On Materialism

By Patricia Damery

Meditation at First Light
Storm Concert

Rain gutter   chimney
pan pipes  of the Storm
Beings    concert of the
Dead      what Spirit
sings?

On Materialism

After my parents died, my sisters, brother, and I had the dreaded task of cleaning out their 120 year old farmhouse. We knew this time would come, and all of us had wondered how we could ever accomplish the task. There were not only the material goods of my parents,but of their own parents and grandparents as well. Since one of my paternal great grandfathers built the house in the latter part of the 19th century, almost no one had moved out! Furthermore, when my mother’s mother died, all her possessions and her mother’s and grandmother’s were packed in boxes and stored in the attic, so we had decades of material goods from four generations of family on both sides, all stored under the roof of the five bedroom Eastlake farmhouse built at an intersection of the road grids of the flat Illinois prairie.

It is not only that my family were pack rats: this accumulation of goods also reflected the change of the times. My great grandparents were immigrants, some of the first settlers in the area. Resources were precious. There were no Walmarts or Sam Clubs and goods were used over and over until used up. When I was a kid, clothes would be passed down, cousins to cousins, sibling to sibling, until they were rags. Then they would go into the “rag bag” to be used for cleaning, to be braided into “rag” rugs, or sold to the “ragman.” My grandmother’s scrapbooks were old catalogs into which she pasted cards and mementos. Very little was thrown out.

After the Second World War, however, when goods became readily available, my family continued the old habit of saving everything. This included not only dishes, flatware, linens and clothing from earlier generations, but also packaging that could be reused: plastic containers, cardboard boxes. Living in this intersection of times in which the old value of material goods and the new abundance of cheap ones collided, my siblings and I were confronted with a house packed full. In fact, space for the living had shrunk considerably!

Not that my city-born mother hadn’t tried to clean things out. I remember as a child sifting through the “junk pile,” an institution on a farm after the advent of packaged foods. Into this we cast what wouldn’t burn and we didn’t deem reusable: tinfoil, tin cans, glass jars. Often I found “treasures” : a tin box, a beautiful lid. Once I found a used-up compact of my mother’s with its delicate round shape and mirror still in tact. My father let me keep it. I remember my mother’s frustration when she found it in my room.

When my oldest son was six, he wanted to be a “junk man” when he grew up. Every time I did the washing, I had to empty his pockets of all the scraps of material he had collected: nuts and bolts, tiny coils of copper wire, broken clasps, rusty nails, the insides of a clock. He was fascinated by what most of us no longer see. We are a people who view material goods as “possessions” existing only for our own use, seldom seeing their innate beauty. This is only one aspect of the root cause of the fix we are in.

“We are not a materialistic age at all,” asserted Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon.“We are the most devilishly spiritual of all ages… Far from caring too much for it [matter], we are forever busy beating it out of its natural shape into fetishes and status symbols which are more to our liking.” (1)

He laments the amount of goods that the 20th century made possible. “We produce so much that there isn’t time or room to keep it. What is sad, though, is that the knack of wonder goes into the trash can with it. The tinfoil collectors and the fancy ribbon savers may be absurd, but they’re not crazy. They are the ones who still retain the capacity for wonder that is the root of caring.” (2)

Jung retained this capacity for wonder. At Bollingen each morning he greeted his pots, pans, and cooking utensils, talking to them as “old acquaintances with whom to chat.…”(3)“They understand and appreciate it.” Jung said. (4)

In his vision seminars of 1930-1934, he stated:

There is nothing without spirit, for spirit seems to be the inside of things. Dionysus is concerned with the outside of things, with tangible forms, with everything made of earth, but inside is the spirit, which is the soul of objects. Whether that is our own psyche or the psyche of the universe we don’t know, but if one touches the earth one cannot avoid the spirit. (5)

Primitive” man acknowledged this soul of everything made of earth, Jung claimed, or, might we say, the acknowledging agency resides in the primitive layers of the psyche, now deep in the unconscious of most modern humans. We have become unconscious to the fact that if we touch the earth in friendly ways, the earth is friendly in return, but if we use matter without gratitude and recognition of its innate liveliness, this spirit of nature will oppose us. One wonders what horrors we have perpetrated upon ourselves through our exploitive economies reflected in the attitudes towards even those material goods in our own homes. Jung claimed this disregard for the spirit of things “leads us more and more into a kind of dissociation from our own nature.” (6)

Through my work with Lakota medicine woman Pansy (7) I experienced a soul retrieval of sorts in a return of reverence for the rock we chose for the fire of the sweat lodge, for the sapling we cut for the frame, for even the bag in front of us, walking around it out of respect (not stepping over, and certainly not on!) Through Pansy’s teaching-through-doing, I “re-membered” — the rocks were the rock people, some of our many “relatives,” communicating, if we slowed down to hear, for rock people are on an entirely different frequency from everyday consciousness! Through this respect for the non-human and even the inanimate, I re-experienced the pleasure of immersion in the liveliness of the natural world.

It is with some horror that my siblings and I threw so much out of my parents’ home. But what to do? Many of the objects were so old they were no longer of use. We recycled, gave away, sold, burned, kept and divided, and still we filled two large dumpsters with generations’ junk. What gods did we offend?

Collectively and personally we are at a new intersection with this question and dilemma of our age. Our numerous cheap “possessions” are an indictment: we have taken more than our share without asking the Spirit of the Earth, without giving back, and with entitlement, not reverence. Objects are made without respect for the resources used, lasting only a short time, to be discarded, too cheap to fix. Then we buy more. Extractive economies make too much sense to us: shop to repair the economy. Help the environment, but only if it doesn’t hurt the economy. Our economy has become a false god. We each are so complicit that it is easy to be despairing.

Yet Jung offers guidance here too. That wrought iron skillet— the one my junk-loving father-in-law pulled from a dumpster many years ago, with its tall, paradoxically delicate sides functioning like a Dutch oven, should the occasion arise. The iron is gentle with the heat, spreading it evenly, more forgiving than stainless steel. Its lines are beautiful, made at a time that craftsmanship was important. It asks little in terms of seasoning if I scrub it only with hot water and then wipe or warm it dry. Mindfulness of the spirit of the skillet brings me into the present, and suddenly the orange sunrise on the oaks outside the kitchen window is particularly luminous; the day, a gift. I need few other pans than this that my father-in-law reclaimed for me years ago.

It is a little answer, this loving of material goods, acknowledging the spirit of them, honoring them for their service. Is it possible that through open hearts to the “things” we use, as well as to to our earth and our fellow creatures, that we can find another way? It is this subtle level of life that Biodynamic farming also addresses.

Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation Farming Soul is a courageous offering that will help to reconnect us to our deeper selves, the often untouched realities of soul, and at the same time ground us in our physical relationship to self and Mother Earth.

In addition to Farming Soul, Patricia Damery is the author of the soon to be published Snakes. She is an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and practices in Napa, CA. She grew up in the rural Midwest and witnessed the demise of the family farm through the aggressive practices of agribusiness. With her husband Donald, she has farmed biodynamically for ten years. Her chapter, “Shamanic States in Our Lives and in Analytic Practice” appeared in The Sacred Heritage: The Influence of Shamanism on Analytical Psychology, edited by Donald Sandner and Steven Wong, and her articles and poetry in the San Francisco Library Journal, Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Psychological Perspectives, and Biodynamics: Working for Social Change Through Agriculture.

1 Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board: Plain Talk About Marriage. (New York: Simon and Schuster:1965) 111.
2 Capon, 116.
3 Miguel Serrano, Jung and Hermann Hesse: A Record of Two Friendships. ( English translation first published London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1966)117. Report of Ruth Bailey.
4 Serrano, 117.
5 C.G. Jung, Claire Douglas, Mary Foote, Visions: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1930-1934, Vol. 1, (Princeton University Press, 1997) 459.
6 Jung, 459.
7 Patricia Damery, Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation (Carmel: Fisher King Press, 2010) 60.