Saturn devouring his son, P. P. Rubens
This entry is difficult to write. I have dragged my feet. I am struggling with how to make the subject more palatable. How does one write about Jung’s night sea journey in search of the soul in an appealing way? It just wasn’t a pretty and sweet story. But maybe that is the wrong approach. Maybe some things just need to be said as they are. Jung’s School of Analytical Psychology grew out of an intense personal and maddening process that brought Jung to the brink of his sanity. No pain, no gain? Is it that simple? I think that some things come to us as grace, serendipity, as gifts from the gods, if you will. But, unfortunately for the most part, the creative process is a painful, arduous and confusing path,whether creativity is expressed in writing a novel or in carving out a life for oneself that is truthful to one’s soul calling. The deeper one digs, the greater the treasure, if one can withstand the pressure of the deep.
In Liber Primus of the Red Book Jung writes “My soul leads me into the desert, into the desert of my own self. I did not think that my soul is a desert, a barren hot desert, dusty and without drink”. Who does!? That is not what we imagine when we think of soul. Jung’s search for an authentic experience of his soul lead him into solitude, away from “men and events” and he continues to say that he even had to detach himself from his thoughts so he could open up to his soul’s life. This strikes me as significant because thinking was Jung’s primary function. This was how he perceived the world and made sense of it. I think what Jung describes here is the necessity to let go of attachments, distractions and identifications.
Imagine of how you make sense of the world. It could be through rational thinking or it could be through emotional feeling values, or more through scientific data and facts,or it could be through a sense of intuitive knowing. And then imagine that you deliberately let go of this mode of perception, which has become so much part of your identity. Jung seems to suggest that it is from this state of emptiness (or discomfort or confusion more likely) that one makes contact with the otherness of the soul/psyche.
“The soul has its own peculiar world”, Jung writes. Jung expresses his confusion and disappointment, I assume, that having given up most of ego’s distractions, the soul is experienced as an arid, barren land. No comfort, no inspiration, nothing to hold on to. What Jung describes is not the soft, nurturing quality so often associated with soul.
The image of Saturn devouring his son expresses what Jung initially found on his soul searching journey. Astrology understands Saturn as a stern task master who teaches about limitations, restrictions and duty. Duty to what or whom one may wonder? I suggest that the often maligned Saturn teaches us to be in the service of the soul. The image of devouring his son reflects the idea of being robbed of what is the dearest to one’s heart. The barren land of despair, hopelessness, confusion,when no future seems possible. “But my soul spoke to me and said””Wait””, and Jung continues,”Nobody can spare themselves the waiting and most will be unable to bear this torment”.
To patiently wait and tolerate one’s feelings is not a popular notion in mainstream psychology. Yet it is a hallmark of Jungian work. It is devastating and disorientating to be robbed of the idea of a predictable future and to be robbed of a solid sense of self that can make sense of the world. But these feelings may be unavoidable when venturing into the unknown. The conscious experience of soul life was the unknown, new territory for Jung. For those of us who wish to live a soulful life we may wonder, what is our desert? Where is our barrenness? Where is that place within us that is so restricted that no life or light can ripple through. Jung suggests that our journey towards wholeness must go through this inner desert. When we are stripped to the bare bones , then we may meet the soul in the form of the other yet also part of who we are and a dialogue may begin. In a Jungian sense, only then are we truly alive.
Lately I have thought a lot about darkness. It seems timely as November feels like the darkest time of the year. It might be. But while darkness begins to wrap around us at an early hour, I see the familiar emphasis on light wherever I look. We all want to be in the light at all times and if we are not, move towards it as fast as possible. Darkness is the unwanted stepsister.
We experience darkness psychologically as depression, as the “hour of lead”, as the poet Emily Dickinson once wrote. A fitting image reflective of the heaviness, the stuckness and the dull, all consuming despair of depression. Why would anyone of sound mind find any value in the darker moods ?! Mainstream psychology seems to agree and focuses primarily on the eradication of symptoms via the help of pills, pills and more pills. Make no mistake, there is a place for medication in the treatment of depression, but I abhor the unquestioning carelessness with which our culture medicates its citizens, particularly its most vulnerable members, the poor and poorly educated.
But even the well-off are seduced by our culture’s one-sided infatuation with the lighter, more pleasant moods. It is so much easier to escape into substances or addictive behaviors. No joke, it is. Nonetheless, I argue that practioners of the healing arts need to rediscover the value of depression and the darker shades of being, because they are as much part of nature, our nature, as the darkness of November is in the cycle of a year.
I recently read that “you can’t discover light by analyzing the darkness”. This was written by an internationally best selling author and spiritual teacher. A very successful person and presumedly helpful to millions, but in this instance he simply did not get it right. But I can see why the message of tolerating difficult feelings and searching for meaning in the muck of one’s psyche is a much harder sell.
But is there a spark in the darkness? On a cosmic level, science has shown, literally, with the help of an x-ray observatory that a glow with the intensity of ten billion suns pours out of a black hole into the surrounding universe. For a long time scientists believed that no light beam could ever escape a black hole. They were wrong.
Is there meaning to be found in depression? More often than not there is. It might be helpful to differentiate the nature of the darker mood. Is the depression related to a loss that needs to be mourned? It could be the loss of a person or an abstract idea, such as the loss of youth or health, hopes, or the loss of the illusion that life is meant to be an uninterrupted state of happiness. Freud got it right when he said that our whole life is a process of mourning. Think about it, when you allow yourself to feel deeply into your being, are we not always mourning something or someone, even if we are simultaneously quite content and “happy” with our lives?
But there can be black holes in our psyche that can not be explained by insufficient mourning. When Saturn clutches the soul causing wounding and despair too much to bear. How tempting it is to abandon the soul to her suffering and find refuge in medication that quiets her screams. Jung descended into his own darkness/madness and brought forth the insights and techniques that today constitute the School of Analytical Psychology. We Jungians value the darkness. We know that only by bearing witness to suffering and by extracting meaning from it can a new morning dawn. Spring will follow winter, but in the middle of November there is no memory of that.
For those who are interested in a unique Jungian perspective on darkness and its psychological implications I have a wonderful book to recommend. “The Black Sun, the Alchemy and Art of Darkness” by Jungian analyst Stanton Marlan. It was in this book that I found the information on the discovery of light in the black holes. The book, like its subject matter, is illuminating the dark.
And with Emily Dickinson, wherever she is now, I would like to share that the old alchemists knew that the lead of Saturn holds a hidden promise. When made into a fine powder, it ignites all by itself. There is indeed a spark in the darkness of our depression.