Thursday, June 4, 2009

Psyche and Wilderness: Journeying into the Depths. A Presentation by Dr. Teresa Arendell.

“I invite you to spend a few minutes getting oriented and settled into our topic today, which is, specifically, wilderness and psyche. So I invite you to relax, settle into your seat and see where wilderness takes you…”

So began Dr. Teresa Arendell’s presentation for The C.G. Jung Society of Vermont’s spring lecture entitled, Psyche and Wilderness: Journeying into the Depths. For the next couple of hours, Dr. Arendell, Professor and Chair of Sociology at Colby College, and Diploma Candidate at the C.G. Jung Institute–Boston, guided us through an exploration of wilderness in its various forms and manifestations: wilderness as universal theme and intellectual construct; as collective experience and individual experience; as natural world and phenomenon; and as numinous archetypal symbol.

“Wilderness, and our consideration of wilderness,” she said in her introduction, “moves us into the mystery of psyche and nature, to the mystery of consciousness. It directs us to the very core of the splits which dominate our psychological and cultural lives in this modern era. Wilderness – whether as metaphor, image, experience, or place – is at the heart of the journey of self-exploration, the movement toward greater consciousness.” A widening of consciousness is a challenging task because it requires a healing of the splits within ourselves (and the collective): the split between psyche and matter, ego-consciousness and its connection to the unconscious, thinking and feeling, etc. These various separations or “estrangements” that we carry within are mirrored in the external world via the kind of relationship we have with the natural world. The hermetic axiom “As above, so below” speaks to this interrelationship between outer and inner, between the wilderness of the manifest world and the wilderness of the unconscious psyche. Thus, Dr. Arendell’s main point is that how we live in one has a direct correlation with how we live in the other.

Slide images of the New England landscape, particularly of Maine and Mt. Katahdin, served as the visual backdrop and projective screen for what Dr. Arendell was ultimately inviting each one of us to do during her presentation: to examine our beliefs about nature and to embark on a psychological journey into the interior landscape of our own psyche. To help us enter into this invitation, she presented her case by first talking about our estrangement from nature, what this means psychologically, and then spoke about Jung’s powerful connection to nature. Rather than keep it at the level of other, she opened the possibility for directed inner dialogue by posing a number of questions for inner, private engagement: “We must keep asking ourselves: What is wilderness to me? Where am I right now and, if in the wilderness, what kind of wilderness? How do I know that? What are the images? What are the feelings?.” During this questioning she also reminded us always to be mindfull that “what wilderness means will shift and evolve,” as meanings inevitably and always do. Dr. Arendell stressed at a latter point that by actively engaging in our inner dialogue with our Self we “re-member” ourselves, that is, collect back what we have disowned, by “return[ing] to the wisdom of our psyches” and in this way begin to heal the splits within us. But, she reminded us, quoting Hillman, “an individual’s harmony with his or her own deep self requires not merely a journey to the interior but a harmonizing with the environmental world [since] the deepest self cannot be confined to in here because we can’t be sure it is not also or even entirely out there!”

Our estrangement from nature, Dr. Arendell pointed out, “is unique in human history.” One hasn’t far to go to confirm this. We all have had experiences or heard of situations where it is easier to attempt to control nature than to cooperate with it. In Vermont, troublesome animals – animals that intrude on human space and/or compete for resources - such as beavers, bears and moose, are more often than not killed rather than accommodated by a slight change in human behavior. As to forest and wetlands, even in our environmentally enlightened state of Vermont, these are natural resources to be protected or harvested dependent on human need. In both cases, wild animals and the natural environment, human gain in whatever guise, trumps nature. For Dr. Arendell, a potent reminder of this reality is the wolf, an animal that serves to highlight man’s assault on wilderness during the 19th century when it was hunted to near extinction; even today in the few northwestern states where wolf populations still exist, Alaska and Montana, wolves carry a bounty and are hunted with assault rifles from the air.

For much of her presentation, Dr. Arendell focused on the wolf and its fate in North America “because it represents our history with wilderness and our deep psychological ambivalence about wilderness and all things wild.” Through an amplification of the symbol of wolf as portrayed in fairy tales, myths, and the Bible, she highlighted the different relationships humans have had with the animal at different times and in different cultures. For example, whereas western civilization has consistently vilified the wolf as dark, destructive and downright evil, wolf in classical Greek and Early Roman mythology is more ambivalent, and she mentioned its association with the goddess Athena as well as Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome. In North American indigenous cultures, wolf was “both beloved and celebrated” as clan name and identity, and, “as a totem animal, was called brother.” Dr. Arendell fleshed out her argument, that the wolf carries the personal shadow and that of the collective, and as such is the symbol of our (and the collective) estrangement from nature and the natural world, with sources from current and latter day naturalists such as Barry Lopez, Gary Synder, David Abram, and Henry David Thoreau. Quoting Barry Lopez, she said, “The hatred [of wolves] had religious roots… and secular roots: wolves killed stock and made man poor. At a more general level it had to do, historically, with feelings about wilderness. What men said about the one, they generally meant about the other. To celebrate wilderness was to celebrate the wolf; to want an end to wilderness and all it stood for was to want the wolf’s head.”

Those who believe that humankind’s preeminent place in the food chain gives us the right to control and dominate nature would find Dr. Arendell’s use of the wolf as the potent symbol for our estrangement from the natural world and from our inner world of psyche both provocative and naïve, and would likely question whether we are, in fact, estranged from nature and why an estrangement from nature would be a problem. They would maintain that wolves as large carnivores need to be controlled and even eradicated. They might even point to one of her sources, Gary Synder, for confirmation of their viewpoint: “Life in the wild is not just eating berries in the sunlight… [There is the] dark side of nature – the ball of crunched bones in scat, the feathers in the snow, the tales of insatiable appetite. Wild systems are in one elevated sense above criticism, but they can also be seen as irrational, moldy, cruel, parasitic.” And this, I believe, is Dr. Arendell’s central point: to be as conscious as possible requires a healing of the splits within the individual and within the collective (as mentioned earlier) and to do this requires a change in attitude, from that of duality as in “this or that” and “but and or” to one of plurality as in “both this and that.” A movement from duality to inclusiveness speaks to our ability to accept the paradoxes of life as “just so” and to shift accordingly

Giving power to an already powerful presentation were the slides of wilderness and wolves that were projected onto the theater-sized screen behind Dr. Arendell, and by the selection of her ending. The last 20 minutes or so were given to a reading of an Abenaki tale retold and illustrated by Joseph Bruchac. While his dream-like illustrations filled the screen in front of us, she told the tale of a disparate group of men, each on a wilderness journey to visit a wise man in a distant land who has the power to confer on each that which is lacking in his life. Once the gift is given, what each man does with it determines his fate and the fate of his tribe. Even before it is asked for, what is requested signifies much about the petitioner and reminded me of the adage, “be careful what you ask for – you might get it.” Dr. Arendell suggested that this tale presents “an opening into the ‘new old-new ways… as a window on one people’s relationship to the natural world… and as a window on these people’s understanding of what it means to be human.” It is also a tale that stands as a template for the journey of Individuation, that inner journey to Self that each of us is prompted to take, consciously or not; the challenges we meet along the way; the integration of our shadow so to become wholly ourselves; and the way in which we bring this self knowledge into the world.

To close this brief review of a presentation that was scholarly, passionate, and playful, I will end with a number of quotes that seem to me to most powerfully convey the essence of Dr. Arendell’s presentation:

“Modernity the period which encompasses the last four hundred years and which has accelerated at a dramatic rate in the past seventy-five, is but a blip on the temporal clock of our presence on the planet; yet, in this brief moment of human history, we’ve come to threaten not only the continuance of our own species but that of all life. Both science, with its primacy on rationalism and objectivity, and urban industrial life have widened our alienation from the natural world – contributed to its desacralization and disenchantment, and to our widespread destruction of wilderness, specifically. With the ever-increasing one-sided emphasis on thinking and agency in the outer world, we’ve pushed aside the inner world, the psyche.” – Teresa Arendell

“We’ve gone mad, stark raving mad, destroying the planet. But more specifically, we’re terminating the last 65 million years of life development. We don’t understand the earth as a sacred reality, the rivers, the mountains. The universe and in particular the planet Earth is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. If we don’t learn that, nothing’s going to work.” - Thomas Berry

“Western man has no need of more superiority over nature whether outside or inside. He has both in an almost devilish perfection. What he lacks is conscious recognition of his inferiority to the nature around him and within him. He must learn that he may not do exactly as he wills. If he does not learn this, his own nature will destroy him. He does not know that his own soul is rebelling against him in a suicidal way.” -C.G. Jung

I want to thank Dr. Arendell for not only coming to Burlington to present her work in support of the C.G. Jung Society of Vermont, but also for most graciously giving me a copy of her presentation so that I could write this review.

Dr. Arendell’s presentation was delivered on April 19th at Burlington College, Burlington, VT.

- Submitted by Stephanie Buck

1 comment:

  1. The Bear is the keeper of dreamtime, storing the teachings of dreams until the dreamer awakens. Many tribes call this space of inner-knowing the Dream Lodge where the death of the illusion of physical reality overlays the expansiveness of eternity. The symbolism of the Bear's cave (mind, consciousness) reflects returning to the womb of the Earth Mother, suggesting a strong feminine aspect, one of nurturing and protection. Bear medicine includes introspection, healing, solitude, wisdom, change, communication with Spirit, death and rebirth, transformation, astral travel, shamans and mystics.

    The Big Dream: