Thursday, December 15, 2011

Breath, Dreams, and the Perplexed Monk

I remember witnessing a couple of old yogis before sunrise sitting in lotus position exerting themselves to rather violent extremes of breath control in order to enter into a state of bliss. They would engage in this practice while seated in this advanced yoga posture and then propel themselves into the air, landing forcefully on their perineum with the intent of generating an upward flow of kundalini energy. On the one hand, I appreciated their intensity and sincerity; however, the strain was of definite concern as I saw these men trying so hard to achieve what is in actuality an innate, inborn, experience of spiritual well being that anyone can potentially experience without implementing arduous practices. Faces painfully tightened up and turning red does not connote authentic, natural, communing with the numinous.

Wisdom writings consistently note that spirit is free and blows where it will, not able to be controlled and certainly not constrained or forced. William James wrote of “intuitively necessary truths……necessary and eternal relations….a determinate system, independent of the order of frequency in which experience may have associated their originals in time and space." Spirit, breath, and the experience of the numinous known within the body at the point of each inhalation and exhalation are archetypally charged moments, intuitively necessary truths that cultivate and constitute a natural, unforced, state of spirituality brought to the fore via awareness.
The Katha Upanishads notes, “It is the Beloved seated in the heart of all beings that directs the breath as it flows in and flows out." This ancient text refers to the innate numinous quality of efficacious breath, moving inward and outward as an expression of the ever present movement of spirit. Thus, true yogic breath flows naturally, the human psyche kindling its transformative power via attention and awareness. For example, focusing awareness and intent on the third eye helps to kindle intuitive and imaginative abilities. Just so, without horrid physical or psychic manipulations, the knowledge that the simplicity of inhalation and exhalation is itself an act of profound spirituality potentially transforms us into individuals who can continually discover inner depths.
A friend, a religious studies scholar who often commented that he could easily engage in complex scriptural exegesis but had a tough time of it trying to tie his own shoe laces, related a dream of an old befuddled and unhappy monk. The dream came on the night following his resolution to increase his practice of intensive pranayama yogic breathing and meditation. The old monk looked at him with such sadness, unhappiness, and confusion. At first my friend was stunned that a man who had devoted himself to the interior life, to consciousness, could be so ill at ease and obviously chronically unhappy. He noticed that the monk’s habit, his religious clothing, was worn from spiritual austerities and disciplines. The monk looked at him and asked, “You look so concerned. What wrong?” He answered, “You’re so happy and seem tired, depleted.” The monk appeared perplexed then a flash of knowing came across his face and he smiled. My friend awoke from the dream at first perplexed himself until he realized its meaning.
A forceful manipulation of his spiritual practice would generate psychic depletion, an alienation from self rather the deepening of psychological life which he sought. In the spiritual life more is not necessarily better. Interior development that is pressured or added to unnecessarily via a multitude of disciplines and austerities can actually generate a diminishment of self that can be felt as depletion, irritability with self and others, and perhaps even depression. The way of the soul is a natural one, unencumbered by outward contrivance, by anything that would impose itself on spontaneity and freedom associated with genuine psychic expression and development.
In depth psychology, the development of the soul or soulfulness in living is guided and nourished by symbolic dream material that leads the individual into experiences that are at once mystic and yet very natural. Depth psychologists speak of the world soul, a natural psychological phenomenon often symbolized in dreams as a spontaneous and self perpetuating cosmic wind. Many indigenous cultures teach that drawing breath rhythmically and naturally aligns us with the Great Cosmic Wind, a psychic happening that awakens in us a practical spirituality inherent in daily life, one that is transcendent yet immediate, imminent and available in the wondrous experience of each inhalation and exhalation.    

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Breath, Dreams, and the Unconscious

     Breath stimulates and reflects unconscious processes. Symbolically, breath refers to spirit, the odor of sanctity or the malodorous nature of foul energy depicted in the drama of dreams. Dreaming opens doors into a total sensorial experience of one’s inner life. Quality of inhalation and exhalation in dreams are often indicative of degree of psychic depth, the smell of breath evidencing personal character, sincere and life giving spirit symbolized by fresh breezes and cleansing winds. William James wrote, “The place of the divine in the world must be more organic and intimate. An external creator and his institutions may still be verbally confessed at Church in formulas that linger by their mere inertia, but the life is out of them, we avoid dwelling on them, the sincere heart of us is elsewhere.” Breath and its various dream symbolizations functions as an intimate and organic facet of self and the spirituality instinctual within the transpersonal self. Dream material symbolizes the nature of spirituality in one’s life by dramatizing quality of breath, sweet or repellent breath odors suggesting the positive or negative nature of individuals whom we encounter, transpersonal value of individual spirituality reflected in superficiality or depth of inhalation and exhalation, and the nature of archetypal inspiration, the breath of the gods, denoted via winds and breezes. C.G. Jung emphasized this transpersonal metapsychology of breath, from the Corpus Hermeticum, “There was a darkness in the deep and water without form; and there was a subtle breath, intelligent, which permeated the things in Chaos with divine power.”   

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Immersion and Spirit

      Individuals immersed in what one colleague referred to as the “everyday crazies”, a state of more or less chronic psychic imbalance, are often suffering from an unconscious desire to experience numinous depths, a nourishing encounter with the mystic. Unfulfilled spiritual need generates intense anxiety that many take on as a day-in-day-out state of mind. Skating along the surface, from one emotional drama to another, with the attitude that this is what life is all about, can be addictive, destructive. The same colleague commented, as we were finishing lunch one afternoon, “I really take to heart what Freud said about chronic anxiety being the hallmark of neurosis. We rush, rush, rush. Complain about everything under the sun. Go to bed. Get up and do it all over again. It’s neurotic.” In contrast, I’m drawn to the writing of William James in his Essays on Psychical Research: “Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest….the trees…commingle their roots in the darkness underground, and the islands also hang together through the ocean’s bottom. Just so there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother-sea or reservoir.” Immersion into depth of soul, a deliberate and purposeful leaning into life, draws together psychic energies so that we are nourished and made sane, whole.
      Depth psychologist Robert D. Romanyshyn in his paper, The World Is a Tissue of Metaphors, noted that the dream “is a nightly address to the ego-mind which undoes its fixed positions, a kind of nightly humiliation that humbles consciousness and leads it back into the earth, a journey that re-situates mind in the humus, the soil of the soul.” Dream energy and waking life lived deliberately, reflectively, shift our momentum away from surface anxieties and craziness into healing realms of soul. Immersing ourselves in a reflective life counteracts neurotic chaos and tumult. Transcendent yet imminent, a psyche that is settled into the soil of the soul is both quickened spiritually and set right within the practicalities of everyday reality. William James noted that by their fruits not their roots shall you know them, an utterance that beckons us into the rich soil of soul that yields a bountiful emotional and spiritual harvest dependent not on affiliations or background but on depth of relationship to self.
      Immersion into the world of transformational archetypes requires proper attitude. I’m reminded of the story of three yogis who entered the Cave of All Knowing. The first went in, then after a time left, complaining it was a waste of time, a whole lot of nothing. The second crossed the threshold and shortly lost himself within the realm of mysteries, never to be heard of again. The third entered and within time emerged rejuvenated, transformed, enlightened. Michael Eigen, in his book Contact with the Depths, wrote that to become one so enlightened “ to live and assimilate something of the experience of the other two, those crippled by life’s impacts, as necessary and valuable parts of the self.” Descent into the underworld, stepping into the Cave of All Knowing, plunging into the mother sea of the collective unconscious, symbolize immersion into self, leaning into and immersing ourselves in the pulse and beat of life, what Romanyshyn describes as “ordinary epiphanies of the moment that, when we are ready and properly disposed, are momentous epiphanies, festive occasions when the miracle in the ordinary manifests itself, moments that are occasions for wonder and celebration.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Awareness and Spirit

Awareness opens us to the spiritual world
During one of my first Jungian psychoanalytic sessions thirty-five years ago with Dr. Arwind Vasavada, a man trained by C.G. Jung, he remarked, “awareness opens us to the spiritual world.” This insight jettisoned me into a night of dreaming in which an angelic being motioned with his right arm and beckoned me into an interior world that I had never before imagined. The words that came from this being were, “Look within.” This statement was followed by an opening into phantasmagorical dimensions of consciousness I later came to understand as realms of the collective unconscious that continue to reveal themselves in my life. Without a doubt, the angel of the interior world revealed a life changing reality of the spiritual world brought into the practical yet transcendent dimensions of daily life.
Synchronicity, the purposeful meeting of the inner and outer worlds, came to the fore during this critical time. Dream symbols and outer life events often paralleled one another so that an event or symbol in the dream world would manifest in the outer world. On one occasion, after many days and nights of overworking during my clinical residency, I left the hospital and realized that I hadn’t dreamed in a number of nights. This is unusual for me since dreaming nightly is more the norm. No sooner had I thought this than a bus passed with an advertisement along its side that read, “Your dreams are missing you!” Well, that’s quite a message from the unconscious revealing itself in a rather practical manner in the midst of a busy day. The human psyche is practical, spirituality and the spiritual world, attuned to the interplay of life situations and events with inner workings.
In Principles of Psychology, William James insisted, “Whatever things have intimate and continuous connection with my life are things of whose reality I cannot doubt.” Practical, emotional and spiritual meaning can imbue life situations with such heightened significance that we cannot help but become aware, more enlightened, as the result of encountering them. Transcendent phenomenon within the course of daily life occurs more frequently than we imagine, awareness bringing them to the fore of consciousness for inspiration, guidance, and potential transformation. One of my mentors in depth psychology taught that we have at least seven or eight synchronous, spiritually meaningful, occurrences each day. Awareness opens us to the psychic reality of things spiritual and emotional that can potentially affect us in pragmatic, transformative, ways.
A middle-aged female admitted to me that she had been using her spiritual practice of meditating four hours a day to deaden herself. “I didn’t want to feel what I needed to feel, to face what I needed to face, so I escaped.” She decided to take a three day break from meditating and discovered that her mind actually felt clearer, her energy more consistent, and her overall well being greatly improved. Over time, she discovered heightened awareness, enlightenment, by meditating less, finding her balance. It turned out that she was afraid of well being, feeling that she was unworthy. Awareness heightened her sensitivity to self and to the innate capacity to know joy and equanimity in life. Practical spirituality, for her, meant coming to terms with a balance between the inner and outer worlds. The symbolism of the meditative lotus posture acquired new meaning for her as the nexus between inner and outer worlds, the pitch of perfect awareness.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Breath and Spirit

Practical spirituality flows with each breath.
Practical spirituality is as natural as awareness, breath, immersion in the flow of life. With each inhalation and exhalation the phenomenological reality of inspiration, spirit, makes itself felt through each and every cell, membrane, muscle fiber, overall body sensation and on into the recesses of potentially transformative psychic experience. In his classic text, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, father of American psychology, wrote, “When I walk the fields, I am oppressed now and then with an innate feeling that everything I see has a meaning, if I could but understand it, and this feeling of being surrounded by truths which I cannot grasp amounts to indescribable awe…” This spiritual awe of which James speaks implies that nothing more is required to know a sense of imminent spiritually than simple awareness. Innate awareness, that every aspect of life has meaning and emanates indescribable awe, reflects an imminently practical ability to access deep and efficacious spiritual realms in every moment via awareness, breath, and the willingness to embrace human experience in all of its multitudinous facets.
In depth psychology it is well known that we humans are spiritual by our very nature, that deep therapy assists one to access inner well springs of life and vitality that enliven a weary and downtrodden soul. M. Esther Harding, author of Psychic Energy, noted, “……it does not consist in loss of the ego self in a vague nirvana; rather, it is a state of heightened awareness, more intense and more extensive than any that is possible under the limitations of the ego.” John, a new acquaintance, recalled his exasperation with life, a spiritual depression that had sucked away his vitality. He told me that inner work in depth psychotherapy had helped him find his way out of a treacherous past. Childhood memories replete with rigid religious beliefs and antagonistic family relationships were his “blast from the past”, as he related. Facing and working through past trauma jettisoned him into finding not only healing but a new and practical spirituality as opposed to a childhood traumatic belief system based on fear, guilt and rigidly held dogma. For him, the meaning and purpose of a life lived loving his wife and children, engaging in a daily spiritual practice and immersing himself in the wonders and challenges of life were at the heart of his new and satisfying human, spiritual, life.
John went on to share a dream in which a lively earth spirit visited him and as she touched him everything within him quickened. She told him, “Now you can breathe!” With this he inhaled deeply and exhaled with immense satisfaction. His depression had been lifted and with the visitation there came a natural, grounded spirituality of everyday life lived in a meaningful way. As he remarked, “My own life force and spirit are drawn into me, are as simple and direct as the taking in of each and every breath.”