Let Your Light So Shine

Through the loss of three of our members and the theft of my billfold from our classroom, our Jungian Studies seminar was learning how to interpret a series of surprising, significant, or traumatic events as waking dreams. The fact that four losses had occurred during our fourth cadre meeting had caused us to look at four symbolically. We had concluded that the energy of our losses just might be suggesting that we pull together as a group, gather our fragmented members, and work to develop a more cohesive and conscious group identity.

On a personal level, these events could be calling us to recollect our own fragments, or to do more sharing of our real selves inside these seminars. One of our members, a therapist, had pointed out that though we were discussing the losses in great detail, it was all intellectual, “coming out of our heads, not our hearts.” She was right, for we weren’t yet speaking in terms of our own experiences or emotions. Another member spoke of his wish for more connectedness among cadre members, more transparency and opportunity for relationship. I saw themes of loss of heart, of relating over ideas and shared experience without the deep showing of one’s soul.

I thought about my part in the drama that had unfolded, the part of The One Whose Billfold Was Stolen. All the practical emblems of my identity had been taken from me. I had already dealt with the practical effects of the theft, but what about the symbolic meanings? What is my identity? How do I show you who I am?

Becoming, being, and acting out of our true selves provides meaning to individual human existence. I was reminded of the Beatitudes, which Jesus concluded by urging people to show themselves, to do their identities, to season the world like salt, to shine in it like lights, to do beautiful actions out of true selves so that everyone around would see the individual’s beauty and glorify God (Matthew 5:13-16).

My classmates who had expressed their longing to connect had spoken truly as far as I was concerned: our class did need to develop more cohesion, more of a group identity, by sharing our individual selves. I too was guilty of withholding myself. I’d made personal connections to the symbols in our waking dream but had said nothing about them to the class. The connections I’d perceived were so personal and close to my heart that I feared I would break down and cry if I shared them openly. Sharing them in a class that still had four more hours of Freud to cover didn’t seem the best use of our time. Even so, I was challenged. In the right context, was I willing to share who I really am out of my own experience? Isn’t this, in fact, all I really have to share other than my ideas?

Fours

Four had appeared as a symbol to our class, but I had personal connections to four on the day my billfold was stolen as well. I had taken extra money to Houston with me because I’d intended to buy a birthday present for my daughter Marigold. The amount of money stolen was around $400, another multiple of four. The day of the theft was the Marigold’s birthday. Marigold became my foster daughter when she was eight years old, and I thus became her fourth mother in eight years.

On the day of Marigold’s eighth birthday, I was working as the executive director of a licensed child-placing agency. That day, her third set of parents met with me to discuss how they planned to oust her from their family. “We’re not going to tell her what’s happening today because it’s her birthday,” they’d explained, “We’re having a big party, and she’s having all her friends over. It will be the last time she’ll see them, but she doesn’t know that. Telling her on her birthday just wouldn’t seem right.” We planned how I would pick her and all her things up three weeks later, after having the opportunity to begin working with Marigold on the dissolution of her adoption.

I will never forget sitting across from these wealthy, well-groomed people, outwardly the understanding, supportive professional but inwardly aghast. I’d been astounded at their perceptions of what is right and good, their abandonment of a little girl whose placement in their family could have been saved had they been willing to adapt and grow, a little girl whose ouster I was supposed to handle therapeutically, an eight-year-old child I was supposed to put back together again and replace in another family, who would all live happily ever after. When they came to mind, I realized that these people were like the Transient Black Man with his nice (probably stolen) coat, dirty underneath but with a winning smile and socially acceptable behavior to mask sinister behavior.

I was brewing a mental brew here, concocting some sort of Holmesian infusion that would expose what had been written invisibly. The chemistry continued as I went through the motions of being interviewed by the TSA, met my classmate Frank for dinner, and finally boarded the flight home.

What was the significance of my daughter’s birthday? There were so many fours and multiples of four involved. Suddenly I realized that, though I’d become Marigold’s fourth mother, I was not her fourth mother figure. Her grandmother had spent as much as a year raising her; this would make me, in effect, her fifth mother in four years. This called to mind the alchemical fifth essence, “the spirit of truth” according to medieval physician and alchemist Paracelsus, whom wrote of the fifth essence that

“He is the soul of the world, moving all and preserving all. In his initial earthly form (that is, in his original Satrunine darkness) he is unclean, but he purifies himself progressively during the ascent through his watery, aerial, and fiery forms. Finally, in the fifth essence, he appears as the ‘clarified body.’ This spirit is the secret that has been hidden since the beginning of things” (Jung, CW 13, par. 166).

Some sort of clarity wanted to break forth in me, a spirit of truth where cloudy, unclean elements formerly prevailed. It was about four, mothers, daughters, abandonment, appearing one way but being another, adaptability and growth, responsiveness to the situation at hand rather than reactions to unconscious inner motivators.

What part of me was a Transient Black Man wearing a nice-looking (probably stolen) coat? What part inside me waves goodbye to the receptionist in a friendly way shortly after stealing a billfold? What part within me has a child-ousting appointment with an adoption agency at 2:00 p.m. and a birthday party for the soon-to-be-ousted child at 6:00 p.m.? What civilized, socially acceptable, nice person inside was allowing thieves and abandoners to walk unchallenged through my life? What civilized, socially acceptable, nice behaviors were concealing my inner thief and abandoner?

Barbarians at the Gate

In an article about the introverted thinking Myers-Briggs temperament type, I quoted the following from Jung (CW 6, para. 634):

In the pursuit of his ideas he is generally stubborn, headstrong, and quite unamenable to influence. His suggestibility to personal influences is in strange contrast to this. He has only to be convinced of a person’s seeming innocuousness to lay himself open to the most undesirable elements. They seize hold of him from the unconscious. He lets himself be brutalized and exploited in the most ignominious way if only he can be left in peace to pursue his ideas. He simply does not see when he is being plundered behind his back and wronged in practice, [. . .]

As a group, my Jungian Studies cadre had a predominantly introverted thinking temperament. The seeming innocuousness of a smiling stranger had laid us open to thievery. Enthralled with the mystery surrounding our classmate’s disappearance, we’d allowed a stranger to walk among us unchallenged. Like my classmates, I am an introverted thinking type, living so much in my ideas about possibility, healing, personal growth and enlargement, and pursuit of ideals that I’d left myself wide open to exploitation in the most naïve ways.

My stomach began to churn as I made my way down the aisle of the airplane and settled into my seat. As soon as we were in the air, I would close my eyes and begin the disciplines I’ve learned that would allow my soul to speak to me, my self to step up with the symbols of the unconscious and the poetry of the spirit to show me what I needed to see. I knew I didn’t want to see it all, because if I’d wanted to see it I would already have seen it. My dreams wouldn’t have had to be full of it, and my billfold might not have needed to be stolen. My stomach wouldn’t be churning, and I would not already feel close to tears over what I was sure I would soon see about myself.

19 responses

  1. Amazing: the contrasts. The sorrow and self-doubt reaction to the theft vs. the joy of sharing moments like MJ experienced on the train.

    I sing with you. “Yes, God, Life is Beautiful.”

    You are a treasure, dear Girl. I’ve learned a lot this past hour reading your thoughts. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I’m still sorry about your billfold, Eve, but I’ll take that unsettling occasion you have shared and give you my appreciation for symbols. They alert me of two things: God has His eye on me and I’m paying attention. Here is a recent example.

    Last Thursday I boarded The Vermonter and headed to Burlington to visit a friend and colleague I met in 1993 at The Jung Institute in Kusnacht. It was a long eleven hour ride so I settled in but not down because I will be six feet under before I settle down. Indeed, this wannabe Girl Scout came prepared: liverwurst sandwich, a pear, two bottles of water. This wannabe scholar came prepared: Jim Hollis books, note pads, pens in tow. This wannabe carefree woman came prepared: mischief, friendship and possibilities my only conscious agendas.

    On our second evening after a delightful excursion to Stowe for hot chocolate and an ice sculpture competition, my Object Relations friend Jackie leapt from her chair mid-sentence during dinner. “Mare, I want you to ‘see’ this.” Adeptly winding a little music box she hands it over. Two lady bugs – lemon yellow and cherry red in color – spin and twirl about. While cute and pleasing to the eye – the lady bugs caught my attention only secondarily once I heard the beautiful “Fur Elise” tingle in the air. It was one of those mystical Mists of Avalon moments when time becomes irrelevant, suspended and personal. You see, Eve, Fur Elise was a favorite classical composition my deceased daughter Katie played frequently for me on her shiny black Yamaha piano. My friend Jackie had no idea of its reference for me, a synchronicity that naturally led to a few tears, a hug and a glance heavenward.

    The weekend ended – as all things do and must – and I headed back to Philadelphia. Being a miser about my space and seat I took four: one next to me and two facing me. Shortly after leaving Vermont the train stopped and a young family of three entered. We exchanged smiles as they seated themselves across the aisle. From the corner of my eye I couldn’t help but observe the joyful spirit emanating from the little boy. Naturally I didn’t want to intrude (or did I?) but approximately an hour later I saw he had nothing to play with so what’s a therapist, mother, and grandmother to do with all of this extra paper and pens?

    I leaned toward the father, who was in the closest proximity, and inquired if his child might like to have a pad and pen. They asked him. Up and down went his head. I handed the pad and pen to this little boy and returned to my reading. Fifteen minutes later he stood next to my seat. “Hello!” I looked up and smiled. He handed me a picture. It was a drawing of a woman and a little boy. I looked at him smiling so luminously sunglasses wouldn’t have dimmed his light. “This is you” he said “and this is me!” He tells me he is six. I am so delighted by this sweet and generous gesture and his emerging ego strength. “What a wonderful picture you have drawn! Thank you! Would I be able to keep it?”

    He tells me that yes, it is mine now and I think this is the best train ride I have ever had. “What is your name dear boy so I will always think of you and this special day together on the train?” He looked directly into my eyes with the hold of a king and answered in the voice of an angel, “My name is Vishnu.”

    And I knew this moment was way bigger than a train ride.

    • MJ…. good lord in heaven… !!! This tale had me spellbound, all a-tingle, and finally made tears leap to my eyes at the end.

      My God. Life is beautiful.

      Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m dumbfounded.

  3. Librarian, once again you’ve expressed it all so well. We know things we can’t possibly know in our little selves at all. But when we see that we see by seeing it, isn’t it beautiful? It’s so surprising and overwhelming.

    I agree that there is no right interpretation of a symbol insofar as the symbol is perceived by an individual–entirely subjectively. What we see is ourselves, reflected. Sometimes we also see God.

    I liked your question, “Is there any difference?”

    Also, rather coincidentally (or synchronistically) today by Facebook update read: “An Announcement: I do believe in purgatory.”

  4. I am reminded of a story Robert Johnson told about a patient of his that put absolutely no stock in active imagination or his inner reality/process. Johnson asked the man to humor him and for months the man showed up and related stories to Johnson that he had completely fabricated out of thin air, thinking himself clever and Johnson the fool. Finally, one day the man demanded to know what manner of trickery Johnson had pulled on him as he now saw, tearfully, that the whole of his “ruse” was in fact real.

    The guy was guilty, if of anything, of the hubris of believing that he created his own thoughts and failing to be conscious of the reality/legitimacy of his own inner experience; which puts him in good and plentiful company.

    I know that I was terribly surprised the day I realized that the “Librarian in Purgatory” was no merely some linguistic/creative ploy to link together a mass of related but disparate subjects and writings under one heading/theme—mainly out of laziness—but in fact who I was and the process I was involved in.

    Even then, much later, I was just as surprised when reviewing my first chapter and coming across a psychological description of the ego as the “process” of organizing the psyche; which I believe is done through (internal) stories. Given the definition of Purgatory:

    1 : an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification; specifically : a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God’s grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven
    2 : a place or state of temporary suffering or misery ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Purgatory )

    the “Librarian in Purgatory” becomes, again, not just a literary ploy, but a symbol of the pinprick of ego-consciousness laboring within the Leviathan spaces of a darkened collective Library/personal unconscious, trying to purify itself by understanding and organizing the stories it has been given—it becomes a symbol of the process or seeking of wholeness/individuation/enlightenment. I can guarantee you that in a million years I never would have sat down and come up with that on my own on purpose, ever!

    In the “Undiscovered Self” Jung wrote:

    “And are not Jesus and Paul prototypes of those who, trusting their inner experiences, have gone their own individual ways, disregarding public opinion?”

    Joseph Campbell said somewhere that symbols were the vehicles for transmitting the ineffable energy/message behind them and that often, people tended to focus upon the symbol itself as what was important rather than what the symbol conveyed. Jung posited that symbols stood for what cannot be directly known. To that I would add that I suspect that, to the extent that anyone sees any interpretation within a symbol, what they are seeing/experiencing is an expression of their Self and/or the Divine (really, is their a difference?)—the mind that can’t comprehend itself or the eye that can’t see itself in Zen/Buddhist terms. In that regards, there is no right interpretation other than the one that is right for you as symbols hold all truths. You don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it.

    Lastly, never having been a real Beatles fan, I believe that Filter’s cover is far better than the original…ah, but that would be my opinion then I guess…but the TRUE one, eh?

    The Loneliest Number

    “I collect
    endings,”
    he said,
    “and this is the last
    1.”

    • Phil, yes, it’s possible. It’s certainly one of several possibilities to consider. What part of me would want to be stolen from, and to what end? It can make one dizzy, just thinking about all the possibilities.

  5. Like horoscopes, then. Make them vague enough and open to any interpretation and you will find what you are looking for.
    All reflecting back at the reader/interpreter and only loosely related to “objective events”.

    Will look up your suggested readings.

    • No, not at all like horoscopes. They are neither vague nor “open to any interpretation.” What is reflected back is you. I can see that you don’t believe that, but I see what you are showing me nevertheless.

      There’s a great deal of research into these issues. You can look into the Journal of Analytical Psychology, for example, and see that there’s a vast body of work in this area if it’s objectivism you’re looking for. Psychology is a science of the soul; as a science, it holds forth the promise of measurability. As soul work, it deals with individuals.

      I’ll stick with the interpretation above. Based on the numbers , a person who sees ones when others see fours is lonely, unconsciously and perhaps even compulsively goaded toward growth in spite of himself through something that acts like the “devil,” and wanting threeness, or a recognizable identity. The conscious stance is the polar opposite of what the unconscious is trying to do, which means that ultimately a middle way toward three (and then four) will appear if the one/three man lets it.

      Some part of a “south” person is confused or is experiencing frustration; but if the “south” person will open up, enlightenment will come.

      These are not the same struggles as the four, which are also not the struggles of north, east, or west. What we see says something about who we are both consciously and unconsciously. They’re not vague at all, but very specific. Dreams, however, are the most specific of all.

  6. Dear Eve,

    Maybe your gifts to comfort and be close to others comes after reflection in the written word. Certainly your posts have helped me. Surely they have aided others.

    My mother used to say wouldn’t it be a boring world if we were all the same? Amen, Mom, it would be. Besides, I think when we know someone is of good heart then when he or she speaks from the head we don’t give it a second thought. If we believe them to be a mean spirit then watch out, all bets off!

    You are of good heart, Eve, and don’t worry about your stomach giving you a churning, it was giving you yesterday’s words!

    Your little Marigold has her true mother now and while she had such trauma and loss, God bless her, she knows you now. How amazing that you and she have one another in this world so full of rejection and pain. Personally? It touches me; the mother and child is the most beautiful archetype. It’s also so synchronistic for me, Eve, for my sister Eileen’s second anniversary is this very day and she, after she lost her precious little girl during a heart surgery, sought to adopt a child who, as your daughter Marigold, lives now the love my sister was able to give, to bestow.

    I don’t know if your class has ever heard your voice – The Third Eve – as we have here but wouldn’t it be a wonderful expression of cohesion for them and you to share with them or read to them your heart-felt expression that goes beyond the A-B-C’s of class room learning to the X-Y-Z’s of the heart loving.

    “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.”

    Peace,
    MJ

    • MJ, yes, I plan to share this with my class, and in fact some already have the URL.

      I agree with your mother; it would be a boring world if we were all flavored the same.

  7. we humans are so good at finding the patterns we want see in things, and then finding meaning from there.

    why use your story as an example of fours? i could just as well see your billfold loss as a “first” as you say it is for you, missing classmates as a threesome, your daughter’s story as an example of “finality” – finally coming to a stable home, your mention of drinking coffee in styrofoam cups as an example of not valuing the contents or your experience, meeting in tx as an example of things “going south”, and so on forever.

    it seems we can always pick and choose symbols to match any experience. how then are those symbols meaningful?

    • ET, I have to smile wryly as I see that you found the patterns you wanted to see. I hadn’t even considered the styrofoam cups as a symbol of anything; it just so happened that we had styrofoam cups.

      To answer your question, I’ll ask one: Have you ever read anything by Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung on symbols and archetypal motifs? They explain it far better than I.

      Your symbol interpretation suggests to me that you’re into one, which is (as the Beatles sang) the “loneliest number,” three, and the direction south. One is (archetypally speaking) not a number at all; the “original one” is representative of man before the fall; two is the Other (the devil) who compels one toward three, “the unfolding of the One to a condition where it can be known–unity become recognizable” (Jung CW 11, para. 180). South is the direction of growth, production, and evolution; in alchemical philosophy, the Queen of the South is the one referred to in Psalm 33:6, “Come ye to him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be confounded.”

      Based on this quick symbolic interpretation, I’d guess that the symbols you see here are very much about the longing of your soul–which is why you see these symbols and my class and I saw others. We have our group identity, and I my individual one; you are reading in your own experience and translating accordingly.

  8. My stomach churns in unison, Eve. The ultimate fear: vulnerability, exposure.

    It occurs to me that your classmate who disappeared – was he mugged, was his billfold stolen? If so, it’s like he’s an external reflection of your situation inside the classroom.

    • Irene, my churning on the plane was when it dawned on me that I already knew what was coming, and that I’d worked so hard to try to suppress it and even negotiate with it so that I could hold on to “my precious”–the thing that ultimately destroys you.

      We didn’t find out what happened to our classmate until after we’d all returned home. I’ll get to that soon; but suffice to say he’s OK.

    • Peach, it is a sad story. I wish hers was an unusual story among domestic adoptions, but it’s not. There are half a million children in foster care in the U.S.; almost 90,000 in California alone (just to give you an idea of proportion).

      Marigold is doing well. She has her scars and her wounds, but she’s one of my heroes for what she’s overcome and for her strength of heart and character. Her dad and I are very proud of her.

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