Change is in the air. Can you feel it? I can. I can’t avoid it. It’s everywhere.
Every age probably thinks that it’s in a time of big changes. Or at least most people likely do. They compare their lives with their parents and cannot comprehend life back then. We have the telegraph and newspapers now. We have the radio and telephone now. We have TV now. We have the internet now. Technology is a big part of these changes and on the surface, often the most obvious. But I’m talking about a cultural change that is impossible to define precisely. Its related to a change that’s happening in humanity and within each of us. Both these changes drive the other and technology helps to drive and facilitate them all. For hundreds and thousands of years, life didn’t change that much. Living a poor existence on a farm or urban space meant life for you, much like for your parents. But that’s changed in the last few hundred years and for the last century even more, and is accelerating. I can see that, in many ways, my life as a kid was not nearly as different from my parents, as my kids’ lives have been compared to mine.
For much of life, up to the past hundred years or so, the biggest questions were discussed in churches or universities and most people were only vaguely aware of these deep discussions. Modern living, in the last fifty years especially, has brought greater wealth to so many people that they have the time to ponder the bigger questions. Modern technology – cheap books, magazines, television and now the internet, has made the spread of ideas so much easier. More people are more highly educated, formally and self-taught, and exposed to these big ideas.
One of the greatest and most misunderstood philosophers, who steeped his life in facing these big questions of our existence, was Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. He was largely ignored during his life, but has had a profound influence on modern thought in philosophy and Jung recognized his genius in psychology as well. Philosophy and psychology are intimately related and Jung completely appreciated this. Both Nietzsche and Jung lived that union of those two big “P’s”. Jung added the third big “P” – physics.
This is not going to be a discussion of Nietzsche – that will come later. He is a fascinating thinker, who is often misrepresented in popular culture, and in scholarly areas as well. My point is that Nietzsche is infinitely more well known and discussed now than he ever was and I expect his influence will only grow as more people are exposed to his ideas. In spite of the fact that he’s often misunderstood and even vilified, at least more people are aware of him and the opportunity exists for them to find out the truth, to come to their own opinion. That’s a lot more important than simply swallowing whatever shallow interpretation of Nietzsche you come across. Nietzsche is much too deep and complex to be dismissed without making a real attempt to know the real Nietzsche.
But as Oscar Wilde said: ” There is only one thing in life that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Nietzsche, and deep ideas generally, are being talked about and exposed more than ever in popular culture. For me this is both a sign and a driver of the evolution of our human consciousness, which is taking off.
I’m just going to talk about two examples, but they are legion. I’ll start with Rick and Morty. Rick is an alcoholic, mad scientist, who travels around in science fiction adventures with his grandson Morty. Here Rick has just constructed a sentient robot, disappointed that its purpose in life is not up to the possibilities that its questioning mind is capable of developing. He asks his creator for guidance and is crushed by the answer. Hmmm. Does that sound like any other species you might be familiar with, according to a materialistic world view? Pass butter – make money – more similar than different.
But there is much more to Rick and Morty. Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, Nietzsche is referenced. Rick and Morty explore some big ideas and present them to a world that is hungry for meaning and purpose.
Rick and Morty is not a show that can be taken lightly. It explores some pretty important questions of existence. Not everyone is going to fully appreciate all the references and questions posed. I certainly appreciate Nietzsche, but haven’t studied him enough to get anywhere near everything he has to offer – I still have time. My point is that popular culture, like Rick and Morty, have exploded onto the scene to expose many more people, and often younger people, to some really big and deep ideas. This is a major development for our species and is not to be dismissed or ignored.
My second example comes from music – a new video by the band, MGMT. They’re an American band that isn’t afraid to make uncomfortable art posing some big questions and opening up some big issues. Here they explore death and the shadow world within, using both beautiful and disturbing images. Its a compelling and provocative video. I can’t watch it without being taken to that world within. No piece of film making can do justice to dreams, but for me, this comes the closest I’ve seen. It’s quite the trip.
I’ll end this with another great MGMT video – short and sweet – “Your Life is a Lie”. Pop culture poses a possibility.
No. Wait. I’m not saying your life is a lie. That’s for you to say. I don’t think MGMT is saying your life is a lie. Or maybe they are. Who cares what they think? What do you think? Like any good piece of art, they’re posing a question that only you can answer. But your life, or parts of it, could be a lie. Who would you be lying to? Your soul. And your soul might be pissed. It could be worth considering. And remember, if you come to the idea that your life is a lie, that’s not a conclusion, but only a beginning. Art is nothing, if not hope-filled, but it’s really so much more. And art can be found in popular culture – now more than ever.
As I learn more about individuation, I have more to say and to write about. As I’ve written previously, I consider that evolution is the meaning of life. Evolution is why we are all here and it is ultimately our purpose in our individual lives, and that of course leads to a very broad guide to our lives. And for me it explains a great deal and serves me in my life. I will be writing about the great value of seeing the world and our lives through the lens of evolution.
I believe that individuation, as set out by Carl Gustav Jung, is ultimately a form of personal evolution, so I believe it is intimately related to our purpose in life – to evolve. As I consider individuation more, as I learn more about it, and as I reflect on what I have written and on what I want to convey to the reader, I want to add some very important points to my understanding of individuation. I will be writing a great deal about individuation, as it has become central to my life and as I believe it is central to the evolution of each one of us as individuals and to humanity as a whole.
So here are my bedrock notions of individuation that one should keep in mind:
I will have many more posts about this process of individuation. I think that even if individuation is not for you, or not for you yet, you will benefit from learning more. And I will be writing about it in the context of evolution, which is the great meaning of life for all of us. When you have fully absorbed this centrality of evolution, it will make your life more enjoyable and understandable. And my most important point to make about all this, is that you are the one to decide how you will live your own life to maximize it’s meaning and evolution. I am not a guru. Each one of us must find the guru that lies within. We each have a guru and guide within us.
For anyone who has had the privilege of teaching, I’ve no doubt that it was a humbling experience. A teacher is forced to confront her or his own ignorance and being forced to explain to others is the best way to learn something for yourself. I am here to learn, at least as much as I am here to teach. We are all here to make this up as we go along. I have an enormous amount to learn here on evolution and individuation, but I think my three points above are critical to begin to understand and appreciate this process.
My central thesis here and in my own life, is that we’re here to evolve and to grow. Ultimately everything is in service to that greater meaning of life. It means you have the fun and responsibility of making up your life without having to follow the dictates and demands of your family, your friends, your culture, or anything else outside of you. Your evolution is an inner job as you radiate out into the world, and the outer world radiates back, but your job is to master that material coming in, according to your inner self. Your evolution will affect your family, friends, the culture, and all of humanity, as everyone else’s evolution affects your own. This is the ultimate mashup of people evolving in humanity. But the evolution of humanity starts and lives within each one of us. We’re social creatures and that can never be denied or evaded, but we’re also autonomous individuals, and that’s where all evolution has to begin.
Carl Jung spoke about a fundamental process he called individuation. There’s no question that the evolution of each one of us can happen without knowing about Carl Jung or individuation, but I’m finding that the process of evolution is immeasurably helped by a certain structure and understanding. Individuation is not a recipe or a “how to” manual, but it is a map and a guide that helps me identify and understand the material that I must face, and it provides a framework of doing the work – and it is work.
“All my life I’ve wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific”
– A great quote from the one woman stage play by Jane Wagner performed by Lily Tomlin – The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe. The line points to a great truth – deep down we do yearn to be somebody. Too many of us look outside of ourselves to find a role model or a template to “be”. But that deep yearning for a meaningful existence is the compulsion of the self to be realized. Too many of us deny our own true self it’s very existence. That is the source of so much of our pain until we begin to answer the call and Jung called the process of responding to that call individuation.
The movie with Lily Tomlin is a funny and moving look at life, the universe and everything, that deserves more attention than it received. The movie is true to it’s stage performance, that would have been amazing in its original run with Tomliin. Live theater, at it’s best, is a powerful experience and this one is special in its humanity and its grit. The central character is a wise, homeless person interacting with alien visitors in her head, but Tomlin plays many other people to riff on our existence. Here is a summary to give you a taste of the brilliance – I love the end of this and the movie – here at 9:55, but you need to watch the first 1:15 to understand the ending, but better yet, see the whole movie.
Jung and individuation speak to this quote directly – specifically becoming yourself – not just someone or anybody, is the gig, the job of personal evolution. It includes radically embracing your own self – an inner exploration to bring you past and through all the external flotsam and jetsam of your life. Who but yourself can direct yourself to become yourself? Listen to the outside world all you want, and then dive into your inner self, to find and construct your self.
“The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.”
I’d say the first half of life is indeed forming that healthy ego because you need it to face the process of individuation. That inward journey is not for the faint of heart. One needs strength to be successful and as one clears the dreck and detritus, the ego can recede into the background as no longer being necessary or useful. My view is that this first part of your life, which may be chronologically less or more than half a normal lifespan, is the process of collecting much of the raw material for your self’s evolution and then the latter part of life is processing that in individuation. In this way, individuation is a process of pruning and integrating to arrive at a central core of the self. Then you can move into another phase of life where your self can achieve more, in different ways, without being dominated by an ego that is dedicated to its own narrow ends.
I love metaphors, so I’ll toss out another one. Our lives are like the multi-stage rocket that sent people to the moon decades ago. The biggest part of the rocket was the massive first and second stages that were needed to send the spacecraft holding the crew, out into space, away from the gravity and atmosphere of earth. As the rocket stages were spent and no longer needed, they were jettisoned as the spacecraft continued on its journey. The essential part of the craft carried the astronauts. The essential part of each one of us is our true self, to be discovered, uncovered and recovered, after the complications arising from the first half of our life are processed and integrated as we evolve.
I see individuation as a process of jettisoning and consuming the material that we collect over the first decades of life. This material consists of the complexes, neuroses and issues we collect and construct in the first half of life. They are inevitable, and likely necessary, to allow us, and to push us, to individuate – evolve – in the latter part of life. No longer weighed down with this material, as it’s been processed and integrated, we can evolve and grow more freely. We gain the freedom of traveling lighter.
This process of individuation will be one I keep returning to here. It is fundamental to our personal meaning and evolution. It is our core and the core of evolution.
Articles like this one – 4 ways to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life, according to psychology are all over the internet and on magazines staring at out at us at the check-stand. Sigh. Science and all its disciplines like psychology are implied to be these monoliths of TRUTH. But you can’t find an academy of experts who publish these “truths”. So we get soundbites and compact articles on complex subjects that can obscure much more than they reveal by suggesting easy answers to complex questions. And it implies that all of “psychology” or science agrees on some subject.
It reminds me of the Family Feud game show where the host would shout out “survey says!” when it was revealed how a random group answered such questions as “the best pizza topping” or “things you’d bring on vacation”. SCIENCE SAYS! PSYCHOLOGY SAYS! Ok so why aren’t we all smarter and happier?
I couldn’t find an example of the show’s tag line, but here’s Jim Carey from Bruce Almighty:
I find most of these articles on the psychology of making your life better are as over the top as Jim Carey here – “ten ways to find your true love” – “five keys to overcoming procrastination” – “you don’t have to be afraid of family gatherings – seven strategies”.
Actually this article is more interesting and more suggestive of some deeper ideas than most of these pieces on pop psychology. It refers to a book by Emily Esfahani Smith.
She stresses the importance of meaning over happiness as a goal in life. I completely agree.
Smith makes an important point that happiness is not the goal of life.
Pursuing happiness is like trying to walk to Toronto by staring at your feet. It’s a matter of scale. Happiness is the wrong measure of success. It is a guide – an excellent one that helps you to know if you are on the right path moment to moment and day to day, but it is not the goal. The guide is not the goal – it can’t be. Happiness can never provide the broader context that you require to make the important choices in life.
Smith advises us to pursue meaning. And happiness will come to guide you and to reward you. Equally, pain is not to be dreaded, but embraced as a guide.
Finding meaning in life is much more complex than even this video discusses – but to be fair, that’s inevitable. The meaning of life, which I believe is evolution, is such a broad and deep subject that one can only scratch it’s surface in a single chunk of communication – video, article, book, art – whatever.
Ultimately the meaning of life is constructing the meaning of your life – to me that is all in service to our personal evolution – individuation, and the evolution of our culture, society and humanity. Great news – we all have a gig that never ends. But that means (there’s that word again) that there are no easy answers. Every problem we face in our lives – our relationships, our work, our health, our search for fulfillment and happiness, are all tangled up in this process of constructing meaning – everything is connected. That’s one of the reasons that I find Jung such an important figure in psychology. He understood and never recoiled from facing the hard questions and complexity in life, because he appreciated the deep spiritual nature of our lives, quite apart from strict notions of God or religion. Jung understood and advocated that the meaning of our individual lives was central to our existence and everything we do and are.
Those brief and simplistic psychology articles are everywhere and can be helpful to give you a few strategies or to help you see something from a different perspective. But no article, or book, or movie is going to be anything more than a catalyst to urge you forward to do the hard and glorious work that lays before each one of us – evolving – individuating – deriving and constructing our own personal meaning for our life.
Not all relationships are romantic of course. Friendships and the collaborations that arise can be just as powerful in their ability to transform and evolve the people involved and for those effects to ripple out into the people and places outside of them.
This is a heartwarming story of two people in China who have built a powerful team to express their lives and their purpose in life. A blind man and a double amputee work together to plant trees. The world is full of such inspiring stories and I wanted to being this to your attention.
The story ends with a Greek proverb: ” Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Except that I have little doubt that on many levels, they will sit in that shade – both in metaphor and reality.
Bromance – a deep relationship between two hetrosexual men – and Time magazine has this phenomenon in their sights in this article.
Magazine writers are always casting around for new subjects and what’s better than a new trend and one with some worrying implications? The dating pool is shrinking!
The central idea is that hetrosexual men are becoming more involved in deep relationships with other men and they find these relationships are more satisfying than their romantic relationships with women. You have to be careful to believe too much of analyses such as these. There’s a lot of noise out there. But I think this piece brings up some important points worth considering. Almost nothing is more central to our evolution and lives than human relationships. In the potent brew of human relationships that we all stew in, nothing beats romantic ones for evolution, joy and heartache. They’re complicated. Everyone knows this. If you don’t, you’re missing the best part!
So men are more comfortable in close relationships with other men? Hmmm. So this is good news and bad news, if it’s true. But what is truth? Do we have to hear a report on CNN that 52% of men from ages 20 to 38 prefer their deep relationships with other men to those with women? I just made that up. Statistics can reveal truth, but the truth lies within each one of us – the individual. Regardless of the stats, this article points to a bigger truth that is worth exploring.
Relationships are monstrously important to our lives and to our evolution – all relationships, but probably none are more important or even as important as our romantic ones, because those push all our buttons and often loop back into our earliest relationships with our parents. Whew.
Really? Do we have to dig that deep to figure out our romantic relationships? ‘Fraid so I think. It’s been true for me.
“Men are all just inconsiderate, selfish jerks!” ” Woman are all the same – they just want to control you.” Yada. Yada. Yada. Romance starts off being the magic carpet ride of love and then not so much in many cases. Why?
I used to love her (him), but its all over now.
Let it be known that I am not cynical…not one little bit…except about politics. About love? Romantic love – not an atom of cynicism.
I find it impossible to see problems in a relationship without acknowledging at least some of my role in those problems. I’m equally certain I underestimate my part in the messiness. I don’t sit on the mountain knowing it all, but I can often see how I might be contributing to the problems and how couldn’t I be? I’m half of the couple.
As in most things psychological, Carl Jung has much to say about all this and I’ve found that a great analysis from this Jungian perspective comes from Robert A. Johnson, a writer and Jungian analyst. He’s written and number of books and they all have value, but three in particular are important here –
Johnson points out the role of romantic love in Western culture. Love and marriage are seen differently in other cultures and the role of romance in Western culture changed and came into it’s present form with the troubadours and led to the idea of romance that we see in stories like Romeo and Julliette – the idea of a soulful union of man and woman that transcends our everyday existence.
But our modern Western society is the only culture in history that has experienced romantic love as a mass phenomenon. We are the only society that makes romance the basis of our marriages and love relationships and the cultural ideal of “true love.”
The ideal of romantic love burst into Western society during the Middle Ages. It first appeared in our literature in the myth of Tristan and Iseult, then in the love poems and songs of the troubadours. It was called “courtly love”; its model was the brave knight who worshiped a fair lady as his inspiration, the symbol of all beauty and perfection, the ideal that moved him to be noble, spiritual, refined, and high-minded. In our time we have mixed courtly love into our sexual relationships and marriages, but we still hold the medieval belief that true love has to be the ecstatic adoration of a man or woman who carries, for us, the image of perfection.
Johnson, Robert A.. We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (Kindle Locations 105-111). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Johnson goes on to explain what a heavy burden we place on our romance and on our romantic partners. In this book, “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love”, he uses the original myth of Tristan and Iseult that was really the template of this view of romantic love that we have woven into our lives. Popular culture lives and breathes this stuff in songs, movies, books and our unexamined expectations.
For many, myths are just ancient stories or fables that don’t mean much in our modern lives. The opposite is true. These myths exist across cultures and time, and are just as active today as they were hundreds of years ago. We just don’t realize it. It’s too easy to believe these are modern times and we’ve moved beyond silly old stories. But these myths speak to our deep longings and needs, our concerns, fears, and hopes. Each one of us is shaped by these myths. These myths are very much alive within our culture and within each of us. Again, the task is to become aware of these facts in a personal way so that we can become more aware of our thinking and emotions.
Carl Jung has shown us that when a great psychological phenomenon suddenly appears in the life of an individual, it represents a tremendous unconscious potential that is rising to the level of consciousness. The same is true for a culture. At a certain point in the history of a people, a new possibility bursts out of the collective unconscious; it is a new idea, a new belief, a new value, or a new way of looking at the universe. It represents a potential good if it can be integrated into consciousness, but at first it is overwhelming, even destructive.
Romantic love is one of these truly overwhelming psychological phenomena that have appeared in Western history. It has overwhelmed our collective psyche and permanently altered our view of the world. As a society, we have not yet learned to handle the tremendous power of romantic love. We turn it into tragedy and alienation more often than into enduring human relationships.
Johnson, Robert A.. We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (Kindle Locations 111-118). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
So it doesn’t surprise me that some men are retreating from romance with women. Romantic relationships are changing and it can be harder to find people willing to commit to a longer term relationship. Too many people have been too disappointed and in this book, “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love” Johnson tells us why disappointment and pain in romance is almost inevitable, unless and until we become more aware of our expectations in romance and work to integrate them with a realistic view of our all too human selves and partners. We have nothing to lose and the potential for a fulfilling and lasting romantic relationship to gain.
It’s great if men are finding more satisfaction with their friendships with other men, but I think a heterosexual man has much more to learn and evolve when he’s in a deep relationship with a woman. He’ll learn more about women of course, but he’ll also learn much more about himself and that will all serve his evolution. And it’ll be more fun, with the pain and heartache along for the ride at times – all part of the trip.
I’ll be writing a lot more about myth and gender since they’re so central to our psychology and to our evolution, but this is a good start. You cannot go wrong plunging into these three books. Romance and love call, but it helps to know the message more deeply. These books are a great start – practical and poetic – like romantic love.
By now you have almost certainly heard of the sexual bullying that Louis C.K., a comedian, carried out and has admitted to, over many years. His actions are rightly being condemned and his career, at least in the short term, is over. The revelations followed those of Harvey Weinstein, a movie producer and Hollywood power broker and executive who used his power and influence in grotesque demonstrations of emotional and psychological violence by means of sexual domination of younger and less powerful women, whom he could help or potentially damage in their profession.
Weinstein’s behavior over decades being brought to the light of public awareness, has led to the Weinstein effect. When a man as wealthy and powerful as he is, or was, has been called out by numerous people who suffered at his imperious heel, the floodgates have opened – not a moment too soon.
This is a major turning point for our culture and its evolution. Sarah Silverman gets this and I really appreciated what she has to say on this. She knows Louis C.K. as a friend and colleague, so she is even more disturbed by his behavior, but she sees the bigger picture and in this brief video, she nails it for me.
I love this. Humane. Human. Wise. Brave.
As I commented elsewhere on the web:
What an intelligent response from Silverman. This is like messy surgery to remove the tumor of bullying and entitlement. A nuanced approach is what’s called for and Silverman is apparently advocating that. C.K.’s behavior was disgusting and wrong, but he’s a complicated human being as are we all. He was operating in a culture that often allows money and power, often in the hands of men, to permit and silently sanction such behavior. Louis C.K. needs help and he could do a lot to improve our culture by speaking out to his problems and the culture that permitted him to indulge in them.
Weinstein was on another level entirely. He was the king of toxic in the toxic culture of money, fame and power that is the entertainment industry. He deserves to be eviscerated professionally and financially. We have to learn and move on to bring more transparency and respect to our culture and this is an important step in the process – to reveal how some people act against people who are scared and manipulated to remain silent.
Evolution is messy – Sarah Silverman gets that.
Almost nothing is messier than sex and gender – two of the great drivers of our personal and our social evolution. This messiness points to that dark forest – the one that each one of us, and our culture, must see in order to evolve and heal. I keep hammering on Jung, because his ideas are so central to my own. He understands and explains this better than anyone. He absolutely stressed the necessity for each one us to make the unconscious, conscious. If we do not, we will just stumble onward in ignorance and pain, and curse our fate. Bringing light to the darkness is just as important to societies and cultures. We are in the early stages of this with the Weinstein effect. It is not easy or painless, but it is not optional. The only choice we have is how long and how hard we might try to resist or ignore this evolutionary imperative.
I’m going to be writing lots about gender and sex, since they will continue to dominate so much of our lives and our evolution.
In the meantime – Sarah – thank you – great stuff.
To the dark forest.
The dark forest calls
It beckons from within
Thinking is not your guide
Thinking is the tool of emotions
Emotions rule in the dark forest
Light is to be found in the dark forest
You cannot imagine the dark forest
You must experience it
The dark forest experiences you
Your path is your own
It knows you
It calls to you
It is you
To deny the dark forest
Is to deny yourself
You cannot enter the dark forest
You cannot leave the dark forest
You are already here
You look for yourself here
Know the dark forest
See the darkness
In the darkness
And in the light.
Psychological and spiritual problems are everywhere – at all ages. It’s all part of the times we are going through. Major changes in society and within individuals. My last post was on Comfortably Numb , which is an attempt to avoid and cover up the pain.
I’ve just learned of an artist who was confronting his own pain head on, as he explored it in his music. Lil Peep was just 21 when he passed yesterday from an apparent overdose. Esquire magazine has a nice piece on him, which I am sure will raise people’s awareness of him outside of his normal audience. This is how I found out about the artist.
GQ magazine also wrote a piece on Lil Peep in August of this year. They saw him as the next step in rap evolution. Obviously there is more to this than one artist, but it’s good to see focus on real evolution.
Lil Peep is being hailed as a new rap artist who is exploring deeper emotions than usually found in popular music. His death is clearly a loss, but I am sure that we will see much more exploration of these deeper issues in music in the future. People are in pain and comfortably numb is not working.
Our modern western society often considers emotions and pain to be self-indulgent and unnecessary. Work hard. Think positive. Get over it. Self-indulgence is always possible with any emotion, but emotions are central to our lives. Emotions are teachers and guides for our lives and they cannot be ignored without paying a huge price. I see this as all part of our accelerating evolution right now. It is only going to intensify and we will get and need more artists like Lil Peep.