“Thus is cure a paradox requiring two incommensurables: the moral recognition that these parts of me are burdensome and intolerable and must change, and the loving, laughing acceptance which takes them just as they are, joyfully, forever. One both tries hard and lets go, both judges harshly and joins gladly. Western moralism and Eastern abandon: each holds only one side of the truth.”
–James Hillman, Insearch: Psychology and Religion
I like the quote, but Christ—infinitely wider and deeper than mere “Western moralism” (or “Eastern abandon” for that matter) holds both sides of that truth, and then some. The paradox to which Hillman refers is the intersection of the Cross; the tension of the human condition that Christ, hands and feet nailed, in his love for us holds eternally. As St. Paul captured it so succinctly, “The thing we want to do, we don’t do; the thing we don’t want to do, we do.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately, and reading a bit, about our shadow side, as the depth psychologists put it. That if we fail to acknowledge, embrace and love our dark places—we walk around partly unconscious. We tend to be victims. We tend to blame the Other.
As Hillman points out, the parts of us that we can change, we should, or should at least try to. With concerted effort, I can over time be more patient, more forgiving, less intent on “winning,” to name just a few of my own “parts.”
But one of the things I’m seeing out here in the desert is that there are a lot of parts of me that can’t and in a way sholdn’t change.
One, as I’ve mentioned recently, is that I’m “high-strung”–like a violin tuned a tad too high. Okay. I can live with that and I have to trust that everyone else can.
Another is my congenital introversion. As far back as I can remember, I have maxed out on human company at about the 3-hour mark. This was a problem during marriage, needless to say, and it was a huge problem during the time I worked in a law office. The second I could break free, I would go eat lunch by myself, beg for a research project so I could go sit in the library by myself, or go outside and take a walk by myself.
I am perfectly happy and in fact prefer to attend movies, museums and concerts by myself. I hike by myself, take road trips by myself.
I also LOVE people! I’m not shy especially. I’m not retiring. Given half a chance, I’ll commandeer attention and hog the conversation. I’m best with one or two or maybe three other people. Large social gatherings I don’t even get the point of.
That doesn’t mean I don’t also get lonely. In LA, there were so many people around all the time that I didn’t have a chance to get lonely–or rather to feel my loneliness–and in fact spent a lot of psychic and physical energy trying to get away from them. I was forever going off to retreats or writers’ residencies or some isolated cabin or casita.
But here in Tucson, it actually is quiet. I live in a house and though I can hear people go by outside on the sidewalk on my low-key street–walking their dogs, strolling with friends, talking on their phones–and there’s the usual amount of ambient college-town suburbanish sound, noise and people distractions are not a problem.
Tomorrow, Thanksgiving, I’ll speak at my favorite recovery meeting, hang out on Zoom for fellowship after, and then–take a long walk! I’m not cooking a turkey nor have I been invited to partake of one. I’m fine with that–but I will also say that this past week–and it may be the emotions that always seem to be brought on by the holidays–I realized–Oh! I am lonely!
It’s good for me to recognize this somewhat unfamiliar emotion. I always feel in exile, but loneliness is something different. I mentioned it, kind of wonderingly, to a friend and right away, he suggested, “What about online dating?”
I made a loud throwing-up noise. The kind of loneliness I’m talking about would so not be assuaged by “dating,” plus I would rather be poked with a sharp stick than curate a “dating profile,” plus I’m a nun.
The point is that my usual way of addressing an uncomfortable emotion is to try and fix it. Should I volunteer somewhere? I thought. But no, I don’t want to volunteer. While madly admiring and supporting those who are, I’m not and have never been the volunteer type. I’ve introduced myself to a couple of local priests and had breakfast with the ladies who say the Rosary after Mass and yesterday I took the owner of the house where I live to lunch and I email, talk with, and see on zoom many people each day. I see lots of people on my walks. I’m slowly exploring the city. That’s enough for now.
Definitely my prayer life is deepening, which cannot but be a good thing all around.
I think a lot of the people in long-term solitary confinement, who are essentially being tortured 24/7. Of those in Japan who die “lonely deaths”–unseen, unmourned. Of the place deep inside every human being that is not susceptible of being consoled by mere human company–though human company is pretty great, especially around a Thanksgiving dinner table!
I think of those parts of me are burdensome and intolerable and must change, and the loving, laughing acceptance which takes them just as they are, joyfully, forever.
And I am deeply, forever grateful to all of you! Wishing you a rich and scrumptious day of Thanksgiving.