Over the next four blog posts I’m going to delve into a variety of different topics based loosely on the themes described in the title. These are areas of thought and discussion that I have plucked from my reading of Murray Stein’s Map of the Soul. Some will be detailed and thorough, others will be short and pithy – hopefully! Either way, I hope this multiplicity of ideas entertains, informs and makes you think.
As the father of a young son (18 months old as I write this), I found this an interesting notion. I think that my anxious and neurotic tendencies lead me towards trying to create a sort of ‘psychological shield’ around my son sometimes. I think a lot about trying to reinforce relaxed toilet habits. If we’re out and bigger kids are playing near Sammy, I’ll always be on edge in case he gets hurt – either physically or emotionally (unlikely at his age, but you know…) Stein illuminates the way these encounters (social difficulties to be overcome) help to strengthen the ego as a separate entity – as a “strong inner centre of will, intentionality and control”. He explains how an anxious person struggles to “fulfil this confident autonomy”.
And having read Map of the Soul, I now see more clearly than ever that children shouldn’t be overprotected – their psyches (like their bodies with bugs and infections and such) need to be exposed to ‘collisions’ to promote healthy ego growth. “This insight also cautions us against trying to provide too much insulation for a child against the onslaughts of a challenging reality,” writes Stein. “For stimulating ego growth, a constant-climate over-protective environment is not particularly useful.” I will never tell anyone else how to raise their kids, but this is definitely worth a thought. The next time your child is caught up in a situation where their psyche might be put under stress – maybe a petty feud with a school mate or something like that – don’t rush to protect them; instead, see it as a possibility for them to grow as a person and strengthen their ego a bit. Maybe this approach can also help us to worry a bit less about our little blighters? Maybe.
Thinking in metaphors
According to Jung, we think in metaphors. I love this idea – that we have a well of images and symbols deep within us, which have replaced the libido’s sexual motives and thoughts. It resonates with me, as a creative being (I think!), that we operate in this intriguingly expressive way. We transform the psychic energy emanating from our instincts into useful (or not!) pursuits – from instinct to meaning and intention; feeling sexy to crafting haute cuisine; creating analogies. Stein gives the example in Map of the Soul of hunting – and the way it is analogous to finding a sexual mate. And these instincts and images crop up all the time in our language use – how often in news or sports reports do we see terms like “on the prowl”, “predator”, “assassin”, “deadly”…
Stein suggests the sexual links to these associations decrease over time – libido gradually becomes desexualised and is replaced by phantasy correlates. The analogies become more and more remote from their source. When I think about the endless amazing art we create as a species – be it painting, sculpture, music, literature, whatever – I guess it’s entirely feasible that these metaphors, analogies and symbols are at work in the depths of the psyche. And I think that’s cooler than an ice cube in an Arctic Fox’s freezer! Sorry…
Stein explains how Jung sees culture as a fulfilment of desire – not an obstruction of it. And this culture formation and desire to make culture is in our nature; a creation of symbols and containment of energy so it flows towards spiritual and mental contents. I think Jung makes an interesting point here. Why are we, or have we developed into, beings among culture. Why have we created culture? Why didn’t we just all remain separate beings doing our utmost to survive and keep others at bay? I guess the Darwinian survival instinct offers the most primordial explanation for us coming together, but what has that got to do with art, theatres, entertainment, sport, music, etc?
We clearly have an affinity for making culture and sharing these pursuits. I guess it’s entirely conceivable that these things would emanate from our libido energy and such drives. Whether these pursuits are ever devoid of sexuality at their core, as Jung’s original mentor Sigmund Freud would’ve suggested, is open to debate. And I’m not sure where I sit on this issue (although I often tend to side with Freud). But I certainly think Jung makes a good case here – we are culture makers and it’s not inconceivable that some of these things eventually become detached from their roots (sexuality and sexual objects in infancy). Music would be a good example of this; I absolutely believe that music is capable of stirring up all kind of sexual feelings within our unconscious.
But, at its phenomenological core, surely music is just waves and vibrations that are pleasing to our auditory faculties. There are then cultural manifestations and meanings which make these base vibrations into recognised melodies and pieces of significance. But are they always guided at their core by sexual energy and meanings? I’m not sure. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe both Freud and Jung are right. Perhaps there is always a sexualised core, but many of these associations become so watered down over time that the sexual primordiality almost becomes irrelevant? Man, I just can’t shake Freud!
Taking the sex out of Freud
I’m not going to go into too much detail here – mainly because I am planning to revisit Freud and Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory in more detail with a series of blogs later this year. But it seems to me that the cause of Jung’s great split with Freud – Jung’s decision to remove the literal sexual core from the Incest Wish – is at the heart of what often makes one a Jungian over a Freudian; or at least is a major reason why people find it easier to side with Jung over Freud. Taking the sex out of Freud makes these once radical ideas far more palatable. For Freud, the Sacrifice was all about the child’s literal wish to have the mother sexually – this eventually leads to the Oedipus complex and the realisation that we can’t have that completeness that we once had with our primary caregiver. But Jung interpreted this wish symbolically rather than literally – he tried to make sexuality less of an overarching and significant factor.
Both saw the Incest Wish as a general longing to stay in the paradise of childhood, but Jung felt that we experience a symbolic desire to regress to infantile dependence – to childhood. We are thrust into this symbolic realm, this world of culture, and we need to adapt. Stein refers to facing the challenges in life as a symbolic ‘pulling the cover up over one’s head’. We experience the Sacrifice for the sake of our development – or as Stein puts it: “A natural movement toward the sacrifice of instinctual gratification.” I don’t doubt the merit of Jung’s ideas. Perhaps most of what drives us, desires which once had sexual origins, are indeed watered down over time until there is little residue left of the original libidinal source.
But I also believe that it is much easier for most people to think about how we operate as civilised beings without being referred back to infantile sexual desires. The Incest Wish makes people uncomfortable. Oedipal desires are hard to stomach. Offering the choice to explain our motivating factors as not purely sexual is just easier for people to take. Is it a cop-out on Jung’s part – or was Freud too obsessed with sex? Who knows? But it’s certainly an interesting debate.
The Sacrifice and Taoism
So, as mentioned, Jung makes the Incest Wish symbolic rather than literal. And let’s face it, we clearly do need to sacrifice the desire for an eternal childhood in order to grow up. But, as someone with a love of Taoism and the philosophy behind Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, I think it’s important that we don’t allow The Sacrifice to rob us of all our childish qualities. In Taoism, the child who knows is the highest stage of development; the independent, clear-minded, all-seeing child. To return to the beginning and become a child again is a good thing, too. One is enlightened – filled with light and happiness like children. As Benjamin Hoff tells us in his wonderful book The Tao of Pooh, the childish mind “empties of countless somethings of small learning” – or knowledge we don’t actually need – and is instead filled with “wisdom of the Great Nothing”; the way of the universe.
The contented child is closer to that wholeness we seek; to the mother; to inertia. The childish mind is less burdened by existential freedom and the strife of responsibility and choice. On the one hand, you could say it’s anti-life to wish to regress to this infantile state. And that is true – we do need to move forward, grow and develop as people. But try not to forget the joy and wonder of childhood. Do the things that make you happy – kick a ball, run really fast, bounce on a trampoline, eat loads of ice cream. Do not allow yourself to always be bound by rules and expectations and societal demands. The wisdom that childhood gives us is that we mustn’t allow ourselves to be weighed down by culture – and old lessons we didn’t need to learn in the first place. It’s okay to be childish sometimes – don’t forget that, Mr Poopy Pants.
The great energy of depression
This is an area of inquiry I find quite interesting in Stein’s book, and Jung in general – the workings of the psyche and its relation to energy. He explains the way Jung sees psychic energy as something which doesn’t simply disappear; the energy created by events that happen in the real world, and thus cause inner reactions, isn’t used up. It just moves from the ego to the unconscious. And it is from this downward movement of energy that Jung suggested depressed people get their energy to actually experience depression. It takes a lot of psychic energy to weigh you down in such a way, and so it makes sense to me that a lot of depression is about a great mass of complexes (or whatever is responsible) working negatively to stop the ego adapting and progressing.
Stein tells us that in progression, the libido is utilised for adaption to life – in a positive flow of psychic energy. But with regression, we get a reversal of the energy flow; when, for example, we fail an exam, get demoted or a loved one dies. This energy feeds into the unconscious and strengthens contrary feelings in our psyche – we are torn by inner conflict and a kind of paralysis ensues. The energy is not being used to adapt to the world and so it disappears from consciousness. The result can be depression, crippling ambivalence, an internal conflict, uncertainty, doubt or a lack of motivation. This regression activates the inner world, according to Stein, and forces us to make a new adaption to life to deal with our complex.
These ideas are probably nothing new to many people, but I just find them useful in understanding a little bit more about how people who suffer with depression actually become so laden by it. When you consider how it is quite literally a mass of energy weighing one down, it becomes more understandable that so many of us struggle to battle against it. Stay strong, people – we get what you’re going through. We understand. We know you can’t help it – and we’re here for you. Let’s turn that negative energy on its head through love and support. Positive energy.
I often think about toilets. No, seriously! Where are you going? Keep reading – I’m almost finished! I find it strange that we’re so hung up over our toilet habits and the shame of going to the toilet. And I firmly include myself in this – I really need my privacy. Even when my son walks in on me pissing, I sometimes get stage fright – how weird is that? I thought that handling my son’s waste on a daily basis would open me up a bit, but it hasn’t. You might think that after being involved in the no-holds barred rigours of childbirth one might relax in terms of ‘toilet stuff’, but it remains as inextricably linked to feelings of shame and embarrassment as ever. It’s funny how such an everyday essential thing, which we all do and we KNOW we all do, and which is so psychologically tied to our very core and everything we do, could still be so bound to deeply repressed unconscious contents that we can’t shake it.
My wife and I are currently in the early stages of trying to toilet train our son – and he will occasionally pee in his potty now before a bath. Of course, he thinks it’s hilarious – and we applaud and congratulate him like he’s Mozart putting the finishing touches to Requiem. And Stein illuminates this connection between pride and shame and the mastery of one’s bowels in Map of the Soul. “Nature has been conquered by the toilet-trained ego,” he writes. Successful toilet training brings a sense of mastery, achievement and pride – the soiled nappy or underwear brings up feelings of shame, guilt and failure.
I often think about my son and his toilet training – because I am keen to do all I can to make him relaxed and comfortable about this entirely natural necessity. I don’t want him to be hung up on his bathroom habits – I want to remove the stigma from this aspect of our ‘humanity’ as much as I can. I wonder if a different approach to ‘the toilet’ might help to lift some of the shame and guilt that weighs us down so much; can we somehow make toilet complexes less powerful? Perhaps we just need to talk about pissing and shitting more? Come to terms with our ‘shame’ – wear it like a badge of honour? I mean, it is a badge we ALL wear, right?
I actually take inspiration in this area from a friend of mine – who doesn’t tend to allow such things as toilet shame to affect him. He was in the Territorial Army in his younger days, and on one of their training exercises he was essentially forced to shit in front of the rest of his camp mates. Not in an aggressive hostage kind of way, I must add – it was just the nature of their living conditions and the exercise they were taking part in. I imagine they had a choice to go elsewhere if they were really bothered by it, but I guess once you’ve gone for a shit in front of a bunch of relative strangers, it robs the shameful act of much of its power. Suddenly the universality and triviality of going for a shit is laid bare – the need for ultimate privacy is removed; the intimacy is vanquished. And that’s the point I’m making here – my friend just doesn’t get hung up on things like pissing and shitting any more. He’s stared that complex in the face and laughed at it.
And one final note – I realise that a lot of the creative things we do in our lives are often linked back to our toilet issues, mastery of our bowels and producing excrement for our primary caregivers. “Check out this great shit, mum – ain’t I great,” says Rodin. “And if you think that’s good, wait til you see what I did in the garden…” This would be a more Freudian interpretation than a Jungian one, seeing as we’ve already covered the fact that Jung sees these cultural pursuits as becoming more detached from their infantile (libidinal) source over time.
But my friend, who has taken at least one shit in the mud and rain, in front of a bunch of adrenaline-fuelled young men he barely knew, is actually a very artistic and creative person. Despite the fact he’s gained some psychological mastery over his toilet shame, he has retained a strong sense of creativity and artistic flair. And he’s happy with who he is. He’s more confident now than at any point in his life. And I really believe that by taking hold of that aspect of his inner world, his psyche is much stronger and nearer to wholeness as a result. Something to think about.