Recently I had an encounter at a social gathering that was profoundly challenging yet most of the time I had no idea what was transpiring. A bit like a wave in a storm wind, I seemed to being pushed in a direction with no control of the outcome except to inevitably crash somewhere.
It began with a simple comment I made to two younger female friends at a dinner I had arranged. Without realizing that it could be seen as condescending I observed that how differently life seemed through the eyes of a seventy year old than when I was forty-five. (The age of both of them). One of them began to question me on my meaning, I vacillated, perhaps suspecting a trap, and she pressed me to clarify. My stumbled attempts to explain, perhaps inhibited by the glasses of wine I had imbibed, failed to satisfy her and she pressed me further.
I began to back down suggesting it was unimportant that I be understood. This seemed a little like waving a red flag in front of a bull and my adversary became somewhat more remonstrative. One of my friends was supporting the other in her efforts to challenge me and made me feel outnumbered. I could feel an energy building in my body; it felt very uncomfortable and I began feel a victim wishing I had never suggested the dinner at all.
I sense that at this point a “splinter personality” began to take over but I was completely unconscious of its power and impact. A splinter personality is a term coined by Carl Jung to describe the effect of a complex. Eminent Jungian Analyst James Hollis, in his profound audio book, “Through The Dark Wood” suggests that our life is predominantly lived in service to powerfully charged, deeply reinforced messages. These are complexes – structures that can carry a large charge of energy and a charged historic experience can cause us to act unconsciously. Given the right activation, or stimulus one can get thrust back into that disempowered time of the formation of the core idea.
However at this juncture I was clueless, I felt anxious and disturbed and was relieved when we left the table. The others wanted to draw a Tarot card. I decided not to join them as I consider this a sacred practice and thought I had consumed too much wine however I was happy to read the interpretations. I felt more relaxed in this role although I could still feel the energy in my body; the best explanation would be that I felt uptight without understanding why. The other two discussed the possible meanings of the tarot card while I listened, partially engaged but more curious about my own state.
Then I was asked if I had any thoughts or insights to share. At this point my adversary at the dinner table said, “Of course he does, you can tell by that look on his face.” I reacted with a question directed at her, “why would you say that?” Her answer was placating but I was not satisfied and repeated the question. It became messy; she felt attacked; I felt totally stuck. The energy would not shift, my anxiety and angst grew and they both thought I was being hostile.
One attempted to help me explore what was beneath my reaction and I genuinely tried working with my breath and silence, closing my eyes and trying to allow whatever feelings were stuck to emerge but nothing came. I felt helpless and yet curious. Some complex had engaged, but my unconscious was not yet ready to reveal the answer.
My two friends began to explore what had happened at dinner and one admitted that whenever she sensed there was something being hidden or kept a secret that she became combative. It was a scenario that she recognized. “At least someone could figure themselves out”, I thought wryly.”
I sat feeling as though I was an outsider who was invited to join but could not find his way in. I had been told my energy was like a negative barrier. I knew I was in the grip of something but had no idea what and desperately wanted to find out. I would have preferred to leave but it was my house. It was as though I needed to find my entrance ticket to my own party.
Then something magical occurred. The words “I was feeling attacked” entered my head. Then I realized that the person sitting abjectly outside of the group was thirteen years old. This was my splinter personality. My energy was that of a sullen, glowering teenager. This was the age when I began to run away from life. It had all been too painful to stand up; it led to failure and hurt feelings.
Being combative had rarely been effective, in fact at times I felt like my own worst enemy. Retreat was a safer and less damaging option.
During dinner the response to my inadvertent observation about seventy year olds caused this complex to engage. It was entirely reactive and autonomous; history was replaying itself. The events after dinner was the thirteen-year old waiting for an opportunity to get his own back. To direct some his angst at the person that he believed had caused his unhappiness.
At this point the energy autonomously lifted. My body felt differently, I felt calmer and more peaceful and both of my friends could feel the shift. The complex had been disarmed by the journey of enquiry and understanding. The relationship of energy, anxiety and the unconscious is complex and at times confusing yet it is a sign of something requiring healing.
Hollis suggests that sometimes we are forced to grow by dramatic events while fear and resistance inhibit change. As the great Sufi poet Rumi observed, “This being human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival, a joy, a meanness, a depression, some momentary awareness, comes as an unexpected visitor, welcome and entertain them all”.
The gift of the journey into self is we find meaning in our experiences and in our lives.