Then, after a slight pause when she seemed to be trying to collect her thoughts, she spoke slowly and hesitantly, "It is hard for me to tell you what the problem is. I feel satisfied with my marriage, we make a good living, I have friends who seem to like me, my children are well with their relationships and work. But something is not right."
We sat silently for awhile and then she went on. "I was afraid to come, afraid you might tell me I am depressed or anxious and might need medication. And I might, but I don't think so. It is as if we are all going along, pretending we are happy. I mean, the markets are doing fine, but we know there are problems at the border, warnings about our environment, a gulf between those who could be described as having enough and those who do not." She paused.
"Is this what you mean?", I asked. "That you feel depressed or anxious about those things you have just described, but also worry that you may be clinically depressed and anxious? Is this what you want to sort out? Is this what you mean when you say you feel like you are living through a difficult time?"
"I am not sure," she replied. "It seems to be somehow deeper than that." She went on,"I remember a poem we read in college, Yeats' "Second Coming," where he described the time with a very disturbing thought, 'The center will not hold.' I do not know for sure what he meant by that, but come to think about it, this reminds me also of another line I have brought with me from those years in my literature classes. Hamlet said that things were rotten in Denmark and that 'The time is out of joint'."
The woman paused again briefly, as if pondering what she had just said, and then she continued, "I don't mean to take us away from my situation, but when you ask me what I mean when I say I am living through a very difficult time, it seems that those two lines describe what I am feeling better than any of my attempt to explain myself. But what do you think? You are the analyst," she said as if trying to bring some levity to what appeared to have become a dark and possibly foreboding state of her mind.
However, the truth was, I did not know how to answer her question. Was she expecting me to suggest why her personal experience of living through a difficult time reminded her of lines from Yeats and Shakespear's Hamlet? Had she pondered them down through the years, or did they arise surprisingly just at this moment? And how appropriate were those lines in describing the woman's present situation? As she probably was aware, Yeats wrote his poem at a time when Word War I had just concluded; the woman had not experienced what at Yeats' time had been described as the "Great War." And Hamlet's experience of his time being "out of joint" was quite different from the woman's description of her marriage and domestic life as generally very stable and content.
So what was the connection of this apparently healthy woman's "difficult time" with a world in which the "center is not holding" and the "time is out of joint?"
Also, I had other questions. Had there been early trauma in the woman's life? What did I need to know about her medical history, her relationship to her parents and ancestry, her religion, her social life, her political orientation and participation? And how did she choose to work with me, a Jungian Analyst with early training as a pastoral counselor? Was that intentional, well thought-out, or a synchronistic happening?
In other words, what were her expectations of analysis in general and work with me in particular? Is she interested in the intersection of psychology and religion, and if so -- to return to my earlier question -- what might be her religious orientation? Does she need to talk with a priest, pastor, or rabbi rather than a psychoanalyst?
These questions filtered through my conversation with this new contact, who asked to be called by her first name, Ava. She quickly responded to the questions I presented as part of my intake and declared there were no traces to her knowledge of any medical and psychological issues that had bearing in her visit to my office. As for how she came to pick my name, she claimed it was almost a "fluke" that she came across my website and a blog I had written recently, a blog in which I had referred to the depth dimension as a quality that had led me into my work. Her only experience in counseling had come through five sessions she and her husband shared as part of their pre-marital counseling -- he, a Roman Catholic, and she, a Protestant, both considering themselves as non-practicing at this point although she appreciated the important role of religion in society having to do with weddings, funerals, baptisms, care for the ill and dying, as well as crisis intervention.
"You must have found something meaningful in religion at some point in your early life to have been credentialed as a pastoral counselor that no doubt required clinical training and experience," she said, looking at me quizzically as if she could not quite put together religion, psychology, psychoanalysis, and clinical training. Her curiosity was warranted. "Yes," I admitted, "it must appear as quite a stretch to put all those parts together in shaping a career, meeting professional and governmental standards." And so, I gave her the quick version of how all of that came to be and how it began with a very significant dream of an eagle that came to me in my twenties with the message, "There is more."
"But," I said, returning to Ava's presenting concerns, "I need to hear more about what makes this time so difficult for you?"
At this point in our conversation, I had begun to suspect the political, social divisiveness of our time as lying at the root of this very sensitive woman's anxiety. Many others come to my office with this concern. The social divide in our society not only fragments our society as a whole, but also the sub-groups within our society that -- in better days -- work together by forming a social contract in which a respectful empathic resonance vibrates through our schools, our clubs, our families, our entertainment venues, our churches, synagogues, and mosques, creating a unified identity that holds together our differences and tensions. When this does not happen, it is not only our society as a whole and the sub-groups of our society that are fragmented, it is also our individual psyches that become disoriented as well.
In a letter written by Carl Jung to A. Gerstner-Hirzel of Basel in September 1957, Jung refers to the place of art in stabilizing and focusing the psyches of persons who have "collided headlong with the fatal disorientation of our time." (See Letters, Vol. 2,
p. 387). And in another letter to Philip Magor written on May 23, 1950, Jung says this:
If you take the concept of prayer in its widest sense and if you include Buddhist
contemplation and Hindu meditation (as being equivalent to prayer), one can
say that it is the most universal form of religious or philosophical concentration
of the mind and thus not only one of the most original but also the most frequent
means to change the condition of mind. If this psychological method had been
inefficient, it would've been extinguished long ago, but nobody with a certain
amount of human experience could deny its efficacy. (Letters, Vol. 1, p. 558).
Prompted by Ava's concern for her disturbing experience of living through this troubled time, a time that could be understood as a "collective trauma," I thought back to Jung's reference to "the fatal disorientation of our time." What was Ava's difficulty but precisely this: a collision of her psyche with the fatal disorientation of our time, threatening each of us with a fragmentation so severe it poses the threat of psychic chaos.
(Ava has given me permission to reference her case, which will be continued in future blogs. I have chosen the name "Ava" to protect her identity.)