Honouring the body by Marion Woodman
Grounded in the psychological assumption that nothing exists save as it is perceived, Carl
Jung argues that the recognition of the act of perception as a creative rather than passive act is the essential ground for any understanding of the world in which we move, live and have our being.
The world as body existing independently of our perception of it is, for Jung, an abstraction, which, while conceivable, is not actual.
Jung’s interest, like my own, is in the actual, rather than conceivable, body.
While it may well be argued that the actual body is the body perceived by the five senses, William Blake, refuting materialism, argues that the body is ‘‘a portion of Soul’’, the five senses being for him ‘‘the chief inlets of Soul in this age’’ (Blake, 1982, p. 34).
Blake’s intention, like Jung’s after him, an intention which I share, is not to reject that ‘‘portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses’’, but to enlarge this ‘‘portion’’ as the so-called physical body to its fully human size as what Samuel Taylor Coleridge, another Romantic poet who prefigures the psychology of Jung, calls, ‘‘the whole soul of man in activity’’ (Coleridge, 1983, pp. 15–16).
When this soul-expansion occurs, Blake explains, ‘‘Man’s earthly lineaments’’ prove to be ‘‘more extensive than any other earthly things’’ (Blake, 1982, p. 115).
For Jung, this expansion or extension is the product of an enlargement of the act of perception to include the unconscious operations of the psyche as its hidden or buried source.
‘‘For, in the last analysis,’’ Jung explains in The Archetypes of the Collective
Unconscious, ‘‘psychic life is for the greater part an unconscious life that surrounds us on all sides – a notion that is sufficiently obvious when one considers how much unconscious preparation is needed, for instance, to register a sense-impression’’ (Jung, 1971, p. 57).
What may be ‘‘sufficiently obvious’’ to Jung, however, is what is clearly not yet sufficiently obvious to those scientists now focusing their full attention upon the way in which the brain as a physical organ registers sense impressions to produce images which constitute what we call body.
Though the empirical evidence of body is overwhelming, so much so that to doubt its existence is to defy credibility, the reason there is something rather than northing still remains a mystery.
It is with this mystery that I am concerned, even as, I believe, it concerns everyone who is seriously engaged with understanding, if not resolving, the mystery of perception.
The question that must be asked and is asked, is: What is it that we perceive? What is the body?
My approach to this question, which I do not treat as an answer, lies in my engagement with the Jungian, as distinct from the Freudian, notion of the unconscious as the source of consciousness rather than its abjection, which is to say what consciousness rejects.
Jung’s concern, like mine, is with ‘‘how much unconscious preparation is needed. . .to register a sense impression’’ (Jung, 1971, p. 57).
The unconscious preparation that is required, so long as it remains unconscious, brings to the registering of a sense impression a consciousness that belies the unconscious psychic work that goes into it.
In the apparent absence of this unconscious work, there is no need to question the impressions of sense.
For the conscious acknowledgement of them, they simply exist as nakedly announced, objective – out there – self-evident facts.
They are, or appear to be, in no sense a projection created by the unconscious.
Since I accept the unconscious as the source of perception and not as the abject of perception, I treat the registering of a sense impression as a subjective act, which needs to be owned by the perceiver as an unconscious act.
The owning of the unconscious act is at once the acknowledgement of the unconscious and, as an acknowledgement, the bringing of it to consciousness.
This process of bringing the unconscious to consciousness is, as I understand it, the shaping of a conscious body, rather than an unconscious body, which Jung, following the alchemists, call the ‘‘subtle body’’ (Jung, 1971, p. 114).
The ‘‘subtle body’’ is like the lapis or philosopher’s stone for the alchemist: it is not there until it is brought to consciousness.
‘‘All Bibles and sacred codes’’, writes Blake, ‘‘have been the causes of the following errors.
- That Man has two real existing principles, viz: a Body & a Soul.
- That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
- That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies’’ (Blake, 1982, p. 34).
Blake then goes on to argue that ‘‘the following Contraries to these are True’’ . . . ‘‘Energy’’, he insists, ‘‘is the only life and is from the Body and Reason the bound or outward circumference of Energy. Energy is Eternal Delight’’ (Blake, 1982, p. 34).
My work is in this Blakean/Jungian sense a celebration of the Body, the energy of which is a source of ‘‘Eternal Delight.’’
This ‘‘Delight’’ does not exist for me in the exercising of its muscles or the comforting of its nerves.
Its ‘‘Delight’’ resides in the recognition that the muscles and the nerves are ‘‘portions’’ of soul, which, as muscles and nerves, cry out for soul recognition.
This recognition I call Presence.
Soul in this sense is the body’s consciousness of itself, which is its release from its burial in the unconscious.
Blake describes this bringing to consciousness, as does Jung after him, the resurrection of the dead, which I take to be the true metaphorical meaning of the incarnation, an incarnation too long religiously understood as a source of suffering conducting to crucifixion.
Blake rejected this religious notion as an error. And so did Jung. And so do I.
Presence as ‘‘the whole soul. . .in activity’’ (Coleridge, 1983, pp. 15–16), affirming its Presence as body is the goal I set out to achieve, not by striving to overcome the obstacles that stand in its way, but by recognizing that those apparent obstacles – the body’s apparent resistance to soul – is the way.
By listening to the resistance as the cry of the soul buried in the resistance, the listener heeds the cry in something of the same way that a mother heeds the cry of her infant.
In this essential respect, attending to the needs of the soul as it awakens in the unconscious body – one image of which is the Madonna and child, which too often becomes a Pieta – is the work of the feminine.
The logos, which dialectically informs this work directing it toward its inherent object, may be described as the masculine.
‘‘Without Contraries is no Progression’’, writes Blake (1982, p. 134).
The union of the two (masculine and feminine) described by Jung (as by the alchemists) as the inner marriage or hierosgamos, is the true Androgyne, which I believe is the psychic ground of one’s creative relationship to oneself as a body-soul, a relationship which finds its communal counterpart in other persons committee\d to the same inner process.
While this perception of community is only now after long labour moving toward its birth as a wider consciousness of it, its birth, as a new global society confronted on all sides with its threatened extinction, is fast becoming a matter of life or death.
I think here of the woman in Revelation who is described as ‘‘a great wonder in Heaven’’ (The Holy Bible, Revelation, v. 1–2).
She is ‘‘clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered’’ (The Holy Bible, Revelation, v. 1–2).
The wonder that accompanies this vision is a patriarchal dragon, which stands before the woman, who is ready to be delivered, ‘‘for to devour her child as soon as it is born’’ (The Holy Bible, Revelation, v. 1–2).
The feminine has its work cut out for it, as indeed does the new masculine whose birth is perhaps even more laborious.
As a Jungian analyst, I embrace it as the work of the midwife, assisting the soul-body down its difficult birth canal to its long expected, long delayed birth.
The metaphorical understanding of this birth process I assign, in part, to the interpretation of dreams in which the soul, asleep in the unconscious body, dreams it is awake.
‘‘Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!’’ (4.6), cries Blake, addressing the soul as his reader in the opening lines of his epic, Jerusalem.
Presence as I understand it is the soul-body’s celebration of its own consciously recognized operations.
Declaration of interest: The author reports no conflicts of interest.
The author alone is responsible for the content and writing of the paper. ~Marion Woodman, Counselling Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 2, June 2008, 119–121
Blake, W. (1982). The complete poetry and prose of William Blake (David V. Erdman, Ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Coleridge, S.T. (1983). Biographia literaria (J. Engell & W.J. Bate, Eds). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. (1971). The archetypes of the collective unconscious, trans. R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series XX, CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.