For many years, I have considered Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” one of my favorite books. I’ve recommended it to at least a dozen people and given it away multiple times. But I haven’t had my own copy of the book in years and for some reason it isn’t available in any e-book format, so I haven’t revisited it.

Recently I decided to go back and read it again. And I still consider it to be one of my favorite novels, but I’m also deeply puzzled. In my re-read, I didn’t remember a single detail from the book — talk about a book of forgetting. In fact, if anyone had asked for details of the novel, I probably would have mentioned something that was actually in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

That isn’t too big a leap, actually, because the two novels share a number of like and similar plot points. Every male character is basically a form of Kundera. While his view of male sexuality is overtly toxic, at least Kundera is willing to make his male protagonists ridiculous. The female protagonists are more interesting, but also seem slightly less real, more idealized versions of the type of sexual liberation Kundera wishes could play out on both sides. To put it in the crudest terms, Kundera’s men tend to be Czech while his women tend to be French.

I do wonder, however, exactly why I liked the book so much 30 years ago, when I was unaware of its many positive and negative literary influences. The book leans heavily into the French (Diderot and Voltaire, especially) while thoroughly rejecting the Russian (most notably Doestoyevsky.) At the time I first read it, I hadn’t read enough world literature to grasp the references, never mind the multiple Jungian tropes that Kundera trots out (including multiple examinations of the shadow.) Perhaps I identified with the “Litost” section of the book at the time more than I do now.

But there is another form of influence I could not have understood 30 years ago — just how significantly this book and others in Kundera’s corpus would influence my own style. Kundera demonstrated to me that a book of ideas could live and breathe as vividly as any work of fiction. And reading this paragraph, I cannot imagine taking on the original Montaigne project without Kundera’s lead:

This book is a novel in the form of variations. The various parts follow each other like the various stages of a voyage leading into the interior of a theme, the interior of a thought, the interior of a single, unique situation, the understanding of which recedes from my sight into the distance.

Maybe it is just a testament to the book’s quality that it can be enjoyed purely on its own terms, but also in the greater context that I can appreciate it now. Interestingly, the book’s sharply anti-Russian point of view is also far more fitting with the current zeitgeist than that of the early 1990s, when post-Soviet Russia was viewed in far more positive terms. Kundera would have none of that, and after more than 20 years of Putinism run amok in the world, it’s much easier to accept his point of view now.

In many ways, however, the book seems dated. It fit with the cynical, ironic worldview of the 1980s and 90s beautifully. But now, the book’s stance against revolution and social change seems selfish and privileged. Calls for revolution within no longer feel appropriate. Even so, the book has resonance and value as a cautious reminder that even the best of intentions have a way of becoming corrupted when taken on as a mass movement and the most meaningful changes must always occur first at the personal level.

I’m reasonably sure that the last place where I read this novel was Richmond, Virginia, a city now engaged in the long-overdue act of tearing down its numerous Confederate general monuments. But as this act of social progress takes place, Kundera offers an interesting counterpoint to consider about the historical memory hole in Prague:

Wandering the streets that do not know their names are the ghosts of monuments torn down. Torn down by the Czech Reformation, torn down by the Austrian Counter-Reformation, torn down by the Czechoslovakian Republic, torn down by the Communists; even the statues of Stalin have been torn down. In place of those destroyed monuments, statues of Lenin are nowadays springing up in Bohemia by the thousands, springing up like weeds among ruins, like melancholy flowers of forgetting.

At the time I first read this novel, those Lenin statues had too been torn down. Now even the name Czechoslovakia has fallen into the memory hole. It was all easy to swallow 30 years ago. Perhaps the difficulty this message has in going down today makes “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” even more valuable, even if we rightfully cheer Robert E. Lee monuments being destroyed.

Man cannot do without feelings, but the moment they are considered values in themselves, criteria of truth, justifications for kinds of behavior, they become frightening. The noblest of national sentiments stand ready to justify the greatest of horrors, and man, his breast swelling with lyric fervor, commits atrocities in the sacred name of love.

When feelings supplant rational thought, they become the basis for an absence of understanding, for intolerance; they become, as Carl Jung has put it, ”the superstructure of brutality.”

Milan Kundera, “An Introduction to a Variation,” January 6, 1985

As I wind down a course in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I have been thinking a great deal lately about the connection between thinking errors, those pesky thoughts that control us if we grant them that power, and intuition and how both are tied to or held hostage to feelings.

It would be helpful to first define some terms. In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman does an excellent job to setting the framework for a discussion of intuition and how the heuristics one develops over time are very useful in a range of decisions, but can lead to major errors when overapplied. Kahneman states:

Expert intuition strikes us as magical, but it is not. Indeed, each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day. Most of us are pitch-perfect in detecting anger in the first word of a telephone call, recognize as we enter a room that we were the subject of conversation, and quickly react to subtle signs that the driver of the car in the next lane is dangerous. Our everyday intuitive abilities are no less marvelous than the striking insights of an experienced firefighter or physician — only more common.

This quote made me think that I had discussed the Kahneman book in my original Montaigne project, but I went back and checked and found that this was not the case. “Thinking Fast and Slow” came out a year after I had completed my project. In fact, I only discussed intuition once in my project and it came up in a curious manner, in reference to why I supported one candidate for political office over another. This line of thought started with this quote from Montaigne:

When Plutarch (leaving aside the many examples which he alleges from Antiquity) says that he himself knows quite definitely that, at the time of Domitian, news of the battle lost by Antony several days’ journey away in Germany was publicly announced in Rome and spread through all the world on the very day that it was lost; and when Caesar maintains that it was often the case that news of an event actually anticipated the event itself: are we supposed to say that they were simple people who merely followed the mob and who let themselves be deceived because they saw things less clearly than we do!

I then extrapolated this to my experience and found that I concluded a candidate for Mayor of Chicago was a better choice in the area of education policy mostly by the impatience he displayed in a debate while others were giving the standard lines about education reform. I picked up on his body language and felt comfortable with his approach.

Something similar happened in the early days of the 2020 election cycle when, seemingly out of nowhere, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg suddenly surged from the back of the pack towards frontrunner status based on little more than shared impressions about a CNN Town Hall meeting few voters actually watched. The stories of Buttigieg learning to speak Norweigian just so he could read an untranslated novel began to spread and an entire subsection of the Democratic primary electorate was enthralled for reasons they could not fully articulate.

Loathe as I am to quote myself, this is what I wrote in 2011 about this mysterious process: While I don’t believe that there’s something supernatural at play, neither can I fully explain how and why political candidates appeal to certain people. I work in the field of political communications, yet I find this area to be a great mystery, one that is never explained by polls or issue analysis.

Which returns me to the Kundera quote, because maybe this feelings-based politics is part of the problem we face today. It seems ironic that a pack of Democrats who wanted to support the most data-driven, pragmatic candidate reached the conclusion that Buttigieg was the best choice largely based on zeitgeist and feeling, when a more systematic thought process might have eventually pushed that pack towards Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro or Corey Booker. And I feel comfortable criticizing this pack because I was part of it, from beginning to end. Looking back now, it all seems far more mystical than well thought out.

I don’t know if I’ve landed anywhere important in this essay and haven’t really addressed the matter of thinking errors. Perhaps I can take that up in a part two tomorrow.

I take some relieved joy in the fact that few people have read this story. It’s a provocative theory that came to me as an intuition based on a quote that I read, or more accurately stated, sought out. I’m rather pleased with the way I extrapolated a single, wayward thought into a full piece, but I have no idea whether the story speaks truth. Events are fading into dreamlike memory for me now. This may be a form of fictionalization that is happening, which if true, is a very positive outcome for me.

The fact that this piece has been overlooked so far gives me the freedom to keep returning to it, adding and subtracting, contextualizing it with other similar stories that have come before. It was written in the form of a case study — perhaps the influence of having read a great deal of Jung recently is seeping through.

I wonder why I haven’t attempted to fully integrate other interpretations into this piece. Do they not fit the form? Have I disavowed or even forgotten other conclusions that I have drawn? To that possibility, I can only say that these words are written in sand and will wash away soon, either through the tides of more words and new theories or the wind of my rewriting hand. Read them, if you wish, while you can. They may be gone before you finish.

It is very seductive for a person who holds power over another to wield it as if the other is a child. This is an especially comfortable strategy for one whose primary responsibility in the world is serving a mother role, either through personal parenting experience or a job that accords a person a certain air of authority. Or both.

Things get particularly difficult when the person with power has susceptibility to narcissistic traits — and even more difficult when the person in the weak position has been victimized by narcissists, especially a parent. Again, or both.

Now, imagine the extra difficulty presented by a strong attachment — clinically called transference, but functionally no different than romantic love — that has formed between the two individuals. (It’s a leap to state that both feel this, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume there’s some level of feeling on both sides.) The weaker party, in this case, has already somewhat surrendered to the infantilized position. Jungian analyst James Hollis says this about such a surrender in his book “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life:”

The secret goal of “falling in love” is fusion with the other, and the obliteration of the individual consciousness is the outcome most desired. (Le petite morte, the French expression for orgasm, is, after all, “the little death).” While the desire for obliteration is an inescapable by-product of the rigor and hardship of our journey, when it prevails we are infantilized, regressed and dependent, and secretly wish to be so. But in the light of day, it does not seem so pretty. The much greater risk of truly loving the other presents a quite different agenda, a more demanding summons, as we shall see.

We look at the problematic question of falling in love, we see a number of implications emerge. First, what we do not know about ourselves, or do not wish to know, has a tendency to be projected onto our “beloved.” Second, we have a predisposition to project our childhood agendas, our infantile longing, and the burden of our assignment for personal growth onto the other. Thirdly, since the other cannot in the end, and should not ever, carry responsibility for the task of our life, the projections inevitably wear away and the relationship has a tendency to deteriorate into a power struggle. When the other does not conform to our relationship agenda, we often seek to control them through admonishments, withdrawal, passive/aggressive sabotage and sometimes overtly controlling behaviors.

This creates an interesting, and very complex, infantilizing situation, one where the weaker party readily surrenders to the infantilization and the dominant party eagerly accepts the role. However, as Hollis argues, the dynamic does not end there. The hopeless situation the weaker party holds creates inevitable tension in the relationship that inevitably is exposed, and once it is fully in the open, a power struggle erupts. Imagine this power struggle described above taking place inside of a therapy room. This article does a good job of describing how parents often act to infantilize their adult children. But this can also play out in a therapist-client context. I’ll give examples for all three forms of power-wielding behavior mentioned in the article.

First, there’s disapproval. One thing that should be a given in a consulting room is an acceptance that anything and everything can be spoken freely. But when a power struggle laden with infantilization breaks out, I have experienced a therapist interrupt a story and demand why a sensitive subject is being raised. This level of disapproval expanded to include other types of therapy being pursued by the client and demands that these other therapies be terminated if this relationship were to continue. All of this reinforces a dependence of the client on the therapist, who demands being in control of the client’s growth and even his freedom to work on whatever issues are top of mind that day. So while the client, in the weaker position, may be trying to recover from the infantilized posture, the dominant therapist uses disapproval of maintaining the status quo.

Next, there is interference. The demands mentioned above go beyond an expression of disapproval, they constitute direct interference with the behavior of the individual. Praise can also serve as a passive/aggressive form of interference — in this specific case, a therapist often put a finger on the scale of behaviors she most approved of, even ones that affected the client’s core relationships, by excessively praising actions that indicated progress towards her preferred outcome. This again creates dependence, but also confusion among the client, who does not know whether progress towards reaching a resolution with a significant other is due to personal growth or if it is an action being taken purely to gain approval from the dominant therapist.

Third, there is excessive criticism. This can seem strange in the context of a therapeutic relationship where direct criticism is almost always avoided. But even here, the therapist made some strange analytical choices that came across to the client as behavioral criticism. For example, the therapist at a certain point proposed the theory that the client was “splitting” as a result of taking part in both individual and group therapy. Jung believed that when this type of behavior manifested, it was an excellent opportunity for the analyst to get to know both sides of the personality that manifested — it was, after all, core shadow work. In this case, however, the splitting was leveled as a form of psychological weakness or error and something that could be severed if only the client would end the second relationship. The dominant therapist never offered to the client the possibility that the existing conflict could be a useful window into how he viewed both idealized and demonized relationships with others.

It is important to point out that many, perhaps all, of these actions by the therapist might have been manifested from the unconscious and seemed perfectly normal or even helpful to the client within the context of the therapist’s conscious intentions. There was likely no conscious intention of manipulation, revenge or power play going on within the therapist’s thought process. Unfortunately for both the client and her, there was simply too much unprocessed personal baggage hanging around the therapy room for a healthy process to play out and the therapist was too inexperienced to recognize that a series of bad decisions was extending an infantilization process that needed to be brought to conclusion.

All of these actions and the unprocessed nature of the transference put the client into an ever weaker position with the therapist. The client expressed on multiple occasions a fear that the therapist would abandon him, and each time received reassurance that this would not occur. The therapist then, for reasons never articulated to the client, decided to terminate the relationship and, in the exit process, hinted that the client may have more serious behavioral issues than she felt capable of addressing. This was an unfortunate case of doing the right thing — stepping away from a grievously damaged therapeutic relationship — in the worst possible manner. Hints were made previously in therapy about the possibility of childhood abuse, despite no evidence or memory of such abuse being expressed by the client. Trauma-level therapy was vaguely recommended as the next course of action, although third party professionals later described those referrals as “cover your ass” actions taken by the firm to hide their own made mistakes.

Before this becomes an exercise in blaming the therapist, I want to move this case study in a slightly different direction — how might a fully-functioning adult react to being placed into such an infantilizing circumstance? The therapy itself was highly infantilizing, but the exit was even more so. The therapist, for whatever reason, chose both the most cowardly way to send the client on his way, but also the one that left him weakest and most vulnerable.

Many clients in this situation may have just surrendered to the course suggested by the therapist. After all, this therapist had power and wielded it to the end, wouldn’t you expect that the client might continue down that path and accept the infant posture? Does a neglected child dropped off at a police station have any choice but to keep crying and hope that help soon arrives?

In my case, the curious answer is that I immediately rejected the infantilization conclusion, even though I had unconsciously accepted the infantilized therapy throughout. Perhaps bringing into light the weakness of my position was enough for my ego to snap back into life and reject it. I became determined to reclaim my adulthood and masculinity in the weeks that followed, and this blog is one way I worked through the issues involved. Part of the process was creating a negative role model, as I did with my father.

My shadow has others desires as well, which I am well aware of and continue to process, but see no need to express all of them overtly. One of those desires is that the therapist in question one day read this, partially so she might be educated, but also so she might recognize that while her actions did short term damage to me, in the end I emerged stronger and with greater insight as a result.

However, I do believe that there are aspects of this story that I have not fully examined. For example, why was I so eager to fall into an infantilized role to begin with and, given that I would not have accepted this description at the time, what am I missing in my current recall that might better explain my state of mind at the time? If there was a power struggle afoot, what role was I playing in that conflict? Did I take any overt actions to escape the infantilization and how were they met? Was I enjoying the conflict or perhaps even thought that I was winning it?

Someone suggested to me last week that perhaps this project is a way of creating emotional distance from people, that I go alone to my computer to reveal my thoughts now rather than to talk to people face to face. There is truth to this observation, perhaps even more than that person understood at the time.

The truth is, my recent experiences have scared me. I felt an unusual emotional maelstrom earlier this year that became worse by leading to an unfortunate outcome. Now I no longer trust my emotions. What’s more, I don’t really trust my connections to people either. What am I doing by trying to get closer to people? Am I being manipulative of situations? Am I leading people down a path that will lead to more hurt?

I wonder if I’m gravitating towards Jung because he would approve of this kind of internal retreat. The Red Book is very much an attempt by Jung to pull back from the world — a world he was thriving in — to discover what was tormenting him internally. There was a great deal of 19th century literature swirling in there (I had no idea just how great an influence Nietzsche was on Jung until I started reading the Red Book,) but it was mostly a reflection of his unconscious as discovered through dreams and free-range imagining.

I tend to get more insight by the latter of those two mental approaches. I now keep a notebook by the side of my bed to jot down dreams upon waking, but have not yet felt the desire to jot down any of them yet. They all seem so banal. Most seem to be self-soothing mechanisms … here, let me give you a dream where you have your financial house in order so you can sleep more deeply, which you desperately need.

My dreams also have an odd memory of other dreams that my waking life tends to ignore. Many of them take place in Las Vegas, even though I’ve only been in the city a handful of times and not in at least eight years. I had a series of very strange dreams in Las Vegas where there were multiple baseball stadiums in the city that had become hosts to MLB teams. Perhaps this was a precursor to our new “bubble world” of professional sports.

In another recurring series of dreams, I attained a master’s degree in some unknown humanities subject years ago and my current dreams keep referring to that non-existent degree. Perhaps there is comfort in the thought that helps me sleep. Or perhaps I am just giving myself an honorary degree for some of my auto-didactic learning through the years, including this project.

It’s nice that my unconscious wants to give me credit for things I have accomplished in the past, because my ego seems to take no interest in these past projects or in starting new ones. These days, to return to my original theme, my ego also seems to have no interest in other people. This is not an unusual stance for me, but it’s sad to see it return — I thought I had abolished it late last year.

The return to the self is not a bad thing, but I fear pushing people away as I go. It is so much easier to not care. It’s very seductive to believe that no one else is interested and the only real reader and beneficiary of this project is me alone. I’ve long ago stopped trying to get people to read my posts here, in fact, I’m relieved at times when people don’t read it.

After solitude, I will need to learn again to trust people. First and foremost, I’ll have to trust myself again.

I have been pondering a transition to Jungian analysis over the past week and had my first session/interview with a Jungian analyst last Friday. This probably accounts for my silence in recent days.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been reading Jung’s Red Book over the long weekend and do not know what to make of it. On a conceptual level, I understand that it is Jung tapping into his unconscious and pouring in the whole of his intellectual life (especially Goethe’s Faust, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and various works of Gnosticism.) Fortunately, I’m familiar with most of Jung’s references, so I can see where his thoughts are going. Those thoughts, actually, are quite similar to those of Philip K. Dick in his monstrous notebook called The Exegesis, which I believed I commented on during the original Montaigne project (please feel free to search for Exegesis, I do not know which essays referenced it.)

So when I say that I don’t know what to make of Jung’s thoughts, I’m actually referring to the madness of the project. It’s remarkable to me that over the course of four decades following the creation of the Red Book, Jung systematized this chaos into a coherent theory of the psyche and a step-by-step method for analysis. In the course of reading it, it’s easy to imagine his work taking another turn into madness. We do not know for sure what drove Nietzsche there, but if it was thought alone (as William James believed), Jung was toeing that line to a dangerous degree and even threw in some episodes that took place in asylums.

None of this is easing my mind as I dip my toe into Jungianism, and perhaps that is for the best. Jungian psychology is not for the faint of heart. There is nothing soothing about the Jungian approach, it is all about confrontation of your deepest fears and darkest impulses. I went into my consultation last Friday confident about my recent insights about my anima and how my recent experiences made clear to me that I wanted to cultivate the creativity and wellspring of connectedness that my anima seemed to be holding out for me.

I wasn’t exactly slapped off that belief, but I was gently taught that the first work in Jungian psychology always involves the shadow. Reading the Red Book makes this very clear — without knowledge of your shadow and the darker impulses of your psyche that you have repressed or made alien, you can never begin a walk down the path of individuation. As much as I might want to jump straight to making a friend of my anima, I needed to confront my dark side first.

This is work that was a major focus of my therapy in December 2019. As I outlined in this essay, some major growth resulted from examining some of my past behavior that I found shameful. It is also my perception that this examination of my less saintly qualities helped strengthen my bond with my therapist. Oh, I’m just going to come out and say it — I think she found my shadow kind of hot, just like she seemed to take joy in watching videos of me scream-singing on YouTube.

Or maybe it was just me gaining a new form of sexual confidence, I have no idea. Remember, the anima is me, not her, and I’m far more in touch with my unconscious than I am with the thoughts and feelings of other human beings. I don’t write this for your benefit, but to remind myself. The head/heart dichotomy is still slowly reconciling.

This, in turn, may anger a reader or two who wonders what the hell is wrong with me, why can’t I just get over this. I think Jung would understand my predicament. I turned highly flawed human into a god and am now suffering the consequences of creating a living deity. Jung specifically warned against this, which to me argues for reading the Red Book earlier in life. Oh well, lesson learned.

I also need to take some solace from Pascal: “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” At this point, the flashes of interest are fewer and farther apart, which might make for an worthwhile examination of what might trigger them now. Perhaps engaging in some activities that I find inauthentic may lead me back that way.

Anyway, it looks like I will soon be re-examining the darker moments of my past and looking for ways to re-integrate parts of my psyche that I have tried to hide away. Maybe the blog will take on a darker, more interesting character as a result. Or maybe I’ll remain so baffled by the work that my words will dry up. In a way, that’s fitting of Nietzsche and Jung as well.

The highest and most decisive experience of all . . . is to be alone with . . . [one’s] own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.

Carl Jung

I am back in my office today for the first time since early March. I have been in a coworking place in Evanston the last month, so I anticipated the experience to be not that much different — but this is not the case at all. Being in my office building again is providing me with a tremendous feeling of comfort. Just having a home base gives me comfort — even if there’s almost no one here.

Someone suggested to me yesterday that this project, while it is certainly an outlet for vulnerability, can also turn into a vessel for isolating myself from other people and communicating alone into the vast unknown. I do not reject this idea. It is something I have been considering ever since I restarted in March.

Throughout 2019, I took a number of strides towards becoming more comfortable with the extroverted parts of my personality. But since the lockdown began, I’ve felt it necessary to reacquaint myself with my inner life and to find some comfort there. It has meant focusing on more solitary exercise pursuits, running instead of group exercise. I’ve been reading mostly towards the purpose of finding material for writing as well.

As a result, I feel much more comfortable alone right now that I did early last year. I remember being away in Hamburg for nearly two weeks in June 2019 and was struck with a terrible case of insomnia. It felt like the early scenes in “Lost in Translation” — the isolation was unbearable. Now, some time alone in a hotel room sounds like a great opportunity to catch up on sleep and practice my guitar and bass.

If this crisis forces all of us to find more comfort in solitary activities and to find a better balance between our introverted and extroverted selves, it could end up being beneficial to many, especially those who need the alone time to find a spark of creativity.

This project restarted in March in a time of lockdown and grief. Deaths were accelerating globally and we had no idea where the Coronavirus would take us. The isolation of the moment seemed unbearable. How would we survive not just days, but weeks of this? How will we live without sports and new movies to talk about?

Those days turned into weeks turned into months. Things began to open up — too quickly here in the U.S. — and now we are beginning to retrench again. The reopening of movie theaters, bars and beaches seems absurd to anyone paying attention to anything other than their own drives. The idea of playing basketball inside the “bubble” of the Coronavirus epicenter just adds to the sense that none of the so-called serious people in the world have the faintest clue what they are doing. The United States of America is unraveling under the non-leadership of the worst President in our history. The endless travails of 2020 have become a running, dark joke.

My thoughts since the crisis began have turned for the most part inward, which was uncomfortable for me given the state of the world. How could one focus on the self at a time when we all faced such collective peril and doubt? The project, in a sense, was radically out of step with the moment.

And yet, I think it was entirely appropriate at the same time. What else could anyone work on but his or her self in desperate times like these? Why tether yourself to the endless stream of horrifying news? Yes, take a stand when you can on matters of social justice. Vote when you have the chance — contribute what you can. But ultimately, given all the time we have spent in our private bunkers, time will have to be filled with something other than fretting of the outside world and entertaining ourselves as best possible.

I now consider it a great gift that I had begun important interior work in the months before the lockdown began and had experiences to reflect back upon. This has led me recently to retrace my steps to the beginning of this journey. Last summer, after spending some time listening to a podcast about Carl Jung’s approach to psychotherapy, I decided to re-engage in therapy and specifically sought out someone with expertise in that area.

This search was not conducted rigorously and I ended up with a therapist who claimed knowledge of Jung, but was not trained in the highly specific manner necessary to have expertise in the field. So we meandered through six weeks of haphazard psychodynamic work before I decided it wasn’t a good fit and moved on. But I still had an itch to go deeper in my work and tried to find a better personal fit for the work. And I succeeded this time.

I won’t detail the various ways that therapy went wrong — I’ve done that too many times already — but it just recently occurred to me that, unbeknownst to me, I began a form of Jungian therapy even if I was not being guided in that direction. In this psychodynamic relationships, heavily influenced by my own projections of traits that I saw in the therapist that I wanted to develop in myself, I had begun a process Jung described as “summoning the anima.”

Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson says this of Jung’s anima:

Dr. Jung speaks of her as the intermediary between a man’s conscious personality and the depths of his nature, the collective unconscious. She is the queen of all the psychopomps, those intermediaries who keep us in contact with the mysteries and depths of our nature. She is the inspirer, the bearer of poetry, the guide through the underworld, the essence of encouragement (a word meaning “strengthening of the heart”), and, probably deepest of all, she is the carrier of meaning. It is she, with her magic and her interior connection, who bestows meaning and value in a man’s life. When a man is in her presence — inwardly in his deepest inner world, or outwardly when he is in the presence of someone to whom he has given this power — the slightest nod of approval or talisman from her hand is enough to give meaning and justification to the whole of his life.

It’s very easy to look at this description and make one of two mistakes — one, to think that this is a romantic pairing, which it is not, at least in the sense that there is any consummation of a relationship. The second mistake is to say that the person transformed into the anima isn’t worthy of the adulation. This is a mistake of obviousness because, it should go without saying, what is being summoned here isn’t something real or rational, it’s mythical. Of course the actual, real human being isn’t a great muse. Those are the children of Zeus and Mnemosyne who preside over the arts. It is a metaphorical connection between a person and this creative drive.

That creative drive comes from within, not from the person transformed into the anima. So the entire relationship is really no more than a projection of the desires of the individual onto another human being. The fact that it takes the form of an appealing younger woman gives a veneer of sexual desire to the relationship, but in reality — at least in my case — the relationship is more about admiring and wanting to be like the anima than winning over and possessing the person who embodies it.

In my case, the thing that I most admired in the anima my psyche created was her charisma. I had a strong desire to emulate my anima and become someone with the same level of personal magnetism and the ability to influence the lives of others. This, again, has very little to do with the actual human being who sat in the room, which perhaps created problems for her. The admiration coming back from me probably led to significant ego inflation for her, which in turn might have made her excessively confident in abilities that she had not fully developed. It likely became very seductive to believe that the anima was her and not my creation.

I have tried on many reactions to the end of this relationships over the past few months, but only recently have I discovered the most important reality — my anima is still alive and well. While I projected this fascinating, charismatic character with a cult-of-one following onto an individual, the character remains a part of me and is still desiring to find expression through me, not her.

Ultimately, it was impossible for my therapist to make anything of this Jungian work I had begun not only because she was inadequately trained in her own area of expertise and had zero Jungian understanding, but neither of us were even aware at the time that this was happening. We used the Freudian language of transference and went looking for analogues in my past to identify what these feelings might mean, but Freud’s work didn’t really touch on what my psyche was doing.

Now, having been down in my bunker and having dwelled with these memories over several months — and after having been challenged by other people in my life about my thoughts and feelings — I finally have clarity and understanding of what I was searching for and what I’ve found. It’s a simple search for meaning and purpose and the types of activities that lead to a real sense of accomplishment in my life, not just a short term ego boost.

Do I need to personify my anima to reach these goals? Not at all — and I feel bad for putting that impossible burden on someone incapable of understanding what my psyche was trying to bring into the world. Some of us just aren’t simple, easy to know and figure out human beings. We require better trained guides to help us through it.

Or, conversely, maybe we require a global crisis that forces us to burrow deeply and find the necessary insights ourselves.

Thursday’s blog post threw my thought patterns by a loop, leading me to take a couple days off to ponder the repercussions of it all. It hasn’t helped that every time over the past few days that I sat down to write, someone would interrupt me with a distraction, big or small. Maybe it’s synchronicity at work. Maybe I needed to think a bit more before it was time to let it all out.

Of course, to reach that conclusion, I would need to have something significant to say now and I’m not sure that I do. I am still sitting with the idea that last Sunday’s post, where I detailed how my father has been an opposite role model in life, points out the weaknesses of a philosophical stance I have adopted for years.

Since the Montaigne Project began in 2011, I have been a disciple of Friedrich Nietzsche’s interpretation of amor fati, or love of fate. Briefly (and probably too reductively), the theory states that we should say yes (at least retrospectively) to every moment in our life as a way of leading to where we are now — and by embracing all of it as good, we can define victories, bracket off sections of life, and mark them off as triumphs.

This is a highly story driven approach to life and one that would seem highly familiar to anyone who watches a lot of movies. Contemporary movies, when they aren’t myth-based epics, are all essentially amor fati. You don’t really expect them to end happily ever after, but you do accept them as small triumphs that help define the human spirit.

But now I look back on my declared triumph of a week ago and can see why Hollywood is so tempted to claim happily ever after. There’s inevitable dissatisfaction in amor fati triumphs, especially when all you’ve done is win someone else’s game — or negative another person’s life.

It also helps me understand what set off this series of blog posts a couple weeks ago. Having survived some major challenges in the past few months, I was having one of those amor fati moments of triumph two weeks back. Yet, I was feeling anxious. The triumphs did not create an urge to celebrate — instead I was flooded with ideas for writing projects, and new challenges to take up.

This in turn reminded me of a similar time in January when I was always in a triumphant mood, and how then I felt a drive to suddenly take my therapy approach deeper, to apply some part of it to other aspects of my life and to challenge myself with group therapy and a group relations conference.

The first thing my therapist and I did was observe whether this was evidence of a pathology such as bipolar disorder. But it wasn’t something that happened regularly enough to fit that definition and seemed to be tied to very specific moments of achievement.

Dispensing with that, my therapist suggested that perhaps it was just the artist in me trying to get out. This was a useful insight, and I filed it away. Now, with a bit of detachment from the specific period of high energy yearning, I can see what purpose this energy was serving. It was following a very specific path that Carl Jung described — of the psyche speaking up and demanding that it’s desires receive attention, not just those of the ego.

There are lots of implications to this shift, if I choose to explore it. For example, would it benefit me to switch to something more akin to Jungian analysis at this time? Oddly enough, that’s exactly what I was looking for when I began therapy again last August … I just had no idea that people lie and conflate on Psychology Today therapist search pages, so the therapist I found actually had no training in Jungian therapy and had no idea how to apply it.

Instead of returning to my path, I meandered down the paths of others — through a couple of very bizarre example of psychodynamic therapy, and then a very well executed course of cognitive behavioral therapy. My current therapy is actually so well executed that I have no desire to switch to a different therapist, but I don’t know if I’m asking too much of a CBT specialist to take on the kind of meaning-based quest that taps into the unconscious that I’m now considering.

This also makes me realize that so much of the speculating I have been doing about my past therapist these past couple weeks wasn’t really about her at all — it was really about my current therapist and my fear that I could lead her down a similar path of therapy not in her area of speciality or expertise, and therefore setting her up for failure. This is something we will need to address directly as soon as possible.

Having raised all of these questions about Nietzsche’s self-overcoming philosophy, I want to end up pointing out that it retains a great deal of validity. Achievements in life are worth bracketing off and celebrating, whether they create deep meaning or not. It’s just important to accept them for what they are, small victories. And if they set off a new desire to tackle the things that really bring satisfaction to the soul, so much the better.

I’ve been having a running discussion with one of my readers recently about the source of inspiration. The question is whether a certain topic that I have covered and people involved in that story are worthy of my attention.

From a practical, cognitive-based perspective, I understand the perspective and even appreciate it at some level. It always feels nice to have someone state that you are a better, more worthy person that someone or something else.

But when I step back from the ego and the conscious mind and bring the unconscious into the discussion, another viewpoint seems important to me.

I have been reading a book this week by a Jungian analyst named James Hollis entitled “Living Between Worlds.” Something Hollis wrote strikes me as very profound. He said that instead of looking back on our life’s stories, seeing events and things that happen to us, and finding new ways to conquer that past, perhaps we need to reshape these stories in a way that helps us find wisdom and a sense of purpose in life.

He wrote:

This shift of our center of gravity begins by asking less what happened to me than another question: What wants to enter the world through me? That we might be the bearers of new life into this world is the only antidote to the old world and its “stories.”

In a way, it’s the Gandolf approach to life — it is not up to us to decide the times we live in, rather what to make of the time we have.

I was thinking of my Sunday essay about my father in this frame. It was difficult for me to publish that piece, especially on Father’s Day. I can appreciate the perspective that it’s not the day to write such things and that perhaps I should have focused on the good moments.

By breaking through that opposition, both perceived and stated, I ended up writing something that surprised me in retrospect. I had not recognized until re-reading it just how much of my life, no matter how authentically I’ve wished to lead it, was nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to the way my father lived his.

By stating it in these stark terms and basically declaring victory over my dad, I now see what a hollow victory that is. I am not living my life so much as being a living critique of someone else’s.

So, back to the question of inspiration, I am glad that I fought through these voices, both real and perceived, telling me not to go there, not to state things that might upset others, not to be inspired by people and events that had unpleasant elements. By silencing those voices and writing with honesty, I discovered a valuable insight about myself that not even therapy has surfaced.

Given the choice of a life with only the proper inspirations, which may end up with no inspirations at all, and one where I do not prejudge my drives and accept the consequences of where they take me, I must accept the value of inspiration and quell the drive to placate. I’ll let the world decide what it wishes to be unleashed through me.

I have been at this neo/quasi Montaigne blogging project for a few months now and am in a reflective mood about the reflections. I think the writing has been worthwhile from a therapeutic perspective and reading back through the material, I think I’ve touched on some interesting issues, both about Montaigne and myself. I’m not sure where the project should go from here, but I’m determined to keep going. But here are some thoughts on what has come so far:

  1. Some subjects have taken up way too much space, but I make no apologies for that. At some point, readers have to accept that I was basically just writing for myself and not trying to reach any audience at all. The act of writing was a way of coping and clarifying.
  2. People love stories about dogs and cats. Those stories always drew the most readers and people go back to them.
  3. People tend to like controversy, obviously. Posts that seem to be more pointed or express surprising opinions are the ones that have drawn the most readers.
  4. Linking stories to my Facebook feed increases the audience significantly and I should probably be more careful about doing this.
  5. I have tried on occasion to target a messages to my audience. This has never worked as planned and is probably pointless to try.
  6. The blog continues to grow its audience, which surprises me, because I still think the core of the project was only about a month long. Everything since has been a little less vital or focused. But new readers continue to discover the old topics.
  7. I’m disappointed in how few readers have taken the opportunity to go back and read more of my 2011 essays. They were more academic in style, but ultimately more rewarding, I think. The current essays are a bit of a mess in comparison.
  8. I know far too much about who is reading and when. Google Analytics is far from perfect — it can sometimes miss geolocation by hundreds of miles — but it doesn’t take much deduction for me to figure out who reads my blog on any particular day and even which posts people have read. It’s useless information to me, I’m generally just happy that anyone reads it at all, but I feel like some open disclosure about this is necessary.
  9. Along the same lines, I hope this doesn’t make my readers paranoid, because the activity of trying to figure out who is reading has led to some completely unnecessary, self-inflicted paranoia. I’m probably better off assuming that most clicks to my blog were accidental.
  10. I can think of no more ridiculous exercise than going back through the posts to pick out inconsistencies either between the posts or what I wrote on any particular day and what I may have said in an email, text or conversation. These are all snapshots in time, especially in regards to how I was feeling about some subjects. I even openly argued with myself about some interpretations, which should be a clue about what I think about each post as an accurate record of anything.
  11. Sometimes I see my intention in each post only days afterwards. For example, last weekend I took on a three-part series on fatherhood. Friday, upon reflection, was all about abandonment fears — where they came from and how it might be possible to reframe those stories to see the growth in them. Saturday was all about my growing sense of sadness as my children become more independent and remote from me, which makes me wonder if there’s some unconscious drive in adults to speed that process at a certain age in reaction to this very uncomfortable feeling. Sunday’s post, while ostensibly about my father, was entirely about me, and how I’ve lived much of my life as a reaction to others rather than develop my own ethos.
  12. I am still unhappy with the Catch Me If You Can/Second Thoughts posts and am tempted to tie them up with a third, but also think I might be better off just letting the subjects rest. It surprises me a bit that Catch Me continues to draw attention even when I wrote a post that basically repudiates it. Maybe I need to edit the original post to indicate that there’s a self-rebuttal. But like I said, I’m also tempted to rebut the second piece, so this trail could be endless and I’m not interested enough in the topic anymore to waste energy on it.

As for where to go from here, I hope to follow the path that Carl Jung attempts to blaze with this quote:

Nothing is more ridiculous or inept than elderly people pretending to be young—they even lose their dignity, the one prerogative of age. Looking outwards has got to be turned into looking into oneself.