Psychological Faith: A Matter of Life and Death (1/24/16)

What do I mean by psychological faith? Faith in the ‘reality of the psyche’? This is far too vague and general an answer. Perhaps I mean faith in the reality and efficacy of that psychological process Jung called ‘individuation’—that long, educative-transformative process whereby the developing individual differentiates his consciousness from the mass or collective from which the human ego, any human ego, takes its start—from which it initially takes its bearings and against which it strives towards greater intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual independence or self-reliance.

There would appear to be two poles between which the individuating ego oscillates—either gently or violently, but nevertheless unavoidably. What should we call these two poles? Coagulating and dissolving? Hardening and melting? The firm and the yielding (employing Taoist nomenclature)? Whatever terms we opt for, the general idea is of a regular or periodic pendulum swing between gathering and assimilation, on one side, and dissolving and releasing, on the other. There are additional parallels we might list: projecting/reflecting; action/contemplation (or meditation); doing/not-doing; thinking/stilling the mind; eros/thanatos; extraversion/introversion.

Oscillation obviously entails movement, so becoming stuck—on either ‘side’ or somewhere in between—is a sure sign that the individuation process has been interrupted. And yet the life within and without us never takes a vacation—or at least not a long one. Becoming stuck is a bit like clinging desperately to a large rock or boulder near the seashore, where the strong incoming and outgoing tides threaten to carry away the clinger-grasper. Not a few clinger-graspers attach themselves like barnacles or oysters to such immovable rocks. Some try to build a church or an entire philosophy upon such rocks. But courageous faith and vital thought have little or nothing to do with such fixed orthodoxies or such rational-philosophical systems. Life and thought are essentially dialectical inasmuch as they depend upon polarized fields for the energy that sustains them. It is in our intuitive understanding of this essential polarity at the bottom of all existent things that we eventually come to see the secret interdependence of life and death.

How does this apply to our initial theme—faith in the psychological process known as ‘individuation’? What we come to learn is that in order for our consciousness to undergo renewal or rebirth (and not once or twice, but continuously throughout the course of life), it must suffer (or endure) a kind of death, time and time again. It is the usually overpowering, determined desire to dominate and possess the things, persons, and ideas, that we gather and associate with along the way that prevents us from voluntarily embracing death in this symbolic, but nevertheless psychologically real, sense.

Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the idea of faith as a kind of trust in the unknown or the uncertain stands out most prominently. Here the idea of psychological faith as a courageous, conscious submission to something far more powerful and mysterious than we are comes into view. The things we have gathered about us and assumed to be ‘our own’—these we can see. Faith and its testy demands are not an issue at this end of the polarized continuum. Thus, we see that faith requires courage from us precisely because it confronts us with the uncertainty of what happens after death—the death of a friendship or marriage, the ending of a chapter or a long career, the withering and falling away of an earlier ‘Paul’ and all that came with that. Persons who talk about the comfort and sense of security that their faith fills them with are, no doubt, talking about something. But they are not talking about the same thing I’m touching on here, I suspect.

Perhaps in some instances it is not necessary—or even advisable—to wait around for a thing (say, an outgrown relationship or pursuit, a set of interrelated assumptions or way of seeing) to actually perish. Far too much time can be unnecessarily frittered away as we twiddle our thumbs, waiting for such ‘comas’ to come to a quiet, almost unnoticed end. We would be doing everyone a favor in some cases if we simply grabbed a pillow or pulled a plug. Suffocation is a quick and relatively painless way to go—and if we are to be killers, for gosh sakes, let us be merciful killers!

I may have entered a phase in my life upon which I will later look back (with nostalgia) as my ‘glorious wintertime killing spree.’



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