A few days ago I was in the presence of a master. These occasions do not happen all that often. I was lucky to have had a chance to be present at a dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh, the 85 year old Vietnamese Zen master, who was one of the founders of the “Engaged Buddhism” movement. Something happens when one is in the presence of a genuine master. At least if one can show up with some degree of openness and a willingness to receive. This something that happens is a transmission. Transmission can only originate from someone whose knowledge is rooted in lived experience and has become anchored in the tissues and bones of the physical body. We are then in a realm that transcends bookish knowledge gathered in purely academic pursuit. There is a moment when consciousness permeates every cell and lightens up one’s awareness. Consciousness can shine brightly. We are humbled and grateful for we know then, we are in the presence of a master.
This level of consciousness is usually hard-earned. It is life’s gift after much inner work, focused concentration and often much emotional suffering. It comes like an unexpected embrace by Sophia, the personification of divine wisdom. It is the relief of dew drops calming parched skin. Surely one gets there only on one of the roads less traveled. “Stop thinking”, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “and relax”. Relax down into your bones, because without that deep relaxation one is not able to receive, not what is “out there” nor the images and guidance we all have available from within. ~ Exhale, relax, let go ~ that is a good start for all things.
When asked what religion I follow, I like to answer with, “I am a Jungian”. That allows me to make room for spirituality, for what is larger than human life and ego consciousness, without getting caught in any dogma. The notion of transmission makes sense if we allow for the possibility of an interconnected universe in which nature and psyche are embedded. This was Jung’s vision and with this appreciation the mysterious processes of synchronicity and transmission fall into sync. The necessity for transmission may have been at the root of Jung’s requirement, in which he differed from Freud, that all Jungian analysts-in-training undergo a thorough analysis. He knew that we can accompany the individuals entrusted in our care only as far and deep as we ourselves have dared to venture. Jungian training worth its salt must not err on the side of prioritizing academic achievements, but maintain a vestige in the ancient tradition of mystery schools.
Jungian thought at its core opens up a deeply spiritual realm. But just as Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Engaged Buddhism” is a lived practice aimed at building compassion and easing suffering to make this world a better place for all, Jungian thought, if it is to be worth its salt, also must be a practice, but one with a very different focus. Jung, being a true steward of psyche, stayed away from all moral demands. His vision was a holistic one. His focus was individuation, which means becoming more fully oneself. This is not a form of perfectionism but completeness. It requires finding ways of dealing with all forces, positive and negative, light and dark, within oneself and in the collective, the world at large. This is why Jungian work at its core is always shadow work. And there is always more to come, as the Shadow, being archetypal, can never be fully integrated. Yet, as Jungians we soldier on and journey towards a greater degree of relating to that that we do not wish to be or that that we cannot fathom to also be part of who we are. As Jungians we train our eyes to see into and withstand the darkness. Welcome to another road less traveled.
It is a dangerous road. Nietzsche did well by reminding us of its danger: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”. Yet it can be done. Seeing Thich Nhat Hanh I knew it was possible to understand and suffer the darkness without being overtaken. I knew because it was transmitted. The diligent practice of mindfulness, as championed in the Buddhist tradition, develops our capacity for compassion. It strengthens our emotional heart and quite possibly our physical heart as well.
Jungian work is very much the development of a unique art of seeing and perceiving. One eye is directed towards the Shadow in its many manifestations in our personal lives and in the injustices and cruelties of society, yet the other eye must learn to hold the vision of our heart’s deepest values and feelings. The more we individuate, the more we will care and feel for the world around us. Individuation takes us into the world, our communities, dissolves imaginary boundaries of race, gender, nationality and creed. Individuation allows us eventually to relate to all sentient beings and to even expand our awareness into the world of so-called inanimate matter.
It may not be the only way, but Thich Nhat Hanh’s way of generating peace and reconciliation provides tools and techniques to develop the compassion necessary for the daunting path of facing the never ending Shadow without getting lost in it. I for one am deeply grateful that I had a chance to experience in person this humble monk yet great Zen teacher whose writings have provided me with much solace over the years. Grateful.
For more information on Thich Nhat Hanh and his work please visit plumvillage.org
It has been awhile. I could think of numerous reasons why I had not been writing. At least one of them pertains to the subject matter stirring in me. How does one communicate what happens in the sanctum of psychotherapy? By definition we therapists are in the background, from the Freudian notion of the therapist as a “blank screen” to modern day issues of confidentiality, therapists have become accustomed to not talking about their experience, of what they “see” while they sit there, hour after hour, in their consultation rooms, which more often than not turn into battlefields of forces and energies larger than any individual. Welcome to my world.
If alchemy is the art of seeing, then Jungian analysts are the alchemists among the practicing scientists of the soul. The best ones of us “see” energy. It is a kind of imaginal seeing, that can take various forms, depending on typology and personality of the practitioner. Even a subtle physical, bodily sensation can be experienced as a psychic image with meaning. From this perspective, an image can be a thought or a sound, a memory, any kind or perceptive experience, which is felt and entered into with the purpose of extracting its essence in that very moment.
Jungian analysts go through a rigorous training for many years to train their bodies and minds to become finely tuned instruments, which can translate vibrational energy into felt psychic images. And thus the weaving of a new story begins….
Each person is its own universe. We are all fundamentally the same while also entirely unique. Unless pathologically stuck, our personal psyche reflects the movements and dynamics of the larger, cosmic, archetypal psyche. The constellations and dynamics of our inner world, which manifest in our moods, thoughts, perceptions and images reflect the movement of this larger autonomous psyche at any particular moment in time. Wake up ~ for we are indeed participants in a cosmic and divine drama.
Jung said “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed”. In the course of a day’s work, I may consult with anywhere between four to eight people. That is four to eight unique psychic constellations. It is as if I were taken to a different universe each time a new patient walks into the room. Initially our main task as therapists is to be open and perceptive to the energies entering the space. We observe the images and their feeling tone as they emerge in us triggered by any new person in the room. I remain truthful to classical analytical tradition when I borrow the analogy of the analyst as the vagina, open, receptive and permeable.
But the scene changes with every hour, with every new patient. The analyst is a hitchhiker on a zigzag ride within the great autonomous psyche.
Whenever a new patient walks into the room, it is as if I am invited to step into an imaginal cab, which takes me to a different spot in the vast landscape of psyche. A spot where the personal and the archetypal psyche meet and which reflects a snapshot of the process towards consciousness of this particular person at that very specific point in time. We may think of Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic field and resonance”, which postulates that there is a mode of transmission of shared informational aka archetypal patterns.What initially begins as an account of a very personal struggle and cause of suffering reveals itself as an aspect of a cosmic drama hidden behind the facade of mundane problems. In this scenario I am invited to observe and participate with the entirety my being in a story that enfolds in the form of images, feelings and bodily sensations. At the end of the day, all we are left with is our own process of making sense of and participating in life. Those of us psychotherapists, Jungian or otherwise, who understand that we are stewards of psyche appreciate the privilege of being allowed into the process of another individual.
Nietzsche noted in “Beyond Good and Evil” that “he who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” I think Jung would have agreed. Both, Freud and Jung, were very much aware of the destructive forces in psyche and nature. There is an innate inertia, an inborn pull which wants to prevent consciousness at all cost. This force is the hero’s enemy and sometime nemesis. This is the battle the hero has to fight. We all have to fight this battle, day in and day out. The road towards consciousness is not only full of twists and detours, it is paved with often seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These are the monsters and knife wielding intruders of our dreams. Many of these images represent psychic contents which can be integrated, battles which the ego can win, but there may also be an archetypal treacherous anti-life force which is beyond integration, at least at this stage of our psychic evolution.
Here we can add another descriptor to what the depth-psychologist is ~ a hitchhiker, a steward, but also a warrior. For battle we do, with and for our patients. Not with advice and not with smart (if we are lucky) interpretations, but by joining our patient in the abyss of their experience, by confronting the monstrous mirror-images in our own psyche and by tending to, the sometimes viciously attacking, energies constellated in the field. Winning a battle here usually means not being sucked into its devouring vortex. Heroically staying two steps ahead of a flood that threatens to drown consciousness.
And then the day ends and my last patient is leaving the office. I emerge out of the shared spaces. It takes some time to develop a sense of my own psychic contours again. I reflect on the day and all the places I was taken to in that familiar yet different universe of the other person. And yes, viewed from the outside, I was just sitting there.
Every year I lament the end of summer. Until about this time of the year, when I can sense a major shift of energy. Darkness is settling in. There are so many shades of darkness. I will single out one for today. It is the shade that belongs to Samhain, one of the great doorways into the dark.Tradition has it that the veil between the upper and the lower worlds is the thinnest on the night of October 31 to November 1st. It is a night of welcoming and honoring the dead. In the old days it was a time of divination and communication with the spirit world. It is the beginning of the new year, because the Celts appreciated that new life begins in utter darkness. Although originating in the pre-Christian Celtic tradition, Samhain belongs to all people who are open to the cycles and movements of nature.
Let us understand the meaning of Samhain from a Jungian psychological perspective. Maybe because our culture has lost the connection to the natural and nurturing aspect of the dark, we are currently so terribly dominated by the devouring and destructive side of it. The darkness of Samhain is of an introspective, reflective nature. Qualities our dominant culture is not supporting. Imagine, letting go of all the noise, the distractions. Imagine, allowing yourself t be alone ~ with yourself, only your breath leading the way.All fears and resistances belong to the ego, which initially refuses to acknowledge the existence of another realm of reality. The natural world knows no such fears. Imagine, walking into the darkness of not yet knowing ~ and listening, and seeing.
The dead come to visit in this night, it is said. They may come with messages or they simply need us to acknowledge their existence. The knowledge, but also the sins and wounds of our ancestors live within us. This is a psychic fact that C.G. Jung very much understood. Psychic life, the life you and I know and experience, emerges out of and continues to be embedded in an archetypal field. Archetypes are ultimately unknowable but very specific patterns of energy which we experience as images and affects. Our relation to the archetypal world connects us to our ancestral history, including our animal and microbial past. Yes, that far back can psyche reach. An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself, Jung writes. If we manage to quiet the chatter within us, then the world of the forgotten past within us will be at its most available tonight, according to the tradition of Samhain.
But we do not have to peer that far. In the shadow that we carry are also all the traumas, wounds and unresolved issues of our recently deceased relatives, parents and grandparents. I have learned (thank you Malidoma Some : ) that the departed souls of our relatives need us as much as we need them. There is a unique power of healing that only our waking consciousness can generate. Some of us are plagued with psychological disturbances, which we have psychically inherited from those close to us who have died. Every unresolved trauma or other unresolved psychic issue is passed on from one generation to the next, until the chain is broken. Breaking the chain means bringing the dark into light, making what has been unconscious conscious. That is the job of the living and only we can do that. That is our purpose in life.
Jung writes in the Red Book (RB) “If you live your own life, you do not live the common life, which is always continuing and never ending, the life of history and inalienable and ever-present burdens and products of the human race”. Before we can become who we are meant to be, before we can live our own life, we must descend into the shadow left by those who have gone before us.
If we surrender to the natural movement of the soul, we can and must bring forth pieces of the personal and collective unconscious that need to come into the light. This is growth. This is healing. This is becoming.
The sheer beauty of Jung’s writing in the RB shines forth in this quote and elucidates this thought. See it, hear it with your senses open to the ever-present symbolic reality: ” As a drop in the ocean you take part in the current, ebb and flow. You swell slowly on the land and slowly sink back again…you wander vast distances in blurred currents and wash up on strange shores, not knowing how you got there. You mount the billows of huge storms and are swept back again into the depths….You had thought that your movement came from you and that it needed your decisions and efforts….but with every conceivable effort you would never have achieved that movement and reached those areas to which the sea and the great wind of the world brought you..
From endless blue plains you sink into black depths; luminous fish draw you, marvelous branches twine around from above. You slip through columns and twisting, wavering, dark-leaved plants, and the sea takes you up again in bright green water to white, sandy coasts, and a wave foams you ashore and swallows you back again, and a wide smooth swell lifts you softly and leads you again to new regions, to twisting plants, to slowly creeping slimy polyps, and to green water and white sand and breaking surf.”
At Samhain the veil may be the thinnest, but the work of connecting to the ancestors, of acknowledging the archetypal realities is not over when this sacred night has passed. But it could be the beginning of a new attitude.
Samhain has turned into Halloween. We have learned to slip into a disguise, so we are not recognized by the wandering “evil” spirits. But maybe we want to remember some of the old ways and honor the dead. As Jungian warriors we may want to sit quietly and reflect on what has died within us, what traumas have we inherited from our personal and collective ancestors. What is it in our lives that needs to be faced and owned? Who are the hungry ghosts in our soul? How can their energy be released and transform in the light of consciousness?
Sit quietly ~ there is work to be done on your journey of becoming and it begins in the darkness of this night.
A Blessed Samhain to All
For all new life forms in the dark.
If you think the human psyche is home to nothing but goodness and beauty, then please step aside. Because if you continue reading, you might get upset. For we shall dive into a reality that is hard to grasp by nature. It is elusive, slippery, and does not want to be seen. It feels counter-intuitive and anti-life. It is indeed both.
There is an innate predator and killer in psyche. A psychic force that cannot be “rehabilitated”. A psychic force that does not transform. The challenge with all archetypal energies is to learn how to relate to them without being overtaken. For the feminine psyche, which always wants to connect and relate, this anti-life force is probably the most difficult one to come to terms with. It is too much for an individual psyche to digest.
This is the realm of Freud’s Thanatos and Jung’s dark side of the Self. These are the closest psychological images for psyche’s experience of something “evil”. Like all creatures, the human creature must also learn that there are predators, out there and within us.
The mythical imagination has always produced images and stories of this psychic reality.The tale of Bluebeard is one of them.Fairy tales are simple and pure expressions of the collective unconscious and offer a clear understanding of universal patterns in the human psyche. The Bluebeard story in short goes as follows ~ Three sisters were courted by a noble man who had an unusual blue beard. Two of them were frightened of this blue beard, but the third one fell for his charm and married him. She may do whatever she wants in his absence, open every door in his huge castle, except one. But curiosity wins out. Encouraged by her sisters, she opens the forbidden door and sees the blood and dismembered corpses of Bluebeard’s previous wives. She understands what is in store for her. Once Bluebeard found out that she has seen the hidden chamber, he comes after her. “Please, allow me to compose myself and prepare for my death” she pleads and was granted a quarter of an hour. She has no intention of going quietly into her slaughter. She posts her sisters on the castle ramparts and shouts “Sisters, sisters, do you see our brothers coming?” And the brothers do show up, just in the nick of time, and kill Bluebeard “leaving for the buzzards his blood and gristle”.
Just like a dream, a fairytale is not to be taken literally. It depicts the dance and the dynamics between the two grand archetypal forces, the masculine and the feminine, as they manifest in the collective as well as in the individual psyche. Both, dreams and fairy tales can be a kind of roadmap to discern an attitude that will allow, in fairy tale terms, for the princess to get her prince, and in Jungian language, for the union of opposites and the sacred marriage of the masculine and the feminine within ones soul.
Bluebeard is well and alive in the outer manifest world. In his densest form, a person, usually but not always, a male, becomes identified with Bluebeard’s energy and is then encountered, in the serial killer (yes, they do exist), the rapist, the human trafficker. Many of his victims won’t live to tell the story.
Even more prevalent is the sadistic, wife-beating husband. But Bluebeard also manifests through the man who is emotionally abusive. There is a violence that can be inflicted on a woman’s (AND the perpetrator’s) soul, which draws blood not from the physical but from the subtle body. This injury can be even more devastating than its physical counterpart. Sadly, it is ignored or played down by society.
The emotionally abusive man is often a pathological narcissist, unwilling/unable to genuinely feel for anyone (including his own feeling self), although he can be sentimental and whiny when it comes to his own needs. Because he is disconnected from a nourishing center in psyche, he always needs to put himself, his ego, into the center of his own lonely universe. His alienation from the source forces the pathological narcissist to more and more drastic measures. He violently seeks to pierce through to a reality that will finally support him. That often leaves a trail of blood and corpses, sometimes symbolically, sometimes unfortunately literally. Horrifying in both instances.
But our naive heroine, who fell for the deadly charmer, survives and Bluebeard is dismembered and dead. But if a fairy tale is a map, what do we learn about the right kind of attitude to escape Bluebeard? A few things stand out for me. Naive the young woman may be, but not submissive and obedient. She wants to know. Only her disobedience allows her to survive. She becomes a warrioress for life and lies to the lier. Like is cured by like. When she opened the door to the torture chamber, she truly sees. She does not escape into fantasies, as so many women in abusive relationships do, “It won’t happen to me, he really loves me, he will change”… and so on. Nor is she plagued by feelings of paralyzing shame for having been so terribly betrayed, (an irrational, but all-to-common response to abuse). When she sees, she knows, there is no more turning back.
Her willingness and strength to face the truth is activating positive masculine energies in her, which manifest in her ability to sever the ties of Bluebeard’s seductive charm. Bluebeard’s power is fading. His dismemberment has begun. Her own inner masculinity is gaining muscle, which the fairytale depicts in the sudden appearance of brothers who put an end to Bluebeard. As an archetypal force he will not disappear, but in the life of this woman Bluebeard has no more hold over her.
Addendum: The synopsis of the fairytale is based on the version printed in “Women who run with the Wolves” by the ever wonderful curandera, master storyteller and Jungian Analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her discussion of Bluebeard is illuminating and the entire book is a must read for any woman negotiating her own path.
For those interested in the psychological and mythological meaning of fairy-tales, I would like to point to the work of Marie-Luise von Franz, one of the most brilliant first generation Jungian Analysts who was a close collaborator with C.G.Jung himself. I particularly recommend “The Interpretation of Fairy Tales” and “Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales”
The French director Catherine Breillart created a film version of “Bluebeard” in 2009, exploring the dark erotic bond characteristic of this particular dynamic, which might be of further interest.
Worlds collapsing on itself, upwards, downwards, forwards, gravity no more. Narratives weave themselves in and out and around the globe. What the hell is going on here? What is reality? Ego wants to know.
I am emerging out of the fluid and often violent scenery of the movie “Inception”. Be warned, if you have not seen the film, not much of what I am saying will make sense. If you have seen the film, you will probably have given up on the need to make sense. If that is the case, congratulation ~ the film has already succeeded. Welcome to the world of process, dreams and to the dream we call life as it presents itself just a few breaths below the threshold of waking consciousness. Memories, dreams, reflections is not only the title of Jung’s so-called autobiography but also the stuff we perceive as reality. Dare we drop the guard, tilt, fall and swim? Will we drown in chaos and random meaninglessness?
Leonardo DiCaprio, in the role of Cobb, a professional invader of the mind and corporate raider is both the heroic action protagonist and the subject of the trajectory of intercepting dream sequences. As in life, outer and inner are seamlessly intertwined. In Jungian terms, the personal and the archetypal overlap, feed each other and it is only our ego that needs to separate these two dimensions of experience.
At the core of the film we are witnessing Cobb’s journey to the roots of his feelings of guilt. He believes he planted (incepted) thoughts into his wife’s mind which led to her demise and suicide. He is aided in his descent by a young woman, Ariadne, recommended by this late wife’s father, who is the architect of the imaginal dream landscape. In Greek mythology, Ariadne helps the hero Theseus escape a deadly labyrinth, only to be betrayed and abandoned by him shortly afterwards. (My previous post, “Ariadne and the Minotaur” might be of interest). In some versions of the myth Ariadne kills herself.
The Ariadne in Cobb’s life (dream) may be another aspect of his inner feminine, just as is Mal, his late wife. Who are the figures that populate our waking dream of life? Where is the intersection of outer reality and our psyche’s projection on her journey home to the center? Psyche expresses herself not only in visual image and affect, but also in sound. Repeatedly we hear Edith Piaf’s voice “Non , je ne regrette rien” ~ “No , I don’t regret anything” as if another aspect of the feminine responded to Cobb’s feelings of guilt. Oh, and of course, whoever saw “La vie en Rose” will remember that Edith Piaf was brought back to life, truly it appeared, by Marion Cotillard, who portrays Mal, Cobb’s wife and source of his guilt. Whose reality are we experiencing? Are you in my dream am I in yours? Layer upon layer ~ circling around a center ~ the mandala of the forever revolving life.
In other versions of Ariadne’s myth, she does not commit suicide, but Hermes interferes and reunites Ariadne with her true husband Dionysus. The great God Hermes, the patron of depth psychology is the bringer of dreams. Like Cobb himself, Hermes is a thief and a messenger from the archetypal realm, a shapeshifter and protector of travelers, the guide of souls into underworld, the protector of boundaries and also the one who blurs them. When inner and inner outer world bleed into each other, it is Hermes who stands at the gate.
In Jungian thought we are not the creators of our thoughts, ideas and dreams. We are the vessels which receive them. But “someone had to create the dream” Cobb remarks. Hermes may bring us the dreams but who created them?
This questions leads to the most interesting image in the film. The image of the spinning top. A small object in Cobb’s possession which, as long as it is there and spins, serves as a reminder that he is in a dream. It is an anchor to not lose ones footing in the forever shifting shapes of perceptions and projections.The gyroscope comes to mind and the Dreidel in Jewish culture. The gyroscope is a device for measuring and maintaining orientation. Its applications include navigation when magnetic compasses do not work, as in the Hubble Telescope.
The Dreidel is a four-sided spinning top. Each side of the Dreidel is covered with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet which together form the acronym for “a great miracle has happened here”. The word Dreidel itself comes from “dreyen” and means to turn. (info & images of gyroscope & Dreidel are from Wikipedia).
If there is a device to navigate cosmic space, do we have an equivalent for inner space? Jung certainly thought so and this inner dynamic is contained in the image of the Mandala. The mandala is NOT a static image. It depicts a turning, spinning and spiraling motion around a centering pole. It is a correspondence of the cosmic Tree of Life. Many cosmologies viewed this image and dynamic as a reflection of the creator matrix we call God. As above so below.This dynamic is at the center of our psychic life. As long as it spins, the great miracle of life holds us together as we forever dream downward and forward on humanity’s journey back home to the center.
Sometimes I feel like Theseus. A Greek warrior hero who, according to the Greek myth, slew Ariadne’s half-brother. Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos on Crete, but her lineage points to Zeus as her grandfather and in effect Ariadne, the Mistress of the Labyrinth may have been a personification of the great Minoan Snake Goddess. Ariadne’s half-brother, the Minotaur, was a fabulous monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull who was shunned and confined in the labyrinth. Who or what is this Minotaur?
The bull in mythology is a companion of the Goddess in matriarchal societies. In Ariadne’s myth the minotaur was conceived by her mother’s mating with Poseidon’s sacred white bull. Historically the myth depicts a time when the power of the Goddess was waning as patriarchal forces began to dominate and shape culture and beliefs. Mythological creatures like the minotaur were outside the conventional bounds of norm and reason, so highly valued by the newly emerging masculine paradigm.
Psychologically the devaluation of the feminine equals the denigration of the irrational and the imaginal, forces that belong, in modern language, to the unconscious. Like the minotaur, neither human, nor animal nor god, the imaginal is locked away, waiting to be killed off by a heroic rational stance, personified in the myth by Theseus.
Sometimes I feel like Theseus. When I disregard what really matters, when I evade what seems ugly, vulnerable, too much to bear within myself and others. We all are Theseus when we get dangerously close to an enormous rage at the center for having been torn out of the matrix of Oneness, when the trauma of life makes us brittle on one hand, yet awfully “heroic” in our determination to slay the dragons & minotaurs that plague us.
Freud thought that all of life was about mourning our losses, culminating with the loss of our closest friend, our body, at the moment of physical death. No doubt there are happy & blissful moments even periods in our lives, but the losses outweigh them for most of us. If we allow the feeling to come up. If we allow ourselves not to slay the ugly minotaur. Just think of the loss of youth, of health, of hopes and dreams, the loss of people you loved, the loss of country and home in times of war and natural catastrophes…the list goes on.
Life is traumatic, even without the most blatant traumatizing events such as rape or torture. That “God is a trauma” is an often quoted notion in Jungian thought. Jung says “To this day “God” is the name by which I designate all things which cross my path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions, and change the course of my life for better or worse”. And let us be clear, when Jung writes about God he describes immediate experiences and never some being in the sky or some entity. “The force of of God is frightful” Jung writes in the Red Book, and this force is within us and we have to come to terms with it.
A deep seated trauma most of us share is abandonment. Being betrayed right from the start. Being born into a world that is not welcoming. Being born with a soul that remembers wholeness, but cannot find it in lived life. A soul that is subjected to terrible suffering if she does not remember her way back to the source of her belonging.
Sometimes I feel like Ariadne. Ariadne fell deeply in love with Theseus. Without her help he could not have slain the minotaur. It was she who provided Theseus with a sword to kill and a thread to find his way back out of the labyrinth.An interesting scenario, the (humanized) goddess is willingly assisting in the killing of her half-brother, an image of an instinctual aspect of herself. We can wonder together, if this self-betrayal is in the service of evolution or a terrible error out of misguided love.
Theseus and Ariadne elope together after the murder of the minotaur. But shortly after Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus who “had no joy of her” as Homer tells us. He left her alone on the island of Naxos and set sail without her. It has been speculated that at the moment Theseus raised his sword to kill, he recognized his shadow self in the minotaur and became aware of the magnitude of his deed.
Ariadne was left behind, betrayed, abandoned, devastated. All the psychological experiences of trauma. She had betrayed herself first and then was betrayed by the one she loved. A classical woman’s story in a patriarchal world. But the tide is turning again in the dance between masculine and feminine. Women must stand firm and remember their soul’s truth and men must soften and listen. For “Man and woman become devils to each other if they do not separate their spiritual ways, for the essence of creation is differentiation”, Jung writes in the Red Book. Only this differentiation will make a genuine union possible.
Granted there are many versions of how the myth of Ariadne continues, but in most versions the god Dionysus came to the rescue. Dionysus, the god of madness and ecstasy, ruler of the irrational, always close to the feminine came to take her as a bride and they joined the gods on Mount Olympus.
What is the myth telling us here? Why is Ariadne rescued by Dionysus? Betrayed she may have, but she stayed true to her love and passion, something Dionysus will always honor. We may suffer and be left alone and feel like fools, but at the end of the day, when we look in the mirror, the question will always be, “How much did we love?” And at the end of our lives, when we look in the cosmic mirror, the question will always be, “How strong was our love? How much courage did we have to live our love?” May we be prepared to answer these questions one day.
What did happen to psychotherapy? The word alone can send unpleasant shivers down the spine of some and evoke images of state regulated symptom control in order to increase “evidenced based” productivity in the workforce and compliance with societal norms. It sounds sickening, but is true. We have created a narrow path of what is considered “good mental health” and in the process marginalized large numbers of people who do not fit the established criteria. Is psychotherapy supposed to be that? It is certainly not what I had in mind when I entered the field. And I would like to believe that the founders of modern psychotherapy from Freud to Jung, would be, maybe not surprised, but still abhorred by what psychotherapy has become nowadays, particular in institutional settings.
Psyche means soul and psychology is the science of the soul, while our word therapy derives from the Greek therapeia, which means healing. The Greek myth of Psyche talks about her suffering, not because she is “ill” but her suffering being an unavoidable “symptom” of her journey towards union with her love Eros and ultimately on her journey towards immortality. By learning to love and by enduring the pain associated with it we transcend our physical limitations.
Looked at from this perspective we are all in need of healing and guidance. It removes the prevalent and stigmatizing divide between the “healthy” and the “ill”. Our current definition of “mental health” causes more harm than help. It terrorizes the soul. The truth is we are all in the same boat. We may have different life stories and we may be at different stages of psychic development, but we all participate in the same divine drama of becoming conscious of who we are, which may be just another way of stating our movement towards immortality.
Therapists of the Jungian persuasion appreciate the soul. We are stewards for psyche. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve the collective and psyche at the same time. When Jung developed his idea of “individuation”, he understood that an individual following his true calling may be taken far from collective values and expectations. To walk one’s own path may at times take one even far from what is considered “good mental health”. If you have not ventured into the darkest recesses of your soul, no treasure shall ever be yours.
But we therapists must not fall into the deadly trap of believing that we facilitate a healing or that we have the capacity to guide a patient’s psyche. That would be a fatal inflation. What we can, in fact, what we must do is twofold. For one, we must provide a safe space, a container for the work to occur and we must develop eyes to see the energetic shifts and battles fought out in this space. We can hope, maybe even pray that the true guide of souls, Hermes, shows up and guides the work.
This necessary safe space is not unlike the alchemical vessel. It is both an actual physical location, as well as an imaginal space. It is the field created between therapist and patient. We can imagine this field as a crucible, an open vessel. This kind of soul work is not counceling. We do not give advice. On the imaginal level it is a relationship between two equals. The sparks and darts (transference) will fly back and forth. It will get heated. The imaginal vessel needs an opening for toxic vapors (emotions) to be released. A therapist will begin to “see” the circulating energy as old contents are broken down, bottomless despair is mutually suffered and only then, with grace, a new content in the form of an unexpected thought, an image, a dream will present itself.
At other times the vessel of soul work needs to be imagined as hermetically sealed. When new life needs to be protected. This could be when the therapist senses, “sees” the shimmer of a newly emerging attitude in the patient. Often before the patient has any awareness of it or is unwilling to imbue it with any energy. Just like a plant needs water and light, a barely present new psychic attitude needs to be watered with feeling and fed with the energy of intent.
All too often have the inner workings of the therapy vessel been forgotten. What has survived are the outer manifestations of confidentiality and the code of ethics to protect the patient. Both are crucial aspects of therapeutic work, but without an eye for the drama lived out in the imaginal space of therapeutic work, soul is abandoned one more time again. So you psychotherapists out there, in whose service are you?
Thanksgiving is a huge holiday in this country. Their favorite one many of my US friends say. It was not a holiday where I grew up and as the meaning of holidays is very much tied to one’s culture and familial traditions, Thanksgiving as I saw it practiced in mainstream America meant very little to me. I love the idea of harvest festivals and of expressing gratitude, but I could not make sense of a national turkey day and an obese nation stuffing themselves silly followed by a shopping spree on Black Friday.
I wonder if those who consciously experience and express gratitude on Thanksgiving are a miniscule group. Maybe not, but probably not as large a group as they could be. How do we understand gratitude psychologically and how does one get there? Melanie Klein introduced gratitude, together with its opposite, envy, into psychological language. There are always two sides to everything. Just as light and shadow do, gratitude and envy go together. Jung had a profound understanding of the duality of nature. He knew that the opposite is always present, but usually hidden in the invisible world he called the unconscious.
Most people who experience gratitude describe a feeling of fullness and richness that is unrelated to any material possessions. They experience a well of goodness that does not run dry. There is enough good to go around for all. They feel as if they were plugged into a source that stills a thirst beyond the physical. Gratitude is an expression in response to an experience of being deeply cared for and held by something larger than oneself. This gratitude goes far beyond a thought of gratefulness that one’s lot is a little lighter to carry than one’s neighbor’s. Gratitude is fearless, it fosters compassion for all living beings and the ability to see life even in the so called inanimate matter.
I do not believe one can fully experience gratitude without being aware of its opposite envy. In Jungian thought gratitude and envy are archetypal forces. They exist outside of our individual lives, but we partake of them. In the case of envy, there is no escaping it. We all are envious to some degree. The problem is that envy lives in the shadows of the unconscious. Whatever is unconscious will be projected out. Our unconscious searches for a suitable object and we just hang our projection on this object like an old hat. Consciousness will trick us then into believing what what we see is “reality”. (Reality becomes more slippery the more we think about it.)
We all know some of these people, may even have been one of them at times, who spew nothing but negativity. Everything needs to be criticized, ridiculed, made small or put down. Envy destroys hopes and dreams. Envy is full of fear. There is never enough of the good. It is anti-life. It poisons the soul.
Envy is even harder to catch when it is directed against oneself. Then it manifests in that, often very rational and “adult” inner voice, that ridicules our desires and will stop us from believing that our dreams are worth pursuing. That you are too young, too old, too fat, lack education, lack money, not healthy enough or it is just plain impossible or unrealistic… I better stop, I made my point, the list could go on forever. Envy constricts and restricts and hardens, it turns the heart into an arid patch.
What to do about envy? Unfortunately there is no miracle cure or pill. But, as with everything else, awareness and acceptance are the first steps. Nothing changes without them. Envy is archetypal. We did not create it. We are only responsible for how we express it. We need to trace our negativity. Who or what is on the receiving end of our sneer? How can we put an image to that inner voice, that judge or saboteur that prevents us from living our life with courage and grit. As we take a stance and stand up to the poison of envy, its opposite, gratitude and trust in goodness, can be released. We don’t own goodness either, but we can take our fill from that cup that never runs empty, regardless of where and who we are in our lives. Gratitude – at last.