We are continuing our study of archetypes as a spiritual practice, through the book, Illuminating the Way, by Christine Valters Paintner. You’re welcome to get the book and follow along, or just enjoy the blog and comments. This week we are in the third chapter, the archetype of the Orphan.
To review, archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) “The Fundamental experience of the Orphan is abandonment, feeling like an exile, and longing for an experience of being at home.” (pg.54)
The inner Orphan invites us to feel the pain of unpleasant experiences… great. This is something I’ve been working on for a long time. In the past, if I had a feeling of rejection, loss or grief, I would pull away from it and stuff those feelings deep. This led to also being cut off from good feelings of joy and happiness because we can’t separate ourselves from only half our feelings.
When I was younger, I lived in Israel for a summer. The Israelis are often referred to as “Sabra,” which is a cactus fruit that is hard on the outside and sweet in the middle. It is hard, at first, to get past the tough exteriors of native-born Israelis, but once you do, you find the sweet, tender person inside. When I was living in there, I was given a nickname by my housemates, “Tough Cookie.” This was not a compliment. God used my time in Israel to help crack open my tough exterior, a safety wall I had built to protect me from my own abandonment issues and help me learn to face my inner pain. They say Israel is like the salt-filled dead sea, it exposes all of your wounds but also helps them heal more quickly. That was my experience for sure.
Welcoming difficult feelings is something I’m still working on decades later. I find the Welcoming Prayer most helpful. You can read more about it here but just let me say it involves sitting with the uncomfortable feelings, giving them space as an important part of you, asking what they need, and then letting them go.
“Conscious suffering is the gateway to our own spiritual awakening and maturity.” (pg. 55)
Our book uses Dorothy Day as an icon for the Orphan, as she was a woman who cared for many orphans and widows. She was committed to social justice at a time when few were talking about this topic. You should google her, as she was quite before her time.
The Orphan is a very popular archetype in literature, especially children’s lit. Think of Little Orphan Annie, Anne of Green Gables, and Oliver. When I was a child, my best friend always wanted to play horses while I wanted to play orphanage. It was not because I had a terrible home life but because I was a fan of The Boxcar Children mysteries. Orphans had all the fun and the inner resources to meet whatever came at them. I made orphans the heroes of one of my book series, The Finding Home Series.
We are living in a time of many difficult realities. Perhaps this has always been true, but now they are thrust into our faces every day on the internet. How do we survive the weight of them? How do we keep from being overwhelmed by the immensity of the pain we are exposed to? Our inner Orphan can help us by giving us strength and resilience. I don’t know who said it first, but I love an idea I heard from Glennon Doyle on a podcast recently, “Just do the next good thing.” That is, we can always do something simple and immediate, in the present. We can’t do it all, but we must do something. This takes the pressure off being overwhelmed and thinking that we must save the world.
Of course, the Orphan has a shadow side, as do all the parts of our true selves. The Shadow of the orphan could be fear of abandonment leads us to abandon others first, or do something to force someone to reject us in advance. It can also lead to betraying our own hopes and dreams for fear of disappointment.
In what ways have you faced feelings of abandonment? How can you use your inner Orphan to help you face discouraging feelings or experiences? Have you experienced the Orphan’s shadow?
Photo Credit. Little Orphan Annie: Young actor Aileen Quinn made her film debut in the 1982 smash-hit musical Annie. Picture: Supplied.Source:Supplied