The sins of the father…

“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology.  He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world.  There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.” — Carl Jung

 Reading Jung left me with the sense that my intuition and experience of the world as a messy place was not an unreasonable conclusion to come to. I spent a lot of time in the following years reading and psychically attending to the darker and more shadowy side of the world. No longer an innocent, I wanted to know and perhaps try to understand all that humans had been through and how it was that we got to our time in history. Why did humans seem to perpetuate so much evil? Was it the lack of security from easy access to basic necessities such as food and shelter along with powerlessness in the face of disease and each other? What made us seemingly so different from the animals?

Animals also live with the same scarcity of security and live and die not unlike we do, but they don’t seem bothered in quite the same ways as we do. They kill for food, fight for dominance, but rarely to the death of rivals within their own kind. But humans have filled history with an interspecial rivalry that continually leads to conquest at the great cost to each other and to ourselves.

But, it wasn’t for the horror of history that my interest remained fixated on our collective past. I wanted to understand psychically what it is that humans are doing. All of this was part of my ever-expanding search for a sense of myself, an identity. My life felt unstarted, directionless, as if I had been dumped into an alien world a total stranger. This might have been a common situation experienced by many, but if so, I was not aware of it. Partly, because I had just enough fear keeping me from finding out from others, and partly because most people I approached with conversations about cosmological concerns did not seem to share either my sense of alienation, lack or misplacement of identity or a strong and incessant drive to understand who and what we are.

In the historical search lies a sense or a pull to “get to the bottom of the problem.”  Who or what then is to blame for our condition? There have been many answers to this question, and I think that how we answer this question plays a part in what direction we steer our boat in the cosmological ocean. It never occured to me then just how much the personal state of my life was driving this quest for understanding and that perhaps this was why other people did not pose the same questions to themselsves.

I noticed that after absorbing the history of a millenia or two worth of mankinds failings that a feeling of dispair and cynicism seemed like the most appropriate response. It was tempting to resign myself to the view that perhaps mankind was a blight upon the universe and my small and trivial life was just one more wink in the sleep of the cosmic nightmare. But the coming to such a negative conclusion did nothing to quench my thirst for understanding. Sigh…

Inspite of our seemingly trivial and pointless lives there remained for me the quest of knowing who I am and to finally bring the quest directly to my own doorstep. If my thirst for understanding was not sated by the knowledge of our collective human history, what then? What did my psychic appetite want?

What drives each of us to be who we are and especially our own peculiar pathologies? Is it the sins of the fathers, genetics, astrology, culture, personal or collective guilt?

In my late twenties, my sense of being lost and without direction, ironically, or coincidentally, put me on a path that eventually found me living alone, 3,000 miles away from family and familiar friends. At last I reached a place of wilderness in an unknown territory, both psychically and geographically. In 1991 I had moved from my native Long Island NY home of 33 years to Portland, Oregon. Although I moved out there with a male companion, by 1993 we had gone our separate ways. In hindsight, I am surprised that I stayed out west. I was terribly lonely, and felt like I was forever circling around the Great Abyss. 

Faster than I could run away from it, the aloneness that surrounded me created a space that gave a new shape to my life. Once that space had been created, there was no longer any way to deny that I was the problem and any real answers to my personal pathology would be found only through learning to live in the dark unchartered depths of being alone with enough courage, space and time to live in the day to day of the mess of my own being. There was something for me to do now and knowing that meant no turning back.

I cannot say whether the sins of the fathers brought me to this place, but I think I felt like they did. Everything in my life seemed entangled with everything else, from human history to family history, I could not tell the difference between me, my life and anything or anyone else. I could not tell how I was getting from one place to another let alone why. I felt pulled from one experience to the next as if I were riding in a car with no driver. Before I could ever hope to be in relationship to others I had to have some way to be able to have a sense of who I was and what I wanted and where I wanted to be. I needed and sorely lacked a vision.

The next two or so years would be the most tumultuous, tortured and crazy years of my life. But it’s true that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

“The broken part heals even stronger than the rest,”
they say. But that takes awhile.
And, “Hurry up,” the whole world says.
They tap their feet. And it still hurts on rainy
afternoons when the same absent sun
gives no sign it will ever come back.
“What difference in a hundred years?”
The barn where Agnes hanged her child
will fall by then, and the scrawled words
erase themselves on the floor where rats’ feet
run. Boards curl up. Whole new trees
drink what the rivers bring. Things die.
“No good thing is easy.” They told us that,
while we dug our fingers into the stones
and looked beseechingly into their eyes.
They say the hurt is good for you. It makes
what comes later a gift all the more
precious in your bleeding hands.

~William Stafford

“Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth.

Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20, Douay-Rheims translation

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