A guest post by Juliet Rohde-Brown, Ph.D.
Pema Chodron has written: “Embarking on the spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on the ocean to search for unknown lands.” This quote beckons to how mindfulness and depth psychology serve complimentary journeys, in that both invite us into active agency with our inner landscape and a deeper intimacy in relational engagement.
Borrowing Chodron’s metaphor of sitting in a boat as our inner witness, mindfulness and depth psychology require more of us than simply noticing the waves, the water where it is clear or murky, volatile or calm, or watching islands of earth rising above the shore. Rather, we are asked to get to know the landscapes of the self intimately, to slow down and dive gently into the depths of the water itself, or to what Clarissa Pinkola Estes has called the “river beneath the river.” Mindfulness teachers often instruct meditators to experience “how the breath breathes you” rather than to simply notice the breath, for instance. In a related way, people immersed in the openness of creative processes often share that they feel that the song is singing them or the poem writing them. In those moments, perception expands beyond ego and into the proverbial web of interconnection.
When we actively include compassion-based meditation into depth psychological work and we face the most profoundly disturbing or injured parts of ourselves, which often emerge in the language of dreams and in the context of relationships, this additional way of working with shadow aspects may result in experiencing suffering in a different way. A wound, through embodied inquiry, may become a generative and flowering tree of creative expression with the soil fed by the many small deaths of fearful ego and anxious clinging along the way. One may gradually release oneself from the shackles of internal fantasy to the contributions of imagination. When falling back into older patterns and complexes, as one always will, since we are human after all and those demons beckon, we know that this is a dip in the spiral and not an eternal state. Thus, without undue judgement, dwelling, or avoidance, we compassionately hold ourselves through this moment and the next, trusting in the non-linearity of moment to moment existence and the paradoxical and impermanent nature of things. When this is extended toward interactions with others and into community, we may surprise ourselves by finding that we are more able to act with fortitude for human rights and justice, while not getting caught up in the “eye for an eye” provocation of revenge, nor collapsing into passivity. As C.G. Jung said, depth psychological process is “an opus, a work.” It sure is.
We have certainly been experiencing all manifestations of human reaction and response in recent times. We have also been seeing the emergence of an exquisite joining of hands in collective agency that arises out of a deep concern for our fellow beings and planet. Underneath our processes of chanting and marching, there may be a silent tectonic shift occurring that only future generations will live to tell about. That is the beauty of the depth and mindful path—that it is ultimately a path of service.
Coming back to the metaphor of the boat, I close with a favorite poem of mine entitled “Oceans.” Juan Ramon Jimenez’s words speak beautifully to the subtle nature of movement in a life devoted to depth psychological processes and the unfolding that may become the foreground to the background of mindfulness:
“I have a feeling that my boat,
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
Nothing happens? Or has everything
And are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?”
Juliet Rohde-Brown, Ph.D., is Director of Clinical Training in the Clinical Psychology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. With Radhule Weininger, she is co-teaching a Retreat at Pacifica entitled, “The Creative Dance of Mindfulness and Depth Psychology,” April 9-12, 2017. For more information, please visit: retreat.pacifica.edu