Monthly Archives: May 2019

Looking for wisdom

A good account of the difference between the first part of the road of life and what follows is given by the account of the journey of transformation of Dr Richard Alpert, PhD into Baba Ram Dass.

In his account he sees his life as a three part journey – the first as the social scientist stage; the second as the psychedelic stage; and the third, the yogi stage. As Carl Jung wrote and as was mentioned in last week’s post each stage contributes to the next stage – nothing is lost, Ram Dass sees the process as the unfolding of a lotus flower and what goes on inside a human being as they begin to search.

For him the first stage begins with a time of what he describes as success. This is 1961 when Dick Alpert was at the highest point of his academic career. He had many publications and had just returned from a time as visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley; he was assured of a permanent post at Harvard and held appointments in four departments in social relations, psychology, graduate school of education and was also a therapist in the health service there and had research contracts at two other very prestigious universities at Yale and Stanford. He describes his equally ‘successful’ lifestyle, his collection of antiques and the charming dinner parties that he gave. He had cars and an aeroplane, a sailing boat and a bike and was living the way a successful single man was supposed to live in America. He says that he was writing books and so on but never felt a genuine scholar. He had begun therapy six years earlier and was seeing patients:

‘I became a “hip” therapist for the hip community at Stanford. When I’d go to parties, they’d all say “Here comes the shrink” and I would sit in the corner looking superior”. In addition I had spent five years in psychoanalysis at a cool investment of something like $26,000’.

Despite all this Alpert felt like something was wrong in his life but he didn’t know what and couldn’t get hold of it.

‘I felt that the theories I was teaching in psychology didn’t make it, that the psychologists didn’t really have a grasp of the human condition, and that the theories I was teaching, which were theories of achievement and anxiety and defense mechanisms and so on, weren’t getting to the crux of the matter.’

The theories he taught weren’t stopping him feeling neurotic and he felt that the nature of life still remained a mystery to him, it all felt far from wisdom.

Carl Jung on old age part 2

In a letter to Michael Fordham one of the founders of the Society of Analytical Psychology Jung wrote in June 1954 in his eightieth year:

‘Well, after all you are approaching the age when one has to become acquainted with the difficult experience of being superseded. Times go on and inexorably one is left behind, sometimes more, sometimes less, and one has to realize that there are things beyond our reach one shouldn’t grieve for, as such grieving is still a remnant of too youthful an ambition.’

He continues to say that while our libido certainly would go on ‘reaching for the stars’ fate steps in to make it clear that there needs to be a change where we move from seeking completion without and if we can read the signs we turn to our inner life.

Jung says that ‘alas! One becomes aware that there is so much to improve’ in the field of the inner person that instead we can even be grateful to the adversity of old age that helps us to have the necessary amount of free energy to deal with what he calls the ‘defects of our development, i.e. with that which has been “spoiled by the father and the mother”. In this respect, loss of such kind is pure gain’. Jung’s reference to what has been spoilt he takes from the I Ching hexagram 18 which reads: ‘Work on what has been spoilt’.

It’s of interest that here Jung is less concerned with spiritual growth but rather with the repairing of old psychological wounds which is also of course a spiritual activity.

In turning down an invitation to research a German poet Jung demonstrates his ability to let go of what might offer some interest and also some narcissistic gratification but at too great a cost; someone else will need to do this work:

‘A person carries the torch only a stretch of the way and must then lay it down, not because he has reached a goal but because his strength is at an end.’

For Jung the first part of life is the going out into the world to see

‘what the self wants you to do in the world, where – we are located, presumably for a certain purpose… As long as I am on the first part of the road I have to forget the self in order to get properly into the mill of the opposites, otherwise I live only fragmentarily and conditionally’.

The self is discovered through actions in the world, whereas on the second half of the road the goal and quest is the self so the earlier experiences are so to speak reassembled and put back together into the self, so, this second half of life then becomes the time for religious and spiritual searching for meaning and truth about oneself and about God.

Carl Jung on growing old, part 1

I am very slowly and intermittently reading volume 2 of C. G. Jung Letters 1951-1961 – correspondence from the last ten years of Jung’s life and from time to time he writes letters about old age.

In March 1951 at the age of 76 Carl Jung wrote to a colleague how age gradually pushes one out of time and the world ‘into wider and uninhabited spaces where one feels at first rather lonely and strange’. He was commenting on the death of his last close friend. Yet Jung still saw the goal of life at any age as the realization of the self and wrote that everything living dreams of individuation, for everything strives towards its own wholeness.

At the time he was continuing to deal with the fallout from his controversial work Answer to Job and answering many letters from theologians concerned by Jung’s understanding of God and Christ. For Jung, God was always an inner experience. He wrote:

‘God is not a statistical truth, hence it is just as stupid to try to prove the existence of God as to deny him. If a person feels happy, he needs neither proof nor counterproof.’

In another letter in February 1952 he wrote about developing what he called ‘islands of peace’. Places where he could be contented and true to himself:

‘Some of the main islands are: my garden, the view of distant mountains, my country place where I withdraw from the noise of city life, my library. Also small things I like books, pictures, and stones’.

A couple of years later Jung wrote to his colleague Aniela Jaffe begging forgiveness for ‘senile egoism’ and talking only of himself. He continues:

‘The 79th year is 80-1, and that is a terminus a quo which you can’t help taking seriously. The provisionalism of life is indescribable. Everything you do, whether watching a cloud or cooking soup, is done on the edge of eternity and is followed by the suffix of infinity. It is meaningful and futile at once. And so is oneself, a wondrously living centre and at the same time an instant already sped. One is and is not. This frame of mind encompasses me and hems me in. Only with an effort can I look beyond into a semi-selfsubsistent world I can barely reach, or which leaves me behind. Everything is right, for I lack the power to alter it. This is the debacle of old age: “Je sais bien qu’à la fin vous me mettrez à bas”’ [which translated is: ‘I know well that at the end you will put me down’].



Mary as the exemplar of true destiny

Mary gives us a vocation which is to become the place of God’s inhabitation, as through her agreement to become the place of God she offers the possibility that the world could also become a place of God’s indwelling in all living things.

Donald Allchin returns to the title of his book when he writes that Mary is called the joy of all creation, because the whole creation finds its possibility of fulfilment in her. In her this world reveals its true quality, as the good earth, the land of promise, the place where God’s blessing descends in its fullness – it’s then clear why May as the month of blossoms and leaf growth represents her so well.

‘An attitude of contemplative openness and delight before the gifts of God, a recognition of our own creaturely limitations and fragility, above all a certain awe and respect before the mysteries of existence … Only in the rediscovery of such attitudes, which are symbolized in the person of Mary … shall we begin to find a resolution of the urgent ecological problems which confront us, as a result of our inhuman rapacity and greed.’

It’s worth noting that this was written in 1984 and revised in 1993 but so many years later how much more does our world need the example of Mary towards God’s creation. For many and especially amongst those who are oppressed Mary has been the figure who gives life and courage: She is one in whom powers and dominations are brought down and the insignificance of the humble is exalted, in whom the world becomes fit for human and divine habitation.

For Thomas Merton, Mary is a model of simplicity and hiddenness, and in the late 1950s he commissioned a statue of the Mother and Child for the novitiate library at Gethsemani from an Ecuadorian sculptor Jaime Andrade. He asked for Mary to be as ‘the Indian woman of the Andes, the representative of all that is most abject, forgotten, despised, and put aside.’ In the final section of Merton’s prose poem Hagia Sophia which is set on the Feast of the Visitation Merton writes how Mary is the personal manifestation of Sophia – God’s own wisdom.

It is she, it is Mary, Sophia, who in sadness and joy, with the full awareness of what she is doing, sets upon the Second Person, the Logos, a crown which is His Human Nature. Thus her consent opens the door of created nature, of time, of history, to the Word of God.


May – Mary’s month

May is the month when Mary’s maternal role at the centre of the mystery of the incarnation is remembered and celebrated. Mary’s role in the taking of flesh and her free and personal consent was vital and reminds us of the physical nature of what happened. Mary can root our spirituality in the body – in a woman’s body and can also link us physically with all other living creatures that also give birth; it is a link with the materiality of creation. As Donald Allchin writes in his preface to ‘The Joy of all Creation’ appreciating Mary is also about appreciating the God-bearing capacity of the whole of creation.

‘The material world, the world of plants and animals in all its fragility and exuberance, is touched by the divine and is shown to be capable of the divine. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.’

The old Christian traditions in Latin, Greek, Russian and Syriac all say the same thing that Mary is associated with joy and is ‘the joy of joys’, ‘the joy of all creation’ – in her there is a meeting of opposites, where God and humankind connect, where flesh and spirit combine and where time and eternity intersect. And as these opposites come together there is an explosion of joy and a kind of ecstasy out of which the genuinely new is born. Allchin turns to Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) who in one sermon brings together four different attributes with the apparent opposites of peace and mercy on one side, righteousness and truth on the other – Andrewes sees the coming together of all these in the birth of Christ, who rises out of the good earth, the land of promise, out of the Blessed Virgin. Their conjunction corresponds for Andrewes to a fourfold pattern which can be found in creation as well as in redemption and which speaks of the necessity of completeness if we are to receive God’s gift of life.

‘Christianity is a meeting… entertain them all four; 1) hope in mercy; 2) faith in truth; 3) fear of righteousness; 4) love of peace … O how loving a knot, how by all means to be maintained! How great a pity to part it! ‘

Here Mary provides through her body the place for this meeting and reconciliation and provides then the pattern to be continued in the person of each Christian. The theologian Nicholas Lossky comments, ‘Like the Virgin then, the Christian is called to give birth to the truth and to co-operate with their own salvation by encouraging the meeting of the divine attributes.’ Mary gives us an example of the active cooperation of the flesh – of humanity in the incarnation of the Word of God and we are reminded of her as we see the blossoms and the new leaves on the trees, the birds nest building and the general feeling of life and energy that spring offers.