But all of that would come later. At the time of the writing of this letter to Mrs. Mellon, the future of western civilization itself hung in the dark shadows of the catastrophic war that had engulfed Europe only ten months earlier. The old world was collapsing, even the simple routines of daily life, the expectation of being able to travel, to communicate, and to maintain ties with family and friends far away -- all of these were falling away under the exploding madness of Adolf Hitler and his demonic blitzkrieg, raining bombs on towns, historic sites, and innocent people. Writing from his home in Zurich, this is how Jung addressed the moment in his letter.
19 June 1940
My dear Mrs. Mellon,
Thank you for your kindly letter, which arrived today. I send you these few
words in haste, because this evening at 7 o'clock the last mail for U.S.A. will
leave Switzerland. From now on all communications will be interrupted. I
think the night has descended upon Europe. Heaven knows if and when and
under what conditions we shall meet again. There is only one certainty --
nothing can put out the light within.
Every good wish to you and your husband!
Yours affectionately, C.G. Jung
(C.G.Jung, Letters, 1906-1950, Princeton University Press. Footnote: The
interruption of the mail on that particular date proved to be an unfounded
"There is only one certainty -- nothing can put out the light within." It is that realization more than anything, I think, that keeps me working long days late into my seventh decade. It is not that I believe myself to be special, nor that there are not others who do the work I do, no doubt even better in some cases. But, none-the-less, it is my work to do as best I can, reminding those who come through my door seeking healing, answers to problems of life, seeking "light" as we might euphemistically call their deep searching -- it is my responsibility and delight to remind them that the light is within themselves and nothing can put it out.
But, alas, all kinds of things can -- and do -- distract us from the light. Our appliances break down; our cars need repair; our computer and phones need the latest updates; our children and young people need braces, or new schools or new friends or the latest fashions or reminders that we are the parents after all who struggle with what is best for them just as they struggle themselves; our aging parents need to move into a retirement facility or to find help to stay in their home; we wonder how much longer we can stay in a job we don't like but feel trapped and unlikely to find another job and uncertain how long we may have this one. Etc. All kinds of things distract us from the light.
So what do I say to those people who come through my door and tell me those things? For that matter, how do I myself sort through all the clutter of those 10,000 things that would distract me? I will tell you something very personal about how I try to stay focused on the light.
But, first, I do want to be clear that I do not minimize the necessity of dealing with those distractions. Of course it is true -- that if the child needs braces, then I may have to work an extra job to pay for those braces. If the washer or dryer simply cannot go any longer, then I have to find some way to get one, maybe to patch up the old car for another year and make do with the old things I had hoped to replace. In other words, we cannot walk away from these necessary distractions. But here is the key: It makes all the difference in the world whether I have the distractions or they have me! If I have the distractions, then I can clearly focus on them and work to resolve them. But if they have me, then I become paralyzed to do much about them. I become sick, I self-medicate, I act out, I sink into the darkness ... . It is when I sink into the darkness that light cannot get in. This darkness, like that of a dark hole in space, traps all light from entering or leaving.
Which is to say what? Just this: It serves us well to avoid the dark holes. It serves us well to be able to hold those distractions in the light, rather than to let them pull us into the darkness.
And that brings me to the very personal observation I mentioned earlier. I have worked with my dreams and practiced meditation beginning in my late twenties, becoming more serious and insightful probably as I approached my mid-thrities. What led to the deepening? This is hard for me to know for sure, but I believe it had to do with the awareness that there was something in my head other than me!
Perhaps I was slow getting on to this fact. Perhaps other persons realize this much earlier, that there are many voices in our heads. These "voices" speak with different attitudes, different values, different objectives for life. Each one may prompt a deep feeling tone, a mood, state of mind, and a felt sense in the body, even prompting severe physiological conditions and illnesses.
This is what our dreams are all about! The dramas in our dreams reveal the dramas within our psyches -- the betrayals, the killings, the conflicts, the searching and yearning but also the finding, the healing, the unexpected meetings, the strange rooms in our houses never explored, mysterious characters we meet who bestow upon us a blessing, a mission, a return of our birthright, and such.
So where, you ask, do these dreams originate? At the moment, I can only answer you by sharing another observations that has come to me over the years of watching my dreams. It is reminiscent of that ancient text in the book of Genesis:
And the earth was without form, and void, and the darkness was
upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the
face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light and there was
light. (Genesis: 1:2-3)
This beautiful and mythological way of telling the story of creation also happens to reveal something of our deep psychological processes. In each of our depths, in the times of our greatest darkness, there is a Spirit of the Depths that moves upon the surface of our deep unconscious and brings us light. In our practice of meditation, we descend in order to encounter that Spirit of the Depths, learning to trust it, to live our lives with its guidance, and to draw comfort from its presence in our souls.
Our dreams reveal the Spirit of the Depths in their mythic images, and our meditations guide us through our anxieties into those depths and a way of life offering us a felt sense that can be described as a lightness of being. This work with dreams and the practice of meditation is worth our life. They deserve more attention than we give them, so you will not be surprised to see them appearing in my future blogs!