Monday, June 11, 2007


“All neuroses are substitutes for legitimate and necessary suffering.” Carl Jung


Sometimes ‘spirituality’ becomes our worst enemy. The chronic desire coupled with unsuccessful attempts to be cured, healed or saved is painful. The person in such a state is anxious, fearful and stressed about finding the right technique, seminar, savior or teacher to ‘stop the pain’ they are experiencing. It isn’t long until the original pain isn’t as bad as the secondary pain caused by trying to fix the original pain!

This compulsion to fix all ‘negative’ experiences seems logical in a society that sees all suffering as unnecessary. When you operate on the assumption that all pain is bad, you set yourself up for even worse pain.

Personal Example: Divorce

When my ex wife came to me and asked for a separation, I was devastated. My whole world fell apart. I was asked to leave my home, my three children and a routine that had become predictable even if not ideal. I was devastated.


The word comes from Latin, devastare "to lay waste completely” (related to the word, waste). I was wasted, trashed, left on the garbage heap of life. Everything that seemed good and useful in my life suddenly turned to waste. ‘Waste’ is a conscious and fitting metaphor when the biblical character Job, after losing his wealth, family and health ended up prostrate on a trash heap scraping his oozing boils with a jagged piece of discarded pottery. Sometimes life devastates us, or lays us to waste.

The Hebrew author of Job indicates that such events are somehow connected directly, and not just incidentally, to God. In other words, such garbage heap experiences are normal and necessary. These devastating events are built into the Universe just like our need for oxygen, water, food and companionship.

This is where we must begin our inquiry, “Is devastation a foreign intruder in this earthly existence, or is devastation divinely normal and necessary for making souls?” If it is normal, then such moments have plunged me into the perfect spiritual arena for the work that needs to be done at the soul level. In other words, uncontrollable moments of rejection, betrayal, abuse, offense and life altering distress arrive as necessary and needed sculptors of soulful character. These moments and events are not aberrations, diseases, disorders or dysfunctional in the sense of somehow not being part of normal earthly, psychological existence. James Hillman goes so far as to say that “psyche, or soul, autonomously produces such experiences.” In other words, a more inclusive psychology views the psyche as an ally that actually produces these psychic storms just as the physical universe produces forest fires and earthquakes, naturally.

But when we do not see or know that “God” shows up ‘as’ these experiences, we immediately look for ways to escape, deny or fix them. We often call it the need for a cure, for ‘wholeness’ or healing. We are obsessed with healing. As a result of being so compulsive about getting rid of all pain, we create substitute problems or smoke screens, often disguised as ‘cures’, treatments and solutions. And some of these substitute solutions are quite helpful, initially. Like aspirin, they stop the pain, temporarily. But then they become nightmares which we carry like wounded birds to therapy or church to be healed of or saved from. Therapy or religion then becomes a means to solve a neuroses or emotional pain that has been created to avoid the initial pain. Often, we spend our time treating the pain we have created rather than paying attention to the activating painful event which is our ally in soul making.

After my wife rejected me as her husband and asked me to leave the house, I walked away humiliated, emotionally bereft, rejected, lonely, terrified, confused, angry, resentful and deeply sad. So I turned to alcohol, female companionship and other substitutes to mask the legitimate pain that had arrived to develop some much needed character in my nascent soul. It wasn’t long before the alcohol and the ‘need’ for female companionship became self inflicted forms of suffering. Jung called these ‘self inflictedforms of suffering’ illegitimate because they were being used to avoid and mask the earlier and necessary soul making experiences which arrived through the pain brought on by my wife’s request for a separation and eventual divorce.


There is a phenomenon today called ‘cutting', frequently practiced by teenage girls. They use sharp knives or razor blades to cut their skin, often to the wrist area or arm, to release pleasure-causing endorphins into the brain. These girls are in emotional distress, anxious over their less than perfect bodies, the loss of a relationship or some other stressful experience life brings to each of us.

Cutting is an illustration of illegitimate suffering used to avoid necessary and normal soul making pain. True therapy and effective spirituality help people cure the so called 'cure'. In other words, these girls need to see that the cutting is not their original problem. Of course the cutting problem needs to be addressed and brought under control, but then the original soul-making issues of life must be tended, or attended to. Because the self image and relationship issues are part of the universal archetypal patterns found in every culture and in all mythologies as soul-making experiences, or as Joseph Campbell has renamed ‘the heroes journey’.

Most of us are not literal ‘cutters’, but we do other things like cutting to avoid our necessary and normal pain. We eat, drink, worry, gamble, meditate, form love relationships, seek sex, buy things, work incessantly and involve ourselves in any number of situations that begin harmlessly, but turn into problems. We put on weight, obsess about love or sex, drink or drug too much, spend money we don’t have, go to doctors, become addicted to serving in a church or work until we drop. We develop self inflicted secondary sufferings, which we actually think are solutions, in order to avoid the necessary pains of normal life. Eventually these 'cures' become the problems we think need to healed!

How many Americans overeat because they feel lonely, underappreciated, trapped in a job or bored with mundane existence? This pandemic love affair with food then becomes a ‘diet problem’, a nutritional problem or an exercise problem. This food related suffering seems to be the problem, but is really a symptom of the inability to see and embrace the original activating suffering as something to be attended to rather than avoided, fixed or cured.

How many Americans are running up enormous credit card debts to have that moment of bliss that arrives from touching that brand new object of our desires?

The point here is not to induce guilt, or to shame ourselves if we have created these neurotic diversions, although some of us prefer to turn this sort of discussion into self-shaming because it just gives us another layer of illegitimate suffering! We get in a habit of doing anything we can to avoid getting back to that activating event which arrived in Jobian fashion to make soul. Some of us would rather feel guilty and shameful, which allows us to continue eating or spending, rather than go back and sit in the original suffering.

The solution is to wake up, return to the source of our original pain and do as Job did, talk to the Universal Intelligence(s) that seems to be torturing us, and ignoring our ‘right’ to have a happy, stress free, ‘normal’ life. You might call this Source God, Spirit, Goddess or whatever – but this is where it begins. Something larger than me is at work. It is not always light and love. But rather than make souls by wrestling with God, or just caring for our selves while in the original pain, we pretend it is all good, that prosperity and healing is just around the corner, that the pain will vanish if I just do enough affirmations and read the right books.


I’m not advocating spiritual masochism or suggesting that we view God as only, or even primarily as darkness and pain. I am suggesting that many of us who think we are seeking spiritual solutions are really using pseudo-spirituality to avoid spiritual solutions. Our spirituality becomes a chronic source of depression, even while we are wearing the inane positive smile. Some of us have had the experience of being in our spiritual communities, saying the right words, affirming God as Light and Love – only to go home and consume a bottle of wine or a carton of ice cream.


Some of us use the so called Law of Attraction as a substitute for the normal and necessary legitimate suffering of soul making. Rather than allowing ourselves to be forced into the depths by our painful activating experiences, we try to ‘positive think’ our way out of them.

It is possible that if I am not making as much money as I would like, and there aren’t many of us that wouldn’t like to make more money no matter what our current income is, I have entered into the financial difficulties to make soul in a way that financial abundance could not. If that experience is not realized and tended to, the self inflicted pain of 'poverty is bad' becomes the neuroses, and we live in the anxious experience of incessantly looking for ways to make or ‘attract’ more money. My problem may not be lack of money, but a lack of legitimate and necessary suffering by paying attention to the archetypal presence of poverty, or what the Greeks called Penia (poverty).

I may think ‘the cure’ for Penia is to read and practice The Secret, to speak the word of faith, or to go to some Law of Attraction seminars to learn how to manipulate the universe into giving me more money and success. I may spend years anxiously entangled in compulsive, neurotic ‘spiritual systems', learning the increasingly frustrating pursuit of techniques and imploring gods who will make me wealthy, yet never do. We often ignore Jesus’ statement in Luke’s gospel when he said, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” We prefer the version in Matthew which says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Luke’s version suggests that poverty may actually bring one closer to the kingdom than wealth, that soul’s often go deeper and character made finer by having less money rather than more.


The blunt and simple solution may be to pay attention to the original emotional issues and to stop diverting the pain from the real activating events. Perhaps we need to cease participating in a spiritual masquerade that promises light and healing while delivering frustration, failure and disappointment year after year. Perhaps the problem is not a lack of faith or inability to ‘use’ the Law of Attraction, but rather a lack of faith in the Universe as being intelligent enough to allow me to experience a painful divorce.

Since my divorce, I have had to go back and sit in the middle of the devastation as Job did. I have and still am arguing with God, looking at my neediness, experiencing my limitations and a host of other soul making situations. The secondary self caused sufferings are gradually being put aside as I cure 'the cures'.

The blunt solution may be to face our loneliness, to sit in that unfulfilling job and ask it what it has to teach us, to listen to that 'bad' relationship or boring routine we are in. Effective therapy and spiritual work addresses these areas of legitimate suffering as soul-making, rather than forcing immediate solutions or forcing ourselves to practice those ‘be happy’ antics we can put on like Halloween masks when we're around our spiritual peers. Real soul work often takes time, reflection and deep contemplation - individually and communally, and both are critical! This approach is not to fix, cure or heal – but to experience the event, to ask the simple question over and over and over, “What would you have me learn”

And listen....

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