The Vertical Labyrinth
Well, the Eden Project seminar series is now done and it is time for me to find another focus for my Jungian interests. One of the big “take aways” from working with a Jungian analyst as seminar leader and eleven others (four women and eight men as seminar participants), was the realisation that we did more than study a book, we also built relationships based on shared interests and passions. Living in a new city with a population of 1,000,000 it isn’t easy getting to know people let alone people who have a curiosity about Jungian psychology. As a special “extra” for me was the discovery that one of the participants belongs to the same “sangha” that I have recently joined and that at least three others have a strong interest in meditation and Buddhism. This adds a lot of extra energy to the dialogues in which we engaged during, between and after seminar sessions.
Now, I have opened up a book that has sat for a long time on my bookshelves waiting for an opportunity to gift me with more thoughts to chew on. The books is The Vertical Labyrinth, by Aldo Carotenuto, a Jungian analyst who lived and worked in Italy. I have read his book Eros and Pathos quite a number of years ago and have hopes that there is much in the book that will enrich me, nourish me so to speak. And, as expected, the opening pages let me know that I hadn’t made a mistake in choosing this book at this time.
Carotenuto begins with looking at an artist and as he speaks about the artist, I heard echoes of myself and what has been my experience too many times over the past decades. Listen:
“Fame pursued this man, but strangely enough this success was completely separate from the feeling he had about himself. For some time he had been troubled by the suspicion that he was dissembling, that he was not, so to speak, up to the situation. . . . the only way to deal with this distressing feeling was complete inactivity. He would have, of course, liked to go on painting, but the block was total: a sad farewell to creativity, a wish for death, the tragic and painful confrontation with his own failure.” (Carotenuto, p. 7)
It is strange how many, including myself, can be seen by others to be very successful, appearing to have life exactly where we want it but beneath the veneer of success is a mantra that denies this success as a sham, a magician’s trick of using smoke and mirrors to disguise the “truth” as we know it, that we are about as unworthy as it is possible to be. When the weight of this self-defined truth gets so loud that we can’t block it out, we crash and freeze. Feeling disappears and we are only left with the voices in the head that come from some dark, inner black-hole. It is a problem of ego, an ego that has lost touch with the foundational inner spirit. It is about loss of soul (or perhaps better expressed – denial of soul) and a loss of relationship to the inner self which is the source of a meaningful life. Carotenuto goes on to say:
“This is a sufficiently common experience that can strike anyone, man or woman, particularly at certain fundamental moments of existence. Perhaps it could also be called fear, but a special kind of fear, without well-defined outlines and endowed with almost mysterious characteristics, paralyzing in part and in part propelling. It is a fear that has to do with the world and with our own being in the face of it. But the world is infinite and gives us no response.” (ibid)
And this takes me right back to the Eden Project and how our desperate search for Magical Other which shifts from parent, to spouse, to work, to authority, to religion and to leaders who have all the answers can never give us what we so desperately search. By projecting to an Other, out these somewhere, we only find a response of silence for that Other who has the answers is found within our psyche. We can express it in art, in music, in dance, in work, in prayer, in so many countless ways – but, can only connect with it within our psyche. Waiting for the world to respond leaves us desperate and abandoned in the returning silence which only tells us that we haven’t been heard or that we are undeserving of being heard or that we are a figment of our own imagination. And, in response to the deafening silence we crash.
We crash and that could be the best thing that has ever happened to us. As Carotenuto has said, “paralyzing in part and in part propelling.” Propelling us to act. The old expression comes to life, “when you find yourself at the bottom, the only way left is to go up.” We are forced to either give up and call it quits, or to begin to fight back to win our soul and our meaning for existence.