Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You need to wear your hair in a less ordinary way

by Patricia Damery

Fifteen people are seated around a very large, round table in an otherwise empty living room of an old San Francisco Victorian. Norma T., a robust and dramatic woman in her 60s who sits directly across the table from me, is obviously in charge. She instructs us to put our hands palm down on the tabletop. She claims to be in a trance, although she appears to be present and alert. She could be teaching math, given her matter-of-fact demeanor.

The skeptic in me scans the room. Who comes to a séance, anyway? Most of the people look fairly ordinary: a petite woman with short white hair; a business man in a suit; a young man with a backpack next to his chair; me, a candidate in training to be a Jungian analyst. This could be any-committee-meeting-USA, I think, or a Sunday school class…that is, until the table starts jumping.

At first I am annoyed. I suspect someone is bumping a table leg with a knee. But as the tempo increases and Norma comments that the energy is particularly strong this evening, I realize that the table’s legs are actually leaving the floor at times. I am shocked. As if from a long distance, I can hear Norma “channeling” to the woman with the short white hair. A dead relative is apparently giving her some kind of guidance. The skeptic in me is having a heyday, but my attention is riveted on the phenomenon of the bouncing table. I feel as if I am going to throw up. The room is spinning.

Norma finishes with the woman and calls my name. She will “read” for me next. She seems to know my condition and says, “You become nauseated when Spirit speaks to you.” I try to center myself. I do not remember what she tells me, except, "You need to wear your hair in a less ordinary way"—a comment that insults me. What I remember most is my altered sense of reality.

The bouncing table challenges my ideas about how the physical world operates. It has taken me years to work through my resistance and get to this strange gathering, and it will be two more before I am ready for any real instruction from Norma T.—instruction, as it turns out, that is necessary for me to heal a deep wound in my sense of self and move on in my life.
The Dream Pond

Until I met my husband Donald, I had no intention of ever returning to the land. I left the family farm as soon as I was able. At the beginning of freshman year, while other students cried when their parents left them at the college dorm, I wandered the campus in ecstasy.
I hated fieldwork and the constant labor of the farm. Small town life was suffocating. I was on to better things, whatever those ‘things’ might be. After a few false turns, those ‘things’ came to include California and psychology, and my relationship to the earth became more that of the hunter-gatherer—not tethered to a particular plot of ground, where a farmer spends every waking moment of every day.


Yet I eventually married a man tied to the land in his own way, an architect with a vineyard in the Napa Valley of California, and my sons and I came to live on his property. One strand of this story is about redeveloping my relationship with the land, being rooted once again in a particular place and being guided by the tenets of Rudolf Steiner’s Biodynamic agriculture. A second strand is about my professional path of becoming a Jungian analyst. Surprisingly, these two seemingly unrelated strands in my life are deeply intertwined.

A most useful tool of a Jungian analyst is the dream. Dreams reflect the spiritual life of the psyche and often compensate for what we consciously suppress or reflect what has not yet come into consciousness. Those dreams that announce the beginning of a new cycle in an analysis or a life are particularly important.

My first remembered dream reoccurred several times in early childhood. It first visited when I was about three. I wander out over the grassy field west of our country church, the area my parents would later choose for their gravesite, and the place my brother, sisters, and I would bury what remained of their ashes. I walk as far as you can see from the church, and then I enter into an area dense with vegetation where I have never been. A rich, fungal scent permeates the air. Nestled in a slight dip in the land is a small pond. Two mallards float in the water, which is as still as a scrying mirror.

The most remarkable part of this dream is the feeling that I am inseparable from all that surrounds me: the ducks, the pond, the dense vegetation, and the horizon. My body is still my three-year-old body—yet it stretches to the horizons. There is a feeling of great peace and wholeness.

As a child I would awaken from the dream compelled to search for the pond in the waking world—not because I thought it could be found, but because while searching, the feeling state of the dream intensified, and I felt at one with my surroundings. This feeling was also experienced when I stared west into the cornfield at twilight, the stalks tall and tasseled, pollen thick in the air—a sense of portent that would take years to understand.

All my life I have treasured my awareness of two realities: the outer experience, in which we all live most of the time, and its rich inner counterpart. In the best of circumstances, like notes in a chord, these two worlds harmonize in a way that enhances the experience of both realities.
Some psychological theories describe a move into the inner world as defensive, an adaptation some human beings develop in order to cope with unbearable aspects of life. In some circumstances this is true. There is such a thing as a schizoid defense, in which a person engages more with fantasy life than with living people or real-life challenges.

But my own experiences have taught me that the urge to develop an inner, spiritual life is a healthy and often imperative impulse. Certainly, this drew me to the philosophy and teaching of C.G. Jung, as is the case for many of us who become analysts or analysands.

Jung held that “the psychological problem of today is a spiritual problem, a religious problem.Man today hungers and thirsts for a safe relationship to the psychic forces within himself. His consciousness, recoiling from the difficulties of the modern world, lacks a relationship to safe spiritual conditions. This makes him neurotic, ill, frightened.”[1] Jung’s life work revolved largely around this point, impelling man to understand that God is working to become conscious through man, and that the meaning of the Christ had to do with the indwelling of spirit in matter.

Western psychology, and Western thought in general, tends to ignore or actively reject the notion of spirit. Sadly, in recent years even Jung’s analytical psychology often does notembrace the “spiritual.” When using this term, I am talking about the inner realm perceived through meditation, prayer, active imagination, or simply turning one’s attention inward, and indeed people have done so throughout the ages and in every known culture. There we may experience images, sounds, and bodily sensations, feelings that have special power and meaning for us.

Some of my analyst colleagues have become phobic of the spiritual perspective, fearful that they will be accused of being “ungrounded” or even psychotic, particularly since even Carl Jung has been labeled psychotic by some in the psychological community. This has prevented many analysts from intimately knowing or even acknowledging the reality of the inner landscape that is, by its very nature, spiritual. In fact, one of analytical psychology’s inheritances is the essential work of regaining psychological balance through reconnecting with one’s inner spiritual resources.

For me, receiving training in accessing and understanding non-ordinary states brought a larger perspective. My psychic teacher, Norma T., often said, “You are only partly here; most of you is out there…” Jung talked about this in other ways. He described man as having two souls—the impersonal, or ancestral, soul he was born into this life with, and the personal soul that he develops in this life. The newborn’s mind is, Jung says, “a finished structure…the result of innumerable lives before his and is far from being devoid of content.”[2] He described these two souls in man as often being in direct opposition and held that dreams and active imagination often deal with the conflicts between them.

Jung asserted, “All dreams reveal spiritual experiences, provided one does not apply one’s own point of view to the interpretation of them.”[3] Interpretation involves thinking and differentiation, prominent aspects of the masculine principle. Listening to spirit requires a very different approach, one into which I was unwittingly initiated during my years of training at the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, primarily through experiences outside the actual training.
My childhood dream seeded me with an experience our culture as a rule does not support. The dream was so compelling that I could never forget it. Growing up on a farm, spending long hours alone, or playing with my sister outdoors in the natural world sprouted that seed. I began to experience non-ordinary reality early on, but until I developed tools to navigate this other state and my ego grew strong enough to use them, these experiences remained mostly split off from the rest of my life.
* * *
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the great, great granddaddy of both Jung’s analytical psychology and Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic agriculture. A German poet and philosopher living at the turn of the 19th century, Goethe is perhaps best known to the psychological community for his book-length poem Faust, but he also made significant scientific contributions, especially in botany and the science of color. Much of his insight came via intensive direct observation and a resulting consciousness similar to my dream pond consciousness. To know something, he proposed, means to hold all aspects of it at the same time. Only when you hold all of the parts at once does a complete picture come into focus, a kind of unity consciousness. “If you would seek comfort in the whole,” Goethe declared, “you must learn to discover the Whole in the smallest part.”[4]

The first editor of Goethe’s scientific work, Rudolf Steiner, was born in 1861, almost 30 years after Goethe’s death. In 1889 Steiner was hired to edit Goethe’s scientific papers. As he pored over the great man’s work, he became convinced that Goethe’s way of knowing produced a state of consciousness quite distinct from the mechanistic worldview widely accepted even to this day. For the rest of his life, Steiner worked to develop and teach this “new” consciousness, which he recognized as the direct perception of the spirit world that he, too, had experienced from an early age.

Biodynamics is the agricultural extension of this way of knowing. Using his natural clairvoyance, Steiner studied the etheric formative forces influencing the life of the land and plants and devised ways to balance them. In keeping with Goethe’s thought, he observed that there is nothing in nature that does not bear relation to the whole. The work for the farmer, then, is not killing the aphids that have suddenly arrived on the lettuce, but studying the conditions that resulted in the appearance of aphids and using developed thinking to comprehend the connections between them. This process, done correctly, produces a state of consciousness similar to what I experienced in my pond dream.

Carl Gustav Jung II was born in 1875, the son of a pastor. It was rumored that Jung’s namesake and grandfather, Carl Gustav Jung I, was conceived in a liaison between his great grandmother, Sophie Jung Zeigler, and Goethe himself. I suspect that Jung believed this and felt a deep kinship with the great philosopher poet.

Jung found special significance in Goethe’s Faust poem, which depicts the process of redemption and individuation through a painful holding of opposites. In Goethe’s version of this myth, Faust grapples with his inner darkness through the figure of Mephistopheles and, in doing so, develops a new conscious attitude. Jung felt this attitude offered redemption through a recovery of the feminine principle.

I still vividly remember sitting in my country church as a child, the P.A. system buzzing as the pastor drones on through his sermon. Through the open west windows comes the laboring hum of a tractor, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. Birdsong is sweet and persistent. Even with the minister’s amplified voice, I can distinguish the melodic yet harsh song of red-winged black birds, the coos of mourning doves, the Bob…Whites!

Feet shuffle. To the right, my father’s napping form slumps against the hard oak pew’s splintery smoothness. The June heat is oppressive. I sit very still. The grassy smell of freshly cut hay wafts in the windows.

Suddenly, I am aware of a Presence! It’s as if the Holy Ghost has descended into me and is viewing the sanctuary through my eyes, hearing the droning voice of the minister through my ears, feeling the sweat break through the pores of my body. I am also aware that this Presence is a larger part of me that is seldom noticed, but as this thought forms the moment passes.
This as an experience of the feminine principle, which is most often heart-centered, involving emotions and intuition. In contrast, had I experienced this moment in church primarily via the masculine principle, I would have used only my rational mind, listening to the words of the minister, comprehending the principles he was advocating, and applying them logically to what I should be thinking or doing in life. This activity, quite useful when it is kept in balance, is centered in the head rather than the heart.

In the past 300 years, most human societies have considered the masculine principle to be more important, more valuable, higher in some way. We have perceived the feminine principle as lacking import and being nonproductive, or we have relegated it to the purview of the mystic.

In truth, we need both ways of experiencing reality in order to live full and balanced lives. Embracing one and precluding the other leads inevitably to conflict within ourselves and between others.
* * *
In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung described the Faust myth as his own. He identified with Faust’s fate, saying it “awakened in me the problem of opposites, of good and evil, of mind and matter, of light and darkness.”[5] Through Faust, Goethe offered Jung “a basic outline and pattern”[6] for holding his own internal contradictions and developing his philosophies, which we study to this day.

It was Jung’s work that first provided a matrix for understanding my own experiences of Presence, or so-called non-ordinary reality. This was the only reason that, in my early twenties as graduate student of psychology, I was drawn to Jung, and initially to his work on alchemy. In no conscious way did I understand at that time what I was reading, and yet, on some deep level, I felt completely satisfied.

As I matured I wanted to understand these experiences and the images that appeared in my dreams and visions. It was then that, unconsciously and then consciously, I sought teachers.

You have just read an excerpt of Patricia Damery's

[1] C.G. Jung, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interview and Encounters, “Does the World Stand on the Verge of Spiritual Rebirth?” 1934, p. 68.
[2] C.G. Jung, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interview and Encounters, “Everyone Has Two Souls,” Edited by William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series XCVII, p. 57 1932.
[3] C.G. Jung, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interview and Encounters, “Does the World Stand on the Verge of Spiritual Rebirth?” p. 71.
[4] Jeremy Naydler, (Ed.), Goethe on science: An anthology of Goethe’s scientific writings. Edinburgh: Floris Books. p. 59, (1996).
[5] C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 235.
[6] C.G. Jung, MDR, p. 235.


Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting-Edge Fiction, Poetry, and a growing list of alternative titles. www.fisherkingpress.com

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