Sunday, April 27, 2014

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day

Mordecai Ardon, Kristallnacht (Missa Dura Triptych),
Tate Gallery, London (© The Ardon Estate, by permission)

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is held on the Hebrew date 27th of Nisan, which this year begins in the evening of Sunday, April 27.

The six million Jews that perished, out of whom approximately one and a half million children are remembered in ceremonies and services held all over Israel, in schools and the media. At ten am on Yom HaShoah, a siren is sounded across the country, which comes to a complete standstill, in silent commemoration.

Living with Jung: "Enterviews"
with Jungian Analysts, Vol. 3
by Robert and Janis Henderson 

The following is an excerpt from the chapter "Silence is the Center of Feeling," in Living with Jung: "Enterviews" with Jungian Analysts, Vol. 3 , by Robert and Janis Henderson.

Robert Henderson: As a Jungian what are some of the important lessons or observations you have of the Holocaust or Shoah?

Erel Shalit: This is quite a big question – profound and to me personally meaningful.

I feel I have to anchor it in my personal background, but before that, a word on etymology: Holocaust is an ambiguous word. In the sense “everything has been burned,” it is an apt denomination of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis. However, considering its original meaning pertaining to religious sacrifice, as it was used prior to WW2, makes it a rather cynical term.

While I use both Holocaust and the Hebrew word, Shoah, I prefer the latter, which has no similar religious implications. It means catastrophe, destruction, to crash into ruins, to lay waste, to make desolate. It may possibly be connected to the Hebrew word for being amazed, to wonder, “to stand empty of thoughts.”

While many aspects of the Shoah have occupied my consciousness during much of my adult life, the repression and the silence about the Holocaust during my childhood is striking. The silence in the aftermath of the War was of course common among refugees and survivors, reflecting how the soul is at a loss dealing with catastrophe.

In contrast to less fortunate relatives – among them, my paternal grandmother who was gassed in Auschwitz – my parents found refuge in Sweden.

Silence about the war during those years was, I believe, a means to gain a foothold in an uprooted world, awareness that there were others so much worse off, and an effort at protecting the children. Only later did I hear for instance about the officer at a local Gestapo headquarters where my father had to report, who for some unknown reason told him quickly to get out and run away.

That is one of those big moments in life where something seemingly minor yet tremendously powerful, such as a friendly smile, or a smell of an unconscious memory, makes the wind of fate blow in an unexpected direction. I am forever grateful to that unknown Gestapo officer, and I often remind myself that he may be present in my greatest enemy. Just like evil resides in the soul of everyone of us, there may be light in the midst of darkness; where the shadows of horror cover the face of the earth, you may unexpectedly find the exceptional person.

My father, who came from a family of rabbis, had to set the spiritual and philosophical life aside, in order to gain a foothold and provide for his family in a surrounding that was not really his. I found it fascinating how the pile of books, with Goethe and Feuchtwanger and Heine on top, served as the fourth leg of his bed, finding relief from their prosaic task when my father occasionally pulled one of them out, perhaps trying to understand his own exile.

But as I said, what in retrospect has come to strike me most strongly is the silence. The Holocaust, which had broken the link to the immediate past, was not spoken about. There was a distant, Biblical past, and the efforts to secure an unknown future.

Silence served the repression of loss, and the sense of displacement. Silence was a barrier against memories that threatened to flood the island of survival, but it probably became as well an obstacle to live a full life; silence, like when you concentrate not to lose the grip of the rope you are hanging on to and fall into the abyss. A silence filled by the shadows of pain and fear that creep up just because you try to keep them away by not talking about them. A silence so oppressive that it threatens all the time to explode. This is the silence that holds both the fear and the instinctive warning, which Jung says we try to avoid by noise, since “Noise protects us from painful reflection, it scatters our anxious dreams.”

So at the center of my way of relating to the Holocaust is Silence.

There are different kinds of silence, from the meaningful silence, which gives birth to wisdom, to the freezing silence of trauma, both extremes of this duality pertain to the Holocaust, or the Shoah, for me filled with irresolvable duality.

But there is not only the silence of the victim. There is the silence of denial. As Elie Wiesel has said, what hurts the victim more than the cruelty of the oppressor is the silence of the bystander. We have rightly spent much effort to try understand the victim, as well as the psychology of the perpetrator. I believe there is much more that we need to learn about the bystander, because we are becoming a world of pseudo-involved bystanders. It is easy to identify a Holocaust-denier, but repression is more complicated – not being affected, not being touched, whereby we refrain from ascribing adequate meaning. To me, this is when we disconnect from the Self, the archetype of meaning. We are flooded by external, sometimes actively manipulated images (who looks carefully at a photograph these days, when hundreds can be produced digitally and you don’t need to develop a single one?), and we believe this is reality, while it is a map that often has only a weak or no relation any longer to reality. We believe that the flood of images and information makes us more knowledgable, but mostly it is a superficial preoccupation with stupidities, such as tracking what people you know are doing, finding out that they are tracking you tracking them, etc., as on Twitter.

And so we lose track of the meaningful images that by repression thrive underground. This is part of the “degenerative symptoms of urban civilization,” which Jung speaks about, and which produces all this babble-chatter, or noise in Jung’s words, which, he says, “stops the inner instinctive warning.” If we don not feel the tremor, we cannot identify what is boiling underground. This is where I feel we have not learned enough from the Shoah, and may fail the future, which may crash into ruins, become a desolate wasteland.

If to me silence is the center of feeling, or affect as regards the Shoah, duality is the axis that pertains to the aspect of thinking. Like any other totalitarian state of mind or movement, Nazism was based on splitting and projection. While consciousness is based on differentiation and separation, in its extreme, this becomes evil and diabolic (‘throwing apart’) – who shall live and who shall die, which race shall prevail and which shall perish. When the ego is in archetypal identification with Absolute Truth, the shadow is projected onto the Other, who “has to” be persecuted. We may easily see how this happened in the past, or how it appears in totalitarian regimes or fundamentalist thinking, but it is as nearby in today’s fragmented world, in which there is no longer one narrative, but anything is considered as truthful as everything else. Jung was so right when he said “man’s psyche should be studied, because we are the origin of all coming evil.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Three Jungian Books on the Stages of Life

Painting by Susan Bostrom-Wong
From 'The Empty Nest' Series

“The art of life is the most distinguished and rarest of all the arts.”
—C.G. Jung, CW 8, par. 789.

Jung wrote his important essay on The Stages of Life eighty years ago. Daniel Levinson and other life span researchers have called him 'The Father of Life Cycle Studies'.

Three books are briefly presented below, that study aspects of the cycle of life from a Jungian persepctive.

In Midlife
by Murray Stein

Midlife: crisis, anger, change… Drawing on analytic experience, dreams, and myths, Stein formulates the three main features of the middle passage. First an erosion of attachments. Then hints of a fresh spirit - renegade and mischievous - that scoffs at routines. This new spirit disrupts life and alarms family and friends. Finally, with luck, a transformation occurs; life beings anew.

  • Hermes, Guides of Souls through Liminality
  • Burying the Dead: The entry into the Midlife Transition
  • Liminality and the Soul
  • The Return of the Repressed
  • The Lure to Soul-Mating
  • Through the region of Hades
  • On the Road of Life after Midlife
Find at Amazon

Jung and Aging
by Leslie Sawin, Lionel Corbett and Michael Carbine, Editors

Possibilities and Potentials for the Second Half of Life
Leslie Sawin, Lionel Corbett and Michael Carbine, Editors
ISBN: 978-1-935528-62-3
270 pp.
Price: $32.95

Aging–what it is and how it happens–is one of today's most pressing topics. Most people are either curious or concerned about growing older and how to do it successfully. We need to better understand how to navigate the second half of life in ways that are productive and satisfying, and Jungian psychology, with its focus on the discovery of meaning and continuous development of the personality is especially helpful for addressing the concerns of aging.

In March 2012, the Library of Congress and the Jung Society of Washington convened the first Jung and Aging Symposium. Sponsored by the AARP Foundation, the symposium brought together depth psychologists and specialists in gerontology and spirituality to explore the second half of life in light of current best practices in the field of aging. This volume presents the results of the day's discussion, with supplementary perspectives from additional experts, and suggests some practical tools for optimizing the second half of life.

  • Foreword                                                                       Aryeh Maidenbaum 
  • Introduction                                                                   Leslie Sawin 
  • The Case for a Jungian View of Aging                         Leslie Sawin 
  • Successful Aging: Jungian Contributions to
  • Development in Later Life                                            Lionel Corbett 
  • Emergence and Longevity: Some Psychological
  • Possibilities of Later Life                                              Joseph Cambray 
  • Intimations in the Night: The Journey toward
  • a New Meaning in Aging                                              Michael Conforti 
  • An Adaptive Perspective on Aging                               Robert Langs 
  • CHAPTER SIX: Opportunities for Ongoing
  • Jungian-Gerontological Partnership                             Michael E. Carbine 
  • The Whole-Person Services Model and
  • the Second Half of Life                                                Kelley Macmillan 
  • The Central Role of Creativity in Aging                       Gay Powell Hanna 
  • Some Thoughts on Aging Well                                    Mary A. McDonald 
  • CHAPTER TEN: Conscious Aging
  • as a Spiritual Path                                                        Melanie Starr Costello 
  • Spirituality and Relationship in Later Life                    Jerry M. Ruhl and Roland Evans 
  • For Every Tatter in Our Mortal Dress:
  • Stayin' Alive at the Front of the Mortal Parade            James Hollis 
  • A Jungian Approach to Spirituality in Later Life           Lionel Corbett 
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The Cycle of Life: Themes and Tales of the Journey

“The art of life is the most distinguished and rarest of all the arts.”
—C.G. Jung, CW 8, par. 789

In the first half of life, the task of the young traveler is to depart from home, to step out into the world in search for his or her adventure, to find his or her own individual path. However, in the second half, we find ourselves on what often amounts to a very long journey in search of Home. In many a tale, the hero, for instance Gilgamesh, sets off on his road to find life’s elixir, while other stories, such as the Odyssey, revolve around the hero’s long and arduous journey home.

This archetypal journey of life is constantly repeated along the never-ending process of individuation. We find ourselves returning to this venture repeatedly, every night, as we set out on our nightly voyage into the landscape of our unconscious. Many dreams begin by being on the way, for instance, “I am on my way to …,” I am driving on a road that leads into the desert …,” I am walking through one room after the other in a long corridor-like building …,” “I am walking towards my office, but it looks different than in reality,” “I walk on the pavement and on the opposite side of the street someone seems to follow me …,” “I go down into an underground parking…,” “I am in my car, but someone I don’t know is driving,” or, “I have to go to the place from where I came ...”

Prominently, we are familiar with the journey of Dante, who at the very beginning of his Divine Comedy finds himself “Midway along the journey of our life.”

A partial list of topics explored in The Cycle of Life include:

I. The Journey
  • Stages and Seasons
  • Jung’s Stages of Life
  • All the World’s a Stage, and a Stage of Life
  • Being on the Way—A Way of Being
  • Hermes and the Journey: Being on the Way
  • Backward and Forward
  • The Crossroads
  • + more
II. The Child
  • The Child in the Mirror
  • Psychotherapy and Childhood
  • The Divine Child
  • From Divine to Human
  • Eros, Psyche and Pleasure
  • + more
III. The Puer and the Puella
  • Between Shame and Fear
  • Wine, Spirit and Fire
  • Prometheus—the Thoughtful Thief
  • + more
IV. The Adult
  • King on Earth
  • Boundaries of Reality
  • Celestial Jerusalem—Terrestrial Jerusalem
  • The King who Refuses to Die
  • The Dried-up Earth
  • The Limping Ego
  • The Empty Shell
  • + more
V. i. The Senex

V. ii. Homage to Sophocles

V. iii. The Last Chapter: Self and Meaning
  • Ancestral Roots
  • An Oak and an Acorn
  • We Are All Beggars, Are We Not?
  • A Book in Order
  • + more
Find at Amazon

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In the Beggar's Outstretched Hand

We all react when we see the beggar in the corner of the streets, stretching out his, or her, hand, begging us for a small contribution.

We may react by turning away, passing by as if we didn’t see, or we may give him something in order to quiet our conscience, or in order not to be bothered any more, or we may give out of compassion, or we may refrain from giving because it contradicts our social norm that “a man shall earn his living” and we should not encourage begging as a way of living.

There are plenty of stories about the beggar who after his death is found to have accumulated a fortune. These stories may be true or sometimes not, in the material sense, but they do carry an essential truth pertaining to the archetypal aspect of the beggar. The beggar out there in “real life” is a reversal of the beggar in our soul; his or her poverty is a reversal of the treasure of the beggar who dwells in our interiority.

While the real life beggar asks for something, the beggar as an archetypal image that reflects a deep layer of our soul does not ask anything from us. He, or she, does not even beg to be seen. The beggar does not carry a persona, that outer layer or mask of appearance, that social face we need to carry. No, the soul-image IS, truly, the persona. Persona, like person, comes from the Latin per sonare, by means of voice. The beggar whispers that Voice from within, which so easily goes unheard.

If in outer life we may pass by the beggar as if we didn’t see him, internally we often don’t hear his voice, simply because we don’t stop to listen, to listen to our own call, to our personal vocation.

While in consciousness we may have formulated a principle or an attitude towards beggars and begging, whether to see or not to see him/her, it is infinitely more difficult to realize that the inner beggar, who stands at the gateway to our innermost self, the kernel of our wellspring, does not ask anything of us. It is entirely up to myself whether I will stop, stay and reflect, and to hear his Voice, calling on me merely by the whisper of the wind, and to see the microcosm that hides in the nothingness of the beggar’s outstretched hand.

Cover image by Susan Bostrom Wong

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Passover Tale

Exodus and the Crossing of the Red Sea wall painting
from the Dura-Europos Synagogue, Damascus, Syria, third century 

The Jewish spring holiday of Pesach, Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, the first month in the Hebrew calendar's festival year, on the night of the full moon after the vernal equinox. This year, the eve of Pesach is celebrated on Monday, April 14.

A legend tells us that at the very moment the children of Israel went into the Red Sea, Mount Moriah began to move from its place, along with the altar for Isaac that had been built upon it. The whole scene had been arranged before the creation of the world. Isaac was bound and placed upon the altar, and Abraham raised his knife.

Far away, at the Red Sea, God said to Moses, “Moses, My children are in distress, the sea is blocking their path and the enemy is pursuing them, and you stand so long praying?” Moses asked God, “What should I be doing?” God said, “Raise your staff!” Moses lifted his staff, the waters of the Red Sea parted, and on Mount Moriah the voice of the angel went forth and said to Abraham, “Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him” (Gen. 22: 12).
(A midrash from Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael)

The two events, the Parting of the Red Sea and the Binding of Isaac, do here not take place along the timeline of history, but are synchronistically juxtaposed.

In both cases, God tells his earthly representatives to raise the knife or staff:
In the one case, God asks Abraham to reaffirm their covenant by the sacrifice of the son. The actual deed of sacrifice to the gods is then exchanged for its symbolic representation, which is a significant stage in the process of civilization and acculturation.
 In the other case, God tells Moses to stop praying and raise his staff, to do the actual deed of parting, of dividing, of differentiating the sides, which is an essential act of consciousness (separating this from that, for instance to know good from evil).
Both take place simultaneously. The one does not follow the other, and one does not take place at the exclusion of the other. The sacrifice, not as a concrete deed but as a meaningful reaffirmation of the transcendent dimension, beyond the acts of the ego, enables depth and soulfulness. However, consciousness and the actual deeds of humans in the realm of ego-reality, are equally necessary, and required for the manifestation of the soul.

From the Haggadah of Arthur Szyk

The following are excerpts from the novella Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return (also available in Hebrew as חזרה: סיפור של גלות ושיבה):
. . . .

Truth was, Shimeoni essentially agreed with Derrida on many points, such as his interpretation of Abraham’s covenant with God of circumcision.

The Divine Father’s archetypal scar inflicted by generations of fathers of the flesh on generations of consent-less Jewish boys seemed to Professor Shimeoni, as indeed to Derrida, to be a repetition-compulsion, rather than the profound internalization of memory.

He recalled Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s epic work Zakhor, wondering if the Jews don’t merely repeat the trauma when they cross the desert every Passover – outside of the Land of Israel even repeating the hegira a second night, perhaps to ensure that the Jews of the Diaspora do arrive to the Promised Land...

“Does not compulsive repetition constitute the dangerous engine of fundamentalism?” he wondered, “in contrast to an enlightened process of internalized memory, in order to liberate the trauma.” Is this not the very opposite of that monumental cultural transition when the knife is taken out of Abraham’s hand, turning the actual, concrete sacrifice of Isaac into the acculturated representation by his Binding, the akedah?

The knife need not actually cut, in order for man to humbly bow before the transcendent image of God. Shimeoni adhered to Einstein’s view of God, as when he says that the religious attitude is the knowledge and emotion “of a knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty,” and when he expresses his belief in the God of Spinoza “who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”
. . . .

Truly, he repeated to himself, the binding of Isaac signifies this striking cultural transition from literalness to symbolic representation.
God told Abraham there is no need for complete sacrifice, only a sacrifice of the complete (shalem), in order to be seen (yireh), to be recognized, to be named, to become completely human. He will suffice with sacrifice-by-proxy.

Rather than being trapped in the harsh reality of actual deed, reality can be transformed into images; rather than slaying the flesh of the son, the soul can expand by the creation of images that represent reality. By substituting the sacrificial animal for the actual son, the story of the akedah represents the separation of meaning from act, which is essential to culture and civilization.

But war is the destruction of representation and civilization, said Eli to himself, thereby arguing with Heraclitus that War is the Father of All. The tragedies on the battlefield are all too real and irreversible, and the essence of trauma of battle and war and Holocaust, is the loss of the representative symbol – all that remains is the hellish repetition of trauma.
. . . .

Nothing represents the loss of symbolization more than the survivor from hell who holds on to a dry slice of bread. In hell, there are no mirrors and no images, no images in the mirror, only the bare walls of suffocation. In the cruel reality of war, the knife is raised and the angels circle above, repeatedly descending, attempting to divert the hand that holds the knife from descending upon the son, until the angels have all gone, and the son is no longer bound but sacrificed, the knife ripping out the soul of life and Isaac laughs no more.

Happy Easter - Happy Passover!

Erel Shalit's books can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at Fisher King Press.