Letter 34: Beyond 'ego' consciousness

Whereas Freud – a neuroscientist – saw human psychology in mechanistic and neurochemical terms, C.G. Jung in ‘Modern Man in search of a Soul’wrote: “Among all my patients in the second half of life, that is to say, over 35, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life.” Considering that it takes time before neuroses are so crippling that treatment is sought, this awareness of a lack of spiritual values may well start much earlier in life and his statement may hold true for many of us. Something deep within, the pull of the deeper self, makes us seek for true meaning beyond everyday reality, for the inner freedom that helps us to lead ‘life in all its fullness’.

Jung talked about a religious outlook because of the age he lived in, but we would now call it a spiritual hunger. This hunger is often satisfied within the established framework of religion, but our early experiences of religion can be a hindrance and make us turn away from our Christian roots. We look elsewhere for the spirituality we need, as we don’t seem to find it in the Church. Often organised religion – especially the fundamentalist aspect of it - is seen as a remedy for existential insecurity and doubt in these chaotic times. The growth of fundamentalist movements in all religions demonstrates this need. People find comfort in being told what to believe and what to do and in not having to face the difficulty of personal responsibility and choice.

Our first step is to accept that we live both in a material and spiritual reality. In the first part of our life we need to develop the ‘ego’, our survival instinct. A strong sense of self, a healthy and balanced ego, is necessary to deal maturely and realistically with both the external and internal world. Often this ‘ego’ development can go hand in hand with the growing awareness of the spiritual ‘self’. This desire to go beyond does not come from the ‘ego’; on the contrary it strongly resists this pull. It is the deeper aspect of our consciousness that is the attracting force. The acceptance of different levels of consciousness is the necessary turning point. Jung in ‘Psychology and Alchemy’ states: “The assumption that the human psyche possesses layers that lie below consciousness is not likely to arouse serious opposition. But that there could just as well be layers lying above consciousness seems to be a surmise which borders on high treason against human nature.” The American Psychologist William James in ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’ also stressed: “Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it parted from it by the flimsiest of screens there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.”

Just acknowledging the existence of these different levels of consciousness seems to open the door to the transformation of consciousness from a narrow, confining one – the ‘ego’ – to a wider inclusive one. We then feel called to follow the urge to look beyond survival to meaning: “We had the experience but missed the meaning, and approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.” (T.S.Eliot ‘Four Quartets’).

The attracting force that leads us to search for true meaning and purpose in our lives leads us first to descend to the depth of our personal unconscious, to all that is suppressed there, both good and bad. Consequently with the help of grace-filled insights we are brought to deeper awareness, which brings healing and help us to rise creatively to the heights of the transpersonal consciousness in all wholeness. As Jung said “We have to go down to go up.” The same urge that causes the sense of dissatisfaction is the one that enables the integration, the healing. Jung asserted that this is our greatest urge, to reach psychological wholeness and integration through the “synthesis of the conscious and unconscious elements in the personality”, so that we in the words of Jesus can “have life and life in all its fullness”.

When dealing with the difficulties on our path, we must never lose sight of the fact that to connect with our spiritual side, leading to wholeness and integration is our birth right. We not only are helped ourselves this way, but as we change, are healed and integrated, so our attitude to other people changes: “Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find salvation.” said St Seraphim of Sarov.

Kim Nataraja

(Adapted from Dancing with your Shadow)