Sunday, December 29, 2013
Most people visit dream animals while they sleep; I see mine during the day walking around
Along Great Bay at Adam’s Point last Friday, the sun was melting new snow off the rocks. The interesting play of dark and light on this particular stone (pictured above) attracted my photographic eye. When I looked through the viewfinder to compose my shot – to my great surprise – I saw not a boulder but an elephant.
I’d always thought of elephants as magnificent social animals, big and strong, non-violent and wise. However, my heart went out to this animal because she appeared just the opposite: sad and all alone, drenched and freezing, covered with snow, melting away.
Then I went home and did some research: I found out Jungian analysts like Daryl Sharp place great importance on elephants:
"On a dreary afternoon in the fall of 1974 I was walking in the hills of Zurich, feeling bleak and very sorry for myself, when I spied an object on the path. I stooped down and picked it up. It was a little black elephant made of ebony. It was numinous to me, a magical thing. On the spot, I fell in love. "I took it to be a case of what Jung calls synchronicity, where an outer event coincides with what is going on inside. I assumed it had something to do with my psychology and I spent the next few years exploring what that might be. [i]
Was this the case with me, too? Was my introduction to this elephant a case of synchronicity, an outer event coinciding with what was going on inside me?
Chopra says this about that in his “Archetype Series: Who is Ganesha?
“Ganesha is one of the most distinctive Hindu deities, with his large elephant head and pot-bellied human body. Known as the Lord of Obstacles, Ganesha has a dual role of removing obstacles as well as creating obstructions for those whose hubris and ambition have become destructive.”[ii]
That part rang true to me. While I have worked hard emotionally and spiritually to remove obstacles from my journey, nevertheless, a set of new obstacles have recently reared their heads.
Revered for his cleverness and wisdom, according to Chopra, Ganesha is also known as the patron of letters and learning. I, too, am a patron of books and learning but, in my case, I know this cuts both ways as I have the bad habit of carrying it too far, of over-intellectualizing, of favoring my head over my heart, of thinking I know more than I do. Certainly, reviewing my history, my elephant self has created at least as many obstacles as it has removed.
Humbleness, of course, is a virtue for all humans. As Carl Jung once said, “The idea that man alone possesses the primacy of reason in antiquated twaddle.”[iii]
Jung favored the indigenous and primitive way of life over the modern. He praised the African zoological classification scale which put the elephant is at the top, followed by the lion, then the python or crocodile, and finally humans and other creatures. While our capacity for reflective consciousness may be a unique human attribute, it does not necessarily imply superiority.[iv]
Then I found the best explanation yet! This one definitely resonates with me: Is my elephant a rogue premonition of an increasing madness that is consuming animals and humans alike as capitalism and climate change drive us past the point of no return?
Indeed, it is already happening.
G.A. Bradshaw has written about escalating elephant rampages in India. This unsettling trend is continuing unabated as attested to in several recent articles. [v] Often humans and livestock are killed or sometimes only massive property damage as in the following example:
An elephant herd from Jharkhand turned violent as the locals tried to chase them away while they were guarding a female jumbo which had given birth to a calf in Nilagiri on Sunday.
The herd went berserk raiding nearby villages and damaging 10 houses. They also consumed paddy crops and other food materials that were stored by villagers in their houses.
After another group of 12 elephants joined the herd, the number of Jharkhand elephants in Kuldiha reserve forest here has reached 97. So far, the elephants have damaged 56 houses in six villages.[vi]
Indian officials openly admit to the cause, "yet another case of elephants being forced to venture into human habitation because their natural habitat is being eroded," as well as a constant threat of violence by guns, poison, electrocution, and other lethal methods of control… According the India's Elephant Task Force, the problem is systemic and solutions require …"new institutions and mechanisms" if the elephant is to be saved.[vii]
G.A. Bradshaw then asks a provocative question: is this “a case of elephant breakdown, elephant madness—or our own madness reflecting back?” As he notes: while the definition of madness remains a matter of debate, “most agree that madness reflects the soul in pain.” And in all of psychology, Carl Jung lays bare the most moving account of such angst in the pages of his Red Book:
" The work is gripping. It is impossible to remain detached from Jung's psycho-spiritual maelstrom. As we follow elegant prose along the edge of reason and irrationality, the dark, timeless abyss of the unconscious in Jung's journey swallows us. Primordial images simultaneously assault the senses. At times, the tissue-thin veil between reader and writer, past and present, real and surreal, completely vanishes. In the chapter entitled Descent into Hell in the Future, we fear for our own soul as Jung becomes a terrifying prophet from the world within: You all have a share in the murder...[viii]
“But I ask you, when do men fall on their brothers with mighyt weapons and bloody acts? They do such if they do not know that their brother is themselves. They themselves are sacrificers, but they mutually do the service of sacrifice. They must all sacrifice each other, since the time has not yet come when man puts the bloody knife into himself in order to sacrifice the one he kills in his brother. But whom do people kill? They kill the noble, the brave, the heroes.”[ix]
“They kill elephants.”[x]
Or we kill elephants by benign neglect, letting them fade away into extinction from habitat destruction and human greed. And that is what I’m seeing through my camera viewfinder: No longer the wise social Buddha, the apex of Jung’s zoological scale but a shrunken being, sad and all alone, covered with snow, melting away.
I guess the ultimate question becomes: who is mad? Is it the elephant, Carl Jung, human greed, capitalistic ideology or just me for mistaking a snow-covered boulder on Great Bay for a pachyderm?
Or is it all of us.
[iii] C. G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life edited by Meredith Sabini p. 12
[iv] ibid. page 12
[ix] Jung, C.G. (2009). The Red Book: Liber Novus. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, p. 238