Updated: Apr 18
In case you haven't noticed, it has been a while since my last blog. I took some time off at the end of the Autumn 2021 semester, however, my plans for a short break took much longer than I anticipated. After a brief hiatus, 'What's it like to train as an Analyst? What is Jungian Psychology' blog is back for the Spring 2022 semester at ISAPZurich. The semester commenced at the beginning of March. We are already mid-way through the semester and there are still lots of lectures which are open to the public. You can find out more information about ISAP's public lectures by visiting their website at https://www.isapzurich.com/en/
If you are interested in Jungian or analytical psychology there are plenty of opportunities during the Autumn and Spring semesters to attend a lecture in-person or online. The public lectures are a great introduction to Jungian ideas especially if you are considering training as an Analyst or if you want to get a feel or sense of the teaching at ISAP.
Feeling overwhelmed and Covid-19
What has kept me away from my blog and podcast? Truth be told, I have been incredibly busy with my freelance work as an organisational effectiveness consultant. I acquired a new client just before Christmas 2021 which added to my already high client workload. For the first time in my life, I felt overwhelmed by my 'to do' list. Faced with lots of conflicting deadlines, coupled with my motivation and passion to deliver value added work to my clients, I simply overstretched myself during the months of December through to March.
To make things even more complicated, I contracted Covid which put me out of action for two weeks. I experienced mild symptoms but nevertheless it was an unsettling experience. First of all, seeing the double red lines on the lateral flow test indicating a positive rest result. How did I catch it? When? Who have I passed it on to? I was experiencing flu-like symptoms just hours before I took the test, but the symptoms were there if not briefly at least 2 or 3 days before, consisting of headache and general malaise. I also experienced bouts of fatigue and self-isolated for 7 days until I tested negative. I was back at work almost immediately and with a long backlog of work and Analyst training.
It is now mid-April and I am just about catching up with my work and training commitments. I will record a couple of podcasts in the coming weeks and I'll resume blogging with immediate effect! The time off has given me time to reflect, to prioritise what I need to do both personally and professionally, and to find a better balance between my training, work commitments and life in general. The ultimate prize is becoming a Jungian Analyst. Everything else needs to fit around this ambition and frankly, I don't want anything or anyone to get in my way. I'm naturally very competitive, however, this time I recognise different parts of myself are competing with each other. All the different parts of me need to organise themselves to enable the ultimate goal to become a reality.
Experiential Seminar - Sandplay
Before the start of each semester, ISAP publishes the lecture and seminar programme. It is entirely down to the student to decide which lectures and seminars to attend. Some of the seminars are not open to the public and are limited by the number of people who can attend. These seminars are usually limited to students of ISAP whether they are a matriculated auditor, training candidate or training analyst. I am a training analyst which means that I am required to write a Symbol paper, take a number of exams and complete a three month internship in a psychiatric clinic before I can move to the next level of training as an Analyst. I am currently writing my Symbol paper and aiming to take the exams in the Autumn 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters. I hope to complete my internship in three blocks of 4 to 5 weeks in the UK, US and Uganda. My aim is to gain a broad overview of psychiatric treatment in different countries. In the long term, I hope to open my psychoanalytic practice in Washington DC so it is really important for me to get some experience in the US but I am also keen to work in Africa and the Middle East so a stint in Uganda will be useful. The UK is where I grew up. I have a good network there wheree it might be easier to secure an internship compared to the US and Uganda. I guess time will tell.
Ahead of the semester opening, I secured a place on an experiential seminar run by Margareta Ehnberg-Vital. Margareta is a Jungian Psychoanalyst, Counsellor, Coach and Sandplay Therapist. I have a deep interest in sandplay so I was excited to secure one of only seven places on the seminar. The seminar did not disappoint. Sandplay 'is an activity in which a shallow tray of sand and a collection of miniature figures are used by patients, both adults and children, to play out fantasies in the sand' (Stewart, L.H, 'Sandplay and Jungian Analysis', Jungian Analysis, 1995). It is a therapeutic technique which developed from Jung's technique of active imagination. Jung used the term 'active imagination' to describe a process of dreaming with open eyes (Jung C.G, Collected Works 6, para. 723). At the beginning of the process one concentrates on a specific point, a dream, mood, picture or event and then allows a chain of associated fantasies to develop and gradually take on a dramatic character or story. Thereafter the fantasy images have a life of their own and develop according to their own logic. Any conscious doubt must be avoided and allowance made for whatever falls into consciousness as a consequence.
Active imagination is sometimes confused with day-dreaming. Day-dreaming is mostly an ego-driven activity, it is more or less one's own conscious effort or invention and originates from consciousness. Active imagination is the opposite of day-dreaming. The story or drama enacted emerges from the unconscious and appears to 'want to compel the viewer's participation' (Samuels, A et al, 'Active Imagination, A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, 1986). A new psychological situation emerges from the process of active imagination in which unconscious contents are exposed in one's conscious mind. The previous unconscious material that emerges becomes more or less clear and articulate, feeling is aroused which capture the patient's attention. Sandplay allows the patient to elaborate and develop thems by giving free rein to their fantasy. What sets sandplay apart from active imagination is it is rooted in the symbolic play of childhood.
I spent my early childhood aged 7-11 in Uganda. My home was in a leafy, affluent hill top suburb in the capital city, Kampala. The weather in Uganda is characterised by heavy and torrential rainy seasons which often created flash floods. Vast streams of water would suddenly emerge, flowing down the hillside like tributaries of a river. The rain water mostly flowed down man-made open surface drains or through the landscape in natural flows created by the pressure of the water flowing down the hill. This is what I loved the most. After the rain stopped, I would go out into our compound and build dams in the softened earth, and which was previously scorched by the sun's heat. I used my bare hands to mould the softened mud into highly elaborate structures, especially, high and fixed dams which stopped the ebb and flow of the water or to change its course on the ground. It was one of my favourite pastimes as a child, it felt natural, instinctual and fun. I usually played alone, my sisters much preferred to stay in, getting dirty and muddy but feeling totally at peace with myself. It was a sort of play which brought an almost meditative feeling. I looked forward to the rainy season each year. I also distinctly remember the smell of the earth quenched by the crystal clear rain water. It is a hypnotising smell, fresh, earthy, almost tasteful enough to eat. My imagination ran wild, and I was able to make it concrete with the use of mud and my own toys, mostly cars and figures, to build a a new world.
From time immemorial, children have found in their native soil, and in the miniature objects in the world around them, the basic tools for the structuring of their imagination (Stewart, L.H, 'Sandplay and Jungian Analysis', Jungian Analysis, 1995). It is like a private ritual which I experienced in my own childhood and has the effect of bringing psychic equilibrium, a sort of mental balance, psychic hygiene or a general state of mental wellbeing. Children are particularly adept at sandplay because they simply proceed to play out their fantasies as they occur to them. It would appear that sandplay is a direct analogue or parallel to adult active imagination. Both are spontaneous activities which open up the unconscious to the conscious mind or ego-consciousness. Dora Kalff, a Jungian Analyst who worked with children developed the pratice of sandplay in the early 1960s. Kalff's work can be seen in a video recorded in Switzerland in 1972. In this video Dora Kalff describes the sandplay box and analyses some of her patient's sandboxes or sand worlds. The video is available on YouTube and worth watching https://youtu.be/aWd40dMH70c
At the start of the experiential seminar, we entered the room to find several sandboxes filled with dry sand and lots, and I mean, lots of miniature figures and objects. There was also some 'wet' sand available for those who preferred to work with it. I sat down and immediately put both of my hands in the sand. It was a delightful feeling, a sort of cooling effect on my fingers and palms which felt oddly satisfying. There wasn't much 'talk', just some basic instructions were given. We were told to select whatever figures or objects we wanted and to use the wet or dry sand. I chose to use dry sand. We were also told to use whatever figures or objects attracted or repelled us. I immediately saw a tree of some kind, maybe a branch with red and orange coloured berries. I did not particularly like the look and feel of this object but having listened to the instructions, I decided to use it. My first fantasy was to build the foundations of a house and its surrounding areas, a floor map of some sort but I soon changed my mind. I tried as hard as I could to let go of my conscious thoughts and motivations. The image that came to mind was a forest, full of tightly packed trees and a house. I place as many trees as I could in a diagonal shape from the top left hand side of the sand box to the bottom right hand corner. I then got up from my seat to find a house. I found a small wooden house with a red-orange rooftop. It was perfect and I placed it right in the middle of the densely packed forest. I kept on working on the trees, pushing them down into the sand until they were at the right height and angle. I spent a lot of time trying to pack as many trees as I could. I moved the house into a few different positions but eventually settled for a particular position perpendicular to the length of the forest.
The first object that I picked up, the branch of fruit as I eventually called it, continued to repel me but I knew it had a place in the sandbox, I just wasn't sure where. I placed it on top of the trees and in the middle of the forest but nothing seemed to fit, nothing felt right. I walked around the room to see if any other objects or figures appealed to me. None of them did. I then saw a box filled with soldiers pointing guns. I suddenly felt the urge to protect the forest and the house. I gathered as many soldiers as I could and packed them, their guns and artillery facing outward, into the lower left hand side of the sand box. I found a commander figure, a leader, unarmed, giving instructions and placed him deep in the forest behind this defensive or attacking group of soldiers. It felt right and it is at this point that I decided to place the branch of fruit in the top right hand corner of the sandbox. Thereafter, it was complete. I was happy with what I had created.
After everyone had finished their sandwork, each of us in turn talked about what we created and invited comments from the rest of the group. I wanted to create something logical and orderly. I felt a stronge urge or fantasy to create this house tucked deep in a densely packed forest but I was surprised how things developed from there, the defensive or offensive army nestled in the corner, poised to attack and/or defend. I was also equally surprised that I eventually found a place for the repulsive branch of fruits. The position of the defensive or offensive army and branch of fruits apparently indicate the past and future respectively. Sandplay Analysts consider the positioning of the figures or objects on a sand box as significant. For me, the army was both 'offensive' and 'defensive', I wanted to show both sides of the army in a visual way. I wanted the viewer of my sand box to see a gun pointing at them from whatever vantage point they took when looking at the sandbox from the lower left hand side. It wasn't intended to be menacing but I felt it was more of a deterrent than an attack or threat. The branch of fruits was a surprise and I could sense something positive about it despite my initial repulsion.
After we discussed our sandboxes, our instructor asked us to clear the sandboxes and use wet sand. We poured the dry sand into a small drum and replaced it with wet sand. The wet sand felt more malleable, like putty, I felt compelled to mould something. I decided to mould a cylindrical shaped island standing tall on a calm sea. But this fantasy proved to be much trickier than I expected. I couldn't quite get the wet sand to mould in the way I wanted. In frustration, I slammed my hand into the wet mould of sand and literally 'karate chopped' it right in the middle. It created a deep crevice which appealed to me. It reminded me of the landscape of the Sahara Desert. I then started to create round or oval shaped holes in the sand which I imagined as small lakes in this otherwise scorching desert. I collected what looked like a Roman colosseum, an oval amphitheatre and placed it in the top right hand corner of the sandbox and I was done, I was happy with this final creation. We then went through the process again to analyse and question what was in our sandboxes. As you can see from the picture below, there were similarities in the shapes of the lakes and the amphitheatre, none of which was intentional. I just allowed the fantasy to develop spontaneously.
I felt incredibly fatigued and seriously hungry at this point. The whole process seemed to tire me out completely. I was very hungry, the sort of hunger I felt as a child after swimming all afternoon on a hot afternoon. I fantasised about eating a cheeseburger and fries and that's exactly what I went for after the seminar. I walked to a burger joint not far from ISAP. For some reason, they got my take away order wrong. When I got home, I was surprised to find three cheeseburgers and fries in the bag!
I really enjoyed the sandplay experience. It certainly touched me in ways I least expected. The unconscious is activated through the process and you simply don't know what you're going to do when you put your hands in the sandbox and see the miniature objects and figures. It is a therapeutic method which activates the timeless 'child' in all of us. It triggers the healing powers of play and imagination, something as adults, most of us have long forgotten. The process is particularly helpful for adults who find it difficult to verbalise their emotions or want a broader way to express themselves. The choice of object or figure and where they are placed on the sand box says a lot about one's psychic state and emotions. A dynamic energy is also present. For example, the defensive and offensive army defending the forest and branch of fruits were placed in such a way that they seemed almost real, moving dynamically against an unseen opponent or enemy. Who is the opponent or enemy? Who is the commander? What is the significance of the house and the branch of fruits? Why did I create a forest? What is the significance of the colosseum in the scorched desert? Why did I create small lakes in an otherwise scorched desert? These are the type of questions that are explored during the process. Reflecting on these questions, recollecting memories and interpreting what comes up. Ultimately, it is the individual who creates the sand work and who knows what the experience was like and what was intended. The Analyst is an observer and facilitator of the therapeutic process. Their technical knowledge of sand play and the patient's self awareness and intentions create a partnership which can heal the patient's emotional problems or stimulate the cure of a neurosis. Psychologically, this creates a new situation, unconscious contents are exposed in the waking state. Jung called this the transcendent function at work i.e. a collaboration between conscious and unconscious factors. Bringing both of these factors together also brings psychic equilibrium or a state of mental wellbeing.
Next time on #JungianBitsofInformation
Thanks for reading my latest blog. I'll be back within a week with my latest musings about what it's like to train as an Analyst. In my next blog, I'll explore Dance/Movement and Body Experience in Analysis and follow up on my previous blog, Introverted Intuition and Strategic Workforce Planning.