Sex and the shimmering light in the dark


God, as we've been taught to view Him (Her, It...), is a narcissistic projection of ourselves. That God is anthropomorphic and the target of God-challenging atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and company.

In the centre, there's the animating force of the universe, the push that keeps the universe expanding, the gases congealing into planets, the orbs turning...and the trees growing and animals crawling around on this moldy rock—culminating in human consciousness. This is the god of the mythic cosmos, the god of Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Thomas Moore and that other bunch.

And on the far right are the believers. Here, dogma, liturgy, ritual and the supreme power of the real, one-and-only God—the only path to eternal salvation, are the unassailable positions of the true faith.

To me the divide between the first two seems narrow. And so does the divide between the second and third. But between the believers and the non-believers there seems to be no common ground.

But if I had to pick a starting point I'd probably begin with Carl Jung. No one crossed mental boundaries better than Jung. Almost single-handedly he defined what it was to be an individual human being. He deconstructed then reconstructed who we are: a central controlling ego driven by a hidden, ancient, self-indulgent id, overshadowed by the harshly critical superego, and below, a vast unexplored unconscious self looming in the dark, unlit underground corridors of each mind.

Jung also recognized a collective unconscious at work, a kind of human shared undercurrent, a deep connecting river from which our individual unconscious selves drink. In other words, Jung "got" the force.

Sometimes, through very close relationships with lovers or friends, we can open our conscious selves to these deep rivers of unconscious feelings, allowing us to share that vast stream together. For a time the ache of being a small entity alone in the universe is soothed.

On the other hand, Jung was spectacularly successful as an international figure. Jung, the professional psychologist, attained recognition and fame. He challenged and then split from Freud, his closest contemporary. He was a man who had achieved a certain power in his profession, a profession that he, along with Freud and Adler, helped to build.

There we are, back to power. God apparently has power, and Jung had power. I'd read a bunch of Jung's stuff a while ago, and for some reason decided to check him out online. And damn, if Jung didn't collect mistresses. Antonio Wolff, "Toni", was his 25-year old patient when they first met. Jung was 38. Toni quickly advanced from patient to student to lover, and became a regular at the Jung household. The relationship almost broke up Jung's marriage to the Emma, the elegant, wealthy industrialist's daughter who financially supported Jung's interests. (Interestingly, Freud interpreted one of Jung's dreams as the "failure of a marriage for money.")

Jung's relationship with Toni lasted until 1930, when she invited a group of university students to visit him for a discussion on alchemy and individuation. Toni disagreed with alchemy; one of the students, 18-year old Marie-Louise von Franz, the daughter of a German baron, did not. Slowly, Marie-Louise replaced Toni as Jung's intellectual confidante, though never becoming his lover. Von Franz turned out to be a brilliant student and extended Jung's thinking into new areas, including the unity of the material and psychological worlds as being one and the same, though manifested in different ways.

Sex and power are the cornerstones of Freudian and Jungian thought. And both Jung and Freud saw the connections between the two, although Freud was more focussed on sex as the primary determinant.

Jung's behaviour with women seems to explain as much about him as his writing does. He was obviously attracted to attractive, wealthy, intelligent and powerful women. He was inclined to collaborate with women more than men, and he was also inclined, as we can see by his treatment of Emma, to dominate his women.

Psychology may be the ultimate rationalization for the struggle against death. Sex and power offer a respite from mortality. But the psychologist knows these are temporary conditions. Without a God to solve the mortality problem, the psychologist must eventually wrestle with the problem in a kind of living death dance.

The psychologist represents a new kind of mythic hero, not an orphan or a wanderer, nor a martyr or a warrior or a magician. The psychologist is a scout. The scout leads where the tribe will soon follow and seeks to push past the limitations of the ego and into the deep darkness of the unconscious where our fears and dreams and, yes, our immortality resides. Along the way, the scout is faced with all the temptations, the animus and the anima, the mother and the father and all the other archetypes and monsters, all of which lead to losing one's mind. And Jung did break down.

But along the journey, the scout passes through the unseen, unimaginable wonders, the gleaming cathedral spires, the celestial art and music, like the seers and prophets of old.

The psychologist-scout returning is not like the prophet returning who immediately begins to concretize the visions, turning the spiritual into the material. Where the prophets returned with commandments and instructions for temple building and ritual, the psychologist returns with rationalization—the chemical interacting with the biological to produce the illusion of mystery. And yet, hidden within the rational interpretation is the faint, flickering hope that there really is a unifying spiritual force, something more powerful, more conjoining, more transformative than 'mere' sex.

The prophets, by concretizing the spirit into ritual were able to do something that the psychologist-scout can only accomplish with great difficulty. The prophets returned with tools to block, wall off and stave off fear and desire. These tools were able to do an extremely good job at directing human output, but ironically these same tools invariably drove the individual away from the spirit and back into the material world, where control was more possible.

As science progresses, even the scouts are becoming fewer in number. Pharmacology now precedes psychology as a science. Oxytocin replaces human desire in the sexual equation.

Yet the euphoria of sex and love, even as it dims with age, is gloriously, spectacularly transcendent. It isn't chemistry that we see glowing around our lovers in the darkness. It's our brief glimpse of immortality.


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