"Jung a Personal and Professional Challenge"
David Russell (2015)
Carl Jung, a personal and professional challenge
A personal story: my attraction to deep knowing
My first encounter with depth psychology was when I was twenty-one, and a student in Rome. I was enrolled in a diploma in spiritual theology with the Carmelites at the Pontifical Institute of Spirituality (Teresianum) located in the Piazza San Pancrazio. Of course, my teachers didn’t use the word ‘depth’ but now, with hindsight, it would have been just right.
John of the Cross (1542-1591), the Spanish Carmelite and mystic, was my hero and I wanted to imitate his life: his project, and his desire. Above all other desires, John wanted his soul to be in union with the divine.
I had taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience … I was well on the way. John of the Cross had written the classical books showing the step-by-step path towards the desired union: The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul.
John was a spiritual director for many during his life. In fact he was el supremo when it came to spiritual directors. I wanted to have a spiritual director just like John of the Cross. I asked for advice and it was arranged for me to meet with an experienced theologian, an American (Congregation of the Holy Cross) who was in walking distance from where I was living. This relatively young man was to be the object of my projection; he would be my John of the Cross, my spiritual director, my guide to a life of union with the divine. I wanted to move from the discipline of the diploma I was engaged in to the discipline of the practice, which was my passion. However, this clever man didn’t accept my projection (Thank God!), as I guess he recognised that I had a critical task to perform first off. He, very subtly, nudged me toward, what turned out to be, a profound transition: from being dependent on the dogmas of faith to an acceptance of the psychological power of myth.
The focus was to be more on John’s poetry and less on his detailed commentaries. Of course, I wasn’t prepared for this. How could I be at twenty-two?
I was disillusioned if not devastated. In quick succession, I accepted that I would cease my studies of theology, entertain the possibility of leaving the Church, and eventually find an alternative life path. It took a few years to actualise these moves: for me, nothing psychological happens quickly.
John of the Cross presented a wonderful seduction: if I took his path literally I could achieve the desired union. If I took it metaphorically I would have to struggle with myself, my daily living, my increasingly secular soul.
My second movement towards depth psychology came with the writings of Sigmund Freud. However, as particularity matters in the matters of soul, it was a particular academic in the department of psychology at the University of Sydney, John Maze, who caught my imagination.
My desire for John of the Cross had to be forgotten. It wasn’t that I consciously put him aside, it just happened. He had become unacceptable to my now secular and materialistic soul. It was as though my relationship had never existed. A Freudian repression indeed!
It was Anna Freud, Sigmund’s daughter, who said: “In our dreams we can have our eggs cooked exactly how we want them, but we can’t eat them.” This is what Sigmund Freud taught me: in my dreamy desires I can attain union with the divine; here, in the realm of daily living, I cannot have my relationships, including my relationship with the divine, cooked exactly how I want them.
“Our desire,” Freud wrote, “is always in excess of the object’s capacity to satisfy it.” Oh, how I still resist this wisdom, this understanding of the soul.
It was never Freud’s theoretical frameworks that did it for me. Rather, it was his clever use of myth and metaphor, his drive to describe a narrative full of digressive meanings that worked its magic, and still does.
Freud, I found, had an answer for everything. It was a bit like D. H. Lawrence’s description of ‘sex in the head’; it was just how the world should be. That’s the thing about the imagination; it offers us a world without frustration, a world where satisfaction is on tap. Just when I thought I had it made, Freud, and the relentlessness of my daily experience, let me know that sex, like wisdom, was remarkably elusive. What one could imagine one could not achieve. Rome for me was an appalling success (Isaiah Berlin’s phrase referring to John Stuart Mill’s education), I had graduated cum laude, lost my faith and had the early awareness of moving from a largely unconscious state to one of consciousness. I felt a bit like Adam and Eve must have felt after the Fall.
My imagination shaped my desires and then, in some mythic manner (I’m thinking of Sisyphus forever pushing his rock up the mountain), my imagination ensured that my fundamentalist desires would always remain unrealisable.
Was Freud trying to tell me that my disappointment would be what keeps me going? Keeps me wanting?
At some point I realised that Freud’s use of myth and metaphor were in the service of an essentially intellectual enterprise. It was too structural and too anti women for my liking. His pathway was the technique of free association; the aim was to achieve insight into the unconscious; of course there were barriers to be recognised and worked around. But something important was missing!
Freud’s view of love is inherently cynical … the disillusion of falling in love leading to an inevitable frustration-without-end: a diminishment that offers us neither knowledge nor deep satisfaction. Around this time and seemingly out of the blue, came a Chilean biologist, Humberto Maturana, writing about the biology of love. In a strange way it offered a strategy of hope, hope in love; a hope that Freud and psychoanalysis could not offer. Here I found an earthiness, especially in his assertion of eating, playing, and kissing as being the very grounded-ness of our humanness: a biology of love, in fact. Thinking into Maturana’s work became a bridge to Carl Jung and the possibility of achieving, on occasion, deep satisfaction.
My third, and probably my final, move into depth psychology was my actual engagement with the writings of Carl Jung. It was through Jung that I reconnected with John of the Cross and Freud. Both of these earlier heroes had been killed off and buried. Interestingly, both had refused to die. With Jung both came slouching back into my psychological life, seemingly with new intent.
With Jung and the post Jungians I found that the soul, the psyche, could be polyvalent. I could have a tripartite soul even a pantheon of gods and goddesses if I so desired. My conclusion, however, was that three were plenty enough for the present.
My task for the remainder of this talk is to give the Jungian tradition its place of eminence and to braid with it, where relevant, the insights derived from John of the Cross and Sigmund Freud. There is inherent conflict between my three protagonists of the psyche and that is just how it should be. Already I had experienced enough of the dark night, the tragedy without a happy ending, and the mythic underworld that convinced me I was in for a rough ride.
The heart of Jung’s life-long project
In January 1961, five months before he was to die, Carl Jung received a letter from Bill W. (1979). Bill was one of a small group instrumental in the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) in the mid 1930s. Bill reminded Jung that he had a patient, Roland H., who travelled from New York on several occasions in 1931 seeking treatment for his alcoholism.
It was Roland who conveyed to Bill W. what Jung had said to him thirty years before. Going straight to the heart of the matter, Jung explicitly spoke of his “hopelessness so far as any medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned.” Here we have a profound statement of joint hopelessness. In my words Jung was saying: Neither of us have the wherewithal to address this problem. We are both hopeless in the face of this deeply painful phenomenon.
Bill W. goes on to say that this recognition of hopelessness, the very experience of hopelessness, was the first link in the chain that led to the founding of A.A.
The second link follows quickly, namely, that there might be hope if Roland could become the subject of a spiritual or religious experience. This statement became the second link in the chain when it was expressed as Step Two of A.A.: belief in a power greater than ourselves.
My thesis is that Jung was asserting what was at the heart of his psychological position: he was naming the two corner stones that would form the foundation of his ongoing work. My contention is that he was not just speaking of alcoholism but of the human psyche in its troubling relationship with daily living.
Jung replied to Bill W. within a week (Jung, 1976) and it is this letter of Jung’s that I am using as my inspiration and my touchstone for this talk. Remember, that this is only three months before he died … he had a lot going on.
The challenge I face is similar to the one Jung faced: how to express in words the experience of hopelessness and the experience of being subject to a spiritual experience? The risk is always that one falls into clichés and good-sounding phrases while offering nothing that moves us, nothing of use. In order to avoid this trap I will, where I can, emphasise the key elements of experience, specifically, images, emotions and the dynamic conjoining of the two.
Now, to Jung’s letter of January 30, 1961. After having agreed with the substance of Bill W’s letter, Jung admits to the difficulty: how to formulate his key insight, the inherent thirst of our being for wholeness in a language that is not misunderstood?
I will quote in full his next statement:
The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality, and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path, which leads to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism.
It is this statement that I will work with in the manner that Jung used, namely, his amplification of images imbued with emotion, to offer my appreciation of what I judge to be his life-long project.
First possibility: an act of grace
Firstly, let me emphasise, once again, that Jung started and finished with experience. He sought to stay, where possible, with the phenomenology of the experience. Meaning, that he judged conceptual understanding, frameworks of knowing, as secondary to the immersion into experience: the experience of what happens to you in reality.
He then goes on to add: and this experience – of an act of grace - can only happen to you when you walk on a path, which leads to higher understanding. What might be this higher understanding? On this point I am very drawn to James Hillman’s reflection (Hillman, 1979), mainly because it coincided with my own experience. Hillman refers to soul making, as a descending rather than an ascending (to a higher place): a deepening into experience and a particular relationship with death. There is much more to be said: a descent to where? What death is being referred to?
Hillman sees the metaphor of going down, of seeking depth, as the primary metaphor for psychological thinking: the necessity of psychic disturbance for soul making. I find this much more helpful in working with my own experience and the experience of my clients than the metaphor of seeking higher understanding.
I am encouraged to move in this direction of going down by Jung’s insistence on the experience of hopelessness (as reported to Bill W. by Roland) as being an essential and primary aspect of the psychological orientation necessary for change. Or, to use Jung’s wonderful phrase: The experience of hopelessness is necessary for satisfying the inherent thirst of our being for wholeness.
I want to stay with the experience of hopelessness. And, especially, hopelessness linked to an underworld experience. When thrust into the psychological underworld (it seems we never choose to go into that place/space) we feel hopeless and lost. As Dante wrote: I find myself in a dark forest with no path that might lead me out. Totally lost without a path to find my way back to where I had come from. In the midst of this underworld experience my skills are useless; my insights worthless; my ability to plan and accomplish, zilch.
Jung, it seems, wants us to consider that higher understanding is only achieved if one falls into hopelessness, falls into the underworld. One is led to the goal of soul making (going down into hopelessness) by an act of grace. Mention of grace immediately takes one into the mythic domain. By content or connection one now has to engage with more than the here-and-now. One easily finds oneself in a myth not of one’s making. When in a myth one is subject to the power of the myth. No longer is it a subject to be understood in any rationalistic manner.
In Volume 10 of The Collected Works, Jung speaks of an act of grace as the actual and immediate experience of spiritual reality (Para. 651). Here we are again, what is this spiritual reality of which he speaks? The most fertile image that I can think of is the mythic and archetypal pair, Demeter and Persephone, two aspects of the one archetype. Persephone expressing an underworld consciousness (Berry, 1982), one, which is separate but intimately, connected to the above, concrete world. This consciousness has nothing to do with any spiritual denial of the world. Jung is not talking about a dualistic spiritual experience, the sort of experience that is the antithesis of worldly. Rather, the goal is to live fully in the above world and develop an underworld consciousness. As Persephone illustrates: this consciousness is not acquired by will power, or by desire, rather, it is thrust upon her. Persephone is taken, against her will, into the underworld. Abduction and rape are the images of the myth. Not a pretty picture!
Persephone - and by mythic logic, one’s experiential world - is totally without support, comfort, or hope. A Demeter consciousness is hard won. However, it is the actual boon that is taken back to the above world.
The distinction between Demeter consciousness and Persephone consciousness becomes essential. Demeter has to do with important above-world matters: seasons of the year, growing cycles. My understanding of Jung’s spirituality reality is that it is a reality constituted by living in the dynamic tension between both forms of consciousness.
To engage with Persephone consciousness becomes a matter of spiritual experience, of psychic survival in fact (Berry, 1982). The precondition for an act of grace is to experience failure, defeat, and hopelessness. What fails is one’s over reliance on above-world consciousness: Demeter’s way of being in the world. When Demeter consciousness fails one feel like one has been defeated by a power greater than one’s will power. It might even feel like a rape, a rape of one’s felt sense of autonomy.
To enter the Demeter/Persephone archetype one must accept the necessity of engaging with the experience of hopelessness. One must become subject to the archetypal experience and give over to its forces.
In a similar manner, John of the Cross’s darkness of the night is his guide. Not the light of the moon, rather, the very loss of any safe footing, the absence of any guidance from the senses, from the soul itself.
It is not the literalness of John’s teachings as much as his imagery of hopelessness and the psychological move to trust the darkness as one’s guide that is critical.
Second possibility: friendship
What might Jung mean by his second strategy … being subject to a spiritual experience … through a personal and honest contact with friends? This initially comes across as such a commonplace recommendation: friendship! How might friendship act as a pathway to satisfying … our inherent thirst for wholeness?
Let us assume that Jung does not mean any old sort of friendship. Let’s assume, rather, that he is talking of an archetypal friendship, one based on an inherited predisposition, an archaic and dynamic framework that evolution has prepared for each of us.
Yes, it seems that we come into the world with a pre-formed template to have personal and honest contact with friends. As we know from trauma studies, this template is not sufficient to explain the absolute essential nature of friendships. Rather, it can only set the scope and limits. The archaic capacity is what we bring into the world at birth. Today, the understanding of epigenetic processes (i.e., the dynamic interaction of genetics and environment) underscores the emotional milieu, which is characterised by the very giving and receiving of eating, playing, and kissing (see Humberto Maturana’s poem: Humanness).
But … what makes her a human being?
Her tenderness and sensuality in
open awareness of her earthly
interconnectedness as she dances
the recursive dance of eating,
playing, and kissing.
H. Maturana, 2008
James Hillman saw friendship as a calling, an archetypal force in some people’s lives; what Plato called a paradeigma, a mythic pattern. Hillman reminds us, time and time again that we live in myth before we know it as myth. He wants to remind us that myths take place in the realm of action, of daily living. We enter the mythic reality by engaging in imaginative images and fantasies. By reflecting on the very doings of friendship - eating, playing, and kissing – we cultivate a mythic attitude that nourishes the soul. Or, in Hillman’s language: it’s how we make soul.
Building on the work of Marion Woodman (Woodman, 1982) I assert that eating, playing, and kissing are, like dreams, the very means for constellating the unconscious. In these experiences, the body comes into its own and the mind/body split, at least for a moment or two, is eliminated.
Third possibility: higher education of the mind beyond mere rationalism
Higher education, understood in a mythic rather than a literal sense, takes us into the world of the imagination. It is a world of wonderment in which we aspire to be more than we actually are; a realm of angels and demons, dreams and reveries.
My personal experience with rationalism is deeply conflicted. I loved the discipline and promise of science but acutely felt its incompleteness.
Jung, in his letter to Bill W., asserts that the three possible options for satisfying our innate thirst for wholeness (an act of grace, personal and honest contact with friends, and higher education beyond mere rationalism) have something of a redemptive quality.
When we do one or more of these primary doings, we derive deep satisfaction. In some archaic manner we create meaning and this meaning is felt as being deeply satisfying. What are we to make of this claim?
My own position is that it is important to take his assertions seriously … and imaginatively.
It is as if we are condemned to walk on a path of our own making, one foot in front of the other, where no prior path existed. Our actual path meanders between extremes: on the one hand everything we do is weightless and meaning-free - since all things will pass - and on the other hand, we have a belief in an overarching framework, one which makes sense of our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours. It is this middle ground, this third way that is, in my view, the education beyond mere rationalism. This is the act of living that needs to be our psychological manifesto.
A part of our psyche would love to live only in the world of the imagination: that ideal world that looks like the Garden of Eden before the temptation arrived; an idealised fantasy world where things are always just right. This is the world of unconscious forces, a world that, if we give over to it, can have an overwhelming and potentially destructive influence on our daily living. This is the world depicted in fairy-tales when they begin: Once there was a king and a queen who had three daughters (or three sons). The image expresses the wonderment of wholeness, completion … how the world should be.
Yet it is only when we hear about the trouble in the kingdom that movement towards wholeness can be constellated. And so it is in our lives. It is when we feel the serious lack of something - a certain diminishment, loss, or disruption - that an act of living can be constellated.
Jung believed that living a spiritual life is a natural need and one that longs to be satisfied. The object of this need could be a figure of perfection – a god image – or an espoused spiritual way-of-life. In the case of an addiction, alcohol or some other proxy is made to fit the bill. Satisfying such objects of desire provides an overwhelming calm, a calm that moves into a sort of ecstasy, until it becomes just what it is, a great disappointment: a failure to satisfy what Jung referred to as the need for a numinous experience. The challenge of the third way, the middle path, is to use the archetypal forces derived from this imaginative capacity to shape the act of living. Living life as it is, not as we might want it to be. This is the recursive dance of eating, playing, and kissing.
Jung, I believe, spent his entire life actively pursuing this third way. Like all of us he would, on occasion, become lop-sided and find himself claiming the existence of redemptive forces and transcendent values. On other occasions, he would claim to be a pragmatist where the how and the what were more important than the why. He would alternate between a focus on what he saw as the essence of what it is to be human and the practical matters of what is being done and to what goal is one heading. “Who are we” as distinct from what we say and do.
Our abiding challenge, then, is to keep our feet firmly on the ground while drawing down from the imaginative heights inspiration sufficient for the day. It is as if we need impossible loves in order to manage our everyday life - the ordinary, the mundane.
With great insight, the author and psychoanalytical therapist, Adam Phillips, wrote that our desire for love … is insatiable. And the fact that our desire for love is insatiable is not the problem … it’s the point.
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
W. B. Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.”
Berry, P. (1982), Neurosis and the Rape of Demeter/Persephone, in Echo’s Subtle Body, Spring: Dallas.
Bill W. (1979), A.A. Classic Grapevine 35/6.
Hillman, J. (1979), The Dream and the Underworld, Harper & row: New York.
Jung, C.G. (1953-1979), The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, trans. R.F.C. Hull, ed. H. Read et al., Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C.G. (1976), C.G. Jung Letters, vol. 2 (1951-1961), pp. 623-625.
Maturana Romesian, H. and Verden-Zoller, G. (2008), The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love, Imprint Academic: Exeter.
Phillips, A. (2010), On Balance, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York.
Woodman, M. (1982), Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride, Toronto: Inner City Books.
David Russell is a psychologist is private practice, CBD Sydney. He can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org This paper was originally written as a lecture for the Jung Society of Canberra and the Jung Society of Sydney, November 2015.