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Jung is My Treble Clef

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Tomorrow is the last day of my first quarter of graduate school. The last ten weeks have been an interesting journey. The first three weeks were stressful and I began to question if I was truly cut out for grad school. Luckily, things fell into place and I felt like my old self. I was curious to see what life would be like in a clinical program devoid of depth psychology classes. I had a rough time at first. I was constantly arguing with and criticizing my textbooks. Many reading sessions involved me yelling at my book, slamming it shut, and then walking away to do something else to calm down. I swore I was going to write letters to all of the publishing companies and authors to let them know about their oversights. In retrospect, I can laugh at my frustration because it made me realize something important: Jung is my treble clef.

I have been playing piano for over 20 years. I rarely read music anymore, but when I do, I still struggle with reading the bass clef. The treble clef is easy because it’s the first one I learned. In fact, it’s probably the first one that most budding musicians learn. You know, the one where the spaces spell F-A-C-E and the lines are where Every Good Boy Does Fine. I can read the notes on a treble clef like I can read the words on this page. But the bass clef? Not so much.

The bass clef seems deceptively similar to the treble clef, but it’s not. Playing the bass line as a treble line is the recipe for a cacophonous disaster. The only way for me to navigate the fraternal twin bass clef is to transpose what I see. For instance, every note on the bass clef is three tones lower than it’s twin on the treble clef. What looks like an A is really a C, an F is really an A, and so on. In order to play properly, I have to use the treble clef that I know and love as my starting point. Every note I read on a bass clef is relative to my knowledge of the treble clef. Are you confused? (I’m hoping that I am not the only person who reads bass clef this way ;)

So what does this have to do with my graduate psychology program? Well, I am passionate about depth psychology, and, most specifically, analytical psychology, which most people call Jungian psychology. In my undergraduate program, I was very lucky to be able to take a multitude of depth psychology classes. It’s very, very rare to be able to study depth psychology in an undergrad program. As a result, I took as many depth psychology classes as I could. After all, my plan was to go on to Pacifica Graduate Institute, which is a school dedicated to depth psychological studies. But then my plans changed and I decided to stay in Seattle and do my masters degree here. The only problem was that my chosen program does not teach depth psychology. Luckily, I have a trick to help me make sense of all the new theories I am learning because I have discerned that Jung is my treble clef.

Each time I learn a new theory (and in my program it’s all family systems theory) I compare it with Jung’s ideas and see if I can find something approximate. If I can, and usually I do, then I catalog it in my mind’s eye. For example, what the object relations folks call “projective identification” is just plain ol’ “projection” as far as I’m concerned. And good and bad introjects are just the polarities of archetypes. At least, that’s how I see it. And, for now, it’s working for me.

Bookworm

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The Pacific Northwest is experiencing the first heat wave of summer. As a result, my small un-air-conditioned home has become the antithesis of a comfortable, relaxing abode. Therefore, I have reverted to my favorite childhood summertime activity: reading on the floor in front of the box fan.

Growing up, I lived less than a block away from the local library. I would go there at least once a week and load up on all kinds of literature, from Francine Pascals’ Sweet Valley High novels to Charles Dickens’ classics to John Jakes’ North & South. I would pile my borrowed treasures on my bedroom floor and dive in for hours at a time while the blast from the fan whipped against my face.

Twenty-five years later, the books belong to my personal library but the scenario is the same. Today, I scanned my bookshelves for the books I’ve proverbially saved for a rainy day. The selections were C.G. Jung’s Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, James Hillman’s Re-Visioning Psychology, Lucy Goodison’s  The Dreams of Women, and Joseph Chilton Pearce’s The Biology of Transcendence. They are not the varied tomes of my youth, but just as satisfying. I scattered them in a semi-circle around me and read a few pages of one, put it down, and scooped up another.

Usually, when I read books such as these, some type of academic intent is behind the enterprise. But today, I read for pleasure and fun. Jung made me laugh hysterically. Pearce put me on the verge of tears. And somehow my annoyance at the sweltering heat dissipated. Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter, but who cares? I have books to read.

My whole life, I’ve considered myself to be an introvert of the card-carrying-you-can-tattoo-it-on-my-forehead-it’s-never-going-to-change variety. I never questioned my introvert status. In fact, in some ways it was like a security blanket I always carried around with me. Other times, I would use it as an excuse to not pursue more social activities. I was a hard-core introvert and nothing would ever change that. Or so I thought.

I recently completed a course in developmental psychology, in which my instructor mentioned that one’s personality is set by age three. Intrigued, I asked her if traumatic experiences could affect one’s personality. She replied that trauma could change one’s displayed personality; however, if the individual underwent psychotherapy, then the original personality would be restored. I was fascinated with this bit of information, especially because at recent Jung group meetings, we had discussed the differences between introverted personalities and extroverted personalities.

Our Jungian expert and facilitator explained that introvertism and extrovertism run on a continuum. Therefore, one could be an introvert but fall on the spectrum closer to the extrovert side. And in truth, the middle is the best place to be, because in traditional Jungian parlance, one-sidedness leads to neurosis. I began to think maybe the time had come to rethink my loyalty to the introvert club, but then the facilitator said something that really piqued my interest: we feel fatigued when we go against type. As such, social activities should make me feel tired or drained of energy. And this had been true in the past; however, I realized that recent social activities made me feel energized, rather than depleted. In fact, I had been preparing to give a 45-minute senior synthesis presentation—a feat that should have filled me fear and apprehension. Instead, I was excited about the public speaking engagement and was hoping to have a large audience. Clearly, I was working against my introvert nature, but I was not feeling fatigued. I felt as though I had made a definite shift on the introvert-extrovert continuum that had placed me closer to the extrovert side.

Another example of this shift came in my decision to apply for the Couple & Family Therapy graduate program instead of Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The Jung group facilitator says that CFT is about being a “Sage on a Stage,” whereas CMHC is for those wishing to be a “Guide on the Side.” I had always planned on applying for the CMHC program because I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of people in the room. But that was my hard-core introvert doing the thinking for me. I ultimately decided to do CFT because I want to work with children, especially those surviving violent home environments. Which brings me back to what my developmental psychology professor told me in class and the way I connected it to my history with agoraphobia.

Individuals are not born with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia typically develops in one’s early 20s, or the age when people start moving away from home and becoming independent. Jung said, “The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more [the child] will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life.” Therefore, if home were a place where I was hurt as a child, then as an adult, I would perceive the world-at-large as a place where I could also be hurt. And so began the downward spiral of agoraphobia. In the same vein, what if I wasn’t always someone who avoided social situations? Many family members have told me I was always a happy, smiling child. What if my life experience turned my naturally extroverted-self into a person who displayed an introverted personality for over three decades? The math certainly adds up and while I still believe I am an introvert (and my Myers-Briggs type of INFJ would agree,) I have made a concerted effort to practice being an extrovert. After all, the way I ultimately overcame agoraphobia was to practice acting like someone who wasn’t afraid.

My senior synthesis presentation was an overwhelming success. Many people said that I looked like a natural public speaker and that I belonged leading a group. When I served jury duty last week, if selected to be on a jury, I was going to offer to be the foreman. My previous introvert-identified persona would never have dreamed of doing such things. And most importantly, these activities did not drain me of my energy. At the conclusion of my symposium, I wanted to do it all over again! For my final project for my lifespan development class, I opted to do a presentation and had a lot of fun sharing my topic with the class and enjoyed answering their questions.

I know many books and articles have come out recently to defend introverts. Certainly, being an introvert (or extrovert) is not bad or evil. But I encourage other card-carrying introverts to think about where they fall on the continuum and practice holding the opposite. When we can master holding the tension of the opposites, only then can we have wholeness.

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This blog has been sorely neglected for the better part of a year. I didn’t completely forget about it—I wrote the posts in my head, but never translated them here. And that’s not to say that I will never write about my amazing trip to Sequoia National Park last July or the dream incubation retreat I attended in February. But, as I recently completed my undergraduate studies, I keep thinking about the events that brought me here in the first place: to Seattle, to college, to graduate school. I could never have gotten here had I never made a decision in the split-second beat of my heart.

In 2006, I divorced my husband of 8 years. At the time, we lived in Las Vegas, where one could divorce quickly and cheaply. We filed the paperwork ourselves—no lawyers or their exorbitant fees. When the time came to sign the paperwork, it was just us and my mom, who was to act as our witness. When my turn came to sign, I paused momentarily. I had a private conversation with myself in proverbial Angel vs. Devil fashion: “You don’t have to sign this if you don’t want to. You can try to work it out.” Which was countered by, “You already know what this life is. You will never know if there is anything different if you don’t sign it.” I was fearful and afraid. Was I going to fuck up life as I knew it? I felt as though I was closing my eyes before stepping off of a tall building. I signed the paper. Nothing happened. The ground was intact and my world didn’t shatter. And as it turned out, that nothing became the beginning of everything.

I recently saw the quote, “Sometimes you have destroy your life to let the next great thing happen.” The truth of this sentiment resonates throughout my entire being, probably because it reminds me of Edinger’s idea of the Psychic Life Cycle. It’s no secret that I adore Edward Edinger, the author of my favorite book (really!) Ego & Archetype: The Religious Function of the Psyche. He maintained that every individual goes through cycles of ego inflation and ego alienation and that both are necessary for healthy psychological development. Basically, he was saying that we all get too big for our britches (ego inflation) and will eventually fall and suffer humiliation (ego alienation). Then, if we make repentance, we are again accepted, which builds our ego and the whole cycle happens all over again.

In many ways, especially among family and friends, my divorce was seen as me destroying my life. After all, we owned a home, two cars and my husband made good money. Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I knew none of it could bring me the happiness such things were supposed to parley. In retrospect, I was drowning and I thought I had no life raft. But it was there along, in my heart—the leap of my heart that spurred me to sign my divorce papers. The leap that made me pack up all my belongings and move to Seattle. The leap that forced me to address my fear of driving so that I could finish my college degree. And all the subsequent leaps that ensued despite my former mantra of “I can’t do this.” In taking those leaps, I found my purchase on the other side of sorrow. For the first time, I found that I had dreams, goals and ambitions. Margaret Shepherd said, “Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” And sometimes it’s the only transportation you need.

Staging the Dream

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I recently reached a milestone in my life with the completion of my bachelor’s degree. Incidentally, the occasion coincides with my 5 year “anniversary” as an analysand in Jungian psychotherapy. At my recent session, BTW (Best Therapist in the World) and I discussed the transformations that have taken place in the last five years. Most notable was that going back to school was never one of my original goals, but one that surfaced after years of inner work. Yet, my education has become the center of my existence. Everything that I do is somehow related to my academic goals and/or my future work as a psychotherapist. And my desire to do all of it is a direct result of my experience in BTW’s consulting suite.

BTW shared that she knew I was going to “perform” based on the first dream I shared in therapy many years ago. Keep in mind, that at the beginning, I knew nearly nothing about Jung or analytical psychology or what it meant to see a Jungian psychotherapist. I knew that Jung was “old school” and I think that was part of the draw. But part of that old school flavor was doing dream work, which I thought was pretty archaic at the time. BTW told me that the answers to all of our problems are located in the unconscious and a way to access that information was to pay attention to my dreams. I didn’t buy it at the time, but she seemed nice, so I kept going back. I didn’t share a dream for quite some time—at least six months. And when I did finally share a dream, I was surprised at the way she took apart the dream and put it back together again using my own words in a new and meaningful way. The dream focused on the image of a ballerina, which has been a theme in my inner work ever since.

At the time, I didn’t know (and didn’t have the ability to comprehend, if I did know) the way that the dream spotlighted a part of my personal psychology. Five years later, after completing my undergraduate degree and giving my senior symposium on the significance of dreams, I was privy to BTW’s revelation of her early insight: she knew I was going to attempt daring and complex things and I was going to succeed. Had she told me then, I would not have believed her. Just like if someone told me then that I would go back to school in order to become a psychotherapist, I would have laughed. Or that dreams would become such an important facet of my life that I would feel obligated to give my synthesis presentation on the topic. That was my frame of mind at the time—unable to grasp the bounty of growth and experience that awaited me. But one of the hallmarks of a good therapist is the ability to recognize where I find myself in stories and in my personal mythology, all of which is easier to do when I share my dreams. As a result, the therapist can hold the space for the client to grow into. And that’s exactly what BTW did for me.

After years of inner work and a rigorous academic curriculum, this past Monday I finally walked the stage at McCaw Hall to receive my diploma. As far as I know, this is the first year commencement has been held at that venue–the same place where the Pacific Northwest Ballet performs season after season. And no, the significance was not lost on me. I was very well aware of the synchronicity of receiving my degree on that stage where the ballerinas dance lithely and gracefully with strength few people will ever know. They make their moves seem easy, when years of practice and training are required beforehand. I realized this on my own, after years of studying Jung and depth psychology. And the next day, BTW told me that she knew I was going to do something great all along. She knew that I was strong and capable of doing that which seemed impossible. And my dream came true. The dream from my unconscious, my true Self, that knew it was true all along.

As I move forward toward my goal of becoming a psychotherapist, I know that these last five years in psychotherapy are as important as my next two years in graduate school. The personal therapy is where I experience the work working for me and through me. It’s where I see the example modeled for me week after week—when to move forward, when to pull back—how to be a guide on the circumambulatory spiral. The work has been difficult and visceral, but also joyous and enlightening and I wouldn’t change a single moment of it. I have learned to align my outer goals with my inner Self, and in the process I set the stage to live my dreams.

Nearing the End

I can’t believe I am in the final five weeks of my undergraduate program! As I prepare to present my senior synthesis project, Dreams, Alchemy & the Tree of Life, I have been singing the Anima Mundi chant by Marilyn Strong. You can listen to Marilyn’s beautiful chant below, or find more of her work at Hands of Alchemy.

In one of my classes a few weeks ago, we gathered in small groups to share our personal “heart of darkness” stories.  Each person chose words and phrases that exemplified the stories and wrote them on the board. Tonight, we were given a typed copy of those phrases and our instructor suggested that we use them to construct a poem.

I marked my copy with random dots and wrote down the words that fell closest to the marks. Here is the result:

Being strong on the outside, fear projected violence.

A tiny gift in beautiful hands finds evil, fooled by the light in a down-trapped life.

Static hurt and great care realize tenderness.

Great hurt stalks, thinking darkness is lit, as beauty struggles with deconstruction unconscious.

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