We tremble, thinking we’re about to dissolve
Into non-existence, but non-existence fears
Even more that it might be given human form!
Loving God is the only Pleasure.
Other delights turn bitter.
What hurts the soul?
To live without tasting the water of its own essence.
People focus on death and this material earth,
They have doubts about soul-water.
Those doubts can be reduced!
Use night to wake your clarity.
Darkness and the living water are lovers.
Let them stay up together.
When Merchants eat their big meals and sleep
Their dead sleep, we night-thieves go to work.
(From, Say I am You, trans. By J. Moyne and C. Barks)
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
We tremble, thinking we’re about to dissolve
There are three kinds of loneliness: loneliness for the past, loneliness for what has not yet been realized, and the profound loneliness of being close to God. The third kind of loneliness is actually the solution.
The first kind of loneliness is regressive. It attacks early in life, during adolescence or early adulthood. We want to return to where we came from. We want the comfort and security of the good old days, the way things used to be. How many times do your dreams take you back to early times—the playground, the backyard, the tree you used to climb, your grade-school friends? This is the backward-turning loneliness, a hunger for the Garden of Eden.
There isn’t much we can do about it. We can’t go back. The Bible describes an angel with a flaming sword at the gate of Eden, forbidding re-entry. Backward-turning loneliness is the mother complex, the wish to return to our mother’s womb. This becomes the will to fail, the propensity to relinquish power and regress. It’s the spoiler in a person, stronger than most of us are able to admit. When you have an exam at school or an interview for a job and you feel terrified, this is probably the fear of success. The enemy is inside. The first step toward curing any psychological problem is to acknowledge it. When you can put name and form to it, when you can say what you are lonely for, you’re halfway free. Being conscious is your greatest ally. If you are able to admit to yourself how much you wish to fail, this is the beginning of a cure.
Loneliness for the way things used to be can spoil a marriage, wreck a job, and leave you inert in almost every aspect of life. None of us is free of it. It is the wish to return to primal innocence. Grieving is another manifestation of harkening back to what was. We’ve lost something. Sadness and loneliness are understandable, but they’re backward-looking. It’s not just the loss of the other; it’s also the loss of an arrangement – a place to invest our highest potentials. We may not feel ready to take it back, to bear its weight, but all backward-looking qualities are doomed. We can’t go backwards.
The second kind of loneliness is the longing for what is possible but has not yet been realized. An alive, vigorous, functioning human being has a vivid intuition of what he is capable of. His intuition leaps forward, and he knows what is possible. This comes up in fantasies. He knows there is a perfect woman out there somewhere; a love affair that will touch him to the core of his being. He’s lonely for what he does not have. He sees “out there” what really belongs “in here.” Being stuck this way is a problem, because our value and sense of meaning are always outside of ourselves. There’s someone or something or someplace or some condition that, “Just as soon as…”
The first loneliness drives one backward and downward. The second loneliness drives us forward and upward. It is, at least, a progressive loneliness. It drives us to accomplishments. But both drive us.
The third kind of loneliness is the most subtle and difficult. It is the loneliness of being dangerously close to God. It is more than most people can stand. To be near but unable to touch something that you want more than anything is unendurable. A medieval proverb says: “The only cure for loneliness is aloneness.”
We go from loneliness to aloneness, from solitude to vision, and a kind of redemption takes place. The loneliness vanishes, not because it gets filled, because it was illusory in the first place. It doesn’t have to be filled; it can never be filled. A new kind of consciousness comes that does not find the immanence of God unendurable. The proximity of God is always registered first as extreme pain.
There never was anywhere to go outwardly. But there was a lot to do inwardly. This change of consciousness that turns loneliness into solitude is genius. Each time the handless maiden comes to a crisis, she goes to the forest in solitude. This is especially powerful in a woman’s way. It is the feminine spirit.
In the western world, loneliness has reached its peak, or its nadir. It’s everywhere. The old ways of protecting us from loneliness — extended families, community, marriage, church — have worn thin. We no longer invest in them. We’re at the point where the King has killed the frog, and we feel perpetual, incurable loneliness.
When we’re in this kind of pain, we cry, “Please free me from my suffering.” But if our understanding is deeper, we’ll go off somewhere, sit still or lie face down, and determine not to move until the issue is resolved. For some time, it isn’t possible to do this, and the journey is hellish, culminating in the world of ice. I don’t know if it’s possible to get through this stage more quickly or whether it’s a set path that we have to go through at its own pace, not ours.
If you’re honest, you can tell the difference between regressive loneliness, the first kind, and the ineffable third type of loneliness, when you have seen what you can’t have. If you can say exactly what you are lonely for, it will reveal a lot. But doing so takes courage. Do you want to go back where you came from, to the good old days? Or have you seen a vision you can’t live without? They’re as different as backward and forward.
Dr. Jung, with pithy oversimplification, once said that every person who came into his consulting room was either twenty-one or forty-five, no matter their chronological age. The twenty-one year old is looking backward and must conquer it. The forty-five year old is being touched by something he cannot yet endure.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 3:05 PM
Often the reason we are hesitant to carry our own inner gold is because it’s dangerously close to God. Our gold has God-like characteristics, and we cannot bear the weight of it.
In Indian culture, there’s a time-honored custom that you have the right to go to another person — a man, a woman, a stranger — and ask him or her to be the incarnation of God for you. There are strict laws that if the person agrees, you must never pester that person. You must never put a heavy weight on that person — it’s weighty enough as it is — and you must not engage in any other kind of relationship with that person. You don’t make friends, you don’t marry that person, and you don’t buddy-buddy. The person becomes a kind of patron saint for you.
J. Krishnamurti was a wonderful man. Lots of people put gold on him. One afternoon we went for a walk, and a little old lady was kneeling alongside the path. We just walked by. Later he told me, “She has put the image of God on me. She knows what she’s doing. She never talks or asks anything of me. But when I go for a walk, she somehow knows where I’m going, and she’s always there.” What was most touching was his attitude. If she needed this, he would do it.
This was the original meaning of the term “godfather” and “godmother.” That person is the carrier of God-like qualities for you. Nowadays we think of a godparent as the one who will take care of you materially in case your parents aren’t able to see it through. But the original meaning was of someone who carries the subtle part of your life, a parent in an interior, God-like way. It’s a wonderful custom. Most parents are worn out just seeing their child through to physical maturity. That’s a lot. But we need someone else who isn’t bothered with the authority, like “How much is my allowance this week?” Originally being a godparent was a quiet arrangement for holding a child’s gold.
When I was sixteen I desperately needed someone like that. So I appointed a godmother and godfather, and those two people saved my life. They knew instinctively the duties of this need, and they fulfilled them. My godmother died when I was twenty-two, and I wasn’t ready to give her up. It was the most difficult loss of my life. I was forced to take my gold back before I was ready. My godfather lived until I was in my fifties, and I was ready then to let go of him.
I respect the idea of godparents. Sometimes young people come circling around me, and I bring up this language. “Do you want a godfather?” If it fits, we work out the necessary laws. “You may have this out of me, and you must not ask that out of me.” These are the old godparent laws. It’s a version of the incarnation of God in Indian custom.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 3:01 PM
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
This may sound like a joke, but it’s not. God is out of the box. In olden times, God lived in the Tabernacle on the altar of the Catholic Church, and the priest had the key. God was locked in, and the rest of us were locked out. There was safety in that. But now the box is broken, and God is loose. No one knows what to do about it.
I’d love to read a history a hundred years from now to see what we’re going to do. There are wondrous possibilities, but the consequences could be dreadful. God is high voltage, and if you get more than you can stand, you need help immediately. You can’t lock God up again. You can’t put him back in the Tabernacle.
In former times, the Catholic priest had Benediction at five o’clock on Holy Days. He’d bring out the monstrance, a mandala-shaped, stemmed device with glass on both sides. The priest would put the host between the two pieces of glass and hold the monstrance by the stem using his stole, so he wouldn’t touch it directly. Then he would turn and show God to the congregation.
Those days are gone. God is not in his box or in the monstrance. He’s out and firing all over the place. The eruption of alchemical gold is one of the chief signs of this. Alchemical gold can be your best, or it can be your worst.
In India, God is still in the box. In this respect, it is a beautiful, peaceful place, because everyone knows exactly what to do. There are laws for everything, and the priest still has the key to the box. If you need to know something, you consult the ancient myths or ask your guru or your father. God is penetrable, and there are answers. It’s like the old Catholic world, where there was a right way to do things and a priest to tell you what it was.
It isn’t possible to go back to that. There is no way for us to get God in the box again. And it isn’t clear that we will survive God being out of the box. It’s like a ten-thousand-volt power surge getting into the household wiring. It’s blowing out the circuits. These are desperate times. We have to create our own forms and our own differentiation, and we are not prepared to do it. When Jesus says: “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends,” we can hardly stand it. We may be pleased for a moment, but suddenly we feel as though we weigh five tons. We can’t carry all the weight, even though it’s ours and always has been.
With God out of his old box, what vessel might contain him now? All psychological powers need a temenos, a container, a boundary. Until recent times, the container has been authority. But today we tear authority down. There’s a current going through the western world, especially America, of discrediting authority. There’s a raft of books of pulling down the great names of people. Somebody’s written a book telling how awful Einstein was. There are books discrediting Jung and just about everyone.
The only container that can conceivably work today is our own consciousness. We’ve pulled the power and the mystery out of objective, collective containers, and we’ve swallowed it into our own psychology. Now we need the consciousness to manage it. So far, we’re not succeeding very well.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:51 PM
The work of alchemy was to produce gold from base metals. There were charlatans trying to make actual gold, but the best alchemists were talking about the gold of the spirit.
Alchemy comes from a time when the medieval mind was at its highest flowering. The medieval mind did not divide reality into inner and outer or even acknowledge a difference between the two. For them, inside and outside were the same. Today, to accomplish all that we have, we’ve had to split the world in two. We couldn’t be competitive and aggressive enough with a medieval mind. But the price we pay for this is loneliness and an inability to love. When we’re in love, we know that we are our beloved. I spent much of my analytical life trying to help people differentiate between “inner” and “outer”: You are you, and I am I. Your husband is your husband. We have not yet completed the transition to the modern mind. Many psychological problems are a failure to differentiate between “out there” and “in here.”
According to Indian teachings, the external world is illusion, maya. It is considered illusion because it is actually within, not “out there.” We see only the “ten thousand things” that we project. In ancient China, Lao Tzu dreamed of a butterfly, and for the rest of his life he never could settle whether he was dreaming of a butterfly or the butterfly was dreaming of him.
In the West, gold is the symbol of the Self, but in the East, it is the diamond. In their interior meanings, they are the same, but the images are different. Diamonds are the hardest matter on earth —unearthly, celestial. There is nothing personal about diamonds. Gold is much softer, a matter of relationship, the Self as related. I think we’re lucky to have gold to cope with.
There are several ways we might respond when we see that we have given our spiritual gold to someone to hold for us. We could go to him or her and say, “The meaning of my life has suddenly appeared in the glow of your eyes. May I tell you about it?” It means, “I seem to have given you my inner gold. Will you carry it for me for a time?” But we rarely do that. Instead, we stand across the room, turn our back to him, and feel totally frightened, stumbling and carrying on in odd and indirect ways. We meet at the coffee pot during the morning break at work and banter with each other, speaking all kinds of nonsense. We joke and laugh, and an animated play goes on. Then, when we head back to work, we feel energized and brightened for the day. It was not the coffee. It was the inner, alchemical gold being exchanged.
The exchange of gold is a mysterious process. It’s our gold, but it’s too heavy for us, so we need someone to carry it for a time, and he becomes synonymous with meaning. We follow him with an eagle eye wherever he goes. His smile can raise us to heavenly heights; his frown hurls us to hellish depths, so great is the power of meaning.
For more on this topic, look for a new collection of Robert A. Johnson essays titled: Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection, edited by Arnie Kotler, and available in April of 2008.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:46 PM
My son, Oliver, came into this world on January 3, 1997, oblivious to schedules and deadlines. He arrived two weeks early, pushed only by his innate desire to stretch out, grow, and experience life (and his mother’s strenuous labor). Anxious expectation filled the hospital delivery room. Oliver’s mother, Jordis, was determined to “do well.” As she later told a friend, “it’s not every day that you get to be God’s co-worker in producing a miracle.”
For me Oliver’s birth day was more like watching a car accident involving the person you hold most dear. I massaged my wife’s hands and shoulders and did my best to be helpful, supportive, and loving, but reality was spinning entirely outside my control. We were surrounded by medical equipment that in all my previous experience had been associated with illness. This time the suffering was life affirming, but I had little context for appreciating that fact.
When the head began to slowly emerge, then a shoulder, an arm, and a red and white amphibian-like body slipped out into the doctor’s waiting hands, I was stunned, jubilant, relieved, numb. My inner world was in a jumble. I wish I could say that it was a religious experience for me, as Jordis described, but it was not. I felt powerless, limited, and mortal in a way that I had only experienced a couple of times before -- during major surgery in my own childhood and several years later while standing next to my father’s death bed. As my son drew his first breath, I joined a line of men stretching back to the dim past, each of us carrying on our shoulders the hope, grief, and weighty expectations of fatherhood. What on earth have I gotten myself into? What do I know about fathering? How will I bring this new life to maturity?
Before my son’s birth I had ambivalent feelings about becoming a father. I am not proud of this, but that’s the way it was. Like many men of my generation I treasured personal freedom, the ability to go where I wanted and do what I pleased. Becoming a parent seemed an end to freedom, a limitation of choice. I didn’t know then that the most vital experiences in life are more precious than choice.
Jordis and I were both in our mid-30s when we married. We had busy and demanding jobs and a comfortable lifestyle. After two years of trying to become pregnant without success, we gave up. My wife mailed off an enrollment application to Vermont College to finish a long-deferred degree. I made plans to advance a writing career. We talked of paying off the home mortgage, early retirement, and eventually traveling the country as free spirits. That month she became pregnant.
The reality of becoming a father, suddenly immediate, was both exciting and terrifying. The first tri-mester I was withdrawn, often brooding about my lost youth, financial worries, and a decline in doting attention from my wife. I felt isolated and frightened. Something in me was dying, a boyish naivete, a youthful desire to keep all options open. With two notable exceptions, I found little comfort or support forthcoming from male friends. Several of them smirked, made jokes, and suggested that I had just been handed an eighteen-year sentence of servitude. By contrast, my wife benefitted from a deepening of friendships with women that seemed to come naturally with the shared experience of motherhood. She was showered with gifts and attention.
During the second tri-mester I continued to struggle with understanding my new role as a father while simultaneously feeling guilt and shame over my self-absorbed behavior. Gradually I stopped worrying so much about me and instead became anxious about Jordis. I started waking up regularly at 2 a.m. to fret about her general health, weight gain, diet, exercise, and stress at her job.
Friends, family and co-workers agreed that they had seldom seen a woman more radiant in pregnancy than Jordis. Her morning sickness was minimal, her skin and hair glowed, she wore a spontaneous and constant smile as if she knew the secret of life. I was struggling to absorb psychologically what she experienced in every molecule of her body -- the transition to parenthood.
I think that’s why she let me take the lead in naming our baby.
We assembled long lists of names, some simple, honest and forthright, others brimming with the promise of future achievement. For a time I considered naming our child after one of my jazz idols: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, or Thelonious Monk. But I also found myself thinking increasingly of my own father, Ollie Ruhl, who died in 1976, a victim of liver cancer. His death left a hole in my life that I thought could never be filled. What did I know?
We settled on the name Oliver Thelonious Ruhl, joking that if he became a Supreme Court justice people could call him Oliver, while if he ended up playing the piano, working construction or even flipping burgers at McDonald’s he could be known as Ollie T. At least in childhood we would call him Ollie, after my father. I visited my father’s grave, and his spirit seemed to approve.
The first thing most of us experience is our parents, and so they leave an indelible impression on us. Our deepest ideas and beliefs about fatherhood inevitably spring from the men responsible for bringing us into this world. How do I begin to describe my own father?
Ollie took his morning coffee with milk and a little sugar. He never liked the smell or taste of whiskey but drank a beer many nights to relax. His hands were strong and calloused from pulling heavy wire and bending conduit as an electrician, but to my knowledge those hands never struck anyone, including me. Many men complain of distant, absent, or abusive fathers, but Ollie always had time to play ball with me even after 10- to 12-hour work days. Tears would inexplicably well up in my father’s eyes when the national anthem was played before baseball games. Ollie was generally patient and always protective of his family, and I count myself lucky that such a man served as my first role model. I loved and respected him.
He wasn’t perfect, of course. He accepted jobs in dangerous situations, resulting in debilitating accidents that threw our family into tailspins and may have ultimately shortened his own life. One year he worked in a uranium mine where he was exposed to radiation. Another time he was scalded from the waist down when an illegally enclosed factory boiler exploded and he couldn’t escape the scalding water; he suffered third-degree burns that ruined the circulation in his legs, and a transfusion in the hospital with tainted blood led to hepatitis that damaged his liver. As a boy I wondered why he accepted work that other men turned down. Was it really economic necessity or rather some inner need to prove his manhood? What drove my father?
He was born on a farm in Nebraska in 1924, the youngest of 10 children. By the time Ollie arrived on the scene his mother suffered from “nerves” and much of his care was delegated to the oldest sibling, 12-year-old Marie. I never really knew Ollie’s father, Aloysius. It’s told that he was born in a sod house on the prairie. Relatives say he was a hard worker, friendly, happy-go-lucky. He must have had a tender, gentle side that he passed along to my dad.
Like many healthy young farm boys, Ollie was drafted to fight in World War Two. Aloysius told him that the family farm would be there for him when he returned. But after surviving infantry assignments in the Philippines and Japan, my father returned home to announce that he wanted to become an electrician. He loved taking things apart and putting them back together again, so you could say that in moving into town and applying his G.I. benefits to learn a trade he was following his passion. I’m proud of that.
My mother, Charlotte, worked as a waitress in the local cafe. Ollie was too shy to ask her out, but a friend set things up and it wasn’t long before Ollie and Charlotte were married. It took eight years for them to have a child, their first and last. Ollie was very excited to have a boy, someone to share his interests in baseball, fishing, and all things mechanical.
In some respects, I must have been quite a disappointment to my father, though he never once said so. A childhood battle with polio prevented me from becoming an athlete, and I never shared his natural mechanical abilities. I do know, however, that he was proud on the day I became the first in the family to graduate from college, and that he was grateful I could earn a living doing something that didn’t require breaking a sweat or getting my hands dirty.
I had no idea that within a year he would be gone, two decades too soon to see my son and his namesake. Many times since Oliver was born I have struggled to remember the sound of my father’s voice and to imagine things he might have told me about fatherhood.
Throughout the first two years of my son’s life I yearned for opportunities to talk with other men about my experiences, but most of my former buddies (all childless) seemed to disappear. I had two long-distance friendships that endured. Interestingly, both these men were fathers of young children. It now seemed as if the world was split into two camps: people with kids and people without them.
Gradually I began to realize how much my BC (before child) life had been preoccupied with work. Like so many of the people surrounding me, I had been busy, self-involved, chasing deadlines and career goals that each year seemed more arbitrary and less meaningful. Fatherhood slowed every thing down. It made me question the pace of modern life and reevaluate my priorities.
Jordis and I agreed to cut back on work and tighten our household budget to allow more time with Oliver. The goal was for both of us to work part time so that we could share parenting responsibilities. The first year was filled with sleepless nights and disrupted schedules. Often we were just trying to get through the day. Then we would collapse into bed, sleep restlessly, get up, and do it again. However, about the time of Oliver’s first birthday something changed dramatically. He was developing rapidly, becoming less dependent and more fun to be with, but the biggest change was in me -- I had fallen in love with this messy, squirming little creature.
One morning on a walk to the park my toddling son insisted that we take a detour to sit amid a pile of pine cones under a lofty evergreen tree. It was a cold day, and I had only allowed thirty minutes for our walk, so at first I tugged his arm and did my best to keep him moving. “Pine cone,” he said insistently. Reluctantly, I bowed down to fit under the lowest branches of the tree and went to join him. Together we sat on a crunchy, uneven surface of dried needles and tiny pine cones. It was half dark and the branches created a lace-like canopy over us. It reminded me of one of the forts that I loved to build in my own childhood -- we could see out but we were hidden from passersby. The earthy smell of pine pitch was in the air, and it was very quiet. I looked at Oliver, who had a radiant smile on his face. The moment was pure and filled with love. Two years after my son’s birth, I too now felt as if I had been God’s co-worker in producing a miracle.
Oliver recently turned 11. He continues to be my teacher, and is the joy of my life.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:15 PM
What is illness?
It always seems to be much more than what is captured in those brief moments sitting anxiously on a paper-covered examining table before a busy doctor, searching for words to describe bodily-felt sensations. What is the meaning of illness? I have heard many descriptions of the how of illness but few attempts to help patients puzzle out the why; so I, like many others, have struggled in private moments with makeshift answers concerning the meaning of illness. How are we to live with the after-effects of illness? After the fever is pacified, the blood-dried stitches removed, the hospital release papers signed, is it enough to push illness out of sight?
Serious illness changes us forever in ways great and small. The smell of antiseptic and the clang of stainless steel, the apprehensive recognition of an unaccountable tiredness in the body, the fragile heartbeat and the warm embrace of a loved one -- these and many other experiences take on new coloration and altered meanings when one has wrestled with serious illness.
After spending a good part of my childhood in and out of medical care following a diagnosis of polio at the age of 18 months, I could not wait to become an adult and escape the land of the ill with its shameful braces, orthopedic shoes, and disfiguring scars. For more than a decade after my final corrective surgery, I refused even to set foot in a hospital. I went about the business of living in the bright, busy world of the healthy, doing whatever was necessary to get over and around colds, flu, and other temporary brushes with illness as quickly as possible. But questions always remained in the shadowy background. And each time a new tragedy arose, in my life or in the lives of friends and loved ones, such questions came back to haunt me. Why did a good friend's baby girl, carried lovingly for 9 months, unexpectedly arrive stillborn? Why was my own father struck down by cancer in the prime of life at the age of 53? Why was I one of the last children in America to suffer polio, only months before distribution of the Salk vaccine--what had I done to deserve this fate? Why was my beloved partner, one of the kindest people I have known, swept off her feet by a brain tumor at the age of 52?
Jung once said that the critical turning point in analysis is when the patient stops asking "Why me?" (important and relevant concerns that cannot, however, be answered satisfactorily) and instead contemplates, "Where is this taking me?" I have drawn strength from a poem by Rumi:
The lame and dreamy goat brings up the rear.
There are many different kinds of knowing,
the lame goat's kind is a branch
that traces back to the roots of Presence.
Learn from the lame goat, and lead the herd home.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:00 PM
He came to know fears whose entrances
were like death and not to be endured.
His heart learned to go through slowly;
he brought it up like a son.
And he came to know nameless afflictions,
that were dark and morningless like dungeons;
and he gave up his soul obediently
when it was grown, so that it might lie
beside its lord and bridegroom; and stayed
behind alone in the sort of place
where aloneness exaggerates everything,
and dwelt far off and never wished for words.
But in recompense, after so much time
he also learned, that he might feel
a tenderness, the bliss of being held,
like all creation, in his own hands.
--Ranier Maria Rilke
Posted by ruhljohnson at 12:43 PM
Confusion is seen as a mistake, even a madness. In truth, our potential for growth reveals itself in moments of disruption. The gift of confusion must be honored to clear a space in our lives for something new to claim us.
The struggle to achieve a sense of order in a chaotic world is timeless and universal, as shown by the numerous ancient myths which parallel the most recent advances in the field of chaos theory. This dynamic model of a universe as a chaotic system, neither random nor deterministic, has much in common with the mythic worldview of the ancient storytellers, who similarly saw the cosmos infused with chaotic elements yet also working in a predictable and orderly fashion. What does chaos mean to us? One is tempted to label it an archetype in the style of Jung. Though it represents a generative source, it must be remade in order for it to be fruitful.
The ocean (or simply water) is one frequently occurring metaphor for chaos. We find this not only in Japanese tradition, but also in Hebrew tradition. In the first chapter of Genesis we read of God crossing the deep waters. Genesis refers to the earliest conditions of the Earth as "without form and void", a state similar to chaos. The idea is also found in Mesopotamia and associated with Tiamat the 'Dragon' of Chaos, from whose dismembered body the world was formed. In Babylonian tradition the fierce and fertile goddess Tiamat represented chaos as a deity of the saltwater sea. Hindu mythology tells of Vishnu perched upon a giant snake adrift in the infinite chaotic primordial sea.
Water has properties that make it an ideal symbol for chaos - it is fluid and difficult to control or manipulate. At sea it can easily seem endless. Its potential for destruction is well known. In spite of this, water has generative qualities as well - it is necessary for us to survive and flourish.
In Greek mythology Chaos, or Khaos, is the original state of existence from which the first gods appeared. For Hesiod chaos was the first thing to exist and the womb from which everything emerged. For Orphics, it was called the 'Womb of Darkness' from which the cosmic egg that contained the universe emerged.
Almost universally, it the only thing that exists before any creator deity creates or first cause occurs. Most myths indicate that the creator deity or deities create order from chaos, rather than creating the world from nothing. The creator is always separate from chaos, yet chaos is just as vital as the creator in the process of creation. Chaos is the material from which our universe is built, but on its own it is not capable of fabricating the universe. It must be made to have order.
The ordering of chaos is not always a singular event. Many cultures have in their cosmology the idea of an oscillating universe that is in a continuous process of creating and destroying itself. The Aztecs believed that the degree of chaos in the universe was in flux, rising to a state of complete chaos and then settling back into order. Please note: the chaos must recur at critical intersections of life.
“Now we know that cosmogonic myths are, at bottom, symbols for the coming of consciousness…the dawn-state corresponds to the unconscious; in alchemical terms it is the chaos, the massa confusa or nigredo; and by means of the opus…the whitening , which is compared sometimes to the full moon, sometimes to sunrise, is produced.”
-- C.G. Jung, CW Vol. 9ii, para 230
“The God-image is not something invented, it is an experience that comes upon man spontaneously — as anyone can see for himself unless he is blinded to the truth by theories and prejudices. The unconscious God-image can therefore alter the state of consciousness, just as the later can modify the God-image once it has become conscious … Now if psychology is to lay hold of this phenomenon, it can only do so if it expressly refrains from passing metaphysical judgments … It can make out, with some certainty, that these symbols have the character of “wholeness” and therefore presumably mean wholeness. As a rule they are “uniting” symbols, representing the conjunction of opposites … they arise from the collision between the conscious and the unconscious and from the confusion which this causes (known in alchemy as chaos or nigredo). Empirically, this confusion takes the form of restlessness and disorientation. The circle and quarternity symbolism appears at this point as a compensating principle of order, which depicts the union of warring opposites as already accomplished, and thus eases the way to a healthier and quieter state (salvation).”
-- C.G. Jung, CW Vol. 9ii, para. 303-304
Posted by ruhljohnson at 10:45 AM
Monday, February 11, 2008
Christianity lays out the entire archetypal world if you can hear and see the symbols on the proper level. Apparently we cannot hear and see in the old manner anymore, and this is very puzzling for many people today. It was such a thrill to me to find out that the symbols in Christian doctrine can speak directly to the soul of a Westerner. I had to live in India for a time to understand this. Here is one small example, startling enough: the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ.
If you get this on the wrong level it can be the occasion for discarding Christian belief. It makes no rational sense to a mind trained in materialism and literalism.
Yet, the understanding of this symbol is essential in the individuation process (as Dr. Jung described our spiritual development toward greater wholeness). You cannot proceed past a certain point in your inner development unless you understand in a new way this concept of virgin birth. It is blasphemy for me to try to translate this symbol, but we are blasphemous people in a blasphemous time, so I will try.
The Self cannot be conceived by any exogamous process. You cannot go to the outer world for the fertilization which issues forth as Christ consciousness in you. That priceless information is wrapped up in a timeless, waterproof package as the symbol of the virgin birth. This refers to a unique interior process that involves no one but you, it is a virgin birth.
If you can understand that, on whatever level you are capable of, it will bring new consciousness to you. This has nothing to do with the doing, extraverted world. One is engaging in the virgin birth in every act of reflective introversion that you make, every experience of solitude that you engage in. This is immaculate conception, and it is not something just for artists or mystics or a particular time on the calendar of the liturgical year. It may be experienced only symbolically. We are such literal people that we have lost track of this truth (or not arrived at it). So the virgin birth does not happen. It sits and waits until we are ready.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:35 PM
"'Take some more tea,' the March hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
'I've had nothing yet,' Alice replied in an offended tone, 'so I can't take more.'
'You mean you can't take less,' said the Hatter. 'It's very easy to take more than nothing.'"
(Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)
"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to." (Joseph Heller, Catch-22)
These are examples of paradox. Our daily lives are filled with apparent contradiction which, viewed from a different perspective are paradoxical. You can never resolve paradox, but you can dissolve it if you will sit with the contradictions until a synthesis occurs.
There are two kinds of suffering: unconscious suffering, which we experience as neurosis, and conscious suffering, which provides the keys to the kingdom.
“The way to the goal seems chaotic and interminable at first and only gradually do the signs increase that it is leading anywhere. The way is not straight but appears to go round in circles. More accurate knowledge has proved it to go in spirals…”
--C.G. Jung,CW12, Psychology and Alchemy, para 36.
“ … the individual may strive after perfection but must suffer from the opposite of his intentions for the sake of his completeness…under certain conditions the unconscious spontaneously brings forth an archetypal symbol of wholeness. …it is given central and supreme importance precisely because it stands for the conjunctions of opposites. Naturally the conjunction can only be understood as a paradox, since a union of opposites can be thought of only as their annihilation. Paradox is a characteristic of all transcendental situations because it alone gives adequate expression to their indescribable nature.”
--C.G. Jung, CW9ii Aion, para 123,124
Words often destroy what is true. How ironic that I make my living with words.
As Lao-Tsu informed us, "If it is true it cannot be said and if it can be said it is not true." St. Paul suggested, "The word killeth." Language is a cultural trap that we often become entangled in. The trickery of words is a masculine problem that also shows up in the animus of a woman. Two proverbs resonate deeply: In the Christian tradition God says, "If you had not already found me you would not search for me," and in the second instance, "to search for God is to insult God."
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:09 PM
Our tradition of sending notes on Valentine's Day originated with an Italian monk, Valentinus, who drifted off in his old age into an unquenchable love of everyone around him. Valentinus was a second century Christian mystic and poet. He is sometimes refered to as a "Gnostic" because of the importance that mystical knowledge (gnosis) plays in his thought. He became a disciple of the Christian teacher, Theudas, who had been a disciple of Saint Paul. He claimed that Theudas taught him secret wisdom that Paul had taught privately to his inner circle.
For enjoyment he began writing notes of appreciation and devotion to more and more people; finally elders at the monastery allowed him to stay in his cell and do nothing but pour out his love by way of his small notes. This was finally honored after his death by beatification.
If you are weighted down by responsibilities, obligations and duties (this includes most modern people), then you must find something to love and new ways of bringing joy into your endeavors. What and who do you have energy and passion for? Write a note -- then place it under your pillow or next to your computer. Your inner soul guide is likely to respond with a dream or a creative outburst. The key is to let go of control or fears of appearing foolish. The unconscious will return to you the attitude that you display toward it.
Of course, you may also use this day to reach out in your relationships, which are so difficult to maintain in our busy and separated modern lives.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:01 PM