Parvati, Kali, and Balance

Siva, god of destruction, is associated as the consort or husband of Devi, the Mother-goddess, who is represented in the form of several goddesses. Two Devi representations that stand out are Parvati and Kali because they are so very different, especially in the way they relate with Siva. Parvati is a calming force for Siva while Kali incites him to greater destruction. Parvati attempts to civilize Siva, to change him, but Kali is even more uncivilized than Siva so through their relationship another, more civilized, Siva is revealed. Studying the myths and relationships with these three deities demonstrates both duality and balance.

Western perspective and confusion

These myths and information about the deities can be very confusing, the more information that is uncovered, the more confusing it becomes. Part of the confusion, for me, was from looking at these myths through western eyes. Zimmerman warns about reading these myths through western perspective, but every person uses their background knowledge when reading so it is almost impossible not to incorporate your own cultural perspective in any reading. The other part of the confusion is the fluidity of the characters. Parvati is identified as the reincarnation of Sati, Siva’s first wife, but she is also being represented as Durga, Rudrani, Uma, and Kali, entirely different goddesses, but in truth, all of these goddesses are aspects of Devi. How can one deity be so many different goddesses; such extremely different personalities? I believe the way to reconcile this is to look at our own natures, are we as individuals easy to label? Are we calm or wild, happy or sad, or funny or serious?  The truth lies that we identify somewhere in the middle, we are at times happy, at times sad – we are complex beings and so are the gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion. In the western world, it is expected for religious personalities to be easy to label and understand, not fluid; they are extreme. However, to a person who understands the nature of duality and the complexity of whole characters, it is understood that no one is all this or that but a mixture of qualities, this is what is known as duality. What the myths show with these two consorts is a need for balance of these extremes. Siva must be at times destructive, as is his nature, but at times he must also be calm to allow for Brahma and Visnu to create and preserve. With Parvati, we see her as the cause of balance but with Kali, we actually see Siva as the one that calming force for the wild goddess.

Another misconception that arises with looking at the myths with the western perspective is that the Devi goddess is not as important as her consort god, Siva. Since Parvati doesn’t have any history separate from Siva, she would be seen as less than to westerners. “Her identity and nature and nearly all her mythological deeds are defined or acted out vis-à-vis her consort/husband, the great ascetic god Siva” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 35). In fact, she was reincarnated specifically so that Siva could have a child that was necessary to save the world. In reality, she is equal to or more powerful than Siva. She is the only one powerful enough to make Siva change his mind. It is implied that “the great male gods are entirely dependent on the Devi for their strength and power and that if she withdraws her power, they are impotent and helpless” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 137). In the westerner’s mind, it is he who does the action that is important, not the one that inspires it. The mind can be much more powerful than the body. What westerners do not often recognize that both have power and importance; it is about balance.
Who is Siva?

Siva, pronounced and often written as Shiva, is one of the three gods responsible for the creation, upkeep, and destruction of the world. Brahma is the creator of the universe, Visnu is the preserver, and Siva is the destroyer. He must destroy the illusions and imperfections of the world so we can have positive change. Often, destruction is thought of in negative terms but it is necessary to have destruction in order to have creation, it is balance.

Siva contains many contradictory elements and an untamed passion; he can be seen as both good and evil. His behavior is often extreme, especially when without Parvati. “Paradox is the very heart of Saiva mythology” (O’Flaherty 300-337). He is an ascetic that abstains from all worldly pleasures while at other times; he is a hedonist that gives in to his every whim. “Although the apparently contradictory strains of Siva’s nature may well have originated from different times and places, they have resulted in a composite deity who is unquestionably whole to his devotees; this is why the Hindus accept and even glorify what might otherwise seem a meaningless patchwork, a crazy quilt of metaphysics” (O’Flaherty 300-337). It is Siva’s contradictions that make him whole and more realistic because upon reflection, it is apparent that humans also have contradictions and this makes Siva more relatable. The way Siva achieves balance is through his marriage with Sati and later her reincarnation, Parvati. “Together they are fertile, generative, and equilibrating, but apart they are potentially destructive” (Handelman 133-170). Siva also achieves balance with Kali, however with Kali; he is the calm to her destructive nature, showing that Siva contains both the wild and out of control as well as stabilizing aspects in his nature. The inclusion of the Kali myths demonstrate that Siva contains duality and balance within his own personality.

The Devi Goddesses, Parvati and Kali

Since Parvati is the reincarnation of Sati, the two are often seen as the same goddess; two lives of the same goddess. Parvati, Sati, comes back to the world for the purpose of bearing Siva’s child to the world. There are many versions of the myth of Parvati and how she becomes mother to Siva’s offspring. This is a synopsis of the history of Parvati: there was a demon named Taraka terrorizing the world and the only way this demon could be defeated and balance restored was by the offspring of Siva. Since Siva did not have any children and had no interest in having any sort of family, Sati was convinced to return to the world to persuade Siva to have an offspring. Parvati gains Siva’s admiration by performing tapas, cutting herself off from the world and mastering her physical needs. When they are finally married and make love, they are interrupted and Siva’s seed is spilled outside Parvati. It is eventually deposited into the Ganges River and becomes the child Karttikeya, also called Skanda and other names. He returns to his parents and saves the world and restores balance by defeating the demon Taraka. Parvati raises Karttikeya as her own son but she also creates a second son, Ganesa, on her own. The reason Parvati decides to have the second child is to guard for her so she can have privacy. When Siva returns, Ganesa does not allow him in and Siva cuts his head off. Parvati demands that Siva brings their son back to life so Siva grabs the head of an elephant and places it on the boy’s body. The complete family is Siva, Parvati, and their two sons, each created individually by one of the parents.

Even though Parvati is the daughter of the Himalayas and lures Siva out of his ascetic isolation by becoming an ascetic herself, she values the household and society. She “represents the beauty and attraction of worldly, sexual life, which cherishes the house society rather than the forest, the mountains, or ascetic life” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 46). The couple represents the tension between the ideals of the ascetic and the householder. Siva has no desire for family or in settling down but Parvati desires, in fact is born, to marry Siva and have children. “Contact with his properly cultured spouse seems to connect him with ordinary social reality and temporarily domesticates him” (Yocum 119). While Parvati does partially domesticate Siva, she does not fully succeed in achieving her desire for a “normal” life. For instance, Parvati desires a proper home but they never do . Also, Siva retains his wild, ascetic appearance, and continues some of his wild behavior. Since Siva is a god of many extremes, it is Parvati’s role to be the tamer of these extremes, both ascetic and sexual and create balance. Siva never fully gives in to her desires as a householder and she never goes back to asceticism so they remain in a constant state of tension or balance.

The relationship of Parvati and Siva is a case for opposites attracting, duality and balance, but Kali and Parvati are also a representation of duality and balance. While Parvati hardly has any independent history, Kali is rarely associated with her male consort, Siva. Parvati is the householder that desires children yet Kali is often depicted as virginal and violent. Kali prefers the battlefield, Parvati prefers the home. Parvati and Kali may appear to be opposites but Kali is actually represented as part of Parvati. Parvati and Kali are an example of duality and balance existing within one individual.

Kali exists with Siva as the personified wrath of Parvati or Sita. She comes into being when we need to see the otherwise calm and beautiful Parvati be fierce. While Parvati is known for her beauty and quiet grace, Kali is known for a terrible and frightening appearance. Even when compared to Siva’s most terrible forms, she surpasses his wild appearance. “She is always black or dark, usually naked, and has long, disheveled hair. She is adorned with severed arms as a girdle, freshly cut heads as a necklace, children’s corpses as earrings, and serpents as bracelets” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 117). Her nature is fearsome and she enjoys battlefields and cremation grounds. While Parvati calms the wild nature of Siva, Kali intensifies it. In fact, Siva is the one that needs to calm Kali’s wild behavior. In their relationship, they are depicted “in situations where either or both behave in disruptive ways, inciting each other, or in which Kali in her wild activity dominates an inactive or sometimes dead Siva” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 119). When they are together, she is always extreme and uncontrollable.

While Parvati tries to tame Siva, Kali compliments his destructive habits and madness, bringing them to even higher levels, the opposite of balance. She is seen in most images as dominant over Siva, often standing on his body. She is never “subdued by him and is most popularly represented as a being who is uncontrollable and more apt to provoke Siva to dangerous activity than to be controlled by him” (Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses 120). She is the one that needs taming, even in her role as demon slayer, which one would think would help bring balance. In battle, Kali becomes so drunk on blood that she becomes out of control and must be subdued or she may just destroy the world. Balance in these situations is attained by the intervention of Siva.

Duality and Balance

Through the relationships of Siva and Parvati, Siva and Kali, and Kali and Parvati the theme that we see over and over again is the existence of duality and the need for balance. Balance between the spiritual and social worlds with Siva and Parvati is important in Hindu culture since the stress towards living a spiritual life would almost suggest a break from the world of the household but balance is actually the message, not just renunciation. “Both renunciation of action ant the selfless performance of action lead to the supreme goal. But the path of action is better than renunciation” (Easwaran 29). Balance between out of control, destructive behavior and the need to have that destruction reigned in as seen with Siva and Kali is important since Siva’s destruction is meant so that a better world can be created not the entire world destroyed. Finally, the balance of independence and interdependence, wild destruction and calm house making, and beauty and terror are seen in one being with Kali and Parvati which demonstrates how we all have the capabilities of extremes within ourselves.

“It is sometimes said that Indian culture generally betrays a love for extremes, that moderation and balance tend to get lost in the Indian tendency to exploit everything to its ultimate limit” (Kinsley, Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali 183-207). However, it is in these dual natural extremes that we see balance. Siva, Parvati, and Kali are extreme in nature but together they have balance. Humans and the gods and goddesses of Hindu myths have dual natures that contain extremes and balance. It is by nurturing different aspects of our natures that we become more to one extreme or the other. Often, it is the people we surround ourselves with that causes us to be either more extreme or balanced, like demonstrated by the relationships of Siva with Parvati and Kali.

Even though it may appear that the Indian culture has a love for extreme, I believe it is the western culture that actually embraces extremes, or absolutes. As demonstrated, the relationships of these three Hindu deities show a desire for balance, they show complex characters that contain dualities and balance. It is the dominant, western religion, Christianity, the non-human characters are extreme; Satan is purely evil and the personification of god, Jesus, is purely good and without sin. Even the actions taken by god in Christianity are extreme; when Adam and Eve commit the first sin, they are cast out into the wilderness; when the society is too corrupt, a flood is sent to wipe out all of humanity and life save for one family and pairs of each animal. This is why it is so difficult for westerners to comprehend the wholeness, the dualities that exist in Hindu deities. It is hard to think of a supreme being as both out of control and stable. For the western mind, these deities are too human which makes them hard to understand or respect. That is why, even with Devi, it is hard for a westerner to grasp that she is both Parvati, the householder, and Kali, the bloodthirsty warrior. The duality of the gods and goddesses in Hinduism doesn’t lessen their importance, it increases their ability to be relatable and makes the lessons from their myths relatable to our lives.

There are two lessons shown through these relationships, balance and duality. First, is duality; all humans have duality, we are not extreme. This is important to remember when dealing with each other and when reflecting on ourselves. We can be less judgmental by remembering that everyone has a dual nature and is struggling towards the second lesson which is balance; balance within the individual and balance in relationships. Balance is necessary within the individual, without balance there is dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It must also exist in a relationship or there will be the same result of dissatisfaction and unhappiness and often the termination of the relationship. Sometimes qualities can shift back and forth between the individuals in a relationship, as we see with the shift of Parvati to Kali with Siva but tension and balance must exist.

Balance and embracing our own duality can lead to a happier, more enlightened life. The Bhagavad Gita tell us “they live in freedom who have gone beyond the dualities of life. Competing with no one, they are alike in success and failure and contend with whatever comes to them” (Easwaran 25). We can be happier with who we are because even when we fall short, we know we have the qualities to be better. When we feel overly proud that we have a specific “good” attribute we can become more humble by recognizing that we also contain the “negative” attribute as well. By recognizing duality in others and having less judgment or comparison to them, we can be happier with who we are and who they are.

I would like to end with one of my favorite quotes from The Bhagavad Gita. “It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity” (Easwaran 21).  This relates to the messages of balance and duality. We need to recognize and embrace both our inner Parvati and Kali. Even if others may see one trait as better than another, it is within ourselves that we need to strive to succeed, not in the eyes of others. It is not competition or scrutiny of others that will make us happy. All people must strive to contend within their own dharma and understand their own duality in order to maintain balance and attain true joy and spiritual enlightenment and these are the lessons I learned from studying Siva, Parvati, and Kali.

Works Cited

 

Easwaran, Eknath. The Bhagavad Gita. 1st edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Print.

Handelman, Don. “Myths of Murugan: Asymmetry and Hierarchy in a South Indian Puranic .” History of Religions. 27.2 (1987): 133-170. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062666&gt;.

Kinsley, David. “Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kali.” Numen. 22.3 (1975): 183-207. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org.pgi.idm.oclc.org/stable/3269544&gt;.

Kinsley, David. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1988. Print.

O’Flaherty, Wendy. “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Siva, Part I.” History of Religions. 8.4 (1969): 300-337. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062019&gt;.

Yocum, Glenn. Hymns to the Dancing Siva: A Study of Manikkavacakar’s Tirubacakum. Columbia, Missouri: South Asia Books, 1982. Print.

Zimmer, Heinrich, and Joseph Campbell. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Eighth printing. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. Print.

Storytellers: Weekend retreat for women with a story to tell

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

     I lived most of my life with untold stories inside of me. I wouldn’t acknowledge the stories from my past and was afraid to believe in stories for the future. This was a painful way to live because I wasn’t my true self. It took years of studying mythologies and depth psychology to begin to understand the importance of our stories. Once I embraced my stories – both lived and unlived – life began to change in ways I had not before imagined possible. I was no longer content to live the life that was easy. I wanted a life that was interesting and fulfilling. I learned how to write my story and actually live it! I had control of my life. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was terrifying, and continues to be an ongoing journey but the rewards are certainly worth the effort. In fact, the effort has been its own reward. I invite you to join us for a weekend of self-discovery to find out what stories need to be told and how to tell them to shape a better future.

Our speakers Juile Paegle, Kathy Jaffe, and myself, Tracy Marrs are enthusiastically preparing meaningful experiences for our exciting weekend focusing on the power of words. You don’t need to be a writer to have a story to tell but if you want to write, Julie and myself have years of experience guiding writers of all levels to awaken their untold stories and make them alive on the page. Oftentimes, facing these stories can be difficult, Kathy is a licensed therapist with a background in word power and living mindfully. Her experiences and training give her the ability to help others as they navigate their narratives to find their authentic selves.

If things get a little too cerebral, take a break and go for a swim in the pool, relax on the deck and listen to the birds, or wander along the many scenic trails, on your own or with a friend. Also, make sure to take time to quiet the mind and stretch the body with our amazing yoga instructor. Stories can heal the past, enrich the present and comfort and inspire us for the future. Your story is important – let us help you find it, express it, and live it.

September 16-18, 2016

Camp de Benneville Pines

 

Transformative power of story

Stories are transformative.
Stories touch the soul and the mind.
Data and logic are meaningless unless they make a person care. To care about data, the active thinker creates a story within their own mind – they activate prior knowledge and relate to the information. Data can move active thinkers to create change. Active thinkers can care about data but they have to be able to relate the data through their prior knowledge (stories). Stories or data converted into stories make people care because it is easier to relate to a story than a fact.
Stories create emotion which is what is needed to create change. Logic alone will not move people to action, for that we need our stories.

This is why I teach through story.

image

C.G. Jung and victim mentality


It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going.  Not consciously, of course – for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further in the distance.  Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world.  And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him”  Carl Jung, “The Shadow” CW 9 ii, par 19.

This quote came up in my reading this morning.  It articulates the victim mentality that is so prevalent in society. Instead of being active and taking responsibility for one’s life – past, present, and future – the victim sees their situation as something that happened to them.  Since the victims do not see that they are the cause of their situation, they also do not see that they are the solution.  In their mind, it is the world that causes their misery so the world must change for the misery to end.  Change needs to come from within.  To take control of one’s life means to also take responsibility.  When a person lives passively they give up control.  They let the circumstance determine their attitude. Attitude determines outcome, not circumstance.  Active living means controlling your attitude regardless of circumstances in order to create the desired outcome.  

This quote also points to what is frustrating in the study (both formal and informal) of psychology – how easy it becomes to recognize the illusions that others create that hinder their personal growth but how difficult it can be to see through our own veils.

Transformation: Amduat, the college student, and the river that unites them

Sixth hour images

6th hout

Seventh hour

7_Hour.jpg2.jpg

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus wrote “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” This quote unites the river and man as both experiencing change but the connection between the soul and the river go far beyond their inability to escape change. For ancient Egyptians, the Nile River was life. More than just a metaphor, the river brought life and death. It was the soul of Egypt. Ancient Egyptians knew that the river and the soul were natural and could not be controlled but they were not passive with this knowledge. One reason the Ancient Egyptians thrived for longer than any other known society is that they were active in their quest for wisdom and growth. They had core knowledge and they made sure that people knew these secrets to life and living. Egyptian civilization centered on the cycles of the river just as life of the individual is determined by the state of the soul. The Nile was studied and tended to, in order to maximize growth and minimize risks. Similarly, they studied the soul. They monitored the soul and tended it just as they did the river. By applying this knowledge, the Egyptians didn’t merely survive, they continually blossomed. The value of this knowledge did not escape the Egyptians. They made sure to record it to guide those that wished to follow the same path and to further their society.

The crucial knowledge for life and growth was recorded in multiple forms and texts. The Amduat is one of the oldest texts to record the knowledge of transformative growth. It shows Re, the sun god, as he journeys from sunset to sunrise. It is a guide for the afterlife but afterlife can’t be known. The idea of an afterlife is an attempt to create immortality. The attempt to understand the afterlife comes from the knowledge that time is limited. The idea that the body is mortal yet the soul lives on forever offers people the hope that part of them will not perish. A possible extension of existence gives people meaning in this life. The only way to attempt to understand the afterlife is to look at it as a reflection of life. Examining the Amduat as a reflection on life reveals a great deal of insight on the human psyche. It shows the fear of wasting time, how to continue to grow, the need for social interactions, the need for education, and how to navigate transformations.

The Amduat uses this reflective awareness metaphorically to explain how to grow through transformation. “The Amduat, written 3500 years ago, contains in a nutshell the knowledge necessary to reunite the individual soul with this inner guiding light” (Abt and Hornung, 9). It teaches how to have wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what to do, how to do it, and when it should be done. To have wisdom, a person needs to know themselves, they need to understand their motivation and ability to carry out their ideas. Thousands of years before Freud and Jung gave us the vocabulary for depth psychology, the Egyptians used the story of Re to instruct people how to grow and improve through transformation. Re’s journey through the underworld is not a map for the afterlife, it is a guide for the soul during transformation.

There are three levels for change. These are simple change, transition, and transformation. Simple changes are slight. Like with the water flowing along its path. Most people would look at the river and believe it to be unchanged but it is never the same river. Just like a person may seem the same but the soul is always changing even if the change is not easily recognized. Transitions are more noticeable, like a twist in the river’s path that causes a change in direction. Finally, there is transformation. Transformation is more than a change in direction. It is more like the river that goes underground and resurfaces in a new place. Transformation requires an individual to dive down into unconscious to gain knowledge, learn to accept and incorporate this knowledge, and finally to rise back up to the surface as a new person. Changes, transitions, and transformations are natural. In order to thrive and avoid death, the Egyptians learned the natural paths for growth, both agriculturally and psychologically.

Changes, transitions, and transformations of the soul can be understood through the river. They need to occur for the health of the river and soul. There is no way to escape change. If the water in the river did not flow, it would become stale and cluttered with weeds and algae. It would cease to exist as a river. In the same way, the soul of a person needs to flow or it can become stale and cluttered. The soul and the river can change, transition, and even transform without intervention. If a person just stands in the river, the water will continue to move by them. Life in the form of rain or drought can cause dramatic transformations to occur. The question is what type of transformations will occur. Passive living allows for the currents to deliver life giving water but it also opens a person up to being swallowed by the tides. The river, like the soul, may be just fine following the natural path. However, when the risks are so high, it seems foolish not to take action so the changes create growth instead of destruction.

How can a person create change? Manipulating change effectively and achieving the desired results takes time. Time to acquire knowledge and complete the action necessary for the chosen outcome. Effective change can’t be done with knowledge or action alone, it requires both. A person can know what to do but without actually doing what needs to be done, thus making the knowledge useless. The mere knowledge of how to divert the water from the river to the fields will not get the water where it should be. It takes the work of digging the trenches and constant monitoring for changes to make sure the water continues to flow. On the other hand, action without knowledge is equally useless. An example of ignorant action would be like trying to divert that same water by digging a hole instead of a trench. It doesn’t matter how hard the person works or how deep they dig, without the knowledge to dig trenches instead of a hole, the action is wasted. Not only does lack of knowledge create impotent action and loss of time, it can cause harm. Transitioning improperly is damaging but transforming badly can be disastrous. It is easier to correct a bend in the river than to redirect water that has gone underground. “The journey into the unconscious – encountering, befriending, and integrating the shadow is not to be undertaken lightly” (Brewi and Brennan, 261). In order to create transformation that inspires growth instead of decay, a person needs informed action. Ignorant actions won’t always lead to despair but without growth, they have no meaning. Similarly, knowledge without action can’t grow and will cause the person to remain stuck and unsatisfied.

Transformation requires knowledge and action. For a soul to continue to grow, a person needs to cycle between action and knowledge. A person needs ignorant action to gain the insight that they need knowledge. Once they gain knowledge, they will need to use that knowledge to perform informed actions since knowledge without action has no point. The new action will lead to knowledge through experience but it will also lead to mistakes which should make the person seek knowledge to improve and so on until death. This is why it takes time to become wise. It requires the cycle of action and knowledge. Wisdom is the ability know how to apply knowledge to action. Society needs this wisdom to thrive. Acquiring knowledge and applying it are the quickest ways to reach wisdom. For society to continue to grow, it needs people to reach wisdom at a younger age so people can apply it for the benefit of the society for a longer period of time and continue to grow. With more time, the amount of wisdom a person can achieve is greater. There is a French proverb that has also been credited to Sigmund Freud that expresses the need for early wisdom. “Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait – If youth knew! If age could!”  This is saying if only we could have wisdom earlier in life so we had time to apply it and increase the time to gain more knowledge and insights. The purpose of education is to make the person better than their old self and increase knowledge and wisdom in a society. By lifting up others, we all rise.

The two sources of knowledge are experience and social interactions. A person can gain knowledge through experience, a series of trial and errors. This is the hardest, most time consuming, and least successful way to gain knowledge because it requires experimentation through ignorant actions. Ignorant actions can lead to insight but they can also lead to cycles of ignorance and despair. The other way to gain knowledge is through others. By learning from others, a person saves themselves time, heartache, and general overall stress. The realization for an individual that they do not have to do it alone, that others have had a same experience, helps to make transformation more tolerable. Egyptians recognized the need for social knowledge transmission which a reason they permanently recorded texts like the Amduat, to light the way.

The Amduat shows that people need people to grow.   Some people may argue that a person can be self-educated or that the knowledge exists within the soul, a person just needs to access that knowledge. Even personal journeys to enlightenment are social experiences. To unlock inner knowledge a person needs the keys. The keys are only available from others; directly or through art, writing, and other forms of recorded knowledge. Reading requires a writer, a painting needs a painter, and a piece of music needs a composer. Since learning is social, the type of knowledge a person will acquire is dependent upon their society. The more wisdom within the society, the easier it will be for an individual to also gain wisdom and contribute to the wisdom of the world. The knowledge we gain from others could be flawed and following it leads to problems. This is why people seeking knowledge are best served entering societies with others that are seeking knowledge.   By participating in a society of knowledge, a person will more easily learn how gain meaningful knowledge and how to apply it. The best place to find a society of knowledge seekers is to go to school. In America, school is required for preliminary instruction of young people but formal education after this point can dramatically aid in growth and living a fulfilling life.

The goal of college is change. I have never heard of anyone that went to college so that they would have the same life and way of thinking as they when they entered. Education is about opening doors. It opens doors within the mind, soul, and society. There are many motivators to go to school. Some of these motivators include societal expectations of college as the next, natural step from high school, a person may want to improve their employment opportunities, they may simply want gain knowledge, or a parent may want to set an example for their kids to pursue education. One thing all of these motivations are the same – they all open doors. The Amduat is about opening doors. Re moves through gates as he progresses through the subconscious. College requires gaining knowledge but it also requires applying that knowledge to the self. During college, people determine their future path. They learn their strengths and weaknesses. They learn to have confidence in their knowledge so that it can lead to action. It is a period of great excitement and danger. Facing the self, taking action into the future, and growing are not easy. A soul can easily become lost. Texts like the Amduat can help.

As a text about transformation, the Amduat details the soul’s journey through the world of night. The Sungod, the conscious self goes through death and descent where he is united with his brother, Osiris, the subconscious and ascends whole and renewed to the world. Thousands of years after the Amduat was recorded, Jung also used the journey of the sun to illustrate the process of a midlife experience. He explained that the sun shines it light on the world (action) but then reaches a zenith and finds it necessary to turn that light back in to the self (knowledge) in order to become wise and experience satisfaction in the second half of life (informed action). As a person in the middle part of life, I agree with this analogy but I disagree that it is limited to a specified period of life. There are biological factors involved with the midlife experience that make that specific transformation unique but transformations occur through life. Just like the journey of the sun occurs every day, a person has to go through transformation through life in order to continue to grow and avoid stagnation and dissatisfaction of the soul.

The Amduat is recorded as a combination of hieroglyphics and text which makes it especially rich. It is like the text is talking to the conscious, logical part of the person but the hieroglyphs speak to the soul what words can’t convey. Each register contains incredible insight into the psyche. Due to the density of the material, I will limit myself to elements of the sixth and seventh hours and how they mirror the experience of college students undergoing transformation. These hours address the obstacles of growth. Many students that start college do not make it to graduation. Each person has their own set of obstacles to overcome in order to succeed in college. In Amduat, these obstacles are identified as Apopis. Apopis is appears in the seventh hour as a giant snake. Apopis doesn’t want Re to unite with himself. Apopis are the people that don’t want others to succeed. It is the flat tire on the way to a final exam. Apopis is all the things that block transformative growth. While the obstacles are limitless, they can be divided into two categories, external and internal.

External obstacles are the things outside the self that get in the way of education. These include financial difficulties, lack of support or even resistance from a social group, and health problems. These obstacles are real but that doesn’t mean that a person has to let them block the path. Obstacles make the path more difficult but overcoming those obstacles helps a person in gaining both knowledge and confidence to take further action toward growth. Obstacles can be seen as something that holds a person back or as the very things that cause growth. It takes wisdom to resist getting held back by obstacles. Since the college student is seeking wisdom, they need to get the knowledge from others. In order to learn how to get funding for education, how to deal with the people that hold others back, and how to prioritize obligations are all things college students can learn from others. Colleges have counseling centers specifically trained to help students navigate the path but many students do not seek that guidance due to internal obstacles. Passive living is allowing outside obstacles to get in the way of inner growth. This pattern resists taking responsibility for the obstacles as using them as excuses instead of opportunities. “By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them” (Maraboli, 37). Once a person falls into this trap, it takes guidance to gain the knowledge to become free.

Internal obstacles are much more crippling than external forces. In fact, for any excuse to fail, there is a person who proves that it can still be done. External forces are only able to control people because they can’t get past the internal obstacles of fear and ignorance. Ignorance is overcome by knowledge and fear is overcome by taking action and gaining confidence. This is why the answer for overcoming these obstacles is to seek knowledge and take action. In order to gain knowledge a person needs other people to light the way and help defeat Apopis. Apopis is a formidable foe and can’t be overcome alone.

The sixth and seventh hours are the heart of the journey through night. They are the Amduat’s Nile River. It is these two hours where transformation occurs. The first register of the sixth hour contains the spark of knowledge that starts the transformation process. Both hours show the danger of undergoing transformation and the need for others to guide and aid in overcoming obstacles, Apopis. The final register for the seventh hour illustrates how helping others to transform allows others to grow and share in renewal. Together, we rise. Very beautiful message that is may be even more necessary today than ever before. So often, people feel that they have to go through life alone. They may be afraid to admit they need help. They may think asking for help as a weakness. Some people think that in order to prove themselves, they need to do it on their own without help. Whatever reason a person has for not getting help from others the result is a more difficult transformation and most likely not one that will include transformative growth. Without others to guide and support the transforming individual, it is all too easy to get lost and for Apopis to gain power. Receiving help from others is not a weakness or inconvenience; it is an opportunity to turn obstacles into growth for both the receiver and giver. The ability to ask for and receive help is one of my internal obstacles that I continually have to destroy in order to grow. The Amduat helped me to see how receiving guidance and support not only helps me; it is beneficial to the person that gives that guidance and support.

These two hours of the Amduat are crucial knowledge for college students. Seeing their struggles – actually “seeing” them through hieroglyphs that have been around for thousands of years – not only serves to give guidance, it gives hope. I agree with Abt and Hornung that the ability to see the battle with Apopis as an archetypal situation is a profound insight. It can be a transformative insight. The realization that transformative growth is difficult for everyone and that no one is able to do it alone can make difference between quitting and graduating.

The sixth hour is crucial because it is the moment where the soul and the body unite and the action reverses. This is the moment where Abt and Hornung say that consciousness is created, the “very moment of the union of Re and Osiris, the divine eye of the Sungod appears for the first time as a pair of eyes” (80). In the top register there is a small pair of eyes above the head of a lion, Osiris. Osiris represents the subconscious. He is the one that must face the internal Apopis to unite with Re and face the external Apopis. In the central register, Re is sailing along but suddenly there is a break in the action. The center of the entire Amduat is at this physical point. It is lifted, from the rest of the register as if to emphasize the importance of the moment. I think it may even suggest the elevated nature of the scene. It contains the heart of the message, the need for guidance and fortitude in this journey. It is done within the subconscious unlike the barque on the river, like the student enrolling in school that is an outward action and the transformation process is enclosed in the protective embrace of the snakes. This protection is to keep the newly transformed individual for the future battles but also represents the mysterious nature of transformation. It is a process that at this point has to be done internally.

This divine eye is the spark when the student decides to go to school. The transition, the turn in the river, starts here. The text for the Amduat for this moment reads “The Bull with roaring voice rejoices, when Re rests upon his divine eye” (Abt and Hornung, 80). The Bull with the roaring voice is the lion but the roaring voice with rejoice brings to mind Whitman’s barbaric yawp. The spark of consciousness brings an invigorating sense of joy which is needed to sustain Re and Osiris through the next hour of the journey. It is empowering to create a change in direction and actively create an identity. The student begins the journey in the central frame with the barque on the river. Once in school, they begin to gain knowledge but they need to gain wisdom not knowledge or action alone. To turn knowledge and action into transformative growth, the individual needs only to turn to the heart of the Amduat for guidance.

The very center of the mid hour of the Amduat has Thoth, the god of Wisdom in physical form, the baboon, presenting himself in spiritual form, an ibis, to a woman that is hiding eyes behind her back. He needs to surrender his soul in order to gain sight. After the surrender of self, there is a reconnection “with the ancestors’ knowledge and experience of renewal. By respecting the ancestors, the one in need of renewal can find the necessary confidence and mental support” (Abt and Hornung, 83). Once a person meets the shadow, they need to surrender, they need to accept the shadow in order to gain knowledge and growth. On the one side of the woman with the eyes is Thoth. He is seeking the sight. The other side shows generations of pharaohs and a transforming self. This demonstrates that knowledge, sight, can be gained from others and from searching the self. Adler explains that it is in these times of transformation, when a person is in a new situation that the self is exposed. The transforming self since it is exposed is especially fragile requires protection from Apopis. This register gives the key to success in college. The difference between acquiring knowledge and developing wisdom. Wisdom is acquired from others, the past, and the discovery of the new self. Achieving wisdom is achieving a transformative growth. This is the goal of college.   “The rekindling and self-generation of the young light is a moment of great danger” (Abt and Hornung, 90). The sense of danger continues to the lower corner of the bottom register where the snakes are lined up with their knives. The sense of an impending battle is strong as Re moves into the seventh hour, the confrontation with Apopis.

The seventh hour is exciting and beautiful. It is in this hour that both Osiris and Re triumph over Apopis with the help others and unite to become a renewed being. Up to the sixth hour, the river ran its course. Then the person gets the spark of awareness and the river changes direction. As Thoth offers up the soul, the river has surrenders itself to go underground. There the river encounters rocks and other obstacles but in this analogy, it also connects with a hidden underground river and the two unite and rise up together, a new river. Like the river, the self gains wisdom by going down in the subconscious, uniting with the hidden waters within, facing obstacles, and rising renewed. The difference, as shown in the Amduat, between the transformation of a river and that of a soul is that soul transformation requires outside assistance. It can’t be done alone.

The top and middle registers are of Osiris and Re facing their enemies. Osiris is first to face his enemies but with both brothers, we see that they are not the ones performing the action. They are in their protective Mehen-serpents. Abt and Hornung suggest that this protection is confidence from making it to this point in the journey. It also fits for a college student. There is a sense of confidence that comes from being in school. The label of college student is an outward sign that the individual is in a quest for transformation. It is a sign that the person wants growth, they want something more, and they are active to make change. However, it is not all smooth sailing. The inner doubts begin to attack the soul. Many people experience feelings of inferiority and may set standards that are impossible to reach which guarantees failure. It is crucial for the person to complete the journey. Not every person needs to go to college but when a person decides to go to college but doesn’t finish they must carry that dream unfulfilled. Once a transformation is started, it has to be completed in order for the person to grow without regret. Without a complete transformation, part of the river remains underground and becomes an obstacle in future transformations.

It is important that Osiris triumphs over his enemies first. In order to overcome the external obstacles, the self needs to have inner fortitude from defeating these enemies. In order to succeed, a person has to be determined not to fail. They need to have determination that they will make it through no matter what before they encounter Apopis. Without this inner strength, Apopis has a better chance to stifle growth.

Life is change. Things will happen in life while the student is in school. The successful student has already defeated the inner Apopis. In reality, this is an ongoing process but the initial battle has been won which strengthens the individual against future attacks. Once Osiris triumphs, once the student has gained confidence that they can succeed they have to make the decision that they will succeed and take action to make it happen. The knowledge and action in the mind then connects to knowledge and action toward the external forces. This unity is what makes the individual strong enough to face Apopis. It gives a person the keys to life’s secrets. Without success in the subconscious, external obstacles will easily stop a student from succeeding and often it won’t even take external forces. “He or she will be the tragic victim of horrible devouring emotions … Apopis will succeed in preventing the individual, but also a society, from achieving any further development or metamorphosis. The result is psychic stagnation” (Abt and Hornung, 93). The person becomes stuck. They started the transformation process and they turned the light in. Instead of accepting themselves for their perceived strengths and weakness, they allow the weakness to cripple their progress. Obstacles and insecurities are opportunities for growth. When a person recognizes this they don’t let the “problems” of life of life stop them, they use those problems to create solutions.

As I briefly mentioned, the brothers do not defeat their obstacles on their own. In both registers, it is others that have stabbed, decapitated, and done general violence to the enemies of Re and Osiris, including Apopis. This is to let the person know that they are not alone and they need others to get past obstacles. It is in the middle register of the sun where the slain Apopis is presented to the god. This is the outside sign that the obstacles have been overcome and destroyed. The final death of Apopis is graduation for the college student. Osiris and Re have united and fulfilled their destined mutual healing. Re does not rise up as Re, he is new because he is the consciousness merged with Osiris, the unconscious. The transformation is complete which leads to the bottom register.

This is where this hour becomes beautiful. In this register, the renewed Sungod is seated in front of many stars that are sent on their way. “They proceed before the sun to the eastern horizon and share in the renewal” (Abt and Hornung, 94). By going through transformation and gaining wisdom, the college student doesn’t rise up alone. They are joined by the people that helped them achieve that goal. It is through each other that we rise up and gain wisdom. It is through each other that we grow as a society.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Abt, Theodor, and Hornung, Erik. Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality. Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2003. Print.

 

Brewi, Janice, and Anne Brennan. “Emergence of the Shadow in Midlife.” Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. By Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams. New York: Putnam, 1991. 260-61. Print.

 

Heraclitus. “A Quote by Heraclitus.” Goodreads. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/117526-no-man-ever-steps-in-the-same-river-twice-for&gt;.

 

Jung, C.G. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1955. Print.

 

Maraboli, Steve. Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience. Port Washington, NY: Better Today, 2013. Print.

 

“Si Jeunesse Savait, Si Vieillesse Pouvait.” If Youth but Knew; If [old] Age but Could. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.proz.com/kudoz/french_to_english/art_literary/144795-si_jeunesse_savait_si_vieillesse_pouvait.html&gt;.

 

 

 

Dante’s midlife transition: Learning to live and love

(I have been working on this one in my head and will rewrite it soon with new insights)

Transitions are part of life. Nothing in this world can remain unchanged partly because the world itself is in a constant state of transition. Transitions follow natural order – spring follows winter and caterpillars become butterflies. In nature, the only alternatives to change are stagnation, purification, and death. Humans are no exception to this rule but what about the inner world, the world beyond the biological, physical realities and laws? Fortunately, while these internal transitions may feel foreign and unknown, they too are natural and have a natural path to follow in order for growth to occur. When a person does not follow the natural order in psychic growth the result is the same, only psychological. A person can suffer psychological stagnation, purification, and death. However, unlike biological consequences, a person’s inner consequences are not fixed and while the person may seem “dead inside” they can be resurrected. In order to grow, a person has to find their individual purpose and to do that, they have to discover their individuality.   The most true self, psyche, or soul is individual and the transition will have different revelations for different people but the journey to enlightenment will not change. The natural path to inner light is through the darkness.

For the first half of life, a person follows the natural path of life, moving forward and upward. Suddenly, they reach the top of the hill and from this new perspective, they begin to see things differently. The urge to continue up is challenged and a new direction is introduced. This transition sets the tone for the second half of life.  When a person is at midlife, they look forward and face death and realize that their time is limited. They feel lost and don’t know which direction to go. If they continue to climb, they find themselves no longer making meaningful progress and stagnate. If they try to go back and live in the past, they see themselves as less than their former selves and putrefy. Finally, if they refuse to change, they face the worst fate of all, psychological death. Growth at this point means to move down and make a descent into the unconscious. Instead of onward and upwards the movement becomes inward and down. This transition is difficult. It turns everything upside down and inside out. Many people do not make it through this transition unscathed. Marriages, careers, and identities are in jeopardy at this point because the goals of the first half of life no longer seem the same. In the face of death, these world-based successes have different meaning and may lose importance. Creation is not without destruction and in order to grow at this point, some tearing down of ego and discomfort is necessary. The process is difficult but the rewards include continued growth and a life with meaning, love, and joy.

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray” (59). This is the opening line to Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Commedia, one of the most prolific pieces of poetry ever penned to paper. Dante wrote The Divine Commedia in the early 1300’s about the poet’s journey through all of the levels of hell, purgatory, and heaven. Dante describes in great detail the realms of the afterlife but the poem isn’t really about what happens after death. It is a guide to navigate the midlife transition and a warning of what can happen if a person doesn’t fully make the transition. The shades in the poem suffer or rejoice endlessly in their assigned places. Fortunately for us, we are still alive and capable of growth. We don’t have to remain stuck in purgatory or inferno. We can reach a psychological paradise. Just like Virgil guided Dante in his journey, Dante illuminates the way for the reader.

The afterlife can’t be known. The only way to attempt to understand it is to look at it as a reflection of life. Dante uses this reflective awareness to reveal how to love and how to live. Centuries before Freud and Jung gave us the vocabulary for depth psychology, Dante wrote about the midlife experience as he transitions from darkness and fear to light and love. His quest for knowledge of the afterlife is a metaphor for the quest for knowledge of the unconsciousness.

The time setting of the poem is no accident. Dante begins the story on Good Friday during his own midlife transition.  In the Christian faith, Good Friday is the first day of the Easter weekend. It is the day that Jesus is said to have died for the sins of the world. This is considered the ultimate act of love. He sacrificed himself in order that Christians would have eternal life. The final day of the poem, Easter, is the day that Jesus is said to have risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. This mirrors Dante’s experience as well as the midlife transition all people go through. It is in this period that people experience a profound shift in the psyche. They are faced with their own mortality and it creates the need for a new way of being. All through life to this point a person follows the natural path, the “path that does not stray” only to find themselves lost in a shadowed forest. This period in life is often labeled as crisis because it can be jarring to have the world turned upside down. As Dante demonstrates through his poem, while the experience is jarring, it doesn’t have to be a crisis. With guidance, it is possible to illuminate the darkness to find the path to light and love.

In order to understand this transition, it is important to understand why it occurs when it does to people throughout recorded history. What is it about the late 30’s to early 40’s that makes people change their perspective so dramatically that a change of life occurs? Jung wrote that for a young person, it is not good to be too occupied with the self. When a person is young, they still need to climb up in order to grow. They are not ready to face the shadow. For a person to face the shadow, they need to have a strong ego. “The journey into the unconscious – encountering, befriending, and integrating the shadow is not to be undertaken lightly. Nor can it be undertaken at all until one’s ego development is strong enough and consciousness truly valued and secured” (Brewi and Brennan, 261). Around midlife, a person has an established identity. All the conditions ripen to this point and it is “a duty and a necessity to give serious attention to himself. After having lavished its light upon the world, the sun withdraws its rays in order to illumine itself” (Jung, 109). What Jung so beautifully expresses using the metaphor of the sun, is this period of time is about shining a light on our inner selves. The thing about shining a light is that light creates shadows. The more light that is turned in, the more shadows are revealed. There are transitions through life but the midlife transition, by its very nature, is the point people are closest to their most creative (womb) and destructive (tomb) energies at the same time. Many people find themselves, like Dante, lost in a shadowed forest. The unknown and change are both scary and exciting. While the transition will be experienced differently by different people, the goal is the same – to find meaning beyond the natural functions of worldly successes.

Facing mortality does something to the psyche. Humanity is uniquely aware of the finite nature of existence but when the sands of time begin to be more plentiful on the bottom half of the hourglass, that awareness transforms. Time becomes so much more valuable and the question of wasting that time comes to the forefront. It is both a blessing and a curse to be aware that the time on this earth is limited. Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech to Stanford students after he had been given the diagnosis of terminal cancer. In this speech he told the audience “death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new” (2005).

Before the midlife transition time feels unlimited. The person before midlife is aware of their mortal status but when a person realizes that they are half way through this life; time takes on a whole new value and experience. Once a person realizes the precious nature of time they first look back to see whether they wasted their time. This is the time when they have to face their perceived inferiorities. If the person reaches this point and is not happy with how they spent their precious years, they may get stuck in a self-flagellating state similar to purgatory or refuse to turn inward at all and continue on a path of ignorance similar to the inferno.

This journey to the self is fraught with danger. Dante believes to get out of the forest, he needs to climb just like he had done through his life to this point. Virgil comes to him and tells him that in order to escape the forest, Dante will need to journey down. Dante can’t make the passage on his own, he needs Virgil to point the way and keep him moving. Like Dante, we find that this path should not to be taken alone – even though the journey is a personal one through the inner workings of the soul, we need guidance and support to make it through. This is why works like The Divine Commedia are so important because they help guide us through the treacherous journey from the pits of hell to the heights of paradise. Dante often has to be told to keep moving by his guide, Virgil. Without guidance, it is easy to get stuck in hell or purgatory – it is only through others that we can reach the final level of enlightenment which is knowledge, acceptance, and ultimately – love.

This poem illustrates metaphorically what happens to the psyche during and after the midlife transition. There are three distinct realms for the soul, three possible outcomes for the soul in and after midlife. The first possibility is that the person can refuse to transition. This person will continue to chase worldly pursuits. Without the light, without change, these people have no hope, they will stagnate and die. Their soul will suffer a type of inferno. The second possibility, as I have previously mentioned is purgatory.   The shades from purgatorio no longer have a shadow because they are acting out their shadows through their punishments. The light created the shadows. They are acutely aware of their shadow but they fear it, they are unable to accept it. They spend their time looking back and punishing themselves over past transgressions. The final possibility, the desired outcome, is for the soul to reach paradise, love. This is where the person has successfully navigated the midlife transition, integrated the shadow, and learned how to love and live a life with meaning.

Dante uses the play of light and shadow as he travels from hell to paradise to explain concepts that psychology wouldn’t ‘discover’ for hundreds of years. To talk about these concepts, I must first define some terms as I have come to see them through Dante. The first and most difficult term is love. Love is the key to living a meaningful life. Love is something that is not easy to put into words, it is complicated and mysterious yet also incredibly simple. In the poem, love is simply light and acceptance. Since this poem is trying to illuminate the path to enlightenment and love, it makes sense that light represents knowledge, specifically the quest towards knowing the self. With light comes shadow. The concept of shadow in the poem follows the concept of shadow for psychologists today, it is the unconscious, our inferiorities and inflations. Last, I would like to define fear. Fear is as hard to define as love. It is the opposite of love, simple yet complex. Just as love is knowledge and acceptance, fear is ignorance and denial. It is fear that in the poem, just as in life, blocks the path to love.

Each realm of the afterlife has its own relationship to light and shadow as it pertains to this midlife transition. The first realm is the inferno. One of the most well-known lines from Dante’s poem are the words above the gate to the inferno “Abandon every hope, who enter here” (68). The inferno is a place of hopelessness. In this realm, there is no light, no shadow, and as a result, there is no personal responsibility taken by the shades and they are hopeless. Lack of introspection and responsibility diminishes hope. “By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them” (Maraboli, 37). Since the shades are past the point of change, they are without hope but we are alive. This represents the psyche when a person does not make the midlife transition. These people are without hope because without light, they don’t even know that they need to change. They lack knowledge and without knowledge, there can be no hope, just endless action. When the shades enter the inferno, they are judged and sent to a level for eternal torment. They do not even know themselves enough to know where they are to be placed for punishment and often refuse to accept responsibility for their fate. They are doomed to suffer from the unenlightened actions of life for all of eternity. The inferno is a place that isn’t just absent of love, it is a place for love betrayed. The sinners in the inferno failed to love themselves enough turn the light inward. Without this self-awareness, they were incapable of loving others because they didn’t have knowledge. They were absent of light and thus absent of love.

The next realm, purgatory, has light and shadow but not love. Love is light (knowledge) and acceptance. The shades of purgatory started the transition but became stuck. This is the only of the three realms that still allows for movement because this is the only realm where the shades place themselves. The shades have the power to move up or down the mountain of purgatory and even have hope to move into paradise. This is because these shades have light, they have knowledge. They are lacking acceptance not knowledge. Once a person begins the transition into midlife and turns the light inward, they rarely like what they see. Every person has ugly truths they do not want to bring into the light because the shadows those truths cast can become so overwhelming they crush the psyche. The shades that exist in this dimension can’t get over the past. Many of the shades in this dimension ask Dante to have people pray for them because they say this will help them move up the mountain. This is their biggest flaw, they are looking for acceptance from the outside instead of seeking it from within. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it is fear. The shades are afraid they are not worthy of ascension, they fear that they can’t be loved because they don’t accept themselves. They have seen the shadow, they have faced the past, but they have not accepted it. They may have also faced the future – the possibility that there is hope but again, they can’t accept it. In purgatory, the light, because it is absent of love leads to fear and rejection. Whether the light casts shadows on the past or the future doesn’t matter – it is the lack of acceptance that makes purgatory absent of love.

Purgatory is the most complicated of the dimensions. The inferno represents the absence of love, it is a place of betrayal and fear. Paradise is love, a place of knowledge and acceptance. Purgatory can be summed up easily by saying it is knowledge without acceptance but what that means is much more complicated. People in life become stuck, usually in the past but also in the future. A person stuck in the future loses sight of the here and now. They fear to move forward because of some future that doesn’t even exist. These people are passive in life, they are waiting for something to happen, and they do not truly live. Since they do not live, they do not love. Theirs is a life of purgatory.

The second way to live in purgatory is to know the past and not accept it. When writing about men at midlife, Levinson writes “If he is burdened excessively by his grievances and guilts, he will be unable to surmount them” (263). It is impossible to live tomorrow or yesterday – it is only possible to live today. The past has already happened, so in order to experience life and love it is necessary to accept it. This means to allow it to be as it is and move on. People stuck in the past are beyond passive, they are victims. They can’t get over the transgressions of the past and continue to see themselves as less than because of that past. This is the person that is still wounded by childhood abuse or angry at themselves for not pursuing a dream. They have the knowledge but instead of accepting these things they, like the shades of purgatorio, are doomed to relive these events over and over and allow themselves to be defined by them. Knowledge is the first step, turning the light inward, but knowledge without acceptance is as crippling and useless as knowledge without action. The key to accepting and overcoming the past is to embrace it and allow it to work for you. The purpose of shadow work isn’t merely to expose the shadow, it is to accept that the shadow isn’t separate from the self – it is a part of the self and has purpose and value. Often people find their greatest strengths in their perceived weaknesses. The shades of purgatorio have seen the shadow but they allow the shadow to crush them instead of integrating it to allowing for it to heal.

The final path is the one that leads to paradisio, to love. Paradisio is full of light, reflections, and acceptance. This is what happens when a person successfully integrates the shadow. The shades of paradisio know and accept the past so it doesn’t have power over them like the shades of purgatorio. Accepting the past doesn’t mean to condone it, it simply means allowing it to be as it is. It is only through light and acceptance that love can exist. Love is letting go of fear. When a person is able to know their true self, shadow and all, and accept themselves as they are, they will find to love themselves. Once a person can love themselves, they can love others. Love them in a way they deserve to be loved, completely, with knowledge and acceptance.

 

 

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. Everyman’s Library. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. Print.

Brewi, Janice, and Anne Brennan. “Emergence of the Shadow in Midlife.” Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. By Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams. New York: Putnam, 1991. 260-61. Print.

Jobs, Steve. “‘You’ve Got to Find What You Love,’ Jobs Says.” Stanford University. 14 June 2005. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Jung, C.G. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1955. Print.

Levinson, Daniel. “For the Man at Midlife.” Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. By Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams. New York: Putnam, 1991. 262-264. Print.

Maraboli, Steve. Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience. Port Washington, NY: Better Today, 2013. Print.