Poe, Jung and You
Yes, you. “And what do you presume to know about me?” The same that Edgar Allen Poe and Carl Jung knew about themselves….the same that each of us, if willing, can learn about ourselves: that we possess the complete capacity and are assigned the same obligation to learn all about “me”. After examining such strikingly different approaches to self-discovery, one can only wonder, “What is MY path to Maslow’s ideal status of “Self-Realization”?
Art? That’s a popular one. Art Therapy is a relatively new practice in which artistic expression is used as a therapeutic means for psychotherapeutic observation and treatment. But we have been practicing Art Therapy for centuries before it emerged officially in the 1940’s. Humans were using natural paints to personalize the walls of caves long before there existed a Master’s degree in the field. Thankfully, humans have always had a desire to leave their footsteps in the soil of progress… a marking on a tomb, a folktale on the lips of the elderly, a set of pages turned a book.
A beautifully, dark, symbolic piece storytelling the experience of mourning for loved ones lost, a cleverly crafted personification of the heart’s toils and a lyrically mesmerizing anti-lullaby that emphasizes the urgency for resolution to the unaddressed matters of the soul that keep us at unrest. “The Raven”, a masterpiece originally published in 1845, written by the famous poet, Edgar Allen Poe, appears to be a personal, artistically therapeutic composition. The protagonist of this poem, a bird – “The Raven”, symbolizes the reminder for Poe’s lost “Lenore”. Poe’s pounding heartbeat becomes the “tapping on his chamber door”, as some way to displace his distress and offer a disguise for the weight of his heart as an actual sound. He mourns for the “ghosts on his floor”… her soul departed. The Raven is, as if, an imaginary image, a fictional character within this poem. But, is the truest representation of Poe’s mourning. The Raven’s very existence in this piece speaks to Poe as if to say, with nothing more than one word uttered “Nevermore”: “tend to the mourning upon you, for your lost Lenore. I will not depart from the chambers of your heart, until you tend to this issue, I will not fly away, your heart will remain heavy, and I will stay… even if, in your sadness, to keep you company. Depart unaddressed…Nevermore!” The Raven, representing somber sadness, will not “…leave his loneliness unbroken”; will not redeem his soul one token, one mercy, nor one flight to take with it the sadness it came to represent. The Raven comes to console, as sadness consoles us naturally during the time of mourning. Poe perhaps experienced desperation for company during his mourning process while at the same time, weeping in sadness and simultaneously aggravated due the very existence of this natural need. Poe is evidently hopelessly distraught by his loss, and clearly expressed his disbelief of emotional up-liftment by the incessantly “sitting” Raven that, in no uncertain terms, sternly refused to depart from his presence. A timeless piece, an example of an artist’s realization of his internal turmoil, one that each of us living will inevitably relate to at one point or another. Thank you Mr. Poe, for your generous footstep on the path for humanity.
Artistic expression and spirituality were also heavily supported by Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, for the therapeutic benefits of internal struggles as well as with dealing with addiction to alcohol. However, Jung dealt with his own issues slightly differently, to say the least. In 1913 at age 38, Jung became confronted with his “unconscious” as he began to “hear voices” and believed he was dealing with fits of schizophrenia. In an intrepid act, he declared this a beneficial experience and rode this intense wave of deep diving within his subconscious rather than resorting to medication to suppress these occurrences. The product was a detailed manuscript he titled, “The Red Book” complete with illustrations and journal entries of his “hallucinations”.
This long-hidden journal documented his induced experiences (yes, induced; he meditated on these hallucinations in times of solitude) during a span of sixteen years. Jung “made it a rule never to let a figure or figures that he encountered leave until they had told him why they had appeared to him.” Two figures, for example, are of an old man named Elijah and a young woman named Salome. About the Red Book, Jung said:
“The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.”
“By acknowledging this dark side, we can effectively communicate with both halves of ourselves. This offers liberating balance, and facilitates tremendous wisdom (something the raven would be very pleased with). In other words, through the consistent unveiling of inner depths, and the positive/active utilization of inner impulses the esoteric secrets become exposed to the light of our own consciousness.”
We all have or have had “Ravens”. Or, if you prefer a young woman, a “Salome”. Poe’s “Raven” and Jung’s “Elijah and Salome” are personifications and reminders of the dark and light that dwells within us all. These brave gentlemen made a decision to encounter their darkness head-on. Poe, with the strength of his writing instrument and tear-drenched sheets of paper and Jung with the fearlessness of losing himself – within himself. Poe embraced his sadness, and used the written word to dive into the darkness of his experience, he indulged in his moment. Jung embraced his hallucinations, and used drawings and writings to record his adventure, he indulged in his moment. They each created, what eventually became, famous works from the documentations of their dives. Timelessly valuable works, because we can each relate … we all face a pinnacle point in our existence where we too, must “face the music”. We must stand at the door of our dark, lightless closets and encounter our monsters. Our losses, our failures, our regrets. “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Nietzsche. You will not become a monster, I assure you. For the sole reason that you contain the bravery to face them. Courage is belief, faith, and love for oneself that one’s core is a clear and beautiful composition of light and dark, an “un-tippable” levy of peaceful acceptance that one embraces to successfully balance these two components… we are perfectly capable and quite honestly, held accountable to do so. It is only the coward that closes his eyes and elects to not stare into the abyss of his soul that is capable of transforming into the monstrosities of unrecognizable existences.