I Have No Idea Where I Am Going

I will not fear.

I will not fear…

Tending the Flame

Three days after my husband’s sudden death last month, a thought wafted into my bludgeoned consciousness: “Now you will see what your faith and your psychology are made of. Now you’ll find out what’s really true, because whatever a person believes or thinks are true are really only as true as the largest crisis or heartache.”

This thought came to me, and I knew it was true. I have, in fact, discovered the substance of my faith. I’ve also seen of what use analytical psychology is during the worst crisis of my life. I have found out what’s true for me. Sometimes what I’ve seen has been surprising.

In our Jungian Studies seminars, we’ve been studying alchemy for two months. I’ll be sharing some of what we’ve learned for the metaphorical and psychological value, because what I’ve learned has given me light during a dark time.

Wikipedia’s definition of alchemy emphasizes the popular misconception that alchemy was a medieval science that sought to transform base metals into gold. It was, in the popular way of thinking, mere money-grubbing through archaic science. This is not true.

Alchemy was, indeed, a medieval science, but also a philosophy. The word comes from roots meaning “the work.” For Jung, James Hillman, and other analytical psychologists, alchemy provides a sort of anatomy of individuation, along with a methodology for approaching the psyche and how one experiences the world.

The goal of alchemy was to transform base matter by liberating the meaning in it. Put in psychological terms, alchemy is a process by which you change your mind, and everything connected with your mind.

The psyche speaks in images, while the mind speaks in concepts. Alchemical language is not a conceptual language, it is one of images; it will therefore appeal to the visual learner, the artist, the poet, and the philosopher as well as the psychologist, the student of life, the person given to asking questions.

Alchemy is a judgment-free discipline. Alchemists merely undertook the work with a “wait-and-see” mindset. This is the mindset of the true skeptic, who suspends judgment and simply tries to look into a matter and see what it is, how it reacts to another substance, what happens when different degrees of heat are applied, and so on.

For the alchemist, everything was secret and everything was the most important thing. Two alchemists in two different laboratories could use the same substances in the same way but achieve different results, because the alchemical process was directly affected by the psychological and spiritual state of the alchemists themselves.

When alchemists failed at their projects, it was because they let their fire go out. The light, heat, and warmth went out of their work because they grew too weary to tend the flame. The writer of Hebrews admonished Christians to “run with endurance the race marked out for us,” for it is human nature to falter and lose heart when we’re faced with suffering, shame, and opposition (Hebrews 12:1-13). Under prolonged suffering, anyone can “grow weary and lose heart.” Thus, the medieval alchemist, cooking his substances at low heat all day and all night, might fall asleep, become distracted, or otherwise fail to persevere at the work. The most common cause of failure was the failure to tend the flame.

Let’s remember to tend the flame.

Shadow

“We allow ourselves the most amazing illusions about ourselves and think other people take us seriously. It is as if I should have the illusion that I am only five feet tall—just mad! This is no more absurd than people who want to make us believe that they are very moral and respectable. It isn’t true, and how can you establish a real relation unless people are real, as they really are? We know that people, instead of being respectable and moral, are just hopelessly blind. How can you establish an individual relationship with such a creature? One gets seasick, it is nauseating. I would far rather have an individual relationship to a dog, who doesn’t assume he is a respectable dog…” 1

I tend to think that part of what makes a person a genius is his or her ability to perceive and communicate truth. Whereas most people speak (and possibly even think) in platitudes, the great person simply speaks the truth, even when it’s startling.

This past weekend at a Jungian Studies seminar, I had the privilege of witnessing a courageous confrontation. In this situation, although many of us had felt uncomfortable and even disturbed by behaviors going on in the classroom between two fellow students, no one had mustered the courage to say anything, myself included. Finally, though, one of us grew impatient with herself for only talking about the problem and decided to try to solve it.

Witnessing my friend’s courage was a stunning experience and had the effect of bringing me back to a part of myself that I’d been pushing aside. This part is the part that rewards bad behavior with silence, with looking away. I pretended, with everyone else, that the rudeness going on under our noses wasn’t rude at all. We moved our chairs, we looked away, we talked about it afterward, we griped–but nobody confronted the behaviors.

Why do we fail to confront? Many times it’s because we’re fearful, but other times it’s because we think a confrontation is useless: the person is so unconscious or so far gone that they won’t change. “What’s the point?” we ask. Seeing someone take responsibility as my friend did caused me to look into this type of reasoning, though. I thought about adoption, and how when you adopt an older child who comes from a damaging environment, a culture clash occurs. The adoptive family’s nurturing culture is foreign to the newly-adopted child. The child, accustomed to abuse, neglect, and cruelty, doesn’t know how to handle love. He can’t live in a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. He’s used to having adrenaline pumping through his body, supporting his survival, and doesn’t know how to live in a nurturing environment because there’s not nearly as much adrenaline in the quietly nurturing home.

Skilled foster and adoptive parents know that they must help the new child adjust to their culture, and they try to help by assisting the child as he recognizes and grieves losses. After this, they teach new skills of living within a nurturing family; and, finally, they teach the child how to give back. We’re here to do more than receive, we teach: we’re here to give something to the universe.

Sometimes people never do learn that they’re here to give back. Sometimes people become black holes of humanity who only take and take and take. They pretend they’re not sucking the life out of others or the universe by saying all the right things. They tell us they are good and loving and generous. They may even volunteer to feed the hungry, or work at the hospice, or be helping professionals or good mothers, attending little league games and ballet recitals.

However, what Jung is saying here is just what Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” He’s saying that if you meet a person who claims to be good, they’re lying. Nobody really is. This is why the most religious people, such as pastors and preachers and priests, can be some of the worst offenders. We’re still surprised when we read that yet another so-called spiritual leader has molested a child, or embezzled church money, or run off with the choir director. Why are we surprised, though? The whole congregation is sitting there, too, and they will tell you how good they are. Even though they have hurt their friends, cheated their family member, lied to their employers, pilfered at work, offended someone without apologizing, they will still tell you how good they are, and how much they love God or how enlightened they are.

People show us who they are through their actions. Words are nearly meaningless unless accompanied by action. This is why the person who says he is a good person can’t be believed as long as he says or does cruel things. All he is saying is that the mask he shows himself is called “Good Person.” All he is saying is that he is blind to his shadow.

Last week when my friend confronted mean-spiritedness, she was doing us all a service and acting out of goodness, yet she would never say that she’s a good person. Ironically, that’s what makes her one.

REFERENCES

1 Jung, C. G. Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930. (1984). (Bollingen Series XCIX). 2 vols. William McGuire, Ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 68.

The Blessing

The Blessing

In the morning when you rise
I bless the sun, I bless the skies
I bless your lips, I bless your eyes
My blessing goes with you

In the nighttime when you sleep
Oh I bless you while a watch I keep
As you lie in slumber deep
My blessing goes with you

This is my prayer for you
There for you, ever true
Each, every day for you
In everything you do

And when you come to me
And hold me close to you
I bless you
And you bless me, too

When your weary heart is tired
If the world would leave you uninspired
When nothing more of love’s desired
My blessing goes with you

When the storms of life are strong
When you’re wounded, when you don’t belong
When you no longer hear my song
My blessing goes with you

This is my prayer for you
There for you, ever true
Each, every day for you
In everything you do

And when you come to me
And hold me close to you
I bless you
And you bless me, too

I bless you
And you bless me, too

blessing2 by you.

What We Know

When we listen to this beautiful song and read the lyrics, we know what a blessing is. Knowing what a blessing is can make tears well up, unbidden; we exclaim about how beautiful the blessing10 by you.singer’s voice is, how magical this song she sings, but as beautiful as the singer’s voice, what gives this song its timelessness is what we know about blessings. We know about them because being blessed by someone who has the love and power to bless us is an archetypal event–something that is common to all people in all ages. Whether it conjures up images of priests and censers, or the trembling hand of a grandmother, laid on her new great-grandchild’s head, or that of a tribal elder passing his hands over the youth and blowing smoke all around the young man’s head, we know what a blessing is.

Many of us have received blessings from our parents or grandparents, and many of us have not. Many of us spent our childhoods and young adulthoods waiting for that blessing, and it never came. Some of us have sat at the bedside of a dying parent and received nothing, no gracious word, no hopeful epithet to suit us. Some of us were blessed and given charges by the people we loved most, and went out into life under this banner. Whatever our individual experiences with blessings, we know what they are.

The word “blessing” comes from the Proto-Indo-European word bhel, from which blood, boulder, phallus, and blind derive. A blessing has life in it, like the blood. Also like blood, it blessing7 by you.carries a unique code–like DNA–specific to the one being blessed. A blessing has the mass, weight, and substance of a boulder; people who have been rightly blessed carry the weight of that blessing with them their entire lives and have something of substance to pass on to others. Like a phallus, a blessing is generative and powerfully procreative. It has the masculine strength of the warrior with his spear, and like the warrior, a blessing is protective as well as defensive. Its phallic energy causes many scenes of blessing to be symbolically rendered through male figures, even though every person, male or female, carries this energy. Finally, a blessing comes from a place as dark as blindness, for it arises from the unconscious, from what we know without knowing how we know it. A blessing is prophetic, having deep spiritual and mystical origins arising from some ancient tap root with fructifying power.

blessing5 by you.A blessing is an invoking of God’s favor, an expression of approval and good wishes, and an act of praise verbalized over another human being. We do not write our own blessings; we wait sometimes our entire lives to be blessed by someone else. And because we externalize the need to be blessed and are always looking for the priest, elder, patriarch, wizard, or fairy godmother who will lay hands on us and bless us, we forget that, deep down inside, our own priest, elder, patriarch, wizard, and fairy godmother has a ready blessing.

नमस्ते

Of all the traditions among other cultures that I wish we would adopt in the Western world, my favorite is the practice of bowing to another person in greeting. I love the Hindu and Buddhist greeting, namaste, for it means “the divinity within me honors the divinity within you.” I can think of few other ways in which a greeting can invoke more powerful blessing than this one. So, today, namaste. The divinity within me honors the divinity within you. I invite you to bow to yourself, and to meditate today on the blessings that have been spoken over you and to you, and the ones you wish had been but never were. I invite you to meditate until images of your own blessing come up inside your soul, and then become logos. I invite you to breathe those words over yourself, speak them to yourself, and bow to yourself. Then, take a bit of that blessing, and bow to a person you love, and bless him or her.

blessing11 by you.

Witness

THE LAW OF WITNESSES

One of the most boring books in the Bible has got to be the book of Leviticus, called the Vayikra by Jews. The third of the five books of Moses, Leviticus is full of laws. Laws of the gauguin4 by you.Temple, laws of cleanliness, laws of birth and death, giving and taking, working and not working. Along with Numbers and Deuteronomy, it is tedious and almost entirely uninspiring. I avoided reading Leviticus as much as I could as a younger Christian. For every one time I’ve read Leviticus, I’ve read Psalms or Song of Solomon or even Isaiah as many as five or ten times.

One year, though, when I was much younger than I am now, I felt strongly impressed to read Leviticus. I felt I was to read it with love and the sort of attentiveness that expects a blessing. And so I did. I read Leviticus and thought about the book in present-day terms rather than relegating my head and the book to the ancient past. I began to see patterns and deep truths in the laws of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and even the counting and classifying of the book of Numbers. I saw that laws had purpose and meaning and were not merely constructs of an ancient, backward people.

One law of which I’m especially fond is the rule of witnesses in Deuteronomy, which states that no one can be condemned on the testimony of only one witness. All facts, this law says, are to be established “out of the mouths of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 17:6). This law is also applied to New Testament church discipline, since St. Paul taught that a church elder or pastor should not be accepted unless “two or three witnesses” were willing to testify. Two or three witnesses; keep this in mind.

gauguin6 by you.The year I saw that these ancient laws can have meaning here and now was a very good year, for one of the primary things I learned was from this law of witnesses: Facts come with two or three. What this means, among other things, is that whenever truth is welling up within me, or coming at me from the outside, it will come in two or three ways. I may miss it if it comes only once, and since the universe is bountiful and God is good and giving, He will give me more than one chance to get a clue.

So this is my gift to you today, dear reader: the law of witnesses. Try it out. See how it works for you. How many times of seeing something does it take before you see that you see it?

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