Class Notes – Session One

As many of you know, I recently signed up for the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology. This past Thursday was our first session. The online class presents a live conversation between Jungian Analysts Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak. The audience was given time at the end of the session for questions and comments.

File:Fotothek df tg 0005526 Theosophie ^ Alchemie ^ Medizin.jpgI’ve decided to preface my posts on the class here with an attempt to first locate myself in relationship to learning, therapy and alchemy and to write briefly about the value I see in attending the class. To start, I want to acknowledge the ghosts that accompany me into my seat as both student and participant.

Formal school has often times been a stumbling block for me. As a child and into my teen years I was a terrible student within the formal setting of public school. These early years of my life coincided with an ongoing experience of a particularly painful sense of absence. Absence was a dominant theme; absence from school, absence from relationships, absence from embodiment all of which left me with an increasing sense of abandonment. These themes of absence, abandonment and identity are part of what is for me, the alchemical Prima Materia.

My love of learning was eventually initiated during my teen years through the discovery that ideas themselves are part of a deeper level in which I am in relationship to. As a teenager I recall the thrill of reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha which led me to a much-needed understanding that I was not alone in feeling that life itself is a journey. The depth, beauty and intimacy of ideas and their ability to affect change in both my perspective and skill at living life, were initiated at that time, and continue to this day to be the great work of my life.

“[T]here is one thing that this clear, worthy instruction does not contain; it does not contain the secret of what the Illustrious One himself experienced—he alone among hundreds of thousands. That is what I thought and realized when I heard your teachings. That is why I am going on my way—not to seek another doctrine, for I know there is none, but to leave all doctrines and all teachers and to reach my goal alone—or die.” Herman Hesse

Initially, the work took on an inward focus as I saw that something in or about me was the problem because – I am that which suffers. In time I have found that the work has moved beyond interior issues and out into relationships with others and the larger issues of cosmology and the state of the world.

The feeling in the midst of deep personal suffering and woundedness brings with it a sense and desire for something to change. But what becomes apparent in the work is the difficulty of breaking the mold and habit of self that develops within the confines and limitations of the resources of that same self. That difficulty is what led met to seek out a guide and so in my thirties I sought out a therapist to work with. There I came to know my deficiencies and began to see how limited a view I had of myself and the world. I also learned of the importance of using and understanding language and that knowledge of ideas found through the study of history, religion, mythology and science helps in gaining a perspective as to our time and place in the cosmos.

So, perhaps the class, instructors and students alike, are individually and as a group, looking for that Prima Materia, each of us searching for what brings us to enter into the study of alchemical psychology. For myself, I have a deep need to continue digging for the gold because I have experienced tremendous healing in my life through what I still see as the great work. The sensitivity that comes from such a work though, has allowed me to feel a great sorrow for the suffering of others and for the ways of the world, many of which bring seemingly unnecessary pain through an ongoing quest for power, a lack of willingness and skill in real communication, a misallocation of resources and the fear and insecurity that an ongoing demythologizing in the bringing together a variety of cultures brings.

Through the experience of deep and personal healing, I have come to know that there is much value within our own experiences. There is perhaps a terrible irony in what it took for me to come to enough of an understanding of the nature of myself and the world to release me into life, in that, I could not have done the work alone, and yet, I had to do the work alone, and that work initially brought more suffering, but perhaps the right kind of suffering that eventually and profoundly led to healing. As James Hillman put it, “Our wounds open us up,” but we must first find a way to “suffer that opening” without being irreparably ripped to pieces.

I Fall to Pieces

I have recently discovered the ideas of David Bohm, a theoretical physicist who also had an interest in the social implications of how thought and language can lead us to perceive falsely, a fragmented world that is in reality whole. 

From Wiki:

David Bohm.jpg“Bohm was alarmed by what he considered an increasing imbalance of not only man and nature, but among peoples, as well as within people, themselves. Bohm mused: “So one begins to wonder what is going to happen to the human race. Technology keeps on advancing with greater and greater power, either for good or for destruction.” He goes on to ask:”

What is the source of all this trouble? I’m saying that the source is basically in thought. Many people would think that such a statement is crazy, because thought is the one thing we have with which to solve our problems. That’s part of our tradition. Yet it looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems with is the source of our problems. It’s like going to the doctor and having him make you ill. In fact, in 20% of medical cases we do apparently have that going on. But in the case of thought, it’s far over 20%.

After watching a couple of interviews on Youtube, I purchased and am still reading his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, in which he discusses a concern for humanity, because of our habit of thought which fragments the nature of reality including the splitting of our sense of self. Reality he says, and many of us may already agree, is an unbroken, undivided whole. He says:

“In essence, the process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical and functional activities (e.g., to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e. to his self-world view), then man ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments.”

So if thought and language by their very nature fragment and divide our experience of the world and our sense of self, what can we do about it? It’s doubtful that we can ever overcome our human nature and remove thought from our experience, but perhaps through attentiveness we can learn to recognize the subjective and arbitrary ways that we come to conclusions, decisions, and how we categorize things and events sometimes drawing erroneous conclusions and then proceed to live by them.

Bohm suggests that thought itself cannot change the world, but rather what is needed is a change in our perception and meaning. If perception and meaning at a more ontological level can include awareness of the whole, perhaps the nature and stream of thought changes.

I have often struggled with the notion of wholeness, as a state to arrive at, because I disagree that we should be seeking a fixed and permanent state of being. To my knowledge there are no fixed and permanent states in nature. Bohm reminds us of the etymology of the word broadening the definition to imply an action or event of healing. Perhaps where it occurs, our desire for wholeness may be related to an intuition of the wholeness perceived in the undivided nature that is background to our imagined foreground. Then wholeness is understood not as something to possess but rather an ongoing reconciliation with the unfragmented motion of living within nature’s wholeness.

“It is instructive to consider that the word ‘health’ in English is based on an Anglo-Saxon word ‘hale’ meaning ‘whole’: that is, to be healthy is to be whole, which is, I think, roughly the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘shalem’. Likewise, the English ‘holy’ is based on the same root as ‘whole’. All of this indicates that man has sensed always that wholeness or integrity is an absolute necessity to make life worth living.”

Along with many significant contributions to science, Bohm tried to give us a way to understand our human nature that would help us to reconsider our social relations that would further the efforts toward a more peaceful world in which humans felt they belonged.

“Whenever men divide themselves from the whole of society and attempt to unite by identification within a group, it is clear that the group must eventually develop internal strife, which leads to a breakdown of its unity. Likewise when men try to separate some aspect of nature in their practical , technical work , a similar state of contradiction and disunity will develop. The same sort of thing will happen to the individual when he tries to separate himself from society. True unity in the individual and between man and nature , as well as between man and man, can arise only in a form of action that does not attempt to fragment the whole of reality.

What is the use of attempts at social, political, economic or other action if the mind is caught up in a confused movement in which it is generally differentiating what is not different and identifying what is not identical?”

Bohm also reminds us that any theory is subject to the limitations that our tendency to fragment cause:

“We have thus to be alert to give careful attention and serious consideration to the fact that our theories are not ‘descriptions of reality as it is’ but, rather, ever-changing forms of insight, which can point to or indicate a reality that is implicit and not describable or specifiable in its totality.”

There are a number of interviews and lectures available online in which the gentle, peaceful nature of this man shines through along with the presentation of his ideas for bringing about a more peaceful, undivided world.

Bohm was a friend of Krishnamurti and here you may explore their relationship and dialogues.

There is a good essay by Matthew Capowski on thought, meaning and perception here:

Quotes taken from Bohm, David (2005-07-12). Wholeness and the Implicate Order (Routledge Classics) (Kindle Locations 515-517). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

A Therapy of Ideas

“Psychology ought to make us feel at home in the world and interested in it and to recognize its beauty. Anything that’s beautiful, you fall in love with and anything you fall in love with, you want to keep alive. And that solves the ecological problem and the nuclear problem. You don’t want to destroy what you love.” James Hillman

In 2004, Joel Lang interviewed James Hillman at his home in Thompson Connecticut. The interview features a rare biographical sketch of Hillman as well as some of his observations and ideas during that time in his life. Hillman had just published his book, A Terrible Love of War.

The interview presents us with some great insights into Hillman, including his insistence that for us moderns it is not that we are sick, but that our ideas are. In 1969 Hillman had a personal crisis as a Jungian Analyst which led to his decision to leave the profession. Ultimately, he made his way back, although not specifically as a Jungian, by seeing  therapy more as a therapy of soul, meaning something much broader than a therapy of our personal, subjective experience, but one that includes the state of the world and especially our ideas.

The soul itself is “a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself … ” It is, “an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence — that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego and consciousness go into eclipse.” It is “that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern.” It is “the imaginative possibility of our natures” and it has a “special relation with death.”

Here is an excerpt of Lang’s discussion with Hillman on depression:

Elsewhere, he described how he might respond to a patient complaining of depression. ‘I’ll want to get precise: What do you feel? Sad, empty, dry? Burned out? Do you feel weak, do you feel like crying? And where do you feel depressed? In your eyes — do you want to cry; do you cry? In your legs, are they heavy, can’t get up, can’t move; in your chest, are you anxious, and how does that feel, where, when? Is it like being tied up, or being poisoned?” Depression is a “big empty vapid jargon word … a terrible impoverishment of the actual experience.’

File:World Upsidedown.jpgWithin any culture or person, it is perhaps difficult to see how myth is operating in us and especially in a culture that believes itself to be modern and rational, looking to the science of “studies” of material facts to understand things such as health, well-being, ecology, culture, nature, science or sexuality.

When we posit a belief in what we call our reality, rather than our mythology, the metaphorical way of seeing leaves us, and so do the gods or the invisible archetypal powers leave us, because we have left them for a concrete, material idea of ourselves and the world.

“If you’re out of your mind in another culture or disturbed or impotent or anorexic, you look at what you’ve been eating, who’s been casting spells on you, what taboo you’ve crossed, what you haven’t done right, when you missed your last reverence to the gods … Whatever. It could be thousands of other things … It would never, never be what happened to you with your mother and father forty years ago. Only our culture uses that model, that myth … The myths we believe and are in the middle of, we call them `fact,’ `reality,’ `science.”’

The idea of what we refer to as Reality, is a dead-end view which claims that things are as they are, and can be no other way, whichever way we come to define our reality. To define circumstances or our relationship to others and the world through the mythological lens of Reality, is perhaps a way to stop imagining, or keep us from furthering the ideas about ourselves and the world. We mistake our ideas for the notion of reality, a word that has no particular meaning or image attached to it.

And one last quote from the interview on archetypes and myths:

“I don’t like the idea they’re located in our brains,” he says. “We don’t know any of this. These are theories. All we know is that there are patterns that appear again and again — in myth, in children’s stories or life stories and that in some places they call them myths or gods and goddesses.

“We don’t know how they began. We don’t know how the world began. And it doesn’t matter how it began as far as living goes. It makes more sense to a person’s life that what’s going on has a pattern and a meaning to it rather than it all began in a bang, or came out of a black hole or something.

From Hillman I have learned to dig into the guts of an idea, through the study of history, etymology, religion and science, so as to not take things only at their face value, or for their literal meaning, but to look for what an idea or a belief suggests about  the world or does for me, so as to not be bound to or by ideas, but to deepen them further into the mystery and ultimately ungraspable nature of life as it is humanly lived.

Read the entire interview here:

Change the World

Perhaps having experienced the persuasion of  words and ideas, James Hillman’s Archetypal psychology remains paramount in my life. But, what fantasy am I in when I feel this compulsion to share his ideas with you? Is it to change the world, or maybe just to be in the world as it is, or at least as it presents itself; dark, lonely, beautiful, scary, mysterious and yet, full of desire. Before the change mustn’t we know what we’re changing from and what we’re changing to?

“Why are words so important in a culture, and why has the art of persuasion, Athene’s peitho, so fallen into disuse in ours? The conclusion to the Oresteia answers the first question: words are able to persuade the darkest elements to take part and have place. We must speak and let them speak. The answer to the second question refers to the profound determining importance of psychological and spiritual reality.

If ultimate reals are objects, things, material events – dead things out there as Descartes would have it and materialism insists – then speech has no effect. Flatus voci – empty words, a waste of breath. Actions speak louder; Bia not Peitho. Then language must become simplified, an operational tool, part of the positivist’s and materialist’s kit for clear directions in handbooks, words that fit computing instruments to move and shape objects out there.

If, however, reality is psychological and spiritual, by which I mean ideational, religious, imaginal, fantastic – as it is especially in psychotherapy and as it was in the Greek world view – then affecting reality requires instruments for moving ideas, beliefs, feelings, images, and fantasies. Then rhetoric, persuasion, holds major importance. Through words we can alter reality; we can bring into being and remove from being; we can shape and change the very structure and essence of what is real. The art of speech becomes the primary mode of moving reality.”

Excerpt from Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman

Thanks E.C. for the theme…

Carry On

“A certain kind of courage is required to follow what truly calls to us; why else would so many choose to live within false certainties and pretensions of security? If genuine treasures were easy to find this world would be a different place. If the path of dreams was easy to walk or predictable to follow many more would go that route. The truth is that most prefer the safer paths in life even if they know that their souls are called another way.

In this life a pious journey is required. It is pious in the sense that a genuine path brings out our devotion, but also because it cleanses and clarifies our sense of self. The result may be pious, yet the process may look and feel like a stripping down to bare bone. From the common comforts, we must go to the edge of life; from simple self-assurance we must go to the extremes of our nature.” Michael Meade – Fate and Destiny

Of the many people who inspire me to try to be true to what calls and carries me, Michael Meade remains a special gem. He reminds me that the struggle to follow your calling, not being afraid to live life deeply and meaningfully, brings the unique gift each of us has to fruition. I am grateful to have heard him speak several times.

Admittedly, there are times when I would rather not feel that I am frequently swimming upstream in the cultural current. Times when I think perhaps life would be easier, if not for me then perhaps for my friends, if I could learn to just shut up and shop, watch the game on tv, and not be, well, so selfishly complicated. Some people seem to find their meaning and purpose without so much mess.

But, we all walk through life with our distinct perspective gathered from our unique circumstances and struggles. And whatever path we’re on with whatever wounds, loves and obsessions we have, we will always find others along the way who share in both our wounding and healing.

In these dark times, where talking and listening can be so hard, it’s easy to miss the mark, to misunderstand and to be misunderstood. So how to carry on…and to the best of our ability keep digging deep for the gifts we’re here to give, even though we often don’t know what gifts or wounds we give to others?

A good chunk of my life has been spent trying to digest, who I am, who you are, how is it that we’re here, and what it is that we live for. It’s not an effort for me to ponder these things, it would be an effort not to. In finding others, like Michael, who help point the way or affirm the conviction that reflection brings meaning, especially to our suffering – by allowing our gifts to surface, be shared and passed on to others. In this I am both comforted and affirmed.

He reminds us that we’re here, each of us a unique self, called to be uniquely who we are, so as to become gifts to each other. Our job is to live our struggle authentically enough to let the gift shine and perhaps even to pass it on.

Michael tells his story here. It’s a bit long, but absolutely from the heart. He recounts his troubled youth and experience in the military in which his defiance and refusal to become a warrior in the Vietnam war, lead him to become a warrior for meaning, sanity and even life itself, as he recalls time spent in military prison for his inability to follow orders to.

I hope you give it a listen:

Thanks again to CSNY for the theme song.

“Girl, when I was on my own, chasing you down,
what was it made you run, trying your best just to get around?
The questions of a thousand dreams, what you do and what you see,
lover, can you talk to me?

Jump Start or Tow me Away

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

Although the whole of my therapy experience was the start of a whole new psychic rearrangement for me, there was a particular dream event that reshuffled, and reignited my being. From this dream event onward I have carried with me the sense that my life will never be the same again. The sense of who I am, at the most basic ontological level forever changed and the sense of not belonging, either in the world or in my body, vaporized.

To this day, I try to recall the old sense of being that I had, but it is gone so much so that I can only look back in amazement and remember the struggle that used to be my life. I thank God everyday for the healing that took place then for it allows me to wake up every day happy to be alive. My inner life is rich in fantasy, imagination, conflict, vision, insight all of which carry me forward and sustain me. As well, my outer life slowly over the course of a few more changes and a few more years has become peaceful, rich and meaningful in ways that I could not imagine back then.

There was a big dream that precipitated the change and healing in my sense of being. The dream did not provide an intellectual insight, or show me something that needed to be seen or understood. The dream changed me in a way that I do not entirely understand and cannot completely explain. I can describe the dream image, and tell you what happened upon awakening but I cannot explain what this experience did to me psychically or physically though I know all aspects of my being were touched deeply by the dream event.

While still sleeping and in the dream I began to feel an intense feeling at the base of my spine. Suddenly I felt what can only be described as an electrical charge inside me that began to rapidly surge upwards through my spine towards my neck into my head. The sensation was so powerful that it woke me up. As I woke up I was completely shaken. I knew some big huge energy had surged through me and I knew something very big had happened.

Over the course of the days, weeks and years that followed, the freedom I began to feel led me into many different adventures. Everything seemed new and exciting as if I were alive for the first time. I traveled more, both inside and out. A strong desire to walk and experience the beautiful Pacific Northwest led me to find friends that enjoyed hiking and mountain climbing and how fortunate I was to see so much of the beauty that surrounds us here.

Cooper’s Spur on beautiful Mount Hood

After going through the years of sadness, I now found myself often times crying tears of joy, especially in moments like the one above.

Although I regret the many years in which I did not or could not live life to the fullest, I have come to understand the value that suffering added to my life. I cannot forget that I suffered so much and couldn’t get my life on track and will always feel a tremendous sense of compassion for others suffering and for all the  suffering that is the human condition. Suffering can bring meaning, it has to me, and that is not a way of accepting evil, or giving license to causing of another’s suffering, but it is an acceptance that suffering happens and I believe, asks something of us all and what that something is, is up to us to attend to.

“Hey Mr. Weatherman come on over, hook me up to the power lines of your love. Jump start or tow me away.” Ian Anderson