Heidekolb's Blog

Bluebeard ~ A Killer to reckon with: How to Survive the Soul’s Predator

September 18, 2010
11 Comments

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.


“Downwards is the only way Forwards” ~ INCEPTION ~ A Jungian Perspective

July 31, 2010
1 Comment

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.


Honor thy Devil and Trust thy Body ~ C.G.Jung~The Red Book Reflections

June 27, 2010
1 Comment

Trust is a big word. It is also a tremendous psychic force. It is an instinctual capacity of the newly born. The baby trusts her environment, she trusts the hands of her caretakers as she begins her life’s journey in the world of manifestations and matter.

It is pretty much down hill from there on. Some of the disappointments and betrayal are archetypal and in the service of evolution. The soul has fallen out of the cosmic womb and she needs to begin her journey home to the realm of non-duality and the One consciousness there is.

However all too often the cruel awakening into lived life creates a psychic trauma almost beyond repair. Clinicians working with childhood abuse or neglect know the dynamics. The child cannot help herself but love her caretakers. The horror that she may be experiencing must be split off and pushed far, far away into the deepest recesses of the unconscious. But the body remembers.

The betrayal of trust goes beyond the nuclear family. In our culture, the Judeo-Christian Western culture, our instinctual desire to trust is reinforced when we are taught right from the beginning to believe in authorities. Church authorities, government authorities, educational authorities, any self-styled person or group who claims to be an authority. Anyone is in the know, especially if there is a little media back-up. Women in particular suffered, as the masculine, embodied by the male, was imbued with authority. Too many men gladly accepted the projection. The taste of power is seductive,who can resist? And it turned many into domineering and deceiving despots who could not relate to the feminine in the outer world, nor to the realm of feeling and relatedness in the inner world.

Look out into the world and who is holding the power. The world is run and owned, literally, by psychopaths. We find the psychopath on the far end of the narcissistic continuum. Nothing and no one exists outside himself. An innate or cultivated inability to feel for and into others. A mind-boggling capacity to perpetuate and live with lies, although they may be subjectively believed to be self-righteous truths. The psychopath is the center of his own universe and everything in it is there to serve him.

The dilemma for us is that if we maintain the notion of an interconnected world and the idea that a unified field ties the universe and the world together, as Jung did, than what is represented by that terrible otherness of the psychopath that we feel we are no part of?

Jung, contemplating the dominant Christian worldview,  writes in CW 6, quoted in the Red Book (RB), “The form in which Christ presented the content of his unconscious to the world became accepted and valid for all. Therefore all individual fantasies became otiose and worthless, and were persecuted as heretical, as the fate of the Gnostic movement and of all later heresies testifies.

I do not wish to delve too deeply into Christian thought, but what Jung is saying here is that Christ was a human being who accessed and expressed the Divine through his unconscious and thereby led the way for us to follow suit. Not by turning him into the “authority”, the later church fathers wanted us to believe, but by showing the way. It is we who must walk the bittersweet road of life and find an authority within us that is truly deserving of our trust.

Jung never wanted to be the authority so many turned him into in his later years. But he showed us a way. And the way leads into the invisible world of the unconscious. Jung tells us of his meeting with the Red One, an imaginal figure in one of his fantasies. Imaginal but equally real as the ego world, he is to be met with respect and openness. Inner figures have a way of responding the way they are being met. Jung writes in the RB : “I know just as little who you are, as you know who I am”…..Surely this Red One was the devil, but my devil…I earnestly confronted my devil and behaved with him as with a real person. This I have learned in the Mysterium to take seriously every unknown wanderer who personally inhabits the inner world, since they are real because they are effectual.”

Disregarding, ignoring or pathologizing inner figures prevents the development of an authentic center of authority within us. Our inner knowing gets pushed further into the dark forest of the unconscious. It moves outside the grasp of psyche, but may settle deep within the cells & structures of our body and if we are lucky, yes, if we are lucky, the body develops symptoms. Every symptom has a story to tell and its meaning needs to be understood. We may have our moods, our little episodes of madness, a particular sensitive day with erratic behaviors. For centuries, women in particular have been pathologized as “hysterical”, nowadays as “borderline” or just as “hypersensitive” or “fragile”.

Your body can be your closest friend. It is always truthful even in its sickness and its symptomology. It responds when the soul has been betrayed, its trust abused. An outer authority or trusted partner may not be what they appear to be, maybe even pretend to be. A child does not yet have the strength to contain the abysmal betrayal. Her body must hold the bitter secret until her psyche strengthens. As women we can. Because there is a warrioress in each one of us. We must and can claim our inner authority. Civilizations may not prevail, partnerships may not last, but psychic truth will. Let us walk the road, together with all the men who are willing to join us.


Ariadne and the Minotaur ~ Love,Trauma & Abandonment ~ A Jungian Perspective

April 11, 2010
7 Comments

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.

Hail Ariadne!




On Gratitude and Thanksgiving – A Jungian Perspective

November 24, 2009
Leave a Comment

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.

Happy Thanksgiving.


On Soul, Solitude and Saturn -The Red Book Reflections, C.G.Jung

November 19, 2009
2 Comments

Saturn devouring his son, P. P. Rubens

This entry is difficult to write. I have dragged my feet. I am struggling with how to make the subject more palatable. How does one write about Jung’s night sea journey in search of the soul in an appealing way? It just wasn’t a pretty and sweet story. But maybe that is the wrong approach. Maybe some things just need to be said as they are. Jung’s School of Analytical Psychology grew out of an intense personal and maddening process that brought Jung to the brink of his sanity. No pain, no gain? Is it that simple? I think that some things come to us as grace, serendipity, as gifts from the gods, if you will. But, unfortunately for the most part, the creative process is a painful, arduous and confusing path,whether creativity is expressed in writing a novel or in carving out a life for oneself that is truthful to one’s soul calling. The deeper one digs, the greater the treasure, if one can withstand the pressure of the deep.

In Liber Primus of the Red Book Jung writes “My soul leads me into the desert, into the desert of my own self. I did not think that my soul is a desert, a barren hot desert, dusty and without drink”. Who does!? That is not what we imagine when we think of soul.  Jung’s search for an authentic experience of his soul lead him into solitude,  away from “men and events” and he continues to say that he even had to detach himself from his thoughts so he could open up to his soul’s life. This strikes me as significant because thinking was Jung’s primary function. This was how he perceived the world and made sense of it. I think what Jung describes here is the necessity to let go of  attachments, distractions and identifications.

Imagine of how you make sense of the world. It could be through rational thinking or it could be through emotional feeling values, or more through scientific data and facts,or it could be through a sense of intuitive knowing. And then imagine that you deliberately let go of this mode of perception, which has become so much part of your identity. Jung seems to suggest that it is from this state of emptiness (or discomfort or confusion more likely) that one makes contact with the otherness of the soul/psyche.

“The soul has its own peculiar world”, Jung writes. Jung expresses his confusion and disappointment, I assume, that having given up most of ego’s distractions, the soul is experienced as an arid, barren land. No comfort, no inspiration, nothing to hold on to. What Jung describes is not the soft, nurturing quality so often associated with soul.

The image of Saturn devouring his son expresses what Jung initially found on his soul searching journey. Astrology  understands Saturn as a stern task master who teaches about limitations, restrictions and duty. Duty to what or whom one may wonder? I suggest that the often maligned Saturn teaches us to be in the service of the soul. The image of devouring his son reflects the idea of being robbed of what is the dearest to one’s heart. The barren land of despair, hopelessness, confusion,when no future seems possible. “But my soul spoke to me and said””Wait””, and Jung continues,”Nobody can spare themselves the waiting and most will be unable to bear this torment”.

To patiently wait and tolerate one’s feelings is not a popular notion in mainstream psychology. Yet it is a hallmark of Jungian  work.  It is devastating and disorientating to be robbed of the idea of a predictable future and to be robbed of a solid sense of self that can make sense of the world. But these feelings may be unavoidable when venturing into the unknown.  The conscious experience of soul life was the unknown, new territory for Jung. For those of us who wish to live a soulful life we may wonder, what is our desert? Where is our barrenness? Where is that place within us that is so restricted that no life or light can ripple through. Jung suggests that our journey towards wholeness must go through this inner desert.  When we are stripped to the bare bones , then we may meet the soul in the form of the other yet also part of who we are and a dialogue may begin. In  a Jungian sense, only then are we truly alive.


Depression-What to make of the darker moods-A Jungian Perspective

November 12, 2009
Leave a Comment

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.


Consider your heart both good and evil. C.G. Jung – The Red Book Reflections

November 9, 2009
1 Comment

As reported in the New York Times Magazine, the Jungian analyst Stephen Martin, a nonobservant Jew, once responded to his daughter’s question about his religion with “Oh, honey, I ‘m a Jungian”.  No, Jungian psychology is not a religion and the Jungian world is not a sect, at least not if it’s definition involves a specific dogma under a doctrinal leader. Jung’s comment of “thank God I am not a Jungian” is often quoted in this context. And yet, let me be the devil’s advocate for a moment, Jungian psychology always views the dynamics of human behavior from a perspective that is larger than the ego. In Jungian thought, all phenomena are understood in relation to the archetype of the Self, which some translate as the equivalent to God, although that  is not quite correct. This distinction was very important to Jung. Whatever the outer reality may be, all we have is a psychic image, including a psychic image of God. Whether the image is Christ, Yahweh, Allah, shamanic spirits, Buddha, the Great Goddess, or the “image” of an atheist belief, depends on one’s culture and personal inclination. From a Jungian perspective all these images are rooted in the archetype of the Self, which can be imagined as a vital psychic core that bridges humanity with a larger, transpersonal reality.

Psychology is the science of the soul. It does not set out to prove or disprove that metaphysical entities exist. In Jung’s self-experiment, he recognized that his entire life was the expression of his soul. “I am as I am in this visible world a symbol of my soul” he writes in the Red Book,(RB)p.234. In this search for his inner truth he discovered that even, or especially, the people we love the most are ultimately symbols of that search for soul. I do not think that Jung wanted to diminish the reality or intensity of human love, but rather add another dimension to it. One, I’d like to think, true lovers always sensed. The search for soul does not lift you into ethereal heights. It leads right into fleshed out life. To know your soul,  you have to live your life to the fullest. Consider the following quote from Jung: “ To know the human soul one has to hang up exact science and put away the scholar’s gown, say farewell to his study and wander with human heart through the world, through the horror of prisons, mad houses and hospitals, through drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling dens, through the salons of elegant society, the stock exchanges, the socialist meetings, the churches, the revivals and ecstacies of the sects, to experience love, hate and passion in every form in one’s body” (CW 7, para 409).

Go out and live your life, Jung seems to say.  Do not deny your darker impulses. They are part of your soul’s life. I do not believe Jung meant that we literally all have to end up in prisons and “madhouses”, although it may happen, but that we need to find the compassion, the “Mitgefuehl”, which means “feeling with the other”, of what it is like to be there. To connect to another in compassion is an expression of soul, which weaves a net between us all. Soul partakes of all experiences humanly possible.

In other instances, internalized collective judgments and values may prevent us form pursuing our heart’s desire. What part of myself do I not dare to live? Do I need all the prisoners in society so I can feel morally superior? “Consider that your heart is both good and evil, Jung wrote in the RB, p.234. It takes courage to acknowledge evil in the first place, it takes even more to see it within oneself.


Now we have Jung’s Red Book. So what? Reflections on the tasks ahead

November 1, 2009
1 Comment

There is indeed a buzz about Jung’s Red Book (RB). At least within the comparatively tiny group of people who either know of Jung’s significance in the field of depth psychology or those who, in one way or the other, appreciate the value of soul and psyche. So far the book’s images elicit the greatest interest. No doubt, they are magnificent and incredibly meaningful in the context of Jung’s journey through his psychic depths. But be warned, I say, don’t be simply seduced by their esoteric beauty. Don’t become reduced to a mere audience that applauds a master.

I wonder what the purpose of the publication of the RB at this time might be? One valid answer is a purely academic one and Shamdasani, who edited and introduced the RB,  notes the importance of putting Jung’s process in a historical context. But that still begs the question of how Jung, or at least the Jung that I have internalized, would have liked to see the RB put to good use? We already know that he rigorously refused to be cast in the role of a teacher or guru. He clearly did not want his way, which we can trace step by step in the RB, to be seen as the way. Nothing is further away from Jungian thought than a dogmatic one size fits all program of how to understand psyche.

The RB follows Jung’s trail of how the School of Analytical Psychology came into being through the process of Jung’s “most difficult experiment”. Maybe this is what ails main stream psychology and other forms of the healing arts today, a stifling willingness to follow a well trodden path, even if the path was forked out by someone like Jung, without delving deeply into the chaos and mystery of one’s own psychology. Maybe this is one reason why the RB is needed. Jung records the development of  tools and techniques, which later became known as active imagination. Armed with these tools we can walk our own path. Jungian work is all about experience followed by integration. Our own experience. The value we give to the imagination, the sense we make from our dreams, the relationships and dialogues we build with our dream figures. Jung demonstrates over and over again that only through the imagination do we gain access to the mysteries of our inner lives. What has been experienced needs to be integrated. The alchemists knew this phase of the process as the reddening. When experience needed to be infused with the red of one’s own life blood, which means bringing what you have gained in your imaginative exercises into your life. That is integration. Then you live your truth. So don’t be an admiring audience, Jung would not have any of  it, be a participant in the great work of the alchemical tradition that Jung envisioned. The world needs it and that may be why the RB has been made available to us at this time.


On the value of time and what it takes to be a Jungian

October 26, 2009
3 Comments

The alchemists, and I consider Jung to be one of them, were guided by the belief that in order to fully comprehend a text one needs to follow the Latin dictum of “lege, lege, lege, et relege”. The English translation means,”read, read, read and then read again”. A work of the magnitude of the Red Book most likely needs to be read four times. I have just begun my first reading, it will take time.

Time is such an interesting concept. From psyche’s point of view there is no such thing as time. Psyche lives in the experience of the eternal moment that includes past and future. The conscious personality, the ego, has difficulties wrapping its head around such an idea. And for good reason, linear ego time is all too real in lived life. Whether we like it or not, we grow older, “time” moves on and one day we will “run out of time”. I often struggle to “make time” for what really feels important. Jung worked diligently and with unwavering focus from about 1913 to 1930 on what was to become the Red Book (RB). That is a long time. He painstakingly devoted seventeen years of his life to a self experiment that became known as his confrontation with the unconscious and ultimately resulted in the RB. He gained all material for his later works, now published as the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, from this confrontation. It was a humbling reminder of the energy, devotion and, yes, time it takes to establish a fruitful relationship to the unconscious. I was reminded of how often I had a dream that felt meaningful. I may have written it down, engaged the images for some time and then moved on. Jung was always very clear on the fact that there is a proportional relationship between the effort, (which I define as the investment of energy, intent and time) one puts towards the unconscious and the fruits this labor can bring forth.

I don’t think I ever felt as clearly as I do now what it is that defines a Jungian.  It is not that one has the credentials of being a Jungian analyst, it is not years of Jungian analysis, nor is it the reading of Jung’s writings up and down and four times back and forth. None of that may hurt, but the defining quality will always be the courage and strength to confront the unconscious, this invisible world as it manifests within each one of us. The persistence to bring forth meaning and to follow the path that will form out of it. A truthful Jungian will find the courage to walk his own path, with the highest degree of consciousness possible. Much easier said than done, I know. But this attitude is a Jungian’s North Star, a point of  orientation and navigation. I quote Jung from the RB, p. 231 ” Believe me, it is no teaching and instruction I give you. On what basis should I presume to teach you? I give you news of the way of this man, but not of your own way. My path is not your path, therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life”.

The Red Book by C.G. Jung

Edited and Introduced by Sonu Shamdasani

Philemon Series, 2009


    Categories