The Meaning of the Samaritan

I recently got to thinking about the story of the Good Samaritan. An outcast who is rejected by his society, the Good Samaritan represents someone who is good for goodness’ sake.

It is not for nothing that people often consider the Good Samaritan to be a Christ figure. After all, both were rejected by their society despite having a benevolent heart.

The Samaritan threatens us because he subverts our expectations. While other people, including those whom society would favor, ignore the problems around them, the Samaritan goes out of his way and takes great personal risk to help a stranger. Even more, the stranger is one who would consider him an enemy. He helped someone, possibly saving their life, at his own expense and without hope of a reward.

I’m familiar with the work of Carol Pearson, an academic who applied Carl Jung’s and Joseph Campbell’s theories to the field of personal development. One of her books, Awakening the Heroes Within (Amazon affiliate link), became a major part of how I taught students about the Hero’s Journey.

I believe that the Good Samaritan represents an example of the hero brought to fruition, in a sense that agrees with both Campbell’s theme of the transformative Hero’s Journey but also Pearson’s idea of archetypal wholeness.

The Good Samaritan is someone who has mastered their self. By bringing their own needs into subordination, an act which requires a certain amount of self-sacrifice, they were capable of gathering together the virtue required to live a good life.

The stoics write about virtue as a product of self-examination end of mastery over circumstance. Later, Christians would adopt many of the most notable stoics as virtuous pagans; people who were inferior for lack of knowing Christ, but who nonetheless could be granted some sort of credence as guides to a moral life despite their ignorance because their virtues aligned with the Christian virtues.

This Samaritan walks a similar path. Without the benefit of being included in what we would consider the religious elite, he nonetheless achieves virtue greater than any of the people in Christ’s parable who would have been seen as members of the in-group.

We often hear the story of the Samaritan presented as an injunction to do good, or an injunction to treat others as our neighbors who we would not considered be our neighbors. I would interpret it differently. There is certainly a valid element to both of those interpretations, but I think it is a story of perfected morality. The Samaritan has achieved virtue, and from an unexpected place.

Both Christ and the Samaritan are reflections of the same archetypal hero. The Samaritan represents a need to seek the same heroic Destiny in our own lives; it is a call to become what we need to become to make the world a better place. The examples of the travelers who passed the wounded man represent people who have not come to a full self. Many of them seem to be virtuous. However, this surface virtue merely hides deeper problems.

They live in fear, condemnation, or busyness. They fail to prioritize others as the highest good. They have not fully developed themselves, and are slaves to their needs instead of individuals who can contribute to society.

It’s only by learning to overcome these things, a process which Pearson equates with progressing through certain archetypes of the personality, that we can begin to contribute all that we can to make him the world bathroom. Before this, not only do we run the risk causing harm, but we lack the understanding that what appears to us to be detrimental or sacrificial in the short-term will be a benefit for everyone in the end.

Reflections on Aphorisms #21

I may have gone long-form on this one without meaning to, so we’re still at just two aphorisms for today.

If anyone’s reading, feel free to comment on this. I’m always torn on whether people want to read about the interpretation or my life more (not that I’m pushy; it may be that people don’t want to read either, but if people do I’d like to make it as good as I can).

Aphorism 34

Most people write so they can remember things; I write to forget.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

There’s something sublime in the act of writing. It’s the act of making permanent thoughts which are otherwise fleeting. As a result, it can be used for more than just what it appears to do on the surface.

In the field of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung and others write about the importance of words. By putting something into words, it becomes meaningful. Without words, things tend to just disintegrate; Jung describes what he calls a process of psychic disintegration in many of his patients which often stems from an inability to name and deal with problems.

Writing lets people produce meaning around phenomena in the same way that a conversation might. Actually trying to describe something, even if the attempt fails, is a good step in understanding it. It unburdens the mind.

Describing things in writing also provides permanence. Writing down something important allows it to be remembered even if it is forgotten, since whatever has been written can be recovered at a later point.

In an ironic sense, writing to forget makes sense, even though it’s the sort of active contemplation of an idea that tends to help it go from short term into long term memory with a lot of practice and repetition. Despite this, the brain is still a fickle thing, and any piece of information you encounter is more likely to be gone tomorrow as it is to last for the rest of your life.

If you accept the fact that you have limitations, it is best to plan on those limitations coming to fruition. Writing something means that the consequence for forgetting it is gone.

My Life

I am someone who has what could be described as a busy mind. This isn’t a boast about intelligence. Rather, I am always thinking about something. I actually consider this a personality flaw.

I’m often taken by reverie and fantasy. For whatever merits this may bring in terms of creativity and passion, I have felt stark consequences for letting stuff that is important to remember be abandoned for a passing fancy. One of the greatest things about writing is that it helps remove the entirely unnecessary urgency to remember things.

I also credit my increased writing with an ability to sleep better at night. When I was younger, I suffered serious insomnia. I would be awake for hours after I went to bed. After I left college, I never had these issues. I attribute this to the fact that I have written more consistently about the things that have been on my mind.

The last time I had problems sleeping other than due to sickness or outside interference was when I got offered a freelancing gig on one of my favorite games ever by the creator himself, and got cold called to do it, no less. That sort of favorable excitement I do not associate with any disorder.

I think this is because of how much writing I do. There are very few things that go on in my life which do not get analyzed and assessed. My childhood cat and faithful companion for the past decade and change suffered a stroke back in May, and while I miss her I haven’t shed a tear for her after the day she died, and then more so for her suffering than her loss (though there were a couple moments of self-pity, especially right after she had passed).

Likewise, when I left teaching I had a hard emotional time of it, but I was able to move beyond it. I still have a deep longing to return to it, but I also know that my path lies elsewhere for now.

That doesn’t mean that there’s no sorrow, but it never conquers me. There are a lot of factors in that: faith, perspective, stoicism. These are things I’ve consciously developed as a result of my writing and reflections, but the act of writing and reflecting itself is perhaps an even greater factor in overcoming the situations I find myself with. It’s something I didn’t have ten years ago or even five years ago. Just over a year ago I had let myself descend into a slump, and working my way out of it was hard.

Now I don’t enter that slump. I am vigilant against the chance of some new and great trauma coming along to shatter my psyche, but the work I’ve done has strengthened me and bolstered my discipline.

I have written on and off for the last decade or so on whatever catches my fancy. I don’t have a total amount of writing that I’ve done, but I’ve probably written at least five million words over the course of my adult life. A lot of that hasn’t been personal, but an ever-increasing share has been.

That’s been a great way to work through stuff. My paternal grandfather always wanted me to write journals when I was a kid (I mean, he still does), and I never really wrote about my life. I would try and put the things I considered to be the products of mind on paper, but I would never write about my self, because I didn’t have a good concept of the self.

Resolution

Write so that my mind can be free.

Create when it is possible to do so.

Become better at bringing thought to fruition.

Aphorism 35

The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites – day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail against the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been and always will be; and if it were not so, existence would come to an end.

Carl Jung, from Man and His Symbols

Interpretation

The notion of archetypal duality is one that is central to Jung’s work. I don’t think that Jung’s understanding and point is that the universe isexclusively dualistic (e.g. comprised of opposites), though I do not intend to disagree with it. I simply cannot support a notion which I’m not entirely certain of.

I will agree but there are some interesting ways that we perceive the world. I’ve read some of Joseph Campbell’s work in comparative mythology and literature. What I take away from it is that whether or not the universe is truly dualistic in essence, it is definitely comprised of extremes in our minds.

Things tend to fall into one extreme or another because we have a need to come with concrete judgments to any situation we encounter. I don’t know what is the origin of the human tendency. I’ve heard people say that it is survival mechanism and a biological limitation in turn, and truth be told I don’t think it’s significant to ask why this is the case. That is evident should be sufficient as a starting point.

One of the other reasons why we tend to form concrete perceptions rather than appreciating abstract nuance is that it is easier to communicate the simple than the complex.

Not only does our ability to put something into words have an influence in our ability to communicate and perceive it, but there’s also the simple fact that we don’t always have time or skill to deal with more complex topics.

My Life

I’m generally a devotee of Jung’s, and while I do not necessarily agree with everything he says I think he is correct more often than he is not correct. This is, I believe, generally a good measure of whether or not someone is worth listening to. I don’t expect perfection from people: rather, I would be surprised by it.

Looking back on the earlier years of my life, I can see a conflict within myself which I was unaware of at the time.

I don’t think I ever had anything quite as intense as humans internal conflict, which he details in his autobiographical work Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Amazon affiliate link; I am currently listening to the Audible audiobook, and I am as enraptured by it as I tend to get when reading or listening to a great book). However, I can now see in myself a great deal of confusion over the way that I had wanted to live.

I grew up religious. Unlike Jung, whose father had doubts about his faith despite being a member of the clergy, I felt that everyone else had stronger experiences than I had, while my own were relatively weak.

This was a sort of irrational fear, because I have always been deeply spiritual. However, while most people associate the spiritual feelings with a sense of chaos (in the sense that chaos is the great unknown), but I always had a sense of comfortable order from them. My early awareness of God was that of everything being in its place, something which was perhaps even not God but rather an idealized notion of God (insomuch as something great can be idealized as something good, because my more mature understanding of the sublime nature of God is much more meaningful to me).

It was only later as an adult that further experiences would shape me. When I was in college, I had a mentor teacher who was unsupportive and actively hostile to me. She filed complaints against me (which I maintain were mostly undeserved) which led to me nearly having to change my degree program and endangering my ability to go on to teach. I have written about this before in more detail, and the recollection is painful to me, only a little, so I will not give an account of it in great detail here.

At this point in my life, I had known relatively little chaos. There were some small family matters that caused me some minor distress, but the worst of these was nothing that would be considered unusual or traumatic. In fact, my family life was probably peculiarly stable, owing to the prudence and good judgment of both my parents. My father’s work was sometimes unsteady, mostly due to the companies he worked for, but we were never financially ruined due to his foresight and dedication; one of the greatest fears in my life is that I will not grow to appreciate my abilities in the same way he underestimates his own.

The experience with my first attempt student teaching changed the way that I viewed the world. I had already had the inklings of some notional chaos from the periods where my father was between jobs, but it was only with my own personal chaos behind me that I realized that there is going to always be part of the world that I cannot control.

I had failed previously in various things, but they were all relatively minor. None of them posed any threat to my future. And it so was that I had my first encounter with what Jung would describe as archetypal chaos.

It is difficult to explain exactly how the event changed my life. I wouldn’t use the term bitterness to describe how I felt, but cynicism sounds too mundane. For a while, I slipped into what one could call a depression. It is worth noting the difference between clinical depression and depression as an emotional state, just that the two are not aligned (namely, it is easier to exit the latter), despite their similarities. The state that I was in (with maladies consisting primarily of sleep and appetite disruptions) was entirely psychogenic, a consequence of entering a state of purposelessness.

I did not appreciate this for what it was, or grasp that I had entered into archetypal chaos unprepared, and it had very nearly destroyed me. Fortunately, I was surrounded by people who supported and cared for me, and with the help of friends, family, and members of my church I was able to get back on my feat.

I returned to school, got a part-time job as a game designer, and by the end of the year I was more or less entirely back to normal. I had a great mentor teacher in a great placement to finish my student teaching, and even had time to work independently on my own games–I had to leave the game designer gig in the fall because of my student teaching, but I could always write a few hundred words in the morning or evening.

When I graduated with my degree, I had found myself back in the realm of order. In this world, good and evil is clear. Everything is clearly defined, and you know your place. I was relieved.

Then the search for a teaching job came. Since I graduated in December, pickings were slim even with a teacher shortage. My experience has had made me more selective in the jobs that I was going to take, perhaps due to an aversion to dealing with uncertainty. I was not in a hurry to test my skills again.

I had also finished work on my first big solo game. I did not expect to make money off of it, so I was not disappointed when it made pretty much no money at all. It was a passion project. However, on the day that I announced its release to my family with some pride (it had exceeded my low expectations, though not by much), my father made a remark but I do not recall precisely, but which questioned whether I would ever move out of my parents’ home.

At this time, I had never planned to make any real money to sign in games. I didn’t care to work with studios, I think this was a hold-over from some of my prior experiences that year, both in terms of my newfound disdain for uncertainty and the fact that the games that I had worked on before going solo had fizzled out before publication or even testing, despite receiving good feedback.

I developed something of a complex about criticism–or perhaps about negative feedback in any sense.

During my first year teaching, we administered assessment tests which showed us real time progress for students. I was not aware that the preview of students levels assumed that they would miss everything they had not completed, and about halfway through testing I looked at the feedback on the computer.

All or most of my students were failing in every class. I have never had an experience quite as harrowing as that, if only because of the abrupt nature of the experience. These tests were used to assess us teachers as much as the students.

In the end, the students did fine, but this instance is typical of my responses during my first couple years teaching to any chance of failure.

I think this ties back into Jung’s point because the reason that this distress occurred to me was that I was met with uncertainty.

I did not yet have the confidence in myself to accept my own definition of success. This led to me being in the no man’s land between two concrete notions of success and failure. It’s worth noting that success and failure have never been truly divorced from the notion of good and evil. As much as we have made progress in assuming that those who suffer do not suffer because of wickedness and those who succeed do not succeed because of virtue, we do not accept randomness in our own lives.

The failure to see that these dichotomies have middle points and that they are constantly in motion was a cause of persistent angst for me. In that sense I think that the idea that Jung has left out of this statement is that the mutually exclusive dualism of many parts of life is not as mutually exclusive as the term “inexorable opposite” would imply.

Resolution

Pay attention to the dynamics of things.

Never forget that things are in motion and must be kept on top of.

Don’t be afraid of the unknown, harness it.

On Being Everything

Recently, I have been reading Montaigne.

The full ramifications of this have yet to be seen; he is an interesting figure, and his writings are even more so, full of anecdotes and ramblings. His works are deep and profound, but they’re also shallow and lighthearted. Simultaneously with contradicting himself, Montaigne seems to be right about everything, which is infuriating.

I have also been working on the aspirational identification of myself with the heroic individual; I feel that this is a necessary step for me to improve my own life and the world.

Undergoing this process is something that is painful, often difficult, and also requires equally painful and difficult soul-searching.

One thing that I will do is consider maxims and then decide whether they are true or not. I try to come up with these as creatively as possible, or use what I read as an inspiration.

Today, one of these maxims popped into my head, and it was rather troubling for me:

I am everything in the universe.

Now, I don’t know how much I trust the random thoughts that pop into my head. In fact, I actually trust them very little. My brain is very good at free association and wandering aimlessly and without purpose. Most of the maxims I try to apply to myself are true only in part, which is perhaps the fundamental element of the human condition.

In any case, to the extent that the above statement is true, I don’t believe that it is necessarily a positive. At least, I do not interpret it in a sort of heliocentric egoism.

Rather, I think there is something to be said for the human spirit as a tabula rasa. Not necessarily in Rousseau’s noble savage conception of it, but rather in the sense that a person undeveloped can turn into anything.

I grew up in a traditional Christian upbringing, though I was not really acquainted as closely with theological traditions until I became older.

Two important traditions within Christianity, or at least the sect of Christianity that I find myself within, are those of original sin and total depravity.

Pairing this with the seemingly blasphemous maxim that popped into my head, it becomes immediately apparent that there are limitations to this, but it holds some truth.

This gives birth to a truer maxim, one which is more measured:

I am capable of becoming everything within my limitations.

The problem with this is that it is not necessarily a positive statement.

I’ve read a fair deal of Jung, though not as much as I would like. One of Jung’s most influential concepts in my life is that of the Shadow, the darker inner side of the subconscious that is hidden from our waking life.

In my life, I have the luxury of being relatively moral. I have made, generally, decisions which I can look back upon with at least a veneer of respectability, though I would say that I have made decisions that have generally benefited the world. I might be barely breaking even, all things considered, but I am at least not dragging everything down.

But I could be.

When I was a young adult, I had my first experience with holding a gun. My mother had paid for my brother and I to go to a firing range (I do not remember the circumstances that led up to this), and we had a rental lined up.

I remember relatively few of the details; I was able to piece many of them together later from the benefit of reflection, but they are not as important as the general experience.

When holding that gun, I had the realization that the power of life and death was in my hands. Perhaps, it would be appropriate to point out, it was only the power of death in my hands.

Barring my initial anxiety–my knowledge of guns came only from the movies, and while we had gone through the basic safety guidelines my brother and I were left to our own devices on the range–the event passed without incident. I was not a good shot, and remain mediocre at best to this day despite a few more trips to the range, but the sensation was familiar.

A similar sensation washes over me when I drive a car, a knowledge that I have within my capacity a great deal of harm.

For a while, I lived in terror of this feeling. I could not put it in words, but my own danger, that is, the danger I posed to the world around me, scared me.

The result was internal conflict. In the Jungian sense, I had awoken a dragon within my Shadow, but I had not figured out how to confront it.

Later, when I was reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life (affiliate link), I would discover that this is a common ailment.

I had not considered the fact that everything resides inside me.

This is not to be interpreted as a manifestation of hubris, because the everything within is not manifest in a complex form. Rather, it is as if the elemental motives that make up reality, matter in the sense that the things that matter are matter, all exist within me. They are latent, but awaken in tune with my spirit.

To overcome the dissonance within my psyche, I had to reach the realization that I was not just a good person. The notion of a good person is so vague by definition that it is easy for us to categorize ourselves as such. I often witness children ask if they have been good or bad, as if seeking exculpation. The truth of the matter is that nobody can make that assessment on a reasoned basis. The complexities of reality are such that judgment to the point of condemnation (though not judgment to the point of discernment) is impossible.

The truth is more complex. As I mentioned earlier, I have begun to better envision what a “good person” is; I have begun a process of alignment with the heroic individual who embodies those virtues that I wish to embody.

The counterpart to that is recognizing that there is a fraud, a war criminal, a traitor in every heart. Each step taken toward virtue means a step taken away from blind convention. Peterson would describe this as going from order to chaos, and this is a good conceptualization of the process.

There’s a Nietzsche-like element to the process. Stepping away from habit and toward a place where one can develop virtue also leaves one prone to stepping into darkness. The pursuit of light does not come without a risk of hypocrisy, of bringing the wrong elements of the self into dominance.

This is the Jungian Shadow: you are sheltered from your weaknesses by sticking to the rut, but to move beyond you must confront the worst elements of yourself and risk disaster.

The dragon I had to fight–the adversary I am still facing–is that the potential for great disaster lies within my own self, within my best intentions and the potential for me to give into baser desires.

I am everything in the universe, in its basest form, and that’s not as good as it might seem. I strive to inflect myself in such a way that I develop into the ideal; to pick up my cross and follow the righteous path.

Reflections on The Examined Life

The Examined Life (affiliate link), by Peter Grosz, is a book based on his practice as a psychoanalyst. I was led to it by an article that I had read on The Guardian about the use of cognitive behavioral therapy as opposed to psychoanalysis to treat mental illness. The article itself is more in-detail in its findings than I care to be here: you can read it for yourself if you so desire.

When I was in college, I had to read one of Freud’s case studies for a course. It was a survey of the humanities, and while I greatly enjoyed the class in general I remember being somewhat put off of the whole notion of psychoanalysis by Freud.

It is only through the work of Joseph Campbell that I wound up making a connection to Jung, and from Jung I discovered that psychoanalysis of the sort practiced by Freud was not the extent of the field.

Grosz provides case studies of psychoanalysis that are both analytical (as they should be), but also personal. While there is a limit on how much can be said for the sake of the patients’ privacy, there is also a lot of depth, which makes reading the case studies an interesting and intimate process.

There is something about the way that Grosz recounts things that makes the whole affair into something like a biography of the ordinary man. While it is true that many of the clients that Grosz works with would not technically be considered wholly ordinary, the humility that he expresses and the earnest, down-to-earth practice (including admissions of his own errors or misjudgments) goes a far way toward making the read worthwhile.

All-in-all, I finished The Examined Life in two days. The book is structured into sections and chapters based on topics, though the majority of chapters focus on just one or two cases.

There’s something transcendental in reading such things. Our human minds are capable of weaving mysteries hidden from ourselves, but seeing that same process go on in others shows us something of our essence, to borrow a notion from ancient philosophy.

The structure of the book, as it is, is probably one of its best achievements. I’ve also been reading the essays of Montaigne and listening to a sort of biography-cum-analysis centered on his life and works, and I am immediately struck by the similarity in the broad-topic specific-analysis correlation between the two works, written centuries and languages apart.

I think that it’s possible to see something of ourselves when we read a work like this, both in Grosz and his clients. While some of the examples are extreme (for instance, a child who engages in increasingly oppositional defiant behavior), there are also more common examples.

Upon reflection, I can easily draw connections between Grosz’s patients and the work of Ibsen, or of Miller. There is something that is literary and timeless in the individual mortal experience; an archetypal connection between the being of an individual and the Being of reality as a whole.

There is another side here, a side that Tolstoy illustrates in his magnificent Death of Ivan Ilych, the notion that we are incapable of believing that which we do not wish to believe, as Grosz’s patient who has every possible piece of evidence that her husband is having an affair, but only draws the connection after discovering a neatly loaded dishwasher in his apartment away from home.

However, the art of the psychoanalyst goes deeper; the mind is deep and multilayered, and there are things within it that remain unconscious to the individual, shown in dreams and complexes but not in conscious thought. These things cannot be believed not because they are necessarily abhorrent or because a person is in conscious denial, but rather because they are entirely unknown to us: Jung’s conception of this took the form of the Shadow.

The Shadow is the part of the mind that we are unaware of, the subconscious. Confronting the Shadow is important, because it bears strengths and weaknesses that otherwise are occluded from our awareness. Having these known to us provides us with a great tool to improve ourselves, both by extending our potential and by allowing us to shield ourselves from our greatest weaknesses.

Grosz’ work involves voyaging into that realm, that unknown part of the mind, and retrieving from it treasures. To do so, he must often help his patients vanquish the dragons that guard their inner keeps.

I think that this is why The Examined Life is such a compelling read. It is not merely the fact that it presents a deep picture of each of us as individuals, something which we want dearly to believe for the sake of avoiding the oblivion of meaninglessness. This is an expansion upon the explanation given for its popularity in The Guardian’s article, which I mentioned earlier. However, I think that this is just part of the appeal: it is a compelling read not only for its picture of the human individual as a being capable of worth, but also because it is a reflection of the heroic process.

After all, the individual is meaningless if their actions are also meaningless, but when an action becomes meaningful it provides the actor with meaning. Carry that further, to the greatest possible good, and you have a sort of deity in the form of Meaning: values strong enough to justify the pain and suffering of existence.

Review and Reflection: Maps of Meaning

Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning is a challenging read. Peterson is perhaps best known for his 12 Rules for Life (affiliate link), a mixture of self-help, pop psychology (but from a real expert), and classic wisdom.

Maps of Meaning (affiliate link) eschews some of the self-help elements of 12 Rules for Life, but is deeply embedded in psychology, myth, and storytelling.

Continue reading “Review and Reflection: Maps of Meaning”

The Power of Love

As I’ve been branching out into creative writing, I also have felt a pull to move toward other sorts of writing. I’m going to try my best to keep these essays non-political and positive, or at least not negative and spiteful.

Since this blog is no longer strictly about games, I feel that it’s a good time to diversify, since a lot of the work I’m doing on my game projects is strictly in the background.

Continue reading “The Power of Love”