Sunday, October 3, 2010

Too little ego, too much persona: the Messiah complex and the Borderline state

I spent a considerable part of this Sunday morning reading the latest issue of the New Yorker Magazine (a particularly excellent issue, I might add), and as my lens on life is clearly psychological, I could not help but note that in every article, the psychology of the actors was the prevalent (if not always mentioned) topic at hand. Be it in regards to the Dalai Lama's form of leadership and consultation of oracles in order to make decisions, or Mark Zuckerberg's desire to be a part of the in-crowd and struggle with understanding power that led him to create Facebook, one can note the personal psychology that moves each of us in different directions and -- often without our conscious choice -- rules our lives.

This fact was most apparent in the story about Rachel Yould entitled The Scholar, by Jeffrey Toobin. Rachel was a beautiful, charismatic and brilliant young woman. She was extremely high achieving in seemingly everything she did throughout her young career, but she then seemingly reached a point where she was unable to accomplish her goals and began investing only in acting-as-if, with greater and greater plans set for herself and her future and less and less actually achieved.

While at Oxford, Yould struggled to complete even chapters of her dissertation, failed to impress her professors, and began to conceive of schemes by which she could borrow more and more money from the US government in student loans while continuing to press forward on her ambitions. Living off of enormous debt, she resurrected a journal called the Oxford International Review and found her way into interview a number of esteemed international players, including Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Hamid Karzai, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Wesley Clark. But, as Toobin reports, the O.I.R never amounted to much beyond a confused, bloated publication, overflowing at every end from un-edited material and ideas of grandeur. As Yould's now ex-husband comments: "She had very big plans for O.I.R., and I don't really understand what those plans were. She just blew it way out of proportion. I saw it as a scholarly journal, but then she wanted [to] take it further into an organization where students from around the world had a change to get together and share thoughts. I didn't get it."

The story continues into various layers of complication. Ultimately, she is jailed for having defrauded the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, while also weaving a story of having suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her father. (I do not want to diminish the possibility that her accusations against her father are true, though as Toobin paints it, it seems unlikely.)

What I am compelled by is the tragic personality type that can be extraordinarily brilliant, pretty and charming, and clearly capable of accomplishing a great deal, and yet also a fraud twisted-up in her own stories and accusations, and without any close companions or true relationships. (How many of the people whom we look-up to or whose accomplishments we admire are examples of this type?) Toobin nails her psychological landscape perfectly: "With ferocious intensity, Rachel strove first for accomplishments, then merely connections, and, finally, just status, and she made no lasting friends along the way."

In my thesis on early ego development, I argued that this personality type in adulthood is the result of an ego that is not fully formed in childhood and not fully differentiated from the unconscious. Thus, the ego has incredible access to that part of the Self in which everything is possible and almost magical, and the person is charming, artistic, intelligent and talented, invariably referred to as charismatic. But when it comes to true human relationships and to building a solid life for the long-term, the individual does not have enough of a core identity or self-confidence to accomplish those tasks.

As analyst Marie-Louise von Franz (1980) wrote, rather than the ego complex shutting itself away from Self to move into the first half of life from childhood as is developmentally appropriate, for individuals in this borderline state,
the process is disturbed and consequently the ego does not polarize away from the rest of the unconscious personality, but gets vaguely mixed up with it, and then you have a strange personality, either childish or very wise, more or less conscious than other people, and hopelessly unconscious too. (pp. 79-80)
Individuals stuck at this point of ego development therefore may seem to have it all together and receive acclaim for their accomplishments, but after years pass it will come to light that their accomplishments were based on endless debt and their life is littered with failed relationships. It is as if one takes a loan from life and it is not until years pass under the guise of a well-established persona that one's life catches up with them.

As the story of Rachel's failed publication suggests to me, there is a secretly harbored and well-entrenched belief of grandeur and the sense that in the future, all disbelievers will be proved wrong. Again, von Franz (1981) characterizes this state perfectly (in discussing the ego of a particular kind of man):
[There] is often, to a smaller or greater extent, a savior or Messiah complex, with the secret thought that one day one will be able to save the world; that the last word in philosophy, or religion, or politics, or art, or something else will be found. This can progress to be a typical pathological megalomania, or there may be minor traces of it in the idea that one’s time “has not yet come.” The one situation dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatsoever. There is a terrific fear of being pinned down, or entering space and time completely, and of being the one human being that one is. (p. 2) 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Philemon Foundation

I have been distracted from blogging, it seems. My distraction comes by way of a new position that I started a few months ago which has begun occupying my time and mind in contemplations of a similar nature to what I once placed with regularity on my blog.

I have joined the team at The Philemon Foundation, a foundation that exists to bring to publication the unpublished works of C.G. Jung and is responsible for the translation and publication of the Red Book, among other esteemed works.

Since joining the organization in July, a number of wonderful things have unfolded, including the opportunity to attend the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP) conference last month in Montreal -- an experience that might have once figured prominently on my blog but is now old news as life continues at a clip.

Hopefully, I will return to my dedication to writing regularly here. Or, perhaps, my blog will go the way of so many and cease to exist after fulfilling the purpose of its author to write a little while the writing seemed to need a place to go...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Re-Dreaming with PTSD

Last week, the New York Times published this article entitled "Following a Script to Escape a Nightmare" by Sarah Kershaw, discussing a method of breaking the cycle of terrifying nightmares that afflict individuals with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) by re-imagining a scary dream in a new way.

While claiming to almost be an anti-Jungian approach, the journalist and doctors involved in the study (including one analyst whose perspective must surely have been a narrowly quoted stance), neglect to explore some enormous questions around the healing function of the psyche inherent in the approach. The approach is not only not Jungian, it is extremely Jungian, engaging the unconscious and the symptomatic aspect of the psyche versus solely the conscuous mind and the resulting behavior (i.e. treating the insomnia).

The article begins like this:
Her car is racing at a terrifying speed through the streets of a large city, and something gruesome, something with giant eyeballs, is chasing her, closing in fast.

It was a dream, of course, and after Emily Gurule, a 50-year-old high school teacher, related it to Dr. Barry Krakow, he did not ask her to unpack its symbolism. He simply told her to think of a new one.
And so Emily does. She changes the eyeballs into bubbles, turns the black car into a white Cadillac, and transforms the landscape so that nothing is chasing her. She feels much better and the treatment is working.

The article suggests, however, that by not unpacking the symbolism of the dream, work with the unconscious is being circumvented; if this is the case, from where is Emily choosing her calming symbols? She is able to find images that she inherently knows -- without logical conclusions -- will achieve a calming effect, she is not using her conscious mind solely for this endeavor.

Moreover, why bubbles? Why does another patient choose to add birds to her image? How do any of Dr. Krakow's patients know what is going to be calming for them, healing for them? Why do they choose the specific images they do?

The healing function of psyche, as it is understood in Jungian psychology, can most easily be described as imagination -- the very tool which Dr. Krakow is encouraging his patients to utilize. By facing the dreams head-on, whether they are analyzed or not, his patients are acknowledging the material; this very act can have a calming effect on a hurt area of psyche just as simple expressions of love and acknowledgment can calm an agitated or screaming baby. It is Zen, perhaps, but so often true: that which aches must be acknowledged, not fought or avoided.

The traumatized psyche experiences dreaming and loops of traumatic dreams in ways that a healthy psyche does not. The idea that these dreams must simply be analyzed in the same way as standard dreams is a narrow and elementary application of Jungian psychology. There is certainly material to be witnessed within them that offer clues towards healing, as well as growth and transformation visible over time (through the way in which the images transform), but another layer of work is needed with these nighttime feedback-loops of trauma.

However, this is an area that Jungian psychology must still wrestle with and which few prominent practitioners are tackling. How does the healing function break down when traumatized, for instance in an individual with a diagnosis of PTSD? Furthermore, is trauma a launching pad for deep inner work, perhaps the dramatic kick-start of individuation? Are the nightmares opportunities for the transformation of consciousness or an impediment to that work? And what's happening in that deeply wounded area of psyche? These are areas of research that are just now beginning to be explored. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What is Jungian Psychology?: Exploring the Rhizome Under the Blossoms

I seem to be on a perpetual quest to develop an "elevator pitch" explanation of Jungian psychology yet I seem to fail abysmally at this task each attempt I make. (It's strange, perhaps, that one can be so dedicated to a form of scholarship and yet get so tongue tied when trying to explain the passion). To help ameliorate my aphasia, I've decided to start researching the ways in which other scholars and practitioners explain Jungian psychology and Jung's concepts, including, importantly, their relevance to the world.

This post is the first installment of this quest, with quotations from analyst June Singer's book Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung's Psychology (1972).

Singer expounded on an analogy from biology that Jung himself used, in order to explain how analytic psychology differs from others. The image they use is that of the rhizome.

In his autobiography, Jung wrote:
Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above the ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away--an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains. (Jung, MDR, p. 4)
In regards to this image, June Singer wrote:
Students in universities today engage too much in the contemplation and dissection of the blossom. Psychology courses insist that all that counts in man's behavior, which can be measured, predicted, conditioned and manipulated. I agree that behavior merits considerable concern. But I am with many thinking people today who are not altogether satisfied with studying what is, or to be more accurate, "what appears to be." . . . Both [the blossom and the rhizome] are necessary to the existence if the plant and its growth. But in today's hurried world, where the blossom is all to easily seen, enjoyed, and knocked off its stem when it begins to wither and decay, the rhizome is all too often overlooked. We forget that it carries the source of tomorrow's blossom. I admit that Jungian psychology may lay too much emphasis on the rhizome, and not enough on the blossom. . . .But just because institutional psychology has dealt with the observable phenomenon, and dealt with it relatively adequately within the limitations of its methods, it has not been necessary for Jung or Jungians to dwell overlong upon grounds that have been competently tended by others. Therefore . . . Jung's way. . . [stressed] the importance of the unconscious rather than of consciousness, the mysterious rather than the known, the mystical rather than the scientific, the creative rather than the productive, the religious rather than the profane, the meaning of love rather than the technique of sex. (p. xv-xvi)
For additional reading on Dr. Singer's exploration of Jung's work and its importance in today's world, I've quoted several more relevant paragraphs from her introduction below.
Thoughtful people are recognizing that Jung provides a bridge in our time between the scientific-intellectual aspects of life and the religious-nonrational aspects. Jung has faced the apparent dichotomy between abstraction and generalization on one side and the experience of immediate knowing on the other. Our culture, steeped in the principles of Aristotelian logic, finds it difficult to accept paradoxical thinking as valid. Too often it seems necessary to make a choice between the rationalistic-academic way of life or the anti-intellectual camp. Jung's greatness is in that he saw both of these as aspects of the same reality, as polar opposites on a single axis. (p. xi)
Jung's teachings have much to offer to the troubled world in this third of the twentieth century, and there are not nearly enough Jungian analysts to meet the need, the interest, the demand. . . Often when Jungian analysts have spoken out to the general public about the experience of the analytic way--the "way of individuation"--small groups of people have sprung up spontaneously to meet and discuss the words and work and the life of Jung, to try to understand all this in term of their own personal experience. . . . Jung [has] the capacity to touch something essential in the human soul which needs to be touched or needs to be healed, in order to be made whole. (p. xii)
Some of the best works on the psychology of Jung have been written by Jungian analysts, who have formulated the theoretical approach in terms of their own experiences--as therapists and as human beings--living in active relationship with the unconscious. It is understandably hard to get at Jung in any methodical way, And, where "methods" have been devised, they tend to schematize the abstractions at which Jung arrived, without maintaining the vitality of the flesh-and-blood experiences from which his theories were generalized. (p. xiii)
Drawing of human rhizome by Marc Ngui 

Friday, June 25, 2010

What Proves the Existence of God?

I was struck this morning by a similarity between Christian Baptism and Jungian psychology while reading a story in the New Yorker about former Arkansas Governor and 2008 presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee. In this story, the Governor and former Baptist minister recounts the following to the reporter in regards to how he knows God exists.
Huckabee told me about experiences he's had with divine inspiration: "There've been times when a thought would come to me . . . and as soon as I wrote it or said it I stepped back and thought, Whoa, pretty darn good." I asked how he knew he wasn't just smart. "Well, nobody thinks that," he said, laughing. "Haven't you read the blogs? I'm a complete idiot. I'm not smart enough to run for president."
For Huckabee, this "divine inspiration," as well as a synchronistic, or divinely inspired experience that he describes, proves the existence of a God. Within the Jungian world, these experience of Huckabee's are rather well appreciated and understood--although, of course, they're viewed differently. Huckabee's experience of something else writing the words he wrote and something other than himself producing the inspiring material might be considered in some ways the basis of all Jungian psychology.

What is that which writes things which in conceptual terms our ego minds could not have possibly produced? Indeed, what is it that dreamed that philosophical idea last night, or put together the elaborate story of crossing a mountain and eating a feast? What is it that places us in impossibly unlikely and favorable circumstances? Is it just chance? Just coincidence? Just the way things are? Is it God?

Certainly, our conscious minds, our human minds, are not always running the show. Where Jungians and this Baptist preacher meet is that both would agree without a doubt that such a statement is true. But does this fact prove the existence of God?

For Jungians, the answer is no. Yet, the question of what is beyond our conscious minds drives the whole research of the field.

In the recently published Red Book, about which I have blogged several times, Jung began developing his technique of active imagination, strengthening his understanding that what he understood to be himself, Jung, did not encompass the whole of what was within his mind, his psyche. Moreover, Jung wrestled with knowing if everything that was in his mind was part of him once he met it there.

About the most prominent figure whom Jung met in the explorations of his inner world was a figure named Philemon. What Jung wrote about Philemon suggests for me similar experiences Huckabee had which proved for him the existence of God.

Jung wrote:
Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life. Philemon represented a force that was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. . . .Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight.
So what is the difference? If Jung and Huckabee had the same experiences in which things were produced from them which they themselves know they could not have created alone, does it matter if one is called "God" or something akin to autonomous figures within our psyches?

In this case, for the Jungian world, the answer is absolutely.

What Huckabee concludes from his experiences are in many ways similar to what Jung concluded. There is something greater than our singular minds guiding life, the universe, and our individual life paths. The difference, however, is that the former conclusion delivers control into an externally projected ego-fantasy, a singular, omnipotent being that is in total control of things and has certain expectations and desires for how things turn out. The latter conclusion, that on which Jungian psychology is based, is more of recognition than a conclusion; a recognition of the reality of psyche, that there are observable truths that events happen within our own minds that we do not consciously produce and that synchronistic events in the outer world do occur which suggest an inter-connection of things beyond what we were consciously aware of. As Jung said in his 1932 lectures on Kundalini Yoga, "the psyche is a self-moving thing, something genuinely not yourself" (trans. 1996, ed. Sonu Shamadasani, p. 54).

If we persist in calling this reality of psyche "God," we persist in making decisions and producing values based on an externally projected notion of omnipotence and personality. For some, the end result may be the same, which is that life is lived in highest accordance with the reality that things are not wholly within our conscious control (I personally witnessed and learned from such devotion in my Grandmother's life, for instance). In this case, devotion is authentic wisdom and follows in many respects the Jungian notion of Individuation. For others, however, the notion of a God does not result in a submission of the "ego mind" to the larger realities of life, or of God, but simply leaves the ego in control under the guise of a devotion to something larger -- a rather dangerous, inflated conclusion.

In many ways, it seems that Huckabee's relationship with God may mimic the former more than the latter, recognizing -- as I try to -- that there is something within us or without us, call it the living psyche or God, that renders our conscious minds a tiny island on a vast, unknowable sea. Semantics aside, on one point we will agree, that at any moment a terrible tornado or ship of riches may strike our island, and that such events are totally outside of our control or ability to predict. 

Friday, June 4, 2010


Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Child in the Man's Suit: Israel's Response in Gaza

I just returned home from the Middle East, having spent the majority of my time in Israel, with shorter trips into Jordan and the West Bank. Of course, given this week's news of the confrontation in Gaza, I have been paying keen attention, and have been struck again and again by Israel's seeming inability to see its own errors and accept its own wrong doing.

For instance, this bullet point, issued in a brief by the Prime Minister's office to government workers: "Israel regrets that people have been injured, but responsibility lies with the organizers and participants of the flotilla who initiated the violence."

There is a certain subtle absurdity in such a statement, a certain tone that I could not quite pin-point until I translated the feeling into an image. In an e-mail to a fellow traveler yesterday, I wrote that such statements seem like a little boy's teary protestations of punishment after being caught red-handed swinging fists on the playground. Israel is clearly embarrassed by its fumbled response to the Gaza flotilla, but it cannot see its own errors because it is also so deeply entrenched in its own defensive posture and desire for the global community to understand the whole story: the history of anti-semitism, the terror of living surrounded by enemy states, and that the threat of Hamas and the looming flotilla, as they repeatedly claim, made them do it. They are the little boy who, when caught fighting by his mother looks at her in an emotional desperation to be seen and wails: he hit me first!

I should say that I am not without compassion for that little boy, nor for Israel. The situation's complexity can not be overemphasized, nor can the genuine fear of living surrounded by well-armed enemy states and the terror of smaller scale suicide bombings. Nonetheless, though dressed in well-tailored suits and speaking without emotional pleadings, Israel's spokesmen convey an almost childish inability to see their own part in provocation. In response to Gaza, they always start the "he made me do it" argument at just the convenient moment -- i.e. after the soldiers boarded the boat and were attacked.

I had the great fortune to spend some time with Israeli Jungian analyst Dr. Erel Shalit while I was in Tel Aviv. Last night, I began to re-read his book The Hero & His Shadow: psychopolitical aspects of myth and reality in Israel (2004) and came upon a very interesting discussion of child developmental processes as it relates to Israel. Prior to last night, I'd not yet explored this fascinating notion that nations are dealing with collective developmental struggles like individuals do, but in approaching the disconnect between Israel's self-perception and that of its observers, there are intriguing correlations. It is like Israel's militarism is the archetype of the unseen, hurt, desperate "angry young man" who woefully finds himself in trouble on the wrong side of the justice system and, despite his trangressions, still feels deeply that it is he who has been most wronged, feeling terribly unseen and unappreciated.

I wonder, is it possible that Israel, like a little boy still growing-up, just wants desperately to be seen by the international community and no longer forced to explain its fights? Does Israel want to be acknowledged for all its struggle and its history by the global community and appreciated for all its hard work and successes? Does it want to stop being accused of its imperfections because it is trying very hard to be good?

In his section titled Developmental Aspects of Fear, Aggression and Boundaries, Dr. Shalit wrote, "An examination of the relationship between fear and aggression in the child's early development might contribute to our understanding of the Israeli collective's psychological development" (p. 65). He suggests that as "basic aggression can be found in the child's very first movements" (p. 66), and as the dependent child is always struggling with a fear of non-existence and abandonment which could lead to its death, it projects its terror of annihilation onto others and wrestles with it there.
If the basic fear and threat of annihilation are too strong, or the outside threat too great, the self may disintegrate or withdraw, meaning death, autism, psychosis or
depression. The result can also be frustrated and uncontrolled violence. (p. 67)
As the international community cannot possibly give Israel what it needs in terms of a perfectly seeing parental container for growth, Israel must acknowledge its own developmental needs and raise itself psychologically. Israel must take stock and look inside itself, at itself, instead of outside at others, to see for itself its own terrible mistakes and adjust accordingly. This does not mean Israel is a "bad kid," but it does seem as though it collectively feels that the international community sees it as one.

Israeli peace demonstrator on displayed on a wall at the place of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in Tel Aviv. Photo by author.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Away and Pondering

I will be out of the country for the month of May and will not be posting. I will, however, be meeting with a number of esteemed clinicians and authors in the Jungian world and will look forward to blogging about some of these encounters when I return.

Check back soon for more ponderings...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Everything is Illuminated in Light of the Past

How is the path of our individual lives related to the lives of our ancestors? This question has surfaced for me, in various forms, over the last several month -- perhaps I have taken note particularly because of my own process of losing my grandmother, my last grandparent, and reflecting on what it means that my life is inherently part of her legacy.

I had the fortune to see Sonu Shamadasani, editor and translator of The Red Book, lecture on Wednesday night. As part of his presentation, Sonu included some commentary on Jung's 1916 work, The Seven Sermons to the Dead. Of this work, which Jung wrote nearing the conclusion of his deep engagement with his inner figures (as are documented in The Red Book), Sonu commented boldly: "It's the dead who depend on us for their souls, for their evolution. . . . You think you're living your life, but your life is set-up by a framework of your ancestors . . . your own endeavor is one for your ancestors."

As Jung wrote in his autobiography about The Seven Sermons, "the unconscious corresponds to the mythic land of the dead, the land of the ancestors" (1963, p. 191), stating later that after writing the Sermons the dead became for him "ever more the voices of the Unanswered, Unresolved, and Unredeemed" (p. 192).

The notion that the dead may depend on us for their evolution, not exclusively the other way around, has been starkly illustrated for me recently in a pop culture TV show. The new NBC documentary series Who Do You Think You Are? tracks a famous person as he or she researches his or her ancestry through a variety of archival means. As each individual uncovers the history of his or her family line, uncanny "coincidences" reveal themselves. Each episode brings forward visceral and emotional realizations for the individual exploring their lineage in regards to how they are connected -- in ways not fully understood -- to a lineage of people stretching sometimes centuries into the past. Sarah Jessica Parker, who stared in the film Hocus Pocus and whose brother stars in the play Wicked on Broadway, discovers in her journey that one of the two ancestors she finds was the final woman accused in the Salem witch trials; she narrowly escaped with her life as the courts were disbanded before her sentencing. Sarah is visible shaken by this discovery, mourning this woman's life and tragedy centuries later. One gets the feeling that the ancestor sent her on this discovery so that she could be remembered. Meanwhile, Emmitt Smith, a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, discovers in his explorations with an emotional awe that the number he has worn on his back each game since college, 22, is also the number of the book in a historical library where the information about his family's slave origins is found. Finally, for Matthew Broderick, the discovery of a great-great-grandfather named Robert who fought and died as a Union soldier in the Civil War drew forth emotion as he played the role of Robert, a Union soldier, in a Civil War era film. Moreover, this discovery was also the discovery of a previously unknown soldier with a unmarked grave; his great-great-grandfather's name is now known to all.

It is remarkable to observe this journey and see that each individual tracking their genetic past is in visible mourning for the lost relatives they never knew, as well as overwhelmed with a sense that these individuals have wanted to be known. Each individual expressed, and the sentiment was palpable, that they felt they were drawn to discover their ancestors stories, and that they themselves felt more whole knowing the past of these relatives they never knew.

Finally, this same theme was highlighted for me last night while watching the film Everything is Illuminated, in which the grandson of a Jewish man who narrowly escaped death in WWII, returns to the Ukraine to find the village where his grandfather had grown-up. His grandfather had a young wife before he left, a wife who was killed by the German soldiers. After discovering a wealth of previously unknown history of the massacre in his grandfather's village, the narrator comments on the previously mysterious journey of the grandson: "Everything," he says,"is illuminated in light of the past."

Photography copyright 2004, Satya Doyle Byock.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dreaming of García

A friend called the other day to catch-up and we spoke for a while about life and plans for the future. When we hung-up the phone, I realized she had been a part of my dreams the night before. I wrote her.
I forgot to tell you, you were in my dream last night.

We were traveling together and happened upon a little store with old books in the back. I walked up to one shelf that had small, almost square books, covered with old white leather. There were simple titles on the spines. I picked-up the first one to examine it, a book that had just three or four short words in the title, including either "One" or "God." You walked up to look at it too. We talked about what a great old book it was. On the inside page there were numbers written in pencil, it turned out to be $95, I think, with just the number 95 and a dash written on the inside page. It was signed too, we saw, realizing why the price was so high. The author's name was something Garcia, three words, though it was not Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A male author. We were both were intrigued and loved the little book though we chose not to buy it.
My friend shortly thereafter wrote me back.
Federico García Lorca? I was just at a used book store today and came across a biography on him, and it did have the price written in pencil on the inside cover...
She also went on to write that when she had been exploring topics for her thesis, she had given great consideration to writing on Lorca's exploration of the concept of Duende -- a hard to translate Spanish term that explores the visceral experience of becoming possessed by a muse or a dark instinct, a feeling typically associated with being overwhelmed in the creation of art or music. The phrase "Tener duende," in Spanish, can be understood as meaning "to have soul."

The mystery of our shared experience is what draws me into the study of psyche. It was in some ways the smallest of coincidences. I did not dream of a death that then occurred shortly after in real life, nor did my dream offer her any terrific insight into her life. Nonetheless, it holds tremendous meaning. The reality of the uncanny exchange suggests to me how much we do not know. For me, it is like the mystical experience of realizing that God is everywhere, always, but rarely seen. When such inexplicable overlaps of experience occur, it offers a glimpse into other levels of life in the world, a sixth sense that we all have but rarely remember to use.

The experience is a reminder for me of the collective unconscious, the potential fallacies of our notions of linear time, the explorations of human physics and the boundaries between singular human experiences. These questions are less explored in the field of psychology than in physics, but they blend in analytic psychology in a way that keeps me hooked. There is so much that we do not know, so many layers of existence and consciousness that we do not yet even know to question.

I just came upon this wonderful passage by Jung on synchronicity that offers a thorough discussion of the concept and the questions it raises.
Though synchronistic phenomena occur in time and space they manifest a remarkable independence of both these indispensable determinants of physical existence and hence do not conform to the law of causality. The causalism that underlies our scientific view of the world breaks everything down into individual processes which it punctiliously tries to isolate from all other parallel processes. This tendency is absolutely necessary if we are to gain reliable knowledge of the world, but philosophically it has the disadvantage of breaking up, or obscuring, the universal interrelationship of events so that a recognition of the greater relationship, i.e. of the unity of the world, becomes more and more difficult. (from CW 14 in The Essential Jung, p. 293)
Jung goes on to say that the term "Synchronicity," which he defined as "a meaningful coincidence," is a principle which "suggests that there is an inter-connection or unity of causally unrelated events, and thus postulates a unitary aspect of being" (p. 293).

Could such unitary aspects of being be the "One" or the "God" in the title of the book that I was meant to ponder?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Origins and Intention of the Red Book

In Jung's memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he discusses the inner experiences that led him to create his magnum opus, what is now known as The Red Book, set to go on display at the Hammer Museum in LA this weekend.

After a series of very disturbing dreams, Jung wrote:
On August 1 [1913] the world war broke out. Now my task was clear: I had to try to understand what had happened and to what extent my own experience coincided with that of mankind in general. Therefore my first obligation was to probe the depths of my own psyche. (1961/1989, p. 176)
And probe he did. The result was a near psychosis, or perhaps a full-blown psychosis, that Jung learned to manage through yoga, familial and friendly support, and his own will and determination to continue the inner exploration. His pursuit was unprecedented.
I was frequently so wrought up that I had to do certain yoga exercises in order to hold my emotions in check. . . . I would do the exercises only until I had calmed myself enough to resume my work with the unconscious. . . .To the extent that I managed to translate the emotions into images--that is to say, to find the images which were concealed in the emotions--I was inwardly calmed and reassured. . . .I wrote down the fantasies as well as I could, and made an earnest effort to analyze the psychic conditions under which they had arisen. (1961/1989, p. 177)
The incredible compilation of his work, images and written fantasies, is the Red Book, a book which I have already had the great pleasure of seeing in-person in New York, and which I plan to visit again in LA in a few weeks. I strongly recommend you go see it as well, if you're anywhere in the area. Jung himself understood his book not simply as an exploration into his own unconscious -- and, therefore, the basis for his entire psychological theory that was to come -- but as an exploration into a new way of seeing the world, and of being in it. In a time of war, Jung went inside to understand the world and the race of people causing chaos and suffering. The lessons he learned in himself should not be lost on us today.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Curing Vision

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
~Carl Jung

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Healing the World by Slowing Down

We are all preoccupied with saving the world these days. Thank goodness. But few public service announcements or volunteer campaigns explore the Jungian take that true transformations in our use of resources, animals, landscape and atmosphere cannot hope to occur without improved engagement with the inner world as well. The explorations of our own shadows and our own creative energy cannot be neglected if we hope for sustained global change. As Gandhi famously said, "be the change you wish to see in the world."

In his 2008 book, The World Behind the World: Living at the Ends of Time, mythologist Michael Meade introduces his perspective on the course towards healing the world through his collection of ancient stories and his mythical way of writing. (I explore similar themes in my own work and here, in an old blog post on "Saving the World"). Commenting on our attempts to save the world, Meade wrote:
As the threats to existence become more evident and more threatening many people feel driven by the urgency to interrupt the reckless course of events. Others begin to feel hopeless by forces so much greater than the frail and frequently misguided presence of humankind. Yet, the elders of older cultures often suggested slowing down to allow the inner companion and Old Man in the soul to catch up. (p. 13)
Jung (1970) commented similarly, although more cerebrally, in regards to our current state of affairs.
The more civilized, the more unconscious and complicated a man is, the less he is able to follow his instincts. His complicated living conditions and the influence of his environment are so strong that they drown the quiet voice of nature. Opinions, beliefs, theories, and collective tendencies appear in its stead and back up all the aberrations of the conscious mind. Deliberate attention should then be given to the unconscious so that the compensation can set to work. (p. 160)
Between the two of them, a suggestion that the speed and "civilized" way of most of our lives are, in fact, the keys to our undoing. Perhaps we have no hope of reversing the path of destruction in global violence, climate change, or even the health of family systems, if we do not first slow down and engage with the realm of the symbolic and the unconscious. As we work to make our external lives more peaceful and less wasteful, we must also go deeper into our own beings to reengage with the non-conscious, non-ego-centered mind.

In the physical realm, our collective continuous movement adds to enormous amounts of waste and destruction. Each bottle of water, disposable latte cup, and car trip is lamentable from an environmental perspective, but if we all moved less in general, traveled less, stayed put more often, we would all be exponentially better off. If we slowed down we would lower our carbon footprint, lesson the number of take-out containers we consume, require fewer pieces of new clothing and accessories, drink our coffee to stay instead of to go. Certainly, if we slowed-down, we would also fight less, have fewer stress related illnesses, and learn to appreciate the world more. Which would, in turn, decrease waste and suffering...

But the benefits are not just visible externally. In the non-literal realm, slowing down, as Meade suggests, also allows us to come into contact with the symbolic. In our hyper-logical, scientifically oriented world, the Self is ignored, the unconscious disrespected, the symbolic mocked or trivialized, the non-human disregarded. The 24-hour analysis of events, the overwhelm of information, the constant stimulation, keeps the conscious ego in full engagement with the conscious world, but . . . there is a much larger world that is then neglected. Of the eleven dimensions of our world, our conscious mind can only interact with four. Our psyche plays in all eleven, however, and without frequent opportunities to engage on those levels, our psyches become woefully unbalanced. Through sleep and quiet, through respect for the unconscious realm and the symbolic and non-quantitative aspects of existence, healing occurs. Through relationships that do not have a market value, and creative play which cannot be logically defended, psyche can begin to find balance and... the world's path toward health may begin to happen organically.

We need to begin by placing deliberate attention on reconnecting to the unconscious, as Jung wrote decades ago. Respect for the dream world, appreciation for the "non-logical" traditions of other peoples and the non-rational truths of intuition, will all go a long way to begin the path toward global healing. We cannot hope to save the world if we remain fixed in a world-view that respects only consciousness and the linear, logical view of life. We must, as Meade suggests, go inside and stop looking exclusively outside ourselves for answers. We must align with the Old Man of wisdom who can only be found my slowing down and becoming quiet in ourselves. We must attend to our individual and social neurosis before we spin-out further in trying to fix them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Anima Projection and the Guru's Neurotic Wife

I did not expect another post on Tolstoy so soon, but I've just returned from seeing the movie The Last Station, the semi-biographical biopic about his life, and I cannot help but write. I love Tolstoy's work, it has influenced my own life and the lives of some of the world's greats -- Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, to name a couple -- but I wonder if what the film depicted is, in fact, true. And what if it is? What would that mean? The following is not a commentary on Tolstoy so much a the phenomenon of marriage and relationship that the film expressed. I do not know about the history of his life nor marriage, and cannot suggest that what I recently saw was accurate in its portrayal.

There is a certain dynamic that develops between certain pairs of men and women in relationship. She "is needy and desperate", he "cold and distant." The farther away he gets, the more desperate she becomes; the more desperate she becomes, the farther away he gets. The cycle is horrible, the pain intolerable, the confusion and tension almost literally palpable.

The Last Station depicts a scenario in which Tolstoy has created a colony, and a nation, of admirers. They revere him, trust him, love him, and he them. But his wife feels abandoned. She feels unloved, disrespected, tossed aside. She mocks his work on love and generosity because she does not feel he expresses those virtues towards her. And she goes crazy. She is mocked for being crazy, further excluded from his life by those who edge closer and closer to him as his disciples. But if he who loves everyone cannot love his wife, does he truly love?

A couple of years ago I read a passage from Jung, a vignette, of which this film reminds me strongly. In his essay entitled "The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious" (par. 306-309), Jung wrote:
The construction of a collectively suitable persona means a formidable concession to the external world, a genuine self-sacrifice which drives the ego straight into identification with the persona, so that people really do exist who believe they are what they pretend to be. . . . When we examine such cases critically, we find that the excellence of the mask is compensated by the "private life" going on behind it. . . . I once made the acquaintance of a very venerable personage -- in fact, one might easily call him a saint. I stalked round him for three whole days, but never a mortal failing did I find in him. My feeling of inferiority grew ominous, and I was beginning to think seriously of how I might better myself. Then, on the fourth day, his wife came to consult me . . . Well, nothing of the sort has ever happened to me since. . . . Any man who becomes one with his persona can cheerfully let all disturbances manifest themselves through his wife without her noticing it, though she pays for her self-sacrifice with a bad neurosis.
I believe that this is some of the most important and revolutionary commentary that Jung ever made. Despite the attacks they have both received to the contrary, both Jung and Freud may have been some of the most adamant feminists in their day. Both men saw that where there was female hysteria, there was also a trail of social and marital unrest. What looks to originate in the wife may, in fact, not be her character at all on display -- but ours, or his.
[The] identifications with a social role are a very fruitful source of neuroses. . . . To the degree that the world invites the identification with the mask, he is delivered over to influences from within. . . . Outwardly an effective and powerful role is played, while inwardly an effeminate weakness develops in face of every influence coming from the unconscious. . . .The persona, the ideal picture of a man as he should be, is inwardly compensated by feminine weakness, and as the individual outwardly plays the strong man, so he becomes inwardly a woman, i.e., the anima, for it is the anima that reacts to the persona. But because the inner world is dark and invisible to the extraverted consciousness, and because a man is all the less capable of conceiving his weaknessses the more he is identified with the persona, the persona's counterpart, the anima, remains in the dark and is at once projected, so that our hero comes under the heel of his wife's slipper. If this results in a considerable increase of her power, she will acquit herself none too well. She becomes inferior, thus providing her husband with the welcome proof that it is not he, the hero, who is inferior in private, but his wife.
Thus it has been with men of lofty ideals and high intelligence throughout history. They are revered, respected, their character cherished. The more society loves them, the more they believe themselves to be the Messiah himself. And the more they identify with their persona of greatness, the more they make those around them perfectly crazy. The narcissistic identification with their own greatness leads them to sabotage not only their own lives, but create ruin amongst those who knew them and loved them. They become captured completely, convinced -- if not for a shadow of guilt within them that they cannot face for fear of seeing their own lack of consciousness -- that they are completely sane while their wives (or children) are ungrateful and unworthy of their time or affection.

But watch what happens when the two are finally broken apart. Who gets sane, and who goes crazy . . . or takes another lover on which to project his unconscious and avoid seeing his true self?

This is not esoteric philosophy. It's a scenario played-out in the streets and in homes daily. As we revere handsome, talented and "feeling" men, their true emotions and ability to connect become disconnected, while they go about thinking that they are the infallible men that everyone believes them to be. The time of reckoning, which always should have come so much sooner, proves in the end how very wrong everyone was. The only spiritual balance one can find on this earth is to have one foot firmly rooted in embodiment and family, if one is also to be high up in the stars of ideals and faith. A chaotic home life should be an indication to everyone that something is wrong. By seeking distance and connection to perfection, the counterparts in one's home must balance one's life by sinking deeper into the depths.

Beware of who you worship. No one is ever a guru of endless compassion if he cannot love the one he's with. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Memoirs of Madness: The Therapist-in-Training Trilogy

There are three memoirs of mental illness that should be included, immediately, in all psychology related training programs. Besides the exploration of one's own psyche in personal therapy -- another must for training practitioners -- the exploration of someone else's psyche through his or her own personal account of illness is an unrivaled opportunity for learning.

Each author in this trilogy of memoirs of madness is extraordinarily intelligent and compelling. Not one can be written off as crazy and ignored. Indeed, the brilliance of these memoirs is that they are utterly identifiable and that through them, crazy becomes identifiable. Each one, in their honesty and humility, mirror ourselves back to ourselves. In their terrible pain, we see glimpses of our own insanity. Through them, we gain appreciation for the thin line between sanity and insanity, and the absurdity of disregarding those who have had the misfortune of falling too far over the other side.

The insights gained into the human experience of mental illness (and the specific experiences of each illness) cannot be taught. The appreciation that will power alone cannot heal an afflicted individual is learned unequivocally. For two of the individuals, it was only through proper medication (after a lot of failed attempts) and highly skilled psychotherapy combined that their lives were saved. That, and a lot of love and support from family, friends, and lovers. For the other author, love and companionship also got him through a lot, but it was only a long endured hospital stay that gave him what he finally needed to survive (in addition, I believe to medication, after very poor psychiatric therapy).

The authors of each memoir are people you want to know, and each book is thoroughly enjoyable (perhaps strangely); they are true page-turners, good Saturday-on-the-couch-with-a-cup-of-tea books.

In addition to a good Saturday excuse to stay in bed, however, this informal trilogy of memoirs should be read by anyone interested in understanding more fully his or her own psyche, and absolutely by anyone working with the psyches of others. In my own training as a counselor, I was assigned only one of these three memoirs. (I regret that not all of them were assigned in the first year.) I read the other two recently (finally) after receiving recommendations from friends. One of these books, in fact, was the key to a friend's discovery of her own illness, the life-saving lynch-pin to help her explain herself to herself.

For your pleasure and edification, read (if you haven't already):

The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks; the inner experience of schizophrenia.
Darkness Visible, by William Styron; the inner experience of major depressive disorder
An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison; the inner experience of manic-depressive disorder (bipolar) 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Between Evolution and God: What was Darwin Missing?

I recently saw the biopic "Creation" about the life of Charles Darwin and left the theater quite contemplative. Darwin lived in a world in which the belief in God was so pervasive that his notion of evolution, a natural process of change that does not require the will of God, was considered hugely heretical. (We'll pretend for the moment that this debate does not still rage in certain parts of America and elsewhere.) It was for this reason, and Darwin's wife's terror that he would burn in Hell for the propagation of his ideas, that Darwin kept his discoveries secret for over two decades.

The battle in his day between God and Science continues today. On the one side, no aspect of reality can be explained without noting the hand of God. On the other side, nothing can be explained without the evidence of research and science. Today, while the debate between evolution and creationism still rages in some classrooms, in less than two hundred years, those considered truly learned are no longer on the side of God. Indeed, having abandoned God so completely, to be educated today is to speak of no force other than that which is defensible by replicable scientific experiments. To do otherwise is as damning of ridicule and banishment as it was to speak against God in Darwin's day.

But Darwin's theory of evolution that has been taken as fact today only tells part of the story. Certainly, the pendulum had to swing far to the other side of God to counteract the pervasiveness of the religious beliefs and teach us more about what is right before our eyes, but there is more to be understood and the pendulum is swinging again in the other direction to find some middle ground. There is something more, right in front of us, that lies between Evolution and God.

Darwin explained the evolution of form. His brilliance showed us, without a doubt, the way in which plants and animals can transform over time to adapt to new environments, new situations, new challenges. But what of the evolution of consciousness? What of the broad question of life and our purpose? Science does not yet fill the void left by the belief in God for why we are alive, nor what life and consciousness are. Not yet.

Between the esoteric ponderings of philosophers, the abstract creations of artists, and the meticulous calculations of string theorists, there are rumblings of what the future holds for the widespread belief in existence. Perhaps, as the debate between evolution and creationism looms large again in our culture, we are to see in the clash of the two an imminent birth of the transcendent third: a theory of existence that blends both and transforms our world view once again.

Dr. Brian Swimme, a professor of cosmology at California Institute of Integral Science and a prime ponderer of such theories of existence, recounted the notions of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) in an interview republished in 2006 by What is Enlightenment? magazine. Swimme discussed this transcendent third, between science and God, through Teilhard's theories.
Teilhard de Chardin in the West and Sri Aurobindo in India really arrived at the same basic vision, which is that the unfolding of the universe is a physical evolution and also a spiritual evolution. . . .On the one hand, you have this awesome tradition about God or Brahmin, and on the other, you have this tradition about evolution—and adherents of each view tend to be very critical of the others. . . . Teilhard attempted to get beyond the fundamental subjective/objective dualism in much of Western thought. He began to really see the universe as a single energy event that was both physical and psychic or even spiritual. I think that's his great contribution: He began to see the universe in an integral way, not as just objective matter but as suffused with psychic or spiritual energy.
. . . The central idea of Teilhard is his law of "complexification-consciousness." He identifies this as the fundamental law of evolution. He sees that the whole process [of evolution] is about complexifying and deepening intelligence or subjectivity. The entire movement of the universe in its complexification is simultaneously a movement further into the depths of consciousness, or interiority. He saw the whole thing as a physical-biological-spiritual process. He was the one who saw it all together. You could summarize his thought simplistically and say that the universe begins with matter, develops into life, develops into thought, develops into God. That's his whole vision, right there. Now clearly, this God that develops—it's not as if God is developed out of matter. God is present from the very beginning, but in an implicit form, and the universe is accomplishing this great work of making divinity explicit.
Evolution in many forms is happening all the time. Indeed, Darwin's new understanding of the evolution of biological form, was a process of the evolution of ideas, of knowledge, of consciousness. The urge towards understanding was so strong within him that even the fear of eternal damnation could not keep him silent. Truth had to be known and understood. What is that force within us? Can we understand it only as biological evolution? What is it that propels us towards truth and greater knowledge? What keeps us moving against all odds for survival? There is something more, something that blends notions of God and science that has yet to be fully understood. Just as Darwin once defended his childrens' right to "trust their own senses" about the truths of the natural world and deny the omnipotence of God, we too will be able to acknowledge questions about the world and consciousness that neither fit into the spiritual framework that denies science, nor in the scientific framework that denies the spiritual. There is something more that lies just below our noses, waiting to be understood. . .

(Geometric image: "String Theory" by Cory Ench, 2006)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

For the Love of Tolstoy

Jungian psychology (or perhaps its representatives) has a little love affair with Russian literature. It was this discovery of mine that further sealed my love affair with Jungian psychology.

I have loved Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot), Nabokov (Lolita), and Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, War and Peace) since I was in my teens. With each book, I appreciated them for their unrivaled ability to captivate my attention with humanness, not with drivel nor earnestness, but poetic arguments for the importance of empathy. In Crime & Punishment, readers are seduced into loving an ax murderer; in Lolita, a child molester; in Anna Karinina, an adulterer. But the brilliance of the authors is that we do not fall for them without remembering, and loving, their victims too. We do not give up the realities of the black in favor of the white, but are moved into a state of gray that is the human condition. Through their books, we can appreciate and better understand the complexity of the human experience of being alive. As Roskolnikov does not forgive himself, we as readers forgive him a little; as Humbert Humbert does not even understand his own crime, we acknowledge his childishness that led him to commit it -- stuck developmentally many decades in the past.

I recently came across some quotes from Tolstoy and was struck once more by his work's relevance for all of us, as well as its relationship to Jung's work.

For instance, the following quote from Tolstoy explains precisely why Jung's autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections is so extremely human and relevant, showing us not his accolades, but his inner life. Tolstoy wrote, "A writer is dear and necessary for us in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul." Of course, this quote might also suggest why The Red Book is so important as it could be argued that no other book better shows the inner workings of a man's soul.

And this quote from Tolstoy reminds me of the incredible importance of Jung's core message (albeit often overlooked in its broader application): "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." In my post on Jung's take on saving the world, I illuminate that indeed, perhaps the central tenant of Jungian psychology is that it is by changing ourselves that we change the world.

And finally, the opening lines of Tolstoy's beautiful book Anna Karenina remind us too why human suffering will always be a tangled web and why so many people visit therapists and psychologists to help them make sense of it. Tolstoy began his book like this: "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

After Winter, Spring.

The recent New York Times article, "Depression's Upside," by Jonah Lehrer, explores modern psychology and psychiatry's (slowly) increasing acceptance of the darker sides of the human emotional experience. In the faintest of voices, heard only occasionally above the stadium roar of the status quo, there are those suggesting the possibility that not everything that hurts must be eradicated.

The title of the article, however, is a bit of a misnomer. Depression itself does not have upsides. Periods of depressions are nothing but deaths, some of them more violent than others; indeed, some of them like massacres that seem to insist on coming back to their victims for more and more. In my mind, and as I think the article suggests, it is only what comes after a depression clears that can bring the benefits, and renewal, of life.

To help make the point that world culture is enriched by depressions, the author quotes Keats: “Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” Similarly, the community of analytic psychology, drawing on the archetypal stories of human history, point to necessary descents into the darkest reaches of our souls to allow rebirth and new life. Persephone's abduction by Hades into the Underworld turned the world into a barren winter through her mother's grief. It was not until Persephone returned to the world above ground that spring and a harvest returned.

Jung and his intellectual descendants, perhaps most vocally James Hillman, have been asserting for 100 years that darkness is an inherent part of life and that its destruction will only hasten our renewal. Not only does common sense suggest that we will not build character and learn from our own life, our own failures and injustices if our pain is easily masked, but it should be plain that our society will not build character either. While not mentioning it directly, the article alludes, in a single patient story, to the tenets of social psychology: by alleviating individual pain, we may be missing considerable social issues that are causing individuals to suffer, therefore destroying the agents of change rather than the illness itself. Women may medicate to tolerate their alcoholic or abusive husbands (as the article cites), when the real solution may be to leave the marriage. On a broader scale, one might see that recreational drugs in the inner cities are medicating the inherent depressions of an unjust life; without the drugs, perhaps broader social change would be possible. Perhaps.

At least in mild depressions, the article cites studies which show high relapse rates for those individuals who treat their depression primarily with medication.
“The high relapse rate suggests that the drugs aren’t really solving anything,” [psychiatrist Andy] Thomson says. “In fact, they seem to be interfering with the solution, so that patients are discouraged from dealing with their problems. We end up having to keep people on the drugs forever. It was as if these people have a bodily infection, and modern psychiatry is just treating their fever.”
But, as Thomson's critics are quick to point out, an occasional mild (or even severe) depression is an entirely different animal from a major depressive disorder (the massacre). As psychological memoirists Kay Redfield Jamison, William Styron, and Elyn Saks have written, medication cannot be discounted or vilified for those individuals who are truly suffering from a disease. Indeed, medication is a critical part of the solution. Diabetes is not equivalent to the occasional spike in blood sugar, and if it is treated as such, people die.

Nonetheless, the trend now has swung so far in the direction of psychiatric prescriptions to palliate psychic pain that we may be stunting our own psychic evolution from killing those pains that we should endure and learn from. As the article concludes, the researchers' "speculation is part of a larger scientific re-evaluation of negative moods, which have long been seen as emotional states to avoid." Thank goodness.

Still, the article cites researchers looking for the evolutionary goal of depression as if consciousness were a biological principle and not an entirely separate aspect of science. One cannot look at the activity of protons as if they were cells, nor at moods and psychic states as if they were equivalent to principles of the biology of the body. Depressions add to culture, build character, shake-up the status quo. Depressions lead revolutions, lead to revolt, lead to transformation and growth, for individuals and societies. Depressions write poems and symphonies and remind us why we are alive. When we come back from the darknesses into the light of life, when we are reborn from death, we see life with new eyes. Without winter, we cannot understand the gift of spring.

I contend, therefore, that the basic research of the principle researchers mentioned in the article is of importance but somewhat flawed. As the article wonders, I do think it's a bit of a "Just So" story that attempts to explain scientifically their, I believe, correct sense that some depressions are not to be destroyed. But there is soul involved in this story. I would suggest not looking for the answer in the brain, though certainly there are answers to be found there, but at us collectively, and at us archetypally, historically. Life, consciousness, culture, transformation, the moral of the human tale, may not be able to be seen until one gets high up over our world and looks at our communities from 35,000 feet. The goal of depression may not be found in a single individual, unless viewed over the course of a life; nor in a single brain, unless viewed in connection with thousands of others. What is the purpose of depression for the course of a single life and for all of us, and what do we lose when our depressions are too easily killed, either by the hand of their hosts when the pain cannot be endured, or by the drugs of their doctors when the pain cannot be rationalized or allowed?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dr. Anita Figueredo, 1916-2010

My grandmother, Dr. Anita Figueredo, pioneering cancer surgeon, mother of nine, devoted wife, grandmother of eleven, beloved family doctor, devout Catholic, friend and colleague of Mother Teresa, advocate of the poor, passed away on Friday night, after a two week illness, with her family around her.

My grandmother's death could not have been more peaceful, and the two weeks prior could not have been more full of love. Her passing was her final gift to her whole family, and her final modeling for me.

The morning after she passed away, two individuals from the mortuary came to take her body; as they were climbing the stairs to her bedroom, it began to rain. It rained for two minutes, a surprise shower that left people outside running for cover. And as her body was leaving her home of nearly 60 years for the last time, a magnificent rainbow appeared just in front of the house. Her gathered family watched in awe, from the balcony and from the lawn, as we knew undoubtedly that my grandmother was sending her love and care to us one last time. Seeing that rainbow, such a rare sight here, linger in the sky at that moment, left even the most skeptical of miracles in remarkable awe.

There is an idea in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that great masters and accomplished practitioners can attain "the rainbow body", an occurrence that includes the spontaneous manifestations of rainbows after their death, indicating the attainment of a certain state of enlightenment. Was this what we were witnessing?

Though Catholic, there is no question that my grandmother was a Bodhisattva. In all ways, she was a one of a kind being, a ray of light to all who knew her and a powerhouse of engaged goodness in the world. Her modeling of grace and kindness, skill and devotion, taught everyone who knew her about love and compassion and the courageous pursuit of truth.

I have to admit that I don't know what I believe about religious ideas in general at the moment, so I can't say that I am certain whether my grandmother entered into the Dzogchen state of non-dual consciousness or immediately found herself in heaven. (I'm inclined to believe both are true.) But regardless of religious philosophy, when seeing that rainbow in the sky, just in front of her home for her family to see, none of us doubted for a second that we were watching her truest essence say goodbye.

We watched as her beautiful form appeared, and then faded away.

I love you, Grandma. Thank you for all your gifts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"There's courage involved if you want to become truth."

I am still keeping vigil by my grandmother's bedside, so I have little space in my mind these days for ponderings of an intellectual variety, less so to craft a blog post of any interest. Moreover, despite the seeming simplicity of the days, time is passing with incredible speed.

As the days pass, quietly amidst family, all of us patiently caring for my grandmother and preparing for our loss of her, I am thinking, of course, about life and death. I am thinking too about family and love and home, and contemplating my luck in this life and the blessings that I can't even count. There is a great deal I could say on those topics, I'm sure. But instead, for this evening, I will simply post this poem that I rediscovered today. Apropos of nothing, I think it's a beautiful, honest, and direct poem that speaks volumes about life and its sometimes brutal quality. It is a poem about the courage and strength it takes to live an honest and full life.

Not Here
by Rumi

There's courage involved
if you want to become truth

There is a broken-open place
in a lover

Where are those qualities
of bravery and sharp compassion?

What's the use
of old and frozen thought?

I want a howling hurt

This is not a treasury
where gold is stored;
this is for copper.

We alchemists look for talent
that can heat up and change.

Lukewarm won't do.

Halfhearted holding back,
well-enough getting by?

Not here. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Facing Problems

When we are faced with problems, life altering events or catastrophes that make us question life and its purpose, Jung suggests that we are struggling with "our Promethean conquest" (1933, p. 96): the growth of consciousness. In his essay entitled "The Stages of Growth," Jung wrote that problems, and perhaps decisions which feel gut-wrenching and impossible to make, ultimately lead us from pain into the birth of something greater.
Problems thus draw us into an orphaned and isolated state where we are abandoned by nature and are driven to consciousness. There is no other way open to us; we are forced to resort to decisions and solutions where we formerly trusted ourselves to natural happenings. Every problem, therefore, brings the possibility of a widening of consciousness--but also the necessity of saying goodbye to childlike unconsciousness and trust in nature. . . . Every one of us gladly turns away from his problems; if possible, they must not be mentioned, or, better still, their existence is denied. We wish to make our lives simple, certain and smooth--and for that reason problems are tabu. . . .[But] the artful denial of a problem will not produce conviction; on the contrary, a wider and higher consciousness is called for to give us the certainty and clarity we need. (1933, pp. 96-97)
In what I call "the myth of vertical growth" inherent in our culture, we are often captivated by the notion that as we age, life will proceed in a manner of general growth and success and that problems are either avoidable or, when they occur, are only catastrophic impediments. It's a pervasive perspective on life that it is an affair of stair-stepped acheivement from childhood to adulthood, like the path of school where a lower grade naturally moves to a higher one. This view on the path of life might be diagrammed as a line beginning at the corner of the axis and progressing with a steady grade upwards. Vertical growth.

Jung, however, suggested that life is in fact more of a spiral path from birth to death. That we are, in fact, constantly moving towards the center, towards Self, and therefore passing new deaths and new births constantly. Problems in life lead us towards initiations, which lead us towards gestations of new perspectives, new identities, and then a rebirth of new parts of ourselves. We may circle the same problems, the same confusions; problems may not be dramatic drops but turns as we move further inward toward the center. The old adage "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" might apply: whatever doesn't kill you, ultimately births a widening of consciousness, our Promethean task. When problems arise, our work is not simply to "get back on top," but to stay on our path as it will inherently lead back towards rebirth again as we spiral further and further towards the center, the core of ourselves.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nox Quarta

I searched for this image this morning after my grandmother recounted a dream, one which evoked a remarkably similar feeling. After finding the image, I read the corresponding section of translation in Jung's Red Book for the first time.

The section, entitled Nox quarta -- The Fourth Night -- begins like this:
I hear the roaring of the morning wind, which comes over the mountains. The night is overcome, when all my life was subject to eternal confusion and stretched out between poles of fire.

My soul speaks to me in a bright voice:
"The door should be lifted off its hinges to provide a free passage between here and there, between yes and no, between above and below, between left and right. Airy passages should be built between all opposed things, light smooth streets should lead from one pole to the other. Scales should be set up, whose pointer sways gently. A flame should burn that cannot be blown out by the wind. A stream should flow to its deepest goal. The herds of wild animals should move to their feeding grounds along their old game paths. Life should proceed, from birth to death, from death to birth, unbroken like the path of the sun. Everything should proceed on this path."

Thus speaks my soul. But I toy casually and terribly with myself. Is it day or night? Am I asleep or awake? Am I alive or have I already died?
Is it just a coincidence that my grandmother recounted to us her own journey, reminding me of Jung's image, after the fourth night following her stroke? Now home on Hospice, following the nox quarta after she moved abruptly into what appears to be the final phase of her life, my grandmother described her dream: a knife was in her hand, a big creature, a stomach cut, a battle for truth undertaken.

What sense do we make of her image? What insights can we gain from her journey?

While listening to her whispered story, her family was reminded of (or introduced with surprise to) the archetypal psyche. She told us a story from in-between realms, from the bridge between the conscious world of health care and family, and the unconscious world were mythical battles are fought and won. We can never know what exactly her story and journeys mean, nor interpret them for psychological purposes alone. A story as rich as hers, one that evokes some of the most ancient tales ever told, can neither be reduced to simple "fantasy" nor concrete "psychology." But it is my sense that, like Jung described in the passage that corresponded to his own image of battle, my beautiful grandmother is wondering lately, when her eyes open: "Is it day or night? Am I asleep or awake? Am I alive or have I already died?"

Blessings to my grandmother, one of the most beautiful souls I will ever know, or love. May you battle in your dreams, sort through all that must be sorted through, and find safe passage to wherever we all will journey when our time in these bodies, and on this earth, ends.

Te quiero mucho, abuelita mia. Eres una maravilla.

Friday, February 5, 2010

On my Grandmother, and God.

I held my grandmother's hand yesterday afternoon in what seemed like a moment that might have suddenly been leading towards her death. Despite her age, 93, her vibrant being exudes a much more youthful air. Her frequent, humbled, appreciation to the Lord that she has "no aches or pains" is testament to both her faith, her consistent gratitude of the life she has led, and the surprise it was to all of us yesterday to see her so suddenly ill and frail.

Despite this incredibly shocking and terrifying event, what much of the family's conversation throughout yesterday and into today has turned to is the number of miracles that have surrounded her illness and intervention. The timing of her sudden turn ensured that she was with family and cared for immediately. The time too allowed for her to be greeted at the door of the ER by my uncle, a prominent physician at the hospital, despite the fact that he had only arrived home from conducting surgery in Haiti twelve hours before. The timing of the event also allowed her to be seen by one of the few surgeons in the country who could have saved her life, because he had been hired by the hospital three months ago (recruited for his specialized skill by my aforementioned uncle). Moreover, the man who was my grandmother's life-saving surgeon yesterday, had seen her a couple of months prior, energetically signing books with my aunt, engaging with fans about her life as one of California's first female surgeons. On a wall of the hospital, next to the announcement of his arrival as a member of the hospital staff, is an announcement of the book on my grandmother's life, with a photo of her and the author, my aunt. Throughout the ordeal, of which seemingly the entire family was gathered, we sat comfortably at a table, with just enough chairs for all of us, literally under her name, on the wall in large gold letters -- that room in the hospital, where she and my grandfather had labored as a dedicated surgeon and pediatrician for decades, was dedicated in her honor years ago.

My grandmother, thank goodness, is recovering beautifully. After undergoing surgery, she was smiling and greeting all of us as we poured into the ICU to see her.

It is amazing how such an encounter can remind us all, in small and large ways, about the value of life and the importance of living in the moment. Everything can literally change in an instant, and truly, when you least expect it. These moments remind us that we are alive and remind us of those people around whom we want to live, with whom we want to engage and love, and the simplest beauties of the world. It is not a cliche when you experience it as truth.

Just days before his death, Jung was asked about his notion of God. Raised as a Christian by a pastor father, Jung had a better grasp of the Bible than perhaps some of the most learned Christian scholars today. Yet Jung, after a lifetime of his own studies in religion and spirituality, responded,
To this day, God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse. (Quoted in Ego & Archetype, 1973, p. 101)
Perhaps suggesting the trickster archetype, Jung suggests that God is the reminder that we are alive and, in good times or bad, the reminder to treasure life.

A lifelong Catholic, my grandmother never questions God's work. She does not ask Him for things, nor question His motives when things go poorly. Despite her own difficult trials and her work with some of the world's poorest people, my grandmother does not turn her back on God nor lose faith in Him. As she is found of saying, often when others are expressing bewilderment of uncertainty, quoting her friend Mother Teresa: "God will provide." And for my grandmother, who came from humble beginnings in Spanish Harlem and worked harder than anyone I've ever known, He does seem to do so.

This trust in God, both Jung's and my grandmother's, evokes for others, wisdom and confidence. In their own ways, with their own lexicons, each lived their lives with trust in life and faith in the order of uncertainty. By the grace of God, my grandmother, recovering well, continues to do so.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Insights while Dreaming

Does the above picture make you want to smoke? Yes, I know, Mr. Donald Draper is a particularly evocative individual, so it might be a trick question, but swagger or no swagger, I wonder if seeing someone smoke suggests the desire to smoke in you as well. If you saw a man on the street smoking, would you have any conscious response? Unconscious?

I was not thinking at all about this topic, nor watching Mad Men, last week when I awoke with the memory of a dream in which I had had what seemed like a profound revelation. In the dream, something had occurred to me that I was sure was going to revolutionize everything: Just as society now readily accepts that second hand smoke kills people and states are passing laws to ban smoking in public places, it occurred to me that with the greater understanding of mirror neurons, just seeing someone enjoy a smoke can neurologically provoke a desire to smoke and, therefore, lead to death. I thought, in my dream, that the sight of someone smoking is paramount to the inhaling of second hand smoke, now that we understand the neurological response it evokes in us. Furthermore, it occurred to me (while dreaming), our increasing knowledge of mirror neurons can revolutionize cases against corporations and advertising, with scientific proof of unconscious manipulation that does not require study after study of the effects of advertising.

Now, I am not writing this to make a case for or against smoking. Nor is this a blog about neurology -- despite my interest in it, I am ill-equipped to say much on the topic. This is about dreaming, and the clarity of insight that can come when we are unconscious. My insight, which arrived while I was in a deep sleep and was utterly unrelated to anything I had consciously been contemplating, is actually quite sound. (Perhaps not earth shattering, but certainly it has basis in reality.) But where does such an insight come from? If I was unconscious, if my thinking mind was theoretically in off-mode, what was it that was thinking?

There are endless theories about dreams. Most individuals today still discredit the psychic activity of sleep as amalgamations of daily activity, feelings, and nonsensical images. Without even exploring the vast reaches of dream interpretation (which could certainly be applied to my dream above), one has to question how individuals can wake-up with whole poems composed, dresses designed, or ideas for a new story or book largely developed. We hear these kinds of stories all the time from artists and authors, yet few people seem to then question how these insights are possible while we are unconscious, not engaging with the reverence of psyche nor seeking to understand what is happening in the dream world. If dreams are simply daily residue or wish fulfillment, how do we awake with original insights and ideas?

As Jung wrote,
The view that dreams are merely the imaginary fulfillments of repressed wishes is hopelessly out of date. There are, it is true, dreams which manifestly represent wishes or fears, but what about all the other things? Dreams may contain ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, anticipations, irrational experiences, even telepathic visions, and heaven knows what besides. One thing we ought never to forget: almost half of our life is passed in a more or less unconscious state. The dream is specifically the utterance of the unconscious. Just as the psyche has a diurnal side which we call consciousness, so also it has a nocturnal side: the unconscious psychic activity which we apprehend as dreamlike fantasy. . . . it is highly probable that our dream psyche possesses a wealth of contents and living forms equal to or even greater than those of the conscious mind, which is characterized by concentration, limitation, and exclusion.
(The Essential Jung, p. 176, from The Practical Use of Dream-Analysis).
Have you had insights while dreaming? Do share. (Or. . .are you headed out to have a smoke?)