Dancing in the Swamplands

dante, midwayIt was a roundabout path which led me to the discovery of one my now favorite authors and “reads.” (It happens more often than not: various streams combined to carry me to a [sweet] destination I never anticipated.)

  • My position in Lubbock was not nearly anything it promised to be.  (See related post, Taking a Step Down… and Moving Up! (Part 1?))  (Ironically, it was one year ago, this week, that I left Houston for that job.)
  • A certain “dark night of the soul” ensued – surrounding what could/should probably be classified as a “mid-life crisis.”  (Used to be, I’d feel shame and embarrassment at such a confession.  “Mid-life crisis” was a label that felt cliché and shallow: “Save it for the guys with gold chains and chest hair sticking out the top of their open shirts… as they ride around in their convertibles!”  Now, I see it as a necessary and meaningful passage in life – if it is, in fact, just one passage!  Maybe that’s what happens on the other side of any crisis: what was once shameful is accepted and embraced.)
  • Seeking a path forward, I sought greater understanding of the Soul – its contour/”geography” and the nature of its pilgrimage to healing and wholeness and fullness.

In the mix — confluence of these streams, I discovered the writings of Jungian psychologist, James Hollis.  In his  Swamplands of the Soul, Hollis seeks, among other things, to reframe the value and importance of suffering and loss as they relate to the pursuit of real life and full living:

There is a thought, a recurrent fantasy perhaps, that the purpose of life is to achieve happiness. After all, even the Constitution of the United States promises “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Who does not long to arrive some distant day at that sunlit meadow where, untroubled, we may rest easy, abide awhile and be happy?

But nature, or fate, or the gods, has another thought which keeps interrupting this fantasy. The split, the discrepancy between what we long for and what we suffer as limitation, has haunted the Western imagination…

The litany arising from the gap between hope and experience is endless. Whether to suffer it stoically, react heroically or whine about one’s condition seems an onerous yet unavoidable choice. But Jungian psychology, and the disciplined practice of personal growth it promotes, offers another perspective based on the assumption that the goal of life is not happiness but meaning…

The thought, motive and practice of Jungian psychology is that there is no sunlit meadow, no restful bower of easy sleep; there are rather swamplands of the soul where nature, our nature, intends that we live a good part of the journey, and from whence many of the most meaningful moments of our lives will derive. It is in the swamplands where soul is fashioned and forged, where we encounter not only the gravitas of life, but its purpose, its dignity and its deepest meaning.

[For a fuller rendering/sharing of Chapter One of Hollis’ Swamplands, click here.]

To be sure and clear: the pain of things falling apart in Lubbock and the related, though independent, search for peace and fuller meaning continue.  Hollis has not provided any quick fixes.  But, that there’s purpose and meaning in the journey – even (and especially) through the  “dark woods” (as Dante labeled them) – is a pretty valuable and encouraging word.

It’s certainly grounds for some meaningful dancing in this Soul – not just a dance between my Faith and Hollis/psychology/Jung… but a dance in and with the Swamplands I once sought to avoid!

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