I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door

Since we live in Brooklyn, I have crossed the Brooklyn Bridge countless times, but even when I have to crane my neck Brooklyn-bound from Manhattan, I look for Lady Liberty. She moves me every time with her blazing testimony to the truth of the human spirit. In difficult times—after 9-11, Hurricane Sandy, or current waves of human emigration—I like to see her steadfastly lighting the way.

The goddess Libertas, widely worshiped in Rome and symbolic of emancipation from slavery, has appeared in various forms throughout history, most majestically as The Statue of Liberty. Libertas seems always to have been represented as feminine, for the promise of liberation is new life, ever the gift of the maternal matrix, wellspring of birth and transformation. We recognize the power of a new beginning and its potential to redeem all in us that has been forsaken, oppressed, or denied.

Liberation is an image of what Jung called individuation, the process of discovering your innate potential and becoming wholly who you were meant to be. Individuation, “the central concept of my psychology,” is a process by which “the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious.” Symbols spark individuation, for only a symbol has the numinous power to unite conscious and unconscious and awaken us to a new reality. Like the Statue of Liberty.

Conceived and built in France as a gesture of friendship between nations, Lady Liberty inspired people from her inception. More than 100,000 French people contributed funds to create the 30-story copper lady. When Congress refused to allocate the funds necessary to build the massive foundation for the 225-ton statue, 120,000 Americans gave money. A symbol mobilized thousands to give Lady Liberty a home in New York harbor. Artists donated paintings, children sent small change, and Emma Lazarus wrote her famous poem, which concludes:

                       Give me your tired, your poor,

                        Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

                        The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

                        Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me:

                        I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Lady Liberty represents more than freedom from injustice and oppression in the external world. She represents liberation in the inner world, as we set sail from restrictive beliefs, imposed roles, and one-sided attitudes. Like immigrants packed miserably in steerage for weeks, suffering and sacrifice often precede the discovery of new life. But if we embark on the journey of individuation, Lady Liberty will ever lift her lamp beside the golden door of wholeness.

AUTHOR

Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst and Licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Cape Cod, MA. You can find her at www.DeborahCStewart.com. She is Co-Creator of This Jungian Life Podcast.  She is a member of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, where she co-chairs and teaches in the training seminar and contributes to the Association’s blog. She is an active member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and participates in other professional organizations. She has a special interest in trauma and is the author of Encounters with Monsters: The Significance of Non-Human Images of Trauma in the Psyche.

On Active Imagination

One of the most surprising and vivid experiences of my life occurred because of my Jungian studies. Our Philadelphia seminar was studying active imagination, and our reading included a letter from Jung to “Mr. O”:

“The point is that you start with any image, for instance just with that yellow mass in your dream. Contemplate it and carefully observe how the picture begins to unfold or to change. Don’t try to make it into something, just do nothing but observe what its spontaneous changes are. Any mental picture you contemplate in this way will sooner or later change through a spontaneous association that causes a slight alteration of the picture. You must carefully avoid impatient jumping from one subject to another. Hold fast to the one image you have chosen and wait until it changes by itself. Note all these changes and eventually step into the picture yourself, and if it is a speaking figure at all then say what you have to say to that figure and listen to what he or she has to say….therewith you gradually create the unity of conscious and unconscious without which there is no individuation at all.”*

With a mixture of skepticism, curiosity and hope, I went outside, sat down in a lawn chair, and focused on a nearby river-fed pool where watercress grows. In my image, the pool was about four feet in diameter, with the black-green cress growing thickly around the edges. Suddenly two bright red eyes gleamed up at me from the upper right quadrant of the pool, just in front of the watercress, and I saw the gestalt: the pool was a face, with curly cress locks and two eyes, which then blinked shut, as the frog to whom they belonged sank beneath the surface. I knelt down and found myself brushing leafy locks from the water maiden’s face as a mother would brush hair from the face of her sleeping child. And then I simply leaned into the pool, dived down, and found myself swimming underwater behind the ruby-eyed frog.

My vision went on to an encounter that was alive and surprising. Although I had had intention to actively imagine, “I” did not control the process and could never have created such a magical gift—one that ended with an introduction to a lost part of myself I could then begin consciously to reclaim. I understood what Jungian analyst Edith Wallace meant when she said that to be understood, Jung must be experienced.

Over time I came to understand that Jung’s psychology and methodology repeatedly seeks to achieve a dialectical, experiential relationship between consciousness and the unconscious. This is the essence of the process of individuation, or wholeness, that is central to Jung’s work. Unlike dreams, reverie, meditation, or fantasy, active imagination allows an intentional, living relationship with the unconscious. Jung says active imagination “…is a way of attaining liberation by one’s own efforts and of finding the courage to be oneself.”

I love the availability of active imagination. Although what arises—or doesn’t—on any particular day is uncertain, the unconscious tends to welcome willingness to engage it, and active imagination provides a connection in waking life to the autonomous, creative inner companion Jung so often referenced. Often, some new aspect of the chosen image or issue will emerge that consciousness can continue to mull over to make meaning—or reflect on with gratitude.

What I know for sure is that when our conscious self and the unconscious engage over time in the mutual play of active imagination, we find ourselves bigger, more alive, and truly companioned.

*You can find this passage and more in Joan Chodorow’s book, On Active Imagination, part of the Encountering Jung series.

Author

Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst and Licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Cape Cod, MA. You can find her at www.DeborahCStewart.com. She is Co-Creator of This Jungian Life Podcast.  She is a member of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, where she co-chairs and teaches in the training seminar and contributes to the Association’s blog. She is an active member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and participates in other professional organizations. She has a special interest in trauma and is the author of Encounters with Monsters: The Significance of Non-Human Images of Trauma in the Psyche.

Reverie on the broken heart…

The heart is a mysterious psychophysical organ. The ancient Egyptians sensed it had an independent memory of its own. The Greeks found it more important than the brain – Aristotle held it as the seat of intelligence. The 12th century Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi tells us the heart has the power to imagine. With all this intuitive knowledge about the heart it is no wonder that when it breaks we are shaken to our core.

We know of heartache and the burdens the heart bears when it is exposed to painful revelations or unredeemable disappointment. When a friend haltingly whispers the news of their life threatening diagnosis, the knowledge is stored and held in the listeners heart where the heat of the secret burns. When our own soaring romantic feelings are shattered by the coarse realities of human conflict, our chest hurts with our heart’s struggle to bear the truth. But these kinds of labors put muscle on our hearts – teaching them to be staunch and resilient.

Breaking the heart is different and there is a great divide in the world between those whose hearts are still innocent and those whose hearts have been broken and as we meet the eyes of strangers there is a silent nod of recognition between those who bear the hidden scar.

In severe trauma often the heart breaks and cannot hold the memory of the events – images seem to fall into other organs. An unremembered sexual assault is voiced by the lower back as a piercing pain that makes physical intimacy impossible. Memories of excruciating childhood isolation lodge in the belly and are kept quiet by regular over-feeding. The remembered sounds of the front door opening and the leaden wine-soaked footsteps are encapsulated in the jaw and kept silent by the slow grind of the teeth.

A broken heart still works desperately to keep the soul alive. Each splintered part following its own disparate beat – a cacophony takes residence in the soul like a misery of ravens. Symptoms replace the natural unfolding.  Intimacy is replaced by lust – creativity becomes sepia repetition until the pain of living without heart comes to crisis. And that is the miracle.

When the suffering of the heart can no longer be silenced everything becomes possible. When that person enters my consulting room, I feel that nod of recognition rise between us. I do not believe the heart can be mended by the analyst, it is too sacred an operation. But with care and patience the strength to fulfil the suffering can arise, granting a certain silent dignity which orients the psyche toward the inner center where the pattern of the heart-in-wholeness can be found.

Offering ones heart-shards to the Self is the only way through.

AUTHOR

Joseph R. Lee is a certified Jungian Analyst and licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Virginia Beach, Virginia at www.DepthPsychotherapy.net. He works with adults and teens. He is currently the president of The Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, www.cgjungphiladelphia.org, which provides a public seminar and trains Jungian Analysts. He is accredited by the I.A.A.P., and received his Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. He lectures nationally on the Hermetic Kabbalah with a focus on its reinterpretation through modern idioms.