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Joseph R. Lee analyses dreams
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Joseph R. Lee analyses dreams
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Conversations
7 February 2019

Joseph R. Lee analyses dreams

I discovered Joseph Lee through the podcast “This Jungian Life,” in which he and two friends, all of them therapists, come together to discuss a topic through a Jungian lens. Every week I’ll listen in to a conversation about sibling complexes or procrastination or chronic lateness, and be riveted by the collective wisdom and banter that unfolds. Joseph, Deb and Lisa share personal anecdotes and weave in mythology, archetypes and fascinating insights from the work of Jung to unpack the topic and illuminate the workings of the subconscious. They finish each episode with an analysis of a dream that’s been submitted by a listener. It’s scintillating, and—because of the intimate connection between the three friends—delightful and hilarious too.

Joseph is a clinical social worker and Jungian analyst working in private practice with adults and teens in Virginia Beach. A fateful meeting of mystics as a high school student sparked his curiosity and entry into the world of chakras, cosmologies and energies, ultimately leading him to the Hermetic Kabbalah tradition which he has been connected to for the past 40 years, and has profoundly shaped his personal and working life.

As a Jungian analyst, Joseph pays attention to the symbolic language and archetypal imagery of one’s inner and outer experience, helping to facilitate what Jung called the “Process of Individuation,” which is one’s natural movement towards wholeness. Our conversation took place on the eve of the new year and was for me a mystical experience in itself—mostly because of the way Joseph invited me to connect with him through our monitors, arriving at a place where the notes I’d prepared were merely obstructions to a much deeper, more soulful enquiry of what it means to experience the world in a mystical way. I was taken by both his brilliant mind (he’s a living encyclopaedia on Jung alone) and his wisdom on the human condition, which seems to come from his own rigorous self-work, as well as an open, desirous spirit that lets the particulars of the world—the nectar of it—in.

This story originally ran in issue #62 of Dumbo Feather

NATHAN SCOLARO: I should preface this by saying I have little knowledge on Jung or mysticism, I’m approaching all of this very much as a novice who’s eager to learn.

JOSEPH R. LEE: Well, what I find is if you’re deeply connected to yourself and I’m connected to myself then our speaking back and forth will allow what’s significant to emerge. The fact that mysticism and Jungian work is new to you is perfect because the questions that occur to you are likely to occur to everyone. But right now, I’m going to take a moment to find you. [Silently gazing]. OK. Now, close your eyes. I just want you to think about the word mysticism without having to force it to mean anything. [Long pause]. Ask your soul to bring forward an image in response to the word and describe that for me.

This story originally ran in issue #62 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #62 of Dumbo Feather

So the first thing I saw was the colour of the sky, it’s coming into nighttime, blazes of orange and pink and dark blue. And we’re in a bush, in Australian bushland. There are trees and shrubs. It’s quite dense. And there is aliveness in the stillness of this scene. Everything is alive here at the turn of the day.

When you said that we’re in the bushland, do you get a sense that anyone is with you?

No, I’m on my own.

Is this an area that you’re familiar with?

Yeah, it resembles the bushland behind my childhood home where I grew up playing. It’s like I’m there as my adult-self knowing that my child-self was much more connected to the magic of this place. My child-self was aware of all the connectivity happening. And so there is a longing for me to return to that place in myself, not necessarily the physical place.

Sit in the longing to return and allow it to be precious. Allow it to fill your chest, your whole body, your emotions. That feeling is mysticism. Mysticism at its core is the longing to return. So much of Rumi’s poetry expresses the longing to return to the Beloved. Hindu mysticism is about longing to return to a primal unity.

Central to all mysticism is a sense of where you are as well as a memory of where you belong or once belonged, and an aching sense of the distance between those two points.

The question is, once that longing wakes up in you, which path will you choose to traverse the distance? And that’s where methodology comes in.

Methodology?

Yes. Any valid path provides a sequence of what I would call “spiritual technologies.” So let’s say you decide to learn Transcendental Meditation. Their technology is to give you a Vedic mantra which you repeat in your mind for 20 minutes twice a day. That, over time, is believed to calibrate something in the soul and body which allows one to progressively approach the creative space between spirit and matter. Vipassana meditation teaches you a process of scanning your body and pausing whenever a thought, feeling, emotion or sensation rises. You meet what’s noticed with a handful of ideas. If it’s a thought you say, “Hello, How long are you going to stay here?” If it’s an emotion you might remind yourself that everything emerges, everything sustains and everything dissolves. That’s a methodology. It’s very important to understand that each method effects who you will be when you arrive at the place you’re longing for. On some level we all know that. Let’s say you had five friends in college who were determined to be editors and you all met 10 years in the future. The person who decided to hike the Himalayas for five years and create a documentary to hone their skills would land in their profession as a completely different editor to the one who immediately went to a publishing house and wore a little visor while dutifully doing editorial work and completing assignments.

So we need to be conscious of the methodology or the path of return that we choose? Or does the path naturally unfold for us?

That’s a great question actually. I’m going to sit with that for a moment. [Silence]. I’m thinking of stories that students and colleagues have shared. Some did come to a juncture in life and synchronistically a path of return was offered. They were unsure of who they were or what their next step was, and then a friend out of the blue called and said, “Come to this lecture” and a whole possibility opened up. Even so, most paths begin just as we did with the discovery of the longing to return. Then when that longing reaches a certain fever, it mobilises people to start actively seeking a way of return, to start knocking at the door. Now in modern times people usually start their door knocking via Google and experience a flood of information about numerous paths. People will first respond to that fever by dining at the great buffet of spiritual options. Some will spend years just attending retreats, “I signed up for this tour to walk the labyrinths of 57 churches in Europe and it’s going to transform me!” Then they come back and look for another retreat, and then they’re going to Bali where a Shaman is going to initiate them into a relationship with a sacred tree, so they’ll do that for a week, and on and on. Some people spend their whole lives only sampling a bit of this or that. What they don’t realise is that a path of any true merit would never offer its full secrets to somebody who’s only willing to hang around for 48 hours sampling it. So returning to your personal experience, you felt a longing to return to a childhood connection to nature.

A connection to something that was much greater than myself. But then you know I also went through a Catholic conditioning, and that something greater suddenly was personified and seen and knowable. Cerebrally I could understand what that greater thing was and so the mystery suddenly was gone. I suspect that the mystery is a big part of the mystical experience; that we have to have something mysterious there for us, leading us, calling us.

Right! So what I want to speak to is that connection, and that connection is what I would call spirituality. So I’ll ask a student in the midst of a meditation or a process that I’m leading them through to evaluate their spirituality on a spectrum of connectedness. How connected are you to your body, your mind, your emotions? How connected are you to anything that’s larger than you? If somebody says, “I don’t feel connected to anything including myself,” then I know their spiritual sensibility is not functioning at the moment. That’s why sometimes people out of desperation turn to substances like ayahuasca, which temporarily throw open the organ that allows them to feel profoundly connected and can be deeply inspiring in the moment. Such experiences may eventually set people towards the path when they realise they can’t be constantly tripping on ayahuasca as a practice. Now I myself am a Hermetic Kabbalist and a Jungian analyst. Those are my areas of interest and exploration for helping people get to the place they’re longing to return to. I discovered my path when I was 18 and I’m 57 now, so I stand in that spiritual world with a deeply lived experience. Becoming a Jungian as a discipline was added later in my adult years.

And can you help me to understand the Hermetic Kabbalistic work?

Sure. There were many Rabbinical Kabbalistic schools over time, some in Israel then across Spain and Eastern Europe. Each had its own orientation yet all primarily used Jewish metaphors and Torah references to explain and amplify the principles. The student was constantly in a tight orbit around Jewish culture and Talmudic philosophy. That’s where the symbols, metaphors and idioms would come from in order to amplify their mystical system. An amazing thing happened when Alexander the Great conquered the ancient world: horrific but amazing in that it blew apart the boundaries between nations and cultures, allowing a movement of ideas that was unprecedented in the ancient world. At its height the libraries of Alexandria were a place where philosophers, scholars, mystics and spiritual teachers could all come to record their wisdom and share information. This had never happened before—it fostered an enormous Hellenistic process. Kabbalists were collaborating with mystics from India, Persia and Greece. Egyptian magic was being recorded and studied. As this enormous scholastic melting pot began to boil, new Hellenistic mystery traditions emerged. After numerous political and religious misfortunes, the libraries were burned to suppress knowledge of alternatives to the Roman version of Catholicism, assuring its place as the primary political religious machine. But adepts from these Hellenistic traditions escaped and relocated to other parts of the world. Around 1200AD a particular group of adepts established their location to Fes, Morocco, and out of that tradition a stream of Hermetic Kabbalah, which involved methodologies from many systems, began to be distributed. And I am educated in that tradition.

Jungian analyst Joseph R. Lee poses for a photograph on the dock at his home in Edenton, North Carolina, Friday, January 10, 2020. Following in the teachings of C.G. Jung, Lee practices a deep psychoanalytic approach to his therapy as he unwinds the link between the conscious and unconscious minds to facilitate healing. He is one of a three Jungian Analysts that have created the growing podcast This Jungian Life which dives into wide ranging categories of conversation. (Eamon Queeney / Dumbo Feather)

Jungian analyst Joseph R. Lee poses for a photograph on the dock at his home in Edenton, North Carolina, Friday, January 10, 2020. Following in the teachings of C.G. Jung, Lee practices a deep psychoanalytic approach to his therapy as he unwinds the link between the conscious and unconscious minds to facilitate healing. He is one of a three Jungian Analysts that have created the growing podcast This Jungian Life which dives into wide ranging categories of conversation. (Eamon Queeney / Dumbo Feather)

Incredible. And how did it come to be in your life?

So, I want to dig down a little deeper to tell that story, because I have my elevator speech and I’d like to be more authentic with you. [Silence]. I think the stage was set being raised in a very, very abusive home. This was back in the ’60s when people refused to get in each other’s business. As long as somebody didn’t run into the street with blood pouring out of their bodies, the neighbours just closed their windows. So without external help as a young boy I had to develop a kind of interiority as a way of staying at least marginally intact. This is a skill many children develop when they’re in terrible circumstances, they are forced to discover an inner refuge. That inner refuge if it’s not understood correctly later in life can create a lot of problems or ideally become a portal to mysticism. But I survived by this connection to an inner world through my childhood into high school. And I was an odd kid, not terribly social. But right about when I was 16, this tremendous fortuitous thing happened. I decided that I would get interested in theatre. That was a wonderful safe way to finally learn how to be expressive. The school system in New York, which had a lot of money in the ’70s, hired a professional troupe of actors to come to our high school and create a program. What they didn’t know is that these actors were all living together in a spiritual commune developing their own mystical work. So

as they’re teaching us about acting, they’re talking about chakras and astrology and blending energies with each other and all the New Age stuff that was going to blossom in the collective a few years down the road.

Wow. Incredible.

So I became a bit literate in all of this. The first time they talked about chakras, it captured my attention, and I went looking for an occult book store in Long Island in 1977, and happened to find one in a neighbouring village and walked in. I tried to describe this thing they had taught me [laughs]. I could barely pronounce it and this big stocky guy behind the counter said, “Oh, chakras! Yeah!” And he sold me a book. Then we started talking and hit it off. I would come as often as I could after school and spend hours talking with him as I’d sweep the shop and help him close up. I developed a kind of Mr. Miyagi relationship with him.

Brilliant!

He’d say, “I think you should try this book. What do you think of that?” At this time I was still working with the mystical acting group and I found out that my high school English teacher was a Rosicrucian who’s teaching astrology lessons so I started to attend those too. You know, this is the ’70s, all of this stuff’s going on under the scene and I’m putting my hands in it. Then the fellow at the bookstore starts moving me towards Western esotericism. Once I read the word “Kabbalah” I had an overwhelming feeling of recognition and a compelling need to know what it meant. So, he began to feed me different kinds of literature. Eventually he said, “check out this organisation.” And this organisation was part of that Hermetic tradition. I’ve been connected to that and subsequently similar organisations for about 40 years. So over those 40 years I would say the first 20 were really just for my healing. It was about integrating a cosmology, which for me was The Tree of Life, as a way of experiencing my relationship to the order of the universe, and that finally brought order to my inner world. Human beings have a natural curiosity for cosmology. That’s why things like astrology are endlessly fascinating to people. Even if we don’t go into it seriously, just the feeling that the planets could have such an intimate relationship to us is exciting.

There is a deep spiritual thirst for experiencing a connection to a larger reality; that we are not hurtling like nihilistic specs of dust through a mechanical universe

We need to feel that there is an orderly macrocosm or outer universe, and an orderly microcosm or an internal universe, and that those two things are connected. In the ancient traditions they developed philosophies, exercises, ritual ceremonies and meditations as a way of building an imaginal model of the cosmos, and at least in the beginning, a theoretical relationship between you and that larger thing which would eventually lead to an actual experience of it. This happened experimentally in shamanic traditions thousands of years ago. A shaman might demonstrate a natural interiority, most likely developed by surviving a life-threatening injury. Having come back from the dead, he was marked by the spirit world and recognised in the community as being special. As the shaman mapped out his interiority he would report it to the tribe. He might say, “The mountain is alive because when I go within and look at it there is this thrumming towering woman who knocks me to my knees, and she’s singing this song and I’m going to teach you this song!” So when the tribe couldn’t connect to the mountain themselves they sang the song, and this thrill would happen in their souls. That’s the instinctive building of a cosmology which demonstrates that you’re alive over here, the mountain is alive over there, and your ritual singing puts you in relationship to it.

Wild. So you had this building of your own cosmology in the first 20 years of your life. I mean, that on its own seems extraordinarily unique, let alone then going to help others build that for themselves.

It was in one sense. I started with my own interiority, as many of my students have, but it was adding Hermetic Kabbalah that brought a full integration of our personalities. We all need a cosmology that is fully satisfactory to a modern adult mind so it must be as complicated as the modern mind itself.

Say it again.

Sure. Twenty thousand years ago humans had not yet developed great, complicated intellectual models of philosophy, religion, politics and natural science. But they accessed a great inner world of feeling, instinct and imagery, they had a natural mysticism, which we lack. For example in New Zealand one ancient cosmology says that in the beginning the great mother and the great father were constantly in union and all their progeny were crushed into a suffocating space. One of the sons, Tane Mahuta, had enough power to pull his parents apart and keep them separate. In the space between the mother and the father the entire world was created. Tane became the primordial tree holding heaven, the father, and the earth, the mother, apart. If you go to New Zealand and talk to the Maori they may be willing to take you to the Tane tree in their forest. So out of this space rose all the different children of the primal parents. Their attributes are related to what’s observed in the forest. God of storm, god of volcanoes, god of the ocean, these are the larger things that humans need to feel connected to. When they would enter their interiority and contemplate the churning power of the ocean, their souls would naturally create an image, which is called a symbol. That’s how the individual is able to connect psychologically to the ocean. Systems of these symbols and how they interact internally become a cosmology. Human beings still have this capacity today, which brings us back to Jung, because Jung was fascinated by the symbol-making function of the human psyche. For instance, in the work you did by simply going inside in a relaxed way and holding the abstract idea of mysticism, your psyche independently placed you back in the bush with a feeling of longing. You did not choose that. That was gifted to you. So there is something indigenous to human beings that when we are between the inner and outer worlds, and we are focusing on a mystery, a part of the human soul will create an image which allows a deeper connection. Jung was fascinated by that

I’m feeling an intense sadness while you’re speaking and I’m wondering why, because I find that concept so wonderful and wild and profound and I want to be in that space doing that work of dreaming up symbols and having relationships to them all the time. And yet there is a deadening that our culture has done to that process, and I think that’s where the sadness is coming from. That we either haven’t been allowed to do that, or we’ve been told that it’s not valid. But there is a deep part of me that knows what you’re saying is the most exquisite, true expression of our aliveness.

Jung was heartened and I want you to be heartened.

Okay.

Because even in the most oppressive materialistic lifeless ruthless cultures, people still sleep and dream. And when the ego has been pulled down into the unconscious, the symbolmaking function in the psyche is set free. It communicates to every human being every night in multiple symbolic themes. Even if people forget it, because many people will repress their dreams, they still had the experience. And many people will remember a dream even if just fleetingly, “I dreamt I was flying and the sun talked to me!” That’s a symbol and that symbol connects their waking mind to a deeper reality even if they don’t know what to call it. The reason human beings do that is because they cannot survive without it. So what I’d love to hearten you with is that even though people’s egos can walk around saying, “Everything’s about money and sex and power!” they still wake up and say, “I had a dream that I was a chicken last night!”

[Laughs]. Beautiful. I’d love to know a bit more about how we can develop a better relationship with our dreams. First of all, how we can keep our dreams conscious if that is an important part of this process. But then how we can understand our dreams and make meaning from the symbolism that we are dreaming. ’Cause for myself, like, I know I’m dreaming but I don’t remember them. And I often have that moment of waking up and trying to catch the dream and hold it and then it’s gone in an instant. What is the work that we can do to know it?

First step is to get a dream journal, or even use the speech-to-text function on your phone. As soon as you open your eyes, record something. Even if you write, “Can’t remember a dream.” Most people, if they do that, within three days are remembering dreams. It’s just that easy. Now a lot of people will decide they’re not going to write down a dream unless it’s complete, and that’s a big mistake. So I bet when you wake up you do have fragments like, oh, there was this elephant and there was a Walmart and I don’t know what I saw, a hotdog? People will toss it away if it isn’t coherent. But write it all down because an elephant is a symbol of something and it stands as valid all by itself. Each of those images can be analysed and reveal something to you. For example, as we explore the image of an elephant, at first we’ll notice personal associations, but also many myths involve elephants and they give us information about what elephants have meant in the unconscious minds of antiquity. There’s an organisation called ARAS whose website holds a compendium of archetypal images and related writings. There’s also an incredible book called The Book of Symbols put out by Taschen. We could research actual biological information about elephants and wonder how that might be used as psychological metaphors. Eventually we gather all these images and ideas and work them, weave them into a story that feels right. Notice how that feels in the body and your emotions and record any insights. If you can, go into a meditative state and talk to it. ’Cause in the dream world elephants can talk.

A question I often encourage people to ask is, “What are you here to teach me?” Almost always the elephant will go, “I’m glad you asked that question!” And then it will show you something about your psyche. It’s very trippy.

[Laughs]. That’s incredible. So just to summarise what I heard, which is amazing, the archetype or the symbol develops its meaning through many generations of myth creation and storytelling essentially. And then the cerebral understanding of what we know about this particular symbol also shapes the meaning. Then there’s the subjective relationship with that symbol, what it has to say for the individual.

The purely personal experience as well, yes. If you can bring yourself down to a relaxed state, that place between sleeping and waking, which many traditions try to cultivate, go back to the image and just regard it until it begins to move autonomously. Then the game is on! We begin to interact and that interaction changes us. So, was Jung a mystic? He would have said, “no way.” Do I think he was a mystic based on my understanding of him? Absolutely. But in his day if he decided he was going to promote himself as a mystic his career would have been destroyed and his psychiatric work would have been invalidated. While he was having his extraordinary visions he was determined to examine them with empirical objectivity, scrutinise them, and report them with as much scientific rigour as he could so it wasn’t dismissed as poetry, or worse. And he did that so well he became world renowned for articulating extraordinary experiences, discovering their meaning and making them valid.

[Laughs]. That’s incredible. So just to summarise what I heard, which is amazing, the archetype or the symbol develops its meaning through many generations of myth creation and storytelling essentially. And then the cerebral understanding of what we know about this particular symbol also shapes the meaning. Then there’s the subjective relationship with that symbol, what it has to say for the individual.

The purely personal experience as well, yes. If you can bring yourself down to a relaxed state, that place between sleeping and waking, which many traditions try to cultivate, go back to the image and just regard it until it begins to move autonomously. Then the game is on! We begin to interact and that interaction changes us. So, was Jung a mystic? He would have said, “no way.” Do I think he was a mystic based on my understanding of him? Absolutely. But in his day if he decided he was going to promote himself as a mystic his career would have been destroyed and his psychiatric work would have been invalidated. While he was having his extraordinary visions he was determined to examine them with empirical objectivity, scrutinise them, and report them with as much scientific rigour as he could so it wasn’t dismissed as poetry, or worse. And he did that so well he became world renowned for articulating extraordinary experiences, discovering their meaning and making them valid.

And so your capacity as a Jungian analyst is dependent on how much you wrestle and interact with your own interior life. Then it sounds like you’ve also done an incredible amount of work and research into archetypes and symbolism. How does all of this play out in an analysis session?

In Jung’s model of the psyche, you and I both have a Self. And that Self is not fully incarnated in the body so to speak. It’s held in a more rarified archetypal level. That Self creates a derivative image of its wholeness in the psyche of the infant. So each person is born with a unique configuration. Over the life span, as we mature and age, the body grows as well as our psychological capacities. The Self is constantly pressing on us to embody a little more of its potentials. When that pressure to grow is thwarted, people become symptomatic. The symptoms could be as mild as anxiety or inadequate access to feelings. People generally come into the office because they have some complaint. Something’s not working or feeling right. I use dreams to try to get a sense of what is impairing the ego-Self relationship. I’m also using my mind to listen, track and watch how you’re responding to what’s being said. I’m listening for how you’re adapting to your various life circumstances. I’m also listening to what you constellate in me as you’re talking. Because my body has its own responding mechanism, it gives me information about the energy you give off. The question always is, how can I understand where you’re stuck and how can I language it so that you become curious about it? Sometimes just the act of being delicately curious of exactly the right thing can open everything up.

Yeah, I love that. I love that. And I feel like we could be doing that more with one another in our daily conversations, our communications. Paying attention to the subtle cues that we’re giving each other that can invite a deeper investigation or liberation.

Exactly. Different psychological models have different goals. Because Jung was interested in the relationship between the Self and the ego we have the task of enriching that relationship. Somebody who does cognitive behavioural therapy might have the goal of helping your ego becoming more successful at achieving its goals with less stress. So again, the journey that you take shapes who you are at the end of it. We may become incredibly clever about achieving our ego ideals and when you arrive at those ideals you will be a certain kind of person. If you are trying to resolve the obstructions between you and the Self, at the end of the journey you will be a rather different person.

Do you come to a client with the belief that they know fully what the obstructions are in their life? That this knowledge, everything they need, is deep within them? Is that how you would approach it, so that you’re helping them to see the truth that they already have?

If you come into my consulting room and you’re sitting there and you say, “Oh, my brother’s a jerk. I’m always upset about him. I’ve got to figure this out.” The ego, which is your waking self, comes in and announces what it wants me to know but that might not be what’s useful. It might not even be true. It might not even be what the psyche’s actually upset about, but it’s what the ego is hypothesising it’s upset about. I always want to let somebody know that I hear them. It’s like, “Okay, you came in because your relationship with the brother’s really tumultuous and it’s upsetting you. I know that’s where you want to start. Tell me a dream.” Because the dream will actually set the priority, which often is not what the ego thinks it is. In this day and age where most therapies are ego-reinforcing, that seems very strange. People come in with a consumer mentality saying, “Well I told you I want to talk about my brother, why am I talking about my childhood?” Because they’ve been entrained into this system where I should just be pleasing their ego during a session. Most of what people want is to help reduce the anxiety that the ego is feeling and to reinforce the ego’s sense of wellbeing which often can lock people into a frame that is strangling their growth. So one of the things that some people find when they work with me is they really don’t want to be in analysis. They actually just wanted their ego affirmed. Because when we begin actually looking at un-obstructing the relationship to the Self, their ego’s primacy is shifted—for most people that’s a terrifying prospect.

Because the ego wants to be better than?

Right. Most people’s egos think that they are the king or the queen of their world. If somebody is really interested in Individuation, which was Jung’s word for the ideal outcome of an analysis, they’re actually interested in surrendering fully to the Self and its actualising demand and having someone help them tolerate the transformational process that will be required for them to incarnate their true potential. This is where what Jung thought of as an outcome and what I understand as a Hermetic Kabbalist as an outcome fully align. The whole goal of my spiritual work, although the methodology is different, is to be able to shape the personality or help somebody shape their personality in such a way that they become more fully responsive to spiritual impulses that are seeking to be expressed through them. The word “Kabbalah” means to be receptive, to receive. So we might say that the whole system of Kabbalah is about how you become receptive to the Divine. Jung was actually saying the same thing. He said he didn’t know what God was but he knew what the various images of God are, and he knew how potent they are. He renamed it the Self. I know this thing called the Self exists because I see it in my dreams and the dreams of my clients. When it activates, people move into a storm of transformation. If they resist they get really sick. So I’ve got to figure out a way to partner with them so they can emerge from this incredible demand to grow and feel that they are fuller and more authentic at the end of it. To be an individual means that I am looking to the Self, the most authentic aspect of my being, to tell me who I am. I’m no longer looking at the culture to tell me who I am.

Mm. One thing I don’t understand is the function of the ego for the self, you know, how is the ego serving the self?

Jung felt the ego is important to the Self. It is the incarnated extension that has lived experiences which the Self cannot have in its rarefied archetypal state. This also speaks to the larger question of why does God create things? Why did God create humanity? In the Hermetic tradition the answer to that is God wants to experience itself in all its possible manifestations including the physical world. It wants to feel that. In Hinduism they say Shiva is the enjoyer of all, that God is an experience-hungry force. God is desirous, why else would God set anything in motion? In fact, maybe God is the most purely desirous being. God is the one that desired the universe into creation and desired you into manifestation. All this intentionality is very extraordinary. It’s said we are made in the image of God, the microcosmic-macrocosmic equivalent. So often we’ll hear in hackneyed New Age circles, “as above, so below.” It could also be worded as, “as within, so without.” But that was a very arcane mystery. Today that doesn’t sound so strange anymore, that the way I structure my perception of the world and the way I orient towards it actually creates my experiences, but in ancient cultures only initiates were thinking that way. The masses were thinking stuff just happens to them.

But all of the dreaming and the myths and stories they were telling was an act of doing this work. Could we say?

Absolutely, it’s the phenomena of being human. Because even natural humanity that has no impulse towards accelerating their self-development is being influenced by the great churning engine of the universe. Still today not everybody has awoken to the fact that they can facilitate the journey of their self-development. The metaphor I like to use is that

if we’re honest, most human beings are sitting in an enormous warm lazy river on inner tubes that have televisions and refrigerators and cell phones and they’re just floating down the river.

They’re in the collective drift. And a very small number of people somehow become aware that they’re drifting and sometimes as resistance, or sometimes as an act of radical selfdiscovery, they put their feet down on the river bed and stand up perpendicular to the water! Then they start to feel the current of the collective pressing on them, they feel people as they drift by. Then they can generate their own emotional response to stimulus rather than being led along in the collective agreement of responses and feelings. Jung called that the rehabilitation of the feeling function.

Right.

That is to be an individual or to individuate. The whole country might be in love with Trump, projecting bizarre messianic fantasies on him—when people are living in a church community where that is thrumming and thrumming, if they have not learned to be an individual they will find themselves feeling and believing that because the community believes it. Jung felt if we are oriented to the Self and not the collective then we can actually serve a purpose on Earth to speak to something or act in ways that are not conditioned by the collective. To act in ways that free people from the drift, not mire them in it. The finest artists do that. The finest writers do that. Visionaries and people who are on the path who seem very ordinary can do that.

It’s striking me as really odd right now that we know we can be creators of culture and creators of story and fashion and things that are external to us and yet we haven’t come to understand that we can be the creators of our own lives.

Right. Because that would require an enormous revolution of philosophy and knowledge, let alone experience. But it is happening. Because even one person standing perpendicular to the drift has such a significant influence over their community. It creates a context that can stimulate those who are sleeping adrift to stand up, and a community of those who are standing against the drift can change the world.

I want more things that inspire me to...

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