Via Dolorosa: the soul’s spiritual riddle

Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) Christ Carrying the Cross, US public domain via wikimedia

In Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung speaks of psychical symbols as “psychological riddles” (para. 83). Jung says that if a “problem [is] not worked out consciously”; then, it “goes on working in the unconscious and throws up symbolical fantasies”(ibid). The psyche brings forth spiritual riddles, appearing in myth, dreams, art and other forms of imagination.

Spiritual riddles point to “natural currents of libido.” Symbols transform, creating currents within psychic life (fn. 18). One such current is formed from the transformation of desire. As desire transforms, so do the symbols that appear in dreams and fantasy.  Jung says: “The yearning clothes itself in ecclesiastical garb… where it at last finds its way to freedom.” (ibid)

A symbol often “bears in its own peculiarities the marks of its origin” (ibid). Jung gives the example of the father-imago, saying that “by the devious route of the father-imago relationship,” desire for a human lover may be transformed into the image of “the Creator, the God of Sound, of Light and of Love” (ibid). Here, Jung is careful to not limit the idea of God:

“This is not to say that the idea of God derives from the loss of a lover and is nothing but a substitute for the human object. What is evidently in question here is the displacement of libido on to a symbolical object” (ibid).

Through loss, through suffering, we may open to God. Transformation occurs through suffered love and longing. Here, Jung references the Via Dolorosa. Via Dolorosa is a street found within the Old City of Jerusalem. It is on this street that Jesus walked, as he carried his cross to the crucifixion. Via Dolorosa is Latin meaning,”the way of grief” or “way of suffering.” Jung speaks to this path of sorrow as a path to God: “the winding path of the libido seems to be a via dolorosa” (para. 84).

Jung adds: “The long way round is a way of suffering, just as it was when mankind, after the Fall, had to bear the burden of earthly life” (ibid). Each of us suffers insofar as we live. For we are ‘fallen’ and bound to ‘bear the burden of earthly life.’ It is through our capacity to experience the suffering, the fall, that we may create the psychic space for spiritual transformation. In a transformation suffering is experienced in and through love.

I went through such a spiritual transformation. Thirteen years ago someone I loved died. It was a sudden loss of a person that I deeply loved, depended on, trusted, cared for. One day he was there and the next day gone. At the time, I experienced the loss as intolerable. But such loss initiated a transformation in my being, and now many  years later, I am enriched by an inner love that grew from the absence of that outer love. My love for this very personal Other, transformed into a love for a divine Other, and for all Others. For me, love and the capacity to suffer its loss initiated a transformation. Love and loss were my path of transformation, my Via Dolorosa.

I have been talking about the ego in my writing. Trying to work through the complexity and subtlety of the ego. I am not sure what happened to my ego during my transformations, except to say that the material things of this world have not really mattered much to me since then. Nor do any of the images of pleasure that promise a satisfaction to the pleasure ego. Seeking success, wealth, fame seems like a waste of a very precious moment called life.  I suppose with the transformations in libido from the worldly to the spiritual, I no longer have much desire or interest in such imaginary pleasures. All the material things that seemed important once, now seem so ephemeral and fleeting. Something else, more enduring, has shown itself to my heart: and that is simply the gift of life in its raw and unclothed form.

I love what Jung says: “the anima (soul) wants life.” I now understand what it means to want life. It is not so much to want life as represented by images of life, but instead to connect to that which is deep and enduring within life. We seek a connection to that which endures. My soul willingly endures all that this life might throw at it. Because with each sorrow, with each loss, I strip down more and more of the ego’s imaginary. I find in its stead, a heart which endures, a love which imagines: a love deeply entwined with a love for the divine.  Through a spiritual imagination, I am now discovering a divine that is not separate from life, but within it, and yet extending beyond it.

It is part of the process of life to contract and expand: day and night, winter and summer, dryness and rain. To be alive is to suffer the cycles of nature, the cycles of mother earth: we grow physically in youth and contract in old age; we suffer sickness and enjoy health; every winter a contraction and spring a rebirth.

Within this cycling, if we allow the symbols of the soul to guide us, then the deepest of transformations may occur. While the body withers and ages, something beautiful and enduring begins to grow and take form within us. Something beyond body or image: a form, but the deepest of forms, an enduring form, awaiting an unimaginable rebirth into the unknown.


11 thoughts on “Via Dolorosa: the soul’s spiritual riddle

  1. Jenna…
    Oh my,I intuited you were going to go here & soon.I’m so grateful you’ve shared this and will comment later(..I know,”Oh my” again).There appear to be just a few sitting around the campfire as Christmas approaches and that’s to be expected.They’ll return soon enough.Meanwhile,something in your last post calls me so I’ll go back there first.Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom gleaned from the suffering heart.All wisdom,in fact,is born there.

  2. Jenna,
    So now it becomes apparent where the wisdom which inspires & directs your words derives from besides long & passionate study.Now the source of your own relational compassion & gratitude shines.Thanks so much for sharing & revealing some of your own Via Dolorosa.I’ve written much about suffering and the transformations that embracing it works.Heck,I began filling notebooks full of notes and quotes on suffering after going comatose at 16.I deeply needed confirmation form a world that didn’t appear to either understand suffering or offer much of value concerning it.Much has happened since then.Here,however,I just want to honor your own commitment to walking this ”way of grief.”
    Almost everything that Rumi ever wrote validates the wisdom that…”in a transformation suffering is experiencing in and through Love.” The potent words of African shaman Malidoma Some’ were etched into my Soul years ago: …”Full grieving is the medicine of spiritual re-connection.” You speak to that here in your own beautiful words and way.There are old sayings about the broken heart being the only damaged instrument that still works.What I’ve found from embracing my own sufferings is that my capacity for love and relationship expands to the degree that I embrace and reconcile my losses.I no longer seek an external love either but whenever love has come along and I open again I find I only go deeper and wider than before.The courage to love again deeply after loss is an incredible testament to the human Spirit. The capacity for external intimacy resonates with the capacity for self intimacy….which is why Rumi tells us to embrace Love in all-the-forms it seeks us through.Here,he by no means asks us to remain naive’ or expects us to neglect our necessary times of grieving or self-examination.The passion of his poetry is all about saying ”yes” to Love as long as we live.The forms that love takes may vary but the loving must never stop.You know.
    It was on Christmas day 16 years ago that my love of many years left.Since then,the Soul has also served as my primary Beloved.I haven’t thought of my past love much for years until this year.One grieving always opens another and the loss of my wonderful Bo-dog opened me to many tears in many places that I felt I had finished earlier.I believe the most powerful way we can honor or prepare for any future lover or service of love to others is by fully grieving and deeply exploring our hearts & Souls after each significant loss.I also feel that the transformation from personal to divine love doesn’t necessarily exclude the human or the Immanent Divine within others.
    Jenna,possibly you’ve read these lines from James Hollis before.I’m hoping not because I’m sure you’d smile widely after writing this post:

    *…”In time the acceptance of our periodic descent into the underworld moves us toward the enlargement of Soul,that embrace of the polarities of life that we call Wisdom.We learn knowledge but we can not learn wisdom.Wisdom arises through the assimilation of suffering.Suffering assimilated enlarges the personality,bringing amplitude to the Soul.”

    Jenna,thank you so much for accepting the Soul as your opus and for the courage to embrace your sufferings.Thank you for sharing your ongoing transformation.I appreciate your Soul’s amplitude or enlargement.Oh yes,sometimes when the heart is broken-open it assumes dimensions and capacities we never could have known otherwise.You are a true and brave heart and the wisdom and gifts you share from walking your own Via Dolorosa are inspiring!Keep-on-truckin’…

    1. Thank you Two-Hawks for your compassion.
      From your words it is clear that your heart has opened to compassion for others. Such compassion is one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon us through “the assimilation of suffering.”

  3. “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world”

    I’ve always liked this quote even though i never truly knew the meaning & attributed it to buddha not Joseph Campbell. As my personality has expanded the meaning has morphed as it should. The sorrows of our world, either collective or personal are mirrored by joy. The irreconcilable is transformed by our nature into the seed of love, which with care can grow. Our ability to hold the two opposing truths in stasis is the water, sunshine and nutrients.

    thanks again for all these gifts you share

      1. Merry Christmas(..or whatever your preference) to Jenna and all around the sacred campfire here.Cheers!
        Rob Two-Hawks

  4. Your heart-felt honesty has touched me. I honor your courage and hard-won wisdom. “You make me want to be a better person.” (Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets”) Thanks and Happy Holiday!

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