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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.

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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.

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A Mandala of Me

The following is for my educational portfolio, which will have to demonstrate my proficiency in the liberal arts core competencies embodied by Antioch University:

A Mandala of Me

Mandalas are a form of art that is shared by many cultures including Tibetan monks and the indigenous people of North America. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung employed mandalas as a way to see a snapshot of the Self at the time it was created. I keep a sketchbook of personal mandalas as a way to hone my creative energy while practicing art therapy at the same time. Traditionally, a mandala (the Sanskrit word for circle) is divided into quarters and with this analogy I will describe my liberal arts competencies.

Critical and Creative Inquiry

One of the reasons I decided to finish my BA in Psychology was to ultimately get paid to do what I love in helping people find solutions. I realize that I already do that on a daily basis taking calls for a pest control company. I’m more than just an answering service in that I actually have to know how to assess a pest problem and explain to a potential client how we go about treating it and why they should choose my company. This capacity to help people is not enough for me and I want to do it on a more in-depth level, thus enter psychology. When I have downtime at work I surf the internet like anyone else would. But instead of frequenting celebrity gossip sites or hunting for recipes, I research psychological modalities, case studies and theories.

I keep three different journals: one for recording dreams, one for personal reflection and the mandala sketchbook. I also compose original songs that I sing and perform on the piano in my living room—sometimes for an audience, sometimes not. Through undergoing a personal Jungian analysis I have explored where these things come from and what they mean. Before being in therapy I would have said that the songs come from somewhere else, as though I was channeling them. But I now know that they come from me and owning that takes hubris and confidence—two things that I didn’t have for most of my life.

Self in Community

I have a history of agoraphobia and anxiety that has made it difficult to go out and be around people, therefore I’ve never volunteered at a charitable organization. However, several years ago, I did make 125 beaded bracelets for the My Stuff Bag Foundation, which provides personal duffel bags filled with toiletries, toys and blankets for children who were removed from their homes. But I certainly don’t see that as being nearly enough.

One of my goals in studying psychology is to devise and conduct studies that examine the link between obesity and child abuse. But just like I found there is meaning in music and art beyond the actual creation of it, I believe there is meaning in fat. Not just my fat but everyone’s fat. While I attempt to find that meaning I also have to come to terms with the fact that I’m an overweight woman who has to function in society. This is not always an easy task but I’ve made it my personal mission to be an advocate for myself so that I can be an advocate for others. One of the ways I have done this is by bringing the latest scientific research on obesity in the workplace to my general manager when I felt there was a bias against myself and other overweight women in my office. He and I had a private meeting to discuss my concerns, which ended with us both feeling like we had mutual understanding with no hard feelings.

Understanding the World

My ultimate goal in studying psychology is to open a private practice as a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist. Jungian psychology is different from other psychologies in that it acknowledges the Collective Unconscious. Archetypal symbols show up in dreams and creative endeavors and by understanding these images as they reveal themselves on a personal level then I will be better able to understand them on a global level. For instance, I have very little power in my work environment being the person with the least seniority among people who have been with the company for over a decade. Power is an archetypal energy that exists in my personal unconscious that I then project onto the management. Once I realized that power is projected from myself, then I could withdraw it and reclaim it for myself, like when I brought the issue of possible weight discrimination to my superiors. In turn, this view can and should be manifested in a global arena, especially when dealing with populations that are underserved.

The Journey

The final quadrant of the Mandala of Me is the journey. I am nowhere near the destination I envision through the completion of my goals. Even when I graduate Antioch I will still need to finish graduate school and pass a state exam in order to obtain licensure to practice. The time from start to finish is daunting and that’s when I focus on honoring this academic and soulful sojourn. As the platitude goes, it’s one day at a time. But it’s also one class or one professor or one reading at a time that can create the next level of awareness that transforms from the inside out.

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>March 18, 2010

Platitudes, Psychotherapy and Personal Growth: Finding Meaning in the Mundane

“What do you do for personal growth?” he asked me. I was at my third job interview at the age of 32. Not third interview for this job, mind you, but third interview of my life. I started working for my parents at the age of 14 and continued working for them for 18 years. I had a brief break my first quarter of college and for a few months when the entire family left cold, cloudy Cleveland for the sunny grand adventure of Las Vegas, where we would open a store and run it as a family. You would think I was brave, trekking across the country to face the unknown. But neon lights, burnished mountains and 110-degree heat had nothing on what ultimately claimed me—agoraphobia.

I’m not exactly sure when it started. Perhaps it was before we even left, as I was terrified of driving my car across the country. So we traded it in and took my then-husband’s car instead. And I didn’t drive again for nearly six years. There wasn’t a good reason for it, I just didn’t and no one really pressed me on it and so it was. When we bought a house, we chose one that was only a few blocks from my parent’s house so they could easily pick me up on their way to work. Then my husband or my sister would take me home from work. “Jenny doesn’t drive,” they would say. But that wasn’t entirely true. I had had my license since I was 17 and knew how to operate a vehicle. In fact, one night before heading home from work my sister got sick and asked me to drive us in her car. I was panicked and frightened and don’t think I ever approached the speed limit on the highway, but I did it. That was the only time. Well, the only time until my husband and I decided it was time to get a second car.

In 2003 we purchased the first brand new car either of us had ever owned. I don’t remember what the impetus was, only that it was to be my car to drive even if I was only going to drive it to work and back. And even though I had this new semi-mobility it didn’t cure me of my fear of going places alone. I didn’t do my own grocery shopping or pump my own gas and if my husband was with me, he was certainly the one doing the driving, not me.

Fast-forward four years in which we bypass my divorce, my first-ever sessions with a psychologist (who ultimately diagnosed me as agoraphobic), and a burgeoning new relationship with the man who holds my heart to this day. A wonderfully supportive man who helped me to take the first steps in my recovery and ultimately drove with me the 1300 miles from Las Vegas to Seattle (each driving exactly half of the 18 hour journey) to make a home and a life together. Isaias always told me I could do anything I wanted to do. It would take me a while to realize and eventually I did and am now reaping the rewards of that conviction.

Don’t think that I think of myself as some fairytale princess who just needed her Prince Charming to come and save her. My story is not that succinct. After my move I became depressed for the first time in my life. I had never been so far away from the family I was used to seeing every day and it was taking its toll on me. Once again I decided to seek therapy. My previous foray into psychotherapy was less than a success. I learned a few things, like how to “build on my successes” in terms of conquering my fear of driving. But over time I began to see my therapist as a parent-type and wasn’t being totally forthcoming with her for fear of being reprimanded like a child. I stopped going after just a few months. I found my current therapist through a referral from a friend’s therapist and have been seeing her regularly for almost three years. And she’s not just any therapist—she’s a Jungian psychotherapist. I don’t know why the fact that she was Jungian resonated with me. I certainly didn’t know much about Jung. I owned a copy of “Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” but I had never gotten more than 20 pages into it. The referral list I was given had about 8 names on it. I called several and left messages for all and made an appointment with the first one who called me back. Then BTW returned my call. I don’t know what it was about her but I knew she was the one. I made an appointment with her and called the first one back to cancel and I’m so glad I did.

My confidence in driving began to regress once I moved and I was scared about having to take the highway to a place I’d never been to meet a woman with whom I was going to share my most intimate fears. I don’t remember much except that she was very nice and welcoming and understanding. I had told her that I moved here with Isaias yet I felt alone because Isaias had family and everything here and “I have nothing.” She plucked that phrase and made it the focus of the session. Before our next meeting I was to make a list of “What I Have.” And I did. And with it came hope. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey that has brought me to where I am now.

“What do you do for personal growth?” asked my soon-to-be boss. I loved the question and I loved the interview—the most Zen, non-interview ever, of that I’m sure. I told him that I was a singer/songwriter/pianist and that I use music to express myself and attain personal growth. He told me that he had a master’s degree in counseling and I shared with him my experience of agoraphobia and recovery and that I was in therapy still working on it all. He told me what a mentor once told him: Pain is our birthright. We shook hands, said our goodbyes and I was offered the job a few hours later.

In the two years since then we’ve had the opportunity to “wax philosophical” on a few occasions. Most recently he told me of a Sanskrit phrase “Neti neti” which translates to “not this, not that.” He used it to illustrate how to describe what God is or what Love is—we don’t know what it is, but we do know what it is not. Neti neti. I didn’t know the extent of how this would resonate with me.

The New Year found me agitated and feeling stagnated. I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere with my life. Sure, my job paid well and I had learned skills I never thought I would but somewhere deep inside I wasn’t satisfied. Enter: Death. No, I’m not being emo and I didn’t attempt suicide or have a near-death experience. This is Death from The Endless. The sister to Dream, Desire, Delirium, Destruction, Despair and Destiny. The Death of the Sandman graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman. More simply, I changed the desktop background on my computer at work to an image of Death—a pretty Goth girl with a charming smile. Written on it was “You get what anyone gets. You get a lifetime.” The words haunted me. I found myself avoiding the text and her exuberant gaze. I had decided a year prior that I wanted to become a psychologist but I was just waiting to save enough money to go to school. But then there’s Death looming over me telling me my time will be up eventually. My 35th birthday was just two months away. I had no plans to go to school but if I didn’t go now, when was I going to go?

I had recently read an article on a blog called Zen Habits entitled “The World Needs You To Do What You Love.” It listed seven steps to get started on doing fulfilling work. Work doesn’t need to be boring and mundane. Work should be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid for it. One of the steps was to make time to attain your goal. So I made the time to research universities and make education my number one focus. I have applied to a state university and will apply to a private university soon. I already have my graduate school picked out. I am going to be a Jungian analyst with a private practice.

Oh yeah, Jung. Dr. Carl Gustav Jung. Remember when I said that something about Jungian therapy resonated with me? At the time I would have said, “hmmm, that’s kind of strange.” But now I would say that it was me connecting to the collective unconscious. Deciding to become a psychotherapist isn’t just a decision it’s part of my process of Individuation. I always knew I was an Introvert, but I didn’t know that Dr. Jung coined the term. BTW (Best Therapist in the World) told me early on that the answers to all of our problems were located in our unconscious. I nodded and I believed her but I didn’t think it would actually happen or realize the impact it would have on me when it did.

I feel like I’m part of a tradition. Carl Jung suffered a psychotic break when Sigmund Freud excommunicated him from the analytical community. Jung was able to heal himself by studying his Unconscious as it revealed itself in his dreams, paintings and visions. I, in turn, was able to heal myself (with BTW’s help) by heeding what my Unconscious was trying to impart to me. I’m also a part of another tradition. Many of Jung’s patients came to him after having been analyzed and told him that they had figured out what they wanted to do: they wanted to be an analyst just like him. This happened so frequently that Jung would slap his head and say “Not another one!”

And so it goes. Not this, not that. Neti neti. Eureka! I have found it! What do I do to attain personal growth? I grow. I continue to reach for that which will help me to actualize my full potential. A potential that wasn’t met in working in the family business or selling pest control and definitely not in hiding away, afraid to go out into the world. I embrace the difficult and the challenging so I can look back and say, “I accomplished that. What’s next? Bring it on.”

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