In their book, Buddhism and Jungian Psychology, analysts J. Marvin Spiegelman and Mokusen Miyuki (who is also a Buddhist priest), mention the danger of “stagnation” following the integration of unconscious contents. This sounds a lot like the stage on the journey to enlightenment the mystics have famously called “the dark night of the soul.” It is the point where a seeker has seen the light, so to speak, but cannot quite believe it yet. This period of deeply troubling doubt and hesitation lasts for an indeterminate length of time until a sufficient level of acceptance has been reached to allow the final enlightenment to dawn, whereupon the ability to feel confident and to act is restored.
The dark night of the soul is a lengthy period of deeply troubling doubt and hesitation. It ends when a sufficient level of acceptance has been reached to allow the final enlightenment to dawn. (Image: public domain)
I suffer from manic-depressive illness. In the early nineties, I was newly diagnosed and recovering from a complete nervous breakdown. A few years earlier, realizing I had a terrible problem, but not knowing its true nature, I had taken refuge in a shack near a 10,000-acre tree farm that bordered the British Columbia wilderness. All told, I was to spend sixteen years there, many of them in combative cognitive-behaviour therapy.
Winter can be hard on hermit writers trying to live on the cheap. (Image: WPClipart)
Old ambitions of becoming a writer had resurfaced so, being essentially shipwrecked anyway, I decided to live off my savings and have a go at writing full-time. The 1990s proved chaotic and painful years for me, so much so that I was never able to finish anything, yet they “made” me as a writer. For years, I kept a diary of my struggles. Those of you who long to be a hermit – writers or otherwise – may romanticize such an existence, especially one lived in a beautiful semi-wilderness area teeming with wildlife, yet the lifestyle itself really is quite mundane. What matters is what you do with all the time. I invested mine in making Jung’s journey of individuation and learning how to write. These two immensely rewarding activities literally transformed my life.
The concept of “the quintessence” has more than one historical root. Here I will deal with the one that really does have roots, the one that involves sacred trees. It may seem strange that people once considered certain trees (and by extension, groves) sacred, yet there is a simple logic to the belief and – not surprisingly – a link to modern psychology.
Trees are a source of the mysterious quintessence, which is an externalization of the unconscious mind. (Image: Wikipaintings)
Most of us associate the practice of worshipping trees, or worshipping among trees, with the Celtic peoples of Western Europe. Tacitus (writing about Celts in his book Germania) says, “The Grove is the centre of their whole religion. It is regarded as the cradle of the race and the dwelling-place of the supreme god to whom all things are subject and obedient.”
In her Diary of Vowels, Jungian analyst Helen M. Luke describes a type of person she refers to as “the Zen man.” According to Luke, “He is … one who does everything with his whole heart, with complete commitment and devotion – or, in Jung’s words, one who lives his hypothesis to the bitter end, to the death if need be.”
It is a mistake to compare Buddhism’s wholeheartedness with Jung’s idea of authenticity. (Image: public domain.)
The concept of wholeheartedness in Zen Buddhism refers to complete sincerity and commitment. Many in the West, including Luke, have tried to equate Zen wholeheartedness with Jung’s notion of wholeness and authenticity. Jung himself may have made the comparison, as Luke seems to suggest.
Have you become discouraged in life? Has it occurred to you to question what you are doing, or where you are going? Does the nagging feeling that “there must be more to life than this” eat away at you? Worse, have you entered the “midlife crisis” or had a full-blown psychological breakdown? All these things are distressing to one degree or another, and all, even the less pressing, require a remedy. They all stem from a loss of personal vision. That loss has come about because of an inner conflict, a conflict that probably remains below the threshold of conscious awareness.
Not knowing what you want can cause debilitating depression. There is a remedy, and you are already carrying it around with you. (Photo: Public Domain Pictures)