Home | Contact
 Open letter 2006
 Commentaries 2006
  ·Part I
  ·Part II
  ·Part III
  ·Part IV
  ·Part V
  ·Part VI
  ·Part VII
 Aims 2006
 Sojourner Institute
 Sojourner Pass Community
 Communal notes
 Sojourner Pass Press
 Shirra Meiklejohn-Wilson
printer friendly

Part III A continued
Perpetuations of Plato's Shadows

It is the purpose of this paper to utilize the illustration of Plato's Cave as a description of both a psychological, as well as a spiritual process of psychic integration. While Plato's Cave contains many elements, I intend to discuss only two: namely, the dynamics of the "shadows", along with the purpose and utility of the "light." I propose that the psychological approach is too limited and therefore ultimately, self defeating. People, by and large, are well adapted to living life in the twentieth century. Yet for others, this optimum adaptation is neither possible nor desirable. It is with this second group that psychiatry and religion remain primarily concerned. Both religion and psychiatry, may offer great benefit to people for whom the shadows on the wall have become so grotesque that the individual seeks help.

A preliminary definition of what I mean by psychiatry is essential for a clearer understanding of my concern for its limits. Psychiatry contains many different elements. All sciences and philosophies embody qualities of scale. For example, psychiatry at the lower end of the scale, (in my opinion), is represented by the behaviorists. B.F. Skinner exemplifies the behaviorists' perspective:

  • Man is a machine.
  • Man is a function of his environment.
  • Man is the result of his environment.
  • Man is conditioned by his environment.
  • Therefore, man cannot experience free acts.

My response to such a materialistic point of view is: Why not change the environment? While a new objective world would be indeed pleasant, its actualization is doubtful; however, a new quality of ideas, a new emotional value system, if correctly adopted, could result in a new man.

Freud's materialistic point of view was somewhat different from Skinner's. Freud did not feel that man was simply a function of his environment. Freud felt that man could be made free from the environmental constraints if he knew enough about them. Freud felt that man needed to be re-educated to reality by the scientific method. This is like saying to mankind, "I know you're imprisoned on that island in the middle of the sea, but instead of dreaming of ships or planes, let's count the bricks of your cell."

I agree with both Freud and Skinner as to man's present psychic environment, however, to be the best brick counter is hardly a solution. Fortunately, for psychiatry, C. Jung saw religion as a step towards wholeness. Jung utilized religious myths and symbols as signposts of the psyche. Even Jung did not go far enough, but he did take psychiatry out of its dark ages.

For the purposes of this paper, Skinner and Freud represent what I consider to be the least useful attitude towards true psychic integration. C. Jung and R. D. Laing provide the pivotal point towards a more spiritual approach. But in the end, only a spiritual solution affords the best permanent and rewarding integration.

Jung states that mankind contains within itself both a collective unconscious as well as an individual "shadow". In Plato's Cave, Plato states that man is fastened down. His neck is in a brace and he is facing the wall in front of him. Behind him is a fire causing the man to cast his own shadow onto the wall. The man is unaware of both the light behind him as well as the fact that it is his own shadow that he sees in front of him. This principle of projection is defined by Carl Jung as being an "unconscious psychic activity present in all human beings, which gives rise to symbolical pictures. Such pictures spring from and satisfy a natural need."1 Jung further states that "everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor."2 As Jung points out, it is essential that a person project outside himself that which is contained in his own unconscious. It is as if a human being can only reabsorb their unconscious by a deliberate process of reintegration. By the conscious reapropriation into his awareness of unconscious projections, the individual becomes aware that the light behind him, as well as the shadows in front of him, are indeed only projections of himself, therefore, nothing to be feared. This psychological explanation as to the principle of projection would offer a final solution to psychic integration if the only problem facing man were his unconscious projections. It is true that as long as man continues to project himself onto others, he cannot be an integrated, functioning man. As long as he projects himself, he is vulnerable to unnecessary fears and a sense of isolation. He is "below life" in terms of his necessary sense of psychic awareness.

The second dynamic of psychological disturbance is that of the proper functioning of the ego. The ego contains within itself the sense of I. It is that part of the psychic life that gives an individual a sense of himself as an individual. As long as an individual projects himself onto others, his ego is fractured. That is, it has no unified sense of self, no cohesive sense of 'I'. The ego feels vulnerable because of its projections. An integrated unconscious results in a unified ego structure. The individual becomes a whole being. Once a man no longer projects his subjective content out into the world, he is equal to life, especially since "The ego is the instrument for living in this world."3

Once psychiatry has integrated an individual's unconscious into conscious awareness, the individual feels secure and equal to life's challenges. He develops the ability to adapt to life and its events. But the question now becomes: to what has he adapted? Exactly what are life's values? If for him life is pleasant and satisfying, this newly integrated individual might well simply cease any further search for meaning. It would be as if he realized the dynamics of the shadows in the cave and he turned himself perpendicular to both the wall as well as the light and simply fell asleep.

For others, optimum adaptation to life, as it is lived today, is almost as insane as existing below the ability to adapt at all. These individuals perceive life's values as either too shallow or self-defeating. For example, observation of current advertising might be enough to convince them that society places far too much emphasis on sexuality and status. Society seems to value conformity above all. All people should dress the same, eat the same food, and enjoy the same pleasures. Little value is placed on any form of individuality. A simple review of most national defense policies makes many of these people recoil in horror. Reduced to its most basic elements, society's values are: power, sex, conformity and violence. None of these elements could be achieved without the distinctive functioning of the ego. The very element that allows optimum adaptation to life is the element that causes almost all of our suffering in life.

Sanity is not simply psychologically based, but rather is viewed from the concept of permanent effectiveness. Insanity is therefore, defined as anything that is shortsighted. Sanity is a value system that produces long-term positive effects. For example, pesticides seem to produce desired results in the death of insects, but what is also happening is that the next generation of insects is more resistant to the insecticides (not to mention the long-term effect of global pollution). Thus, the real long-term results produce an insect population that is becoming stronger because of our attempts to eradicate them. Therefore, we are causing future negative effects because we are trying to purge negative consequence (insects) by short-term methods. This example equates the fact that life's present value systems produce short-term solutions as well as long-term damaging effects, i.e. free and instant sex results in detachment and a host of sexual diseases. The need for pleasure gratification results in drug use and all forms of sedation. The necessity to conform results in slavery to herd instincts. The need for power results in atomic arms arsenals. True sanity appears only when the individual faces the light and becomes transformed by the light so that he can "overcome the world."

If an individual does not feel himself as a cohesive whole, he cannot function effectively in life. Yet when this wholeness is achieved, the result is that the individual feels himself as a human being, a whole entity. This self/others function of the ego must be transcended if the individual wishes to overcome violence and hatred in his own life. Before an individual can transcend his own ego, he needs to see the effects of his ego. Like the shadows on the wall, the ego's distinctive function produces shadow effects. The role of the ego in producing a distinction between self and others has been illustrated repeatedly by the use of devils to symbolize egotistic values. C.S. Lewis' Screwtape illustrates the usefulness of the ego in helping man to escape from the Enemy (God). Screwtape points out to Wormwood (his protégé) the importance of "keeping up a sense of ownership."4 This belief in and value of personal property allows the individual to be afraid of loss. The need for personal property causes a man to lust after things he does not now possess, to fight for things which do not belong to him, and to hate anyone or anything that gets in his way. An ego that still contains this self/other function covets what the 'other' has.

Another insidious element of the unredeemed ego is its ability to imagine. This ability to imagine causes an individual to lose a sense of reality. "The self (ego), as long as it is 'uncommitted to the objective element,' is free to dream or imagine anything. The self's refusal to commit itself to the "objective element" renders it impotent: it has no freedom in reality."5 If there remains a self/other egotistic function, the ego can decide whether to participate in 'other' at all. After all, for this unredeemed ego, there are two distinct realities in which to dwell: the reality of self and the reality of other. More often than not, the ego refuses to live in any reality other than its own self-awareness. When an ego does this, the individual is said to be living in his imagination. Theological illustrations use 'devils' to illustrate the danger of imagination in two major ways. One shows the evil of thought not linked to action. The other shows the need to be present in reality. As Screwtape points out, "The more often he [man] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and in the long run, the less he will be able to feel." 6 Both Augustine and Aquinas identify evil as the element between thought and action.

The second danger of living in imagination concerns the fact that all action can only be achieved in the present moment or Now. If an ego does not remain fixed in reality (by that I mean, if the ego does not know itself as a presence in the present moment), the individual is incapable of acting effectively. As Screwtape points out:
"Our business is to get them away from the external and from the present ... It is far better to make them believe in the Future. The Future inflames hope and fear ... the Future is the thing least like eternity. Fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead. We want a man hog-ridden, living the Future - haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind nor happy now."7

Psychiatry rarely deals with these destructive elements of imagination and even less with the need to connect thought with action. Psychiatry equates good with the ability to adapt to society. Evil may occur when an individual cannot adapt to society at all. In the religious sphere, good and evil relate to real objective/subjective realities over and above the adaptation or non-adaptation of the individual. P.D. Ouspensky's devil feels that devils get bad press - after all, they're just trying to help. Ouspensky's devil states ". . . life is not a game but very serious, even difficult ... and that notions of good and evil are ultimately only relative and unimportant."8 This attitude reflects the psychiatric approach to evil. This approach identifies something as evil only if it causes pain and discomfort. Evil equals pain and good equals pleasure. This attitude may appear sound, but it contains a flaw. Few people have a problem adapting to constant pleasure, but life is rarely experienced as constant pleasure. Therefore, the necessity is to learn to adapt to pain, not physical pain, but psychological pain. A great deal of psychological suffering is self-inflicted by an ego that is only able to adapt to pleasure. Pain is an element of life and until an ego adapts (relates) to pain, as it is, it has not adapted to reality. The psychiatric approach to pain and evil minimizes both. Surely it would be better to keep evil and pain as they are while maximizing the ability to deal effectively with them.

The relativity of good and evil is in fact true up to a point. Even Augustine defines evil as lack of good. The key question is not whether evil is simply a lack of good or not. The question is: "What is evil to me and how should I respond to it?" More often than not, the notion of evil is considered outdated. It does not matter much whether evil is understood as coming from Satan or as not existing at all. The essential point is that an ego has to have an ethical standard by which to judge itself. If there is no standard at all, then anything is permissible and acceptable.

For some individuals all is not permissible. These individuals feel that to appreciate society at its present value level is insane. These individuals do not feel life is a constructive good. They cannot sit in the cave asleep. They must turn around and face the light. This light equals the purer power of 'good'. When there is no sense of good there is no relative scale of evil. Psychiatry rarely deals with the religious concepts of good. In psychiatry, the reduction of psychic pain and the integration of the individual to life is an end, whereas, in religion, it is just the beginning.


  Sitemap German Icelandic Spanish

© 2006 Sojourner Institute, All rights reserved