There is a plainly evident contrast between the dispassionate state of stillness and inner peace that I experience when I meditate, and the excited state of inner tension that I find myself in when I am functioning as a creative agent. The creative tension that appears to be the necessary ground from which authentically interesting works of art and thought emerge is noticeably relaxed or slackened during meditation—at least the way that I have been meditating. And while an indisputable sense of calm contentedness or detached serenity often accompanies these meditations, I am not blind to the fact that I have done less and less intense and/or penetrating writing since this meditation work began in earnest a few months ago.
I recall a phrase from my youthful immersion in the occult writings of Alice Bailey. In describing the 4th ray soul (of the ‘artist’), the phrase ‘harmony through conflict’ was employed. Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci, and Shakespeare, as I recall, were prominent exemplars of the 4th ray. In my life experience, throughout the years, I recognize a kind of affinity with this ‘harmony through conflict’ image. Jung’s (alchemical) speculations about the coniunctio—or the balancing of the pairs of opposites which comprise the polaristic psyche—speaks to this same idea, and has therefore always resonated with me. Odysseus, tied to the mast, torturously enduring-enjoying the lethally enchanting melodies of the Sirens, is for me another iconic image of positioning oneself in the middle of the tremendous and terrible tension of the opposites—the very tension that appears to be the sine qua non for the profoundest psychic experience.
I suspect that Jung’s steadfast refusal to endorse and to encourage the voluntary sacrifice or obliteration of the personal ego is fundamentally bound up with this question of creativity—but also with the importance he attached to meaning, as I shall explore ahead. It is precisely that condition of dynamic, fertile inner tension that Jung’s writings and suggestions strive to awaken in the reader or the patient. In his own terms, it is the state of creative-destructive tension that is quite naturally produced by the opening up of the (normally defended and self-protective) ego to the transformative powers of the unconscious. As the ego yields some—but not all—of its much-cherished authority and control, allowing itself to be influenced (or infected?) by the ambiguities and uncertainties that break like waves upon its shoreline from the sea of the unconscious, it invariably recognizes both the threatening and the enriching, the humiliating and the inflating, possibilities contained in a relationship (or collision, as the case may be) between the ego and the unconscious.
This idea of a dialectical relationship between ego and unconscious—where the ego is very much the ‘junior partner’ or disciple of the archaic, wise, and far more comprehensive unconscious—justly characterizes the general approach Jung takes towards psychological development, or integration of the personality. In the course of such development—a lifelong pedagogical process Jung calls individuation—the ego is continually ‘coming to terms’ with the challenging and meaning-bestowing contents of the unconscious. This enriching educational experience has significant impact upon the personality—and on a variety of different but always interrelated fronts. There are ethical, intellectual, imaginative, and spiritual ramifications to this individuation process—since, in following the path of self-knowledge we are consciously realizing potentials that would otherwise remain in a latent or dormant state.
And while it is for the most part correct to claim that Jung strongly opposes the utter sacrifice or dissolution of the ego (as we see, for instance, in the path of radical Self-enquiry endorsed by Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta), he certainly does not advocate some crude form of egocentrism, let alone ego-inflation. Jung unfailingly and quite vocally acknowledges the ‘supraordinate’ status of the unconscious in this relationship between the (subordinate) ego and the uncharted, vast matrix which has created and launched it like a rising bubble from dark and unfathomable depths. In other words, unlike most Western intellectuals, philosophers, scientists, and educated persons (who ‘reside’ almost exclusively upon the surface-consciousness of the oceanic psyche), Jung consistently refrains from elevating the human ego to the sovereign role that is generally (and foolishly, often catastrophically) assigned to it. After many years of dealing with the problems that stem from disturbed relations between the ego and the unconscious background out of which the ego emerges and in which it is always ultimately rooted—Jung wisely appreciated the dangers that regularly result from an underestimation of the actual sovereignty of the unconscious. Therefore, he stood—and still stands—apart from mainstream cultural attitudes and assumptions that presently rule in the ever-enlarging community of psychologists, psychiatrists, and so-called ‘therapists.’
Jung may be said to occupy a middle position between Nietzsche and Ramana Maharshi, respecting his view of the role and the importance of the ego as a factor in human experience. Roughly speaking, we might say that while Nietzsche is chiefly concerned with power and Ramana Maharshi is chiefly concerned with Self-realization or liberation, Jung is chiefly concerned with meaning, and particularly with the healing, restorative impact meaning can have upon our ailing, spiritually sterile culture. Correspondingly, Nietzsche’s philosophy is principally bound up with the enhancement and the extension of the ‘spiritualized,’ culturally-sophisticated ego. Ramana Maharshi’s spiritual teachings—in diametrical opposition to Nietzsche’s philosophy—aim at seeing through the illusion of mind, or ego. Ramana Maharshi, therefore, is focused upon spirit or the Self, which is both formless and beyond thought. Jung, as we have seen, is interested primarily in soul, which may be conceived as the metaphorical bridge between the ego of Nietzsche and the Self of Ramana Maharshi. It only stands to reason that since the ego forms one bank of the river that is being bridged by soul, Jung cannot endorse its destruction. But, on the other hand, he is perfectly content to reserve judgment concerning the mysterious—and probably unknowable—other bank across the river from the ego.
Ramana Maharshi, as we see, speaks (or points, indicates) from that other bank. Unlike Nietzsche and Jung, Ramana Maharshi has destroyed (or parted with) the illusory ego and has become a mere mouthpiece or portal for the light of the Self. There is no doer. There is no knower—for the whole subject-object duality has been transcended. All is the Self. Only the Self is real. Everything else is simply maya, including all individual souls or ‘jivas.’