Verses 14–17: “Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; let me be rescued from the muddy depths, so that no flood may carry me away, no abyss swallow me up, no deep close over me. Answer me, O Lord, in the goodness of thy unfailing love, turn towards me in thy great affection. I am thy servant, do not hide thy face from me.”
Psalm 69 is a song of lament probably written by an exile in Babylon in the sixth Century BC. He is powerless over the surroundings and happenings in which he finds himself. He feels in danger of being swallowed, of being lost in a dark void. We traditionally associate his images with the experience of being in captivity in a foreign land.
The experience of outer-world captivity by a foreign people is an apt metaphor for what we sometimes feel in relationship to our larger Self and all that goes on in our body-mind. We move through our days with our conscious sense of who we are, what our values are, and how we ideally respond.
Then, we have an unexpected encounter with emotions, body sensations, thoughts, feelings, and impulses that seem foreign. We act in ways incongruent with who we think we are and who we want to be. Impulses and fantasies counter to our ego’s desires swell up inside us. Sometimes we keep our selves in relationship to them. Other times, we act out in ways hurtful to us and other people.
Carl Jung says (and we all know) it takes tremendous moral effort not to act out unbidden affects (feelings characterized by body sensations) when they surge up from the unconscious. Most of us have been trained from childhood to repress or deny certain affects and psychic energies.
Our destructive impulses as well as our sexual desires are the most common examples. Repressed emotions and impulses circulate in the body-mind until they gather enough energy to cross over the threshold into consciousness. They usually appear unexpectedly in relationship to another person.
In a momentary encounter with an “other,” we experience the repressed, denied “other” in us. The previously repressed content can feel larger than life because it collected energy while unconscious. People sometimes describe such encounters by saying, “something got into me; something took me over.”
Our first inclination when we have an experience of the unbidden foreigner within is to blame another. We think the other person is the problem. When we feel impulses, emotions, and sensations that we learned were bad, wrong, sinful, or even demonic, we reflexively want to purge ourselves of them. We export them by blaming, judging, or even demonizing the other person.
Unfortunately, the internalized judgments about our affects and impulses generate shame and fear that keep us from developing the sense of self needed to relate to them in a life-giving way. We may feel like the psalmist. We may feel mired down, unable to see clearly what’s happening, and feel in danger of being swallowed. In these moments, the ego knows it is in danger of being swamped by the unconscious. Denying or repressing the previously unconscious emotion is not an option. We have to stay conscious, even though it means suffering, to call on God Within.
The only defense we have against the unconscious is to build a conscious relationship to it. We do this by consciously cultivating the ego-Self axis and dialoguing with whatever energies arise within us. By relating to our affects, impulses, and fantasies consciously, we invite an integration of the energies into the whole of who we are. Once integrated, the previously threatening psychic content becomes fuel for life-giving action.
Our call for integration is to the larger Self, God Within. The psalmist says it beautifully, “Answer me, O Lord, in the goodness of thy unfailing love, turn towards me in thy great affection. I am thy servant, do not hide thy face from me.” When we live in conscious relationship to the Self, we know our self/ego to be the servant of our larger Self.
Where are you in danger of being swallowed by an emotion, fantasy, or past experience? Where are you feeling mired down? Give yourself time, space, and loving focus to dialogue with the seeming “foreigner” energy. Hold onto your conscious experience even when feeling shamed, judged, or afraid. Ask God Within to strengthen you (rescue you) from being pulled into acting out or going unconscious.