Think Jung

Make Life a Mythic Journey

My Jungian Odyssey

We need to move from amor fati to amor mundi.
                                —-Ann Ulanov, June 9, 2012

The complex is Jung’s most practical contribution to daily life.
                            —-James Hollis, June 15, 2012

I attended the recent 7th Jungian Odyssey Annual Conference & Retreat in Switzerland from June 9-16, 2012.  The topic was “Love: Traversing Its Peaks and Valleys.”  As the program noted with the following quote from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, it was mostly a very deep “valley” for Jung:  “…I have again and again been faced with the mystery of love and have never been able to explain what it is.”

Ann Ulanov was the keynote speaker and said, “We must love our patients,” and, more importantly, get them to grasp that “scrap” of insight that leads to action in “the meeting space” with the analyst.  It is here that they will be able to embrace love–of themselves and the world.  The question this immediately raised was, How to get there?  A consensus seemed to emerge among the presenters who followed that the “family complex” had to be overcome for love to reach the peak of fulfillment.

Both Doris Lier and John Hill reviewed compelling literary examples of the tragic consequences of the failure to cope with such complexes.  Lier discussed Ibsen’s modern classic, A Doll’s House, a drama illustrating the destruction of a marriage when the husband, Torvald, is unwilling and unable to relinquish the socially enforced, patriarchal father-complex, and to acknowledge the loving sacrifice of his wife, Nora.  Rather than submit to such complexed social convention,  Nora rejects her husband and children to follow her own path of individuation and love.

In contrast to the major confrontation between Nora and Torvald, Ibsen provides a subtle, but intriguing, counterexample in the relationship between Nora’s friend, Kristina, and Nora’s accomplice in illegally obtaining funds to save Torvald’s life, Krogstad.  Kristina and Krogstad had been lovers, but she had rejected him for a conventional, socially-acceptable marriage that was both loveless and ended in failure.  A mature Kristina returns offering feminine Eros–love–both to Nora in urging her to tell Torvald the truth, and to Krogstad in offering to be his supportive wife and mother to his children.  She is able to overcome Krogstad’s fear of being a social outcast who is an unacceptable marriage partner.

Similarly, John Hill’s portrayal of the classic story of romantic love, Tristan and Isolde, also indicated how this tragedy results when “love’s wounds” are not addressed.  As James Hollis later observed, the power of such romantic projection is often a trap that prevents the family complex from being resolved.  Tristan is never able to confront King Mark and, instead, settles for a jealous Isolde substitute.  Isolde, unlike Nora, is also unable to free herself from the patriarchal complex served by her mother.  This archetypal tragedy of romantic love is thereby set in motion.

Bernard Sartorius offered a refreshing re-examination of the ancient myth of love, Eros and Psyche.  He pointed out the simultaneity of the wound in the drop of oil and love inflicted by Cupid’s (or Eros’) arrow that leads Psyche on an heroic (in the sense of Joseph Campbell’s definition) journey that ends in a true union of love or hierosgamos.  The key to accomplishing this, Sartoius noted, is that Cupid has to confront his “family complex” in the form of his mother’s, Venus’, jealousy of Psyche’s beauty.  Similarly, Psyche also has to take decisive, and seemingly callous, action to overcome her family complex represented by the equally destructive jealousy of her sisters.  Symbolically, Psyche must ultimately, like Odysseus, go to Hades–a place of transformation where the old, complex-ridden self dies and is resurrected–here by Cupid’s affirmation of love–a kiss–that awakens her to a true individuated Self.

The Jungian Odyssey concluded with James Hollis indicating the multiple powers of the complex in keeping us from reaching our own love destiny in Ithaka.  He noted that every day begins with the same challenge: “Do you look in the mirror and say, ‘Today I’m going to do the same stupid things I did yesterday?'”  The power of the unconscious complex is such that we, all too often, do just that–day after day.  Even in Homer’s Odyssey, he observed, every crisis involves “fear and lethargy.”  The fear comes from “overwhelment” and “abandonment” and the lethargy (as in the River Lethe that captured Psyche) paralyzes us from confronting our unconscious fears.

According to Hollis, the sources of the abiding power of the complex are twofold.  First, it stems from childhood experiences when we really are powerless, and, unlike Nora, forced to submit.  Second, once the toxic complex is in place, we lack adequate feedback to engage in the self-examination necessary to reveal and cope with it–until we are forced to seek help such as in therapy.  Hollis pointed out how the Hydra-headed complex controls us in many forms: power complexes, grandiosity, narcissism, addiction, boderline personality disorder, among others.  If this were not enough, our modern culture conspires to support this with its focus on materialism and narcotizing media distractions.

With luck, the power of the Self will arise in the second-half of life to free us to embrace life with both self-love and love of the world.  We will finally see, as Ann Ulanov said, that “Generosity rains down on us” and achieve “amor mundi.”  For, in the end, we all are, as Joseph Campbell wrote when the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon, citizens of the world and travelers exploring the mystery of the cosmos.

Paul Marshall Wortman
June 26, 2012

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