Computers, Carl Jung, and the Darkness of Mere Being

Jung is right. There is no coming to consciousness without pain. Of late, after long neglect, I have returned to walking through the ravine near our house, descending 89 wooden steps of a switchback that comes to a bridge over a creek. Through shadow and sunlight, through bracken, fern and salmonberry on either side, over jumbles of mossy rock, the creek flows under alder and maple, hemlock and fir. There are choices of paths from the bridge, but the one I take leads up 26 wooden steps to a path ascending a trifle steeply for a few minutes to a grassy clearing. From there I take a path leading 62 wooden steps downward to the creek once more, where I cross the creek by bridge again and follow a trail leading steadily upward, recrossing the creek  three times yet again by three bridges, still ascending along the creek, till eventually I emerge into the full sunlight of the street and head for home. From doorstep back again the walk takes at most twenty minutes. Aside from providing a brief form of genial exercise in silence of nature, the walk allows for possibilities of observation and quiet reflection.

But this is hardly the whole story. As I have said, I have neglected walking the ravine almost entirely for some three years at least. So I ask myself now how it happened that I turned away from the ravine, why all that time I stood – or rather sat – aloof from that ravine until only a few days ago. Well, it cannot come as a surprise to most readers that during those three or more years my hands were so fixed on the computer keyboard, my eye so fixed to the computer screen, I had become for all intents and purposes – insofar as walking the ravine was concerned at least – completely immobile. My slippered feet were as securely shackled to the floor under the desk as a galley slave’s bare feet a couple of thousand years ago might have been shackled to the deck of a Roman warship crisscrossing the Mediterranean – never to be freed till the day he gave up the ghost.

All it took was a foolish mistake on my part in trying to fix a stubborn problem, resulting in a massive break-up of the whole cyber-slave-ship scenario, to liberate me from that ceaseless inner drum beat I had been pulling to. Of course that is not how it seemed at first. At first the break-up seemed like a failed circus act from which I wanted like a trapeze artist to flip out from and begin all over again. Nothing doing. Hours passed, then days, with no computer to work with. Painful? Yes, painful.  Feelings of helplessness grew as self-imposed deadlines came unmet and passed by.

Then arrived the moment I let it all go, the moment that I breathed out.

“Every form of addiction is bad,” writes Carl Jung, whose anniversary of death is today, “no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” Or for that matter, the keyboard and the bright screen, early every morning. . . . But what if these hours at the keyboard, granted that they can be a kind of addiction, are even more a matter of religion? “God has fallen out of containment in religion,” writes Jung, “and into human hearts — God is incarnating. Our whole unconscious is in an uproar from the God Who wants to know and to be known.”   What if that uproar from God, as Jung has it, has to do with God actually having a human heart? What if this God Who wants to know and to be known is, in other words, a jealous God?

“Religion,” asserts Alfred North Whitehead, “is what a man does with his solitude.” Ouch. Well, if his definition leaves much out, his point nevertheless sharply finds me out. But I very much like Madame de Staël’s understanding of religion: “Religion is nothing,” she says,  “if it is not everything, if existence is not filled with it, if we do not incessantly maintain in the soul this belief in the invisible, this self-devotion, this elevation of desire” – her ideal being that the whole of life should be “naturally and without effort, an act of worship at every moment.” Or, in other words, as Saint Paul urgently advises, really to practice religion means to “pray without ceasing”, prayer coming of course in many different forms. When it comes to love of God and of neighbor, for example, even thinking can become prayer in a spirit of faith, just as action can become prayer in a spirit of hope.

How then to make one’s time at the computer “an act of worship at every moment”? How, at the computer, to “pray without ceasing”? As Jung comments, “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Jung found his way of doing just that, and by his own account it brought him to the very brink of insanity. This was so even as he helped others out of that darkness of mere being into the light of conscious soul-experience. “Show me a sane man,”  Jung once claimed, “and I will cure him for you.” Well, he should know, shouldn’t he, having gone to the depths and come up again. “Our heart glows,” he writes, “and secret unrest gnaws at the root of our being. Dealing with the unconscious has become a question of life for us.”

And what better way to avoid this question of life, this dealing with the unconscious, than to be fixed at that keyboard and at that brightly lit screen — morning, noon, or night, it hardly matters — for hours at a time? What better way, properly and with due obligation,  to numb so effectively one’s own conscious soul-experience? I have asked, following Whitehead, What if it comes down to a question of religion?  What do I do with my solitude? To Jung as psychotherapist this question of religion should be acknowledged as a matter of central concern by every single person past mid-life: “I have treated many hundreds of patients,” he comments. “Among those in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life.”

Not that I have come to any easy answers. As a good friend of mine once said to me — unoriginally yet unforgettably –regarding the whole question of going online: “You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.”

Yes, Ahriman is having his way with us for sure. The thing is, what am I learning from being so many hours on the computer? And also, what is the way through? We can agree, as Henry Ford might very well say these days were he alive, that information is bunk. Relative to this, Jung has, I think, offered wise words worthy of thoughtful consideration. “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” In what way then will these hands, so often busy at the computer keyboard, solve the mystery for me? I cannot see that Jung would disagree with what the Apostle Paul has to say on this score. In 1 Timothy 2:8 we read: “I will therefore that everyone pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Prayer as thinking, prayer as action . . .

Without wrath and without doubting, to deal with this secret unrest  gnawing at the root of our being, to deal with it forthrightly,  and whether we are working at the computer hours at a time early mornings or whether we are walking through a ravine later in the day along a creek crossing bridges in shadow and sunlight, to learn to pray continually – and remembering always that, without exception, there is no coming into real consciousness without pain.

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

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