Explaining Mysticism’s Dark Night of the Soul

In their book, Buddhism and Jungian Psychology, analysts J. Marvin Spiegelman and Mokusen Miyuki (who is also a Buddhist priest), mention the danger of “stagnation” following the integration of unconscious contents. This sounds a lot like the stage on the journey to enlightenment the mystics have famously called “the dark night of the soul.” It is the point where a seeker has seen the light, so to speak, but cannot quite believe it yet. This period of deeply troubling doubt and hesitation lasts for an indeterminate length of time until a sufficient level of acceptance has been reached to allow the final enlightenment to dawn, whereupon the ability to feel confident and to act is restored.

Saint John of the Cross

The dark night of the soul is a lengthy period of deeply troubling doubt and hesitation. It ends when a sufficient level of acceptance has been reached to allow the final enlightenment to dawn. (Image: public domain)

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Understanding Your Creativity

Being intensely creative can be an intoxicating experience. Consequently, there is a tendency among creative individuals to conceptualize the process in ways that are not realistic. These false theories usually fall into one of two categories. In either case, the error gets in the way of developing a true (and therefore more useful) understanding of the creative process.

When Inspiration Strikes

Creative people do not always understand their own creative process.

Mystics, poets, and artists of all kinds can sometimes come to believe that their creativity (or inspiration) is not their own. That is, the creative process can seem so remarkable and astonishing that ideas and impulses seem to come from somewhere else or from someone other than the creators themselves. These individuals modestly assume that they could not possibly have come up with such impressive results on their own. For some, the source feels in some way divine and is presumed to lie with “the Muses” or with God. For others, the origin must lie in a mystically enhanced version of the unconscious mind. Both scenarios place the origin of creativity outside the conscious ego. The creator is just a channel.

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Intellectual Alchemist at Work

From time to time, people ask me where I find so many and such varied post ideas. I always answer that I have been a steady reader for most of my life, and since 1990, I have had the habit of writing down my thoughts about whatever it is that I am reading. I also copy out a few quotes now and then. Over the years, those thoughts and quotes have accumulated in paper diaries, journals, notebooks, as well as their digital counterparts. Taken as a whole, they form a loosely structured representation of an ongoing attempt to understand the world around me and my own way of relating to it.

Old Computer Work Station

Working out a thorough understanding of my writing had the alchemical effect of illuminating and solidifying my entire worldview. (photo: Pdphoto)

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The Origin of High Quality Creativity

In an earlier post on this topic, I stated that artists (of all kinds) develop their artistic vision by “examining and exploring the implications and ramifications of their personal vision of existence. In other words, they explore their philosophy of life.” The most powerful elements of a personal vision of existence or philosophy of life are the product of the creative person’s unique set of emotionally important ideas, which make up the self. High quality creativity springs from the struggle to attain self-knowledge and authenticity. Great literature, poetry, painting, and sculpture tells us something about life as the artist sees and experiences it. By recognizing, and then shining a light on, the archetypal aspects of their vision and their experience, artists include the illuminating sense of the universal in their work.

Writing Desk by Olga Rozanova (cubism)

High level creators learn how to combine their own worldview with the process of self-discovery to develop their unique artistic vision. (image: wikipaintings)

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How to Recognize Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is usually defined as “the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values, or emotional reactions.” (Wikipedia) Or, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes.” (COED) The less familiar aspect of the distressing mental state – that we can also get into trouble when our beliefs and our actions do not coincide – gets less attention. This situation may go beyond the simple case of conscience and morality, of doing something we know is wrong and then feeling guilty (moral cognitive dissonance). It is quite possible to stumble into serious and painful cognitive dissonance without realizing what has happened.

Cup of Cognition - The Childrens Cup, 1894

When we look upon our actions and see they do not coincide with our beliefs, we become distressed. This is one form of cognitive dissonance, a kind of jarring discord within the psyche. (Image: Wikipaintings)

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Intuitive Insights Can Be Slow In Coming

The common perception of intuition is that it is blindingly fast, an almost instantaneous comprehension of some problem, question, or situation. In fact, definitions of intuition often describe it in precisely this way. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary says, “… the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” In reality, when solving complex problems, intuition can be extremely slow. Sometimes, years may pass before the needed insight suddenly emerges into conscious awareness.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1900

While it might end in a sudden epiphany, the lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke saw intuition as a years-long process. (Image: Wikipedia)

Rilke’s Advice to a Young Poet

In 1903, the great lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote ten letters to a student seeking guidance. In the course of giving advice, Rilke reveals an attitude of patience towards garnering insights that would remain with him throughout his life. He reiterated this idea near the end of his days when, living in his lonely stone house in the Swiss countryside, he was finally able to complete his masterpiece, “The Duino Elegies,” which had been a decade in the making.

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