One does not become Enlightened
by imagining figures of light
but by making
the Dark Conscious
I chose Jung's quote this week since we are in the season of bringing light into darkness, celebrated through the seasonal holidays of Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa. We can't bypass the dark in our lives: it is as equally a part of human life, as it is part of the Earth's orbit around the Sun.
There is a lot of emphasis in popular culture these days on being "positive" or at least "not negative," on being happy all the time and rejecting sadness or other less than joyful feelings. Of course we want to be and prefer to be happy and positive, since it feels good! However, when we ARE sad or feeling bad about something, there is value in examining these feelings, in being with them, in shining the light of awareness on them. Or in Jung's words, making the Dark Conscious.
It's like going down into the dark, often forgotten or neglected basement with a flashlight, and replacing the burned out bulb, then cleaning off the cobwebs and dust that have collected over time, and taking stock of what's down there. Exploring both the dusty, forgotten treasures as well as the broken things that no longer serve us.
Some things we encounter we may have been avoiding or trying not to deal with, but we may also find memories, experiences and parts of ourselves that we want or need to examine, reclaim and integrate into our lives.
Jung's point is that it's not useful or Enlightening to simply imagine Light or pretend that all is Light. This would be like living all the time under flourescent lights and calling it sunlight. But genuine Light returns when we don't shy away from the Dark (the Unconscious), but instead turn toward it with curiosity and interest. This will bring genuine Light into life.
Your assumptions are
your windows on the world.
Scrub them off every once
in awhile, or the light
won't come in.
Most of the time perceptions are based on past experiences, rather than what may actually be going on in the moment. The brain organizes experience by sorting, generalizing and categorizing. This was certainly important for survival in ancient times, and to a certain degree, still is important to make our way through the world without having to learn everything over and over again.
On the other hand, the mind seizes on past experience and makes assumptions about what you are experiencing now, or what you anticipate you will feel or experience in the future. In this way, your "windows on the world" become clouded by your past.
Each person has a long list of usually unquestioned assumptions about life, based on past experiences. These assumptions may be about what life is like in general, about how people treat you or how you expect to be treated, about what you can or cannot have, about how safe or unsafe you are or life feels.
Making assumptions allows you to feel safe and in control, since consciously or unconsciously you know what to expect. But it also creates a limited life, a life where the same scenario is lived over and over, since you see the world through windows covered with the shadows and grit of your assumptions.
There is very little space to grow, to learn new things, to see things with what the Buddhists call "beginners mind." Maybe it's time to take a sponge and soapy warm water to the windows of your world, and see what new ways you may experience yourself, your relationships and life.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley