Monday, February 14, 2011
This seems a moment in history to remind ourselves of one of the most significant ideas put forward in the last century! Arnold Toynbee, the famous British historian, put it this way (as I remember it):
It is not what happens to a civilization [country], but how it reacts to it that determines the outcome.
And to paraphrase Jung:
It is not what happens to us as individuals, but how we react to it that determines our spiritual growth.
This concept, collectively and individually, is probably one of the most important ideas that might sustain us as we live in these acutely challenging times! Egypt is a current case, in point.
There are many extreme individual examples of this: Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, or Nelson Mandela, the South African, who suffered decades in prison for trying to liberate his country from European colonization, who triumphed in the end and is now a revered heroic founder of this independent nation. These are just two well-known examples, but there are countless others all over the world.
I call it the Pearl Principle. It is the irritant in the oyster that produces the perfection, luster, and beauty of the pearl.
As so many, many people all over the world are suffering, one way or another, as countries under despotic rulers or victims of natural or manmade disasters, never was it more important to realize the enormous import of this philosophical, psychological, if not spiritual truth.
* * *
Speaking for myself, last evening I was wallowing in self-pity with a dear friend, bemoaning the physical and financial calamity of this brutal winter that has caused the virtual collapse of a whole room in my house, with leaks that cannot be stopped until April at the earliest! The prospect of moving the contents and files, packing everything in boxes, and this includes the meditation room upstairs that requires a whole new window – at 88 and unable to use my right hand, in constant pain, plus the current absence of my beloved secretary due to illness, etc. etc. – this prospect seems insurmountable, combined with the effort to finish collecting materials for the Archives of Smith College! Well, my friend added a well-deserved scolding, and I went to bed in pain and misery, only to wake up with the comforting insights of Toynbee and Jung! Bless them! Hooray for the Unconscious!
Thus, I hasten to share the wisdom of Arnold Toynbee and Carl Gustav Jung, in the hopes of potentially cheering just a few others of the millions of people who are suffering far greater pains than I am.
I must not forget my magic word Vivex! that forces me, without fail, to get up and go on, or my oft-quoted words of the Bishop of Woolwich, In we are and on we must.
Finally, I offer the consolation of looking up to the stars at night: the universe is running on time and this too shall pass. As the medieval French poet Francois Villon wrote, Ou sont les neiges d’antan? Where are the snows of yesteryear?
hopefully and lovingly,
Friday, February 4, 2011
Now, there’s a tough commandment! Especially when the news of the day is so full of opposite factions striving against each other, to say nothing of killing them. After years of listening to clients and patients griping and growling about their antagonists, it seems a hopeless and unreasonable task.
It starts with blaming, which, of course is a form of projection, and this brings up the lines of wisdom in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others who trespass against us.”
But there is the problem of seemingly real evil and hateful behavior that makes the commandment perhaps seem too idealistic. Here is another way of looking at it:
This is based on the concept of karma, which is simple action and reaction. No “sin” is involved, and it takes reincarnation as a given. If you can allow these two to be a reality, you will know that when your “enemy” does something unspeakably cruel or evil, you should develop compassion for them because they will have to learn the hard way the next time around! That compassion amounts to loving your enemy, but it is not easy.
Yet, here are a few instances that come to mind. One was a young man with an angelic disposition who suffered all kinds of physical ailments and had a history of cruel mental and physical abuse as a child. Let Mark be a poster child for many, many similar cases in our world. It seems so totally unjustified. Consider the possibility that this is a “redemptive” life, and that by maintaining his good nature and kindness, he was erasing the past. In such a redemptive life, one may discover that one’s true nature is essentially to be kind. Here is an extreme example:
One of my uncles graduated with the Edward Sheldon from Harvard. Ned went on to become a famous American playwright and became wealthy in the 1920s. I corresponded with him at the age of 11, when I sent him, at the suggestion of my mother, a play that I had seriously written! I received a telegram critiquing it, and so when we went to New York, my mother decided we should meet. We went to the address on the Upper East Side, and took the elevator up to the penthouse. The small elevator door opened, and I was in for a shock! A narrow bier was in the middle of a beautifully furnished room, complete with a piano. The bier had four tall candles burning at the corners, and on it was the body of Ned. I felt scared until a hearty voice said, “Welcome, Penelope and Alice!” He was alive, handsome, and tan and looked twenty years younger than my Uncle George. He did not encounter the stress of everyday life and he was rolled out onto the rooftop to get some sun whenever possible.
What had happened to him was that when he was about 30, he had been suddenly overcome by a mysterious medical condition which left his body totally paralyzed for life and also blind!! To shorten the story, he continued to maintain his friendships with the literary and theatrical elite, without a trace of self pity, and took the time from that day on to befriend me, to encourage, and to guide me in times of adolescent crises. He became my spiritual confessor. I was to surface as an example of his kindness and wisdom in the biography written about him after his death, The Man who Lived Twice by Eric W. Barnes. Perhaps in the next CREDO I can tell the story, as it is an example of the unreasonable social mores of the 1930s. Ned always communicated by telegram, which in those days, consisted of a tickertape message pasted on a folded yellow Western Union envelope.
There is a saying, “Every saint was once a sinner.” One of the most controversial ideas that Jung came up with was that “Christ” might sometimes wear the mask of the “Devil” in order to teach us.
I suggest to anyone reading this, to look back over your own life and, in the privacy of your conscience, look at your own past and see where you might have made a mistake, a definition of which came to me years ago: A mistake is a loop in consciousness made to expose a greater surface to experience. My youthful error was that when I became conscious of a psychological or behavioral mistake, I thought I was free of it. Not so! I had to apply the new insight. I then had the idea of Christ’s seamless garment, presumably his aura; by contrast, most of us have holes in ours, but when we learn the lesson, we fill that hole and it’s on to the next one. This must be the distinction between being holey and wholly holy! (Forgive me!)
More in my next CREDO!