Memories, Dreams, (and) Reflections of Stephen Anthony FarahStephen Farah
Some general context
What follows is an attempt to synthesise and make meaning from my very own Jungian journey of the last fifteen years. Besides borrowing the title from Jung’s biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, I follow in the footsteps of two of my students, Tasha Tollman and Linda Hawkins, who have previously written pieces along these lines for publication on this site.
I am not into the white washing or spin doctor style of narrative. I will attempt, as much as possible, to give you an honest, if at times jarring, account of the highlights and lowlights of my very own Jungian journey.
I think as much as anyone is born to anything I was born to be a Jungian. Or, or you prefer, he was born to teach me what I needed to know, in order to navigate this island of reality we find ourselves stranded on. I think I am far from alone in this conviction. Whatever criticisms may be levelled against the great man, (and make no mistake there are many, I take little pride in the badge “Jungian”), his work has a universality to it, recognised and appreciated by many. At least psychologically, which was after all his domain of enquiry, this universality is, arguably, unparalleled. The only other contender for this virtue in the domain of psychology must be Freud. But as great a man as Freud was, I don’t think his work resonates with as many as does Jung’s. At least not to the layman, who unfettered by excessive theoretical prejudice, is perhaps the best arbiter of psychological truth.
Jung’s work pioneered the idea of a “collective unconscious” the objective dimension in psychology, which field of enquiry, traditionally, and to this day, is focused on the subjective dimension. The idea that the human psyche is conditioned by an objective, a priori or in Jungian terms “archetypal” structure. Jung followed the philosopher Kant in this, applying Kantian philosophy to the emerging field of psychology. It seems a reasonable claim that the widespread resonance of his psychological model for so many who encounter it, bears testament to the universal or objective dimension of the human psyche.
The prima materia (my personal context)
I encountered Jung at a challenging time in my life, at the same age Jesus Christ saw fit to abandon us, in body if not spirit. I had made a way of sorts for myself in the world. The stuff I did was hardly going to go down in the annals of history as revolutionary, perhaps not even evolutionary. On the contrary, some might suggest it was of a regressive nature. My actions did not contribute to universal suffrage in a country crying out for it, they did on occasion result in suffering for those sufficiently misfortunate to fall into my ambit of influence. As my teacher would later point out I had failed to make any significant contribution to the GDP, my efforts did not result in an increase in the national employment figures nor address any recognised social issues. My life, such as it was, was improbable to result in any posthumous testaments to its virtue, no masons were likely to lose sleep calculating the engineering challenges for a lasting monumental erection in my memory.
My life was one dedicated to the Dionysian dimension of soul, it paid homage to the virtues of hedonism and its immediate realisation. It served at the altar of the great “I”, selfishness, self-centredness and self-aggrandizement, guided my every waking thought and deed. The sheer absurdity of my inflated sense of self simply did not occur to me. I lacked the humility to gain anything approaching an objective perspective on the virtues and vices of the little project called Stephen Anthony Farah’s life. Although always of a philosophical disposition, I embraced pragmatism of a particularly narrow type. I dedicated myself to myself, at the expense of all others and quite frequently at their direct cost. Such was my slavish devotion to myself that naturally I lost myself. I sought out the company of bad men at a young age and on the completion of my apprenticeship I too had become bad. Badness had seeped into my bones.
During this time I had the fortune or misfortune, depending on your ideological sympathies, to wrestle an angel of the lord to the ground. I caught her one fine day as she swept past me, laughing, toying with me. I was not so easily outdone however and, much to her shock, mustering my primal instincts leapt and snatched her out of the sky. In the altercation that followed, so violent at times I was given to wonder if I had mistaken a demon for an angel, my previous identity was pretty much smashed to bits. Much like Jacob I may just as well have changed my name, although I didn’t and no doubt that in itself says a lot.
So it was I now found myself with wife and child, disoriented and without clear identity or purpose. I was in that liminal space between lives, between my past and future selves, between professions, the one I used to have (such as it was) and the vocation I hoped to discover, between worlds, the one where I was the solar god around whom the planets revolved and the terrifying and overwhelming vastness of the universe. A universe I, previously, had only glanced at obliquely, but now faced pretty much head on. I was lost and without a compass to find true north.
The encounter with Jung (into the Athanor)
Enter stage the gnostic alchemist, Carl Gustav Jung, not in person, he died before I was born, but in spirit. He came to me in the form of a very unusual human being, a man who would become the teacher and mentor I had long sought. A man I will never forget, part toad, part magus, part daemon, part dandy, both fascinating and frightening. An accomplished alchemist in his own right, he had a genius for interpreting and practically applying Jung’s work, the equal of which I have yet to encounter. We called him the Duke.
After as little as a few dozen torture sessions, packed with irony, dripping with sarcasm and more than a few backhanded comments, the scales, blinding my vision, fell away and the haze which enveloped my mind began to lift. The shift I experienced was very subtle and simultaneously radically transformational. In effect the initial and lasting shift was only an inch long and a second in duration, a reflective gap between thought and deed. But it was enough space in which new worlds could be created, new lives imagined and new gods discovered.
The Duke taught me a peculiarly Jungian brand of magic, involving both ruthless (to the point of brutal) self-examination and reflection; an in-depth study of Jungian psychodynamics, which constituted in effect a new language and conceptual paradigm within which to conduct such psychic hygiene; symbolic consciousness; dream interpretation; and a doorway into the imaginal realm. He was naturally an adept and over time showed me doorways, corridors and courtyards of the psyche, thresholds between the world of spirit and the world of matter. With this map I was able to navigate my way out of the wasteland I had become lost in, to a new world, and a renewed life.
For the first time in my life I could say with real conviction, I am alive. In a very real sense I was still-born before this awakening. Before that my life was really another instance, another moment, of an entirely transpersonal cosmic drama, a drama in which I was always the effect and never the cause.
Something shifted for me during this encounter, a sense of self emerged that had been absent previously. In MDR Jung speaks of the first time as a teenager he became clearly aware of himself as a distinct entity, his sense of ‘I” consciousness constellated. Admittedly that sounds very grand and I am not sure of that is what I experienced, but it’s the best analogy I know of.
The Duke introduced me to myself. It was not entirely a happy encounter and the association has been fraught with innuendo, finger pointing, blame, recrimination, regressions, obsessions, lies and regrets. Whilst I felt I always put a brave face on it, my soul was less convinced. The going was also painfully slow at times. Still, in encountering Jung’s work, delivered by such a gifted teacher, I crossed an inner Rubicon and nothing was the same again. This inner shift, over time, translated into a change in the world. I was able to give a better, more honest and ultimately more effective account of myself. My capacity to relate deepened. Gradually the anaesthesia of my soul began to wear off and I was once again able to feel things as I had when I was a young child. This, possibly as a form of homeostatic correction, included short and intense periods of ecstasy (the state not the pill), typically visited on me at the most unexpected times.
I was (and still am) an awkward personality. One might say, to use a cliché, that I was an unconventional personality. The truth I have come to understand through my study of Jung’s work initially and later depth psychology more broadly, is that we are all born “unconventional”. The aspiration to conventionality, normativity, the desire to fit in, not stick out, to be and live as unexceptional a life as possible, is only one impulse among others. We also desire the realisation of our unique, individual, blend of virtues and vices. The emphasis of either impulse at the cost of the other comes at a high price. More commonly what one encounters is that the impulse to social cohesion and alignment with the mass mind snuffs out the individual. But, equally tragic, it is not uncommon to encounter the archetypal eccentric, who in their attempt to self-realise turns their back on society, and is consequently marginalised. This is no less unfortunate and leads to a solitary existence without the possibility of psychic fertilisation by the other, essential for self-realisation or in Jungian terms ‘individuation’.
With this newfound capacity for a modicum of objectivity on my personality I learnt to cultivate myself, to husband my virtues (such as they are) and to manage my vices (being legion). I treated Stephen Farah as an objective phenomenon in the word. I focussed my attention on him. I applied the religious function and made a hermeneutic study of his psyche the way one may study a religious text. I recognised the absence of meaning and the dearth of soul, for him, in the typical, narrow and mindless form of machismo culture in which he found himself. Using a combination of artistry and science, I crafted new symbolic forms and new pathways for him in the world.
The journey so far
I traveled not only inner space but aboard as well. I visited different countries and encountered different cultures and diverse perspectives. I formalised my study of psychoanalysis and philosophy, achieving post graduate degrees in both fields. I got to meet kindred spirits with which I broke bread and drank wine into the early hours of the morning. Whilst my Dionysian disposition never left me, I was able to transmute the crass and crude into the sublime and even, on occasion, beautiful. I discovered a passion for study, for writing, for research and for some, if not all, of my fellow human beings.
I met a war correspondent who had traveled the world, visited with mystics in Russia, been first on scene at Abu Ghraib prison when the Americans invaded Baghdad, who witnessed the madness of fanaticism when the Ayatollah was buried and hundreds of the gathered congregation were determined to die with him, who had traveled up the Amazon in search of the new Zion. I recall sitting with him in the gardens of a pub, in Highgate, after visiting the burial site of Marx at Highgate Cemetery, one cold afternoon in mid-winter, as he told me stories of loss and the triumph of the human spirit during times of conflict. Of friends he had lost and trauma he had personally experienced and been witness to.
At the other end of the world, in Tucson, Arizona, at the 8th biennial Conference for the study of consciousness held at the University of Arizona, I encountered a catholic apologist, Jewish by birth, a professor of philosophy who had studied under Derrida. Over the course of a week, in the evenings after a full conference day, walking under the spectacular night sky that Tucson is blessed with, he would expound on the subtleties of Lacan, his chosen field of research, his visit to Athens the birthplace of Western Philosophy, Žižek and speculation about just how one individual could be so widely read, the black rock a the Navajo Indian Reservation and how it was warm and viscous to the touch, and the cult of feminism and its assimilation of Imaginal Psychology at Pacifica.
I met a maenad priestess who would dance naked at midnight bathed in moonlight. I learnt Fado and the character of suadade from a soulful Portuguese sailor named Pedro. I spent an evening in the company of Sheikh who, although misunderstood and much maligned, swore an oath to lead his tribe to a better life. I went on a tour of Alam al-Mithal and visited the Emerald City. I came to understand pathos and how it constituted an ideal in our striving for personhood.
A few years (eight if memory serves) into this journey I was approached by a golem who desired nothing more than to become a real boy. He formed the idea that he might realise this desire though Jung’s work. Determined that I should teach him he gathered a together a group of like-minded souls and petitioned me to teach them. I found a home in teaching, teaching the way of the soul as it were, a subject which whilst challenging to claim expertise in, became a defining passion. In the discovery of teaching I found a way, a path to my own individuation. A point at which the lines of transpersonal imperative and personal passion crossed.
I feel I should attempt an answer at what really, fundamentally, changed for me through my encounter with Jung. This is a maddeningly difficult question to answer with any clarity. I think anyone who has lived through a major transformational process will attest to the challenge in articulating what exactly changed. With this qualification in place though, it does seem worth making the effort.
To start with the obvious, what the Jungian opus gave me was a conceptual framework in which to creatively explore and understand my own psychology. A map with which to navigate my psyche, my relationships and the world. Through Jung’s work I was able to figure out who I am, and critically, once so acquainted, it gave me the permission to be myself. The realisation that I carry an inner authority, which must be given its due weight, granted its own value, to stand against against the crushing authority of the world, which, allowed to, will blow out the flame of the individual soul. Whilst this may sound relatively simple, it is a monumental psychic shift to make.
In my apprenticeship in this system, in no small part thanks to my exceptionally gifted teacher, I acquired the capacity for symbolic consciousness. It would be tangential to this short piece, to attempt an explanation of symbolic consciousness for those unfamiliar with it. In short, it is a gift, something akin to magic and a bridge to creativity.
My faith was renewed. In what exactly, I would struggle to say. In something greater than my ego consciousness, some principle or transcendent dimension to life. The world was re-enchanted. Of course if I must be honest, it was a pretty enchanted place when I was unconscious. Consciousness precipitates a necessary fall from the state of participation mystique, where the world is naturally a magical unplace and ones participates in the illusion unquestioningly. To re-enchant the world once conscious, is a project requiring no little degree of finesse and the guidance Jung provided me in this respect was invaluable.
My capacity to relate to others and come to terms with their otherness was greatly increased.
Most importantly, I have been able to embark on my very own hero’s journey. Whilst happiness retains its transient character, my life has acquired meaning. I have purpose, a purpose not given but created. I am no longer purely a pawn that is moved by an unseen hand, but, on a good day, the hand that moves the pawn as well. I have been able to directly intervene in my own fate, such that it is no longer fate, but destiny.
Reading this through there are parts, particularly toward the end, that I cringe when I read them. They are so hopelessly narcissistic, self-righteous and smug in character, that were a bolt of lightning to strike me down before I hit publish I think some modicum of dignity might be maintained. What I have failed to fully convey, is that like you, I imagine, I find this world a frightening and overwhelming place at times. I am often filled with fear and self-doubt. Fifteen years of committed study of psychodynamics has not remedied that (or at least not entirely).
All that said, I still choose to publish this (barring that bolt of lightning of course 🙂 ) because if you have, are, or intend to, study with me I think I owe you this much. I have for the last eight years met every inquiry as to the purpose of study in this field (Applied Jungian Psychodynamics – i.e. the application of this work outside of academia and clinical practice) with incredulity. The question (“why”, or “so what”, or “how does that help”, and so on) is one which invariably triggers my most laconic reply, delivered with my best poker face. As Morpheus put it, you cannot be told what the Matrix is, you need to see it for yourself. That said, this attempt as self-inflated as it is, is an attempt to remedy the one sidedness of perennial non-response to that inquiry; and also, as a philosopher, to attempt a straightforward and honest answer to the purpose or fruit of my chosen vocation.
 Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
 As Joe Barrett (Cut Bank, 2015) said, there is no such thing as immediate kid, except self-stimulation and even there sometimes you need a little patience.
 The sensitiveness to noise persists. I always seek silence. I am a bundle of opposites and can only endure myself when I observe myself as an objective phenomenon. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Page 78.
 In part at least, because let’s face it that is an impossible question to ever answer conclusively.
 ‘Maya’ in the Hindu tradition.
 To say “happily accept” in my own case would be an exaggeration, coming to terms with is the best I have got to on this one.
 “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” (Jung)