In our own backyards by Dr Carolyn Bates
“Where do we live symbolically? Nowhere, except where we participate in the ritual of life.”
C.G. Jung (1950, para. 625)
Some days cultivating peace of mind seems like an insurmountable task. Daily news can pummel one into feelings of overwhelm and helplessness as we bear witness – via the small screens in our hands or the larger screens on our walls – to global distress. Trauma abounds, from human mass migrations across the planet, to the community-shredding epidemic of gun violence – its relative proportion unique to the United States – to war and famine in too many places on the planet, to governmental oppression of entire groups of people. Add to what it reports, the news too often simultaneously reports on and fosters polarization; soundbites that salaciously satisfy as they defy historical and political complexities.
When witnessing the sequelae of such trauma – from a distance or in the close proximity of our consulting rooms, we can too easily forget our human need to cultivate in ourselves what we need, that we might be able to see ourselves and others through another day. And for those who live in the thick of trauma: who await the next drone strike or the next governmental overreach to thwart individual liberties, respite may be even harder to reach for.
And yet we know that without moments of respite, without restoration of our effectual capacity to make a difference, we risk succumbing to compassion fatigue and burnout at best, and at worst, envy of those who do find ways to tend to their well-being. Analysts tend to be a responsible lot, driven by curiosity, committed to the exhaustive endeavors of living conscious lives, willing to work with difficult realities in difficult times. How then, might they search for respite without denying all that unsettles?
Inner gardens: abundance in the fertile psyche
Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. … The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away – an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.
C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 4
When the pollinators failed to arrive this year in the numbers I’ve historically come to expect, I was left to step in and assist the non-self-pollinating squash flowers. Plucking male flowers the morning they bloom, I peel back the petals whose color could not entice pollinators who were not there. Exposing their pollen-rich anthers, with quiet focus and hope of a steady hand, I brush the pollen onto a fruiting flower, hoping the intervention will yield a harvest. Attention to the process, attunement to what is needed, knowing the importance of timing the intervention. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know these skills are applied elsewhere. But here, in this quiet moment, there is nothing but the purpose and the process. Respite.
“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the plashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the possession of the seasons. … I live ‘in modest harmony with nature.’ Thoughts rise to the surface which reach back into the centuries, and accordingly anticipate a remote future. Here the torment of creation is lessened; creativity and play are close together.”
C.G. Jung, 1963, p. 226
One day, many years ago, when visiting my elderly uncle in far West Texas, I was extolling the virtues of using a sauna to sweat out muscle fatigue. He began to laugh as he asked me, “Why don’t you just go outside?” But of course; it being August, certainly one would break a sweat. I didn’t trouble explaining the need for humidity because I took his point: Go outside.
Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, was a concept that arose in Japan in 1982 to encourage people to visit forests and is promoted as an antidote toKaroshi (death by overwork). Being in nature allows us to listen for the wordless, to cultivate those senses that may be underutilized in our clinical and scholastic work, to invite opportunity to open one’s psyche to visitation from elements too often lost at the periphery of our minds.
In the smallest of the small
A world pandemic only now begins to recede over the horizon, leaving in its aftermath a gaping recognition of economic disparities, a suffering planet, and the inescapable vulnerability of so many species, ours included, all against the backdrop of ongoing destabilizing global events, political turmoil, and the growing entrenchment of authoritarian and totalitarian doctrines. And so, we are reminded, of the “both/and” residing in the global back yard of our planet, as Jung (1961) noted:
“Though I became increasingly aware of the beauty of the bright daylight world where ‘golden sunlight filters through green leaves,’ at the same time I had a premonition of an inescapable world of shadows filled with frightening, unanswerable questions which had me at their mercy.” (p. 19)
We are reminded, by Grazyna Czubinska’s writings on “Reflections on the totalitarian state of mind” (Czubinska, 2020) that we bear witness to the travesties taking place globally. We are reminded by Ali Zarbafi’s (2020) paper that we are called on to work with the resilient psyche. We are reminded by Liliana Wahba (2023) that within our ubiquitous cultural complexes, “predator and prey, perpetrator and victim” are ever-present. We are reminded that “Democracy’s not something you have, you have to go out and do it.” (Jeff Sharlet, radio interview, NPR 1A, June 18, 2023)
To “go out and do” is best done from the foundation of a psyche sustained – on occasion and as needed – by what sustains it best. That may include going within oneself, to know a momentary quiet against the madding crowd. But it also may mean, to quote a wise man I once knew, to “go outside.”
CAROLYN BATES, PHD is a Jungian analyst (Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, US) practicing in Austin, Texas. She serves as North American Editor for the Journal of Analytical Psychology and as President of the Texas Seminar of the I-RSJA. Over the last three decades she has offered multiple workshops and lectures on ethics, technology’s influence within the collective, the phenomenon of synchronicity and trauma in the collective, and the reconsideration of myth through the lens of feminist politics. She has published on the influence of cultural and political events on the analytic container. She recently set aside an avid motorcycling passion for the more grounded practice of permaculture and the study of ecosystems, but continues to support motorcycle safety and awareness, with a keen appreciation for the archetypal nature of the mechanical horse.
Views expressed in blogs are those of the named author and do not represent the Journal of Analytical Psychology.
Jung, C.G. (1961/1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Pantheon Books.
__________ C.G. Jung (1950/1989). The symbolic life. CW 13.
Czubinska, G. (2020). Difference – it is hated or desired? Reflections on the totalitarian state of mind. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2020, 65, 2.
Political division and 'The Undertow' with Jeff Sharlet | WFAE 90.7 - Charlotte's NPR News Source
Wahba, L. (2023). Devouring and Asphyxia: Symptoms of a Cultural Complex in Present Times. Journal of Analytical Psychology. 2023. 68, 2.
Zarbafi, A. (2020). Language, politics and dreams; the challenges of building resilience in refugees. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2020, 65, 2.
Photos by Dr Carolyn Bates