I am finding, true to Jung’s thought that the challenge of the passage of the “afternoon” of one’s adulthood, is a quest for spiritual resolution: a final phase of one’s lifelong quest for individuation. I am now, and to greater degrees have always been, struggling to define my spiritual orientation.
There has been throughout my life, an often unspoken, but omnipresent quandary: what is life, what came before, and what will follow when my physically conscious life ends? It has been my lifelong companion.
I can recall at about age 9, discussing issues like this with my father and with one of our Presbyterian ministers. They gave me responses that worked to quell the distress of a nine year old, but of course, could not “answer” those universal questions.
In my youth I was a riddle to the adults in my life. I personified tension between opposites. I was bright, but had, what I know today would be considered, learning “disabilities.” I was very interested in religious study and “into Church.” I was an angry rebel who would live a childhood of guerilla warfare against the overwhelmingly powerful adults of my world, whom I believed were determined to smother my identity. I strove to maintain who I was, and to attain whatever rare victories I could achieve, in the face of omnipotent adult oppression. These victories felt like vindications that I had worth and strength, in the face of a wider society determined to squelch my childishness and to compel my compliance. I just didn’t make sense to most people ...especially adults.
I read The Bible and studied Sunday school lessons more assiduously than most of my peers, but then I was one of those odd duck kids. Eventually, in high school, I found myself in my church’s pulpit giving the youth Sunday sermon. It was a good sermon...filled with hard hitting confrontational messages about apathy and hypocrisy in religious life….and humor. I got laughs. I memorized it completely and was so anxious that when I walked to the pulpit I blacked out and delivered it on automatic pilot. I don’t have conscious memory of the experience until after I’d returned to my seat. I’m told it went extremely well. There was talk that I might have a future in the clergy, an aspiration I nurtured then.
My twenties and college brought about a sudden reduction of the countervailing forces of adult authority impinging on me. My rebellion, unfettered, reactionarily eschewed every trapping I had of my former religious training and the other values and practices that had been imposed on me. I began studying pre-law but could not endure a life so dominated by accounting. I had not envisioned legal advocacy as being so reliant on the discipline of debits on the left credits on the right. I followed my heart into English. As I poured over classical literature including a number of significant theological and philosophical tracts, I found myself very intrigued with mysticism and particularly with the writings of Coleridge…..”Kubla Kahn,” reputed to be the greatest work of English literature. I once delivered what my erudite English professor said was the greatest analysis of that poetic work he’d heard from an undergraduate. I was blasted on hash at the time. Coleridge composed Kubla Kahn in an opium dream. Perhaps we were seeing the universe synchronistically. Yes, my studies, my counter-cultural political activism, came to be suffused with a great deal of hallucinogenic experimentation. I smoked lots of stuff and ingested a lot of what I believed was LSD. Who knows what it was. There were no USP stamps on the baggies I bought from street dealers. I had what may have been religious, or faux religious, experiences. I eventually came to hypothesize that one can in fact alter one’s usual senses so drastically that their relationship to the environment is revolutionized. One then may perceive things that are usually obscured. The challenge then is, what of these are some other reality and what are simply physiological artifice resulting from the drug’s influence. Those are experiences I would not in retrospect forego. I also do not want to repeat them.
Moving forward my chronic rebellion sublimated Into a career in social advocacy. It was thrilling, time consuming, energy sucking, and ego-enhancing. I felt powerful for the first time. I had found a means to transact my rebellion into a paycheck and a respected career. My spiritual concentration was back-burnered and experienced primarily as feeling self-righteous that I lived a life fighting for good, helping others, unlike most of those everyday dolts who went to their offices at IBM or General Motors (and became far more wealthy.)
Move time forward to me at age, 49, with 2 children. My 30 year marriage crumbled tragically. I became adrift and grief ridden. I had always drank. I accelerated my drinking in this period in what I now realize was search for spirituality. My career went on to greater success despite my personal challenges. I found new loves and a new family and joy and comfort that was much more authentic than I’d ever known, but I longed for my children. Again the underlying spiritual quandary surfaced. I became intrigued in the study of religious history, a dramatically contrasting field to theology. I learned that most of what I had learned of Christian orthodox theology was based on myths that are what is politely referenced by intelligencia as “extra-historicitous”. That is it is, untrue, fictional, wholly made up, for a vast variety of motivations, mostly politically and economically driven. The list of deeply held beliefs in biblical recountings of goings on which are complete fantasy is virtually unending. And then over centuries further adulteration and bastardization of them has resulted from editings by various orthodox church authorities for similar motivations of power and wealth.
I developed a sense of egregious betrayal not unlike when I discovered Santa Claus was my parents, except this subterfuge had not been benevolently motivated . I spent time writing and bemoaning the falseness of Christian orthodox doctrine. I became a secular humanist, a label I still embrace. I became atheist. I attended atheist meetings. I found them intriguing and felt at peace with people who were not steeped in revering what seemed to me a great, and on balance over time, insidious lie. I came to feel, though, discomfort that atheism seemed for many “antitheism.” I did not oppose theism. I was not at war with the dominant theistic culture of our community. I certainly did not want their religious views forced on me via legislation, but too I have complete respect for their desire to base their lives on whatever set of myths they choose be they the bible or Star Trek. I do not feel a need to convert them. I am fine to be me. I love the story of Santa Claus despite knowing the tangible reality of it. Why must I hate Christianity or other spiritual pathways because it has no greater basis?
I drank through most all of this. I became hugely obese and was unable to lose weight. In a last ditch effort to save my life at 59, I underwent gastric bypass surgery. It was medically difficult. I was hospitalized for weeks, ill for months. I lost 175 pounds. I was told to quit drinking. I did, until 9 months after the surgery when they told me I could resume drinking “carefully.” I did and I was very careful. I never spilled a drop. I did not understand that after gastric bypass the stomach no longer secretes the hormone that begins the normal body’s metabolism of alcohol. Alcohol then enters one’s bloodstream in raw form and travels directly to one’s brain. There really is no scientific measurement of the quantitative enhancement of the effects of alcohol on gastric bypass patients, but there are estimates that it may be in the range of four to eight times greater that of a “normal” person. I drank and became psychotic and found myself in jail when my family sought help with my behavior which was dangerous to myself and them.
I am a criminal. I am one of those greatly stigmatized people who has been convicted of domestic violence. I am a duly accredited violent offender. I was court mandated to go through treatment and attend AA during a 2 year probation once released from jail. I had the absurd notion that I could battle my addiction by ceasing consuming alcohol. Treatment and AA was predicated on the idea that while that was important, what I needed critically to survive was a spiritual “cure” that involved a more or less Christian orthodox conversion or I was doomed to a life of jail, institutions, and death. I developed PTSD in reaction to jail. I refused to go back. I role played star rehab patient and gung ho AA participant. paying vocal lip-service to avoid reincarceration. The night before I was released from probation I attended my last AA meeting.
I am now sober 4 and a quarter years. I have continued my search for answers. I’ve realized that for me explaining realities scientifically does not negate questions not yet explained. That the fact religious orthodoxy is a fabric of lies mostly motivated by far less than holy motivation, does not have to mean life’s realities cease to exist. That our aristotelian paradigmatic reasoning does not have to negate experiences of spirituality and that one’s experience is far more relevant and useful than is dogma.
I’ve studied the gnostic gospels and their history. I find their exclusion by the original Council of Niceae’s endorsed new state religious hybridization of mithraism Greco/Roman polytheistic paganism, and some strains of early Christian thought, into the Roman Church the gospel of which remains essentially intact today intriguing. They must have been terribly threatening to the new order.
Now I am returning to the study of psychology my graduate degree, particularly the writings of Jungian psychology. Jung’s understandings of the role of archetypal symbolism in individuation and the ego’s interpretation of subconscious reality, and the collective unconscious have me on a path that feels very much closer to home for me than I have managed to feel previously.
Ego Hereticus Sum this is entitled. Literally hereticus is a Latin word meaning choice maker. It is the latinate root of our word heretic. When the post-Nicaea Roman Christian church began to enforce its new state imposed religious orthodoxy on the masses, there were early Christian followers who chose not to accept the new Nicene gospels, the state’s new religion, which were widely divergent from their beliefs. They were guilty of choice making and thus convicted as heretici, and put to death, by the new Christian orthodox state religious officials. I choose not to accept Christian orthodox doctrinal dogma. I am a heretic. Ego hereticus sum.