eagle and toad
Psyche and Nature

The Transcendent Function

Death Valley Vision Quest

Jung refers to the transcendent function as the mediating force between oppositions within the psyche. The transcendent function arises out of intense and concentrated conflicts within the individual. Like the koan of the Zen masters, extreme and painful paradoxes can lead us to a place where we must transcend the ego so that our perception of reality is no longer split into two opposing forces.  Jung says that holding the tension of the opposites is essential to bridging the gap between ego-consciousness and the unconscious. If the tension between the opposites can be held long enough without succumbing to the urge to identify with one side or the other, the third, completely unexpected image, one that unites the two in a creative new way, comes into view.

The transcendent function has important implications for an ecological psychology because it can serve as a bridge between rational thinking and archetypal sensibility, thus facilitating a renewed connection between the human psyche and the natural world. The privileging of rational thinking in modern culture characteristically diminishes or rejects the irrational unconscious, hence, archetypal, realm as inferior. The same dismissive attitude prevails in relation to the landscape. The archetypal characteristics of the landscape are no longer taken seriously, and therefore remain unconscious. On the other hand, if one can hold the tension between the unconscious psyche and the rational ego, eventually consciousness will expand to accommodate the previously unconscious content. Furthermore, the natural landscape, and all that it contains, will begin to reveal its own psychic nature.

 

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Betsy Perluss copyright, 2008

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