I recently attended the annual Mind Matters conference, hosted by the Jungian Society and the University of Toronto’s Buddhism and Psychology Students’ Union. Unfortunately, the out-of-town speakers were unable to attend, due to inclement weather, but José Cabezón sent his presentation and a copy of his lecture while Paul Fulton sent a recording.

The year’s theme was desire, of which each presenter gave a very different perspective, although all four had a background in psychology. The entire conference was taped and I believe will be posted on YouTube, so instead of describing what each professor spoke about, I thought I might write briefly about desire in a distinctly modern context. Because it seems to me that desire in modernity is conceived of very narrowly – often in ways that satisfy basic biological drives or in the context of consumer goods – and perhaps because of this narrow view, modern people are in some ways, very lacking in desire. For all our tendencies toward instant gratification from material goods, our neurotic obsession with food, our pervasive preoccupation with sex, we lack a lust for life.

I’m not sure if we can call our modern culture as one of desire so much as a culture of irrational, sometimes rabid, often anxiety-riddled consumption. And sadly, in a kind of puritanical American context, desire becomes twisted into something ugly: addiction, vice, “guilty pleasures” and so on. At best, desire is hijacked into incentive seeking behaviour where we reward or treat ourselves (you deserve it!), a kind of immature mentality in which people are taught to feel entitled to the adult version of a cookie or a gold star simply for behaving well. What happened to ardent desires for more profound, less transient things? A healthy community, or for a deep connection and engagement with nature, or to collaborate in a team? If we cannot yearn for such things the way most people burn with a fervent desire for material (and often unnecessary, disposable) goods, I don’t know how much positive change we can expect to make in the world.

I think the first step to addressing this dearth of more complex, other-oriented desires is to learn about how desire is manufactured in modernity. To start you off, here’s a documentary that was recommended by the president of the Jungian Society about Edward Bernays, father of public relations and population control.

DALLAIRE PEARSON PEACE MEDAL

Last month, I had a chance to see L.Gen. Roméo Dallaire speak at a fundraiser for his foundation. They screened the film, Shake Hands with the Devil, a documentary (not to be confused with the 2007 drama) about his visit to Rwanda a decade after the genocide. I highly recommend watching this film as L.Gen. Dallaire shares his insights and observations as well as his process in coming to terms with the genocide. (The film also briefly features James Orbinski, whose documentary, Triage, also follows a different man’s path to rebuilding meaning after bearing witness to one of the greatest human atrocities in modern history.)

I have long struggled with the question of why, in extreme situations, some people retain their humanity and make ethical decisions at great personal cost, while the majority do not. I have worried this issue over and over in my mind over the years, turning it over, seeking greater understanding. I was never satisfied with the pat answer “because it was the right thing to do.” Clearly, in situations that are so unambiguous, when human lives are at stake, there is a right thing to do, but that “rightness” is not nearly enough to motivate the majority of people to make the right choices which is why our world looks exactly the way it does today. I asked L.Gen. Dallaire about this during the Q&A. I asked him if he had observed any patterns or factors he’s observed in people who do make the ethical choices.

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Recently, in discussions in my sangha and online with yoga practitioners, the question of the benefits of a diluted practice in the West has arisen again. Concerns were raised over the castration of yoga and zen that twists these transformative practices that were meant to foster the development of a profoundly felt ethical comportment toward the world into mere stress management. And the same retort is trotted out time and time again: it’s better than nothing, it’s a start.

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Sharon Tancredi

The natural home for Sagittarius is often said to be outdoors. They say Sag is a nature loving sign for the centaur is a wild, athletic creature who loves to roam uncharted, open spaces. I have three planets in the sign and some of my fondest memories involve packing provisions for the day and simply exploring our great Canadian landscape in complete solitude. However, I am at heart, very much a city girl. And I do believe that the city is also the natural home for Sagittarius as much as the untamed wilderness.

We often like to think of the city as a modern entity and certainly, cities were completely transformed by the industrial revolution. But this is a superficial way of understanding the city. Great cities have existed long before the modern period and indeed, many of them still exist today: London, Tokyo, etc. In fact, cities have existed as far back as ancient times, and as such, the logic of their organization is not rooted in the great tenants of modernity. As Jane Jacobs, honorary flaneuse, has demonstrated, the application of modern logic to city planning has in fact, been consistently disastrous for the health of a city and its inhabitants.

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I was reading two articles about John Mackey (citations below), CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc. and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Lululemon. Both are brands that appeal to a middle class idea of consumerist virtue, with each individual buying his or her way into a healthy, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable lifestyle of their own choosing. Both corporations are stock market superstars run by Ayn Rand happy executives. Both have developed a feel-good, team slash cult work corporate culture.

Whole Foods and Lululemon brought to you by... objectivism?

I find it more than a little amusing how people can be unhappy to learn that their shopping runs to LULU and WFM are supporting companies run by people who don’t subscribe to liberal, middle class, lefty values. (Recently, Lululemon’s Ayn Rand bags shocked a good number of customers and earlier, Mackey published an article in the Wall St Journal against public health care, causing a major backlash.) I mean, were people truly surprized? Did they think that these companies’ stocks had a meteoric rise because their execs were… what? Not really, really, really into capitalism and the free market?

Capitalism takes on many forms and what impresses me most about it, is its uncanny ability to appropriate any ideology, even those that seem anti-capitalist. There is something so efficient and flexible about this system when it comes to human psychology, how it has consistently demonstrated the ability to leech out all of the threat from something powerful, turn it on a dime and sell it at a markup two weeks later. The mistake is to think capitalism is about this human value or that human value. Wherever there is demand, and there will always be demand, capitalism will always be ready to sweep in to make a buck or two. Or trillions.

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We’ve been contemplating contingency in one of our meditation exercises. The idea here is, the more you deny your mortality, your finitude, your thrownness, the less connected you are to your own being and reality. (Well, not exactly. I’m taking liberties with vocabulary here and mapping existentialist thought onto meditative practice.)

Lana Bragina's Tarotkarten

I’ve begun thinking that the modern way of saying everything is connected is everything is contingent. To the modern ear, the former phrase sounds vaguely positive and non-threatening, while the latter conjures up all the anxieties of an era of neo-liberalism.

Everything is contingent suggests to me a language and vocabulary derived from project management and capitalism and state power rather than a spiritualized woo woo language that doesn’t connect to our modern, everyday life.

Everything is contingent speaks to the inherent volatility of the financial market and its human fallout.

Everything is contingent calls the logic of the N. American cult of individualism and the narrative of the American Dream into question.

Everything is contingent presents to me, a more accurate understanding of modern life in which our freedoms (of consumer choice and a seeming ahistoricity) mask our dependencies upon modern networks of power and commerce.

I’m starting to think that in addition to the unequal distribution of material resources and wealth, we can also think of modernity as a force that has restructured the distribution of contingency. That is to say, we in the west/democratic/modern/”developed” world (and within the west, there are further divisions) have attempted to decrease the contingency in our own lives by downloading risk into other parts of the world where people now live highly precarious lives leaving them far more vulnerable to factors like market fluctuations, weather patterns, epidemics, what have you. I’ll refrain from examples – and there are many devastating ones – for the sake of staying on topic and I’ll return to this idea of distributing contingency in a moment.

We have a hoarding mentality in which everyone is fighting over security, never feeling satisfied, nor safe. Perversely, the historically aberrant levels of predictability and stability in the postwar west have only resulted in a collective state of vague dissatisfaction, anxiety and ennui while others have born the brunt of the west’s quest for security and happiness. First world problems. Mid life crisis. Quarter life crisis. What kind of crisis are we in?

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Brian Foo via society6.com

If you missed part one, you can catch it here. These posts form a two part series about what you can look forward to with a Saturn Return.

I recently gave a tarot reading to a friend of mine and she remarked that she was surprized that I was still practicing tarot. That seemed like something the “Old Isthmus” would do. And I thought what a strange comment that was because I hadn’t realized how much I had changed. You’re so practical now, she clarifies. You’re so into these practical things. Joining groups, chairing meetings, all of it. And she’s right; in the past I never concerned myself with ideas about civic engagement, leadership and what not.

The Saturn Return has consolidated a lot of my responsibilities to society. A prosperous, vibrant, tolerant and creative society doesn’t just happen by magic or by virtue of inertia. And contrary to a lot of articles I read, leading a meaningful, happy life is very much a social endeavour that is deeply tied into the participation in the creation of shared meaning. Whenever we talk about happiness or satisfaction in the west, we always focus on the individual. But without shared meaning, shared narratives, shared metaphors that are authentic, we are lost in our own idiosyncratic, solipsistic fantasies or, as is very common, we become easy prey for systems of meaning that are inauthentic, harmful and do not accurately reflect our reality.

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