Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Prayer - A Jungian Perspective

Synopsis: The birth of consciousness and structure of the psyche, The function of prayer, The importance of the religious impulse, Forms of prayer in Western and Eastern culture.

All over the world, from time immemorial, humans have prayed. The objective of the prayer has varied widely: humans have prayed to other humans, to statues of every imaginable shape and form, and finally, to a nameless, shapeless, almighty entity who cannot be known or seen directly. Despite dire predictions to the contrary, prayer has persisted throughout modern and even post-modern times. Prayer is universal and timeless. But what is it? What does prayer do, and how does it work, if it works at all? Is it a mindless relic of times past, as Freud famously posited, or does it have an irreplaceable, meaningful function? Can we explain it in rational, objective terms?
I will try to do so in this post, using the most suitable approach for the purpose - Jungian theory.

The Structure of the Psyche and The Birth of the Ego
One of the most important contributions of Jungian psychology was Jung's model of the human psyche, it's structure and manner of development. Jungian theory posits a completely unconscious mind in the beginning of human life. From this unconscious whole, there develops a self-consciousness. The center of this self-awareness is called the Ego. It is born in a long, drawn out process that is difficult and painful. By the end of this development, the Ego becomes separated from the unconscious, and an invisible wall exists between the two. The wall is there to protect the Ego from the enormous energy that the unconscious still retains, thus enabling us to lead more or less normal, steady lives that are, as far as the ego knows, guided solely by our conscious being.
This would be an ideal situation for humanity if not for one problem – in gaining it's independence, the Ego has also separated itself from the source of psychical energy, from it's original birth place where life was effortless, without tension or strain.
We may liken the Ego to a human being stranded on an island, like Robinson Crusoe. It can survive and perhaps even thrive, but is lonely, and often desolate, because it is disconnected from the whole. The whole in the ego's case would not be society or the group, but the total personality, embodied by the Jungian concept of the Self. This understanding is crucial to our theory of prayer, because in Jungian theory, the life we experience is actually the life experienced by this ego.
This means that we experience life both outside of ourselves, in the physical world, but also inside ourselves – in the psychical world. In our inner world, there still exists a lively, ongoing relationship between the ego and the unconscious (with it's various components – archetypes). Normally, even in a fully functioning adult, the ego will not have the energy available to deal directly with the unconscious. Therefore this relationship, which is vital to our existence, must be experienced secondhand. This is done mainly by projecting it on the outer world.
In other words, according to Jungian theory, our inner relationships are experienced in the outer world, even if we are completely unaware of the fact This is reminiscent of the Buddhist term Maya – the idea that the world is an illusion. Following Jung we can now understand that this does not mean that the world does not exist, just that it is obscured by our own projections upon it. Once we withdraw them, we will see the world as it is.

What is Prayer?
Now we can also understand the phenomenon of prayer - we see it as an inner relationship, being projected and experienced in the outside world. But what relationship is this?
I think this would be the relationship between the ego and the self , the self being the totality of our psyche comprised of the unconscious and conscious parts. This relationship cannot be experienced directly because the ego is not strong enough to experience the seemingly infinite energy of the total personality without any mediation. Yet, a relationship exists. The ego was born from the totality, was separated from it, and yet, is still a part of it.
Unfortunately, for a healthy ego there is no going back, no regression. From this point, that most of us reach early in our lives, there are two main paths forward. One consists of striving to maintain and even strengthen this connection, perhaps even re-establishing it, while the second way is to deny this connection completely, and assume all the powers and majesty of the self, the totality, God - into the ego. The former, the people of faith, intuitively understand the true relationship between them and the world, inside and out, and express it daily by praying to the totality, to God, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the purpose of praying – to express and strengthen the connection between the Ego and the Self. The latter, secular people, lead essentially lonely, desperate, bitter lives, based on a grave psychological mistake.
This is why Jung cherished the religious impulse, understanding that it is a very important and healthy way for us to express and experience the true relationship between our consciousness and the self.

Prayer East and West
If the purpose of prayer is indeed to express and strengthen the connection between the Self and the Ego, then there are many ways in which to achieve this.
Judaism has chosen the path of verbal communication with the Self, and it's daughter religions have followed suit. But the Self is composed mostly of the unconscious which cannot comprehend the word, only the accompanying emotions. This is why formal, unemotional prayers are not very effective. Emotion is the lingua franca of the soul, and only emotion – the correct emotion, expressed correctly - can reach the ears of the Almighty, the Self. Therefore singing is an important means of prayer, as well as dancing.
This is the Western approach to the problem of experiencing the Self. There is also an Eastern way which is slowly entering our culture. The East has developed, in addition to verbal prayer, a rational way to increase the connection, strengthen it and even, eventually, experience it directly. I am speaking of the various forms of yoga and meditation which, if practiced correctly, persistently, and , most importantly, sincerely, strengthen the Ego to such a degree that the wall that separates between it and the unconscious slowly crumbles, and finally, falls away. This, while the Ego remains intact, still able to experience life as a unique, self-conscious identity, but also in the direct, innocent manner of a new born babe. Such a practical technique of prayer has never been developed in the West, and if you are really interested in a religious experience, then I recommend it whole-heartedly, in addition to the Western method. The path to God is a long and treacherous one, and a sincere seeker will use all the methods of prayer available.

Next Week: Why Women Are Exempt From Prayer In Judaism - A Jungian Perspective

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The New, Improved Israeli Tikkun Blog

Following up on the previous post "The New Writing Regime" I am re-opening this blog. I took the opportunity to move to the beta template and redesigned the whole thing, with new aims and new content in mind. I was aiming for a cleaner, more professional look. I added a few ads which I hope will not bother you too much. According to my calculations, if each one of my readers clicks one ad for only ten thousand times each day, by the end of the month I will be able to buy myself a one whole falafel. So, what are you waiting for?
Content will change a bit. I want to write consistently about the Repair of our society, specifically the application of psychological knowledge to a variety of issues. Theories will be mainly Jung, Adler and Imago theory. I aim to write simply and clearly and most importantly - concisely. My first goal is to express ideas in less than a thousand words, which are about half a page in a traditional newspaper. In short, my mission is to be as communicative as possible while writing about complex issues. This means that the personal posts are out as are most of the political posts although I did not write many. If you are deeply interested in me personally you can click the "Personal" label to read all the previous posts.
Which brings me to the issue of labeling. I am relabeling all the old content and it seems that is impossible to do so without Blogger re-publishing the re-labeled post each time. This results in these older posts re-appearing in your feeder. I apologize for the inconvenience, although some people have taken the opportunity to read posts they missed. I'll be re-labeling for the next hour or so and then I'll put up my first post on the new blog. It will be about prayer from a Jungian perspective and it is 1200 words long, 200 over the limit. It's a lot harder to write a short post than I thought it would be! I guess I'll get better at it the more I practice. In any case it is a great experience because it is forcing me to be absolutely clear about my ideas before writing them down, which benefits me and hopefully my readers too.
Finally - I hope you stick around to enjoy the new blog.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Passover Joke and Greetings

A year or two ago I came across a Hebrew book called "The The Big Book of Jewish Humor " , a collection of jokes gathered and edited by Prof. Adir Cohen. This is a great present for any occasion, although maybe a little expensive. The jokes are arranged by subject alphabetically and it's pretty easy to find things. For instance Passover jokes (who even knew there is such a thing) will be found under "Holidays. Here are a few for your enjoyment, if you are not to tired to enjoy anything...

One Jew asked another: "Why do we ask four questions on Passover, but none on Yom-Kippur and Rosh Ha-Shana?"
His friend answered:"You see, When a Jew sighs, and weeps, and suffers - that raises no questions whatsoever. But when we see a happy Jew, now that raises some questions that must be answered..."

A poor Jew was doing the Seder with his family, and telling the story of the exodus.
One of the sons asks:"Why do we always mention the bricks and mortar and bitterness that the children of Israel suffered in Egypt and eat charoset and Maror , but we say nothing about the great fortune that the children of Israel escaped with when they left Egypt, and don't even eat any tasty morsel to commemorate this?"
Answered the father: " That is because to this day bricks and mortar and bitterness fill our lives, while nothing is left of that great fortune..."

and a last one:
One intermediate Passover day a Jew took his lunch out to the park. He sat down on a bench and began to eat. A blind man sat down next to him. In a friendly gesture the Jews handed over a Matzoh. The blind man took hold of the Matzoh, felt it all over and said: "Who wrote this nonsense?"

That's it for now.
I wish all my readers a very happy passover, and a quick and easy path to freedom - spiritual freedom, which we have yet to achieve.

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