Jung at Heart
By JIM RIDLEY Nov. 12, 2015
(pieces of my recent interview with Jim Ridley of the Nashville Scene)
Since July, a nonprofit called the Nashville Jung Circle has hosted discussions and community events focused on the precepts of Carl Gustav Jung, the father of analytical psychology and a pioneering explorer of the relationship between the conscious intellect and the realm of the collective unconscious. At 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, the group hosts a screening of the 1986 documentary Matter of Heart at The Belcourt, followed by a Q&A with its producer, Nashville resident and Jung Circle board member Michael Whitney.
One of the founders of the Jung Circle is Sherry Cothran, a veteran of the local club scene — notably as former lead singer for the popular act The Evinrudes — as well as an ordained United Methodist pastor. Why the screening, and why the renewed interest in Jung’s ideas about the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of our selves? Cothran answered our questions by email.
What is the purpose of the Nashville Jung Circle, and which of Jung’s ideas do you find especially relevant now?
I feel there is an urgency to Jung’s work in our time, particularly the work of integrating the darker parts of ourselves into our personalities. Jung felt that most of the conflicts in our day and age, including conflicts that lead to the destruction of the planet, violent relationships between nations and races, and the violence we do to ourselves, are rooted in our refusal to take on the responsibility for the shadow within. We live in a day and age when we are very good at visiting our shadow upon others — that is, projecting it outward so that we don’t have to do the painful, fearful work of looking inward too deeply. Anger, hatred, shaming, blaming, domination, control, manipulation, violence, all of those ways of being in the world that we can’t seem to stop doing because they are habituated in us, like addictive behaviors, they have simply become reflexive in our time.
Twelve-step programs (developed by Bill Wilson, a patient of Jung’s) have been very successful in helping people to integrate the shadow side into their lives rather than running from it. For many reasons, these programs have been successful on a very large scale, but I think one of the most important reasons is that there is a community of trust, honesty and care that is based in the principle of corporate poverty, not profit or gain. Churches, at their best, seek to be this kind of community, but pastors are often under pressure to perform, just like everyone else, according to the standards of the marketplace and usually end up having to spend much more time on marketing, promotion and maintenance than developing authentic community.
To do the work of the integration of the shadow requires a supportive and loving community, where one can risk honesty and trust, necessary ingredients for the self to develop. We are community-anemic in our time. So the Jung Circle hopes to be an organization that provides some meaningful connections for people, not the only one but one of many, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. This is something we will all learn together as we go along.
Is the portrait of Jung that emerges from Matter of Heart different from Michael Fassbender’s portrayal in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method?
In Matter of Heart we hear from those treated by Jung (most of whom, it seems, went on to become Jungian analysts themselves) as well as the man, Carl Jung, in personal interviews that paint a picture of a very loving, honest, caring and deeply spiritual person, almost of mystical status. Some say Jung was a mystic disguised as a psychologist, I suppose, in the same way we all seem to wear modern masks of our ancient selves. But that is the primary thing that I take away from the film and from Jung’s work: that we seem to have left our ancient wisdom behind in exchange for knowledge.
I think this is one of the themes A Dangerous Method seeks to relate, albeit in a controversial manner: that the wisdom of eros — to use Jungian terminology, “psychic relatedness”; a deeply spiritual connection, a spiritual love, a soul connection — takes us to the very heart of our being, that sensibility that connects us to creation, to the self and one to another. This kind of wisdom is often sought out in a variety of methods, and Cronenberg’s portrayal of Jung seems to run the gamut in A Dangerous Method, in which it seems that Jung’s curiosity about the depths of his own psyche is insatiable and somewhat overwhelming early on in his career.
But while A Dangerous Method is a fictional portrayal of what might have been, Matter of Heart is a documentary about what was, from the stories and testimonials of those whose lives were intertwined with Jung’s and benefited greatly from his life’s work as well as his spiritual journey. From Matter of Heart, we gain a clearer picture of the scope and urgency of Jung’s work for our time and get a clearer sense of the man who was Jung.
How do you reconcile Jung’s precepts — such as striving toward individuation and harmony between the conscious and unconscious — with your faith?
I always find it odd and wonderful that so many within the broad range of Christianity are attracted to Jung’s work, and so many clergy as well. For me, I can say that my own journey began to take shape in the container of Jung’s work around archetypes, myth and story, beginning with Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ fabulous book, Women Who Run With The Wolves. I was working on a CD around the stories of what I call the Prophets, Harlots, Witches and Warriors: Untamed Women of the Old Testament when I discovered this beautiful exploration of the Wild Woman Archetype by Estés, a Jungian analyst. One thing led to another, and I ended up exploring the vast range of Jung’s work as something that appealed both to my creative imagination as well as keeping my perspective fresh in a vocation that has a high stress and burnout rate.
There are a plethora of books out there by Christian clergy and theologians on the integration of Jung’s work into the faith. I think of Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward as the most recent in popularity, but there are many others. I was raised Southern Baptist and ordained in the United Methodist Church, so I have a particular, innate antennae for that sort of thing. To cut straight to heart of the matter, I think it has to do with Jung’s emphasis on the birth of the unconscious, the diligent and intentional work of the psyche, which I think of as the realm of the soul.
Since I am a pastor, I specialize in trying to raise awareness in people that we actually have a thing called a soul and that it is connected to the eternal. This is not simple, but Jung’s work makes it more easily digestible and provides a wonderful method for the exploration of the inner world. Many authors have compared the individuation process with the soul’s journey in the world, what Christ referred to as that second birth, the birth of spirit, anothen; the coming to be led by the Divine nature, the truer nature within, and the submission of the ego to that higher nature. The Rev. Thomas Long once wrote about the dangers of coming to believe too early, and it is true that individuation is a lifelong process.
Jung believed that our ancient biblical stories provided a beautiful and effective framework for the development of the psyche/soul, if only we would open ourselves up to the more mythical themes at work in these stories, which he felt were archetypal in nature, having the power to shape something as elusive as a soul. Particularly when lived out in the container of a community with love, compassion and forgiveness as its mantra. Of course, his father was a Christian clergyman, so this always left an indelible mark on Jung — the problem of the church and the ongoing struggle (since Constantine) of religion and spirituality.
For Jung, I think the great struggle of humanity, which is readily seen in the Old Testament narratives, is the tug of war between desire and peace, between wilderness and civilization, law and spirit, imagination and rationality, religion and spirituality, and this struggle continues in our day as well. Only it seems to be in crisis stage because our natural resources are drying up and our natural world seems at risk, so we are beginning to pay more attention to finding ways of manifesting more soul-filled, spiritual ways of being. The ancients used dreams, divination, prophecy and storytelling to bring the unconscious to the surface in the Old Testament narratives, to dare to speak of God. Jung’s methods are a bit more modern but still rooted in the ancient mind.
You’re both a pastor and a musician who’s fronted a rock band. Using terms Jung did much to define, which have you relied upon more: being an introvert or being an extravert?
I would say both heavily. I require much alone time but I also function quite a bit in a more public role. I try as much as I can these days to be more of a channel. An old Lakota medicine man described it best, Frank Foolscrow: He talked about being “little hollow bones” for the Creator. I think I was doing this with the music in my rock-band days, and it is probably what I enjoy most about singing, just channeling the beauty and trying not to get stuck in my own ego.
Like Johnny Cash, I walk the line. (That’s a joke). But it does speak to the tension of the opposites, which is where I think individuation takes hold: When you begin to stabilize between extreme tensions in your life, introvert/extrovert, (rock star/pastor) etc., and find the third way, and you begin to live out what Michael Meade calls “the story written upon the walls of your soul.” I think this is when things get really interesting, when the story you’ve been working on all your life begins to unfold.
Jung had an intense midlife period of confusion and psychic unrest that he viewed as a learning experience in some ways. Can we learn from such episodes in our own lives?
I heard it said that whenever someone’s life was falling apart, Jung would say, “Let’s have a glass of red wine and celebrate!” Because, I think, he believed that real breakthroughs often required breakdowns, that explosion of the artificial layers we insulate ourselves with, or those survival behaviors we’ve become accustomed to that carry us through difficult situations in life for a while but ultimately lead us into the depths of our soul’s work, beyond survival into thriving. I think he had what some might characterize as a nervous breakdown and chose to be hospitalized for a while, a result of the images of the unconscious overwhelming him as he moved through these stages. He sought to understand what it meant and took the time to process the experience, modeling healthy soul care.
Many of us have breakdowns or what we might call a psychic shift, but rarely take the time to go and recuperate from the experiences or have the luxury of time to learn from these eruptions, allowing them to point us toward some kind of faith or spiritual experience. While the processing of these experiences can provide avenues of healing, we often ignore them and just muscle through life. But Jung might tell us that these kinds of breakdowns precipitate breakthroughs and often are the unconscious trying to get our attention, trying to get a message to us that the soul wants to live the life it came into this world to live. And sometimes it orchestrates an explosion.