I’m happy to announce that a new audio lecture is available from my friend, mentor and fellow Archetypal Counselor, Jim Curtan. This set of recordings from his workshop for the Minnesota Jung Association last fall is an examination of American Mythology and Archetype. If you are interested in some of the foundational aspects of the United States of America this audio lecture is for you.
Purchase and download the course for $15
Archetypal America by Jim Curtan
An examination of American Mythology & Archetype
A live lecture recording from the Minnesota Jung Association workshop held in October 2015.
The main American theme, I think, is freedom. It’s about individual freedom in opposition to or in tension with collective freedom.”
– Ken Burns, documentary film maker, “The Civil War”
Throughout American history the archetypes which populate our myths and legends and capture our imagination are the Rebel, the Revolutionary, the Liberator, the Scout, the Pioneer, the Cowboy, the Explorer, even the Outlaw: all of them perpetually moving forward in pursuit of their idea of freedom, both on behalf of the common good and at the expense of it. While many of these archetypes appear from the very beginnings of our history, the conflict between the various notions of freedom—personal and collective—solidified in the American psyche in the years leading up to and following the Civil War. They continue to impact us and our ideas of ourselves to this day.
The course lectures introduce these archetypes, light and shadow, and the distinctions between each of them.
This course references the 1939 film Stagecoach directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne. The workshop attendees watched the film along with Jim’s commentary but due to copyright restrictions the film portion of the class are not available to the public.
Purchase and download the course for $15
image ©Carol VanHook
I’ve been contemplating the fact that we are now almost half way through 2014. How did that happen and where did the last 5 months go? More importantly, what season is it? I mean this metaphorically. It’s almost Summer here in my part of the western United States – but what season is it for me, in my life and business? What needs further tending and what is ready for harvest? So when I read the following from Poet and Author David Whtye’s recent article entitled 10 Questions that Have No Right To Go Away it was thought provoking for me on many levels – at least 10 of them. Below is from Whyte’s list (it’s number 3):
Am I harvesting from this year’s season of life? “Youth is wasted on the young” is the old saying. But it might also be said that midlife is wasted on those in their 50s and eldership is very often wasted on the old.
Most people, I believe, are living four or five years behind the curve of their own transformation. I see it all the time, in my own life and others. The temptation is to stay in a place where we were previously comfortable, making it difficult to move to the frontier that we’re actually on now.
People usually only come to this frontier when they have had a terrible loss in their life or they’ve been fired or some other trauma breaks open their story. Then they can’t tell that story any more. But having spent so much time away from what is real, they hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact with the true circumstance. So the trick is to catch up with the conversation and stay with it —where am I now?—and not let ourselves become abstracted from what is actually occurring around us.
If you were a farmer, and you tried to harvest what belonged to the previous season, you’d exhaust yourself trying to bring it in when it’s no longer there. Or attempting to gather fruit too early, too hard or too late and too ripe. A person must understand the conversation happening around them as early in the process as possible and then stay with it until it bears fruit.
If we have a tendency to be operating well behind the curve of our own growth, then how do we go about finding out just what season we are in and not have to wait for a major life issue to do it for us? Undoubtedly we will benefit from having this knowledge so we can harvest what’s ready, re-plant or just let a field lie fallow for a while. In true poetic fashion Whyte doesn’t give us the bullet list of ways to suss this out.
Our first tendency might be to look to the paradigms of where we ‘should’ be in our lives based on age, culture, gender etc., but those no longer really hold true across the board. Rapid fire communications and access to vast amounts of information online has created a cultural diversity not bound by any single society. We are freer now to do our own thing outside of social convention because they’ve been diffused and scattered. You can be 60 and going back to school, 40 unmarried and thrilled about it, 22 and starting your own multi-billion dollar business. So without referencing a cultural norm (which frankly, I think is a great relief) how does one go about assessing their own season? Whyte points to listening for the core conversation of your life. This conversation holds the elements of the season.
I had to give this a try for myself. Archetypes are obviously a core part of what I do, so why not let them do some of the heavy lifting on this job?
When you run your own business you are often many people at once, Administrator, CFO, Boss and Worker Bee. I experimented with letting my archetypal office staff give their answers to the question of season. I conducted a faux interview with each voice and asked them about their accomplishments and experience of 2014 so far. I asked what needed further tending, harvesting or just simply some rest. What I came up with was fascinating and useful.
I also found it helpful to pay close attention to the conversations that were going on in my life with myself and others. I looked at what archetypes were driving the conversations and responding. A week or so in, I realized that the core conversations were pretty clear and some surprising answers to the seasonal question came up.
If you are game to give it a try, here is a simple exercise to help you work out your own seasonality. I bet you’ll be surprised by what you come up with and in turn, gain a clearer understanding of your next steps.
Discovering Your True Season
Every day for a week, before you go to bed, jot down a list of the following. No need to write the entire conversation – just the key points like a newspaper headline. Don’t read the list from the day before.
- 5 situations I worried about today.
- 5 conversations I had with myself today.
- 5 conversations I had with others today. This could be anything, a chat with an office mate, partner, the lady in the check out line.
- 5 things I was excited about today. If you don’t have 5, write down what you wanted to be excited about instead.
- Things I was asked to do today. This could be what you were literally asked to do or something you felt called to do like smile at a stranger, or buy a co-worker a coffee, ignore a phone call.
On the 8th day (maybe a Sunday over coffee and when you have time to relax) take out your notes. Rip out the pages and set them on the table side by side. Read them in order, mix them up and glance over them again. Too many wildly different conversations? Maybe it’s mid-summer and some weeding needs to be done to make room for the truer harvest later on. What’s coming up with no fruit and needs some fertilizer or perhaps a winter’s rest? What has you really excited and needs some planting? Lots of requests for the same thing? Maybe it’s harvest time. Whatever comes up for you, the essential clues come in the form of the season that your ideas need right now, the next steps are naturally going to be clearer.
©Jason Blait courtesy of Flickr
Let’s consider for a moment that we all have a container in our psyche that holds the entire history of our being wounded: betrayal, abandonment, shame – the whole painful enchilada. This same container also holds the story of our healing: past, present and future. The archetype of the Victim is our guide through these storylines and shows us either a heroic triumph or an exasperating epic that never seems to end. The difference being which side of the pattern we pay attention to.
The Victim, like the rest of the survival archetypes has a bad reputation which might be why it’s easy to spot in others but sometimes difficult to own in ourselves. This bad rep is due to most of us only seeing the unempowered side. The unempowered version of the Victim is stuck, complains about how they have been wronged and are convinced that they had little to no bearing on the outcome of the wounding incident. We’ve all known “Debbie Downers” who incessantly complain about everything and re-frame their experience to get attention or sympathy. Often times this is seen as the Martyr which shares a good bit of DNA with the Victim, but lacks the element of witnessing a larger truth. The unempowered Victim will hand everything over and expect someone else to ‘fix it’. The balance of power lies outside when the Victim shows up in it’s shadow form.
“It’s your/their fault.”
“It’s all my fault.”
“I’m always getting hurt.”
“No one understands me.”
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“This always happens to me.”
Conversely, the empowered Victim has an intimate understanding of their own trajectory of having been wounded and what it took (or will take) to work with it to come out on the other side stronger and more wise than before. Their power remains within them even if they ask for help. Help for the empowered Victim is not handing the problem over to someone else but to actively engage to work through an issue with some assistance.
“I made a mistake, now I’m going to…”
“This is really hard but I can do this.”
“I’m going to need some help with this.”
“I’m getting back in the game.”
“Live and learn.”
Spotting this pattern as it emerges allows for a broader range of choices where one can decide which side of the Victim card they want to play. Recognizing that the Victim is an archetypal pattern that all humans share can be a first step to take the sting out of a situation and make room for real compassion. After all, compassion is one of the things we seek when we’ve been hurt. Recognition and attention to the situation seen first as a pattern also points us toward discernment and wisdom instead of harsh judgement which can just exacerbate the pain of the situation.
The richer more enlivening place to draw from is that of the path of healing, which is to say the empowered Victim. Healing encompasses the story of the wound as well as what it it took to get to wholeness again. Not only wholeness but an expasiveness that did not exist before the wound. What do I mean by this? This quote from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross the pioneering psychiatrist sums it up nicely.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen…”
©Garry Wilmore courtesy of Flickr
Having gone through something difficult and come out the other side with more wisdom, compassion and understanding is the Victim’s ultimate journey. The ways and means of a life with knowledge of the Victim pattern reminds us how strong we can be. A talisman that says we can’t rush healing to a perfection of wholeness but neither can we stay in the pure pain of a wound for very long. Even those who claim they are wounded beyond repair are not immune to what the world brings them as healing salve if they are open to it. The kindness of a friend or a beautiful piece of music can be healing. It’s the choices one makes to accept the gifts of healing and the stories we choose about what happened to us that make the difference. The Victim is a guide to how we work with the painful times as well as a way to be more generous with ourselves and others.