Darkness and light in therapy 2

 

Two of the tapestries – the top one called The Dancer and the lower The Bridge

One of the ways in which Marika Henriques began to be able to balance the light and the darkness that arose in the therapy was through embroidery. She had initially drawn and painted, and she had written too, but she writes that she wanted to repair by working through the fragments of her experience stitching things together to make into one.

‘Change can sometimes be sudden and swift or it can be imperceptibly slow. Like my tapestries where each final image appeared (I counted once) through twenty-four thousand small stitches, similarly my becoming more myself came about with small, hardly discernible movements. In my case, change took time. Two decades.’

All was done through image, and this confirmed for her that healing happened through the imagination. The whole experience of creativity – drawing, writing, stitching became healing and transformative, so that Marika Henriques could say: ‘The effects of hiding no longer ruled my life. … When I finished stitching, I felt that I had fulfilled a scared responsibility’.

However, five years after completing the tapestries and believing that she had completed her personal healing journey Marika Henriques began to have Holocaust dreams again. The dreams became part of a sequence – they were instructive dreams with a clear thread running through them; often there were themes forgetting and remembering and losing and finding. In one there was a stark message:

‘I have to return home from abroad, I am in great danger. A rescue operation is organised by two Jewish people. In the dream a voice was saying “this is a wake-up call, it is the Holocaust”’

The next dream gave a clear instruction:

‘Two men turned away from me, saying “We won’t talk to you, because you don’t have a soul.’

The dreams instructed a spiritual path and for Marika Henriques to come out of hiding and rejoin the Jewish community – this would be the final part of the healing for her to ‘become a complete person’.

In the final dream she is returned to a place where she is not hidden ‘a Jewish place’ where she joins in a dance with others who have all survived the terrible times.

‘I am in an open place. There is a lake. There are many, mainly elderly people there. Most of them went through terrible times in 1944, but they had all survived. It is a Jewish place. I am standing somewhat apart from them. A tall, old, good-looking man asks me for a dance. Somewhat reluctantly I accept. I am surprised how pleasant it was, how well we danced together.’

 

Darkness and light in therapy

Marika Henriques

Part of working analytically is about confronting the shadow – what’s been repressed and shut away. The longing to ‘just’ feel better and to get on with life sometimes means that there’s what’s called ‘a flight to health’, but invariably what has been kept in the dark seeks a hearing, and can often re-emerge with renewed energy long after one feels it has been in some way dealt with.

Marika Henriques a Jungian psychotherapist, describes this in her extraordinary account ‘The Hidden Girl’, of coming to terms with what happened to her during the second world war. Born in 1935 in Budapest she was separated from her family at the age of nine. As a Jewish child she was ‘openly’ hidden as an Aryan under an assumed name; a family were paid to look after her and she remains unclear whether she was used or abused by these people as the events of her year of hiding slipped from conscious memory. At the age of twenty she escaped from Hungary, as once again she was persecuted during the 1956 uprising – this time attacked for her middle-class background. Eventually she arrived as a refugee in England, and in time discovered her vocation as a therapist.

Blocking out almost all of the events of her time in hiding, it was only after two years in therapy that she began to feel what she describes as:

‘a dim awareness of something familiar … Something unthinkable, beyond reach, yet known … Something which occurred a long time ago is here hurting me now … Out of this ominous fog only a profound sense of pain and incomprehension appears.’

And:

‘Once when in a therapy session I attempted to lie on the couch, as is customary in analysis, I fell into a deep terror, crouching trying to hide. I stared at the white wall as if onto a screen. But the wall remained blank. No one keeps a secret as well as a child. Her survival depended on silence and I could not persuade the frightened nine-year-old in me to trust and speak out.’

After a break in analysis following a serious medical operation, Marika Henriques brought various drawings that she had made to show her therapist. His comment: ‘there will be dark times ahead of us,’ as indeed there were. What began to happen was as Marika Henriques wrote in a poem: ‘Light is giving birth to darkness’, and she became preoccupied by the question of evil. As ‘the Holocaust cast its monstrous shadow over the analytic space’, she began to re-live the repressed and terrifying wartime experience.

‘Unconscious forces pushed and pulled us about, relentlessly tossing us into a vicious archetypal pas-de-deux in which it was impossible to know who was who and what was what … It was our identification with huge compelling archetypal energies which clouded our reason and dimmed our eyes to the truth. I realized that the passive and suffering victim and the active and aggressive victimiser were two aspects of the archetype of abuse and I understood … that both of us were both victim and victimiser and that we injured each other. … I could now bear witness not only to Evil but also to Goodness, to the islands of light, the scintillae in the sea of darkness’.

 

 

The light that comes from an ecological conscience

 

How can we recognise our self-contradictions? Some are deeply personal, but others are imposed, ready-made by what Thomas Merton calls ‘an ambivalent culture’. In an essay called ‘The Wild Places’ written in 1968, Merton urges us not to accept a false unanimity of how things are just so as to give ourselves inauthentic psychic security and satisfy our fears. Becoming aware of the contradictions and lies about what we are told, and so being able to criticise and protest when we can, frees us up from some of those imposed contradictions. Merton looks at the American state of mind as still operating a frontier mythology, long after Americans have ceased to be a frontier or rural people, and where success as a pioneer depends on an ability to fight the wilderness and win.

The mind set of England as a ‘green and pleasant land’ is somewhat similar – the reality is rather that rail and road projects slice through the countryside destroying mature trees and the green and pleasant land. Both are about controlling and transforming any ‘wildness’ into a farm, a village, town, city – until we are, as we largely are, an urban nation.

The contradiction is that we all profess our love and respect for nature, and at the same time confess our firm attachment to values which inexorably demand the destruction of nature. When light is shone on this contradiction those who do so are seen as fanatical and counter cultural. Merton in his essay sees that this ambivalence toward nature is rooted in religion – the Biblical, Judeo-Christian form. The tradition is one of ‘repugnance’ for nature in the wild, where it is seen and hated almost as a person, an extension of ‘the evil one’ opposing the kingdom of God; the native Indians were associated with this too, and so decimated. Fighting the wilderness and nature then became a moral and Christian imperative. Superimposed on this was later the idea of nature as beautiful, so Henry Thoreau living in the woods saw that balance was needed – an element of wildness was necessary as part of ‘civilised life’.

There exists then this contradiction internally as well as externally of the mystery of nature and the wildness mystique alongside what Merton calls ‘the contrary mystique of exploitation and power’.

The light comes from an ecological conscience which is an awareness of our ‘true place as a dependent member of the biotic community’. Merton sees the ecological shambles created by business and profits as a

‘… tragedy of ambivalence, aggression, and fear cloaked in virtuous ideas and justified by pseudo-Christian cliches. Or rather a tragedy of pseudo-creativity deeply impregnated with hatred, megalomania, and the need for domination. … Money is more important, more alive than life…

An ecological conscience is also inevitably a peace-making conscience … Meanwhile some of us are wearing a little yellow and red button with a flower on it and the words “Celebrate Life!” We bear witness as best we can …’

Over 50 years later there are many millions of people who now have an ecological conscience, and so the light shines on in the darkness. As the campaigner and teacher Satish Kumar recently reminded us:

‘Realists say they are practical, but they are bringing havoc. We inherited such a beautiful world. … But what are today’s realists leaving for future generations?  … The time for realists is over. … It’s time to give idealism a chance.’

 

Light in the darkness 4

Etty Hillesum 1914-1943

One of the most extraordinary personal accounts of keeping the light shining in the darkness comes from the diary and letters of Etty Hillesum. She began her diary in 1941 when she was 27 years old. She wrote about her life as a Jewish woman in The Netherlands, including her inner personal work with Julius Speier, a palm-reading psychologist for whom she later worked and entered into a relationship with. In 1942 and again in 1943, she was taken to Westerbork concentration camp – a transit camp in the northeastern Netherlands – the last stop before Auschwitz for more than one hundred thousand Dutch Jews.

Many will be familiar with her book ‘An Interrupted Life: the diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum’ which also documents her developing spiritual consciousness and belief in God. It is a testimony to love and faith written in the very darkest of recent times: ‘Everything is so mysterious and strange, and so full of meaning, too.’

Still in Amsterdam, Etty Hillesum wrote in a letter to a friend:

‘One day when there is no more barbed wire left in the world, you must come and see my room. It is so beautiful and peaceful. I spend half my night at my desk reading and writing to the light of my small lamp. I have about 1,500 pages of a diary from last year … What a rich life leaps out at me from every page. To think that it was my life – and still is.’

Although, decades later, there is still barbed wire, and high walls keeping people apart from one another all over the world, Westerbork camp with its sickness, overcrowding, noise, fear and despair has been grassed over. Its history is chronicled in the museum and remembrance centre now located there, and Etty Hillesum’s words and inspiration showing such courage and humanity live on. She was determined to share the fate of her fellow Jews without despair, and also without bravado knowing well that she would not survive – ‘willing to act as a balm for all wounds’. And, in the hell of Westerbork Etty Hillesum was able to write: ‘Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.’

‘The earth is in me, and the sky. And I well know that something like hell can also be in one, though I no longer experience it in myself, but I can still feel it in others with great intensity … And when the turmoil becomes too great and I am completely at my wits end, then I still have my folded hands and bended knee … my story … the girl who learnt to pray.’

One of the ways that Etty Hillesum carries a light in the darkness is her capacity to hold both the horror and the beauty in a deeply uncomfortable tension of opposites, as in this extract from one of her letters, where she comments on a transportation leaving for Auschwitz:

‘Just now I climbed on a box lying among the bushes here to count the freight cars. There were thirty-five …The freight cars had been completely sealed, but a plank had been left out here and there, and people put their hands through the gaps and waved as if they were drowning.

The sky is full of birds, the purple lupins stand up so regally and peacefully … the sun is shining on my face – and right before our eyes, mass murder. The whole thing is simply beyond comprehension.’

 

Light in the darkness 3


The feminine face of God

Linking back to the issues in the first post in January, on the left brain/ right brain there are differing views on whether men predominate in one, and women in another – one view is that women are more able to move between the two. Clearly both men and women have both in their psyche.

Carl Jung wrote extensively about the masculine and feminine parts in each person using a different terminology. He saw the animus in women as their repressed masculine part, and the anima in men as their repressed feminine characteristics. In the discussion highlighted in the last two posts between the three men, aspects of the overwhelming dominance of the patriarchy, and the more masculine ways of organising were alluded to, but not explicitly acknowledged and further explored.

In 2009, the Dalai Lama famously said that the world will be saved by Western women. He called for an ‘increased emphasis on the promotion of women to positions of influence’.  In response to a question about priorities in the quest for world peace, here’s what the Dalai Lama said: ‘Some people may call me a feminist…But we need more effort to promote basic human values — human compassion, human affection. And in that respect, females have more sensitivity for others’ pain and suffering.’ It is not entirely clear what he meant about western women, but one commentator has suggested that travelling the world and seeing so many women impoverished and repressed, the Dalai Lama thought that western women of all ages were in a position to speak out for justice, and to take loving care of the planet and its people.

However, in the UK we know about women in power – especially recently in the Conservative Party, and sadly this has not led to increasing compassion, but the reverse. Rather it surely has to be a re-evaluation of the qualities of compassion, empathy and interconnection as linked to the sacredness of life that need to be acknowledged within enough people to tip the balance away from the scientific materialism and left brain dominance.

Anne Baring, Jungian analyst and writer, calls this way of thinking the sacred feminine, or the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, a feminine ethos with the focus on the need to cherish, to nurture life without any attempt to impose an ideology or creed:

‘…the influence of the feminine principle is responsible for our growing concern for the integrity of the life systems of the planet and the attraction to the mythic, the spiritual, the visionary, the non-rational — all of which nourish the heart and the imagination, inviting new perspectives on life, new ways of living in relationship to body, soul and spirit, generating a new understanding of the psyche.’

The recovery of the feminine principle within each of us is the key to the transformation of our world culture from decay, disintegration, and progressive regression into uniformity, banality and brutality, a transformation into something longed for and extraordinary.

Light in the darkness 2

Daniel Schmactenberger who coordinated the discussion

In ‘The Psychological Drivers of the Metacrisis’ discussion* (see previous post), there was agreement that three shifts were needed to bring meaning and halt the damage to the world: the first is repaired relationships within society, bound as in the word ‘religio’, by common and shared rituals; the second acknowledging our shared relationship with the natural world where nature is what you are born out of, and the environment is what is around and sustains us. The third is relationship to the sacred realm – something that is beyond us; this would give us wisdom and would include collective and personal restraint and sacrifice. We need ecologies of practice like the early Christian church, or what is found in most indigenous traditions. There is also panentheism, where transcendence and immanence are brought together, and where God is seen as in everything and everything is in God; this would bring reverence and respect for the other.

The closing remarks included from Iain McGilchrist: ‘Don’t despair, that is achieving nothing and it’s bad for the soul, see what is hopeful, nobody is asked to do the impossible. Do the bit you can and in our own life and with our own life – we all have a role. Although the material reductionist picture results in a vision of the cosmos as a heap of junk with no beauty or purpose and that we have no role here, I would, you know, go to my death to defend the opposite point of view, that actually it is beautiful, it is rich and it is our pleasure, our duty and something we should be grateful for to help further that.

John Vervaeke: The love of wisdom and the love of being are real possibilities. There are already people of good faith and good talent doing this individually and collectively and that opens up a possibility for a kind of transformation. So that as you fall in love with being again instead of the reciprocal narrowing that we’ve been talking about there is a reciprocal opening which is equally possible … And there is nothing stopping you from doing that right now. … ways of expanding, exploring rather than those that close down to the arid bit of something we think we know.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: The concern about religions that many people have actually has to do with people orienting to certainty with them and then closed-mindedness and holy wars as opposed to the exact opposite – holding the mystery at the centre, holding the unspeakable, the unknowable, but the real and so there is an epistemic humility that is built in forever. When we are actually open to the beauty of reality there’s a sense of awe and gratitude and humility that comes of that. But, when we’re open to the beauty of reality being harmed, which is in the factory farm and in the war field and whatever, we also feel the suffering of others, such that it’s overwhelming, and the overwhelm in the beauty are related, because if the reality wasn’t beautiful you wouldn’t care. And both of them make you transcend your small self, and both of them motivate the sacred obligation… The sacred obligation just comes from seeing clearly, letting yourself be moved by the beauty of reality, and, associated with that, the meaningfulness to protect it and the role of the new religion, philosophy whatever in so far it can help people be more sensitive to both the beauty and the sacredness, and thus a protective impulse towards reality, is what I’m hoping people take away.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6V0qmDZ2gg

 

Light in the darkness 1

 

We live in dark times with much suffering and global uncertainty. This means that the start of a new year offers new possibilities for creativity, but this is alongside the ongoing grinding destruction of frightening wars, climate breakdown, loss of habitats, and increased divisions and hostilities across the world.

Both psychoanalysis and spirituality offer the idea of a light that is not overwhelmed by the darkness. In analysis what has been repressed deep in the unconscious can emerge into the light of consciousness, whilst in Christianity we are promised that the darkness cannot and will not overwhelm the light. Both are about opening to the vulnerability of seeking the truth, and both are about healing through relationship and interrelatedness.

Feeling the trauma of the world arises from our interconnectedness with all beings. So, in a traumatised world we too are inevitably collectively traumatised. The next few posts will be about looking at how different people have opened themselves to the reality of the current state of the world, and are offering new ideas and thinking about how the planet, and within that each of us personally and collectively can be healed.

This post focuses on an interesting discussion between Iain McGilchrist (psychiatrist and writer), John Vervaeke (philosopher) and Daniel Schmachtenberger (social philosopher), which was recorded in Oxford, in September 2023.* These three who are all white, middle aged, academic men, reflect on what is now recognised as the metacrisis that we find ourselves in. The metacrisis is described as the total ecosystem of all global crises: climate breakdown, AI, synthetic biology, current wars, all of which share the common underlying dynamics that generate catastrophic and existential risks to life. The aim of the conversation was to look at the underlying dynamics of how and why amongst all the animal species we are so uniquely destructive – the next most environmentally-modifying species is apparently the beaver! The need, the three thinkers agreed, is to look at all the problems together – as to a certain extent they are all connected by our psychology – our cognition and the state of the human mind. It’s a long discussion, over three hours, with agreement that humankind needs to re-find the value of the sacred to combat the destructive nihilism and materialism we are currently swamped by.

We are largely led by sociopathic narcissists and need to find people who can harness technology wisely, as humans have gone beyond evolution because of the speed of technology. The neuroscience perspective, put forward by McGilchrist, is that in the last 200 years, we have first understood— and then remade—the world in the mechanistic image favoured by the left hemisphere of the brain emphasising order, control, rationality, agency, and bureaucracy, that is purposive and tending to ignore what is irrelevant to this purpose – including issues of beauty and morality, and untroubled by empathy and emotion. Inclined to ‘either/or’ thinking, the left brain enables us to manipulate and ‘explain’ the world. The right hemisphere, by contrast, is better at understanding the world in all its complexity. It is inclined to ‘both/and’ thinking, and more willing to change its view in the light of new evidence. It is reflective, empathic, exploratory, more uncertain and self-deprecatory than the left hemisphere. The left sees constituent pieces, whereas the right sees the whole, and where all is flowing and changing, provisional, and complexly interconnected with everything else. Only by following a ‘higher’ value that transcends current materialism, and more influenced by the right hemisphere so as to balance the left, can save us from ourselves.

Tbc …

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6V0qmDZ2gg

 

Thomas Merton Christmas Day 1962

Original artwork by Sue Krzowski

An extract from Thomas Merton on Christmas Day 1962, reflecting on the need to get to what lies deeper and beyond superficial religious life:

‘First of all, it is useless and profoundly stupid to judge those with whom I live, I mean of course those whose anguish and insecurity impose on all the rest absurd and futile burdens, ways of conduct and of worship. I must learn compassion for these also, and above all, speak a truth they and I can both understand.

Yet last night after Midnight Mass and Lauds, I was tired and deeply impressed by the superficiality and shallowness of all our three hours – or rather four and a half hours of chanting and ceremonies. In the heart of all was buried and hidden the word of Truth and the sanctifying presence of the Redeemer. But we are so concentrated on the externals and accidentals (even though we think we are not) that we exhaust ourselves in fruitless gestures and play. This has a certain necessity and validity, and the closer to the essence the more valid it is. But – what is gained by singing over and over the Communion antiphon usque ad nauseum (to the point of nausea) – is there any real difference between doing this and listening to a lot of silly carols? Last night we had both; the carols first and repetitious chant of the antiphon afterwards.

After Vigils, for half a moment that made sense, I stood outside in the darkness with snow falling on my cheeks and listened to the deep silence of the words at midnight! If we are thinking of Cuba and shepherds, let us then remember that it was in such silence as this that the shepherds watched their flocks! And heard the message of God!

 Nevertheless, all this nonsense cannot get in the way if one does not let it. To use the best in it and forget the trash, to be patient in one’s own poverty and anguish, to pray with the Church which, no matter what the rest of us do, remains the Church of the poor and the disinherited, to stand before God as a desolate sinner who finds no comfort and little warning in what consoles others – and not to consider what the others are doing, for that is their business – this also is grace and there is truth in it. Above all true hope is comfort and of the wreckage of what is essentially hopeless.

I think more and more in terms of self-emptying and self-forgetfulness – but not in order merely to drown in a communal superstition and hopelessness. …

This is what comes clear: not this or that approach to prayer, but the complete surrender to God. And I see too that I have never really so far come close to meeting this surrender…’

 

 

All good wishes for Christmas 2023 to all who read this website.

Holding the faith that ‘all shall be well’ – Thomas Merton

 

Christmas – supposedly a time of peace and goodwill to all … how hard it is now to stay hopeful. Thomas Merton writing in December 1961, during the Cold War between the US and Russia, offers some thoughts:

‘Cold. There was a light snow during the night. Yesterday sleet and slush all day.

The anguish of the word “peace” in our offices. And the realization that it is totally serious, and perfectly simple. Above all our confusions, our violence, our sin, God established His kingdom no matter what “the world” may do about it. He sends the Prince of Peace. The message of Christians is not that the kingdom “might come, that peace might be established, but that the kingdom is come, and that there will be peace for those who seek it.” …

Who He is, that comes to save the world! I have not known Him. I have not realised the meaning and power of His presence in the world, nor sufficiently believed in His message of salvation. Endlessness, power above and beyond times – peace in the light of that all-powerful and tranquil majesty …

…the temptation to accept war and destruction with fatalism and indifference. I can indeed be indifferent for myself but I must not be indifferent for the rest of the world, and for the children, and for all who have a right to live in happiness and peace. To live and to say to all who would destroy peace – “You are scoundrels!” and yet recognise them to be like myself, in confusion, and in many ways good men. Perhaps in some ways better than I, but blinded and deceived. For we cannot keep peace by calling one another scoundrels …’

Reading Julian of Norwich, Merton writes later of one of her central revelations – revelations that she deeply experienced, thought about and so her life was completely absorbed by the visions – this revelation of a central dynamic secret “by which all shall be made well” at the last day. Given how life is, this is an apparent contradiction, but Merton’s prayer is to be steadfast, like Julian of Norwich, in the hope and in holding the tension of the contradiction.

‘Life is madder and madder, except that the woods and the fields are always a relief. Bright sun on the big sycamore by the mill yesterday, and light snow underfoot. And silence. Silence now also, and the night. …

Return to the sources and to silence … I feel there is not much time left for one to be learning the really important things, and I will have to trust God for all that I lack, and will continue to lack.’

 

 

 

‘An experiment in leisure’ 2

Rockpool from the Shetlands

‘An Experiment in Leisure’ by Marion Milner, using the pseudonym Joanna Field, has been described as a spiritual book; it is, in the sense of exploring deeply the underlying motivations of the impulses that emerge through Milner’s memories and reflections. Every encounter with a loved person, even if they had not lasted, had given her something – a clearer picture of what it means to be alive. She remembers an adolescent companionship beginning at eleven or twelve that seemed to hold the essence of the matter:

‘… that day we went with crabbing irons to far-out rocks that the low spring tide had just uncovered, we’d never seen them before – and in the pools we found curious sea creatures, a new world of colours and shapes – unguessed-at ways of living’.

With each love had come new glimpses of experience. When she was 20, she had refused to let a new friendship develop, because she was afraid of its power – then she had a dream:

‘… I was in the bedroom of some house, there were lace curtains over the window, outside I heard music, I looked out and there were gipsies passing, going far away to practise their music on the heather, far away to the north. I ached to go with them, but could not, was impeded by heavy baggage and other things.’

The dream had a great impression on her, she decided that she was letting her fears stifle the growth of experience, and shutting herself away from the gipsy music on the heath, simply because she was not ready to face the power of it.

‘The mysterious force by which one is lived, the “not-self”, which was yet also in me, it was this force that I must learn to know, and to remember continually without fear, a force which had seemed sometimes like a beast within, sometimes like a god. … Certainly, I had found there was something – not one’s self, in the ordinary sense of the word “self” – that could be a guiding force in one’s life; but I thought it would be insolent to call this God. … It seemed then, that all these years I had apparently been trying to reach after, grasp, comprehend, this mysterious and astonishing fact of simply being alive.’

A year after writing this book Marion Milner entered psychoanalysis, eventually training as a therapist and becoming part of the Middle group at The Institute of Psychoanalysis together with Donald Winnicott and others. She continued to publish – her own experimental autobiographical work, and on psychoanalysis – she also painted and wrote on this too; preoccupied by sensory experience at different levels.

Adam Phillips recently said:

‘To me anyway, she’s like a kind of visionary, really, it was that it was as though she’d used psychoanalysis to, as it were, create her own vision. She invented it before she went into it. Then she went into it, used it, and made something of her own of it. And it’s unique. … she had a very clear sense of what she was interested in, what she was moved by. … she did believe in a sort of creative unconscious … an internal resource. … where everything came from. … for her, I think the unconscious was another word for inspiration.’