As my life has continued since my last newsletter where I shared some of my journey with my daughter and her illness I have been reflecting on the issues of “soul-pain” and helplessness. Soul-pain
comes from the depth of our being. It circles around the loss of people, things, ideals and hopes that are dear and precious to us and that cannot be replaced. It is the kind of pain that scares us into turning against ourselves; that causes us to cut ourselves off from our own depths and to see our inner lives as threatening rather than supporting. Soul-pain can lead to despair and helplessness.
I met soul-pain as a child while my mother was dying and my father was kneeling in tears. The pillars of strength in my life were crumbling as if they had been made of sand. My brother, sister and I were young and our soul-pain was so deep that we had no way to articulate it or the cognitive ability to express it even if a therapist had been there. So, we began to sleepwalk through life in a trance of despair that was beyond reach.
God was not there either in terms of comfort or peace because we had no idea how to go inward and find God, nor did we know where God might be in these circumstances or what kind of God would permit such tragedy. We were helpless.
REFLECTIONS ON HELPLESSNESS
Fast forward sixty-five years and I am here again as my daughter, named after my mother, is living in the clutches of multiple sclerosis. Her husband has the haunted look I saw before, long ago, and my grandchildren are in the trance I’ve spent a lifetime trying to break out of, while at the same time discovering a destiny through that struggle.
As a child I was helpless and God-less. Now I am a seventy-three-year-old Jungian analyst. I can see and feel the fear, pain and loss my daughter is experiencing. Her smiling face as a child still floats easily into my mind’s eye. I am permeated by her anguish and my own in response to it. And in spite of many years of training and experience I still feel helpless in trying to help her find healing, to find meaning in her experiences, to find more wholeness, to touch something deep within her that will bring the inner hidden hands to support her, and to know that this inner presence cares about her, loves her.
I have watched her struggle as she hoped and searched for a cure or even for a medication that would slow the process of the disease. As she loses continence, control of her body, as terror gains ground and shame, hopelessness and lack of control grows within her life I am still helpless. So, I try to listen and I pray.
While the days are passing I often find myself awake in the early morning hours, driven out of sleep by thinking about her pain or my own. Sometimes I wonder what difference it makes to seek, to search and follow the pattern of my destiny which is to be a seeker and a searcher. Yet, even if I am finally drifting back into sleep I can still hear a small voice coming from the depths of my heart saying, “It makes a difference—don’t stop.”
I have also spent a lot of time searching for ways that my psychology can help her—if not her, and maybe not even me—at least for others who can benefit from our journey. I am on the quest once again to find a way to alleviate soul-pain; in this case our soul-pain and that of our families. In the past I’ve found inner support rising from the ground of my being that could bring a relief to pain and especially to the fear and anxiety that is clutching at us. And, this same support when we find it will help us admit to ourselves that our old selves are dead and our old ways of life are dead and we must be willing to let so many of our old ideals, values, obligations and things we loved about life and ourselves die too. And, while I’m reflecting on these thoughts some of my favorite lines from T.S. Eliot’s East Coker
come to mind and soothe my soul. His words bring both comfort and direction as he writes:
“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought;
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
The dancing is not to dance as if nothing has happened. It is to acknowledge that something
drastic has happened, the collapse of an old way of life or an old self, and then to dance. It is an approach to life that reminds me that even while we are on this bitter path we can become receptive in our helplessness to something new—beyond our imagination—being born. This path is so scary, yet it is the best way we can continue to be co-creators of life with the Divine through the deep Self within us, that also holds us.
I have found that rituals can support us in our helplessness in a way that transforms these
experiences into something sacred. I’ve found Jung’s advice (from the NY Times article on the Red Book) about processing what goes on in the deeper and sometimes frightening parts of our minds to be very helpful. Jung introduced this ritual thus:
“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can – in some beautifully bound
book,” Jung instructed. “It will seem as if you were making the vision banal – but then you need to do that – then you are freed from the power of them…. Then when these things are in some precious book you can go to the book and turn over the pages and for you it will be your church – your cathedral – the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them – then you will lose your soul – for in that book is your soul.”
In addition Jung’s Red Book inspires me strongly as I witness his powerful inner struggle that was necessary for him to give up the heroic spirit of his times and his rising leadership in his profession in order to become receptive to his inner world and its demands. His devotion to making this tremendous and courageous sacrifice benefitted us all.
Once again I am left wondering in the wee hours of the morning. Can we do all of this on our own small scale of living, not to become great, but to find our deepest humanity and the love struggling to be born from within us. I can only try, pray for courage and continue to seek—and accept the fact that God has driven me before through pain, loss and betrayal to seek. And, meanwhile, I refuse to become bitter, and I plan to live someday into the realization of why it always has to be something precious that must be lost or sacrificed. Perhaps this is why the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic tradition in Judaism said, “There are many rooms in God’s castle,” and then continued, “There is however, one key that opens every room and that key is a broken heart.” Or, perhaps that is why the central metaphor of my religion is a suffering, Divine man on a cross, an image that cries out over the centuries for compassion and to remind us that unremitting suffering leads through darkness into new life.
This series on the healing power of illness will be continued in future newsletters.
HEALING, INTEGRATION, AND TRANSFORMATION
If you are interested in finding out more about the music therapy my wife, Massimilla, uses, you can go to dynamic-listening.com and discover the opportunities in this approach. These programs are based on the work of Dr. Alfred Tomatis and stimulate the brain and body, the auditory and vestibular nerves, in a natural, integrative manner that helps us heal ourselves. My wife Dr Massimilla Harris, is a Jungian psychoanalyst, a diplomate of the CG Jung Institute in Zurich and a licensed Solisten provider.
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