Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: August 2004.
Since last May’s issue, where I wrote “Sensitive Spirituality: HSPs, Meditation, and Enlightenment,” I found a very relevant article by David Tresan, a Jungian analyst. It is titled “This New Science of Ours [referring to Jungian psychology]: A More or Less Systematic History of Consciousness and Transcendence.” (It’s actually in two parts, in the April and June issues of the Journal of Analytical Psychology. These would be difficult to read if you do not have the right specific background, but if you are determined you can find them in most university libraries or purchase them on the internet, through Blackwell, the journal publisher.) Mostly the article is about the history of the crucial human experience and concept that I was describing in the last issue, the state of pure consciousness—of being conscious, but with few or no images and thoughts. In particular, Tresan does a masterful job of showing how Jung was attracted to, but held back from, the full experience and meaning of such a state, always withdrawing into symbols, categories, and discussions. That is, images and thoughts.
But what led Tresan to write his article, and what he wrote first, were simply some observations about the unusual interactions that he had experienced between analyst and analysand after they have been seeing each other for many years. Indeed, he says that the entire writing project began because he was trying to think through whether it was acceptable to allow an analysis (what most of us would call psychotherapy) to last for ten, twenty, or thirty years. Does it foster dependence? Or does it lead to something more, so deep due to the special intimacy that it cannot and should not be artificially ended for reasons of “good technique.”
How this all connects to enlightenment is that, after such a long time in analysis, Tresan has found that most of the usual topics have already been discussed. And because of the age and experience of the person, no major new topics are likely to arise unless new traumas occur. Even dreams are briefer and less frequent after this much analysis. Hence the analysand frequently arrives with nothing planned, and the two engage in what becomes a spontaneous, often partly wordless, co-created state that hovers at the edge of what cannot be described in words. That is, what’s happening is a transcendence beyond words and images to a sense of consciousness without contents. Pure consciousness. And I said in the last issue that this state is what becomes permanently accessible for the enlightened, with certain changes in the personality being the result.
Enlightenment—After Years of Development In A Relationship?
Many have said that experiencing the transcendent, pure consciousness, is the ultimate purpose of life, especially when all the other purposes are more or less satisfied. I feel certain that Tresan would not want it said that the goal of long-term analysis is enlightenment, or even that analysis sometimes happens to lead to enlightenment. Tresan is very aware that words, and terms such as this one in particular, tend to become used in ways that freeze what was fluid, making it a rigid “thing” to be studied and pursued. All I want to note is that the state Tresan describes as occurring after some lengthy analyses has the most important element of enlightenment: The experience of the transcendent has become more and more accessible, so that it seems that it can never be entirely lost.
However, what he is describing also differs from the usual view of enlightenment in two interesting ways. First, it only arrives after many years of living as well as of inner work. Most traditions describe enlightenment as arriving any time in life, and often quite early, at least for the saints. But Tresan is suggesting that this state generally requires one to have lived at least fifty years. That’s some good news for a change about aging, and fresh reason to respect (some of) your elders!
Second, while I doubt he would ever say that one has to be in a dyad to have a transcendent experience, Tresan is holding out the promise that after years of working on and in a very inward-focused sort of relationship, as well as the members in it working on themselves, certain dyads may generate a transcendent state of consciousness as a field between them. That is, the two have moments of being deeply aware of participating in a shared transcendental consciousness. There are fewer and fewer thoughts and images, those that do occur are compellingly deep, yet only a few of these seem to need to be spoken. And whatever does arise seems to be shared almost synchronistically.
But it is consciousness itself, without contents, that is most momentous shared experience. As Tresan expresses it, whenever humans have experienced pure consciousness, without thoughts or feelings, “without a bottom,” then “at the same time an invisible god appears on the horizon of the world” (Part I, p. 209). But he’s adding that, like a solitary spiritual practice, certain special dyads deserve careful tending so that they may lead to this state. The details of such a relationship and how to create it are not my subject right now. While Tresan is speaking of the long-term analytic relationship, and describes it very well, I suppose it could be true of others, too. The important point to me regarding how we think about enlightenment is that such dyads can reach this level of development. And if they do, one could argue that they have come to exist only for their own sake, in that the ultimate goal of consciousness is not to know or do anything, but simply to know itself.