How much would you risk to retrieve your lost memories if they felt important to you? The movies I’ve been watching lately happen to have themes revolving around this question. They explore how past memories shape our identity and ideas about who we are, affect our relationships, and reveal information that is crucial to our sense of self.
Love, loss and risk
In The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, based on Walter Mosley’s novel, Samuel L. Jackson plays Ptolemy Grey, a 91 year old man suffering from dementia. We first meet Grey in a pitiful state, living a lonely life with no ties to the outside world, except through a caring nephew who comes to his apartment to check in on him.
As the story progresses and Grey’s condition deteriorates, we watch him endure an unconventional treatment that he opts into at enormous risk to his life in order to regain his memory. The treatment uncovers memories that bring him both pleasure and pain, revealing the deep loves, losses and betrayals in his life. Yet these recovered memories ultimately bring life back to Grey’s days. We witness his transformation as he exercises agency in his life and makes some tough choices that he can live (or die) with.
The miniseries Surface, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, immerses us into the bewildering life of Sophie, a woman who has just survived a traumatic accident. She has lost memory of everything about her life: who she is; who her friends, loved ones and acquaintances are; what matters in her life. The episodes I’ve watched so far hint that what happened to Sophie may not have been an accident; that perhaps she or someone else had a hand in it. Sophie appears to have a perfect life: financial security, a beautiful home, a loving and supportive husband, a loyal friend, a caring therapist, and a mystery man whose place in her old life she is trying to understand.
All these people appear to be helping Sophie heal and unravel the mystery of the incident. But who are they really? Doubt is cast on all the characters (including Sophie) and we find ourselves questioning everyone’s motives and wondering what they are hiding. Like Grey, Sophie finds out about an experimental treatment that could help her retrieve her lost memories. Her therapist is opposed to it because it’s too risky, but Sophie is desperate to find answers. There is a sense that underneath Sophie’s seemingly perfect life, something sinister is striving to surface.
The seductive past
Reminiscence stars Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister, who describes himself as “a private investigator of the mind” and uses a machine he invented to help his clients relive memories. The movie is set in a dystopian future where climate change has brought Miami partially under water (scary how sci-fi is becoming more real nowadays) and temperatures are so high during the day that people live their lives by night. Things have become so bad that the only way to feel alive is to revisit a nostalgic past. The movie explores the lure of this idealized past that becomes an escape for people living in a state of individual and collective despair.
But the past is complicated. Nick’s words, “Nothing is more addictive than the past”, prove to be premonitory as he falls victim to the very addiction he cautions against. His assistant, Watts Sanders, played by Thandiwe Newton, tries to steer Nick away from his obsession with a client whom he falls in love with while working to help her uncover a memory. The client disappears and, using his memory machine on himself, Nick gets embroiled in the confusing world of his client’s memories in an effort to find her and unravel the mystery of her disappearance. Meanwhile, Watts helps Nick fight for his life and tries to keep him rooted in present day reality.
Memory – blessing or curse?
The exploration of trauma, love, risk and loss as they relate to memory in these movies makes me wonder: how much should one risk to retrieve lost memories? Since memory is a mixed bag, all of it comes back: the good, the bad and the ugly. If we could selectively pick memories that keep us comfortable and help us avoid pain, would it be worth it?
Memories are complex and mysterious – they reveal and they obscure, many times offering more questions than answers. They can be both life giving and life threatening, trapping us in seductive illusions and false realities in the form of escapist fantasies or terrifying hells. We may learn truths about ourselves and others that liberate or paralyze us. Memories show us what core values and mental programs run our lives, revealing our strengths and weaknesses, our evolution or regression. If we don’t have our memories to remind us of what has been, how do we find our place in the world? How do we know who we are, or decide who we now choose to be?
An upcoming lecture on the shadow of technology by Jungian analyst Doug Tyler, PhD, reminds me of a recent experience:
One morning on my drive to work, I noticed my phone wasn’t in its regular position on my dashboard. A dreadful panic gripped me. Heart racing, I fumbled through my purse, work bag, pockets, passenger seat, frantically looking for it. At the lights just before the ramp onto the highway, as I was plotting an illegal turn to head back home, I found the culprit lying calmly on the floor near my feet. A gush of tearful relief and gratitude overwhelmed me: My phone is with me. All will be well today.
It’s hard not to notice how increasingly dependent on our technology we have become today. We hear people swear they never leave home without their phones, laptops or tablets. Our electronic devices connect us to our work/school and social lives, literally open doors (and garages) for us, guide us to our destinations, keep our homes safe, monitor our heart rates, confirm or reschedule our appointments, store our codes and passwords, track our to-do lists, update us on world events and stock market trends, store our random notes and ideas. They facilitate connection with our family, friends, and clients. They hold our documents, photos, treasured memories, and secrets.
Connection through technology
When I first came to the US about twenty years ago, I had to buy a “calling card” from a gas station and enter a long series of numbers over again from a landline phone in order to reach my parents in Kenya. Often the lines were busy and it took ages to get connected. When we finally did, the line was full of static. Sometimes, after we got the greetings out of the way, my $10 would be up and the line would go dead. That was then. Now I have apps on my phone that will connect me instantly on a free and clear line to friends and family around the world. Sometimes my dad will say, “You sound like you’re just next door.” The wonders of technology.
Technology serves us in so many ways. Yet in other ways, it can hold us hostage to crazy demands, data storage panic, social media stress, and overstuffed schedules.
Jung Society of Atlanta hybrid lecture Saturday August 27, 2022
Join us in person or online at a Jung Society of Atlanta event, where Jungian Analyst Doug Tyler, PhD, will explore the unconscious shadow elements of our modern technology in his lecture The Blinding Shadow: Technology, Social Media and Soul Loss. How can we engage more consciously with our technology in ways that serve us both individually and collectively? Come explore with us. Two CEUs available. (Make sure your electronic device is charged and updated for a better online experience.)
Around me lately, the talk has been about winding down the summer fun and getting students ready for a new school year (can you believe that August is already upon us?) Although I taught for almost two decades and found teaching to be a deeply satisfying career, I’m so relieved that I’m not one of those educators now scrambling to review the curriculum, prepare syllabi, check class lists, read course texts, post material online, beat crazy deadlines, and brace themselves for another busy semester. Not to mention the testing and grading nightmares that happen later. It’s only when I left teaching a couple of years ago, right after that first grueling COVID-19 lockdown semester, that I realized just how much preparation goes into it, how exhausting it all is (and how much free time I have now).
Supporting students with mental disorders
A report I recently heard on NPR Marketplace brought me back to those days, this time from the student perspective, and specifically, students with mental health challenges. If trained educators are overwhelmed by the sheer workload, imagine what students with mental disorders (such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, PTSD, OCD, eating disorders) have to go through to prepare for college and successfully graduate years later. It’s not just about enrolling in the right courses, navigating financial aid, budgeting and saving, buying (super expensive) text books, meeting the registration deadlines, finding a place to stay, managing time and social activities, maintaining healthy relationships, coordinating work schedules, all of which are daunting. For students with mental health diagnoses and learning differences, it’s also about finding a disability coordinator (if the college has one), applying for disability accommodations and disability testing (if applicable and available), ensuring your instructors are aware of (and comply with) your classroom accommodations, finding affordable medical and mental health services that can meet your needs (if you’re lucky enough to access them, they will most likely be with a new provider), monitoring and adjusting your medication carefully for a new schedule and lifestyle, keeping stress levels manageable.
In an ideal school environment with adequate funding and resources – which of course many schools don’t have – the needs of children with learning differences are addressed through IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans) and other accommodations that are supposed to provide academic, socio-emotional, and behavioral support to these students during their school years. (I used to be a Special Educational Needs Coordinator or SENCO in my early teaching career in Kenya, and I remember how challenging this work was). However, when these students graduate from high school and are suddenly adults, they enter a scary and chaotic world where they have to navigate their personal and professional lives on their own. They are supposed to know what they need to be successful, find the internal and external resources to meet these needs, and be their own advocates. We are asking too much of them.
Bridging the mental health gap
That is why it was so inspiring to hear the radio report of two businesses in the US that were created to bridge this gap for students with mental illnesses and learning differences. One of them is EdRedefined, started by a father whose son is on the autism spectrum and needed support in navigating college life. When the father, Scot Marken – who describes himself as a social entrepreneur with a lived experience in the field of mental health – realized that these supports were not available for his son, he decided to create a company that provides them. The other is The Dorm, a company with locations in NY and DC that provides mental health support for students to build community, independence and well being during their college years.
Years ago, I worked with a local US company in the field of supported employment. I had never heard of the term, but got to learn and appreciate this line of work.The business was started by a former teacher who noticed that the needs of students with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities often go unaddressed, particularly after they graduate from school and “age out” of the supports that are provided mainly to children under 18. This teacher founded her company with the goal of filling this gap and helping these adults find meaningful employment in their communities and thrive in life. And while I remember those days fondly, I recall how challenging it was to encounter the negative attitudes, stereotypes, and misconceptions that many companies have about individuals with mental disorders.
I love the idea of businesses centered around providing services and resources for community mental health. Hopefully, more can be done to help such social entrepreneurs thrive and make their services more accessible to people in underrepresented communities who need them most.
Have you ever awakened from a dream and wondered what it all meant? Was it just random brain activity, or could there be a valuable nugget to take away and use in real life? And then there’s recurring dreams and nightmares. You may notice similar images, motifs, and characters showing up in your dreams and nightmares month after month, even year after year. What is the unconscious psyche trying to tell you?
Dreams can be downright weird and unfathomable. But with an expert guide, they can be insightful and affirming, revealing important information about our complexes, our shadow, our Self, and how we relate to our inner and outer worlds.
Dream Event at the Jung Society of Atlanta: April 22 and 23, 2022
Join us at the Jung Society of Atlanta for a lively hybrid lecture and workshop (both in person and on Zoom) titled: Another Whom We Do Not Know: Dreams as the Voice of the Inner Companion. The events will be on Friday April 22nd (lecture) and Saturday April 23rd (workshop) with Lisa Marchiano, LCSW, Jungian analyst and co-host of the superb podcast This Jungian Life. If you’re interested in dream interpretation (and all things Jungian), this podcast will satisfy. The three Jungian analysts and co-hosts interpret a dream from a listener of the podcast in each episode.
This is our first in-person program since the pandemic, and it feels auspicious that Lisa is facilitating this event as we mark our exit from this strange dream-like/nightmarish pandemic. Lisa will be sharing with us the Jungian method of understanding dreams and using them for our personal growth and individuation process. Come listen to what messages Psyche has for you.
Two CEUs available for the Friday lecture; 5 CEUs for the Saturday workshop.
February 2021 was a blur. We had just witnessed the swearing in of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harrison, and the beautiful poetry of Amanda Gordon. All this while hunkering down in pandemic mode and reeling from the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection. It was a weird mixed bag. Black History Month was over before I realized that I’d done nothing to celebrate it.
Not so this time! Here are ten things we can do to celebrate Black Love, Black Pride, and Black Power this year.
- Watch movies, documentaries, and shows that feature Black artists, Black voices, and Black talent. I’m currently enjoying Amazon’s free selection of Black History Month shows, including Phat Tuesdays – The Era of Hip Hop Comedy, which describes how Guy Torry created a space where Black humor and Black talent could thrive. His efforts resulted in the discovery of Black artists who inevitably reached and transformed mainstream entertainment in America and across the world. Another favorite is Black History, Black Freedom, Black Love, a masterclass featuring outstanding thinkers like Cornel West, Jelani Cobb, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and John McWhorter, who discuss the evolution of Black thought and ideas in America.
- Check out some Black History Month events in your community. Currently in Atlanta, we have the Obama Portraits at the High Museum. Last weekend I watched a spectacular musical performance by Orchestra Noir, an Atlanta-based all-Black orchestra which “aims to celebrate the cultural achievements of African-American music pioneers across all genres of music”. And it was only $30 (with some tickets selling for less). Take advantage of free and affordable events that work for all ages, pocket books, and tastes.
- Grab a blanket and a book (or join/start a book club) and read Black authors from the diaspora: African-American, British, African, Cuban, West Indian, South American, Black writers are everywhere! Read a Black author you have never heard of, and reread some the well-known Black classics. In the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I am, poet Sonia Sanchez says that we should read Toni Morrison every ten years “to reimagine ourselves on the American landscape”. I’m rereading Chinua Achebe’s African Trilogy which I first encountered in high school.
- Read to a Black child (or have them read to you). Some excellent books that I’m enjoying with young readers are: Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Amanda Gorman’s Change Sings, I’m Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James, Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter, In the Spirit of a Dream by Alina Chau and Aida Salazar, and – how could I resist – Nyambura Waits for the Bus by Cath Alexander.
- Tell that hard working, inspiring Black person in your life how much you appreciate and admire their gifts, friendship, courage, love, presence. Mail them a card or gift, order their favorite food and have it delivered to their house. Call them and thank them for being awesome.
- Support mental health for Black communities: Make a donation to organizations like the Loveland Foundation Therapy Fund, established in 2018 by Rachel Cargle to provide financial assistance to Black women and girls to receive therapy from licensed professionals. Also check out Therapy for Black Girls, which Atlanta psychologist Dr Joy Harden Bradford founded in 2014 “to make mental health accessible and relevant to Black women and girls”. Positive Growth, Inc, a nonprofit organization in Clarkston, GA, is doing amazing work providing mental health services to minority and refugee communities (full disclosure: I’ve worked with them for almost 10 years now and I’m proud of the work we do). You can also donate your time, money, or expertise to a nonprofit organization that supports Black communities in the areas of racial and social justice, LGBTQ rights, legal assistance, nutrition, education, etc.
- Listen to podcasts by Black hosts. My current favorites are It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders, Glynn Washington’s Snap Judgment, and Code Switch.
- Support Black-owned businesses in your community. And when you go shopping in stores like Target, look for aisles that highlight Black products. When we support our Black businesses, we inspire more Black entrepreneurs and help our communities thrive.
- If you’re old school like me and still enjoy sending people cards and packages via snail mail, buy forever stamps from the Black Heritage series. Which reminds me: right now I only have Gwen Ifill and August Wilson stamps and need to stock up on more – can’t wait to see what new stamps they have now!
- Spend time with a Black Elder. Bring them flowers and a home-cooked meal. Sit or walk with them. Put your phone away. Listen.
Today our human family grieves as we reflect with deep gratitude on the extraordinary life, legacy, and gifts of beloved Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh (known affectionately as Thay or teacher), who died at age 95. Through his simple and elegant life, his healing poetry, and his dedication to the principles of engaged Buddhism, he gracefully demonstrated how the practice of mindfulness can transform us and our world.
I encountered Thay’s teachings about fifteen years ago when Al Lingo, a dharma teacher in Thay’s Order of Interbeing, invited me to join the mindfulness meditations at the Breathing Heart Sangha in Atlanta, GA. The sangha, which is at the heart of Thay’s Zen tradition, is a mindfulness community “that lives in harmony and awareness” (Nhat Hanh, 2007). At the Breathing Heart Sangha, we had sitting and walking meditations, dharma talks, delicious vegetarian potluck dinners, and mindfulness retreats. I learned about mindfulness practices such as Touching the Earth, the Five Remembrances, the Five Mindfulness Practices, and the Five Contemplations.
One of my most memorable sangha events was in 2011 at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi, where I joined hundreds of people in a mindfulness retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh titled “Cultivating the Mind of Love”. It was also at Magnolia Grove that I attended a New Year’s Mindfulness Retreat in 2010/2011 with my partner, now husband, where we both received the transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and our dharma names. At our wedding ceremony a year later, we recited the Five Awarenesses, from Thay’s book Chanting from the Heart (p. 170), which we were instructed to recite together at each full moon:
The Five Awarenesses
We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.
We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children, and their children have of us.
We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom, and harmony are the joy, peace, freedom and harmony of our ancestors, our children, and their children.
We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love.
We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us and only create a wider gap between us; that only understanding, trust, and love can help us change and grow.
Thay’s soothing words from Chanting from the Heart (p. 238), provide comfort during this time of reflection and loss:
Contemplations on No-Coming, No-Going
This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous True Mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
Nhat Hanh, T. (2003). No death, no fear: Comforting wisdom for life. Penguin Random House: New York, NY.
Nhat Hanh, T. (2007). Chanting from the heart: Buddhist ceremonies and daily practices. Parallax Press: Berkeley, CA.
Image is of Thay’s own calligraphy, taken from the cover of his book No Death no Fear. Learn more about his calligraphy collection here.
A strange feeling overcomes me as I write this from my childhood bedroom in Kenya in the home I grew up in. I’ve been sorting through my old stuff and getting rid of things like old college notes, books, postcards, and aerogramme letters (remember those)? It’s a mixed bag of nostalgia and enormous gratitude for my life experiences, my parents, my country. As I grow older, I’m developing a deeper appreciation for the trajectory that has been my life – how circumstances and events have moved me from one thing to another, leading me to where I am now. Coming home is revisiting these past experiences.
Our languages express this nostalgia in different ways. The word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos which means “to return home”, and algos meaning “pain” or “ache”. I’m contemplating how both being away from home and coming back home can bring us pain. In English, words like homecoming, homesick, and home base capture some of the sentiments that we associate with home. The Germans have Heimweh, literally “home pain”, which describes an aching for home.
When I arrive in Kenya, I’m often greeted with the Swahili words, “Karibu nyumbani” – welcome home – which evoke in me feelings of belonging and pride. In conversation with my father the other day, he shared with me the Kikuyu proverb: “Mîciî nî ndogo” which translates literally as “homes are smoke”. He explained that you know that a hut is a home when you see smoke coming from it, signifying the warmth, comfort, and sustenance that indicate that this place is inhabited by people and life.
Sometimes home is the place where we remember some of our earliest feelings of love, safety, friendship, and belonging; a foundation upon which our lives and personalities are built. At other times, home is where our psychological complexes are triggered, where we re-experience old childhood insecurities that shake our confidence, expose our vulnerabilities, and fill us with shame, fear, and regret. For many, it’s a combination of both.
During this trip home, it was interesting to hear from my college friends from over two decades ago how I’ve changed and how I’ve remained the same. Through their recollections, it was fun to remember the younger, more carefree and expressive me. My sister was also home from abroad, and we talked about how during sleep, our dreams become more vivid and memorable in Kenya. It is as if our psyches recognize their source – those first impressions of what it means to be human and conscious – and are stimulated by this recognition. It was also on this trip home that I found clarity on some decisions I needed to make in my life – what to move forward with, and what to leave behind.
Feeling at home
Earlier this summer I took a trip with my family to a game reserve in Kenya, where we stayed for several days in the middle of the savanna, surrounded by flora and fauna that have existed there for eons. On a safari drive, we emerged from the bushes to see a solitary reticulated giraffe outlined against a clear expansive sky, munching leaves from the tallest branches of an acacia tree. It was breathtaking. Our driver immediately stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine. The giraffe paused its chewing and peered at us through long, thick eyelashes. Our eyes locked as we gazed at each other in complete silence for what seemed like ages before it started chewing again and went on with its life.
Numinous moments like these move me. What a gift to witness this magnificent creature in its natural habitat. Here is a place where an ancient wisdom is in charge, where living things do not have to justify their existence, are not besieged by insecurities. They just live their lives simply and elegantly in this perfect (or imperfect) moment. I felt that sense of acceptance and knowing envelope me. This is what coming home means to me: being at ease with life, nature, and myself. Not having to explain myself to anyone. Fitting in without having to try. Perhaps that’s why I love coming home – because each time I do, more and more of this feeling accompanies me back to the other spaces I inhabit and infuses them with value and meaning.
Swahili call and response storytelling sequence
|“Paukwa!” —- “Pakawa!”||(“It came to!” —- “It happened!”)|
|“Sahani!” —— “Ya mchele!”||(“Plate!” — “For rice!”)|
|“Giza!” ——- “La mwizi!”||(“Darkness!” — “For thieves!”)|
|“Hadithi, hadithi!” —– “Hadithi njoo!”||(“Story, story!” —-“Story come!”)|
Ashanti beginning for stories
“We do not really mean, we do not really mean,
That what we are going to say is true.”
Call and response from the Xhosa tradition
|“Sukela ngatsomi.” —- “Chosi.”||(“Once upon a time.” —- “Tell the story.”)|
Stories are invoked in countless ways in African oral traditions, many of which use the classic call and response style, which invites the audience’s active participation into an immersive experience. You cannot sit still when a master African storyteller is telling a tale, nor should you. You’re moving with with drumbeats, joining in the call-and-response songs, shouting out magic incantations to release a poor character from danger, cheering when mama bird escapes lion’s jaws.
Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales
Lately, I’ve been reading Nelson Mandela’s anthology Favorite African Folktales, which contains a variety of delightful African stories: Myths that explain the mysteries of nature. Animal tales with familiar characters like the crocodile, spider, and hyena that reveal personality strengths and weaknesses. Transformational stories about how things can change for better or worse when a chain of events sets things in motion. The book also contains stories from Malay, Dutch, Arab, and Welsh cultures that have been incorporated into African storytelling traditions.
There are a total of 32 wonderful stories in this anthology. From Kenya comes The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena, which teaches us about friendship and betrayal. From the Xhosa people we have the story of The Snake With Seven Heads, reminding us to do the right thing even when it comes at a price, to stay steadfast and hopeful. The Clever Snake Charmer comes to us from Morocco, a delightful tale about being creative, taking risks, and living life fully, without fear or hesitation. And from Nigeria we have The Spider and the Crows, a trickster story of greed and cleverness.
African folktales delight us with exciting plots that twist and turn; with songs, music, and dance; with fun and playfulness. They also deliver tough life lessons to us in a digestible form, inviting us to see the good, the bad, and the ugly in ourselves and others; to honor and respect the rhythms of life and nature; to find hope in hopeless places; to deal with the problems and realities of life in creative ways.
Unconscious psychic processes
Psychologically, folktales invite us to tap into our own unconscious processes, like our intuition, instincts, animal nature, dreams, and premonitions. They connect us to the ancient wisdom of our ancestors. They reveal to us the true nature of things, people, and life. They lower our psychological defenses so that we can see ourselves more clearly: we are more willing to listen to a story about the greedy hyena than to hear about our own greed. Yet the story may help us become aware of the greed in our personality and how it harms us and others. We may learn to acknowledge our shadow and our shortcomings instead of denying them or projecting them onto others.
Treat yourself to this flavorful smorgasbord of tales from Africa – you might learn something new about yourself or how to deal with that thorny situation or person in your life. Or just suspend belief and have fun getting in touch with the magical and childlike part of yourself.
I attended my first lecture by Jungian analyst Dr Donald Kalsched almost a decade ago, when he did a weekend workshop on trauma at the Jung Society of Atlanta titled The Soul in Hell and its Liberation, and shared insights from his book Trauma and the Soul – a psycho-spiritual approach to human development and its interruption.
I’d attended several workshops on trauma but had never heard it being discussed in such a fascinating way. Dr Kalsched balanced the scientific findings from neuroscience, attachment and relational theory with an exploration of the mythopoesis in dreams, images, archetypal themes and symbols that inhabit the inner landscape of trauma survivors. He demonstrated not only how trauma impacts our mood, thoughts, behavior, and relationships, but how it can penetrate into the core of the psyche and split the soul. He guided us on a descent into deeper and deeper layers of hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy, illustrating how a trusted friend or therapist can be a guide and witness who walks with a person through the hellish regions of their traumatized psyche.
Healing through rekindling connections
It wasn’t all grim stuff. Kalsched provided inspiring visions of hope and healing that can come through rekindling connections that have been split by trauma: connections between one’s inner and outer worlds, between the past and the present, between the conscious and unconscious, the personal and archetypal, the self and other. Dr Kalsched’s workshop got me thinking of another story of trauma and hope and inspired me to write on trauma and splitting the soul, using J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Voldemort as examples.
December 2021 Zoom workshop
Donald Kalsched is back at the Jung Society of Atlanta on Saturday, December 4th, 2021, presenting a Zoom lecture titled Violence in Fairy Tales: A Symbolic Key to Violence in our Culture and its Possible Transformation. Using the Grimm fairy tale The Handless Maiden, Dr Kalsched will discuss how we can transform and heal the senseless, mind-numbing violence that saturates our culture today. Two CEUs available.
Here’s how much of a fiend for the HBO series In Treatment I am: I watched the entire series when the show first aired about a decade ago. Then every few months, I kept looking to see if there was a new season. When it didn’t come, I just watched the old series over again. Four times. So imagine my surprise and delight when, out of habit, I looked up In Treatment online, to find that there is a new season out, with Uzo Aduba as psychologist Dr Brooke Taylor. I was ecstatic. A smart Black woman in the therapist’s chair, holding it down professionally while battling her personal demons. Irresistible.
In Treatment Seasons 1-3
In the first three seasons of In Treatment, Irish actor Gabriel Byrne was spectacular as Dr Paul Weston, a psychologist with a private practice from his home (which allowed us to see him fumble around in his family relationships). He was brilliant as a psychologist but deliciously flawed and vulnerable in his personal life, as seen in his interactions with his wife, his therapist Gina, and – spoiler alert – a patient he falls in love with. Dr Weston’s Irish lilt, penetrating insights, wry sense of humor, deep commitment to his vocation, and poetic melancholy reminded me of my first therapist, also an Irishman, when I was in Kenya in my twenties – I’ll call him Frank.
The Irish therapist
I ended up as Frank’s patient through a frustrating comedy of errors that is a story for another day. But we connected as soon as he invited me to sit in his office, and I instantly knew that he was the perfect therapist for me. He made a deep impression on me and inspired me to become a therapist, which is how I ended up leaving my teaching job in Nairobi to come to America to study psychology. He signed off on my hours of personal therapy, a prerequisite for my graduate program.
Frank introduced me to the ideas of, among others, Irish poet John O’Donohue, humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, and psychiatrist Carl Jung. He prescribed Anam Cara to me as bibliotherapy, which I couldn’t find in the local bookstores in Kenya at that time. But in an uncanny display of synchronicity similar to the one that led me to Frank, the book fell off the shelf of a bookstore I visited in Johannesburg a few months later, landing at my feet. Later, Frank and I shared a moment of laughter and awe when I described the encounter in session. I brought that book to America with me when I was accepted into my counseling psychology program. It still sits on my shelf today, two decades later.
There are so many things I love about this new In Treatment season: a formidable Black woman therapist who, like her predecessor, is brilliant yet flawed, making her at once inspiring and relatable. A fantastic cast of ethnically and culturally diverse patients, resulting in rich explorations of race, class, culture, gender, language, and sexual orientation. We learn about clinical stuff like maternal and erotic transference and alcoholism. Carl Jung is quoted a couple of times, and there are references to dreams and the unconscious. There are raw and real conversations about topical matters such as the stigma of mental illness and trauma in Black communities, racism and Black Lives Matter, environmental and LGBTQ issues, politics and white privilege.
We drop in on telehealth video sessions with Dr Taylor’s patients and see them navigate the challenges of COVID-19. We hold our breaths as Dr Taylor reveals her eloquent and unstinting views on white entitlement and misogyny. We marvel at her political activism, and we cringe every time she falls into self-imposed traps and dysfunctional behavior. Actor Liza Colon-Zayas is outstanding as Rita, Dr Taylor’s friend and AA sponsor, whose piercing insights and fierce love will move you to tears.
I am delighted that In Treatment is back in this superb iteration. I adored Dr Paul Weston, and now I get to revel in Dr Brooke Taylor’s life and foibles, and those of her patients. In Treatment Season 4 is a deeply satisfying and refreshing portrayal of the broad range of people and messy issues that make up today’s America (and show up on therapists’ couches near you).
OK then. Time for me to get back to eavesdropping on Eladio, Laila, and Colin’s juicy sessions.