Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dr. Siegel's "Mindsight", a Non-Jungian Presentation of a Very Jungian Concept

I've been reading Mindsight (2010) by Dr. Daniel Siegel, a psychiatrist at UCLA. After seeing him speak at the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference last December, during which I could barely sit in my seat listening to him talk, I have been awaiting the release of this new book. Upon reading, my suspicians are further confirmed: He's a Jungian and he doesn't even know it!

According to Dr. Siegel, "Mindsight is the ability to see the internal world, to notice what is going on inside of yourself, and inside of other people."

This new concept which he presents in his book offers a way to support healing mental illness. Dr. Siegel suggests that all mental illness can be seen as categorized as either problems of Rigidity or of Chaos (p. 67), whereas mental health would look like Integration (p. 69). Dr. Siegel's definition of terms seem to state that integration is the goal result of using the tools of mindsight.

The presentation of his ideas is strongly correlated with the Jungian concept of the ego-Self axis, the active link between the ego -- the conscious aspect of ourselves with which we navigate the world -- and the Self -- the imaginal, physical, sensory, spiritual, relational everything else in which we live. Like Dr. Siegel's suggestion that all mental illness can be seen as either too much rigidity or too much chaos, Jungian psychology holds that the strength of the ego-Self relationship indicates either Alienation or Inflation, too much distance from Self or too much immersion in it. What is necessary, like Dr. Siegel's concept of integration, is a healthy working relationship between the two. Perhaps analogous to couples' relationships, two people can either be too distant from one another (rigidity / alienation) resulting in a cold, distant feeling between them, or they can be too enmeshed (chaotic / inflated), identifying too closely with each other and resulting in chaotic, over-blown emotional reactions. Neither of these states is ideal. Mental health, like relationship health, suggests a proper differentiation of both the ego and Self (Jungian language) or of both partners, while also allowing for clarity of communication and feeling between them. This is, I think, similar to what Dr. Siegel is saying regarding integration.

Dr. Siegel suggests that once patients have done the work of mindsight, strengthening the ability to see the inner world, or what I would call the work of strengthening the ego-Self axis,
Their identity expands: they become aware that they are part of a much larger whole. In various research explorations of happiness and wisdom, this sense of interconnection seems to be at the heart of living a life of meaning and purpose. This is the promise of mindsight and integration. (p. 76)
What I cannot help but write in bold letters in my book (in pencil of course!) is that it is also the promise and concept of Individution! While Dr. Siegel claims that no field can define mental health or a concept of integration, I argue that this was the central premise of all of Jung's work.

The work of Jungian psychology is centered around first creating a strong ego that can be out in the world, and then an ego that is in dialogue and live relationship with Self. (A concept that can also perhaps be seen physiologically as an active bridge between the left and right sides of the brain). Indeed, this is the very reason that I cannot subscribe to any other modality of mental health in its entirety, because, as Siegel states, no other field knows exactly what they are working towards in terms of health other than simple symptom alleviation.

There is far more in this area of the correlation between Dr. Siegel's work and that of Jung's that I hope to explore. (In addition to the quarterlife crisis and consequent path towards individuation that Dr. Siegel himself seems to have taken mid-career in medical school, p. 47).

As I will blog about another day, for the last two years, I have been thinking about a possible physiological correlate to the ego-Self axis in our bodies and in the world. I am astounded that Dr. Siegel's work seems to offer me a clear suggestion that the hypothesis I have been working on is sound. I hope to someday be able to talk with Dr. Siegel about this work and explore how my theories are enhanced by his work, and his by Jung's.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Orientational Approach to Psyche

I had the great good fortune of meeting David Rottman last weekend, the President and Chairman of the board at the CG Jung Foundation in NY. I sat in the beautiful Jung Foundation bookstore with four friends as Rottman gave us a wonderful introduction to analyst Yoram Kaufmann's book The Way of the Image (2009) and the Orientational approach to working with the images from psyche.

For a similar introduction to this approach to working with psyche, here is a recent interview with David Rottman on Dr. Kaufmann's work that you can stream online.

As a clinician, Yoram Kaufmann was adamant that there is a correct way to work with images that a client presents in analysis/psychotherapy, and many incorrect (or less optimal) ways of doing so. This objective approach is, however, tailor made to each individual client and moment, which is why his technique may be so hard to understand: it is both precisely objective (a determined technique) and decidedly subjective (dependent on the lexicon of images for the individual patient).

This is how Dr. Kaufmann explained how some ways of working with a client's image can be right, and others wrong, no matter how empathetic.
Most every one has had the following experience--you have a problem, something that you don't understand. You discuss the issue with various friends, all of whom give reasonable, plausible solutions and explanations. But you find them all unsatisfactory. Then someone puts the answer in such a way that you react, "Yes, that's it!" This particular answer might not substantially differ from all the other responses, but, somehow, in the way it was formulated, the emphases placed, it led to an instantaneous recognition of its rightness. (p. 29)
In using his technique, Dr. Kaufmann takes his cues from the images from psyche to make clinical decisions. The presentation of these ideas is extremely refreshing. Rather than intellectualize images, he gives them a respectful nod and responds appropriately. This, to me, is an indication of a strong, authentic relationship between the ego, the actor in the world, and the Self, rather than a contrived one. I encourage others to explore this approach, perhaps the one most strongly related to Jung's own way of working with dreams, in their own personal and clinical work with psyche.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Visiting the Red Book in NYC

I returned home late last night from a trip to New York City to see Jung's Red Book at the Rubin Museum, a spot which should really not be missed on any trip to the city.

After running into a professor in the cafe (also having flown-in from California), my four classmates, my mother and four other family members, perused the Jung exhibit. I walked into the basement room a bit short of breath. There, in that room, is Jung's magnum opus, out of hiding for the first time in 50 years. I stood in front of the book in awe, the book open to a brilliant painting and his words written in beautiful calligraphy. Along the sides of the wall were his original sketches for many of his mandalas in the book, as well as his "black books," the books in which he recorded the original explorations of his psyche before documenting them so carefully in the Red Book.

Later in the afternoon, I attended a conversation between a poet and an analyst-in-training. I enjoyed the simple, free exploration of the image (seen above from page 55), but found myself thinking about how much is lost by focusing on the images instead of Jung's written word.

Throughout most of the discussion of the Red Book in the media, the focus has been on the exquisite look and feel of the book. The images are captivating, but they cannot be separated from Jung's writing. In fact, while it might be somewhat heretical to say, I would undoubtedly choose the text over the paintings if I had to make a choice. Perhaps this says something about my typology more than anything else, but the story that Jung tells, the journey he takes us on, may rival anything else he ever wrote and should absolutely not go unacknowledged by those who find themselves captivated by the beauty of the book itself. I long for a smaller version of just the translation that I can carry with me to the coffee shop or the couch to read with ease.

As I posted earlier, I want to record this wonderful quote here again. The Red Book's translator and introducer, Sonu Shamadasani, expressed succinctly the importance of the book for all of us.
The overall narrative of the book is how Jung recovers his soul, recovers meaning in his life through enabling the rebirth of the image of God in his soul.

In so doing, he created a psychology that created a vehicle for others to regain meaning in theirs.
The Red Book is an exploration towards understanding how to recover soul, in our own lives and in the world. A book that was well worth the journey to the other side of the country to see.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Arianna Huffington on Sleeping and Dreaming . . .

Arianna Huffington has been writing lately on her "sleep challenge," a challenge (to women in particular) to get at least 8 hours of sleep for 30 days. A big fan of sleep myself, I have been intrigued to see her frequent updates and the insights she has had since sleeping; insights such as that her exercise is easier when her body's not exhausted. It's an indication of how little Americans are sleeping when it comes as a surprise that one's body is happier when it's able to recharge in the most natural way.

Throughout her articles on sleeping, I have been thinking about Jung (inevitably); pondering how relevant sleep is to his psychology on the balance of psyche. Without sleep, there is essentially no time set-aside to reengage with the unconscious mind. No time to recharge and gain balance and allow the conscious mind to relinquish control for a time.

Today's post was no exception, though throughout Ms. Huffington's discussion on her reinvigorated dream life I was even more intrigued. Aha! A popular, primarily political writer, writing about the importance of a vibrant dream life and even the importance of writing her dreams down for further mental clarity!

And then . . . the long-awaited mention of Jung and the time she once spent with his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, one of Ms. Huffington's "all-time favorite books"! Enjoy her article here.

The Quarterlife Crisis and Individuation

As I explored Twitter last night (yes, for the first time), I came across this article entitled Welcome to Your Quarterlife Crisis by Kate Carraway. I am impressed by how accurately Kate captures the Quarterlife crisis that I too have been observing in myself and my peers for years. I am also impressed with myself that, having finally completed my thesis on the quarterlife crisis and individuation, I seem to have captured just about all the major points without Kate's journalistic support.

You can read, or scan, the above mentioned article to get a sense of the quarterlife crisis, but the basics come down to malaise about one's vocation and direction in life, and a deep and somewhat terrifying recognition that life is not in fact a vertical path that will ultimately lead to success and happiness if you work hard enough. It is a perhaps existential recognition that the years are passing and that success, one's own sense of what that would look like, is still far away; that in fact, inherent to being alive, is having to acknowledge total uncertainty. The quarterlife attempts at palliating the terror that comes with this recognition, or the less existential depression around simply not having fulfilling work, is to either reach for stability (marriage, corporate job, graduate school), or medication (alcohol, promiscuity, Prozac).

Incredibly, the mental health community has not taken much note of this crisis yet. More and more, the term "quarterlife crisis" seems to pop-up, but it still carries with it a pejorative tilt that doesn't acknowledge the genuine discomfort, depression, anxiety and empty void that people experience in this crisis. A "joylessness" in life. Overwhelmed by thought and worry and disconnected to the essence of life and the joy of it.

What this has to do with Jungian philosophy is the subject of my thesis and continued work. The quarterlife crisis is not simply a crisis, but an opportunity to engage in the path of individuation, greater consciousness (for oneself and for the world), earlier in life than previously pursued.

The abstract of my thesis is as follows:
Quarterlife today resembles the period of midlife half a century ago. With the widespread changes in demographics of education and marriage, the stages of life, as outlined by Carl G. Jung, no longer abide by the paradigm of stability in the first half of life and the search for meaning in the second. Afforded the time for self-exploration, individuals in the first half of life are increasingly placing their attention on uncovering their life’s purpose and making meaning. The path of individuation, a life influenced and shaped by ego’s relationship with Self, is available much earlier in life; but the journey of individuation requires an often painful initiation of ego to bring it into contact with Self. Such an undertaking cradles the potential for a transformative life for each individual, just as it once did at midlife, but now not after life decisions have been firmly rooted for years, but at the start of adult life, when primary decisions about career, community and family are still being made. For individuals in the first half of life who have the ego-strength necessary for the transforming journey, the path of individuation beckons.
Since Jung, midlife has been considered the point in life of transition towards the journey of individuation. Throughout my thesis, I argue that this is no longer the case, and I lay out a developmental map of the ego-Self axis that I propose charts our journey at quarterlife towards individuation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"The future stands still, but we move in infinite space."

I am desperately trying to finalize my thesis to get it in the mail by tomorrow evening. I'm having to make peace with not getting everything into the paper that I want in there. This beautiful quote never had a hope of making it in because it's way too long, but I have to include it somewhere! This is why blogs are wonderful inventions.

A wonderful quote by the wonderful Rilke, in his counsel to a 19 year old hopeful poet in the throws of a quarterlife crisis. (From Letters to a Young Poet, what should be required reading these days for anyone in the first half of life, teens to mid thirties.)
It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes; the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there;—is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed…We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate; and later on, when it “happens” (that is, steps forth out of us to other people), we will feel related and close to it in our innermost being. And that is necessary. It is necessary—and toward this point our development will move, little by little—that nothing alien happen to us, but only what has long been our own. People have already had to rethink so many concepts of motion; and they will gradually come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from us. It is only because so many people have not absorbed and transformed their fates while they were living in them that they have not realized what was emerging from them; it was so alien to them that, in their confusion and fear, they thought it must have entered them at the very moment they became aware of it, for they swore they had never before found anything like that inside of them. Just as people for a long time had the wrong idea about the sun’s motion, they are even now wrong about the motion of what is to come. The future stands still. . . but we move in infinite space. (1929/1984, pp. 83-86)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Globalization of the American Psyche

This article from the New York Times Magazine this weekend should be required reading for just about anyone, but certainly for mental health practitioners.

The Americanization of Mental Illness, by Ethan Watters

Don't read the following if you plan to read the whole article, I don't want to ruin the ending for you. But just in case the article is too long for you to commit to (it *is* long) here's the final paragraph:
If our rising need for mental-health services does indeed spring from a breakdown of meaning, our insistence that the rest of the world think like us may be all the more problematic. Offering the latest Western mental-health theories, treatments and categories in an attempt to ameliorate the psychological stress sparked by modernization and globalization is not a solution; it may be part of the problem. When we undermine local conceptions of the self and modes of healing, we may be speeding along the disorienting changes that are at the very heart of much of the world’s mental distress.
A wonderful exploration into the psychic expression of symptoms in different cultures, and the psychic lexicon that is used in different regions. The DSM, the article points out, could at best be considered a compilation of American (maybe Western) mental ailments, but certainly doesn't accurately describe the various distresses of psyche internationally. The dissemination of Western scientific ailments to other cultures we may actually be destroying mental health as well as undermining the standard cultural cures.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rilke's Advice on Facing the Terrors in the World

Rainer Maria Rilke's compilation of his Letters to a Young Poet, originally written as true correspondence to the 19-year-old Franz Xaver Kappus in 1903-1904, are . . . well, wonderful. I can barely hold back from using each line from his letters in my thesis on understanding the quarterlife crisis. Rilke was just 27 when he wrote these letters, undoubtedly still in (or just out of) a quarterlife crisis himself. Perhaps I'll share several of his quotes here. To start with, is this one, on understanding that the work of healing the world is our own work of healing ourselves.
We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. (1984, pp. 91-92)
If you have a monster or person chasing you in your dreams, it's worth asking that individual what it wants.

Rethinking Diagnosis

I woke up this morning thinking about diagnosis for some reason. It's something I've given a lot of thought to in the past after training in the use of the DSM, the psychological bible for diagnosing just about any mental/psychic ailment that one can suffer from. The only problem is that the book is all mixed-up. While some of the diagnoses are paramount to cancer or even the common cold, others are simply the translation of symptoms into "disorders" -- like calling a runny nose that might result from a cold an illness unto itself and then treating it as such.

The Jungian approach to psychology, like the Chinese medicine approach to treating the body, brings the question of balance to the forefront. Implicit in all explorations of psyche from a Jungian standpoint is "what is out of balance in your psyche?", "what needs more or less attention?" Certainly, questions of Major Depressive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder etc. are woven into the work and typically treated with standard forms of treatment (by law and ethics, they need to be). But in general, symptoms are seen as indicating that something is out of balance, not that something is implicitly wrong. Chinese (and Tibetan) medicine does the same thing with the body: stomach problems, skin problems, pain, things that would be treated directly in Western medicine are seen instead as indications of something being out of balance so that the root cause can be treated, instead of the symptom.

I hope someday to be able to explore common diagnoses in regards to the relationship between aspects of psyche to seek to understand what, in each case, is out of balance. The base line for this exploration would be what is known as the Ego-Self axis, the relationship between the ego complex in psyche and the Self, the archetype of wholeness, the sort of catch-all name for the expanse of everything else in psyche out of which our individual personality (ego) is born. This developmental relationship can get thrown-off throughout growth (or due to biological causes) and can produce narcissistic (ego too distant from Self), psychotic (ego too immersed in Self), or borderline traits (ego mixed-up a little in between). The ideal is for a strong, independent ego that can take cues from Self and accept that it is not the single actor in the landscape of psyche. This is the core component of the inner space of a healthy psyche. A diagram of healthy ego-Self axis development (albeit rather simple) is here, in addition to some further discussion on this topic.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Introductions to the Red Book

Here are links to two great media introductions to the Red Book. The first, a radio clip, makes reference to the second, a video "trailer" about the preparation of the book for publishing after decades in hiding.

From the NPR radio story, the Red Book's editor Sonu Shamdasani offers the following summary of the story and importance of the Red Book:
The overall narrative of the book is how Jung recovers his soul, recovers meaning in his life through enabling the rebirth of the image of God in his soul. In so doing, he created a psychology that created a vehicle for others to regain meaning in theirs.
Yes, all of Jungian psychology as we know it today came from the inner explorations recorded in this tome.

Liber Novus . . .

In person, it's truly inexplicable. I've been told this before, I have read about it in the New York Times, but in person it is so much larger, heavier, more amazing and more unbearably captivating than I realized.

I received The Red Book as a gift for Christmas but did not have it in my hands until the morning of January 1st. Upon opening its cardboard box and then the plastic covering, I sat with it for hours as my first act of 2010.

What is amazing about this book is not only that it is an illuminated manuscript of the kind that no one creates anymore, nor that the art alone is incredible, but the story, the translation, the journey that the book charts is truly remarkable. Captivated, all I could think was that this book is truly going to change the world. Certainly, there are those who cannot understand how "psychology" can hope to genuinely change the world, but those individuals put Jung in the wrong category. His genius was spiritual, religious, psychological, scientific, literary and artistic. This work, the Red Book, also known as Liber Novus, The New Book, is a contribution for any and all scholars of analytic psychology as it expresses Jung's thinking and concepts in entirely different language, language inherently imbued with soul, and not so academic. I wish the translation itself were in a more story book form, however, because it should be read by the masses, not as an incredible historical document, but as The New Book, a story about how to bring soul back into the world, a world that Jung knew in the fiber of his being needs soul more than anything else.

There are endless gems to be shared from this book, each line may rival that of any book ever published. I'll begin with one. Though . . . as I begin to transcribe it, it's clear that anything removed from the whole loses the energy with which it captivates when it is part of the flow. . .

Here, for just a few lines, is a section in which Jung seems to have seen, experienced, our time -- or a time that lies in our future. Terrified, overwhelmed, he writes, as if to us:
I felt the burden of the most terrible work of the times ahead. I saw where and how, but no word can grasp it, no will can conquer it. I could not do otherwise. I let it sink again into the depths.
I cannot give it to you, and I can speak only of the way of what is to come. Little good will come to you from outside. What will come to you lies within yourself. But what lies there! I would like to avert my eyes, close my ears and deny all my senses; I would like to be someone among you, who knows nothing and who never saw anything. It is too much and too unexpected. But I saw it and my memory will not leave me alone. (p. 306)
I am drawn to Jung's work because I believe truly that his insights into the human soul offer us a way to heal suffering and ameliorate the world completely, not in small pieces here or there, but totally if we can grasp what he learned. This is not just elite academia. One of his insights, perhaps his most core, is implicit in the same section from which the above quote was pulled. I will write more on that next time.