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.