I am reading James Hollis’ book, Why Good People Do Bad Things. I had begun reading this book at least a year ago and then set it aside for some reason or other that I don’t remember. Likely, it made me uncomfortable. This past week I picked up the book again and continued reading from where I left off – yes, I left a book marker in the book. So much of the book all of a sudden became important for me, so I turned back to the beginning to see what had originally caught me eye. There, before the book begins with its introduction, on a page by itself was this quote from Carl Gustav Jung:
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.” [C. G. Jung, CW 13 para. 335; cited in Hollis, Why Good People Do Bad Things.]
As I understand C.G. Jung, the typical response to any darkness is some idea that serves as a vision (a light) with which a society then throws its energy and allegiance in hopes of escaping the darkness. However, history is filled with how, more often than not, that allegiance leads to a collective neurosis that allows the collective to do evil. It is a rare group of individuals to own their own darkness and thus avoid unthinkable acts of darkness.
Of course, Jung is referring here to individuals but one has to remember that all groups, all organisations are made up of individuals and the fact that no group can surpass the individuals within it. That said, groups, like individuals have a Shadow. No group has a collective consciousness for there isn’t a group that is a psychic entity like individual humans. As individuals, myself included, there is no love for having our errors pointed out to us, especially those bits of darkness in us for which we are unconscious. Rather, there is a defensive response as though one has been attacked regardless of the intention behind the critique. I know that this is how I respond when the critique cuts too deep. I deny the critique and then attack in response so as to defend myself. Of course, I lose in the process, a chance to become more conscious as a human. My best hope is that afterward I look at my own responses to the critique and that I have the courage to stare at the exposed shadow and own it, even if I am hesitant to admit it to others.
“How is it that there can be so many discrepancies between our professed values, our presumptive virtues, and our many embarrassing, often destructive behaviors?” [Hollis, p. 2]
“Who am I?” is often answered with a good number of value statements and beliefs about how we are with others. I often talk of myself as a kind, gentle and good person. I tell any and every one that I am a good listener and a dependable and capable person. For so long, I had this unspoken belief that I was better than most others in terms of my goodness. I wore my attitude of being a knight in shining armor on my sleeve with pride, believing I was holier than most everyone who went to church. In order to make sense of how all this goodness was rewarded with so much confusion, confrontation and worthlessness just in my life just didn’t make sense. I saw myself as an almost saintly victim of a dark and basically evil world. Thankfully, I fell off my pedestal hard enough to bang my head hard against reality to wake me up to the truth of who I was, just another ordinary human. Hubris was recognised for what it was, pure egocentrism and narcissism.
For the most part, I was a good person and that was recognised by most people around me. But, I found myself not always being good. I recall too many times during my life when I was mean and vengeful. At those times I always found reasons to forgive myself for being cruel and hurtful, usually by blaming the victim(s) of my bad behavior for eliciting that bad behavior. An example that comes to mind comes from my career as a teacher. I recall one class that, for a number of reasons, always seemed to trigger a meanness within me. It didn’t take long for me to enact group punishment rather than ask myself why I was angered, or to ask what exactly had happened. As a result, students who were used to me as a kind, generous, caring and patient teacher would be attacked and punished with unreasonable demands for unnecessary work. The students were left wondering what it was they said or did to bring out this anger, believing that the fault lay with them. They began to believe that they were a bad class.
I challenge you to walk this path of beginning to wake up and become conscious of your own Shadow.
I have been relatively quiet these past weeks, perhaps it is something in the air as in the photo to the left. Usually when I find myself quiet like this, something inside is shifting. I have learned to sit with this stillness and quietness without trying to manipulate, that is control the process.
The spirit moves to its own rhythms and to its own time. It’s all about trusting that the spirit knows where, when and why about the journey that is in process. Ego is relegated to a minor role.
Ego often gets in the way of most of our life trying to micro manage everything – our relationships, our earning a living, raising a family – everything about our life outside of our head. Of course ego also works its hardest to deny that there is anything go on beneath the surface. If there is anything, any spirit or self below that surface, then ego is forced to acknowledge that it isn’t really the master of the universe, that universe of I.
Yesterday, in the early afternoon, I got a Facebook update from one of my friends that falls withing what I can best describe as a Mental Health support group in which many struggle with depression that has its roots in many diverse areas such as childhood abuse, sexual abuse, isolation, drugs, alcohol – the list of “reasons” go on and on though in the end I don’t know if it matters what the reason may or may not be, it is simply enough that we managed to find each other and build bonds across the airwaves. The update was a message that Robin Williams had died – suicide. Without thinking of appropriateness, all I could write in response to this update was “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” That was it.
The response was visceral, a gut response that told me after the initial shock wore off that a “trigger” had been touched. I waited some more and finally I was able to put up my own “status” message:
“Robin Williams’ suicide has shaken me more than I care to admit. Depression and denied darkness claim too many. He was two years younger than me. Perhaps it is the writing through my own denied darkness that has left me too sensitive. Thinking of My brother, Lawrence (Larry) who also lost his battle with depression.”
It was simple and direct, and it left out more than needed to be said. However, it wasn’t long before others began to post their reactions to both my status update and the news of Robin William’s suicide. There was one (well more than one, but I need to control this post or it will get to convoluted and perhaps become too much for you to read) response by Brent Alan Erwin, also known as the “Chief” whose words stuck with me even as I walked with my wife through the prairie countryside for a few hours. Along the walk we were both quiet, lost in our own moments of walking meditation with my thoughts turned towards the Chief’s words and my thoughts that grew out of them. Before I get to my response, here are the Chief’s words:
What is DEPRESSION?? I’ll tell you what it is for me. It’s like waking up in a prison, a prison with no walls, no doors, no cells, no bars, no windows, so therefore there is nothing physical to escape. It’s solitary confinement. We didn’t ask for it, it comes without warning, it turns the light into darkness, the quiet becomes deafening. Alone becomes Lonely. Your faith becomes another failure, your hope is hopeless. You feel guilt & shame because you have it. You want to be understood not stood down. Jim Morrison said it best ” Like an actor all alone, A dog without a bone, a Rider on the Storm, Crying won’t help, praying won’t do us no good. I will not bore anyone anymore with my rants,my raves, my pains, But keep in mind, when it chooses you, do not say you never knew* – CHIEF
Failure, hopelessness, a prison, darkness, guilt and shame – To be a father and find yourself sucked once again into the darkness, knowing that your children and spouse stand by helplessly while you spiral deeper into a dark hole, leaves you with a bitter taste that is wrapped in guilt and shame. It seems that there is no way to put on the brakes. Brakes happen only when one hits the bottom. Even then, it takes a while for the mind to register that it exists, that others exist. And with the return to awareness, begins the slow process of crawling back into the world of the living hoping that somehow in spite of the crash that bridges haven’t been burnt.
Guilt and shame. Those are two broad paintbrushes that add to the detritus that needs to be navigated in the return to some sort of mental balance and participation in the real world. Thankfully, for me, my children and my wife, as well as extended family and so many others are there for me when I make this return voyage. I cherish these moments with those who care for me, who love me in their own ways in the face-to-face world and the distant world reached through the air waves. I learn to relax and trust again and belief again and hope again. Yet, I keep an eye open, glancing just outside the peripheral edges of sight for the approach of the next dark hole.
Robin, thank you for your presence in my life from the days of Mork to last night’s viewing of the World’s Greatest Dad where you took on the challenge of bringing your voice to the issue of suicide.
I was sifting through the Facebook feed on my family account and came across a poem written by Robert Bly in August, 2002, called “Call and Answer.” True to my usual habit, I clicked “like” and “share.” Then, I read the poem again and knew that I just had to say something more, here.
I wonder if I am “lifting” my voice in mourning about what we are losing and what we have lost because it all seems so hopeless. For me, tears are real in seeing the atrocities that are visited upon children, women, and men in the name of some “ism” that manages to convince too many of the justice in bombing and destruction. There is no right side of war when both sides fight in the name of their god. Bob Dylan’s song “With God On Our Side” was one that I sang out loudly in protest against sanctioned murder by any and all armies.
My voice was loud and clear, but who heard anything more than the sound of my voice and the guitar chords? What does it take for ears to be willing to hear the voices that risk speaking from the heart with compassion for all including those we are told are the enemy? Media tells us its lies crafted to have us distrust, to hate, and to hoard from those most in need, even those within our own communities. The volume of the medias messages drown out the individual voices of those who resist falling under the spell of the lies, parading as truths. And should a voice become too loud, a campaign of character assassination or co-opting of that voice with fame and a small fortune soon follows.
So, what is a person to do? For me, it seems relatively simple. Voice rather than silence, even if no one is listening.
I am including a link to Bly reading his poem at the bottom.
Call and Answer – by Robert Bly
Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?
I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”
We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.
Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.
How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?
Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.
Yesterday was a strange day. I got up earlier than usual as I had a long drive to Estevan where I take accutherapy treatments for my allergies. The night was unkind to me as I got no more than three hours of sleep because of those allergies. As I drove out of town, I stopped almost immediately as I caught a clear view of the eastern horizon as dawn made an appearance. The red sky suggested that the day was going to be a challenge, at least according to old myths about morning and red skies.
As I got back into the car and continued down the road, I came upon low-lying mist in the valley, a mist that would continue on and off for the next hour. Out of the mist I got to see two large white-tail deer bucks with impressive racks of antlers. In a clear field of lentils, I got to see a solitary pronghorn antelope. And rising off the surface of the road, a murder of crows startled me, and unfortunately for one of the crows, meant death. He flew right into the passenger side of the windshield and was murdered.
About three-quarters of an hour away from home, I caught the sunrise. The day promised to be sunny and hot, with temperatures getting up to at least 29 C. The drive to Estevan was uneventful after this memorable beginning, and that was good in my opinion. It is a five hour drive to Estevan from our home.
With treatment done, I got back into the car and began the journey back home. I had anticipated that the drive would be long and slow as I am usually fatigued following a treatment. However, it wasn’t the case. I felt fine and was able to make good time not needing to take a rest stop every hour and a half.
As I drove, I heard a change in the weather forecast. All of a sudden I was headed towards potential storms. At about the halfway mark, I was forced to the side of the road where I joined big rigs and other cars and trucks who were also stopping. The very heavy rain and hail had effectively hidden the highway. I pulled into a big space between a semi and a car feeling that I would avoid being rear-ended. When the way forward becoming clear, we all resumed our way to the west. The temperature had dropped from 31 to 12 degrees in a matter of minutes. Now I understood the warning given in the morning’s dawn sky.
Yes, golf balls as representations of people. Each golf ball equates with a person, more specifically, what each person believes he or she is. I used golf balls (after a group golf practice) with four of my grandsons for the express purpose of getting images for use in this post. At the same time, the activity filled in a few idle minutes and provided them with something to think about.
I had each of these grandsons take a golf ball and draw a face on it, a face that they could say was them. Once this was done, I had them position themselves (their golf ball avatars) in relation to the collective of others. The results were interesting.
It was especially interesting for me as a grandfather to see how each of them viewed themselves.
One placed himself far from the collective (blue top), another placed himself in a smaller group outside of the collective (white top and sunglasses), a third placed himself slightly away from the collective almost buried in the grass so that he wouldn’t be so visible (rainbow tee shirt), and the fourth placed himself with the collective.
I did give them an opportunity to explain and perhaps even change their location. However, they stood firm with where they stood in relation to others.
So, what was the point? Well, it simply is about how we perceive who we are. As conscious beings, most of those perceptions are in terms of how we compare ourselves to others. One thing that was quite certain as far as my grandsons were concerned, they were each individuals, each unique – it was all based on feelings and the evidence of their senses.
Of course, there is more to us than what our feelings and senses can tell us whether we are in relations with other people or sitting alone in a quiet space. Yet, for most, though we hunger for more answers, we don’t want to hear what those answers might tell us.
I have a few presentations to make while we are in Mexico this coming winter, presentations about Jungian psychology. Naturally, I have been wondering just what I could do given three opportunities to present. I finally have decided on the three topics.
- On the nature of the self
- On the nature of relationship
- The journey we call individuation
Obviously there are many other topics that could be brought to the attention of those interested in learning a bit more about Jungian psychology. However with the decision finally made, it is now for me to prepare, slowly, for these presentations. Part of that preparation will be done here as I sort through more than too much material and threads of thought to build the presentations. Perhaps for you, my steadfast readers, this might be an experience of “you’ve already said that a million times.” Yet, I hope that as I re-approach the idea of self you will find something worth hearing again. With that said, it’s time to begin gathering my thoughts and the thoughts of others who have much to say.
The best way to begin is to deal with the word itself – self. And, it would be most appropriate to start with the definition that most likely is held by most people, a definition found in the Oxford English Dictionary: “One’s particular nature or personality; the qualities that make one individual or unique“. It seems simple enough. We each see ourselves as separate from other people. We see others outside of own heads, or so we think, and in turn get a sense of who we are because of that contrast, that separation. This notion of separation seems straight-forward enough, however it doesn’t seem to answer all of our questions about who we are as individuals. And the problem only gets worse as we get older.
As we get older, we discover the fact that we really don’t know ourselves all that well. It is with interaction with others that allows us to become aware, bit by bit, of aspects of our personality for which we had been blind as this diagram illustrates. people in our “orbit” get to “know” things about us of which we are unconscious. If all works well, these others clue us in to those unknown habits and traits. Yet in spite of our efforts and the efforts of those around us, there is so much of who we are that remains a mystery. In Jungian psychology, this is called the unconscious self.
At this point, I want to turn to how Jung describes the self:
[The self] expresses the unity of the personality as a whole. But in so far as the total personality, on account of its unconscious component, can be only in part conscious, the concept of self is, in part, only potentially empirical . . .” [Jung CW 6, par 789]
In other words, we can only know just a part of the whole of who we are. Jung goes on to say:
“the self as psychic totality also has a conscious as well as an unconscious aspect. Empirically, the self appears in dreams, myths, and fairytales . . . the self appears as a play of light and shadow although conceived as a totality and unity in which the opposites are united . . . ” [ibid]
Unconscious and conscious aspects, dark and light aspects, and this elusive self shows up in our dreams and our stories. No matter how hard I look at this idea, this word, this essence of who I am, I can’t find anything solid to wrap my thoughts around. This is going to be a bigger task than I thought it was going to be.