As I continue this series of reflections on my journey with my daughter and her illness, also our families’ journey, the meaning of the winter solstice lingers in my mind. Weeks ago night reached its zenith and daylight began to increase. Will that happen in our lives too? Have we reached that point? How do we reach that turning point? Surely it is archetypal, an eternal symbol of promise in the universe. Our fear of the dark is also archetypal; especially the fear of an unknown amount of suffering that may lie in front of us and the loss of a familiar, predictable world that will support our vision of a happy future. These fears, when dramatically fired become the genesis of what I called “soul pain” in my previous newsletter. This is the searing, deep pain that scares us into turning against ourselves; that causes us to cut ourselves off from the support of our inner depths and to see our inner lives as threatening rather than supporting.
In The Red Book (p. 274) Jung says, “When I comprehended my darkness, a truly magnificent night came over me and my dream plunged me into the depth of the millennia and from it my phoenix ascended.” In my journey into the darkness I’ve described, the darkness exerted a terrible disciplining on the tyranny of my expectations and especially on my longing to have power and control over the nature of what I can do. But, of course, this darkness is only a beginning. And, the archetypal process of transformation turns bitter and destructive if we try to sit numbly or dumbly through it. Without my full engagement, as Jacob wrestled for his life with the angel in the night, the archetypal journey toward the light, toward renewal, doesn’t begin. I must experience the darkness and awaken to it consciously. I must seek to deepen it and my consciousness of it. And, I must make radical sacrifices that fulfill the religious meanings of the word sacrifice, which is to make sacred and help us come closer to the Divine. Only my truest tears can be transformed into pearls and it is only from the fire and ashes of my life that a phoenix can emerge anew. The same is true for my daughter and our loved ones.
From Tears to Pearls
To be reborn the phoenix must be consumed in its nest of flames. Psychologically this image tells me that in the face of a shattering illness we must accept the reality of the radical sacrifices required of us in order to face life standing on our own two feet, and demanding meaning from it.
Slowly over decades of confronting myself and life, and through the veil of tormented tears, I have learned that I must sacrifice my greatest fear. That fear is the fear that if I accept my reality completely I will be over powered or defeated by it, or by despair and hopelessness. Again and again in one new circumstance after another I have been forced to learn and relearn that accepting the reality of my experiences is the only real way that I can find enough separation from them to be able to assume an attitude toward them. Paradoxically this acceptance and separation allows me to have compassion with myself—to “suffer with” myself. Through the sacrifice of my fear I can pass through a doorway that leads to receptivity and as I become more receptive to my reality I find another door that leads to the wellspring of life within me. Through this doorway I pass into a fiercer suffering that is linked to the whole of life and then instead of being crushed, the pain, though piercing becomes lighter. It is at this point that I reach the possibility of becoming a vessel through which new life can emerge even if I am sick and dying.
I must sacrifice another fear as well, and so must my daughter; and this is the fear of giving up my normal, systematic way of thinking, viewing and evaluating myself. And, along with this I must sacrifice the illusion that there is or ever was the possibility of a calm and happy life that works smoothly if we can figure out how to do it.
Our traditional view is to fight the darkness, not to accept it. We try to cheer ourselves up, have happy pleasant thoughts and to put on a positive attitude—to try to overcome the darkness and return to “normal.” We exhaust ourselves trying to marshal the heroic power to overcome our darkness and defeat it without realizing we are fighting ourselves and may be holding back the dark side of the transformative reality we need to face, and that our efforts are aborting our own rebirth. Tears of grief and tears of rage can be the stuff of future pearls for they can be great expressions of being alive. Denial, repression and shirking back from such pain leads to the deadness of depression, a surrender to helplessness, and frequently a deeper collapse into fear. Rage can be a rage against the pull to give up and slowly slip beneath the waves of life into a living death where we can no longer initiate anything.
Accepting the darkness is a radical change in our perspective and deepening it is even more radical. But, it is these radical changes in our perspective that release us to value accepting the dark and experiencing the full reality of our fear, pain and loss. And those experiences allow the other radical archetypal change to begin and proceed toward the birth of new light from the well of darkness.
For my daughter, or for any of us, acceptance doesn’t mean giving up treatment, surrendering to or embracing her illness. To long for life is to get the very best of medical care and to do everything we can to enhance our physical condition. Acceptance, however, will force us to face the loss of our old vision of life and the trust in a future we could count on and invest ourselves in. It also means we will be entering the dark canal of rebirth in the eternal creative pattern of life moving forward.
As a boy I remember coming into my room and finding my mother making my bed. This was a time when her cancer was progressing steadily through her body. As she was flapping the sheets I noticed the tears on her cheeks. I cried out, “Don’t worry, I’ll do it, let me do it.”
“No,” she responded, “I want to do it.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I won’t be able to do it much longer,” she answered. She had recognized the necessity of acceptance, and that she was changing. Included in these changes were the ways she expressed her love and interests. Going to ball games, school events, being president of the PTA and even making our beds, all of the ways she defined herself and found meaning were ending. Through her courage and wisdom we were all led to a deeper level of experience and meaning where presence was love and to be alive was the core value supporting this love.
This reflection brings me to another great sacrifice I must make in transformative situations—that of my values. My values are part of the structure that I define myself by and that have guided how I live. They were part of the source of my old dreams for myself, for my loved ones, my children, for my future and for a fulfilling life. In transformative situations they are no longer appropriate for my life. This doesn’t mean that I can simply abandon them; it means that my values must evolve and be transformed as I am. If I must learn to say “No” to people and reject them or if I must learn to be able to hurt people I love in order to serve a larger vision of life or myself, or if I must stop hiding my pain, illness and distress in order not to disturb people, then that is what I must do. In fact, once I have such awareness I will ultimately either do more harm to people or deny them their challenges to grow if I am not faithful to my awareness. If I allow my values to rigidify they will become another cross that I am nailed to. In my own tree of knowledge that I’ve worked so hard to nourish is the realization that a value system that is alive, that is transforming, leads to inner confrontations whose flames usher in experiences of depth and love beyond any I could have previously imagined.
Because I have a great desire to be fully alive, passion, courage and fear drive me to search actively into the experiences of my reality. Even in, or perhaps especially in my dark moments, I find that through this approach something inside of me begins to shift. I am no longer a victim and I am beginning to find my own way and the opportunity to meet resources that are deep in my soul—the ones that can slowly transform my spirit and give me the feeling that I have a center that will support me, ease my fear and bring a certain amount of peace with the realities of my life. I know this “inner friend” will not rescue me or help me become triumphant; in other words it will not miraculously cure me or save me from any aspect of the human condition. But, it will help me find healing, wholeness and a renewed love for myself and life. And, most of all it leads me to believe that there is a great kindness hidden in the darkness of the lives we all face. It is my experience of the Divine.
From this point on I am able to create a perspective that increases my potential for healing and enhances my capacity for life. This is my prayer for my daughter and for everyone. The darkness of illness, pain, suffering and the loss of our ordinary life takes us out of the conventional world and its goals and values. Once we’ve turned this corner we begin to see the world through our own eyes. The art of living and healing begins when what is seen becomes mixed with my depths, my soul. Then new ways of viewing myself in life are revealed and that is the beginning of the serious art of living. Through the creative power of this art the tears of my grief and rage become pearls. And, my prayers are answered.
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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Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris