During dinner in Chinatown Los Angeles, one summer evening in 1995, Marvin Spiegelman and I were discussing different topics. He reminded me that while in analysis with him (1962-1966) I had some unusual dreams involving the anima figure and that he was impressed with how I related to the Greek images of the feminine. We both recalled how Aphrodite, the Goddess of my homeland island of Kythera, appeared so benevolently. He also mentioned some special dreams and experiences I had regarding the image of the cross.
As I refreshed my memory and placed his comments in context, it began to bring alive how crucial was my relationship to the anima as long as I can remember. It has been so important to connect with my soul, to listen, and respond through the heart and the emerging feelings as I sought some genuine interaction with people and the world around me.
Referring to the cross, its impact on me at that moment seemed to be temporarily dormant. Soon, however, its image and psychic reality got a grip on me. I recalled that the figure of the cross has been pursuing me periodically all my life. I remembered vividly an incident which my mother had mentioned more than once. According to an old Greek custom that she knew, during my first birthday I was put at one end of a room and at the other end a few objects were placed, such as a cross, a pencil, and a golden watch. They waved them to get my attention and then kept them sufficiently apart from each other. Then my mother and others connected to the family watched attentively as I crawled toward these objects.
In their mind, my vocation, my career, and my future depended upon what I chose to pick up. If I picked the watch, I would be a business man or become financially affluent through some other employment endeavors. If I selected the pen, I would settle in a field using assertive verbal skills, such as being a salesman or an attorney. If I chose the cross I would become a priest. According to my mother, no one in our circle had picked up a cross. On this occasion, however, I picked up and held the cross, tightly, looking at it and not bothering to look at any of the other things.
My mother and the other bystanders were shocked. They all were members of the Greek Orthodox Christian Church, but my father, a little over a year earlier, had converted to Jehovah's Witness. They felt that I, "the poor kid", was getting a bum deal. When I grew up, if my father converted me, I would be a Jehovah's Witness minister, a doomed fate for a Greek. On the other hand, if I remained Greek Orthodox, I would become a priest. Such a vocation would be socially acceptable but there was not much future in it.
Over the years, I had dreams in which I would either hold a cross, or in front of me a cross was trying to gain my attention. A few times in my awakened state, I would be confronted by the image of the cross. During the last such experience, I saw in a wide area in front of me some vapor-like and illumined energies emerging from both ground and air and coming together. Then in the shape of the cross they made an imprint on my forehead, leaving me in a stunned condition as if I had been jolted by a numinous force.
While reflecting on these memories and events, Marvin mentioned that he was going to co-author and edit a book with many contributors on "Jungian Psychology and Religion for the Year 2000." He asked me if I wanted to write a chapter for that book. Under other circumstances I might be hesitant, but by now I knew it was right to accept the invitation.
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In Jungian psychology those seriously interested in their psychic wholeness submit to the long and continuing process of individuation. In such cases, ego consciousness realizes itself as a split and separated personality and strives toward reunion with its unknowable side or partner, the Self. The realization of the Self becomes the goal of this process. Only partial and progressive realization is possible since the Self is transcendent and our consciousness is finite. Opening up to the unconscious and confronting it by dealing first with the personal, disassociated parts of our personality is a major step in this process.
I would like to give an example, showing how for the last thirty plus years challenging guidance from the unconscious has helped me in positive and negative ways to deal with serious problems. In the early 1970s, a client announced that his doctor gave him only a 15-20% chance of being alive after a couple of weeks unless he was willing and able (finding a donor) to have a bone marrow operation.
I was initially shocked by the news but suddenly, without my conscious involvement, I saw with the eyes of my imagination a crazy-like driver speeding by recklessly just before I was about to step out and cross the street. I was jolted, but immediately knew how I needed to respond to my client's life-threatening dilemma. I just knew that my client and I did not need to be helpless victims of external driving forces even though I could not communicate it rationally.
I looked at him straight in the eye and said "Yes, I was really shaken by your news, but you know this is a blessing in disguise. You don't have the luxury that we usually have, kidding ourselves that we have 10, 20 or 50 years and that life here on earth will go on forever. You are challenged to look at life and death daringly for whatever they may be about. If you get even a tiny glimpse of it, your life will not have been in vain." I don't recall what else I said. I noticed that at times he looked at the door, perhaps wondering if his shrink had gone bananas and he should walk out. At other times he gazed at me as if I were saying something profound. At the end of the session he left in a daze.
A couple days later he had a transformation dream. In the dream, he was sitting by a snack bar at a rural college campus, having a refreshment, when a tall, vigorous young man with a baby pig in his arms sat next to him. The pig leaned over, trying to lick my client's face affectionately. My client moved to avoid it, accidentally knocking both the pig and himself off balance. They both fell into a fountain in front of them. When they rose from the water, they were facing each other but the pig had been transformed into the most beautiful and wondrous woman that the world has ever produced.
I was in awe. I impulsively exclaimed "I don't give a damn what your doctor is saying. You are not going to die and you are even blessed to be transformed and healed through love and beauty."
This sensitive and creative middle-aged man, a college art professor, had been in a laboratory accident a few years earlier and inhaled some toxic fumes. His organism became impaired and unable to produce red blood cells adequately. A few days after the dream, he got into his car, not knowing where he was going. A few hours later, he became aware that he was driving from Southern California up to the Northern California coast. He found himself at a side highway that he never knew existed. He suddenly felt as if a burden had come off his shoulders and he started feeling quite well. The next day, near the Northern California coast area, he bought a parcel with over 20 acres by a hillside covered with redwoods. He planned that, eventually, when he retired, he would build a house and a studio to do his art work. A few days later his physician was amazed to see that his patient was out of danger.
A couple of weeks after the transformation dream my client had a different one. He saw that he was a priest who, instead of being assigned a parish or some other customary arrangement, was given a plot of land along with another priest. They were supposed to take care of the plants and flowers in it. The dreamer did not belong to any church and was not interested in organized religion. He saw only little connection to his love of nature.
A few years later, he took early retirement and moved to his beloved land, changing his lifestyle radically. He painted, volunteered to teach art to young children after school, made a hot house and periodically visited and bought plants from nurseries within an area of 70 miles. When I complimented him regarding the hot house and the other plants around, I asked him if he remembered the dream in which he was a priest. He then recalled it and it made much more sense to him now. He also interacted with many local people and made many friends.
He lived 17 more years following his transformation dream. Things were not always rosy but the last several years of his life he found much more meaning and fulfillment. When he died, I attended a memorial service held on his land. Seventy to eighty people gathered. While passing his ring around a circle, as part of the memorial ritual, many mentioned how much he had helped them and enriched their lives.
The image of the reckless driver in the imaginative experience I had during my client's crisis did not vanish. Every year or two thereafter, while working with someone else's or my own problems, it would reappear, challenging as well as enabling me to deal better with the issues involved.
About ten years later, while standing with one of my clients by the sidewalk, getting ready for a session in the park, a reckless driver, going at extreme speed against the traffic in a divided road, hit the car near us. The front wheels turned and hit the sidewalk about three feet from us. The car continued moving into the park and hit a pine tree nearby, about 25 feet away. An ambulance and police cars soon arrived. The upper part of the tree was badly bent and the tree was now shaped like an arc. I interpreted this incident to mean that the reckless crazy driver forces were getting closer to me.
About 3 years later, the "reckless driver figure" made a direct hit on my car. While I was safely making a left turn, a speeding driver, trying to get away from a car that was following him, abruptly made a turn over two lanes and hit my car, causing whiplash on my back and serious damage to both cars. The driver of the car following the one which hit mine stopped and asked me if I wanted him to be my witness. The reckless driver almost hit him earlier in a parking lot and speeded away without stopping, provoking my volunteering witness to follow him.
Apparently I did not take seriously the previous warning three years earlier. I had become a one-sided workaholic. I was more than 20 pounds overweight and had sleep apnea, often nearly drowsing while driving. A few weeks later, I went through a painful 4 1/2 hour operation to correct the sleep apnea. My injured back aggravated the pain but a week later I experienced a transformation. I was free from all pain. My injured back was permanently healed. Without any effort, I lost 28 pounds within less than two months and I have been staying within 5 pounds of my normal weight ever since.
Socially and emotionally I was in a very much better place. Since then, 11 years ago, the reckless driver image does not revisit me any longer, neither joltingly in vision-like fashion or through physical threatening guises. I reflect on it periodically and that seems to be helpful. The tree, hit literally in the park by a reckless driver, stood there for 14 years. Finally, it fell down last year during a windstorm. To me, it was an injured tree reminding me how much I needed to get in touch with what Jungians and others call the image of the wounded healer.
Two years after my former artist/client bought his land, I bought 320 acres in the redwood seacoast area, three miles from his land. About nine years ago, we built a house there and I spend a week and sometimes two weeks a month enjoying its blessings. It is my retreat. It is one way to keep in touch with what my soul wants. At times, it may also be a convenient escape from dealing with the legitimate challenges in the world.
The Self is inside and outside. Jung and others warned us not to be seduced by the collective greed and gluttony which is spreading like an epidemic. Symbolically we need to be "in the world" and, with discrimination, partake of what it has to offer without being "of the world". There is no way to individuation or wholeness without meaningful and worthwhile suffering which leads to healing. Jungian psychology in the new millennium will be increasingly facing the greatest challenge yet to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate suffering. Legitimate suffering involves an on-going effort, discipline, commitment, and sacrifice to the service of the Soul/Self. Illegitimate suffering involves the consequences of ignoring or even directly abusing the natural needs of our body and ego in general as well as those of our soul.
I anticipate that there will continue to be a need and demand for Jungian depth analysis, but I also see that Jungian concepts, premises, and other insights will increasingly find more acceptance in the arts, literature, and special academic, industrial, and political circles. We already find diversity in the training of Jungian analysts and the special focus of different Jungian professional groups. Yet we continue to see that they all retain some essential common ground in basic principles. The new millennium may reveal to us more clearly the paradoxical nature and ways of the Self. It is ageless and changeless, yet constantly moving with us in time, renewing and transforming.
This article is excerpted from the book:
Psychology and Religion at the Millennium and Beyond,
edited by J. Marvin Spiegelman, Ph.D.
Reprinted with permission of New Falcon Publications, http://www.newfalcon.com.
About The Author
Peter (Pan Pericles) Coukoulis received his Ph.D. in psychology through the California Institute of Integral Studies and completed his Jungian analyst training at the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles. He served as a psychologist with the California State system for 15 years and has been in private practice as a Jungian analyst in Orange County, California since 1971. He authored the book Guru, Psychotherapist and Self and is one of the authors included in Psychology and Religion at the Millennium and Beyond. He is the founder of the C.J. Jung Club of Orange County, CA.