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January 2020

Living my life as a journey

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Occasionally, I let stress overtake me, but then I notice that I stop being a creator and I lose sight of my hopes for a better future. I go into survival mode, inside a primitive emotional state that causes the ‘fight or flight’ response. These are the times I recalibrate. I stop and take the time to recognise the thoughts that are triggering the stress reaction. I can then shift the way I think and redirect my energy into a new field of energy filled with possibility.

Sometimes I simply look out of the window. Then I try to live my day as a journey. When a flower bud has burst into flower, or when a cloud beckons, I feel gratitude and write that into my journal.

We all face challenges at times, but if we stay focused on what matters we will find the light in the darkness.

It is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us that matters.

Count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of awareness of darkness... as the contrast between what we have and how it could be worse is vital to appreciate anything, including our life, and so be happy and grateful.” Carl Jung.

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Finding my Self

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How often do we get the feeling that we are on the wrong path in life but then we do nothing about it?

These past couple of years have been difficult for me after I recognised and acted upon my need to change direction and be more selective of the people that I wanted with me on my journey.

Jung wrote on the possibility of finding the right path for ourselves:  “We are often gripped by fear, by the comforting powers of the old adaptations whose chief virtues were anxiety management and protection, or, alternatively, the path ahead is blocked by familiar apprehensions about stepping into the unknown on our own. No wonder we tend to abide by the familiar, stultifying as it may be. Yet something within us always knows, always protests always begins to withdraw approval and support and we ratify our old inner divisions.” (Volume 14, Mysterium Coniunctionis).

Jung also wrote, “You can only feel yourself on the right road when the conflicts of duty seem to have resolved themselves... From this, we can see the numinous power of the Self, which can hardly be experienced in any other way. For this reason, the experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego.”  (CW 14, para. 778).

In other words, the ultimate decisions of our lives are made by some higher agency than the ego. However important ego consciousness is in the governance of daily life, when ego consciousness can accord itself with the will of the Self, there is a profound sense of rightness, peace, and wholeness. I see the Self as the manager, able to take in all the information that is fed through it from the conscious and the unconscious, and able to make sensible decisions on what is the best way forward, remove anxiety, have confidence, and choose our emotions.

Jung challenges us to consider that within each of us is a centre (our Self) which is wiser than our knowledge, deeper than our learning, older than our chronology, and more durable than our calcified convictions. From time to time, life humbles us, calls us to account, leads us back to the drawing board, and asks us to start over.  Isn’t it nice to think there might be some resources available to us to help us when we think we are bereft and have no hope when we have exhausted our conscious tools when we have lost our way?

The Self is the archetype of wholeness and self-transcendence. A Wise Old Man or Woman often represents this universal image. Jung borrowed the concept of the Self from Hindu philosophy. He described the Self as the “totality of the whole psyche,” distinguishing it from the ego.

In 1939, when he addressed the Guild for Pastoral Psychology in London Jung noted that we all need to remember what our ancestors knew, that if we wait upon the silence, it speaks, and wait upon the darkness, it illumines. But the idea of waiting, listening, attending is an antithesis to us in our modern lives. Most of the time we are ego-driven, time-bound, impatient. This is why we are so lost, and adrift, so distracted, and so much at the mercy of any folly of the moment.  But this timeless part of ourselves is there for us in our troubled hour. When the day arrives in the life of any of us that we can remember this invitation, then the encounter with the Self will not be defeat but a resource, not overthrow but transformation.

*The ego represents the conscious mind as it comprises the thoughts, memories, and emotions a person is aware of. The persona is the mask we present to the world.

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The best thing I have to give this world is my own loneliness

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“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” Carl Jung.

Many people are dying of loneliness. Life's cruelest irony is that the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself.

There is a wonderful story by Hemmingway called ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’

It is a story about lonely old men who have no warm, welcoming place to be when darkness falls. Hemmingway explores how the people cling to the café at night and refuse to go out into the darkness to return to their apartment. Finally when they are closing the man at the bar is trying to squeeze the last customer out, and he says to his colleague” You know, they are all here because of loneliness.” To which the other person replies, “Yeah, a lot of people have it”.

It is a scenario played out up and down the country day in, day out. When I helped out in a bar, many years ago, the regular drinkers would come in every night, and at closing time, would be reluctant to leave and venture into the dark alone.

And so, loneliness is a part of the human journey.  We are in these bodies of skin and bone that we have within this particular psychology and we all have a unique history.

We are born alone, we die alone, and we make friends along the way. We realise that this flight from loneliness can actually be a flight from ourselves.

The cure for loneliness is considered solitude.

Anton Chekov said once that if you don’t want to be lonely don’t get married.  He wasn’t being cynical, merely pointing out that our fantasy is that fusion with ‘the other’  will solve our problem of existential isolation. Even in the best of relationships, there is always a sense of loneliness. We always need to return to ourselves because we are the individual, the Self that is different from ‘the other’.

As Nietzsche  said, “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Once that I accept that I don’t have to be a part of the world, then I am free to be part of it.

This is a paradoxical release of spirit. The world becomes mine when I am no longer holding on to it.

The best thing I have to give this world is my own loneliness. But, at the same time that loneliness is often isolating and can lead to self-doubt and alienation. Often, we need to recognise though we feel lonely and like an outsider, we are still part of a community.

T.S. Elliot says in one of his plays: “In a world of fugitives the person going the right way will appear to be running away.” We might feel like we are experiencing our life as an outsider but there is a community of outsiders.

All of you reading this blog are part of this community. We are all on a journey together, all sharing our experiences. We might have a conversation on social media but at the end of the day we will all go back to our separate lives. At the same time we have touched each other, and our loneliness is what provided the gift of community.

“But loneliness is not necessarily inimical to companionship, for no one is more sensitive to companionship than the lonely man, and companionship thrives only when each individual remembers his individuality and does not identify himself with others.” Carl Jung (Memories Dreams and Reflections, Page 356).

“I” as an individual is what I have to bring to every relationship. That’s my gift, but at the same time, I remain the individual and the flight from that the flight from aloneness, would be to sabotage the relationship itself.

"… the highest and most decisive experience of all, … is to be alone with his own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation." Carl Jung (Collected Works 12, Paragraph 32). 

 “What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.” Ellen Burstyn.

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The Hero’s Journey

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There are many forms of courage including physical courage that enables us to face danger and perform daring feats of strength. Moral courage is where we stand up for what we believe in, and, for many of us, including me, the most profound form of courage is the willingness to stand up to deeply entrenched fears and self-limiting beliefs and overcome them. We can see obstacles not as blocks but as opportunities for growth.

It takes courage to move from victim to victor; from surviving to survivor.

A book that has influenced me during my difficult journey over the past two years has been Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” It tells the stories of heroes in different cultures and time periods and identifies a structure common to all of them.

In each of the tales, the protagonist is living an acceptable life but deep down there is a flaw. Early in the story, he is thrust into situations where this hidden flaw is revealed.

Things don’t go to plan, friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the rules the protagonist lived by no longer apply. He sinks into increasingly difficult circumstances, encountering one obstacle after another until he hits the bottom. This is the decisive moment. There he will remain, a failed hero, unless he finds the courage to rise back up.

If he does rise, the world he knew is fraught with peril but at least now he knows what he is fighting for. He encounters obstacle after obstacle, but this time his challenges make him more determined. At last, he arrives home, more fully revealed and with something to offer that he could not have given before. As Campbell put it, “The hero comes back… with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

The common denominator for all these stories is that the protagonist, through finding the courage to rise from defeat, each time grows a little wiser, a bit more skillful, and acquires greater inner strength. Even when he doesn’t survive the final battle, he dies a hero.

In difficult times, I like to read stories like these. They strengthen my resolve to get going and move ahead. When I am at the bottom of my Hero’s journey arc I remind myself of the qualities of my heroes. Something in my own nature resonates with these qualities. They help me bring out my own heroism so that I can continue on my personal journey.

The difference between those who successfully reach the end of their Hero’s journey and those who don’t isn’t better opportunities or superior allies, but the courage to get up and try again, even when the odds seem insurmountable and discouragement feels overwhelming. When we follow this simple precept, we grow from our struggles and, regardless of the external outcome, acquire stature and nobility that cannot be taken away.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
- Joseph Campbell

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Every human life contains a potential

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I completed my first journal entry in my Red Book.

Psychologist James Hillman believed that one of the greatest mysteries of human nature is the question of character and destiny. In his bestseller The Soul's Code, he proposed that our calling in life is inborn and that it's our mission in life to realise its imperatives. He called it the "acorn theory" - the idea that our lives are formed by a particular image, just as the oak's destiny is contained in the tiny acorn.

Only a tiny proportion of acorns make the transformation from seedling to mature oak trees.  In the same way, only a tiny proportion of people find their true calling in life and thrive. 

An oak tree can produce as many as 10,000 acorns in a year and usually only one or two of these will grow into mature trees. The rest will just exist as an acorn then will rot away or be eaten. In the same way, most people just exist and don't reach their full potential before they die.

“Every human life contains a potential, if that potential is not fulfilled, then that life was wasted...” Carl Jung.

Please support my work by visiting my shop at Jane Redfern Art or by making a donation through Paypal With much love and appreciation. Thank you ❤️