This week in the Red Book class, we've been pondering what it means to give yourself over to something much bigger than yourself, to something so big that it will inevitably defeat you.
The Red Book was such a thing for Jung- he worked on it faithfully for sixteen years before setting it aside, unfinished. In old age, he returned to it once again but could not finish it then, either. It was still too big for him. I love that the manuscript breaks off mid-sentence, reading, " I knew how frightfully inadequate this undertaking was, but despite much work and many distractions I remained true to it, even if another possibility never..."
I am reminded in this of Mozart's unfinished Requiem Mass, the Cathedral of St' John the Divine in New York (still incomplete after 100 years) and how my own quest to master playing Bach's Goldberg Variations will never fully be realized. It is a wonderful thing to give yourself to something larger than you are.
In this image from the Red Book, Jung captures the act of surrendering to the spiritual life.
Rilke also knew this state well, and his poem, "The Man Watching", is a moving meditation on the theme.
What do you give yourself to
The Man Watching
by Rainer Maria Rilke
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can't bear without a friend,
I can't love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time, and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers' sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.