Recently a friend who is going through a prolonged stretch of care-giving asked me how I understood the tag line at the end of my email. For years this quotation has traveled with me, guiding my work and ending my every correspondence:
Aliveness springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us. –Ann Belford Ulanov
My friend, exhausted by medical appointments and crisis management for both her parents and children, who for three grueling years has had precious little time to herself, doesn’t feel very alive. In the face of my friend’s suffering (and that of her family members), I wondered if Ulanov wasn’t a bit cavalier, and whether I was right to embrace her idea so wholeheartedly. Can we really feel alive when circumstances beat us down so completely?
Ulanov is a Jungian analyst, an advocate for the imagination and the artistic impulse, and a scholar with deep reverence for divinity. She’s no stranger to suffering. “Relate to the pain, don’t just suffer it, relate to it as you suffer it,” she writes. “To create out of the evil done to us can be the best revenge.” The life-giving response to whatever we’re dealt, she believes, is dialectical—that is, to be in conversation with it—and generative—to make something of it. She quotes Jung:
If you will contemplate your lack of… inner aliveness… and impregnate it with the interest born of alarm at your inner death, then something can take shape in you, for your inner emptiness conceals just as great a fullness if only you will allow it to penetrate into you. If you prove receptive to this ‘call of the wild,’ the longing for fulfillment will quicken the sterile wilderness of your soul as rain quickens the dry earth.
This is no Polyannic response to life giving you lemons. Jung and Ulanov advocate embracing your experience, even inner emptiness—leaning into it, feeling it entirely, “receiving” what it makes of you. My friend, by diving into her exhaustion and frustration and abiding love, is in the thick of receiving what experience is making of her. Perhaps when the time is right she will respond by building from this experience.
Note, though: Neither Jung nor Ulanov promise that we’ll feel alive immediately. For that matter, they don’t promise we’ll feel alive at all. But that doesn’t mean the aliveness, the quickening, isn’t there. If we’re willing to be changed and if we’re willing to make change, we come alive. Why? Because life is change.
I think of the two parts of Ulanov’s quote as gestures I can practice in every dimension of my life: With one hand, receiving—accepting, bowing to what is and letting it shape me; with the other, crafting something of what I’m given, infusing it with my own sensibilities and creative flare, and then giving it away. It’s a beautiful cycle of surrender and agency, and—I still believe—deeply trustworthy. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Offerings for Winter 2019:
February 9, 2019, 9:00am-12:00 p.m.: Writing the Sacred Journey: An introduction to writing spiritual memoir at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.
January 11: Community in the Creative Process
February 8: Art as Theft: Imitation Writing
March 8: All My Relations, with guest author Diane Wilson
April 12: Parts in the Whole: Form
May 10: Childhood, Revisited
June 14: Community and Revision