Coniunctionis.18: Separation and Return

I have not posted anything on the site for a few months as I have been in the process of moving back from New Zealand to the United States. An international move takes a lot of energy and planning and I am just starting to get settled into our new home in Seattle. Although we have visited Seattle many times, this is the first time we are living here, so it is a sort of home-coming to the US, but it is also a move to a new city. We are living in a one bedroom apartment for the time being, our belongings have arrived, but will be in storage until such time as we buy a house, so this is an extended transitional stage. I have been reflecting on a number of larger life topics during this transition and during this particular stage in my life. I think the “largeness” of these topics warrants another installment in the Coniunctionis column that I started around 2000. I borrowed this term from Jung’s major work on alchemy and personal/spiritual transformation, Mysterium Coniunctionis. Chalquist defines Mysterium Coniunctionis as “the final alchemical synthesis (for Jung, of ego and unconscious, matter and spirit, male and female) that brings forth the Philosopher’s Stone (the Self). Its highest aspect, as for alchemist Gerard Dorn, was the unus mundus, a unification of the Stone with body, soul, and spirit,” (Glossary of Jungian Terms). Jung’s study of alchemy is related to his study of Gnosticism, both of which served to link his inner experiences and visions of The Red Book with historical traditions of mysticism and divine revelation. He saw the Gnostics and the alchemists as carrying on the tradition of inner experience of the divine, a form of mysticism. This work of transformation required inner work as well as outer work, in a truly holistic manner. Jung wrote that the “alchemists thought that the opus demanded not only laboratory work, the reading of books, meditation, and patience, but also love,” (The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16). Thus, in my Coniunctionis column, I investigate transformation from a wide-ranging variety of sources. In this installment, I will examine the framework of the hero’s journey for my own situation, for returning war veterans, in literature and movies, and in the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung and science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.


The theme for this column is “separation and return,” and I borrow this concept from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell elucidated a common underlying theme that can be found in mythology, religion, literature and in people’s lives. Campbell was influenced by Jung’s ideas (particularly archetypes and the collective unconscious) and applied them to the field of mythology. He influenced popular culture (George Lucas admits that he drew on Campbell’s ideas for the plot of “Star Wars”). The map of the journey can be briefly summarized as a movement from the everyday world, to a series of struggles crossing a threshold into another world and then crossing the threshold back to everyday life. different variations of this journey can be seen in mythology and religious stories, as well as in the lives of artists and visionaries. What particularly interests me at this time is how this framework applies to my own situation of having left the US to live in New Zealand for over 3 years and to now be in the process of returning. I have also been pondering how this framework might be useful in helping veterans returning home after deployment (as my job I am starting next week will be with the VA).

Here is a visual diagram of the hero’s journey from Wikipedia , (further reading under the “Monomyth” heading):

Campbell gives an overview of the journey as follows:

The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure.  There he encounters a shadow presence that guards that passage.  The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion).  Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers).  When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward.  The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinisation (apotheosis), or again–if the powers have remained unfriendly to him–his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom).  The final work is that of the return.  If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight).  At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection).  The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir), (Campbell, 245-246).

Campbell describes hero themes of warrior, lover, emperor, world redeemer, and saint. We can apply this framework of the hero’s journey to these external journeys, as well as to the internal journeys of artists and creatives (this would of course apply to Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick’s experiences as well, which will be the focus of my next book). While action-oriented, downward part of the cycle is the one that is most often focused on in movies, the return is just as trying and it is this part of the journey that separates the successful heroes journey from the tragic heroes journey. (The tragic journey is well-exemplified by rock and roll heroes like Ian Curtis or Curt Cobain, who achieved the boon, but were destroyed by it and were unable to integrate it back into a live-able and sustainable life).  It is precisely this return that I now find myself in and which draws my interest and enthusiasm. While I don’t mean to aggrandize my own experience of living in another English-speaking country and returning back to the US, I do believe that there are some universal themes of the hero’s journey that apply to cross-cultural repatriation and to returning war veterans, as well as to works of literature.

For instance in Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo can be seen as having difficulties fitting back into society after his wounds and experiences. Sam has an easier reintegration and creates a new family. Frodo continues to suffer from physical and emotional pain from his wound and from his experience of proximity to evil. Compared to Sam, Frodo always remains somewhat apart from the society that he gave so much to save – an obvious parallel with returning war veterans. This example from literature shows that even when the returning hero has quite literally “saved the world,” the return can still be problematic and for some is never complete. It could be said that with Frodo’s return, he is “in but not of” the society of the Shire. He remains partly outside of it. In choosing this language from the Bible, I purposefully invoke the themes of mysticism as another example of journey and return. For Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick,  after their inner journeys, the rest of their lives were focused on translating and linking back to historical and contemporary society their inner experiences with a larger purpose and meaning for others. Within Jung’s Red Book can be seen the glimmering of his mature works on Gnosticism and alchemy. Philip K. Dick’s 8,000 page Exegesis shows his persistent and never-ending attempts to understand his intense and overwhelming experiences of February/March 1974. Also worth mentioning is Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf which works on the theme of how those “outside” of society actually nourish the cultural life of those “inside” society.


Let us turn to the horizontal line between the known/unknown in the diagram of the hero’s journey, above. This threshold can be considered to separate the mundane from the sacred, the worldly from the other-worldly, and consciousness from unconsciousness. Those who have studied initiation rituals and transformation sometimes speak of liminality. For instance, Arnold van Gennep’s 1908 book, Rites of Passage, examines pre-liminal, liminal, and post-liminal initiation rites. This roughly corresponds to separation, initiation, return. The focus on managing this liminal boundary can be seen in concepts like tapu and noa in Māori culture (see Coniunctionis.17) as well as well as societal structures that manage individuals instincts and enthusiasms.


This is an interesting parallel between Freud and Jung in regard to culture. Freud’s views on culture are that the role of culture is to inhibit and channel the libido (sexuality) of individuals. Whereas Jung’s view of libido had more to do with spiritual and mystical energies (of which sexuality was one expression). Both Freud and Jung were ambivalent toward society and culture, on the one hand seeing it as a limitation of the individual, while on the other hand seeing it as a protective element against the dangers of instinctual drives and eruptions of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, respectively. This also is the tension between religion (which seeks to structure and define “legitimate” spiritual experience) and mysticism (which is the direct access of spiritual experience by the individual that is unmediated by social or religious structures).


The liminal boundary separates the ordinary world from the non-ordinary world. From the perspective of society, the ordinary world is reality. From the perspective of poets, mystics, it is the liminal world that is Reality, where one feels really alive, connected with the cosmos, in union with the divine. Many Eastern philosophies, such as Hinduism and Buddhism speak of the ordinary world as being a veil of illusion over the Real world. Western Gnosticism, similarly speaks of the ordinary world as an illusion or delusion that leads one away from the true world of Spirit. The Matrix trilogy played with these ideas from a technological rather than a spiritual and metaphysical perspective. The resurrection of these concepts in modern form attests to a large part of the popularity of that trilogy, above and beyond the action and visual effects of the movies. Henry Corbin’s work on Persian Sufism and mysticism also picks up this theme that the ordinary world is a projection or creation of a “more real” spiritual world (this is an extreme simplification of his prodigious work which merits a Coniunctionis column of its own). And lastly, I’ll mention Amit Goswami’s work in The Quantum Doctor and The Quantum Activist in which he argues (from a Quantum physics point of view that intersects with Hindu philosophy) that consciousness is the primary reality and matter a secondary manifestation of consciousness.


The source of mana in indigenous Fijian culture is believed to reside in the “mana-box” (kato ni mana) buried in the depths of the ocean. Katz describes this in his book, The Straight Path: A Story of Healing and Transformation in Fiji, (p. 22), and he tells of how healers are called in dreams to dive down into the abyss in order to bring back the boon of mana to use for healing purposes for the community.

Why would anyone want to return from the liminal space of the unknown if it is the source of creative and spiritual inspiration, of mana, of transformative energy, and the boon of the hero’s journey? This is of course a very real dilemma, Jung recognized this, as do any cultures with a conception of the liminal threshold to the sacred. This potential energy is energy of transformation and that means destruction of old forms as well as creation of new forms. Human life, the stability of society, and the mental stability of the individual depend upon a balance of structured forms as well as an influx of transformative energy, as was discussed in Coniunctionis.17 regarding the Apollonian and Dionysian dialectic. As David Tacey writes in his recent book, The Darkening Spirit: Jung, Spirituality, Religion, Jung’s position fluctuated regarding the role of religious and societal boundaries and the individual’s quest. Jung respects the transformative power of the liminal realm (the archetypes of the collective unconscious) and saw that contact with this realm was inherently dangerous and could destroy the individual as well as be healing or transformative. Jung struggled with this personally in his life, and while ever a champion of the individual, he recognized that the individual’s continued existence is rooted in society. He wrote that “The opening up of the unconscious always means the outbreak of intense spiritual suffering: it is as when fertile fields are exposed by the bursting of a dam to a raging torrent,” (Jung, “Psychotherapists and the Clergy,” CW 10). Further, “The modern man must be proficient in the highest degree, for unless he can atone by creative ability for his break with tradition, he is merely disloyal to the past,” (Jung, “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man”). This implies that there is a complex reciprocal relationship between the individual, the liminal unknown (the collective unconscious), and society. The individual must be willing to leave the safety and boundaries of society; then risk being overwhelmed by the liminal abyss (Mogenson describes any overwhelming, traumatic experience as being synonymous with “God,” see God is a Trauma: Vicarious Religion and Soul-making, this idea is similar to that of indigenous cultures view of the sacred as being both beneficial and dangerous, anything that is overwhelming is sacred and must be handled very carefully); and then must return to society, carrying something (having become someone) that is bigger than one’s previous place in society. The fact of the heroes transformation mid-journey is the fact that the same essence that is potentially transformative for society is the same essence which causes society to reject the transformed individual (recall Jerzy Kosinski’s myth of the “painted bird” who is attacked and killed by its flock because it is simply painted a different color).

The transformed individual simply does not fit back into the place/role in society which they left and yet to complete the hero’s journey, they must accomplish the return for their good as well as the good of society. Tacey writes, “The boon must be shared and brought into the community…spiritual experience is not complete until one finds a way back to others…We make the journey back not only for the sake of others, but for our own mental health as well,” (Tacey, 151).

This dilemma leaves several possibilities (Campbell explores many of these variations in The Hero With a Thousand Faces):

1) the prototypical, successful hero’s journey ends with a successful reintegration back into society in which the transformed individual is given/creates a new role in society and society appreciates this work;

2) the tragic hero’s journey in which the individual either dies, commits suicide, or returns but is not accepted;

3) the rejection of the return, the individual chooses not to return and rejects the original society (this could be madness, becoming a hermit, or for a veteran, perhaps re-enlisting);

4) the rejection of the boon, the hero tries to go back to who they were before their transformative journey;

5) or various combinations of these possibilities.

The work of a successful return has both inner (individual) and outer (collective) elements. What if the “boon” of the returning individual is not clear? What if the individual only recognizes that they have changed, that they are different, but does not see a path as to how this difference can be a boon or benefit to them or to society? What if society rejects what the hero brings back? For instance, Vietnam veterans were often viewed as villains rather than heroes. Society may just see the individual as changed and react to that without seeing how it can be of collective benefit. What if hero rejects his or her experience of transformation, and simply tries to fit back into their previous role in society (this is a common dilemma for those who experience trauma, that they reject the transformation as it seems only negative and they strive to recover their “lost” previous life and self). The inner work for the individual is to integrate the overwhelming, transformative experience. If this is not done, it will make the individual’s return much less likely to be successful. In many ways it is not realistic to expect that society as a whole will change to welcome transformed individuals with open arms. It is society’s goal to be conservative and to be cautionary about integrating individuals who are unpredictable. Jonathan Shay wrote, in his book Achilles in Vietnam, about the role that acting and drama had for returning war veterans. They were given a place in society that was respected, that helped them work through their transformation, and also transformed society in the process. That would be an ideal, that the structure of society would provide effective boundaries but still recognize the need for creative growth and transformation. Many earlier societies provided this type of balance to provide safety, community, belonging, as well as creative spiritual space for individual transformation. For instance, warriors preparing for battle or returning from battle in Māori culture were considered tapu and rituals would be used to render them noa.


In closing, let us move away from the theme of returning war veterans, back to my more immediate concern of reintegrating back into the US after almost three and a half years in New Zealand.  (Again, I hope it is clear to the reader that I am moving back and forth between related universal themes and not claiming my experience is that of a returning war veteran, a traumatized person, or a “hero”). The concept of “reverse-culture shock” speaks to this idea that a return home after living in another culture can have its own challenges. Picking up on the framework discussed in this column, leaving one’s culture and living in another culture transforms the individual. This transformation can be both positive and negative for the individual and it requires inner work in order to integrate new experience into the Self of the individual. For myself, I took 5 weeks off before starting work. I have spent time reconnecting to family, I’ve made two trips back to the Mid-west. I have also spent a lot of time on my own, reading, writing, thinking, walking, meditating. I have talked with others when appropriate; I recognize that my need and capacity to talk about New Zealand generally is greater than the listener’s capacity/interest to listen. It really helps that Mary Pat and I have both gone through the experience together of moving abroad and returning, however, every individual’s experience is different and even within the relationship there is the challenge of balancing and integrating each of our individual experiences of separation and return. I have turned to reading books like Corbin’s Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi. As somewhat of a parallel thinker to Jung, and a mystic scholar, Corbin has provided a spiritual framework that complements Campbell’s hero’s journey.  I suppose to voluntarily leave one’s own home culture for a period of time, quite possibly presupposes a degree of alienation from the home culture in the first place. I know for me it did. Thus, I find myself in a situation in which I am reflecting how to integrate my time “down under” (the “underworld”) into my professional and personal life. This is occurring for me at the age of 46, which intersects with the larger mid-life transition (Jung’s work was very focused on the mid-life transition and in fact both for him as well as Philip K. Dick, their visionary experiences occurred at mid-life). The universal questions of any reflective person take on new meaning and urgency at this point in life, so I suppose I have a bit of a double whammy with my stage in life as well as with my return “home.”

Coniunctionis.17: The Dangers and Benefits of Enthusiasm (or the Dangers and Benefits of God)

This essay picks up on some of the earlier themes in the Coniunctionis series, which focused on the relation between trauma, art, punk rock and transformation. This column examined the anger and aggression of punk rock (sometimes self-destructive and sometimes critical of society with an implied sense of transformation – things can or should be another way) as well as the nihilism and despair in Joy Division’s music. What interested me back then was how going into the darkness can lead to a positive transformation, in contrast to the belief that one becomes positive by distancing one’s self from the negative. It has been over 10 years since I wrote the earlier Coniunctionis columns. I recently came across some notes I had taken from the books I was reading back then for a piece I was writing on Joy Division entitled: “Something Must Break: The Joy Division to New Order Story.” I will combine these notes and reflections with more recent thoughts and work on the spiritual experiences of Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick, readings on mysticism, poetry and the conception of the sacred in indigenous cultures, specifically the Māori concepts of Tapu and Noa.


We will start with the word “enthusiasm.” The lack of enthusiasm is a significant problem in contemporary life. To be unenthused is to be apathetic, listless, disconnected, isolated, remote and unmotivated. Everyone wants to have enthusiasm in their life. It is what makes life worth living in many ways. To be enthused is to be energized, engaged, connected, full of life, bursting with ideas, the enthused feel that they are in the center of life, they are relevant and their life has purpose. The root of the word enthusiasm comes from Greek words of enthousiasmos and entheos, meaning divine inspiration or even possessed by a god. (I have also seen the word linked to Zeus, the king of the Greek pantheon of gods, such that one could be en-zeused, the words Zeus and theos seem to have some similar roots). The history of the word “enthusiasm” is ambivalent. On the positive side is the aspect of being filled with God, alive and creative. Amongst Christian sects the word was considered suspect or even heretical by mainstream religion. (Dorothee Soelle, in her book The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, makes a very interesting argument that mysticism, i.e. the direct experience of God, is always a source of resistance or even revolution to structured religion and society). The Wikipedia entry on enthusiasm details a brief history of some of its religious connotations. It also states that the Greek root relates to possession by Apollo or Dionysus, however these are two very different energies and we will turn to Nietzsche for an explication of that difference.


Nietzsche describes the two complementary but opposite effects of the Apollonian and Dionysian spirits in art and music. He states that “art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian-Dionysian duality,” (19).  “It is Apollo who tranquilizes the individual by drawing boundary lines, and who, by enjoining again and again the practice of self-knowledge, reminds him of the holy, universal norms…the Dionysiac flood tide periodically destroys all the little circles in which the Apollonian would confine,” (65). Thus we have the creative tension between the Apollonian energy of beauty, harmony, order, systems, regulated relationships and peace; and the Dionysian energy of disruption, change, sudden transformation, transcendence of boundaries and a sense of mystical unity, which Nietzsche would perhaps characterize as unconscious dissolution. Apollo was the god of healing and medicine (Asclepius was his son) as well as the god of music and poetry. He is considered a solar god with all attendant continual light of consciousness (Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God series has in-depth discussions of the differences between the masculine solar gods and the generally feminine lunar goddesses). Dionysus, on the other hand was the god of wine, of ekstasis (ecstasy) and divine madness. The Wikipedia entry states that he was sometimes described as womanly or “manwomanish” which would be consistent with a lunar rather than solar association.

Nietzsche clearly sides with the Dionysian as opposed to the Apollonian. The risk of too much Apollonian energy is stagnation, stultification and too much order. To Nietzsche, who believed that one should philosophize with a hammer, the traditional order was actually destroying true humanity. The risk of too much Dionysian energy is madness and physical destruction (we remember that Nietzsche, himself, became mad with tertiary syphilis and that his writing became more grandiose in his later life). He writes of Dionysiac ritual that “each individual becomes not only reconciled to his fellow but actually at one with him – as though the veil of Maya had been torn apart and there remained only shreds floating before the vision of mystical Oneness,” (23). Nietzsche suggests that humanity is Dionysian at heart and that perhaps the Apollonian is an illusion of order super-imposed. “If we could not imagine an incarnation of dissonance – and what is man if not that? – that dissonance, in order to endure life, would need a marvelous illusion to cover it with a veil of beauty,” (145).


Alvarez also studied the nature of creativity and its relation to destruction and suicide. He cites Bakunin’s statement that, “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion,” (17). Alvarez recognized the need for an unleashing of primal and chaotic energies in order to create art as well as the need to give this chaotic energy some Apollonian structure. “For the artist…chaos is…felt as an absence far back and a proportionate urgent need to create some new order for himself and from scratch; that is more likely to inspire work than frustrate it,” (257). Art is thus, as Nietzsche described, created from the tension of chaos and order. We can see that chaos appears to be the more primal root of experience in this last quote by Alvarez as well as in the last sections’ quote from Nietzsche. Is this surprising? It should not be given that most creation myths/stories start with: in the beginning there was nothing or chaos and then some creative act formed order out of chaos. It is not that chaos and order are two different things – although they are in opposition they are necessarily in relationship – chaos is the substance that order is created from or imposed upon.

Alvarez noted that while the passion for destruction was necessary in art that the creation of art is not always healing for the artist. For “the artist himself art is not necessarily therapeutic; he is not automatically relieved of his fantasies by expressing them. Instead, by some perverse logic of creation, the act of formal expression may simply make the dredged up material more available to him. The result of handling it in his work may well be that he finds himself living it out,” (54).  This reminds one of Nietzsche’s statement that “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you,” (Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 146).


In 1934 to 1939, Carl Jung ran a seminar discussing Nietzsche and his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Jung was interested in Nietzsche and this book for a number of reasons. The book sprang forth from Nietzsche, or through him, within a very short time. The book presents the Persian prophet, Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, as a contemporary figure (who is obviously a counter-ego for Nietzsche) who goes beyond good and evil, proclaims the death of God, and seeks to establish a new mode of living in which humans overcome themselves (the infamous übermensch, often translated as “overman” or “superman”). While many see Nietzsche as a nihilist and atheist, he feared that the contemporary belief systems of the late 19th century were symptoms of nihilism. His Zarathustra is thus a prophet who teaches the path of enlightenment. He describes man as an experiment that is in risk of failing and he provides hope for this condition. “Physician, help yourself: thus you help your patient too. Let this be the best help that he may behold with his eyes the man who heals himself…Verily, the earth shall yet become a site of recovery,” ( The Portable Nietzsche, 189). As the last part of this quote shows, the transformation is an earthly one, not an other-worldly one. Nietzsche was suspicious of traditions and hierarchies, thus he wrote, “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil,” (190). Further he wrote (and Zarathustra said) “You had not yet sought yourselves: and you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to little. Now I bid you to lose me and find yourselves: and only when you have all denied me will I return to you,” (190). Rather than followers, he teaches others to become self-actualized, to use a term from humanistic psychology.

Jung was particularly interested in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra as an archetypal vision and attempt to heal or make sense of madness – an eruption from the collective unconscious of creative/destructive chaos in the psyche. He was interested in this because he, himself, had a similar experience which he described and documented in his Red Book, which has just recently been published in the last few years. Personally, I feel that I can even see Nietzsche’s influence at times in the words and manner in which Jung documents his experiences. Jung described to Jaffé, “I stood helpless before an alien world; everything seemed difficult and incomprehensible. I was living in a constant state of tension; often I felt as if gigantic blocks of stone were tumbling down upon me…Others have been shattered by them – Nietzsche, and Hölderlin…But there was a demonic strength in me, and from the beginning there was no doubt in my mind that I must find the meaning of what I was experiencing in these fantasies…I had the unswerving conviction that I was obeying a higher will, and that feeling continued to uphold me until I had mastered the task,” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 177).  Here again we see the Dionysian up swelling of creative/destructive chaos which the Apollonian consciousness struggles to create into some form of words, order and understanding. Whereas Nietzsche sided with the Dionysian over the Apollonian “illusion,” Jung’s philosophy was more one of integration in which consciousness needs periodic injections of creative/destructive chaos and then the work began to integrate, translate and transform that energy into something useful, meaningful and understandable. For Jung, it was always about the therapeutic. As he said, “I could not expect of my patients something I did not dare to do myself,” (178). And he reports that thinking of how his experiences could possibly help his patients helped him bear the tension of his experiences.

Hopefully this makes it clear as to why Jung would spend 6 years on a seminar on Zarathustra. We will now turn to the text of these seminars where Jung examines the process of creative/destructive energy erupting into consciousness and the struggle to integrate that. Jung commented that “man does not possess creative powers, he is possessed by them,” (40). One of the dangers of the flow of creative power through a person is that the person will mistake themselves or their ego as the source of this energy. This creates quite a paradoxical situation in which an individual experiences and expresses something through one’s own being, but whose source is not from one’s own being or ego at least. Jung describes misidentification with this energy as “inflation.” “As soon as self-consciousness comes in, there is inflation: you imagine that you are the creator and then you are God, because you feel, of course, like ten thousand dollars if you have time to think of it,” (40). Jung describes the risk that Nietzsche (and he, himself) faced, that “the creative powers steal your time, sap your strength, and what is the result? A book perhaps. But where is your personal life? All gone. Therefore, such people feel so terribly cheated; they mind it, and everybody ought to kneel down before them in order to make up for that which has been stolen by God. The creative forces have taken it out of them, and therefore they would like to personify them, to imagine that they are Shiva, in order to have the delight of being creative. But if you know you are creative and enjoy being creative, you will be crucified afterwards, because anybody identified with God will be dismembered,” (41).

Of note here is that Jung slips from in earlier pages speaking of possession by archetypes and inflation to speaking of possession by God. I think this is something that can be confusing in his writing. I view his term, archetype, as an attempt to develop a psychological understanding of spiritual processes. His concept of archetype has its roots in his book Symbols of Transformation which examines universally occurring mythical and psychological motifs and he argued that this same process of generating myth occurred in a distorted form in mental illness.

How is one to avoid being destroyed or inflated when consorting with the creative/destructive energies and possession by God? Jung states that one can only do this only “by obeying completely without attempting to look at yourself. You must be quite naive,” (40). This seems to imply a level of trust, faith in the process (even without knowing where it leads) as well as an absence of egoism, narcissism and even of intellectual sophistication.

Jung picks up on Nietzsche’s interest in Dionysus and writes that in the “greatness of the completely unconscious state of the Dionysian enthusiasm…In that intoxication, the god enters the mystes [the initiate]. He becomes a god himself. He becomes the great current of nature, the stream itself, and there are no individual worries any longer,” (76).


There is, however, the common experience of mysticism that God is in all things and that God is within the self. However, Jung seems to be saying that the key to human psychological survival of an encounter with God is let God flow through one’s self without over-identifying with the energy. Thus, one has something flowing through one’s self which is not of one’s self. Dorothee Soelle, in her book, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, describes that “what the mystics call ‘becoming one’ is never a possession that cannot be lost. What really happens in mystical union is not a new vision of God but a different relationship to the world – one that has borrowed the eyes of God,” (293). Perhaps this statement sheds some light on how one can be one with God and yet still be one’s self, having only “borrowed” the eyes of God, or perhaps not.

One more comment on the dilemma of oneness and a diversity of separate objects and individuals comes from the concept of the chakra system which consists of seven different dimensions: the physical, emotional, intellectual, heart, creative self-expressive, intuitive and spiritual. One way of thinking of these different dimensions is that they alternate between energies of union and individuation. Body, mind and self-expression depend on a sense of boundaried individualness. If we were to return again to the concept of chaos and order, it is interesting to note that the fifth chakra of creative self-expression is actually based on structure and organization, in other words on Apollonian concepts. Whereas, the emotions, heart and intuition are based on principles of flow and union, of breaking down boundaries between people and things. Sometimes it is taught that the 7th, or crown chakra, which is the source of spiritual energy, is both structured as well as flowing, thus containing both a kind of yin (flow) and yang (structure) template that is then balanced toward one of the other of these seeming opposites that work together to create life.

There is much more to say about this paradox of oneness and Jung’s advice to trust God to flow through without over-identifying with it. I suppose we could say that it might be true to say that we are one with God, but we are not the One God, meaning we are part of God and God is fully in us, but we are not fully in God. Quite frankly, this is all beyond me, so let us get back on topic. Maybe a quote from a poet will put it all into perspective:


“Since nothing actually exists except You,

Then why do I keep hearing all this noise?”

(Ghalib, “Questions”)



“We are all mystics,” (9) writes Soelle, and all mysticism includes a rejection and dissatisfaction with the way the current world exists. Oddly it could be considered anti-existence (or possibly anti-Apollonian) while still being in service of a different or transformed existence. Soelle writes that all the many forms of mysticism “lie between withdrawal from the world and the transformation of the world through revolution. But whether it be resistance, rebellion, or revolution, in all of these forms there is a No! to the world as it exists now,” (3). Further, she seeks to unify the internal with the external. “This means that for the sake of what is within, I seek to erase the distinction between a mystical internal and a political external. Everything that is within needs to be externalized so it doesn’t spoil, like the manna in the desert that was hoarded for future consumption. There is no experience of God that can be so privatized that it becomes and remains the property of one owner, the privilege of a person of leisure, the esoteric domain of the initiated,” (3).

“The trivialization of life is perhaps the strongest antimystical force among us,” (13). Here, Soelle seems to be equating life-elevating or life-giving with mysticism. If trivializing, degrading or dehumanizing life is anti-mystical, then the mystical would logically be life-giving. There is thus a process or relationship, perhaps dialectic, between the internal mystical experience and its external manifestation – as above, Soelle seeks to couple the internal and external elements of mysticism. “For mystical consciousness, it is essential that everything internal become external and be made visible,” (13).  In her book, Soelle then examines different domains of mystical experience: language, the journey, ecstasy, nature, eroticism, community, suffering and joy. In quite simple terms, her argument can be summed up as internal transformation through direct experiential relationship with God leads to transformation of external relationships, world and perhaps reality.


Let us remember what we are examining here. We started this discussion about enthusiasm and given the roots of that word, we ended up talking about God, Apollonian order, Dionysian chaos, healing, possession, creativity, destruction, transformation and the relationship between internal and external. Enthusiasm, or being filled with or possessed by God, is a transformative experience. We could argue whether there is a small enthusiasm, which is not of God, and a larger enthusiasm that is of God, but let us just assume that all enthusiasm is the state of being filled with Divine energy. We also have examined a strong thread that enthusiasm is both potentially creative and destructive. There is a possible perspective that sees creation and destruction linked, not as opposites, but as partners. Would this not seem to imply, then that, for argument’s sake, God is the source of both good and evil – of both creation and destruction? You may notice that I have taken a leap from creation and destruction to good and evil, for this paper let us assume that this leap is not unfounded.

If we return back to Jung, he seemed to share this view, the energy of the collective unconscious, the archetypes (aka God) erupt into a person. This leads to an elevated, heightened state, what he often called numinousity, to be filled with a spiritual energy, or God. Jung states that “energy changes its form,” (Symbols of Transformation, 158). If we think of God in terms of energy, or as Jung spoke of “psychic energy” and we consider the relationship of matter and energy in Einstein’s famous theorem, e=mc2 in which matter and energy are in relationship with one another we can arrive at a place where we can see that the energy of God, transduced into the energy of experience, transduced into the energy of thought, transduced into the energy of actions, leads to a change of the structure and organization of the social and physical world.

Back to the language of enthusiasm, a state of enthusiasm can change and transform things, not just in the enthused person, but also in those around them. The sense of enthusiasm can be thought of as a state of surplus energy flowing through a person. Energy does work, it changes things, it alters things. The problem with downloaded God energy is that it has to go somewhere if the recipient cannot use it to transform the self. Enthusiasm is contagious, it spills over and connects – thus we have spiritual leaders and followers as well as cult leaders and even Hitler who was definitely enthused and channeled this energy into destruction of the “inferior” and the transformation of the elected. Is it reasonable to speak of the enthusiasm of Christ and his followers with the enthusiasm of Hitler and the Nazis? Generally one is considered an example of good and the other of evil. However, if we are looking at enthusiasm and where the source of this energy comes from it is logical to say that enthusiasm can be employed or manifested in such a way that it can be either creative or destructive, or as mentioned earlier as either good or evil. Both Jesus and Hitler were enthused and exhibited a style of transformative leadership. Is this saying that good and evil are both from God? I do not think it is possible to say that or to imply that God is or contains both good and evil (I am often reluctant to even use the word “God” because I am not sure I or other people understand what I mean when I use the word). We can say, however, that the enthusiasm of individuals creates a choice, often when one has limited rational capacities because of the possession of the enthusiasm. This choice is what people will do with themselves and this surge of power (which as Jung says comes through the person, but is not of the person). In this sense, we can say that the power that powers good and evil have one source – God. In other words, God is ambivalent, or ambi-valent, meaning containing two energies. While this idea might be shocking, even heretical to people with certain backgrounds, such as Christianity, it is not all that uncommon in the world.

Jung considered individuals to be ambi-valent as well; that every person had a soul that was of the opposite gender. Thus he called women’s souls the animus (masculine) and men’s souls the anima (feminine). The anima and animus were types of archetypes that one could integrate, become possessed by, or project on to members of the opposite sex. A common conception of the soul is that it is one’s connection to God. For Jung, a relationship with the soul contributed to the process of individuation or wholeness, in which one moved from the small self of the ego to the larger Self which was trans-personal. If one does not have a strong connection to the soul, one seeks “soul food” in the opposite sex. Enthusiasm further complicates this as God/sacred energy flows through the object of projection. Relationship is sacred, inherently, and as relationship builds, enthusiasm follows. What one seeks in the differentness of the other is what one feels one is missing in one’s self. It is possible to find differentness in one’s self, and that in fact is the soul – the most intimate “other” within the Self. If we return to the Soelle’s statement that for “mystical consciousness, it is essential that everything internal become external and be made visible,” it could be argued that what the soul wants is to find an external counter-part as a reminder and image of the true essence of the internal soul and connection to God. Post-Jungian, James Hillman details the circumambulations of the soul in The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. Hillman, instead of psychodynamics in which love is reduced to a form of pathology or projection describes his concept of “psychodaimonics imagines this call more phenomenologically, using the language that love itself uses – myth, poetry, story, and song – and that places the call beyond the “self,” as if it comes from a divine or demonic being,” (144). In summary, it can probably be safely said there is both internal and external considerations of the enthusiasm of love, God, soul and other people.


Girard’s book, Violence and the Sacred examines the relationship between these two elements: “in Africa, as in many other parts of the world, there is only a single term to denote the two faces of the sacred – the interplay of order and disorder…all forbidden as well as permitted sexual practices, all forms of violence and brutality, unclean things, decaying matter, monstrosities…In addition the same term embraces the creative impulse and the urge for order, for peace, calm and stability…under the aegis of royalty,” (257). Similarly, he refers to the Greek word, pharmakon, which is the word for medicine, that it is “both poison and the antidote for poison,” (95).

Girard’s book examines the many different rites and rituals around violence and sacred worship. He writes that “sacred is ‘bad’ when it is inside the community, it is ‘good’ when it returns to the exterior,” (258). When violence occurs within the community it must somehow be grounded and neutralized, or in his terms shifted from “reciprocal violence” to “transcendental violence,” (124-125). When violence is properly handled and managed, a “human being dies, and the solidarity of the survivors is enhanced by his death…the surrogate victim dies so that the entire community, threatened by the same fate, can be reborn in a new or renewed cultural order,” (255). However, for “order to be reborn, disorder must first triumph, for myths to achieve their complete integration, they must first suffer total disintegration,” (79).


Māori psychiatrist, Mason Durie, describes the concepts of tapu and noa as serving functions of “regulation and control” and as guidelines to domains of safety. He points out that there is both a sacred as well as a practical health perspective on these terms. While he leans toward the practical health interpretation, we will use his definitions of tapu and noa and then see how these might relate to our current topic of discussion, enthusiasm, or being filled with God. Durie gives the definition that “tapu situations were off limits…that contact with a particular object or activity could be unsafe, either in physical or spiritual terms…transgressions of tapu earned rebuke, ridicule, or intense mental suffering,” (Whaiora: Maori Health Development, 8). “Parts of the body were tapu – the head, genitalia, the heart – and people at different times and in different circumstances were tapu. Women in the post-partum period, the mourning of relatives of a deceased person, soldiers prior to battle, and priests engaged in ritual activity were all regarded as tapu. A state of tapu resulted in a period of forced separateness from the group at a time when vigilance and focused attention were necessary,” (8-9). Tapu is not necessarily a permanent state attached to an object, place, or situation. “Sometimes it was a more or less permanent state; at others, an interim measure imposed to restore equilibrium after an unsettling incident or to give permission when a crisis was anticipated,” (8).

Given our previous discussion, the concept of tapu is quite interesting. Girard’s comment that many cultures only have one word for “the two faces of the sacred” seems particularly relevant here. Tapu denotes that something is potentially dangerous, is to be avoided, and is to be handled with a certain degree of care and guideline. As we have been looking at enthusiasm and being filled or possessed by God as an ambivalent state of transformation that can result in either creation or destruction, it would make sense that a culture would develop guidelines for managing anything and anyone who had the potential to suddenly and powerfully transform relationships and community in either creative or destructive forms.

According to Durie, the corresponding term, noa, represents “a state of relaxed access, requiring no particular protective mechanisms or restrictions,” (9). We could think of this as a “normal” state and tapu as an abnormal state. The abnormal state of tapu could have the potential for either creative or destructive transformation. Given the ambivalent nature of enthusiasm, we could imagine that such a state could be considered tapu for other community members. For instance, Durie listed priests engaged in ritual as well as soldiers preparing for battle as both being tapu. With the danger of over-stretching Maori concepts to fit them into a Western perspective, we could consider Eliade’s description of the sacred and the profane. Tapu would designate the sacred, in the broad sense of something filled with transformative power that could be creative or destructive. Noa would designate the profane, the normal. Tapu, once it is normalized, then becomes noa – grounded, de-sacralized or neutralized.

I introduce Durie’s discussion of tapu and noa not to necessarily lead into a detailed historical and cultural explanation of the significance of these terms for Māori, but rather to lend weight to the argument that the sacred or the enthused are potentially dangerous and can lead to rapid personal, relationship, and social transformation that could be either positive or negative. There is the common term these days of “change agent” and in this discussion we could consider such a person to be tapu.


Also of interest is the ambivalence with which artists and creative people are held, particularly in many cultures. For instance wealthy people pay money to walk through art galleries or even buy art that years before would have been considered rubbish. Also, the bourgeois would never have wanted to personally associate socially with many artists. Kay Redfield Jamison, in her book Touched With Fire, cites research that, of creative people, poets had the highest rates of psychopathology, whereas engineers had the lowest rates. Poets are often considered to be divinely inspired and emotional and relational instability seems to be part of the poetic personality. We generally do not speak of divinely inspired or enthusiastic engineers. In a general colloquial sense, we could say that poets are the most mad or crazy artists. While artists and poets are often portrayed as bohemians who do not always follow the traditional ways, we do not often, in contemporary society, think of artists as channels of God. Particularly if we link enthusiasm with being filled with or possessed by God, then artists all of a sudden make sense. There is the concept of divine madness that traces back to Ancient Greece. In this kind of madness there is possession by a god. Similarly, the Greek pantheon included the Muses who were often considered to inspire artists. And our old friend Apollo was the god of poetry and music. We might think, well what about Dionysus, is not poetry somewhat Dionysian? That very well could be, but remember the distinction between Apollonian consciousness and Dionysian unconsciousness (and drunkenness). Dionysian celebrations in Ancient Greece did have music and dance and perhaps poetry, but we could think of Dionysus as the force of chaos that is then shaped by Apollonian energy into some order and form of poetry.

The poet, Ghalib, who wrote in Urdu and Persian in the early 1800s, reportedly felt that writers had to break rules in order to be poets. He is quoted as having criticized the writing of a pious Sheikh: “How can Sahbai be a poet? He has never tasted wine, nor has he ever gambled; he has not been beaten with slippers by lovers, nor has he ever seen the inside of a jail,” (Wikipedia).

Let us look briefly at another poet, Mirabai, a Hindu poet from the early 1500s. Robert Bly has included her in a collection of translations called The Winged Energy of Delight. The title is from a poem by Rilke called “Just as the Winged Energy of Delight,” which ends with the following lines:


Take your well-disciplined strengths

and stretch them between two

opposing poles. Because inside human beings

is where God learns.

(Rilke, in Bly, 177)


Bly describes Mirabai as having “pushed her way out of her family, out of many social demands, and ignored many commands given to her as a woman of her time. Her religious passion carried her into intensities that make most people turn pale,” (Bly, 21). She is a good example of a poet and mystic who’s life and work exemplified resistance and critique of society. Bly writes that her poetry brings three illuminations. “First we get the feeling of what it’s like to rebel against entrenched patriarchal interests and a deeply rooted social order. Also we can sense through her poetry the power of the Krishna movement. Krishna was said to free Indian women from long-standing bonds…Also, we can feel how much Mirabai’s poems were like a moving fire – not so friendly to people of wealth, it is a fire from another world,” (Bly 21).

What effect did Mira’s poetry have on her place in the social order? She is said to have resisted control by her in-laws after her father died. She also was considered to have had death threats and even an attempted poisoning. For pursuing her love and devotion to Krishna, she wrote that, “What I paid was my social body, my own body, my family body, and all my inherited jewels,” (31). Like the poet who suffers or gives everything for their art, Mira gives everything in order to pursue her enthusiastic embrace with God. While a poem entitled, “All I Was Doing Was Breathing,” asserts her innocence before those who would condemn her, she responds:


Approve me or disapprove me: I praise the Mountain Energy night

and day.

I take the path that ecstatic human beings have taken for centuries.

I don’t steal money, I don’t hit anyone. What will you charge me


I have felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders; and now you want

me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious,

(Mirabai, “Why Mira Can’t Come Back to Her Old House,” 36).


While Mirabai is an inspirational feminist, poet and mystic, who is willing to pay the price for this kind of enthusiasm? Not everyone can break social norms for the love of God and live without a family and a home. Her words echo the live fast, die young rock and roll motto: “live fast and die young.”


I would like my own body to turn into a heap of incense and sandalwood

and you set a torch to it.

When I’ve fallen down to gray ashes, smear me on your shoulders and


(Mirabai, “Don’t Go, Don’t Go)



Linking back to earlier themes in the Coniunctionis column, we can formulate a statement that the enthusiasm of poets, musicians and artists can be viewed as the same energy of enthusiasm of the mystics. Enthusiasm is an energy of transformation – transformation for good or evil; for positive or negative, for the good of the individual or for the destruction of the individual; and for the growth or destruction of social bonds and relationships. What is even more complicating is that sometimes transformative growth requires transformative destruction and sometimes individuals and societies get trapped in transformative destruction.

To become enthused is to have God flowing through one’s self – even if one does not over-identify (become inflated) and become possessed by God/archetype, others can be influenced by this energy in the individual. This influence could be attraction or repulsion – regardless, it causes transformation and disruption of the status quo. Jung cautions that the individual’s attitude toward the flow of divine enthusiasm influences whether the transformation will be positive or negative. This is pertinent for any charged relationship, such as healing relationships in medicine, the concepts of transference and counter-transference in psychotherapy, learning and growth in students, as well as the transformative power of love. In each of these relationships, there is the potential for transformation that is either positive or negative and thus there is significant regulation and ritual around these relationships. Even self-knowledge could be said to be a consequence of divine enthusiasm rather than an accomplishment of the individual.

A Last Journey in New Zealand: Cape Reinga

I have not posted anything for some time as I have been absorbed in wrapping things up in New Zealand and getting settled in Seattle. I did take a last road trip before I left New Zealand and drove up to Cape Reinga at the northernmost tip of the North Island. This is a sacred place to the Maori who believe that departed souls leave New Zealand from this point (actually climbing down a lone Pohutukawa tree located on a large rock, a tree which has never been seen to bloom).

On my way up, I stopped at the always interesting Café Eutopia in Kawakawa.




It was a great trip and a fitting end to my time in New Zealand. There was a different feel at Cape Reinga, driving along the spine of the North Island as it gradually comes to an end. The hill where the lighthouse is planted is called Atua Peruperu.



Here is the pohutukawa (kahika) tree known as Te Aroha (Love). Te Aroha’s roots, on Te Reinga, are the steps used by departing souls into the underworld.



Reinga is also the meeting point, the confluence, of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. It is thus a meeting place of powerful forces. The line between the two bodies of water is actually visible extending out from the land.



I drove back down Northland and stayed near Mangonui (known for its fish & chips) in a caravan on a property on a farm. The couple who leased it out were very nice and it turned out the man was an American ex-pat. There were so many sounds that night as I went to sleep: the cry of various birds and peacocks in the distance and various farmyard sounds. So much to listen to, such abundance of life. In the morning I awakened to the sound of cows in the pasture right outside my kitchen window. I had a nice breakfast of farm fresh eggs on, an orange off the tree, and coffee…




The next day I drove out to Karikari peninsula and then made my way back to Auckland. It was a quick trip, but I covered a lot of ground. It was a perfect trip to reflect on the themes of endings and beginnings and my time in New Zealand, as my (living) soul prepared to leave New Zealand after my 1232 days (3 years, 4 months, 13 days) in New Zealand…

Last Thoughts from the Clinical Director: Idealism and Cynicism; Endings and Beginnings

I was going to write this column on endings, as that is the obvious choice for the end of my time as Clinical Director at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre. I was looking at poems about endings and trying to write the column backwards from those poems. It just wasn’t coming together. Endings are times for reflection, assessment and good-byes. I find myself immersed in emotions and logistics of planning an international move. Oftentimes the demand of the logistics leaves little time for emotional processing and the emotions leave little intellectual energy to deal with the logistics. I feel there is so much more that can be done at Buchanan to make it not just an alright place, or an ok place, but to make it a real gem of a service that combines the best of psychiatry, rehabilitation and recovery. Of course, this implies that there are things that we could be doing better and this is what leads me to a discussion of Idealism and Cynicism.

I am an Idealist, I have come to terms with this in my life. It means that I often see how things could be “better,” different, and it can lead me to a dissatisfaction and frustration with “the way things are.” The Greek philosopher, Plato, can be considered an Idealist. His allegory of the cave illustrates this. He describes a person whose only experience of reality is in seeing moving shapes on the cave wall. These shapes are created by light striking objects and casting shadows. There are two implications here. The first is that the person is only seeing an image or representation of reality (the object). The other is that the person could get up and leave the cave, go out into the sun and experience the external real world. Either way, it can be said that the person is not in touch with reality, but just a shadow of it. The spiritual and philosophical concept of “awakening” is relevant here – that the awakened person recognizes the limited or even illusory nature of the reality that we tend to respond to in day-to-day life. It can be said that an Idealist sees the ideal, that which could be, but is not found in mundane reality. Visionaries and transformers are Idealists.

Psychiatrist, Carl Jung, borrowed from Plato’s concept of “archetypes,” these ideal forms that exist outside of the day-to-day realm. These forms exert an unconscious and sometimes conscious influence on the development of the individual. While he listed many different examples of archetypes, the primary one he was interested in is called “The Self,” which is an image or representation of wholeness that works within the individual, who is by nature a small, separate being when compared to larger reality. Jung saw this archetype or force of the Ideal at work in spiritual and artistic creations and experiences in which the individual had some form of healing or renewal in a connection within the self as well as a sense of connection to a larger whole or purpose in the world.

Plato and Jung are Idealists, they view a True Human Being as actually something that is in the process of becoming through a dialogue with the Ideal (or Real). In the last column, I discussed this dilemma about a True Human Being, whether Truth is something in the moment or whether it is something that is gained in the future. I suppose this argument is reduced if we say that a True Human Being is someone who is in an open dialogue with the Ideal (or we could say the Real, or even the Divine if you are spiritually-oriented). In this sense, it is the connection between the Ideal and the individual that is crucial, rather than some present or future state of the individual.

A discussion of Idealism is incomplete without a discussion of Cynicism. There is a Greek school of philosophy called Cynicism, but my own view is that Cynics are Idealists whose dreams and ideals have been frustrated and unrealized. This calls to mind Nietzsche’s saying that man would rather will nothing than not will. Cynics are Idealists who put their energy into tearing down dreams. In a way, you could say that Cynics are the most important part of an organization because they hold a lot of energy, but it is being directed in a destructive rather than a constructive way. A rehabilitated Cynic will bring far more change to an organization than a level-headed Pragmatist. You can always find Idealists, any young person going into health care is generally an Idealist, but most quickly become either Pragmatists or Cynics as they become frustrated and disillusioned with the idea of being able to do the “best” at their jobs.  Really, a healthy and growing organization needs a balance of all 3 types. The Cynics can pull back the extremes of the Idealists, the Idealists can inspire the others, the Pragmatists can be in the middle, working on what is possible in the moment.

These are my thoughts this morning and they link back to my work on my book, Re-humanizing Medicine, which is essentially a guide for maintaining Idealism and rehabilitating Cynicism. How well have I done in my role as Clinical Director? Well, my answer to that changes minute to minute sometimes throughout the day and ranges from extremes to middle ground. I suppose my answer to that question is sometimes Idealistic, sometimes Cynical, and at times Pragmatic.  Perhaps I could have done more or “better,” but I did what I could. Perhaps if I stayed longer and worked harder, it would make a difference, but it is time for me to go. What do I hope will be the outgrowth of my work? I suppose it is related to all this talk about Idealism and Cynicism in some way.

I have had (before the movers so efficiently and swiftly packed up all my things around me) a plaque on the wall with a quote by Howard Thurman, “Ask not what the world needs, but what brings you alive, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This is a good definition of Idealism and includes the Jungian concept of Self, that what is ultimately important is in discovering what it is that brings you alive, that enthuses you and fills you with energy. The challenge of the Idealist is in bridging the gap between the Ideal and the mundane world. Most Idealists would agree that this is never completely possible, that it is always a work in progress and always a compromise to some extent.

A successful Idealist, one who can continue to work and create, must come to terms with this dual-natured reality: on the one hand, to be true to the Ideal vision and on the other hand, to accept that the Ideal is unrealizable. Rebecca Solnit, in her book, Hope in the Dark, describes “activists” (who I would say are a kind of Idealist) who work to make the world a better place. She sees activism as a mode of being, a moral responsibility, that is ongoing, and that one engages in regardless of the “state of the world,” or the “chance to succeed.”  She describes the term activist “to mean a particular kind of engagement – and a specific politic:  one that seeks to democratize the world, to share power, to protect difference and complexity, human and otherwise,” (18).  “For a long time, I’ve thought that the purpose of activism and art, or at least of mine, is to make a world in which people are producers of meaning, not consumers, and writing this book I now see how this is connected to the politics of hope and to those revolutionary days that are the days of creation of the world,” (115).  To define an activist or Idealist as a kind of engagement or a mode of being, de-couples it from the outcome. One maintains hope because one has decided to be a hopeful person. One is an activist because they have decided that it is right to work to make the world a better place, regardless of the chance of success. One is an Idealist because they have made the choice to work to bridge the gap between the Ideal and the world.

What does all this have to do with Buchanan and my departure? I have said before that in psychiatric rehabilitation we are in the business of hope. What I hope I have contributed to Buchanan is some of this attitude that we can and should work to bring the Ideal into the actual. This means we can and should work for change and growth in ourselves and for clients. What about endings and new beginnings? Well, those two always seem to go together, don’t they? I’ll have to leave you to work that out for yourself.


The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp sites
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

(Stanley Kunitz)



Thoughts from the Clinical Director: Becoming a True Human Being

“we are…making ourselves better heart people,” (Joseph Rael)

A hobby of mine is personal growth and transformation. This is a larger context for human being than a focus on psychiatric treatment or symptoms, although it can include addressing those. During my time at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre, my goal has been to bring this perspective into our daily work in psychiatric rehabilitation.

What does it mean to be “A True Human Being” or to be Fully Human? What I have found is that it is a funny paradox that involves both acceptance of where someone (or one’s self) is, that people are “ok” (with all their quirks and oddities and problems) and it also involves being on a path of change, growth, self-knowledge and transformation. Every human being is unique and will hit a unique point in their life in which the drive or need to change becomes stronger than past patterns and ego defenses. Rehabilitation is fundamentally holistic – it requires many different approaches and disciplines to support the growth of the True Human Being (by this I mean, again, both for ourselves as health professionals and for clients). That is why a collaborative Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) is so important. Each discipline brings a different perspective and dimension to working with human beings and this fosters authentic growth and transformation.  A collaborative MDT is like a healthy human being or ecosystem – comprised of significantly different organs or organisms that all work together in an expression of their unique individuality while simultaneously working together as a collective. Sometimes this is how writers describe the difference between reductionism and holism – that reductionism is about breaking down something large into standard, interchangeable component parts, whereas holism is about something greater than the sum of the component parts. This means that somehow, beyond the biochemistry, trauma history, family dynamics and substance abuse, there is something larger that is both already present and in the process of emerging – the True Human Being.

Ok, I admit that there is a serious paradox here. Is the True Human Being something that is already present in the individual (maybe already ok as it is or maybe just obscured and waiting to be uncovered) or is the True Human Being something that is always in the future – waiting to emerge? As with any paradox about life, the answer is generally both/and rather than either/or. We can look at the relationship or dialectic between Being (already present in the moment) or Becoming (unfolding in the present and into the future). In spiritual terms, this is the dialectic between immanence (already there) and transcendence (something separate that needs to be moved toward). Being is similar to mindfulness, which is a slowing down with awareness of who one is in the moment. Becoming is like what is often called the road or path of growth and transformation, for instance M. Scott Peck’s, The Road Less Traveled. Of course these are artificial distinctions for connected processes, as the mindful act of the Acceptance of Being actually is quite transformative. Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), a Native American spiritual teacher describes this paradox in the following quote:

In each moment that we live there is an opportunity to change ourselves in some way. We shatter what we were in the past, so that in the new moment we can remake ourselves. In a day’s time, we go through many different moments, many different opportunities to re-make ourselves and therefore evolve…What is a road or a path? The road is the metaphor for the head of the family of ideas continually investigating themselves to find out who they are being in every single moment. Because we are changing constantly, we have to be continually investigating ourselves. Otherwise, we lose who we really are. Another meaning for road is the direction or form by which our fears are challenged and the manner in which we face them, (Joseph Rael, Being and Vibration, 57-58).

An earlier column that I wrote on Adam Kahne’s theory of Power & Love in social change brings this back to our work in rehabilitation. Love, in its many forms, is acceptance and support for how someone is in the present – it promotes transformation from the inside. Power is more external change from the outside as it structures and shapes external behaviour. In psychiatric rehabilitation Power takes the form of medications, the Mental Health Act, and behaviour plans. Notice how I use the word transformation for the internal process and change for the external process.

Rather than an either/or, Kahne recommends a both/and approach which promotes a balanced dialectic where through the harmonizing of Love and Power a transformation emerges that is greater than what can be achieved through the application of either principle alone.

Thus, for rehabilitation of the True Human Being, both Power and Love; both External Structure and Internal Transformation; both the work of individuals and the collaboration of groups are necessary.

Let’s return to Joseph Rael and hear what he has to say about “Becoming A True Human Being.” (Word of Caution: this might get a bit spiritual and mystical, which is what is often lost in a reductionistic view of human beings).

The true human is someone who is aware, someone who is, moment by moment, totally and completely merged with life. He is a listener. She is a listener. Out of that capacity of inner and outer listening, comes the capacity of humility. The true listener is no longer defined by desires or attachments. Instead, he or she is sensitized to consciousness, (67).

In the language of nature, working and listening are the same. Working, or listening, means sensitivity, (65).

A true human is a person who knows who he is because he listens to that inner listening-working voice of effort, (68).

Rael introduces the pair of human activities of plowing and playing (which we could take as more examples of being [playing] and becoming [plowing]).

Plowing is a metaphor for this physical way of looking at life…What ideas do we want to cultivate? We study something and then walk it out so that we can plow the fertile field of consciousness and then move forth and plant the seed in that field that we have plowed, which in this case is our bodies. In that way, we plant what we cultivate in the weeks to come and it eventually produces fruit, (68-69).

The metaphor of playing is quite different. Playing means strengthening oneself…making the self what is becoming…Whether we are playing a violin or a guitar, or playing football, tennis or cards, we are, through playing, making ourselves greater heart people, (69).

For the true human, the first thing is to find out how to listen. Listening is different from seeing. Seeing, and the eyes, were created so we could move into things and through things. The ear, on the other hand, was created for the art of giving. One of the attributes of the ear is the give-away; to give into the effort of giving, to give into the effort itself, the effort we can find in the toil of our work in our lives. When we are listening, we are giving. When we are giving of ourselves, we are strengthening the work-listening aspects of ourselves. We are listeners to people’s cosmic needs. First we listen to what needs to be done. But if we start with trying to see what needs to be done we will miss the point and we will not really touch the basic humanity of the situation that is talking to us at that moment in time, (70).

To return back to what all this mystical stuff means for us as health professionals and the clients, we can see a couple things in these quotes. First, to be human is to listen and this is also related to work (work-listening), and this is all related to giving. We must listen with our hearts first, and then see with our minds what needs to be done. This can all be another example of the listening-heart (as holistic transformation) and the seeing-mind (as reductionistic action).  The recent presentation I gave at the Health of Health Professionals conference in Brisbane focused on this aspect of giving as crucial to providing whole person care as well as to supporting the whole person of the professional. When we view work as a gift rather than a time-limited resource or a uni-directional vector, we move from a draining experience to a collaborative and regenerating experience. Lewis Hyde describes the gift experience as:

*         “the gift is not used up in use” (187)

*         “a gift makes a connection…a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people, while the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection” (72)

*         “A gift that has the power to change us awakens a part of the soul” (65)
(Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World)

So far, I hope this all can be at least partially translated back to our work in psychiatric rehabilitation. Let’s go ahead and follow Beautiful Painted Arrow a little further, though, even if it might become a greater challenge to bring it back to our work in a psychiatric system. For the most part, I just let the words speak for themselves.

We become human in order to continue listening so that we can continue to verify that we exist, (72).

In the end, the mystery is the infinite void and the mystery of the void is all of us remembering, because, truly speaking, we do not exist, (75).

Sorry, if you follow any mystical line of experience and inquiry you generally end up with strange statements about the void and reality.  Let’s just close with a poem by Rael and then I’ll add an appendix for those of anyone who wants to hear more of Rael’s ideas.

Life is the road of Goodness.
Life is connected to time
as crystalized meanings.
Life purifies itself with heart connection
so it can ascend beyond the heavens as radiating innocence.

(Joseph Rael – Beautiful Painted Arrow)

Appendix: Eighteen Ideas from Joseph Rael

1. Planet Earth is constantly giving life to all things on the earth so that, in the act of giving to us, she shows us all how to serve, to give to her and ourselves.

2. First was the Dream and then the Vision that became the walking, talking, light of the one Great Mystery, which is all of us who are living on the Earth.

3. Taah-Keh (The Big Bang) was created “to initiate action” and from this came the first circle of light. [Taah-Keh refers to a Tiwa myth in which two fawns being pursued by the Old Giantess hide inside the crack in a plow. When the Plowmaker hits the plow with his hammer, the fawns go flying out.]

4. The eyes are channels for the “washing lights” that bring clarity to ideas.

5. The rainbows are hues (vibrations of the rock people) of life on the earth. And the rainbows represent, in metaphor, the breath of the Butterfly of Dream Time, the bridge to eternity.

6. The Earth is the Mother Starship of the Ancient Ones.

7. Resonating energy is simply universal intelligence descending onto its own understanding of the vast greatness of its own greater, inner self.

8. The idea of enteringness created the first form of the face.

9. Water is crystallized light which produces physical light as well as spiritual light. Interestingly, the symbol for water in chemistry is H2O. In Tiwa, the sound of HO, “Haah-Oo,” means “Little Leaf.” The leaf is the symbol for life.

10. From the first mist of the first cloud comes the idea of birthing as dropping from the biological mother’s womb. And the thread that keeps us connected to our origins was primarily created to help us keep vigilance over what we do and say: right actions/right thoughts.

11. Life on the earth is a living daily experience of inspiring qualities and inner knowing. We find them, these gems of truth, only as we are ready to acknowledge them in our lives.

12. The light is always chasing the shadow and the shadow is always following the light.

13. The breath is the key to all of the mysteries.

14. The breath is the infinite void from which all creativity is first given life, then its purpose.

15. Dream essence of life is what heals life, whereas living life is the visionary part of it.

16. The first visionary who came from the first dream was in the dream state too because he was dreaming his vision. That is, he was the dreamer and the one being dreamed. Consequently, all of life is simply made up of a healing sate that is dreaming itself beyond itself.

17. The eyes are how the Great Mystery sees, how it holds on, moment by moment holds to the gifts of each moment before the next moment appears, bringing with it its own face.

18. The earth is a large stone which is the holder and keeper of all the mysteries that created the life potential here on this earthly home of the People.

Having read these ideas, go outside and sit on a rock that has been heated by the sun. As you sit on the stone, the warmth of the rock will travel through all parts of your body and when the radiant heat from the stone has traveled through all the different parts of your body, the knowledge that lives in what you have just read will be acknowledged and appear in your life. Hereafter, you will get greater clarity on these principles.