In my last newsletter I quoted the Jungian analyst and author June Singer as saying that an analyst is needed who is not only wise and compassionate, but also singed, scorched and seasoned. I added that this sentence also summarizes the effects of the journey for anyone who wants to live passionately, consciously and become fully alive. In that newsletter, I wrote about the meanings of being singed and scorched. In this one I will say more about becoming seasoned, the results of the journey, and the new sense of reality that we are initiated into through our relationship to the Self. Through consciousness and the pursuit of self-knowledge we fully experience life and learn about the deep potentials of love, passion and the abundance available to us and our limitations.
Yes, but I still read this chapter now and then for it sums up the myth I live and work by. But, June is also summarizing the effects of the journey for anyone who wants to live passionately, consciously and become fully alive. I am deeply grateful to her for how she articulated this reality.
How have, and how am I becoming seasoned? To begin with, I’ve discovered that just like growing up is a life-long process, so is becoming seasoned. Seasoning is becoming tempered, ripened salted, modest, realizing that life is sacred and if everything is created by the Divine it is all for me to love. To love a whole, however, doesn’t mean I have to love every part. Life and the world are here for me to love but that doesn’t mean that I have to love tragedy or evil. Seasoned means to know how to accept and reflect on life and in particular how to be fully engaged in life and reflect on what we are experiencing. Reflection is the process that fosters my growth and makes me stronger at my broken places. This is tempering and it leaves us like the old soldier who knows how to handle himself in battle or the wise old country woman who know the cycles of the moon, planting, harvesting, birthing and dying.
Fear! To be seasoned by fear is to know and accept deep in my heart and stomach that life can not be fully controlled. It is to know that I and all that I love exist by a slender thread which may snap at almost any time. It is also to know that the more I try to defend myself past a certain point and stake my sense of safety on controlling life, the more likely I am to set myself up for disappointment and tragedy. Fear has driven me at times to withdraw from life, to close in on myself, and thereby I risked the biggest tragedy of all-never being fully alive and engaged. I have also found that fear can be sneaky. It can cause me to have an illusion of being fully engaged while at the same time I am secretly avoiding the risks of transformation, dying to an old life and being born into a new one whose future is uncertain and at best only a dream.
When I think of being seasoned, I think of Hemmingway’s lines in A Farewell to Arms, “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.”
It saddens me to know that to live, and to live passionately, we must be willing to be broken. But, if we are willing to be broken and still have the courage to reflect on these events we are transformed. The creative spirit of the Divine that I experience through the Self shapes life as a journey of personal transformation. As I pointed out in my last newsletter, begin singed and scorched can lead to awakening. When I follow the path of individuation, the inner journey, awakening, leads to a disciplined process of seeking self-knowledge that will strengthen and fortify me. Then I gain the fortitude to accept, and I must constantly remind myself of this, that it is through conflict, tension and suffering that I, we, and the world are differentiated and grow. True peace comes when I can accept this dynamism.
Writing has been a good example of a journey of struggle that singed, scorched and seasoned me. Writing morphed into a torture, a torture of risking myself, seeking acceptance and being rejected in ways so painful they brought up the feelings of every stinging childhood rejection. I became afraid of facing the red pen of an editor, the rejection letters of publishers and of the criticism of readers. While these were strong fears, there were deeper ones: the fear of not being heard, of not being able to speak to things that other people are afraid of too. Even as I write this, an image comes to mind and I find myself wanting to pick up that serious-faced eight-year-old boy that I once was. I want to hold him tight and say, “speak to me, I will listen. Tell me what you are afraid of, what makes you happy.” Here is the root of my fear and I want to comfort it.
I have followed Jung’s advice that if you do the wrong thing with all your heart you will end up at the right place. I’ve pursued writing with all of my heart for over twenty years and it has become the right place. I began writing with a quotation from Ibsen’s poem “The Verse” on my desk. It reads: To live is to – fight troll-demons in vaults of the mind and heart. To write is – that is to summons self to a doomsday apart.
Writing shaped and formed me as it led me to mountain tops of hope and dashed me at other times into despair. Every book is a personal journey in which there is no escaping my history, my shadow and my complexes. When every manuscript is finished the same questions remain: “Was it all too painful?” “Can I learn to write again?” “Can I learn to dream again?” So far the answer has always been yes.
Becoming seasoned is also a process like peeling an onion as I am forced to differentiate myself from the values, ideals, wisdom and other things that I have built my life and identity upon. Of course, my shadow and anima goad me along this path mercilessly. Some years ago I awakened with a start from a dream where a woman was charging at me with a knife, clearly intending to stab me repeatedly. Alarmed and curious, I approached her carefully in active imagination and asked her why she was attacking me. She answered, “I want to cut you badly so you will feel my pain. I want you to feel the pain I suffer because you don’t have the guts to hate the people who have hurt you.”
In this interaction, I am learning about the other within me that knows it is OK and often healthy to hate those who hurt, threatened and diminished me when I was small or when I couldn’t defend myself and caused fear, anxiety or shame to be structured into my personality. Coming home to myself means finding the other within, the other who shows up in dreams and fantasies as a stranger. But, who is the one who sees the other side of our internalized values like hate is bad, forgiveness is good or that we need to let go of past hurts and anger?
This fiery woman was one of the many inner strangers I’ve met on this journey. Some of them approach me aggressively, others casually or by stealth because I have repressed them so strongly. To consider openly hating someone caused my self-image to be broken once again. These meetings and my reflections on them caused my self-image to be broken repeatedly until I became seasoned enough to realize that deep feelings, from any time in my life-whether positive or negative-need to be fully experienced and processed through my reflections. As this process seasoned me, I discovered that forgiveness (when it wasn’t sought) and letting go are no longer relevant. I have found the truth in June Singer’s assertion that we need to come to the place of fully accepting our deepest emotions and be able to hate without the need for retribution and love without possessiveness. Every stranger I accept releases an amazing amount of psychic energy and I feel more whole, more fully human.
Grief, illness and death also have an important place in seasoning. I have shared some of my thoughts on grief and death in other newsletters and have one coming up on illness. In conclusion, I think the four truths that I’ve learned on my journey, the ones included in The Fire and the Rose, sum up my thoughts on abundance and limitations.
Four truths have become apparent to me in my own pursuit of self-knowledge as a way of life. First, I have learned that the fundamental assertion in most mystical traditions-that self-knowledge is the way to come to know the Divine-is absolutely true. Self-knowledge releases us from the prison of our personal history, de-conditions us from the attitudes of our parents and society, and forces us to work through our losses, hurts and grief. This act of purification, as the mystics called it, opens us to our depths, to the Self, the Divine energy within us.
The second truth I realized is that compassion must begin with myself. The cultivation of compassion toward my failures, shortcomings, and humanness opens the door to self-love and makes me a truly compassionate person with others. This process grounds us in our full humanity and supports the self-love implied in the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Self-love anchored in self-knowledge is the underpinning of how well we can give and receive love. Without self-love our structure of relationships will crumble under the pressure of the smallest storms, and our so-called unselfish acts will create an inner cauldron of resentment. I know this from the results of many years when I thought I could be hard on myself and loving to others. The only person I fooled was myself.
Self-love is like water flowing into a pond. When the pond is full the water will overflow and begin to venture into the world. If we fail to know ourselves, we risk causing our souls to become arid and our hearts to stagnate in fear and defensiveness. What a wonderful paradox-loving ourselves is actually taking care of others.
The third thing I discovered is that a life based on the pursuit of self-knowledge continually takes us back into the world and among our communities. We cannot live a wholehearted life alone. We must participate in all the various relationships-attractions, love, friendships, conflicts, projections-to gain stimulation as well as the content that informs much of our search for self-knowledge.
The final thing that I gradually became aware of is that something inside me cares about me and my life. If I listen, it speaks to me through my dreams, fantasies, inspiration and thoughts. When I reflect, journal and work with my active imagination, it helps heal my wounds, turns my symptoms and failures into lessons, and aides me in discerning what my soul wants for my life. It does not save me from any of life’s difficulties or catastrophes. But, when I am suffering, it is there with me.
I have called this something the Self over the course of my writing. As an analyst, I have studied and worked with the concept of the Self for many years. I’ve seen the validity of this concept by noting how it works in my life and in the lives of people I counsel professionally. Today, I experience the Self very personally instead of viewing it from the distance of psychological theory. While I am not a theologian, I believe that my interactions with the Self are a true experience of feeling the love of the Divine.
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?”
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris