A friend called my attention to a much publicized report of a near-death experience as described by neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander. This kind of imagery which I describe as an upsurge of content from the Collective Unconscious is of interest to me. Below is my note to my friend of my initial thoughts of the report. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/10/07/proof-of-heaven-a-doctor-s-experience-with-the-afterlife.print.html
Oct. 14, 2012
Hello friend . Thanks for the article. Some initial thoughts: I have no doubt about the legitimacy of Dr. Eben Alexander's experience. From a Jungian, and my own personal experience, perspective this can be described as an upsurge of archetypal material from the Collective Unconscious. Jung postulated , as Dr. Alexander stresses, that at the ultimate level all things are 'one' or connected and interdependent. This is in much opposition to how we Western people have learned to think and believe about everyday reality.. Jung hypothesized that this 'unity' is also the case of the 'matter-energy' opposites. That they have a connection. Under precise circumstances Energy can become and change matter and visa-verse. So the brain's ego functioning shutting down and yet images being received, to later be recalled by the conscious ego, would be considered possible. It may also be that our present instruments say the brain is completely shut down when it really isn't. After all he did not die. (I was hopeful that my brother Gene might 'awake' with a special story to tell us. If he did I would suspect it would be similar to this one and we would have been similarly astounded.)
As Dr. Alexander says atomic/nuclear physics has been reaching such similar conclusions for many decades. Jung and world renowned physicist Wolfgang Pauli( remember the Pauli Exclusion Principle?) had many documented conversations concerning these matters. Many a hard-nose scientific materialist has had another story to tell after an experience like this of Collective Unconscious contents breaking through to his conscious ego. And in our day even the most formally uneducated among us are generally hard-nose materialists. That is why they often turn religious images into physical realities and insist that Bible nature miracle stories are material history. The common concept of natural vs supernatural is unnecessary according to such images as Dr. Alexander had. Nothing is mutually exclusive but all is part of a unity. The 'laws of nature' to the extent we know them were operating in Bible times the same as they are now(contrary to the 'age of miracle theory we were both taught.) An experience of the the type he describes here is obviously not material yet it can drastically alter ones world view like nothing else. Why some have such experience and others do not is a mystery. I do know erruptions of images from the Collective Unconscious can be very dangerous and can occur to people on the full range of intelligence and of a capacity to deal with it constructively.
|Bright Light Image Of Heaven|
Dr. Alexander also says this does not mean pitching out objective reasoning skills that have been so hard won the past four centuries. This is always a danger when anyone discovers there is 'more to reality' than what has been discovered via the common senses and rational reasoning. Because then people's imaginations run wild with all kinds of speculations and they can believe whatever they wish because 'science is not anymore right than my subjective thoughts' about anything . That is a big danger in our day and heard in the Halls of highest places. Our best objective discipline must be held in tension with material that goes beyond science and material reality. They are not mutually exclusive but, as with all things according to Dr. A's vision, are mutually interdependent. He suggests that what will be discovered and understood about the 'other world' will be built on past scientific efforts as well as make meaningful the religious stories that we are heir to. I appreciate this emphasis when he says, “This(emerging) view of reality is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: TRUTH” It is a much larger challenge than most realize to let ourselves actually be 'truth seekers' as opposed to 'tradition and status-quo defenders' in order to enter these opening realms. We must learn to keep what is valid and also be willing to let loose of inappropriate but long loved uses of religious texts and what have become only 'wished for' religious and cultural beliefs.
I appreciate him saying he has much work to do both in understanding what has happened to him and in how to make of it any real value and acceptance by other people. Jung said, 'Any fool can have a vision , it is what one does with it and whether he can eventually communicate it meaningfully to his peers that determines whether it becomes of any value to the species.'
|Painting of Hell @ 16th Century ?|
For a long time I have not been concerned about the deceased or with whether or not there is any personal consciousness we experience after death. (Dr. Alexander is not bringing this vision back from death but only 'near death.' )That just does not capture my interest anymore for I don't think it is our real human spiritual problem needing to be addressed. It has become more of a curiosity to many. I do suspect that whatever progress any of us makes in raised consciousness in this life is not lost but will continue to bring benefits to humanity even if not in our present life. My attitude of not being so concerned with the afterlife is becoming somewhat more common in America as the public loses its long fear and belief in a Hell where individuals are punished eternally. This belief is being rejected and the Biblical material considered symbolic even in Evangelistic Christian circles. Modern Bible scholarship rejected such a notion of an eternal hell many decades ago. There is a movie coming out now about my Church of Christ friend Edward Fudge, based on his experience and book, that reaches this basic conclusion about Hell. The movie is 'Hell And Mr. Fudge' and the book is 'The Fire That Consumes.' I think that the notion we can dispense with such a powerful eternal archetype as Hell or think we humans can escape its myriad ways of being experienced is absurd, but to finally reject it as a literal place where the condemned are punished forever is way past due.
What I consider a highest importance such experiences can serve is to make us aware of how and where 'religious ideas and images' have actually originated. Dr. Alexander suggests this as he sits in a beautiful church with the sensory stimulation that is there. How it meant nothing to him before but how now it reminds him of his 'vision' like experience at near death. If like me he would likely be bored terribly by the 'creed' (taken literally) of the church or with rationalistic interpretations of the Bible like most sermons today. Archetypal experience as he indicates is far more than can ever be expressed in human words and logical deductions. It is the experience of 'direct knowledge.' I like how he attempts to describe that.
The other important implication and responsibility is that such experience can help us humans to find how to relate the key messages of such visions to how we operate socially(communal human living and contributing) and politically(communal decision making and power distribution) in this very real world, the only one we know. These are central in Jesus' words eg. the prayer that it 'be on earth as it is in heaven' and his central emphasis of justice for the weak and marginalized.
|Jesus Feeding Five Thousand|
If the primary use of such archetypal material is only to give us comfort and a looking forward to after death I think it has missed its real target. I hope this dawns on Dr Alexander and perhaps it already has but not necessarily. Just as much religious teaching is not genuinely applied to making life on earth far more as it is in 'heaven' religion often does the opposite... makes people devalue the potentials of this life and people/ideas that are experienced as 'other.' This leads to an escape of our human responsibilities(especially our social ones) here in a rush to get to 'one's personal eternal reward.' Most Christians see such a mistake in suicide bombers looking forward to their heavenly virgins. Christians can make the same kind of mistake with our sacred texts as well.
I hope this makes sense. These kinds visions I think have authoritative social (communal human living and contributing/producing)implications for humanity.... that 'we are all one'... that 'we are all similarly connected to each other and to God.' And that each person is far more complicated than we have thought and has much greater potential to experience giving and receiving love than we have thus far experienced. And that each one has gifts from God to share that are much needed by others. The implication is this can move us to responsibly create earthly social , economic and health configurations and care of the environment that are far more consistent with and in harmony with such visions... which like he says are visions that have been documented for ages, from all kinds of people from all over the world and in all major religions. So I take renewed hope any time someone has such a story to tell. The question is when will there be enough collective mass and will to put these visions to productive application in our real present spiritually desperate world.?
Dr. Alexander. does mention an image of the strange 'darkness of God'. He does not give much testimony(so likely did not experience it) to the powerful and often disturbing impact of such darkness which I would say is an image of : from where all that is or ever will be comes... both the good he so emphasizes and evil which is just as real. So I would take it that his vision touches more on only one of the 'opposites' that are crying out for some kind uniting in today's split world. But even without this I am very glad to see the kind of report he is bringing and hope it will receive much public attention. There is a lot of movement in the collective consciousness of people going on in our day. Change is surely in the air. We can only hope that such change can take place with minimal human suffering and reach goals that are in harmony with the archetypes seeking active responsible expression in our day.
I hope Dr. Alexander is not rushing to ride a newly formed wave of public fame at the expense of doing the necessary, private and hard work of internalizing and assimilating these vision intrusions appropriately into his ego consciousness. You can sense that he is experiencing nearly being 'swept away' with the wonder of it all. This is another danger. Such things are far more than personal stories to tell. They should not be thought of as 'mine.' They reflect collective needs, challenges and aspirations. I only reluctantly began some writing publicly about my experience with the archetypes less than two years ago. Even then nearly hoping no one reads it for I know how unreal it must sound to most people. I have done much work with this material privately and with trusted objective persons. I had the initial 'vision' experiences twenty seven years ago. These are not warm fuzzy tales to be told to the grandchildren but can tear a person right out of his world and from his grandchildren and everyone else if not tended to carefully. This is more especially true if they also contain the darker aspects of the unconscious which I think near-death experiences usually do not. He alludes to the darkness but not with any of the emotional impact it is surely capable of bringing. We should not forget that a simple 'mushroom cloud' image was used by a president to frighten the nation enough to start a war. Even Martin Luther speaks of the 'dark side of God.' The Biblical apocalyptic material such as The Revelation Of John and Ezekiel and Daniel along with the whole book of Job have more than a serving of these kinds of powerful images. These too, in ways beyond our present rational capacities, are part of the ultimate 'unity of all that is' which the Dr.'s vision touches on. And such material needs to be handled with kids gloves and a large portion of humble human responsibility.
Oh, and how glad I am that Dr. Alexander reports such strong 'anima'-- the inner feminine structure of the male psyche---experience. 'She' has been a central reality in all my experiences of the Collective Unconscious and sometimes very similar to how he describe her. My blog is filled with such imges. She is indeed the connecting link between the male ego and the contents of the Collective Unconscious very much as Dr. Alexander. describes here, a guide 'par excellence.'
I do not get the impression that Dr. Alexander has yet digested much Jungian thought if he has even heard of it. But I would be very surprised if, as he continues his search, he will not come to that rich and incomparable resource for such matters. I can think of nothing that would give more meaning to what he has experienced. It has helped me as I have written these few things in response to Dr. Alexander's story.
Jung too had a near death experience which he describes in the first chapter of 'Dreams, Memories and Reflections.' As I recall parts of it are not unlike what the Dr. describes.
Thanks again for remembering me with such stories. You have stirred my mind on an otherwise typical but beautiful day. I hope your health continues to be good. My very best for you and yours always. Would enjoy visiting sometime. Your friend, . Jim