A chickpea in a pot leaps from the flame,
out from the boiling water,
Crying, "Why do you set fire to me?
You chose me, bought me, brought me home for this?"
The cook hits it with her spoon into the pot.
"No! Boil nicely, don't jump away from the one who makes the fire.
I don't boil you out of hatred.
Through boiling you may grow flavorful, nourishing,
and united with vital human spirit.
Sometimes, I feel like the chickpea and sometimes I feel like the cook. I remembered this poem while sitting with a client who had just discovered something precious about themselves. They were hesitant at first, unsure how to proceed with the startling news that life was suddenly good. I could feel the resistance to naming the shy joy for fear of having it be tarnished, destroyed, stolen. We know those stories, the familial envies that steal the gold from the child, the parental curses of either of too much love and protection against the cruel and scary world, or of not enough protection against the true perpetrators of atrocities. And we know that they came to this moment after months and months of suffering and tears, of sitting in the pot and trying to escape -until suddenly the full flavor of their life burst forth.
Those of us work in this field sit in the soup of pain and despair, in the mixture of the conscious and unconscious forces that impel, compel, distort and reveal the contours of a soul. Our work is to give name to what is what and whose work it is to carry the moral responsibility of becoming whole. We discern: This is yours, this is not yours. This is a choice, this is a compulsion to repeat the trauma. This is the voice of the negative father, or the generative mother. This is the working out of the orphan field.
We look for the underlying patterns that constrain belief and behavior, and as Shakespeare wrote in Midsummer’s Night Dream, we look to provide “a local habitation and a name” to the demons and angels that accompany us throughout our lives. As part of our work, we often use the spoon or we turn up the heat and sometimes we just sit in it.
This is not easy, but not necessarily because we are called to witness and hold tremendous suffering. The difficulty is that we have to know that we are in the soup as well. We cannot live with the illusion that we are immune or separate from the encounter – that we are somehow apart and observe or empathize while remaining unscathed. Our own stories, fallibilities, imperfections, sufferings, madnesses are part of the pot stirred up by the unseen cook. Many of us know the language of this: transference, countertransference, the intersubjective field, projective identification. These theoretical terms serve to contain our experience with another human being and serve as guides. Are we acting out their father/mother/brother/sister? Are we suddenly angry, overwhelmed, do we get too involved in getting them in or out of relationships? The self monitoring and questioning goes on.
And here is a little rub, because the forces we are engaged with are so powerful, that sometimes we get fooled. The water boils and we get cooked too! Thank goodness for our colleagues, mentors and supervisors who help us out, hold us as we hold our clients and patients. It is humbling and profound to recognize that we are all sometimes the chickpea and sometimes the cook and that there is a fire that transforms us.
Possession? Yes, Please!
In the world of analysts, depth psychologists, therapists and all who are interested in the workings of Psyche, the word possession is bandied about. It refers to the overcoming of the ego stance by the archetypal content, i.e., the complex. The definition of a complex is, ‘a quanta of energy organized around a particular theme’. It looks something like this: you’re at the office and the boss tells you to redo the last memo. Suddenly, the rage rises, the heat suffuses the body, the head starts fuming silently: I knew it! She never appreciates anything I do, it’s never good enough. I’m tired of always having to blah blah blah. The ego is gone, the complex (whether mother or father) has occluded the ego’s ability to perceive reality. You are back at the moment when either mom or dad or some other authority figure shamed you for not doing whatever it was perfectly. Any variation of that theme suffices to understand possession.
That is the one aspect of possession that gives therapists material to work with and explore. However, that is a one-sided approach to the reality of the Psyche, which contains all possibilities in each archetype. You can be possessed by the Wicked Witch of the West, or by Glinda the Good Witch!!! We tend not to pay too much attention to the positive and generative aspects of what is also a complex.
A month or so ago, I became a grandmother for the third time and had the occasion to be able to be home with the new parents their first couple of days at home. I understood deeply the need for the new parents to be cared for as much as the new baby needed care: food, comfort, ease. I was able to cook, hold, soothe, stay up the night with both baby and mother and found myself embedded in the old story. I was in the Mother, the generative life giving and life sustaining matrix of existence. That energy carried me for two days of doing what needed to be done: cooking, cleaning, laundry, store runs.
And then it was time for me to go home. I had been possessed by the Mother, flowing effortlessly into doing and being, carried on energy that was no longer mine at this time of my life. I hadn’t been without sleep for two days in decades! But in the middle of the night, sitting with the mother and the baby, I was not tired, irate or bothered. But it was time to go home.
Like the endings of fairy tales that break the spell of the story to allow us to re-enter the world, I had to do something to break the power of the Mother. Otherwise, I would continue to nurture and protect and care for anything that looked like it needed care. A leaf hanging on a tree, a squirrel looking for nuts, anything with big eyes could engage the mothering. So, on my way home, I stopped at the mall and bought myself a new iPhone. I had to interrupt the maternal possession with Logos, with the analytical, outer world of phones and lines and bills and decisions. While we cannot live completely in the archetypal world, we can take dips in the generative possessions and access the energy, power and wisdom available there.
To access this article published in the Jung Journal, Culture and Psyche, follow this link:http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/j6M8nmnGUyCefiqEgdcD/full
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
There are many ways to explore our relationship to the creative, we can examine the life of artists throughout the ages, we can consider ourselves as creative people, and we can ask who or what is expressed through art. I am most interested in exploring the heart of creativity as the direct human experience with the creative engagement as a possibly transformational experience. That engagement is with the source of our being and existence, whether it be known as the Creative Unconscious, the Psyche, or God. It is helpful to have a framework from which to journey into the creative and I believe that Carl G. Jung provides a way to understand the creative function of art by dividing it into two types of art, visionary and psychological.
Visionary art is that which flows through the artist directly from the unconscious in an effort to inform the world about what is repressed and hidden, what needs to be brought into the collective awareness. Think of Picasso’s Guernica, the painting that gave voice to the despair and alienation of the Spanish Civil War. Visionary artists don’t have a personal say in the process, their skill and talent is in the service of the unknowable, hidden and unconscious processes that seek a voice and a presence. Their artwork serves to enlighten, perturb, and illuminate from the darkest recesses of existence.
Psychological art, on the other hand, is that art whose artifacts are created out of the materials drawn from the realm of human consciousness, from the lessons of life, “with emotional shocks, the experience of passion and the crises of human destiny in general –all of which go to make up the conscious life of man and his feeling life in particular. This material is psychically assimilated by the poet, it is raised from the commonplace to the level of poetic experience, and given an expression which forces the reader to greater clarity and depth of human insight by bringing fully into his consciousness what he ordinarily evades and overlooks or sense only with a feeling of dull discomfort.” (Jung, p. 155). These objects, whether paintings, sculptures, plays, poetry, etc., do not obscure but rather reveal everything that we know about what it means to be human and helps us understand our experience. These are the artists whose works help us see ourselves, their autobiographaical art resonates with and we can be moved, changed and inspired. This type of art is still art that is recognized as art because it is in the public sphere.
And yet, for those of us who are not artists in the Western definition of those who make a living creating objects, how are we to relate to the innate need and desire to create, to make and give expression to the movements of our own souls? It is exactly through the direct engagement with the creative that we can give shape to the inner life. We can be transformed, we can those give a local habitation and a name to those contents in our unconscious that are crying out to be seen, heard and accepted. By projecting our inner world into an outer object, regardless of the medium, we are able to give life and meaning to our life because the engagement with the creative process bypasses all of our cognitive defenses.
We can rationalize anything with our conscious mind, but we cannot dupe the unconscious because that which wishes to be known will push us until we give in. When we engage consciously with those unknown contents of our psyche, we have a hope of transforming and assimilating them into our conscious being. When we do not, they will have their way in depressions, rages, complexes that occlude our ability to choose our destiny and not simply live out our fate.
Whether we doodle, draw, sing or dance (with or without talent), when we consciously enter into the sacred space of creating, we are saying to the gods, we are ready to give up the illusion of dominion and invite you in. The goal of creativity is not to become an artist, but a whole and balanced human being. We do ourselves a disservice by denying the urge to bring something new into being, a new recipe for life that calls us from behind the veil. Our authentic self does not emerge through our intellect only, nor does it arise solely our intuition, but from the willingness to enter into the creative process. And by so doing, we are creating in ourselves a new life.
Jung, C. G. (19330. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
I have been working in the field of creativity for over thirty years. First, as a minister in a liberal denomination, I used dance, poetry, and art in all aspects of programming. Second, my doctoral dissertation explored the transformational power of art for individuals and communities, both secular and religious and was based on using stone carving as a means through which that transformation could occur. At that time, my work was based on process theology, self-psychology and subject centered learning Third, as a liturgical dancer, stone carver and student of the creative, both in academic and experiential forms, I have been engaged in trying to articulate what forms and informs creativity. And finally, as an archetypal pattern analyst, I believe that the field of creativity is predicated on moral, ethical and spiritual mandates that include the creation of objects of art but is not limited to objective expression.
At the heart of our search for the creative is the moral mandate of achieving consciousness and awareness in relationship to the Unconscious, what we call the Psyche, The Self or the divine. This is so, not only for those of us who are actively searching for what has been calling us through the veil, or teasing us throughout our lives, but for all human beings in their search for meaning and purpose. It is the difference between living out our unique destiny or blindly being lived out by fate. The young mother who is trying to break the cycle of abuse, poverty and live a more whole and balanced life is attempting the same thing that the artist is engaged in, that is, to create something new, to bring a new way of being, seeing and being seen into the world. This takes enormous energy, awareness and courage.
According to Jung, the purpose of the human is to bring consciousness to the Unconscious. Without the human encounter with the Divine, the Unknown, there is no God, no Creator, no creative experiencing itself as the divine creative force.
In Memories, Dreams and Reflections, he states that: “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious…Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which to create more and more consciousness.” (326)
The task is not only to allow us to create objects of varying degrees of beauty but to give shape to human experience itself and by engaging in the process of becoming, we expand the possibility of what it means to be human, aware and connected, not only for ourselves but for the collective and for Psyche itself, or, if you will, for God.
From the moral mandate to increase consciousness, we move to the ethical component. When we engage with the Creative Unconscious, by undergoing the painful and difficult process of coming into relationship with the source of energy, power, and meaning, we are then ethically obligated to live out our destiny consciously. It becomes a question of submitting ourselves to the power of the God willingly and in awareness. It is the recognition that we are not the true masters of our own house, that, to actually live out the very individual and personal destiny that is ours, we need to serve that which created us. The central task of our individual life is to live out our destiny, in order to do so, we must be consciously related to the source, God, Psyche/Self and be willing to give up the illusion that we are the captain of our own ship. Who wants to do that? Who wants to submit to something grander, more powerful and unknown? It is the one who is willing and capable of undergoing the process with awareness. It is not always possible, for the process of individuation entails pain, suffering, alienation and union, which some can and do refuse and deny. For those who come through the dark nights of the soul, they can say either yes or no to their destiny, it becomes a choice and not a given.
The third component of the engagement with the creative unconscious is a spiritual mandate. It is about our relationship to God, not the man in the sky god, but the energy, the psychic vitality that animates a life, gives it meaning, structure, identity, and destiny. It is the Source, the limitless, unknown, and the mystery that can fuel a life with passion, energy, activity, as well as inward reflection when it is served willingly. And it is also the annihilating, destructive force that can destroy when the human is unable to come into conscious relationship with it. This is the spiritual quest, to come into direct contact with the source in service, awe, and submission. It is the Jesus, who says, not me, but the Father. It is the Buddhist knowing - Not the finger pointing at the moon, but the Moon. This spiritual journey, to connect with the God willingly is captured in the story of the word Ole.
In the Moorish culture in Spain, dancers would celebrate sacred moments. At times, the dance would be so numinous, so resplendent, that the people would chant: Allah, Allah, Allah. They would see God through the dancer. The dancer at that moment was lifted up by the God. The next day, the dancer, would walk the streets of the market, the bazaar and the people would see Joseph, Mario, the human. They recognize the human who has done the work to allow the divine to flow through and then come back to the earthly reality without believing that they are the God. They do the work to enter the temenos, they submit to the creative process, and then, when the process comes to an end, they go grocery shopping. And there is no rupture to their ego.
This is what it means to engage creatively with the very source of creativity: we do the work, we practice, we listen, we submit to the images, the whispers and intimations of our dreams. We enter willingly into the temenos, the sacred space of encounter with the god, and we allow the creative to create through us: a painting, a sculpture, a dance, a life.
Jung, C. G. 1963. Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Vintage Books.
“And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
For many of us who grew up in the sixties and seventies, ‘Suzanne’ was an anthem, a song of mystery and depth, of wisdom and love. We sang it when we were sad, when we were waxing philosophic while silently wondering what on earth the song even meant, (not that we would ever admit that to each other). But it didn’t really matter, somehow we were taken along the waves, walking with the Jesus who looked for those willing to enter the waters, only to be taken into the depths. To be honest, I still don’t get the song, but after going sailing this weekend, I understand more about the nature of water that could be walked upon.
Maybe not of water made of the hydrogen and oxygen molecules, but of the waters that for those of us in the depth psychological world, speaks of the Unconscious, the numinous, the reality beyond our human senses. What Jung termed the Psyche, as the matrix of existence out of which all phenomena emerges is perfectly captured by the image of the ocean.
I found myself floating on these waters on a sailboat, anchored at the shore of a state park. Perhaps it was an optical illusion, created by the rays of the sun angled just right but I suddenly saw the water as both a liquid and a solid. I know something about density, how the water appears to be solid but it is due to the density of the molecules and how they are knit together. I know that displacement, mass, and volume combine to keep the boat afloat. And, I also know that if I had put my hand into the water, my hand would have separated those molecules, broken through the surface and gotten cold and wet.
But, sitting in the boat, I felt as though we were being held by a reality that was both flexible and pliant as well as solid and tangible. I could see how Jesus, as one exquisitely attuned to the reality of the Self, could simply step off the boat and walk to the other side of the bay. Not that I was tempted to try. But in this moment of psychoid clarity, as the sun was setting, I saw that what we talk about, the Self, the Psyche, the Unconscious, is more than the image and the words and the concepts and the theories. It is a dynamic and solid reality in which we are embedded where we can sink, swim, drown or walk. How profoundly humbling and strangely comforting!
I recently had the good fortune of standing at the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The water was crystal clear, I could see through the waves, the light illuminated the water and I was entranced. Partly, of course, that euphoric feeling is due to the ionization of the air as the water and the air particles combine. But that is too scientific, too analytical perhaps for the feelings of peace and tranquility that permeated the miles of almost empty sand, sea and sky.
Not only did I watch the waves coming in from the ocean, I played in them. I rode the waves, sometimes catching the break at the right time and being brought to the edge of the shore in a glorious body surf. Sometimes I missed it, and sometimes I tried to withstand the crashing with various degrees of success. Some waves were buoyant and I could just slightly ride the up and down motion as it came through me and other waves gave me more resistance. I had to really stand my ground, all the time knowing that I had to carefully assess the waves strength and submit to its greater power.
Sometimes, I even dove under the crashing waves, especially the big ones when catching a ride was not possible nor would standing firm work. When I dove, I had to get the timing and depth just right. Then the power of the wave would wash over but not throw me. I could feel it breaking over me and when it passed, I came up for air, facing the ocean, always facing the ocean so that the next wave would not catch me unaware.
That is how it is with our relationship to the unconscious and to the complexes that would throw us, overwhelm us, carry us on their energy and obviate any conscious awareness on our part. As I played in the water and stood on the shore, I was given a key to understanding the nature of complexes and the ego’s relationship to them in yet another way.
The Unconscious and its contents are constantly in play, in dynamic relationship to one another and to the ego. They are, indeed, like the ocean, which crashes on all the shores of the world all the time. Day or night, from the beginning of time, it is one unceasing undulation, whether we are present or not.
What I understood as I stood on the edge of the conscious and the unconscious, is that when we are able to see the demons clearly, when we see the approach of the unconscious in the wave, we have choices. We can ride it out, we can sometimes withstand it, we can dive under it and get to the core of the complex without being destroyed. And, when we are inevitably taken by a wave, we must get right back up and face the onslaught yet again. We will never stop the complexes from rising and falling, but when we see them clearly and name them, choose how to respond, they lose their fearsomeness. This is not a negation but an acceptance of the reality of the psychic contents, their power and our own ability to engage with awareness and courage - and live to see another day at the beach.
Dorothy and her red red shoes: Being Home
Who doesn’t remember Dorothy clikcing her heels and saying the mantra “There’s no place like home”? As a young girl who had recently moved to the United States from South America in the early 60’s, I lived for the annual showing of how Dorothy found herself back home. I waited for the special parts, the scary teacher flying on her bicycle with the purloined pooch in the back scared me silly.
I held my breath the moment the house was picked up by the hurricane and was spiralted away to another land. The moment it landed with a thud, my heart stood still. All was quiet and everetyhing was in color!
That was the magical moment, when she moved from the back and white world of the orphan in a lonely oupost of the Midwest, to the colorful land of the imagination where all was possible and good and evil were easy to tell apart. There are so many ways to look at this story from the vantage point of depth psychology not the least of which is to see that the world of images and imagination can transform the way we live our life.
Dorothy was a foreigner in a foreign land before she flew off to find her self, the aging aunt and uncle who were kind and loving were not enough to feed her developing self. Without peers, alone in a gray and difficult world, how could she come into relationship with the disparate elements of her own psyche?
Along comes nature to help her. In so many ways, she follows the heroic quest cycle, hearing a call, leaving home, finding helpers and a quest, conquering the dragon and bringing the treasure back home. The treasure, in this case, is her abiity to be in relationship and know herself capable of loving and being loved. She leaves a child and returns a young woman in the pink of health, blood and energy restored to the failing farm.
What I find most enlightening at this point of my life is that Dorothy was able to engage the difficulties of the growing up process not by meeting and befriending strange and alien beasts but rather by re-imaging the familiar faces in her life. She brought the sense of home with her, importing what had been unconscious in her waking life into the inner realm of the imagination. Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man were Hunk, Hickory and Zeke of the farm. I remember watching the end of the movie when they were all around her and she discovers that she really knows them, from the inside out. They were there all along.
Why is this important right now? So many of us have to live away from our homelands, whether by choice or by events beyond our control. There is a part of us that requires the familiar to be able to assimiliate the foreign and the exotic. We may learn the languages and mores and sensibilities of the new places we inhabit, but we do so by connecting with those deeply familiar places we carry internally.
Whether expats in reality, or expatriated from our own native soil through trauma and dis-ease, there is a way to be home within ourselves. We may not have glittery red shoes or magic balloons to bring us home because, as the movie clearly shows us, what we need we have had all along. Sometimes, we just need somone to show us the way.
Dream Pattern Analysis
As a Dream Pattern Analyst, I have been trained to look at images in dreams in a very specific way. According to Jung, Conforti and others in the analytical community, Psyche expresses itself in images and symbols that are universal and unchangeable by human experience. The Collective Unconscious or the Objective Psyche, that which is the matrix of existence seeks to express itself in meaningful ways for the individual. Each image has to be looked at for its specific attributes, proclivities, and the way that it behaves in the natural world. Depending on the context, we can accurately translate the meaning from the image if we stay with the image. The problem is that we cannot always understand what we are being told because the images seem too chaotic and subjective: we ascribe our own personal meaning to what we experience. There is really nothing wrong with associating our experiences to images and symbols, but we can truly miss the mark if we stay with what we think we know versus really looking at what the image really is.
For example, if a snake appears in your dream, we can make any number of associations with snakes. Freudians will assume it is a sexual allusion to the male genitals, others might go with the meaning of transformation or healing. But if we look at the snake and begin to ask questions about the snake, we might find out that the snake is a garter snake in the garden and not a boa in the bedroom. There is a huge difference between the two. The first is a natural occurrence which is consistent with how things are and the other is a dangerous situation which does not occur in the natural world. The context of the garden tells us that we are in nature, that snakes belong out there and that garter snakes perform an ecological function. All is well. The bedroom, on the other hand, is a person's most intimate space, not only for intimacy with a loved one, but where one goes to sleep, to re-charge, where one is the most oneself away from others. A boa constrictor not only does not belong in a house, if it is there, it is saying that something very dangerous that could crush and devour one has entered one's psychic space. The appropriate response to that is to run! And then ask the question: What is in your life that is so dangerous, so close to you that can obliterate you? In addition, we would want to look at the dreamer's response to the boa. Are they aware of the danger?
In this case, we could ask what one's feeling about the boa is in order to determine whether the dreamer has an appropriate attitude toward the image or if it is dissonant. If the dreamer says something like a boa is an incredible exemplar of power and potency, they might want to see the boa in the bedroom as a symbol of their own power. What is missed is that a boa in bedroom represents extreme danger and would point to the dreamer's naivete when dealing with others in intimate spaces who pose a real threat to the dreamer. In addition, it could also point to the dreamer's illusion that they possess those attributes to compensate for a sense of powerlessness. The rest of the dream would provide more information.
On the other hand, if the dreamer says that boas are dangerous and that they were scared of it, that tells us something different. Since they are not ignoring the danger, then we would want to look at what is in their lives that they know is dangerous and needs immediate attention.
There are many other aspects to this image as well that would reveal more about the dreamer's life. Questions to ask would be: what does the dreamer do when she/he sees the snake? What happens next? how does the dream end? When we research how a particular image actually is in the world, a bear, a bee, a shoe, a glass, we can come very close to the meaning it holds for the particular person at the particular time. If there is a bear in the winter eating honey, we know that something is off! Bears hibernate in the winter and there is no honey. So why this image? Is the dreamer engaged in something where the timing is way off and the resources are missing?
This way of approaching images is exciting and exacting work. It takes time and discipline and curiosity. If you are interested in learning more about dreams, feel free to contact me.
I’d like to say that suffering has been on my mind lately, but I know better. Suffering is always on my mind, I’m Jewish. Inexorably drawn to it. As a pattern analyst, I sit with people as they connect with and make meaning of pain and suffering, while at the same time, trying to interrupt the repetition that will keep them suffering the same fate. I don’t deny their suffering or try to make it better, I cede to suffering its rightful place in the human condition.
I know from my studies that suffering is the beginning of spirituality (individuation). When we can no longer suffer what has held us imprisoned, that is when the possibility of a new attitude can come into being. In psychological language, when we depotentiate the complexes and come into creative contact with Psyche, then we can live more freely and wholly into our destiny. Suffering has a purpose and a goal.
That is all good and well and it serves us to know that our suffering has a meaning. But, I worry about too easily accepting the idea of suffering as a necessary part of human development as though once gone through, one can blithely move on. I am thinking of the 7 steps of grieving, or the 10 ways to lose your lover or the 50 steps to efficient individuation. We get impatient when people “suffer” too long or too much. They need to ‘let it go’ already.
Of course people can get stuck or refuse to move out of the place of pain for any number of reasons. And they have a right to stay where they are. I am talking more about the assumptions that once we go through suffering, it has served its purpose and needs to recede into the mists of the past. That misses the most important aspect of being transformed though suffering, while we are no longer the same person, what once caused us tremendous pain is now a vital and important component of who we are now, and it is not to be denied.
There is something profound about recognizing that our suffering needs to be carried consciously as a precious part of ourselves. Etymologically, ‘suffer’ is defined as ‘to carry something under.” Whether we carry the pain, memory or trauma under our hearts or our skin it is crucial that those experiences be carried neither as a burden or a trophy, but with dignity, consciousness and grace. It is suffering which has lined and etched our faces, molded our hearts and made us recognizable as human beings. Let us carry it well.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor