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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Masochism -- Credo XII

I have been writing these Credos, not exactly knowing why. But now I think I have an inkling. Much of commentary on Jung is theoria or praxis. What I am trying to offer is fifty years of personal experience and how by studying Jung, analysis, and now reflection at eighty-five, I can attest that the impact and blessings woven through many years of suffering, tears, struggle, and just plain enduring, along with the wisdom of Jung and my beloved Teacher M, have led me to this very day. So these accounts culminate in what I have come to believe – Credo. I hope you don’t mind my sharing some of the results of experience.

When I married my artist husband Douglass Howell, we were very poor. Thanks to a wealthy cousin of my mother’s, we were given the down payment to a small 30-x-32-foot house in a postwar development on Long Island. On our block were some twenty houses, and all were occupied by second generation Americans escaping the city, mostly Brooklyn. There were eventually at least twenty-five children under ten on our block. The parents, with one or two exceptions, were moving up, as we were slipping down in the social scale. I had grown up in the Social Register, lived in the finest hotels abroad, spoke four languages, etc., but had never lived in a home, or experienced neighbors, let alone kept house. We now lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Eventually we had four children, a hand press, and a handmade paper mill in the cellar.
I mentioned my son, Timothy, in my last post. On Sundays, I took the kids to the Episcopal Church. When Timothy was about seven, he was already taking Sunday School lessons to heart. My kids took the “first shall be last and the last shall be first" as a variation on the normal fight to see who could sit in the front seat of the car!

The other boys on our block included a bunch of good-natured bullies who fought in bunches. Invariably, Timothy would end up at the bottom of the pile. He is a Pisces, with Mars in that sign. Once his Leo six-year-old sister Abby came to the rescue with a stick, and the boys fled from her outrage! (No, Timothy was not a mama’s boy, but he did have Mars in Pisces!) When I asked him why he didn’t fight back, he replied, “Jesus said, if a guy hits you once, turn the other cheek!” Well, I couldn’t counter that, so I finally consulted M. M grinned and said, “To be sure. First time is one; second time is two, but he didn’t say anything about the third time!” Tim took this to heart, and I had my first lesson in masochism.

But I didn’t learn the lesson for myself and suffered for the next twenty years from a horribly negative animus which collaborated with accepting constant putdowns in every department from my spouse. Not knowing much about family life, I accepted this as a norm and became a closet martyr. Then one day on TV, on American Playhouse, I watched Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh! The plot involves a common laborer husband who abuses his wife; she forgives him; next time it’s worse and she forgives him and on and on. The climax comes, as I remember, when he blames her for constantly forgiving and not stopping him, and in the end, he jumps out the window! That was my second lesson in masochism. I was wearing a sign on my back saying KICK ME! so to speak. There are many, many cases of this in the world and still are.
I finally woke up when something so dire occurred that I knew it was wrong. So I went to the library and took out my forgotten friend Jung. I studied and learned that one cannot help anyone by pity, or change anyone but oneself. I learned about a negative animus. I learned that by changing one’s own consciousness, the outer circumstances will change.

I wanted to write my thanks to Jung and tell him that in reading The Secret of the Golden Flower I discovered that I possessed a twin of the Tibetan thangka that was his and is the frontispiece in the book. It was given to me by my mother’s friend, who had bought it in Peking before WW II. But who was I to write the great Jung? He died, and years later I read in his letters that at that very time he was despairing of ever being understood. So my life is my letter to Jung.
I studied Esther Harding and wrote her a seven-page letter and tore it up. Who was I to write the great EH! After twenty-six years, I finally left the marriage, and I read Edinger’s Ego and Archetype, wrote him, mailed the letter, and he wrote back! Phew.

Too late, I read in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “That which is within you, if it cometh forth will save you, but that which is within you, if it cometh not forth will destroy you. I just put down my head and wept.

To end on a lighter note, several years later, I took six of my students, boys eleven to fifteen, and my youngest daughter, Jennifer, to Scotland. We were in the Hebrides, and the boys wanted to camp out and cook over a fire, sleeping bags and all. I had driven the van all over the island, and we ended up opposite a quarry. The kids finally went to sleep on a stretch of grass, and I chose a spot with a rock at my back and some loose stony bits to lie on. At dawn, Jennifer came bouncing down and asked me how I slept. I said it was really uncomfortable with all those stones. Mother! she said, why on earth didn’t you move those few feet over there to the grass!! It had never occurred to me! Survival, in my childhood, depended on my adapting. From age five to twenty-three, I never stayed more than three months in one place and traveled to about thirty-five different countries by age fifteen. I still struggle with adapting rather than choosing to change my environment. But a light went on! Aha!

Forgive this confessional, but if it serves to alert just one of you, how meaningful an encounter with Jung’s ideas and applying them can be, I will not have written in vain. When in the Gnostic Gospel of John, in the Round Dance, Jesus chants, "Learn to suffer and not to suffer," he is pointing out that it is the ego that suffers and if you realize you have a Divine Guest, the Self, this is the part who watches and teaches through the grace of Sophia’s in-tuition. When you observe yourself suffering, for that moment you do not suffer.

gratefully and lovingly,

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