Majestic Moments

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”48″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]A[/mks_dropcap]s the world has continued to shrink over the last century, opportunities for adventure, authentic adventure, have dwindled into recreational activities.  Even a tour Everest can be booked now with just a few clicks.

 

Jungian PsychoanalysisSo where can our deep seated drive to explore find an authentic outlet?  Some push into extreme sports, others into the arts.  The scientifically curious scan the starry skies with the telescope or inversely look into the microscopic roots of matter to uncover the secrets of the universe.  It’s not often considered from this angle, but the process of Jungian psychoanalysis provides the individual with a journey that engages reality with a posture as authentic as the adventurous heroes of old.  And like the alchemists often warned when their curious practice carried a similar mantel ((Carl Jung was convinced that alchemy was not only the father of modern chemistry, but of psychoanalysis as well)), not everyone makes it.  In their language: many go mad or die.

Jungian Psychoanalysis as authentic adventure…

When engaging unconscious dynamics, we can only by definition be encountering unknown, unexplored, unrecognized territory within ourselves.  That the experience has real risks that can lead one to further peril is not as often discussed.  Like the child who is completely engaged, and in that sense, serious at play, the work of psychoanalysis demands real sacrifice and risk taking.  Sometimes these challenges relate to the external circumstances.  More often in my experience, they relate to encounters with aspects of the unconscious which evoke shame, terror, dread, despair, and a host of other difficult affects which can shake us to the foundations of our being.

In Liber Novus (The Red Book), Carl Jung writes that “Shame is a soul eating emotion.”  Now if we take that statement at face value we can begin to sense the danger inherent in the work.  The well defended buttresses of the collective consciousness are quite effective at keeping the dark affects locked out of awareness.  [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]A psychoanalytic process seldom stays within the walled courtyard of consciousness.[/inlinetweet]  Instead it wanders into the forests beyond the many defenses and in doing so, risks many encounters with the “lions and tigers and bears” of the soul.

In myth and fairy tales, we hear how the heroes and heroines not only face the difficulties they encounter, but learn to deal with them.  In Jungian psychoanalysis, it’s amazing, awe inspiring even, to experience the same patterns unfolding.  As corny as the image sounds in this regard, I’m reminded of the closing scene of the first Star Wars movie when Luke and the gang receive medals for turning back the Empire.  These moments also come along in psychoanalytic process, when it is right to acknowledge difficult accomplishments and to exchange gratitude for the gifts of help that surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) arrived at just the right moment, often when all hope seemed lost.

While in the popular media psychoanalytic sessions tend to get rendered as full of complaint and whining, I’ll continue to argue that this portrayal underestimates the dignity and majesty inherent in wild adventures I’ve taken and been invited to join.

Close Enough for Chaos

Chaos in Psychoanalysis

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”48″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]W[/mks_dropcap]hen I reflect on the profound changes that emerge in a long-term psychoanalytic process and then consider the difficulty I sometimes experience communicating this value to others, it forces me to wrestle with the counter-cultural, non-collective aspects of the work.  Given the ever increasing desire for quick answers, the kind provided with a few clicks of the smart phone, the challenge sometimes feels futile.  Then I remind myself I never signed up to be an apologist for psychoanalysis.  The fact is my need to communicate these things to others stems from an inner need to find more clarity, so I struggle on.

What Happens in Long-Term Psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis is initiation into and process with unconscious dynamics.  And the unconscious is nothing if not a trickster, so the task in not so simple.  To create an environment wherein these dynamics can emerge, much is made of the importance of the frame. Images like the sealed vessel from alchemy are helpful, pointing out the importance of creating a sealed container wherein the contents that emerge will not get spoiled or contaminated by outside influences.  The need for a tightly sealed vessel goes the other direction as well, for it also prevents the contents from escaping. It is through, among other things, the consistency and the shared boundaries of the meeting space, the time of each session, and the fee, that the frame gets constructed.

But a sealed frame will only do so much.

The relationship, artificial as it might be by outside standards, is all the analyst and the analysand have when then full tidal wave of affects, a chaos the alchemists called the nigredo, manifests.

This melancholic state is so powerful
that, according to scientists and doctors,
it can attract demons to the body,
even to such an extent
that one can get into mental confusion or get visions.
Agrippa

Not every psychoanalytic process dives to these depths. Jung cautioned that [inlinetweet prefix=”…” tweeter=”” suffix=”@_richardreeve”]the analyst cannot take the analysand further than they have traveled.[/inlinetweet]

At first, I naively thought that meant the analyst needed to already have had an experience traveling through all the realms manifesting in process.  Over time, I can say that’s not it.  I’ve come to learn from another image from Jung’s essay on the transference, namely that the analyst too must enter the bath.  This posture recognizes that the traveling with the client can lead to new places for both.  I’ve yet to talk with a Jungian analyst who hasn’t learned and grown from each of their analysand’s process.  And while the contents might be new for the analyst, the relational attitude is not: open mindedness and acceptance, a receiving of the contents which are presenting.

While the storms rage in process, I’ve found time and time again, it’s the trust that has been built up with the one seated across the way that allows for the courage to encounter the often dreadful material that enters the room.  In the end, it is a surrender and letting go into the transformative energies that allows a new reality, forged in the creative fires/waters of Psyche, to take root and emerge.

The collective posture of our culture is thoroughly defended from these experiences. Psychoanalysis, ever a process of revolution ((I use this term because when I reflect on my own process over the last two decades, news images from political revolutions and the chaos of societal transformation are the most relevant analogies to my experience.)) in the individual, has never been bound by the safety of collective norms. It paradoxically, through its slow methodical rituals, provides a quickening for the evolution of Psyche.

Delicate Passages

Delicate aspects of psyche
Iris in the Rain…

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”48″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]A[/mks_dropcap]t times the therapeutic process is rough and tumble, with conflict and confrontation the main fare for sessions on end.  But at other times psychoanalysis can modulate into a delicate aria of isolated whispers, generating an intimacy laced with the mystery of splendor. I’ve found little offered in the literature regarding these delicate passages, yet my experience has been that they are not at all uncommon.  Why is that?

Perhaps these gentler  promptings of soul do not get explored in the writings on process because they do not threaten.  Perhaps these alignments signify, like experiences of the Tao, a fulfillment in manifestation that does not cry out for our interpretation.  But I also wonder if they might not speak to experiences that have yet to emerge into the collective consciousness. Consider the late arrival of shame as a recognizable and articulated affective state in the psychoanalytical literature.   It took nearly seventy-five years for it to get properly understood, named and engaged.

In his work Integrity in Depth, John Beebe offers the insight (which I paraphrase here) that shame encapsulates the most precious aspects of soul, protecting it from spoilage and defilement.  In fairy tales we encounter this image when evil spells have turned the princes into toads.   Only the right partner can come along and unlock the shackles of the spell to reveal the hidden beauty.

In some ways, it makes perfect sense that the revelation of such beauty in process remains sealed behind a hushed awe.  Yet from another perspective, the silence fails to honor the leading edge of the territory that Psyche is leading those who are wandering fearlessly into her paths. ((Much gets said about a decline in the interest in psychoanalytic work.  While understandable, it seems that in the efforts to wrestle with the emergence of the unconscious over the last century has failed to attend to the beautiful as much as it has the ugly.))