March 11th, 2006


I just ate the most delicious orange I've eaten in a long time. Possibly ever. Sweet, tart, and juicy. Just yummy.

Just had to share that with you.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and Some Really Cool Masks - Part 1

Last night my friend E. took me to the monthly event presented by the Oregon Friends of Jung. This month's program is called "Jung Embodied", featuring Meg Wilbur and Tina Stromsted. Tina - a blonde, willowy dancer - described the dual levels of communication in her intellectual but dysfunctional family of origin; that was how she became interested in body language and body expression. Meg (with short brown hair, looking bookish but with an occasional mischievous gleam in the eye) rebutted the popular belief that (paraphrasing) "Jungians don't do body". She asserted that Carl Jung himself maintained an active interest in the mind/body relationship but did not have the chance to fully explore it, and quoted several passages from CJ to that effect. (Something I didn't know: CJ collaborated with Wolfgang Pauli during the 1930s and 40s.) Jung compared the mind/body continuum to a spectrum, with the body at the "red" end and the spirit at the "violet" end; elsewhere, he used the image of mind and spirit as two cones whose tips do not touch. This second metaphor is important because it conveys the incompleteness of our present knowledge of this relationship, which CJ recognized. That the two are inseparable, however, he never doubted. Neither did he doubt the existence of something beyond the individual soul: "Below or aside one's psyche is another kind of intelligence, on which one depends," he said. And: "It is not I who live. It lives me."

Picking up where Jung left off, the speakers explained, is an explicitly feminist stream of psychoanalysis that seeks to reaffirm what Meg called the "unholy trinity" of body/shadow/feminine - unholy because they represent things that are repressed by modern civilization. While Jungians generally believe that "dreams are the closest link to the unconscious", nevertheless, they argued, the unconscious also manifests itself in physical ways, such as bodily tics and mannerisms, physical illnesses, eating disorders, and addictions. Meg cited the pioneering work of Marion Woodman, who argued that this approach is especially relevant for women because "it's not possible for women to ignore the body". (Even more forcefully, Woodman asserted that "pretending there is no body is pretending there is no Shadow".)

The final part of the event was remarkable: it consisted of Tina and Meg putting on masks they had constructed in workshops, and channeling personalities that they believed lived inside of them. It was fun to watch, and definitely a break from the "lecture" format. Still, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about this last part. For one thing, isn't the goal of psychoanalysis to integrate the personality? To me, it seems like hanging onto these "spare personalities" is a step backwards. But I'm not a psychologist or anything.

The other thing that struck me about the mask performance was that both speakers used the personas of "working-class" characters to access certain aspects of themselves. For Tina it was an African-American woman named Geraldine; for Meg, an English charwoman named Dolly. The character of Geraldine had originally been named "EarthHeart"; Tina explained that EarthHeart/Geraldine was the maid who swept the church at night. Dolly, according to Meg, was the lady who cleaned the Jung Institute building in Los Angeles. (Remember, both of these characters are the creation of the psychologists' imaginations.)

Now, notice that both personas are described as being "maids" of some sort, tasked with cleaning sacred buildings. Both (when Meg and Tina were "in character") spoke with suitable accents. Geraldine could sing - I mean, she really could sing! It was lovely. Dolly's job was to dispense homely, down-to-earth wisdom when Meg got too academic.

One of the things African-American writers consistently notice about whites is that whites tend to see them (black Americans) as the possessors of some earthy, "feeling" quality that they themselves have lost (or imagine that they have lost). I get the feeling that black Americans are often conscious of having the dominant, white culture's repressed side projected onto them; I'm tempted to say, of being the "shadow side" of white culture.

Any society larger than a nomadic tribe is going to have to incorporate some form of "division of labor" with different people doing different kinds of work. Some kinds of work are, frankly, more "work-like" than others, and this is what we call labor. Somebody's gotta do it. Nobody wants go to back to the days of feudal Europe or the Old South; and attempts to artificially impose a "classless society" or a "workers' paradise" have generally had the opposite effect. So whatever the shortcomings of the market economy might be, I'd venture that this offers, at least, a "least-worst" option where the individual is treated as an individual and can - in theory - advance from one level to the next. Yeah, call me a capitalist pig.

So, what about the parts of our psyche that live, so to speak, amongst the dirt and dust? Is it better to compartmentalize them, like the servant class in any caste system, fated to a life of menial servitude? Or should we treat them as simply aspects of a single integrated personality, parts of our "self" no less noble than the higher cognitive functions that write graduate papers and deliver eloquent speeches?

One final note, in fairness to Tina Stromsted: Tina noted that the persona of "Geraldine" was becoming more humanized and individuated over time. This was signalled by the change of name from the somewhat generic "EarthHeart" to the more personal "Geraldine". She also disclosed that she'd learned that her own mother, growing up in the South, had had an African-American wetnurse, and that this woman was probably the prototype for her "Geraldine". I like this. And I think Tina is on the right track in learning more about her family of origin, especially this woman (whose real name is still unknown) who played such an important part in her own mother's life.

{Part 2 follows at the link.}

Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and Some Really Cool Masks - Part 2

{More on the Jung event.}

Overall, I liked the emphasis on re-integrating the physical. I think that's important. I wasn't able to attend the pricey workshop on Saturday (today) but I did enjoy the emphasis on physicality.

During the Q&A session, one person asked the speakers about body work for people who are elderly and/or otherwise restricted in movement. Tina observed that, after all, "that's where we're all going!" Indeed. Turns out Tina used to run a seniors' clinic and dealt with isolation and the "collapse of the body" daily. Her approach for seniors:

Begin with body awareness. Notice the feeling of the feet on the ground and the back against the chair. Notice the position of the spine and the motion of the breath. Build a sense of presence in the body.

She interjected that she'd been using music in seniors' workshops for a while, and had always found it helpful; then one day she got the idea to play music from the seniors' teenage years - and the effect was dramatic! The elders suddenly regained a degree of energy, enthusiasm, flexibility, and general youthfulness that had seemed lost. This reminded me of something similar that Deepak Chopra explained in his "Magical Mind, Magical Body" audio series; Chopra also explained how a person's perception of their own age or youthfulness can have a profound effect on their well-being.

Tina went on to explain how she encouraged the seniors under her care to massage one another's hands with lotion; this powerful, intimate experience brought many of them to tears - and then to talking. Some of them went on to express themselves in writing, drawing, or music.

And I think this brings out the most important part of body awareness - the ability to touch one another. G-d help us if we lose it.