Sociedad Venezolana de Analistas Junguianos
In the field of the psyche we know that, generally, that which is closest to us is the most difficult to be conscious of or to reflect upon.
Contemporary psychology has developed from the observation of deeply disturbed psyches, from “sick patients”. However, it is still a great challenge for us to discover the dynamics of the psyche in the every day situations. From the observation of the manifestations and dynamics of the psyche in our patients and in ourselves, we can find elements which astound us and question our references about the tangible and intangible reality. It is the ordinary experience which attract my attention, which compel me to make an effort to focus my observation skills in those aspects that are present in our everyday life but which are subtly imperceptible.
My interest today is to try to add some elements that can contribute to the discussion about one of the aspects, which, despite the fact that it is permanently present in a more or in a less degree in our professional and personal experience, is, at least for me, a very difficult approximation: chaos.
In most of the cosmogonies, in the beginning there was chaos. We find it in very old documents such as The Theogony of Hesiod or The Metamorphoses of Ovid.
I would like to read to you some words from these authors, the first a Greek who lived around the seventh century B.C., and the second, a Roman from the year 43 B.C.
Hesiod tells us: “In the first place, chaos really existed. Then Gaea, with a wide chest … and Eros, the most beautiful among the immortal gods …” (Hesiod, 1952: 15)
Similarly Ovid describes:
“Before the existence of the sea, the earth and the cover of the skies which extends everywhere, nature offered the same aspect in the whole universe: that is what men called Chaos, a formless and confusing mass … Although the elements of the earth, the sea and the air were there … none of them had a definite form and each interfered, becoming an obstacle to the development of the others …” (Ovid, 2003: 67)
From these lines, both authors begin to describe in detail how chaos began to organize and transform itself into the principles which originated the world as we know it today. However, it is striking how little time they spent talking about it. I would dare to say that the same thing happens in the field of psychology. We take for granted that there is a primordial chaos from which a process of evolution arise and which develops through out life, but at the same time we do not know too much about this origin.
Lewis Spence, the scottish mythologist of last century, says: “Many of the myths of superior ancient civilizations, in the manner they have arrived to us today, have obviously passed through one or two stages of refining and revision carried out by a priest, a poet or a philosopher anxious to liberate his people from a supposedly wild and primitive history.” (Spence, 1. 995:17)
Spence focuses on the tendency to make human things noble, which could be interpreted as the feeling of shame we have in relation to our origins and how, as a consequence, they are repressed. Nothing is more primitive than chaos which is inscribed in the beginning of everything. When we repress our chaotic origin, the primordial chaos, we push it to the world of shadow. Thus, chaos is shady by nature because it is unconscious and rejected due to its destructive power, and it is always present.
I would like to come back to our ancient authors, to hear how their evolutionary vision continues:
Hesiod tells us:
“… Gaea firstly gave birth to the starred Uranus, who was like herself, so she could be protected in all places, in order to be the safe seat for the happy gods.”(1952:16)
In these lines of Hesiod, we can read about the importance that is given to the idea that from chaos a center, a seat, can emerge.
To emerge from chaos, we must find “something” that we can hold into. We can say that that “something” is containment. We pursue containment from the moment we are born: the mother – or what she may represent – is the first container of the human being. The container brings about the possibility of forms to arise; it is the holding place from which chaos can be ordered. Containment ensures the possibility of creating consciousness. If there is no container, no vas alchimica, there is no process. We can see this in our schizophrenic patients, where apparently due to the absence of the protective element of Gaea as a positive mother, the container breaks again and again, spilling the psychic content. Only a container allows the initiation of ordering the psychic chaos, and from there, starts the process of the psyche’s development in order to establish a genealogy.
In the same way, Ovid continues:
“… the fight between the elements was ultimately solved by a god … which separated the earth from the skies, the water from the earth, and established clean air above the densest atmosphere. And once these elements were liberated, taking them out of the mass where they laid in a confusing way, a different place was assigned to each one of them and they were united with harmonious and concordant ties.” (2003: 68)
In these lines, just like in Hesiod’s, we can perceive the importance of giving a place from where something can develop, but Ovid introduces a new aspect: the need to distinguish the components of chaos and that they, in turn, can be linked in a congruous way. In this harmonious union of the initial forms we recognize the presence of Eros.
From these origins, in this masa confusa, a transformation begins to take place. The different elements start to distinguish one from the other and to interact. An evolutionary line comes out from which the genealogy of the pantheon of the well-known Greek gods emerge. We can say that the primordial forces, without shape and which are in the beginning of the chain, in great leaps gave rise to the Titans and these, in turn, gave way to the Olympians. There is no doubt that chaos emerges from a wide array of “complex forms to be structured”, which is what we know in analytical psychology as archetypes.
This evolutionary line can be found not only in mythology but also in other sciences such as anthropology, biology and more recently in evolutive psychology. Nevertheless, my interest is to focus on that which cannot be recognized as part of this evolutionary development, that which escapes from the well-known Olympian genealogy. They are the bastard children of chaos. They are those that share a monstrous nature and that don’t belong to the breed that gave rise to the known psychic forms. They are Coto, Briareo and Giges, the Hecantoquiros, children of Gaea, giants with one hundred arms and fifty heads which come out of their shoulders; Equidna, the viper with a woman’s body that ends with the tail of a snake instead of legs, daughter of Gaea and Tartarus – the place situated in opposition to the sky, to Uranus, and where darkness rules; Typhon, the youngest of Gaea’s and Tartarus sons, a transition between man and beast, a horrible winged creature which expels fire from its eyes, which had its body surrounded by vipers and instead of fingers and had one hundred dragon heads. These are the bizarre expressions of the human condition, the inhuman of the human, inscribed in the most repressed origins that have become shadow. And when they do appear, we find them strange and monstrous, expressions that are rooted in a formless psyche, in a primary state, and which were kept out of the linking force of Eros.
Primordial chaos, in the personal unconscious, goes back to the previous stage in which the unconscious can not yet provide any internal object that give sense to the experience, where there is an ontological anxiety of emptiness and senselessness. The atemporality of the psyche implies that we move permanently from the present to that past. Throughout life, chaos appears again and again. Despite our advances and our feeling of being far from it, chaos appears again. Our development is not linear and not always progressive. We always go back to chaos. We can perceive it not only in the despair of the newborn when he is not fed on time but also in lost children. We can perceive it in adolescents when nature drives them to find their place in the world, in adults when their relationships end, when their mates die or when they loose their source of income. We experience it in middle age when the structure of the psyche is shaken and its inferiorities express themselves with all their strength. We infer it in the agony of the dying when their bodies no longer can hold life. We witness it when we face the psychosis of our patients. But we can also experience it, with different levels of energy and emotional expressions, in our daily life.
Man’s consciousness is rooted in that primordial chaos from where our psyche – Deo concedente – develops. Regardless of how it has organized itself throughout our personal history, there are chaotic parts of the psyche which operate autonomously, with no relation to conscious attitudes. They are our blind spots. From this reference, we should ask ourselves: How much chaos is there in each of us? We can say that taking this into account could bring us closer to our vulnerability and allows us to see the human drama of the eternal return to the primordial chaos, where we can become trapped or move forward and become conscious. The consciousness of chaos is what allows the development of man’s consciousness.
Each time chaos emerges the forces of the unconscious express themselves, with more or less intensity, from a place where there are no forms. The existing ones, the known ones, succumb to the turmoil called by alchemists, the massa confusa. I would like to talk about images that we could associate with their extreme levels.
The following is the verbatum of a patient, who after a long situation of pressure, came to my office feeling that he had collapsed:
Suddenly, emptiness appeared from which everything began to whirl around with increasing speed. I didn’t have the will to oppose this great force which broke away all my ties. Suddenly there was a huge swirl that began to expand very slowly and which sucked everything with increasing strength. Fighting against it caused me more and more anxiety. Letting myself being dragged by it produced an imminent sensation of disintegration.
It was very interesting to me to find a parallelism between this description and the one given by Jung in his chapter, “Confrontation with the Unconscious”, in his book Memories, Dreams and Reflections:
It began a state of disorientation … I felt suspended in the air … I lived under constant internal pressure, which at times became so strong that I suspected I had some kind of psychic disturbance … I was afraid of losing control of myself and to succumb under the control of my fantasies … Suddenly it was as if, literally, the floor under my feet had disappeared and fell downwards, into deep darkness … Apparently I was in absolute darkness … I found myself at the edge of a cosmic abyss. (Jung, 1985:75-85)
I don’t know how many of you would admit that you have had this experience at least once in your life. But I would dare to say that a great number of us have experienced it with different intensity.
This is the emotional experience of chaos. Confusion and emptiness. The sensation of losing one’s identity. Chaos originates in the rupture of structures that protect us from life’s unshelteredness., triggering a feeling of orphanage and a paranoia. The link to that primordial chaos dissociates the psyche. In some way it connects us with madness. It is the extreme activation of our unconscious from which strange, bizarre images and emotions begin to emerge, and in which we can infer levels of destruction. It is perceived or felt as extreme anxiety similar to the fear that every primitive being feels when faced with something new and unexpected. We can say that the fear that goes with chaos has to do with levels of the survival instinct, not only in the biological sense but also in the psychological. This fear seeks to associate that which is dissociated; it (attempts) to recover a center, a holding place, the “seat” mentioned by Hesiod.
From his own experience, Jung talked about the activation of archetypal elements that emerge as an attempt of the psyche, following its compensatory principle, to put order into chaos. I hope that this is not interpreted as a psychological formula, something very far from our way of relating ourselves to the psychic. But I would like to reminisce how Jung, from his own experience, showed us that if we keep a humble attitude toward the unconscious, archetypal rituals and images can emerge which in turn can favor the progressive integration of the psyche. This is an element that is very closely related to the creative aspect that can arise from the chaotic experience. Now, what happens when this compensatory principle fails in its attempt to reorganize our psyche?
In the biography written by Stefan Zweig about Mary Stuart, I found an amazing description of the despair felt by the queen once she tricks and murders her lover for political reasons:
She can not longer keep quiet; she wants to do something; she wants to go forward quickly in order to escape from all the voices, those that warn her and those that threaten her. Just a little bit further, just a little bit further; without stopping or thinking about it, because otherwise she would have to accept that nothing she does can save her. It has always been a secret of the soul that velocity stuns fear for a short period of time, and in the same way that a coachman, when he feels that a bridge creaks and cracks under its coach, whips his horses because he knows that only running frenetically forward can save him, in the same way Mary Stuart desperately urges in its race, the black horse of her destiny, so that it runs faster than any reflection, so that it can crush any protest; not hearing, not seeing. Going forward and forward inside madness. It is better a terrible end than an endless terror. (Zweig, 1952: 237-238)
Let’s remember Gaea and the need of protection. During an encounter with primordial chaos, containment, temenos, is essential to protect the integrity of the psyche and of the individual himself. However, when this containment is not present, the unconscious content invades the psyche hitting with all its strength, producing psychosis, or, in the best of cases, in a state of possession. Initially, these forces still remain in a state in which everything is pure tension and the accumulation of energy, and it is then that the most primitive and repressed aspects can emerge in our psyche. In this instant, in which the field of our consciousness is practically absent, the states of possession arise with all their strength. This is when we can appreciate the expression of some complex patterns of behavior in which we infer the compensatory activation of the organizing aspects of the psyche, that seek to provide the forms we associated with the Olympian genealogy. Nevertheless, in many other cases we can see the emergence of expressions of the barbaric and monstrous aspects of our human nature. This is the emergence of the bastard children of chaos. This is when cruelty, sadism and destruction accompany chaos. This is when we associate chaos with fury, violence and dismembering; with irrational and turbulent forces that seem so strange to us and that have the power to destroy our identity, our structures and our way of being.
I would like to remind you that throughout our life, chaos, the experience of the masa confusa, can present itself in different magnitudes – most of the time with less intensity to the ones I have described. In these cases, the field of consciousness, despite the fact that is affected, is not totally invaded, and even though we know that the level in which the unconscious forces express themselves do not depend on our conscious attitude, apparently, the attitude with which our ego relates to these unconscious forces can facilitate or hinder the movement of the compensatory mechanisms of our psyche.
At this point we can begin to reflect on a fundamental issue in our topic. That is the participation of the ego in the process of organizing chaos. In this context I am referring to the ego as “a functional complex that on one hand mediates between the unconscious content and the field of consciousness and on the other between us and our surroundings.”
Jung points out the mediator function of the ego and its capacity to differentiate – in the same way that Ovid pointed out the differentiation in chaos – when, referring to his own process, he says: “the essential thing is to distinguish ourselves from the unconscious content and at the same time, bring it in relation to the conscious.” This is easily said but we know that, in psychotherapeutic work, one of the greatest challenges is to try to be conscious of the movement of the elements that emerge from the deepest levels of our psyche. We permanently find the ego making efforts not to suffer from the impact of the unknown and what is more unknown than our own unconscious, especially when its expression is experienced as chaos?
The ego is always trying to avoid the experience of suffering. When it aborts this experience, it paralyzes the movement of the psyche. When the ego, instead of joining the rest of the psyche – allowing its unconscious contents to move and be incorporated into consciousness – it becomes a repressor. When this happens, it inevitably interferes with the possibility that the chaotic experience can transform itself into a maker of psyche.
Edward Edinger, in some of his books, mentions that the ego can emerge as a servant or as a king. It takes a great effort to try to keep the ego “with its head down”, and from this attitude, to allow the activation of the containment mechanisms for the transformation that the psyche needs in a certain moment. When, on the contrary, the ego inflates, becoming the savior which will rescue us from the dangers of the unknown, it can abort the process and it is in this moment that the person can rise again filled with power that is always dissociated from the linking principle of Eros.
From power, we cannot experience chaos as an activator of biological and psychological instincts that can be really creative. We can say that once ego experiences the extraordinary sensation of “I can”, it is very difficult to do without it. The psyche becomes paralyzed and we are trapped in a polarization from which it is very difficult, if not impossible, to be able to reflect. This polarization turns into a way of holding on to “something” which can give us the wrongful feeling of being protected from chaos, fueling the illusion of order but worse yet, mutilating our interior life and the connection to our soul.
Up to now, we have been referring to chaos from a strictly individual perspective. However, based on one of the standards of Jungian psychology which is that the psychology of masses is rooted in the psychology of the individual, I would not like to miss the opportunity to share some reflections about what we are experiencing as a collective.
I would dare to say that our culture, which is deeply rational and positivist, has over-valued order, relegating the irrational aspects of our nature into the deepest areas of the unconscious.
From childhood, we have learned routines and strategies to cope with external chaos, most of them separated from the rituals which are deeply rooted in our culture, creating a sensation of absolute predictability, safety and order in life. We know that in essence, the routines provide us with an external ego that is needed by the child while he internalizes an ego that will allow him to differentiate, to choose. However, if we look around us, these routines have been changing into straitjackets of a collective that, day by day, is more afraid of the expression of individuality, of difference. As a consequence, the possibility of a more hermetic relation with the unknown is paralyzed, which inevitably constellates massive projections of shadow around us.
We are living in an increasingly cruel world, one in which day by day we lose more rituals that can be natural regulators for possibilities of living together. This world subjects us to a polarization that each day is more profound. The fantasy of a global village, so present in our contemporaneity, has vanished in a sentence that we hear all around the world: “You are with us or against us”. Polarization, in which the individual’s life is worthless vis-à-vis the demands made by a mad collective, has caused us to lose contact with the most primary instincts, and in which we apparently can only react from a position of power.
How hard it is for us to believe that there is not much difference between our barbaric ancestors, apparently very far away from us, and ourselves. … In spite of two world wars and centuries of local wars, we have kept on talking about a civilized world. …
In recent years we have been convulsing due to events that have had a tremendous impact in our collective, fracturing world order and immersing us in great chaos. I believe the time has come to make a great effort to reflect in a very serious way about the barbarism that surrounds us and maybe, from there, we can facilitate the emergence of the natural mechanisms that point to an evolution. Otherwise, we can be destroyed by the most primitive aspects that are still with us.