Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Highly Recommended by Midwest Book Review: 'Guilt with a Twist'

Guilt can be a bad thing at times, as it stands to prevent people from doing what needs to be done , June 15, 2008 —By Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA) - Rated 5.0 out of 5 stars

“Is guilt nature's way of making mankind not wrong one another, even more so than the laws and customs of civilized society? That's what "Guilt With a Twist", the many years' work of a clinical psychoanalyst and Ph.D holder Lawrence H. Staples, claims. Staples argues that guilt can be a bad thing at times, when it prevents people from doing what needs to be done - such as cutting off an abusive family member, or encouraging people to help themselves. A comprehensive look at guilt, "Guilt with a Twist" is highly recommended for community library psychology collections and for anyone who wants a better understanding of humanity's natural moral alarm.”—Midwest Book Review

Guilt with a Twist by Lawrence H. Staples —ISBN 097760764X

Lawrence Staples is a 76 year-old psychoanalyst, still actively practicing in Washington, DC. After receiving AB and MBA degrees from Harvard, Lawrence spent the next 22 years with a Fortune 500 company, where he became an officer and a corporate vice president. When he was 50, he made a midlife career change and entered the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, Switzerland, where he spent nine years in training to become a psychoanalyst. Lawrence has a Ph.D. in psychology and a Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the Zurich Institute. Learn more about Lawrence Staples and his recently published book Guilt with a Twist.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Anatomy of a Novel: Active Imagination

by Lawrence H. Staples
author of The Creative Soul: Art and the Quest for Wholeness

Active Imagination: What it is:
Active imagination is a technique developed by Jung to help amplify, interpret, and integrate the contents of dreams and creative works of art. When approached by way of writing, active imagination is like writing a play. One takes, for example, a figure that has appeared in one's dreams or creative writings. Usually, these figures express a viewpoint quite the opposite of one's normal conscious view. Sometimes it is a male, shadow figure. At other times, it may be a feminine, anima, or maternal figure. One starts to converse with the figure in writing. One challenges the dream figure and lets him/her challenge the dreamer. The dreamer asks the figure why he appeared in the dream. He asks the figure what it wants from him. Then, the ego, like a playwright, puts himself as best he can into the figure's shoes and tries to express it and defend its viewpoint. There ensues an iterative dialogue between the writer and the opposite figure in his dream or piece of writing. With practice one can become accomplished at expressing both viewpoints, just as a playwright does. One gets better at this the more one does it, just as the playwright does. The technique of active imagination tends to detach the qualities and traits that are first seen in a dream or in a story as belonging to external persons, and coming to see them as belonging to one's self. Active imagination, then, helps the writer become conscious of his opposite qualities by forcing him to give voice to figures, like shadow figures, that carry qualities opposite those of his ego. These qualities personify the rejected opposites that are present in the unconscious. This technique helps recover these rejected opposites and make them available to the ego and consciousness without necessarily having to act them out.

Example of Active Imagination:
Following is an impressive and rich example of the power of this technique to affect and even shape our lives. It's an active imagination done by a man in his late thirties. He was an extremely successful salesman who was, nevertheless, unhappy with his work and life. Despite his high income, work had lost its meaning for him. He had entered Jungian analysis in order to help him out of his suffocating existence and find a new and different way. He had a powerful dream that he took to his analyst. His analyst suggested he do active imagination with one of the figures in the dream. His is a beautiful example of active imagination that led to much more than a dialogue. It became the seed of a creative life that grew and flourished into a wholly new career. Out of his active imagination came a novel, LeRoi, which was then followed by two other novels, Menopause Man-Unplugged and SamSara . All have been published as the Malcolm Clay Trilogy and he is living today as a successful writer. He has written still more books that are waiting in the wings to be published. His name is Mel Mathews. The power of the active imagination is seen in the fact that it unearthed in him some deep hidden spring of creativity that suddenly gushed forth. Apparently, he had been living a life of suspended animation that lay there until some psychic prince awoke it.

The Dream:
Mel's book LeRoi was literally born from a dream and the active imagination he did with the dream. He had the following dream: A woman was sitting in a diner, in a booth smoking. " Excuse me, I wonder if you could put your cigarette out?" I asked. She ignored me. A few minutes later she lit up again. I stood up, walked around to her booth, grabbed her pack of smokes and the ashtray and walked out the front door. I dumped the ashtray and stepped on her lit smoke; then, I dropped her pack and stomped them as well. I walked back inside, slammed the empty ashtray down on the coffee counter and sat down. A petite pony-tailed brunette walked up with the iced tea pitcher to refill my glass. "Can I have some more ice please?" " Sure", she answered, " I'm sure (Flo) the boss-lady will be out in a minute", the brunette said, as she turned around with my ice. "What does she want?" " You'll have to ask her yourself."

Mel discussed the dream with his analyst who suggested a dialogue with the boss-lady.

Dialogue with the Boss-Lady:
Here is his active imagination with Flo, the name of the boss-lady. This brief dialogue is to his novel what an acorn is to an oak tree. This brief dialogue apparently contained all the genetic codes necessary to make a novel just as an acorn has the genetic codes that lead to an oak tree.

Flo: Howdy

Mel: Hi

Flo: Purdy hot day, huh?

Mel: I can stand the heat. It's the stray cigarette smoke that sets me off.

Flo: So that gives you the right to run off one of my regulars.

Mel: I asked her to put it out.

Flo: Did you ask her or did you beat around the bush with some rude indirect comment?

Mel: Lady, I don't know who you are or what's on your mind, but I really don't need any more crap today.

Flo: Well kid right now you're in my diner and you're runnin' off my patrons.

Mel: Oh great.

Flo: I've dealt with your kind for years so let's just cut to the quick.

Mel: Look, lady, I'm sorry if I offended anybody here, but I've got some problems. My MG is broken down across the street.
Flo: So what?

Mel: Things just aren't falling into place today.

Flo: Would you like some chocolate milk little boy, or how about your ass wiped? In this café, the world doesn't revolve around you. . .

The Creative Seed
While the creative process is different for each individual, one can sometimes discern similarities. The seed that unleashed Mel's creative process was a dream and a few sentences associated with the dream. His process bears some resemblance to the process by which Isak Dineson created her work.

Isak Dineson, a Danish novelist, had quite a reputation as a storyteller, and following dinner her guests usually asked her to tell a story. She complied, but stipulated that her guests must supply her with the opening sentence. Using this sentence as her starting point, she would then spin tales that were hours long.

She had a way of forming and telling stories that is, perhaps, a microcosmic example of the macrocosmic processes of all creation. I could see that, like a verdant and luxurious garden, all creation must first be seeded before it can produce a crop. In Dineson's case, the opening sentence given by the guest was the impregnating seed that she took into her imagination to create the story, like an acorn taken into the earth creates a tree. She began with a word (her acorn) that unfolded from itself a string of words connected to each other by some associative bond that produced a coherent creation. It is as if the opening sentence contained all the genetic codes that knew from the beginning where they were going and how they would get there. The mother is not conscious of the code; it operates invisibly and unconsciously once the seed is fertilized. The mystery is that such a simple, tiny seed can produce such a large and complicated product. It is as if the story develops in accordance with its own processes once the seed is planted in fertile soil. The tale was the crop that grew out of the seed. A mundane analogy to this process is the unwinding of a spool of yarn. The key is to find the tiny end, and then with that small piece in our hand we pull and find that attached to it is a long string that yields the totality of the yarn. We often refer to tales and stories as yarns.

Psychologists are familiar with these processes that are triggered by a single word, suggestion, or thought and that can appear in the verbal outpourings of their patients. They notice that words that belong together are part of an unconscious chain or string that is formed by a process that they called "association". Jung's work on his Association Experiments demonstrates the power of a word to stimulate the unconscious to produce other words that are meaningfully connected by association. Freud pioneered the use of "free association" to bring to consciousness a patient's unconscious complexes. In "free association" all the words that belong together in that string are revealed just as all the yarn is revealed when the spool is spun and then unrolled.

A book like Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury is written in the style of free association, where words with an associative connection appear as if they were spilled upon the page. Some people read it and see it as meaningless or, at best, as loosely connected gibberish. Others experience it as great literature. The Nobel Prize Committee apparently agreed with the latter. James Joyce's Ulysses and many other books have had similar mixed receptions. Some point to Jackson Pollock's process of painting as equivalent to Faulkner's writing, but in the case of Pollock it is drops of paint rather than words that are spilled. The works of both artists contain thousands of fragments (words or specks of paint) that have an associative coherence. In a sense, a novel is a big yarn, a long string that contains the bits and pieces that through association are attached to and belong with each other. If we think about it, we may suspect that there is some kind of "unconscious knowingness" behind this creative process. We can also suspect there is some kind of word (or note, or color or form) magnet in our psyche that draws to itself and coheres words, notes and colors that previously existed in isolation but, eventually, belong together.

About the Author:
After receiving AB and MBA degrees from Harvard, Lawrence Staples spent the next 22 years with a Fortune 500 company, where he became an officer and a corporate vice president. When he was 50, he made a midlife career change and entered the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, Switzerland, where he spent nine years in training to become a psychoanalyst. Lawrence has a Ph.D. in psychology and a Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the Zurich Institute.

Learn more about Lawrence Staples and his many publications.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama, McClellan, and Guilt the Promethean Way

by Lawrence H. Staples

In the conventional view, guilt is important because it helps us remain "good." It helps protect society's boundaries. While the conventional view of guilt is part of the truth, it is not the whole truth. The meaning of guilt is far more complicated.

While guilt does play an important role in the maintenance of society's stability, it also creates an enormous problem. It can deter us from being "bad" when that is exactly what is needed. Increasingly, during my years of work as a psychoanalyst, it became clear to me that if individuals could not sin, and then suffer the subsequent guilt, they could not fully develop themselves and their gifts. If individuals could not develop fully, neither could society, as society is a sum of the individuals that comprise it. I began to wonder what human development would look like, if all of us could actually live innocently behind the barbed wire fence of guilt that convention erects to separate us from forbidden territory, and its forbidden fruit. I was curious as to what kind of fruit might come from trees that grow only on conventionally sanctioned ground. Would we have had a Socrates, or a Galileo, or a Solzhenitsyn or a Rushdie?

My suspicions about the exclusive value of a life of innocence led me to an idea I call "Good Guilt". The idea was born from the commonplace observation that there are times in our lives when the experience of guilt actually was a signal of having done something good, even essential to nurture us. While the guilt probably did not feel like "Good Guilt" at the time of transgression, the "sin" that caused the guilt is sometimes viewed in retrospect as having brought something valuable to our lives. Examples might include divorces, separations from partners and friends, giving up family-approved or family-dictated careers, or even marriages that are opposed by one's family on the grounds of race, religion, gender, or social status. It might also include the expression of qualities previously rejected as unacceptable, like anger and selfishness. Later in life we may look at guilt thus incurred in a different light.

There are many examples of "Good Guilt." Two recent examples are Barack Obama and Scott McClellan. No doubt they suffered guilt as a result of their decisions to sever relations with beloved church in the case of Barack Obama, and beloved leader and current political regime in the case of Scott McClellan. It is "Good Guilt" because what they did needed to be done for the country, their own interests, and their souls. In these cases, guilt, which is inevitable, should nevertheless be incurred and borne.

In the struggle between the conflicting human tendencies to be both "good" and "bad," there is a problem, if we try to be exclusively good. We may, by staying inside the fence, avoid being castigated by society. We may also avoid castigating ourselves with self-punishing guilt. In the process, however, we also avoid large parts of our self. In so doing, we may please parents and society, but sin against our self.

Reflections on the well-known myth of Prometheus reinforced my unconventional line of thought concerning guilt. This myth tells us Prometheus stole fire from the gods and made it available for use by humans. He suffered for his sin. Zeus had him chained to a rock where an eagle pecked and tore daily at his liver. But human society would have suffered if he had not committed it. Thus, the life of Prometheus portrays a mythological model for guilt that is different from the conventional view. The Promethean model of guilt suggests the importance of sinning and incurring guilt in order to obtain needed—but forbidden things. This is the conclusion I reach in my recently published book, Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Way, except that I state the case a bit stronger. I assert that we must sin and incur guilt, if we are to grow and reach our full potential.

"Life inevitably confronts us with the Promethean dilemma: Do we live our lives without fire and the heat and light it provides, or do we sin and incur guilt to achieve the important developments we need? The contribution virtue can make to society must be acknowledged. There indeed are sins that are destructive; there also are sins that benefit."

I have also concluded that we miss the point, if we think guilt has only a moral function. Guilt is in many ways morally neutral. We can feel guilty if we work too hard or too little. We can feel guilty if we are too assertive or not assertive enough. A woman feels guilty if she has a career and she feels guilty if she doesn't have one. We might feel guilty, if we refuse to steal, while we watch our children die of starvation. We can feel guilty at either of the opposite poles. An important purpose of guilt, in my view, is to compensate, to help keep one side of the opposites from hijacking the psyche and driving the other side out. Here, guilt's purpose is not the maintenance of morals; it is the maintenance of the opposites and psychic wholeness. It follows, then, that guilt is an important instrument in the psyche's system of self-regulation. Just as our physical body has a mechanism of homeostasis, where, for example, we sweat automatically to cool ourselves when we get overheated, so our psyche has a similar mechanism.

"Despite its contribution to psychic stability, guilt disturbs our emotional and mental tranquility. Like Prometheus, we suffer the pain of guilt, even if it was incurred for something beneficial. Promethean Guilt contains the seeds of its own atonement. What is "sinfully" and "guiltily" acquired is given back to the community as an expiation."

An important lesson we need to learn is simply this: If we are feeling guilty, we should not be too quick to conclude or interpret that those feelings of guilt necessarily mean that we are doing something "bad". We may actually be doing something "good" for our own growth as well as society's. The guilt feelings always need to be acknowledged and always, and I emphasize always, need to be examined and evaluated on their merits and in accordance with one's conscience. But it is important to note that the meaning of guilt is probably far more complicated than we have ever been taught.

About the Author:
After receiving AB and MBA degrees from Harvard, Lawrence Staples spent the next 22 years with a Fortune 500 company, where he became an officer and a corporate vice president. When he was 50, he made a midlife career change and entered the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, Switzerland, where he spent nine years in training to become a psychoanalyst. Lawrence has a Ph.D. in psychology and a Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the Zurich Institute.

Learn more about the many Lawrence Staples publications