Archive for the ‘darkness’ tag
Being a psychotherapist doesn’t make one immune to the descents into the dark side of one’s being. Doctors get sick and priests have crises of faith. So it is for therapists who wrestle with the demons of the psyche. Much of the issues that come from crises of faith and descents into the darkness of the psyche have to do with transference. Listening to, being attuned to, engaging with, and simply being with parishioners and clients-patients activates something in both parties.
As the professional opens doors, the contents of those they work with often serve as triggers and at times find themselves hooking into the psych of the professional. For a while, the priest becomes the father, the god-like being he stands in place of as mediator. The same is true for therapists who become either father or mother, again becoming a saviour, god-like for their patients. The professional holds the contents as if they are sacred (which they indeed are) taking some of the weight from their parishioners and patients. Taking the weight, they allow space for breathing and with that breathing, an opportunity to find some healthy release and with that release, an opportunity to heal.
But there is a cost to the therapist and to the priest – that cost must be paid. There is a need for the healers to find someone to whom they can turn to work through their personal stuff that get activated in holding and dealing with the stuff of their parishioners and patients. I have found myself bending almost too far and so needed to find the resources that I needed to recharge my batteries. But in the space in between holding too much and release from that too much, I have my own crisis of faith, of psyche, of self. The healer must take his or her turn at being healed again, and again, and again. To be a good priest in being able to handle the crises of his parishioners, the priest must have lived and survived his own crises – only then can he be in tune with and thus serve as a healer. The same is true for a therapist – in order to heal, one must have been broken and then gone through the process of being healed.
In today’s professional world of psychotherapy there is no guarantee that the therapist has been there and done that. The only guarantee (usually) is that the therapist has attended classes and achieved certification. The have learned well from books and have practised using the appropriate skills. And as consumers of therapy, there is a tendency to look at the certificates and hope for the best. Who would trust an older man or woman without the certificate?
In my career as a school principal at various schools, I found that some of my best staff, being able to work with students and help them learn, to relate, to connect – were not trained teachers. Some were parent volunteers, some were trained to assist with special needs students (or at least be willing to work with these students as an aid). Some of the worst people I have had in my schools had good education, high marks on their transcripts, and had attended very reputable colleges of education at high calibre universities. I learned as a principal that needed to look beyond the certificate and find the person standing behind the certificate.
As a therapist in need, I, like my clients, need to find someone to trust so that I may work in a safe containing relationship to heal myself. It isn’t enough just to download onto a different healer, to transfer my stuff onto a guru or analyst or bishop or . . . There is an apt expression that comes to mind – “Physician heal thyself“ -
“The phrase alludes to the readiness and ability of physicians to heal sickness in others while sometimes not being able or willing to heal themselves. This suggests something of ‘the cobbler always wears the worst shoes’, i.e. cobblers are too poor and busy to attend to their own footwear. It also suggests that physicians, while often being able to help the sick, cannot always do so and, when sick themselves, are no better placed than anyone else.” [The Phrase Finder]
This morning I found myself in a contemplative mood, a good place really, not divorced from the reality of being present in my life. As I am entering these words, I am waiting for the toast to be ready for our breakfast. And yes, I am taking care of them even as I sit here seeing the small toaster oven across the kitchen while writing. With only fort-eight hours left of our stay in Belize, and all tasks taken care of in order to be ready for the shift back to Mexico, my mind is relaxed and there is no sense of being rushed or wondering what I should be doing at the moment, other than making sure the toast doesn’t burn. [time out to eat]
Before I began my morning meditation outside in our garden, I saw the moon in the west which sent me back to get my camera and get a photo for here. After returning the camera into the villa, I took my seat and slipped into my meditation knowing that at some point the sun would rise and anoint my body with its rays. If this sounds like a spiritual ritual, it is because the ritual is about honouring my soul, about connecting with the universe and becoming at one with it. While I meditated, my wife decided to grab the camera to take a photo of the sun rising above the layer of clouds that hugged the eastern horizon. Moon setting and sun rising while I meditated. No wonder I am in a contemplative mood this morning.
Not long after my meditation was left behind, I was sitting having coffee and wondering what I would do with my time. Sitting there, the urge to write here and touch once more on Jungian psychology became strong. But, I didn’t have a clue what I would write about. However, that didn’t seem to bother me at all as I have learned that the words would come. With breakfast done, I turned to Daryl Sharp’s book, Getting To Know You, and opened it at random and found these words which were spoken / written in response to a question about Jungian psychology being soul-making:
“. . . the only way I can understand the progression of my life is in terms of soul. Soul happens when you ponder alone in the still of the night. Soul happens when you grapple with the meaning of your life. Soul is what you are, as opposed to what you seem to be. That’s not theology, it’s experiential reality. [p. 56]
With these words, I think that I have said enough here for now. More will follow in another post on another day.
I found this image somewhere on the Internet a while ago. Where? I don’t remember. It is taken from some work of art painted when there was no need to conceal the truth for some particular agenda. Maybe I shouldn’t use the word truth as I begin to doubt that there are any truths other that the swirling mass of thought within one’s head, a swirling mass that is rarely based on reality. All is illusion. Yet, if we are to have histories as a people, then we must be able to hold some of that history as being valid. Was there a Jesus Christ? Was he the son of God if he did exist? Personally, I do think that there was a man who was the person we call Jesus Christ. Was he a son of God? I would have to say yes as I truly believe that we are all sons and daughters, all the offspring of the initial creator.
He was a man and he was a godling just like you are a godling. Like you and me, he was born naked out of the womb of a woman. Like you and me, he was a child, saw things children should never see, and suffered for it. Like you and me, he wrestled with his demons and resisted his singular path. For some reason, he was able to hold his singular path, a feat not many are able to accomplish because of fear, because of the cruel weight of community opinion. And like all others who dare to hold to their destiny, he was crucified by his community for daring to go against the collective shadow. The Romans crucified him in fact, but it was his community that forced the hand of the Romans to administer the death penalty for daring to challenge the status quo. The Romans crucified him in the Roman way – hanging him on a cross, naked so as to induce shame.
But for one who dares to follow the individual path that opens into light even as one goes forward seemingly into darkness, there is no shame, just a sadness for others, and a burning question – Why?
I have long struggled with this why and still have yet to find the answer. Perhaps there are no words that can serve as an answer. Perhaps the only answer that can emerge is the experience, step by step, that one passes through along the journey of one, a psychological and physical journey that Jung called individuation. Perhaps it is a conceit on my part, but as I dare my own journey, sometimes at costs that I am loathe to pay, I find myself learning to forgive myself for my own darkness. And in forgiving myself, one dark shadow at a time, I am finding that the path ahead of me is beginning to be bathed in a faint light.
As I inch my way down this individual path, I wonder if it is all worth it. It seems to be costing too much in terms of relationships with others. I find myself wondering if this is far enough along the path. A voice within tells me, I have gone far enough, further than most others travel as if that pat on the back will be enough. Yet, I am in turmoil wondering if I am a coward. I know that I can’t turn around and run back to the past and the certainties of that past, even if there was suffering and pain in that pain - better the devil one knows - is a folk saying that I am tempted to adopt rather than pay the price that is required to go further along the path, a path that I know ends in my own crucifixion, and a resurrection.
The sun has been at the centre of the spiritual lives of humankind for as long as there have been humans. More often than not, the sun is a male deity while the moon is a female deity, usually the consort. In depth psychology, both sun and moon have formed a central core of the psyche, with the sun signifying consciousness, awareness, and the moon signifying the unconscious.
“A solar deity (also sun god/dess) is a sky deity who represents the Sun, or an aspect of it, usually by its perceived power and strength. Solar deities and sun worship can be found throughout most of recorded history in various forms.” [Wikipedia, Solar Deity]
When I think hard on this, I wondered why it is that, even though humankind was at best barely above the status of instinctual animal, humans turned to the sun. It didn’t take too much for a very simple reason to emerge – they were afraid of the dark. When the sun was present, when there was warmth, humans felt alive and thrived. When night fell, fear was natural as there were real forces abroad that threatened existence. In the darkness fear was magnified. And in the dark, bad things happened, especially to women and children. And in the dark, revenge was taken. It is with a sense of both fear and hope that humans waited out the night for the return of the sun.
And today, I find that I am no different as I lift my heart joyfully when the sun peeks out from behind clouds. Modern man, civilised or not, I am like my ancestors worshipping the power and heat of the sun.
“Everything about yourself that you aren’t conscious of is shadow, which means that before unconscious contents have been differentiated, separated out, the shadow is in effect the whole of the unconscious. The less you know about yourself, the more unconscious you are, and therefore the more of you is shadow.” [Sharp, Getting To Know You, p. 34]
Daryl Sharp is a Canadian Jungian analyst whom I have come to respect over the years. We both lived in the same prairie town in western Canada though at different times, a good enough excuse for us to initiate a dialogue together about fifteen years ago. Sharp is a prolific writer on Jungian themes, an analyst that fits into the “classic” stream. Pick up any of his books and you will find so many things resonating, things you didn’t consciously realise that you were aware of in the first place. I find myself returning over and over again to his books always discovering new precious gems for my effort. Each little bit adds just another morsel of self-awareness and in the process making me realise just how little I truly know about myself.
And that is the key, getting to know oneself. If we are honest, when no one is looking or listening, each of us asks the agonizing question, “Who am I?” And it seems the more we discover the more we realise how very little we know. I am reminded of one of my first introductions to psychology more than forty years ago when the instructor presented a visual image of the unconscious. The model was based on Sigmund Freud’s understanding. Jung, as a colleague of Freud was strongly influenced by this idea of ego and shadow. Regardless of who was right, both Jung and Freud show clearly how large the unconscious [shadow] is in relation to the known self [ego]. No wonder we begin to agonize over this basic question at that moment in life when, if anything because of the years lived, we should be comfortably sure of who we are.
I do know adults who are sure of who they are, people who don’t suffer the torment of “Who the hell am I?” They are rare and I do wonder if they are just simply unaware of the depths of themselves because of their attitude and place in life. I am not such a fortunate man. I am always questioning, always alert for the shadow of my self, wondering.
“Not acknowledging your shadow makes you prudish and self-righteous. You are above it all, godlike. Your motives are pure, your conscience is perfectly clear. It’s everybody else who’s at fault.” [ibid, p. 35]
Yes, I have met these insufferable people at times. I can even hear the echo of some of my neighbours and relatives. And, to be honest, I do see that at times, this is one of my own self-portraits – “Guilty as charged!” And so I continue to ferret around the darkened corners of consciousness, in hopes of bringing to the edge of consciousness one or two more bits that I can acknowledge in my quest to “know myself.”
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.“ ["The Shadow," CW 9ii, par. 14.]
These words of C.G. Jung resonate with me as I find myself questioning so much in this last quarter of my life. If I am to answer, at last, some critical questions for myself such as “Who in hell am I really” or “What the hell has been the point [purpose] of my life?” If I am to ever approach anything even remotely resembling answers, I need to look in the mirror, especially the mirror that is found in the eyes of others who see me where I am blind to myself. I also need to listen to the inner voices found in the corners and edges of consciousness, especially those places found in my dreams and where active imagination, usually activated by my photos, leads.
“. . . with insight and good will, the shadow can to some extent be assimilated into the conscious personality, experience shows that there are certain features which offer the most obstinate resistance to moral control and prove almost impossible to influence. These resistances are usually bound up with projections, which are not recognized as such, and their recognition is a moral achievement beyond the ordinary. While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty as one’s personal qualities, in this case both insight and good will are unavailing because the cause of the emotion appears to lie, beyond all possibility of doubt, in the other person.“ [Ibid., par. 16.]
Ah projections. I forgot to mention projections, the images, characteristics and attitudes that I note in others with a corresponding activation of heat energy within myself. This heat may be love-based, hate-based, anger-based, fear-based, or simply based on my resistances to hear and follow – as though I am somehow thrown out of the situation being unable to focus.
I realise that there is much to learn about my unconscious shadow in following these threads. Knowing this is one thing, doing this is something else entirely. It is easier to love the hidden aspects of oneself through loving others. It is easier to blame others and paint them with dark colours rather than to come to own the real darkness within, darkness that is evidenced by our blaming, our fear and our anger. Socially it isn’t any different. We are always searching for perpetrators, for the evil forces behind the scenes. We find conspiracies everywhere, blaming fundamentalists, atheists, New Agers, corporatists, etc. Our society is suffering and someone must be to blame, and that blame can’t rest on our shoulders – or can it?
“Confrontation with the shadow produces at first a dead balance, a standstill that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective or even impossible. Everything becomes doubtful.“ [Ibid., par. 708.]
This is often how I find myself responding: “When in doubt, do nothing and wait for something to change, wait for someone else to come up with an answer.” This is a normal response. And of course, the problems only get worse whether the problems are our personal neuroses or whether the problems are collective such as our degradation of our home, the planet Earth. Yes, it comes back to the first words I found and placed above: “The shadow is a moral problem . . . “
“Through the bloodweb of our mothers, we start out connected to the pulse and rhythm of the cosmos. And then we are torn from the Mother, separated from the cosmos, separated from the gods, separated forever.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 11)
Beginnings – we could easily get lost in the debate of which came first, a man or a woman without ever arriving at a satisfactory answer. For me, and for all humans, our first contact is with the woman, our mother. It is a contact that began in the womb. The relationship was physical and psychologically unconscious for each of us within the womb. We had no sense of self, no sense of separation, no sense of other. It was all one.
And then I, and you, were born. Our births began with a separation from our mothers. The cosmos within which we existed pushed us out. That initial universe died for us. The pulse and the rhythms vanished. Unconsciously, as we enter into a new universe in which we will again become engaged in relationship, we feel afraid. We have already learned loss and abandonment.
For me, like for all men, mother became the new centre of the cosmos. As we grew to sense that we were separate beings, mother became a magical being, an omnipotent being. Mother became our magical other.
Technically, Joseph isn’t supposed to be the father of the baby Jesus, at least that is what any God-fearing Christian would say. Jesus is the son of the creator, a deity Christians call God. But of course, we are all sons and daughters of that which we have a multitude of names, the creative force that gave birth to the universe. As I look at this image, a painting by Guido Reni (1640), I see myself as a father and as a grandfather with his son or grandson.
As I looked into the eyes of my own son when he was a newborn I was in wonder of the miracle of life. I had acted as a creator and what I had created with the participation of his mother, was immortality. As I looked at my infant son I saw that I had been saved from nothingness, that the human race had found yet another saviour who would follow in the footsteps of his father to create yet another gift of hope for humankind.
As I looked into the eyes of my grandsons upon their entrance into my universe, I was again amazed, not at anything I had done, but amazed at how the gift of life traces its course from the beginning of possibilities to some undated and unknown future when the cycle of birth, death and renewal. The promise of hope that each child gives us is the gift that is celebrated at Christmas, at the darkest time of year when we need the reassurances that there will be a new cycle to live, a new year of light to come.
Christmas is for children, Christmas is about children. The greatest gift of Christmas is the hope the children bring to the hearts and souls of adults who have become too close to the darkness, fearful of the darkness.
It’s early morning with dawn a few hours away. The Christmas lights are on in anticipation of a new day. I treasure the colours that emerge in the darkened house lit only by the Christmas lights on the fireplace mantle and on the tree. There is a warmth promised, an invitation extended.
The chair holds one, and that one could be you, would be you if you would allow yourself to be transported into this world of golden colour. The chair is old. older than me. I found this chair in a shed in the north country, a place of wildness, a place of broken dreams and dreams yet to be born. Restoring the chair took many hours of careful work, grateful work that helped filled long winter hours.
In this chair, children were held, fed and comforted. It is a chair that has known so many stories yet knows how to keep its counsel, to keep secrets. This chair has followed me from home to home knowing that it isn’t the four walls that build a home, but the hearts within those wall. So, for a moment, take a seat and feel the warmth of my home.
Sometimes it seems nature wants to make statements to humans. In the evenings in our town, just like in many other towns and cities in the modern western world, there is a dedicated effort to set out coloured lights to mark the approach of the Christmas season, or the approach of winter’s solstice. Regardless of all our efforts, it only takes a moment for nature to make a grand statement that dwarfs human efforts.