A Calling of Wolves

Our Jungian Studies cadre was missing three members and I’d had my billfold stolen from right under my nose in a place that had become sacred to us. We had grown closer as a class month by month as we gathered to be instructed in all things Jungian. Our fourth seminars on Freud had provided challenging reading and an instructor new to us, Dr. Ronald Schenk. As I waited for the police in the Jung Center lobby, I wondered what Dr. Schenk made of these extraordinary events. Two students were absent, another had gone missing overnight, and within minutes of receiving this alarming news, my billfold had been stolen from our classroom. What would Dr. Schenk’s response be to these goings-on?

The police came and left, and my classmate returned with lunch for me. I wandered back into the classroom to find Dr. Schenk eating his lunch and poring over our papers. “Do you mind if I join you?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he replied, looking up briefly from the paper in front of him.

“I was wondering what you make of these extraordinary events,” I tentatively began.

He looked up from his reading with interest. “I was thinking of addressing that after lunch. There’s something we can do about this as a group. We can treat it like a waking dream and analyze it.”

I had to smile, for this was exactly why I was at the Jung Center: to learn new ways of thinking about and experiencing life. I felt excited about hearing what he had to say.

A Waking Dream

When everyone had returned from lunch, Dr. Schenk leaned against the edge of the lectern and cleared his throat. “When extraordinary events occur,” he began, “they’re like a calling of wolves outside the window, calling us to pay attention. The whole thrust of Freud and Jung is the idea of the waking dream, of making things conscious.”

“What does our waking dream mean, then? Let us analyze the events of this weekend just as though we’d had a dream. What has happened to us? What’s the meaning of the losses, lost, stolen, things taken? Let’s talk about what actually happened. What events occurred in our waking dream? What images and symbols do we see?”

A ripple of excitement ran through the class. Aha! We perceived his meaning, for most of us had enough knowledge to analyze a dream. However, many of us had never considered the possibility of waking events as types of dreams—messages from the unconscious. To be sure, several traditions consider life’s circumstances as arising from unconscious needs. For example, in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, it’s not uncommon for people to believe that events happen because of our faith, or lack of it. In energy psychology, many believe that we can call disaster or blessings down on our own heads through conscious or unconscious means. But the idea of a waking dream happening to a group—this was a new and intriguing idea.

Hands began shooting up as we listed the elements of our waking dream: We had lost two class members, Steven and David. Classmate James had gone missing and we were all worried about him. My billfold had presumably been stolen from the Jung Center. This was four losses, so four presented itself as a symbol. Someone pointed out that this was also our fourth seminar; four is the number of completion, but we’d had three classmates missing—three is incomplete but always moves toward four. Were these events signaling our need as a class to move toward four, toward wholeness and cohesion?

One classmate, a dentist, pointed out that the amount of money I’d had stolen was a multiple of four. “I don’t know exactly what the four means in analytical psychology,” Will explained apologetically, “I only know what it means as a dentist.”

“And what does it mean to a dentist?” Dr. Schenk asked. “Let’s work with the symbolism.”

“Four is the bicuspid,” Will explained. “It’s the fourth tooth.”

“What does it do?” Schenk asked.

“Well, it’s not a grinding tooth. It’s sort of a transitional tooth. It has some sheer, and it chews. It’s a chewing tooth, not a tearing tooth like the canines.”

“It chews.” Dr. Schenk repeated. “So we could say that through these events, we’ve received something to chew on.” We all smiled. What a good metaphor. We had indeed received something to chew on.

Associating to the Symbols

We saw that the theme running through the weekend had been loss, some through theft. In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud discussed how a civilization pulls together against an outside force or intruder, in exactly the way our group had pulled together as we realized a theft had occurred. We talked about the way different class members had jumped in to help in practical ways, and about the relief we’d all felt when we realized an outsider had come in and stolen from a classmate.

Playing devil’s advocate, I pointed out that the police officer had told me that even if they caught the transient man, we couldn’t prove he’d stolen my billfold. “It leaves the possibility that one of us is, in fact, the thief, or even that I hid the billfold myself!” We all laughed at the latter, because one of the primary tenets of analytical psychology is a foundational kind-hearted but strong-minded suspicion of oneself.

We realized we’d been quick to pin the blame on the symbol of “Transient Black Man.” Though a scruffy-looking black man wearing an incongruously nice coat had, in fact, been in parts of the building that he shouldn’t have been in, it’s true that we had no proof that he’d taken anything. What about our inner Transient Black Men? Where is the part in each of us that’s dirty but somehow manages to wear a decent-looking (probably stolen) coat? What part inside each of us can wave goodbye to the receptionist in a friendly way shortly after stealing a billfold? What civilized and socially acceptable behaviors hide our inner thieves?

We learned that the male staff member who had helped to escort the Transient Black Man out of the building had told both the female staff members that he felt the Transient Black Man was “OK.” We discussed our intuitive parts and the parts that operated by sense alone. Which parts of us could be fooled by a friendly smile, a nice overcoat, while the underlying grime and shifting eyes were ignored? Which parts of us suspect Transient Black Man because he’s black, or because he’s unshaven or has dirt under his fingernails?

The Houston police officer had given me a small slip of paper titled “Theft Report” that they’d developed in cooperation with the TSA so that travelers stranded in Houston through theft could still board their flights home. Most of us deplored this in a “what’s the world coming to?” way, but Dr. Schenk pointed out that Freud would probably say that devising ways of helping and adapting were, in fact, signs of civilization.

We looked at the symbols Houston and Jung Center. Houston was big, dangerous, faceless; Jung Center was intimate, safe, sanctuary, personal. The shadow side to safety is to ask “safe from what?” Are we safe from the dirt, the homeless, the hunger and desire of the world, the aggression? To every light there is a dark, shadowy side. “There’s a real shadow in the Jung Center,” Dr. Schenk pointed out, “in its programs, and their disconnectedness from the world, as if one can really make something ‘safe.’”

Around the Jung Center, we had the city of Houston, a big port city, hugely cosmopolitan, a city of many different nationalities, races, and walks of life. Houston took in a large group of refugees from Katrina, and there was an ensuing increase in crime due to displacement. Giving victims of crime a special privilege—that of being able to fly out of Houston after being robbed—is “part of the soul of the city’s stance toward refugees,” Dr. Schenk pointed out. We began to see that helping others increases risk, whether one is talking about a city or an individual. One has to “count the cost,” as Jesus said.

Connections

Finally, we returned to the fours of the waking dream we shared, the fours and the losses. Four is wholeness, but we didn’t yet have cohesion as a group, even if we were growing closer in isolated pockets or by twos and threes. A classmate spoke of his longing for connectedness with other class members, about how slowly our relationships seemed to progress. One of the therapists said we had all talked out of our heads—what we thought about what happened—but not out of our hearts. We hadn’t begun to say, “I feel, I felt,” or to relate our personal histories to loss, theft, absence, what is of value going missing.

I realized she was right. I’d made personal connections to the symbols of our waking dream but had said nothing about them to the class. The connections I perceived were too personal, too close to home. I knew that if I spoke to my classmates about my deepest feelings, I’d break down and cry. I felt I couldn’t afford to cry at that time. Our class had Freud to finish; it would seem impossibly narcissistic to talk about my life and my personal connections to the unfolding drama when we’d all made considerable sacrifices to be there to learn. Still, the fact that I held back—that we all held back—was part of what was preventing our progress at forming a cohesive, conscious group identity.

I determined as I sat in the classroom and we returned to our discussion of Freud that I would take time later to analyze my place in our communal waking dream. In the hour and a half during my flight home, providing the TSA let me on the flight, I would try to take personal responsibility for my own image.

14 responses

  1. It’s funny ‘cause I just read a short talk Jung gave in 1939 on living the symbolic life. The rational mind has a hard time believing that the symbolic can be alive and present in the consensual world—alternately, you could make the argument that the whole of it takes place within the mind, but the rational head has an even harder time with that one.

    I once met my/an anima in Prague, of all places, after an evening of too much jazz and vodka; stumbling into a local bar with no idea how I had arrived there. I did not speak Czech and no one spoke English, or drunken Spanish, my universal fallback. And then out of the blue was this woman, from Indiana, who spoke Czech and sat with me at this table translating to this woman I had “fallen in love” with and her somewhat improbable looking “family”. She took care of me for a few hours and then pointed me back in the right direction before disappearing into the night on a train. She left me an email address but never responded and to this day I can’t say for certain whether she truly existed or not. It took me something like two hours to get back to my hotel room because I had no idea where I was; and I daresay that the whole thing could never have taken place if I hadn’t of been drunk and my rational mind in charge. That said, I don’t really recommend running around foreign countries in the middle of the night drunk out of your mind, or anywhere for that matter.

    Anyway, Jung said:

    “We have no symbolic life, and we are all badly in need of the symbolic life. Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this mill – this awful, banal, grinding life in which they are “nothing but.” . . . Everything is banal; everything is “nothing but,” and that is the reason why people are neurotic. They are simply sick of the whole thing, sick of that banal life, and therefore they want sensation. They even want a war; they all want a war; they are all glad when there is a war; they say, “Thank heaven, now something is going to happen – something bigger than ourselves!”

    …The truly religious person . . . knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass and seeks in the most curious ways to enter a [person’s] heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the divine will.”

    There are a definite surplus of symbols/groupings here…I’d have to agree with Bill & Ted that, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”

    Second hand, from my perspective, without knowing the whole story some of the things that jumped out at me were, briefly:

    1 stolen (allegedly) ID/identity in billfold, 1 secondary (lesser) ID issued by police officer, stolen money (allegedly) as symbol for power/freedom/ability, 1 identity of learning area as “safe” now missing/stolen

    3 missing men + 1 present black transient

    3 missing men + 1 present Eve

    1 professor (wise man), 3 missing men, 1 black transient, 1 police officer

    3 missing (stolen?) men + 1 stolen billfold (identity)

    One wonders if the billfold (identity) would have been stolen/taken if the missing men had been present. Their absence could easily be interpreted as a failure of the dominant function(s), thereby allowing the inferior function access where he might not have once had it.

    • My goodness, you are good. I love the quotes, the “strange and inconceivable things” (I’m reminded of The Princess Bride: “Inconceivable!”). And you’ve quoted from one of my favorite movies (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure).

      Topping all that is your work with numbers. Very nice. The inferior function did, in fact, get access, didn’t it? I looked at it from the other direction–that of the dominant function being too domineering, therefore unbalanced due to inflation (“we don’t need the inferior function; it’s inferior, after all”), and as it says in Proverbs, “Pride goeth before destruction.”

      I liked the professor/wise man image. We do have quite a cast of characters here, don’t we?
      My, my, my.

  2. You know, davidrochester, when life gets really hectic and stressful, I sing that tune to myself, and it works — it calms me down and gives me a change of perspective. So you’re right — paying attention to those nursey songs and not forgetting them helps!

    • I never imagined that I’d get such good therapy on my own blog. I’m going to try this song thing the next time life gets hectic and stressful, which should be about three times today.

  3. Row, row, row your boat
    Gently down the stream
    Merrily, merrily,merrily merrily —
    Life is but a dream.

    Except not so gently, and without the merrily part. Oh, if only we’d paid better attention to those nursery songs … terrifying psychological lessons cloaked in simple scan and easy tunes.

    • Haha! And wow, thanks for putting that song in my head now. What a perfect traditional song for this topic. And doesn’t it illustrate that we already know these things?

      You make me laugh out loud so many times:
      “terrifying psychological lessons cloaked,” which reminds me that soon I have a seminar on fairy tales coming up. Ooooh, won’t that be fun?

  4. You have inspired me. I’m going to do some homework now on my own recent “extreme event”. I was aware of the waking dream method, but hadn’t gone so far as to actually do it. Slack, huh?

    • Slack? Not really. When big traumas occur I think we have to calm down before we can really do much analytical work. Those emotions run wild–at least mine do. They’re like unruly toddler quintuplets on the toy aisle at the market; one has to get them sorted out first.

      • Yes, so true. I was being obtuse and flippant with myself. Covering my face as usual. I did try to make a go of it, but every strain of me resisted. I tried writing instead, tapping into an unconscious stream, and got a response that shook me a bit (which I had to put away for later). Your description made me laugh, though!

        Emotions are running a bit wild, certainly

  5. Excellent post, and it sounds like an exciting seminar. I love the idea of looking for symbols in what happens. I’m not sure that the symbols themselves are inherent, but in the quest to understand our choices of what we see as symbolic and how we determine its meaning forces us to think through aspects of experience that normally gets left aside. To do so as a group really sounds exciting, you can help each other with ideas.

    Life is but a dream…I’ve always had that sense. I get the feeling that it gets really easy to get wrapped up in the trivialities of this existence (e.g., anger and frustration over a stolen billfold, or for most of us sometimes real negative feelings over something as meaningless as a person whose point of view we dislike or who cuts us off in traffic). Trying to “stay awake” and not get caught up in the swell of reactions and hasty judgments is a real life challenge. The kind of reflection you describe seems a really good way to live life awake.

    • Scott, I feel like a total nerd to tell you that it IS an exciting seminar–it’s the most exciting learning I’ve done in my life. And I’ve done a lot of learning, so that’s saying something.

      I think you’re pretty much correct in noting that the symbols aren’t ‘inherent’–or maybe universal would be the word I’d use. The way we saw the symbols was particular to our group identity. However, the “fourness” of four is universal–in every culture and every time, four has had particular meanings that resonate congruently with one another, so that symbol would be archetypal. For the most part, though, what we saw would be coming out of a growing group identity, along with our personal histories.

      I loved what you wrote in your 2nd paragraph. It reminds me of the focus on mindfulness in Buddhism. If we could simply notice the “swell of reactions and hasty judgments” rather than “get caught up” in them, we could begin to analyze them and see the patterns. But to be overcome by them is to drown in reactions and to remain some sort of slaves to our unconscious selves.

  6. “We began to see that helping others increases risk, whether one is talking about a city or an individual. One has to “count the cost,” as Jesus said.”

    There is a cost, to be sure, but there is a cost to not helping others as well. I guess, like most things, it requires flexibility and balance.

    • Yes indeed, there’s a cost to not helping others as well. From what I’m learning (or hope I am learning) at the moment, I’d add that besides flexibility and balance, one needs prudence and wisdom. What we do with our energy habitually has serious, long-term consequences later. This is part and parcel of the mid-life crisis–that in our youths we built up patterns of using all our energy (physical, mental, relational, etc.) doing one or two sorts of things over and over again, and when the energy wants to go somewhere else wisely when we’re older, it can’t, because our ego has us held hostage (or so it thinks).

      But I’ll get to that.

      In the meantime, you’re correct. Dr. S pointed out the price Houston paid for taking in Hurricane Katrina refugees; but to refuse to take them in would have been a grievous wrong. Therefore the task of Houston was to both accept the refugees AND adapt to the negative consequences of having accepted them.

      I see in my life that at times I fail to do that second part, and that’s where my personal problems lay.

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