Why Therapy: Laundry and Take-Out

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Going into therapy, finding the right therapist – it’s a risk. Why would anyone want to bare their soul to a stranger – does the thought make you feel hugely vulnerable, awkward? Isn’t it extremely embarrassing, uncomfortable? Yes it can be, but the more dominant feeling of clients who walk over that bridge is one of relief. There is something sacred about sitting with another who is truly attending to you that lends a deeper resonance and meaning to your process and your life. Having worked with clients for over 25 years, I feel deeply privileged to work with others in this way.

A very important part of Jung’s way of working was to attend very seriously to the dreams – both his own and those of his clients. He felt that dreams most often pointed to content in the unconscious that was ready to become conscious. As a Jungian psychotherapist I place great value and importance on working with dreams, often in combination with mind/body work which allows for the cultivation and recognition of the deeply felt sense in the body – your inner compass. I feel that if we can start working with a dream, it is like starting from the inside and working out. Many therapies do just the opposite – starting with outer content and facts, and work inwards, trying to understand the core issues. If we can understand the dream, we have a much better chance of getting to the heart of the matter. I will try and show this by talking about some of my own dreams, as I do not want to use clients’ dreams here. Some years ago when I was asked why I became a therapist, I remember I had this dream.

In my dream a woman had a business of going to people’s houses, and doing their laundry or taking it out to have it done, plus she had the added service of bringing take-out food to her clients. She would drop off the food and collect the laundry. On waking, I thought this might be a great business idea, though not one I was going to do.

However, I have been trained to interpret dreams symbolically, and so I questioned what this might mean. The Self communicates to us in images and symbols – that is the language of the psyche. And interestingly, it often has a very quirky sense of humour. I had to chuckle at this dream, because I saw that in some ways, doing therapy is closely aligned with laundry and take-out. Talking to a good therapist can in the beginning feel like ‘you are airing your dirty laundry’ – this is the initial hump of awkwardness that needs to be gotten over. However, it is surprising how quickly that can happen, because getting the laundry done feels good There is something very satisfying about dealing with stuff that has ben shoved in the closet for years. By speaking freely and openly about some of these issues, we can do the laundry together. Dark secrets don’t have to be so daunting – they can be aired in the sunshine.

And hopefully you leave with a little take-out….something to chew on – reflect on. Ultimately, as the process builds and you start to become free of the complexes that stand in the way of you living a happier, more fulfilled life, you will feel nourished at a very deep level.

I will share one other dream image that occurred over 16 years ago. I still remember it because it was so powerful, and because it had to do with laundry. I was going through a very difficult time. In my case it lasted for 7 years; I now think of it as the 7 years in the desert. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong: a marriage break-up, my elbow was smashed to smithereens in a bike accident, the deaths of my mother, father and my sister, financial woes, not to mention landing in another dysfunctional relationship. In the midst of all this I was thrown headlong onto my spiritual path. I seriously started to pray, to meditate, to do my own work in analysis.

During this time, I had a dream that I was hiding under my bed. I saw these absolutely enormous feet approach the bed. They were naked, gigantic feet, and they were blue. Then this figure walked away from the bed and I peeked out. It was a gigantic Kali figure, standing at a laundry tub. She must have been at least 11 feet tall and her skin was blue.

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She knew I was looking, so she turned to look back at me. She had a huge, terrifying grin on her face, as she scrubbed rhythmically on a washboard. I was absolutely terrified, and woke myself up, sweating. But the more I thought about this image, the more I realized that SHE was going to wash things clean, and that I would be alright. The more I meditated on this image, the more settled and relaxed I became.

Looking back, I think this was a real turning point in my life. Knowing that I was being helped by higher powers allowed me to relax and to simply trust the process of my life. Kali is a goddess of the East who is often associated with death and destruction. In India she is venerated because it is understood that nothing new can come unless the old is destroyed. Happily, I met her in her more beneficent aspect – as a laundry woman who was bent on cleaning up my dysfunctional life. I will be forever grateful for all the help that I have received, but at the time it felt like life was trying to crush me. We rarely have perspective when we are in the midst of a huge transition.

Part of my reason for sharing these dream images with you is to demonstrate the power of dreams, and the extraordinary intelligence that is in them. The difference between the Jungian approach and many other therapies, is that a Jungian will place supreme importance on the dream image, and strive to uncover what it may be trying to convey. In other words, it takes its lead from the Self.

Many other therapies expect you to come with the problem, and then the two of you (the therapist and you) try to deal with the problem. The difference is that the ego presents the problem, and then tries to dissect it to its own advantage. The ego is always limited by its own worldview and perspective. It cannot see what it cannot see. You and the therapist can easily get sidetracked into dealing with a problem that is not THE problem. The Self sees you from the other side and is the Friend or the Beloved that Rumi always talked about. Coming to know this through following your own dreams is an extraordinary gift. Your life begins to take on the feeling of a revelation that gradually reveals its sacred purpose to you.

Listen to this and learn to trust your life:

Rumi: Say I Am You

Lament of the Dead: Psychology after Jung’s Red Book – A Discussion, Part 1

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A very important book, which sheds valuable light on Jung’s Red Book, has recently been published. Sonu Shamdasani, the editor who worked for years on The Red Book, entered into conversation with the late James Hillman, Jungian analyst and author of Archetypal Psychology and Re-Visioning Psychology among many others.  Their documented conversation about The Red Book and its significance to psychology is called Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book.

At the beginning of their conversation, Hillman addresses Jung’s understanding of dreams. “ Jung says that we think the figures we uncover in our dreams or in active imagination are the result of us, but he says we are the result of them. We just think of it wrong. We think whatever comes to us as something leftover from, as Freud says, the Tagesrest, the residues of the day, images that are composite stuff, garbage from our day. But Jung is saying these figures (that) come to us in our dreams and even our thoughts derive from these figures, which seems to be what The Red Book does.”

Jung’s descent into what he later termed as the collective unconscious was his encounter with those particular figures that had special and unique significance for him and for the culture and society of that time. As Sonu Shamdasani points out, when Jung referred to his encounters with the dead in The Red Book, he meant the actual dead. More significantly, although Jung’s descent into this level of the collective unconscious was of very personal significance to him at that time, nowhere in The Red Book does he refer to his parents, his childhood, his colleagues, his work, or his family or wife. What then does it mean?

Through Jung’s pioneering work with this deep level of consciousness, he demonstrated by example what it meant to get in touch with the deep influences or beings that were animating his being, his life.  He began his journey into his own psyche with the poignant awareness that though he had conceptualized soul, and written about soul, he in fact knew that he had lost his soul. The Red Book opens with a very moving cry to his own soul – realizing that she was lost, in part, because of his own hubris at trying to explain her away.

Sonu Shamdasani points out that the dead Jung is referring to in The Red Book are all the dead of human history, along with the tremendous psychic weight that comes with that. We live now in a world where the dead outnumber the living. The dead do not just disappear because they have lost their outer bodily form. Most of us have had the experience of feeling someone’s presence long after they have died. Energy, as any physicist will tell you, can change form, but you cannot kill it. So although this is part of many people’s experience ,we have somehow, until The Red Book and Jung’s work, been unable to conceptualize an adequate psychology that takes this fully into account.

Bert Hellinger, in his work with Family Constellations, does give the dead their due accord in terms of healing family dynamics and the personal unconscious. His work is indeed remarkable and revolutionary. However Jung’s work with the collective unconscious goes beyond the personal work of the family constellation and explores those deeper beings in our psyches that require something of us.

In the past I have often referred to the inner, personal, psychic landscape. The exciting insight for me when reading The Red Book and this additional commentary by Sonu Shamdasani and James Hillman, was to really see at a deeper level how Jung felt this landscape was peopled with beings that wanted, even required something of us. I was reminded of the poem In Flanders Fields, written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in 1915 about World War I. I have always felt a deep resonance with this poem:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

In this poem John McCrae speaks to us using the voices of the Dead. He says “Take up our quarrel with the foe”. What does this mean? Of course in a very literal sense it could mean the enemies on the other side of the line. However in the context of Jung’s understanding of the collective psyche of that time as expressed in The Red Book (see my blog Introduction to The Red Book) we could imagine the foe as all that lies unacknowledged and unrecognized in the deepest layer of the collective psyche. The dead who have sacrificed their lives for little purpose.  He says in his final line “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies blow in Flanders Fields.”

Is McCrae trying to express the same thing as Jung but in a different form? What do the dead want of us? What would it mean if we were to break faith with the dead and not honour them? Certainly McCrae does not treat the dead as nonexistent or of no consequence. Instead there is a deep recognition that we must understand and honour what they want of us at the deepest level, and not just remember them.

In Lament of The Dead, Sonu Shamdasani and James Hillman explore Jung’s understanding of the heavy weight of our history as it is carried in our collective unconscious. To not be in right relationship with this deep layer of our collective being is a travesty, deeply foolhardy and a disservice to the soul. We need to understand the history of mankind and give it its due respect while understanding on a personal level  how these deep elements or archetypes play through our individual psyches. We are not just 3-dimensional beings. This blog only serves as a very basic introduction to these books. I strongly encourage you to read them both.

Listen to Carl Jung talk about Death:

Listen to Sonu Shamdasani introducing The Red Book:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOKKCJsYqMw

Listen to James Hillman talking about Archetypal Psychology and the Soulless Society:

Listen to this beautiful reading of In Flanders Fields:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6e4jqTF6aks

And for a little taste of the angelic Bert Hellinger:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFBXJSE1nME