Written in the Flesh—The Transformational Magic of the Tattoo

 

To tattoo one’s body is merely one of the thousand ways of conjugating the verb ‘to be’ that fundamental concept of our metaphysics—Michael Thévos

 What lies deepest of all in man, is the skin—Paul Valery

 

In the last several decades both in academic circles and as a method of healing, analytic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, with its central focus on the unconscious and the multilayered psyche, has decreased in popularity. Seemingly, reflective of the current zeitgeist, cognitive therapy with its narrow focus of symptom reduction, has taken the lead. In the popular therapeutic discourse, symptom relief, has replaced symbolical understanding of the symptom—the symptom understood as an access point to unconscious and potentially transformative aspects of the personality.

In contrast, tattoos, and other forms of body modification, as a method of healing (having been utilized for centuries to cure arthritis, to express autonomy, and to connect with higher and sacred curative powers), have increased in popularity. Seemingly reflective and reinforcing of a zeitgeist which emphasizes the innate metaphysic of becoming and memorializing that metaphysic on the surface of the body, tattoos have made an explosive impact. Currently, tattoos creep like vines on the arms, legs and torsos of many, unabashedly and comfortably crossing gender, educational and social barriers.

In fact, ink art has exploded, and now according to research studies 15 to 38 percent of Americans have some kind of long-term body art. What was once considered self-mutilating behavior and a psychiatric problem has now become the cure. Body art is on the move, and for the first time in history American women are more likely than men to get tattooed; 23% have tattoos as compared to 19% of men; and 14% of men and women have two or more. It is a now a credible hypothesis, that the increase in body modifications have arisen to fill the vacuum left by the loss of a symbolic and metaphorical connection to the unconscious.

Tattooing and the process of tattooing brings the emphasis back to the body, the skin, and most directly to the multi-layered psyche as a focus of interest. In fact, except for psychoanalysis, little in my opinion more directly connects the body, and corporality to interiority and the Self, than various forms of body modification. Privileging the body, always privileges psyche; modifying the body, often awakens and strengthens linkages between consciousness, and the unconscious psyche.

Although many express the importance of the surface appeal of their tattoos, rarely does the narrative end at that point. Most, who tell their stories, weave an intricate connection between the tattoo of choice, the story of its healing potential, and its connection to the never-ending project of self-expression and transformation. “Written on the skin—the very membrane that separates the self from the world—tattoos are diary entries, public announcements, conversation pieces, counter-cultural totems, valentines to lovers, memorial to the dead, reminders to the self. They are scars and symptoms, mistakes and corrections.  Collectively they form a secret history of grappling with the self in relationship to body….” [i] In fact, tattoos often directly transform the place of profound wounding, (from sexual assaults, to deeply invasive or deforming surgeries) sealing and containing them, reclaiming the body for the Self and initiating a generative process within.

The defining feature of tattooing is the making of indelible pigmented traces which are inside or underneath the skin behind what seems like a transparent layer. When in tattoo, the skin is transformed, and gives its own half-life over to a newly “living” image. This underscores the tattoo’s potential to effectively represent the interior of the psyche. It is the transformation of an area of the skin into an image (or script) which appears to elevate the tattoo to a form of psychic expression. This combined with choosing a particular image, and designating a particular placement on the body, places the power in the hands of the person who is experiencing something internally and makes choices. These choices result in a physical permanent mark on the skin, and a potential point of deep connection with the unconscious psyche.

One can conceive of the process of tattooing as a converting of the skin into a “ritual space” for healing.[ii] The tattoo and the process of tattooing, despite its conversion into a sanitized and modernized process, remains a form of corporeal transformation. What is external is transformed into something internal to the subject; and memory, a critical property of contemporary self-identity, is externalized and fixed upon the skin. Accordingly, tattoo artist Vkyvyn Lazonga claims that “getting pierced and tattooed tends to develop a person’s awareness of memory; the piercings or tattoos become points of reference that reinforce the self and history, and such practice do more than merely ‘remind’ or ‘reinforce’, they may also elicit who the person is or is becoming. In this sense they evoke, not only the registration of external events but internal depth.” [iii] Chinchilla, the British tattooist adds that, “everything that she inks on people is already inside them…she only opens the skin and lets it out.” [iv]

What is central to the conversion of the skin to a vehicle of psychic transport is what Alfred Gell, in his account of Polynesian tattooing, has termed the, “technical schema” of tattooing: “the puncturing, cutting and piercing of the skin; the flow of blood and the infliction of pain; the healing and closure of the wound; and the indelible trace of the process, a visible and permanent mark on, yet underneath the skin: ‘an inside which comes from the outside…’ the exteriorization of the interior which is simultaneously the interiorization of the exterior.” [v]

 Central to this process, is both the intentional wounding, the opening and then closing of the body, and the pain. Pain is an intrinsic and necessary aspect of the process of body modification and psychic penetration. Such practices speak to important and powerful concerns around flesh (body) and Self, linked with these processes of bodily inscription. Lacassagne[vi] speaks of these tattooed marks as “scars that speak”. I would add here, these are scars that not only speak, but in so doing, create a dialogue between inner and outer, and between interiority and exteriority.

This method of theorizing about the tattoo, is interesting as it captures a quality of the paradoxical and turns on the idea that there is an interaction or play between the “interior” and the “exterior” aspects of the tattoo, and the indelible mark that is simultaneously on and under the surface of the skin. This play of opposites, inside and outside, symbolic and corporeal and their interaction creating something new, underscores Jungian thought, and provides a context with which to explore with our analysands, (a population already involved in symbolic work) how tattoos function within their own internal-external processes, and opens the question, if this population, requires bodily inscription less than other groups.

In this context, it is interesting to understand, the moment when an analysand already involved in a deep symbolic connection to psyche, develops the need to have an indelible pigmented mark carved into their skin. Is that a moment akin to how Jung imagined the “big dream,” a notification from psyche of a momentous transition in the person’s life? Culling from the many narratives surrounding tattooing, I think this may be true.  But, if this is the case, the question arises as to why some analysands are called to mark the occasion in this way; why is it that he or she are called to have it, “written in the flesh”; and how does this act impact the on-going treatment? Cultural and social changes, provide the opportunity for those who seek analysis to feel comfortable tattooing, but this is clearly not the whole of what is involved. The link between the metaphorical connections involved in body modification, and the generative movement of psyche appears to be a fruitful area for further study.

[i] Mifflin, Bodies of Subversion, 2013, p. 147.
[ii] Lars Krutak, Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification, p. 8.
[iii] V. Vale and Andrea Juno, ‘Introduction” in Modern Primitives, ed. Vale and Juno, p. 5.
[iv] Tattoo International, CLLV, November 1994, p. 11.
[v] Alfred Gell, Wrapping in Images: Tattooing in Polynesia. Oxford, 1993, pp.38-39, quoted in Susan Benson, “Inscription of the Self: Reflections on Tattooing and Piercing,” p.237…in Caplan, Written on the Body.
[vi] Quoted in Ibid p. 237.

Author
Joan Golden-Alexis, PHD, is a clinical psychologist, and certified Jungian analyst, practicing in New York City. She is on the teaching faculty of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian analysts, the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association of New York, and the clinical faculty of Yeshiva Graduate School of Psychology. Her practice consists of individuals and couples. She can be reached at drjgolden@earthlink.net.

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Some Commentary on Psychological Ethics and the Plural Nature of Consciousness

alchemy

In contemporary society the reigning notion of psychology has increasingly come to be dominated by the physical sciences. Consequently discussion of ethics in psychology has largely been framed on the practice of medicine. The supposition underlying such a framing holds that events in the psyche are much like those in medicine, that is, due to specific causal factors and this furthermore suggests a definition of the psyche as a collection of effects. There are a number of good questions to ask with regard to this state of affairs the most important of which is whether or not the actual nature of the psyche is consonant, or even compatible, with the terms imposed upon it by a medical accounting of its nature. If the answer is yes, we may give some credence to the present state of affairs. But if the answer is no, even in part, a new notion of ethics must be introduced that would accord with the actual nature of the psyche.

One need not take the matters very far in order to realize that any approach to remediation of psychological suffering that proceeds from a fundamental misunderstanding, or mischaracterization, of the phenomenon with which it is concerned is likely, at some level, to yield problematic results. The question regarding the relationship between the nature of the physical sciences and that of the psyche is not a difficult one to answer. The psyche is not by nature an exclusively physical entity and its workings exceed those describable by the cause and effect relations that would characterize a purely physical universe. The phenomenology of the soul, therefore, cannot be adequately folded into either medicine or the physical sciences. It exists at a very different level of manifestation and pertains to an entirely different order of phenomena.

I feel the need to pause here. I have learned from experience that to suggest that science is not the only means through which one may define what is real is regarded as a sort of heresy. Doing so often invites dismissal and even scorn. This is an odd occurrence in psychology whose natural order includes, not only those measurable forms and patterns that would be the legitimate scope of scientific inquiry, but the entirety of those aspects that make up the context of immediate experience. It is also an odd appearance if the prevailing air currently adopted by psychology is scientific in nature as science purports dispassion as one of its core tenants. This latter feature reflects a shift in the situation of science within the cultural consciousness, one that alerts us to the fact that science has slipped it bounds and had become a belief system. However, if one removes from our understanding of the psyche, the existence of consciousness, of meaning, and any notion of the creative, which itself reflects the living aspect of psychic existence, one then has no need for the term psychology at all, for we are not longer speaking of a logos of the soul but simply an arrangement of matter. Herein lies the problem. The passion with which the contemporary mentality has molded science into a social belief system, and accorded it an exclusive status as the arbiter of what may be considered real, is something that actually represents an obstacle in even understanding psychologically, let alone establishing a genuine ethics of the soul. The exclusion of some criteria, and the overemphasis of others, leaves us with a distorted concept of the soul, not to mention the fact that the chosen means for authenticating reality runs counter means that would be appropriate for truly psychological understanding.

The supposition that the psyche is a scientifically definable entity is actually a logical absurdity, but it is an absurdity void of any awareness of its absurd nature. Once any approach to the soul is limited to that framed according to a single mode, it is impossible for awareness to come into contact with any dimension of experience that would challenge what has now become a fundamentalist stance. The underlying mode of consciousness underlying scientific inquiry is the rational mode. This mode has its specific function, an important one in the conscious life of the individual, as well as in society. In the development of technologies, and in acquiring information regarding the spatiotemporal order of things this mode functions in a vital manner. But set up as an arbiter of all reality it becomes an agent of dissociation, establishing schisms between the diversity of aspects of consciousness that would naturally inform one another. Understood from another viewpoint that is capable of engagement with a plurality of forms of consciousness, even contradictory ones, it represents a hegemonic state of affairs, absurdly so. One does not go too far in analogizing this situation to a kind of colonization of the psyche by a particular mythic structure, and this is the core of the problem. The rational mind has sought to take over the role of the mythic consciousness rather than assuming its rightful place as one mode within a plurality of modes of consciousness. It is likely that it is the assertion of its factual basis that leads rational consciousness into a denial of its unconsciously mythic role. Under such circumstances, one aspect, within a plurality, has managed to assert dominance over the rest of the possibilities.

Were it the case that rational consciousness actually represented the apogee of emerged forms of consciousness, one might make a positive argument for its hegemonic status, but alas, this is not  the case. It was not idle intent that moved Einstein to state, “The rational mind is a faithful servant and the intuitive mind a sacred gift. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” If we can speak of a hierarchy of forms, rational consciousness would naturally assume a lesser role. It is therefore ethically problematic to exclusively equate rational consciousness with psychological health, as some forms of psychotherapeutic approach tend to assert. Such an assertion merely points to the idea that conformity to an established societal myth is the measure of psychological health. If so, the ethical question then rests upon the ethics of the society in question. Here, there may be problems.

One of the problems that we face is the fact that any mode of understanding will tend to extend its structural principle so that it appears universal in scope. This process has a functional aspect in that it expands the depth of understanding along the lines of the particular mode in question and, in some cases, forms the binding structure of a society. This latter tendency, to act as a binder, is a mythic role. But at the same time this process gives rise to a shadow result as it narrows consciousness and begins to imprison consciousness within its own limited confines. This secondary result is pathological, not only in the individual, but also at the broader societal level. The rational mind organizes its vision of the cosmos according to its precepts, as a rational entity that will ultimately be reducible to rational terms. This assumption is, from a mythic standpoint, almost indistinct from the religious one that saw in the cosmos the workings of a divine will exclusively. These two modes never shared the same reference language because they arose out of very different functional roles within consciousness and pertain to very different orders of phenomena. Both have historically appeared purposeful in their respective realms of functioning. However, once established in the role of being at the top of a hierarchic paradigm and armed with an insistence on an unassailable claim to confer truth, what was at first purposive, became altogether malignant. The very same thing that once extended humanity’s embrace with life now begins to constrict it.

Part of the problem resides in science as a legitimate mode of engagement with phenomena within its own parameters, as opposed to science as a mythic structure. The dilemma that we are in is that one mode of consciousness has attempted to usurp the functional role of another. The notion that religion could replace the function of science is a fairly easy fallacy for most in contemporary society to perceive. But that science has assumed the mantle of myth is less clear to us. This is so because we are living within it. The myth of origins of rational consciousness is one in which all phenomena must conform to physical law. However such a notion excludes phenomena that are more than physical in nature.

As a binder that establishes a coherent bond between individuals within a society that is highly diverse and fragmented, any cement for that bond is likely to become that to which all parties may agree. The problem appears to arise when such a bond assumes the form of a unifying myth that cannot actually function effectively in a mythic manner. The rational mind understands myth as a false or provisional explanation. Myth is an inferior, or un-evolved attempt at fact. But myths primary role is not the establishment of fact, nor even a compensation for its lack, but rather it serves to cohere a diversity of experience into a form that renders the flow of existence both meaningful and relatable. This means that myth acts as a bridge between forms of consciousness, and the diversity of phenomena that correspond to them, rather than reducing them to a single mode of understanding. Myths are fictive constructs that reveal an objectivity that is of an entirely different order than that understood by the rational mind. The two run in almost diametrically opposed manner. Ratio means to divide, but myth is a fictive construct whose form embodies within it the cohered reality of lived experience. It unifies a natural diversity into a unified livable reality.

Each myth has something that is true as it base but no mythic structure known to humanity is able to account for the totality of possible truths. Rather, it creates an image of a totality out of the truth it touches and provides a means of maintaining the continuity of our relations with it. The role played by each myth differs, not only between civilizations, but also between individuals, each of whom carries within them a construct in image form that holds together the universe that they know. That such a myth is born out of conditions of privilege, privation, safety, or trauma, has little impact upon the fact that it retains its unique and fully objective nature, an objectivity linked to the context of a lived life and a unique truth, rather than in spite of it. It is a naturally arising form that exceeds description according to means lying outside of it and can only be understood through entering into its world. An approach to this world is entirely different than the one utilized in the sciences as we now conceive of them for its nature exceeds linearity and is itself a creative mutation rather than another iteration along the lines of a previously established order. Such an approach as is needed, while perhaps not necessarily religious in nature, requires something of a stance in consciousness that one did find in most religious constructs; the ability to not know, and to anticipate the existence, or appearance, of an order that exceeded ones ability to predict in advance. The loss of contact with this ability within a society, as well as within a discipline that purports to now define what it means to be a human being in relationship to the broader cosmos, is a problematic state of affairs at best.

What I have been suggesting is that an ethic associated with the psyche will have far more to do with the nature of myth and the fictive, rather than with fact, so long as our definition of myth includes an understanding of its functional nature. This includes the meaningful unification of highly diverse modes of awareness into a coherent system, one that will allow life to be lived fully in a psychological sense rather than merely a physical sense alone. The implications of this for the ethical approach of the psychologist, is that the psychologist must be prepared to enter into the mythic reality of the patient as opposed to standing at a distance safely ensconced in a societal one which reduces the mythic function to a state of unreality. This is so because the mythic reality of the patient, no matter how non-rational it may appear, has at its core a truth that is conveyed through its dramatizations and imagistic expressions, only some of which may conform to the realm of fact.

It is this above all that seems essential if we are to consider an ethics of the soul, for soul speaks to us not in parts, so much as through them. It is the ethical task of the observing consciousness of the psychologist to tend as carefully as possible to all of the diverse utterances of the soul without resorting to a scheme that would assert one dimension of the psyche arbitrarily over another. This dimension of ethical consideration demands a discipline that is actually far more exacting than is found in other fields, for it asks of the would be explorers of psychological reality that they participate in the very emergence of psychic reality at multiple levels of awareness even as they maintain the ability to observe and relate to it. In that sense the psychologist is not merely recording but also tending to that which is emerging and even becoming a part of that process. In that sense it is through the very being of the psychologist that psychological reality is realized in an internal sense rather than through means that are external to the context of experience. This is a demanding task but perhaps given the nature of the psyche, the most ethically pertinent approach that we may take.

In a future posting I hope to expand on some of the natures of the diverse aspects of consciousness and the stances within consciousness that may be called upon (at least potentially) for any actual encounter with the soul to take place if we are not to overtly reduce it. These include not simply those that frame the modern myth, but mythical, magical, and archaic ones as well, ones that modern thought presumed it had surpassed. These seemingly more “primitive” forms continue as functional aspects of humanities intimate bond with the cosmos and their influence may be everywhere seen so long as one is willing to look. In that regard a visiting of esoteric thought in particular is well worthwhile. The image from the visionary Jakob Bohme, (above) is one such example. Bohme’s cosmology suggested a transit to higher knowledge through a return to an intimate contact with nature, a paradigm that has a profound meaning to it and is applicable to daily analytic practice. It reflects the position that I am putting forth here; that the plurality of forms of consciousness each have functional value, and that this functional value persists in our makeup in a manner that contradicts the modernist myth of matter. Indeed I would suggest that the incapacity of consciousness to loan its own function to nature is likely the singularly most tragic pitfall of modern civilization. It is not fact alone that ties us to nature herself any more than science can define the psyche. A review of esoteric forms will be helpful in showing how highly invested such forms are in compensating what is actually lacking in the contemporary mentality. What they restore is a function within consciousness that permits a spanning of the realm of the archetype with that of the discrete life of the individual. Another way of saying this is that they connect the mundane world of material things with their eternal origins. In so doing they complete a circuit of reconnection and renewal.

AUTHOR

Mark Dean, MFA, MA, ATR-BC, LPC is a Jungian Analyst and an art psychotherapist with credentials as a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor (PA) with nearly twenty years experience. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Arcadia University since 1990. Previous work experience includes providing addiction treatment at the Charter Fairmount Institute, Clinical Case Management for the Adult Day Program, and serving as the Clinical Coordination of the Geriatric Outpatient Programs at Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment as well as his private practice. His volunteer work includes providing clinical intervention with violent and displaced youths in the Violence Postvention Program and at The Northern Home for Children in Philadelphia. Mr. Dean has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Award for Artistic Excellence and has twice received the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Award. Prior to his graduate training as an art psychotherapist, Mr. Dean was a professional artist. His work is featured in several prominent private and public, national, and international collections. He can be reached at http://www.psychearts.org

 

 

Meditation on Mothers and Death

Eshu’s Vision

Crows with iridescent rich feathers
swoop in layers in front of my windshield. 
Their chatter hales down like hard pellets
fallen from an August rain cloud in this October month.
I drive into furious black wings, expecting they can be swept aside, made invisible,
that they have not chosen me, but  only like me, are weary after night flight across a sleeping continent.
 
Their black pea eyes refuse to blink.
They push roughly against air forcing me to breathe deeper
like the first time, out of the birth waters,
trying to catch that first breath of air.
 
On this umbilical highway each exhalation releases:
wings rise and fall to earth,
these messengers of Eshu, bring divination, falling like rain,
blur my vision in embryonic thin air.
 
Finished, they fly east to the ocean.
Sunrise reflects like water and oil on wings of charcoal.
The space behind my heart darkens, while nigredo feathers fallen to earth,
predict my mother’s death.

The summer is only beginning, though these hot, humid days suggest August, rather than the light touch of warmth that June most often brings.  For the last several months I have been thinking, actually more ruminating about mortality, and to say it in what seems a more blunt manner, dying.  This is the close personal death—not the distant one of a collective ritual such as Catholic extreme unction or the death of an actor playing someone dying in a movie. It is not the hearing of the death of an actor who has been immortalized on the screen.  I question.  How could he die?  How old was he anyway—surely not that old? Then I remember the years since I first saw him on screen.  I realize that the difference of our age is not that great.  I might be closer to death then I think.  Of course I am because I cannot know the minute nor the hour.  This thought makes dying seem so very close to me. As if I will die. Can die—soon.   For these few seconds I know this and think I can actually feel my body dying.

I have begun with my own mortality but I also want to talk about mothers and our holding and lose of them.  In a soft way, like a small pocket of lightly swirling cove water, under the ocean, I have been thinking only about my own personal mother’s death, and so a patient came not too many days ago, because she is in mourning about her own mother’s recent death.  Of course, every one who walks through the analytical door is carrying a gift, a contributing reason for my existence as I am for theirs. They are each bringing something I must hold with love and bear with courage.  This is because I have forgotten and need reminding of my necessary life work.

I wonder if it isn’t too mournful and dreadful in some way to be thinking about death in the summer.  Doesn’t it belong in a dark month, a rainy, cloud-driven late January day?  As a depth psychologist I can safely say not—it’s all right to bring the darkness anytime as it never really leaves us.  Yes, there is safety here but there is also safety in wanting the light—the beautiful light of a blue-sky June day.

I struggle with wanting both—because I actually need both.  It does remind me of what appears as a paradox to me of having someone bring you into the world, be your first place of heart connection, all the while having them die, and yet still be with them in memory. This is for all the years the rest of my life. This might seem so simplistic in thought but it holds a great importance in how I feel my life and feel into my life.

This apparent eternal connection to life and mother, even through her death, sometimes even more so because of her death, interweaves through my life and that of my patients.

As I read through pages of author discussions in service of writing a book on what I have called Archetypal Grief—African American mothers losing their children for generations due to slavery, and the emotional pain of such losses, I feel myself to now be living within the phenomenological field of mothers and death.  But like many things, I feel myself to have been chosen in this moment because I have chosen a topic—a theme, that wants to be expanded upon and yet carries the weight of intergenerational trauma that remains today.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the field of writing about death and dying, begins to inform my writing work—allowing me to develop an idea for a new model of consideration.  This idea is that something changes the model of grief with intergenerational dying and mourning caused by an archetypal event such as slavery.  It is almost as if a mother, and all the enslaved future daughters she births and their daughter’s daughters, moving down the maternal line, will have no place for denial or bargaining as regards death.  Emotionally, there can only be room for anger, depression and acceptance.  This is what can frame the lived experiences of mothering slaves bound to death through birthing and intergenerational child loss.  I’m speaking of this because it has threaded through my consciousness for the past year as I write about enslaved mothers.  I also know that it lives in me as a member of this cultural collective.

Working Hands
 
Sunset red next to
azure blue
next to
spring green,
the colors
of the quilt
stream,
an unchecked flow
of
colored river 
gradually meeting shore,
the working brown
of my grandmother’s
hands.

This past Mother’s Day was a May Sunday in the middle of the month. I performed a short ritual in remembrance of my mother and all of the women of my matriarch lineage. I also remembered the women on my father’s side of family.  This day designated for mothers is not the only one in which we think about the women who have given us life.  In speaking of the mother archetype Jung says:

Like any other archetype, the mother archetype appears under an almost infinite variety of aspects….First in importance are the personal mother and grandmother, stepmother and mother-in-law….or a remote ancestress….The qualities associated with it are maternal solicitude and sympathy;  the magic authority of the female;  the wisdom and the spiritual exaltation that transcend reason;  any helpful instinct or impulse;  all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility.  The place of magic transformation and rebirth, together with the underworld and its inhabitants, are presided over by the mother.

C.G. Jung, CW, vol9i, para. 156, 158

As I consider the passage of my own mother into death, I think more of my own to-come experience of dying.  I think about how we can be afraid of dying. As I age, I realize I am in the category of one more likely to die.  This is sobering.  It doesn’t seem to matter how much presence death has when one is younger—in the twenties, thirties, the later years adds a different quality dimension.  How I can be afraid of it, and how each patient who discusses dying of a parent, friend or stranger is actually referencing their own death.  I believe this is why we must consider wisdom as we age.  It seems an important exchange—a trade-off, a softening offered against the hard edge of ego consciousness leaving the body.

As I write now, I wonder about my own purpose on choosing this meditation on mothers, death and dying. It feels not like swimming in a spiral of self-aggrandizement but more like a spider traversing her web.  Seeking a place to belong while knowing that all is at once home.

Blue Pearl
 
Stepping outside of the hospital where she had just died,
my arms have become wings.
 
Blue pearl surrounds my heart
and moves in the birthing motion of a star,
unencumbered by fear of loss,
now desiring only a child’s life.
 
I am warm with sunrays.
All false joys are tossed away like disappointing fruit,
fallen next to discarded sorrow.
All of it waiting to be washed away by the next rainfall.
 
Ocean stone shines cerulean glory,
pierces doubt, recovers with winds of truth
any falsehood about love,
and it’s power to heal all that hurts.
 
Caresses heartbreak.
Breathes tender.
Like the velvet softness of aged skin.
 
Sapphire reflects upon itself,
star to star,
captures my breath,
recreates it pearl by pearl.
 
And by this I know you have arrived safely.

AUTHOR

Fanny Brewster Ph.D. M.F.A., is a Jungian analyst and author of African Americans and Jungian Psychology:  Leaving the Shadows. (Routledge, 2017). She is a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute and can be reached through www.fannybrewster.com

Sleeping Beauty: a Wake-Up Call

thimble

I have been thinking about Sleeping Beauty lately—remember her? She was never one of my favorites. I felt on early reading that she was rather a twit, stumbling upon the one and only spindle left in the entire kingdom and then pricking herself with it. Surely, at age 15, she should have developed more hand-eye coordination. This unlikely occurrence—how sharp could a spindle be, anyway?—caused every living being in castle to fall into a coma, even the flies. I mean really, SB.

As a child, I resonated to tales of ego strength: Jack, after his initial bad bargain (trading the family cow for a handful of beans), climbed the beanstalk and polished off a giant. Cinderella had the chutzpah to go to the ball and was rewarded with a prince. Hansel and Gretel roasted the horrid hag in her own oven—gotcha. SB, on the other hand, zonked out for 100 years, and was then awakened by a prince who happened to show up at just the right moment. If there was a life lesson in this story, it wasn’t apparent to me then.

But let’s get to the Evil Fairy part: EF wasn’t invited to the celebration of SB’s long-awaited royal birth, so she crashed the party and cursed SB, which turned into the fateful spindle-prick and 100 comatose years even for flies, not to mention innocent citizens. All this because SB’s parents were royally witless. In one version of the tale, EF wasn’t invited because the king and queen ran short of gold dinnerware. In another, they thought EF was dead, and didn’t bother to check.

Neither did they explain the evils of spindles to their daughter in case the burning and purging they had decreed missed a few. Or, the minute SB turned 15, assign a bevy of bodyguards to fend off any spindles that might be stalking her. Instead, the king and queen went on a trip, SB went poking around the castle—and guess what? There was a spindle right there in the castle—duh!

With everyone out cold, plant life sprang into action: a Trump-tower high hedge of thorns grew up around the castle and entrapped any would-be hero trying to get through (what a way to die). But on the exact day the hundred-year curse was up, the malevolent hedge opened to Hero Prince, who was visiting the area and was curious about the rumored castle avec princess. Of course HP found SB even though she was up in a remote tower with that terrible spindle. Everyone in the castle came back to life, now very unfashionably dressed, and HP and SB got married, code for Problem Over.

What I found frustrating about this tale was its lack of human agency, and along with it, assurance that I, like many a hero and heroine, can overcome even the most daunting difficulty. Feckless parents are a common occurrence in fairy tales, but even dummlings like Jack could finagle a way out of a situational jam. SB, however, totally checked out, only to be rescued by a prince who was mostly in the right place at the right time—no clever effort, brave feat, or lofty love.

From a Jungian viewpoint all the characters in a fairy tale can represent aspects of an individual psyche. We can recognize parts of ourselves in SB’s clueless parents, an innocent princess, and the fury of a disdained fairy. What an unappealing cast of characters—I mean characteristics.

But what I have found most irritating in this tale is its fatalism: sometimes you-know-what happens and we just have to wait in situ until a savior arrives. But no worries: when the time is right (even if it feels like a century), a hero-prince-rescuer will show up. Life and energy will then be restored without anyone having to make much effort. This is hardly a heartening message.

But wait: the fateful chain of events began when the king and queen excluded the 13th fairy. Because they were unable to engage her darkness, the shadow she represented became actively hostile. The royal couple had hoped to ensure their daughter a rosy life, but her life, and ours, must necessarily include shadow.

Conscious and unconscious must have it out with one another, a process Jung likens to that of hammer and anvil. Two sturdy opposites are required for psychic life and conscious individuation. Otherwise, as we see in the tale, collapse and stasis ensue.

The king and queen’s denial of shadow illustrates one of Jung’s famous dictums: When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate—which, as we know from the tale and from life, exacts a high price. Because everyone except the late and lucky hero falls unconscious, resolution resides outside human agency.  Redemption is left to the archetypal realm as fate.

We can, of course, mitigate fate: “We have to discover more consciousness, to extend consciousness, and the more it is extended the more we get away from the original condition.” (CW 11, p. 967) Perhaps that famous, fateful spindle can prick us into the value of ever more conscious engagement in our lives.

AUTHOR

Deborah Stewart is a Certified Jungian Analyst on Cape Cod. She is a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute and a co-creator of This Jungian Life podcast. You can reach her at http://www.deborahcstewart.com

A Discipline of Image

discipline iof image

When Jung equated image with psyche he was articulating something that is often difficult for many people to understand. When we observe from a point of view that holds that the universe is completely describable through the methods of the physical sciences, whose power is its vast ability to accumulate information, we unwittingly begin to reduce the range of means of inquiry at our disposal. As a result, entire aspects of our reality fall from view. While it is true that scientific methodology, as we currently envision it, appears to be universally applicable, it actually is not. Nor does its broad applicability indicate a capacity to entirely define experience. It merely illustrates that a certain aspects of observable phenomena may be illuminated, in part, through its means.

It is the tendency of any mode of inquiry to potentially have two levels of effect. On one level it serves to illuminate a range of understandings that correspond to its methods. Indeed, the extent of this illumination may extend almost infinitely along the lines of its dominant theme. But this very same mode, once it begins to assert itself as an exclusive path to understanding, becomes altered in the role that it plays within consciousness. It begins to exert an occluding effect. When this occurs what was at one level highly beneficial then becomes problematic. This is as true of our contemporary scientific means of establishing what we take to be truth, as it was for those that predated it. The almost exclusively materially oriented order that we now inhabit is transiting the very same trajectory as the religious order that it supplanted, unveiling a new dimension of the cosmos but in the process descending into a more dogmatic and oppressive phase of expression. This latter function does not occur by intent, but is a natural consequence of the tendency to universalize its form of understanding.

Looking more closely, one begins to see that while any approach to phenomena can extend itself almost infinitely along the lines of its own mode of understanding, it cannot actually come any closer to the reality comprehended by aspects of consciousness that lie outside its assumptive stance. An absurdity becomes apparent, for example, when religious assertions frame themselves in the same terms as scientific findings. The biblical dating of Genesis and the scientific calculation are not going to agree. They actually do not need to, they are born of different modes of consciousness that describe different phenomena and function in entirely different ways. Likewise, a good deal of hubris is evident when the scientist purports to have figured out the function and role of creative process and art, or declares, based upon physical evidence, that the mythic epics of days gone by are embarrassingly wrong. Such things, as science would presume the capacity to define according is dominant mode of understanding, actually have little to do with external calculations and cannot be at all defined by them. Myth, Image, and creative process, are not at all about the atomization of reality but rather its logical coherence from a specified context. Assertions to the contrary make the scientist look entirely silly to those with a deeper familiarity with their nature, for they reveal their functional reality, not through a detached consciousness, but rather by virtue of one capable of an immersion in them. They are predicated upon a different order of understanding whose truths are not literal in the scientific and material sense of the word. We will need to wait a very long time for the deconstructions of creative process to lead to the engineering of the new Bob Dylan, and we will need to see if the great technological society lasts anywhere as long as its mythically based predecessors did. Indeed, the shadow of the literalizing mentality of our time is now appearing and carries with it a heavy cost.

Jung’s assertion that the nature of the psyche was consonant with image was by no means a throw back to older times, even though it embraces the rich inheritance of faculties of ways of understanding that were bought by our predecessors through the arc of their living. It was actually a leap beyond the confining nature of the narrowing Western mind, a deficient phase of its existence with its hidden fundamentalism. It points to a re-embrace of the more broad mode of psyche whose nature includes within its form, not only the spirit of science, but the unfolding of a living reality made observable through bringing to bear multiple modes of understanding. Largely lost has been the awareness that the frame of consciousness itself, as well as its evolutionary potential, is carried forward by the flow of experience far more so than the accumulation of facts. This experience is not merely what may be reduced to collective consensus but includes the individual as a point of contact with its immediate reality. This was as true of the evolving homo-sapiens on the plains of what is now Africa some millions of years ago as it is today. The unfolding consciousness of humanity becomes transmuted and internalized as an image of nature within our consciousness and within our very bodies. Upon that image actually rests the fate of humanity. Its nature cannot be reduced to a single pole of its existence for it carries not only physical traits but also participates in a universe that is more than physical.

Jung’s observation was that this image was not only a living phenomenon with a unity and purpose of its own, but that it represented a constellated reality as opposed to a quantitatively and linearly determined one. It draws its functional nature from any and all sources, those that are known, and those as yet unknown, those from without, and those from within, and these give rise to its specific form just as nature has with the meeting of the individual being and the ever-changing environment. It is clear, by now, that the process of humanity being primarily affected by the environment has become inverted. Humanities internal nature, our internal image world, the myth in which we are collectively ensconced, so profoundly affects the environment that the evolution of our nature is likely to respond to conditions of our own making. A mentality whose core modes of grasping nature are based upon materiality, exteriority, and literalizing tendencies, is at a loss to grasp the significance of the relationship of the image world whose nature now so profoundly affects the shape of the environment. Sayyed Hossein Nasr points this out in a little book entitled Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man. “For a humanity turned towards outwardness, by the very process of modernization, it is not easy to see that the blight wrought upon the environment is in reality an externalization of the destitution of the inner state of the soul of that humanity whose actions are responsible for the ecological crisis.” A given point of view has no means to compensate for the effects of a reality that its mode is incapable of grasping. This reality is the reality of image, which by its very nature actually mediates what is internal and what exists without. We find no “Garden of Eden”, nor evidence of an “Expulsion”, unless we employ a map proper to the logic of those images.

At every turn it appears that a humanity possessed of a singular vision of truth by and by becomes highly destructive. Jung’s comment runs against the grain of an unconsciously determined monism, possessed by its own power, and yet entirely ignorant of the limitations of its mode of understanding. It is actually a discipline of image that permits the flow of pluralistic phenomena to coalesce into the flowing reality that in truth forms the continuity of our experience and establishes the foundations of the evolution of our beings and relationship to the cosmos. In so suggesting, Jung was pointing less to the revivification of an archaic notion than to a fundamental reality of nature, but one whose reality follows not simply the immutable laws of physical nature but rather the imagistic laws of the soul. For these laws transit what is internal and what is external, what is material and what is more than material. Today, more than ever, the rediscovery of this discipline, the discipline of image, presents to us as a critical task for we live in an era in which this poorly understood faculty will, in all probability, determine our fate.

AUTHOR

Mark Dean, MFA, MA, ATR-BC, LPC is a Certified Jungian Analyst and an art psychotherapist with credentials as a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor (PA) with nearly twenty years experience. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Arcadia University since 1990. Previous work experience includes providing addiction treatment at the Charter Fairmount Institute, Clinical Case Management for the Adult Day Program, and serving as the Clinical Coordination of the Geriatric Outpatient Programs at Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment as well as his private practice. His volunteer work includes providing clinical intervention with violent and displaced youths in the Violence Postvention Program and at The Northern Home for Children in Philadelphia. Mr. Dean has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Award for Artistic Excellence and has twice received the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Award. Prior to his graduate training as an art psychotherapist, Mr. Dean was a professional artist. His work is featured in several prominent private and public, national, and international collections.

You can reach Mark at http://www.psychearts.org

Grief as Anger

           BW Grain

One of the most recognizable stereotypes of African American women is that of the Angry Black Woman.  I believe that this image of Africanist women has grown out of the Collective’s need to have a Feminine upon which to project strength.

Following the decades after slavery and the plantation system where black women worked in the fields, birthed and lost their children, took care of the children of others and suffered being a mothering slave, it seems that the American psyche would find these women to be strong of character.  This is oftentimes applied to black women—that they are strong.  But sometimes this strength is mistaken for anger—thus the angry black woman stereotype. Stereotypes exist because there was once an image, language, a story that created in our consciousness a tangible remembrance.  The recollection becomes solidified as a stereotype.

When I think about the stereotype of the angry black woman I begin to search deeper, looking for something else that resonates with what has risen to the surface.  But before going there it might be important to see why an African American woman might be angry.  The emotion of anger within ourselves can sometimes make us afraid.  We cannot tolerate the uncontrolled welling up and intense heat of the energy of rage or anger.  We can be equally afraid of the release of this anger.  I’m thinking of a situation that might cause one to be angry and yet be out of touch with how to express this anger—to have it suppressed for the sake of one’s survival. Just for a moment imagine that you are a female child born into slavery in the early 1800’s.  Your mother has birthed you and returned to the cotton fields within a month of your birth.

She sometimes comes home to breastfeed you when given permission but otherwise, your early infancy is spent in the care of an elder in the shack where you may have been born.   You might easily be cared for by a young boy if there is no elder woman available. As an infant, you continue to live with others in the shack who may or may not be biological family.  As you begin to get older you are given chores to perform in the white family’s house or in the fields.  These are minor chores and do not take up much of your time as you can still find time to play with the other small white children of the plantation owner.  The day eventually comes when you are no longer allowed to play with these children.  At the age of 8 or ten you must take on more serious jobs—you become a night-pillow for the mistress or worse yet for the master.  Your body, that never really belonged to you, now becomes recognized by you as being the possession of another. Suspicion of the ownership of your mother’s body is now finalized in your mind as you understand that she too belongs to a white master.  You find that your skin color makes you a slave.  You are told that this is how it is and how it will be for the rest of your life.  Imagine that this is your life—for the rest of your life. Imagine your anger.

The idea that slavery happened so long ago and has no place in our cultural thinking today is a part of  America’s Shadow.  It is difficult to bear the thoughts of what life must have been like back then but this is a necessary part of the healing of our American collective.  We wish to forget and we cannot forget.

When we remember and attempt to make some changes good can happen—a civil rights movement emerges which does not end in another civil war; voting rights are guaranteed by law; segregation ends.

But we cannot shine enough light onto the shadow for too long and so once more we sit at the edge of shadow awaiting the next racial storm to begin.  We have had our Ferguson and all the deaths of Black men and women by policemen within the last five years.  I believe that our cultural complexes are so activated by fear and anger that we have a great difficulty staying with patience for understanding what might help us heal our American racial Shadow.

We can understand our anger, our guilt. What of the grief that lives under the anger?  What happens to the emotion of generations of former slaves?  Jung says that our history is in our blood.  The DNA that we live with identifies us as historical and archetypal human beings.  If I feel into how my ancestors before me lived, whether through mirror neurons or the spirit of ancestors, how do I carry the traumatic emotions such as anger and the underlying grief of centuries-old slavery?  I think that we could be angry but we must also hold a deep place for grief.  So when I hear about the angry black woman, I am also trying to hold psychic space for the grief-filled woman.  Where does this grief emerge from and where does it go?  I think that at this point it could be just enough to consider that such a thing exist—an underlying grief that rests within the bosom of generations of African Diaspora women.  This grief can appear as anger.  Why not?  Within the clinical setting oftentimes the emotion of anger covers sadness and sorrow.  What would make this unlikely in a cultural group that has survived 400 years of slavery?  What is the archetypal grief of a mothering slave? These are questions that I ask myself because of the American life that I lead—both personally and professionally.

Biography

Fanny Brewster, Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, PAJA member and Core Faculty with Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Hillary and Donald, “Nasty Woman” and “Deplorable” Man: A Glimpse at the New Archetypal Couple

hillary-and-donald

What has Jung and Jungian thought got to do with it—do with helping us comprehend the post-value, post-truth universe that we now inhabit and the leaders, who have come forth to guide us through it?

By the time you are reading this, the people of the United States of American may have elected their new president. They will have chosen from the two candidates the one whom they hope might lower their anxiety, or at least not engender it soaring to the brink of breathless panic. I have seen more than one-person momentarily cease breathing, and sink into agony at the thought of the candidate winning the election that has not garnered their passionate embrace.

The American people have desperately embraced the convenient and comforting “truth” from one or the other candidate that helps them find some solace in the increasingly confusing universe where truth as inspiration can no longer be easily located. For most of us these two figures have become elevated to archetypal principles united in enmity, and in that sense have begun to redefine what it is to be “human.”

For those of us who can put our dreams into words, we know that each of the aspiring leaders has very little chance of helping us create a society that considers the individual, allows personal self-worth, a deep respect for diversity, individuality and the possibility for a safe economic future for all. It is difficult to imagine that either one understands (or has the slightest interest in developing within themselves or in society) a space, for each individual that would support and respect the need for an internal life. An internal life by definition facilitates the reception of the creative unconscious, and the internal play of affects and ideas that generate and authorize private imaginations, creatively informing work and giving continuing resource to interpersonal relations.

Rather, Hillary and Trump are defined by what it takes to survive in an amoral universe. Trump has co-opted the lowest form of the masculine, and Hillary (G-d bless her heart) has co-opted a form of the feminine that we all hope can survive this wild and dangerous masculine energy. Stepping back from what I see as an archetypal possession, and gaining some much needed reflection and perspective, it is clear that for now, and in the near future, we will have to rely for hope and generativity on the simple humanity that remains in each of us.

It is clear why certain people would have more or less sympathy, or to be more precise, be drawn into an archetypal identification with one or the other of these personalities. Trump, as several have said before (Stewart, 2016), is identified with an archetype, and embodies the sheer force of power, a raw amoral life force, the pure force of survival. He embodies a godlike singular titanic energy that explodes truth as we know it, and creates his own truths over and over again. He cannot be seen as contradictory to the truth, as he is truth itself and is positioned to re-define it at a moment’s notice. As an energetic source, we experience him as emotionally and frightening near, riveting and engulfing. When he explodes which is his normal form of communication, his energy and his reality penetrate deeply. His explosions annihilate individuality, but in return for this sacrifice, identification with this world-creating force brings hope to some. Absorbing this godlike power, the recipients can imagine that they can also create new worlds and become gods to and for themselves.

Others are offended at the arrogance and destructiveness of such an identification. The latter group moves quickly to contain this contaminating, usurping energy. They rush to psychiatric diagnosis, to make mythological comparisons, or to make comparisons to historical personages who have who have also developed their personalities into cults. They believe the unleashing of this torrential impersonal titanic force on our country will result in an Armageddon at best! They are correctly terrified by its destructive, amoral and unconscious energy.

Hillary, on the other hand, presents as identified with persona, and as such she embodies a concretization of Jung’s concept, “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.” (Jung, v. 7, §305). There is little evidence of a creative, reflective and independent part of her personality involved in “sorting out and becoming aware” of her “masks and identifications” and differentiating “what is unduly pressured by conformity, from what is emergent and true… the work of individuation.” (The Book of Symbols, p.724 as quoted in Berry Tschinkel 2016, p.7)

She presents as a hard working public servant, serious, prepared, and a representative of diversity in all its many colors. The active, vital and creative connection she has with her persona, what motivates, and generates who she is can only be imagined, (perhaps intuited), but it cannot be experienced or accessed directly. With her humanity, and affects inaccessible, she has become the symbol of the pre-fabricated aspects of the ruling elite, untrustworthy, designed to deceive, and seduce others to believe in their ideas, all the while conspiring to obfuscate their true and uninspiring motivations. It is also easy for another large part of the population to appreciate her devotion, a life of hard work and experience and cling to her as the only possible hope for a kinder, gentler nation.

We have had many leaders that embody the possibility of society and a humanity in which the creation of an inner informing life is primary. Their presence and their words have always inspired each of us to remember the better parts of ourselves. They are inspiring because they demonstrate and illustrate by example how each of us needs to proceed to access the most sacred and informing parts of what it is to be truly human. The following quote from Nelson Mandela is a perfect example:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made mis-steps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Mandala reminds us that he both lives his life and has a profound reflective perspective on it. There is the persona that he presents to the world, it is a mask, but like the masks used in ancient ritual it is not used only to limit accessibility but also allows the sacred and transcendent meaning to emerge through it, and touch us all.

It is most important now to try to remember him and all of the people both famous, and not-at- all famous who embody this most human possibility. We are all in dire need to remember that this is still possible for us as we proceed forward in this most chaotic and dangerous of times.

Joan Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. (drjgolden@earthlink.net)

References:

Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS), The Book of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypal Images, Taschen Books, 2010.

Berry Tschinkel, S., Colette, A beautiful dreamer, a transformative persona

ARAS Connections, 2016 Issue 3, (For a fuller discussion of persona as a dynamic component of the transformational process involved in individuation).

Mandala, N., Long Walk to Freedom; The Autobiography of Nelson Mandala, Little, Brown & Company in 1994.

Stewart, D, Icarus Aloft, PAJA Blog, June 7, 2016

Image Credit: Tina Fineberg/AP, US News February 26, 2016