Archive for Culture & Society

Gun Violence in America: Jungian and Depth Psychology Perspectives


Gun Violence - a Jungian and Depth Psychology PerspectiveIn light of recent events at Isla Vista/UCSB as well as the hundreds of other gun violence incidents across the country and the world, I wanted to share/re-share some depth psychological resources and discussion around the topic. But first, some statistics courtesy of NBC News

  • Every year in the U.S., an average of more than 100,000 people are shot, according to The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.
  • Every day in the U.S., an average of 289 people are shot. Eighty-six of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, two die accidentally, and one is shot in a police intervention, the Brady Campaign reports.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns — more than the population of St. Louis, Mo. (318,069), Pittsburgh (307,484), Cincinnati, Ohio (296,223), Newark, N.J. (277,540), and Orlando, Fla. (243,195) (sources:  CDFU.S. CensusCDC)
  • One person is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes, 87 people are killed during an average day, and 609 are killed every week. (source: CDC)

Meanwhile, as many psychologists and commentators alike are saying, the problem goes well beyond gun laws. Our cultural container and systems for treating mental health are simply not adequate to treat people with the deep-seated issues that often precede such violent acts. As you’ll note in many of the following resources, the general agreement is that focus needs to be on the underlying depth psychological issues that apply to the profile of mass shooters, who are often young men.

First, depth psychologist Craig Chalquist’s latest post “No Man Is an Island: Recognizing Gun Violence as a Cultural Symptom,” is an insightful depth psychological take on the problem, even employing a terrapsychological view based on the psychology of place where the shooting occurred.

 

Many Depth Psychology Alliance members joined Jungian analyst, Dr. Michael Conforti, and me for a two-part teleseminar“Beyond Horror and Hope: The Archetypal Intersection of Innocence and Evilwhich were exploratory conversations in response to the Sandy Hook Connecticut school shooting. We offered these in 2012 after the shooting in NewTown, CT, but I think they are still so relevant today if you want to listen to the archived recordings.

 

In January 2013, I interviewed depth psychology professor, Dr. Glen Slater, for Depth Insights radio podcast, The Roots of Mass Shootings: A Depth Psychological Look at Gun Violence, a conversation that touched on his 2009 article in Spring Journal, “The Mythology of Bullets.”  You can find a link to the full article, courtesy of Spring Journal, on that podcast page.

Finally, I mentioned some of my thoughts at that time in a short blog post on here on DepthPsychologyList.com“The Shadow of Society and its Role in Mass Shootings.”

Please feel free to comment on any of these resources here, or share some you have come cross that you have found insightful or worthwhile.

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How Many Climate Scientists Does It Take?–Media, Perception, and Soul Loss

American psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton identifies our very human tendency to ignore difficult realities and overwrite them with thoughts and beliefs that are more palatable as “psychic numbing.” This allows our ego to distract itself enough that it doesn’t have to engage with inner and outer voices and images and movements that go beyond the mainstream consciousness (in Shulman-Lorenz & Watkins, Toward Psychologies of Liberation).

When we witness instances of ecocide (ecological suicide) in the world around us, take note of how wasteful and damaging our consumer-oriented culture has become, or are faced with dire news about how climate change is devastating our planet and threatening life as we know it, we are affected in both body and psyche.

Aspects of the psyche which we require to be healthy and whole get displaced at seeing the destruction; they split off and take cover in a sense, because it’s easier than admitting and knowing we each have some part it in it. This creates a condition of what some indigenous cultures regard as “soul loss,” a sort of psycho-spiritual deficit, which leaves us individually (and collectively) in a state of depression, malaise, and a general loss of vitality. In fact, in Modern Man in Search of Soul, Jung (1933) diagnosed our entire culture as suffering from loss of soul.

In his essay, “The Viable Human,” (in Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century, Shambhala), theologist Thomas Berry wrote, “Our present dilemma is the consequence of a disturbed psychic situation, a mental imbalance, an emotional insensitivity.” Ecocide and our contribution to climate change make it nearly impossible to feel “at home” on our planet in today’s world. Many of us are consciously or unconsciously experiencing anxiety at the destruction we’re inflicting on the earth.

 

Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of ChaosIn his excellent and comprehensive book, Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos: Complexity Theory, Deleuze|Guattari and Psychoanalysis for a Climate in Crisis offers an interesting look at some humorous ways comedians and others engage us in the environmental debate, in the end, he notes many of us turn to denial because the possible outcomes are so grim and so vastly unknown that we just can’t wrap our brains (or our emotions) around the issues.

Dodds writes, “It seems that we have evolved to deal optimally with threats which are immediate, clear, visible, with simple causation, caused by a clearly identifiable ‘enemy’, and with obvious direct personal consequences,”(p. 46) subsequently pointing out that climate change is highly uncertain, not readily visible, and rather abstract in relation to the “here and now.” This translates to the mass denial, apathy, and dissociation we are currently witnessing overall. Dodds calls it the “ultimate bystander effect.”

Globalization, and especially the pervasiveness of media and the manner in which information is conveyed, amplifies the symptoms, affecting us even more deeply, both somatically and psychologically. The speed at which we exchange and take in information is also a significant problem for the psyche, allowing little or no time for reflection and contemplation of what we hear, see, or read.

Much of my current research on the topic of ecocide, environmental degradation, climate change, and their effects on the human psyche consist of newspaper and magazine articles providing the latest information and statistics on the symptoms of a pattern I am referring to as “Culture Collapse Disorder.”  

Due to the speed and fragmentation of mass media, I struggle to articulate and convey information in a way that is considerate of the deep wounds to soul at work in this amazing and frightening phenomena of witnessing the collapse of life as we know it.

media overwhelmNews today in general is difficult to sift through, and does a poor job of conveying what is important. So-called “news” is often delivered at such speed, and with so little time between stories as newscasters, newspapers, or websites skip from one to the next, that we as a public have no time to reflect on any given story.

Too, stories are placed in conjunction with one another with no context of what is deeply important. Recently, I watched PBS Newshour spend nearly ten minutes talking about what it means that many western cultures default to assigning “pink” to girls and “blue” to boys, arguing that it limits girls in their capacity to grow up and become leadersundefinedonly to see that in the next segment, which lasted less than a minute, they “touched on” the topic of the 200 school girls in Nigeria that had been kidnapped to be sold into marriage by terrorists. While I don’t contend that the “pink and blue” debate relating to gender issues is important–it certainly beats the Kardashians reality show which was just a few channels over–the way each topic is portrayed in conjunction with the next, distorting the significance of each, confuses the human mind regarding status and urgency of each situation. 

I recall noting during the early days of the 2011 tsunami disaster in Japan, headlines on the Yahoo home page read “Japan Faces Nuclear Crisis,” positioned right next to a section entitled “Trending Right Now” which included information on “The Bachelorette,” “Lady Gaga,” and “Oil Prices.” Stories on Yahoo about Charlie Sheen acting out uncontrollably received more overall hits than the Japan disaster did during that time, and we can witness this kind of cognitive dissidence online in a myriad of ways virtually every single day.

Back in Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos, Dodds succinctly and convincingly portrays how media serves to skew our comprehension of the real imperative but also reflects our ambivalence, citing examples of how articles for climate change appearing in newspapers are placed side by side with ads for holiday airfares or for SUVs.

Today’s incredibly fast pace of information dissemination via Internet and social media allows us to access important news and data about ecological destruction and climate change, but when treating all topics with equal intensity (everything seems to be “breaking news” on CNN these days), we quickly lose sight of the context that makes meaning.

A recent comic sketch on the HBO news-satire program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver illustrates this concept visually and forcefully. Oliver explains that, while 97% of climate scientists concur that climate change is a reality and that humans have a part in it, we normally only see television debates in which both sides of the argument are represented equally–as if the debate were fifty-fifty, for and against.

In the sketch, Oliver points out that in order to portray the issue realistically, the debate would have to be between just three climate change deniers and 97 individuals who believe. The point that the debate is 97 to 3, rather than fifty/fifty, is driven home when Oliver sets up a mock debate and proceeds to march out three people on one side of the table and dozens on the other. (Click the video below)

 

Online, virtually everywhere, stories about celebrities and their public lives line up alongside stories about the destruction of the planet, about atrocities, violence and trauma, as if all were equal in importance and scope. Debates occur without context or proper weighting for us to reflect on what is real and meaningful. It makes me wonder how we, both individually and as a culture, can truly begin to understand what is truly critical and meaningful to spend our time and resources on, when we haven’t properly reflected about what’s going on on our planet and in our culture.

Reflection, and taking the time to allow things to emerge from the margins where they have been banished, or to well up from where they have been suppressed, is a fundamental practice of depth psychology which enables us to have profound insights. What if we collectively set aside a few minutes each day simply to unplug, turn off the news and sit in quiet contemplation, allowing our psyche to truly absorb and reflect the challenges we face? How might that kind of quiet activism begin to initiate change, first in ourselves–and then in the world around us?

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NOTE: If you’re interested in the topic of soul loss, you can read more about it in my essay, The Shamanic Perspective: Where Jungian Thought and Archetypal Shamanism Converge.

EcoApathy and Ecospychopathy: Opposite ends of a Dangerous Spectrum

household garbage and urban dumpster
Where does YOUR garbage go when you throw it “away”?

Many societies have collapsed en masse over the course of human history due to over-consumption and extreme detrimental impact on the environment and ecosystems that supported them. However, the combination of our persistent unconscious and unchecked rates of consumption stemming from a rapidly growing population, our seeming lack of capacity to feel and respond to the need for balance in relationship to the planet, and our rampant exploitation of nature is alarming. It appears that never before have we had such a lethal combination in concert with such pervasive emotional, psychological, and spiritual disconnect.

The fundamental issues behind our current disorder show up on a spectrum ranging from eco-apathy on one end, and ecopsychopathy on the other. Eco-apathy represents our capacity for denial and our ability to suppress emotional reflection and response to our troubling situation. Sigmund Freud, a primary contributor in establishing the field of depth psychology, based much of his theory on the idea of a personal unconscious in which memories and emotions can be repressed beneath the surface of our conscious thought, but still potent in their effect (Elliott, 2002).

Often, in order for us to survive or bear the devastating consequences of events or circumstances that surpass our imagination or ability to comprehend, our psyche serves us by burying them beyond our awareness, diffusing their conscious energy and rendering us emotionless or even apathetic. Understandably, when it comes to the mass destruction of our environment, we are collectively unable to surrender to the horror we might feel if we truly allowed ourselves to comprehend what we’re doing as a culture to the planet. In this state of eco-apathy, many of us simply live our lives, unable to question or act on the conundrum we face, incapable of making the necessary changesundefinedor even of conceiving of them in the first placeundefinedthat will allow us to enter in a reciprocal relationship with earth and to find equity again.

Worse, eco-apathy is a dangerous phase that links directly to ecopsychopathy, a condition on the other end of the spectrum, which represents our ability to do violence to nature. When we turn to apathy, the feelings repressed below the surface of consciousness are still very much alive and ultimately will require an outlet to find resolution. Jung (1951/1976) suggested that “when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate” (para. 126). Unexamined issues or emotions we refuse to acknowledge can have tremendous impact on our lives whether we know it or not.

pollution-cars-exhaust-12111725pd

Could it be that our mass consumption of fossil fuels which leads to toxic exhaust could be making us “exhausted” in our every day lives? Is the pollution we wreak in the outer world polluting our psychological life as well? Is our ongoing tendency to “drive” everywhere we go “driving” us to distraction, dis-ease, or situations that are less than healthy?

Now might be a good time for each of us to really reflect on how we feel about the planet we live on and how we are in relationship to it.

References

Elliott, A. (2002). Psychoanalytic theory: An introduction (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1951/1976). Christ, a symbol of the self. In R. F. C. Hull, M. Fordham & G. Adler (Eds.), Aion: The collected works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Vol. 2). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, Bollingen.

Seeing the Shadow—The Importance of Depth Psychology in Leadership: An Interview with David A. Laveman & Bonnie Bright for Depth Insights™

In this written interview, Depth Insights™ host Bonnie Bright interviews David A. Laveman, who brings depth psychology insights into the business world to help executives and organizations to raise the bar on performance and deliver breakthrough business results.

Here Dave shares how depth psychology plays a role in leadership, a critical aspect inside and outside the corporate world today.

BB: Why is Leadership an area that Depth Psychology should care about?

DAL: The answer is fairly practical. It begins by looking squarely at the conditions we live in as part of a global economy and international community. These conditions – broadly characterized by ecological fragility, interconnectivity, democratization of information and overall accelerated “change”—are inescapable. The implications of these changes are always surprising us. Consider for instance the dramatic rapidity of regional political change popularly known as the “Arab Spring.” Or the ecological dangers triggered by the Japanese Tsunami. In terms of Depth Psychology, I’m reminded of the rather provocative title of archetypal psychologist James Hillman’s (1992) dialogue with Michael Ventura, We’ve Had 100 Years Of Therapy And The World Has Gotten Worse. It is a polemic against the insular nature of psychotherapy and the fact that “personal growth” doesn’t necessarily lead one into active involvement with the world. Hillman notes that while it may be good to have a deeper understanding of how our psyche works, that alone doesn’t ensure that we finds out about the way the world works. 

Hillman in this same polemic further notes that personal growth often involves “loss”; the loss of inflations, the loss of illusions. However, often those who are widely known as “leaders” are vested with vast institutional powers, which encourages all sorts of narcissistic display. Is this a loss of illusion and inflation – or just the opposite? From Hillman’s view psychotherapy as it is currently practiced, tends to “internalize emotions.” He then aptly points out that the word emotion comes from the Latin ex movere which means “to move out” and that “emotions connect to the world” (p. 11). Following this thread of reasoning, my assertion is rather basic: by applying the insights gained from a hundred years of exploring the unconscious, to the world populated by institutional leaders, we are ensuring that those with the most power to affect the things that affect our lives—our environment, our economy, our safety—are alert to the powerful forces that exist in the psyche, especially the mostly unconscious complexes, and skillful in converting insight into engagement.

We’ve seen enough of the damage done by leaders who have no idea what inner demons they are projecting onto the social landscape. Given the explosion of technological innovation and its inexpensive and uncontrolled dissemination, the stakes in the second decade of the 21st century couldn’t be higher. It is time for those who have spent decades investigating the nature of the psyche to be far more actively engaged with the “leaders” of all institutions, but especially those of business and government. This engagement needs to happen “on the court” where the game of leadership whicis played out in everyday decisions, relationships and initiatives.

This void is now being filled by a thriving leadership development and coaching industry. Unfortunately many of these practitioners know little about the dynamics of the unconscious, how to work with shadow projections on an individual and organizational level and how to recognize archetypal patterns. The emphasis is on conscious mastery, skill building, and behavior modification. These are all useful but not sufficiently effective in creating the “transformational” change that is both promoted by their practitioners and more importantly truly needed by the institutional power centers to become centers of a renewed global culture.


BB: First, I love that you are connecting leadership to the very significant (and growing) cultural and ecological issues going on our planet. Crises of all kinds seem to be becoming commonplace. As these increase as they are likely to do, we are going to have such a tremendous need for far greater leadership than ever before. It’s so important that the leaders who emerge moving forward have that understanding of emotion, shadow, archetypal patterns at play—all the “depth” aspects that depth psychology is so concerned with. 

Meanwhile, I agree with you and James Hillman that there is an aspect of leadership that cannot be dismissed or denied: active involvement with the world. How can anyone calling themselves a leader rely on learning without experience in order to make difficult decisions or offer solutions and strategies to solve critical issues? It reminds me of something Jung said: “Anyone who wants to know the human mind will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There, in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling—hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, Socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than textbooks a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with real knowledge of the human soul.” (“New Paths in Psychology.” In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. p. 409). 

Many of us would consider the types of places Jung refers to as places to avoid, not wanting to expose ourselves to the dirtier, darker, or volatile aspects of humanity. But true leaders need to be able to hold all of it without revulsion or judgment. It’s so important not to sweep the shadow side of our culture and our humanity under the rug for we are likely to sweep our own shadow right under their with it. Again, I’m reminded of Jung who said “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate.” (Christ, A Symbol of the Self, para. 126, Collected Works 9, Pt 2.)

One example of this might be when someone who very vocally promotes his extreme fundamentalist views about fidelity in marriage and ends up being the person who gets caught in an extramarital affair. Can you point to any contemporary examples of how certain leaders either are or aren’t able to embrace the shadow and/or seem to be possessed by shadow or archetypal patterns or images that are playing out? (I should point out that a given archetype isn’t necessarily good or bad, of course, but it’s in the imbalance at play when someone is possessed by it and doesn’t know it). In those examples, what could those individuals have done differently, or what are some ways leaders might begin to learn to recognize the unconscious shadow?

DAL: These are BIG question with endless implications. First before we dive into examples, it’s worth keeping in mind that as we move into concrete, fact-based situations what remains implicit in the background are our assumptions and already-provided classifications. For instance, most corporate senior leaders and consultants believe they know what is good and what is not. And if they expressed too much doubt, this could easily be seen as signs of weakness. Of course, with a little thought, what is beneficial and destructive needs qualification: do we mean short or long term good? Do we mean that which is strictly beneficial to the commercial interests of the business, or do we mean what is beneficial to the larger ecosystem upon which is our common ground? We can get very philosophical about all this. What I want to remain present as I cite examples are the relative, context bound nature of any given situation.

Take for instance, the values of an enterprise so often espoused by leaders, HR professionals, and consultants. Many revolve around three themes: a respect and concern for the individual; the responsibility to be a good corporate citizen; and the importance of being a leading innovator that improves people’s health and quality of life. However as noble as these espoused values are, they are often at odds with the values in action—in other words, the values that the corporation lives every day. In that case the values in action are those of “efficiency,” “doing more with less,” and above all, “growth.” These are what rule the day.

To be clear, I am not necessarily speaking against these latter values, but rather to the “gap” between the espoused values and those that are in action on an everyday basis. It is in this gap – between these two poles—where the corporate “shadow” lurks.

A critical value that Depth Psychology can bring into the corporate world is to generate a broad and deep awareness among its leaders the true nature of the shadow. In common language, the “dark side” and “blindspots” to which we are all prone, is often thought of as being synonymous with the shadow in common language. The fundamental nature of the “shadow” that has direct relevance to corporate leaders is this: the shadow does not reveal itself as such, but rather, is often externalized on to a troubling aspect of the environment “out there” and thus it tends to be either denied all together or addressed with simply rational “problem solving” behavior. Because the shadow exists in the nature of the psyche and is secondarily projected to the external world, its recognition requires leaders to tolerate the psychic tension and a searching introspection. However externalization is typically the rule rather than the exception, with the result often being entrenched “us vs. them” boundaries and a continuous search for scapegoats.


BB: You’ve just offered a compelling description of the status quo, not only in organizations but for individuals as well. This notion that we externalize things is very significant. Executives, coaches and those working in organizations often get training on “problem solving”—and of course step one is to identify the problem. But when the actual problem is incorrectly assigned or the issues underlying the problem are not identified, how can it truly be worked with authentically and solved? It is critical to look at the systemic nature and constantly inquire into what is invisible, hidden, unspoken, or marginalized. This is where the real issues lie, and leaders that have the capacity to recognize it truly have the opportunity to lead, and those who fail to look can quickly move (and move the organization) into dangerous territory, wouldn’t you say?

DAL: Yes, one example I observed first hand illustrates the real consequences associated with an ignorance of the shadow, and the exponential effects of this ignorance when it takes place in leaders vested with significant institutional power to determine the fate of companies that provide meaningful employment and direct significant natural and economics resources. A private equity firm had just paid billions of dollars to acquire a very profitable sub-division of a major Fortune 100 Global Company. They hired a highly seasoned senior executive to be the CEO of the newly acquired sub-division. This CEO excelled in communication skills, and came from an allied industry (but a different sub-sector) after a successful career as CEO of his former company. His mandate by the new owners was simple: dramatically reduce costs and prepare the business to be resold in a 3-5 year timeframe for three times its original cost. To make this CEO’s life easier, he was allowed to move the corporate office 3,000 miles away to be closer to his home, and of course was given major financial incentives if the owners met their financial goals.

The private equity buyer was expert in financial engineering and understood precisely what was needed in those terms. The CEO was an expert in cost-take-out and in communicating effectively with his executive team and the company at large. Neither of these key power players were expert in the sub-sector in which they were now invested. For that, they relied on existing senior managers in the acquired company who had spent their careers working with the mechanics of their particular market sub-sector. The leadership team, headed by the new CEO with final decision making authority, made rational sense, but here is where the dynamics of the shadow—unrecognized as such—began to show itself.

At the time of the acquisition, the sub-sector market was beginning to show early signs of a precipitous decline. A senior long-term executive, highly knowledgeable about the sector and widely respected within the company (pre-acquisition), saw the trends developing a year before they became widely apparent. He tried to warn the CEO of an impending disaster and presented a business plan to mitigate the effects of the anticipated full-blown market meltdown. The CEO, whose generous incentives from his patrons and persuasive optimism was not at all open to this executive’s views and would not hear out his analysis of the early warning signs already present, nor listen to a mitigation plan. More, this executive was promptly labeled by the CEO as a pessimist naysayer and subsequently put in the proverbial “doghouse” for not being a “team player.”

This example is illustrative because it is not at all unusual in the annals of corporate leadership. The business situation was admittedly ambiguous at the time the executive in question was formulating his point of view. One could martial arguments for the market to resume its frothy days and that was, by far, the preferred future that the owners, the CEO, and the majority of the leadership wanted to see happen. All stood to make a lot of money if it did, including the executive in question. The eventual outcome was unfortunate, especially for the 2000+ employees who found employment there. The market deteriorated just as the executive who was completely rebuked and disregarded anticipated, and the company lost a critical 18 months to sell assets when there were still many buyers interested in their acquisition. The company ultimately refused an offer from a major Fortune 50 company to double their acquisition price, and eventually had to seek bankruptcy protection. Most employees lost their jobs, and more, senior managers who were given opportunities to be co-investors with the new owners lost all of their investment.

The official story of the demise was that the company was caught up (like so many others) in the dramatic deterioration of the their sub-sector. In other words, they were relatively innocent victims of uniformly unseen circumstances. However an understanding of the operations of the shadow provide another view. As a factor of the psyche, not the circumstance, it was never collectively inquired into, though privately some executives acknowledged the role it played. The shadow in this situation expressed itself in the following ways: first, greed. The owners, the CEO and the leadership team were already wealthy by any measure of comparison. Second, hubris: the owners and the CEO’s previous success caused them to overestimate their powers to predict the future. Finally, denial: They failed to make the necessary distinctions between success through financial engineering and knowledge of the larger sector market vs. the more precise knowledge needed to run the company effectively in sub-sector market.


BB: Unfortunately, those three factors, greed, hubris, and denial, seem to be part of a recognizable pattern in many organizations that collapse. It is indicative of the culture we live in in so many ways, one in which values capitalism, growth, monetary gain, and puts profit above people so often—and it has to in order to maintain the pattern of corporate growth that has been so established for decades, if not centuries. I can imagine it must be really hard for an individual who takes on a new leadership role with lots of good intentions and promises to actually adhere to his or her ideas and principles without caving to those three things. What do you think about that, and how does a leader actually go about implementing his or her ideas in a depth-centered way without giving over to the status quo?

DAL: The leadership cult popular in today’s business elevates circumstance over psyche; rationality over imagination and externalization over introspection. In short, the reality of the tangible, empirically-observable outer world takes clear precedence over the cloud-like realities of the psyche. This also has obvious implications in not recognizing deeply embedded archetypal patterns. The consequences here are also multiple, but suffice it to say that organizations are constantly interested in “change management.” Over the past two decades as the pace of external change has accelerated, the need to transform rather than merely “change” has given rise to a large network of “transformation” consultants, and Human Resources specialists. However transformation programs rarely achieve a true organizational metamorphosis but rather often devolve into a sub-optimized, energy depleting exercise. A possible reason for this is lack of understanding of archetypal realities and how this has a significant impact on the organizational world.


BB: “Archetypal realities” is an interesting term. How do you define that, and how would you say deeply embedded archetypal patterns play a role in the process of developing more effective organizational design and interventions?

DAL: When it comes to archetypal realities in a business context, I would define it as those background patterns of perception and images on the level of the psyche and cultural values and reflexive behaviors on the level of the organization. Because they exert influence from the background they are often unconscious, and operate independent of the ego. They tap into large stores of energy, which can be expressed positively (as in the collective effort to put a man on the moon) or negatively (as in the collapse of checks and balances that aggravated the 2008 financial meltdown). Without an archetypal perspective, leaders resort to making decisions through an over-emphasis on rational analysis, data gathering, and trend analysis. Take the example of the Change Management discipline noted above. As a differentiated discipline that has been around for at least two decades, it has developed a set of tools and approaches to help companies change – that is move from business model A to model B.

A good example of this is the change forced upon the Utility industry in the face of deregulation; or the change forced upon military contractors in the face of significant government budget cuts. Change programs are approached rationally. Thus a first step is to develop a ‘case for change’, supported by facts and a tight logic thread about why change is necessary. Then there are the objectives which the change will accomplish and why it is good for the company and its employees and finally there are elaborate plans which include the commitments to new model made by senior management, the cascading communication plans, the phased releases of manageable bites, the training of “change agents”, the mitigation strategies (to handle fallout), and the periodic course corrections to address changing circumstances. There is nothing wrong with any of this—its just totally insufficient to address the escalating rate of change, the disruption caused by continual new technologies and the complexity of a global economy. The result is that much corporate energy, human toil and financial expense go to programs that do produce change, but often yield only a fraction of what’s needed. This leaves the organization exhausted where whatever is left over of discretionary effort is focused on short-term survival. The archetypal underpinnings that are orchestrating the forms, their narratives, and accompanying interventions are neither acknowledged nor addressed.

A well-known example of an archetypal reality is “the hero’s journey.” Mythologist Joseph Campbell in his landmark study, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” identified the archetypal hero’s journey as circular process that moves one to go forth from a settled existence, journey into unexplored territory in order to win new powers that can be brought back for the benefit of the community (p. 245). It begins when the Hero hears a “call” to adventure. In corporate terms this would mean create a compelling vision of possible future. The archetypal pattern then requires the hero to cross over the threshold of the known world where one encounters “the shadow presence which guards the passage” (p. 245). In corporate terms this means creating the necessary resources in the form of executive sponsorship, budget, and a team of change agents that will guide the change process.

Now the change agenda is public and the engagement with the significant forces of status quo are in earnest. Campbell identifies this part of the journey as unfamiliar, where one encounters “strangely intimate forces some of which threaten him (tests) and some of which give magical aid (helpers).” In my experience, this where organizations are least prepared and over-rely on only what’s in the change management “toolkit.” This often gets translated into more and better change education, contingency planning, and communications. The helpers that show up are not mined for their potential commitment. The tests that accompany them are often interpreted in terms of self-protection and blind resistance to change. The missing realization that archetypal powers are at work as a company struggles to bring into being a new order of reality, leave those who are advocates of the transformation at a severe disadvantage. Without an archetypal perspective they are left with only their own efforts and superficially literal interpretations of challenge they face. This undermines their confidence and leaves them ill prepared for the next predictable phase of the journey to authentic transformative change.

Before the sustained benefits of a successful transformation can be realized the corporation must pass through the “supreme ordeal” (p. 246). In corporate terms this can show up in many forms. Common are major opposition by a key power center, acquisition by a new owner who has no stake in the transformation, the old culture ignoring the change without consequences. The compromise made at this point often dooms the possibility of authentic transformative change and settles for half measures. In corporate terms, leadership points to real but fairly incremental changes to justify a premature declaration of victory and most importantly to move on to the next “urgent” issue of the day. The result after too numerous outcomes like this, is that employees have become highly skeptical of new change initiatives, take on a ‘wait and see’ attitude which inadvertently becomes ensures that there was never a real desire for transformation in the first place.

It is easy to point a finger at business leadership for being too wedded to their collective views of change based on standard organizational psychology, change management and overarching pressures to produce financial results while the hoped-for transformation is under way. However I think it more productive to challenge those who are committed to the perspectives of Depth Psychology to take it out of the highly ritualized and controlled academic and psychotherapeutic environments, and test its merits to create meaningful change with the business institutions that for better or worse dictate the pace and direction of today’s world. This engagement will force depth psychology to endure tensions previously avoided and engage businesses to reevaluate the role of the soul and psyche in the renewal of our world.

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David A. Laveman works with clients to raise the bar on performance and deliver breakthrough business results. He synthesizes practical understanding of business realities with in-depth insight into human and team behavior, and partners with companies and executives to build capabilities, enhance leadership skills, and generate transformational change. Dave’s background and his knowledge of cutting-edge research inform his down-to-earth approach to optimizing executive performance and driving bottom-line results.

Dave’s career has been distinguished by significant pioneering in the areas of organizational and cultural transformation, breakthrough performance, leadership development and coaching, public-private partnering, and multi-company alliances. He has presented innovative thinking on leadership, transformational change and breakthrough management at The Wharton School, The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, The Society of Information Management, The GMAC Annual Senior Management Meeting, and The Executive Concours. Dave’s thinking on culture, strategy, and paradigms have been cited by Forbes and Harvard Business Review.

Previous to founding Laveman & Associates, Dave served as officer, senior executive, or partner at CSC Index, Accenture, and The Concours Group. He co-founded the Praemia Group and The Pharmaceutical Performance Institute.

Dave is an accomplished chess player whose competitive success has appeared in The New York Times. He holds graduate degrees from Columbia University and Pacifica Graduate Institute.


Bonnie Bright is the principle and and founder of Depth Insights™, Depth Psychology Alliance™, and Depth Psychology List™. She holds M.A. degrees from Sonoma State University and Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA, where she is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Depth Psychology.

Depth Insights™ provides media, content, and education for the greater depth psychology community, including written and audio interviews and the semi-annual peer reviewed publication, Depth Insights scholarly eZine.

Depth Psychology Alliance™, the world’s first online academic community for those who are active and interested in the fields of Depth and Jungian Psychologies in 2010–a dynamic organization that surpassed 2,000 members in January 2013. The Alliance is a hub for finding depth psych-related events, blogs, videos, articles and for discussion, learning and connecting with likeminded others.

Depth Psychology List™ is a premier destination to find or list depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners by location or type of services offered.

Making a Masterpiece of Your Life: Summary of a Teleseminar by Thomas Moore

“To the soul, the most minute details and the most ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an effect far beyond their apparent insignificance.”

—Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: Guide for Cultivating Depth
and Sacredness in Everyday Life

 

Recently I had the chance to tune into a free teleseminar with author, religious scholar, professor and lecturer Thomas Moore of the book, Care of the Soul, fame. The teleseminar focused on how to make a masterpiece of your life. According to Moore, the word “masterpiece” harkens back to Renaissance, which he’s been studying for thirty years or so. It offers up beauty like painting, architecture, and is such a rich source of pleasure and psychological and spiritual insight. Moore points out that the word “masterpiece” can be sometimes be overused to mean perfect or refer to something too sentimental. For him, the first thing that occurs is “making an art of your life.”

Beauty is even more important for the soul and spirit than physical health, Moore insisted. When it comes to soul and spirit, we might not think of health, but rather what it takes to make a beautiful life. How might people look at life and find pleasure in it, rather than being so concerned about being right, correct, or even healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the third century, it was Plotinus who said we should “sculpt” our soul and chip away anything that doesn’t quite fit in order to reveal a beautiful life, a beautiful personality. As a therapist, coach, or mentor, Moore suggested, it might be helpful to ask those you’re helping: “What would it take to make your life beautiful?” rather than focusing on any other value.

Moore alluded to the Japanese idea ofwabi-sabi, an art form where imperfection and transiency plays an important role. Truly, we can find beauty in anything, even cracks in the walls. Aphrodite (in Greek mythology) or Venus (in Roman myth) is a goddess of beauty or of the soul. She is a metaphor for living a beautiful life. She restores a sense of value for things that today are not considered so important – like taking a luxurious bath or taking care of our hair. One aspect of our contemporary lives is that we have lost soul, and beauty is an important part of our lives.

A masterpiece originally could have meant a major piece an artist has done, Moore reminded us, but it can also represent work an apprentice has done in order to show the master; it is master work. It is important to align yourself with someone you consider to be a master in order to do your own work. For Moore, archetypal psychologist James Hillman was a great teacher and master as well as a friend for 38 years. A masterpiece is not something you create at working hard at it for a long time. It requires good luck and good timing. It’s not always the quality of work or effort one puts in so much a magic of timing and having good luck come your way. One thing, Moore does is try to bring luck in and make it happen and not just wait for it.

Talking about mastery is talking about “craft.” Moore said as he gets older, more people are asking how they can be a good therapist or a good writer. His suggestion: Learn the basics. Grammar, language, punctuation are critical to good writing. For therapy: it would be helpful to study alchemy, to read the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. For everything, it’s a matter of trying and failing,

We are bombarded right now with information about science and health: but it might be a good idea to tone down expectations in that arena. Health is important, Thomas agreed, but maintained that he allows myself some unhealthy foods and gives time to things he needs in his own life for beauty. Before getting on the call, for example, Moore went to his piano and played some Chopin. He says he’s not a great performer but he still likes to play for the beauty of it. His wife is an artist, so he surrounds himself with her art and others. Someone just sent him an image of St. Francis of Assisi surrounded by animals and nature. It’s wonderful to focus on simple things, and look for aspects of the beautiful. Moore tries to have erotic art around him to invoke the spirit of Eros, the spirit of the beautiful, he said. We have to have it in his environment before we can get it into our hearts, he said.

When asked how we can talk about things that matter and free people from frustration that occurs when things don’t go as planned, Moore responded that when it comes to creating a masterpiece, you can end up focusing on the rosy part of life, but you have to be able to confront the dark as well. Times when we are beating ourselves up are the times to be stronger rather than to keep doing that same kind of thing. We need to shift out of the masochistic role and be stronger and tougher in the world, he insists. In Renaissance times they said your anger could work for you if you can transmute it into firmness and strength, into having the spirit of the warrior. Moore said when finds himself getting down on himself, he reminds himself to be stronger and firmer and to look and see where he’s being too vulnerable, too soft or easy; where he needs to be tougher, maybe event going so far as to say things people are going to dislike. It’s part of beautiful life, he insists. The beauty is there only because the artist is there and allows it to happen. The artist doesn’t let people mess with them. If you do this regularly, it doesn’t build to explosion. We need both: it’s two sides to the coin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to the idea of wabi-sabi, Moore stated that it’s related to Hillman’s idea of polytheism. You don’t have to settle on one or the other. You can dye your air to cover the grey all the while appreciating the moss growing on the wall. It’s about allowing the natural aspect of things. As you get older and feel older, you can reveal your age. You begin to realize the things you can’t do outnumber the things you can do. In nature, for example, you try to create a house and before long you’ve got moss growing where you don’t want it. After awhile, you get cracks but those cracks can look beautiful. Allow your self with all the light and dark and good and bad and see the beauty in the whole picture. If you repress or hide elements that are imperfect then the perfection you personally try to show won’t be complete; it will look suspicious to yourself and others. Part of wabi-sabi is allowing yourself to be seen.

In the conversation, the moderator, Katherine mentioned an article she had seen recently about Stradivarius trees. There is a culture of people who look for the perfect trees to make the violins. These trees grow so slow sometimes they stop growing altogether in order to gather their strength. Our culture is so much about “new” and “do,” she said. But the trees that stop growing produce the most beautiful sound.

James Hillman wrote an essay against the idea of growth, saying human beings shouldn’t try to grow, Moore responded. In Moore’s books, he doesn’t promote growth as he believes there are times when there is no growing taking place at all in the soul. It’s a sentimental idea that we should be growing all the time. There are times of setback and when we seem to be going backward. Those times are important too. When we stop growing, people go to a therapist or coach. That’s often why these periods are good for a psyche or soul, because it forces you to stop and wonder why. A deepening happens. It’s not about being better, but deepening more into who you are; it creates more substance to you. If you’re growing all the time you don’t have the substance necessarily.

Moore took questions from listeners at the end of the teleseminar. I took the opportunity to ask him what he thought about something that is frequently on my mind these days: how to cope with the extreme devastation of the planet we see all around us on a daily basis in media and in nature. Moore’s response was to reinforce the idea that can do or hold many things at once. You can be concerned about the devastation AND you can appreciate the beauty. Every year for twelve years, Moore went to Schumacher College in England with his family, he related. Even though he’s not a scientist, he would talk to the people he met there about philosophy and spirituality and the arts. One reason we are treating nature badly is that we personalize it by thinking hierarchically, that humans are the top of the pile. It takes more of an artistic sense for people to appreciate nature. Maybe it would be helpful for us when we are deeply disturbed to paint or photograph nature. Turning something into art gets it into yourself, gets it into us, he said. Turning more to nature as art might help develop that relationship. We need more art and spirituality. Moore mentioned that his new book has a chapter on natural mysticism. To be mystical you don’t have to go off and be in the ethers, he said. Just stopping to contemplate allows you to meditate and it prepares you for what you need to do. Moore said he learned this from Thoreau, for whom these types of activities were a sacrament. Read Walden closely, Moore suggested. Follow it and learn from it.

Walking in nature or watching bees may more important than you think, he insisted. It’s a form of meditation. The things that seem the least significant may be the most important. To go out in nature, feel like you’re wasting time; the sight of nature is a darshan –it transforms. It gives you the courage to go on and do your work.

Find out more about Thomas Moore and his work at www.careofthesoul.net

 

Nature Has No “Outside:” Navigating the Ecological Self

Nature Has No “Outside:” Navigating the Ecological Self

“Spirit is the inside of things and matter is their visible outer aspect”
(C.G. Jung, in Sabini, 2005, p. 2).

“I can only gaze with wonder and awe at the depths of and heights of our psychic nature. Its non-spatial universe conceals an untold abundance of images which have accumulated over millions of years of living development and become fixed in the organism….Beside this picture I would like to place the spectacle of the starry heavens at night, for the only equivalent of the universe within is the universe without; and just as I reach this world through the medium of the body, so I reach that world through the medium of the psyche” (Jung, in Ryan, 2002, p. 18).

In nature, it is concretely evident how everything is interrelated. We can look at any aspect of the environment and see and name hundreds or even thousands of relationships with other facets of the environment. No man is a silo, yet the individual of Descartes’ vision required a strong, self-directing ego as the optimum situation for success and well-being. Rather than continuing to propagate and strengthen the illusion of the “individual,” it is critical to reconceptualize it, embracing instead an image of an ecology of the psyche, a system that encompasses all, traversing human-conceived boundaries of time, culture, and species. In truth, we each carry various elements of “other” within us: spirits of ancestors long since gone, traditions and ritual from distant peoples we know nothing about, and energetic archetypes from the natural world. In this inquiry, I focus on the nature of the psyche, the landscape that engulfs the Cartesian divide, the reciprocal, indivisible ecological universe that unites the “individual” and the “other” in one vast relational world.

Western culture developed as a union of equal individuals who can successfully out-think other species. Dualism, a separation of spirit from matter, subject from object, and mind from body became the hallmark of western culture, placing humans in top position of a hierarchical order where “he who thinks, wins.” The feminine way of being that circled around mythic imagination, cyclical time, participatory knowing, ritual, or magic was relegated to the realm of suspicion, resulting in devastating loss. We distanced ourselves from other species that could act as guides and allies and increasingly availed ourselves of the earth’s “resources” because we found them devoid of life and spirit. In western culture and consequently, in psychoanalysis, the concept of a “self-contained individual” was an obvious foundation for reducing drives, motivations, and behaviors to “inside” and “outside” (Foster, Moskowitz, & Javier, 1996).

Culture consists of what an individual needs to know or believe in order to operate in an appropriate or acceptable manner to members of that society. It is significant, then, that since psychology was founded by a handful of men who were members of a rather singular and similar European culture that the main roots of psychoanalysis would reflect their specific lenses. Indeed, Freud’s early theory that repressed or cut-off memories were at the root of pathology and needed to be unearthed in order to find a state of relief focused entirely on the inner world of the individual and paid little attention to social surround or context (Foster, et al., 1996).

Language as a Navigator

Over time, as attention to social context increased and relational theories picked up speed it became clear that language was the obvious vehicle that traversed the established structure of the psyche, even in its illusory dualistic structure of “inner and outer”, “self and other” (Elliott, 2002). Language, then, as Lacan put forward, is a strong determinant of relationship, not only to fellow members of our own culture as we know it, but also to other elements that are not immediately evident and which have not traditionally been included or integrated into psychoanalytic environment. These elements, located both within us and without, exist across time, between cultures, and even between species. All of these features combine to make up an ecological system, the “home” in which our ego participates as a small, equal part to a much bigger organism, the ecology of the self. In the psychoanalytic process, when looking at a narrow definition of self that contains only dualistic pairings like “inside and outside,” “self and other,” or “subject and object,” analysts and patients can easily get entangled in trying to identify where a particular issue lies (Stolorow, Atwood, & Orange, 2002). In an ecological sphere that encompasses the whole of nature and every element in it, language can easily traverse perceived borders, moving freely about.

In the developmental process, British linguist Michael Halliday (1975) determined that children are motivated to learn language because it satisfies physical, emotional and social needs. His work went further, however, in helping to pioneer Ecolinguistics, a field that addresses both social context in which language is embedded, as well as the ecological context in which societies are embedded, inviting new consideration, then, of the ecological context and consequences of language. One particular area of interest was how to make linguistics relevant to the increasing and widespread destruction of ecosystems (Fill & Mühlhäusler, 2001).

It is impossible to perceive or define an “inside” and an “outside” of nature. “Ecology” comes from the Greek oikos meaning “house, dwelling place, or habitation” (“ecology,” n.d.) is a place where we locate ourselves, the system in which we existundefinednot as silos but as coherent, complex participants related to all things, containing all while at the same time existing as a part of a much bigger whole. Ecological science studies how the distribution and abundance of living organisms is affected by interactions between those organisms and their environment. An environment comprises both physical properties like climate and geology, as well as other organisms. The first principle of ecology holds that every living organism sustains an ongoing and continual relationship with every other element that makes up its environment. Within any ecosystem, species are connected and dependent upon one another, and exchange energy and matter between themselves and with their environment (New World Encyclopedia, n.d.). The concept of an ecosystem includes units of variable size: perhaps it may also be called a “culture.”

The Ecology of the Psyche

Jordan (2009) asserts that Freud failed to acknowledge the significance of the nonhuman environment in the development of human psychological life. Theodore Roszak, a pioneer of ecopsychology later elaborated on Freud’s theory by asserting at the center of the unconscious is the ecological unconscious, the repression of man’s evolutionary relationship to nature, which ultimately resulted in the industrialized society. For Theodore Roszak, an early ecopsychologist, the therapeutic goal of ecopsychology is to allow the emergence of the environmental reciprocity that is currently repressed in the ecological unconscious, thereby allowing healing of both individuals and earth (Jordan, 2009). Nature, filled with metaphor and image and a cosmos of elements constantly held in relation to each other, offers us as a part of it the same opportunities when relating to the “other,” whether it is other people, other cultures, or other species.

The work of John Bowlby led to specific definitions of attachment theory in what he determined is ongoing psychological connectedness between human beings (Mitchell & Black, 1995). In contemporary culture, neurotic issues in the form of narcissism, existential crises, ambivalence, fear and the like are projected out onto the environment leaving us an infantile sense of control. The attachment relationship helps the infant cope with stress and thus early positive experience of the self in union with another is crucial to the infant’s capacity to mitigate emotions. The three variants of attachment include securely-attached individuals who feel intimacy and trust fairly easily without significant fears of abandonment or invasion, those with avoidant attachmentpatterns who cannot seem to trust others enough to ever allow themselves to become very dependent, and anxious/ambivalent individuals, those who experience fear that they cannot get intimate enough or that others will reject them.

Jordan (2009) insists object relations theory misses the boat by not including relationship to nature. While acknowledging instances of indigenous peoples who formed healthy reciprocal attachment relationships with nature, he cites our fear as a culture of dependency on the planet, which fulfils the role of nurturing provider. In failing to express our need and repressing the anxiety we cannot process, we retreat to a position that gives us the illusion of being invulnerable, a position of ambivalent attachment. Unlike the aborigines who viewed the natural world as a metaphysical landscape which could express deep spiritual yearnings, western culture views land and self as separate entities, unconnected by interdependent relationship. For earth-based cultures, the “more-than-human” world was also part of an ecological self. Concurrently, Jordan cautions against idealizing indigenous relations to natures, reminding us our ongoing conflict and regard of the current ecological crisis must integrate Klein’s “depressive position” to integrate the fact that nature can be destructive as well as rewarding as evidenced in recent natural disasters.

Jordan (2009) believes acknowledging our ambivalence can perhaps lead to emotional maturation, allowing us to live with it and not to act out in a narcissistic or controlling manner. He insists that just as Winnicott thought we related with the true self through the vitality of our physical bodies, by celebrating the complexity of human emotions–including those of love and the capacity for empathy and reparation–alongside the diversity of the natural world, we come into right relation. This amounts not to a balance between “inner” and “outer,” but of the complete ecology of being. Paul Shepard (1998) agrees that our relationships with each other and with nature stem from primal fears and fantasies that reside in our unconscious. While concurring that our capacity to differentiate an “other” stems from the maternal relationship, he posits it is formed in conjunction with the environment that encompasses mother and child. In the evolutionary development of the physical world, that environment consisted of natural elements including wind, rain, earth, animals, plants, and insects among others. All these were internalized and integrated as the self.

Therapist Mary-Jayne Rust (2005) concurs we are human in good part because of the way we relate to other organisms and goes further to claim that humans hunger for connection not only to other humans, but also to place and to nature. The field of evolutionary psychology takes into consideration how the individual psyche integrates the ultimate move from our evolutionary homelands in the natural world to the urban environments we dwell in today. As Diamond (1997) points out, within the past 50 years, almost 50% of the world population has come to dwell in cities. It is impossible not to think that the changes in the physical landscape in which we now locate ourselves has a drastic impact on our wellbeing and that of the planet (Milton, 2009). Because the inner and outer all form one ecological system, we carry a piece of what Laurens van der Post called the “Bushman mind” which includes memories of place, nature, traditions, and ways of being that we are no longer connected to in our modern way of life (Barnard, 1989).

Our psyche originated in nature, and it is also there where we can find freedom. Displacement, colonization, and urbanization have led to exploitation of so-called natural “resources” in a new and amplified way. In turn, this emerges as trauma of the individual and collective psyche, as Jerome Bernstein (2005) argues in Living in the Borderland. Borderlanders, those who are especially sensitive to the split with nature and nature’s own attempt to reconnect, don’t feel “about” the planet’s suffering, the actually feel the suffering and pain, manifesting trauma in bodily or psychic symptoms of their own. Ecopsychology argues that we as a species are inseparable from our relationships with the physical world, and that environmental questions are deeply rooted in the psyche, coinciding with our image of self. Denial of a reciprocal bond on the part of humans creates suffering for both humans and the environment, whereas seeking reconnection and working through issues of grief and despair can be healing for both. Increasing interest in bringing ecological issues into the therapy process has resulted in a growing branch of the psychoanalytic domain termed Ecotherapy (Davis, 1998).

Conclusion

In the world of psyche, I cannot be separate from any other element in my environment. The concept of “individual” in the literal Cartesian sense is null. The outer physical landscape of the earth is a reflection of our inner, psychical terrain, a mirror image that echoes both peaks and valleys over the history of our lives. Landmarks dot the topography of my mind so that I recognize certain events and history that have made me who I am today, standing where I do in relation to it all.  I can use language to navigate within that ecological sphere, aided by the images abundant in nature of the dynamic relationships of each element with every other element. A therapist/patient dyad choosing to adopt this view can strongly benefit from acknowledging and locating themselves in relation to the totality of it at any given time. Rust (2005) validates that language helps reconnect self with body and land. Reminding us that the root word “natus” also means to be born, she relates her own endeavors to practice psychotherapy with “ecology in mind,” attempting to articulate explicitly her own interconnections between self and the earth and encouraging those issues to emerge for her clients in sessions as well. Recounting her own experience at a women’s therapy center of developing a language connecting psyche and soma, she muses on the potential of creating a language incorporating self and earth as do many languages in indigenous cultures that weave together body and land, community, and universe.

The concept of an ecosystem of the self offers the possibility of dynamic movement that considers all possibilities in the same moment, and any movement therein affects all the others, not simply juxtaposing our old, outdated dualistic thinking of simply inner and outer, us and them, subject and object, but demolishing them completely. Ecophilosopher Sigmund Kvaloy, for example, articulates how a shift in conventional thinking can allow us to envision a place where we move inside when leaving a building or city, and stay outside by remaining indoors (in Rust, 2005). In the end, as Rust reminds us, “If we are able to re-conceive the self as interconnected with body, soul and land, we might just be giving ourselves and clients the tools to recreate a life where self, nature and culture are reconnected” (p. 7).

 

Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, the world’s first comprehensive online community for depth psychology, and hosts a podcast, Depth Insights, as well as editing the semi-annual scholarly e-zine of the same name. She recently founded www.DepthPsychologyList.com, a free online database to find or list depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners. She holds Masters degrees in Psychology and Depth Psychology, and is a Ph.D. candidate at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. Follow her on Twitter @bonniebright5 or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BonnieBright.DepthPsych

 

 

Some References

Barnard, A. (1989). The Lost World of Laurens van der Post. Current Anthropology, 30(1), 104-114

Davis, J. (1998). The transpersonal dimensions of ecopsychology:

Nature, nonduality, and spiritual practice. The Humanistic Psychologist, 26(1-3), 60-100.

“ecology.”  (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved fromhttp://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ecology

“ecology.”  (n.d.). New world encyclopedia. Retrieved fromhttp://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ecology

Elliott, A. (2002). Psychoanalytic theory: An introduction (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Fill, A., & Mühlhäusler, P. (2001). The ecolinguistics reader: Language, ecology and environment. New York: Continuum.

Foster, R. P., Moskowitz, M., & Javier, R. A. (Eds.). (1996). Reaching across boundaries of culture and class: Widening the scope of psychotherapy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc.

Jordan, M. (2009). Nature and self: An ambivalent attachment? Ecopsychology, 1(1), 26-31.

Milton, M. (2009). Waking up to nature: Exploring a new direction for psychological practice.Ecopsychology, 1(1), 8-13.

Mitchell, S. A., & Black, M. J. (1995). Freud and beyond: a history of modern psychoanalytic thought. New York: Basic Books.

Rust, M.-J. (2005). Ecolimia nervosa? Eating problems and ecopsychology. Therapy Today: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal. Retrieved fromwww.mjrust.net/downloads/Ecolimia%20Nervosa.pdf

Ryan, R. E. (2002). Shamanism and the psychology of C.G. Jung: The great circle. London: Vega.

Sabini, M. (Ed.). (2005). The earth has a soul: The nature writings of C.G. Jung. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Shepard, P. (1998). Nature and madness (2nd ed.). Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Stolorow, R. D., Atwood, G. E., & Orange, D. M. (2002). Worlds of experience: Interweaving philosophical and clinical dimensions in psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books.

Memory, Place and Story: How Connection to Land Connects us to Self

Some would argue our contemporary consumer-based, productivity-oriented culture contributes to a collective loss of memory—done of being connected to something larger than our everyday selves. As a society, we have become dislocated in time and disconnected from place, leaving us rootless, transient, and opting for sensationalism instead of spirituality; superficiality instead of soul. So much of this malady is due to our disconnect from nature, our bodies, and earth itself. We are no longer grounded in something real that gives us context to understand how our lives play out in a fabric of being, a pattern in living nature with a self-organizing intelligence of its own. As Jung put it,

“Man feels isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree makes a man’s life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom and no mountain still harbours a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, springs, plants and animals” (in Sabini, 2005, p. 79-80).

Blood and memory play a significant role in the ongoing spiritual relationship between the indigenous ancestors and their Native American descendants according to Native American literary scholar Robin Riley Fast, who has written about the work of contemporary Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso. Tapahonso insists, “The land that may appear arid and forlorn to the newcomer is full of stories which hold the spirits of the people, those who live here today and those who lived centuries and other worlds ago” (in Fast, 2007, p. 203). Each cliff formation, each watering hole, every boulder or ancient tree had a story that rooted it in the landscape and in the people’s psyche. Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko asserts that stories were often triggered as people passed by a specific landmark or exact place where a story took place (in Halpern, 1987).

So many memories-turned-stories speak of suffering and separation from place. During what is known as “The Long Walk,” the Navajo were tragically displaced during a forced march of the Navajo people after Kit Carson initiated a path of destruction in 1864, burning their homes and crops, stealing their livestock, and forcing them into a state of starvation and surrender. Many of the more than 8500 Navajo forced to march to Fort Sumner, several hundred miles away, died on the walk. Those that did not die from illness, freeze, starve, or get shot by soldiers, were likely drowned while forced at gunpoint to cross the raging Rio Grande river where they were washed away. The poetry of Luci Tapahonso illustrates the stories of the horrors of the forced march, speaking to the murder of pregnant women and the purposeful drowning of elders and children, or of those who were too tired or too sick to travel (in Fast, 2007).

Loss of place and of connection with the land results in profound loss to the collective memory of a people or culture, disorienting them and obliterating their identity. Living in a new place meant a loss of story since there was no memory attached to the landscape around. One might argue that the loss of place at the hands of the white men affected the Navajo forever. “What good is memory if this place does not recognize me?” (p. 203) asks Tapahonso.

Glen Albrecht, professor of philosophy and sustainability, points to a kind of “place pathology.” When you separate people from their land he suggests, “they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life” (in Smith, 2010, para. 4). Jungian analyst Jerome Bernstein (2005) points out that when the Navajos were displaced by the Europeans, many of the Navajo simply disappeared. They no longer knew who or where they were. The disorientation initiated by loss of ancestors and memory, of being located in a larger web of meaning, is profound and virtually irreversible. Estrangement from land results in uncanniness, the feeling of not being at home. Thus, to be without place translates to not existing at all. In fact, the Navajo called their land “the Great Self” (Casey, 2009), evoking the idea that separation from place literally results in a separation from self.

Perhaps it is the lack of relationship with the new land and lack of mourning for their own loss of home among the newly-arrived Europeans that initiated a wave of destruction and despair amidst the First Peoples of the so-called New World. Yet, through listening with all our senses, through being fully present, through allowing the living story that is unfolding at every moment in the place where we are to engulf us, we can each begin to reconnect. In her poetry, Tapahonso examines the sense of alienation wrought upon the Navajo which evokes a sense of homesickness for the readers of her work, blossoming into a true feeling of emotional and literal exile as one makes their way through her words. Through Tapahonso’s own perception and the visceral reaction it evokes, it is possible to recoup a shadow of the loss the Navajo have suffered.

Yet, in a poem entitled, “Starlore,” Tapahonso introduces hope, reassuring us that healing ceremony can “restore the world for us” (p. 204). Healing ceremony often includes a narrative, and locating ourselves in the story so that the mythical implications can work on us. In An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field, eco-writer TerryTempest Williams echoes this notion, saying “We are healed by our stories (1994, p. 57). Reconnection to land where-ever we are—land that holds stories both ancient and new—can provide us with a sense of homecoming and healing if we slow ourselves, ground our feet on the earth, open our hearts and our senses, and simply listen to its tale. In this way we may re-member wholeness that somehow slipped from memory in our fast-paced and forgotten hours.

(Note: Parts of this post have been excerpted from my essay, “The Power of Story and Place among the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly” published in Depth Insights scholarly eZine, Fall 2011.

Some References

Bernstein, J. (2005). Living in the borderland: The evolution of consciousness and the challenge of healing trauma. New York: Routledge.

Casey, E. S. (2009). Getting back into place: Toward a renewed understanding of the place-world (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Fast, R. R. (2007). The land is full of stories: Navajo stories in the work of Luci Tapahonso. Boston, MA: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.

Halpern, D. (Ed.). (1987). On Nature: Nature, landscape, and natural history. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press.

Sabini, M. (2005). The Earth has a Soul: The Nature Writings of C.G. Jung

Sandner, D. (1991). Navaho symbols of healing:  Jungian exploration of ritual, image, and medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Smith, D. B. (2010, January 27). Is there an ecological unconscious?, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, p. 36.

Tapahonso, L. (1997). Blue horses rush in. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

Tempest Williams, T. (1994). An unspoken hunger: Stories from the field. New York: Pantheon Books.

Ecopsychopathy and Sustainability: The End of Life as We Know It

What is Ecopsychopathy and What are the Implications to our Culture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent blogpost, I wrote some introductory thoughts about what I’m calling “Culture Collapse Disorder,” an eco-psycho-pathological disorder in which human-made stressors stemming from culture and development (and their correlating underlying connected psychological issues) are causing a drastic systemic imbalance, manifest by a critical rise in adverse conditions for earth and its inhabitants.

In short, the way of life most of us are living in modern consumer culture is simply not sustainable and the symptoms and resulting suffering are mounting. These days, while many of us choose to distract ourselves through compulsive consumption of goods, services, technology, peak experiences, entertainment, celebrity and even psychotherapy, the unconscious knowledge that we are in a time of transition is beginning to bleed through into our everyday understanding.

Culture Collapse Disorder is an idea based on a related aberration that manifested in the natural world beginning in late 2006: Colony Collapse Disorder the mass collapse of honeybee colonies in which the hive—the container—literally breaks down because the worker bees fail to return to the hive, abandoning the queen bee, the unhatched brood, and the stores of honey. Contemporary consumer cultures, which have been the foundation of the western world for decades, are generating lifestyles, behaviors and mindsets that are destroying our home places and our home planet on a mass scale. By consciously or unconsciously refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the damage we are creating and thus failing to take any action to prevent or repair the damage on the level required for us to survive as a culture, we are on the brink of a major transition in which life as we know it will change forever.

The fundamental issues behind our disorder show up on a spectrum ranging from eco-apathy on one end, and ecopsychopathy on the other. Eco-apathy represents our capacity to bury our heads in the sand and our emotions along with them, unable to surrender to the horror we might feel if we truly allowed ourselves to understand what we’re doing as a culture to the planet. In his incisive book, Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos, psychotherapist Joseph Dodds (2011) outlines reasons for our seeming indifference or incapacity to take action including denial, feelings of powerlessness, scapegoating, splitting, dissociation and the general incapacity to deal with feelings of anxiety and fear. In this state, many of us simply live our lives, unable to question or act on the conundrum we face, incapable of making the necessarily changes that will allow us to enter in a reciprocal relationship with Earth and to find equity again.

Ecopsychopathy speaks to destroying the earth through our conscious or unconscious pathological tendencies—in part due to our consumer lifestyle that we so frequently and overwhelmingly take for granted, and in part due to a deep-rooted sense of entitlement that has evolved along with development and so-called “progress.”

In the arena of mental health, there is no strong consensus between organizations about the symptoms and criteria of psychopathy, and no association has sanctioned a set definition of psychopathy. Frequently, a diagnosis of psychopathy is based on patterns of behavior, while measurements are based on personality traits; thus, definitions range from traits or behaviors of an individual who is cold-blooded and predatory (from “Psychopathy: A Clinical Construct Whose Time Has Come”, Robert D. Hare, in Criminal Justice and Behavior) to one who is “color blind” with respect to normal emotional experience. (See the reference here, in ‘Factors’)

By some, psychopathy has been defined as “the darker side of an individual that may seem ‘normal,’ well-adjusted and well-meaning” (From the Handbook of Psychopathy), while Scientific American magazine featured an excerpt from What Psychopaths Teach Us about How to Succeed (Dutton, 2012), which insinuates psychopathic characteristics are far more common that we might think: “Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders.” At the same time the author insists, psychopath who falls at the other end of the spectrum may exhibit traits our culture teaches us to admire in those we deem successful: “fearlessness, focus, lack of empathy and mental toughness.”

“Eco” comes from the Greek word “oikos” which means “house, dwelling place, habitation” (EtymOnline.com). Thus, “ecopsychopathy” describes a spectrum of disordered behavior toward home, including impulsivity, egocentricity, lack of empathy, callousness, ruthlessness, manipulation, and lack of remorse among others. Regardless of the definition you may choose to adopt, I believe all of us can locate ourselves on the spectrum somewhere when it comes to the way we behave toward nature, even if it stems from simply being part of a culture that is ecopsychopathic at its core.

Lacking a sense of participation in a larger earth community, humans have become anthropocentric, assuming the rest of life is at our command, dominating and taking whatever we feel entitled to. And, it’s critical not to miss how implicated and interconnected we all are. Every human being throws away on average each year seven-and-a-half times his or her body weight. While I may pride myself on recycling as much as possible, large quantities of fossil fuels are still required for the garbage trucks to pick up my recycling, a large amount of which statistically never makes it to being recycled due to the cost of recycling or the lack of appropriate resources to do so. (See a great infographic here about recycling)

And, though I would never condone deforestation of the Amazon, I still purchase products that include palm oil, beef from cattle that graze on large tracts of land, or gold or silver jewelry and other products that are produced by clear cutting the natural flora and fauna of fragile ecosystems in ancient forests. More, I don’t wonder where my next bite of food is going to come from and often totally ignore the fact that in many third world countries they must first find and cut the wood with which they will cook their next meal, before even figuring out where the food will come from.

Too, while I am horrified at reports that 80% of the water in the Ganges River in India which so many people use for drinking and bathing is untreated sewage (Get the story here) or that thousands of pig carcasses from animals that died from a mysterious outbreak of disease at a factory farm further up the Shanghai river have been discovered floating downstream where villages are dependent on the water there for drinking (Read the news here), mostly I still take it totally for granted that I can turn on my tap and have clean, fresh water for my own needs any time of the day or night and would be traumatized to have to give it up. (Visit here for more details of why we continue to clear-cut the world’s rainforests). Finally, let’s not forget that if you drive a car like I do, or ride a bus, take a taxi or an airplane, you are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which are changing conditions on our planet faster than ever, a clear act of mistreating the earth and all its inhabitants.

The phenomenon of Culture Collapse Disorder is terrifying and untreatable as long as we don’t acknowledge the disorder at its core. Our capacity to destroy the only home we know—earth and all its ecosystems, environment, species, and so on—is a fundamental symptom of just how deep the imbalance lies. At this critical juncture in our culture, we must make a fundamental shift back into balance. It’s not a question of sustaining life as we know it: life as we know it is simply not sustainable. And, while we can—and must—make changes on an individual level in our everyday lives and continue to call for larger global initiatives to be supported by governments going forward, these actions are simply touching in at the surface level, the level of symptoms of the disorder. By making the symptoms go away, we have not addressed the core underlying issue.

Jungian and archetypal psychologist James Hillman believed that symptoms are part of the speech of the soul (The Psychopathology of Every Day Life); thus the symptoms we are collectively experiencing may be considered the voice of the anima mundi, the world soul. Taking a curative approach to simply silence the symptoms is a “killing game” that extinguishes part of the soul. As a culture and humanity, we must look more deeply at the issue and come back into relationship with a living earth that needs us as much as we need it. We can do that by starting to listen and engage, paying attention to dreams or spending time in reverie in Nature, turning our attention to the way life and intelligence surrounds us at all times. Ecopsychologist David Abram suggests we have an inherent capacity to communicate with nature in his book, Becoming Animal, and that through conscious intention and perception with our senses, we can engage intimately with earth (See the abstract for my recent review in Jung Journal).

Ecotheologian Thomas Berry states:

The Earth with its layers of land and water and air provides the space within which all living things are nurtured and the context within which humans attain their identity. If in the excitement of a secular technology reverence for the Earth has diminished in the past, especially in the western world, humans now experience a sudden shock at the devastation they have wrought on their own habitation. The ancient human-Earth relationship must be recovered in a new context, in its mystical as well as in its physical functioning.

There is need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, the sky and its sun and moon and clouds all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. (From “Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community”)

The notion of Culture Collapse Disorder, a critical and dangerous pathology which affects us all, may be seen as terrifying and it’s unveiling a negative outlook of doom and gloom, but it is critical that we begin to look at it as finding a diagnosis is often the first step to treatment. As environmental attorney and author James Gustave Speth insists, “We need to be reminded of the nightmare ahead…we will never do things that are needed unless we know the full extent of our predicament” (in A Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, The Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, p. 234.

What happens next is up to all of us. If we individually and collectively persist in our tendencies to eco-apathy and our ecopsychopathy, the transition to a new way of being on the planet may be harsh and sudden, leveling the playing field in a massive upheaval. If we are able, as Carolyn Baker suggests in her timely and inspiring Navigating the Coming Chaos to understand we are “married to everyone and everything,” we will be more equipped to make the transition more reflective, intentional, and creative, and to “increasingly glimpse the momentousness of our connection with every person in our world” (p. 50)—and, I would add, to the world itself, gradually finding our way back around to a way of life in which we walk more softly on the earth, ask permission for what we take and give back something in return, and fully enter the community of all nature.

Culture Collapse Disorder: Can Depth Psychology Help Us Cope?

colony collapse disorder vs culture collapse disorderEarth’s inhabitants are in peril largely of our own making. We are, consciously or unconsciously, systematically destroying the our homeplaces, habitats, ecosystems, and above all, the only home we collectively know: Earth. Reports are emerging daily about the implications of human impact on our environment, presenting dire warnings about pollution, urban development, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, natural disasters, and displacement. The tally of global losses grows daily as we perpetrate ecological destruction through our relentless consumption of the earth’s dwindling resources; through rampant use of toxins, chemicals, and pesticides; and through deforestation, erosion, and devastation of natural ecosystems, wetlands, rivers, and oceans.

The unchecked demands of a burgeoning human population on the planet are initiating conditions that are simply not sustainable. Combined with what might be called our cultural “modern mindset,” an ongoing belief (perhaps primarily at an unconscious level) by a large part of the earth’s population that resources are unlimited, that the way we live is the only way, and that everything will work out somehow, we are, as humans, at a precarious tipping point. In fact, more than thirty years ago (in 1979), ecopsychologist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy noted that for the first time in recorded history, we are deluged with data that suggest our own culture, species, and planet may not survive. If we turn to nature for insight, it’s hard to miss the growing number of extinctions of so many species; one of the most notably, perhaps, the mass die-off of honeybees that are abandoning their hives to certain death, a phenomenon termed “Colony Collapse Disorder.”

Some scientists suggest that honeybees may be acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, foreshadowing the imminent demise of the human race as we plummet toward a colony collapse of our own. In his 2008 book, A Spring Without Bees, Michael Schacker muses on the mythical as well as biological implications of CCD, referring to it as a potential Civilization Collapse Disorder. I have simultaneously considered it as Culture Collapse Disorder, an appropriate name for a culture demonstrating ominous symptoms that it can no longer sustain itself.

When we consider the history of humankind, it is not difficult to trace an inevitable path to the significant crisis we face today as culture and a species. The word “culture,” related to the word “cultivate,” literally means the “tilling of the land.” Since approximately ten thousand years ago when a human first turned the earth with a sharp stick in order to plant a seed, to cultivate it, we have not ceased developing new techniques to sustain our burgeoning numbers. From the scientific revolution to the industrial revolution to current day when technology and globalization are the new normal, we have increasingly sought to manipulate nature, embracing rational thought and moving further from a worldview that nature is a community of which we, as human animals, are a part.

Merrium Webster defines “culture” as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior.” Certainly humanity as a whole may be considered a culture in and of itself in the way we interact with one another, follow customs and traditions, and utilize our capacity to think and take logical action. Culture may also be divided countless ways to reflect, for example, modern versus ancient, third-world versus first-world, or indigenous versus European or western. However, with the coming of globalization and a dramatic increase in what we often refer to as “consumer culture,” the distinctions and contrasts in some cases are becoming harder to discern.

From a research standpoint, culture, human culture, and the domination and escalation of so-called “western” or “consumer” culture have been topics of much attention. The various demands of the masses including food, water, shelter, energy, and healthcare, as well the challenges presented by science, industry, technology, and globalization, have all had their share of scrutiny.

Regarding sustainability, some well-known research has been published on the concept of “collapse,” most notably, perhaps, from Jared Diamond (in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed) who traces a history of the rise and fall of civilizations over millennia. With the growing evidence of environmental distress, scientists, futurists, and other experts are now rapidly producing vast amounts of research on sustainability and the escalating ecological plight of the planet, a result of ecocide and climate change specifically, both of which are a result of the impact of culture on nature and of our modern mindset that allows us to engage in ongoing consumption and destruction of the planet without changing course. 

In addition, a growing number of studies are focusing on displacement and the destruction of homeplaces caused by ecological devastation like pollution, erosion, drought, desertification, and rising sea levels. Finally, much attention and debate is being turned to social issues including civil, sexual, and humanitarian rights; socio-economic challenges; the increase in poverty and the emerging gap between the rich and the poor; access to healthcare and the effects of decades of drug development on humans and the environment; and what appear to be epidemic increases in diagnosed cases of mental and emotional health conditions like depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and autism to name a few. In response to these insidious challenges, an increasing number of social scientists and psychologists are now investigating the psychological effects of these critical culturo-ecological issues and the underlying systemic relationships between humans and humans, humans and society (culture), and society and nature.

Given this, it is impossible not to contemplate whether the number of problematic symptoms manifesting so rampantly in our culture warrant the diagnosis of “disorder.” In general terms, “disorder” alludes to a disturbance of the regular or normal functions of a process or event. In the arena of mental health, we understand this to be a psychological abnormality or a pattern of behavioral or psychological symptoms that impact multiple life areas and/or create distress for the person experiencing these symptoms. Indeed, with increasing signs of distress (manifest on both a conscious and unconscious level) among many of earth’s inhabitants—and the intimations of more to come—it is critical we delve into the underlying causes of our dis-ease.

Few are engaging depth psychology to inquire into the oft invisible or unexamined causes of a culture in crisis and to assess the patterns at play. Utilizing a depth psychological lens to study this fundamental eco-psycho-spiritual crisis can allow us to gaze beneath the surface of everyday habits, attitudes, and outcomes, exploring beyond the symptoms to ascertain the roots of issues that have potentially brought us collectively to brink of disaster, or the urgent need for transition to new attitudes and actions at the very least. 

Using aspects of mythology, indigenous understanding, archetypal psychology, psychologies of liberation, and Jungian thought may serve not only to diagnose and devise a “treatment plan” to engage with the potential cataclysm at hand, but might also enable us to find ways to come into relationship with it. Ultimately, this process could provide a blueprint by which we can individually and collectively begin to cope with the consequences and fallout of what has already occurred and what is yet to come: the grief, sadness, anger, and despair, of what we have done to ourselves, our homeplaces, and our ultimate home, the earth.

Ensoulment and Synchronicity: Concepts from “Cosmos and Psyche” by Richard Tarnas

Ensoulment and Synchronicity: Concepts from Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas

In his 2006 book Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, Rick Tarnas suggests that the western mind has catapulted us away from a fundamental cosmos where everything was ensouled, alive, and animated by meaning and archetype. Our modern mindset is, instead, to attempt to control and manipulate our environment, making us the active subject in any interaction, and the things we see around us the passive object. Tarnas suggests “disenchantment” refers to the way the world is objectified, thereby denying subjectivity. “Objectification,” he contends, “denies to the world a subject’s capacity to intend, to signify intelligently, to express it’s meaning, to embody and communicate humanly relevant purposes and values” (p. 21).  By objectifying the world around us, we enable ourselves to believe that we can manipulate and determine our own existence, giving us greater freedom and autonomy.

Seeing oneself as the only source of life and intelligence in a universe that is increasingly dead and soulless leaves us in a vacuum where we are increasingly aware. (I’m also inclined to believe it makes many of us feel more alone, alienated, and disconnected from a sense of belonging and community, contributing to a culture where the sharper and sharper contrast of me versus them causes more people to act out via shooting rampages, suicides, or violence.)

Tarnas suggests that some of this objectification stems from the first moment mankind used a tool, making him the subject and the thing he was acting upon an object. Rather than being on equal terms, then, with everything else in his world, mankind began to ascend, leading to a hierarchy which placed himself at the top of a world where all things were neutral (or dead), and could have meanings or values or uses projected on them at the will of the human. Hence, a world that was previously rich with signs and symbols and intentions all with a life and intelligence of their own was replaced with a world that is devoid of any meaning without that assigned to it by human beings. The sense of balance and equality with nature and the cosmos was lost.

Tarnas proposes that the dichotomy (or antagonism) contributes to an increasing environment of alienation—and I would add, a greater gap between self and “other.” Rather than participating in a world that has a soul of its own (known as the anima mundi in depth psychology terms) which communicates in a rich kaleidoscope of mythical, divine, and numinous being, all sense of continuity between self and the world around them is disrupted leading to a breach in the participation mystique where the direct participation of human, nature, and divine no longer is believable or possible. C.G. Jung stated, “The collective unconscious surrounds us on all sides… is more like an atmosphere in which we live than something that is found in us” (in Tarnas, p. 59). Clearly, then, the boundaries created between self and things, self and other, self and world, and things and things became so multiple and diverse that we find ourselves divided from self and from the unconscious—and therefore losing a sense of meaning.

Tarnas also covers the concept of synchronicity in some detail, referring to it much as Jung did as “coincidences in which two or more independent events having no apparent causal connection nevertheless seem to form a meaningful pattern” (p. 50). Tarnas goes on to state “the dramatic coincidence of meaning between an inner state and a simultaneous external event seemed to bring forth in the individual a healing movement toward psychological wholeness, mediated by the unexpected integration of inner and outer realities.” He relates that events like these frequently lead to a new personal orientation where the world is suddenly seen as being rife with meaning and intentions beyond simple human projection: there seems to be, in short, a significant and intelligent order to what previously seemed like chaos.

Tarnas stresses that Jung held the belief that synchronicities served a similar function to dreams and psychological symptoms that essentially served to counteract the one-sidedness of the psyche and turn the person toward the unconscious and therefore toward greater wholeness—that is, individuation. In other words, we can benefit from a synchronistic event by allowing it to challenge and redirect our own conscious attitude. By observing more of the aliveness and autonomy of the world around us, we begin to allow synchronicities to occur. What would happen if you took a moment now to look around and notice what’s speaking to you in your environment, wherever you are?