|Growing up has surprised me by turning out to be a lifelong endeavor. Initially, I charged into adulthood with so much determination that I didn’t think very much about how desperately I was tying to figure out how to be happy and successful. My generation married young and I got married while still in college. As I’ve talked with men’s groups over the years I have realized that marriage was our attempt at initiation, to force ourselves into the quest for adulthood. Likewise, for many of us, joining the corporate world was an effort to find our place in the culture of grown- ups. Later, when I stepped out of the corporate world and into my own business I was trying to step toward a more personal sense of identity.Before taking this step, I spent over two years planning my new venture and consulting with friends about making this change. During these discussions I became aware of the underlying layer of dissatisfaction in so many of the men and women I was close to. In addition, I was mentally working out the details and imagining the success that was fueling my courage to take this leap. Such thoroughness backed by the power of dreams, determination, friends and colleagues led to the success of my business, but not to my fantasized satisfaction. My full engagement paid off except for the fact I ended up depressed instead of happy.
Even if we need to heal our childhoods, and who doesn’t, it must then lead to a full engagement in life for individuation to proceed. Living passionately, according to Jung, will bring us to the right path even if we’re doing the wrong thing to begin with. Living passionately also brings a certain singeing. Singeing comes from being near to or in the flame, the flame of being involved whole-heartedly in life and facing its failures, problems, blocks and wounds head on. It also means reflecting upon such experiences and searching for meaning in them. Trying to “get it right” in advance, leads to being stuck and constantly spinning our wheels. A full engagement generates the material for us to reflect on that builds our consciousness and opens the doors to new life.
Massimilla and I have often talked about how accepting the failure of our dreams, ideals and what we thought we knew about life has dropped us into the singeing flames of transformation. This acceptance isn’t easy and we’ve had to learn to honor our grief and bitterness as part of the transformative work. Acceptance is a turning point. In my last newsletter I talked about acceptance. It means we face the fire of our own experiences and quit trying to avoid the necessary psychological death that preceeds breaking through our limitations and being reborn. Too often we defend against our pain and the transformative process by turning our symptoms into enemies that we want to banish, suppress or defeat. Transformation means giving up our defense structure of creating a war within ourselves-the structure that wants to prevent us from seeking out the truth of our own reality. This approach is “the road less traveled,” it is counter-cultural and it negates our ideas of control, rationality and fixing problems. But, it allowed me to turn my depression into a path of deep healing, reflection and the source of a new life.
With reflection, the scorching began. I realized I was not who I thought I was. I was not a unique individual living a creative life (like most of my business friends imagined) who would have answered immediately, “of course” if you had asked him if he loved himself. It scorches the soul to realize you are living a pattern designed collectively by family, society, church, job and traditions. And, that the only thing unique about it was how my childhood wounds and successes operated to shape the living of this pattern. I was depressed and collapsing and faced with the question, “Can you accept this person and love him?” Scorching meant accepting that my most treasured activities, planning, dreaming and pursuing the dream were narcotizing my fear. This acceptance is difficult and I see the need for it almost daily as I work and teach. I wish I knew how to make it easier for people but it is the necessary cleansing fire. All too often our most successful actions are in the service of flight. I was admired for being ambitious, courageous, taking risks, being hard-working and smart enough to pursue my dreams. And, love was involved for I loved my family and wanted a better life for them. Plus, I firmly believed I was fulfilling my obligations. Make no mistake about this fact either. I’m glad I did it! I’m glad because the experience gave me a foundation of courage to take risks that is still alive today. I’m glad because this experience taught me that the journey into hell is the first step in discovering the deep well of psychic energy within that ultimately makes love and joy equal parts of life. And, I’m glad that I have become a seasoned guide in this process like the ones I was so fortunate to have had.
The reality is that our culture teaches us to run harder and achieve more in order to avoid confronting ourselves, the earlier struggles and realities in our past, and the fiction we are creating and thinking of as our lives. Depression and chaos was the Self’s way of stopping me, calling for healing and trying to force self-confrontation. But, I still had a choice. I could have chosen to seek a conventional cure and some semblance of normal functioning. Or, I could have repressed my inner conflicts so vigorously that I could have forced them into becoming an illness. Actually, I believed at the time I would have a heart attack before I was 40 if I stayed on the same path. Something inside warned me of this danger and thankfully I listened and made the second choice of journeying into the unknown land of seeking to know myself.
To be familiar with myth is to know that Odysseus, Aneas, Faust and others had to go into the underworld to find vital wisdom. Dante writes his great poem to show the rest of us the way. We can only reach heaven through hell, by carrying our cross into the darkness of our fear, shadow, wounds and failed dreams. Dante started his journey on Good Friday. Anger, sorrow, disappointment, bewilderment, being singed and scorched are preludes to individuation, to becoming whole and realizing the true depth of love and the richness of life available to us. This path is the one that transforms our ego and initiates it into a relationship with the Self, the Divine spark within. The archetypal pattern of transformation confronts us (our ego) and by doing so belies our cultural ideals and self-help books because we cannot be reborn without dying; and individuation is about being reborn again, again and again.
My winter newsletter will be devoted to the results of the journey, becoming seasoned. Seasoning gives us a sense of life’s limitations and also its abundance that we cannot know and understand until we-this is our egos-have been initiated into a relationship with the Self. Until, through consciousness and the pursuit of self-knowledge we have fully experienced life and learned about the deep potentials of love, passion and the abundance available to us.
FUTURE TOPICS under consideration are:
1. “The Development of Spiritual Consciousness: Individuation and Mysticism”
2. “Body and Soul: Illness and the Healing Power of the Shadow”
3. “Living a Mythic Life: What is Your Myth or What Myth is Living You?”
4. “The Fear of the Feminine: How it Affects Our Lives and Relationships?”