I cannot be liberated from anything that I do not possess, have not done or experienced. Real liberation becomes possible for me only when I have done all that I was able to do, when I have completely devoted myself to a thing and participated in it to the utmost. If I withdraw from participation, I am virtually amputating the corresponding part of my psyche. Naturally, there may be good reasons for my not immersing myself in a given experience. But then I am forced to confess my inability, and must know that I may have neglected to do something of vital importance.
- C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
* * *
I first read Jung's autobiography when I was 24. I remember being taken with density of the writing, but at 24 so much of what a man had to say at the end of his life had little traction for someone at the start. But I still possess and still read that dog-eared copy, the pages a dark yellow (the lignin from the pulp darker than the cellulose and susceptible to time), my scrawled marginalia drawing my attention to what I once thought important, but now I only care for what I did not notice 30 years ago.
* * *
You hear the chants and the mantras of letting go. You see images of sunsets at beaches with someone meditating and an inspirational quote stands in for a body of learning and everywhere you are reminded to let it all go.
Right on. Sign me up.
Except, maybe we fucked fuckers have put the cart before the horse here.
How can we let go of something we do not possess, have not experienced?
What fucks us is fear, the anticipation of a bad outcome, the hesitancy to step across the threshold. We have internalized the expectation that things don't work out for us: love, money, career, understanding, acceptance, faith. We have extrapolated from our experience worlds that do not exist except in our fears. This leaves us betwixt and between, nowhere, really, and we feel out of step, unequal to life. It frays the soul and we wonder how it ever got this way.
Perhaps it is as Jung said, by withdrawing from participation we have limited what was possible for us. And why? Because having failed before, we assume we will fail again; because having lost something or someone before, we assume we will lose again. And our worlds narrow, become proscribed by the reach of our doubt. And then, and then, and then, we search for answers and are told to let go, to seek liberation, to sit in silence, to walk in the woods, to perform rituals intended to release our pain and still the shadow of our fears remain. At what point in all this self-awareness and self-work will the promised liberation come? Maybe never, for the basic assumption is wrong: you cannot be free of something you do not possess. If all you possess is fear the way to be free of it is not to whisper affirmations, or promise yourself this time it will hold.
The way out is to go in.
We refuse the experience before us, some of it for good reason, but most of it out of fear, a lack, a doubt in our ability to master the moment so we hold it off at arm's length. But it is never resolved, only held in abeyance, ever ready for an opening to appear to come rushing forward. We resist it sometimes because it is so damned important and we claim we're not ready, not worthy, unskilled and it never leaves our side. Now imagine the obverse: you run to it, embrace it and wrestle with it until it blesses you. You have entered the stream of your life and now have that experience and if needs be you can now release it and your fear with it.
To possess only fear, only doubt is to possess nothing of the potential in your life.
To flesh out what is possible you have to go in, willingly, in order to find out what is there for you. This is no excuse for self-destructive behavior or narcissism. The opposite is true: by being willing to engage and experience your life, to confront what you resist, to overcome what has stalled you transforms you from the quiet, insidious narcissism of being a self determined victim, a mere plaything of chance, into one who has passed through the fire and is kinder and gentler, more forgiving and generous with those who still stand by the side of the road.
* * *
It s impossible to know a priori which experience and what circumstances are ripe, telling, important. There is no book or guide here, only yourself, your intuition, your psyche, your soul responding to what is in your life. You have to listen closely. You have to be quiet enough to listen. Perhaps you'll mediate at sunrise along a beach. Perhaps you'll write down your dreams. Perhaps you'll draw mandalas. No matter. The form of your listening is immaterial. What matters is that it come from you and fits you, aligns with you, emboldens you to accept the call to immerse yourself in your experience, to not shy from it. Then and only then do you have the option to let it all go.
* * *
I wish you well.