Friday, February 29, 2008

Recipe for a healthy psyche

These ideas come from my own “Jungian experiment,” and the writings of Jung, Marie Louise Von Franz, James Hillman, and Robert A. Johnson, among others. Try your own experiment and let me know what happens.

1. Get enough sleep and wake up slowly.
If possible, arrange your schedule so you can go to bed early and wake up without an alarm. I’ve noticed that when I’m able to sleep until my body wakes up naturally, I remember more of my dreams.

Studies have shown REM (dreaming) sleep is vital to psychological health. When experiment subjects were allowed to get non-REM sleep but were disturbed during the REM sleep cycle, they suffered from aggression, anxiety, and poor concentration. Scientists are finding that sleep is not only vital for physical rest but helps us maintain our emotional well-being.

2. Record your dreams.
Marie Louise Von Franz, Robert A. Johnson, James Hillman (and other Jungians I’ve studied) all maintain that recording dreams is the key method for enhancing or maintaining our psychological health. MLVF maintains that even if the dreamer doesn’t understand the images, the act of recording dreams has a powerful effect. I’ve found this to be true.

Several years ago, I began to capture my dreams with a digital recorder tucked under my pillow. After whispering them into the recorder, I would write them out. A few dreams were easier to interpret, but most were impenetrable to me. Still, after a few months of this practice, I began to have unexpected insights into my personality. I began to see myself in a new (not always flattering) light.

While I still can’t see into all my blind spots, having greater awareness of my inner dynamics, helps me make better choices.

3. Give yourself time to daydream.
Jungians believe that the unconscious part of our personality reveals itself during creative activities or when we daydream. Using “down-time” to let my mind wander allows my worries, ambitions, or hidden wishes to emerge and reveal themselves. Blink and
similar books have documented that much of our inner life occurs outside our conscious awareness. Quiet meditation or other introspective moments can allow us to catch a glimpse of these inner workings.

4. Question your moods.
Similar to dreams and fantasies, moods can give us great clues to our inner world. Paying attention to the fluctuations of our feelings (especially after a dream or upon waking) provides more input. Even if I don’t know why I’m anxious, or depressed, noting my feelings is an important first step. Asking the question “why” will lead to an answer. (I’ve found this to be true.)* The answer may come through a dream, a fantasy image, or just a sudden understanding.

Moods are our psyche’s tool to give us information about our inner and outer world. I may not know why I’m angry until I eventually replay the swift events at work and realize I was subtly flogged by a passive aggressive co-worker. Part of me registered the jabs and felt angry before my conscious self realized what happened. In the same way that we watch physical symptoms for signs of illness, paying attention to moods helps us stay healthy. The psyche tells me what is nurturing and what is not. If I give myself what my psyche craves (within reason) I’ll be much happier.

An obvious example: I love gardening, but hate accounting. A job in accounting would be disastrous for me. I know this because of my inner reactions when faced with accounting. This seems obvious, yet most of us ignore at least some of our inner promptings. What moods do you ignore?

*(Asking a question of the unconscious has also worked for artists and inventors. There are many
stories of dreams providing the solution to a creative problem. Jungians believe that our unconscious can provide lots of info—about our inner and outer world).

5. Engage the imagery/personalities that emerge in your dreams.
Draw, sculpt, journal, dance. Jung and his disciples have emphasized that building a bridge between your unconscious and conscious mind requires a willingness to engage in the imagery of your dreams and daydreams. No matter how confusing, frightening, or bizarre, we should creatively express these inner realities in an outer form. Artistic talent isn’t necessary. The goal isn’t to create art but to consciously engage with these images (in a playful way).

Yesterday I had a dream about snakes. They were plush-toy-bloated, sleepy snakes in iridescent colors. Despite their harmless appearance, I was frightened because I had to crawl over them.

I couldn’t decipher a message. Still, the imagery was powerful and stayed with me through the morning. Instead of taking the time to draw the snakes (drawing dream images is recommended. Jung himself kept a notebook of dream drawings.) I googled a description of them and found several examples. I printed these pictures and put them throughout my house so I could walk over them.

Seems silly, yes? But experiment. You’ll be surprised at how, over time, working with your dreams can increase your self-knowledge.

Another tool for engaging with the unconscious is “
Active Imagination,” a technique of having a dialogue between two archetypal parts of oneself. It isn’t easy and should be approached with caution. (For people prone to psychotic breaks, this method could be dangerous. For some, the boundaries between unconscious and conscious imagery is too fragile and active imagination should only be tried with a professional.)

But, if I’m psychologically stable, I can try more formal dialogues or at least begin to acknowledge the characters that consistently emerge in my dreams and fantasies.

If I have a dark, dangerous figure who is always in my dreams I might name him. I might write out our inner conversation. I might draw a picture of him and ask him a question. I If I do this, a new dream or daydream will come to give me more information and our dialogue can continue.

I’ve found these ideas helpful. Maybe you will too? Experiment on yourself and watch. These practices take time but have been powerful for many seekers.
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Thursday, February 28, 2008

American Zen for Thursday

Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find
A thousand regions of your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them and be
Expert in home-cosmography.

Henry David Thoreau
No more to read on this post even though Blogger says
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reflections on "The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean.

I’ve been re-reading, MLVF’s “Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales.” Like most of her books, this is a transcribed lecture filled with insights gleaned from decades of analytical work—both on herself and for her patients.

One chapter explored the Grimm tale, “
The Straw, the Coal and the Bean.” Some websites call this a “household tale.” Von Franz describes it as a Schwank –a joke-story. MLVF notes that this joke (like all humor) has many “dark” elements.

After admitting that she finds these stories the hardest to interpret, Von Franz dissects each image in the tale: the old woman, the act of cooking, the fire, the straw, coal, bean, bridge, tailor, and thread.

Does she ruin a joke with these “amplifications” and interpretation? MLVF admits that the joke itself (as the dream itself) is always better than any interpretation. Read the original (above) and see what you think. Do you want more info, or is the tale satisfying enough alone?

As you might have guessed, I’m always curious for more suggestions regarding symbols and images.

My favorite amplifications concern the bridge. According to Von Franz, the bridge links the unconscious to consciousness. She says that the straw has associations with pagan rituals and the underworld. It is an image linked to the unconscious. Like an unconscious impulse, the straw lacks self-knowledge—thinking it can build a bridge toward consciousness, when it cannot. The coal also lacks self-knowledge—it is hotheaded. Von Franz writes, “(the coal) becomes frightened at hearing her own opposite! Water and fire are the great opposites….if you get to the middle of the bridge that unites the opposites; you cannot cross it if you don’t know your own opposite. That is why you cannot be changed in analysis if you don’t know your own shadow, if you don’t know that all your ideals have a very seamy underside. Without that awareness, you can’t cross into new life. There’s no transition without a confrontation of the opposites.”

The image of the bursting bean is perfect, isn’t it? Why? It must be an archetypal image. It is provocative. In the movie, “Alien” it was a horrible sight, but here it is funny. A little bean popping open the way it would if cooked too long. Here, the bean laughs too hard. Any extreme can lead to a breaking apart.

The bean laughs at the misfortune of the others and so has great misfortune himself—then we mirror the story and laugh at the bean. It is charming--the tale ensures that you’ll recall it when eating a bean. Like all traditional tales (MLVF says this story is very ancient), The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean has many layers of possible meanings, including several cautions about how to live.
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Reflections on the Academy Awards

Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell spent their lives helping us comprehend the mythic world.

Movies (and the stars who make them) express that world.

Last night I, with about 43.5 million other Americans
(figure from Andrew Hearst’s blog), watched the Academy Awards. I was inspired, especially during the montages honoring past winners. Sure, these stars have an army of stylists and I’m always fascinated by their incredible gowns and jewelry. But it is the great heart of certain actors that moves me.

I’ve spent much of my life working with actors. If you’ve ever personally known performers (at any level of accomplishment), you know they belong to a unique stock. Their calling (for the greatest actors, there is always an artistic/religious-type calling to their work) requires the openness and curiosity of a child, and the ability to delve into and express all emotional states. Actors must be bigger than (daily) life.

Since most of us tremble when speaking in front of a few others (pollsters find that
public speaking is ranked more frightening than death) an actor’s ability to perform in front of millions is remarkable. That actresses during an Oscar telecast can gracefully cross the large stage in the highest heels and the longest gowns never ceases to amaze me. (I tremble for them everytime they cross the stage!)

I’m awed by the incredible talent of some actors, and by the enormous heart of others. Yes, it’s true that I don’t know these people. You think I’m simply imagining (a Jungian would say “
projecting”) their qualities? Perhaps. And it’s true that we all have a dark side (the Jungian Robert Johnson says the greater our creativity, the greater our dark counterpoint).

Still, when I watch certain acceptance speeches and see such grace, eloquence, and passion, I do sense a greatness of heart. Astonishing talent + a huge heart = a sublime actor who stirs hearts and souls. We become star-struck by this actor (or athlete—the Super Bowl and the Oscars are both wildly popular for the same reason). The elite actor/athlete expresses God-like talents. We see ourselves or what we hope to be. We see the ideal--what is possible for a human being to achieve.

We may gossip about their lives and criticize their fashion, but actors, through their exuberance and passion for life, bring us to the mythic realm. Watch this
replay of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s acceptance speech from 1997 (also replayed last night) for a sample. Try not to smile.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Zen for Sunday

All significant battles are waged within the self.
End of post even though Blogger says
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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Thoughts on "The Wolf and the Seven Kids"

Today I’ve been contemplating “The Wolf and the Seven Kids,” a grim Grimm tale with a happy ending. Based on my google research, this title seems to be a favorite for storytellers. I’ve found storytelling cue cards, several children’s books on the tale, and three different videos on YouTube. My favorite is a shadow-puppet version linked here.

I’m not finding a way to retell this tale--but I am contemplating it.

I’m stuck by the violence. I’m supposed to side with the little kid-goats but the image of mother-goat cutting into the wolf’s belly haunts me. Why doesn't the wolf wake up to this surgery? He is practically comatose from his greedy meal. What can this mean?

Does our excessive greediness put us to sleep? Does it prevent us from responding to the healthy spiritual calls inside and outside of us?

Like Jonah in the whale, the little kids resurrect after being swallowed. I am comforted that many of these fairy tales insist that Goodness is stronger than evil.(Capitalized word intended.) Even when it seems that innocence is destroyed; beauty, truth, and love do persevere under the surface. The mother goat believed this. She looked for signs of life and was fearless in confronting wickedness. Because of this, she was able to release the innocent kids trapped within the insatiable wolf.
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Friday, February 22, 2008

Happy Friday.

Instead of a story or koan today, I’m posting one juicy link,
Encyclopedia Mythica-- a fabulous mother lode of myths!
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

A new story for "Frau Trude"

Today's tale, “Frau Trude” is a change of pace. We've mostly been looking at happy endings-but not today!

I think the original fairy tale is more than a “mind your parents” cautionary fable. It speaks to the dangers of naïve and unbridled curiosity--a risk for all ages.

Jamie watched the shadows on the ceiling. Their movements depicted a battle between light and darkness. She was part of the story too. A valiant maiden, fighting for truth and freedom. Her parents (represented by the black smudge in the corner) were the cruel tyrants to be overthrown.

Jamie saw the entire saga playing simultaneously on the ceiling, in her mind, and in the cryptic lyrics pulsing through her ipod. She wanted to write it all down, but the mystical tale was moving too fast and she was very tired. She'd taken a higher dose of the shroom than before. Too much? She felt faint.

Eight hours later Jamie was ready for more. She'd be more careful this time to get the perfect dose so she could record the brilliant messages coming to her through the TV, the fish tank, the stars and most especially, the trees.

But when she went to find her stash (perhaps she'd just do the pot and save the mushrooms for another day) it was gone. Confiscated by her captors.

There was no use confronting them. They'd simply yell or lecture or threaten her. But what could they threaten? No prison was worse than this house. She'd warned them to leave her things alone. She'd warned them.

It was a Friday night and her tormentors were leaving. Perfect. She'd have a head start.

Jamie grabbed cash from her hiding places, and a duffle bag. She'd travel light. She couldn't hitch with a suitcase. Besides, she didn't need much. Just some more money.
A trip to the ATM proved lucrative. If she were frugal, she'd have enough for a month or more. She'd get a job with the fake ID Kira had provided.

In three days, she was in Berkeley. So poppin! If only she’d been born 30 years earlier. To be here during the summer of love? Epic!!!!

Her first evening in town, she found a party. Was she the youngest there? Hard to say. Most looked like college gowns but there were some townees--girls who looked 14. Jamie studied them. Could they tell she was in their grade? She tried to stand tall and stick out her chest. She told the group she was 17.

She was hungry for a hit of something-pot, speed, something. But this group, however friendly, ignored her less than subtle hints. Did they think she was a NARC?

Crap! Here she was in friggin Berkeley, CA and no drugs??? A Monday night and no way to get high? She'd have to ditch this party. It was too bad, the guys were cute and the vibe was awesome. Everyone was beautiful and sexy and fun. She was meeting film people and musicians.

An older woman (was she 35?) sat in the corner, surrounded by a harem of eager, young guys. Frat boys? She was telling them a story and they were screaming with laughter. Were they high?

Jamie inched closer and smiled. The woman, Trudy, beckoned her closer. Trudy's eyes sparkled and her smile was like a bank of camera flashes. She sent the male harem away and cuddled on the couch with Jamie, asking her questions.

Jamie felt like a princess, chosen by the Queen to have a visit. She told Trudy her new improved bio-much more glamorous than the real thing. They shared pizza and coke and finally Jamie steered their talk to drugs.

“Are you looking to get high tonight?” The Queen’s smile widened. Jamie wondered if perhaps Trudy had bleached her teeth once too often. The shocking white glow now appeared almost blue.

“Yes,” Jamie whispered, “do you have something I could buy?”

Trudy pulled Jamie closer. “I have something very special for you. A mixture very powerful…”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Are you sure?” Trudy sang this question and then laughed.

“I'm not afraid.”

“Good. I didn't think so.”

Jamie swallowed the large pill and then lay down on the couch, her head on Trudy's lap. The light in the room began to dance and conversations looped back on themselves. She'd hear the start of a joke, then the end, then the middle, then the start again. The room seemed broken up into fragments of time and space. Jamie laughed.

“Right… be…. be… back…. right…” Trudy’s words echoed as she moved off the couch. She moved off the couch again and again. Finally, Jamie stretched out and closed her eyes to enjoy the music. Then she felt a tickle near her face. She opened her eyes and saw an enormous cat sitting near her head. She pulled her arms over her face.

Jamie peeked out through her fingers. The cat was still there. It was planning to scratch her. Jamie wanted to scream but she was too relaxed. Her body wouldn't move.

She peeked again. Now there were two cats hovering over her, large and cartoon-like. Jamie swatted the air and one cat scratched her hand. She pulled back again and covered her face.

She listened to the punk playing in the background. She tried to breathe deeply and focus on the beat. “Trudy?” She murmured.

“Yes, dear. Yes, dear. Yes, dear.” Jamie heard Trudy's voice echoing. She peaked through her fingers to look. The two cats and now 20 other eyes were staring down at her.


“Yes, dear, nothing to worry about….”

The eyes gathered nearer. Jamie felt herself lifted and moved to another room. The eyes followed close by. Then the room became white light as Jamie's mind when dark. ©Lewis-Barr 2008
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Dark Side

Both fairy tales and Jungian psychology can emphasize the dark side of life. I’ve been working on an adaptation of "Frau Trude" yesterday and today (will post tomorrow)—a story steeped in harsh realities.

Also yesterday, the Chicago Tribune ran
“Happiness is overrated, author claims; savor the sorrow.” The article looked at the need to integrate sorrow into our lives. Here’s the the book discussed in the article.

If all goes to plan, I should have the new story tomorrow. In the meantime, if you’re in the mood for fairy tales or my adaptations of them, check out some of my previous posts, they’ll be categorized as ‘contemporary Brothers Grimm.” Here are three reader favorites:
“The Seven Ravens,” a longer three-part story, “The Sisters of Sundance,” and
Elf Magic.”
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Story and thoughts on "Mother Holle"

Barb majored in theatre in college. After graduation, she waitressed and auditioned, auditioned and waitressed. She got small roles but never broke through to the top tiers of local casting.

The years passed quickly. Barb continued to waitress. She got married, had children, and shelved her dreams, “until the kids were older.” Depression haunted her days.

At 39, feeling stuck, Barb took up playwriting. Perhaps this would be the vehicle for breakthrough. She wrote diligently and networked. She won some contests but never achieved commercial success.

Now, at 49, Barb tells me she’s “stuck.” She dreams of flying and freedom but daily life offers no such liberty. She’s been a good mom, a good wife, a good neighbor. She performs a litany of daily tasks and ignores her frustrations and envy. She tells me “it’s too late, my dreams are finished.”

Fairy tales often show a hero lost, or stuck in an impossible place, with an impossible task. Then, a friend emerges or a door opens. What door can open for Barb (or myself), stuck in similar ruts of middle age? Where will the breakthrough emerge? Will it come from plunging deeper into the mundane duties of daily life?

Today’s tale, “
Mother Holle,” is similar to “The Three Little Men in the Woods.” Both stories show heroines performing mundane tasks. We can see these tales as simply instructions to young girls—“be good, work hard, and good things will come to you,” But if MLVF is correct, these tales concern the psyche. The hard work of sweeping, cooking, or cleaning, is a metaphor of tending to our moods, feelings, and thoughts.

Today, I’ve thought of Barb as I journaled about my own regrets and yearnings. Like Barb, I long to burst through the requirements of daily life.

Today’s tale encourages me to keep working on my inner self and trust the process.
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Zen for Monday

If you cannot find the truth where you are,
where do you expect to find it?

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Video of Marie Louise Von Franz

I haven't been too successful finding new websites about MLVF, so I was happy to find this clip. It's an unusual chance to hear the great Jungian scholar and analyst (she died in 1998). In this interview she's talking about two complementary mythic systems: alchemy and Christianity. Read more!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A story and comments on "The Three Little Men in the Woods"

Did you notice a theme last week? I was writing about holding silent and then jumped the gun on some blog posts. A synchronicity?

(If you don’t believe in
synchronicities, that’s ok, consider this an apophenia moment).

I’ve been reading “The Three Little Men in the Woods” and trying to find a modern parallel. Found one in my experience at work yesterday. Weird. Another synchronicity?

If you want to read the fairy tale first,
here it is.

Here’s my story.

I’ve spent most of my life in counter-cultural work (massage therapist, theatre director) or freelance, office-free positions (massage therapist, part-time college professor). My new job involves office work, and all the politics and personalities of a bureaucracy. Now, if I had to be in my windowless office full time, I’d be unhappy. But I’m blessed to be able to work half-time, and I find this new environment fascinating. I’m especially intrigued by the psychological/emotional churnings beneath serene surfaces.

When I walk through the corridors and cubicles of my new world, I visualize a minefield or the dark woods featured in many fairy tales. As a newbie, I cannot know of all the previous in-fighting or schemes between co-workers. My strategy is to listen well and watch for clues.

Perhaps it’s because of my previous travails, or my ego isn’t as involved in this work; whatever the reason, I have felt myself “centered” at work. When colleagues ignore a request or send me a cryptic email, I’ve been skillful at getting them to talk to me and express their fears. Because I’m generally happy and confident in this place, I can extend kindness. Without fail, when I offer a friendly response, I’ve seen my co-workers’ anger or defensiveness melt away.

Yesterday, however, I was the angry worker. “Betsy” was supposed to help me prepare some documents for publication. I had pressing deadlines and it seemed (to me) that she was passing the buck and doing little to help me. In the past, when faced with such bureaucratic tangles, I would trust that my colleagues were working with me. That trust in their good intentions brought out their best and together we maneuvered around obstacles.

But in this case, I deeply resented Betsy and her methods. I tried calling her but she wouldn’t answer her phone. My anxiety and anger increased and seeped into several emails we exchanged.

Before sending another frantic note, I called again. Betsy answered.

“I’m freaking out,” I said.

“You want to come down and look at the proofs I printed for you?” Betsy’s voice didn’t betray an emotion.

“No, I’m freaking out, can we just send them to the printer?”

“You don’t want to look at the proofs?” Betsy asked.

(This had been my passive-aggressive request—asking Betsy to quickly print another set of drafts for me.)

“No. They’re ok. I don’t want to take any more time.”

Betsy told me to email her the request.

“Ok, I’ll do that right now.”

I hung up. What had happened? Our contact had been brief but my impatience was palpable. I’d become possessed by some hysteric. Would I become the talk of the marketing department? Dana, my office-mate pursed her lips.

“You need to be careful to keep on their good side,” she murmured.

Crap. Have I screwed up this important contact? I was mortified but tried to stay positive. In the evening, I retold the saga to my hubby. This morning I read “The Three Little Men in the Woods.”

Like the hero in the story, I have had a cycle of good deeds. My kindnesses have produced more kindness in others and my mouth has been “dropping gold coins.” Feeling centered, I’ve been able to offer good judgment and well-timed words.

But there is another part of my psyche that got triggered by Betsy. Overtaken by the evil stepmother (my negative affect, or “complex”) my “Queen-self” is replaced by this other part of my personality. (Have you had this experience and wondered, “who was that person inhabiting my body?”)

Luckily, as in the story, the Queen isn’t completely gone, she’s regressed to an animal that swims in waters (the emotions). Claiming my own emotional reality (“I’m freaking out”) is the best I can do with a negative affect. Using “I” statements is often the only tool I have to get me across these rough waters.

Of course, Betsy didn’t see the Queen-in-me, just a frantic duck in the water, but that’s the best I could muster. And owning “my stuff” meant less harm to our relationship.

I thought of the encounter throughout the day. It wasn’t until later, in retelling the story, that I realized my own shadow connection to Betsy (we share a “lazy” quality that I hate). This is probably why she triggered me. Laboring at this new understanding is like waving a sword of discrimination over the duck. By working at self-knowledge, I can regain my regal center and communicate with more grace.

And what about the title? Who are the three little men? While Jung might not agree, I see them as symbols of the Higher Self—a Trinity-God within who sets in motion the rewards and punishments we internally seek.

The final image of the story is fierce and one that I’ve read in other tales. To be trapped in a small barrel filled with nails reminds me of being trapped in our own tiny perspectives and tortured by my own projections and complexes.
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Good Brain Food from C.G. Jung

I can't always comprehend Jung's writings but this quote is a good one for me to chew on and it concerns fairy tales.

"The concept of the archtype . . . is derived from the repeated observation that, for instance, the myths and fairytales of the world literature contain definite motifs which crop up everywhere. We meet the same motifs in the fantasies, dreams, deliria, and delusions of individuals living today. These types of images and associations are what I call archtypal ideas. The more vivid they are, the more they will be colored by particularly strong feeling-tones . . . They impress, influence, and fascinate us."

"This represents The Archtype exercising the principle of Syncronicity, an acausal connecting principle. All things are connected to one another. In physics these days utilizing the Membrane Theory they count eleven dimensions of space and time. All of these are connected on the sub-atomic level. Everything is connected to everything else. Touching the membrane of the universe here or there causes an equal effect somewhere..."

from "The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche" collected works 8, p. 213.C.G. Jung: Read more!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Apology to Readers

Caught a grammar gaffe. Ouch! I get so excited to post that I sometimes hit the “publish” button and then see the mistake. (I do read my entries but my excitement sometimes overtakes my proofing skills. And you probably already know that I have gaps in my grammar knowledge.) But this was a bigger, more obvious boo-boo. Sorry!

Now I feel better. Been haunted for days.

Of course, the postings get corrected as soon as I catch the goof (today’s miss: a link I added after I published). But I realize that the published links float around in feeds and other places.

Sorry! Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa.

I can’t promise it won’t happen again but I guarantee I work hard on these posts!

Happy Valentines Day to you.
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Holding the Question--Musings for Today

The great challenge of writing is choosing what to express and what to leave out. When there’s so much action, within and outside of me, this is a daunting task. I’m always pulled in conflicting directions.

Been working on an idea previously mentioned, a story of maintaining silence when the psyche needs it. I’ve been struggling to describe this subtle non-happening. Nothing clicks. Then I realize I’m living a version of this tale.

I’ve been striving to carve out little moments of quiet—so I can hear myself think. I need clarity. How do I reconcile my contradictions? I’m living on two tracks: work-time in the corporate-training world, and spare-time in the mythic/Jungian/writing realm. I want to write about both but there isn’t enough time. And what do I want, two blogs???

So I’ve been sitting and listening and waiting.

I hold the question.

Answers always come when I wait for them. But if I short-circuit the process, I’m like the Fisherman in “The Gold Children," losing my inner wealth because I talked too soon.

I’ll be quiet now.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chipmunks are singing—Reflections on a Warmer Day

Yesterday, all the messages in my Yahoo inbox disappeared. My other folders remained intact but the six--hundred inbox messages: gone.

Yahoo had no explanation. My friends were baffled. No one could explain why this had happened. But strange events always happen to me.

Daily life is a weird dream that I watch and walk through.

I was raised Catholic but now I’m a Jungian. I believe in sychronicities and symbolism and the mythic realm. How should I interpret my disappearing files? Something lost or obliterated within myself?

Or maybe I’m too attached to interpreting? I cross a parking lot and there is a dead bird, lying near my car. I never see dead birds, but there it is, a cardinal, stiff. Later, as I meditate at the edge of a small pond, a huge, blue heron settles down on the other side. He seems to be watching me.

I know. I think too much. It is my dubious calling. To record the dramas exploding under everyday life.

(Chipmunks are chirping now. And eating squash seeds I’ve left for them.)

I’ve done some writing and the Voice is satisfied. For now. I’ve wrestled with my angels or demons. (Are they the same?)

(The chipmunk’s jowls are bulging with seeds.)
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jungian 60137

Thought I'd share a longer article I've written for a local college magazine. It explores my recent "Jungian experiment," as well as dream analysis, and my interview with analyst Stephen Martz. Read more!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Thoughts on Grimm’s “The Gold Children.”

If you read this fairy tale you’ll recognize a variation of “The Fish and the Fisherman.” Many of these stories have similar symbols and characters but then take a different path. What might the variations mean?

MLVF (hyperlinked here) has written that fairytales can be read as illustrations of a single psyche or an entire cultural (collective) mindset. But analyzing a culture is too hard for me. I’ll stay with a smaller project, thinking of the meanings for an individual.

The husband and wife are poor. But the psyche is fishing in the deep waters of the unconscious, looking for inner wealth. There is wealth in the unconscious life of this person, but he reveals his inner process too soon.

(What inner knowledge have I shared too soon? When have I talked too much? I know many people who don’t give themselves enough incubating time. Time at a window, sitting silent. How can one find inner riches without enough quiet time? )

After three false starts, the fish offers himself up. Some part of the unconscious is now ready to come to the surface and create--to birth beautiful ideas. Now the couple doesn’t have a superficially lavish life, as before, but they have more profound wealth--gifted children, beauty linked to the children, and a golden means of transport. (Transporation, a vehicle, takes us through our world. What moves us around? We might interpret this as our ideas, occupations, or our bodies.)

Now the story focuses on the children. They are gifted but, because of their wealth, have their own travails. I’m guessing, based on MLVF’s writings, that she would interpret the stag dream and the witch as “mother issues” in the boy’s psyche. He has done well at knowing when to show his inner wealth and when to protect himself (not throw pearls before swine) but there is a sinister element in his psyche that stalks him (even as he stalks the stag). The witch’s dog may be the boy’s own violent and unstable instincts around women.

Thankfully, there is another psychological element (or outside force?) that awakens and offers help. The spell is broken and the psyche thrives.

The idea of hiding one’s wealth (protecting the inner riches of the psyche) is repeated 4 times in this tale. How would that theme translate in a story for today? I’ll attempt that soon.
Read more!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Turned to Stone--thinking of themes in Queen Bee

I can feel overwhelmed with trying to tackle an adaptation of a new Grimm tale daily, (a quick view of this blog proves that this is my goal, not the reality)! So today, I thought I’d take a small piece of Queen Bee and write a story centered on it--the motif of characters turned to stone. I’ve found it in a good number of the Grimm stories such as The Two Brothers, Faithful John, and The Gold Children. This metaphor, describing the very real threat of losing our psychological suppleness (as we age) haunts me. How many of us, in “middle-age,” become cemented in our fears and outlook? As we experience the tumult and heartbreaks of life, do we expand or contract? Are we able to grow (often through surrendering our deepest held beliefs and desires) or do we get stuck? (We often think showing “responsibility” requires shutting down our desires and being stoic, but if we take the word apart respons--ibility is the ability to respond.)

I could write of a man who ignores the deeper callings of his soul. Then this soul, after many years, begins to atrophy and harden until no feeling-self is left. But that story isn’t working for me—probably because it is too bleak for my taste. Even the most violent fairy tales aren’t that oppressive! And the great Leo Tolstoy has already written this tale (albeit with a better ending). If you haven’t read (or are ready to revisit) the moving, The Death of Ivan Ilych, here it is. Read more!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Time to Surf

Instead of a story, I’ve been doing some surfing this morning…. Here are some sites worth checking out.

Found a wonderful article by Joseph Campbell (reprinted on various websites including the Gnostic-priest blog here).

In that same vein, the Joseph Campbell Mythology group has pages chock-full of info.

I'll also be spending time at Endicott Studios a site I discovered through

Another lively and dynamic site is Mythic Imagination Institute--check it out.

Happy Reading. Read more!

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Queen Bee

I’m revisiting today’s story, “The Queen Bee,” one of the many “Simpleton” or “Dummling” tales in the Grimm collection. I’ve previously looked at how these tales illustrate a healthy psyche—a person in tune with their instincts (the animals in the stories). Today I’m thinking of a more basic theme of these exceedingly optimistic fairy-tales. The stories (at least those I’ve read so far) say, not merely, “trust your own instincts and internal drives” but also “you can trust the World Spirit-God-Nature-the Universe” (whatever label you use). If you live simply, naively, and with an open heart, life works out.

That’s a radical thought. And a reassuring one.

I often feel like a Dummling in my own life. My choices tend to be counter-cultural. I'm slow to adopt (or even understand) the latest in technology or fashion. In clothing (when I’m not putting on a corporate trainer persona) I can tend toward frumpy. I often shop resale and dress for comfort. I’ve never had fashionable nails so that I can work in my garden or give my hubby a massage. I walk everywhere. And most importantly, I follow my instincts regarding my work. Majoring in Drama wasn’t the shrewdest business choice. And what is this blog anyway? How could it possibly help me in my life? I’m a Dummling in this, naïve and trusting.

Read a Dummling tale today. Would that the world was full of Dummlings! Read more!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Thinking about "The Three Feathers"

Been searching online all morning for an excerpt from Conor McPherson’s play, “Shining City.” Saw it recently at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. I was looking for a posting of the lengthy monologue from the show. It's a brilliant description of a man’s experience of falling in love (or at least lust) and it seems a perfect response to today’s story, “The Three Feathers.” In her writings, MLVF (see post below) describes one theme of this fairy tale as a man's "descent" to find his hidden feeling, “feminine” self. What's another (psychological) metaphor for this event? Falling in love.

But, try as I might to tackle this theme with a fresh tale, I can’t find the man’s viewpoint (at least this morning)of “falling in love.” Hence, my search for the dazzling (at least 30 minute) monologue. It expertly explores the confusion and euphoria of this “fall.”

Sorry, I can’t find it. If you’re curious, you’ll have to read or see the play. Or maybe you have another story of your own?

Also--just discovered the Internet Sacred Text archive. Have you seen it? Wow. Read more!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Seven Ravens

Today’s meditation is on The Seven Ravens (check out this cool site from National Geographic) from The Brothers Grimm. I had fun with the bird imagery…..

The O’Brien family produced seven sons in rapid succession. Each became a priest and rose in the hierarchy to become important clerics. The seven brothers, dressed in long black robes, analyzed and debated ecclesiastical law from their lofty posts in Vatican City.

Perched in this sublime world, the brothers rarely contacted their aging parents or their younger sister. Mary had disappointed them. Instead of earning a law degree, as they’d hoped, she’d dropped out of school and become a massage therapist. A massage therapist! How could she throw away her mind and become a new-age….yes, they would say it….prostitute!

They made excuses to avoid contact with her and many years passed.

Mary loved massage. She loved the way she felt when, focusing on a rock-like muscle, she felt it relax under her hand. Massage was movement—a dance of meditation—an exploration of time, space, and breath.

But the work was also unsteady and her money tight. Mary dreamed of visiting her brothers in Rome but such a trip seemed impossible.

Then, one afternoon, she received a call. She’d won a drum set from the “Starlight” raffle she’d entered. A heavenly gift! She quickly sold the set and bought airfare to Rome. But on her first day exploring Vatican City, Mary lost all of her little remaining cash. A pickpocket.

Mary sat at a café, disoriented. Should she go to the police? Call her family at home?

She noticed some young women in short skirts huddled near the street. Another woman was sitting on a bench, in distress. Mary walked over. The young hooker, Jolina, was in pain. Mary began to work on her shoulders and soon had worked on the entire group, earning enough money for food and lodging.

The next day Mary, with the help of her new friends, set up a small sign near a chair in the town square. “Backrubs: 1 euro for 1 minute.” She worked there all day, meeting tourists and locals in that glorious setting--until the police chased her away. For the next few days, as she searched for her brothers, Mary continued setting up her sign wherever she could--on more remote streets, or in hotel lobbies. She’d even visit hotel rooms. But this last choice was dangerous. Mary had to fight off several men who grabbed her. But through humor and quick thinking she was able to finish the massage without incident. But she was shaken. She’d have to find her brothers tomorrow or she’d go home. She couldn’t risk another disgusting encounter.

The next day Mary finally found the Papal Law Offices. She asked for her eldest brother—telling the clerk that she was there to provide glenohumeral joint (shoulder blade) therapy. She tried to sound official. This was the only anatomy she could remember. Remarkably, after a few minutes, she was escorted into a large conference room.

The first brother came in. He didn’t recognize Mary and was suspicious of her offer. But as soon as she began to work on his shoulders, he melted into a blissful mystic. He called his next brother who called the next, until Mary had refashioned each. They sat in a circle, eyes glazed. Their previous worries and duties had flown and they were now peaceful lumps of earth—happy in their current moment of no-thought.

Each in their own way felt a tiny rebirth to themselves. They resolved—they would not jump back into their “head-trips” and workaholic ways.

And then finally, they recognized their sister and her gift. They laughed and hugged and spoke for many hours, beginning a new journey of discovery. Read more!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Between Heaven and Earth--A short story

She was a television stereotype--the fierce medicine woman--a spindly powerhouse who pokes you with urns of pig feet and lichen. Clutching an old spaghetti jar filled with musty brown stems, she walks me through her sprawling home. Every room contains long tables covered with clear jars. Silent daughters organize the pungent merchandise recently harvested from a forest floor. I follow closely. We are discussing the fungus I’ve ingested. Have I taken too much? Bloody Mary (was she in South Pacific?) seems matter-of-fact and her daughters unconcerned. I shouldn’t worry. I am headed for a truly spectacular high.

I wake up reeling. It is 4:30am. Stumbling to the bathroom, I try to remain asleep. To get high on mushrooms in a dream? An altered state within an altered state! I must get back to sleep and find Bloody Mary. But it is too late. The dream is gone. I lie in bed and massage ideas for a short story.

Three hours later I am surrounded by high-end shops in a fashionable Las Vegas casino. Twelve college students, perfect specimens between 20-25 years, huddle close to hear me. The mall is loud. This section has been designed to resemble a Renaissance Italian village. Gondola drivers sing while paddling their obese tourists. But most of the rumble of noise comes from the crowds of happy consumers sipping coffee, eating ice cream, and browsing through expensive leather boutiques.

“The key to flying,” I begin, “is to focus the mind.” At “mind” I bring my thoughts to a still point in the center of my skull. I slowly ascend off the ground. Hovering ten feet above the group, I ignore the shoppers beginning to point. “Flying should be effortless—all that is required is the mental ability to hold oneself aloft. To help with focus, I sometimes start with a movement like this.” I bend each elbow and lightly push down each arm close to my sides, creating a streamlined figure. I rise higher. “To move in all directions: up, down, left, right, or a combination of these, simply dictate this with a CLEAR thought.”

A blond athlete stretches forth his hand and points. “What about this? This is how they did it in that Crouching Tiger movie.” He doesn’t budge. A shy brunette begins to rise.

“Movements are only important if they help you focus your mind,” I say. “Flight comes from the mind.”

“What about this?” The weightlifter is flapping his arms. Others laugh as two more slowly rise and join me hovering above.

“What do you think?” I say with a smile. A few more join the group overhead. “The rest of you keep experimenting. We are going for a practice flight,” I say. I lean forward and the others mimic me. We are now horizontal. I think “forward-up” and begin to glide along the manufactured streets of an indoor Italy. Since flying is a skill that one learns through personal trial and error, I do not lecture much. I do not even look back as I accelerate faster and faster. They will find a way to keep up.

I sometimes like to run personal errands above the ground but today we are gliding for the sheer joy of speed and weightlessness. To fly is not to be a disembodied spirit but to feel one’s body as lean, light, and quick. We dart along the 3rd floor balconies that line the winding streets and I watch the shoppers from above. Bald heads, dark roots. From 300 feet up, everyone looks squat.

I make a sudden turn and quickly duck. The ceilings are covered with a danger--circling fans. We have entered the smoke-filled casino. I want to check my charges but need to keep my eyes focused ahead. Pit bosses flay and there is a sound of sirens. We move quickly above the shuffling crowd. I am desperate for the exit. I want the open air.

The doorways are too low to navigate, so we gently lower ourselves to the ground and walk through. Several of the students have been left behind at crap tables but the remaining few glow with gratitude. We think “up” and briskly rise into the brightness of a clear Nevada sky. My fingers stretch toward the translucent blue--always out of reach. So instead, my eyes drink in the cool and my hands swim in the unbounded space. I push out in every dimension . Pure, clear, infinitude. I am limitless and free.

The soft, female drawl on the other end of the line is always patient, calmly explaining her procedure as my blood pressure rises. I rub my eyes. I’ve been on the phone for an hour, listening to inane commercials repeated endlessly, or even worse, left with no sound at all, wondering if the kind Southern clerk has banished me to phone limbo. After 15 minutes of enforced silence, during which I can neither focus on my writing, nor unkink my aching neck, I am tempted to hang up. But experience has taught me that this would be futile: I would be forced to return to the beginning of the same torture, or abandon the hope of medical care. On a messy sheet of paper I scribble half-baked ideas from my flying dream and wait.

I had finally succumbed to the idea of seeing a dermatologist—having exhausted my experiments with herbal concoctions—but first I was to be tortured with a bureaucratic rack. Kafka could not have come up with a more perverse system. I am told that I need a referral through my Primary Care Physician. But my PCP isn’t in their system. They are trying to fix this problem. Meanwhile, Brian can help me. I am transferred to Brian but receive a voicemail that boots me into an endless ringing line. I call the 800 number again. Lisa answers and wants to understand why my PCP isn’t in their system. “They” are taking care of the problem I say. I simply want to get in touch with Brian for my referral. “Sure, no problem,” says the soft twang. I am dispatched to a different office with voicemail that transfers me to the dial tone. I call again. Stacy answers and wants to know why my PCP…. “Do I have to explain everything? Can I just get a referral from Brian?”

“But Brian can’t give you a referral without the PCP’s approval.”

“But Lisa said…..”

“Lisa isn’t in this office.”

“Do you have a supervisor who can help me?”

“Sure,” sings the drawl.

I wait light years in the silent echo of an unattended phone. Kelly answers and we run the drill. I am persistent and these women are agreeable. They will allow me to waste their time as they waste mine. Kelly calls for Brian. Again the exhausting exercise of pretending to be patient while your morning slips into afternoon. More inane doodles on my indecipherable paper. This morning I was ready to write the great American novel; now I am constructing an illegible suicide note. Kelly returns. Brian won’t talk to me, he can’t help me, he wants me to leave him alone. I try to echo the reasoned tone of my captor. Surely, after several hours of waiting, someone can help me with a referral? Kelly explains a new scheme: we will call my PCP together. But first let’s decide on a dermatologist. I sigh.

It is rather sweet the way Kelly mispronounces the names of towns within 15 miles of my home. We pick one out of the mix and off she flies to battle another bureaucrat while I hold the line. I sit and wait. I am stuck in the torture I hate more than any other--held fast, unable to move, wasting time. Think, Ann, think! I can muster my resolve and concentrate, even with an appliance attached to my ear. I must make this moment count. I find a blank spot of paper and begin outlining a story idea. Crude thoughts accumulate. I gain a small amount of momentum as Kelly returns.

“I have a referral number for you. You can make your appointment.”

“That’s it? I’m free?”

Kelly sweetly drawls goodbye. I hang up, slightly dizzy. I want to finally run to the computer to write about my dreams this morning, but I should first call the dermatologist and make an appointment before this rash goes away on its own. A tired receptionist answers. “Dr. Hudson isn’t a dermatologist. Is this OneHealthPlan?”

“Yes, they referred me.”

“Their records are wrong. Dr. Hudson is an allergist. And she isn’t here anymore. I’m sorry.” Dial tone.
I take a deep breath. No problem. I have the referral number. I will just find another local dermatologist who is in the health plan and make an appointment with them. I’m sure that is acceptable. Especially when your dermatologist isn’t a dermatologist.

I ignore my writing files and jump online. There are plenty of doctors on the plan, I choose three women and write their numbers. Just one more call I coax myself.

Thankfully, the first woman is still practicing medicine but she has a 2-month wait. The second woman has moved. I stoically call the third. Dr. Hoag has a cancellation but it is unclear as to whether she is still in OneHealthPlan. I am told to call my insurance to verify she is a member.

I have stopped breathing. My body feels numb but I propel myself forward and dial. I can be brief. This will be over soon. Helen now answers and I explain that my previous referral was for a dermatologist who isn’t a dermatologist and now I found a dermatologist but we aren’t sure if she is in the plan. Helen listens. “Why isn’t your PCP listed in the system?”

I choke back stomach acid and ignore the question. Can she check if Dr. Hoag…..?

“You can’t use the old referral number for a referral to a different doctor.” Like her predecessors, Helen is professional but she doesn’t have a twang. Her voice doesn’t smile.

“But the old referral,” I weakly counter. We trudge through the same old ground. Helen never loses patience as she explains again and again that my administrative nightmare will not die. I need another referral. The doctor appears to be in the system at another address but she needs to check the current address. She will call me back.

I scream at the dog. My husband calls and I spew forth the acid I’ve been swallowing all morning. I pull my hair and screen my calls. I need a doctor.

In the evening, I’m again surrounded by my students. We fly over broccoli trees and examine the manicured laws as we near Lake Mead. I fly fast. Faster. Stretching myself in the boundless sky. Free. Read more!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Von Franz on Fairy Tales

I’ve been re-reading “The Interpretation of Fairy Tales” by Marie Louise Von Franz. Not an easy read-- but hearty food for the soul. Here’s an excerpt:

“…all fairy tales endeavor to describe one and the same psychic fact, but a fact so complex and far-reaching, and so difficult for us to realize…that hundreds of tales and thousands of repetitions…variations are needed until this unknown fact is delivered into consciousness…. This unknown fact is what Jung calls the Self, which is the psychic totality of an individual….Different fairy tales give average pictures of different phases of (this psychic reality).” Read more!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Zen for Sunday

Just returned from a blissful week out of town. This koan seems appropriate.

To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.

Chuang-tzu Read more!