Tuesday, April 30, 2024

A Jungian Response to Humanism

I gave a presentation Sunday, April 28 at the First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the topic "Not So Rational After All: A Response to Humanism" particularly with reference to humanism's emphasis on rationalism. I explored the powerful realm of the irrational and transcendent as experienced through Big Dreams, vision quests, synchronistic experiences, and the totally random process of consulting the Chinese book of wisdom, the I Ching. I also considered Native American philosopher and writer Vine Deloria, Jr's statement that Jungian psychology is the best western framework for relating to indigenous spirituality and shamanism. The talk starts at 4 minutes. Turn up the volume to hear the first question after the talk. To view the reference made to the brief analysis of the layers of the collective unconscious in relation to our dysfunctional relationship to the environment, google "Ecopsychology Voices with Dennis Merritt". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmz-TBS_PVI or google "First Unitarian YouTube Dennis Merritt"

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Jungian Psychology and The Ecology of Dreams: Plants, Animals, Natural Elements and Spirituality

This article is based on the notes from two six-hour workshops given to the Guangzhou Developmental Group, a group developing into one of three Jungian training centers in China. It was part of my three week visit to China in December, 2023 to present on Jungian ecopsychology at the 10th International Conference on Analytical Psychology and Chinese Culture. Under the umbrella of Jungian ecopslychology, the workshop was an evolving integration of Jungian psychology with complexity theory, the Tao, Sioux vision quests, the I Ching, and spirit animals. To contact the Guangzhou Development Group email  iaap_guangzhou@foxmail.com


The topic is dear to my heart because it is so intimately related to my background. I established a deep connection to the land and animals, wild and domestic, by growing up on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin in the 1950s. I decided by the eighth grade I wanted to become an entomologist, the study of insects—fascinating little creatures, and because they do great damage to our food sources and spread diseases I knew there would always be jobs for entomologists. Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring, about environmental contamination by the overuse of pesticides, changed my life’s direction. I didn’t want to be a spray jockey so I got a Ph.D. from Berkeley in insect pathology, microbial control of insect pests to reduce the use of chemical pesticides. But at the end of 1968, my first full year in graduate school, I was 1-A for the draft for the Vietnam war for the third time. I knew the war was a disaster and total waste but my dad and uncles said that war was my generation’s war like World War II was for their generation. I felt trapped and angry with my elders.


A Dismal Environmental Future for Young People in the Anthropocene Era


The Vietnam war was America shooting itself in the foot. My concern now is for the youth throughout the world facing a future with a deteriorating natural environment due to climate change, the degradation of the nature by the slaughter of rain forests, etc. I am deeply disturbed by how many times experts have observed things happening they thought would not be seen for decades from now.


The youth have good reason to be worried—and they are. In 2022 the University of Bath in England published the results of a survey of 10,000 youth ages 16-25 on four continents (University of Bath 2022). The results were sobering:


           1. 2/3 were sad, afraid, and anxious about climate change 

           2. 1/2 felt angry, helpless, the future would be frightening, and humanity was doomed 

           3.  4/10 did not want to bring children into the world because of climate change

           4.  2/3 felt their governments were lying to them about the effectiveness of government   

actions to combat climate change, leaving them feeling sad and betrayed


I have dedicated myself to addressing youth by developing an area I call “Jungian Ecopsychology”. Deep ecology and ecopsychology call for a deep understanding of our problems with the environment and I believe Jung has the best framework for analyzing that at the deepest levels plus provide conceptual systems for going forward. 


The biggest problem is that we humans don’t consider ourselves to be part of the environment. This has resulted in the name given to our current era, the Anthropocene Era, because humans have so totally altered the planet. We must realize how unique we are in relation to the approximately 10 million species we share our beautiful planet with. Jungian analyst and archetypal psychologist James Hillman said the pathologies in the environment will make us aware we are part of the environment because if we can mess it up so much it makes our own lives miserable, we must be part of it! (Hillman 1992, p. 89-100)


Ecopsychology: A Psychology for Our Time


William Barnett in The Illusion of Technique wrote about philosophy in relation to the environment:


The idea of nature has played a small part in contemporary philosophy. Bergson once remarked that most philosophers seem to philosophize as if they were sealed in the privacy of their study and did not live on a planet surrounded by the vast organic world of animals, plants, insects, and protozoa, with whom their own life is linked in a single history. (Barnett 1979, p. 363)


As late as 1991 the psychologist Ralph Metzner proclaimed it was “glaring, scandalous” that psychology “has hitherto remained virtually untouched by any concern for the environment or the human-to-nature relationship in psychology.” (Metzner 1991, p. 147) James Hillman and Michael Ventura (1992) encapsulated this dilemma in the title of their book, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—And the World’s Getting Worse.


Ecopsychology is an important development within the field of psychology that studies the attitudes, perceptions and behaviors that create our dysfunctional relationship with the environment and how these may be changed to create a sustainable lifestyle. It explores ways of helping people connect more deeply with the environment and how psychotherapy can facilitate the process. Ecopsychologists recognize the importance of non-cognitive, direct experiencing of nature to establish a deeper kind of spiritual understanding and connection to the environment. We need direct experiences to become cognizant of our larger ecological selves, and rituals can be designed to increase awareness. As our ecological self grows, we will commit ourselves to activism and environmentally appropriate actions out of a sense of love and devotion instead of a position of guilt or a moral ideology. (Winter 1996, p. 268) Psychologist Debora Du Nann Winter envisions an “ecological psychology” that will be

pluralistic in its methodology and creative in its conduct.  Sophisticated about the limits of objective knowledge, ecological psychologists will need to be rigorously attuned to the distorting effects of their own political, emotional, and intellectual blinders. As we become more conscious of our limitations, so will we become more empowered to transcend them. (Winter 1996, p. 298)

A radical revision of our worldview is in order and several encouraging voices have arisen. In 1992 Carl Sagan, co-chair of “A Joint Appeal by Science and Religion for the Environment,” presented a petition stating:

The environmental problem has religious as well as scientific dimensions…As scientists, many of us have had a profound experience of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred. At the same time, a much wider and deeper understanding of science and technology is needed. If we do not understand the problem it is unlikely we will be able to fix it. Thus there is a vital role for both science and religion. (Sagan 1992, p. 10, 12)


The question is, how do you develop a sense of the sacred in modern societies that have lost a sense of the numinous in nature? Later I will illustrate a significant way by working with Big Dreams about natural elements.


Jungian Ecopsychology


I was fortunate to discover Jung when near finishing my graduate work at Berkeley: Jung was “in the air” then. I started reading Jung in the fall or 1973 and was so taken by the complex and comprehensive worldview Jung offered that within 9 months I was applying to train at the original Jung Institute in Zurich. It wasn’t until I finished writing in 2012 what turned out to be four volumes of The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe—Jung, Hermes, and Ecopsychology that I realized how ecological Jung’s entire system is; something that must have unconsciously drawn me in from the beginning. (Merritt 2012 a, b, c; 2013)


Jung was deeply rooted in his native Swiss soil and made many profound statements scattered throughout his writings about our relationship with nature.

We are beset by an all-too-human fear that consciousness—our Promethean conquest—may in the end not be able to serve us as well as nature. (CW 8, ¶ 750) 


Western man has no need of more superiority over nature, whether outside or inside. He has both in almost devilish perfection. What he lacks is conscious recognition of his inferiority to nature around him and within him. He must learn that he may not do exactly as he wills. If he does not learn this, his own nature will destroy him. He does not know that his own soul is rebelling against him in a suicidal way. (CW 11, ¶ 870)


It is as if our consciousness had somehow slipped from its natural foundations and no longer knew how to get along on nature’s timing. (CW 8, ¶ 802) 


What science has once discovered can never be undone. The advance of truth cannot and should not be held up. But the same urge for truth that gave birth to science should realize what progress implies. Science must recognize the as yet incalculable catastrophe which its advances have brought with them. The still infantile man of today has had means of destruction put into his hands which require an immeasurably enhanced sense of responsibility, or an almost pathological anxiety, if the fatally easy abuse of their power is to be avoided. (CW 18, ¶ 1367)


The word ‘matter’ remains a dry, inhuman, and purely intellectual concept…How different was the former image of matter—the Great Mother—that could encompass and express the profound emotional meaning of the Great Mother. (Jung 1964, p. 94, 95) 


I digress to reference a quote from my favorite book on Taoism, David Hinton’s translation of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Hinton 2000). In the definition for “Mother” Hinton writes, 


The philosophy of Tao embodies a cosmology rooted in the most primal and wonderous presence: earth’s mysterious generative force. This represents a resurgence of the cosmology of the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic cultures, where this force was venerated as the Great Mother. She continuously gives birth to all creation, and like the natural processes she represents, she also takes life and regenerates it in an unending cycle of life, death and rebirth. In the Tao Te Ching, this awesome generative force appears most explicitly in Lao Tzu’s recurring references to the female principle in a variety of manifestations: mother, female, feminine, source, origin, etc. But in end it is everywhere in the Tao Te Ching, for it is nothing other than the Tao itself. (p. 97)


Lao Tzu equated what he called the “dark enigma” with “the generative ontological tissue from which the ten thousand things spring.... It is the Way before it is named, before nonbeing and being gave birth to one another”. (p. 97)   


Back to Jung quotes on nature:


          Natural life is the nourishing soil of the soul. (CW 8, ¶ 800)


          Nature is not matter only, she is also spirit. (CW 13, ¶ 229)


          The earth has a spirit of her own, a beauty of her own.  (Jung 1997, p. 133, 134)


          The earth has a soul. (Jung 1976a, p. 432)


          Do you think that somewhere we are not in nature, that we are different from nature? No, 

          we are in nature and we think exactly like nature. (Jung 1988a, p. 1276, 1277)


          I am fully committed to the idea that human existence should be rooted in the earth. (Jung         

          1977, p. 204)


For it is the body, the feeling, the instincts, which connect us with the soil. If you give up   

the past you naturally detach from the past; you lose your roots in the soil, your 

connection with the totem ancestors that dwell in your soil. You turn outward and drift 

away, and try to conquer other lands because you are exiled from your own soil. (Jung 

1988a, p. 1541)

  Whenever we touch nature we get clean…People who have got dirty through too much   

civilization take a walk in the woods, or a bath in the sea…[This is] from the outside; 

entering the unconscious, entering yourself through dreams, is touching nature from the 

inside and this is the same thing, things are put right again. (Jung 1984, p. 142)


There is nothing without spirit, for spirit seems to be the inside of things…which is the 

soul of objects. Whether this is our psyche or the psyche of the universe we don’t know, 

but if one touches the earth one cannot avoid the spirit. And if one touches it in the 

friendly way of Dionysus, the spirit of nature will be helpful; if in an unfriendly way, the 

spirit of nature will oppose one. (Jung 1976b, p. 164, 165)


            Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose. (CW 13, ¶ 229)


Alchemy, Christianity, and Nature


Alchemy was one of Jung’s main symbol systems and many alchemists believed Christ had saved the microcosm, the human heart, and they were trying to resanctify the macrocosm--nature. (CW 12, ¶ 26) Jung said they were projecting a post-Christian unconscious into their alchemical vessels and retorts and were the first modern depth psychologists.


In Jung’s deep analysis of Christianity, which has been the spiritual base in the West for almost two millennia, he delineated four areas constricted by Christianity: the natural creative image-making potential of the psyche; the archetypal feminine within individuals and our culture (cf. the Tao as the female principle); our relationship with animals and nature; and its effect on the “primitive” side of our own nature. (CW 11, ¶ 553-758)


Central to this concept, as we shall soon see, is our connection with what Jung described as our animal soul and “the two-million-year-old man within.” Jung challenged us to unite our cultured side with our more primal aspects. (Jung 1977, par. 396, 397) Unlike the Western model of the conquering heroic ego espoused by Freud, Jung presented the ego as the center of consciousness capable of being on good terms with “the little people within,” our inner tribe—the figures we meet in our dreams. (CW 11, ¶ 100) The relationship to our inner figures, including troublesome shadow figures, is reflected in our relationship with others and with the environment. Ecopsychology begins at the intra-psychic level in the gestalt of the dream ego’s relationship with the little people within.


This ecology of the psyche is rooted in our human nature. We experience our most basic connection with nature through our emotions and our bodies. The body, sensuality, and sexuality will symptomatically turn against us if we denigrate them, hence our symptoms provide entry to the healing journey toward a gestalt of wholeness. Focusing on establishing a good relationship with the “two-million-year-old man within” helps cultivate a sense of humans as part of nature and the grand scheme of things, living in a symbolic and reciprocal relationship with nature and finding our rightful place in the cosmos. We must remember that for over 290,000 of the approximately 300,000 years of our species existence we have been hunter-gatherers living in clans and tribes. Many of the problems we face as modern humans are because we don’t live in tribes where it has always “takes a village to raise a child”. Many modern families are nuclear families and that can lead psychologically to nuclear explosions.


 Archetypes and the Animal Ancestors in the Collective Unconscious 


Jung thought of archetypes as the ancient “natural” core of the human psyche and our most basic connection with nature—“the preconscious aspect of things on the 'animal' or instinctual level of the psyche.” (Jung 1976a, p. 540) The foundation of human life, as Jung saw it, is the animal soul, a realm he associated with instincts and animal drives, particularly sexuality. Jung conjectured that we “still have an animal character” (Jung 1973 p. 427) and “every civilized human being...is still an archaic man at the deeper levels of his psyche.” (CW 10, ¶ 105) Evolutionary psychology calls this the prehistoric, the phylogenetic unconscious, or the Pleistocene psyche. (Sabini 2002, p. 99)


Animals demonstrate traits and abilities beyond the range of human capacities. “What is beyond the human is animal and divine, and neither animal nor divine,” Jung said. “That is why we have animal symbols for the divine, the Holy Ghost as a dove, for instance; all the antique Gods had their animal counterparts.” (Jung 1976b, p. 192)


Without sacred images for animals, it is more difficult for their potentially numinous dimensions to be constellated or emerge from the psyche; it makes it more difficult to relate to animals and the environment in a sacred manner. Jung emphasized that these spirit connections with animals are not unique to primitive peoples: they are experiences of the collective unconscious each of us have. "The two-million-year-old man within" manifests in dreams, especially Big Dreams, where we experience numinous connections with animals. Hillman called dreams “zoological cathedrals” where we meet the ancient gods in the form of animals. (Hillman 1988, p. 71) Here animals may behave in unusual ways towards us, even talking to us as in myths and fairy tales.


Jung thought man’s alienation from the instincts was a significant factor behind the pathologies of modernity. Most neurotic problems, he believed, were a consequence of the repression of the animal drives, particularly sexuality. (CW 7, ¶ 429, 430) “When animals are no longer included in the religious symbol or creed, it is the beginning of the disassociation between religion and nature. Then there is no mana in it. As long as the animals are there, there is life in the symbol. Otherwise, the beginning of the end is indicated”. (Jung 1976b, p. 284) Jung maintained that to be truly human and reach one’s unique potential one had to be in relationship to animals. The task implies an intimate relationship with the collective unconscious and that necessitates “a coming to terms with the animal” in our inheritance which connects us with the mammals and “even to the reptilian age.” (CW 10, ¶ 105).


We need a balance: “Too much of the animal distorts the civilized man, too much civilization makes sick animals.” (CW 7, ¶ 32) Our highly developed intellects and faith in rationality separate us from the animal within, as do abstractions and an aversion to the sensuous. The indigenous mind does not reduce animals, plants and the forces of nature to verbal abstractions and dictionary descriptions of lions, bears and frogs. Neither do children with exposure to nature or adults fortunate enough to have experienced nature beyond books, nature programs, and mandatory biology courses.


Near total identification with consciousness is a major problem because the animal within is in the realm of the collective unconscious. Jung maintained that we had a libido for relating to nature and animals, what social biologist E. O. Wilson calls “biophilia.” This is seen in children’s love of animals and animal symbolism in dreams. Animals in dreams have a special significance for they help reconnect us with the animal realm. (Shamdasani 2003, p. 252)


Animals, the Body, and the Somatic Unconscious


Jung equated the body with our animal nature:


The thing people are most afraid of is…the body…[t]he animal or the evil spirit that is waiting to say something to them when they are alone…The body is the darkness, and very dangerous things could be called up. (Jung 1988a, p. 800)

The body is the original animal condition, we are all animals in body, and so we have to have an animal psychology in order to be able to live in it…Since we have a body it is indispensable that we exist also as an animal. (p. 71) 


The unconscious is in the body and the emotions, with emotions (measurable physiological phenomena) providing the link between thoughts and the body. Complexes and neuroses are disconnects between concepts and “shoulds” on one hand and a sensory and emotional connection with the body and nature on the other. A person can stay up in the head, lost in theory and verbiage, disassociating themselves from emotions and the body. It is important to remember that archetypes are both archetypal images and systems of readiness for action—a behavioral aspect with bodily associations.


If one puts archetypes on a spectrum from the somatic unconscious to the psychic unconscious, bodily phenomena are associated with the somatic unconscious. The somatic unconscious relates to sensations and emotions and trails off into physiology and matter. The psychic unconscious is referenced by ideas, images, fantasies, interpretations, etc., and is associated with spirit.  Because consciousness discriminates, we divide experience into psychic or somatic, spirit or matter, but in actuality the two are inseparable. If one focuses more on the somatic unconscious and bodily sensations, the psychic dimension is lessened, and vice versa. It is necessary to limit experience in one realm to stimulate activity in the other. The realms complement each other and both are necessary in analysis and healthy living. Synchronistic experiences, where the outer world seems to mirror an inner state in an acausal, meaningful way, are associated with the somatic unconscious. The search for meaning and the Self—a meaningful relationship of all parts—is associated with the psychic unconscious.


Jung believed the deep, instinctual level--the archetypes as the ancient “natural” core of the human psyche--was most clearly seen in indigenous peoples, children and dreams, realms that have not been perverted by Westerner overemphasis on consciousness, rationality, and science. The emotional energy once felt in nature still survives in the unconscious because the unconscious is nature. (CW 18, ¶ 585) This being true, assimilating unconscious contents brings consciousness “into harmony with the law of nature” and one is “led back to the natural law of his own being.” (CW 16, ¶ 351) 


Dreams and Symbols 


Dreams take us on an inner journey where animals can talk, nature has a spirit, and even white Western men can dream of sacred environments. An overemphasis on rationality has damaged our ability to respond to the spontaneously generated numinous symbols produced by dreams and other unconscious phenomena. (Jung 1974, p. 94) Symbols, “held holy by common consent,” enable an assimilation of powerful unconscious contents. Big Dreams and numinous dreams, dreams with a special quality and an inner light, have been described as God’s language. “Our psyche is profoundly disturbed by the loss of moral and spiritual values that have hitherto kept our life in order,” Jung wrote. (CW 18, ¶ 583) This has put us “at the mercy of the psychic underworld…and [we] are now paying the price for this break-up in worldwide disorientation and dissociation.” (Jung 1964, p. 94)


Symbols are the voice of the unconscious expressing the instinctual realm with symbolic imagery, making it necessary to understand symbols in order to understand dreams and the language of the unconscious. Jung described symbol production as an innate process arising from the archetypal depths of the psyche. Symbols enliven consciousness, establishing contact and allowing integration of the “the natural afflux of concomitant, instinctive events that sustains our conscious psychic activity.” (CW 18, ¶ 583) Symbols are the imaginal presentation of the dynamics and processes of the unconscious with a numinosity that fascinates and leads, thereby shaping consciousness.


Dreams are of nature, inhuman and collective, needing a conscious human mind that knows how to work with them to serve as a useful guide. (Jung 1973, p. 283) Since dreams are the “body’s best expression” of “the body’s instinctive feeling,” symbolic warnings are ignored at the expense of a neurosis--the body disrupting consciousness. “When whole countries avoid these warnings, and fill their asylums, become uniformly neurotic, we are in great danger.” (Jung 1977, p. 49) Conversely, dreams offer unifying images when the world seems to shatter. (CW 10, ¶ 306) “When we have lost ourselves amid the endless particulars and isolating details of the world’s surface,” dreams present us with “the basic facts of human existence.” (¶ 305) When we lose touch with our natural side, squalid dreams destroy our arrogance by emphasizing “our blood-kinship with the rest of mankind.” (¶ 306)


The creativity of the unconscious and nature is displayed in dreams. As Jung described it, “The psychic depths are nature, and nature is creative life” (Jung 1933, p. 215). 


So at the source of the dream there is a creative mystery which we cannot rationally explain. It’s the creativity of nature. It’s the same creativity which has created what man could never invent: the millions of species of animals and flowers and plants on the earth. The dreams are also like flowers or plants. They are something unique which we can only marvel at. (Von Franz 1994)


Human accomplishments originate in creative fantasy that is “closely bound up with the tap-root of human and animal instinct.” (CW 16, ¶ 98) Great innovations “come invariably from below,” never down from above by conscious willing. (CW 10, ¶ 177)


Dreams turn our daily events into a story, and Big Dreams turn our life story into a myth.  Myths are like the dreams of 10,000 people, the archetypes of the collective unconscious as “historical dominants” that can set a base line for a culture for millennia. Jung called our inherited myth-making ability “the religious function of the psyche.” Myths have always described and deepened our connection with each other and with the environment. In Jung’s words,


Man has always lived with a myth, and we think we are able to be born today and to live in no myth, without history. That is a disease. That’s absolutely abnormal, because man in not born every day. He is born once in a specific historical setting, with specific historical qualities, and therefore he is only complete when he has a relation to these things…[To wipe out the] connection with the past…is a mutilation of the human being. (Jung 1988b, p. 21, emphasis added)

This is why I emphasize Jung’s ideas about the layers of the collective unconscious. As I described in a recorded 2019 interview, it should be a goal in our educational systems and personal development to understand how we are shaped by the national, cultural, indigenous, and animal layers of the collective unconscious continuously interacting with each other. (Merritt 2019)

Dreams, Indigenous Cultures, and the Tao

The writer Laurens van der Post, who chronicled the life of the South African Bushman, believed that Western consciousness could no longer contain the immense energies in the human psyche due largely to loss of the transcendent and loss of a story. He commented, “This sense of the story in all of us links us up with the great story of the universe. We need stories all the time to give us a sense of direction in our lives. Primitive people knew this terribly well; their most important possession was the story”. (Ryley 1998, p. 30-31)

Dreams connect us with the indigenous person in the collective unconscious, Jung's “two-million-year-old man within.” Indigenous people distinguish less clearly between the dream world, intra-psychic phenomena, and the outer world, giving us a clearer picture of psyche’s response to nature. They feel nature’s full impact by being totally immersed in the nature they depend on for survival. Nature’s awesome power, rich complexity and beauty are expressed through archetypal stories, images, rituals and spiritual practices. The universe is alive with spirits and powers living in an interdependent manner. Indigenous myths and stories give meaning to human existence as an integral and humble part of nature: “We are all related,” the Lakota Sioux say. Physical illness and “loss of soul” occur when one loses one’s sense of place and interrelation with others in a divine cosmos. 


Organism, Complexity Theory, and the Self


This interconnectedness reflects a wholeness and completeness Jung associated with the natural mind of indigenous peoples and dreams, which are of, and reflect, nature. It is related to the Chinese notion of the Tao as a description of the Natural Mind, and nature as the great teacher of Taoists. Nature is a model for human psychic hygiene because “virginal” nature, described as Aphrodite’s virginity, presents the “original state” uncontaminated by human activities—a state revealing the creativity of the universe inherent in matter. It is the “don’t know” place in consciousness and the full emptiness of deep meditation.


Every culture needs a myth that will enable its members to find a meaningful place in life, and the new cosmology that developed from astronomy and physics offers that possibility for modern men and women. Ecotheologian Thomas Berry believes the amazing discoveries about the origin and evolution of the universe allows for a new science-generated “Universe Story.” Science has described how the universe exploded into existence out of virtually nothing and eventually created the endless variety of organic and inorganic forms. Our human mission in the universe, as Berry describes it, is to allow the universe to reflect on itself, to become conscious of itself and its marvelous evolutionary process. This calls for a celebratory human response and a humble awareness and appreciation of the awesome processes we participate in. (Ryley 1998, p. 201-272)

Complexity theory is an aspect of evolutionary theory that mathematically describes significant elements in the generation of new forms and their ability to self-organize. [The remainder of this section is taken directly with slight modifications from Jung and Ecopsychology, p. 35-37. (Merritt 2012a)] The Self, as Jung thought of it, can be envisioned as the archetypal image of the organism. Scientists see in an organism an irrepressible tendency at all levels of organization to develop and maintain an organized whole. The organism operates with a directed purpose that resists imposition from its surroundings. (Ho 1998, p. 51) The Self as the inherent psychic activity in humans that draws all elements into relationships with each other has been mathematically described as a self-organizing principle found at all levels of organic and inorganic activity ranging from the sub-atomic to the universe. (see Hermes, Ecopsychology, and Complexity Theory, Appendix A: Dynamic Systems Theory and Appendix B: Bootstrapping the Archetypes in Merritt 2012c) Both organism and Self display intercommunication, mutual responsiveness of its components, and a dynamic stability far from equilibrium. Mae-wan Ho describes the organism as “an irreducible whole that involves the mutual implication of global and local, part and whole, from moment to moment.” (p. 55) It is dynamic, evolving, heterogeneous, multidimensional, creative and participatory. (p. 54) The Self manifests as wholeness, particularly the sense in an organism of “unity of the here and now.” (p. 55)

The human experience of the universal processes of organisms is put into a mythic and religious context by the “god-given” symbolizing and myth-creating abilities of the human psyche, what Jung called “the religious function of the psyche.” The Self is, from this perspective, attributed to be the origin of all myths and religions, a function closely associated with Hermes as described in Merritt 2012c. The Self cannot empirically be distinguished from the God-image and any manifestation of the Self within an individual or a culture is accompanied by a phenomenology of mystery, numinosity and a compelling sense of transcendent truth. As the God-image moves from the originally inspired individual into his or her culture, it has a profound impact on values, perceptions and attitudes, particularly affecting the relationship with nature.

Humans are unique in their ability to emotionally, consciously and symbolically experience the basic processes of the organism. The conscious experience of the Self and the paths that lead to and from it are what Jung called "the process of individuation." Individuation, a central Jungian concept, entails achieving a sense of wholeness by consciously engaging the universal processes of organisms as they are presented symbolically through the human psyche. Subjectively it feels like being led by the Self because the unconscious spontaneously produces compelling images of wholeness, "irrespective of the wishes and fears of the conscious mind." (CW 11, ¶ 745) The experience of these images is instrumental in setting the goals of one's life. Wholeness implies a sense of meaning because wholeness is a realization of the existential inter-relationship (“meaning”) of all elements. A corollary is that the Self is that which embraces all possible opposites, implying an inter-relationship of all elements expressed by the yin-yang symbol.

The task is to establish a good ego-Self axis, a good conscious relationship to the unconscious, out of which Self images spontaneously arise, and let oneself be guided and inspired by these personalized images of the Self. This gives one's life a path with heart and an energizing feeling of wholeness by being in relationship to the entire domain of archetypal powers, positive and negative. All energies are inter-related through the archetypal image and dynamics of the Self as organism.

Jung the medical doctor used the cell and the concept of organism to illustrate the multidimensional levels of interrelationships we can experience, including the archetype of the Self and our relationship with nature:

Life is a kind of unit…a continuum…all one tissue in which things live through or by means of each other. Therefore trees cannot be without animals, nor animals without plants…and so on.  The whole thing is one tissue and so no wonder that all the parts function together, as the cells in our bodies function together, because they are of the same living continuum. (Jung 1997, p. 754)


Dreams, Spirit Animals, and the Self

Dreams are created by the Self and there is an ecology of dreamwork in that the dream-ego represents our conscious position while the dilemmas we are wrestling with, as seen from a more holistic perspective, are presented in metaphor and story form by the characters, setting and plot of the dream. When trying to understand the interrelationships of all the elements one has a gestalt that points to the meaning of the dream.


Jung worked with Self-images in dreams as indigenous peoples and spiritual personages have always worked with them—he tried to keep the image and the felt sense of the Self in consciousness so the Self could re-structure the conscious mind like a powerful magnet orients iron filings. This is done through such creative activities as drawing or sculpting the image or felt sense; writing poetry, stories, or songs about it or under its influence; and through dance and body movement. (Chodorow 1991) Rituals may be developed such as those Sioux holy man Black Elk generated in relation to the Self-imagery he received in the twelve-day vision he had as a boy. (Neihardt 1972)


Indigenous peoples identified spirit guides (Self-images) as the animals, plants, or inorganic elements like stones or storms that appeared in a highly unusual manner in waking life or in numinous way in dreams, visions, and synchronistic events. They employed many of the aforementioned processes to incarnate and manifest that spirit in space and time, described in the I Ching of the relationship of hexagram 1—The Creative, to hexagram 2—The Receptive.


This approach to working with dreams and imagery can help us establish a sacred sense about the environment and deepen our connection to it. When around your spirit animal or landscape or weather pattern, you should remind yourself, “This is what my soul looks like as a natural form.” Use your spirit animal as an entry to immersing yourself in its ecosystem and connecting deeply with it. Animals don’t live in a vacuum: they evolved to live in specific ecosystems.


Jung linked the concept of the Self back to nature, seeing nature as the physical manifestation and presence of the divine in space-time, what in medieval times was called “the light of nature.” (CW 13, ¶ 229) Consciousness is a diurnal emergence and return to the unconscious which Jung equated with the body and nature as mentioned before.  Difficulties like growing up in emotionally unstable families can create deep anxieties about the unconscious, others, and nature as was the case in Jung’s life as I described in The Cry of Merlin: Jung, The Prototypical Ecopsychologist, Appendix C: Jung’s Eros Wound and His Image of God. (Merritt 2012b, p. 159-165)


Big Dreams and Sacred Landscapes


A dream helped “place” my psyche in the Midwest as I neared completion of my training at the Jung institute in Zurich and began considering where our family would settle upon our return to the States. It was a single image dream of a typical upper Midwest landscape, like a Wisconsin meadow. Grass or alfalfa was growing on gently rolling hills. Some insects were flying above the field on a beautiful summer day. A blue sky was filled with puffy white clouds. That was the dream, but it was a numinous dream—every atom in the dream glowed with an inner light. It was a sacred landscape. I had lived and walked through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world—in California, Canada, Switzerland, Scotland, and France, yet nothing could be more beautiful than that "plain" meadow in my dream.


I had not realized the natural environment of Wisconsin had such a powerful hold on my psyche. The challenge was to become conscious of a greater beauty and complexity of this environment than I was aware of when growing up in Wisconsin. Upon returning there I began educating myself about the land and developed Jungian ways of relating to it (Merritt 2013). To deepen this process and share it with others, my wife and I conducted week-long seminars called “Spirit in the Land, Spirit in Animals, Spirit in People”. (Merritt, February 2, 2022) We assembled a diverse group of mostly Wisconsin people to offer a combination of Jungian, Native American and scientific perspectives on the Wisconsin environment through didactic and experiential means. A reduced, two-day program for the University of Wisconsin Extension, mostly for educators, got some of the highest ratings ever. People appear to be hungry for this approach to environmental education. The talks I gave at the seminars were the genesis of The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe.


The week-long seminars and writing volume 4, Land, Weather, Seasons, Insects: An Archetypal Perspective, was my way of living out, embodying the spirit in my meadow dream—the relationship of hexagram 1 to hexagram 2. I illustrated this in the two-minute video for opening remarks for the 13th National Conference on Analytical Psychology and Sandplay Therapy” in China in 2022. (https://youtu.be/xahNyVVqgzM) This process is metaphorically related to Thomas Edison’s description of genius as 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, or think of hexagram 1 as the sperm fertilizing the egg: that part is fun but hexagram 2 is the human female with a difficult 9 months of pregnancy and the intense labor of birthing a new life.


Vision Quest, Native American Rituals, and Jungian Psychology


A central concept I use to make Jungian psychology more relevant and understandable to younger people is the vision quest of the Sioux Indians still being conducted by many tribes. Every indigenous culture probably had an initiation ceremony for boys when they hit puberty to channel testosterone energy for the well-being of the tribe and inculcate an awesome spiritual sense bigger than the sex drive. When a young Sioux male hit puberty he was “put on the hill” for four days without food and water in a ritually created sacred space. He would pray for a vision for his life and/or a spirit animal, plant, landscape, or weather phenomena. These were unique images of the boy’s essence—a Black Elk, a Sitting Bull (Buffalo), Blue Thunder, Red Cloud, etc. This was his “medicine”, life guide, and teacher; the Self as the foundation and touchstone of his existence. “Medicine” can be considered in all dimensions—physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. The hope is that maximum stress of the psyche will precipitate a sense of one’s essence at a young age not unlike a near death experience in later life and probably not for most people until on their deathbed. Why wait that long when it can be found in adolescence and be a guide for one’s entire life? This is different from the traditional Jungian model for spiritual development and experience of the Self more associated with the second half of life whereas a spirit animal is clearly a unique Self-image.


I had the good fortune of being able to participate in Lakota Sioux pipe and sweat lodge ceremonies in addition to doing a two-day vision quest on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota where for 21 years I supported a dear friend who was a Sundancer. The Sundance is the most powerful Indian ceremony on the North American continent and suppressed by the US government until the early 1970s. My Native American experiences are some of the richest experiences in my life and part of the “Big 3” for me in terms of giving my life meaning and purpose: Jungian psychology, the I Ching, and Native American spirituality. I described my experiences in Jungian terms in an article published in the Ecopsychology journal titled “Reflections on 36 Years of Participation in Lakota Sioux Sweat Lodge Ceremonies”. (Merritt, September 2023 )


Vine Deloria, Jr., a prominent Indian writer and philosopher, greatly admired Jung and proclaimed Jungian psychology to be the best conceptual system for the Western world to approach indigenous cultures because of the Jungian emphasis on dreams, visions, and synchronicity, something all indigenous cultures acknowledged as important and powerful experiences. (Deloria 2016) One should note that consulting the I Ching is a deliberate process of calling forth a synchronicity, not an unpredictable event that happens whenever it happens.


I received two spirit animals in dreams and another in a shamanism workshop. It is important for the analyst to have personal experiences like I described and be able to recognize when a spirit animal, plant, etc., appears in the dreams of their analysands and then give them suggestions on how to work with the dream images to experientially embody it in their lives. How I worked with my Sacred Meadow dream is an example doing that. This is a rather unique and important aspect of Jungian ecopsychology.


The I Ching and Connecting to Nature


The I Ching can also be used to connect more deeply with the environment. The I Ching, particularly the Wilhelm/Baynes translation, uses many weather, seasonal, other natural phenomena, and agricultural metaphors to convey its meaning. Francois Chen, a professor of Chinese art, said, “In paying so much attention to a landscape going through the changes of the seasons, the painter is in reality painting his own soul”. I used several concepts from the I Ching to develop the theme of the “Seasons of the Soul”, the title of a chapter in my book Land, Weather, Seasons, Insects: An Archetypal View. (Merritt 2013) Contents of that chapter went into making a video I made and can provide a link to if you contact me at <dennismerritt4@gmail.com>. 

One of many examples from the I Ching of the metaphoric use of natural phenomena is a favorite quote off mine in The Image for hexagram 16—Enthusiasm:


When, at the beginning of summer, thunder—electrical energy—comes rushing forth from the earth again, and the first thunderstorm refreshes nature, a prolonged state of tension is resolved. Joy and relief make themselves felt. So too, music has power to ease tension within the heart and loosen the grip of obscure emotions. The enthusiasm of the heart expresses itself involuntarily in a burst of song, in dance and rhythmic movement of the body. From immemorable times the inspiring effect of the invisible sound that moves all hearts, and draws them together, has mystified mankind. (Wilhelm l967, p. 68)


The origins of I Ching in one of the oldest cultures on earth go back to shamanism and the sacred connection to nature experienced by indigenous peoples. Fu Shi, the legendary first emperor of China, discovered the trigrams, the elements of the hexagrams, on the shell of a tortoise or on a dragon---the inspiration for the I Ching emerged from the natural world and not a revelation from above.


The Greek Gods, Fairy Tales, and a Return to the Tao


The Greek gods and goddesses as personifications of basic life experiences had particular animals as part their gestalt like the dove for Aphrodite or plants for her like the rose, and a particular location in nature, like atop a cliff next to the ocean for Poseidon, god of the sea. The foods sacred to them on their feast days were a physical way of connecting to the god or goddess in the taste, scents, texture of the foods, etc.


The Zurich training imbued in us a sense of the archetypal and symbolic realm that included gods and goddesses by practicing interpreting fairytales in order to pass the big fairytale exam as one of the “Big 3" finals. Fairytales compliment the dominant worldview in a culture and many of them in Christian cultures had helpful animals as psychopomps and witches, seen as pagans for healing with plants and nature-based rituals and not healing through Christ.


I close by recalling the purpose of the ancient Greek healing temples, the Asklepions. An ill person did rituals in preparation for dream incubation in the temple where they hoped to visited by Asclepios, the Greek god of healing, or an animal associated with him, usually a snake, often a dog and occasionally a rooster. The temple priest worked with the person’s dream to determine what god or goddess to worship to be healed; in other words, what worldview to inculcate to be healed. For our species on planet Earth now, we all have to be worshipers of the Great Mother in Lao Tzu’s sense of the Tao.



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——— February 2, 2022. Spirit in the Land: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Environmental  Education. JungianEcopsychology.com

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