Primal Fears Explored with Humanity’s Oldest Story as Our Guide – The Epic of Gilgamesh

Humanity’s most primal fear is the fear of death.  The desire to escape physical death is a  fundamental fact of human existence.  Recent technological advancements in medicine and robotics have made the ability to live forever a much more tantalizing possibility.   In this lecture and workshop, we will explore the meaning of this primal fear and fundamental yearning, using humanity’s oldest story, The Epic of Gilgamesh, as our guide. This story from ancient Iraq tells of the exploits of mighty King Gilgamesh whose fear of physical death compelled him to seek out a legendary figure considered to be the only human granted immortality by the gods. Gilgamesh’s exploits reflect enduring truths about our fears and desires and suggest how we can better prepare for life’s ultimate goal. During the Friday lecture, we will discuss the contemporary search for immortality and sketch the elements of the Gilgamesh story. On Saturday, we will use lecture and discussion to explore the roots of our own yearning for immortality with the Gilgamesh story as a valuable guide.

Insights into the Achievement of True Immortality

After watching a short filmed presentation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, we will discuss the contemporary search for immortality. We will then examine the epic for clues that relate to  King Gilgamesh and his afterlife role as the central figure of a religious organization devoted to learning the secrets of life after death. Along with recognizing the archetypal pattern of the return in dreams, art, and religious symbolism, we will use the epic to help us understand the importance of the relationship between ego and the unconscious as the key to overcoming the fear of death. We will conclude with an exploration of the roots of our own yearning for immortality. Participants are encouraged to share dreams, images, and stories about our final goal in life.

A Luminous Darkness: Aging and the Spiritual Path

Through life examples, myth, and poetry, this lecture celebrates conscious aging as a spiritual path that traverses the soul’s dark night, imposes sacrifice and ego-death, and ultimately renews the spirit.  Challenging the dominant association of aging with images of decline, Dr. Costello portrays spiritual awakening as an archetypally promoted developmental goal of the aging process. Special attention will be given to the figure of the Sage and to the nature-based tasks of the latter part of life.

Decline and Ascent: The Paradoxical Passage to Elderhood

Through narratives, poetry, and dream analysis, we will amplify the archetypal forces – both fierce and generative – that shape our experience in the latter half of life.  To promote awareness of the link between loss and spiritual awakening as we pass through time, Dr. Costello will lead a life-review meditation.  We will consider change as a motive-force in reconnecting us to our roots in nature, in opening us to mystery, and in honing our intentions in relation to self, others, and our work in the world.

Archetypal Images: Reflections on James Hillman and Jungian Thought

James Hillman (1926-2011), a fierce critic of mainstream psychology and a challenger of many Jungian assumptions, was also, arguably, the most significant thinker and writer to have taken up Jungian psychology. He wrote over twenty books, including Pulitzer nominated Revisioning Psychology and the best-selling work, The Soul’s Code.
After an overview of Hillman’s ideas, this lecture will focus on his view of images and what he called the “poetic basis of mind.” With illustrations from the arts and culture, we will discuss Hillman’s use of terms such as “archetypal imagination” and “soul-making.” My intention is to demonstrate the way Hillman’s approach extends and amplifies Jung’s understandings.

 Archetypal Cinema: Hillman and Film

Jungian Film Studies is now a major field of inquiry, demonstrating how archetypal patterns, symbolism and the individuation process are present to screen stories. The work of James Hillman extends these understandings by ushering us into a deeper sense of visual metaphor, which becomes the portal into the imagination.
Through the use of film clips, lecture and discussion we will explore the way cinema transports us into the deeper psyche. Indeed, many films are underworld initiations, connecting our personal lives with mythic themes at work in the collective psyche.

Psychological Trauma and Listening with the Heart

In lecture and workshop we will explore how each one of us can contribute to healing the anima mundi, the soul of the world. After the trauma of World War II and the genocide of the Holocaust, C.G. Jung asked, “Is it really only brute force that decides everything?” Over the past seven years I have learned from individuals and communities who are suffering the posttraumatic consequences of war and violence in eastern Congo, northern Uganda, South Sudan, and western Kenya. In essence, I invite us to explore and appreciate how, in a rapidly changing world, paying attention to innate capacities, such as what Jung calls the transcendent function, does make a difference. The mythopoetic layers of the psyche and creative activities of the arts function as agents of transformation by overcoming stuckness and pressures to conform. A summons to “purposeful action” can help transcend personal and cultural layers of reference and rekindle the struggle of giving birth to one’s future. In a globally traumatized world, taking a stand and modeling principled humane behavior through listening with the heart opens paths to building community and creating future.

Psychological Trauma and Listening with the Heart

Participants are invited to bring one or two portraits (photographs, paintings, sketches, or newspaper clippings) that speak to them, as well as a notebook and pen for personal reflection. Experiencing the relationship between image and affect leads to thought, curiosity, and action. This insight will serve as starting point for an in-depth exploration of collective trauma and the paradigm of purposeful action for dealing with trauma. Developing a capacity for curiosity and mutuality (an I-Thou relationship) is not only central for the treatment of psychological trauma but also serves as an antidote to the ills and sclerosis of a fundamentalist mindset, which is the source of much human suffering.

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