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Reply To: The Power of the Personal,” with Mythologist Dennis Slattery, Ph.D.”


    Hello Dennis; I have a new topic to introduce within this discussion which you brought up recently at the Jungian Lecture Series a few weeks back that I feel strongly directly relates to this subject of the “Power of the Personal”; which was a central feature of your framework of accessing your Personal Myth. You gave one of the most articulate and moving descriptions of one’s intimate landscapes coming out of your own experience that I hope you will share as it relates I think to something not often talked about but which I think is critically important in exploring and accessing one’s personal story and that is the subject of “Shame”. You shared in very personal and intimate details your journey with painting and how something way back in your youth caused you to feel a tremendous loss of self-esteem which this alchemy you used to address it opened up a whole new illumination towards healing. (For those who have not seen Dennis’s work he has 2 separate Galleries listed on his website; and of particular interest to me was his renderings of Jung’s “Red Book”.) Also not to be missed is his recent blog offering concerning his personal writing teaching techniques with prison inmates using Joseph Campbell’s ideas as a template format.

    For me what I think is important to this discussion is the use of personal art and writing as a means to not only express but to deeply explore one’s inner depths of memory where; as Joseph Campbell describes: “the dark jewels glow”; and use these symbolic images and experiences as tools for personal illumination and healing. Joseph describes this process as a kind of: “symbolic imaging”; or as he later refers to as: “symbolic realization” he mentions in one of his Jungian lectures on individuation. He goes into great detail describing how to utilize this process on pages: 155-158; in: “Reflections on the Art of Living – A Joseph Campbell Companion”; by using this process as a means of breaking past blockages and opening gates of transformation of one’s inner world. The particular symbol he uses as an example I am about to quote is the double triangle which forms the: “Jewish Star of David”; and he utilizes this symbol to show how to breakthrough the repression of the psyche by pointing out what each triangle should represent within this process of assimilation in achieving the passage through your own individual process. Each triangle represents something as he describes on 155:

    “In the double triangle, the upward pointing triangle–you might use the word “aspiration” for that–is symbolic of the movement principle. The downward-pointed triangle is inertia, and it represents what the obstacle would be. The downward pointing triangle can be experienced either as an impediment or as the door that is opened. When you recognize it’s psychological significance and effect a mental transformation, then you see the obstacle as an opening.

    So you can experience the downward-pointed triangle two ways: one, as an obstacle; and the other, as the means by which you are going to make the ascent. So, everything in your life that seems to be obstructive can be transformed by your recognizing that it is the means for your transition.”


    On page 156 he continues this train of thought by asking:

    “What is the obstruction in your life, and how do you transform it into radiance?” Ask yourself, ” What is the main obstruction to my path?” In India, demons are really obstructions to the expansion of consciousness. A demon or devil is a power in you to which you have not given expression, an recognized or suppressed god. Anyone who is unable to understand a god sees it as a devil.”


    He picks this description back up on page 157; where he continues by saying:

    “When you find yourself blocked by a concretized symbol from your childhood, meditation is a systematic discipline that will solve your problem. The function of meditation, ideally, would be to transcend the concretized response and deliver the message.

    The first thing I’d do would to think, “What are, specifically, the symbols that are still active, still touching me this way?” What are the symbols? There’s a great context of symbols in the world. Not all of them are the ones that afflict you. When you do find the symbol that is blocking you, find some mode of thinking and experience that matches in it’s importance for you what the symbol meant. You cannot get rid of a symbol if you have not found that to which it refers.

    If you find in your own heart a center of experience for which the symbol has been substituted, the symbol will dissolve. Think, “Of what is it the metaphor?” When you find that, the symbol will lose it’s blocking force, or it will become the guide.

    This is the “knowing” part of “to know, to love, to serve.” If you are in trouble with this part because you do not really know what this thing refers to, then it will push you around. I’m very, very, sure of that.

    To dissolve such a concretization as an adult, you need to find what the reference of the symbol is. When that is found, you will have the elucidation. The symbol will move into place, and you can regard it with pleasure: as something that guides you to the realization of what it’s message is, instead of as a roadblock. This is an important point.

    That is the downward pointed triangle. It is either an obstruction or the field through which the realization is to come.”


    So Dennis; my question is: “does this description of Joseph’s match up with what you experienced which you shared about Shame” in your lecture? The description you gave rang me like a bell when you bravely offered this “witness” to your childhood; and how you were able to utilize this extremely personal experience as a means for your ascent through your painting. Personal Writing, Painting, or what other means of Art, or Self Expression that one utilizes seems to me to represent this doorway into to the unconscious as well as that of enjoyment, meaning, or purpose that these things are normally used for.

    Of particular importance to me was the understanding of the gate-guardians or Dragon of one’s Shame in your personal narrative. This gateway had to be accessed to obtain passage of the threshold to gain the treasure of your emotional wholeness. And what you shared was so poignantly moving that I think it would be of enormous value to this discussion if you would feel comfortable sharing it.

    I see shame as one of the major manifestations of personal tragedy; which like the Dragon guards a gateway that holds people hostage. Carl Jung called it: “a soul-eating emotion”; and I think it would be almost impossible to count the number of suicides that have been caused by it’s overpowering effects throughout human history. Who among us have not lost someone from this crippling and devastating condition that it causes.

    The below link to the article I am including is a long but very articulate description of what Shame actually is; which I hope everyone will read because I think it has much to offer on this little explored emotional manifestation of the psyche. “Shame” by James M. Shultz