The Gift of the Desert
Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Some of my clients are experiencing a sort of numb boredom, which is not the consequence of having nothing to do, but of feeling emotionally dulled, their creativity and energy subdued or non-existent. They say things like, “I’m not sure how long I can keep going,” before surrendering to painful feelings of despair and anxiety. This third lockdown is bearing down on us all in powerful ways, tightening the thumbscrews, as it were, of our latent vulnerabilities and unprocessed traumas.
Perhaps it’s surprising that I find this image of Elijah a consoling one. Afraid for his life after Jezebel threatens to kill him, he flees into the wilderness and collapses under a broom tree, saying “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life…”
The psychoanalyst Carl Jung described Elijah as a living archetype, that is, a mythical person (and/or a historical figure) that represents the collective unconscious and the self. Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious is a complex one, but it refers to a body of knowledge and imagery that we are all born with and share, which is why the figure of Elijah, the mighty prophet who becomes an outcast in the desert, has an intuitive and timeless resonance for us. We instinctively understand his struggle. There are aspects of our unconscious selves mirrored in him, which can help us make sense of our own predicament.
For me, consolation is found both in Elijah’s authentic humanity and in how he recovers from his anguish. Like many of us, he hopes for a decisive breakthrough. Most clients come to therapy seeking an ‘a-ha’ moment which will solve their biggest problems. As Elijah discovers, the epiphany does not come in a great wind, earthquake or fire, but in a gentle whisper (and he still doesn’t ‘hear’ it until much later!) The insights, and eventually the transformation, come in the moments when we can truly hear what God/our inner selves/a counsellor (use whatever word makes sense to you) is saying. So if you can give yourself anything this week, give yourself the gift of space and silence, and remember that the place of desolation under the broom tree is the start, not the end, of your road to healing.