Silvia Behrend's Posts (30)

Sort by

Standing on the Steps then and now


                Almost four years ago, I walked up the Capitol steps in freezing rain to join other clergy and officiants to perform the first legally sanctioned same-sex weddings in Washington State.  Those of us who could legally perform a ceremony were invited to donate our services to any who chose to get married under, near, or around the Christmas tree in the Rotunda.  Robed clergy of many denominations, justice of the peace and others, stood in a line as couple after couple met them, chose them, and designed an on the spot ceremony.  I had the great honor of performing two such ceremonies that day.  I wore my purple robes.  That was a proud day in my ministry as I participated in a human rights victory.  Yes, the world was looking up, reason and  justice held hands, hope for a more open collective consciousness reigned.  I was happy to donate my time and energy.

            Today, I walked up the same steps, in the freezing rain, again.  This time, the mood more somber, the stakes higher, the hope diminishing.   I entered the same Rotunda, the same Christmas tree lit up the space, the same group of people sat on the steps.  Except this time, there was no joy, no celebration or jubilation. People were gathered in every state capital to encourage electors not to vote for Trump.

            By the time you read this, you will know that Trump won the electoral college.  I am sick even as I write this.  I am sick with fear of what he will unleash.  But that is for the future to bring, and we will fight and so on and so on. What is even more frightening than the future scenario is that so many people, millions of people, are terrified.  Galvanized? yes.  Lit up to become activists? yes.  Can this be a tipping point moment for our world?  Yes. 

            The reality is that about half of this country does not get it.  Simply does not understand the horror, terror and fear that is gripping the other half.  Not to conflate paternalism with government, but it is archetypally coherent that the ruling power has as its mandate the care and concern of the people.  All the people.  Not just those who tell you what you want to hear. It’s like we are living out the other fairy tale, the one where the new king comes in already corrupt, without clothes and devours the kingdom.  It’s backwards.  We need the new prince or princess to save the kingdom.  But life is not a fairy tale with the one prince or the one princess that lifts the curse after many travails and obstacles.  Like is messy and requires us to step up and step in. 

            It is up to each one of us to become the prince, the princess, or the Wise Old Man, the Wise Old Woman who help them on the way.  How do we do that?  We shout from the Capitol Steps, “the Emperor has no clothes.”  Time after time after time, we speak up, and speak out.  We will question, we will petition, we will support democracy, the rights of all to love who they love, marry who they marry, practice whatever religion they choose.  We will fight for care for the young, the elderly, the marginalized.  We will not fall asleep at the spindle, or wait to be kissed awake.  We will keep our eyes and ears and hearts open. 

            That’s the thing about fairy tales.  We have to make them come true.   




Read more…

What shoes to wear now?

Say that you are going to a party, or going to the mall, or to visit your old aunt who is failing.   Say that you are going to a new place, somewhere you have never been before and you don’t know what to wear.  You put on the usual dress, the one you’ve worn so many times, perhaps it is beginning to fray a little, but never mind.  What shoes will you wear this time?

You look at all the shoes you have collected over the past ten years.  You know, the black work high heels, the sling backs.  The sparkly shoes for the wedding, the strappy sandals for the summer.  The boots, high heeled and low, hiding in the back of closet peek out too. And the old comfortable sneakers, the ones with the holes in the toes that are just right, wink. 

What shoes will you wear this time?  This is not about shoes. Or at least, not only about shoes.   Marie Louise van Franz reminds us that shoes represent the standpoint, the attitude towards the outer world.  It is the persona that shows the world how you navigate it, how well or not well you are grounded and oriented to the world and your place in it.  The shoes we put on show us to the world and the way we see the world to ourselves.  So what shoes do we wear now that fit the world?

The outer and inner world reality is that we are at a crossroads in time, where old attitudes and beliefs about who we are and what the world is no longer fit just right. I can tell you I am no longer comfortable navigating the world as though I were wearing my usual high heels.  The world I walked on before November was filled with the certainty that reason, restraint, awareness, and hope would prevail.  That women and a feminine consciousness would rise and help change the world. Rape culture, misogyny, racism, all the other isms would be revealed and repealed.  I loved those shoes. 

But standing in the comfort of an elevated attitude, my high heels, kept me from seeing the groundswell of discontent, mistrust, pain and distress of others who I didn’t take seriously.  That was a grave mistake and one I cannot afford to make again.  Much is shifting all over the world and much is shifting inside of me and my friends as we try to make sense of what to do, how to do it and how to nourish ourselves for the tasks ahead.  We gather in video chat platforms on Saturday mornings or afternoons, shoes off, on the couch, and lean in to one another.  We share stories of pain and joy, surprise and despair, hope and anger.  We are not without some kind of map.  The way is contained in ancient and universal rituals that have held us in times of uncertainty and fear. Community.  Friendship.  The knowledge that grace bats last.  That we must love one another or die.  That we are deeply related to one another, to the ones who came before and suffered and survived and thrived even in the darkest of times. 

Perhaps the kind of shoes needed for this next part of what comes next are comfortable, low-heeled shoes.  Close to the ground shoes.  Comfortable shoes that will carry us a long way without wearing out.  Heels that don’t teeter. We add them to our closet, let them keep company with the frilly and fancy, the fine and the familiar.  And the new shoes don’t have to be brown, they don’t have to be somber, they can be red!  9142456279?profile=original

Read more…

The Passionate Feminine



For over thirty-six years, we have gathered to celebrate the Passover, a re-telling of the Hebrew peoples’ crossing the desert into the Promised Land of milk and honey.  We read the Haggadah, we drink the wine, pass the matzo, flick the plagues off our fingers like an Italian curse gesture.  We sing Dayenu, the song that voices the wonder of any small act to be sufficient for knowing God’s abundant love and grace to us, the people who follow the law.  The youngest ones present ask the four questions, why is this night different, why do we eat reclining, why do we eat bitter herbs and only matzo, why do we dip twice?  And we are off, back in time to the story and the ongoing drama and trauma of freedom from oppression.  In our yearly Seders, we have named numerous oppressions, holocausts, genocides, racisms and sexisms.  It is part of the tradition to know that the story is not confined to the Biblical account, but an ongoing revelation and experience.

            I have often asked myself, why, as a non-practicing Jew, I have been compelled to celebrate the Passover, dare I say it, religiously.  I am reminded of Jung’s assertion in Psychology and Religion, that rituals are the containers for the experience of the Numinosum, a safe space where the psyche can be held, like the infant in the mother’s arms, from the perils of direct contact with the Source of Mystery.  (Jung, 1938 p 53).  It is only when the experience is dead that the ritual loses its meaning and efficacy, and becomes rigid and arid. What have I experienced of that liberation from oppression that continues to have the power and energy to keep me setting the table, cooking the traditional foods, and inviting others into my home to eat, recite and sing?

            This year, the question is not difficult to answer.  What is driving the ritual remembrance of the Exodus is my involvement with Seeing Red, an inter-disciplinary initiative out of the Assisi Institute: The International Center for the Study of Archetypal Patterns.  When Loralee Scott-Conforti, the Executive Director, invited me to be part of exploring the underlying roots of oppression and violence against women, I said yes.  What I didn’t know was that my assent would lead me through the desert of sojourn, sometimes on my knees and sometimes resting by Miriam’s well.  As Passover neared, I realized that in the past, I had been captured by the suffering of others.  This year, I had to traverse the suffering of my soul, entrenched and captured by inner oppression. 

            It is one thing to blame patriarchy, especially coming out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and name the many injustices women have suffered, from the original disobedience to stay unconscious, to the sundering of the feminine into the Madonna/whore.  It is easy, in fact, to look out into the world and point to the horrors that happen to women, girls and children, because they are the ‘weaker’, the Other, the ones who bear the scars, if they survive at all, of violence.

            Actually, I don’t think it is easy, it is horrific, sobering, and traumatizing to see the images posted on Facebook, the New York Times, other social media and news feeds, of violence, rape, torture, and random attacks on the feminine.   When the oppression is recognized as “out there’, we can join the chorus exposing and opposing injustice, we can act.  It is another thing to recognize and feel the sadness, shed the tears for our own internalized oppression; the myriad ways we cut ourselves, do violence to our dreams, friendships, relationships, our very destiny. It is excruciating to face the demons that seek to eat our very lives, name them, perhaps, for the first time for what they are and fight tooth and bloody nail against them.

The redeeming grace is that we walk through the desert, relying on the mana and the water of our contemporary companion sisters, as well as those who have come before us.  They hold us as we keen and grieve and take from Egypt, the narrow place of oppression, that which belongs to us -  the land of our soul.  No longer sojourners in a strange land, we lay claim to our own fertile knowing.  On May 9th, Muriel McMahon, a seasoned traveler on the road, a guide and voice in the wilderness, will present a webinar on Walking with our Grandmothers:  Exploring Trans-Generational Complexes at  Wherever you may be on this journey, I invite you to join us, as we traverse the terrain of liberation together.



Read more…


     “Will you catch me when I fall?”  Those are the words of a refrain from a Danish song by the group Danser med Drenge (Dancing with Boys).  The image helped me recall the old trust games used in group-building back in the day.  Someone stood in the center of a group, crossed their arms across their chests and closed their eyes.   They were to fall backwards, trusting that they would get caught before they hit the ground by their co-workers.  That exercise was used to ‘teach’ trust among people who were supposed to be a team.  Reading between the lines, of course, it speaks to the trust that wasn’t there, otherwise, why build it in such a concrete and forced way?  I shudder to think of it today.

     Now, I see the set up, for both the outer group and the inner person.  In an environment where you have to work together, are you really going to show that you don’t have the bully’s back?  Are you really going to fall backwards knowing that the others will be forced to catch you or be outed as the missing link in the team?  That’s one memory of a throw back to a cultural phenomenon that sought to create safety in unsafe terrain.

     I don’t know if that is still used in team building, I have to think it is. What emerges more powerfully for me now, after completing the Trauma and Healing Cerificate from the Assisi Institute, is how essential trust is in our ability to navigate the world and how elusive its provenance.   For those whose life experience was that no one was there to hold them, or even worse, that whoever was there was out to destroy the very essence of their being through violence, incest, or neglect, falling is not an option.  On the contrary, falling is the worst possible outcome, because you either fall into nothingness and perish in existential dread, or you fall into the unspeakable.  And no one comes to help, save or protect, no one to say “don’t go down that street”, no one to say, “don’t you dare touch that child.”

     These are the experiences of those who have suffered harm at the hands of those entrusted to their care.  We read about it every day, stories of mothers or boyfriends or fathers or nannies or day care workers who harm the very lives they are mandated to protect.  The survivors experience the world as unsafe and others as untrustworthy, they walk over and over again into the maw of the beast, because that they can trust.  What they cannot trust is that there will be somewhere, someone who will be there to catch them.  Those of us in the clinical field, know this and we try to orient them to navigate the world, not asking for trust, but hopefully, over time, earning it.

     That’s the clinical aspect of working with survivors of trauma, but there is a far larger field not tied to the personal experience of trauma.  We live in a world that is truly unsafe, we cannot trust our leaders to catch us, or that the justice, legal or cultural system will protect us from violence if we are women, or children, or transgender, or black, or Muslim or any other ism that is currently seen as the enemy. 

     At a dinner party the other night, I mentioned Michael Moore’s “I am a Muslim” challenge to protest Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.  He asked people to take a selfie of themselves holding that sign and to post it.  I was surprised by some of the responses, that’s cultural appropriation, you can’t say you are a Muslim because you are not, we have to be allies, we need to say, I am not a Muslim but I stand by you.  That argument, while politically correct, missed the most important aspect of what is needed if you are truly going to catch someone falling:  the symbolic life.  It is not enough to say the words, I am your ally.  It is not enough to say, I am a man and stand by my sisters, cause man, when I walk out the door as a white woman and even though I stand with my black brothers and sisters, I am still a woman and not a man.  I am a target, a magnet with two x chromosomes.    And I am still not a black woman or a woman of any color or race, nor am I a Muslim woman, I am still not those who face even more dangers than I in this world.

     I appreciate the symbolic life to gain access to mastery over evil, like King Christian X of Denmark, who wore the yellow star on his arm to stop the genocide of Danish Jews. The whole town of Billings, Montana placed menorahs on their windows to combat the incursion of white supremacists and ran them out of town.    There is a way to enter into the reality and change the course.  But first it must be named.

     We cannot afford to be fragmented by being caught in verbal hyperbole while lives are destroyed and demolished. I believe there is something begging to be born, a new awareness and consciousness of what is afoot, like the beast slouching toward Bethelem, that needs to be named.  The new year brings the possibility of seeing more deeply into what is driving such violence.  May we be part of the catching.


Read more…

When the Waves Crest



When the waves crest

In Australia

Sometimes you can see dolphins

Or other fish

Backlit by the sun

Suspended in the clarity of water.


That moment of perfect balance

Before the wave crashes

And dissipates

Leaves scant traces of shells

Which will be brought back into the ocean

Soon enough.


            This image appeared in a recent session as a client was describing the sense of despair after a wonderful vacation with family.  Why, after such a good time, were the memories of beach, tides, and laughter tinged with the dark blue of depression, sadness and melancholy?  The feeling was palpable in the room, drawing me into that world where destruction follows any experience that has the potential to be good and stay good.

            You have to wonder what can consistently crash our hopes, dreams and desires for a full and good life, especially when we are living it. Those of us working in the field of trauma and healing know the power of the past to shape the experience of the present. And indeed, the stories poured out:  every time something good happened in my client’s life, there was a family drama, betrayal of trust, betrayal of safety and security.  Life was predictable:  don’t believe you can have anything, and if you do, make sure it doesn’t last or better yet, destroy it before it is taken away. 

It’s difficult to talk about trauma when the stories don’t involve marks on the body, when there are no police reports of violence or sexual abuse, no neglect of basic needs, but the traces are there nonetheless.   We are, after all, always looking for direct casual links, to understand what happened and lay out the consequences.  So if there is no ‘evidence’ it can’t have been that bad. I hear this all the time: “other people have it much worse, all you have to do is read the paper and see the real horrors perpetrated on the innocent.  Nothing that bad happened to me.”

Without minimizing other people’s suffering, comparisons like this are after one thing only, defending against the assaults to the soul.  Covert destruction of one’s sense of worth, security and safety are insidiously damaging exactly because they are not easily named.  So much harm is done under the rubric of love, care and protection, so much confusion about what it means to be loved when what you have is taken from you for the good of the family, or the mother or the father or the sibling who has so little.  The soul gives itself up, steals the good or gives it away.    

So don’t enjoy the dolphins suspended in water like air because the crash will come.  And in some ways, that is right.  The crash does come, it is inevitable, life is both joy and suffering.   What matters, however, is to fully and deeply drink in the beauty of the good moments, the miracle of a good life knowing that disappointment and hurt may follow. Healing is possible when we embrace both possibilities without destroying the one for the sake of the other. 









Read more…

Trauma, Don't Paint it Pretty


I recently started a new painting, using a canvass big enough to use up some old paint.  It was to be a study of yellows, with burnt sienna, vermillion red and other odds and ends I had accumulated over the years.  So I mixed the old paint with walnut oil, hoping to reconstitute it enough to have it slide on the canvass.  I quickly discovered that is not how it works.  I ended up with thick leaden lines that killed any life in their vicinity.  So, I left it for a while, thinking I would see it with new eyes next time I could go to the studio.   But when I walked into the studio a week later,  I was filled with a desire to destroy the canvass, to paint over it, to slash it, to throw it out.

Something held my hand back.  Some whisper of inspiration, some angel of knowing, took my hand instead to an old rag and turpentine.  I used the soaked towel and tried to take off all the paint, start over with a clean slate.  I wiped and wiped, each time removing more and more of the lifelessness until no more would come off.  What remained was a patina of deep golden yellows, like a mellow maple floor, walked on for generations.  The dead lines were gone, but there were traces, like old scars of old wounds, faint but ever present, that became the roots and branches of new life.

That painting taught me about trauma in a new way.  To be human is to suffer the vicissitudes of betrayal, loss and grief.  Not everyone suffers horrific trauma, assaults to the self that are unbearable, but many do. But no one is served by trying to gloss over the pain and suffering and lull us into the belief that all things can be overcome, that the trauma will disappear, that all will be well.

We want to deny that some things will never be completely healed and made whole.  We want to say that everything that happens has a reason and a purpose under heaven. Even if terrible things happened, there is meaning to be made.  But that is not the case, and we see it in the woman pushing a grocery cart with all her belongings down the street.  We see it in a child who winces at loud noises in an airport bathroom, as well as in the returning soldier who stands in line at the drugstore, mere days after having been in battle and is startled by a sudden noise.. 

That we can make a life out of suffering too cruel to name is a miracle.  As Dr. Conforti says, resilience is a secular miracle.  We can learn to live with the damage but we can never deny that the damage happened. We can accept that for the rest of our lives we will have to be careful, to resist those places which hurt us, to build walls when necessary, and to say, no, I can’t go there.  I know this because I have been participating in the Trauma and Healing Certification Program offered at the Assisi Institute. 

What we are learning from leading scholars and clinicians who specialize in trauma and healing is that the power of the trauma, whatever its description, leaves a sheen on the soul that affects the way we experience the world.  The contours of the trauma can be seen by the way the person moves, behaves, believes, by the way so many of us find ourselves taken over, yet again, by the re-enactment of the trauma.  Father sold you out, you sell yourself out.  Mother kept you close, you never live your life. 

So how do we manage not to fall into despair, the repetition of alienation, violence or the theft of a good life?  There is no technique, no panacea, but a real moral response to sit with and be present to someone’s suffering without trying to make it better.  When we witness the horror without flinching, when we abide with the unspeakable and don’t try to turn into it into a positive ‘learning’ experience, we let the other know that we won’t run away.  That it is possible to be human, that there are those who will not betray, abuse or abandon.  The healing that is possible takes place in the alchemical container of soul witnessing soul. Like the painting, we carry the many layers of our life without denial, without pretense and make the best life we can.




Read more…

Therapy in the Ether


Therapy through the Ether


I have spent all day alone in my office

Seeing people

The ping of the computer announces that the connection is made



All check out

The image appears, sometimes clear and sharp

Sometimes distorted.

Carried by whatever gods rule this realm,

The temenos is activated.


In ancient times,

The supplicant would prepare in a stone room by a water source

Filled with serpents

First, they wash and fast

Then sleep and wait for the dream to speak with the voice of the gods


The healer or priest, prophetess or seer

Also prepares- 

Cleansed and clothed in purity of mind, spirit and body

They wait for the god to reveal the dis-ease and the method for healing


It is no less simple today.

Gone are the serpents on the stone floor

Gone as well, the time it took to hear the voice of the gods.

Sometimes days would pass before they spoke.

But the slow and careful listening to the other,

The patient waiting for revelation

The training

The ongoing supervision

The awe and trembling before the voice of the gods

Is still here

Captured by the image on a screen

A relationship as old as humanity itself


Cave space or stone room

Consultation office or internet

We long to be seen, heard, and understood,

We wait to be oriented to our own particular destiny.


There have been times when the gods are antsy

The internet connection doesn’t hold

Then we move to another format and then another

Until, sometimes, from continent to continent

What is left is the phone -

Landline or cell-

The last resort in an age of digital technology


Whichever side of the screen we are on,

Whatever gods call us to confess our dreams and suffering,

We are engaged in an ancient ritual

Wearing modern dress.


The ping alerts me

The gods have spoken

I hear and obey.


March 24, 2015

Read more…

Freud and I


This is a public confession  -  since my undergraduate days when I first had to read Society and its Discontents, I gave Freud a big pass.  What I learned about his theory through a liberal education was enough for me to dismiss him.  His theories about everything being about sex, repressed sex, expressed sex, delayed sex, women envying men, all about the phallus, turned me off.  I never understood his claims that women, who could become pregnant from one fast sperm, incubate life for nine months, and go through the birth process as heroines, could possibly envy an appendage.   If anything, I understood that men had what is now called Venus envy, since they cannot bring forth life from their own bodies, they have to compensate.

            Nor did I buy into the Oedipal fantasy that all men want to marry their mothers and kill off the father.  Or that all little girls want to marry their daddies, that all dreams are sublimated sexual and libidinal drives.  Or that the psyche conspires to conceal rather than reveal.  It seemed a dark, driven and desperate world he saw, described and stamped on the Western psychological model.  So off to Jung I went, his grasp of the mystery of Psyche, the inner workings of the Self in relationship to a developing ego, the telos of life being to live one’s life consciously and not be lived through the possession of autonomous complexes spoke to me.  Jung allowed a more comprehensive lens through which to understand life than mere sex or even death.

            So, in other words, I followed the established norm of choosing one of two camps, two psychological stances each of which disavowed one another.  To all you Freudians, my apologies.  This is what happened:  I signed up for a certification program at the Assisi Institute entitled:  After the Storm:  Psyche’s Response to trauma, Resilience and Healing.  The first book on the list for the program was Trauma, Growth and Personality by Phyllis Greenacre, an avowed Freudian.  And I was stunned to realize that there was gold in Freud too!  She wrote about the process of birth as the infant’s initial traumatic experience from the infant’s point of view.

            She describes how pre-natal, natal and post natal experiences predisposes the infant’s organism to respond to trauma in particular ways.  The biological process prepares the infant to respond to stimuli in the outer world.  How the initial birth trauma goes, how the infant is held, how the environment responds to its stress and distress, in a sense prefigures how the adult will find ways to modulate stress, and respond to trauma. 

            Those of you well versed in Freudian theory know much more than that, but for me, the depth of attention to the infant’s experience awakened a respect for him that I had not had before.  While I am not embarking on becoming a Freudian, I can find resonance in field theory, initial conditions that constrain how an organism responds to life and its vicissitudes.  Perhaps it speaks to a more mature attitude to the greats, to do homage and respect for their work without holding them to be a God who must either be worshipped or destroyed.  And while I may never speak fluent Freudian, I will study its vocabulary and engage in dialogue with respect and curiosity.  

Read more…

Hope, not Hell: Musings on Therapy


When I was actively serving in the ministry, I leaned more to the Universalist side of Unitarian Universalism. Theologically, I was more drawn to the idea that Love overruled Thought, that universal salvation, the belief that no one is condemned to hell is better than some going and some not. It seemed a more humane position to take on the human condition. Mistakes could be made, even serious ones, and no one would die unredeemed. Life could be and was serious, painful, and difficult, and holding out hope, buttressing courage was more efficacious than condemning someone to the realm of unrelenting hopelessness.

This vision of the relationship between the human and the divine other is perfectly captured by the following quote, attributed to the 18th century Universalist minister, John Murray. The actual quotation comes from Our Liberal Heritage, written by Alfred S. Cole:

The Time-Spirit said to John Murray, “Go out into the highways and by-ways of America, your new country. . . . You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women Give them, not hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.

Reading the quote brought to mind me Jung’s distinction between the Spirit of the Deep and the Spirit of the Times. There is a spirit, energy, a force that exists outside of our consciousness, which speaks to us in images, dreams and reveries, and seeks to supply what is needed for the specific times we live in. In the 18th century, what was required was a compensation for the hell, fire, and brimstone of Evangelical Christendom. Thus, Universalism, with its tenets of universal salvation, spoke for the voice of the God of Love, compassion and kindness.

I no longer practice as a minister, no longer stand on a pulpit and preach the good word, yet I cannot escape my orientation to the world as that of being in relationship to something grander, more mysterious, unknowable that is now clothed in the language of depth psychology. Psyche, Self, the Unconscious, are all words that illumine that numinous experience. Our life’s purpose, meaning, and direction can be discerned through dreams and images that come from that deep and fundamentally mysterious place. They come, like the spirit of the deep answering the spirit of the times, to help us come into balance.

I was reminded of those words today as I worked with a client who was desperate for hope to help get through moments of despair and grief. Those of us who accompany people through the dream landscape, the archetypal configurations of loss and trauma, are often faced with a tightrope act. How do we translate the messages from dreams that reveal the conscious attitude as one sided and potentially destructive, in a way that maintains the integrity of the ego?
In other words, how do we offer hope and not hell?
Ostensibly, people come to therapy, counseling, or mentoring in order to deal with their demons and, often, their defenses and conscious attitudes will do everything they can to prevent that. Essentially, the ego is caught between the proddings of the Self to individuate and the power of the complexes to stay in the same old patterns that keep the ego in thrall to the complex. Our job is offer hope tempered with wisdom. It is up to us to hold the knowledge that through insight, action and perseverance much can be healed and sometimes the road to wholeness leads straight through hell. We cannot simply offer the light hope of platitudes, feel goods and easy answers. Instead, we extend the steady hand, the sure knowledge that they are not alone in this journey. Sometimes we hold the horror until it can be assimilated. And sometimes, we lead away from that horror to protect the vulnerable and emerging soul. Offering hope is not a denial of hell. It is a recognition that it exists and that it can be traversed. That is hope enough.

Read more…

Saved by the bell


Variation On A Theme By Rilke
by Denise Levertov

(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)


A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me — a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic — or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

For weeks, this poem has been nagging me, tugging at the corners of my memory.  There was something about a bell, a sharp awakening, but the poet would not come, nor would the actual words.  I stood in front on my poetry collection once or twice, hoping that the right book would beckon, would, like the poem itself says, strike my shoulder and say, here am I. 

            But that didn’t happen.  Instead, I worried it, gnawed Google with different versions of the bell and got some interesting sidelines, but no poem.  Until today, until the moment the possession was broken and suddenly I remembered, it was Denise Levertov and within seconds, I had it.  I had been struck on the shoulder, awakened from the sleep of unconscious possessions, from the voices that clouded my seeing and hearing and being.  The demon had been named and the cloud lifted.

            I had fallen into a complex, a quanta of energy organized around the particular theme of how I function in the world.  Or don’t.  We all are susceptible to complexes, unconscious and autonomous thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that take over our conscious mind.  We are no longer in control of reality, we see the world and ourselves through the lens of the complex and it usually isn’t pretty.

            It is our nature to form complexes; the evolution of human development exists to become aware and related to the unconscious forces that would rule us as the first peoples were ruled by Nature itself.  We no longer live in the world populated by tree, thunder and rain spirits, benevolent or malevolent.  We inhabit instead, a world that is explainable through physics, chemistry, biology, or so we think.

            In reality, there is much we do not know, see or understand that exists without our awareness.  The gift of being human is that we can, with hard work and perseverance, come into contact with that source of being and find there the energy that fuels our creativity.   There are many words for this work: psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, therapy, counseling, mentoring, and spiritual direction, to name a few.  Each one understands that another is required to help us see what we cannot see, simply because we are embedded in the woods of the complex.  Awareness comes surely when we have grappled with the demons ourselves of course, but we cannot wrestle with what we do not know.

            And that, of course, is the point of all the work, energy and training that those of us who engage in the above professions seek to illuminate.  We are called to name the monsters under the bed, the illusions of knights in shining armor, the whispers of failure or inflation that beset all of us.  It is a delicate task to name the fears and desires and denials.  Yet, when we are able to name what assails a soul, there is an opportunity for hearing that fulsome and authentic ringing of a whole self singing:  I can.


Read more…

Wendell Berry: "To Know the Dark"


To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.



            I have spoken these lines, penned by poet, philosopher, farmer and social activist, Wendell Berry, in Solstice celebrations at the church where I ministered for thirteen years.  Every year, the doors would open into the candle lit sanctuary.  People would come in from the usually snowy and frozen night, take a seat in a pew next to a friend or a stranger and wait. Some sweet slow music would start, the quiet would deepen, and I would read these words to enter into the darkest time of the year together. 

            How I loved the rhythm of that night: poetry, prose readings, songs interspersed with meditations that culminated in the sudden lighting of the church, dancing into the social hall where we shared food and drink, more music and dancing to mark the turning of the wheel.  We went dark, stayed dark and in that darkness, began to bask in the light of fellowship and community.

            Jung reminded us that rituals exist to hold and mediate the direct experience of the numinous.   The structure of the evening held the millennial experience of the mystery of light returning in the midst of the darkest night. I no longer minister in a church, instead I sit with people as together we enter into dark spaces, resisting the temptation to bring too much light and consciousness too soon.

            There are spaces and places we must go that require deep and dark patience and a hand to hold while we sit and wait.  Of course, we all know that the dark night of the soul or the night sea journey is traversed alone.  Like Jacob, we struggle with the mighty angel all night, not knowing we are fighting for our true and proper name, our destiny.

            But before we get strong enough to face that unknown, we need the simple presence of the Other.  The one who will sit as we struggle to name and accept the many hurts and wounds of life, the one who will reflect back to us the strength to stay in the dark long enough to receive its gold.  I am always so moved by Jung’s dictum that the shadow holds 80% gold.  The dark does hold the scary and unknown aspects of ourselves, but when we can see them, albeit dimly, we find also the luminosity of that which we have rejected.

            The kind of work we do, depth and analytical psychologists, archetypal pattern analysts, psychoanalysts and others, can be called a companioning in the dark.  Not lost, not disoriented, but rather tethered to the trust that the dark holds its own mysterious beauty and richness.   This is especially true this time of year, as the darkness comes earlier and earlier in the day and the nights get longer and longer. The expectations of the holidays, tensions and memories, hope and loss all are enveloped in the dark.  When we sit in it long enough, the inner light emerges and we can enter into a new day.  And the beauty of this moment is that we are not alone.


Read more…

TS Eliot on my time


In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

           In my early twenties, I had the good fortune of finding these words by TS Eliot from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. They became the compass by which I made decisions. I fell in love with the permission to change my mind at a moment’s notice. I realized that whatever decision I made, I could change my mind and nothing terrible would happen.  The possibilities were endless. 

          Go to Texas to nurture a new relationship.  Sure!  Oh, well, actually no, my friends think it’s a bad idea, I get a refund and he drives home alone from the airport.   The next day, I go to the airport anyway, buy a new ticket and spend the summer in Texas. 

          I always think about that summer romance, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and I almost did.  That phrase helped me take a risk, I knew that I could always buy another ticket back East if it didn’t work out between us.  That relationship did not last past August but that experience allowed me to make vital decisions about my life which I ‘knew’ were reversible.  I have been married for 34 years to someone I said ‘Yes’  to thinking that if it didn’t work out, I could always make another decision.  There was always a way out.

          But, that’s not the way it works.  Endless possibilities belong to youth, to those still trying to find the thread that leads to their destiny.  At some point in time, we are no longer able to reverse a decision in a minute, the stakes become higher, the price to be paid becomes exponential, affecting not only our selves but those we love. And so the decisions are no longer external – Paris, Rome or Madrid,  but internal. To change our attitude to our life, to change the relationship to our past, to our inner complexes, is a decision which cannot be revised or reversed.  We persevere in becoming conscious of what has driven us, we choose to stay the course in awareness, knowing that to consistently give up and try something new will bring us only the same old same old.         

          That knowledge was hard won.  There are no endless possibilities at my stage of life, and in fact, there weren’t any endless possibilities then either.  There was just more energy and time available to experiment, experience and express.  I live with the knowledge that where I am now is the fruit of all that I have done and been and I get to reap that harvest. 

          That is the work of archetypal pattern analysis, to recognize the mandates of life, to know what belongs to which season and to determine whether we are stuck or thriving.  To live whole and balanced lives, we fully inhabit the spirit of our time, we learn to live with the many deceptions and disillusions of life, in ourselves and in others. It is hard work to live the reality of our lives at any age.  That kind of clarity allows us to relax a bit, knowing we are exactly where and who we are supposed to be.  The paradox is that when we really get to know, accept and embrace all of our perfect imperfections, we navigate life more easily, knowing what must be done minute by minute.  Which is, of course, the only way to live

Read more…

Seasons of LIfe


Seasons of Our Lives: 

            Archetypal pattern analysts, depth psychologists, Jungians, Freudians, students of human development and consciousness have a lens through which they try to make sense of the world and our place in it.  Humanists, behaviorists, reductionists, all sorts of “ists” postulate, theorize and ponder the human condition as well.  The fact is, regardless of the theoretical stance, we are all in the same soup.  Our task is to find the meaning of our lives, to answer the deepest and most primal questions: Who am I?  Why am I here?

            And then, the next big question is:  How do I live my life?  A while ago, I wrote about the power of mentors and of the Wisdom traditions that give voice to human experience and serve as guides.  Therapists, counselors, clergy, godparents and others may serve this role and blessed is the one who finds someone they can trust to navigate the world and the myriad changes that occur.

            Because the one true thing for all of us is that life changes, we must go through all the phases and stages and allow ourselves to be scathed and transformed.  I use the word scathed intentionally.  So many of us want to move through life unscathed, as though untouched by grief, loss, or aging.  We want to escape what Shakespeare called “the thousand Natural shocks that Flesh is heir to. (Hamlet)

            Jung once said what we don’t live out consciously, we will live out as fate.  We react as though we had no choice in the matter, forces push us and pull us and we end up surprised at the end of our lives that we had not lived our lives at all.  I am seeing this expressed more and more in my practice; clients who, in their later years, are looking back and seeing what they missed, having to make peace with the realizations that the choices which they thought were conscious, were driven by unconscious forces. 

            The most difficult task of life is to see ourselves and our lives with clarity, compassion and dignity so we may live out what is left with more awareness and authenticity.  I was at a conference some years ago where the presenter spoke about a woman on her deathbed who had a dream about a lost love returning to get her.  At this point, he had long been dead - she had never married him because her father disapproved.  Instead, she remained a spinster and cared for her siblings’ many children.  As she worked with this therapist, she came to realize that all her life she had followed the rules and regulations of her family and never ventured outside that familial sphere. 

            At the end of her long life, she at last admitted that she had missed the opportunity to live her own life.  It was a spiritual moment for her, to see and accept her life, all of it.  She didn’t need to make excuses, minimize or maximize anything.  It seemed that the very act of taking full responsibility for what she had not done liberated her to live the last of her days peacefully.  It was less a resignation than a new conscious awareness about all that her life had been.  She died several days later.

            Our work, and the work of those who choose to join us, is to look at our lives, wherever we are and accept responsibility for acts committed or omitted.  When we consciously carry the consequences of our choices, we are free to live more fully and authentically, regardless of the number of our days.



Read more…

In the Soup




The Chickpea


A chickpea in a pot leaps from the flame,
out from the boiling water,
Crying, "Why do you set fire to me?
You chose me, bought me, brought me home for this?"
The cook hits it with her spoon into the pot.
"No! Boil nicely, don't jump away from the one who makes the fire.
I don't boil you out of hatred.
Through boiling you may grow flavorful, nourishing,
and united with vital human spirit.



            Sometimes, I feel like the chickpea and sometimes I feel like the cook.  I remembered this poem while sitting with a client who had just discovered something precious about themselves.  They were hesitant at first, unsure how to proceed with the startling news that life was suddenly good.  I could feel the resistance to naming the shy joy for fear of having it be tarnished, destroyed, stolen.  We know those stories, the familial envies that steal the gold from the child, the parental curses of either of too much love and protection against the cruel and scary world, or of not enough protection against the true perpetrators of atrocities.   And we know that they came to this moment after months and months of suffering and tears, of sitting in the pot and trying to escape -until suddenly the full flavor of their life burst forth.

            Those of us work in this field sit in the soup of pain and despair, in the mixture of the conscious and unconscious forces that impel, compel, distort and reveal the contours of a soul.  Our work is to give name to what is what and whose work it is to carry the moral responsibility of becoming whole.  We discern:   This is yours, this is not yours.  This is a choice, this is a compulsion to repeat the trauma.  This is the voice of the negative father, or the generative mother.  This is the working out of the orphan field.

We look for the underlying patterns that constrain belief and behavior, and as Shakespeare wrote in Midsummer’s Night Dream, we look to provide “a local habitation and a name” to the demons and angels that accompany us throughout our lives.  As part of our work, we often use the spoon or we turn up the heat and sometimes we just sit in it.

            This is not easy, but not necessarily because we are called to witness and hold tremendous suffering. The difficulty is that we have to know that we are in the soup as well.  We cannot live with the illusion that we are immune or separate from the encounter – that we are somehow apart and observe or empathize while remaining unscathed.  Our own stories, fallibilities, imperfections, sufferings, madnesses are part of the pot stirred up by the unseen cook.  Many of us know the language of this: transference, countertransference, the intersubjective field, projective identification.  These theoretical terms serve to contain our experience with another human being and serve as guides.  Are we acting out their father/mother/brother/sister?  Are we suddenly angry, overwhelmed, do we get too involved in getting them in or out of relationships?  The self monitoring and questioning goes on.

            And here is a little rub, because the forces we are engaged with are so powerful, that sometimes we get fooled.  The water boils and we get cooked too! Thank goodness for our colleagues, mentors and supervisors who help us out, hold us as we hold our clients and patients. It is humbling and profound to recognize that we are all sometimes the chickpea and sometimes the cook and that there is a fire that transforms us. 


Read more…

In the garden


In the garden

I bury the remains of the mothers  -

The fish whose bones line the roots of my tomatoes-

That is how I pray


I kneel in the soft earth and look

Through the lattice of dark green leaves

There, yellow as buttercups in the sun,

Incipient fruit

Await the annunciation


I can already sense the bulging clusters

I take my well-sharpened scissors

And make space for the new life

Carefully pruning away the excess

To leave the essential


Isn’t it so with life?


I did an experiment once

I let the tomatoes grow wild

Leaves and suckers,

Fruit and flowers

In a profligate jungle

It was a beautiful mess

But I didn’t get many tomatoes


Life needs us to tend it

To feed and to prune

To discern what hinders

And what allows growth


It is a science and an art

that must be practiced each year anew

You cannot take it for granted

Each plant needs to be seen for itself

Not just a tomato plant

But this one

With the stem leaning this way or that

And my job is to sculpt it so its natural way

Can produce the most tomatoes

Not only for me and my table

But for the sheer joy of the plant itself

"This is how I grow best".

Me too!

Read more…

The Mandates of the Creative Life


     I have been working in the field of creativity for over thirty years. First, as a minister in a liberal denomination, I used dance, poetry, and art in all aspects of programming. Second, my doctoral dissertation explored the transformational power of art for individuals and communities, both secular and religious and was based on using stone carving as a means through which that transformation could occur. At that time, my work was based on process theology, self-psychology and subject centered learning Third, as a liturgical dancer, stone carver and student of the creative, both in academic and experiential forms, I have been engaged in trying to articulate what forms and informs creativity. And finally, as an archetypal pattern analyst, I believe that the field of creativity is predicated on moral, ethical and spiritual mandates that include the creation of objects of art but is not limited to objective expression.
     At the heart of our search for the creative is the moral mandate of achieving consciousness and awareness in relationship to the Unconscious, what we call the Psyche, The Self or the divine. This is so, not only for those of us who are actively searching for what has been calling us through the veil, or teasing us throughout our lives, but for all human beings in their search for meaning and purpose. It is the difference between living out our unique destiny or blindly being lived out by fate. The young mother who is trying to break the cycle of abuse, poverty and live a more whole and balanced life is attempting the same thing that the artist is engaged in, that is, to create something new, to bring a new way of being, seeing and being seen into the world. This takes enormous energy, awareness and courage.
     According to Jung, the purpose of the human is to bring consciousness to the Unconscious. Without the human encounter with the Divine, the Unknown, there is no God, no Creator, no creative experiencing itself as the divine creative force. In Memories, Dreams and Reflections, he states that: “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious…Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which to create more and more consciousness.” (326)
     The task is not only to allow us to create objects of varying degrees of beauty but to give shape to human experience itself and by engaging in the process of becoming, we expand the possibility of what it means to be human, aware and connected, not only for ourselves but for the collective and for Psyche itself, or, if you will, for God.
     From the moral mandate to increase consciousness, we move to the ethical component. When we engage with the Creative Unconscious, by undergoing the painful and difficult process of coming into relationship with the source of energy, power, and meaning, we are then ethically obligated to live out our destiny consciously. It becomes a question of submitting ourselves to the power of the God willingly and in awareness. It is the recognition that we are not the true masters of our own house, that, to actually live out the very individual and personal destiny that is ours, we need to serve that which created us. The central task of our individual life is to live out our destiny, in order to do so, we must be consciously related to the source, God, Psyche/Self and be willing to give up the illusion that we are the captain of our own ship. Who wants to do that? Who wants to submit to something grander, more powerful and unknown? It is the one who is willing and capable of undergoing the process with awareness. It is not always possible, for the process of individuation entails pain, suffering, alienation and union, which some can and do refuse and deny. For those who come through the dark nights of the soul, they can say either yes or no to their destiny, it becomes a choice and not a given.
     The third component of the engagement with the creative unconscious is a spiritual mandate. It is about our relationship to God, not the man in the sky god, but the energy, the psychic vitality that animates a life, gives it meaning, structure, identity, and destiny. It is the Source, the limitless, unknown, and the mystery that can fuel a life with passion, energy, activity, as well as inward reflection when it is served willingly. And it is also the annihilating, destructive force that can destroy when the human is unable to come into conscious relationship with it. This is the spiritual quest, to come into direct contact with the source in service, awe, and submission. It is the Jesus, who says, not me, but the Father. It is the Buddhist knowing - Not the finger pointing at the moon, but the Moon. This spiritual journey, to connect with the God willingly is captured in the story of the word Ole.
     In the Moorish culture in Spain, dancers would celebrate sacred moments. At times, the dance would be so numinous, so resplendent, that the people would chant: Allah, Allah, Allah. They would see God through the dancer. The dancer at that moment was lifted up by the God. The next day, the dancer, would walk the streets of the market, the bazaar and the people would see Joseph, Mario, the human. They recognize the human who has done the work to allow the divine to flow through and then come back to the earthly reality without believing that they are the God. They do the work to enter the temenos, they submit to the creative process, and then, when the process comes to an end, they go grocery shopping. And there is no rupture to their ego.
     This is what it means to engage creatively with the very source of creativity: we do the work, we practice, we listen, we submit to the images, the whispers and intimations of our dreams. We enter willingly into the temenos, the sacred space of encounter with the god, and we allow the creative to create through us: a painting, a sculpture, a dance, a life.

Jung, C. G. 1963. Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Vintage Books.

Read more…

Waves of Awareness


Waves of Awareness

II recently had the good fortune of standing at the shore of the Pacific Ocean.  The water was crystal clear, I could see through the waves, the light illuminated the water and I was entranced.  Partly, of course, that euphoric feeling is due to the ionization of the air as the water and the air particles combine.  But that is too scientific, too analytical perhaps for the feelings of peace and tranquility that permeated the miles of almost empty sand, sea and sky.


Not only did I watch the waves coming in from the ocean, I played in them.  I rode the waves, sometimes catching the break at the right time and being brought to the edge of the shore in a glorious body surf. Sometimes I missed it, and sometimes I tried to withstand the crashing with various degrees of success.  Some waves were buoyant and I could just slightly ride the up and down motion as it came through me and other waves gave me more resistance.  I had to really stand my ground, all the time knowing that I had to carefully assess the waves strength and submit to its greater power. 


Sometimes, I even dove under the crashing waves, especially the big ones when catching a ride was not possible nor would standing firm work.  When I dove, I had to get the timing and depth just right.  Then the power of the wave would wash over but not throw me.  I could feel it breaking over me and when it passed, I came up for air, facing the ocean, always facing the ocean so that the next wave would not catch me unaware.


That is how it is with our relationship to the unconscious and to the complexes that would throw us, overwhelm us, carry us on their energy and obviate any conscious awareness on our part. As I played in the water and stood on the shore, I was given a key to understanding the nature of complexes and the ego’s relationship to them in yet another way.


The Unconscious and its contents are constantly in play, in dynamic relationship to one another and to the ego.  They are, indeed, like the ocean, which crashes on all the shores of the world all the time.  Day or night, from the beginning of time, it is one unceasing undulation, whether we are present or not. 


What I understood as I stood on the edge of the conscious and the unconscious, is that when we are able to see the demons clearly, when we see the approach of the unconscious in the wave, we have choices.  We can ride it out, we can sometimes withstand it, we can dive under it and get to the core of the complex without being destroyed.  And, when we are inevitably taken by a wave, we must get right back up and face the onslaught yet again.  We will never stop the complexes from rising and falling, but when we see them clearly and name them, choose how to respond, they lose their fearsomeness.  This is not a negation but an acceptance of the reality of the psychic contents, their power and our own ability to engage with awareness and courage - and live to see another day at the beach.


Read more…

Suffering, Again!

I’d like to say that suffering has been on my mind lately, but I know better.  Suffering is always on my mind, I’m Jewish.  Inexorably drawn to it.  As a pattern analyst, I sit with people as they connect with and make meaning of pain and suffering, while at the same time, trying to interrupt the repetition that will keep them suffering the same fate.  I don’t deny their suffering or try to make it better, I cede to suffering its rightful place in the human condition.


I know from my studies that suffering is the beginning of spirituality (individuation).  When we can no longer suffer what has held us imprisoned, that is when the possibility of a new attitude can come into being.  In psychological language, when we depotentiate the complexes and come into creative contact with Psyche, then we can live more freely and wholly into our destiny.  Suffering has a purpose and a goal. 


That is all good and well and it serves us to know that our suffering has a meaning.  But, I worry about too easily accepting the idea of suffering as a necessary part of human development as though once gone through, one can blithely move on.  I am thinking of the 7 steps of grieving, or the 10 ways to lose your lover or the 50 steps to efficient individuation.  We get impatient when people “suffer” too long or too much.  They need to ‘let it go’ already.   


Of course people can get stuck or refuse to move out of the place of pain for any number of reasons.  And they have a right to stay where they are.  I am talking more about the assumptions that once we go through suffering, it has served its purpose and needs to recede into the mists of the past.  That misses the most important aspect of being transformed though suffering, while we are no longer the same person, what once caused us tremendous pain is now a vital and important component of who we are now, and it is not to be denied.


There is something profound about recognizing that our suffering needs to be carried consciously as a precious part of ourselves.  Etymologically, ‘suffer’ is defined as ‘to carry something under.”  Whether we carry the pain, memory or trauma under our hearts or our skin it is crucial that those experiences be carried   neither as a burden or a trophy, but with dignity, consciousness and grace.  It is suffering which has lined and etched our faces, molded our hearts and made us recognizable as human beings. Let us carry it well.  

Read more…

On Suffering

On suffering


I did it once.

Went through the dark night of the soul in a little row boat

And didn’t sink.

So I did it once.


Then again and again

I have been called to attend to separation

Suffer the stark, dark gritty agony of loneliness –

And realize

There is no cure for being human


I am almost sixty now

My hair is silver and gray

My eyes betray my years

As do the fine lines around my mouth

Smile and grimace both


I don’t much like getting back in the boat

To ride out the night

Or say hello to the now familiar darkness

Out from which I will emerge

Glad to be alive.


But I will do it.



Silvia Behrend







Read more…

On life

On life


Opening and closing

Systole and diastole

How lucky we are!

We do not have to command our heart to beat

or control the expansion or contraction


Lungs fill, lungs empty

Organs, physical and spiritual together

We live without effort.


If only that were true when the heart is pierced by pain

Or our bellies drop with fear

When the throat parches

And the tongue sticks to the roof of the mouth

Then we need effort and the courage to risk



and standing still

Even when the winds blow

and the inner admonitions sound true but are not


That is when we command our heart to stay strong

We swallow the fear

We stand and unglue our tongues

We say, No

Or we say Yes.

Systole and diastole.

How lucky.



Silvia Behrend




Read more…