Edges of experience: Jung, process work and collective change

This year's IAAP Congress in Barcelona is entitled "The Edges of Experience: Memory and Emergence". Former Zurich training analyst Arnold Mindell developed a sophisticated phenomenology of the edge, as he founded and developed Process Oriented Psychology, also known as process work. His work took him over the edge of the Jungian world, even though it sprang from it. Luisetta Mudie asked him about the view from the other side.

Edges of experience: Jung, process work and collective change

Luisetta Mudie interviews Arnold Mindell


This year's IAAP Congress in Barcelona is entitled "The Edges of Experience: Memory and Emergence". Former Zurich training analyst Arnold Mindell developed a sophisticated phenomenology of the edge, as he founded and developed Process Oriented Psychology, also known as process work. His work took him over the edge of the Jungian world, even though it sprang from it. Luisetta Mudie asked him about the view from the other side.

LM: Could you tell us something about your experiences around the edge around the time that you moved out of the Jungian world and began working on your own psychological approach?

AM: In my experience, I never moved “out” of the Jungian world, but was adding to what was already known. The edge for me at that time in the very early 1980s was exploring body experiences and chronic symptoms at a time when some people were still fearing that body experience could lead people to lose control of themselves. My greatest edge was simply leaving my “chair”, getting up from the chronic sitting position, and moving more deeply into body experience.


Another great edge for me was to move beyond just working with the individual, and begin to explore working with couples, families, and even large groups though Jung had warned that people suffer a lowering of the mental level in large groups. He was right of course, but that is just what interested me; the unconscious and dreaming process in groups.

LM: Which edges were personal and which collective?

AM: All our edges are “edges” to the flow of our processes in part because they are personal, and in part because they are collective. It is not always possible to differentiate the two; we fear going deeper into the unknown in part because many things remain unknown due to collective prejudice.


LM: What happens when a person reaches a collective edge and tries to take the collective with her? Did this happen to you? What was the outcome?

AM: As analysts have always known, moving through individual edges, growing personally always has a collective aspect to it. Completing something in your personal life always means explaining the new experiences to others. In my personal situation, at first I did not know how to explain new things to my colleagues, it took me several years to write about these things. The outcome is still in the making J

LM: What are some of the phenomena you encountered around these Jungian edges in your own experience? How does a person behave at an edge? How does a group behave?

AM: When a group meets new things, it maintains its ordinary identity, and feels threatened, unless those who are over the edge can present things in a way which is easy to understand. Until now, psychology has grown by groups getting to an edge and retreating, thereby forcing new schools into existence. This happened between Jung and Freud, and is happening all the time. It is a challenge for all of us in the future to work together, find the paradigms and belief systems we agree upon, and work cooperatively with one another.

LM: Do you, or other process workers, still maintain ties with the Jungian world? Do you ever get invited to speak by Jungian organizations?

AM: Some process workers are themselves Jungian analysts. And naturally, many of my clients are Jungians. Also, the magazine, Psychological Perspectives published an interview with my wife Amy and myself a few years back. A recent book in German includes my comments to C.G. Jung as well as 12 other Jungians, I frequently speak at Jungian groups…etc.

LM: Jung has sometimes been referred to as a shaman who was engaged in the retrieval of the soul on behalf of modern Westerners. You have referred to shamanism as the "ancient sister" of medicine and psychology. Do you see Jung's psychology, Jungian analytic work, and/or active imagination as essentially shamanic practices? Does shamanism have a place in today's world?

AM: Though worldwide, shamanism has many diverse forms and practices, Jung would definitely be considered by many to be a shaman because of his “retrieval of the soul”, as you put it. Analytical work, and any form of work which tries to appreciate the dreaming process is essentially shamanistic. Today’s psychologies are developing new forms of shamanism, so to speak.

LM: Wolfgang Giegerich stirred up the post-Jungian world with his argument that the division between individual and collective is a deep avoidance of the psychological task, which is now more in the world than in the individual. What happens when someone tells a person who has perhaps been through deep healing processes as a result of a Jungian path that their individuation is irrelevant to the greater work? How might a person react? What would someone who cares about psyche in individuals, groups and the wider world do? What might a process worker do?

AM: I don’t know Giegerich’s work, but I do know that working on yourself individually is a core process to helping the world. The world is both a real outer event filled with all of us in our utmost diversity, but it is also a nonlocal field, filled with dream images and subtle experiences. There is no one way which is correct in world work. All ways and styles are needed. Those who are called to working with small and large groups, and finding the dreaming process in community are also desperately needed. There is very little training in, and understanding of such processes. But whatever we learn, a central part will always be the developing of eldership, that is of individuals who see the world not only as real outer facts, but as an integral aspect of themselves. Only then can such individuals have the courage and awareness needed to facilitate large group processes, and make life better for all.

LM: Can you say a bit about deep democracy and group process? Can we imagine a fictional Jungian town meeting? What would it be like to be part of such a meeting? How might tensions between the prevailing regulatory regimes for psychotherapy and individuation processes manifest themselves, for example. Do you think it's possible for an organization to individuate?

AM: I can’t imagine what a Jungian town meeting might look like, I could only do that together with you and many other Jungian students and teachers. But I do know that organizations that follow their dreaming processes individuate; they grow and become more whole and inclusive. If they don’t, if they don’t pick up the marginalized processes, the organizations lose their spirit and eventually die.


Deep democracy is the idea that democracy is a real outer process of including everyone in the process, as well as all our dreams and the Tao which can not be said. I have written a number of books on deep democracy, perhaps it will suffice here to simply say that democracy by itself is not able to fulfill the dream of less war and more peace and understanding without the dreaming levels of awareness.

LM: Some Jungian groups are working on greater diversity, aware that Jungian analysis is still a predominantly middle-class, white occupation in many parts of the world. What has been the experience of process work, which engages directly with diversity issues? Are process workers as diverse a bunch as you'd like them to be? How does a group become more fluid in its identity?

AM: Process work is an international organization in many countries including many different kinds of people from many walks of life. I would first have to ask the parts of the organization in Africa, India, Japan, Russia, the Middle East etc. if they think groups are diverse enough.


In general, in my opinion, diversity consciousness begins with what we intend to do. If part of our intent is to reach the non-middle economic classes, then what we do must include the issues of money, payment, poverty, race, religion, sexual orientation, healthism, etc.


At first, becoming more diverse means getting in touch with the marginalized parts of yourself. How are you hurting because parts of you are ignored by the world. How are you poor, outcast etc.  Without knowing this, you simply become another “sweet” patronizing individual trying to “do good” which never works. J


Becoming more diverse depends upon individuals and their group’s awareness of itself, its intent, and its outreach. Finally, no small group or government can ever consider itself successful at diversity, until there are global changes; more productive conflict and less war, more dreaming and less injury around differences of opinion.


Thanks for your questions; the processes they create and not the answers seem important to me.


LM: Thank you!


Luisetta Mudie is a freelance  journalist based in the United Kingdom. She is about to begin as a training candidate with the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists (IGAP).

(There is complete glossary of process work terminology at http://www.aamindell.net/glossary_index.htm)