Return of the Light

Several years ago the husband of a friend had a life-saving experience of light. During a psychotic episode due to a severe infection he felt he was in a pitch black space. In the distance he could see a point of light. He knew that he would survive if he could keep the point of light in sight. For him, “the light at the end of the tunnel” was much more than a metaphor.

In a few days, we arrive at the longest night and shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice. Flicking a switch to turn a light has dulled our appreciation for the natural rhythm of light and dark. Winter Solstice—the return of the light—meant incalculably more to people who lived by firelight and candle light. Consequently we can have light on demand. We can easily get stuck in the literal meaning of light, but we also associate light with consciousness. A return of the light implies a return or an increase in consciousness.

When I started thinking about what needed to be said in this December article, the famous lines from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities came to mind:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . . .

Dickens’ first edition came out in 1859. The frontispiece has two panels: on the left, a bourgeois garden party; on the right, a poor slob sitting in a cell in beggars’ prison. We could easily update the pictures for 2017.

Then I consulted the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching, perhaps the oldest of all books. You can read the I Ching as a wisdom book; you can also approach it as an oracle. I asked the I Ching a simple question: What needs to be said in the December issue of the Ommani Jewel. The I Ching’s answer surprised me: “Progress.” The sun rising over the earth images “Progress” in the I Ching:

The sun rises over the earth:
The image of Progress.
Thus the superior man himself
Brightens his bright virtue.

The rising of the sun over the earth instructs the “superior man” to brighten his “bright virtue.” The “superior man,” the chün tsu in Chinese, represents “the ideal of a person who uses divination to order his/her life in accordance with the Tao rather than willful intention.” TaoRi “literally, The Way, is the flow or stream of creative energy that makes life possible, the way in which everything happens and the way on which everything happens.”

Richard Wilhelm, translator of the I Ching, comments on the image of the sun rising over the earth. He writes that light of the rising sun is by nature clear. The higher it rises, the brighter it shines, “spreading the pristine purity of its rays over an ever-widening area.” So too the “real nature” of the human being is originally good, “but it becomes clouded by contact with earthly things and therefore needs purification before it can shine forth in its native clarity.” What, then, are the earthly things that obscure the natural brightness of the human being?

Our unhealed wounds and the conditioning that has shaped and mis-shaped us, distort our essential nature. Although expressed in various ways, the great spiritual traditions agree that we let progressively more of our innate radiance shine forth as we clear away the accumulated emotional and mental debris. In this way we “brighten” our “bright virtue” and bring about progress, an “ever widening expansion and clarity.”

The sun will continue to rise following the Winter Solstice. We will gradually have more and more daylight. If we want more expansion and clarity, however, the I Ching tells us we must brighten our bright virtue. Simply put: we have to work on ourselves if we want to affect progress. We have to identify and heal our wounds. We have to recognize those aspects of our conditioning that prevent us from expressing the goodness in us.

It’s up to us to change the story of the best of times and the worst of times. Ultimately we must serve something greater than our narrow self-interest.  The Chinese called this the Tao, the path, the way.

I wish you all a time of reflection and the peace and courage to brighten your bright virtue as we celebrate the Return of the Light.


What are we to make of the transgender phenomenon? A Google search for “transgender” brings up 67,600,000 results. GLAAD, an organization that for more than 30 years has been at the forefront of cultural change, accelerating acceptance for the LGBTQ community”1 posts this description on its website:

Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is a person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or boy or girl.) For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into those two choices. For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.2

The American Psychological Association (APA) website essentially echoes the GLAAD definition, adding that “The ways that transgender people are talked about in popular culture, academia and science are constantly changing, particularly as individuals’ awareness, knowledge and openness about transgender people and their experiences grow.”3

In this month’s column I want to suggest that the transgender phenomenon continues a trend with a long history, and adds a significant new dimension. But I must also point out that some North American native peoples far outpace us in their understanding, acceptance, and honoring of transgender persons.

Various North American native peoples honor Two Spirit individuals in their communities. Tony Enos writes on Indian Country Media Network that

While the term Two Spirit was coined in 1990 in Winnipeg, Canada as a means of unifying various gender identities and expressions of Native American/First Nations/Indigenous individuals, the term is not a specific definition of gender, sexual orientation or other self-determining catch-all phrase, but rather an umbrella term.

Two Spirit people have both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.

The term does not diminish the tribal-specific names, roles and traditions nations have for their own Two Spirit people. Examples of such names are the winkte among the Lakota and the nadleeh among the Navajo people.

These names and roles go back to a time before western religion. Two Spirit is not a “New Age” movement, but rather a reclamation of Two Spirit’s rightful place in Native culture.3

Tony Enos clarifies that Two Spirit and “gay” do not embrace all the same people: “Being a gay native is oftentimes confused with being Two Spirit. While the two may have parallels and intersections, they are not the same. Gay specifically is about attraction to a person of the same sex. Two Spirit is more about the embodiment of two genders residing within one person.”3

Although the term Two Spirit may be used primarily or only in reference to Native American persons, transgender appears to be the non-native culture’s designation for a similar phenomenon. The emergence into public view of transgender represents, in my view, a significant development in recognizing that gender—a person’s inner sense of maleness or femaleness—does not correspond to anatomical sex. Or to put it better: the designation “transgender” proclaims the reality that gender—the sense of being male or female—can be independent of sexual orientation or anatomy.

The longer-term trend that transgender now joins has to do with the growing awareness of the archetypal feminine vis-à-vis the archetypal masculine. These terms—archetypal feminine and archetypal masculine—mean that gender traits are not subject to personal preference. Rather, as “archetypal” they exist prior to learning, personal preference, and socialization. Archetypal “masculine” traits include initiative, assertiveness, decisiveness, confrontation (to name only four). Archetypal “feminine” traits include receptivity, nurturing, soothing, feeding, containing. We all know women who are no less “feminine” when they take initiative or assert themselves. Likewise, we can name men who do very well at nurturing, soothing, and containing. Fundamentally, the ancient Chinese terms, yang and yin, serve us better than “masculine” and “feminine” because these words all too easily lead to “secondary personalization”4 which identifies archetypal potentials (the yang and the yin) with anatomical assignment sex. The “law of secondary personalization,” Eric Neumann writes, “maintains that contents which are primarily transpersonal [i.e., archetypal] and originally appeared as such are, in the course of development, taken to be personal…. If … transpersonal contents are reduced to the data of purely personalistic psychology, the result is not only an appalling impoverishment of individual life—that might remain merely a private concern—but also a congestion of the collective unconscious which has disastrous consequences for humanity at large.”4 We need think only of the excesses of empire, that arch-patriarchal—“real man”—pursuit of domination and exploitation.

For a long time our society tended to assign a person’s gender on the basis of anatomical sex: men are men and women are women, and the gender roles got assigned and societally enforced at birth. Recently I witnessed a testimony from a mother who told the group I attended what her child had told her. Born an anatomical female, she told her mother that she had known “she” was in the wrong body since age three. Society had assigned her the female gender role, which did not correspond with her inner sense of herself.

This rigidity has changed markedly over the last several decades thanks to the various phases of the Women’s Movement and Feminism. In 1976 June Singer, a Jungian analyst practicing in Chicago, published Androgyny: Toward a new theory of sexuality. “Starting as I had from a position in the twentieth century,” she writes, “I found it difficult to comprehend the meaning behind the rapidly shifting views of individuals regarding their own sexuality, and it was still more difficult to interpret the changes in the ways they viewed the sexuality of the opposite sex.” Singer “searched the pages of history and mythology,” and everywhere she “found the androgyne gazing up at [her] with that curious smile which is neither altogether masculine nor altogether feminine.” She makes the point of emphasizing “the harmonious coexistence of masculinity and femininity within a single individual” that the androgyne represents. The sexual revolution of today, she writes, “may appear to be a reaction against the injustices of the past century or two, but I have tried to show that this is a mere surface manifestation of a fundamental principle that has existed for so long that it may be said to be inherent in the nature of the human organism. Not reactive, but intrinsic, is the principle of androgyny.” 5

Although I could not appreciate her insight at the time, I now see that she had brought into focus a trend that now—after the feminist and the LGBYQ revolutions—we witness in the transgender phenomenon: the recognition that archetypal yang and archetypal yin traits exist in every individual, and some persons have a more acute awareness that their anatomical sex and their sense of gender don’t correspond. The trend, as I see it, moves toward more openly honoring the archetypal feminine principle in our patriarchal society, regardless whether it emerges in a man or a woman. But I do have some serious concerns about the men and women who identify as “trans” and take measures to alter their bodies with hormones or surgery.

So far as I know, the Native American Two Spirit individuals find no need for sex-change hormones or surgery. Not so with non-Native Americans. The long-term consequences of sex-change hormones and surgery remain unknown. Early in June 30, 2015, PBS / Frontline story, “When Transgender Kids Transition,” we read that “new medical options are allowing transgender children to start the process of transitioning at younger ages. But doctors tread carefully, navigating medical interventions that carry risks that are both known and unknown.” 6 Walt Heyer published a piece on February 2, 2015, on the website of The Federalist, “What Parents Should Know About Giving Hormones to Trans Kids.”  He writes: “The United States Endocrine Society says that cross-gender hormones should not be used on kids under the age of 16. The standards in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Australia agree. The reason is simple: Cross-sex hormones have irreversible effects on fertility. Cross-gender hormone treatments can sterilize kids ….”7 Although these references are neither current nor medically authoritative, as non-technical sources, they say to a general public that their long-term effects remain unknown.

In my view, sex hormone therapy and sex-change surgery look like literalizations and concretizations of an essentially psychological (for want of a better term) issue. Native Americans move on saner ground with their acceptance of and respect for Two Spirit people. June Singer addressed that issue over forty years ago when she wrote, as I quoted above, that the androgyne presents the image of “the harmonious coexistence of masculinity and femininity within a single individual.”

Tony Enos said it well: “Two Spirit people have both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.” Little by little we approach that day when archetypal feminine and archetypal masculine not only coexist in a woman or a man, but can generate a robust synergy.


  1. (as of 2017-10-24)
  2. (as of 2017-10-24)
  4. Neumann, Eric (1954). The History and Origins of Consciousness. Bollingen Series XLII, Princeton: Princeton University Press, xxiiif.
  5. Singer, J. (1976). Androgyny: Toward a new theory of sexuality. New York: Anchor Press / Doubleday, vii-viii. (Male and female bodies are joined in the figure of the androgyne.)


Nov 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311.


Archetypal Weather Report

Many people these days feel deeply unsettled by what they see happening in countries around the world – including here at home. Several international figures embody the current Zeitgeist: Erdoǧan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Putin in Russia. I could also mention would-be leaders of nations, for example Marine LePen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and others, who did not get elected to leadership offices. These people have risen to visibility and prominence in these times just as did a number of people in the past.

Regardless where people situate themselves on a political spectrum from far left to far right, many feel that our world is coming apart. Both political right and political left want strong, clear leadership. Everywhere we see increased grassroots nationalistic fervor, often hostile to “foreigners” and immigrants, coming into focus in autocratic leaders. We also see at the grassroots level democratic and progressive movements reaching across tribal, ethnic, racial, and national boundaries working for inclusiveness, as well as a few leaders who are anything but autocratic.

This turmoil and longing form two faces of the current archetypal weather.

So what’s an “archetypal weather report?” “Archetypal” refers to an energy pattern that can operate at many levels when activated. At a personal level when the self / not-self archetypal pattern rules us, we split the world into people with whom we resonate and those whom we label “enemies,” the “others.” On a global scale, the same archetypal pattern divides peoples into “us” and “them.”

An archetypal weather report describes the mood of the times in which we live; the present emotional “weather,” the “spirit of the times,” the Zeitgeist. First, we describe the current “spirit of the times.” A fundamental idea underlies an archetypal weather report: these kinds of changes of the Zeitgeist in a society manifest regularly about every 84 years.  (At the end of this column I will discuss the astrological component that corroborates the 84 year period. If the astrological piece does not interest you, by all means skip it. The historical examples can stand on their own.) When we look at the history of the last several centuries (focusing on Europe), we find that every 84 years there is a period of a few years during which a new “spirit of the times” swiftly replaces the previous “spirit of the times.” Who were those people in the past? What was going on in the times in which they lived? What were the changes?

If we start with our current year, 2017, and subtract 84, we come to the year 1933. That was a fateful year in Europe and in the U.S. Actually, 1927/28 to 1934/35, mark the six to eight year period from the beginning through the most intense period and then the gradual recovery. But the old order had been dislodged by something different, as we will see in other historical examples.

The Great Depression was deepening. Germany was in deep trouble. Germany had experienced political turmoil since the end of WW I, and hyperinflation reached its peak in November of 1932.  Unemployment was high. In January, 1933, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Reichskanzler in Germany. Ten years earlier (1923) Hitler had attempted a coup for which he was jailed. “Released [from prison] in 1924, Hitler gained popular support by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting Pan-Germanism, antisemitism, and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and Nazi propaganda. He frequently denounced international capitalism and communism as being part of a Jewish conspiracy. By 1933, the Nazi Party was the largest elected party in the German Reichstag and led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor on 30 January 1933. Following fresh elections won by his coalition, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which began the process of transforming the Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany, a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of National Socialism.(1)

In March, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States. Unemployment in the U.S. stood at 25%. Crop prices had fallen by about 60%; construction was virtually halted; industrial production stalled; mining and logging – the source of raw materials – suffered the most.(2)  For his part, “during his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt spearheaded unprecedented federal legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal — a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation).”(3)

Similar economic conditions in both Germany and the U.S. brought very different leaders to power. In both instances, the old order was transformed in many ways.

Our next example takes us to the middle of the 19th Century, the period from 1843/44 to about 1850/51. These were the years of revolution and reaction in Europe. In the first half of 1848, there were uprisings and attempted revolutions in most of the states of continental Europe (France, Italy, Prussia, Austria), but they were quickly put down and reaction set in. The authorities crushed these popular uprisings. In France, Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected as president of the Republic with more than 75% of the vote. Scarcely three years in office, he pulled off a coup in December 1851, and in a plebiscite had himself granted dictatorial powers for ten years. Many people left Europe for America in the late 1840s and the 1850s.

We go back another 84 years to the period from 1759/60 to 1767-68, beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This period is known as “enlightened absolutism.” In Prussia Friedrich the Great rose to prominence in the German-speaking areas. The conclusion of the Seven Years War (1763) altered the balance among the colonial powers in Europe. France lost its New World colonies to Great Brittan. In 1757 the English had already pushed the French out of India. In the New World, the English colonies were demanding a voice in their political fate.

Going back further, another 84 years takes us to the period from 1675/76 to 1683/84. Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King,” might be the outstanding exemplar of the European absolute monarch, although there were absolute monarchies in Denmark-Norway, Prussia, and Russia. “The King of France concentrated in his person legislative, executive, and judicial powers. He was the supreme judicial authority. He could condemn men to death without the right of appeal. It was both his duty to punish offenses and stop them from being committed. His judicial authority provided his power to both make laws and annul them.”(4)

We take one more eighty-four year step back into European history: 1592-93 to 1599/1600. It was during this period that the so-called “divine right of kings” became a dominant model of governance in many countries. According to this doctrine, opposing the king was tantamount to opposing God. This form of religiously-based absolutism spread from France to other countries.

In reverse order we have briefly sketched European historical periods when various forms of autocracy have reached their culmination. The Meriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines autocracy (5) as “government in which one person possesses unlimited power.” These culmination periods appear to follow a cycle: every 84 years the powers of autocracy become dominant again; then countervailing powers (populist and/or democratic) gain strength and the autocrats are nudged out of their ruling position for another few decades, only to cycle back again.

If we briefly review the periods I have mentioned, we have the divine right of kings, followed by absolute monarchy. That gradually yields to enlightened absolutism, accompanied by the Industrial Revolution. The French Revolution briefly ushers a republican form of government, but that soon becomes an empire with a king. In the middle of the 19th Century, economic conditions have become unsustainable for many, thanks to increasing industrialization. The various rebellions and revolutions of the late 1840’s are crushed by what we could now call dictatorial royal governments. Waves of oppressed European peoples immigrate to America.

In the aftermath of WW I, the old European order lay in ruins. Black Friday happens in 1929 when the U.S. stock market crashed and dealt another blow to the old order. In the 1920s and 1930s, Fascism developed in Europe; F.D.R. ushered in the New Deal in America. We are now 84 years from the inauguration of F.D.R. and the naming of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany.

At the beginning of this column I mentioned several political figures who show traits typical of the autocrat: Erdoǧan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Putin in Russia. I also mentioned Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands as would-be autocrats if they came to power. Our country is deeply divided. Will a majority of our compatriots ultimately turn to a “strong man” to save us? How do we survive in these troubled and troubling times when individuals and groups and political parties are bombarding us with their urgent emotional messages and many Americans are at one another’s throats? Understatement: we live in emotional times.

Emotion conveys important information, but not guidelines for action. We need reliable evidence on which to base our decisions and actions. Emotion tells us how we value a piece of evidence, but not what to do about it. Second, we need to see where the various pieces of evidence fit in an existing pattern, or what sort of coherent pattern the evidence suggests. This produces context. (The 84-year cycle offers one context in which to view the present.) Third, it is important for us to envision the implications suggested by the evidence and the pattern in which the evidence finds its place. This holds true as well for possible responses to the evidence, that is, the decisions we could make and the actions we could take. Given this evidence, the relevant context, and these possible lines of action, what are the possible and likely outcomes? And finally we have to evaluate the possible consequences of our choices and actions in human terms: if we do this, how will it affect peoples’ lives? Or if we do that, how will that affect peoples’ lives.

This last step calls for a clarity not clouded by emotion. It’s a difficult step for a human being to take because a surge of emotion can “feel so very right” — at the moment. Earlier I defined “archetypal” as an energy pattern that can operate at many levels when activated. I gave the “us vs. them” as an example. In addition to this “self vs. other” archetypal pattern, we see the emotional call for law and order; the emotional call for fairness and justice; the emotional call to take in immigrants and the opposing emotional call to send them all packing to where they came from; the emotional call to save the earth and ourselves from self-destruction. We need to approach all these hot issues as clear-headedly as we possibly can.

I believe we have to follow the four steps I outlined rather than let ourselves be captive to emotions that would have their way with us, even though we may not have sufficient evidence, even though we may not be sure where the evidence fits in a pattern, even though we cannot foresee all possible outcomes. Nevertheless, acknowledging our limitations, the fundamental question remains: what do our choices and actions mean for human beings?

Keeping all of this in mind – maybe we can better navigate the archetypal weather to which we are exposed.

* * * *

Brief Notes on the Astrology of our Current Archetypal Weather

In past columns, I have written about astrology as a diagnostic and prognostic resource in psychotherapy and analysis. (See the Ommani Jewel, March, 2017.) Beyond the individual in therapy or analysis, astrology has many more applications. When we look at what happens on earth, or to a nation, or a society, we have shifted our focus to the larger collective. This historical approach reveals the orderly changes in mood, the “spirit of the times,” the Zeitgeist that correlates with specific astrological configurations. These correlations reliably predict specific kinds of cyclical shifts in the mood of the times.

As we will saw when I ran the history, the examples of increasing autocracy turned up with regularity about every 84 years. This period of years corresponds to the number of years on Earth (by our time reckoning) that the planet Uranus needs to make one full circuit of the Sun, and return to an angular relationship with the planet Pluto. (An “angular” relationship is one in which the two planets are 180 degrees opposed, or at right angles to each other, or appear to be in the same location, zero degrees apart.) When in an angular relationship, planets tend to stimulate/activate each other. Observation has correlated Uranus with sudden change, surprises, new inventions, and discoveries (to mention only the most prominent traits). Pluto correlates to great power; but when triggered by another planet, Pluto produces fundamental transformation. Put more brutally, activated Pluto corresponds to the destruction of whatever has outlasted its usefulness. We need only two more pieces of information to make sense of the 84 years separating the historical examples.

As planets move into angular relationship, their combined effect gradually increases until they appear to occupy the same location as viewed from Earth. As they move away from the exact angular relationship, their effect gradually wanes. (In astrological language this range is called “orb.”) This means that there is a period of Earth years when these two planets in their angular relationship correspond to the intensification of correlated events on our planet. The orb of the Uranus-Pluto angular relationship accounts for the time span noted in the historical examples, e.g., 1927/28 to 1934/35. It is during these periods of years that the Uranus-Pluto angular relationship waxes to maximum and then gradually wanes.

Here’s our last necessary piece of astrological information: In all the historical examples, the planet Uranus is in angular relationship to Pluto and Uranus is in the astrological sign Aries, the ram. This is important. The Uranus in this configuration functions, so to speak, as the “actor” or “agent.” The astrological sign defines the way in which the planet acts or behaves; the quality of the planet’s action. Aries corresponds to the energy of new growth in Spring. There’s an urgency, a driving force, a relentlessness to Aries. When the surprise and innovation of Uranus as agent of the relentless Aries energy triggers Pluto’s power to do away with all that is worn out and no longer useful we get some momentous changes such as we saw in the historical examples.

By using astrology in this manner we can gain some sense of the repeating patterns in what happens on the planet. Many other cyclical patterns offer useful perspectives, but of concern to us in 2017 is the 84 year Uranus-Pluto cycle because it lets us see what happened at earlier times when Uranus was in Aries and in angular relationship to Pluto. As awareness of the historical cycle gives us insight to assist our navigation of the “weather,” awareness of the Uranus-Pluto cycle can also provide us with a larger, cosmic perspective to support our journey.



Bibliography for further reading:
Tarnas, R. (1996). Understanding Our Moment in History: An Interview with Richard Tarnas.

———(2006). Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York: Viking.

———(2013). An Introduction to Archetypal Astrological Analysis.

Weiss, C. (2017). Uranus in Widder als Nährboden für Autokraten und Diktatoren. Astrologie Heute, Nr. 186, April-Mai 2017, pp.22ff.


Oct 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and serves as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute. To schedule an appointment with him, contact us at 262.695.5311.

Mirror, Mirror…

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” Thus the Queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” commands the mirror to tell her the truth, in this instance about beauty. Honest mirrors show us what we look like. As an image, the mirror reflects what it “sees.”

A Google search for “mirror, mirror on the wall” netted (yes, that is a very bad pun, but I did need a verb) “about 106,000,000 results” in 0.68 seconds. Those 106,000,000 hits cover a vast range: “spiritual life1; the story of Snow White2; a Psychology Today piece on longevity3; a 1979 speech by the commissioner of the Church Education System at Brigham Young University4; and then on to really bad taste examples, such as getting drunk5, an ad for local medical care6,  jokes from Comedy Central7 and, of course, more advertisements (for mirrors, paint, interior décor, birthday parties, etc., etc.).

Hence a question: Why our fascination with mirrors? Does the mirror perform some essential and necessary function in our psychic economy? That’s want I want to explore this month. And these questions take us back to the story of Snow White and the Queen.

The Queen needed to know something about herself. More exactly, she needed reassurance of her self-worth which, for her, depended on being seen as “the fairest of all.” It is as if her personhood depended on other people view of her (“fairest,” in her case). The Queen’s need and question take us directly to the importance and function of the mirror, not so much the piece of polished metal or silvered glass, but the other people who reflect what they see when they look at us.

We mirror other people when we tell them how we experience them and what we see in them. Especially in our dealings with children and young people, the way we adults “mirror” them contributes to forming their sense of themselves—for better or worse, affirming essential traits and qualities or imposing our vision of their abilities, acceptability, and worth as individuals.

For our part, we utilize the mirroring from those people who see and experience us to shape our sense of ourselves. In a sense, for better or worse, they tell us who and what we are and can become. When we can take it in, honest and accurate reflection contributes to our developing a grounded sense of self and an inner core of self-acceptance and strength. In a word, honest and accurate feedback that we can embrace gives us to ourselves. But when other people, acting consciously or unconsciously on their agendas, “tell us who we are,” they can also contribute to estranging us from our authentic being and to our creating a “false self.” A “false self” may appear to look good in the eyes of other people, our family, friends, or acquaintances. What it lacks is the solid, inner core of identity and recognition of what interests and enlivens us. That inner core enables us to know what does and does not suit us.  Such inner strength calmly but firmly allows us to follow our personal vision and, when challenged, stand our ground.

I can state the basic idea fairly simply: All infants, children, young people, and no-longer-so-young people need people around them as “honest mirrors.” An honest mirror accurately reflects beauty and ugliness, accomplishment and failure, potential and lack of potential. An honest mirror tells no lies, gives neither false praise nor damning criticism. The honest mirror gives us back to ourselves. Because the honest mirror truly sees us both as we actually are and as we really could be, we get affirmation, vision, and encouragement—we are “seen,” beauty, warts, potential, and all—as well as invaluable feedback about our effect on other people.

Mirroring, as it is called in psychology, helps you (and me) become real: attuned to the surrounding world and attuned to our innate potential, the “inner” world. With honest mirroring (honest mirroring has no hidden agenda) you come to know yourself: what you really are, what you aspire to become, and enjoy the knowledge that you can do it.

In the absence of honest mirroring, an individual’s sense of self lacks cohesion and resilience. Lacking inner cohesion, the individual develops coping strategies and mechanisms in the attempt to shore up the wobbly emotional foundation. Then we see the attitudes and behaviors mentioned below: charm and temper tantrums, seduction and intimidation, boasts of fullness and ravenous hunger.

In psychology, this phenomenon carries the name “pathological narcissism.” As unpleasant as it is to experience in another (or in oneself), pathological narcissism becomes progressively more dangerous as the narcissistic person gains more power and influence. The belief that one can “manage” it in another, or that the level of toxic narcissism will decrease in the course of time prove vain and futile. Confrontation evokes explosion and retaliation. Support and encouragement feed the bottomless hunger without changing the pattern.

Much suffering—often life-long—results when somebody else’s vision has molded and shaped an individual. We can see evidence of this painful condition in other people when they appear

  • Charming, charismatic, confident, persuasive
  • Superior, entitled, manipulative
  • Perpetually hungry for attention, adulation, admiration
  • Unable to tolerate criticism
  • Vicious in attacking those who differ from them.

The list could continue, but these few characteristic behaviors and attitudes suffice to identify the phenomenon.

When dealing with the behaviors I have described, we may experience the temptation to indulge and endure without pushing back, in order to evade the nasty reaction when we challenge. I suspect each of us has chosen this coward’s ploy at one time or another in the hope of preserving whatever passes for peace. Unfortunately, the ravenous narcissistic hunger sometimes drives an individual to high levels of accomplishment and power. Then we are challenged to dethrone the emperor who has no clothes. One of the sobering truths about our human condition states that unless and until a person becomes a problem to himself or herself, nothing will change. The narcissistic person remains a problem to others, and sometimes a danger.

Narcissism has another face that doesn’t look at all grandiose, seductive, hypersensitive, or vindictive. What I have described so far turns toward the “outer” world, an extraverted, and therefore more visible, manifestation. The other face turns inward, creating an invisible civil war in the individual:

  • “I don’t deserve . . .”
  • “I’m not good enough . . .”
  • “Good people get to have this. I don’t get to have this.”
  • “I’m a have-not.”

Viewed from the internal civil war, the individual does see “good people:” They are the ones who are bold, who have ambitions and are making plans, who are potent and going somewhere. These people are perceived by the narcissistic individual as highly deserving. All of which may be said with an engaging smile.

The outside of these folks seldom reveals the civil war within. They may appear polite, competent at what they do, articulate, witty. But they may also hold back from engaging other people, or tasks, or challenges. They frequently have “explanations,” “cover stories” in which they claim not to be interested, to prefer spectating rather than participating. The civil war rages on between visions of greatness and the paralyzing sense of inadequacy. The grandiosity of the introverted narcissist consists in negatives: don’t deserve, not good enough, can’t measure up. Their obvious intelligence gives the lie to their professed deficiency and worthlessness. 

The mirroring they have received has not been honest, or when they may have received a realistic assessment of limitations, they have not been able to metabolize the feedback. Strange as it may sound, they have not failed enough. Most of the time, what we do falls somewhat short of the initial glowing vision of perfection. True, once in a while we do come very close, but usually, our efforts yield something that’s “pretty good” or even “good enough.” Enough failures shift the viewpoint from “being the best and greatest” to “pretty good” and “good enough.”

In both extraverted and introverted narcissism, we find a grandiose core: “It’s all about me!” The one expresses that core toward the outer world, seeking confirmation of greatness. The other conceals the grandiose core, believing that trying to realize it is futile. For the one, keep trying; for the other, why try? Yet both suffer, albeit in opposite ways. The extraverted version is a problem to others people; the introverted version is a problem to self.

All infants, children, young people and no-longer-so-young people need honest mirrors to reflect what is real. When the people around us truly care enough about us, we can trust them to be honest mirrors who give us back to ourselves, reflecting our real abilities, our real accomplishments, our real potential and our real short-comings and failures. An honest mirror could be life changing for the narcissistic individual who can open up to caring, honest mirroring.

In all relationships we have the opportunity to mirror the other person. If we care about the other, do we care enough to be an honest mirror? And when we need to recover a part of ourselves, where do we find the trusted persons who will honestly reflect our virtues as well as our vices?








May 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and again he will serve as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute, beginning in September, 2017. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.

The Personal Myth in Turbulent Times

Last fall a thoughtful and deeply reflective colleague gave a talk entitled “The Personal Myth in Turbulent Times.” As readers of The Ommani Jewel will recognize, “turbulent times” well characterizes the times in which we are living. In my March column I wrote about this from the viewpoint of mundane astrology.* This month I want to introduce the idea of myth—personal story and tribal story—that my colleague, James Hollis, addressed last October, and give you a link to the YouTube video of his talk.

Who is James Hollis? What is myth?

James Hollis, a Jungian psychoanalyst in Washington, D.C., serves as Director of the Jung Society of Washington ( Hollis has published many easily accessible books on various aspects of Jungian (a.k.a. analytical) psychology, as well as frequently speaks to groups interested in Jungian psychology. Several of his talks are available on YouTube.

In his October talk (linked here), Hollis discusses the significance of myth and story: the stories we tell ourselves individually and the stories that inform who we are in our family, town, country, or nation. He points out that at the end of World War II, we Americans had stories that told us what it was to be a man or a woman; what it was to be an American.

For example, in a talk in 1974, Ronald Reagan (linked here) voiced one of our national myths when he alluded to the Biblical “City on the Hill.”  “We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.” Barak Obama invoked an American myth with his “Yes We Can!” slogan; and Donald Trump invoked Ronald Reagan’s words with his “Make America Great Again.” These sorts of “stories” are intended to focus us on purpose and meaning as a people and as individual Americans. Myth as story serves these essential functions.

Individually and as a society, Hollis points out, we live more and more “in the time of the disintegration of great myths.” What myth or story gives structure and meaning to your life and to us as a people? After richly illustrating the significance of story and myth, that is the question Hollis addresses late in his talk. His answer calls each of us to listen to our inner voices: they tell the stories that live through us, as individuals and as a diverse people. Our task has become the search for the individual, personal story.

Think about it, what is/are the story(ies) that inform and live through you? What story gives you meaning when you come to the end of each day or the week? This is the greatest challenge facing each of us as individuals and as a diverse people in these troubled times-a challenge well worth considering.

* “Mundane astrology” looks at the astrology of the planet—the world, “mundus”—in the hope of getting some ideal of what is going on, some tenable hypothesis that begins to make sense of the trends and passions we witness around us.

** Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden.” (International Standard Version)

April 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and again he will serve as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute, beginning in September, 2017. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.

You, Me, and The Bigger Picture

“May you live in interesting times” is supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse.

Who would argue that at this point in time we lack excitement and drama? What is the “big picture”?  How do we make sense of the times in which we live? To paraphrase Kipling’s poem, “If,” How do we keep our heads when everybody else about us is losing theirs and blaming it on us? This month I want to tackle these questions from the viewpoint of astrology.

Readers of The Ommani Jewel will recall that I have written about the value of astrology for psychotherapy and analysis (January, 2016). Now I want to expand the viewpoint from the individual to a larger perspective. Just as we were born at a certain place and time on planet Earth, our nation has its natal horoscope, its birth chart. Specifically, I will draw on an excellent book about the United States from the viewpoint of astrology

The astrological birth chart of the U.S. offers us the “bigger picture” to which I refer in the title of this month’s column. In Soul-Sick Nation, Jessica Murray (2006) ponders the health and maturity of our country in a period extending from about 1994 to 2024 when the archetypal powers represented by two planets—Pluto and Saturn—are challenging us as a country collectively to some deep introspection and soul-searching in the context of profound change. Her diagnosis is thought-provoking. It’s time for us as individuals and for us as a nation to grow up.

In Soul-Sick Nation she makes a statement and asks a simple question: “America is a country barely out of diapers, historically speaking, that has ended up basically in charge of the fate of the Earth. What does this mean, in the big picture?” She continues, “It is time to acknowledge that the USA is suffering from a profound soul-sickness. I mean this neither as rhetoric nor as mere metaphor: I submit that we must accept that America is gravely and epically ill if we are to begin the only possible treatment: a shift in consciousness” (p. 1).

From 1994 to 2009, Murray writes, we witnessed “the decay within extant systems of belief, education, international relations and travel. . . . During this period . . . Judaism, Christianity and Islam [were] each being held up to mass scrutiny and reacting with extreme and reactionary excess, which is what tends to happen when entities go through moral purging” (p. 19). Then starting in 2008 and continuing through 2024, government, economics and corporations—some of the fundamental structures of the world we currently live in—are being subjected to deep transformation. She devotes the remainder of the book to exploring the implications of her question.

Reading a book published eleven years ago can give us a sense of our history. Two questions: What, then, is the meaning of the times in which we are living through? What does it mean for us as individuals?

Before we can begin to answer these questions, we need some basic orientation to astrology. The first moment of independent life marks the moment of birth, whether of a baby, a business, or a nation. We can erect a birth chart for an individual when we know the hour, minute, day, month, year and (geographic) place of birth, i.e., independent life. Similarly, in establishing the birth chart for the U.S., we know the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, PA, on 4 July 1776, at about 5:10 local mean time. (There are other charts based on other clock times, but this one—the time given by Ebenezer Sibly—is most often cited.) These data yield the U.S. birth chart.

At the moment an individual or a nation begins its independent existence (i.e., cutting the umbilical cord or signing a declaration of independence), the planets, including the sun and the moon, are at specific positions in the sky as observed from Earth. Based on geographic location, and year, month, day, hour, and minute, we can calculate a nativity, a “birth chart” / natal horoscope, which is essentially a two-dimensional map of the relationships of the planets as seen from Earth. The birth chart does not change, but the actual planets continue their orbits around the sun. When a planet has made a full orbit of the sun, it has completed its cycle. The various planets take differing lengths of time to orbit the sun, i.e., to complete a cycle. Those planets closer to the sun have shorter cycles than the planets farther away from the sun. As we know, Earth takes 365 ¼ days to make its orbit. We call that “one year.”

What interests us now in the U.S. birth chart is a phenomenon known as a planetary return. Specifically, the planet Pluto will be returning to the same sign and degree as in July, 1776. (Pluto takes about 248 years to complete its course around the sun.) Before discussing the phenomenon of a planetary return, we need to have some idea of what the planet Pluto symbolizes in a chart.

Whether in the natal chart of an individual or of a nation, Pluto references power: Murray writes:“When it is fueling a collective entity, it shows up as institutional forces that have insidious and pervasive impact. Lifestyles, work choices and relationship decisions informed by natal Pluto are possessed of a certain you-can’t-go-home-again finality….Plutonian power is sub-rational, and must be mitigated by the rest of the chart in order to be applied in a healthy way.  All by itself, Pluto is unapologetically amoral . . . Pluto,” she continues, “makes whatever house it’s in a magnet for make-or-break experience” (p. 15).

We have to consider the house where a planet is located in a chart, as well as the sign. Everybody is familiar with the notion of sun signs. A person’s birthday falls within one of the twelve sun signs. Other planets may tenant the sun sign or another of the signs. In the in case of Pluto in the U.S. birth chart, Pluto falls in the second house in Capricorn

In the U.S. birth chart, Pluto is in (“tenants”) the second house in the sign Capricorn. “In a group chart,” Murray writes, “the second house is the indicator of collective values, symbolized by certain resources that are prized above all other” (p. 21). Pluto’s placement in the US chart tells us that issues of wealth arouse the darkest human drives that exist (p. 29). “Americans harbor some rather incongruous beliefs about wealth, entitlement and power” (p. 48). Murray writes that in the national chart, the sign of Capricorn is “the sign of government, economics and corporations” (p. 19). That position also “points to our collective myths” (p. 48), those stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

We begin to see some dominant aspects of our national character in wider perspective.

Now we can return to considering transits. As any planet makes its orbit around the sun, it passes over the positions where the other planets were at the time of a person’s or a nation’s birth. If, for example, your sun sign (i.e., the astrological sign of your birthday) is Pisces, your sun is somewhere in the sign Pisces. That means that, sooner or later, every planet will pass over the degree of you sun in its particular sign. When one planet passes over the location of another planet in a birth chart, we say that the birth-chart planet has experienced a transit by the moving planet. Your birth day, really, is that day on which the sun transits the position of your natal the sun. (Happy Birthday, all you Piscean readers!) More precisely, the sun isn’t moving; it’s the Earth that orbits the sun, but we reference planetary movements to the Earth so that the other planets appear to circle our home planet.

Murray succinctly characterizes the effect of a planet’s transit, that is, the planet coming into angular relationship with another planet, or—in the case of a birth chart—returning to the same degree as in the birth chart. “A transit,” she writes, “operates like a spotlight cast on the natal chart: the moving planet lights up a certain spot of the entity’s unmoving potential [i.e., sign, house, and planet]” (p. 106).

In terms of the big picture and what it means for us individually and collectively in the U.S., understanding something about the transit of Pluto will help us make sense of what we witness happening all around us.

The most profound meanings of transiting Pluto are endings and beginnings. Transiting Pluto is the archetype of death and resurrection: it breaks down old and outworn entities into their component parts, and then reassembles them into new being. Pluto will soon return to the zodiacal position it was in when the country was born. This is a Pluto return.

Pluto’s circuit around the sun takes about 248 years. The U.S. has never experienced a Pluto return, so we are in for a new experience. (It’s those “interesting times” I mentioned earlier.) “This Return will subject the country’s deepest wounds to a kind of cosmic surgery; the most drastic but the most thorough kind of remedy for systemic problems” (p. 158).  Murray points out that “The United States will be brought home to the place in its psyche where it harbors irrational fears and manipulative impulses about physical survival. Pluto hitting its own natal position in the second house is a signal that America’s territorial drives will have to be transformed and its use of resources completely re-thought. We know this simply from living with our eyes open in today’s world, and astrology confirms it” (p. 158).

This brings us to me and you and what do we do?

Of course, we could despair. Cynicism offers another out. We could attempt to shore up and reinforce worn-out habits and institutions hollowed out by incompetence, self-interest, and sold to the highest bidder—no, we’ve seen plenty of that, not only here but in other parts of the world.

We can, however, use Pluto to transform, first ourselves. We can start with the personal work: looking at the house and sign Pluto inhabits our birth chart. That is the place where we hide our most shameful secrets and personal taboos. This is “inner work” on one-self. When we honestly name and examine all of our shadow traits and habits, we can begin to own and gradually transform them. If we don’t do this, we see them primarily in other people whom we vilify. (See my piece on the shadow in the November, 2016, Ommani Jewel.) As we work on our individual shadow, the energy field/aura we generate influences other people in positive ways. One-by-one we build a renewal.

Our shadow work makes us more tolerant of ourselves and of other people. As we work on ourselves, we can and will reach out to others, and not only those with whom we agree, but also people with whom we do not see eye-to-eye. They have legitimate concerns: hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, joys and sorrows. When we connect at that fundamental level, we realize we are not so different. Our differences and conflicts usually arise when we start by seeking remedies and solutions to what troubles us, especially if we believe it’s the other guy’s fault that we have problems in the first place.

Another wise astrologer, Liz Greene (2005), has written words both sobering and hopeful. I will close with her thoughts on the United States’ Pluto return: 

Pluto, as it completes its transit through Capricorn, will also return to its own natal place: in other words, the United States is experiencing its Pluto return. This suggests the completion of a great cycle, and a cementing of the fundamental values on which the Constitution is built. There may also be a serious reappraisal of issues concerned with the environment, as Capricorn is an earthy sign, and the use or abuse of natural resources may become a cause for not only profound concern but also profound change and a more enlightened attitude. The enormous resources available to the United States are reflected by Pluto in the 2nd house of the national chart, and it is possible that these will be approached with greater respect and care than ever before.

Whether or not you favour these changes personally, it would seem that a time has arrived when there is a great new opportunity to affirm the values and ideals of the original founding of the nation, applicable not only to government and to foreign relations, but also to the land itself and the resources inherent in it. (Greene 2005)

Murry tells us in Soul-Sick Nation, “If ever there was a time to reconsider how America uses its [Pluto] power, it is now” (p. 38).

March 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and again will serve as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute, beginning in September, 2017.    To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.


Kipling, R. “If.” Kipling published “If” in 1910.

Greene, L. (2005).

Murray, J. (2006). Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer’s View of America. Bloomington, IN: Author-House.

Murray, J. (2012). At the Crossroads: An Astrologer Looks at these Turbulent Times. San Francisco: MotherSky Press.

On Jessica Murray’s website blog you can find subsequent commentary on our times: .

The Individual Life-Line

In one of his early essays, C.G. Jung uses the term “the individual life-line” (1916 / 1970, para. 497ff). He writes that ‘The construction of “life-lines” reveals to consciousness the ever-changing direction of the currents of libido’ (para. 500). “Libido” is Jung’s term for psychic energy. Unlike the Freudian term libido (which is related to sexual energy); Jung describes “libido” as psychic energy that motivates a range of behaviors that include spiritual, intellectual, and creative energy, as well as an individual’s motivational source for seeking pleasure and reducing conflict.

Jung’s notion of the life-line has fascinated me since I first encountered it when I was an analyst-in-training in the 1970s. For a long time I had no idea what my individual life-line looked or felt like. So far as I knew at the time, I had essentially two options: one was to try to detect the direction and flow of my energy; the other was to “get on with” the tasks of the day. Very often these two possible choices had nothing to do with each other. Failing to be able to recognize what my libido – my psychic and physical energy – “wanted” to do, I defaulted to the items on my to-do list. Needless to say, that did not provide much satisfaction.

Failing to detect the direction of my individual energy-flow, I would typically resort to doing what I believed I “should” do, and what seemed “reasonable.”  Collective consciousness usually sets the terms and limits of “should” and “reasonable.” Since all of us must find some way to adapt to the world around us – that is, to the expectations of collective consciousness – “should” and “reasonable” do have a legitimate place in our thinking. However, as I have written before, we must adapt to the world around us and adapt to our innate nature. Attending only to one and excluding the other guarantees our unhappiness and over-all mal-adaptation. (See the January, 2016, Ommani Jewel for my discussion of adaptation.)

For most people in our society, and for me as well for a long time, adaptation to the physical, familial, societal “external” world appeared to be the only valid choice. Adaptation to an “inner” world appealed to me, but I did not see much support for that option around me. To say it differently, so far as I could tell, you adapted to the “outer” world, and if you didn’t, you crashed and burned. End of story.

“What is it,” Jung asks, “at this moment and for this individual,  that represents the natural urge of life? That is the question” (1916 / 1970, para. 488). Jung continues:

That question neither science, nor worldly wisdom, nor religion, nor the best of advice can resolve . . . .  The resolution can come solely from absolutely impartial observation of those psychological germs of life which are born of the natural collaboration of the conscious and the unconscious on the one hand and of the individual and the collective on the other. One man seeks them in the conscious, another in the unconscious. But the conscious is only one side, and the unconscious is only its reverse.

(para. 489)

Resolving Jung’s question demands that we adapt to the world around us – through “the collaboration . . . of the individual and the collective” – and to the world within us – through “the . . . collaboration of the conscious and the unconscious.”

The “psychological germs of life” may appear in dreams and waking fantasies. They may appear in unexpected waking encounters and exchanges and opportunities. But regardless the source, we have to find a satisfactory relationship to both the “outer” and the “inner” realms. To the extent we fail to do justice to both worlds, we lose connection to our life-line. (See the March, 2016, Ommani Jewel for a discussion of dreams.)

My clients and I face the challenge of recognizing the “psychological germs of life,” wherever they may appear, and understanding the messages they contain. As we do this, we get progressively clearer sense of the client’s current life-line: the direction of the client’s psychic, vital energy. What we accomplish in therapeutic work must become a skill the client can utilize on her or his own. Jung emphasizes

that the true end of analysis [or therapeutic work] is reached when the patient has gained an adequate knowledge of the methods by which he can maintain contact with the unconscious, and has acquired a psychological understanding sufficient for him to discern the direction of his life-line at the moment.

“Without this,” Jung concludes, “his conscious mind will not be able to follow the currents of libido and consciously sustain the individuality he has achieved” (para. 501).

In a nutshell, Jung challenges us to identify and then track our individual life-line to help understand the movement of our vital energy and use it to balance both the inner and outer aspects of our life.  For without it, we cannot develop true individuality or satisfaction in life.

C.G. Jung (1916 / 1970). “The Structure of the Unconscious,” in The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Feb 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.


In this month’s column I want to discuss and explore desire. With the Holidays again behind us and the wrapping paper in the recycle bin, I have, again, to ask myself: What did I really want? What did I desire?

What did/do you desire? What did/do you really want? I hope you will bear with me as I ponder desire and follow a thread of desire I recognize in my life. I hope my reflections – or should I call them “confessions” – will be of some use to you.

Over the course of my life, desire has been a fairly constant companion. Often I have wanted this or that, and often gotten it. But I have also recognized a “desire theme” running through my life.

When I was in grade school, I listened to short-wave radio a lot. The French outpost in Brazaville had a strong signal. I couldn’t understand French, but I did recognize “Ici Brazaville, poste nationalle francaise.” I listened to the ham radio bands. Wouldn’t ham radio be great! (But I never learned enough Morse code to pass a licensing exam.) In high school I learned a bit of Latin and a bit of Spanish, continued to listen to short-wave radio broadcasts. I remember asking my high school Latin teacher if what I was hearing was German. She thought it was.

When I went to college, we had a foreign language requirement, so – of course – I enrolled in German 101. And when Russian was offered, I enrolled in Russian 101, as well. (But I had a girlfriend when I was supposed to be learning Russian, and my interests became less academic.) After college and graduate school, I left the U.S. for three years. I was trying to do the ex-pat thing. (I failed: I’ve been back in the States for several decades.)

Desire threads all these memories into a strand with a common theme: communication, connection. I was looking for connection to something, and that “something” was neither geographically where I was, nor did my native language – American English – and the “foreign” languages I learned – Latin, Spanish, German, a bit of Russian – provide the needed means of communication. But still, the theme of connection and communication has persisted.

When I was doing my post-graduate training in Jungian psychology, and translating some books from German to English, a colleague once remarked: “Boris, you don’t want to translate German into English. You want to translate the unconscious in to the conscious.” My desire was, again, to connect and communicate. Some place (consciousness) where I am not. Some language other than the (conscious) language I know.

Then I can think about the various “toys” I have desired over the course of my life, what I have received as well as the “presents” I have bought myself. I won’t bore you (or embarrass myself) with a detailed list. So very often when I have gotten what I desired, what I desired didn’t long live up to my expectations. The new “toy” didn’t deliver the promise I believed it held.

Let one recent example suffice for many. The wi-fi reception in my home varies in signal strength from room to room. Now, mind you, it’s strong enough in every room to connect with my iPhone or laptop. But the signal strength still varies, and – of course, you know – a stronger signal means a faster connection with the Internet and all that’s out there. So I ordered a new router. It should be closer to state of the art than my 2006 vintage router. Besides, the new router will put out a stronger wi-fi signal and have better protection against hacking than the old one. What’s the theme here? Communication, connection. Where have we seen that before?

I didn’t resist. I ordered the new router. Did I remember the “communication, connection” theme? Yes, I did. Yet I attempted to satisfy my desire.

A passage in Jung’ Red Book where he writes about desire has lodged in my awareness. Maybe it will be of value to you, too. He writes:

He whose desire turns away from outer things, reaches the place of the soul. If he does not find the soul, the horror of emptiness will overcome him, and fear will drive him with a whip lashing time and again in a desperate endeavor and a blind desire for the hollow things of the world. He becomes a fool through his endless desire, and forgets the way of his soul, never to find her again. He will run after all things, and will seize hold of them, but he will not find his soul, since he would find her only in himself. Truly his soul lies in things and men, but the blind one seizes things and men, yet not his soul in things and men. He has no knowledge of his soul. How could he tell her apart from things and men? He could find his soul in desire itself but not in the objects of desire. If he possessed his desire, and his desire did not possess him, he would lay a hand on his soul, since his desire is the image and expression of his soul. (p. 129)

One line has given me entry into these thoughts: “If he possessed his desire, and his desire did not possess him . . . .”

My desire has often possessed me. Sometimes it has made a (lesser or bigger) fool of me. I have desired things and people, only to find out later that things remain just things and people remain, alas, only people. Neither things nor people have satisfied my desire for very long.

Another puzzling line: “Truly his soul lies in things and men, but the blind one seizes things and men, yet not his soul in things and men.” How can it be that the soul “lies in things and men,” but seizing “things and men” does not seize one’s soul?

At this point, I understand this seeming contradiction or paradox to mean that “things and men” somehow reflect or mirror some facet of my “soul.” (I’m, not going to try to unpack what “soul” means right now.) This point of view applies to dreams in which a known person appears. I ask: What is it about this person, as I know him or her, that appeals to me but is not part of my conscious personality? How does this known person in my dream highlight some quality that I haven’t developed as much as that person has? What benefit would I experience if I were able to develop the trait I see in that other person?

Desire. I’m reminded of the line many of us have uttered and hear from time to time: “When I grow up, I want to be like . . . .” Hmm. If Jung has it right, our desire points beyond the people and objects we desire in the direction of a longing to become more than we are, but in very specific ways. For me, the threads to follow are communication and connection, but my new wi-fi router won’t fully satisfy my desire for connection and communication. But desire remains my companion, pointing me toward some goal of connection and communication that I cannot yet see clearly. Fortunately “things and men” fail to carry my desire for very long any more.

I continue to ponder my desire and my soul, “since [my] desire is the image and expression of [my] soul.”

It is my hope these personal musings will be of benefit to you as you reflect/review your own themes in consideration of the New Year.  Wishing you many blessings and revelations in the year ahead.

Jan 2017 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL, and again he will serve as Director of the Analyst Training Program at the Jung Institute, beginning in September, 2017. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.

Life Transitions

Major life transitions typically destabilize your life and leave you feeling you no longer know yourself or the world around you.  If you take the time and energy to work through the transition consciously, you can come to know yourself better than ever as well as find a more authentic and satisfying way to be in the world. In a major transition, it is normal to feel a jumble of many different emotions because things really are different. I’d like to share two brief case studies that address the experiences one can have when dealing with life transitions.  The names used are not the clients’ real names.

Florence came to her therapy session in turmoil. “I’ve got this awful burning sensation in my stomach, and it’s not acid indigestion,” she said.  Flo looked agitated and weary. “Can you tell me more about that burning sensation?” “Well, it’s not just that. I feel like I’m going to burst, just explode. And I don’t know what it’s about.”

Florence lived a busy, stressful life. Her family and her job of several years took a lot of energy. She had an autistic son and older parents who would soon need to be moved out of their home of 51 years. She loved both her family and her job, even though she sometimes felt overextended. Flo tried to resolve these issues by exploring her conscious feelings with no relief. She understood everything about her life situation except what was causing the burning sensation in her gut. It didn’t make any sense to her.

I asked Flo if she recalled any dreams since our previous session. “I did have a troubling dream. I saw this huge bonfire. And in the middle of it I saw a person, a figure, and it looked like it was eating somebody, shoving a human body into its mouth.” Flo shuddered.  

Cautiously I asked her to talk more about what was going on in her current life, and notice the sensations that came up. (I was wondering where she might feel both “burned up” and “devoured.”) By the end of the session, Flo had begun to recognize that her beloved family and her satisfying job didn’t leave her much time or energy for herself.

In the course of further work, Flor and I realized that she had put a few strong interests on hold to address the needs of others. “Devoured,” she realized, was a good way to image the demands she felt from many sides. In moments when Flo was not focused on job or family, thoughts about those neglected interests flitted through her consciousness. Those interests were “heating up.” They were the “fire” that was “burning up” the all-consuming obligations — the devouring figure in the dream — that Flo had taken on.

Over the course of several months, Flo came to see that the balance between obligations she wanted to fulfill, and nurturing and cultivating personal needs and interests was lopsided. It was difficult for her to make choices that did not immediately respond to other people’s needs. She needed to set boundaries to allow herself time for the things she loved: spiritual reading and pottery.   As she chose more consciously and deliberately to nurture herself, she experienced less and less stress and the burning sensation in her gut gradually diminished. Flo began to be more satisfied with her life.

Roger worked hard at his job managing the shipping and receiving department of a local business. He was efficient and conscientious, generally liked by his co-workers, but his interactions with them were usually rather shallow. When I asked Roger about his interpersonal communication, he said he joked around a lot and didn’t feel he could relate to anyone very deeply.   

Roger had been married for 11 years. His wife worked as a pharmaceutical rep. Roger’s wife told him she wanted a divorce.  I asked Roger to tell me how he felt. “I’m coming apart at the seams,” he said. “I don’t know if I can hold it together.” Roger’s world— the structure by which he and his wife had lived for most of their marriage—was indeed dissolving, and Roger’s feelings clearly depicted what was happening.

“Yes, Roger,” I said, “the day-to-day world you have known is indeed breaking apart. So it feels like your world in fragmenting.” “The structure of your life is changing. This is one of the ways people feel when they’re in the middle of a major transition. It doesn’t feel good, and I know what I’m saying isn’t much comfort.”  Roger didn’t look very reassured.

“You can get through this and come out the other side in better shape than you are now. What you will have to do – and I’ll be there to help you stay afloat – is, first, remember that there really is important structure in your life. You’ve got your work, and you’re good at it. Second, we’ll find ways for you to deepen your personal interactions so you are not emotionally isolated.”

Roger looked frightened. “I don’t know how to do anything but joke around!” he protested.  “Yes, that’s probably part of what went wrong in your marriage, Roger. People need deeper connection than joking around. You can learn new skills that invite people to share themselves with you in a more satisfying way. And you can find ways of showing others more of who you are. Transitions can lead to something better—but you have to be willing to do the necessary work to make that happen.”

Over the course of several months, Roger and I met weekly. I suggested various materials he could study and we discussed how he could apply what he was learning. We explored ways he could be more authentic and invite people into deeper conversations.  

His wife followed through with the divorce. It was hard on Roger. Yet at the same time, he recognized he was learning to engage people in more meaningful ways. Roger is still in transition, but now he feels that he is rebuilding his world in a more satisfying way. He’s getting his feet back on the more solid ground of his authentic nature.

Florence’s burning sensation in the belly and Roger’s feeling that he was falling apart are two of the several experiences people can have when their status quo is beginning to change. When your life has been too narrow, the life force in you challenges your limited range. Both Florence and Roger had been living inauthentically, which restricted their lives.

Many people feel as though they are being confined, imprisoned, restricted, tied down. As they explore their lives in therapy, they begin to recognize that for all the freedom they have experienced they don’t feel very substantial or grounded. Their lives are provisional.  A transition is one of many life experiences that can cause our lives to feel less than we desire. We all go through transitions. It’s part of the natural life process. Whether or not these transitions lead to a fuller, deeper, more mature life depends on how we deal with the changes.

Dec, 2016  Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.

What It Takes to Grow Up – Dealing With Shadow

Recently I was preparing my notes to teach a weekend class at the C.G. Jung Institute in Chicago. I needed to present the notion of “shadow.” Typically, shadow is called “the inferior part of the personality,” as in R.L. Stevenson’s novel where Mr. Hyde is the “dark,” other side of Dr. Jeckyl.

I faced a three-part task: depict shadow in some fresh way that everybody can immediately relate to; show that shadow is a normal part of our human experience; and point out how dealing with shadow can contribute to our maturation as responsible human beings.

Cartoon strips can often be a source of psychological insight. Specifically, the words in the “thought bubble” reveal what the character is thinking but not saying. “Garfield” (the comic strip written by Jim Davis) offers countless examples of possible thoughts and comments that Garfield could make about Jon.

In one three-frame strip, Jon says, “I have feelings.” Garfield: “No, you don’t.” Jon: “I really do.” Horrified, Garfield thinks “Oh, no. You don’t!” Jon: “But I don’t like to talk about them.” Garfield, relieved: “Oh, that’s okay then.” (You can view this and other comic strips at

Garfield’s reaction is “shadow” to the extent that it is an interpersonally inappropriate: hurtful but authentic. That’s really what Garfield thinks about Jon’s self-disclosure.

Who cannot relate to this situation? Somebody says something about themselves. We strongly disagree, but keep it to ourselves. (If we think fast enough!) What we would like to say is authentic and comes spontaneously, but we realize it is inconsiderate, hurtful, inappropriate, etc. In other words, our authentic reaction is in some way “inferior.”

Shadow reactions—like Garfield’s reaction to Jon—arise spontaneously. We call the emotional or cognitive content of these reactions shadow because our consciousness has learned (or been trained or educated) to hold these sorts of words and images and responses in check, often for very good relational, social, political, ethical, or religious reasons. Nevertheless, what comes up as shadow reveals something authentic about us, a “truth” we may not want to own, but certainly don’t want to let out into the world. Garfield really is appalled at the prospect of hearing about Jon’s “feelings.”

Our social learning creates shadow. As I mentioned, as children we have been trained and have learned what is acceptable to mom and dad, to siblings, to neighborhood, to school, in our society, etc. We learn to “disown” what isn’t acceptable to the others we have to live with. Initially our disowning is a voluntary act, but with practice the disowning becomes automatic. Then we say it is “repressed,” which means that we cannot easily access it voluntarily. Some of what we repress may be potentially of great worth, for example an innate talent that nobody in our environment values. “Who would ever believe that you could do that!” Similarly, we learn what we can and cannot say without unpleasant consequences. Or we don’t learn.

In the fifth grade I hadn’t learned some things yet. My mother was in hospital, more seriously ill than I realized at the time. An aunt and uncle lived within walking distance of the school I attended, so Aunt Opal fed me lunch every school day. One noon at her house I said, with no malice of intent, “I like Uncle Leon better than I like you.” I was just speaking my feelings, just saying what I had observed about my likes and preferences. (I may have said more, and in more detail, but—mercifully—I have no memory of any additions.) So I hadn’t learned something important: don’t make those kinds of comparisons to the hand that feeds you lunch!

On a recent Sunday morning my wife and I were on our way to church. I started sharing some observations. My wife interrupted me with her observations, delivered with passion and in detail. I shut up and pulled into my shell, very angry.

After church, I was talking with some acquaintances. My wife came up behind me and started to say something. Reflexively, my left hand waved her away.

Later she confronted me: “I don’t like it when you shush me!”

“Yes,” I said. “I was still angry and resentful about what happened on our way to church. I do not like it when you interrupt me like that. I have two choices: go silent, withdraw and remain resentful and angry; or tell you about it.”

We talked it out. The storm passed.

My “shushing” my wife was a primal reaction to feeling hurt. Because I had not initiated a discussion of what happened earlier in the car, my hurt still had a lot of energy that came out spontaneously when I felt hurt again by her wanting to interrupt me with some comment she wanted to make. My shushing was an aspect of shadow: a socially “inferior” behavior.

There’s a lesson in this: the lesson of what it takes to grow up, to handle situations more maturely. I needed to deal with my hurt in some appropriate way. Initiating a conversation of this sort is harder for me than remaining silent and resentful. But remaining silent does not help me to grow up, to become a more mature adult. Remaining silent does not use the energy in my shadow (the suppressed expression of hurt) in a responsible manner that promotes emotional maturity.

In the 1970s, Erik H. Erikson edited a book entitled Adulthood. There’s a line in his introductory chapter that has always stuck with me. In the context of discussing a scene in a film by Ingmar Bergman, Erikson writes: “For if the simplest moral rule is not to do to another what you would not wish to have done to you, the ethical rule of adulthood is to do to others what will help them, just as it helps you, to grow” (p. 11).

This is part of what it takes to grow up into psychologically responsible maturity.

Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology at the Ommani Center.  To schedule an appointment, call him directly at 608.217.5184.