Master, Mentor, Teacher, Guide

And so we have sat with the baby, calling to mind how small and helpless we were so long ago, how patterns we have had in our lives since infancy and early childhood have stuck with us, in some cases crippling or hindering us in ways we do not wish–in ways that we can’t seem to quite overcome just yet. Just days after my own birthday, I thought about my experiences in the hours, days, and weeks following my premature birth and subsequent lengthy hospitalization, and I have looked at the patterns I began to learn then, and wondered. I wonder because in our Jungian studies classes, over and over again the seasoned analysts, writers, and scholars who teach us say that even their clients in their 50s, 60s, and 70s haven’t been able to adequately compensate for the patterns stamped indelibly on their souls, patterns that give them problems their entire lives and which, in later ages, bring them to the analyst’s office.

“Given how difficult it is to change,” I ask, “do people really change? And if so, how?”

I direct this to Dr. Hollis, whose presence and generous contributions of self I so appreciate, who replies that yes, people do change sometimes, but change is difficult if it occurs, and it cannot occur unless a person has a mentor of sorts, a conscious, wise, and mature counselor to whom one is accountable. This someone is there to ask after the what and wherefore of one’s actions, to gently point out the pattern and how it lames a person or hinders her, and to listen. This mentor is one who sees and hears you, and tries to understand. Without this person in your life, you are flying blind and without adequate training to make it through.

Another analyst who is also a priest taught us that he was taught that one in a hundred people are actually analyzable. What does this mean? It means that most people don’t consider unconscious motivations, don’t believe they have patterns that drive them to repeat and revisit their wounds over and over again, and will not cooperate with any kind of analysis of the evidence of their unconscious. They don’t want to see and therefore there is nothing to be seen, no matter how in-your-face the obvious is to the observer. We are being slapped in the face with the other person’s unconscious patterns, but they’re oblivious. It’s painful to experience, and out of necessity one has to move outside the range of the flailing if one hopes to escape harm.

A person who changes lifelong patterns does it through consistent, wise, reliable accountability to another, and also by having the structure that supports the pattern systematically dismantled. This dismantling is easiest to observe in addiction recovery, where the first thing that happens is an addict is removed from his usual environment and put into a treatment facility. There, his old friends and haunts and substances are not available. He has no familiar tools or routines, nor access to the destructive treatment program he’s designed for himself. We remove the structure supporting the addiction and then we look at what remains. What remains is what we’re after. An addiction functions very much like a complex, or what Buddhists call a knot, in that it has a cold, calculating, and single-minded obsession with serving itself. It seems to have a life of its own, which is why it’s called a disease. The addiction, like the neurosis, complex, or mental illness is very much like a wicked witch who has cast a spell over a person and holds him in her thrall. We are helpless in the face of its power unless someone comes to our aid, some elixir is found, some rescue attempted.

A prince goes by and hears Rapunzel singing; the prince kisses the Sleeping Beauty–something happens with a force of “Otherness” to it that on an archetypal level is about an imprisoned, poisoned, sleeping part of ourselves that needs rescuing by the awake, alive, and virile part. This is one reason why we love a good romance, long for the knight in shining armor to come over the hill on his white horse bearing his coat of arms. We sense that the power of rescue is within us, but we can’t do it alone. We need help. We need a force stronger than ourselves to get us out of the clutches of our own destructive process.

And so the addict goes to treatment. There he eats new food, does not use harmful substances but is given new substances, new tools, even a new language for conceptualizing life and communicating with others. He is given a new peer group and, yes, a sponsor. In every single system of recovery, recovery and consciousness begin with a mentor and a big change that puts the old habit pattern on its ear. But even this isn’t enough; we hear all too often about addicts relapsing, because the power of the old pattern is so much stronger than the loose and frightening feeling of being uncontained after being released from treatment. Therapy, group work, or analysis may provide enough of a constant context of care to counterbalance a person’s lifelong patterns; but more often than not, people regress or fall back into the hole again. Anyone who has tried to stop smoking, to diet, or to change any habit or reoccurring pattern of relating or reacting knows how hard-won any change is.

Though I use addictions as an example, what I mean to say is that change is difficult for anyone. We really can’t do it without an accountability partner and mentor. We also need a friend or friends with whom we can partner, if possible. But we need a teacher. We need the Zen master, priest, rabbi, mentor, counselor, crone, analyst, therapist to whom we are accountable over time–over a long period of time. The pattern that your mother and father set going in you from infancy onward is not going to be modified, corrected, improved, much less eradicated if we are lone wolves, loping off into the dark night on our own. We are likely to remain predators or even become prey, doing things that way.

14 responses

  1. I’ve missed you.

    For myself, I know I need a teacher/mentor, someone to be accountable to as you say. I am a lazy woman when it comes to looking within, preferring to feign ignorance. Or maybe it’s just fear.

    I recently broke up with a lovely man and blamed him for our break up which left me feeling awful. Last night, I sat down and thought for a change, instead of doing and realized that what I accused him of doing to me is what I was doing to myself. I could just see it in him more clearly than I could see it in myself.

    Sadly the lovely man is an alcoholic, albeit a sweet alcoholic, and I found myself, once again on the track with an alcoholic. Needing to sort a few things out I’m thinking. Although my father was not an alcoholic, both of his parents were, as was my son’s father and my husband.

    I read a line in one of James Hollis’ books and it said something like this, You have to go around the track a few times before you can see that it’s an oval. Certainly true for me.

    • Deb, I’ve missed you too and thought about you and will be responding to your email… I have been busy outwardly, but even more significant is my engagement with my own inner life–navel gazing, if you will. Things go down and gestate and eventually come back. I’ll be in touch, for I have comments.

  2. “We are being slapped in the face with the other person’s unconscious patterns, but they’re oblivious. It’s painful to experience, and out of necessity one has to move outside the range of the flailing if one hopes to escape harm.”

    This is what’s happening in my life now. It’s very obvious to me from just the most superficial understanding of this stuff that I have (which is why I didn’t comment before… I feel like I know nothing at all compared to you and your other readers here).

    Anyway, so I see the unconscious “stuff” in other people: projection, shadow, etc. But (ha ha!) I am unconscious of my own unconscious!

    I wonder, though, if that’s really true. I have a question about personality types. Does that enter into self-awareness? I am INFP… I wonder if this makes me, by nature, more aware of “myself.” I am a daydreamer and spacey… I feel like I know myself well (good and bad). I’m comfortable in my own skin. Is this part of individuation? Or is this just superficial knowledge?

    I feel like… when I read about people uncovering the unconscious stuff, like there is pain and suffering in dealing with it and in getting to know yourself and being conscious. And yet, I don’t feel pain acknowledging myself… I’m not always happy about things that I know about myself, but it doesn’t cause me pain to know them. Am I making sense? I feel like I must not be scratching the surface, since I feel no pain. 🙂

    By the way, my name is Katie. Kate, if you want to be Shakespearean!

    • Kate (I smile because you gave me a choice), to respond to your question about personality type and self-awareness, I’d say yes, the IN parts can and usually do make a person more aware of him- or herself. The extraverted senser is more aware of others, of what’s “out there.” We introverted intuitives look inside and consider the possibilities and patterns. We’re made for introspection. Being comfortable in one’s own skin may be a sign of individuation. Real individuation doesn’t occur without it, I’ll put it that way. However, imagine the oafish lout or the narcissist who also seem comfortable (maybe too much so) in their own skin. One way to sense or intuit the difference is to judge how I feel in the other person’s presence. It’s all well and good for Joe to be comfortable in his own skin; but am I comfortable around Joe, too, or does he suck the air out of the room or bleed me dry when I’m around him? Is it all “Joe, Joe, Joe” all the time? (I’m suddenly reminded of The Brady Bunch movie, when Jan complains, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”). I make this comment because I have accountability and mentoring on my mind, and the discussion that followed when I posted about mentors. I’m still thinking about that.

      About pain and suffering. I agree with Buddha and Jesus: life is suffering, and in this world you will have tribulation. Life is difficult, and then you die. However, I also agree that these can be transcended. It all really is impermanent and if we can go to a place mentally or spiritually where we aren’t attached to what’s not eternal, then we will experience and perceive less suffering in our own lives and be more compassionate with those who are stuck in it. I myself am still stuck in a lot of suffering under the illusion that I’m trapped in a world full of unconscious louts, while I am a lotus. Louts… Lotus. Get it? /smile

      I have a couple of observations about pain. First, the more beloved a person is and has been during childhood, the more able they are to live life and the less neurotic suffering they have. Perhaps you are one of those well loved people. Second, I observe that suffering is real. My son shared a Sage Francis song with me yesterday that says it all; it’s so brilliant that I cried as I listened to it. I couldn’t put it any better than he does; it’s from the new album Li(f)e–lie with an “f” in it.

      [audio src="http://www.strangefamousrecords.com/sfr-audio/_common/Sage_Francis_Best_of_Times.mp3" /]

  3. Librarian in Purgatory, your comment reminded me of the Epilogue from Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind. The last sentence of which follows:

    Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of modern man, indeed that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of “man” himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome–and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine.

    • Matt, I loved that book, and also enjoyed Tarnas’s writer’s workshop at Pacifica, which I bought on DVD. What a wonderful quote.

  4. Eve,

    I don’t know that I agree on the necessity of a mentor for change. Certainly it can be beneficial and save a great deal of time and heartache spent reinventing the wheel, finding lands already discovered, and fighting dragons that have already been vanquished, but I don’t know that it is singularly essential, at least not for everyone, not as a rule.

    Almost all of the hero myths, though not necessarily the fairy tales, involve the solo adventurer—Odysseus, Parzival, Buddha, to name a few, come to mind. Yes, from time to time they receive assistance and guidance, in many guises, but few of them involve relationships that would be considered mentor/student.

    I am reminded of Joseph Campbell’s quote, which I think I came across in “Pathways to Bliss”

    “In the story of Sir Galahad, the knights agree to go on a quest, but thinking it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group, each entered the forest, at one point or another, where they saw it to be thickest, all in those places where they found no way or path. Where there is a path, it’s someone else’s path. Each knight enters the forest at the most mysterious point and follows his own intuition. What each brings forth is what never before was on land or sea: the fulfillment of his unique potentialities, which are different from anybody else’s.”

    I know it’s semantics, but if a mentor, and I’m assuming a “human” one, IS necessary for change, change cannot ever have taken place as the mentor would have to exist a priori to the mentored. Just me being anal.

    I do not doubt that many people, most perhaps, need a mentor/guide to make lasting or meaningful change; but at this time, I can’t see it as being a requirement.

    This,

    “Another analyst who is also a priest taught us that he was taught that one in a hundred people are actually analyzable. What does this mean? It means that most people don’t consider unconscious motivations, don’t believe they have patterns that drive them to repeat and revisit their wounds over and over again, and will not cooperate with any kind of analysis of the evidence of their unconscious. They don’t want to see and therefore there is nothing to be seen, no matter how in-your-face the obvious is to the observer.”

    I thought was an incredible insight. If you ask someone to picture the number 3 and then a unicorn and ask them to pick the “real” one of the two will say “3”. Rarely do they realize that both are purely conceptual and neither has a “physical” existence, like the psyche or complexes, yet both have a reality which can be easily perceived through affect and effect. You can spend your whole life searching the physical world and you will never find a 3, you might find representations of it, but never the thing itself. Our focus has become the purely empirical/material and anything we can’t perceive with the physical senses has no reality. We do not realize, or have forgotten, that we live as both physical and conceptual (mental/spiritual) beings; that the two worlds overlap in us.

    No wonder the percentage of people who are “actually analyzable” is so low. Whether due to developmental level (i.e., the fish unaware of water) or the primacy of scientific materialism in our society it’s not hard to see how most people are completely unawares of an inner reality that while not necessarily physical, is just as real and can very easily, and often does, manifest in physical manners/symptoms. It’s not hard to see this internal/external split in terms of the Biblical “Fall” or in the rise of patriarchal/sol religions in place of the feminine/earth/Goddess religions.

    In that vein, from a macro-perspective, it’s not hard to suspect that we are seeing the limits of the former—a Wall St. and Military-Industrial-Complex run amuck—and that, should we survive it, what may be around the next corner is not a return to the latter but finally, an integration of the two.

    Ah, fascinating stuff.

    • Librarian, as I wrote to Elaine, I thought there might be questions and objections, particularly from those who do not have or have never had, or who don’t intend to have, mentors or human guides. I don’t quite know what to say to that, except to ask, “Why is that?” Just as I asked “How?” I also have asked, “why?” and I’m satisfied with the answer. We’re not made to go it alone; and yet we are. It’s a paradox and it’s a tension we have to hold. When I think of the most crippled humans I know, I know it is impossible for them to make it without help. One has to make it to the point where he *can* go into the forest and *can* choose the place where there is no path before he can undertake the hero’s journey; it’s just that simple.

      You (and perhaps Elaine) are conceptualizing this as an either/or situation; instead, it’s an either/and/or situation. We were (and are) talking and writing about people who are wounded, crippled, blind, deaf, unconscious–not the well, not those who have some element of consciousness already at work.

      At some point each of us has to have another’s help; at each point, each needs the magician, king, crone, wise old man, wizard. At each point, each needs to go alone into the forest. The question is, at what point is that?

      On another point entirely, your comment about the rise of patriarchal/sol religions in place of the feminine/earth/Goddess religions reminded me of something that made me think. I read Marion Woodman the other day and she said that she had given up too much of her femininity by being too busy and too goal oriented, and even too successful. I was surprised to read this, as I don’t associate femininity with non-busy, no-goal, and no-success. I wondered again what it means to have femininity in such an aggressively masculine culture. This has nothing to do with mentors unless we consider the wise old man parallel (the Crone)… still, I wondered what you would say to this. So?

  5. Before you reply, let me correct myself, as I worded my last question poorly. Of course we are not “wasting our time.” My life is richer, more meaningful, and I believe I can say I am less of a danger to myself and others, which Dr. Hollis is fond of saying is why we do depth psychology.

    Perhaps someday I will have the funds, time, and the geographic capability to enter true analysis. Perhaps a relationship with an older, wiser mentor will enter my life. But in the meantime, what pitfalls do you see for someone who is going it alone?

    • Elaine, hopefully by now you have read what the Librarian says; I think he makes some very good points. I think the pitfalls of going it alone depend on why a person is going it alone, and when. A person going it alone obstinately because of being thoroughly unconscious, unyielding, and unteachable is going to have a lonely and unhappy outcome–those are that person’s pitfalls. A person going it alone obstinately because he must, because he is called to it, because he is at the forest and it’s the only way to do this particular task, because she is the handless maiden who finally must flee into the dark forest and into the small cottage and live there seven years and transform–these are in for a far different type of pit and fall than the psychologically blind and deaf person.

      There comes a time when a person must go it alone. Look at Jung himself: he had to go it alone, and we have the Red Book now to look at and see what that meant for him. Yes, he was still in analysis at that time; but there is no way he could bring his analyst into the dark place where he went. His analyst(s) at best could only be like spotters around a trampoline.

      Even when one has an analyst (for instance) or a reliable confessor, or a Buddhist teacher who is very wise, in one way one is still alone. Accountable, yes; but also alone.

      There’s also the situation I’ve been in before, which is to want to be accountable and to have no means to buy accountability (through analysis) and, even worse, no free help available through a wiser mentor type or clergy etc. who is more conscious. That’s happened to me before, and it sure left me feeling sad and lonely. Which was part of the purpose of that exercise.

      I truly believe that if a person is open to mentoring AND needs it, God will give it. If it doesn’t come, it isn’t needed even if it is wanted; in that case, I can’t imagine the pitfall unless one lapses into self-pity. Which I would be tempted to do if I simply wanted a Mother or Father. :o)

  6. Is there no substitute for this ONE mentor?

    I understand that having this type of accountability is the ideal situation. But what about those of us, and I believe our number is quite large, who are working with the only means at their disposal?

    I have been taking classes at the Houston Jung Center, many of them with Dr. Hollis for about 5 years now. I participate in a group Active Imagination class once a week which is led by a Jungian therapist. I read extensively. I listen in my car to the recordings of Dr. Hollis’ classes. I have read your blog, impatiently waiting for the next thought provoking post, for several years. I have a group of similar minded friends that I met through the Jung Center. We share and encourage each other. While it is an hour’s drive for me to participate in these opportunities in Houston, I feel very fortunate to have them available to me.

    Please understand that I am not listing these as a kind of “look at me, see how hard I am working” kind of statement. I am merely illustrating the type of things that those of us who are without a mentor turn to. And to ask, in view of this post, are we wasting our time?

    • Elaine, I smiled when I read your question because I thought someone might ask it. I don’t think many people are fortunate enough to be able to afford a good analyst, or even to have one in their state; they may not have a good master, mentor, teacher or guide. What then? Well of course we have God at our side; all the love in the universe is there to be with us and that is enough when the heart yearns to grow (as it does in all, doesn’t it?).

      I think this one answer was a beginning; there are other teachers that are more reliable, teachers such as Suffering (for instance). I was thinking of writing about that next, and now I see I must.

      Having said all that, I can understand why he gave me this answer, and why this is the answer in psychoanalytic psychology and analytic psychology, as in many religions in which confession and accountability, discipleship and teaching are required. We’re unconscious to our worst faults and handicaps; that’s the theory. I think it is true, and that even with all the best efforts we still need someone to watch our backs when we are our own worst enemies. I write this regretfully and with an open mind still… but I’ve seen too many times how this principle is true. I would hope and expect, though, that an enlightened individual would not need such help. I’m open to discussion, though.

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