People sometimes ask me, “What’s a Jungian Analyst doing on Facebook and Twitter? Or starting a blog? Or writing a novel?” More often, though, what I’m asked is, “What IS a Jungian analyst, anyway?”
Which isn’t surprising. There aren’t that many of us – less than a hundred even in this southern California mecca for shrink-goers, AKA people who’ve had the good sense to seek a healing of the soul (which, p.s., is the actual meaning of the word psychotherapy).
The short answer goes something like this: Jungian analysts are psychotherapists who’ve been certified to do depth work by an analytic training program informed by the vast vision of C.G. Jung. The longer – and more satisfying – version would be verrrrrrr-y long, but my own initial exposure to it felt like a homecoming after all sorts of mischief in my late teens and early twenties. Through his work with people whose ideas changed our world as well as those who lived the quiet dignity of a simple life, Jung discovered that we all display certain archetypal, or eternally repeating, patterns in our lives that speak to our rootedness in a rich common soil. He found evidence of these archetypes in our dreams, fantasies, and attitudes, as well as myths, fairy tales, and creative outpourings produced by our ancestors across cultures and throughout time. And – most importantly for me as an analyst and novelist – he saw our private suffering, most rejected traits, and strange quirks as fertilizer for an individual unfolding that is promoted by a hidden, or unconscious, energy within us.
While Jung is still considered pretty out there by some, his work has nourished our culture in innumerable ways. If you’ve read Care of the Soul or The Artist’s Way, watched Bill Moyers interview Joseph Campbell, seen Star Wars, heard Alice Walker talk about her novel Possessing the Secret of Joy, or been a member of a 12-step community, you’ve been touched by someone inspired by the ideas of Jung. And just as denial ain’t just a river, synchronicity ain’t just a song by Sting, but an idea emerging from a collaboration between Jung and Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli concerning the meaningful “coincidences” that give us rare glimpses into a mysteriously connected reality underpinning the known world. (BTW, it was that partnership of Pauli and Jung, as well as a dream – one of those dreams that dog you long after you wake – that led me to write my novel The History of My Body.)
Of course, the danger of men and women with great insight is that they can become guru-like substitutes for our own potential for wisdom. The good news is that most Jungian analysts I know aren’t locked into a knee-jerk worship of Jung. Like anyone else struggling to make sense of this brave new era we’re living in, we Jungians are fascinated by all things unique and all things universal, anything relating to the weave of the passionate and pedestrian events of our daily lives with the ageless human spirit that is capable of both astonishing creativity and a destructiveness that could wreck the miracle of life on this glorious planet. Which takes us to one of Jung’s more valuable ideas, what he called the shadow – containing all those aspects of ourselves that we’d rather not look at and that we just love to see in others and detest in them. Admit it – it’s so tempting to get whipped-up over the mote in our neighbor’s eye, rather than confronting the ugly schmutz in our own. We’re a lot more fit for human company when we have a decent sense of both the angels and assholes we ourselves can be – which is where the seeming opposites of individuality and what Jung called “kinship libido” and some of my Facebook friends call “deep ecology” come in. Reclaiming our shadow is one guaranteed way to make a contribution to a more compassionate world.
As a Jungian inclined to look for patterns, I believe there is something quite extraordinary going on in the soul department as we all co-create the ongoing evolution of the world wide web. In the process of writing The History of My Body, I found myself ineluctably drawn to the ancient Hindu myth of Indra’s Web – where the heaven of the god Indra is said to be composed of a vast web of criss-crossing strands, with a jewel suspended from each intersection of threads reflecting every other jewel in the web. My protagonist Fleur gets her first glimmer of the linking of us individuals to the larger picture when she learns about the butterfly effect, where the flap of a butterfly’s wings in, say, Idaho, sets off a tsunami somewhere in Asia. Which is where Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even blogs come in. Having started out as something of a Luddite, I’ve come to see that – as we Google, snoop, expose, and express ourselves on the internet – we’re both mirroring one another’s uniqueness and discovering that we partake in a shared humanity which, in turn, has a fateful impact on the natural world. With all our flaws and foibles, vanity and envy, personal battles, hard-won victories, and necessary failures, what we feel and believe and say and do really does matter!
The paradox is that when we recognize that our lives are rooted in a common soil, we’re more likely to flesh out our particular purpose. The same need to connect to the heart of things that led me to explore our intertwined psychological roots also impelled me to become a writer and social media explorer. Every engagement with another – whether that “other” is a fictional character emerging from an inner void or a new Facebook friend thousands of miles away – supports a stretching into becoming the one person we were born to be. Dylan Thomas’ “force that through the green fuses drives the flower” also drives our psychological unfolding and cultural forms.
So, in my own life, the eleven-year-old who cried over the fate of Anna Karenina becomes a writer herself; the child who got shuffled from school to school now plays with a vast net of friends on Facebook and Twitter; the woman who dreamed that she was called to establish the Church of Her Body gives birth to a protagonist who teaches her more than she ever could have imagined about intriguing pathways of quantum physics and how our personal bêtes noires can lead us to a wider world.
I can’t help but continue to follow the threads of psyche, fractals, the butterfly effect, our common terror of the void, our impact upon one another, the eternal pull of that idea just beyond reach and union with the divine. I’ll be doing some of it here on my blog. Fleur and I hope you’ll keep tuning in.
- Renee- May 18, 2011 at 5:35 PM
- Fantastic, thank you for presenting these threads so clearly and engagingly. Inspiring. — Renee
- Response from Sharon Heath-May 19, 2011 at 3:24 PM: Thank you, Renee! A high compliment, indeed, coming from you!
- lizzie-May 20, 2011 at 10:03 AM
- What an exciting new venue you have created for that incredibly lyrical and smart voice~~ congratulations!!
- Response from Sharon Heath- May 20, 2011 at 3:00 PM: Thank you, Lizzie!