Why Should Society Promote Self-Knowledge?


Lately, an internet acquaintance who is an ardent social activist has been looking through my archives for inspiration about how to make Jungian psychology more relevant to the general public. After reading my April 8, 2010 post titled Elephant in The Cave he commented:
“Why is it important to society for humanity to get these unconscious contents dredged up? If people understood why they should do it, then it seems there would be more seekers — i.e. not just those attracted to Jung, Campbell, or a therapist for answers. I know when I was painting a lot, things seemed to go better in my business life. When I didn’t paint for a month, things got stuck. Perhaps opening the door to my creative core helped … But I’d like to know your thoughts on the question Why? Here’s sort of the question: Why should the mainstream media highlight a story about connecting with the subconscious every night on the evening news?”
My personal answer to why learning more about our shadows should be important to society is simple: because knowing and accepting my shadow has transformed the way I experience myself and live my life. It feels like I’ve gone from wanting to hide from a raging tornado in a dark cellar, (“Auntie Em! Auntie Em! Let me in!”) to splashing around with my horse, free and unencumbered, in an enchanted forest pool. Oh, and my golden retriever is there too! (“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto!”)
I know, I’m making this sound like a B movie remake of a fairy tale, (Wait! Is that a huntsman behind that tree?), but I can’t think of a better way to describe how I feel. I don’t mean all the time, but often enough that my growing freedom from fear, anxiety and the need to control my life to feel safe and good enough predisposes me to greater tolerance and compassion.
But why would the mainstream media highlight stories about understanding our shadows on the evening news? Well, they wouldn’t unless they cared more about furthering peace and human welfare than ratings. But if they did, and if people responded, I believe conditions would improve dramatically for everyone. Why? In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti: “Because the individual does not know his purpose, he is in a state of uncertainty and chaos. Because the individual has not solved his own problem, the problem of the world has not been solved. The individual problem is the world problem. If an individual is unhappy, discontented, dissatisfied, then the world around him is in sorrow, discontent and ignorance.”
Here’s another: “To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves or to bring about a modified change through revolution, either of the left or of the right. It is important to understand that this is our responsibility, yours and mine…”
Many of us get it. But how do we help society understand the need for self-knowlege? I don’t know. Krishnamurti believed that a revolution in the psyche cannot be brought about by any external entity. This was true in my case. My inner tornado kicked up such a fuss that in desperation I finally gave up waiting for the weatherman to do something about it and started working on myself. But is waiting for a crisis to force us off our complacent couches the only way? If you can think of others I hope you’ll write. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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0 Responses

  1. I don’t know if a sense of crisis alone is what brings the search on, or a rumbling discontent, or an inherent curiosity or a restlessness or a light shining somewhere in the depths… But I don’t know where that comes from. As for news focussing on the shadow, when business is not preoccupied with finance, a long way away… I suppose it’s the process of framing the conversation with ourselves and others and feeding the change from the ground…am I rambling:-) ?

    1. Hi Brian,
      Yes, it’s certainly all of those things! And most of us are aware of having felt these ways at one time or another. I think the compulsion to evolve is inherent in human nature but due to personality and early experiences and environmental circumstances it is nurtured in some and squelched in others.
      Re. the news: we actually see the shadow on the news every day; it’s just that we’re still projecting it out there and haven’t learned to see it in ourselves! I agree that our preoccupation with finance is a major distraction for everyone. Which reinforces Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs: only when basic needs are met can we acquire enough self-esteem and time to focus on the search for meaning. So yes, the change must indeed be “fed” from the ground up!
      Thanks so much for stopping by,

  2. Living in a culture resistant to the values of the soul: vulnerability, paradox, solitude, self-reflection, interpersonal communion, passion, truth, authenticity, mindfulness, humility, compassion, unconditional love, the way my soul has been awakened is when the archetypal Destroyer or Trickster, or both, visit and shatter my illusion of control or certainty. My self-defensive system breaks open and I fall into a place of deep emotional and physical pain that also reveals my weaknesses and reflects unmet needs previously hidden from view. At that point I have a choice to accept what happened that revealed hidden aspects of myself, or I can turn away and miss the golden moment when awareness and truth of myself can be revealed, painful as that can be. Falling in love, then losing it, a brush with death, losing a loved one, fear of financial collapse, experiencing loss due to nature’s wrath, or recognition of Karma visiting can all propel me into periods of darkness where deeper pearl’s of humble truth await recognition. It seems that a willingness to take the time to feel and accept the exigencies of life that take me down is how I find the way to rise up to meet ever more of my soul’s needs. Yes, the soul has needs that reason cannot abide. So it takes time and courage to face and meet those needs. Is it any wonder that we don’t happily embrace the Destroyer or the Trickster? Yet not to do so seems ever more loss of soul.

    1. Beautifully said, Julie! And if the media aren’t going to be helping us see these things any time soon, perhaps education could do a better job of helping children tie in the connection between the myths and mythical characters they learn about in school (like Trickster, for example) and their own lives. For example, I wonder how many teachers tell their students that the gods and goddesses in the Iliad represent their own instincts: Aphrodite as the overwhelming emotional impact of falling in love that can cause us to lose all sense of reason, Ares as the hostility and fear of otherness and revenge we feel that ends up causing wars, and so on. If children are taught at early ages to recognize the presence of these things in themselves and see how they create problems in their lives, that would certainly support their desire for self-knowledge, wouldn’t it? Jeanie

  3. Why don’t we go deeper? Because it is much easier to stay on the surface. But oftentimes it takes an event, a tragic loss, a medical diagnosis, or even a midlife crisis and then we are forced to go deeper. We can resist no longer.
    I believe the world is so busy projecting that they have lost sight of what is really going on, within. If the news stopped projecting, I believe that there would be no news. I am a naive person, I stay away from the news. I am a different person in that I don’t read the newspaper or watch the news. I find that there is enough stuff to deal with, in living my own life (and attempting to dive deeper) and living and loving those in my world.

    1. Hi Shannon, Yes, it’s really about overcoming our natural tendencies toward inertia, isn’t it? I mean, it’s so much easier to stay on the couch and lose ourselves in fantasies or other people’s problems than to get up and do something with our inner discomfort, isn’t it? I stay away from the news too, for the most part. Large doses of hostility, conflict and violence have a toxic effect on me, tending to arouse fears, anxiety, distress, and hyper-alertness. I don’t need or want that in my life, so I see it as self-protection. Maybe it would be easier to take if equal time were given on the nightly news to inspiring stories about inner changes that make a positive impact on peoples’ lives! But then it comes down again to “why would the media want to do that?” What would be in it for them? Jeanie

      1. I’m so pleased to hear I’m not alone in not watching the news, and for the same reasons.
        In the film ‘Matter of Heart’ about Jung it was said that withdrawing our shadow projections is beneficial, in fact crucial to our survival as a species because our personal shadows are open doorways to the collective shadow. That made a big impact on me.
        I think they used the example of Nazism as being a manifestation of the collective shadow. . .

        1. I saw the film but don’t remember the comment. But, wow! It sounds so right. If we don’t see our personal shadows we keep right on buying into the collective shadow in the belief that we’re on the “right” side. It’s extremely difficult to tolerate the awareness that our society — the authorities we look up to to keep us all safe — could be utterly misguided! Better to see a cultural pathology as heroic, helpful, beneficial. But if, in a situation like this, we listen to the deepest voice of our souls, we realize that what the majority is celebrating is extremely painful to us. The trick is to trust the voice of our soul over the voice of our culture’s shadow. If we can do that, we’re on the road home! Thank you for your observation! Jeanie

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