Stein’s Map of the Soul—Persona: Review

Anima, animus, archetype, shadow, persona, apperception, individuation—pure Jungian parlance that remains with me still, despite the passage of years since I first read depth psychiatrist, Carl Jung. For a time, I seriously thought about changing careers and becoming a Jungian therapist.

I initially came upon Jung in teaching a college course dubbed Introduction to Literature, designed to teach students how to write expository essays, using literary models. One of its units featured Jungian archetypes. I was hooked.

The archetypal offered a simple palette for opening up literature for my students, baffled at how I somehow could extract meaning from a text that otherwise was simply prose. Know the pattern and you unlocked the door. The hero archetype, for example, with its separation, initiation, return triad.

Jung began my fascination with myth, which led to a National Humanities stipend to study the subject at Claremont Graduate School in 1978. I would learn that myth transcended what the public associated with, say, Greek and Roman mythology popularized by Edith Hamilton. Much more, myth was any attempt to render meaning in an an accidental cosmos, whether religious, political or philosophical, etc. If nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human mind. Myth confirmed Jung’s notion of a Collective Unconscious, or primordial repository of symbolization embedded universally. All cultures, for example, share legacies of a flood, or of Man’s first sojourn in a garden paradise.

In 1986, I studied Jung and Freud in an eight week seminar at Yale. In that wonderful summer, I read perhaps a layman’s best introduction by the sage himself, Man in Search of a Soul. Critic Northrup Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism proved a cogent, expansive source on archetype, and then there was Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers series, enjoying popular acclaim on PBS.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded on my Kindle Murray Stein’s recent book, Map of the Soul—Persona: Our Many Faces, which gathers not only his own insights, but those of other prominent Jungians.

I knew Murray when he was just sixteen, not yet a Yale student. His father was pastor of our church in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and we’d share long talks on varied topics, especially contemporary biblical criticism. Murray now trains analysts at the International Analytical Institute in Zurich, of which he’s president, has published widely, and lectures internationally.

Stein’s book is a short, but welcome, review of Jungian essentials for lay people, particularly on the persona:

Persona is a type of mask. It hides parts of the self that you do not want to be seen by others, and it also expresses who you feel you are at the present time.…But it does not say who you are when you are alone.

In brief, we are much deeper than the masquerades performed by our personas, which unchanged, inspire those complexes, or sub-conscious elements of charged emotion frustrating our living authentic lives and achieving the happiness authenticity makes possible. Deep within our subconscious, lies the Shadow, or unknown self, contrary to the personas we project. Often, we repress it for its contradictions to our social roles or its resulting angst. And here lies the crux and challenge of the Jungian approach—to acknowledge that repressed element and achieve reconciliation in what Jung called “individuation”:

But if we understand anything of the unconscious, we know that it cannot be swallowed. We also know that it is dangerous to suppress it, because the unconscious is life and this life turns against us if suppressed, as happens in neurosis.…Consciousness should defend its reason and protect itself, and the chaotic life of the unconscious should be given the chance of having its way too – as much of it as we can stand. This means open conflict and open collaboration at once. That, evidently, is the way human life should be. It is the old game of hammer and anvil: between them the patient iron is forged into an indestructible whole, an ‘individual.’ This, roughly, is what I mean by the individuation process.

Stein’s earlier book, also titled Map of the Soul (minus the persona tag), ironically caught the attention of the Korean rock group BTS, which have spread Stein’s Jungian message worldwide in their album, Map of the Soul Persona. Stein comments extensively on the album’s songs and their Jungian components in the book’s opening pages.

I think you’ll find Stein’s book riveting and a good place to begin your acquaintance with Jung, one of psychology’s foremost discerners of the human psyche and a principal influence on my own life.

Dream Rummaging

We dream–it is good we are dreaming–
It would hurt us–were we awake.
Emily Dickinson

Freud in his London office (1939)


Do you dream a lot?

I know I do.


I dream more now that I’ve gotten older, abetted by having to get up in the nights at this juncture.

Should I care about dreams?

Do they have meaning?

Can they help us?

Perhaps show us our real selves?

Make for a better world?

I know I’ve always been interested in them from earliest days.

The catalyst was probably Freud’s massive Interpretation of Dreams, which I confess to reading all the way through.

For Freud, dreams reflected repressed desire, often of libido.

The wish principle always.

But how can that be?

Don’t I often dream my fears?

With Freud, I always sensed a wanna-be novelist at work, ingeniously spinning narratives, howbeit, in the name of science–alas, to confirm an a priori hypothesis without the backup of today’s medical formulae of random testing and cohort studies. But then, how do you quantify something so ethereal as dreams?

But don’t get me wrong.

I think his Civilization and Its Discontents one of the great masterpieces, despite its surprising brevity.

His triad of Id, Ego, and Super Ego continues to spellbind me by virtual of the myriad ways I see it manifest itself in both myself and others.

Auden, as always, said it so well in his “Memory of Sigmund Freud” (1939):

for one who’d lived among enemies so long:
if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,
to us he is no more a person
now but a whole climate of opinion….

I was surprised to read in neurologist Oliver Sacks’ tell-all memoir, Moving On, published just several months before his death last week, that he was seeing a psychoanalyst for some fifty years–and, remarkably–the same one every week! Sacks kept a notebook on his nightstand, recording his dreams faithfully.

Make no mistake: Sacks is a man I came to love and respect deeply. I just wish I knew why he kept finding psychoanalysis a cornucopia of self-knowledge, apart from crediting it with his rescue from drug addiction acquired from his youthful halcyon California days a la Muscle Beach.

For me, the great influence on how I look at dreams has been Freud’s former disciple, Carl Jung. His notions of anima and animus, often projected in dreams, have proved revelatory personally and hence liberating.

He taught me that so much of living life is finding equilibrium, or the balancing of Ego and Self.  Dreams offer symbols to excesses in ourselves that can be remanded.

He also introduced me to polarity as the essence of mythos truth with its tension of paradox.

If Freud looked to our past as the repository of dream content, Jung saw dreams as projections of possibility and therefore hope.

Jung was more a cultural analyst, or pseudo-anthropologist, finding universality across a wide spectrum of symbolic significance, rummaging what he collectively called archetypes.

In younger days I nearly chose becoming a licensed Jungian therapist and sometimes wonder if I committed one of the great follies in my life in turning down its seduction. Campbell, that ardent Jungian, famously urged we should follow our bliss. That maxim, aside from its latent dangers resident in reductionism, may often prove wise counsel and its rejection the source of substantial human misery.

But to sum up, I think what I’ve liked best in Jung is his acceptance of the banality of evil, Arendt’s phrasing for resident evil in Man. No liberal withering away via socio-economic exegesis, often speciously argued in my view.

Maybe my lifelong fascination with dreams stems from my youthful days drenched in fundamentalist biblical parochialism. There was Joseph, so masterful at dream interpretation that the Pharaoh took him into his confidence, ultimately saving Joseph’s kindred Hebrews.

And of course, there’s Daniel.

For the ancients, dreams gave warning and with it, admonition.

I chose to pursue a Ph. D. in English Literature. Well, you guessed it: Coleridge’s famous Kubla Khan poem, which he explained as the aftermath of an interrupted dream. But that’s just one dream poem. There are scores of other dream poems.

What I’m meaning to say is that there have been so many threads feeding into my dream fixation, not just Freud and Jung who were obviously mesmerized.

Do dreams exhibit patterns?

Do they help us to know ourselves?

I believe they do.

And that’s why I need to go back to exploring my dreams again, now that they seem to occur more frequently.

Like Sacks, I may soon be keeping a notepad on my nightstand.


What myth can teach us about grief

orpheusI have always liked myths. Even more so when Jung helped me see their inner life and I learned that, far from being just stories spun by human fantasy, they are windows into the psyche, reflecting all the perambulations of experience that define us such as love and hate, courage and fear, loyalty and betrayal, exploration and boundary.

We have this notion of myth, however, as synonymous with what’s untrue; entertaining, but nothing more. But this is to misunderstand, for the story is but the shell. At the heart lies the kernel of truth.

One of my favorite myths is that of Orpheus and Eurydice. You may remember that it tells of the death of Eurydice and of Orpheus’ fervent love for her that brings him into the Underworld, or dwelling place of the dead, seeking her return.

To secure her return, he must observe Hades’ one condition: in leading Eurydice out of death’s realm, he mustn’t look back or he’ll lose her forever.

But of course this is just what Orpheus does, nullifying any possibility for her to resume life.

Not looking back, or what you and I might call second guessing, is inherent in myth. We see it even in the Old Testament when Yahweh enjoins Lot and his wife not to look back at Sodom as they exit its destruction. Lot’s wife disobeys and becomes a pillar of salt.

For me, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice teaches us that living in the past, or looking back, is self-defeating, for the dead can never return to us, given Nature’s unalterable laws. Orpheus’s backward glance is simply a story artifice to undergird that sober truth.

At another level, Orpheus’s motivating loneliness demonstrates the frailty of the human condition when it comes to losing those we dearly love–a lingering emptiness, the sense of shock that sets in, perhaps anger at what appears unjust, the seeming shallowness of well meaning comforters.

The insightful British writer, Julian Barnes, in writing of his own languishing grief in Levels of Life (2013) following the loss of his wife of more than thirty years, quotes H. L. Mencken:

It is a literal fact that I still think of Sara every day of my life and almost every hour of the day. Whenever I see anything she would have liked, I find myself saying I’ll buy it and take it to her, and I am always thinking of things to tell her.

Time’s gift, however, is that it can soften death’s contours, enabling us to move with life’s currents into new venues, with abiding memory becoming a gift of solace.

Perhaps the heaviest grief falls upon those who have never found someone to love.

To have found love, on the other hand, is the greatest privilege of all, and knowing this gives promise of our healing.















Jung, Archetypes, and A Parrot: The Legacy of Nature’s Genius

Dr. Joanna Burger
Dr. Joanna Burger

I’ve just finished Joanna Burger’s The Parrot That Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship. Funny, I had this book sitting on my shelf, unread, for twelve years. Looking for something to read while eating my breakfast, I pulled it down and started what turned out to be a fun read.

I also learned a great deal about birds and, especially about parrots, surely one of the most intelligent of animal species, though we normally think of primates (gorillas, chimps, orangutans, etc.), dolphins, elephants and pigs as honorary Mensa candidates among our animal kin.

Burger, one of the world’s leading ornithologists and Rutgers University prof with over twenty books to her credit, tells how Tiko, her Red-lored Amazon, practices a repertoire of tonal warnings to distinguish varied predators, most notably, hawks, cats, and snakes.

She writes that “when Tiko gave his hawk call, Mike (her husband) and I would invariably spot a Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned, or Cooper’s Hawk flying overhead or perched in a nearby tree. Tiko’s response was so consistent that there was no question that he recognized hawkdom” (167).

Likewise, Tiko doesn’t like snakes, one of which Burger kept for a while, much to Tiko’s dismay. Only when the snake went into hibernation could he be content in the same room.

But how does Tiko pull this off?   After all, he seems to possess a genetic memory of jungle predators, even though he’s been totally reared in captivity and has never had any interaction with hawks or snakes?

Years ago I had started reading Jung, who has impressed me more than Freud as being on the mark when its comes to the seminal sources lurking behind human behavior. Jung proposed the theory of archetypes, or “primordial images” (Man and his Symbols, 67), reflecting instinctual urges of unknown origins. They can arise in our consciousness suddenly and anywhere apart from cultural influence or personal experience. Often they take shape in our consciousness through fantasy, symbol, or situational pattern.

And so with Tiko as well as ourselves, the instinctual responses perpetuating survival have become wired in the brains of sentient creatures. Untaught, they’re automatic.

Today, science overwhelmingly confirms the accuracy of Jung’s prescience. Take, for example, the eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson, who attests that monkeys “raised in the laboratory without previous exposure to snakes show the same response to them as those brought in from the wild, though in weaker form (In Search of Nature, 19).

The explanation, of course, lies in evolution’s conferring differential survival value through natural selection. Those who learn to respond to fear quickly simply pass on more of their offspring with their response mechanisms.

Wilson goes further, arguing that human culture itself is considerably biological in origin, or genetically prescribed, supported by analytical models (123-24).

A Jungian at heart, I found Tiko’s innate capacity to respond to elements of danger another in a long line of evidence supporting Jung’s pioneering perspective; on this occasion, by way of one of the world’s most astute animal behaviorists, Joanna Burger.

Nature never ceases to amaze me!











On living with ambiguity

Those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will recall that its end letter comes down to either a P or a J, denoting perception vs judgment modalities.  P types can tolerate, if not thrive on, open-ended movies.  Conversely, J’s like their movies to end with all the pieces in place.  As essentially an everyday existentialist, I’ve always found bonafide certainty elusive.  Thus, I generally come out in the wash as a P, with speculation often more fun for its U-Turn potential than the dead end of the J alternative.

But hold your horses. This doesn’t mean I’m closed to fixed verities and the closure they provide.  Who wants to cast his fate with an ambiguous lover, or speculate about whether he’ll have his job next month or, omigod, is it cancer?  Like the next guy, I want the bad guys rounded-up and justice meted out.  What a wonderful world it’d be if we could truly accept things as they appear, knowing nobody practices deceit, a world with no need for lawyers to protect us from the fraudulent.  No need for the clergy either to put right God’s way of doing things.  And so with psychiatrists, since there’d be nothing to be anxious about in a world absent of unknowns.  But as Voltaire’s Candide discovered the hard way, we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds.

I wouldn’t even be writing this entry if it hadn’t been for coming, serendipity fashion, upon Emily Dickinson’s powerful poem, “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” with its blunt rendering of our stumbling angst in a cosmos devoid of moon and stars to light our journey through the metaphysical night, reminding me again of ambiguity’s pervasiveness and our struggles to find our way:

We grow accustomed to the Dark—
When light is put away—
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye—
A Moment—We uncertain step
For newness of the night—
Then—fit our Vision to the Dark—
And meet the Road—erect—
And so of larger—Darkness—
Those Evenings of the Brain—
When not a Moon disclose a sign—
Or Star—come out—within—
The Bravest—grope a little—
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead—
But as they learn to see—
Either the Darkness alters—
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight—
And Life steps almost straight.

Here Dickinson fashions the poem’s edifice by way of analogy from everyday life of our initial difficulty seeing things when suddenly plunged into darkness until our vision adjusts and we find our way, or think we do (“And life seems almost straight”).  The equivocation comes in the persona’s almost, which we mustn’t miss in Dickinson’s typical closet subtlety, perhaps mirroring the metaphysical poets Donne and Herbert she read avidly.

When the narrator tells “Of something in the sight/Adjusts itself to Midnight,” we come to the bottom line of how we manage our journey through the psyche’s dark night (“Those Evenings of the Brain”), perhaps through religious faith, a mainstream fixture for many in the Calvinist Amherst of her time.

My point, and I think Dickinson’s as well, is that in a cosmos absent of Divine revelation and explicit meaning, our need for closure–to abolish life’s curves and set its steps straight, exerts itself in human constructs, epistemologically, whether done through provisos of faith or artist metaphor.

It isn’t just nature that abhors a vacuum.  We despise it too.  In the end, Jung is wrong, for we are all J’s at heart!  Life is very often a search for meaning and, if tenuous in its ambiguity, compels us to define it, however vulnerable its artifice.


The quest for individuation: a Jungian looks at Matthew Arnold’s “The Buried Life”

Intelligent Life, the free cultural news magazine of The Economist, recently featured a fascinating several day exploration of the labyrinthian stream flowing beneath Paris’ infrastructure with its scenarios ranging from party venues to ossuaries and catacombs.

In those outliers of thought that often follow a stimulus, I found myself musing a poem I had presumed I’d long ago relegated to absentia, seeing I retired from college teaching seven years ago.  But there it was, Matthew Arnold’s “The Buried Life,” in bold dress on my mental screen, refulgent in its own musings, pre-Freud, pre-Jung, cogently exploring in all its ebb and flow the subterranean river of the Unconscious that lies deep within all of us, frequently surfacing to veto or check our best intent with intuitive urgency.

Then I thought of  Jung’s concept of the Shadow, that primordial aspect of ourselves that can express itself suddenly, individually and collectively, when repressed or unintegrated into consciousness, disrupting relationships and even contributing to social disorder.  It isn’t evil in itself, or some kind of resident demon we try our best to confine.  The Shadow, no intrinsically Hyde element spotting the cultured Dr. Jekyll of the day world, has potentiality for making ourselves whole as we acknowledge undeveloped aspects of ourselves.

Arnold’s prescient poem acknowledges the Shadow’s salient wisdom in shaping our psyches, especially in regard to our inhibitions, though of course he comes too early (1822-1886) to use that term. On the surface, the poem muses on how even lovers sometimes paradoxically conceal themselves from each other, given the intransigent ego in all of us. Here, the poem begins its prison imagery, prominent throughout the poem.

      Alas! Is even love too weak to unlock the heart, and let it speak?
      even lovers powerless to reveal
      To one another what indeed they feel?

But the poem probes far deeper in exploring a resident conflict within ourselves arising from the tension between the Ego and the Unconscious, or Shadow element familiar to Jungians.

    Ah! well for us, if even we,
   Even for a moment, can get free
   Our heart, and have our lips unchained;
   For that which seals them hath been deep-ordained!

Arnold gives tribute to this dimension working its will in us, instinctually, covertly, as our true source of identity.  It works in stealth to keep us from tampering with its design to foster wholeness, for the human proclivity is to falsify true feelings in servility to convention:

    Fate, which foresaw
    How frivolous a baby man would be–
    By what distractions he would be possessed,
    How he would pour himself in every strife,
    And well-nigh change his own identity–
    That it might keep from his capricious play
    His genuine self, and force him to obey
    Even in his own despite his being’s law,
    Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
    The unregarded river of our life
    Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
    And that we should not see
    The buried stream, and seem to be
    Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
    Though driving on with it eternally.

This is hardly Freud’s dynamic of repression at work, but rather the Jungian perspective that each of us is actually two entities in antithesis.  The “unregarded river” can be thought of as our instinctual self, defiant of culture, and a legacy of our evolutionary past, the Shadow entity resident in us analogous to the dark side of the moon. 

Amid the often banality of our commercial world, we sometimes long for communion with this alter ego.  Adroitly, Arnold coalesces mining and river imagery here.  We yearn to track the line of ourselves, plumb to its depths, and extract its ore.  At this level, the poem anticipates Jung’s concept of “individuation,” or the quest for wholeness; a pilgrimage for conjunction of the Conscious and the Unconscious:

    But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
    But often, in the din of strife,
    There rises an unspeakable desire
    After the knowledge of our buried life;
    A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
    In tracking out our True, original course;
    A longing to inquireInto the mystery of the heart which beats
    So wild, so deep in us–to know
    Whence our lives come and where they go. 

Alas, we never do succeed wholly, so deep is that hidden Self, and so we withdraw from the fray, giving ourselves up to distractions:

    But deep enough, alas! none ever mines
    Hardly had skill to utter one of all
    The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
    But they course on forever unexpressed.
    And long we try in vain to speak and act
    Our hidden self, and what we say and do
    Is eloquent, is well–but ’tis not true!

But neither can we escape this longing within for something more:

    From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
    As from an infinitely distant land,
    Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
    A melancholy into all our day.

Sometimes, however, there occur those transient moments lovers experience, near mystical, when we intuit and achieve unity with our instinctual self, fathom all things about ourselves, and live genuinely with those we love:

    When our world-deafened ear
    Is by the tones of a loved voice caressed–
    A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
    And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
    The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
    And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know,
    A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
    And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
    The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
    And there arrives a lull in the hot race
    Wherein he doth forever chase
    That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
    An air of coolness plays upon his face, and an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
    And then he thinks he knows
    The hills where his life rose, and the sea where it goes.

Some years ago, psychiatrist Reuven Bar-Levav cogently observed that “most people today are at least superficially aware of unconscious motives, but few realize how powerful and how prevalent they are.  Man is not what he claims to be” (Thinking in the Shadows, p. 19).  Arnold uncannily fathomed this in “The Buried Life” more than 150 years ago, anticipating depth psychology and Jung in particular.  Across the years,  I have always found this poem riveting for its profundity, beauty and sincerity.

I hope you will like this poem, too.

Do well.  Be well. 


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