• Tag Archives Jung
  • Life Review

    Imbolc                                                       Waxing Bridgit Moon

    “Justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West   

    So, valentine’s day is a justice holiday, too.  I like it.  I met Cornel West in 1974, when we were both much younger.  We attended a week-long conference on liberation theology at Maryknoll College in Detroit.

    Since the retreat, I’ve begun looking back, seeing my life as a whole rather than in its most immediate reality.  There’s a task here, called integrity (see below), defined by Erik Erikson, a task in which we review our life and decide if it has threads, through lines, think about its cogency as a work of art.

    Maturity(65 to death) Ego Integrity vs. Despair Reflection on Life Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.

    This is a delicate task, I think, since most of us, myself included, don’t see our lives slowing down or as less productive or even, in important ways, discontinuous with the life preceding.  That aspect, the final, end note aspect of Erikson seems premature, but the task itself is one that can begin now, that is, in our mid-60s.

    There is a need, it seems, for a 7.5 or an 8.0 followed by integrity as a 8.5.  Jung, who broke with Freud early, earlier in his career than Erikson did, sees the second half of life as an inward journey, a preparation for dying, but, also, a recipe for living.  It is this aspect that seems left out of Erikson’s model, that contemplative, meditative facet of life as we pull away from the world of engagement toward a world of the inner journey.  So, I see this ego integrity task as a subset of a more important turn, the turn from achievement and goals, to the interior, to the inner cathedral, the cultivation of the deep Self.

    Life review certainly fits as a section of the inward journey, but it fails to acknowledge the still active, still an agent, role of our lives up to our death.  We need to retain agency, to take responsibility for the journey now, just as we have in the past.  Still, there is no question that getting older means taking stock, reviewing our past, but it cannot dampen the vitality and purposive nature of life even in our 80s and 90s and 100s.

  • What is Analysis for?

    Lughnasa                                   New (Artemis) Moon

    This month is the Artemis moon because Artemis is the goddess of honeybees and the name goddess for our hives.  Why this month?  Because the end of August is the usual time for honey extraction among beekeepers in our area.  Our brand new extraction equipment is in en route to us from Dadant Bee Supplies in 5 boxes of approximately 34 pounds each.  Some assembly required.

    The honey labels, designed by fellow Woolly and graphic artist Mark (LockMan) Odegard, are spectacular.  Literally.  You’ll have to see them.  I’ll post an image when I have a photograph.  Odie offered to do this design work because he always wanted to keep bees himself.  His work displays  long study and careful craftmanship.

    A short bit on a longer topic.  Analysis.  A New York Times Magazine piece, My Life In Therapy, raised a question I’ve pondered many times.  That is, does therapy accomplish anything? The author, Daphne Merkin, seems to say no, or mostly no; but, her criteria, character change, is, I think, precisely the wrong measure and gives rise to the dilemma that haunts her piece.

    Ms. Merkin started in therapy early, at age 10, and has experienced several therapists, most of them Freudian if I read between the lines.  I didn’t get started so early, age 24 or so, but I saw therapists and counselors from several schools:  existentialist, bumbling pastoral counseling, Adlerian until I hit the big hole in my therapeutic road, treatment for alcoholism.  My month long stint in a Hazelden outpatient program spelled the end of my bouncing from this to that trying to sort out the unusual strategies I had for getting in my own way, many of them, near as I could figure out, related to grief over my mother’s sudden death at 46.

    Getting sober made a lot of things come clear that had been foggy.  Without the medication and confusion of drinking, a lot of my life snapped into focus.  Not fast enough however to have prevented a second marriage while I was still drinking.  That marriage, like the first one, ended up in the divorce courts.

    Raeone and I parted ways in 1988, but not before I sought therapy once again.  This time I landed, and I don’t recall how, in the offices of John Desteian, a Jungian analyst.  John himself and the Jungian paradigm in particular fit me.  Exploration of dreams, the linkage between imagination and self-knowledge and Jung’s special attention to the creative combined to move me forward on that most ancientrail of all, self-knowledge.  John encouraged me and forced me deeper in my self-exploration, helping me see the very real boxes I constructed, boxes that prevented me from getting to the core of my self and my true pilgrimage.

    It took a long time, maybe 18  years off and on, perhaps mostly off, but at certain points weekly for a couple of years at a whack.  Over the course of time I did not go through a character change.  I went through a dramatic change in self-acceptance.  Those melancholic mood swings?  Yes, probably somewhat related to my mother’s death.  Now though they presage a return to creative activity, an ingathering of energy and self collecting itself for a push forward.  The ministry?  An aspect of my three-part self certainly– scholar, monk and poet–but not well related, since the monk is a meditative, solitary archetype for the religious life and the ministry has an extroverted, communal structure.  A better fit?  Writing, solitary work.

    The writing has not been a royal road to success, measured in the externals of publishing and money-making and those are real measures.  It did, however, let me focus on creativity, on the domestic front:  cooking, husband, father, gardener and now bee-keeper and on the inner work of the religious or faith pilgrimage.  It’s not that I’ve not written, I have. Six novels.  Many short stories and essays.  This blog and many handwritten journals.  The shift did allow what I call my Self to lead me rather than the demands of the culture or my own ratocinations based on expectations from childhood.

    No, I do not believe the goal of therapy or analysis is character change, a goal that may not be achievable at all.  Rather, I see the goal of analysis as the clarification of self, stripping away the accretions of fear, role, pleasing others, traps which cause us to shut some or even all of our self away as unworthy or unnecessary or unwanted,  and in that clarification coming to design a life congruent with the Self, one that nurtures and explores its unique possibilities.  This may mean dramatic role changes; it did for me, moving from the ministry to the study.  This may mean accepting parts of your self that seem unacceptable, for me melancholy and introversion and my need to write, all of which felt unwanted at one time or the other.  This may mean moving from a place of external success to a place of internal satisfaction.  It has for me.

    Analysis with John Desteian, using the insights of Carl Jung, helped me achieve a goal I didn’t even know I had, becoming more like who I already was.

  • Jung

    Winter                                 Waxing Cold Moon

    “The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown.” – Carl Jung

    Jung has been central to my later life and this quote shows one reason.  He recognized the indescribable complexity of the lived experience and never tried to simplify it.  We live into problems, rather than roll over them or change them.  If we’re lucky, we make the problems part of our lives, otherwise they eat away at our lives.

    Life from 17 to about 37 was difficult for me.  Sometimes in the extreme.  When Mom died, though I couldn’t see at the time, my world fell apart.  It didn’t have to, but I let it.  I internalized my grief, took up drinking and smoking and completely screwed the pooch when it came to making use of a pretty good academic career.  I ended up in the ministry, a place I should probably have never been and it took me 20 years  to extricate myself from that.  Along the way I got married twice, to women for whom I was a bad fit and who were a bad fit for me.  I drank myself into alcoholism, got cleaned up, but didn’t get better until I realized my second marriage was a bad one.

    In that process I found John Desteian, a Jungian analyst.  He guided me on a journey of self-exploration and honest self-reexamination.  Much of what I learned about myself was painful, some of it exhilarating.  In the end, I left the ministry, started writing, found Kate and got myself headed off in a direction that fit who I was then and am now.

    Jung’s metaphysics may be wrong, who knows?  The collective unconscious has no falsifiable reality.  The Self, as Jung understands it, stretches into neo-platonic realms.  Could be wrong.  His naming of complexes and archetypes likewise have no tangible referents. Doesn’t matter.

    What does matter is this.  The blend of thought that Jung put forward encourages me to take mySelf seriously, yet to do so lightly.  It acknowledges the essentially messy and chaotic nature of both inner and outer life, yet makes clear that the only through it is eyes open, heart open, with forgiveness for yourself and others as humans struggling together.  That worked for me, works for me, and will see me through to the end of my life.

    Thanks, Carl Jung.  I needed what you offered.

  • Projection Is Not Just A Machine In A Movie Theatre

    Beltane                    Waxing Flower Moon

    “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” – Herman Hesse

    This is a fundamental tenet of Jungian psychology, projection.  I mentioned this acquaintance a while back whom I have begun to despise.  It became clear, as I wrote that, that projection was at work.  There is something about him that I despise in myself, just what I’m not sure.  It may be that I don’t think through things as clearly as I imagine since that’s the main problem I have with him.  It may be that his anger, a strong undercurrent in his approach to life, reflects a similar emotional undercurrent in mine.  As I write about it, that one makes sense to me.

    One of the difficulties I’ve noticed in the transition from 60’s political work to the millennial political work I’ve done with the Sierra Club has its roots there.  In the 60’s our anger, our rage against the system fueled a willingness to live on the fringe of society and take the consequences.  Today, though, politics on the left has a quieter, more plodding nature.  I want to build a movement, mount the barricades, define enemies but my new colleagues use reason and persistence.  In part this mirrors the relative failures of the left in the last three decades, we have been weaker.

    It has caused me considerable self-examination.

    I’m not sure where the underlying anger comes from, but I suspect its origin lies in perceived mistreatment by my father and fate.  When I approach either of these from an older, calmer perspective, I can see both my role in them and their unintentional nature.  Anger and fear have ruled my life at critical junctures.  This may be the point where I finally confront them.

  • At 50, What Next?

    3  bar steep drop 30.16  0mph  NE  windchill 3  Samhain

    Waning Gibbous Moon of Long Nights

    My brother Mark asked me my thoughts on turning 50.  This April 11th he has his 50th.  By then it will be, as it always is, twelve years since I had that birthday.

    Twelve years ago is a long time and when I first started to answer Carl Jung came up.  He should have, but not in the positive way I had in mind.  I began that piece by reflecting on Jung’s notion of life’s  two halves:  an external, career and family half followed by an interior, reflective and calmer half.  Hmmm.  But that was the upbeat spin.

    How Jung came into my turning 50 is less philosophical.  In 1996 I shifted my credentials from the Presybterian church to the Unitarian-Universalist.  In 1997, my 50th year, I had to take an internship to qualify for recognition.  I did.  Unity Church Unitarian (no relation to the Unity movement) in St. Paul and First Unitarian in Minneapolis both offered me internships.

    It felt good to be wanted in a professional capacity again.  I had given myself 5 years to make it as a writer (with no real idea what making it meant) and I failed.  No sales.  Not even any bites.  Instead of the romantic I’ll stick with it no matter what I decided to go back to the trade I had learned.  I felt a need to earn money and to have recognition as a skilled and valuable person.

    This whole episode was a mistake and a big one.  I crowned it with accepting a position as minister of development at Unity, essentially a fund-raising position.  I hate fund-raising and everything associated with it.  But I said yes because I was asked.  Pretty desparate.

    That was how Jung came in.  Early on I could see I’d made a mistake but I needed to understand why.  What did it mean?  My long time analyst John Desteian, a Jungian, and I worked on it.  In the end we decided I had regressed, rather than moved forward.  I had regressed by returning to safe territory.  John said that most regressions occur because we have to go back and pick up something we needed.  In this case I needed to be reminded how much I’d wanted out of the ministry six years before and why full time ministry was a bad fit for me.

    It felt wonderful to leave after the fund-raising goal had been met, an increase of 10% over the prior year.  I did it, but I did not want to do it again.

    I came home and save for one brief relapse when we needed money I learned my lesson.

    What was the lesson?  That the world of work and achievement had come and gone in my life.  Now I needed to pursue life itself.  That did include writing, whether I sold anything or not.  I have not.  It meant I needed to face life as myself, not as a role or job holder.

    So, Mark, turning 50 for me meant a need to go back and relearn a lesson I had not grasped completely the first time around.  I don’t know what turning 50 will mean for you.  Perhaps reflecting on the expat life?  Perhaps following some abandoned or long cherised dream?  Maybe you’ll tell the story of South East Asia as only someone of your particular experience can.  Who knows?  I can tell you this.  Pay attention to what happens around this time because it has deep meaning for the rest of your life.