There is nothing like stress to push growth, especially when one is being reflective, searching deeply. I grew in intense ways during the nearly eight years of my Ph.D. program, partly because of the terrors raised by trying to accomplish what my committee asked for, while fighting to convey a progressive message. Caught between a sense of inadequacy and a real discordance with those in charge of my progress, I read extensively on inner work, joined numerous online discussion groups, and took part in spiritual activities with Circle of Aradia in Los Angeles.
In the last months before I left the Ph.D. program without the letters behind my name, I had a beautiful dream I call “Renaissance Woods” (see collage/painting below) in which an Englishman, my close and loving companion, begs me to do what he wants and points to a table in the forest full of writing and art materials.
Two years later, I wrote the short story of Braided Dimensions, which won an international writing contest in a newsletter based in Belgium, which I turned into a fantasy fiction series of the same name. I had left the Ph.D. program a year before that, feeling defeated and incomplete. I worked at an elegant inn looking out over a cove of crashing waves, then at a raw food chef school (featured in my novel), and finally, as a home visitor to mostly Latino families, for Early Head Start. And began turning my short story into a novel.
The stressful previous years must have become rich compost for fiction writing; it felt like a font that must rise and pour out of me. I based the time-travel books in the town where I lived and as I went through my work days, I stepped between worlds, just as my main character does in the novel. Her conflicts with her job in a university arose from my own and helped to heal my still aching heart from my defeat in the Ph.D. program. I took long walks on the beach, stepping into my story as I gamboled along in nature, then returned home to write in my studio. When not working, I cleared forest paths.
The healing of the rural environment and my fiction writing did not suffice. As many Jungian writers point out, we reach a point in life when we keep needing to find meaning. My study of depth psychology had just begun. I entered a unique Masters program specifically in Jungian depth psychology, in a public college. The program closed five years later.
Through the beautiful experiences of the program and in the process of my culminating project, Female Alchemist, I gained many tools that serve my current work and life.
The term depth psychology refers to all approaches to the mind which emphasize the role of the unconscious. I focus on Jungian studies and Jung’s approach to dream study because his main premises were around individuation or a life trajectory toward wholeness.
Example of applying real life to a dream:
In this dream (collaged above), which I had when working at a high school and was having conflicts with admin, I say the words, “Every place elegant has a hiding place.” There was very little elegance to that job, but there’s an elegance to trying our hardest. In doing so, we create vulnerability. What part of you do you hide, when you try your hardest? Who is there with you, or do you feel alone? I think the strongest part of studying depth psychology is the growing sense of connecting with Self. When we can watch for those moments of coniunctio, spotting something in our psychic shadow that we’ve been projecting rather than owning, we see ourselves in a new way, building a stronger ego-Self axis to work from and face life with.