Murray Stein on Understanding and Coping with Anger

The cover page for Thomas Dekker’s 1625 plague pamphlet “A Rod for Run-Awayes” for Murray Stein blog post

Part two of a conversation with Jungian analyst Murray Stein about the ways anger pervades our culture.

Like most young girls of my generation, I was raised to be kind, considerate, and quiet. The message was clear: anger was verboten and had to be squelched. Or else. Learning how to transform and transmute anger begins early and engages us throughout our lifetime. We may try to control anger, but in many instances, anger has a mind of its own. Anger combusts spontaneously. It arises on its own timetable and under its own conditions, sometimes for reasons our conscious minds can’t decipher.

Images of anger haunt our imagination. Visions of apocalyptic fires appear in our earliest literature. Myths and fables and folk tales serve as precautionary warnings that forces outside our control can throw down thunderbolts or cause villages to go up in flames.

How do we explain anger’s force and prevalence? How can we cope with its destabilizing energy?

Dr. Murray Stein for Murray Stein blog postIn this second installment on anger, my guest, the distinguished Jungian analyst and acclaimed author, Dr. Murray Stein, expands our discussion: how anger is showing up in our inner and outer lives, and how, when examined closely, anger relates to feelings of vulnerability and despair.

Dale Kushner: Is the anger you are seeing in your patients related to their age? What do you think is causing this eruption of anger?

Murray Stein: I am seeing anger in patients of all ages. If they are young, they are angry about being denied the normal path to educational experiences because of the pandemic. If they are old, they are angry because of the insensitivity of the young about their vulnerability to COVID-19. And so forth. Anger is present in every age group and for similar or different reasons, some stimulated by the pandemic, some by the political conflicts raging in almost every country of the world, some by economic disadvantages and vulnerabilities. No age group is free of anger these days.

DK: Are there redeeming aspects of anger? What might they be?

MS: Anger can be the prelude to necessary change. It motivates one to act, and sometimes this is needed for development. Anger can lead to necessary changes in life if it is channeled in a direction that is constructive in the long term. A battered woman in an abusive relationship who uses her anger to change her situation is for the good and in the interest of individuation if it leads to greater consciousness and self-affirmation. As a psychotherapist, I am pleased when a depressed and passive client becomes angry and stands up for herself. Anger can serve the goals of psychological development and individuation. It demands that things change.

DK: What is the value of dreaming about anger? Is it cathartic? Does dreaming about anger help a person process it?

MS: Dreaming about anger means that it is becoming conscious. Anger can simmer under the surface, on the fringes of consciousness. In the dream, it erupts. This signals the emotion is becoming conscious and can be felt and processed. Anger in a dream is anger on its way to consciousness, and once conscious it can be worked with and does not get expressed by acting out.

DK: What myths or fairy tales instruct us about anger?

Juno, seated on a golden throne, asks Alecto to confuse the Trojans (ca. 1530–35). for Murray Stein blog postMS: We can learn a lot from myth about the impersonal psychic forces that can take possession of our conscious selves, individually and collectively. For instance, in Greek myth, the chthonic Alecto, whose name means “unceasing in anger,” is a Fury conceived by Gaia when the semen from Ouranos was spilled into her when their son, Kronos, castrated his father. Alecto lives in the underworld and can be summoned to action, sometimes in service of justice for moral crimes committed and sometimes simply to instigate violent anger on behalf of a political cause. In the Aeneid, she is sent by Juno to stir up furious anger in the Latins against the invading Trojans. In the narrative, you see how Alecto (relentless anger) invades and takes possession of humans and drives them to action that we would judge to be insane. She enters the body of the Latin Queen Amata who incites the Latin women to riot against the invaders. Then she enters the body of Juno’s priestess, Calybe, and proceeds to incite King Turnus to go on a rampage against the allies of the Trojans and slaughter at random to the point of absolute exhaustion.  Virgil’s great epic tells the story of angry heroes battling over territory and the subsequent founding of Rome by the victor, Pius Aeneas. The Trojan hero stakes his claim in Italy at the command of the high god, Jove, and Venus, his mother. They tell him it is his destiny and he must not settle for less than their ambition for him and his Trojan survivors from the fall of Troy.

The poem is generally seen as a celebration of Emperor Augustus and the establishment of the Roman Empire, but it is also a moral critique. Anger permeates the epic from start to finish, and the final climactic lines reflect the overall tone. It is a scene on the battlefield; Aeneas is standing over the wounded Turnus, who is begging for his life. I quote the closing lines in the fine new translation by Shadi Bartsch:

Aeneas drank in this reminder of his savage

grief. Ablaze with rage, awful in anger, he cried,

“Should I let you slip away, wearing what you

tore from one I loved? Pallas sacrifices

you, Pallas punishes your profane blood” – and,

seething, planted his sword in that hostile heart.

Turnus’ knees buckled with chill. His soul fled

with a groan of protest to the shades below.

 

From The Aeneid by Vergil, translated by Shadi Bartsch (Random House, 2021)

This is the end of the epic, and a bloody and angry ending it is. Empires are founded on such.

Quakers meeting at the house of Benjamin Furly in the Fall of 1677DK: Is there anything in popular Western culture that gives us remedial lessons about anger?

MS: In Jungian psychology, we try to bring opposites in contact with each other and wait for a uniting symbol to bring them together. What is the opposite of anger? In the Western tradition, its opposite is peace. In popular culture, there are many songs, films, TV shows, etc. that promote peace. They suggest putting anger aside and making peace. “Make love, not war” was a popular slogan in the sixties during the protests against the American war in Vietnam. The problem is you have to want to choose peace over anger, which usually also means giving up the desire for power over the other. If there is injustice afoot, it is not easy to choose peace. Alecto may be summoned and stir up rage in an injured individual or population. The natural response to injustice is to become angry and to fight for change. But there is another response to injustice, which the Quakers in America are known for with their efforts to cultivate peace even while being activists for social justice. They attempt to combine anger and peace in their protests and messages. Some individuals have found a way to contain anger and use it to fuel the peace movement. Others, of course, sink into depression and resignation.

DK: How did Jung think about anger? Did he relegate it to the shadow aspect?

MS: Jung reflected on the topic of anger as born of inferiority and resentment in his essay “Wotan,” where he writes about the social and political climate in Germany in the 1930s. He himself had a fiery temper and would occasionally lash out in angry outbursts toward opponents and critics. I think he would say anger was part of his shadow, which at times he could channel to constructive ends and at times not. Barbara Hannah claimed that when Jung would get angry at her it was also meant to teach her something and came as a lesson for improvement. She may have been rationalizing a bit. Basically, Jung would say that if you are possessed by an emotion like anger to such a degree that you lose control of your judgment, you have been taken over by a complex or archetypal energy. On a collective level, this archetypal energy is symbolized by mythical figures like Wotan or Ares/Mars. Entire masses can become possessed by these archetypal energies, and then you have warfare.

DK: To what degree do you think social media fuels or contributes to personal anger?

MS: Social media pours fuel on the fires that are already burning. A person is somewhat anxious and then gets messages that confirm the fears she is already feeling. This leads to angry responses, and the ball gets rolling. Social media intensifies the emotional tone of the times. I don’t think the answer is to cancel the media or ask them to tone it down. A better answer is to have leaders who show a better way forward. Social media is a follower, not a leader.

Read Part One of this interview, “Murray Stein on the Eruption of Anger in Today’s World.”

This post appeared in a slightly different form on Dale’s blog on Psychology Today. You can find all of Dale’s blog posts for Psychology Today at “Transcending the Past.”



Murray Stein on the Eruption of Anger in Today’s World

Street Brawl (1953) Woodcut by Jacob Pins for Murray Stein on Anger blog post

 

One of Carl Jung’s most haunting statements: What we do not make conscious appears to us as Fate. We may sometimes call an outside event like an illness or an accident “fate.” Jung’s great insight, however, was to recognize that what “happens to us” is intimately connected to what is going on inside and that only by turning inward and exploring the hidden aspects of ourselves, our shadow parts, might we gain a deeper knowledge of who we are and attain a sense of agency about our destiny.

When I asked renowned psychoanalyst and Jungian scholar Murray Stein what he’d like to discuss together here, he didn’t hesitate: “Anger.” Anger is one of the emotions that often remains unconscious, in our shadow, as Jung might say. But in today’s world, unprocessed and unrecognized anger, and its destructive buddy, violence, is rocking the foundational supports of individuals and nations.

Photo of Murray Stein for Murray Stein on anger blog postHow are we to process this powerful force, personally and as a species? I can think of no better person to illuminate how inextricably connected the inner and outer worlds of anger are than my dear friend and mentor, Murray Stein. Murray’s perspective comes from his scholarly investigations of Jung and from his past role as president of The International Association for Analytic Psychology as well as being a clinician and teaching analyst in Zurich with an international following. I’m delighted to introduce you to his work. This will be the first in a series of two interviews with Dr. Stein.

Dale Kushner: What is the difference between anger, rage, and aggression? Is it important we understand the difference?

Murray Stein: Anger has many degrees of heat. Rage is the highest. It is red hot, burning, emotion in uncontrollable flames. Aggression is action sometimes taken as the result of anger, or rage, and sometimes not. Aggression can be quite cold-blooded and calculating as we see in the strategic moves of chess players and politicians. Anger and rage disrupt clear thinking and so are not much in evidence if aggression is carried out for strategic purposes. Of course, anger might be behind the strategic moves of aggression as a fundamental motivation for acts of calculated aggression, like the raging dictator ordering his rational military to go to all-out war.

DK: Are you now encountering more dreams about anger in your practice and among your students?

MS: The short answer is “yes.” We know that anger is one of the basic emotions and is always with us as a species. However, it seems to be an exceptionally predominant emotion throughout the world nowadays. It’s as though the entire human population has become choleric, edgy, quick to anger. This hot emotion rises fast and furious in families, boils up in social and professional circles, infects political arguments, and rages on the roads and highways. And yes, anger even erupts among Jungian students in the classroom over issues like wearing the mask or not. We live in a world where splitting energy is rampant everywhere. It feeds on divisions and fuels hatred of the perceived “other.” Dreams sometimes reflect the emotionality of the awake mind, and sometimes not.

DK: Are similar images or themes appearing?

MS: A related theme is vulnerability and victimization. This comes up frequently in dreams. Dreamers find themselves in dangerous situations and have to make decisions that could prove life-threatening or life-saving. I haven’t made a statistical study of the frequency, but my guess would be that dreams of vulnerability – to oneself, to a child or loved one – have increased during the Pandemic.

Harvard researcher Deirdre Barrett’s dream art which appears in her book, Pandemic Dreams DK: How do these more recent dreams of anger differ from anger dreams you saw earlier in your practice?

MS: Maybe I’m just more sensitive to the issue of anger now, but these more recent dreams of anger do seem exceptionally intense. I personally had a dream recently in which I became angrier than I can remember ever being. A brief summary of the dream: a man carelessly ignited a fire that nearly destroyed the building I was in and then nonchalantly refused to take responsibility for his action. I flew into a rage at him. It was his lack of accepting responsibility for the fire that made me so angry, more than the fact of the fire itself. When I woke up from this dream, it took me some time to cool down. I immediately associated the irresponsible individual with a notorious politician who will go unnamed.

DK: How is anger manifesting in your patients’ lives? Would you say it is related to the current collective global turbulence?

MS: I hear accounts regularly of anger flare-ups in their lives. Sometimes it is at home – for example, a mother of a young child who can’t go to school and is overwhelmed by her responsibilities toward her child, her work, her husband. Anger flares quickly and without much immediate cause in this circumstance. It’s simmering constantly in the background and flares up at the slightest provocation. This is not her usual pattern.  Another instance is a father who becomes furious with his grown daughter because she voted for the other political party and he now refuses to speak to her. Sometimes it is in the online work situation – short tempers flare because of distance and poor communications among the members of a team. I get the feeling that Ares, the angry god of war, is taking over as the dominant archetypal energy of the times. Everyone seems ready to go to war at a moment’s notice and often with the thrill and pleasure associated with the war-monger god.

DK: Does anger seem more prevalent in this decade than previous ones you’ve practiced in?

MS: Yes. More precisely, in the last five years, since the manifestation of political divisions between left and right have sharpened worldwide, and also the economic disparities between the ultra-rich and the rest have become intolerable, and then also since the Pandemic has generated its dynamics of tension and anger. The patients I see are subject to all of these collective stresses, and we have to deal with them in the sessions of psychotherapy while also of course dealing with their particular issues from their personal life histories. The collective tensions come into dreams and personal relationships. We are all embedded in the collective and cannot avoid the emotions that collective issues generate in the people around us.

Ares Borghese, a Roman marble statue of the Greek god of war for Murray Stein on anger blog postDK: What are the consequences of personal and collective anger?

MS: As I said above, the consequences are both destructive and creative. James Hillman, who was an astrological Ares, once said that he could not write if he was not angry. Anger motivated him to create. In other cases, anger results in rubble and ruin, of individuals and civilizations. The splitting energy that we see rampant in the world today might be the harbinger of a new civilization in the making beyond the angry present, or it might be nothing more than a signal that the present systems of organizing human society are broken beyond repair.

DK: What guidance might you suggest to populations overwhelmed by righteous anger?

MS: Righteous anger is still anger, and it can become so powerful and convincing that one could speak of possession. Jung defined psychosis as a state of possession by archetypal energies. In this condition, you say and do things that are not balanced. Fueled by righteous anger, they can lead to committing acts as unjust as the injustices you are protesting against in your righteousness. My suggestion would be to hold on to your thinking and feeling functions, that is, to your capacity to think rationally and to follow the guidance of your best values. If you lose contact with these functions, you are in trouble and in danger of possession. The expression of this usually leads to backlash and retribution, so not to a good result if you think about it. However, righteous anger must be expressed or it will turn to bitterness and hatred. It’s a question of how to express this type of anger. The form is important. My suggestion is to express the anger but not to let the anger per se take control of your actions.

DK: What would be a positive way to mitigate collective anger?

MS: Leadership! The anger must be heard, and there must be a response from collective leadership that gives hope of remediation. Then action. Words are not enough.

DK: Are there other extreme emotions being expressed more often in this decade (in America)? Positive or negative.

“The Darkness of the Putrefied Sun,” Plate 19 from Salomon Trismosin's alchemical treatise, Splendor Solis (1598)MS: It’s hard to say. Maybe despair. This has been a time of what I’ve called umbra mundi, the shadowed world, as though we’ve been living in a longtime eclipse of the sun and moon. It’s a dark time, and in this global mood, the dominant emotions have been anger and despair, in my experience. At the same time, there are moments of hope and vision and determination to make things different. I think we are emerging into an era of activism when the vast majority of conscious individuals will put their energies into remedial efforts to restore human values and repair the global environment.

This post appeared in a slightly different form on Dale’s blog on Psychology Today. You can find all of Dale’s blog posts for Psychology Today at “Transcending the Past.”



Can Dreams Be Prophetic?

Cover of The Strange World of Your Dreams for prophetic dreams blog post

In September of 1913, Carl Jung, the great pioneer of depth psychology, was on a train in his homeland of Switzerland when he experienced a waking vision. Gazing out the window at the countryside, he saw Europe inundated by a devastating flood. The vision shocked and disturbed him. Two weeks later, on the same journey, the vision reoccurred. This time an inner voice told him: “Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it.”

Years later, in his memoir Memories, Dreams and Reflections, he recalls the event and his concern that he was having a psychotic break.

“I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.”

The following spring of 1914, he had three catastrophic dreams in which he saw Europe was deluged by ice, the vegetation was gone, and the land deserted by humans. Despite his awareness that the situation in Europe was “darkening,” he interpreted these dreams personally and feared he was going mad. However, by August of that year, his dreams and visions were affirmed: World War I had broken out.

Abraham's Dream for prophetic dreams post

Some fifty years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln had a prophetic dream. Three days before he was assassinated, Lincoln conveyed his dream to his wife and a group of friends. Ward Hill Lamon, an attending companion, recorded the conversation.

“About ten days ago I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Think I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers. ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.” (Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1865 by Ward Hill Lamon, published 1911.)

Two weeks later, on April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. As in his dream, his casket was put on view in the East Room of the White House and guarded by soldiers.

These are two chilling examples of dreams that occurred during periods of collective crisis which accurately predicted historical turning points. Do prophetic dreams occur more often during turbulent times? How does the dreamer know if a dream is to be interpreted personally and symbolically, or as a warning for others and the world at large?

I asked these questions to Dr. Murray Stein, a renowned author and Jungian analyst at the International School for Analytic Psychology in Zurich, Switzerland. Dr. Stein replied that he had no statistics on whether people have predictive dreams more frequently in times of crisis than at other times. In his experience, one can’t know if a dream is precognitive until after the event. After 9/11, he told me, people reported precognitive dreams that foretold the disaster. He said people also reported that dreams foretold the financial crisis of 2008, which he called, “a black swan event.” According to Investopedia:

A black swan is an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences. Black swan events are characterized by their extreme rarity, their severe impact, and the practice of explaining widespread failure to predict them as simple folly in hindsight.

The recent outbreak of the coronavirus might be considered a black swan event, and perhaps we will soon hear about people who have had prophetic dreams of its manifestation.

 Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream for prophetic dreams postWhile there is no simple answer or proven method to discern whether a dream should be interpreted personally or more broadly, we can go about exploring its contents with both aspects in mind. For example, if I have a dream in which I am a child who has been put into a cage. I might ask: What aspect of me feels “caged” right now? Noting that I am a child in the dream, I might further inquire: Is there something from my childhood that is still confining and constricting me? I might try to estimate the age of the child in the dream and reflect back to when I was that age and try to remember if something significant happened then. Maybe my parents had begun to think about divorce at that time and I felt caged by their emotions. I might then inquire if there is something similar going on in my life right now, not necessarily a divorce, but an imminent disruption or the loss of a treasured relationship. When we go back into a dream to amplify it, each question generates other questions that can lead to deeply buried insights. (For a more complete explanation of Jung’s use of amplification as a technique, please see Michael Vannoy Adams’ description on JungNewYork.

But what if I dream that I am a child that has been put into a cage, and a few days later I discover that children of immigrants are actually being held in cages in detention centers? My dream, while personally relevant, would carry a collective, or more public meaning as well. This collective meaning of the dream attests to the interconnectedness of our species, to our capacity for empathy (we see a horror on the news and we feel it enter us) and to the common values we share about the quality of human life.

If we had lived during the early part of the last century, or in an indigenous culture, or in ancient Mesopotamia, we might examine our dreams for deep wisdom and as augurs for the future. These days we are more likely to look to neuroscience to understand of our dreams. Neurobiology tells us that sleep is a complex neural activity of the brain that stays busy activating and deactivating complicated neuro-systems while we doze, including consolidating memories, regulating mood, restoring immune function and many other important utilitarian tasks. But neuroscience tells us nothing about the meaning of dreams or why our dreaming life has carried significance for humans since we first walked the planet.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu for prophetic dreams postAbout thirty thousand years ago, toward the end of the Paleolithic Era, our hunter-gather forebears descended into the subterranean darkness of caves to enact rituals of trance and dreaming. Recently, archaeologists and ethnographers have speculated that the artifacts found in the caves of southern Europe— bone flutes, whistles, and types of drums—and the now-famous discovery of cave wall paintings indicate that ancient shamans may have used these caves for ceremonial dream retreats (See in particular the work of David Lewis-Williams). We can speculate that the depictions of bison and large and small game along with scenes of hunting painted on the walls may reflect shamanic dream content. Perhaps the shaman ascended from his retreat having had visions about the abundance and location of prey, which would be crucial information for the clan.

Later human societies continued to transcribe their dreams. The oldest written dream recorded is in the Sumerian epic poem of Gilgamesh (2100 BCE). Not unlike King Nebuchadnezzar’s frightening dream in the Book of Daniel, Gilgamesh, the king of the Sumerian city Uruk, has violent nightmares about death, which shake him to the core, and send him on his quest for immortality. But Gilgamesh cannot interpret his own dreams, and like many of the dreamers in the Old Testament, is in need of an interpreter. How telling that from ancient times, the one who receives the dream and the one who knows its significance are different people.

Black Elk for prophetic dreams postIn some contemporary cultures, dreams are thought to be a way of receiving messages from the spirit world. A holy man or medicine woman, an elder or shaman is the receiver of the prophetic dream, which is given for the benefit of all and linked to the survival of the tribe or people. Black Elk, the holy medicine man of the Lakota Sioux, stated this when he said a dream is worthless unless it is shared with the tribe.

How can we relate to the dreams that pursue us? Are they simply the result of complex neurological activity and without real meaning, just as we know the moon is no enchanted sphere but a mere rock in space? What might we miss if we cast our lot with a viewpoint based wholly on the material world? Is it possible to consider the two worlds as being equally meaningful, the world of science and — to borrow the phrase John Keats used to characterize adventurers on the threshold of a new frontier — the world of “wild surmise”? Can we think of ourselves as vessels open to receiving wisdom through non-ordinary means? Can we be our own shamans?

This post appeared in a slightly different form on Dale’s blog on Psychology Today. You can find all of Dale’s blog posts for Psychology Today at “Transcending the Past.”



How to Find Hope in Turbulent Times

Hope and Despair by Yuumei for Hope blog post

 

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” puffs the little engine that can and it does pull the train over the mountain in the beloved children’s book The Little Engine That Could. Young and old readers rally to cheer the story of a determined train engine (notably, a self-effacing “she”) in Watty Piper’s picture book rendition of the traditional American values of optimism, hope, and can-doism.

Page from 1954 edition of The Little Engine That Could for Hope blog postThe message of The Little Engine goes straight to the heart of our deepest held cultural beliefs and aspirations: however modest our circumstances, by summoning courage and willpower, we can overcome. Like the sometimes bumbling and naïve heroes of Dickens, or the dim-witted dummlings in fairy tales, Piper’s little blue engine begins in self-doubt and ends in victory.

If only in the real world finding hope were as simple as reciting a positive mantra!

The word itself, hope, comes from the old English hopa and means confidence in the future. Wikipedia aligns hope with “expectation with confidence.” Over centuries the word’s meaning hasn’t much changed: to hope is to have trust in the future, even if the future is fraught with uncertainty and unknowns.

Hope is an essential curative for despair and necessary for survival, but as we face a new year in which struggle and sorrow abound, many of us feel depleted of hope. How can we balance accepting a difficult reality with preserving optimism about the future? Hope, it seems, is not backward-looking, but has its arms stretched out to the future.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu for Hope blog postTo feed the seeds of hopefulness, I recently turned to a conversation between sages, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Each man has been marked by arduous travels on the road of suffering but has preserved his humanity and his joy. The two venerable world leaders met in Dharamasala, India to celebrate their birthdays (both men are in their eighties) and to discuss the world situation. The result of their conversation is recorded in The Book of Joy.

Despite the title, there is nothing superficial or Pollyannish about The Book of Joy. Every chapter steers the mind and heart toward hope. Their considered views concur: “No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. This is the power we wield.”

Both men believe in our capacity to do good despite our capacity to also commit atrocities. When faced with video footage of disasters, our compassion “springs up.” We see this often in the flood of generosity from strangers after a national or international disaster. In fact, the desire to do good is our inherent nature, though sometimes conditioning obstructs this instinct. Desmond Tutu and His Holiness advise we can take heart that humankind is slowly evolving toward greater self-awareness. In Buddhist terms, we can count on our genuine warm-heartedness.

Self-Portrait as a Garden by KRIS-13 for Hope blog postWhen I asked renowned Jungian analyst Murray Stein about his perspective on hope, he sent me the following response: “I was thinking about what gives hope to people, and it occurred to me that when dreams of young children come to my patients, they always give a lift because children symbolize a future, and what is hope if not about the future?” He gave the example of a patient’s dream of a pregnancy and birth, images that signified a hopeful prospect for the patient’s new marriage and for a positive perspective on her own life.

“It’s out of dreams like this that hope gets born in people,” says Dr. Stein. In a chapter called “Turbulence in the Individuation of Humankind” in his latest book, Outside Inside and All Around, Dr. Stein draws a conclusion similar to that of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s: “Human consciousness is increasing and moving toward the realization that we’re all in this together…You don’t see this movement toward consciousness from day to day or year to year, but looking over decades and centuries, I see improvement in the human condition on the planet and an advance of human consciousness.”

Of course, miscalculated or misguided hope can lead us into greater difficulty. Psychotherapist Jason Holley admits that in his practice, much of his work is in helping clients recognize they have placed their hope in hopeless situations—the husband who won’t stop drinking, the narcissistic mother or abusive boyfriend. We might call this blind faith, a denial to see reality, something quite different from cultivating an “eyes-wide-open” hopefulness.

"God does not play dice" for Hope blog postThe possibility of a more conscious and compassionate humanity lets in a crack of hope in a world seething with difficulties. One doesn’t have to be a spiritual leader or a depth psychologist to find hope in a world seemingly depleted of reasons for hope. Even one of our greatest scientific geniuses, Albert Einstein, having discovered universal laws that govern “things unseen,” speculated that a benevolent force might be at work, a force that coordinates the exquisite workings of the universe. Later in his life, he wrote:

“I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves. For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process. If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially ‘playing dice with the universe’, then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning. But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives.”

“God does not play dice with the universe.”

The story of The Little Engine That Could inspires the reader to try harder and invest hope in her capacity for success, but to sustain hope when the odds are against us, and our inner and outer resources have withered, requires that we look beyond the Ego ideals of self-determination and self-improvement. Hope is the domain of soul and what I call “the daily miraculous.” Just as Einstein marveled at the intricate order of the universe, so, too, might we seek the territory of awe and embrace its manifestations. What we feed ourselves matters. What we take in and acknowledge—with our eyes and ears as well as our mouths—determines our health—mind, body and spirit. A steady diet of negativity, defeatism, and cynicism can only perpetuate fear and despair.

Everywhere the daily miraculous sends communiqués to our spirit. As T.S. Eliot writes in The Four Quartets:

. . . Music heard so deeply

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

While the music lasts.

Purple-throated Carib hummingbird for Hope blog postConsider these small miracles.

  • A hummingbird’s wings beat 720 to 5400 beats per minute. Its metabolism is a hundred times faster than an elephant’s. Its brain is 4.2 % of its body weight, which is approximately the weight of a penny, but despite its tiny size, hummingbirds hear better and see farther than humans. Hummingbirds fly over five hundred miles across the Gulf of Mexico in twenty hours without stopping. They can remember every flower they have ever visited.
  • Honeybees can differentiate hundreds of different floral odors from miles away. A honeybee will fly 90,000 miles, the equivalent of three orbits around the earth to collect 1 kilogram of honey. A bee’s brain is the size of a sesame seed but has a remarkable ability to learn, remember and calculate.
  • When your skin is cut, you bleed. Unless severe, the cut stops bleeding within minutes. Soon the edges of the wound close. A scab forms and new skin grows over the injury. Millions of complex biological functions that facilitate healing occur without our willing or even noticing them.

French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty postulated that we live in an inter-subjective field with all life and the natural world. For him, the world is not just speaking to us but is also listening to us. We walk through the woods and admire the trees while the trees may be watching and admiring us! More than a mind-trip, a neatly stated slogan, or immutable orthodoxy, hope may originate in a palpably lived experience of awe and wonder at our interconnectedness with everything else on the planet. To be enchanted by the world is to be a participant and not simply a spectator.

If anything I’ve written here has prodded your curiosity, try keeping a journal of things that daily awe, amaze, or enchant you. Inhabiting this quality of reverie may be your path to hope.

This post appeared in a slightly different form on Dale’s blog on Psychology Today. You can find all of Dale’s blog posts for Psychology Today at “Transcending the Past.”



Dreaming Our Lives: Five Things Our Dreams Could Be Telling Us

The Nightmare by John Henry Fuseli for Dreams blog

 

One of the many things that fascinates us about our dreams is that they hint at an alternative life. Anyone who has ever tried to recapture or re-enter a dream knows that dreams live in us but are autonomous and impervious to our will. They visit while we sleep, transporting us to landscapes real and surreal, offering wild and awesome narratives, oracular portents, and often hilarious outcomes. The uncanny wisdom or cleverness or solemn warnings of our dreams seem to have everything and nothing to do with us.

To compound the paradoxical mystery of dreams, they are intensely personal, often repetitive, and yet share common themes with the dreams of others. We arrive too late for the train. We are unprepared for the big exam. We forget our house keys, lose our eye glasses. Our hair falls out, our teeth are loose, the toilet is plugged. We lift our arms and fly away. The commonality of some dream images points to universal or archetypal motifs in the human psyche, yet each dream is unique to the dreamer, its meaning and relevance part of an intimate and individual portrait of a singular unconscious.

“The dream is a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious,” writes Carl Jung in The Collected Works. (Vol. 8, para 505)

 carl jung for Dreams blog postAfter splitting with his friend and mentor, Sigmund Freud, Jung went on to develop his own theories of dream interpretation. For Jung, they were not manifest representations of repressed (latent) Oedipal conflicts and unresolved childhood wish-fulfillment interpreted against a more or less static system of symbol equivalents (snake=phallus; cave=womb); for Jung, dreams are a dynamic aspect of our evolving psyches.

According to authors Edward Whitmont and Sylvia Brinton Perera in Dreams, a Portal to the Source, “Each dream may be seen as aiming toward a widening of awareness. It offers comment, correction, and contributions toward problem solving. Thereby, it strengthens, coalesces or balances the dreamer’s waking views, and, thus, it serves as an important vehicle to support psychological development.”

Dreams may challenge our assumptions of who we are or may fill out what we don’t already know about ourselves. Jung believed dreams do serve in a compensatory or complementary manner by informing the conscious mind of ignored, overlooked, or denied aspects of self, prompting the dreamer with dream-dramas and narratives the ego has tuned out. Concerning this compensatory function of dreams, Jungian analyst Dr. Murray Stein wrote me: “It’s important to understand that Jung’s use of the term ‘compensation’ means ‘adding to’ and ‘balancing’ and with a prospective, forward-looking meaning that facilitates individuation.”

Viewed from this perspective, the dream is our friend, our ally, our guide over a lifetime. It presents truths that have not yet reached the level of our conscious awareness.

In The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man, Jung wrote, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves.”

murray-stein-home for dreams blog postIn dreams, we step out of the ego world of order and certainty into the domain of the interior, where we may discover our true selves and the path to our destiny. In his essay, Jung’s Contributions to Psychoanalysis,” Dr. Stein writes, “With the notion of transformation (Wandlung), Jung introduced dramatic openness and flexibility into the psychic system and laid the groundwork for considering the possibility of prolonged psychological development throughout the lifespan, i.e., the individuation process. With his understanding of the symbol, he radically overcame the prevailing intellectual tendency in psychoanalysis toward reductionism, including psychological reductionism and not only biological reductionism. Together, these two terms open a vast space for investigating the reality of the psyche . . .”

240px-iching-hexagram-59-svgSeveral I Ching hexagrams coax the practitioner: “It furthers one to cross the great water.” So, too, our dreams encourage us to continue onward despite obstacles and rocky terrain. Over time, we encounter inner and outer conflicts. We change, and our dreams reflect these changes or the changes that still need to be addressed. A dream in which you are at a banquet but lacking silverware may mean one thing when you are twenty and something entirely different when you are sixty. Just so, a dream in which you are about to be attacked by wild dogs might suggest your instinctual life feels threatening. In later years, the pack of dogs may have metamorphosed into a loving and loyal canine friend.

We can’t think our way back into dreams, but we can re-enter them with our conscious minds. We can dialogue with dream figures much as Jung did in The Red Book, and ask them to state their intentions and enlighten us with their wisdoms. There is no finite end to the reaches of our imaginations, nor, as our dreams indicate, are there limits to our capacity to transform.

Five Things Our Dreams Could Be Telling Us

  1. Dreams are spontaneous self-portraits, in symbolic form, of the actual psychological situation in the unconscious. (paraphrase of Jung in The Collected Works)
  2. Dreams “offer comment, correction, and contributions toward problem-solving” in our conscious life. (Whitmont & Perera in Dreams, a Portal to the Source)
  3. Dreams inform us of ignored, overlooked or denied aspects of self.
  4. Dreams present the underlying archetypal and mythological motifs that direct, pattern, and give meaning to our waking existence.
  5. Dreams map our psychological and spiritual transformation.


The Hero’s Night Sea Journey: Lunar Consciousness in Where The Wild Things Are

Where The Wild Things Are cover for post on lunar consciousness

Late one rainy afternoon, while I was organizing my bookshelves, I discovered a copy of Maurice Sendak’s award-winning picture book, Where The Wild Things Are. On the cover was the well-remembered curious creature, part monster (claws, horns, gigantic in size and girth), part human with its dreamy, endearing smile and clean, unhairy man-feet.

It’s a quiet night in the monster’s world. Not a breeze stirs the palm trees under which he dozes, the brightening night sky still dominated by stars. Opposite the sleeping monster a lone sailboat is anchored in a churning river, but no human sailor is in sight.

Child and adult readers alike understand what these images convey: open the book and you too sail into a fantastic world in which known entities – trees, sailboats, moon and stars – coexist with the shapes of things unknown. We have inhabited this territory all our lives, since most nights we too are stirred when our unconscious minds generously initiate and guide us into the unfamiliar and sublime realm of dreams.

Murray Stein for post on lunar consciousnessIn his book, Minding the Self, renowned Jungian analyst Murray Stein describes what he calls solar and lunar consciousness, the former relating to our everyday waking consciousness, the latter referring to the unconscious realm of imagination and dreams. Stein writes:

“The dreaming mind is autonomous and free of the waking ego’s controlling influences. In dreams, the ‘I’ figure is one character among others in the dramas, and not the controlling center. In normal waking consciousness, the ego’s position is quite different, usually central. In what we may call solar consciousness, to distinguish from lunar consciousness, the ego is the center of consciousness and holds the levers of control. . . . Solar consciousness can proceed by logical thinking rather than by association, metaphor and image.”

In contrast, the movement of the lunar mind is through musing and reverie that may playfully juxtapose associative images to bring about a new sense of meaning which eludes the ego/solar conscious mind. “In alchemy,” writes Stein, “Sol and Luna are brother and sister. For depth psychology, solar and lunar minds are seen as complimentary aspects of a single entity, the mind as a whole.”

It is into this world of lunar consciousness that Sendak invites us to join him.

Douris Cup from Vatican for post on lunar consciousness

At the core of the story is the archetype of transformation young Max undergoes during the mythopoeic adventure of a night sea journey. Jung writes in The Psychology of the Transference, “The night sea journey is a kind of descensus ad inferos – a descent into Hades and a journey to the land of ghosts somewhere beyond this world, beyond consciousness, hence an immersion in the unconscious.” Typically, in night sea journeys the hero is swallowed by a whale or sea creature, but Jung’s description suggests a form of katabasis, the Greek word for “gradual descending,” used in the ancient world to describe a descent in search of understanding, often to the underworld for the purpose of renewal and rebirth.

And so it is with Max, Sendak’s young hero, dressed in his wolf suit, complete with snarly grimace and claws, a boy in a costume soon to meet the monsters of his own imagination.

Max, and his inner monsters, can only be transformed during the night, for it is through unconscious means that the child’s anger, unappeased by logic and rational thought and impervious to parental demands, is assuaged. Sendak tells us as much through his poignant illustrations: within a couple pages Max’s day-world disappears. His bedroom sprouts a forest; shining outside Max’s window, the full moon waxes and wanes according to its own inherent laws and wisdoms. We have entered timeless space, wilderness, where nature, in its weird and lovely fecundity, reigns.

Sendak has written and spoken about how his personal history influenced his work. The monstrousness of the holocaust, the European relatives he thought of as “grotesques,” the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby as a manifestation of collective evil, all shaped the children’s tales Sendak wrote. But Sendak is also telling us something more profound about the transpersonal aspect of ego development, that wildness made conscious is energy that can be harnessed for the creative rather than the destructive.

NOW with Bill Moyers: Maurice Sendak from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Max said, “BE STILL!” and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once. And they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things.

Joseph Campbell has called this scene, in a conversation with Bill Moyers, “one of the great moments in literature . . . because it’s only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world.”

We need not lose our human form to rage or fear. In the dark night of the soul, potentialities and possibilities exist, though a different kind of vision may be necessary to see them.

Carl_Gustav_JungIn Dream Analysis, Jung wrote: “[The] great principle of transformation [begins] through the things that are lowest . . . that hide from the light of day and from man’s enlightened thinking, hold also the secret of life, that renews itself again and again, until at last, when man understands, he may grasp the inner meaning which has been till then hidden within the very texture of the concrete happening.”

“Let the wild rumpus start!” Max shouts after being made king of all the wild things. He is announcing a joyous new order, one that celebrates the integration of solar and lunar consciousness. We have ascended with him from the underworld into a new day.

This post appeared in a slightly different form on Dale’s blog on Psychology Today. You can find all of Dale’s blog posts for Psychology Today at “Transcending the Past.”