Creativity (12)

Education Institution

9142459694?profile=originalEven before getting her Master’s degree in Counseling psychology at Pacifica, Adriana Attento was working in the field of psychology. During that same period, she was also doing a lot of writing—meeting with a friend to free write next to the ocean every morning for an hour—and she was also meditating as a regular spiritual practice. Somehow, she now believes, the combination of these two practices opened something up for her, creating a “flow, and abundance of images that images that felt very potent.”

While some of those images that arose during her practice represented personal reflections for her, others seemed to be larger, carrying a kind of “cognition,” evoking an experience that included “a knowing beyond rational or logical thinking.”

At that time, Adriana reports, she developed a specific awareness that there is something very powerful about the force of the imagination. She also came to realize that much of her writing was very self-reflective, facilitating a process of self-inquiry by which she could examine various aspects of her experience of being in the world. This understanding ultimately led her to consider psychology as a field of study— and especially the study of psychology that takes the imagination into account.

Not long after one of her “big” experiences with the imagination, she happened on a book edited by a Jungian analyst named Joan Chodorow, entitled, “Jung on Active Imagination.” The book seemed to explain a lot of what Attento had recently experienced firsthand through the transcendent experience that had originated from her practice of writing and meditation. She began reading some of Jung’s works, and ultimately... (Read the full post or listen to the interview here)

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Lisa Schouw has had a long career in the arts, in singing, songwriting, theater, and as a teacher of those arts. She began her formal study as a depth psychotherapist later in life when she was nearly 50, after discovering Pacifica and pursuing her Master’s degree in the Engaged Humanities and the Creative Life Program there.

While the early part of her life was very creative as she moved back and forth between dance, music, and theater, Schouw had had a longstanding interest in psychology, and recognized the need to provide a container to “hold” the personal material which would often unfold or “unravel” as they started to work with music or theater. When she discovered depth psychology and Pacifica, it occurred to her that she had found a way to “stitch those worlds together.” Depth psychology provides powerful tools for individuals to be witnessed in their process, whether it be remembering and healing from a trauma via Schouw’s psychotherapy practice, or tapping into deep personal or collective emotions when creating a piece of theater, which she often sees in her teaching capacity. Either way, deep listening and creating a fertile space for transformation to occur is paramount.

onstage.jpg?t=1489189515115&name=onstage.jpg&width=320Indeed, most of us can conceive of how creativity comes from that pregnant space where there is something lying in wait to emerge, so, when one listens, it provides a way for it to be born. I find it fascinating that Schouw is making the correlation between doing something creative like creating a play, and being in the therapy room. In both instances, bringing something unique into relationship with something else, an “other”—whether a human being, an idea, or an image—generates a creative spark, she notes. If, as a therapist or a teacher, she can trust that process and simply find that fertile space and sit in it, something will arise which may surprise both her and her client.

Perhaps one of the most profound ways Schouw is integrating depth psychology into creative practice is through what she calls “theater of testimony,” the creation of a theatrical piece which arises from the gathering of “real people’s stories” portrayed in conjunction with some current aspect of social or cultural issues.... (Click here to read the full post or listen to the interview)

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9142457867?profile=originalLisa Pounders has always had an interest in art and poetry, and has long been inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell—even painting his directive, “Follow your own bliss” above a window in her art studio years ago.

Now pursuing her Ph.D. in the Jungian and Archetypal Studies specialization at Pacifica, Pounders has a much better understanding of the relationship between art and depth psychology. One aspect lies in Jung’s idea of individuation, a process by which there is an inner drive toward a calling or a sense that there’s something bigger at work in our lives—not “fate,” Pounders insists, but “ways to develop and to enrich your life, and perhaps to enrich other people’s lives.” That initial quote from Campbell, “Follow your own bliss,” was her personal call to art, Pounders reveals, and from there she was led to Pacifica.

As she began her exploration of depth psychology at Pacifica, Pounders found herself excited about Jung’s idea that the unconscious is inherently creative. The drive toward development has a force for making and for image-making, as well, a tenet Jung discovered on his own when he started working on his Red Book in the years after his fallout with Sigmund Freud.

Once Jung found himself on his own, he turned to the process of what he called “active imagination” to drop down into the unconscious to have dialogues with inner images and characters that revealed themselves to him. He used both writing and painting or drawing in the process of active imagination. The resulting illustrations now highly publicized in The Red Book came from a state that might be described as dreaming in a semi-conscious state....

Charlotte Salomon, a German Jewish woman who tragically perished at Auschwitz in 1943 when she was barely 26, first created an opus called “Life? or Theater?”—which has gained wide acclaim.

Part of the power of Charlotte Salomon’s work—and C. G. Jung’s Red Book, too—was the use of images, words and even music to try to express what’s happening inside for one’s self, and also to communicate to other people, explains Lisa Pounders, a graduate student at Pacifica Graduate Institute whose research is focused on the correlations between Jung and Solomon. There is a “third kind of thing” between you and your unconscious that allows what’s happening inside to “get out there” where others can also connect to it. When working with art, we’re always working with pieces of ourselves, Pounders insists…

Read the blog post or listen to the audio interview here

NOTE: Featured image is the concluding page of Charlotte Salomon's principal work, Life? or Theatre?, available via public domain

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It’s fall and I don’t know if this is happening to you, but all areas of my life are pinging and needing attention all at once—work, finances, health (I’m determined to lose my 10 extra pounds), love (I’m surprised at this one…), my creative muse (wish I had more time to devote…), and family (I need to fly to Iowa to help clean out and sell the family house. When am I gonna have time to do that…?)

I’m feeling some overwhelm.

When we’re in fear, overwhelm, confusion, or exasperated that our goals aren’t being achieved, what we humans tend to do is put artificial structure on ourselves. We set demanding schedules, read self-help books, and beat ourselves up when we don’t make progress on the things we most want to do.

In this upcoming experiential teleclass, we’re going to be working with a particular form of Source energy that will give you organic, internal structure, clarity and definition. This visceral Source energy will allow you to navigate relationships, unruly emotions, and overwhelm with grace, ease and strength… because it’s coming from your essence.

It’s going to be a powerful class, I hope you’ll join me.






Most creative people don’t need more ideas. Nor do they need more creative flow, or more fire. They need proper containment of their creative energy. They need structure—discipline, boundaries and focus—to execute their brilliant visions. They need to own their authority and not get distracted by drama, obligations that don’t fill them up, or their own unruly emotions. They need clarity about what their next step is and when they have that clarity, the fortitude to act on it.

Do you:

  • say yes when you mean no?
  • find days floating by without accomplishing much?
  • have sloppy habits around food, money, and time on the internet?
  • feel emotional, fuzzy, confused or unclear?
  • get distracted, depressed or overwhelmed easily?
  • have ongoing issues w/ a colleague, friend or family member?
  • long to start a project but can’t seem to get going?

Whether we want to lose ten pounds, grow a business, have a more loving relationship with our partner, or gracefully navigate a challenging situation, we need sturdy inner structure and the ability to hold clear boundaries.

Our minds think, “this is ridiculous, it’s so easy. All I need is to follow a food plan and I’ll lose that weight.” Or, “I just need to schedule time every morning to work on my book.” But if you’re like many creative people, after two days (or two hours), our old patterns and distractions take over. We’re back in fuzzy energy again.

In this class we’ll work with a particular form of Source Energy that provides natural strength, discipline, healthy boundaries, focus and clarity.

You will up-level your daily habits, move past the fuzziness that’s been clouding your brain, clean up those messy areas in your life, and operate from a natural strength of purpose.

This is about sturdy inner form… we’ll be aligning our deep desires with who we’re being in the world.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity.

Note: This is a tele-class, so you can live anywhere in the world and participate.

Early Bird Price: $89 until October 10th, $99 after that
includes audios, handouts & a personal reading with Kim

GROUP CALLS: three Fridays October 18th, 25th & Nov 1st
10 am – 12 pm PST

* If you can’t attend live, these calls will be recorded.


Kim Hermanson, PhD. is an award-winning author, healer, coach, and faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute. She is known for her skill in quickly shifting people out of spiritual and psychological difficulties into a place of profound beauty, healing and creative flow.

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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.




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It's time to get off the island

Do you ever feel that there is so much more to you and you don’t know how to tap into it? Or do you spend too much time of your precious time lost in confusion and overwhelm? Here’s a quote from John O’Donohue that beautifully describes what I do in Doorway Sessions.

"Sometimes on a human journey a person can stay marooned on the surface of their minds, suffering the devastation of doubt, confusion and great turbulence, while the whole time just a couple of inches deeper, there was a vast world within them, a wonderful interiority, an eternity of great life and vision and memory and possibility, nesting in the deep clay of their hearts, that they never even knew was there." [from "Wisdom from the Celtic World" CD]

Metaphoric images are the language of this deep clay realm. Metaphors naturally arise in our speech (“stuck,” “lost” and “overwhelm” are all metaphors!); but to experience the transformative power of metaphor, we need to open space for it to show up. One method I frequently use is fairy tales…. fairy tales are naturally metaphoric, and they open a pathway for us to enter the ancient, “clay” world that O’Donohue speaks of in the quote above. Once a metaphoric image has arrived (no matter how vague or simple) we can follow the path that leads to its wisdom.

Metaphoric images have beauty, grace and elegance. As individual paths of healing, we might see ourselves “standing on solid ground,” “weaving a beautiful tapestry” “deeply immersed in rich soil” or “flying freely on the back of a spectacular multi-colored bird.” Our minds aren’t creating these images for us. Instead, we have to let go and open ourselves up to whatever the metaphoric realm has to say to us. When we do that, we receive the specific images that shift us into a new place of expansiveness and possibility.

One metaphoric image that comes up frequently in Doorway sessions is a spacious, loving circle. It might sound quite simple, but experiencing its presence is profound and beautiful, and “stepping into” the circle invokes shifts, healing and transformation. To hear what the circle has to say, here is writing from a recent Doorway session:

I am a spacious circle.
I am very gentle,
that's what people don't know about me...
my gentleness.
The gentleness comes from love.
There is no forcing here,
it is about holding things
in their natural, beautiful state.
When people allow me to hold them like this,
their natural beauty expresses itself.
That's where all the hidden beauty is,
in the hearts of these people
who are letting me hold them.

If you'd like to find out more about Doorway sessions, click here:

Kim Hermanson, Ph.D. is adjunct faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute and holds a PhD from the University of Chicago. She is the author of Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination.

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When I started teaching professionally, I was faced with a dilemma: Present information in the conventional manner and try to look and act the part of “The Expert,” or on the other hand, honor the inspiration of my own unique creative process. I tried my best to do the first option and it didn't fit me at all. I can't follow a schedule no matter how hard I try, and I spend way too much time musing about odd things when I should be working. My mind and heart do not operate on a linear path, and frankly, doing things in a prescribed way is just not interesting to me.

Developing the ability to simultaneously be “Teacher” and “Authentically Me” has been a path of challenge and growth, and my teaching work became a practice of showing up and walking my talk. I ultimately wrote a book to help guide me through the rapids.Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination gave me a way to understand how to play and work as a creative person in a traditional service profession. My intent was to know what boundaries and edges I could cross with my students so that they would be comfortable, yet challenged and inspired by what I knew I could offer them.

In case you’re wondering, “messy” doesn’t mean literal mess. (I’m actually a neatnik.) Messy means plunging into the unknown--befriending things and people that don’t follow established rules, navigating through confusion and perplexity. Contrary to sane reasoning, I feel most alive when I’m in situations where I don’t know what I’m doing. Perplexing situations give my rational mind an opportunity to “get lost,” which in turn opens space for something more imaginative to come through. When I’m confused or don’t see a clear path, I get to rely on something greater than myself. That’s when I feel most alive.

Getting Messy offers those of us in service professions a way to stay in the juice, inspiration, and “messy muck” (for lack of a better word) and still hold the title of “teacher” (or counselor, coach, therapist, mentor, manager.) But after I finished it a funny thing happened. I realized that Getting Messy wasn’t just for teachers. It’s for anyone who wants to live an interesting, creative life. From the responses I've received, it takes people to places they haven't been before and offers a warm foundation to support and inspire creative journeys. It offers sanity in the face of new possibilities.

As teachers, mentors, coaches, counselors, and trainers what we point to is more important than what we actually say. Good teaching is not about "look at me"; it's about "look beyond me." ... Thank goodness.


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Riting Myth

Just Published by Fisher King Press

Plotting Your Personal Story
By Dennis Patrick Slattery
Here's the foreword by Michael Conforti

Imagine sitting in an Irish pub, drinking ale and listening to the bard weave stories about so many different things, or perhaps captivated by the glow of an outdoor fire while listening to an elder telling stories about history, traditions, and ways to navigate the different life portals that each and every one of us will have to enter at some time. And then—there are stories about destiny, that illusive, mercurial something that catches hold of us at the beginning of life and never seems to want to let go. La forza di destino!! These are the experiences one has in knowing and working with Dr. Dennis Slattery. Whether sharing a pizza and beer or having the luxury of attending one of his lectures or classes, one is privileged to experience an authentic “elder” who, in the tradition of all those wise ones who came before him, has the gift of bringing the world of myth and imagination to life and showing us that indeed these are as real as anything we can touch and hold in our hands.

Dr. Slattery reminds us that myths teach us about all aspects of life, from birth to death, and through the weavings of these eternal stories not only help us recognize the presence of these universal and archetypal patterns but also shows us ways to approach the transcendent.

With more than thirty years of teaching and working with myth, Slattery’s newest work, entitled Riting Myth, Mythic Writing, is a bold adventure in that it asks the reader to actively engage in the mythic tradition, who is asked to take on the role of bard and allow the soul to tell its story. While he opens the book in reminding us of the perennial wisdom contained in myth, he extends this work by inviting the reader to speak with Self and soul and, in a mythopoetic way, engage psyche as experienced in one’s own symptoms, fears, hopes, and joys.

Unless one understands inherent profundity contained and revealed in  myths and legends, it may be difficult to grasp the challenge inherent in Dr. Slattery’s latest work. He wants his readers not only to know these perennial stories but to assume a certain authorship in the mythic process. His hope is that through this process of “Mythic Writing,” the individual will cultivate a meaningful relationship with those transpersonal forces which guide the life process.

There are far too many workshops dealing with myth, legend, and personal writing experiences where individual narratives are somehow elevated to the domain of archetypal, mythic stories. Personal narratives are temporal, whereas myths are eternal and exist as the universal bedrock upon which each new experience is built. The “prima materia” of the soul’s experience may not easily accommodate personal narratives, which tend to override, dominate, and ignore those eternal processes that represent the gold of myths. In this journey between the personal and eternal, we sail between Scylla and Charybdis, a journey of two worlds. One is the world of the ego and the whims, needs, and illusions of an egoic world whose actions are often purely secular, despite its protest of caring for soul. Then there is the world of the transcendent. This is the domain Jung spoke of as Soul and Psyche and Rabbi Herschel calls the “Ineffable.” Once the realm of transcendence is touched, ego dominance and the supremacy of conscious intentions must, by necessity, take a back seat. Constructionism, narrative therapy, and the illusion that every piece of personal writing is a magnum opus of the soul must be humbled by all that is truly profound. We all know how important it is for parents to believe that whatever their child produces is sacred, and to some extent it is, even when it involves peanut butter, tomato sauce, sesame oil, and chocolate over noodles. But there comes a point when pasta and steak dinner and a really great bottle of wine really does sound and taste so much better than our child’s culinary creative expressions. For anyone who partakes of the joys of gastronomical wonders, a moment of reckoning and humbling will someday come when we have to say that my cooking just does not match up with what I know is truly delicious. After more than fifty years of working side by side with many of my own families’ cooks, learning the tradition of “La Cucina Povera,” there are still some foods I still can’t make as well as my aunts and grandfather have done for decades.

Slattery knows and fully appreciates great food and wines and knows where to find the pubs serving the finest brews in Ireland. He knows and loves tradition and has an eye for beauty, originality, and the dialect of Self. Now the question remains if he can inspire these same sensibilities in his students and readers.

His work is that of a bridge builder, a “mediatore,” one who connects, and in this book  he points to a realm where the universal and eternal can be approached through the personal. In doing so, he shows us the relationship between those myths that have guided humanity since the beginning of time and those very tender and personal moments when we begin to write our own story, tell a tale, and hope to God that our story is a telling of something that still connects our life to the life of all those who came before us and that bridges the ego to the transcendent and archetypal. Writing from the ego can be—well, the story of the ego, while the work of myths is a telling of the eternal, the story of soul and a wisdom that far transcends conscious understanding. These are two very different approaches to myth and story.

It is in this work of making connections between ego and soul that Dennis Slattery is a master. From his many years of working with these eternal motifs, he can easily distinguish when the story is created for the benefit of aggrandizing the ego, from those moments where Self and pure inspiration eclipses the wishes of ego. Two different worlds, two different sensibilities, and each requires the deft hand of a master to sail through these waters, in which one wrong turn will land you against the rocky shore. On the other hand, we also experience those moments when sailor and sea are one, and at those times one has access to those vistas reserved for seekers of—of what?—of wisdom, of knowledge, of a way of life that far transcends the limitation of their personal ego?

So dear Dr. Slattery, navigate well with these sojourners. Teach them the ways of ancient mariners, of the shoals that have stranded sailors since the beginning of time and those stretches of open water that allow for endless journeys across the deep blue sea.

--Michael Conforti, Founder and Director of The Assisi Institute, Brattleboro, Vermont

Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D. has been teaching and studying mythology as well as depth and archetypal psychology for the last 35 years. During that time, and in large measure through the writings of Joseph Campbell and C.G. Jung, he has been creating and offering writing retreats throughout the U.S., at the Eranos Foundation in Ascona, Switzerland and the Assisi Institute summer program in Assisi, Italy. Riting Myth, Mythic Writing is a compilation and distillation of those experiences. These riting meditations can help guide and connect a person to a greater sense of the mythic as a way of knowing, and of story as a way of seeing and discerning the broad contours of one’s personal myth.


by Dennis Patrick Slattery

220 pages - Large 7.5 x 9.25 page format
First Edition
Publisher: Fisher King Press (June 1, 2012)
ISBN: 9781926715773

Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including logor75.jpgJungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting-Edge Fiction, Poetry, and a growing list of alternative titles.
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Understanding Creative People

Hello all,

I have a new blog post, "Understanding Creative People," that may interest you and hopefully be useful in your practice as well.

Best wishes,


More than ever before, our world needs people who are alive and inspired, who have new visions, new ideas for implementing them, and new energy. However, as much as corporations, classrooms, and clinical centers say they want to support creativity, they usually end up stifling it.

For one thing, creative people are often misunderstood as undisciplined, or misdiagnosed as having a personality disorder, when in fact they are absolutely healthy within a creative norm, and capable of brilliant work when recognized, nurtured, and supported in developing their expressive capacities.

In Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, creativity scholar Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi developed.... Read more:



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Creativity requires that we listen and notice: What is moving me? What is touching my heart? The process of discovering what we love is about letting the world in. We need to be open to it, see it, feel it, and experience it. In honor of James Hillman's passing, I'm sharing something he wrote that has always inspired me:

The world “doesn’t consist of merely objects and things; it is filled with useful, playful, and intriguing opportunities: The oriole doesn’t see a branch, but an occasion for perching; the cat doesn’t see a thing we call an empty box, it sees safe hiding for peering. The bear doesn’t smell honeycomb, but the opportunity for delicious feeding. The world is buzzing and blooming with information, which is always available and never absent." (The Soul's Code)

Hillman invites us to move out of our “psychological” homes—the house of our parents, and take a leap out into the home of the world. There we find our inspirations. We let the world in, and we discover what moves our hearts. Thank you, James Hillman.

~The above was excerpted from Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination by Kim Hermanson

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Assuaging the Wounds of Guilt

9142438676?profile=originalarticle by Lawrence H. Staples

Suffering: The Price Guilt Exacts

Guilt can cause prolonged suffering. We suffer regardless of whether the guilt serves essential human needs or not, whether it has outlived its usefulness or not, whether it is deserved or not, whether it is meaningful or not, and whether it was incurred intentionally or not. Nor does it matter whether we have a religious background or not, and if we have a religious background, it does not matter which religion. Even if our parents were atheists or agnostics, we are subject to guilt. They often had dogmatic and rigid beliefs of their own. With the possible exception of sociopaths, all of us suffer from guilt, to some degree. The point is that all guilt, regardless of its origin or meaning, brings pain that we need to treat and

Fortunately, the psyche has a self-regulatory function that helps soften the pain of guilt it inflicts. It appears to function somewhat like the sympathetic and parasympathetic operation of the physical body’s autonomic nervous system that protects us with its opposite tendencies. In the physical body’s system, one part may dilate the pupil and the other contract it. One part may inhibit the heartbeat while the other stimulates it.

The mechanism of guilt formation gives us a clue as to how protective opposition works similarly in the psyche. The mechanism of guilt formation is complex. Much of it takes place out of our awareness. What begins as conscious guilt that is palpably felt, is often displaced by other thoughts and feelings. That is, the initially conscious guilt tends to become unconscious. The ego is protected with a variety of “autonomic” defenses, like rationalization, displacement, and projection. We “sin” and then we experience guilt. Then, in retrospect, we rework the experience and with the aid of ego defenses come to a new formulation that dresses our guilt in new meaning. For example, we may come to blame others for our transgressions. Or our sexual instincts may overwhelm us. After enough transgressions, and enough processing of our guilt, we often can come to feel that sex is okay. At that point the guilt experienced drops into the unconscious and is replaced by justifications. This reworking of our guilt gives us temporary relief. The defenses that render our guilt unconscious and less painful operate involuntarily.

Part of the paradoxical beauty of the psyche is its capacity to create one thing and its opposite. It can create pain and it can soothe the very pain it creates. Like the body, however, the psyche can be assaulted by disorders that overwhelm its natural defenses and require intervention. In the case of guilt, the feeling, after it has been treated by our natural defenses, is buried in the unconscious. While the guilt may for long periods in our life not cause intolerable pain, it can fester, become toxic, and behave as a kind of saboteur. Then, later it may overwhelm the old defenses and storm back into conscious awareness. At that time, we face the pain again and have to assuage it.

Our earliest experience of guilt in childhood is like a kind of psychic slap that disturbs our youthful innocence. Guilt shatters the psychic wholeness with which we are born. Unfortunately, some of the split off parts are not intrinsically bad. They are needed to complete our development.

No matter how we incurred the guilt, we eventually need to seek relief from its pain. The means of expiating guilt is as important to optimal human development as guilt itself. Without the means of relief, guilt induced suicide might become a greater threat to human existence than disease. Part of the healing process involves becoming conscious of the nature and origin of the many types of guilt we experience. The following sections outline some of the spiritual, psychological, and educational steps we can take to assuage its wounds.

Giving Back: The Promethean Way to Assuage our Guilt

Because guilt is important in the formation and maintenance of the opposites and, thus, consciousness, and because it also serves the self-regulatory functions of the psyche, it appears to be a necessity for human life, just as food is. While food is a necessity, its waste products, nevertheless, have to be discharged after the food has performed its essential function of providing nutrients. Otherwise, the waste becomes toxic and makes us ill. It makes no difference whether the food we originally ingested was “good” or “bad,” nutritious or unhealthy. Similarly, it makes little difference whether the guilt was good for us or not so good, it has to be discharged or it will make us sick. With food the waste product itself becomes valuable when it is converted into fertilizer. When unassimilated guilt is discharged in the form of giving back to society, the otherwise toxic portion of guilt is converted into something valuable. This is the Promethean Way to discharge guilt. It is an especially effective way to relieve guilt that has overwhelmed our self-regulatory protective functions. It is precisely because guilt is a necessity that we must find ways to discharge its residual toxicity.

We have to give value back to the community if we are to discharge the guilt we incur for transgressing collective mores. Psychologically and spiritually it satisfies a deep human need. Our mythology reflects the ancient wisdom that this is so.

In Part I of Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Way, I touched briefly on the lives of many famous figures that “sinned” but gave much back. Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi, Socrates, Copernicus, Galileo, Martin Luther King, Alfred Kinsey, Rosa Parks, Betty Friedan, Darwin, Solzhenitsyn, Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela and many other audacious people pushed themselves far outside the conventional fences that had been built around them. They also contributed much to the very societies whose rules they broke. Life is clearly full of examples of “bad” people giving something good to society. This could also include the so-called Robber Barons such as the Vanderbilts and Andrew Carnegie. The guilt-ridden Carnegie gave us magnificent libraries. All of these famous individuals were “sinners,” violators of the mores and existing standards of the communities in which they lived.

Individuation is an enlargement of personality. We become whole. We become bigger and more complete. The most important thing we can return to society is a fuller self. This fuller self might be expressed in music or painting or poetry or dance. It might be expressed in science or medicine. It might be expressed as a political or military revolutionary. It might be expressed as a tutor or a teacher, as a minister or a therapist, or as a community volunteer in countless ways. Or it may be expressed simply as a caring person, who gives helpful time and energy to family and friends. One does not have to be so grand as Mother Theresa or Albert Schweitzer or Mahatma Gandhi to return real value to the world. The giving of our complete selves to the collective is a ransom we pay for being an individual in a collective society. A more complete self is the currency we pay as expiation for the achievement of individuality.

There are many who quietly and inconspicuously follow the Promethean way without wide recognition. One example of someone going outside the fence, into the shadow, and finding there something that eventually served her own growth and contributed to the community is a woman patient who in the spring of her senior year in high school, when 17 years old, received a scholarship to a prestigious college. From a poor family, a scholarship was the only way she could get an education and escape poverty and abuse. About the same time she got the scholarship, however, she also got pregnant. While teen pregnancy is not easy even today, it then carried almost unbearable guilt and untold complications. Abortion was not an option for her; she was both Catholic and poor. The church and her devout parents were opposed to her giving the baby up. After much agonizing she decided to offer her baby for adoption so that she could accept the scholarship. She carried and wrestled with a heavy load of guilt for most of her adult life. The burden she carried stemmed not only from her sexual conduct but also from her feeling of selfishness that was unavoidable when she gave priority to her educational opportunity. The guilt eroded her sense of self-esteem and self-worth and she searched for ways to find peace.

Despite the burden of this experience, she became a highly respected researcher in the area of children’s health. She made contributions that were of substantial benefit to her special discipline. She came to feel that her work and contributions were driven by her need to expiate her guilt, regain some of her lost sense of worth, and find some modicum of peace. We could speculate that the very nature of her “sins” led her to the particular field she chose and uniquely qualified her for that work. Who is to say what the “right” decision would have been? The scholarship was the only way she saw to develop her enormous gifts. We never know the road not taken but we do know that her way led her to contribute more, perhaps, to children than the raising of a single child. While we can’t be sure of this latter point, we do know for a fact that she did much good. In high school, she had jumped outside the fence and violated all her conventional and religious upbringing. Her work as an adult helped her come back inside the fence and bring with her useful, new knowledge and some relief from her profound feelings of guilt.

Another example is a patient I’ll call Ellis. Both the blessing and the curse of alcoholism can be seen in the story of this recovered alcoholic. Ellis started off in a blaze, fizzled badly, and then later reignited to lead a wonderfully useful life. He graduated with high honors from college, started as a reporter, married, and had a nice family. He was not long out of college, however, before he became a serious drinker. The booze did not seem to interfere with his life at first. He was an incredibly good investigative reporter, and his abilities were recognized. Over the years, however, his drinking steadily increased and he began to miss assignments and deadlines. The owner and editors put up with it because he was so good. Even when they knew he was drinking on the job, he could write better when he was half drunk than most people could sober. Things finally reached the point when the publisher and owner confronted him. His slurred response was that his personal business was none of the publisher’s business and the publisher could kiss his ass. Not surprisingly, he was fired. Not only did he lose his job, but also his wife divorced him, and his children refused to speak to him.

Luckily, he found AA. He got sober, and back into newspaper work. It was not easy because his reputation had preceded him, but his talents blossomed again and in a few years he was a managing editor. He attended AA meetings several times a week and began to lead a quiet, helpful life. He found that his spiritual practices and helping other alcoholics relieved a lot of the burden of the guilt he carried. During the rest of his life, he helped hundreds of alcoholics recover.

Ray was one of the alcoholics Ellis helped. When he was drinking, Ray was bad, and he ended up on a chain gang. Ellis led AA meetings at prisons, where he met Ray. Ellis could see that Ray was bright and curious, even though he had not finished high school. When Ray was released, Ellis offered him a menial job at the newspaper. Soon, Ellis was teaching him how to write, and it quickly became clear that Ray had real gifts, and soon became a feature editor.

After leaving newspaper work, Ray wrote several novels, and also taught writing at local colleges. For the remainder of his life Ray helped hundreds of other alcoholics recover. Whether helping other alcoholics or contributing to the community in other ways, many recovered alcoholics give much back to society. It is an important way for them to deal with their guilt. Much of the giving back they do is invisible and unrecognized, because it is done anonymously, in line with the principles of AA.

Like most people, alcoholics usually start life inside the barbed wire fence that surrounds their egos, but most then venture far outside the fence. Some then move back inside the fence, where they contribute in ways usually not widely seen or noted. They bring back knowledge and experience gained, painfully, outside the fence. The knowledge and experience they gain outside the fence actually turn out to be gifts that uniquely equip them to help other alcoholics. No one can help alcoholics as effectively as recovered alcoholics, who have paid a huge price to gain this particular helping gift. If an alcoholic comes to me while he is still drinking, I encourage him to go to AA. I tell him that I cannot help him until he gets sober. Practicing alcoholics have a hard time telling the truth. Active alcoholics going to therapists are like someone going to an internist with another person’s urine sample. The therapist would be working with false data and cannot be of much help. On the other hand, alcoholics who are sober and who have done the AA spiritual work are among the most honest people I know.

Alcoholics generally experience enormous guilt. They need much help to heal deep wounds. Most recovered alcoholics find giving back to be a powerful salve for those wounds.

Because guilt is a necessity that causes us to suffer, and because giving back relieves our suffering, it is enlightened self-interest to do it.

Other Spiritual Approaches

It is as if from the beginning we have been “wired” to sin, to incur guilt, and then to seek some way to atone for it. It is the pervasive experience of guilt, and humanity’s need for relief from it, that led most healers, in various cultures and societies, to devise ways to help people deal with guilt.

For example, Yom Kippur is an important Jewish holiday, called the Day of Atonement, a ritual that helps them deal with the experience of guilt. The other great religions also have rituals that serve this purpose. In the Christian community, baptism is a widely practiced ritual whose purpose, among others, is the washing away of guilt and the forgiveness of sin. Confession, a ritual practiced in differing ways, tends to ease the pain and the burden of guilt.

In years past, most people who suffered guilt went to their priest or minister or rabbi for help. However, some of those who turned to religion for relief were acting like alcoholics who turned to drink for relief, to the “hair of the dog that bit them.” Most religions, however, do have spiritual tools that can help assuage their guilt.

Today, many people turn to therapists and analysts for relief rather than to religion. Therapists and analysts would be wise to borrow some of the spiritual tools that have long been sources of comfort for guilt. On the other hand, if the spiritual tools and religious practices had been sufficient, the practice of psychotherapy probably would not have expanded to where it is today. Many people today simply feel that religion is closer to the problem than to the solution. It is probably also true that many patients do not suspect that guilt is the real culprit behind their pain and suffering. They think their suffering is caused by something that therapists are more qualified to deal with, like depression and anxiety. They may not know that guilt often lurks behind and can be a significant cause of anxiety and depression.

Because therapists are secular and because many of the traditional answers from faith-based sources fail to provide relief, they must develop clinical methods to treat guilt. While therapists of many different persuasions can be helpful in this work, so can gifted religious professionals, friends, and spiritual groups, like twelve-step groups, if they assist without judging the sins or the sinners.

Psychological Approaches . . .

This article is an excerpt from Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Wayir?t=wwwmalcolmclc-20&l=btl&camp=213689&creative=392969&o=1&a=B001MBV1UO by Lawrence H. Staples. Dr. Staples has a Ph.D. in psychology; his special areas of interest are the problems of midlife, guilt, and creativity. He is a diplomate of the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, Switzerland, and also holds AB and MBA degrees from Harvard. In addition to Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Way, Lawrence is author of the popular book ir?t=wwwmalcolmclc-20&l=btl&camp=213689&creative=392969&o=1&a=1926715098The Creative Soul: Art and the Quest for Wholeness. He is also the co-author, along with Nancy Carter Pennington, of the just published The Guilt Cure which advances a new theory on guilt.

Right now, you can order Guilt with a Twist from the Fisher King Press online bookstore for $9.99 and $5 will be donated to Depth Psychology Alliance.

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article by Lawrence H. Staples

the problem of the opposites

Jung recognized that the problem of the opposites is one of the most formidable obstacles to psychic integration. Even when we are able to integrate opposites there remains substantial tension between them. If the integration is so complete that the opposites literally merge, consciousness, as we know it, disappears. Consciousness of life depends upon the tension of opposites. So the problem is to bring them close together without a total merger in which one or the other of the opposites would lose its identity. This is indeed a challenging task.

To complicate, but also clarify, the problem of the opposites, I would like to share with you a quote from Jung that contains what for me is his most profound insight on the subject of guilt and its relationship to human existence. Jung said, “The one-after-another is a bearable prelude to the deepest knowledge of the side-by-side, for this is an incomparably more difficult problem. Again, the view that good and evil are spiritual forces outside us, and that man is caught in the conflict between them, is more bearable by far than the insight that the opposites are the ineradicable and indispensable precondition of all psychic life, so much so that life itself is guilt.”(1) It is important here to note that “side-by-side” for Jung does not mean a merger, mutual absorption, or synthesis of opposites.
The idea that life itself is guilt is based upon conceptions of how human consciousness works. As noted earlier, consciousness itself depends on the existence of polar opposites. Guilt, therefore, which attempts to keep us from our “evil other,” is closely related to the formation of the opposites in our psychic anatomy.

the creative instinct

Fortunately, there is a powerful tool that can help us resolve the problem of the opposites. This tool is creative work. Creative production in art, as in life, depends upon bringing two opposites, the masculine and the feminine, into close enough proximity to produce a “child”(i.e., a book, a symphony, a painting, etc.) without losing the identity of the opposites that created the “child.” When we begin to do creative work, we connect to the deepest forces that govern all creation. It connects us to God, to the self within, to put it in Jungian terms. Reflected in our language is the Judaeo/Christian idea and belief that God and the creator and sustainer of all existence are one. The words God and Creator are in fact interchangeable in English as well as in other Western languages, such as French and German. The ultimate product of this process of psychological, inner creation is a stronger ego that increasingly approximates a reflected image of the Archetypal Self, which is whole and contains all of the opposites.

The Archetypal Self, or God, represents the totality; no stone is left out, all the stones are included in this totality. But a colossal lie stands in the way of achieving this totality. This is not about the existence or non-existence of the opposites, the dark and the light. We know they exist. The lie is in labeling one side exclusively good and the other side exclusively bad, as we tend to do. We know that creation is enabled by the existence of, masculine and feminine opposites. If we make one side good and the other side bad, we reject one of the essential players in the creative drama.

There is an instinct deep within us, although difficult to access consciously, that tells us that embracing the one-sided formulas for salvation, including the Christian advocacy of the exclusive primacy of love, will actually keep us from the totality of our selves. It is an instinct that actually is our salvation. It emanates from our duality. It tells us that we must love and hate everything at the same time. We must love the dark and the light and we must hate the dark and the light. Wired as we are, light has no meaning without the dark and dark has no meaning without the light. Each of these depends on the other for its existence. Without the one, there can be no consciousness of the other, and nothing exists for an individual if he is not conscious of it. If we are unable to maintain simultaneously in consciousness both our hate and love feelings, we cannot protect ourselves if we are abused—physically, psychologically, or sexually—by those whom we deeply love and those whom we need to trust.

It is our duality that causes us to be drawn inexorably to movies (e.g., Crash, Lawrence of Arabia, or A Civil Action) or to great art, literature, or music (e.g., the opera Tosca or the play Hamlet).(2) In Tosca,(3) we see Scarpia, on his knees, praying in church, while leering lustfully at Tosca. In the movie, Crash,(4) a policeman saves the life of a black woman whom just days before he had humiliated and mistreated. We see Hamlet indecisive and cowardly one day, and the next brave and sure. In Lawrence of Arabia,(5) Lawrence risks his life to save a man who he deliberately kills shortly thereafter. In A Civil Action,(6) a greedy, money-driven, ambulance-chasing lawyer finds a cause for which he is willing to sacrifice his career and fortune. And then there is Peter loving Christ one moment and denying him the next. There is a Jekyll and Hyde in all of us, in all people. We are drawn, as if against our wills, to these conflicting portraits. We are drawn to them and have feeling for them because we see ourselves in them, whether we know it or not. We are drawn to images that reflect ourselves, but protect us from the direct experience. To know that we have the same base feelings in us as Scarpia, right along side all of our goodness, is difficult to bear. We are drawn, nevertheless, to these characters and images because nature seems to have planted deep within us a developmental process that, through the agency of feeling, attracts us irresistibly closer and closer to our opposites. It attracts us to our opposites so that we can come together with them, side by side, in an embrace of creativity that leads us eventually to wholeness. As we experience in literature, art, and life, we are ineluctably attracted to realness, to three dimensionality, to wholeness.

Life might be easier, simpler, and less painful if our one-sidedness could be a sustainable reality instead of a wish. But, there are always two sides, regardless of whether we are conscious of them. The solution to this dilemma involves finding a way to honor both sides of ourselves in consciousness. This is the answer, but it is not easy to hold on to it. It involves a creative solution to one of life’s most difficult problems. The answer lies in a creation that depends upon intimate contact of two opposites without either being lost or subsumed by the other.

our unique identity

Ultimately, the creative act of self-development results in the formation of our unique identity. It is the most particular manifestation of our self. We all have a unique identity, not just Picasso or Einstein or Beethoven or Frank Lloyd Wright. We are not conscious of our unique identity until we have done a lot of work on our selves. People who study art, music, literature, or architecture can identify the painter’s, composer’s, author’s, or architect’s work without seeing a signature. They know that the painting was by Caravaggio or Manet, or that a piece of music was written by Stravinsky or Wagner, or a book by Hemingway, or that a building was designed by Louis Kahn or Frank Lloyd Wright. The creative product of the artist is his signature, and we recognize it because we have studied his work.

Each of us also has a unique signature. But, we must pay attention to our selves and do our own work in depth, if we are to recognize our own signature. We must do this for the same reason we must study artists to know their works. Thus, an important part of the work of discovering our selves is creative production and in-depth analysis. With time and effort we can come to know and recognize our own special signatures. Our physical identity is more readily visible and accessible than our psychic identity. There is always something unique in our physical identity; for example, the parents and siblings of identical twins can usually tell them apart. We have mirrors and can see our physical selves.

It is far more difficult to “see” our psychic selves. There are no psychic mirrors readily available to us, unless we had exceptional parents who could fully, without harsh judgment, reflect our selves back to us. We may still be able to see our psychic selves if we find a therapist who will do for us what our parents could not.

Creative work can also help us see our selves. Creative work is a mirror that can reflect our selves back to us if we pay enough attention. Therapists can help us in this regard, by helping us interpret our creative work.

In his book, The Restoration of the Selfir?t=wwwmalcolmclc-20&l=btl&camp=213689&creative=392969&o=1&a=0226450139,(7) Heinz Kohut wrote at length about psychically wounded people and the therapeutic methods he used to help them. He found none more effective, or so essential, as creative work. He found, importantly, that it made no difference whether the creative work was deemed good or artistic by any standards. The simple process of doing creative work helped restore the self. It is as if nature plants within us a built-in remedy for our worst affliction, the affliction of being separated from large parts of ourselves. We experience this separation as a kind of inner civil war that divides us internally. It produces the pain and suffering inherent in any civil war, whether in our internal world or outside. It seems that the human urge to do creative work, to use all our stones to heal and restore our wholeness, is a compensatory impulse and blessing that arises from the psychic civil war that wounded us. In my own work as a psychoanalyst, I have witnessed the truth of Kohut’s findings. I have watched patients grow in wholeness as they began to work creatively in a variety of media that helped them recover and restore cut off parts of themselves.
Creative work actually serves as a kind of inner parent that compensates for the flawed parenting we may have had as children. Creative work mirrors us in a way we were often not mirrored by our parents. Creative work mirrors us for the simple reason that we can see projected in it, if we look and interpret carefully, our own psychological and spiritual selves. Mirrors in all their manifold guises help restore the wounded self.

1 Jung, C.G., Collected Works 14, par. 206
2 Shakespeare, William, Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Grosset & Dunlap, New York.
3 Puccini, G., Tosca.
4 Crash Paul Haggis (director/writer/producer), Lion’s Gate Films (2005).
5 Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean (director), Robert A. Harris and Sam Spiegel (producers), Columbia Pictures (1962).
6 A Civil Action, Steven Zaillian (director), Walt Disney Studios (1999).
7 Kohut, Heinz (1983), The Restoration of the Self, New York, International Universities Press, especially pp. 53-54, 10, 17-18, 40, 158 and 289.

This article by Lawrence Staples is an excerpt from Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Way.

Lawrence H. Staples, Ph.D. is the author of the popular Guilt with a Twist and the recently published
The Creative Soul
: Art and the Quest for Wholeness


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