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  • Saturday, October 10, 2020 10:35 PM | Anonymous

    How do we go about discerning what forces are driving us?  I think these questions may help you personalize this otherwise abstract concept.   When we consider who we are, and what we are doing, how often do we really probe why we are doing what we do?   I may think I am performing a series of good acts, however defined by our time and place and level of awareness, but maybe they are simply conditioned behaviors.   Sometimes they may be coming from co-dependent places, or fear-driven places.   When we challenge our deeper motives we find rationalizations readily available to ratify, legitimize, perpetuate those behaviors.   So, the first place to start probing what is going on in the unconscious begins here:

    1. What are your patterns?  Especially those you find counter-productive to you, or possibly hurtful to others.  Assuming that what we do is “rational, logical,” based on the emotionally charged “story” inside us, what might that story be?   When and where did you acquire that story?   What is its message to you?  Does it empower you in this world or diminish you?   And what do you have to do to overthrow its sovereignty?

    2. Where are you stuck?   We all have stuck places, places where we know better, intend better, act better, but the same old, same old returns.   What is that about?  Why is it so easy to identify these roadblocks and so hard to get unstuck?  If we choose to call something “stuck” then we claim to know some behavior and attendant outcome that would be better.  

    What keeps us from that better behavior? The answer is always, always, fear.   The moment we begin to move on the problem, our psychological history sends up  immediate klaxon warnings: “beware, back off!”  We may not hear those warnings, but our repetitive behavior tells us that we have succumbed to the system alert. 

    Only fear-based stories, or complexes, have the power to keep us stuck long after will and five step plans have exercised their futile options.   So, for example, the person who wants to stop smoking, or over-eating will have an abiding terror: “what will be there for me, what will connect me, what will soothe me, if not that?”    And that’s a very good question, and important question.  And it can only be answered by conscious addressing of that issue. 

    The stuck places are evidence of shut-down protections we learned early in our lives, sort of like surge protectors that shut down the excessive energy before it destroys your computer.    We need to remember, always, that the inner machinery of the stuck places in our lives were put in place long ago and far away, most often in our early development.   These protections--that is what they are, and why they are so hard to transcend--derive from an early experience of our inadequacy in the face of the magnitude of the world around us.    In those moments, we ignore that there is an adult, us, on the scene who is perfectly capable of managing those issues directly.   They may not be easy, they may still be scary, but their engagement allows us to move into adulthood with the resources of a big person, finally.   

    3. What are my avoidances?   The stuck places are avoidances, of course, but there are many more where we consciously avoid tense matters.  Only sociopaths enjoy conflict.  Most normal people don’t.   The question then is what is it I avoid, and therefore undermine my value intentions?   Let us say I don’t speak up, and let someone else’s reality dominate the decisions.   I may rationalize that as being amenable, but it is really coming from the archaic precincts of fear.   Where do I lack permission to really own my life?   Where am I waiting for someone to give it to me?   Do I want to be on the proverbial death bed and be saying, “if only…?”   Where do I need to be honest about my desires, my unspoken yearnings, curiosities, and inclinations?   What will give me the momentum to step into my life while I am still here?

    4. What are my over-compensations?   By “over-compensation” we mean where do we work so hard to make something happen because our inner life is still so terrified if it does not?   Why is it I am always trying to “fix,” the other, mollify those upset, sacrifice my own well-being in service to bringing some homeostasis to the environment?  (Remember the profile of “the wounded healer” in all us).

    Given large experiences in our formation, and the large stories and defenses which arose in us from them, we have three choices: repeat them in our generation, run from them, or try to fix them in some way.   If I look to my life choices, frequent strategies, is there a secret service working underground here?  Is there some reactive repetition, flight, or reparation plan that I am enacting rather than living my life as if it were a different life, with a different destination than that of all the others?   If I don’t ask questions like this, one may be sure that one’s life is being lived reactively, rather than generatively.   And one’s psyche will not be amused?

    5. What are my symptoms?   What anxiety states perplex me; what depressions suck the joy out of my life; what “medications” am I employing to still the pain within?

    Symptoms, remember, are psyche’s way of getting our attention, and indicating that the soul is not amused, that is, is wishing something better from us.  So what if we are afraid, and hiding out.  When will we finally decide that now is the time to shut up, suit up, show up!

    6. What are your dreams telling you?   Jung said that dreams tell us the Tao of the moment—not what the ego thinks, but what is really going on within us.   If we live to 80 as I have been privileged to do, we will have spent six years of our lives dreaming, based on laboratory research into brain wave activity.   That surely suggests that nature has some serious purpose in our dream life.   Yes, it is true that our dreams help us process and metabolize the immense stimuli which flood us every day, but they also speak a mythological language.   When asked why dreams are so difficult, not clanking out tele-messages to make one choice over another, Jung said, they bespeak an ancient language of nature which our culture has forgotten.   So, as we sit with the metaphors and symbols which spontaneously rise in us each night, we begin to realize that they stir associations, sometime recognition, sometimes disquietude.  In short, we are confronted with another intelligence within us.  We can’t disown that source because it is our dream, not an implant from someone else.

     Over time, those who pay attention to their dreams--perhaps work with a therapist so trained, or not, who meditate, journal, reflect on whatever rises from below—begin to develop a deeper, more mature authority as opposed to succumbing to the messages we received from the world outside.    Following our dreams is not only the via regia to the unconscious, as Freud claimed; it is also the descent into the shadow.  But those nightly visitations are all meant in service to the soul and call upon us for healing, for balancing of life, and for growth and development. 

    There is something in all of us that won’t let us get away with much.   As my friend Stephen Dunn said in a poem about knowing himself pretty well, “that’s the good news, and the bad news too.”    All depth psychological work is informative, and humbling, and challenging—no wonder so many of us avoid it.

    James Hollis, Ph.D.

    Jungian Analyst

  • Sunday, August 30, 2020 12:24 AM | Anonymous

    Our personal and societal experience of the pandemic raise many collective questions, questions which affect all of us. Will there be long-term changes to our society?   Or will the lessons of this troubled hour be forgotten quickly in the rush to “normalize” and move back into a world of distractions?   Of course, it is the nature of our nature to prefer order to disorder, predictability, and demand a measure of control.  This pandemic flies in the face of all that.  An organism one thousand times smaller than a grain of sand is more powerful than the masters of the earth?  Go figure….     Yet, the rush to get back to “normal” has revealed an immaturity, a flaw in our character.   Our narcissistic self-interests demand the resumption of our previous life-style even in the face of reason, knowledge, and the lethality of making the wrong choice.  Not since WWII has there been such a threat to each American, a phenomenon that touches all of us, invades our homes, our jobs, our minds.   Yes, there have been many other national events: walking on the moon, the murder of a President, the Challenger explosion, 911, but they were all “out there,” “over there,” touching many directly, but most not directly and immediately as a threat. 

     We all have made adjustments, but it is also clear that complexes rise to the surface in the face of such threats.  Who would have imagined that medical facts would be denied in a nation that prides itself on its sciences?   Who would have imagined the moral bankruptcy of national leadership which chose political expediency over lives?   Who would have imagined that wearing a simple face mask could be a political issue?   It reminds one of H. L. Menckin’s remark that you can’t go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.  Heretofore, I might have contended with his remark, but not today.

    The toll of lives lost, families destroyed, jobs disappeared is staggering and their consequences will go on for many years.  The oppression of the disease and its sequelae certainly beget depression, and often impulsive actions ranging from violence to increased self-medication, to relational animosities.   All of these are expected, and lamentable, and all are keeping therapists, bar tenders, and delivery services busy--for those who can afford them.

    What are some of the possible changes that we may be noting in our cultural perspectives:

    1.     No doubt, there will be greater respect for telecommunications, teletherapy, in-home schooling, and the like.   For  just one example, hitherto professional societies and insurance corporations frowned on tele-therapy.  But, as we know, necessity is the mother of invention, and that shibboleth is probably broken forever.  As a result, less car pollution, less time wasted looking for parking places, less office rent, and more opportunity for those in distant places to avail themselves of resources once denied them by geography.  

    2.     I would like to believe--but certain politicians may still be around--that we might evolve as a society with a greater respect for expertise in all fields. The denigration of “science,” and professionalism has proved very costly in blood and treasure.   In the face of wide-spread ignorance, superstition, gullibility in the face of internet trolls, there is such a thing as knowledge, and knowledge may in fact free us.

    3.   The incredible disparity of access to saving resources has again revealed the egregious separation of haves and have-nots in terms of access to health care, computers, internet, and so on, even in a country that prides itself on its democratic vision.   This horrible discrepancy between our professed values may lead to some greater sharing of our wealth.

    But I won’t bet against the self-interest of the haves prevailing, as they have so many times before.

    4.   We seem now to have greater appreciation of so many who were so imperiled on the front lines of our society…not only the physicians and nurses, but those delivering goods, working in grocery stores, all essential workers.  Possibly some reduction in our stratified educational and economic snobbery will erode a bit.  Again, I may be expecting too much.  All I know is those folks have been keeping us alive, feeding us, bringing us more junk to fill our homes, and in general dying far more often than the likely readers of this essay.

    5.     We all recall American philosopher Ronald Reagan saying that the scariest sentence was:  “Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”  But attitudes change when the hurricane has leveled your city, when the virus is rampant, and incompetence and ignorance prevail at local levels.   Now we know that only a government of the people and on behalf of the people large enough, and expert enough to tackle really large problems, is necessary.   The hodge-podge and contradictions of local authorities has led to many more dead.  Assuredly, there is blood on the hands of those who chose politics over the health of their constituents.

    6.   I recently saw a political cartoon where a person said, “I wish Covid would leave so I could get back to worrying about global warming.”    When we come to on-going problems such as racism, economic disparities, global warming, we instantly hear that we do not have the resources, either of people or cash to address these issues.  Would that economic distribution of resources, and national will could be mobilized to address these problems which will survive long after the virus is gone.

    7.     Hopefully, some people, forced out of routine, deprived of their usual distractions, found some new interests, rediscovered old ones left behind, such as reading and conversing, and that some folks made better friends with themselves simply because they had to.  Human resourcefulness, a sense of humor, imagination, and sheer pragmatism are impressive when they appear. 

    I do expect, however, for a least a generation or two, that those going through this great time of uncertainty and threat, will take fewer things for granted, won’t casually assume that systems will always work, that food, health, and entertainments streams will flow uninterruptedly, and we will have a more realistic view of the contingencies and fragility of human life.  We can readily identify problems that require our mature responses; it is something else to shift resources and commitment in those directions once the heat is off.   Above all, we cannot afford complacency and naiveté because in difficult times they will kill us. 

    In these difficult hours, I am grateful for the work of Jung and depth psychology for helping many find a source of personal guidance when the outer structures are shaken and compromised.   The gifts of Jung and others will abide for us the rest of our ways.

    James Hollis, Ph.D. is Jungian Analyst in Washington and author, most recently of Living Between Worlds:  Finding Personal Resilience in Changing Times.

  • Saturday, June 13, 2020 9:22 PM | Anonymous

    In wild times of Pan and older energies we cannot yet name, the old stories and myths give us Ariadne threads to hold as we make our way through life’s labyrinth. With little else to cling to, our fingers find those woven fibers and are surprised to discover they are silken and slick with all the stories of the world. Each thread quivers with a tale and is tied to the spun, spoken magic our ancestors breathed into them a long time ago. These stories are good balm for what ails us today—the stranger they are, the more medicine they seem to carry, and the greater the healing we can gain from their insights and wisdom.

    Perhaps one of the strangest stories of all is the tale of the Fisher King, which is a sliver in the larger Grail myth. In it, we discover a man who is wounded and cannot stand. Because he cannot rule, his kingdom becomes a barren wasteland. The only action he can take to reduce his suffering is to fish in the tidal river near his castle and hope someone comes along to ask him the one question that will heal him.

    The old stories remind us that when magic words are involved, one has to say them in the right order at the right time. It is not enough to possess them. One must also be courageous enough to say them—only then can the gold spill forth and the spell be broken.

    If we slightly modernize the Fisher King story, the incantation one must utter is not “Whom does the Grail serve?” but “Where does it hurt?” The young man who stumbles into the king’s realm—Perceval, Parsifal, or Peredur, depending on the version—doesn’t know to ask it when he sees his host bleeding and in pain. He doesn’t question the situation. It might not be polite. He might offend. He glimpses the Grail but stays mum.

    It’s only the following day, after he wakes up, that he gets the sense he’s made a mistake and done something wrong. He wanders the castle, now utterly deserted, and is soon back in the ordinary world among weeping maidens who have lost loved ones to violence and been subjected to it themselves. When he shares with one such maiden that he meets along the way, she’s incredulous to learn he had been with the Fisher King and didn’t ask him the obvious question. She chastises the young man, “So much would have been restored if you had only asked.” His mistake? His silence.

    Myth is a kind teacher. It shows us second chances are possible. In some versions of the tale, our hero, after much maturation and conscious reflection, finds his way back to the Grail castle, sees the Fisher King’s wound, and finally asks, “Where does it hurt?”

    “Where does it hurt?”

    These four, small words become alchemical when strung together. When asked, they can lower drawbridges and walled defenses. They teach us how to witness pain, often held in private places and aching to be heard. Their honeyed, human quality can press balm into all the spaces within ourselves and others that have never known love or a kind word. Most importantly, they are the necessary and obvious response to distress. The Fisher King story shows us that great and unnecessary suffering continues when the question is not asked. The wound bleeds. The wasteland spreads. There is no air to breathe.

    Kelly McGannon, M.A., M.A.R. is an executive leadership coach in private practice in the Washington D.C. Metro Area. She completed her graduate work in medieval art history and pilgrimage at Yale University Divinity School and Princeton University. She is a current student in JSW's Jungian Studies Reading Seminar.


  • Saturday, May 09, 2020 8:32 PM | Anonymous

    In writing about “The Aims of Psychotherapy” in 1929, Jung observed that the therapeutic project is less about “cure,” for life is not a disease, but an on-going experiment to be lived through. So, the common work, he asserts, “is less a question of treatment than of developing the creative possibilities latent within the patient.”  (CW 16, para.82)

    As projects of nature, we are infinitely adaptable, resilient, and resourceful.  Without these attributes, this animal species we are would not have been able to survive the perils of this planet. Just as we adapt to the various powers around us, adaptations that often distort, even violate our own souls, so we manage to wedge ourselves into the narrow slots where external forces so often maneuver us. While these adaptations allow us to fit into our family structures, or social environments, they also tend to cost us a great deal. Every adaptation, however obliged by outer pressures, risks a further injury to the psyche which will not go unaddressed by the soul. So, bombarded as we are by the cacophonous claims of contemporary culture, we find ways to fit in; and the hidden cost of doing so shows up in our disturbing dreams, our anaesthetizing addictions, or our sundry forms of denial or distraction. How many of us, for example, have tried to do “the right thing,” as defined by our family messages, our cultural imperatives and prohibitions, or by succumbing to the pressures of the hour, and then felt empty within, used, exploited, betrayed somehow? The perverse irony is that these same adaptations that often allow us to “fit in,” become traps, constraints which also contain or deform the developmental desires that course through us as well.

    When we understand psychopathology as the quite legitimate protest of the psyche, a summons to take seriously a wider range of life’s choices, we realize that we do have an internal guidance system. If I am doing all “the right things,” why is it I have to keep forcing the energy, fighting off the doubts, depressions, and keep trying to stay ahead of whatever is pursuing me?     

    Jung speaks to this common phenomenon quite clearly and powerfully.   He notes that so many of his cases “are not suffering from any clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and aimlessness of their lives. I should not object if this were called the general neurosis of our age.” (Ibid. para. 83). 

    Most of us really “know” what is right for us, though we may be frightened or intimidated to know what we already know. As Jung put it, “Most of my patients knew the deeper truth, but did not live it. And why did they  not live it? Because of that bias which makes us all live from the ego, a bias which comes from overvaluation of the conscious mind.”   (Ibid., para 108). And by “conscious mind,” generally Jung means the mind that is occupied by the complex triggered in that moment. So, seldom are we “in our right mind.” Most of the time we are subsumed by, and serving, the invisible text of a “message,” which means we serve the received authority rather than our own deepest promptings.

    So much of the self-help genre prattles on about “happiness.”  “Thirty Days to this or That...”.   “Five Easy Steps to…”.  You fill in the blanks. But this Pablum does not feed the soul, fire the spirit, create the new world.   The pursuit of “happiness” is delusory. It is a by-product of those rare moments of détente, of concordance between our external choices and our internal reality. As he writes in another essay, “Psychotherapy and a Philosophy of Life,” “the principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport the patient to an impossible state of happiness but to help him acquire steadfastness and philosophic patience in the face of suffering. Life demands for its completion and fulfilment a balance between joy and sorrow.” (Ibid., para 185).

    In the end, we prove to be more than just social animals; we are meaning-seeking, meaning-creating creatures. As Jung notes, “The least of things with a meaning is always worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”   (op. cit., para 45).

    James Hollis, Ph.D. is a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst in practice in Washington, D. C. He is also author of fifteen books translated into nineteen languages.

  • Saturday, April 04, 2020 10:49 PM | Anonymous

    [The] existence of a compensatory ordering factor which is independent of the ego and whose nature transcends consciousness... is no more miraculous, in itself, than... the attunement of a virus to the anatomy and physiology of human beings. (CW 11, para. 447)

    As the story goes, Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who lived within castle walls set up by his father in order to protect him from the sufferings of the world. He lived in luxury and pleasure, until the day when he saw, beyond the constructed walls, the reality of sickness, old age, and death. Thus began the journey that transformed Siddhartha into the Buddha. I think of this story in our current crisis, because it so reminds me of what we are going through collectively as a culture.

    In so many ways, contemporary American life has exerted strenuous efforts to create and live in an Epcot and sanitized version of reality. The shadow side of reality—sickness, old age, and death—have been placed in the corners of our society and our fear of it has been projected onto the nefarious “other.” There is, however, an inescapable polarity in nature of creation and destruction. Periodic pandemics have been a norm throughout human history and, in their own way, are perfectly natural. Jung himself marveled at “the attunement of a virus to the anatomy and physiology of human beings” (CW 11, para. 447). For Jung, this, among other things, revealed “the existence of a compensatory ordering factor which is independent of the ego and whose nature transcends consciousness” (CW 11, para. 447). While we may want to put it all outside of the gates, we can only hold on to this essentially egocentric position through primitive defenses of repression and projection. The tremendous polarity of nature is both within us and without.

    One of the striking things about this current pandemic is how unprepared we have been for it, when scientists and public health experts have been predicting such an outbreak for years. It is as if we have been in denial of nature, not that it cares. The reality of nature and its viruses, so finely attuned to us, exist outside of our collective sense of ego and cannot be warded off through primitive defenses of denial and wishful thinking. Since what is denied comes to us as fate, to paraphrase Jung, we are faced with the opportunity of becoming conscious and moving forward through this—“What is miraculous in the extreme is that man can have conscious, reflective knowledge of these hidden processes, while animals, plants, and inorganic bodies seemingly lack it” (CW 11, para. 447).

    In order for consciousness to take shape, we could use a temenos, a safe place that can protect and nurture the mind and soul. Such temenoi can serve as the compensatory meaning of “social distancing.” In that way, the traumas which may ensue in this international emergency may be processed in a manner that does not lead to social dissociation of self and other. In a dissociated state, a temenos would become an entombing prison. However, in a state of relatedness, the temenos may been symbolized as a sacred garden, apart but connected and full of life. Furthermore, temenoi, however maintained, can help keep moving the hermeneutical function of psyche—it’s desire and need for ongoing meaning through connections, associations, and relationships, like the movement of Hermes himself.

    The hope here is that we are able to summon the energy to rise to the occasion so that “social distancing” becomes a sacred container which would more deeply connect us to what really matters. The temenos has been traditionally symbolized in the East and West by the mandala. These mandalas protect a sacred center. According to Jung, the temenos is “a means of protecting the center of the personality from being drawn out and from being influenced from outside” (CW 18, para. 410). We are faced with a dangerous opportunity, a true crisis, whose outcome is uncertain, resting, as it does, on fate, human consciousness, and responsibility . The human is part of a “psychic process that is independent of him, that works him rather than he it” (CW 11, para. 446). Perhaps losing our imagined superordinate position will lead to a new discovery of our humanity and that of others—with whom we share one world, unus mundus.

    Mark Napack, M.A., S.T.L., M.S., studied archetypal patterns in comparative literature at Columbia University, after which he applied Jungian theory to the redemption motif in medieval theology for his thesis at Fordham University.  He further studied Jung, psychology, and the history of religion at Loyola and Catholic Universities.  A long-time graduate and college instructor, Mark has presented at international conferences and his work has appeared in scholarly journals and books in English and French. Mark Napack, LCPC, is also a Jungian informed psychotherapist in North Bethesda, MD. 

  • Sunday, March 01, 2020 1:47 AM | Anonymous

    Cast upon this planet so many aeons ago, imperiled, sensitive, semi-conscious, and vulnerable, humankind learned fear. Their fears were not imagined; their perils were real as ours remain. However, the danger rises in how those fears metastasize and begin to morph into multiple behaviors and venues, leading to this necessary interrogation of our fears: “what do they make us do, or keep us from doing.”

    In 1937 C. G. Jung was invited to give the distinguished Terry Lectures at Yale University, a series of three presentations gathered under the title “Psychology and Religion.” In the second essay he speaks of how groups of people congeal their fears around some focus, and very quickly find someone to blame for their distress. Given that a palpable cause, a definable agent has been constellated, that group wields its assembled powers and weaponry against the enemy. The power of this assault on the presumptive foe is explained, Jung observes, “by fear of the neighboring nation, which is supposed to be possessed by a malevolent devil. As nobody is capable of recognizing where and how much he himself is possessed and unconscious, one simply projects one’s own condition upon the neighbor, and thus it becomes the sacred duty to have the biggest guns and the most poisonous gas.” (“Psychology and Religion,” p. 60, 1938).

    What we cannot handle in ourselves will be repressed, split off, projected off onto others. What we cannot face in ourselves becomes demonstrably intolerable in the other, the other who embodies what we find so repulsive within. Since this self-protective mechanism is designed to shelter the fragile ego state, we can in good consciousness claim to see the repelled contents embodied in the neighbor who now carries what is disowned by us. (How different is that from the speaker in a short poem by Bertolt Brecht who, looking in the mirror, says, “there is a person you can’t trust.”).

    Back in 1912, Jung wrote that our daily summons is to stand up to fear. Fear, he metaphorically describes is the serpent whose toxic bite quickly spreads through our systems and triggers a general weakening. Accordingly, he adds, our daily summons is to risk and reclaim our lives by stepping into and through those fears. If that risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated. (Symbols of Transformation, CW 5, para . 551)

    If Jung is right, then the fear that I would have to face is not in my opponent, or my neighbor; it is in me, the one who stares back from the mirror. If it is so difficult to face our fears, our limitations, our compromised limitations how fragile our ego states must be. I can face your limitations, your humanity, apparently, but I cannot face mine. When the Roman playwright Terrence concluded over two millennia ago, “nothing human is alien to me,” he demonstrated the courage of simple honesty. His is a courage which today continues to challenge all of us, and frankly, intimidate us.

    Later in those lectures at Yale, Jung comes round to the same conclusion and explains, “if you can imagine someone brave enough to withdraw these projections,…then you get an individual conscious of a pretty thick shadow.” Such a person, he adds, “knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow then he has done something real for the world.” (“Psychology and Religion,” p. 101-2, 1938) Such a person helps the healing of a society by lifting his or her unexamined life off of the collective, off of the partner, off of one’s children. Such a person has contributed to the healing of his or her world by acknowledging and accepting the work of healing oneself first before trying to fix others.

    In our belligerent and contentious time, we are asked to clean up our own backyards before we criticize our neighbors, own our own fears before we dump them elsewhere. How many of us, and how often, can we find the courage to do that? How much easier it is to remain fearful, timorous, and blameless.

    James Hollis, Ph.D. is a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst in practice in Washington, D. C. He is also author of fifteen books translated into nineteen languages. 


  • Saturday, February 01, 2020 7:47 PM | Anonymous

    “It has become abundantly clear…that life can flow forward only along the path of a gradient.”

    (CW 7, 78)

    Since the Fall, several of us in the Jung Society of Washington’s Reading Seminar have debated what Jung meant by “gradient.” The term skips through the Collected Works (CW) like a bright star—all streak and color—but is never defined satisfactorily. You won’t always find it in the indexes, and when you do stumble across it, there’s not much to chew on, as if Jung decided to be annoyingly vague on purpose.

    I like elusive concepts. They activate my inner scholar adventurer, compelling me to piece together the tesserae until an image appears. And, this possible image has made a deep impression on me, stunning me with its poetry and beauty.

    Before digging into the gradient, it’s important to revisit the energy Jung believed flowed along it. He called it “libido” and “psychic energy,” but we also know it as “chi,” “prana,” “ki,” or “mana.” This energy, which moves through all of life, is like “water” (CW 5, 337). It has a “natural penchant” and crackles with its own intelligence—it wants what it wants. You can’t will it to move or force it to take a particular direction. Nope. This energy acts fastidiously, insistent upon the fulfillment of its own conditions (CW 7, 76, CW 8, 78).

    Jung felt that the energy’s flow had a definite direction (goal)—a natural, right way. If you could follow it, then you could realize the Self. “No other way is like yours. All other ways deceive and tempt you. You must fulfill the way that is in you” (Red Book, p. 308). Yet, following one’s natural gradient (way) is much easier said than done. Today, it’s like trying to keep an eye on your True North in whiteout conditions while your man-made, Siri-powered GPS shouts, “Please return to the highlighted route.”

    Anyone who has spent time in the proverbial midlife crisis knows the collective is not interested in your self-actualization. It would prefer you go its way, choose its more favorable gradient, and set your energy along its prescribed and unnatural ways.

    Such Faustian bargains never turn out well for the Self. Very slowly, the energy of our lives retreats, often goes on walkabout into the unconscious, and waits for us to claim it. Many of us don’t even notice it’s gone until we wake up feeling hollowed out, dried out, and alone. Even Jung succumbed, having first invested his energy on Freud’s gradient before painfully discovering his own.

    If you’ve been likewise hooked, don’t fret. You’re in the best place possible to rediscover your gradient. Everything you need is within you. The biggest question is whether you have the courage to go within and sit with what you find. This isn’t overnight work. Jung sat in the tension of his opposites for close to a decade, relying on creativity and curiosity to make sense of it all. His inner voices filled hundreds of pages and gave him everything.

    I think one path back to the natural gradient is a radical acceptance of our own humanity—the good, the bad, and the ugly—a willingness to love what we find when we’re with ourselves, and a desire to make amends to the parts we have cast off and neglected. As we become the container for our Self, we have a better chance to listen deeply, honor what we hear, and take authentic action.

    Jung said it well in the Red Book, “Protect the riddles, bear them in your heart, warm them, be pregnant with them. Thus you carry the future…Great is the power of the way. In it Heaven and Hell grow together, and in it the power of the Below and the Power of the Above unite” (p. 308). The gradient is the path the heart must take through the mind’s abyss. It is the road that takes us to our holy center and where we become wholly centered.

  • Saturday, January 04, 2020 3:27 PM | Anonymous

    While reflecting on a recent encounter I was reminded of a seminar at the C.G. Jung Institute Boston on the Self as Paradox, and Jung’s observation that “the other is always present.”  Recently some colleagues of mine and I stopped at our local pub one block away from the school where I worked.  Over drinks we talked about the upcoming Christmas Show and the songs that the children were going to sing. One of the standard songs that the Early Childhood students (ages 3-5) is a popular song “Happy Birthday Jesus.”  This version of the song is not set to the familiar tune. It is, to my ear, quite opposite. When I hear the version the young children sing I hear a strong hint of melancholy. Perhaps its the chordal structure that might stir a whiff of sadness, not overwhelming, but a subtle sadness that I connect with the Christian myth of the Divine Child.  


    Today, as I was reflecting on the upcoming performance, I remembered a traditional carol where the text includes a stanza that reflects both the joy and sorrow of the birth of Christ.  The Infant King, a Basque carol I’ve sung for years as a chorister, is a lullaby, reminding the listener to sit quietly as the Holy Child sleeps.  In the second and third stanzas the choir followed by the soprano soloist sings: 


    “Sing lullaby!

     Lullaby baby, now a-sleeping,

     Sing lullaby!

     Hush, do not wake the infant king.

     Soon will come sorrow with the morning,

     Soon will come bitter grief and weeping:

     Sing lullaby!


    “Sing lullaby!

     Lullaby baby, now a-dozing:

     Sing lullaby!

     Hush, do not wake, the infant king.

     Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,

     Then in the grave at last reposing:

     Sing lullaby!”


    At first listen, one might be tempted to turn from the brutality of the crucifixion and the contrasting image of a sweet baby sleeping.  Yet in the Holy Child, lies a paradox, the sweet baby, who will be sacrificed years later, only to rise again in Eternal Form.  


    “Sing lullaby!

     Lullaby! Is the baby awaking?

     Sing lullaby.

     Hush do not stir the infant king.

     Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning,

     Conquering death, its bondage breaking; 

     Sing lullaby!”


    Keeping in mind Jung’s idea of the Self as paradox during this holiday season, we might think the Infant King understood what was in store for him.  Perhaps as listeners, when we all understand that Joy and her sister Sorrow come to us hand in hand, we might be able to hold the paradox in mind that both exist together in the tender form of a baby, born long ago in a manger, thousands of years ago.  


    Rolando J Fuentes MSW is a Diploma Candidate at the C G Jung Institute Boston.  He is in private private practice in Woodley Park where he sees individual adults, couples and families.  His areas of interest are cross-cultural relationships. In addition, he consults with parent-infant/young child dyads.  



  • Sunday, December 08, 2019 12:32 AM | Anonymous

    I shudder each late autumn as I reflect on the hardships our distant ancestors bore as the sun plummets into the underworld, an annual catabasis which must have been, if not terrifying, at best problematic for their survival. Given that we are that animal that desires to know, to make up stories that help us relate to the inexplicable and sometimes monstrous forces around us, their primal imagination conjured up all sorts of cosmic animals that had eaten the sun, or malevolent gods that had abducted it from warming our crops and our person.

    But I particularly think on my visit to Newgrange, about an hour's drive north of Dublin, Eire. A number of years ago, what were thought to simply be hills were revealed to be burial chambers. (Aerial photography is helping find many more such sites). Today, rightly controlled by the government to protect its fragile state, one can go down into the recesses of one of those domes. (From afar, they almost look like football stadia). One descends about twenty meters into a cavern in which one light bulb now hangs. The guide informs that this structure was built c. 5000 years ago, which makes it older than the pyramids, and much older than Stonehenge. When she turned off that one bulb, we knew what dark dark was really like. We were one with those whose bodies had once been placed there, in the underworld.

    Further, we are shown what is called a latch-key slot in the ceiling about the size of a shoebox. In the late days of December, for a matter of minutes each dark day, the slot is aligned with the sun now at its furthest perigee from our sight. Stunningly, the room is briefly illumined by that light. There in the dark cavern, in the darkest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, the light appears. What are we to make of that elaborate construction which so clearly was tied to a solstice ("sun standing still") ritual?

    In the depths of that sacred space I had three thoughts which came to me in this order. First, I marveled at the engineering acumen that had cantalevered those stones to create that space. And I hoped that their skill would persist for another few centuries, given that I and others were under those stones. Second, I was moved by their astronomical sophistication which could so accurately calculate the movement of the stars and planets which they could only see by the naked eye. Thirdly, I realized, and was moved by recognizing that I was in the presence of the Great Mother archetype of which Jung spoke.

    An archetype is recognized through its incarnation in a form available to consciousness but not created by individual consciousness. It is a timeless, patterning process whose contents vary greatly, but whose form is universal. The Great Mother is a personification of the forces of the birth, death, rebirth process through which individuals, and cultures, move.

    So there, in that Irish cavern I bore witness to the archetypal idea that even in death, even in the darkest hours, a scintilla of light is present, the germ of rebirth, renewal, and the great cycle catalyzed into rotation back to the fullness of summer. Any person, any culture who has a sense of participation in this great cycle feels a deeper psycho-social connection to a transpersonal energy. And any culture, such as ours, which has cut itself free of the cycle will suffer dread with aging and mortality, will feel rootless, adrift, and live a stranger on this earth.

    There in that dismal cavern, I felt linked through the archetypal imagination common to all humanity, linked to those distant predecessors and mindful that we are all summoned to reconnect with those forces which lie outside our powers, and in which we daily swim. We can thank those ancestors for their labor which now informs our age, and Jung for describing the archetypal field of energy which allows us to stand in relationship to that which is larger than we. Immortal sap runs through the world tree, and while we are very mortal, perhaps we profit to remember our connection to the larger is obtained through the archetypal imagination which courses within each of us.

    James Hollis, Ph.D.

    Jungian Analyst


  • Saturday, October 05, 2019 10:23 PM | Anonymous

         Jungian concepts can facilitate deeper insights into literature, especially in works which abound in archetypal imagery. Haruki Murakami’s most recent novel, Killing Commendatore, is a complex but authentic representation of a life crisis in a young man, told as a magical realistic individuation saga. The immediate psychological challenge to the young man, a painter whom we shall call the hero (he is never named in the novel), is the unexpected divorce by his wife after 6 years of a tranquil but childless marriage. This sudden, inexplicable and wrenching loss causes him to quit his adequate but uncreative job and up and leave his home in Tokyo for an extended road trip to the north of Japan. The road trip morphs into a kind of dream sequence, a modern-day heroic night-sea journey, with macabre encounters of ghostlike, demonic characters that stir up paranoid and murderous impulses. This first iteration of the night-sea journey is vague, confused and overwhelming, and does not lead to understanding or insight, but rather suggests our hero has fallen into a state of morbid depression. He takes refuge from this nightmare in an offer to stay at the abandoned home in the mountains of an aged but famous artist of the previous generation, who has moved out to a nursing home for the demented. In this mountainside temenos begins a series of interlocking subplots, all of which are now clearly presented in mythological symbolic form.

         The young painter sets up a studio in the house, and begins to paint creatively, in new ways he had never done before. He befriends a somewhat older, wealthy, highly refined man, his neighbor, who is a projection of an idealized self-representation, (complete with his own anima problem). He also explores the house, which yields nothing personal of the older painter, until he goes up into the attic, where he finds a single, carefully wrapped painting unknown to the world. The painting depicts a variation on the famous opening scene from Mozart’s Don Giovani, when the enraged Commendatore, father of Donna Anna, Don Giovani’s conquest, confronts Don Giovani and is slain by him. Shortly after pondering the meaning of this odd but powerful painting, the hero hears a bell in the middle of the night, whose source cannot be found. He ultimately has the back yard of the house dug up to discover a magical and numinous ancient circular pit buried in the ground. The pit is just deep enough to prevent a person from jumping out, and the walls are perfectly sheer stone blocks which cannot be climbed. Caught in this trap is a magical figure, none other than a miniature version of the Commendatore in the painting. The hero rescues him and brings him into the house, where he describes himself as an Idea embodied. This Idea of the Commendatore becomes the genius loci of the increasingly uncanny studio temenos, appearing randomly to speak to the young artist in cryptic oracles.

         There are many further developments, but the most important all revolve around the hero’s relationships with women, beginning with his younger sister who died when he was a teenager. In an elegant weaving of old memories intermixed with plot episodes involving several females of various ages, Murakami lays out the anima problem of the hero and the neighbor, both in his life historical developmental reality, his current love life, as well as in his conscious and unconscious (dream) erotic/sadistic fantasies. None of this however seems to relate directly to the hero’s newly creative painting and his increasingly fascinated obsession with understanding the secret mystery behind the old painting he discovered.

         Following the urgings of the Idea of Commendatore, one of whose attributes is to recognize the importance of “the right time,” which this now is, the hero tracks down the old artist in the nursing home. He attempts to learn from the dying, mute artist the significance of his painting. It was done during WWII while he was in Vienna, in love with a woman whose Nazi father ultimately killed her. While learning this, the Idea of Commendatore suddenly announces that the time is right now, and demands that the hero must kill him immediately, and literally, just as in the painting. The shocked hero is deeply averse to such a tangible, palpable murder, but eventually does indeed slay the Idea of Commendatore, thus enacting in “reality” the imagery depicted in the painting. The immediate result of this violent bloody “human” sacrifice of an Idea, is the opening of a new tunnel into the earth (right there in the nursing home!), which the hero is bidden to enter by a previously encountered but ill understood trickster/Hermes figure, “Longface,” who had identified himself as a Metaphor (rather than an Idea). There follows a second, now truly mythological night-sea journey, fully articulated in all its richness of archetypal imagery, which leads our hero across a kind of River Styx, meeting various shades of the underworld, and journeying through ever more dangerous and difficult obstacles, until at the nadir he is about to be devoured by a snake monster. At the climax of this mortal crisis, however, the hero is suddenly transported/transformed from the “belly of monster,” but only to find himself now trapped inside the very same the pit in his own back yard, just as the Idea of Commendatore had been trapped earlier in the story. There, he must “incubate” in this alchemical vas and overcome his fears of suffocating or starving, or even worse, immortal abandonment. Then, when he has, he is rescued by his doppelganger neighbor, who had previously “modeled” for him how to allow the experience of the pit to deepen his consciousness rather than overwhelm it. The hero is fundamentally transformed by enduring all these trials of Herakles. He is able to reconnect with his estranged wife. He embarks on a new phase of his life with a renewed relationship to his anima and a more conscious awareness of the personal colors with which he had painted his sister’s death in his psyche.

         The symbolism in this novel is powerful, it is a contemporary mythological epic. What makes it 21 st century is the consciousness of both the archetypal symbolism and the real historical, developmental trauma which damaged his relationship to his anima in adolescence. This overview may give you a hint of the elegance and depth of the writing, but if you are intrigued, I urge you to read the novel and grapple with its density, both literary and psychological. There are many other characters and subplots, none of them irrelevant or incidental, and deciphering the whole opus will amply reward the adept.

    John Boronow, M.D. is a retired psychiatrist from Baltimore. He has rekindled a long set aside fascination with Jung in his retirement, and is thoroughly enjoying reading Jung’s works in his third year of the Jungian Studies Reading Seminar.

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