Dr. Bruce Farmer On the Call to Write
In 2016 I faced a crisis.
Should I continue Fitness Therapeutics, a company I formed and dearly loved, or yield to the call to write?
At the time, I attended the Anglican Parish of St. Mark in downtown Portland, Oregon. I had been an on and off regular at this church for many years dating to 1972. In 2016 the priest was Father Lillegard. I asked him for advice, and he said, “You need a counselor.” Hmmm. Pretty sage advice. For many years I had been fascinated with Carl Jung and his Analytic, or Depth Psychology, especially in the area of dreams. I felt the current emphasis on Cognitive, or Behavioral Therapy, while helpful in redirecting behavior, did not address the underlying causes for that behavior.
Further, as a family physician, I treated a great deal of clinical depression. Indeed, one out of four patients in a general practice struggle with the signs and symptoms of clinical depression. As an MD, my job was to diagnose the presence of this malady and offer treatment in the form of medications such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil etc. Many times, these anti-depressants were successful in relieving anxiety, irritability, insomnia, short-term memory loss, fatigue, and depressed mood, yet, like Cognitive Therapy, they did not go deep into the person’s psyche to ask WHY they were arising. As is often the case, unless these deeper issues are addressed, the debilitating effects of depression return after the medications end.
Carl Gustav Jung asked the deep questions. He was born in Kesswil, Switzerland on July 26, 1875. He was a researcher at the renown Burghölzli hospital, directed by Eugen Bleuler. Here he was discovered by Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis. Freud envisioned Jung as heir to this new approach to the human psyche and with his help Jung became president of the newly formed International Psychoanalytical Association. Yet, Jung’s approach and vision were at odds with Freud and a schism resulted. Jung created Analytic Psychology separate from psychoanalysis.
For those unfamiliar with Jungian psychology, a few definitions are helpful. “Ego” is the conscious part of who we are. It is to be awake, think and make decisions, act, remember and have memories and fall asleep. Ego is the “I” of ourselves.
The “unconscious”, established by Freud, is that of which we are not aware. Jung held the unconscious is also part of the human personality.
According to Jung, the “psyche”, or “Self” denotes our entire personality, the totality of our conscious and unconscious.
For Jung, dreams were messages, from the unconscious, “Dreams prepare, announce or warn about situations long before they happen. This is not a miracle or precognition. Most crises have a long incubation in the unconscious.” Thus, when our unconscious wants to speak, it does so in dreams and in a language called “symbolic.” When we understand this symbolic language, we discover where we are on our life’s path, our struggles and destiny, or where our journey is headed. A dream does not reveal what we already know, but what we do not know yet. This message, when properly interpreted, reconciles the conscious and unconscious part of who we are. It reveals undiscovered depths and territories, our interior lives, and brings the wisdom of the unconscious alive.
After talking with Father Lillegard, I met with a senior Jungian Analyst in Portland, Martha Blake and posed the question as to direction. I suppose that when one’s unconscious knows you are serious about dreams, it delivers. I had never been that serious about dreams; that is, I was too busy living life to pay much attention to their often strange and puzzling character. Yet, when Martha challenged me to take my dreams seriously and to write them down one came not long afterwards.
In the dream I saw a man lying on the bottom of a clear mountain stream, perhaps only a foot deep. The water was very cold, in fact, the surface was frozen over. The sun was out and the ice was thawing. I recognized the man as Robert Frost, the American poet (any coincidence his last name is ‘Frost’?). He was trapped under the ice and trying to breath and get out. His hands were pushing on the layer of ice from below.
Now the first thing I learned about the Jungian approach to dreams is that one does not tell the patient, or client, what certain symbols mean, as in, “Oh, I get it! ‘ICE’ means this but asks the client what these symbols mean for them. I remember Martha’s first question:
“Were you ever a poet, or show an interest in literature?”
To which I answered, “Yes, in high school, but that was before I decided to study medicine.”
Martha wryly observed, “Perhaps the poet in you has been frozen and is trying to get out.”
I would learn that for forty years I had lived “under the sun;” that is, active in earning a living and fulfilling my father’s desires. He was a nuclear physicist and veterinarian who worked on the atomic bomb. My mother, conversely, was an artist who trained at the Chicago Institute of Art. The sun is a symbol for masculine pursuits, whereas the moon symbolizes music, art and literature, the energy is feminine.
I knew immediately what my unconscious was saying. I had a love for literature and writing, something I put aside for forty years. Now it was time to let the poet in me come out.
As I write this, it all seems rote, but at the time I was amazed. The dream was powerful and unyielding. Would I listen and risk it all to pick up something I thought was dead in me?