Recently I came across this lovely poem by Rilke:
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,
leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs--
leaving you (it impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
(translated by Robert Bly)
When I first read the lines, “one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth, / leaving you, not really belonging to either,” I experienced a feeling of deep loneliness. But it was the kind of loneliness in which I feel I am most at home in myself. A sadness full of longing that makes me strangely happy.
My wife likes to tease me about being an archetypally lonely man given to roaming the deserted beach in winter at night lost in my melancholy. There is some truth to this. But I want to say a word in defense of loneliness.
Loneliness is not alienation. In loneliness the Other exists. In alienation, it does not. In loneliness there is longing, in alienation, isolation. In depression or alienation the missing factor is meaning, or a sense of purpose, or contact with the invisible realms of existence. Rilke’s “not belonging” to either heaven or earth is really an affirmation of both. For it seems to me that it is the feeling of separateness that awakens consciousness of the other, that establishes, I believe, the reality of the other. And it is in separateness, in distinctness from one another that love becomes possible. And so, in some sense, loneliness is the soil in which love grows.
The great teachers of the value of loneliness are the Sufis. Rumi says, “the grief you cry out from / draws you toward union.” Hafiz, in his poem, My Eyes So Soft, is even more emphatic:
Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft
My voice so tender,
My need of God
One of my other teachers in this is Frank Sinatra, when he sings, “the songs I know, only the lonely know.” Loneliness teaches a secret knowledge – the value of love. The whole torch song tradition speaks to the truth that, sometimes, love is intensified through the experience of separation. It is more present in its absence. All of a sudden we become aware of the depth of our love when it’s object is gone. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
In Rilke’s poem, the awareness of the two worlds we inhabit, heaven and earth, begins with the recognition of our separateness from both. I think he is saying that we don’t really know either until we know both. But knowing both means belonging to neither. Earth without heaven, says Rilke, is “hopelessly dark.” And without the activity, the variety, the transience of time-bound existence, heaven is “unswerving,” changeless, eternal monotony.
Suspended between these two great powers, says Rilke, all we can do is turn to ourselves, our own little lives, “timid and standing high and growing.” And it is there, perhaps, that we might discover we are not separate after all. “One moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.” The two worlds exist in our own hearts. “The Kingdom of Heaven is inside you.”
There are many ways that I avoid or distract myself from my feelings of loneliness – of longing, of loving, of “my need of God.” – watching TV, surfing the web, shopping for little electronic gadgets, even reading.
I think I need to spend more time at the beach.
Jungian Analyst June Singer describing the process of Jungian Analysis:
Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/S6wHfwGeZIA
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." (1 Cor. 1:25)
Two years ago, at just about this time of year, I was preparing to take the Propaedeuticum -- or Stage 1 exams -- at the Jung Institute of Boston. This set of exams is major rite of passage at the Institute, as it marks the transition from the theoretical and academic phase of the program to the practice-oriented phase. To be in this second stage of training is roughly equivalent to beginning a residency in medicine. With the guidance of experienced analysts, the Stage 2 diploma candidate now becomes immersed in learning to become a practicing Jungian Analyst.
As my exam date drew nearer, I had this dream: I am getting ready to be tested. I introduce myself and say, “I am a fool. I don’t care what you think.”
Now, being a good Jungian, I take my dreams very seriously. That this dream referred to my exams seems quite clear. However, it’s that last phrase that I take to be the key to the dream. On the one hand, you could read the last part of the dream to mean, “I would be a fool to not care what others (i.e., the examiners) think.” After all, the point of an exam is to submit yourself to another’s judgment. It matters what others think because they have the power to pass you or fail you.
Being concerned about what others think, though, is not my problem. Or, rather, it is my problem, because I tend to worry too much about what others think about me. I spend far too much mental and emotional energy trying to accommodate myself to what I perceive to be the needs of others, trying to make myself into an “acceptable” version of myself. And though this can appear humble or self-effacing, it has a strong narcissistic quality to it. I want people to like me, so I present a likable self. In the end, I lose myself. In Jungian terms, I defend my persona, but am cut off from the Self — the wholeness of my being.
Given my tendency to care too much about what others think, perhaps the way to read the dream, then, is as an unambiguous statement regarding the attitude I needed as I approached my exams. That is, I needed to be able to say, “I am a fool. I don’t care what you think.”
Jung’s attitude to dreams is very different from Freud’s. Where Freud sees the dream as a disguised fulfillment of an unconscious wish, Jung believes that the dream is a self-portrait of the individual’s psychic situation. In other words, the dream doesn’t disguise anything. It says what it means.
So, what does it mean to be a fool?
The classic image of the Fool is found on the card numbered ‘0’ in a deck of Tarot cards. It is the prototype of our modern day Joker in a regular deck of cards. The Joker has taken on sinister implications, being associated at times with the devil and, more recently, in the identification of this figure with the ultimate arch-enemy of Batman. We think of the Joker as creepy, frightening, dangerous and cruel.
The figure of the Fool, however, does not originally have those connotations. It is a symbol of freedom and wisdom. As Joseph Campbell describes this image, it signifies a condition of human consciousness in which the individual is “careless of the bites of the world … a wandering sage.” It represents a state of being in which the individual has attained a certain detachment from the cares of the world, in particular, from those cares that keep us limited in our narrow ego perspectives — wealth, possessions, achievements, social pressures. It is, to be sure, a subversive figure, but not a malevolent one. This subversive quality of the Fool is most clearly seen in those characters that populate Shakespeare’s plays. The Fool, like the one in King Lear, satirizes the dominant attitudes of the court. He speaks truths to the King that no one else has license to speak.
Now, I am nowhere near being a realized sage, but in light of all these considerations, I took this image from my dream as pointing to the danger of taking myself too seriously. If I went into my exams trying to prove to my examiners how good I was, I would be in danger of going off track. On the other hand, if I could say, “I don’t care what you think,” then I would be freed to confidently express what I thought and not try to present myself in some supposed “suitable” way. It was important that I owned and trusted my particular understanding of the material.
Prompted by my dream, I determined that instead of continuing to be anxious about learning the material, I needed to focus more on getting myself in the right frame of mind. To do this, I decided to watch what I believe is the greatest motivational speech ever committed to celluloid: Win one for the Gipper? Too obvious. Kenneth Branagh’s St. Crispin’s Day speech from the film, Henry V? Wonderful, but too bloody. Besides, I needed some Fool energy, not Kingly power.
No, this masterpiece was the cure for what was ailing me:
Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGEdtXhG4JA
The figure of the Fool is a surprisingly common one in the various religious traditions. St. Paul says, “If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise.” In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the figure of the “Fool in Christ” was a venerated figure who was understood to have given his life completely over to God. In the Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu says:I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
The Sufis describe themselves as drunkards and madmen. The image of the Fool can be glimpsed in this quatrain by Rumi. Here he is called "the lover":Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy,
absent-minded. Someone sober
will worry about events going badly.
Let the lover be.
What is the lesson of the Fool? I think it would be a mistake to understand the message of the Fool as “Don’t worry, be happy.” It’s not that if we stop worrying about life, only good things will happen, or we will finally get all that we want. Besides, as Bill Murray wisely reminds us, winning is no guarantee of happiness. The other team may still get all the girls.
Is the Fool’s message that we should have trust in the universe, or, if we are religious, trust in God? Well, yes, up to a point. As long as that trust doesn’t cause us to abdicate any responsibility for our own lives. Trust in God without personal engagement in life is sterile.
The formula that makes the most sense to me in this regard comes again from Joseph Campbell who says, “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” The point is essentially this: Bad things can and will happen. Some of those bad things will be the result of getting things you thought you wanted. And some of the best things in your life will look like failures or losses at first. Beyond this, expect to encounter great suffering in the world. Do what you can to alleviate it, but don’t get caught in the delusion that you can eliminate it. And to the best of your ability, have a good time while you’re here.
This is one of the main teachings of the Bhagavad Gita: “You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Act for the actions sake. And do not be attached to inaction. Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure.”
In our bottom-line, results-oriented, winning-is-everything world, this ancient wisdom sounds foolish. But every now and then it helps to remind ourselves: “It just doesn’t matter.”
Here is a nice little promotional video by mythologist Michael Meade for his book, Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of the Soul. I am not yet familiar with that book, but I have read his book The Water of Life and the anthology of poetry that he edited with Robert Bly and James Hillman. I have also heard Meade speak. He is an engaging storyteller and his work is well worth knowing.
Some take away quotes from the video:
"The question isn't, 'Do I have a calling?' The question is, 'Have I heard it?'"
"One of our key responsibilities in life -- separate from career, separate from family, separate from anything else -- is to live out [our] dream, to respond to [our] calling, and to unfold our life from within."
Here is the video:
Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/Qeqm9YevDac
Here is a video of David Kudler, publishing director of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, remember the impact of the Power of Myth series with Campbell and Bill Moyers. Kudler reminds us that there was a time when the phrase "Follow Your Bliss" was not found on anyone's refrigerator. It is a reminder of the deep value of the idea of following your bliss, which is not an easy path but rather a challenging and rewarding journey.
As I often point out in my talks on How To Hear Your Calling, Campbell is not talking about basking in the glow of pain-free, trouble-free happiness and light. His formula was not “dwell in your bliss”, but “follow your bliss,” that is, risk the adventure of following the call of your deepest self.
Jung on Imagination: "When you observe the stream of images within, you observe an aspect of the world, of the world within.
A video of depth psychologist Robert Romanyshyn discussing the interpenetration of psyche and nature:
I read a lovely passage on the value of limitations, written by Parker Palmer. As someone who tends to be a bit of a puer (the eternal youth), I can easily dream of infinite possibilities, but struggle with the down-to-earth finite practicalities, which are born of limitation. For whenever we make a choice, we necessarily choose away from something else. If we choose this, we cannot have that. If I get married, I cannot also be the perennial bachelor. If I decide to become an accountant, I may not get to become a famous musician.
Here are a trio of reflections on the value of limits:
"The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life...
The feeling for the infinite, however, can be attained only if we are bounded to the utmost. The greatest limitation for man is the "self"; it is manifested in the experience: "I am only that!" Only consciousness of our narrow confinement in the self forms the link to the limitlessness of the unconscious. In such awareness we experience ourselves concurrently as limited and eternal, as both the one and the other. In knowing ourselves to be unique in our personal combination--that is, ultimately limited--we possess also the capacity for becoming conscious of the infinite. But only then!
In an era which has concentrated exclusively upon extension of living space and increase of rational knowledge at all costs, it is a supreme challenge to ask man to become conscious of his uniqueness and his limitation. Uniqueness and limitation are synonymous. Without them no perception of the unlimited is possible... (MDR, p. 325)
Parker J. Palmer:
When a way closes behind us, it is tempting to regard it simply as the result of some strategic error: had I been smarter or stronger, that door would not have slammed shut, so if i redouble my efforts, I may be able to batter it down. But that is a dangerous temptation. When I resist a way closing rather than taking guidance from it, I may be ignoring the limitations inherent in my nature--which dishonors true self no less than ignoring the potentials I received as birthright gifts...
As often happens on the spiritual journey, we have arrived at the heart of a paradox: each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around--which puts the door behind us--and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what lies before us is the rest of reality...
If we are to live our lives full and well, we must learn to embrace the opposites, to live in a creative tension between our limits and our potentials. We must honor our limitations in ways that do not distort our nature, and we must trust and use our gifts in ways that fulfill the potentials God gave us. We must take the no of the way that closes and find the guidance it has to offer--and take the yes of the way that opens and respond with the yes of our lives. (Let Your Life Speak, pp. 53-55)
Finally, here is a poem by David Whyte that powerfully captures the sense of how experiencing our limited self ("our sure defeat") makes possible the awareness of the unbounded, the infinite, the "largeness of life," as Palmer puts it, "that lies open to our souls":
by David Whyte
It doesn't interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.
Positive Psychology is an approach to psychology that seeks to understand what factors are at work in healthy states. It seeks to make a scientific understanding of things like happiness, taking the position that happiness is not the absence of unhappiness, but a positive state that can be cultivated and increased. Recently I was directed to a video on the TED website in which the lecturer, Shawn Achor, discussed what Positive Psychology has learned about the connection between happiness and success.
Here is one of the main take-away points from the lecture:"[We assume] that our external world is predictive of our happiness levels, when in reality, if I know everything about your external world, I can only predict 10 percent of your long-term happiness. 90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.
I've traveled to 45 different countries, working with schools and companies in the midst of an economic downturn. And what I found is that most companies and schools follow a formula for success, which is this: If I work harder, I'll be more successful. And if I'm more successful, then I'll be happier. That undergirds most of our parenting styles, our managing styles, the way that we motivate our behavior.
And the problem is it's scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons. First, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades,you got into a good school and after you get into a better school, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we're going to change your sales target. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we've done is we've pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society. And that's because we think we have to be successful, then we'll be happier.
I don't know enough about Positive Psychology to adequately comment on it, but it is clear that there is an overlap between the perspectives of Jungian Psychology and the Positive Psychology movement. There are differences of course, particularly Jung's emphasis of shadow and the unconscious. Gary Trosclair does a nice job comparing the two approaches in his post, A Jungian Analyst Takes Positive Psychology for a Test-Drive.
In a 1960 interview, C.G. Jung enumerated the factors that he felt could produce happiness: 1. Good physical and mental health.
2. Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
3. The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
5. A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.
Jung, however, expresses caution about the pursuit of happiness. He reminds us that the factors that can produce happiness can, under certain conditions, produce just the opposite. He warns that "the more you deliberately seek happiness the more sure you are not to find it."
In an often repeated quote from this same article, Jung makes the point that "even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word 'happy' would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness."
Ultimately Jung offers this advice regarding the happy life: "It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity."
Today this advice would fall under the heading of mindfulness.
What appeals to me about Jung's perspective is that it is not about the pursuit of happiness for it's own sake, or for some secondary benefit like "success," which is something that will have different meanings for different people. The five factors that Jung lists have to do with qualities and experiences of the human soul. Happiness proceeds from a life lived soulfully and deeply and with an awareness and acceptance of its highs and lows, its light and its darkness.
Alan Watts offers a point of view on this subject that I like a lot. He expresses the same ideas about the pursuit of success as that of Positive Psychology, yet in a very different way. His perspective is not a scientific study of happiness, but a spiritual view of life in the world. The findings of Positive Psychology are exciting and valuable, but for my part, it is the life of the spirit and the depth of the soul that truly sings to me. Here are Alan Watts thoughts (with animation from the South Park guys just for fun) on the subject: