The following is the transcript of an interview I had yesterday with Teresa Oster, MS, MSW. She’s a board member of The Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida where I’ll be doing a presentation on February 23. This is their link: www.jungfl.org. I’d love to see you there!
Q. Healing theSacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other and the World, which took you 18 years to write, is compelling reading, weaving the insights of many — spiritual masters, Jungian analysts, psychologists, and others — with your own. As a warm-up question, might you describe your personal library? How many books? How are they organized? What is on your reading table or night table now?
A. Oh, my. In our home we have a designated library/music/reading room with two walls of shelves containing about 1,650 books. At the moment there are another 200 plus on or near my desk for quick access. Most of the other rooms have a shelf or two of books as well. Those in the library are clustered together in genres: classics, children’s literature, art, fiction, poetry, dreamwork, philosophy, archetypal symbolism, religion/spirituality, mythology, psychology, and women’s issues. Those nearest my writing desk belong to the last five genres.
The books on my night table at the moment are: The Hidden Spirituality of Men, by Matthew Fox; The Physics of Angels, Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake; Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Volume 3, edited by Joseph Campbell;The Wisdom of Sundays, Oprah Winfrey; Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought, by Tom Jackson; and Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, by Tracey Bashkoff of the Guggenheim Museum. A friend loaned the last one to me last night. It’s filled with extraordinary archetypal images.
Q. Would it be accurate to call Healing the Sacred Divide a spiritual autobiography and workbook as well as a discourse on the trials and treasures in healing our divided selves, our divided relationships, our divided world?
A. Yes. That’s a perfect summation. I find it almost impossible to separate my thinking and learning from my personal life and my passion for sharing what I’m learning with other psychological and spiritual seekers. I want to become my fullest Self and I love mentoring others who are on the same path.
Q. The late Jungian Analyst Robert Johnson wrote the forward to your previous book, Dream Theatres of the Soul. He appears to be a touchstone for your work. Would you comment on him, and his passing, and his favored concept of the mandorla, which you emphasize in Healing the Sacred Divide?
A. Robert A. Johnson was my earliest Jungian mentor. I met him at a Journey Into Wholeness conference in the early 1990’s and immediately knew him to be a soul brother. From him I learned that myths and dreams are valuable stories that show me the archetypal forces in my unconscious. I also learned that my psychological and spiritual growth is dependent on my ability to reconcile the conflicts in myself and my relationships. This is symbolized by a mandorla — the third, almond-shaped space made by two overlapping circles. It represents the holy space of dialogue and understanding where we connect with the Self and resolve conflicts in creative new ways. I’m sad that he’s no longer with us, but his soul left a powerful imprint on mine that will always be with me.
Q.You begin the book with a nightmare you had when you were ten, of the Lone Ranger, who you so admired but who shot you in the dream. The Lone Ranger has ‘shadowed’ you for all these years. Could you say just a bit about the importance of him in your process? I recently saw the archetypally rich film The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. Have you seen it? If so did it resonate?
A. My dream was as archetypally rich as the film. I did see it and I loved it. As a child, I idolized the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Silver. I woke up from that dream screaming with outrage and weeping from a profound sense of betrayal. It has taken me years of inner work to understand why. The Lone Ranger was my version of the heroic Father archetype. Tonto was my personal image of my shamanistic Mediatrix/Sage archetype. Silver represented the power and potential of my Animus, the drive that motivates my teaching and writing. Why did the Lone Ranger shoot me at the age of ten? Because I was becoming aware of the toxic patriarchal conditioning of my childhood that said males were heroes and authority figures and females were victims and second-class citizens. The dream was a call to discover and empower the archetypal forces in myself, especially my feminine side. It took me 35 more years to find the path Jung paved for me and other seekers.
Q. You quote Krishnamurti: “The world problem is the individual problem.” Would you comment? How are we individuals responsible for the extreme conflicts in our world today?
A.The opposite of Krishnamurti’s comment is likewise true: the individual solution is the world solution. We and our species are evolving from a state of primitive infancy toward greater consciousness and psycho-spiritual maturity. As you do your inner work and grow in self-awareness, you automatically motivate everyone you touch to seek healthier resolutions to their problems and find meaning for their own lives. For the first time in human history, the internet has the potential to swing the tide of collective consciousness away from conflict and hatred toward understanding and love. I truly believe that if we join the drops of our individual awareness to the gathering collective wave, we can save our species and our planet from destruction.
Q. Another author you cite is Jungian Analyst Janet O’ Dallett, author of The Not-Yet Transformed God. She spoke to our group many years ago, but I still remember what she told us before the lecture. She said she lived on the Olympic Peninsula near Seattle and there were two houses on her property. She lived in one and her husband lived in the other. What do you think she was trying to say about the individual in relationship?
A. I love that. I think she was trying to illustrate how hard it is to create a healthy, loving, lifelong, relationship with your partner without sacrificing your freedom to be true to yourself. For the last few years I’ve been taking baritone ukulele lessons and writing songs. My latest song, “Happy Place,” is my answer to your question. It’s about the mandorla that two individuals can create in a couple relationship. Here are the last lines:
“I wish my happy place was yours. I wish that yours was mine.
But everybody’s got their own. Seems like that’s just fine.
Together we’re building a place of our own, where we both can grow.
You can do your thing and I’ll do mine….It’s the happiest place I know!”
Q. You cite so many influential authors in The Sacred Divide. I was disappointed not to see a bibliography. Might you want to hand one out to attendees at the upcoming event?
A. I’ll be happy to. I’m in the midst of creating one for my new book, and I’ll bring it with me to the workshop.
Q. You called your first three books a trilogy. Now you are working on a fourth. What is the subject of the new book?
A. The Soul’s Twins transforms my work into a quaternity — a symbol of wholeness that is my answer to the Lone Ranger and the patriarchal culture he alerted me to at the age of ten. I believe it is imperative for our species to eliminate old stereotypes about Deity and gender by consciously integrating the feminine and masculine principles within and without. The Soul’s Twins was conceived in the early 90’s when I attended an intensive at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich where Jungian analyst Dr. Martin Odermatt introduced us to a newly emerging image for the Self. He called it the Couple, a new God-image representing the unifying force of love that can heal the world.
Over the next year I wrote a manuscript describing how the interaction between four basic feminine archetypes and their four masculine archetypal partners creates the Couple. I also created and tested a self-assessment instrument called The Partnership Profile which is included in the new book. I didn’t know how to finish it then, which is probably just as well because I’m pretty sure the world wasn’t ready to receive it. So it sat in my computer until two years ago when my Animus reared up and demanded that we revise, condense, and see it through to publication. He and I are very excited about the dramatic movements like #MeToo that are shaking up and tearing down the toxic bastions of patriarchal dominance. I’m pretty sure the time is right for it now. May it be so!
Reminder to attendees: Some journaling is part of this event. Bring notebooks and pens. Sharing is optional.
Image credits: The rearing horse found on Google Images is attributed to rebelyell.
Note: My friends, my new book is coming along nicely. Meanwhile, I’m excited and honored to share an interview written by Audrey Schultz which appeared yesterday, June 20, on the Swenson Book Development blog. I hope you enjoy it.
If you’re someone who is curious about the human psyche, spirituality, and the connection between femininity and masculinity, chances are you’ll enjoy reading the work of Jean Benedict Raffa, whose writings and teachings focus on “psychological and spiritual matters from a perspective informed by Jungian psychology and personal experience.” She is the author of several books, including The Bridge to Wholeness, Dream Theatres of the Soul, and Healing the Sacred Divide, and recently, she has announced Schiffer Books will publish her new book titled The Soul’s Twins, which “offers a self-guided journey to wholeness and enlightenment by transcending masculine-feminine oppositions.” In light of this recent news, I had the chance to interview Jean for Swenson Book Development.
Swenson Book Development: Have you always known that you wanted to write? Was there a specific point in your life when you realized that this was what you wanted to do?
Jean Benedict Raffa: I’ve always loved to write, but it took a very long time to know what I wanted to write about. At five I made my first book by folding a few pieces of blank paper in half. Since I didn’t know how to write, I drew pictures of myself going through my day—waking up, sitting on the potty, eating breakfast. Then I got stuck. How could I draw what was really important—the thoughts and feelings in my head? It was words and understanding I wanted, not images. At ten I started my first real book, then trashed it after 30 pages. Discovering I had nothing to write about was a disappointment I carried around for many years.
My favorite assignments in school always involved writing, but it wasn’t until I spent a year writing my doctoral dissertation about the effects of television on children that the puzzle pieces began to fall together. The hundreds of late-night hours spent alone at my desk while my husband and children slept felt like minutes. With no pressure from the outer world, time, space, and even my body disappeared while I explored an inner realm of my own making. There I experienced the joy of creating, organizing, and arranging my ideas into words that had real value to others. This was what I was born for. But it was still only half the puzzle. It took a lengthy spiritual crisis during ten more years of struggling with unfulfilling work to know what I was born to write about.
SBD: You’ve stated on your website, “My work focuses on spiritual and psychological growth, the empowerment of women, generating reverence for the feminine principle and creating partnership between masculinity and femininity.” When people read your books, what is the impression that you hope readers are left with?
JBR: I hope readers go away from my books thinking, “This is important. It’s about me, the way I’m living my life, and the big questions I struggle with—not just meaningless, distracting surface stuff I’ll forget tomorrow. It touches my yearning and brings me hope. I want more of this.”
SBD: What inspires you to keep writing your books?
JBR: The ancient Greeks had a word, daimon, for the natural spirit — a genius replete with knowledge which is not quite human and not quite divine—in every individual. Your daimon is a very powerful force —a personal guardian who protects, guides, and inspires you as you travel through life. It starts out like a tiny seed buried in your unconscious and grows in response to your attention and unique experiences. It feels like a deep hunger to discover and manifest your natural gifts for the benefit of the world. Everyone has this yearning, but few heed it—partly because they don’t attend to it, and partly because they fear acting on it will result in banishment from their tribe.
I felt my daimon at the age of five, but it took over 40 years to blossom. And it’s still growing. I write because I have to write. I no longer have a choice. My daimon drives me to obey it, and I’ll always be grateful that I had the sense to listen and follow its guidance.
SBD: Do you view writing itself as a kind of spiritual practice?
JBR: Yes. Humans are evolving into greater consciousness. This is both a psychological and spiritual journey. Involving yourself in practices that lead to self-discovery develops skills that automatically connect you with your soul, your spirit, your daimon, other people, and the Self. The Self is Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung’s name for the sacred within you. It is the core and circumference of your psyche, the archetype of wholeness, and your religious instinct. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, nor does it matter if your spiritual practice is sanctioned by outer authorities. What truly matters is that when you connect with it, it brings self-knowledge, expands your mind, opens your heart, fulfills your yearning, and infuses your life with zest, vitality, meaning, and most of all, love. The practices that have helped me connect with my Self are writing, dreamwork, study, and paying attention to synchronicities that excite my daimon.
SBD: What are you most excited for regarding your latest book, The Soul’s Twins?
JBR: It feels like the completion of my life’s work. Seen from this perspective, my first book laid a foundation, my second designed a blueprint, the third built a framework, and this one feels like the finished house—basement, attic, and everything in between. It also has the most potential to serve the largest and most diverse audience.
Psychologically speaking, everyone has a feminine and a masculine side—a full palate of potential from which to make works of art out of our lives. Recent events have raised collective awareness that too many qualities from the feminine spectrum have not received equal attention, respect, or expression because of outdated gender stereotypes. I’m excited that The Soul’s Twins has the potential to be of help in humanity’s inevitable march toward creating inner and outer partnerships that dissolve harmful stereotypes and heal our divided psyches.
SBD: Has your experience in writing The Soul’s Twins been different from your experiences with your other books, or has it been much the same?
JBR: Each book has been different. The first, largely a memoir, took over a year to write. The second only took four months. Both quickly found publishers. Then in the mid-nineties I worked on The Soul’s Twins for two years before I realized the audience for it was too small, and there was still much I needed to learn. So I set it aside and wrote several iterations of Healing the Sacred Divide over a period of 18 years until it morphed into its current form. Once it came out, my daimon had nothing to say about another book until last year when a particularly meaningful synchronicity sparked my interest in revisiting and reworking my long-dormant manuscript. This time, my timing was right on.
SBD: If you could pick just one piece of advice to give, what would it be and why?
JBR: Think psychologically; live spiritually. By this I mean take your inner world seriously. Pay attention to what’s going on in you—reflect on it, accept your wounds and shadows as natural parts of your path, and learn to love yourself. Open your mind to new ways of thinking and living. Adopt a practice that brings self-knowledge and improves your relationships. Then, moment by moment, take the next step you must take and do the thing you must do.
It is my belief that the problem of opposites…should be made the basis for a critical psychology. A critique of this sort would be of the utmost value not only in the narrower field of psychology, but also in the wider field of the cultural sciences in general. ~Carl Jung, CW 8, par. 260.
In my last post, “What is Enlightenment” I introduced the Couple archetype. One reader responded with some thoughtful observations about same-sex couples, and I look forward to exploring this rich topic in future posts. But first, I’d like to lay the psychological and spiritual foundation for the Couple archetype. The following material comes from my manuscript, The Soul’s Twins.
According to Dr. Lawrence Odermatt of the Jung Institute in Zurich, the Couple holds profound spiritual meaning for many people in today’s world. Dr. Odermatt’s research has convinced him that the Couple is, in fact, emerging from the collective unconscious as a symbol of the Self. By this he means that people today expect things from the couple relationship that were formerly expected from their God-images, or ideas about The All, and from the religions created around these images.
Dr. Odermatt cites the following as some examples of the spiritual expectations people have about relationships today. People expect the couple relationship to provide a space or place of relaxation and regeneration from the stress of work and economic pressures. This is exactly what people in the past expected from places of worship, sacred rituals, and sacred festivals and days like Beltane, Christmas and the Sabbath.
People want their couple relationship to bring emotional security and satisfaction. This has not always been true. In the past, when marriages only took place between men and women and were primarily for social and political power and financial security, people rarely hoped to be emotionally fulfilled by their marriage partners; they did, however, expect it from their spiritual lives and practices.
People today also want their couple relationships to be containers for their spiritual and intellectual development, for their deepest yearnings and newest insights. They want the couple relationship to nurture their creativity and unique potential, to provide meaning for their lives. These functions too, have traditionally been associated with religion.
Finally, and to me, this is the most telling and pertinent expectation of all, Dr. Odermatt says that today people want partners who will confirm and accept them as unique individuals while at the same time providing them with an opportunity to merge with another so as to experience oneness, togetherness, wholeness. In other words, today the couple relationship is becoming a symbol for the creative union between humanity’s two basic drives, the two halves of the Self:
1. The drive for self-preservation is our compulsion to express our individuality. The need to find, develop and manifest our unique skills and passions in meaningful work has traditionally only been associated with and assigned to males and denied to females. In some parts of the world it still is. Nonetheless, it is inherent in all of us, regardless of gender.
2. The drive for species-preservation is our compulsion to experience oneness with another in caring, intimate relationships which nurture our creativity and bless our community with new life, whether physical, cultural, psychological, spiritual or all four. This drive has traditionally been associated with and assigned to females, and some families and cultures still discourage its expression in males in any outlet other than sexuality.
Humanity is evolving and here, in our time, our collective God-image is undergoing a dramatic transformation. We are imagining God as something far more balanced and complex than a superior masculine spiritual authority who is fascinated by the feminine other—whether the world of physical matter (L.mater or mother), the Mother Church, or women—while remaining separate and aloof from her. In a development prefigured two millennia ago in the beautiful myth of Psyche and Eros, we are imagining God as an inner reality: our potential for a sacred intimate union, a loving partnership between our masculine and feminine sides. This new God-image honors the masculine and feminine principles equally and in all of us as a spiritual reality. In other words, each of us is in and of God.
This way of imagining God has already had thrilling, far-reaching effects. In the social and political arena it has allowed us to consider granting people ultimate authority over what they do with their own bodies and offering full and equal opportunities to everyone regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality, or sexual preferences. Such a God-image also gives contemporary religious institutions far more freedom than their predecessors had to encourage individuality and celebrate mutually meaningful relationships free from fear-based prohibitions and prejudices. And it gives religious groups permission to offer instruction on world religions, mythology, psychology, dreams, meditation techniques, and the newest scientific advances in medicine and physics because of a growing awareness that this knowledge liberates people from debilitating fears and helps them live more purposeful, meaningful lives.
The internal union between our masculine and feminine sides was anticipated by the practice of alchemy in the Middle Ages and the great wisdom traditions throughout the world before that. It was brought to our attention by Carl Jung, who likewise used the over-arching metaphors of masculine and feminine to represent every pair of opposites. Conducting our own magnum opus of uniting our inner opposites into our conscious awareness is our hope for wholeness, individuation and enlightenment.
The coniunctio in alchemy is a union of the masculine and feminine, of the spiritual and material principles, from which a perfect body arises, the glorified body after the Last Judgment, the resurrection body. This means an eternal body, or the subtle body, which is designated in alchemy as the philosopher’s stone, the lapis aethereus or invisibilis. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lectures, Pages 158-167.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard: a symbolic butterfly hovers over Psyche in a moment of innocence poised before sexual awakening.
In the almost 7 years since I began Matrignosis, I’ve written much more about depth psychology than what I would call ‘depth spirituality.’ Perhaps because I’ve been doing in-depth studies of Jungian psychology for 27 years and feel more comfortable about my knowledge and experience of it. Perhaps because I have no formal credentials on the subject of religion and so have left writing about it to those who do.
Either way, I’ve only hinted at depth spirituality and its connection to depth psychology, shared a few meaningful religious experiences, and occasionally addressed mysticism and religion. Yet, depth spirituality is a passion of mine and I’m feeling compelled to write more about it. So here goes.
I’ve been deeply spiritual since the age of 17 when I experienced an epiphany about some Bible verses and eagerly answered an altar call at a Billy Graham Crusade shortly afterwards. Perhaps it started before that, when, at the age of 10, I was encouraged by my Baptist paternal grandmother to kneel beside my bed and invite Jesus into my heart. Or did it happen a few months later when my minister immersed me in the baptismal font at the First Christian Church we attended?
Maybe my spiritual spark ignited when, around the age of 5, I experienced awe and wonder on a walk with my father beneath the cathedral-like canopy of a forest? Or was it earlier still at age 3 when I was lost and alone on the shores of Lake Michigan, following a faraway light that twinkled through the darkness like a star?
Regardless of when it awakened, I know for certain it didn’t begin to deepen until midlife. That’s when I experienced a crisis of faith which caused painful internal conflicts between known and previously unknown parts of myself. Gradually, taking these conflicts seriously and exploring them over a long period of time transformed my old God image of a distant and aloof heavenly father into a sacred, genderless, benevolent force which was real, present, and life-changing.
Carl Jung, whose father was a minister, experienced a similar crisis which activated the same compulsion to understand himself and participate in the Mystery of life. He called this compulsion the ‘transcendent function.’
The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious is called the ‘transcendent function’…. This function progressively unites the opposites. Psychotherapy makes use of it to heal neurotic dissociations, but this function had already served as the basis of Hermetic philosophy for seventeen centuries. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, par. 1554.
In fact, people have been encountering the transcendent function for thousands of years. Here’s what happens. Consciousness is born when we become self-aware: when we see ourselves objectively and realize we can make original choices instead of conforming and being buffeted about by unknown forces. We start out believing these forces are outside of us, in nature, other people, gods. We grow by acknowledging that they are in us, and that we project them outward to avoid taking responsibility for who we really are.
It is we who create our religions, our cultural standards, our wars, our beliefs about right and wrong, good and bad. This good/bad opposition is the source of our internal and external conflicts. We have no control over the transcendent function or when—or if—it kicks in. But if and when it does, everything changes.
The transcendent function does not proceed without aim and purpose, but leads to the revelation of the essential man. It is in the first place a purely natural process, which may in some cases pursue its course without the knowledge or assistance of the individual, and can sometimes forcibly accomplish itself in the face of opposition. The meaning and purpose of the process is the realization, in all its aspects, of the personality originally hidden away in the embryonic germ-plasm; the production and unfolding of the original, potential wholeness. ~Carl Jung, CW 11, par. 780.
Self-discovery is the basis of Eastern religions like Buddhism and Taoism and the mystical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some practices that lead to self-discovery are introspection, meditation, contemplation, centering prayer, dreamwork, body work, active imagination, journaling, psychotherapy, art, and so on.
Our choice to explore our unconscious selves is where East meets West and Soul meets Spirit. Working together in partnership toward understanding, union and love, our divided selves can eventually merge into One. This transforming process is both depth psychology and depth spirituality. It is where Life wants to take us.
By means of the transcendent function we not only gain access to the ‘One Mind’ but also come to understand why the East believes in the possibility of self-liberation. If, through introspection and the conscious realization of unconscious compensations, it is possible to transform one’s mental condition and thus arrive at a solution of painful conflicts, one would seem entitled to speak of ‘self-liberation’. ~Carl Jung, CW 11, par. 784.
“Spirit and matter may well be forms of one and the same transcendental thing.” ~Carl Jung. CW 9i; par. 392.
This week between Christmas 2016 and the New Year of 2017 is the first in almost seven years that I didn’t schedule a Tuesday post on Matrignosis. I’m still trying to figure out why, but one factor is undoubtedly that I’m struggling with physical, emotional, and spiritual burnout from the presidential election and holiday preparations. As a result, I’m recovering from my second nasty bout with bronchitis in two months.
Determined to get the rest I obviously need this week, I had no conscious plans to write a post until after the new year. But this morning I awoke from a dream:
A new government has taken over. It is banning free speech and singling out intellectuals and other ‘undesirables’ on trumped up charges. I’m feeling worried and frightened. Our only hope is in one extraordinary man who secretly leads a resistance group. I see his slogan, “We Will Survive” written in large bold letters on a large surface in a public place and take great hope from it.
I have to tell Fred. He’s been distracted by work and doesn’t know this has happened. I find him and tell him with tears welling up in my eyes, “I have terrible news about the government!” I consciously add the words ‘about the government’ because I want to prepare him to hear something alarming but don’t want him to think the news is about any kind of immediate threat to our loved ones. I fear for our world.
So this is it. The core issue beneath everything I’ve been thinking and doing and trying not to think about or do in recent weeks. My intuition and feelings are in a high state of alert and as an introvert I’ve been trying to keep them under cover, both for my own protection and others. But the Self won’t allow me to ignore this any longer and sent me a dream to make me face it.
How am I going to respond to a situation that feels like a terrible threat to our country and world? How can I be sure that what I say or do will be helpful and not harmful?
If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Pages 132-133.
After recording my dream I reread recent posts, looking for threads that might suggest my next step, my next post.
From The Invisible Cord: “Awakening from a long sleep during which our egos have been unconscious of our inner truths, and moving into a more mature way of living and loving is what Christmas is really about.”
From The Two Sides of Surrender: “Positive surrender frees you to live to the fullest with all the life energy you have at your disposal without wasting it on denial, escapism or self-hatred.”
And, “Healthy surrender is not a victim’s descent into lethargy. It is a warrior’s ascent to compassionate action which causes the least possible harm to others. It requires…restraint until you acquire the wisdom to know what must be done.”
But when will I know what must be done? Until now, my actions have been guided by this thought:
“Your voice is too weak for those raging to be able to hear…Thus, do not speak and do not show the God, but sit in a solitary place and sing incantations in the ancient manner.” ~Carl Jung. The Red Book, p. 284.
Perhaps this is part of the reason I could find no words for a Tuesday post this week. But I am unusually mindful of these words from The Invisible Cord: “…all opposites, outer and inner, are bound to each other by an invisible cord which is as real and essential to us as our heartbeat.”
There is an absolute, eternal union between God and the soul of everything. The problem is that Western religion has not taught us this. Our ego over-emphasizes our individuality and separateness from God and others. ~Richard Rohr Meditation, Dec. 17, 2016.
Mystics like Francis and Clare lived from a place of conscious, chosen, and loving union with God. Such union was realized by surrendering to it, not by achieving it! ~Richard Rohr Meditation, Dec. 17, 2016.
After citing the above I wrote: “If you’re not a religious person, just replace the word “God” with any or all of these three: Life. Love. Reality. It’s all the same thing.”
Still looking for guidance, I picked up a new book I’ve been wanting to start and chose a page at random. There I read,
“We’re standing in the middle of an awesome mystery—life itself!—and the only appropriate response before this mystery is humility. If we’re resolved that this is where we want to go—into the mystery, not to hold God and reality but to let God and reality hold us—then I think religion is finally in its proper and appropriate place.” ~Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, p. 73.
‘We’re standing in the middle of an awesome mystery.’ ‘Western religion has not taught us this.’ ‘I think religion is finally in its proper and appropriate place.’
‘Show the God.’
I think you can expect more of this from me in the coming months.
The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull
After last week’s post Susan wrote:
“Thank you Jeanie so much – a powerful post. Commitment to feeling our experiences, bearing our own cross and the surrender to that. I remember many years ago being very badly burned by steam on my right wrist while cooking something on the stove. I HAD to move on – there were pressing things that needed my immediate attention (it’s a long story so I’ll just give the bones of it). While I was waiting in the car later on wondering how in hell I was ever going to bear this, I also wondered how those being tortured would ever be able to withstand the pain. What went through their minds? What was it that they withstood their pain if they could? Did they surrender to that – the pain? Should I just surrender to it? I did, and the pain was GONE. I will never forget this … a true miracle …”
In a culture which idealizes competition and winning, the possibility that there could be positive side to surrender is difficult to accept. Through our ego’s dualistic, good/bad, win/lose lens, surrender is viewed in the context of a heroic battle. From this perspective it’s bad enough to lose a war, contest, or athletic event when you’ve tried your hardest, but surrendering is out of the question. Giving up is a sign of weakness. A character flaw. A failure. A shameful loss of face.
But this is not the only way of seeing surrender. Occasionally, something unexplainable happens and our perspective changes.
The indispensable condition is that you have an archetypal experience, and to have that means that you have surrendered to life. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Page 972
Susan’s story suggests this different way of looking at surrender. A healthy way that promotes healing. A way taught throughout history by Sages, Spirit Persons, mystics, and psychological giants like Carl Jung. A way not directed to the outer world, but to the universe within. Few of us discover this way until a time comes in our inner life when our heroic struggle to stay in control and press on regardless only increases our suffering. This happens when we’ve focused overlong on outer-world forms of success while ignoring the conflicting inner forms that our heart and soul require.
As long as we ignore the fact that our outer and inner goals are in conflict, our suffering will continue. Because all the money, fame, status, prestige, public and parental approval we’ve struggled to attain isn’t making us happy. And because admitting we’ve ‘failed’ to achieve the happiness we long for is too painful. So we do everything in our power to repress the realities of our hearts and souls, and that only exacerbates our suffering.
So what heals it? What brings the “real” solution? Surrender. To the realities of our heart and soul. To the fact that we hurt and need help. That we’re miserable. That we want to make a change but are afraid of making a terrible mistake. And to every other reality we’ve hidden behind our persona of having it all together.
A religious conversation is inevitable with the devil, since he demands it, if one does not want to surrender to him unconditionally. ~Carl Jung, Liber Novus, Page 261
But this way requires extreme caution. Because like everything else, surrender is dualistic: God’s way and the Devil’s way. There are helpful and harmful ways to surrender. And it all depends on the impulses to which you surrender.
Unhealthy surrender succumbs to powerful forces from within and without that tempt you to give up living your own life or act out in negative ways. Unhealthy surrender allows others to take responsibility for your life. You stop growing, following your passions, developing your gifts, searching for your unique destiny. Negative surrender wallows in disappointment and self-hatred. It sinks in lethargy, drowns in hopelessness. And it can cause great damage to others in the process. For example, surrendering to your ego’s hatred and revenge by being cruel to others is no solution because your ability to give and receive love is harmed in the process.
Healthy surrender is an act of courage in which you face your suffering. Positive surrender relinquishes your ego’s need to squelch your inner realities. It gives up trying to control people and situations. It stops fighting your heart’s need for feeling, compassion and understanding, your soul’s need for creativity, passion and meaning. It gives up your ego’s pursuit of unfulfilling goals in the outer world and attends to your child’s need for love and intimacy. Positive surrender frees you to live to the fullest with all the life energy you have at your disposal without wasting it on denial, escapism or self-hatred.
Healthy surrender is not a victim’s descent into lethargy. It is a warrior’s ascent to compassionate action which causes the least possible harm to others. It requires a warrior’s focus, self-discipline, and self-examination. It requires patience to consider each step carefully before taking it. Flexibility to walk a tightrope between opposites. Restraint until you acquire the wisdom to know what must be done. And accepting responsibility for the pain you cause others when you do it.
Numinosity, however, is wholly outside conscious volition, for it transports the subject into the state of rapture, which is a state of will-less surrender. ~Carl Jung, CW 8, Para 383.
I know the healing way of surrender is available, but I don’t know why it comes to some and not others. Perhaps Susan’s story provides a clue. Perhaps a commitment to feeling empathy and compassion for the pain of others is a prerequisite. Maybe we have to take the first step.
Image credits: Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull, Angels for You, White Flag, all from Wikimedia Commons. Jung Quotes: Thanks to Lewis LaFontaine.
A hunger to understand the forces that aided my psycho-spiritual growth has dogged me since I first wrote about the inner life 27 years ago. Intuitively, I structured my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth, around stories of painful early experiences that had influenced my life. That’s when I realized it wasn’t my intellect or will power or idealism or good intentions or good behavior or following the rules or listening to sermons or heeding other peoples’ advice that instigated my growth. It was my painful experiences.
These were experiences I couldn’t forget because they made a powerful impression on me, created difficult questions, internal conflict, fear, self-doubt and suffering. Like, why did Daddy divorce Mama and then die? Was it because he was bad and God punished him? Why did the Lone Ranger shoot me in my dream at the age of 10? Why was Ken mean to me in high school? Why did I get so angry at my fiancé for fearing for my safety and wanting to protect me? Was I selfish? Insensitive? Cruel?
We all experience things like this. It’s just the way the world is, the way the human psyche is structured.
To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 249.
Painful experiences create painful emotions. Painful emotions create conflicts. Pain and conflict are notices that something isn’t working, and opportunities to try something different. Even though everything we’ve ever learned has convinced us that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. Even though we know we are perfectly justified in being the way we are. Even though it’s so wrong and unfair we just want to forget it. Pain and conflict make us realize we can keep making the same old choices or make a new choice. It’s our choice.
Adult suffering is caused by many things: physical pain, financial deprivation, illness, accidents, fear, self-hatred, regret; bad memories, bad parenting, bad habits, bad luck, bad experiences, bad mistakes; conflicting thoughts, painful emotions, a mind too rigid and closed, a mind too open and easily influenced; loyalty to old belief systems combined with fear of questioning them and risking something new; losses, betrayals, temptations; and any manner of other things. But whatever the cause of suffering and whatever else it may be, suffering is also a wake-up call from our unconscious asking us to pay attention, know that we have choices, and take action.
When we’ve had enough of suffering and summoned the courage to do something good for ourselves instead of waiting for something or someone to remove our suffering for us, we see an array of choices. We can change our partners, doctors, teachers, churches, addictions, bodies, lifestyle, home, job. Unfortunately, if our choices originate in fear of criticism or abandonment, anger, blame, self-hatred, self-pity, stubborn self-righteousness, or a refusal to take responsibility for our lives, they will take us from bad to worse. Fortunately, we can also choose to stop ignoring and despising our suffering and do something constructive to address it. Something like conducting our own research, reading a book, taking a class, committing to a practice, writing…anything we’re drawn to that brings insights about who we really are and why.
If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Pages 132-133.
But without the right motivation, choice and action are still not enough. Our action has to come from an honest recognition that we can’t do it alone any more. We need help. And it has to come from a humble attitude that sincerely wants and asks for help. Furthermore, our asking has to come from an attitude of surrender for the sake of love. Finally, we have to stay open and mindful enough to notice help when it arrives. It can come from anywhere: an experience that brings us to our knees. A dream that frightens and fascinates us. A new teacher or opportunity. A mind-blowing synchronicity between inner and outer events. A chance comment from a family member or friend. And when help comes and we know in our gut that it is beneficial and true, we have to trust our instincts, jump on board, seize it with all our being, and hang on for dear life.
This is a process with which I’m intimately familiar. Although the insights I’ve gained from studying and using Carl Jung’s practices have changed my life, I’m not just parroting his theories. What I know to be true for me is based on personal experience. Somehow in the middle of my life I started taking my life seriously. Somehow I sensed that my suffering and self-absorption, painful and humiliating as they were, had a healing purpose. Somehow I tolerated the tension of staying with it. Somehow I know others can too.
Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it’s going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we’re used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger (John 12:24). If we’re not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won’t enter into any new or sacred space. Fr. Richard Rohr. From his online meditation, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2016.
Image credits: Growth: Wikimedia Commons. Jung Quote: Thanks to Lewis LaFontaine.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.