This has been a long, snowbound winter that has left many of us longing to see the tender green sprouts of spring peeping up through the earth. But in my heart there is a place that is still snowbound and that has made it hard for me to begin this series of newsletters. This is the place where my family and I are still being drawn into the underworld of my daughter’s struggle with multiple sclerosis.
The story of our lives together, hers and mine, are forcing me to go back into the story of my life and to listen once more to the voice of my past as it wants to speak to me again in the present. Listening to the voice of my past and opening myself even more to re-experiencing its events and their emotions while observing these events and my feelings anew helps me open a larger inner space. I need this space to acknowledge the full reality that makes up my life and to act as a container for the emotions that come from repeated losses to illness and abandonment – and to face the small secret hardness of heart that developed as a defense against them. I also want this larger, strengthened container for the things I need to recognize and experience today.
As I enter this personal journey that began through a chink in a very old suit of armor, I want to take it beyond my journal, share my experiences and hear from other people on similar paths. My sharing begins in this newsletter and will continue as I organize my experiences and reflections in a few more, and in a lecture and workshop and a book. I hope you find this material useful and enriching and get a glimpse into how even our resistances and repressions can become an essential part of our healing and the foundation for new growth.
I’m never exactly sure when my projects begin their gestation period in my psyche. I gave a lecture on this topic in 1996, and since that lecture I have slowly become aware that every decade in my life has been shadowed by the illness of someone close to me that became a turning point affecting my future. So now I can see that this project is attached to a thread woven so deeply into the fabric of my life that it goes beyond my memories. What has surprised me the most is that as this new project is taking form, it is beginning with a “grief observed.”
If this experience wasn’t so deeply personal I might have expected this return to a “grief observed.” I might have realized that this revisiting would be on a more profound level, seeking a new degree of conscious awareness, and this is part of the work. As a Jungian analyst I am generally in the role of the wounded healer and frequently have to revisit old wounds and dark places. Jung tells us that, “…a good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor’s examining himself, for only what he can put right in himself can he hope to put right in the patient…it is his own hurt that gives the measure of his power to heal. This, and nothing else, is the meaning of the Greek myth of the wounded physician.” (C. G. Jung, CW vol. 16 par. 239) And while I am not my daughter’s doctor, in order to be able to fully accompany her on this journey, involves a descent and enlargement for me so I can understand her reality better and burden her less with my defenses and projections from the past.
Sickness and health are opposites that I can seek to reconcile, not by attempting to eliminate illness or change its nature, but by more clearly understanding the interdependence of them within the container of my full humanity.
Though part of me often hates the idea, I know from my work and experience that an illness can accelerate our reunion with the soul (or Self), which paradoxically can bring healing, new meaning, and great inner support, although it may be at a terrible cost. On the other hand, rituals through the ages that bring reunion with the soul usually require a significant cost, a sacrifice which can change the experience from awful to holy. Whether it is for the sick person, their loved ones or caregivers, this kind of healing calls for a hero or heroine’s journey in some form.
And this journey must be the classic hero or heroine’s journey. Not the shallow journey of the conquering hero but the journey of the one who is seeking hidden values that nourish the soul and bring wisdom and a greater sense of being alive. Entering the places of our greatest vulnerability, pain, shame, or illness can transform these places into holy places.
But this is a possibility only if we enter them as a conscious quest for healing and transformation. It is both the perilous journey of the hero searching for the Holy Grail and that of Chiron, the wounded healer, seeking the wisdom of nature’s healing powers.
The door to this project, as well as my renewed journey inward, opened when my wife offered me her help. She suggested that I participate in one of the sound therapy programs she uses as a Solisten provider. These programs are based on the work of Alfred Tomatis, who my wife met while undergoing her training in Paris almost thirty years ago. She has found that being a Solisten provider and Jungian analyst makes a powerful combination. The music and sound work opened me to a stream of memories and feelings that had been so severely clamped down in my unconscious and in my body that they hadn’t surfaced during many years of analysis and inner work. With the help of the gated music, bone conduction (which reaches into the body) and my knowledge as an analyst and the symbolic life, they came into a story of a “grief observed.” As I digest this story and weave it into the larger story of my life, I am shaken to find how much rage, terror, and how many tears my body has carried in order to keep my ego from being overwhelmed. It is my hope that, after being digested, these events and experiences will flow into my writing and teaching and support it rather than show up in ways that would secretly shape them into a subtle defensive structure. I am also surprised to see how much transformation, relief and how many new images can still emerge.
If this new inner work opened the door to this project, walking more closely with my daughter in her illness has taken me through that door. I have worked with other people with acute and chronic illnesses, even with MS. But I’m now learning how sanitized our analytic hours are, how focused on the psychological and rightly so, and how easy it is to think we understand what it is like to be in their shoes when we actually know very little about what their true pain, terror and physical condition really is.
A few weeks ago my daughter and I began what we like to call our “book club.” We meet for an hour a week by phone and leisurely discuss a book until we’ve finished it. We began with Kat Duff’s book The Alchemy of Illness. Kat describes the experience of her illness with devastating clarity. A few days before and for another reason I had seen my daughter’s medical history and it had been like another punch in the stomach. While reading Kat’s book I realized what kind of torture my daughter is enduring. And while this event brought me to my knees and reminded me of the small boy who watched his mother dying at about the same age, it also opened my heart. This opening, I believe, makes me more able to hear the hard parts in her life and I hope makes it easier for her and others to share them with me.
I have wanted to find out everything I can about what it means to be fully human and in our walk together I soon learned how much we all live in illusion and denial without knowing it. I also learned that like conflict, tension and betrayal, illness can become the springboard for opening up our lives, finding the love and support our souls or the Self are longing to offer to us, for leaving illusions, living in the present moment, seeing reality truthfully and finally becoming more fully human, our spiritual purpose on this earth.
We are currently discussing Al Kreinheder’s lovely book, Body and Soul: The Other Side of Illness. This book and our discussions are inspiring and in my upcoming newsletters I will be talking in more detail about what I’m learning in this journey, what I’m learning about illness, its reality and how I’m transformed and deepened by the descent and the lessons that I think we and our society can learn from our illnesses.
Strangely enough, this walk with my daughter is a gift, though I wish it was only a dream. So much goes on in terms of hopes, dreams, fantasies, conflicts, disappointments, love, hurt, and betrayals between parents and children that we rarely get to walk together as who and what we truly are. There are simply too many emotionally-based archetypal influences for this to happen. So this experience is a gift. But, it is a gift of fire, of “clinging fire” to borrow a term from the I Ching. It burns and clings and burns and reaches up to heaven
Curious that this image had come so readily to mind I looked up this hexagram, number 30, after I finished writing. I was stunned to read that it represents the middle daughter, which my daughter is. It says in part, “…that what is dark clings to what is light,” and the judgment is that, “perseverance furthers.”
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.
Spring 2007 Newsletter:
Individuation as a Journey of Grief, Grace and Glory
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