In 1964 the child psycho-analyst and paediatrician Donald Winnicott wrote a review of Carl Jung’s extraordinary autobiography Memories, Dreams and Reflections. Winnicott focuses particularly on the first three chapters of the book which he describes as self-revealing statements as they document Jung’s own healing from what Winnicott describes as infantile psychosis. Winnicott emphasises that by saying that Jung was mad as a child and recovered, he is doing nothing worse than what Winnicott would say about himself that he was sane as a child and that through analysis and self-analysis he achieved some measure of insanity in adulthood! To know about the mad parts of ourselves is a richness and a strength. As he puts it: ‘We are poor indeed if we are only sane.’
For Winnicott and Jung both positive and negative, sanity and insanity are anyway always present though they may be labelled differently for example as persona and shadow and might change over time. Jung knew through his experiences about the ego disintegration in his childhood (partly due to his mother’s instability) but needed to establish a robust self with which to know and understand what had been going on. Similarly Winnicott had experience of his compliant false self which appeared sane, but as an adult needed to unravel that to locate the true self and understand what such compliance had cost him.
What both therapists knew was that life was more than surface and that underneath the apparent ‘civilised’ self much complexity lay. What matters is the awareness and understanding of the interplay between the various parts of ourselves and I think this is also a spiritual experience. For when Winnicott writes about Jung’s recovery he is talking about a form of resurrection and the cycle of suffering and awakening.
Therefore it is this emotional literacy that is also part of understanding our spiritual development and insights. I like Harry Williams’ claims following his serious breakdown that he decided he would then no longer preach about any aspect of Christian belief unless it had become part of what he called his ‘life-blood’. Instead he would only speak about and write about those things which he felt he had proved true in his own experience through living them and therefore knowing about them at first hand.
It is no coincidence then that Williams’ most famous books that still resonate through the authenticity of what he writes about are True Wilderness and True Resurrection. Through his analysis and own self-analysis he understood that suffering is always destructive but again appearances can be deceptive. Some people cannot open to it and so as he puts it they ‘shrivel up and atrophy’ but for others whilst the devastation of whatever ordeal they have gone through leaves deep and permanent traces, there is also present an awareness that they are in touch with a new dimension of reality. He writes: ‘They have somehow penetrated to the centre of the universe. They are greater people. They are more deeply alive. That is resurrection.’
It is also resurrection when one can rise above irritating or confining circumstances and Williams sees all of this as a mystery and a miracle and that it is ultimately the creative act of the Eternal Word. This takes place in all the ordinariness of everyday life so we sometimes do not recognise resurrection when it comes to us…he likens it to the guests at Cana in Galilee who enjoyed the good wine but did not know where it came from.