THE USES OF ADVERSITY: INTENTIONAL PAIN, THE BODY, AND INDIVIDUATION

The centrality of pain in human development has intrigued psychological, religious, and spiritual disciplines as long as consciousness has been embodied in man. As Jung says in so many ways throughout his writings, “every step forward along the path of individuation is achieved only at the cost of suffering.” (Jung //) This paper will explore situations in which body pain, through the agency of either self or society, is intentionally induced. The context of this exploration is my personal and clinical experience with body pain. I am concerned with the relationship of pain to individuation theory, particularly the stages of the conjunctio, and, hopefully, in learning more about how this relationship might aid patients in pain.

A strategy of studying intentional pain in order to learn more of pain’s role in individuation may seem gratuitous. There is certainly enough unsolicited pain in our lives without needing to focus on torture, sado-masochism (S/M), and various forms of religious asceticism. My intent, however, is to study the extremities of pain in order to learn more about the more usual ranges of pain much like studying aphasia in order to learn more about language. Extreme and taboo forms of pain can be viewed, depending on context and intent as sacred or profane, ecstatic or disgusting, spiritual or perverse, righteous or immoral. Like the real and symbolic role of incest in human love, it is just these extreme and liminal behaviors, the taboo behaviors, that are so often connected, however ambivalently, to powerful developmental crossings and life change.

Let me begin this discussion with some recent personal experiences in connecting pain with themes of individuation. More than a year ago I attended a small conference whose purpose was to study Shamanism and Psychology. After a long day many of us repaired to a hot pool to talk under a starry Rocky Mountain sky. In the bath were several Jungian analysts and candidates along with other students of shamanism and psychology. The group including a 30 year old Lakota-Sioux Indian who I will call Jim. That evening I had presented my researches on the use of pain in Shamanic initiation and its relation to S/M. The slide presentation included visual juxtapositions of historical crucifixions and other mortification’s and tortures of Saints, the traditional Lakota-Sioux Sun Dance, a variant of the Sun Dance and other “S/M rites” performed by a spiritual sect in the United States to commemorate AID’s victims, and piercing and tatooing in Mentawaii Shamanic initiation in remote Indonesia. The presentation was considered extremely provocative. Many thought it broke new ground in bringing pain into our work; Don Sandner called it the “shadow of the Jungian shadow.” (Sandner). But some objected to what they conceived of as disrespect in mixing the sacred and profane. One member of the audience had vomited and a few left during the presentation.

This reaction was understandable for many reasons including the timing of the talk. Several hour before my presentation we had had all participated in a physically difficult sweat lodge of great heat and body constriction for the purposes of purification and vision. Just hours before that we had listened to two Jungian therapists describe their own participation in the Lakota Sun Dance in which after days of fasting, chanting and dancing, their chests and shoulders were pierced with large hooks fastened to trees which they pulled until the hooks ripped from their flesh. The Sundance they described had its origins as a dance of thanksgiving and praise to the sun which appeared in the midst of a storm just in time to save Lakota tribe from starvation and exposure after a long period of being snowbound in the high mountains. It had been outlawed in the early 1900. However the national laws against this sacred dance had recently been repealed and the Sun Dance is now regularly danced as part of the modern Lakota initiation ceremony as well as for special kinds of healing. The participation of these two non-Indian men in the ceremony was rare and their descriptions were profoundly ecstatic and spiritual . They felt imbued with strong healing powers after the ceremony and the desire to share that power with those in pain. It was certainly politically and emotionally problematic to link their experiences with some of the slides I had shown.

As I bathed in the waters pondering the power of spiritual fashion I could not help noticing that Jim’s naked body was covered with many, many scars and tattoos on his chest, back and shoulders. I asked him about these marks and he said he had gotten some of them from his participation in the Sun Dance since age 6 when his father had put the two hooks in his chest skin and guided him through the long dance including the agonizing ripping of flesh that ended it. He had participated in more than 20 such ceremonies. The tattoos had come after a stint in the Army. His body looked quite like the pictures I had seen of men and women who pierced their bodies in a variety of S/M rituals and also of the bodies of the tortured in the Holocaust and South American kidnapped victims.

Months later, I attended a clinical discussion at a Jung society where an analyst discussed a patient whose behavior included sado-masochistic rituals which were self described as the spiritual center of his life. Our clinical discussion revolved around how to get rid of his symptom—behavior modification was mentioned—as well as the childhood origins of this symptom and its effects on his object relations in the present. There was no discussion of any possible spiritual function of his symptom or the role of pain in this man’s individuation. It was as if a taboo had been joined; to break it was to risk group censure. Jung’s alchemical prescription for individuation includes: “…the torture of initiation, the indispensable means of leading him (the initiate) towards his destiny) “but we all usually assume the “torture” to be symbolic and psychic.( Jung////). If the case had dealt only with psychic pain and suffering, or even physical pain without a pseudo-sexual context, the discussion would have reached deeper and more meaningful realms. Sandner’s comment about intentional pain being the “the shadow of the Jungian shadow” seemed most pertinent. He was referring to the difficulty we Jungians often have in dealing with certain kinds of darkness. We all agree that pain is at the center of individuation but it is also clear that some kinds of pain and some contexts of pain are more acceptable to us on this road than others.

The notion of the intentional infliction of pain for the purpose of pleasure and/or self and spiritual knowledge is, I think, problematic for Jungians who thus accurately reflect the persona judgments of western culture in general. For example we do not accept or consciously condone physical torture in our prisons or painful childbirth in our hospitals; we see this attitude as progress towards more “humane” values, part of our attempt to create a more enlightened culture. Yet the same cultures which have promulgated these advances are also almost completely addicted to violence. This is evident in the toys we give to our children, the movies we watch, the wars we make—and watch. We, after all, are the perpetrators of the most savage and far flung violence in human history—I speak of the holocausts of genocide, war without limit, and massive willful death dealing impoverishment based on a consciously contrived a two tiered socioeconomic structure. These dark institutions are every bit as much a hallmark of us, of the western cultures of enlightenment as salutary advances in health, law, and human rights. Is it possible that our enlightened taboos and repressiveness around certain forms of pain and suffering is connected to the intercurrent violence of our immediate past and present generations?

The intentional infliction of pain for the purpose of pleasure and self and societal knowledge is a main concern of Michel Foucault, a remarkable and controversial French philosopher who died in 1984 at the age of 57. In Discipline and Punish he contrasted the apparently “barbaric” treatment of the condemned criminal in the 18th century with the “humanized” life long totalitarian incarceration of condemned criminals in the 19th and 20th century (Foucault 1975). Foucault questions which punishing condition was more horrible and more useful. It is not that he would advocate a return to hot wax and chopped off limbs. Rather he pointed out that public execution (or the public shame of the homeless for that matter) forces the society to feel responsible for its use of sadism, its policy of torture and the pain it creates. Foucault believes that our penal and other all encompassing and isolating institutions have the effect of hiding our collective shadows from ourselves and thereby preventing collective growth very much the way narcotizing escaping pain in an individual life may prevent the individual from developing.

At the end of this life, Foucault moved closer to our field by focusing on the “institution” of sexuality He argued that even the intimate subjective bodily experience. including sexual experiences, are profoundly effected by the same subtle coercion of “enlightenment.” His understanding of any human faculty lived fully was that it must include pain and the nearness of death. In sexuality too, the “limiting experience” must be measured in the presence of the truthsayer, the body in pain, including the taboo world of sadomasochism. Foucault had turned directly to the most vulnerable core of the individual itself as the target of this coercion. For him the control of sex is tampering with the prima materia, “the relation to the self in the experience of the flesh.” (Foucault 1982) Foucault’s later writings do not deal with the specifics of his own sadomasochistic practices but there is no question that he saw them as philosophical adventures, a work in progress. In 1983, a year before his death, he talked of the bodies sexuality as an “ethical substance” which if confronted without societal intervention produced sexual moralities tied to individual exploration rather than societal coercion, “the kind of relationship you ought to have with yourself, which I call ethics, and which determines how the individual is supposed to constitute himself as a moral subject of his own actions.” (Foucault 1983) This last work produced a view of adult development very close to the Jungian ethic of individuation.

Foucault last work was also borrowed from the larger S/M movement in which self discovery was linked to a variety of body practices linked to self discovery. Fakir Musafar, a leader of this movement and editor of one of its journals, Body Play, states his credo thusly: “I personally feel that the pursuit of Change-of-Bodystates can be a powerful way to explore one’s own spirituality—can be a way to prepare one to live life more fully and consciously, even prepare on for ultimate Change-of-Bodystate called “death.” (Musafar 1992)

What Foucault and Musafar are suggesting is hardly foreign to the alchemical texts Jung used in his work. Thus in Alchemical Studies Jung excerpts from the Ostanes text Zosimo’s vision of the torments that the “prince” desires for his initiates. “I am Ion, the priest of the innermost hidden sanctuary, and I submit myself to an unendurable torment. For there came one in haste at early morning, who over powered me and pierced me through with the sword, and dismembered me in accordance with the rule of harmony. And he drew off the skin of my head with the sword, which he wielded with strength, and mingled the bones with the pieces of flesh, and caused them to be burned upon the fire of the art, till I perceived that I was transformed and had become spirit. And that is my unendurable torment.” (Jung 1954) In a footnote to this portion, Jung places this vision “in the wider context of rebirth symbolism. Consequently it plays an important part in the initiation experiences of shamans and medicine men, who are dismembered and then put together again.” (Jung 1954 pg. 227) Obviously this description of initiation must not be taken at face value but the tendency to “symbolize” this sadomasochistic visions misses part of the point. The splitting of mind and body is a function of our language, our prejudices, and our taboos. As we know, Shamanic dismemberment’s are hardly symbolic; they are very real bodily experiences, real pain is of their essence. The actual initiations of Siberian Shamanism for example fuse mind and body in any number of painful realities including ; extreme cold, frostbite, fasting, starvation, isolation, body constrictions, fear of animal attack, animal attack. The visions of Zosimo are both part of a well know literature of sexual excitations and also painfully close to the very real tortures of the inquisition visited on Jew, infidels, and the alchemists themselves.

Consider for example the Balinese tooth filing ceremony which involves unanaestized filing of the eye teeth of pubescent girls and boys in order to get rid of their “animal nature.” Here we have a rite of puberty associated with great pain. To the outsider it looks like cruel and inhuman torture and punishment but it takes place in a context of cooperation by both the participants and their families and community. From watching these ceremonies, I can attest to the incredible pain inflicted on these youth. The file was very coarse and the initiator was very strong . The smell of burning flesh filled the air and yet each child demanded more and more filing despite their own tears and cries. They wanted more because they required an ordeal in order to become men and women of standing in their community. This ceremony/ordeal is like so many puberty rites here a form of intentional pain sanctioned by the community. It is also what Musafar defines as “body play, the deliberate, ritualized modification of the human body which is either made a part of a culture or if it is seen as a threat to established social order and institutions, then forbidden.” (Musafar, F. 1992a). To Musafar “body play” is an avenue with which to explore many facets of human nature: aesthetic experience: tattoos, piercing, corseting; spiritual expression: fasting, isolation, extreme heat and cold, immobilizing in extreme meditation postures; and community bonding: the Ball Dance, Sun Dance and other ceremonies where a variety of these rites of pain are used in a group context.

Currently within the United States, for example, there is a surfeit of S/M activities, some sacred and some profane, the defining line drawn only by individual and cultural intent. We have intentional pain and body change techniques in innumerable contexts and unprecedented scale from surgical cosmetics, tatooing, piercing, flogging, to vision quests, fasts, long silence, day and week long meditation. Each of these behaviors must be understood in the context of intent. Consider the Northern California based Black Sun Dance in which 30-50 men and women meet for week long ceremonial rites including the Ball Dance, the Sun dance, and a variety of sexual negations, ritual flaggelations, and other practices all dedicated to the death of friends who suffered and died with AIDS. This ceremony begins with a talking circle in which each participant states the intent of his practice. It is clear from what was said that most of them were enacting and symbolizing their own suffering and loss in ceremonies of pain powerful enough to embrace the death/rebirth archetype. The body in these ceremonies were the sacrificial altar required for their personal and the communities collective growth.

It is extremely difficult for most of us to be open to their explorations without a full range of very strong negative feelings emerging. When I became interested in this area, I had been in more or less continuous severe back and leg pain for almost seven years followed by equally painful (though blessedly healing) back surgery. Before these experiences with acute and chronic pain, and despite an affected tolerance and lip service to the sanctity of all behavior, I shared the common taboos about S/M. But in the midst of my own experiences with pain, I lost much of the judgmental part of my reactions completely. With each month and year of chronic pain that I experienced I felt less horror at hearing about and watching piercing, flagellation’s, body constrictions, and the variety of “humiliations” shared by persons involved in these practices and ceremonies. Rather I felt open, compassionate and even identified with the intent of their practices and love for the people involved and their special form of pleasure, pain—their worship. I was drawn to enter into these rituals for myself; the possibility of experiencing pain and being able to stop it, an experience that had not been possible for me for seven years, was terribly seductive. So was the possibility of sharing pain with others instead of being so alone with it. Eventually I decided that I could not join their ceremonies of pain and expiation as an active participant though I did participate as a drummer during some of the ceremonies and so I was able to gain an immediate appreciation of the powerful personal quest that SM can represent for some people.

My explorations in this field began from within my own pain. As I pursued my researches of intentional sadomasochistic activities, I heard about and saw abuse and debasement without any redeeming features I could find. But I also saw many activities of great spiritual power, a group of activities which have been present as part of serious religious practice since time immemorial and I understand why. My researches led me finally to a suffering community of men and women who had witnessed too many friends die and learned how to invoke “intentional” pain as a doorway to mourning. Pain delivered them into sacred space during their ceremony and , for some, into the crucible of their own individuation.

***

I return now to the question of how pain works in the individuation process and , why it is such an important constant in human development.. From the perspective of individuation theory, pain is both the handmaiden and antagonist of individuation and it is this paradox that is at the heart of pain’s role in the individuation process. On the one hand, our hope for what Jung calls “the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living beings always hostage to the painful consequences of ignoring societies strictures. (Jung 1932) In extreme situations an individual may be punished, tortured, and made scapegoat if he or she challenges the collective ethic at a level deemed crucial to its survival. (Colman 1995a). Yet on the other hand, being tethered by rules and roles made by others is in itself extremely painful, especially when we have lived in the collective world long enough to be ripe for more consciousness as an individual The same “torture” society inflicts to exact obedience can also force the individual toward freedom. Recognizing this we can better understand the sentiments of those who voluntarily don the hairshirt, who seek flagellation, who gratefully ascend the cross, who dance under the high desert sun straining against the chest hook, who say that we must all long for pain, must seek it out, call it our friend if we are to find ourselves, live our lives as sacred. What we refer to as the perversions of sadomasochism, then, are also inevitable elements of every religious, spiritual and mystical tradition which asks its adherents to eschew societies whip and push past the pain enforced collective norms to confront ones own needs and desires directly.

This transformative and separating power of pain in individuation resides in its relationship to the body. Pain in these instances forces a consciousness that has the potential to move us beyond a body-mind relationship based on projections and idealizations; the human psyche disconnected from the body can twist and turn almost every psychic phenomena to give it pseudo meaning. The body in pain makes a mockery of such rationalizing abstractions. As Scarry suggests, unlike almost every other interior state of consciousness including psychic pain, physical pain “has no referential content. It is no of or for anything.” (Scarry 1985a). Pain can indeed illuminate but it also can bring permanent disintegration.. It does not promise surcease or psychological growth although that may emerge from the work engendered by it. There is no inherent value in the stabbing onslaught of the myocardial infarction, the agony of perforation of a stomach, the torture of severe back spasm. Pain forces us to here and now stark reality without psychic justification . It is this awesome meaninglessness that strips us of our collective opiates and connects us so directly and honestly to a powerful confrontation with our own individual truth.

The process of the separation of individual from the collective body furthered by pain. corresponds in alchemical terms with the first stage of the conjunctio, the formation of the unio mentalis. In Jung’s description of the unio mentalis, a union between soul and spirit in the context of separation from the body, a central image is of decapitation; the head is split from the body. “The aim of this separation was to free the mind from the influence of the ‘bodily appetites and the heart’s affections’ and to establish a spiritual position which is supraordinate to the turbulent sphere of the body.(Jung 1963). We only need to appreciate the “out of body” experiences of the patients beaten as a child, the child “seeing” it (but not feeling it) from the upper corner of the room, completely divorced from his or her body, and the “adult child” still able to disassociate mind and body at times of stress, to understand this alchemical mechanism at its most concrete and pathological. Jung’s description of his visions at the time of his heart attack and the Shamanic healing visions during fasting, isolation and self inflicted pain are more developed examples of the same process.

In the second stage of the conjunction the unity of spirit and soul is conjoined once again with the body. (Jung 1963, p 477). The cycle of adult development, particularly in later life, requires this return, on different terms it is true, but still a rejoining of psyche to the physical body and the collective body , in order for the first stage of the individuation cycle, the journey of separation, to have meaning. In psychological terms, healing through the power of projection must give way to reconnection and conjunction. Even in the most compartmentalized and hardened projection system, what we now describe clinically as multiple personalities, there is a powerful pressure for reintegration of the part personalities driven by the pain of loss of the whole self.

In other words, even as pain separates us from our body it also bring us back to our body. Pain activates that tether that calls us back to our bodies and our collective body. The developmental space of separation that the first stage of the conjunctio affords is increasingly balanced by the suffering that isolation brings: loneliness, disconnection, and meaninglessness. As the separatio does its individuation work, we develop new levels of pain, the pain of unfulfillment, of unrequited love, of undone service that forces an enlightened return, the return that Buddha, the Bal Shem Tov, the present Dalai Lama and other spiritually gifted individuals model in their life and work.

In the second stage of the conjunction the alchemical recipe for reunion is the production of caelum “a certain heavenly substance hidden in the human body “transparent, shining, and of the colour of purest air.” (Jung 1963, p465). In order for the conjunction to go forward caelum must be mixed with a series of ingredients: honey, celandine, rosemary, the Mercuialis plant, red Lilly and human blood. Blood is considered the most important of these nutrients for as Edinger says “what has cost us blood , we never forget.” (Edinger, 1995a)

Surely pain’s elixir too must be included in this recipe, perhaps the venom from the serpent Skadi used to punish Loki or the agonizing pecking of the liver of Prometheus bound to that rock, for like blood, pain unites in a way “we never forget.” Pain, the separator, transforms the vessel itself, breaking it or strengthening it. If the vessel holds. pain grounds us in the body by despoiling of all illusion of separation that body, soul, and spirit are not one. Anyone who has experienced profound pain for a goodly length of time—days, month, or years—will know this amalgamating potential, The mind-body separation that pain initially fostered cannot endure pain’s abiding presence. If the vessel holds, separation between physical pain and psychological pain slowly gives way and resolves into a more inclusive state, first at the level of the unconscious and later in ego consciousness as well. The individual or subgroups working at the second stage of the conjunctio are therefore in a place to lead rather than follow the culture. We may understand the mind/body split of Western medicine as an absence of adequate societal vessels to contain the pain, and allows this split, the tension of opposites, to be transcended and transformed. But even if our collective healing culture maintains an exaggerated separation between mind and body, this polarity is transcended by many people in pain and most importantly by some of the well initiated, “wounded” healers who serve them. That is why all profound initiations in the healing arts from shamans to surgeons are always anchored in an ordeal with an obligatory requirement for pain and sacrifice. We want to know that the surgeons who we entrust the blocked arteries of our hearts and brain can endure a 14 hour operation. We want analysts to be rigorously analyzed and in that or other initiatory process to have faced their own pain in the world of flesh and blood.

In the individuation process, then, pain serves as truthsayer and trickster: at times representing individual consciousness, at times representing collective consciousness; at times their separation, at times their joining. Pain is mercurial, paradoxical and uncontrollable. Above all uncontrollable. Pain is not a medicine that can be dispensed in appropriate dose and temporal span and then inactivated and excreted having done its work. Coming with or without warning, with or without intent, pain changes our life in unpredictable directions. To some who know too much pain, there may be a feeling of moral repugnance in equating the pain of loss of a loved one, of illness, of bodily damage, with pain that is willfully induced. But pain, like psyche, is not a moral force. When nature is unobliging or, paradoxically, when the pain in our lives is too profound and out of control, some may need to challenge themselves and the gods and introduce the potential of pain to create sacred time and space for change Challenges like these, when not imposed on others, cannot be understood or judged through the lens of personal or societal taste no matter how ingrained; rather they should be honored as the expression of the individuals and societies insistent need for sacrifice and meaning no matter how instigated and achieved.

When Jesus was nailed on the cross at Golgotha, an agony of hunger, thirst, burning skin, body constriction, piercing and humiliating exposure, he cried out “Adoni, adoni, lamah sabachtoni” “Father, father, why has thou forsaken me?”. Pushed by extreme pain and the nearness of death, he spoke directly to the feelings of betrayal and loss of faith. Theologians have argued for centuries about the meaning of these final words. To me, pain, for Jesus as for so many men and women, was truthsayer. His suffering cut deep into his denial and inflation, and the messianic mission of a man who, firmly in the shadow of the Jewish tradition, believed he was the ultimate chosen person, the son of God. In accepting his own human body and its feelings, his profound teachings gain even greater stature for we are able to identify directly with his suffering and his message. In that moment of extreme pain and profound truth, Jesus, like Buddha after him, left the realms of the Gods, spirit and soul without body, and returned to his body, his community, his humanness and his death. In doing so a suffering, bleeding man on a societal cross became an embodied symbol of the individuation process, a symbol which has remained powerful sustaining through two millennia of human pain.

The suffering and sacrifice of Jesus and other like him remains alive for us because it reassures us that the path of individuation requires pain and a mortal wounding, that the pain we experience we may need . I believe that individuation is limited by the willingness to submit to pain and its consequences. Pain is truthsayer and trustmaker. Those who come to know pain are either traumatized and damaged by the experience or healed and stronger for it.. But those who do not know pain, cannot know a critical part of themselves and therefore cannot ultimately trust themselves.

In my experience, many who encounter the extremities of pain do not survive it with integrity. The vessel cracks and breaks and development is attenuated for a time or even for a life time. When this happens, pain has become the fixed center of meaning rather than an inevitable part of development. Living with pain without fixing development in its thrall requires living in the tension of opposites between hope and acceptance. Finding a viable balance between these two does not lead to a cessation of pain but a transcending relationship to body and mind, an altar of experience leading to a new relationship to Self which is hinted at in the last stages of the conjunctio. During my own long sieges of pain I glimpsed something of what it means to live with body and mind truly together, a state in which that “indestructible thing” was an ever present connection with a larger entity of experience . I have been with patients in severe pain for long periods of time who have made this state their own. I am also sure that those who use the extreme technique of inducing pain to test their own limits are in search of such transcendence and sometimes find it. ultimately pain, intentional or otherwise, will have its way with us. Only love can match its power to hold us in the tension between hope and acceptance until both are transcended. It is then that Shakespeare’s entire quote, the title of this paper speaks most clearly:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brook,
Sermons in stones and good in everything.
I would not change it.”
(Shakespeare, 1599)

    BIBLIOGRAPHY
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C.G. Jung Institute, San Francisco
Sausalito, California