Jungian Society

at the University of Toronto

Mind Matters IV

The Darkness Within

This year’s theme is The Darkness Within, and examines the perils that confront those who attempt inner work, whether meditative, contemplative, or psychodynamic. We all know the path of wisdom is “Know Thyself”, but far less often discussed are the shadows we encounter when we explore these depths of our minds; for as Nietzsche said, “When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”


Dr. Willoughby Britton

The Dark Side of Meditation: an Empirical Research Study

Abstract: While most meditation research focuses on the positive effects of meditation, there is relatively little discussion of challenging or difficult experiences that can result from practice. In order to gain a more balanced understanding of the contemplative path and all that it entails, this study employed interviews with more than 60 well-known meditation teachers, practitioners, and Buddhist scholars about the range of difficulties and challenges that can arise in practice.

Dr. Jordan Peterson

The Darkness Within: Newton vs Darwin

Abstract: Dr. Peterson will formulate an argument based on the following propositions:
1. Our current worldview, a form of materialistic rationalism, is fundamentally Newtonian.
2. There is a conflict between the worldview implied by Newton and that implied by Darwin.
3. For Darwin, like Nietzsche (“truth serves life”) truth is pragmatic.
4. Religious truth, which evolved, is also pragmatic.
5. Materialistic rationalism, as Newtonian, is not pragmatic, as it rejects most moral claims.
6. That rejection is often motivated by the desire to avoid responsibility, rather than the desire to attain clarity of knowledge.
7. Totalitarianism and nihilism are both responsibility-avoidance strategies, and can be logically justified by materialistic rationalism – as can the evils, personal and social, they are associated with.
8. Continued refusal to consider the ethical aspect of life real perpetually endangers us.

Dr. Tony Toneatto

Meditation and the Unconscious: Revisiting Freud’s ‘oceanic feeling’

Abstract: Mindfulness meditation continues to be idealized in western culture as a vehicle for personal transformation and therapeutic efficacy. However, very little attention is being paid to some of the unconscious, and potentially harmful, psychological effects of meditative practices. Freud’s analysis of some meditative states as contributing to an unhealthy regression to primitive psychic states will be reviewed and its implications for practitioners of meditation highlighted.

Dr. John Vervaeke

When Mystery becomes Darkness

Abstract: The centrality of perspectival self-transcendence to human cognitive agency entails that human beings are prone to encounter what Marcel calls ontological mystery. Their capacity to bring their framing of situations within a more encompassing frame holds open the possibility of experiences in which ever more encompassing framing keeps falling into question – the experience of ontological mystery. This can lead to a fragmentation of our attempts to realize relevance that can, in turn, threaten our sense of self and contact with reality. As Westphal, McNamara, and others argue, such self-transcendence requires a complementary fundamental transformation of the self. When cognition expands to what Nagel calls ‘the view from nowhere’ while identity remains fixed one experiences what Nagel calls the absurd. At the level of ontological mystery the absurd can be horrifying. At this point the Mystery becomes the Darkness. This is especially the case if the individual confronting this situation does not belong to a spiritual tradition with a pre-established narrative zone of proximal development that helps one to bring about the change in cognitive competence and identity that the Darkness demands. However, the danger of inner work within a tradition is the threat of spiritual censorship. So we face a razor’s edge between a spiritual illiteracy in which we can be overwhelmed by darkness and a spiritual censorship that strangles our experience of mystery and the radical self-transmutation it affords.

Dr. Dan Dolderman

If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding!

Abstract: In this talk, Dr. Dolderman will explore the problems of power and shame in both the inner and outer worlds, and their relation to healing, connection, and transcendence. The hope is to discuss how people can take the first steps towards overcoming these problems, opening doorways in the walls that protect modern society and the modern psyche from transformation.

Dr. Stanton Marlan

From Faust to Rothke: Beginning and Ending in a Dark Time, From Despair to the Lumen Naturae

Abstract: The pursuit of truth and enlightenment in academic, religious, and spiritual traditions can surprisingly lead to despair and profound darkness. Beginning with what the alchemists called virgin’s milk, it is philosophical vinegar that helps turn the soul from innocence toward its maturing depths. In this talk, Dr. Marlan begins with Goethe’s Magnum Opus Faust and works his way toward facing what Jung called the archetypal shadow, with its interminable sufferings, but at moments catching a glimpse of the light of darkness itself, beautifully expressed in poetic vision, as well as revealed in the experience of a deep analysis.