The Red Book = Liber Novus by C. G. Jung
Gallery L2, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
Some may not know it, but my undergraduate degree is a BA in psychology. It took several years, two colleges, and two other majors before I finally realized my passion for the so-called soft sciences. Jung was always one of my favorite psychologists because his concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious were so much more compelling and fantastical to me than any of his predecessors or successors.
My psych. advisor, one of only two psych. professors at my eventual alma mater, once asked a roomful of us students how many were psych. majors. Half the class, including myself, raised our hands. "You know what they say about psych. majors?" He paused for a beat then answered himself. "They've only gone into psychology so they can figure out what's wrong with themselves." A smattering of chuckles, though more than a few of us laughed through uncomfortable smirks as if we'd been discovered and exposed as charlatans.
In the interest of full disclosure, he was right. For me, at least. I think Jung's espousal of the collective unconscious piqued my interest as much as it did because so much of my flaws and my negative experiences felt so far out of my control. What made me this way? I'd wonder. And what made my abusers that way? In the ongoing psychological debate of nature vs. nurture, Jung gave us even more to think about. A concept that somehow lands with one foot in "nature" and the other in "nurture."
Why do narcissists beget narcissists? Why does abuse become cyclical? Not to oversimplify, but Jung says that Hell is really just the parts of the collective unconscious that scare us. The things that disturb us about our inherited consciousness.
In the end it doesn't really matter whether you agree with Jung or believe as I do that we are a product of both modeled/learned behavior along with the curses and blessings that our genetic makeup bestows upon us. I say this because in either case, abuse doesn't exist in a vacuum. Who we are and how we approach the world isn't insular.
The Cycle - the behavioral feedback loop, as I call it - is powerful. It is incessant, unrelenting, and nondiscriminatory. The question we are left with is, where will our story end? Which of the three possible outcomes will be our destiny?
Ignorance of The Cycle; perpetuation of The Cycle
Knowledge of The Cycle; inability to break free of The Cycle
Knowledge of The Cycle; successful liberation from The Cycle
As a kid in the boy scouts, I learned a valuable lesson in survival that I have so far never had to use. If you find yourself in a river that's swift and carrying you away, swim with the current but at an angle toward shore. Swimming against the current or even perpendicular to it will result in slower progress and faster fatigue. I think breaking out of these behavioral patterns is similar. Those who angle themselves toward outcome #3 know that although success is within reach, it will still be a struggle. To angle yourself means to accept that you can't unlearn your past cold-turkey. The Cycle, no matter how aware we are that it exists and persists, will assault you without warning. One moment we are our best selves. We are convinced that we are the unique outlier that has somehow managed to escape the sins of our fathers.
Then, without any sort of warning, we see we are becoming our fathers. Or mothers. Or guardians. We are suddenly callous, abusive, smothering, neglectful...we are neck deep in whatever The Cycle is for us and those who came before.
Those of us who swim against The Cycle face a hard row. Can we reach dry land even if it's much further from where we planned to shore ourselves? Off course but safe?
Or do we get swept away in the dream tides of our family histories? Abuse, racism, hate, change-resistance, and narcissism pulling at our legs like the undertow of the collective unconscious that sinks us and entangles us in the roots Jung wrote about when he spoke of Hell.
The Geometry of Our Hearts
Does your voice echo in the gaps
With the firing of each synapse?
Your ancient wisdom ricochet-chet-chets
And do we hear your wagging tongues?
Or are we still too (J/yo)ung?
Geometry and symmetry tie us to you.
Shapes and designs that only flow through
From then to now.
Where and how?
A book so red,
Like the dirt we tread,
Spills the secrets of our archetypes and arche-aches.
We hear nothing, but somehow know all they spake.
Our hearts, all angles and vertices
And closed curves no one sees,
Measured in the memories
Of a myriad of unconscious seas.
You are sufficient.