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Reply To: Tossing the Golden Ball,” with mythologist Catherine Svehla, Ph.D.”


Hi James,

you write eloquently about a very important problem. What do we do when the old models don’t work and further, when we are members of/trapped in societies that don’t offer viable alternatives or support the quest for them? Each of us faces these questions and I agree, being male or female greatly influences the models, pressures, and types of response.

Reading your words brought three insights from Jung to mind, insights that guide my work and my sense of its necessity.

One, that “Western” people live in cultures with a one-sided consciousness, specifically an overemphasis on reason, the measurable material, and the literal. You see this in the dominant metaphor of the “machine”– cosmos, world, society as machine and the human being as cog in it.

Two, that the solution or response to this situation is the symbolic life. Learning to attend to images and metaphors in the world and those that rise up in the self. Dreams. Etc. Imagination/the life with soul. This is the source of our connection to what is larger, “in” us and beyond us. This connection assuages the existential loneliness. It is the source of vitality, purpose, meaning, identity, and inner authority.

Three, that without the symbolic life and that connection, the individual offers him/herself inadequate answers to the questions of life, and so is unfulfilled, neurotic, and vulnerable to outside pressures. On the collective level, you have people who are bored and empty, who seize on any opportunity for sensation and excitement, no matter how fleeting or how (in the case of war) violent and insane.

I’m merely adding my primary reference points to yours, I know. I see the problem too. I do wonder if we are at an inflection point. Terrible pain and suffering is often the catalyst for change. As long as there’s enough comfort, in the personal or collective life, we can deny, distract, and hide. When the situation becomes unbearable, we change. I don’t say this to dismiss the suffering!! And yet, as the pain of the one-sidedness spreads and is deeply felt by more and more members of society…

I believe that those of us who see the problem in this way are called to live a life with soul, to keep exploring what that means, and to share what we learn with others, one person at a time. You never know who you touch, or how.