, with a foot in both worlds.

With that in my mind I come to view the spectrum of political identities for their vision and the fantasies they engender.

Perhaps too, it may be that politics has come to the foreground of American culture because we all sense, in varying degrees, the trouble our culture and our world is in. What seems to heighten our anxiety that something must be done to fix us may be the paradox of living in a world where an amazing amount of technology and information is instantly available to us. Why then, can we not fix our problems, right now? (Would you like to supersize your order m’am?)

Although there are many distinctions between political identities, just as technology and information are speeding up, they all share in an increasing sense of urgency for the implementation of our fantasy* of solutions offered for the problems as we imagine them to be. But, it seems, the more we do, the worse things get. Both ends of the political spectrum embrace the notion that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, although one side tends not to believe in a literal hell, so for them it is simply going to be the end of the world as we know it.

Either way, or anyway, what are political identities doing for us? Like a lot of ways in which we come to define ourselves; as a lover of sports, music or the arts, political identity can bring us a sense of belonging and shared experience which may lead us to fulfill a creative impulse and, or, give us a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. What differentiates political identity from other ways of engagement may lie in what propels the political impulse as well as in our experience of the engagement and to what ends that engagement serves.

Perhaps it is true that the larger the investment in a political identity the more investment in one’s cosmology there is. Cosmology here meaning the kind and amount of meaning an individual sees in his life and the lives of others and the order of the world as a whole, including a perceived absence of meaning and order.

That our cosmological views of the world have in the last few hundred years shifted from being theologically to scientifically based would not be hotly contested. Although there are variations to style and degree, how much we include God or the gods in our cosmological view to a large extent determines our political identity. Boiled down to their essence, there is the Scientific view in which there is either no god at all, or no god who directly or personally effects us, and therefore We, the People are it. Our capacity to govern, plan for the future, understand our world and how it works depends solely on scientific, economic and political knowledge. The power of politics and government are then placed entirely in our human hands. Laws are man made, hence subject to revision according to place and time, and have no ultimate claim to authority outside of ourselves.

At the theological end of the spectrum, all power and authority gets placed in the hands of God. Though there are variations among religions as to what God’s law is and how those laws should be practiced, what matters most for where on the spectrum of political identity one places oneself, is one’s teleological view of the world. The amount of control we believe God has over human and cosmological affairs directly correlates to how fixed we believe God’s law is and so determines how human law should be practiced and how much influence humans have to affect the ultimate outcome of humanity and the Cosmos.

Our view of teleology very nicely accounts for the difference in political views. It may not account for all differences, but will help us to account for differences not only between atheists who place their faith and trust solely in Science and personal knowledge, and theists who place theirs solely in God. Perhaps both extremes are equally dogmatic and therefore equally dangerous. We can see this more clearly by following the root of the ideas of both views outward to their display. I am not however arguing for the middle, a lukewarm place where we compromise for the sake of some imagined “agreeable” outcome. The point here is to simply consider the implications of the view at both ends of the spectrum where I believe the tension and polarity are amplified.

But if we are truly in a world where what matters is only matter, who cares for that world? If we place a higher value in the material world over and against the spiritual world, where all valuation occurs; love, beauty, desire, dreams, where will our hearts reside? And even if Scientific knowledge reveals every last detail to the millionth decimal point and discovers the means to control everything, from the weather to food production to human behavior, we will still have war, hunger, sloth, greed and death. For these are the woes of humankind which can only be attended to by what matters to the heart, and at root are spiritual concerns that a belief in God, or gods concerns itself with.

But, the religious view that requires us to take our battles abroad, outside to the world of strangers, instead of keeping the struggle home where the personal battle with our and other’s suffering is seen, felt and lived, is just as much of a dead end. A religious view that believes God calls us to battle, other than as an act of self-defense, invites us to never put down the sword while making the claim that we have direct knowledge from God to do His bidding.

Both of these extremes take us beyond the limits of human knowledge. Pure hubris! I would argue that there is no science that will make us love the world enough to take care of it and manage it. And I would argue that we cannot insert God into the timeline of history and call His shots for Him.

*By fantasy I do not mean to imply a falsehood, but rather acknowledge that image is primary to our knowing, and so, however true our ideas may turn out to be if and when materialized, they primarily enter us through images, notions and fantasy. If not for fantasy and imagination, no new idea would ever come forth to fruition. We mistakenly think of reality in opposition to fantasy, but reality  too, is first an idea and refers to what we think of as the material world. Ideas, fantasy and imagination lack material substance, but they are the primary “stuff” of our mental world and can therefore be just as true or false as material things.

Thanks to Alvin Lee and Tens Years After for the theme:
Ten Years After – I’d Love to Change the World