Jung and Freud – two days in my life


San Pablo Dam Road, painted by Vanessa Hadady - with thanks to Vanessa for featuring this painting on my blog; see artists biography and philosophy below

A couple weeks ago I attended a lecture by Murray Stein who was visiting London. The title was ‘Transcendence – the missing fourth’. I was in a strangely trancelike state when I arrived which did not serve me well for concentrating, so I took rigorous notes – or so I thought at the time. When I look back at these notes, they are peculiarly sparse and I am left with a sensation of being in the spaces between the cracks – a phrase that feels metaphorically right to me until I think about it and realise it logically means space between spaces – and yet that is precisely how it does feel.

Stein’s central idea as I understand it, based on his lifelong study of Jung, is that when the three vertices of the conscious mind, the unconscious (eg dreams), and synchronicity (an external meaningful coincidence) come together, there is the possibility (offered but never guaranteed) of transcendence – where the symbol has a meaning beyond itself and is like a door opening to a perception and experience of a transcendent life.

I was particularly struck by a story he told about his friend, a nun named Magda. I have found a written account of it elsewhere:

‘Magda was in her eighties when she died. For ten years prior to her death, she could not walk, so I visited her where she lived occasionally. Before that, for about five years, she had seen me in my office to discuss her dreams and emotional life. After she could no longer walk, she would say to me, quite seriously, but with a twinkle: “When I die and go to heaven, the first thing I want to do is kick up my heels and dance.” She missed her legs which had previously been strong and able under her. When Magda died, my wife and I attended her funeral. Driving home, I noticed something fluttering around in the rear window of the car. My wife looked back and exclaimed, “It’s a butterfly.” I opened the windows to let the butterfly out, but of course it would not leave. When we got home, it was nearly dark, and my wife put her hand in the back of the car to get the butterfly to leave. Instead the small brown winged insect hopped to her hand and stayed there. We walked over to the street lamp to look at it more closely. (By this time we were calling the butterfly Magda, and were enjoying her mischievous company.) Suddenly the butterfly flew down to the sidewalk, and, as we watched, it began to dance energetically in circles, hopping occasionally to one or another of our feet. How could we not think that this was Magda, now with legs, in heaven, dancing freely and with abandon as she had hoped she would?’ http://jungcurrents.com/murray-stein-three-butterfly-stories/

also included on Murray Stein’s website in ‘My encounter with Jungian psychology’, http://www.murraystein.com/

And so a sad story about the death of a close friend is transformed to a hopeful and even uplifting story, with the promise of the continuing embodiment of Magda’s spirit in the butterfly. The butterfly is a symbol of the transcendent life.

I always notice butterflies. I’d seen one on a walk earlier in the week as a herald of this long-delayed spring which we were on the night of this lecture experiencing briefly as high summer – and when on my walk I saw one of those early spring small bright yellow butterflies leading the way, I felt hopeful that we were at long last, later than in many years, emerging from the lingering chilly winter.  I went on a walk again today – two weeks later, with this amazing weather still pressing on – and a butterfly leapt onto my shoe and then danced around my feet.  Maybe this happens all the time, and I just don’t notice.

I also remember two stories about butterflies and deaths that I have been told. One of these stories is quite extraordinary: a woman’s daughter had been named after the mother’s best friend. The best friend died in a car crash a number of years later, and the woman’s daughter asked her mother, ‘will I die in a car crash too?’ Her mother dismissed these fears but then, several years later, that was exactly what happened – and the daughter died on the best friend’s birthday. The daughter loved butterflies and they became a symbol of her remembrance. In the other story, the second wife of a woman’s ex-husband died and whenever the woman saw a butterfly, she knew that her step-daughter was thinking of her, and would make contact. In both of these stories, as in Magda’s tale, butterflies were still-living spirit.

I was thinking about this when I was in a meeting with a client who mentioned he had painted a bright blue butterfly that morning. He was disparaging his artistic ability but seemed focused on the importance of the butterfly. He said it was a message of ‘freedom to fly’ for the children he was working with, liberating their spirit to go on a journey of individuation.

Stein says of synchronicity that ‘the meaning isn’t made by us, it’s given to us’. And if the synchronicity conveys meaning then it offers the potential of a transcendent life. Not all synchronicities are uplifting, some can be dark and terrifying.

I had a sudden glimpse of that in the days after the lecture, as the resonances continued to percolate. I have been feeling a perhaps irrational sense of unease, unsettlement, disturbance for awhile now, and that feeling has been increasing. I have been living with the Destroyer archetype – not my favourite companion. All around me organisations, teams and individuals are losing what they have – from values to budgets to jobs to self-esteem.  Of course I too am affected. On a conscious level I have attributed my unease to the economic situation we are all in, the way my clients are feeling, and some of the behaviours I am witnessing and experiencing. Then global events like the earthquake in Japan have happened and the war in Libya.

And then, over the last weeks, some very odd incidents happened in an organisation I work with, that linked in my mind with a mysterious and shady event elsewhere from more than two years ago. When I googled it, I discovered a resolution had been reached only the week before. On a more personal level, in the days immediately following the lecture, I heard from three friends about serious illness in their families.

This feels like a Bad Space. But then I suddenly realised that my internal unease was somehow connecting with these external events which were an embodiment of how I have been feeling – the string of synchronicities in an odd way could also be a reassurance if I choose to take it that way This resonance in the global system can give me the power to rise above.

The close companion of the Destroyer archetype is, of course, the Creator. The Creator has been struggling to take shape inside of me and also in the surrounding world – the caterpillar turning into the butterfly.

The next day the sun shone and suddenly I felt in tune rather than at odds with the world. Visiting the small Northamptonshire village of Turvey, I discovered Turvey House, a magical place I had never heard of which was open specially that day at precisely the time I was there. I had an idyllic stroll around the gardens with calves vying for my attention and from there, a magical weekend unfolded. The other stuff is still there, but just for a moment I feel I’ve made some sense of it – it’s a precarious sense of meaning though, I don’t think it’s quite transcendent, I still feel enmired.

Footbridge in Northampton, photo featured with thanks to Chris Hill

And then I went to the Freud Museum.  I have always felt quite cool towards Freud. So maybe I had already decided in advance that this visit would not be a life-changing experience, or even especially enjoyable. I’ve wanted to visit Freud’s home for many years though, so when I was invited to a special event on a day when I was already in London, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Walking up the steep hill to Maresfield Gardens on a drizzly afternoon in the kind of light that reminds me of an Anita Brookner novel, I savoured the architecture near Finchley Road which I have always liked. The warm brick makes me think of late afternoon fires in the grate, tea, reading books under the glow of standard lamps at dusk – in other words, a mid-20th century English novel read by an American. It was the perfect time to arrive. And the shell of the house lived up to expectations. But what about the inside?

I always measure a building by the feeling I have when I’m inside it. This house felt neutral – I had no real feelings one way or the other. It was stuffy, the legacy of the amazing early summer blaze of heat lingering even as the weather was changing around us. I talked with other guests, discovering nearly everyone I spoke to was in a similar line of work to myself which felt a little claustrophobic, echoing the feeling inside the structure. And ultimately I felt unmoved as I drifted around the few rooms looking at the heavy furniture and especially at the prodigious amount of statuary and other items that Freud had collected, over 2,000 pieces in total.

Suddenly I spotted a woman who looked – well, different from most of the other guests and interesting. We struck up a conversation and I discovered she was a librarian and as the conversation unfolded, I learned she was an only child, her Myers-Briggs Type was almost certainly the same as mine, we had both studied English literature….and like me she felt unmoved by the house and she shared my Jungian interests. She too had been struck by the curator’s passing comment about collections, and we both shared a curiosity about what makes people collect and what need does the act of collecting fill? Did Freud reflect on this about himself, we wondered? Both of us had discovered we had shed any slight urge to collect that we might have had in youth, and we linked this with the process of maturing.

A missing warmth was stirred up for me in this connection which felt synchronistic and also symbolic of a hope beyond. Was there a butterfly in the room?

We exchanged e-mail addresses and maybe she will read this post. In any case I feel she is a fleeting friend. 

And so I found Jung again, in Freud’s house.

Vanessa Hadady

VANESSA HADADY is a third generation classically trained painter who began practicing formalized painting in 1974. Ms. Hadady obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1985. There, amongst several scholars, she studied under Gene Frumkin (poet), Joel-Peter Witkin (photographer), Thomas Barrow (photographer) while sitting in critiques by Julian Schnabel (filmmaker/artist) and the late Joan Brown (artist).

 Artist’s Statement

‘Considering artistic creations, when entering the work from any vantage, no matter the media I choose to work in, I am brought to an understanding the work is not necessarily mine….. Skills I use include centuries’ old basic mathematical formulas, ratios from the golden mean rectangle and the like which includes taking artistic gifts from afar. To spontaneously express something naturally takes not creative skill but insight into life and living.’

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19 Responses to Jung and Freud – two days in my life

  1. Viv says:

    There is much to ponder in this post; butterflies are such a powerful imago/imago in so many cultures. I almost crashed my bike today on my way home from work trying to avoid a butterfly that had flown into my path and landed on the road in front of me. I wonder what that has to tell me.
    will reread and ponder some more, but thank you for sharing this. Synchronicity is a truly fascinating phenomenon

    • karin says:

      Thanks Viv – it’s really nice to get a rapid response. I’ve been writing this for at least a couple weeks – feels longer because of so much that’s been going on. I’ve had more synchronicities since – only I am not sure of the meaning in the coincidences but I’m sure it’s not just coincidence. This latest makes me feel that something good is coming out of something bad – I really don’t mind if it’s just a feeling. That’s good enough for me! Look forward to your further thoughts.

  2. souldipper says:

    Thank you for sharing your notes. They seem to have served you well in this act of generosity with your readers.

    Thank goodness for Carl Jung. One has to wonder how alone he felt. However, since he accepted and practiced his connection with the other dimensions, perhaps he never had to feel alone – ahead of the pack.

    Spring’s promise, in my turf, has yet to bring warm enough weather to birth butterflies. Thus your stories of hope and promise remind me to leave all larva alone. The struggle strengthens the wings and facilitates the butterfly’s strong flight.

    Who knows….perhaps that’s the stage when butterflies learn to dance.

  3. karin says:

    Interesting thought at the end there, and it feels intuitively right – and also symbolic in its meaning.

    I think we are incredibly lucky with this, what is for England, burst of summer weather in the middle of spring. There is always a price for it though, and this year’s bluebells are being overshadowed by early green foliage responding to the warmth. It does feel like days out of time right now though – must enjoy it!

    I wish you a lovely Spring too, when it happens – and it will.

  4. Another thought provoking post Karin – thanks. I’ve been feeling uneasy and unsettled too – not helped by my ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ Facebook page!

    • karin says:

      Thanks Amanda. Regarding Facebook, when I first signed on I was extremely frustrated to find that I was the only person who could see my comments – completely defeated the purpose of going on there (reluctantly)! But it got sorted in time. Perhaps your page is doing something like that. I could consult my IT friends on FB if you continue to have problems, let me know.
      Am curious as to why else you are feeling uneasy and unsettled…and am hoping you are otherwise well?

  5. Chris says:

    Jung and Freud. Mmmh! I’m Karin’s non-Jung, non-Freud, non-psychology, non-yoga, non-deeply-spiritual, non-musical, non-circle-dancing, non-classical-literature friend. They say opposites attract! So I’m thrown by this one. But I love butterflies and am entranced by some of the comments relating to them to the extent that I don’t think I shall see one without thinking of this post for a very long time.

    • karin says:

      Hi Chris,
      I can’t believe you’re thrown by this. I know that you have the intellectual powers to get your mind round it – it’s perhaps a matter of belief, familiarity or comfort with some of the content. Having said that, I’ve had an e-mail from another friend (who is a circle dancer and interested in psychology) saying she can’t make heads or tails of it either. She went in search of a rare breed of butterfly yesterday, so I’m hoping that maybe the butterfly is the reconciling element….
      I like your comment even though I don’t think we’re opposites at all.

      • Chris says:

        Hi, The trouble I have with some of the posts is that I’ve not got the background knowledge on which to call re Jung and Freud etc. But don’t stop on my account. I love to read it all but am sometimes stuck for how to respond, since I don’t have the time to do much research these days.

        And I agree – we are opposite in some things such as the experiences that brought us to where we are in our lives at the moment but I think our essential values about life and people are the same. And values are what matter.

      • karin says:

        Just to say I agree about the values. And if you were to read Jung I think you’d be fascinated if also somewhat perplexed and mystified at times – join the rest of us! We would have some good discussions…

  6. MS says:

    Hi Karin,

    A truly wonderful piece.

    I started writing the response and sleep overhwlemed me and I feel sleep with the pc i nmy arms. (It is 3:00 am, I fell asleep at 1:30 am,so my sleep isn’t a reflection on your piece but a consequence of natural processes starved by my situation).

    Regardless of my current wakefulness, what I was going to say has flown from my mind – a series of dreams that fell back into the unconscious were perhaps responsible for such a shameful act. Perhaps what I wanted to write wasn’t particularly meaningful and impressive as I had thought it to be.

    Again, it is a wonderful piece, and perhaps when I am in a saner moment, not hovering between the two worlds, I can return and complete this…. 🙂

    Be well.


    • karin says:

      Madhu, it is high praise indeed to read your comment. I often feel my writing in this realm is a little pedestrian, I’m never sure I understand what I’m talking about! – but it was how I was/am feeling….and it has developed/is developing. I hope you will return with more, as your comments are always thought-provoking.
      Many thanks.

  7. Susan says:

    Hi Karen
    This is such a wonderfully complete piece of writing, you really should publish that book of short essays and include many that you have written on your blog. Or is blogging the 21st Century equivalent of ‘publishing’? And what would be the purpose of publishing a physical book, when all can read for free on line? Is it still relevant to be a published author in 2011 or does the internet threaten to steal that from us?

    • karin says:

      Hi Susan,
      Great to see you here and your questions are very topical, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I think publishing is still ‘special’ – someone needs to agree to publish an author. Of course you can self-publish now, but being published by a known publishing house feels different to me. I still feel a printed book offers a different quality of experience – the typeface, the feel of the paper, the smell of the product – the experience of just holding something and being able to be where you want when you read…the whole quality of the experience is different. Going to a library or a bookshop (both, sadly, dying breeds) and wandering through the shelves is much more romantic than surfing the net, don’t you think?
      Thank you for your kind words.

      • Susan says:

        Hi Karin
        I do agree that having your work published must still be a wonderful prize. And I continue to fill my house with books despite the offer of on-line reading and kindles. You can dip into books, carry them with you – your bookshelves tell something of who you are. So, I think that you should go for it! X

      • karin says:

        I have no intention of going for publication, Susan, at this point in time – but it’s really motivating to read your comment! Thank you. I am surrounded by pages of a deadly tender I am having to respond to – and dying to get back outside. Writing for pleasure has temporarily flown the nest – but I will return to my blog once the dust settles!

  8. karin says:

    Just to add to this – yesterday I was with some people from the same organisation where the man painted his bright blue butterfly, and one of them spoke compellingly about how she sees the local community as being like a butterfly trying to break out of its chrysalis. She decided to give a presentation at our next workshop called ‘My butterfly moment!’ I thought that was a nice coincidence and chimed nicely with the butterfly theme in this post (which she is unaware of).

  9. Chris says:

    Confession! I have bought a Kindle and love it although three months ago I’d never have thought about doing such a thing. I had myself clearly in the zone of the pleasures of books on shelves, their tactile element, etc. But in short order four people of the same mindset told me they been given a Kindle as a present and it had completely changed their attitude. So I took the plunge.

    For ‘ordinary’ text books the Kindle is brilliant. With a leather cover, incorporating a small light for reading in bed, it looks and feels like a book. Since I divide my life between two houses I can carry a substantial library with me in the space that would be occupied by a single slim paperback rather then clogging up the car or always finding that I’ve left a favourite book in the ‘wrong’ house. It doesn’t support colour at all or pictures very well so it’s no good for a whole range of books that depend on those things e.g. cooking or quilting books. One of the pleasures of physical books is that you can lend them to people but I’ve lost so many that way that I now just re-buy on the Kindle that’s been out on loan for a while and view the loan as a gift.

    One particular delight for me is that a friend, in endeavouring to buy herself a single copy of her favourite newspaper on my Kindle, on a day when the shop had run out, accidentally signed me up for a subscription to same. Since I am aboslutely NOT a morning person I now enjoy the luxury of a cup of coffee in bed while I read the newspaper (delivered electronically at 06:15) before rising physically and mentally refreshed at a later hour.

  10. Tricia says:

    Karin, I’m dipping into your blog at random and find it strange that I looked at this post today – for various reasons of my own, it is synchronous – ha – is that a word? I doubt it.

    I am fascinated by Jung. I don’t know nearly enough about him yet and any recommendations you have on where to start reading up about him would be welcome. A butterfly features as a motif in my novel – I’m not sure how it got there but it is important. It just flew in and settled and became integral, and if anyone ever reads it, they will think it was there from the start – but it wasn’t. Strange things, butterflies.

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