Saturday, May 14, 2011

Inner Gold

Robert A Johnson reports that during the war as the German's retreated up Italy they naturally destroyed bridges as they went until that is they came to the Ponte Vecchio where Dante famously beheld his first vision of Beatrice. They could not bring themselves to destroy it. Would the Americans, they asked, refrain from using it, if they refrained from destroying it. The answer was yes, an agreement reached, the bridge remained, and inviolate for either side.

It is a remarkable story - even within that most violent of conflicts: something yet other could be honoured. In this case a dominant myth of the West: of a romantic love that survives (in this case the disillusionment of death) to emerge as a guide towards eternal wisdom.

Johnson, whose memoir of the inner life, Balancing Heaven and Earth deserves to rest with Jung's own, 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections', is a writer (or speaker) of such quiet, simple lucidity that it is easy for you to miss his own gold. This sounds so banal to my (over) sophisticated mind (at least) but it continually and beautifully catches you short, slips its simplicity beneath your complex defences.

I find myself pondering what he means when he reports Marie Louis von Franz's remark that shyness is a form of arrogance (delivered to him, a markedly shy man). Slowly it begins to make sense that withholding of self aloof and distant from others, assuming characteristics of the other for which you have no guarantee, projecting the worst, a form of arrogance, refusing to place yourself humbly in the hands of others.

The 'Inner Gold' to which he refers is our ability to project not only the dark elements of our  personality onto others but also our neglected potential, the possibilities that we have refused. We repress the good as much as the bad Jung observed and Johnson gives a beautiful account of the challenges of re-absorbing our potential that we have imagined another to possess.

Finally, I love the shaping anecdote, at the close he remarks that St Theresa often slipped into ecstasy except when she was cooking her breakfast: eternity accommodates the necessities of time.

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