Pi and All of Life
Sometimes Life throws us into a boat with creatures that seem very foreign, strange or threatening to us in some way. Life of Pi is a beautiful, in some ways mythic story of the hero’s journey by author Yann Martel. As I contemplated the title, I thought about the meaning of Pi – which is a mathematical constant that expresses the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. I was moved to see how this story reveals the importance of embracing our wholeness as opposed to just the good, the bright and the beautiful upper half of the circle of Life.
At the end of the story, the hero reveals that there are two parallel stories – the one of his human survival, and the other a tale of animals in a boat with a boy. The great Aha is the realization that both stories are true.
Therein lies another interesting insight to my mind – which links up with something I was trying to express in The Inner Volcano. We all have a unique inner nature, which is connected with all of Nature. In Life of Pi this is beautifully portrayed as human beings who under duress reveal their animal natures. The cook is the hyena, the zebra with broken legs is the sailor who has been severely injured, the mother, the vegetarian orangutan, and the boy who discovers his tiger nature. In the end, this is what saves him. He discovers his inner ferocity, his power and his will to survive despite all odds. We might say he connected to the Dionysian side of his nature – his wild, passionate, dark, chaotic side.
In his seminar on Kundalini yoga, Jung talked about the fact that the soul hides in the symptoms of the body. Like Dionysius, an encounter with the Self can seem like a savage dismemberment in which we are forced to suffer and submit to some of the harshest realities of life. And yet if we can cling to the Self and who we most deeply are, there is the possibility of redemption, rebirth and renewal. This entails an embracing of our dark side and what is commonly referred to as the shadow.
Jung understood that our Christian mythos was too one sided in its glorification of all that is light, beautiful and true with no homage paid to the other wilder, darker side of life. In Aion he explores this problem of the Christ and the Anti-Christ in great depth. He felt that the pendulum had swung too far in one direction and that what we are seeing now in our recent history of world wars is a fierce backswing in compensation. He emphasizes that God or the Self does not want perfection but wholeness.
And so what this means for us is that the sacred work of our time is not to blindly pursue the good, the pure and the beautiful while ignoring our own shadowy attributes, pretending that they are not there. In Revisioning Psychology, James Hillman summarized Jung’s understanding of evil in this way, “ Integration of the shadow is an emigration. Not him to us; we to him. His incursion is barbarism, our descent is culture.”
When we thoughtlessly follow our animal nature, we are locked into our biological, egoic existence. We are ruled by unconscious processes and are a victim to our symptoms and a slave to our desires. The work is to bring Apollo and Dionysius into right relationship, the light and the dark, the yin and the yang. We must honour both sides within ourselves before we can even think about extending this consciousness into our communities.
When Yeats had the vision of the Beast or Anti-Christ slouching towards Bethlehem, he was horrified and deeply troubled. His poem, The Second Coming, describes this vision. Listen to it here: The Second Coming.
Trailer for Life of Pi