Hope through Tragedy

Today’s blog is inspired by a friend going through a very difficult time who suggested I write about enduring hope when I requested a topic. This blog is for her and everyone traversing their own version of tragic circumstances.

What is hope?

Hope is an archetype….an archetype called The Star, according to the ancient wisdom of the tarot.

Archetypes are the collective instinctual drives we all share in common and inherit the moment we are born, according to Jung.

Archetypes are the gods and goddesses, according to the ancients and indigenous people.

Whichever way you want to see archetypes, see them as sentient energies that live in their own place and this is the place we all birth from on a soul level. The collective unconscious is our mother birthing the individual psyche. The archetypes are transpersonal helpers, instincts, forces, and beings.  Hope is a goddess, a god, a sentient energy, and a collective instinct.

Hope is the “light when all lights go out” as said in Lord of the Rings when Frodo is trapped by a deadly giant spider and needs the light of hope to literally not die.  Victor Frankl wrote a book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he links feeling hope to the chances of survival for concentration camp victims in Nazi Germany. Could this really be true? Could hope keep us alive?

What we endure as humans is beyond rational comprehension…

From the natural tragedies of break-ups, death of loved ones, illness, and sudden losses of all sorts….to the diseased type of tragedies that stem from multigenerational trauma and systemic oppression such as sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, prejudice, poverty, and mistreatment of humans, animals, and the planet on many levels….human life and tragedy are bound together.

You cannot answer why on a spiritual level without finding a lesson in the darkness. When you endure hope through tragedy you come out the other side of it with more compassion, more liberation, more knowledge, more love, more understanding. This is a truth of human kind.

When you collapse into tragedy with a sense of doom, blame, punishment, despair and resentment you come out the other side more bitter, closed off, abusive to self or others, hateful, and sick. This is also a truth of human kind.

I want to be careful here and say that every feeling needs an outlet. Hope is not turning a frown upside down. It is not putting a positive spin on a terrible situation. Horrible experiences happen. Unfair circumstances happen. Nobody should spiritually bypass the feelings of anger, despair, resentment, rage, and resignation (among many other feelings) by saying, “this tragedy is meant to be because it will make me stronger, wiser, loving, and aware.”

The process is key and the journey is everything. Feelings are like poop and like chemical storms. What happens if you don’t let yourself poo because you tell yourself it is wrong or bad to poo? What happens if you try to stop a raging hurricane? You can’t stop a storm and not letting yourself poo will make you sick.

All feelings need time and space to be honored and felt.  The key to moving feelings out of the body is to not wrap a mental story around the feeling. Feel the resentment when your partner betrays you but don’t tell yourself you are piece of shit and it’s your fault or whatever the story may be. Keep stories off the feelings and use your mind to keep repeating, “I feel resentment” as you find a way to express it.

Express feelings through exercising, making art, acting, singing, venting to a friend, dancing, cooking, cleaning…find your way and let the feeling out purely without a narrative of why and what the feeling means.

I promise you, the feeling will pass as every storm and every bowel movement does. I am being crude on purpose. Negative feelings are crude. They are not elegant and they don’t smell good but they still need to be honored and let out.  If you let your feelings out you won’t spiritually bypass them with answers, solutions, reasons, meaning-making. Even the best of tools can be used for harm.

Karma, which is simply the accumulation of feelings that are not released from the body (due to stories or what the Buddhists call “attachments”), can be turned into a scolding and judgmental concept when you say, “I won’t feel my anger because I don’t want to create karma.” If you don’t want to create karma, feel your feelings fully and let them pass through.

Astrology is a great tool that can also be used the wrong way if you won’t let yourself feel despair by saying something like, “I have a Scorpio eighth house moon so despair is in my chart.” The tiniest bit of reasoning, no matter how true, can shut the actual feeling off.

Many therapeutic modalities do this too. Re-framing, a cognitive-behavioral technique of turning a negative story into a positive story, may shut off a feeling of anger that needs to surface and be released. It is best to first release the feeling and then re-frame the story.

The point I want to make is that all tools in the spiritual-psychological-self-help tool box can be misused. Take positivity for example. Positivity is not about only feeling and thinking positive thoughts. For that secretly judges and scolds negativity and the act of judging and scolding is extremely toxic. True positivity is remembering that all feelings are innocent when felt and expressed purely.

The truth of how the human body works is that honored and expressed feelings leave the body and cause no harm. When feelings collect in shadow they change over time. They putrefy and create bigger uglier monsters that erupt as chronic illness, projections, neurosis, and imbalances of all forms.

When negative feelings are honored and expressed they leave the body and hope has room to enter. Hope needs room to enter. Hope wont bludgeon its way into the heart.

Why some people have an easier time feeling hope while others struggle to feel hope is part mystery and part rational. The mystery roots down into temperaments. We all have a temperament. No need to judge yourself if your temperament is not very hopeful. I am sure you have another archetypal instinct pouring through you in spades.

Every human is a unique finger print of qualities and this is not in our control. The mystery owns our temperament.

Yet even the most hopeless temperament may experience hope because hope is an archetype we all connect with in the collective unconscious or spirit world. Every. Single. One of us.

Sometimes it takes a little work, which leads to the rational understanding part. If you struggle to feel hope due to your temperament, due to struggles internal or external, or due to being pummeled by tragedy all at once…you can do two things to invoke hope.

First, you can stop rejecting your feelings with judgements and make the dedication to feel your feelings without a story wrapped around them. You may get help doing this with a therapist or healer, a friend, or even a pet. Maybe being with spirit in solitude or in nature is helpful.

Feeling your feelings without stories may take a while. Patience is not easy but needed. For most of us have been told by culture, family, or both that negative feelings are bad and wrong and we experience literal cut-off from feelings as a result. Many of us instead find refuge in various addictions and distractions such as drinking, working, working-out, over-analyzing, focusing on others in service, partying, escaping through drugs, eating, shopping, etc.

But it’s every human’s birthright to reconnect to our feelings. Everyone is capable.

Another aspect to check is the story showing up as identity.

Maybe you identify too much with despair, depression, resentment, etc. Identification is when it’s not really despair you are feeling, it’s the story of despair you are telling yourself and have been your whole life.

You can tell the difference between a feeling and a story by seeing if you identify with it. If you identify with being a depressed person, chances are you have cut-off from many feelings due to being stuck in an identity. Feelings of anger and even self-empowerment may be longing to express but cannot get through the depressed story or persona.

Sorting out feelings from the story, starving out the stories, honoring and expressing the feelings is a process. Process is the most important part. Nobody can bypass their own process. For some it is quick, some slow… but for most of us healing moves in a spiral. We make progress then fall backward yet when we do we are a little wiser, a little more aware, a little more loving.

The second thing is you can invoke hope through ceremony and ritual.  The ancients and indigenous were very connected using ritual and ceremony to stay healthy. Arhcetypes such as hope speak to the conscious-self through images, sound, taste, movement, and feeling. The ancients and indigenous also understand that we are literally made of the elements (earth, air, fire, water, ether) and we may call upon them to ground and connect self to earth.

Whether you partake in a more formal ritual, alone or with a group, or whether you express ritual through making art, singing, listening to a song or a sermon…. ritual and ceremony simply means that you intentionally use your creativity, feelings and senses to invoke the archetypes.

It is everyone’s birthright to invoke hope.

Invoking may be as simple as lighting a candle and calling upon hope in meditation. It may be as elaborate as performing a sacred dance on the full moon after calling the directions, elements, angels, ancestors and allies.

Invoking hope may be as simple as singing a song that makes you feel hope. It may be as elaborate as writing a song about hope and performing in a hospice setting to inspire those close to transitioning into death.

You might find the perfect crystal and invoke hope into the crystal, wearing it over your heart each day.

Or perhaps you put your hands around every glass of water you drink and invoke hope into the water.

Hope does not ask for a specific kind of ritual or ceremony. Hope only asks to be acknowledged.

Many leaders have hope moving so powerfully through their hearts that they inspire everyone around them. Martin Luther King Jr comes to mind as a perfect example of this. Hope catches flame. You may not intend to call upon hope but hope finds you anyway.

Sometimes hope enters the body so strongly that it wipes out any blocks in the way and washes you clean. We have all experienced this through listening to song, watching a movie, being moved by a speaker, looking at a sunset, into a loved one’s eyes, or a work of art.

Hope is always available to us no matter how dense the jungle of tragedy, betrayal and injustice we are traversing. May hope find its way into your heart in your darkest night of the soul.

Jungian Psychology and Becoming Whole

Carl Jung called it the individuation process. Through the lens of shamanism it is called soul integration. I see Jungian psychology as the western european reinterpretation of the indigenous practice of soul retrieval, where the healer of the tribe would travel into non-physical dimensions (the names of these dimensions vary from tribe to tribe) of the sick person, retrieve fragmented soul parts that fled during trauma, and return these parts to the individual in present time, making them more whole.

In Jungian psychology, the unconscious would be the name of this other, non-physical dimension. The shaman would be the psychotherapist. The soul parts would be aspects of the Self tossed into the shadow, as well as archetypes living in the collective unconscious. Bringing these aspects of self and archetypes to conscious awareness through active imagination, dream interpretation, creative expression, etc, would be akin to the shaman retrieving the soul parts for the individual and breathing them back into the heart through the process of spiritual journeying and ceremony.

This correlation is my humble opinion. I have not studied up on this correlation and perhaps much has already been written. I am reflecting upon my personal thoughts from my own personal experience. I have had soul parts retrieved by a shaman and I immersed in the shamanistic healing lens for a number of years in the early 2000’s. I retrieved my own soul parts after a time as I desired to do the work on myself, straying from the tradtional path.

I need to mention that this was a western civilization’s appropriated version of shamanism I immersed in. Although this appropriation was rooted in loving intention to bring authentic healing to others, I acknowledge it is far different than if I were to study with an indigenous tribe and experience the true original essence of the practice…and even then, I would still be a westerner entering a culture not my own.

Jung used the metaphor of shadow and light to refer to the conscious and unconscious and turned the spiritual concept of soul into the psychological concept of the Self. Jung translated the earth-based spiritual into the psychological in a society that devalued and oppressed the indigenous soul, pushing this aspect of our human nature into the shadow (this is the Tricker archetype of which I will save for another blog) in favor of western, masculine dominant civilization (again, another blog for this mammoth topic). Although he had his own battles with devaluing the feminine (his own shadow), I am thankful for his work, his words, and his translation that allowed the earth-based feminine wisdom to survive in a cloaked western masculine form. Again, this is all my humble opinion and I too, have my shadow.

The soul journey is filled with the light-experiences of security, pleasure, belonging, connection, health and well-being. The soul journey is also filled with the shadow-experiences of insecurity, pain, loneliness, illness, abuse, loss and separation. We are each unique and yet we share in common the nature of the soul journey which is filled with shadow and light experiences.

The ratio of shadow to light experience is different for everyone. Why? I find it valuable to not ask why. Asking why puts a narrative around the happening that produces suffering that stems from comparing. Sure, you can say it is karma, or law of attraction…but what if you didn’t make a reason that put control in the individual for causing the ratio? What if nature simply produces a variety at random?

What if karma is not about how much pain we endure but more about how we handle it? What if the more we learn to handle shadow experiences with self-awareness, love, and acceptance the less we create some shadow experiences that stem from self creation (such as relationship conflict and self-sabotage)…yet the more we are able to metabolize and grow from shadow experiences that we do not cause (loss, abuse, oppression, death)?  Questions to think about (and again, another blog topic). Back to shadow and light reflection…

We also contain light and shadow aspects within the Self. The light is what we are aware of and the shadow is what we are not aware of. The light is the conscious self, or ego. The shadow is the unconscious, which has a personal and collective level. Think of it like an iceberg. The ego is the small tip of the iceberg rising out of the sea. The personal unconscious is the large expanse of the iceberg submerged under water and the collective unconscious is the depth of the sea itself.

What we (and others) approve of about the self is expressed as our conscious self or ego. What we are ashamed of and judge about the self hides in the shadow of the personal unconscious. Painful feelings, traumatic experiences, and the wounds we carry may also get relegated into the personal shadow. Some of us have consciously over-identified with our wounds, traumatic events, low self-esteem and self-worth, causing a healthy and positive sense of self to live in the personal shadow. It’s different for everybody.

When the self becomes too divided, suffering results in a variety of ways. The ego projects onto others what hides in the shadow. This happens in personal relationships and collectively. When we do not own our own shadow material, we blame others for in relationship. Our inner division is reflected in relationship division. Feelings stemming from unprocessed complex trauma, abuse, or hurt relegated into the shadow can morph into physical and mental illness. Addiction may result as a way to continue avoiding the painful feelings and wounds living in the unconscious. We may relegate our spiritual connection or soul-self into the shadow and on an ego level, always find the need to compete and prove ourselves due to being so disconnected from essence. 

The collective shadow contains who we are systemically. All of us are deeply connected to our family system. We inherit multi-generational wounds, character traits and behavioral patterns through the bloodline from our ancestors and immediate family that live in the collective shadow and may be unconsciously creating chronic issues in our lives. For instance, A great great great grandmother’s anger from being oppressed and abused may be passed down from generation to generation as a character trait of being easily enraged for the smallest of reasons. This rage may cause conflict and reoccurring issues in each new woman born into the bloodline. 

The instinctual human drives we all share in common as a human species also live in the collective unconscious and are called, archetypes. These collective instincts are invisible and so the archetype is like a pictorial costume the instinct wears so that the conscious self can be aware of it.  The drive to live, love, belong, sexually connect, succeed, make meaning, spiritually commune, create, mother, father, etc…are the archetypal instincts. For instance, if you suddenly feel a strong urge to have a baby, it is the mother archetype connecting to your conscious self, asking for embodiment. If you suddenly know you must become a healer, it is the healer archetype connecting to your conscious self.

If an archetype over-powers, it may cause suffering, illness, and imbalance. A good example of this would be an insecure and outcasted young man who suddenly becomes driven by the spiritual teacher (hierophant) archetype. If he finds a sense of empowerment from this archetype he may lose himself in it and become evangelistic and dogmatic as he mistakes connection with power when developing a following of students.

An archetype may also be stunted. For instance, if the artist archetype connects to the ego of a woman who suddenly feels the need to create, but she doesn’t express it due to being too busy with work, she may turn toward excess eating or drinking to release the pressure of the artist archetype building up in her belly as creative fire and passion. 

The archetypes are mysterious. They tend to wake up and connect to our conscious self of their own accord, having their own consciousness. Jung tended to see them as sentient unconscious forces that possess the ego. The god and goddess pantheons may be seen as archetypes. They can make us feel more connected, inspired, alive, and whole, when we embrace them in a balanced way. For instance, if an isolated and lonely young woman suddenly connects with Venus, the archetype of feminine love, she may experience her female sensuality and open her heart, attracting in a romantic partner.

One of my teachers warned us about the archetypes, due to their nature being collective, they are impersonal and do not care for our personal lives. Hence, we have to learn how to say no to them sometimes, if it isn’t in our best interest to work with them. For instance, the warrior archetype may connect to the ego of a woman who is always fighting, when she needs to find more softness and love in her life. In this case, it would be best for her to not give in to the sudden desires to fight in certain situations.

I am only touching upon this topic and feel this blog is already growing too long. I would like to wrap it up with a few words about the healing process…

Transformative healing naturally happens when we illuminate unconscious shadow aspects with conscious awareness by giving acknowledgment, honor, and expression to these parts. The healing for the conscious self is through gaining awareness, understanding, and expressing what is in the personal shadow. The healing for the unconscious is when we give conscious embodiment to the archetypes through creative expression, ritual and ceremony.

When the unconscious and conscious find one another through these means, the healing takes place of its own accord. I can say from personal experience, when I become aware of what is in my shadow, I gain a sense of humor about it and it doesn’t seem like a big deal after I express the initial shame, embarrassment, or fear that was keeping the deeper feeling or aspects of Self in the shadow. I have also experienced more wholeness and fulfillment by allowing certain archetypes to have creative expression in my daily life. 

I find it very useful to allow the ego to feel all the uncomfortable feelings (shame, sorrow, anger, humiliation, etc) with radical acceptance in order to do this integration work. When all the parts of self begin to connect, being who we are feels right and flows, no matter what the experience, be it shadow or light. 

Integration of the shadow and light allows the Self to become more whole and balanced. In essence, we piece ourselves back together with wisdom, love and creativity, turning suffering into gold. Narrating the “story of me” is meant to be a creative process and determines our internal experience. Like the clam turning mud into a pearl, the pain we have been through may become the fodder for transformation and healing.