‘Anything concealed is a secret. The possession of secrets acts like a psychic poison that alienates their possessor from the community.
All personal secrets … have the effect of sin or guilt, whether or not they are, from the standpoint of popular morality, wrongful secrets.
…All of us are somehow divided by our secrets but instead of seeking to cross the gulf on the firm bridge of confession, we choose the treacherous makeshift of opinion and illusion.’
Carl Jung, Collected Works – volume 16, pp. 55-60
‘If you come to know something about someone – either the future, or the past, or some other things – give help where it is needed and then forget; throw it behind you. And do not disclose it; otherwise it will be taken from you and the self will never go. And if the self remains there will be no spiritual life. But, by throwing away, you are not the doer. … Throw away everything….
‘…forgetfulness is the great qualification. Not in the sense of forgetting what one needs to know in the moment, but in the sense of forgetting what ought to be forgotten.’
Irina Tweedie, Chasm of Fire
‘Write injuries in sand, kindnesses in marble.’
~ French Proverb
‘Spiritual development starts where individuation ends.’ This is what Irina Tweedie says somewhere, and this is what someone I don’t know and will never meet again said to me as we were walking out of a seminar together. I had to think hard about it, and still am thinking. It makes more sense to me day by day, and is changing my view of self-development.
Individuation is about developing a healthy sense of self, along with self-respect. Most people endorse self-respect as an important goal, yet there is a view that it may prove an obstacle in spiritual development, which is potentially quite shocking. Most of us value and endorse well-being, self-respect, and self-esteem. It can be unsettling to see them in another light.
This post is about remembering and forgetting, it is about secrets, whether to tell or not to tell, and their effect on the psychological and spiritual development of the self. These are a group of thoughts that have come together, not completely clearly, in my mind right now.
Memory – having it and losing it
When you have a good memory, especially when you’ve taken it for granted over a lifetime, then forgetting is hard. It’s hard when you forget involuntarily because you’re not used to it, so it shocks and scares you. It’s a precursor of oblivion. You feel like you’re losing something vital. We use the phrase ‘losing it’, the ‘it’ being your sense of self and ultimately your life.
So forgetting voluntarily seems like a crazy thing to want to do. It isn’t a life skill that we’re trained to develop, although we might easily parrot ‘forgive and forget’, but there’s often a self-righteousness in that admonition. You’re not really forgetting, you’re just taking the higher moral ground.
People talk about having ‘purges’ – they throw away all their clutter, and then they go out and accumulate more. They fast to clear out the system for the next intake. Similarly they collect memories, as they collect objects, as a kind of barricade against oblivion.
Forgetting is easier said than done. It is all too easy to have the occasional lapse and forget what we need to remember, in functional life, in the moment. Yet it is rarely easy to forget what would be better forgotten: the things we know, have been told, have inadvertently discovered, that hold us hamstrung in the moment – the things that sometimes perhaps we would be better off never knowing.
In psychological self-development, memories are a rich resource, raw materials from which we make sense of who we are, why we are as we are, and ultimately who we want to be and become. In spiritual development, memories may be an obstacle, something that holds us back simply by reinforcing our sense of personal self.
Throw away everything
The admonition ‘throw away everything‘ is a radical step beyond and out of the pattern of accumulating and disposing.
Can you ever throw away everything?
In life, can the self ever go – for more than passing moments? Memory is one of the defining qualities of the self. Can we let go all memories while still in this world? A smell, particularly, can bring back so vividly another time.
We treasure our memories, and sometimes are haunted by them. Often we hold onto even our painful memories. My memories are what makes me ‘me’. They define me; and yet I also know they hold something back.
While there is memory, the personal self remains. Most waking moments I do not want to lose my personal self.
Or do I?
Why would you want to lose your self?
‘…When you don’t lose yourself, a fly can fell you
When you lose yourself, elephants fall before you
When you don’t lose yourself, you’re a cloud of grief
When you lose yourself, mist and fog parts for you
When you don’t lose yourself, the beloved turns away
When you lose yourself, the sweetest wine comes your way
When you don’t lose yourself, you’re as dispirited as autumn
When you lose yourself, your January is like spring’
Secrets – to tell or not to tell
Jung suggests that psychological wholeness cannot be achieved if secrets remain undisclosed. Secrets are powerful memories, unshared. The principle of openness is fundamental to psychological health and development. Confession is set against illusion and opinion and, by implication, deception.
Confession is a principle deeply embedded in the Western psyche – the need to confess, the virtue in confessing, and the rewards that lie beyond confession. Confession may offer the reward of absolution of guilt and shame.
Confessing is set against withholding. What about another polarity – confessing and forgetting? Or does that challenge our moral code too deeply?
Surely there are things to forget, about ourselves and others. They are there. If you tell someone what you wish to forget, what would be better forgotten, you offload and you burden, and then it sticks with you as well as becoming part of them. You can’t be free of it. You may tell to shed and share, to clear the decks, confess and move beyond – but, paradoxically, the act of telling means it stays with you even more. Repeating something is deepening the groove of remembrance.
If you don’t tell, maybe we can forget.
‘What I wanted to forget was emblazoned on my mind – like a mark on the forehead. It was always there, what I had been told, what I had not wanted to hear but could not refuse to listen to. Perhaps it was etched deeper because I had had to listen so carefully to absorb it, and there was no written record. The effort of a memory not quite as skilled as it once was, nevertheless left an effect that could not be removed.
And then I became aware that everything I had heard and remembered about the other, about the future, was also about my self, about my past, about the present. I could lose the other in my self, just as I could lose my self in the other. Everything that I wished to forget about the other, was what I wished not to see – to forget – about myself. My fear of the other was a fear of myself. In remembering all this about the other, I was forgetting my self.
This was not the right kind of self-forgetting. A better term for it was self-deceiving. It was not throwing away everything. It was storing everything in cardboard boxes in the basement and feeling happy that the house was empty – having a nice clean office with drawers crammed full of unorganised papers. I could only keep up the pretense because I didn’t have to go down there very often.
So, in the first stage, this was about the shadow, and me projecting my shadow onto the other. But then, at the point beyond, it was about me somehow letting go my memory of what I had been told of the other and what I knew about myself, and in so doing, losing my self.’