A Plague of Disengagement

Jennifer Percy immediately caught my attention when she pointed out that America is suffering from a “plague of disengagement” in the New York Times Book Review (2/22/15). Jennifer describes our attitude towards our war veterans saying we don’t listen to them, how they were hurt; and we don’t want to understand them, she concludes. Of course this is a tragedy. But while reading her article and clenching my teeth in sadness and frustration, I was also thinking, “Are we any different with our prisoners, our poor, our mentally ill, or our addicts? Or what about our chronically ill, our children, our alienated teenagers?” We don’t want to understand the wounded, and in Jungian terms, the shadow parts of our society. And, if we are going to pay attention to Jung, isn’t the heart of this problem centered in our unwillingness to seek to understand the wounded and shadow sides of ourselves? Jung is pretty clear when he writes, “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.”

What impresses me, however, are the number of people my wife and I are encountering in our practices and presentations that are interested in knowing and transforming their lives. They are beginning to become engaged with the deeper significance of their lives and what it means to be human. But what really scares me is how many other people are adamantly defending their positions of disengagement. Perhaps I shouldn’t be all that surprised because Jung warned us (C.W. Vol. 13, par. 25) that if we sincerely set out on this journey to become fully engaged and to know ourselves, it wouldn’t be easy. The entire conventional shadow of our culture would oppose us, including its practical, intellectual, moral, and religious components. On the outside, we may be looked at as weird, different, self-centered, selfish, and so on. Internally, we may be wondering the same thing or hearing that voice that tells us we are not really worth all of the attention we are giving ourselves, that our investment of time and effort in being engaged isn’t really worth it.

It may help us to remember another well-known quotation from Jung in his BBC interview when he passionately says, “…the world hangs by a slender thread, and that thread is the consciousness of man…We are the greater danger…What if something goes wrong with the psyche?…But we know nothing about it.” And, he continues, that it seems “…if we are well fed and clothed, we have little urge to learn about ourselves – and that is our greatest mistake of all.” In this case, we easily slide into a self-satisfied mediocrity of awareness and sensitivity that leaves us living with indifference to the deepest meaning of life.

In the face of this danger, real self-care only begins when we start the inner journey into self-knowledge and individuation. To avoid or refuse this inward journey causes our energies and our potentials to back up into our shadows and, what we are learning to call, our “unlived lives.” Eventually, the repressed energies in our unlived lives turn sour and even dark. As the avoidance of this process continues, we may become more rigid, ;emotionally defensive, afraid of risks, and begin to see life as threatening, and the future as lacking promise. At this point, we are beginning to lose our soul…to become soul-sick, and we may find ourselves getting physically sick as well.

When we are listening to the news or other people, we may wonder why the advocates of different factions in our society seem so angry, so fanatic, and so threatened, that they are actually nullifying life while claiming to be promoting our best interests. Fanaticism, self-righteousness, and the anger, fear, and aggressiveness that accompany them are the symptoms of our soul-sickness whether it is on the political right or left, in the center or on the fringes. As Massimilla and I wrote the section on “Facing the Death Mother” in our recent book, Into the Heart of the Feminine: An Archetypal Journey to Renew Strength, Love, and Creativity, our understanding of our “plague of disengagement” as a consequence of the wounded and repressed feminine in our lives, became increasingly clear. We quote Marion Woodman as she writes, “…the Death Mother wields a cold, fierce, violent, and corrosive power. She is rampant in our society right now.” This is the face our society turns toward our war veterans, people who have lost their jobs, poor mothers, the poor in general, the chronically ill, prisoners, and others. This is the face we have learned to turn toward our own struggles, failures, vulnerabilities, disappointments, fading dreams, and other challenges. Through fear and self-criticism, we learn from the Death Mother to live too conservatively, too defensively, to not take risks and that, if we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into life, we may end up looking ridiculous, or losing everything. Our book, Into the Heart of the Feminine: An Archetypal Journey to Renew Strength, Love, and Creativity, reflects much of our own journeys of, step-by-step, seeking to become fully engaged in our lives.

As we have lived with my daughter and her experiences of progressive multiple sclerosis since 2006, we have had to relearn how cold our country’s health care system is in failing to even want to understand the financial and emotional costs of being in such a condition. Nor, as a culture, do we want to understand any of the other struggling aspects of being human that I have mentioned or, as Jung said, to understand ourselves, as long as we are well fed and clothed. But even though, as a culture, we reflect coldness and disengagement, my daughter has found a very caring and supportive community of family and friends. And we have found people in our practices, lectures, workshops, and the groups we speak to, who are looking for ways to become engaged, to open their hearts, and to return the strength, love, and creativity of the feminine to our lives.

So, in spite of our “plague of disengagement,” Massimilla and I have hope. We also are hopeful that our book will help people open their hearts and reclaim their lives – as living into the book’s creation helped us. Seeing people willing to open themselves and change their lives strengthens our hope that together we can shake our society out of its willful amnesia – its denial of the greater aspects of being human, the beauty and the horror of the life we all live.

Categories: Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris

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