Continued from the front page:
…that Jung speaks about, the wasteland partly created by our lack of attention to the inner realm.
The challenge of this process is such that at the end of the Red Book, Jung never fully makes it out. We are left with him holding on to a crown with the line “love never ends” on it but he never lets this love in. He instead ends up in his head, hanging in a tree, looking at the crown of love but still pushing the love away, ridiculing the anima, ridiculing the love of his own soul.
Whether this ending is reflective of Jung’s personal incapacity or of his genius in writing a parable that we must finish, the challenge remains the same – how do we face the desert experience, the letting go of our outer world attachments, to embark on an inner journey when for most of us, the beginning of that journey opens us to places that feel or seem as desolate as a desert?
Most of us come to our various paths of personal, social and/or spiritual growth looking for something better, looking for some kind of love. To then be faced with something that at beginning can appear or feel worse is confusing or even disheartening.
My first experience of this “desert” was not consciously chosen. It happened with the death of my older brother Robert when I was 17. The loss of this person who was the world to me, shattered me. I was utterly incapable of dealing with this kind of loss. I did not feel any love in this experience, am not even sure that I wanted to find love as I was so in reaction to it all.
I had no understanding of trauma or the kind of love and feeling capacity that is needed to come through this, to come through this place where everything suddenly felt like a desert in my life. I did not grow up in a world where I learned to be with my feelings. Death was dealt with by learning to move on, something I was unready and unwilling to do. It took me a long time to get over my reaction to my own incapacity to deal with the loss that I felt. Looking back now I can see that my inability to deal with the feelings that came up for me was actually far more destructive than the actual loss itself.
I believe that the core of the challenge that Jung leaves to us at the end of the Red Book, has to do with an understanding of trauma. That without a deep understanding of trauma and the tenderness with which trauma must be met we are all likely destined to the same fate that befalls Jung at the end of the book – clutching on to an icon of love and yet still unable to be in the love, unable really to be in relationship.
It is easy to get confused in the split between the place of not going into the desert ie not facing into our own darkness or shadow or to go into the desert in a way that leaves the love behind. I believe the still unmet challenge of the Red Book and of Archetypal Dreamwork lies in neither side of this split but instead with bringing our understanding of trauma and the love that is needed to move through trauma to the desert experience.
Jung lived in a time that was the birth of the field of psychology, a field that did not yet understand trauma. His lack of understanding of this brings a harshness to the inner journey that he is on. He is unable really ever to let in the love that he speaks of, despite using the word 429 times in the book.
He instead attacks the pathology of his mind with a vengeance. He embarks on a journey where he literally slays the hero Siegfried and in this murder Jung says “I had killed my intellect”. Jung shows much understanding of his pathology, the way that his mind and his pride kept him from his soul. But there is little kindness here for him on this journey.
The one place where he descends into trauma, the place in the book where the anima/soul asks him to eat of the liver of a girl who has been killed, he says:
“This experience accomplished what I needed. It occurred in the most abominable manner. The evil that I wanted performed the infamous deed, seemingly without me and yet with me, since I learned that I am party to all the horror of human nature. I destroyed the divine child, the image of my God’s formation, through the most dreadful crime which human nature is capable of. It takes this atrocity to destroy the image of the God that drinks all my life force so that I could reclaim my life”.
It is commendable in some ways that Jung acknowledges that he is “party to all the horrors of human nature”. It is a part of the journey into the desert, part of the importance of “stage one work” to acknowledge our own pathology and to not project that all out on to the world.
I have spent a lot of years doing “desert” work, learning to face into the darkness inside myself. I learned to not judge others, learned to out my pathology and reactions, learned to own it and not project it etc. And yet until recently I still felt that the desert held a grip on me that kept me from fully letting in the deeper heart of this work. I would have dreams of great love and kindness but was not able to fully live in that love.
There are two things in the outer world that happened for me in the last couple years, that has begun to shift this for me, that has allowed me to begin to taste the deeper fruits of the inner work that I have done. And I do mean “begin” as I feel that I am still a student of this process.
The first thing that happened for me was that I finally let myself receive the love that my wife Sue has offered to me. She has held a great place of tenderness for me, has always held a steady hand of understanding even in the moments we struggled with our love for each other and has never made me pay for my own foibles, the times that I have reacted in our relationship. We have been together for eight years now but it is only in the last couple years and particularly in the time leading up to our wedding last August that I fully let myself surrender to our relationship, surrender to her love and to begin to trust my own love for her. (I will write more about this later, either here or on a blog that we are working on setting up together.)
The other thing that happened to me was not of my own intention. On the contrary I was kind of tricked into it by my own arrogance. My dear friends Tom Whalen and Deb DeGraff invited me and Sue to “teach” at a Breath Work Retreat out in New Mexico last Memorial Day weekend. We are always grateful to spread the word and took up the opportunity to “teach” with happiness.
Often at these type events, we do not participate in the actual events. We do our own clients during the day or just take a break from our often over busy schedule to enjoy the places that we are visiting. There is a part of this practice that is a genuine part of how we have learned to take care of ourselves and I am embarrassed to admit it but there is a part of me that arrogantly or cynically assumes that there is little use to being a part of these events – that we are only there to “teach”.
Still, we signed up to attend the retreat, partly out of respect for Tom and for Deb who both felt that this breathwork practice had deepened their dreamwork and could be an asset to the dreamwork community. On the way to this retreat in New Mexico, I read David Elliott’s book “Healing” and was moved by his writing. I appreciated his transparency around his own work and I appreciated the section of the book about “Entities” which seemed to overlap in some ways with our understanding of pathology. Both of these things softened my resistance to being there but did not remove the general skepticism/cynicism that I had.
I arrived and immediately could feel that this circle of people had depth, could feel their presence. When we did teach and do strings there, David was open and curious with the process – none of the edginess, insecurities or competitiveness that sometimes comes up in relationship to other teachers or other practices. We then did some group exercises where we were paired with others to do some healing work – I immediately went into guarded sceptic mode again only to have my partner who knew nothing about me have the intuitive capacity to nail some of my issues so accurately and with such tenderness, that it brought tears to my eyes.
David then did some healing work with Sue around her throat chakra – about speaking and being heard, and then some work with the two of us. He then did something that was remarkable for me. One of my biggest struggles had been the way that I felt that our relationship had often gotten lost in the outer world teaching that we did, got lost in some way to the larger community. David put us in the middle of this circle of about 30 people, did some healing work and then just left us there for the longest time. It was a remarkably gracious and intuitive thing to do. It was a short retreat with a lot of people and yet there was all the time that we needed to be with each other in our relationship. All the time and space for our us to be there together and be held in a circle of presence that honestly overwhelmed me.
In this simple act, he helped heal something for me about being a teacher and being in relationship. He helped me to turn around the way that I had let there be a conflict between my personal need for relationship with Sue and our need to be teachers in community, teachers in the world.
In my personal dreamwork I had done a lot of trauma work and I had done a lot of work owning my pathology. I know what it means to go in the desert but until this experience there was a way that I still was trapped in that desert. I needed the love and tenderness that David and this community gave me, to actually experience the joy that lives on the other side of the desert experience.
That healing has changed the way I view the work and particularly the way that I view the desert experience. I have for 15 years understood the need to face pathology, the need to not skim over the desert experience. It was one of the greatest gifts of my experience at North of Eden and I have not veered from that belief. I just understand that belief in a different context. I believe that we need to face into the desert, face into pathology with a greater understanding of trauma and a greater understanding of the love and tenderness that is needed to face into trauma.
I no longer see pathology as a primary entity unto itself. Several years ago I had a dream where the animus said to me “that pathology only exists in the vacuum that is created by our lack of capacity to feel”. I believe that this vacuum like all disassociation, is first and foremost created by trauma and not by pathology. That pathology gets in as a way to manage our incapacity to feel the overwhelming feelings that are a part of trauma both physical and spiritual. This understanding shows us a way out of the challenge that Jung presents to us in the Red Book. It beseeches us in the same way that the girl/Salome beseeched Jung: “I don’t want such a sacrifice. I want to bring you joy. Can I not be joy to you?”
My dreams and the dreams of others have confirmed this understanding repeatedly. In one of my most recent dreams:
“I am a teenage boy, walking down a street with this teenage girl who very gently leans her bare arm against mine as we walk. It is a subtle and yet at the same time palpable act of tenderness. I can feel her warmth flow through me as we walk and I let this warmth in. We arrive at our destination and there is a bird that she wants to show me. As we seek out this bird I hear a whirring of wing beats and see a small warbler type bird approach. Without thinking I hold out my hand and this extraordinarily beautiful bird alights on my hand. It looks up at me and we gaze at each other until I wake from the dream”
There are parts of this dream that are familiar for me but the capacity to let in this much warmth is not. It is new for me partly based on this new understanding that I am learnign. It is something that I was personally not able to learn without help in the outer world, primarily from my dear Sue and also from my dear friends, clients, teachers and students in my dreamwork community and with my new friends in the breathwork community.
Without this tenderness, I was not so far from where Jung finds himself toward the end of the Red Book after he rejects the tenderness of the girl. He finds himself not surprisingly, now as the “sacrifice”, hanging from a tree in a bardo like state and exclaims:
“I am weary; weary not only of hanging but of struggling after the immeasurable. The mysterious crown (the crown that reads: “love never ends”) lies far below my feet on the ground, winking gold. I do not hover, no, I hang, or rather worse, I am hanged between sky and earth-and do not tire of the state of hanging for I could indulge in it forever, but love never ends. Is it really true, shall love never end? If this was a blessed message to them, what is it for me?”
What is it for me indeed? What is it for all of us?