Make Life a Mythic Journey
“Instead of defining ourselves by what we are not, we feel a oneness with all. We begin to sense our connection with all people and things. … it is the dawning of awareness of the unity of seemingly opposed attitudes toward life. We begin…to see the dance of God in everything.”
—-Robert A. Johnson, Living Your Unlived Life (pp. 213-214)
For the last class of my Think Jung! workshop this semester on December 2nd, I was searching for an age-appropriate example for my retirement learning group of the need to bring the spiritual into our lives. Given the season, it finally occurred to me that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was the perfect story to illustrate this point. The elderly Scrooge must ultimately embrace the meaning of Christmas by finding his inner spirituality. As is typical with such stories, a Jungian fourfold encounter is required—first with the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, and then with the three ghosts of Christmas—past, present, and future.
Early on we learn that Scrooge’s humanity and his ability to find his inner spirituality was blocked by a harsh, rejecting father. To Jung, this was the negative father-complex that I, too, struggled with until, like Scrooge, well into my second half of life. Scrooge, as with so many men, sought to fill this void by achieving masculine power through accumulating wealth. I took another path by constantly waging guerilla warfare with those in power. In both cases, we were not living our lives, but the lives of our fathers who had imprisoned us.
It takes a miraculous event to free us and allow us to find our spiritual center or what Jung called the Self. Scrooge had a night with four ghosts; I had a major, big dream. In both cases, the startling result is a great sense of oneness with others and an immense feeling of compassion. This is not achieved, however, by seeing the father or whatever forces hold you back as being vanquished, but as being embraced as part of you. As Ann Ulanov said, “You must embrace your inner criminal,” or in this case, perhaps our inner Scrooge. We all have that selfish, materialistic part of ourselves. And sadly, this part has become emphasized so much at this time of year with Black Friday and other consumer rituals. The trick is to realize that selfishness and greed are in all of us and not to point to others as the problem—so called projection or splitting off.
This is a hard lesson—for me, for my class, for all of us. I kept on repeating to my workshop participants, “We have to get from I to us; from me to we.” Even so, one of the first questions was, “What about all those people who don’t get it?” We must not only embrace our inner Scrooge, but all the Scrooges, our modern day one-percenters, out there, just as Scrooge’s nephew embraced him.
Just three days after the class, Nelson Mandela died. He was the archetype of this spirit—a living reminder that it is possible to endure immense suffering and yet put aside recrimination and retribution and embrace your oppressors. Of course, I was struck by the similarity of Mandela with the Jungian mandala—the circle of perfection. The circle includes all the opposites—love and hate; fear and hope; callousness and compassion, but brings them into that higher spiritual place of unconditional love and unity. This is the great teaching of Nelson Mandela; the one in keeping with the meaning of this season and the ultimate meaning of life as we pursue our inner spiritual quest. In the end it will bring us to that place where we can say, as Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”
Paul Marshall Wortman