Dan Keusal's e-newsletter
Autumn 2016 edition: "Your 'Field of Dreams' and Jung"
(Send me an email if you'd like me to email you the original email version of the newsletter.)
As summer turns to autumn, and baseball season heads toward The World Series, my essay in this newsletter looks back at the classic film "Field of Dreams" and how it illustrates Jung's call to allow, understand, and act. Below that you'll also find news of my next two workshops, one offered on a Tuesday night ("Longing For The Other: Love Songs, Relationships, and Desire"), and one offered on a Saturday morning ("Practices To Enrich And Deepen Everyday Life"). Finally, the "Resources" section features an inspiring new music video from Carrie Newcomer, a quote from The Rolling Stones, a poem that finds more than words in the daily crossword puzzle, and my latest photograph, which you can download for your own use and enjoyment. May you find something here whose beauty, like the changing autumn leaves, brings you new views, inspiration, and joy as you continue on your journey.
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Reflections: “Your 'Field of Dreams' and Jung”
It’s September, which means that in the religion of baseball, the High Holy Days are upon us: the last days of the pennant races, then the playoffs, and finally the World Series. As a devotee of this religion, and a practicing Jungian, I am reminded of the classic 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” and the way that its main character exemplifies something Jung once wrote about the importance of moving from experience, to insight, to action.
Ray Kinsella (portrayed by Kevin Costner) is an Iowa farmer with a wife and young daughter. In other words, he’s a working man with real responsibilities, and not much margin for error. One day, out tending his cornfield, he hears a voice that says something strange: “If you build it, he will come.” No one else hears the voice, so at first Kinsella wonders: is he hearing things? is he going crazy?
Things get even tougher when he comes to believe that the voice is calling him to plow under a good deal of his corn and build a baseball field, allowing his father’s unjustly disgraced and long-dead hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, to come back and play again, but putting his family on the brink of bankruptcy—no corn, no money. And all of that...is only the beginning.
Kinsella’s trust in his process, and his determination to see it through to the end, are fine examples of something Jung wrote about in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections:
“That is what we usually neglect to do. We allow the images to rise up, and maybe we wonder about them, but that is all. We do not take the trouble to understand them, let alone draw ethical conclusions from them. This stopping short conjures up the negative effects of the unconscious. It is equally a grave mistake to think that it is enough to gain some understanding of the images and that knowledge can here make a halt. Insight into them must be converted into an ethical obligation.”
What does Jung mean when he says we must “allow” things to rise up, that we must then “understand” them, and that, finally, they must be “converted into an ethical obligation”?
Before anything else, we must “allow.” I remind clients every day that doing soul work is not about finding something that eludes us, it’s about getting out of our own way. As Rumi put it, “What you seek is seeking you.” We must go and tend our field. We must get quiet and pay attention. We must listen and wait for our own true, deep, inner voice to speak.
That “voice” may arise in any number of ways: as an image, a snippet of a song, a half-remembered dream, as someone long-forgotten who “suddenly” comes to mind, or a piece of conversation that stays with us, or a gently-felt tug to go in an unexpected direction. In whatever form it arrives, we may be tempted, as Ray Kinsella was, to minimize it by labeling it as “imagined,” “crazy,” or at the very least, “impractical.” But Jung encourages us to “allow”: to consciously choose to give such things credence, to trust them, and to invite them in, rather than dismissing them and walking away.
Once we’ve “allowed” something, once we’ve let it into our awareness and opened to the possibility that it has value and purpose, the next step is to make the effort to understand what it might mean. And that brings its own challenges.
“If you build what, WHO will come?” asks Annie, Ray Kinsella’s wife. “He didn’t say,” replies Ray. “I hate it when that happens,” says Annie. “Me, too,” deadpans Ray.
Understanding may be elusive at first. When it does come, it may arrive as a flash of insight, but more often the process is gradual, unfolding over days, months, or even years, through twists, turns, and seeming dead ends. This process requires sustaining attention, cultivating quiet, and having patience—practices that can leave us feeling out of step with those in our culture (including many therapists, coaches, and other “helpers”) who tell us that we can, and should, expect everything easily…and “Now!”
The quest to understand invites us to stay simultaneously awake and relaxed, conscious and calm, attentive and in-the-flow. Too much “awake” and our quest becomes anxiously vigilant; too much “relaxed” and we start to nod off, to miss the signs, to go unconscious. To seek understanding is to be discerning, to see wisdom in the small and the subtle, in contrast to a world that bombards us (from screens, billboards, loudspeakers, and more) with the banality of the large and the obvious.
What about converting our understanding into “an ethical obligation”? Jung’s wording for this third part may sound a bit odd, but what he’s really talking about is moving from understanding…to action.
One night, Ray Kinsella sits down with Annie and says “I think I know what ‘If you build it he will come’ means.” Annie replies, wryly and with a sense of consternation, “Oooh, why do I not think this is such a good thing?” Her reaction is one any of us might have. She senses, correctly, that understanding is about to evoke action, that change is coming. And change, which usually involves taking a risk and stepping into the unfamiliar, can evoke feelings of uncertainty and fear.
Ray moves through his fear and acts—he plows under his corn and builds the baseball field. Magic ensues: Shoeless Joe Jackson, and eventually seven of his teammates, appear…and begin to play ball. Ray and his young daughter Annie sit in the small set of bleachers they have erected along the first base line, and watch as the players once again take joy in the game they love.
In my work with clients, I watch with admiration and respect as they push through their own fears. I see the transformations that take place when they believe in the power of symbols, plow under their corn, and take some concrete step arising from an understanding of their inner voice. In other words, the greatest magic often occurs when they take a risk…and act.
At this point, it would be easy to say “Well, that’s that!” The client has acted. Ray has built his field, and the magic has happened. Well done. But that is, as I have hinted, only the beginning. It seems that “allow, understand, act”…is not a one-time cycle. It’s an ongoing, intertwining, and often bewildering process. Taking action, it turns out, leads to the invitation for more allowing, more understanding, and still more action.
It’s at this point in the story that Ray hears another voice: “Ease his pain...” He believes this means he is meant to go to Boston to seek out Terence Mann, the now famously reclusive author whom he and Annie admired long ago. But why? What will this action accomplish? That is entirely unclear.
With the family in dire financial straits (remember: less corn equals less income), Annie is out of patience. Frustrated and scared, she pleads with Ray not to go: “You believed in the magic! It happened! Isn’t that enough?” Ray replies calmly: “Annie, it’s more than that. I feel it as strongly as I’ve ever felt anything in my life. There’s a reason…”
(This is an interesting portrayal, by the way, of a scene where the masculine character puts trust in the deep intuitive, the visionary, the soul, while the feminine character falls back into a fear-based focus on financial security, which the patriarchy craves and touts as a primary symbol of “success.” So often in our culture, the roles are reversed. One of the reasons I’ve come to love this film so much…is that it portrays a man…who is trusting his anima, his feminine side, his inner voice, his soul).
It’s then that Ray shares with Annie a dream he had the night before. In the dream, he’s at Fenway Park in Boston, with Terence Mann, eating a hot dog. When Annie then remembers that she had the same dream, on the same night, she does an about-face, puts in her trust in the dream image that has arisen, and supports Ray as he again acts on what he has allowed and come to understand.
Ray drives from Iowa to Boston and shows up, unannounced, at Terence Mann’s door, with an invitation to go to a game at Fenway, to make the dream real. Mann is cantankerous at first, a thinly disguised defense against his own fear and grief, but eventually he agrees to go to the game with Ray. (Notice the motif, found in the film and in life: “at first…but then,” the shift from resistance and defensiveness to trust and moving forward).
There at the game, together, they hear yet another voice (that no one else can hear): “Go…the distance.” The scoreboard briefly flashes the name of an obscure player from decades ago—“Moonlight Graham”—that only Ray and Terence can see. So they set off to find Moonlight, trusting in the “lunar” (the“lunatic”?), the emotional, the non-linear, the intuitive.
Their journey eventually brings them all (including Graham) back to the field in Iowa, where at one level the magic continues, while at another level, things grow more desperate.
Ray’s brother-in-law Mark and his financial partners agree to save the farm, but only if Ray & Annie will agree to destroy the ballfield and replant the corn. Mark symbolizes a world that values only the literal, the practical, the material. And he can’t see the players. He can’t see the magic that is unfolding.
His eyes are opened, he is able to see the players and understand what is going on, only after the climactic scene where Ray & Annie’s daughter Karin is choking to death on a hot dog. Moonlight Graham steps across the line from his former days as a player to his later-life days as a doctor and saves Karin’s life. The message is subtle, but clear. Only when we invite the “moonlight,” the lunar, the soul to step over into our lives will we be saved from the ways we are choking. Only when we learn to trust the invisible and the improbable will our innocence be restored and our eyes opened. Only then will we see the way forward.
This brings us to what may be the most famous scene in the entire movie, the scene that leaves grown men sobbing each time they see it: the scene where Ray’s own father appears in his youthful incarnation, and the two of them “have a catch.” If we’re willing to go beyond mere sentimentality, we can glimpse the deeper reasons why this scene has such emotional power.
The entire movie is, at one level, about the ways that the unrequited longing and unresolved pain of our ancestors can show up as symptoms in our own lives—as angst, anxiety, depression. In heeding the voice (“If you build it, he will come”), Ray takes a step toward becoming conscious of the ways that his life and his father’s life are still intertwined, even years after his father’s death. In seeking to understand and act on that voice, and on the ones that followed, Ray is able to heal both his father’s pain and his own.
So often, the Jungian approach to therapy, and to life, is seen as something that focuses only on the individual. But Jung knew better. In another passage from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he wrote this:
“I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors…It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished…A collective problem, if not recognized as such, always appears as a personal problem, and in individual cases may give the impression that something is out of order in the realm of the personal psyche…”
This is what Ray Kinsella encountered in “Field of Dreams,” and it’s what shows up over and over again in the struggles that my clients bring to therapy. Jungian psychotherapy is often and rightly referred to as a depth approach to process, with its emphasis on dreams and the inner life. But Jungian work also has breadth, looking at how the individual psyche relates to, and is impacted by inter-generational family dynamics. Jung was, in essence, the original family-of-origin therapist, and his insights paved the way for current modalities like Family Constellations and Lifespan Integration.
In the end, “Field of Dreams” is about the quest to allow, understand, and act. It’s about making room for new experiences, insights, and choices. It’s about bridging the gap between the individual and the collective. It’s about the ways that healing can reverberate from present to past and back again. And it’s about the deeper, more meaningful possibilities that arise when we “build” things, “ease” pain, and “go the distance.”
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Resources For A Life Of Depth And Meaning:
(music video): "Lean In Toward The Light" (Carrie Newcomer). I've featured Carrie Newcomer twice before in my newsletters, and with good reason--her exquisitely crafted songs and warm vocals offer hope and optimism, delivered with a gentle fierceness that reminds us of the power of the positive: "The shadows of this world will say / There's no hope - why try anyway? / Every kindness large or slight / Shifts the balance toward the light." You can find this song on Newcomer's new CD, "The Beautiful Not Yet," which will be out on September 16th; order it here.
(quote): "Faith has been broken, tears must be cried / Let's do some living, after we die." ~The Rolling Stones ("Wild Horses")
(poem): "Crossword" by Sally Bliumis-Dunn. "Each letter, shared / lifts away some sheen of loneliness..." is just one example of the way this fine poem turns the daily newspaper crossword puzzle into a metaphor, an extended reflection...on life.
(photo) "Positive Spirit" (by Dan Keusal). I took this photo in the Big Rock Garden Park in Bellingham, WA earlier this summer (July 2016). The sculpture in the center of the photo, titled "Positive Spirit," is by Shirely Erickson. Click on the thumbnail below to view or download the photo (and to see a close-up of the sculpture itself).