Myths of the World – . Why do these naive stories are kept alive through the centuries? Because they carry lessons, life lessons.
This article continues the series Myths of the World that offers a psychological interpretation to the myths with the objective of unearthing their hidden teachings. The present article discusses the Garden of Eden that deals with the increase of consciousness in human beings
Expulsion from the Garden of Eden – The search for consciousness
Human beings come unconscious out of the womb of the mother. Just after birth, we do not know that we are an individual different from our mothers. Gradually, we will acquire awareness, consciousness. Throughout our life we have a fundamental task – to increase that awareness. This is the very purpose of life. Some biblical stories point in that direction.
The myth of the Garden of Eden is one I have been struggling with since I was seven years old. How many times did I speak ill of our ancestral couple for being so stupid as to disobey the Lord, eat the apple, and lose their paradise? It was not their paradise: it was ours. This thought occurred to me each time I had to take an injection. The dread of the needle – worse than the pain, its anticipation – led me to rail against these early grandparents who had taken away from me the paradise, where injections were not necessary or wouldn’t hurt. On those days it did not occur to me, or I did not have the courage, to insult Yahweh. I would rather focus my anger on Adam and Eve.
Time went by and I got to know Jung’s works, and today the Garden of Eden is my favorite myth.
Why God would not want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge? Why God would not want our ancestral couple to be able to distinguish between good and evil? Without this knowledge human beings would be just another animal on Earth. The highest they could get would be to become king of the animals. And, unconscious, the wouldn’t even know they were kings.
Would this be God’s plans for human beings? I doubt it. An omniscient God, which would not want Adam and Eve to eat the apple, would not create the serpent and place it in the garden. He would not have created the tree with forbidden fruits. He placed the serpent in the garden so that it would bring the fruit to them, and they had to eat the apple, the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. God wanted this to happen. Why then was man expelled from the garden? How can we understand Yahweh´s acts?
Would it be possible for the human beings to be happy in the Garden of Eden? A fisherman lived miserably in a hut in the middle of the forest. His life was tough. He couldn’t get enough food to feed his wife and three children, and they often went hungry. The fisherman did not know that there was a huge treasure, gold and precious stones, buried beneath his hut. This treasure was his, left behind by an early ancestral. Was the fisherman rich or poor? Living in the Garden of Eden, could a human being be happy; or unhappy? Without being conscious, one was neither. How could one know if one was happy? How could the fisherman know that he owned a treasure?
Human beings have to gain consciousness. We have to eat the apple, the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. We have to leave the Garden of Eden. We have to follow our journey of individuation. And this statement is valid to every human being.
Jung conceives individuation as a process of awareness. Therefore it never ends. We may make progress in the journey of individuation but we may also go back, but we never arrive at the final stage – a wholly individuated, completely conscious being.
What is the greatest truth that the myth of the Garden of Eden, implausible in the eyes of science, brings to us? What can we learn or apprehend from this myth? It tells us that we have to search for consciousness, we have to attempt to know good and evil. In the beginning of the story, Adam and Eve did not even realize they were naked. They had to eat the apple to become aware of that. Our ancestral couple was in the stage of the baby, who is born without the notion of “I”, or of “my”.
Life forces the baby to develop and in few months the baby builds the notion of “I” and “my”. The Ego is born. Once living unconsciously, as an inseparable part of the mother, the baby now notices, even if very slightly, that he or she is a separate individual. The expulsion from the garden begins.
Why do we have to grow? Why do we have to be expelled from the garden? Why do we have to develop our ego? Why do we have to build our consciousness? These are questions we cannot answer yet. It is the mystery of life. Why do the eagle’s chicks have to fly? Why do the little fish have to swim? Why does the tiny oak’s seed transforms into a big tree?
We are born as if within ourselves there is a bugle player sounding the order to proceed. As in a battlefield, we have to move forward, follow the troops. When we are at the door of a football stadium, waiting for the doors to open, with a huge crowd behind we, when the gates open you cannot stay still. This is what happens as the baby becomes aware. It is the mystery of life.
A concept generally accepted by psychologists is that, in the first half of his life, we should build and strengthen our egos. In the second half, the task would be to walk in our journey of individuation, the expansion of consciousness, by absorbing parts of the unconscious. However, this process cannot be seen as two separate phases. A more valid image would be to see awareness of consciousness as a journey through a spiral staircase, leading the human being to his major goal – illumination or awareness. Next to the spiral there is an axis which represents the Self, the central archetype of the psyche, which coordinates man’s unconscious. As he climbs the steps, the staircase comes closer to, or distances itself from this axis. It is the Ego who ascends; the axis is the Self. The Self is the center of the psyche, encompassing the Ego – the conscious part – and the unconscious. The Self controls the human psyche, whereas the Ego is the center of the limited personal conscious.
The image of the Earth rotating around the sun is also a good metaphor for the process of the development of the human beings. The Earth – the Ego – comes close to the Sun = the Self – in the summer and it gets more solar energy. In the winter, it distances itself. The plants which receive solar energy in the summer grow and develop. In the winter, they hibernate. The process of the awareness of the Ego is similar. As it approaches the Self, the Ego absorbs part of the contents of the unconscious. It becomes aware of a small part of this unconscious. As it distances itself, it processes and understands what is has just absorbed. The process can also be understood as a meeting between a professor – the Self – and his pupil – the Ego. The pupil approaches the professor, gets the lesson and goes home to study it.
In the early years of life, this process works automatically, as the Ego is not yet strong enough,. The baby is not given the choice between building his Ego or not. The child is not given the choice to strengthening his Ego or not. Things happen naturally. However, after the Ego has already acquired some structure, the process loses part of its automatic character. The Ego acquires enough strength to oppose the process. Even at the gates of a football stadium, with the crowd pressing you from behind, you can always dodge, hide in a corner and avoid being pushed into the stadium. Why do so? Because the process of growing can be painful, and some try to avoid it.
This avoidance of growing happens more often in the second half of life, when the Ego is stronger. To avoid growing, the human being can, inadvertently or not, hide behind an obstacle. To avoid thinking about life is a disease that affects many human beings, especially Western materialists. The workaholic who only thinks about work has no time to think about life and thus interrupts his process of growing, of individuation. Similarly, the political activist, who thinks he will save the world, has no time to think about his own life. He has no time to care for his spiritual side.
The myth of the expulsion from the garden is very old and has resisted the centuries exactly because it brings us a fundamental truth. If it were but a silly story, it would not have survived so many centuries. Those who do not want to learn from it will risk being left behind. Long and hard is the journey of life. Why miss the train and have to follow on foot? Why stand still, waiting for death?
(This article is an abridged version of a chapter of my book – The Jungian Bible)
I am Roberto Lima Netto, and I believe that our objective in life is to be happy and that Spirituality and Jungian psychology, my main areas of interest, can help us in this search for happiness. I am a writer. Some of my books are “The Little Prince for Grown-ups“, “The Jungian Bible“, “The Amazon Shaman” and “In Search of Happiness“. I invite you to visit my blog and leave your comments at: www.HappinessAcademyOnline.org.