Dear Depth Psychology Alliance book club participator,
I want to welcome you to the book club for the month of February. During this month we will discuss my book The Cycle of Life: Themes and Tales of the Journey, and I invite you to share your thoughts, comments and questions on this theme.
I write these lines from my home in Ra'anana, a small town north of Tel Aviv, at the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. This is the narrowest part of this small country, around 9 miles from the sea to Israel’s border with the Palestinian National Authority in the east (the local bus will take you cross-country).
This place in which I live, seems to eternally waver back and forth between profound creation and relentless destruction. Here, history fuses with mythology, and the heart of three monotheistic religions beats from within an area of a third of a square mile; a heartbeat that sends hurricanes of the spirit and floods of blood, across the face of the earth. From this same harsh earth arose, as well, some of humankind’s most powerful beliefs and influential individuals.
Hope and despair are common visitors in the souls of the peoples that dwell here, coloring their passions in dark red and their spirits in deep blue. You will find the terrors of war alternating at your doorstep with the dreams of reconciliation, reminding you how small we humans are, particularly when we have power and guns in our hands (on all sides). We are constantly reminded of the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of Psyche in each and every one. As Jung said, man’s psyche is the origin of all coming evil.
I have shared my thoughts about these issues in other books.* However, one further characteristic brings us to the cycle of life: the seasons. Here, at the eastern Mediterranean (which means “the sea in the middle of the earth”), the seasons don’t flow gently into each other. The seasons that soften the transition between summer and winter are very brief, sometimes barely noticeable. Likewise, the transitions along life’s journey, from the fires of adolescence to the gray ground of adulthood, for instance, may be sharp and painful. In some, this may evoke resistance and the desire to stay forever young, as in the puer aeternus or the puella aeterna, the eternal youth, who refuses to grow up. Others may prematurely, and sometimes unprepared, have to take on the burden of adult responsibilities, experiencing how the fire and the spirit of youth are extinguished.
My book focuses less on actual development through life’s stages, but rather on the archetypal core of the respective stages, or ages of life, from the perspective of their archetypal meaning. Consequently, the emphasis is not on the child’s development through the stages of childhood, but rather on the child as carrying the image of living in “the mysterious world of mythical images and magical relatedness,” as Gerhard Adler says.
I suggest that whoever wants to participate travels the journey of the book in whatever personal way you find suitable. The reading of the book’s 182 pages easily lends itself to be divided in four: first week we’ll concentrate on the journey, second week on the child, third week on adolescence and adulthood, and fourth week on old age. But find your own path! Sometimes, some of us, start reading a book from the end, or are drawn to a chapter of particular interest. I do suggest, however, that we share thoughts and comments according to this weekly schedule, to keep a certain structure in a world that too easily lends itself to chaos.
So this first week, let us focus on the journey. I have chosen the image of the river, from its source, and then the course the river of one’s life may take, until it finally dissolves in the sea. When Jung, in his essay on the stages of life, emphasizes the importance of ‘problem’ on life’s journey, his intention is clearly living the conscious life. What does that mean? How do we live consciously?
Please be free to relate in whatever individual way you choose, with comments and questions. I will respond regularly, and I hope it will be an enjoyable journey together.
If you are interested, you may listen to or watch an interview that Bonnie Bright conducted with me.
Furthermore, there will be two drawings, one on February 14th for The Hero and His Shadow, and one on the 28th for Enemy, Cripple & Beggar. The winner of the book will be announced the following day.
Looking forward to sharing thoughts and perspectives along the journey,
*Please see my The Hero and His Shadow (the most recent, revised edition of this book was published this January by Fisher King Press); and Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return (if you sign up for my newsletter, you will receive a free pdf eBook edition of the novella, but those of you who, like me, prefer the ‘real’ thing, can purchase it at Fisher King Press, Amazon or elsewhere).
Hi Erel. Thanks so much for sharing your book with us this month. The images of destruction and creation and hope and despair are particularly poignant, and I look forward diving into the river of our journey here in this forum. I'm traveling tomorrow and will start the book on the plane Can't wait!
Hi Bonnie, enjoy travels in the outer world! I do hope we'll enjoy reading and discussing the travelling along the cycle of life during these weeks, Erel
Hello Erel and all!
At the beginning of Cycle you write, Erel, that with budding consciousness comes division and from that problems arise. A problem-free life is a life that resists consciousness. Reminds me of the myth of Eros and Psyche; the sequence in which Eros demands of Psyche: "lights-off"! The fuel from Psyche's (soul) lamp burns the child-God. The tension of love being the temptation to keep it blissful and without consciousness. My love of Jungian psychology comes in part from the reframing of problems--a shift from conflict as pathology to the appearance of internal tensions as a call of budding consciousness--soulmaking.
I hope this type of note is okay. I am a bit stream of consciousness.
Hi Deborah and all participants!
Thanks for your comment, Deborah. Consciousness is founded on division. Without the emerging consciousness, we dwell in a seemingly paradisiacal condition, as when we imagine the divine child aspect of early childhood (this is of course neither the experience of every child, nor the sole archetypal aspect of childhood).
Your example from Eros (Amor) and Psyche is excellent! In love there is a sense of blissful absence of boundaries – so we need the differentiating sword of Mars as well for our development (not to be acted out in those horrendous ways that humankind is able of).
So with the differentiation brought about by consciousness, we realize the existence of Other. This enables interaction, and love of an Other (internal or external object, or transcendent; something and someone separate from ourselves), but also conflict.
Paradoxically, Eros, the life principle, comes alive by the tension of the opposites. And the very opposite of Eros as life principle is Thanatos, the death instinct. So our journey through life requires the finality of mortality for its very being.
The tension that arises with consciousness, the conflicts and the troubles, are not only signs and 'symptoms' of being alive, but necessary for its very essence. I think it is tremendously beautiful that Jung puts 'problem' at the center court of his essay on the stages of life.
Again, thanks to all readers, and comments!
As I read Erel's beautifully considered reply I am particularly struck by paragraph 4, in which Erel points to the tension between Eros, as life principle, and Thanatos as the impulse, movement, towards death. Brought to my mind, again, is this great myth of Eros and Psyche. It is when Psyche is exiled to death mountain that she encounters Eros for the first time, and it is in her encounter with Eros that she again feels the pull of death as despair, suicidality, and, in the most enigmatic sequence of the myth (to my consideration of it)--Aphrodite's command that Psyche descend to the Underworld for Persephone's beauty ointment. The unconscious, in its telling of this great myth, juxtaposes the archetypal Eros and Thanatos in exactly the way you beautifully explicate, Erel! It seems to me that we find another iteration of these archetypal principles in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. Thank-you so much for generating such reverie, Erel.
Thanks again! In Cycle of Life I chose the image of the river to describe our journey through life. The river, holy in many cultures (I mention the Ganges and the Jordan River) runs its course along usually quite stable river beds, yet, it is ever-changing, and with its personal and seasonal characteristics. In reference to Amor and Psyche, you may recall that Aphrodite sends the emerging Psyche to bring water from the River of Life, which archetypally is never-ending, and therefore the goddess considers the mission impossible. Psyche learns that we can drink the water from the river of life, but only as much as can be held by the urn, by our human limitations. I believe this to be such a wonderful and clear image of how, on our journey through life, the personal and the archetypal meet, and are distinct. Erel
This is a beautiful image that we can drink the water from the river of life ,but only as much as can be held by the urn, by our human limitations.
All this botoxing , face lifts and "becoming 10 years younger " , what does this say about our awareness about our human limitations ? We want to live in a "make believe" world , and convince ourselves that we can in fact, really add 10 years to our lives, not just look younger.
Isn't this a real hubris ?
Dear Carita and all readers!
On the one hand, we find the search for the elixir of youth all through history, culture and mythology. It never ends successfully, though – and we should be thankful to the gods that they prevent us from the illusion.
While I don’t want to dismiss an individual’s possible use of cosmetic surgery – I am not in any position to judge – on a more general level it is indicative of the era in which we live, where the world, supposedly, and foolishly, “belongs to the young.”
In The Cycle of Life I write, “When cosmetics and plastic surgery mold a stiff and unyielding mask of youth, or rather of fictitious youthful appearance, old age cannot wear its true face of wisdom. By flattening out the valleys of our wrinkles, we erase the imprints of our character. Fixation in a narcissistic, outworn mask silences the inner voice of meaning in our life.”
Our desire to stay 'forever young' seems to be a trait of the Pluto in Leo generation - the baby boomers. But what that really entails is to stay "young at heart" in that we are constantly open to life and spirit. Jesus said that we had to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven, and I've always thought that meant that we have to be open to the imagination, to our own playfulness (Leo) to achieve any degree of individuation.
I know that it's only my opinion, but when we try to 're-surface' ourselves in any way, it seems to indicate that we are disconnected from our center and have bought into the collective delusion of youth. And I also believe that our culture, as a whole, is so afraid of death that we'll do anything to stave it off. I think this fear of death and old age comes from the false religious belief that when we die we'll all probably burn in some sort of hell.
Thank you for your comment! The fear of death is, I believe, a healthy fear. The avoidance of the fear and the efforts at denial of death are detrimental. Death, and the fear of it, puts a boundary to hubris. We are mortals. We are rather small in a universe that remains largely unknown – and perhaps the more we know about it, the greater the questions. With an awareness of death, which perhaps should not be too easily accepted (if ever it would be easy to truly accept death), we are called to induce our lives with a constant sense of meaning. Erel
Greetings Erel and all!
Getting a bit of a late start, but am looking forward to participating in the discussions. I'm just finishing 'Enemy, Cripple & Beggar',so please remove me from your drawing as I have my own copy.
Thanks for joining! Will be happy to receive any thoughts and comments. In case you would be the winner in the second drawing (the first one will be for The Hero and His Shadow), we will find a solution, and in that case you will receive another of my books. Erel