On the Diversity of Archetypes


(JUNGIAN Tarot) I would love to own a deck like this. (Image sourced from faenasphere.com.)

(JUNGIAN Tarot) I would love to own a deck like this. (Image sourced from faenasphere.com.)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been voraciously reading the books of internationally known Jungian analyst and psychiatrist Jean Shinoda-Bolen. My introduction to the work of this tremendously insightful woman came by way of my good friend J. (who’s been the source of most of the resources that have hugely impacted my life one way or another this past decade). The sheer usefulness of the material Dr. Bolen presents has made me refer her writings to my closest friends—few books, in my opinion, manage to combine academic lucidity with existential practicality as much as hers do.

As a brief introduction, Dr. Bolen is what people in her field would refer to as an archetypal psychologist. The concept of the psychological archetype was developed and popularized by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Simply put, archetypes are universal and instinctive patterns of thought and behavior that human beings—regardless of culture, race and religion—share. They account for the similarities in the images and symbols found in the world’s art, literature and mythology as well as in the dreams of individual human beings. Dr. Bolen’s presentation of the universal archetypes draws from the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology—a choice I speculate was driven by the familiarity of this particular pantheon of divinities to the world at large.

One of the major assertions that Dr. Bolen makes throughout her books is that although more than a dozen archetypes exist (represented by seven goddesses and eight gods), the culture that has flourished the most spectacularly over the last two millennia has valued only a fraction—or specific fragments—of these archetypes while denigrating, suppressing or merely tolerating the rest.*

For example, the prevailing culture overwhelmingly tends to favor patterns of thought and behavior that exhibit the ambitious drive of Zeus, the disciplined logic of Apollo, the communicative facility of Hermes, the cool rationalism of Athena and the creative passion of Aphrodite. It does not, however, prize the raw emotionalism of Poseidon, the brooding introversion of Hades, the brute physicality of Ares, the quiet craftsmanship of Hephaestus, the intense mysticism of Dionysius, the withdrawn centeredness of Hestia or the psychic impressionability of Persephone.

These cultural values and disvalues are deeply embedded and expressed in our present society’s educational systems, labor markets and recreational media, manifesting themselves in ways that we’ve all personally experienced one way or another: You have to put yourself “out there” to succeed. You’ve got to be a people person. You’ve got to know what you want to do or be early in this life. Learn to think with your head and not your heart. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. You’re not going to make any money being an artist/painter/writer. Why can’t you get a normal, nine-to-five job? They also manifest themselves in our global society’s implicit and overwhelming preference for clarity, control, domination, expansion, growth, light, linearity, order, organization, perfection, progress, reason and results—and a concomitant anxiety and unease over brokenness, chaos, darkness, death, mystery, nothingness, opacity, regression, stagnation, stillness and uncertainty.

People born with the favored archetypal energies generally have it easier in life: who they fundamentally are finds validation in culture and society (the Zeus archetypes literally rule the world, the Apollos and Athenas serve as their right hand men and women, and the Hermeses do their collective bidding). People who are not born with the valued archetypes come into life with a serious handicap: if their sense of self is strong enough to endure the disfavor, they will still have to deal with the practical consequences of their authenticity; if their sense of self is weak, they will have to deal with a lifetime of insecurity and maladjustment.**

The bottom line is: it’s vitally important that this understanding of the diverse and innate ways of being in and relating to the world becomes popular knowledge. The consequences of continued and widespread ignorance are simply colossal: on the one hand, millions of people languish everyday in the quiet suppression or extermination of their spirit; on the other hand, the untrammeled valuation of ambition, logic and rationalism has only led to the excesses of capitalist greed, global warfare and ecological destruction. We have to literally re-examine our values and come to an appreciation of why a diversity of energies exists in the first place. We have to understand that the archetypes we were each born with have vital roles to play and meaningful contributions to make. This is not just about insisting on a right to be who we are for the sake of a defiant authenticity alone—it is for the collective sanity of a world in desperate need of balance.

The fact of the matter is, the state of society today reflects the accumulated consequences of thousands of years of mainstreaming an elect set of human archetypes while devaluing, sidelining or suppressing the rest. While much of this mainstreaming was admittedly generated by the sheer momentum of blind history, history is no longer as blind today: human beings are becoming increasingly aware—and with this awareness comes the capacity to choose. The more challenging task that remains is developing the courage to choose wisely.

  * Why these particular values came to be favored, and how this particular culture—the Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian culture—came to be the dominant one is a long and involved discussion that requires a separate series of blog posts altogether.

** In a blog post I wrote two days ago, I described—without mentioning the archetypes—how my innate Hestia/Hades/Poseidon energies have generally incurred the disapproval of friends and acquaintances. Fortunately, I have enough Artemis/Apollo/Hermes qualities to compensate for these “flaws.”

On the Merger of Worlds


(DIACONATE Ordination) I didn't bring a camera to the occasion, so this image borrowed from maynoothcollege.ie will have to do.

(DIACONATE Ordination) I didn’t bring a camera to the occasion, so this image borrowed from maynoothcollege.ie will have to do.

I received the invitation around two weeks ago: it was printed on cream-colored paper in red type, the words Ordination to the Diaconate flashing from the middle of the left column. It was the first time I’d seen N. in a long, long while, and he’d gone out of his way to personally deliver the card.

It always strikes me as surreal when bits of my past lives surface and collide with the present one. N.’s presence in the studio felt like a ray of light from a long-dead star: memories of sitting in Dr. A.’s advanced epistemology class surrounded by Jesuit scholastics flooded my mind, along with recollections of days and nights spent in the rapt and serene study of philosophy texts. Those were some of the most tranquil years of my life—the calm before the storm that started when I turned 30 and which hasn’t quite abated.

I suddenly felt awkward standing in front of N., with my bare arms and legs and with images of the studio’s classes flashing in the flat screen television behind me. He was in a radically different world from the one we both commonly inhabited years ago—the world of a cerebral and disincarnate Catholic philosophy juxtaposed against the world of a concrete and embodied yoga philosophy. It was the first time in my career as a yoga instructor that I actually felt…New Age.

But precisely because he was a Jesuit (the most, er, New Agey of the Catholic religious orders alongside the Cenacle Sisters I suppose), N. remained unfazed. We spent a few minutes more chatting about how time had flown so quickly, where former classmates had gone on to, and how much time still remained before his ordination to the priesthood (the date had already been set for April next year). Then he departed with the rest of the invitations he had yet to deliver. And just like that, the light from the dead star faded.

~~~~~

Today, I stood at the back of a jam-packed Church of the Gesù and watched as N. and several other former classmates underwent their ordination. I didn’t anticipate how visceral my reaction to the rites would be: the sight of the diaconal candidates prostrating themselves on the floor as the choir sang the litany of the saints evoked a completely unexpected yearning and nostalgia that culminated in tears. In the rawness of those unforeseen emotions, I suddenly glimpsed two worlds overlapping—the cerebral and the concrete, the disembodied and the incarnate, the old and the new.

And just like that, a dead star flared back to life.

On the Defense of Misfits


(WEDNESDAY Addams) Beware the day she gets up—and gets serious. (Image sourced from fanpop.com.)

(WEDNESDAY Addams) Beware the day she gets up—and gets serious. (Image sourced from fanpop.com.)

It’s a marvelous thing to discover (time and time again) that, really, who you are is fundamentally okay. There are a million, myriad ways in which we feel we’re somehow flawed. The feelings are so endemic we almost never notice that they’re there, and when we do notice that they’re there, the threads of self-condemnation are so fine and closely interwoven that all we can perceive is a general and overwhelming pattern of imperfection.

Some of the things about me that have generated (disapproving) comments time and again from (understandably) frustrated friends and acquaintances are: my hypersensitivity, my melancholy, my moodiness, my morbidity, my solipsism, my frequent and often unpredictable need for withdrawal—all correlated with an unwavering commitment to what I can only describe as highly “unfluffy” writing (in both content and style). These comments have ranged from the lightly teasing (You think too much!) to the exceedingly exasperated (Why does everything have to be difficult with you?).

My friends and acquaintances are not alone in their exasperation. I didn’t choose to be born a Wednesday Addams (a designation actually given to me when I worked in Procter & Gamble). To adapt, I either adjusted my conduct (I actually switched from introversion to extroversion in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test as a result of learned behavior) or defended it (mostly through passive aggression). The fact of the matter is: prevailing culture doesn’t value what Wednesday Addams stands for. Everything has to be bright, cheerful, sunny, resolved. You’re allowed the occasional deviation—reserved for moments of absolute pain and grief such as those occasioned by death, illness, separation, or, well, premenstrual syndrome—but you’re not expected to inhabit the spaces of deviation for the majority of the time.

If you do happen to be deviant, you can resign yourself to a lifetime of subtle putdowns and gross misunderstandings, justified by the pithy Filipino expression Ang bigat mo kasi dalhin! (a sentence that can be clumsily translated as “You’re a drag to have around.”). If you’re lucky, the world doesn’t reject you outright. But it doesn’t welcome you either. If you manage to function well and to even succeed in the world, it’s because your family has fortunately loved you and you’ve compensated by developing culturally-valued traits while suppressing or downplaying the innate and undesirable ones (an unconsciously-induced process I’ll liken to trying to change from being the Wicked Witch Elphaba to being the Good Witch Glinda).

So, these last few months, when events constellated (to use a technical Jungian term) to introduce a range of resources to me on the necessity of the dark side—well, let’s just say that I got thoroughly enamored of the subject matter. It was the first time that it occurred to me that I’ve been living with aspects of myself as if they were conditions—handicaps all the more injurious because they’re not medically recognized while being culturally censured. (A psychologist once told me: You’re not medically bi-polar but, psychically, you have bi-polar characteristics. Gee. That’s great news.)

Seriously, every now and then a book or film or play will come along to celebrate what it’s like to be a brooding, introverted misfit, but in real life, the Wednesday Addamses and Elphaba Thropps end up being sidelined in hundreds of covert and overt ways: derided, ignored, marginalized, mocked and undervalued, or, told to cheer up, grow up, be content, be less intense, be less morose, be less serious, be less of who they are. That’s what happens when you don’t have the endorsement of a culture: it’s no one’s fault, and worse, no one even knows that a fault is being perpetuated.

So yes, I’m finding tremendous solace in discovering that it’s fine to have shadows—and not just fine, but actually normal; and not just normal, but actually meaningful and purposeful (and by that I don’t mean being a useful and necessary foil for the Elle Woods and Glinda Uplands and Stepford Wives of the world). It’s one thing to read or hear or be told that you’re fundamentally and generally okay (whole, perfect, complete, and all that jazz)—and a completely different thing to find out the particular and specific ways in which you’re okay.

So yes, this is me celebrating the discovery of the particular and specific ways in which I’m okay (ways I’ll cover in more detail in subsequent blog posts). It’s not that I’ve suddenly gained the endorsement of the culture (it’ll be a while before people start iconizing Wednesday Addams) but the important thing is being free of the unconscious desire for that endorsement. This isn’t one of those facile, self-parenting revelations that promptly evaporate at the next bout of criticism, but a genuine, soul-healing epiphany.

And it’s about time too.

Thank goodness.

On the Need for Silence


So yes, I’m back, after another unexpected silence (a hard-fought and hard-won silence).

This shepherding of silence and stillness is new to me. Just like any child of the modern (and postmodern) age, I value fruitfulness, generativity, productivity—the steady, efficient and predictable creation of output. Much of this is associated with the values of discipline, labor, toil and will. Much of this is inextricably intertwined with the modern triumph of day over night (i.e., electrical lighting, daylight savings mechanisms, twenty-four hour services, and so on and so forth) and the subordination of the seasons.

What is devalued and denigrated in our present culture is the very idea of rest: of night, of winter, of silence, of stillness, of death, of nothingness. Even our pauses have to be productive, the gaps filled by jam-packed travel itineraries and interminable bucket lists. One has to fight for one’s right to rest. Because we interiorize the values of our culture, the disapproving voices from the outside become the terrorizing demons on the inside.

So while I was silent these last few weeks, the silence—to me—felt like an act of defiance. (Defying whom? Me, of course.) The voices in my head were loud and insistent—voices I’d listened to for years and to which I attributed (and continue to attribute) most of my success. What happened to your iron self-discipline? Your implacable persistence? The creativity that you generated whatever the cost? The voices asked. When I refused to yield, the whispers became threats. You’ll lose everything you’ve built. This is where your downhill slide begins. The best years of your life are over.

And all because part of me didn’t want to write. (Yes, the demons have a flair for the dramatic.)

The good news is: the struggle is getting easier. I don’t need to justify myself (to myself) as much. I’m slowly beginning to discover the richness of what’s undervalued, what lies underfoot and what lives underground (precisely: night, winter, silence, stillness, death, nothingness). The pauses are pregnant in and by themselves. Let the gaps lie unfilled. Let the silence speak.

Or better yet, let the silence be silent.