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Quote for Contemplation / Nov 7
Living With The Mystery of Ourselves (and Each Other)
“Those who see into the Unconscious have their senses cleansed of defilements, are moving toward Buddha-wisdom, are known to be with Reality, in the Middle Path, in the ultimate truth itself. Those who see into the Unconscious are furnished at once with merits as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. They are able to create all kinds of things and embrace all things within themselves.”
Shen-hui (684–758, Chán monk) (translated by D.T. Suzuki)
There is a cloaked dimension to each of us as people…and as collectives of people. If we really allow ourselves to sit with that thought for a moment, it can be simultaneously mysterious and terrifying.
“You mean there are whole aspects of myself, whole aspects of who I really am, to which I am not conscious?”
Both Taoist and Buddhist traditions, as well as the Swiss psychoanalyst C.G. Jung, say: Precisely.
In Jungian psychological parlance, the cloaked dimension is the personal unconscious (and the collective unconscious, respectively — one of the terms Jung leaned on in describing the way large swaths of a populace can fall under the sway of mass psychosis, mass suggestibility, or trance).
The personal unconscious is a domain of energy and information that exists beyond consciousness. Rather than describe it intellectually, let’s explore this just a bit, tangibly. Although there are layers and levels to the personal unconscious, some of which we can’t access except through certain conditions like dreaming or Active Imagination, we all have an experience of some of the initial layers of the personal unconscious through the common, everyday phenomenon of memory.
Take a deep breath. I invite you to conjure a few memories.
Think of the face of your favorite teacher in school. Someone who was kind to you, who communicated their subject well, and who stirred interest within you for the topic they were sharing. Be aware of any inner images or emotions that may arise as a result of thinking of this person.
Now, think of your first kiss — if this is part of your historical terrain. If it is, put yourself there. Can you see the person’s face? Was it awkward? Exciting? What stirs in your mind’s-eye when you think about this?
Now, think of some award you received, some achievement you had doubts about but which you managed to accomplish. What images or emotions stir as a result?
Finally, call into not just your mind but your whole body some memory of a place you visited that really made an impression upon you. Maybe it’s a cathedral, the Grand Canyon, the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, or a historical site of some writer or artist who is important to you. Really allow your dreamingbody to “unfurl” a moment, to “fly back through time”…again…to some memory of a place that made an impression upon you. It may not be some grandiose location. It might be something closer to home like a grandmother’s house. Wherever it is, feel yourself there. You may notice fragrances or aromas. You may have inner images to stir about this place. You may experience emotions. Make note of all of this.
None of these memories or topics were in your conscious mind before I asked about them. I asked some questions; you took it from there, or rather — your personal unconscious did.
I can’t know what specifically, but I imagine with at least one of these “strands” something emerged, simmering up from the depths of your psyche in the form of memory.
C.G. Jung referred to this as “psychic energy.” Since the word “psyche” originally meant “soul,” we could also say that what stirs and rises from the depths of the personal unconscious into our conscious awareness is the energy of the soul.
This understanding of the cloaked and concealed — from the personal and local to the cosmic — is part of the philosophy of Taoist and Chan (Zen) traditions as well.
A Chinese term used to refer to this is yin and has all sorts of adjectives that convey some of this term’s essence (invisible, hidden, shady, shadowy, cloudy, overcast, covered-over, “abundant and pregnant dark,” dark-enigma, passive-receiving-containing, symbolized by the moon, etc.). In contrast with yang (visible, bright, sunny, shining, active, symbolized by the sun), which is about outward manifestation, we could refer to the personal unconscious as the yin-aspect of the human psyche.
It is within the shadowy depths of the psyche that we hold both untapped genius, unprocessed fears, unconsciously absorbed “messages” of culture, family, and religion, and suppressed memories of all kinds that we simply could not fully process at the time of going through an experience.
All of the above is simply a precursor to my attempt to offer some context for this quote of Kuma-sensei. In her teaching (which took the form of mentoring and guiding) there was always a standing assumption and that is this:
“A whole world exists within each of us. It is filled with healing salves and yet-to-be-revealed teachings. At the same time, unless investigated and addressed, it can also be filled with debilitating messages that we inherited, as well as challenges, obstructions, and compulsions that can take us off task. The work at hand, then, is to explore our inner depths, explore and map the terrain, all with the purpose of integrating into our conscious heart-mind what is found therein — both dark and light, shadow and luminous. Don’t weigh yourself down with unnecessary and unrealistic expectations of accomplishing this within a specific timeframe, or even within one lifetime. This isn’t a marathon. It isn’t a race. Learning to become fluent in the language of your own depths is the point. Learning to become a masterful observer is the point. Integration is more important than acceleration.”