THE SYMBOLIC LIFE
In the Winter 2013 Newsletter we reflected on tree symbolism in light of how popular Christmas trees are this time of year. I referenced Jung’s interview in which he describes the Christmas tree custom as an example of the symbolic life. If is cultivated in a creative way, then the soul is fed. I contrasted this with the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident the previous summer when dark fantasies took over Zimmerman and he acted upon them as if they were facts. As a result Trayvon Martin was killed.
This projection of “shadow” elements of the personality were crucial to Jung’s psychology. Since Trayvon Martin we have seen many other disturbing examples of this in recent years. The killing of George Floyd by a policeman last year probably stirred the most attention. This year as Thanksgiving arrived we learned that three white men who had killed the young black man Ahmaud Arbery were convicted of murder. The facts presented to a primarily white jury took precedence over what the three men imagined.
Jung’s psychology of the unconscious stresses how important it is to distinguish fantasy from fact. For the former is mostly about us, and if we don’t pay careful attention then we project out our shadow side onto others. On the other hand we can also create problems if we ignore certain facts and let fantasies of disbelief get in the way. Our pandemic is in its second year, because of what some people imagine about the vaccines, rather than the medical facts.
The solstice time in our culture is for most people a celebratory time, and since the last two years have dampened so much of our ordinary life routines, there is a hunger for our missed rituals. Previously the Winter Solstice was a time for earlier people to carefully mark the path of the sun. Would it keep diminishing, or would it return? Not yet grounded in scientific facts, their imaginations waited to see if the light would indeed begin to return.
Ironically, as a culture that has developed so one-sidedly based on what we have learned through empirical science, many imaginations cannot see what is happening in the world around us and respond in a considered and compassionate way. Over 777,000 people have died in this country alone from Covid-19 so far, and reports indicate that one third of these people were significant caretakers of others, especially our children. The losses for many people are quite profound.
Since we have been together my wife and I travel each year to hike amongst the Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Over the years we have seen the forest slowly deteriorate. But the past two years have been truly traumatic as the fires around where we stay did not allow access to the groves. The Castle fire from last year and the Windy and KNP fires from this year, all caused by lightning, have killed some 20% of the these trees that have been considered fire resistant. But now because of climate change the fires are too hot.
Scientists have talked about the facts of global warming for some time, but our culture built on using facts, now ignores what they have to tell us, and we seem to be unable to imagine what could restore the health to our communities and to our forests.
As we approach this Winter Solstice I’d like to share one image from our late Fall visit to Sequoia National Monument. The Windy fire had been contained so access was available to private properties. But only one grove was open in all the forest area south of Kings Canyon Park, the Mountain Home State Forest. Here only some areas were open that had not been too damaged by last year’s Castle Fire.
On one trail we found a tree that had been scarred and burned right through the trunk so that you could see that sky through it. Yet branches on either side bore green leaves that the tree was still able to sustain. The tree still was supporting life. So I offer this image as a symbol of life’s resilience this Winter Solstice, that we can all join with it to find ways to honor and sustain life even in such challenging times as these.
Editor: Steve Galipeau