The Dao of Despair and Hope

Rembrandt studio, woman walking to the left
Studio of Rembrandt van Rijn, Beggar Walking to the Left, Rosenwald Collection

The election of a racist, misogynist, narcissist as president has shaken to my core.

Knowing that one half my fellow Americans think it’s okay for a man who shamed a handicapped reporter from the stage to be president earns my contempt for them.

There is no place to run and hide. A wave of far-right narrowly nationalist fervor is sweeping the planet, from India to England.

When I started this blog, I was inspired with a sense of purpose and energy for how to spend my retirement: I would find a home with a yard appropriate for me and a Doberman. I would participate in training to the highest level of excellence possible for the animal and me.

A simple plan for a total life change.

Then, whoosh, despair for the future of our great Republic swamped me — despair that so many people choose to put illusions of self-benefit above civility, the Constitution, compassion, and the law.

One person suggested that I need therapy. I think not.

Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places (Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts)

“The ultimate purpose of psychotherapy is not so much the archaeology exploration of infantile sentiments as it is learning gradually and with much effort to accept your own limits and to carry the weight of suffering on our own shoulders for the rest of our lives. Psychological work, instead of providing liberation from the causes of serious discomfort, increases it, teaching the patient to become adult and, for the first time in [her] life actively face the feeling of being alone with [her] pain and abandoned by the world” in Swamplands of the Soul, Hollis, a Jungian, quoting Carotenuto (The Difficult Art), p. 15.

After a certain age — and a certain age (often posited as post-50) is barely a shadow in the rear view mirror of life — and a certain amount of counseling and spiritual seeking, therapy is only a way of escaping the difficult realization that I am all I have.Oddly, I find these ostensibly cheerless words comforting. I even find a glimmer of hope and renewed purpose in them.

Figure walking, from back, Vuillard
Edouard Vuillard, Walking Figure Seen from Behind, c. 1894, Gift of Benjamin and Lillian Hertzberg

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

TS Eliot, Little Gidding, the last of The Four Quartets (http://www.coldbacon.com/poems/fq.html)

I was greatly influenced by The Quartets, a meditation on time, often as an undergraduate at New York University back in the days when Bob Dylan sightings at local cafes often turned out to be true. I listened to Eliot intone the words in a flat, gravely voice, on the now archaic invention of a long-playing album.

After decades of exploration, I cannot say that I know this place in life — despair — at all. I can say my current despair is a situational adjustment issue, as a therapist would frame it, and not the inner angst of youth that goaded my early consultations of this poem.

Woman working in garden, Pissarro
Camille Pissarro (French, 1830 – 1903 ), Woman Working in a Garden, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection

A Sufi notion suggests sometimes we are in the garden where life pleases us, and sometimes we are in the fire, where we are tested. Both are places where inner lessons may be learned.

TS Eliot reached the same idea in the final lines of The Quartets:

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”

In such stoic acceptance of reality, I find hope.