Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Sex, Suffering, Shadow, and Alchemical Transformation September 24, 2019

The secret of alchemy was in fact the transcendent function, the transformation of personality through the blending and fusion of the noble with the base components, of the differentiated with the inferior functions, of the conscious with the unconscious. Carl Jung, Vol. 7 of CW, par. 360.The

A friend and I have been discussing painful, life-changing experiences and what we’ve learned from them. Why do they happen? Why do they cause us and those we love so much suffering? Is there meaning in humanity’s endless suffering? The suffering of our planet? Can anything good come from it? Here are my thoughts on one of life’s biggest questions.

Jung said we have five instincts—nurturance, activity, reflection, sex, and creativity. Normally, we’re unaware of our instinctual needs, but at a deep unconscious level, our inability to fulfill them causes great suffering. The instinct for sex is associated with humanity’s desire for love and pleasure. These days, experiencing love and pleasure seems to be our top priority. Not finding it creates enormous suffering, which may be why we are so obsessed with sex. But our failure to satisfy the other instincts can also cause us to suffer. 

strong attraction to another person might initially appear to be about sex, but the love and pleasure you desire is not always or only sexual. Other instincts are also involved. You can find deep pleasure in loving yourself, others, and life. You can’t force love, and you won’t feel the real thing if your youthful need for safety, guidance, and reassurance aren’t met. So maybe there’s something about this person that involves your instinct for nurturance. Maybe your parents couldn’t give you what you needed and this fascinating person instinctively feels like someone who can.

Or maybe your attraction comes from an unfulfilled yearning to express your creative instinct. If you repressed your artistic interests in your youth because of cultural standards and pressures, your attraction to art and artists could be rooted in an unconscious desire to actualize your own creativity. Awakening that instinct will likewise provide access to untapped reservoirs of passion and pleasure.

Regardless of why you think you’re suffering or which instincts are involved, at bottom your pain is caused by your separation from your transcendent function—your true Self. What you don’t realize is that your ego’s conscious life is only the tip of your psychological iceberg. Beneath the water’s surface, you harbor memories of past experiences, forgotten thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and emotions. Deeper than that, the collective unconscious you share with every other human being contains myriad archetypes—each with different personality traits—and at least five different instincts—each with specific needs and urges. Like the inhabitants of the ocean’s depths, your unconscious entities interact with one another, and the alchemy of their interactions transforms you.

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, p. 249.

Facing dark inner realities is painful. From childhood you’ve unconsciously disowned traumatic experiences and memories. When they seep into your awareness, it can feel like a matter of life or death to ignore, escape, or rise above them. But anything you have repressed simmers in your unconscious where it can morph into a powerful shadow you can no longer contain. When this happens, like steam from a pressure cooker, your shadow can burst into your consciousness and instigate a personal crisis.

This is a shattering experience that can seriously mess with your life. But things will not necessarily stay this way forever. As my friend wisely wrote when we discussed these matters, “the trauma creates the roots for the drama that cannot be resolved without trauma.” Pure poetry. In fact, this scenario is typical of the Hero’s Journey.

This is not just an imagined story.  Myths are rooted in psycho-spiritual processes with transforming power. Like caterpillar whose body has to dissolve before it can morph into a beautiful new butterfly, your ego has to die to old habits and fears before your true Self can revel in the light of day.

With enough time and effort, you can acquire self-knowledge, love for yourself and others, and gratitude for the miracle of life. Even then, your suffering will not be over. Like the poor, our dragons will always be with us. But you will find comfort in the knowledge that you are taming yours and that your heroic accomplishments make a difference. In assuming the burden of your own suffering, you lighten the load carried by your loved ones, our planet, and every form of life. 

Image credits: Alchemy, from Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”).Google images. Butterfly, personal photo.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

 

The Two Sides of Surrender December 13, 2016

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull

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.

800px-white_flagAs 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.

450px-guiding_angel_-_tiffany_glass__decorating_company_c__1890Healthy 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.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

The Hidden Lesson of Grief July 22, 2011

I’ve been thinking about grief ever since my last post about the loss of my dog, Bear. I kept wiping away tears as I wrote it, then again when I read and responded to the kind comments I received. Where do these tears come from? Is this only about missing Bear or is something else going on? These questions remind me of something the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard once said: that much of the grief we feel when someone dies is for ourselves.

This feels profound and somehow comforting. But what does it mean? Consider this: loss and loneliness are about how we feel. The one who’s gone isn’t hurting any more. It’s we who are hurting, and we don’t like pain. Is Kierkegaard saying some of our grief is self-pity?  Because something we love has been taken from us and we will never derive pleasure from it again?

Could some of our grief also come from anger at forces over which we have no control which have arbitrarily taken something we want and love away from us? Don’t we express our outrage in words like, “Why did you leave me? Why do I have to go through this pain? It’s not fair!”

And doesn’t much of our pain come from regret and guilt too? Perhaps we think we weren’t grateful or present enough to the one we loved.  Or sometimes we were selfish, impatient or angry. Or didn’t try hard enough to understand and communicate.  Or weren’t giving enough.

I find Kierkegaard’s insight comforting, partly because it reassures me that everyone experiences similar feelings, and partly because this knowledge gives me things to do that make my loss easier to bear. I can’t bring Bear back to life, but I can feel sympathy for my ego whose desires have been thwarted. I can stop beating myself up for being angry when he had accidents on my rugs, or for sometimes taking his unconditional love for granted. And I can start looking for the unconscious factors which are prolonging my grief.

My tears are messages from my body and psyche that I am suffering. As Nisargadatta says, “Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting; it is a sign of unwillingness to move on, to flow with life.” Apparently I don’t believe I deserve release, joy and forgiveness.  Apparently I don’t love my whole self. This is the hidden lesson of grief, and learning it can help me move on.

The next time I cry I can ask myself: What am I resisting?  To what am I clinging? Do I cling to my Orphan’s self-pity because her sadness brings me sympathy? Do I like my Warrior’s anger and self-criticism because they make me feel wise, stoic and tough? Does feeling guilty make me believe I am a responsible, caring person?  Do I need these grief-inducing ego-boosters in order to believe I am worthy of love? And the big question:  can I accept my dysfunction as a natural by-product of the human condition and forgive and love myself anyway?

Lest we be tempted to believe we’re being self-indulgent to take our inner lives so seriously, we can remember these wise words from Parker Palmer: “Self-care is never a selfish act, it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.  Anytime we can listen to our true self, and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

 

 
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