The Shadow: A 5 Week Class in NYC


The 19th cent. West was increasingly intrigued by the notion of what had come to be called “the double”:  stories with names like  Frankenstein and The Secret Sharer, and many more began to appear.  In occult circles, this figure was named, “The Dweller on the Threshold”.  This threshold was considered to be the entrance to “the other world” by some.

At this same time, as the new field of psychology was being born,  Carl Jung, William James and others realized that much natural  phenomena that had hitherto been labeled esoteric and occult was actually or also psychological, most famously, “mediumship”.  The “royal road” in this new field was found by the new psychoanalysts in dreams.  Jung researched approximately 1400 dreams of his patients and those of his students each year and found there were recurring structures with consistent aspects,  who appeared as the “persons” of the psyche in dreams.

In his researches in psyche, he began to see a topology, much as Freud had discovered ego, super-ego, and id.  Jung found  persona-ego-shadow-anima/animus-and Self. These often appeared often as objects or persons in dreams, and were often projected on to people and situations in the outer world.

Shadow is everywhere, yet, as we see in the model it often is buried in our studies, given less attention than it deserves, its importance and its archetypal depth overlooked.

Shadow’s location in the Jungian model will be explored until we reach the depths where we find its connection to the Self.


Note to readers:  this introduction will be expanded upon in my 5 week course at the C.G.Jung Foundation to be held at the Jung Center, 28 E. 39thSt. in New York City.

(Please see the Foundations website for details on how to sign up)

Dates – 5  Monday evenings at 6 pm beginning October 1.

Avatar: Journey to the Collective Unconscious Part 3

Read part 2 of this series here. 

Read part 1 of this series here.

In the sense of a “Big Dream” of an individual, marking a turning point in her or his life, we can look on AVATAR as a very big dream of our entire culture, our MYTH really. It indicates just such a turning point.  What does such a dream mean to us in our society now, in our time and place?   As a dream does for an individual and big dreams do for tribes of traditional peoples even today in remote areas such as the Amazon basin or New Guinea, what does it tell us, how does it re-orient us, how may it guide us, what does it ask of us?

To come to a clearer understanding of this we have to take the perspective of a dreamer on waking recalling a dream, only in this case the dream is the film AVATAR.   Looking at it from this viewpoint allows us to interpret it as we might a dream and bring the tools, so to speak, of Jungian dream-work and way of thinking to aid our understanding.

It was the brilliance of our ancestors in this field, especially Jung and Freud, that they looked at their patients’ ills and suffering as part of the larger society and culture, as did earlier Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, taking in a long sweep of history going back 2500 years.  More than that they considered themselves to be doctors of humanity and healers of human evolution, and that their movement, call it psychoanalysis, they considered a treatment of our times.  Along these lines of a cultural diagnosis and treatment plan, between Jung and Freud alone, we can think of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, and  Jung’s collection of essays in his  Civilization in Transition.

In an article on “Yoga and the West”, published in a journal in Calcutta in 1937, Jung wrote that in the West he had found a dissociation bordering on anarchy, a split caused by Western man moving so far away his instinctual [the word is mine ] roots….as to have  fallen into very distant polarities, which he then saw and characterized as “faith” and “knowledge”(quoted in Borderland).

Shortly before his death, he returned again to this theme in powerful, passionate essay entitled, “Healing the Split” (col. wks, vol. 18).  He discusses dreams as a royal road to the “recovery” of our vanished connection to what he called “natural symbols” which have been lost and fallen into the deepest layers of the UCS, that is, have been  repressed (in Borderland)

It is my contention that we are seeing in AVATAR the return of the repressed Jung remarks on, the symbolization of the birth of a new ego actively aided by the maternal matrix of the Collective Unconscious itself.  But as he says in the essay just referred to, the healing of the split requires conscious re-integration of the “natural symbols” of the Collective Unconscious.  He stresses that, “It is the single individual who will undergo it and carry it through.”(it” being process of suffering and carrying these symbols into consciousness, and lived life as I did in working up this presentation).    THIS IS HEALING THE SPLIT, BETWEEN BODY AND PSYCHE/ INSTINCT AND SPIRIT/THINKING AND FEELING.

Just as a new body is being grown for our wounded hero in the “AMNIO” tanks of the highly advanced technology of the old order, so the new embodiment of consciousness is growing in the, as a the direct result of the played-out values, beliefs, and actions of the dying world as a direct result of and reaction to the collective conscious attitudes.  This new embodiment will be found growing directly “under the nose” of the old order so to speak, emerging right from its technologies, institutions, and modes of operation.   To say more here is beyond the time we have for this talk now.

In the movie, Earth, represents the world of consciousness, symbolizing its current state in all its depleted poverty.  It is in need of an element of renewal, “UNOBTAINIUM” from the Unconscious, pictured as “Pandora”.  A very small amount of this element is worth very great deal, $20MILLION A GRAM, worth all the effort of traveling five years “in sleep”(“perchance to dream”, the dream of Pandora) a very great distance and hauling it back. 

In this it is like the many themes of quest for renewal, and the retrieval of the precious substance, the Golden Fleece, the Pearl-Beyond-Price, The Lapis, The Stone, and many more. 

To understand this further we need to turn briefly to some basics of Jung’s psychology.  This psychology considers that consciousness, our very awareness in the present moment, has its real source in the Unconscious.  Our awareness is directed and formed by various structures, ways of seeing and acting.  This Original Mind, the Collective Unconscious of us all, is the primal matrix from which humans have evolved a conscious mind over millions of years to the point at which we are now.  Every structure of the functioning of our consciousness today in the beginning was in the unconscious and was pushed up, so to speak, from the depths of the ucs.,  or wrestled from it, depending on your viewpoint [see Johnson, Inner Work].

So we find ourselves as the movie unrolls on a QUEST FOR RENEWAL, the stages of which are marked by awakening.  The priceless, precious substance that is to be found in the Unconscious is, in Jungian terms, the Self, as in Alchemy, the Stone, the Lapis.

In terms of human daily life, this Stone refers to  the Self as it is brought to bear on our daily lives, through what we call the ego.  The ego focuses our attention.  New Ego equals new focus.  It is this changing focus that we see dramatically unfold in the movie.  This change of focus is not only portrayed and evoked in the movie, but is itself the current emerging new consciousness that I believe the movie both represents and is helping bring about.

Very importantly, this change is first presented as an alien body, big and powerful, able to function on Pandora, i.e., in direct relation to the world of the Unconscious, without the aid of technology which the old human body, understood as old ego structures, needs.    

This body is at first the alternate body of our hero, Jake, finally becoming his permanent body.  Much of the movie is spent in him learning to use this body and function on Pandora.  That is to say, a new body, a new body consciousness in the waking world and a new “dream body” better able to function in the dream world of the Unconscious. 

At least these are only my conjectures about what the new consciousness might be about.   But that there is new consciousness occurring I have no doubt.

Earlier, I mentioned experiences of the fragmentation of consciousness that many people are increasingly experiencing over the last few months that my close friend helped me become aware of.

I experience that as well and am aware of it in the clients I see.  And I believe it too is a precursor to the incoming consciousness, the reformation of new ego structures in the language of my trade.

We find ourselves today in a liminal space, a kind of gigantic cultural mid-life crisis.  The closer we get to a change over from the old to new, the more “fractal” we shall likely feel as we progress from fragmentation.  Fractal as I’m using the word implies the ability to encompass multiple viewpoints, a primary aspect of  what I believe will be the new ego consciousness.

This  NEW EGO is open, connected, embedded, at one with his/her inner/outer environment (note: the unconscious usually outpictures the ego as male/masculine in relation to itself, as The Feminine Source).  It is characterized by its permeability.  It is not impervious to the outside, or the inside, its chief value is not “I am a rock. I am an island.” but rather a search to see/feel the interconnectedness of all things, as in the movie, through one’s “tail”, the instinctual self.

On Pandora, the Na’vi are made to say, “I see you”, meaning, to see the uniqueness of each person, animal , and thing within the context of wholeness.  This means in practice, looking for the essence in people, situations and things.  While not fearing taking one’s own own position,  because there is not the fear of being overwhelmed by the other nor is there the value of being an island unto oneself.  Opening to the other, be it person, world, or the unconscious becomes the most important. 

Along this line, I expect that the new approach to the Unconscious  by this new ego taking its images for information and will cease or lessen to be one of “mining” it for use in the day world, but rather allow the images live more in and of themselves as James Hillman, et al. have long suggested.

The feeling function as well may shift and come to be more important culture wide.  This is the valuing function par excellence.   It is a function deeply rooted in the felt-sense of the body.  Feeling as Jung uses it tells us what belongs to us and what doesn’t , where we belong,  what people are ours and who is not, what is our way.  But now we go beyond the scope of this talk.


         WHAT THE DREAM OF AVATAR ASKS OF US:  The work for each and all of us now, which moves beyond but deeply powers socio-political change, is to relate to ones own unconscious  in non- exploitative ways, moving into dialogue by all possible means, dreams, active imagination, imaginal work of all sorts, group work with affects (group therapy), especially development of the deep “felt-sense” of the experienced body.

The very phenomenon of the movie Avatar means you’re on the right track.  Keep doing what you’re doing:  your spiritual practices,

prayer, body work, dreamwork, opening to others, and all life, emotionally and with the deep felt-sense of your body.  Do what you’re doing and know that you’re not only doing it for yourself, but for us all, for our very planet. 

And know that the fact that millions of others are now with you means not just a mass movement but a change pursued by Nature herself, just as Eywa, The All-Mother in the movie, though said not to take sides, but only providing balance, finally does take sides presumably because there is such imbalance.  The Mother of All, whether it is great Nature or the Collective Unconscious, which is the mother of consciousness  is taking sides and growing us a new ego to redress the balance, rather than just wiping the slate clean as Jung himself feared 60 years ago. 

Time to “WAKE UP!”

Avatar: Journey to the Collective Unconscious Part 2

Read part 1 of this series here.

The very engagement of such a large mass audience is due to the psychological nature of identification.  It is this human tendency for identification which draws us into dramas of any kind, plays, films, dreams, etc..   Certainly the writers, directors, and producers of the film were very aware of this effect of identification and quite consciously built mythic themes into the movie

As dreamer/viewers we first become aware of the character we come to identify with as the dream/movie/myth begins:  Jake, the wounded hero/savior/scapegoat.

He is how we, each of us, feel now.  Wounded.  Wounded in our capacity – legs – not able to walk, i.e.,” we can’t go on this way” (without legs) in the world, in our lives, with our deep selves.  We feel without vital life force.

It is as if our lives have no continuity, no longevity, no “legs”. In the last couple of years the once vague sense of the breakup and breakdown of our reality, socially, and culturally, has more and more come home:  the increasing knowledge of environmental degradation has led to a deep core feeling of personal fragmentation. 

The recent and continuing economic meltdown was the last straw, an event on which our deep existential anxiety has been projected.  “The Economy” is both a cause of the angst and a mirror for it. It has become harder and harder to hold on to a sense of normalcy.  No longer is “all right with the world” and we know it both “out there” and “in here”.  Our very sense of the world and ourselves feels fractured.   We feel there is no way, no place to stand. We’re at the end, we and our world seem to have no longevity, no legs.

The myth/dream/film takes us step by step through Jake’s transformation:  his story/ our story is of course the traditional cycle of the hero’s journey as has been outlined by Campbell and other mythographers:  the birth of the hero, the separation from his people, his challenge or trial, death and finally his resurrection or return. This is the journey from which he brings his gift to the tribe, society or culture.   This is of course the ur story, the basic, archetypal dramatic pattern which underlies all human story.

However there are two big items of news in the AVATAR version of the myth of the hero.  One element comes at the beginning,  most important news, the body of Jake’s transformation is a body combining both human and Na’vi genes.  Unlike other stories and movies of this sort, the hero actually becomes different, here literally in a different body.  I.E., he is structurally different, not just in dress/appearance (persona).

      This new body/structure acts as a psycho-biological bridge.  Here psychology borrows from anthropology the term “endogamous” from Greek roots meaning “joined within”.   An endogamous group is one in which every one is genetically related, as in a family, the “blood bond”.  One cares about or even only recognizes those to whom one is related by “blood”. How much more so is this caring only for ones own species. In AVATAR it is shockingly shown to occur between species: this film shows compassion of humans for Na’avi and humans for Na’vi, in the case of the heroic outliers among the human invaders, Jake and the scientific crew.  [I’m indebted to the well-known Buddhist teacher Bob Thurman for bringing this to my attention].   

The chief biological scientist in the group, shot while escaping in her attempt to save the Na’vi asks, “Why should they (the Na’vi) help us?  We’re attacking them?”  Yet they do!   In the final scene following the “Battle to Defend the Tree”, we have a brief but unforgettable scene, as Nakiri, the large, blue Na’vi female, holds the broken, dying human body of her lover, Jake, in her arms, a deeply moving and poignant Pieta.

Interspecies compassion runs counter to the cogent remark of Jake earlier in the film that in order for one group to take something from another group, the latter must first be made “the enemy”, and finally “de-humanized”.   The movie shows both:  the creation of enmity of the other and the “de-humanizing” of this now enemy.  Here of course, the other is bio/culturally already other.  Yet compassion prevails.  The  blood bond ” was superseded by the “zahelu”, the bond-with-all things. 

Our depredation of other species in the world today would cease, and our “inner and outer” paramilitary forces of oppression and exploitation would end, “go home”, if we were, each of us, to feel this bond, interspecies compassion. 

The evil colonel of the invading Earth forces sneers at Jake Solly,  “You’re not one of them!!!”  And indeed he is not.   He is something new, in a combination human/Na’vi body!  New body equals new consciousness equals new consciousness of body, a newly embodied consciousness equals a new sense of self.

The birthing of this new consciousness is portrayed by the acquisition by the hero of the movie of a powerful body in which the spiritual and the instinctual are held closely together.  We should note, not just in passing, that the attainment of this “new body” echoes Jake’s our wounded hero’s, earlier wish he that he be a “whole man”.   Clearly his new embodiment is both the means to this wholeness and portrays its end result.

The other avenue I spoke of bringing the emergence of this new form is that it is actively promoted and protected by the Collective Unconscious itself in the form of the Great Mother called Eywa, herself embodied as a giant, luminous tree.   I share the idea of a new development in consciousness with my elder colleague, Jerry Bernstein in Santa Fe and am indebted to him for his elaboration of the “borderland” personality and the active support of the new ego he sees coming from the very depths of the Collective Ucs.  His very valuable book has the same title and I urge you to take a look at it.

This new embodiment of the hero foreshadows the possibility of living closer to our worlds, inner and outer, both individually and as a culture.  In our worn-out, current consciousness, the fear of the feminine in both the outer world and as the Unconscious is projected outward.

This fearful projection leads to the rape of the feminine in our outer world today, both in the form of women, indigenous peoples, the land and environment itself: the blow-back of this rapacious attitude results in turn to yet more violence to our own inner, unconscious life, bringing the death and destruction of our own creativity and energy, leaving us desolate emotionally and ill physically.  In the words of the transformed hero in the movie, “They have killed their mother”, a dire process we see all around us in many forms in our world today.

Viewing the film as a “Big Dream”, we see the crippled hero become a powerful savior, who goes from being unable to walk, let alone live without technological assistance on the new world of Pandora, to being powerfully embodied in a new form able to function there.  From being one of the rapacious invaders from a devastated planet, Earth, read as the worn out world of Consciousness to being fully integrated into the new world of Pandora, the Collective Unconscious,  he moves from a motivation of ruthless self-interest to one of self-sacrifice.

Read part 3 of this series here. 

Gary Brown Psychotherapy

Avatar: Journey to the Collective Unconscious Part 1

Excerpts of a talk to the CG JUNG FOUNDATION program on the Collective Unconscious called “First Tuesday in which Gary Brown is a frequent presenter. This is a series on the evolution in the consciousness of humanity.

I believe that the movie AVATAR marks a significant collective event, the birth of a new kind of consciousness in humanity, and a new ego form to house that consciousness.  Evidence in the movie seems to suggest, that the Collective Unconscious itself is actively working to bring about this birth about.
Psychologically, the great importance and impact of Avatar is attested to by the sheer numbers of those seeing it,  and its near “cult-like” popularity.   Right here and now we note that so many have come out here today to hear and talk about it.  That so many are stirred and shaken so deeply points to the soul-fissure in the cultural and individual  unconscious that has been touched in people around the world, by the film.  I believe we see in AVATAR the autobiography of our time and our souls:  our devastation, and the possibility of opening to new life, a new consciousness.

The tremendous impact of resides in people deeply feeling, by way of the film, their own lost connection to nature, not only  nature in the world, but also loss of our own inner nature. In viewing the movie we see not only this estrangement but also the possibility of regaining our own natural core and our intimate relation with the natural world.  We see paradise lost and paradise regained simultaneously on the screen.

As we begin, we have to be clear first of all that we are not primarily talking about the brilliance of the film; is it “good” or not, did we “like” it or not, though of course those judgments come into our understanding.  But rather we are looking at it as a cultural/psychic phenomenon first.  Our question is:  what is its psycho-cultural significance on a large scale, and more, what does it mean in my society, in my life?

In a very short time has seized the imaginations, emotions and sensibilities of many millions of viewers around the world.  It seems likely that it will prove to be the most-viewed film ever to date as evidenced by gross receipts at box offices.  When such a cultural event happens, we can look on it as a very important psychological occurrence. The tremendous embrace of the film by so many millions, voting so to speak with their feet and dollars  raises it to the level of a psychological phenomenon worthy of inquiry and study.

This consensus omnium, as Jung would say, “the opinion of  all” is as substantial as a statistical study and the equivalent of one it seems to me.  Even the arguments that the draw is the novel graphics and the “3-D” (which will no doubt be Hollywood’s “take away”) beg the question.   The movie’s “cult-like” acclaim further proves the point.

In his own study of UFO’s, in 1958, Jung came to believe that the very widespread and long-lasting belief in them indicated that there was an extremely powerful and important psychic component behind the belief especially since there was no definite physical evidence of flying saucers.   He noted that his own published remarks on the saucer phenomenon were taken to indicate that he “believed” in them and thought them “real” and  were seized upon by the world press.  When he wrote to clarify and give the “true version” of his remarks, namely that the sightings were of psychological interest, except for one paper in Germany,  his statement of rebuttal went unnoticed by the same world press.

He saw this denial of the un-newsworthiness of his clarification and the grip on the press of their mistake on his earlier remark as a kind of Gallup poll of world opinion, a desire to believe, itself worthy of  examination, which he proceeded to do in his essay, “FLYING SAUCERS: A MODERN MYTH” (col. Wks, vol 8, Civilization in Transition)

[Note my own ‘blowback” from working on this and seeing the movie multiple times.  I felt especially sensitized to the pain of women, in the past few weeks, their pain and traumas, now and over millennia, whether women in my practice, friends, or in the news.  I felt more emotionally free, free flowing emotions, sorrow, anger, rage.]

As we begin to stand back and explore our reactions and responses and those of others to the movie, we find them divided. The movie is either religiously loved or critically hated. 

One blogger (Full-Blooded Awakening & Embodiment:  A  Review of Avatar by Robert Augustus Masters, Ph.D) writes, “For me, Avatar resonated so deeply that I wept through much of the last half  the film.  I felt it really succeeded in touching and evoking my own animistic soul, and I immediately knew even before I left the theater, that this film’s effect is a significant collective phenomenon.”

A reviewer and dramaturge declares AVATAR to be “Pocahontas meets Dances With Wolves”, trite and clichéd, nice effects!

My 17 yr old son decides the story is “kinda old, and the dialogue a little corny”.  But he loves the movie!

  “White man’s burden, phony noblesse oblige, indigenous people exploited again, etc, this time as a money making movie about their exploitation., etc, etc.”, said those who hated it.

And it is hard to tell the story in a way that’s gripping and new. 

It is a typical story; it has it all:  The cycle of the hero’s journey with evil villains and a transforming hero, the love interest, exotic locale, fanciful weaponry, boy gets girl, even if she is big and blue and very, very strong!

Yes, the story is clichéd, but more so in the sense that cliché’s are clichés because they have a great deal of truth.  Of course, if major details which I’ll get to are overlooked, it is a story that can be simply read as a sermon on the demonizing of native peoples to justify their destruction and the pillaging of their lands.   But from my perspective even this is a story that cannot be told too many times, one that only becomes more important with the passage of time as it becomes more and more clear that we in our time are both oppressors and oppressed.

So  AVATAR goes far beyond this too-familiar tale of oppression and exploitation.  It is a story whose time has come.

IT IS a story which is also hard to tell simply verbally in a way that’s gripping and new.  I’ll try.  Pay special attention to detail.

Here’s the story in a nutshell.

An American Marine veteran of future wars has been disabled and confined to a wheelchair, his legs useless from an exploded landmine in a war fought for resources on distant, old Earth.   He’s hired as a mercenary who travels to a planet named Pandora, in a star-system six yrs distant.   A planet on which a rare and precious metal is being mined which is of great value on Earth.  It is called, “UNOBTANIUM”, and is worth $20 million a kilo back on Earth.  (It must be pretty good stuff!)

Traveling in technological hibernation, a sleep in which he dreams of being a “whole man” and of “flying”, he’s awakened on arrival reflecting, “No matter how good your dream, you always have to wake up”.

The establishing, good vs. evil shot of the movie is seen on landing as we are shown the lush green jungle and the ugly scar of the mine and the glowering fortress (or is it a ) prison of the paramilitary corporate complex on the new world.

We’re introduced to the theme of two worlds, sleep and awakening:  which is real, which is dream?   We learn that our wounded hero, Jake, is there because of his twin brother who was killed while being robbed on old Earth.  Because of his identical genome Jake is able to transfer his consciousness to a body that has been grown in an “Amnio” tank on the base from the combination genetic material from both of humans and the local humanoid species, the Na’vi.. His new recombinant  Na’vi body is nearly twice the size of the human body, very powerful, and able to live and breathe on Pandora, a most important point in the story and in our understanding of this myth for our times now.

Jake’s job, as a “sleepwalker” in the slang of the Na’vi, a human in a Na’vi-like body is to act as security for the scientific party studying the Na’vi in hopes of making a diplomatic bridge so their lands can be exploited without overtly destroying them. 

Jake’s undercover mission is to infiltrate the Na’vi tribe to gather “intell” on the structures supporting the “Hometree” in which the tribe lives for to support military action against them.

Through a series of hapless adventures, he’s chosen, first by the Earth Mother Goddess of the Na’vi, Eywa, then by the shamanic matriarch of the tribe and then, chosen by trial to join the tribe, he is chosen as a mate by Nakiri, the Na’vi maiden Nakiri, the designated heir of her mother, the shaman.    

Nakiri has saved his life and has trained him to be able to live on Pandora as a full-fledged male warrior of the clan.  Most importantly she has taught him “ZAHEYLU” , the bond,  which is made through the filament-like hairs at the end of the  tail of the Na’vi body.  The zaheylu allows him to bond with animal and plant life of Pandora, the other Na’vi and, most importantly, with Eywa, the Great Mother of All.

“Turned as a triple agent” by his sympathy and bonding with the Na’vi, Pandora, Nakiri,  he tries to stave off the destruction of the Na’vi and their Hometree and is seen as having double-crossed both sides.

Declared a traitor, and a scapegoat by both sides, he escapes from the corporate prison back to his Na’vi body and to the Na’vi tribe where he is violently disavowed by his mate Nakiri.  Through an extreme act of heroism he distinguishes himself as the Savior/Messiah of the Na’vi, unites all the tribes of Pandora, miraculously defeats the corporate forces of oppression from old Earth and forces them to retreat from Pandora.

Very importantly along the way to this victory, he enlists the aid of Eywa, the earth mother, saying to Nakiri that on their own planet Earth, “They have killed their mother.”   Nakiri, reconciled to him, informs him that Eywa “doesn’t take sides”,  and that She “only provides the balance of life”.  To her amazement, and ours, the audience, all the animals of Pandora, rise up in the attack of the Na’vi against the invaders.  She has taken a side.

To come to a clearer understanding of this we have to take the perspective of a dreamer on waking recalling a dream, only in this case the dream is the film AVATAR.   Looking at it from this viewpoint allows us to interpret it as we might a dream and bring the tools, so to speak, of Jungian dream-work and ways of thinking to aid our understanding.

Read part 2 of this series here.