Aug. 12 Update — I decided to take a look back at this piece a few weeks later and I’m very surprised by what I wrote here. It seems like a pretty heavy dump of ideas going through my head that doesn’t lead anywhere in particular and has little or nothing to do with the anima series. It has the feel of preparing myself to start with a new therapist. It turns out that I pulled back from engaging in that therapy, so maybe that’s why this piece seems so out of sync with eveything.
This current series of essays on Jungian concepts has covered a lot of ground — including his Red Book, thoughts on the shadow and some preliminary interpretations of the anima. I think now is a good time to wrap this up and put the Jungian stuff aside until I have some more personal reflections and actual work that I can use to have a more informed opinion on the matter. This isn’t to denigrate the pieces I have written on the subject so far, I’m pleased with them from an academic, distant perspective. I just suspect that my perspective will change when I’m on the inside looking out.
Dreaming is a critical component of Jungian work and I’m a bit concerned how the work will unfold because I tend to not remember most of my dreams, the ones I do recall seem to me to be soothing my anxieties rather than sending me mythic symbols to interpret, and most of the dreams I remember tend to be lucid.
Last night I had a vivid lucid dream where I, for some reason, took a pretty heavy dose of THC gummies (not in real life, within the dream.) I’m not one to partake of cannabis often or lightly, I don’t actually like the effect it has on me and if I use at all, I try to keep it to absurdly small doses, and always more CBD than THC. But in this dream I had, for whatever reason, taken about 10 times the dose I’d feel comfortably ingesting. Within the dream, I was starting to notice feeling differently, but at that point my inner dreamer intervened to remind the dream character that this dose had been taken within a dream, so don’t worry about the effects, they aren’t real.
My dreaming life has evolved to the point that dream consciousness isn’t terribly different than my waking consciousness, which is called lucid dreaming. The state that I enter to write one of these pieces is very much like being in a dream, as too are the moments when I go running or take a long walk. I had a dream this week where I was engaged in what seemed like a strange ritualistic act. Then I realized it was just an F45 HIIT exercise that I had not done in awhile that my brain was recalling. My life has enough ritual acts without needing my unconscious to invent them.
I have become very aware of my states of consciousness and how emotions and moods tend to move in like storm fronts. This might give the impression that they are damaging or out of control, but these moods actually run the full gamut of behavior in me and when they are complete, I am left with a vague impression of my actions within those moods, but I can no longer feel what was compelling me to shift my behavior and attitudes at those times. I will exit these moods with literally no understanding of how I could have thought action X seemed like a good idea in that moment.
These emotional moods tend not to be too damaging because, as I mentioned yesterday, I am a heavy self regulator. I do not want to draw attention to myself, especially for things that would cause others to intervene and become heavily involved in my moment to moment actions, so I keep a firm watch on myself. This puts me in the situation that Jung described of Nietzsche — someone who philosophically is open minded and has a yes-saying stance towards all of life, but who in actions is extremely regimented and no-saying.
Two more thoughts on states of consciousness. First, what I mentioned yesterday regarding my state of mind in debate is something that has had a great/terrible effect on my life and I’m not sure what to do about it. If I have a second personality, it is a mentally-tough persona that seems to thrive under pressure. I cannot learn music without the pressure of a stage performance. I love giving speeches, the larger the crowd and the higher the stakes the better. I write best under deadlines. What happens when I enter these zones is that my focus becomes intense and achieving the singular goal in front of me drives me to a different place. Maybe this is my shadow.
These accomplishments are important to me and if this mood comes out when a task needs to be completed, it is me at my best. However, sometimes this mood comes out in the context of an interpersonal conflict and in those cases, the very same qualities that lead me to thrive in pursuit of conquering a task end up damaging my ability to connect and solve problems cooperatively — which is never a problem for me in my default personality state.
Put me into my second personality engaged in an interpersonal conflict and I will try to win. My empathy will go into hiding and all of my primal debate skills will rise to the surface. I will stop listening and will instead hone in on the parts of text that can be exploited for the weak points. Sometimes I can actually win, sometimes I’ll end up alienating people who should be allies and most of the time I will just push people away.
This leads me to my second insight about my state of consciousness. I have had two therapists in the past 10 years tell me almost word for word the same thing about me — that people just aren’t that important to me. I can understand what they are getting at. The behaviors that I adopted to keep my parents at a distance in my teen years and to heighten my sense of autonomy have stayed with me. I use them on my supervisors at work, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. I use them within relationships too — what’s the minimal amount of closeness I can display to not cause a problem without becoming completely enmeshed in this relationship to the point where I lose autonomy? All of this is true of me.
Except for those times when a person means everything to me. Just like it’s hard to square my default personality with my driven, focused, non-empathetic shadow self, it is also hard to reconcile the lone wolf, keep people at a distance me with the person who cannot let go of someone once they cross some magical boundary.
All of this seems to be related to Jungian shadow work and perhaps there is good material in his massive corpus of work that would give me a head start in understanding it, but I’m going to set it aside for now and let the therapy take its own path.
My next series of essays are going to focus on two books that are top of mind for me right now. The first, Don Quixote, I am going to read with Finn and Mac between now and the start of the school year. We’ve never tackled a project like this together, so I have no idea how it will go. Perhaps it will lead to lots of interesting stories or maybe it will crash at liftoff.
My backup plan/second option is Ben Lerner’s novel “The Topeka School,” a book that I started reading last fall, but it filled me with so much raging jealousy towards Lerner that I had to put it aside. I mean, the novel includes major sections about high school debate and psychology, so yeah, I’m a little mad that I didn’t cover these topics first. But Lerner is a major talent and I look forward to adding my own spin to his book as I work through it. On my own, of course.