Make Life a Mythic Journey
Oh, what is that in heaven where gray cloud-flakes are seven/Where blackest clouds hang riven just at the rainy skirt?/Oh that’s a meteor sent us, a message dumb portentous/An undeciphered solemn signal of help or hurt.
—-Christina Rossetti, Amor Mundi
Meaning is found both through the acceptance of fate and in the struggle to remain free, to make choices in a constricted range of possibilities.
—-James Hollis, What Matters Most (p. 206)
Last summer I traveled to Switzerland to attend the 7th Jungian Odyssey conference (see “My Jungian Odyssey,” blog posted June 29, 2012). There I heard the distinguished Jungian analyst Ann Ulanov urge us to move from amor fati, embracing our fate, to amor mundi, “love of the world” or, in my opinion, universal compassion. While I thought I understood her message, I did not fully appreciate it until this past month. While I knew compassion was empathy for the suffering of others, I didn’t realize how it required me first to deal with my own suffering at the capricious hands of fate. I naively saw myself as a wounded healer (see “It was Compassion, Stupid!” blog posted November 21, 2012), but, in reality, I was “a prisoner” of the wound fate dealt me. Serving or pleasing others was a way to both manage an old wound and to prevent new ones.
What was the wound I carried and how did I find the consciousness required to heal it? In my book, Think Jung! How I Found Meaning in My Life, I dealt extensively with my father-complex inflicted by a neglectful, critical, and hostile father (see “Facing the Father-Complex”). That wound left me vulnerable to the slights—intended or unintended—of others.
One such re-wounding occurred during my retirement process when a friend and colleague’s work pressures inadvertently resulted in my retiring a semester early (see “Prologue: Why I Retired”); and over the subsequent years the reactivated wound festered. While I vainly hoped that my colleague would acknowledge the wound, apologize, and ask forgiveness, it became clear that fate, in his unwillingness to confront his shadow, was not going to allow it. So, I was left with the resentment of the wound that made our continuing relationship uncomfortable until this month when my friend also retired.
What happened took me entirely by surprise. I decided to create a small package of meaningful gifts to celebrate the event. There was not a tinge of negativity, only a sense of joy that I always felt at this time of year at graduation ceremonies. Given my prior history of ambivalent feelings, my wife asked, “Why are you doing this?” I, too, wondered where this celebratory joy was coming from. At this time, I was finishing James Hollis’ book, What Matters Most, where I came upon the following:
As we have seen, the agenda of the first half of life is forged from suffering demands of all kinds and responding to the blows, challenges, and seductions of life, while the second half of life has more to do with wrestling with the aftermath: guilt, anger, recrimination, regret, recovery, and the possibility of forgiveness of self and others. (p. 251)
Eureka! I was taking ownership of my wound and cleansing the negative emotions of my shadow by forgiving myself. This was embracing fate-amor fati, and healing my wound so that I could, with the true compassion of amor mundi, celebrate my friend with the following toast, “This is a gift to me and to you; for you and for me.”
Paul Marshall Wortman, May 14, 2013