Questing and the Ego

FOR WEEKS it has been my intention to pull together all my Carl Jung notes on the ego into a semi-erudite article, to follow on from my earlier attempts on the Shadow and the Heros’s Journey. However, my overthinking quota is up for this week, so I’ll stick instead to my own observations.

The ego refers to that part of the conscious psyche that deals with survival and how we fit into the world. As we grow from childhood into adulthood, it generally becomes corrupted by the banishment of undesirable traits into the unconscious (the Shadow – I deal with this elsewhere). I suppose this is why the word ‘ego’ has such a bad press – it has come to be associated with unhealthy egos (dickheads).

In eastern philosphy, the ego is regarded as something that must be transcended in order for us to become enlightened. We are but specks and life is but a meandering river of infinite possibilities. Not everything is knowable.

Western philosophers, on the other hand, gave us the idea of the questing hero. Now it’s all about pursuing – and winning. Life is there for the taking, if you’ve got the self-belief to do it. The wealth of infinite possibilties resides within you and anything that is not knowable does not exist.

Both schools of thought are unrealistic because they cherry-pick (they are also not comparing like with like). Transcending the ego is nigh on impossible for most folks and overemphasis on control and self-determination takes no account of the fact that our lives are mostly dictated by the random and unexpected. Neither will equip us for the road ahead.

There is a time and a place for both ways of being. Even the I-ching recognises that there are moments in time when it is appropriate to act and others where you must sit back in the knowledge you have done all you can. It’s about knowing when to ride the waves and when to let oneself be carried by them. The problem with today’s culture is that the ‘answer’ often lies in putting the sea in a more convenient place.

It still amazes me how religiously some philosophers stick to one camp or the other. From personal experience, I would agree with Jung that in the transition to psychic wholeness, the ego becomes integrated with other parts of the psyche rather than killed off (which only creates more shadow anyway, so what’s the point?).

A healthy middle ground is achievable.

Being a self-professed Quester, I am keenly aware of the pitfalls of taking a ‘hero’s journey’ approach to life, such as taking it or myself too seriously or using it to set myself apart. If an element of ego were not present at all, then literally I would not be able to achieve the level of propulsion required to do something that goes against the grain (how much worse would my procrastination be without it!). As long as I am able to hold my hands up and admit to my mistakes, then at least for now I regard my own ego as being in a healthy balance with the rest of my psyche (there’s plenty room for improvement, believe me). This also involves knowing when it’s time to take a break, slow down and acknowledge when it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Dealing with the unknown and making things up as you go along is a lot of fun when you learn to let go of controlling the outcome.

It is only when operating from a position of protectionism and fear that the ego becomes unhealthy. For me a healthy ego is able to stand in its own power, while acknowledging and respecting the ability of others to do the same, on the understandng that all are equal in the service of the Whole. For want of a better word, this is Love.

Chocolat

CHOCOLATE is made up of over 200 individual chemical compounds. Some of them are pleasant-tasting, while some of them literally taste like shit. Combined, they make chocolate, well, taste lke chocolate. Needless to say, by the time it becomes a finished product, the compostion changes and a few other things are added or removed, but let’s forget about that part, or my analogy will fall down!

If you were to fiddle with the recipe of your favorite chocolate product on the basis that individually some of the compounds were real nasty, there’s every chance you would think it wasn’t chocolate any more.

Yet submitting the human personality to this cherry-picking exercise from birth is considered normal, indeed necessary for the functioning of society, with the result that we are no longer as unique or whole as we potentially were when we came into the world. We all have some experience of how this sad state of affairs pans out. For many, it creates a feeling of worthlessness, as they spend a lifetime measuring themselves against everybody else.

Psychosynthesis, or individuation, is a process whereby we can reclaim those aspects of ourselves that have been suppressed or lost. Each path is unique, there is no one size fits all. The journey is long and arduous but rewarding.

You may already be undertaking such a journey. Or maybe not. Either way, next time you turn to a rich, sticky, yummy chocolate dessert to make yourself feel better, with every bite you take, repeat the words “I AM the chocolate!” ( though maybe not with your mouth full 😆).

THE LOST SECRET (first two chapters)

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For reasons that I won’t go into here, I have decided to scrap any attempt to sell my ‘mini-book’ on Amazon. Why it’s only two chapters and only on Kindle needs too much explanation. Instead, it is available here via the link below. This may be temporary, it may be permanent, I don’t know. We’ll see where this goes.

You can read the first two chapters here.

Although this offering is free, donations are gratefully accepted.

The Quandary

I am by no means an expert in anything but when it comes to being me I am a fucking pro

I’ve sweated these past few days about how to write this post. I had intended to attempt to justify the course of action I am about to take, before then realising that I didn’t have to explain myself at all. Firstly, the circumstances that led me to this juncture are too complex to pack into a single post – secondly, I’ve over-explained myself already – and thirdly, too many spoilers! No amount of explanation can adequately convey what is the most finely sprung state of affairs you can possbly imagine (think tight-ropes, nooses and crocodile clips).

I have no doubt that many will look at my actions and think “What the ****?” Suffice to say that I have agonised long and hard over this and, given the specifics of my circumstances, it is the most appropriate action I can take.

It is what it is. Stay tuned …

M K MacInnes
5 October 2020

The Lost Secret – extract

WHEN I published my first short story collection, Close Call: Short and Bittersweet, five years ago, I dedicated it to ‘the two Gerries, without the shadow of whose memory this my first book would never have seen the light of day’. My brother asked me who the other Gerry was and I told him it was a veiled reference to our late mother’s schizophrenia (she was a Gerry too). Well, that was only partly true. My choice of words was designed to be ambiguous. So in effect, I lied … the other Gerry was Gerry Butler.

Learn more here.

Coming to Amazon 16 July 2020

The long wait is nearly over …

lost secret graphic newsletter

VIEWED as a case study in archetypal psychology, this brave and frank memoir explores the role of consciousness in shaping our destinies, backing up Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell’s insights into the very essence of the human and universal psyche. As a piece of storytelling alone, THE LOST SECRET is a spectacular modern day reworking of Ishtar’s mythic Descent into the Underworld …

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020

Click here for more info.

Me and my Shadow

ONE OF the most challenging foes the archetypal Hero will ever have to face in his/her journey is the Shadow, the ‘dark’ or hidden side of the personality. Stored in the subconscious, it is instinctive and irrational and it is this aspect of ourselves that is at play when we snap or pass judgement. What we reject about ourselves, we project, usually as a moral deficiency in others. The Shadow is not necessarily dark but a spectrum of negative and sometimes positive aspects. It is largely negative because we tend to reject the least socially desirable aspects of our personality. People with low self-exteerm/anxiety typically repress positive attributes, the most obvious being self-love; for a psychopath, the embodiment of their Shadow is what a non-psychopath would perceive as the Light. The Shadow begins to form when as children we try to ft in by repressing aspects of ourselves that either we don’t like or our peers/family don’t like. These can be behaviours, emotions, thoughts, differences, and even memories. As we progress through the educational system, the conscious ego develops beliefs about its place in the world in order to further protect it from rejection by others. Since standards are set from birth that are impossible to live by, it is inevitable that we all form a shadow. The unconscious mind (which includes the subconscious) communicates with our conscious mind through symbols in dreams and visions (among other channels), in a relentless attempt to bring the subconscious back into consciousness. The outward appearance of the symbols used is determined by cultural factors, so in a Christian culture, for instance, the Shadow may manifest as the Devil. Coming into contact with the Shadow may stir up feelings of shame, which is especially typical of sexual matters. Because full sexual expression is repressed by most societies, sexual repression is a more or less universal component of the Shadow. Each Shadow is unique and the more repressed it is, the more power it has over the individual. Compare a philanthropic gangster with a priest who secretly preys on children – the priest has the denser shadow. Conversely, accepting one’s dark side minimises its chances of expressing itself. Recognising one’s dark aspects is the first prerequisite to self-knowledge and a major component of psychosynthesis. It takes considerable mental and moral effort on the part of the ego. Acknowledgement and acceptance of the shadow is a lifelong process of descent, ascent and assimilation. If the process is interrupted, one may have to start over, though not at the very beginning, the subsequent attempt more accelerated than the last. A lifelong game of snakes and ladders! Integration requires vigilance to ensure that we do not over-identify with the ‘dark side’, as the shadow can integrate the conscious instead of the other way around. Susceptibility to such self-sabotage arises during times of stress, shock, confusion or over-thinking. Philosophical and religious traditions have told us for millennia to be ‘better’ human beings but not how to get there. The roadmap is steeped in mystery and jargon under the pretext that the average human being is incapable of such an undertaking. Which to an extent is true but largely because the information is so closely guarded in the first place, a shadow in itself. Personally I believe that even the most dysfunctional human being can be regarded as ready, as long as they have access to the right tools at the right time. Creativity and criminality are both indicators, the latter being a form of the former, and it is a well known fact that the bipolar nature of shadow work drives the creative process (the constant tension between opposites acts rather like a pump). Depression in one who may not even know of individuation is another clue that shadow work is at least in its early stages. Considering that depression and anxiety have reached epidemic proportions (I can only speak for the UK), it is a no brainer that a high percentage of the population has been on the cusp for some time. When the spiritual industry does articulate some form of methodology, most teach that the ego has to be overcome or transcended. This in itself is an act of dissociation, which only feeds the Shadow, so I agree with Carl Jung’s assertion that the conscious and unconscious must fuse for wholeness to occur. Indeed, I find the transcendental route to enlightenment, particularly through use of drugs, can do more harm than good. The Shadow has to be dealt with head on before enlightenment can truly begin. This is why it’s vitally important that we build on the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. in order to achieve a more enlightened state of relationship with ourselves and our planet, exposing that which is hidden in our collective pasts is a painful but necessary milestone in the healing process.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020

Heroes wanted – apply within

Teamwork couple  climbers in silhouette

WE PUT them on pedestals then pull them down when we realise they weren’t what they were cracked up to be. We are in such awe that whole ecosystems were wiped out in Australia, in part because a handful of ‘nobodies’ wanted to be Somebodies, and valour theft is rife in the UK because of our obsession with the War. Add now to that the army of nurses and doctors, of whose ability to turn up for work each day knowing what horrors lie ahead, the rest of us rightly stand in reverence. As for the Marvel fetish, this will in all likelihood become more indulgent as the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll. I am, of course, talking about the cult of the hero, a phenomenon as emotive as it is pervasive.

The meaning of the word is as mercurial as history itself, which lends an exquisite irony to the way current events are playing out. Race aside, for years health and care workers were undervalued and are still underpaid while smug rich white men who made their money on the suffering of others enjoyed centre stage in our public spaces. Until now, the prevailing political narrative of the day has usually determined our understanding of what constitutes a hero. It is fitting that at this turning point in human consciousness we should decide for ourselves.

In movies, the hero is generally synonymous with the central character or protagonist. Flawed or conflicted from the outset, any virtues tend to be revealed as they interact with the other characters and the story unfolds. By the time the plot is resolved through some decisive course of action, the world in which they live, if not the protagonist/hero themself, has transformed.

The hero is one of an array of archetypes, which can include a villain, an underdog, a mentor, a love interest … the list goes on. The plot too is archetypal, consisting of a comfort zone (‘normal’ everyday life), a choice made in response to a call to adventure or inciting incident, obstacles and/or internal conflicts, a point of no return, a high point, a low point, a climax and a resolution.

Myths, regardless of whether or not they depict historical events, all share the same characteristics. It is no secret that George Lucas, when he made Star Wars, stuck religiously to the mythic principles Joseph Campbell talked about in The Hero with A Thousand Faces. Even the Easter and Christmas storylines follow the classic formula.

While the oldest myths spoke of elemental forces, animal deities then gods (and goddesses), later versions spoke of half-gods motivated by the achievement of the greater good through their selfless actions (and often subsequent death). With the onset of the Bronze Age, militarised city states and a shift from goddess-worshipping priesthoods to secular forms of power came stories of kings, conquest and the search for honour, glory or fame. The pay-off for the collective was the benefit of the triumphant hero’s protection. And since it is a key requirement of storytelling – and conditioning – that whoever is experiencing the story identifies with the protagonist, the more human heroes became, the more flawed they became and the more mere mortals identified with them.

The oldest versions of the labyrinth myth are ‘softer’ than the Minotaur story with which we are most acquainted. The more recent narrative of the male hero slaying the Beast to save the people secured the progression towards the more psychotic approach to the unknown that survives in western culture to this day. In contrast, the more feminine versions of the hero myths somehow survived in romantic tales of princes and princesses (compare Beauty and the Beast with the story of the Minotaur). Scholars now estimate the point of origin of European fairy tales to be around four to six thousand years ago.

Now it appears we have returned full circle to a pantheon of half-human superheroes (not all white blokes with long beards, thankfully) serving the greater good. It will be interesting to see how the ongoing demonisation of ‘kings’ and the veneration of key workers will play out in future narratives.

As for mere mortals, we’re all hard-wired for meaning and purpose. Some say the search for meaning arises as a reaction to the absolute certainty that one day we will all die. We are instinctively drawn to opportunities to depart from the status quo, to leave ‘home’. That is why we get bored. And when the adventure is over, we return ‘home’.

However, society counter-programs us to fear the unknown; the Bogeyman is planted in the childhood psyche to prevent us from straying too far from the herd. And so we are conditioned to satisfy our heroic impulses by vicariously following the deeds of others while keeping our own heads down and maintaining the status quo. Only those who ‘sell their souls’ seem able to clamber to the top. Nine times out of ten, hero status on the basis of virtue is granted only to those who die in the pursuit of their great deeds or put themselves in harm’s way. Indeed, putting dead people on pedestals is an essential requirement of maintaining ‘social order’ (the Church turned this into an art form). Meanwhile, from birth, our educational system conditions us to confuse meaning with validation by our peers, our whole sense of identity tied up in how many friends we have, how ‘successful’ we are, how much money we have, the badges we wear, acceptance by the Tribe.

I am convinced that everyone at some point in their life hears the ‘call’ but that most choose to ignore it. Until the next time. And the next. What else is a mid-life crisis if not an exhortation to one who chose to play it safe first time round? Most people it would seem are scared of their own company, let alone peering into their own soul.

No surprise then that the hero archetype goes deeper still. According to Carl Jung and other psychologists, the human psyche itself is rooted in mythic structure. Archetypes form the ‘language’ of the unconscious mind and are expressed as symbols in dreams, fantasy and meditative states. These are hard-wired both on a personal and collective level. In the protagonistic sense of the word, it seems we are pre-programmed to be heroes. In the psychological journey, we may face such adversaries as the Ego, the Persona, the Shadow, the Animus or Anima and the Self.

Based on his own clinical and personal observations combined with ancient wisdom teachings, Jung proposed the theory of individuation. This is a lifelong process that consolidates the conscious, the unconscious and the ego into a purified whole, all opposites reconciled. The basis of the spiritual Hero’s Journey, it s not dissimilar to the Christian idea of redemption, only wholeness is achieved without the intervention of an external force or figure. Jung’s contemporary, Roberto Assagioli, used the term psychosynthesis, which better describes the journey towards the ultimate goal of individuation. Whether it is achievable start to finish in a single lifetime is open to debate.

Often represented by a labyrinth, psychosynthesis requires introspection, often taking the very forces that create fragmentation in the first place to thrust one inward. The conversations you have with yourself (or rather your archetypes) are an integral part of the process. The end result is a well-rounded personality that is mature relationally, emotionally, practically and intuitively. As the core Self becomes more stable under all conditions, no longer relying on external sources for validation, rather than becoming more self-absorbed, it becomes more empathic and compassionate towards others. One’s past, present and future become one meaningful whole.

Imagine standing in an art gallery, nose right up to a huge painting by one of the masters. Up close it’s just rough almost random globs of paint, not much to look at at all. However, with every step you take back, the globs get smaller and smaller and the juxtaposition of colour and form starts to emerge. By the time you’re standing ten feet away, you are transfixed. It has form, it has just the right balance of shade and colour, it has life. It has meaning. If you’re lucky, you might even remember the last time you saw something so utterly satisfying to behold. Now, the artist when they painted it might have thought “Hmm, something doesn’t look right here” or “It needs something else juuuust there”. So they maybe made the blue in one of the uppermost corners just that little bit bluer or exaggerated the twinkle of an eye with an almost imperceptible flick of the brush. Not to mention that time they tore their hair out because the legs were so out of proportion with the rest of the body that they had to start all over again. Imagine now that you are both the painting and the artist.

I have to emphasise that individuation is not about becoming a ‘good’ human being as opposed to a ‘bad’ one, rather one becomes a higher-functioning human being in harmony with itself and others. Indeed, the perception of good and evil gives way to a more subtle notion of what is appropriate in any given situation. More significantly, the effects of psychosynthesis across multiple individuals are reflected in the world at large.

So the inner journey is not a waste of precious time and energy. Upping our inner game matters. Faced with the daily diet of war, famine, abuse, unrest and catastrophe, it is easy to feel that doing nothing is doing nothing. However, if we are to address this plethora of issues (all man-made), giving ‘fixing’ ourselves equal attention is the only real way to deal with all of them. When a critical mass of people working through their own internal conflicts, helping others in their own back yard and fulfilling their innermost calling, is reached, the world will start to heal. Has the response to coronavirus not demonstrated that we have the collective power to swing the odds?

In fact, COVID-19 can on one level be regarded as the ultimate call to adventure and social distancing a fertile breeding ground for the level of introspection required to get the ball rolling. Not only are we doing our bit in saving lives, we’re already thinking about what kind of world we want to go back to.

Deep down we all want to be be part of something bigger than ourselves. As individuals, communities or a society, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to put our petty inclinations to one side and become the superheroes we always wanted to be when we were kids. And what greater calling is there than collectively pulling our entire species and our planet from the brink? If imminent self-annihilation isn’t the mother of all wake-up calls, then we might as well just go back to bed and stay there. And what a yawn that would be.

Further reading

Useful information on psychosynthesis/individuation here.

Reality check 2020

Young woman wearing virtual reality glasses

WHEN I published my first short story collection, Close Call: Short and Bittersweet, I dedicated it to ‘the two Gerries, without the shadow of whose memory this my first book would never have seen the light of day’. My brother asked me who the other Gerry was and I told him it was a reference to our late mother’s schizophrenia (she was a Gerry too). Well, that was only partly true. My choice of words was designed to be ambiguous. So in effect, I lied.

There are things even my closest friends and family never knew about me that I’ve lugged around for years. I may have dropped little jigsaw pieces here and there, that is when I did feel inclined to discuss it. But the bigger picture was so mind-blowing and at times surreal that even when I tried, I could never find the words. The only way was to write it. And that has taken years and many false starts.

My biggest problem was never the writing but the perceived risks of attempting to get it published. It describes a unique inner journey and under normal circumstances, the right publisher would bite my hand off. However, it is loaded with legal implications and I can’t very well pass it around in the expectation of confidentiality. And I can only disguise my characters up to a point without killing the story. Particularly as it has an ethical and spiritual angle to it, it has been my goal all along to act with the best intent towards the individuals who co-created it. Which is all very well if you can get hold of them and they are not surrounded by a metaphorical barbed wire fence.

Another dilemma I faced was deciding who my readers were. The closest genre would be ‘spiritual memoir’. However, a wider readership, for whom some of the themes I touch on would have little or no appeal, might have altogether different motivations. I would rather sell fewer copies to a smaller audience, for whom the subject matter is meaningful and potentially life-changing. It is something of a paradox that to get people to read it at all, I have to play to the crowd.

And so for the past several years I have danced around the invisible elephant in the room. Pissed in the wind, if I’m honest, by trying to produce ‘other’ stories while the real, the important, the infinitely more sellable work grew arms and legs (two sequels are already underway).

That I now find myself about to publish the first couple of chapters in order to get the ball rolling and generate income to get myself out of the proverbial is deeply unsettling. I have had to weigh up not only my interests and those of my master catalyst but those of society at large. For a start, the full version of my story offers insights that may be helpful in gaining a better understanding of PTSD, possibly even Alzheimers, and I have a duty to share what I know. Having suffered a neurological condition for the last two years, I am only too aware of the role of the psyche in self-healing. Which brings me to the inescapable truth that in order to fully recover, and safeguard my mental and physical health, I must tell my tale. The risks of doing nothing outweigh the risks of doing something.

With the most recent plot twist in our collective fortunes, the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found myself staring at an opportunity – and justification – to act. With recession imminent and my options to keep a roof over my head running out, that’s one almighty stick. The carrot is the global appetite for stories of self-healing that capture the collective imagination – and potential readers have time on their hands. I have known for at least the last decade that telling this story was the sole reason for my very existence. If our hour of direst need is not the time to bring it to fruition, then my entire life will have been for nothing.

The course of action I am taking now, touch wood, is the most significant hurdle I am likely to have to deal with. Before a publisher will stake their reputation on it, I have to remove at least some of the risk. I will almost certainly need the broad shoulders of an established publisher to pull this off in the longer term.

Over the years I have remarked that the best analogy for my life is walking a tightrope with a noose around my neck and crocodile clips around my balls (I don’t have any but you get the drift). If I make it to full publication, you will discover just how accurate that statement – and warranted my occasional use of profanity – really is.

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M K MacInnes
June 2020