If you want to make your life more meaningful and more fulfilled, this book gives you a powerful and specific means to do it.
I was introduced to the concept of archetypes by reading Jung back in the late 1970s and early 80s. I found the idea powerful and provocative, like all of Jung’s ideas, and much more attractive than what I could understand of other psychological theories, which all seemed depressingly reductionistic. (One of the reasons I avoided studying psychology at the University of B.C. was that its psychology department appeared to be, at that time, focused on behaviorism.) Jung faced the spiritual dimension of life as an important, indeed the most important, psychological reality, not as a mere neurotic compensation for repressed sexual urges, or whatever.
In this book Caroline Myss, although she does not base her approach on Jung’s ideas, does make use of the concept of archetypes, introducing a much larger menu of them as a way of recognizing aspects of ourselves. Sacred Contracts pushes further in the direction opened in Myss’s earlier books, Anatomy of the Spirit and Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, moving from the issue of healing ourselves of chronic illness to the broader task of healing our lives by discovering and living the purpose for which we were born.
For this is the key idea behind Sacred Contracts: Each of us was born for a purpose, a specific purpose that is connected with our unique traits and circumstances, and if we wish to be fulfilled in life, then we need to be pursuing that purpose. This is our “sacred contract,” and like any contract it implies commitments that we are not really free to neglect. In the words of Robert Service, “a promise made is a debt unpaid,” and, according to this book, we’ve all made a promise to God to undertake certain things, and our feelings of malaise, anxiety, and unfulfillment arise because we’re shirking this work, for which we have only a limited time.
But how do we find out what we’re supposed to be doing? Sacred Contracts tells us exactly how. In broad terms, it involves understanding and accepting what a sacred contract is, then getting to know ourselves much more deeply by investigating our archetypal makeup. Myss makes the bold statement that there are four archetypes that form part of the makeup of each of us, which she calls, somewhat provocatively, the Child, the Victim, the Prostitute, and the Saboteur. Like all the archetypes, each of these is capable of positive or negative expression. When we work the energy of our archetypes in a positive way we experience life as energizing and fulfilling; when we work them negatively, our experience becomes draining, depressing, and eventually our very bodies become ill. Our task is to recognize the functioning of these archetypes in our own lives, and in so doing, to gain more mastery of ourselves and start to make choices that will genuinely benefit ourselves and others, and advance us in the fulfillment of our sacred contract.
But do we all really have, say, an inner Prostitute? Well, have you ever thought, while considering a possible venture or fulfilling activity: “But how will I make a living at it?” If so, your Prostitute has been present and on the job. How have we “sold out” in life? It happens in small ways and in large, at work, at home, and with our creative projects. The thinking is so seductive and so logical-sounding that we don’t question it. “But I have to eat!” “I don’t want to be broke when I’m old!” “I’m not a real artist anyway—there’s no point in my suffering for art!” Et cetera.
The point, of course, is not that you’re guaranteed success if you throw caution to the wind and pursue your dream. The point is that selling out has a cost, and it’s not a light one: ask Judas Iscariot. We always face the consequences of our choices, and those consequences relate to our real motives, whether we’re aware of those or not. When we sell out, we exchange our birthright for a mess of pottage, and it’s fundamentally not a good deal—the very thing it was supposed to be in our minds when we made it.
The Prostitute sounds negative, but Myss gives each of these key archetypes an alternative name as well. The Prostitute, she says, is also the Guardian of Faith. Faith has to do with our relationship with the spirit, and our confidence in that. As she says, “If you have faith, no one can buy you.” Someone who cannot be bought is very powerful; that person has unshakable spiritual power rather than tenuous worldly power. It’s the Prostitute who knows that man does not live by bread alone, and it’s the function of the Prostitute to continually test our conviction on that point. Again and again in life we’re tempted to sell out; how do we respond? What values do we affirm through our choices?
This is a superficial look at only one archetype. Myss expands on this more, plus covers the other three major archetypes, and then introduces a list of about 70 others, things like Addict, Artist, Athlete, Judge, Mystic, Student, Warrior. Each has its own traits and behaviors, and positive and negative modes of expression. The program set out in the book has us examining these archetypes to discover which are most applicable to our life, finding the 12 that are strongest in us, and then arranging these on a wheel like a horoscope. This wheel tells us the actual areas of life in which we find each archetype most active, such as Ego & Personality, Life Values, Self-Expression & Siblings, and so on. It’s a lot of work, and I’m not just saying that, because I’ve already put quite a few hours into the program and I’m still early on.
But I feel like I’ve already achieved a lot with it. I’ve already seen my life in new, deeper, more honest ways. Nonetheless, I find the work so hard that I leave off doing it for months at a time. It gets you looking at things you’re afraid to look at. But those are things we should be looking at. What is our life worth to us, after all? Soon it will be over; how will we feel about it when we’re done?
There’s so much more I wanted to touch on in this review: the question of the reality of the archetypes, Myss’s innovative use of the Indian chakra system to describe the energy relationship of spirit and body, and her unconventional use of astrology. I’ll have to address those later. For now I’ll just say that I think the most important aspect of this book and Myss’s work as a whole is her conviction in the fundamentally spiritual nature of our existence, and her nonsectarian approach to dealing with that.
We have it on good authority that the truth shall set us free. In Sacred Contracts we have a path to the truth about ourselves and our lives, and therefore a path to enjoying the freedom with which we chose our sacred contract.