Processing our Inner Gold
If you know who you are working for, you are ahead of the game. But most of us are unaware of the forces that push us into action and reaction. As I said last time, I’ve discovered that as I age, there’s a more limited supply of get-up-and-go for each day’s activities. And much of it I spend trying to please others, make myself look good in the eyes of the world, or engage in mindless entertainment.
In his gem of a book, Mount Analogue, Rene Daumal offers a clue to how to move toward our true potential. If we can learn to “beware of the surface of things,” we have a chance to connect our finer attention to our own presence-in-the-world. Otherwise it tends to be sucked into every stimulus that pulls us left or right, up or down.
Lucky for us, in spite of the fact that we are continually distracted by the superficial flow of life, it does not run deep. Just a little above our habitual ways of thinking, feeling and doing, another possibility exists—that of conscious thought and action. And just below our automatic focus on whatever catches our attention, our bodies are moored in a river of reality—the river you can never step into twice. Each time we ask ourselves, “Who am I really working for?” we take a peek above or below the surface of things, which can lead us to be more thoughtful, kinder, and more creative.
Nevertheless there’s a price to pay, as we learn more about the flood of opinions, judgments and preferences that run our earthly vehicle if we let them. Life will become more uncomfortable when we see deeper into our contradictions, noticing how subjective some beliefs or frustrations are. Little by little we begin to uncover our complexes, defined by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson as “clusters of experiential energy that hold us to repetitious patterns of response.” Formed from things that happened to us long ago, they mire us in habitual reactions, use up our energy, limit our freedom, and tie us down to the past.
But the solution is not to deny their existence. In fact, a large part of Jungian work toward Individuation consists in recognizing and developing a relationship with them. It is only when we begin to differentiate them from the person we consciously experience ourselves to be, that we can awaken to the scope of their influence over everything we say and do.
You may ask, why should we pay more attention to such forces when they are so destructive? The fact is that below and above them there is a completely different person inside waiting to be met. As Jung himself writes, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves. When, therefore, we find ourselves in a difficult situation to which there is no solution, he can sometimes kindle a light that radically alters our attitude—the very attitude that led us into the difficult situation.”
Is that Other a friend, foe, or critic? Maybe that depends on me. Perhaps my job is to enter into dialogue with those domineering complexes as well as with that Other, in order to know better who I am and who I am not. That’s the magic behind the momentary confrontation in the middle of my busy day when I ask, “Who am I working for?” At such moments I learn what really happened along the way. Was I caught up in who I thought I was? Or mired in who I wanted to but was unable to be? Or perhaps I sealed myself off from present reality by insisting that I’m the same person I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
As I lean in to discover whether it’s my mother, father, partner, boss, children, or everyone I meet who runs my life, I discover a path toward who I really am. I listen on a deeper level to what I say and do. I learn to wait for clarity against the cacophony of inner voices telling me who I’m supposed to be, until it quiets down.
So let’s rejoice that, whether we begin a new relationship with reality at 17 or 77, we have a secret weapon against habit, judgmental attitudes, small-mindedness, and the mechanics of complexes. We can turn the powerful conscious searchlight of our best attention toward what’s going on above or below the surface of things. Each time we ask: “Who is profiting from my daily efforts? Who am I really working for?” we process a little more of our inner gold.
This search for a more stable person inside is a path to true Personhood. Like the Zhenren or True Person revered by the Taoists, we learn to stand consciously between heaven and earth, acknowledging in ourselves both the gift of vitality from Mother Earth and the help pouring down from Father Sky—from the level of universal wisdom. As we discover and acknowledge who we are and who we are not, we reenter the game of life under a new authority: That of the true Self.
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.Pierre Teilhard de Chardin