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Friday, March 6, 2009

Enantiodromia – CREDO LVIII

   
Jung was fond of this Greek word meaning “running into its opposite.” It described the compensatory reaction of the Unconscious to any extreme conscious posture we are likely to assume. Put this word in your lexicon!

This is most clearly understood on the collective level. Take the historical matter of the Spanish Inquisition: Those accused of heresy were tortured to confess they were serving the “devil” by well-meaning(?) fanatics trying to save souls from hell. In the hideous practices, the “devil” walked into them! In the process of bringing democracy to Iraq, we seem to have lost much of our democratic rights here at home!

Psychologically, we see it frequently in what might be termed the guru or preacher disease – consciously they preach against all kinds of sexual sins, only to be caught acting them out secretly themselves. It could be what Christ was referring to as the problem of the “whited sepulchre.”

Enantiodromia is a warning against extreme conscious attitudes which inevitably get compensated by our Shadow. The quickest way to catch it in ourselves is through our negative projections. I myself wrestle with the conundrum: I am intolerant of intolerance! (Back to the drawing board!) It might be said that Jung is suggesting that trying to be too good is bad for us! I know he pointed out that trying to be perfect is pointless. The word per-fect itself means done, finished, ready to be put into a museum. No, he reasoned, we should strive to be whole! The mandala of the psyche depends on pi, so wholeness implies a work in constant progress.

When I taught the basics of the different religions to my ninth-graders, I quoted the Islamic tenet that only Allah can make something perfect, and for this reason every Muslim artisan makes a deliberate mistake in his work. I had brought a Turkish prayer rug, with its point tufted into the design so that the rug can be aligned with Mecca. The class immediately concentrated on finding the mistake and actually found more than one!

If we think about it, machines can turn out thousands of identical “perfect” lifeless objects but no individual paints or sculpts or creates in anything but a personal style, and this is what we recognize and honor. Just think of the difference between Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso or Rouault, to say nothing of Grandma Moses! Or try the funny papers or cartoons. It could be said that in the end all we have to give the world is our individuality, our uniqueness. As Martin Buber remarked, God never repeats himself.

Comparisons are odious indeed, whether they are made by others or by us as we flagellate ourselves. I had a governess in Rome who kept reproaching me for not being a good little girl like Maria! Hah! Maria, a few months later, told me hers had asked why she couldn’t have nice manners like Alice!

I may have already related my early permanent annihilation of jealousy at that time. I was secretly jealous of another, a golden-curled blue-eyed pretty girl about my own age. I thought it through, lying in the hotel bed, and realized that there was no way I could ever be like Gloria. No way, no how. So I was stuck being me. That moment of conscious common sense has stood by me all these subsequent eighty years! Today with our uniqueness confirmed by DNA, I have decided that all we have to give to the world in the end is ourselves and vive la difference!

Shakespeare put it best in the advice of Polonius to Hamlet:

   This above all: to thine own self be true,
   And it must follow as the night the day,
   Thou canst not then be false to any man.


We are all works in progress. I just had a note from Gerald Schroeder, the author of The Hidden Face of God, one of the best books I have read in the last forty years. He is both a scientist and a mystic and lives in Jerusalem. He tells me that in Exodus 3:14, the Hebrew words of God are: I will be that which I will be, which, unlike the English version, puts the definition in the future tense. This is a significant concept, putting the Creator in constant motion rather than the static “I am that I am.” It makes one feel as if life is one great mysterious adventure. It fits Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher Jung was so fond of, who wrote panta rhea, everything flows.

The paradox is that our only glimpse of eternity is that it’s always now!

And my now says it’s time to go to bed.

lovingly,
ao

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