Interview with Dennis Slattery: Exploring Your Personal Myth

Interview with Dennis Slattery: Exploring Your Personal Myth

It was a joy to interview Dennis Slattery for the Jung Society of Utah blog, where this post originally appeared.

While much is said about the soul’s wisdom and capacity for creativity, it is important to remember that “archetypes always have a shadow,” Dennis Slattery said. As a teacher and a mythologist, he’s seen how vital it is to be aware that the soul also has the capacity for foolishness and destruction–that “the soul in its creative capacities can wreak untold horrors” through violence, war, and addiction. “Creativity is not always for the good,” he said.

However, once we are aware that this shadow side exists, we may begin to learn from it and develop greater awareness. A way of going about this creatively is to explore one’s own personal myth, which is something Slattery has helped countless people with during his 40 years as a teacher. Through the study of mythology and through writing about our own stories, he’s found that the creative process teaches us a great deal about cultivating presence and consciousness.

Join the Jung Society of Utah on Friday, November 16th for a special lecture by Dennis Slattery!

Slattery said he continues to be surprised by “the unbelievable stories that are unfolding inside each individual.” In his classes and writing workshops, he is “constantly blown away by the narratives that are unfolding in people. I could do this for 100 years and I’d never hear the same story twice.” A particular kind of magic happens when people share their personal narratives. “When someone has the courage and the voice to express their story in a small group setting, it immediately animates other people’s stories,” he said. This happens through mimesis, a term first used by Aristotle to describe the “interior transformation that takes place in the audience by means of what’s taking place externally in front of them on the stage.” Slattery described mimesis as “a creative act because you have to let the work in and be willing to be changed by it. If not, it will be ineffectual.”

“People want to be heard and they want to have their story witnessed,” Slattery said. Through that sharing and witnessing, “everybody in the room has their consciousness affected; by and large enhanced, strengthened even. One individual’s story becomes a communal story at the very same time it’s uttered. To me, that’s one of the great mysteries of being a human being–having that story. Part of it is by one’s own design, but I think there’s something deeper working. The narrative that one carries is also being cultivated by what Jung called the collective unconscious. Then it’s shaped by history–one’s own temporal being in the world–but at its core there is something collective about it. My sense is that’s what we truly listen for–that collective connection with other people.”

Sharing our stories with one another cultivates connection and makes us more humane.

Exploring and sharing one’s personal myth provides “a way of resonating the universal in and through the particular,” Slattery said, especially when it’s done with an attitude of openness and allowing. “So many people live a full life and then die never having been presented with this mystery–that they’re living originally a part of a larger narrative construct that cuts across races, ethnicities, countries, and is universal in its presence. That to me has been one of the great gifts in studying the humanities and working in depth and archetypal psychology–that it’s highlighted that one of the basic tenets of what makes us human is our narratives. It has the capacity to make us more humane.”

During his Friday evening lecture, Slattery will discuss ideas about what creativity is and what it evokes in us that “the audience can test that against their own experience of their own creative processes and products.” He will provide a written exercise to help audience members explore their personal myth, and will leave time to answer questions. “We’ll have fun with it,” he said. Because myth, depth, and creativity often fall by the wayside in our fast-paced culture, “we have to cultivate it among ourselves. That too is a joyful project.”

Don’t miss this enlightening evening with Dennis Slattery!

Lecture: Friday, November 16th
Time: 7:00-8:30pm (doors open at 6:30 with mingling, music before and after)
Location: Library Downtown, 210 E 400 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Cost: free (please become a member)
Includes 1 free CE

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Interview with Michael Meade: Connecting with the Inner Truth of the Soul in Troubling Times

Interview with Michael Meade: Connecting with the Inner Truth of the Soul in Troubling Times

It was a complete joy to interview Michael Meade for the Jung Society of Utah blog, where this post originally appeared.

If you’re in touch with your soul, you’re worth as much as the world—that was the old idea. The individual soul is in touch with the soul of the world. So, no change at the individual level of the soul, no change at the level of the world.”Michael Meade

Join the Jung Society of Utah for a special weekend with renowned storyteller Michael Meade, October 12th & 13th!

“We are in a soulful crisis about the meaning of individual life,” Michael Meade said, speaking of the current turmoil playing out on the world stage. This crisis is actually threefold, comprised of radical climate change, massive social injustice, and “a crisis of meaning and what’s now being called truth. If the third one isn’t resolved the other two cannot be handled,” Meade said. “You can’t have people genuinely dealing with social injustice if they’re not telling the truth.”

Truth and the Soul

Of his latest book, Awakening the Soul, Meade said he’s “trying to redefine truth, not in its abstract legal sense, but in the idea that we live our truth. The new book is about awakening that deeper soul and I wind up in the book writing about what I call living in truth.”

According to Meade, we are in an initiatory time, which makes it imperative for individuals to awaken to the deep soul within and live in their truth. “There’s a desperate need for the awakening of the individual soul because that will bring innovation, genius, imagination into the picture. Then if there are enough awakenings occurring individually, it can generate a collective or cultural initiation where people begin to value life more. We begin to understand the necessity of the soul more, and begin to value imagination, perhaps even greater than logic,” Meade said.

The individual who is in touch with the genius of their soul can offer innovative solutions to the world’s problems.

This awakening of the deep inner soul not only allows an individual know their own gifts, it also allows these gifts to play a part in addressing our current challenges. “If more people were aware of their genius and aware of their soul, more people could be dealing with more problems in both culture and in nature. The soul has answers through the equality of individual people,” Meade said. “Everyone’s inner soul is innovative by essence, because each person is unique. That’s the old idea—nature only makes originals, and right now nature as well as culture is calling on the originality in everyone and that means consciousness of that uniqueness.”

Ending and Beginning Again

“The old Greek idea for what we’re going through is apocalysis,” Meade said, speaking of the current disturbances we’re facing. “It means collapse-renewal. It means ending-beginning. We have to face what’s collapsing—we’re required to do that just by being awake—but we’re in the moment where some things are collapsing.” However, Meade noted that, “less evidently, some things are beginning and renewing. So, I think that’s the first thing to realize: that as bad as it is, according to mythology, the world doesn’t come to an end, it begins again—just the way a person begins their life again through initiation.”

In the video clip below, Meade shared a Native American story that illustrates the moment of ending-beginning we are facing:

“So, we’re in this dramatic moment,” Meade said. “What does a person do? I think there’s a requirement to be able to sit down in one’s soul, or from a Jungian point of view, be able to tap into the deep Self. Because things are wacky. There’s a tremendous pressure on everybody, increasingly so. People are anxious now without knowing why. The antidote to anxiety, in a certain sense, is being in touch with the deep Self. People need practices that keep us in touch with the greater part of ourselves.”

These practices include creative arts and contemplative practices. “The ancient shrines used to involve both of those things,” Meade said. “So, what people love in terms of beauty, art, music; whatever it is that a person loves—gardening, being close to the earth, walking in nature—that falls into the arts and practices we need more as an antidote to what’s happening in the collective psyche.”

Connection Amidst Chaos

Each of us connecting with our own soul, living our inner truth, and finding practices to keep in touch with what we love may help us to create a “change to where people live with dignity and a sense of inner nobility,” Meade said. Such changes “can begin to build respect back in terms of cultural healing. If people realized that what we do with our life affects the world, we can begin to have an initiation that starts in the individual soul and moves into the collective; that empowers the collective to deal with social injustice as well as climate change to a greater degree, because then it would all be fueled by imagination and the soulful sense of being connected to everything in the world.”

Meade spoke in the video clip below of the effect one awakened soul can have on others, through the power of imagination:

“Those who have a sense of soul, or deep Self, are one step ahead of everybody else because there’s at least the intuition that the way we deal with the lack of coherence in the world by finding more coherence in ourselves,” Meade said. “Then if we tap into the deep self, you’re going to have the giftedness that’s in everybody.”

Meade said that his Friday evening program will include songs, stories, and poems about the awakening of the soul. “There will be some kind of story about how it works on a mythological level, and commentary that will consider the state of the world, the state of the collective psyche, and the opportunity it presents to the individual psyche.” The Saturday workshop “will be much more about the idea of initiatory practice,” Meade said. It will address the question of “how do I, as one small person in this big, screaming drama, find things that are stabilizing and sustaining to me, and at the same time, develop paths that are creative and meaningful?” in order to address the third crisis of truth and meaning. “I’ll go into that more deeply, with more stories and more consideration of how the individual soul awakens and moves on the path of its life.”

Don’t miss this soulful weekend Michael Meade!

Lecture: Friday, October 12th
Time: 7:00-8:30pm (doors open at 6:15 with mingling, music before and after)
Location: Library Downtown, 210 E 400 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Cost: free (please become a member)
Includes 1 free CE

Workshop: Saturday, October 13th
Time: 9:00am-4:00pm
Location: University Guest House, 110 Fort Douglas Blvd, Salt Lake City, UT 84113
Cost: $120; before Sept 27th $110 (lunch on your own, 6 CEs). Members additional 10% discount

Get your tickets here: https://michaelmeade.brownpapertickets.com/

Diane Hamilton on the Creative Play of Opposites

Diane Hamilton on the Creative Play of Opposites

It was lovely to interview Diane Hamilton for the Jung Society of Utah blog, where this post originally appeared.

Diane Musho Hamilton is a gifted mediator, facilitator, and teacher of Zen and Integral Spirituality. In her late 20s and early 30s, she trained to become a professional mediator. “My professional life was really structured around working with people in conflict. Whenever you are working conflicts, you’re encounter sets of polarities. Resolving conflict has to do with seeing how a polarity or set of opposites, actually contains commonalities and common interests. The mediator’s job is to help find them so that people are no longer in that opposition to each other.”

Join the Jung Society of Utah on Friday, September 14th for a special evening with Diane Hamilton on “The Creative Play of Opposites.”

Through regularly experiencing the opposites in people in conflict, she began to look at the oppositions within herself. For example, “I could see a side of myself that was more receptive and a side of myself that was more active and catalytic. Of course, I preferred one side to the other, as we often do. But over time, I began to recognize that opposites have both up and down sides, and I tried to see both.” According to Diane, practicing with polarities creates a flexibility in the mind.

With that kind of flexibility, we can start to being open to the kind of feedback that we get from the world around us. We aren’t so attached to our ideas of good and bad, particularly in ourselves. This leads to much more relaxation in our self-image, and we can, maybe for the first time, hear what works for people and what doesn’t. Diane recalled one of her meditation teachers saying, “Be yourself, the world will give you feedback.” She believes that we are in an enormous feedback loop with reality, and if we want to open our hearts to include more of what is true rather than less of what is true, polarity work can be a practice in compassion.

Acknowledging and working with our shadow aspects can create more compassion for ourselves and others.

This compassion begins with ourselves, in making room for the parts of ourselves that we might prefer not to identify with. “There is the Jungian idea that everything that is ‘out there’ is also ‘in here’, Diane said. “To the extent that we really know what is ‘in here,’ we can better work with what’s ‘out there.’” This includes working with our shadow, or “the parts of our identity that we don’t want to bring into the light, as Jung would put it.” These shadow aspects “that we don’t want to see as “I” are very rich and important parts of identity to bring forward,” Diane said. “This way, “We don’t get stuck seeing only ourselves idealized or good or always seeing the upside of ourselves.”

Jung himself engaged in a deep process of inner work. “He got very interested in the operations of the unconscious, and the Red Book was really Jung’s brave investigation into the unsavory parts of his mind.” Diane said. “Once Jung saw the creative capacity of his dark side, he realized it was basically endless, and the mind itself would always be spinning these possibilities.” Jung found that “the mind in its very structure creates opposites–you and me, this and that, here and there—that’s the way our mind works.” At that point, he was introduced to a Taoist book called, The Secret of the Golden Flower, where he relinquished the content of mind into the pure light of his own awareness.

Shadow work involves owning parts of ourselves we’d rather not identify with, and meditation introduces us to the part of ourselves that is beyond identity altogether. Diane said. “So, it’s both a matter of looking into our identity and including more, which creates compassion and creates more flexibility in the mind, and also seeing that all identity, at one level, is just completely fabricated. Identity is something we can always look at, play with, and drop as much as possible.”

To illustrate this point, she shared the following poem by Hafiz:

I
Have
Learned
So much from God
That I can no longer
Call
Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even a pure
Soul.

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed
Me

Of every concept and image
my mind has ever known.

“Identity itself has a zero point,” Diane said. “However, we tend to be enculturated into our egocentric identity, our ethnocentric identity, our world-centric identity, but those identities are actually creative and shifting all the time. They are not solid, but we tend to relate to them that way. The zero point, beyond opposites and identity, can be reached through spiritual practices such as sitting meditation.  As long as there are opposites in the mind, there is tension in the body. Without those opposites, there’s peace,” Diane said. “Stillness and silence open up a domain in which the mind is empty, and as the Tibetans like to say, luminous and blissful. It’s simply about discovering the peacefulness beyond opposites, which sitting meditation supports. That’s why Zen has been so important to me.”

Spiritual practices, such as meditation, can help us find an inner stillness beyond polarities.

As part of her program, Diane plans to include a group exercise in exploring opposites. “I’m hoping both to share some information, to provide an experience of the opposites, and help people touch into that zero point, so they can have an embodied experience of what I’m talking about. So, a little bit of theory, a little bit of experience, a little bit of reflection.”

Experiencing that zero point of stillness and peace allows for a more heart-centered life. “Part of Zen practice and Jung’s work is about creating a heart and a mind that can include the opposites of this existence,” Diane said. “What’s is so important about spiritual practice and psychological work is that they create an opening to include more of our experience. But we begin to see that the mind doesn’t seem to handle those opposites very well, but the heart does. The heart’s job is to be able to include the things in life that we don’t want to include. That is what we mean by being whole-hearted.”

Don’t miss this illuminating evening with Diane Hamilton!

Date: Friday, September 14th
Time: 7:00-8:30pm (mingle time before and after, doors open at 6:15)
Location: Saltair Room, University of Utah
Cost: free (please become a member)
Includes 1 free CE

A Jungian Perspective on Death

A Jungian Perspective on Death

This post originally appeared on the Jung Society of Utah blog.

Ironic, but one of the most intimate acts of our body is death.
So beautiful appeared my death—knowing who then I would kiss,
I died a thousand times before I died.

“Die before you die,” said the Prophet Muhammad.
Have wings that feared ever touched the Sun?
I was born when all I once feared—I could love.
~ Rabia Al Basri, Sufi poet

Carl Jung wrote, “When death confronts us, life always seems like a downward flow or like a clock that has been wound up and whose eventual “running down” is taken for granted.”1 In the year that has passed since my father’s death, I’ve experienced this sense of the clock running down. He was 67 years old, 30 years older than me, and the idea that half of my life might be over gave me pause about how I was spending my days. Along these lines, Jung continued:

When an aging person secretly shudders and is even mortally afraid at the thought that his reasonable expectation of life now amounts to only so many years, then we are painfully reminded of certain feelings within our own breast; we look away and turn the conversation to some other topic.1

Of this hesitancy to look at death, poet John O’Donohue wrote, “Though death is the most powerful and ultimate experience in one’s life, our culture goes to great pains to deny its presence…the rhythm of death in life is rarely acknowledged.”2 However, acknowledging, accepting, and even developing a relationship with death can help one to live a fuller, more vibrant life.

Jung suggested that the psyche might have a continued existence beyond death, “that it isn’t entirely confined to space and time…to that extent, the psyche is not submitted to those laws and that means a practical continuation of life, of a sort of psychical existence beyond time and space.”3 However, despite any hints about an afterlife, death remains a mystery. In order to cope with that mystery, Jung wrote that a person “ought to have a myth about death, for reason shows him nothing but the dark pit into which he is descending.”4 Jung viewed death as “an archetype, rich in secret life, which seeks to add itself to our own individual life in order to make it whole.”4 From this perspective, “symbols and images of death may be understood in terms of their significance and meaning for life, while experiences and intimations of life need to be construed as leading towards death.”5 Seen this way, life and death become companions, and equal parts of a complete human existence.

Accepting death as a part of life can help a person to cope with various forms of transition. “Life is an ocean with rising and falling tides. This means death is always implicit in it.”6 From this perspective, all changes in life can be seen as small deaths along the way, and turning toward the element of death that is inherent in all transitions can provide a means of overcoming fear. “To continually transfigure the faces of your own death ensures that, at the end of life, your physical death will be no stranger, robbing you against your will of the life that you have had.”2 Becoming familiar with death as a part of life can transform this archetype from a frightening adversary to a guide who can help one find courage in walking their individual path:

Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.’7

The freedom and peace that come from creating a relationship with death can open the way for new possibilities, as well as greater self-expression and authenticity. “Masquerading behind the face of your physical death is the image and presence of your deepest self, which is waiting to embrace and meet you.”2 Released from the fear of death, one is able to live a fuller life and pursue their highest potential. Jungian analyst Erel Shalit spoke of life as being like a candle—the candle will never live out its purpose if it is not lit. “Only a candle you don’t like will never burn out. To live your life fully means that the candle will burn out.”8 Creating a relationship with death can provide the courage needed to light the candle.

Far from being the frightening monster it is often portrayed as in Western culture; the archetype of death can be a friend and a guide. “If you learn not to be afraid of your death, then you realize that you do not need to fear anything else either.”2 Reimagined this way, death becomes a messenger who brings many gifts, including courage, a higher perspective, increased awareness, greater authenticity, and deeper love for ourselves and others. Thus, whether or not the psyche continues to exist after death, we will be able to face death as “a meeting with a life-long friend from the deepest side of [our] own nature,”2 secure in the knowledge that our lives have been well-lived.

Works Cited

  1. Jung, C. G. “The soul and death.” In Feifel, H. (1959). The meaning of death. New York: Blakiston Division, McGraw-Hill.
  2. O’Donohue, J. (2004). Anam ċara: A book of Celtic wisdom. New York: Harper Perennial.
  3. Carl Jung speaks about Death [Video file]. (2007, June 18). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOxlZm2AU4o
  4. Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  5. Samuels, A., Shorter, B., & Plaut, F. (2005). A critical dictionary of Jungian Analysis. New York, NY: Routledge.
  6. van der Leeuw, G. “Immortality.” In Campbell, J. (1954). Papers from the Eranos yearbooks. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  7. Castaneda, C. (1974). Journey to Ixtlan: The lessons of Don Juan. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  8. “Interview with Dr. Shalit on The Cycle of Life” (2012) http://www.depthinsights.com/radio/ErelShalit-DepthInsights011212.mp4

 

Jung, Introversion, and Self-Acceptance

Jung, Introversion, and Self-Acceptance

I wrote the following post for the Jung Society of Utah blog.

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
–  C. G. Jung

While Carl Jung was mentioned briefly in my undergraduate psychology courses, my first real contact with Jung’s theories came many years after that. In 2014, I began seeing an acupuncturist for help with fatigue, depression, and anxiety. During the course of my treatment, the acupuncturist recommended that I read The Highly Sensitive Person, by psychologist Elaine Aron. According to Aron, highly sensitive people (HSPs) are the 15-20 percent of individuals in a population who have a nervous system that is more sensitive to stimulation than average.1 I strongly related to the information in the book and finally felt like my experiences of being “easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long”1 made sense. This book cited Jung frequently, especially with regard to his ideas on introversion. Upon finding very little research related to the HSP trait, Aron “thought that the closest topic might be introversion. The psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote very wisely on the subject, calling it a tendency to turn inward. The work of Jung, himself an HSP, has been a major help to me.”1 The many mentions of Jung throughout the book intrigued me and I wondered if his work could be of help to me as well.

Carl Jung wrote wisely on the topic of introversion.

I began reading bits and pieces of Jung’s work that were available on the internet, along with commentary by depth oriented therapists and psychologists to provide clarity on aspects of it I was confused by. I also enjoyed watching videos and lectures about Jung on YouTube. I found that Jung’s work, especially his ideas on psychological types, helped me to understand and make peace with my own experiences, particularly those around being an intuitive introvert who never “fit in” with most of the people around me. It was absolutely my experience that “the introverted person must assume a good deal of chronic psychological stress”3 in order to adapt to an environment where extraversion is preferred. This further explained the fatigue, depression, and anxiety I had suffered from for so long. After reading Jung, I began to feel more at peace with my natural temperament and no longer felt the need to pretend to be otherwise. As I accepted myself, my physical and psychological symptoms gradually diminished. For me, Jung made being an introvert acceptable and even valuable; rather than a deficiency in my personality, which is how I had previously viewed this trait.

Reading Jung’s work helped me to turn within, make peace with myself, and begin learning to love myself.

I deepened my study of Jung by reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I often found myself laughing aloud as I related to Jung’s childhood experiences, particularly where he described his boredom with school: “It took up far too much time which I would rather have spent drawing battles and playing with fire. Divinity classes were unspeakably dull, and I felt a downright fear of the mathematics class.”2 In Jung, I felt I had found a kindred spirit after spending most of my life feeling lost in a deep, painful sense of aloneness.

I am grateful for the many ways Jung’s work has influenced my life for the better. Through his writing I became able to look within my own heart, wake up to who I truly am, and began to accept myself. As a result of this turning inward, I also found the sense of purpose that I had always lacked, and began the transition from an empty, dead-end career path to one I find fascinating and meaningful. I will continue to turn to Jung’s work as part of my studies to become a psychotherapist.

Books Cited

  1. The highly sensitive person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you Elaine Aron.
  2. Memories, dreams, reflections Carl G. Jung.
  3. Jung’s map of the soul: An introduction Murray Stein.

Travel and Individuation

Travel and Individuation

I wrote this post for the Jung Society of Utah blog, based on a longer piece I authored here.

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Eliot

When I return home from traveling, my house always looks different. Intellectually I know that everything is just as I left it, but after being away, the most familiar place in the world to me seems “off” in some way, not how I remembered it. Maybe the shade of paint in the bedroom looks brighter somehow, I think. Or perhaps it’s the way the light from the kitchen window filters in across the table at this hour of day, a time when I’m not usually home. But as I roll my suitcase down the hallway, there’s an overwhelming feeling of alien unfamiliarity. Then I realize it’s me. I’m the element that’s been transformed during my time away.

Carl Jung traveled extensively, and used his experiences to gain greater insight into his own life. “I understand England only when I see where I, as a Swiss, do not fit in,” he wrote. “Through my acquaintance with many Americans and my trips to and in America, I have obtained an enormous amount of insight into the European character; it has always seemed to me there can be nothing more useful for a European than some time or another to look out at Europe from the top of a skyscraper” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.247).

Similarly, traveling has allowed me to meet a variety of fascinating people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. In conversation with each of these strangers, some of whom became my friends, I’ve enjoyed listening to and learning from their unique perspectives. I’ve also discovered shared interests, dreams, and goals, or common values. This has highlighted to me that we’re all very much the same at a fundamental level. All of the friends I’ve made in my travels have helped me become a more authentic version of myself in some way.

Travel has made me more honest and real. (Photo taken at a toy store in Florence, Italy).

In seeing more of the world through travel, I have also been able to step outside of my comfort zone and learn to enjoy new experiences and new people, despite my natural introversion. Successfully extending myself beyond the familiar has allowed me to feel at home even in places that seemed very different than what I’m used to. Through experiencing my adaptability in a way that I hadn’t before, I gained confidence, which has allowed me to feel safe and secure, even in troubling situations. This gave me even greater confidence and trust in myself, as I realized that I’ll always be able to navigate any situation I’m presented with.

To me, that’s what feeling at “home” is really about—being able to trust and have faith in myself and my capabilities regardless of the circumstances. If I have enough trust and faith in myself to confidently face and be present with whatever is happening right now, anywhere can feel like home.

Travel in the outer world may also guide one to inner exploration and greater wholeness.

I used to prefer thinking that it was possible to have all the answers, but travel has opened my mind to life’s mysteries. The more I experience of the world, the more I realize how much I don’t know. This is exciting because I love to learn new things—it’s become a huge part of what makes life interesting and worthwhile for me. I find peace in knowing that there will always be more to learn.

In the darkness and shadow of mystery, there is power and magic. During my time in Egypt I took a cruise down the Nile. One evening, just before sunset, the ship’s crew turned off the engines, lights, and music, and we all gathered on the top deck and waited. At dusk, the hazy gray sky burned yellow and orange as the sun sank into the glistening silver river. Away from any city lights, the palm trees and desert sand dissolved into the eerie blackness of 5,000 years ago, and it was almost as if I could feel the presence of Isis and Osiris, watching us from the riverbank. All was still and silent, but only for a few minutes. The deck lights came back on and the party resumed. Through enjoying the contrast of light and dark, knowledge and mystery, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for all the subtle forms of beauty and wonder in the world, which has heightened my creativity and intuition.

Sunset along the Nile.

Overall, travel can greatly contribute to individuation. In an article for The Guardian, journalist Jonah Lehrer writes, “We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.” I have always found that to be true.

Individuation and the Unlived Life of the Parents

Individuation and the Unlived Life of the Parents

I wrote the following post for the Jung Society of Utah blog.

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”
– C.G. Jung

My dad has always existed for me in the space between “here” and “gone.” He was always around, but only rarely has he been truly present in my life. In recent months this has been literalized as his health has taken a turn for the worst. He’s now in a nursing care facility, spending his most of his days apparently drifting in and out, only occasionally conscious or coherent, no longer who he was.

He graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, then worked for the State of Utah for 30 years. It was always clear how much he hated his job. He was miserable and bored, and my mom, my sister, and I seemed to exist only in the shadows of his suffering. When he retired, his health started deteriorating steadily. I feel it has to do with the shadows of unlived potential manifesting as illness.

“The participation mystique, or primitive identity, causes the child to feel the conflicts of the parents and to suffer from them as if they were its own.” – C.G. Jung

I don’t know what my dad wanted to do with his psychology degree, but it occurred to me recently that he could have been an effective therapist. Seven years ago I was on a flight from Cairo to New York City that hit very bad weather. After circling the JFK airport for a tense and miserable hour, the flight was diverted to Dulles. In the midst of a panic attack (though I didn’t realize it at the time), I called my parents’ house and my dad answered. He listened to my story about the hellish flight, being trapped on the plane at Dulles for two hours before being allowed to leave and go through customs, and my fear of having to spend the night alone in the airport. He then told me to breathe, assured me that the airline was required by law to find me a flight back to Salt Lake City, and addressed my other concerns enough that I could function and get through the night. To this day, I’m still grateful for that.

“Nothing influences children more than the silent facts in the background.” – C.G. Jung

All of this played on my mind as I interviewed for the Counseling Psychology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. On the plane back to Salt Lake City, I read the following in Robert A. Johnson’s book, Owning Your Own Shadow:

“My own father took refuge in invalidism and lived very little of his potential. As a result of this, I feel I have two lives to cope with—my own and the unlived life of my father. This is a severe burden, but it can have creative dimensions if I take on this task consciously. Such things are possible only when we are old and mature enough to know what we are doing—though we do not usually have this kind of wisdom until we reach middle age” (p.35-36).

While I don’t qualify as middle-aged quite yet, my dad is 66, still relatively young in a time and place where people can live to their 90s and beyond. I wonder now what he could still do if circumstances were different. What might he have done earlier in life that would have brought him more joy and meaning? And through my career change, am I indeed taking on my dad’s unlived potential? Does it truly matter?

I don’t have any answers, and at this point, all I can do is focus on finding joy and meaning in my own life. In doing so, I intend to fulfill my own promise and honor myself by living my life to the fullest expression of my authenticity and potential. I want to ensure that no one, especially not me, ever ends up abandoned in my shadows.

“Parental influence only becomes a moral problem in face of conditions which might have been changed by the parents, but were not.” – C.G. Jung

Regardless of whether we have children, perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves and those around us is to seek that which truly helps us feel happy, fulfilled and whole, bravely walking the path that leads us to the highest expression of our true selves.