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.
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.