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.

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