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Carl G. Jung, the great transcendent psychologist, dedicated an entire chapter in his book, Alchemical Studies, to the analysis of the Chinese text, The Golden Flower, and specifically to the Taoist notion of action through non-action or, as Jung expressed it: "The art of letting things happen.”1 He says, “We must be able to let things happen in the psyche. For us, this is an art of which most people know nothing. Consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, and negating, never leaving the psychic processes to grow in peace.”2
This made me wonder what would happen if one day I decided not to do anything. I imagine myself waking up, having some breakfast, and then I would just sit comfortably and do nothing. Better still, I would not even think. What would happen if I became a ‘nothing’? After all, what I am physically is a conglomeration of basic elements. In fact, the molecules that make up my body are the same molecules found within the inert objects that surround me in this very moment; there is no difference. The only thing that distinguishes me from one collection of elements and another is my ability to be aware of my surroundings and myself.
What I noticed first was a parade of words running through my mind. I found that I could sit in one place all day were it not for a thought, expressed to me in language, invoking me to perform some action or another. It appears, then, that language is what drives our activity in life. We become aware of a person, place or thing the subject. The predicate then follows the action to be taken by the subject in question. If it weren’t for the language that communicates the subject and the action, I suppose I would sit in my chair for an eternity. Perhaps not an eternity eventually, I would become a small pile of dust (elements) on the cushion of the chair.
One of my many thoughts was a recollection of an experiment relayed by Johnjoe McFadden in Quantum Evolution (2001). McFadden shares a study by Benjamin Libet, a neurobiologist, who routinely detected neuronal activity in the brain nearly half a second before the time the subject reported he or she had made the decision to move.3 This showed that our seemingly voluntary actions are unconscious acts, of which we retrospectively become aware, as McFadden noted. He rightly asks, “Is free will an illusion?”4
Inevitably, the thought enters my mind that I am hungry. In time, this launches the neuronal cascade which eventually leads to a massive amount of energy expenditure as I get up from my chair and walk towards the kitchen. Along the way, the phone rings and as I head for the telephone my wife asks if I could take out the trash. A friend wants to meet for lunch in a few hours. I remember that I promised my wife I would go on a bike ride with her later in the afternoon. Suddenly, I realize my day has been planned without me, and one event has led to another all seemingly outside my control. All I wanted to do was sit peacefully in my chair, undisturbed, for the entire day. But now I’m wrestling with the garbage, and later I’m confronted with rude drivers as I make my way to my lunch appointment. There is a constant give and take between myself and other human beings as well as inanimate objects.
Life happens, as they say. If we’re breathing it’s happening, whether we like it or not. Just try to stop it. The problem is not so much that it is happening, but more so, how we react to it. It is our reactions that get us into the most trouble. I could say, “Yes, dear” to the garbage request and sincerely mean it; or I could be completely annoyed and thrown off center, which would have created a response (reaction) in my wife and I could completely ruin my day (and hers too). The real question is about how we respond to all the other human beings out there on the road, in the stores, in restaurants, at work, and throughout our day-to-day lives.
The Taoist notion of action through non-action appears, on the surface, to be an oxymoron. However, as we have just seen, it is impossible to ‘be’ on this planet without being motivated into action. Carl Jung would say the key is to recognize that things do happen to us without our necessarily being the cause of the action. It is in the ‘letting’ things happen that we stand to gain the most. When we stand as an objective and indifferent observer we may be surprised to discover that our life is a parade of events leading us on a journey of self-discovery. To be an indifferent observer automatically puts us in the present moment.
Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) is famous for his advice to just be in the ‘Now;’ to preserve equilibrium in the present moment. We expect life to go a certain way and when it doesn’t (it never does) we become upset; we resist. Even worse, we are prone to anger, resentment, and hate, followed by violence. We mostly avoid being in the moment because we are not accustomed to the solitude of just being. How often do we allow ourselves the luxury of spending alone time with ourselves? Usually, after five minutes we begin to feel guilty as though someone were keeping track of our goofing-off.
When we consciously take time to be alone we may become aware of the difficulty of being our own companion. We become uncomfortable, nervous, and unsure of ourselves in this unfamiliar state. What we may not yet realize is the gift we can enjoy by becoming reacquainted with ourselves. In that stillness, we may also discover a yearning to look beyond our innermost selves in a search for meaning. This is the place where Jung saw our greatest opportunity letting our psychic processes grow in peace. From this perspective, we can view all of our outer experiences as aimed towards bringing us to this place of emptiness and stillness of mind, which allows us to gaze into the deeper meaning of our existence.
At some level, we have a feeling there is more to life than we can experience with our senses. We can deny this feeling. We can even cover it up with activity or create conflicts in an attempt to side-track ourselves from this uneasy feeling. If we are honest we may discover that our deepest fear lies in the unknown of what we might see if we took the time to actually ‘see’ beyond ourselves. Most likely, what we most want to see is God looking back at us. We are like children wanting our parents’ constant attention. The constant gaze of the parent towards the child and the child towards the mother is a reflection of the nature of that true spiritual love.
When we fail in our contemplation and only face empty darkness inside, in desperation we turn our contemplating gaze back to the outer world. Our external contemplation, our creative attention, results in an object that we can point to and have other people look at and admire. We write books for others to admire or we might make paintings and other creative works of art. Eventually, in an attempt to fill the spiritual void, we substitute the attention and recognition received from others for the love we were seeking inwardly. Unfortunately, then, other people become a sounding board for whether we feel loved or not. When we perceive that others are not meeting our expectations, we preserve our dignity; and, as Tolle tells us, our ‘ego takes everything personally.’5 A lack of self-confidence is a barometer of the extent to which we rely on others to supply the love and recognition we seek inwardly.
Instead, Tolle advises us to stay focused on the present moment because that is the doorway to consciousness. In the present moment there is no room or ‘time’ to think about what we have or don’t have. The present moment removes the space in which we are prone to thinking about the past and worrying about the future both of which do not exist in the present moment. When we give our attention to them, we are giving our spiritual energy to a cloud of illusion. When we give our mental and emotional energy over to conflicts with other people and events, we are also giving our spiritual energy away to an illusion.
Another aspect of thinking and worrying becomes clear when we consider the quantum view of our reality. Quantum physics demonstrates that all of our actions affect every corner of the universe. Our voices are a frequency pattern that reaches out to every other animate and inanimate being in the universe. Even our thoughts are recorded throughout the cosmos, all the way to the seat of the Universal mind the source of all that is conscious and unconscious in and outside our field of awareness. Everything is recorded and contained within the Universal mind. It is not my Universal mind or your Universal mind; it is ‘our’ Universal mind. It is a question of consciousness. It is a question of awareness. That part of the Universal mind, of which we are not aware, remains hidden or unconscious. But at some level we are aware, and this awareness shows up in dreams and events or symbols that we recognize as universal, or as Jung described it: archetypal.
Our thinking and worrying about our outer-lives is also recorded in the collective unconscious. Through dreams and synchronistic events we are tapped on the shoulder to pull our attention away from the outer and towards the inner. In this way the Divine Force plays hide-and-seek with us. She wants us to find her. Our being in time and space means ‘we are IT’ ‘It’ meaning, it is our turn to seek. But we can only seek between and beyond the molecules of time and space. She is hiding on the other side, behind the veil.
According to the Gnostics, the journey to the other side of the veil is the mystical secret of self-realization. But this is not the biggest secret. The biggest secret is that we must first learn to be human beings before we can begin the inner journey.
This is why the spiritual Masters of the past and present have placed so much importance on the “Laws” or the “Way of the Righteous.” These are the guidelines of human conduct. Adherence to ethical and moral principles is the precondition and the foundation of the true mystic practice. It is important to channel our energy and thoughts towards the spiritual and not to associate with negative pursuits and thoughts. To practice right living is a living meditation from the standpoint that every moment of our life should be in alignment with the present moment of ‘nowness.’ It is the state of being non-reactionary. It is simply a state of being in love with the Divine, and that includes the creation and all of its inhabitants. Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Can we at least mentally hold hands with everyone around us? Do we cheat and steal, go into rage, show little to no tolerance to those that are different? These are the basics.
Brian Goodwin (How the Leopard Changed its Spots) believes that we are amid a biological revelation or revolution that will reveal ‘that culture is embedded in nature.’ As a biologist, Goodwin is concerned with how our cultural attitude towards nature has resulted in the collapse of many ecosystems that challenge the Gaian regulatory networks crucial to our sustainability. I believe Goodwin is seeing nature’s reaction through its adaptability ‘as a creative process grounded in natural languages’ to reflect an interpretation of the language (frequency vibration) it receives from our intentional dialogue. We forget that nature also reacts to our bad intentions and actions. If thoughts are frequency patterns that reach throughout the Universe, our bad intentions environmental carelessness brought about by greed are also heard or felt by the surrounding environment. Gaia is not oblivious to our presence. As a self-regulating organism,6 external (human) threats will be countered by adapting to the problem or expelling it. In this sense, nature is an outward reflection of our inner equilibrium. Global warming and climatic cataclysms are just as much the result of our bad intentions and our bad thoughts as they are the result of our bad actions (environmental carelessness). Jung noted that war and other violence are also externalizations of where we stand in relation to ourselves and others.7
When we live in the moment, we are in a better position to see the deeper spiritual significance in every situation, and to become active participants in the Divine Plan. Since it is the object of the outer world to drive us towards the spiritual, we should embrace every moment and enjoy the miracles that happen every day. To live life from this place of love is what it means to be truly human. It is a process of ‘being’ or becoming human.
I’m back in my chair exhausted. One meeting turned into another and I met much cross-town traffic in between. I still had e-mail to catch up on. I couldn’t miss the History Channel or my favorite English mystery show. My experiment was a failure. I couldn’t stop life from finding me. I had just spent the whole day in the tumbler of duality, receiving another coat of wax and another round of polishing. I started to think about Jung’s global patient, the one who has just spent the last two thousand years in the age of Pisces. I wondered what he had learned after all the years of wandering through the desert like one of Nietzsche’s camels, loaded with all its worldly possessions and desires.
We’ve gone two thousand years on a journey back to ourselves. Humankind has just experienced the greatest achievements in industry, science, technology and the arts in just a small fraction of the time humans have existed on the planet Earth. With all of our material advancements, have we kept our promise to remember and respect our Creator and to live in harmony with each other and with Nature? Are we any closer to realizing God? If the purpose of creation is to advance our awareness and consciousness, then are we further along the road to wholeness and self-realization; or are we driving in the opposite direction again? Will the current global economic downturn be enough to lighten our camel burden; or will it take climatic upheavals or more war to turn the tide? If we’re driving in the opposite direction, what force will it take to make us realize our mistake, pull over and look at the map?
1. Jung, C.G., Alchemical Studies, Princeton University Press, 1976, p.16
2. Jung, C.G., Alchemical Studies, Princeton University Press, 1976, p.16
3. McFadden, J., Quantum Evolution: The New Science of Life, W.W. Norton & Co., 2000, p.287
4. McFadden, J., Quantum Evolution: The New Science of Life, W.W. Norton & Co., 2000, p.287
5. Tolle, E., A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Penguin, 2008, p. 68
6. Lovelock, J., The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis & The Fate of Humanity, Basic Books, 2007
7. Jung, C.G., Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1989, p.176, 180, 337
Copyright © 2009 Stephen Linsteadt. All rights reserved.