Surrender vs. Control, Life vs. Death
The “Royal Road” to Our Collective Mind
I have mentioned that there are studies of the psychology of generations, beginning with the Baby-Boomers or Sixties Generation, that show both an increased access to the perinatal as well as a tendency to act out perinatal influences in less harmful…though more blatant…ways than generations prior. We have seen that this tendency goes hand in hand with actual engagement in activities to counter the negative perinatal act-outs that exist in our environment, for example, campaigning against war, pollution, racism, violence, and so on.
But in “Chapter Eight: The Perinatal Media,” I introduced the common anthropological tenet that the projective systems of a culture—that is, its art and artifacts—can be analyzed to get a glimpse into the worldview of a particular society. For our purposes, I have pointed out how our movies are especially potent glimpses into our collective consciousness as well as our collective unconscious. You might say that our cinema is the “royal road” to our collective unconscious.
Movies As Collective Dreaming
Our flicks perform admirably well as collective dreams in that, unlike the other products of our collective consciousness such as other art and artifacts, they are multimedia stories, much like dreams are. But more than that, they are shared by more of the populace than any other art form. I am not including TV separately as an art form, since I put it in the same category as films, especially when many films are broadcast on TV and much else on TV also has the same character of being multimedia stories.
Finally, the strength of a particular element of the collective consciousness can be easily determined by the popularity of a particular movie that represents it or by that element’s increasing inclusion in a number of films. For example, in “The Perinatal Media,” I discussed the emerging new elements of faces coming out of walls and forceful oral insertion.
Putting Our Society on the Couch
All together, these mean that, just as a psychotherapist might analyze a client’s dreams to get an idea of his or her unconscious workings and contents, one can interpret mainstream movies to get an idea of the workings and contents of our society’s “collective mind”—both conscious and unconscious.
This is no more complex than saying that when we see things in movies that people flock to see, they are flocking because those things are also in their own minds. And the more they flock—the greater the success of a movie—the more pervasive in a society are those themes, elements, and contents. Certain aspects—themes or elements in films—are said to really “resonate” with people and therefore people make the movies that contain them popular and successful. When this is said, it only means that people are consciously or unconsciously drawn to things that exist within themselves. Conversely, no existence inside? No interest.
So in this and upcoming parts I will use films as the dreaming out loud of our collective mind. Put less esoterically, I will be analyzing a few examples of mainstream movies for their content, and I will be assuming that the content I find there exists as well in the society that has watched it…has dreamt it. I will also be assuming that movies that are mainstream, by which I mean can be found in video rental stores, are indicative of pervasive elements in our collective consciousness and unconscious. They can be looked at for the unacknowledged workings of our society as a whole.
I will not deal with the actual numbers of people who have attended particular movies. For I will assume out of the tens of thousands of movies that are produced each year—by small and large producers—those that have made it into the theaters of virtually all the communities of our society, and from there into the stacks of the video rental stores of all those communities, have by those facts alone demonstrated their resonance with the collective social mind. Otherwise, we would get into the maelstrom of analyzing critic’s opinions of these movies; and with that, to modify a saying, opinions are like asses: everyone has a different one.
Something’s Happening Here…Again
One final point about the heuristic value of the analysis of films for the workings of the collective mind: Elements and themes in movies change over time. I have shown how new elements may be evidence of new elements of our collective unconscious minds coming into consciousness in detailing how the faces-in-the-wall element has developed. But when old, familiar plots have different outcomes, this is important as well. When elements change or evolve over time, this speaks of something going on; this points to changes or evolutions in our collective consciousness. And when elements and themes and plots change or evolve rapidly, we can accurately say that the changes in consciousness are equally swift.
These are some of the tools we will be using in this and upcoming parts as we take a look at a few examples of mainstream films and what they might be reflecting back to us about our own society’s changes in consciousness. But first let me say something about what may turn out to be the most important of the thematic evolutions or changes in film elements that we have been seeing.
Information Avalanche and Pre- and Perinatal Themes
Ego-Eroding Information Deluge
In the last few decades we have been hearing a great deal about the need to expand consciousness to balance the negative effects of the extremes of technological advance. Fortunately this change of consciousness is to some extent inevitable—or at least greatly aided—by certain side effects of the technological explosion…specifically in the area of telecommunications.
As cultural boundaries are eroded by a multicultural information avalanche, people are forced to lower their inner defenses and ego boundaries. Confronted by such incoming information people will either take some of it in, learn, and thereby grow beyond their former selves or they will need to expend themselves in an all-out effort to shore them up.
We have seen that the first response is typical of a more advance form of child-caring that is centered on the needs of the child and that the latter reaction goes with child-caring centered on the needs of the care-givers, or parents…in this latter instance it is understandably called child-rearing or raising a childas opposed to child-caring. We have noticed that the first response goes along with increased self-analysis and introspection and the latter one with acting out, aggression, and Culture War.
So, the tsunami of information in all areas, where previously we could smugly hold forth ego-satisfying views, pushes toward an overthrow of those narrower perspectives and the establishment of broader, more encompassing ones as well as for an ever increasing irrationality in fending off this information, at any and all costs.
“Consciousness Raising” As “Shoveling It”
For the most part, this growth or expansion of consciousness, when it happens, is seen as a linear increase and correspondingly is labeled a “raising” of consciousness. This is true whether we are talking about societal or individual progress. Ken Wilber’s transpersonal theory is the most popular version of such a ladder-style path. In it the process of growth is analogous to that of climbing a mountain or shoveling compost into a pickup truck—one simply moves upward or piles it on. [Footnote 1]
But there are those who think otherwise.
The Path to Heaven Leads Through Hell
Those in the know about the pervasive pre- and perinatal influence on personality and behavior, and especially those of us actively engaged in working through the effects of such early traumas, are fully aware, like Dante, that the path to heaven leads through hell. We have found that the path to the transpersonal light leads through the psychodynamic and perinatal darkness, that the path up and the path down are parts of the same path outward. [Footnote 2]
A Dark and Hideous Shadow World
Our experience has been that the information avalanche and multicultural onslaught have eroded our personal boundaries to an influx, not only of transpersonal bliss-love-compassion, but equally—and very often, initially—to a dark and hideous shadow world, a backwards bizarro world, of pernicious and insidious disorganized feelings comprised of elements ancient, infantile, pathological, biological, scatological, and perinatal. These are some of the forms spiritual emergence can take, especially initially. And they are the ones most likely to be seen as spiritual emergencies.
Pre- and Perinatal Themes in Cinema
Therefore, it is interesting to see these views confirmed by the bubbling up of psychodynamic and perinatal themes in our collective consciousness as evidenced by current films, books, and music. I have mentioned the pre- and perinatal themes and symbolism in films and explained why, along with other elements of postmodern times, they are evidence of something significant occurring in the consciousness of our age—an emerging perinatal unconscious.
But there is another element evolving in current films which has to do with a changing or evolving collective attitude toward these perinatal elements. And along with a changing attitude, there is evidence pointing to an evolving collective response to it.
Control vs. Surrender, Death vs. Life
“Control Spiritualities” and Patriarchal Cultures
Specifically, a different kind of heroic response, which characterizes the perinatal arena, can be said to characterize the postmodern movies replete with perinatal symbolism. Most striking of all, this different kind of heroic response corresponds to a different kind of spirituality than what is commonly portrayed in this society, or at least has been the norm up until now.
For basically there are “control” spiritualities and “surrender” spiritualities, with rarely the twain meeting. “Control spiritualities” are adapted to patriarchal cultures and involve the use of the ego to “control” and be in charge of even the realms of the supernatural. This is so because an ultimate evil—a devil or Satan—is postulated, which is given equal weight along with God in determining one’s ultimate fate. This type of spirituality is normally what is called religion.
“Surrender Spiritualities” and God As Being Good
But there is another brand of spirituality that is based on a belief in the ultimate goodness and rightness of All That Is. God’s goodness being essentially the dominant force in the Universe, herein it is considered safe to “surrender” in one’s relation to Reality, to expect that one will be guided correctly, in fact perfectly, in the act of letting go. Thus letting go is not to be feared—as in the control spirituality—but is to be practiced and fostered. In this perspective, which we might call surrender spirituality, control is seen as the problem, not the solution.
“Control” and “Surrender” Psychotherapies
Of course these two approaches to spirituality represent two approaches to psychotherapy as well. The control attitude is the dominant mode of psychoanalytically-based approaches—those in which the “demon” of the id is postulated.
The attitude of “letting go” and “surrender,” on the other hand, is the dominant mode of the experiential psychotherapies, which are themselves rooted in the tradition of humanistic psychology with its belief in the ultimate goodness of the human organism and which thus allows a faith in the ultimate rightness of human processes.
“Hero’s Journey” As “Control” Psychotherapy
Since the control attitude, in any of its manifestations, requires the postulation of an ultimate evil against which one must remain vigilant and must fight, the common “hero’s journey” myth—with its typical fighting and slaying of supposedly evil parts of the personality and reality symbolized as dragons and other monsters—is a prevalent focal myth to this attitude. Corresponding to this myth are the emphasis on disciplines and practices seeking to develop the ego and the will…over against the dangers that are postulated to exist in the Universe requiring these disciplines and, so-called, ego developments.
A Different Heroic Response in “Surrender” Paths
Since the “feeling” therapies and the other spiritual and experiential psychotherapeutic modalities with which they are allied are so different in attitude to the traditional “control” attitude, should there not be corresponding differences in myths to exemplify them? Indeed, there are.
In history, the surrender spiritualities have had correspondences in myth in which the dragon is not fought, conquered, and slain, but rather is either tamed and becomes one’s ally or pet—Saint Margaret is the prime example in the West, but this is a depiction prevalent in the East—or else one is swallowed by the “dragon” or monster and, after a while, is reborn.
Jonah is the prime example in the West for this latter depiction. But again this reaction to the fearful dissociated aspects of the personality, or the Shadow, is not a common one in the Western patriarchy, and it is much more common in traditional cultures and in the East.
A Shift to “Surrender” As a Corrective to a Western Overweening Ego?
All of this may be changing in recent times in the West, as once again the humanistic attitude and the new spiritual perspectives, as well as the experiential psychotherapies such as primal therapy, make us increasingly aware of the ultimate beneficence of the body, and of the Universe beyond even that, and of the importance of surrender and letting go as a corrective to the overweening control and defensiveness of the diminutive Western ego.
Continue on this site with
Apocalypse – No! Chapter Sixteen:
Dreaming Out Loud, Atman Projects vs. Surrender Solutions
2. See, for example, Michael Adzema, “A Primal Perspective on Spirituality,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 25(3), 83-116. Reprinted online at the Primal Spirit site at “A Primal Perspective on Spirituality.” [return to text]
Copyright © 1999, 2011 by Michael Derzak Adzema
Continue on this site with
Apocalypse – No! Chapter Sixteen:
Dreaming Out Loud, Atman Projects vs. Surrender Solutions
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