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Taking direction from the spirit in shamanism and psychotherapy
Taking Direction from the Spirit
in Shamanism and Psychotherapy
by John Ryan Haule
Generally speaking shamans have good reason to be leery of psychology, which historicallyhas dismissed shamans as schizophrenics, epileptics, and hysterics. Jung, who at least doesnot pathologize shamanism, nevertheless seems to denigrate it when he says that shamanismworks out of a "primitive mentality" which sees the psyche as "outside the body," whereaswe denizens of the 20th Century West have no choice but to view the psyche as "inside."What separates shamanism and psychotherapy, in short, is a clash of metaphysics.
Mainstream psychotherapy -- including much that is Jungian -- locates the real "inside" andconstructs a topography of drives, instincts, archetypes, complexes, and the like to explainour experience as the result of "interior dynamics." Meanwhile shamanism locates the real"outside" and maps a greater cosmos comprised of a Lower World, Middle World, UpperWorld, and the entities that live in them, in order to explain our experience in terms of"exterior dynamics."
To be fair to Jung, I must point out that when he referred to the shamanic perspective asmore "primitive" than his own, he added that these are merely two metaphorical options, thatneither is "better" than the other, but that as a "modern individual" he had no choice but tolocate the psyche "inside," for that was where he experienced it. I have long been unsatisfiedwith this view -- and precisely on account of Jung’s justification: That is how I experience it.
I think we all
experience the psyche as "outside." Take our dreams, for instance. It would bea very unusual dream, indeed, that had us wandering around inside the organs and tissues ofour own bodies. No, our dreams take us to Paris and Istanbul, to prehistoric caves, netherworlds, and the sky. Our dreams are "out there." They take place in the cosmos of "theDreaming." If we remain faithful to our experience, we would have to say the "unconscious"of our dreaming sojourns is not some invisible realm inside our heads or hearts or bellies.
The domain through which we travel in our dreams and shamanic journeys is experienced asan alternate cosmos invisible to our ordinary awareness of space and time -- but suffusing itand extending far beyond in all directions.
Let us develop an experience-near
language, one that describes things just the way weexperience them. If we say that our shamanic journeys take place in the "unconscious," whatwe mean is that we travel through a realm that is "unknown" to ordinary awareness. In thatsense, it is "un-conscious." It does not take place in the space and time of our everydaylifeworld. It takes place in an imaginal cosmos
no less real than this one, but radicallydifferent. Furthermore, like the hypothesis of the "unconscious," the shamanic realm ofimaginal sojourns is in a sense more real
than that of everyday awareness.
Since Freud, psychology has been convinced that what takes place "in the unconscious"actually shapes our everyday life and determines our behavior. Thus psychology’sunconscious is the greater reality within which our ordinary awareness is too fragmentary
and narrow to adequately understand itself. Here, the shamanic point of view is inagreement, for shamanism finds that everyday events have a larger meaning than can only beappreciated when we journey out of the everyday into the greater cosmos that encompassesthis little one. The forces of the shamanic cosmos shape and determine what happens to us inour everyday lives.
Let me illustrate these observations by considering an example from Sandra Ingerman’sbook, Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self
Having been raped by a cousin as a teenager, the adult Diana is easily frightened and has "nosense of self." Ingerman diagnoses "soul loss." Jung would have no difficulty with thisdiagnosis, as he often speaks of it, describing it as a drop in the level of mental functioning,characterized by depression, uncertainty, inattention, powerlessness, and the like. Heexplains
"soul loss" by saying that a quantity of psychic energy which normally belongs tothe ego has disappeared into the unconscious. This package of libido would normally powerour daily activities with attentiveness, enthusiasm, and decision-making.
A psychological cure, according to Jung, would entail recovering this lost libido -- not as apackage of kilowatts, but by descending into the unconscious through dreams and activeimagination in order to find out what that energy is up to, now that it’s out of sight in theDreaming. The energy lost from consciousness does not cease to exist. It’s up to something,stirring up imaginal adventures in that other world. By participating in those adventures anddiscovering their emotional and symbolic significance for everyday life, the energy may berestored to the ego so that life can resume with new vigor and follow a new, more satisfyingdirection.
Ingerman achieves the same results, and she also believes that some quantity has been lostfrom Diana’s ego -- what she calls her "sense of self." For Ingerman, too, this soul may befound in that alternate cosmos that interpenetrates and extends far beyond this one. But hereis the difference between the shaman and the therapist. Jung sends the patient in search ofher own soul and then ponders with her the meaning and significance of her sojourns indreamscape. He’s helping her to integrate those journeys with her everyday "sense of self."Ingerman doesn’t send Diana on any journey at all. She goes in Diana’s stead.
From now on, the story of Diana and Ingerman is distinctively a shamanic
journeys to the Lower World, where she is taken across a Styx-like river in a boat rowed by
skeletons and under the direction of her Guardian Spirit, who also assumes the form of askeleton. When she reaches the Land of the Dead, Ingerman has to suppress her energy sothat she will appear as gray and lifeless as the souls who dwell there. She has to act on herown, without her Guardian and Power Animals, in a debilitated condition which appears toreplicate her patient’s psychological state.
Ingerman shuffles, breathing with difficulty, directly to the right adolescent soul and leadsher out of the gates of death, where her Guardian throws the shaman into the cold river torevive her and then explains that Diana’s cousin had raped her in order to compensate for hisown feelings of powerlessness due to the sexual abuse he
had suffered as a child.
Then Ingerman asks the soul -- which looks like an adolescent Diana -- if she is ready to
return, takes her by the hand, and leads her back to the world of space and time, where theadult Diana is lying supine on the floor of Ingerman’s office. The shaman blows the soul intothe chest and head of the patient. Diana sits up dazed, but feeling new power: "I feel sostrong. I feel my body. I have physical sensations." She goes on to change her diet and giveup smoking and drinking. We are led to believe that these are just the first steps in Diana’snew life of vigor, attentiveness, and enthusiasm.
From the point of view of psychology, shamanism works with some surprising metaphysicalassumptions. The soul or quantum of psychic energy that has been lost is a distinct,recognizable entity that can be found and recovered by a second individual. The errant soulis lost not simply in a dark corner of Diana’s personal dreamscape but in an objective realmthat hypothetically is accessible to anyone who knows how to enter it. Thirdly, the shamanevidently has some dependable connection to Diana and her lost soul, for Ingerman headsdirectly to the adolescent shade, makes no mistakes, and wanders down no blind alleys. Wemight speculate that Ingerman’s voluntary assumption of her patient’s depleted andpowerless condition has something to do with this unerring accuracy. Finally, althoughIngerman has to perform the crucial step of finding and retrieving the soul on her own, sherelies on a Guide who takes her directly to the general locale where the soul is trapped andafterward restores Ingerman and provides a plausible rationale -- distinctly psychological --for how the soul happened to get lost. The Guide thus possesses a comprehensive knowledgeof Diana’s life story, Ingerman’s psychological condition, and the topography of theshamanic cosmos.
At first sight, this shamanic perspective seems to go far beyond the psychological. Itssuccess, furthermore, seems to demonstrate its accuracy. No wonder shamanism andpsychology tend to be suspicious of one another. For to psychology, these shamanic eventswould appear to be based on a kind of hocus-pocus occultism, while shamanism perceivesthat mere psychology is barred by its own dualistic and word-oriented assumptions fromgaining access to a realm of experience that is crucially real -- albeit unknown to ourWestern consensus.
Nevertheless, Jung’s psychology, despite its inconsistencies, is not so far from the shamanicworldview. Indeed, as Jung’s thought matured between 1903 and 1946, we can see hispsychology becoming more and more shamanic. I see four stages in Jung’s development.
The first is characterized by his discovery of what he calls the "feeling-toned complex."According to this perspective, developed between 1903 and 1907, Jung would say thatDiana’s adolescent rape was a trauma that established a feeling-toned complex ofpowerlessness and defeat. The rape proved her impotence, and left her with a "fragmentpersonality" which interpreted the world as a hostile and overpowering place in which shewas destined always to lose. This feeling-toned worldview worked unconsciously, collectingover the course of months and years more and more evidence of its misleading accuracy.
In this first stage of his career, Jung believed that psychological work involveddemonstrating the nature and working of the complex so the patient could see that itconstitutes only one worldview among many that are possible. As she becomes aware of theworkings of her complex, the patient becomes free to test its accuracy and discover that sheis more powerful than she has believed.
Unfortunately, however, Jung’s earliest theory found itself up against the same problem thatFreud faced with his. Merely informing the patient of the nature of her neurosis rarelyseemed to free her from it. This led Jung to his second theory. The way to get free of such acomplex is not to take it on directly and demonstrate its inaccuracy in an intellectual manner,but to replace
it with another more functional and emotionally compelling complex. Anotherworldview has to be discovered -- one that is already implicit but undiscovered in Diana’slife. Its superiority will be self-evident, and it will impart a feeling-tone of greaterself-confidence.
But Jung never developed a method for replacing one personal complex with another. Hissearch for a more powerful complex led him deeper into the psyche and to the discovery ofwhat he calls the archetypes -- universal human themes, modes of perception, and patterns ofbehavior invested with compelling emotional values that can draw the patient into a new wayof life. This is Jung’s third theory, the one I have already described as sending the patientinto an archetypal dreamscape to discover what her lost libido is up to in the domain ofmythological images.
Here, for the first time, we discover a certain similarity with shamanism -- an agreement thatthere is a greater cosmos accessible to imaginative faculties that are neglected in ordinaryeveryday consciousness. From 1911 onward -- marked by his book, Symbols ofTransformation
-- Jung accepts the proposition that this greater cosmos, the domain of theunconscious, is objective
in the sense that it works to effect changes in people’s lives and toassist them in discovering their unconscious wholeness, recovering soul parts that have beensplit off. Furthermore, it is a " collective
" realm -- a reality shared by us all. Still, it is his
who has to learn to negotiate this realm. The psychologist’s familiarity with it,
gained through his own training analysis, enables him to work as a kind of assistant andguide. Shamanism shares a number of agreements with this third Jungian psychology, butthe two disciplines go about their work in entirely different ways.
In 1946, with the publication of The Psychology of the Transference
, Jung articulated afourth and far more shamanic perspective. In this book, he describes therapist and patient assharing a single soul between them, one that has the quality of a guide -- a tricky anddeceptive guide, to be sure. In line with his studies in alchemy, Jung calls this guideMercurius. This Hermes-like spirit has the unitary perspective of the Holy Ghost ofChristianity and also the destructive and fragmentary quality of the serpent of chaos. Theold, habitual, and no longer functional worldview -- both that of the patient and that of theanalyst -- is broken up and destroyed by the instinctual forces of unintegrated archetypes.
But this demolition, as painful and frightening as it always is, works in the service of a newintegration under the guiding spirit of Mercurius, the god of transformation.
The Psychology of the Transference
is a work of great profundity. But unfortunately it isquite obscure. A more accessible guide to Jung’s work in the last decades of his career maybe gathered by assembling the reports of his close associates and patients as they speak ofwhat it was like to be in analysis with Jung. Here, I am summarizing about 20 differentaccounts that collectively present a fairly clear and consistent picture.
Right at the beginning of the session or a some point later on when both parties fall silent,Jung wanders off on a soliloquy, following a vague "hunch," which he describes as "listening
within." He does not know where he is going with his monologue, but proceeds"unconsciously." Further hunches make themselves known as he talks, and he follows themas well. When this procedure is successful, he finds that he is "closing in" on issues ofcentral importance to his analysand. He describes his own subjective conditions for thishunch-driven monologue as speaking "spontaneously," while he "holds himself open,vulnerable, and unprotected by his professional persona." He is unconcerned by thepossibility that his "shadow may enter" the interaction with his patient -- apparentlybelieving that if the analysand feels cruelly treated, this is what the guiding spirit Mercurius-- now called "the Great Man" -- requires.
The Great Man is neither Jung himself nor the patient, but a Third direction-giving"Presence." It is an autonomous Spirit which guides the process. Sometimes the Great Manmay be conceived as an unconscious factor within Jung himself, to which he "listens." Atother times the Great Man is understood to be the patient’s soul or potential wholeness whichhe is addressing. But most frequently the Great Man is experienced as a Third Partner who isneither in Jung’s head nor in the head of the patient, but rather dwells in the space betweenthem both. Alternately it is described as the "background" against which they meet and indialogue with which they come to understand themselves in a new and more adequatemanner.
While all this is going on, the patient is deeply affected. The world of habitual, everydayconsciousness dissolves into "whizzing molecules." The patient no longer knows who she is.
"What is the difference between me and that table?" one of them asks. She has the sense thatneither she nor Jung is directing the interaction; rather "someone, not she," is speakingthrough her, and "someone, not Jung," is speaking through him. Sometimes this altered stateof consciousness is described as a Self-to-Self encounter, and sometimes as directed by aThird who is taken to be a "2,000,000 year-old Man." It is an "overwhelming" experiencewhich may result in "elation," "inflation," or a "cruel" belittlement. The patient often feelsthat her mind is being "read." Jung tells her the second half of the dream she withheld fromhim, or he starts right in speaking as though he had witnessed her untold dreams of the nightbefore. She feels "transparent," a subjective condition that sometimes is experienced asgratifying and sometimes as a dangerous descent into "a perilous underworld."
The shamanic elements in Jung’s mature practice of analysis are unmistakable. He sets offon a monologue, not knowing where he is going, but following the guidance of the so-calledGreat Man, who seems to have all the characteristics of a Spirit Guide. In Jung’s words, thisbeing "is not a conviction, not an assumption. It is a Presence
. It is a fact
. It happens
."Furthermore, like Ingerman’s Spirit Guide, the Great Man knows both the therapist and thepatient better than they know themselves. He knows them against the background of agreater, timeless cosmos, for which reason he is described as being two million years old.
Jung, in fact, defines
analysis in the last decade of his life as "an extended dialogue with theGreat Man," in which both therapist and patient come to know themselves within the contextof the Great Man’s wisdom. This larger perspective is what the patient needs in order todiscover the wholeness of her soul. But the analyst, too, benefits in the same way. Jung findsthat his own identity is rearranged and enlarged. This suggests a very important reason whyso many of the shamans described in Eliade’s classic, Shamanism, Archaic Techniques ofEcstasy
to shamanize. When they fail to practice their calling regularly, they fall sickbecause they lose their meaning-giving connection with that greater context, the cosmos
through which they journey and the wisdom of their Spirit Guides.
When analysis is an extended dialogue with the Great Man, the analyst generally sets outahead of the patient -- not unlike the shaman who journeys into the greater cosmos on behalfof her sick client. But the shaman travels out-of-body and alone to commune with her Guide,while her patient’s role appears to be entirely passive. An analysis guided by the Great Man,however, draws the patient into a "trialogue." Three parties actively contribute to the work:analyst, patient, and Great Man. Furthermore, the Great Man does not appear as the analyst’spersonal familiar -- as does Ingerman’s Skeleton Guide and Power Animals. Rather in Jung’sunderstanding, it is apparently always the same Great Man that comes to presence in everyanalysis, regardless of who the analyst is or who the patient. Nevertheless, the Great Manalways provides just the right guidance for this particular dyad: C. G. Jung, for instance, andJane Wheelwright. And the Great Man speaks through both
of them, not simply through theskilled practitioner, as in shamanism.
It is Jung’s disciple from California, Jane Wheelwright, who says that in an analysis withJung she
felt as though all the surrounding matter had turned into whizzing molecules. Everything thereseemed to be moving, melting, changing forms. Everything stirred. Reality blurred, conversationhappened unplanned. I felt someone, not me, spoke through me and someone not Jung wasspeaking through him. There was also the feeling of being swept into the depths of a perilous,dangerous underworld but since Jung had descended into this strange world and emerged so couldI.
Wheelwright is describing the breakdown of a world. The domain of space and time fliesapart into whizzing molecules and melting shapes. The realm of our public consensus --what the modern West takes to be the only world there is; the reality we measure in feet,seconds, and degrees -- all of this blurs and becomes indistinct the moment the Great Man’svoice is heard.
In trialogue with the Great Man, analyst and patient are drawn into an altered state ofconsciousness where the oneness of all things becomes more vivid than their separateidentities as Jane and Carl. They find themselves in a perilous underworld of unfamiliarlandmarks, where the needle of their everyday compass spins uselessly. Certainty residesonly in the Great Man who guides their interaction according to a cosmic wisdom they dimlyintuit but cannot grasp.
When Jung begins, as he says, to "listen within" and to speak whatever pops into his mind,he has shifted his attention away from the sensory world to what he calls the "background."Some hint of what this experience is like may be gained any time conversation happensunplanned. We find ourselves carried along by a current of fascination, and new topics floodharmoniously into the space between us. Lovers know this experience very well. They, too,are in touch with the "background."
Evidently what Jung calls the "background" and I have called the "greater cosmos" is with usall the time. In ordinary consciousness we screen it out. We are frightened of it for goodreason. Imagine trying to negotiate our superhighways and crowded urban streets while opento that strange underworld. Most of us screen it out too thoroughly, losing contact with the
greater and deeper meaning of our existence. Even those of us who are relatively free ofneurotic conflicts lose a good deal of our natural human spirituality. But those who have losttheir souls have screened out so much that their lives become a disempowered misery. Wehave all lost our greater selves to some extent. But Ingerman’s patient Diana has soughtsafety in an unusually narrow and claustrophobic world of victimhood. She has screened outtoo much and lost a certain minimal "sense of self." That quantity of selfhood, whichIngerman identifies as Diana’s adolescent soul, has been banished to the "background." Itdwells amidst the shades, in a place very much like the underworld of the sixth book of the
or of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
We already know as much as Ingerman wishes to tell us about how she found and retrievedthat soul. But how might it have been recovered through an analysis conducted by Jung as atrialogue with the Great Man? Answering this question obviously will involve some daringspeculation, but we do know a few relevant facts about Jung. His relationship with Freud wasundermined in part by a religiously-toned sexual attraction towards the founder ofpsychoanalysis. Jung found these feelings repugnant because they awakened memories of hisown adolescent sexual abuse at the hands of an older man whom he had revered as a mentorand confidant.
We also know that on several occasions Jung initiated a trialogue with the Great Man byspeaking of his experiences in Africa, where he was deeply impressed with how little "ego"those pre-literate peoples had. The men could be mustered to the sounds of drumming andwork furiously all day long, digging a canal with baskets and hoes. Everything proceededwith great haste and excitement, like ants repairing an anthill. They were directed by awhite-bearded marabout, who moved with mild dignity astride a white mule. "Wherever hecame, the haste, shouting, and rhythm intensified, forming the background against which thefigure of the holy man stood out with extraordinary effectiveness." They worked withoutslackening their pace until evening when they dropped, exhausted, into sleep. Jung says hewas so infected by this egoless sense of oneness that he suffered several days of diarrhea.
Very possibly the marabout, whom Jung describes as looking "a hundred years old," formedthe model for the two-million-year-old Great Man, the spiritual guide of those laborerscaught in an experience of non-distinction and oneness.
Given these facts, we could well imagine how Jung would listen to Diana’s sad and apatheticaccount of the powerlessness and sense of irreality she has suffered since the day her cousinraped her. No doubt the tale would evoke memories of his own sexual abuse. A long momentof silence would follow in which both parties would be overcome with an identical sadness,impotence, fear, and hopelessness. Emotionally, they are already one.
Then Jung begins to speak, perhaps about a funeral. An intensely emotional occasion, whenthe congregation was of one heart. The image of the principal mourner appears before him.
He begins to describe her gray hair, a little too crisply coifed, but with a single lock brokenloose and flying free like a drooping flag of surrender. Now Diana sees her, too. And shesees the coffin, draped in black and crowned with a crucifix, lying aslant above the heart ofthe deceased. She believes Jung is speaking what she already knows, as he goes on todescribe a promising life cut down in its youth by a senseless act of violence.
Among us Westerners, funerals are for the mourners. They’re the ones faced with an absurd
and tragic event. But who knows how it is for the poor girl they’re remembering with suchgrief? Then, perhaps, Jung begins to speak of The Tibetan Book of the Dead
, where funeralsare designed to benefit the soul of the deceased. The Tibetans see death as an opportunity.
For the moment a soul is freed from its fleshly limitations, it has a wide-open chance to graspthe nature of its spiritual identity, freeing it from the necessity of having to be born again. Ifit misses its chance, it has to face its demons and plan another earthly life for itself. Perhapsit’ll choose a pair of hysterical and emotionally undependable parents. So as to learnabandonment. As a reminder of its distance from the Spirit. And learn in sadness to long forunion.
By now Diana has begun to wonder -- perhaps without quite noticing that she’s doing it.
Why would a soul choose a life-course broken by a rape in adolescence? When she makesthis move, she has left her body and its sad personal history behind.
She left the world of space and time the moment she was captured by the vision of thefuneral, offered up by the Great Man and described by Jung. But then she was merelyobserving
a drama taking place in the greater cosmos. When Jung began to speak of theTibetan view of death, the mythic dimension of their shared vision deepened. The Great Manhad taken them both to the top of the cosmic mountain, where they could see all the lands ofthe earth spread out below them. But the moment she begins to look at her own
life, she hasmoved into a state of mind similar to that reported by people who have had near-deathexperiences. The Great Man is giving her a kind of life-review.
In an analysis conducted by the Great Man, the errant soul is not rounded up and led back.
Rather the patient travels into the greater cosmos along with her analyst and thereuponbecomes
her soul. She drops her everyday obsession with impotence and survival andbecomes united with her greater identity. She makes an imaginal journey, guided by theGreat Man, into the background of her narrowly constructed life, and vividly lives
in thoseminutes the unforgettable power of her whole being. Her soul has been restored.
Let’s return to metaphysics for a moment. Because shamanism takes the real as being "outthere," outside the individual, it assumes that the soul has gotten lost -- strayed into a foreignrealm -- and can only be retrieved by a specialist who has learned something of thetopography of the greater cosmos and acquired a Spirit Guide to direct her search for a soulthat has wandered far from its host. Meanwhile psychotherapy, because it takes the real asbeing "in here," inside the individual, assumes that the soul itself is not really lost and hasnot strayed. Rather it is present but unrecognized. The patient has become unconscious ofher soul’s presence. The soul doesn’t have to be chased and led. The doors of perceptionhave to be opened so that the patient can consciously connect with a soul that has been thereall along.
Neither the shaman nor the therapist is capable of effecting the cure in ordinaryconsciousness. Both have to enter an altered state of awareness and open themselves to theguidance of a Third, a Spiritual Presence who is far wiser than they are. This Third Agent inthe healing -- whether it is called " the
Great Man" or " my
Spirit Guide" -- has completeunderstanding of the two human participants as well as the work they need to do. Both theshaman and the therapist "find" the soul through an imaginal journey under the guidance ofthat Third. Perhaps it is unimportant whether the healer travels through a cosmic dreamscape
or relays stories concocted by the Guide. Indeed, the shaman’s journey itself may well beseen as a concoction of the Guide. The important piece appears to be "finding the soul,"which means acquiring a living experience of "having a soul" and "being a soul."
There is no doubt that Ingerman enabled her patient to arrive at this experience. I feel sostrong. I feel my body. I have physical sensations.
Furthermore, it has apparently been nopassing thing -- no moment of ecstasy that gradually fades away. Diana is evidently makingbig changes in her life, is far less fearful and depressed, and is more decisive and hopeful.
A psychologist pondering this story wants to know the mechanics of how the cure waseffected. What are the "inner dynamics" that brought about these changes? An analysisconducted by the Great Man has an answer to this question. The cure is effected byredirecting the patient’s attention -- away from the narrow world of victimhood to thearchetypal world where questions of ultimate meaning arise. What is the meaning of death?What does it mean to live a life in which death is an eventual certainty? What does this haveto do with a life interrupted by an adolescent rape? The patient’s attention is seduced awayfrom the obsessions of her complex, and she begins to look at the cosmic picture. What shesees there is so compelling that the tyranny of the complex is seriously undermined. It’llnever again be Diana’s only
world. The cosmic realm of the "background," where her soulhas been living unconsciously, has emerged to the forefront of her attention and generated apowerful fascination for her "whole being." The bars of her psychological prison have beensprung. This
is an account the psychologist can understand.
Ingerman’s shamanic cure offers no such rationale based on "inner dynamics." Nothing issaid about the patient’s participation in her cure, for these considerations fall outside the fieldof shamanic metaphysics. Yet, for the psychologist, this is the most interesting part of thework. In order to satisfy the psychologist’s curiosity, we might speculate that the patientparticipates no less in a shamanic
cure than she would in a trialogue with the Great Man. Wecould guess that while the shaman is traveling to the Land of the Dead in the Guide’s boatrowed by skeletons, a trialogue is already in progress. The Spirit Guide directs the vision; theshaman participates consciously in the imaginal drama as a journeyer with a mission; and thepatient contributes unconsciously. Diana, according to this speculation, is having a dreamthat’s taking place deep in her unconscious -- not unlike a nocturnal dream we cannot recallwhen we wake up in the morning.
In a trialogue with the Great Man, what Jung calls the "background" is the interpersonal fieldof emotional union. The analyst allows himself to sink into that mystical participation.
Listening to the voice of the Great Man, therefore, amounts to a kind of "activeimagination," a state of reverie in which the attention is withheld from the outer world andredirected to images that emerge out of a shared emotional state. This is why Jung describes"active imagination" as "getting our moods to speak to us."
Loss of soul is a kind of death. No doubt this is why the Great Man’s contribution to thetrialogue begins with the image of a funeral. It is also why Ingerman’s Spirit Guide takes herto the River Styx. Jung is affected by Diana’s powerlessness in that it evokes memories ofhis own adolescent rape, and he sinks immediately into the "background" of his emotionalunion with his patient. This, too, is why he is able to tell his patients the dreams they havenot reported. He sinks into the emotional state that has generated those imaginal adventures
and allows them to emerge again. Ingerman arrives at emotional union with Diana through a"journey" in which a series of images draws her into the Land of the Dead, and where shehas to behave as -- and finally to feel herself to be -- a dead woman, as gray and lifeless asthe souls she encounters. Not unlike Jung, Ingerman has a personal relationship with thisemotional state of mind; for she tells us that at one time she herself suffered soul-loss andthat she had a near-death experience.
Although Diana doesn’t report the whizzing molecules and melting forms that JaneWheelwright experienced, it is not unthinkable that during her shamanic cure she enters thisinterpersonal "background" in an unconscious
manner. In fact, the dissociation studies of ahundred years ago, conducted by Pierre Janet in Paris and Morton Prince in Boston, arrivedat the conclusion that we are dreaming all the time -- even while we are awake and screeningout the dream. Prince employed hypnosis to ask his patients to report the dream they hadbeen having unconsciously during a waking episode while under the influence of a certainmood or performing a post-hypnotic suggestion. He found that they always reported animaginal drama that bore an uncanny resemblance to the conscious activities and moods theywere otherwise unable to comprehend. It appears that the unconscious dream gives us accessto the motivation behind our uncomprehended waking activities.
I can give you an example, too, from my own life. Some months ago my domestic partner,Ann, suffered an allergic reaction to a bee sting. We retired for the night believing that adose of benadryl had taken care of the situation. However, Ann awoke around 3am feelingcold and wondering if she was going into shock. Not wanting to wake me, she sent me asilent, mental request: "John, can you hear me?" In my deep sleep, I murmured,"Umm-hmm." Then she continued, still in silence: "Don’t let me sleep too long. Wake me upregularly." Again I said, "Umm-hmm." Thereafter I woke her several times in my sleep by
I remained completely unconscious of Ann’s request and my compliance. But in the morningwhen she told me what had happened, I recalled the times I had awakened her -- momentswhen I caught myself deliberately shoving her with an arm or leg and almost waking myselfin the process. At the time, in the twilight of my sleeping state, I had been aware that I wasbothering her; and I had wondered guiltily why I was doing it. Even in my sleep I brieflyentertained the question of whether this betrayed an unconscious hostility I had towards Ann.
Without regaining consciousness, I was complying with her request, but at such anunconscious level that I was prompted to worry about my motivations.
It would surely be plausible to imagine that the shaman’s patient is participating in preciselythis manner. If so, a shamanic soul-retrieval could also be understood as a trialogue. Whenthe shaman alters her awareness through drumming and rattling, she enters the emotional"background" she shares with her patient. Her Guide, then, would be an imaginalpersonification of the purposiveness and implicit meaning of that emotional state of oneness.
She calls this agent " her
Guide" rather than " the
Great Man," because there is always aGuide for her shamanic journeys. Possibly it is always the same Bear or Heron or Skeletonwhich directs her. Thus the Guide seems to be her
familiar. However, if the soul is trulyfound, the Guide must be responding not only to Ingerman but to the psychological state ofsoul-loss in her patient as well. The Guide is evidently the crucial link in a trialogue.
There is a soul-to-soul connection between the shaman who is primarily conscious of hersojourn in the greater cosmos and the patient who has lost conscious connection with hersoul. Because her connection with soul has become so irretrievably unconscious, Diana maybe aware only of the fact that she is lying on the floor of Ingerman’s office hoping for thesuccess of the shaman’s mysterious ritual. Yet on an inaccessibly unconscious level, she isparticipating in the trialogue.
Probably we could steal a page from Morton Prince’s work of a century ago and place Dianain an hypnotic state where she would be able to gain access to her dream-like participation inthe trialogue. But if we did so, we would have to interrupt the shamanic process and verylikely interfere with its effectiveness. We would run the risk of reducing the autonomy of theliving shamanic state to the dead statistics of our scientific concerns in the world of spaceand time. I am content to leave my speculations about the "inner dynamics" of a shamaniccure in the form of a "thought experiment."
It seems self-evident to me that if a shaman is able to find and retrieve a soul, she must be insome kind of contact with that soul. In its own way, the soul must feel this connection asstrongly as does the shaman. Furthermore, if shamans are in general agreement that they donot effect the cure strictly by their own power but rather through their Spirit Guides andPower Animals, something like a trialogue must be involved. In this regard, shamanism andan analysis conducted by the Great Man have a great deal in common. We are left, in fact,with only one major difference between them, namely the explicitness of the trialoguestructure. In an analysis directed by the Great Man, the trialogue occupies the foreground ofconsciousness for both analyst and patient. But in shamanism, the trialogue structure lingersout of sight in the background. How do we account for this?
For me, the most probable answer to this question resides in the differences in the alteredstates of consciousness that obtain in an analytic cure as opposed to a shamanic. They are,respectively, reverie and trance. For the definitions of these states, I am relying on DanMerkur’s book, Becoming Half Hidden: Shamanism and Initiation Among the Inuit
According to Merkur, trance is characterized by what he calls a state of "involuntary belief."While in the trance state, we are incapable of doubting the truth and reality of the visions weencounter. We believe without choosing
to believe. We cannot doubt. Doubts may occur tous after we return to an ordinary state of consciousness and recall the events of our trance.
But during the trance itself, we can no more doubt the reality of boats driven by rowingskeletons than we can doubt the reality of outboard motors in everyday life. Reverie isdifferent. Nagging doubts about the reality of the imaginal world we encounter in reverie canbe suppressed but they cannot be abolished. Thus reverie is an altered state in which wevoluntarily choose
to accept our visions of rowing skeletons as if
they were as common asoutboard motors.
The shamans I have spoken with and read about emphasize again and again the role of trust
in their work. Only someone for whom these things are a problem would speakthis way. Therefore, I conclude that these people have not entirely left the state of reverie inmany of their journeys. Perhaps there is a spectrum of states of consciousness ranging fromreverie to trance. But clearly the ideal model
for a shamanic cure would be a state of trance,where the practitioner loses her everyday orientation in space and time and may even forgether fleshly body is lying supine on the floor of her office, side-by-side with the patient.
Things are rather different for analyst and analysand. Although they hold themselves open tovisionary realities directed by the Great Man, they never entirely lose their space/timeorientation. They never forget that they are analyst and patient, facing one another in twochairs on a rainy Wednesday in Jung’s second floor office in Küsnacht, Canton Zurich. In ananalysis with the Great Man, the trialogue structure of the interaction is unmistakable.
In shamanic trance, on the other hand, the trialogue structure is hidden. The moment theshaman begins her entranced journey to meet with her Guide, she has left her patient’severyday reality. Because the events of her journey are so compellingly real, she cannotdoubt them; and the structure of everyday life is too far away to be recovered. She leaves herconnection with her patient in the hands of her Guide. The Guide and the objects met on her
journey are the only matters to which she can attend. She enjoys a vividness and
taken-for-granted reality in her vision that the analyst and analysand never achieve. On theother hand, she has lost a connection with the everyday structure of her interaction with thepatient that analyst and analysand cannot doubt. The vividness of trance sacrifices awarenessof the triangularity of the interchange, while attention to triangularity sacrifices vividness.
Human consciousness is a fragile and limited thing. The fact that we all, to a greater or lesserextent, lose our soul in everyday life dramatically illustrates this fragility. When it comes tothe work of finding and restoring souls, we have to work within our human limitations. Wecan only be conscious of so much in any given moment. Thus it seems to me that the choicebetween shamanic healing and psychotherapy is largely a matter of predilection. Those of uswho prefer to attend to the trialogue are drawn to therapy. Those drawn to incontrovertiblevividness prefer the shamanic approach. But despite our predilections, it is always useful toponder the parallels. Shamanism and psychotherapy have much to learn from one another.
And I believe the place to begin is with the experience of taking direction from the Spirit.
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