Global Heart

Last month I wrote and spoke about the difficult practice of clearing the mind of thoughts to allow a bit of the stuff represented by Soma into the stream of consciousness. Allow me to offer a short autobiographical account:

In 1995 I completed my Master’s Degree in counseling psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. If you haven’t heard of it, take a look at, one of the great centers on the planet for depth psychology and mytho-poetic thought. Joseph Campbell sensed this early on and left them his library, significantly furthering their cause. They draw strong influence from C.G. Jung, and in turn James Hillman and Marija Gimbutas, as well as most of the other luminaries in that field.

To survive the rigors of grad school, I discovered I wasn’t turning to the medicine I was learning to use, i.e.: psychology, but rather, found incredible help through yoga. I finished the degree, embarked upon my third trip to India, undertook my first serious surrender to Pattabhi Jois and the Ashtanga lineage, came back and began to teach yoga full-time. I was compelled by yoga, and enough of our society shared this feeling to allow me to make a living doing it.

I consider Jung’s and Pacifica’s world to be that part of our being which responds when we are deeply stirred by a movie, a novel, heroism, romance, visual art, a dream, conflict in relationship, crisis in ourselves. Jung traced this response down, seeking the roots of the psyche and unearthed and beautifully expressed essential interpersonal dynamics such as archetype, shadow and projection.

A common criticism of Jung however, as Aurobindo noted, is that he hung around in the mud of existence and didn’t know much about how high we can rise. Jung’s archetypes draw us down, (closer to amoebas) whereas he was wary of the other end of the spectrum, such as Shankaracharya’s archetypes which compel us up (toward higher evolutionary forms) and in (closer to Spirit, by whatever name). Getting down has great value, doubtless, but it is not the whole story by a long shot. (Maybe you agree with this, maybe you don’t, comments and challenges are welcome. Ken Wilber at is the great resource for this dialogue in my experience.) To that I would also add that Jung knew the unconscious mind but was less astute about the experienced body which involves cultivating somatic awareness.

Long story short, by the time I was 22 I was swimming in the mind and the archetypes from who knows which direction, and craved clarity and strength. I was in Darjeeling that year, in the mountains above Calcutta in India, marveling at the wonder which is Mount Kanchenjunga. We had recently completed a 34 day trek on foot, circumambulating about 2/3rds of this majestic peak, third tallest in the world. In Darjeeling, I would awaken in my hotel room and look at it out the window. Walking along an alley on the terraced steep hillside, musing, I peered in the open door of a small house to see a man practicing dhanurasana, a backbend. I hate to admit that my first response was envy, but that soon gave way to an urgent desire to undertake a serious Hatha Yoga practice, to use the body as a means of controlling the mind, to learn to articulate and mediate my reactions to the stuff emerging from below: my past, and that of the collective. And I had intuitions of various kinds of furniture coming in from above, those were interesting: a sense of what was coming.

So to finish here, I would like to offer the position that a focused yoga practice can bring the deep stuff of the psyche to a fuller and higher expression than Jung’s alchemy alone, and, by extension, western psychology alone. Granted, the “nonsense” and paradox of alchemy appears to generate a kind of psychic tension and clearing  similar to that which appears through  Asian yoga practice. Also, novels, music, movies, performance and ritual that deeply affect us are unequaled in the capacity to loosen stuff up in the first place; India has great epics but they have not pursued story and symbol like the West. Their music is equal to ours, as is their ritual and performance. However, I hold Asian yoga to go much further and to get much higher in terms of its clarity about the possibilities of higher consciousness and its ability to help us sustain such a state; in general, the methods for how to realize and maintain higher consciousness through practice which have come from the West are hapless compared to those from the East. (As a rebuttal, one may claim that Jung’s intent wasn’t so much to get us “high” as it was to be therapeutic and healing, partly by helping to provide meaning.) Regardless, Jung viewed Western alchemy as being about the closest the West has gotten to the yoga of the East and he felt that Westerners should build on that instead of pursuing yogas developed through Eastern cultural environments. As the world has become more global, that concern of his becomes more and more moot (see October 2007 for more).

So, it has emerged that the Eastern ways, of which Ashtanga is one, need to be combined now with the Western ways, of which Jung is one. In support of such a strong statement, it can be noted that every Guru from the East who has touched our Western lives is currently in an active engagement with the West. The ones who haven’t , we in the West don’t know about.  Indeed, a huge aspect of India’s history since the 1500’s is its engagement with the West. Krishnmacharya attempted to become pure East, a master linguist who purposely avoided learning English even though he was surrounded by it. His students, Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar, however are not East so much as East/ West; the engagement with the West is a huge part of their story. The same can be said of the Dalai Lama.

The West says, “Think and you shall Be”, the East says, “Wake up from the dream which is the movie of your mind.” The complete picture is to do both. Depth psychology’s heartmind just never gets high enough. But quitting life to do full-time yoga in a cave with eyes rolled back may never allow large portions of our psyche to get into play at all. The thing which is bigger than mind and fuller than no-mind is global Heart. Let’s do that.

Namaste, Steve

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006 at 6:42 pm and is filed under Ashtanga Yoga. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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