Dan Keusal's e-newsletter
Winter 2020-2021 edition:
"Look Up, Within, and Out"
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"After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future of the world depends." These words from the poet Wallace Stevens were written nearly a century ago, but seem more timely and relevant now than ever before. To help us all turn toward that "yes," I offer my latest essay: "Look Up, Within, and Out," which starts with a scene from a recent Netflix series--one of many that has served as escape and refuge for me during the pandemic--and from which I've drawn inspiration and renewed hope. May you find here some of the same.
P.S. For news of my two-part seminar for therapists on "Jung & Astrology," coming April 10th & 24th, click here.
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Reflections: “Look Up, Within, and Out"
“My mom used to say that whenever you’re down, look up. It’ll make you realize just how big and beautiful the world is.” So says 15 year old Alexis in the recent Netflix series “Away.” Alexis is looking up at the night sky with her boyfriend Isaac and anxiously awaiting news of her mother, Emma Green, who is the commander of an international crew of astronauts about to become the first people from Earth to try and set foot on Mars.
Looking up can, indeed, offer us perspective on our own worries and problems.
We saw this in the way that our collective imagination was seized by the recent Jupiter/Saturn conjunction, an astronomical event that occurs every 20 years or so, but that back on December 21st took a particular form we had not seen in 800 years. For a few weeks, newspapers, social media and other online platforms, and even cable TV news programs all featured stories on this event. Perhaps the prospect of stepping back for a once-every-800-years, “wide angle lens” view offered us an opportunity to look up and out from the difficulties of the past year, of the past four years, even of the past 400 years. In the midst of unrest and uncertainty, it seems that many people longed for a glimpse of the big picture, and looked there for some sense of meaning and hope. One piece of anecdotal evidence for this claim: in the weeks leading up to that Jupiter/Saturn conjunction, I received ten times more inquiries from people seeking astrology readings than I did during the same period last year. I mention this because looking up naturally leads us to also look within, to follow the ancient axiom: “As above, so below; as without, so within.” Long before the psychologies of the last century, we carried within us the awareness that our inner universe is comparably vast to the outer one. Though estimates vary widely, some suggest there are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain and about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. The specific numbers may matter less than the broad parallels they symbolize: up and within are both vast territories, filled with beauty, mystery, possibilities, and even guidance. And so just as science-fiction shows like “Away” and astronomical events like the recent Jupiter/Saturn conjunction call us to look up, and explore what we see there, depth psychology calls us to look within, and explore what we see there: the infinite reaches of our unconscious, of psyche. More and more over the last few years, when I ask prospective clients how they found me, they report something like “I Googled Jungian therapy AND Astrologer.” They report that they are as interested in exploring the meaning of their dreams and other manifestations of their unconscious as they are in the ways that the planets serve as archetypal mirrors and guides for their journeys. They see the connections between the two, and they want the guidance of both. Why?... Looking within calls us to undergo a difficult but essential journey—that of facing our woundedness, our fears, and our grief, to digest and metabolize them, to move through them, rather than being possessed by them and acting them out. As Richard Rohr once wrote “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” And so looking up and looking within lead us to a third ‘direction,’ a third process—one that awakened, conscious individuals are realizing, with increasing urgency, is just as important: looking out, discerning our vocatio, our vocation, our calling.
In a passage from his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung notes that while it is important to “allow the images to rise up” (images, for example, like the night sky, or the symbols in our dreams), and also important to reflect on and find meaning in those images, it would be “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.”
By “ethical obligation,” Jung means that we must take what we have learned and act on it. We must allow the insights that have arisen from our attention and our reflection to move us out, to make decisions about how our newfound consciousness will change us, in whatever ways the particular wisdom of our individual psyches have called us to change. How we “act” may involve responding to a dream image by creating a ritual or calling on the power of art and symbol (an image that arose in one of my own dreams led me to purchase an art print that hangs on my bedroom wall, the first thing I see when I wake up each morning, and a reminder of the call to action of that dream). It may invite us to make different choices in how we interact with family members, friends, and the “others” around us. It may also propel us to activism in a wider sense: fighting racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination… or working to end poverty and the economic disparity and inequality perpetuated by systems that favor the wealthy and privileged...or reversing climate change and the myriad other ways we have poisoned the environment, restoring a right relationship with the natural world. The need is great, the possibilities endless, and each of us has a part to play. Psychotherapy has been criticized as mere “navel gazing.” Sometimes, periods of long and deep introspection—looking within—are necessary to facilitate one’s own healing, to move from transmitting pain to transforming it. But looking up as Alexis did, and within, and out, calls us to a broader perspective, to higher and wider levels of consciousness, and to the “ethical obligations” that arise from them. As each of us follow these steps, we move toward aligning ourselves with, and becoming active co-creators of, this “big and beautiful” world.