Why has it been years since my last entry? As so often with our actions, or lack thereof, motivations are not always easily brought to the forefront, often buried beneath rationalization and explanations.
To some extent I experienced and saw in others the effects of a not insignificant over-stimulation triggered by the daily bombardment of words and images accelerated by the increase of social media. A digital whirlwind blowing us away. What could in proper measure inspire and connect became an instrument of confusion and destabilization. Too many images, too many words, too many opinions, each one claiming a sense of righteousness
Why contribute to the clutter?
We don’t know what to take in any longer in our era of fabricated facts, fake news and deliberate manipulation in the service of some clever marketing scheme.
Our inner landscape often does not provide much help either. Our fragmented selves, each part with their own “voice” pull us in different directions. The outer and at times inner voices as well have become a shrieking and painful cacophony. Where is the center? Where is the orient?
Pieter Bruegel, the Elder ~ The Tower of Babel (1563)
So much noise, so little listening, so little worthwhile to hear. Uncertain times.
Why bother writing?
A few months before the catastrophe of World War I began in 1914 Jung looks “into the depths of what is to come” and describes his vision of “the enormous dying and the sea of blood”…..A darkness seized the world, the terrible war arose…And so we had to taste hell. (Red Book, p.274)
Civil War victims in Syria ~ People and children massacred in Ghouta by chemical attack, 2013 (Wikipedia)
Jung continues: “I saw which vices the virtues of this time changed into, how your mildness became hard, your goodness became brutality, your love became hate, and your understanding became madness. Why did you want to comprehend the darkness! But you had to or else it would have seized you. Happy the man who anticipates this grasp….You are completely alone in this struggle, since your Gods have become deaf.”
The felt appreciation of how much life needs death is one of the cornerstones of Jungian thought. Death, not as an abstract concept but as a deeply felt reality expressed as empathy for the other, in all its manifestations, human, animals and other life forms. Gaia herself. And eventually also, we may open up to our own suffering as irrelevant and small, so our heads want to tell us, it may appear compared to the attacks we inflict and witness on the screens that have become our reality-shaping tools.
I began to wonder if I had answered my question of why not writing for so long. Probably, to some extent. But one answer is never the full picture. Easy to forget, hard to practice. More digging in silence. Sitting with nothing.
Often it is helpful to revisit the “crime scene”. In my case, I reread my last entry from. “A Dangerous Method ~ The Movie~ Part I”. Part II was never written. The “why not” is only speculation. I was not ready. I did not what it was. Who knows. But “it” knew and “it” had to patiently wait until I was ready to hear it. I now know what could not be written then. Part II is the tragic story of Sabina Spielrein.
Sabina Spielrein 1918
I am grateful to my colleague, Jungian analyst Ilona Melker who has done extensive research on Spielrein and who confirmed for me in her unpublished presentation at the Jung Foundation how much Spielrein was not only used as a muse by both Freud and Jung (even that without any acknowledgement, as Melker points out) but how many of her findings were appropriated and contributed to the emerging theories of both Freud and Jung. How closely her ignored paper “Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being” is related to Jung’s understanding of transformation and how much life needs death to renew itself and to Freud’s concept of the death instinct. Acknowledged only in footnotes. Sabina Spielrein, a pioneer and one of the first female psychoanalysts perished together with her two daughters, both of whom were talented musicians. They were shot dead along with the many thousands of Jewish residents by an SS squad in 1942.
Women as footnotes. We tend to oscillate between how much has changed and our denial of what has not. We are entering a new political climate with renewed hostility towards the feminine and psyche, and therefore also on women as the main carriers of projections of the feminine. All are under renewed attack by a now seemingly institutionalized form of greed and indecency by a changed and potentially dangerous political atmosphere, where climate change denial, ruthless exploitation of the planet’s resources, attacks on women and anyone who fits the definition of “the Other” are fighting to become the new normal. From demanding obedience to the law without pondering questions of ethics and morals.
Patriarchy is a dying. But not dead yet. It may take a few more generations. We are in the midst of a political backlash to prior attempts towards a more integrated culture. Authoritarian structures wrestle for the upper hand. If we can, we need to be vigilant. If we can, we need to show up with a voice. But if the voice is not there yet, if we cannot yet hear what needs to be said, then we need to sit patiently until we can hear what needs to be said.
And then, if one can tolerate the passing of time without judgment and surrender to the timeless nature of psyche, deo concedente, a word, a thought appears that wants to become flesh.
The Annunciation by El Greco
Please go and see this movie > adangerousmethod ~ It is a good one. I know I will see this film more than once. There is such a richness to it. It takes us back to when it all began. It takes us back to the old world of Victorian Vienna and Zurich, a period of suffocating moral constraints, yet also a period that brought forth new manifestations of a changing consciousness. It takes us back to a time before Jung was Jung, when Freud was the enfant terrible of Viennese’ medical world and that mysterious, and yes, most dangerous method of what eventually became the talking cure of Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s analytical psychology were still a bloody mess. David Cronenberg, the movie’s director, provides us with a glimpse into the labor pangs of one of the most important cultural events of the 20th century, the birth of the therapeutic, analytic relationship, albeit an endangered species today.
Freud, Spielrein and Jung, portrayed by Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender
The film introduces us to these three players of this birthing process. While Freud and Jung are household names in psychological circles, very few are aware of how Sabina Spielrein contributed to the formulation of psychoanalytic theory. After all, she was not only a woman, but also a sick and troubled patient. It is much less known that she eventually became one of the first female psychoanalysts and that as muse for both men, she not only inspired significant ideas in their theories, but may have in fact verbalized important concepts for the first time, without ever being credited for any of them.
I attended a screening of this film. David Cronenberg was present for a Q & A. In one of his comments he remarked on how he was primarily interested in showing that new relational territory Jung had entered with his patient/most likely lover Sabina Spielrein. Cronenberg was not interested in elevating or demonizing any of the players of that curious love triangle. It seemed he rather payed homage to Jung’s and Spielrein’s courage as they stumbled and fell into their desires and fears lurking out of the recesses of their psyches.
They did not yet know what they were getting into as Jung put Freud’s theory into practice. Boundaries were not yet clearly delineated of what was to become the sacred, precocious and highly dangerous space of the analyst/patient relationship. May we withhold all judgment for now, as Cronenberg did so beautifully in his film, and simply honor the courage and tricksterish folly as Jung and Spielrein ventured deeper into new territory of their inner landscape.
A unique relationship develops as patients dare to find words for the images sent forth from their psyches’ secret chambers. The analyst must follow and relate without judgment. The process of following and relating in earnest will take the analyst to unknown, possibly frightening and dangerous places within himself. This is the nature of the work. It is its excitement and its danger.
This openness towards another is erotic in its truest sense. Yet we must remember that Eros is a god, an archetypal force, that can and often does wreak havoc with our minds and personas, especially if they are built on the shaky grounds of collective values.
The psychoanalytic relationship has become much more refined but has also lost much zest and verve since its early inception. We do know now that sexual contact with patients causes tremendous, sometimes irreparable harm to their psyches and is to be resisted at all cost, even if desired and initiated by the patient. (I believe this to be true not only for psychoanalysts, therapists, but for most teachers, mentors, practitioners and “gurus” of all creeds). Yet while the concrete enactment must be denied, the often heart and gut wrenching power of eros, which may or may not manifest in a sexual way, needs to be consciously held, sometimes even suffered in any analysis worth its salt. But without love there is not much chance for transformation. Yet the shadow of authentic eros is power driven predation and the field of psychotherapy has seen its fair share of it, and still does in many ways.
There is much to learn from the courage and mistakes of our analytic ancestors. It takes courage to see and be seen and to relate and accept what is within ourselves and the other. Mistakes will happen in all our relational lives, inside and outside the consultation room. It takes even more courage to acknowledge them as such.
Salute to the bravery of all the seekers, patients and analysts, analysts and patients as they subject themselves to mutual scrutiny.
The film is based on John Kerr‘s scholarly and carefully researched book with (almost) the same title ~ A Most Dangerous Method ~ an excellent book, I highly recommend it.
For those who wish to dive deeper into the history of psychoanalysis I suggest, The Discovery of the Unconscious by Henri Ellenberger.
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.
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.
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?
Lately I have thought a lot about darkness. It seems timely as November feels like the darkest time of the year. It might be. But while darkness begins to wrap around us at an early hour, I see the familiar emphasis on light wherever I look. We all want to be in the light at all times and if we are not, move towards it as fast as possible. Darkness is the unwanted stepsister.
We experience darkness psychologically as depression, as the “hour of lead”, as the poet Emily Dickinson once wrote. A fitting image reflective of the heaviness, the stuckness and the dull, all consuming despair of depression. Why would anyone of sound mind find any value in the darker moods ?! Mainstream psychology seems to agree and focuses primarily on the eradication of symptoms via the help of pills, pills and more pills. Make no mistake, there is a place for medication in the treatment of depression, but I abhor the unquestioning carelessness with which our culture medicates its citizens, particularly its most vulnerable members, the poor and poorly educated.
But even the well-off are seduced by our culture’s one-sided infatuation with the lighter, more pleasant moods. It is so much easier to escape into substances or addictive behaviors. No joke, it is. Nonetheless, I argue that practioners of the healing arts need to rediscover the value of depression and the darker shades of being, because they are as much part of nature, our nature, as the darkness of November is in the cycle of a year.
I recently read that “you can’t discover light by analyzing the darkness”. This was written by an internationally best selling author and spiritual teacher. A very successful person and presumedly helpful to millions, but in this instance he simply did not get it right. But I can see why the message of tolerating difficult feelings and searching for meaning in the muck of one’s psyche is a much harder sell.
But is there a spark in the darkness? On a cosmic level, science has shown, literally, with the help of an x-ray observatory that a glow with the intensity of ten billion suns pours out of a black hole into the surrounding universe. For a long time scientists believed that no light beam could ever escape a black hole. They were wrong.
Is there meaning to be found in depression? More often than not there is. It might be helpful to differentiate the nature of the darker mood. Is the depression related to a loss that needs to be mourned? It could be the loss of a person or an abstract idea, such as the loss of youth or health, hopes, or the loss of the illusion that life is meant to be an uninterrupted state of happiness. Freud got it right when he said that our whole life is a process of mourning. Think about it, when you allow yourself to feel deeply into your being, are we not always mourning something or someone, even if we are simultaneously quite content and “happy” with our lives?
But there can be black holes in our psyche that can not be explained by insufficient mourning. When Saturn clutches the soul causing wounding and despair too much to bear. How tempting it is to abandon the soul to her suffering and find refuge in medication that quiets her screams. Jung descended into his own darkness/madness and brought forth the insights and techniques that today constitute the School of Analytical Psychology. We Jungians value the darkness. We know that only by bearing witness to suffering and by extracting meaning from it can a new morning dawn. Spring will follow winter, but in the middle of November there is no memory of that.
For those who are interested in a unique Jungian perspective on darkness and its psychological implications I have a wonderful book to recommend. “The Black Sun, the Alchemy and Art of Darkness” by Jungian analyst Stanton Marlan. It was in this book that I found the information on the discovery of light in the black holes. The book, like its subject matter, is illuminating the dark.
And with Emily Dickinson, wherever she is now, I would like to share that the old alchemists knew that the lead of Saturn holds a hidden promise. When made into a fine powder, it ignites all by itself. There is indeed a spark in the darkness of our depression.