Reflections 6
The Incarnation and the Mystery of Suffering



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"Face to Face" 1971,
Oil on board, 36"x48" © Robin Baring

 

1
Woman as Custodian of Life
by Anne Baring
2
Spirit and Stardust
by Congressman Dennis Kucinich
3
Gaia - Myth and Science
by Jules Cashford
4
Devastating the Earth
by Jane Goodall
5
A New Image of God
by Anne Baring
6
The Incarnation and the Mystery of Suffering
by Joy Ryan-Bloore
- this page
7
The Miracle of Death
by Betty C. Kovács
8
The Survival of the Soul
by Anne Baring
9
Near Death Experience
by Mellen-Thomas Benedict
10
Alchemy: The Light of Darkness
by Paul Levy
11
Dreams: Messages of the Soul
by Anne Baring
12
Animals in Dreams
by Anne Baring

 


The Incarnation
and the
Mystery of Suffering

Reflections for a Workshop
by
Joy Ryan-Bloore

Jung Society – Melbourne - Saturday 18th December 2006


The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, -
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?    -   W.B.Yeats


The story of Christmas is not only for children! Buried in its symbols is an archetypal journey of psychological transformation which challenges us to enter into a radical journey of inner change. Christmas, and the events leading up to it, invite a person to move from a state of unconscious and non-reflective living, to a place of total surrender, of receptivity, there to be a willing vessel in which a deeper aspect of their personality can be born. ‘The individual ego,’ Jung says, ‘is the stable in which the Christ-child is born” (Remark attributed to Jung – quoted by Edinger in The Christian Archetype – Inner City Books – P.29) At the same time it describes a parallel process in which a person participates in the transformation of what Jung calls the God-image in the human psyche. “What is individuation for humanity is incarnation for God”. (CW8: 233) In religious language the “birth of God in the soul” (Eckhart). In psychological terms the encounter of the ego with the Self. Only from the conversion resulting from this painful and demanding inner experience are we in a position to contribute to the transformation of our relationships, our country and the planet.

If we deny this truth that Christmas puts before us; that all humanity is ‘a womb in which the deity itself will be born’ (Jung, C.G: Nietsche’s Zarathustra: Lecture V, 3 June 1936 P.981) we will inevitably live it out through our projections. This is what these paradoxical words of Meister Eckhart’s were describing when he said:

“It is a higher state for God to be in the soul than for the soul to be in God. The soul is not blissful because she is in God, she is blissful because God is in her. Rely upon it, God himself is blissful in the soul”. (Meister Eckhart – Trans. Evans P157 – quoted by Jung in CW6: 418)

That is to say, if we project God outside into the metaphysical heavens; onto people, institutions or causes, our souls will not be ‘blissful’ until the projection is withdrawn and God is in our souls and not outside. And what is this state of ‘bliss’ of which Eckhart speaks? It is a ‘peak moment’ in one’s life – some might describe it as a mystical experience. An awareness of being united with something, ‘Someone’ greater than oneself. However, that ‘moment’ is not the whole journey: nor should we want it to continue unendingly, or expect it to be so. It is the conscious embodiment of what was experienced ‘in the moment’ that is the work. It is the process of bringing to consciousness that which was encountered, and living it in the world. Gradually we become aware that the divine presence is within us; that it is the foundation and source of our being through Whom and in Whom we are connected to all creation.

In his essay The Type Problem in Poetry Jung discusses this extensively and although I have not got time to go into it in depth it is well-worth reading. He begins: “We must now ask ourselves, whence comes this ‘blissful’ feeling, this ecstasy of love?’ (CW6: 422) and the following is one of his many reflections:

“For so long as God, the highest value, is not in the soul, it is somewhere outside. God must be withdrawn from objects and brought into the soul, and this is a ‘higher state’ in which God himself is ‘blissful’. Psychologically this means that when the libido is invested in God, ie. the surplus value that has been projected, is recognized as a projection, the object loses its overpowering significance, and the surplus value consequently accrues to the individual giving rise to a feeling of intense vitality, a new potential. God, life at its most intense, then resides in the soul, in the unconscious. … The supreme value has shifted and is now found inside and not outside:”.(CW6: 421)

In other words, if we don’t find and acknowledge the divine presence within ourselves, we project it outside. The birth of Christ ushered a new God-image into human consciousness: a God of Love. But as we have already seen the divine child was threatened by the dark side – personified by Herod. This suggests that even though the dark side was acknowledged, it was separate. Outside the stable. Not integrated. So although the Christian God-image is about goodness and love, we also know from the Old Testament, especially from the Book of Job - that God has a ‘dark side’. In psychological terms this means that the Self is made up of the opposites. Not only is the human psyche the stable in which the divine child is born, it also houses a Herod! Our task is not only to become conscious of the divine child, but also of its opposite. Which takes us into the problem of the shadow, evil and suffering. So what has happened to the ‘dark side’? Of what does it consist? It still remains unconscious and un-integrated [and therefore projected] with devastating consequences as we shall see. It is Jung’s controversial and often rejected insight, that at this point in the evolution of human consciousness we are faced with the task of incarnating the ‘dark side of the Self’. To become the vessel in which what was necessarily split off in the service of consciousness, can and must now be embodied in the service of a further stage in consciousness. For …

“ … on closer examination of creation, Jung found that only the spirit, the male and figures such as the Christ figure were good. And so he asked where is the missing fourth, so evident in creation and strangely absent in creation’s alleged source, namely, matter, the feminine and Satan” (CW11: 243, 258, 259 - (Referred to by John Dourly in his paper “Foundational Elements of a Jungian Spirituality” P.14 – AGAP Forum Zurich 17 July 2006)

So the dark side is Jung’s missing ‘fourth’ - matter, the feminine, and evil.
The return of these three elements – lived unconsciously through projection – is the wakened ‘nightmare’ of Yeats’ prophetic poem ‘The Second Coming’ with which I began our reflections. The ‘rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born’ is the end-result of these projections. The feminine, matter and evil are the ‘vexed nightmare’ which has been excluded - ‘rocked through twenty centuries of stony sleep’, which is finally waking up and throwing the world into chaos. ‘These lost or split off elements should not be confused or identified with each other but understood as the long regressed aspects of the deep unconscious which are calling for integration with the conscious part of the psyche. If they are not integrated they will continue to throw the world into chaos.’(In conversation with Anne Baring)

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely, Yeats’ concludes, ‘some revelation is at hand; surely the Second Coming is at hand?’ In other words the chaos we are witnessing in the world is the birth pangs of the dark side of the Self, striving to incarnate – bringing to consciousness that which has previously been excluded.

"One way or another” Edinger said, “the world is going to be made a single, whole entity. It will be unified either in mutual mass destruction or by means of mutual human consciousness. If a sufficient number of individuals can have the experience of the coming of the Self – i.e. the reconciliation of the opposites within their own psyches - as an individual, inner experience, we may just possibly be spared the worst features of its external manifestation". (Edward Edinger P.174 Archetype of the Apocalypse)

Which brings me to the climate of war and terrorism by which we are being currently afflicted. While I was in Zurich at the AGAP Forum in July I was fortunate to listen to a paper presented by John Dourley, a Catholic priest, Jungian analyst and long-time mentor and friend. When commenting on the current crisis in the Middle East he said:

“The foundations for a now much needed tolerance between communities bonded by diverse manifestations of the Self and turned against each other by these very manifestations (of the self), lies in Jung’s very clear statement. ‘Hence in its scientific usage the term ‘Self’ refers neither to Christ nor to the Buddha but to the totality of the figures that are its equivalent, and each of these figures is a symbol of the Self.’” (CW12:20 – quoted by John Dourly in his paper “Foundational Elements of a Jungian Spirituality” P.8-9 – AGAP Forum Zurich 17 July 2006)

Dourley rather humorously, but cryptically described the major players in the current crisis as “the Three Divine Gentleman currently populating the monotheistic heavens: Yahweh, God the Father with Trinitarian associates, and Allah”! (ibid John P. Dourley P.4) These ‘diverse manifestations of the Self turned against each other’ (ibid) are at the heart of the present conflict; because at the centre of monotheism there is a concealed dualism – the ‘good’ God and the ‘evil’ Satan. The situation has escalated to dangerous proportions because the need for supremacy inevitably means the projection of the collective shadow of each. In their efforts to declare their supremacy and to define the Oneness of God these ‘three divine gentlemen’ deny the dark side of the divinity. Instead of taking responsibility for integrating it in themselves, (the only place where integration can happen!) they and their followers have a tendency to demonize their opponents by projecting the Satanic shadow on to the opposition.

In other words, instead of acknowledging the evil within, they project it on to the other and then aim to obliterate them. These projections, combined with the potential availability of nuclear weapons with which to enforce them, have the capacity to lead us all into the ‘world conflagration’ Jung warned about, and to which we seem a step closer, courtesy of North Korea. The ‘axis of evil’ exists all right. Those quickest to identify it are part of it!

Dourley then went on to say that the only way humanity can be free of this threat is if each of the ‘three divine gentlemen’ withdraws their respective shadows! (Perhaps they need some analysis)!

“For Jung, humanity’s current religious maturation lies in the conscious recall of the Gods to their origin in the unconscious and to the subsequent unmediated dialogue with them there. Jung writes: But since the development of consciousness requires the withdrawal of all projections we can lay our hands on, it is not possible to maintain any non-psychological doctrine about the gods. If the historical process of world de-spiritualization continues as hitherto, then everything of a divine or daemonic character outside us must return to the psyche, to the inside of the unknown man, whence it apparently originated’ (CW11:141) (DourleyP.5-6 ibid)

He then discussed the positive benefits arising from the withdrawal of these dangerous projections. If each religion saw their common origin in the psyche, the world would be a safer place. There would be no need for any religion to consider itself superior to any other, but each would see itself and the others as ‘valued variants of the family of monotheistic Gods’.(ibid John Dourley) In other words, there is more than one God-image and hopefully we will all evolve beyond this previously ‘much needed monotheistic moment’ towards something like Teilhard de Chardin’s cosmic vision:

“We are all of us together carried in the one world-womb; yet each of us is our own little microcosm in which the Incarnation is wrought independently with degrees of intensity and shades that are incommunicable”. (Hymn of the Universe – The Mass on the World, P.28: Fontana 1970)

The same applies to ‘political monotheisms’. Relinquishing the claim to be the ‘one and only God’ by both religious faiths and political ideologies would free each of them, and their adherents, from the need to ‘convert or kill each other’. (Dourley ibid) This would create the tolerance and stability that the world so desperately needs. The projection of the collective shadow by the three monotheistic religions and competing political ideologies is the most crucial issue facing our planet today. All else depends on whether or not we resolve this one. Jung was acutely aware of all this in 1957. When asked a question about how the devil manifested itself he replied:

“The devil nowadays is something quite frightful. If you look at our situation you just cannot see where it will end. Things will go on like this as if by force. All the divine powers in creation are gradually being placed in man’s hands. Through nuclear fission something tremendous has happened, tremendous power has been given to man. … The forces that hold the fabric of the world together have got into the hands of man, … God’s powers have passed into our hands, our fallible human hands. The consequences are inconceivable. The powers themselves are not evil, but in the hands of man they are an appalling danger – in evil hands. Who says that the evil in the world we live in, that is right in front of us, is not real! Evil is terrible real for each and every individual. If you regard the principle of evil as a reality you can just as well call it the devil.” CW10:879

Which brings me back to ‘Silent Night’ and the ‘7o’clock News! And the chaos in our world as we approach this Christmas. What has all this got to do with the birth of Christ? And what has it got to do with me? How do the insights of Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, and mystics like Meister Eckhart and Rumi assist each of us to live our daily lives with a deeper sense of meaning? Let’s just pause for minute and reflect on what sort of environment most of us live in, an environment which increasingly makes it difficult to address the issues I have just outlined. We live in a 24/7 society where there is little relief from noise and artificial light; where success (at any price), political correctness, economic rationalism, professional sport and various breeds of fundamentalism are the new “gods” and where the internet, emails and mobile phones demand that we be instantly accessible. A state I recently heard described as “continuous partial attention!” Consequently there is no room or time for those qualities which foster the life of the soul: quietude, darkness, silence and rest. No time to remember our dreams and so perhaps find out what’s really going on! Our attitudes and values are increasingly shaped by reason and expediency, with little space for the heart. As I have already said there is an over-emphasis on rational values to the exclusion of Eros and the feminine values of the soul. If we are to escape physical and emotional breakdown; or the despair of meaninglessness and its shadow, spiritual regression; this imbalance needs to be addressed. What can we do to ‘tip the scales?’ towards world peace and a life-giving way of relating to each other and the planet, instead of tipping the scales towards an unthinkable catastrophe? The answer lies in places to which most of us would rather not go. We need to look inwards to the soul where the conception of the divine child takes place. The first task is to withdraw our own projections, embrace our shadows and accept the inevitable suffering which occurs when we do. This involves looking at how we relate to the ‘dark side’; (i.e. the feminine, matter and evil) and how we project it outside ourselves. How do we see this happening today and how are these projections supported and encouraged by the collective?

Firstly, despite the positive advances coming from the women’s movement over the last 50 years, the feminine principle is still disregarded for the most part, and continues to be lived out through projections by both men and women. A few examples: by men when they search for the ‘perfect woman’, while failing to see the actual woman in front of them; and whenever the mind is valued over the instincts, the rational over the irrational. When a man lives like this he is in danger of losing touch with his soul and his feelings and living his life mainly out of his head. If a man’s link with the feminine is solely through a positive projection on a woman, then when the projection dissolves, as it inevitably will, he is faced with two options. Either he leaves the first woman, and looks for another one to carry his projection, or he faces the task of finding within, what he projected outside.

Paradoxically, women too can deny the feminine by similarly pursuing the image of the ‘perfect woman’ through enslavement to such things as the cosmetic and fashion industries. I don’t know whether you have it over here, but out of curiosity I watched an ‘extreme make-over’ programme on New Zealand television called “Ten Years Younger in Ten Days”. By the end of the programme I felt quite sick! But the more dangerous projection is the increasing number of women who are bound by a more subtle form of slavery than ever our ancestors were: those who over-rate the masculine principle to the exclusion of their essential feminine nature; and who like their male counterparts, glorify the pursuits of power, ambition and the mind over Eros, love, compassion, relatedness, care for the home, the young and elderly etc.

As a result, I feel there is an increasing link between this more modern rejection of the feminine and the increasing trivialization and devaluation of life in all its forms and stages. I also feel this collective malaise contributes to the despair felt by increasing numbers of young people who try to find a way back to themselves through eating disorders, sexual or drug-induced encounters, or who tragically, seek a final solution through suicide. I vividly recall the story of a young student who took her own life by jumping from the top story of her school to the ground below. I remember thinking at the time what a graphic outer symbol of her inner despair. She was trying to come down from the masculine heights, to the ground of her own feminine nature. All these situations are in some way connected to an ignorance of the truth which the Christmas story proclaims; namely that each human person at each stage of their life is ‘a stable in which a divine child rests.’ Each human person has a right to live in an inner and outer environment in which the truths of their essential selves can be expressed and developed, without pressure from the collective to be other than who they are destined to become.

The second repressed dimension of the ‘dark side’ is matter and the instinctual life. Matter is projected onto, and sought in materialism, through the acquisition of goods and money as evidenced by thousands of frenzied shoppers who descend on numerous shopping malls proliferating our cities, looking for their daily ‘fix’. And at a global level, despite an increasing groundswell of concern, the resources of the planet are still being exploited without thought for the long-term ecological consequences and potential disasters such attitudes produce. Many see this as the most crucial issue facing our planet.

While I was writing, the long awaited report by the British economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, was released. It seems that the only motive which will finally unite the world to do something, is the threat of a global economic disaster to the tune of an imaginable sum of money – ten trillion dollars!! If people’s pockets are going to be hit, they sit up and take notice! Money, or lack of it talks!! But I suppose any motive which brings about the much needed wake-up call is valid if it brings about the rescue of the planet. The neglect of the earth on which we depend is actually a massive rejection of the feminine. No wonder mother earth is lashing out with devastating floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and volatile weather patterns.

Similarly, when we repress our instincts they begin to affect us negatively. The result is sickness, and in order to escape it, there is an increasing demand for drugs and other ‘highs’ in order to flee from the demands of the body. If we paid attention to our instincts – really listened to our bodies, there would not be so much illness around. We would be more in tune with what we actually need, and instead of building enormous concrete jungles in which to live and work, our cities would reflect and sustain a more conscious way of living. However, we continue to place enormous demands on our fragile selves and create structures which exploit the environment in order to produce more profits. Instead of serving the material world, we abuse it. Consequently the excluded energies of the feminine and matter are projected onto technology, and all it can offer; popularity and image, money and consumerism; power and ambition, drugs and non-stop entertainment; promiscuous behaviour and the cult of the ‘young and the beautiful’. These are the new ‘gods’ because ‘God’ is dead – that is to say the old values do not hold the collective together any more, but without an appropriate container to hold these unconscious energies, they get projected outside onto something else and that something takes on the status of a ‘god’. This is the dangerous transition to which I referred last evening.

Anne Baring, a retired Jungian Analyst living in London, describes how she sees the recovery of the feminine principle and what it is we are struggling to give birth to, in these beautiful words:

“The recovery of the feminine principle may be compared to the excavation of a precious treasure. A new image of spirit as the totality of all that is, has begun to restore nature, matter and the body to the realm of the sacred. It is giving woman a voice and a value and a sacred image of herself. It is giving man a new image of himself as protector and preserver of life, not in the old warrior role but in a new role as advocate and nurturer of spiritual values which transcend the desire for power and self-aggrandisement”. (from the Reflections section of her website: www.annebaring.com Woman as Custodian of Life)

The third repressed dimension of the ‘dark side’ is evil. Evil is first projected on to the ‘other’ and then rejected in the ‘other’ as evidenced by the increasing levels of violence in our homes and in our cities. What Jung referred to as “the dark chaos of subjectivism” CW10: 584. ‘Projecting ‘evil’ onto others, is a cheap and lazy solution to the problem of the personal shadow and an escape from the painful responsibility of doing our own work.’ (Allan Bloore). At a collective level, and more frighteningly, the projection of evil - evident in the ‘holy wars’ and accompanying acts of terrorism - is a very dark side of the Self breaking into consciousness.
And as Jung reminds us “we have not yet discovered in this darkness what it is that could hold humanity together and give expression to our psychic wholeness”. (Cf CW10: 584)

So instead of losing ‘the life-preserving myth of the inner person’ CW10: 586, by projecting our shadows, Simon and Garfunkel invite us to avoid ‘this catastrophe’ by finding a meaningful link between the birth of the divine child and the personal and international tragedies in which we are all embroiled. While ‘Silent Night’ is being played, numerous battles are being reported in the background and they are only solved if each individual withdraws their projections and battles with the shadow in their own souls. The new development that Christmas symbolizes, comes from the resolution of these inner conflicts which is every individual’s indispensable contribution to the collective struggle – and therefore to the harmony of the whole. Their struggle, their effort then becomes “the makeweight that can tip the scales.” CW10: 586. Because if we meditate more deeply on the Christmas symbols we will realize that the truths they proclaim are a far cry from what the collective values. When we begin to acknowledge our shadows and live more consciously, we will feel increasingly isolated from all the outer trappings which the world identifies as success. Instead we might find ourselves in the dark, next to a stable, sharing it with animals and the poorest of the poor and in possession of the deepest truth of our human life. It might demand ‘a radical simplicity, costing us no less than everything’. (T.S Eliot – Four Quartets)

The Nativity Scene
At this point, I would like to contemplate more closely the traditional Nativity Scene. What do we see? As well as a much-loved and familiar symbol of Christmas for millions of people, it symbolizes the nature and purpose of our human lives. The birth of Christ occurred in the Northern Hemisphere and tradition states that it happened at midnight at the winter solstice. The darkest and coldest point of Winter. Night-time and darkness are both symbols of the unconscious and of the feminine. They therefore symbolize an inner event. And so the birth of Christ, and the birth of the divine child within us, has nothing to do with the bright sunlight of reason and consciousness. For those of us who live “down-under” in the Southern Hemisphere, and whose environment does not reflect the symbolic conditions of Christmas, there is a greater challenge. The fact that we might celebrate Christmas on the beach, among sand, sun and water: “barbies and beer on hand”; is perhaps an even greater incentive to find the deeper meaning within our own souls! If we look closely at the image we see it is a series of opposites in harmony, for the Christmas Nativity is a symbol of human wholeness and of the divine child, the new development growing in the human psyche.

Angels and Shepherds
Angels announce the good news to shepherds. Just as the angels are messengers of the spiritual world, so the shepherds are those who nurture and care for the instinctual world. The shepherds ‘lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night’ Luke 2:9 In dreams the ‘field’ is often a symbol for the soul.

The Inn and the Stable
The myth tells us that there was ‘no room for Mary and Joseph in the Inn” – Luke 2:8 and so the birth takes place in a stable – in a place where animals are fed and sheltered. The solution to the world’s conflicts will not be found in the White House, but more likely in Guantanomo Bay; not in a five-star hotel overlooking Sydney Harbour, but in a refugee camp. Likewise the journey towards deeper consciousness will not occur while we are still identified with the collective and its values. The solution, the new level of consciousness will be ‘counter-cultural’ and will happen in the inner sanctuary of our souls far away from the group. If we expect people to understand what might be happening to us, just look at what happened to Joseph and Mary. It is a lonely and isolating journey and fraught with danger. But, as Edward Edinger points out ‘birth among the animals signifies that the incarnation of the divine presence in a human being, the new development, ‘the coming of the Self; is an instinctual process, a part of living nature rooted in the biology of our being’. (P.34 The Christian Archetype) In other words, what is happening to us is a natural stage in our human development.

Mary and Joseph
At the centre of the Nativity is Mary. In her person she combines the opposites of Virgin and Mother. She symbolizes the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess, the Source of all, and in her arms lies a divine child - symbol of the eternal union of God and humanity miraculously conceived through the power of the Spirit. Jesus, is the divine child whom consciousness didn’t create. It is a miracle – that is it comes from the unconscious. Jung comments:

‘The coming of the Saviour signified a union of the opposites (divine and human; spirit and matter) and since it was of an irrational nature, the new guiding principle appeared in a miraculous form”. CW6:441-42 Joseph symbolizes the role of consciousness. He is the foster-father whose task is to protect the divine child; to foster the new life. Joseph is the man of dreams who faithfully responds to them. He could therefore be seen as an image of the ego in right relationship to the Source, to Mary. His is a role of service, not of power. It is not his child. It is God’s child. In a man’s dream he could represent the dreamer; in a woman’s dream the ‘inner man’– the animus – whose roles are to listen to the unconscious and foster the new development.

Three Kings from the East, King Herod and the New King - Jesus
The Three Kings, the wise men from the East, symbolize the old dispensation. The old Kings give way to the new dispensation, the new level of consciousness, symbolized by the new King. Jesus. They come to worship him and offer him three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The first two gifts represent and acknowledge his kingly, divine status; the third is prophetic and points to the path of suffering that this particular King will tread. But the divine child in this apparently benign scene is in danger from dark side of the old dispensation. King Herod. And so we are faced with the problem of evil. For outside the stable, destructive forces are assembling.

Light and Darkness
In all great myths, the birth of the hero or divine child is always accompanied by threats to its life; by a negative reaction from the status quo.
The ruling psychic authority, symbolized by the outer King Herod, is fearful of being superceded by the new inner authority – i.e. by the divine child. Out of this state of mind comes the Massacre of the Innocents. But once again Joseph has a dream:

“After the three wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him’. So Joseph got up, and taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

Joseph, Mary and the child are safe. But because Herod’s evil intentions have been thwarted, there is a terrible price pay. By the most vulnerable. Innocent children. For we read:

“Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the Three Kings, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under …

It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled: ‘a voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loudly lamenting: it was Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they were no more” (Matthew 2:16-18)

A price which continues to be paid by parents and innocent children all over our world. Thus the new development at both a collective and personal level is always in mortal danger. Which brings us to the mystery of suffering and how it is an integral part of the Incarnation. As I already suggested last night, I feel that the Incarnation is at the heart of Jung’s philosophy and is intimately linked to the experience of suffering. In the latter years of his life Jung grappled with this problem in a letter he wrote to the Rev. David Cox in September 1957.

He concludes his letter to Cox with an apology for the length of this exposition – as do I! But I think it would be good if we took some time to discuss aspects of this, as it is the key to whole mystery of the Incarnation and to the symbols embedded in the Christmas Story. (See Appendix – Jung’s reply to David Cox - CW18:1660-1662

Alongside John Dourley and Edward Edinger, another helpful commentator on Jung’s insights about incarnation, is Lionel Corbett. After exploring the history of Incarnation myths - beginning with the incarnation of the sun god Ra by the Egyptian Pharoahs and ending with the birth of Christ - he says:

“Psychologically speaking, incarnation means that some aspect or fragment of the Self has manifested itself within an empirical personality which is circumscribed by a body” P.129 The Religious Function of the Psyche

He then goes on to quote Martin Buber in order to illustrate how this psychological insight would be expressed theologically:

“’The world in which you live affords you that association with God, which will redeem you and whatever aspects of the divine you have been entrusted with’.

Corbett also observes that:

‘Since so many mythologies imply that incarnation is linked with suffering, it seems that the union of spirit and matter is inevitably seen to cause difficulty’. (ibid)

He further develops this theme and says:

“… our emotional suffering always contains an element of the divine. The archetype at the centre of (our) complex, no matter how painful, is this element, (the divine); so there is no escape from the numinosum at the core of our difficulty. This is why the Self images which appear to us, always contain elements of our deepest needs and fears. If the divine is never further away than our suffering, then our suffering becomes the beginning of our spirituality. Any attempt to develop spiritual techniques that do not penetrate and understand suffering, run the risk of avoiding the sacred itself.” P.51

In these words he echoes Jung whose meditation on the central symbol of Christianity brought him to this psychological insight:

“Through the Christ-symbol, men and women can get to know the real meaning of their suffering: they are on the way towards realising their wholeness. As a result of the integration of conscious and unconscious, their ego enters the "divine" realm, where it participates in "God's suffering". The cause of the suffering is in both cases the same, namely "incarnation", which on the human level appears as "individuation". ... CW8:233

Everything I have said to date can be summed up by this quotation. Chaos and suffering always precede the birth of something new in both the individual and the collective. ‘But what does all this look like in real life?’ you might say. Let me speak to this from a personal experience: Each time I am asked to present like this, it brings a painful gift. A gift: because by the end of my preparation I usually have written and sweated my way into some new insight which assists my personal journey (and therefore hopefully yours) and ‘painful’ because there is always a price. And this experience is directly related to the Christmas story because, as we have already seen, hidden behind the somewhat benign images of the birth of Christ, is a painful, dangerous process. This time was no exception.

Personal
Some months ago I started to prepare these presentations by setting aside a block of time. My husband needed to visit his family so I was looking forward to having four uninterrupted days! The night before he left, my emotional Achilles heel was activated! Abandonment. Despite all the work I have done over the years, being left alone can still trigger an autonomous complex and I feel I am being over-taken by irrational fears compounded by a depression which is incredibly hard to shake off! It has its roots in the near death of my mother while giving birth to my brother when I was about two and a half - and probably to being left in hospital at age 5 after having my tonsils out – we lived about a hundred miles away from the hospital and there were three other young children, including a new baby to be attended to as well! That’s the personal history of this complex which has affected me over the years. It’s OK if I go away! But not if someone leaves me! Allan is not a traveller so when I shared this old abandonment complex with him he just said: “Well, it’s just as well I’m a usually a ‘stay-at-home’ then isn’t it!!! My answer was a mixture of gratitude and guilt!! So, after he left, instead of writing as I had planned; I began to do for myself what I spend a lot of my life encouraging others to do! Being with the process!! Breathing into the fears and allowing the old terrors and the inevitable tears to flow until I reached a place of calm. Which still didn’t last very long. All this time I am thinking. But I am supposed to be writing for Melbourne! What cruel joke is going on here! How can I possibly write when I feel so depressed, and immobilized! So I wandered about our property not being able to focus on anything much. Feeling a hypocrite. After all I was supposed to be a Jungian Analyst – and here I was reduced to a quivering mess!! And so on and so forth. Thank God for Television!

So Friday got wasted! At least that’s what I thought. And by the way, my computer decided to play up just as I was going to write anyway but was miraculously restored to me by Friday afternoon.

I woke on Saturday morning still feeling depressed so I decided to go to the Cathedral for an early morning Mass. While waiting for Mass to begin I began to reflect on Corbett’s words which I have already shared with you. “That our emotional suffering always contains an element of the divine”. And so I asked myself the question: ‘If I feel abandoned, what aspect of God – of the Self within me also feels abandoned? And what could cause that?’ Straight away the insight flashed into my mind. ‘I’m the one who is doing the abandoning! God feels abandoned by me! And perhaps my feelings of abandonment are as intense as they are, because I am feeling, what God is feeling as well as my own!!’ At that precise moment, something lifted. Something cleared and my energy returned.

In religious language we abandon God. Psychologically we abandon the Self by our failure to give time and energy to the inner life. By our failure to be in an ongoing relationship with our interior. Then when God – when the Self - feels abandoned by us it afflicts us with its suffering. For as Corbett said, at the core of every complex is an element of the divine. And this is what I think Jung meant when he said “The cause of the suffering is in both cases the same, namely "incarnation", which on the human level appears as "individuation". CW8:233

So a person can be afflicted by a situation in childhood which did cause intense suffering or fear, such as I have shared with you.

But that childhood experience can become the gateway to the experience of the divine presence, both negatively and positively, through the very wound itself. It was not enough for me to dwell on the question of feeling abandoned. I needed to turn the question around and ask ‘Who or What was I abandoning’ and Who or What was feeling abandoned by me as a result? I’d also been warned through two dreams and a recent illness about being more contemplative.

In the fortnight before I began to write this paper, I was struck down by a severe virus which attacked my balance. I couldn’t walk without assistance for a few days and the room appeared to spin out of control whenever I opened my eyes. In the middle of this viral assault a dream indicated that I had indeed been under attack:

In the dream a squadron of fighter jets had appeared while I was in what seemed to be the village of Einsedeln, home to the Black Madonna at the centre of which is a large Benedictine Monastery – home to around 120 Benedictine monks. The jets had appeared out of nowhere and, flying to within a metre off the ground, appeared to be going to crash. Instead they started to fly vertically up and down what looked the frontage of a series of buildings or shops. It was as if they were marking them out. Having done that the planes departed and a group of soldiers appeared and pushed down the designated walls. Flattening them, and what was behind them, to the ground.

At that precise moment a long line of about 120 Cistercian monks dressed in white habits began to wind their way through the distressed villagers as if to bring them calm and peace as a direct response to the aerial assault. At the end of the line of monks a young woman walked. In the dream I joined the line of monks, walking behind the young woman in the precise rhythm characteristic of the monks of Einseidlen when they come down from the sanctuary each evening to sing the Salve Regina at the Shrine of the Black Madonna.
Then from nowhere a woman produced a new white habit made for the Abbot – the habit looked extremely feminine. At the end of the dream the Abbot appeared to write a letter to the aggressors saying “if you must destroy, take us instead of the villagers”.

I woke up knowing that the severe illness that had afflicted me was not only caused by a virus. The dream had told me something else about why it had happened, to which I needed to listen. It was not lost on me that I had been literally “flattened” and that I could do nothing else but be “still”. The Abbot in the dream was known to me in real life and is in charge of the Cistercian Monastery in Kopua, New Zealand – a place I often return to in order to take some time out. Initially the dream casts the fighter jets as aggressors. But were they? Or was their purpose to simply flatten the outer environment, symbolized by what looked like the frontage of buildings in the village, in order to bring the monks out of their monastery and into the market-place. And if I didn’t listen to that call the fighter jets would perhaps return and be more destructive until such time as I got the message! Was the dream a deep call to join the contemplatives? For a young woman – that is some aspect of my shadow - was already attached to them. The dream had a similar theme to a short fragment I had dreamt just before I left Zurich to come home.

In the dream I saw a large black rectangular sheet of paper which seemed to be divided into six equal sections. In each of the six sections the word ‘contemplation” was written several times, in white or silver, but none of the sections was completed. The task seemed to be to fill each of them with the word “contemplation”. It seems perhaps that I had not got the message. So it was repeated – this time more graphically – I got physically sick.

I was in danger of neglecting the inner, contemplative task and I was being reminded, both somatically and through my dreams, that it was becoming more urgent that I do something about it. If I failed to take notice the unconscious could afflict me even more aggressively. In other words I could get really sick. These two dreams came back to me while I was reflecting at Mass on my abandonment complex. I think everything was connected. For as soon as I made the connection I started to write. And perhaps I was also being told to write from my own experience of giving birth to the divine and not solely from that of Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, Corbett or anyone else’s experience.

Later, when I was sharing with a Jungian colleague we realised that the dream might have a ‘collective’ dimension to it. As well as telling me something to which I needed to listen, it was possibly a comment on the collective situation as well. In the dream the ‘wall’ of shops symbolizing the outer, public life is ‘marked out’ – identified as needing to be demolished. Then at this precise point the contemplatives come out. Our world is increasingly focused on the outer to the exclusion of the inner. What is needed to balance the one-sidedness is a commitment to the inner life symbolized most profoundly in the dream by the 120 Cistercian monks. The separation between the inner and the outer symbolized by the shop frontage needs to be destroyed. And if we don’t get the message, the fighter jets might return and wreak even more destruction in our world than what is currently happening. It is like – how much more has to happen before we get the message?

And that we cannot continue to ignore the unconscious – the inner life – any more, without risking the ‘world conflagration’ of which Jung spoke. And you all know these famous words which he spoke to Richard Evans while being interviewed on film:

“The world hangs on a thin thread and that is the psyche of man. Nowadays we are not threatened by elementary catastrophes. There is no such thing as the H-bomb. That is all man’s doing. We are the great danger. Psyche is the great danger. What if something goes wrong with the psyche? How important it is to know something about it, but we know nothing about it. Nobody believes that the psychical processes of the ordinary person would have any importance whatsoever.”

So as you reflect on the Christmas story, I would encourage you to think about what part of your personal story continues to afflict you. What is your emotional Achille’s heel? What are you suffering at the moment? Or of what are you most afraid? And if you dare to go into it more deeply what could it also reveal about the suffering of the divine within you?

It is this unpalatable truth which sticks in the gullets of modern men and women. That suffering and hardship are part of an evolutionary process towards increased consciousness; towards new development. Suffering and darkness is at the heart of our creation and accompanies its development and transformation at every stage. The ageless struggle between the forces of good and evil still continues, though in more subtle disguises. This struggle is the means by which we grow. The resolution of the conflict between these archetypal opposites of good and evil, by which our world is currently being torn apart can only be resolved by individuals facing their own shadows and assisting what further aspects of the deity – the Self – are struggling to become Incarnate.

This is how John Dourley describes it:
“To the extent such suffering is well born and issues into a higher consciousness, it redeems both the divine who suffers in it and the human who suffers through it. In this Jung joins another twentieth century spiritual innovator, Teilhard de Chardin, when the latter encourages his readers to bring to God …’a little fulfilment.’ (Dourley ibid – quoting Le Milieu Divin p. 62)

This is the only way we can have any positive impact on the world community as it labours towards peace. Individuals and the world at large, are participating in a major evolution of consciousness. To fully understand what is happening, and the sacrifice which that might demand of each of us, and of each nation, we have to enlarge our vision. For centuries this bigger picture was provided by the world’s religious traditions. Without the insights and containment they provide, we are in danger of interpreting suffering solely from the position of the ego. What is needed are new wineskins; and a new spirituality – a religious attitude based on insights provided by the discovery of the psyche. If we look more deeply into the religious rituals and symbols of the Christian tradition, as we have this weekend, we may discover a new way of understanding, and perhaps experiencing what we have previously believed or discarded as irrelevant. These new insights may lead us into the psychological truths and cosmic dimension of the Christian myth and assist us to understand the nature and purpose of suffering today. But Christmas is not only about the celebration by the Christian Churches of the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago. It also symbolizes the psychological process by which the Self is progressively incarnated in the life of any individual. In this regard Christmas can be regarded as a universal celebration, for its inner truths transcend the barriers and boundaries of race, gender, creed (or lack of it!) and it can therefore symbolize a dimension of the inner story of every man and woman.

For “the decisive question for men and women is this: are they related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of their life … if we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, our desires and attitudes change. In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we don’t embody that, life is wasted”. Jung - Memories, Dreams and Reflections Collins 1980 p.356)

And towards the end of his life, Jung expressed a certain despair that despite his efforts he felt his message hadn’t been understood.

“I am practically alone. There are a few who understand this and that, but almost nobody sees the whole … I have failed in my foremost task: to open people’s eyes to the fact that humankind has a soul and there is a buried treasure in the field and that our religion and philosophy are in a lamentable state”. (quoted by Gerald Adler, “Aspects of Jung’s Personality and Work”, P.14)

In conclusion: Within the framework of my own life’s journey and personal limitations, I hope I have been able to communicate something of the ‘buried treasure’ contained in the Christmas Story. All that I have presented may seem a daunting task - and it is – at least that’s how I experience it - and perhaps your personal circumstances – let alone the problems of the world, seem too big to even think about. So I would like to finish my reflections with a story. It is a story which might help each of us to simply attend to what we are able to, with as much energy and commitment as we have, in the hope that our efforts are enough.

The incident happened about three weeks ago, right while I was in the middle of trying to write. I was really struggling with the complexity of what I was attempting to present to you; particularly the problem of evil and suffering. I just couldn’t find the words to express it and felt my head was bursting! But I had to stop writing and begin my afternoon’s work with one or two people.

I had just started a session when all of a sudden there was a loud ‘thud’ on the window and I realized a bird had crashed into it and fallen to the verandah. We both jumped. I felt a sudden need to go out and attend to the bird. When I got out I saw it was a young thrush. Its head was lolling from side to side and it looked as if it had broken its neck. But as I held it in my hands it looked at me. I mean really looked! I felt scrutinized. My garden is the local meeting place for the neighbourhood’s cats, so I was reluctant to simply leave the thrush under a tree. So I took it into the room, placed it on a couch and continued with the session. When the person had gone I picked up the thrush and placed it on the carpet. It seemed to have perked up a bit, but its gait was distinctly unsteady and it also looked as if it had broken its wing. But it started to hop around the carpet still looking very wobbly, depositing a ‘calling card’ in the process! I decided to try to feed it some water and when I picked it up I got this look again! It just stared at me as I was trying to feed it. Then my earlier dilemma returned. Should I go and get one of Allan’s bird-cages and look after it? Or should I risk putting it out under a tree? Either way it wasn’t very satisfactory. The first would mean we were caging a wild bird and when we finally let it go, it wouldn’t be equipped to survive in the wild. The second would mean certain death at the hands of the cats.!! Either way death seemed inevitable. It might sound crazy, but I really felt the burden of that decision. But all of a sudden, it hopped outside the door, onto the verandah and flew like a bullet straight into a tree. Then it burst into this glorious song! It was extraordinary. At that precise moment a woman walked down my drive. Someone who has been struggling with the ‘dark side’ in her own psyche for a long, long time. Someone who came to me on the edge of suicide.

Somehow, I was being given a profound message. My questions about ‘evil’ and the dark-side were real but had somehow been eased. Suffering and evil are real. ‘Shit’ happens as the kids say. The young thrush had flown into my window. It seemed as if it had broken its neck and wing. I faced what seemed a terrible dilemma. But in the end, something else happened. What, how – I really don’t know. All I do know is that I felt compelled to respond – to respond to the eyes that looked into mine. All I did was provide it with some warmth, protection, and a little water. It was a profound lesson. I didn’t have to work it all out!

My questions about the nature of the divine; how God relates to each of us and what is the nature and purpose of evil were just that! Questions. Important questions, but it was not necessary for me to take on board the need to work it all out so I could present it to you! Nor did I have to worry about whether or not the second person that day would ultimately overcome the terrible darkness in her psyche and find the peace she was craving for. It was not all up to me. All I had to do was respond with who I was at that precise moment. That is all each of us can do. Respond to what is being asked of us moment by moment; provide a safe and loving environment, give a little water, wipe up the mess! and leave the rest.

The questions which are being asked of our generation are enormous and complex. It is important that each of us does not get overwhelmed by thinking we have to either provide, or find all the answers. That, as I realized after the young thrush had stopped singing, is a subtle form of inflation. It is sufficient to be aware of the questions and allow ourselves to be afflicted by them.

All we can do is listen to the thud of the bird as it hits the verandah; go and pick it up gently, endure its scrutiny, give it some protection, warmth and water and wait for a miracle to happen!

After I had written this a dear friend provided me with a fitting conclusion from the poet Rilke. It was her loving attempt to support me while I struggled to give birth to these reflections. Without knowing it, the quotation she had chosen had sustained me for a long time in my years of darkness in religious life - and here it was again – a necessary reminder of how to be at this stage of my life. I couldn’t find the exact quote, but from memory I think it goes like this:

"Be patient with all the unanswered questions in your heart.
Learn to love the questions themselves.
Do not ask for answers that cannot be given,
because you could not live them,
and the point is to live everything.
So live your questions now,
and perhaps without knowing it
you will live along some day into your answers."


note by Anne Baring: Joy Ryan-Bloore is a Jungian analyst practising in Christchurch, New Zealand.

 

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