Conversations with ArtemisAnja van Kralingen
This article relays a conversation I had with Artemis. I shared our thoughts with my daughter who insisted that I write about it.
I met Artemis years ago when she attended one of our courses. She contacted me a few months ago to ask me to support her through her divorce. We have had many conversations since her separation.
As with anyone who has gone through divorce, the toughest part is to redefine yourself as a single person. Artemis felt that during her marriage she sacrificed a huge part of herself, her spiritual side. Whilst they were married, her ex-husband captured the projection of her Animus and as such her access to the numinous, meaning and potential were through him. She did not realise this until after the separation. She is now reconnecting with the Divine and is immersing herself in this endeavour.
Some background to our conversation.
Years ago, when I was studying my Masters, I read an article that stated that 60-80% of individuals who seek therapy do so due to a spiritual crisis. Jung realised this and subsequently wrote a book called “Modern man in search of a soul”. People are desperate to find depth and meaning in their lives. I personally believe that we all need to have a relationship with the Divine in some form or another, to enable us to experience mystery and meaning in our lives. The drive for religion is always captured by something, whether it be God, or the angels, or money or even self. Even the atheist has faith in something.
In her pursuit of embodying the relationship with the Divine, Artemis is currently on a course Coming Home informed by Ken Wilbur’s integral vision. In this course, the lecturer made a statement that institutionalised religion is losing members because people don’t want to be preached to or told about the Divine, they want to experience the Divine within. But many people get distracted by fads and weekend workshops, thinking that the emotional high they experience is a spiritual experience. Spirituality, however, is the movement within, connecting with the internal experience of the Divine daily. This experience of the Divine within are taught by many systems. Joyce Meyer teaches by example in the Christian tradition, and at the Centre we teach it through dialogue with the unconscious.
How our conversation started.
Artemis was grappling with the idea of how to embody her faith in her relationships with others. She experienced resistance from others when she spoke about her relationship with God and how she has faith that her trials and tribulations are part of a bigger plan. She felt unsure what persona to adopt and how to be authentic.
During our conversation, Artemis posed the question:
How do you engage the other from the “true self” and not from “false self” perspective?
Let me explain what her question means. Donald Winnicot introduced the idea of the “true self” vs the “false self” in 1960. He describes the “true self” as being the authentic part of a person, the aspect of you that feels alive and real. The “false self” in contrast is the persona. The product of the wounds and defences that we adopt to cope with our circumstances.
From a Jungian perspective, we could take it even further and say that the persona is a complex that developed to help us interact with the world. There are two pitfalls to the persona. In extreme cases this persona acts as a barrier to keep the other at bay and leads to a life without real connection to others and to self. The other problem is that many people believe that they are only their persona.
But can you engage another without a persona? Many people believe that they are authentic and they bring themselves to any situation and think that they don’t have a “persona”. We experience another only as a persona. Just think about other people and how they come across. Even if they are “real” we see them from only one perspective, we can never experience someone completely. We are highly complex and layered individuals. Some people are master crafters of their persona’s and what they really think and feel are hidden deep behind a mask designed specifically for the other. So how do we know who someone really is? And how often do you get to know someone and realise at some point that who you thought they were is not at all what they are like. Behind the persona is usually a person who is as neurotic and complicated as you.
So how do you become the “true self” and “authentic” and what does this mean? Who are you really? If you even ever found out who your “true self” is, how would you portray this in your persona?
This led to the following question.
If you are taking the approach of resisting negative speech in favour of positive speech when you are in conversation with another, are you just not creating another complex?
In Western Society, we have developed this idea that we need to come across as happy and successful. No one wants to know about your shit. We are always good and fine and going on holiday. If you start complaining about your boss or colleagues or partners, people get uncomfortable.
Artemis pointed out that when you start reflecting on the negative thoughts that you entertain, it is quite disturbing how much time is spent being negative and critical. And she felt that she wanted to express herself differently, certainly more spiritual.
But does a spiritual embodiment requires you to present only a positive version of yourself to the world? From my experience, many religious people are very irritating and narcissistically superior; never doing any introspection or self-reflection. Their persona is religious but their soul life is barren.
Positive thinking is also a problem for me. As a teacher of Jungian theory, the thought of repressing yourself to such an extent that you won’t allow yourself to feel pain and hurt and negative emotions is detrimental to psychological health. We cannot escape our emotions. And to take it further, our emotions are road marks to understanding what we are authentically experiencing. The body is not able to repress, the mind can, but the body will feel what it feels and carry the shadow of that which we do not wish to face. A far healthier approach would be to hold in consciousness (awareness) all of what we feel, not only to give us the opportunity to explore these wounds and heal them, but also to enable us to relate to the other authentically. If you know that you are feeling, for example, rejected and alone, then presenting yourself as “fine” is untrue and this level of self-deception can only lead to feelings of guilt and shame. This lack of entitlement to experience our feelings causes isolation, because we do not trust the other to offer us support or comfort. My suggestion is to have different personas for different people. And the ones you trust to support you emotionally are the ones who see most of who you are.
But this does not answer the question of how to incorporate the soul into your being and to be able to relate to others from that perspective.
Existential Analysis has a beautiful concept of the Inner Being. The Inner Being is the one who is the observer, who also experiences what you experience. Sometimes you hear it saying to you, “yes, that is a good idea” or “I really love this”. Existential Analysis focuses on bringing you and your Inner Being in alignment, since they believe that if you are in alignment with your Inner Being, your actions will never go against it, and therefore you will never experience guilt or shame. A fantastic idea, but challenging, especially since they also believe that the Inner Being can never make decisions or influence the ego. Actions are taken by the ego only and only through dialogue can the two become aligned. This is a very similar idea to the Jungian approach of the dialogue with the unconscious.
In my opinion, the Inner Being and the “true self” are just other names for the soul. And being authentic would require bringing your soul into your sense of being. The question remains.
How do you live the soul’s essence?
I shared these theories with Artemis who after reflecting on this, relayed an experience from a course she once attended. You were teamed up with a facilitator and they asked you a single question.
What is it that you want?
She started off with the money, car, house etc. Then the facilitator asked her again, “What else do you want? She went a bit deeper – happiness, love etc. Again, the question was asked, “And what else do you want?” This went on and on until at some point, she sat back and said, “I don’t want anything” Why? “Because I have everything.”
I really get that. I do believe that whatever we imagine or desire is a product of who we are. We cannot conjure up desires and wants that are not in our psyches. We already have them, even if it is just symbolically. Having the desire to achieve certain goals or gain certain objects is the driving force that allows us to focus and work towards achieving them. Human beings are very good at manifesting. It rang true for me. You already have everything. And if you have everything, what is left? Who is left if you take away desire?
And then it struck me!
“Hey Artemis”, I said, “I know what the essence of the soul is. “
It is not to want, but to give.
And that, for both of us, was an epiphany.
We got so excited!
It seems to me that wants and desires are the manifestations of the “false self”. Please don’t misunderstand. I think desire is an important part of being human and having the human experience. I do, however, think that it is not important in a spiritual realm. So, if desire is obsolete to the soul, the only thing left is to give.
Perhaps then, if I follow my own teaching, my ego need to have its opinions and drives, but at the same time to also allow my soul to give. Holding the tension between being human and being soul is the challenge. If I am to be whole, and not repressed, I need to allow my ego and persona to live and transform, at the same time be in dialogue with my soul to also express that aspect of myself.
We discussed it further and felt that to give should also not be a compromise to “being kind and nice”. Ultimately to be aligned to your “true self” is the goal, so that the experience of giving is authentic. Of course, this is a high ideal. I also have my judgments, opinions, prejudices and issues. And sometimes when I am projecting, I want to wallow in it and have a good moan and a bitch about someone.
I think making it a conscious decision to give from my soul to another, is a spiritual pursuit. And it means giving them an authentic piece of me. Perhaps words of wisdom, perhaps pointing out something they don’t want to see. Perhaps it is just recognising and seeing the other, listening, giving time and attention. I have had many experiences where I am in flow, and reflecting on it now I would say it was when I was giving to the other.
There is potential in each of us to experience the Divine, however it flows in you. Please share with me what resonated for you in this post and perhaps your take on soul being.