Archive for Psychotherapy

How Memory Tending Can Transform You: An Interview with Dr. Daphne Dodson

You may have donated that Times of Your Life Paul Anka 8-track to charity when it didn’t sell at the last neighborhood rummage sale, but the words to “Good Morning Yesterday” live on. Sometimes it is hard to find the “memories you left behind” as Anka sang in 1976. Sometimes, as Freud argued, those memories sink below the level of our consciousness, but continue to work on us in various ways even decades later. Sigmund Freud even formulated a term “return of the repressed” to explain where neurotic symptoms originate, writing that illness is

…characterized by the return of the repressed memories — that is, therefore, by the failure of the defence…. The re-activated memories, however, and the self-reproaches formed from them never re-emerge into consciousness unchanged: what become conscious as obsessional ideas and affects¹

Jung, too, expressed the opinion that our memories can torment us to a dangerous extent when he wrote,

It may be that the majority of hysterical persons are ill because they possess a mass of memories, highly charged with affect and therefore deeply rooted in the unconscious, which cannot be controlled and which tyrannize the conscious mind and will of the patient.²

You don’t have to be a depth psychologist to notice when, at times, memories of your own rise up unexpectedly out of nowhere, often instigating powerful emotions. It happens for me with a handful of certain memories that show up, surprising me with their content and their intensity, making me wonder why a certain memory would arise for me when millions of others are lost.

memory_4.jpgThis is why I was fascinated to meet Daphne Dodson, a qualitative researcher who has spent the past 20 years interviewing people, who is currently researching and writing about a concept she calls “Memory Tending.” Daphne, who recently completed her Ph.D. in Depth Psychology, specializing in Jungian and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, began thinking about the idea of Memory Tending after noticing that her daughter frequently seemed to have different memories of the same experience they had both lived through. As a researcher, Dodson realized that people she interviewed often utilized a memory to relay to Daphne who they were, to paint a picture or convey an image of how they perceive themselves to be. She began to wonder if memories might be “images,” and could be experienced much in the same way as we experience our dreams.

memory_2.jpgLooking at memories as images can be a tool to help us understand who we are and “where we might be going psychologically,” Dr. Dodson believes. The fact that we can each have a different memory of the same lived experience means it creates for each of us own personal psychic material that we can work with, or tend. The beauty of looking at a memory as an image (which in addition to being visual, could also be sound or smell), is that the image can invite us to engage with the way we see certain things of the past. Engaging with memories in an imaginal way enables us to create new relationships and perspectives with those images or stories from the past, resulting in clearing ongoing associated negativity or trauma that makes us stuck, or in amplifying the benefits of positive memories.

memory_3.jpgI consider the possibility that memories themselves may evolve as we transform our own relationship to them, much in the same way we humans individuate according to Jung—a self-generating pattern in which, as we change, the memory also transforms itself. Then, the more the memory transforms, the more we do as well. Daphne has a thoughtful response to this. It is important to note that while our memories can indeed change and evolve, she asserts, the original event doesn’t change—just our relationship to it. The original event will always be just as important in shaping who we are because of it. However, if we’re able to step into a memory of an event imaginally through a process like Memory Tending, even negative memories that haunt us can be engaged, allowing us to reshape our relationship to that memory and therefore to our own past self.

There is also clinical value to the process of Memory Tending, and Daphne shares some interesting examples from her research about how Memory Tending is helping people transform their lives and the lives of those around them. One therapist she knows has been using the practice in conjunction with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which was developed for emotional processing of traumatic memories. In her practice, the therapist uses EMDR to help integrate emotion in the body, and then brings in Memory Tending with the client to work with it imaginally and deepen the EMDR experience.

Daphne suggests an idea that might radical to some, but one that resonates with me personally. A particular memory tends to choose us, she submits. In this way, memories might then be considered an extension of the objective psyche that Jung described so passionately; the collective unconscious or archetypal Self, a field in which we move at all times, and which has our best interest at heart. Dream work is seen similarly in Jungian theory.

Memory Tending could also be an extremely useful for application to the collective, I think. In the midst of the overwhelm we all feel on a regular basis, due not only to a constant inundation of bad news in world, but also perhaps due to what must surely be disenfranchised trauma arising from our terrible history of colonialism in the west, and even memories held in the land.

When I inquire about applying Memory Tending to the collective, Daphne relates how the idea of Memory Tending originated through Dream Tending®³ (a practice developed by Pacifica’s Chancellor, Steve Aizenstat, over 40 years ago). In Dream Tending, as she describes it, one first amplifies dreams as Jung suggested, then engages with them in a transpersonal way, moving to the imaginal where images are seen as having their own wisdom. While Dream Tending doesn’t typically take place on behalf of a group, Daphne points out, she has seen cases where individuals who are present during Dream Tending sessions can get pulled into the experience, almost as if they get caught in the psyche and are there “among” the psyche, so it’s no longer “just an individual experience.” Something similar could potentially take place if it were done around a particular place and with intentionality by a group who sought to create a meaningful practice dedicated to something other than themselves, she muses.

memory.jpgI think about what Jung referred to as “big” dreams, and how they can often be given to an individual on behalf of the collective. Some indigenous peoples had rituals of gathering in the mornings to share their dreams in order to determine what messages to provide guidance to the tribe. Could certain collective memories choose us so we would do the work of psyche together for collective healing? It’s an intriguing idea.

Anytime one of us is willing to engage in our own personal psychological work, or the work of the land or the greater world and the greater psyche, Daphne affirms, it has a tremendous reach for the anima mundi, the soul of the world, itself. In our conversation, Daphne goes on to address the ethical concerns of Memory Tending, and shares more examples of how it has been instrumental in the process of transformation for many of her case subjects.

In spite of her long career as a researcher, Daphne first developed the idea of Memory Tending while in her doctoral program at Pacifica. She credits her professors there with much of her inspiration. Not only do the professors at Pacifica teach students academically, they also nurture souls, she insists: “Pacifica provides access to that kind of deep understanding of self, others, and the world around us. Pacifica itself holds that much-needed container for growth, not only academically, but on a soul and psychological level as well.”

View research topics from recent and upcoming dissertation defenses at Pacifica.edu – oral defenses.

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Daphne Dodson with Bonnie Bright here (approx. 26 mins)

¹ In “Further Remarks on the Neuro-Psychoses of Defence” in 1896, Freud introduced the idea of “the return of the repressed” as a mechanism that fuels neurotic symptoms.

² C. G. Jung, para 176 in “Cryptomnesia” from his essay, “On the Psychology of So-called Occult Phenomena,” in Collected Works Volume 1.

³ See www.dreamtending.com


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Daphne Dodson, Ph.D. is a global qualitative research psychologist primarily conducting studies in the fields of infectious and auto-immune diseases. Her specific areas of interest include cultural psychology, the imagination, and memory. Dr. Dodson’s work will appear in two upcoming publications. Her essay, “Rebirthing Biblical Myth: The Poisonwood Bible as Visionary Art” will be published in Jungian Perspectives on Rebirth and Renewal: Phoenix Rising, a new book from Routledge. “Saying Goodbye to Our Children: A Phenomenon of Soul-Making” will appear Psychological Perspectivesa journal sponsored by the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles.


bonnie_bright.jpgBonnie Bright, Ph.D., is a graduate of Pacifica’s Depth Psychology program, and the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in depth psychologies. She also founded DepthList.com, a free-to-search database of Jungian and depth psychology-oriented practitioners, and she is the creator and executive editor of Depth Insights, a semi-annual scholarly journal. Bonnie regularly produces audio and video interviews on depth psychological topics. She has completed 2-year certifications in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via the Assisi Institute and in Technologies of the Sacred with West African elder Malidoma Somé, and she has trained extensively in Holotropic Breathwork™ and the Enneagram.

NOTE: This blog post was originally posted at Pacifica Post, the official blog site for Pacifica Graduate Institute

The Therapy Room and the Interactive Field: Dr. Joseph Cambray on Becoming a Supervisor in Depth

Psychotherapy is pervasive in contemporary culture. Even if you’re not a therapist yourself, if you’re taking the time to read this post, chances are good that either you or someone close to you has been involved in therapy at some point in their lives. And, while you may feel you have a good understanding of what happens in the therapy room, there may be more than meets the eye.

Do you ever wonder, for example, what has to occur in the therapeutic process so that the basic experience is what it needs to be for both the client and the therapist? How does a therapist tap into the unconscious in order to help the client be more of “who they are”? How does synchronicity—and the interactive field that emerges between two individuals—serve up messages from the unconscious for the benefit of the work? More, where does the therapist her/himself turn for help in honing their own intuition and skills that ultimately contribute to their own individuation process in working with clients?

These are all questions I asked Jungian analyst, Dr. Joseph Cambray, when he agreed to take a few minutes away from his busy schedule as provost at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Dr. Cambray is co-leading a 10-week course, On Becoming a Supervisor in Depth, along with Linda Carter, Avedis Panajian, Lionel Corbett, and Patricia Katsky starting March 3, 2016, at Pacifica.

Joe Cambray is not only eminently qualified to offer insights on what goes on between a client and therapist in the therapy room, he also has a long history around the process of supervising other therapists, having taught a course on becoming a supervisor for nearly 12 years at Harvard Medical School. More, his landmark book, Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe, also reveals how Joe is uniquely qualified to help each of us identify ways in which unconscious patterns are at work in our lives and in our journeys of individuation.

Joe describes his own perspective on what has to happen in the therapy room so that the basic experience is what it needs to be. While the focus is on the internal life of the person and on them becoming more of who they are, he notes, there is a symmetry between the client and the therapist. The therapist pays attention to his or her own reactions within the dialogue, and uses them to guide him.

blog_supervisor.pngThrough clients’ dreams and through certain events in their lives, it is possible to see how the unconscious is mobilized and activated. More, there is a field that transpires between the therapist and client—what Jung himself might have described as “a multi-dimensional field within the limited frame of our own sensory perception.” Therapists hone certain skills and processes that enable them to tune into what’s emerging into the field between the two individuals. As images arising in the therapy begin to create resonance, it enables us to perceive how the archetypal field is shaping itself, and what’s coming into consciousness.

Perceiving the field is about the “third”—the supervenient— the extraneous or unexpected, Cambray asserts. It’s “something holistically larger” that happens between two individuals that neither can own, but that both are within: an “emergence”—or “emergent phenomenon.” The mind emerges out of the brain in interaction with the environment, including the narrative dimensions of the environment.

How do you begin to go about training a therapist to notice the field, and what is emerging in the field, I wondered aloud. Cambray points out how the process is illustrated in Jung’s Red Book, and in the way in which Jung took great fantasies that were disturbing him and entering into those fantasies rather than repressing them or disregarding them. While there were psychological dangers to this kind of work, Jung persisted, and he set a pathway for us to follow.

Some of the analytic tools therapists use to perceive the field are reverie –that is, sitting quietly and observing the contents of the mind and watching what emerges; countertransference, when the reactions of a therapist that are activated within the therapeutic dyad might be considered a communication from the unconscious, and therapists as resonant instruments in the process; or what Cambray calls objective empathy, where the therapist is empathic with the whole of the situation— including the unconscious dimensions—and not just the client’s ego. Joe recounted a transformational experience of being in analysis himself when he realized the analyst was speaking directly to a figure from a dream they were discussing, bypassing Joe’s own ego completely, as if he were a bystander in the process.

In fact, the way we traditionally understand empathy is far too limited, Cambray suggests. Jung’s notion of a psychoid unconscious (or archetype), in which the structure of the world is intuitively informing us all the time, is an important aspect of the process. Cambray, who refers to “the artistic intuition of the psychoid,” points out how extraordinary elaborate geometric patterns that exist inside 13th century mosques in Iran could not be “worked out” with any of the simple geometric tools that we have—and, in fact, were not replicated by scientists in the west until the 1970s and 80s. Seemingly, five hundred years prior to our current science, the craftspeople who created the patterns were in touch with a fundamental geometric structure of the universe.

blog_supervisor_pollock.pngA more contemporary example, Joe states, is recent analyses of the fractal qualities that are inherent in Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, which reveal Pollock had “spontaneously intuited a way to get at the optimal amount of fractal density.” It’s that kind of intuitive knowing from nature—not from a cognitive rational process—which, when they emerge in therapy and supervision, are art forms.

All this prompted me to inquire how synchronicity, the topic of Joe’s aforementioned book, shows up in the therapy room and in supervision. In complex systems, there is language available that allows us to talk about the way interactions create a larger, holistic structure, Joe submits. Intuition is that part of our psyche that has evolved to pick up patterns—and those are not necessarily causal patterns. Joe sees synchronicity arising in supervision, in the therapy room; even when he does analysis using Skype, noting some interesting examples. We have only scratched the surface of looking at synchronicity with Jung’s work, Cambray believes. The fields (between us) have synchronistic dimensions to them. It’s a fundamental part of the structure of reality.

blog_supervisor_flying_v.pngUltimately, Joe notes, we can look to nature for some remarkably creative solutions. As a culture, we’re just beginning to touch on biological intelligence. Ant colonies are incredibly intelligent as a whole unit in the way they solve problems. Insect swarms or flocks of birds that act in perfect sync, with no apparent guiding principle that overtly tells them all to turn left at the exact same moment, are also examples. Nature provides a set of micro-cues that create collective behavior “in the most wonderful and mysterious ways.” What we call intuition is some of that kind of collective phenomena, Joe suggests.

I agree. Given our conversation, I’m more motivated than ever to pay attention to emergent patterns. And, for all the ways we each strive to perceive what is arising from the unconscious, you can bet the best therapists are tuned in to help us interpret and digest what emerges, and that each of them has a supervisor who is equally engaged.

Listen to the full audio interview with Dr. Joe Cambray here (Approx. 30 mins)

Join Dr. Joseph Cambray and colleagues Linda Carter, Avedis Panajian, Lionel Corbett, and Patricia Katsky, for a 10-week series, “On Becoming a Supervisor in Depth,” starting March 3, 2016, at Pacifica Graduate Institute.


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Joe Cambray, Ph.D., is Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Pacifica Graduate Institute as well as a Jungian analyst. He is Past-President of the International Association for Analytical Psychology, and former US Editor of the Journal of Analytical Psychology. For years he was on the faculty of the Center for Psychoanalytic Studies at Harvard Medical School where he co-taught a year-long course on becoming a supervisor. His numerous publications include the book based on his Fay Lectures: Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe; a volume edited with Linda Carter, Analytical Psychology: Contemporary Perspectives in Jungian Psychology; and a two volume compendium on research in analytical psychology co-edited with Christian Roesler and Leslie Sawin currently in publication. In addition, he has published numerous papers in a range of international journals.


bonnie_bright.jpgBonnie Bright, Ph.D., graduated from Pacifica’s Depth Psychology program after defending her dissertation in December 2014. She is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in depth psychologies, and of DepthList.com, a free-to-search database of Jungian and depth psychology-oriented practitioners. She is also the creator and executive editor of Depth Insights, a semi-annual scholarly journal, and regularly produces audio and video interviews on depth psychological topics. Bonnie has completed 2-year certifications in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via the Assisi Institute; in Technologies of the Sacred with West African elder Malidoma Somé, and has been extensively involved in Holotropic Breathwork™ and the Enneagram.

NOTE: This blog post was originally published on Pacifica Post, an official blog site for Pacifica Graduate Institute on February 18, 2016.

 

Depth Psychological Approaches to Suffering—Audio Interview & Blog post with Dr. Lionel Corbett

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Kahlil Gibran

We are all intimately familiar with suffering. And, while we might wish it away when it is painfully present, it is a normal part of human life, Dr. Lionel Corbett, M.D., Jungian analyst and professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute reminded me when I recently sat down for a depth discussion with him on the topic.

Corbett-WebImage.jpgEtymologically, the word “suffering” comes from two Latin roots: sub—meaning “under”—and ferre, meaning “to carry or bear,” as in “to bear a burden.” But suffering is not necessarily pathological, Lionel insists. The root of the word “suffer” is also the root of the English word “fertile,” so it is also related to the idea of bearing fruit. Psychologically, then, suffering can produce something; it’s not random or meaningless, nor merely something to get rid of. In reality, it can act as either a fertilizer or a poison. It can be harmful or it can be helpful, but we need a framework by which we can understand it.

Dr. Corbett, whose recent book, The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to Suffering serves as a foundation for his public workshop (February 12-14, 2016) at Pacifica Graduate Institute, asserts that suffering can be developmentally useful, enabling wisdom and understanding we might not otherwise have had. Suffering can change our worldview, our values, and even reveal aspects of a person’s character that were previously not known. It may also make us more empathic and compassionate, or more appreciative of everyday life.

We might take depression, which is one kind of suffering or “burden,” as an example, Lionel noted. It is common to look at it through a clinical lens as a disorder, but if we engage a spiritual lens, depression may be regarded as a “dark night of the soul” which will eventually enhance our spiritual development. Depending on which lens one uses to regard it, we hold an attitude that will either tend to re-enforce and solidify our usual habits and patterns of thinking and doing, or else open us to change and transformation. Suffering (of any kind) may reveal great capacity for courage and resilience in an individual—or it can result in resentment and bitterness. When we consider it using a depth psychological lens, it seems clear it is not a random process, but rather a critically important aspect in the development of the personality and of what C. G. Jung called “individuation.”

Dr. Corbett offers multiple frameworks for considering suffering; among them, the idea that suffering is a period of liminality—a term anthropologists use to describe a rite of passage. Rites of passage in tribal cultures used to occur in three phases. The middle phase was the liminal on, or the phase of being “betwixt and between,” a period of tremendous uncertainty. Considering that while we are suffering, we are simply between phases, may provide an archetypal context that can help situate us and provide meaning, giving us strength to go on.

Suffering brings up fundamental and often painful questions about individual destiny and about the meaning of life, at times resulting in identity crises or “spiritual emergencies” that arouse questions like, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What have I done to deserve this?” Jung suggested that searching for meaning in suffering ultimately makes bearable what would otherwise be unbearable, and pointed out the need to locate ourselves in a larger relationship to “what is.” “The decisive question for man is,” wrote Jung (1961), “Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interests upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance. … If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change.” (pp. 356-7)

In mid-life, Lionel points out, many of us find ourselves living out the stereotypical scenario where we struggle to climb the ladder, only to find as we get to the top that the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall. In times of intense suffering, our established lifelong spiritual traditions may fail to help. Questioning one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs can be one of the functions of suffering, further amplifying the viewpoint that the way one has been living may suddenly seem rather pointless or hollow. This can cause tremendous regret or bitterness, but if one can have a direct experience of the transpersonal unconscious, what Jung refers to as “the numinous,” it can open the door to a new personal form of spirituality.

Where does suffering come from? Believing it is something that is “happening to” us is an egoic perspective, Lionel reminded me. Because the process of suffering comes out of the unconscious, we have no control over it. Jung would say that it comes from what he termed the “Self,” sending signals from the unconscious that something needs attention. While suffering can result from a complex that has taken hold of us, we can consciously and purposefully engage in the process by inquiring into aspects of or own psyche that we have to grapple with. Lionel offered a compelling metaphor, that is to look at this situation as a boat where the sailor cannot change the wind, but he can adjust the sails. The wind is like the wind of the spirit, he notes: things happen that you can’t control. The way you adjust the sails is your reaction to it.

Is suffering optional? Can we avoid suffering altogether, or at least diminish it? Are some people more sensitive to suffering? Is there such a thing as secondhand suffering, where certain individuals suffer more themselves because of what they’re witnessing? These are all questions I posed in our conversation, and some of Lionel’s answers surprised me, but this final question truly brought me back to the implications of working with suffering in a depth psychological way. “How do therapists and helping professionals sustain their work with those who are suffering?”, I wondered aloud to Dr. Corbett, who is a seasoned analyst and clinician.

There is a shamanic way of working with clients, he was quick to suggest, wherein the therapist takes on the suffering of the client, transmutes it, and then “gives it back to them in a more digestible way.”

This, to me, is the blessing of depth psychology. Knowing it is paramount in our individuation process and having support from depth-oriented thinkers and therapists who can help us hold the suffering so it can transmute and transform us.

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching,” famously wrote Charles Dickens in Great Expectations, “and has taught me to understand what [the] heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.”

Listen to the full audio interview with Dr. Lionel Corbett here (27:12 mins)

Learn more about Dr. Lionel Corbett’s upcoming public workshop, “Depth Psychological Approaches to Suffering,” February 12-14, 2016 at Pacifica Graduate Institute.


Sources

Merriam-Webster online dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/suffer

Corbett, Lionel. (2015). The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to SufferingAsheville, NC: Chiron.

Dickens, Charles. (2003). Great Expectations. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics.

Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, Dreams, ReflectionsNew York, NY. Pantheonpp. 356-7.


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Lionel Corbett, M.D., trained in medicine and psychiatry in England, and as a Jungian Analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago. His primary interests are the religious function of the psyche, especially the way in which personal religious experience is relevant to individual psychology; the development of psychotherapy as a spiritual practice; and the interface of Jungian psychology and contemporary psychoanalytic thought. Dr. Corbett is a professor of depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is the author of numerous professional papers and four books: Psyche and the Sacred, The Religious Function of the Psyche; The Sacred Cauldron: Psychotherapy as a Spiritual Practice; and most recently The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to SufferingHe is the co-editor of Jung and Aging; Depth Psychology, Meditations in the Field; and Psychology at the Threshold.

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

 

Are We Implicated?–A Depth Psychological and Cultural Take on the Fall of Lance Armstrong

 

child playing at being a heroI was out of town for a conference the weekend the two-part Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah broke and missed it entirely, but the fall-out is hard to miss. Normally I am a bit of a media addict, fascinated and equally reactive to what I consider to be a culture in decline, symptomatic even, of impending collapse. Our priorities seem so out of whack; our values in tatters, our goals absurd. I’m speaking for myself as well as the collective of course. Each of us is quite embedded in our values, beliefs, and behaviors–a result of our upbringing, education, religious ties, political views, social status, and so much more that we tend to take for granted. As a whole, we shore up the culture, buying into the “way things are,” enabling practices that are less than generative.

Regarding the “Lance” story, though–as one of my peers in the Depth Psychology Alliance community recently pointed out–nobody does the kind of thing Lance has done in a vacuum. Our fallen heroes are ours in the making. We collectively have a vested interest in creating heroes and putting them on a pedestal–where the only way out is down.

We need our heroes. Who else are we to worship? America is built on a legacy of heroes: gunslingers, pioneers who conquered the wild west, U.S, marshals, militia, inventors, gold diggers and even the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood in which the Super Friends always came out on top. How are we to dismiss the rugged individuals who actually struck it rich through talent, persistence, guts, and sheer luck? Modern day icons we revere today include sports “heroes,’ celebrities, politicians, and religious leaders among others. We ingrain this quest for success in our children at a very tender age! But do we have a collective tendency to assign larger-than-life (and unrealistic) characteristics to these individuals? They were, after all, never meant to carry such a significant weight and are, in some ways, a scapegoat for a collective culture in which we rely on others to save our bacon, defeat the monsters, and win at all costs when we ourselves often feel powerless and alone when it comes to achieving our dreams.

In my recent Depth Insights radio interview with Dr. Glen Slater, author of the viral article “A Mythology of Bullets” (Spring Journal 2009, “The Psychology of Violence”). Slater mused on our cultural mandate to succeed at all costs with no allowance for failure as the potential catalyst in many tragic shootings. When faced with failure when it comes to achieving the American Dream, many of us resort to seizing power any way we can to avoid being marginalized, ridiculed, or branded as “losers.” How many of our so-called “fallen heroes”–those who have indeed fallen prey to their own human failings, addictions, or mistakes–have only been amplified in the media and in our own minds because we are unable to see and acknowledge our own collaboration in the failure to excel?

As Jungian analyst Michael Conforti points out in his latest blog, “Patterns of the Fall: Lies, Lance and Life Patterns,” Lance Armstrong is possessed by the negative hero archetype. In historical literature and myth, the positive archetypal aspects of the hero (and his journey) involve the hero leaving home to venture into the big bad world where he encounters the guardians of the gate to the underworld and defeats them one by one before returning with his spoils–something of value for the community itself. In the negative aspects of this archetypal pattern, the would-be hero is possessed by the negative aspect of the archetypal energy where he attempts to slay the monsters and grab the prize–but is inhibited by his inflated egoic desire to be like the gods. He wants the power for himself! He acts alone and seeks only glory and recognition.

Is Lance Armstrong truly unique in his actions? I don’t condone at all, of course, what is clearly a history of incessant lies regarding doping; with cheating to “get the edge on his competitors” and claiming immunity because that’s the definition of “cheat’ in the dictionary. Back to my peer in the in-depth discussion on Depth Psychology Alliance, western culture as a whole is fairly drugged and doped–and we take it quite for granted. “Check out the lines at any pharmacy (or the profits from the whole pharmaceutical industry) to see that,” writes ‘Shane’, further pointing out that the lines we encounter at Starbucks every morning so we can all enhance our performance at work is not to be dismissed. “Doping,” for all of us, is an everyday aspect we scarcely call into question.

Finally, our fascination with those who are caught in lies–especially those in the media eye–are not so different that most of us. Case in point: in recent years we have seen the spectacular fall of Tiger Woods, the golf pro caught cheating on his wife with multiple women over the years; the writer James Frey (“A Million Little Pieces) who was exposed for having fabricated much of his so-called auto-biography on addiction; the fallen journalist Jonah Lehrer who is said to have plagiarized himself and made up quotes from famous sources including Bob Dylan to name a few. But who among us has not denied, hidden, or even outrightly lied about something we wished to keep buried about our dark side? A recent article on Lance Armstrong in the L.A. Times boldly calls us all to task with the headline, “Like Lance Armstrong, we are all liars, experts say.” Lance’s lies were simply more public, the southern California publication insists, and the stakes higher than for most of us.

Indeed we are all implicated in this story that seems so seedy at first glance. We are interconnected, guilty of not only feeling inferior, guilty or wrong if we can’t deliver through achievement, goal-orientation, or success but also through the self-satisfaction we derive by seeing someone who failed fall by the wayside (inevitably clearing the path for us to move up.)

While we may not be consciously aware–and some among us actually do manage to transcend this inherent cultural and psychological tendency–what twentieth century pioneer of depth psychology Carl Gustav Jung referred to as the Shadow is alive and well among us. That is, it is easier to recognize the painful, difficult, unwanted and denied parts of ourselves that we really don’t WANT to own in someone OTHER than us. I’m not giving Lance a pass here–be sure of that. His tendency to narcissism and his desire to win at all costs is not to be minimized. A recent article in The Atlantic proclaims “How Aggressive Narcissism Explains Lance Armstrong”–but I don’t believe that’s all there is to the story. I’m just saying that we all contribute to a culture in which the only way to compete is to cheat.

News continues to break this week on other athletes–Lance’s Tour de France teammates and others–who were also in on the doping. But I ask you (and include myself here as well): How many awards shows, competitive events, and sports competitions do YOU endorse by watching or following in a given month? And how long have we, as humans, reified and worshiped the “winners” versus the “losers” in life? This story is as old as time, dating back to the first Olympics, the gladiators of the Coliseum in Rome, and beyond.

America, built on the legacy of our forefathers who succeeded at revolution and established independence at great cost lives on in our minds and even our very cells. We have bought into a culture where there is so little room in our culture for failure, losing, depression, etc. that we strive to “empower” ourselves in any way we can. It’s unfortunate in so many ways that we don’t have a better system to “tend” our children and adolescents into holding and being with failure as a natural part of life and not amplifying and idolizing this negative hero archetype.

In the end, the truth is not so one-sided. In a society addicted to substances or activities–whether it be caffeine, prescription drugs, media, entertainment, or consumerism or something else–we are all implicated in buying into and enabling a culture that guarantees people will do whatever they have to in order to simply survive from a psychological and social standpoint. We continue to consume, make poor decisions for our well being and for that of our children and our planet, both as individuals and as a collective. Perhaps by better understanding the patterns at play in this particular story, we can begin to come to consciousness and engage with soul.

On that note, I’m looking forward to joining my colleague, Dr. Michael Conforti, to listen to his upcoming (January 31 & February 7) free 2-part teleseminar series, “When the Fairytale Ends: Lies, Lance and Life Patterns” with Olympic Coach Hank Lange as they take a depth psychological perspective on the saga of Lance Armstrong and why it’s important to all of us. I do believe there’s something for each of us to learn about ourselves in this story–which will certainly not be the last, I’m sure.

When Culture Battles Spirit: An Archetypal and Depth Psychological Look at the Nature of Addiction

Addiction (of all kinds) has been described as everything from frustrating to “hell” to “possession,” and worse. The pattern of addiction is an archetype that has been around for millennia, but it certainly seems like our current culture is more and more conducive to the iron grip of addiction in a multitude of ways–including everything from the more traditional issues with alcohol, drugs, gambling, cigarettes, sex, food, or work, to new and emerging culturally supported issues like television, shopping, Internet, email, texting, social media, mobile gadgets, video gaming, and more. Often, particularly in the case of the latter group, we don’t even realize the extent of our addiction to these categories which might simply be labeled “entertainment.” Indeed there thousands of messages vying for our attention via media on any given day seducing us with their siren song of escape from our everyday lives.

Are our “everyday lives” so distressing that we must seek escape? It seems that things are moving faster than ever before and the container that used to exist for earth-based, indigenous cultures who had options to deal with their troubles (i.e. to go to the “earth,” the shaman, or the community) is no longer an obvious option to deal with our distress. More, as activist and Buddhist scholar   points out, we are collectively aware, perhaps for the first time in history, that humanity has the capacity to literally destroy ourselves. Add to that the many and varied challenges of childhood and early experiences that may have engendered disorientation, distress, or trauma–and the lack of initiation, an archetypal concept that provides a container for us (very human) individuals to move through life experiences in stages that offer learning and growth, we have fewer and fewer tools to deal with the challenging issues that bleed into our sometimes fragile egos.

Philip Cushman, in Constructing The Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History Of Psychotherapy insists we suffer from what he terms the calls the “empty self,” in which the individual in modern culture is driven by a felt sense of hollowness, a lack of meaning by which, yearning for something it can’t quite identity, desperately seeks to fill itself up through increasing compulsive consumption of goods, services, technology, peak experiences, entertainment, celebrity and even psychotherapy. To alleviate the anxiety, depression, isolation, and suffering, psychosomatic disorders, or addiction, we turn to consumerism, increasing the demand for more and new products that require increasing amounts of natural resources, fossil fuels, and rare metals and minerals and leading to ever greater deposits of refuse, non-recycled materials, and other consumer waste.

Contemporary Jungian Marion Woodman insists the root of addiction is unique to each individual but linked to our culture. In his online article “Depth Psychological Perspectives On Addiction And Treatment,” John E. Smethers, Ph.D. writes, “Woodman suggests that many of us, despite gender, are addicted because we have been driven to specialization and perfection by our patriarchal culture (p. 10). Obsession is at the root of perfection. An obsession is a persistent or recurrent idea, usually strongly tinged with emotion, and frequently involving an urge toward some kind of action, the whole mental situation being pathological. The roots of fear can also be pathological.”

When we are fearful, then–as most of us are in our fast-paced, uncertain world with so many demands to live up to– it is natural to lean on something for emotional support to shore us up. Ultimately, the literal desire for “spirits” such as alcohol may also be an unconscious longing for spirit, an unconscious longing to be connected to something bigger than our everyday egoic selves and to find ourselves located in a larger fabric of being. Smethers posits that addiction may be a “pedagogical tool” of the psyche, presumably capable of teaching us life lessons of a nature and scale we couldn’t possibly learn in any other way.

In his article “Addictive Disorders and Contemplative Practice,” Elliott Dacher M.D. echoes this theme, reminding us that Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes the role of spirituality in recovery. Many who have studied the works of depth psychology pioneer Carl Gustav Jung are aware of his role in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in regards to his relationship with Bill Wilson, who believed he overcame his addiction through “spiritual efforts.”

Jungian Michael Conforti looks at addiction as a repetition of an archetypal pattern at play, a set of symptoms that have emerged into form due to the influence of a surrounding field. When an individual enters a particular manifest field, he or she becomes subject to the patterns at play. Engaging concepts from complexity theory and the new sciences, Conforti explains that the one way to shift the dominant pattern is a perturbation that causes a new course of action. Sometimes this occurs by “grace”–as when something “big” happens in the addicts life and he or she hits a turning point–and sometimes it occurs via the work of a good psychotherapist or “pattern analyst” (Conforti’s term) who can recognize the universal, historical, age-old patterns at work in one’s life and create a safe container in which change can occur.

In a similar vein, Jungian analyst David Schoen explores the archetypal aspects of addiction in “The War of the Gods in Addiction: C.G. Jung, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Archetypal Evil” emphasizing the crucial process of neutralizing the Archetypal Shadow (also called Archetypal Evil), an aspect of addiction. Schoen explores this concept extensively through a core Jungian approach including theoretical and clinical material, modern and ancient myths, and fairy tales. He also references the significance of using dreams for diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of addiction.

—By the way, David Schoen is offering a free 4-week teleseminar, “The War of the Gods in Addiction” starting January 9th, 2013 (you can join any week) as part of the free online depth psychology book club on Depth Psychology Alliance, and co-sponsored by Jung Platform and Shrink Rap Radio (who also offers an audio interview with David Schoen here). (Join any week or listen to the archived recordings later)

Few of us escape the grips of addictive patterns and their underlying fields and forces in some form or another. Even if we manage to repress the symptoms of addiction, or to sublimate them by turning the urge into some kind of positive action, or to somehow refrain from acting them out, there are often core issues in our lives–both individually and culturally–that compel us to turn to addiction to release other stress and deal with emotions that may otherwise overwhelm us. 

Taking a depth psychological look at addiction and engaging in reflective and/or proactive methods that help us develop a relationship with the unconscious aspects of our whole selves that are longing to be heard can liberate us on levels we can scarcely envision. If you long for relief, or simply wish to understand your own addictionsundefinedwhatever they may beundefinedbetter, try one of the depth practitioners on DepthPsychologyList.com and start the process to a new you.

The Shadow of Society and its Role in Mass Shootings

Concept of the Shadow in Jungian Psychology

With the gradual development of our corresponding capacity for logical thinking in humans (that is, to “think about our ability to think”), we have both increased opportunities for consciousness but also increased challenges in the sense that we categorically seek to analyze, label, and put into buckets the things we don’t understand–sometimes becoming reductive and trapped in limited thinking.
In order for us to transcend our current mythology and come to new creative awareness, we need to be able to look beyond established boundaries and facades to see what newand emergent concepts await. One good example of this is the current debate about gun control in America in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting and so many other recent tragic violence with guns.
On one level it’s quite common to look at it as whether or not we need to ban public access to guns (and it certainly is worth the debate), but if you use a depth psychological lens, you look beyond that simple black-and-white question to see what the undercurrent is in our society that is enabling or even driving certain individuals to use guns to commit such horrible atrocities. Part of the study of depth psychology includes regarding that invisible aspect of ourselves that is a blind spot for us (even though those close to us can usually see it clearly).
The negative, repressed parts of us that we are unable to deal with have often become split off from our awareness but continue existing (and acting out)–albeit under the radar so to speak. For example, one individual may be highly critical or even become derogatory toward parents who allow their children to run wild in public, but in the end it may be stemming from individual’s own deeply ingrained memory of her own experience with parents who punished her for doing the same, insisting she was “bad” for doing so.
Gradually the details of the reason for negative feelings disperse, but the negative feeling remains–simply no longer connected to any rational reason that one could point to that triggers it. Like individuals, society also had its . Going back to the issue of the growing number of mass shootings, I recently read a very good article that offers a symbolic and depth psychological take on the matter. In “Mythology of Bullets” (Spring 81: The Psychology of Violence), Jungian analyst and professor Glen Slater reflects on one of the most fundamental beliefs of the American culture at large. He suggests our inherent belief in the American dream, that anyone can achieve success if he works hard enough may be partially at fault.
In conjunction with the Second Amendment, our forefathers bestowed the right for every individual to bear arms, and the rather black-and-white mandate that stipulates failure in America is not an option and we must do whatever it takes to succeed, those who are moving at a pace that is not sustainable andstill find themselves failing, marginalized, and teetering on the brink of defeat simply fall prey to a power complex in which they grasp onto the one enduring symbol that lives in the very biology of our cells. Passed down from the pioneers who subdued (and colonized) the Wild West in order to establish the United States of America, the access to and utilization of guns and bullets to finally and forcefully remove all objects in the way seems an inherent right.
More, by placing a finger on the trigger of such a device that can kill at a distance, it makes us remote–removing ourselves from the human connection. Slater refers to connection between bullets as projectiles and the psychological projections we easily make in blaming others for our failures. The we can’t possibly see rises up, projecting fault and simultaneously seeking to obliterate anything that might be perceived to be linked to our failure, lack of ability to connect, and our corresponding exile to edges of acceptability in a society so focused on success.
Additionally, Slater points out, the tendency of our narrative –our cultural myth, if you will–is that the hero always wins, is shiny bright and successful, and has no side. There is no room for failure, andat the same time, we tend to move so fast and expect so much that we fail to allow for a slowing down, a reflection on the reality of life’s ups and downs, anda container for just being in the grips of difficulty, sadness, anger, and depression. Jungian James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology and one of the greatest depth psychologists in contemporary times (he just died last year in 2011), points out how absolutely critical it is that we engage in the journey to the “underworld.”
Traditional rites of initiation–now essentially absent in our culture–require the initiate to travel on what is essentially an underworld journey to go into the depths, encounter obstacles, overcome trials, and return bearing gifts for the society. If we are not willing to experience the depths, the despair, and the trials, we can’t possibly experience positive growth–what Jung called “individuation”–in the same way.
Equally, it’s critical that we participate in what depth psychologists Mary Watkins and Helene Schulman refer to as “engaged witnessing” to honor and validate the suffering and sacrifice of those who have lost loved ones to these terrible eruptions of in the cultural landscape. If we fail to “feel” and honor the feelings of grief, despair, anger, and loss that naturally arise in situations such as this, we remain only “passive bystanders” who are far more likely to participate only as onlookers that experience only the shock value or entertainment-related aspects of such dramatic and traumatic events.
The study and practice of depth psychology allows us to regard what’s going on below the surface, to challenge the obvious and wonder about the meaning of things yet unanalyzed. Everyone who has studied Jungian or depth psychology on some level has some insight into how we are all interconnected and how important it is to look beneath the obvious surface of things.
Join me, Bonnie Bright M.A. with Jungian analyst Michael Conforti Ph.D. for a second free teleseminar, Beyond Horror and Hope (PART 2): The Archetypal Intersection of Innocence and Evil, a depth psychological and archetypal perspective on the recent mass shootings. Register to participate or listen later.

In the Face of Trauma: A Depth Psychological Approach

In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of the Sandy Hook Newtown Connecticut mass school shooting, many of us are experiencing some degree of trauma–whether we knew the victims firsthand or not. In fact, there are many reasons we may feel increasingly traumatized in a culture where chaos seems to be the norm, rather than the unusual.

Psychologist and trauma expert, Robert Stolorow (2010) designates the contemporary era an “Age of Trauma” because, according to him, the “tranquilizing illusions of our everyday world seem in our time to be severely threatened from all sides” (para. 2). He refers to ongoing and increasing global issues like global warming, terrorism, and economic collapse–all of which raise issues of existential vulnerability and threaten to annihilate the core framework by which we make sense of our existence. To this list by Stolorow, I would add the pace and intensity by which we are fed information by mass media which assaults us with information like a firehose, inundating us at every moment with horrific news about violence (like the recurring mass shootings), crime, disease, loss, death, and destruction–allowing no time for us to integrate or “hold” the news in a lifestyle which provides no container in which we can witness it. In addition, many of us begin to feel what I call “trauma fatigue.” No matter how awake, sensitive, andcompassionate we may be, there comes a point when we simply begin to shut down and wish to go back to “normal” life. It’s all we can do to survive our own depth of emotions.

Activist and author, Joanna Macy (1979) points to a general apathy in our culture which she defines as a state that derives from dread. She claims that we live in fear of confronting the despair we all carry that lives just under the surface. For Macy, despair is  “the loss of the assumption that our species will inevitably pull through” (p. 1, column 3). More and more, we are bombarded by data that questions, perhaps for the first time, whether or not our culture, our species, or even our planet will survive from an ecological, economic, or even cultural standpoint. Growing numbers of people are tuning in to this horror across a broad spectrum of the global population. Worse, Macy points out, feeling despair in and about a cultural context can be isolating, further amplifying the dilemma. She believes there is a psychic dissonance between our felt sense of impending apocalypse and the increasingly desperate mechanisms to maintain “normalcy” as our society requires us to become adept at sweeping our fear and pain under the rug in order to avoid the taboo around directly addressing despair. “Our dread of what is happening to our future is banished to the fringes of awareness, too deep for most of us to name, too fearsome to face” (Macy, 1979, p. 64). As well, individuals who tap into the unnamed dread often conclude it is them and not society that is insane.

The Western notion of individuality maintains that we are separate individuals experiencing something unique to each of us andothers are disconnected from our experience. However, it is likely that in many cases, we have simply bracketed out the “outside,”–the collective memory of traumatic events that has accumulated over generations. Presumably, others with whom we have relationships are also experiencing the same trauma but it is unconscious, marginalized, silenced, and therefore invisible.

Fassin and Rechtman (2009) refer to both cultural trauma, the collective memory of wounds that contribute to cultural identity of specific groups including the Holocaust, slavery, and 9/11, and to historical trauma, events located in time that include acts of colonization, the atom bombs dropped in Japan, and apartheid among others. According to them, trauma embodies images of unacceptable suffering that are located in the body in order to ensure that these events never happen again. Social change in recent decades has redefined trauma survivors as “witness to the horrors of our age” (p. 22), embodying our common humanity.

Paul Shepherd compares dissociation to a fencing off of our psyche, a splitting, just as when we first fenced off plots of earth in order to manage them and accommodate our ongoing survival (in “My Name is Chellis…”, Glendinning, 1994). These fenced off areas of our psyche, once cut off, freeze in place, holding the contents in original untouched form, as if freeze-drying them to preserve the host from contamination. Jung referred to these split-off parts as complexes (Donald Kalsched, 1996).

Regardless, if left untreated, unhealed, and repressed, trauma leads to dissociation and abusive or pathological behaviors that tend to be passed on from generation to generation (Glendinning, 1994). To heal trauma, we must not only treat the individual symptoms and lives of those who suffer, but also address directly the cultural and psychic legacy we have inherited over time as the trauma was passed down through generations. In places where individuals can no longer contain the horror of the trauma that continues to live in the unconscious realm, it erupts into the collective culture as violence, terror, and abuse.

Even decades ago, C. G. Jung pointed out that our collective culture mirrors an individual who is suffering deeply from soul loss, manifesting in symptoms such as falling into conflict with himself, fragmenting into splinters in his pursuit of goals, interests, andoccupations, and forgetting his own “origins and traditions…even losing all memory of his former self” (Jung, as cited in Sabini, 2005, p.182). Disregard, numbing, or not wishing to see or feel the distress and negative effects that soul loss brings also moves us ever further away from deep connection an into a society where meaning is hard to find, compelling us try anything to fill up the gaping sense of emptiness that results, staving off the fear of annihilation that is core to the experience of trauma. Jungcorrectly diagnosed our compulsive, cultural tendency toward hyperactivity, saying, “we rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness” (in Sabini, 2005, p. 141).

While this may ring true for many of us–even decades after Jung wrote these words–there is still much potential for each of us to engage with creative imagination to envision a world vastly different than what we experience on a surface level. There is so much “depth” in the world–and though we have access to remarkable context and meaning, we can hardly remember who we truly are in the face of deep-seated patterns and complexes. Depth psychology provides a unique opportunity to engage with the invisible, hidden, marginalized aspects of self and culture that are crying out to help us be whole. But we need to take a depth psychological approach–to slow down and listen–and embrace the dark shadows in hopes of integrating all the aspects of what it means to be truly human.

SPECIAL EVENT ALERT: Join me for “Beyond Horror and Hope: The Archetypal Intersection of Innocence and Evil”–an exploratory conversation about the archetypal underpinnings of the Sandy Hook Connecticut school shooting by Jungian Analyst Michael Conforti, Ph.D., moderated by me, Bonnie Bright, M.A.

In the Face of Trauma: A Depth Psychological Approach

In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of the Sandy Hook Newtown Connecticut mass school shooting, many of us are experiencing some degree of trauma–whether we knew the victims firsthand or not. In fact, there are many reasons we may feel increasingly traumatized in a culture where chaos seems to be the norm, rather than the unusual.

Psychologist and trauma expert, Robert Stolorow (2010) designates the contemporary era an “Age of Trauma” because, according to him, the “tranquilizing illusions of our everyday world seem in our time to be severely threatened from all sides” (para. 2). He refers to ongoing and increasing global issues like global warming, terrorism, and economic collapse–all of which raise issues of existential vulnerability and threaten to annihilate the core framework by which we make sense of our existence. To this list by Stolorow, I would add the pace and intensity by which we are fed information by mass media which assaults us with information like a firehose, inundating us at every moment with horrific news about violence (like the recurring mass shootings), crime, disease, loss, death, and destruction–allowing no time for us to integrate or “hold” the news in a lifestyle which provides no container in which we can witness it. In addition, many of us begin to feel what I call “trauma fatigue.” No matter how awake, sensitive, and compassionate we may be, there comes a point when we simply begin to shut down and wish to go back to “normal” life. It’s all we can do to survive our own depth of emotions.

Activist and author, Joanna Macy (1979) points to a general apathy in our culture which she defines as a state that derives from dread. She claims that we live in fear of confronting the despair we all carry that lives just under the surface. For Macy, despair is  “the loss of the assumption that our species will inevitably pull through” (p. 1, column 3). More and more, we are bombarded by data that questions, perhaps for the first time, whether or not our culture, our species, or even our planet will survive from an ecological, economic, or even cultural standpoint. Growing numbers of people are tuning in to this horror across a broad spectrum of the global population. Worse, Macy points out, feeling despair in and about a cultural context can be isolating, further amplifying the dilemma. She believes there is a psychic dissonance between our felt sense of impending apocalypse and the increasingly desperate mechanisms to maintain “normalcy” as our society requires us to become adept at sweeping our fear and pain under the rug in order to avoid the taboo around directly addressing despair. “Our dread of what is happening to our future is banished to the fringes of awareness, too deep for most of us to name, too fearsome to face” (Macy, 1979, p. 64). As well, individuals who tap into the unnamed dread often conclude it is them and not society that is insane.

The Western notion of individuality maintains that we are separate individuals experiencing something unique to each of us andothers are disconnected from our experience. However, it is likely that in many cases, we have simply bracketed out the “outside,”–the collective memory of traumatic events that has accumulated over generations. Presumably, others with whom we have relationships are also experiencing the same trauma but it is unconscious, marginalized, silenced, and therefore invisible.

Fassin and Rechtman (2009) refer to both cultural trauma, the collective memory of wounds that contribute to cultural identity of specific groups including the Holocaust, slavery, and 9/11, and to historical trauma, events located in time that include acts of colonization, the atom bombs dropped in Japan, and apartheid among others. According to them, trauma embodies images of unacceptable suffering that are located in the body in order to ensure that these events never happen again. Social change in recent decades has redefined trauma survivors as “witness to the horrors of our age” (p. 22), embodying our common humanity.

Paul Shepherd compares dissociation to a fencing off of our psyche, a splitting, just as when we first fenced off plots of earth in order to manage them and accommodate our ongoing survival (in “My Name is Chellis…”, Glendinning, 1994). These fenced off areas of our psyche, once cut off, freeze in place, holding the contents in original untouched form, as if freeze-drying them to preserve the host from contamination. Jung referred to these split-off parts as complexes (Donald Kalsched, 1996).

Regardless, if left untreated, unhealed, and repressed, trauma leads to dissociation and abusive or pathological behaviors that tend to be passed on from generation to generation (Glendinning, 1994). To heal trauma, we must not only treat the individual symptomsand lives of those who suffer, but also address directly the cultural and psychic legacy we have inherited over time as the trauma was passed down through generations. In places where individuals can no longer contain the horror of the trauma that continues to live in the unconscious realm, it erupts into the collective culture as violence, terror, and abuse.

Even decades ago, C. G. Jung pointed out that our collective culture mirrors an individual who is suffering deeply from soul loss, manifesting in symptoms such as falling into conflict with himself, fragmenting into splinters in his pursuit of goals, interests, andoccupations, and forgetting his own “origins and traditions…even losing all memory of his former self” (Jung, as cited in Sabini, 2005, p.182). Disregard, numbing, or not wishing to see or feel the distress and negative effects that soul loss brings also moves us ever further away from deep connection an into a society where meaning is hard to find, compelling us try anything to fill up the gaping sense of emptiness that results, staving off the fear of annihilation that is core to the experience of trauma. Jung correctly diagnosed our compulsive, cultural tendency toward hyperactivity, saying, “we rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness” (in Sabini, 2005, p. 141).

While this may ring true for many of us–even decades after Jung wrote these words–there is still much potential for each of us to engage with creative imagination to envision a world vastly different than what we experience on a surface level. There is so much “depth” in the world–and though we have access to remarkable context and meaning, we can hardly remember who we truly are in the face of deep-seated patterns and complexes. Depth psychology provides a unique opportunity to engage with the invisible, hidden, marginalized aspects of self and culture that are crying out to help us be whole. But we need to take a depth psychological approach–to slow down and listen–and embrace the dark shadows in hopes of integrating all the aspects of what it means to be truly human.

Visit www.DepthPsychologyList.com to find depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners.

An Archetypal Perspective on Clinical Practice: A Summary of an Introductory Teleseminar Lecture by Jungian Analyst Michael Conforti

Recently I attended a teleseminar wich I found valuable and provocative and which inspired me to summarize it here. Please note that that this synopsis is based on my own understanding and interpretation of what was said on the call, and has not been reviewed by the presenter, Dr. Michael Conforti.

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Whether you are a clinical psychologist or psychotherapist, or simply an individual who had experienced therapy, the capacity to use an archetypal perspective is critical and greatly enriches the treatment, stated Dr. Michael Conforti in his introductory teleseminar in the Master Lecture series, “An Archetypal Perspective on Clinical Practice” on November 5, (2012).

psychotherapy

Dr. Conforti, a Jungian analyst himself of some thirty years, began the session reminding us that Jung was once a Freudian, a fact we may tend to forget. The infamous break between Jung and Freud occurred because Jung no longer found himself able to boil human instincts down to the singularity Freud seemed determined to make them. Jung perceived things on a broader level. Take sex, for example: Freud is widely known for his theory that many psychological issues could be reduced to issues around the sex drive. Jung, by contrast, observed a bigger picture in which sex is a physical act on one end of a spectrum, but on the other (archetypal) end, it is a spiritual coniunctio, a desire for union with the divine.

Generally speaking, psychotherapy—regardless of the approach—often looks at “what’s wrong with a life.” Jung realized the archetypal forces at work are inclusive of the history of humanity. The voices of our own past and humanity’s past are what shape our lives. As a clinician, Conforti says, you can hear it from your clients. These threads make a tapestry that is transpersonal.

Post-Jungian James Hillman wrote in The Soul’s Code about the shaping of a life, a concept referred to as acorn theory. The oak tree is not physically in the acorn, but somehow the blueprint is. There is a teleological aspect in which the future oak tree seems to be pulling the acorn forward to its destiny. In the book, Hillman relates a number of stories which some of the most successful individuals in their fields had to overcome the very thing that they later mastered, pointing to how our greatness lies in the root. For example, someone who became a master orator struggled with a severe speech impediment as a child. Similarly, Conforti reminds us, Jungian Edward Whitmont wondered if our traumas and issues reveal the destiny of a life, what each of our individual journeys is about.

Using an archetypal lens gives us a broader lens, Conforti said, allowing us to look at the field an individual is brought into when they experience a significant event. For example, if someone is orphaned, they don’t simply change status: they are ushered into a field of “orphan” which has a correlating set of data and rules that all provide context and meaning to what it means to be an orphan. Looking at the broad archetypal picture when working with clients reveals a teleological pull, allowing us to ask archetypal questions. If someone is orphaned, how can someone with that kind of trauma have a dramatic experience of the deep unconscious, like when powerful synchronicities occur in their life?

Dr. Conforti pointed to one clinical case about a man who had been orphaned at a young age. This man had an uncanny ability for accessing psyche: his dreams often came true, he consistently won the lottery, and had a remarkable connection to music and art. As an orphan, this man had been abandoned by his mother. In the absence of the maternal holding and the absence of being able to feel secure in this world, he shifted into an oceanic sort of holding, to a world before the mother. Jungian disciple Erich Neumann wrote about how in the beginning of creation, there was sort of an oceanic bliss: a one-ness. That oceanic aspect is the unconscious. The orphan, whose developmental process of being held and mirrored was interrupted, found himself in a personal world fraught with terror. With the orphaning came an interruption of the “normal” trajectory of a life, of grounding and holding. He was left without a firewall and vulnerable to overwhelm by the unconscious. In moments of terror, we invent alternate realities. The world of archetypes and the transcendent is primary universe for all of us, but when there are interruptions in that trajectory from the world of the transcendent into the world of matter, we become (or remain) adrift and disoriented.

The motive forces of psyche and Self are the motive forces that shape your life—not the forces of this life, of making a living or having a home. Psyche places us in fields: it has a destiny factor for all of us. Each of us has a different journey, but what’s universal is that we all have a journey, certain nodal points we must traverse—markers which humanity has had to pass since the beginning of time. In the archetypal journey, there are certain familiar universal motifs transitions, initiations–certain points the “hero” has to pass. In every journey there comes a time when we must enter into relationship with another, to commit to another—whether person, belief system, etc. If we are not in a relationship to an “other,” or if we are not paying our dues to humanity, not using our gifts, we remain dependent on others and never fully arrive into our own. There’s an archetype of morality that requires us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Am I doing my work?”

The central arbiter of truth is not personal jurisdiction or values, it’s the unconscious. What happens, then, when transgression occurs, to patients whose parents have been criminal or to those individuals who have been betrayed and harmed by caregivers? The Self will alert you to transgression. Something is there to mitigate.

Our lives are forever marked by trauma. The majority of psychological approaches to life and to psychotherapeutic treatments are oriented to the unfolding of personal dynamics and an explanation of life based on antecedent events. Therapists are trained to look at life from the lens of “what came before.” ‘We are what we are because of what came before…” In the autobiography of Elie Wiesel, he refers to his mentor Sol Lieberman who told Elie it was time for Elie to “have a life”—to “make a life.” Lieberman meant it was time for Elie to enter in the archetypal (sacred) field of marriage; a new phase in his journey.

An archetypal approach allows you to see the temporal but sense the archetypal unfolding of a life—not just an individual life but the unfolding of a soul. This goes against psychotherapeutic tradition in which you’re “not supposed to tell clients what to do.” When you begin to accept an archetypal approach to treatment you go against the grain of the conventional teachings of psychotherapy. The patient does not have all the answers—the patient’s soul has answers. Conforti quoted Jungian John Beebe who said the act of interpretation is building a bridge between the internal truth of the patient and their ego

Jung’s psychology transcended personal experience. What those early Jungians saw in the temporal was an expression of the eternal. It’s not simply an issue of making a living or a career, but a matter of finding your place in the tribe, in the world. Indigenous peoples have traditionally identified and honored an individual’s gifts early on, whether the capacity to be a great hunter because they could see the subtle tracks, or a healer or a medicine woman, etc. They looked at the big existential issues in life.

An archetypal approach is looking at the existential aspect of life: what you’re meant to be. An archetypal lens in therapy shows what a life can be, and can tell you what a life journey is about. That’s why we must learn to read the symbols of Self and soul; learn the language that the whole Self and soul have to offer. You can’t approach the transcendent and transpersonal through the lens of a singular life, a behavioral psychology, or a pathology. What we view as pathology is actually an expression of the Self. There are things soul and psyche are expressing through the symptoms. This is a spiritual approach; it reveals the spiritual issues of one’s life and the journey a person is on. In many ways the archetypal clinician works a bit like a homeopath, Conforti believes: he offers “remedies”—not “fixes” but rather, what a person needs, just as if someone is lacking protein and is given protein, or requires potassium and is given potassium, for example. What do each of us individually “have to have” in our lives to make us complete? Something archetypal is calling us and looking archetypally can reveal what we each need for the journey.

It’s like the way you see more of the night sky when you look up; you’re not so confined, Conforti offers. It helps move past fears that prevent you from being who you are When you enter the world of archetypes you leave the outer world of space and time. The archetypal world is not bound by space and time: it’s not just about your mother and father but also about archetypes that encompass the world of mothers or fathers. It’s an orientation, a destiny.

milky way in starry sky

milky way in starry sky

In closing, Dr. Conforti shared the story of working at a center for seriously developmentally disabled child who was emotionally “gone” when indoors, but who transformed dramatically each day when he went into the garden, where he ran about picking flowers, weaving them into a crown and placing it on his head. The act of putting that crown of flowers was symbolic, and his relationship to it as a symbol somehow transformed him. Something happened. When in that space, the child was transported to another world. It gave him something.

boy with dandelion crown

Jung’s work is all about how our relationship to symbols can change our life: they offer us things we need to incorporate into our journey every single day. There are transpersonal movers and shapers that change us. Every one of us is transformed in the presence of certain fields that are unique and meaningful to each of us—whether it’s staying in touch with deep cultural or family traditions, or opera, or dancing, dinners with friends, gardening, cooking, etc.

To finish, Dr. Conforti addressed a question about how, as a therapist, one can recognize markers that suggest he or she is on the right track in identifying archetypal patterns at work. The psyche is interactive, Conforti said. It will reveal its process. Developing a sensitivity to universal process and universal markers, having an ethology that allows us to tune into natural patterns, and having an ongoing relationship to the unconscious are important to the process.

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