Thursday, October 31, 2013

In Honor of Halloween...Day of the Dead...Dia de los Muertos

Ghosts and spirits have haunted the Western psyche since its beginning. Jung's writings demonstrate that Greek, Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance literature and theology are rich in examples of the ambivalent roles spirits of the dead have played in human experience. The same theme emerges throughout human history: the living struggle to make peace with the dead. In the words of Robert Romanyshyn, Ph.D. (2002), "the dead who haunt our dreams in search of release are like the ghosts who haunt our symptoms in search of their stories."

What is the significance of this realm between the living and the dead and why are the dead so intent upon getting our attention?

David Miller (2004) spoke to this in his book Hells and Holy Ghosts. According to Miller the "Holy Ghost" was systematically mistranslated in the King James Version of the Bible in order to reduce the number of references to ghosts. In the process, translators began to eclipse the realm between the living and the dead in theology and everyday religious experience; the in-between place had previously been inhabited by ghosts, dreams, and the Imaginal (Imaginal as defined by Henry Corbin who posits that there is a realm that exists beyond our ordinary three dimensional experience that is as real as this realm).

The reduction in the use of the Holy Ghost in the Bible, coupled with the emergence of Puritanism in England, Miller argues, led to a theological doctrine of other-wordliness that contained only god and the devil. The intermediate beings, ghosts, ancestral spirits, and the divine, were banished.

Organized Protestant religion exorcised these intermediate beings. No sooner had the ghost of the Holy Ghost been driven from organized Protestant religion, than it began to haunt the secular world in a remarkable proliferation of ghost stories. These intermediary beings refused to be banished and returned to the secular world. While the realm of intermediate beings was downgraded or displaced from Western  theology, it continued to flourish on the margins in folklore, alchemy, and literature, eventually finding its way in the twentieth century into the realm of depth psychology. Those who return speak to the importance of the role of death in depth psychology.

The dead return to awaken us and in this return they invite us to regard everything in life that we have passed by. The dead who return call us home. It is only in death that we are reminded that we have fallen into time from another world, a journey into birth which death reverses into a homecoming. The return of the dead causes us to stop, linger, and take a second look.

Jung believed that the soul of the dead attempts to attain in death the awareness it fails to achieve in life. From this perspective, the dead can be seen as people deeply interested in the final psychological results of a human life. In other words the dead who return may be the figures who seek the living in order to attain knowledge.

As the dead became more distinct to Jung, he began to give voice to the dead and referred to what he heard from them as "the voices of the Unanswered, Unresolved, and Unredeemed" (1969/1989). In this way, he suggests we have a responsibility to the dead. The questions and answers demands that our destiny requires for us to answer do not come only from the outside, but also, from these encounters with the dead.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Backward Glance

The Duino Elegies is, perhaps, Rilke's most famous poem. Filled with numinous figures like Angels and animals, lovers and children who die young, acrobats and wanderers, the figure that captures the essence of this poem, I believe, the one that appears at the end of the eighth elegy. It is the image of a man on a hill that overlooks his valley, the final hill that shows him his home for the last time.

Who is this person? It is each of us, the one who obviously has turned around the sake of a final glance. All of us know such moments, and we often live them with some passing sense of sorrow. Rilke's poem, however, burns the image of this moment into the soul. His poem turns this gesture into a poetic act through a simple question that he inserts into this turning.

"Who's turned us round like this, so that we always
 do what we may, retain the attitude
 of someone who is departing?"

To underscore the impact of this image-question, Rilke says that just like this man on the hill "will stop and linger, / we live our lives forever taking leave."

The eighth elegy is a hymn of mourning. There is a very strong feeling tone of lament for something we have lost along the way, not only in our personal lives, but also in our collective lives as human beings. One reads this elegy and hears a continuous sigh for what we have become, "spectators" who look at the world from a distance, who are never nestled within things long enough in order to look out from them. For us as spectators the world is a display, crowded with "empty, indifferent things, pseudo-things, dummy-life," as he says in a letter one year before his death.

In contrast with the spectator we have become, Rilke praises the animal within whom "there lies the weight and care of a great sadness." The curious thing about this phrase is that this sorrow of the animal is for us, as if the animal somehow knows our spectator condition and mirrors for us what we have lost. Thus Rilke says, "For that which often overwhelms us clings / to him as well,--a kind of memory / that what we're pressing after now was once / nearer and truer and attached to us / with infinite tenderness."

Compared to that time and place, a place that Rilke calls our "first home", and which I would call a landscape of the soul, that no-where world now-here, this time and place that is our second home where we are spectators "seems ambiguous and draughty".

In this elegy the backward glance turns us toward this original home, which the animal remembers for us and which we ourselves dimly recall. This other time and place is what beckons us, this calling of the world that once was but never has been, that no-where now-here, that soulscape which is not for the eyes of a spectator, that homeland of the heart.

Rilke's work and life bear continuous witness to the claim that we owe life a death, and that it is only in living life from the side of death that we most truly exist as human beings. For Rilke the awareness of death deepens love. While Rilke is eloquent about the difficulties of love, it remains for him our highest calling. He says "only from the side of it possible to do justice to love."

So who has the heart for this turning? Those who have risked the difficulties of loving in the face of loss. That is who we are with the man on the hill, lovers whose vision looks upon the world with the attitude of departing, lovers whose vision looks upon the real world with an attitude of departing, lovers who see things as if for the last time. If it is the dead who call us home, then it is the lovers who have risked the terrors of loving in the face of death whose hearts are attuned to those voices that solicit the backward glance.

(in rereading this I realized it might sound morbid to some people but its not. there is a life i'm leaving behind but not literally--just as there was a life i left behind when i got sick)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Orphan Part II

When the often tormented Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was in Paris, Picasso taught her a song, which she often sang for her lover and two-time husband, the painter  Diego Rivera, or for friends. It's called "El Huerfano" (The Orphan). The song portrays Frida's sense of loneliness, alienation, and despair. Her torment reaches deep into her soul, creating a void which was never healed and never filled. Her vivid yet, tormented paintings are perhaps her creative genius response to this black hole in her soul.

On a stone tablet at Bollingen (that I mentioned in the first post), Jung carved the following quotations from alchemical texts, although he actually writes that he "let the stone itself speak, as it were, in a Latin inscription:

I am an orphan, alone; nevertheless I am found everywhere. I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for everyone, yet I am not touched by the cycles of aeons (p. 277 MDR).
The acquisition of the stone itself is an interesting and curious story. Jung had ordered, with specific measurements, stones from a local quarry to build a wall that was to enclose the garden by the Tower. When the stones arrived, the cornerstone was all wrong-it was a much larger square block than the triangular stone requested-and it was about to be returned but when Jung saw the stone, he knew it belonged to him, and he made a carved monument out of it to express what the Tower meant to him.

Initially the stone was to him the lapis, the Philosopher's Stone (that is, an image of the Self), the substantive symbol that marks paradoxically both the beginning and goal of the work on alchemy, that which is despised and rejected, yet valued above all things by the wise. According to some alchemical traditions (Jung, 1970b), this lapis is called "the orphan" both  on account of its uniqueness-"it was never seen elsewhere"--and because the "orphan" was the name of a precious stone or gem...and sometimes shone in the night, "but nowadays it does not shine (any more) in the darkness".  Perhaps the stone brings distant echoes of Orpheus' creative realm and Dionysus's underworld mysteries, no longer clearly heard.

There is also a reference to the homeless orphan who is slain at the beginning of the work for the purpose of transformation (post on alchemy to come). Other associative images elucidated by Jung are "widow", "son of the widow," and "dropsical or paralyzed woman", images of parting, sorrow, and separation, both literal and symbolic, and a kind of ruthless rootedness to the spot, required for realizing the sources of support when it appears we have none.

We might say that the cornerstone of our uniqueness and our fate is that which tends to be despised and rejected, either by ourselves or our culture. Or, the realization of our being depends on precisely that which we might overlook, the thing that looks all wrong, that doesn't, as it were, measure up, or feel at home, the part that refuses to be domesticated.

The experience of being abandoned, of feeling ourselves lost, bereft, belonging to no one-not even to ourselves, to fall into that place where nothing makes sense, and everything we thought we could depend on has disintegrated or disappeared-be it person or belief system or collective institution, is that necessary landscape that situates our fate and our destiny, not as the son or daughter of particular parents in a particular historical or cultural context, but not as that creature, both human and divine, yet neither mortal nor immortal-the orphan-has chose incarnation here, in this body, in response to the Call, the call being creations's longing to fulfill its own mystery-unknown even perhaps to itself, unknown to myself.

Until we become traitors to the self that we know, until we are betrayed by all that is familiar, we do not come across this destiny of ours. Transformation brings us to this moment of betrayal. It brings us to this moment of being able to say no to the person we thought we were, to the idea of ourselves rather than who we actually are, to the provisional life we have led, to what we thought we were devoted to. The process of transformation brings us to our origins-not the historical or chronological origins of our most recent incarnational history but to the origins of soul in that dark landscape where the gem of our fate no longer shines in the night, where we know we are not living authentically, where we must let go of the illusion that our past is responsible for who we are, and where we are finally brought to our knees in complete surrender into our destiny...

The presence of the orphan assures us that those landscapes so easily overlooked and lost are the ones most valued by the soul, by the cosmos, by those vibrations that most call to us from the stars. Soul thrives on failure, failure of the ego's illusions about itself. Until we come to wobbly ground, until we are deprived of all the familiar sources of support, we will not find what truly sustains us. There comes a time when we must be willing to meet what we cannot be sure of, by anyone or anything, and still embrace it, wholly, while knowing that at any moment, it might betray us, or we might betray it. We have to be willing to fail, and fail completely, for the sake of soul...