Life after Death

April 21, 2010 § 5 Comments

The latest issue of Parabola is appearing here and there and in my completely biased opinion it is very beautiful and rich.   Please buy it!   Please talk about it and post and twitter about it!  Thank you! We really need your support! Among the other riches I’ll be blogging about is a fascinating article about Carl Jung’s Red Book by Jung biographer Claire Dunne.  What is the meaning and significance this mysterious work, which was hidden from the public for so long?   In the words of author Dunne:  “Cary Baynes, a former patient who was asked by Jung to transcribe the text, called it a ‘record of the passage of the universe through the soul of a man.’  It records the search, experiences, and initial findings of a man who at age forty had, by his own account ‘achieved honor, power, wealth, knowledge and every human happiness,’ yet had somehow lost his soul.”

Many of us have had at least a fleeting sensations of losing our real selves, if not our real  souls–of being carried along passively by habits and deadlines and pressures, losing the thread of what we deep down feel we were meant to be.   It’s a truly haunting feeling.   There used to be this strange expression you would say when someone shivered: “Someone step on your grave?”     That’s a pretty good description of what it can feel like to be gripped with the sensation that you’ve lost track  of your inner life, stopped caring about the development of your own soul, letting it be drowned out by the din of outer life.  How do we begin again?  How can we see into our lives as if for the first time?  In the words of T.S. Eliot (and continuing a thread begun in a previous post):

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)…..”

Jung chronicles how he passed through that gate (and pays the price of not less than everything).  Interestingly (in light of the poem), his journey began by rediscovering child’s play, remembering what he loved to do as a child.  What did you love to do?  Build things?  Draw?  Stare at clouds and daydream?  Investigate.  Follow whatever it is.  It can lead you from shallows to the depths.

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§ 5 Responses to Life after Death

  • Robert G. Longpré says:

    Hi Tracy, in case you were unaware, Jung-Fire is having a discussion on the Red Book with some interesting ideas being bandied about. Thanks for coming to my page as it allowed me to discover yours. I will be adding you to my blogroll and returning here in the future.

    http://retiredeagle.wordpress.com/
    Through a Jungian Lens

  • artxulan says:

    Michel de Salzmann said; as reported by Fran Shaw in notes on The Next Attention.

    “We are all like this, experiencing associations, frustrations – with good reason: look at what you’ve done today. To let that be, but to feel some pure attention, free of associations, even as you are, suffering, tired – a beautiful landscape! So remarkable when there is, along with that, a moment of attention – quite different. And the seeing, this contact with pure attention, is freeing.

  • Ron Starbuck says:

    Even though I’m a pluralist and universalist at heart, actively involved in an interfaith dialog with many other people of faith, for nearly twenty years I have attended Trinity Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. My wife Joanne and I were married there in 1997. Trinity is our spiritual home, as any sacred community can be for any one of us. Although the place you may attend or belong to might be another church, shrine, temple, mosque, cathedral, synagogue, ashram, or some other spiritual center.

    The point I’m trying to make is that these sacred communities often become a second home for many of us, a place of safety, where we form relationships with one another, and the divine, however you might conceive of the divine. Such communities are a place of refuge and spiritual growth. Tracy’s Parabola Editor Blog postings and the responses from each one of us can certainly be viewed as such a community. Let me share with you something of my own journey.

    Over the years many people have walked through the doors of Trinity in a profound state of loneliness and separation, spiritually hungry for some encounter of what Marcus Borg would call “the More.” Perhaps you have had a similar experience in your own life; perhaps this is true for you even now. What I have found to be true for myself is that through the community at Trinity and the acceptance of this community I and many others have been healed and blessed and have been restored because the people there gave us the power and the courage to say “yes,” to say “yes” to God, and “yes” to ourselves and “yes” to the community. Communities we should remember are a collection of people, a sacred collective if you wish where we may encounter God’s presence.

    In my case, when all is said and done, when we stand together before God, not later, but now in this very moment, the power of that one “yes” combined with the “yes” that is coming from and through each of you, echoes across a universe of infinite possibilities and is answered by “yes” after “yes” after “yes,” in a world without end. This is how the “Amazing Grace” of God transforms a life, all life. It comes to this you see, you are accepted. Nearly sixty years ago, the 20th Century theologian Paul Tillich, wrote about this in his book, The Shaking of the Foundations. Where he asked the question, do we know what it means to be struck by grace?

    You are Accepted! You are Accepted! You are Accepted! Do we know what it means to be struck by Grace? Here are some of his words. When you read them, please keep in mind that God’s grace crosses all faiths and all communities; Jesus in my mind is a universalist, each sacred path leads up the same mountain.

    “Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the Savior, or that the Bible contains the truth. To believe that something is, is almost contrary to the meaning of grace. Furthermore, grace does not mean simply that we are making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against special faults, and in our relationships to men and to society. Moral progress may be a fruit of grace; but it is not grace itself, and it can even prevent us from receiving grace. For there is too often a graceless acceptance of Christian doctrines and a graceless battle against the structures of evil in our personalities. Such a graceless relation to God may lead us by necessity either to arrogance or to despair.

    It would be better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace. For if we accept without grace, we do so in the state of separation, and can only succeed in deepening the separation. We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace.

    It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life.

    It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.

    Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later.

    Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace after such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.”

    In Arthur Miller’s play, After The Fall, he seems to capture this moment of grace and self acceptance most eloquently in the character of Quentin.

    “After the Fall”, was first performed in the Lincoln Center Repertory Company, New York City, on January 23, 1964. The action takes place in the mind, thought, and memory of Quentin, many say this is Arthur Miller and Maggie was Marilyn Monroe, his former wife.

    Except for one chair there is no furniture in the conventional sense; there are no walls or substantial boundaries. The setting consists of three levels rising to the highest at the back, crossing in a curve from one side of the stage to the other. Rising above it, and dominating the stage, is the blasted stone tower of a German concentration camp. Its wide lookout windows are like eyes which at the moment seem blind and dark; bent reinforcing rods stick out of it like broken tentacles.

    On the two lower levels are sculpted areas; indeed, the whole effect is Neolithic, a lava-like, supple geography in which, like pits and hollows found in lava, the scenes take place. The mind has no color but its memories are brilliant against the grayness of its landscape. When people sit they do so on any of the abutments, ledges, or crevices. A scene may start in a confined area, but spread or burst out onto the entire stage, overrunning any other area …

    We must understand that often life begins only after a moment of despair and even destruction, after we have reached the very depth of hell, after, after the Fall. So it is with the play throughout and as it comes to the end. Maggie has died of an overdose. Quentin is searching for his own being in the midst of this tragic death and the death of all those who died in the concentration camps. He speaks to Holga, one of the characters in the play, but he seems to be speaking to all of us.

    Quentin speaks:

    “But love, is love enough? What love, what weave of pity will ever reach this knowledge—I know how to kill?…I know, I know—she was doomed in any case, but will that cure? Or is it possible — (He turns toward the tower, moves toward it as toward a terrible God) — that this is not bizarre…to anyone? And I am not alone, and no man lives who would not rather be the sole survivor of this place than all its finest victims! What is the cure? Who can be innocent again on this mountain of skulls? I tell you what I know! My brothers died here— He looks from the tower down to the fallen Maggie.

    …And that, that’s why I wake each morning like a boy—even now, ever now! I swear to you, I could love the world again! It’s the knowing all? To know, and even happily, that we meet unblessed; not in some garden of wax fruit and painted trees, that lie of Eden, but after, After the Fall, after many, many deaths.

    Is the knowing all? And the wish to kill is never killed, but with some gift of courage one may look into its face when it appears, and with a stroke of love—as to an idiot in the house—forgive it; again and again…forever?”

    Do we know what it means to be “Struck by Grace”?
    We do! For it is in this moment, here and now, when “we meet unblessed; not in some garden of wax fruit and painted trees, that lie of Eden, but after, After the Fall, after many, many deaths. And with a stroke of love — forgive, again and again … forever!”

    Little Gidding (No. 4 of ‘Four Quartets’) – T.S, Eliot

    “What we call the beginning is often the end
    And to make and end is to make a beginning.
    The end is where we start from. And every phrase
    And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
    Taking its place to support the others,
    The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
    An easy commerce of the old and the new,
    The common word exact without vulgarity,
    The formal word precise but not pedantic,
    The complete consort dancing together)
    Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
    Every poem an epitaph. And any action
    Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
    Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
    We die with the dying:
    See, they depart, and we go with them.
    We are born with the dead:
    See, they return, and bring us with them.
    The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
    Are of equal duration. A people without history
    Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
    Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
    On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
    History is now and England.
    With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
    Calling”

    And so, like Carl Jung, we must each take up this journey and pass through the gate, and “pay the price of not less than everything” found in a moment of grace. Our lives are filled with such moments of grace if we will take the time to recognize them and to know that we are accepted and beloved of God.

    • tracycochran says:

      Hi Ron: I finally had a chance to sit and really read this–and fittingly, after a night of tossing and turning and too much thinking. Finally, just before dawn I came to a place related to what you describe so well here. It was a willingness to be with what is, instead of all the time tossing and turning and wishing it were otherwise. That feeling of being Accepted in our falleness is grace, isn’t it? Sometimes I think that what stands in the way is my own refusal. I have to agree to receive the grace that is constantly available. Yet each time, I come to a bitter end that leads to a letting go, and a new birth.

  • michael james says:

    What can be more inevitable than death , and yet this mistery brings all our “dreaming reality” of what life is and what is really our objective , to a level of questioning. Where do we go finally , nobody has come back to tell us more about this mistery, therefore it seems as if we need to feel this void, not knowing , brings alongside the idea that we do not control our lives as we imagine to.

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