The Anxiety Is Palpable
With the coronavirus pandemic essentially shutting the world down, mental health is as important as ever. Unemployment claims are skyrocketing. Families are hoarding food and supplies. Much of the country is under shelter-in-place orders, making isolation the norm. The anxiety is palpable, even for those who don’t suffer from mental health issues. Furthermore, the CDC is recommending that those who have mental health conditions continue with their treatment during the pandemic. Additionally, they also advise remaining vigilant as symptoms could easily worsen due to the increase in stress and anxiety. But how are people going to get treatment and still remain safe?
As a response, many providers are turning to telehealth treatment in which clients receive services online via video chat. Additionally, government officials at the state and federal levels are offering support. Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health states that, “[w]e’re seeing a lot of states respond by proposing pretty radical changes to their telehealth reimbursement policies both by increasing types of services that can be delivered by telehealth, the types of professionals that can deliver those services, as well as thinking very broadly about the types of technologies that can be used.” Furthermore, insurers such as Aetna, Anthem, and Cigna are amending their policies on telehealth coverage in an effort to make sure that everyone who needs help is getting it.
Love Life Again
Barn Life Recovery is now offering telehealth therapy as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our top priority is the health and safety of our clients, their families, and our employees. Furthermore, we will continue to provide the quality, comprehensive treatment services and programs as we operate under our infectious disease protocols. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, please don’t continue to suffer in isolation. Give Barn Life Recovery a call today to see if telehealth therapy is right for you.
These are very challenging times. We know that in the midst of all that is unfolding in the outer world, and how our inner world is responding, the work in our program can feel like a lot right now. However, as one of our faculty colleagues has shared, we could look at our program as a source of strength rather than demand. Above all, stepping into the world of an idea (another’s experience, a new practice, an unknown, a book) is giving our minds something to chew on and consider, and this is helping us feel more grounded.
The Once and Future King
As Merlyn said to the young Arthur in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. Indeed, that is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. Ultimately, there is only one thing for it then—to learn. Indeed, learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or mistrust.” (183)
A Soulful and Curious Stewardship
Merlyn is echoing one of Jung’s deep insights, that suffering and consciousness walk hand in hand. This week our program simply wants to encourage a soulful and curious stewardship of these unfoldings. Attend lovingly to your own restlessness. Furthermore, listen intently to the heart. Finally, endeavor to lean into this tension knowing that we cannot solve but only share in the unfolding. On our break from the hero theme, I’ll say briefly that it is my belief that our clients don’t need us to “have it together,” no shielded, armored, sword-striking interpretations and behavioral prescriptions. Instead, we are a bridge to the humanity that links us all to one another. In fact, a global crisis brings a global cause and in this, we may forge heartfelt community. May we endure with open hand the unfolding and show up in this work with all humanity and all humility.
I’d also like to share a poem:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
– Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
So here we are. In conclusion, let’s lean into the ideas, lean into the learning as a community. Good luck these next few days, trust where you are and where we are going!
Heroism and the Psychological Life
At the start of this week, I want to break down the role of heroism in our psychological life. I suspect, we have all, to one degree or another, heard of the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell introduced it first in his famous book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In it, Campbell identifies the motif of the hero across mythologies and extracts the key ‘arche’ of the heroic archetype. Campbell captures a series of stages to the hero’s journey that characterize his or her story. This journey in a series of stages opens the terminus imaginalis for the intra-psychic journey of the ego-self. To put it another way, imagine heroism as the role the ego must take on in order to achieve redemption.
The Journey of the Soul
Campbell observed this pattern across cultures and religions and understood this to be of a primordial (instinctual) drive of the human soul. To Campbell, as well as C.G. Jung, the hero archetype was fundamental to the human psyche as the vessel of our transformation. Indeed, putting the lens of the hero archetype on as we conceive and engage in our own lives and the lives of our clients can help us to move toward the presenting obstacles to wholeness. Our psychological health, the journey of the soul, to individuate and stand en-souled as a personality and self is a heroes’ journey par excellence. While much can be said about the stages offered to us by Campbell, I want instead to look at the hero archetype in its light and shadow.
Affirm and Endure
From a heroic lens, we can say that to accept wholeness as foundational to mental health is to choose a journey through the dark and painful contents of the unconscious into the discovery of what Campbell refers to as the “field of bliss”. Both Jung and Campbell understood this tenant as true. If suffering is inherent to the human experience, the horrors and suffering of life are, in Campbell’s words, the “foreground to wonder”. Jung was less idealistic, suggesting that the best we can do is affirm the “yes” of life – the pleasure, happiness and, joy – and to “endure” the “no,” – the pain, suffering, and misery. As life is the interplay of opposites both a yes and a no are fundamental. To come into the subjective experience of the hero is to enter these confrontations willingly.
The Beautiful Revelation
This week I want to encourage everyone to consider removing the armor. Remember that we must find peace amidst the confrontations with the unconscious. Additionally, recognize outside the archetype in what ways the archetype is necessary and active. Jung was clear that we fight to conquer the ground of peace that is outside of our own psyches. The goal is to achieve a sense of self-acceptance and fullness. Heroism is a confrontation with what stands in the way of a resting peace. How can we tease out the role of the hero while identifying spaces where the armor can come off and the vulnerability of being can thrive? Remember to move gently through our change. Practicing self-compassion and deflating from heroism reminds us that we are a part of this here and now. Here is our restoration and the beautiful revelation that we are enough.
Writing Through to the Other Side
By far and away, my absolute favorite poet is Rainer Maria Rilke, whose life’s work is a dedication to the voice of the soul. His laborious, sometimes tormented progression through maturation mirrors The Lady and the Unicorn perfectly. We look to him this week to better understand our 5th image, “The Soul in Reflection.” Rilke begins with wondrous praise to the images of the Christian God, relics of power, an outside source and image of the divine spark. He turns his soulful writing toward love and landscape, new adventures, and the potent possibilities. Love, lust, and suffering become the god-image for a time in his life. He then, through heartbreak and failures, begins to write in despair, seeing the darkness as the truest thing. He writes through his dark night of the soul until, after much turmoil, Rilke finds his way through to the other side.
Seeing Without Agenda
I want to suggest as a reminder that it is important to see these stages not simply as a single, linear progression. We like to see clients set goals and meet them, standing on their commitments and progressing beyond the sunset to new territories of life and fulfillment. Sometimes, however, these linear directions are not an adequate reflection of the wholeness of a person nor the wholeness of the psyche’s revelation. We may never fully understand the movement of the soul. Are we to abandon the unconscious in the name of deadlines? What if the “plan” is not the “plan” after all? Tangible goals are always grounding stones in the basket of the hot air balloon. We need them to remain closer to the earth. But we can do more than this. We can learn to see without agenda. Learn to love without condition, learn to unfold without so much expectation.
No Ideas but in Things
Let’s turn once more to Rilke. Here, after his despair and the arrival at a kind of stillness with nowhere to go and nothing new to say. At this important time in his life, he finds himself under the mentorship of a famous sculptor. The artist has the space for the mystery unfolding in Rilke. Rilke asks of the sculptor, “What is left? Is there nothing more to write of? Why doesn’t the voice of inspiration come through me as it once did? The skills are there, the experiences exhausted, now what?” The sculptor knew this place. He smiled and offered to Rilke nothing more than the opportunity to imagine. The sculptor tasked Rilke with spending time with objects and writing of what within them were most alive to his imagination, most personal, closest to the gods within his soul (see “The Panther” at the end of this blog.)
Holding Up the Mirror
James Hillman, founder of Archetypal Psychology reminds us that it is not the psyche that is in me, but me that is in the psyche. To be in the reflective soul is to hold a mirror up to the spirit that lives in what is. We can, through the creative deepening of our hearts, learn to see the beauty and horror in all things. Parts of us sometimes appear as the innocent, the virginal, on the threshold of maturity and so on, while other parts may have moved altogether through to new phases. In “The Soul in Reflection,” we can see that the Lady (soul) sits tenderly as a mother with the Unicorn (spirit). She holds a mirror to the unicorn to witness itself. Can we practice the space, the reflection with interest and a willingness to look to the object of another both to see what my soul can see and to support them to find the voice within themselves.
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
Rainer Maria Rilke
The Fourth Stage of Maturation
Welcome to the fourth installment of The Lady and the Unicorn, a personified look at the maturation of the soul. It is my sincerest hope that these weekly themes will continue to provide us with new and meaningful ways to participate in this dedication to healing at Barn Life. As I mentioned in previous weeks, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries offer us, through images, a way of understanding aspects of life and experiences in a soulful way. Each of these tapestries personifies a psychological image for something that the soul is experiencing. Through a depth psychological perspective, we can perceive and ask different questions of our clients. These stages together comprise all of consciousness. If, for example, we recognize a tendency to resist insight or, as Rilke might say “Live our questions now”, we may be encountering the soul in innocence.
The Unfolding of the Inner Craftsman
Last week, we spent time in the third phase of maturation – the soul as a threshold of maturation. I say that it is a common experience to begin to face the inner more intricate work of the soul only to, in fear, regress ourselves back into innocence and the virgin attitudes. Here in our fourth stage, we turn our attention to the unfolding of the inner craftsman. Its exemplified in the fourth tapestry, we observe the soul in practice. Notice, when looking at this image, this once useful vibrancy with a gaze towards simple pleasures, birds of the air, and the unburdening of golden jewels. It now sits with eyes and fingers upon the discipline of her instrument.
Engaging Directly with the Creative Process
When we move with the soul through the experience of grief, loss, and focus attention upon the things closest to our deepest longings, we then begin the actual work of engaging directly with the creative process. This asks of us experimentation, discipline, consistency, and follow-through. It can be difficult to identify this phase because so often these skills are occupied with “necessary” things. It is not uncommon to see clients feeling burned out, trapped, and obligated to a job that is unfulfilling, a relationship that is not supporting their growth, or hiding behind a skill or an accomplishment. Of course, a “get well job” and other stability goals ask of our time, our energy, and our efforts; however, when on the look-out for the practicing soul we must look for matters of the heart.
Meaningful Focus and Inspired Efforts
The practicing soul engages in meaningful focus and inspired efforts. These skills come with discipline and a strong sense of conviction. In our image note also the role of the handmaiden. The ego-self serves the process of the soul’s expression. Here the handmaiden lifts and compresses with all her strength, the wind of the instrument of the soul. The practicing soul lives an intense focus and asks that we pump our thoughts, decisions, and attention into her instrument. In this stage of maturity, the soul begins to lead and the ego begins to serve. How can we encourage a living, conscious relationship with our unconscious motives? Perhaps there is more to play with, and engage with, in the hard work of practice than we realize?
Bringing Sustained Change
Perseverance is crucial for long term change and necessary to overcome challenges using new methods. Many of our clients have fallen into patterns, as we all do. Unfortunately, their “normal” way of dealing with life stressors has been maladaptive. Often, clients have created methods to deal with negative, uncomfortable, or intense emotions. Some of these methods work for a time in that they successfully alter the reality of pain. However, maladaptive skills such as rage, disassociation, disconnection/cut-off, and substance use are not a panacea and thus eventually fail. The cost of these maladaptive skills creates a new set of problems at worst. At best, it supports and maintains dysfunctional behaviors.
Getting Out of the Rut
One significant challenge in learning and applying healthy adaptive skills is to get out of the rut of the “same ol’” that has been practiced through the many years. These trained neurological pathways and practiced responses never simply dissipate. Only hard and consistent work through perseverance can bring sustained change. It can be difficult to maintain focus and utilize new adaptive coping skills. It opposes the tendency to rely upon the familiar even if the familiar is the crux of pain. As humans develop and learn coping skills during the different stages of development, they find a sense of what works for them and then they stick to it, until they face the new challenges that further development brings. Herein lies the crossroads. do people learn new adaptive strategies to meet the new challenges or do they revert to known coping methods?
Transitional Regression and Maladaptive Coping Skills
When people are faced with new challenges and feel overwhelmed or overburdened with the reality that development brings, then people tend to revert into behaviors that worked for them in an earlier stage of development. Clinicians call this reversion “transitional regression”. Reverting to an earlier stage of coping initially brings a sense of empowerment. It also provides a sense of comfort due to the familiarity of these coping strategies. However, regressing often brings even more stress and even shame. Reverting to coping skills of earlier stages that do not meet the demands that new development requires creates higher levels of stress and perceived incompetency. Moreover, this reversion into maladaptive coping skills can exacerbate vicious and familiar cycles. So people get stuck and they stay stuck.
The Torment of Sisyphus
To initiate change feels to many like the pain and torment of Sisyphus. This exacerbates the feeling of being stuck and encourages the continuation of maladaptive coping strategies. This can occur even if the familiar prolongs pain or causes new pain and discomfort. It is familiar and many equate familiar with safety, which unfortunately is not the case with maladaptive coping skills. As clients start to develop new coping skills and when they are beset by old haunts, new challenges, and painful emotions that arise from facing underlying issues, there is a significant challenge in not regressing to old behaviors. This brings us to perseverance and the importance of staying the course of new change and practicing functional and adaptive coping skills with diligence.
This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are working to raise our clients’ awareness of transitional regression. We are working to build and sustain behaviors that are conducive to their treatment and life goals, including the benefits of perseverance. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please give Barn Life Recovery a call today. We are the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness at a community-based level. Contact us now a learn to love life again!