How To Find and Create Meaning

The Numinosum


I’m recently recuperating from a very obsessive period of listening to Chris Cornell’s whole discography. About two months ago, I started doing singing lessons again. After I played a first Brazilian song, the teacher asked me who were my favorite singers, I mentioned Chris Cornell, and before I could finish my list, she replied “I knew you were a Chris Cornell fan!”. She said she could hear it in my voice.

We began exchanging our favorite songs, and despite being a fan, there were many I didn’t know existed. After that first lesson, I set myself to listen to his whole discography, from Soundgarden to Temple of The Dog and Audioslave. I saved a bunch of new songs, but there’s this one in particular that gave me chills and made me tear up the first time I listened to it.

Chris Cornell didn’t write it, but his interpretation is otherwordly. Go ahead, you can listen to it and come back (But do come back!): 

Chris Cornell – Stay With Me Baby

This morning, I was doing some cardio after a heavy weightlifting session, this song started playing and I found myself wanting to tear up despite being all sweaty on top of a bike in the middle of the gym. This is the power of a great song, it pierces right through your soul.

These moments of overwhelming emotion open the door to a deeper layer of the human experience. They make life worth living and fill our hearts with joy and inspiration. Plus, these moments are the key to creating and finding meaning. 

This experience has many names, William James calls them religious experiences, Carl Jung refers to them as numinous experiences, while Abraham Maslow denominates them as peak experiences. Nowadays, with the latest neuroscience research, people simply refer to them as being in Flow and it can happen in a plethora of ways.

Do you know when you start talking to your best friend or partner and it’s as if you’re on a different plane where time doesn’t exist? … You think you’ve been chatting for a few minutes and suddenly 3 hours have passed?!

Or when you’re about to enjoy your favorite food and after that first bite you’re transported to a heavenly experience and you forget about everything else?

Flow experiences can also happen when we have an incredibly productive day at work, and we accomplish the workload of a whole week in a matter of hours. And very frequently when we’re exercising striving to surpass our own limits. This last example is one we’ve all been thinking about when we first get with that person we always wanted. The first few months of a new relationship tend to be numinous after numinous experiences.

The problem is that because these experiences derive from the unconscious, they aren’t always positive. In fact, we can refer to vices and addictions as religious experiences too, as it’s something that has a compulsive quality.

To Jung, “Religion, as the Latin word denotes, is a careful and scrupulous observation of what Rudolf Otto aptly termed the numinosum, that is, a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will. On the contrary, it seizes and controls the human subject, who is always rather its victim than its creator. The numinosum —whatever its cause may be—is an experience of the subject independent of his will. At all events, religious teaching as well as the consensus gentium always and everywhere explain this experience as being due to a cause external to the individual. The numinosum is either a quality belonging to a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness. This is, at any rate, the general rule” (C. G. Jung – V11 – §6).

As we can see, religious experiences aren’t limited to traditionally religious settings, they can literally happen while you’re in the middle of the gym. The reason I’m stressing this out is because these experiences can shape our whole lives and help us find meaning.  

When I say that, I’m not suggesting to intellectually dissect these experiences, as this is often what prevents them from happening in the first place. Trying to understand things logically suffocates the symbolic value and destitutes it from life. Rather, we have to learn how to be with the numinous and welcome it in our lives.

A few years ago, I’d never be able to welcome this moment at the gym. I’d feel like there was something wrong with me, “Me crying in the middle of the gym because of a song? What a pussy!”. Yeah, I used to be a bit toxic, lol.

On a more serious note, when we cultivate sensibility and being open to the numinous, we fill our lives with meaning. When we understand what’s truly valuable we allow our souls to guide us instead of trying to solve everything with our heads. Consequently, we get to shape our lives around the numinous

That’s how we create our sense of meaning, instead of being hostages to external things that replace the religious and numinosum in our lives. Like a political party, a political movement, sports, or any kind of label. In fact, to many people, their traumas become their whole identities and they devote their lives to recreating their own suffering.

When we don’t consciously engage with the numinosum and give it a proper place in our lives, we can only darkly experience the unconscious. We feel torn in a bunch of different directions, and we’re more susceptible to compulsions and developing addictions. Plus, all our relationships become toxic, because we project the meaning of our lives into another person and expect them to fulfill our every need.

Now, when we consciously allow the numinosum to be part of our lives, the unconscious becomes a source of joy and inspiration. As we engage with it, we watch our whole personalities change and mature. In this process, meaning is finally unraveled and our souls are redeemed.

I know you’re going to ask me for a step-by-step, and I intend to write more about that in the near future, but this is an individual pursuit. What helped me and my patients is obviously therapy, active imagination, and dream interpretation. As well as making practical changes in your life to reconnect with art and creativity, and your body. Lastly, Jung says that the ultimate key is to integrate the Animus and Anima.

I explore all of these ideas in-depth in my book PISTIS – Demystifying Jungian Psychology and you can get a free copy HERE.

Rafael Krüger – Live an Audacious Life

Start your journey with Katabasis – The Shadow Integration Manual

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