THE BLOG
06/07/2011 01:02 am ET | Updated Aug 07, 2011

Reflections on the Soul, Shadow and the American Psyche

This week -- June 6 to be exact -- marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, kicking off summer-long events around the world memorializing his life and work. In honor of this occasion, I thought I would post excerpts from an interview I conducted 15 years ago with June Singer, one of America's pioneer Jungian analysts, and author of "Boundaries of the Soul," an enduring classic on Jungian psychology. Singer passed away in 2004; our interview was never published. But her insights into soul, the American psyche and her poignant memories of viewing Jung's body in the hours after he died have remained with me over the years. Her insights remain as relevant as when we first spoke; the timing seemed right to share her wisdom with The Huffington Post audience. The following is an edited version of our conversation.

Pythia: You are an American Jungian analyst whose work revolves around archetypes, myths and dreams. I wonder if you could reflect on the soul of America?

June: To begin, I think I should say what soul is, at least in my terms. Soul and psyche mean approximately the same thing; the word psychology comes from psyche. Soul is that part of us that mediates between the visible world of everyday practicality that is before our eyes, and the invisible world that we know in a deep, inner way, the dimension of mystery. When we neglect the soul, then life loses its meaning and purpose, and we begin to feel isolated and disconnected from the life force. It's as if the noise of the everyday world deafens us, and we can't hear the beautiful music of life, or take in the rewarding quiet and companionability of being with friends and family.

You could also say that soul is a kind of blueprint. So, for example, there is the "house" that is America -- and then there is the invisible mythic blueprint upon which America was originally based. Part of that blueprint is the deep belief that those who were unable to express themselves, one way or another, came here in search of freedom and opportunity. At the same time, most of the African Americans came to America because they were forced to; other immigrants also came to this country because they had nowhere else to go. So along with our idealism, which I like to associate with soul, we have to remember that there is another part of us which works against the soul, and that in Jungian terms is called "the shadow." This is the part of ourselves that is very real, but that we don't like to acknowledge.

Pythia: Such as the darker side of our origins as a country -- including slavery, and the displacement and near-extinction of the American Indians?

June: Right. If I had America on the couch, for example, I would say that our image of ourselves is that we think we are pretty good: America sees itself as the great "I Am" that thinks it is the best country in the world; that knows what's right for the world; and that is going to be responsible for fixing all the problems in the world. So another aspect of our shadow is that we are caught in a power drive, needing to control our own destiny and that of other nations. Beneath that power drive, however, is insecurity: More deeply than anything we want security. In order to get security, we pile up wealth, and we use any means to do that. But if we were truly secure we wouldn't need to go to such extremes.

Pythia: What do you feel is behind America's insecurity?

June: I think we find it hard to trust that we will be secure. It is a kind of vicious circle where our insecurity creates greedy, ambitious habits, and the feeling that there will never be enough. This is also a part of America's shadow: On one side we have our ideals of generosity and inclusiveness, and on the other side we have insecurity, which leads to greed and self-centeredness. Somehow we have to recognize that giving in to the shadow is a short-term solution that makes things worse in the long run.

If I were speaking to America on my couch, for instance, I'd talk about faith, one of the qualities that Jung related to the soul.

Pythia: In what way does faith relate to the soul, or psyche, of America?

June: Part of faith has to do with having trust in the natural process of life: to be able to accept what is, and not always try to improve it. What I mean most specifically is ecology and nature: trusting that it can grow and mature, with some guidance, but not exploitation, and accepting the will of God in nature. This works in psychology, too. There is in each of us a natural process of maturation and development; we have to be careful not to mess this up, and to have faith in the human spirit. We have to be like a good gardener who pulls up the weeds, and cultivates the plants that nourish.

Pythia: What does it mean to bring this kind of soulful perspective to citizenship?

June: I think being a citizen implies a very deep and wise awareness of the world around us. I don't just mean our neighborhood, but our sensitivity to the total human community. Jung told us that we are living with something larger than ourselves, and that we need to give to it of our substance -- our work, our labor, our awareness, and our sensitivity. An example of this would be the cathedral builders in the Middle Ages who didn't expect to see the results of their work in their lifetime. Yet they had the awareness that they were contributing to something that would survive long after they were gone.

Pythia: You're talking about linking up our personal lives with something more meaningful -- that transpersonal dimension you mentioned earlier that co-exists with our daily lives.

June: I am an old lady now. Let me share something very personal with you. I have no children; I had one daughter, who died. At first I was devastated, crushed by this. But somehow I came to the realization that the world is my child, and that the people in prisons because of their political beliefs are my children (I am very devoted to Amnesty International), and that the people that I work with in my practice are my children, though not in a personal sense. Over the years I've worked with a lot of clients. Some have been successful; some have not. But the interesting thing is that in giving one gets so much back. Just to see people grow and develop, to see them accomplish things, and to know that you had a little part in helping, in turn helps me. Sometimes life deals you some pretty rotten blows. But the best healing is to be able to help others heal.

Pythia: In your years of experience as an analyst, have you noticed a recurring theme to your clients' issues?

June: Many of my client's issues have to do with finding one's self, and with finding one's own meaning.

Pythia: Can you tell me something about your training as a Jungian analyst?

June: I did my training in the early '60s, and have been an analyst since 1964. I didn't work directly with Jung, but was fortunate enough to have been trained by somebody who had worked with him, Liliane Frey-Rohn. But I was in Zurich when Jung died.

Pythia: That must have been an extraordinary moment. Can you tell me something of what you experienced?

June (in lowered voice): It was quite an experience. It was a stormy day. My analyst called; she told me that Jung had died, and that if I wanted to, I could go to his house in Kusnacht and spend some time there. And so I did. I recall walking up the long path to the entrance; at the end of the walkway, the front door stood open. I passed through this open door, over which Jung had carved in Latin the words "Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit", or "Called or not called, God will be there." A family member was waiting inside, and told me that I could go upstairs to Jung's bedroom. So I went up the stairs; at the top of the stairs was another open door, and through it I could see the flickering of candles.

I stood in the doorway, and saw Jung laid out in his bed in a white nightshirt. At that moment, something came to me. I saw that the candles were symbolic of Jung's work, and that it was my task, or anyone's task who chose to take it up, to take that candle and use that to light the candles of others. It just came to me as I was there, almost as a message. I've always followed the philosophy that there is plenty of light and that if we pass it on it does not diminish.

Pythia: As you're speaking, what comes to mind is the image of the Olympic torch that is passed from runner to runner, circling the globe.

June: Well the Olympic torch, as I understand it, is carried past the people, yet doesn't light other torches. But what if the runner could stop long enough to pass on the light, and people along the way could light their own candles from that torch?

Pythia: That's a beautiful image of Jung's legacy. In closing, I'd like to ask you one more question about America, and what you see as it's soul potential.

June: I believe that the best teaching is setting an example. If we are going to survive as a country, we will have to become a beacon: a beacon isn't aggressive -- it's a light to be seen, like the Statue of Liberty with her torch. This is a very different image from the cowboy and the conqueror, and yet we need new images like that of the torch or the beacon to take us into the next century.