(Available April 2012)
The Muse of the Jungian Way
What possesses people to leave collective consciousness—the comfort and security of the mainstream—and follow an arcane path in which they cultivate their dreams and visions, follow synchronicities, talk to inner figures, use ancient divining tools such as the I Ching, study myth and fairy tales, wrestle with their shadows and generally wander far away from the familiar worlds of family and friends?
There are as many stories of how this happens, as there are Jungians. In Marked by Fire you can read 13 soulful and gripping versions of the story. Here is a part of my version, which I didn’t have space to tell in Marked by Fire.
My story begins many years ago when my children were little. I was a lost young woman, severed from my deep Self. I had a frightening dream:
My baby daughter’s head was severed from her body. My mother’s voice said: “You’ll never get her together again.”The dream spooked me. I thought something bad was about to happen to my child.
In a synchronistic event that changed my life my girl friend’s mother—who was seeing a Jungian in therapy—invited her daughter and me to a Jungian Conference called The Forgotten Feminine. I knew nothing of Jung and had no idea what the conference title meant, except that it tugged at me. I wanted to go.
The Handless Maiden (by Lucy Campbell)
At the conference I heard mature, wise, potent women—Jungian analysts—unlike any women I knew in my life—describe their work with their patients. This was the late 1960s. They told stories of women who were lost in their lives, who had forgotten their creative gifts, forgotten their souls, who had given themselves away to their men and their children, buried their deep natures and their wildness, severed their heads from their bodies. I learned that in the sanctuary of their Jungian analyses they found their souls, reclaimed their writing or painting or dancing, connected their heads and their bodies, found their deep selves. It was suddenly clear to me that my frightening dream was not about my daughter, it was about me. I was in trouble. I turned to my friend’s mother and asked her about that Jungian she was seeing.
That is how I tumbled into a Jungian analysis. It saved my life. I wrote a poem about it:
letter to a first analyst
I caught the dreamyou sat with me in the early years when it was all
and rose dreaming
coming apart my too young marriage that business of the donkey
in the basement the father whose eyes entered
me took what they would
you sat with me and I opened like a window
in a suffocating room whose drapes have been drawn for too long
now blinds snapped up smell of hot tomatoes
strawberries in the sun
i had been living in my body
as though it were an unmade bed for years the smell of decomposing
dreams under the bedside table crumpled kleenex bad blood spotting
the sheets the children were so little they wandered in
wanting their breakfast and me just waking from a dream of spitting out my teeth on the road or dream of using a contact lens for contraception it splintered
inside me what spirit led me to you after the terrible dream—my daughter’s head was severed from her body— my mother’s voice said: “you’ll never get her together again”
i write to tell you that i danced at that daughter’s wedding on a hillside in berkeley
not far from your house she was beautiful and i was glad
for all the years of catching the morning dream the hours you sat
with me through sandstone storms and backdoor me even death’s most yellow incarnation made a pass at my bed but you
who opened windows closed that door i remember
once you told me the story of a prince and a hairy wild man fresh out of the forest
they wrestled for a long time fought until each knew
the other’s body and mind until they were inseparable friends
(published in crimes of the dreamer)
Gilgamesh and Enkidu
Years later one of the women who stood on the stage of that conference on The Forgotten Feminine—Elizabeth Osterman—would greet me when I was a new candidate at the Jung Institute. She’d been watching me, she said. “You are a poet. You must follow your nature.” Though she was never my analyst or consultant, she was a powerful figure for me; I felt her support for my deep nature. When she died I wrote a poem called “Dirge” in which I looped back to my first experience of her. Here is that section of the poem:
on a university platform
in Wheeler Auditorium
where I had heard
many famous professors
but no one had ever told me
that a woman
writing down her dreams
can spiral inward
to her dark center
and come back out with flaming colors
and her own wild tongue!
(published in red clay is talking)
My story is not unusual in the Jungian world. In Marked by Fire, the collection of memoirs edited by Patricia Damery and me, there are many such stories. Sometimes it is a dream that opens up a person’s psyche, sometimes a longing, a difficult conflict, a terrible event like the death of a mother or a serious illness. The Jungian way involves noticing the small voice within you—your muse, your soul—that speaks from another realm; it requires attention to the world of dreams and synchronicities, an openness to the irrational and the awesome, an ability to see life’s pain and suffering as a meaningful aspect of one’s path.
These personal stories by Jungian analysts are about the direct experience of the unconscious—the fiery process of becoming ourselves. They are food for the soul.