Updated: Aug 18, 2021
By Sabine Grunwald
Another of those tweets, in the news, on TV, Facebook, a text message from my friend, cycling through the Internet and social media and thereby amplified thousands of times. The 140-character tweet is repeated in the media so many times, I cannot help but to recognize it. The message is disrupting, calls for change, full of blame and sounds aggressive. I decide to put it aside, and yet it is still present. I want to forget about it, yet it keeps nagging below the surface. I feel uneasy, frustrated, disturbed, overloaded, dull, angry, charmed, indifferent, tricked, attracted. I am confused. What is really going on?
News and More News
Feelings and emotions are part of our experiences, e.g. when reading a tweet or post. And sometimes emotions can be confusing, overwhelming and not well understood. We simply respond and act without clarity of “what is really going on”. Michael Gazzaniga, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and founder of cognitive neuroscience, estimated that as much as 98 percent or more of all brain activity is completely unconscious (Gazzaniga, 2009). These unconscious activities, such as digesting food, the heart beating, and processing of sensory input, are just hidden from our awareness. We would be emotionally overwhelmed if being aware of all those things going on in our #body and #mind every minute and second of our life. Making things conscious – a feeling, thought, perception, or emotion help us to understand “what it going on” by retrieving them from the unconscious into our consciousness. It makes us feel alive. It also helps us to gain meaning and navigate the waters at school, work place, in communities and personal life. Many things in our lives, let it be politics, the constant bombardment with news and messages via social media are sometimes in a “gray zone”, i.e., inbetween the conscious and unconscious. We cannot fact-check every incoming news and information. Internet bots generate a substantial amount of posts, spam and web material. For example, nearly 20 percent of all recent U.S. election-related tweets came from an army of influential robots, called internet bots according to a MIT Technology Review (Byrnes, 2016). Fake news are rampaging through the Internet. Our emails are full of spam. How can we filter out the gems from the garbage? How can we trust what we read and make sense out of it? Although we can make choices of seeking out reliable and trustworthy news resources that provide balanced reporting from different vantage points (…. rare these days), we are often less cognizant about the massive amount of information bombarding us every day. This may show up in form of different responses: Freeze, flight, or fight. You may feel helpless and freeze-up because the news is simply too overwhelming (freeze). This emotional paralysis locks you in. Or you may run away from reading/listening/watching news and social media because you think they are hopelessly wrong anyway (flight). This dissociation from society and culture leaves you in your own narrow cocoon, though you can never fully escape from the world that also impacts you in one way or another. Or you may intensify your engagement and binge-eat the news like your life depends on it because you are angry and ready for a fight. You want to get to the truth of the matter by overconsumption of social media, news, and everything that is out there. This endless run for more is exhausting and leaves you devastated because your needs to “know it all” are really never fulfilled. How can we find a more nuanced, balanced, mindful and healthy way to relate to news that shape society and our culture?
Without becoming aware of our responses (freeze, flight, or fight) we are like a cork in the ocean, tumbling or stuck in habitual pattern. We first have to understand what is hidden from our awareness in our unconscious. The psychologist C.G. Jung distinguished between the consciousness, of which its most central feature is the ego, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious which houses archetypal images (Stein, 2004). Our unconscious is the portion of the psyche lying outside of conscious awareness. The content of the personal unconscious is made up of repressed memories and materials, such as thoughts, images and emotions that have been repressed because it is too disturbing to us or has never been conscious. Kaparo (2012), Weiss et al. (2015) and other researchers have pointed out that our soma holds these unconscious patterns in form of somatic intelligence (“the bodies wisdom”). Our body senses and retains more than we consciously are aware of. The good news is that we can tap into our personal unconsciousness through somatic practices, mindfulness with its two prongs – attention and awareness – as well as deep reflection and contemplation. Through these practices we may also become more aware of the different archetypes in the collective unconscious that are at play controlling our responses (freeze, flight, or fight). For example, we may like an aggressive post blaming others because deep down it speaks to us somehow. Or we may be drawn to posts expressing loving-kindness and coming together in community because we feel hurt inside and seek healing.
Jung asserted that archetypes are housed in the collective unconscious (Stein, 2004). He elaborates that an #archetype is a collectively inherited unconscious image that is universally present in individual psyches in Jungian #psychology (Stein, 2004). The archetypal elements of the psyche are experienced in everyday life. These archetypes are emotionally charged memory images that form structures residing in our unconscious. They have the ability to erupt suddenly and spontaneously into consciousness and to take possession of the ego’s functions, i.e., keep a firm hold on our psyche. These archetypal images are believed to be innate and primitive. In short, an archetype is an innate potential pattern of imagination, thought, or behavior that can be found among human being in all times, places and cultures (Stein, 2004).
Is there a Trickster among Us? Is there a Trickster in Us?
It was suggested that the archetypes of the hero within, such as the orphan, the wanderer (seeker), the warrior, the altruist, the innocent and the magician are actively present throughout our lives journey (Pearson, 2015). The trickster archetype (Jung, 2010) has manifested in different cultures in mythology, folklore, modern popular culture, fiction, in historic and contemporary time, politics, economics, schools, workplaces, and even right next door in our neighborhoods. The trickster among the archetype is one of the most self-unaware and mindless characters.
You may recognize some of these trickster characters. For example, Loki the trickster, a shape-shifting, troublesome giant in Norse Scandinavian mythology. The alchemical figure of Mercury, a Roman god patron seeking financial gain through trickery as a thief and also known for guiding souls to the underworld. Bart Simpson or Bugs Bunny, in the animated TV series. The Joker, a fictional supervillain, a goofy prankster with dark roots, in short the antidote to the fictional superhero Batman. Q a member of the Q continuum with dark, malicious superpowers in the Star Trek Enterprise series. Tricksters are also found in politics or among public figures.
Who is this Trickster?
Jung (2010) provided a comprehensive account of the characteristics of the trickster archetype. He is a trick-playing shape-shifter, opportunistic, fundamentally ambiguous and anomalous, a deceiver who fools and cheats. He plays pranks, malicious tricks, disrupts and calls for change, and many fall victims to his tactics. His behavior is unpredictable, with senseless orgies of destruction due to an aggrandizing ego of playing the savior of all. As Jung (1968) pointed out this transformation of the meaningless into the conjectured meaningful reveals the trickster’s compensatory relation to the “saint” promising to take suffering away and creating a better life for all by healing their wounds, which often does not materialize. The trickster’s archetypal psychic structure is characterized by malicious intent of archaic, raw, primitive, childish, and undifferentiated consciousness. His compulsive behavior is grotesque and anti-mainstream culture.
The most alarming characteristic is the trickster’s vast unconsciousness. He is so unconscious of himself that his body is not a unity, his hands fight each other, and his own words are contradictory (Jung, 1968). Although he is not really evil, he does the most atrocious things from sheer unconsciousness and unrelatedness to the world and other people (Jung, 1968). His extraordinary clumsiness, push to cross boundaries and profound anamnesis (remembering of things) evokes amusement, exhibits considerable powers of fascination, possession and charming enchantment among people. Because the trickster lacks capacity to introspect and listen to other people he mindlessly represses resulting in a big shadow residing in his unconscious. These “bottled-up” psychic energies that are split-off from his consciousness and combined with low level of morality makes others often pay for his inefficiency (Jung, 1968). Jung pointed out that the trickster is a collective shadow figure, a summation of all the inferior traits of character in individuals.
Importantly, Jung (1968) reminds us that outwardly we may appear civilized wearing a suit and tie or beautiful dress, yet inwardly the primitive trickster archetype lingers in all of us. To counter the awakening of the trickster our best approach is to bring as much from the unconscious into consciousness and lead an aware and awake life. #Mindful living and being present helps to keep our tricksters in check.
A mindful approach to tweets and other things in our lives
I read this tweet today. I take it in and be present to it with my whole body, mind (thoughts, images, ideas, concepts), and note my emotions that arise. In a nutshell, I use attention and awareness to mindfully perceive the whole – the letters of the tweet with my senses, words and language, my interpretation based on my knowledge and previous experiences stored in memory in my brain and body, sensations in my body, emotions that provide clues of my experience in this moment, and decision to act (e.g., to dump the tweet, re-tweet it, reflect on its meaning asking it could be fake news, get more facts from other sources, or do nothing). Mindfulness and deep reflection empower and help in many ways. They enhance my awareness to select the best possible action in a given moment. For example, I may bring into awareness that a trickster or other archetype is at play which I recognize, and thus, avoid being in the grip of it or deluded by it. I may also look at my patterns of relating to the news and social media by counting the hours I spend on news consumption and postings, what type of news interest me, and observe the emotions that arise by reading/listening/watching news. I may ask how much do I trust news from a single source (one person making a claim) vs. topical news from many diverse sources (e.g., science journal, respected newspaper, statistics from a non-profit organization, multiple other organizations, FB post, non-stakeholder group, etc.). Trust and confidence arise through reliability, instead of opportunistic forth-and-back shapeshifting behavior.
Note that emotions and feelings are often complex and co-arise. To explore beneath the obvious emotions (e.g., frustration) and discover deeper feelings of anger or feeling not seen and hurt due to lack in self-worth. It’s like holding up a mirror and looking wholeheartedly at “Me” and how I relate to news and media. Important is to be open to whatever we may find, because otherwise we may push “it” right back into our unconscious keeping our psyche energetically in its grip.
Gazzaniga (1995) pointed out that the left hemisphere is the dominant hemisphere for language, speech, and problem solving capacities crucial for intelligent behavior. In contrast, the right hemisphere is specialized in facial recognition, attentional monitoring, and other mental traits, and reacts more directly and simply to perceptual information. The right hemisphere has no interpretative mechanism, whereas the left hemisphere has capacity for making inferences and interpretations. What binds the right and left hemispheres together is the corpus callosum which allows us to integrate across right and left brain structures (Gazzaniga, 1995). This integration provides us a balanced way of being. #Mindfulness, paying attention and raising awareness what is happening within us and around us – including tweets, posts, news, the media – can teach us much about who we really are. The more often we are mindful, reflect, and contemplate we strengthen those neurons that fire together. New neurons are produced in the adult human brain, and our brains renew themselves throughout life to an extent previously thought not possible (Gazzaniga et al., 2009).
Byrnes N. (2016). “How the bot-y politic influenced this election”. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602817/how-the-bot-y-politic-influenced-this-election/
Gazzaniga, M., Ivry, R. B., Mangun, G. R., & Steven, M. S. (2009). Cognitive neuroscience: The biology of the mind (3rd ed.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.
Gazzaniga, M. S. (1995). Principles of human brain organization derived from split-brain studies. Neuron, 14(2), 217–228. doi.org/10.1016/0896-6273(95)90280-5
Jung, C. G. (1968). The archetypes and the collective unconscious (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Princeton Univ. Press.
ung, C. G. (2010). Four archetypes – Mother, rebirth, spirit, trickster. (R. F. C. Hull, Translator). New York, NY: Princeton Univ. Press.
Kaparo, R.F. (2012). Awakening somatic intelligence: the art and practice of embodied mindfulness. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Pearson, C. S. (2015). The hero within: Six archetypes we live by (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Harper Collins Publ.
Stein, M. (2004). Jung’s map of the soul (7th edition). Peru, IL: Open Court Publ.
Weiss, H., Johanson, G., & Monda, L. (Eds.). (2015). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.