The Well of Ancients: We Live in a Universe, Not A Room

Have images of someplace you have never been, or of a time or situation you have never lived, ever appeared in your mind masquerading as a memory?

 

Years ago, my parents lived in Atlantic City, New Jersey. One night we were driving on Atlantic Avenue, the main street of the city that runs parallel to and often just a block or so away from the ocean. It was raining and the yellow lights reflected off the wet street. The houses on a long section of the avenue are large, expensive dwellings, some old and going back to the 1930s or before. And suddenly I felt we were back in the 1930s during prohibition when some of the homes were owned by mobsters. The whole mood had changed into a feeling different from any other I have ever felt. This happened two or three times.

 

My great aunt Fanny, sister of my maternal grandmother, died when I was in my thirties. When I think of her apartment, I get something closer to a dream than a memory, and just pieces, not the whole. And those pieces are not from the second half of the twentieth century. They are from sometime earlier⎼ with dark hallways, a bedroom with a wall of ornate glass doors which she didn’t have, a window that looked out not onto modern streets but gray mists, people in dark clothes in a village of wood homes, in the “old country” of Eastern Europe from where my relatives emigrated.

 

And from where do our interests come? Why do some subjects, seemingly from before we were born, excite or shake us up, turn us off or get no response at all? I love the art of Japan, Tibet, Indigenous North America, Central Africa, Ancient Greece, and the Middle East, but other places less so or not at all.

 

Twenty years ago, I was on sabbatical from teaching, and my wife and I went to Greece. I taught philosophy to high school students and looked forward to visiting the birthplace of Western European philosophy.

 

We were on the island of Crete, not far from the city of Chania, driving through the mountains after visiting the ancient City of Aptera. The city had come to an end possibly in 1400 CE due to an earthquake. We stopped at the ruins of a Minoan palace, and Roman and Byzantine structures. My wife saw a herd of sheep grazing on the side of the road and asked me to stop. The sheep were not fenced in but moving freely about.

 

We stopped, got out of the car, and walked over to the sheep. I happened to look down, and there, partly exposed, were ancient bricks, Roman, maybe 2000 years old. An archaeological site was close by unearthing a Roman villa from that time, with sculptures, lintels and other artifacts just lying on the ground. We continued our walk and found ruins of a Roman cistern. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, we saw a German bunker from World War II, and later, an Ottoman fortress.

 

What is it like to live in a place where we literally step on thousands of years of human history? …

 

To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

**The photo is of what might be the oldest road in Europe, from Knossos, Crete.

Living with the Unknown in Ourselves

I was watching the Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway last night. In the second hour of the program, the narrator was describing the difficulties Hemingway had beginning his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. He had already published a critically acclaimed book of short stories, where each sentence was a work of art. Suddenly, he needed to shift to the length and breadth of detail a novel required. Hemingway told himself, write one true sentence. Then another and another. Which is what he did.

 

Hemingway was both a great artist surrounded by friends and family, as well as a solitary narcissist. There is both a loneliness and a luminosity to words. They can be used to mask as well as unmask, to torture or heal. We have to be totally alone in ourselves to write. Yet, words can fill us with a sense of connection and ecstasy. We might try to hold them to us as if they could warm our bodies with their heat. But when we do so, the words dissolve into air. It’s not the words themselves that warm us but the breath we give them as we speak and listen, and the paths to others they might reveal.

 

Two days ago, in the woods near the top of our hill, maybe 25 feet from a road, my wife and I came upon two circles in the earth. We had never seen these before. The bigger one was about 12 feet across, with a moss and stone foundation and one young oak tree growing inside it. Maybe it was once a silo. And the smaller circle, now a depression in the earth lined with rotted leaves and stones, was maybe once a well.

 

The more we looked, the more we found. There were stacks of old boards, maybe an old wall or roof. Further in the trees was a wood railing on an old porch attached to nothing and leading nowhere. It was like someone had built an entrance without knowing where it led. Even in a forest that we think we knew well, we were surprised. There were histories hidden here we had no knowledge of. What we didn’t know was way more prolific than what we did.

 

The night before we discovered the ruins, I had a dream. It started out understandably enough. I was outdoors at a party, a celebration, but no one was wearing a mask, not even me. I felt naked and more and more afraid. Everyone was acting as if there had never been or wasn’t now a pandemic raging in the land, or maybe they had somehow forgotten. Occasionally someone, usually a former student from when I taught secondary school, called out to me, inviting me to sit with them and talk. I waved and walked on, intent on getting out of there as quickly as I could. But I couldn’t. There were people everywhere.

 

Then everything changed. I was in a new dream, or the old one had transformed itself. I was watching a play, also outdoors. A young, attractive, strong looking woman came on stage. She looked Tibetan. The crowd heard her words, maybe the dream me also heard her. But me, the dreamer, did not. I heard no words, just saw her lips move.

 

Then she left the stage, to return wearing a huge mask….

 

To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

How Wide Can We Open the Door to the Mystery of Ourselves?

The More Troubling the Social-Political Environment, the More Important It Is to Understand Ourselves (and Get a Good Sleep).

 

Last night, I woke up in the middle of a dream. And almost immediately, the world of conscious reality reappeared with only a hint of the dream remaining. Only a hint that I had dreamed at all and that there were worlds aside from this conscious one. This fascinates me.

 

When I was teaching secondary school, discussing dreams, as well as learning more about their own psychology, fascinated most students. They wanted to understand from where or why these crazy images or stories showed up in their lives. Many people, as they age, lose this drive for self-understanding or it is socialized out of them.

 

But regarding sleep ⎼ teens get too little of it and tend to push the limits or even rebel against it. Each night we go to sleep ⎼ or should go to sleep. This is the rhythm of life. We sleep and wake. We forget our dreams in the daytime and lose or reshape the daytime world in our dreams. We might have no awareness that we dream at all or resist the very idea. Yet, we do dream. It is a necessity. Exactly what dreams do is not known. But when we don’t dream or don’t get enough sleep, we pay an enormous price.

 

Scientists say when we dream, we show rapid eye movements (REM) under our closed eyelids, as if we were watching a scene played out before us. But the rest of our body remains mostly immobile. Our brains are active; the large muscles of our bodies inactive (REM atonia). This is called paradoxical sleep.

 

According to Mathew Walker, in his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Dreams and Sleep, during dream sleep our brain is free from noradrenaline, which produces anxiety. At the same time, emotional and memory-related areas of the brain are activated. This means that, in dreams other than nightmares, we can experience emotional content without all the stress. We can process emotional experiences more openly and heal.

 

Walker discusses the negative health consequences of the consistent loss of even one or two hours of sleep including accelerated heart rate and blood pressure, an overstimulation of the threat response system, weight gain, and an increased risk of dementia…

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

How Do We Better Understand the Monkey Mind? ⎼ Thoughts of Mysterious Dogs, Garage Bands, and Arguing Cooks

Last week, I signed up to take a class in a subject that greatly interested me. But today, as the day of the class drew near, the thought went through my mind, “Why did you sign up for this?” The class would demand considerable attention and necessitate driving to a near-by city. I chose to take this class; there was no force or compulsion involved, just a desire to learn. Yet, suddenly, I was “at two minds” about it.

 

Our minds can be so bizarre. Sometimes, thoughts, images, or feelings that seem to have nothing to do with me can appear in my mind and dance around inside me, act out some drama, and then disappear.

 

Some thoughts I can understand, like thinking about a project I am working on or a past event that concerned me or trying to understand a painful sensation in my body. But I’ve also had images of mysterious dogs walk through my mind. I’ve walked in space, seen stones levitate, watched people I don’t know argue about what to cook for dessert ⎼ all produced by my imagination in the theatre of my mind. This morning as I woke up, an image of a garage band popped into mind, and I don’t have either a garage or any inclination to play music.

 

Buddhists talk about “monkey mind” or how the mind leaps about like a monkey in the trees. This monkey or where he comes from is a mystery we all partake in.

 

We could enjoy all this creative drama except sometimes thoughts hurt or confuse us. We feel hurt by thoughts about people disliking us or we imagine others condemning us for not saying hello or missing a friend’s birthday. Or we condemn ourselves for not being brave enough to take a political action or falling asleep while meditating.

 

It would be great if we could just ignore such thoughts, (and sometimes we need to do so) but it’s not so easy. And a thought ignored can grow in size and fearsomeness by the energy of denial. Just like when we are confronted with a monster in our dreams, if we run away the monster grows in size and chases us. But if we look straight at it and hold our ground, the monster changes into something smaller in size, more familiar, and it slinks away.

 

And there are times that the actors in these wandering side shows in our mind actually have important truths to share with us, if we can take the time to listen clearly.

 

So, how do we understand and deal with thoughts that just pop into our heads?

 

Knowing Ourselves Directly with Mindfulness

 

Mindfulness is one such method for dealing with our thoughts. It is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the world around us. We develop it through different daily practices. Such practices provide a methodology and curriculum for educating ourselves about the workings of our own mind and of how we relate to the world.

 

For example, sit up comfortably, close your eyes partly or fully, and turn your awareness to your breath or your hands resting in your lap. Gently notice how your body or your hands feel as you breathe in and then breathe out. If any thoughts arise, notice them, then let them go as you return attention to the breath.

 

Only by calming our mind and hearing our thoughts or seeing the imagery coursing through our mind can we exercise some choice about what we do with them. We can then make the best out of our experiences and are more likely to be helpful to others and less likely to cause pain. And this also works in reverse ⎼ the more pain we cause others, the noisier our mind tends to be.

 

Our Theories and Beliefs About Ourselves Affect How Much of the World We Perceive

 

Our thoughts are part of the process of using language and imagination to integrate, organize and make sense of our experiences. We can learn more about this process by researching cognitive behavioral therapy, thought distortions, and common ways our brains bias perceptionand thinking. We can study Jungian psychology, particularly the shadow⎼ that part of ourselves that we hide away, reject, and instead of owning we project onto other people.

 

We can study the role the human brain played in our evolution, enabling us to survive even when confronted with other bigger and stronger species. Our thoughts and imagination give us the amazing power to see in our mind what doesn’t yet exist and hear symphonies not yet written.

 

Yet this amazing mental ability to imagine works of art and technology that don’t yet exist also allows us to imagine threats that don’t exist.  When our thoughts and images are misunderstood, they can take us in harmful directions. Psychologists talk about a negativity bias; we are too ready think of the world in negative terms and we do so in order to prepare ourselves to face any tough situation that might arise.

 

Another common bias that can make it difficult to perceive the harm that we do to ourselves and others is a confirmation bias. If we believe human beings are by nature untrustworthy, we are more likely to see evidence that confirms that bias and to ignore what might contradict it….

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

Understanding Love Is The Key To Making It Last: An Interview with Lesli Doares, from the radio show: Happily Ever After Is Just The Beginning.

Do you remember the first time your partner told you they loved you? How it made you feel?

Do you remember the moment you first loved them? Do you remember being anxious about saying it to them?

Love is the universal feeling we all want to have. It’s why it’s been a constant in stories and art for as long as humans have been around.

So, if it is so ubiquitous and desirable, why does it seem to be so difficult to hold onto? That is the very subject I am tackling today with my guest Ira Rabois, a long-time teacher at the Lehman Alternative School in Ithaca, NY and the author of Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching.

Segment 1: In your article for The Good Men Project you state that to keep love alive, it’s important to know how it is born. In fact, that’s the title of the article. Why is this so important?

Thank you for inviting me to be on your show.

Knowing how love is born or knowing how any emotion is created in us is important because it is a crucial part of knowing ourselves. It is knowing how we work. Knowing ourselves better makes it possible for us to know others better, and thus to have a more fulfilling and equitable relationship. It makes it more possible, when all that passion or confusion rises in us, to know what to do with it and what it means.

When we feel this love or attraction to someone, it is so powerful it is easy to think that love arises all at once and that the other person is responsible for the excitement, attraction, feeling of completion.

But love, like any emotion, arises in stages, and includes different components like sensations, feelings, thoughts, beliefs and images. Even when we think we feel love at first sight, it is “Wow” at first sight, waking up at first sight. Our attention is focused. Then we feel good or bad, want to run away or approach. Then memories, thoughts, evaluations, choices are made, full-scale emotions are born.

And it is not the other person who fulfills us. It is our loving itself that fulfills us, our mind feeling love that fulfills us. It is the fact of opening up, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to risk, that makes us feel important, capable of being loved.

Segment 2: You mention some of the ways love is misunderstood or gets off track. What are they?

Yes. We get off track when we lose touch with both ourselves and the other person.

We forget that love, like any emotion, gives meaning to events, to the world. We go toward what we like and run from what we fear….

 

**To hear the whole interview, go to WebTalk Radio.

To Keep Love Alive, Know How Love Is Born

We all want to be loved, so it is no surprise that so many blogs, so much art, so many movies, plays and novels have been written or created about it. And no surprise that so many of us want to understand how to have a good relationship or keep love alive. When someone says to us, “I love you” or we say it to someone else, it is a pivotal moment in our lives.

 

When we feel loved, we can feel we have “made it.” We might feel not only that “life is good” but “I am good.” What we yearned for has been found. We feel whole.

 

But to keep love alive it’s important to know how love is born. When we look within our self and study how the emotion is constructed, we see that love, like any emotion, is not just one overwhelming entity. It involves so much of who we are. It is feeling and sensation mixed with memory, thoughts and how we view the world and ourselves.

 

For example, when we fall for someone, we usually think it is the other person who fulfills us or makes us feel so alive and complete. But it is not the other person who completes us. It is our loving that completes us. It is the way we relate to another person, by caring so deeply that we feel open, vulnerable, and yet strong enough to take whatever occurs. It is our ability to recognize another person is not the same as us, yet part of us, which completes us.

 

If we think of the other person as the source of our love, all kinds of craziness can ensue. We can think our happiness lies in someone else’s hands and we are powerless—or that this other being exists entirely for us. We can feel so overwhelmed by our attraction for the other person that there is little room left for the reality of that person.

 

This is why love can turn to anger, possessiveness, even violence. We come to see the other only in terms of how he or she fulfills our image of whom they should be, and we never see who they are….

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

 

 

Studying The Dreaming Mind At Home Or In The Classroom: Mindfulness And Dreams

Dreams have fascinated, confused, scared and inspired people probably ever since there were people on this earth. How can we not wonder about the often bizarre images and stories that fill our nights and sometimes wander into our days? The Epic of Gilgamesh, the tales of the Mesopotamian hero-king and possibly one of the first stories ever written, cites dream narratives. The Greeks had dream temples to help cure people of their ills. The German chemist, Friedrich Kekule claimed his discovery of the molecular structure of benzene came to him in a dream. Artists and scientists throughout history have spoken of the role of dreams in their work. The famed psychologist and theorist, Carl Jung, amongst many others, have explored and written about the role dreaming plays in the psyche.

 

When I was teaching, I noticed my students shared this fascination. Every time the subject of dreaming came up in a class, students became excited and engaged. Many students expressed their wonder about the cause or source of their dream images. Dreams can wake us up to realize there is more to reality, more to our own minds than we thought. Or as Hamlet put it: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 

We dream every night, even if we’re unaware of it. Although neuroscientists still haven’t come to understand the full role of dreaming in human consciousness, many speak of the role it might play in integrating material from our lives and forming coherent memories. For example, how often have you gone to sleep with a question and woken up with an answer, or at least a clearer understanding of the question? We might think of dreaming as a phenomenon distinct and separate from other aspects of mind, but it is one part of the process we use to think about our lives and construct a viewpoint of the world.

 

In some of my high school psychology classes we left time to share dreams. I encourage other teachers to do the same—if students are interested. Or if you’re not a teacher, to do this with interested friends, or maybe parents when children wonder about a dream. Teachers should only do it if they take time to study methods of group dream work as well as study their own dreams. I don’t ask students to do what I won’t do.

 

For the last few days, instead of my dreams disappearing as soon as I woke up, like they usually do, some stayed with me. One question is why that is. Another is what the dreams are saying, if anything.

 

In one recent dream, I was standing by a bridge I drove over to get to the school where I used to teach and noticed a break in the metal under-structure. The exact problem changed as I explained it to people in the dream. The season changed too, as did the location of the bridge. In some renditions of the dream bridge, it was located in Queens, NYC, where I grew up. In that image, it was winter and there was snow on the ground. In others, it was in Ithaca, where I now live, and the season was a cool late summer.

 

As I tried to tell the dream people about the break in the bridge, there was a definite awareness in my mind of how others might take what I said. It was a little bit of lucid dreaming, or of conscious awareness while dreaming, and the present and past could change in one stroke.

 

In another dream, my wife and I moved our possessions into an apartment rented in some city that was new to us. When I went out to complete errands, I couldn’t get back to the apartment. I worried about my wife. Worried about what would happen to what I had left behind. And there were other dreams like this one. In one, I was back in college, trying to get to a morning class, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get to the class. Things kept getting in the way.

 

So, what in my life is getting in my way? What new activity do I want to start that I can’t manage to do? And what is the bridge to doing it—and what is the possible “break” (or “brake”) in the bridge to my future?

 

Dreams can mean so many different things. One approach I like is to think of them as stories built from residues of my day floating in my unconscious, as partly completed expressions of who I was in a particular moment, a partly realized idea, or partly recognized emotion. And I carry them in my mind and body until somehow, in the dreaming world or in waking life, I recognize or complete them.

 

So, to complete the idea or emotion, I try to let them speak through me and listen openly, without reacting judgmentally. They might complete themselves when openly witnessed and then no longer demand I rent then mind space. When I hide them away, the energy of hiding animates them. The energy of the suppressed joins with the energy of suppressing and thus lives in me in a distorted way. But when I step back as an audience and let them act on the stage of my mind, I know what’s there. I listen for and learn from myself. Instead of living the act of suppressing, I live the energy of open listening.

 

When you have trouble understanding what’s true, or can’t solve a problem, or can’t understand someone’s motivation—step back, take a walk in the woods, meditate— or dream on it. When you first get up in the morning and your mind hasn’t filled with thoughts of all you have to do for the day, this is the time to create a theatre of mind, or a listening space for dreams or the unconscious to speak to the daytime mind. This is the space for what was unheard in ourselves to be heard and embraced, and let go.

 

You could write down whatever you remember of a dream. Even if you remember very little at first, the act of honoring by recording might allow more to be remembered. And after you write something down, look at the words from different angles, or as puns. What you mindfully listen to, you hear. What you hide away continues on as a mystery you never solve.

 

Although sometimes a dream has a message, other times the purpose of dreams is simply to be dreamed and experienced. And most dreams are not to be taken literally. As Carl Jung and others have pointed out, dreams speak in their own language, a language more symbolic than literal. And like other symbols, there is more than one way to understand their meaning.

 

All humans dream. Every time you do it, just like every time you open your eyes and breathe, you share an experience with countless others. You share an experience humans have had for thousands of years. The bridge you cross over, as well as your destination, is this very moment, both uniquely your own and shared with billions of others. Being aware of your dreams can help you be mindfully aware in your waking life (and when mindful in your waking life, it can help you be aware in your dreaming). It can wake you up to your shared humanity, if you’d let it.

 

 

** If you’re a teacher and want to discuss dreams with students, I suggest you first establish an agreed upon process. One book to help think about a process is Jeremy Taylor’s Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Powers in Dreams. However, Taylor’s techniques need to be adapted to the classroom. I would not share more than one or two dreams a day. I wouldn’t ask even for whole dreams. The purpose of dream discussion in a class is, of course, more modest than in a dream group led by a professional. It is to help students learn from peers about dreaming and to be better able to hear what their own mind and body is telling them. Maybe they might also learn more about the power of metaphor.

 

Students should agree to confidentiality and not sharing the dreamer’s identity out of class. Talk with students about not interrupting the person who is sharing. Only the dreamer can know what a dream means, so take the shared dream as one’s own. Instead of students interpreting each other’s dreams, ask them to notice their own responses, feelings and thoughts. They can say, after hearing another dreamer speak, ”I felt this when you said that.” Adopt an attitude of curiosity toward the dream. In dreams when you’re pursued and run away, the pursuer grows in size. When you turn toward the pursuer and study him or her, she gets smaller in size.

 

**Another resource is an insightful, recently published blog by Elaine Mansfield called “9 Ways to Unpack a Powerful Dream.”

 

***And remember to vote this Tuesday, 11/7. In New York, I urge you to vote against the Constitutional Convention, and vote everywhere for local candidates who will protect the environment, health care, public education, voting rights, etc. and oppose Mr. T. Exercise what power you have or you, we might lose it.

 

****The photo is from a bridge near the village where I lived in Sierra Leone. It had to be reconstructed every year and crossed over a river with crocodiles in it.

Experiencing Big Changes

A big event occurs. You graduate from high school or college, you win the lottery, get married, and what do you expect next from your life? You imagine the joy of seeing the winning numbers going on forever. You imagine the ceremony, the parties, the honeymoon. But after the celebrating, what then? Do you imagine cleaning the house? Taking out the trash?

 

We expect the world would be changed or we would be changed. That the quality of our experience of life would be better, heightened, maybe. Or the quality of our mind would be different. And it is, but not like we expected. We are always changing. But we easily get caught up in the idea or the story we tell ourselves and miss the reality.

 

Daniel Kahneman described this as a “focusing illusion.” When we’re thinking about the graduation or the wedding, it is big, tremendous. When we’re in school, we might think that, when we graduate, life will be so different. Or we’re in love and imagine that, once the love is celebrated and wrapped in the marriage license, we will feel more secure and loved. But what we find is a new moment and a new day. We forget about adaptation and getting used to living with a spouse or getting used to the job or whatever it is we do after graduation.

 

We forget where feelings come from. We think the person we love creates the love. We think the achievement creates the thrill of success. We forget that to feel loved one must love. To be touched, one must touch. Jack Kornfield wrote a book called After The Ecstasy, The Laundry. We can even view enlightenment, whatever that is, in the same way. “Once I get enlightened, all will be different.” Or, “If only I’d get enlightened…”

 

All we ever have is moments. Hopefully, most of these will be spent with more clarity than confusion, more compassion than anger, more love than greed. When I first fell in love with Linda, the woman I eventually married, I wrote a poem in which I described her as “the apple-mad lady with a third eye.” We built a little cabin in an orchard and sold apples and made apple cider with friends. I saw her as almost a goddess. Guess what? Neither of us was either divine or, thank God, even an approximation of perfection. Yet, luckily we stayed together.

 

A marriage agreement* proclaims (I hope) that you will be real with each other. What first attracted you to the other person will eventually become an obstacle to seeing the other for who she or he is. Once the illusion is over, some retreat; some mistake this as a signal to leave the relationship. But really, this is the moment of awakening. Now you are real, to see yourself and the other for what you both are, not for what you wanted from the other, and not for your own projection. The other can then exceed whatever you can think, explain or try to contain. You take yourself to a deeper level. The other is accepted and you are accepted, too.

 

The same with a graduation ceremony, getting a new job, whatever transition you make. When you graduate from high school, you have ideas and expectations. If you are going away to college or a new city, you are stepping away from all you know. Like when you love someone, you feel vulnerable. And this can be difficult to face. But feeling vulnerable is another way to say you are free to feel life more intensely. The fear you feel, the discomfort, is there to awaken you to the opportunity you have given yourself. To be open means open to learn from whatever arises, even fear and discomfort.

 

As we let go of trying to contain reality or to protect ourselves with ideas, the richness of our life expands. We learn to trust ourselves to an unanticipated depth. The storytelling about our lives continues. But we recognize ourselves more clearly as the storyteller, not any one of the stories.

 

*This is adapted from the text of an original marriage ceremony I performed and inspired by a Carl Jung analysis of the anima/animus archetypes.

This blog is a re-write of an earlier blog.

The Mythology of Politics

I think the act of choosing a representative or President or any political leader is an amazingly interesting and complex psychological act. Think about it. You’re choosing someone “to speak for you” or “represent you” and act in your interest, to be who you can’t be.

 

Back in the birth places of democracy, whether it was native American or Athenian or elsewhere, you represented yourself. Citizens voted directly on policies, although even in the height of Athenian democracy, there were still political leaders and not all residents could vote. Women, for example, had little to no political power. Representative democracy is a compromise between monarchy and direct democracy. A President is partly a King, partly a servant.

 

I am not a scholar of Carl Jung and do not agree with all the elements of his psychological theories, but still find them helpful. He talked about archetypes or psychological predispositions to perceive the world in certain patterns and to represent those patterns in images. These patterns are seen in myths, literature, relationships, even religion. The movie Star Wars, for example, very consciously picks up on archetypal mythical and religious imagery, the “force” as the Tao or spirit, the battle of good against evil.

 

Jung also described how we deal with qualities in ourselves that our culture defines as inappropriate to our gender. These qualities do not just disappear but form a more hidden or unconscious identity or image of ourselves. (Jung called these projections an anima or animus.) When we fall in love, we project onto the loved one this unconscious image fashioned out of all that we have denied in ourselves in relation to gender. This creates a “fascination” or attraction. The person appears to us as our “soul-mate.” But to have a real and lasting relationship, we have to take back the projected qualities and claim them for ourselves. We can’t be who another person expects us to be; we can’t expect our lover to live solely to fulfill our needs.

 

How you perceive any leader is influenced by the light cast by projected archetypal patterns and expectations. The President or Senator you perceive is a projection of you, your yearnings and possibly your denied power and needs, onto the political stage. Because of these projections it is very difficult to understand who any political figure really is.

 

The politician becomes an actor in a play scripted by the unconscious needs of citizens. We talk about political theatre. It really is theatre and, of course, the popular media, other corporate interests and wealthy donors, play this up for their own profit. The mythical or religious dimension just adds to it. Drama itself emerged from religious ritual and maintained a religious meaning for a time even after modern drama began to develop. The early dramas were enacted myths or stories, about death and the afterlife, about gods and goddesses. The Greeks used masks in their early plays, to represent different personalities or genders. Other cultures used masks to represent the power of a god or spirit or to take part in the story of creation. This is not just putting on a costume. It is putting on a different identity, at times an identity of a mythical or spiritual being. This helps explain why followers of a political candidate can be almost as devoted to their candidate as followers of a religious doctrine or leader.

 

Our political leaders put on the mask fashioned out of who they think we citizens want them to be. They get us to act out a drama with them as the star. But this political theatre can be deadly serious. Our environment, our health care, our wages, the possibility of being treated justly, the lives of ourselves and of all living beings on the planet are at stake. It is not just Donald Trump or Ted Cruz who plays a role and seems to think he is the King he portrays. All of the politicians and all of us can get caught up in the drama. We need to own our projections, let go of the “fascination” and not imagine any leader is a savior.  As much as possible, we need to keep for ourselves the power to act, to think critically about any candidate or policy, and we need to remember all humans are our neighbors.

 

*Photo of amphitheater in Ephesus, Turkey.

Did You Ever…

Did you ever walk into a bookstore, or any store, and there, on a display table, was exactly what you were looking for? You might not have even known what you were looking for until you found it. But there it was.  And you knew it. Or, you go into a bookstore and you have a question in the back of your mind. You open a book—and there, on that page, is the answer to your question. You can tell that I like bookstores.

 

Or, I wake up and know I have to work on writing my blog. And I pick up some essay or book that feels meaningful or appropriate to what I’m writing. I’ll read three of four pages—and suddenly I have an insight or idea to write about. Or I drive into town, thinking I need to ask someone a question or I worry about how someone is feeling. I park my car and walk a few blocks and there she is, coming right toward me. You know these experiences, right? They don’t happen often, but when they do, life seems just right.

 

Some people, like Carl Jung, have called these experiences “synchronicity” or an “acausal connection through meaning.” According to a book by physicist Victor Mansfield, synchronicity is a correlation between outer and inner events that is meaningful to the person (or persons) involved, but one event doesn’t cause the other. My thinking about the person doesn’t cause her to appear, yet there she is, and it feels meaningful and even mysterious to me.

 

Can a similar thing happen even in a conversation? You don’t know, at least not consciously, what it is you want to say to the other person. But suddenly, it’s there for you. Maybe you even know you had to say something to a friend and you couldn’t figure out how to say it. You fretted, worried, and imagined all sorts of negative results. But then, you are with this person. And your heart opens and you just say it and it’s perfect. Is this the same as what happened in the bookstore? The first examples are, apparently, a synchronicity between internal and external events. In the second, it seems to be all “internal.” Is it?

 

All I know is that sometimes my attention is awakened. I feel more alive and clear headed. And then I know what to say or do more than at other times. Does meditation assist this? Practicing compassion and empathy? I think so. Or is it just luck, whatever that is?

 

It’s valuable that teachers and parents talk with their students and children about how they experience their lives. This includes not only thoughts, emotions, and ethical quandaries, but more subtle experiences like synchronicity. Why? Because it happens, and it’s one of those moments to savor. There are so many inexplicable moments in life. Savor this and other mysteries might be revealed, other questions answered. And by doing so, teachers and parents communicate to children the value of their lives, the value of being aware of their experience, and the value of sharing and examining one’s own experiences with others.