This information provided by: Robert L. Johnson, Ph.D., M.Div., L.M.H.C. (FL lic # MHC 0001426), Specializing in Jungian Process (Holistic Approaches to Personal Development & Psychotherapy) Telephone: 850-948-7926

Return to: Library Articles

Swamplands of the Soul: Introduction

Tallahassee Center for Jungian Studies
(Holistic Approaches to Personal Development)
Robert L. Johnson, Ph.D., M.Div., N.C.C., M.H.C.
9687 Apalachee Parkway
Telephone: 850-948-7926


Below is James Hollis’ introduction to his book, Swamplands of the Soul. This is not only an excellent introduction to his book, it is also a very good introduction to the process of individuation. In part this is the case because to come to a true understanding of oneself, one has to address the deepest aspects of one’s shadow, which Hollis addresses in this work. I would recommend that anyone thinking of involving themselves in the Jungian individuuation process should read this introduction.

Swamplands of the Soul: Introduction: The Search for Meaning: James Hollis

It is not given to us to grasp the truth, which is identical with the divine, directly. We perceive it only in reflection, in example and symbol, in singular and related appearances. It meets us as a kind of life which is incomprehensible to us, and yet we cannot free ourselves from the desire to comprehend it.--Goethe.

There is a thought, a recurrent fantasy perhaps, that the purpose of life is to achieve happiness. After all, even the Constitution of the United States promises "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Who does not long to arrive some distant day at that sunlit meadow where, untroubled, we may rest easy, abide awhile and be happy?

But nature, or fate, or the gods, has another thought which keeps interrupting this fantasy. The split, the discrepancy between what we long for and what we suffer as limitation, has haunted the Western imagination. To Pascal we are but fragile reeds that may easily be destroyed by an indifferent universe, and yet we are thinking reeds who can conjure with that cosmos. Goethe' s Faust speaks of the two souls that contend within his breast, one clinging to this spinning planet and the other longing for the heavens. Nietzsche reminds us of that day wherein we discover and grieve the fact that we are not God. William Hazlitt observes:

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be. 1

Joseph Knecht in Hesse's The Glass Bead Game laments:

Oh, if only it were possible to find understanding .... If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anymore .... Isn't there any truth?2

The litany arising from the gap between hope and experience is endless. Whether to suffer it stoically, react heroically or whine about one's condition seems an onerous yet unavoidable choice. But Jungian psychology, and the disciplined practice of personal growth it promotes, offers another perspective based on the assumption that the goal of life is not happiness but meaning.

We may well experience moments of happiness, but they are ephemeral and can neither be willed into being nor perpetuated by hope. Rather, Jungian psychology, as well as much of the rich religious and mythological tradition from which it draws many of its insights, avers that it is the swamplands of the soul, the savannas of suffering, that provide the context for the stimulation and the attainment of meaning. As far back as 2500 years ago Aeschylus observed that the gods have ordained a solemn decree, that through suffering we come to wisdom.

Without the suffering, which seems the epiphenomenal requisite for psychological and spiritual maturation, one would remain unconscious, infantile and dependent. Yet many of our addictions, ideological attachments and neuroses are flights from suffering. One in four North Americans identify with fundamentalist belief systems, seeking therein to unburden their journey with simplistic, black and white values, subordinating spiritual ambiguity to the certainty of a leader and the ready opportunity to project life's ambivalence onto their neighbors. Another twenty-five to fifty per cent give themselves to one addiction or another, momentarily anesthetizing the existential angst, only to have it implacably return on the morrow. The remainder have chosen to be neurotic, that is, to mount a set of Phenomenological defenses against the wounding of life. Such defenses too entrap the soul in an ever-reflexive response to life which grounds one not in the present but in the past.

An old saying has it that religion is for those who are afraid of going to Hell; spirituality is for those who have been there. Unless we are able to look at the existential discrepancy between what we long for and what we experience, unless we consciously address the task of personal spirituality, we will remain forever in flight, or denial, or think of ourselves as victims, sour and mean-spirited to ourselves and others.

The thought, motive and practice of Jungian psychology is that there

is no sunlit meadow, no restful bower of easy sleep; there are rather swamplands of the soul where nature, our nature, intends that we live a good part of the journey, and from whence many of the most meaningful moments of our lives will derive. It is in the swamplands where soul is fashioned and forged, where we encounter not only the gravitas of life, but its purpose, its dignity and its deepest meaning.

Surely the most profound irony to befall the healing arts is the erosion of the idea of soul in the practice of psychology. It was just one hundred years ago from this writing that Freud and Breuer published their Studies in Hysteria. Late nineteenth-century physicians were forced to address the sufferings of those patients who could not find comfort and psychic cathexis in their religious traditions on the one hand, or be healed by the medical model on the other. A science of the suffering of the soul did not exist for those who increasingly fell between the cracks of modernism. 3

Psychology was the last of the so-called social sciences to evolve, as Jung noted, because its raison d'etre was theretofore sustained by the great myths and myth-making institutions. Psyche is the Greek word for "soul," and etymologically had twin roots: one the butterfly whose mysterious, beautiful, but elusive permutations metaphorically dramatize our experience of soul; and the other, from the verb "to breathe," is an analog of that invisible wind which enters at birth and departs at death.

How ironic, then, that modern psychology so often addresses only the behaviors which can be observed and convened to statistical models, or cognitions which can be reprogrammed, or biochemical anomalies which may be medicated. While all of these treatment modalities are significant and helpful, they seldom address the most profound need of the modern, namely, to render one's journey meaningful. Any therapy which does not address the issues of soul must remain superficial in the end, no matter how much palliation of symptoms it initially provides.

Jung suggested that neurosis "must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning."4 Note that he does not rule out suffering, only the meaninglessness of life against which neurosis is a defense. Similarly he considered neurosis to be "inauthentic suffering." Authentic suffering is a realistic response to the ragged edges of being. The purpose of therapy is not, then, to remove suffering but to move through it to an enlarged consciousness that can sustain the polarity of painful opposites. As Aldo Carotenuto observes:

Psychotherapy is not the construction of models according to which human suffering is channeled and labeled; it is the examination of suffering, the discovery of the dense fabric of correspondence between external and interior events which constitutes every life.5

Jung considered that a neurosis is not only a defense against the wounding of life, but an unconscious effort to heal such wounds. Thus one may respect the intent of the neurosis if not its consequences. Symptoms, then, are expressions of a desire for healing. Rather than repress them, or eliminate them, one must understand the wound they represent.

Then the wound and the motive to heal may contribute to the enlargement of consciousness. Carotenuto also notes that "to decide to deal with suffering through Psychotherapy, rather than appealing to an omnipotent divinity, is to opt for consciousness.,,6 Such consciousness broadens and enriches us, though it may be dearly paid for.

The central idea that animates Jungian psychology is the reality of the unconscious. While this idea may seem commonplace, it is not in fact at the heart of those Psychologies which are not Psychodynamic in character, nor is it a common assumption in the experience of daily life for most human beings. Few have tumbled to the profundity of that autonomous force operating within, quite outside one's ability to comprehend, will away or even predict. Thus the obsessions, addictions and projections of complexes that originate from within ourselves are transferred to the outer world, unconsciously burdening others even as we complain of their oppression.

The thought that there is in each of us a vast, wise, natural power ought to be grounding and comforting when in fact it is often disquieting. The message of childhood experience, the message of vulnerability, powerlessness in the face of the environment, and the legitimization of one's dependence, is overlearned, deeply ingrained, while the counter idea of personal freedom, personal responsibility, is intimidating.

What psychodynamic therapy seeks to promote is a new attitude toward one's psyche. What is intimidating in its power is also healing in its motive. To align oneself with those forces within rather than reflexively adjusting always to the powers without, thereby furthering our self-alienation, is to feel grounded in some deep truth, the nature of our nature. In those moments of contact with the deep truth of the person, the encounter with what Jung calls the Self, one feels the connection and support necessary to assuage the universal fear of abandonment. As Carotenuto puts it,

Maturity implies not so much avoiding being abandoned, but in abandoning ourselves with few illusions .... If we succeed in bearing the anxiety of solitude, new horizons will open to us and we will learn finally to exist independently of others .7

As obvious as this notion of independence is, and as desirable as we may profess it to be, most of life is a flight from the anxiety of being radically present to ourselves and naked before the universe. Culture, as we have contrived it, seems but a divertissement, whose purpose is the avoidance of solitude. Indeed, next to the fantasy of immortality, the hardest fantasy to relinquish is the thought that there is someone out there who is going to fix us, take care of us--spare us the intimidating journey to which we have been summoned. No wonder we run from such a journey, project it onto gurus, never quite at home with ourselves.

Avoiding the dismal states of the soul becomes itself a form of suffering, for one can never relax, never let go of the frantic desire to be happy and untroubled, can never rest easy. Rather, one is unavoidably pulled down and under, frequently, painfully. Is not the natural rhythm of nature flux and reflux, ebb and surge? Do we not experience seasons, monthly menses, daily biorhythms, and spend up to a third of our lives in that underworld we call sleep? Is not such rhythm the nature of nature, the natura naturata, natura naturans, nature natured and nature naturing? Is not the antiphonal message of Ecclesiastes a celebration of such rhythm?

The ego, our conscious sense of who we are, is an affectively charged cluster of replicated experience. It is the central complex of consciousness whose boundaries are fluid, malleable and easily violated. We need ego to conduct the business of conscious life, to mobilize psychic energy and direct it toward goals, to maintain a degree of self-consistency and continuity so that we can move from day to day, context to context. But the central project of ego is security which, understandably, stands over against the surge of unconscious material from within, and encounters the massive onslaught of energies from without. Given this project, this ineluctable, obsessive desire for security, the ego becomes a nervous Nelly running about the parlor of life, picking up the clutter, dusting everywhere, making it even more uncomfortable to visit.

From the ego's narrow view of the world, the task is security, dominance and the cessation of conflict. From the perspective of depth psychology, however, the proper role of ego is to stand in a dialogic relationship with the Self and the world. Ego is to remain open, as conscious as possible and willing to negotiate. Jung called this ego-Self dialogue the Auseinandersetzung, which is the dialectical exchange of separate but related realities. The idea of the Self, as a reality transcendent and super-ordinant to the ego, is a recognition not only of the limitations of the nervous ego but of its place in a larger context. Jung's concept of individuation, the idea that the purpose of life is to serve the mystery through becoming an individual, is a profound contribution to our time, a myth for the modern as it has been called.8

Individuation obliges an ongoing dialogue between ego and Self. Out of their exchange the splits of the sundered psyche may partially heal. A functional definition of Self, then, would be the archetype of order within us. That is to say, the Self is an activity of psyche whose function is to further the development of the individual. One might say that the Self selves, or that we experience it selving through our somatic, affective and imaginal experiences. One could also describe the Self as a "willing matrix,'' that is, it is both teleological and contextual, both purpose and container. Psyche or soul, then, is simply our word for the mysterious process through which we experience the movement toward meaning.

So far as we know, ours is the only species which feels driven to find meaning. Such a drive is often painful, but it is autonomous and we cannot help but seek it. As Goethe noted in the epigraph at the beginning of this chapter, we can never comprehend this mystery, or it would not be mystery, but we frequently experience its intimations in the concretization of relationships, in the metaphors of dream life and in sudden epiphanies of depth. Wheresoever we intimate the presence of depth, in cosmos, in nature, in others or in self, we are in the precincts of soul.

While ego would like to encapsulate such depth in dogmatic certainties and quantifiable predictions, motivated by a desire for security, the mystery of which we are a fragmentary part is not only far beyond out capacity to engineer but beyond even our power to comprehend. We may stand in relationship to soul only through the imaginal world of the psyche, whether conscious or not, comprehensible or not. While we may seek it through ego-driven venues, ranging from theology to music to romantic love, we are more frequently pulled down into the swamplands

where we least want to sojourn. Such descents are proof of the ubiquity,

autonomy and essential mystery of soul.

While the idea of soul may be too amorphous for many, we must retain it precisely in order to honor its ambiguity, its elusiveness. Our ancestors lived in an ensouled world, which we today call animism. (Think on them the next time you knock on wood or say "bless you" when

someone sneezes.) All of us in regressed states project psyche onto nature and onto others. Whether soul is in fact there is unimportant. What matters is that in such venues one may experience the depth, the intimation of mystery, which constitutes soul. Such intimations are strangely familiar, for they are encounters with what we carry as well. Like resonates with like. Baudelaire could recall a time when humans and nature were not so split:

Nature is a temple from whose living columns commingling voices emerge at times; Here man wanders through forests of symbols which seem to observe him with familiar eyes.9

I live about a mile from the Atlantic Ocean to which, lemming-like, great masses migrate every summer. It is not to escape the heat, for air conditioning is generally available and much easier than fighting traffic and sand-flies. Surely it is because something in us resonates with the immensity of the ocean. Its awe-inspiring, trackless depths resonate, for we have the same depths within. Similarly, I live a few miles from the casinos of Atlantic City, annually the location most visited by tourists in the Western world, more than Disneyworld and more than the Big Apple.

Surely there, too, onto green felt tables and clanking, blinking machines, soul has been projected. Surely there, too, a moment's transcendence, a transitory empowerment, an ephemeral encounter with the Other is sought. What one seeks is already coursing within but we facilely project it onto surf and sand, or the fantasy of life on Easy Street, the Boulevard of Dreams.

Soul is always present, albeit unconscious and therefore sought outside. Lost is the great insight of the poet H61derlin: "The god is near, but difficult to grasp; however, where danger is, there Deliverance gathers.''IE Is it any wonder, then, that psyche pulls us back and down and in,

to bring us back to soul?

The goal of individuation is not narcissistic self-absorption, as somemight believe, but rather the manifestation of the larger purposes of nature through the incarnation of the individual. Each person, however insignificant in geopolitical terms, is the carrier of some small part of the telos of nature, the origin of which is shrouded in mystery but whose goal is conceivably dependent upon the enlargement of consciousness. If that be true, and I believe it is, then the task of individuation is wholeness, not goodness, not purity, not happiness. And wholeness includes the descent which the psyche frequently imposes upon the unwilling ego.

For most of our lives the dialectic of individuation pivots less upon the ministrations of the regal ego on its throne of hubris than upon the peasant folk within who grumble, have indigestion, and most often do not give a fig for the royal will. How many indifferent monarchs have been overthrown by the neglected little people? And just so, our unpredictable course through daily life. Despite the primacy of soul, the ego, frightened and bewildered, ignores, represses, denies, flees the swamplands. Yet much of our lives is lived from such regions, and much of the prison of neurosis is a denial of this realm.

Jung declared that he did not seek the cause of a neurosis in the past but in the present: "I ask, what is the necessary task which the patient will not accomplish?''11 Invariably, the task involves some new level of responsibility, some more honest encounter with the shadow, some deepening of the journey into places we'd rather not go. Yet all of those psychic states have a soulful purpose. Our task is to live through them, not repress them or hurtfully project them onto others. What is not faced within is still carried as a deep personal pathology. To experience some

healing within ourselves, and to contribute healing to the world, we are summoned to wade through the muck from time to time. Where we do not go willingly, sooner or later we will be dragged.

I had a friend during my years of analytic training who used to say, repeatedly, of any unpleasant situation, be it conflict with another or a troubling dream, "But what does it mean?" I found this very annoying, but she was right. What does this mean? Seeking the answer, we enlarge our horizons and live with greater dignity.

Soul work is the prerequisite not only of healing but also of maturation. Again, Carotenuto expresses it well:

The ultimate purpose of psychotherapy is not so much the archeological exploration of infantile sentiments as it is learning gradually and with much effort to accept our own limits and to carry the weight of suffering on our own shoulders for the rest of our lives. Psychological work, instead of providing liberation from the cause of serious discomfort, increases it, teaching the patient to become adult and, for the first time in his life, actively face the feeling of being alone with his pain and abandoned by the world. 12

In the following pages I will explore some of these underworld regions we have all experienced and long to escape. I will not offer solutions to the dilemmas they constitute, for they are not problems to be solved. Rather they are omnipresent experiences of the journey assigned

to us by psyche.

In a 1945 letter to Olga Froebe-Kapteyn, Jung observed that the opus, the work of soul, consists of three parts, "insight, endurance and action."13 Psychology, he noted, can assist only in the provision of insight. After that comes the moral courage to do what one must and the strength to bear the consequences. While I shall offer some specific case examples, the paradigms they embody are truly universal. Most of the cases are real, though disguised; a couple are fictive. But those latter are more nearly true than those that are really true...

What follows is as much a series of meditations as it is a set of psychological observations. My purpose is to induce reflection and a personal assent to visit those swamplands more consciously. In the end, we have little choice, for, willing or not, we will spend much of our life there. Wrestling with these lower powers is not unlike wrestling with angels. As the poet Warren Kliewer expressed it in "The Wrestling Angel Challenges Jacob,"

Of course you'd willingly stop groping for God if ceasing were one of the alternatives ....

So grab me, hasty man, and we will worship with the frantic hopeless beauty of a fight. 14

1 The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, p. 243.

2 Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, p. 83.

3 See my Tracking the Gods: The Place of Myth in Modern Life, chap. 2, for a fuller discussion of the modernist dilemma.

4 "Psychotherapists or the Clergy," Psychology and Religion, CW 11, par. 497.

5 The Difficult Art.. A Critical Discourse on Psychotherapy, p. vii.

6 Ibid, p. 3, 7 Ibid, p. 112

8 see Edward F. Edinger, The Creation of Consciousness.. Jung's Myth for Modern Man.

9 "Correspondences," in Angel Flores, trans. and ed., An Anthology of French Poetry from de Nerval to Valdry, p. 2 1.

10 "Patmos," in Angel Flores, trans. and ed., An Anthology of Gerrnan Poetry from Holderlin to Rilke, p. 34.

11 "Psychoanalysis and Neurosis," Freud and Psychoanalysis, CW 4, par. 569.

12 The Difficult Art, p. 54, 13 Letters, vol. 1, p. 375, 14 In Liturgies, Games, Farewells, p. 50.



Previous Article · Next Article
Return to: Library Articles