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.
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?
The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC is currently offering a fascinating event series, the Red Book Dialogues. Today’s program was a dialogue between Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and my colleague, Jungian analyst Doug Tompkins. It was an inspiring evening in a serene, beautiful setting. Both Jack and Doug were logged on to Twitter and so was the audience who could send questions and comments via their mobile devices, which were then projected onto a big screen. Twitter and Jung? Do they have anything in common? Doug rightly commented that most Jungians were somewhat technologically challenged. But Twitter is not about technology. It is all about communication. Fast communication, with a lot of people and entities. Doug introduced the very fitting archetypal image behind Twitter. It is the winged god Hermes, the messenger from the underworld, who rules all aspects of communication and commerce. He is flighty and fast, I can almost glimpse him in the 140 character tweets that swoosh past me on the screen. He is often depicted as a youth with winged sandals and it was not lost on the audience that he lives right there in Twitter’s logo of the little bird. The moderator remarked that the German word for Twitter is “zwitschern” but that he could not find that word anywhere in the Red Book. That may be so, but let’s not forget that the Red Book was left unfinished because Jung became fascinated with alchemy, which he translated into the dynamics of psyche. Alchemists communicated in an oblique writing style that became known as, guess what, the “language of the birds”.
But Hermes is also a trickster and thief who can cross our path just when we think we have it all figured out and under control. I bet he was to blame when my iphone just all of a sudden refused to function and would not connect until after the event! Go figure! It is said of Hermes that he lives in the in-between places and that he bridges boundaries. Hermes also trespasses. He will not be confined in neatly ordered places. Maybe Hermes’ inspiration could help to bridge the seemingly different worlds of Twitter and Jung’s Red Book.
People send their “What are you doing” tweets into cyberspace in the hope to find or connect with others. In the process an interconnected web is being woven that brings the immediate experience of its participants to the forefront. As just one example I am thinking of the transparency the tweeting community brought to the recent elections in Iran. An anonymous mass of people were suddenly individual voices, which were heard. Now to Jung’s self-experiment as documented in the Red Book. I wonder if the cyberspace of the tweeting community is not the equivalent to Jung’s collective unconscious out of which he wrestled images and meaning and thereby created a structure and road map that allowed him to negotiate a world much larger than himself.
By far the most interesting question came from an audience member who inquired about Twitter’s shadow. The question kept lingering in the room. Nobody had a clear answer. I don’t have an answer. Twitter is such a new tool, it might be too soon to tell. The shadow by definition does not want to be seen. But from a Jungian perspective, we also understand that everything has a shadow. As a start, I suggest that we might want to look at what we project onto Twitter. If I see it as a means to connect with great speed to others and allow others to make contact with me, “follow” me, with little discrimination of who they are, then I am at risk of being flooded, overwhelmed and losing my bearings. Could one shadow aspect of Twitter be the disintegration of boundaries and the loss of a container for private, sacred space? When Jung traveled into the depths of the unconscious he was aware of the dangers. He sensed the treasures the invisible world held, but he knew that if one got lost in it the price was disintegration and psychosis. In lieu of clear answers I may have to live with the questions a little longer. Hermes is a trickster god, but he is also the only guide we have when we enter new territory.