As A contribution to the symposium on aspects of C. G. Jung’s life and work which have a significant bearing on both the personal and professional level, I would like to speak about my own experience of what may be referred to as ‘relating to the centre’.
Many years ago, when I was treating a patient in a deep and prolonged depression, her manifest condition was such that I began to wonder whether the time had not come to give her the possible benefit of my E.C.T. machine.
At this moment she brought a dream in which a light appeared in the midst of darkness, together with a helpful and admired teacher of her university days.
With the patient’s associations, this scene strongly suggested a manifestation of the psychopompos.
The dream came as an utter surprise.
There was nothing on the surface to indicate any positive movement or the possibility of it-she lived in black despair.
Yet the dream showed that somewhere in her depth, near enough for her to relate to and consciously associate with, was a centre of light and help: dawn is born at midnight.
With this encouragement I dared to continue psychotherapeutic treatment and, soon after, an upward trend began which gradually led her out of the depression.
Years before, in my early days, while working in an observation ward and before I was much acquainted with Jung, I had come across the same kind of unexpected and helpful figures in dreams or phantasies of critically ill patients.
The dramatic occasion mentioned above strongly reinforced my original experience that such dream occurrences can indicate that healing processes arise from the depth of the unconscious and, if the moment can be grasped by the therapist, the patient may gradually be led to conscious co-operation.
Since then, whenever such a guiding or saving figure comes up in dreams, disguised maybe as conductor, gardener, etc., sometimes the same one reappearing at intervals of several months, I am naturally alerted, and if the patient is able to relate to its significance, this may bring him into more direct relationship with his centre, his lifeline, his entelechy.
Though such manifestations only occasionally take on a striking appearance, they have led me to recognize that we meet here a natural constituent of the psyche that is always there.
It is on us, the psychotherapists, to strive for greater alertness to become more appropriately sensitive to it.
This has taught me to be on the lookout for and to take note of comparable movements in dreams and phantasies which were far less pointed.
These experiences with patients, together with my own inner experiences, co-ordinated and amplified by C. G. Jung’s concepts and approach, have enabled me to realize that there is a living centre within us.
Like a great dramatist, in response to life situations, it produces dramatic pictures, patterned radiations of energy which, like those from a television mast when received by an appropriately receptive instrument, appear as imagery on our own, highly selective, personal screen.
If carefully decoded and related to with feeling understanding, these images can reveal a meaningful comment on a life situation, a seemingly personal concern that exceeds one’s conscious grasp.
For all their ambivalence, dreams are a navigational instrument that can tell you how far you are on or off course.
Their imagery gives one the possibility of seeing the patient’s truth, not only without undue conscious misinterpretations or prejudices but, as one might call it, stereoscopically, from more than one angle.
At moments of doubt in a patient’s analysis I am most thankful not only when a dream appears but also for both the attitude and the instruments which Jung has brought to us analysts in the often very difficult and many-sided task of comprehending it.
More than once I would have given up as hopeless the attempt to grasp the meaning of a dream, or at least to obtain some guidance from it, without the morale-quite apart from the technical ABC-which one learns from the numerous interpretations throughout Jung’s writings.
A patient’s repeated experience that there is a centre within him that can and does create dream dramas, the scenes and characters of which evidence a knowledge of his past and present, sometimes even of future trends, with a subtlety and penetrative insight far beyond his or the analyst’s, gives him the confidence that there is
a ‘someone’ within him that cares.
This realization brings nearer the possibility of its feeling safe to modify or lessen his dependence on the parental images and, last but not least, on the analyst.
The increased sense of a personal centre within may also lessen the need for an absolute external authority, and thus may lead to what one might call a more human conception of the great powers under whose auspices we live: in other words, he has a new chance to reach a more friendly reciprocal relationship with them, and
with this, a release from an often confusing or distorting effect of early experiences of damaging authority.
Those of us who worked under Jung at Kusnacht knew that, while writing his books and teaching, he himself was all the time keeping in touch with his own inner world, taking care of his dreams and fantasies and working at his own problems and tensions.
This comes out clearly, for instance, in the 1925 Seminar and, as we now know, in the paintings and sculptures at his ‘hideout’ in Bollingen.
This strenuous, often desperate endeavor arose out of a life necessity, not basically out of scientific interest, for his relationship to what we call the centre was critical for his sanity and his physical health, as so often he found himself in uncharted territory, at the fringe of the beyond.
All this gave a sense of reality to his teaching and his writings, as well as a personalness which was a challenge to take on one’s own task of relating to one’s present-day conscious situation and its repercussions in the unconscious.
It was then that one began to understand what was meant by ‘work’ in this context.
For it seems that, without the individual’s giving sincere, appropriate endeavor to relate to the area activated by a dream and, if possible, comprehend the message which it has brought within reach, frequentlynothing effective will happen.
In continuity with the age-old belief that dreams are messages from the gods, Jung re-emphasized their significance for the health of modern man. Beyond that, however, he was more than most aware of the complementary realization, namely metaphorically speaking-how dependent the gods are on their relationship to individual human consciousness if they are to be creatively expressed or recognized on this earth.
This is such a tremendous thought to me that, although one is, in a sense, so insignificant compared to the gods, yet the individual has a significance which is indispensable to the gods.
This realization can take one out of forlorn isolation into a relationship of profound meaning, and if one can feel this being needed by the gods as oneself-not one’s father or mother or sister or brother-then any human inadequacy becomes less important and falls into place.
The more one is orphaned by early deprivation or distortion, the greater the need for such a relationship, the greater the potential stimulus to find one’s own dynamic centre within.
This can lead one out of childish immaturity and the victim role, and give added urgency to the overcoming of infantile demands and fixations, for a parent-conditioned relationship is not potent enough to live by for too long, whether the parental figures seemed to be good or bad.
However agnostic I may have been inclined to be in reaction to a strict dogmatic upbringing, such experiences have confronted me with the fact that there is a reality behind the more stylized representation of God in established religions.
Behind the basic urge that brought about the religious rituals, the dramas of belief, there was perhaps man’s necessity to live in active relationship to the mystery of his being-to have a dynamic sense of the continuity of his existence.
This has a correspondence in the biological fact of the uninterrupted continuity from the beginnings of life on this earth: being a microcosm of this evolution, we ourselves have built into us the experience of an unbroken development from the nucleus of the single cell at our conception into the unimaginable complexity of cells that make up our adult here and now.
One of Jung’s great achievements is thus that modern man can re-relate to this centre, to the central mystery of his being, without violating his hard-won rational faculty and experimental approach.
I should like to add that the sense of the living existence of this centre within the individual and the endeavour to be orientated towards it give us a better chance to direct ourselves rightfully to the patient’s centre and thus, while holding our own, to relate to it constructively.
Apart from the challenge and stimulus to one’s own endeavor which Jung’s presence and example set, the effort one knew that it cost him, and how he answered the conflicts and sufferings life led him into, made one deeply respect him, but without the temptation to idealize him.
To me, to idealize Jung is to depreciate him as a human individual by suggesting that he possessed some sort of superhuman powers or, at least, was so gifted that his
achievements came to him without the efforts and the price that ordinary beings have to pay.
We speak of hybris when man usurps the gods, but is it not another kind of hybris to project such powers into a mortal, to reduce him to superhuman status, as it were?
Now that Jung is no longer with us in person, there is the danger that he may become either idealized or else blindly fought against, say as a father image-and such extremes would be an insult to his rugged humanness. ~Culver M. Barker, Contact With Jung, Pages 62-66