Divine Discontent

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

–The Gospel of St Thomas: Logion 45

The most important tool we have for the process of Self-creation is the controversial quality of our Desire. Throughout history there has raged a battle between East and West, wherein one views “desirelessness” as the highest good, while the other appears caught in a frantic search for gratification. When we attempt to resolve this dualism with spiritual dogma, we fall short of resolution. On the one hand, living without desire doesn’t seem authentic. On the other, it seems our desires are evil and catapult us uncontrollably toward personal disaster.

Dr. Carl Gustav Jung provided a way to synthesize this apparent paradox by defining desire as a “combination of pleasure and the urge to individuate.” With this definition, desire translates into a commitment to the experience of the forces of life as it is, a path of consciously committed action. Dr. Jung warned that if we attempt to give up desire prematurely, we can become “psychic corpses” and perish from “psychic pernicious anemia,” lacking the motivation necessary to individuate. We can view the descent into the Earth’s raw, transformative forces of vitality and tribulation as the link with Heaven’s mission for us. I hope you will feel a sense of relief as you hear this validation of your human passions as having a sacred function.

Our Insatiable Craving to be Both Human and Divine

Seeking “the delights of the flesh” has ancient roots within the human design. And so do feelings of guilt and wrong for wanting such pleasures. Our ordinary human desires are often thought of as “selfish.” We’ve been taught it is sinful to have passionate human desires, especially sexual feelings. Some forms of religion, in fact, are so restrictive and judgmental, members must hide most of their human feelings and urges, wearing plastic smiles on their faces, needing to appear above and beyond such “lower needs.” You may recall a humorous country-and-western song that goes: “You’ve gotten so heavenly, you ain’t no earthly good.”

So here is the other side of the story, for we can’t win in this incessant battle between good and evil. Not as long as misguided or half alive human beings are in charge of our morality! There is a term we use in our work that describes people who try to be only “heavenly,” or always positive and loving. We say they are in a spiritual bypass- a phrase coined by psychologist John WelwoodÑfor people who are this lopsided can never truly be themselves. And we don’t trust them, because we never know what is really going on behind the sunny facades.

Either way we view our nature, whether looking up or down, we tend to separate our earthly self from our spiritual self, as though one is bad, the other good. Our inability to understand the troublesome conflicts within us has led many an unsteady soul into the lure of addiction or neurosis a treacherous road that no one would ever consciously choose. It is completely natural to love both the sensuous pleasures and the feelings of being holy and high. Yet these either lusty or lofty pursuits tend to split apart within our psyche. If they are not integrated, they can get us in to a great deal of trouble.

We’ve all been taught since we were very young that nations divided within cannot be strong. This is true of the human psyche as well. To be split off from any part of our natural instincts and urgesÑthe traits that are most “species-like,” the traits that give us our very definition as earthlingsÑcan be crazy-making. If we cannot integrate and make conscious all parts of ourselves, our denied parts have no place to go but into the closets of repression, deep in our subconscious. They are still present nonetheless, and eventually our feelings will pop out unexpectedly, now exaggerated, and they’ll usually embarrass or disgrace us in some awful manner. This explains how an especially rigid, righteous person can proselytize against “sins of the flesh,” and also have a dark and lurid “secret life”! Sadly for us humans, we’ve lost what the ancient Greek Orthodox Church knew:

This very power of desire within your souls imprints the nature of GodÑwhich is LoveÑupon your lives. (Capsanis 1992)

There is a natural impetus in human nature that moves us toward the sanctification of our desires, for we are always hungry to merge with the divine. And this urge is so strong because we are so human!

It is through this constant “divine discontent,” this feeling of always seeking a greater identity, that you will eventually evolve into a replica of your Ideal.

I am awed by the truth of this statement as it comes onto my computer! It’s hard to understand how we got so far out of touch with our compelling and vibrant nature. And then, to define it as bad. To passionately “live in God and let God live in us,” (Capsanis 1992) then, is our highest goal. For in this way, God’s nature of Love and Desire moves toward us, and is absorbed by us. And since we are made in His image, we actually become this desire and love our own divinity as well as our humanness we “take on God-nature.”

The bottom line for most of us is this: During those times we are moving in a forward and higher direction, we are quite pleased with ourselves. Life seems worth living, even during the worst times. In fact, often during the hard timesÑfor during times of personal crisis, our energies become intense and imbued with meaning. When we experience this “high,” we are living in God and God is living in us. We are for that time, at least, in ecstasy. We find a deep meaning and purpose to this existence, almost the erotic gratification that accompanies any fulfilling affair of the heart. And if we somehow lose it, our ecstasy turns into the agony of despair.

Religious agony/ecstasy has been evident throughout the ages and was deeply honored in the early Christian church. The ancient Greek Orthodox Church, for instance, believed that God looks out through our eyes. In ancient times, humans were seen as divine. And for these early Christians, learning to embody variations on the theme of Life and Love was the equivalent of doing God’s will. It is possible that even through the Christian religious life, we were never intended to externalize some “Old Man in the Sky” as our ultimate authority, but instead, we were meant to act creatively and morally under our own steam. In fact, morality to these early Christians was the alignment of a philosophy of life with rapturous living. This made for goodness in human nature.

But always, ecstatic extremes have been feared because they put us in a high energy state too exotic to contain. Today, in fact, we seem to have lost this sanctification of our human desires almost completely, seeing them as immoral. We run from what we truly crave to avoid becoming obsessed. Perhaps we are afraid we might find that, once experienced, we could not live without it.

Perhaps here lies the real cause of our neurotic pain and all the disorderly addictions that carry us to the extremes of our passionate nature: We are afraid to claim what gives us the most pleasure in life and go for it. Instead, we seek substitutes for God. And still we do not find fulfillment. You might find it interesting to stop right now and reflect on what it is you truly want, in your deepest heart of hearts, and see if you are moving toward it. Or is it only a dream that, in resignation and disbelief, you’ve decided will never come true.

We both fear and adore our passions and the delicious fruits of this earthly existence. This sensual/emotional feeling level of life is where many people experience the deepest splits, imbalances, and confusions. All these unintegrated desires and misunderstandings keep us divided within. Ultimately they keep us from becoming unified with the Inner Beloved, our Divine Self. For we dare not dream that a True Love so wonderful could live right inside our own skin.

Our cravings bring us face to face with the human shadow, those still unconscious parts of ourselves we deplore and disown. Learning ways to heal these unwanted parts is more than half the work of embodying spirit, our psychospiritual integration. To heal, we must return to our past and literally “re-collect” all these lost pieces of ourselves. This process of purification and acceptance of our disowned nature is a prerequisite for any spiritual transformation. There is a time-worn maxim in spiritual work: You can’t move to a higher level until you accept fully where you’re at.

Our alienation from our deeper Self, with the companion feelings of isolation and shame must be fully experienced before they can be transformed. “Not out, but through!” becomes the psyche’s cry as it learns it must experience its own dramatic bout with darkness, the negative side of its nature, before it can complete itself. Why? Because if we only pursue the light, we deny the shadow of our own nature and project it on others. Hatred, bigotry, even war have their psychodynamic roots in this phenomenon of projection. The negativity within us, being only one side of our nature, holds its power only by remaining in the dark. Once accepted, the compulsion to act from these incompleted dark elements within us subsides, and they are balanced by the positive qualities of their opposites. We reclaim and accept our whole nature.

There is a correlation between the shadow’s ways, feelings of ecstasy, and our addictive nature, for each operates in the closets of fear and repressionÑthe inability to own the passionate and “untamed” side of our nature. But as you read, you’ll start to see that even the lowliest shadow self has a purposeful and holy function: that somehow, having to hit bottom is a sacred ritual, an integral part of the creative process. Our passions are obviously tied to the act of creation itself. And who would know more about the activities of creation than the Creator~-God who invented them?

I hope you now have a sense of the “holy conflict” within our desire nature, but that you also realize that all can eventually be resolved into a life filled with divine ecstasy and love. Apparently, the Higher Power has plans for our path to heaven other than letting us simply choose between the opposites of right or wrong, moral or immoral, passionate or blase. Transcendence is a battle between “the warring Opposites,” which then both rise to a higher way. These are the workings of creativity itself.

Most of us feel we’re a long way from harmonizing our holy and unholy aspects. We prefer to project our despicable shadow self onto others and denounce it from a distance, a peculiar psychological defense mechanism we’ll speak of later. This acceptance of our whole nature requires a shift in consciousness we can’t take for granted. We may need to do a great deal of inner work before we can resolve these splits which tear many an unconscious soul apart.

A reframing of our biographies and a new identity may be in order if we’re ever going to get past this uncomfortable stage of our human unfoldment. The work needed will be that of psychospiritual integration. As natural transcenders, we must learn to accept ourselves as the lucky possessors of insatiable appetites, hungry hearts, and minds that are starving for truth. For without this craving, we would fall into a state of entropy and never push forward. The craving, the hunt, the heady anticipation of “the seeker,” of going toward some deep and unmet yearning, always seeking a greater highÑperhaps this is the true blessing of being alive! And even more: perhaps it’s God’s way of keeping us on a path of transcendence. It could be that this is why our Future continually beckons but never really arrives. Our “divine discontent” assures us that we’ll never rest in any sort of incompletionÑagain and again we feel capable of going beyond our current state. Perhaps this is how we eventually simulate our God-nature and merge with our Ideal.

You might be confused about this urge to go higher, believing you are supposed to give up your passions and be “spiritual.” But transcendence isn’t leaving life; it is living life more abundantly, more expressive of your rich potential! Mythologist Joseph Campbell said that trancendence is learning to “follow our bliss” with wholehearted participation in the rapture of being alive. When we begin to suffocate in our polluted environment and stale beliefs, we intuitively seek spiritual sustenance, love, commitment to a higher purpose. We need these reminders to transcend our unfulfilling, dualistic ways.

And when we try to rise above something we’ve not full, accepted and integrated, the very Law of Transcendence itself will bring us right back, as though to say: “Stay put until you get it right! This current task is your highest pleasure.”

The Law of Transcendence does not command you to leave life, to Amply rise above it; it prompts you to live your life more abundantly, more expressive of your full potential. This has always been misunderstood. Transcendence is easily misunderstood.

Carl Jung warns that we humans have a strange and paradoxical resistance to knowing fully who we are. So from the very start, it seems we must embrace this inherent conflicting nature of ours: both the one who remains unattached and above it all, and the one who enters and takes the ride:

The only thing that really matters now is whether man can climb up to a…higher plane of consciousness…. Unfortunate/y, a terrifying ignorance prevails in this respect, and an equally great aversion to increasing the knowledge of his intrinsic nature. (Jung, 1973: para. 746)

The Cry for Transcendence

Now, because of splits within our nature, we are people in desperation, searching for a new vision and hoping for a future we can believe in. Yet this new life will not be found outside us anywhere. We must resolve our seemingly endless search for the passionate and sacred from within ourselves, being reborn in Truth through an opening in the collective unconscious mind. Only in the vastness of the psyche’s larger life are ideals spawned and does creativity flourish in unimagined potential. As co-creators we are restless now, wanting to find a new feeding ground and make a way of life that befits our deeper urges. We are starving for the kind of food that nourishes both our human and spiritual nature; therefore, though many of us would like to,

We cannot just go out and save the world; we must first save the psyche who images the world!

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Written by Jacquelyn Small LCSW

Explore Wellness in 2021