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.

 

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

 

Solstice

Solstice

That summer night, one June ago…
I was a fool.
Lost in enchantment
and talk of dreams in the firelight.
Smoke and mirrors.
Loving in absence
as the days grew shorter;
the shadows longer,
darker,
and colder.

Until the light returned.
Reflected back at me across the table
in talk of far away places,
plans and goals;
and in laughter.
As business became personal
but only for me.

Here in the light of a new June—
Clarity.
Mourning the loss of what never was,
missing the friend I thought I knew.
And now I remain:
both here and gone,
again and still the Fool.
Always
Walking the spiral alone
as the nights grow long once more.

© Amanda Butler

African Wisdom Traditions and Individuation

African Wisdom Traditions and Individuation

(It was an honor and a delight to write the following post with my dear friend Pamela Thompson for the Jung Society of Utah blog.)

“The process of individuation is founded on the instinctive urge of every living creature to reach its own totality and fulfillment.”
– C.G. Jung

What does it mean to become who you truly are and live an authentic life? Carl Jung created the term individuation, describing it as a process in which one becomes aware of one’s true, inner self. Jung believed that: “Man is not a machine that can be remodeled for quite other purposes as occasion demands, in the hope that it will go on functioning as regularly as before but in a quite different way. He carries his whole history with him; in his very structure is written the history of mankind.”

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“Each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.” – James Hillman

In our Western way of thinking about our individual purpose relevant to society’s notions of success, we have gravely limited ourselves, dismissive of the indigenous cultures which we deem as ignorant or primitive; without sophisticated means to solve and correct a perceived unwanted malady. We see ourselves more as machines, that we can “remodel ourselves as occasion demands” and function as a means to satisfy a superficial conformity. Even if we are not aware of this as our fundamental belief, it can manifest through the everyday choices we make against the irrational and imperfections that would in reality, guide us to a more authentic path. We accept society’s “glowing” images as “normal” and believe from the norms of popular culture that what we need is to avoid our darker sides by covering them up and hiding behind a superficial facade of success and perfection; living a life free from the shadows of misfortune, grief and suffering. But as we turn against the genuine calls of healing experiences and avoid coming into our authentic gifts and purpose by fearing to look into the darkness of our own shadows, we do so at our own peril.

When Carl Jung stated, “Man is not a machine that can be remodeled for quite other purposes as occasion demands,” it is clear that he did not believe in hiding our shadows, but rather owning them despite fear and judgement. Yet if we are not to strive for the perfection of “the Machine” that would strip us clean of our imperfect humanness and exploit us for society’s gain, what then is our true purpose? How can we creatively discover our true nature and how can we see our suffering and our shadows in new ways?

Many African wisdom traditions teach that an individual can find totality and fulfillment through their community. According to Dr. Malidoma Somé, a West African shaman of the Dagara tribe, “the community exists, in part, to safeguard the purpose of each person within it and to awaken the memory of that purpose by recognizing the unique gifts each individual brings to this world.”

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Just as the oak tree’s destiny is contained within the tiny acorn, each person is born with a unique purpose, and it is our mission in life to fulfill that purpose.

This type of inter-subjective life is well established in African cosmology, where the universe is seen as a series of interactions and interconnections, a vision that is especially applicable in understanding the relationship between the individual and the community. This network of forces shows that people do not live in isolation; one individual needs another to continue to exist. Humans need other humans to be truly human, and the community can be seen as facilitating our individuation.

So it is through relating with others that we see ourselves as we truly are, and come to realize our own unique gifts and purpose. Rather than remodeling ourselves to conform to society’s demands, with the love and support of a community we can learn to integrate our shadows, withdraw our projections, and live an authentic life in line with our purpose.

Learn more about this perspective on individuation from African shaman Malidoma Somé in the Jung Society of Utah Season Finale! Malidoma will discuss “Gift and Purpose” on June 24th at at Publik Coffee House, 975 S West Temple, from 7:00pm until 9:00pm.

Come early to get connected with your community in this celebration, and also to enjoy free tarot readings, music, and more!

~Pamela Thompson and Amanda Butler

Finding Presence Through Meditative Movement

RemedyWave®, created by Shannon Simonelli, is a type of ecstatic, free form dance facilitated in a supportive environment.

“The class is an outgrowth of a lot of different kinds of training that I’ve had. I have a PhD in Imaginal Psychology and Creative Arts Therapy, which is very much about experientially-based work,” Shannon said. “I’ve studied over 1500 hours of authentic movement, which is a very body-based, meditative journey related to getting in touch with your inner imagery and inner truths in the body, and how that relates to your psychology and I am trained in 5Rhythms Movement Therapy and have dance therapy training.”

The dance portion of the class lasts for 90 minutes. Each class has a theme, allowing dancers to explore concepts such as “light and heavy” through movement. Participants can then discuss their experience and insights during the 30 minutes of sharing that follows.

I walked into the class feeling upset after a difficult day at work, and worried that I’d be too tired to get through it. However, I was pleasantly surprised that I had enough energy to keep dancing, and within the first half hour I was feeling much better.

During the class, I discovered that it was easier for me to be present, rather than obsessing over things that were bothering me. It was a relief to let go, follow the music, and do whatever felt good. I felt free and peaceful, knowing that it was safe to be authentic, which was a pleasant change of pace for me.

According to Shannon, my experience is common among those who attend the class. “People start to build the ability to be more present in the moment in their daily life. They feel a greater sense of connection with their authentic self, and to the courage to really be that. People feel more in their bodies, they feel more willing and able to take risks. It’s very healing and very fortifying.”

No dance training is necessary to join the class. “The class is more about what’s true for you, what feels good in the body, what you’re discovering within the directive of the evening,” Shannon said. “I’m interested in what awakens in you and what that means for you in your life.”

“New movers come every week, it’s a safe environment to try something new, and new movers are supported and welcomed,” Shannon said. “We enjoy having new people join us and the group is growing all the time.”

Join RemedyWave at Vitalize Studio Mill Creek 3474 South 2300 East Studio #12, SLC 7:30 pm.

Projection: You Are My Mirror and I Am Yours

Projection: You Are My Mirror and I Am Yours

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

“Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”
– C.G. Jung

Projections are images we have of others, which are generated by the psyche and based in our own fears, desires, impulses, and unresolved issues, most of which are unconscious. Jung wrote, “We must bear in mind that we do not make projections, rather they happen to us.” Projection happens when we are “certain we know what other people think or what their true character is,” and interact with with them based on those assumptions.

We see others not as they are, but as we are 

While the most obvious example of projection is seeing our own shadow traits in others, this can also be true of those traits we view as desirable, since the ego projects anything it is unable to identify with. An example of this could be someone who is jealous of a friend’s beauty or intelligence, but is unable to recognize those traits in him- or herself.

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Projection is the cause of many misunderstandings in relationships.

Additionally, when we feel certain we know what others think or what they’re really like, this may cause us to judge them or ourselves unfairly. It is likely that many of our insecurities are based in our own misguided perceptions of others, as well as our worries over how we believe they see us. Consider the things we keep to ourselves, the lies we tell, and the masks we wear in order to impress others or protect ourselves from them, based on whatever images we have projected onto them.

As an example of this, I recently had dinner with a friend, and an opportunity came up in the conversation to tell him what he truly means to me. But instead of honestly sharing my feelings, I froze and said something else because I felt worried about how he would respond—certain that it would be some form of rejection.

Withdrawing projections 

The antidote to projection is authenticity, which I have heard referred to as “the highest form of spirituality.” When we are authentic, we are willing to risk being seen as we truly are, shadow and all, and we also become more able to see others as they truly are. In my experience, the willingness to take that risk is based in love, both for oneself and others, which creates a relationship that allows for reflection. Jung said:

“Now “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is really a very profound formula … You can never get to yourself without loving your neighbor—that is indispensable … You would have no means of comparison … So whoever insists upon loving his neighbor cannot do it without loving himself to a certain extent.”

With the self-knowledge and greater wholeness that is created through this love, we may begin to withdraw our projections. According to Jung, “The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our own shadow onto others.”

projection-desire“As you live Deeper in the Heart, the Mirror gets clearer and cleaner.”
– Rumi