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My Encounter with Jungian Psychology
By Murray Stein

I first encountered Jungian psychology in the spring of 1968. I was at a Sunday afternoon party, and in the course of a casual conversation about the human propensity for aggression someone mentioned the name of Carl Jung. This person thought that Jung’s theory of the shadow and its projection might be useful in reflecting on why people protect their territory so actively, even violently, and why humans become so frequently aggressive. The next day I went to a local bookstore in Washington, D.C. and bought the only book available there by Jung, MEMORIES, DREAMS, REFLECTIONS. After I began reading that book, my life was changed permanently.

At the time, I was twenty-four years old and a student at Yale Divinity School. My studies had focused on history and culture, with some interest in comparative religion but up until this point none at all in psychology as a field or academic discipline. From the moment I began reading MDR, I knew that Jung’s psychology was for me. Why? I think the main reason was that it combined scientific thought and religious feeling, the mind and the spirit. At that time I knew nothing about Jungian analysis, which in the future would prove so decisive in my life.

When I was a boy, from about the age of 5 onward, until senior year in high school, I wanted to become a medical doctor. But then my interests changed from science to literature, philosophy, social science and the liberal arts. By the time I was eighteen and went to college, I knew that I did not want to spend my life in medical studies, but the dream of becoming a healer, a doctor –in the broader, archetypal sense of the profession – remained. What I found in analytical psychology was a field where all of my interests came together – religion and philosophy, history and languages, a social science that was not too positivistic but still retained rational rigor and respected intelligent investigation. And these were part of a discipline that aimed at healing the soul.

Organized religion, which I had studied at great length and in depth, it seemed to me, often failed to treat the soul because it missed the individual person and could not go deep enough. Ministers spend most of their time performing rituals, managing the financial and business aspects of their congregation, and dealing with the politics of congregational group life. They do not have much time to spend actually caring for souls. Jungian psychology and analysis offered a way of individualizing the care of souls.

In the Fall of 1969 I sailed for Europe with my wife, and for the next four years I studied at the Jung Institute in Zurich where I became trained as a Jungian analyst. These years in Zurich were a deep inward-looking incubation. This is where I had the living experience of direct conscious contact with the unconscious. Dreams came to me there that I carry with me still, big archetypal dreams for a lifetime of digestion and reflection. Analysis took place on mundane and reductive levels, too, but the treasures of these years were the great dream symbols. This experience of immersion in the unconscious was, more than anything else, what made me a “Jungian”. The confrontation with the unconscious in analysis formed the basis of my future thinking and practice. Here I found that Jungian psychology provides a “way” to experience the archetypes of the collective unconscious in a relatively safe and contained “vessel.” Theory and classes, the passage through exams and the acquisition of techniques, were important too, for learning to practice analysis, but they were quite secondary for the inner formation of conviction. It was this first-hand, close-up experience of the numinous, the symbolic, the archetypal level of the collective unconscious, which convinced me of the value of the Jungian path. This experience is, for me, at the core of ‘my life as a Jungian’. This has nothing to do with imitating Jung the man, other than to the extent that valuing archetypal dreams of one’s own, writing them down, and reflecting on them in a certain way can be said to be a form of imitation. But that’s like saying that anyone who flies to the moon after Neal Armstrong is imitating Armstrong. Not really. They’re just using the same methods, or similar ones, to get to the same place he landed. Of course it has to be said, too, that transference was a key –to both my male and female analysts in Zurich – and this created the psychological medium in which I had my own dreams and could work with them. The experience of the soul – of the soul as a sacred inner space in the present, not in an afterlife – was what really mattered. That was the Be All and End All.

In 1973 I moved with my family from Zurich to Houston, Texas and during my first week in Houston I met June Singer at a conference. This turned out to be an important encounter, my first with an American Jungian analyst living and working in the United States. In each country, I have found, Jungian psychology develops its own flavor. The introverted version that I had learned and become accustomed to in Zurich was not exactly the same as Americans were practicing. The American culture is very extroverted, and the inner life is not so greatly appreciated or even known. The interpersonal and relational aspects of analysis are more important in an extroverted culture than the intrapsychic aspects. Dream interpretation often takes an objective reference, as commentary on one’s experience of others rather than as a depiction of one own intrapsychic matrix, the complexes and archetypal images. In this extraverted setting, my relations with other analysts and analyst societies in the United States took on much greater importance than I had anticipated while studying in Zurich. In time I would become what my friend Raphael Lopez-Pedraza jokingly once called me, ‘a Jungian executive’.

This is almost a contradiction in terms. Jung himself was not fond of groups and associations, although he was the first president of the International Psychoanalytic Association and in the 1930’s the president of the International Association for Medical Psychotherapists. Most Jungian books are concerned with inner life and intimate interpersonal matters, not group dynamics and organizational psychology. And yet the Jung world is organized in groups large and small, from the IAAP to local analyst Groups. As time went on, the hours I spent attending meetings, teaching, lecturing, serving on committees of all kinds, and traveling on Jungian business grew considerably. First I became involved (with June Singer and James Hall) in the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, where I was chairperson of the training committee. Then when the Chicago Institute became independent I was elected president of the Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts, an office I held for five years. In 1983 Tom Kirsch, then Vice President of the International Association for Analytical Psychology, invited me to join the Program Committee for the next Congress, to be held in Berlin in 1986. Since then, I have become heavily involved in international Jungian affairs.

For a person who lives within the framework of Jungian psychology, there are always at least two dimensions to consider, two major points of reference: ego-consciousness and its needs and perspectives on the one hand and the unconscious with its compensatory perspectives on the other. Dreams and soul manifestations are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Always one pays heed to dreams as one enters into relationships, conducts an analytic practice, teaches, writes, travels, or represents an organization such as the IAAP or the Jung Institute. What I learned by the type of experience was that ‘inner life’ is not something isolated and invested in by retreating from other activities and from interpersonal relationships with family and friends and colleagues. It is, instead, a feature of daily life always, everywhere, no matter what is going on. At least this is the way it has been for me in my personal encounter with Jungian psychology.

The possibility I found in Jungian psychology to become a healer not in the medical sense but in a psychological fashion has for me included a great deal of teaching and executive functions as well as the clinical. This may be due to my typology and background, but also I think it is due to many synchronicities in my life. One of the genial aspects of Jungian psychology is that it combines inner and outer phenomena into a meaningful whole. The pattern that is created by life experiences inner and outer defines the life. Naturally this pattern includes many colors and shades of light and dark.

In the larger Jungian world, the 1970’s and 1980’s were a time of growth and expansion within the countries where Jungian psychology had taken root already in Jung’s own lifetime, primarily in Western Europe and North America. I participated in this by helping to found two new analyst societies in the United States (the Inter-Regional Society and the Chicago Society) and by teaching and lecturing widely in the United States and somewhat also in Europe. In the 1990’s, however, the world opened up to Jungian psychology in an entirely new way. With the end of the cold war and the explosion of globalism, Jungian ideas also became available and of great interest for the first time to people behind the former iron curtain. Also, countries in South America and Asia where there had been very little Jungian representation before then, suddenly began showing interest in Jungian psychology and also in training. When I became chairperson of the IAAP’s first committee for Developing Groups in 1995, there was an urgent need to respond to this burgeoning interest around the world, and to create a network that would link them to the IAAP. My first ‘missionary trip’ for the IAAP was to Venezuela. After that came Mexico, China, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile. Other IAAP representatives took up teaching in Eastern European countries, in Russia and in Africa. Today we have fifteen such Developing Groups around the world, and the number is growing each year. These are high growth areas for Jungian psychology, but they are also often economically stressed and disadvantaged countries. We are trying to find ways to tailor Jungian work to their unique, often non-Western, non-modern populations. Increasingly my life as a Jungian has become a life on the road in foreign places, and this has taught me a great deal about how Jungian psychology is received and integrated by different cultures.

Of course, the greatest part of a professional Jungian’s life is spent in the analytic temenos, in the clinical work conducted in relationship with one individual person at a time, hour by hour. Here I have encountered the depths of the psyche in other people’s lives and have had the opportunity of entering into the most intimate recesses of their life experiences. In analysis one experiences and observes the many layers and features of interpersonal relationships. Much of the content of the dialogue in analysis is actually quite ordinary and mundane – memories of childhood, happy and bitter accounts of events from the days between sessions, outpourings of passionate, angry or sad affect. These are everyday psychological contents, though they are anything but superficial or inconsequential. In fact, they are the very stuff of lived life, and often they are the parts that are rarely if ever revealed to others from behind well guarded personas. And one also comes upon the profound, the miraculous, the wondrous aspects of the psyche. Dreams introduce us to dimensions of the psyche that lie beyond our usual conscious range of thought and feeling or fretting. And in the field that takes shape when these depths are touched and shared, we find that a type of relationship comes into being between analyst and analysand – two people sharing this subtle and sacred space – that far surpasses the usual doctor-patient relationship. This is a tie that binds our hearts in mutuality and transcends our egos. It is a quite magical realm where synchronistic events are not uncommon. It is this area – synchronicity – that has most deeply shaken my earlier and deeply ingrained Protestant rationalism and taught me that ‘life as a Jungian’, if truly followed out, brings about, inevitably, a loosening of rationalism’s grip. This is life on the border between worlds – between ego and unconscious, between causal and acausal relations, between a scientific and a spiritual Weltanschauung.

I will tell you three brief butterfly stories to illustrate this. The first two involve former analysands, and the third concerns an analyst colleague and close friend. All three relationships were of a deep quality that touched more than once on the levels I am talking about here, the synchronistic.

Magda was in her eighties when she died. For ten years prior to her death, she could not walk, so I visited her where she lived occasionally. Before that, for about five years, she had seen me in my office to discuss her dreams and emotional life. After she could no longer walk, she would say to me, quite seriously, but with a twinkle: “When I die and go to heaven, the first thing I want to do is kick up my heels and dance.” She missed her legs which had previously been strong and able under her. When Magda died, my wife and I attended her funeral. Driving home, I noticed something fluttering around in the rear window of the car. My wife looked back and exclaimed, “It’s a butterfly.” I opened the windows to let the butterfly out, but of course it would not leave. When we got home, it was nearly dark, and my wife put her hand in the back of the car to get the butterfly to leave. Instead the small brown winged insect hopped to her hand and stayed there. We walked over to the street lamp to look at it more closely. (By this time we were calling the butterfly Magda, and were enjoying her mischievous company.) Suddenly the butterfly flew down to the sidewalk, and, as we watched, it began to dance energetically in circles, hopping occasionally to one or another of our feet. How could we not think that this was Magda, now with legs, in heaven, dancing freely and with abandon as she had hoped she would?

A second butterfly story. An analysand with whom I had worked for many years, who had fought cancer more or less successfully for a long time but had finally succumbed and died, had lived her last years in the closest relation to the archetypal images of the psyche. Her dreams and active imagination had given her great courage to face death with acceptance, finally, and also remarkable assurance that she was being securely held by a comforter much greater than any human presence. She had been one of the most alive and vital people I have ever known – full of energy, fun, and zest for life. As she declined, these qualities of her personality remained, even as her body became grossly distorted and faded away. Two weeks after her funeral, her daughter called to tell the following story. Her pen pal since childhood, a woman from Sweden, had just telephoned and told her that she had just received the card announcing her mother’s recent death. She was sitting in her garden when she opened the letter, and just as she was reading it, a gorgeous butterfly landed on the card and sat there. Of course she was astonished. How could it have chosen such a tiny place to light upon? Then it flew to her arm and rested there for a few minutes. Suddenly, she said, she realized what this meant. “It was your mother. I’m sure of it,” she cried over the phone. “So colorful, so beautiful, just like your mother. And so alive.” These were the telltale markings of this remarkable woman.

Finally, one more story, this one about my friend Kaspar who died a couple of years ago, also of cancer. I learned of his death by email from a mutual friend in Zurich. His death was surprising, and it was not – he had fought valiantly against the spreading cancer for four years. He died on Monday morning in his home, quietly and peacefully. I received the email first thing on Tuesday morning and told my wife a few hours later when she arrived at the office. “Well, you won’t believe what happened at home this morning,” she said a while later when the shock of the news about Kaspar had worn off a little. “I was in the back yard and saw something I’ve never seen there or anywhere else ever before. Thousands of butterflies were hovering around the hawthorn tree back there. It was like an undulating swarm, rising and falling in the branches. Thousands of orange butterflies.”

“Just like Kaspar,” I said later. “He always brought us a huge bouquet of colorful flowers from his garden.”

I told this story to our friend Sonja when I talked to her later in the day. She filled me in on some details of Kaspar’s last weeks and days – of a final trip to his beloved Venice, of a ride around Lake Zurich with a friend on Friday, of telling his children that he had received word that the cancer had spread to his heart and nothing more could be done medically, of enjoying a bottle of wine with his brother-in-law on Saturday night. About the bouquet of butterflies in our tree, just outside the room where Kaspar had spent a week when he was in Chicago for the IAAP Congress in 1992, Sonja said: “Well that belongs to the story too, somehow, doesn’t it?” Sonja, now in her eighties, is another person who has lived her life as a Jungian. It takes one to understand one.

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