Friday, September 26, 2014

'Seeing One's Life Whole": A Jungian Reflection on My Life

In my Stillpoint spiritual direction program I was  invited to become more self-aware by considering choices I made in responding to life experiences, using Jungian archetypes. It was one of the assignments in the Stillpoint Spiritual Direction program that I have found especially helpful and intriguing. (For more about spiritual direction and Stillpoint, see

You can do this assignment by looking at three or four of the key events on your timeline and determining which Jungian archetypes were most active and which ones could have been used will enlarge your Story.

According to Carl Jung, our lives are influenced by archetypes—images that represent different aspects of our psyche. These archetypes are innumerable but have often been divided into twelve major ones (creator, orphan, magician, innocent, lover, rebel, hero, ruler, jester, caregiver, sage, seeker/explorer.). You can learn more about these types at You can also take an online test to determine which archetypes are currently dominant in your life: (I recommend purchasing this book if you want to go deeper into archetypal analysis.)

Each of these archetypes are present in all of us and became activated during different periods of our lives, depending on our temperament and needs. All archetypes have positive and negative aspects. The part of our psyche that we undervalue or repress is known as our shadow. When we recognize and acknowledge the shadow, the hidden and rejected parts of ourselves, some of the most important spiritual growth occurs. Remember, all archetypes are always available, held in potentiality. Once you identify the active and the untapped archetypes it is up to you to glean as much insight as you are comfortable doing. If there is resistance to the exploration, it might be helpful to investigate that.
Here are some questions for you to consider:

   -do I usually respond with the same archetypal energy?

   -how did the preference for that archetype arise?

   -what other archetypes could have been activated?

   -would using other archetypes have changed the outcome?

   -was the unused archetype shadow?  

   -if it is shadow, what is being denied? 

We are also invited to consider this saying by Jesus:
“If your eye is single, your whole body will be filled with light.” (Matt 6:22)

You may find it helpful to reflect on this passage and see what it means to you. I came up with the following response.

Jesus is describing how it feels when we look at the world non-dualistically, letting go of our judging mind (“judge not, lest ye be judged”).  In this non-dual, non-judgmental state of mind, one’s heart opens up, and one can breathe deeply and easily, as if breathing in God’s spirit and breathing out peace. One “sees” with one’s whole body, mind, and spirit—not just with the physical eye and the intellect. There is deep joy, peace, and clarity, even in the midst of painful times. It is as if the clouds part, and one sees the world in color, not simply in shades of gray.

Here's is my Jungian reflection on my life, my attempt to see with a single eye:

The first significant turning point in my spiritual life occurred in 1971 during my final year of college at Boston University. I was studying poetry with Anne Sexton, the Pulitzer-prize winning poet who wrote amazingly imaginative poems about her bouts with mental illness (despite her enormous talent and great success, she eventually committed suicide). I was editing the BU literary magazine and felt elated that my dream of becoming a writer seemed about to come true. Then I plunged into depression during my final semester. This dark night of the soul was exacerbated by drugs, alcohol, casual sex and financial insecurity. I dreamed of becoming a great writer like Robert Lowell or John Berryman or Ezra Pound, but in reality I was a poor struggling student working as a pot washer at Sears who barely had enough money to pay for food and rent. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life when I graduated. When I asked Anne Sexton, she replied: “Why not become a poet?” The idea was very appealing but I had no idea how to make this happen. A friend of mine bought a ticket on the Trans-Canadian Railroad and a light bulb went off in my head. That’s it! I decided to go on the road, like my hero Jack Kerouac, and write about it. Then, my father, who had been suffering from a protracted terminal illness, died in June, just as I was about to graduate. I went home to Princeton, NJ, for the funeral to take part in an event I had dreaded for 10 years. After the funeral, I left my mother and 10-year-old sister and went on my Canadian adventure. Along the way, I had a “road to Damascus” experience in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I went into a church and saw an open bible on the altar. I began to read it and my heart opened up and I began to cry tears of joy. I realized that this was not an ordinary book and Jesus wasn’t an ordinary man. I also realized that if these words were taken seriously, they would transform my life and revolutionize the world. Evangelicals would call this experience “coming to Christ,” but it was more as if Christ had come to me. I was utterly blown away. After this experience, I realized I wasn’t the center of the universe. There was indeed a Higher Power, a God, with whom I could have an inner dialogue. I began to pray and commune with this Higher Power, sometimes in silence, sometimes by seeking Divine guidance. It was the beginning of a vibrant new life.
The archetypes most active in my life during this time were the Creator and the Seeker. What helped me through this spiritual and emotional crisis was my creativity and my yearning to explore the world, including the world of religion. I avidly read books about Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, Bahai and other faiths. I worked with an artist in Vancouver who was illustrating the I Ching, and did poetry readings and wrote for underground newspaper. It was such an exciting, life-affirming period I felt no need for drugs or alcohol. I was on a spiritual high. I hitchhiked across the country several times and had many adventures. It was the beginning of my spiritual liberation. “My heart leaped for joy,” as George Fox, founder of Quakerism, said when he had a similar experience of the Inward Christ.
My “shadow” was the caregiver and the orphan. Looking back, I realize that I utterly neglected my mother and sister and totally ignored the practical side of life. If I had done my duty as a son and stayed home and gotten a job, my mother would probably have been pleased but I wouldn’t have become the person I am today. This was a time of life when I needed to break free and find my true self. Yet I realize that what I did hurt my mother deeply and she didn’t forgive me until many years later.

The seeker and creator archetypes are still strong with me, but over the years I have learned to respond with other archetypes, as I will explain. How did my preference for creativity and seeking arise? Creativity was something that helped me to cope with a deprived childhood. My parents were both immigrants who were raised in poverty and never graduated from high school, and both suffered deprivation and trauma as children. They did their best to be good parents, but my mother was alternatively abusive and overly affectionate, and my father was often emotionally distant. I grew up relatively poor in the affluent town of Princeton (we had a modest home but no car, and never went on vacations to exotic places like many others in this wealthy community). My “escape” from the boredom of small-town life was my imagination. I wrote poetry and lived a rich imaginative life through voracious reading. I learned Latin and Greek so I could travel in time to the world of the ancients—the world of Homer, Plato, Socrates, Ovid, Virgil, Catullus, Petronius, Apuleius, etc. I also loved to explore history, politics, and the world of ideas. I became what Blake called a “mental traveler.” Influenced by Timothy Leary when he came to Princeton in my junior year of high school, I turned to LSD and “tripping”—another way of inner exploration. I also became a rebel—an archetype that was strong for many of us during the Psychedelic, Radically Rocking Sixties.
The next big turning point occurred when I became a Quaker in 1984. After my spiritual adventures, I returned to Princeton, married the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and settled down to become a teacher. I earned a Masters in education, and PhD in British literature, becoming the first and only one in my family to join the academic world. My dissertation advisor was Paul Fussell, an 18th century scholar who became famous and won the National Book award for his book “The Great War and Modern Memory.” I got a plum teaching job at Carleton, a prestigious liberal arts college in Minnesota, and was on my way to fulfilling another dream—becoming a scholar—when my life fell apart. My marriage broke up and then I learned my mother was dying of emphysema, with the prognosis of only a year to live. I went back to Princeton to care for her and found I was not able to be of much help because of all my personal issues with her. I prayed for God’s help and was led to the Quaker meeting. There I found my spiritual home and a support group that helped me through this emotional and spiritual crisis. I began working for a magazine called “Fellowship in Prayer” and started another period of spiritual exploration, traveling all around the country visiting spiritual communities and leaders, and finally ending up in the Providence, RI, Zen Center, where I lived and practiced Zen for nine months.

This time I did not neglect my mother. I helped her through her crisis in numerous ways, and we had a good relationship during the final seven years of her life. We stopped quarrelling and learned to accept each other.  When I found my spiritual home among the Quakers, I also reconnected with my Inner Voice, my True Self,  which had come to me in Saskatoon. I felt free and fully alive again. I became involved with a fascinating Quaker project—editing a book of writings by Soviet and American writers—that gave me the opportunity to travel to the Soviet Union during the period of glasnost and perestroika. I had the opportunity to live at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia, and met my second wife Kathleen, a Methodist pastor.  I felt as if  I were re-born after my dark days as a self-serving academic. After years of inner conflict, I felt a sense of inner peace as a member of a peace church, and married to a peaceful wife who loved and practiced the contemplative life.
The archetypes that emerged during this period were caregiver, sage and seeker.  The caregiver part of me was very important since I had neglected that part of me during my previous spiritual revival. As a caregiver, I was able to heal my broken relationship with my mother and feel as if I were acting the part of a mature man, not simply a boyish adventurer/explorer. My “shadow” was still the orphan, but I was becoming a bit more practical. I helped my mother sell her bankrupt business and dilapidated old house and move into a condo she could afford with my sister. But I was still far from being very practical about money matters. I preferred to be an explorer and creator. I also began to become more of a sage as I deepened my practice of meditation. If I had focused more on my “orphan,” I would have tried to find a job that earned a decent salary but that has never been important to me.  I chose instead to follow my heart, which led me to the Quakers and to Kathleen and to life of spiritual abundance. I don’t regret I took the road less traveled.
The next big turning point in my spiritual life occurred when my wife Kathleen got cancer seven years ago, in 2007. Kathleen was my soul mate. We were married for twenty years, had a wonderful joint ministry, and were looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together. We decided to spend our twentieth wedding anniversary at Pendle Hill, the place where we met and fell in love. I quit my job as editor of a Quaker magazine, Kathleen got a leave of absence from the Methodist church, and we sold our home for a very good price. I had a scholarship to write a book while at Pendle Hill, and Kathleen enrolled in a spiritual direction program. Then we learned she had lymphoma, a form of cancer that killed her mother at the same age. For ten months, we went on a cancer journey together. At first, the prognosis was good and her oncologist was hopeful. “This is an easy form of cancer to cure,” he assured us. But some bits of cancer didn’t respond to chemo so Kathleen decided to have a stem cell transplant at the City of Hope. Unfortunately, she had a severe reaction to the transplant and died in a couple of weeks. This was devastating to me emotionally, but it was also a spiritual high point of my life. During our ten-month cancer journey, I learned how much I needed God and my faith communities to get through this crisis. Because of my work as an interfaith Quaker, we had the support of people of many faiths: Muslims, Jews, Buddhists as well as Methodists and Quakers. My love for Kathleen deepened as I did my best to be her caregiver.  Kathleen showed by her shining, peaceful example how to face life-threatening illness and death as a Christian—a lesson I will never forget. During this period I became “broken and tender” (to use an old Quaker phrase). Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to go to Pendle Hill, I was able to complete a good deal of the book I intended to write there, thanks to Kathleen’s encouragement. Because of my new-found empathy for people going through health crises, I started visiting folks in the hospital and eventually was asked to clerk the Pastoral Care committee of my Quaker meeting.
For two years, I lived my life as a single. After a year and a half, I began to feel the need to remarry and God led me to a wonderful Christian woman named Jill Shook. I met this kindred spirit at  the Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena and proposed to her three weeks later. I have begun an amazing new life with Jill, but Katheen’s spirit is still with me. One reason I felt led to embark on the Stillpoint program was to continue the work that Kathleen started but was unable to finish. I feel as if God is helping to complete Kathleen’s work through me. That is a great blessing.
The archetypes that emerged during this period were the caregiver, creator, lover and magician. Being a caregiver has now become an important part of my life since my new wife suffers from many illnesses and needs a lot of TLC. But the strongest archetypes are the magician, sage, and lover. Marrying at age 60, I feel as if I am 30 again. I have had to learn a whole new way of relating to a woman who is totally unique (like every woman), and it’s been very challenging. Therapy and counseling has helped us to weather the storms of our first few years of marriage, and our love feels very strong and secure. It feels almost miraculous to be Lover at this late stage of my life. A lover and a sage and a creator, and an elder—what a combo!
The magician part of me animates my work as a writer/peace activist/spiritual director. Through prayer and worship, I seek to cultivate the inner peace I need to do my peace activism. Therapy and spiritual direction have also helped me to work on the inner issues that sometimes block me from experiencing the Light, being honest with myself and others,  and expressing my creative self. The sage part of me is always seeking answers, seeking to figure out what’s genuine, real, and true. Thanks to the sage and the seeker I have come to see much more clearly the hidden parts of myself---the repressed traumas, the selfish habits, the anger and the fears that I have been reluctant to explore or even acknowledge. My shadow is the orphan part of myself. Through self-reflection I have come to realize this vulnerable part of me carries a lot of pain, but is very practical and necessary. I wouldn’t be in the good financial shape I’m in today if I had not been cautious and realistic and practical about financial matters—a  byproduct of my orphan archetype that often worries about the practical issues. My orphan self enables me to see the world as it is, and to appreciate those who are struggling simply to survive--those who are poor, homeless, marginalized. Although I was never as desperately poor as some of those I encounter in my work, there have been times I was so impoverished I had to panhandle and live on the street. Thanks to my orphan self, I have some sense of why St Francis extolled Lady Poverty and why Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in heart. “ Lady poverty and the orphan are great teachers.
I am grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to look at my life, and to see it whole: not only the achievements and high points, but also the failures, the brokenness, and the dark nights of the soul. I began with Jesus’s enigmatic saying: “If your eye is single, your whole body is filled with light.” I believe that at the end of our life, when we transition to the next stage of existence, whatever that might be, Jesus will lead us through our life, moment by moment. This will not be a divine final exam with right and wrong answers. Jesus, our advocate and friend, won’t judge us, but will ask us gently: “So, what did this experience teach you?” I think it’s healing and wise to begin this self-examination with Jesus before one dies, so that one can live more authentically and wholly. This is one of the goals of spiritual direction, as I understand it.





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