Suffering

If we take the unconscious and the process of individuation seriously, we can no longer arrange our own lives.  For instance, we think we would like to go somewhere and the dream says no, so we have to give up the idea.  Sometimes it is all right, but sometimes such decisions are very annoying.  To be deprived of an evening out, or a trip, is not so bad, but there are more serious matters where we greatly want something which is suddenly vetoed by the unconscious.  We feel broken and crucified, caught in a trap or imprisoned, nailed against the cross.  With your whole heart and mind you want to do something, and the unconscious vetoes it.  In such moments there is naturally an experience of intense suffering, which is due to the meeting of the Self, but the Self suffers just as much because it is suddenly caught in the actuality of an ordinary human life. 

That is why, in this connection, Jung refers to the saying of Christ in the Acts of John, in the Apocrypha: Christ stands in the middle of the dancing apostles and says, “It is your human suffering that I want to suffer.”  That is the most simple way to put it.  If it is not in touch with a human, the divine figure has no suffering.  It longs to experience human suffering – not only longs for human suffering but causes it.  Man would not suffer if he were not connected with something greater, or he would suffer as an animal does: he would just accept fate and die from it.  TPoPA 113

If you submit to everything that happens to you like an animal, you do not suffer intensely but in a kind of dumb way.  Animals accept things as they happen: a leg is lost in an accident, and they hobble along on three legs; they are blinded and try to carry on without eyes and will probably starve.  That is what happens all the time in Nature, but man feels what happens to him.  He has a greater capacity for suffering because he is more conscious.  If his legs are cut off or he is blinded, the feeling is deeper and more intense because there is more ego and therefore the ability to rebel against fate.  If you have ever had to do with people who have met a horrible fate, you will have seen what a terrible revolt can mean.  Such people say, “I cannot accept it!  I cannot!  Why has this happened to me?  It is irreversible, but I cannot accept it!”  The animal does not show such intensity of suffering.  It tries to carry on until it dies; even if its hind legs are paralyzed, it tried to move, and usually ends by being eaten – a quick and merciful end.  For us it is worse, because with modern medicine a human being is not killed quickly.  We are preserved in hospitals, and then comes the problem: what does this mean? – why do I have to go on living?  In such cases the suffering becomes intense and terrible and a real religious problem. 

One can say therefore that we are more open to real and intense suffering, and this has to do with the fact there is something within us which thinks that this should not be; if it is a part of my life and inescapable, then I must know what it means.  If I know its meaning I can accept the suffering, but if I do not, then I cannot.  I have seen people who could take what had happened to them with a certain acceptance and composure when they saw a meaning in it.  Although the suffering continued, they had a kind of quiet island within because they had the relief of feeling that they knew why they suffered.  But to discover the reason for such suffering we have to follow the way of our own individuation process because the reason is something unique and different in each individual (there is no general meaning), and one has therefore to find that unique meaning.  That is why in seeking for the meaning of your suffering you seek for the meaning of your life.  You are searching for the greater pattern of your own life, which indicates why the wounded healer is the archetype of the Self – one of its most widespread features – and is at the bottom of all genuine healing procedures.  TPoPA 114

Question:  Would you say that suffering, if accepted, could become a medium of communication with the Self?

That depends on whether it is accepted in the right way, because if it is accepted with resignation, it does not work.  Many people accept their suffering, but with a tinge of resignation.  They put up with it, and then it does not help.  It must be a positive acceptance, and I would say that you can only get the meaning if you accept.  So really it generally works out as an endless struggle and then a moment of grace, where suddenly one can accept it and the meaning dawns upon one.  One could not even say which comes first.  Sometimes it is the meaning and then the acceptance, or one makes up one’s mind to accept it and then at that moment the meaning becomes clear.  But it is strangely interwoven. 

Remark:  Christians have an idea that suffering is of value, but as a rule there is too much resignation, is there not? 

That is what I have been trying to describe.  If they have a living faith, then they accept suffering without resignation because they already have understanding, and then it is all right.  But if you have a kind of cramped faith, such as people have who try to believe, saying, “I must believe because Christ suffered on the cross. I must accept this suffering” – which is what is preached to them – that does not help at all.  The person is merely preaching to his own consciousness, and since it is not an experience, it does not help.  TPoPA 115

People who cut themselves off from their feelings and the emotional layer in order to avoid suffering, or because they are incapable of feeling and suffering, replace all that by reflection; they simply say, “All right, that had to come to an end.  Let’s be matter of fact about it.”  If you are able to do that, there is something wrong.  If you can write off an experience just because reason tells you that it must come to an end, that is an intellectual argument.  Reason has a point and writes off the experience, but for the individual to be able to do so is a sign of morbidity; it is abnormal.  Normal people can see with their reason that a relationship has to be given up, but they are sad all the same.  Feeling as well as reason has its rights.  TPoPA 115