Finding the Hidden Gifts in Suffering

Finding the Hidden Gifts in Suffering

(I wrote the following post for the Jung Society of Utah blog).

“There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. 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. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”
– C.G. Jung

During an interview in 1960 Carl Jung was asked, “What do you consider to be more or less basic factors making for happiness in the human mind?” Jung replied:

  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.1

However, this type of happiness is based mostly on exterior factors, which Jung noted later in the interview: “No matter how ideal your situation may be, it does not necessarily guarantee happiness. A relatively slight disturbance of your biological or psychological equilibrium may suffice to destroy your happiness.”1

How then can we be happy regardless of our external experiences?

Suffering and the unlived life

The five factors Jung listed describe a life that is safe, uncomplicated, and familiar. Often, however, there comes a point when that ceases to be enough, and we might experience “unspeakable boredom,” even in the best of circumstances. Such feelings of boredom, a personal loss, or a crisis of some kind may force us from our comfort zone as we deeply consider the “unlived life” outside of our familiar experiences, and truly begin the process of individuation.

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“Inside all conflicted and stuck situations there is a creative vulnerability that can lead to a release of unexpected imagination and genuine ideas of renewal.” – Michael Meade

As we step into this unknown territory, we often experience suffering. “Coming to terms with oneself is very hard and painful work. It’s actually much easier to blind ourselves to our inner conflicts and to suffer various neurotic symptoms than it is to carry the ultimate cross of becoming an authentic and healthy individual.”2

“The gold is in the dark”

So why choose to walk into the darkness? “Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health,” Jung wrote. It is through the often troubling experience of contrast that we learn and evolve: “You could not know Warm without Cold, Up without Down, Fast without Slow.”3 Suffering provides a way for us to reconcile opposites and begin to transcend duality, thus developing a “wider and higher consciousness.” Additionally, through holding, forgiving, and accepting the contradictions within ourselves, we develop greater self-love and compassion. From such a place of healing, we also have an improved capacity to love and accept others as they are.

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“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” –  Joseph Campbell

This is, I think, what Jung meant by, “The gold is in the dark.” Through “making the darkness conscious,” by facing our suffering and experiencing it deeply, even if that seems at odds with our happiness, we can find the gold of individuation and self-love. If we are able to endure the night-sea journey of sitting with our suffering long enough to learn from it, it can be transmuted into various gifts, such as increased wisdom, higher consciousness, greater understanding of one’s purpose, or a deepened bond of friendship. When I have looked very closely at my most painful experiences, I have always found this to be true.

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“When you are surrounded with darkness… be a light unto the darkness… Then you will know Who You Really Are.”3

While it may not seem so at the time, suffering can be a gift that helps us connect with our wholeness, fulfill our unique promise, shows us our true capabilities, and links us to the Divine. Through truly facing our suffering we can learn to connect to a consciousness within that allows us to experience bliss regardless of our outer circumstances. Upon looking back after having made it through troubled times, we can begin to see the suffering we experienced as a crucible that helped us become a better version of ourselves, and from here we become more able to accept all of life’s experiences with gratitude.

Jung wrote: “Nobody can know what the ultimate things are. We must, therefore, take them as we experience them. And if such experience helps make your life healthier, more beautiful, more complete and more satisfactory to yourself and to those you love, you may safely say: ‘This was the grace of God.’”

Works cited

  1. C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. Edited by William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull.
  2. Words of Wisdom from Carl Jung, One of Psychology’s Greats. Dr. George Simon.
  3. The Little Soul and the Sun. Neale Donald Walsch.

 

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One day this will end

One day this will end

One day this will end
and I will wake up with you beside me;
then fall asleep in your arms again at the day’s close.

Even though the idea of it
seems both as real and unreal,
inevitable and unimaginable,
as that of my own death;
sooner or later I know you will be here
beside me in the mortal world
(as surely as I know I must one day leave it).

I think of this and wonder:
What would I do with you
if you were here?

I would love you
fiercely and joyfully,
patiently and passionately
With all that I am
I would cherish every second I spend with you
and unabashedly enjoy your company
Simply delighting in you as such
Holding you close each chance I get
and then letting you go
With gratitude.
All the while knowing that
One day this will end.

So I will love you now
both light and shadow,
gold and darkness.
Just as you are.
Just as I am.
Just as if you were already beside me.
Because life is both
too long
and too short
to do otherwise.

That love will be the fire
to which I surrender all.
Burning away illusions
and lighting your way to my side.

Then we will walk together:
I as your constant,
and you as mine.
Equals.
Knowing that even though
One day this will end,
we will see each other again soon.

© Amanda Butler

Anima, Animus, and the Magical Other

Anima, Animus, and the Magical Other

(I wrote the following post for the Jung Society of Utah blog.)

“When animus and anima meet, the animus draws his sword of power and the anima ejects her poison of illusion and seduction. The outcome need not always be negative, since the two are equally likely to fall in love (a special instance of love at first sight).”
– C.G. Jung

Carl Jung used the term anima to describe “the inner figure of a woman held by a man,” and animus to describe “the figure of a man at work in a woman’s psyche.”1 The anima or animus functions as a psychopomp, or “guide of soul” which mediates between the conscious and unconscious, often becoming a “necessary link with creative possibilities and instruments of individuation.”1

These archetypes can profoundly influence our relationships. Individuals often choose partners based upon a resemblance to the anima or animus, or who outwardly express characteristics and feelings that lay dormant in their own psyche. This type of projection can lead to disillusionment and heartbreak once we get to know “the real him, the real herin extremis, the mask slipped from the face,” particularly if that face turns out to be very different from the idealized archetypal image we hold.

Searching for wholeness in the Magical Other

Perhaps it is the anima or animus that leads us to seek out a “Magical Other,” a term coined by Jungian analyst James Hollis to describe “the idea that there is one person out there who is right for us, will make our lives work, a soul–mate who will repair the ravages of our personal history, one who will be there for us, will read our minds, know what we want and meet those deepest needs; a good parent who will protect us from suffering and spare us the challenging journey of individuation.”2 Such romantic fantasies may drive us to search endlessly for our “perfect” match, or fixate in fascinated longing for an Other who seems to be our “ideal.”

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Projections of the anima or animus may lead us on a search for our ideal or “Magical Other.”

According to Hollis, such patterns of behavior are unsustainable. “Given the gap between our expectations of the “Magical Other” and their finite capacities, we often hopelessly burden the relationship and, predictably, end in disappointment, cynicism, blaming, and then roll it all over again onto the next solitary soul.” To break the cycle, Hollis suggests using relationship as a way to examine unconscious contents. “The paradox lies in the fact that the Other can be a means through which one is enabled to glimpse the immensity of one’s own soul and live a portion of one’s individuation.”

Turning within

So love for an Other can serve as a fire that lights the way on our own journey, helping us to better understand ourselves. Even disappointments in relationship may hold an opportunity for personal development. I remember an afternoon I spent sitting with a loved one and telling her about an experience of heartbreak. After listening to my story, she asked what attracted me to the person I’d been discussing. When I told her, she replied, “He’s a mirror.”

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Our relationships often serve as a mirrors, reflecting unconscious contents.

Therefore, we can use those characteristics we admire in the Other as a guide for our own evolution, and work on developing our own inner opposite, rather than searching for someone else to “complete” us. “Consider the courage of those truly willing to look within and own what they find,”2 Hollis says. In doing so, we can make the effects of the anima and animus conscious, possibly helping us discover our own gifts and purpose in the process.

Additionally, one of the tasks of individuation is to integrate the anima or animus in an internal marriage of the masculine and feminine parts of the psyche. Hollis writes, “Hierosgamos, the sacred marriage, properly honors the other as Other and at the same time protects the absolute uniqueness of the individual partners.”2 Through such inner work, we become free to truly love the Other as they are, rather than our projections or fantasies of them. Or as Alan Watts said, “When you’re loving somebody, you are simply delighting in that person as such.”

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“Where the myth fails, human love begins. Then we love a human being, not our dream, but a human being with flaws.”   – Anaïs Nin

And if there is no “Magical Other”? Perhaps the true magic happens when we realize we are already complete, just as we are. From this place of integration and self-acceptance, “We may even come to bless those who have most hurt us, for they have most contributed to our transformation,” Hollis says. “We may even love them, allowing them to be who they are, even as we struggle to be ourselves on the journey toward our own destined end.”2

~Amanda Butler
Blog Manager and Newsletter Manager
Jung Society of Utah

Books cited

  1. A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. Andrew Samuels, Bani Shorter, Fred Plaut.
  2. The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other. James Hollis