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

On Birth, Death and Rebirth

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I’ve been thinking about birth and death lately, as someone I know has been approaching death. It struck me the other day how these two big events, between which we live out our lives, have some meaningful opposites. If you think about the soul incarnating into a baby’s body, I imagine it would feel terrified and vulnerable as it faces all the variables and unknowns of this earth-bound world, knowing it would forget its celestial home.

On the other hand, babies are usually welcomed into our world, ‘trailing clouds of glory as they come” to quote Wordsworth. At the end of the body’s life,  as the soul prepares to depart this 3 dimensional bonded experience, the earthly family mourns, even as the celestial family awaits.

I have always  sensed the liberation of the soul from the body to be one of upliiftment and joy for the soul, even as it is a travesty for the loved ones left behind. I think it helps to keep birth and death linked, understanding it as a continuum and a cycle. Reincarnation is a concept that has been taught in many of the world religions because it is a living truth. Christ himself also pointed to the laws of karma and reincarnation when he taught, “you reap what you sow”.

Recently there has been some humorous news as the Chinese government said they would be in charge of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. The Dalai Lama has put out a very clear teaching on reincarnation. Here it is – under messages: reincarnation

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www.dalailama.com/messages

One of the most beautiful poems on the nature of our immortality comes from William Wordsworth. This particular stanza talks about our birth and our forgetting of our celestial home.

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Excerpt from:

Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

by William Wordsworth

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
And, even with something of a mother’s mind,
And no unworthy aim,
The homely nurse doth all she can
To make her foster-child, her inmate, Man,
Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.

And from my beloved Rumi, this extraordinary poem on the homecoming at death:

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Imagine the time the particle you are

returns where it came from!

The family darling comes home. Wine,

without being contained in cups, is handed around.

A red glint appears in a granite outcrop,

and suddenly the whole cliff turns to ruby.

At dawn I walked with a monk

on his way to the monastery.

“We do the same work,” I told him.

“We suffer the same.”

He gave me a bowl.

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And I saw:

the Soul has this shape.

Shams

and actual sunlight,

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help me now,

being in the middle of being partly in my self,

and partly outside.

Translated by Coleman Barks

Whom or What Do We Serve?

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The image of this beautiful cow at the Cow’s Ball in Bohinj, Slovenia has stayed with me since attending this wonderful local annual festival in Bohinj last September. It is an annual ritual in which the local people celebrate and honour the cows as they bring them down from the high mountain pastures to the valleys below each fall. I loved the Slovenian people’s connection and closeness to nature and the way they have kept their old customs. But this is not a travel article. There is a terrible poignancy about looking into the face of an animal and looking into its eyes, especially when you don’t stand on the moral high ground of being a vegetarian (which I am not). But this is not about vegetarianism either.

About a month later I had this dream, which has also stayed with me, and which has brought me back to the age-old question made famous in The Grail Legend. In my dream I was shown a place where many human corpses (supposedly criminals) had been beheaded and hung upside down so the blood would drain away. It was reminiscent of a slaughterhouse. I could see three levels from where I stood – each one the same. Each head was placed neatly beside its corpse.

Horrified but transfixed, I wondered, what were these corpses doing there? What was the purpose? What is our purpose? Whether we end up on a peg or end up in the ground or as burnt ashes, what purpose does our life serve? In The Grail Legend, the question was “Whom does the Grail serve?

On waking, I wondered if the blood was drained away and used in some way, and I was reminded of the blood sacrifices that were an inherent demand of man’s earliest religious experiences. Despite the modern face of our civilization we still make blood sacrifices through our endless warring with each other, although these sacrifices often seem meaningless and devoid of any higher purpose than the lust for power, domination and control.

Emma Jung, a Jungian analyst in her own right, spent her life devoted to the study of the legend of the Holy Grail. Eventually after her death, renowned Jungian analyst, Marie Louise von Franz completed the book entitled The Grail Legend, which Emma had been working on for so long. In this book, they emphasize, “ it is not so much the crucifixion of Christ which is looked upon as the redeeming factor but rather the blood flowing from his side after his death”. As they point out, from time immemorial, blood was seen as embodying the life principle and was considered the seat of the soul. The Holy Grail, was the mythological chalice that was held up to catch his blood, and because of its shape, it symbolizes the feminine principle. It is also often seen as the chalice that was used at the Last Supper.

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Perceval is the young man who is returning from his adventures with King Arthur to find his mother, and lands up at the Grail Castle – understood by Emma Jung and von Franz as the motherly realm of the unconscious. Here he finds the wounded Grail King (sometimes known as the Fisher King) whose wound will not heal. He sits in his castle, rich but maimed with this festering sore. His kingdom is sick and stagnating, and nothing can help him. According to the legend, he guards a mysterious, life-preserving and sustenance-dispensing object, the Holy Grail or chalice. The king can only be restored to life if a knight of excellent character finds the castle and at first sight of the Grail asks a certain question. If he does not, everything will remain the same, the castle will vanish and the knight will have to set out once more on his journey. The land will lay in waste. If the knight does succeed in asking the question, the King will be restored to health and the land will begin to grow green, and the hero will become the guardian of the Grail from that time on. At the feast which is served, Perceval sees a beautiful chalice mysteriously paraded by a gorgeous maiden, but he doesn’t understand, and he doesn’t ask anything about it. He is a young soul and does not yet understand life. He is not questing for meaning or truth – he is still in the domain of the ego.

The chalice containing blood is a symbol of the feminine. And so too is the Holy Sepulchre or grave, which  also has “ a maternal meaning, since the mother is not only the place of birth, but also as Mother Earth, that which receives the dead back into herself……Both the food- and drink-imparting, life bestowing aspect and the aspect of death and the grave are exhibited by the Grail. They mystery of coming into being and of ceasing to be is bound up with the image of the mother; this explains why Mysteries with this process as the content of their ritual were connected with the cult of mother goddesses such as Demeter and Isis. (p.127, 128, The Grail Legend).

As I pondered the interconnectivity of all life I was reminded of this poem by Rumi:

For thousands and thousands of years I lived as a mineral

And then I died and became a plant.

And for thousands and thousands of years I lived as a vegetable

And then I died and became an animal.

And for thousands and thousands of years I lived as an animal

And then I died and became a human.

Tell me. What have I ever lost by dying?

translated by Coleman Barks

What feeds on us I wondered. And whom do we serve?

Referring to the Grail King, and quoting Jung, they say, “Psychologically he represents a symbol of the Self become visible in a human being, to which the entire social and psychic organization of his people is adjusted.” (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis) He is a symbol of man in his fallen, stricken state and seems unable to cure himself or his land.

I cannot do justice to the book or their research in this small essay, so I will have to limit myself to a few of the most salient points for me. As Emma Jung and von Franz examine myths of the Grail from various cultures and time, they talk about a common motif…..that there was a violation of the fairy kingdom and of nature, and the theft of the bowl (chalice).

“Thus a wrong against a feminine being and a plundering of nature was perpetrated. It is interesting and remarkable that the origin of the trouble was looked upon as an offence committed against the fairy world, i.e., actually against nature. The motif of the plundering of the fairy world appears in numerous legends and fairy-tales, such as the legends of the Swan maidens and the Rheingold. It is always a question of something either unlawful won from, or done to, nature which results in a curse……The fairies and the maidens in the hills do not so much personify evil in feminine form as they do a purely natural aspect of the anima, They are, as it were, the soul of the spring or tree or place and equally, what man feels psychically in such places. The growth of masculine consciousness and of the patriarchal logos principle of the Christian outlook are concerned in no small measure with this development. They have certainly made possible the emancipation of the human which has given man mastery over nature. That which has been stolen from nature must, at the same time, however, be understood as something ‘torn from the unconscious’…………….a deadening and violation of nature, which imply a tremendous los of soul, have gradually resulted from the achievement of consciousness effected by Christianity.” (Pp.204, 205 The Grail Legend)

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As I reflected on my dream image I wondered about the meaningless of a life which has severed itself from the pursuit of consciousness. If we do not devote our lives to the pursuit of consciousness, wisdom and truth in some way, then we are just fodder for a higher cycle of life. If we do not serve consciousness with a respect for the feminine ideals – kindness, relatedness, compassion, then Kali in all her bloodthirstiness will mow us down. Kali is the goddess who understands the wisdom of destroying the old before new growth can begin. In my dream it doesn’t seem to matter that all these corpses are strung up like so much meat in a slaughterhouse. It is a horrifying sight, but there is a matter-of-factness about it my dream.

We will all die in the end, one way or another, and it is good to keep that in mind. When we look back at our lives, we won’t say, I wish I had made more money and spent less time with my family. We won’t say, I wish I hadn’t been as kind or as compassionate or that I had spent less time helping others.

The cow – a sacred image of the feminine in India, here symbolizes nature, in all her beauty, and she sacrifices herself for us over and over. But we should ask ourselves, whom or what do we serve?

Here is the nectar of the great teacher, Coleman Barks reciting Rumi – Connection – The Natural Ecstasy

All quotes are from The Grail Legend by Emma Jung and Marie Louise von Franz