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.