TRAUMA AND SOUL 2
The soul’s development
An important aspect of the traditional idea of the human soul that recom- mends it for our use in this book is the fact that traditionally the soul is always a creature of both worlds=-divine and human, time-bound and eternal, mortal and immortal. Straddling these two worlds, the soul is the seat of our dual destiny and home to what Shakespeare called our «immor- tal longings.» It is also home to what Jung called our »religious instinct» Qung, 1959b: para. 653).
Moreover, the soul is understood to develop from its original onencss
with the divine, to an evolving condition of «two-ness» as it gathers worldly experience and ultimately to «threeness» as it re-relates (re-links as in re- ligeo or religion) again to its spiritual origins. Many years ago, in a letter to his brother George, John Keats (1891: 255-6) described the soul’s evolu- tion as follows:
Call the world if you Please «The Vale of Soul-making.» Then you will find out the use of the world…. I say «Soul making» Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence – There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions – but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. Intelli- gences are atoms of perception – they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are Gocl- How then are Souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given to them – so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each ones individual existence? How, but by the medium of a world like this? … Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul? A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways!… As various as the Lives of Men are – so various become their souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, … of the sparks of his own essence. This appears to me a faint sketch of a system of Salvation which <loesnot affront our reason and humanity.
In Keats’ view the innocent soul, a divine substance or spark, is shaped by suffering as it confronts the pains and troubles of this world. Considered from this point of view,we all start off as a human/ divine uníty-a oneness,
but the process of our separate human development means the descent or emptying out of our «divinity» (kenosis) into human particularity and lim- itation. It represents a fall away from that primordial sense of oneness in the Carden, into two-ness. In developing a self we inevitably become self- centered and self-conscious. We leave the garden of our innocence and now, · knowing good and evil, live in exile-«East of Eden,» conscious but alienated.
Such alienation from our essential nature seems to be the necessary and inevitable price paid for becoming conscious, and yet there remains within us a part of the original oneness that longs to retum to that great spiritual reality from which we carne and about which we have forgotten. 7
This splinter of the divine radiance we call the soul. The soul’s memory of its origins are celebrated in many religious and mythological stories all over the world, and also in the dreams of contemporary individuals. One of the most beautiful cultural versions is an Iranian Gnostic story, The Hymn of the Pearl, found in the apocryphal Acts of the Apostle Thomas (jonas, 1963: 112ff.) where the protagonist leaves his Heavenly home, falls into «Egypt» (this world), has amnesia for his heavenly mission, and must be awakened to his divine origin and destiny by a letter from his father. He has forgotten who he really is, until this calling from another world.
A similar process can happen in depth psychotherapy for the survivors of early trauma. In psychoanalysis people go over and over their stories in order to integrate the multiple parts of themselves from the past-all the while searching for a new unifying pattern, a new center that may change their perspective on themselves. They are waiting for that letter-that rec- ollection that takes them beyond all the personal memories into a deeper ground that makes sense of their lives when nothing else ever has. Sorne- tirnes the «letter» comes in dreams. We will see dramatic exarnples in Chapters 4, 7, and 9.
If we put all this in the psychoanalytic language of developmental object-relations and attachment theory, we would say that in the optimal process of this descent into time-and-space reality, the innocent soul, reaching out for experience, is met a reasonably empathic environ- ment, and the soul takes up residence in the body (secure attachment). Winnicott described the process as the «indwelling» of the psyche in the soma-a mystery that happens as the mother «introduces and re- in troduces the baby’s mind and body to each other» (Winnicott, 1970:
The result is that the child makes a mediated descent frorn omnipotence to the reality principie, from innocence to experience. This is always a dis- illusioning process (see Kohut, 1971) but «good enough» mothering rneans it does not happen too fast and that there is a «payoff» in psychic structure or growing ego-strength for each loss of omnipotence and gran- diosity. Along with psychosomatic indwelling, the other payoff in this optimal process is what Winnicott (l 964a: 112) calls «personalization» by
which he simply means becoming a self as a coherent unit or whole person. A whole person is a psycho-somatic unity who embodies a vital spark at the center of its integrated body/mind being. Chapter 5 addresses this issue of psycho-somaticwholeness-how the defensive system compro- mises it, and how depth psychotherapy holds the promise of restoring it.
The reader will note that there is something mysterious-even spirit- ual-in Winnicott’s concepts of personalization and indwelling. Winnieott
<loesnot say precisely what it is that descends into the soma through the mother’s mediation. Sometimes he calls it the «mind,» sometimes the «psyche.»At one point he suggests tentatively that it might be thought of as «the self which is not the ego [but] is the person who is me, who is only me, who has a totality … and finds itself naturally placed in the body, but may … become dissociated from the body» (1970: 271). At another place
( l 969b: 565) he says:
It is not clear what to call that part of the personality which in health becomes closely bound up with the body and its functions, but which needs to be considered separately. One can use the word «psyche,» but this may suggest to the reader something that is connected with the spirit and even with spiritualism.
In the various chapters of this book we will take one small step beyond Winnicott here and unapologetically use the word soul to stand for that part of the personality «which in health becomes closely bound up with the body.» It will not disturb us if we find this part to be intimately «con- nected with the spirit and even with spiritualism.»
Since the publication of The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit (Kalsched, 1996), my attention has been drawn more and more to the salient moments in the work that seem to be most significant for change and healing. Surprisingly, these moments often seem to have a spiritual aspect as well as a relational one. Within the psychotherapeutic dialogue there are moments in which a soul-full mystery at the center of personality is glimpsed or shared by both participants. Often these moments are occasioned by intense suffering, where thc patient finds the courage to bear sorne of the pain of his or her traumatic past-perhaps witnessed for the first time (see Chapter 1). In so doing, he or she breaks through to a wider perspective (wholeness) anda place of self-acceptance, beyond blame or victimization. Or perhaps therapist and patient together have weathered an emotional storm and found their way through a fright- ening conflict to a place of calm and understanding where love flowsonce again. Often, such moments arise when we are moved by a deeper meaning or larger perspective than the ego’s usual orientation. Perhaps the uncanny wisdom of a dream emerges into consciousness between the therapeutic partners, filling them with a sense of appreciation for the psyche’s deep intelligence and beauty (see Chapter 7). Or perhaps a
«synchronous» event occurs, filling both analytic partners with a myster- ious sense of the hidden spiritual.’ material connections that transcend the otherwise clear boundaries between self and other.
Whatever its form, such moments are universally healing and trans-
formative. They lead to the strengthening and personalization of the soul-its «indwelling» in the body. The indwelling soul confers a feeling of being real-a sense that we have a God-given right to be here. At its best, then, psychotherapy is partly a spiritual discipline helping both parties participate in this world as a potential space in which both material and spiritual energies support each other toward the goal of whatJung called individuation-realizing your destiny, becoming who you really are, becoming an ensouled person.
The ínterruption of trauma
The subtitle of this book is «A psycho-spiritual approach to human devel- opment and its interruption.» Trauma constitutes an interruption of the normal processes through which an embodied, true self comes into being. The early trauma we are focusing on in this book is relational trauma because it occurs in the earliest attachment relationship between the ínfant and his or her mother. When things are bad enough in this primal relationship, the infant dissociates and this effectively interrupts the normal process through which the infant is coming-into-being in dialogue with reality’s otherness.
Another way to say this is that trauma forecloses transitional space, which is the intermediate space through which the infant is working out a relationship between the inner and outer world, between affect and thought, between the right and left hemisphere (Schore, 1994; McGil- christ, 2009), between the body and the mind (see Chapter 5). Winnicott (1971: 11-15) says that the hungry baby hallucinates the breast (inner world) and that the mother, in her empathy, puts her breast in the place of the hallucination ( outer world). At this moment the baby has an experi- ence of creating the world (from inside) and discovering the world (out there) at the same time.
James Grotstein (2000: 49) suggests that trauma is about encountering the
world be/ore the baby has had a chance to create it. In other words, the infant’s psychic pain is unbearable and defenses become necessary for survival. The slowlyindwelling soul can no longer afford to risk its descent into the body through transitional space. Indwelling ends. Personalization ends, leading to de-personalization. The unfolding process of the soul’s incarna- tion is temporarily suspended, and a second world is pressed into service to provide a mytho-poetic matrix for the soul. But the relationship to the outer world is compromised. The trauma survivor will often describe this experience as being «broken» oras «losing my innocence forever» (see the case ofjennifer in Chapter 1).
When the personality is forced to dis-integrate in this way, it is hard on the soul. The soul cannot thrive and grow in the fragmented personality. Its preferred medium is the psycho-somatic integrate, where all the capa- cities of the self are representcd as parts of a whole. With the psyche frag- mented, the soul cannot indwell in the body-it cannot set up residence as a divine/human principie of inner sustainment. Perhaps it visits occa- síonally as an unbidden guest, but with only this flickering ghost-like pres- ence of the soul, the person’s sense of animation and aliveness is mostly gone. This is because the soul is by definition, this very animation and aliveness-the center of our God-given spirit-the vital spark in us that «wants» to incamate in the empirical personality but needs help from sup- portive persons in the environment to do so-help that is often not available.
Without this help the psyche provides a partial cure of trauma so that life can go on, but there is a great price for this self-cure-loss of soul. Through dreams we can see how the innocence-identified soul has been sacrificed and given up to another world and we can see the spiritual powers that both protect and persecute it there. In Chapter 1 we explore sorne of the age-old mythic stories that embody this theme, featuring an «exposed» and vulnerable child and the «powers» that protector persecute this child. Considered psychologically, these light and dark powers represent the ambivalence of the defensioe system about the process of indwelling. Having experienced the unbearable pain of trauma, the intelligence that seems to inform the defensive system wants to avoid the suffering necessary to come
into being-necessary for innocence to gain experience (see Chapters 7
and 8). Accordingly, this intelligence recommends a more mental form of chronic and repetitive suffering over the acute suffering in-the-body required for personal development.
Known in the literature as «neurotic» vs. «authentic» suffering, we will
see these two forms of suffering illustrated in Chapter 3, where Dante and Virgil descend into Dante’s own personal version of Hell to confront the dark Lord of Dissociation otherwise known in Latín as «Dis.» Having found the courage (and the affect-tolerance) to remember his dissociated pain, Dante finally finds his way out of his depression and into a more creative and conscious form of suffering that leads (through Purgatory) to indwell- ing, and ultimately to the renewal of his life. But not befare he has faced the pain he <loes and doesn ‘t want to face.
Throughout the cases in this book, we will find again and again that it is relationship that heals trauma. But not just any relationship. The kind of relationship that makes a difference is the kind of transformative relation- ship actualized in the best contemporary psychotherapy and psycho- analysis. Such a relationship will have one eye open, looking outward, and one eye closed, looking inward. Such a relationship will re-open both inter-subjective and mytho-poetic space. It will «awaken the dreamer» in the patient (Bromberg, 2006), inviting both partners in the psychoanalytic
dyad to «stand in the spaces» (Bromberg, 1998) of dissociated self-states, reflecting on the stormy affects that are generated as the soul re-enters the body, until reconnections are made between affects and images, between the present and the past, between the inner child and its caretakers in the self-care system. Such a relationship holds the hope that both inner and outer transitional space may open once again, that connections in the brain can be slowly re-wired, and that archetypal defenses will release us into human inter-subjectivity and ensouled living.
In my earlier book, I acknowledged that trauma was often a spiritual crisis requiring the intervention of powerful archetypal forces from the uncon- scious, and described these powers functioning as a «self-care system.» Although I presented my findings as tentative and provisional, the ideas presented in The lnner World of Trauma apparently struck a chord with ana- lytic practitioners and proved to be a useful map for what they encoun- tered clinically (Bernstein, 2005; Sinason and Cone-Farran, 2007; Wilkinson, 2006). Other colleagues questioned my formulations, finding their implications at variance with Jung’s classical position on the integ- rative telas of the individuating self (Marlan, 2005) or raising questions about whether archetypal defenses are best thought of as «innate» or, pref- erably, «emergent» (Knox, 2003: 129-32). Whatever the case, my dialogue with these writers has been invaluable in the process of clarifying my ideas.
Even more rewarding, from a personal point of view, have been the many e-mails and letters I have received from trauma survivors around the world who happened upon my earlier book and found thercin a sympa- thetic and useful understanding of their own self-experience. Many of these letters highlighted a spiritual aspect of the book-aspects I had not intended to emphasize. One woman, for example, struggling with depres- sion, wrote: «When I read your book, the stranger within me carne to the window and cried.» This woman seemed to be saying that sorne passages in the book had moved her and mirrored her soul-a fugitive part of herself that had become a «stranger»-but that now could return from its place of exile to the threshold between inner and outer world (the window). This, in turn, enabled her to feel her deep and heretofore unreachable sadness, ancl this was the first step toward healing her depression-toward making her whole again.
This is the way it is with the human soul. It seems to need a resonant image from the human or non-human environment (Searles, 1960) if it is to come forward, something it recognízes. We can imagine that the infant responds to this resonant image repeatedly, in the deep embodied holding by its mother, and in the equally soulful eye contact and gaze that is a part of · their mutual play ancl loving connection. These moments, which we now realize are so critica! to later «secure attachment» (Bowlby, 1969) and
evento the healthy formation of the brain (Schore, 1994, 2003a), are the first quickening of the soul, the earliest beginning of its «indwelling» as Winnicott would say. Later, other resonant images will quicken the soul through intimate contact with others in the interpersonal world oí the child.
Still later, and in other settings, this resonance will come from sources beyond the interpersonal-the beauties of nature, the awesome realities of the cosmos, the soulful eyes of an animal, inspiring music, elevating ideas-even psychological descriptions in a book! Therapy for the soul comes in many forms and from many places, not just in the mother-infant dyad or in its later re-creation in the consulting room of a psychotherapist.
But for those of us who work in those consulting rooms, day in and day out, having a theory that honors the reality of the soul and the depth of the spirit becomes important. This theory can never be systematic or sci- entific because the soul and spirit are mercurial realities, quixotic, inef- fable, and can never be pinned clown.As the seat of our subjectivity,the soul can never be an object of investigation and scientific discourse. Like light itself, it lives «between the worlds»-now particle, now wave-always evanescent, just out of reach, leading us both out into the world and back into the depth of ourselves. If we were wisewe would probably keep silent about the soul and learn to listen. But this is impossible. We are compelled to talk about it, and so we will.
So, in the following pages I will tell stories about encounters with the
soul or spirit. These stories are anecdotal and not amenable to statistical analysis.Yet they are factual. They are empirical realities, and so I believe they have a claim on scientific truth. They actually happened, and sorne- times they are the most important things that happened in a person’s life or in the course of psychoanalytic treatment. They are also the most inter- esting stories on the planet-at least to this investigator-so how could we not tell them? Perhaps their telling in the pages of this book will allow the «stranger» within sorne readers to «come to the window» in recognition of that evanescent shimmering reality presenting itself at every interface «between the worlds.»We call this reality the human soul. It participates in both eternity and time, and so do we.
TRAUMA AND LIFE-SAVING ENCOUN ERS WITH THE NUMINOUS
Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s where the light comes in
(Leonard Cohen, Anthem, 1992)
Mineralogists tell us that if you want to understand the basic structure of a crystal, you should examine the places where it is broken. In this chapter I present a series of cases where traumatic experiences have broken the «crystal» of people’s ongoing, otherwise cohesive lives and let in a myster- ious light. The broken places or lines of cleavage represent what we call moments of dissociation, and dissociation is something the psyche does in response to trauma. In order to protect us from the full impact of expcri- ence that is unbearable, different aspects of the traumatic experience (sensation, affect, image) are fragmented, divided into compartments, and encoded in segmented «neural nets» in the brain (see Badenoch, 2008: 9). In this way they are prevented from joining up into a meaningful whole. After this we no longer make sense to ourselves. We can ‘t tell our own story as a coherent narrative.
The poet Emily Dickinson puts it this way:
There is a pain – so utter-
That it swallowssubstance up-
Then covers the Abysswith Trance- So Memory can step
Around – across – upon it-
As one within a Swoon-
Goes safely- where an open eye- Would drop him – Bone by bone.
The traumatic trance to which the poet alludes is something I have preví- ously called the seif-care system (Kalsched, 1996: 4). This system of defenses has a telas or purpose which we will try to discover in the following pages. The cases presented in this chapter and throughout the book will provide support for a tentative hypothesis-that the purpose of the selfcare system is to keep an innocent core of the self out of further suffering in reality, by keeping it «saje» in another world. Further, this innocent core of the self is a sacred somethingwithin the human personality that is often referred to as the soul. The defensive system that «covers the abyss with trance» tries to keep the innocent remnant of the whole self from being further impacted by suffering-in-reality. This protection has survival value for the individual menaced by a traumatic environment, but it proves to be problematic in the long run because psychological growth depends on a relational process through which the innocent core of the self gradually accrues experience. Dissociativedefenses prevent this and thus compromise per- sonal development.
In its function of sequestering the vulnerable core of the self, the self-
care system employs certain very powerful forces from a layer of the unconscious thatJung called «collective» or «archetypal.» These forces, in turn, are often experienced as spiritual or «numinous.»1 They can put the person in a trance or violentlyfragment the inner worl<lso that acute pain is not experienced. They are trans-egoic powers, and hence, in studying the protean forces that come to the psyche’s rescue in traumatic dissocia- tion, we are given a viewinto the dark hinterland of psychic reality where otherwise invisible powers reside. These powers2 normally support the ego’s functioning, but at critica! mornents (trauma) they are recruited for defensive purposes, and without help this leads to psychopathology and unlived life.
What I have called trans-egoic powers are visible in drearns and other imaginative products of the human psyche during the psychotherapy process. These personified presences are found in all the cases in this chapter and the others that follow.As the reader will discover, individuals with a history of childhood trauma frequently seem to have access to altered states in which they are tuned in, as it were, to frequencies that most of us cannot see or hear. Many of them apparently have genuine paranormal abilities (see Reiner, 2004, 2006). The otherwise invisible world of spirit seems more accessible to them, and their dreams are sorne- times archetypal dramas like something out of science-fiction films such as Star Wars or mytho-poetic sagas like Lord of the Rings. Sometimes they have had life-savingencounters with the positive side of the numinous, a «voice» or a «presence» that has come to them in a moment of great need like a guardian angel, and given them a kind of inner security that no outer human being has ever provided.
At other times, however, they seem to be menaced by dark and fright-
ening energies and images-demonic voices or persecutory inner entities
that can attack, shame, and humiliate them from within, re-traumatizing them and driving them to despair and abject hopelessness, sometimes even to suicide. Whether positive or negative, these volcanic and imper- sonal libidinal or aggressive powers are the untransformed, therefore mythological, expressions of what Winnicott and other object-relations theo- rists call childhood omnipotence. But they also seem to be more than that. They are the personified representatives of universal archetypal forces and, as such, they seem to be ordered by a central archetype with a remarkable «intelligence.» In this sense, childhood omnipotence has a kind of «implicare order» (see Bohm, 1980) that unfolds in predictable patterns.
In this chapter we explore the striking relationship between trauma and encounters with positive, integrative aspects of this archetypal dimension ( the darker aspects of the dissociative powers will be explored in Chapter 3,
4, and 9). The people who have such positive, integrative experiences never
forget them. And followingsuch experiences, many of them report that they are no longer afraid of death. We might speculate that in these moments the subject momentarily sees through a veil that normally separates ordinary reality from non-ordinary reality. Such moments provide glimpses or «hints» of a transcendent or ineffable dimension to human experience.
Depth psychology’s discovery of the spirit world
Many of the pioneers of depth psychology have described «spiritual» phe- nomena suddenly visible through a gap. created by trauma, although their dis- coveries have remained on the margins of accepted theory. For example,
100 years ago, the great American psychologist WilliamJames described how experiences that appear to «break» us (trauma) also «open» us to another dimension of experience which we are inclined to label as soulful or spiritual:
Briefly, the facts I have in mind may all be described as expcri- ences of an unexpected life succeeding upon death. By this I don’t mean immortality, or the death of the body. I mean the deathlike termination of certain mental processes within the indi- vidual’s experience, processes that run to failure, and in sorne individuals, at least, eventuate in despair. … The phenomenon is that of new ranges of life succeeding on our most despairing moments. There are resources in us that naturalism with its literal and legal virtues never recks of, possibilities that take our breath away,of another kind of happiness and power, based on giving up our own will and letting something higher work for us, and these seem to show a world wilder t.han either physics or philistine ethics can imagine.
(James, 1977: 137-8)
In the same lecture, James goes on to say· that he finds the various facts concerning the divided or split personality demonstrated by Janet, Charcot, and others to provide the strongest evidence yet for our connec- tion to a wider spiritual world or environment from which we are ordinar- ily shut off. His findings support the binocular vision of «two worlds» that we are taking in this book:
In a word, the believer is continuous, to his own consciousness, at any rate, with a wider self from which saving experiences flow in. Those who have such experiences distinctly enough and often enough to live in the light of them remain quite unmoved by criti- cism, from whatever quarter it may come …. They have had their vision and they know-that is enough-that we inhabit an invis- ible spiritual envíronment from which help comes, our soul being mysteriouslyone with a larger soul whose instruments we are.
(james, 1977: 139)
And, James suggests, these two worlds are often potentiated by traumatic experience. In his 1896 Lowell Lectures James concludes: «If there are supernormal powers, it is through the cracked and fragmented self that they enter» (quoted in Taylor, 1984: 110).
Later, Sandor Ferenczi made a similar discovery quite independent of James. Recorded in his Clinical Diary (Ferenczi, 1988) he showed how certain «primordial powers»-long since dormant-were «awakened» by trauma. «In moments of great need,» he said,
when the psychic system proves to be incapable of an adequate response, or when these specific [psychic] organs have been vio- lently destroyed, then the primordial psychic powers are aroused and it will be these forces that will seek to overcome the disrup- tion …. These reflections open the wayto an understanding of the surprisingly intelligent reactions of the unconscious in moments of great distress … [including] incidents of clairvoyance.
The Intellect [in such cases] is without time and space, there-
fore supra-individual. «Orpha.»
(Ferenczi, 1988: 6-13)
«Orpha» was the name that Ferenczi gave to a remarkable inner object that had come to the .rescue of a patient named Elizabeth Severn, identi- fied in the Diary as «RN.» Orpha was no ordinary inner object, but rather identified itself as Elizabeth Severn’s «guardian angel»-an inner, all- knowing, precociously intellectual part of the self that seemed to have access to higher powers. Ferenczi and his patient were able to reconstruct the life-savingactivities of this remarkable inner object. At the moment of impossible suffering, Orpha would exit through an imaginary hole in the
patient’s head, ascend into the starry vault, and become an «astral frag- ment,» shining off in the distance like a star, fuli of compassion and under- standing while the patient’s body was being tortured and abused (Ferenczi,
1988: 206). After the acute trauma had passed, Orpha would descend again and help the shattered child assemble sorne kind of minimally func- tioning self with which to go on existing.
Ferenczi speculates about the spiritual implications of Orpha:
To what extent do those who have «gone mad» from pain, that is, those who have departed from the usual egocentric point of view, become able through their special situation to experience a part of that irnrnaterial reality which remains inaccessible to us materi- alists? And here the direction of research must become involved with the so-called occult. Cases of thought transference during the analysis of suffering people are extraordinarily frequent … and it is possible that even the intelligence of which we are so proud is not our property but rnust be replaced or regenerated through the rhythmic outpouring of the ego into the universe, which alone
is all knowing and therefore intelligent.
(Ferenczi, 1988: 33)
C.G. Jung was led toward a similar discovery and toward similar mystical speculations by observing the creative fantasy products of sorne of his severely traumatized patients at the Burgholzli Psychiatric Hospital in Zurich, where he spent his early years as a psychiatrist. It is unlikely that Freud ever experienced the florid psychotic features so typical of the life- threatening early trauma thatJung saw in these patients.
What really excited Jung were the archaic and typical (archetypal) par-
allels between his patient’s dream and fantasy productions and the mytho- logical and religious imagery with which he was acquainted from his classical studies. These parallels had already been noted by other investiga- tors, most notably Frederick Myers, whose work ( 1903) was perhaps the first great resource for a psychology of the subconscious mind. Myers had talked about a mstho-poetic function of the unconscious, available in glirnpses of «anothcr world,» i.e., a deeper stratum of the subliminal mind sometimes activated in cases of severe dissociation. Both James and Jung saw here the possibility that «another world» of reality might shine through from this deep stratum in the unconscious.
The idea that mytho-poetic images represent a different world of real- ity~psychic reality-was Jung’s painful discovery during the despairing time after his break with Freud and recorded in the Red Book (Jung, 2009). In his «active imagination» Jung treated the invisible «powers» of his dreams and visions as real. He spoke with them and they responded-often with information and wisdom that Jung did not know consciously. The relative autonomy of these personified psychic powers was something all too
familiar to Jung from his psychotic patients. But the idea that such powers might be «organized» by meaningful-even redemptive-motifs having to do with the human soul, that was something else again.
Freud could not follow Jung into this rnytho-poetic territory, Freud rec- ognized that our basic instincts (Triebe) out-pictured themselves as mental representations, but he hesitated to attribute any kind of ontological «reality» to them. Instead he called their psychic reality a «particular form of existence» ( eine besondere Existenzformi, which got its reality-like character from the undeniable power of the unconscious (see Loewald, 1978: 8-9). Although seemingly «real,» this world, he said, was not to be confused with factual or material reality, i.e., the ego’s world. HenceJung became a man of «two worlds» while Freud insisted that psychic reality be reduced, where possible, to one world («where id was, ego shall be»). This difference is foundational in assessing the relative contributions of Freud andJung to a psychology of religious experience. For Jung, «psychic reality» has a col- lective layer and mediates «spiritual» experience. To relate consciously with this world is good for the soul.
Encounters with the mystery
The following personal stories, several frorn my own practice, describe encounters with the mysterious «powers» residing in the collective layer of the psyche. Each was constellated by a traumatic experience. My first example is a story I’ve written about elsewhere (Kalsched, 1996: 41). I repeat it here because it gives a vivid example of the uncanny intelligence of the psyche and because it demonstrates so clearly the relationship between the «broken places» and the «light.»
Little girl and the angel
The story» comes indirectly from Esther Harding, a Jungian analyst in New
York to whom it was reported by the mother of a little girl, aged 6.
The mother sent her young daughter to her father’s study one morning to deliver an important note, written on a piece of paper. The little girl went off to deliver the note. Shortly thereafter the daughter carne back in tears and said »I’m sorry mother, the angel won’t let me go in.» Whereupon the mother sent the daughter back a second time, with the same result only this time more tears and distress. At this point the mother becarne irritated at her youngster’s imaginative excess, so she took her little girl by the hand and thc two of them marched the rnessage over to the father. As they entered the father’s study, the mother saw her husband slumped in his chair, his drink spilled on the floor, dead from a heart attack.
This story brings home to us the miraculous and daimonic powers of the archetypal psyche in its efforts to preserve what I have called the imperishable personal spirit or soul. The painting by Henrietta Wyeth (Plate 2) called Death and the Child illustrates this poignant moment. In this arresting image an angel is covering the eyes of a child so that she does not «see» the unbearable reality of death. As the artist seems to be aware, sorne traumatic affects simply cannot be processed with the normal resources available to the ego of a young child, and deeper resources need to be marshaled. These deeper resources are what Winnicott calls «primi- tive defenses,» but there is no acknowledgment in Winnicott of what a miracle they are, or how essential their «spiritual» content can be to the emotional survival of a child.
There are three ways to interpret this event. If we took the usual materi-
alistic/ reductionistic view, the child «made up» the angel in order to toler- ate the intolerable … thus the angel would be a fantasy, an hallucination, a «spiritual defense.» Freud thought all religion was a derivative of such defenses . . . fantasies to make the intolerable realities of life more tolerable.
On the other hand, from a «supernatural» perspective, we would say that
the guardian angel, representing a genuine spiritual agency, intervened from 1’011 high» in the little girl’s earthly existence, ata moment of imposs- ible suffering, and blocked her access to her father’s room. The Christian church might describe such an event as a genuine miracle of «salvation.»
A (third) psycho-spiritual approach (between the worlds) might go as follows: The guardian angel could be viewed defensively-yes, but then comes the question, what is- it defending? And where does its uncanny wisdom and compassion come from? Could the angel represent a uni- versal self-protective agency from the collective layer of the unconscious (resident perhaps in its «celestial» or «spiritual» component-see Jung,
1988: 441-4) that sometimes intervenes in the ego’s affairs when it is con- fronted by the «too much» of trauma, like Ferenczi’s Orpha? This agency seems to know something the ego doesn’t-as if the angel «saw» the ego- annihilating horror of what this little girl was about to experience (her father ‘s death) and appeared at precisely that rnoment to block the thresh- old of his room. This angel would have put the little girl in an altered state («covered the abyss with trance») and in this way dissociated her from an unbearable reality until her mother could help mediate and humanize her overwhelrning anxiety and grief. In other words, the angel would have pro- tected the child’s soul from annihilation.
So in this third (mytho-poetic) view, the angel would also be a defense
against too much reality too soon, but the «goal» of the defense would be neither salvation nor hallucinatory protection. More primarily, its «goal» would be to restare a mytho-poetic matrix between reality and f antasy because this is where the little gfrl ‘s soul lives, and the angel appears to be a guardian of this soul. So conceived, the survival of the soul is the main «purpose» of the seif-care system.
To say that the human soul lives in a mytho-poetic matrix between reality and fantasy is one way to think about the importance of what D.W. Winnicott means by transitional space between the mother and baby, self and other, self and world. Transitional space is, for Winnicott, the space through which the baby makes the crucial transition from omnipotence to the reality principie. It involves mysterious processes like the «indwelling» and «personalization» of sorne vital spark of the person so that something more is going on than the baby’s hallucination of the breastjoined up with the mother’s actual breast (see Introduction). There is also an inner proc- ess-a transitional space between the ego and its deep ground in what Jung calJed the Self. This is apparently the «space» where angels and other hybrid daimonic beings have their hybridexistence.
In this view, perhaps the little girl’s angel provided an inner transitional figure-an intermediary-in the absence of an outer one. At the moment of dissociation, perhaps this inner reality bleeds through the dissociative rupture into o u ter reality and appears as an externa! «being.» This mytho- poetic «blood» eventually scabs. over and plugs the impossible wound with a universal story, before the personal story can even get started. But in so doing, it gives the little girl’s ego something to hang onto, something mov- ingly true about the soul’s need at this moment, i.e., somebody cares! And this «somebody» seems to be more than the actual mother-or at least more than the actual mother at this moment.
One might ask, «How <loes any child metabolize the reality of death- death of her beloved father-no matter how adequate the outer medi- ation?» Aren ‘t we all «orphans of the Real» in this sense? And don ‘t we all have mytho-poetic (spiritual) stories that provide a matrix of meaning to help hold our souls in being, on the edge of that frightening abyss called death? Does it sometimes take a trauma to render the ultimate mystery into an adequate story? Maybe even to make it livable? Trauma confronts the child with the pains of living before resources are available from out- side-therefore requiring inner resources, «spiritual resources.» Otherwise the soul stumbles.
We do not know the end to this story. We don’t know if this little girl would have been one of Grotstein’s «orphans of the Real» or not. If the mother’s empathic mediation of this experience was adequate and help was found to metabolize this trauma through play and imaginative atten- tion to the little girl’s feelings and ideas, then the guardian angel would have served her purpose as a temporary provider of a mytho-poetic matrix for the soul. Eventually she would have retired into the unconscious back- ground. If, on the other hand, the mother disappeared into her own anxiety and depression for days or weeks, then the daughter’s angel might have turned into a pervasive mental presence and would have provided a substitute for reality, instead of being mixed up with it, as in transitional space. The angel would then have overseen the encapsulation of the trau- matic experience so that the sensations, affects, and ideas associated with
this moment would be isolated from normal memory-encoding processes. Slowly the angel would have turned dark and ultimately would have over- seen further dissociative processes. We will see a vivid example of such a «fallen angel» and its violent effects in Dante’s joumey into the Inferno, the first book of his Divine Cornedy (Chapter 3).
My point in providing this example early in this book’s discussion is to
indicate how we might try to hold simultaneously a spiritual and material view of this mysterious situation and others like it. Referring back to our Inuit Storyteller mask in the Introduction (Figure I.l), this would mean maintaining both inward- and outward-focused vision-a «binocular» view. Only such a paradoxical stance would do justice to the mysteries involved in this case. Just as Winnicott insists that after the baby has both created and discovered the breast, «it is a matter of agreement between us and the baby that we will never ask the question: ‘Did you conceive of this or was it presented to you from without?»‘ (Winnicott, 1971: 12), we would never ask the traumatized little girl in this example whether she «found» the angel out there or «created» her from within herself. Such a question would violate the soul because it would threaten the intermediate space, the mytho-poetic matrix where the human soul finds a medium for its growth and development. This is the matrix from which all meaningful stories grow, and the soul needs a story-a resonant image-that is ade- quate to its own biography.
Visitations at the moment of dying
The following two accounts involve near-death experiences in which the question of whether to live or die was mediated and witnessed by a remark- able presence who reassured both children that they had a choice about life in this world. In both cases the story of this presence became an inner secret, privately cherished and not shared with others for fear of being made fun of, or seen as «crazy.» In both cases, the telling of the story itself had a healing effect.
]ennifer and the angel
A Iittle girl, who I will call «[ennifer,» who later became my patient, remembered with great grief the place where she was sitting in the school playground, separated from the other children, when she realized that she was «broken.» She was only eight years old. But for two years she had been sexually violated on a regular basis by her older step-brother, who threat- ened to injure her if she told about it. She knew she was different now- somehow damaged, no longer able to play, robbed of her innocence, broken. We could say that her heart had been broken and this was true, but she couldn’t feel her own sadness about these losses until much later in therapy. Instead, she felt «bad,» dissociated, split off, and like an alíen
in a world that other children seemed to occupy without difficulty. This alienation was two-fold. She felt alienated from people in the outer world and she felt alienated from herself. Whereas before she had been «at-one» with herself, playing and growing like a normal kid, after the sexual abuse started she was «at odds» with herself, «beside» herself, split in two-one part observing, finding fault with herself, criticizing and comparing, one part full of shame, anxiously trying to fit in. The essential self that she knew herself to be-the very heart of her personality-had gone into hiding, so deep into hiding that she herself had lost contact with it. She soldiered on with great courage through her half-lived life, but something essential was missing and she didri’t know what it was.
Whenjennifer grew up and entered therapy with me, she would tell me she had lost her soul. There were fleeting moments, she reported, when her soul would return to her-when she painted alone in her studio, or isolated times in nature-but most of the time she felt devoid of value inside and she was convinced of her own lack-her own «badness.» She suffered terribly, but much of this suffering was a corrosive self-criticism and shame about herself that never relented even if she found love and acceptance on the outside. It was as though, in the space inside which her soul had vacated, a dark mocking spirit had moved in, a mental spirit that negated everything and filled her with despair and hopelessness. As the years went by she began to feel more and more defeated-more and more «failed» compared to others, and more and more bitter and victimized by her circumstances. She was surviving, but she was not living. «I have to construct a self,» she told me later, «instead of living out of a self. Other people seem to have the right to ‘be’ in a different way than I do … I always have to be ‘for’ someone or ‘for’ sorne other purpose.»
Therapy was a place where she could begin to find and tell her true story-not the false, self-blaming victim/perpetrator story whispered to her in the background by her inner «voices,» or by what Corrigan and Gordon (1995) might call her pathological «mind object.» But there was great resistance to this true story because of the grief that carne up as she began to allow herself to feel compassion for the small and helpless con- fused little person she was when the sexual abuse began. One of the mern- ories that helped her toward this self-compassion was a «visitation» she had at age seven from a «presence of light»-a presence she interpreted as an angel, representing the positive, integrative side of the spirit world and a power that supported her will to live.
She was near death, lying in a busy emergency room on a gurney with a
ruptured bowel caused by the rape of her abusive step-brother-when she heard one of the ER nurses remark «don’t take much trouble with her; she’s not going to make it anyway.» She remembered fighting the sweet smell of the ether as she lost consciousness, vowing that she would live to spite them and prove them wrong. Later she found herself in a narrow hospital corridor with the familiar pain that had companioned her for so
long now replaced by the dull ache of tight bandages. She wondered if they knew she was there and that she was still alive, despite their prediction.
At last, she was moved into a room with another child. As she lay on her
back watching, she saw this other beautiful blonde child sitting in bed, coloring-using crayons from a box like she used at school. It was then that she formed the thought that there could be sorne reason to continue fighting. Though she had closed her eyes, the image of the large, bright- colored crayons with her and the need to make a «Can I color?» she asked. «I want to color.» Her tenacity impressed the nurses and they let ·her try. She became their «little wonder» the «rniraculous recov- ery.» But her recovery didn’r last.
Now it was months later-a bitter cold winter aftemoon. She was alone in a somber timeless space, a cocoon of fever and pain from a recurrence of peritonitis. She was lying in bed moving in and out of sleep, aware that
things were not right, that she was getting worse not better, despite assur-
anees to the contrary. She was alone with this secret. At her side lay a remnant of a Christmas that had occurred without her. It was a large tin box of watercolors. While she barely had the strength to hold her treasure she had spent the weary afternoon examining each color. Each one was like a beautiful jewel full of possibility and yet, now, as her vital signs began to flag, she thought «what use is this to me now?»
The angel, when it carne to her, was in the midst of a soft white-yellow light beside her to the right. Neither male nor female, it was at once ter- rible and cool and somehow unsurprisingly familiar. Calmly and caringly, the ethereal messenger declared without preamble, »You don’t have to continue; it’s all right to let go now.» The presence paused then con- tinued, «If you decide to stay it won’t be easy.»
Jennifer remembered that it was so tempting to let go at thís moment and so very easy not to call out for help. But in her agonizing deliberation, her eyes fell on the box ofwatercolors and went to the color Rose Madder. A sense of longing carne over her. «I need to use this color,» she thought. «How can I leave without this color? I must to use my colors.» Without daring to look directly into the light, she told the angel that she knew that she must stay in life.
In the quiet stillness of that momentary state of grace, Jennifer knew that she was found and held by a serene intelligence beyond herself. With her angel’s visit, carne a quiet sense of belonging, a knowing that she was a part of something greater than herself.
Now she had something to do that was important in the grand scheme of things, and although she didn’t know it then, the passion for color that helped her make this choice for life, stayed with her throughout and led to her vocation as an artist.
Despite her unbearable childhood pain and almost complete loss of hope, Jennifer had the privilege of seeing through to something «beyond
this world» and that made all the difference. Her lonely suffering now had a witness. It changed her world view. She experienced what the ancient poetAeschylus meant when he said in Agamemnon (1957: 9, lines 179-83):
And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despair, against our will,
By the awfulgrace of God
Mypatient teared upas she recounted her story-a story she had told no one for 50 years. She remembered making the decision for life, and it impressed her that she had been able to do this. The fact that this angelic spirit had visited her and witnessed her «sicknessunto death,» then let her know that there was a bigger story about her life than the one she could see as a sevenyear old, i.e., namely that she would be «all-right» if she let herself slide down the slipperyslope into death-all this moved her profoundly. Her recounting of the story moved me profoundly. A kind of poignant wisdom and soulfuldepth entered the room, and we were both changed by it.