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SURVIVING OUR OWN GENIUS IN THE AGE OF GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE: The Western Psyche and the Native-American Psyche

Jerome Bernstein, MAPC, NCPsyA Jungian Analyst

bernsteinjerome@gmail.com


In 1960, in the last essay that Jung wrote, entitled Healing the Split, he diagnosed western civilization as being caught in the grips of a “worldwide disorientation anddissociation due to “scientific understanding” [C.G. Jung,CW 18, par. 585, 581, emphasis added].  This was Jung’s clinical diagnosis of the western psyche.  That dissociation has become much more extreme in the intervening 55 years. 


I agree with Jung’s diagnosis, and thus my approach is both clinical and scientific.  In the same essay, Jung observed that “[Our] immediate communication with nature is gone forever…” [par. 585].  My understanding of Jung’s observations here is that through scientific thinking we have lost our living connection with Nature and through that loss, our spiritual connection to ourselves and to all of life.  In the modern age money and profit have become the primary pseudo-spiritual connection to a supposed ethical life.


I agree also with Jung’s diagnoses and his conclusions – except that I don’t believe that the western psyche’s living connection with nature is necessarily gone “forever.”  However, if this is the source of the western psyche’s dissociation, namely, a split-off consciousness of a different sort than what is implicit through scientific thought, then it might be possible to redress and rebalance that split-off dimension to modern consciousness through reconnecting the western psyche with that dimension that has become split off, thus repairing the dissociation of which Jung spoke.


The goal of my research is to develop a new technology that holds greater promise of assisting the penetration of fixed views regarding the fact of, and resistances to, Global Warming as a primary and imminent threat to the survival of species Homo sapiens.


My view is that the Native American psyche, most particularly as can be witnessed in those Natives who grew up on reservations within the container of their traditional culture and language, offers the possibility of healing that split in the western psyche.  Western language(s) is noun dominant, leading to abstract concepts, thoughts, and ideas.  The libido of the communication is carried in the words and the concepts that they generate.


Native language(s) is verb dominant, and the libido between the speaker and the receiver is carried by thedynamic of relationship and relatedness and spiritual connection between subject and object, non-human as well as human. 


Most importantly, the Native psyche has never been split from nature and thus its very structure and the “rules” by which it functions are significantly different from those of the western psyche.  Native language is animate andanimating in its very structure (Gregory Cajete, Native Science, p. 72).  Whereas the western psyche operates on the  psychic paradigm of Dominion, the Native psyche operates on the psychic paradigm of Reciprocity.  I wish to emphasize that I am speaking of psychic paradigms, not just cultural ideas.  My theory is that bringing the twolanguage paradigms together in dialogue will yield not only a new language technology for rebalancing the one-sidedness of western thought in both science and politics, but also the possibility of changing the polemic in politics, science, and the culture as a whole, therein opening a new and potent dimension in addressing the crisis of Global Climate Change.

My research design for what I have described here is only partially complete because it is extremely complicated to create a single experimental design that includes two disparate psyches, the  language of each being structurally and psychically distinct from the other.  There is no other choice than to use the language of the dominant psychic paradigm only (English) in the pursuit of bridging a dissociation that is archetypal and cultural and steadfast.  We will be seeking a developmental grant to pull together a more comprehensive experimental design and a structure for conducting the research. Importantly, the experimental design will incorporate outcome measures, many of which have already been identified, by which to evaluate the validity of my theory.

None of the above-described research involves "wearing the clothes of the other culture," healing wounds due to intergenerational trauma, providing services to Native Americans, or touting the superiority of one over the other. Again, the goal is to find a better technology for addressing the crisis of Global Climate Change.

I recently presented the keynote opening address of the IAJS Phoenix Conference on Rebirth and Renewal (June, 2014).  The title of my presentation was Borderland Consciousness: Re-establishing Dialogue between the Western Psyche and ‘The Psyche-Left-Behind.’  The title of that presentation represents the subject of my research.  Since that conference, I have become aware that some of the points seem to have been misunderstood.  For clarification, I offer the following:

Through a nearly 45-year relationship with both Hopi and Navajo Tribes, and their respective cultures, including a number of close personal relationships, not least of which is a 20-year collaborative clinical relationship with a traditional Navajo medicine man, I have been privileged to witness and partake of some of their most sacred ceremonies and healing rituals. 

My relationship and my research are based upon experience of their culture and manifestations of what appears to be an indigenous psyche that is significantly different in structure and manifestation from the western psyche.

It is my belief and my experience that traditional Native Americans in particular, i.e., those who grew up in their traditional culture on a reservation, do have a closer relationship to nature than have we of western culture.  (These are not only my observations and experience, but during the course of several dramatic events where that connection was manifest, other non-Natives were present and experienced the event as I did.)

It is important to emphasize that I do not advocate any kind of substitution or adoption of Native American culture for western culture and have directly and repeatedly spoken to the opposite point of view, i.e., that we can only live through our own psyche and culture.  I am emphatic on this specific point; however, I do also believe that we westerners can benefit by learning from Native American wisdom, as there are unique differences in that psyche that can address and heal some profound pathologies in our own.

Regarding the idea of the “exotic other,” I suggest that there is a difference between observing, exploring, and learning from those dimensions versus "putting on their clothes."  Given the pathological state of our own culture and its complexes, which may well drive our species to the point of suicide, my hope is that that we eagerly explore the “exotic other(s),” including the Native American psyche and cultures, to discover whatever wisdom and guidance that may assist us in healing our own.  

The track record of western civilization and also of Jungians is sorely lacking in this.  We truly do not see and hear what we are not open to noticing.  And it is important to recognize that to notice sources of wisdom (content) we initially must struggle to suspend our fixed ways of hearing, thinking, and imagining and to realize that there are other forms (psychic structure) of consciousness besides the ones we know.  Our modes of apperception must be adapted to the psychic structure(s) we encounter, which is no small challenge indeed!

I think it very important to not idealize Native Americans or Native American culture.  Their manifest psyche, also has a shadow that can be oppressive and ugly.  My understanding is that the shadow is an archetype and therefore is not only universal but has both positive and negative poles, like that of all other cultures.  Each psyche, the western and the Native American, is in need if the other.

Last,  I no longer believe in “solutions"; for the most part I think in terms of resolution, repair, and healing.


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Jung Society of Washington

Directions: The Jung Society of Washington is located in the educational building of the Palisades Community Church, From MacArthur Blvd., turn east (away from the Potomac River) onto Cathedral at the light between Loughboro and Arizona.  We are accessible via the Metro D6 bus line.  Entrance to the Jung Society library and office is from the side street, Hawthorne Place.

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