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Yoga Meets Depth Psychology: Union, Consciousness, Healing

silhouette of woman practicing yoga on the beach at sunset

“The body is merely the visibility of the soul, the psyche; and the soul is the psychological experience of the body” —C.G. Jung

“Yoga is most often understood as the union of the individual with the transcendental self, with what Jung terms the Self.” —Judith Mills

 

In recent years, the practice of yoga has made headlines in the mainstream media as parents in U.S. school districts challenged its inclusion in the curriculum at public schools, insisting it amounts to religious indoctrination and that it violates religious freedom.[1] In the U.S. today, while mainstream yoga is largely focused on physical poses and breath work, historically it evolved over millennia in the context of the spiritual and religious traditions of India. As such, it is not a religion, but rather a philosophy that enables mindfulness and a sense of well-being, among other benefits. No matter where you fall in the debate on whether—and where—it should be taught to children, practitioners of depth psychology and those seeking positive transformation appreciate yoga for its powerful potential to heighten spirituality and increase consciousness.

C.G. Jung, who valued yoga for its evidence-based experiential approach, perceived “important parallels” with psychoanalysis. He made a comprehensive study of yoga, delivering multiple lectures over the course of several years focusing on a psychological interpretation of kundalini yoga. He asserted that as yoga, being the oldest practical philosophy of India, is the mother of psychology and philosophy (which are one and the same thing in India) and therefore the foundation of everything spiritual.[2]

Yoga, meaning union in Sanskrit, seeks to create awakening through somatic experience, cultivating states that connect us more wholly with something larger than our ego selves—the ground of being, the web of life, or what Jung termed the “Self”—effecting a transmutation of consciousness that stems from attention to inner experience. The experiential, embodied practice puts us in touch with our physical being and grounds us more fully in the earth, anchoring us to something immutable, even as our breath and movement serve to make us more consciously aware and to shift inherent patterns and blocks we may be experiencing.

AVENUES OF HEALING

“Yoga teachers are well aware of how the practice of yoga brings awareness through the layers of the body, often dredging up previous traumas and somatic awakenings,” Cheri Clampett, who is a certified yoga therapist with over 25 years of teaching experience, and the co-author of The Therapeutic Yoga Kit confided. “When these two complimentary fields come together, they offer deep avenues of healing for the soma and psyche.”

What are those avenues of healing, exactly? While yoga serves to balance and unite opposing forces to create a harmonious being, Jung went as far as to describe the intersection between depth psychology and yoga as the capacity for liberation, for each to lead to a “detachment of consciousness…a freeing from the passions and from the entanglement with the realm of objects…a psychical experience, which in practice is expressed as a feeling of deliverance.”[3]

Practitioners have long reported the capacity for yoga to evoke the numinous, a term Jung borrowed from psychologist Rudolf Otto to describe something beyond the ordinary; inexpressible or mysterious—something spiritual or sacred that carries us past the ego experience of the everyday self and reveals our divine belonging, our wholeness in potentia.[4] Indeed, yoga has been known to lead to the awakening of Kundalini, a force described as primordial energy, Shakti or universal power, which can be constellated a combination of ritual spiritual and somatic practices. When its ascent culminates in topmost chakra in a “blissful union of Shiva and Shakti,” it leads to a “far-reaching transformation of the personality.”[5]

JUNG AND YOGA

For Jung the Kundalini is the anima, or soul. “From the standpoint of the gods, this world is less than child’s play; it is a seed in the earth, a mere potentiality,” he wrote. “Our whole world of consciousness is only a seed of the future. And when you succeed in the awakening of Kundalini, so that she beings to move out of her mere potentiality, you necessarily start a world which is a world of eternity, totally different from our world.”[6]

Jung believed that yoga originated as a “natural process of introversion,” and that such introversions characteristically lead to personality changes. While Jung viewed these inner processes that evolved from yoga as universal, he felt the methods that led to them were culturally specific.[7] For this reason, Jung discouraged westerners, whose core beliefs are founded on a perception of separation—of dual and opposing poles in the realms of mind and matter, nature and psyche— from practicing yoga, fearing it could lead westerners into territory they were not culturally prepared to encounter. He suggested the west would develop its own “yoga” to explain or engage the unconscious in due time, ideas now being debated in the field of Jungian psychology.

Indeed, yoga, like many eastern or mystical spiritual traditions, is rooted in the idea of non-duality; that is, that all creation, including humans, is an aspect of the divine and is not separate from it. While this kind of transcendent consciousness is potentially available to each of us at any given moment, our ego-identity often stands in the way of that sense of unity. Yoga, in part through enabling us to engage our bodies and to be more in the present moment, allows us to suspend the thoughts, ideas, concerns, and conditioning that typically stand in the way of our sense of the sacred.

Jung makes a compelling description of the kind of transcendence one might experience in awakening to these kind of psychological or spiritual truths. On the subject of freeing ourselves from outer and inner entanglements, Jung wrote that “consciousness is at the same time empty and not empty. . . . no longer preoccupied with compulsive intentions but turns into contemplative vision.”[8]

Lionel Corbett, M.D., Jungian analyst and author of Psyche and the Sacred, writes about this apparent dissolution of boundaries, noting that “innumerable people have been able to …have numinous experiences of union with the larger psyche. In such moments,” Corbett suggests, “the world and the personal self seem to flow into each other, both part of a greater unity, with no sense of separation or personal unity…. In such an experience, the personal self is lost in the larger Consciousness of the Self, revealing our essential continuity with it.”[9]

Corbett points out that Jung, in much of his work, displays a spiritual sensibility that is compatible with the great non-dual spiritual traditions, even while remaining dualistic in his thinking in others. Both these approaches are valuable to psychotherapy, Corbett insists, yet most Jungian therapists ignore Jung’s non-dual thinking. Corbett intends to expand on some of the important implications of non-duality for psychotherapy at the Yoga Meets Depth Psychology program offered by Pacifica Graduate Institute in July.

Another Jungian analyst contemplating the value of the interface between yoga and psychotherapy is Dr. Joseph Cambray, who proposes that Jung’s incorporation of yoga practices and principles in his version of depth psychology started largely with the Red Book in which Jung documented his exploration of his unconscious and his active imagination encounters with various images and figures during that time. In fact, Jung revealed that during this intense period of confrontation with the unconscioushe frequently turned to yoga to eliminate powerful, wrought up emotions that had been stirred up.[10]

The correspondence between yoga and depth psychology emerged in subsequent theorizing that included references to the yogic literature, points out Cambray, including Jung’s Kundalini seminars in which Jung endeavored a western symbolic analysis of the Chakra system. As a long time psychotherapist (and past President of the International Association for Analytical Psychology), Cambray asserts that the interface of these two approaches provides profound advantages for contemporary psychotherapy.

MINDFULNESS AND PLAY

meditation yogaMindfulness is another powerful tool for accessing states of unity and flow according to Dr. Patricia Katsky, psychotherapist and Vice-Provost at Pacifica Graduate Institute who, in conjunction with Dr. Juliet Rohde-Brown, Director of Clinical Training for the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Pacifica, and long-time Buddhist meditation teacher, is exploring the critical characteristics of the mind states that are common to the three fields of yoga, depth psychology, and Buddhist meditation.

Similarly, the two clinicians are inquiring into the implications of “deep play”—a mind state comparable at an adult level to the meaningful childhood play of our past. “Deep play experiences are capable of bringing us into healing contact with the numinous,” writes Katsky. Indeed, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung recounted his own experience of how the act of play created a powerful psychic state in his own life. After spontaneously recalling a childhood memory of play, Jung felt compelled him to take it up again as an adult. Each day, before his patients arrived, Jung succumbed to the urge to “play,” mindfully building an “small town” of stones. For him, it released a “stream of fantasies” and led to an inner certainty that it was helping him to discover his own inner myth. “In the course of this activity my thoughts clarified, and I was able to grasp the fantasies whose presence in myself I dimly felt,” he wrote.[11]

In psychotherapy, Katsky proposes that the therapist mind state of “evenly-hovering attention” is one form of deep play, and submits that the practice of yoga can bring one to similar inner states of release and nourishment, leading us to rich self-reflections, creativity, greater contact with the imaginational world, and to deepened consciousness, including numinous experience.

Ultimately, yoga, like many of the world’s wisdom traditions, can become a portal to the present moment, to being anchored in our bodies and on the earth through the embodied use of breath and movement. This, in turn, may give rise to a dissolution of boundaries, enabling us to feel more relaxed, connected, and unified with a larger ground of reality—even ultimately awakening us to numinous experiences of the sacred. Depth psychology, with its emphasis on engaging the unconscious in order to achieve greater wholeness, can lead us to similar states. 

“At the intersection of yoga and depth psychology lies the threshold where psyche meets soma,” asserts David Odorisio, a depth practitioner who has created a professional practice that integrates the spiritual heritage of the world’s wisdom traditions with Jungian and depth psychologies in an accessible and embodied way. “This mysterious meeting point between soul and body holds unlimited—and often untapped— archetypal wisdom, vitality, healing, and wholeness.”

Join these and other world-renowned scholars and practitioners July 15-17, 2016, for Yoga Meets Depth Psychology: Embodying the Sacred, Encountering the Soul, an experiential, transformational weekend immersion at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. Pacifica faculty, including expert-level Jungian analysts and depth psychologists, will present alongside internationally recognized yoga teachers to highlight and illuminate the rich intersections of these diverse yet complementary fields. Details and registration here

Recommended reading: 

The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1932 by C. G. Jung, edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Princeton University Press, 1996

Jung and India. Spring Journal, Volume 90, Fall 2013, edited by Al Collins, Elaine Molchanov, and Nancy Cater

Jung and Yoga: The Psyche Body Connection, by Judith Harris. Inner City Books, 2000.

“Jung’s Encounter with Yoga,” by Harold G. Coward, Journal of Analytical Psychology23(4), 1978, pp. 339-357,

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G. Jung, edited by Aniela Jaffe (1961). Vintage Books, 1989.

Psyche and the Sacred: Spirituality Beyond Religion by Lionel Corbett. Spring Journal, 2007.

 


NOTES

[1] See “Beyond ‘Namaste’: The benefits of yoga in schools” by Dana Santas. CNN, May 10, 2016: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/10/health/yoga-in-schools/index.html

[2] Jung and Eastern Thought by Harold Coward, State University of New York Press, 1985, p. 11

[3] In The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, C.G. Jung, p. 83

[4] See “On Psychic Energy” in Jung’s Collected Works, Vol. 8.

[5] Sonu Shamdasani, in his introduction to Jung’s The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, p. xxv

[6] In The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, p. 26

[7] Sonu Shamdasani, in his introduction to Jung’s The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga

[8] C.G. Jung in “Commentary on ‘The Secret of the Golden Flower’ ” in Alchemical Studies, Collected Works Vol. 13, para. 65

[9] Psyche and the Sacred: Spirituality Beyond Religion by Lionel Corbett. Spring Journal, 2007, p. 25

[10] Sonu Shamdasani, in his introduction to Jung’s The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, p. xxv

[11] Jung, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Vintage Books, 1989, p.174

Regarding Change: Holding the Tension Even When it Hurts

When challenges arise for each of us, it is easier to turn to denial or distraction rather than holding the tension of what’s arising long enough to allow the self-regulating function of the psyche to take over. C.G. Jung suggested that the opposing attitudes of the ego (which gets us through some tight spots, usually by choosing the path of least resistance) and the unconscious or greater “Self” (which has our personal growth and spiritual awakening at heart) can be mitigated and even transcended if we are willing to regard the reality of our struggle and hold the tension long enough for some kind of insight and movement–a transition–to occur.
Employing or maintaining a state of “disregard” in daily life is quick, easy, and painless: almost a default mode of survival in our western consumer-based culture where everything moves faster and faster with each passing moment. In a world where we are focused on meeting deadlines, following timelines, achieving goals, and taking action, we are often are unwilling to make the time to find value in things, people, or ideas that arise around us.
In our haste, we often disregard our health, our emotions, our memories, and our loved ones. We dismiss the natural world, the earth, the landscape around us. We ignore famine, violence, and disease if it’s not in our own backyard. And we judge and disregard “others”: other races, other cultures, the “other” gender, and other beliefs.

Worst, we disregard the profound feelings of loss and longing that run like deep currents beneath our intensity and our frenzied pace, relegating them to the dark shadowy realms of the unconscious where we are not willing to look. In fact, we have ignored so much and so many of our true deep needs and emotions, we individually and as a whole, feel like something is missing. And indeed it is: pieces of ourselves and our collective humanity have become atrophied and dropped away like lost pieces of our souls, leaving us wounded and fragmented. Both universally and personally, this soul loss is a byproduct of the tremendous capacity we have developed to disregard.

Disregard drains the life force of every living thing, and those who do, in fact, make an effort to regard the liminal, the elements that are not front and center, the “non-mainstream” if you will, know that everything is alive. By judging something to have no value (or only monetary value), we dishonor it, kill it, objectify it: turn it into an dead, inanimate object which we feel justified to use, control, manipulate, or destroy. We have done this collectively with Mother Nature, Mother Earth and all of her natural resources. We have done this with animals we raise for consumption in unnatural ways pumping them full of steroids or genetically modifying supplements along with genetically modified fruits, grains, and vegetables.

In fact, in many cultures and a multitude of ways over the past few millennia, we have disregarded the sacred power of the feminine itself from whom all life comes, and a feminine “way of being” which is more receptive and creative rather than forceful, attached, and driven. This sacred feminine aspect is the force that allows us to tenderly hold and sustain the fallout during a difficult situation, patiently nurturing a creative space in which the difficulty can be transmuted and refined.

Evidence from ancient cultures indicates sublime reverence of the Divine Feminine, a life-giving mother who created all things. Goddess-imaged figurines with ripe breasts and bellies said to represent her fertile presence and power have been found from as far back as 30,000 years ago. Cave drawings, art, and pottery from as recently as 6000 to 3000 BCE depict her enlivening force.

As the Great Mother of nature, life, and indeed, all creation, she oversaw the transition from birth to life, then to the realm of death. Our ancestors were embedded in the web she wove. They understood that all things are born into life and light; then fade into the dark of a new phase of being. The goddess has long been associated with the moon. Our indigenous predecessors, who lived in a more profound state of regard for the world around them, traced the infinite circle of life, death, and rebirth through the cycles of nature. Just as the moon died to the sun each night, or faded each month to three days of darkness of the new moon, then was born again, the “people” understood the infinite rhythms of being. We are all born, and we will all die, returning to the earth from whence we came. Systems–sometimes cultures–will eventually collapse and new shoots will arise from the deadwood and debris. Our ability to regard the inevitable, and to surrender to and even embrace the change, will free some of the psychic energy around transition that often makes the transition itself difficult for us as humans.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell suggested that when a deity (or nature or the process of our own individuation and becoming–whatever that “something bigger” is to you) wants to open us up and we are too ego-centered, too attached to let go of our fixed beliefs and desires, we perceive the deity as wrathful and the experience as painful. If we are able to let go and open, we perceive the same deity, the same process, as compassionate and kind. If we are NOT able to surrender to the coming death in what ever form it presents itself–the loss of a job, the decline of health, the passing of a loved one–to dance with it, grieve with it, open to it, then we will suffer, interpreting the process as wrath coming from God or from nature, or from somewhere outside ourselves.

If you are in transition, there are many depth perspectives and techniques that can help you hold the reality of what is happening, and to regard the coming change with compassion and self-love, with awe, respect and hope. Be sure to check for depth-oriented therapists, Jungian analysts, art therapists, shamanic practitioners, dreamworkers, somatic therapists and other practicing individuals on DepthPsychologyList.com to help you regard and to hold the very human process of change until something new can emerge. In this way, you risk less the act of disregarding the beauty and value of the insights to be gained with all change in life, large or small, and the joy of becoming to which they lead.

C.G. Jung: His Role in Depth Psychology

In honor of what would have been Jung’s 138th birthday, July 26, I’m sharing an excerpt from my essay on Jung’s role in Depth Psychology, “Occupy Psyche: Deconstructing the Jungian Shadow in Depth Psychology,” published in Occupy Psyche: Jungian and Archetypal Perspectives on a Movement (2012, Eds. Jordan Shapiro and Roxanne Partridge).


The essay takes a look at how Jungian psychology relates to depth psychology and examines the influence of the larger-than-life persona of Jung on many of us who feel profoundly impacted by his work. 

It also cautions us, by the way, to regard the shadow cast by the legend Jung has truly become and to ground ourselves in remembering his humanity and not idealizing him. 

Read on…

The theories of Swiss-born Carl Gustav Jung (known as C.G. to his peers) developed during the infancy of the emerging field known as psychology, established him as a pioneer and one of the founding fathers of depth psychology. The broader field of psychology was essentially born in 1879 when German physician and philosopher, Wilhelm Wundt, set up the first laboratory that carried out psychological research. The next few years marked the award of the first doctorate in psychology, the first title “professor of psychology, and the establishment of the American Psychological Association in 1892 (Zimbardo, 2001). In 1890, American philosopher William James, published Principles of Psychology, which marked an important transition from a mental philosophy to a scientificpsychology. A few years later, in 1896, a Viennese medical doctor trained in neurology, Sigmund Freud, introduced the term “psychoanalysis” to define the practice of “talk therapy.”

In 1900, the same year that Jung graduated from the University of Basel with his M.D. degree, Freud published his groundbreaking work, The Interpretation of Dreams–strongly establishing this aspect of mental life as an area of study. Freud’s explication of psychoanalysis based on his theories of hysteria, dreams, and word association as a doorway to uncover repressed material was one of the turning points that led to the birth of what was ultimately called “depth psychology,” a term coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler around the same time. Depth psychology claimed to reveal critical understanding of the conscious mind through exploration of the depths of the unconscious one. Jung’s path to depth psychology solidified when he completed his doctoral dissertation for his Ph.D. in 1902 at the University of Zurich on a depth-related topic, On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena.

Jung met Freud who became Jung’s colleague and mentor in 1907, and they continued to establish the study of depth psychology both independently and together until 1913, at which time Jung’s capacity to support some of Freud’s theories reached a breaking point. While Freud continued to be entranced by the idea of a personal unconscious that harbored secrets, wishes, drives, and desires that could be mined and explained by childhood experiences, Jung moved more toward his theory of a collective unconscious which was a reservoir for archetypes, dreams, and stories that applied beyond the individual. The ensuing rupture between Jung and Freud was partially responsible for sending Jung into a downward spiral into the depths, instigating the fear that he was losing his mind, and ultimately resulting in an engagement with the objective unconscious that led to his writing the Red Book. When he emerged from his “descent,” Jung went on to make many vital contributions to depth psychology as we know it today.

By the time of his death in 1961, Jung had become something of a legend in his own time. As John Ryan Haule (2011) pointed out in volume one of his new scholarly work, Jung in the 21st Century, Jung “has become the most beloved of the original giants of psychoanalysis” (p. ix), even though Jung’s credibility in scientific circles and even the general field of psychology has been controversial due to some of his unusual theories which have branded him more as a mystic. Recent years have only emphasized the growing cultural interest in such esoteric topics and in Jung himself, evidenced in part by the warm reception of Jung’s Red Book (published in 2010), and also by the release of the recent film, “A Dangerous Method” (Cronenberg, 2011), which profiles Freud and Jung’s relationship and tells the story of how psychoanalysis developed. And, with growing numbers of Jungian analysts and organizations employing technology like video conferencing to educate or conduct sessions around the world, Jungian psychology is experiencing a golden era of rebirth. In fact, the headline of a January 2012 article in the Guardian boldly proclaimed, “This Could be Carl Jung’s Century” (Samuels, 2012).

On top of his professional persona, Jung’s life was a human life, marked by its own unique set of challenges, and further complicated—as with all of us—by human companions and colleagues. This, however, bears out the opportunity and the invitation to look at our attachment to Jung, the man, and his role as one of the founders of an institution many care deeply about. While it is easy to idealize both Jung and his ideas, it is critical to examine where we are accepting without questioning, buying into unauthenticated stories, worshiping while ignoring foibles, and establishing our convictions based on emotional attachment to an ideal image or outcome.

Jung’s work has personally profoundly affected me in many ways but he would likely be the first to minimize the tendency to put him on a pedestal. He purportedly said–more than once–“I’m glad I’m not a Jungian” and eschewed the establishment of a fixed initiative for studying “Jungian” psychology. 

Happy birthday, Dr. Jung. I so appreciate your contribution to our world.


References

Cronenberg, D. (Writer). (2011). A dangerous method. In R. P. Company (Producer). U.S.: Sony Pictures Classics.

Haule, J. R. (2011). Jung in the 21st century: Evolution and archetype (Vol. 1). London; New York: Routledge.

Mogenson, G. (2003). A Review of Sonu Shamdasani, Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science., 387. Retrieved from http://www.gregmogenson.com/Shamdasani.pdf

Samuels, A. (2012). This Could Be Carl Jung’s Century. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/jan/25/carl-jung-century?newsfeed=true

Shamdasani, S. (2003). Jung and the making of modern psychology: The dream of a science. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Zimbardo, P. G. (2001). History of Psychology. Discovering Psychology. Retrieved February 11, 2012, from http://www.learner.org/discoveringpsychology/history/history_nonflash.html

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.

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.

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.

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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Nature, Psyche, Climate Change, and the Psychology of Place

A pioneer of depth psychology, C.G. Jung carved the following enigmatic quote in a stone at his home in Bollingen.

Carl Gustav Jung - Carved  Stone at Bollingen

I am an orphan, alone, nevertheless I am found everywhere, I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for every one, yet I am not touched by the cycle of aeons.

Jung’s words allude to our connectivity to nature and to each other as human beings embedded in a culture which leaves us feeling separate and disconnected on the surface. Globalization, industrialization, ecocide, and environmental issues seem to be dividing us more and more rapidly, leading to increased feelings of isolation, alienation and to a very real echo of these archetypal aspects in the physical world as people in environmentally stressed areas, feeling abandoned, desperately begin to move in search of food, water, shelter, and a better life.

As I write this, my 3-month-old kitten (aptly named Psyche), is restless. He keeps climbing across my lap over and over again, meowing and rubbing his head on my arm. He seems distressed, and for no particular reason I can determine. Perhaps he’s not feeling contained enough. We are outside, and the wind is gusty, noisily rustling the nearby bamboo and randomly sending leaves and other small bits of nature flying. Nature can be quite terrifying when you’re a tiny little kitten. This observation about Nature and Psyche might also apply to us.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about climate change recently in preparation for co-hosting a panel on Transformative Imagination at an upcoming Climate Change Forum in Portland, Oregon. Statistics and probable outcome according to scientists is dire. Regardless of whether you believe climate change is a result of human activity or that it is simply a natural event, evidence clearly suggests we are headed for a crisis.

And lest it’s not clear how climate change will affect you, increased temperatures, fewer glaciers and augmented greenhouse gas emissions from newly uncovered tundra will categorically result in increased water shortages, decreased food production, and more frequent cataclysmic natural disasters. Wildfires and superstorms–including massive breakouts of tornadoes and powerful hurricanes along with resulting side effects like mudslides and flooding is virtually certain to create mass displacement of vast numbers of people. Traumatized by the loss of home, loved ones, community, livelihood, and connection to place, social tensions are sure to mount as these climate refugees desperately search for a new place to call home. (For some compelling statistics and information on the topic, check out the Forced Migration Review created by the University of Oxford Refugee Studies Centre below)

Forced Migration Review 2008

And, by the way, even if on the off chance climate change doesn’t affect water supplies (where DOES your water come from currently?) or production of food (farming does rely on irrigation, after all), there is a great chance that social unrest and climate refugees in distress will impact you in some way. If you can, watch the 2010 documentary “Climate Refugees” to get a better sense. See the trailer for the film here on this page.

Climate RefugeesPhoto Credit: Climate Refugees Documentary

In the midst of all of this, the physical displacement—the loss of connection to land, to locations that hold the bodies of loved ones who have passed away, to sacred spaces and areas that hold memories linked to powerful emotions like the home one’s children grew up in, the parks where they played, or the streams where a grandfather first taught a boy to fish. Places of worship, places with heritage, places that mark where tradition has been lived out for generations will all be inundated, washed away, or abandoned as desertification invades leaving inhabitants no choice but to seek sustenance and refuge elsewhere.

Climate Change Refugees Crossing River“Photo Credit: Climate Refugees documentary

This duality of Nature is an enigma for many of us. We love Nature when She is at peace–spending time in our gardens, taking walks in the park or nearby woods, enjoying the power of ocean waves on a beautiful sunlit day–but we feel increasingly threatened, anxious, and ill-at-ease at her random expressions of intense destructive energy. The container seems to be broken, leaving us feeling vulnerable, exposed, and helpless in the face of Nature’s power—just like poor Psyche seems to be. The challenge of looking at Nature as “Mother” as we so traditionally have is that we project onto Her in ways that are bound to leave us disappointed and confused, feeling lost, abandoned, exiled, or orphaned.

In his recent book, “Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe,” Jungian analyst Dennis Merritt insists:

Book-dairy farmers guide to the universe - Dennis L. Merritt

 

Science  has magnified our attachment to the archetype of the Good Mother in the form of abundant energy and material wealth, which has created the climate change crisis. It is not a question of giving up our scientific consciousness and the blessing of science and technology and going back to nature: there are far too many people on the planet for a return to the hunter-gatherer type of existence without draconian reductions of the human population…

What is the solution? How can we repair or improve the nature-psyche relationship so that we can feel centered and sustained? How can we as a global community support that growing body of individuals are are being displaced by traumatic events connected to Nature and environment? How can we come into better relationship in time to support our civilization in the face of rapid decline? More, what are the effects of the destruction of home on our individual and collective psyche? On a planet where our relationship to Nature is radically out of balance, we both neglect and abuse Nature as well as feel neglected and abused by Nature. As a culture, we treat Nature as dead matter, perhaps because it seems less threatening that way. C. G. Jung said:

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 The Earth Has a Soul, Sabini, 2005, p. 79-80).

Those individuals who study ecopsychology and the psychology of place know how important our reciprocal relationship to earth is, just as many of us intuitively feel it in our bones. We feel ourselves embedded in something larger where transformation can occur through creative relationship with nature and place. Terrapsychologist Craig Chalquist describes how “patterns, shapes, features and motifs at play in the nonhuman world sculpt our ideas, our habits, our relationships, culture, and sense of self” (quote from Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled (p. 6), the June selection for the Depth Psychology Alliance online book club)

Craig Chalquist, Ph.D.

Craig Chalquist, Ph.D.

I interviewed Craig this month for Depth Insights radio and he shared his insights on how our interaction with the natural world, the psychology of place, and the power of mythic images are key to understanding and integration. Click here to listen to the interview.

As global conditions worsen in coming years, there is no clear answer as to how we will, as a humanity, attempt to re-establish balance with Nature and Earth, nor how we will establish resources and plans to compassionately aid those who experience the loss and destruction of home and homelands. All of us will surely be affected. Meanwhile, paying attention is a good beginning. Consciousness and willingness to act can offer a fertile landscape for powerful solutions to grow.

 

Click here to visit my archived blogs on www.depthinsights.com

Psyche and the Symbolic Life: How do Symbols Transform You?

Sometimes events occur that naturally captivate our attention, arresting us mid-stream in our daily lives and returning to our thoughts with increasing intensity. While there is no obvious initial explanation for why these events seem to grab us, if we turn our awareness to them, create a container in which they can unfold, and allow them to speak to us through image and emotion, they can provide powerful messages about our personal lives, our psyches, and our relationship with the culture and cosmos around us.

C.G. Jung believed these captivating events and images are manifestations of the unconscious, which are imbued with numinosity. Jung believed in the idea of a collective unconscious, which is vast and inexhaustible; limitless, unknowable, and indefinable. It is made up of what Jung called archetypes, autonomous patterns or instincts that organize the contents of the unconscious and connect it, at its deepest levels, to nature.

Archetypes in the unconscious express themselves in numinous images or symbols providing a sense of what Jung called the Self, an ordering, regulating harmonizing and meaning-giving agency of the psyche. The Self, per Jung is an inner guiding factor, and the totality of the psyche. It is this central archetype around which we circumambulate and gain experience, instinctively seeking wholeness in a process called individuation (Storr, 1983).

A symbol stands for something unknown; a mystery, which can never be exhausted in meaning but is contextually significant to a particular individual. Jungian analyst, Edward Whitmont (1969), contends that symbols allow the emergence of themes from the unconscious in an attempt to reconnect us with a mode of experiencing from which we have become disconnected. He suggests we experience both external objects, things we can detect with our senses and which have meaning for us in a specific context we have learned, and we also experience inner objects that we can’t necessarily know or recognize. Both are represented by images, and “the same images which present themselves to us as representatives of the outside world are subsequently used by the psyche to express the inner world” (1969, p. 29).

Thus, the external object that represents some unknown inner object becomes a symbol, which is “the best possible representation of something that can never be known” (Hopcke, 1999, p. 29). Intuiting the meaning of this object beyond what we already understand it to be is the idea of symbolic thought (Whitmont, 1969). Ryan (2002) calls the symbol both the guiding force that opens the portal to the archetype as well as a vehicle to navigate the deeper parts of the unconscious. Jung (1964) strongly promoted living the symbolic life: taking symbolic experiences seriously.

“In psychological development,” says Jungian analyst and author Patricia Damery in Farming Soul, “the ability to symbolize is paramount in the development of soul. Symbolic work with an image is the mysterious process of seeking the essence of an image and understanding its subjective impact upon oneself, as meaning. Jung lamented that modern man is in deep need of the meaning symbols offer through their resonance with the unconscious” (p. 70).

One of the most powerful ideas behind depth psychology is the idea of what Jungian and archetypal psychologist James Hillman called “seeing through,” in order to discover what lies beneath, behind, or beyond the surface level in order to notice patterns that resonate with understanding of one’s own self. Symbols surround us every minute of the day—and many reach out and grab us, begging us to notice them and tap into the rich wisdom they hold in store. What would happen if you focused on a symbolic image each day–a dream image, something given to you by psyche (because you asked!), or something that grabs your attention and won’t let it go? How might you be transformed by these powerful messages from psyche simply by tuning in and paying attention?

References

Damery, P. (2010). Farming soul: A tale of initiation. Monterrey, CA: Fisher King Press.
Hopcke, R. H. (1999). A guided tour of the collected works of C.G. Jung. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
Ryan, R. E. (2002). Shamanism and the psychology of C.G. Jung: The great circle. London: Vega.
Storr, A. (Ed.). (1983). The essential Jung: Selected writings. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Whitmont, E. C. (1969). The symbolic quest: Basic concepts of analytical psychology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.