Tapestry of Life

My mom told us to watch this show a few weeks ago so we gave it a shot yesterday after returning home from a family BBQ and putting in the air conditioning.

Up until now, I had never put in an air conditioning unit without my dad. The two of us would haul the heavy bastards up from the cellar or down from the attic and fight like hell to get them in their respective windows while one of us held the unit and the other added screws and other fixtures to secure it.

Last night, Sisi got to be my standby while I got everything situated. She and I have been together for nearly five years, so we have been through a fair deal together, but somehow, sticking that air conditioner in the window made our life together as a family system with our little monkey-cats, seem phenomenologically ultra-real.

For some reason, I woke up feeling rather disembodied. I had a clear sense of not being here, despite all of the sensory evidence that suggested otherwise. I felt like a ghostly visitor in my own body. To a degree, it was a terrifying experience–a dissociation from the slice perspective I take up in the world. All of us together have out own perspectives that amount to groups, friends, families, communities, cultures, and nations. When your own experience of your slice of the system-pie seems not to be your own anymore, it is quite disquieting.

We went like this to practice Zen meditation as we do on Sundays and that helped me slip back into my perspective long enough for us to settle in and enjoy our afternoon with my parents and grandmother, even long enough to take a drive for ice cream. However, as our visit neared it’s end, that feeling came creeping back in and as we were driving home, a sense of disquiet grabbed at me in my body’s place behind the steering wheel.

When we got home, I wanted nothing more than to lay down and recoil from the heat, but I knew it’d be better to go through the time-consuming process of installing the A/C before resting or else it might never get done. I turned on a Great Courses Lecture, and we got to work.

When it was all said and done, I noticed that I felt more complete than I had at any other point in the day. I realized the peace that comes from physical labor, the quiet that is found when your mind settles into a groove of activity, and I felt at home in my home again.

Then we sat down to relax and watch some internet TV. First up was American Gods, where we yet again missed out on the narrative of the novel in favor of a Laura and Mad Sweeney Road Show. Then I went to Hulu and clicked on This is US. I had expected to just let what I assumed to be a mellow drama play until it caught Sisi’s attention at which point, I would switch over a long overdue collection of short stories.

I turned out to be wrong though.

I was first drawn in by the title, does it refer to the family in the show? Or does it refer to the Royal Us in the sense of the viewers who are actively participating in the artistic endeavor committed to film? Well, when I saw this scene, my question was answered and answered in a fashion that I have often had come up to my mind when in contemplative states arising from loss or creation.

I never intended to write this, but it seems appropriate to add my particular color to the tapestry of life today.

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Eco-mystic part I

Several weeks ago I found myself carried away by the strange yet very down to earth phenomenon of being a wave-like point shifting and settling all at once among an infinity of similar wave-points carrying on all in the same chaotic arrangement. The moment of revelation came on an especially windy day as I laid upon a great rock against which the choppy waves of the Sacandaga Lake lapped up against. Sea gulls fluttered and cawed overhead. The Black Crowes blared their sweet serenade into one ear while the other took in the cacophony of noises that swelled up out of the living, breathing world in which I was enmeshed. Occasionally, my friend Nacole or I would contribute to the pouring sensation of sound by adding a few words of our own or shuffling our feet on the stony beach which lay spread out before us.

I let my spine stretch along the rock’s uneven surface and angle my head to lay my left ear upon my stony pillow. That particular position gave me a foreign view of the world; the rock formed the foreground to my left, while the right was open sky filled with undulating clouds and cawing birds. The 
expansive mid ground was filled with onrushing churning waves and blue sky. The furthest points of my view were encompassed by a distant shoreline blanketed in lush green trees and crowned with a busily moving clouds flitting about the deep blue sky. 

There was a lasting moment wherein a seagull entered my right periphery and fought a losing battle to keep its place against the booming wind. As I lazily took all of this in I faintly heard some words (oddly I unconsciously wrote waves instead of the intended words) stream forth from Nacole’s lips though I did not catch their form, only their music. It was in the precise moment that I experienced all the world as one great churning and vast expanse of cresting waves. Perhaps it is beyond the realm of possibility to explicate this almost mystical vision in words which carry the same essence as the phenomena itself but I dwelled within the atomic world for that brief stretch of time. I felt as if I was viewing the world from the perspective of a particle physicist who was semi-conscious of being enmeshed in the minuscule layer of reality wherein existence is a simultaneous tumult of waves and particles ever shifting, ever swaying. Being and non-being in each moment fitting the structure called forth by the various demands of various nests of reality. 

This state of eco-mysticism was experienced much in the same wave/particle form as my mind processed it both as an blunt unconscious participant and a half observing amazement. When words found their way out of my mouth I rather confoundedly tried to explain the state of things as I was in part witnessing them to Nacole. She stood with a silent smile and gazed into the distance. Despite my lack of eloquence and the overwhelming nature of wave-like experience in relation to the word-particles with which we are left to explain it, I sensed that she got the gist of my explication perhaps on account of the fact that she was experiencing it herself in her own wave-particle conscious-ing.

The experience was so fundamental that I did not even think to write about it until now, nearly a month later. It was so perfectly real that it did not need any further in-form-ing. I also recognized that trying to hang words on such an experience was akin to Sisyphus eternally rolling his cumbersome stone to the top of a hill only to have it roll to the bottom each time before reaching a resting point at the top. I’ve been left with a vision so fundamental that it evades any clear effort elucidate it. Elucidation will come only with similar experience, but even then it will not be something that can be pinned down as it too is both a particle insofar as it is a temporal event and a wave insofar as it extends beyond that temporal location. It is perpetually there yet not. At the risk of falling into a load of mystical jargon I will cease attempting to explain the experience leaving the reader with what is hopefully an apt image.

Despite the fact that all of this is not something that one can set a cup upon like a table or counter, and therefore impractical and ethereal to a degree, the event has lent a particular quality of tranquil contentedness to my living since then. It still exists as a sort of uncertain knowledge upon which one can unfurl ones limbs and drift knowing at once that the drifting is aimless yet purposeful. As if it were a peculiar form of radiation, the experience has dwelled in the ethereal background of my life lending an unseen affective energy and in-forming to each moment. It is as faint as the glimmer of a smile on the lips of a Buddhist icon or the Mona Lisa; something one could debate the meaning of for an eternity or perhaps even fail to notice should the image be passed by in a hurried fashion.

I have been driven to contribute to the expansive mystical literature that eternally attempt to explicate a shade of the same experience contextualized by the particular cultural, lingual, and personal limits of each individual mystic because the same experience presented itself to me once again as I rather confusedly navigated through a metropolitan Tokyo train station during rush hour on my first day back to work since my return from the States. Coming from nearly a month spent in a rural mountain town populated with only a few thousand residents back into the heart of the most peopled metropolis in the world was disorienting to say the least. Being that I’ve resided here since 2006 I am generally quite well adapted to the setting but I had to retune myself to the wild demands ones attention demanded by the fast paced life style of Tokyo. 

As I shakily slid through Ikebukuro station which boast 2.7 million users on an average day I became quite aware of the massive wave-like motion that filled out the limits of my perception in all directions. Each individual, an intention driven component of the wreathing, crawling, sucking chaotic puzzle of ever enmeshed (though only mildly aware) engagement. I recognized that starting there was a zone of automatic awareness immediately to my right and left as well as one which extended out in front of me for about 30 feet. Everything within that zone was ordered by the combined intention of myself and those who showed up within that space. Our body-minds anticipated the motions of one another and adjusted our course according to the combined, ever-shifting locomotive will of each of us caught within each others’ field of intention formed perceptual awareness. Everything beyond that zone appeared as unformed and meaningless chaos. Was anyone to approach the demarcated zone, other aspects of my semi-consciousness would register them and determine whether or not they ought to be ‘organized’. 

Further, I realized that I could ‘zoom in’ on myself thereby atomizing my awareness, treating all others as mere objects around which my meaning-originating self would need to move, or I could imaginally ‘zoom out’ by visualizing the whole mass of us as viewed through the camera lens of a documentary videographer wherein a bird’s-eye-viewer would see only a totalistic chaos formed only by the limits placed upon the viewer by the confines of the camera lens. My spatial-eco-mysticism disoriented me enough to cause me to stop letting myself be aware of it and I made a mental note to have a go at laying it out in writing. 

I put forth that given a bit of perceptual practice anyone can have this sort of experience.

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Reflections on today’s Class: Intro to research writing

I began class today with a quote from the Dhammapada (as poeticized by Ram Dass) that I happened to read on the train moments before I arrived at work:

Follow the awakened
And from among the blind
The light of your wisdom
Will shine out, purely.

(Last verse of Chapter 4 “Flowers” [I was also careful not to mention that this was a Buddhist scripture because I do not want students to think I am trying to make them ‘believe’ something religious, that is antithetical to who I am anyway. I want them to find their own way.)

I started with this for three reasons:
1. I chose to read this particular passage because flowers have been a common metaphorical theme in my classes lately.
2. I recently read a student’s post about how everyone around her “looked like a zombie” (‘the blind’ according to the passage above).
3. Because my style of teaching is integral in the sense that I try not to separate any of my classes from one another too distinctly. I try to keep them all roughly connected and this passage connects both to themes in the Lifespan Development and Literature courses that I am currently teaching.

I then asked the students to do their usual 10 minute daily free writings in their journals. As they did so, I played ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’ by Pink Floyd because I always listen to it when I write and study. And it is about the same length as their writing session. As lyrics manifest themselves in the song I instantly noticed a correlation:

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

So I hurriedly scribbled the lyrics on the board next to the Buddhist verse. Following their writing session we analyzed the lyrics and the verse side by side noticing the remarkable similarities. I did not talk about it, but this in my mind, is an archetypal constellation in art around a particular imago of wakefulness.

As I read the last line of Floyd I screamed “SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND!”, begging them to manifest as themselves, to be present in the world we were sharing together, and I am quite sure that more than one consciously chose to Shine today.

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Its time to slow down

A timely question presented itself to me tonight, “Why don’t you just slow down?”. Lately, I have found myself speeding up my life like never before. If the reader is familiar with “The Watchmen” graphic novel about a group of mostly ordinary individuals who set out to become heroes in a world gone to hell—our world—among them are a washed up and impotent romantic, a perfectly vigilant insane man who will stop at nothing to right wrongs, and another man who after serving in the Vietnam war became only able to relate to the world through terror and violence who dubs himself “The Comedian” because he finds life only to be a sick and terrifying joke.

Among all of the characters on my first reading I was attracted to Ozymandias because despite the fact that he is only a normal human man he attained peaks of perfection mentally and physically just through shear study, diligence, and meditation.

I was probably 19 or 20 when I first read that story and that character inspired me so much as to cause me to begin trying to accomplish those perfections is similar spheres of my life. It was at this stage that I began martial arts and weight training, seriously taking care of my health, and reading only materials that I thought would contribute to the enlargement of my intellectual being. Sadly, by the end of the novel we learn that this golden child among the other heroes is in fact the villain responsible for the release of a nuclear explosion which destroys New York City. This revelation instills in us a recognition of the complex of perfection. As Jung said, “The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows.”

Now I am by no means a perfect physical specimen, a master of meditation, or a mind so brilliant as to rival even the most insignificant thinkers of our time, but what I find tonight as I sit in reflection after my own meditations is that I am still in the grip of this narcissistic childish complex of a constant (but half-assed) yearning for perfection. I unconsciously punish myself for my lack of perfections, always measuring myself up to the inspirational god men of my youth.

A key element of Ozymandias is that he is the only hero who remains in the lime light after the group of vigilantes were disbanded. He functions both in the world of his devious, secret, and ultimately destructive shadow as he becomes rich by publishing books, creating actions figures, and doing promotional work thereby winning the hearts of all those around him. Again, his bright light hides his tremendous shadow: he looks down on the rest of humanity as simpering idiots not deserving even of their lives. Sadly, perhaps one of my greatest faults of late is an anger and judgment of people who I do not see to be living there lives in their fullness (this is no doubt in part due to the fact that I am unable to do so myself). I often have to catch myself in these moments and remember that each of these unique individuals is a sufferer on the road between birth and death. My judgments are most often results of my own failings.

Tonight, I see that I have been caught in the Ozymandias complex for most of my adult life, spreading myself out in a bevy of ways so as to maximize my potential as a human being, and all the while I am not half as good as I would like to be in any of the areas I wish to exceed in.

Some years ago during a meeting with some professional academics one among them said that its just not possible to do more than two and a half things well, he went on to say that if you pursue the path of a PhD you will lose relationships [check], you will lose your free time [check], you won’t get to see the Simpsons every week [check], and you may even lose a sense of who you are [and check] (more than 50% of PhD candidates drop out because of the stress).

This last week has tested me greatly and it has forced me to look closely at the question of why it is that I will not allow myself to slow down. I believe that I am doing good by my students, I believe I have an authentic relationship with my studies—and by that I mean that I have a passion for them—and I have been doing quite well on the kickboxing circuit with a 2-1-1 record in only a year of competitive training. Not to sound judgmental but I do do more than the average bloke and still I cannot find contentment in my life.

To be quite honest, something is going to break. I am not this man god that my teenage self dreamed up, I have to learn to be content with just being someone from day to day. Not someone special. Not a miracle. Just a man, and in a man there is space for a god to dwell.

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For Students and Teachers

I am growing tired of research writing, collecting notes, critiquing arguments, and synthesizing views into something coherent and valuable to myself as well as a wider research community. As such, I have decided to take a break for the time being and simply explore my own ideas without any overt reliance on other thinkers, systems or collections of jargon. It may seem funny, eccentric, or perhaps even superficial that I spend my “free time” during commutes, bike rides to the gym, and morning meals engaging with a variety of philosophers through mediums such as Penguin Readers, audiobooks, and libravox recordings. Accessing most philosophers through public domains is not much of a trifle. One can easily find most great works of philosophy through smartphone or tablet pc ebook readers, or in websites dedicated to reproducing works that are now held to be in the public domain because their copy rights have passed. Also, I can find great leisure in listening to philosophical documentaries or biographical works which are available in various quantities on youtube.com or google video.

Listening to The Consolations of Philosophy last week during my morning commute I was quite caught up in the chapter dedicated to the philosopher Montaigne who I had not previously read or encounter. Some of the finer points of his work involved a critique of the over valuing of reason (a faculty that could easily be derailed by an empty stomach, the slip or a fart, or a spontaneous erection). Montaigne encourages his readers to stop dedicating their days to reading commentaries of commentaries on original texts, concluding that the majority of books are simply books about books (a point Alan Watts similarly points out in countless lectures). This is an obviously true fact, but I do not think it makes reading those books a futile endeavor, futility comes in the assumption that there is something contained within those books that will change the quality of ones thought or of ones life. A further issue is that when “all the books have been written” we tend to stop thinking. We see this easily enough in our google generation of smartphone users who tend to settle any sort of debate by quickly conducting a web search to pin down a conclusive knowledge. I am not so unwise as to criticize the overwhelming convenience of such technology, however I will say that this technical skill (if we would go so far as to call it that) is no substitute for earned wisdom, its is only a superficial capturing of intellectual facts.

In much the same way, our children are taught from an early age to “stick to the facts,” The are quizzed endlessly on dates, theorems, names of capital cities, and discipline based jargon that they are bound to never find useful again once that particular round of quizzing has been successfully left behind. This sort of learning is becoming even more trivial due to the widespread availability of the internet and the ability to “research” any of the the aforementioned details with a few meager taps on a keyboard. My temperament has never been well suited to this sort of “learning”, I frequently engaged with teachers about the usefulness of this sort of “education” throughout my high school years, and opted for guessing my way through classes rather than studying a jumble of facts that I regarded as an unnecessary fog clouding the more vital aspects of my mind. I found more worth in self study of spiritual and cultural texts in my teen years than participating in any way in most of my classes.

As a teacher myself, the problem I face is overcoming this tendency towards and desire for trivial facts. Most textbooks are designed around this sort of learning because 1. it is already a well established mode of teaching 2. it is easier for the teacher to rank and rate the student when clear factual answers are provided in favor of abstract thinking 3. the systemization of McDonalds-esque styles of efficiency and production serve as the primary models for “productivity” in our consumption based societies. Students are consumers and education is the product.

The problem with this last point is that generally students are not at all interested in the product that they are being forced to consume. Some students thrive in this style of education simply because they are rules oriented and heavily involved in the consumer mentality of our culture, others prevail because they actually care about the material being taught and find other ways to engage with it and satisfy their interests, but sadly, many students cannot connect on either of these ground so they are left simple starving for something that provides them some source of educational meaning, the memorization of terms, equations, and events does nothing to nourish their innate thirst for knowledge. As their thirsts go unquenched they quickly come to believe that there is nothing in the world of education that will satisfy their desires, and thus they become participants in the systems simply as an ends to a means: go to school, graduate, get a good job, make money, buy stuff. As you can see, they are just engaged in the system in order to satisfy the requirements of the consumerist system that has been inbuilt into their way of understanding how the world works through a faulty educational system.

It breaks my heart a little each day that I walk into a class room and see faces who quite obviously betray their belief in the futility but necessity of it all. Sadly, in my experience, it is not until one begins graduate level academic work is one able to truly pursue ones own interests and connect with scholarly work that may enhance their lives and understanding of their potential in relation to this choices and the life that they wish to live.

So each day is a struggle. If I reject the system entirely and do not teach the students within the confines of current academic expectations I only prepare them to fail when they inevitably encounter the system as it exists outside of my classroom. If I simply teach as the established system would have me do then I contribute nothing to the enlightenment of my students, I give very little in the way of the minor awakenings to their own inner teacher (as is meant in the root of education educare; to draw out) which gives them the potential to develop a deeply personal relationship to their role as a student and their potential as someone with a voice.

One of the great truths I learned from listening to an overview of Montaigne’s work is that he believed that if individuals forsook books and other authorities that they all had the potential to create philosophical works of their own. There is no doubt that Aristotle contributed a great depth and breadth to the thought of his time, but Aristotle also contributed to a death of philosophy in the sense that his work as so expansive and apparently complete that it deterred philosophers from truly doing philosophy for nearly a thousand years after his death. In the same way Descartes probably had one of the most profound effects on the development of philosophical thought in the (loosely stated) modern age, yet his work was so profound that it stunted philosophy for several hundred years. instead of engaging in thinking philosophers engaged in critiques, defenses, and rebuttals of Descartes vision.

This notion caused me to reflect on the fact that each and every one of the students whom I should come into contact with throughout the span of my career will have the potential to create great works. These works do not need to be profound philosophical texts, pieces of art work, or even artifacts of any sort, lives lived steeped in actual thought are great works in themselves. I have come to see on this day that it is currently my task to give a chance to each of these beings whom I encounter on a daily basis a chance to discover some sleeping element of themselves and stir it into wakefulness.

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Insights into the Utility of Depth Psychology (2009)

The following article shall serve as an explication of the starting points for my area of inquiry as well as an exercise in understanding how the social construction of knowledge has influenced my own views and those espoused within the depth psychological body of knowledge of which I am a participant. While my research topic is not yet something that I can definitively state, I will attempt to clarify it throughout this paper. I am primarily concerned with using depth psychological tools both Modern and Post Modern to contribute to the dialogue on field theory as detailed by Rupert Sheldrake (1987), Ervin Laszlo (2008) and others. Carl Jung’s hypothesis of the collective unconscious fits remarkably well with biological field theory (Sheldrake) and Akashic field theory (Laszlo), it is also agreeable with ideas of place and mind that occur in ecological philosophies and psychologies. Further, I hope by situating depth psychology within field theory I will be able to demonstrate that is not a mere cultural artifact and that it can be useful to transpersonal theory, ecopsychology, and ecosophy.


Subjective orientation


I will attempt to briefly outline how my own experience has led me to use a depth psychological lens for getting at the world and how my experience colors my attitudes towards my research interests. During my childhood, I was thoroughly captivated with the spiritual aspects of life though I had no ongoing formal exposure to religion or any particular tradition. My family was loosely Christian though my father’s spirituality is likely more influenced by his time spent in nature that in a church, and my mother’s spirituality is largely self derived from the beliefs passed on to her by her own mother. I went to a Christian school for the first three years of my education only because my parents were worried about the safety of the public schools in our neighborhood. When the school shut down on allegations of an abusive nun and a successive loss of funding I entered public school and rarely set foot in a church again.


Regardless of the lack of direct religious orientation in my family, spirituality always seemed to be the focal point of my life. In my teens, I was influenced by the transcendental philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau which led to my exposure of Hindu and Buddhist spiritual traditions. I devoured several Hindu holy texts and became an avid reader of Alan Watts. I was an excessively spiritual youth, preferring an introverted lifestyle to socialization with my peers. My continued exposure to various religious traditions eventually led me to question the objective reality of any tradition on account of the numerous disconnections and contradictions that occur within particular traditions and that are amplified when two or more traditions are put side by side.


When I entered college, I began studying philosophy and religion as a way of continuing the line of questioning that seemed to be inborn to me. While as a child I felt a warm comfort in religion, my days as a philosophy student and the events leading up to and following the September 11th attacks led me to have an extreme distrust of religions of any sort. My studies brought me into contact with existential philosophy and I almost immediately became a die hard existentialist. Freedom and responsibility became my buzzwords and they crept into every aspect of my thought. I disavowed religion in any shape or form believing it to be a flight of fancy taken by irresponsible actors. Looking back on my development, I can easily note that while I had thought myself to be a progressive, responsible, and free thinker, I was really only functioning within the lived illusion of American values. My education in philosophy ensured that I was primarily concerned with three qualities of American technicism, as put by Stewart and Bennet (1991, p.63) “human beings are responsible for setting their own directions in the world, clarity is preferable to ambiguity, and contemplation should lead to action.”


During my last year of undergrad work I took a course in American Pragmatism focused heavily on the philosophy of William James. James’ brilliant work fanned the flames of spirituality that were smoldering under the weight of existential responsibility and eventually caused me to begin investigating spiritual movements once again though from a particularly hard headed, overly analytical position. This led me into a graduate program that focused on two disciplines, mythology and depth psychology.


Upon entering the program, I was very critical of the sometimes lofty concepts used by depth psychologists. By this point, I was firmly entrenched in the logical, factual, philosophical approach I had engendered as an undergrad. I nearly dropped out of the program because it did not seem to espouse what I had come to understand as academic and rational rigor. Though I did not have words for it at the time what had truly happened at this point in my life was an encounter between the “control” orientation of my previous education and the more integrative approach taken by depth psychology (Slater, 2009). I formed a hard shell and tried to crush depth psychology by constantly critiquing what ever I studied. Seeming detached concepts such as archetype, persona, individuation and the like evoked my natural skepticism. These things had not grounding in scientific reality as I saw it and as such deserved little further consideration. Yet over time as I began to recognize these forces at play in my own life and the mythologies of old my skepticism was slowly transformed into an enthusiasm for these knew conceptual tools.


Depth psychology granted me perspective that that I had never had prior to my initial encounters with it. I had always assumed a typically dualistic either/or view of the world. I believed that either transpersonal spirituality had to be true or rationalistic philosophy had to me true. Depth psychology’s concept of the archetypal unconscious and the individual ego consciousness allowed me to hold each of these views in dynamic tension. By assuming a collective unconscious that is constantly influencing our daily lives I was able to recognize that we as individuals are not entirely responsible for our lives and that though we are responsible for our conscious choices there is a great deal that will always lay outside the realms of perception. I believe that the union of opposites that stems from depth psychological thinking is an excellent foundation for further work in fields related to spirituality, philosophy, and ecology.


The Notion of Progress in Depth Psychology


In the following sections, I shall attempt to make clear some of the limitations of depth psychology that stem from what are primarily Western cultural assumptions and views. The Jungian concept of individuation is a progress based theory of the human psyche that combines both a linear path and cyclical wheel of alienation and inflation to form a psychic teleos that causes an individual to progress from towards a state of Self actualization (Edinger, 1972). Pathology is general evidence that the teleos of the psyche can be refused, but it is generally thought to be the case that pathologies are actually part of the call towards growth (Hillman, 1998). Jung’s Depth Psychology is a progress based approach to reality. It assumes a path of individuation, a progression of conscious awakenings that lead to a profound connection with the central archetype or the Self. The first step of Jungian psychology is oriented towards bringing ones shadow qualities to consciousness, integrating them, and becoming a more total person on account of such integrations (Von Franz, 1964).


Jung asserts that it is “true that much of the evil in the world is due to the fact that man in general is hopelessly unconscious, as it is also true that with increasing insight we can combat this evil at its source within ourselves” (1950, p.205). Jung believed that it was a moral imperative to discover our own unconscious drives in order to change and improve ourselves and the world. Stewart and Bennett make it clear that the “belief in human perfectibility and progress” (1991, p.114) is a notion that is deeply rooted in Western culture. They perfectly summarize Jung’s belief when they say, “human beings can change and improve, and it is their duty to do so. The implied agent…is transformed by experience into a rational manipulator and controller of the environment” (1991, p.114).


Traditional Jungian psychology asserts that the process of individuation occurs through a relationship to the archetypes of the Shadow and the anima/animus. Jungians maintain that one must develop a relationship to the anima/animus or “soul image” that lies within the unconscious. This archetypal structure is a constellation of all our experience within the masculine and feminine archetypes within our lives. All of our conceptions about the intimate others we encounter in our lives lie hidden in our relationship with this archetypal force. Until we make our unconscious assumptions about anima/animus clear then we will only have relationships with our projections upon other people instead of the people themselves (von Franz, 1964).


After attaining an awakened anima/animus relationship a connection called the ego-Self axis will form that brings the individual consciousness into relationship with the larger sphere of the transpersonal unconscious (Edinger, 1972). This appears to be a universal fact as Jung illustrates this theory with an abundance of of evidence from myths and fairy tales that involve the defeat or integration of a shadow figure followed by a union of with the anima/animus figure. My position as a Westerner has further encouraged this assumption because of my own experience of development through these apparently archetypal forces. Jung states that, “The shadow can be realized only through a relation of a partner, and anima and animus only through relation to a partner of the opposite sex, because only in such a relation do their projections become operative” (1976, p.161). The notion that one can only realize the anima or animus images through relationship with a member of the opposite sex could be criticized as one that firmly locates Jung in his time.


Japanese depth psychologist, Hayao Kawaii (2008), provides several critiques of Jung, especially the notion of individuation through the anima/animus by citing Japanese psychological patterns and literature. He skillfully demonstrates that the Japanese tend to individuate through the archetypes of the teacher and innocent rather that the anima/animus. Kawai states that it “seems to be significant for understanding the Japanese-Chinese type of psyche, in which the senex-puer archetype is of greater importance than the male-female relationship.” (2008, p. 67). This obviously infringes upon the universality of the individuation patterns as laid out by Jung. The location of depth psychology within a primarily upper class Western cultural lens has served to inhibit its ability to provide adequate understanding of other cultural patterns.


Further, Jungians tend to imply the existence of a structure/function (Sztompka) dichotomy within the psyche by providing an “archetypal anatomy” of the psyche that helps to determine the growth and development of an individual or society. The objectification of conceptual realities finds root within Western intellectual traditions, while Eastern traditions are more concerned with perceived realities rather than conceptual ones (Stewart and Bennet, 1991). Stewart and Bennet critique the Western approach as “drawing inductively on a perceptual world of objective things and events, [while] construct[ing] a moderately abstract functional reality rather than a concrete perceptual one” (1991, p. 29). Jung claims to have developed his psychological theory as he worked with multitudes of patients and their dream material. From these therapeutic sessions, and Jung’s own self therapy and study of alchemy, he was able to posit the existence of a collective unconscious that contains archetypes that are fundamental of all human experience. For Jung, this is a factual reality grounded in empirical science though his usage may not stand up to the scientific standards of today.


Often times, modern incarnations of depth psychology are colored with an existential or humanistic approach. Some depth psychologists are very critical of this, while others seem to encourage it as a less abstract and more subjective approach to the human endeavor (Hollis, 1995). While I tend to favor a more existential depth psychology that emphasizes personal action and responsibility in the face of unconscious forces, this approach has its foundations in American social custom and may not be applicable cross-culturally. Stewart and Bennet (1991) summarize this attitude in the following passage,


Actions and hard work will bring about what the individual wants; hence, Americans are described as having the attribute of effort-optimism. Through effort one will achieve one’s ambitions. No goal is too remote, no obstacle too difficult for the individual who has the determination to expend the effort. Hard work is rewarded by success. (p.75).


In a sense, this attitude underlays Jung’s original explication of the depth psychology on account and is evidenced in his belief that individuals are responsible for the process of their own individuations. And because the individuation of one individual influences the individuation of others, the individual becomes somewhat responsible for the process of growth that takes place in those around him or her.


Radical Subjectivity


Another area of difficulty in the current incarnations of Jungian psychology is the propensity for an over reliance on subjective, individually based experience. Jung took a scientific approach to the unconscious by formulating his views on top of evidence accumulated from sessions with individual patients as well as his own philosophical and cross cultural studies. Through these evaluations he arrived at the hypotheses of archetypal principles, projection, and individuation. While Jung emphasized subjective experience as a means of knowing, he also attempted to position that experience in a larger cultural context known as the cultural unconscious (Jung, 1971). This is something that has seemingly been lost because of the primarily western framing of depth psychology (Watkins, 1992).


The cultural unconscious is the interdependent web of connections that gives rise to our particular subjective modes of experiencing. While the archetypes may be patterns fundamental to biological life, our perceptions of them are always colored by our culturally based concepts (Watkins, 1992). This comes as no surprise in a time when we can use an internet resource to quickly survey cultural conceptions of “Mother” among several different groups. The deeper notions of mother as a giver of life and nurturing remain the same across cultures but the particular cultural incarnations take their own forms within given cultures. It is a popular misconception that Americans have no actual culture because the country is a conglomeration of various cultures and traditions. This idea encourages an individualistic view of the world because Americans tend to believe that they cannot locate themselves within their culture so they must derive their way of life from inner principles or a particular family culture (Stewart and Bennet, 1991). The rather obvious truth of this myth is that the culture itself informs this sort of subjective experiencing of the world.


This can be a particular problem in current depth psychology because individuals tend to over personalize their subjective needs and sufferings rather than recognizing their location within the patterns of their culture. Depth Psychologist and activist, Mary Watkins (1992), points out that these patterns of suffering and individual seeking are actually patterns that are nourished by trends in American culture. Due to American images of self reliance and inner subjectivity, the culture rarely notices that these notions are themselves cultural artifacts left over from the ideas of self-determination that sprung from the Enlightenment, the glorification of self expression and inner worth of the Romantic period, and the practical utilitarian positions of pragmatic philosophy (Watkins, 1992). Current psychotherapies encourage us to “listen deeply to that distillation of culture we have labeled ‘inner life’” (Watkins, 1992, p. 56). Watkins further states that, “our attempts to experience ourselves as self-determining, self-actualizing, and free, we blind ourselves to the forces that construct our notion of the self” (1992, p. 59).


Depth psychology is the product of theories generated in large part by affluent European and American men of Judeo-Christain background and because of this fact, it often looses touch with other cultural realities despite the belief of its proponents that it takes part in a universal reality (Watkins, 1999). During my two years of education at an institution grounded in depth psychology, only once was a reading assigned by a psychologist that did not fit the mold of an affluent white Westerner. Regardless of its appeals to a more fundamental archetypal reality that we all hold in common as members of the human community, depth psychology often fails to articulate the relationship between cultural contexts and individual suffering (Watkins, 1999).


Cause and Effect Reasoning


Another possible limitation of depth psychology is its reliance on explaining pathologies in terms of causal relationships. With the advent of the industrial age, a great deal of emphasis was placed upon the nuclear home as a sacred location where one could partition oneself off from the wider social world. Similarly, this little slice of subjective space was thought to be the originator of pathologies. This is evidenced by Sigmund Freud’s pioneering work of uncovering pathology by looking back in a patient’s history to a discover formative sexual experiences that led to a particular pathological manifestation (Ellenberger, 1970). While Jung rejected Freud’s emphasis of sexual trauma, he maintained that pathologies were the results of “complexes” that had formed because of past experiences of an archetypal force. Complexes are the concretization of archetypal concepts into a firmer reality. A complex forms around a particular experience and colors all other experience of a particular archetype from then on. One grows up located within a particular familial dynamic that leads to the formation of certain unconscious assumptions about the world. As one ages and distances oneself from the family, these unconscious assumptions or complexes, are still projected out into the world and thus inform our experience of it. A psychotherapist may attempt to cure a particular neurosis by locating the formation of a related complex sometime in the patient’s history and working to release the energy that is constellated around that particular event. It is hoped that through the loosening of the complex, a broader experience of reality in the present moment will be possible and thus the power of the pathology will lessen (Jung, 1971).


Mary Watkins (1991) enlarges the location of of initial causes by acknowledging that the nuclear family unit is not a sacred space separate from society but a cultural construct. Traumatic causes cannot be purely located within familial relationships because those very relationships are also informed by our cultural unconscious. As Watkins eloquently puts it, “To enlarge our interpretive frame, we need to see past the parents’ actions and behavior to the cultural myths of self and reality that not only shape but contort our experience” (1991, p. 56). Psychologists and patients must learn to work in such a way that they are able to give witness to the culture underlying the apparent subjective suffering of a situation. When suffering is contextualized within social constructs it informs the healing of the individual pathology as well as the social pathology that influenced its development.


The emphasis placed on discovering patterns of causation is itself a product of American cultural perceptions. The implied agent that serves as a linguistic function in statements such as “It is raining,” implies the existence of a distinct cause for every effect. The English language could not support the “rain” without the relationship to “it” (Stewart and Bennet, 1991). Similarly, the idea of causation that is common to many contemporary psychologies, not just depth psychology, assumes a a cause that can be isolated within a patient’s history that will explain current behavioral patterns. Causation can still be a useful tool if it is not placed upon the altar of objective reality, but instead acknowledged as the product of various levels interconnected levels of experience.






Structuring of the Psyche


The last limitation of depth psychology that I shall focus on is the tendency to structure the psyche according to so called empirical principles. This takes two primary forms, one is in efforts to provide a psychic anatomy in the form of archetypal structure, the other is found in developmental theories espoused by depth psychologists. Archetypes commonly referred to by depth psychologists have already been mentioned in the pages above, so there is no need to cover them again in this section. It is perhaps more pressing to acknowledge that while these structures could be a type of type of mind gene as Jung inferred from his work with patients and world cultures, it could just as easily be a purely cultural product manifested from the social contexts of Jung’s time and subjective frame.


Depth psychological developmental theory is derived from both clinical practice on the part of Jung and his successors, and on the patterns of development apparent within mythological and cultural resources. Jungians posit the development from a unitary reality in which one is not yet differentiated from his or her surroundings, to a magical reality where the child begins to see itself as a part of the world but still identifies with the god-like agency of the father and mother figures, to an eventual stage of of separation where the individual in question comes to recognize his position as a responsible actor in the world. Some persons will remain in infantile stages of development throughout life, never being quite able to achieve a position that allows them to see themselves as agents within the world but as members of a world is constantly acting upon them in ways that they cannot control (Whitmont, 1991).


According to depth psychologists, the initial stages of life should lead to the strengthening of the ego and the conceptualization of an individual self. One should not identify with ones social roles, or personas, and should instead develop a firm sense of an individual and responsible self. This again finds its place in Western thought through existential philosophies and enlightenment ethics. The opposite is known to be true in Eastern traditions where individuals identify through ascription, or the understanding of their being as being bound up in their social roles (Stewart and Bennet, 1991).


The dichotomy of westerners developing away from social identity roles and Easterners developing into those very same roles undermines the universality of depth psychological developmental theory. It provides evidence that the developmental theories are social constructions rather than objective facts. Developmental theory is better understood as a cultural norm for the interpretation of experience rather than something located within an archetypal unfolding of the human psyche (Watkins, 1992). Developmental theory serves to limit development to the brackets of a contextual construction more than it offers any new avenues for growth. As psychologists continue to commit themselves to the artifacts of their trade, they limit the potentials for expansion beyond it.


The Ecological Significance of Depth Psychology


After providing a firm critique of the depth psychology frame, I now hope to demonstrate why it is useful in participating in a shift from an individualistic psychology to an interdependent one. Despite its sometimes linear dynamics, depth psychology also provides a platform for interdependent causation within the psyche. While individuals are responsible for their own development, it is also understood that ones development is under the influence of innumerable unconscious factors that extend beyond the realms of personal control. The notions of the collective unconscious and the cultural unconscious take into account the fact that ones ego is not the sole determinant of ones life experience. Just as in Chinese thought, the forethought and planning of actions in advance may prove futile because of the shifting sands of underlying unconscious factors (Stewart and Bennet, 1991).


From the shifting sands of the unconscious emerge the possibility for a conception of the self that is not merely an individual construct but one that is enmeshed in various other factors resulting in an “ensembled individualism” (Watkins, 1992, p. 60). This notion would allow the boundaries between self, other, and society to become more permeable and less dependent on purely individualistic conceptions. While the notion of soul encountered within Western philosophy and religion is often understood as a unique quality of an individual that is to be perfected through spiritual discipline or grace, it is often reformed by contemporary depth psychologists such as James Hillman as something belonging to the world itself (Hillman, 1989). The soul or individual self, is not separate from nature, place, and world, but a product of it that connects us to all of these levels of reality. Thus the illusion of the mechanical division of reality proves false in light of contemporary depth psychological trends.


Hillman’s approach places the utmost importance on the anima mundi or the “soul of the world”. Hillman believes claims that soul is present in all levels of existence and not something that only humans are privy to (Hillman, 1989). There is as much soul in a place or a culture as there is within a particular individual. Hillman leads us in providing a new punctuation for our experience of the world. If the cultural trends begin to recognize the various incarnations of soulfulness in all levels of experience the world will suddenly become a place of renewed vitality. This will have an obvious impact on ecology and related philosophies or psychologies. The notion that there is soul present in the natural world may be a difficult one to accept for lack or apparent evidence but the uncanny propensity for self organization of natural systems and the emergence of stable environments certainly contributes to the idea that nature itself is a vital agency.


One of the greatest qualities of depth psychology is its adaptability to encompass and be encompassed by new paradigms. Hillman (1995) points out that since the recognition of an unconscious made its way into Western thought with Freud in the late 19th century all fields of knowledge become partially rational constructs and partially unconscious constructs. Even if one dismisses the notion of an archetypal unconscious as Jung posited, the notion of a cultural unconscious that encompasses all of the social elements that influence daily activity beyond the level of awareness cannot be denied. Hillman posits that this hub of unconsciousness extends beyond individual egos and cultures into the very world that we emerged from. Recognizing the delicate interplay between personal experience and the unconscious Hillman encourages us to look beyond our individual egos and into the world itself for the answers to our ailments. In his words, “Psychology, so dedicated to awakening human consciousness, needs to wake itself up to one of the most ancient human truths: we cannot be studied or cured apart from the planet” (Hillman, 1995, p. xxii). This new trend in depth psychology makes it a useful tool in the ongoing dialogue about the impacts we have on our environment and the impacts it has upon us. By denying that the psyche exists within the skull and recognizing that it extends beyond the border of skin a new view of psychology emerges, one in which the environment, social context, and a variety of other factors become obvious influences on our overall well being. Further, this notion takes us beyond the mechanism of enlightenment era science and dogmas into a world that dynamism is influenced both by our presence in the world and our interactions with it. An interactioanal system of person/community/environment is formed that makes it trivial to attempt to place dividers anywhere among the three factors.


The work of Dr. Stephen Aizenstat (1995) provides another glimpse into the emerging concept of the world unconscious. Aizenstat puts forth four innovations that depth psychology can offer the current global paradigms. First, depth psychology can contribute to an applied ecopsychological theory as illustrated in the work of Hillman above. Aizenstat also suggests that we enlarge our concept of the psychic self to include our natural environment. An eco-depth psychology would make clear the ineptitudes of ego-centered psychologies and create an eco-centered platform for psychological theory. Pathologies would no longer be results of individual unconscious processes but located within the larger sphere of more complex reality that acknowledges our environmental and cultural contexts as having a direct impact on our concepts and experiences of mental health.


Secondly, much like Hillman, Aizenstat (2005) advocates looking beyond mere human experience for the workings of the psyche. He too believes that psyche is found in the world and all of our interactions with it whether they are physical, spiritual, or cognitive. Aizenstat even goes so far as to give dreams their own weight as psychoid events that emerge from the world soul into the sphere of human and animal consciousness. This part of Aizenstat’s theory is not doubt derived from his work with the aborigines of Australia and their concept of dream time. It is plausible for the scientific minded to dismiss all accounts of meaning in dreams but the fact does remain that each and every dream and individual has is emergent from his or her own unconscious life. That being the case, the uniqueness of each dream should be taken into account when considering the importance of dream material and its connection to a deeper layer of experience that lays beyond our daily ego-centered perceptions.


Thirdly, Aizenstat (1995) recognizes that psychotherapy must be practiced in such a way that the ills of the world are taken into account as having effects on each individual patient. No longer can therapists rely on theories that attempt to mesh together causes and effects from a patient’s family history or other individual experience. Case histories have their usefulness but they, “exist within a framework that perpetuates the separation of person from world and that denies the essential importance of an individual’s surroundings” (Aizenstat, 1995, p. 99)


Lastly, depth psychology should seek to reconnect humanity with the natural rhythms of nature. As many ecotheorists contend, it may be our modern predication for seeing the world as a lifeless machine that exists solely to satisfy our needs and wants as a species that has led us into the current state of near global catastrophe that we face (Roszack, 1995, Drengson & Inoue, 1995). Depth psychological concepts such as the anima mundi and the collective unconscious serve to vitalize all that which is not human thus bringing humanity down from its perilous ego centered state of inflation to the level of the world. If we are able to re-cognize our deep connection to the natural world, it is probable that a revolution of consciousness will occur that may stave off humanity’s plight and perhaps even ensure a fruitful continuity of our species on this planet (Laszlo, 2008).


Field Theory’s Validation of Depth Psychology


The research of biologist Rupert Sheldrake (1987) suggests that natural laws are more like natural habits than objective facts. Sheldrake proposes that nature has a collective memory that influences future developments based on their similarities to prior incarnations. Thus archetypes are not a priori to the human mind but emergent patterns of human experience. Sheldrake’s research demonstrates that mental processes are more than just the complex interactions of material components of a given life form. He proposes that naturally occurring fields are actually largely responsible for cognitive functions. Sheldrake provides an allegory of a television set to illustrate this phenomenon. Just as a television is a piece of equipment that is able to filter out information from broadcasting signals and formulate them into a moving picture, our brain serves to filter our information from the field of mind that pervades us to present us with an experience of reality. The brain serves as a translator of the field of the mind that lays beyond our perception of it. Thus mental processes are not simply material processes but are influenced by the field of mind that the material processes interpret (Sheldrake, 1987). Consciousness is not limited to the perimeter of our direct sensory organs but extends beyond us into the natural world.


Sheldrake’s concept of a mental field relates well with depth psychological ideas such as the collective and cultural unconscious, and the world soul. A dialogue between depth psychologists and field theorists is likely to bring about a mutual validation of each discipline. Further, a combination of these two theoretical platforms could be applied to positive social change. Sheldrake demonstrates that as a given capacity is generated in an individual it also enters the collective field of mind. As individuals experience psychological realizations through depth psychology they will inherently affect the collective mental field thus generating further resources for similar transformation on a larger scale (Laszlo, 2008).




This work has been an exercise of deconstruction and reconstruction of views. The first section served as an overview of my own place within the context of my dissertation research. The second, an exposure of the sociological limitations of my body of knowledge. The third, an attempt to integrate these deconstructions with a hopeful outlook on future research. Further, I hope that this paper has demonstrated the continued utility of depth psychological theory in the coming decades, while accepting that some concepts are also limited to their particular incarnations in historical time.








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What we call “Self” (part 1)

Several weeks ago I heard our lives described as “echoes in the vastness” by an aged psychologist only days away from her death at the hand of terminal cancer. She faced her death with an openness and optimism that would be hard to cultivate by any person regardless of their stage of life. Of course, there was also fear in her final recorded thoughts but it was an honest and sincere fear balanced by transparency and willingness to be taken away from this world. I made a note of her words as I prepared to board the train in metropolitan Tokyo and decided that I would write about them when the time was right on account of their profundity and deservingness of further examination.

I had once written a graduate paper that at one point described the self as being something like the visible swirl that forms when one unplugs a sink full of water and watches it rush down the drain. The swirling motion of the water exists before we are able to lay eyes upon it, a gentle stir beneath the seemingly placid surface of the water. In the same way, I believe, our selves are both placid formless masses and swirls of energy called into being when presented with ‘unplugged drains’. Social situations and various relationships (even relationship to oneself or environment in moments of isolation) call us to take on particular forms, yet there is a larger volume of self that remains as an unformed and only subtly active potential beyond the confines of the self that has sprung into shape. This larger volume is silently feeding the speeding swirl, but informs it in a less than obvious way.

I later reflected that this concept of a self is archetypal in a sense and imaginally similar to the way that an atom functions in physical science as both a particle and a wave simultaneously; and can potentially be in more than one place at once depending on the contexts of observation. Escaping our human adaptive tendency towards dualism, one can recognize that existence is possible in more than one form at any given temporal instance. Our selves exist en potentia and in action at all times except perhaps in moments of perfectly deep sleep in which there is no conscious perception of form and wherein a self is not phenomenologically experienced.

In Hindu thought it is understood that we have three bodies: the gross which is our actual physical existence, the subtle which is the body we experience in dreams, and the causal which exists atemporally and is dwelled in during dreamless sleep. We are active to various degrees in each of these bodies at all times but our ability to act in them is limited by our contexts (we cannot dwell in our subtle body while in a full waking state). Taking this bit of metaphysics as an intuitive imaginal truth that says something about our consciousness, I understand it as evidence that our selves exist in a symbolically similar way: formed to various degrees determined in part by our intentional directedness and in part by our relational contexts. Our selves form echoes in the vastness of our lifeworlds (I use that term because it may be easier to understand but some of the numen is lost in translating it from the German umwelt).

I do not wish to give the impression that there is a duality or opposition between our echo-formed selves and the vastness that is the world but that “We’re implicated in a world that implicates us, each its other side. To find my place is to find myself. We have a modulated dance of subjectivity and objectivity” (Mooney, p. 180). Our informed selves and the quantity of self/world that gives ground to our temporal expression is a unitary whole divided only by our lazy phenomenological sensing of the world that pits us as concrete subjects in a similarly concrete objective world.

Philosophy in the sense of living thought is one way in which we may engage this unitary world though the permeable film of perceptual ‘skin’ that serves to distinguish us as manifest beings (echoes) participating in this unitary vastness will not be wholly removed nor should it be. The swirling selves we manifest as are just as important as the vastness from which we emerge, are cradled in, and return to. One should not be cast off at the expense of the other. In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, “the ‘I’ is oneself and ones neighbor[hood] at once” (brackets are mine).

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