Friday, September 12, 2008

Soul-making and the Death of My Child

A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, who always brings brilliant observations and insightful questions, sent me an email in the aftermath of my son's death. His question is indirectly related to that event, and other moments of suffering.

He writes: As parents we are joyous at the birth of our children, while they may be experiencing physical and probably psychic trauma. I wonder if some children experience PTSD sometime during their life after they are born? We cannot know what birth is like for them. It is as remote from us as and as unknowable as are the final moments before death and any certainty of life after. Would knowledge of those moments, entering and exiting life, give us potentially valuable insights?


I think your last question about valuable insights is most insightful.

As you may know, I see this world primarily as a school of soul-making rather than a place to be happy, and chronically satisfied - 'soul' being the best inadequate term available to get close to a personal and collective creative individuation process accomplished mostly beyond the physical senses, yet intimately using these senses as the medium to the experience of turning soul embryos into mature entities. I do not see us entering this world with completed souls, or as fully developed Humans. We are not Augustine's fallen, original sinners, or Tolle's dysfunctional egos or the DSM's defective sick people. These are useful metaphors in so far as they go, but generally leave us thinking there is something wrong with us and this world as it is - and it's usually our fault, and we are left with the daunting task of fixing everything from pre-natal trauma to global warming. My my, aren't we important?

I think we arrive with soul seeds or soul potential in a Cosmos just as it is meant to be, and these physical experiences we encounter provide the soil and fertilizer for the growth of an actual 'soul.' I take the modern psychological profession as a new metaphor that has by and large lost the point of soul making. When we literalize the medical model and speak of PTSD, ADD, PMS, and a thousand other afflictions to be cured, we miss the deeper realization that these 'maladies' and horrific symptoms are the gods in disguise. As both Freud and Jung said before the medical model went out of control, "The gods speak to us in our symptoms." In other words, the point of these so called maladies, tragedies and pathologies is to bring the dark creative energies from the chaotic unconscious into consciousness; to move us from the image (human) to the likeness (HUMAN) of God as the Hebrews put it, with Jesus being a model of one whose joys and woes produced the archetypal 'completed soul.'

I see the blue states and red states, liberals and conservatives, war and peace, and all dualities as necessary and normal curricula for this school of soul-making. As Blake said, "Without contraries is no progression." And Heraclitus, "Polemos (Strife) is the Father of All. (fragment 53 - actually used on this Marvel comic book cover.)"

Jason's way of death was not what I wanted. I didn't want him in the military. I wanted him in art school. But as James Hillman argues so brilliantly in The Soul's Code, we each enter this world as an acorn seed guided by our own personal Daimone or Destiny. This reduces the arrogance of the individual parent and society which in modern times wants to take full responsibility to fix everything from our character defects, to raising 'adjusted' children or to saving the globe itself. Yes, we ought to play the game fully and with gusto, no matter what side you are on - seek to change your self and the world according to your call and conscience, but then realize, as Krishna showed Arjuna in the Gita that the gods (we call them archetypes today) are in it all, delivering at birth and devouring in battle, assigning sight and blindness (Exodus 4:11) and assigning the course each of us gets to travel for his or her own process of soul-making (Plato's The Republic, The Myth of Er).

This point of view is not literal dogma, but a way of seeing through the literal and visible world into the metaphorical and invisible. Politics, religions, economics, nations, families, bodies, et al are wonderful and precious experiences into which we must throw ourselves with gusto, but they are a means to an end. Jason's course is done, in that body. He played the game with passion, as did the person or persons who killed him. He got to feel fear, camaraderie, loving community, valor, hatred, insanity, support, and a million other soul-making experiences. I think the Koran and Islam contain inferior values, and will voice that opinion strongly in my politics - and I also think they are as necessary on this soul-making planet as the opposing team on a football field. My own post-Jason inconsolable weeping and days of depression are part of my own soul-making course. These various emotional events are more than 'clinical' maladies which must be cured or endured until we get back to where 'we ought to be.' They are hard experiences, and they are normal and necessary in a soul-making universe. The best modern illustration of this for me is the movie Pan's Labyrinth; in that movie one gets to see the individual, socio-political and invisible soul-making levels all played out together like a Star Trek three dimensional chess game. I feel too many of us see the game at only one or two levels.

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