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Initiatory Experience

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

The first encounter with the anima is the initiatory experience of adolescence. It is a peak experience that is a mystery; a person doesn't know what it was or how to find it again, though it holds his curiosity and longing. But to integrate his anima he must meet it at the mental level equivalent to the mentality he was at during the first encounter. It is the doorway to consciousness, not quite an experience of splendor, but a teasing glimpse; it is this idea of splendor that leads out of Eden. The serpent tempted Eve with the knowledge and power of God. The fall from Grace is the realization of what we are not; we are not omniscient or omnipotent and most frightening, we are not immortal. As Siddhartha who became the Buddha learned, we are not invincible, our bodies become ravaged by age and disease and we die. It is the invitation to eat of the Tree of Knowledge that leads to an awareness of lack--the loss of bliss held within ignorance.

The splendor of the divine is the primary, though perhaps unrecognized, motivation of existence. It is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the vision of almighty Zeus in his divine aspect; and an experience requiring preparation. God cast Adam and Eve from the garden because they were not ready for the experience and responsibility. Looking upon the divine aspect of Zeus reduced his mortal lover Semele to ashes; Zeus rescued their unborn son, Dionysus from the flames and sewed him in his own thigh. It may have been this baptism by fire that imbued Dionysus with immortal divinity, since mortality was dominantly inherited. This experience is a necessary initiatory experience and failure is inevitable. It is a collision of the conscious and unconscious minds for which a person is wholly unprepared, yet the experience itself is preparatory for a later return.

Within the splendorous glimpse of bliss is the Shadow and within the Shadow is the glimpse of bliss. This surfacing of the Shadow is the greatest consequence of the glimpse. The way out is in; development is not possible without the Shadow.

We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.
-Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, 1988.

Isn't it interesting that in Greek mythology would-be mortals such as Hercules and perhaps Dionysus achieved divinity through fiery incineration? And yet hell is supposedly a fiery incinerator. It is the fate of all of us to at one time or another hang as a spider over the fiery pit of hell and it is our decision to let-go the thread that binds us, or dangle and spin permanently in anxiety and indecisive despair. Most, fearing the flames, scramble up the web seeking refuge. But the solution is to leave the web, to leave behind that thing which keeps us attached and holding-on and experience the flames we so fear.

We all, by the very nature of our human existence, are condemned to hell. Most seek to escape the suffering and mistakes that have gone before by learning from their predecessors as a means of avoiding the same in their own lives. And yet suffering and adversity are of an individual nature. What remains unrealized is that we are not merely already condemned, but that we are living our condemnation presently through our human existence. It is the hell-storm within our Shadow and there is no escape, rather the solution is in the experience, embrace and integration. The great suffering is in the fear and indecisive avoidance--the precarious balance of a coin on edge.

It is the renting of dark from light--the splitting of the psyche; and from that point the guiding force of life is to return to return to Eden. But there is no going back--there is no unknowing. The path to Eden is a circle where the end meets at the beginning. MLCers whose achievements are beyond dreams and expectations may feel like an imposter in a foreign world. Those stuck midway up the mountain, fear stagnancy; they will never achieve more and may lose what they have. Those who feel they have fallen short of their goals feel the guilt of their own fears which they feel lead them to refuse the experience. All three had an initiatory experience without preparation and each became a man crowned king without merit, unprepared to handle the world in which he discovers himself.

Slamming the door on the splendorous experience--the memory of bliss within Eden-- suppresses it, relegating it to the realm of the unconscious--the shadow and anima. It is a denial and refusal that haunts a person, stalking him incessantly until he acknowledges it and brings it into the light once more. When he does, he must select a new method for handling the experience if he is to proceed through; failure to do so is the MLC experience, producing repetition of mistakes rather than revolution.

An MLCer seeks to recapture the first experience of splendor and regresses mentally to that time and place, hoping for a do-over--Replay. It is necessary to return to the prior innocence, but to repeat the former mistakes is to follow the familiar path that lead to his present midlife collapse. Once at the original place of innocence a person is yet changed and must choose a new path, applying the experiences and maturity earned and learned from his journey to this point. Regressing is a backwards movement, whereas returning is using the past as an experience to propel growth and forward movement. To re-turn is to turn again toward something, but unlike a regression, it is revolutionary. Midlife is a tumultuous experience for many--whether it is a crisis or not. Revolution itself is turmoil. But accepting revolution is the first step to proceeding through it.

Failure is like exposure to disease through vaccination, which bestows immunity upon subsequent exposure; it is a knowledge gained through experience which an accepted midlife journey transforms into wisdom. MLC is the result of significant wounding in childhood and at a person's initiatory experience and thus their return to the wounding is a regression wherein they choose to repeat their earlier mistakes in hopes of correcting them rather than applying their experience to make different choices.

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