In Knots

Through the loss of three of our members and the theft of my billfold from our classroom, our Jungian Studies seminar was learning how to interpret a series of surprising, significant, or traumatic events as waking dreams. The images that had appeared during our eventful day were analyzed for their symbolic meanings on a collective level, leaving me to ponder what personal meaning I would gather from these shared events.

Although all the women had left their billfolds in the classroom during our break, only mine had been stolen, perhaps because I’d put it in an open-necked tote bag that was placed not far from the door. Still, I had to ask if there was a part of me who volunteered to be The One Whose Billfold Was Stolen. Because an otherwise scruffy-looking man wearing a nice-looking (but probably stolen) coat entered and left the building quickly after making a circle through it, we theorized that this Transient Black Man had taken my billfold and another classmate’s laptop charger. As a class, we pondered the presence of Transient Black Man in our midst and in ourselves.

As I sat on the airplane taking me home, I asked myself what civilized, socially acceptable, nice person inside me was allowing thieves to walk unchallenged through my life, just as Transient Black Man had walked unchallenged through our building? He had even waved goodbye to the Jung Center receptionist. What mannerly behaviors have concealed my inner thief, what crimes my niceness covered?

Because of my introverted thinking preference, I know that I’m prone to getting so caught up in my ideas and ideals that I naively leave myself wide open to exploitation. I had left my billfold in an open bag in a public building, so confident was I in this safe environment, so full of hubris that I considered myself immune to exploitation. Had I unconsciously invited this victimization because I had remained blind to my own inflated sense of self and safety? Was there some lesson I hadn’t learned well enough, something that might threaten what I hold of value if left untended?

Help Me to See

As the airplane taxied down the runway, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, looking inward and back in time. “Self who raises the gate for plunder, and self who does the plundering, help me. God of my soul, help me to see what I need to see.” I considered the Transient Black Man, the one who smiles but steals, and then the gatekeepers whose duty it is to protect the property. They’d had intuitions that something was wrong, intutions so weak that they’d been overcome by the thief’s ingratiating smile. What was my personal experience with gatekeepers?

I thought back to my earliest memories, to around kindergarten and a time when I first remember being an “I.” I recalled all the times when I had relied upon Mother and Father as gatekeepers, times when I’d felt fear and intimidation, how my parents had handled these. After having Little Red Riding Hood read to me, for example, I developed a fear that the wolf would come through the window and gobble me up at night. In the moonlight, a small tree outside my bedroom window cast a shadow that looked like the profile of a wolf. Night after night I woke my parents, crying about the wolf outside my window. Finally my father took me outside and let me help him cut down the tree. The wolf never returned after that. I recalled how I had always been able to count on my father to protect and help me when I needed it. Numerous instances of his care and protection flooded in, and I felt grateful to have a father like him.

Next I turned to Mother. What was her protection like? I searched my memories and thought for a long time about Mother’s protection. Images of childhood monsters, bogeys, enemies, and persecutors rushed in, jostling and shoving for dominance. In no case was there ever a time when Mother could be relied upon to help me. “Stand up for yourself,” she used to say, “Learn to handle it yourself.” All before I had much of a self, before I’d had any training in how to use a self protectively.

In Knots

Was it pride that made me think it was safe to leave my handbag in our classroom, unprotected? We had all left our bags and laptops in the classrooms for months and no harm had come to anything. Had the history of safety lulled me into a false sense of assurance? Or did I habitually live with an inflated sense of self, an imagined power that protected me from harm like an invisible force field? My stomach knotted as I considered these possibilities; I noticed this and paid attention to where I felt these thoughts in my body. My stomach and abdomen felt suddenly nervous, tense, unsettled, as if a fist inside were clenched, ready to fight or hanging on for dear life.

“What’s wrong?” I asked myself. “What’s this about?” I thought about all I’ve learned about chakras and from studying the ideas of intuitive healers such as Caroline Myss. The third chakra is the chakra of the abdomen, stomach, upper intestines, liver, kidneys, spleen, and middle spine, all of which relate to the mental and emotional issues of trust, fear and intimidation, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, care of oneself and others, decision-making abilities, sensitivity to criticism, and personal honor. The knots in my gut told me that these were very much the issues surrounding the theft of my billfold, if I wanted to make something of the theft. If I wanted to personalize it and interpret it as my own waking dream.

Did I respect this part of myself that was in knots? Did I care for myself enough to listen, to call to mind the painful memories from my childhood and to untangle the knot and release the authority they might still have over me? I did. I knew I did; that was why I was sitting in the airplane at 30,000 feet, feeling the churning in my stomach and paying attention to it. I must be ready to make it conscious, or else I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity of being a victim.

Liers in Wait

This was about trust and fear, self-esteem and self-respect, taking care of myself. Over the weekend I had been plundered and wronged, the thief walking among us unrecognized. Was there a too-trusting part of my personality that needed more balance? I recalled what I had read in Jung last month about the weaknesses of introverted thinkers:

In the pursuit of his ideas he is generally stubborn, headstrong, and quite unamenable to influence. His suggestibility to personal influences is in strange contrast to this. He has only to be convinced of a person’s seeming innocuousness to lay himself open to the most undesirable elements. They seize hold of him from the unconscious. He lets himself be brutalized and exploited in the most ignominious way if only he can be left in peace to pursue his ideas. He simply does not see when he is being plundered behind his back and wronged in practice, for to him the relation to people and things is secondary and the objective evaluation of his product is something he remains unconscious of. Because he thinks out his problems to the limit, he complicates them and constantly gets entangled in his own scruples and misgivings. [. . .] (CW 6).

He simply does not see when he is being plundered behind his back and wronged in practice…”. Wasn’t this exactly what had happened to Esau in the Bible story of Esau and Jacob? Hadn’t Jacob coveted what belonged to Esau and tricked him out of it? Hadn’t Esau failed to see his own vulnerability and the value of what was his according to birthright? And hadn’t Esau been further cheated out of the blessing of the firstborn even after his twin brother, Jacob, had already tricked him out of his birthright?   In fact, the very name “Jacob”  [ יַעֲקוֹב ‎ ya‛a qôb yah-ak-obe‘ ] means “supplanter.” In the Hebrew, it is a primitive root word meaning to catch by the heel, to circumvent as if tripping up the heels, to restrain as if holding by the heel. A Jacob is a “lier in wait.”

Arranging to be Betrayed

My husband and I had spent the previous year confronting our own vulnerability to adult orphans who periodically sought to attach themselves to our family, and with whom we have sometimes been willing to become involved, even to the point of being plundered and having our hearts broken. At that time, Spirit had suggested that our plunderers were like Esaus, willing to sell their relationships with us—something of great value—for something as commonplace as a bowl of soup. I had seen my part in the conflict as that of a Jacob, someone who knew what was of value and was willing to fight for it all night, work for it for seven years and then seven years more. But what of the Esau part of me? Certainly I could see now that the world is full of plundering Jacobs, and that I’d entertained more than one of them in my lifetime. In the past, I’ve opened myself and my family to plundering by those who neither earned nor deserved the treasures and inheritances that were ours. Sometimes I am just like the Jung Center employee who sees the smiling face and ignores the gut reaction crying, “Danger!” I could see this now.

Tears filled my eyes as I saw how Transient Black Man and Supplanted Gatekeeper lived inside me and can work at cross-purposes in the most destructive ways. As I realized what this had meant in my life and the lives of my children, I felt my heart would break. When my husband and I had arranged for our own betrayals, Jacob-of-the-Ivory-Neck and Esau-of-the-Bared-Fang had not yet reconciled. When opposites co-exist but don’t cooperate within the psyche, dangerous imbalances occur. A person swings from one extreme to another. The only hope is to hold the opposites in balance until what Jung called the Transcendent function kicks in and a person is able to unite the opposites.

“God help me,” I prayed as the pilot told us to buckle our seatbelts and warned of a bumpy descent.

9 responses

  1. And who’s to say that destruction is always a bad thing?

    I smiled to myself when I read this, as I have been mulling over, for the past few days, my truly astonishing tendency to break apart nearly every group dynamic I come into contact with, due simply to my tendency to honestly say what’s on my mind. An energy worker once said to me: “You are a firebrand, and that is a substantial burden to bear.”

    Indeed, yes.

    But I have always liked the idea of “misfortune” being an opportunity … it always is, always. It amazes me that people do not see how they manifest, in their outer lives, what their inner lives are trying to tell them. There is a very good reason why certain types of things tend to happen to me, but they do not happen to my mother; and vice versa. She and I have very different life lessons.

    I have been stuck for oh, such a long time in a lesson about unhelpful intellectual pride, in which I am confounded and ensnared in ways ranging from annoying to very expensive by bureaucratic detail that I am too arrogant to request clarification about. Because, you know. I’m a smart guy. I shouldn’t have to ask some loser answering the phone for $8 an hour to explain my insurance policy to me, right? But of course underneath this refusal to ask is a certainty that I won’t understand it even if they do explain it to me, and then the useful persona with which I face the world will be permanently undermined; on some very basic level, I think I’m very stupid, and I will do *anything* to avoid confirming that.

    I was intrigued recently to see what happened when I tried to break this pattern; prior to having quite an expensive medical procedure, I did actually spend a lot of time on the phone with the insurance company and the doctor’s office, and took a lot of notes, and asked the same stupid question fifteen times until I understood exactly how the policy would apply, and on and on and on. Part of this procedure involved the doctor’s office writing off a substantial amount of the cost, which they told me they would do. When I received my insurance statement, which showed me how much I owed prior to the writeoff, I became completely convinced that I had not understood the doctor’s office correctly, despite having my notes immediately to hand. I *knew* I’d gotten it wrong, and that I was now liable for several thousand dollars despite having done all the due diligence I could think of. I lay awake in a panic for several nights about this — not about the money, though I couldn’t easily afford it; but money comes and goes, whereas my ability to comprehend simple instructions over the phone was a matter of far greater import.

    And then, of course, the doctor’s office did what they had said they would do, and the problem went away, leaving me closer than ever to the fact that I really do doubt my ability to successfully navigate organization-based information; or perhaps I doubt that anyone will be truthful with me; or perhaps I really don’t think I am able to understand fairly simple information. Or all of the above. But it sure as heck isn’t about my insurance policy; I know that much.

    • David, I appreciate that you shared your experience of a descent into the maws of the mindless beast–for that’s what a bureaucracy is. I’ve just finished reading another volume of Jung for my next seminar. In this one he spends some time discussing the collective, writing, “It is a notorious fact that the morality of society as a whole is in inverse ratio to its size; for the greater the aggregation of individuals, the more the individual factors are blotted out, and with them morality, which rests entirely on the moral sense of the individual and the freedom necessary for this. Hence every man is, in a certain sense, unconsciously a worse man when he is in society than when acting alone; for he is carried away by society and to that extent relieved of his individual responsibility. Any large company composed of wholly admirable persons has the morality and intelligence of an unwieldy, stupid, and violent animal. The bigger the organization, the more unavoidable is its immorality and blind stupidity” (CW 7, para. 240).

      I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but in addition to the possibility that your shadow content includes a village idiot, isn’t it also possible that you’ve introjected the village idiot mistakenly in part? Isn’t it possible that you rightly intuit or understand the stupidity of the bureaucracy, and rather than attributing stupidity to it, you take it to yourself because you’re somehow dependent on them to care for you?

      And if so, it would follow that somewhere there’s a trail of bread crumbs leading back to the original cause of “I must be blind to Big Entity’s stupidity because, though I am smart I am also small and my very survival depends on Big (Stupid) Entity, so I must swallow my pride (introject) and become stupid myself so as to survive life with these idiots.”

      So, no… it isn’t about your insurance policy, but it IS. It’s about your real insurance policy. And I am pretty sure that you can, in fact, understand “fairly simple information.” I think it’s possible that you’re brilliant and don’t (consciously) understand just how stupid the collective organization is, or consciously apprehend the dilemma it puts you in to be what Jung called a person of value or a superior person. Much is required from those to whom much has been given.

  2. “I must be ready to make it conscious, or else I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity of being a victim. ”

    These words stood out to me as if they had been highlighted. An opportunity. I actually felt very relieved when I read that having been in a ‘victim’ situation myself recently where I felt completely blind ans was subject to the usual feelings of Why Me? What am I so unconscious of that something like this had to happen? (or perhaps in a more positive light, some slow awakening brought this on?) It’s easy to be impatient with oneself and forget these processes run on a different time line to the mind. Similar issues in my life in regards to the third chakra and being an introverted thinker have this series of posts really setting of the alarms, and much contemplation.

    Then: “When opposites co-exist but don’t cooperate within the psyche, dangerous imbalances occur. A person swings from one extreme to another.” The act of containing the opposites brought back to mind pieces I have read on alchemy. I must look that up again – it’s amazing how many times one can go back and reread these things, as you know. It also made me think of some dreams I had some time ago with swings, that I’ll have to look up. I just wish I’d written more about ongoing circumstances surrounding them at the time.

    I feel like I’m being handed little gifts here! Also, Chagall’s paintings here made my heart smile.

    • Irene, I can so identify with the dismay or alarm or sorrow you feel when you experience difficulties and ask yourself to what end. I always feel a struggle between personalizing events as though I’m the center of the universe (what hubris!) and depersonalizing them to the extent that I rid myself of all responsibility. The middle way, it seems to me, is to look at events as opportunities. An opportunity is neutral, so it’s what we make of it that can be constructive or destructive.

      And who’s to say that destruction is always a bad thing? We had to demolish the old house on our property before we were able to build the new one. The destruction was great, but the construction afterwards also great.

      Anyway, you probably already know that in the latter part of his life, Jung studied a lot in alchemy. I haven’t even begun to read in that area yet, so report back. I’m interested in what you learn.

      As for Chagall, he also makes me smile. So many of his people are floating, which speaks to the parts of me that are also floating. ;o)

  3. “Because he thinks out his problems to the limit, he complicates them and constantly gets entangled in his own scruples and misgivings.”

    My mind goes round and round, getting nowhere. Drives me crazy. I believe I can think my way out of problems but that is not always the case.

    I’m dealing with my inner masculine that wants to run the show and an inner feminine that doesn’t seem to want to commit to me. I keep trying to figure it out but end up more confused than ever.

    Now I’ve met a man and I’m trying to figure out my attraction to him and what he’s here to teach me. The more I learn, the less I know.

    • Deb, that’s our problem all right: going “round and round, getting nowhere.” It’s making ideas an outward, objective reality that trips up the introverted thinker. If we manage to extrovert the ideas, we’ll be on to something!

      With regard to the struggle between your inner masculine and feminine, this is something everyone struggling to consciousness will experience. This tension of opposites requires a lot of team work. I’m going to post some things later today (hopefully) that might help in terms of exercises.

      Robert A. Johnson also has a book called “Inner Work” that describes how to undertake dream analysis and active imagination. I’ve found it extremely practical and highly recommend it. You can get your animus and your inner feminine together and let your ego help negotiate terms of relationship and integration.

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