Friday, February 17, 2012

Do we need to live a symbolic life?

I've been contemplating the importance of living a symbolic life the past few days, and I believe that it is important for us to feel like our life has meaning. Jung certainly would agree. 

During his life, he wrote many papers and delivered numerous lectures on this topic, arguing again and again that a purpose driven life is not only a happy one but it keeps our spirits uplifted. It soothes our souls to know we're here for a reason and are a part of something larger than ourselves. Here's an excerpt of a lecture he gave in 1939 to the Guild of Pastoral Psychology, London:

You see, man is in need of a symbolic life - badly in need. We only live banal, ordinary, rational, or irrational things . . . but we have no symbolic life. Where do we live symbolically? Nowhere except where we participate in the ritual of life. . . .

Have you got a corner somewhere in your house where you perform the rites, as you can see in India? Even the very simple houses there have at least a curtained corner where the members of the household can perform the symbolic life, where they can make their new vows or their meditation. We don't have it; we have no such corner. We have our own room, of course, - but there is a telephone that can ring us up at any time, and we always must be ready. We have no time, no place.

We have no symbolic life, and we are all badly in need of the symbolic life. Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul - the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this mill - this awful, banal, grinding life in which they are "nothing but." . . . Everything is banal; everything is "nothing but," and that is the reason why people are neurotic. They are simply sick of the whole thing, sick of that banal life, and therefore they want sensation. They even want a war; they all want a war; they are all glad when there is a war; they say, "Thank heaven, now something is going to happen - something bigger than ourselves!"

These things go pretty deep, and no wonder people get neurotic. Life is too rational; there is no symbolic existence in which I am something else, in which I am fulfilling my role, my role as one of the actors in the divine drama of life.

I once had a talk with the master of ceremonies of a tribe of Pueblo Indians, and he told me something very interesting. He said, "Yes, we are a small tribe, and these Americans, they want to interfere with our religion. They should not do it," he said, "because we are the sons of the Father, the Sun. He who goes there" (pointing to the sun) -- "that is our Father. We must help him daily to rise over the horizon and to walk over heaven. And we don't do it for ourselves only; we do it for America; we do it for the whole world. And if these Americans interfere with our religion through their missions, they will see something. In ten years Father Sun won't rise anymore because we can't help him any more."

Now, you may say, that is just a sort of mild madness. Not at all! These people have no problems. They have their daily life, their symbolic life. They get up in the morning with a feeling of their great and divine responsibility; they are the sons of the Sun, the Father, and their daily duty is to help the Father over the horizon - not for themselves alone, but for the whole world. You should see these fellows; they have a natural fulfilled dignity. And I quite understand when he said to me, "Now look at these Americans; they are always seeking something. They are always full of unrest, always looking for something. What are they looking for? There is nothing to be looked for!" That's perfectly true. You can see them, these traveling tourists, always looking for something, always in thee vain hope of finding something. On my many travels I have found people who were on their third trip around the world - uninterruptedly. Just traveling, traveling; seeking, seeking. I met a woman in central Africa who had come up alone in a car from Cape Town and wanted to go to Cairo. "What for?" I asked. "What are you trying to do that for?" And I was amazed when I looked into her eyes -- the eyes of a hunted, a cornered animal -- seeking, seeking, always in the hope of something. I said, "What in the world are you seeking? What are you waiting for? What are you hunting after?" She is nearly possessed; she is possessed by so many devils that chase her around. And why is she possessed? Because she does not live the life that makes sense. Hers is a life utterly, grotesquely banal, utterly poor, meaningless, with no point in it at all. If she is killed today, nothing has happened, nothing has vanished - because she was nothing! But if she could say, "I am the daughter of the Moon. Every night I must help the moon, my Mother, over the horizon" - ah, that is something else! Then she lives; then her life makes sense, and makes sense in all continuity, and for the whole of humanity. That gives peace, when people feel that they are living the symbolic life, that they are actors in the divine drama. That gives the only meaning to human life; everything else is banal and you can dismiss it. A career, producing of children, are all maya compared with that one thing, that your life is meaningful.

Here then is the million dollar question: what gives us meaning in life? I believe we each know what we're here for deep within us. It sits like a small beacon continually pulsing its message to us, but we often miss it, either because our lives are too busy to hear it OR the message is not in harmony with the way we have chosen to live our lives. Still, it pulses. It wants to be known. 

One thing I know for sure is that if we miss it on our waking realities, it will show up again and again in our dreaming realities. What fascinates me about the dream life is that our waking life egos can't censor its message. A dream is a letter from home, according to Clarissa Pinkola Estes and many other Jungians. Jung wrote in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, "Dreams are the direct expression of unconscious psychic activity." "The dream gives a true picture of the subjective state, while the conscious mind denies that this state exists, or recognizes it only grudgingly."

 "Okay," you might be thinking. "This is all well and good but how the heck do you know what your dreams are telling you?"

The best thing you can do is to pick out a journal and start recording your dreams every morning. You will be amazed at what you discover!!!! The hardest thing about this is simply getting started, but it's very easy to do and great fun once you get started. 

In my next post, I'll give some tips about how to work with your journal. Stay tuned.

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