BOUNDARIES OF THE SOUL
With June Singer, Ph.D.
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Our topic today is Jungian psychology. With me is Dr. June Singer, a Jungian analyst who was trained at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, and is one of the founders of the Jung Institute in Chicago. Dr. Singer is the author of numerous books, including Boundaries of the Soul, The Unholy Bible, Androgyny and Energies of Love. Welcome.
JUNE SINGER, Ph.D.: It's good to be here, Jeffrey.
MISHLOVE: June, in your early work at the Jung Institute, you have described in Boundaries of the Soul how for your final examination you were asked to describe the process of individuation, which is the goal of Jungian therapy, as if you were talking to a street sweeper while you were waiting for a bus. I wonder if you could repeat that definition for us.
SINGER: Yes, and that was a shocker of a question, I might add, because I had studied all the parallels of the individuation process from the alchemist down to the present day. So when this question came to me, to describe this process while you're waiting for the bus and you're talking to a street sweeper, I looked out at the Lake of Zurich, and I thought, well, it's something like being in a sailing boat on the lake and utilizing the wind, understanding that the wind is something that you don't make and you can't control. But you need to understand how to live your life in the same way that you understand how you would sail a boat, taking the power of the wind and going with it and allowing your own knowledge of it and your understanding of it to help you go in the direction that you need to be headed. And so in Jungian analysis you learn how to deal with your own power, or rather the power that comes through you, and live your life in such a way that it's harmonious with that power which is above and beyond and all around.
MISHLOVE: It's as if the forces within our psyche are like the winds that might blow us about, and as we learn how to work with the winds we can direct ourselves through our lives.
SINGER: And we don't change them. We don't in Jungian analysis try to make somebody different from who they are. But what we try to do is to guide people to recognize themselves and discover themselves and find out what was always there, but hasn't been recognized or lived out.
MISHLOVE: One of the tendencies that you've pointed out in modern culture is for people to sacrifice their individuality for the sake of security, so that they can have a comfortable home. The price that they often pay, I suppose, is they lose their soul in a way. It's almost as if Jungian psychology is a rediscovery of the soul.
SINGER: Yes, it is very much like that, in a certain way. There's an old story -- I think it's an old Jewish legend, actually -- about God calling an angel to bring a soul down to the mother who is about to give birth to a child. This soul, during the pregnancy, is taken on various trips to find out what his or her life will be like. But at the moment of birth the angel hits the infant on the head, and at that moment the child forgets all that it knows about the soul and all its adventures, and then has to spend its whole life recovering bits and pieces and putting together that essence of who he really is. I think it's a beautiful story, because it suggests that we are born not as a tabula rasa, not as a blank table with society and the environment writing experience upon it and shaping the individual, but that we come with some very definite tendencies, and that certainly what happens to us influences what we are going to become, but it never really changes it totally.
MISHLOVE: You know, there's really a striking contrast, I think, between Freudian psychology and Jungian psychology in this regard. One senses that the great influence that the Freudians had in our society was to look at the religious impulses and the religious traditions and reduce them down to sexual instincts and the expression of those. And Jung took almost the opposite point of view; he looked at sexuality and saw it as a symbol of our spiritual strivings.
SINGER: Yes, he certainly did. In fact he's often quoted as saying that when somebody comes to him with a sexual problem he's quite sure that at base it's spiritual, and when they come with a spiritual problem he has a pretty good idea that it may be based in sexuality. But Jung saw the totality of the person, a kind of wholeness, in which you look at many, many levels of experience. When you look, for example, at sexuality, you're not only looking at the relationship between a man and a woman, but you're also looking at what each person brings of their concepts from their parents, the relationship of the parents to each other, and more than that, the parental belief system, which has to do with the guiding principles that were prevalent in the household. And that fits into spiritual issues as well -- was sexuality an expression of the divine creative spirit, or was it a kind of falling into the material and sensual and leaving the creativity of the spirit? So the two are not in any way separated.
MISHLOVE: You described a dream that Jung himself had, I think when he was a young child, that conditioned his whole outlook in this area. I wonder if we could go into that a bit.
SINGER: Yes, that was a famous dream, when he was about three or four years old. He dreamed that he was going down into an underground chamber, and he went down and down and down, and he came to a huge room, and at the far end of the room there was a golden throne, and on the throne was an object that was nothing less than a golden phallus. He looked at it wonderstruck, because it was radiant, and he felt that he had found something miraculous and amazing.
MISHLOVE: It was about the size of a tree, as I recall.
SINGER: Something like that, yes. Then he heard his mother calling, "That's the man-eater." And he shuddered and he was frightened, and he had what so many of us have -- this tremendous spiritual attraction to sexuality, and the fear of the awesome power of it. It's never simple. It's always the tension of the opposites. Jung had much to say about the tension of the opposites. One of the things that he's quoted as saying is that whenever something you find out is true, the opposite is equally true.
MISHLOVE: This really gets us into the way in which Jung dealt with the conflicts that he encountered in the Vienna Circle with the early psychoanalysts in the Freudian movement. When he would hear Freud arguing with Alfred Adler, for example, about the structure of the psyche, whether it was based on the sexual instinct or the drive for power, Jung would tend to look and say, "Well, there must be a sense in which both of these are expressing a single dynamic."
SINGER: Actually, Jung was very concerned about this, because he himself had a view that was different from both Freud and Adler. The difference was one of the things certainly that led Jung to leave the Vienna Circle. After he left it he began to wonder, how can it be that everytime a case came up and the psychoanalysts were sitting around discussing it, Freud would always say that it came from the influence of the parents or some childhood trauma, and Adler would always say that it was something else, the will to power? Out of that Jung came to a discovery that was quite amazing at that time -- that it wasn't the situation that was debatable, but that each person brought to it something of his own personality typology, and that no matter what the issue, the type of the person, the psychological makeup, would determine his perspective on it. This has been a very, very important part of Jung's work as I see it, because if we believe that there is a right way to look at something, and that something is as it appears to be, there is really no negotiating, no arguing, no chance to harmonize, when people of different types come together. If you can recognize that if people are of different types, they each bring to the thing that is being discussed something novel that the other person doesn't see, then you can welcome the opposite perspective. I think if Russia and the United States, for example, could recognize that they come out of different typologies -- expanding this to an international perspective -- we could learn much from each other.
MISHLOVE: So it was Jung who in this context introduced the terms which are so common now in our culture -- introvert and extrovert.
SINGER: Yes indeed. And Freud was for Jung the example of the extrovert, because the extrovert gets his energy, gets his reason for being, from the external world. There is where the meaning is, and there is where you have to be effective. The introvert is more concerned with what the external world does to him or her -- how that influences the individual psyche. These are two very different perspectives.
MISHLOVE: Freud, I gather -- if we go back to the days of the Vienna Circle -- was a strong personality. He dominated this group of very powerful intellectuals.
SINGER: Yes indeed.
MISHLOVE: Adler, who broke away from him, seems to be described as a much milder, meeker fellow.
SINGER: Well, Adler is a typical introvert who doesn't really want to get out and fight, doesn't want to make demands. He is not trying to change the world. He is only interested in changing the self. So when you have somebody who wants to change everybody else in conflict with somebody who doesn't want to, the person who doesn't want to tends to withdraw. In our American society, the extrovert tends to be more successful, in the business world for example. At least an extroverted persona is more successful -- that is, a capacity to behave like an extrovert even if you aren't one, if you're a secret closet introvert.
MISHLOVE: You know, I've had an insight myself I'd like to share with you, in which I look at the yoga system of chakras, and then look at the development of Western psychology, and I see Freud talking about the sexual and aggressive instincts which are associated with the lower psychic centers or chakras. Then Adler talks about the will to power, and then later in his life the will toward altruism, raising it to the heart level. And then Jung begins to talk about the visions of the soul, and symbolism, and the collective unconscious, as if he's referring to the third eye and the spiritual chakra center. It's almost as if to have a complete psychology one needs to look at all of these.
SINGER: Yes, I think Jung did emphasize the higher chakras. However, some people don't agree with that. Some people think he was more in the area of the heart and throat chakras. I don't know; but I do know that he took it all into consideration, and that he recognized the need for the flow of psychic energy to go through the whole spinal column of chakras, and to integrate all of it, and that at one time one would be prevalent, at another time another would be prevalent. But I think that perhaps where we could classify Jung is that he was very much interested in the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious. So that if one chakra were in consciousness at a given time, there was the focus of the energy. All the others would be unconscious. This focus would then shift from one to another, because consciousness is not one solid thing. I like to liken it to a searchlight in a dark room that shines on one or another aspect of the individual or the world. And that's what we're conscious of at a given time, and the rest is relatively unconscious.
MISHLOVE: I suppose if we were to look at what I think of as Jung's really major contribution to psychology, and where he really broke off from Freud, it's his introduction of the concept of the collective unconscious.
SINGER: Yes. Jung's and Freud's concepts of the unconscious are very, very different. For Freud the unconscious was primarily an offshoot of the ego. Whatever the ego rejected or repressed -- by the ego I mean a person's self concept -- whatever I can't accept into my self concept goes into the unconscious. I don't want to deal with it, I don't want to know about it. But for Jung, it was the unconscious that was basic. Everything was in the unconscious originally, and consciousness emerges out of the unconscious like an island out of the ocean, and then the effort is to expand that consciousness, let it grow. But there is no idea of gathering up the whole unconscious and making it the province of the ego, in Jungian psychology, because the unconscious is like the universe, and you can't scoop up the universe in a teacup.
MISHLOVE: In other words, Freud seemed to suggest that maybe at one time very early in human history there was no unconscious because we didn't need to repress, we were animals, and it was only with the veneer of civilization that we got the notion that our aggressive instincts and our sexual instincts were forbidden and couldn't be expressed. So we repressed them into and therefore created the unconscious.
SINGER: Exactly. And with Jung it was quite the opposite. He believed that at one time there was nothing but unconsciousness, and that we lived in a kind of world where we didn't think much about things, didn't organize, didn't plan -- that we really were very much an integral part of nature, and that consciousness only grew gradually, and is still growing, and becomes more and more complex and defined. He has a very different perspective, because with a Freudian perspective there's a necessity to recover what has been repressed. With Jungian psychology, certainly the concept of repression is there -- I think Jung built on Freud in a way, and accepted much of what he said with regard to repression. But what else is there is the tremendous source of creative energy. All that we can possibly become is already there in the unconscious, and we have only to learn how to find it.
MISHLOVE: You mentioned earlier that Jungian analysis isn't designed necessarily to correct a problem or to change a person, but it's more a path of self discovery.
MISHLOVE: A person who comes to a Jungian analyst -- I imagine many people come with symptoms, but you're not all that concerned as to whether they leave after many years with or without their symptoms.
SINGER: Generally the symptom is not what it appears to be. It's something that precipitates a process that's long overdue. I know in my own experience, when I got into analysis I went because I thought that there was something valuable to be learned there, and I didn't recognize that I personally had a lot of serious problems. It took quite a bit of analysis to find out why I really was there, but the idea that I wanted to be educated and understand more was what precipitated the process. I remember my first dream -- to show you how unintellectual my initiation into Jungian analysis was. Jungians put a lot of stock on initial dreams. We call them the first dream that you have in analysis, and when I was going to go the next day to my analyst, I dreamed that I was laid out on a butcher's block. My hands and feet were tied, and someone was standing over me with a butcher knife, ready to plunge in and open me up. And I realized that I was really frightened about being seen, being revealed, and of course it came out in the analytic work, little by little, that I had held so much back and been so unwilling to look at what was there. But of course that's typical. Almost everybody has that experience in some way or another. They know there's a lot there, they're curious, they have intimations. I think dreams give us intimations often, and we get a sense in strange ways that there is something that we know and yet we don't know and we want to know.
MISHLOVE: Jung himself seems to suggest that almost the very opposite of what we manifest consciously is what we're about to find as we go into the unconscious.
SINGER: Yes. And the dreams can point the way to this, because all of our defenses that we have during the day keep us from recognizing -- I'm going to use a word that I hope won't be misunderstood -- all the demons and the monsters and the strange creatures of the night, that we don't look at during the day. We don't allow them to exist. But when our forbiddings are taken away from us and we're vulnerable in sleep, they come sneaking out of the corners and showing themselves, and we see then what it is that we've been hiding from ourselves. It's really wonderful, if you have the courage to face it, to be able to look at those, see what they mean.
MISHLOVE: In the sense that after five or six years of Jungian analysis, it's not as if those demons are gone, it's just that we recognize the terrain and we're able to sail our boat a little better.
SINGER: We can make friends of them also. We have a very interesting process in Jungian analysis called active imagination, where we encounter the figures of our dreams sometimes, the figures of our imagination, and have a dialog between our conscious ego and the creature, the person or whatever manifestation it might be.
MISHLOVE: It could be any dream image.
SINGER: Any dream image. It could even be a rock or a castle or a plant or whatever. But we would place a question, like for example, "Why are you here? What do you want of me? Why are you pestering me all the time?" And then we don't try to visualize or make anything happen, but we really withdraw from it. We go deep into ourselves and allow the thing to come up of itself, and give it space, and listen to what comes. People often say, "How do you know that you're not just making this up, that it doesn't really come from the unconscious?" The way that I know is that when I'm making it up it sounds kind of like what I expected. When I'm really surprised, then I know it comes from down there -- when it comes with something so amazing and so unexpected.
MISHLOVE: You know, in your book Boundaries of the Soul, you open with a quote, I think it's from Heraclitus, in which he says, "No matter how long you probe and how far you look, you'll never encounter the boundaries of the soul."
SINGER: Yes. That sense of vastness is an integral part of Jungian work -- the idea that the psyche is not only my psyche or your psyche, but that at some level it's collective, that we as individuals are part of our families, and our families are part of a community, and our community is part of a culture, and the culture is part of the whole human race. Each level has not only its conscious beliefs and behaviors, but the unconscious aspects of it, so that at bottom we are on the foundation of the collective unconscious that is shared by everybody. And that collective unconscious then has characteristics which are not limited by time or space, but are universal and have existed ever since we knew anything about the psyche. Those characteristics, or those areas, so to speak, in the collective unconscious are called archetypes, which is a very difficult term to understand, because archetypes are unconscious, so how can we explain what is unconscious? We can only talk in analogies.
MISHLOVE: So there's a sense that while we can't really define the limits or the boundaries of the soul, the archetypes constitute the structures within the soul -- the energy constellations, the things that we organize our lives around.
SINGER: Yes, or that organize our lives for us, I would prefer to say, because we don't have too much to say about that process. They make us who we are. People often ask, "Well, how many archetypes are there, and what are they?" When you think about it, it's like a map of the world, and you say, "Well, how many countries are there?" You can configure it into many or few, and over the ages that's shifted. But there are certain areas that have a kind of homogeneity about them, and so in the archetypal world you have the world of the parents, the parental world, the mother world and the father world; and you have the concept of the God image, which is universal. Eeven though there are many gods, and many cultures have different ideas of what the god or the divine or the creative force is, the fact that it seems to be necessary for people to include spiritual meaning in their lives is universal. The concept of the child, the special child, the new thing that comes out of the union of male and female, is a universal concept. Then the idea of the shadow, for example, which was called by Jung the part of ourselves that we're not so familiar with, that is this kind of dark side, the side that's away from the light. If we're looking toward the light it's the part that's behind us, and yet although we don't see it, everybody else does.
MISHLOVE: So our life might be drifting in some direction, or we feel drawn towards different things, and we develop attitudes and values that we sort of take for granted, or we select in the environment around us. And what may really be happening is that some archetype is dominant in our subconscious -- an archetype that may have been shared by all of humanity. In effect it's running us.
SINGER: Yes, and we never see the archetype. We see archetypal images.
MISHLOVE: June Singer, we're out of time. It's been such a pleasure having you with me. Thank you so much for being with me.
SINGER: I've enjoyed talking with you, and hope we'll have another occasion to do some more.