When Too Much Is Not Enough
by Wynette Barton
Dipl. Jungian Analyst. Austin, Texas
When my son was four or five years old, he asked one of those interminable questions that children ask: "Why does the sky get dark at night?"
Eager to increase his understanding, I put a lamp in the middle of the floor to act as the sun, got down the world globe, and used a tennis ball for the moon. Then I walked around the "sun", carrying the globe and turning it, explaining how we are suspended in space, constantly moving. It was the universe in a nutshell - sun, earth, moon, stars, seasons.
My son watched the production with silent, squint-eyed attention. When I finished, he said to me, "You don't expect me to believe that, do you?" It was too much, too soon. And yes, it was unbelievable. A round, spinning earth, hanging unsupported in space, hurdling in orbit around an insubstantial ball of light - who would believe such a story?
The universe we inhabit, and our own existence within that universe, are mysteries so far beyond our comprehension that it is impossible for us to comprehend the extent of our own ignorance about ourselves and the unfathomable mysteries of life. Now and then a door opens, allowing us to glimpse another part of the giant puzzle, but ego is equipped to accept only one small piece at a time. Possibly if the entire grand scheme of psyche and matter and the interwoven intricacies of life were revealed to us at one time, we would be completely overwhelmed. With too many new, unconsidered realities, we might lose our footing altogether and find ourselves awash in chaos. A reasonably constant view of the world, even if that view is flawed, must be maintained for us to keep operating minute to minute and day to day, because we are helpless, and insane, in a world that is without form, and void.
The views of life that we hold, personally and collectively, are surely flawed in major areas. They will be looked back on in future generations with either condescension or disgust, the same way we look back on the Inquisitors, slave traders, those who treated heart disease with wing of bat and toe of frog, and those who, one hundred short years ago, "protected" women from the rigors of study and thinking so as not to wreck their fragile constitutions. It won't matter that we meant well. Everyone means well.
If we accept our condition of ignorance as fact, then how do we dare to pass on what we know (and what we do not know) to others with such rigorous demand and authority? On the other hand, how dare we NOT pass on what we know, even if some of it is infused with mistaken understandings?
C.G. Jung was one of those who infrequently comes along and opens a door so that we can see beyond the narrow walkway where we lived before. Sometimes I forget that he was not a set of theories. He was a man, and a great man. If we relegate him to the realm of rigid theory, he will become dogma; he will become cold and dead and meaningless - a set of rules and theories without a soul.
What most of us hold in common is some moment in our lives when we were introduced to Jung's words and breathed a sudden "Aha!" Here was something that made complete sense, something we already knew but didn't know that we knew. We don't ordinarily talk about that moment very much, nor do we need to do so. It is personal - and impossible to capture within the confines of words. Something was awakened that was fast asleep, and it is that awakened thing, perhaps, that Ben Toole referred to as the "spark" that we look for in applicants. Other schools of psychoanalytic training look for intelligence, education, diligence and commitment in their candidates. We look for those things as well. I know of no other school, however, that demands the "spark".
It's a little embarrassing to talk about, isn't it? It's very intimate. It's subjective. It can't be defined. It isn't sophisticated. If we don't at least occasionally mention it, however, we run the risk of letting this important quality, and its source, drop into oblivion in training.
We often think of Jung as being greatly admired and highly respected. That was really true only in his later years. He was not a man without human failing, but he was most certainly a man of courage. He endured derision, condemnation, humiliation and exclusion. There must have been many times when he wanted to abandon his theories and acquiesce to group pressures to conform, or to crawl into a hole and never come out again. Instead, he persevered.
In our desire to be accepted by various professional groups, we sometimes lack that courage. We don't speak too loudly about being "Jungian." I have noticed, in recent years, some reluctance to use such terms as "the Self", or "soul", which no one can locate anatomically, or "spiritual meaning", or "individuation" lest someone think we are unscientific, or hopelessly antiquated, or perhaps a part of the new age flotilla. Surely there is nothing wrong with being accepted, and even respected, but we are obligated to ask ourselves the real reasons we seek these things, and we must ask at each seeking. We must also ask ourselves the real price for getting them, for occasionally the price is very high, both to ourselves and to those we train.
The "spark", which I might further suggest is a manifestation of an initial contact with the Self, is essential, but it is not enough if one is to take up the practice of analysis. The psyche has an anatomy, and even though our understanding of it may be imperfect, we, as Jungians, do have a working model that serves us well in treatment. It will continue to serve us well as long as we learn it well, remember it well, and remember also our own ignorance. It will serve us as long as we remember that while every psyche is the same, every psyche is also different. There are different needs, different paths, different talents, different understandings, different ways of working that are specific to an individual. We are quick to recognize that in our clients. It applies also to our colleagues and our training candidates.
Of course we must have rules. Of course we must have some things written down. With no rules, there is no training program. With no rules there is no civilization as we know it. Rules, however, can be very seductive. They keep life safe (or at least they promise that) and predictable. No one can question our judgment if we hew hard to the rules. No one can argue with "that's the rule"; no one can cast us out of the tribe. The more rules we have, the safer candidates will feel, and the safer analysts will feel. There will be fewer hard decisions to make. We will not have to consider, weigh, or find individual resolution.
That most inconsistent of all humans on the planet, Oscar Wilde, once said, "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative." On the same subject, Emerson wrote, "With consistency, the great soul simply has nothing to do." Jung allegedly said, "If you must have a training program, for god's sake make it disorganized."
That statement of Jung's has been roundly criticized and perhaps widely misunderstood. We must take it, along with everything else he said, in the context of his broad understanding of the human psyche and the powerful influence of the collective on the individual. He was surely not giving license for incompetence, sloppiness and the free rein of shadow among training analysts. I think it was a warning about the seductive promise of safety in rules. He, of all people, knew the deep desire to belong, and the temptations to conform in order to belong. He knew the desire, conscious or unconscious, to make others conform. He knew that both ring the death knell of the individual, the extinction of the "spark".
Only by reading and re-reading his words; exploring the hundreds of references he gave us to amplify and fill out his theories - and finding more of our own; only by understanding the time in which he lived and wrote, and comparing his time to those before and after him; only by finding the meaning of his words buried within our own dark and hidden crevasses, will we keep the remarkable insights and understandings of this man alive and growing.
We, as analysts who train candidates, have read Jung over and over, studying his words, pondering their meaning. We are inclined to forget that, on the first reading, he is not easy to read - not easy to understand. We forget that in order to read Jung, one has to have read Jung. First is the reading for his global view. Then there is the reading to understand how he got to those views - the many avenues that come together at the center of his city of understanding. It is an orderly city, a comprehensible city, leaving room for new thought, new study, and above all, individual interpretation and understanding.
Many things have been learned since Jung began his writing. He was curious, investigative, and he would be the first to encourage us to seek new paths, learn new things. Let us be careful, however, in our judgment, and not try to give too much, too soon. Before an entire universe of sometimes disparate thoughts and theories are presented to our candidates, they should, in my opinion, be given the opportunity to learn Jung. They should be challenged to think about his words, discuss them, and mingle them with their own questions and ideas. The candidates should be listened to, and taken seriously in their ponderings. Their own insights may be different than ours. That DOESN'T mean they are wrong.
Jung is a springboard for diving into some of the deepest and most nourishing waters available to humans. A thorough grounding in his work teaches us to think about life in another way and enriches other theories in a way few other things can do. This grounding will not come of its own accord; really studying Jung means really studying - in every way that "studying" can be meant.
Part of "studying" means studying ourselves. By that I mean staying inside ourselves and watching ourselves - staying as conscious as we can be. That is far harder in a group than it is alone, or with one or two other people. Both as analysts and candidates, it might be good to remember as we go into each meeting that group pressures are strong, and they are subtle, and no one, no matter how many years of analysis they have had, is immune to them.
In the last year, we as a group have faced some exceedingly difficult problems and questions. I have been proud (thrilled, I think I could say) to be a part of a group that has managed those with as much consciousness as has been displayed. If we were not perfect in our performance, then we were "good enough", and "good enough", under the circumstances, was splendid.
Now I ask that we consider some other hard questions. I ask that we take some time before each meeting where candidates' training and futures are involved and call ourselves to consciousness, remembering our own ignorance, our own complexes, and the human tendency toward lowered consciousness in a group.
My experience with Inter-Regional has been to see analysts work hard, try hard. I see skilled people, knowledgeable people, and a wide variety of personalities, philosophies, and specialties. We have much to offer as a group, and perhaps we can offer more, and offer it better, if we do some re-thinking of our relationship with Candidates.
Sometimes the rules we make are not rules that we, as analysts, very gladly follow. What does it mean when we require - or expect - of candidates that which we do not, or will not, do? What are the subtle things this reveals about our attitudes, conscious or otherwise, toward candidates, all adult professional people with years of analysis, clinical practice, and life experience behind them? Are we saying we are capable of doing certain things, but they are not? If so, then does this mean we consider them "less-than", not yet having passed through the portals of graduation? Does this attitude secretly feed our own narcissistic needs for superiority? Does the unconscious stream of group power embolden us to treat them in ways that none of us, individually, would ever consider doing - infantilizing, criticizing, leaping to conclusions, demanding that they conform and then not be too conformist? Do our attitudes, and accompanying cloaked behaviors, invite the candidates' sometimes childish actions and unrealistic projections? Do we punish their regressions because we hate our own? Do we imagine that our own complexes are understandable and excusable (if not nonexistent) and theirs are not? The candidates say such things happen; we ordinarily deny it.
It seems to me these are real questions, hard questions, that we need to consider individually and together. Whether we, as a group, can discuss such questions honestly, deeply, without rancor, and without undue defense, I do not know. If we cannot, we run the risk of extinguishing the "spark" that candidates bring to training. And we will fail utterly in training the candidates who will one day train those candidates yet to come.
© Wynette Barton 2000. All rights reserved.