Category: <span>Essays</span>

My personal physician in Thun recently complained about the many patients he sees who are perfectly healthy but come to him doubled up in pain and complaining about their symptoms. “They are crazy,” he said throwing up his hands in frustration. “Perfectly healthy people, but not able to live with their health! On the other side I have patients who feel as healthy as can be, and I have to tell them they have six months to live because of a recently discovered lymphoma. I’d like to send the healthy ones to the moon! They’re nuts!”

His complaint reminded me of the opening pages in Jung’s 1936 Terry Lectures at Yale University entitled “Psychology and Religion.” There he is telling the audience about the power that a neurosis can have over patients’ lives. For instance, he says, a man imagines he has cancer, but there is no physical evidence of cancer in his body. He then feels at a complete loss and becomes convinced that he is crazy. So he consults Jung, a psychiatrist. “Help me, doctor. I think I’m dying from cancer but this is nonsense, yet I can’t stop it!” What does the psychiatrist Jung do with this imaginary cancer? “I told him that it would be better to take his obsession seriously instead of reviling it as pathological nonsense. But to take it seriously would mean acknowledging it as a sort of diagnostic statement of the fact that, in a psyche which really existed, trouble had arisen in the form of a cancerous growth. ‘But,’ he will surely ask, ‘what could that growth be?’ And I shall answer: ‘I do not know,’ as indeed I do not. Although… it is surely a compensatory or complementary unconscious formation, nothing is yet known about its specific nature or about its content. It is a spontaneous manifestation of the unconscious, based on contents which are not to be found in consciousness… I then inform him… that his dreams will provide us with all the necessary information. We will take them as if they issued from an intelligent, purposive, and, as it were, personal source…. The symptom is like the shoot above ground, yet the main plant is an extended rhizome underground. The rhizome represents the content of a neurosis; it is the matrix of complexes, of symptoms, and of dreams. We have every reason to believe that dreams mirror exactly the underground processes of the psyche. And if we get there, we literally get at the ‘roots’ of the disease.”

The delusional idea of a cancerous growth in a healthy body, then, is a symbol, which can provide a point of entry into the unconscious realm of complexes, processes, and hidden conflicts. And just as a physical cancer will suck the life out of a living organism if it is allowed to grow and remains unchecked, a psychic cancer too will drain a person’s life of psychic energy and produce a state of hopeless stagnation and eventually even psychic death. Symbols have the power to do just that. They collect, hold, and channel psychic energy, for good or ill.

In one sense, this psychic symptom is a metaphor, in that it is borrowing the language of physicality (cancer, illness) and applying it to the psychic domain. This transfer of language from one domain to another is what poets do when they employ metaphors. The psyche is involuntarily acting in a poetic fashion by stating, “I am sick with cancer,” when the person, were he more conscious of his psychic suffering, would say, “I am in profound despair,” or “I have no energy,” or “I am in hopeless conflict and it’s eating me alive!” But this patient cannot say that. He can only say: “I am convinced I have cancer, and I can’t get this irrational idea out of my head!” He is an unwilling poet. He has not chosen this symbol consciously or voluntarily; it has chosen him. He is unfree to dismiss it and unable to interpret it. So he goes to the analyst, and he confesses that he is possessed by a symbol and doesn’t know what it means. Understandably, he is humiliated by the stupid symptom and its unyielding grip on him. Jung says that such morbidity is usually shameful, and the patient is embarrassed to admit this weakness. He is in the grip of a complex, and this psychic factor – powerful, autonomous, and unconscious – is symbolized as a cancer. It must be analyzed and made conscious so that the very real suffering caused by the symptom-symbol can be transformed into psychic suffering. Perhaps other psychic resources can thus also be constellated, which will assist in bringing about the free flow of energy (libido) into more life enhancing tasks and goals.

What is a symbol?

As Jung understands and employs the term symbol, it is different from a metaphor in that what it is communicating or presenting to consciousness is utterly untranslatable into any other terms, at least for the time being. Symbols are opaque and often bring thinking to a standstill. Metaphors are transparent and must be so if they are to do their job. They help us think in creative ways “outside the box.” If a poet writes, for instance, that a bridge leaps (“vaulting the sea”) and addresses it as a “harp” and an “altar,” as the American poet Hart Crane does in his famous poem, “To Brooklyn Bridge,” the reader can with diligence puzzle out a sense of what the poet means to communicate. We know what a bridge is, and we know what “vaulting” signifies and what “altars” and “harps” are, and we can think along with the poet and appreciate what he is getting at with these metaphors. The image all refer to sense data in the material world, and reflection will yield interesting ideas about how they belong together and what this unique concatenation signifies. But if a patient says, “I am convinced that that I have a cancerous tumor in my body but there is no evidence, what does this mean?” the psychotherapist must confess, with Jung, “I have no idea what it means, but we can explore the image. By looking at your life, your history, your dreams and fantasies, we may be able to discover something that at this moment is locked out of consciousness and is analogous to a cancer.” It is an important difference. The link between signifier and signified is totally opaque in the case of symbols; with metaphors, on the contrary, this link is evident even if often very complicated and at first glance puzzling.

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The First International Conference on Jungian Psychology and Chinese Culture was held in Guangzhou, China in December, 1998. My paper was among the conference papers translated into Chinese and later published in English in Quadrant XXXI (2) Summer 2001. An abridged and slightly revised version is presented here.

Hexagram 42, Increase

For many Westerners an introduction to Chinese culture comes through the use of the I Ching. This profound book, a compendium of wisdom extending back to the roots of one of the planet’s most ancient cultures, has become an important companion for many in the West, including myself. Use of the I Ching challenges the reigning scientific paradigms in Western culture and brings a dimension to the Jungian psychoanalytic process that is sympathetic to the deepest and truest spirit of Jungian psychology.

            In Jungian terms, one could say the I Ching is a book that emerged out of the archetypal depths of the human psyche and the psychoid dimensions of the Self. The origins of dreams and the genesis of hexagrams in response to questions addressed to the I Ching are grounded in the same source. The Chinese ideogram for the sage, “the ear listening to the Inner King,” describes the process and goal of Jungian psychology.

            Scientists are giving ecological perspectives more credibility, where patterns of relationships are central. Psychoneuroimmunology research and the statistical verifications of the power of prayer and belief blur the distinctions between mind and matter. Our outlook on life, the way we perceive the world, and our ability to reflect and see meaning in experiences have been shown to affect our health and physical well-being. Dreams, particular psychological approaches, certain spiritual practices, and the I Ching address these issues at deep and subtle psychogenic levels where mind and matter meet (1).

            Analysts are in a good position to notice synchronistic events because we work with dreams at an archetypal level. Synchronistic events are usually related to archetypal events like birth, death, strong love relationships, and jealousy. Circumstantial evidence that synchronicities occur prompted me to develop an experiment to statistically test the possibility. This was part of my thesis (1983) at the Jung Institute in Zurich entitled “Synchronicity Experiments with the I Ching and Their Relevance to the Theory of Evolution.”

            Synchronicity convinced Jung there was an element of the psyche outside time and space: space and time are relative to the psyche (3). Incorporating the concept of synchronicity into his theoretical system late in his life led Jung to substantially reformulate his concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious, putting them on a transcendent basis. Jung thought of archetypes as forms of existence without time and space, with the archetype per se being a “just so” ordering principle, an imperceptible structural element giving order to ideas and completely integrated with physical reality (4). Archetypes have a psychoid nature, meaning they have both a psychic and a physical dimension: psychic and physical are two sides of the same coin (5). An analogy in physics would be light, which behaves as a particle and a wave; matter (particles) and field somehow being two sides of the same phenomena…

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In a letter to P.W. Martin (20 August 1945), the founder of the International Study Center of Applied Psychology in Oxted, England, C.G. Jung confirmed the centrality of numinous experience in his life and work: “It always seemed to me as if the real milestones were certain symbolic events characterized by a strong emotional tone. You are quite right, the main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neuroses but rather with the approach to the numinous. But the fact is that the approach to the numinous is the real therapy and inasmuch as you attain to the numinous experiences you are released from the curse of pathology. Even the very disease takes on a numinous character” (Jung 1973, 1: 377). If one holds the classical Jungian view that the only genuine cure for neurosis is to grow out of it through pursuing individuation, then treatment based on this model would seem necessarily to include “the approach to the numinous,” as Jung states so firmly in this letter. The individuation process, as proposed by Jung and his followers, typically includes experiences of a numinous nature.

The question is: How are such momentous experiences related to and used within the context of analysis and the individuation journey, and how do they contribute to the overall process of individuation? On the answer to this complex question rests the difference between psychological individuation and the development of spirituality. While the psychological hero(ine) of the individuation journey is by no means identical to the spiritual hero(ine) of the journey to God (however this term may be defined), it is not always easy to tell where their paths diverge, precisely because Jung placed such central importance on numinous experience for individuation. And yet they do diverge, and decisively.

On Healing and Numinous Experience

We can begin by investigating how attaining to numinous experiences releases a person from the curse of pathology, as Jung claims in his letter to P.W. Martin. Generally speaking, an “approach to the numinous” is considered a religious undertaking, a pilgrimage. The “attainment to the numinous experiences” that Jung speaks of refers to religious experiences of a quasi-mystical nature. By itself, this attainment might well persuade a person that life is meaningful. Numinous experience creates a convincing link to the transcendent, and this may well lead to the feeling that character flaws like addictions or behavioral disorders are trivial by comparison with the grand visions imparted in the mystical state. The pathological symptom can be interpreted as an incitement to go on the spiritual quest, or even as a paradoxical doorway into transcendence, and this can donate meaning to the malady itself. Perhaps some degree of pathology is needed, in fact, in order for a person to feel strongly enough motivated to set out on a spiritual quest to begin with. In this case, attainment to numinous experiences would bring about a change in the feeling that pathology is a curse, even if it did not result in curing the pathology itself, although it might lead to this as well.

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I would like to take some time to write about the psychological wisdom of a prayer -“The Lord’s Prayer”- that has guided the lives of millions of Catholic people around the world. My objective is to offer (like Edward Edinger did; see his book, “Transformation of the God-Image”) a brief psychological distillation (intra-psychic perspective) of that prayer.

First, here is the prayer:

“Our Father who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”

From a psychological point of view, the relationship between our ego and the unconscious is important for our psychological well-being, especially the relationship between our consciousness and the center of the unconscious, which Analytical Psychology (Jung) calls the Self or the God Image in us. According to Jung, God is in each of us and that He/She is the center of the unconscious, which contains not only all the undiscovered and unknown potentials, talents, and abilities in each human life but, also, the dark aspects of human nature.

“Our Father who are in Heaven”

Then, what does the first sentence – “Our Father who are in Heaven” – mean psychologically?

It may mean that, inside of each of us, there is a place (Heaven) where all the undiscovered and unknown potentials, skills, talents, abilities as well as the dark aspects are located, and that the Creator of Life -God (Father)- as well as the fundamental impulse to create is there, too.

“Hallowed be Thy name”

What does this sentence mean psychologically?

The Self -God in us- is sacred. The prayer is asking people to declare the Self sacred and to view the inner center of our lives -the Self- as holy and whole. Given that the Self or God in us is dynamic center from where all psychological life begins -wishes, desires, thoughts, unknown potentials, undiscovered talents, and untapped skills- the second sentence of prayer is asking us to view and hold our psychological lives as sacred and divine. In a world where, unfortunately, outer reality seems to be the most important aspect of a human life, redeeming the “inner life and its center” as sacred seeks to restore the great psychological value of inner life.

Blog Posts Essays Religion & Spirituality Taborda, Freddie

During this pandemia, the archetype of the hermit is knocking at the door worldwide. Then, quietly, he looks at us in the privacy of our homes, with ancient eyes, offering the gift of contemplation with which we awake to what is around us. We sense ourselves more. Also, the hermit’s abode is silence, which welcomes and embraces the fullness of life within; yet, at our homes, his visit may make us tremble with terror when facing such emptiness of sound and the magnitude of the space within. He carries a lamp to guide the inner traveler to the realm of solitude. Yes! During this pandemia, the hermit has brought, worldwide, the gifts of solitude, silence, and contemplation, which, for some people, may be unbearable to withstand, forcing them to run away from themselves. Thomas Merton wrote: “Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally.”

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Durante esta pandemia, el arquetipo del ermitaño está tocando la puerta en todo el mundo. En silencio, el nos mira en la privacidad de nuestros hogares, con ojos sabios, ofreciendo el regalo de la contemplación con el que nos despertamos a lo que nos rodea. Nos sentimos más nosotros mismos. Además, la morada del ermitaño es el silencio, que acoge y abraza la plenitud de la vida interior; sin embargo, en nuestros hogares, su visita puede hacernos temblar de terror al enfrentar el vacío del sonido y la magnitud del espacio interior. El lleva una lámpara para guiar al viajero interior al reino de la soledad. ¡Si! Durante esta pandemia, el ermitaño ha traído, por todo el mundo, los dones de la soledad, el silencio y la contemplación, que, para algunas personas, esto puede ser insoportable, obligándolos a huir de sí mismos. Thomas Merton escribió: “No todos los hombres están llamados a ser ermitaños, pero todos los hombres necesitan suficiente silencio y soledad en sus vidas para permitir que la profunda voz interna de su verdadero esencia se escuche al menos ocasionalmente”.

This post originally appeared on thehealingpsyche.org.

Freddie Taborda, LCPC, PsyD is a Jungian Analyst with over 30 years of clinical experience. He maintains a private practice in Chicago, Illinois.


Links: Dr. Taborda’s Website | About Dr. Taborda | Dr. Taborda’s Page on the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago’s Website

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